Month: October 2014

Driveclub PS Plus Edition Delayed Indefinitly - 2014-11-03 08:42:28

Driveclub PS Plus Edition Delayed Indefinitly

Before the PS4 came out, Drive Club was one of the games that was being thrown around as a special bonus for any lucky to be on the PS Plus service. It would be a selection of the game that would be released for free that would give players a taste of the full experience. Now Drive Club is out and it is plagued with problems, the servers are crumbling under the weight of the people trying to play and the game is barely functional. It is slowly coming back online, but with all the work the development team was doing something had to give, and that thing is the PS Plus special version. In an announcement on Facebook Shuhei Yoshida let everyone know the game was delayed indefinitely.

This is not surprising seeing as the game is infamous right now for the issues, and with reviewers not loving the game it begs the question: Are people really missing out by not getting the special, “demo” version of the game?

The full message from Shuei Yoshida can be seen below:

Hi everyone,

I wanted to provide you with the latest update on Driveclub. Unfortunately, the road to launch has been a little rocky, and we are truly sorry that so many of you have not been able to enjoy everything that we had hoped Driveclub would deliver.

We have been listening to your feedback and realize that patience understandably is running out. Evo is working around the clock to close the gap, and we have deployed additional engineering resources to help resolve the remaining issues as soon as possible. Unfortunately, the time frames required to roll out the fully connected experience will be longer than anticipated and we do not have an exact time frame for when they will be resolved. We will continue to update you on progress and you can find the latest info on the Driveclub Facebook page.

We are also very conscious that we have disappointed so many of you who were looking forward to playing the promised PS Plus Edition. Our first priority is to provide you with the best possible experience while playing Driveclub. With the high volume of new players and additional server load the PS Plus Edition is anticipated to bring, we are currently not confident that we can guarantee the best online experience. Until we can ensure that everyone can enjoy the full social connected online experience, we will be postponing the release of the PS Plus Edition until further notice.

On behalf of WWS we are enormously grateful for your patience and we thank you for the continued support and encouragement. Again, we sincerely apologize for the delay. We are committed to giving you the best racing experience on PS4 – it’s taking a little longer than we hoped.

 

Thanks, Shu


facebook.com/driveclubofficial

Is The Sexy Costume Trend Dying? - 2014-11-03 12:42:14

Is The Sexy Costume Trend Dying?

Now, it might just be that I’m getting to the age where “sexy” costumes aren’t nearly as appealing anymore, or that a good chunk of my female friends have children, or that perhaps women in general are just over it, but from what I can see leading up to Halloween 2014, a lot more women are opting for cute, scary or clever over sexy.

Speaking as a male, I actually really like this trend, and I think I can say with some confidence that a lot of girls and women do as well.

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Of course, if you’re heading out to the club for your spooky celebrations, you’re most certainly in store for a ton of skimpy, uninspired takes on popular costume ideas. I’ve seen everything from “Sexy ebola nurse” to “Sexy hockey fan” being advertised, and there will always be the classic stripper versions of cops, firefighters and referees (for whatever strange reason the latter, while not exactly fitting in with the theme of the first two, seems to be a timelessly popular costume idea) This makes sense when considering that the atmosphere of a nightclub is certainly a contributing factor, as is the average age of a club goer. Yet even with this in mind, it would appear that a decent percentage of females are deciding to buck this trend and try something different.

[pullquote align=”right” class=”blue”]When other little girls were going as princesses, my sister went as William Wallace.[/pullquote]I’ve always loved Halloween, and was raised in a house that took costume choice and design very seriously. My mother refused to buy pre-made, Wal-Mart style packaged costumes, instead insisting that we make our own. This adamancy led to some pretty awesome costumes over the year for myself, but more importantly my younger sister. When other little girls were going as princesses, my sister went as William Wallace; complete with a homemade claymore that was as tall as she was. Cut to a few years later, my sister has entered that early-20s stage where most girls decide to wear as little as possible and creativity takes a back seat to cleavage. Although she had been living on her own for several years, my mother’s influence was still strong, as demonstrated by such awesome costumes as Thing-1 and Thing-2 from The Cat in the Hat, and my personal favourite, when she and her roommate donned housecoats and lukewarm glasses of milk to become the super creepy and potentially incestuous McPoyle brothers from the TV-comedy It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Another friend of mine, Amanda, absolutely nailed her attempt at Dora the Explorer last year.

