Category Archives: Written Word

Avengers: Age of Ultron Impressions (Spoiler Free)

I just got back from seeing Marvel’s newest movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron and I will say, I thought it was a great addition to the comic book movie series. It felt so much like a comic book throughout the film, complete with scenes shot to look exactly like a comic book panel. The plot is pretty predictable throughout the movie, and comic book nerds have been predicting and speculating about the plot via the comic book series related to the same subject, but I think it still lands well overall and was fun throughout.

This review will be generally spoiler free so it will be shorter (Expect a spoilercast later on to hit the site), but as mentioned, I really liked it. The character portrayals for each of the main Avengers I think as very accurate to the characters as portrayed in the previous movies, and one of the new characters I think was pretty good as well. The action overall in the movie was even better than the first one with lots of great fight scenes and characters using combos together to take out the baddies. If you want to see good guys fighting bad guys in some awesome ways, that is here in spades.

The movie’s themes do get a bit dark at various points, and I think that it portrays the dark themes in a very appropriate manner. They are themes that fit very well into the comic book genre (which, duh, they are themes and stories taken from the comic books themselves) and are controversial in a way that you can see logic on both sides of the issue.

There are also quite a few moments good comic relief in the film that relate to the differences between the characters, their abilities, and callbacks to previous movies in the franchise that all hit really well. I was genuinely laughing out loud during quite a few parts of this movie just because the jokes are delivered at the right times in the right way.

If I were to list some negative things about the film, I would say Ultron himself was hit or miss. Sometimes he was genuinely imposing and creepy and it worked really well with the darker themes in the film. Other times, however, I feel like he was a little bit too goofy. Because of his varying performance, I think parts of the overall plot aren’t explained or explored as much as they could have been. Thankfully, the individual character stories and the way they react to what is happening helps fill in some of the gaps. Also, of the two main characters introduced, I think one of them is fleshed out much more than the other.

There are so many other things that I really want to bring up and discuss, but I will save that for the spoiler cast when it hits. Be looking forward to that.

My Impression Overall: 4/5

Drewby’s impression of the movie: Meh. He didn’t understand why the rest of us liked it very much. He said that he had gone in with lowered expectations (because of what he deemed to be negative reviews), but was still disappointed. 

Ex-Rare Developers Kickstart New 3D Platformer Yooka-Laylee

Steven Mayles, the ex-Rare employee and creator of the 3D platform hero of 1998’s Banjo-Kazooie as well as other ex-Rare employees responsible for various aspects of other popular rare games (Donkey Kong 64, Viva Pinata, and Kameo: Elements of Power) have launched a Kickstarter for a new game called Yooka-Laylee. The game, clearly intended to be a throwback to the critically acclaimed Banjo-Kazooie features a cute green lizard (chameleon?) character called Yooka who travels and works together with his smaller purple bat friend Laylee and they work together to platform and collect “Pagies” which are described to “unlock and expand new worlds”.  The game is being developed under the studio name “Playtonic” 

The game is set to be released on PC, MAC and Linux initially with console versions following later on. However, a stretch goal for £1,000,000 would unlock console versions being released day one, simultaneously with the other versions.

The budget for the entire project based on percentages is displayed on the Kickstarter page in an effort to be transparent with the amount of money necessary for each of the stretch goals and project costs. 

Backer reward tiers start at £5 and go up to £5,000. The £1,000,000 is the final stretch goal listed, but the Kickstarter page does say that all additional funds will be put towards making the game better.

As of the time of this writing, the project has already surpassed its intial goal of £175,000  and has raised £522,201. The Kickstarter campaign still has 46 days to go. The project lists an estimated delivery date of October 2016. 

The Kickstarter page can be found HERE

———Disclaimer————-
As a huge fan of this genre of game from when I was a child. I am hugely excited about this news. I will be backing this Kickstarter campaign for what it is worth and my opinions on the final product could be unintentionally biased as a side-effect of that information. I will attempt to be honest in my assessments of this game if and when it is ever released. 

XBox Live Gold Games for May 2015

The Xbox Wire site has announced the newest games that will be available for download to Xbox Live subscribers during the month of May starting on May 1st. 

The games are as follows: 
  • CastleStorm: Definitive Edition ($14.99 ERP) Available from May 1-31 on Xbox One
  • Mafia II ($19.99 ERP): Available from May 1-15 on Xbox 360
  • F1 2013 ($49.99 ERP): Available from May 16-31 on Xbox 360

I personally don’t have any experience with any of these three games. I am looking forward to any offerings on my Xbox One at the moment as new games seem to be few and far between on both consoles. 

