Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Top Five: Video Games of 2013

  • Ninety-nine percent of my gaming this year has taken place when I should been in bed. But that didn't stop me, even when it should have. These five games did the most to keep me from getting enough sleep this year. As always, this is a list of games were are important to me this year, not some kind of authoritative, objective list of the best games of the year.

  • Dark Souls - I've owned Dark Souls for close to two years now and I never beat it. The difference between this game and every other one in my collection is that I'm still trying to beat Dark Souls. I don't know that a game has ever gotten under skin the same way. No, I'm not playing it the "right way". I've read every wiki, forum, and guide I could find. I watched so many videos. But that doesn't mean anything when you have a controller in hand and have to execute everything you've learned. Dark Souls is an unforgiving teacher. And I love it dearly because of that.

  • Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan - When I played D&D, I was always the DM. I didn't mind. I liked getting friends together to play. But the part I didn't tell anyone about was that I really liked to make maps. EO4 is a gift to my map-marker heart. An old-school, Wizardry-style dungeon crawler, I haven't played a game like this since Might & Magic II and The Bard's Tale. Funny that a genre you might think long dead could be alive, well, and just as good as you remember from thirty years ago.

  • Gone Home - From the moment of heard about the Fullbright Company, I knew that I wanted to follow them. Gone Home was exactly what I hoped it would be. It seemed to be a direct response to everything I wanted out of Bioshock Infinite. I enjoyed wandering through the house, finding out what happened to my (Katie's) family over the last year, and hoping that I would find them okay. I can't wait to see what the team does in the future.

  • Saints Row IV - Considering how much I loved Saints Row The Third, there was no chance I would pass up SR4. Although in some ways it felt like an add-on to SR3, it ended up surpassing the older game in many ways. I would have trouble returning to Steelport without having access to superpowers any more. The game was pure joy from beginning to end.

  • World Of Warcraft (Private Server) - I make the distinction here because playing an MMO in a world with only one player is a very strange experience. The economy is non-functional and the several quests and characters are all kinds of buggy. But turning the nobs on the server to suit my needs, whether it is weakening elite mobs or turning up reputation gain (because screw reputation grinds), is really gratifying. No, it is not the same. But exploring an Azeroth that no longer exists (the server is set to patch 3.3.5a) is a different kind of treasure.

  • Honorabe mentions Super Hexagon and Bioshock Infinite came pretty close to making the list. It has been a very strange year for gaming, but I'm super happy to have such variety.

  • So, what were your favorite games this year?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Random Shots: The Year That Was 2013

  • If there is anything to take away from this year, it's that 2013 was complete and utter bullshit. I feel like I've gone twelve rounds with a heavyweight boxer and I'm ready for the punches to stop. That I'm still standing at the end of all this says something, if only that I survived.

  • Predictions
    • South Park: The Stick of Truth - "Prediction: I will forget to buy this until it's been out a week, but I'll finish it (because it's short) and like the story and humor quite a bit. Also, I'll play a female character just because I can. If I can."

      Hmm. So, same for 2014, I guess? After having watched actual footage of the game, I am anticipating it more.

    • Grand Theft Auto V - "Prediction: GTA V will be a week one purchase, though I'll look long and hard at the special edition before passing on it. I will play it a lot, but I fear I'll hang it up before finishing. Again."

      This one was pretty close. I actually picked GTA V up on day one. And although I stared longingly at the special edition, I was never in any jeopardy of buying it. Special editions are way outside of my price range now. And I did hang it up, though a lot earlier than I expected. Dark Souls drew all of my attention and didn't let go for weeks.

    • Tomb Raider - "Prediction: After reading reviews and hearing about it on the Bombcast, I won't even pick it up."

      This one is one hundred percent accurate. I even played my brother's copy for a couple hours and that wasn't enough to get me to buy it. Square announced a next-gen edition for PS4 that has me tempted, but don't hold me to anything.

    • BioShock Infinite - "Prediction: I won't pick up Infinite until there is a price drop. I'll play it for a little while before getting bored and moving on to the next shiny thing."

      Boy, I blew this prediction. Infinite ended up as a late minute preorder so that I could preload it through Steam. I played it all the way through to the end. And although I will loudly and profusely proclaim that I don't like shooters, I did enjoy it.

    • Gone Home - "Prediction: Will preorder and play for a few nights before beating it. Expect one blog post and a place in my Top Five this year."

      Gone Home ended up short enough to finish in one night, but everything else was right on. Top Five spoilers, I guess.

    • Next Xbox - Prediction: I'm currently planning to preorder and pick it up at launch. I'll probably only get a single game at first, but then own three or four by the end of the first month. My launch date predication: November 14, 2013!"

      Wow, did I really write that? I was off on the launch date by eight days, but I don't feel too bad about that. The funny thing is that, if you were to substitute "Next Xbox" with "PS4", this prediction would have been a lot more accurate. And there is no why that, twelve months ago, I would have seen myself buying a PlayStation at launch. What a difference a year makes!

  • The blog sure took a hit, especially since October. There was a lot of pain and a lot of loss this year. But there was also good times. Thank you all for being here for me, cheering me when I was down. I couldn't do it without you.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Random Shots: In Memoriam - 2013

  • Once again, it is time reflect on those we lost during 2013. And let us hope that 2014 is less ruthless.

    • Normand Corbeil, 56, composer for Quantic Dream, credits include Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls

    • Robin Sachs, 61, voice actor, credits include Mass Effect and Dragon Age

    • Kenji Eno, 42, game designer and musician, credits include D, Sega Rally 2, Newtonica, and Kimi to Boku to Rittai

    • Seung Hyun Park, 25, aka "Go)Space", professional Warcraft III player

    • Andrew Reisse, 33, co-founder of Oculus VR

    • Doug Engelbart, 88, inventor of the computer mouse, helped develop hypertext, computer networks, and graphical user interfaces

    • Hiro Isono, 68, artist and illustrator for Square, credits include Secret of Mana, Heroes of Mana, and Final Fantasy Adventure

    • Ryan Davis, 34, co-founder of Giant Bomb

    • Hiroshi Yamauchi, 85, president of Nintendo from 1949 until 2002, lead company in transition from a trading card company into a video game empire

    • Steve Morgenstern, journalist, founding editor of Atari Age

    • Mark Valentine, aka "h2orat", video artist for Cryptic Studios/Perfect World Entertainment, credits include Champions Online and Star Trek Online

    • Tom Clancy, 66, author of The Hunt For Red October and late Jack Ryan novels, co-founder of Red Storm Entertainment which produced the Rainbow Six series, lent his name to other Ubisoft series, such as Splinter Cell and Ghost Recon

    • Aaron Larry Hilden, 37, co-host of Drunken Gamers Radio podcast

    • Charles Bellfield, vice president of Sega of America, shepherded Dreamcast from launch and helped transition Sega to out of the hardware business
  • Be good to one another, because life is too short to spend it angry.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Random Shots: LotRO Finally Gets Around To Selling Levels

  • The big news of the day is that Turbine his finally caught up with the pack and will be selling levels in Lord of the Rings Online.

  • /yawn

  • Remember when we were all up in arms about horse armor? That only made tenth place in this list of the most egregious microtransaction items. And that was two years ago. It probably wouldn't make the top ten today.

  • The time has long passed when we should be surprised or shocked when a game company decides to pad its bottom line by flipping a few bits in a database. MMOs are broken and I don't blame developers for trying to fix them, even if they are charging for it.

  • If you are really curious, go read Syp's, Syncaine's, and TAGN's thoughts on the news. They are at least more interested in the topic.

  • /yawn Oh, sorry. I should really take a nap.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Turn To 100: The Goldilocks Dilemma

  • Has it really been over a month since I posted on this blog? My goodness. Let's fix that.

