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Tag Archives: Video Games

OK, so it happens. Here you are, on Tuchanka, being all bad ass and having the best possible match of your entire life, rocking it as a Turian Ghost, spamming and shooting all the things with your trustee Harrier…and just generally kicking a lot of butt. When your Dad calls, he needs to do something on the TV. You panic, wondering what to do, you can’t pause the game! So you either keep fighting, or find a quaint corner of the battlefield and hole up for a little while.

If you have any experience with multi-player games then this, (or some variation there of) has probably happened to you. You are playing along, minding your own business, when someone interrupts your playing time with some emergency…and there is no pause button!

Well, I may have just the solution for you!

During E3, I actually watched some of the press coverage for E3, I was able to wath some of the Forza press conference. Aside from the usual demonstration of graphics, tracks, game play features, and the description of the multi-player component came one interesting tid bit of information.

Using the Cloud and their Cloud servers the presenter for Forza claims they can develop and even use their Cloud Based servers to store your online information. Then they use that information to build a profile of you, your driving habits, how fast you go, etc. Then this profile, when you are offline, can race for you and build in-game credits and rewards and race against other people’s avatars and real life drivers.

Now I am not a fan of racing games, or at least haven’t been in a long time, nor am I really a fan of this whole Cloud thing. Not yet, not with what is going on with the NSA and hacking and all sorts of other things.

But I am excited about this. Because it has the potential of solving the defining issue of our times, as far as video gaming is concerned. Because if the gaming industry is so bound and determined to go in more of a multi-player direction, and they seem to be with the advancement of several MMOs coming out for even next generation consoles, then this is the problem. Simply, how do you pause something, and abandon your team mates, when you have an emergency or something very simple like someone wants to check the sports scores…or something.

Well my proposal is similar to the Forza one.

When you hit the pause button on your game, or just leave the match for something a AI takes over your character. Taking your class, your level, your weapons, and your abilities into account. Taking your fighting style and your combat record and accomplishments and fighting for you, till the end of the horde mission or the quest or the dungeon or whenever.

Then I believe you should be able to set your profile in order to have the AI fight in a certain way. Say ‘Conservative’, ‘aggressive’ or ‘balanced’…all depends on how much you trust your AI avatar to get the mission done.

And if you fear Big Brother and Big Brother Corporate invading your privacy with this technology, you should be able to turn it off, and then you can just create your profile based on what weapons and technology and powers you use. Of how this online avatar will fight.

They wouldn’t fight for you when you are off-line, I believe, but you will not really abandon your team, and you will get whatever bonuses you would have gotten had you stayed with the team, or at least whatever the AI can gather. And then you disappear to lala land ready for you whenever you can jump on and play again.

So what do you think? Good idea, bad idea, practical or unpractical? Will people abuse this? If you believe in this then spread it around, or share with me companies who are already doing this so I can give them a proper nod of respect.

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It is interesting and I find it funny considering the recent trend in this blog about video games, so I think my first ‘non serious’ blog in a while about video games should be rather… interesting.

Now when I say ‘fail’ I am being a bit harsh, Skyrim is a pretty solid video game…just it has one glaring flaw in it.

A remarkable lack of interesting characters given the game is supposed to go on for hundreds of hours of gameplay. Sure some of their arcs might be interesting at first, but then when you get through the game, they get around and prattle on the same nonsense which gets old…fast.

And the main character himself, there is no, or at least very little connection to him (or her.) Granted you can play in a wide variety of ways and do a lot of different things with powers, talents, race, and the morality of your character…but there is no voice. Nothing really distinctive. Only clicking on a set number of options which…in a four hundred hour game (low balling it) these actions rarely matter outside of those quests. They are never mentioned and you usually forget about them or anything else you have done long before you finish the game.

So despite all the scenery, despite all the customization with character and choosing your perks despite the outstanding combat and gameplay, and the adventures you have with your companion…I can only take so much of the game before moving on. And while I want to, and will, finish it one day, it just can never have the same appeal as a Mass Effect or even, occasionally, A Call of Duty.

Which keep in mind stars the adventures of the very vibrant and distinct Soap MacTavish and Price.

To me, this is the one thing that distinguishes good fiction from bad fiction. Or Outstanding fiction from just plain good or descent fiction.

You can have all the epic explosions you want, you can have all the epic plots you need to fill a two thousand page tome, and all of this stuff does have a place and could be considered ‘good’ but without truly deep characters that cause you to care about a universe or a genre, it cannot truly stand.

