Category Archives: Insights and Musings

Random thoughts, memories and ideas on games and gaming.

Reflections From the Animus: The Truth is Written in Memories

My God Assassin’s Creed 2 was a good game. Am I right? Who’s with me? This game was, by far one of the best titles in the Assassin’s Creed series and it holds a very prominent place in my heart, but not necessarily for the reasons that you might think. Sure, it had a great story, fantastic music, engaging gameplay and introduced us to Ezio, one of the coolest heroes in the series. But, on a personal note, it ended up being so much more than just a great game. It became a personal conduit through which memories can flow. It became a catalyst to enable me to reach far back into my mind and remember a very special and happy time in my life. It became so cemented and intertwined with my thoughts and feelings, that even now, upon hearing a few lines of music or seeing an image of the game, I am immediately transported back to 2009. For that split second, I am taken back to my little apartment on Bayport Street, sitting on my comfy couch, PS3 controller in hand and living in a moment that is now gone forever.

In these memories, I am still happily married. My wife (now ex wife) is in the other room watching a DVD and working on her laptop. The light from a nearby lamp bathes the room in the most exquisite, pale, golden glow. It’s early December, probably around 8 p.m. or so and the sun has gone down, allowing the evening chill to settle in.  I’ve cooked a big pot of hearty Lentil soup, so both of us are well feed and snug in our humble home. I am content, warm and cozy, just lounging after a long day at work. If I truly focus hard enough, I can even hear the *click *click *click *click of my wife’s keyboard, as she furiously types away on one of her many projects, her faint laughter sounding in the background, as she watches King of Queen’s on DVD.

In the game, I’m running across the rooftops of Venice, exploring crowded marketplaces, looking for flags and feathers, and causing general mayhem in a bustling, virtual city.  It is the perfect cacophony of sight and sound and I am transfixed by it all. The game stirs something deep down inside of me; feelings of freedom and independence, tempered with a nervous excitement at the thought of unknown exploration. It is one of those pristine moments in time that remains so vivid and powerful, even after so many years, games and friends have come and gone. I can see all of this in my mind’s eye, like it was yesterday. A flip-book of memories, a cascade of moving pictures, flashing before my eyes, all linked to this one particular game and this one particular moment in time.

As I remember these things, I can’t help but feel a sadness rise within me. Some days, I move through it, relatively untouched by the sorrow these memories hold. Other days, I still shed a tear or two, but I never cry for the game or for the characters, even though the game does tug a bit at the old heartstrings. No, I cry for entirely different reasons: I cry for all the friends and family I have lost in my life, I cry for those moments and memories that have long passed, I cry for the loss of personal innocence, I cry for the end of my marriage and the death of a dream that was never fully realized. All of this triggered by one simple game, one brief moment in time. What a strange and peculiar set of circumstances.

As the years have trudged on, these memories and emotions have formed a symbiotic relationship with Assassin’s Creed 2 and in my brain it would seem that one cannot exist without the other. I am forever caught in an emotional limbo; not able to go back and relive those lost years, but also not being able to recreate those special moments. They are uniquely and unequivocally locked away forever, doomed to remain in the past.

You would think that I would hate AC2, seeing as it brings up such powerfully charged emotions but, strangely, I harbor no ill will towards this game or the memories it conjures. It still stands as one of my favorite of PS3 titles. The hours that I spent playing this game, were some of my most fondest gaming moments and I wouldn’t trade those for the world.

Assassin’s Creed 2 reminds me that in the blink of an eye, life can change, dreams can die, families can splinter, love can be lost, but life goes on. Happy memories can still linger, even within our darkest days. Yes, AC2 may have come and gone and the days of Ezio pushed far back into the past, but as silly as it might sound, this game is still very important to me and remains prominent in my mind. It is an anchor that binds me to some very beautiful memories and it helps to reconnect me to those long lost nights. With all of the uneasiness that consumes our world, it is nice to remember a simpler time and it’s even better to feel connected to those beautiful moments. Assassin’s Creed 2 preforms that necessity extremely well. Sure, some of my memories will fade and drift into hushed obscurity and newer and more pressing matters will take their place. But, I am positive that these few moments, these warm memories will forever be linked to this unassuming, simple, little game and as long as I can listen to the soundtrack or walk the streets of Venice once again, these memories will always burn brightly. They will continue to give comfort, respite and some much needed warmth in a cold, uncaring and tumultuous world. This, I am sure of. Long live Assassin’s Creed 2 and long live all our warm and happy memories. Happy gaming!

~GB

My thoughts on VR

We are VR!

vrRecently, we gamers have been hearing a lot about Virtual Reality. From PC gaming to the world of home consoles, these fancy headsets are promising to be the next evolution in how we play games. VR is finally here to immerse players into the world of their onscreen characters and revolutionize the gaming industry. We will finally be able to see what the character sees, go where the character goes and be surrounded by the game itself. Can we say Tron, anyone?

As long as there were no REAL world issues….64406974…who wouldn’t want to jump into their favorite games! Enter the Oculus Rift, the HTC Vive and the PlaystationVR. Within this last month, we have seen three heavy hitting, Virtual Reality gaming headsets each promising a more immersive gaming experience. Gamers are in for a wild ride.  But, is it worth all of this hype? Is VR really a longstanding format or is it merely a passing fancy? I’m not 100% sure either way, but this is an interesting experiment.

