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.