Friday, January 25, 2013

Nintendo Takes the Stage

So Nintendo decided to steal the spotlight with a Nintendo Direct press conference that aired on their website a few days ago and dumped a deluge of information. First off, the Virtual Console is coming to the WiiU in spring, with the ability to play VC games on the gamepad. Not all the games are going to be there immediately, and if you already bought a game on the Virtual Console, then you will have to buy it again at a discounted price. So if you bought The Legend of Zelda, you'll have to buy it again but it will only cost you $1 this time. Next Nintendo talked about all the games that are planned to come out for the WiiU and what will be available at E3.
Not only are we going to get a new Super Smash Bros, but also a new 3D Mario platformer along the lines of Super Mario Galaxy, and a new Zelda title, along with an HD remake of Wind Waker later on this year. Not only that but a new Yoshi title that will play like Kirby's Epic Yarn, a new crossover with Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem, and a new Xenoblade title. Along with videos and pictures of Beyonetta 2, and a new title called Wonderful 101. If there is anything to draw from this press conference, it's that Nintendo knows when to pull their punches and when to knock one out of the park.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Guild Wars 2: The First 20 Levels

It seems that no matter what MMORPG pops up to challenge the juggernaut of Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, it's never good enough to come out on top. Rift and Final Fantasy XI both have plenty of players and I’m sure they are fun to play, but it seems Blizzard has staying power. With the new Mists of Pandaria expansion, World of Warcraft continues to offer updated content and new experiences to keep players around. Guild Wars 2 was released recently amidst a large amount of buzz, both from its root fanbase and newcomers alike. I picked up the MMORPG on impulse, hoping for a change from the “not-quite-as-good-as-WoW” titles we’ve all seen as of late.  What follows is my experience with the first 20 levels of Guild Wars 2.

Guild Wars 2 MMO

To start, I’m not much of a fan of MMORPGs. I played WoW for a while when I was younger, but quickly moved on. I have tried many times to play different MMOs and nothing has really been able to keep me coming back and playing, either through end-game content or other characters. Heck, most of the time, I never even finish my first. However, Guild Wars 2 offers a lot of variety and different mechanics to keep me interested. For my first character, I chose to play with the Norn race and the Engineer class. The first thing I noticed was how big the character model was. In game, I look like a giant compared to the humans, and it felt like I ran a little bit slower than the smaller characters as well. This aesthetic makes you feel out what kind of character you are, and is a trait some games tend to gloss over. Though it's small, it's just another thing to pull you into your character's world.

As an engineer, I mostly use pistols and rifles, empowering my shots with various effects and gaining the ability to place turrets or drink elixirs. Aside from the obvious idea behind the design of the classes and archetypes behind them, I could really take my character in a number of different directions depending on the skills I chose and style of play I preferred. Choosing a class never pigeon-holed me into playing as what the developers though an Engineer should be. I felt far more free to customize my character's skills and abilities than I have in most other MMOs.

Each race has an interesting backstory, but so far most of the “important” story missions include some cutscene where my character sits there and talks with someone else. I do a few tasks, and the story is advanced by me doing almost nothing and listening to dialogue. This experience tends to get tiring, but it's the norm in games like this, so it says less about GW2 and more about the MMO genre in general. At the moment, the most interesting part of my experience lies somewhere between the missions in the story.

Guild Wars 2 Cutscenes

Once I began my epic quest, the game more or less dropped me in the starting area with only a minimal tutorial on how to move about and play the game. While I appreciated the effort on the developer’s part to respect the player’s intelligence, there were a lot of complex actions happening around me and at first I felt clueless. Thankfully, the game does offer the a sort of tutorial, it just takes a certain amount of investigation. For most of the UI and its options are explained in small hint bubbles. However, in order to learn how to really play the game, I had to interact with the NPCs in the starting area. A lot of the NPCs in the first area are there to teach new players how to do each specific task, and it helps a lot to make a new player learn by experimentation. I could have just wandered off and figured everything out eventually, but discovering the usefulness of NPCs made the learning curve not as steep as I thought it would be, though it's still a bit overwhelming. Even with the help of an NPC here or there, the amount of information thrown at a new player early on is substantially high. Thankfully they don’t throw it all at you at once, making the workload more manageable and less frustrating. Crafting and Advanced Training are two important aspects to pay attention to later, but until you pass the level 20 mark, these two mechanics are largely unimportant in my opinion. You can craft items and gain more stats through both Crafting and Training. However, at lower levels, it isn’t worth investing in as the more advanced items and skills are gained at higher levels.

