Category Archives: Video Games

EA pulling out of E3 hurts no-one

E3 will not be critically harmed by EA's absence.   Source: cheatcc.com

E3 will not be critically harmed by EA’s absence. Source: cheatcc.com

This week, Electronic Arts announced that they would not be presenting a keynote speech at E3 this year, gaming’s biggest conference. Instead, the company are hosting their own event the weekend prior, with a fancy presentation coming on the final day.

There are a lot of doomsday type worries because of this announcement? Is it the end of E3? Will more big compainies run away so they aren’t lost in the big shuffle.

Settle down everyone and breathe. This temporary split is good for everyone.

Let’s look at EA first, who know now that they’ll have some big announcements coming before E3 and will be the sole focus for that week before the event. That’s a big push, especially if they have something significant to say and in their minds it could elevate their conference.

They’ve seen Nintendo use the directs to quietly move away and combined with them possibly taking an incredible amount of attention with a possible console reveal, it’s a good time to move aside a little.

I'm actually kind of glad I don't have to sit through another mobile-centric Minion fest to see two seconds of Mirrors Edge.  Source: www.wired.co.uk

I’m actually kind of glad I don’t have to sit through another mobile-centric Minion fest to see two seconds of Mirrors Edge. Source: http://www.wired.co.uk

As for E3, they aren’t really weakened by EA’s lack of presence. It’s still the biggest event for consumers and corporate people, it will still have some huge reveals that people will talk about for weeks and will still have everyone talking about it growing again as the event for video games.

It’s not been halted by Nintendo not being there, in fact it’s only strengthened so something like EA stepping away will not be a monumental blow.

It’s also great for consumers, who get to be fed some news early about some potentially interesting releases like Mass Effect: Andromeda. It also means we don’t have to sit through some abysmal talk about mobile games or the next sports game yet again. We already know, it’ll be an update from last year, thanks for the EA, the people who care will have found that out already.

EA Play will be nice to have, but won't have E3 or other publishers quacking in their boots.  Source: Variety

EA Play will be nice to have, but won’t have E3 or other publishers quacking in their boots. Source: Variety

The worry for some will be that it prompts more companies to move away for announcements, which they kind of do already. Neither Microsoft or Sony save all their big stuff for E3 and while they do drop some bombs here, they do at Gamescom and PSX too so it’s not like E3 is the be-all and end-all already.

In fact, drip feeding us info throughout the year could be an interesting idea. They could get us hyped about something when there’s nothing else to compete with, focusing the attention on that product and that only sounds like it’s good for business.

And that’s what it’ll come down to but don’t fret, E3 isn’t going away any time soon. Hopefully EA will, but that might be wishful thinking.

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The Game Awards underwhelm and intrigue us again

The Game Awards were, yet again, incredibly meh.  Source: The Independent

The Game Awards were, yet again, incredibly meh. Source: The Independent

Let us be honest for a moment here, not many of us tune into The Game Awards to watch actual arbitrary awards given out to games.

Not to take away the achievements of some developers, especially with the terrific games we’ve had this year across a few different genres, but the audience is not really bothered about who wins or loses these kind of events.

What they do care about, however, is the announcements of brand new games coming in the future.

Ever since it’s creation on its former home of Spike TV in the US, Geoff Keighley’s award show was rife with reveals of creations coming out that we hadn’t heard from or new footage of games we are already excited about in the new year.

Some people used to save announcements for then, there would be a bunch and it would really set a platform for the year ahead. It was the real reason to watch the show.

This was literally the only thing that excited.  Source: Polygon

This was literally the only thing that excited. Source: Polygon

However, this year, there was a real lack of new titles being announced and that was really a big downer for a show that usually specialises in them.

Now there are a few reasons for this. A lot of developers are taking the message in-house and revealing their games in their own time, which is absolutely fine. They then control the message, it’s not lost in the thunder of several announcements

You can argue that it isn’t an event that people need to reveal things at anymore now it’s simply streamed rather than on mainstream TV. It means those only fully invested in games are watching, a recipe that many would think it would be ideal to show off but we also know that it’s not exactly the mindset of those trying to buy the space.

