Gamers are More Divided Than Ever…And That’s a Good Thing

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Become enthralled by one thing long enough and regardless of whatever the thing itself may be, the same set of questions tends to present themselves when you began to look back on it.

While the questions are too varied to cover in full, a host of them will inevitably concern comparing that thing as it once was, to how the thing is now. When doing so it’s often essential to use your experience to properly separate the past as it actually occurred, and the past as you perceive it through the eyes of nostalgia.

That’s a distinction that’s been running through my mind recently as I look at how games have changed from both the day one origins of the medium, and from my personal start as a gamer, to where they are now. In doing so, it’s interesting to discover and distinguish the things that have actually changed, as opposed to the things that you heart tells you are different.

Specifically, lately I’ve been wondering if the gaming community really is more hostile to each other and divided than it has been ever before.

My heart tells me the answer is yes. After all, it seemed like the cultural divide among gamers when I was young didn’t extend far past Sega v.s. Nintendo. Now, though, we have issues like AAA v.s. indies, Digital Rights Management, the treatment of women in video games, the validity of YouTube gaming as a career, the ethics of micro-transactions, gaming as art, and many, many, more. All of those issues cause a nigh infinite series of divides among the gamers of the world, and that’s before you even get into the traditional Xbox, PS4, Wii U, and PC debates.

The question then is, are we really more divided as a gaming community than ever before? Is there really more of a hostile environment between gamers everywhere than there was back in the old days? Or instead, has this always been the case and its only the rapid speed the internet carries information and opinions at from all corners that causes the perception that there is more arguments than ever before?

Even when you approach that topic from an unbiased perspective, the answer will almost always be yes. Gamers are more divided and hostile than ever. The once popular idea of a community of gamers united against the rest of the world’s upturned noses at the very idea of gaming, has given way to a civil war with infighting on nearly every front. While you could argue if the embodiment of a gaming community with an “us against the world” mentality ever did truly exist at all, there’s little doubt that certainly isn’t the case now.

And you know what? In many ways we’re better off this way.

Well…Most of the Time Anyway

Oh sure from time to time I see a topic or viewpoint that I personally consider to be outlandish get very heated, and want to cite the always popular (yet rarely practical) “Can’t we all just get along?” belief, but for the most part I’ve come to accept the constant presence of various heated debates to be a good thing for gaming, and not a detriment.

The reason being is that complacency in any industry is never a good thing. No matter what else you can say against the average gamer, one this that’s for sure is that they are not a complacent lot. Not only are they quick to turn against something the moment it becomes a little too commonplace and comfortable, but they are always seeking out and confronting hot button issues without much in the way of fear hindering them. These may not always lead to the most sophisticated and intelligent debates mind you, but they are debates nonetheless.

It’s that constant stream of debate that ensures that developers, publishers, journalists, bloggers, websites, and anyone else on the creation side of the industry can never rest on their laurels. If there weren’t the dissension that exists on so many topics that we currently enjoy today, it’s possible that many of those in gaming wouldn’t feel the pressure (or even obligation) to create a variety of experiences that can cater to any number of personal tastes, preferences and beliefs.

There is a real passion behind many of the various viewpoints in the gaming world that is more and more leading to gamers from all walks of life getting creative and making something that perfectly represents their own particular set of thoughts. That not only serves as great entertainment for those that agree, but  fuel for those who do not to do the same and create something of their own in opposition.

Sure its a general attitude that doesn’t really lead to a perfect gaming world (and there are, perhaps, some topics we would be better off being unified on), but its never really been a perfect world has it? The one we have now, though where gaming is essentially forced to constantly mature, re-invent itself, and provide a variety of experiences precisely because the role and image of a gamer is no longer a caricature, but rather a group of  increasingly outspoken and discerning individuals is a pretty damn exciting one to live in, at least in lieu of perfection.

If there is one warning that all divided gamers need to heed though, its that we should all be careful to remember that at the end of the day, games are first and foremost meant for enjoyment and to be experienced. In that regard, it’s important to never be afraid to challenge your own views by actively seeking a variety of games in order to ensure that your beliefs (whatever they may be, on whatever topic or whatever style) are ones formed by trying all of the different experiences that games have to offer, and not limit yourself at all times to those that only serve your particular notions, thus undoing all of the good the current sometimes hostile and divided culture we enjoy as gamers is actually doing.