  • Although I submitted my entry for the 2013 Windhammer Prize, I still could not stop thinking about gamebooks. I am happy with this year's entry, The Independence Job. But I could not get out of my mind that maybe I could have done better. So I starting thinking about next year. This series will chronicle my development and writing of my next gamebook.

  • My first idea was a fantasy story about a woman who runs the family farm after her son goes off adventuring.

  • That lived in my head for about three weeks before I realized that I have no idea how to write that book. Initially, I wanted it to be a farm simulation crossed with an exchange of letters between the mother and son that shapes their development. I thought that I could make a fun little game that would influence the mother's options as she wrote to her son.

  • But the more I thought about it, I realized that the rule system did not support the theme I wanted to explore: the connection between a parent and a child. As a designer, I detest when the rules are at cross-purposes with the theme of the game. The Fortune mechanic in The Independence Job is all about pushing your luck and the consequences of failure (or failing to push at all). Farming might be fun, and it might provide interesting encounters for the game, but it has nothing to do with the main story line. In effect, it was an elaborate minigame that would dominate the entire book. It would have to come out, but that left me without a system to hang my narrative on. I like the idea too much to let it go, but I need to mull it over until I find a game and not just a story.

  • My second idea was to model an MMO in gamebook form, with zones and quests from level one to level fifty, dungeons and raids included.

  • This one stuck with me for a couple of weeks. I plotted out each zone, the quests, and calculated appropriate rewards. I like the idea of tracking separate gear and character levels, but I'm not sure how much that adds to the system. I'm sure it can be worked out in playtesting.

  • But as I mulled this new idea over, the results came in for the Windhammer Prize. My entry took a Commendation Award. I really liked my gamebook for what it did well (which some people really appreciated). But it ran afoul of one of the cardinal sin: lack of replayability. There are some curves in the road, but my entry was quite linear and I think it suffered in the voting for that. I was writing another book that, although it allows for open roaming, would also be quite linear. It is in service of the story and fits the theme, but I'm no longer sure it is right for the Windhammer judges. In a crisis of confidence, I abandoned this as well.

  • First, I had a story without a system. Second, I had a system, but I was no longer confident about the story. Neither idea was just right. So, I needed a third idea.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Played Lately: Dark Souls

  • I dedicate this post to the two brave souls who helps me defeat the Belfry Gargoyles for the very first time last night. You will never be forgotten, though I've already forgotten your Xbox user names.

  • Dark Souls has occupied an inordinate amount of my attention lately. It started last week when Vinny Caravella from Giant Bomb decided to stream his return to the game. (I would embed them, but the videos are subscriber only.) That got me looking for speed runs on YouTube. That video got me looking for Let's Play videos.
  • And that led to me playing Dark Souls Sunday night. I looked at my achievements. It has been nearly two years since I last played the game. Even after watching the videos, I couldn't remember how to control or play my character, so it was time to roll up someone new. Instead of playing it by ear, I followed the bog standard recommended build a rolled a pyromancer with the master key.

  • Wow, those Let's Play people make this game look easy. I played through the Undead Asylum pretty quickly since it is straightforward once you know the layout. Even with all of the video training, the Asylum Demon killed me on my first attempt. But, practice make perfect, right?

  • On my first character, those two years ago, I ended up spending a lot of time farming the Undead Burg for souls. This time, since I was more confident in what I was doing, I moved through the zone with greater speed. After clearing the zone to the best of my abilities, charged right in to take on the Taurus Demon.

  • And he killed me. Over and over again. I swear, they make it look so easy in the videos! But down he went down eventually. One of the things they don't tell you about Dark Souls is that death is actually liberating. Once you've been killed and you've lost your souls on hand (souls are currency and experience all rolled into one), you are free to just pile your enemies under your corpses until they no longer stand. As long as you can persevere, you can find a way to defeat your enemies.

  • I wasn't about to end there. In my prior attempt, I never got very far into the Undead Parish. But I was confident that I could do better. I continued on. Past the rats, past hollows of all sorts, past the fang boar. Finally, I ascended the church and, with the two other players I mentioned earlier, I defeated the Gargoyles. Ringing the first Bell of Awakening was a huge achievement for me, something that seemed like a distant goal when I first started playing.

  • When I turned off my Xbox for the night, I compared my save games. My new character was level 22 in under four hours. My old character was level 25 in over ten hours. I had accomplished more in one night than I ever did when I played back in 2011. No, I did not do it the right way. I watched all the videos and I followed the wikis. But I had fun doing it. Don't let the perceived difficulty dissuade you. If I can get this far in Dark Souls, I suspect anyone can.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

News Filter: Warhammer Online Has Its Reckoning

  • Mythic announced today that they will be shutting down Warhammer Online: Age Of Reckoning effective December 18, 2013. In three months time, one of the premier MMO punching bags will be consigned to that great server in the sky.

  • I was caught up in the madness of Warhammer blogging. I was already too established for that. But even my aloofness was not enough to keep me away from the maelstrom that was the game's launch. WAR was going to be all things to all people. It ended up being some things for some people, some times.

  • There are lessons to be had, of course. And I may even, take the time to write some down. But until then, we should say a fond farewell to a game that has given us very much, and everyone who worked so hard on it.

  • Hat tip to Syp for the news.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Played Lately: Pathfinder Adventure Card Game

  • I'm going to tell you a secret. If you want to sell me something, magically make it appear when I ask about it. I went to the local game store Friday just to see what was new. I didn't expect to actually buy anything, an issue of White Dwarf at most. But then I made an offhand comment that it looked like the Pathfinder game must be hard to keep on the shelf. She said that it was, but that she'd received another shipment today. She walked over to a cardboard box, cut it opened, and pulled the Pathfinder Adventure Card Game from the packing peanuts. Once I had it in my hands, it was very hard to say no. It was also hard to say no to the Character Add-On Deck, because dumber isn't much different from dumb, right?
  • Pathfinder Adventure Card Game is an RPG boiled down into card form. You, as the player, choose a character, build a starting card deck of weapons, armor, and the like (the types and amounts based on the character), and select a scenario to play. The base game allows one to four players, but you can go up to six with the add-on. Each scenario lists the villains and the locations for each quest, and each location lists the amount of each card type in its deck. On your turn, flip the top card of the blessing deck (which acts as a doomsday clock), decide whether to move your character to a new location, and then encounter the top card of the location deck. The goal of most of the scenarios is to corner the main villain by cutting off avenues of escape and defeating them.
  • One of the main reasons I bought PACG is that it was supposed to play well as a single player game. So after I cracked open the box, read the rules, and sorted the cards (which I actually did in that order), I started my first adventure. Then the next day I played my second. Then the next day I played the third. And now, like my favorite video games, I can't get it out of my head.
  • For such a stripped down system, I love how the card interactions evoke fantasy adventure so well. In the final basic scenario, Black Fang's Dungeon, the three locations are Shrine of Lamashtu, Temple, and Desecrated Vault. The order could have been chosen haphazardly, but I don't think so. In my mind, the Shrine, though some distance away, sits in opposition to the Temple. And through its dark magics, the denizens of the Shrine have desecrated the Vault under the shrine, causing all manor of evil to rise from its bowels.
  • And then there are the character powers. Without any amount of description, the basis of the powers is immediately evident. My rogue has two primary powers. First, the ability to evade any encounter is a perfect implementation of a rogue's stealth capability. Second, the ability to add an extra die to combat checks when your character is alone at a location is obviously a sneak attack. I'm all for better story telling in games, but sometimes mechanics tell the best stories on their own.
  • Because each character deck is really a resource management system, making decisions about how and when to use your cards is vital. That is why the one thing I really like is the various card use mechanics: Reveal, Recharge, Discard, Bury, and Banish. Reveal just means to show that the card is in your hand. Recharge means to play it face down under your draw pile, so that it may come up again. Discard means to place in the discard pile, though various cards (i.e. healing) allow you access to these. Bury means to discard under your character card, putting them out of play for the rest of the game. Banish means to discard to the box, leaving your deck permenantly. Such a wide range of options makes each card play a strategic choice.
  • Here is my rogue. She fought off the bandits, she saved the city from a mad alchemist, and she slew the dragon, Black Fang. And yet, the most difficult choice of the game to make: which skill do I chose for her new feat? It has been a couple days now and I still don't know!

