Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Best Video Games of 2013

It's the end of the year so I felt it appropriate to conjure up a list of my favorite video games this year.  This list only reflects games that I have actually played.  Not really numbered but I guess you can say I preferred the games I listed first.


Bioshock Infinite
The Bioshock franchise is a pretty well regarded in the gaming community but personally I couldn't finish Bioshock 1 or 2 as I was never fully interested in the setting or atmosphere those games.  So what was so different about Bioshock Infinite that clicked with me?  It's hard to say but I found myself immersed in the story and Columbia as a whole while I delved into all of it in almost one sitting.  Maybe i'm a sucker for time travel / parallel world stories but it also helps that the game was actually fun to play as gliding around the skyrails, shooting things, and using vigors all felt like second hand nature.


Grand Theft Auto V

I think Rockstar hit it out of the park with this game, while I was skeptical about how switching between three main characters would work out it wasn't such a big deal when you actually sat down and played it.  I haven't really had as much fun with a GTA game since San Andreas.


Fire Emblem: Awakening

When I finally bought my 3DS this year Fire Emblem: Awakening was one of the first games I bought and I was pleasantly surprised as I am personally not too familiar with the Fire Emblem franchise but I have delved into other SRPG's in the past and this has become one of my favorites in the genre.  Great tactical gameplay, a great cast of characters, a pretty interesting story, and tons of replay value makes it one of the best games of the year in my opinion.


The Last Of Us

I probably fall into the camp who is under zombie game fatigue but The Last Of Us put enough spin on it to make it interesting and says a lot about a game if you can empathize with the characters emotionally.  It's definitely one of the best stories in a game this year and worth playing.


Super Mario 3D World

I'll be blunt and say the Wii U in general was a disappointment but if there was anything that made me glad I actually bought one was this game.  The Super Mario franchise always seems to deliver in terms of fun factor and this is the first time I actually had fun with a Super Mario game in quite awhile.  Playing with my nieces and nephews with it's coop multiplayer is something I couldn't find anywhere else this year and deserves a spot on my list.


Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag

Assassin's Creed games have always been fun in some way or another and I don't want to say the series has lost steam over the past few games (Revelations and AC3 to be more specific) it certainly lost it's shine.  Assassin's Creed IV is just fun and certainly brings the franchise back to top form with this recent installment.


Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

I haven't played many JRPG's recently and Ni No Kuni was one of the first games I picked up this year.  What impressed me the most is the animation quality as I felt this was pretty much the closest game that resembled an actual Anime in motion(probably should mention Studio Ghibli was a part of this project).  I think the story is pretty charming and the gameplay is kind of grindy but I couldn't help myself and kept trying to find new creatures and evolving more powerful versions.  Worth playing if you are into JRPG's.

Starcraft 2: Heart of the Swarm

While HOTS is an expansion I still felt it added a good amount of content and refreshed SC2 where I found it enjoyable to play again.  SC2 is SC2, not much else to say that it's still a superb game to play.


Tales of Xillia


Again I was yearning for JRPG's this year and I haven't played a Tales franchise game in quite awhile (last being Symphonia on the gamecube).  What else can I say other than the combat system is still one of the most unique and fun combat experiences you can have in a JRPG.  If anything Xillia has gotten me interested in some of the past games I've missed out on.  The story was decent and it's worth playing through twice as you can choose a different perspective depending on the main character you choose.


The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

I'll be honest, it's a recent purchase and I haven't put many hours into it but it's already feeding off my nostalgia as I think Link To The Past is one of my favorite games of all time and while it certainly has similarities the game is still pretty damn fun to play and interesting as a game of it's own.

Monday, June 10, 2013

E3 Day 0 Impressions - 2013

PlayStation 4 vs Xbox One

Certainly the biggest news out of this years E3 was the certainly the initial price point of the brand new consoles. Microsoft certainly had the initial advantage having their conference in the morning and while the Xbox One seems impressive the 500$ price tag slapped me back to reality. Sony on the other hand just threw salt on the wound with a 400$ price tag. With all the controversy surrounding Xbox One's DRM and online requirements, the PS4 certainly has the upper hand after today in my opinion. Oh and a great troll video by Sony below.