A Bit of History

The idea of virtual reality is nothing new. This idea of VR has been around since the 1960s. What is VR, you ask? Well, Google defines Virtual Reality as “a computer-generated simulation of a three-dimensional image or environment that can be interacted with in a seemingly real or physical way.” Sounds pretty tech! During the 80s and 90s, companies, inventors, scientists and developers began to create consoles and arcade machines that attempted to do just that; to bridge the gap between reality and the virtual world.

Today, these early attempts at VR can be regarded as pure novelties, but back then, gamers were excited by the possibilities of what might come next. Unfortunately, limited by the technology of the day, what we ended up with was not really what we had bargained for. Instead, we received gimmicky headsets and 3rd party add-ons that did little more then make us incredibly nauseous. Units like Nintendo’s Virtual Boy promised to be the next big thing in VR, but only gave us horrible eye fatigue and a fear of the color red. It all seemed a little hopeless and the VR concept fell out of the lime-light.

Now-a-days, we are starting to see a resurgence in the concept of VR.The gaming industry has seen significant strides in development and implementation of this interesting technology and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to talk a little about Virtual Reality. How do I feel about this burgeoning industry? Let’s find out.

The Contenders

While each entry has their pros and cons, the idea of bringing VR to the home console is an impressive venture.  While we don’t yet have Tron-like capabilities, we do have some very good alternatives that will provide us with that next step in total player immersion. Of course there are some hefty price tags that go along with this concept, but if you are a diehard gamer, price might not be as much of a deterrent. w_500

As I mentioned before, there are three major entries into this VR race, the HTC Vive, the PlaystationVR, and the Oculus Rift. I am sure that there are other 3rd party companies out there, but these are the heavy hitters. Just so there is no confusion, I am not here to tell you which one is best. I am not going to go into the pros and cons of each individual unit, since there are a ton of excellent reviews and studies out there that will do that for you. All I will say is that each entry has their advantages and disadvantages, but it all depends on what system you play and what type of games you really enjoy. Read up on the specs, compare entries and make your own decision. If you have friends who own some of these, go give them a try. Don’t just jump in and believe all the hype. Take time to really make sure VR is right for you, because it won’t be right for everyone.

Concerns

Anyway, what do I think of VR? Well, I like the concept. It is a neat idea that packs a lot of promise, but I can’t help but feel like it’s a bit gimmicky. I tend to see VR like I saw 3D, a cool concept, but ultimately more trouble then it’s worth. I am just not that excited about wearing accessories, every time I want to watch a movie or play a game. Heck, I even have trouble just wanting to wear my audio headset when I game! Now Sony expects me to wear an entire viewscreen on my face?! I really don’t want to do that. Plus, I know from experience that 3D makes me absolutely ill, I can’t help but wonder if VR will do the same? I won’t know until I really try it out, but I have my doubts.

Also, I wear glasses and even though some say you can wear glasses with these headsets on, that can’t be very comfortable. Let’s face it, those of us with glasses know, it is always trouble trying to wear two sets of “eyes” at any one time. Either they dig into your nose, press on your ears, pinch your face or just shift around and never stay where you want them. It is such an annoyance and that is a HUGE deterrent for me. Of course, with the screen being so close to my face, would I even need to wear my glasses? I don’t know. More testing will be needed.

Speaking about screens being so close to my face, what about eye strain or eye fatigue?  What will the repercussions be for our vision? Those screens are SO close to our eyes, somehow it doesn’t seem very healthy. Will there be some long term effects on our sight? The manufactures will probably say no, but how can they be sure? This technology is relatively new and I know testing has not been as extensive as it could have been. This might be their next phase of testing, you never know. It wouldn’t be the first time that consumers were used as real-world tests.

Plus, I don’t know about you guys, but when I used to game, I would play for at least 5 or 6 hours. Even with a large tv and at optimal distance from the screen, my eyes would be dry and tried by the end of a gaming session. I can’t imagine having a set of VR screens that sit so close to my eyes, for such a prolonged stretch time. I have my doubts and reservations about all of this VR technology.

Now, I guess if I was going to jump on this band wagon and buy into VR, I should mention that I would go with the PSVR. It is the cheapest entry in this list, which comes in at $400. I already have a PS4 so I’m halfway there. Keep in mind that the basic PSVR lacks all of the necessary equipment that you might need to get this thing up and running. You will also need a Playstation camera and some Playstation Move controllers. If I did want to buy one, it would cost roughly about $530 in total. Pretty pricey for an accessory that I haven’t tested. Plus, I have read about some technical issues that seem to have cropped up, so we will have to see how it all plays out.

Final Thoughts

The majority of us live in a society that is surrounded by technology. It is so integrated into our daily lives, that I can understand our almost blind acceptance towards fun, new innovations. With VR taking so much of center stage these days, many gamers are excited to witness this growth of our hobby. Our world of gaming is developing so rapidly and in so many interesting directions, many of us older gamers just sit back and stare in awe.

But, is VR really such a game changer? Well, yes and no. While I personally think that VR is a bit gimmicky and is really only here to entice gamers to fork over some of their hard earned cash, I do admit that VR seems to be the natural progression of gaming as a whole. Where else could gaming really go? Without anything groundbreaking, we might see small incremental improvements in hardware and visuals, but that’s probably it. Maybe, the gaming industry feels like it has to do something new, to keep players interested and to potentially bring in a new demographic of player. If so, VR might just be that technology that breathes new energy into the industry.