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

News Filter: 2013 Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction

  • It's that time of year (again). Voting for the 2013 Windhammer Prize for Short Gamebook Fiction has started.

  • This year there are fourteen entries. One of them, The Independence Job, is mine. It's a pulp crime novel set in the 1950's and I'm very proud of it. (With a hearty thanks to Blue Kae for helping out.) Once again, I would love your vote, but so would the thirteen others. You have to vote for three entries this year, so mine and two others wouldn't be that bad, right?

  • Above all, I want to invite you to check out some great writing and play some fun gamebooks. They're all short, but you are likely to find one/a few/several that you will enjoy.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Played Lately: Gone Home

  • As an experiment in environmental storytelling, Gone Home is an unqualified success. As a game, depending on your definition, it may pale next to the first person shooters that spawned it. It's not a game that you are going to ever describe as "visceral." But if you ever wondered what it would be like to walk through Rapture or Columbia and take in the world and its stories, The Fullbright Company has served up a dream.

  • Gone Home is the story of Kaitlin Greenbrier, a twenty-one year old woman who arrives at her family's new home after a year abroad. But when she arrives, there is no one home. She must put the story together by exploring an unfamiliar house, seeking clues as to what happened to her parents and sister. But while Katie is the protagonist, her sister Sam is the real main character. Throughout the game, Sam narrates entries from her journal as you dig up clues. Although I was initially thrown by this parallel storytelling, I found that it really paid off in the end.
  • I like what playing the game says about Katie. She is very much a cypher, but your actions actually illuminate the character's personality. We find that Katie is not the type of woman who sits down in the living room, waiting for everyone to return. She is quick to poke around an unfamiliar environment, and even invade her family's privacy if it is necessary. But in some cases, Katie tells us directly when she is uncomfortable with items you discover. She is very curious, upending just about anything, searching every square inch to learn a truth. At one point, you find a find a note from your father dressing Sam down for leaving all of the lights on, "just like Katie." Sure enough, I rarely turned a light off once it was on.

  • Though the main plot line is quite in your face, with Sam reading her journal entries as you explore, there are some amazing little subplots and details that you can only piece together by paying close attention. I loved the strange fate of Captain Allegra's first mate (which I figured out before the big reveal). I really enjoyed watching their father's writing career make some interesting twists, though I did miss the large connection he had with the house.

  • I didn't cry at the ending. I mean, honestly, it's not like this is a Pixar film. But I was very nervous as I made my way to the finale. I had been so drawn into the story that I actually feared what I would find at the end. Not that I'm going to spoil it for you, other than to say that everything in the game comes together by the end. If you can afford to do so (or have access to a friend's copy), you should take the two hours it takes to play through the game. I put that video up there, but don't watch it. Experience the story, one of the best stories in gaming, for yourself.

  • That said, I completely understand why you might be put off by a twenty dollar price tag for what is a two to three hour game. Jayedub and I had a short conversation on twitter the other day about judging games based on their cost. (He tackles some more issues surrounding the game on his blog.) As a work of art and entertainment, criticism of video games should be about their qualities as games. Gone Home is not a lesser game because of its price. But it is valid to make the purchasing decision based on your tolerance for prices. And I understand why that is a concern here. But if you can afford to do so, I think it is well worth the price.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Top Five: Best Things About Ultima Forever

  • Ultima name used for an actual game - I mean, at least they didn't turn it into a crappy online service like they did with the Origin name.

  • Runs better on the iPhone than on the iPad - That has got to be some kind of achievement, right?

  • You don't have to pay for it before finding out how bad it is - Try before you buy hundreds and hundreds of keys!

  • Um, this is a lot harder than I thought - There has to be more. I assume so.

  • Yeah.... - Maybe not.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Random Shots: Misguided

  • One of the things I miss about MMO blogging are the debates that would rage through the community. Debates like that don't come along very often anymore. So when I discover that someone is wrong on the Internet, I must avail myself of every opportunity to pounce on the gormless perpetrator and rip him or her to shreds.

  • At the beginning of the month, Polygon posted an opinion piece by L. Rhodes about the eventual end of World of Warcraft. The author compares this to the decentralized worlds of Animal Crossing: New Leaf. In Animal Crossing, multiplayer games are peer-to-peer affairs, which allows players to connect with other players to explore their towns. The author argues that by taking a centralized server out of the equation, Animal Crossing is much less likely to suffer a world failure than World of Warcraft.

  • Of course what this does not take into account, something that the author even acknowledges in the article, is that these games have so little in common as to make the comparison silly. Animal Crossing has more in common with something like Diablo III, which could actually benefit by enabling peer-to-peer networking. The loss of online worlds is a serious matter and should be discussed, but I don't see how comparing massively multiplayer games to fundamentally single player games serves any purpose.

  • All of this discussion could be for naught anyway. Although his list may not be exhaustive, Syp keeps an excellent list of MMO launches and collapses. Although he lists ninety-eight launches on his timeline, only twenty-seven games have closed. Even more interestingly, only twenty games have transformed to free-to-play or relaunched. That leaves fifty-one games that are, presumably, humming along just fine. Maybe our online worlds are not in as much jeopardy as we might be lead to believe.

  • If there is one valid takeaway from this article, it's that our online worlds survive only at the pleasure of their owners. Only when these worlds are placed in the hands of the players do they have the chance to live on. And who knows, maybe there is a future for Azeroth yet.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Played Lately: World Of Warcraft

  • I've been tinkering with my personal World of Warcraft server again lately. My stated goal when I setup the server was to tune it to provide a single player experience clear through, including instances and raids. I've certainly messed around with various systems to see how well they are implemented, but I haven't tested my modifications in a dungeon. So Sunday night, I decided to do something stupid: I streamed myself playing on my personal private server, making my first foray into the Deadmines.
  • The first thing I realized upon entering the Deadmines is that it is full of Defias Miners who are non-elite. That would be no problem with a five player group. But gangs of non-elite really hurt solos. So even though I had turned down the elites, it was these miners that gave me the most trouble.

  • I'm not all that great of a player, so I actually ended up making several corpse runs (which you will have to sit through if you watch all the way through these videos). Sloppy play got me killed time and again. Although it was not a huge challenge, I still had to work to complete the instance.
  • But even though everything was a little bit off, I actually had a great time. It was so much fun, in fact, that after I shut down the stream, I went and ran the Stormwind Stockade as well. Which means I stayed up way too late on a work night. I have no regrets, though. I haven't enjoyed WoW like this for some time.

  • For the curious, elite mobs are turned to 35% health and damage, which I suspect that is a little too low. I might bump things up to 40% and try again.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Top Five: Personal Reactions To EverQuest Next

  • It was less than a week ago that I was talking about how excited I was (or not) for the upcoming reveal of EverQuest Next. And, amazingly, SOE delivered on the announcement thrills. So here are the top five things that interested me about EQNext.

  • Character Models - I give most MMOs a lot of leeway when it comes to their character models. As long as they aren't hideously ugly, I'm happy to play just about anything. (I even like the LOTRO models, believe it or not.) The models in EQNext are very attractive. Something about the human models reminds me of Bioshock Infinite. I'd much rather they go in this highly stylized direction that try for a realistic style and fail (see: EQ2).