Guild Wars 2 CreationOne of the unique aspects about GW2 is how skills are leveled up within your character’s class. Primarily, your character has certain skills which level up as you use specific weapons. My Engineer uses pistols mainly, and the more I use those pistols the more skills and abilities I acquire to deal more damage. Once you unlock additional skill slots, the numbers 6-0 on a keyboard, skills are unlocked using skill points. Instead of getting certain skills at specific levels or only adding more power to skills you already have, skill points are earned and used to unlock skills over time. This mechanic, though not a new one in the genre, is appreciated as it lets the player choose which abilities he or she wants and allows for customization of a character to fit a specific playstyle. Generally skill points are earned through leveling, but there are also skill challenges throughout the areas you visit which can give you additional skill points to spend as you wish.

Guild Wars 2 World

Leveling is also a little different than you would expect. While your character has a main quest, the side quests are mostly separated by the area you are in and there are only a few important quests that give you large amounts of experience. A lot of the XP comes from exploring the map, discovering important places, or finding parts of an area. While fighting and killing monsters along the way nets some XP, it is more efficient to complete the side quests, usually marked by a heart on the mini-map. These quests usually require you to do some combination of actions in an area to help out an NPC, as we've all learned to do since Monkey Island. I really appreciate how the game lets you interact with the world in different ways, depending on what you want to do. You are rewarded with XP for exploring the game's gorgeous environments, or interacting with NPCs and helping them with various tasks. Or you can take the road less traveled and conquer any manner of beast willing to challenge you during your daring exploits. This diversity goes quite a long way in alleviating the tedium and monotony of grinding.

Guild Wars 2 Boss Fights

My element of Guild Wars 2 is the random zone events. If there is anything that will keep you playing this game, it's going to be these. Anything from stopping stampeding bears to taking on an ice dragon across frozen tundra can happen when running through an area. I had only made it to level 10, exploring the frozen mountains of the Wayfarer Foothills when I came across an event where I helped take down an evil shaman who was opening gates from another dimension. The fight felt like an end-boss fight, with at least 10-15 other players helping take on this guy, and all of us dying at least once. MMORPG 101: once you reach your maximum level, end-game content turns into you and your friends taking on bosses you couldn’t possibly take on your own. I was having that kind of high level experience, having only just broken double digits. These events would happen with or without me present, which I felt greatly enhanced the experience. I had the choice of helping these people out or walking on my merry way. There was nothing keeping me there, nor keeping me out and it was refreshing. The event itself was quite fun and the thought of being able to do this multiple times in an hour or so is intriguing to say the least. Even though these events are the most exciting part of Guild Wars 2, there's no game a few friends can't make better.

Multiplayer in GW2 is an interesting mix of friendly adventures and beating each other’s face in with dragons and guns. I had a few friends accompany me through my first hour or two of playthrough, and it certainly helped in understanding how certain things worked. The best part is they were almost the same level as me, even if they really weren’t.

Let me explain.

Instead of just having a level 20 guy in a level 5 area, smashing all the monsters and stealing XP from lower level players, GW2 scales down higher level players in lower level areas. My level 18 friend was called down to level 5 when helping me on my first few events, and it was nice being able to feel like I contributed a little. Though I had never specifically identified this as a problem in other games, it now sticks out like a sore thumb. If I wasn't playing the same amount as my friends, either they or I would become more powerful and the game would devolve into a mindless spam-fest. With this mechanic, we can play as much as we like and the battles focus less on stats, and more on skill.

