What’s on my Bookshelf? Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag for the PS4

Sorry, but this blog post won’t be extremely detailed today.  I’m feeling under the weather today with a bit of a fever and sore throat.

Assassin’s Creed Series

So, I own all of the major in-line Assassin Creed games.  I bought the first Assassin’s Creed game when it came out for the Playstation 3 and marveled at its brilliance.  And then I couldn’t figure out how to play it as I’d never really played an open-world game before.  I had to play InFamous, a superhero open-world game to figure it out.  Once I did so, Assassin’s Creed II was released and I’ve finished every game in the mainline series to date (haven’t gotten AC: Origins yet–the latest one).

A Pirate’s Life

So, many people consider Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag to be a “pirate simulator.”  It gives you a pretty good approximation of being a pirate with sailing, swashbuckling, and boarding ships, all with the backdrop of Assassin’s Creed lore in the Caribbean setting.  While not my favorite AC game, it was still enjoyable.  I didn’t really like the ending, but it was still an enjoyable experience.  I would rate it a B if I had to grade it (not my favorite, but definitely above average).

Too Many Side Activities

Much of the problem lies in the fact of the “Ubification” of the game–too much stuff to do in order to pad the game’s playtime.  I wouldn’t mind finding the “sea chanties” for the crew to sing as the ship sailed along, but having to “chase” them down, only to have them reset if they “got away” is one of many “tasks” that just exists to waste time, so that 1) you play that game–and only that game–for a long period of time, and 2) along with that, as long as you’re playing the game, you’re not trading it in or giving it friends, etc.  Every since AC III, expansion of game-time has been a primary staple of AC games.

Anyway, I don’t want to badmouth the game.  I think that it is a very good game that I’m proud to have on my bookshelf.

Sidney



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“Ubification” of Ubisoft Games

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Several popular Ubisoft game characters.  Image Source: WhatCulture

So, as I sit here waiting patiently to register for classes for the upcoming Summer and Fall terms, I find myself reflecting back on the game that I was playing over the Easter Holiday weekend, Ghost Recon: Wildlands (GRW).  Not really the most appropriate game for such a religious holiday, but I’m about half-way through it and I really want to finish it.  It is both fun and a slog.  How can that be, you might ask.  A game is either fun or it isn’t.  Well, it is much like Mass Effect Andromeda, fun in spurts, but far too long.

Jim Sterling on the “Ubification” of Games

Now, there is a video game personality, Jim Sterling, who talks about games and game companies’ practices on a regular basis.  He is something of a legend in the video game community, a pundit who is at times lauded and hated.  I don’t usually watch pundits, but every now and again, Jim calls out a segment of the video game industry that video game companies would prefer you not to notice.  Today, he chose to point out some of the things that Ubisoft is doing with their games, and since GRW is published by Ubisoft, I thought I’d watch.  Here’s the YouTube video if you’re interested–WARNING: NSFW (Harsh Language–unfortunately, Jim Sterling is in love with the F-Bomb and Crap word).

Now, Jim noticed this trend of Ubisoft’s games looking similar to one another with the release of Far Cry 5 last week, but as a player of quite a few of Ubisoft’s catalog (The Crew, all major in-line Assassin’s Creed releases, Tom Clancy’s The Division, and now Ghost Recon: Wildlands), I’ve been noticing that loop myself for a while.  Ubisoft actually has a gameplay mechanic that has been mocked and parodied in the gaming community for a while now– the unlocking of more of the game “map” by visiting some sort of “tower.”

Making it Relevant to Scholarship

One of the things that I’ve wanted to do for a while is to find a way to make what ever I’m currently playing relevant to scholarship.  While games, game theory, and video gaming is being studied in academia, it is still a very niche idea with too many scholars not understanding that many of the talented individuals who would be writing literature (books) or crafting cinema (movies) are actually working in the gaming arena.  What some scholars dismiss as mere “fluff” or have the idea that games that are not relevant to the greater society of the whole are missing a whole wider world in which subculture, especially gaming culture, is influencing and being influenced by the culture of gaming (don’t believe me–trace the backlash against Anita Sarkeesian and the GamerGate controversy with the backlash against Leslie Jones and the Ghostbusters (2016)–they are quite similar in reaction/rationale all happening “approximately” the same time).  My hope is that I can somehow use GRW to talk about video games in scholastic context.  I’m still formulating how I want to approach it (perhaps talking about Open World games in general).  We’ll see, but video game rhetoric is still such a new topic that the field is still fairly wide open as to what I can analyze, so there are many opportunities for scholarship from this one game.  I just need to figure out how to approach it.