Is there a certain appeal to a utopian world where gamers come together to form a “Pleasantville” like community based on shared essential beliefs? Perhaps. But there’s also an appeal in a more gotham like gaming community where hostility and divided beliefs may rule the day, but they ultimately come together to form an impressive world that can only be forged from the fires of such a variety of passions.

Whether that’s your idea gaming world or not, it’s time we all stood back and appreciated the beauty and quality that world can so often lead to.

Five Goals Gaming Still Has Left to Pursue

As we approach 2014, it’s hard to not feel proud of the gaming industry and how far it’s come. Every year it seems that gaming is knocking down pre-conceived limitations, and defying the expectations of naysayers who thought that certain gaming accomplishments would never be realized.

That being said, though, its important to remember that there is always more ground to cover. While everyone’s personal industry wide wishlists for the future are sure to vary wildly, here are five goals both minor and major that I feel that gaming as a whole still has left to achieve.

Establish a True Comedy Genre

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Comedy, as a genre, has been around for essentially as long as the act of storytelling has. While it rarely gets the same level of critical or artistic praise that drama does, anyone who knows even the basics of storytelling knows that the two have a yin and yang relationship where the absence of one tends to throw the other out of balance.

Gaming’s relationship with comedy is somewhat less traditional. While there have been funny games before, and there have been plenty of funny moments in video games, there isn’t really a recognized independent comedy genre in gaming, as there isn’t really a steady enough stream of pure comedy game to justify its existence.

While you can’t fairly make a blanket statement on why that is, in general I feel that the underlying issue is similar to the one that faces the pure horror genre. By that I mean that there is a growing feeling among major publishers that comedy games aren’t viable financial investments. In the increasingly more expensive world of AAA game design, that’s pretty much the kiss of death.

It’s also an incredible shame as comedy is one of the most essential aspects of any entertainment medium, and gaming seems to be trending in a way that is discouraging the pursuit of it as a primary concept more and more. While modern titles like “The Stanley Parable,” give hope that indie developers may give new life to the creative pursuit of this idea, should that prove to not be the case then you have to consider gaming’s inability to really establish a true recognized comedy genre to be among the industry’s more notable failures.

Make Sports Announcers Sound Human

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Man, this one just irks me.

We’ve come a long, long way in the world of gaming technology to the point that the law of diminishing returns is becoming a more and more popular citation when addressing the subject. Yet despite those innovations, modern sports game announcers still sound like a group of particularly antisocial robot reading lines off the sweaty palms of someone just barely in their range of sight.

I understand that as many sports announcers are pre-recorded personalities its incredibly difficult for them to account for the many variables that can occur during a typical game. However, you can’t convince me that the quality of video game sports announcers today is the apex of the technology.

What’s really needed is greater incorporation of  some dynamic commentary elements. For instance, if my quarterback in “Madden” is having a bad year and throws another interception, it’d be nice to hear the announcers mention a potential QB controversy brewing. Similarly, if a QB is in a contract year and putting up career numbers, there should be some acknowledgment of the situation.

Regardless of the specifics, the general idea is that announcers need to start occasionally sounding like human beings. Some games are better than others (the WWE games are a great example of video game announcers at their worst), but in general this is a flaw that has plagued gaming for far too long.

Mature the Incorporation of Sex In Games

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See, gaming has actually done historically well with the subjects of romance and relationships over the years. However, once things start to go beyond a platonic level, the quality of the subject gets more and more murky.

Historically speaking many games have either treated the subject of sex with the maturity of a particularly horny teenage male, or with the prudishness of a wasp couple. There haven’t really been many attempts to incorporate sex into a game (even one that would seem to naturally include it) in a way that feels organic.

It’s a bit of an embarrassment, honestly. There is still an unfortunate perception amongst the casual observer regarding the maturity and social skills of the average gamer, and the fact that there haven’t been many titles that handle such a basic topic in a mature, non-exploitative, yet still entertaining way does that image no favors.

Now, I could be wrong on this matter and there could be some game, or games, out there that actually covers sex in a way similar to what I’ve described. However, even if that is the case, the absence of that approach as a standard is the larger issue as it concerns gaming and sex.

Create or Discover the “Citizen Kane” of Gaming

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I’m hesitant to include this entry because of the vague nature of the entire idea behind it. However, since this is among the most popular topics of discussion as it concerns the advancement of gaming, I’ll play devil’s advocate and give it a shot.

The basic idea behind the “Citizen Kane” of video games is that a game will come along that will make the average game fan (and society at large) recognize games as a legitimate potential art form, in the same way that “Citizen Kane” is recognized as the film that helped movies get established as a legitimate potential art form.

