Category: Review


This week, two and a half years after it was released, I finally completed the final entry in the Final Fantasy XIII saga. Lightning Returned into my heart and gave me  more than a satisfying conclusion to the giant cliffhanger we were left on in XIII-2. Outside of the ending, though, I can’t really say I  really loved this game experience.

(What a tease this commercial is. She doesn’t have her OG XIII outfit in this game)

 

Lightning Returns picks up 500 years after XIII-2 where Lightning went into an eternal crystal slumber. Lightning is woken up by the God of Light previously mentioned but never seen, Bhunivelze.He charges Lightning with collecting the souls of everyone left alive on Pulse within 13 days before the world ends – and that’s where my problems with LR begin. The plot and writing are pretty bare-bones and so is the world you inhabit. In order to collect souls you need to “make people happy” which equates to doing fetch quests. Tons, and tons and tons of fetch quests. If forced to add all of them up I’d guessimate there were Infinite Fetch Quests. You talk to bland NPCs, in one  of the game’s FOUR locations, or you talk to a woman in a sexy chocobo costume and read quests off a literal quest board, and you fulfill the requirements to collect a soul and gain stats.  Outside of four or five major quests that involve characters from previous games and give large portions of plot that move events forward to Lightning figuring out her true powers and who the real enemy is, all the other quests give a few sentences of lore about the world. The bit of data the NPC gives that details the apocalypse or the people left is usually repeated somewhere in the datalog or by Hope, making it even more worthless. Most of what they had to say was so interesting I spammed X to move on to next quest.

That may seem harsh but the game itself conditioned me to rush through certain parts. The 13 day time limit Bhunivelze gave Light? It’s a real-time limit! Each ‘day’ in the game lasts one hour in real time. You are given a skill, Chronostasis, that stops time for a few minutes but that skill has limited uses. When not stopped, time will progress during dialog, when you run around so painfully slowly on the map and when you travel via train between the 4 locations in the game. I always felt rushed and pressured to be as  precise with my time as possible. It’s not like the world was so beautiful I wanted to wander around and look at it but I still didn’t like being pressured by an every growing checklist of quests or constant annoying reminders from Hope on how much time I had left.

The pacing problems of the game don’t just stop with the time management and slow running. By the last few days enemies are so powerful that I, having done almost all the fetch quests in the game, had a seriously tough time fighting them. by the Final Day every enemy has all their stats multiplied by up to 300%. Upon my first death I found the root of  the issue. In place of the enemy mob on the map was a floating crystal hourglass which, upon inspection, told me if the enemies of the area were too hard I could give up my quest and start a New Game+ right there. I’d carry over my stats, equipment and abilities but would need to do over every fetch quests I had already completed. The fetch quests would you the stat bonuses AGAIN so the grind was as endless as the quests!

What a terrifying idea! Redoing my 28ish hours of gameplay just to beat the last dungeon? Instead of balancing the enemies in some respectable way or giving Lightning some way to power up her skills that isn’t based on random drops the devs really thought “just do it all over” was a better idea? No thanks. You also get the option to start NG+ if you don’t complete those Big Story Missions in each of the four areas before the end of the world – but the game never tells you to go out and explore those areas first. I was trying to complete ALL the quests in the first town when suddenly I ran into mobs that one hit KO’d me and I was told by an IRL friend to travel to a new town.

Finally for the positive things about the game. By now if you follow video game news even a little bit you’ve seen the trailers, read the articles about her stint as a REAL LIFE model or at the very least you’ve seen THAT DRESS, so you know the major mechanic that drives gameplay in Lightning Returns is Playing Dress Up! Aside from the fact that I avoided most dresspheres that had Light only in a pair of panties and a bra, this was legitimately one of the best parts of the game. I think most fans of modern RPGs really enjoy customization of how their character looks and this game gives it to you. You can change the color of individual pieces of  an outfit, and you can add accessories to make your own look. I wish you could equip more than one accessory, like a hat AND glasses. Alas :(. There are dozens of dresspheres in the game and each has between zero and 2 abilities innately equipped. Defensive ones might have Mediguard or Steelguard, another might have Fira and Thundara and so on, with many combinations and color swaps. Later they start coming with abilities that passively boost something, like adding Quick Stagger or giving her +10% HP.

Those buffs help you in the other good part of the game: Murdering All the Things. LR places Lightning in the spotlight like never before. Your party has been reduced from three main members in the first game, to 2 + a pet to Lightning alone (for the most part). Instead of switching between 6 paradigms with multiple roles set in them (Tri-Disaster with 3 magic using attackers, Combat Clinic with attacking and healing) you switch between only 3 dressheres and each of those only have 4 skills that are mapped to the face buttons.  I felt it really reduced the amount of strategy you could achieve in previous games but the addition of a blended action RPG feel (free movement and evasion skills) felt good. One light nitpick here is you don’t gain skills from leveling up but from new dresspheres and enemy drops. Because of that I didn’t have and debuffing skills for long time. None of the enemies I fought dropped them until I had already fought several major bosses that I really could’ve used them for.

In the end, the original FFXIII is still my favorite out of the series but it was so very satisfying to take it to the conclusion. The MMO-like progression with the ton of trivial fetch quests were not engaging, the limited time rushes you to an under leveled conclusion because the game wants you to do a NG+ as early as possible. The dresspheres are a treat and the battles are fun (until the end of game when they are a chore). The CGI scenes are definitely where the money went and they spent ALOT; They’re gorgeous. Most importantly Hope Estheim, the best character in any Final Fantasy, really lives up to the meaning of his name. If you haven’t played it yet, go play dress up.

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Like a Squadsighted Sniper on high ground blasting enemies on the other side of the map, XCOM: Enemy Unknown Plus hit the Vita on March 21st surprising everyone with its existence.

