Wednesday, July 17, 2013

LIVE BLOG: Me Reading About What Steam Trading Cards Are


As you get older, you may find yourself falling into a trap where you become proud of your ignorance or lack of understanding of certain things. For a real-world example of this, tune into your Facebook and Twitter feed during the next big sports game. In between status updates consisting solely of repeated caps-locked player names, you'll definitely notice that one or more of your friends has suddenly turned into C. Montgomery Burns: 
Is there some type of sports ball event happening today? Ah yes, the local baseball squadron appears to be delivering a sound thrashing. I think I'll go read a book under a tree.
Not to be cynical, but those people probably spent the next two hours watching The Show with Vinny.*

What I'm saying is that ignorance is not to be celebrated. My conviction was tested when I opened up my Steam client the other day, and learned that Valve had implemented a Trading Card minigame into their...storefront? It took all of my self-righteousness to refrain from riding the giddy high of my uninformed state to the pure euphoria of snark. Sure, I'd love to just grab my ten dollar copy of Dishonored and retreat to the safe haven of my Library page, but I thought it would be fun for me to liveblog the process of me learning what this is and why I shouldn't be scared and confused by it.


  • 9:00AM EST: The very top of the Steam Store page has a link that promises to explain what Steam Trading Cards have to do with the Steam Summer Sale. Better than nothing, I guess. I click on it and then get up to get a glass of water.
  • 9:02AM: My wife looks over my shoulder and asks "What the fuck is up with those Steam trading cards, anyway? Are they like Cheevos?" I told her I was looking into it and she could read all about it on my blog. "Good," she said. "I'm interested in finding out what that's all about, although I guess it doesn't matter and I don't actually care." Dude. I know.
  • 9:05AM: It's taking me longer to type this out than it would just to read the informative steam page. It's still open from when I clicked on it five...now six minutes ago.
  • 9:06AM: I'm clicking back to the Steam window now.
  • 9:07AM: Right at the top, the explanation page tells me to "Collect all 10 Summer Getaway Trading Cards to craft the Summer Getaway badge. And Summer Getaway emoticons and backgrounds!" Backgrounds for what? There are badges now? I'm crafting badges with cards? I guess if I were going to create a badge, I would probably use a card. Unless I were really into it, then I would try to get some plastic action going.
  • 9:17AM: ...What the fuck is this?
  • 9:20AM: So...like...you get Steam Cards by playing participating games...but...you can't get all the cards you need to make a badge that way. You have to...I don't know. Trade with other people? I'm glad Valve is promoting social interaction among its devotees. If I know anything about PC game nerds, it's that they won't immediately find a quick and impersonal way to automate this shit.
  • 9:24AM: I have to eat something. I'm taking Prednisone since I had some weird allergic thing the other day that no one can explain. I have a Rite-Aid rewards-or-whatever card in my wallet. Whenever I buy things at Rite-Aid I give that to them so they don't ask about it. Sometimes I might get a dollar off something, I guess? That's the same kind of loyalty program at the Steam stuff, but...this just seems way more...I mean, right?
  • 9:56AM: Oh god, am I still doing this?
  • 9:58AM: So, they introduced the cards a while ago, but the Summer Sale is the big push to get people invested in the...ecosystem, I guess. Before, you could just ignore it, but now you're getting cards just for buying things you would be buying anyway, so there have to be SOME people who pick up the habit that way. 
  • 10:02AM: There's an eBay for this shit? People are buying and selling cards, along with other "items" from popular games like Team Fortress 2. Profits from these sales can go towards future Steam purchases. People are selling cards for, like, 18 cents.
  • 10:07AM: I have two cards from purchasing things during the Summer Sale. I think I'll hold onto them and watch them become collector's items thankyouverymuch.
  • 10:10AM: Dota 2 has treasure keys that unlock in-game items. People are selling these keys for like two bucks. You might pay two bucks for a Dota 2 item. 
  • 10:13AM: Back to the cards. You get Summer Sale cards by buying things, voting on flash sales, trading with buddies, or straight-up paying money for them. Once you have all ten cards, you get to "craft" the badge, which gives you "rewards" like special emoticons for your Steam chat client, or background images for your Steam profile page. I'm not even joking. That's the end game. You're "allowed" to craft the badge five times, which means collecting fifty of the cards. So you can paste a little pixelated Gordon Freeman face into your chats with Steam friends and they can be totally jealous that you got an emoticon that they can't use. You're literally advertising the loyalty program within the chat client.
  • 10:26AM: YOU'RE PAYING MONEY TO ADVERTISE A LOYALTY PROGRAM. YOU ARE PAYING MONEY TO ADVERTISE A LOYALTY PROGRAM.
It's 10:30 now and my wife has fallen back asleep. In her gentle slumber, I see all the innocence I knew only 90 minutes ago before I took up this foul task. I see joy, and a little hope for the future. She doesn't understand what's out there. What we're up against. I have stared down the ickiness, and I know it's staring right back at me. Inky-black, cynical, smirking. It is the face of Yanis Varoufakis, who I'm sure is an amazingly wonderful person, and who is damn sure a brilliant guy for going from only knowing Space Invaders to being one of the most influential economic minds in the industry in about two years. 