It’s a fundamentally faulty notion, but the spirit of the idea does have an air of truth to it. The average person doesn’t typically view gaming as an art form, and elements of gaming in mass media coverage tend to be about gaming controversies, or are otherwise cheap and insulting attention grabbers like the VGX awards, which actively harm the idea that there is a higher calling in gaming as a potential art form among more casual, or even indifferent, users.

Of course, what people tend to forget is that “Citizen Kane” was not an overnight game changer for many. Instead it would only fulfill that role in hindsight after a flood of ambitious, artistic, and financially successful titles that were directly influenced by it would make “Citizen Kane” the generally accepted turning point.

So perhaps instead the question of whether of not gaming will get its “Citizen Kane” shouldn’t just be a lookout for an individual release on the horizon, but a careful examination of the past to see if it’s already been released.

Improve the Current Video Game Property and Licensing System, or Create a New One

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Have you ever wondered why a certain favorite game has never seen a sequel, or why that original game no longer seems to be available for digital download? Well it could honestly be for any number of reasons, but more often than not the problem is one of licensing.

Gaming has long had serious issues with property licensing. While this is sometimes tied into the inclusion of a third party property (like the one that faced “The Simpsons” Konami games), there are a disturbing amount of completely independent properties that are handcuffed by archaic, or even non-existent, laws.

The entire system regarding property video game rights and license acquisition is one of the most convoluted and mysterious in all of entertainment. While many might think it’s a simple matter of contacting the right party and offering the right figure, the truth is rarely so simple.

Good Old Games shed some light on this issue earlier in the year when they revealed that the process to acquire “System Shock 2” for digital distribution took years of concentrated effort, most of which involved navigating a system shrouded in confusion where even the people who were the right ones to contact, didn’t know they were the ones who should be contacted. During the course of their lengthy legal battles they were often working without a net, as precedent for such an effort is almost non-existent.

In some cases, the situation surrounding property rights of games would be hilarious if they weren’t so sad. For example, the popular “No One Lives Forever” series has long been unavailable to modern users due to the simple fact that no one knows who has the rights to it, even among the small group of people that potentially could. In other words, under the current system, entire game licenses can be lost as easy as a set of car keys.

It’s an embarrassing mess of bureaucracy and incompetence. Recent years have seen some major improvements in this area, but unless a concise and through overhaul of this entire system is undergone, we run the risk of making a sizable part of gaming history inaccessible.

The Popular (and Absolutely Insane) Just Cause 2 Multiplayer Mod is About to Get a Steam Release

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While I have no problem calling “Just Cause 2” a good game, I’m hesitant when it comes to giving it praise beyond that.

See if you attend the open world game design school, there’s really only two classes you can go to. One preaches using the large in-game world to provide a more intensely cinematic experience, while the other teaches the idea of using that same space to let players just go nuts with few (if any) design boundaries to limit or guide them.

While neither is inherently a wrong pursuit, “Just Cause 2′s” firm attendance and devotion to the latter design philosophy meant that while the game was insanely large and incredibly fun to just mess around in, elements like mission quality and story structure were either limited or non-existent.

Some time ago, however, a dedicated group of modders found a way to capitalize off of the built-in strengths of the game and give it a longevity that even a more cohesive and engaging storyline structure couldn’t do by simply adding a true online multiplayer mode to the game.

It’s not an unprecedented occurrence for a single player only game to get a modded multiplayer component, but when you consider that this particular mod allows for up to 600 players at once within the absolutely gigantic world of “Just Cause 2,” and factor in the game’s already zany and ridiculously fast paced nature, perhaps you can see why this drew so much attention from users who would have otherwise most likely stopped regularly playing the game some time ago.

Now it turns out it was not only individual users whose attention was caught by the mod, but the folks at Valve as well as it was recently announced that Steam will soon be making the popular multiplayer mod available for download as an official Steam release. This not only makes the mod much more accessible to the average person, but rightfully legitimizes it as an essential component of the “Just Cause 2” experience.

While the only available release date is still 2013, regardless of whenever this does actually hit Steam it’s already a big win for everyone involved. This is especially true for us, the players, who will now get an even easier chance to experience a sandbox action multiplayer game that is without chaotic equal. Expect to see a popular new wave of insane YouTube videos and jaws on floors when “Just Cause 2′s” multiplayer mode is released by the end of the month

If Gaming is To Evolve In The Next Generation, It’s Time to Start Ditching the Cinema

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Not getting my Playstation in time for the “Final Fantasy VII” craze, my first experience with the series was “Final Fantasy VIII.” While I could make the argument that I got the better game of the deal, that is a topic of heated debate best saved for another day.