I’ve always listed strategy RPGs as a favorite genre of mine but before Fire Emblem Awakening on the 3DS the only ones I’ve ever beaten were the Fire Emblem games on the GameBoy Advance. Advanced Wars, Final Fantasy Tactics, Shining Force all proved too difficult for me. And yet as soon as I saw previews for XCOM: Enemy Unknown it called to me. The creepy Rosewell-y look of the Sectoids, the lifelike environments, the logical approach to strategy, “if you don’t take cover behind that steel wall you’ll probably be shot.” Getting into the Vita release, the game surpassed my expectations and I am really hooked on it. There’s a more direct logic involved in making decisions over the Weapon Triangle of Fire Emblem, but still requires deep thought. You can’t just win by running and gunning. You’ll also have to manage resources, build facilities to upgrade weapons and items and keep the people’s of the world calm by giving them jet planes with canons to defend themselves You have to play with the long game in mind and prioritize all these things.The game has depth and fun, but…it’s not a perfect port.

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As I took this screen cap off my Vita I noticed the text was fine on a normal laptop screen. Just take my word for it. On the Vita it looked terrible.

Right off the bat you’ll notice the limitations of the Vita. All in-game models look somewhere on the level of GTA3 on the PS2. I mean that’s cool, you spend most of the time in battle zoomed out, looking for clear paths to cover and loot to pic up. But it’s especially noticeable when you’re in the base going through the menus and talking to scientists. The game takes a high sci-fi approach when it comes to dishing out info. Everything is displayed on a holographic page that pops out of the background for you to read. However, due to the Vita’s small screen size as the page pops up the text phases back and forth between “illegible microtext” and “If I squint forever I can read this.”

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Why use the fire effect if it’ll look like a PSX texture? Just throw some red lights in there and we’ll still believe this plane can fly.

The controls still take some getting used to. The front screen can only be used to move the  camera around the map, while you have to go to the Dpad to change the camera direction and elevation. You can’t tap on a unit to choose them to move, only shuffle in order with L/R shoulder buttons. Once you select an ability you can’t turn the camera anymore (because the Dpad is now only being used to cycle through your ability list) so if you want a better angle you need to cancel out of the attack, change directions and go back. I only just found out how to check a selected squad mate’s abilities/perks – by double tapping the very small ! icon in the bottom left when that person is selected. It’s very necessary information, knowing who has what passive buffs when in the thick of action. It’s all a bit clunky but you can get used to it

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My #1 soldier, Nightmare the Sniper, got stuck on a table after clipping through a wall. Had to reset.

Then there’s the performance issues and All of The Lag. The game randomly and often sputters when you swap between squad mates to choose your move; there’s lag before the animation to change weapons, there’s input lag after changing weapons so you have to wait a beat before you can target an enemy or move. Small animations don’t load from time to time, like the trail showing the arc of a grenade you want to toss. Audio from XCOM NPCs randomly doesn’t play at all. Most annoyingly sometimes the life bar of your team or enemies will disappear for a round, making deciding who to shoot a problem. There are just a batch of small hiccups that slow the gameplay down but rarely does it impact my enjoyment.

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The Ipad port

I originally thought this Vita port was a port of the Ipad game port that came out years ago. All touch screen controls -> Some touch screen controls seemed like a logical jump to me. Nope.The Ipad version looks and runs way better. So XCOM Enemy Unknown+ seems to have been built specifically for the Vita, and even in the face of the issues, the gameplay is just as addictive challenging and rewarding as any console or PC version.

Drew Droege once saved my life.

Many moons ago, before I became the stable and established man I am now, I was working a temp job at an office that was being shut down by its parent company. I was there for 4 months or so and I spent 7 of my 8 hours a day there packing boxes. Emptying 6 ft tall filing cabinets that were screwed to a pulley system so that approximately a million of them could fit into one room. Packing human resource files, tax returns, extra shoes left at a desk and knick knacks. I did that alone, in rooms painted the color of corn starch for hours. I had reached a point of insanity where my only option became to launch myself head first down the elevator shaft of the 50 story building. Then Drew Droege saved my life.

I found his treasured and  far too short-lived podcast Glitter in the Garbage and those days suddenly became bearable while listening to Drew and his 2-4 guests per episode improv skits “live” on air. His guest list pulled from such talented comedians as June Diane Raphael, Phil Lamar, Sam Pancake, Bryan Safi, Beth Crosby and so many more. The improv was always fun and funny. But secretly my favorite part of each episode were the openers where Drew told a story from his life. Whether it was a snippet from his high school days about his manic teacher, an anecdote from his first paid job as an actor at a summer camp or some gossip about an annoying baby from earlier that afternoon  these short informal bits were so enthralling. They were only a few minutes long but these peeks into his brain always interested me the most; they gave me something to connect to as oppose to just laugh at.

Bright Colors and Bold Patterns felt like the opening story of each episode of Glitter in the Garbage stitched into one coherent thought and it was a beautiful one. Drew’s one-man show that he so graciously shared with us east-coasters at the Ars Nova space this past week, showcased Drew as Gerry, meeting some old friends and one new one, the night before they were to attend a wedding. Drew bounces around the stage, living out his side of a hilarious, alcohol and coke-fueled conversation. The laughs come pouring out of the crowd as Drew lambastes the fakeness of people too afraid to be real, inexperience of youth , too dumb to know their gay history and  he tan pants suits of suburbia as it tries to reel in and tone-down bright gayness of he and his friends.

