Monday, April 30, 2012

God of War: Ascension gets multiplayer

I told you updates would be coming in and what do you know? It wasn't a lie!

It was posted earlier this month on the confirmed news for God of War: Ascension and the elements it's anticipated to bring for the story of Kratos.  Today Santa Monica Studios has announced on the official Playstation blog that Ascension will have a newly developed multiplayer game mode to go along with the much anticipated single player.

Gamers will be able to choose between 4 different classes based on which god they worship, them being Ares, Hades, Poseidon, and Zeus.  Each god will provide unique powers, abilities, and even weapons.  It is known that at least one game mode will include a 4v4 team battle with each team combating to complete objectives.  Other game modes for multiplayer have not been revealed yet but I have no doubt that those details will continue to be released as time builds to the God of War: Ascension release date (still set for Spring 2013).

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Mount and Blade: Warband - Napoleonic Wars DLC Review

This review is done by our latest apprentice, Sean. His knowledge of non-mass market Steam games has few rivals.

Think back to your favorite video game of all time – yes, right now, just do it. Now ask yourself this -- how much do you really know about it? I don't mean where the Knights of the Round summon is located in Final Fantasy 7 or where the secret dragon boss is hidden in Dragon Age: Origin. I mean solid facts and details, such as where the title was developed, what the nationality of the team was, and other titles the team worked on prior to beginning work on the game. Did any of these elements from their previous works factor into the game being a resounding success? Take a look, the details may surprise and delight you -- as they did me when I delved into the background of my favorite title in recent memory- Mount&Blade: Warband and its recent DLC Napoleonic Wars.

Before I get to commenting on the new DLC, Napoleonic Wars, a little background on the original game is in order. 

Mount & Blade is a title from the Turkish development studio TaleWorlds and was the studio's very first title. Mount&Blade started as a single player game which was a blend of action, role-playing and strategy game play. It was developed by two people; Armağan Yavuz, and his wife İpek Yavuz, neither of whom had any previous experience in creating games. They set out with a simple idea in mind: make a game, and make it fun.

After four years of development, the game was released in 2008 on the Steam platform, where it became a cult classic. The game garnered a loyal following and modding community, which remains with it to this day. Over the past four years, there have been two large expansions for the game. The first expansion was Mount&Blade: Warband. The expansion added multi-player to Mount&Blade, allowing players to create guilds and compete in custom sandbox maps which supported as many as 150 players. The mix of fighting, strategy, and role-playing was unheard of in any game before, and in any game since Mount&Blade: Warband's initial release.

TaleWorlds is known for their interaction with their modding community, and their newest DLC on steam Napoleonic Wars (henceforth referred to as Napol) reflects this. Napol was developed from a mod formerly known as Mount&Musket developed by FlyingSquirrel Entertainment. The mod had such a large following that TaleWorlds contracted FlyingSquirrel to develop it into a full-fledged expansion for Warband. 

Napol is multiplayer only and requires the original Warband edition of the game in order to run. In Napol, you take on the persona of a soldier in the Napoleonic Wars Era. The game features a very detailed face creation option for your persona. You may edit everything from the size of your pompous British chin, to the half-smoked cigar sticking out of your oversized Irish pie-hole.

You may not edit your armor or weapons directly in the character creator; however, once you join a server, your armor and weapons are dictated by your faction, class, and military rank – which you are allowed to edit upon joining various servers.
Each team has a limited number of slots for each class and rank; for example, only one player may be the captain of a regiment, while there can be two sergeants, and an infinite number of recruits. You could be a light infantry in the Kings Legion, who is the rank of captain, and starts with a spyglass, pistol, officer's sword, and he completes the look with an outrageously tall hat. On the other hand, your friend is the sergeant of the same regiment, and starts with a regiment colors (flag), saber, and a fancy uniform to display your regiments pride on the battlefield!

Newer players may like to note, this game is not for the faint of heart. The game is a mix of third-person shooter and weapon based melee fighting. This isn't your Call of Duty-style click-button-when-close-and-instantly-kill-target melee fighting.
The player is in charge of everything in melee combat. If someone is charging you, bayonet affixed and aimed at your groin, you better be blocking your groin else you will be a eunuch for the remainder of your sad days as a soldier in Napoleon's legion. While varying from weapon to weapon, the combat system is simple in that you may choose from four basic attack directions: high, left, right, and low attacks. Defensively, the player may also choose between the same number of blocking directions. If your opponent is attacking low, you block low; he attacks left, you block left. Once these basics are mastered, more advanced blocking techniques become available to those willing to take a highrisk highreward approach to their defense. Chambering is a technique available in which the defending player may attack in the same direction, mere moments after the aggressor has released his attack. If successful, the player will effectively take "priority" and deflect the aggressors attack, and land one of their own. However, this tactic is incredibly risky. If you miss time your swing by even a millisecond, your face is about to eat the pointy end of that Russian peasant's sharpened branch (yes, this is a real weapon). One more basic technique available to the player is the kick. If an opponent is sticking to you like glue, not giving you any room to raise your swings, you can get his ugly Austrian mug out of your manly chest by giving him a well deserved kick to his family jewels. If it lands, the kick stuns the opponent for a moment, giving the player the opportunity to counter-attack the dirty Austrian. These combat elements combine together into an incredibly satisfying and intense gaming experience.

