Saturday, 3 October 2015

Wednesday, 23 September 2015

A Generational Shift to Mobile?

The NPD had some interesting stats just come out showing that kids 2-17 spend more time playing stuff on mobile devices than on consoles or PC. 63 percent of people in that age range spend the majority of their time on the platform. Moreover, they're even moving away from computers as their entry point into digital entertainment. To top it all off, the amount of money being spent on mobile by these kids is going up fast.

This brings some interesting questions as to where gaming could go in a decade from now. Will mobile remain the primary gaming platform when these kids become adults? Will they want something with more meat on their bones? Maybe they'll start making more robust mobile games to suit the more sophisticated tastes of adulthood? There are lots of ways this could go.

The writing has been on the wall for a while, though, that mobile gaming is going to be where a good chunk of society plays games in the future. Japan has already seen a huge shift there from stem to stern in their gaming industry. We have our big games here, but it feels a lot more fad-ish and a bit of a mess like the wild west, but I could see it becoming more unified and the quality of the games increasing as this cohort of kids grow up and some of them try to push the medium further.

- Jeff

Sunday, 13 September 2015

Merry Birthday, Super Mario

So, it's been 30 years since Super Mario Bros. came out, and with that milestone comes a lot of reminiscing. Obviously now Mario is one of Nintendo's central franchises, but prior to 1985 not so much. There was the original Mario Brothers in arcades a couple of years prior, but for a young, impressionable lad of eight, I wasn't aware the thing existed. It wasn't until schoolmates all started yammering about some Nintendo Entertainment System that I became even remotely aware of this Mario fellow.

Looking back, it really is impressive to think just how much of a pull Super Mario Bros. had. It was a game that everyone wanted to play, and it even came packed in with the NES. Those are days long gone now where the only way a game comes with a console is for a specific promo deal. Looking back at the NES, it set the expectation for the time that consoles should come with at least one game. Nowadays, we'd have people moaning on Twitter or some such that they have to pay extra for a pack-in game that they don't want. "Why can't it be CoD or something, durr durr durr..." Back in the 80s, though, people were actually very happy to be getting Super Mario with their systems. There was a cheaper version of the console that didn't have a packed in game, but I never knew anyone who got that version of it. The game was just that much in demand.

This also makes me look back at other systems of the time and those to come later, as companies felt compelled to hop on board with the whole packed-in game trend. The Sega Master System in particular springs to mind, as I remember it coming with a few different games over its lifespan. During this time, Sega was still testing the waters in terms of what game should come with the console trying titles like Alex Kidd and Hang-On being packed with it at different times. It wasn't until Sonic the Hedgehog came along that we saw a lock for a Sega pack-in game, and even then it was pretty inconsistent with a lot of Genesis being sold without a game.

Nonetheless, Super Mario Bros. did set the expectation that console manufacturers should make some sort of effort to provide a version of their system that actually did come with a game, and so we saw this with Sega, then the TurboGrafx-16 did the same thing a la Keith Courage, and as handhelds slowly made their way on to the scene we got the likes of Tetris on the Gameboy and Columns on the Game Gear. So while Super Mario Bros. was a brilliant game in its own right, what Nintendo did with it also impacted game companies' business decisions in a fairly big way. I will acknowledge that Atari also packaged games with their systems, but it was never quite so front and center in people's psyche as what we saw happen with Super Mario.

From this game onward, it's become one of Nintendo's most important and enduring franchises. Whether it was Super Mario 2 and 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario Land, Mario 64, Galaxy, or whatever, this was the game where everything got started and made people really give a damn about Mario and Luigi. Yes there was Mario Brothers before this game came along, but it was no where near the phenomenon that Super Mario Bros. became.

Now here we are 30 years later, and people still really care about Mario. The franchise has managed to stay quite entertaining with folks eagerly snapping up new games when they come along. We've seen the rise and fall of a lot of other series since the time Super Mario came along. Look at Sonic, look at Crash Bandicoot, look at Pac-Man, we could make a list as long as our arm of games Super Mario and its successors had to lock horns with, and three decades on Mario is still king of the hill. Who would have thought all those years ago when Super Mario Bros. first came out that this would be the case?