Like his GitG intros, a line of truth runs through all the humor. In the first half Gerry laments the upcoming marriage of his two friends as a sort of death. They’re going from shit-kicking, glue-gunning, Fire Islanding, GAY men to some humdrum boring married couple. In the next half we learn that Gerry’s emotions stem from the fear of uncertainty and of being alone while his friends partner up. The setting of this show might be different but this is a conversation I’ve had with many a queer friend. “Why be normal? We’re losing our sense of self! We’re becoming like THEM!” all comments I’ve heard but without the humor or personal insight drew displays in this show.

This show was a great treat.  I hope to see him live again soon.

Drew Droege

distant_worlds_logo Last week on April the 24th, I embarked on a journey to celebrate the music of Final Fantasy. I traveled from my hometown, battling giant bugs and goblins, boarded a Mystery Train where I gained more party members, my bros Matt and Rachel. Together we took on the slightly cliché but always necessary JRPG Ghost Ship as we took a ferry to the far off continent of Massochiechie.  We battled the usual mobs like Angry Old Men Why Won’t Let Us Get On The Boat and Seasickness.Finally we reached our destination, the Boston Symphony Orchestra. We bolstered our ranks with more party members, Jon and Courtney, and let ourselves feel the Real Emotions of the concert.

I was excited as a Final Fantasy fanboi could be to be able to attend this concert. The concert hall was packed, maxing out the capacity of three mezzanines. The sound of styluses tapping  3DSs filled the air until the conductor, Arnie Roth, took the stage and a hush fell over the crowd. The night took off like a golden Chocobo right out of the gate as the performers played FFVII’s Bombing Mission and bits of the games’ opening sequence were projected into a large screen as accompaniment. A crowd-pleaser for sure. Soon FFVI’s Character Medley shined some light on each of the characters by playing a small piece for their themes.Balab Garden: Ami calmly reminded me of my of my pre-teen crush on the chicken-wuss and just how cool FFVII was before disc three.  Closing out the first half with as big a bang as the opening the orchestra hit us with a one-two combo of J-E-N-O-V-A and one of 200 bird-centered ditties, Swing de Chocobo. The montage of sassy chocobo tail swinging, flapping around the world map and jumping out of afros on Gran Pulse was incredibly adorable and matched the hilarious up beat music.

Let me take a second here to just air something out. I’ve only had one Encounter  with any other video game concerts before, the Zelda: Symphony of the Goddesses back in February. I can’t say I have much experience with them. But I have plenty of experience with other concerts and with being a human being so I can say with authority that the conductor, Arnie Roth, is kind of a douche.

He oozed this sleazy air of false platitude and condescension, like he was a used car salesman who thought his car was too good for you. He named dropped working with Uematsu as many times as he could and humblebragged about “working directly with SqaureEnix every day!” But he just seemed like another otaku. He also seemed like someone’s dad who had just looked at all the trending Final Fantasy hashtags and wanted to let us know how hip he was: “I would love to play some FF15 music IF IT WOULD EVER COME OUT, AMIRITE?”  “Final Fantasy IV, aka the game with the MOST characters in ANY GAME EVER IN THE WORLD, LOL”

But most revoltingly, he was a total ass! First off he stops playing FF5’s Main Theme four seconds in, turns to the audience with the biggest shit-eating-grin and says “Let’s start that over. And this time the [guy on the drums] will try to come in on time.” Then when the song starts over he stabs at the drummer with angriest gesture for him to begin. Later he chastises the pianist is if she were a child when she starts to play the notes she knows he’s going to ask for because she knows the goddamn game he is going to play with the audience because they’ve done this show before and rehearsed it. “NO, Listen to me then play”

Yes, messing up is not something the performers should be doing when the show is live but yelling at them like dogs should definitely never ever happen. Sounds like The Extreme but you gotta believe me unless Maybe, I’m a Lion…(I’m not)

After intermission they brought FFIX to the forefront with a very touching and beautifully performed Roses of May, theme of Garnet Queen of Alexandria. I was introduced to FFXIV with an operatic theme and footage of MMO players battling huge Eidolens  I was hit with sucker punch as they played The Theme Love from FFIV. I remember rolling my eyes as I played the game with the spoony bard, the love triangle between Totally Not Gay Cecil, Kain and Rosa, and the annoying twins who got stoned. But when I heard that theme I felt my heart swell. FFIV was one of the few Final Fantasies on the SNES or younger that I played to completion and LIKED! Apparently its deeper in my heart than I remembered.

FFX’s To Zanarkand brought a hush over the entire building. Everyone felt the burden of the Summoner as the scenes of  Yuna Sending all those who died in Kilika  when Sin attacked. The tone shifted towards a triumphant rise as a Battle Medley and series theme medley rounded out the night….or it did until Roth came back out for his ONE AND ONLY encore, One Winged-Angel (where the aforementioned pianist yelling occurred).I was honestly hoping for Eyes of Me or Liberli Fatali or anything from FFXIII-2 but the rest of the audience went wild for it. Everyone loves Sephiroth…I guess.

The songs hit all the special places in my garment grid. When I hear those songs from my computer I am transported back to that particular game’s most memorable moments. experiencing them from a live orchestra took that nostalgia to another level and even made me think about some of these games I’ve known for years in brand new ways. But from the technical issues (the  percussion in Man with the Machine Gun was almost the only thing audible) and the attitude of Mr Conductor, and the length of the performance! (Symphony of the Goddess cost the same amount and was twice as long, didn’t have any flubs and the conductor was amazing and gave four encoures!!) I probably won’t be going to another of these Distant Worlds any time soon.

The Zelda Univserse is a pretty convoluted one, with canonical time travel, reincarnations and parallel dimensions all existing and connecting each of the games into one story. Even so, a direct sequel revisiting the same kingdom from an older game isn’t thing that happens frequently. The Phantom Hour Glass and Spirit Tracks were all sequels to, and took place in the same instance of Hyrule as Wind Waker. Similarly to that trio of games, A Link Between Worlds brings us to the familiar world of A Link to the Past, and has us confront a new danger in a new time.  The characters are chibi and have puffy cheeks, the map is overhead and the woods are to the north of the castle and town like the first game. But pretty much everything else in the game is different and I think I that’s why this is the first Zelda game I’ve enjoyed playing since Minish Cap.

