Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Mark of the Ninja: Bugging Out

What's dark, has a million ravenous mouths, and is sneaking up right behind you? Jorge and Scott discover that ninjas bring a whole new meaning to the word "insecticide."

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Christmas Crashes

We're still on holiday schedule around these parts, but I figured I can take a break from Super Mario 3D World and stuffing my face with leftovers for a quick update as well as a little grousing. Afterall, just as Batman and the Joker need each other, you can't have Santa without Krampus.

Christmas day brought an unexpected windfall of video games this year:

Not pictured is The Wonderful 101, another game I'm looking forward to digging into.

It's been a long time since I set up a new console and even longer since I set one up amidst the giddiness of Christmas morning. If I recall correctly, that honor goes to the Nintendo 64 and may have even involved an RF switch. Different times.

I completely expected a lengthy set up and update process, because that's just the way electronics ship these days. What I did not expect was this:

I thought I had outsmarted Nintendo by staying away from the Wii U and 3DS until they had a functioning, cross compatible online account and store strategy, but I guess the joke was on me. As I write this, I'm still unable to redeem my coveted Wind Waker HD game. It's a shame, since a game of that length is perfect for a week away from work.

It's cold comfort to both me and Nintendo, but they're not the only ones having a hectic holiday. PSN, XBL, Nintendo's Online services, and even Steam have experienced widespread network issues. It would be kind of impressive if it weren't so inconvenient. I can't remember another clean sweep of all four major online gaming networks.

It's hard to complain too much, as I know the services will eventually recover. A few days of shaky connections isn't the worst thing in the world, especially since my coveted Mario is safely contained on physical media. More important are the various implications issues like these make.

We're at the precipice of a wholly-digital games industry, but clearly companies either can not or have not properly invested in the infrastructure and logistics necessary to handle service surges. Maybe the fact that we're living in a hybrid world of both physical and digital media makes it hard to estimate demand? This might be true, but I'm even more certain that the network folks at all these companies are probably under-funded and understaffed. By their nature companies want to minimize expenses, which means that the philosophy of "It will probably be okay," often wins the day.

I'm thankful for the folks that are probably stuck in the office or trying to get their VPN connection to work from their homes in order to get things back on line. They were the ones that warned management of the need for more resources but were shrugged off and now they have to deal with the mess. The coal that rolls downhill is rarely produced by the people who ultimately have to deal with it.

Ultimately, episodes like these demonstrate the ongoing utility of traditional physical media. Until the technology and money behind it can support the desire to instantly play the new games you bought, you better hope Santa brings you disks.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

EXP Podcast #256: Gift Giving and More GoTY

It's the last podcast of 2013 and it just so happens to fall on Christmas Day. In the spirit of giving, Hanah gives up some of her time to drop by and talk about gifts in games and some of the games that received her attention this past year. Presents, pirates, and pyromaniacs: we cover all this and more as we make plans for our cube-shaped utopia.

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes
- Find the show on Stitcher
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 26 min 39 sec
- Music by: Brad Sucks

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Batman: Arkham Asylum: Batsquats Edition

Hanah and Scott discover how Batman keeps himself in fighting shape.

A Note on the AK-47

A golden AK-47 from Call of Duty 2
Mikhael Kalashnikov died on Monday at the age of ninety-four. For FPS fans, the name probably sounds familiar. Kashnikov invented the AL-47, the most widely used assault rifle of all time, and we would be remiss if his passing went unnoticed by the games industry.

You have seen this weapon in almost every shooter you've played. While its efficacy changes from game to game, some characteristics remain generally consistent. The AK-47 tends to unload a clip of 39mm rounds incredibly quickly. The AK-47's incredible stopping power still makes it a perfectly suitable primary weapon in even modern day shooters. While its accuracy leaves something to be desired, its power in short and mid-range often makes up for its faults.

The gun is so common in games precisely because it is so common on the world stage. The weapon achieved some renown because it cheap to make, easy to use, and surprisingly durable. The weapon didn't jam or overheat as often as its competitors either, which made is a remarkably reliable weapon as well.
Produced by the Soviet Union, the AK-47 traveled across the world, fueling Cold War conflicts and falling into the hands of some of the world's more seedy elements. The AK-47 outlived the Soviet Union and its popularity and accessibility remained as strong as ever. The weapon became much used among rebels and warlords alike.

