Month: January 2015

Joystiq and Massively set to Shut Down - 2015-01-30 15:18:57

Joystiq and Massively set to Shut Down

Today has not been kind to the game industry. Just hours after Sega of America announced massive layoffs, AOL announced the popular game news site Joystiq and the MMO site Massively will be shut down.

 The news itself doesn’t really come as a surprise however, rumours started circling last week, and were even acknowledged by the website itself, but nothing was official, but the publications kept chugging on. Despite operating like usual, Massively’s editor-in-chief Brianna Royce saw it coming for a while. “We all suspected this was coming eventually a year ago when a VP whose name I don’t even know and who never read our site chose to reward our staggering, hard-won 40 [per cent] year-over-year page view growth by… hacking our budget in half,” says Royce in a post on Massively.

 Joystiq has yet to say its goodbyes.  They sent out a tweet with LinkedIn profiles for their employees, and they’ve been retweeting condolences from fans around the world.With this closure, 20 people lost their jobs.

Stardust Vanguards (PC) Review 6

Stardust Vanguards (PC) Review

Games are a lot more fun with friends and Stardust Vanguards gives players the opportunity to experience that. Unfortunately, if you are unable to play with friends and don’t have a game controller, then getting through this adventure will be a lot harder.

Despite those little setbacks it’s still a fun, addictive, retro-esque dueling game that you can easily put hours into. Stardust Vanguards places you in the centere of the action as you play one of four available Vanguards. Your responsibility as a Vanguard is to take out the groups of pirate fleets, and keep outer space safe.

starduct vanguards insert3
Each Vanguard can use a sword to ward off any incoming attacks, call reinforcements, put up a shield, shoot ammo, and even dash quickly to take out enemies.

Stardust Vanguards is best played with two or more players, as it adds more strategies to take down those pirate fleets and creates a more action- packed experience. However if you choose to play as a single player, then be aware that the game will be more difficult as the pirate fleets can easily surround you, and take you out in one hit. It is recommended that you use a game controller in order to play, because using the keyboard is tricky and can feel a bit clunky at first, making it hard to grasp the gameplay with ease. On the positive side, having two gameplay options available helps cater to the needs of players who have different gameplay preferences.

Stardust Vanguards (PC) Review 5
Stardust Vanguards (PC) Review 4

Stardust Vanguards offers a bit of voice acting for battle cries, and a catchy soundtrack that suits the flow of the game, while getting your adrenaline pumping as you take out the pirate fleets. Both of these elements are well done and pleasing to the ears.

Graphically Stardust Vanguards is reminiscent to your good old fashioned arcade game while mixing in anime style visuals, and having a more modernized retro feel to it. The graphics are also crisp, clean, and a pleasure to look at. It just goes to show that the graphics of a game doesn’t always have to be breath-taking to make it appealing to players. Going back to the roots of how games were designed way back when and putting a modern twist on it, can work out just as well.

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Players will be thrilled to know that Stardust Vanguards has replay value because of the unlockable content. You can unlock higher difficulty levels, and stages. While the game can be short if you are playing it on your own, those hours can add up if you have a few friends join in on the action.

Stardust Vanguards is not a perfect game, but it does its job well to entertain players with its one of a kind fun factor. If you are ever looking for a game to kill time with or just have a love for mechas then this game is for you. The setbacks that this game had didn’t weigh too heavily, as it provides players the opportunity to enjoy an action-packed multiplayer game, and that is where the game really shines.

Project Almanac (Movie) Review 4

Project Almanac (2015) Review

Oh time travel, you are a fickle beast aren’t you? Whether it’s Homer Simpson with a toaster, Marty McFly with a rad skateboard, the Loopers with their looping, or whatever the hell was supposed to be happening in Primer, things never quite go as planned now do they? You see there are paradoxes and temporal displacement and many other problems that just tend to be out of your average time traveler’s grasp. It always seems like a good idea at the time though doesn’t it? Especially if you’re a bunch of rowdy teens hoping for good time. Oh hey! Look, it’s Project Almanac. A movie about a bunch of teens who discover time travel while filming their adventures on camcorders. Yep, it’s the inevitable time travel found footage movie that we all should have guessed was coming. It’s ok too. Not great. Not horrible. Just ok.