  • Multiclassing? - So, SOE decided that they needed to one-up Rift and Guild Wars 2. I know that I'm weird when I say that I like a strong class identity when playing an RPG. And the last thing we want is a world populated by tank-mages.

  • Heroic Movement - I know it's silly to put much stock in something this simple, but I like what it represents. MMOs have tried to make combat more action oriented. By they haven't yet made traversal as fun as an Assassin's Creed or Prince Of Persia. I'm not saying that EQNext aspires to such heights, but at least it's aspiring to something.

  • Storybricks, er, Emergent AI - Flashback to 1997. Richard Garriott discusses the ecosystem of Ultima Online and how it reacts to player action. Some months later, the system if ripped out of the game because it can't stand up to hundreds of murderers depopulating the world. Now in 2013, SOE makes similar grandiose statements. I understand why the designers want it to work so badly. It could be amazingly cool if it works. But they had better prepare to rain down Armageddon on their servers. Otherwise the players will push them into a constant win state with no way for the enemy to fight back effectively.

  • Voxels! - As soon as I saw this, I thought of the Procedural Worlds blog. It turns out that was for good reason. Adding genuine construction and destruction to the world might be the most interesting part of the announcement.

  • And since EQNext is the most interesting thing to happen to MMOs in over a year, opinions are already thick in the air. No matter what comes of that game, it's not to have something to talk about.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Random Shots: Hope Spring Eternal

  • Wilhelm Arcturus, the eponymous Noob of Gaming, Ancient division, just reminded me that all is not lost in the MMO gaming scene. SOE Live is rushing upon us and with it, a first real look at Everquest Next.

  • Unlike Wilhelm, I don't have a lot of hope, dreams, fears, or anxieties about EQNext. Possibly because I have given absolutely zero consideration to the game. And since there is no news, speculation about it is the very definition of meaningless.

  • Nonetheless, I can't help but get excited that something new is about to appear. My black heart wants to tell me it will suck. But I'll still be watching along with everyone else to see what's next.

  • I almost capitalized "next in that last sentence. I'm trembling to think I wandered so near the precipice.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Random Shots: The Winter Of Our Blogging Lives

  • There is a meme traveling through what is left of the MMO blogging community lamenting the death of blogging. I first picked up on it from Brian Green. But various responses have appeared from Wilhelm Arcturus, Ravious, and the inimitable Syncaine. Even Tobold took a break from this anti-5th edition crusade to weigh in.

  • It is hard to deny that the MMO blogging community is not as vibrant as it once was. Syncaine pegs its apex at the launch of Warhammer Online, the game that is emblematic of everything that is wrong with post-World of Warcraft MMORPGs. Since then, even with efforts to draft new bloggers into the fight, fewer and fewer are taking up arms to debate the merits and failing of these games. Even the most prolific bloggers are standing down from the barricades.

  • The conversation that used to occur in the blogging community seems to have shifted to other platforms like Twitter, Google Plus, and even Facebook. Not that there is much to talk about. Each new MMO since WoW has been increasingly tepid. Looking at Hunter's blogroll shows that half of the Guild Wars 2 blogs have stopped updating or disappeared entirely and it's been out for under a year. Only EVE Online has anything that looks like a community. That it continues to thrive around that game should be no surprise anyone.

  • Back in the day, back when I first discovered blogging, it was not about conversations and reasoned arguments. It was about the rant. Writers like the legendary Lum The Mad challenged game design as it was in its infancy and helped shape it. But then, the games became tamer. There was nothing to rant about, so we discussed best practices and MMO theory. It was a bit of an echo chamber, but it was a lot of fun. We played together, looked forward to the next big thing, and rushed to be first in the queue when the servers opened.

  • But then the innovation stopped. Companies spending millions of dollars and years of development time started playing it safe. The occasional issue came up now and again, but the future of the MMO and, thus, the blogging community was sealed. You just have to look at the shambling husks of WoW-Killers to see that things have gone terribly wrong. There is nothing to discuss if no one is willing to innovate anymore.

  • It is not the community that failed; it's the games that failed us.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Random Shots: Witnessing How The Sausage Is Made

  • The last 48 hours have left my head spinning with regard to the Double Fine Adventure. With the release of Episode Ten of the documentary came the news that Broken Age would be split into two halves so that they can leverage sales to finish the game. As you might expect, things have been a little strange.

  • It's hard to go anywhere in the gaming sections of the internet with finding strong opinions about the change. On one hand, there is still incredible trust that Tim Schafer can bring home an amazing game. On the other, people are going ballistic that costs have spiralled out of control on what was originally a small project.
  • I must admit that am a little concerned that Double Fine is burning the candle at both ends to get Broken Age made. They have poured Brütal Legend and Humble Bundle revenues into the game. And now they propose selling the first half of the game to finance the second half. I wonder, once all if said and done, if there will be anyone left to buy the game once it is officially released.

  • But of course there will be. Some people won't buy an incomplete game. Some people haven't even heard of it. Some people will wait for the eventual Steam sale. At least, that is what Double Fine is banking on.

  • I have to give credit to Tim Schafer for not compromising on his vision. Were it not for the documentary, we would not even know about the development turmoils they have faced. It is good to see how the sausage is made. I have learned a lot about the process. And a lot more about the business side of development. I glad we have this opportunity, even if we are powerless to affect the outcome.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Admin: Post Seven Hundred

  • Seven hundred posts. I'm not sure how I feel about this milestone. Since my writing time has decreased, I thought it would take forever to get here. Then with the recent rush of posts, I find myself here unexpectedly.

  • Post 600 was back on May 30, 2012, more than a year ago. That's the longest hundred posts I've written since the first hundred. Unfortunately, I can't foresee things picking up during the next hundred. Maybe my daughter will give me a little more free time to write.


  • I looked over the last hundred posts and saw a couple of trends. The feminism tag suddenly popped up about a year ago. Those are a bunch of posts I really wish I didn't have to write. But I will continue to do so until we don't have to put that crap anymore. There was a stack of Guild Wars 2 posts. That lasted about two weeks before I got bored. Oh well. Finally, outside of GW2, there has barely been any mention of MMOs on the blog. I may have to turn in my MMO Blogger card.

  • One big change has been that I've started cross-posting to my Tumblr and Giant Bomb blogs. It's not much, but at least there are more people reading my silly little words.

  • Although there was a flurry of posts during E3, I have to put on the brakes for a couple of weeks. That's not a bad thing, though. I am going on vacation for a week, which will slow things down. As well, I am writing my next gamebook for the 2013 Windhammer Prize. I'm hoping to get it done sometime soon so that it can be playtested. (Hey, Blue Kae! Hey, Yeebo!) If you want to read the book ahead of time and help me make it better, let me know in the comments.

  • Thank you to everyone for reading. It continues to be a lot of fun.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Random Shots: Why I Bought A PlayStation 4

  • Yesterday was a crazy day. The announcement that Microsoft has capitulated on their DRM plans made next generation a two console race again. So when I got home from work last night, I went to my computer, gathered up all of my gift cards, and put down my preorder.
  • For the PlayStation 4.
  • This is an unusual situation for me. I've never been a Sony fanboy. I've never bought a PlayStation as a primary console. Late in their generations, I did get used PS1 and PS2's to play a few console exclusives (DQ7 and Fear Effect stand out). But even in the face of the PS2's overwhelming popularity, I was a Dreamcast/Xbox guy. No more.
  • I'm going with the Playstation 4 for a couple of reasons. I like that Sony is courting indie developers. I loved XBLA this generation. If everyone is switching to the new platform, I want to go with them. I can't just let Transistor come out and not get to play. And the price is just better. I don't want a Kinect. I don't want Microsoft's fancy TV watching options. I want a game machine. And it sounds like that's what Sony is delivering. That's it. The decision was that close for me.
  • There has to be competition in the market. Each time Sony or Microsoft became the clear winner, they became arrogant and their product went to hell. I'm jumping ship now because Sony is the underdog this time, and I'm excited about how hungry they are to take on their opponent's Goliath.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

News Filter: Microsoft Strips DRM and Always Online Requirements from Xbox One

  • In what would be a stunning reversal, it seems that WhatHiFi and Giant Bomb are reporting that Microsoft will remove the always online requirement for their upcoming Xbox One console, as well as DRM restrictions on their disk-based games.