In video games, it is often the weapon we first encounter when facing whatever villainous terrorist organization the creators invent or borrow, and rightly so. The AK-47, and subsequent models, are plentiful the world over. Shipment of the weapons, from various nations, find their way into the hands of hateful organizations, pirates, freedom fighters, and farmers. In some ways, the AK-47 is a "third-world weapon", it is no wonder it appears so frequently in the hands of our video game enemies.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kalashnikov became a sort of hero in his time. He climbed the ranks quickly because of his invention, and his imprint on Russian history in particular was strong enough for the creation of a museum in his name. naturally, he also knew the mixed feelings people might have towards the inventor of so destructive a weapon, even if it was just one of many. Kalashnikov called it "a weapon of defense" not a "weapon of offense," perhaps to undo the negative connotations associated with his invention. The difference, of course, is moot. All weapons are weapons of offense.

I don't know if I have a particular message here other than an oft repeated one that maybe we all know. In games we treat weapons as toys, but the real world footprint of these things are immense. The creator of the AK-47 died this week. It does us well to remember our in-game objects often have real world origins.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Labor Relations and League of Legends

My latest PopMatters article is now live: Labor Relations and League of Legends.

Troubling news from eSports recently after Riot Games announced they would prohibit their LCS players from streaming their competitors' games. Riot quickly changed their tune after community backlash, but the issue has already been set. eSports has matured enough to begin raising issues of exploitation and commodification of its players, which means we've basically arrived, right?

I spend a good deal of this piece comparing League of Legends to the NFL, partly because this is what the game's creators are measuring themselves against. Riot calls their players athletes, people who have started an eSports career. Yet what these terms mean is still ill defined, especially when a "career" can start and end in just a few years. If we are meant to take the idea of professional gaming seriously, then we must consider it a legitimate profession, which in turn should be understood with labor relations in mind. Contract transparency and a collective association of competitive eSports players would be a great way to start.

The push for an organized player body must, eventually, come from the players themselves. Sorry LCS Champions, but I don't foresee ESPN coming to your aid any time soon:

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

EXP Podcast #255: 2013 Not Quite Games of the Year

Maybe next year, Aliens.
Last week we talked about our favorite games of 2013. While these were our favorite experiences of the year, they were not necessarily the games that took up most of our time and attention. Sometimes rough edges and flawed experiments make for the most thought-provoking discussion, so we decided to dedicate an entire episode that didn’t quite make it on our final list for 2013. We cover everything from anti-heroes, to indie darlings, to esports, all of which kept our minds occupied throughout the year. As always, feel free to jump in with your comments on what made the biggest impression on you in 2013.

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes
- Find the show on Stitcher
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 38 min 11 sec
- "On Videogame Reviews," by Tevis Thompson, via TevisThompson.com
- Music by: Brad Sucks

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Dishonored - The Knife of Dunwall: Free the Whales

Join us as we assume the roll Daud, master assassin, connoisseur of fine canned meats, and animal rights. It's Dishonored: The Knife of Dunwall and it's a sneaky, stabby good time.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Year-end Bests and Worsts in the Video Game Landscape

Image from PopMatters
This week at PopMatters I do a little year-end ranting and raving.

I’ve come to enjoy the retrospective seasons. Game releases slow down and you get a chance to take a look back not only on the year’s most interesting games, but also on the broader trends in the medium. In fact, Jorge and I like it so much that we recorded a podcast on our favorite games of the year and will release a second one about the most thought-provoking games that, while they weren’t our favorites, took up lots of our brainspace throughout the year.

As far as the bulk of the negative stuff goes, the fact that the VGX show just happened very much helped to encapsulate most of the stuff that bothers me about “video game culture.” I use that term hesitantly as that phrase seems increasingly tied to a loosely affiliated group of ideas held together by stereotypes, exclusivity, and immaturity. In enjoy a good Cheeto joke as much as the next guy, but it has to feel like it's mocking the stereotype, not the group of people being stereotyped.