Games

Just some trailers of games that impressed me and looking forward to in the future.

Final Fantasy XIV



Destiny



The Witcher 3 - Wild Hunt



Dragon Age Inquisition



Battlefield 4




Dead Rising 3



Titanfall



Tom Clancy's The Division

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Dark Souls 2 Gameplay


So IGN just released a 12 minute Dark Souls 2 gameplay reveal.  Dark Souls probably one of my favorite games of the past five years so I was certainly excited to see footage of the game.

My initial impressions are that it certainly looks like more Dark Souls, which isn't a bad thing.  There is certainly a graphic fidelity and physics improvements and hopefully it's a lot more optimized than the first game which had some performance issues.   Things like lighting torches don't seem to be great feature improvements although if a lot of areas in Dark Souls 2 are like the Tomb Of Giants in the first game then it's definitely a welcome addition to the game.  Enemies breaking through walls certainly seems like it could be a frightening feature where you are trying to avoid tough enemies but they keep coming after you.   Also another thing to notice is that dual wielding could somewhat be an option as there seems to combat animations that complement such a style.  Hopefully we'll see some more in the near future.

adding the gameplay trailer as well.

Friday, March 29, 2013

Favorite Winter 2013 Anime

Winter 2012-2013 season is basically wrapping up with quite a few anime shows ending this week.  Even though i haven't watched all of what was available during the season I felt that I needed to make a small list of my favorites that I watched.

The second season of Haganai (Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai NEXT) is what I found the most entertaining and funniest shows you can watch this season..  It basically keeps the momentum going from the first season with Kodaka and the rest of the Neighbors Club getting into hilarious situations practicing friend making skills.
I felt this was probably one of the best "slice of life" shows out this season which is mostly about a group of high school outcasts who live in Sakura Hall which is meant for so called "troublemakers" of the school.  There was certainly funny moments, a fair amount of drama to sort of get the emotions going, and an amazing casts of characters which make you miss them when it's all over.



Blast of Tempest

What I liked about Blast of Tempest (Zetsuen No Tempest) is that it tells a well thought out story about two friends who both share a tragic past due to someone significant in their lives passing away, thus spiraling into a chain of events that involves magic, apocalyptic world trees, and a bit of Shakespeare.




A spin-off story from the Zettai Karen Children (Psychic Squad) series, if you don't know much about the universe it's more or less about a criminal organization named P.A.N.D.R.A. and their leader Hyobu Kyosuke. He commands a group of Espers(physic power users) who seem to have an agenda against normal humans and ultimately wants to wipe them out.  The action scenes are pretty exciting and the characters are fairly likable for the most part.  Add in some espionage to the mix and you get a fairly interesting plot.  For a 12 episode anime it's really well put together and fun to watch.

Robotics;Notes I found a pretty interesting because I found the story a bit of a mind twist as it definitely played the on it's strengths of tossing in a plot and turning it on it's toes just when you think you have figured it out.  Watch if you are interested in conspiracy theories, sci-fi, little bit of video games, robot building and fighting.  Not to mention that it takes place in the much heralded Steins;Gate universe.


I do watch my fair share of harem themed shows though most of the time I find them repetitive but Oreshura seems to be self aware of itself and the plot is certainly dumb but it is all good fun and comedy as you watch Eita Kido get blackmailed by Masuzu Natsukawa into a fake relationship and does his best to avoid his childhood friends finding out their relationship is a fake since they are all in love with him.





Didn't finish watching or ongoing that is still probably worth watching.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Games I've Been Playing - March 2013

I think it's been a pretty slow year in terms of games that have interested me but I'll go ahead and give my thoughts on some of the games I've been playing this month.