I am half excited about Psychonauts 2, which will get funded, but I’m yet to play the original as it sits in my Steam sale backlog. However, nothing else gauged my interest at all unlike other years.

The real positive coming out of the show was Keighley admitting about Hideo Kojima’s absence and it was a thing of beauty. Silence gripped the audience as Konami got the biggest diss they have had so far and they’ve had quite a few.

As always, fuck Konami.

However, it was great to see Keighley give Konami the finger.  Source: remeshed.com

However, it was great to see Keighley give Konami the finger. Source: remeshed.com

The awards themselves were okay, it was good to see CD Projekt win with Witcher 3 but it was a little pointless to give them developer too. Either one or the other would have been fine and we could have celebrated another high-quality game like Metal Gear or Fallout 4.

As this will obviously continue next year, it will be something I will simply wait for the news after. There was no meat on the bones here and it’s clear there is a big movement back to E3 as the big release announcement day other than publishers doing it when they please, which is kind of a shame.

The best way they can pull it back is rounding up more interesting content from mainly games we know about and a few extras to get up hyped for the year ahead. It will give the show the right mix, unless the lack of reveals might be indicative of the 2016 ahead of us.

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How Hearthstone keeps me on the hook

Yes it's even beeter than Yu-Gi-Oh. I know, right?  Source: 8bitbourbon.com

Yes it’s even beeter than Yu-Gi-Oh. I know, right? Source: 8bitbourbon.com

I am in love with Blizzard’s online card game, Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, and I am not ashamed to admit it.

For those that are unaware, Hearthstone is a simple-to-learn but hard-to-master card game developed by the same company that creates the MMO World of Warcraft. It is similar in design to Magic the Gathering but is not a carbon-copy and for anyone that does enjoy collecting and playing card games like that, this is the game for you.

It’s not difficult to understand why I love it so much. I enjoyed collecting cards through my youth and doing it all again brings those memories flooding back and the way the tutorial eases you in makes it so accessible to any skill level.

I went on to watch YouTubers such as Trump and Kripparian to help understand the game a little more and that’s when they got me on the hook.

What kept me coming back was their daily quests, which allow the player to earn gold by completing tasks on a day. At the start, you also have other tasks (some against the AI) that means you can access even more gold to get yourself started.

A pack is 100 gold. At a minimum, if you complete all your daily quests, you will get at least 120 gold. That, in very plain terms, means you get a pack a day.

Added to this is Arena Mode, where you draft a deck from set choices and play as many games as you can until you lose three games and you are rewarded with how many wins you accumulate.

It's simple, earn gold or pay real money to get packs. Either way is viable.  Source: examiner.com

It’s simple, earn gold or pay real money to get packs. Either way is viable. Source: examiner.com

Sometimes it’s two, sometimes it’s five and it stops at 12. You are guaranteed a pack (but not of your choice) and despite it costing 150 gold each time, your first entry is free.

Both of those mechanics show the great value in Hearthstone’s free-to-play model. I keep coming back because I know that if I play say 10-12 games that I’ll be rewarded with a pack.

Some might say “well, what if you get a load of cards you already have?” That is where the dust system comes in. You can disenchant any card you have to create dust, of which you can use to craft cards (although this can take a little while) that you do.

It’s an excellent system, it means that you are never really cheated out of playing for a pack and especially in something like Arena (where you can complete another set of daily quests if you have saved them up) that means you play to get more after having already used some earlier saved gold.

That creates an excellent hook, it keeps me coming back for more because it’s entertaining and I am being awarded regularly for my progress without having to dip into my pocket (although you can if you so wish).

Streamers such as Trump have helped increase the game's profile, which has led to a big rise in Championship money.  Source: YouTube.com

Streamers such as Trump have helped increase the game’s profile, which has led to a big rise in Championship money. Source: YouTube.com

Which is an issue at the heart of a lot of games at the moment. They want you to pre-order to get ahead of the game or work a lot harder to earn the same that someone else would have paid for, it’s not as fun and it feels like it is much less of a level playing field.

The way they do earn money is through adventures, that cost 700 gold per wing (a hefty price, with four wings each) but costs just under £15 to buy the whole set. You unlock free cards as you beat challenges created by the dev team that test different skills and add new play styles.