The film stars Jonny Weston as one of those teens who only exist in movies that seems to be a social reject from their entire high school community purely because they wear glasses. Weston plays a science wiz who creates impressive inventions in the hopes of landing a MIT scholarship. He gets one, but not it’s not enough for his out-of-work mother to afford. So he does what any teen genius would do in this scenario and hunts around in his former super-scientist father’s abandoned attic hoping to find a new invention. Instead he and his sister (Ginny Gardner, always filming everything for the sake of the found footage conceit) find an old video camera with a tape of one of Weston’s childhood birthdays. While combing through the tape, Weston finds footage of his teenage self in the background. He’s confused, but obsessed. Eventually he and his wise-cracking genius friends (Allen Evangelista and Sam Lerner) stop obsessing over the prettiest girl in school girl (Sofia Black-D’Elia, whose character is limited to being pretty and appealing) long enough to dig around in Weston’s basement and find hidden plans and parts for a time machine that Weston’s father was designing before he died. So they do what anyone would do in that situation, finish the time machine with car batteries and Xbox parts and go on an adventure. Nothing could possibly go wrong, right?

Project Almanac (Movie) Review
Project Almanac (Movie) Review 1

Project Almanac was clearly conceived around the one sentence pitch, “Chronicle, but with time travel.” That’s exactly what the movie is and exactly how it plays. Granted, Chronicle was a pretty great and creative flick, so it was inevitable that knock offs would follow. The trouble is that the found footage shtick has grown past a trend and into a genre now, so this movie feels very generic. We all know the routine. A bunch of teens have semi-realistic bonding through jump cut footage for a while. Then they discover a supernatural element belonging to a specific style of genre movie. Then they talk about filming it for a while and then whatever clichés of the chosen genre take over from the found footage clichés. It’s how low-budget Hollywood B-movies are apparently required to be made these days. Even if the concept of characters filming every single one of their actions is feeling more and more realistic all the time, the movies are getting tedious.

Admittedly, Project Almanac is far from all bad. First time director Dean Israelite shows considerable promise as a filmmaker. He’s got a knack with low-fi spectacle and working with actors. The three guys at the center all give naturalistic performances with impressive chemistry, just enough to make you buy into the world. The homespun inventions are amusingly conceived and just credible enough to get away with the silly pseudo-science. Then once all the rambling set up is finally in place, the film offers a hefty amount of fun for a while. Playing off of teenage wish fulfillment fantasies and Groundhog Day “repetition makes perfect” comedy, the second act of the movie is a bit of a riot. It’s a spin of teen comedy tropes with just enough gentle science fiction to work as genre as well. The effects are charmingly low-fi and the tonal gearshifts keep things unpredictable. For a while, you’ll start to think that Israelite and the gang might pull this thing off and then the wheels come off.

Inevitably, Project Almanac turns into one of those butterfly effect tales of the perils of time travel. It’s clear that’s where things are heading from the moment that the protagonist pops up on his old birthday video. For a while it works, sliding the movie gently from goof off fun into suspenseful fun. Then it all falls apart while speeding towards the finish line. Plot holes and logic gaps pile on top of each other at a feverish pace and the last 10-15 minutes has to be the least believably filmed section in any found footage movie ever made. It’s really a shame because Israelite and co. build up quite a bit of good will and charm dragging their Chronicle time-travel along for two hours before they lose the thread. Ah well, all things considered, it’s not a bad movie. At least a studio gave young and inexperienced filmmakers a chance to make something creatively conventional. That’s something. Now the next step is for Paramount to keep their Paranormal Activity-inspired micro-budget blockbuster wing alive without forcing every project into a found footage conceit that it doesn’t need. Project Almanac automatically would have been a better movie without being saddled with that baggage and hopefully someone at the studio noticed.

Big Changes for Sega

Big Changes for Sega

The house of Sonic is closing up shop–in the USA anyway. As part of a massive restructuring plan, Sega has announced they will let go of 300 employees and close down their iconic San Francisco office.

While the news is still fresh, Sega-Sammy outlined a plan for voluntary retirement for around 120 employees as they focus more on PC and mobile titles. On top of that, their San Francisco office will be relocated to Southern California. As for their mascot, Sega plans on reinforcing their merchandising to generate more profit from the character. In other words, rebuild the Sonic Brand.

As of now, there’s a lot of uncertainty for the once dominant console manufacture turned third party publisher. Sega is coming off of two pretty big releases in Alien: Isolation, and Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, so it’s surprising to hear all this talk of restructuring. But according to the release, Sega created a group to help with the reform in May 2014. In October they released a plan to divide the company into three groups, generate more revenue and appoint personnel in charge of this restructuring.

Pixels & Ink 140: Time to Fight the Internet...Again - 2015-01-30 11:01:55

Pixels & Ink 140: Time to Fight the Internet…Again

On this week’s Pixels & Ink podcast, David Cage’s first console hit makes an HD return, but for PCs and iDevices only, which is a weird omission. Joss Whedon has some news about his future with Marvel and the movie universe. Lastly, Grim Fandango is back, and adventure game fans should go out and buy it immediately.