So this is pretty awesome right? And for those ladies who still yearn to feel sexy and glamorous while maintaining a bit of class and ingenuity, there is a huge pool to draw from. From movies to comics, one can pick from a variety of awesome female characters that don’t require wearing the shortest shorts possible on one of the coldest nights of the year so far. There’s the classics, like Jessica Rabbit and Catwoman, to recent pop culture faves like Maleficent, Harley Quinn, and Elsa from Disney’s smash hit Frozen. And that’s only IF you’re looking to be a girl playing a girl. There’s a billion and one options if being a specific gender isn’t an issue for you, none of which involve fishnet stockings and a push up bra.

Jessica Rabbit
Jessica Rabbit

It’s unavoidable that there will be a throng of 18 to 21-year-olds dressed in trite and cliché outfits purchased at the last minute from Value Village and Wal-Mart, but it seems that for the most part, this is a trend that people are sick of. Don’t me wrong, there’s something inherently attractive about a girl in thigh-high leather boots with a pair of handcuffs hanging off her belt. But the girl dressed as Peggy Bundy or the Cookie Monster will probably be a lot more fun to talk to.

Mobile Gamings Sucks and I Hate It - 2014-10-31 14:18:37

Mobile Gamings Sucks and I Hate It

I ride the subway a lot, and being the super nosey individual I am, I can’t help but peek at the screens of other passenger’s phones or tablets while I’m waiting to reach my destination. I feel safe in saying that 7/10 people I’m creeping on are playing games. Taking into account that being underground prevents people from texting and using the internet, it stands to reason that mobile games are about the only thing you can really do on your phone outside of watching a movie, so it makes sense that a good chunk of them are happily tapping away at coloured orbs.

Ok, so everyone from businessmen to soccer moms are getting into gaming. That’s pretty cool right? We’re finally able to show outsiders why we’re so passionate about our videogames.

Until you see that they’re playing Candy Crush, Flappy Bird, or any of the million and one other mobile games that require no thought to play, have no narrative, and gameplay so simple and repetitive a monkey could play it.

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Why would this make me angry? Why do I care what other people are doing on their phones in their spare time? Why should I care that they’re pumping hour after hour into a game where the entire purpose is to tap the screen enough times to access the next incredibly similar yet slightly different looking level?

Because, I’ve spent years trying to legitimize my hobby and passion in the eyes people who assume The Last of Us is just a shinier, more expensive version of Tetris. Thanks to the surging popularity of mobile gaming, all my hard work has apparently been for naught. It doesn’t matter to them if a masterpiece of interactive storytelling is changing the face of what we know as entertainment, in an industry that has seen an incredible amount of growth and maturity over the last three decades. All they want to do is swipe a screen over and over again to get to the next “level”, which is the exact same as all the others but with a different coat of paint. Andre Braugher’s character in the legitimately hilarious cop comedy Brooklyn Nine-Nine sums up my thoughts perfectly during an episode where he gets addicted to Kwazy Kupcakes, a riff on the aforementioned and ultra-popular Candy Crush: “I’m just about to enter Sprinkle City… They break the game into these idiotic worlds to give you some sense of progress.”

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Now before you get all riled up and say “Most games we played as kids did exactly this!” Fine, fair point, but that was the 80s and videogames were nowhere near the cultural phenomenon they are now. Not to mention the technology, writing, art direction etc… are light years ahead of what we had back then. Games, like film, have evolved a lot over the last few decades. Let it also be noted that this new format is not an homage or retro in any good way. These developers have taken everything that sucked about that era of games, and everything sleazy and cheap, and boiled it down into addictive, soulless trash that costs nothing to produce and makes tons of money. This is on top of the fact that they are clearly ripping off the likes of Dr. Mario, Tetris, and Bust a Move while tricking people into thinking they were original and innovative gameplay mechanics. Yet people are purchasing these games in crazy numbers.

Which leads me to my next point. I’m not naïve about how capitalism works. When it comes to the money I completely understand this business model. I also understand why bulldozing endangered forests is financially viable, it doesn’t mean I agree with it.

Yes, I just compared Candy Crush to the destruction of a protected environment, but that’s just how angry it makes me. I see this a lot with older people especially, the ones that didn’t grow up with videogames and don’t know what they’re missing. All those times as a child when my mother would yell at me to put down the Nintendo controller and play outside seem like a false memory when I see her face glued to the iPad playing some slot machine simulator.

