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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A Culture of Spoilers

Apologies for not posting yesterday (my first missed post of the month–boo!), but I simply ran out of time.  I wanted to make sure that I finished my project (which I was able to do–yay!), but in order to do it well, I just couldn’t do it and the normal blog post as well.  However, today I’m back–so on with the regularly scheduled blog post.

Spoilers

In the past couple of weeks, I have seen tons of spoilers online.  It as if there has been an uptick in the amount spoilers out there.  No, I take that back, actually spoilers have always been online every since it became a thing, but now, it seems that people either going out of their way to spoil things or they have become less inclined to guard themselves from spoiling something.

What’s Worse than Game of Thrones for me?  Spoilers, that’s What.

A case in point–I’m not a huge fan of Game of Thrones (you might even say that I’m an anti-fan of it, wishing there was a Lord of the Rings equivalent without all the exploitative sex & violence featured on the show).  However, I keep myself from spoilers from the show (and others like it that I dislike, like say The Walking Dead) in the off-chance that I ever want to see the series in their entirety for school (I am a Rhetoric & Composition/Popular Culture student after all), or for some other reason.   I want to able to watch them without knowing/being able to guess major plot points based on clues and hints which weren’t in the major narrative.

Yet, in the past couple of weeks, I had a major plot point spoiled and know the name of a major character who will die on the show.  Now, here’s the important bit: how did I learn about this?  Was I cruising GoT fan forums? No.  Was I looking a Reaction Videos from the show?  No. Was I on Wikipedia, IMDB, or a site where someone mentioned it in the comments section? No.  No, I was watching a Let’s Play for a video game called The Last of Us on YouTube when the Youtuber dropped the spoiler at the end of the gameplay loop while discussing a surprising development in the game.  There was no warning–I guessed the spoiler was coming a sentence before it was uttered, but I couldn’t get to my phone’s volume controls in time and I had a major character’s death spoiled–including when it occurs in the show’s timeline, so there’s absolutely no suspense left at all regarding that character.

The Quest for Views/Hits/Clicks/Whatever

A similar thing has been happening on YouTube for a while where YouTubers are often posting “spoilery” things in their “Thumbnail” images that go out to promote their videos.  There is a video game called Nier Automata that I really want to get and play later in the year when I’ve cleared some of my backlog of games.  It is supposed to have multiple endings with a mind-blowing reveal.  However, somebody thought it would be “fun” to post that ending in his/her thumbnail in the form of Hey what did you think about  [this incredibly important topic that happens at the END OF THE GAME]?

Really?

The YouTuber knows full well that the video is not going out to just subscribers to his/her channel, but to anyone who YouTube’s algorithms think in a good match (that’s how these videos get so many views–not from subscribers but those who are tangentially/incidentally targeted because YouTube thinks the content is similar to what you’ve already watched).  This is pervasive in the Web arena as well–clicks/likes = revenue, so being all spoilery some is a legitimate tactic (in their minds) to enhance traffic and to bring people in, but it has the opposite affect on me.

To quote a famous queen–“I do not approve.”  To all those would be spoilers out there: if you want to spoil something–great, but please, give those of us who would rather enjoy the story on our terms the time (& ability) to leave your content before you do so.

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



Finished Mad Max (The Video Game)

So over the Winter Break, I finished Mad Max, a video game based on the Mad Max character and world, but not based on the movie Mad Max Fury Road.  It is an original game using the character of Mad Max and the apocalyptic world that he inhabits as the focal points to tell a unique story.  While I did finish it, I did also feel that it was a bit of a slog to get through (more on that later), but more than that, I had real issues with the way the story was told, or perhaps more accurately, how the story unfolded.  According to my year-end Playstation stats, it was the 3rd game that I spent the most time on this year, clocking in at about 124 hours.

Unsatisfying Journey
Part of my issue is that the story was really very good up until the final missions of the game.  Essentially, (without massive spoilers) the game is essentially a massive “rebuilding” operation where you do various missions for various “faction” heads and then “build” up that faction.  The missions were side missions, but they also acted as “gating” missions, meaning that your progress was locked (i.e., “gated”) until you completed the side missions/story mission for that faction.  The way it worked seemed to imply that at the end of the game, these “factions” would aid you in your story after you had done all of the things you could to help them–alas, this was not the case.

The “Circular” Story
In the last few missions of the game, your character (again, no spoilers) makes several choices in the cut-scenes of the game that you as the player probably would not have made and you’re left with the ramifications of the choices that he’s made.  For an open world game that is all about player agency and choice, the story oddly takes the narrative out of your hands in the most unsatisfying of ways.  In games like this, there are sometimes multiple endings (InFamous series springs to mind), but most often than not, the ending is the same, but little things are able to be changed here and there so that even though the ending is the same, the choices that you made seemed to have mattered (even if, in truth, they did not).  MM doesn’t even give you the illusion of choice–you see the moment when the creative director rips control from your hands and see the results of the outcome and then the game gives you back control.  Worse yet, the character doesn’t learn anything from the experience.  He goes back to being the exact same character that he was in the beginning of the game, which leads to a Why does this even matter question after one finishes the game.