 

If I were friends with The Legend of Zelda on Facebook we wouldn’t even be in a “Complicated” relationship. I would probably unsubscribe from seeing all its post and block it from seeing most of my pictures. I just haven’t really liked most of the games in the series. The gibberish squawking that characters make when you speak to them  in “voiced” games drives me nuts; the writing takes itself far too seriously during most important story segments and I often lose interest in the long dungeons and puzzles.  I don’t have the nostalgic love for the Hero in the Green Tunic that could keep me interested in the lackluster gameplay and repetitive dungeons. When I tried to play A Link to the Past as a youth I gave up pretty quickly.

Luckily for me ALBW changed up the formula in a way that really brought out the fun for me. The game ditches the traditional “did you find this item in this dungeon? Well you’re going to need it to complete this dungeon” model of exploration for  a more open ended “Rent (or buy) whatever weapon you want whenever you can afford it and go where you please” system. Of course there are hints telling you what item you’ll need to take on which dungeon, but it feels really nice to blast enemies in the earlier part of the game with ice rods and giant bombs. There is a ton more Rupee to be found in this game as well so grinding through one dungeon can typically get you enough to buy one weapon out right, which lets you keep it even after death. The dungeons are, for the most part, very short and I was able  to complete 2-3 per sitting. A major positive this version of Zelda had over the others were the inclusion of the Hint Ghosts. Essentially, by paying Play Coins, players can get hints from nerdy looking ghosts that populate the dungeons and overworld. The hints range from useless tidbits like “There’s an entrance around here” to very specific clues like “Use the arrow when it’s eyes are glowing.” It really helps in those moments where you could spend ANOTHER 14 minutes trying to figure out a puzzle by retracing your steps and using all your items and hitting your sword against all the walls, or just talk to a ghost and move on.

Along with those changes to the series’  systems, the addition that sets this game apart from the others is the use the Merge mechanic. A bit less than halfway through the  game an Evil Clown (no, not that one) tries to destroy Link by trapping him in  a 2D painting. Thanks to the power PLOT Link not only survives the magic assault but gains the ability to walk along all walls as a 2D painting for a limited time. Most of the game’s puzzles revolve around, finding a point to become a painting to get to another location. This is not just reduced to something as obvious as using a wall to cross a path when the floor has been destroyed. There are plenty of smart puzzles involving moving platforms and perfectly timed wall merges.

 

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I think the painting art is secretly my favorite thing about the game

 

 

Other Zelda titles I’ve liked were Link’s  Awakening, Oracle of Seasons and Minish Cap. I played Phantom Hour Glass up to defeating the last dungeon and going back to the MAIN one but soon became completely disinterested in the game that just wouldn’t end and wouldn’t stop with the filler material (I’d even gotten used to the silly stylus-only movements). I completed  A Link Between Worlds in about 3 weeks of casual play. With the exception of the Desert Fortress/Dungeon I always felt a sense of progression, of accomplishment. Whereas is the past with Zelda games I begin feeling like I’m climbing up a steep hill very quickly. The open-ended structure and constant positive feed back of being able to complete dungeons and dispatch of enemies how I see fit was such a rush.

 

A Link to the Past is a pretty good answer when guessing the favorite childhood game game of a 26 – 34 year old video game enthusiast (Battletoads x Double Dragon 4 Life) but this sequel is my favorite game, so far, set in that version of Hyrule.

 

Keep on Truckin, Lil Hero

Keep on Truckin, Lil Hero

Gayme Over

     

When not collecting Pokémon badges and StreetPasses I spent much of my time at GaymerX2 at the panels.

The first panel I attended was the talk by sponsor and AAA video game developer GearBox. Present at the talk were head writer for Borderlands 2, Anthony Burch (who is waaay shorter in the person than I imagined), level designer Grahm Timmons, concept artist Amanda Christianson, Ashley Rochelle and CEO (and amazingly snazzy dresser) Randy Pitchfork.

The discussion opened up with the topic of people cosplaying as characters from the Borderlands universe and the team feeling especially excited when they see pictures of people becoming Ellie from Borderlands. Ellie, a big-boned mechanic who has a very positive self image is just of the great examples of the multi-layered, diverse world of the BL games. Other characters include Sir Hammerlock a black, high brow sport huntsman who has robotic limbs and is gay, the player character Salvador, a muscle-bound Latino of comically short stature and Dr. Patricia Tannis, the genius scientist with PTSD and agoraphobia.

Anthony spoke about how important it was for him to have a balanced gender options in the playable character pool in the Presquel: 2 female players, one male and one male robot (the fan favorite Claptrap). The story of the how their came to be a balanced gender ratio wasn’t fact checked on Wikipedia before the talk because and Pitchford had different accounts of the story. Anthony remembered being “pissy and passive aggressive” in a team meeting until the CEO asked what the problem was and the writer answered that the genders should be equal. Pitchfork remembers just asking if anyone on the staff had an issue with the team and Anthony speaking up.

The takeaway I got from this meeting while GearBox places diversity in character creation as a major factor in their games, in terms of size, color, gender, visual style and play style. But according to Pitchfork the diversity isn’t artificially forced in. They don’t start with an underrepresented party at random and put them into the game but strive to create authentic characters fueled from the team’s actual life experience.