Starcraft 2 - Heart of the Swarm

I think what I am most impressed about Heart of the Swarm so far is the way it is telling the story.  I have not seen any other RTS deliver a proper story in the same kind of way.  You can tell Blizzard spent a decent chunk of money to create the CG cutscenes and story elements.  While interactions and conversations aren't as interesting as the Wings of Liberty stuff it is still pretty cool to go around and talk with zerg creatures about how to approach missions and whatnot.
As for gameplay in the campaign I think most of it is fairly interesting so far.  Most of it revolves controlling Kerrigan who plays a major role in each mission and is basically your go to unit to achieve victory.  It almost feels like cheating having her around all the time.  The upgrade systems work a bit differently than Wings of Liberty but you effectively enhance each of your units with a special power.  For example zerglings have two upgrade paths, one evolution is that you can have them able to leap up and down from cliffs or evolve them to spawn three at a time instead of the usual single unit.  Kerrigan also works in a similar way, she can gain levels and at various tiers she can gain a new ability from two different branches of power, you can freely respec abilities so it's not a deep commitment into what abilities you want to use which is a big change from Wings Of Liberty
Don't want to make this sound like a review as I'm only around the halfway point in the game but I still feel that Heart of the Swarm is a great RTS for what I have played so far.   I still haven't gotten deep into the multiplayer but that is mostly due to being scared of getting blown away by people who have been playing since Starcraft 2's launch.

World Of Warcraft - 5.2 patch

I've sort of been playing Mists Of Pandaria the past few months, though I pretty much don't log in as often as i used to.   But 5.2 content patch was released recently and I've been doing a few of the new LFR(Raid Finder) instances.   While the difficulty isn't up to par with normal raid instances I still enjoy them but I don't know if it's MMO fatigue or what I feel that the boss encounters just don't feel unique anymore.   It's like all the design aspects of a raid encounter have been exhausted, some may be due to some mechanics being stripped out for LFR and some of it is just reuse of older boss mechanics.     I think my time in WoW is winding down to it's end but I still enjoyed Mists of Pandaria alot more than Cataclysm.

Bioshock Infinite

The game is under my radar so i'll leave this spot blank for now but it's probably the biggest release to come out this year so far.  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The Pet Girl of Sakurasou - Short Review


The Pet Girl of Sakurasou is a little mix of everything. If you want humor, love triangles, drama and life lessons to be learned then this is probably something you should watch.  It's mostly about high school teens who get outcast from their dorms into Sakura Hall which is meant for trouble making students.

The plot revolves around Sorata Kanda who was kicked out of the dorms and moved to Sakura Hall for taking care of a cat and meets Mashiro Shiina who is a very talented artist but so inept of taking care of herself that Sorata has to do it for her thus you sort of get the idea where the title of this anime comes from.  Sorata ends up inspiring the other students of Sakura Hall with his actions and in the process they become friends and work on projects together(mostly anime and video game related) which strengthens their bonds and friendships as they experience success and failures pursuing their goals.

The story is well told, the animation is really nice to look at, and voice acting really well done. I certainly hope they decide to continue the anime with a second season as this first season was definitely one of the best anime for winter 2013.

5/5

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions - Short Review

Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions or Chūnibyō Demo Koi ga Shitai! is a 12 episode anime that I watched over the weekend which certainly made me laugh and pulled at my heart strings at the same time.  The story revolves around a few teenagers who have experienced or are experiencing "8th grade syndrome" or Chunibyo, which is basically another way of saying that they escaped reality by imagining they had powers that they do not really have and hide themselves behind that persona.