Which is something that a lot of people continue to talk about. People rarely tout the Original Star Trek for its stellar plots and outstanding cinematography…but yet the relationship between Kirk, Spock, and McCoy is remembered and still revered to this day.

I do not care about Babylon 5 so much because JMS was able to create a complicated plot line which he wrapped up in a satisfying matter. I care about the characters that went along for this ride, and a deeply personal narrative where all of them had their own narratives, their own stories, their own personal problems and weaknesses that got you to sympathize with them, and yet when most of them overcame their weaknesses, or adapted to them, you were there to share in the triumph.

This is how you create great fiction, this is how you get someone to care, not by giving someone a bunch of meaningless options where no one really cares but through a deeply rich and personal narrative to explore. Not by having the characters say the same damn thing for most of the game, but by giving them unique reaction and arcs to what is going on. Not to make bland cardboard cut outs, but characters with problems, issues, that you can overcome.

If you can do this, you can make a story come alive.

Well I have been doing a lot of blogs on the recent string of gun control and debates erupting in the wake of the Sandy Hook Shootings. Trying to cover it from video games, and guns.

But to understand how to solve the problem you must deal with the causes of the problem.

So just what is causing the problem? Is it a Video game? Is it video games in general? Or is it something else?

Well since I have played video games off and on for most of my life, and have not seriously thought about bringing harm to another human being in that time, it is clear that they are not the cause of this problem.

But are they then a symptom?

Well considering that you get what you tend to put into something, out of it, you tend to get crap out of crap, and considering society is often responsible for what it consumes in terms of media…which then encourages the media to produce more content that is tailored to the interests of the individual block of society.

The answer seems to be yes, it’s not the fact that we may be having more violent tendencies from these video games, but these violent video games are feeding those violent tendencies. Which can be both good or bad. It can alleviate the tensions and the stress placed on the individual, or it can lead to them wanting to go out and actually imitate the action. There entire world view will be twisted enough where they do not want to just stop at video games but ‘try it in the real world’.

Now this does not make it anymore the video games fault as it did before, just making the point that this stuff is a reflection of societal values and not the cause of societal values.

So you tend to support the media you consume, which only then encourages more media to be made in that vein.

From a gaming perspective this means more games, so the charge will go, like Call of Duty, since it is a wildly successful franchise setting new records seemingly with each installment… so video games then try to emulate that success with their own franchises and installments. Gamers complain about this when their beloved RPGs, for instance, become more streamlined and shooter like.

From a society perspective means that if we are addicted to violence it’s not because that violence exists, rather that violence in our media reflects that something our current society will tolerate.

Whether this is a good or bad thing remains largely to be seen but the point of the matter is attacking the symptom, whether it be guns, video games, or bows and arrows, will not actually solve the problem. Only addressing the root causes will. Through education and good judgement, through learning the difference that a video game is just a video game and the other stuff is not the video game. That what happens in real life is very different then what happens in a video game.

Only then maybe we can begin to scale back the ‘mass shootings’ and solve the violence problem in our society.

Recently, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Massacre two competing, and yet oddly coherent, narratives have emerged. Mainly, it is all the Video Games fault, or it is all the guns fault.

Now guns, they have their defenders, whole organizations devoted to their defense, and some very good points have been made in their defense. The national attention is there and the message is well articulated…but there seems to be little defense for Video Games. Or at least none who have made this point.

In response to this and other tragedies Glenn Beck hosted a noted military psychologist on his TV program the other day, and the claim was that we are now raising a generation of killers through video games and the media. That Video Games are teaching people to kill, desensitizing people to kill, and is in effect causing the violence. Media and the rest of the ‘culture’ for that matter.

Now the arguments were very compelling actually, the idea that was presented that video game companies could be using the same tactics that the US Military uses to forge soldiers to sell a product, is interesting. I would buy it even, if it weren’t for one thing.

It’s never happened to me.

Now I want to make it very clear here, Glenn is not advocating for Government actions and bans, he is advocating for the individual to take action. He is simply pointing out what he believes this is a dangerous cultural problem that needs to be fixed through the individual and individual family. The day after his program aired his co host announced he had removed all the violent games, including Lego Indiana Jones, from his home. Beck even said that technology is like fire, it is good if you are the master of it, but bad if it is the master of you. So even he seems to be close to the answer to this problem….

Because it all comes down to the individual.

I am struck by this fact because I have been playing violent video games on and off since I have been..what? Six? Seven? Somewhere around then.

