Video Games

Game Watch: Batman: Arkham City

by on Mar.14, 2012, under Gamewatch, Gaming, Reviews, Video Games

So over the weekend I finished a video game. It has been awhile, it feels like, since I did that. Video games are something I still have trouble finishing, as I’ll let myself get distracted by new games, or I’ll try to focus on other things that should be more important such as updating this blog, or my writing. However the weekend was rainy, most of my plans had been canceled and I was very close to finishing. So I punched it. Or rather, I punched the joker, a lot.

Batman: Arkham City, is the sequel to the video game Batman: Arkham Asylum. In some ways it exceeds its predecessor and in some ways it falls behind. In both games you play as the world’s greatest detective, Batman, facing off against Batman’s numerous villains and their henchmen. The first game was limited to the contents of Arkham Asylum, the prison/psychiatric facility where a majority of Batman’s super villains are sent to once they are captured. In this game, you are limited to an area of Gotham City that has been re-purposed into a giant sprawling prison renamed Arkham City, run by the former warden of Arkham Asylum.

I admit, the idea that any city would let someone build a giant wall around a section of itself, then populate it with criminals and super villains seems insane to me and even at the beginning of the game I was questioning if it wasn’t just some way for the game to “think bigger” like some sequels like to do. However by the end of the game, after unlocking back story that helps explain what happened in between the two games, I feel much better about it. Still it would have been nice if that information was available from the beginning and not an unlockable.

[spoiler show=”Click to read about the Gameplay”]So where in you were Batman before, wandering through corridors and into vents and hanging from ledges and railings in an insane asylum, you are now Batman swooping around an entire cityscape, landing on unsuspecting “inmates” and generally causing mayhem for super villains who have carved out territories among the mostly un-policed Arkham City. You begin as Batman was at the end of the last game, which grants you access to quiet a few gadgets which are mostly unexplained. The game lack an obvious tutorial, although I suspect the beginning sequence attempts to teach you the basics, it certainly is no substitute for having played the prior game.And where Batman: Arkham City shines is in its game play. Between gadgets and simple but infinitely complex combat system, Batman Arkham City manages to make you feel like you are Batman. Except that my Batman was more likely to die than any other Batman I’ve seen. That aside, the combat system works at it’s more core with four actions. A strike, a stun, evade, and counter. Batman will automatically target the nearest enemy in front of him if you strike or stun. However if you point the direction stick in an opposite direction from Batman and hit strike, he will attack in that direction, regardless of his facing. This leads you to doing complicated and fun combinations of elbow jabs, kicks, punches, and the occasional acrobatics. The system gets more complicated as gadgets, a combo system, and enemies which weapons are introduced, but the game gives you plenty of time to practice these added complexity until you can at least overcome the standard challenges of the game.

For those who fall in love with the combat system, there are extra challenge modes which test your fighting game skills.

Combat isn’t really even the central part of being Batman. Batman is also all about the stealth or being a “predator” and there are numerous ways to take down an unaware enemy, from sneaking up behind them silent, to dropping down from a ledge and pummeling the, to using your grapple line to string them up, pull them off ledges, jump through glass/walls to tackle them, jump out of grates and smash them into a wall, the list really never does end.

Which leads me to the gadgets. No only do you get Batman’s trusty batarang and grappling hook, but various other gadgets including an electrical emission “gun”, freeze grenades, a grappling line, small yield explosives, a hacking tools, smoke pellets, and more. None of which aren’t used at least numerous times throughout the game. I made much use of the smoke pellets, thanks to my ability to sneak up right on someone, only to have them turn around and start shooting at me.

Guns, by the way, hurt. Batman is not the kind of hero who can take a bullet. His armor protects somewhat but enemies with guns are something to be worried about and avoided or snuck up on using one of your many predator techniques. This, I feel is, one of the most awesome aspects of the game. I have to worry about guns and getting shot. Compared to so many other games where rushing the person with the gun is a viable strategy, this really helps the game hit it home that you are the Batman.

Speaking of armor, it is worth noting that the game has a token upgrade system. I say token because this time it didn’t feel so much like I was upgrading myself as I was completing all my capabilities. Individually each upgrade only felt like a minor power up, with a few notable exceptions which helped you get around the city much quicker (and were some of the first upgrades I got), and it was only towards the end of the game that I began to understand that I needed every upgrade. This I felt was a small failing of the game. When I gain a level, I should feel stoked to get the next upgrade, not feel like I’m filling in a jigsaw puzzle where the payoff is at the very end.