Guild Wars 2 Partners

I then decided to try PvP and had a great time getting my face pounded into the ground. In Guild Wars 2 there are two types of PvP “arenas” you can participate in. The first is a structured PvP, where you are given a template of your character’s race and class, with every ability and stat point unlocked. Instead of being jumped by some end-game level player and getting your stuff robbed, the game puts you and your opponent on a somewhat even playing field, with the same skill points and skill choices. Of course player skill and personal items do carry over, so it isn’t exactly even, but the game at least attempts to give you a chance at not dying. World vs. World is about what it sounds like: you take your character as is and battle against players from a different server. World vs. World feels like it is meant for higher level characters, where you battle with your friends and take on a horde of other players from a different server. I haven’t really been able to play it yet, but I plan to try it out very soon.

Guild Wars 2 PVP

There are many aspects of Guild Wars 2 that I haven’t yet thoroughly explored. I haven’t even really tried to learn how to craft items or play PvP in any thorough manner and my level has only just barely broken out of the teens; however, I think this game will keep me coming back for more. Once you make the initial $60 purchase of the game, the online play is free and worth coming back to. Based on my experience, Guild Wars 2 is an interesting MMO, and absolutely worth buying. Even if you don’t like MMOs that much, GW2 is a game worth exploring with a few friends. And if you're a seasoned MMO vet, you'll find the changes to the game refreshing and interesting. I know, I know, Guild Wars wasn't the best, but give its older, much handsomer brother a try. While I may have only scratched the surface in regards to all that GW2 has to offer, I will keep playing, leveling up, fighting monsters, and sharing my experiences as I go along.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Sony's Super Secret System

So when a Vice President of a major video game company says "We have a big secret we can't talk about yet," most people tend to perk their ears up and tear apart the interview for every bit of information possible. Unfortunately, Sony has been in ultra-top-secret mode when it comes to talking about their plans for a next generation console. That might change soon as VP of Home Entertainment Hiroshi Sakamoto hinted in a recent interview that a "big announcement on the PlayStation side of Sony" is coming. Sakamoto said that they would like to talk about it soon but May is the soonest we will get information. Obviously, they will be getting ready for E3, but if they introduce the console itself beforehand, they not only get a one-up on Microsoft, also expected to reveal a new system this year, but can spend their entire E3 Press Conference talking about all the games they have planned to come out for the system. While E3 is still far away, as is May, I will wait in anticipation for whatever news Sony decides to share with the world.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why Music Matters