Honestly I don’t see a problem with either approach. If, by and large the “default” for a character design and story is “straight white male of average height with brown hair, off to save his girlfriend/daughter” why not start developing a character from the other end? Why not ask “whose story has not been told? Or at least not very often?” or “how can we make this character different from the rest?” I don’t see this method as less authentic, so long as you do the research, or “pandering” as I’m sure so many righteous YouTube and game blog commenters would by copying and pasting around the net.

Another great panel I went to was titled “Yes, And?” It was a demonstration of non-combative and defusing ways to communicate online when met with a hostile comment section. Joystiq’s community manager, Susan Arendt, and editor-in-chief, Ludwig Keitzman and Boss of Honor David Gaider headed this panel. Keeping yourself level headed is so hard to do especially when it’s so easy to shoot from the hip and fire a load of caps locked curse words at a stranger who insulted you. But as the panel explained, taking an extra second to think and realize in some cases you might not be getting “trolled” but could just be interacting with someone who has no frame of reference to understand your feelings. Asking them to explain their position instead of jumping on their comment could end up with both parties thinking about something new instead of fighting.

I went to a handful of other panels but the next one impact me was the last one I attended, almost the last panel of the weekend: “How Urban Black & Latino Culture Can be the Next Frontier in Games” moderated by Shawn Allen, artist, writer and founder of NuChallenger.

I made a list of panels of I planned to attend on my first day and saw Shawn’s panel and thought “Well I’m black. I guess I’d better go.” I’m not sure what exactly I expected nor why I felt only a resignation to attend this panel, as if it were assigned to me. Maybe as this is a topic I don’t see alot of discussion about outside my own thoughts and writings, I didn’t expect much from a panel in a hotel in San Francisco. But it was easily the most meaningful and surprisingly emotional event of the weekend.

Shawn, who is biracial (black and Latino) opened with a short rundown of his career. A programmer who eventually made got hired as Quality Assurance tech at RockStar games in New York City. Thanks his dedication and programming skills Shawn was promoted out of QA to game development. But once there he realized he was suddenly one of about three black programmers who had been promoted past that lower-tier. Suddenly, after growing up and living in a city where roughly half the population is black, Shawn’s skin color was a factor that set him apart, made him different from the overwhelming majority. The lack of racial diversity wasn’t a subject that was normal talk around the coffee pot but it was still real enough to affect Shawn.

Eventually, feeling uneasy about his position, Shawn left Rockstar and is began working on his own projects. He painted a stark comparison between the booming artistic revolution that took place in the urban cityscape in the 70s and 80s. Break dancing, tagging, rap itself, all products of artistic minds in the city looking for an outlet, that today are recognized and the great feats of art that they are. Graffiti artists are now world-renown talents with books and documentaries about them. Break dancing has fallen out of the popular consciousness but dances like tutting and stepping has taken its place and can be seen everywhere ‘Glee’ to Hulu+ shows.

My takeaway from Shawn’s panel was that getting more diversity into this industry would not only improve the product by getting more varied views and stories into but would also improve the lives of the urban youth who could potentially use it as a vehicle to excel at something that would be profitable and enriching to their self-image. There are some initiatives out to teach people and children to code but many don’t take into account that not all of them will have access to a computer, or a broadband connection to get the software, or even a smart phone. A reassessment in how some of these programs run could change a lot of lives and change the look of office that still look like Rockstar’s did when Shawn joined them.

The most meaningful thing Shawn said that took me completely off guard was that he had the most fun at GaymerX2 that he’d had at a con. This was because other game conventions and communities had an attitude that was “so inclusive it was exclusive.” and damn he could have taken those words right out of my mouth. GaymerX being my first con was not a chance occurrence. With PAX East going on not 5 hours from my in Boston I’ve had plenty of other ones I’ve could’ve gone to but even the marketing and press about the other events did not seem welcoming to me. It’s not that any of the people involved were rude or racist but when all the writing is saying “come be with Us! Join Us! We know what you like because you’re one of Us!” but no one there looks like you or represents other aspects of you, the Us makes you feel like a They. I felt I would end up being the Token Black Guy and What, You Like Boys!? Gay Guy and didn’t want to go spend feeling I would get weird looks for mentioning Old Snake’s butt in that tight suit in MGS4 or for revealing my avatar in PokemonX is a girl named Buffy Summers because the clothing options for the male avatar was abysmal and he looked horrible in any hat. At GaymerX there were other people on Growlr using Pokémon as their profile names and, I mean, that right there is enough got me to want to want it to stay around forever.
GaymerX2 was great and I can’t wait to attend more events like it.

Earlier this month I boarded a plane and headed to an event I never would imagine I would even take place. On the opposite side of the continent, in a grand hotel in San Francisco the second, and final, video game convention operated by, targeted to, and designed as a safe space for: gay, lesbian, queer, trans, colored disabled and othered people GaymerX was held.

3 floors of the Intercontinental Hotel were packed to the walls with cosplayers, Pokémon trainers, [gorgeous] drag queens, friendly volunteers, writers of gay fiction or prose, developers, collectors, trading cards in sleeves, board and table top gamers, guys scantily clad in pieces of football kit, differently-abled people and families! It was an unbelievable and overwhelming sight to behold. And that was just what I felt passing people by in the hallways.

The first official day of the con began with an opening ceremony headed by the creators of the convention: Matt Conn (organizer, funds raiser, public relations) Toni Rocca (President) and many of the Bosses of Honor that would speak and teach and demonstrate throughout the weekend. Amongst them were: cartoonist and comedian Zack Weinersmith; game developer and critic Mattie Brice, professor and designer Colleen Macklin, writer with Bioware David Gaider and activist, leader and gamer Gordon Bellamy. More Bosses were not present at the time but showed up later during the weekend.