Thursday, 10 September 2015

Adventures in Diablo III's Season 4: A Vast Ocean of Exploding Palms

For the first time, I've actually decided to put some effort into a character in a season of Diablo III. Up to this point, I was content just using my demon hunter from when the game first came out and casually futzing around. For the past few weeks, I'd been getting the itch to return to the game, and with the new season starting up it seemed like as good of a time as any to hop back into it. One class that I'd not really spent much time with was the monk, instead gravitating towards ranged characters like the aforementioned demon hunter and a brief stint with a wizard. So, it felt time to change things up and give the punchy kicky class a fair shake.

It didn't take very long to get to level cap and start the loot farming / paragon grinding process, but then again it's been easy to do that for years in this game. Now, with a monk that is half way to being decked out in best-in-slot items, the class is really starting to appeal to me.

On the whole, monks are shaping up to be exceptionally powerful this season. Their Uliana gear set makes the Exploding Palm ability an absolutely devastating area of effect attack that can chain to kill a huge number of baddies at once. They're also doing a fantastic job as healers in group runs. Take someone who has geared for that role and it'll be very difficult to die under most circumstances unless you're pushing the absolute limits of Greater Rifts. Personally, I prefer to play solo, so have been going with the former.

Not only is it very effective, but it's also a lot of fun. There's something very satisfying about seeing a pack of several dozen monsters all with the palm icon hovering over their head, then doing Seven-Sided Strike and watching a huge explosion of bodies ripple across the screen. It makes the approach to a session one of positioning and hoping for dense packs of enemies, applying Exploding Palms, and then blowing them up.

Right now, I'm hindered by missing pieces of gear, especially ones that can be tossed into the Kanai's Cube to have their legendary ability extracted and equipped. Really, it's pretty fantastic that the cube has been implemented into the game. Back in Diablo II, I loved the Horadoric Cube. It was always fun tossing something in and then seeing what it decided to spit out. What's nice about this cube is that we get a fair bit more control, not total control mind you, but at least more than before. Players can now upgrade rare gear to legendary, extract legendary powers, convert a set piece to something else in the set (great if you're getting doubles of certain pieces), convert gems, and so forth.

Right now, I'm stuck waiting for gear to drop before any further progress can be made. What's needed more than anything else is a specific daibo for its legendary ability, as it will reduce the cooldown on one of my main abilities by 60%, which is huge as the thing is absolutely devastating. In that regard, it does showcase that players now have three more places that they need to worry about best in slot items so to get the most bang for their buck on a character. To that extent it means more farming while being at the mercy of random drops, waiting for just the right items, which has always been a big reason people play these games.

Nonetheless, it's proving to be an entertaining season thus far. While monks, witch doctors, and barbarians seem to be at the top of the heap right now, there's a lot of fun to be had across the board. My personal goal is to get the achievement for beating a level 60+ greater rift solo. The season has just started, so there's still plenty of time, so I'll keep my fingers crossed that I can pull it off.

Monday, 31 August 2015

Pre-Order Street Fighter V and Enter a World of Mountain Men and Huge Thighs

Chun-Li Pre-Order Costume
I think Chun-Li's been working out since the last game...

With the release of the next major installment in the Street Fighter series approaching, that means hordes of special edition and pre-order bonus announcements. The PS4 version has the typical stuff like an artbook and a big ol' statue, but what caught my eye were the costumes folks will get depending where they pre-order the game from.

First of all, I hate when this happens and stores all wrestle for position with these things. As a consumer, I'd rather just get all of the stuff no problem. It's fine if I have to pay for it, just don't subject me to these shenanigans. In any case, some of these have turned out to be quite the alternate outfits.

Ryu pre-order costume
A newer, more rugged Ryu.
Ryu and Chun-Li are particular standouts. The former is only for those who pre-order from Gamestop, and will have a shirtless Ryu sporting a rather full beard. It's quite the departure from his normally baby faced motif. Then we have Chun-Li, which is for anyone who pre-orders the digital version of the game for the PS4 or PC. Now, I know she's always had huge legs, which presumably comes with the territory given how so much of her move set hinges on kicking people, but oh my have her thighs gotten huge, and this outfit really accentuates it.

By contrast, M. Bison and Cammy's costumes look downright sensible when compared to these two. Hopefully, the other costumes will just get tossed into a DLC pack down the road so people can enjoy what they like, but whatever the case, the Ryu and Chun-Li ones really stood out to me. Guess I'll have to start getting used to giant-thighed Chun-Li since I'll most likely be pre-ordering that version of the game...