Grey Goo (PC) Review

Grey Goo (PC) Review

It’s hard to escape the legacy of StarCraft. It defined the real time strategy genre of games, and its popularity remains strong, spawning an entire professional circuit of gamers who dedicate themselves with the gusto of any Olympic athlete. It’s because of this that I feel RTS games need to distinguish themselves from StarCraft more than other genres of games. It’s a good rule in general to not be a clone of an early game (at least until limited game subscriptions exist that delete your game from your hard-drive after six months, which could happen), but when your game has professional athletes who play competitively, you should probably do a bit more to make your game distinctive.

Grey Goo doesn’t quite break away from the StarCraft template of science-fiction RTS games, though it does provide some rather distinct factions at makes an attempt at originality.

The story is fairly basic, and isn’t particularly gripping, with the convergence of three species on an alien world and their conflicts. The factions themselves aren’t distinct – the alien Beta (which is a bit of a derogatory subtext when compared to the human Alphas) are fairly generic weird-looking humanoids, while humans are what you’d expect. The Goo, the nanotech self-replicating machines, are the most distinctive of the races, both in terms of design and power. They actually look quite great, with hexagonal patterns of fluid goo, shaping itself into animal-like combat shapes. The human units are  also quite interesting in their trans-human tech structures.

What becomes an issue, is that in the end, these factions are just filling the three traditional StarCraft roles. The main difference is that they switched the human gritty-tech motif for a Protoss-like sleek high-tech and drones, and gave the aliens the clunky bullet-spewing technology. The Goo, despite several unique mechanics, is just the Zerg in terms of its story role. Not quite as malicious, but it fulfils the same goal. I have to give kudos for making humans the hyper-advanced civilization this time around, but it’s not quite enough to break out.

Grey Goo (PC) Review 2
Grey Goo (PC) Review 5

Each faction’s mechanics are markedly different in terms of building philosophy and strategy. The Beta can build anywhere on the map as long as they build hubs to attached several other buildings, giving them a lot of versatility in terms of base location (you still have a fixed Headquarters you need to defend, though). Humans are more centralized, requiring power conduits stringing from the central core to power buildings, but are the only ones with the ability to build weapon emplacement structures. The Goo has the most unique design – it lacks any structures, using only “Mother Goo” units that feed on resources (“catalyst”) split off into smaller blobs, which can be shaped into other units or left amorphous to feed on enemy units. This mobility has some the best applications in game – you can move your Mother units away if under attack and to keep them out of harm’s way, or even take them along to consume enemy buildings for resources (though they are extremely vulnerable to damage, and their resources and unit ability is tied to their unit health). It’s a blast to take a few Mothers and other units into an enemy, base, feeding on buildings, then split off some other Proteans and shift them into units right in the middle of the fight. While their units lack most defense, they can strike fast, crossing difficult terrain easily with many units, or even waiting on normally-impassible landmarks to bombard from above or ambush over a mountain.

Gameplay is serviceable, and somewhat fun, though it is hampered by unresponsive controls and annoying pathfinding which leads to your troops wandering in the most convoluted way. It plays fine, and it looks fine – the graphics are pretty and consistent. It would be nice, however, if the game would stop violently crashing – several missions will just abruptly show “Connection Lost” even on single-player games. It doesn’t like restarting, sometimes freezing up. Missions in the campaign quickly develop into some tedious situations, involving timed defenses of certain points – the Goo have a series of missions where you have to defend points for five minutes, which goes against their design philosophy. I think this was largely a mistake – the point of the campaign is to teach the player the strengths of the various factions, and the missions where you deal with the weaknesses should be better structured to do it.

All in all ,this game isn’t too bad, but it suffers from a few design issues and crashes that skip up its play. If you want something other than StarCraft, it might be worth the time.

Indigo Prophecy Remastered For PC & iOS

Indigo Prophecy Remastered For PC & iOS

In a move that’s a little bit baffling. David Cage’s second big game, known as Fahrenheit in Europe and Indigo Prophecy in North America, is getting an HD remaster called Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Remastered. The catch is that this updated version of the game is only coming to PC, Linux, Mac and iOS platforms, so if you’ve got a desktop computer or Apple phone/tablet, you’re good to go on this. Someone decided that console peasants really are peasants so they can all go eat cake instead.