Thank you, Yanis and Valve, for forcing every other video game e-tailer to have regular sales and markdowns. Thank you for spinning me around half a dozen times and throwing me into a hamster maze with a handful of trading cards. Thank you Yanis especially for posting that funny picture of yourself so I could end with that instead of a picture of Gabe Newell. 



*I totally went onto mtv.com and stared at the Shows page for like three minutes trying to decide the funniest show name to use in this sentence. I'm not proud that I don't know anything about reality TV but this footnote is still pretty hypocritical, don't you think?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Monday, October 1, 2012

This Week in Gamer PODCASTS

Picture from Deviantart


So, if you're a legit core gamer like me, you probably listen to a lot of gaming podcasts. My love for podcasts started when I was just a babygamer, playing Link to the Past on Saturday night and listening to recorded talk radio segments. My love for videogames, timeshifted audio opinions, and sitting alone in my home all came together the day podcasting was invented by (I assume) Steve Jobs.

I've been listening to a lot of different stuff recently, and you benefit!

The Blog Show

The Blog Show is great because it is a panel show featuring all of my favorite Video Games Journalist personalities from the Blog website. Popular topics on The Blog Show include "What Have I Been Playing, My Friends?," "GAMER NEWS," "The Reviews System is Broken and Here is Why," "Jokes Commenting Upon Our Long, Off-Topic Tangents," and "Was That Supposed To Be a Segue?"

The Blog Show is also great because they are very concerned about what the Average Joe Gamer knows about video games. Turns out, not much. They just wanna play Modern Warfare; they don't even care about developer-related lawsuits against Activision. That makes me feel like an insider because I do care about why Frank West isn't working on Call of Duty anymore, despite the fact that I'm probably too legit to be caught dead playing CoD at this point anyway. I was a Battlefield snob for a while, but then my cousins started playing B3 and now I only play sprite-based indie games that run in a little pop-up window.

This Week: The Gang seems to really like Torchlight 2 probably, and one guy gets really defensive about his Borderlands 2 review.

Official Podcast

The Official Podcast is great because I can get the inside scoop on really important-gamer related issues from an Official Source. Imagine: first-hand accounts of things! None of the media spin! I can decide where I stand on things before they enter the Opinion Machine and get all screwed up.

I also love The Official Podcast because I love listening to men who have totally gotten over being picked on in high school get together with female Community Managers and pretend that they didn't do drugs in college.

This Week: Everything is AWESOME back at the office. After fifty-seven episodes, they still can't find one co-worker who can even believe that they have such an amazing job, doing what they love, and getting paid for it. According to the panel, it's all been a dream come true, and there are some really awesome things coming down the pike that they CAN'T WAIT to share with me, so that all sounds real good.