Instead the point in mentioning my first exposure to a “Final Fantasy” on Playstation is to reference that moment we all experienced when playing that series for the first time on that platform when you first saw one of the games cinematics. Though I’m not an expert on human behavior by any means, I still feel fairly confident in suggesting that the majority of people’s immediate reaction to viewing one of those beauties was to pick their jaw up off the floor so they were able to better articulate to anyone that would listen how it was “Just like a movie,” and to wonder “When all video games will look that good.”

Now “FF:VIII” may have been my personal exposure to the wonders of the video game cinema, but it would be far from the last. In fact, you could argue that the PS1 was the heyday of the video game cinema, as console developers began to realize the incredible (at the time) graphical potential in these scripted sequences, and just how much they could add to the basic video game story which previously was viewed by even the most intense fans of the medium as a sort of inevitable handicap thats few exceptions of excellence were best treated as anomalies.

Simply put, cinemas on the Playstation were nearly universally thrilling exhibitions that showcased levels of potential out of gaming that may have been dreamed of, but never really considered in earnest as a viable progression.

However, the Playstation came out in 1994 and hasn’t really been actively developed for in about 12-13 years. Cinemas though, in a format that strongly resembles that which they debuted under, remain.

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“But,” you say, sensing where I’m going from both context clues and the headline, “cinemas have improved greatly since then, and exercise a level of quality that makes those PS1 examples look archaic and pathetic.

On that point, I don’t disagree. There is a film like quality in the modern cinematic that even during the mind expanding origins of the PS1 cinemas I wouldn’t have been able to properly envision. What’s more is, cinemas of that quality are so prolific now that they’ve reached a point where their construction and implementation can, from a user stand point, be viewed as effortless.

The ability for a modern game to use cinemas in order to make their stories more in line with the presentation style of films may have reached their awe inspiring peak in the days of the Playstation, but in terms of overall quality you can’t argue that every subsequent year makes them better and better.

However, I hate them. Hate them, hate them, hate them. Hate them nearly every time I see them, and have had the experience of several otherwise great ,or at least enjoyable, titles ruined almost entirely by their presence.

To understand the problem with the modern cinema, you really have to look back at why they came to be in the first place. They existed to invoke the aforementioned reactions of “Wow this looks like a movie” and “When will games look this good?” and gave gaming a needed crutch to improve the outward appeal of its storytelling.

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However, gaming no longer needs that crutch and is becoming weaker and weaker by relying on it. The idea of a video game being able to mimic a film may have once been a fantastic notion, but can now be accomplished by nearly any reasonable budget.

As such, that same idea is now insulting. While there may have been a time when films were the only known effective way to tell a visual story, that time is no more. To suggest that is the case is to ignore the tremendous strides that certain ambitious developers have made in the field when it comes to finding a way to present a story that is uniquely told by the abilities of video games.

Yet again and again, game developers from all walks of life see no problem in creating a tightly scripted, high graphical sequence that allows you to do absolutely nothing but put the controller down and watch. When you consider that the one universally defining characteristic of video games is interactivity, putting the player in a position where they are either entirely unable to interact with the game, or mostly unable to do so, is crippling and converts the experience from game to digitally animated film instantaneously.

What’s more, the use of cinemas to such an insane degree have also spawned a number of other flaws in gaming. Among them, the most consistently annoying of which would have to be the rise of the QTE. These sequenced button presses are, on occasion, a well done way to add a level of interactivity to story segments, but for the most part are used as a sort of begrudging solution developers offer to anyone who may balk at why they aren’t able to actually play the game they purchased instead of just watch it for its presumed technological grandeur and “epic” story.

The game that really highlighted the gravity of this problem to me would have to be “The Last of Us.” While “The Last of Us,” has one of the greatest stories in gaming history, it is made nearly unbearable at times because of its reliance on traditional cinemas to tell the tale. The cinemas themselves may be better scripted and acted out than nearly all others out there, yet still manage to be groan worthy if for no other reason than they force you to stop playing the very game itself. A game that relies heavily on keeping you in the moment, and gains much effectiveness from its tense atmosphere which instantly dissipates the moment a cinema appears.

