Friday, May 24, 2019

Video Games And Me

Here I sit trying to write up a review on Detective Pikachu, and I am finding myself at a loss for thought towards it.  It is a motivation issue to write it.  Rest assured, the non-motivation problem is not due to a poor review.  I happen to be on vacation, and when one is on vacation, it is difficult to think of anything beyond relaxing, alcohol, food, and more relaxing.  Simultaneously, I have the knowledge that I have committed myself to write at least one article for my page each week.  So the question comes, what do I do to motivate myself to write something?  Anything!

The way I figure, beyond a straightforward synopsis describing me on this page, none of you really know much about me.  Where do I come from?  How did I become this amazing nerd that you all love following?  What are the secrets of life, love, and the universe?  Well, I have a lot of answers for all of these the universe question.  Then I have to ask myself, where is the best place to start on this journey without turning this into a book about a random guy?  The beginning, of course!

My nerd life began right around the age of 6-7 when my mother had purchased an IBM computer.  Oh, yea!  It was old school as hell, and I loved it.  This was back in the day before Windows 3.1.  I grew up on the old DOS system.  Commands to launch applications.  Rather than have the software installed, you had to use a disk to open the software.  The only thing the computer was good for was saving your files onto.  Simpler, yet more difficult times!  I can't imagine what would happen to some of you reading that are younger than that generation.  If I told you to simply open MS Word, you would probably lose your minds!

Image result for pharaohs tomb game
Pharaoh's Tomb - By Abandonware

My fondest memory was a game called Pharaoh's Tomb.  We did not have a color monitor, so I had to play in black and white.  My world was devoid of color, but I was looking for every reason and excuse to play that game.  The game itself was nothing super special; a side scroller/puzzle game.  You spend your time navigating tombs, collecting coins/artifacts, and avoiding a variety of traps.  It was simple but incredibly challenging for a kid my age.  Thus began my obsession...

Image result for original duke nukem
Duke Nukem - Apogee Software
A few years passed and I moved up to my aunt's computer which had Windows 3.1 and a color monitor!  I was no longer trapped in the twilight zone, and she had a fresh batch of new games.  My aunt fed my addiction with a consistent stock of games for a few years.  Wolfenstein 3D, OG Duke Nukem (back when it was a side-scroller), and Commander Keen (every release) became the friends I did not have in the real world.  They guided me on adventures the likes I would never live, and so my imagination continued to take off.

By Source, Fair use,
Final Fantasy VI - SquareSoft
As the years progressed, so did my gaming experiences.  I played a lot of games on the PC as it was the most accessible to me for a while.  My parents eventually bought an NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) and the console revolution of my life began.  SNES (Super Nintendo Entertainment System) came into my life and changed how I started absorbing games.  Years of side-scrolling adventures had not prepared me for the fantastic journey provided in a JRPG (Japanese Role-Playing Game).  Secret of Mana, Final Fantasy VI, and Phantasy Star showed me a world of in-depth storytelling in fantasy worlds.  As an avid fantasy reader, these continued to fuel my imagination and blast me off to places I had never imagined.

When you grow up in rural Montana in the '90s, you are not exposed to a lot of amazing things.  I continued growing without my parents being able to afford the next few generations of gaming systems.  My best friend was the dealer with all the options for my addiction.  Sega Genesis, Sega CD, and N64 were the highlights of birthday parties.  A time when we had to rent a game system and only a handful of games from the blockbuster located an hours drive from where we lived.

Fair use,
Star Ocean:  The Second Story - Enix
Eventually, my parents were able to afford the original PlayStation system when it came out, and Final Fantasy VII took me to the next evolution of gaming and my nerd personality.  One of the main reasons that it will always be locked in my mind as one of the best in the Final Fantasy series.  Star Ocean:  The Second Story, Legend of Dragoon, Legend of Mana, Tomb Raider, and many more were my summers and escapism from the rage of my father.

Once I was old enough to get a job, I started getting my own systems.  I was able to get the PS2 slim, and I have since bought every system to come out over the years.  I could continue a diatribe of the games I played for each system, but I think you get the point.  Games were my imagination fuel, my escapism from a broken home, and the only social tool I had to make friends.  I was the weird nerdy kid, and only a handful of people followed me on that journey.

Many other nerdy things were happening in my life while growing up, but video gaming became the thing that defined me early on and still defines me today.  I stayed true to myself, and I have not let anyone deter me from it or belittle me for it.  We are now finding ourselves in a world where "nerd" is much more globally accepted, and I am genuinely thankful for it.  I welcome my former haters to the fold and sincerely hope they find what I found so many years ago.