Imagine what a video game would be like without any music. No sound effects when you are walking down a hall or epic orchestral movements when slaying the final boss. Music is such an essential part of experiencing a video game, but it's also one that can easily be overlooked. Sometimes the best music in video games is the music that you don't notice. The tracks lingering in the background being played for ambiance. In stark contrast, some of the most memorable video game music melodies come from games that originated in the 80’s and 90’s with their overpowering beeps and boops limited to low fidelity. Some of our favorite games from our past would be far less memorable or enjoyable without their soundtracks.
Think back to older days when playing the original Nintendo Entertainment System. Many memorable melodies originated from games like The Legend of Zelda, Final Fantasy, and Super Mario. Back then, the consoles could only process 3 notes at one time, so composers had to make a melody that was catchy and unforgettable. Weeks after playing The Legend of Zelda I would still hum the main theme, remembering the world I explored, or whistle the victory anthem from Final Fantasy thinking about the monsters I defeated. That music served to further engross myself in the game, which made me feel even more immersed in the story and excited when I defeated an enemy or discovered something new. That fact is made all the more important when you realize you were nothing more than sixteen pixels of limited color in a world that oftentimes looked nothing like the vision it was struggling to represent. As more advanced technology allowed for more music and sound effects, the same themes and melodies that were great back then evolved to include more instruments, chords, and music tracks.
Link to the Past Dark World
Now there are usually multiple tracks for one area of a game, changing as you move through a world and interact with its characters. While melodies are still important and meaningful, a lot of the atmosphere in games comes from how the music is used to further hold the attention of the player. In Bioshock, each moment is accompanied by the right sound effect or music track to really put the player on edge and create tension. The Metal Gear Solid franchise uses music, and oftentimes lack of music, to both create a sense of suspense when sneaking through a building, hiding from enemies, and to create an impactful story when a very large orchestral movement plays in a pivotal moment of the story. But music doesn't always have to shove the player into a certain state of mind, but sometimes lead them there with the lightest of touches. Take Journey, the first game ever to have a Grammy nominated score, where the music becomes a tool to convey the story in a very passive way. You can feel the weight of the snow when trudging up the mountain while the music conveys a sense of sadness and apprehension and experience the joy and excitement when flying around watching everything rush by. Music is such an essential piece of what makes a good game great because it ties our visual senses and emotions together that much more strongly. In contrast, when the music is subpar, or doesn’t necessarily match the game itself, it ends up detracting from the overall experience and can often ruin a game for people.
Sometimes the difference between a good game and a great game is its sound, be it background music, sound effects, or voice overs. It deserves as much attention as the meticulous critiquing of the game mechanics or story. Take the Mass Effect series, games often lauded for their sound. Mass Effect tends to play music that is a great compliment to whatever you are doing at the moment, but not so much that is tries and steal the spotlight. It's a game series that seems to recognize how much attention the player should pay to the sound and doesn't overstep it's boundaries. There are plenty of other games that have similar game play or story elements, but they aren't as memorable or talked about. Be it due to the game not being satisfying, not offering Mass Effect's features or what have you, it can often be traced back to less engrossing music making environments feel less full of life, guns sound less good to fire, or voice actors making you want to hit mute as quickly as possible. A lot of unspoken satisfaction comes from a good soundtrack or really well done sound effects, much more than most gamers realize. I wouldn't have been nearly as engrossed in games like Skyward Sword or Zone of The Enders if the music didn't keep me as engaged as the mechanics and story did. Even something as simple as Link's yelling when doing a huge attack makes you feel like you're actually doing something. As technology advances in gaming every year, music will just keep getting better and better as well. Imagine looking back 20 years from now and regarding the music that is so amazing now as old as the original 80’s 8-bit tunes we remember.

Skyward Sword Music

As games get better, including more content, and music to accompany that content, it will be interesting to see how composers and sound designers incorporate music in new and innovative ways. With Stereo Surround Sound getting cheaper, more consumers can experience fully immersive gameplay, where you actually hear footsteps coming from behind. Or you hear a noise off in the distance and actually turn your head to see if anything is there. While that kind of immersive sound is available now, in the future, that kind of experience could be standard with every game you play. I’m not sure if or when that kind of experience is actually going to happen, but it is good to see that many games, even the small ones, have really good soundtracks because the music is just as good as the gameplay and both are intertwined together to form the gripping entertainment that makes video games worth buying.

Music and sound effects in video games are just as crucial in game development as game mechanics and story are. Music is a part of how a game can suck you in from the first few minutes, and keep you playing through the best and worst a video game has to offer. Be it one track that plays constantly in an area you can't get enough of like Legend of Zelda, or the subtle, driving tracks that often go overlooked from games like Metal Gear Solid, or Journey, sound can make or break a game in a player's mind, even if they aren't aware of it. The best part is that there is nowhere to go but up, since the music quality and technology can only get better with time. Personally I look forward to see what other video game music tracks I'll be humming along to in the future.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

January 2013 Podcast

Devin, Casey, and Colby discuss the holiday season, gaming memories from years past, and how growing up affects the way games affect you.

Subscribe to us on iTunes

Or download here directly

Monday, January 14, 2013

Day Z Release Date as Stand Alone Delayed

Bohemia Interactive's popular game, Arma II, is well known for its Day Z mod that pits the player in a semi-simulation of surviving the zombie apocalypse. What sets it apart from other known zombie games, such as Left 4 Dead or Dead Island, is the attention to detail with travel in an open world, real-time passage of time,  limited supplies, the dangers of using loud weapons, and most importantly the extreme dangers of facing other survivors that are controlled by other gamers. This pits trust as a rare commodity since other gamers could see others as easy targets to loot supplies from.