The melee combat is by far my favorite feature of all in this game. It is simple in theory, but is incredibly difficult to master. The game has those godly players who can take on five opponents by themselves and come out victorious. Additionally, nothing feels quite like taking your opponent on head-to-head and belting him in the face with the table leg your Russian partisan ripped off his family's table, since he was too poor to afford anything made of steel. The amount of customization put into every class and rank is downright astonishing sometimes. Also those hats.

Napol has a fair amount of melee combat, but the defining feature of the game is, of course, the muskets. The game prides itself on twice weekly "line battle" events. During these events, in an emulation of old style warfare, generals from various regiments command groups of soldiers and compete in massive 250 man battles. And yes, all 250 of them are real. No bots here, people. 

These battles also rely on another new element added to the game, cannons. Capable of devastating massive amounts of enemy troops in one blast, the cannons are a destructive force to be reckoned with. While vulnerable to cavalry charges, and subject to long reload times; the cannon can easily sway the tide of battle with a few well placed shots into enemy formations.

This mod has no story. The original game had a  sandbox-style single player game, in which the player took on the entire world in an attempt to become king of the entire realm. This is still present, but the DLC adds nothing to it.

There is a great sense of community in Napol, a carryover from the games predecessor Mount & Musket. If you are the last player alive, the enemy team will generally allow you to surrender, though you will be executed by firing squad shortly thereafter. Additionally, there is a sense of honor in the game. If a player is in a serious melee duel with another player, many veteran players will allow the duel to play out, not interrupting them or attacking from behind. It is generally seen as dishonorable to shoot an opponent in the back, unless they are cowards fleeing from combat because all cowards must be shot on sight, for the glory of Mother Russia. None of these rules are enforced by server administrators, but the player base is fairly tight knit, so if you are caught breaking these unsaid rules multiple times, most players will afford you no mercy if you suddenly expect fair treatment in the future.

Napol boasts a staggeringly impressive soundtrack. Keeping with the theme of Napoleonic War, the game features full length orchestral masterpieces and operas, such as, Bach's Brandenburg Concerto - Movement 1, Beethoven's Symphony - Number 5, Brahm's Hungarian Dance, Chopin's Polonaise Militaire, and Mendelssohn's Wedding March Recessional.

The biggest downside to this DLC is the graphic quality. While not downright terrible, the graphics clearly show the game's origin as a 2008 title. However, they also give it a great rustic feel, and allow the game to run great on lower-end gaming rigs. This game can easily be played on max settings by a gaming rig four years behind in modern hardware.

It should be noted that this game is not without its faults. Maps are often optimized for 200 players, and when you join a smaller server, it can take a few minutes to get to the action, which is frustrating at times. Additionally, the melee combat is not novice-friendly. If you engage a veteran player in melee combat mano a mano, you will die. This can be incredibly frustrating to newer players to the series, as you start to feel you have one shot at killing your enemy before he overwhelms you, but if you think about it isn't that exactly what it was like?

Line battles can also make or break this game for the average consumer. While my machine can handle the massive number of players easily, a lesser machine or internet connection would have a very hard time rendering and loading all the players without a significant hit in the performance of the game or latency. Also, the net code for Warband was optimized for 150 players, not 250, so occasionally there is a serious amount of lag when participating in these events, even with a great gaming rig and fiber optic connection.

Verdict: Small problems aside, if you are willing to put in a few hours to figure out the melee combat, and take a few practice shots in to get the distance and bullet drop of the various muskets available to you, Mount&Blade and its associated DLC are unbelievably rewarding and entertaining experiences, which have nothing even remotely similar to them in gaming history. With a distinctive background, and a dedicated community, the game evolved over the years from a rough gem, to a glimmering diamond. I cannot praise this game enough, and you owe it to yourself to give it a try.

(Reviewed on a 3.2 Ghz AMD X6, Radeon 5770. 1920x1080 resolution)

Monday, April 23, 2012

Pokémon Black/White 2

Nintendo has recently released a trailer (seen below) for the new upcoming Pokémon game, Pokémon Black/White 2.  This release is to be GameFreak's first Pokémon game set as a direct sequel.  Information on the game is limited but we do know through the official Japanese Pokémon website  that it does take place in the Unova region and will more or less do away with the "use only the new region Pokémon" feature that was used in the first Black/White games. Instead, older generation Pokémon will become available for the player to catch and train as they progress through the game. New gym leaders and gym Pokémon types are expected to be used in the game, as well as unique mini-games and trainer encounters that will give these sequels a fresh experience.  