Matt went over some highlights that awaited us during the convention: GearBox talk with President (and amazing dresser, Randy Pitchford) and the first ever public demo of Borderlands: The Presequel. The workshop with computers donated by Alienware on the 6th floor. The Indiecade, a large space dedicated to independent games, digital and analog. The Ouya room with a preview of the currently developing game Matt Con is producing, Read Only Memories. During the talk, Darren Young made an appropriately festive entrance to discuss his signing/photo op and inclusion in the upcoming WWE wrestling game. He was a little too enthusiastic, though, because during his praise of GaymerX2’s accomplishments he wished them well during the next event in 2015. The crowd hushed because the word around the internet was that this, GaymerX2 would be the last con for the organizers. Money was too hard to get and everything was expensive to do.

But Matt pulled out yet another surprise by announcing that in 2015, should they be able to find the founding GaymerX would be changing its name to something more representative of its diverse audience since gay people were just the tip of the iceberg. (Thus making this the final ‘GaymerX,’ technically but not the final event, necessarily.)

Up next I will give a quick rundown of each of the panels I attended.

My final and maybe biggest problem with the game is another call back to the older titles: the player character is a white man looking for something and/or trying to escape a terrible past. This issue wouldn’t be really new when so many other games chose a straight, white man, between the age of 26 and 33 for their game anyway. It’s mostly a problem here because Elizabeth is by far the most compelling, interesting and authentically animated character in years. But instead of being allowed to play as her, we are stuck with Booker who, save some important plot points where Elizabeth is around, is like a plank of murderous wood.  As much as I want to play as the clearly better character, I now see it could never be because of all the Bioshock in the game. We wouldn’t see any of Elizabeth’s amazing facial expressions and reactions because Bioshocks need to be in first person. She would be a completely different character with a gun and there HAS to be gunplay because Bioshock.

I could never say I didn’t like parts Bioshock Infinite, but I most definitely cannot sing its praises like most of the press I’ve seen. By making this game a sequel in Bioshock franchise, Ken Levine and the rest of Irrational Games already decided on major aspects of the gameplay and unfortunately for me I found that these choices having already been made really hindered my enjoyment and understanding of the story.

 

 

About 24 hours ago I sat through the ending and some of the credits of Bioshock Infinite. I exhaled deeply and let the anger and anxiety from the final onslaught of almost endless enemies that was the mini-horde mode of a last battle escape me. I let the total mind-fuck of an ending wash over me as I strained to understand it. After I came to my own conclusion on what the ending might mean I asked myself a question I don’t normally have to get to the end of a game to know the answer to:

“Did I like that game?”

Image (pic source: Irrational Games)

As a preface, I feel I need to admit a few things. First, I never completed the first Bioshock. It was one of the first games I bought for my 360 a few years ago, but I was expecting a completely different experience. I thought I was in for an action shoot ‘em up with magic powers, not an FPS/ survival horror hybrid.  Second, before getting Infinite, I had no real intention of playing it. The years of hype and previews did nothing for me. It wasn’t until all the glittering reviews of the game came in that I began to feel interest. Even then, I managed to stay spoiler-free the entire time.

Now that I’ve said that, after hours of meditation, the answer I came to for myself was no, I didn’t enjoy this game. Bioshock Infinite eventually develops a great story and has a wonderful but severely underused protagonist in Elizabeth, but both these aspects were muddled and hidden by the BIOSHOCK branding covering everything else.

Pretty much all of the reviews I read and watched, including all sources from Joystiq to Destructoid to personal Youtube channels, all championed the story of Infinite. Many said it was the greatest story of the generation, already awarding it game of the year accolades. However, just as unanimously none of these reviewers really exulted the gameplay. In fact many people straight out said they dreaded walking into an area when a battle would likely happen (very clearly telegraphed with chest-high walls, sky rails and ammo crates) because of how uncomfortable the controls were. Or how they gritted their teeth and bared it just to make it to the next segment of the story.

My feelings towards the gameplay are a little more severe: I hated every aspect of the gameplay that I was in control of. The fighting was a little sloppy and derivative, but everything else from the exploration to story development was sabotaged by the controls. Infinite begins looking like a deep story about a city-state literally falling into destruction before our eyes, and then the actual and much more compelling plot about the complex relationship between the player character Booker, the trapped Elizabeth, the mad despot Comstock and two time traveling siblings comes to light. But most of the story is hidden away of Voxophones (aka audio diaries). Why? Because that’s how it was done in the other Bioshocks. In the older games that idea fit into the world because almost everyone is a frenzied murder or possessed by a parasitic creature so there isn’t a lot of chance to interact with other people. But Infinite is filled with NPCs who talk and gossip and sing and are available to give. This is completely insulting to the best aspect of the game.  This decision affected me directly because I missed about half of the diaries and missed HUGE pieces of the plot specifically about the Lutece siblings

The world and gameplay never seem to connect. The floating city of Columbia exists above and succeeded from America after the American Indian Wars. The Christian, Anglo-Saxon majority oppresses and segregates the small population of black people, called Vox, and the Irish who aren’t brought up in the story much. You find yourself in the middle of a revolution…but still in a video game. One early plot point has the player trying to collect guns for the revolution because guns are how you win a war, right? But in the very city that these live in there are vending machines that dispense soda that can give you super powers. There is nothing special about Booker. He uses coins he finds in the garbage to buy Vigors and with a bit of planning, is able to murder hundreds of faceless soldiers with lightning and fire, or demonic crows and he can repel bullets. Why didn’t the Vox just steal some of these? Or buy some of those since they do live and work in areas where Vigors are sold? Or even mention them?