Sounds intense and awesome, right? Many would agree, which is why Bohemia Interactive announced that by the end of 2012, the mod would be developed into a standalone game. However, with the new year now here, there is finally some news for the reasons behind the delay. Lead Developer Dean Hall has announced via the Day Z official blog that,

"We will be releasing a close test imminently, during which approvimately 500-1000 people will assist in ensuring our architecture is correctly functioning. This closed test will be focused on purely on architecture, not the game design. Once we have confirmed fixes for issues arising from the closed test, we will then reschedule an internal date for our public release."

Dean also goes on to say that this beta will be necessary since the development team has decided to overhaul much of the mod's mechanics so that the release will be more than just an improved mod.

Here's to hoping for a smooth and quick release. We know there are plenty of zed head shooting fans who are itching to play this experience.

AristoGamer January 2013 Podcast

2013 is upon us and with it, a whole new set of expectations for the new year. Join us in our first podcast of '13 to discuss the following topics
  • Holiday game loot
  • Games you're looking forward to for 2013
  • Steam box and its impact on both the console and PC markets
  • Mobile gaming on the rise including NVidia's Shield and tactile tablets

How to download and use Teamspeak

Date: Tuesday, January 15
Time: 8:00pm Central Time

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Holiday Release Aftermath

Now that the holiday season is behind us, and both a new console and a new handheld have been released, it is time for the companies to boast about how well their hardware did in sales, or possibly be embarrassed by the lack of sales. For Sony, it is the latter: The Playstation Vita released in February of last year and since then it hasn't sold "as well as expected." stated Sony CEO Kaz Hirai. Though the Vita itself has impressive hardware specs and Sony has tried to push the Vita with multiple ports that look amazing and cross-platform play with the PS3, it still hasn't taken off as fast as Hirai would have liked. It seems that a strong PS Vita push at E3 is necessary to launch the Vita off the ground.

Meanwhile in Nintendoland, the WiiU sales seem to be doing just fine. Though it is difficult to determine a fixed number in regards to sales and number of units sold, Nintendo announced that the sales of their new console were doing "just fine." I'm sure the new gamepad has sparked enough interest to increases sales on the WiiU, but the launch of this new Hardware wasn't as nearly as rediculous as the Wii was back when it first released. At this point only time will tell if the WiiU will continue to have strong sales throughout the year.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Why Steam Box is much more than you think

Since Gabe Newell first opened his mouth about the possibility of Valve hardware, the internet has been aflutter with debates, speculation, and skepticism. I’ll admit, the idea does sound strange. Moving your PC games from your computer desk to your living room is a rather large leap, even if they're in the same general space. The two gaming realms have classically been separated, dividing the community with them. The Steam Box now promises to blur that line. Will it be all PC gamers want, or will it be as useful as WebTV?


If you’re new to the idea of a Steam Box, imagine having dedicated hardware in your living room that was produced by Valve and runs Steam in Big Picture Mode on a Linux OS. Sound enticing?

Let’s examine what we know. In an exclusive interview with The Verge, Gabe Newell gave more information on the Steam Box than ever before. He talked of the Steam Box hardware, the user inputs, the ecosystem, and what they plan to do with the living room. If you think it all stopped with Valve releasing a small computer for your TV, you’re dead wrong.

Steam Box Prototype
Valve hardware prototype from and employee's Twitter last year

Steam Box is a strange, hybrid creature, one that becomes more and more appealing as details about it emerge. Though it’s true Valve is building its own, proprietary hardware, it is allowing and even pushing other hardware manufacturers to come up with competing designs. Gabe’s philosophy of “good, better, best” allows room for a multitude of devices.

“Good” would see a local, high speed streaming device, a bit like OnLive without the internet, or the NVidia’s Shield and be lower cost, Newell’s measures around $99. “Better” boxes would have a dedicated CPU and GPU so things are done locally and would cost about $300. And “best” is whatever the consumer would pay for that OEMs deem marketable (water cooling, bigger hard drive space, optical drives, smoke machines, etc.). One such “best” product seems to be the Piston from Xi3, featuring a speculated $999 price tag. Gizmodo has a nice 360 degree interactive photo of the device as well.