Even with this potential, my concerns are still there. I’ve seen gaming peripherals come and go and I’ve even fallen for a few of them, myself. I don’t think that you can ever really change the basic way we play games. In gaming, nothing is as efficient as a controller in the hand (or mouse and keyboard for you PC gamers) and nothing is as freeing as NOT having a headset strapped to your face.

In terms of my issues with the potential eye fatigue, studies say that anywhere between 50 to 90 percent of computer users show eye strain and other bothersome visual symptoms. That is a substantial amount. Will having VR headsets exacerbate some of these issues? It definitely isn’t out of the realm of possibilities.

Even though VR sounds awesome, I think this 1st generation of VR might be better skipped. Save your money, wait for some of these bugs to be worked out and THEN take the plunge. Let us see how it is supported by developers and how they intend to utilize this technology in games. Otherwise, you might be spending even money on a much newer, better, more capable VR headset relatively soon.

~GB

My Trouble with Destiny… aka…What the Crap Bungie?

Destiny-LogoAh Destiny, what can I say about this game that hasn’t already been said a hundred times over? To be honest, not much.  Regardless, this post has been a longtime coming, but up until now, I just haven’t felt that I had enough practical experience to judge this game fairly. Well, things have changed and I have been playing a lot more of Destiny. I now feel that I am more experienced with the game and can give my honest opinions. Unfortunately, I am afraid that those opinions are not favorable.

In my experience, when someone asks “Hey, how’s Destiny?” answers seem to vary. Some say that is is the greatest game ever made, others say that it is the worst game ever made. Like most game reviews, the truth lies somewhere in between. My typical short answer is “It’s OK. The graphics are great and the game looks really pretty, but something feels like it is missing.” That is actually what I tend to tell people and it is how I truly feel. Something is missing in Destiny. Now, if you want the long answer to that question….. just keep reading.

Personally, I didn’t want to spend $60 on a game that was just “OK.” I wanted an epic game, about magical, space-traveling warriors, wearing cool outfits and carrying crazy, futuristic weapons! I wanted to see distant, imaginary worlds and pilot my own space craft across star systems. I wanted to hangout with friends and fight the evils that dwell deep in the blackness of space. That’s what I wanted and in the early trailers and developer videos, it looked like that’s what we were going to get. Destiny was supposed to be HUGE and I was ready to be swept away by all of it.

So the question is, how did a game with such visually stunning graphics and loads of potential, turn into an over-hyped, repetitive, lackluster experience with shallow characters, an unsatisfyingly short story and a frustrating loot/rewards system? How did it all go wrong? What happened? Why is it that the Destiny I saw back in 2013 looked and sounded so much cooler then what I am currently playing? I just don’t get it. It is baffling. But, since I am all fired up and in the mood to write, let’s take a look at Destiny.

Things I Like….

Destiny may not have been the epic FPS MMO that we were all wishing for, but never-the-less there are a few areas in the game that I honestly do like:

First off, the visuals are stunning and the game looks absolutely amazing. The art style, the textures and overall look of the game is really beautiful. Yes, the environments are sometimes barren and desolate, but in most cases, they match what I would envision a particular planet to look like. Also, most of your gear and weapons are very nicely detailed. As a fan of detail, I can appreciate that.

Secondly, the ship designs are pretty cool to look at. You might not have as much free roaming ability with them, but they are nicely designed and look good against the backdrops of space and high altitude clouds. I would have wished for more customization and maybe the ability to pilot them myself, instead of them just being background filler for loading sequences, but we got what we got. Also, cruising around on your Sparrow (or “glorified speeder bike” as I like to call it) is absolutely a blast. It does get a bit repetitive, especially when you have to traverse the same ground over and over again, but it is still entertaining.

Thirdly, I love co-op and the co-op in this game IS pretty fun. Strategizing with friends, taking out a huge boss together or just getting into team firefights with hordes of baddies is all pretty enjoyable. That is the ONLY reason I’m still playing Destiny. If it weren’t for my friends, I would have given up on this game during the first month of its release.

Lastly, the music is very nice, although you will get tired of the same tracks over and over again. Truth be told, I have since turned off the music and now I just run with the game sounds and the sounds of voice chatting with friends, but the music is top notch.

Unfortunately, that is it. Those are all of the elements that I LIKE in the game, so now it is time that we get on with what I don’t like about Destiny and there is quite a lot. Remember, this is just my honest opinion. Some players are very much in love with Destiny  and I’m not trying to anger them or make anyone defensive. If people like it, then they like it. It is up to the player to decide whether a game is worth their time and money. What follows is just how I personally feel about the game. No offense to anyone out there.

eceb470ea2d0556ab1619d367e091591b5aad5172a4e54c014b2948e48805647_largeThings I Don’t Like….The Story

So, for those of us who followed Destiny during the early development and release of the game, you might remember the tagline “Become Legend.” It was all over the internet, the game box, heck, there was even a live-action trailer by the same name (and that trailer was pretty awesome). In terms of taglines, how epic does that sound? I thought, “Become Legend! Heck YEAH! I want to become a legend!”

Well to live-up to a tagline like that, you have GOT to have a story that is an amazing piece of storytelling. The player has to feel engaged in the world around them. They have to feel like their actions and the actions of others, have some profound repercussions on the world as they know it. What player would not want to feel like they are shaping the very narrative of a game? I had supper high hopes that this was going to be amazing.