Mobile Gamings Sucks and I Hate It - 2014-10-31 14:24:01
Candy Crush
Mobile Gamings Sucks and I Hate It - 2014-10-31 14:22:26
Candy Crush

This is all subjective of course. I completely understand that saying these things makes me come off like the stereotypical nerd condescendingly telling someone that their version of fun is somehow less sophisticated than mine and therefore a waste of time. Musicians do it, film snobs do it, and most of the time the person on the receiving end can reply with a simple “Piss off, I’m having fun. Just because you don’t like it doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it. It’s not hurting you in any way.”

Well, yeah, it kind of is. Every dollar spend on a crappy mobile game proliferates the business model, making it a much more lucrative venture for investors and capitalists whose money may have gone to supporting a burgeoning indie studio pouring their heart and hard work into project they’re passionate about. Instead of a Journey we get a Jelly Splash, complete with annoying and unwanted Facebook connection requests. So if you’re an investor with a big chunk of cash looking for nice returns, and don’t care about the culture of videogames at all, who are you going to give your money too? The guys working night and day on a passion project that only appeals to “hardcore” gamers and requires months and months of 12-hour workdays? Or the studio cranking out five different versions of the same game that can be publishable and ready to go in a week? More people playing= more money to the companies developing those games.

I suppose it’s not all doom and gloom though. With such a huge number of users and developers focusing on this market, the mobile gaming industry can’t be entirely cancerous. There are certainly some gems out there: Take-Two’s gorgeous and immersive first-person-shooter Bioshock is now available on the iPad, and thanks to the hard work of modders and programmers there is a plethora of emulators for classic consoles. Super Metroid on my phone? Sign me up! But these hardly compare to the number of people playing Candy Crush and Slotmania.

I may just be a jaded nerd getting up in arms because other people are enjoying versions of my hobby that I consider inferior, and even that statement comes off sounding pretentious as hell. I stick by my argument though, if this trend continues to suck money away from the development of immersive and engaging games both developers and gamers will continue to suffer. So, I will continue to sit on my digital high horse and condemn the plebs for their simple taste. I think I’ve earned the right.

Nightcrawler (Movie) Review 5

Nightcrawler (2014) Review

Nightcrawler is one damn intriguing beast of a movie (and no, it has nothing to do with the X-Men regular. I apologize). For me, it was the highlight of this year’s Toronto Film Festival. A genre mashup that is one part media satire, one part stark character study of an unforgiving sociopath, and one part brooding thriller with a little action sprinkled in. Somehow despite combining all of those seemingly disparate elements and tones, debut director Dan Gilroy (who previously wrote a handful of blockbusters, including The Bourne Legacy which was directed by his brother Tony) creates a movie that feels like a distinct entity. More than anything else, it’s a distressingly bleak satire with laughs that hurt, carving apart the sensationalistic “if it bleeds, it leads” approach to contemporary journalism. There are numerous movies that serve as obvious reference points for Gilroy like Network and Taxi Driver, but the movie it most resembles is Billy Wilder’s brilliant media satire Ace In The Hole starring Kurt Douglas as a small town news reporter who manipulates and extends a local tragedy purely for professional gain. Nightcrawler isn’t quite as accomplished as Ace In The Hole, yet its protagonist is even more chillingly corrupt in a way that reflects the current media landscape. Gilroy’s protagonist doesn’t even have the shred of humanity of Wilder’s, nor does he even need the skill of writing to succeed. All he needs is a video camera and the complete disregard for ethics and good taste to point it at the most horrendous images for profit.

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Jake Gyllenhaal stars as that near psychotic videographer. In early scenes, we see him stealing scrap metal and supplies for profits, while begging for jobs with a complete disregard for any sense of social grace. It’s clear almost instantly that Gyllenhaal is playing a total sociopath. He’s a man who doesn’t view anyone else as a person, but as a pawn to be manipulate in his career goals. He’s uneducated beyond an internet connection and a series of ridiculous self-help business books, but that’s all he needs to succeed. One day he stumbles upon Bill Paxton’s sleazy videographer who follows police scanners through late night Los Angeles to grab grisly footage of car accidents and crime scenes to sell to local news networks for profit. Gyllenhaal soon realizes this could be his ticket to fortune. So he buys a cheap video camera and cuts a deal with Rene Russo’s desperately corrupt station manager to start his business. Soon he’s doing well enough to buy a fast car and hire an “intern” (Riz Ahmed) to help beat the competition to the nastiest late night tragedies around. Yet, that’s not enough for the profit-minded Gyllenhaal. Soon he starts illegally breaking into crime scenes and even manipulating what he finds to ring extra cash out of the system. It’s pretty disgusting, but undeniably compelling and clearly things will only get worse before they get better.