Xi3 Piston Steam Box
Image of the Piston from Xi3. Photo by Polygon
This hardware-agnostic software platform idea is thoroughly in the wheelhouse of the PC and mobile space. The idea with Steam Box is similar to Windows 8 in that Microsoft released the Surface to try and fail at convincing people to give their software a try and hardware manufacturers something to base sales projections, hardware designs, and risk models on. Valve’s Steam Box will focus on what it thinks the public wants, while simultaneously providing hardware designers with an argument for why a mini-gaming rig in the family room is worth the multi-million dollar manufacturing investment.

This openness is starkly different from what we see today in the console space. Single-party hardware and operating systems dominate our TV-centric gaming space with no open source solutions. This means strict quality control, unified hardware and peripherals, and that quality is kept about even for every game. If I play Skyrim on my PS3, take it out, and play it on someone else’s PS3, I’ll see identical quality. That may not be true with Steam Box, as hardware may differ. Though this will no doubt prove to be a confusing and frustrating mess if Steam Box takes off, the free market should dictate that the products the consumer deems the best will rise to the top and MadCatz’s lame attempt at a PC controller will fall.

MadCatz PS2 Controller

So is Steam Box even competing with consoles? Will it factor in to gamers’ decisions when they pick which next gen console they want? Will it detract from PC gaming sales? The answer to these questions is yes. Steam Box is the bridge between consoles and PCs, and will no doubt compete with both. The historical data does not side with Valve. No hybrid device has ever really made it in the gaming sector. Half phone, half console, the Nokia N-Gage and Sony’s PSP phone both failed. Mobile gaming device with streaming, Sony’s PSP Go failed. Internet gaming streamed to your TV, OnLive failed. So should we even have faith that Valve can pull a rabbit out of their hat?

Yes. Here’s why.

The console market has stagnated. The last big innovations included online multiplayer, high definition graphics, cloud saves, and motion waggle. I can almost guarantee that at this year’s E3, Microsoft and Sony will announce their next gen consoles and they’ll feature better graphics, higher resolutions, more support, online capabilities, and some form of motion input. And that’s absolutely fine, but it’s more of the same. Steam Box offers something that none of these platforms seem to see the potential in — user generated content and configurability. Not just levels in Little Big Planet or choosing your console color. I’m talking mods, differing controllers, hardware choices, and ecosystems players can thrive on. Did you know some people make a triple digit income based off of selling in-game items on Steam? Yes, one days, hats can buy you this too:

Gabe McDuck

Did you know Valve loves that idea and values those community members? Hell, toward his interview, Gabe even mentioned trying to find a way to reward players for being better and creating a better gaming experience by simply being pleasant. They’re practically begging for your input.

Speaking of input, Valve is also looking at different controller options. Motion, Gabe thinks, is a moot point and one that cannot be pushed much further. Biometrics is something he has talked about consistently for the past few years and it seems they’re getting closer to figuring out how to incorporate your unconscious body signals, the way your hands grip, your heartbeat, where you’re holding the controller, all of that into the gameplay. Of course it would be up to developers to add support for that stuff in, but simply having the option is a great idea.

One final, killer feature is the potential for multiple screens. Gabe mentions potentially eight monitors, eight different controllers, and a consistent, great experience to all players. That’s incredible. Imagine having one Steam Box set up at a LAN, everyone brings their controllers and monitors, and games without having to step over cords or buy card tables and hubs at Walmart. And that much hot air being blown into a room full of competitive gamers does not for a fragrant abode make. Even just having the option of taking your game from your living room TV to your bedroom TV without having to stop the game would be excellent.