Another gameplay feature I feel took away from the story was the fact that game was in first-person POV. An integral part of gameplay is that Elizabeth will point out important objects, horrific sights or destinations as she travels with you. However, she is also pretty much always behind you and off screen when she does this. There were many moments when Elizabeth would call my attention to something while I was about 10ft ahead of her, I would turn and her AI programming would tell her to run to catch up to me and I would have no idea what she was pointing out. If I was lucky I could walk back and she would repeat her statement, but 80% of the time she would just interact with a different part of the stage and I would never see what she first thing she pointed out. This problem could easily have been addressed with a Gears of War style “Press X to look at the important thing” feature. The idea is actually used a few times to show the player an really huge image like a castle, but not used enough when there’s so often multiple things happening.

Image

My final and maybe biggest problem with the game is another call back to the older titles: the player character is a white man looking for something, or trying to escape a terrible past. This issue wouldn’t be terribly noticeable (so many other games chose a straight, white man, between the age of 26 and 33 for their game anyway). It’s mostly a problem here because Elizabeth is by far the most compelling, interesting and authentically animated character in years. But instead of being allowed to play as her, we are stuck with Booker who, save some important plot points where Elizabeth is around, is like a plank of murderous wood.  As much as I wanted to play as the clearly better character, I now see it could never be because of all the Bioshock in the game. We wouldn’t see any of Elizabeth’s amazing facial expressions and reactions because Bioshocks need to be in first person. She would be a completely different character with a gun and there HAS to be gunplay because Bioshock.

I could never say I didn’t like parts Bioshock Infinite, but  I most definitely cannot sing its praises like most of the press I’ve seen. By making this game a sequel in Bioshock franchise, Ken Levine and the rest of Irrational Games already decided on major aspects of the gameplay and unfortunately for me I found that these choices having already been made really hindered my enjoyment and understanding of the story.

This past Wednesday, the 27th, the Museum of Modern Art opened a new addition to its gallaries named Talk To Me, in which the various ways humans communicate with the devices we use in our everyday life are broken down and reassembled. The men and women over at Kill Screen Magazine (a gaming mag that I’ve really only heard while listening to some Brainy Gamer Podcasts) got the chance to cohost the opening night of the exhibit and did so by throwing a party in the MoMA that I attended with a friend. Thanks to the folks at Joystiq I knew there would be games available for playing throughout the museum. I also expected a bit of, ya know, information sharing to go with the games from the developers or producers.  I was unpleasently surprised by the actuality of the event.

 

The first sight to greet you, after picking up your sweet wristband and complimentary tote bag, is a projection of the game Limbo on to a wall and a guest playing it. Studded throughout the main and second floors were areas where you could get in line to play bit of an indie game. In front of the gaming corners were place cards that explained what the game was and when  was released and other such minor details. There were 2 desks where you could pick up your complimentary wine or crappy local beer. I frequented these places often. And aside from the over-dressed people attending there really wasn’t much else from the gamer hosts. The most interesting spots were the ‘Button’ and ‘Reach for the Heavens’ game locations, each of which were games that you had to play with your entire body. Button was a Simon Says sort of affair with instructions on a screen and a huge button at the feet of the players. The instructions ranged from “Hold your button down fore 11 seconds” to “Touch something orange in the room.” It was definitely fun to observe and take part in this wacky take on the party game genre. Reach for the Heavens was a grid-based Red Light/Green Light that was set in the garden area of the museum.

 

Everything else was kind of just, “Stand here and play this until you get bored or someone on line yells at you.” No dialog at all was initiated between the hosts and the guests unless they were explaining how to play the two games I mentioned above. The Talk to Me exhibit itself was interesting and at times great, but the part that interest me the most fell short. I mean, I’m the first person to defend games as an art form and a medium used for telling stories and making money like any other, but I wanted to do more than just LOOK at some games. I can do that just fine in my living room

Hey folks, thanks for joining me in my first post here at the Infinite Fetch Quest game blog. I know that I haven’t had a proper introduction post but that can come later. I just wanted to get this post out there before every reaction to the announcements, reveals and show stoppers at E3 were made completely irrelevant, by say, waiting so long that the announced titles and systems come out. Well I’ll just dive into this. To preface this, I wasn’t actually at E32011. I watched the live streams made available by Gametrailers.com, refreshed my twitter feed and Joystiq pages over and over again to get my information (at one point I switched over to G4’s stream to hear Adam Sessler’s soothing voice when Sony’s press conference was delayed).

Microsoft’s press conference: Pretty Lackluster. I went in to this confernce expecting to see alot of motion play games and tie ins from both Sony and Microsoft. The Move and Kinect sold millions when they came out last year and then kinda just sat there. They need to make customers not regret buying those extra bits of plastic for about $150. And boy did Microsoft try to do that. They might has well have had the entire show operated on a Kinect, but I guess that would have meant relying on the Kinect’s iffy sensor entirely and not focusing on showing happy children pretending to fly through a Disney theme park.

After showing off about 9 minutes of ‘core games’ that had Kinect functionality shoe-horned into them, including Mass Effect 3, Microsoft tried to show that other companies would be bringing their A game to the accessory and had Lionshead Studios show off something they’d kept under wraps, a first person, Kinect-only game, Fable – The Journey. The game looked pretty bad. The Kinect Tech Master sat on his Kinect Couch pretending to whip horses to make them pull his carriage faster and then moved his hands in a series of weird fashions to shoo fire balls and lightning rings. The game seemed to be on rails, a huge problem with many of the motion controlled games/segments in regular games, but  Peter Molyneux, head of the studio, has sinced promised us that it wouldn’t be.

That was followed by a Star Wars Kinect game that basically had players reliving their elemtary school days, where they ran around the school yard pretending to be Jedis and Power Rangers and other uniformed heroes, by having them pretend to swing a lightsaber and force push objects from the screen. This foolish looking game was also on rails, and moved from point to point as the exhibitor waved his hands and fell robot after robot.