Well, that’s it for now.  Have a great day!

Sidney



Reclaiming Lara Croft

Reclaiming Lara

Okay, so this blog post is liable to be controversial, but I’m going to say it anyway: “old” Lara Croft (Old Lara) as a character was better in many ways than “new” Lara Croft (new Lara).  Old Lara Croft was portrayed as a “sex symbol” by the media of the late 90s & early 2000s in order to understand this new female character representation in gaming that had traditionally been infused with male characters and male sensibilities.  Old Lara was a breaking of the stereotype, but paradoxically a part of the stereotype in that it was her gender and sexuality (unrealistic proportions) that marked her as an unrealistic construct.  New Lara is meant to counter this: a realistic representation of a feminine body type and a new, more “realistic” backstory.  However, as both old and new film adaptations have shown, people (including the team at Crystal Dynamics currently tasked with developing new games) don’t really “get” Lara Croft and what makes her tick.

Mind Over Matter

Lara Croft is brilliant and I don’t mean that in the “great” sense of the word.  No, I mean it literally.  She is brilliant and much like another British-created character, Doctor Who, she is the “smartest person in the room.”  The Doctor works because he is a “madman in a box” while Lara Croft never was given that one sentence that summed up her character.  For me, Lara Croft is a “raider of Tombs.”  This is where so many representations of her go wrong–they neglect to give her a reason for her to raid tombs (a why is she doing this/why does it matter).  Tomb Raider 2 (from Core) and Tomb Raider Legend (Crystal Dynamics) are the purest expressions of why does what she does and what is at stake if she fails in her quest.

Some might argue that the new games (the 2013 reboot of Tomb Raider), the subsequent sequels, and the newest movie (sans Angelina Jolie) depict a better “version” of Lara, but I argue that’s not true.  Lara, who is emotionally blasted from killing a deer in the 2013 reboot, is not much different than stereotypical representations of females of the past.

Puzzles, Traps, Solutions

Everyone keeps making the same mistake of comparing Lara Croft with Indiana Jones (Indiana Jones movies) or Nathan Drake (Uncharted video game series), when her true comparison is Doctor Who. In every room, Lara is (as is the player through the extension of agency) looking for the “exit” or the solution to the puzzle, trap, or what have you. Once located, it becomes a “game” to figure out how to get Lara from point A to that exit.  However, you (the player) and Lara (the character) go into the situation believing and expecting that there is ALWAYS an exit and always a SOLUTION to the problem, so long as you can reason it out.  This is exactly the same characterization used to describe The Doctor: “he always wins because he always assumes he’s going to win”  (paraphrased from Series 9, Episode 2, “The Witch’s Familiar”).  Lara goes into any situation knowing there’s a solution, she just has to find it. Again, she’s smartest person in the room–no matter her physique.  Now we just need for Hollywood to discover this fact and for Crystal Dynamics to rediscover Lara as an actual “Tomb Raider” instead of just relying on it as a “brand name” used to market and sell games in the “franchise.”

Sidney



The State of Destiny (Destiny 1 and Destiny 2)

Today, I want to quickly talk about the video game series Destiny and its current slate of games (Destiny and Destiny 2).  After a strong start, Destiny 2 is currently in free-fall with its players.  Many hardcore players are leaving for other games.  The original Destiny supposedly had a slow start, but found its footing after the release of the Taken King.  Those of you who read the blog from the beginning know that for the longest time, I had a Destiny countdown clock widget on the side of the blog.  I was an avid Destiny player.  However, Bungie, the creators have made a few mistakes that have caused me to fall away–but they aren’t the same mistakes that the current “narrative” would have you believe so I’ll cover what I think are a couple of the biggest ones.

“Shared World Shooter” vs “MMO”

Bungie was quick to point out that Destiny wasn’t an MMO (which has certain connotations in the game community), but was rather a “Shared World Shooter” (implying that it was a shooter first and that it was a shared world between you and other players).  You could intersect with other players or go “lone wolf.”  Well, that appealed to me–however, in actuality, the game functioned like an MMO.  You needed a “crew” to do the best missions, The Raids.  The content they added changed the game and the paradigm, and they kept tinkering with the game mechanics, rather than creating new (better) content to flesh out the world.  They “sold” the game in marketing one way, but the presented the game in practice another.

