Player Unknown Battlegrounds

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Two combatants with guns square off with one another. Image Source: Crave Online

I won’t get too carried away talking about games exclusively, but I will take a moment to highlight a game that has taken the “hardcore” gamer by storm.  You’d think it would be Zelda and/or the Nintendo Switch based on the amount of coverage that the media is giving both the game and the system (and while they are fun and/or unique), it is Player Unknown Battle Grounds (PUBG–known affectionately as “Pub–Gee”) that currently has the hardcore gamers’ attention.  It is coming to the consoles, but right now it is only available for computers.

What is PUBG?  It is a game where approximately a hundred players are all dropped on an island and must fight it out in a huge Battle Royale until there is only 1 player/team remaining.  You can have up to 4 players on a team and while they just added a first person mode (as if you are looking out the characters eyes), the game normally features characters in the 3rd person mode (as if you watching the character on a movie screen).

The actual design of the game is actually pretty ingenious–I’ll have to give it to the designer.  The map is not quite an open world–it is a fairly large island “sandbox” that has trees, scrubland grass, and buildings.  There are a couple of named areas such as towns, but there are also smaller areas such as “The Barracks,” etc., and other deserted buildings.  Players drop onto the island without any weapons and must scavenge weapons and gear from the deserted buildings.  What is so brilliant about the game however, is the design mechanic of an “electrified shield” that slowly restricts the play area every 2 minutes or so, forcing the remaining players into an ever smaller playing environment until there is only 1 winner.

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A character parachutes into the map.  Image Source: Business Insider

I have seen “streams” pop up from more and more gamers as they play solo or with teams of friends/acquaintances in order to be number 1 and earn the game’s virtual prize of the catch-phrase “Winner, winner, Chicken-Dinner.”  While this game my not be a media darling like The Switch or the newest Zelda game, it is most definitely part of the gaming zeitgeist of 2017 and its design mechanics will surely be used (filtered) into other games in the future which is why I would have liked to have been able to talk about it during my Digital Rhetoric class.

Well, that’s all from me–I’m off to work on my project on Virtual Reality for the aforementioned Digital Rhetoric class–who knows, maybe eventually there will be a Battle Royal Virtual Reality simulator one of these days.

VR Hype!

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Image Source: UploadVR

So this post is late for a reason–I went to the MTSU’s Library and to their Maker Space and scheduled time to use their VR Headsets (for a presentation on technology on Wednesday).  I scheduled 1 hour with Oculus Rift and 1 hour with the HTC Vibe.  These are 2 of the 3 VR Headsets that are currently on the market and after today’s demonstration, I want to get a PSVR (Playstation VR Headset).

It was incredible!

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Image Source: Bestbuy

I tried Oculus Rift first and this was the best starting point.  It allowed me to get used to the VR space.  It is mostly a visual and auditory experience.  It is true and full 3D VR, but movement in the demos was limited.  You can mostly stand in one area or move one or two steps to see all of the content.  The content is fully 3D and moves all around you so that you can look up, down, around, and behind you.  I saw several demos that were really immersive.

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Image Source: YouTube

Moving on to the HTC Vibe, it has a headset like the Oculus Rift, but it also has handsets that are tracked in realtime by two cameras and it allows you to have space to move around and this really opens up the “play” environment.  I was able to look at spaces, but I was also able to look in spaces as well.

Whereas Oculus Rift shows you the potential of VR, the Vibe allows you see how that potential will be realized once the technological limitations are addressed.

I’ll talk more about VR in upcoming post, but I just wanted give a quick impression of these two VR systems.  They look really awesome and change the nature of the interactive experience.  I’m looking forward to getting a PSVR sometime in the near future!

Sportsmanship–The Lost Art

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Image Source: emaze.com

So, I’ve recently become enamored with a video game that has a mostly online focus: Gwent Beta for the Playstation 4.  The Witcher fans will recognize the game from Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt as it is a heavily reworked version of that game.  Gwent is essentially a “card” game in the Magic: The Gathering sense, but the cards are often animated and the computer administers the effects of the cards and acts as scorekeeper and referee.  The game, ostensibly a Free-to-Play game (meaning that it is free to play, but offers a store where players can purchase “kegs” of cards using in-game and real-world currency).  Many gamers term this a “Pay-to-Win” in that those who are willing to pay real-world money often have a distinct advantage over those who just grind away for the (slower earned) in-game currency.

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Image Source: PlayGwent

Now, I really don’t like this model and I was determined not to spend any additional money on this standalone game (I mean, I bought the Special Edition version of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for double the cost of the base game.  How much more does CD Project Red–the makers of both games–want me to do?)  I was also resigned to the slow pace of earning in-game currency and losing multiple matches while my currency slowly accrued.  It is also a beta and the current build on PS4 is buggy as all-get-out.  It has crashed my PS4 more times and in many more different ways in the past 3 weeks than any other game that I have owned.  And we’re not talking just random freezes, but hard crashes.  It crashed so utterly, one time, that I had to pull the power cord from the PS4 and replug it in because nothing that I did would shut off the system.  I even put up with that, but the thing that finally got to me and inspired this blog is the “taunt” system that the designers included with the game.