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When Nightcrawler works best is when Gilroy is working in the realm of nasty black comedy. The way he presents the morally bereft media more interested in ratings than rationality or integrity is absolutely hilarious. Yet, all the laughs Gilroy and his cast earn hurt and tend to get caught in your throat. You’ll giggle at how horribly these characters behave and speak, yet somewhere in the back of your mind it all registers as depressingly real and not exactly fun. That’s the thing about good satire. The momentary relief of laughter allows filmmakers to delve deeper into the darkness than they ever could in a straight drama. At times, Gilroy can get a little distractingly didactic in his moralizing, but thankfully that’s never too much of a problem thanks to the satire, which requires a little exaggeration. By the end, Gyllenhaal’s quest stops being funny and the film follows suit. Gilroy starts racking up suspense sequences that transform the experience into a dark thriller and even tosses in a few spectacular car chases that not only amp up the excitement in the third act, but somehow manage to serve then nastiness of the narrative rather than distracting from it. Nightcrawler might be a movie with very specific and prescient agenda about the contemporary media landscape, yet Gilroy never forgets that he’s working in an entertainment medium and delivers the message in a pretty pleasing package (in the darkest possible sense, of course).

Special notice also has to be singled out for Gyllenhaal, who delivers the finest performance of his career. Gyllenhaal has always been a talented actor, yet somehow seemed ill-fit to the leading man roles he’s been given despite his boyish charms. Some of that might have to do with his distinctly sunken eyes that always seem to suggest some sort of inner turmoil or psychosis regardless of how light and fluffy his role might be. Gilroy takes full advantage of those eyes here. Gyllenhaal’s performance is always chilling and frequently terrifying in how obsessed he is with professional gain and how he seems incapable of registering anyone around him as another human being. At first that aspect of the character is played for award laughs, then, as the film wears on, the character becomes genuinely frightening in his complete and utter disregard for human life. Gyllenhaal never flinches in his uncompromising portrayal and Gilroy matches him by refusing to redeem the character in any way. On a certain level, Nightcrawler is a monster movie, just one starring a very human monster the likes of which Scorsese and DeNiro used to delight in bringing him to the screen. Everyone surrounding Gyllenhaal is equally strong (especially Russo and Paxton who are both long overdue for career comebacks), but this is really his movie. He’s in almost every frame and when he’s not, it’s only so that other characters can talk about him. Gyllenhaal takes full advantage of that opportunity to delve deep into a disturbing role and fulfill the creep-out promise that he showed oh so long ago in Donnie Darko.

Nightcrawler (Movie) Review 2
Nightcrawler (Movie) Review

Make no mistake, there is nothing particularly pleasant about Nightcrawler. The Halloween release feels weirdly appropriate. This is far from a horror movie in any conventional definition of the genre. However, the themes that Gilroy explores and the character that he creates with Gyllenhaal are sure to haunt your mind long after Hollywood horror swill like Annabelle is forgotten. This is a vicious and nasty little social commentary and character study that gets away with its unrelenting bleakness through dark comedy, stinging suspense, thrilling action, and universally superb performances. It’s undoubtedly one of the best movies of the year, but whether or not that’s going to register when awards season rolls around remains to be seen. The depth and quality of Nightcrawler is undeniable, but since the filmmakers’ primary goal is to leave audiences gobsmacked and disturbed, it won’t exactly tickle Oscar voters into acceptance. Still for those viewers who are just sick enough to get the joke and don’t mind being infuriated by the ugliness of the world when they sit down in a darkened theater, there’s no denying the flick’s twisted delights. If nothing else, I can guarantee that you won’t see another movie like Nightcrawler again this year and unique movies are hard to come by these days. So it’s worth all the discomfort and fury involved in the viewing experience. Trust me.

Pixels & INK #130: Halloween Special - 2014-10-31 13:37:20

Pixels & INK #130: Halloween Special

On this week’s CGM podcast, we actually get a new name! It’s Pixels & Ink , and it’s still all about the comics and games, although this week… it isn’t. Since it’s Halloween, we go over all the scary things in the geek kingdom, the scariest games, scariest comics and of course, scary movies and TV shows. It’s a lot of ground to cover, but we manage.

Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved (Xbox One) Review 5

Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved (Xbox One) Review

When Rock Band developer Harmonix announced at E3 2013 that they were working on an Xbox One Kinect-exclusive music-rhythm title based on Walt Disney’s Fantasia, I, like many other Harmonix fans, was more than a little skeptical. Of course, if any developer could be expected to make a successful and more importantly, functional Kinect game, surely it would be Harmonix, whose pedigree in the genre speaks for itself, from Amplitude and the early Guitar Hero games through to Dance Central and the Rock Band-craze of last generation. But this time, there just seemed to be too many variables. Would the Fantasia license translate into a game that faithfully lived up to the creative vision of the original animated film, or would it settle for catering to the same family demographic as Disney: Infinity and go for the easy money? Would Kinect 2.0, which at the time of the game’s reveal had much to prove (and still does), work as accurately and dependably as one of Rock Band‘s plastic instruments? And perhaps the most frightening question of all was: “Is it still too soon for music games to make a comeback?”

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Well, the jury is still out on both Kinect and the overall future of music/rhythm games as a whole, but it becomes quite clear after spending some time with Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved why Harmonix continues to develop music games and why they saw potential in the Fantasia license; the developer just has a fantastic knack for filling voids we didn’t realize existed.

As players progress in the game and achieve specific goals (i.e. earning pre-determined point scores and unlocking song remixes), they’ll be rewarded with spell fragments that allow them to easily customize and record their own remix song samples that can then be heard and played both in the realm and in the song itself, putting a personal audio stamp on the player’s gameplay experience. These spells (read: mix tools) appear during songs and while exploring the realms, rather than existing in a separate game mode, so their integration ends up feeling far more organic, akin to performing a solo in the middle of a great song and then keeping the best part for reuse later in the track.

 

Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved (Xbox One) Review 1
Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved (Xbox One) Review 4


Unfortunately, as one now comes to expect with a Kinect-exclusive game, there are a few notable “buts”, and as a music-rhythm title
Music Evolved brings a couple more in tow, one inherent to the genre and another that’s just bad game design. Just like with every Harmonix game that’s come before, audio/visual calibration is key to ensuring that the player’s input commands are accurate, and adjustments can vary wildly from one TV to another due to refresh rate. I personally had to invest a good deal of time into getting the settings just right, which translated to repeatedly fumbling through songs, returning to the main menu, tweaking the calibrator in settings, and then trying the song again. This would have been far less of a problem if the game allowed you to access the settings from the pause screen, but no such option exists. Then there’s the usual Kinect problem; even under ideal conditions, players will still experience several “missed” cues, often frustrating and leaving them wondering how in the world the game did not read their spot-on hand gesture. If you’re not aiming for perfection, the fun of the game significantly outweighs these annoyances, but the bottom line is that the game never feels 100% responsive or accurate, making it hard to put one’s faith in the Kinect as a performance judge.

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Much like Fantasia is a must-watch, critically acclaimed masterpiece but not necessarily the best film in Disney’s catalogue, Music Evolved is likely to be remembered as a unique experience that brilliantly succeeds despite its obvious shortcomings. The campaign itself is mercifully short (each song is usually the complete, uncut experience and thus quite the physical workout to perform) and the artistic creativity on display in each realm as players encounter, discover and manipulate music will amuse players young and old, as well as surprise and challenge them. With over 90 songs on disc (including remixes), a Party Mix Mode and two-player multiplayer, the game reveals its true value upon replay, and when coupled with the power of Xbox One, its ability to share performances via recordings or streaming live via Twitch is invaluable. If you’re a Disney fan, a Harmonix fan, or a music fan, and don’t mind looking silly flailing about to music (and you will flail), there’s no reason to not give this game a chance. Just don’t call it a Harmonix comeback. They’ve been here for years.

 

To read Khari’s extended review of Disney Fantasia: Music Evolved pick up the Nov issue of CGM.

Fluster Cluck (PS4) Review 7

Fluster Cluck (PS4) Review

Fluster Cluck definitely checks off all the boxes to qualify itself as a game. There are multiple modes, competitive opportunities, objectives, upgrades, and a certain sense – albeit a small one – of progression.

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But that’s about it. Really, it’s like a bowl of carefully scooped vanilla ice cream; it’s passably okay by itself, but there’s nothing particularly special or interesting about it. Instead, it’s a rough outline of ideas that doesn’t truly feel completely fleshed out.

It certainly doesn’t help that there’s no real clear sense of what you’re doing and why. Each game match is all about putting the alien player character in a flying saucer and sending them to collect various “ingredients” to place in a machine located at the center of the map. Once placed in the machine, these “ingredients” – usually cartoonish animals – turn into chickens. Or, “chikkins,” as the game loves to call them. Supposedly these chickens are used to help power the fast food corporation you work for… although none of this is ever truly explained well.