  • If this is true, the war for the next generation just heated up again. Microsoft has built up so much bad press over the last week that they need something this dramatic to get back in the fight.

  • And now, as I type, word comes down from Microsoft.
  • Last week at E3, the excitement, creativity and future of our industry was on display for a global audience.

    For us, the future comes in the form of Xbox One, a system designed to be the best place to play games this year and for many years to come. As is our heritage with Xbox, we designed a system that could take full advantage of advances in technology in order to deliver a breakthrough in game play and entertainment. We imagined a new set of benefits such as easier roaming, family sharing, and new ways to try and buy games. We believe in the benefits of a connected, digital future.

    Since unveiling our plans for Xbox One, my team and I have heard directly from many of you, read your comments and listened to your feedback. I would like to take the opportunity today to thank you for your assistance in helping us to reshape the future of Xbox One.

    You told us how much you loved the flexibility you have today with games delivered on disc. The ability to lend, share, and resell these games at your discretion is of incredible importance to you. Also important to you is the freedom to play offline, for any length of time, anywhere in the world.

    So, today I am announcing the following changes to Xbox One and how you can play, share, lend, and resell your games exactly as you do today on Xbox 360. Here is what that means:

    An internet connection will not be required to play offline Xbox One games – After a one-time system set-up with a new Xbox One, you can play any disc based game without ever connecting online again. There is no 24 hour connection requirement and you can take your Xbox One anywhere you want and play your games, just like on Xbox 360.

    Trade-in, lend, resell, gift, and rent disc based games just like you do today – There will be no limitations to using and sharing games, it will work just as it does today on Xbox 360.

    In addition to buying a disc from a retailer, you can also download games from Xbox Live on day of release. If you choose to download your games, you will be able to play them offline just like you do today. Xbox One games will be playable on any Xbox One console — there will be no regional restrictions.

    These changes will impact some of the scenarios we previously announced for Xbox One. The sharing of games will work as it does today, you will simply share the disc. Downloaded titles cannot be shared or resold. Also, similar to today, playing disc based games will require that the disc be in the tray.

    We appreciate your passion, support and willingness to challenge the assumptions of digital licensing and connectivity. While we believe that the majority of people will play games online and access the cloud for both games and entertainment, we will give consumers the choice of both physical and digital content. We have listened and we have heard loud and clear from your feedback that you want the best of both worlds.

    Thank you again for your candid feedback. Our team remains committed to listening, taking feedback and delivering a great product for you later this year.

  • This is probably not enough to change my decision to buy a PS4, but it's no longer so cut and dried.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Top Five: Nintendo 2013 E3 Announcements

  • Nintendo decided to go their own way this year. Rather than subject themselves to the circus that is the E3 press conference, they've released a new Nintendo Direct video. But that's not going to stop us from rating their announcements.

  • The Legend Of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds - Not even a part of the show, but worthy of mention anyway. How can you not love a classic Zelda game? Oh, and I already own a 3DS? Sounds good to me!

  • Bayonetta 2 - It's old news, but you have to give Nintendo credit for getting behind Bayonetta. I only played the first game a little bit, but it has a style you just don't normally get on their platforms.

  • Super Mario 3D World - I'm stretching at this point, but a new 3D Mario game is a good thing, right? And playable Princess Peach? Anyone with me?

  • Xenoblade Chronicles sequel - Oh, here's a good one. If Santa were to gift me a WiiU, this is exacly the kind of game I would seek out.

  • Um.... Etrian Odyssey: Millennium Girl? - Again, not part of Nintendo Direct, but still good news. I'm really enjoying Etrian Odyssey IV, but I need to buckle down if I'm going to finish before this comes out.

  • I'm giving Nintendo four points for their announcements. That looks like more than Microsoft's three, but it really breaks down to two for the Wii U and two for the 3DS. I'm glad Nintendo is getting some third party support, but their systems still look anemic.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Top Five: PS4 2013 E3 Announcements

  • I'm running late because of Giant Bomb's equipment theft, but here are the five announcements that caught my attention at Sony's press conference Monday.

  • The Order: 1886 - It isn't much, but the trailer caught my attention. I hope there is more to see on the show floor.

  • The Dark Sorcerer - I've never played a Quantic Dream game, but I do know they make some pretty cool tech demos. I know this will come to nothing, and David Cage will poop out some overwrought story next time. But from time to time we can enjoy something strange like this.

  • Transistor and the Indie Community - If you asked me when I knew I would be buying a PS4, it would be when Greg Kasavin walked on stage and announced that Transistor would lead on Sony's console. Seeing the other indie games announced just cemented my resolve. Even if Sony had gone in lock step with Microsoft's high price and draconian limitations, this was enough to win me over. Thankfully, mercifully, there was more.

  • Own Your Own Games - Having Jack Tretton take such deliberate shots at Microsoft was a thing to behold. He took their platform apart point by point. When it was done, there was no doubt the PS4 was the Gamer's console. I was skeptical, but I have been won over.

  • $400! - Then to cap it all off, the price. Four hundred dollars is still a lot of money, but it's just expensive. Not the Xbox One's crazy expensive. When I heard this, I turned to my wife and said, "I guess we're getting a PlayStation 4."

  • There is no other way to say it: Sony has won this console generation before it even started. I have to give them five points for their audacity. We will see how Nintendo stacks up next. What do you think? Have you made up your mind about next gen consoles?

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Top Five: The Best of the Rest 2013 E3 Press Conferences

  • Just because you don't have a console to sell doesn't mean that you can't have a press conference. Here are the top five moments from the rest of the pack.

  • Battlefield 4's 64 Player On-Stage Demo - I don't care how staged that was, I am one hundred percent behind that massive kind of spectacle. Whether or not the game is worth it, I have no idea.

  • Peter Moore Calls Out Kotaku - Just hilarious.

  • Watch_Dogs - It wasn't even a big focus of the press conference, and it's still the most exciting thing that Ubisoft showed. It's so good that I let them have their underscore. And it's now an unusually timely game as well. This is probably the AAA game I'm looking forward to most this generation.

  • Mirror's Edge - Never played the first game. I guess was scared off because of all of the flak it took. But just look at that trailer! I'd like to see what a new iteration plays like.

  • Finally, a release date for The Stick Of Truth - Holiday 2013. My wish list is getting longer.

  • Evidently, I'm a jaded old man now that I'm forty. Maybe Sony will be a little more interesting? Maybe a surprise on the show floor? I'm keeping my fingers crossed.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Top Five: Xbox 2013 E3 Announcements

  • The press conference is over, and it turns out that Microsoft wasn't lying about the number of games they would show. Here are the top five announcements that caught my attention.

  • World Of Tanks - I'm sure WoT is a fine game. I haven't played it before, but I see the appeal. What catches my attention is what this reveals means for free-to-play on the console. It sounds like Microsoft really is getting behind that pay model and Wargaming is the right company to lead the charge.

  • Project Spark - Out of every game announced, this one is the most intriguing. Not that I expect them to actually deliver. I mean, it has "Project" in the title, so there is no way this thing is ready to go. But I do love big pie-in-the-sky announcements like this. And if they do deliver? Oh man, it could be sweet. The fact that it's also coming to PC means that it's not an XB1 seller, though.