Just Skypin' with Buzzy McFuzz

Just Skypin' is a show where five to seven idiots with bad microphones attempt to sync up their Skype calls in Audacity while talking over each other like they're having a real conversation. Popular topics include "What Have I Been Pl*******(garbled)*****" and "I've Been Pricing Podcast Microphones."

This Week: The guys forget to hit record like twice, so we get to hear the giggly, jokey third version of a conversation they're sick of having about how great Torchlight 2 is and how the review score system is bullshit.

Haze Fancast

Haze Fancast is my favorite podcast because it's the only podcast on the web dedicated to the popular PS3 exclusive shooter from Free Radical: HAZE. It includes tons of inside jokes for HazeHeads (that's what Haze superfans call ourselves) like the ongoing character Bob, the Mantel Propaganda PR Director, and NECTAR DISRUUUUUUUUUPTIOOONNN!!! You'd better get with the program, BRO, because we HazeHeads are nothin' but ANIMALS, and I'm the TOP DAWG! WOOF!!  I'll see all you knuckleheads at HazeCon 2013!

This Week: A sober discussion about perception and reality ensues during a discussion on the specific psychological effects of Nectar. More of your favorite Duvall quotes. Also, we're in week thirty-two of the EPIC multiplayer tourney. Believe it or not, it can be hard to get a game going sometimes, so be sure to hop on at around 3PM on Wednesdays because that's the day I get off work early.

I'll never forget the first time I heard my favorite song:



Well, that's basically every gaming podcast on iTunes, as far as I can tell. Happy listening!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Black Isle Announcement Brings Interplay Back to Relevance for Length of Time Required to Read Press Release

This is a picture of me learning this news, from my point of view.
Genuine excitement was felt throughout the videogame blogosphere this week as Interplay announced the reformation of Black Isle Studios, the logo on the front of the box of beloved PC games from the 1990s such as Fallout, Icewind Dale, and Planescape: Torment, followed moments later by a wave of bitter resentment as the blogosphere finished reading the press release and realized that Black Isle Studios, the group of human individuals who designed and coded those games would remain fired.

“It really feels like getting the band back together," says Interplay CEO Herve Caen, leading us all to believe that significant members of the Black Isle staff, such as Chris Avellone, J.E. Sawyer, or anybody we'd ever heard of would either be returning to the company where they did such great work, or that they would have heard one thing about it before yesterday when Interplay launched a hastily put-together website and a Twitter account with no posts. Of course, because the universe punishes us for even attempting to emerge from our cynical shells and hope that something good or interesting can happen in this pathetic industry, this turned out not to be the case. To a man, none of the former Black Isle employees who have stayed in the games business knew anything about what was going on.

The toughest nut to crack for bloggers and vloggers in this story is which "band" to compare Black Isle to: Guns 'n' Roses, Van Hagar, and Smashing Pumpkins were all hilarious choices, but were all contain at least one original member, giving them more credibility than what we know about Black Isle Studios 2012. The debate rages on.

And then our attentions turned to the games, which we all agreed after our little fit were the only thing that mattered, there was another brief period of relief when we decided that, at the very least, we could look forward to new entries in classic series, and that would hold our interest for a short while. The press release stated that they would "bring to market new AAA innovative RPGs based on Interplay’s critically acclaimed intellectual properties." That sounds great! Nothing wrong with that, right? The only thing that I have to say against that is that every single game that the original Black Isle ever made has either been sold (Fallout to Bethesda. Interplay doesn't even have the MMO rights that they were clinging to for way too long) or was licensed from Wizards of the Coast in the first place (all of their other games were based on D&D).