I was playing games like Ape Escape, Spyro the fire-breathing dragon. Crash Bandicoot which involved a…Bandicoot which twisted around in a tornado like pattern and blasted people out-of-the-way… well by people I mean demon spawned animals and stuff…or something…owned by a fat headed guy. Which then later evolved into a game where you were running around a race track launching missiles and bombs and TNT and Nitro at your fellow drivers, either human controlled or not.

To my early teens, playing games like the Medal of Honor Frontline, and Conflict Desert Storm I and II. Battling the Iraqi and Nazi Regimes, taking down tyranny by waging a special war as a Delta or OSS operative.

To my late teens waging a different kind of war in Conflict Global Terror, my first rated M game, which coincidentally involved the charters from Desert Storm fighting Neo Nazis…today.

To my early 20s with the Mass Effect series, the Call of Duty franchises, with blood and guts galore.

But yet, with roughly a 15 year ‘career’ in Video Games, by killing and destroying millions of beings from Nazis, to Trolls, to Cyber Zombies, I have not committed a murder, had nary a violent thought about a classmate or fellow human being, and in point of fact I was a lot more violent before my video game career then after it. But then again I was five, and mighty confused.

In fact I have often used Video Games as a stress relief, when I have had a bad day of school, stressful, or just really pissed, gone on the Play station, and went Orc hunting in Lord of the Rings.

Video games can inspire people to do a whole lot of things, out of jealousy, or ‘teaching them’, or whatever. But it is irresponsible to blame an inanimate object on any of our societies problems. After all it is a lot harder to kill someone with a video game, then a gun! I mean can you just imagine grinding away at a person’s head with a DVD?

The fault is with the individual, the lessons are from the individual, and the lessons are to the individual. The inspiration is to the individual.

Because during the program the Psychologist friend of Glenn’s made the argument that gaming is actually teaching people marksmanship. That people who play Video games aim for the head.

Now this is something I wonder. If I play Ace Combat or Madden NFL can I be a Fighter Ace or an effective football coach? So this argument fascinates me.

But this argument also has two big problems:

First of all most games that involve shooting aspects you get the message often loud and clear ‘aim for the head’. But that is a sound Marksmanship principle you can pick up almost anywhere, from television, to documentaries, to army training manuals, to the mere fact that your biological computer is in your head, might be a good place to shoot! And games can also teach one that it might be better to shoot people elsewhere, their chest for ease of accuracy, their legs to show them down, but again anyone can almost tell you the same thing.

And then the principle might be there, but often enough the actual combat situations aren’t. When you shoot a character in a video game there is no recoil, no wind, nothing for you to gauge how a real life shot should behave. All of these need to be taken into account in the real world.

And even games who do that, like the sniping missions in the Call of Duty series, taking in wind and the Coreilas effect, you don’t feel the wind on your face, you do not have the gun in your hand, you do not and cannot judge how the wind affects the bullet in the real world. Never mind other considerations.

But even then it is the individual who is important.

Sure a video game can ‘teach’ a gang member in east LA where to shoot a cop. But it could also teach a cop in Atlanta how and where to shoot, or what the situation calls for in a bank robbery and a hostage situation. Or it could teach a kid how to act to defend his kid sister from a robbery.

It is not the technology, not the media, not the fiction, not the gun, and certainly not the oven toaster causes deaths. Its how we use them, its how we chose to act with this technology.

And for other opinions on this issue visit this article: http://kotaku.com/5814601/violent-video-games-contribute-to-dropping-crime-rate-study-suggests

I have been debating on how to do this blog for a while now, I have been playing through ME 2 and ME 1 and ME 3. I have been mulling over this and even attempted to do this once. This is not a political blog, it is solely for my own entertainment, because I think ME is important, and I think a lot of people miss the point on the game series and the last game. So while this is only for entertainment I can and will use ME to illustrate points in the future.

Now originally I wanted to do some complicated formula of what each game did well, poorly, the best in the series, general thoughts, and than general thoughts in the series, that blog was over 900 words and I had only gotten through ME 2. But then I got to thinking about something that I have realized before, what are the three most important elements o a Video game? The Characters, the Story, and the gameplay/ mechanics. And then I will still be giving general thoughts about the series.

So without further adieu.

Mass Effect 1:

Story: 10/10

The original Mass Effect had a pretty interesting and amazing story that benefited from the fact that you were moving out to explore a new universe and a new world. While it was simple and straight forward (in many respects) it had to be since it was the first installment of the series and had to introduce everything from character and setting to plot and the main antagonists. But it did have many a twists and turns that would set up the drama and action for the entire rest of the series. Finding out about the Reapers, their original harvest, the fate of the Protheans, the secrets of the Citadel, and moral issues that came from the discovery of these elements of the universe. It was a pure exploration story.