Castlestorm is described on the Xbox Wire site as being, “a genre mash-up that combines medieval warfare with 2D physics-based destruction”. I’m not sure how that will play out in practice, but I am interested in giving it a shot. 

Drewby was unavailable for comment. 

Playstation Plus Games for May 2015

The Playstation blog has announced the newest games that will be available for download to Playstation Plus subscribers during the month of May starting on May 5th. 

The games are as follows: 
  • Guacamelee! Super Turbo Championship Edition (PS4)
  • Ether One (PS4)
  • The Unfinished Swan (PS4|PS3|PS Vita)
  • Race the Sun (PS4|PS3|PS Vita)
  • Hohokum (PS4|PS3|PS Vita)
  • Murasaki Baby (PS Vita)

The only one of these games that I have played was the original version of Guacamelee in 2013 shortly after its release. It was a great metroidvania that was forgiving with its checkpoint system, but had good platforming depth later on in its story. A great looking cartoony wacky good time. 

The Unfinished Swan may be remembered by some as that weird black and white game where everything was invisible and you had to paint the levels to see anything. 

Hohokum is that weird druggy trippy game that I have watched videos about, but can’t fully grasp or realize. I think it will be a better experience to actually play this guy firsthand on my Vita. 

Overall I think Playstation continues to have a pretty solid lineup in my opinion of quality games being offered for “free” to Plus users. When asked to comment on this month’s Plus releases, Drewby merely said “I think they could have better content, but I haven’t played Guacamelee and it is supposed to be pretty good so…”

UK Store Has Bloodbourne Swag Available for Pre-Order

An online video game themed merchant, Merchandise Monkey has announced that they now have Bloodbourne themed t-shirts and a poster for pre-order. The selection includes 4 different t-shirts and single poster all with the title “Bloodbourne” prominently displayed are available to pre-purchase now for their release on May 5th. 

You can pre-order the product over at Merchandise Monkey

Bungie to Live Stream Destiny House of Wolves Expansion

Tomorrow (Wednesday April 29th) at 1PM Central, Bungie is hosting a live stream on Twitch where they plan on showing off the new weekly competitive multiplayer event called “Trials of Osiris” which will be featured during the House of Wolves Expansion. According to Bungie, “The more wins your team accumulates, the greater your rewards, which include Osiris-themed, endgame gear” 

You will be able to view the Twitch stream once it has gone live here . 

A new trailer was also released to announce this twitch stream. 

Destiny Expansion II: House of Wolves, will be available on Tuesday May 19th.

Upon viewing the new trailer, Drewby commented that it was “just more Destiny”. 

Batman: Arkham Knight New Trailer AND DLC Announcement

Yesterday, April 25th a new Batman: Arkham Knight trailer was released showing off some familiar faces. Gordon, Nightwing, and Catwoman are among the cast revealed in this trailer which focuses on Batman’s various allies.

Today, the plans for the Arkham Knight DLC were revealed. In addition to the game costing $60 at launch, they are also releasing a $40 season pass which will include access to content doled out over a 6 month period of time. According to Rocksteady the content will include “new story missions, additional super-villains invading Gotham City, legendary Batmobile skins, advanced challenge maps, alternative character skins, and new drivable race tracks.” There will also be a separate version of the game called the “Premium Edition” that will include all DLC. 

When Batman: Arkham City released in 2011, the game was criticized for its DLC of the optional Catwoman content available on release day. We will see how this news is received  by the fanbase. Recently season passes have become more accepted by the general public but public opinion could be beginning to shift back to lack of satisfaction with products they perceive as unfinished.

Batman: Arkham Knight is scheduled to be released on June 23, 2015 for the Xbox One, Playstation 4, and PC. 

When I inquired Drewby’s thoughts on the trailer, he responded with, “I didn’t get as hyped as you might htink [sic]”

Just Cause 3 Looks Like Prettier Just Cause 2

Just Cause 3, the sequel to 2010’s Just Cause 2 is shaping up to be more of the same insanity that made us love that game in the first place. The reveal trailer, posted this morning shows us Rico windsuiting, shooting, driving, and of course grappling various vehicles in the craziest manners. It is slated for holiday 2015 on the Xbox One, PS4, and PC (Via Steam)

Drewby’s comments on the trailer – “it’s just crazy just cause gameplay” and “i didn’t see anything that got me super pumped or anything”

What is Tabletop RPG?

In the modern era, video games are becoming an accepted practice that spans all demographics with all sorts of styles. The term “video game” spans everything from Farmville, Candy Crush, and Angry Birds to Gone Home, Battlefield, and Bloodbourne. Everybody plays video games, but less people are familiar with the old fashioned table top RPG. I think there is a lot of stigma from history related to games like Dungeons and Dragons that I would like to clear up for people by explaining, at its core, what these games are about. What are they?  What is the draw?