Instead, Destiny‘s story wasn’t an amazing piece of storytelling, it didn’t make me feel like a legend and it was disappointingly short. I don’t mean to be harsh, but I think that most gamers would agree with me on those points.

If only the story was better executed, we could have all actually “Become Legend”, and it would have been a fun and rewarding experience. This game could have told a brilliant narrative. Just look at the art design or read some of the vague plot points for the game. It is clear that Destiny had some major potential, but the game turned out as a lackluster experience that felt hollow and unfinished. The story didn’t grab me, it didn’t make me care about anything that was going on in the world and the repetitive game play just killed my interest in experiencing more of the game.  How could a title with such a beautiful world, be so utterly hollow in it’s storyline? It is all just so disappointing.

Let’s talk a bit about Grimoire cards. Yes, I know there are cards that you can unlock that teach you more about the world and lore of Destiny, but they feel like an afterthought. Plus, as far as I know, they are only accessible through the internet and not in-game.  I’m not going to take time out of my day to go online and read a bunch of cards, just to try and fill in all of the gaps and holes that this story has. If Bungie wasn’t willing to put that amount of time and effort in putting this information in the game, why should I put that much time and effort in to reading and studying cards on a totally separate device?  There are better, more immersive ways to do this. For example, I’ve always thought, why not add a physical library to the Tower (the player social hub area)? Add an awesome looking, in-game library were players can go and read up on areas and lore that interests them. That would have been far more engaging than a handful of cards on a website.

Things I Don’t Like….NPC Characters

Not only were we NOT given much in the way of a narrative, we were also not given any meaningful NPC characters. No one really stands out or even seems to matter. They are all fairly bland, unimpressive, forgettable and generic NPCs. I was constantly getting confused as to who was who and why I was talking to anyone. This is really disappointing as there are some topflight voice talent in this game. For example, this is a list that I found online for the Voice Actors of Destiny:

  • Peter Dinklage
  • Bill Nighy
  • Lauren Cohan
  • Gina Torres
  • Lance Reddick
  • Nathan Fillion
  • Lennie James
  • Shohreh Aghdashloo
  • Peter Stormare
  • James Remar
  • Erick Avari

Even if you didn’t recognize every name, trust me, there are some very iconic actors mentioned here: like Nathan Fillion and Gina Torres, both from Firefly and Peter Dinklage from Game of Thrones. Why the heck did Bungie bring in so many talented actors, if they were just going to create such lifeless and bland dialogue for NPCs? That money could have been better spent in other areas of the game. How about use it to write more story!?

Things I Don’t Like…. Leveling and Looting

One of my biggest complaints about Destiny is the way in which you level up your character. I absolutely hate their system of leveling. At first, the game plays out as any normal RPG would: kill stuff… gain experience…level up….repeat. However, once you reach level 20, things change and not for the better.

Level 20 is the maximum level that you can attain by the usual methods. Once you reach level 20, if you want to continue to level up, you have to start collecting armor that has a “Light Rating.” This “Light Rating” artificially raises your level pass the cap. By simply equipping certain pieces of armor like a helmet, chest plate, gloves and boots, you will add more “Light” and eventually you will go up in levels. Of course this means that you are constantly needing to find better and better armor and this means killing tons and tons of enemies. In order to get the good drops you have to grind, grind grind…that’s all you get to do. The more you play, the more chances you have of maxing out your character with the best stuff. What a deal, right?

Wrong! This system feels artificial and forced. Why not just have the cap be at the higher level? Why make us jump through so many hoops? I have spent a bit of time playing my lvl 20 Hunter and so far I have only reached level 22. The majority of drops that enemies tend to give are all crappy weapons and equipment that I do not need. It is so frustrating and feels like a total waste of time.

So the big question is WHY? Why do this to players? I’m sure there are a few different reasons, but in my honest opinion,  this system seems like a perfect way to insure a lasting player base. It artificially extends the life of a mediocre and lackluster title. It’s the never ending loot hunt. I think, if Bungie keeps adding loot and raising the artificial level cap, players will be more likely to continue playing. They will always want the latest gear, so everyone has to keep playing….more and more and more. Unfortunately, this system makes me feel like the game is taking away my power as a player. It is forcing me to bend to the will of a random, loot generating equation. As a gamer, I hate that. Let me earn my cool chest piece by working for it, not by just killing the same enemies or doing the same repetitive missions over and over again, until it randomly drops.

Things I Don’t Like…. Pay Walls

In this day-and-age, most gamers will agree that DLC is nothing new. You buy a game and a few months down the line, you get DLC. Heck, most of the games I have played over the last 4 years have all had some form of Downloadable Content. I’ve always assumed that DLC was meant to extend the life of a certain game, by adding more content and freshening up a stale title. However, more and more companies are using DLC as a way to pilfer additional money from us gamers, by locking parts of their games away behind pay walls and releasing the unlock code as DLC. Destiny seems to be no different.

So often with games now-a-days, you buy something for $60, only to find out that it is essentially an incomplete experience. Then there is a Season Pass that runs upwards of $30 to give you access to all the DLC, which is basically the rest of the game. That means that your new game is actually going to cost you $90 (assuming the Season Pass is $30). WTF! Game developers are notorious for this and I absolutely hate this practice! I’m sure other gamers will agree.