As for the positive stuff, it's all pretty straightforward. Broadcasting, the most exciting feature of the new consoles, seems to be a smashing success and the barrier of entry when it comes to content creation is historically low and still falling. Maybe a collection of small voices can drown out the idiotic isolated roar of the VGX vision of gaming?

I don't know, but here's to hoping 2014 will be a step in the right direction.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

EXP Podcast #254: 2013 Games of the Year

Is Ride to Hell our GOTY? Probably not.
2013 is coming to a close and it was, well, a strange one. As is tradition, it is time to choose and discuss our personal selection of favorite games! Join us this week as we revisit some of this year's best, and be sure to come back next week when we talk about all the big games that didn't quite make our list. Of course we would love to hear from you. What were your top three games of 2013?

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes
- Find the show on Stitcher
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 40 min 07 sec
- Music by: Brad Sucks

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

What is this: Scoregasm

Pulling once again from the depths of the Steam library, Scott and Jorge explore Scoregasm. We also explore the true meaning of "bullet hell", wrestle with technical challenges, and discuss the strange politics of eSports. Check out the video below and let us know your thoughts on all of the above, as well as keyboard recommendations for Scott!

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Game Lessons Learned from the Films of 2013

Poster for Short Term 12
My latest PopMatters article is now live: Game Lessons Learned from the Films of 2013.

As someone whose live is heavily dominated by games, I tend to think about them even when I don't plant to. Sometimes I'm sitting there in the movie theater thinking "Wow. Keanu could definitely take over for Nolan North in an Uncharted spin-off." Alright, maybe we can't take too many lessons from A Walk in the Clouds. Still, movies matter to games, and vice versa. We can learn a lot from storytelling across mediums, and every year I find a handful of movies that resonate with me not just as excellent cinematic works, but as spotlights on ways games can experiment and explore certain themes or styles. This piece is my exploration of five such films that came out this year, some of which are viewable right now, either in theater or online.

Since we are already on the subject of movies, why not talk about a few more of my favorites from this year. Of my list five films, only two make it into my personal list of Top 5 films I have seen so far this year. To this personal ranking, I would add the nearly perfect Blue Jasmine. Woody Allen's latest is amazing, a funny albeit deeply depressing and unrelenting story.

Nearly every character in the film is despicable in one way or another, particularly the men. Unfortunately the two sisters leading the film have their personal self-identities so entwined with the men in their lives that they are incapable of escaping their implosive destinies. Blue Jasmine is an excellent look at the perils of gender identity and compromised agency. Good times! I almost put it on my PopMatters list, but felt Frances Ha covered some of the same ground well enough.

I was also struck this year by Destin Cretton's Short Term 12, about a few staff members at a foster care home for trouble youth. Director and writer, Cretton based a lot of the script on his own experiences working at a foster care facility. The film itself is touching, intimate, and extremely hopeful. In fact, it reminded me a lot of Gone Home, which approaches its subject matter with the same level of care and affection. Both experiences feel personal, in both the drama and the warmth. Like Blue Jasmine, I also wanted to put it on my list. Ultimately, I thought both Frances Ha and The Stories We Tell covers the intimate approach to storytelling. There are also a growing number of games, Dys4ia to Gone Home, that have figured what many filmmakers already do: good storytelling comes in many forms.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

EXP Podcast #253: Meet the PS4

Santa came early to the Experience Points household and he brought a shiny new PlayStation 4 with him! This week, we dip a toe into the next generation and report back with some early impressions of the new system's controller, operating system, and social features. I don't know if you heard, but this thing also plays games! With this in mind, we share some thoughts on a few of the early releases. As always, feel free to jump into the comments with your thoughts!

- Subscribe to the EXP Podcast via iTunes
- Find the show on Stitcher
- Here's the show's stand-alone feed
- Listen to the podcast in your browser by left-clicking here. Or, right-click and select "save as link" to download the show in MP3 format.
- Subscribe to this podcast and EXP's written content with the RSS link on the right.

Show notes:

- Runtime: 37 min 33 sec
- Music by: Brad Sucks

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Fez: Owls, QR Codes, and Gimmicks

Jorge and Scott step back into the Fez's inter-dimensional mystery. Is Fez the Lost of video games? Will Fez's map finally push Jorge over the edge and into a murderous rage? Will Scott's notebook full of frantic scribbling pay off? The answers lie within.