Character: 8.5/10

Mass Effect had some great character moments and some great characters but they all seemed a bit flat and not as fleshed out as in the later installments. There weren’t enough chances to talk to the crew and they basically just sat there and did nothing. Also the voice acting by a lot of the players made them unconvincing, but again they fixed that in the later installments.

This was with the exception of Shepard him/ herself, Ashley Williams, Wrex, and to a certain extent Garrus.

Fem Shep while it was not Jennifer Hale’s best performance of the series it was still quite strong and made the character believable, and recognizable for those of us starting the series from the midle.

Wrex was a great character, well voice acted, and provided important insight to one of the key characters in the series and one of the key conflicts: The Krogan and the genophage. I found it hard not to relate to the guy and not to listen to his stories and not to chuckle at his antics. My Shepard did not always *approve* of his actions but he/ she was able to give him enough leeway to get the job done.

And Ashley Williams, was one of the best characters ever created. Why? Like or hate her she was a fully formed character in the first game with fully developed issues and beliefs. She was religious, and according to some she may have been a racist (they are wrong but whatever). But that is part of the point. If you like her then she is likely not a racist just someone who has a strong sense of self and with the proper military regard to security. If you don’t like her then she is likely a racist. But how brilliant is it of Bioware to actually put a main line protagonist on your squad that would even approach that issue? I think it is.

Gameplay/ Mechanics: 7/10

The story was great, the characters were passable, but most of the gameplay made it nearly unplayable. The Mako and its lackluster controls and handling nearly made me want to quit, the Omni gel and mini games were atrocious, the side missions were passable but considering you had to use the Mako to access ninety percent of them (so it seemed) made them hardly worth it, and the inventory was a drain on my IQ points.

The only saving grace was the combat mechanics. I didn’t realize it because I started with ME 2 but I really did like the overheat system instead of the thermal clips, powers having their own cool downs made sense, and the fact that some powers overrode shields was great. But in the end it was still buggy as hell given that many of the enemies would just spontaneously charge your position. I know they have shields/ barriers but really? Three special forces soldiers many of them armed with Shotguns, Assault Rifles, and or powers can’t put down a charging Krogan?

But one thing of note was how the game allowed you to make more proper RPG descisions. You could actually say ‘no’ to a task if it made your Shepard and their morality uncomfortable.

Other then that the game did have its bugs, I had to restart it twice due to technical issues, (which coincidentally is the same amount of time that I spent on technical issues for ME 3), and I was not that impressed with the graphics. Though people who pay more attention to such aspects say they are pretty good so take that with a slight grain of salt.

Final Verdict: 8.5

Mass Effect was a good solid game, and considering the improvements that the next two installments made in the over all structure of the games, thus ME is my favorite series, on or off the Citadel. The music was good, the plot was excellent and it was just a kick arse game with a non controversial ending.

But I want to play as my Shepard. I want to see her in action. I do not want to drive in a poorly designed MBT throughout most of the game looking for clues. Sure it makes some modicum of sense from a story perspective but the open world feel and the amount of time in the Mako made me have almost no connection to the characters. Most of the stuff I can forgive as being silly game play mechanics with the Omni gel and the inventory problems. But the Mako was way too far.

And I also appreciate the idea behind open world exploration, and loved it in Skyrim, but that idea ruined the parts of the ME franchise I loved. The characters. Instead of making an open world where you got to explore in a box they could have devoted more resources to fleshing out all the characters. Not just Shep or Wrex or Ashley….

Sorry for the delay on not posting for a while and I promise to get back to more political and religious and social commentary soon, but I thought for my first blog back I would post a review for the popular game Mass Efect 3. Obviously massive spoilers will abound.

Now I know usually this is a political, religious, or social blog but I thought it wouldn’t be too much of a deviation for me to do this. Especially since I already do a lot of pop culture points and to keep up with the entertainment going ons and usually making a political point about it.

But…without further adu…

The entirety of the Mass Effect franchises is one of the greatest stories ever told. Its writing, action, and level of player involvement is deeper than any game that I have ever personally played. As you take on the role of Commander Shepard in a desperate bid to save the Galaxy from sentient star ships that are millions of years old. Along the way you recruit allies, settle disputes, and save people from day-to-day terrors, discovering the secrets of the universe and the Reapers themselves.

By the time Mass Effect 3 rolled around the reapers had arrived and you were now forced to wage all out Galactic War.