The new Pokémon games are expected to hit shelves in Japan at the end of June and then move their way out for the rest of us in the Fall of 2012.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Kickstarter Kicks Change In The Throat

I wonder if there will be a day when the gaming industry will not need publishers to be a middle man between developers and gamers. Probably not, but Kickstarter and Rockethub are on the right track in giving more power to gamers and developers alike. At first I considered the popularity of Double Fine Adventure to be a unique occurrence. However, it seems that crowd source funding, or crowdfunding, might be the most lucrative option for developers looking to fund a game that publishing companies turn their nose to. After Double Fine’s Kickstarter project raised over 3 million dollars, a Wasteland 2 Kickstarter was funded with almost $3m. And that’s not to downplay all the other projects that have been funded since Kickstarter began. With bigger budgets attached to crowdfunded games, this could be the beginning of a change in how games are handled from development teams to the consumers who invest in them.

While it is awesome that crowdfunding could actually be relevant, it is also important to keep in mind that most of the games that are funded/successful are what most publishers consider “niche markets.” Bigger publishing companies won’t give money to a dev team to make a Leisure Suit Larry remake or a steampunk styled MMORPG. Big “Triple-A” titles are still going to be released and still make, and cost, a lot of money. What makes this an interesting time is that now, publishing companies like EA and Activision might pay attention to these “niche markets” and realize that there’s more profit for them than they thought.

I don’t care if this crowdfunding thing actually sticks around or not. The fact that it made a really big splash and caused more people besides the fans of classic point-and-click adventure games to speak up about what they want is good for all of us. Change and disruption of the status quo is good for everyone interested in seeing this form of interactive entertainment grow and evolve. I hope this more direct connection between developers and consumers sticks around in some form. For now, we just have to use the wait-and-see attack and witness what comes next.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Aristogamer Podcast April 2012

For your aural pleasure, we present you with this month's podcast covering topics like the Mass Effect 3 controversy, Journey, Kickstarter, and DLC.

Subscribe to us in iTunes

Or download here directly

God of War 4

This is it folks. God of War 4 is no longer a tempting tease for the PS3 owners anymore. As of yesterday, Sony has officially announced that God of War 4 will be God of War: Ascension after dropped the ball and leaked snipits of information including box art and its official title.

Sony confirmed through the official Playstation YouTube channel that the game will in fact be a prequel that dives into the origins of Kratos's bloody past. Game director for God of War: Ascension Todd Pappy also released a blog posting on behalf of Sony that further details on the game will be released April 30th on the official Playstation blog as well the God of War: Ascension Facebook page.

Being a prequel, the game will give details on Kratos's past life as a Spartan military leader before allying with Ares, a connection that should prove both difficult to create and extraordinarily interesting to life long God of War fans. Official release is rumored to be Spring of 2013 but Sony neither confirms nor denies the possibility of an earlier release.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Line Between Entitlement and Outrage

Oftentimes, we gamers can confuse the line between our expectations and perceived justice. A perfect example can be found with Battlefield 3. EA decided that instead of distributing the game through one of the more popular distribution methods (such as Steam, Direct2Drive, and Games for Windows Live) they would use their own software, Origin. Nowhere had EA stated that they would release the game for any of the other platforms, and yet gamers seemed outraged that twenty minutes and a small amount of hard drive space would be taken up downloading a new service. Gamers assumed that such a popular series would be coming to the most popular PC game service, but when it was announced as an Origin exclusive, fans were outraged, citing EA’s greed and Origin’s inferiority when compared to Steam. Whether or not the service is good is not the point, but rather that EA never said the game was coming to Steam, and then lied. Rather, gamers gave themselves this expectation and were angry when it was not met. Oftentimes, members of the game community base their anger on expectations that they set up for themselves, and not what a company promised and did not deliver on.

However, a growing trend in gaming has more and more of the community taking a stance and I think the issue has become graver than ever. That issue is downloadable content and the toll it is taking on gaming.

Remember when DLC first came around? Not many developers made it, and the most silly of all was the Horse Armor in Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. Why would anyone pay two dollars for horse armor? It’s a nonsensical add-on that most would find interesting, but few would find necessary.

Fast forward to 2012. Prototype 2 is being released and preordering at Gamestop will net you a special move. Mass Effect 3 is released with Day 1 DLC much to the anger of their fans and almost as much controversy as the ending. Some games have content coming out for them over a year after the initial release.