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What’s even worse in that instance is that Naughty Dog exhibits, in the same game no less, the ability to effectively tell a story with nearly no reliance on cinemas. That’s evident both in the banter between Joel and Ellie during levels which does more to enhance both individual characters and their relationship than any cinematic in the game can possibly do, and in the opening moments of the game which show perhaps the most gut wrenching and effective moments of the entire experience and afford you at least some level of interactivity with consequence.

Now even as I type this, I feel a twinge of hypocrisy as I’m among the biggest supporters of Telltale and their “Walking Dead” series, which is more or less an experience made up entirely of cinemas and quick time events. However, the very key difference there is that the “Walking Dead” series openly presents itself as that type of experience. It is a point and click adventure game, which are traditionally expected to be lighter on gameplay, and high on scripted sequences. You know to expect that when you go into it, and the developers are able to put extra work and importance into them since they are the majority focus of the game.

Instead my real problem with the whole idea of the modern cinema, is its appearance in games that otherwise feature an extremely active pace. It’s in those games where I sign up for the action and gameplay, and are instead spoon fed cinema after cinema that, regardless of the overall quality of the individual examples, are with few exceptions nowhere near as thrilling, effective, or certainly enjoyable as the very game they are apart of and, ideally, are only in place to enhance.

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There was a time when the cinematic was a useful, exciting tool that showcased the potential for gaming to reach new heights of storytelling excellence. That time has passed, and the entire reason the average pre-rendered scripted cinematic remains is based on nothing more than laziness and an unwillingness, or creative inability, to pursue a viable storytelling evolution that can recreate the feeling and effect of the first time we viewed an elaborate cinema in a game, without harming the game in the process.

Much like 2D gaming or other tropes of the medium once born out of technological necessity, there will always be a place for the video game cinematic, regardless of whether or not it is still universally desired. However developers everywhere, particularly those with budget to spare, need to really sit down and think when designing their next titles if the use of a cinema is actually enhancing the experience in a meaningful way, or is merely preventing the player from actually being able to play and only serving to help the graphic and storytelling teams flex their creative muscles without purpose like the design equivalent of a professional bodybuilder.

Do that, and I think that many of them will come to the same conclusion on cinemas that many gamers have been exercising for years, which is to just skip them all together.

Huge Sales Are Coming to the Xbox 360 Just in Time for the Holidays

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Not able to get in early on the next generation by purchasing an Xbox One, Wii U, or PS4? Don’t worry because with the holidays approaching, you happen to be in luck.

No I don’t mean insane deals are coming on one of those systems (though that certainly is possible), but rather that the previous gen console you own is about to see some serious drops in game prices, allowing you to go back and play some of those great games you may have missed the first time around.

While PC holiday deals started on Amazon and other outlets some time ago, it looks like the Xbox 360 is the first console to throw its hat into the holiday sale madness ring by offering up a host of hugely discounted titles starting today through Xbox Live.

What’s available? Well for now you can get a host of Arcade greats such as “Mark of the Ninja,” “Dust,” and “The Cave,” while some AAA greats like “Fallout 3” (and all the available DLC’s), “Tomb Raider,” “Sleeping Dogs,” and “Skyrim” for 50% – 75% off.

However, it appears that the real deals are coming later in the week, as one day only sales are available on Black Friday and Cyber Monday. This is particularly true of the Cyber Monday collection which features some best of generation titles like “Red Dead Redemption,” “Dark Souls,” “The Witcher 2,” “L.A. Noire,” and “Far Cry: Blood Dragon,” all for 75% off.

The full list of games can be found here and, while this is quite honestly nothing in comparison to the PC sales available this time of year, for 360 owners who aren’t ready to make the next gen jump and need some truly great games to play around with during the holidays, this is a sale you absolutely have to take advantage of.

How Adam Sessler, Resolutiongate, and Another Impending Console Launch Has Turned Us All Into Fanboys and Ten Year Olds

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When I was 10, all I wanted was a Dreamcast. It was the first system launch that I was intimately aware of, having just begun to absorb myself in the industry enough to be convinced at the time that it would be, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the absolute greatest system quite possibly in the history of ever.

However, as luck and the family finances would have it, I unfortunately did not get a Dreamcast that year, or any other. Don’t feel sorry for 10 year old me though, because the following Christmas I was gifted with a PS2, which was not only the hottest item of the year, but would go on to have a long and healthy life span full of classic all time games. It was, by all logical regards, a win.

Still a question enters my mind from time to time. If I could go back and tell 10 year old me to calm down, and not freak out about not getting a Dreamcast because it wasn’t going to last long anyway, would 10 year old me have listened? There’s a part of me that hates being wrong that believes it wouldn’t have mattered and my thoughts regarding the Dreamcast wouldn’t have changed overnight, despite the recently acquired knowledge of its eventual fate.

