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Excited About? September 21, 2011

Posted by Thomas Richards in News & Opinions.
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I wanna blog about the games I want this year;

Batman Arkham City

I have always enjoyed Batman as characters but would have never tagged myself in conversation as a Batman geek.  I considered The Dark Knight my favorite movie but that was just because it was great and had nothing to do with an obsession with B-Man I held before seeing it.  I even watched the animated series quite a bit when I got home from school in the early 90’s, but none of this ever turned me into a Batman geek.

In August 2009 that all changed.  The pretty much unknown Rock Steady released a gem that grabbed ahold of my soul and entertained me in ways I had forgotten video games could (inb4 “that’s what she said”).  The story was perfectly simple, but the characters were interesting which enabled the story to have good depth but stay out of the way of the gameplay.  The environments were amazing and the excellent use of collectables enticed you to search for them for reasons other than just Achievements.  Very few games make the collectibles interesting because of their story elements, interesting because they are cleverly hidden and interesting because they upgrade your character.

As you played through Batman’s one night adventure you actually got to experience the sensations that Batman does of sneaking up onto enemies and making them shit themselves with fear before you jump out and beat the pulp out of them.

Everything in this game connected with me more and more as I played through it, and after completing it I found the joy of the combat challenges.  Oh the combat challenges, what happiness you bring to me.  Never before has a singleplayer action game made my fingers itch to play it the way Arkham City has.  In these challenges you are tasked with taking out a large group of thugs as efficiently as possible thus giving you a high score based mostly on a combo system.  The difficulty of these challenges is perfectly calibrated to make players fully utilize the sublime combat the game offers.

I got addicted to the way batman can flow from thug to thug countering them with well-timed button presses and simple two button moves that all have vastly different uses.  The combat in this game has a perfect skill requirement, so that getting better at the game rewards you visually through combat that looks better as you get better, and mechanically, because you start to get better scores.

The real amazing factor of the combat to me thought is that the game allows you to do amazing moves without ever feeling like the cool shit that happens is just a result of the developer’s plans.

I love the original so much that I am very close to my fourth full complete of all 1000 Gamerscore, so it is no surprise I’m shaking in my pants with excitement for the sequel.

Super Mario 3D Land

I have loved every major Mario released that ever existed, and  for Super Mario Galaxy 2 this is especially true.

SMG2 reminded me why I fell in love with games in the first place.  It was an absolute joy, with its colorful vibrant graphics and fully orchestrated soundtrack I couldn’t help but get immersed.

Combine this with a challenging and creative level design and you have a game that reminded me why Nintendo is still relevant.

When they announced Super Mario 3D Land, I was sold on the 3DS.  They teased about its connections to Super Mario Bros. 3 with the tail on the logo, and showed a few screen shots that were I the graphical style of the Galaxy series, but touted the game as still being evocative of the more old school Mario platformers.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my 3DS so far but in November Mario’s cheerful Mushroom Kingdom will be my second home.

Halo Combat Evolved:  Anniversary

Anybody who knows me knows that I love Halo.  I bought my original Xbox the day that Halo 2 came out so my experience with the classic is a bit limited but I enjoyed every second I had with it.

This game is the remake of the series that has defined my gaming for over five years.  I will be able to traverse the classic campaign in a full new graphic style and immediately switch to the classic look bushed up with HD graphics in an instant.  Other developers need to take note of this because it is the way to please both sides of the “Messing with classic games” argument.

Coinciding with this games release is a massive update to Halo Reach’s multiplayer that includes some maps and the much desired ability to remove the bloom of the DMR from certain playlist in Matchmaking.

If the MLG community gametype designers use this properly we could have the be all, end all competitive Halo experience that people have been dreaming of.  With Reach’s awesome hit detection, the Forge toolset, and the ability to customize the game mechanics as you see fit I’m sure this will make a good chunk of the Reach naysayers migrate back from CoD, Battlefield and Gears.