DLC is now not only abundant; it is almost expected of games. From extra multiplayer maps to new skins or hats, special moves to in-game items, the Age of DLC is upon us and up until recently, it was a time I was content with. Amidst the sea of angry screaming and protests shouting “I paid for the game, I deserve the add-ons!” I stood, as many gamers have, in the camp of “if you don’t like it, don’t buy it.” I don’t need the Bio-Bomb Butt Kicker in Prototype 2 to have a good time. Robin’s levels in Arkham City aren’t necessary for me to feel good about my purchase. The extra guns in Battlefield 3 may give me an advantage, but make the game no less fun for me. I was happy to see the extra content and not partake. I would neither chastise people for buying them, nor lecture people on protesting them. Live and let live is a good motto, I believe.

And then I played Asura’s Wrath.

I enjoyed the game. It was quite fun all the way up until the True Ending, a merit-based achievement that untied the neat ending into a huge cliffhanger to tease what I expected to be a sequel. I felt cheated as the three hours I sunk into the game to achieve this ending resulted in me being less happy with the ending than before, but I gave the developers the benefit of the doubt. Game companies aren’t large, faceless corporations trying to rake money out of us, they’re comprised of people with feelings, problems, and ideas, just like the rest of us. Perhaps CyberConnect2 liked Asura’s Wrath so much that they wanted a reason for a sequel and a rowdy fanbase that could yell at Capcom until funding was granted. Okay, I thought, I’m mad, but I can see what they’re doing.

That was until this video came out:

My heart sank and my anger rose. A DLC pack? Ten dollars to see part 4 of Asura’s story? I took a second to sort my thoughts. I tried to think positively. Perhaps it is better this way. Maybe I’m getting a deal by being able to buy what amounts to a small sequel for such a low price. It could be that my anger is misplaced and this is actually a blessing.

But then I started to think about it from the developer’s perspective. What possible reason could they have for holding back the last quarter of the game? What excuse could the people I’ve entrusted a portion of my money to have to withhold the ending from me? I pondered for a few minutes and could come up with no legitimate answers. If anyone who reads this has a suggestion, please enlighten me. That day, I finally understood and believed that there were games that did things like this:

I used to see images like this and roll my eyes. Here the whiny people go again, throwing their sense of entitlement about like they were wronged. But that’s exactly what I feel now—wronged. CyberConnect2 and Capcom took my money and gave me an unfinished product for full price. I purchased four-course meal and dessert was not delivered to me. I love dessert, and I am furious.

I’ve gotten through my gamer life with minimal anger at publishers, developers, hardware manufacturers, and the rest of the gaming industry by thinking about things from their perspective and reevaluating whether my reasons were valid. Usually, it was trumped-up entitlement that got swept up in message boards, impassioned text speeches, and perceived-insightful graphics like the one above. Taking a step back and looking at the situation from a different angle reveals a community that feels it should be able to eat the McRib all year, or that McDonalds must reintroduce it every season without fail or lateness. They do not see that it’s ultimately a business decision that needs to be made and that their status as a customer does not entitle them to run the business. If you do not like it, do not buy it. And that is precisely what I plan to do.

I am not purchasing the Asura’s Wrath DLC. I will not purchase any more Asura’s Wrath games, and I refuse to vote with my dollars for this kind of treatment again. I paid for a product, the whole product. Not part one of an episodic game or a subscription to the beta, the game advertised as a finished product. Up until now, I have viewed purchasing DLC like buying upgrades in a car—leather seats, rear backup camera, and satellite radio are all wonderful to have, but they are not necessary to the car’s essential functions. A stock vehicle still serves its purpose and is just as good at doing its job as an upgraded car. What Capcom and CyberConnect2 are doing by releasing the ending of the game as a DLC is like selling me the car without a steering wheel, then trying to shake me down with extra fees to actually be able to enjoy my car.

I usually side with the industry on the subject of add-ons and frills. “Live and let live” is a good motto to have, and I still believe that. This may be an isolated incident, and I hope it is not an omen for things to come. Unfortunately, that is exactly what it will be if gamers continue to buy incomplete products and the add-ons to finish it off. I, for one, will not tolerate this anymore, and my $60 investment can be better placed elsewhere. Who is with me?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

I Am Alive Review

I began I Am Alive without much pretext. Although I had watched a few preview videos from E3 last year, I forgot about the game within a few months. When I noticed it was released on XBLA/PSN recently, I didn’t know what to expect, except that I may be spending $15 on a game that is worth $5. Without any context to see what I was diving into, I wasn’t sure if the game would fade to the back of my hard drive in 5 to 10 hours, or if I would go back to it again the next day. Either way I knew I was in for an adventure.

From the start menu, I Am Alive portrays a stark, post apocalyptic setting reminiscent of Fallout. The story begins with Adam arriving on a destroyed city, Haventon, looking for his wife and daughter. From the beginning the story feels pushed and squeezed to fit into a smaller size. Adam has travelled from the east coast (to apparently the west coast) to find his family, yet I never got to see any of that adventure. There was nothing explaining why it took him a year to get to Haventon except something about injuring himself. And nothing about how he was stuck halfway across the country when “The Event” occurred. Consistently “The Event” is referenced as the cause of the apocalypse, but never really explained.