LAN Party

Let’s take a step back. This article has rambled on for over one thousand characters about how great Steam Box could be. All of this hubbub is assuming Valve meets their commitments and the public deems the product a worthy one. Though these ideas are great, implementation could kill them. Newell mentioned $99 “good” consoles and $300 “better” consoles, but would gamers want that? Will a PC gamer buy a Steam Box instead of a gaming rig now, and at what price point does it tip from cheap gaming PC to overpriced console?  If faced with the decision of a PS4 or a Steam Box, are the features and price competitive enough to make a dent? For the sake of gaming innovation, I hope so.  One of the other downsides I see is the strict EULA Steam has in which if you do not agree, any games you’ve purchased on Steam are locked away from you. Would that then turn my Steam Box into nothing more than an HTPC?

Valve Prototype Steam Box
TF2 running on Valve's prototype Steam Box. Image from The Verge
The grandiose ideas behind the console, potential implications, and new shiny gadgets to play with are all quite exciting. If it were any company but Valve, I’d be skeptical, but they were right when they thought of a platform to download your games on the internet, integrated cloud saves, and unified user-created items in a central hub; perhaps they’re right now. Either way, as the year rolls on, I’m sure we’ll see more Steam Box hardware details, pricing, and controller details at E3 and GDC. Hopefully as the frankenconsole comes into focus, it remains as enticing as it is right now.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Sims 2 to Stop all Online Services

EA's Service Updates website has made an announcement to end the online services of one of the most successful PC games of all time. Starting January 14th, all online features of both the PC and Mac ports of The Sims 2 will shut down, as well as the website

Originally launched in 2004, The Sims 2 has sold over 20 million copies, not including the 8 expansions. Being the first game to feature online content, this sequel has lead to immense success for EA and Sims creator Will Wright. This decision to end the online features will surely affect a great deal of people who still enjoy creating and sharing the interactive lives.

Along with The Sims 2, EA also plans to end the online services of other popular games later this month, including FIFA Soccer 11 and FIFA Manager 11.  This isn't to say, however, that EA plans to end all online services. Naturally, the Sims 3 and other games will continue to provide full time online service for gamers.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

AristoGamer Holiday Special

I apologize for the late post on this. It's been on our YouTube page since Christmas Day, but I'm just now posting it. You know how the holidays are. A few days here turns into a few weeks there turns into pie over here and pecan pie over there.

The entire AristoGamer crew is on hands for the greatest game of 2012. As they tend to do, things devolve into a Christmas Carol Battle (proper title).

Friday, January 4, 2013

Sony Patents Anti-Piracy Tech

While companies have tried to wage war on piracy and stop people from taking games for free, there is still a lot of grey area when people talk about "borrowing" games and buying used games. Sony has filed for an anti-piracy patent that might help them fight all those nasty pirates. Sony's patent is described as an Electronic Content Processing System, which would tie a game disc to a specific user account/console. An RFID tag on any disc would be read by the console and if the game had been previously registered to another console/account, then the console would block you from playing it.

While it seems like an interesting idea to stop people from playing pirated versions of video games, this kind of system presents a large obstacle for those who buy and play used games or share games between a family or friends. Sony does own other anti-piracy patents and some have never even been used. But with the next generation of consoles looming over us, we will find out soon enough whether Sony has implemented a system like this or not.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Assassin's Creed 3 Review

Ubisoft has been rather "hit or miss" with their previous Assassin's Creed titles. The first two were major hits; both were ground breaking and phenomenally entertaining, crafting a unique sandbox around an overlaying story arch throughout major historical events. The following two games, however, were sadly the misses. Though entertaining in their own right, the games lacked in enough improvements to be considered full on sequels and instead were viewed as extended DLC's about Ezio Auditore's history. It took Ubisoft two games of that formula before deciding to finally give up on the Ezio cash train and get on with the story.

Assassin's Creed 3 is exactly what any fan of the series should expect, centering the game around a new protagonist (about bloody time!), a completely overhauled game engine and user interface, and an unfamiliar territory to fromp around (instead of making the Italian countryside dusty and calling it Constantinople).  The brotherhood's newest recruit, Connor, must do all that he can to stop the Templars from gaining the ancient technology to control the world, help save the American revolution, blah blah blah. We can all read the summary on the back of the game so let's skip ahead to the good stuff.