They are always fun, equipped with class challenges and difficult Heroic modes too and it always feels well worth stumping the money up for. You get plenty back, the cards have tended to be pretty good with at least four or five good additions along with a fun solo experience that gives you a good extra hours of entertainment.

All of these combined make it such a quailty game that many people are well invested in. What is also great to see is the investment of time and effort that Blizzard put in, with things such as a new Tavern Brawl every week (that gives you a free pack on your first win each week) as well as regular updates and new content.

Hearthstone to me, like streamer and regular esports player Trump would say, represents value. It keeps bringing me back because I enjoy it so much and they keep adding more to it, which keeps you invested.

If this at all sounds interesting to you, please check it out. Stick Hearthstone into YouTube, watch a couple games from some people and download it free of charge. Even just to try, it’s also available on your phone or tablet devices, it’s one of the best ways to play a game when you only have half-an-hour to spare.

Also, the sound effects are the very best.

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E3: The hype machine that never quite meets expectation

A new Crackdown is pretty exciting but there wasn't too many surprises this year.  Source: Microsoft

A new Crackdown is pretty exciting but there wasn’t too many surprises this year. Source: Microsoft

As the dust begins to settle from one of the biggest gaming expos in the world, we can now begin to pick at the pieces to see what was actually announced. This year there was more hype surrounding the event than the past few years combined, with new consoles on the market people were desperate to see what the next few years had in store but despite good efforts, it never quite met those high expectations.

Microsoft arguably came out with the most surprising stuff, no-one had predicted a new Crackdown which was welcome and there were some nice showings from Sunset Overdrive and the Halo Collection. There were some other little highlights but they never had that one extra knockout punch that got everyone off their seats and if they had that cracking new IP announcement they’d have knocked it out of the park.

I personally loved this, more of this please.  Source: digitaltrends.com

I personally loved this, more of this please. Source: digitaltrends.com

Sony on the other hand came out with less big hitters to just confirm what we already knew. Uncharted was nice to see, showing actual Lycanthropes in The Order: 1886 added much more excitement to the game and the new From Software game BloodBorne could be very interesting. Again, small little bits like Little Big Planet 3 and Grim Fandango (which I can’t wait for) were good additions but they never had that killer blow and they really tailed off any momentum with the dull speech about PlayStation TV.

The Nintendo Direct was a little low key, there were some nice surprises like Star Fox but they didn’t release anything else that wasn’t at least partly expected. Ubisoft pretty much showed off everything they have already revealed and whilst they looked exciting, their big Rainbow Six surprise never quite hit the heights of the Watch Dogs reveal.

Trailers should be taken as representations, especially after Watch Dog's downgrade.  Source: stealthybox.com

Trailers should be taken as representations, especially after Watch Dog’s downgrade. Source: stealthybox.com

There’s also a note to take from all we’ve seen, especially with games nowhere near close to release that they could be completely different once they actually hit the market. With Watch Dogs relatively obvious graphical downgrade as an example, we shouldn’t get too hyped about something we aren’t certain about.

E3 saw some nice highs this year but yet again the hype was much bigger than anything that actually happened. It’s not the be-all and end-all that it used to be, Gamescon in Germany is arguably just as important and even then, publishers prefer to announce games on their terms across the internet now rather than wait for one big conference.

It’s a shame that something like this could be a thing of the past in the not so distant future but whilst it’s here, people will keep tuning in. There will always be something for everyone, there will always be a few nice surprises but the hype machine ensures that despite any kind of out-there reveal the show in its entirety will never quite meet the unrealistic expectations of gamers.

Xbox One changes to challenge the PS4 going into E3

You will no longer be forced to have this sitting by your TV set.  Source: Forbes

You will no longer be forced to have this sitting by your TV set. Source: Forbes

This past week, Xbox revealed a new Kinect-less bundle that will be priced to compete much more closely with Sony’s PS4. With Sony seeming to have won the first battle in the new console generation, will this latest move allow Microsoft to close the gap? Have they already given up on their big Kinect push?