The aesthetic of the world is set in every detail. With every overturned car and half-destroyed street, the game really drives home the grim situation the survivors are in. Unfortunately the world is covered in a kind of fog that prevents you from seeing further than 2 feet in front of you. Instead of showing off ruined buildings and desolate landscapes while exploring the city, 80% of time, your vision is covered in a dust cloud that becomes annoying. Why would you spend time setting a scene only to show it off rarely?

While doing random acts of kindness for a paraplegic and a little girl, you travel across the city of Haventon, finding various victims in need of help and more aggressive defenders of their territory. Once again I felt like I was playing a piece of a $60 game. It seemed like Adam’s adventure in Haventon was just a small part of his story. As I played through the game, I kept wondering if there was more that I didn’t see or know because the game never explained it to me. This compressed feeling shows up throughout the gameplay mechanics as well.
While travelling through this fictional city you meet helpless victims and violent attackers bent on surviving the apocalypse. One of the few aspects I remembered from the previews was the mechanic of pulling out your weapon when encountering other people in the city. While in the beginning you have no bullets, you can still raise your gun as a way to threaten other people or convince them that you’re not to be taken lightly. While the concept was intriguing, the mechanic itself never evolved. Throughout the game, I just waited until no one else had a gun and then raised mine, scaring everyone else until I killed them. I was expecting a more varied options throughout the game. Perhaps if I didn’t kill them they could run off, or if I threatened them I could take a resource like water or food from them. The mechanic felt ham-stringed and downsized to fit the game; and the same goes for the climbing. Since the city is destroyed, Adam has to frequently climb up and down to get to his next objective. The climbing isn’t anything Uncharted’s Nathan Drake would sweat over, but it is interesting since actions like climbing uses stamina. When you climb or run, you burn stamina, which can be replenished by drinking and eating various items you pick up along the way. Since items are scarce you must determine how to use your resources wisely. The game does a solid job of making you consider whether each bullet or water bottle is worth using, or saving for a later time. Once you die, you must use a retry and start from the most recent checkpoint, and once you use all of your retries, you must start over from the most recent “episode”. This old-school approach to death and “retry” consumption is nice because it makes each retry worth something. It helps reinforce the idea of learning from your mistakes by presenting a real disadvantage to trying the same thing over and over without thinking about how to solve the problem at hand.

While travelling through the city, your map is updated with sharpie edits concerning wreckage and paths that are blocked. As the city map is updated, I wondered if at one point in its development, that I could explore the city freely. I Am Alive is pretty narrow in moving from point A to B with a little room for item finding. Each time the map updated, I wondered if there would be a point where I could find my own way to the next checkpoint without the game telling me I was going the wrong way. Unfortunately, this was not the case, as the linearity of this game paralleled that of Final Fantasy XIII, without the free roaming bit at the end.  In any case the gameplay, no matter how squished it felt, was somewhat engaging and got me through the 5 hours it took to finish. Since there was no multiplayer aspect except a final score for completing the game and an online scoreboard, I doubt I would play I Am Alive more than twice. But I did enjoy my first play through, and that’s what counts.

Verdict: Overall, the game is worth the $15 I spent on it, if just barely. I could look past its flaws and enjoy the game for a while. The gameplay mechanics were interesting and each decision whether I shot someone or used a water bottle to regain some stamina had evident circumstances. However, it left me wondering what the original, full game looked like and if it would have been any better. If you like to play games akin to Uncharted, then I Am Alive is a fun diversion to play through. I wish this game had a little more to it, like more back-story or another city to run around in, but I was okay with the game as a whole. I hope that the game can do well and possibly see an episodic release similar to games like Back to The Future on Steam, adding more to the story or providing different perspectives on “The Event”. Either way the game has its downsides, but if you’re willing to look past them, you can count on I Am Alive for five hours of fun.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Podcast - April 2012

I think it's time we put an end to these delays and have ourselves our next monthly Podcast! J., the Colonel, and our current Apprentice will be discussing and voicing opinions on various topics for this month including:

- Mass Effect 3's ending
- Playstation Orbis
- Xbox 720
- Assassin's Creed 3
- Bioshock Infinite
- Journey
- I Am Alive
- Kickstarter projects
- Taco Bell's Doritos Locos

Need help in connecting in order to listen in to the podcast? No problem!

So be prepared to have your mics ready as we'll also be asking some opinions from our listeners on the topics above as well as whatever may cross our twisted yet sexy minds!