So, we basically don't know. How can you put out a press release with less meaning than this? The VGXpert will keep on top these developments, so you don't have to wrinkle your pretty little forehead thinking about it.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

REVIEW: Ghosts 'n' Goblins (NES)



CAPCOM sent me a review copy of GHOSTS 'N' GOBLINS in 1986, when I was about a year old. I'm a stickler for Videogames Journalism Ethics, so I decided not to run a full review until 1) I had learned to read, 2) blogging had been invented and 3) I had completely finished the game. Amazingly, all three of those criteria were met last month when I completed both playthroughs required to achieve the "real" ending to the game. The gulf between that time and the publication of this review can be attributed to slackerism.

I've been playing GHOSTS 'N' GOBLINS ever since I was able to sneak into my sister's room when she wasn't home and operate the NES on my own. It's probably a testament to CAPCOM's amazing arcade sense that I never felt the need to quit forever after dying countless times on the first level for most of my life. I was twenty-two years old the first time I beat the first level. It was one of those moments that just felt like magic. I wracked my brain for half an hour trying to come up with the name of someone that I knew who could possibly care about this achievement, so that I might tell them about it. Sadly, this mental exercise proved fruitless.

It's not that I'm bad at games, necessarily, but I've never really been drawn to challenge. In video games, or in life. I play RPGs that don't require much of me, Adventure games that I already know I'll be good at, and an endless line of AAA titles that have smoothed out the learning curve so well that there's really no hope of frustration. I've kind of been floating around for the last few years, afraid to really pick up anything if it's outside of my immediate comfort zone. Since I moved to Charlotte a year ago, I've been applying to crappy little jobs because I'm afraid of failing if I try anything really difficult.

I'm twenty-seven years old now and, spurred on by a smattering of recent professional failures, I decided to sit down and actually complete GHOSTS 'N' GOBLINS for the first time in my life, hopefully to simulate the feeling of actually being good at something in this dark, indifferent world.

The first thing you'll notice about GHOSTS 'N' GOBLINS is its delightfully retro 8-bit pixel art style. That seems to be the trend these days in the Indie Games Scene (of which, as a Games Journalist, I am an intrinsic part). This game has hipster cred up the wazoo, in fact. It's a sidescoller where you fight zombies. You play as a white guy with a beard and ironic heart-pattern boxers who must go out and gentrify the land of the dead to find your girlfriend with spears, knives, and fireballs (it kind of breaks down by the end there).

I will never forget the first time I watched the opening cinematic to this game over two decades ago. Arthur and his as-far-as-I-know unnamed girlfriend are having a picnic in a cemetery because they're a bunch of godless liberals with no reverence for the sanctity of life.



So, when an evil flying demon straight out of my tiny child nightmares swoops down and steals his lady friend, I'm thinking to myself, "justice has been served!" Also: "Am I too old to be shitting my pants in terror right now?" At the age of four, this is what I was lead to believe would happen if you were to spend significant time with the dead at night time with an evil castle in the background. I watched this segment countless times in my life, and it's done me no small amount of psychological damage. I could talk about it for days. But no, there's a whole game after that point.

Which is fine. I will love this game forever for one reason and one reason only:

This is one of the top five compositions in the history of music (among such giants as Mozart and the Bubble Bobble theme). I recommend you listen to it for about five hours at a time like I do. It creates a feeling that simulates the true madness that must have been required to compose it in the first place.

The Controls

If there is one aspect of the game that people have a right to complain about, it's everything about what the controller buttons do when you press them. There are two types of jumping: jumping straight up in the air, and jumping slightly to the left or right. Other sidescrolling games of this time period will generally give you a wider range of movement options, such as a running jump, variable-height jump, or after-jump controlling. These little touches can do a lot to give the player a sense of control, in that they allow the player to have the on-screen character move to the place that they need to be in, rather than a totally fixed place on either side. 

This is actually not that big of a deal in the first level, which is probably why I didn't notice it for about twenty years.


As you can see, Level One is mostly just a flat surface with a couple dual-level ladder sections where you can choose to go to a higher level for a minute, having zero effect on the actual gameplay except for one or two enemy placements. I think there's one tricky jump, but it's onto a static platform and it's no big deal.