Gameplay 9.6/10: Mass Effect 3 is one of the smoothest game play experiences I have had. Miles above ME 2 where Shepard now has full control of her (or his) body. Able to perform combat roles, go into cover, climb up ladders and have full access to the battlefield like never before. The other systems, system scanning, and the collection of war assets is vastly superior. The Secondary missions now have their own stories and story importance where you can do them to add depth to your experience like running into old crew members.

The only disadvantages to the game are the quest system, and the dialogue. These are slight and minor but they are still annoyances. The quest system is not as complete as it was in ME 2, having no minor subobjectives or real hints on where you can go forcing you to go through the many levels or systems of a place, especially if you haven’t done it in a while. And you don’t get as much control over the dialogue wheel as before, there are now just two choices (Paragon or Renegade) instead of three with one potential investigatory option or Paragon and Renegade convince.

Custimizablility/ Player involvement: 9.6/ 10: Mass Effect as a game and as a series allows for deep layers of personal involvement as you forge a characters race, gender, creed and *gasp the orientation. Shepard can be whatever you want her (or him) to be. And your actions and choices have legitimate effects on the universe. Who to save, who to kill, who to let go. Sadly I don’t think ME 3 went as deep into this area as it could have gone where your decisions didn’t have that big a difference depending on what you did in previous games.

Story: 10/10. ME 3 is one of the finest stories of any medium. Right up there with the very best that can be put out by a Babylon 5 or a Doctor Who. And while the story may not have been as customizable as a lot of people would like (me included) the story itself has almost no problems as you go on a single epic to try to save the galaxy. And be the hero forging your own path in the process.

Music: 8.8/10: While not as good as previous installments and not having the epic tracks like a Normandy Reborn, Suicide Mission, Endrun, or the purely cool tracks like Virmire Ride, it still stands its own.

With tracks like Mars, Reaper Chase, Leaving Earth, An End Once and for All, Sur’Kesh, I’m proud of You the music is a true mix of bad ass with other poignant songs like I was Lost Without You. Reaper Chase even sounds like something a John Williams would do.

Emotional Impact: 9.8/10: ME 3 is one of the most emotionally engrossing stories of all times, unrivaled in the video games that I’ve personally played. Except for perhaps Ace Combat 5. The deeply personal story and the deeply personal gameplay as your Shepard, your creation, and your actions begin to matter throughout the entire Galaxy as you begin to struggle. This character in some senses becomes you, a creative extension of yourself because you are making the choices that this character does. On how to save, who to save, if you can save, forging a deeply personal journey. One that I realize I did not always use to its fullest making ample lessons of mistakes to forge the ‘perfect’ path without actually doing much role playing. But nevertheless it was still one of the best and most awesome experiences ever.

Bugs: 8/10: I am not really that big into bugs and I don’t notice these things, and with ME this is no exception. But I did fall through the map once and it still had a lot of problems with loading.

The End: 4/10: Usually I wouldn’t mention the end and leave it for story or some other section but the ending was so noticeably separate from the quality and commitment to excellence of the other 100+ hours of gameplay. It made no logical sense, only gave your character three choices that didn’t work for the plot (Control, Destroy, and Synthesis) and was full of plot holes and frankly breaking of Character as your crew and squad after three games of intense devotion and love abandon you in your greatest time of need.

However it is not irredeemable. It does have its moments. And is pretty solid in some respects, the music of the end just blow one out of the water as it’s a perfect complement to the sad and bitter circumstances surrounding the events on screen. But apparently we might get a better one.

Final Verdict: 9.3/10. ME 3 remains despite its very real problems one of the most enjoyable game experiences in my life. Worthy of a Conflict game or an Ace Combat 5. And despite its ending that lost it major points I highly recommend it and think of it as the best of the entire series.

Special Note on the Ending: I think it can be changed. I really do. It can be fixed and quite easy. With the choices presented by the Catalyst one can still fix it by giving Shepard more options in line with the plot. Like add to it bringing up the fact that you just helped the Quarians or the Geth, or allowing it for Shepard to explore these options.

Special Note on the Advertisements: I know that ads and commercials often do not reflect the product that we are given but in this case I feel that this is…special. The entire or the vast majority of the media leading up the launch of ME 3 in March was this idea of TAKE EARTH BACK. As Shepard triumphantly went to Earth and kicked some ass. I know we don’t always get that but that set the tone for the entire game in my mind, the triumphant hero coming home at the head of a multi species fleet to kick the Reapers the hell out of our Galaxy once and for all. Sadly this didn’t happen.

Sure there might not have been much of an Earth left. But the point is that even if there was something to save, or someone, we should’ve had the option of doing so. And making them safe, definitively.