Monthly Archives: October 2014

Eeep

It looks like I’m not going to be able to get a post up this Sunday due to life.  Sorry all!  Instead, enjoy the awesomeness that is Rayman Legends:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GXckoGRV4dA

You should seriously play this game.

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Opinion – GamerGate and the Community

Last Steam game review will come next week. Promise!

If you’ve been remotely paying attention to the gaming scene, you’ll have noticed the kerfuffle surrounding GamerGate (GG). Starting as a collection of emails from an ex, GG exploded into a toxic cocktail of misogynistic hatred and self-righteousness egged on by heaping piles of Twitter and cliquishness.  GG is tailor made to show the flaws in the gamer community, both for the consumers and the journalists.

If you’ve read over the ex’s emails, then you’ll see that they’re an impressive breach of trust and say terrible things about the person who posted them. They allege that Zoe Quinn, developer of the much applauded Depression Quest, cheated on her then boyfriend with several people including a reviewer from the gaming site Kotaku.  I’m not going to comment on the emails beyond this because they’re really none of my business.  From here, GG commentary exploded in two directions, planned misogynistic attacks on Quinn and complaints about the closeness of developers and game journalists.  The commentary quickly took on the older issue of social justice warriors (SJWs).  SJWs are a group of game journalists that critiqued games with an eye towards the pressing social issues of today and have been attacked for inserting political views into the perceived neutral space of video games.  Supporters of GG continue to blur the lines between these threads by combining them allowing their opponents to brand the whole movement as abusive.  Anti-GG groups not wrong.

The GG community has repeatedly claimed that it is purely focused on the developer-journalist connection and the threat of SJWs, yet the vast majority of its presence on Twitter and other outlets is laced with hateful attacks or a denial of hateful attacks. Known anti GG speakers are being threatened for their views.  The comments page of any article on the topic is loaded with screed.  Perhaps most damning, recent information about Youtubers receiving pay for boosting games and not revealing their relationship has come to light yet the GG movement hasn’t jumped on that.  GG has a case of proven corruption yet it’s still focusing on nutty conspiracies that really on unproven allegations and supposedly doctored screenshots.  If GG were truly interested in journalist corruption, than there are easier targets with a great deal more evidence.

The above is what I have collected after considerable searching, which is a problem. The games journalists that are decrying the pro GG community are the same journalists that I would normally read to get more information on the GG controversy.  As you can imagine, there is a major conflict of interest and it shows.  In prepping for this article, I repeatedly ran into articles that had clearly never talked to a pro GG person (tweets do not count.  They have never counted) and sought only to portray the movement as hateful trolls.  That may well be the case, but it would probably help if journalists scanned something other than their Twitter feeds or the internet toilet known as 4chan.  As a result, I was having trouble finding sources that convinced me that they knew anything beyond the incendiary talk running around their own circles.  A favorite site of mine, Critical Distance, wrote this:

“It’s been about two months since a loose anti-feminist collective known as Gamergate began carrying out harassment campaigns and waves of abuse towards women developers, writers, journalists, critics, and many of those who are active in the indie community and the videogame industry at large. A lot has been written about this already, so I only chose the most enlightening and useful pieces regarding the situation.

It then proceeded to post a number of interesting articles that repeated the sins mentioned above. That’s also the nicest description.  It’s clear that many journalists have become combatants in the wars that they should be reporting on.  This wouldn’t be a problem, except that they aren’t creating a substantial enough divide between their advocacy and reporting.  Many sites report only the atrocities of the pro GG community splashing the death threats as representative of all who support it.  As far as I can tell, only the Escapist wrote an article soliciting the views of pro GG people and it was far more enlightening than anything I had read until then.  Games journalists cannot occupy the neutral newspaper position and the partisan editorial position without compromising both.  There needs to be a clear divide between the two roles lest news and editorials become confused such as with cable news outlets.

Games journalism and gamers are at a crossroads. A segment of gamers are increasingly uncomfortable with the idea that games belong in a critical space and should be discussed alongside pressing social issues such as race and gender.  Games journalists are trying to establish that critical space without resolving the conflict between journalism and criticism.  It has created an ugly brew that has brought out the worst in all concerned.  I happen to disagree with the GG viewpoint, but it’s an issue worth discussing, not insulting people over.  I also think that games journalists need to resolve the problem of their reporting on the stories they are involved in.  Most importantly, I think a little introspection and humility would benefit all sides.

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Review – Grim Dawn – PC – Steam Review #2

Now with a fresh coat of grim.

In 2006, Iron Lore Entertainment released a fun little Diablo clone called Titan Quest.  Hitting at the right time, Titan Quest, and its expansion Immortal Throne, filled the gap left by Diablo 2 and the many developers unable to competently build in the action RPG space.  The game was entertaining and had a few interesting mechanics, but didn’t do anything earthshaking.  I mention Titan Quest, because now the reconstituted spirit of Iron Lore has put out a new effort in the form of Grim Dawn.  Unfortunately for them, this time, there’s competition.