Destiny has released two DLCs for their broken experience of a game, and it would appear that both were already included in the original copy of the game. When I purchased the season pass, it didn’t download anything substantial and all of a sudden I had access to both DLCs. that means, the content was simply placed behind a pay wall. Every time that happens, I just end up feeling cheated and betrayed.

But wait, Bungie has announced that there is more Destiny on it’s way. Coming in September, Destiny  fans can purchase the first true expansion for the game, called The Taken King.  It promises to be a whole new experience! Yeah right…get ready for more grinding. To be fair, this is an entirely new edition, with added gear and a new class, but it will not be accessible to current Season Pass holders. You will have to purchase The Taken King separately, I believe anywhere from $40-$80. Great, just great! Thanks, Bungie.

Final Thoughts

Let’s face it, in this gaming industry, it is all about money. AAA game studios spend a huge amount of cash developing and creating ideas that they think will be profitable. Once they settle on a title, they create the game for millions of dollars and then try and desperately recoup their losses. How do they do this? Well, by cutting out story and game play elements and locking them behind pay walls, releasing them in DLC, or maybe they include micro transactions into their game. They try and find any way that they can to drain our hard earned cash and continue draining us for months and months after the game’s initial release. They do this until they have squeaked out a modest profit and then, they do it all again with another title. It is a sad state of affairs and a pretty rotten business model.

Destiny is a good example of everything that I hate about this current gaming market and it is an excellent case study of how greedy and pervasive this business model can be. It has been reported that Destiny cost approximately $500 million dollars to develop and promote. That is an amazing amount of money. It is no wonder that both Activision and Bungie have made certain decisions regarding DLCs, Season Passes and Expansions. They have to recoup their losses and they are going to take it from the only source that they can… us, the fans. They are going to squeeze every last Glimmer out of us and I for one, do not appreciate that.

And $500 million dollars later, we get a game that is nothing to be that excited over. A bland, hollow experience, that I really don’t find that fun or immersive. In fact, I can honestly say that I find more enjoyment in $15 PSN games like Helldivers and Shovel Knight, than I do a $60 AAA game like Destiny. Not only did I have more fun with both of those titles, their story lines were vastly more engaging then Destiny‘s and I actually felt like playing past the initial play through. What a strange turn of events.

Artistically, Destiny is a beautiful experience, but as a game, I find it lackluster, repetitive, tedious and boring. I wanted so much to love this game, to be swept away by the sheer expansiveness of its world. But, I was let down and truthfully, I am not really that surprised. It seems like Bungie tried to make a game that would appeal to a ton of different types of players. They tried to make a game that encompassed elements that MMO players would enjoy, FPS players would find familiar and that co-op players would appreciate. Instead we got a game that has hints of really awesome stuff, but ultimately falls short of being an amazing game. Maybe they bit off more than they could chew, or maybe Activision forced a bit of their Call of Duty mentality onto Bungie’s vision. Who knows. All I know is that we have not heard the last of Destiny and it will be interesting to see how all of this unfolds.

~GB

Minecraft: What a Game!

480px-Minecraft_dirt_block_hd_by_benderxable-d4wbq8w

First off, let me start by saying that Minecraft is AWESOME! For such a simple, straightforward game, it is truly an epic and mind altering, gaming experience. No other title has impacted me in quite the same way, and I have played A LOT of games over the years. It might sound somewhat strange, but if you’ve never played Minecraft, you have no idea how purely addicting it is!!!

Of course, this is just my opinion. I know that this game isn’t for everyone and compared to your average FPS series like Call of Duty or Battlefield, Minecraft just doesn’t get as much media attention. But, that won’t stop me from talking about it or fully enjoying the game. So, let’s dive in and explore the magical, open-ended world of Minecraft.

Freedom…Horrible, Horrible Freedom…

Minecraft is truly one of the only games that I know of, that contains such an open world. Truly, if you can see something in the distance, you can go there. You can scale any mountain, dig to the very bottom of the world, explore dizzying heights, search a myriad of tunnels and mine complexes, carve out existing caves, explore expansive ravines and even sail across massive oceans to unexplored and untouched lands. It is truly as “Open-World” as you can get. It has such a feeling of freedom, that it can sometimes be overwhelming.

Picture this, you are standing in the middle of a forest, surrounded by huge, ominous trees. You have no idea where you are, no idea where to go and no clue what to do. All you have are the clothes on your back and a will to survive.  What do you do? Where do you go? Do you find shelter first or do you try and make weapons to fend off the coming night? Time is ticking and your next move could either spell ultimate disaster or glorious salvation.

Well, not to worry. Luckily, this is Minecraft and the world is yours for the taking. Whatever you can imagine, whatever you can dream up, you can create it in glorious three dimensions. You can mold and arrange every block of this world, into your very own personal vision and that is something, few games now-a-days, can claim.  So it’s time to punch some trees, make some tools and start building your world.

iron_pickaxeTo Craft or not to Craft

I first came across Minecraft, a few years ago, in 2012, while I was browsing around YouTube. I kept seeing Minecraft this and Minecraft that. I thought, “I wonder what this Minecraft thing is?”  So, I clicked on a video from the always awesome DOCM77, just as he was beginning his latest Minecraft World Tour series. It only took one video to become instantly hooked on both DOCM77 and Minecraft. I ended up subscribing to his channel that very day and just a few days later, bought my very own copy of Minecraft.