Yuta smacking Rikka
While the entire cast of characters were all fairly interesting you couldn't help be drawn to the main characters of the story which revolves around Yuta Togashi a guy who is recovering from his delusional past and trying to live a normal life in his new high school who ends up meeting a girl named Rikka Tanashi who lives above his apartment and is currently in her own delusional world while always wearing an eye patch to cover her "wicked eye".   Their awkward relationship evolving from annoyance to mutual love for each other was something very interesting to watch as the tone and pacing of the story is very comedic at first but eventually becomes very serious in the last few episodes as you find out about the true issues behind why Rikka hides herself behind her delusions.

Rikka showing her "Wicked Eye"
I enjoyed this anime a lot as it has a good mix of humor, action, and serious moments that don't get overly complicated.   The production values are excellent as are most anime's done by Kyoto Animation and visuals for the action scenes are very nice contrast to the every day high school scenarios throughout the series.  Without getting too philosophical the message this anime tries to portray is fairly simple.  We all have embarrassing quirks about our personalities and we shouldn't force ourselves to hide it as those qualities are a part of us and who we are.  At least that's what I got out of it.

You can currently watch this anime on the Animenetwork.

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Making Money Playing Video Games

So you play a lot of  video games and you want to know how you can make money doing it?  Well beyond going to school to learn to specialize in getting into the gaming industry itself or being a professional gamer, maybe that's a little beyond your current situation at the moment.  I want to emphasize what you read here isn't going to change your life overnight.  It's not going to bandage the hole in your pocket and is meant mostly to guide you with some supplemental income just for doing something you already do (play video games). In other words, don't quit your day job.  Also age requirement for some of the methods below require you to be of legal age which is usually 18+ depending on your country.

Youtube

Youtube is one of the most well known ways to play video games and make money but to be honest it's not that easy. Once you apply for an Adsense account you are one step closer to monetizing your videos.  Youtube is very strict in what you can monetize and many game companies are putting up copyright claims on video game footage so most of the time you have to get permission or find something in the video game's license agreement or terms of use that doesn't say you can't make videos.  A good way to avoid this is that you really need to have a goal in mind as raw gameplay videos aren't going to earn you anything because they will usually get rejected for monetization.  So by goal I am referring to the type of content you want to present to the viewer.  For example you could do a review of a game or another example would be to make a comprehensive strategy guide for a particular boss fight in a game that you have played.  As long as you are somewhat informational and educating the viewer then it should be easier to convince youtube that the video game footage is being used under "fair use" copyright laws.

Youtube isn't going to make you instant cash because someone with 0 subscribers will find it hard to get views on their videos.  So you need to build an audience which will take time and you need to label and tag your videos very well so that search engines can find your video.  You can also post a few interesting gameplay videos which you don't monetize but can bring your channel to their attention and from those more popular videos you can link annotations to your other videos which you are trying to monetize.

So to start off capturing and encoding video game footage for Youtube you'll need to get a few programs and maybe some external equipment to make decent video game videos.  So below is a basic list of what you'll need, i'll list mostly free programs that you can start off with but if you do get serious consider investing in some of the better paid programs.  Console game capture requires investing in a capture device such as a capture card or external video capture box. While PC game capture requires more of a higher performance desktop which can handle the stress of real time encoding while playing a game at the same time.  Video editing also requires an investment to make higher quality videos but it's possible to use free programs to make an enjoyable video.

PC Game Capture
-free- Open Broadcaster - MSI Afterburner - Razer Game Booster
-paid- Fraps - DXtory - Bandicam - Xsplit

Console / Capture Device - Elgato Game Capture HD - AVerMedia Live Gamer HD - Hauppauge HD PVR 2 Gaming Edition

Video Editing Programs
-free- Windows Movie Maker - Avidemux - Microsoft Expression Encoder 4(some options locked under pay-wall) - EZvid
-paid- Adobe Premiere Elements 11 - Sony Movie Studio Platinum Suite 12 - Adobe Premiere Pro CS6 - Vegas Pro 12

Microphone / Headset
You can use basically whatever you want but I personally use a Blue Yeti USB Microphone because I enjoy the quality of the sound it records.