[/spoiler]

So game play aside, Arkham City manages to tell as interesting of a story as it’s successor did if in a bit more haphazardly way. Since the game is “sandbox” style, the story is told through a main story line that can be abandoned to do numerous types of side quests and collection quests, or just playing around. This means that the main story suffers a little, especially since there are so many collection quests thanks to The Riddler, and more than ten different official side stories to complete, some of which you can’t complete till the end of the game.

Despite the confusion, the game does a good job of providing reminders of the main story line and what you’ve been doing, during loading screens, which really helps keep the narrative together. While I won’t divulge the full story here due to spoilers, trust me in that it is a story well worthy of Batman, and (some of) the twists at the end will leave you wondering if maybe the game was trying to fool you.

All of this culminates in a game that will steal at least forty to sixty hours of your life. More so if you decide to do the optional challenges, the extra characters you can purchase for download (I highly suggest Catwoman, as her story is somewhat integral to the main plot), and trophy gathering. I spent a weekend completing the predator challenges as Batman, the final challenge taking me well over two hours and quiet a bit of frustration, despite being ultimately satisfying.

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Writing Time: Everlasting #39, Matrix #1

by on Mar.01, 2012, under Articles, Gaming, Video Games, Writing, Writing Updates

Writing Sessions

Word Count: ~1,020

So I managed to make it to both writing sessions this week. Which is an improvement over last week where I managed to make it to absolutely none, although I did have a small makeup session on Friday. Writing Sessions have been going well. I’ve been making about a thousand words in word count, then switching over to my video game design. Daniel joined me for writing session today but otherwise I’ve been alone. The restaurant that I frequent has been starting to bore me so I’m considering looking for a new location. Although they have improved the wi-fi recently.

Everlasting Update

Word Count: 107,841

So about three thousand words since last update. Everlasting is slowly chugging along. I came to a realization the other day that one of the reasons why I’m still in the “swampy middle” and over a hundred thousand words is because my while my outline seems concise, each entry that would be a scene is instead an entire chapter or at least two scenes worth of action. Or at least I suspect so. It has been elongating my book significantly.

One other thing that has bothered me is that, given how there are three groups of main characters and none of these groups interact until the very end of the book, I’m starting to wonder if perhaps I’m writing three books at the same time, rather than one big book. I know I’ve accidentally started writing an epic given how may characters and story lines I have but could I instead break each of these into three books that all center around the same event and have the same conclusion? Something to consider in editing. I think it is an interesting idea though.

Matrix

So aside from writing I’ve started up another project I’ve been wanting to do for forever. I want to program a video game/simulator of the rules from a tabletop roleplaying game known as Shadowrun. Specifically I would like to emulate the “decking” rules, which in Shadowrun terms is the computer hacking rules. The tabletop game has a significantly fleshed out mini-game where in characters can hack a virtual reality computer grid. Unfortunately in practice the mini-game is too cumbersome for the game master to run while also running the rest of the game. To make things worse, the premise that hacking the matrix takes milliseconds means that in reality, it doesn’t take deckers very much time to do what they do, even though in real world terms, it takes up a lot of time. Plus the mini-game’s rules are actually very interesting rules. Actual players of the game should note I’m referring to the 3rd edition Matrix rules, not the currently 4th edition.

So I want to create a simulator. I’ve started by writing out a design specification where I am slowly defining everything about the rules as defined by the Shadowrun game. I’m planning on expanding from there into a user interface design and major feature design, then get into planning out architecture and doing some iterative programming to try out different designs before I sit down to really program it. Since most of this will be writing, I’ll be keeping track of my progress here in writing time. I may also start-up a new article series Programming Time or Designing Time if the project gets further off the ground.

So as for the design. Part of my problem in starting this project has always been my architecture/programming focus. I’ve always felt that I already kind of knew the game (since I played Shadowrun enough as it was) that I could skip defining every little aspect. Years of software development, however, have taught me that users generally do not know what they want and in this case, I am the user. Already in trying to write down and define how I want the game to play, I’m learning more about stuff and ideas I didn’t think of before. So this design process is a really good first step. Next time I’ll go into more details, I think.