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Now, I realize that they didn’t want to open up players to the abuse of a regular voice chat, but “taunt” system is the “canned” version of verbal abuse because no one online understands the concept of sportsmanship–i.e., being gracious when you’re winning and not being salty when you’re losing.  You just play the game to have fun.  However, these days, playing the game is not enough, it seems, unless you can decimate your opponent and then “taunt” him or her about it.  There have been matches where I’ve done the math and I’ve clearly won and declined to play the rest of the cards in my hand because what’s the point?  I’ve won already–I don’t need to destroy your ego or use the taunt feature to make you feel bad about yourself.  We were playing a game and I happened to win that round.  I’ve been in the losing seat just today, knowing that I did not have the cards and rather than the opponent just ending it, he/she played their entire hand and and added with a pre-canned taunt for good measure.  Needless to say, that person did NOT get a “Good Game” response from me.  And this is increasing.  Where it was rare, it has become something that happens 3 out of every 4 games–and there’s no mute button that I know of (except the mute button for the TV which blocks out all sound effects)

I see this in other online venues as well.  If players can’t win/aren’t winning, you can be sure that some will choose to leave no matter how bad it hurts their stats or the team’s performance.  “Backing out” is the term for it if you aren’t a gamer (i.e., “this sucks, let’s back out” and blip they are gone).  Winning too has taken on this same level of destructive behavior, but instead of just taking a loss and learning from it, the winners are now narcissistic braggadocios.  They are the greatest thing on God’s earth if you listen to them after a match.  There are even people online–YouTubers and the like–who brag that they just want to get online and “crap talk” with their buddies.  That’s what is fun to them.

Really?  I thought it was about playing the games and having a good time while online.  Why does the idea of sportsmanship (being a gracious winner or loser) have to die for you to feel like you’re having fun?  When did just playing the game not become enough and it was decided that in order to have fun you have to belittle other players?  And why are we okay with that?

It’s about the books (or games), not the card

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I’m a bibliophile–I love books and I love to read.  My first job was at a bookstore that is sadly no longer in business.  Even though they were a bookstore, they lost their focus.  Management got too involved in selling the store’s loyalty card rather than the books themselves.  I only mention it because of the things that I’m hearing via social media that indicate GameStop may be following the same self-destructive path.

When I was a customer at Waldenbooks, their loyalty card seemed like an okay trade-off.  Ten dollars per year and a percentage off your purchase (I believe it was 10%, but I could be misremembering).  I think it only applied to books and not magazines which wasn’t ideal for me as I often bought books and magazines together.  It didn’t give me a huge benefit, but it didn’t take away too much either.

Yet, when I got my first job there it seemed that the focus was less on selling books and more on selling the card.  When the “Mystery Shopper” came and graded us, they were looking for whether or not we sold them the card–that was the “make or break” score and could push an above average encounter down to an average or below average and vice versa.

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Much the same is happening in GameStop today.  I’ve found that I am pre-ordering games through Amazon.com these days for their discount and the fact that I don’t have to be sold on ThinkGeek merchandise or the GameStop loyalty card.  I don’t enjoy Borders Bookstore because they cater less to bibliophiles than to people who like the communal nature of the “bistro”-type atmosphere.  I’ve learned from hard experience that it is dangerous for stores to stray too far from their base products.  I’m worried that GameStop (& to a lesser extent, Borders) haven’t learned that lesson.

Mass Effect Andromeda: The Little Shuttle that Could

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Image Source: Forbes

So, Mass Effect Andromeda (ME:A) has gotten its hooks in me again.  After a month long hiatus, I’ve pretty much binged the game over the weekend to the exclusion of all else.  The game is pretty much my kind of Sci-Fi, space ships, combat, and an intriguing storyline that traverses multiple star systems in the Andromeda Galaxy.   It is also a rather large game, with one major story arc and many, many side quests.  Each of the “major” worlds that you discover has a mission or two that involves the main quest and then a ridiculous amount of the side quests to fill out that world.  And even when you’re done, more side quests tend to populate on that world, so while you can “finish” the world, it is not uncommon to spend quite a bit of time on each world.

Now, while I appreciate long games, I’m starting to feel that many games are simply padding their runtime with useless side quests and other story elements just to 1) artificially inflate their length (gamers these days supposedly value a longer game rather than a shorter game) and 2) to make sure that you play only their game for long periods of time (hence you don’t trade the game back in thereby decreasing the “used game” market).  “Games as a ‘Service'” is an idea that is slowly gaining hold in the gaming community with more and more publishers trying to extend the life of their games to accomplish the two goals and the idea of paid DLC.  My concern is that this is coming at the expense of storytelling.