Well, there it is.  How I came into this world of gaming and nerd culture.  It might not be the most exciting story you have read today, but it is my story.  It will always be the most essential part of who I am, and I thank you for taking the time to share in this part of myself.  As time goes on, I will continue gaming, and I will also continue sharing about myself.  Pieces such as this will not always be about this, but I hope they keep giving you insight and a reason to follow me!

Monday, May 20, 2019

Executives in Gaming, Let's Take a Moment to Reflect

That's right...another one.  Another article to jar you into the funny crap-fest about Randy Pitchford's drama as the CEO of Gearbox studios.  FULL STOP!  This is not about to become one of those articles.  If you really want to read one of those, go do a google search for his name and you will find far more than you would like.  Rather than drone on further and give him more publicity over his childish and garish activities, I want to take some time to talk about accountability.  I want to talk about a company executive's responsibility as the head of a gaming studio or publisher to step outside of themselves and look at the bigger picture.  Do you think they have a responsibility to do so?  Is it simply a right they have to do what they want?  How should they be penalized when their personal load of crap has an affect on the overall sale of a game?

I think these are just a few of the questions we, as fans, have to consider.  More importantly, a company needs to think about.  What happens to a game when personal drama from an executive or internal company drama becomes public knowledge?  A lot happens in a short span of time.  In that short span of time, the company is typically forced to make a drastic decision to course correct.  After all, the bottom line of the company is what matters.  If the company is in the red, it is dead.  If it is in the black, then it is on track.  This is how studios live and breath.  The company has to make a call on whether or not some simply apologies will fix everything in time for the launch of their game, or if the removal of an executive is necessary.

Look at the cautionary tale of Telltale Games; due to poor management at the executive level, the company hastily and with little notice shutdown all development.  Many of their employee's were not provided with any kind of severance package.  You can bet your bottom dollar that those executives walked away with a sizable chunk of what was left of company funds after the simple payroll was executed.  Is it right that the employee's have to suffer for whatever was leading to poor management?  Absolutely not.  Too be clear, this is not about the consumer.  None of this article is about the consumer.  That is a wholly different conversation to be had some other time.

How about Starbreeze as another prime example.  The company had been off to a small, slow start with the Payday franchise and overtime gained a little momentum.  They told their employees, in certain terms, that the company was blowing up big and stepping up to that AAA fold of games.  Two years after that announcement, the company started imploding on itself because of executive actions.  People were arrested for insider trading, the CEO Bo Andersson was given the boot.  Why was he given the boot?  Because he was a poor leader and did not have the skills to lead the company in a real direction.  He got wrapped up in the excitement of making all the money.  This led to team leads being setup for AAA titles, but not having the experience to lead the development of a AAA game.  It only ends up being lucky that he was given the boot, but by the timing of that move was too late.  The studio is still trying to recover from the fallout of one mans actions.

Much of the problem is that there are too many people that have a great idea for a game, product, or studio they want to build.  They have bigger dreams of the success they can achieve, but I do think that they lack a certain wherewithal to lead a company.  This is why there are very typically publishers and developers.  Publishers have the financial and managerial knowledge to get a studio moving and promote the product being created.  It can be refreshing to hear from the project lead about what they are developing and see their excitement.  It can also be mortifying when they seem like a cool person that is really in tune with the project, but says/does/reacts in a negative fashion.  This is why every single one of them should probably not speak on social media, ever.  This is also why you always talk to your PR department before you respond on your own.

At the point that you decide to create a company and hire people to make your dream into reality, you are accountable and responsible for those people and their livelihood.  Your personal matters are no longer yours if said matters effect jobs.  When you make yourself the face of the company, your responsibilities extend to far beyond yourself anymore.  If you are your business, then you no longer have complete free will.  You are bound to your business and the life blood that keeps the heart of it beating.  That means you have to keep those employees happy and healthy for as long as they are with you.  So how do you manage all of that and stay semi-sane?  You hire executives or a board that will keep you in check at all times.  If you are not good at talking to people, you have to swallow your pride and allow the haters to hate.  On the chance that you cannot do that, then you must recuse yourself from being that face of representation.