Pragmatically, however, that wouldn’t be the case. Had I known, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Sega Dreamcast despite being an incredible system in its own right, would only have a viable shelf-life of just over a year, I probably would have calmed down and transferred my hype to the pending PS2 release. After all, no matter what your age you never want to spend a substantial amount of money on a product that simply won’t last, and doesn’t fit your needs. As such, at the time I would have wished, and even craved, for that person to come along.

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To Buy…Or Not to Buy?

Of course, the above scenario is just fantasy theorizing that’s impossible barring the acquirement of some sort of 80′s sports car time traveling device, but it is, nonetheless, representative of a very real issue facing gamers as we approach another multiple system console launch.

Specifically its in regards to the recent incident where Adam Sessler took a stance on the “Resolutiongate” fiasco that the Xbox One found itself the center of, by saying that at this time its difficult to make the resolution of games the ultimate factor in deciding which system will be best, and that in the long run it’s ultimately meaningless when weighed against the value of good game design. Though it’s a pretty modest argument, and the only people really attacked in it are Microsoft and game developers for not making this information more well known, don’t try telling that to the hordes of people who lashed out at Adam Sessler for downplaying what is in the minds of many a very important aspect in terms of making a decision of which next gen console to invest in.

In an issue that has spun out of control as quickly and amazingly as this one has, it’s extremely important when trying to analyze it, to have the ability to step away from the melee of internet discussion boards and the like, and simply view the issue in and of itself, and really attempt to dissect just what this is and why it is happening.

Do that, and the first word you’ll probably take away from the whole thing is “fanboy.” There are many out there who are writing this off as a fanboy led argument and nothing more. While it’s true that there are certainly elements of fanboyism prevalent here, as with any discussion, fanboys in the accepted sense of the word are meaningless. Fanboys, or trolls, or whatever you want to call them are horrible creatures who live to spread madness and generally speaking make the world a worse place in any way they can. They are devoid of logic, and since logic is the thing needed most to really determine what’s at the heart of this issue, we will not factor the thoughts and actions of those groups in as much as possible.

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After All, Is This a Person Whose Opinions You Want to Validate?

Instead this is really just another in a long line of incidents that show the growing resentment many people have towards gaming jounalism. Many of the people upset at this are actually perfectly rational consumers and gamers, who see this as another example of gaming journalists becoming more and more out of touch with the common gamer, and more and more comfortable with the gaming industry. Citing a prior comment Sessler once made on how 1080p should be the standard in the next generation, many of those same people are saying that his most recent stance on the subject is a hypocritical cop-out and, an indication that he is unwilling or unable to make a definitive decision on the next generation at this time.

Of course the answer to that is, no shit he isn’t able or willing. Adam Sessler is not a prophet from the future who is able to tell us what the fate of either system will be, or which one we would be better off buying. People who are expecting him to be that, however, are in fact the same 10 year old boy I once was who wants a Dreamcast at launch really, really badly and are desperate for someone to come along and give them a compelling reason to either justify those feelings, or banish them from their minds.

Buy into that, and you’ll begin to see that the problem is that the majority of the people on both sides of this issue are either otherwise perfectly rational people who have momentarily turned themselves into 10 year olds again as another system draws near, or are fanboys. Those are, of course, two groups not known for their ability to participate in a reasonable discussion on any matter without things turning messy.

Again ignoring the thoughts and whims of fanboys, and turning instead to solely address those who’ve momentarily lost their grasp of sanity in this issue, I say to you what I wish I could really go back and say to a young, fanatical, Dreamcast desiring me, which is grow up, and calm the hell down. It’s highly unlikely that you are in a situation where your life depends on purchasing an Xbox One or PS4 as quickly as possible, and its even more unlikely that it depends on you selecting the “right” one.

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The Infamous You Don’t Know Jack Series Is Finally Available For Steam

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If you’ve never played the original “You Don’t Know Jack Games,” I pity you for having missed some of the best written, smartest, most enjoyable games ever made. It’s also difficult to blame you, however, consider the irreverent trivia series has never been available for download, and would be relegated to obscurity were it not for a couple recent console releases and a Facebook game which, while good, just do not compare to the originals.