Since then, I have loved every block filled moment. Exploring, digging, building, questing… it has all been extraordinary. So far, I’ve started a handful of single player maps, had the opportunity to play on a few servers and have even completed several large and complex builds (at least large and complex for me). Still, I have only scratched the surface of this awesome game.

So, what is the allure of Minecraft? Whats the big deal with this game? Is it really all that awesome? Well, I can honestly say, YES it is that awesome! The allure of Minecraft really varies per person, but from my point of view, it’s the sheer expansiveness and open-ended nature of this game. Think about it, you can do anything you want, go anywhere you want, and build anything you can imagine. You can break the laws of gravity, mold the world any way you see fit and truly be the master of your own destiny.  Aside from Skyrim, I have never felt as free or as unhindered as I feel in Minecraft.

MC vista editThe Zen of Minecraft

Minecraft is not just a game, it is an epic, mind-altering experience. As strange as it is to say, there is a zen-like quality to many aspects of Minecraft. For example, recently, I have been spending hours upon hours just digging and mining. Block by block, pickax by pickax, slowly I have transformed my little home into a sprawling, underworld labyrinth of tunnels and hallways. These have been some of the most relaxing, contemplative moments that I have ever had in a video game. Hunkered down on my little island, I can just loose myself in the task at hand, allowing my mind to wander, decompress and re-evaluate things. It may sound boring and monotonous, but as a Minecraft player, it has a very calming effect. Really, with this faster-then-light pace that we all seem to live in, it’s good for your brain to have a bit of down time.

This is also true for designing structures, sorting  materials and building your own visions. Placing each block, studying the ascetics of your work, redesigning if need be and blending your building into its surroundings, is amazingly relaxing. There is just an overwhelming calmness to the entire Minecraft process.

Now, I don’t mean to give you the impression that there isn’t any danger in Minecraft. It isn’t all meditative block placement and introspective mining. From zombies, to endermen, to bow wielding skeletons and exploding creepers, nighttime is your worst enemy. Everything is out to kill you! These creatures can shatter your newly found inner peace with an unexpected hiss, the twang of a bow string or a sorrowful, bloodthirsty grown.

Truth be told, I have had harrowing experiences with all of these jolly fellows and each time seems to be more terrifying than the last. Despite this, Minecraft holds a very special place in my gaming collection.

Final Verdict

Even after numerous set backs, multiple deaths and the occasional server crash, I am undeterred in my search for Minecraft Nirvana. I have become a huge fan of this game, more so then any other modern/recent game. It is quiet an adventure, an open-ended, fully customizable game that has the potential to transcend today’s all-to-common and monotonous FPS genre. If you haven’t played Minecraft yet, I suggest you go give it a try. Head over to Mojang’s Minecraft site and check it out. It is available for the PC, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and even today’s mobile devices. I’m certain that you have never experienced a game quite like this one before.

~GB

PlayStaion 4 – My Impressions

My thoughts on the PS4

By now, I’m sure most of you have had the opportunity to check out the latest game videos, reviews and editorials on the newest entry into Sony’s PlayStation line up, the PS4. Perhaps some of you have even had the chance to play this “Next Gen” console. I know most of my online PSN friends have been playing theirs almost none stop, since it’s release and even I have had a chance to test it out. Since the PS4 has been out now for a few months, I thought I would take this opportunity to share my opinions on this black, sexy, eraser shaped beast. So, here we go!

The Look

First, let’s talk about the overall look of the console. Like its “Fat” PS3 predecessor, the PS4 is a good looking addition to any entertainment center. I really love the gloss black finish! I was extremely disappointing when Sony unveiled the later incarnations of the PS3. I just didn’t like the looks of the slim versions, mainly due to their lack of any glossy black sheen. Luckily, the PS4 has a good healthy amount of that smooth ebony finish and that is alright by me.

Size wise, the PS4 is about the same size as the PS3 Slim, but far more angular. It really does resemble an old school eraser with it’s prominently sloped front edge. I’m not complaining about the look, mind-you, it just warrants a mention.

Performance

Now, I know that we have just entered into the beginning of this gaming generation and we have yet to really put the PS4 to the test, but already I can tell that the PS4 is a pretty powerful little system. Based on my extensive use of the PS3, the PS4 is quite a bit faster. It opens my games, the XMB and the PSN Store way faster than the PS3, it loads and syncs my trophies in seconds, rather than minutes and it boots up very rapidly. It can also multitask, something that the PS3 could not do very well. You can play a game, download something off the PSN Store, update an existing game, all while chatting with a party over the new XMB chat feature. That’s pretty nifty. We wont have any games that will REALLY put the PS4 to the test until February, but I like what I have seen so far.

Graphics

As we should all expect, the PS4’s graphics are VERY nice. Textures are noticeably cleaner, there is a big improvement in draw-distance, lighting effects and partial effects and running at a native 1080p makes things sharper and smooths out the details. I am overall very pleased.

However in my opinion, it is still difficult to see any DRASTIC or GIGANTIC improvements over the PS3, because all we have to compare, are games that were designed to be multi-platform releases. Games like Call of Duty: Ghosts or Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag were all designed to work on as many systems as possible, so these games must have all been designed with respect to the lower performing PS3 and Xbox360.  It just seems to me that the creators must have had to hold back, in order to narrow the gap between the current gen and the next gen. When we start seeing the huge PS4 exclusive games, I think then we will have far better graphical benchmarks.