What is a tabletop RPG? Well, to start it off RPG stands for “Role-playing game”. In recent years, especially to those who are familiar with video games, the acronym is understood, but the concept is foreign. A role-playing game is exactly what it sounds like, but it is more specific than just having a level up system in your game. In a role-playing game, you create a character who you will play as. This character can be (depending on the game) very like, or unlike your self in many ways. Looks, personality, physical attributes, skills and so much more are determined when creating a character. You can put as much detail as you want in to your character as far as his/her backstory, goals or motivations. For some people, acting as a character they create is the draw. The ability to meet with other people and interact with them as a cool fantasy (or other genre) character of their design can be fun and can stir the imagination. For some the mere of playing a role is the draw, but there are other perks as well.

In a tabletop RPG, you do not simply make fictional characters and talk to each other for the fun of it (Though if you would like to, you totally could). Generally speaking they are games of adventure. Each player has a role to play in a greater narrative that is taking place, usually over multiple play sessions. How does that work? Well, one of the players will be the designated “Dungeon Master” which is a nerd-cool sounding term for the person who spins the tale in which the players participate. The dungeon master is given the biggest task in the game which is to create the world where the players will be living during each session of playing. Do you remember that girl from Inception? Her job was to create the worlds of the dreams that Leo and the gang would be hanging out in as well as the scenarios that would be occuring? That’s what the DM does for the rest of the players. He creates scenarios that force the players to interact with each other and with the world and then allows the players to work out each situation, whether it is a puzzle to be solved, a ruined city to be explored, a battle to be fought, a person to be saved or anything else the DM can create in his mind. For my money this creativity is what these old school RPGs have over video games. Video games by nature have a certain selection of choices available to the player at any point, but in a game like Dungeons and Dragons, players can choose to do what they want and the DM simply has to react and spin up additional situations. 

For instance, imagine a scenario where the DM of a particular game has designed a chase with an enemy where he escapes into a forest. A video game would give you a very limited set of options for how to approach the situation, in one of these games, the imagination is the limit! Players could do anything from tracking the villain through the forest (If they think they are up to the task), burning down the forest, enlisting the help of the forest animals to alert the players of where the villain is headed, or anything else that someone might design in their own mind. 

Creativity is what defines this genre. Whether you are talking about the DM and the world he must design, the players and the characters and back stories they create, or the interactions that must take place over each play session between the characters of different races and skill sets, the possibilities are endless. Creative ways to resolve conflict, to socialize with your friends and fictional situations allow for a level of freedom unavailable in other gaming mediums. These play sessions can be as dark as The Walking Dead or as light as Looney Toons, the atmosphere is entirely determined by the people playing and that is the best part about these games. A tabletop RPG is just a creative shell for having fun adventures with friends. Whatever types of adventures you can think of, you can design. 

Mostly I have focused on talking about fantasy themed RPGs like Pathfinder or Dungeons and Dragons, but in all actuality, there are versions and rulesets of table top games to suit all genres. Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Superheros, Steampunk, Dr. Who, and even generic RPG systems exist so you can create rulesets that best describe whatever theme or subject you happen to want to design. It is entirely up to the players to choose what suits them best. 

This has been a pretty quick and dirty overview of the genre, but I wanted to ignore some of the weird stigmas that can be associated with this stuff and get to the meet of what these games are actually about and why people still like them, even in the digital age. I hope I have helped clear up any confusion you might have and if I haven’t, just leave a comment on this post or email me at michael@thecultureofmypeople.com and I will answer questions related to anything that you might want to know about this genre to the best of my ability. 

Written Appendix: On the Topic of Video Games – Episode 13

— Drewby’s preferred title was “Drewby Might be Right, but I Wish the World Were Different”. I thought that title sucked—

Last night (8-19-2014) we recorded the normal weekly “On the Topic of Video Games” podcast and I brought up a topic that ended up being a bit controversial on the show. Being as I was tired and not the best at forming rational thought on the fly, I thought I should try and clarify what I was trying to say on that show. I’m sure that some of what I said is incorrect and I would like to set the record straight here, as well as sort out the issue in my mind. Judging by what I remember from a late night, my opinion sounded (At least to Drewby) that I was against all remakes, remastered, and ports with a very blurry line of distinction between them. I will attempt to define these terms as best as I can from my mind, and then try and express my thoughts on each of them accurately and individually.