Don’t fret though, as the series has joined the likes of “Earthbound” and “System Shock 2″ by crossing licensing hell, and becoming available for digital download. Available on Steam, you can finally snag the entire “You Don’t Know Jack” collection for either $2.99 individually, or $19.99 for the whole 10 game collection. Playable on just about any modern system, and having only gotten better with age, there is no real reason to not snag at least one of these, and experience the legendary multiplayer mode.

Oh, and if you’re a film buff, the “You Don’t Know Jack” movies edition, is my personal recommendation, and flat out one of the best movie trivia games of any kind.

As Halloween Approaches, Games Start to Get in the Spirit With Themed Updates

While the age of Halloween themed TV show specials is slowly coming to a close (we miss you TGIF!), videogames have been more than willing to pick up the slack in recent years by using the beloved horror holiday to unleash a bevy of downloadable frights on gamers everywhere. This year is no exception, and here are just a few of the recent Halloween themed additions made to some popular games.

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The incredibly humorous, and appropriately intense, re-make of the 90’s FPS “Shadow Warrior” continues its in-game trend of borrowing weapons from other series, as it adds an ice axe to the game’s substantial arsenal that comes courtesy of TellTalle’s “Walking Dead” games. While its effectiveness when put up against the katana it replaces is suspect, as anyone whose played The Walking Dead can attest, when in a pinch it can really make a baddie think twice, and should fit well into the game’s selection of awesome weapons best applied with extreme predjudice.

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Popular world building RPG “Terraria” gets a little more into the traditional Halloween spirit by filling it’s world with a variety of Halloween novelties. You’ll find enemies wearing costumes, random gift bags filled with in-game treats, a variety of Halloween themed items, weapons, and locations, to explore and create, and even a special new “Pumpkin Moon Event” challenge which adds a survival mode to the game, where waves of enemies all possessing increasingly better loot descend upon the player.

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The best of the Halloween updates though has to go to “Minecraft,” which has  just unveiled a Halloween update for the 360 version of the game that is simply mind blowing. It essentially re-skins the entire game in a way that lets you build a Halloween world of your own, not unlike that of Pumpkin Town from “A Nightmare Before Christmas.” The attention to detail here is phenomenal, and constantly provides the feeling that the developers are more excited for Halloween than anyone else. There’s too many examples of little Halloween touches to go over, but I have to give a shout out to whoever decided to turn the game’s teleporting Endermen, into the more horror appropriate Slendermen. A free update, everyone who has Minecraft on the 360 needs to experience this, as it just may be the best way to get hyped for “Halloween” available. Browsing the images of this incredible update is also highly recommended.

Of course this is just a sampling of the Halloween updates available, and the biggest annual update (The “Team Fortress 2” Halloween update) is still yet to come. Stay tuned here this week for more updates on that, as well as other horror themed articles in anticipation of Halloween.

Instant Impressions – Path of Exile

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It’s not possible to talk about the recently released free to play game “Path of Exile” without mentioning its strong resemblance to “Diablo.” In fact, lets just call it like it is and say that “Path of Exile” is, for all intents and purposes, a knockoff of “Diablo.” However, I’ve never found being a knockoff a bad thing in the world of video games, so long as said knockoff follows three simple rules:

 

1. Make sure you’re borrowing from an already great game.

2. Improve on any structural flaws the original game had.

3. Introduce at least one unique idea that the original game did not have.

 

Does “Path of Exile” adhere to all of these rules? For the most part, yes.

As mentioned, it draws most of its inspiration from the “Diablo” series (fulfilling the first rule), and does it to a degree that’s worth elaborating on. Right down to visual layout of the menu, this game has the design stench of “Diablo” all over it, to the point where a glance at a screen shot of both games, could possibly cause even a fan of the fabled Blizzard series to hesitate. I don’t really resent it for lifting the “Diablo” gameplay formula (click your way through mobs of enemies while improving your character, and getting better loot) because “Diablo” not only introduced that style of gameplay, but by an large perfected it, however I will say that the sheer amount of little design elements borrowed from that series, can cause you to roll your eyes once in a while.

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Fortunately any lapses in design creativity are largely negated by the admirable way “POE” honors rule number 2. The developers of “POE” recognize that when you are making this style of game, the most important thing you can do is to get the fundamentals right. That’s why extra care has been put into making things like loot drops, enemy balance, skill risk/reward, and combat variety, as sound as possible and implemented in ways that keep you from having to consider any of those elements while playing. What I mean is, the best type of ARPG’s are built in a way that quickly puts you into a zen like focus, as your brain reshapes its perspective to hone in on the gaming world, and all of its functions and rules. The moment that you, say, run into an impossible nest of enemies or wonder why the game keeps dropping the same item, are the moments when you focus out, and begin to lose interest. “POE’s” intent on making the genre fundamentals so solid ensures that these lapses back to reality are few and far between.