When we talk about the penalty, there are a lot of possible penalties.  Obviously, the most severe that we see is when a executive is given the ol' boot-to-ass.  They still get a great severance package and are not injured with the loss of position.  Many of them go on to make other companies or projects.  I think the answer is to create contracts that hit them where it will hurt them.  The wallet!  A serious adjustment needs to be made in the way these companies hold themselves.  It is how the rest of us function in the world.  I lose my job, I do not pass Go and collect $200.  Rather, I get what I earned since my last paycheck and told good luck.  Why is it not the same for these people.  They become to big and it is not fair that they walk away with more than the people that were the lifeblood.

So what is the takeaway from all of this?  Do not let the actions of one idiot be what effects your decision to have a potentially harmful effect on the innocent people that worked hard.  When you decide not to buy a game simply because of one persons actions, you must also realize that hundreds of people put their creative efforts into that game as well.  You are effecting them with your decision as well.  Vote with your money, but make it an educated vote and not just a knee-jerk reaction.  Executives must be put to task, but we must encourage better business practices to ensure the heart-beat of the game is not stopped.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Roman Has Returned!

Hello all!  I wanted to take some time and really put something out that perhaps will explain what has caused such a hiatus for me.  There have been a lot of changes, events, and procrastination that has happened in the last year-and-a-half.  I owe anyone that started reading my page and following me an apology.  It was a disservice to all of you that I disappeared without any warning.  It is a disservice to those of you that maybe discovered my page, but found no new pieces.  Truly, I offer my sincerest apologies and I will work hard going forward to produce content on a timely basis.

Not that you necessarily care, but I do feel a need to express reasoning behind life and what has been happening.  The first problem I encountered was the fact that my life was in flux from the time I had initially started this blog.  At the time, I was struggling with actual employment.  Once I found a secure job, I started pushing for quick promotion within my field.  Good news, I succeeded!  I am in a position that makes me happy and allows me to do something I am passionate about outside of being a nerd/geek.  I get the opportunity to help people every day and as much as I can be a cynic and critical of complete strangers, I always come back to the knowledge that none of us know what is happening to a perfect stranger.  Their life is not our own and the best you can aim for is being empathetic to those whose situation may be beyond their own control.

Part of the contribution to the job struggle was some mental health issues that hit at the same time.  The good news, I am doing much better now.  I cannot express the importance of taking care of your mental self.  Depression, anxiety, etc. are all huge roadblocks to the creative process.  I would encourage any of you that read my blog or follow me to seek out assistance.  It is not a weakness to admit the need for help.  Also, seeking help does not indicate you need to be medicated.  I know that this can be a reason a lot of people do not pursue assistance.  Therapy is not a quick process, you have to do the work, and you commonly will not see the changes immediately for yourself.  Those that you love will be the first to notice the subtle changes.

Lastly, I am a terrible procrastinator.  Having ADD, being a gamer, and shiny objects are all distractions that I am constantly surrounded with.  Due to these problems, writing and podcasting fall to the wayside.  It has not been a lack of content or subjects to discuss.  If any of you follow The 42Cast, you will find me occasionally as a guest for some of those podcasts.  So clearly, there is not a lack of desire to do these activities, but rather I lack my own self motivation for my own work.

So, what to expect going forward.  I am going to be working harder to commit to material and getting it out in a timely manner.  I would like to get back to a regular podcasting schedule.  I am also going to try and provide, at minimum, one article a week.  I believe this to be an attainable goal for myself and an easier expectation for you to look forward to.  Of course, there is the possibility of more content than that, but it takes a village and I am a singular entity.  If I feel things are going well, I might even try my hand at streaming!

If you want to assist, I would love input or even someone willing to act as an editor.  Of course, this requires commitment from you if you volunteer to do so.  This assistance would not be paid assistance and I retain all the rights to my content.  I am happy to post your content here as well.  I know the struggle of self-starting all to well.  Friends IRL, I would love your help, but this is a small commitment that could grow.  Nothing would please me more to turn this hobby into something more and something profitable.

Thank you for taking the time to read through this very long winded apology.  Thank you for sticking with me and giving me your support.  Thank you for being nerdy, geeky, and all together a unique person that shares my passion for all things relative to those descriptors. 

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Loot Box Controversy

We can not go two seconds in this world without some sort of debacle happening.  Either our world leaders are acting like children or worse and we are looking down both barrels in the media about really anything.  Wait!  I have games to fall back on.  Surely the industry will not let me down.  I am most assured that the latest entertainment in this field will take away my worries!  NOPE!  Here we are, left standing with shit in both hands and nothing else to do with it except through it around.