“Vanilla” Destiny was actually better than “Taken King” Destiny

So this is one where the majority of Destiny players and I part ways: “Vanilla” Destiny, before all the myriad of changes, was actually pretty good.  Bungie got too involved in listening to criticisms and changed the game based on people who had left rather than those who stayed.  Their goal all the way through The Taken King seemed to be to “recapture” those who had left the game rather than on those who had stayed.  Those who stayed just wanted more story.  Had Bungie prioritized that over changing weapon balancing, fixing “cheeses” to bosses (ways of defeating boss characters in ways unintended by the developers), etc., I don’t think Destiny series would be in the position that it is.  They made a different mistake with Destiny 2, but the result was the same.  They focused on story in Destiny 2, but forgot that the players wanted compelling content for the endgame (additions that I didn’t care for, but seemed to resonate with other members of the hardcore Destiny community–such as Trials of Osiris).  Destiny 2 should have included all the major components of Destiny and added new components to satisfy gamers until the next major expansion, but this didn’t happen–they went back to changing systems and mechanics that worked perfectly fine in Destiny, such as having two primary weapons, etc.

Here’s an example of Destiny 2 gameplay (PvP) from a high-level, highly skilled player, “Ms. 5000 Watts”:

The Social Network is not always Right.

The point that I’m trying to make is that by listening to the vocal fans who don’t even play the game and trying to create a game for them, Bungie lost focus and helped to dilute the game for those who were still playing.  I no longer play Destiny because of the multitudinous game currencies, not getting enough story and answers about the The Traveler and The Darkness.  I’m sorry, but I’m not all that interested in the “Lore” of the Guardians–The Curse of Osiris DLC, I’m looking at you–I want to find out what the Traveler and why its Light is gone and how I can “heal” it and I want to find out what the Darkness is, why it hates the Traveler and what I can do to stop it.  I want to be able to do that on my own or with a team of 3-6 players (no less–sorry to inform you BungieDestiny is only fun by yourself or with a full”fire-team” because that’s how you designed it.  Those 2 player events are annoying!  To be honest, anything under a full 6 players is not really ideal, but I understand how hard it could be to get 6 players together to do all the content, but Bungie really should be designing with 1, 3, and 6 player/players in mind).

Basically, if anyone at Bungie reads this post, please stop listening to the forums and start listening to the people who actually play the game and to your own designers.  The people who have left the game and who are “slagging you off” in the comments are never going to be satisfied with what you create–no matter how good it is.  Your best bet is to follow the original creative vision you had to tell an epic story about The Traveler and The Darkness and let the fans who are really invested follow you along for the ride!

Sidney



What’s on My Bookshelf? InFamous: Second Son (Video Game)

So today on What’s on My Bookshelf, I thought I’d highlight a video game.  I know gaming is still fairly niche, but it has surpassed movies as the highest grossing entertainment genre, so I’d like to give equal time.  The game, InFamous: Second Son is the 3rd game in the InFamous brand.  Despite that, this feels like a “soft” reboot as the main character, setting, and supporting characters are all new, so it is a great jumping on point if you’ve never played an InFamous game.  The basic gist is that, thanks to an explosion in the earlier games in the series, a few people are not so “normal” anymore and have become “super-powered.”  So, essentially you get to play as a “super hero” in this game’s universe.

Characters, Setting and Plot

You play as Delsin, the younger brother to a cop.  Your parents aren’t around anymore, so you’re brother has had to take care of you and like any little brother, you’re just a bit rebellious.  How rebellious is up to you (see below).  The game is an open world game set in Seattle.  While not a one-to-one representation of the city, the game still bears a fair likeness to the city with many of Seattle’s landmarks on display (including a harrowing jaunt to the Space Needle).  As a super powered individual, you get to really let loose against the enemy forces, the DUP, who want to collar ALL “super powered” characters, regardless of their motives.  Add to the fact that you get to also “gain” new powers by absorbing them from other “super” characters that you face and the game gets quite inventive.