Not that it needs to have a robust narrative to bolster itself. After all, it’s really just a silly setup to pit four players against each other in a collect-a-thon not unlike battle modes from kart racers in the Nintendo 64 era. And on the surface, this actually worked fairly well… until I went several maps in and realized things never get deeper or more rewarding.

Every single match is the same setup on a different map. Players are assigned a specific spawn point, then forced to make their way around the map to collect ingredients to dump while trying to take out the other three players (be they AI or human) to win the round. It’s wash, rinse, repeat, and the only way to progress to the next map is to place first on a round, meaning overpowered AI and flimsy weapons will have to be dealt with.

 

Fluster Cluck (PS4) Review 4
Fluster Cluck (PS4) Review 5

The player’s ship has the durability of a boat made out of cardboard and is constantly blowing up whenever enemy bullet barrages greet them at any point in the map. Now, this might be vindicated by the fact that various power-ups and boosters scattered around the map allow one to equip shields, rockets, speed boosts, and a handful of other banal upgrades, but none of these last for a substantial amount of time, and none of them ever really feel truly useful.

Although it does have a handful of interesting textures, Fluster Cluck looks horribly dated, like an Ape Escape game given the HD treatment on a modern console. It’s certainly a throwback to character multiplayer games from the early years of 3D gaming, but attempting to ape an era that didn’t have famously gorgeous visuals doesn’t work in their favor.

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Really, Fluster Cluck’s greatest sin lies in how generic it is. When stripped down to its core, there’s really nothing special about it; it’s just a battle mode stretched out for an entire game and eventually wears thinner than a sheet of tracing paper. Sure, it may offer a few amusing tongue-in-cheek quips, and different maps and upgrades give it some sense of progression, but as a whole, there’s just not much about Fluster Cluck that promises to make it much more than the meager offering it currently is. It may be fun for a few rounds, especially when played in a multiplayer match with friends. But, an egregious lack of any personality or substance leaves me doubtful of whether or not it really could entertain for hours on end.

Local Multiplayer Needs To Stay 3

Local Multiplayer Needs To Stay

With the debut of the latest firmware update to the PS4, console players now have access to “Share Play,” which allows another friend, not in the same room or building, to take over a game for limited periods of time. It’s a way for game owners to share—and possibly promote—games to non-owners, and also a way for players to return to those days of yore when friends in the same room took turns playing a single player game.

But it’s still no substitute for a good local or “couch” multiplayer experience.

Couch co-op with CGM

Fortunately for fans of the local experience, this type of gaming is not dead, though it’s far from being as widespread as it was in past generations. PC gaming has all but wiped it out except in rare competitive or LAN party moments, and in the console arena it’s mostly the indie sphere that still keeps the local multiplayer torch alive, although some console manufacturers—notably Nintendo—still place a certain value in making sure people in the same room can actually still play together.

This year in particular, we’re still getting a taste of some good old fashioned couch-enabled play with games like Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, the latest LittleBigPlanet title and, of course, a new upcoming Super Smash Bros. game all having an option for friends to play either with or against each other in the same location. This is a far cry from other titles, such as Destiny, which are online only, requiring people that want to play in the same room to buy two separate TVs and two consoles.

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Borderlands
Local Multiplayer Needs To Stay
Super Smash Bros.

That’s not to say that online multiplayer sessions are bad. They’re a godsend for those of us that have moved away from friends and family but still want to game together. However, to make a multiplayer game where people in the same room can’t play together ignores a vital aspect of the social experience; actual physical proximity. You can’t high five or bro fist someone on the other side of the country when you finally get through a tough boss. You can’t laugh at the faces someone makes when they drop the controller and scream over a jump scare no one was expecting, and you certainly can’t knock back with a soda or beer together while working to get through a tough dungeon in something like Diablo III.

Perhaps it says something about the evolving nature of the human social experience, that people prefer to interact—and play—with people they don’t know and will never meet. There’s a reason, after all, that a certain psychological mindset revels in the anonymity of the Internet and being able to say or do things to people without consequence. But even an online social experience is STILL a social experience, and says much about how we, as people, are still fundamentally attached to other people. And when it comes to actual friends, family and other people we like or love in our lives, there’s still no substitute for being able to player together in the same space. It’s the reason why sports fans invite each other over to houses or meet at a sports bar to watch the latest event; yes, sure, you could simply pick up the phone or get on Skype or Google Hangouts and watch the game “with” other people online, but it’s not the same thing as really watching together.