  • Twitch Integration - We've been expecting this, but it's good to hear that Microsoft made it official. Console streaming is the next big frontier. I'm excited to try it no matter which system ends up in my living room.

  • Below - Oh hell yeah. The one gamey game that caught my attention through the whole thing. Can't wait to see what the Capy team has up its collective sleeve.

  • The Price - Five hundred effing dollars. I've been saving up money for half a year so that I wouldn't have to go to my wife, hat in hand, and beg her for permission to buy a console. All because I knew the price was going to be crazy and I was right. If Sony beats this price at all, I might buy my first Sony console at launch.

  • All in all, I give Microsoft three points for their press conference. Let's see how Sony stacks up. So, what did you think? What has you excited or skeptical?

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

News Filter: For 4 June 2013

  • Sometimes there is just too much news to talk about. Sometimes I don't have a full blog post worth of thoughts about the news. Today is one of those days. So here are the most interesting news items I've read today.

  • Zynga reportedly closes Draw Something developer OMGPOP - I didn't catch this when the big layoffs hit yesterday. They actually closed OMGPOP? I really don't want to gloat because a lot (a lot!!!) of people lost their jobs. But there is an astounding about of schadenfreude to be had.

  • Wargaming axes pay-to-win model in favor of free-to-win - This may be the coolest story of the day. It sounds like Wargaming is finally coming to the same conclusion that we bloggers arrived at months (years?) ago: pay-to-win is a poisonous funding model.

  • Double Fine's Massive Chalice hits Kickstarter target - I haven't back Massive Chalice yet, but it's only a matter of time. Brad Muir is such a character that letting him develop a game (a tactical turn-based strategy game at that!) out in the open sounds like a great time. Based on my experience with the Double Fine Adventure and Amnesia Fortnight, watching their development will be well worth the price of admission.

  • Harmonix makes players musical magicians in Fantasia: Music Evolved - I don't own a Kinect. I'm not sure I'm ever going to buy a Kinect. But if I do, it will be because of developers like Harmonix. I can see how some might be cynical about the trailer, but I'm looking forward to E3

  • Lots of news today. What has you excited?

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Played Lately: Dota 2

  • Honestly, I'm surprised that I held out this long. Between Giant Bomb and Idle Thumbs, I've been bombarded with Dota 2 almost constantly. I thought watching Brad Shoemaker's Daily Dota would be enough. Then, the Thumbs crew launched a new Dota Today podcast. It was too much. I had finally gone over the edge.

  • Last night, I tweeted this:
  • To be honest, this isn't the first time I tried Dota 2. Back during the test, I downloaded the client, loaded up a bot match (to be fair to any other players), played for five minutes, turned it off, and clicked "Delete Local Content." Honestly, my Steam account said that I had five minutes played when I reinstalled it last night. I had been so used to League of Legends and so in the dark about Dota that I just bounced off of it.

  • So with a little more knowledge this time, I tried again. I played another bot match set on Easy because I didn't want to weigh down anyone else. I played as Lina, having seen Brad play her. I knew enough from the streams to pick a build and buy my starter items. I went to the top lane to try and support my bot buddy. Then I died several times before the bots finally carried us to victory. I got in a few kills and explored the map a bit, but I've got a long way to go. Here are a few questions that I have about the game:
    • How do I deny? I tried various button combinations, but I counted attack my own creeps to save my life.

    • Why the hell are there recipes? Really, from a design standpoint, what purpose do they serve?

    • I really need to figure out how to use the stash and courier. Any advice?

    • If I'm going to rebind the item hotkeys, where is the suggested place to move them?

    • Any other advice for a newbie?
  • I know that I'm going to try again. I enjoyed LoL for a time, and I'm enjoying myself in Dota. I just hope that I don't descend into the madness into which so many others have fallen. Wish me luck.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Random Shots: Closer To The Stars

  • Late last week, word finally came down that continued development of Guild Wars has ceased. It is transitioning to a self-sufficient model. From here on out, the game world will be static. No human hand will touch the code unless something blows up.

  • I haven't played Guild Wars in some time. Probably since my last Farewell To Ascalon post, a series that was meant to encourage me to return to the game. Still....
  • I played the heck out of that game. I fell in love with the art. That first profession image of the mesmer holding her mask. If I could play that game, then I would finally join the online world. Guild Wars was the first game to show me the promise of MMOs, even if it was only partially related. I played that first campaign, Prophecies as it would eventually be named, over and over again. I soloed Thunderhead Keep. I fought in the Tomb of the Primeval Kings, both in PVP and PVE. I farmed for greens in Sorrow's Furnace. I infused dozens of sets of gear. And I Ascended, and Ascended, and Ascended.
  • I was there for the expansion campaigns, Factions and Nightfall. I even took time off work to explore these new worlds. I never meshed with any of the new professions, but you know that I tried them all.
  • But then it was all over for me. The magic had gone. Sure, I came back for Eye of the North, but it was just a formality. I had moved on.
  • Guild Wars isn't going anywhere. ArenaNet isn't shutting it down, though many other companies (NCSoft!) very well would. Instead, it has achieved a strange form of perfection. It has become closer to the stars.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

News Filter: A New Challenger Approaches - Xbox One

  • The live stream is over and now we know that the next Xbox, originally codenamed Durango, is now the Xbox One. And it sounds pretty much like what we expected. Within reason.

  • System specs look similar to the PlayStation 4. There was a lot of talk about services, again like the PlayStation 4. Though Microsoft has a very different focus. There were a few games, err, pre-rendered cutscenes, like the PlayStation 4. No mention of streaming, though.

  • I thought that after getting the specs on the two machines, I would be able to make up my mind as to which I would buy. Instead I'm as confused as ever. Looking at the two consoles side-by-side, it feels Sony made a console for me and Microsoft made one for my wife and daughter. Considering the fact that they use our 360 more than I do currently, I suspect the Xbox One will be the logical choice for the family. But the community capabilities (if they really exist) seem really interesting to me as a gamer.

  • Now we wait for E3, for any indication as to which console will be the one.

  • Damn, that turn of phrase is over now.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Played Lately: Borderlands 2

  • I hope those of you who are long time readers got the impression that I really like Borderlands. I mean, I did buy it for both for the PC and the Xbox 360. I even gave it a spot in my Top Five Video Games list for 2010. So when Gearbox announced that there would be a sequel, I was primed to play the new game. At least, I thought that I was.

  • I suppose there was no way for it to live up to the hype. Nonetheless, I find myself disappointed that Borderlands 2 doesn't have the same pull for me that the original did. The shooting feels familiar, the quests are just the same (though they do feel really spread out), the vehicles are just as fun. I'm not sure I understand why I like the first game so much more than the second.

  • Okay, there is one way that Borderlands is undeniably better than its sequel: Lilith's hearty laughter when she kills enemies or blows their heads off. It was infectiously joyous.

  • But then, even though I'm not enjoying myself, I keep coming back to the game. Not because I have a hankering to hunt skags. It's the keys. Golden Keys. It's like I can't get enough of them. If I don't redeem the codes, they can go away and I'm out a key. Or several keys. I can't just ignore them. So from time to time, I start the game, enter a few codes. And while I'm there, I might as well knock out a quest or two. That's how they get you! That's why they keep giving out keys!

  • So I'm still playing Borderlands 2. At least, whenever I have to redeem some keys.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Played Lately: Tomb Raider (2013)

  • Okay, I actually played this nearly two months ago, so "Lately" is not the right word. Just bear with me, please, because this is still important.

  • When our family came to the town to celebrate my daughter's second birthday, my brother brought along a copy of the latest Tomb Raider game. The two of us tend to stay up late and catch up on gaming since we rarely see one another. So we decided to pop in the disc and see how far I could get before I passed out.
  • As would be expected, Tomb Raider looks amazing. The environments are detailed and beautiful. Climbing around, leaping and grabbing, and shooting dudes is all satisfying visually. And, of course, Lara herself looks great. The well-documented makeover really brings her to life in a way that has been lacking in prior games. (My proclivity is to mention that her breasts are much less pneumatic, but this recent article by Jenn Frank has me second guessing whether I should care so much.)