The Controller

One of the most obvious changes to Sony’s PlayStation line up is the new controller. I will admit, at first I was on the fence about the new look. I thought, “why mess with the classic design?” But, after a good deal of gaming time, it has grown on me a bit more.

I will say, it is pretty comfortable to hold, not that the PS3 controllers weren’t either. It generally feels very nice and fits well in my hands. The buttons are also improved. The R2 and L2 buttons are larger and feel like they have a greater range of motion, the D-Pad feels a lot better and the touch pad is a nice addition as well. Also, I like the option to plug a headset into the controller, even though I use a USB headset and mic, it is still a nice touch.

However, I do have a few issues with the new design. First off, I don’t like how small the R1and L1 buttons are. They just seem undersized to me. Plus, my R1 button sticks, so that is VERY annoying. Also, my thumbs tend to slip off the Thumb Sticks way to much. I’ve never had that issue with the older PS3 controllers, its just with the PS4. The touch pad is cool, but it takes up a huge spot on the controller face, pushing the Options and Share buttons off to either side. Both of these buttons are recessed flush into the controller (for obvious reasons of course), but they are tiny. This makes them difficult to hit, even when you are actually trying to push one of them. Not really any deal breakers here, just slight grievances.

Problems and Issues

In terms of errors, issues and problems with the system, there are of course a few. What launch edition system wouldn’t have had a few issues. Some issues range from the more annoying like sticky controller buttons, to the downright horrible like no video signal or hard drive failure. I have been lucky and have only experienced a sticky R1 trigger button on my controller. I’m not sure what causes this, but I intend to figure it out. Everything else has been pretty smooth and without issue. (Keep your fingers crossed that it remains so.)

I do have one friend that has had to send his PS4 back to Sony due to a Hard Drive issue, but he tells me that it has been a decently pleasant experience. I guess the technicians at Sony did spend a good amount of time working with him and trying to trouble shoot his issues. Even so, it is unfortunate that he has had any problem what so ever.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I like my PS4 and I haven’t had any real issues that would sour my love for Sony or for the PlayStation. Recently, I have been using my PS3 more than my my PS4, playing games like Dragon’s Dogma, Grand Theft Auto 5 and Grand Turismo 6, but I am confident that as soon as more games are released for PS4, I’ll be migrating more and more to the new console. Until then, let’s hope that my PS3 holds strong.~GB

“Next Gen” There is Hope After All

shut-up-and-take-my-money

Now-a-days, we gamers are constantly being bombarded by the term “Next Gen.” It’s “Next Gen” this and “Next Gen” that. We hear the term in gaming publications, on internet forums, on promotional websites, in game previews, press conferences, game revels, etc. etc.. We hear “Next Gen” so often that by now it has taken on a life of its own. It has become synonymous with the latest in cutting edge technology, mind blowing graphics, innovative hardware, the latest in gamer interaction, device interconnectivity and the most epic of gaming experiences. It is a catch-all term that encompasses a world of unknown possibilities and limitless potential. Am I right? Are you excited yet?!

Well, up until a week ago I was NOT AT ALL excited. I had grown tired of all the hype. Plus, with all of the horror we were hearing from Microsoft and the XBOX One, I was very nervous about the upcoming trends in gaming. I was really having some serious doubts whether this next era in video gaming was going to be worth it. Then I saw the Sony press conference and I felt a renewed sense of hope for this “Next Gen”, or at least for the PS4. With what looks to be a solid lineup of games and a pretty robust spec list, there is a good chance that Sony will reclaim some of their former PS2 glory. I know a lot of us PlayStation gamers are rooting for them.

But, despite all the good news from the PS4 camp, the truth is that our consoles today might be starting to suffer from something very similar to the law of diminishing returns. Meaning, even though these companies are hyping their wares and throwing a boatload of money at their new “Next Gen” devices, we might not be seeing that many HUGE, graphical, game changing, improvements. Instead, we might just start to see more subtle, incremental enhancements, like the addition of reactive smoke, cleaner visuals and more dynamic environments.

Take a look at Tom Clancy’s: The Division. It looks like a great RPG that utilizes some awesome visuals and the latest in “Next Gen” hardware. I know I am VERY excited about this game, but I can’t help but wonder if the graphics are really THAT much of a night and day difference. When we compare them to the BEST, most recent graphics on our PS3s, sure they are cleaner and less muddy, but they are still very similar. The same goes for Watchdogs, great graphics, but I have a feeling they are only slightly better then our current gen.

I know many of my friends are very excited about the how “cool” these new games are going to look and I too, think that these graphics are going to look awesome! I’ve even gone out and pre-ordered my Watchdogs/PS4 bundle. But, the question is, should we be expecting such DRASTIC, game changing visual improvements right out of the “Next Gen” gate? Personally, I think the systems will need some time to find their stride.

I know a lot of gamers are going to be more than happy to play some new games on new hardware, but I’m sure most of us will still be playing on our LCD/LED screens, running at 1080p.  So unless you have a new t.v. that is 4K 2K, which is probably unrealistic, I don’t think there will be such an immediate WOW factor as what some of us have been expecting.