Rockband
Rockband

In the same way, playing a sports game, or even a rhythm game like Dance Central, or Rock Band, or just shooting up a mutated hick Australian thug in Borderlands is a different, more memorable experience when it happens with a friend in the same room. Local multiplayer may be harder to do with the demanding performance of today’s games, but that doesn’t make it any less effective as a social experience. And for some games, local multiplayer is whole reason you should go out and buy that game. It has, does, and always will have a place in gaming.

Games Are Poetry - 2014-10-30 14:32:46

Games Are Poetry

This article contains spoilers for the game A Dark Room

Even in the face of mainstream scrutiny during the embarrassing, ongoing #gamergate debacle, there’s an optimistic perspective from well-respected magazines and other publications that videogames are, despite all odds, an art form; a recent piece from The New Yorker concludes that games have “a vibrant future,” while the New York Times categorizes its video game articles online under both ‘technology’ and ‘arts.’ In reality, there’s not much of an argument to put against the notion; art is, by definition, a creative work that affects its viewers, usually emotionally—a response nearly unanimous upon the release of games like Bioshock, Journey, and The Last of Us. To take the argument one step further, I’d assert that games are not just art, but poetry.

The Last of Us
The Last of Us

There’s no arguing the stigma against games, most evident when I’m at Thanksgiving dinner and my girlfriend’s grandparents ask what I do for a living over a bowl of mashed potatoes. When I tell them I play and write about videogames there’s usually a long pause where their potatoes slump onto their plate and they say “Oh, that’s unique,” before changing the subject and asking what my favourite colour is instead. A similar experience can be said about the resistance to poetry by the younger audience, and perhaps that’s why the two go so well hand-in-hand.

An old idiom expressed in the world of literature is that “poetry cannot be paraphrased.” The most well-known argument for this comes from critic Cleanth Brooks’ The Heresy of Paraphrase in which Brooks states that “[a true poem is] an experience rather than any mere statement about experience or any mere abstraction from experience.” In laymen’s terms: the act of reading a poem is part of its poetry. The same can be said about most videogames. If someone were to ask me, “What’s Call of Duty about?” I would probably say, simply, “It’s about playing ‘hero,’” but if someone were to ask me, “What’s Journey?” I’d have a hard time saying anything other than, “You’d have to play it”—it cannot be paraphrased.

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Take a look at the renowned poetry of E.E. Cummings or of Canadian poet bpNichol, both of whom work with the space on a page as though it’s an entity in of itself. Even when a poem isn’t considered “visual,” line breaks and other poetic devices are utilized to create a ‘dialogue’ between the reader and the writer. This is the same ‘dialogue’ as between the developer to the player; the page is to poetry as the screen is to games. Unlike the linearity of most cinema or novels, games are meant to be meandered through, they’re meant to be observed and interpreted, and it’s that agency of interactivity—and the dialogue between developer’s and players—that sets games apart more than any other medium.

In a blog post, arts critic Lana Polanksy discussed the “poetics of play,” and her experience with what was essentially an interactive poem.

“There’s an explicit and implicit grammar to poetry,” Polanksy said. “There are spaces and pauses in which readers are made to contemplate, to see where words are organized in line and in syntax to create some kind of meaning.”

Consider now the “spaces and pauses” in videogames. Imagine playing Super Mario Bros. for the first time: The game’s mechanics are taught intuitively through the space on the screen (through the dialogue between you and the developer), and when you reach the first question mark block, or your first green pipe, there’s a pause of curiosity. Videogames have an unmatched ability to allow players to veer off the written path and remain immersed. The audio logs of Bioshock, the easter eggs of San Andreas—these moments don’t need to be profound to be poetry.

Adam Sessler in Pixel Poetry
Adam Sessler in Pixel Poetry

With the exception of novels akin to the confounding Finnegans Wake, you likely won’t be dissecting every aspect of a novel’s writing (not to imply passiveness, but compared to the act of reading poetry, absorbing a novel is a breeze) nor scrutinizing every pixel in a game world. Most contemporary poetry is brief yet layered in complexities that can only be discerned through the reader’s agency of interpretation (or, interaction)—a perfect parallel to experimental or small team “indie” games. It’s here that we echo back to paraphrasing: in the 2014 film Pixel Poetry, game critic Adam Sessler says “[high concept games] are tough to actually explain to someone without allowing them to play.” It’s those focused, innovative games that stand out as poetry.

Beside me, my girlfriend is playing A Dark Room on her phone. She’s far from what I’d call a gamer (she played Threes for a bit, and thinks Pokemon are cute), but she’s picked up the game after I almost immediately brushed it off for boring me. An hour later, she shouts, “Holy shit, there’s a spaceship!” and I look out the window. There’s not a spaceship. There’s a text-only videogame that began with the simple words “light fire.” A videogame that brought her to a tangible moment of profound emotion.