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ESA, E3, Extra Credits, and SOPA/PIPA

by on Feb.22, 2012, under Articles, Culture, Gaming, Video Games, Videos, Visual Media

So amid all the protesting of SOPA and PIPA over the internet and the calls for US Citizens to talk to their lawmakers, a small group of people are trying a different tactic. Going after the pockets of the corporations that are pushing for such a huge change.

You might remember a TEDTalk I posted during the SOPA/PIPA blackout day that discussed the origins of SOPA and PIPA and how it was really an attempt by media companies to restrict technologies in such a way as to keep people consuming rather than sharing. Effectively to keep their revenue streams. So several people such as Red 5 Studios, Extra Credits, Loading Ready Run, and more have decided to target one of the major institution that support this bill: the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) which, among other things, puts on E3, a major video gaming convention and one of their primary revenue sources.

Let me share with you their video.

So yes. They want people to protest E3 until ESA pulls support from SOPA and PIPA.

This would be a really effective effort to help curb further attempts by media companies. You can find out more information about how to help with the following links:

Extra Credits: Stand Together

Ars Technica: Why one game developer is skipping E3 to start an anti-SOPA crusade

 Screw Attack: Stand Together

Change.Org: Boycott E3

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Kickstarting the records

by on Feb.10, 2012, under Articles, Comics, Culture, Entertainment, Gaming, Information Technology, News, Technology, Video Games, Videos, Visual Media

What is Kickstarter

So some amazing stuff has been happening over at Kickstarter. For those of you unaware, Kickstarter is what is called a crowd funding site. It’s a place where content creators can post up a project they need funding for and a target money goal. People pledge money, usually for rewards of some kind, and if the target goal is met within thirty days, the money is collected. It is basically like how charities work, except it isn’t giving money to charity but to a project of some kind. In this way new (and current) designers can get the funding they need to create products without having to go to banks or major corporations to fund them and sell off their designs or such.

I like to personally fund online comics looking to print their books, board games, the occasional documentary that I like, and sometimes video games. Usually I only pay a few extra dollars to get a final version of the product along with some nick-nacks and recognition in the product’s credits.

The Records

So Kickstarter has been around for a while and, as such, has a few records it keeps. Like most funded within the span of a day. Most funded over the span of the entire campaign. Most money in category. Most money overall. Records like that. Think of it kinda like world records for the Olympics, except more, or less, impressive depending on your views.

Order of the Stick

So around last week I stumbled upon on of my favorite webcomics, Order of the Stick, hosting a Kickstarter to re-print a lot of their physical volumes of the comic. Since I was missing a few of those books due to a loaning incident, I decided to pledge. What was amazing about this was that the original goal was set at a little over $57,000. They were just shy of that by the first day but by the second day they had broken $96,000, nearly double. It is now nineteen days in, and they are over 1000% funded, sitting at $602,457 with 8,175 backers.

Which is amazing. Utterly and completely amazing. It has put them at the top of their category (comics) by leaps and bounds, (the next highest being a little over $100,000). They would have broken the top five of all time, except for a man you may know the name of called Tim Schafer and his company you’ve likely heard of, Double Fine, deciding to drop into the race.

Double Fine

Their Kickstarter is about creating and documenting a Point and Click adventure game, in similar style of The Secret  of Monkey Island or Day of the Tentacle. You know the games all us old-schoolers keep begging him to bring back but modern publishers won’t touch because it simply won’t sell? Well with a lofty goal of $400,000, within twenty-four hours, Tim and Double Fine managed to raise $1,310,745 with 35,871 backers, shattering so many records it wasn’t even funny.

Yes. They raised over a million dollars for a point and click adventure game in less than a day.

Your Support Wanted

Honestly both of these projects should be congratulated. And both should be supported, hence why I’m linking their status pages below.
OotS’s Kickstater is complicated to understand but well worth it if you’re a fan of OotS. I’d love for you to pledge because the next major prize is a new expansion for the board game version of OotS which I would personally like to have. Additionally with each major update, Rich Burlew, the creator, updates a comic containing the OotS characters playing around with the chart that has been mapping the entire money-raising deal and the extra rewards he has been handing out for the over funding. Double Fine’s is a less interactive but simpler Kickstarter Campaign but the video is well worth watching and you’ll receive a highly interactive video game designed by some of the best adventure game minds still alive.

Here’s the video from the Double Fine Kickstarter campaign.