I will say that I AM looking forward to these new consoles and I am sure that they will pump new life into the industry, but as far as graphics go, I’m just not yet as BLOWN AWAY as I was expecting to be. I am impressed for sure, but it might take some time before they completely knock our socks off. For now, I am perfectly fine with a slower, incremental progression of visual improvements. Since I have taken the plunge and pre-ordered the PS4, I’d rather have a greater emphases on stability, reliability, longevity and user interaction, than a gigantic leap in graphics. Make the system as bombproof and as stable as possible, with plenty of internal cooling since my guess is that these things are going to run hot. I don’t want an overheated and dead system within a few short years, at the cost of graphical perfection.

Always Online….Are you out of your mind?

Recently, there has been a lot of talk about our “next gen” games and gaming consoles requiring a permanent online connection, in order for us users to access content or use the systems. Many of the larger companies like Microsoft, Blizzard and EA all seem to be on board with this idea, going so far as to begin implementing this into our current generation of games. Whether or not we like it, we might start seeing this practice used more and more in the next few years and that is a real shame for us gamers.

Why do a lot of gamers…including yours truly, have issues with this idea? Does it really matter in this day and age, when so many of us have constant connections to the net? Well, let’s take a look and see.

Let’s start with the basic fact that not everyone has the internet. Even in today’s technologically driven society, there are those of us, who do not have access to the net. Yes, it’s probably a small percentage in most large cities, but what about in more rural areas, where internet is nonexistent or extremely spotty at best?  Unless they can obtain a reliable internet connection, any system or game that requires a persistent online connection, would be out of reach.

Those individuals should be able to play the console or game of their choosing. Why punish those potential gamers for circumstances beyond their control? Now, I’m no CEO, but aren’t customers and brand loyalty a good thing? How is “always online” helping win customers over?       Simple… it’s not. It is far too restrictive.

To those of us living in the cities and towns with a net connection, this might not seem like a big deal. Who cares if I have to be online to play a game? Chances are, I’m online anyways. This might be true, but we need to look a little deeper. If I go out and buy a game for $60 dollars I’m going to want to play it, but on my own time, in my own fashion. However, it might not be that easy. In my experience, if the game requires an “always online” connection, one of two things can happen…

Best case scenario, I get online right away, connect to their servers, download all the launch patches and bug fixes, maybe set up a user name and password for their service and THEN I can play the game. There are some extra steps involved and I might have to jump through a few hoops to get everything working, but I would eventually get in the game.

Worst case scenario, their servers are overloaded and I can’t get on. That means I can’t download any patches, I can’t get into the game to set up any preferences and I definitely can’t play. Until they sort it all out, my new $60 game is useless. Titles like Diablo III and the new Sim City have become poster children for this exact scenario. When Sim City was released, it was virtually unplayable.  Servers were severely impacted and wait times were hours longer then they should have been. Believe me, I’ve had this happen and it is VERY frustrating.

Gamers buy a game with the expectation that we can play it whenever we want, for as long as we want. Look at the NES, SNES, Genesis, PS1, Gamecube, Xbox and PS2 consoles. As long as they still work, I can play any of my old games. Games on the PS3 and 360 consoles are not 100% replayable, but the majority of the games will work, even after the “next gen” takes over. If these “next gen” games and consoles require internet and server connections to run, what happens when those server connections go away? Look at Sim City or Diablo III, what’s going to happen when EA or Blizzard stops supporting those games? Since you are required to be online AND connected to their servers to play them, if those servers are no longer there, you can say bye-bye to all of your hours of gameplay, your customized characters and all of your worlds. They will simply cease to exist. When the money drys up, so does the online support.

All of this makes me extremely angry. If this is allowed to happen, we can say farewell to our current idea of game ownership. We will no longer be buying games to keep, we will be buying a $60 online pass that lets us play the game, but only until the servers are taken offline. At that point, we are forced to move on. Our ability to play “always online” games after that point, would be contingent upon their parent company still being able to make a profit off of us. If not, they will move on to greener pastures and we gamers will loose that game and eventually the entire console.

Let’s face it, video games should NOT be reliant on an internet connection to play. This “always online” foolishness is simply a means to protect AAA companies and their intellectual and creative property, from pirates and piracy.  I suspect that their PR and advertising machines are going to try and make these new features appealing to us gamers. I hope we don’t fall for their tricks. I for one, do not want to sign in EVERY TIME I want to play a game or turn on a console. This is especially true if the game is a single-player title with NO multi-player or co-op modes. The AAA’s can doctor it up and spin it any way they want, but it’s still all about the money. “Always online” is in THEIR best interest, not ours.

I have a feeling that difficult times are on their way and that we should expect the AAA game companies to raise prices for their “next gen” games, to help mitigate the increase in costs for servers and “always online” functionality. I hope I’m wrong, but the money has to come from somewhere.

Recently, Sony has assured gamers that their PS4 console will NOT require an “always online” connection. That is quite a relief, but Sony has a reputation for changing their minds, so I wouldn’t rule them out just yet. Despite a lot of rumors, Microsoft is still officially keeping quiet. However, unofficially some of Microsoft’s spokespersons have hinted that the new Xbox WILL require a persistent internet connection, if you want to use their system. That is a scarey thought. Ultimately, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens. I really hope that they all come to their senses and they keep the internet and gaming two separate, yet equal entities. Neither one should be reliant on the other.

Gentleben94