Morality

The thing I like most about the InFamous games is that they feature a morality system.  Actions that help the game world bring about a positive change (citizens take pride in their city and help clean it up, etc.) or you can do the opposite (being a bully and a pest drives the city into a state of dinginess and decay).  There are major choices that have this “good vs evil” paradigm along with smaller acts within the world.  Overall, the story still gets to the same resolution, but the game gives you the appearance of agency to affect the outcome of the story by giving you those moments of choice.

If you’re a gamer looking for something new to play, or maybe, you want to try out gaming to see what its all about, this is a good starting point and introduction to the gaming experience.  InFamous: Second Son is available for the Sony Playstation 4 video game system.

Have a great day!

Sidney



Commodore 64 Nostalgia: Kung-Fu II: Sticks of Death (or Caveat Emptor)

Despite the long name, I really don’t have all that much to say about Kung-Fu II: Sticks of Death as I barely remember it.  To be honest, I didn’t remember it at all until I pulled out the “reference card” and looked up images online.

Cover Art Bait and Switch

I’m sure the reason that I don’t remember it is that this is one of the first games that I had that helped teach me caveat emptor (“Let the buyer beware”).  If you look at the cover art of the game, it features a Bruce Lee “clone” fighting another man with a bo staff.  As I was into martial arts, having taken karate, I was always on the lookout for martial arts inspired games.  As my weapons were tonfa and the bo staff, this game seemed right up my alley.

Tonfa_BlackBeltMagbo_staff_BlackBeltMagAmazon.jpg

However, it was not be as the game, in truth, had little to do with modern day karatekas and ninjas than it does as an “ancient Egyptian brawler” where you fight ancient Egyptian men and “dog”-faced enemies.  Very disappointing.

Fighting Warrior Conundrum

Okay, after researching this game for this post, I now understand why the game looks as it does–it truly was “bait and switch.”  The game itself is called “Fighting Spirit” and is based on ancient Egyptian deities and monsters.  It doesn’t have a Wikipedia entry, but apparently it was renamed for the American market.  I’m assuming that the box art was attempt to cash in on the martial arts craze of the mid 80s with the popularity of movies like The Karate Kid.

As I didn’t really have the money in my allowance to subscribe to magazines per se (I just purchased them ad hoc every month and rarely the same type for variety’s sake), I wouldn’t have known that this game was not what it purported to be.

I barely remember playing it and what I do remember is that that it wasn’t very fun. And judging by the lack of buzz online (few YouTube videos, no Wikipedia entry, very few sites talking about it), it looks like I wasn’t the only one with that impression.

Sidney




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Commodore 64 Nostalgia Review: World Karate Championship

So, World Karate Championship (Internation Karate in Europe), by Epyx was one of my favorite C64 games growing up.  I absolutely adored it and I am convinced (although I could be mistaken–I haven’t actually researched the development of the game to know for sure) that it and its competitor,  Data East’s, Karate Champ (which, in looking it up to verify the name, I discovered had sued Epyx claiming that the games were too similar, but apparently lost) had an influence on the modern fighter and games like the original Street Fighter as it exhibits many of the same characteristics–announcer, rounds, tournament fighting, etc., but in a “proto-form.”

The game is a traditional round-based fighting game.  It features a best two out of three system, but like a Karate tournament, you can have half-points (for smaller hits) and full points (for more devastating hits).  You can fight in different stages (areas) across the world, and has “bonus” stages in between the action in order to break bricks/boards for extra points.  What I liked at the time is that it had a belt system, and started your character at a white-belt and moved up through the rankings as you progressed, with higher colored belts meaning more difficult opponents.

I may have mentioned it before, but as someone who took martial arts and was interested in all things martial arts at the time, I took to this came right away.  The control scheme was its only downfall, as it only worked with one button and many of the moves had to be executed with a combination of the joystick and button and it was very imprecise and “sticky” compared to games like Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat which came along a little later and solved the “control” problem. That is why you see so many “misses” in the footage above.

My uncle and I used to have epic battles when playing two player against one another.  I’ll always remember the fun times I had while playing this game–and yes, that “soundtrack” did loop over and over constantly.  I’d forgotten just how repetitive the music was until I heard it on loop as I was writing this blog, but boy, does it bring back the memories.  And that’s sort of the point of this nostalgia reviews, isn’t it? 🙂

Have a great day!

Sidney