If you’ve played Diablo or any of its clones, you know the basics of Grim Dawn.  Players control a single, powerful hero who destroys legions of monsters through clicking and loot. Titan Quest’s wrinkles return as well.  Monsters drop components that the player can combine to create more powerful versions which can then buff an item or serve as material for the game’s crafting mechanic.  In addition to components, the Grim Dawn carries over a dual class system that allows the player to invest in two class skill trees thereby allowing for potent combinations.  Sadly, poor loot drops also return with all but the rarest of loot feeling rather underwhelming.  All told, the solid, but unspectacular base game, returns with a feeling of been there, done that.

Of course, this is still early access so there are a number of systems still in development. The most interesting is the faction system which should allow for branching paths and quests.  Each faction in the game, including enemies, have a favorability meter that tells the player what their disposition is.  In theory, the player will get to choose which faction to align with including the horrors that are overwhelming the world.  At present, only the good faction of helpful villagers works so the others are really just measurements of how badly the Cthulu hate your guts (hint: lots).  Still, the villager quest does show some of the potential.  Unfortunately, much of that potential feels misused.  Rather than grant the player access to special new things, the faction system grants them access to the merchants they should have had from the start.  Hopefully the system won’t just act as a gateway to the crafting guy.  Even so, the finding of villagers out in the wilderness and the small touches that show general improvement on the town are compelling.  A quest to get cloth results in tarp roofing for some of the areas.  It’s nothing game changing, but it helps show how the player is having an effect on the world.

Another new addition is unwelcome. The game communicates the story by telling the player all the amazing things that happened while the player was selling nondescript loot.  Towns destroyed, empires fallen, and horrific experiments performed are just some of the interesting plot points that the player has absolutely no involvement in.  The player will pick up logs from time to time, but that only goes to show how much is happening outside of the player’s sight.  If Grim Dawn is to draw its players in with its story, it can’t just talk about the fun stuff.  It needs to show it.

I mentioned this game to my father, who enjoyed Titan Quest.  He responded that he wasn’t really interested because, with Diablo 3 and Path of Exile in the world, he didn’t really need another action RPG.  That is the argument Grim Dawn needs to overcome.  It needs to present something unique that its competitors don’t already have covered.  If it doesn’t, I can’t see Grim Dawn doing well.

Steam Review: Again, Steam recommended a game that was only okay.  What I’m coming to realize is that Steam’s recommendations are only as strong as the depth of the genre that the player is interested in.  If there aren’t a lot of good games in the genre, Steam will recommend what it has.  Good to know.

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Review – Xenonauts – PC – Steam Review #1

It only counts as déjà vu if it’s different.

Video game development is largely an iterative process. Developers make small tweaks to the gameplay of their genre predecessors which moves the world forward one tiny step.  Sometimes, a game comes along that takes a giant leap forward into parts unknown.  It reinvents a genre or creates a whole new one.  These games are treasured for the new experiences they provide.  Xenonauts is not one of those games.

For those who haven’t played any of the X-COM clan, the game is a tactical turn based squad game about an international agency fighting an alien invasion. The game is divided into two major segments: the aforementioned tactical fights and a base simulator.  In the fights, you control a group of green recruits as they fight through a myriad of locations to hunt down alien forces.  Actions cost action points of which each soldier has a limited supply that refills at the beginning of each turn.  Using terrain, weapon variation, explosives, and planning, the player must overcome a reasonably capable enemy.  The alien force isn’t particularly smart, but they are durable and will overcome sloppy play or bad luck.

Once the battle finishes, you control a global organization bent on defeating the invaders. You start off with one base that can research technology, manufacture equipment, manage personnel, and launch aircraft to intercept incoming alien ships. You feel a constant tension between the previously mentioned needs and so you require prioritization to ensure that you have the technology and equipment to defeat the ever escalating threat.  Defeating your foe is not just a matter of personal pride, but of funding.  Each base can only cover so much territory and the areas of the world that you miss will reduce their funding as alien attacks go unanswered.  Each aspect of the game feeds into each other creating the clever balancing act that made the original game so compelling.

Make no mistake, this is X-COM: UFO Defense. From the base building to the tactical gun play, this is an almost carbon copy of the 1994 PC classic that spawned a streamlined Firaxis remake in 2012.  The setting, gameplay, technologies, and so much more are ripped (competently) from the X-COM series.  Xenonauts does make a few welcome tweaks, but they are exceedingly minor.  You can now assign loadouts to soldiers that automatically equips them with the right gear.  Basic equipment is free and light flares are in infinite supply for nighttime missions.  Sadly, Xenonauts carries over X-COM’s frustrating percentage based firing mechanic (did two of my soldiers miss a collective 4 point blank shots before they were killed?  Why yes.  Yes they did) and the graphics are often inferior to the pixels of the original.

In many ways, Xenonauts feels like a menu upgrade rather than a new game. It’s not a bad game, but it does feel like an unnecessary one.  Most of its target audience likely already owns the original and will find this version a bit more convenient.  What is sad about Xenonauts is that it could have been more without sacrificing its focus on retaining the old school X-COM charm.  By changing the story, the tech tree, adding new fighting mechanics, or doing something different to anything major, Xenonauts could have established itself as a worthy successor to its obvious inspiration.  As it stands, I’m not sure why I’d buy this with the original in my games list.

Steam Review: I wasn’t wild about Xenonauts, but it’s definitely the kind of game I enjoy.  Furthermore, it’s competently executed and well received.  This was a good choice and a sign that Steam’s recommendations are doing their job.

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