  • The gameplay is surprisingly similar to the earlier games, though I'm not sure why I assumed otherwise. There is all of the exploration, puzzle solving, and combat that you would expect. You can tell the Crystal Dynamics has been at this a while as it is quite polished. They've just updated everything to match modern sensibilities. I had quite a lot of fun for those first several hours. Some of it was nostalgia, but it would not have worked if it wasn't a really good game. Except for one thing.

  • I do not, and I never will, understand why this game needs Quick Time Events. It really doesn't, but they can't help but put in several "Press X to not die" sections. It is so boring. And I am so very bad at them. It's just one button, but it invariably takes me three tries to get them right. And god help me if they string multiple prompts together because I have to learn each in triplicate. So in one case, I say Lara die several times because I can't react to the prompts. I have to memorize them. Slowly. It throws the pace of the game completely off and kills whatever tension they were hoping to build. I'd rather just watch a movie than be forced to endure so many pointless failures before I can get on with the game.

  • This is the reason I've been holding onto this post, even though the actual play took place in early March. This faux gameplay is a travesty. It's a design tool that needs to be put back in the drawer and locked up. I will probably play Tomb Raider again because there is so much that I do like. But it's sad that this one part can spoil so much of it.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

News Filter: Grand Theft Auto V Third Trailer

  • Honestly, as long as Rockstar wants to keep making these trailers, I'll keep posting then. Damn, I'm looking forward to this game.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Random Shots: The Forever Endgame

  • Note: I was writing this post about how MMOs shutting down would be some terrible thing, but I can't bring myself to finish it. Not on this day of all days. It seems so inconsequential. Hug the ones you love.

  • Tina Amini from Kotaku wrote last Tuesday about one of the most harrowing experiences you can have as a gamer. She lost her Mass Effect 3 save game to a glitch. Okay, that's hyperbolic, but I understand why she would give up on a game after losing fifteen hours of progress.

  • I haven't faced losing a save game since the battery went dead in my copy of Baseball Stars for the NES. Even then, it wasn't that big of a blow. I was never very good at the games, so I just moved on. I'm not that attached to my save games because, once the game is over, the story stays with me. Like Tina, Commander Shepard is special to me. But even then, I probably won't be visiting her again. Her story came to an end.

  • MMOs are different, though. There is not just one story that I experience. Each of these games is an entire world that my avatars live in. And I assume that they go on living there even when I'm not logged in. Or at least, that the world goes on.

  • Losing an MMO character is something entirely different.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Random Shots: Always Online, If You Bother To Buy One

  • If you have been anywhere near the internet last week, there was no way for you to miss this Twitter exchange about the potential that the next Xbox console will require and always on internet connection:
  • There has since been an explanation, an apology, and the privacy block, but the flames have already been fanned. Since the PS4 announcement, we have been met by a cold wall of silence from Microsoft. Everyone knows, or thinks they know, certain things about the next Xbox, but the silence continues.

  • Always on is going to be a dealbreaker for some people. Even though some people have the privilege of one hundred percent internet uptime, that is not the experience for everyone. I live in a decent sized Southern California city, and even I have experienced serious internet problems from time to time. When that happens, I would like to be able to count on my console still behaving.

  • That is where Microsoft's silence has been a problem. Maybe it's not true at all. Maybe it is true, but there are contingencies that would allow offline play. Maybe it is true and we just have to deal with it. But until we know, it is natural to fear the worst.

  • I've been saving money for the eventual new console release. I'm sure there is some nostalgia about console generations past, but I'm really looking forward to playing game on new hardware. Up until this year, I would have bet money that I would be first in line for a new Xbox. But with everything we have heard from Sony and what we haven't heard from Microsoft, it is no longer a sure thing. Always online won't be a dealbreaker for me, but it will absolutely fall heavily in the con list when I weigh my choices.

  • There is still time, of course. Any console release is still more than half a year away and that is forever in consumer electronics. But Microsoft had better get its act together because my purchase is looking more and more like a foregone conclusion to me.

  • Coda: I can't help but think this tweet sums things up perfectly.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Played Lately: Bioshock Infinite

  • I'm going to lead this post with a word of warning: don't try to play Bioshock Infinite while you're running a 101 degree fever. It is a very unpleasant experience.

  • I did not intend to buy Bioshock Infinite. I never intend to, but things happen. Things like great reviews. Things like getting caught up in the excitement. That's how I found myself preordering exactly one hour before it was scheduled to unlock on Steam.

  • The first moments are dark and mysterious, a perfect setup for the inevitable journey to Columbia. Infinite's city in the sky is a sight to behold when you first walk through its sunlit streets. The turn of the century architecture, music, and costuming made me feel like I had been taken to some early 20th century concept of utopia. There seems to be something to find in every corner, whether that's a new sight or conversation or some little collectibles.

  • Probably the best part of the game is Booker's interactions with Elizabeth. She comes across at first as a naive, sheltered young woman. But over the course of the game, she learns about the world outside of her cage very fast. Her attitude shifts as she learns more about Booker, herself, and the world she has grown up in. Those shifts are very effective at changing the tone of the story. Her voice actress, Courtnee Draper, brings such life to the character along with the animation and art.

  • But then there is the part where this is all a game. There are long corridors to travel down. Sometimes you can turn back. Sometimes you can look in side pockets. You need to if you want to find all of the trashcan and desks full of money and candy and audio logs.

  • But it's not just a game; it's a shooter. You might be playing the game to follow the story, but that story involves killing hundreds of dudes. There is a good story reason for Booker to be a crazy remorseless killer. But it gets so monotonous after awhile.I ended up playing the game on Easy because I didn't want to beat my head against the difficulty wall. Even then, I'm such a poor shooter player that I still found it challenging. I don't hold that against the game because I did like the combat. I just wish it was not quite so extensive, though.

  • I could nitpick a lot about the game, but the one thing I didn't have any trouble with was the story. I enjoyed the arc of the story and I liked the ending. And I understood the ending quite well. (I can't figure out why people have so many questions. They seem to lay it out quite plainly.)

  • I can't say that Bioshock Infinite will be my favorite game of the year. But I'm really glad that I experienced this world.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

News Filter: Transistor Announced

  • The game is Transistor. It looks like a follow up to Bastion without just being a sequel. We don't know a lot yet, but there is already a lot to look forward to.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, March 15, 2013

News Filter: Saints Row IV Announced

  • Saints Row The Third was in every way the game of the year in 2011. It had all the gameplay I wanted out of a Grand Theft Auto game, but with a tremendous sense of humor and style. So when THQ rolled over and died, I was worried that we wouldn't see another game in the series. I am happy to report that my fears were unjustified.
  • Even if Saints Row IV is just more Saints Row, that should still be a very good thing. August 23, 2013, should be a very good day.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Random Shots: Digital Phantoms

  • Food for thought:
  • I'm a huge fan of online media services like Amazon and Steam. But it's all pixie dust and dreams. I am increasingly coming to radical conclusions about the movies, music, and games that we think we own, but that's a discussion for another day.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

News Filter: Veronica Mars Movie Kickstarter

  • If I were to make a Top Five post for favorite television shows (and maybe I should), it would absolutely include Veronica Mars. It was the perfect blend of comedy and drama that make me insanely jealous that I can't write myself. When it was cancelled after three seasons, I was heartbroken. I miss Veronica and her friends quite a bit.

  • So when Rob Thomas and Kristen Bell launched a Kickstarter this morning to get a Veronica Mars movie made, I was overjoyed. This movie has to get made because I have to see it. All the rest of you getting to watch would just be a bonus.