For instance, there was a mission that I just completed on ME:A that had me chasing a woman with a highly contagious disease and I needed to try to stop her before she reached a populated center.  However, in her delusion she had stolen a shuttle and left the station.  Yet, in a shuttle, she was able to traverse several different solar systems (quite far away from the space station) and was able to crash land the shuttle on a populated world.  Her little shuttle served the plot rather than the story.  There was no way, based on the fiction that the game had set up, that the shuttle she was in should have been able to fly as far as it did and cover as many systems that it did.  I could tell this was done for game extension and nothing else.  Even the ending of the mission was also off–I won’t spoil it–but the resolution did not match what the exposition was set up as when the mission was first presented to me.

This is a problem that I see continuing to happen as games get bigger.  Instead of stories that make sense, we will get stories that exist to simply fill out the story and make the world bigger and the game longer.  Instead of tightly crafted games, many games will become more diluted and and will have to rely on more and more visual aspects and less story aspects.  I wonder what impact this will have on gaming in the future as more and more games focus on length and breadth rather than story?

E3 and me: Marvel’s Spider-man (& Honorable Mentions)

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Marvel’s Spider-man

The last game that I want to mention on this blog from E3 is the showstopper from Sony’s Press Conference, Marvel’s Spider-man.  Sony showed an extended gameplay trailer that blew my mind.  I’ve always been a Spider-man fan, and I own quite a few issues of Spider-man comics.  This game had it all–action, humor, a strong narrative, but also has an open-world (the entire city of New York appears to be available to you to explore).

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The game puts you in the shoes of Peter Parker (although there is a nice Easter Egg for those who stay and watch the “stinger” at the end of the trailer).  It isn’t telling an origin story, but rather it is telling the story of a Peter Parker who has been doing this for a few years and is comfortable in Spider-man’s shoes.  I really enjoyed the high-flying acrobatics that the game showed and they nailed Spider-man’s sarcasm and biting wit.  This one looks like it is going to be fun.

Honorable Mentions

Things that looked interesting, but that I didn’t have time to talk about in the post during this week.

Days Gone (Sony) – A post-apocalyptic game that has a horde of fast-moving zombie-like monsters (similar to the movie World War Z)

Detroit: Become Human (Sony) – A sci-fi game about androids struggling for their freedom.

Shadow of the Colossus Remake (Sony) – I’ve played the demo, but never bought this game, but sure looks awesome.  It might convince me to get it this time around.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins (Ubisoft) – I’ve bought every major AC game and the new setting promises to be fun.

Knack 2 – Hey, what can I say, I love a good platformer.  I platinumed the original Knack, so of course I’m looking forward to the sequel.

and finally,

Elite: Dangerous – Elite was old computer game from the 1980s.  My uncle and I played the heck out of that game on the Commodore 64, and we managed to “break” the economy in the game  Our ship was so powerful and we had so much money, nothing in “normal” space could touch us.  This one is sheer nostalgia.  (I still have the 5.25 inch game disk and I’m pretty sure that I have the manual for the original game as well somewhere).

There were other games as well that probably deserve to be on this list, but I’ve already taken longer than I had intended and I’m much later putting out this post than usual, so I’ll end by saying, Sony had the most games that I’m interested in, so while their conference wasn’t as good as the past two years, it was still the best (to me) in a fairly unremarkable year.

 

E3 and me: The Crew 2

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Image Source: Rayman-Fanpage.de

This time I want to talk about another racing game that’s caught my eye: The Crew 2 (TC2).  This game is a sequel to The Crew by Ubisoft.  The Crew’s claim to fame is that it offers an open world map of the United States for players to drive through.  Players can start in New York on the East Coast and drive seamlessly though the game’s roads, highways, or even off-road and travel to Los Angeles or San Fransisco on the West Coast.  Now, while the map is highly condensed, it can still take anywhere from 30 – 45 minutes to travel the length of the map and there are quite a few unique elements to the game that I really enjoyed such as road discovery, landmark discovery, modifying vehicles, and a mostly satisfying in-game soundtrack delivered via radio stations.  The Crew was denigrated for its story and many reviews thought that the game’s visual’s were not up to “next generation” standards (which the devs. addressed by “up-rezzing” the graphics as part of a patch) and they supported the game rather well, I thought.

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Image Source: Techno Buffalo

TC2 seems to up the graphical fidelity even more and it looks like from the gameplay trailers that the map may be even larger than the previous game (and if not, it certainly looks more diverse).  It appears that they might be dropping the “story” mode to the game and going with more of a festival/win at all the various disciplines approach to the game.  Speaking of disciplines, the game is devoted into 4 main areas: Street Racing, Off-road racing, speed boat racing, and air racing.  It also looks like you can jump seamlessly between the various modes even in mid-race, although I’ll have to see how that plays in game to see if that is going to be as cool as it sounds.

The Crew’s large open world, its (in my opinion) inoffensive story, and its great game play made it a mainstay for me and helped me to keep my sanity during my second year of teaching middle school.  I’m hoping that The Crew 2 helps do much same now.  I’m cautiously optimistic about this game as well.

Here is the reveal trailer for The Crew 2.