 Uh, but then shit like this happens. Imagine being twenty-two and realizing for the first time that your favorite impossible game has shitty jumping mechanics and a LOT of mind-numbing moving platform sections that require precise timing and placement or you get sent back to like five minutes ago. It was kind of heartbreaking. Level after level, I was struck dumb by the sheer gall CAPCOM displayed creating more and more situations where Arthur had to do any jumping, at all, ever.With jumping that terrible, you'd think they'd want to hide it. But no. It's there, prettymuch on every level.

The Levels

There are levels in this game. It's not just that first level. I was as surprised as you.



And, it turns out, these levels correspond to that pre-gameplay screen that shows up every time you die! Every number represents a boss character that you have to fight.

 

I know I keep harping on this, but there really are different levels to this game. And this is proof!


Bosses

So, some of the bosses are annoyingly easy.


Sometimes they just give you two of the same boss. I didn't get a screenshot of that but it was basically the same as above except there were two of them. Uhm, actually this is super easy with Photoshop


DONE.

Some of the bosses are nightmares of twitch timing with very little strategy involved, but who nevertheless take about half a million tries to defeat because I am a terrible human being and I hate myself why am I playing this game? Why? WHY???


And at the end of the game, you have to fight all the bosses again.



Oh, I forgot to mention, there's a point in the game where I get to fulfill a childhood dream:


I get to kill this son of a bitch.


Twice. 

And, I know what you're thinking: "Not with that Axe, you're not!" And you'd be right. It turns out that, just before your final conflict with Satan (this is apparently CAPCOM's name for this flying demon, which for some reason makes me feel better, and not worse), the game non-randomly drops an Axe in your path, which you may then pick up. That's cool and all, except for the fact that THE AXE DOES NO DAMAGE AGAINST THE SATAN DEMON. THERE IS NO WAY TO LEARN THIS IN THE GAME EXCEPT TO FIGHT SATAN OVER AND OVER FOR A HALF HOUR UNTIL YOU THINK TO JUMP OVER THE AXE THAT WAS PUT RIGHT IN FRONT OF YOU. There isn't really any place to learn that different weapons do damage to different enemies with differing values, because it hasn't been an issue up to this point. Apparently you're supposed to fight the dragon with the lance, and fight the Satan with the "shield," and just jump over the axe entirely. And, if you accidentally collide into this non-random item pickup that is placed right where you need to walk in order to beat the game, you have to do a huge, difficult level all over again from the beginning.

Wow.

So, eventually I did it. And I find out that the Satan Brothers are not actually the final bosses of the game, but merely a prelude to...


My battle with Astaroth, the crown prince of Hell, was short and sweet. It's the only point in the game that allows you to walk back and forth while facing the same direction. So, basically, you can spam the shield attack like crazy, dodging his own attacks pretty easily, until he dies almost immediately. I should probably feel less empty after killing this beast, but something's missing. Uhh, it's the Princess. 

When I kill Astaroth, the screen goes black and I get this text:


Not only did no one read that before it was put in a game cartridge and duplicated half a million times, but I don't think anyone wrote it

Oh, and then it kicks me back to the beginning of the game. Yeah, to get the "good" ending, you have to beat the game a second, slightly harder time.

So, I did that.

I had to.

There was something I needed from this game that that horrible line of partially translated text on a black background could not give me. I wouldn't call it pride, but there was something.

I'm not going to bore you with the details. I'm going to show you the ending so you don't have to play it. That's where I am in my life right now. I don't have any witty quips or whatever. There is no joy in this. I'm just done with this shit. I can move on and do something else. Focus on something else. That's all I care about right now. I spent my whole life playing this game and this is the ending. That's the joke. That's funnier than anything else I could possibly say. 





But then, the final screen hit me in a way that I didn't predict.


Challenge Again? Maybe that's exactly what I need.


Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Video Game Conference Happening

I heard from my friend Craig that there's some video game conference happening in LA this week. He says that  people in the "industry" (if you can even call it that. I've been turned down by like two companies for Game Designer jobs) come and set up booths and talk to each other about what is happening and what is going to happen in regards to video games and video game related products. As far as I know, Mtn DEW didn't have a Game Fuel booth there this year, so I really don't know how relevant it could be.

In seemingly unrelated news, I just noticed about twenty thousand videos posted to my Youtube feed list.

Sleeping Dogs

Unlike a bunch of idiots whose Twitter feeds I read voraciously, I know the difference between this game and another game called Watch Dogs. The difference is this game will come out within the next decade. Sleeping Dogs used to be called Driver: True Crime Hong Kong, but then it was purchased by Square-Enix and they took out all of the driving, Crime and Truth. In this game you play as some type of gangster who must either rise through the ranks of something or get revenge for something and along the way you meet a bunch of uptight people who take life way too seriously.


Transit of Venus

This is a once-in-a-lifetime game where you play as a small planet that must flee across the face of the sun from the Nazis. This game sucks though because if you didn't play it last night you can't play it again until the twenty-second century.


Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance

Finally, a game that make sense! In this game, you play as an asexual waif named Raiden who is obsessed with politics and refuses to stop playing Fruit Ninja with the world's supply of henchmen and machinery until there's some type of filibuster reform and maybe some Climate Change bill. There's some really graphic business man slaughter in this trailer so before you watch it you should probably make sure no one's around to hear you laughing maniacally. This game can only be a work of genius, because if it's not then it's just complete gibberish and I don't think I can handle that.


Medal of Honor: Warfighter

I don't think there's any commentary necessary. What could be more revealing than this trailer featuring music from the hit band Linkin Park in 2012? And could that title be any more of a slap in the face? 

ATTENTION LUNKHEADS: IF YOU CAN WATCH THE ABOVE VIDEO AND FIND IT RELEVANT TO YOUR INTERESTS, THEN THE ONLY "WARFIGHTER" IS YOU BECAUSE YOU ARE POOR, UNEDUCATED, HAVE ABHORRENT MUSICAL TASTE AND YOUR ONLY CHOICE IN LIFE WILL BE TO JOIN A BLOATED, CREAKY MILITARY AND FIGHT UNNECESSARY WARS WHERE YOU'RE MORE LIKELY TO DIE BY SUICIDE THAN ENEMY FIRE. THIS IS NOT A JOKE, I KNOW THIS IS A JOKE BLOG BUT YOU ARE BEING BRAINWASHED BY

Disregard previous. Yo, I heard there were boobs in the Ubisoft press conference. NICE!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Need That Game Fuel



I bought some Game Fuel online last week, and it finally came in! It's a 2007 yield, emblazoned with the Halo 3 marketing push. I like the 2009s, too, but I definitely think the Horde flavor is going to age better than the Alliance. I lucked out, also, because the eBay listing described the condition of the individual cans as "Acceptable or Better" but there's only two or three cans that dip below "Good." You really don't know what you're getting when you buy from auctions.

You know, it's funny. I feel like some kind of connoisseur of discontinued soda beverages. An expert on expired foodstuffs, if you will.

For instance, I think people give Crystal Pepsi a hard time. When that stuff came out, people weren't used to too much of companies coming in and sending something truly odious out into the world with no research, no focus testing, no walking up to somebody, anybody, and asking them "hey, can you try this real quick and tell me if it's unsettling in any way?"...none of that. America, as a whole, was one big test market and we did not take kindly to it. But nowadays there's all sorts of crap like that. People buy soda because it looks like it's from a different decade, even if that particular soda did not exist in that particular decade. And, instead of being horrified that every OTHER soda we buy is jacked up full of high fructose corn syrup, we get excited that just this once, for a limited time, we get a drink with some actual sugar in it.

I don't mind all that. I'm just interested in collecting double-takes in Uptown Charlotte when those Wells Fargo financial analysts realize that I'm chuggin' down a fizzydrink that hasn't been made for half a decade, dogg.