Does it do anything outside of the norm to satisfy rule number 3 though, and make its own mark? This is a little trickier than the first two, but I’m going to tepidly say “yes,” and cite the skill system as my justification. See, whereas most of these games work off of a simple skill tree where you choose basic branching paths to determine how you will build your character, “POE” uses a skill grid that is absolutely massive (you can’t capture it in a single screenshot), and as far as potential depth goes, leaves the old tree design in the dust. Trying to break it down entirely would be a fruitless headache, but just know that it allows you to take any of the game’s classes (which are all admirably balanced and equally useful by the way), and build them anyway you like. For example, it might not be as easy or immediately rewarding to build a barbarian character who is also adept in magic, but with the right level of dedication you can do just that, along with any other character combination you can think of.

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Despite fulfilling all three rules to this style of game design, I still find myself slightly resenting “POE” for it’s lack of creativity. Though I do really enjoy the design consistency of the game’s gothic horror elements, and the bleak world they come together to form, aesthetically speaking there is really nothing here you haven’t seen quite a few times before. Similarly, outside of the improved skill system, as far as ARPG’s go, everything here from a gameplay standpoint is pretty commonplace as well. This doesn’t really deprive the game of much at first, but as your journey wears on it becomes more and more obvious that not many original thoughts made it from the brainstorming process, to the final game.

That being said, “POE’s” lack of innovation does very little to harm the overall experience, especially once you factor in the free to play aspect. Yes I know it’s not usually a good sign when the final say on a free to play game is “It’s free,so you have no reason not to play it,” but the fact that this is a free to play game in the true sense of the word (I.E. you’re never encouraged to spend money if you don’t want to) takes it from a game that only dedicated fans will probably be interested in, to something that….well…. you have no reason not to play.

Some are saying that “POE” feels like more of a successor to “Diablo 2” than “Diablo 3” did, and while that’s certainly true in the sense that it carries on so many of the things that made that game great, the lack of progressive design keeps it from achieving the full implications of that lofty goal. However, I will say that with the exception of “Torchlight 2,” this is simply the most satisfying and consistent game of this type that I have played since the seminal “Diablo 2,” and deserves to be tried by everyone reading this.

Download “Path of Exile” for Steam

Surgeon Simulator 2013′s Biggest Secret Has Been Solved

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If you think hard enough you may recall a simpler time when developers put easter eggs into games with a certain snarky superiority fueled by the belief that us mere players would be so caught up in the game itself, we would never ever find them. It was a time when inside jokes could remain as such and, if you actually discovered something out of the ordinary in the game, you were well within your rights to feel that you and you alone had found something truly unique.

With the rise of the internet gaming community though, Easter eggs in games last about as long as the candy that Easter eggs hold in real life does, as gamers with seemingly super power like abilities to find things that shouldn’t have been found have proven that your occasional childhood findings were not quite as unique as you may have hoped. While some major games (the “Arkham Asylum” Easter egg and a the apparently undiscovered secret in “Shadow of the Colossus” spring to mind) do a good job keeping their biggest secrets at bay for a long period of time, eventually all secrets fall prey to those dedicated treasure hunters.

Now you can add another somewhat long running secret to the fallen, as a cryptic message in “Surgeon Simulator 2013” has been solved.

The mystery started after the “Team Fortress 2” update to the game, when it was discovered that upon completing the new surgeries, you were awarded a small statue on your desk that contained a cryptic message on the bottom. Theories ran rampant (many of them involved some sort of Valve related content) but outside of some highly educated guesses, there hasn’t been much actual progress towards figuring out what the whole thing meant.

YouTube user MattShea369 appears to have cracked the code recently, when he discovered an extremely complicated series of steps (detailed in full at the beginning of this video) that lead to the appearance of a new tape on the main menu screen that leads the user to a new outer space level where, upon opening a keypad controlled pod, you are tasked with operating on a gray alien, and replacing one of six probably vital organs whose functions, names, and looks are all very cryptic.

Besides the added challenge of trying to figure out what organs are what and a really cool new environment to play in, the content of the secret itself isn’t exactly life changing, but once again the dedication and intelligence applied to uncovering it has to be acknowledged and appreciated by gamers everywhere. Big kudos then to MattShea369 for proving once again that no gaming secret ever really remains one for long.

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