Date: Wednesday, April 11th

Time: 9:30pm Central Time

Attire theme: Enchantment Under the Sea

Torchlight II to follow Diablo III release

To go along with our recent news of Diablo III's website launch, Runic Games has announced they are finishing up touches on their sequel Torchlight II. The original Torchlight was released back in 2009 and received solid sales and reviews, giving Runic a definite incentive to start development on a sequel. Though originally hoping to release Torchlight II by the end of 2011, Runic decided to make sure they can get the new features in proper working order, including an offline mode, expansive modding tools, and LAN support.

According to Runic CEO Max Schaefer, Torchlight II is hoping to be released about a month after Diablo III's release. With Runic having been founded by ex-Blizzard teams it's obvious that they knew releasing Torchlight II just before or even at the same time as Diablo III's release could potentially hurt their sales, even with the still growing Torchlight fanbase as well as an initial price tag of $20. So instead of trying to compete with the Diablo III timetable, Runic figures using the extra time to really fine-tune the game for a its release to have a solid and minimal bug ridden experience will give Torchlight 2 the competitive edge. Perhaps Bethesda should take a look at this "polishing a game's bugs before release" concept.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Diablo III website launch

You read that right. After nearly four years of teasing gamers with the upcoming Diablo III, set to be released May 15th of this year, Blizzard has launched its official website for the game. Should you decide to login through their website (WHICH YOU SHOULD), Blizzard promises that fans can receive special in-game items and even some out-of-game prizes.

Most importantly, the website will reveal detailed information on each of the five new hero classes for the game. To start off is the Demon Hunter , as seen in the trailer posted above. Should you feel the need, you can even design your own in-game banner and use it towards unlocking sigils.In fact, Blizzard says that it will be having an art contest for some pretty sweet hardware prizes. For Blizzard to provide a detailed teaser only tells me that Diablo III is going to be one heck of a unique gaming experience.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Xbox 720 update

Following up on the rumors of the "PS4", we at Aristogamer did some research on current news of the future Microsoft console, commonly being referred to as the Xbox 720 (Get it? Even more geometry!). Reports from VG247 state that the new console will indeed have Blu-ray as a built-in standard for the console, which honestly who didn't see that coming after Blu-ray came out on top over HD DVD in the high definition optical disc war. But! The console is also said to come with kinect built-in as well, possibly showing a move to combine classic control and motion gaming as serious endevours for Microsoft.

Although many specifics in the hardware for the 720 have yet to be released, it is said the console will include a 4-6 core processor, with one dedicated to kinect and one to the operating system. Furthermore the graphics are supposed to be handled by AMD, just as announced with Sony's future Playstation Orbis. The 720 is also said to have two seperate GPU's that will not be bound together in the expected SLI/Crossfire method as done with many gaming PC's. Instead the GPU's are supposed to be completely independent which may signify upcoming graphics ideas for Microsoft such as one card handling kinect so that both kinect and non-kinect players may experience a game simultaneously (just an idea, I could be way off for all I know).

Further updates on the The Xbox 720 will have call for patience as Microsoft has stated that it will not be announcing the new console at this year's E3. Simple deduction tells me that its release will probably be around the same time as the Orbis near the end of 2013.

Update: For more up to date news, see our article about the leaked specs document from Microsoft.

Journey Review

Over the last few years, I’ve noticed a sharp increase of games that take a nontraditional approach to game design by either incorporating nonlinear gameplay or stories or using the “outside-in” design mentality wherein the user’s experience is imagined first, followed by the mechanics to make that happen. Games like Limbo, Flower, and Minecraft have all become successes despite—or maybe because of—their ability to differentiate themselves from most mainstream games through their gameplay or storytelling elements.

Journey is the latest title from thatgamecompany, creators of Flower. With its simple, unique art style, powerful music, and strange story, can this game measure up to thatgamecompany’s previous success, or has the community finally grown a distaste for niche?

Journey is a game in which, in the same vein as Flower, music and visuals guide you through a level free of usual game constructs like lives, score, and missions. In the game, you take control of a red-clad being trudging through the desert, collecting light symbols and manipulating magic ribbons to help you progress. It’s a lot less boring that that description made it sound.

At first, I thought the minimalist game style would hinder the gameplay, but it actually made me appreciate it more. Having so few frills to distract me meant that I focused on the controls and appreciated what I could do. I also had to learn the controls very quickly and discover what did and did not work, though the game also provides non-intrusive, simple guides for this as well. The learning process is an enjoyable one, and it’s helped by the fact that the light symbols are scattered in less-traveled paths, putting an emphasis on exploration. Though the controls are few, they are fluid and feel good to exercise. It’s quite gratifying to start flying through the air after having to trudge up a steep sand dune or walk a great distance. Though simple, Journey’s gameplay is certainly satisfying and polished.