M. Bison pre-order costume
M. Bison looks downright sensible in that trench coat.
Cammy pre-order costume
With her arm positioned like that, I'm not sure if Cammy is wearing any pants... 

Cave Shooters Coming to Steam...Finally...

Games from Japanese studios have been getting a lot of love on Steam over the last few years. Sure a lot of them have been frame rate locked or rushed console ports, but for many folks they've been willing to overlook this, and have happily tossed money at these releases. One exception to this gold rush has been Cave, one of the most popular, well-respected bullet hell shooter developers out there. They have a gargantuan library of amazing games in this genre that either stayed in arcades, got limited console releases, or, even more vexing, got ported to mobile phones. Now it looks like the studio has finally decided to bring their games to Steam via publisher Degica.

There isn't a whole lot to go on so far with just a single web page saying this is all happening in the Winter. So, now is the time for speculation. Which games will we see appear on there? I'd assume we'll get Death Smiles, probably a Dodonpachi, maybe a Mushihimesama, and what about Akai Katana? I'm sure a lot of people would kill to see Ketsui come to Steam. On top of this, if the initial batch of games do well, will Cave consider porting some of their older titles? It would be nice to see Espgaluda, Dangun Feveron, or Progear get release, though with some of those games, they had outside publishers like Atlus or Capcom, so I'm not sure who owns the rights to the games and if any sort of legal wrangling would be in order if they were to get ported to PC.

In any case, something shump fans on the PC have wanted for a very long time is finally about to come to fruition. It took a while, but it's better late than never. All we can do now is wait and guess which games will get released first.

Saturday, 29 August 2015

Guild Wars 2 Going Free to Play, Kinda

Subscription-based MMORPGs are becoming a very rare breed. Off the top of my head, WoW, Final Fantasy XIV, and EVE Online spring to mind, then it's a laundry list of games that went from subscription to free to play or were the latter from the get go. Guild Wars has been a franchise that up until now has managed to do alright for itself by going its own route: buy to play. Players fork out the cash to actually buy the game, then they can play it as much as they like without having to worry about a subscription.

Now Arena Net are dialing things back a bit. Anyone who is interested in playing Guild Wars 2 will no longer have to buy the core game. You could mosey on down to their site right now, create an account, download and install the game, and you're off to the races. This is probably in no small part because the game is getting a major expansion in the fall, and that players will still need to actually pay for if they want to experience it, but it's not a bad way to generate some hype for the game.

Making the core of GW2 free will in the very least revitalize the low level zones. If there's one thing that bugs me when hopping into an MMO late, it's plowing through all of the early areas and finding them dead. I may see the occasional other player wonder by but on the whole, it's tumbleweeds as I steamroll through content telling myself that things will get better at level cap a month or so later. Of course, that's assuming I make it that far, and don't just say, "Screw it" and stop playing because I've lost interest in the lifeless world sprawled out before me. With what Arena Net is doing here, it'll help alleviate this problem.

I was pleased to see that some limitations will be placed on the free version of the game, but not in an annoying, "If you want more, head to our in-game shop!" kind of way. These roadblocks are being implemented to make things difficult for RMT folks from spamming free accounts and bombarding the real player base with tells, as well as making it difficult for assholes to make a slew of smurf accounts then proceeding to troll higher level areas. I guess for the latter, if they're really dedicated dicks they can slog through the levels and do it anyway, but at least they're being slowed down a bit.

On the whole, I think it's not a bad way to go three years into the game. When an expansion comes along in an MMO, the core game's value declines as late comers largely want to get to the most up to date, relevant content as soon as possible. Why not just make the core game free, and charge for the expansion instead? It's taking things to an extreme, but it's perfectly viable. All the while, new players may well spend money at the in-game shop. There is tons of cash to be made from folks buying mounts, pets, cosmetic gear, and the like when it comes to MMORPGs.

Even today Guild Wars 2 is well worth a look. I haven't played it in a few months, but it's a game I do still like to pop into periodically. The sheer amount of exploration in each zone, platform puzzles, and departure from the trinity of tank, healer, and DPS have always appealed to me. If making the core game free will draw in more players, and maybe even retain them, so much the better. I'd like to see this game succeed well into the future.