  • My current dilemma: just how much will my wife let me donate?

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Random Shots: On Spoilers

  • I've been spending my evenings recently rewatching Community. I thought it was hilarious the first time through, but I wondered if it held up. I've been through the first two seasons and started the third. It's still clever and I'm enjoying watching it, but I haven't laughed once. Not even a snicker. As much as I love the show, knowing every joke ahead of time meant that I could only appreciate the writing. In effect, watching the show the first time has spoiled any future viewing for me.

  • A couple of years ago, a study was performed (and reported on Wired.com) that spoilers actually improve one's experience. The theory is that going into a film or book knowing how it turns out free you from the tension of not knowing how the story will turn out. This sounds to me like the most self justifying bullshit I've read in a while.

  • When I was younger, I would reread the Dragonlance Chronicles every year. Every couple of years, I go back and rewatch Sports Night from end to end. It is like revisiting an old friend. I'm comfortable with those stories. There is no surprises to be had, so instead I analyze them. I try to figure out how they work. I look for things I might have missed before. I see connections that weren't readily apparent.

  • I think that's the stage that people who like spoilers are trying to skip to. But for someone like me, spoilers rob me of one possible experience. I'm going to get to that analysis stage eventually. Sometimes quickly when I restart something that I just finished. But spoilers deny me the chance to have that experience.

  • But since I believe that people should be free to discuss what they want with whomever they want, the burden is on me to avoid the kind of places where spoilers will be discussed. I know that I can't read reviews, troll forums, or watch certain videos if I want to avoid being spoiled. I'm not one of those for whom "SPOILERS" is some sort of battle cry. I'll just be quietly keeping to myself, until I can join the conversation.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Random Shots: On Sexism And The PS4 Announcement

  • Just a quick word about the charges of sexism at the PS4 announcement:

  • My wife likes to send me links to stories she reads throughout the day. They're mostly news or child rearing articles. But every once in a while a video game story finds its way into her sphere. When she sends me such a link, I know it has reached beyond our little, insular community. That was what went through my head when I received a link from The Verge about the lack of any women on stage at the PlayStation Meeting. Couple this with the crap that Patricia Hernandez is getting for her article at Kotaku and we have a full blown nightmare here.

  • No one is accusing Sony or any of the developers on stage of overt sexism. There weren't any women denied a spot on stage. And it would have been the worst kind of tokenism to seek someone out just to diversify the presentation. That's not what anyone is saying in these articles, but that's how all of the anti-feminists are taking it.

  • What everyone is pointing out is de facto sexism. Women make up half of people on this planet. The fact that not even one woman has risen to a place where they would be a natural fit on that stage is an indictment of the industry as a whole. Everyone knows the history of gaming, how it got started, and who the pioneers are. But that doesn't mean that gaming wouldn't be richer without a wider variety of perspectives. You just have to look at how much of gaming is guns and boobs to know that we could do better.

  • So don't take it personally when this kind of sexism is pointed out. But also don't contribute to an environment that drives women away. If you defend the status quo, then you are part of the problem.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Random Shots: Surprised By The PS4 Announcement

  • I can't imagine I was the only person glued to the PlayStation 4 announcement yesterday. Even though I was at work, I followed every reveal when I could catch up. It has been so long that I almost forgot how exciting the start of a new console generation can be. And the reveal of the PS4 was very exciting.

  • When the meeting was first announced, I assumed Sony would do something boring, like show off the hardware and a few target renders and tech demos. Sure, some of that was in there, but they lead with the services and social aspects. The PS3 got beat on services by the Xbox 360 this generation. The fact that Sony is coming out swinging in that area is impressive.

  • Streaming and sharing videos directly through the console is a great move. I'm not sure how often I would use it, but I would love to play something, then embed a video here on the blog. They also finally gave a reason to own a PS Vita. If you can use it for off-screen play like the Wii U, I would have to buy the handheld without question.

  • For all that, the magical part of the announcement was the behind-the-scenes services. Streaming demos, if it works, would remove a huge barrier to trying out new games. Background downloads would do away with the biggest headaches of the PS3. But the real voodoo is with the predicative downloads. If the PS4 can actually anticipate what games I am likely to purchase and pre-download them, I would be some kind of miracle. I would love to see how that works.

  • Sony didn't skimp on the hardware announcements entirely. We didn't get a box, but that's the least interesting part of any announcement. We did get quite a bit of the hardware specifications, though. It is, in their words, a supercharged PC. I know a lot of people have lamented that they have a better PC, so why would they need a less powerful console. Those people obviously forget the consoles benefit from having a single target platform. They also forget that not everyone has a powerful PC that they are comfortable upgrading. I've never owned a machine any better than what I would call mid-range and I don't upgrade them very often. So a powerful, less expensive console is a wonderful upgrade to me.

  • I've never bought a PlayStation as my primary console. I picked up the PS1 and PS2 used, late in their life cycle, to play a couple of interesting games. For the first time, I am seriously considering going with the PlayStation. Microsoft will have to present a new Xbox that is as good or better to keep me as a customer.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Friday, February 8, 2013

News Filter: Epic Games Closes Impossible Studios

  • I thought I was done posting about the closure of 38 Studios. I really thought that was done. Then this happened.

  • In the fallout of that debacle, Epic Games swept in and formed a new studio, Impossible Studios, out of the remnants of Big Huge Games, the creators of Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. It was a small point of light in an otherwise very dark situation.

  • Today, Epic announced the closure of Impossible Studios. Some people can't catch a break.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Watched Lately: Les Misérables (2012)

  • Once upon a time, Christmas would have been waking up, opening some presents, eating a little breakfast, and then heading over to the theater for the first showing of Les Misérables, a movie we've been looking forward to since it was announced. Now that we have a child, and had to travel for the holidays, we are lucky that we could carve out a little time a month later to finally get to a theater. It was worth it.
  • Les Misérables makes great advantage of its conversion to a movie. In a strange way, putting it on a big screen has made the story more intimate. Director Tom Hooper leans on an uncomfortably extreme closeup during several songs, but it actually works. The film strips down the musical to focus more on the story, bringing in elements from the book, and actually clarifying parts that the musical can only imply. In some ways, the musical's terrific bombast actually gets in the way of the plot. The stunning number of edits to the songs would probably send a hardcore Les Miz fanatic into a tailspin. But by dispensing with any slavishness to the material, the adjusted music compliments the script much more strongly.

  • The movie wouldn't be nearly as good if it weren't for powerful, emotional performances from the actors. Hugh Jackman, Anne Hathaway, and Eddie Redmayne stand out here, each selling their solos amazingly. Samantha Barks as Eponine was as good as one would expect from a Broadway actress, though I've always had trouble with how underdeveloped the role is in the musical. Since there is no room to expand her role, the movie wisely reduces it.

  • The most intriguing turn in the movie is Sasha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as M. and Mme. Thénardier. The pair play their characters in an subdued, malevolent way, different from their usual portrayal as overblown buffoons. It is interesting to me that there is enough room in those characters for such wildly different interpretations.

  • Less remarkable, unfortunately, is the performance of Inspector Javert by Russell Crowe. Although he is great acting the role, his solos are harder to take. Javert is written melodramatically while Crowe is a more restrained singer. I can't decide if he fails the songs or if the songs fail him. It's hard for me to dislike his singing too much since he's singing in the exact same key I do, making it easier for me to sing along. But I can't help thinking that his two solos needed to be reworked more to fit his talents.

  • Highs and lows aside, I came away from the movie bawling like a baby. It was an experience, different than watching the musical, but powerful in its unique way. And I can't wait to see it again. Probably on DVD, late at night after the baby is asleep.

© 2013 Marty Runyon. All rights reserved.