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SOPA and PIPA – Combating Piracy Stupidly

by on Jan.18, 2012, under Articles, Blog, Comics, Computers, Culture, Gaming, Internet, News, Opinions, Politics, Video Games

For those of you who have been paying attention, there is a list of useful links below. For those of you who haven’t, stay awhile and listen.

Actions being taken by the United State government will begin to fundamentally change the internet. Please read or watch the following to understand what is happening and if you want to take action about it.

[spoiler show=”For those of you who would like my words on the subject. Click here.”]The United States created the Internet. Despite fancy names like “World Wide Web” and “Global Communication System” and “Series of Tubes”, the internet is not managed by the world. It is managed by corporations on the united states and is subject, for the most part, to US Law. Even more so these days since a majority of the people connect to the internet via their local telecommunication company (phone, cable, satellite, etc).

 

That being said the internet has been pretty untamed for the last few years. Anybody could put or post up anything. Your information was only as secure as how well your protected it. It was effectively the digital wild west. Now, however, the internet is in so many homes, has become the focus of so much economic use (online shopping, movie and song streaming, video games, marketing) that this can’t last. Just like the trains that brought big business to the west, killing off the last place where your only real protection was the gun at your side, progress is going to try to tame the internet for the good of all, to the detriment of the few.

 

This is more or less inevitable. The new internet that will come into place will be highly regulated and likely more forcefully controlled by the big economic interests that want to use it to provide services to the world for money. When they do, innovation will become exceptionally difficult. Websites such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and the like, will still exist, but their successors likely won’t appear.  Blogs, chat rooms, social networks, bulletin boards/forums system, may or may not survive in this new internet. Words like “National Defense”,  “Anti-Piracy”, “Copyright”, and others will be used to tightly regulate any site that tries to provide the public with ability to communicate and share.

 

Effectively the basis for the internet as we know it, sharing and communicating, will come to an end at the hands of capitalism and censorship.

 

The first steps for this have already begun. The United States government has two acts currently being discussed. The PROTECT IP act (PIPA) and the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA). Both have been getting a lot of news. As of right now, both look to be dying heavily under media massive campaigns set forth by various websites and organizations, despite the money being thrown at it by media and telecom corporations. The best example is today, February 18th, 2012, where websites all over the internet are “Blacking out” or putting up protest notices. You can read up more about what these acts do in the links below, but to summarize the acts allow and empower the US government to try to block or remove internet services (primarily websites) that infringe on copyright, without significant due process.

 

Now I am not a proponent of piracy. I make a living off of software development and I hope to some day make a living as an author. These are both areas that have notably high piracy rates, which concerns me. I would like to be compensated for my effort and work but I also feel that censoring the internet is not the answer. So for now, I protest.[/spoiler]

[spoiler show=”For those of you who like videos. Click Here.”]

[/spoiler]
Information:

Protesting Websites:

And many, many more, including you, hopefully.

 

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The Cycle of Nintendo

by on Jan.16, 2012, under Art, Entertainment, Gaming, Video Games

The cycle of Nintendo. I miss playing Kirky for some reason. Probably cause its the only game in the cycle I haven’t replayed recently.

Source

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Sponsorship: Brand by Nine Dots

by on Jan.05, 2012, under Articles, Gaming, Video Games

Looking for an interesting video game to invest some money in? Brand is a video game that is currently looking for sponsors. Brand is a 2d platforming game where the player is given an interesting task: he is handed a sword and asked to “Make this sword fit for a king”. The gameplay will stem from you slowly customizing your sword to your liking, while making it worthy of a king.

If this sounds interesting or worthy of some money, Brand could use some donations. It’s lowest donation level is only $10 for a copy of the game.

Brand by Nine Dots Studio

Rocket Hub also did an article featuring the product if you want more information.

If you haven’t seen the Dragon Age web series Felicia wrote and starred in, you can find it here with commentary. More about the Dragon Age video game can be found here.

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Trailer: Tomb Raider: Turning Point

by on Dec.15, 2011, under Entertainment, Gaming, Trailers, Video Games, Visual Media

Video Source

Wow. Okay you got me. This trailer looks amazing. Hopefully it won’t be another Dead Island where the trailer looks so much cooler than the actual game play. I’m really hoping so as Tomb Raider needs a good reboot. She doesn’t need to get whipped to death like Sonic.

Game Website: TombRaider.com

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