These are the three main games I’m looking forward to this year and I just wanted to help my anticipation for them by raving about them.  I would love for some commenters to do the same. Jjust shoot us with the games you want and feel free to disagree with me or call me an idiot for ignoring one you love. I would love to hear your onions on this holidays games, after all yammering about games is a hobby of mine…

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The Death of a Gamer: Health Issues in Gaming August 8, 2011

Posted by Brandon C. in News & Opinions.
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I try and stay current on all gaming news, even that which reaches the eyes of the mainstream media. When gamers are mentioned in the media, it’s usually a negative connotation – video games are the devil de jour right now, and everybody is quick to offer a “professional opinion” on the latest shooting or massacre attributed to video games. We’re demonized quite often, if you didn’t already notice.

However, not every video game related news story brought up by the media is negative, per se. Take for example, last week’s news about 20 year-old Chris Staniforth of Sheffield, England. Chris was a game design student at Leicester University, and an avid fan of Halo. He passed away suddenly from a pulmonary embolism caused by deep vein thrombosis, usually caused by being sedentary for too long. Chris was a “promising young student” with a lifetime filled with gaming ahead of him.

It’s tragic; it really is. Of course, I didn’t know Chris – I’d never heard of him until I clicked a link on Google News detailing the death of a young “Xbox Addict.”

I said earlier not every news piece the mainstream picks up about gaming is “negative.” Unfortunately for Chris and his family, the news of his death is obviously negative. Chris’ family is trying to spin this into a positive for the world, warning young folks about the health risks of being sedentary and long late-night gaming sessions. However, the general tone of these reports is still negative.

Chris is almost never referred to by his name before being called an “Xbox Addict.” The headlines always read something like “Xbox Addict dies from blood clot” and his name is never mentioned before the words “addict.” I have a problem with this.

Is a person that plays basketball all day, every day an “addict?” What about chefs? Are they “addicts?” Musicians, gardeners, and every other hobbyist in the world are never called “addicts” – it’s just a hobby. Gamers, though – oh man, you guys have a serious problem. But, that’s a topic for another article. We’re talking about our health.

Sure, we’re not all living, breathing pinnacles of human health and fitness. Personally, I could stand to lose some weight. A lot of it, in fact. I would be fucking ecstatic to lose the weight of a 10 year-old and be at what some would call a “normal” weight for my height. I’m working on it, albeit slowly, but I’m not an unhealthy person. Ask any of my friends, and they’ll tell you 9 times out of ten I would order a salad at a restaurant instead of a big greasy burger. Hell, I eat leaf spinach raw – why the hell do I weigh 285 lbs?!

Like many gamers in the world, I get very little exercise. My metabolism is slower than a turtle glued to a cement brick. Sure, I’ve lost a significant amount of weight by cutting the soda and junk, but my future weight loss hinges on my ability to get off my fat ass and go running. Other than my weight and the higher-than-average blood pressure that comes along with being a fatty, I’m healthy. Of course, if I stay at the weight I am, I’m at risk of heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and many other nasty ailments I’d rather steer clear of.

Was Chris an unhealthy individual? Not necessarily – but his lack of movement caused a fatal blood clot in his legs, and when that got to his heart, well, we all know what happened to poor Chris. My deepest sympathies go out to his family, and I hope his death was not in vain for the rest of us. We need to learn a lesson from Chris’ condition and apply the knowledge to ourselves.

We, as gamers, have serious health issues. We get less sleep, our diets generally suck and we get less exercise; it’s a bad combination that could wreck our lives forever unless we do something about it. Think about your own habits whilst gaming – do you snack? What do you drink? How often do you take a break to stretch and get out of your gaming chair? Are you forgoing sleep to get that extra level in?

Your health is dependent on all of these factors. If not properly balanced, we become unhealthy and risk a shorter lifespan because of it. Do your gaming habits hinder your health, or supplement it?

HOLY SHIT – Nintendo Drops a Bomb July 28, 2011

Posted by Brandon C. in News & Opinions.
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Oh damn; oh shit oh shit oh SHIT. Nintendo is in some deep shit, and I don’t mean girl-dump-rainbows-and-butterflies kind of shit. I’m talking grade-A, waist deep, fat-guy-after-Pizza-Hut-turbo-dump SHIT.