We are standing in the wake of one of the latest fiasco's in the video game industry.  I am talking about loot boxes.  If you are not familiar with this scam masquerading as just harmless micro-transactions, let me help educate you.  Micro-transactions were just the beginning and still exist today.  These are typically smaller transactions for individual items.  Sometimes these items are purely cosmetic and sometimes they give players a gained advantage in whatever game they are purchasing for.  The only real difference with a loot box is that you have a chance at multiple items, but you still pay real-world currency for them.  You are really only guaranteed a chance at certain types of items with these.

So how do these items hurt us?  Well, it is incentive for what is quite simply gambling.  Now, if you're an adult making the decision to spend your money on a game of chance, then you are legally within your rights to do so.  What makes the waters muddy is that teens and children have access to this as well.  It is more harmful to teens than anything.  Teens can get a job, gain access to some sort of card technology, and spend that money without having to get parental permission.  It is illegal in all states for anyone under the age of 18 to gamble.  End of discussion.  Through loot crates though, the argument is being made that the video game industry has found away to disguise it as nothing more than items that help expand a players experience. 

Does it though?  Most of the time, these items are cosmetic and do not do anything to expand the way players experience the world they play in.  Many mobile games have a pay-to-win model.  This is where players pay for gained advantages.  This can range from better weapons to quicker acquisition of resources.  It gives those that have the money and advantage over all other players that do not or simply do not want to play that way.

I have never been a fan of the micro-transaction/loot box model of business.  It is a business decision for a company to leech more money out of players, plain and simple.  I have always believed that a full experience should be provided from the beginning and if a company would like to expand the game further, create expansions.  This is something we already see in DLC packs.  Gamers are speaking out against this new move in the industry.  Many of us are upset with it and believe it to be creating an imbalance.  The problem is that there will always be enough players to invest in these sorts of scams.

So what can we do to combat it?  It is hard to say, right now, how it would be best to do so.  Congress is looking at it, but lawmakers are more concerned with bigger issues.  The most we can do as a community is to let our voices be heard by the companies.  The best way to do that is by not giving them your hard earned cash.  Companies like Activision, EA, and Ubisoft are all about the bottom line at the end of the day.  They always want to be in the black, but we have the power to make that number small or put them in the red.  We have to make the industry realize that consumers hold the power.  It isn't like we aren't willing to go retro or pick up indie titles.  Most of the time, this is much more rewarding anyways.

This is my unorganized two cents on the matter.  I do not like it.  Have never liked it and will continue not to.  This will not change and I will continue saving my hard earned dollars for projects that deserve it.  Thanks for reading and let me know what you think! 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Assassin's Creed: Origins Review

If you are not familiar with the Assassin's Creed franchise, you have missed a lot of content.  I will not get into the details of the story, but a brief summary should be able to kick start us to this game.  The franchise started with a world in which the player can discover people and places of the past through DNA memories.  These memories are accessed through "The Animus", a machine that allows a user to see the memories of their ancestors and explore the world they lived in through those memories.  The series has taken us on a roller-coaster ride through multiple time periods and geographical locations.  Starting in the Middle-East, going to Italy, America, The Caribbean, China, India, Russia, England, and now to Egypt.  Over the span of 10 years, players have been to so many places and seen so many things, but sadly the franchise took a dip with stagnation in gameplay as well as its story.

In Assassin's Creed: Origins (AC Origins), we get a fresh coat of paint and a completely re-work/re-design of how players not only travel this new world, but also how they interact and engage in combat.  While playing AC Origins you play as Bayek, a Medjay that still stays true to his duty of helping and protecting the people even though the Ptolemy family has disbanded them.  After suffering a great personal loss, Bayek goes on a journey of revenge to kill all of those that had a hand in his hurt.  The story building in AC Origins does a great job of immediately engaging the player to want to know more about Bayek.  The character is multi-layered and not as one dimensional as some of the previous protagonists of the series.  While he is motivated by revenge, it never stops him from acting too brashly and he maintains the honor of his position in helping people over getting his revenge.

The game world is vast and beautifully sculpted.  It feels alive with vendors and people walking through the streets.  The ability to listen to conversations while walking around, hear the laughter of children while the play in the streets, and see all of them reacting to each other creates a brilliant immersive environment.  While wandering in the wild, players can take the opportunity to admire wildlife from afar or engage in hunting them for materials.  Predators will attack prey, including Bayek, and non-predators will run away.  The only thing missing is fishing, but the ability to swim and engage with the underwater environment is still breathtaking.  Draw distance's look clear and made me want to explore the world more than just play quests.  I found myself just traveling the desert for miles appreciating the details put into it by the development team.