One of the biggest factors heading into post the Xbox One’s and the PS4’s launch was the price point, the One would cost almost £80 more than their Sony counterpart due to the Kinect being bundled with it. That has led to a lot of people to simply go for the cheaper machine as there isn’t too much difference between the performance of the two boxes and in the beginning there wasn’t many good exclusives to choose from either.

This was a good move in that sense; both because it will hopefully bring in people that despise the Kinect as well as attract those that were simply put off by the price point. It’ll make it much more of a direct competitor to the PS4 and now that both have a good slew of games ahead of them, people can make a decision on games rather than money.

The PS4 has won the initial sales skirmish, Microsoft had to respond somehow.  Source: trustedreviews.com

The PS4 has won the initial sales skirmish, Microsoft had to respond somehow. Source: trustedreviews.com

Another issue raised from a Kinect-less bundle is that it might have a knock on effect to companies working on games for Kinect and also the future for motion controls altogether. Without the guaranteed number of the camera peripheral for publishers to look at, now they might feel that creating games with Kinect in mind has more risk than potential reward.

However, they will take heart in how surprisingly well the Playstation camera has done despite it not being bundled in with the PS4. They would have looked at that before making that decision, which would have also reaffirmed their own belief that people want motion controls and the concept isn’t quite dead in the water.

 

E3 is the next battle, who will come out with the better line-up heading into Christmas and next year?  Source: cheatcc.com

E3 is the next battle, who will come out with the better line-up heading into Christmas and next year? Source: cheatcc.com

There are more pluses coming out of Xbox recently with them also announcing the introduction of Games with Gold to the Xbox One very soon. It’s a good move that the Playstation Plus has taken advantage of since launch so they still have some catching up to do but it’s a positive step. They will also have to improve from the games selection they had on the Xbox 360 because they could face a backlash for putting out old or poor content for free.

Behind all this looms the rising sun which is the E3 conference in June. With both having devices available heading into the event at “reasonable” prices, they will now have to go out all-guns blazing showing off exclusives to come for both consoles. That will be the next big battle that both face and a win for Sony could knock Microsoft off its perch but an impressive showing by Xbox could make things very interesting heading into the Christmas period.

Is Virtual Reality going to be a fad or a cornerstone of video games?

Project Morpheus seems likely to be the one closest to come to market, will it boom or bust?  Source: mixmag.net

Project Morpheus seems likely to be the one closest to come to market, will it boom or bust? Source: mixmag.net

It’s pretty much been every 10 year old’s’ dream to one day have virtual reality as a possibility in gaming. It’s littered through popular culture, it’s been attempted before but with the Oculus Rift and Playstation’s Project Morpheus, it finally looks like we will be getting the genuine article within the next year or so. But many are wondering if this will be another one of gaming’s fads or will it become the way we game for the rest of our lives?

There have been attempts to add to the way we play video games before, namely the push of motion controls in the previous generation in particular. Whilst the Wii sold incredibly well it was something that was bought then put away whilst Sony and Microsoft’s attempts seemed to fall flat on their face, despite Microsoft’s inclusion of the new Kinect with the Xbox One.

At the time of development, many thought that it would be the way many consoles would go in the future but that just hasn’t seemed to be the case, Sony’s camera isn’t bundled with the console, Microsoft’s Kinect is used more for its voice functionality and the Wii U has ditched at least part of its motion controller past.

Ahh the Virtual Boy, the ghost of past failures.  Source: wikipedia

Ahh the Virtual Boy, the ghost of past failures. Source: wikipedia

It’s not just how we play that’s been adapted recently, the release of 3D televisions looked like the new way to see video games but again it has yet to catch fire with the wider public. The sets are still expensive but even so, very few developers are willing to add it in as they feel the market isn’t too bothered about having it as a feature. Nintendo tried to create a stir with it in the 3DS but it’s very hit-and-miss, especially with them having to bring out a 2DS and in my experience the preference to keep the 3D off and play it like a regular DS.

So this is where the worry starts to stem from, VR is something many youngsters have idolised and there has been positive impressions of the Oculus Rift’s hardware despite its recent acquisition by Facebook. Many want it to succeed but is there enough support from developers in the technology? Will enough regular gamers get on board to give the right sales figures for companies to stay on board? Will it be too gimmicky or get old too quickly?