Nintendo just released their sales data for the past three months, and it’s not pretty. Sales have taken a nice little Sunday stroll right off a cliff. We’re talking bottomless pit type drops here, people; Wii sales down 50% – DS sales down 60%. It wouldn’t be so bad if the 3DS was selling like the hot little handheld should be. Instead, we’re talking under a million units WORLDWIDE. 710,000 to be exact since launch. This is NOT good news for the Japanese console maker.

It’s lukewarm news for gamers, too – Nintendo has decided to tie a pair of concrete shoes to the handheld’s price. August 12th will be D-Day for the 3DS, when it’s price drops almost $100 to only $169.99.

A drop that steep and quick should give you a nosebleed. Obviously, it’s serious “holy-crap-your-pants-belt-tightening” time at Nintendo.

We’ve seen price drops like this on handhelds like the dead-to-rights Gizmondo and the ill-fated Tapwave Zodiac (a personal favorite of mine, by the way,) but never on a handheld from one of the Big Three before. Oops, I’m forgetting the PSP Go and Virtual Boy. Where are those systems now?

Dead in the water. Man, I’m just full of awesome analogies today, aren’t I?

I’m cautiously optimistic with a side of realism about this turn of events. There’s two things this COULD mean for Nintendo, and at this point it could go either way.

The optimistic outlook?

Nintendo’s price drop persuades gobs of gamers to purchase the pretty awesome handheld, bringing an influx of much needed sales immediately. On the games front, developers see said influx of sales and capitalize on the sudden boom in sales by flooding the 3DS’ library with quality titles. Both the problem of lack of games and high price tag are solved. Early adopters are happy with 20 free 3DS eShop titles and a sudden boom of awesome new games to play from first and third-party support lines.

When the holiday season rolls around, consumers are enamored with the 3DS’ awesome tech, low price and library of quality titles; deciding to purchase a 3DS over the more expensive and less of a sure shot PlayStation Vita. Nintendo regains it’s dominance in the handheld market and everything is hunky-dory for gamers and Nintendo. Sony is, once again, seemingly left in the dust.

Now, the pessimistic outlook.

Early adopters feel burnt by Nintendo’s offering of 20 pre-chosen titles from the eShop, and most don’t even download them. Potential buyers are put off by the sudden price drop, and see it as an admission of defeat from Nintendo. Nintendo sees a small influx of sales from said price cut, but ultimately the campaign is less than successful. Buyers instead look at the PlayStation Vita as an acceptable replacement for their handhelds, and the successor to the PSP is a runaway hit during the 2011 holiday season.

Developers perceive the price drop as a lack of faith on Nintendo’s part, and even more games are canceled due to the extreme risk involved in releasing the titles. As the releases dry up, so does the system’s sales, and ultimately the 3DS goes down in history as a massive failure on Nintendo’s part.

Which scenario is more likely? So far, Nintendo is getting a lot of positive support on the web. By far the community’s biggest problem with the handheld has been it’s price, and Nintendo is more than fixing that problem today. The second has been developer support – we can likely expect renewed interest in the 3DS’ capabilities by developers, and maybe even a reversal on the decision by a few developers to cancel certain games (Mega Man Legends 3, OH GOD PLEASE!)

Personally, I hope the best for Nintendo and the 3DS. I own one, so I should hope for the best… I’m looking forward to a bunch of free games from Nintendo in addition to the games I planned on purchasing later this year anyway, games like Star Fox 64 3D and Super Mario 3D. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more Mii’s in my StreetPass queue, and playing a lot more multiplayer with a lot more people.

I really hope Nintendo can stick this – even if it feels very much like a last ditch effort on their part. I hope Nintendo grows from this experience and takes away one crucial piece of much needed humble pie – just because it says “Nintendo,” doesn’t mean people will buy it over something else.