I was initially unsure of the combat changes and afraid that they would change the dynamic of fighting in a negative or unenthusiastic way.  Players of the franchise had become very accustomed to playing with the hit box animation that the series used.  The more free-flowing system does not let the player down at all.  If anything, it makes a fight feel more real.  You do get parry abilities or you can spend your time dodging the enemies attacks to open up for an attack to their flank.  Assassinations work just the same as they always have, but with the RPG elements of the game you may not always succeed in an immediate take-down.  Also, with a multitude of weapons at your disposal, there is a variety of combat tactics you can approach a situation with.

The stealth mechanics are much more realistic in the sense of motion that can be picked up by NPC enemies.  If you move slowly in the bushes, they are less likely to notice you, but if you try to move quickly, they will notice that the shrubs are shuffling an awful lot.  Climbing works beautifully with the stealth action of the game as you can climb most surfaces as long as there is something to grab onto.  Players can also take utilization of a variety of bows that work both for stealth, quite well, or for more actionable combat.  Each type of bow acts similarly to guns that a player may have come across in most first-person shooters.  There is a light bow that acts as a quick multi-shot weapon, a war bow that works in a similar fashion to a shot-gun, the predator bow for all of you sniping needs, and the hunter bow which is a mid-grade bow somewhere between the light bow speed and the predator bow range.

One problem the franchise has suffered from is replay value.  The side quests have been there, but it never felt like there was enough of them.  The quests never felt unique or engaging either.  It was simply assassination contracts, fetch quests, races, etc.  The problem was that there was not much of a story involved in any of them so players would hit a point of feeling disengaged from them.  It was easier to skip the text description and just get your experience/money.  The main story of the game is roughly 25-30+ hours.  This is average for most action games today, but you can easily sink another 40-50+ hours into completing side quests, hunting animals, upgrading your gear, getting your skills maxed out, taking photos, etc.  There is a tremendous amount to do in the game and it almost feels overwhelming.  Almost, but once players start filtering what they want out of all this game has to offer, it becomes very easy to get lost in the desert sands because of the mirages.

The main story of this game is engaging and feels real.  You empathize with Bayek and he doesn't feel like the young, brash, quick to anger characters we've gotten from many of the games in the franchise.  He feels like a man with a purpose and as you travel through the story with him, you feel his pain.  You begin to understand his motivation.  I ended up in one quest that actually made me angry.  It didn't make me angry because of a problem in it.  It gave me the same anger the character was feeling due to the events that unfolded.  It has been a long time since players could engage with a character this way and it is a welcome feeling.

Now, I am aware that much of this review is singing the praises of this game.  This is not to say that the game is not without problems.  AC Origins does have some glitched issues that the developers are working on fixing while also releasing more content.  As of the time of this writing, there is a known issue with a trophy/achievement because of an item issue from later in the game.  There are some small bugs that cause animals to spawn oddly, but there hasn't been any issue that was game breaking.  I found myself missing elements of previous installments of the franchise, but I believe that is only because of my comfort with those elements.  I am positive that if players push through the differences, they will find that this is still an Assassin's Creed game like any other, but with many improvements that outweigh the old style.

All-in-all, I give this game a 9.5/10.  The reason I can't bring myself to give it a 10 is simply because of the small glitch issues and the major one that is causing some players to not get full trophy/achievement completion.  When you invest 70+ hours into a game this is a frustration point that does deteriorate the experience.  Get this game!  You owe it to yourself if you're a long-time fan, someone that stepped away after Ezio, or wanting a new gaming experience.  I promise you won't be disappointed.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Podcast Episode 3: Ghost In The Shell

Continuing the trend of some older material I have, the new podcast is out! This week, witness the discussion about one of the most controversial movies this year! Ghost In The Shell! Roman, Chris, and Daniel talk about the movie primarily from a cinema viewpoint. Give me a like and comment on whether you like the episode!

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Podcast Episode 2: Ghost Recon Wildlands

Roman, Dan, and Carlos talk about Ghost Recon Wildlands!  We talk about what we liked about the open world, the responsiveness of weapons, vehicles tracking like cardboard boxes, etc.  Listen in and comment on your feelings!  Did you like it?  Hate it?  Give all of the feedback!

P.S. I'm sorry that this is a bit dated, but fresh content will come soon!