The story of Journey is about as well defined as that of ICO or Shadow of the Colossus; it’s mostly written in the mind of the player by connecting broad story strokes. Without spoiling what little story there is, you’re some kind of entity in a red shawl on the way to a mountain with a light on top of it, guided by visions from an individual in a white cowl that details the history of the world up to that point. Though not a single word is uttered, the story is basic enough to be conveyed through images, small cut scenes, and music, yet still delivers the same impact as most games with long, sweeping narratives. Its simplicity has its own beauty to it, and leaves room for so many experiences for the player. I’ve read player feedback of people having completely different experiences than my own within the same level, which is rather remarkable considering how straightforward the game is.

If you watched our Dear Esther review, you’ll notice a distinct link between it and Journey. Both have minimalist gameplay, and both focus heavily on storytelling to drive the game to completion. The biggest difference between the two is how each game tackled this vision—one doing so effectively and the other, not as much. Journey approached a similar problem as Dear Esther, but did so by focusing on the player’s experience and not the narrative—an approach that resulted in an overall more successful game. Dear Esther bogged the player down in so many details that using your imagination to connect the pieces became less of a joyful experience and more of a task, to be completed or be miserable. Journey, on the other hand, shows images and tells a history that must be connected in your head, but has a major plot element—reaching the mountain—that drives the story along. Even if you completely ignore everything you find and all the storytelling of Journey, you still have fun playing because of the overarching objective, whereas Dear Esther’s draw was a needy story that begged to be supplemented.

The other way in which Journey excelled over Dear Esther is in its fun, easy-to-grasp gameplay. Dear Esther had little to speak of, choosing to force the player to focus on the narrative and visuals, whereas Journey used the gameplay as a tool to enable the player’s exploration of and immersion in the environment. Both games ran about the same time from start to completion, though I feel so much better about spending the money on Journey. The value is not only in the game and story, but in multiplayer.

Journey’s multiplayer takes follows the game’s aesthetics of keeping things uncomplicated. Along your journey, you can find a random player from the internet to travel with, going through the trials together, being surprised with one another, but not necessarily tied to how the other plays. If you want to explore an area that your partner would rather neglect, you can do so freely. The only downside is that if you want to complete things yourself, you may find yourself frustrated being paired with someone faster than you, since you’ll be following them most of the time. At other times, you may find yourself yearning to communicate that you need to recharge your flight ability to reach, but voice chat was purposefully left out of this title. I believe this move was a smart one, as the threat of being sucked out of the moment by angry troll yelling is much more detrimental to the game than not being able to convey something noncritical.

The multiplayer certainly does have the ability to draw a connection between players by alleviating a large portion of frustration between partners. By enabling players to help each other, but not requiring them to rely on one another, Journey’s multiplayer is much more leisurely and can be as intense as you make it.

Journey takes a more simplistic approach, using a limited color palate with cel shading-like graphics that are quite appealing. This art style separates it from other games in its genre like Dear Esther and ICO whose visuals are grandiose, modern and flashy. I will admit, however, that after six levels of orange on red on yellow, I craved at least one new color. The game consists of three separate landscapes, each having their own limited palate and details, and while each was nice to look at, they did get a bit tiring after two or three levels.

Do you know why everyone has been looking forward to Journey’s soundtrack? It’s damn good, that’s why. The deep cellos combined with light melodies make the landscapes and story feel exactly as they should. Soundtracks like Journey make me happy to listen to, as they do a great job of instilling a sense of wonder and scenery to a game.  Since I completed my journey, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack to relax and it has done a tremendous job of helping me doing so.  Luckily, it’s being released soon, so I can stop Youtubing it and give the composer some much due monetary credit.

Verdict: Journey is the fastest selling PSN title of all time, and it’s not difficult to see why. Simple gameplay and story elements with unique visual style and an excellent soundtrack all come together to deliver an experience and a concise feeling to players. Whether you play multi or single player, you’ll be pleased you decided to give it a whirl. You’ll love this game if you enjoy titles like ICO or Flower or were disappointed by Dear Esther’s clunky story. The game only takes two hours, but it’s two hours you’ll be happy to spend immersed in a world of engaging story, fulfilling gameplay, and relaxing atmosphere.

Monday, April 2, 2012

The Mass Effect Ending Controversy (Spoilers within)

Spoilers within! Read at your own risk.

Since there has been a lot of squabble about the ending to Mass Effect 3, it seems only right that I throw my own opinion in and talk about the controversy surrounding a ten minute cinematic inside a 40+ hour game. It is true that the “endings” to ME3 are really the same ending with about 10% of the cinematic changed slightly. Instead of spending a paragraph explaining the ending I’ll just link to this YouTube where you can watch every ending. However, after the first two or three you get the idea. The hullabaloo surrounding this ending boils down to two complaints. The endings were really one generic ending tweaked a little, and that one ending was disappointing for most since it gave no real closure or definite answers to the questions many asked when going through the game. Will the crew really survive this war? Will Shepard? Since none of these questions are really answered I believe fans are somewhat justified in criticizing the ending. But not in demanding a different ending to an already finished product.