The show wrapped up with a series of family friendly Kinect games and new Kinect 1st party software that allowed the user to scan random objects into the Xbox, including themselves! The demoed software was Kinect Fun Labs and allowed gamers to get upclose to their Xbox to get more accurate Avatars by scanning themselves into the program. We then saw a huge pillow-thing get scanned, back and front, and Fun Labs turned it into a  digital beast that hopped around. No information was given as to whether these random objects could be interacted with in any way outside of Fun Labs.  Oh, and the star of the show were the actors they got to pretend that 1) they were having fun and 2)that the Kinect had no issues reading their movements. In particular the two Bros playing Kinect Sports were hilarious as they yelled out instructions to their pretend team.

Microsoft was very obviously targeting the family unit with their show and it left many, single, 17-26 year old male gamers feel ignored.

Next was Sony: Surprising, in a good way

At first Sony also played the motion control card pretty heavy handedly. They had Ken Levine, who heads Irrational Games, come out and basically just apologize for badmouthing motion controls a year or two ago, and then announce Bioshock Infinity would have Move support, without showing in any form. Next Kobe Bryant and some random PR and tech guys came out and showed off NBA 2kX (I don’t know what number they’re on and don’t care to look it up) with the Move wand. It was a pretty uncomfortable situation all around as the interface was just weird and Kobe wasn’t afraid to say “Hey, I didn’t want it to do that! WTF?”

Thankfully that was only about half of the show and the main event took stage before too long: the NGP, whose name had leaked earlier in the week, as being crowned the Play Station Vita (life!). We got another look at the machine and saw that the Uncharted game that was demoed on it before was an original game for the PSV and made use of  the touch screen to allow tap-screen fighting and platforming. But honestly…why would I want to touch the screen to punch a guy when the square button is right there? Kinda like most of the DS’s library the touch screen was just a redundancy and added nothing interesting or even really fun.

But then we got to the price. Speculators had been pricing this device at somewhere between $300 and $500 on average. I myself agreed because I thought SONY would be pushing the PSV as a gaming tablet, with its touchy bells and 3G whistles. But to gasps of surprise and cheers from the crowd the PSV was priced at $250 for the basic version and $300 for the smokey bacon ranch version (wifi-only and 3G enabled). This came as a blow. Sony was now obviously targeting the slow-to-sell 3DS. But the cheers turned to groans and outright boos when they announced that AT&T would be the exclusive provider of 3G for the more expensive model. Maybe the execs in Japan didn’t know, but the US has a nasty history with AT&T, their service and binding contracts.  They didn’t really show any hardware that enticed me, but the prospects of PS3 quality games and ports to the PSV, and a unexpectedly low price have me curious.

The following day was all about The Big N. My reaction: Confused and then annoyed and a bit bored.

The show opened up with Miyamoto (brain-father of Mario and Link), an orchestra and and  a translator get on stage and treat us to a  nostalgia-filled journey via some classic Legend of Zelda tunes.  Honestly, this part seemed to go on a bit too long, and the translator’s mic was at the same level as Miyamoto’s so you couldn’t understand either of them, regardless of what language you understood. Next Regie fils aime and some other Nintendo celebs showed off some 3DS games that had already been announced and everyone knew was coming, Kid Icarus, Mario 3DS and some others that left no impression on me.

Finally the star of E3 came down in a slightly cheesy pre-shot commercial. Nintendo showed off the controller for their new device, confirming the long rumored 6″ touch screen embedded in it, and the rest of the more traditional button scheme, 4 face button and 4 shoulder buttons. They announced and showed off the controller’s ability to stream games from the console (the console that they barely allowed to be on screen)  into the screen on the controller. We saw a tech demo of “current gen-looking” Zelda game and connectability to Wii software and hardware, including some WiiFit balance board fun. At the end of the commercial, a montage of 3rd party games that basically said “Hey look, we can do all this stuff too!” Among the clips was Batman Arkham City, Dark Siders 2, Assassin’s Creed and Metro Last Light, making sure to get in clips of bloody combat.   Finally the name of this device was given voice and we learned the successor to the Wii was dubbed the Wii-U. Terrible name aside, what exactly the device was, wasn’t exactly clear. In the end I wasn’t sure what I felt about the system. The dual screens seemed like a big deal, and Nintendo sure had the 3rd party developers saying so, but I wasn’t sold just yet. I have a lot of time to be convinced as the system won’t be released until some time next 2012.

Summary of my feelings:

Microsoft was pretty boring. I understand the need to show how the Kinect fits into the family, but it doesn’t appeal to me. *Oh I forgot that they did demo gameplay of Gears of War 3, played by Cliffy B and Ice-T. These two, plus the Kinect Sports Bros were the highlights of the show.

Nintendo just confused me. The console wasn’t really a feature of the show, it was just in the background. The 3rd party support was kind of a given, seeing the 3DS launch line-up and games to come. The controller looked interesting, but the ability to put the HUD on the controller seems pretty unimportant. Perhaps they’ll show some use of it that will matter to me soon, but  the morning after the Nintendo event I had a sudden realization that the WiiU was kind of a giant DS, with the controller acting as the bottom screen. This turned me off even further.

Sony’s show won me over eventually. A few misteps put me off before the PSV was revealed, the Move nonsense and the when 2KGames tried to sell the PS3 as the best system for Bioshock Infinite because it would come with Bioshock 1 on the same Bluray. That is not a selling point because OF COURSE only the PS3 can do that because only the Bluray has gigs and gigs on unused space on the disc. Developers literally can’t afford to make huge sprawling galaxies and real world physics for billions of blades of grass. But the PSV came on stage just in time and had the right moves to make me want it. Of course, the PSP and orginal DS were released with similar expectations, one with amazing graphics and one with a fun gimmick, and we know how that turned out.