And that’s poetry.

Tears To Tiara II: Heir Of The Overlord (PS3) Review 6

Tears To Tiara II: Heir Of The Overlord (PS3) Review

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

There’s been a real dearth of turn-based strategy games on consoles, with the last major release being the unbelievably good X-COM: Enemy Unknown back in 2012. Now, thanks to Atlus, a three year old TBS game from Japan finally makes it over to Western shores, and while it’s definitely got a turn-based strategy game element, you’re just as likely to spend a lot of time reading and listening to Japanese dialogue. This may be a good or a bad thing depending on the way you prefer your game-to-story ratio.

Bring On The Tropes

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Tears To Tiara II is a bit like the Final Fantasy series in that the number after the title doesn’t equate to a continuation of a previous plot. The original Tears To Tiara actually started out as a adult/hentai game on PCs that was more of an action title and dating sim before migrating to consoles in a tamer, turn-based strategy incarnation. This particular story centres on Hamil Barca, deposed prince of Hispania, living as a slave in his own country since its occupation by a larger empire seven years ago. When his nation’s goddess manifests as a plucky teenage girl, a rebellion gets underway, and Hamil must struggle with his own need for vengeance versus the survival of his nation, and his growing feelings for Astarte, or “Tarte,” as he calls her. It’s a story that relies on a lot of anime clichés, but it’s written well enough that you’ll actually start to care about what happens to these characters during their rebellion.

On the technical side, this is nothing to write home about. The game goes the traditional Japanese low-budget route of illustrated stills during dialogue segments, combined with a render-friendly super-deformed/chibi look during actual gameplay. By PS3 standards, this is a pretty unimpressive looking game that feels like it could still run on the PS2, given the lack of any sort of fancy graphical techniques like particle effects or real time lighting. As is quickly becoming the norm with Japanese imports, Atlus didn’t bother to include an English dub, so it’s the original Japanese dialog with subtitles all the way, and a decent—if synth heavy—soundtrack. AAA production values this game is not.

But the thing that matters most is the gameplay, and it’s here that, depending on your tastes, Tears To Tiara either really delivers, or enrages. The game mechanics make this a turn-based strategy game, but it’s more accurate to say that it’s a visual novel with some turn-based strategy elements. Story is by far the more important element, and in the early goings players can read/listen to dialog and plot for an hour or more between battles.

Tears To Tiara II: Heir Of The Overlord (PS3) Review 2
Tears To Tiara II: Heir Of The Overlord (PS3) Review 1

The actual turn-based strategy component is a pretty full-featured—if unoriginal—core game. It sports a good mix of classes, the addition of a few unusual techniques like using big animals as combatants, and some newbie friendly features like the ability to “rewind” from the last turn all the way to the very first of the round if you don’t like the way things played out. Aside from rewinding and being able to save the game in the middle of the round, this doesn’t play much differently from older TBS games like Final Fantasy Tactics. That might actually be a good thing for people that just want more of the same, but even older games like Valkyria Chronicles really shook up expectations of what the genre could be.  Tears To Tiara II isn’t trying to change boundaries, it’s just providing more of the same, but the real issue that determines the value of the game is “What kind of fan of Japanese gaming are you?” If you’re a sucker for story, and the actual game component is merely a palette cleanser then the plot heavy balance of Tears might actually be a selling point, and the turn-based battles might be a big turn off, since they can get pretty hard. On the other hand, if you’re a big fan of turn-based strategy games, the later battles in from chapter three onwards deliver some very tricky, X-COM levels of challenge, but there can be a massive “slog” through visual novel cutscenes before getting to the good stuff.

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Tears To Tiara II tries to be a challenging turn-based strategy game, and a big, sprawling visual novel. Unfortunately, these genres don’t mix well when they’re both set to “turbo,” but that’s what’s happening here. The later challenging battles may put off the story fans, while the excessively long cutscenes (the opening is FOUR HOURS with only three tutorial battles) will irritate combat fans itching to just get into the fight. Had Aquaplus erred on the side of moderation, this might have been a more accessible, balanced game. As it is, it offers a bit too much of either genre to completely satisfy fans, but, that doesn’t mean either the story or turn-based strategy element is bad, just that they integrate badly. Still, if you’re a fan of turn-based strategy games, there aren’t a lot of those left on the PS3, so this is better than nothing.



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