The Audience changes, but the Character Does Not
In this game, the story wants the audience to feel for a character who doesn’t feel at all.  I can understand that narrative, but I also question it.  One of the reasons Hamlet works is because we see that Hamlet, the prince, is conflicted.  Hamlet isn’t dead inside like Mad Max, but Hamlet feels–one might argue that Hamlet feels too much and that because he doesn’t just kill the king when he has the opportunity, he sets in motion his own downfall.  MM falls into that nihilistic category that modern storytellers seem to love so much: let’s not change our character, but let’s instead change our audience.  Let’s tell them this really (insert adjective here–gory, sad, disgusting, etc.) story and then destroy everyone except the hero and then watch him or her ride off into the sunset.  This will wring pathos from our audience.  I was really disappointed with the way the story turned out–if it is an open world game, then please give me, the player, agency over the story.  That’s what video games are all about and that is the strength of the medium over other mediums, say books or movies.  Let the player decide the outcome of the story, rather than the other way around.

Sidney
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Nostalgia Review: AD&D Pool of Radiance (SSI Goldbox AD&D Game) for the Commodore 64

This is quite possibly one of my Top Ten games that I played in my childhood.  It was the first in the loosening of the D&D/AD&D brand that I can remember.  D&D/AD&D (from now on abbreviated as D&D) was a tightly controlled brand as I recall.  I had the original D&D board game and somehow found (at a reasonable price) the AD&D Players Handbook (1st Edition), so I’ve always been a D&D player.  There were some small attempts to match D&D to the new world of home/personal computers as they were rising in popularity at about the same time.  However, Strategic Simulations’ (SSI) “Gold Box” games (so called because of the “gold” coloring on their boxes) were the PERFECT realization of the D&D ruleset at the time.  No other games series had taken all of the rules (from spell memorization, to spell effects, to combat, to handling ability roles, etc) and so completely merged them into a game that had fantastic combat along with a mysterious story.

Me and My Uncle Loved D&D
Okay, so this might be a slight exaggeration.  loved D&D and my uncle tolerated it, but as we got other RPGs such as The Bard’s Tale II, he also began to be a fan of the genre.  So when I got this game, we both created separate parties and did solo runs of the game and we both beat the story with our individual characters, passing strategies and tips back and forth on the best way of beating certain monsters.  Imagine playing chess, but instead of competitively, you played it cooperatively, each against a computerized foe that was out to destroy your lowly band of digital creations–that was part of the fun of the game.  A sort of “multiplayer” experience before online was even a “thing” in gaming.

 

 

Friends in High School Loved D&D
Okay, so this is actually true, although it wasn’t everyone.  We had a core group of “RPG” players who played D&D and Warhammer Fantasy RPG and who allowed me to be GM.  I was a fan of the Palladium Books series of Games (Rifts, Heroes Unlimited) and they dutifully switched whenever I bought a new game system and wanted to run it–looking back, I realize they were a patient lot!  However, a few of us had computers so we also began playing Pools of Radiance at the same time, so there was shared experiences as we would (again) talk about strategies and tips from what we learned in the game.  Even then, however, I was fairly resistant to spoilers, so I don’t recall talking a lot about the plot of the game, but even still, it was still awesome to be invested in this game on multiple fronts.

 

 

While I went on to buy other games and branch out from the “Gold Box” games, I still remember Pool of Radiance specifically as one the best times that I’ve ever had in gaming and will always have fond memories of this game.

Sidney



Barbarian At The Gates–Barbarian C64 Game (Nostalgia Review)

So this is one of those games that I didn’t really play a whole lot growing up.  I got it based on the strength of reviews and screenshots from a Computer Magazine, but it was based on the Amiga version and back in the early days of computers, there could be a whole world of difference between one system’s game and another (not like today where most games produced by companies other than Sony or Microsoft have virtual parity with their counterparts),  Barbarian (Commodore 64/C64) was a game that was essentially a side-scroller.  As I recall, you moved right or left and tried to defeat enemies on the way to a specific objective.  I don’t really recall all that much about it–except that I remember being disappointed that the game didn’t have more depth to it.

Compare the Differences

This is the Commodore Amiga Version:

and this is the Commodore 64 version:

You’ll notice that the title of the C64 video is Bad Conversions.  This is very accurate as the game does not stay true to the original and was poorly executed.  I remember that this game was released not too long after the original Conan The Barbarian movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger and while the Amiga version recreated the experience of the movies as faithfully as possible at the time, the C64 version did not.  I can’t recall if this was a Christmas present or a Birthday present–like most children, I got my games as gifts as presents and I remember the potential of this game being so great (I was, of course, into He-Man, Conan, and even Red Sonja along with all things warrior related at the time).

This is why I now rely on Reviews rather than screenshots–I learned early that media, especially advertisements can be manipulative and that it is up to the buyer to beware.

Caveat Emptor!