The Oculus Rift got people excited again and still has great potential since it's purchase by Facebook.  Source: vg247.it

The Oculus Rift got people excited again and still has great potential since it’s purchase by Facebook. Source: vg247.it

The positives to take are that Facebook tend to leave properties they buy to do their own thing, so Oculus still has a positive gaming future but that’s obviously not a certainty. Hope also stems from the newly announced Project Morpheus, Sony’s attempt at VR before anyone else comes in with a viable commercial counterpart and it at least shows the company’s knowledge that people are excited by the idea.

That’s where the idea that this might be different really comes from, it’s something that people have really wanted for a while and if it delivers then it could be a huge hit. There’s still a lot of time before anything comes out in stores, but hopefully anyone coming out with VR headsets wait until it is ready because if they don’t, early disappointment tends to end in disaster.

 

The face of triple-A gaming is beginning to change

Soulban was the Lead Writer for Blood Dragon, therefore he is awesome.  Source: aenetwork.ie

Soulban was the Lead Writer for Blood Dragon, therefore he is awesome. Source: aenetwork.ie

This past week, the writer of Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon Lucien Soulban told Ubisoft’s Uniblog that it could be a while before we see a homosexual main protagonist in a triple-A title due to the fear that it would hurt sales.

It’s a pressing issue with many of the big sellers involving burly white male main characters and whilst games such as Mass Effect and Skyrim give you various options for gender and sexuality, there isn’t enough diversity in video games.

The positive to take from the last few years is that it looks like some video games have been willing to take the risk on something a little different. Two of the best games of the past year, Bioshock Infinite and The Last Of Us, both featured prominent female characters that were playable for a section of the game (that being the upcoming second piece of DLC in Infinite’s case).

Ellie was my favourite character of the past year, superbly written.  Source: imediamonkey.com

Ellie was my favourite character of the past year, superbly written. Source: imediamonkey.com

Both were excellent characters, not defined by being strong women like some creators feel you need but being strong, real characters that were believable as people. They weren’t just plot points and in many ways served as the central character in the narrative even though the player controlled the male lead. In the case of Ellie in The Last Of Us, she does have a moment in the Left Behind DLC that suggest that she is gay is another positive step, especially as it didn’t feel like it was shoe-horned in to tick some boxes.

There’s another to add to those two who is now the fully playable character of the franchise in Clementine and Telltale’s Walking Dead series. She was the emotional centre of the first season and seeing her develop into the character you play as in the second season has been a superb piece of storytelling on a growing young girl. It makes you feel how vulnerable she is but also how her relationship with Lee has made her stronger and helped her adapt to the dangerous world she lives in.

It’s not the first time that Telltale have gone against the grain, having chosen Lee as the main protagonist of the first season, an African American. Last year we also saw Franklin in GTA V, a series that isn’t too unfamiliar with going outside the norm with characters such as CJ and Huang Lee in previous iterations.

Lee was a well-written character no matter how you played him.  Source: gamerspective.net

Lee was a well-written character no matter how you played him. Source: gamerspective.net

Soulban did mention in his piece that it might take a “bait-and-switch” approach similar to the reveal of Samus as a woman at the end of Metroid or a left-field pitch from one of the more riskier developers like Rockstar, Valve, Telltale or Naughty Dog but it seems like the scene is throwing up new ideas.

Are we likely to get a homosexual central character in the near future? It’s unlikely but a strong team will fill that void at some point. And when they do, let’s hope they don’t make a Call of Duty “you can play as a woman online!” song and dance about it, either.

Telltale games, please don’t overkill the point-and-click adventure genre

Telltale deserved the GOTY in 2012, I just hope they don't go mad with power.  Source: northbaybusinessjournalist

Telltale deserved the GOTY in 2012, I just hope they don’t go mad with power. Source: northbaybusinessjournalist

The games industry is littered with moments where publishers saw something that people liked, jumped on the bandwagon and held on until people got fed up of the same dross. It happened with games trying to take World of Warcraft’s MMO crown, it happened with the endless Guitar Hero games and it’ll happen eventually to the yearly Call of Duty release.