The first term that came up is “remake”. I would define a video game “remake” as a complete overhaul with a new engine and potential additions to a game. A true remake would include things like Golden Eye 007: Reloaded for last generation consoles. That game actually was a complete overhaul of a game that ended up being different than the original in many ways. Dota 2 probably fits here, with a new engine external from the mod scene is started with. Final Fantasy III and IV fit here as well via their 3DS redesigns with a completely new engine. Using the definition I defined, this is the term most incorrectly applied to video games out of these three categories.

In order to correctly understand the term “remaster”, I think I need to establish the term “port” as the majority of remasters are also ports of some kind. A port is a video game previously available on one platform, being designed to be functionally playable on another platform.The majority of games hitting the Playstation Vita are good examples of ports. Games like Fez, Hotline Miami, and Spelunky all released exclusively on PC and have now been made available on the Vita with very little or no functional changes. The graphics quality and controls will very likely remain the same.

In my mind, a remaster is a port of a video game that probably includes a graphical update, uprezzing, or minor gameplay tweaks to improve the quality of the game. Also, more recent remasters include all the DLC of the original video game. “Remaster” is the most vague of the three terms in mind as they vary in the quality of the graphical updates they provide. An example of a remaster includes things like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D, The Last of Us: Remastered, and the upcoming Sleeping Dogs Rebuilt. Remasters are the actual category that I tend to sometimes have a problem with in regards to timing and quality.

I think one of my mistakes was overemphasizing how problematic many of the recent remasters are. Eventually in the podcast I had stepped away from logic and skipped straight to “No new videogames will ever be made” which was clearly a straw man to the discussion Drewby and I were having. We have not even gotten close to reaching a point where this is a possibility as of yet. My original argument, that some of the money and time spent on certain remakes could be better spent elsewhere is a better choice.

A developer that is spending resources in one area, could be spending them in another area. This is my premise. The Last of Us: Remastered (which seems to be slightly more than a port) may have been relatively inexpensive in both resources and time and been a great way for a company to make a little bit of profit to use elsewhere. Likely, there are financial reasons that Naughty Dog deemed this remaster to be worth their salt and if that is a necessary element for them to remain in business and continue functioning the way they do, then I suppose it was a good choice.

If I were able to describe what I would prefer as a consumer however, I would rather the company take the same amount of funds it takes to remake this one year old game and hold an internal “game jam” like event. Let developers who probably have creative desires and ideas get a chance to get some of those ideas into a demo for a game. Smaller companies like Double Fine have this idea nailed down, and lots of ideas come out of it. On top of new ideas, it gives developers who are used to following a set path of remastering a game a chance to solve new challenges for themselves, increasing their future productivity and creation skills. Imagine a world where instead of The Last of Us: Remastered and Sleeping Dogs Rebuilt, we got four different $15 smaller games made by creative people with potentially new ideas. These smaller games could be made quickly with fewer resources and help bridge the gap we are currently seeing as we await 2015 where all of the coolest games are hiding.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with remasters as a whole. I have talked on the podcast about loving certain remasters. However, as I did state on the podcast, remasters gain a lot of their value in my eyes and either being nostalgic, or a modern way to play an old classic. I love playing good looking version of N64 games on my 3DS, and have even mentioned multiple times on the podcast that I would absolutely love a remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask. I have tweeted that I would love a remastered version of Wind Jammers and probably other games that have fallen out of recent memory. I just think remastering a game has a time and place, and I don’t think The Last of Us Remastered or Sleeping Dogs Rebuilt are utilizing the strengths of the medium as well as older games do.

The thing I struggle with in my own head, is that I don’t have a problem with straight ports even though the process for making them is probably extremely similar to remastering a last generation game. A developer who could be using resources on new projects would rather spend that making sure they have their game available on more platforms. I appreciate ports. I literally just bought the Dark Souls 2 PC port. Maybe part of my struggle is when a game that is a glorified port is advertised as a remaster. Maybe it is the timing of the port. The DS2 PC port came out 3 months after the regular DS2 street date, but they had been working on that version of the game the entire time. I don’t have problems with these most recent Vita ports of indy games that are coming out a couple of years after their original release either though.  

It is entirely probable and maybe even likely that I am judging the entire community of game remasters by the value they present to myself. As Drewby has mentioned, it does present another opportunity for someone who didn’t have previous access to a game, to possibly have a better version of that game. That is a good thing. I am a huge proponent of getting more people into the hobbies I find incredibly appealing. I don’t want people to misunderstand my position on THAT issue.

Either way, I can vote with my money on the games I want as can anyone else. I don’t wish these developers bad for making the decisions they do, and I am probably being an idealist with my utopian future of video game design, but I hope by explaining my position in a more reasonable manner that I have shed some light on my position. What do you guys think about this stuff?