Let’s start with the first grievance. For multiple “different” endings, I can agree with the fact that Bioware did cut a big corner by giving us 16 generic endings that are pretty much the same. Though I am disappointed in the lack of many different endings, I also don’t believe the blame can fall solely on the development team. There could have been many other factors that led to these endings and why they weren’t varied. EA could have pushed the team because of a deadline, or there could have been a dilemma with the budget and time requirements. Also, if the fans demand separate and distinct endings, how many could Bioware really make? The number of factors and decisions that have been carried over since the first Mass Effect is enormous. I can only imagine how many “different” endings there could be, even based on only a few major decisions from all three games. While all of this is speculation, it is fact that there are many contributing factors that we as fans do not know about. And we probably won’t find out simply because no one is going to tell us. Bioware has announced that future DLC will address the endings, so it seems we will get our answers, but it still bothers me that the end of a game must change after it has been released because enough people scream and whine about not liking it.

I was okay with the ending as I experienced it. While the majority of the Mass Effect fans disagree, Bioware has listened to all of us in some way or another and is reacting. Whether they are reacting in a good way or bad way is yet to be seen. Initially Casey Hudson, Executive Producer of the Mass Effect series, stood by the ending saying that “we wanted the game to be remembered.” However, after the large amount of objection, a Facebook post stated that the team was taking the feedback into consideration for future DLC. While at first I believed this was simply backpedaling to keep the fans from not buying future games, Ray Muzyka, Co-Founder of Bioware, made a post on the Bioware blog describing that they appreciate the feedback and criticism, but not the insults. He states that “We listen and will respond to constructive criticism, but much as we will not tolerate individual attacks on our team members, we will not support or respond to destructive commentary.” While it seems many of the Mass Effect “fans” want to simply bash the development team and insult them for 10 minutes out of a 40+ hour experience, I applaud Bioware for both accepting the fact that they could do better by adding closure to a fantastic experience, and openly stating that they won’t listen to whiners and jerks making personal insults.
Unfortunately this is not the end of the drama. Recently, one of the writers posted on the Penny Arcade forums ranting about how the ending was handled exclusively by Casey Hudson and the Head writer without any consulting or input from the rest of the writing team. Known as Takyris on the Penny Arcade forums, Patrick Weekes is a regular poster and alleges that the final mission and writing for it was done without the usual peer review from the writing team. Weekes claims that Hudson and the lead writer were the only people involved in writing the final mission dialogue and cinematic. I say allegedly because Bioware hasn’t exactly confirmed this and the post was taken down soon after. Now whether or not this was just a frustrated writer venting about his boss, there is some insider information that most wouldn’t see. If it is true, then it sheds a different light on Hudson’s initial defense and makes me look at the ending a little differently.
At this point, 80% of what is happening now is discussion, theorizing, and speculation. Not much is really confirmed nor denied at this point and I don’t see that changing much. While I do see the flaws with the ending, I still stand by and support Bioware for the experience I played through from the beginning of Mass Effect 1 to the after-credit scene in Mass Effect 3. This is an interesting dilemma for Bioware, as they have to somehow answer the questions raised by the fans about the ending.

I am disturbed by the idea that if enough people scream loud enough, then they can cause an author to change the story after it is published. While we as have some sense of entitlement to the way a game should be made, Bioware, just like authors, painters, or musicians , has the right to put out a game that we may or may not like. And once they do we should not have the “right” to demand a change because we don’t like it.  I support Bioware because I love their games and can’t wait to see more of them.

PS4 Console Rumors

I'm sure by now most of you have heard about the rumored next generation console of Sony Playstation. Not much is really known about it past its existence and that it will have some sort of anti-used game tech.

Also in case you didn't know until now, yes you read that correctly...anti-used game tech. It's possible the future console will include coding that coincides with the disc that's linked to your PSN account which will prevent someone from playing the used or borrowed games without buying a new key. Predictions that this is cracked and then outright withdrawn shortly after the console's release? I say within 25 days.

So what's this new console going to be called? Right now sources from Sony have told the good people of Kotaku that Sony may be dropping the title of Playstation entirely and going straight for simply "Orbis". Sounds...interesting? Ok no honestly I don't like it that much, sounds too much like a car rental company. But! The console may continue to utilize AMD tech for both the GPU and CPU and could possibly be released at the end of 2013.

But then again, I've said "may", "possible", and "could" a few times, so naturally some of these details may (and most likely will) change before the official announcement. Honestly? I just hope they drop that anti-used game-because-people-saving-money-buying-used-are-the-REAL-enemy-to-the-gaming-market bit. Otherwise I can get used to the Orbis name. I'll just call it PS4 anyways like 80% of everyone else will.
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