The reason why I bring this is up is I’m a little worried that Telltale Games could be doing the same with their interactive storytelling games. As announced during the VGX awards, Telltale will be making Tales from Borderlands and Game of Thrones in the next year, on top of their other in progress franchises The Wolf Among Us and The Walking Dead.

Now don’t get me wrong, I love what they’ve done and The Walking Dead Season One was easily my game of 2012. But that’s where it all starts, much like Call of Duty 4 or Guitar Hero 2, one of the games is highly rated by critics, blows up with audiences and then companies see it as a banker.

This was crazy good, Season 2 and the rest of their new flock have a lot to live up to.  Source: dualshockers.com

This was crazy good, Season 2 and the rest of their new flock have a lot to live up to. Source: dualshockers.com

I’ve just played the opening episode to Season Two, it’s great, and I plan on sometime playing The Wolf Among Us but that’s where I fear things may start. We are bound to have the other two franchises at least start sometime in 2014, how long until their style and the storylines become a little tedious? How long until you’ve told enough from one franchise, will they give it up?

It’s unlikely, publishers know that they’ll take in money regardless of how much they change and that’s becoming an issue. We are seeing less genuine hits of inspiration and more copies of the same style as last year with updated walking cycles or destructible environments.

I hope I’m wrong, I hope they don’t go too crazy with the amount they are taking on and overload the market too early with the well-timed resurgence of the point-and-click adventure. But the warning signs are there but if the gaming world is to yet again ignore the past, it is doomed to repeat it’s mistakes.

Aren’t you sick of Xbox One vs PS4 arguments already?

Well, at least Major Nelson isn't as irritating...  Source: Xbox

Well, at least Major Nelson isn’t as irritating… Source: Xbox

This past two weeks have been full of reviews for both the PS4 and Xbox One that are about to hit shelves in the UK. With the PS4 already out in the US and the Xbox One out this Friday, the comment section of every site has already turned into a flame-war, even before both consoles are actually on sale.

I come from a relatively fair point of view having played both consoles pre-launch to say that, more than other generations; you are really splitting hairs between the two rival systems. Whilst the PS4 statistically is better, there isn’t a great degree in graphical difference between the two (I’ve played FIFA on both and it’s marginally better on the PS4, but only just) and the previous one-up for the Xbox of the better controller has been dulled by the much-improved design of the Dualshock 4 over its predecessor.

Other benefits have gone too, with PS4 making you pay for online now but adding party chat that was missing for the PS3. The free games is a little more balanced now, with the Xbox offering Games with Gold but we may not see it for either console until 2014, but this generation seems to be everyone doing the same things and you paying for which you prefer.

"It up-scales from 720p!" Source: Edge Media

“It up-scales from 720p!” Source: Edge Media

So then it comes down to a few categories, first would be the price point which would obviously go to the PS4 but that’s not a sticking point for everyone. The second, what is everyone else in your group of friends getting? This is probably the biggest pull, with people I know picking one simply on the basis that everyone else is. And that’s not a bad thing either, you’re likely to buy online for your new console so you wouldn’t want to be left alone.

The last reason to choose one over the other is exclusives, which is slowly thinning to the point where there isn’t too much difference. If you want an FPS, there’s Killzone on one and Halo on the other. Racing? Well there’s Forza on Xbox and Gran Turismo on PS4. You could argue that Xbox One has the better launch titles, which I also think it does, but PS4 has the better launch window games.

"Look at all the terrible Knack reviews!" Source: rudebagette.com

“Look at all the terrible Knack reviews!” Source: rudebagette.com

In the end, more than any other generation, you can’t really go wrong, which is why some fanboyisms are beginning to irk me. There just isn’t much difference anymore, the reviews for the games that are out won’t matter in three months when both will have great games and both will have poor games.

Personally, I’m going for the PS4 simply out of price. My friends are split between the two and luckily for me my brother is getting the Xbox One so the choice was almost made for me. I’m planning on getting both eventually, but the other thing is that the consoles aren’t anywhere near their peak yet. Within a few years, both will be a reasonable price with great games that really begin to push the consoles to a new standard of console gaming.