Live Streaming

Beyond Youtube you can also try your hand at live streaming which has been gaining a larger audience the past few years on sites like Twitch.tv and Ustream.   The biggest hurdle jumping into live streaming is mostly dependent on the speed of your connection.  I'd say a good minimum upstream you would need to have is about 2-Mbps as this will give you a good bit-rate for 720p+ and give you enough bandwidth if you happen to be playing a game that requires internet access.

On a site like Twitch you can start streaming whenever you want but you won't earn any ad revenue until you get partnered or get very lucky with donations.  Donations are  probably the only way to earn money while live streaming without a partnership and you basically do that by adding a Paypal or Chip-In link on your personal page.  There are also subscriptions available for the more popular channels where you'll split each subscriber with Twitch but this requires you to be very well known.  There aren't any specifics on what you need to do to get partnered on Twitch but you need a sufficient amount of followers and viewers.  I can bluntly say that gaining an audience live streaming is very personality driven and although being very skilled at playing games can net you some viewers people usually stick around because they like what the person brings them in terms of entertainment value.  It's also a pretty good idea to specialize in a particular game as people tend to get comfortable watching their favorite games being played.  As of this writing League of Legends and other MOBAs are some of the biggest live streaming communities at the moment yet there are many different personalities from pro gamers to casual gamers who seem to do well for themselves.

As for what you need to start live streaming is somewhat similar to what you need to capture game footage.  You need broadcasting software like Xsplit and Open Broadcaster and a capture device if you are streaming console footage.   Also it helps to have a microphone and a webcam if you really want to be interactive with your viewers.


Other Methods

While I outlined only a few methods you could try by using video it's definitely not the only way.  You can always write about your experiences, make a blog, do some freelance journalism, fan art, quality assurance game testing and other things that don't require a major investment.  Though i would say my experience in any of those fields are fairly limited so I won't try to give you advice on how to approach these ventures.  I wish you luck as even my own experience with making money playing video games has been a pretty long journey as well but if you have a lot more ambition you can certainly make a name for yourself.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Sword Art Online - Review, Thoughts and Reflections


So I've never actually been an avid anime enthusiast over a good portion of my life but I've been marathoning hundreds of hours of anime shows the past two weeks for a reason unbeknownst to me, maybe to induce myself into a depression or find the meaning of life.  I do want to give my thoughts about Sword Art Online mostly because I feel it's message hit more at home with me.  I've lived the experience as i've played MMORPG's over the past 10 years myself.  I know what it is to find people with common goals and form new relationships that transcend the virtual space into reality.  So it is kind of hard to talk about this anime series without spoiling some major plot points so I guess this review is more directed at other people who have already finished watching it.  As I have just marathoned all 25 current episodes I don't know whether these were broadcast into separate seasons so I'll just split them by story arcs which would be Sword Art Online and ALfheim Online and reflect upon them separately. So skip the sections below if you really want to avoid spoilers.

------------------------------------------- spoiler begin

Sword Art Online (episodes 1-14)

So going into Sword Art Online(SAO) I didn't know what to expect as I have not read any of the light novels or read any other reviews online about it.  I was thinking maybe it would be a light hearted take on online gaming but once the main villain appears and sets up the rules of world to the thousands of players in the main plaza it immediately became a serious life and death situation as dying in the virtual world would kill the person in reality.  The real death penalty premise was probably the most brilliant part of the story as the tension it created made every situation matter to the lives of everyone now living in this virtual world and shows us the comradery and corruption that builds up between this community of players which parallels real society in many ways.

Of course the main goal in Sword Art Online is to get out and to do that the community has to clear a series of floors and dungeons which hold some powerful bosses that block progression throughout the game.  So the anime borrows alot of simple gaming concepts like health pools, equipment, experience, and general skill progression to convey the power and abilities these people have in the game.  So if you've played a few MMO's or Role Playing Games the terminology is pretty familiar.