Among the updates to the game like the expected rise in resolution are controller and touch-interface support, as well as the “uncensored” version of the game for North American players. The original version, sporting those PS2-era graphics, had an at-the-time controversial sex scene, of which certain segments were removed for the more delicate sensibilities of North Americans. Now, however, those same players can also enjoy the sensuous ministrations of blocky, polygonal figures to get the same not-hot-and-bothered experience their European peers “enjoyed” all those years ago, so that’s a big win for freedom of speech advocates. Maybe.

The game sells for about $10 in this part of the world, so if you’re one of those people that was always curious about this game, now’s your chance to play it on your computing device of choice, with an Android version in the works. At this time there are no plans for PS4/Xbox One version.

Destiny’s Beta is a Smart Sales Pitch 1

Who Exactly Is Destiny For?

Over the last few months, Destiny has been garnering quite a bit of attention, both good and bad. One the good side, it’s received much praise for its shooting mechanics, and its end game raids, like the Vault of Glass, which are some of the best co-op shooting experiences in gaming today, ensuring that Activision is enjoying a nice, tidy profit with this new franchise. On the bad side, Bungie has shown an obvious, almost dangerous lack of experience in MMO design, or at least, the aspect of MMO design that asks questions like “How can we keep players coming back to play our game?” Bungie’s answer, so far, has been to have players repeat missions over and over again, and occasionally overhaul the in-game economy and items to make high value loot useless, or force players to make their items useless in order to start over again making them useful at new, higher power levels as new content with better stats are added.

But Bungie insists that Destiny isn’t an MMO. However, with its emphasis on co-op gameplay, it’s clearly not a traditional, single-player campaign, nor is it just a competitive multiplayer workout, like Call of Duty. So who is Bungie making this game for?

On paper, especially business paper with an eye for profit, the answer is “Everyone.” Call of Duty became the gigantic success it is today by being mainstream, making competitive multiplayer faster and more accessible to an audience that didn’t have time for intricate strategy and teamwork. As a result, everyone from the eight year old kid that shouldn’t have been playing to the fraternity brother that previously decried videogames as “nerd toys” suddenly got sucked into the COD phenomenon. The only real issue with COD is that it created a new “traditional” gaming demographic of white males between the ages of 15-30, which excluded millions of other potential customers.

Destiny, in some ways, tried to be an alternative. By incorporating cooperative strategy, RPG mechanics in both characters and gear, as well as including a competitive multiplayer aspect, all wrapped up in a science fiction setting, Destiny tried to appeal to anyone who DIDN’T fall into the stereotypical demographic that Call of Duty owned. The issue now however, is that these different audience segments are becoming increasingly fragmented and problematic to keep together within the game.

Solo players are the worst off. While the game can be played alone, it seems like this was more of a side activity for Destiny  regulars between raids and strikes. It’s true that the entire campaign can be finished solo, but the real “meat” of the game, the end game content like raids, is strictly multiplayer. So someone that buys this game and only plays through the campaign is missing out on a lot of the intended content.

However, even if you’re into multiplayer, there are still some problems. Those interested in PvP will have a small number of maps to choose from, and the competitive aspect is still not as comprehensive as Bungie in their glory days with the Halo series, so clearly, PvP is not the focus. If you actually do enjoy playing co-operatively with other people, Bungie has some pretty strict requirements. Strikes are smaller group activities in which players are able to randomly join with others in teams of three to take on smaller “mini-raid” content that can usually be finished in 30 minutes or less. However, the best chance to get the best loot—and in some cases the only chance—is in raids. These require a team of six, and, unlike strikes, you can’t simply select a raid from the menu and have a matchmaking service team you up with others. It requires that you deliberately team up with six people beforehand to play. Even end game activities like the Weekly Heroic Strike or Nightfall Strike—which again are the best chance for players to get high end gear—lack matchmaking. As a result independent websites such “DestinyLFG” have cropped up to try to alleviate the issue for people that don’t have six—or even two—regular friends to play with for this high end content. But it’s quite obvious what’s going on here. Bungie has, in no uncertain terms, said, “If you want to get the most out of this game, have a regular group.”

So while it seems like anyone can jump in and play a little bit, whether its PvP or the single player campaign, the main body of the game is for people with gamer friends. In other words, a similar demographic to the World of Warfcraft crowd. The question remains though, can Bungie succeed at this in the same way that Blizzard did? Blizzard managed to revolutionize the MMO genre with bold design choices that made it easier than ever for the mainstream to get into a previously impenetrable style of gaming. Bungie seems to have done the opposite, making it harder to get into their game with design choices that are unfriendly to all but a very specific style of gamer

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