Mechanically speaking, this game is a superb upgrade that truly shows off the detail that Ubisoft's development team paid attention to, right down to characters shifting weight on their legs when running around corners. Climbing on buildings in the various towns of the English Colonies is noticeably smoother than ever with barely any incidents of jumping off to your doom because you accidentally let you thumb twitch for a split second. Even the "mini-game" missions of sea battles are quite entertaining, a definite improvement from the top-view castle defense of Revelations. The ship battle mechanic is one of the most surprising since, admittedly, I went into my first naval battle expecting a simple round of quicktime events followed by aggravating "surprises".

The astonishment at how much I enjoyed captaining a ship is matched only by the extreme entertainment of the new fighting engine. In fact, another surprise was the trade system that replaced the system of investment from AC 2.  Through recruitment of tradesmen and a clever recipe system for both usable and decorative items, you find that making money is no longer about buying and waiting, but more about processing ideas of trade and seeing the detailed fruits of your labor. It was a nice change of pace and I was glad to see that I didn't need to run around Massachusetts buying 30 taverns in order to buy a crummy sword.

Speaking of sword, let's get to the combat. Thankfully the game retained the basic elements of hand-to-hand combat that made the previous games very successful. The use of unique attack combos, counter-attacks to enemies, different enemies of varying strengths attacking at semi-random turns, and projectile weapons being smooth and simple are either as good or slightly better than earlier systems. What's new is the amount of combinations available to the player. Instead of a wide array of weapons that use the same basic attack patterns (I'm looking at you Ezio!), the swords have definite differences over the axes, which in turn have equally definite differences over the knives and tomahawks. This is all of course added with an array of new weapons like the rope-dart. Naturally I found myself playing with mostly the tomahawks because not only does it make the most sense for my half-Native American friend to use such a weapon, but it was never dull to roll around and flail about like Mel Gibson in "The Patriot". Whether or not the style is accurate to how war tomahawks were used during the Colonial age, I have no clue, but it's fun and that's what matters.

Now the artistry is where this game truly shines, next to tomahawks naturally, and I'll try to go into detail without revealing any spoilers.  This game is very very pretty.

Alright, I can do better than that. The game is exceptionally pretty. No really! Ubisoft's team really outdid themselves on the graphical detail and color scheme of the each region. Each town not only looks and feels unique to each other, but they even used old schematics and maps from Colonial records in order to make them as accurate as possible. In between the towns is an expansive wilderness that actually meets the hopeful expectations of any gamer who first read about AC 3. The frontier forest is not only massive and filled with wildlife, but uses a very creative system of tree climbing and hopping that's incredibly smooth. Leaping from the branches of a tall oak to drop terror on a passing British patrol is both impressive and, in its own right, artistic.

Within such an expansive area of exploration is a developed story that you need to see through. At first you're going to feel like Ubisoft just gave up and went with a stereotypical "end of the world" cop out, but I really only blame the script for that particular scene. Once you get past that in the beginning, you're going to see character development and internal struggle that utilizes true literary elements. Existentialism, moral struggle, the conflict of relationships both romantic and's all there. And by all, I mean all. The team really impressed me with how they developed both the historical and modern stories between Connor and Desmond, with the end of each mission feeling like the end of a chapter, leaving me wanting to immediately read the next few pages to see how things further develop. With top notch voice acting (for the most part) and a not-too-predictable story arch, this storyline finally went back to the roots that made the first two games incredibly clever.

Verdict: This game is as immaculate as you can get with the Assassin's Creed series. A decently steady pace of development paired with an incredibly smooth and unique fighting experience has left me feeling like Ubisoft finally returned to the essentials. If you're a fan of Altair and Ezio, you're definitely going to become a fan of Connor. If you're a fan of Ezio the Greybeard from useless sequels, I pity you, but you're going to be just as big of a fan of Connor. I give this game my metaphorical stamp of approval and hope everyone who's still considering to get it know that it's really ok. It's not Revelations, I swear.
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