So one major complaint that I had was that the pacing of the first few episodes was going way too fast and I felt that alot of characters early on didn't get the exposition that they deserved.  For example Sachi seemed like a character who probably could have used another episode to convey a stronger relationship between her and Kirito because she was probably the first person he cared about or even started to love so I felt that maybe her death could have had more of an emotional impact on the viewers so that we could also feel as tormented as Kirito was while he listened to her final goodbye message.  Also other characters like Klein, Silica, Lizbeth seemed underused and basically only appear to build up Kirito's character and showing us what kind of guy he is.

After the hastened first half of this story arc we finally get to the real Kirito and Asuna relationship.  They meet early on in the story but they don't journey together after their first few meetings.  So It isn't till a year later that they start to develop feelings for each other but I thought this relationship took the time it needed to demonstrate that while they never met in reality their bond was indeed real and they loved each other enough to protect each other in times of need.  In essence the relationship between Kirito and Asuna is the main theme of the series and many subplots explore the relationship up to a point where they build their own virtual family.

Overall I felt satisfied with the way this arc ended and I kind of wish they explored the mind of the main villain some more as he seemed interesting.  The last battle was was a test of the human condition and overcoming it led to their somewhat bittersweet victory.  It was a relief to know that the nightmare was over for those left alive in SAO.

ALfheim Online (episodes 15-25)

This story arc is a bit shorter than SAO but I feel it's a more much focused narrative.  Kirito is finally out of the death trap but not all is well back in the real world as his one and only true love Asuna is still living a life of virtual reality as she did not wake up so to save her he has to go back into the online world.  So the basic story line becomes a save the princess type of video game trope.

What I found most interesting about this story arc is not so much Kirito's determination to get his love back but rather his sister Suguha's(Leafa) development throughout these episodes.  Even though Kirito isn't technically her brother(adopted cousin) she develops intimate feelings for him and she knows he will never return the same feelings as he is too consumed with Asuna in the real world.  So she escapes into the virtual world ALfeim online and in an ironic twist falls in love with Kirito's avatar in ALfeim online as well.  The revelation when Kirito and Leafa realize that they know each other is done very well.  I couldn't help but feel sympathetic towards Suguha as it was a brutal and soul crushing way to find out that that the person she could possibly fall in love with and forget about her brother in the real world was in the end actually her brother as well.

As for the actual society and type of game ALfeim online is I feel doesn't hold the same appeal as SAO.  There is no real tension or drama that you could possibly care about even though there seems to be a well thought out faction system but they really don't get into the politics all too much other than a few scenes where Kirito makes a few friends in high places that sort of help him on his journey to the World Tree. I also thought the new villain was sort of underwhelming, while Sugou is a fairly scummy guy his presence as the main villain just doesn't quite match up to Kayaba Akihiko.

Asuna while being the main motivation for Kirito's quest to save her has a fairly limited role and seems pretty helpless even though it's been shown previously that she is powerful person.  I guess I could see why they maybe wanted to put her in this role, perhaps it was more or less to show the will power she has to keep on living despite being stuck in a world of solitude.

I felt the ending was actually pretty good, the Kirito and Asuna moment in the hospital was a very memorable moment and you get to see alot of characters return in the final moments to celebrate the events of the past few years.  It's safe to say that we haven't seen the last of Kirito, Asuna, and Leafa as the World Seed program seems to bring new life to other virtual worlds and it's fairly implied that there is more to come in the future which I am thrilled about as I see there is much more potential in this series but if they never continue the anime I wouldn't say I'd be dissapointed as things wrap up pretty well.

-------------------------------------------spoiler end

I honestly enjoyed my time with Sword Art Online as I feel it's greatest strength is the way it conveys online relationships within a close community of players.  The real death penalty of the game only amplifies the emotional bonds the cast of characters experience which truly brings out who they really are as humans beings and further implies the message that even though they live in a virtual world the experiences they had with each other are very much real life experiences.

4/5