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My Grips on Reality and Virtual Reality

You did it. Game over. Mission accomplished. You beat the final boss. You reached 100% completion. Platinum trophy to you, get paid 1000 gamerpoints. So let me ask you this: Why did you do it? Was it fun? Did your OCD tell you that you had to collect everything? I believe that everyone has deep reasons why they deeply involve themselves in any gaming title. Specifically, there’s a darker tone to the motivations of many gamers in the world. At the risk of making this post sound like a brief autobiography, I’d like to discuss my motivations for spending 30+ hours on a single game: my attempt to control something.

I’ve spent almost of my cognitive life playing video games. My first console was the Super Nintendo, and I collected games like trading cards. To me, the gaming thing was a hobby that up until now, I thought was just something I did, along with playing with toys. I never really noticed why I was playing so many games. I was a kid.

Hop forward to now. I’m starting to really come to terms and recognize my issues with anxiety and depression. The world feels out of sync. I’ve made choices that have hurt my future so much. The struggle to breathe during episodes of panic have set in. At 25, my emotions are more off centered than they were during my teenage angst years. It’s so crazy, how life never throws you what you expect.

Because of this, I’ve been really evaluating what my coping techniques are in life, and gaming keeps popping up as the one thing I do in order to escape and focus on something I can work with. As a child, I was a quiet kid. Only child, and one best friend that I hung out with. I wasn’t popular, and I didn’t get out much. Games really became something of a vacation for me everyday. I would jump in and play for hours. Now that I think about it, maybe I was setting habits for dealing with my issues of not really making lots of friends or feeling like I had any say in life.

Think about the games we have now. “Mass Effect” has taken hundreds of hours of my life in the name of saving the galaxy. So have other RPGs. I sneak around as Solid Snake or an Assassin, learning as they learn and wishing I could have their convictions and morals. Soaking in every graphical aspect of “The Last of Us”. It’s sad to say, there is way more interest in a world that has been created for me than there is in my own life. Sometimes. Don’t call anyone to lock me up in an asylum.

I think me, like thousands of gamers, do what we do because we don’t feel in control in our own lives. Consider what an average human has to go through. Financial woes, working a job that they’re not completely happy with, relationships falling apart. These things make us feel so lost in the world, and not all of us are strong enough to just pick up and find opportunity in struggle. I know I’m definitely not that strong. So, while some may turn to religion to cast their worries about lack of control, others pick up a controller and get to playing.

What’s important to remember is that gaming cannot be a complete replacement for treatment on these issues. No matter how long I game, I have to turn the console off and cope with whatever is off the TV, and I can definitely admit that I hate it. I know why, too. It’s because of the fact that subconsciously, I understand that there are no real world ramifications for my choices in “The Walking Dead.” As a people, we have to realize the difference between what is real and what isn’t. We also need to know the time to escape and the time to stand strong in our own lives. So, I challenge you to continue shaping the gaming experiences you love, and I urge you to approach your own life in the same objective fashion. Life isn’t a game, but it is your own.

Is The Future Made Yet?

Technology is an ever-changing commodity, and the video game industry always proves to be at the forefront of this change. Over thirty years ago, gaming consisted of countable bits on a screen and a little entertainment. Now, we play AAA titles that reach past our hand-eye coordination and touch our minds and soul. I’m a strong believer in the influential power of strong storytelling, but we cannot discount the hardware and gaming mechanics that go into a gameplay experience. And with the recent innovations into virtual reality headsets and gaming, an observer of trends in gaming has to wonder just where all this is going. Are we on the cusp of a gaming revolution shown in older ’90s movies such as The Lawnmower Man and Hackers?

Call of Duty: Ghosts
Call of Duty: Ghosts

Let’s start with what we already know. For the most part, first-person titles such as Call of Duty and Left for Dead are more interactive than third-person games. It’s that point of view that allows the player to see the world as they would see it. Of course, this is not to say that third-person games are not interactive as well. Look at The Last of Us, nominated by so many magazines and companies as Game of the Year. These kinds of games are just as good. However, gamers seem to enjoy the FP games because of the connection they can make with their character. Not seeing who you’re playing as for most of the game can help immerse you in the environment around you, at least in my experience. Even if the playable character has a face and form, the psychology of the situation shows that the player sees their own self in that character. Think of it like a long episode of Quantum Leap, if you’re old enough to know what that show is. If you’re not, feel free to stop reading and do a little research. I won’t mind.

 

The game doesn’t even have to be a shooter to be completely immersive, though that sometimes seems to be the go-to game for people looking for a good time in gaming. My example for this would be Outlast, truly one of the scariest games I have ever played. In case you’re unfamiliar

Something very creepy to look at.
Something very creepy to look at.

with it, Outlast is a horror FP title in which you’re a journalist investigating a shady mental asylum, armed with nothing but your video Something very creepy tocamera and a decent amount of cardio fitness. Couple this incredibly frightening run from the evil guys action with a gaming headset to put the disturbing sounds right in your ear, and you’ve got yourself a hell that you’re trying to complete just to escape from. No amount of pre-gaming conversation could prepare me for what I experienced in that game, and I loved every minute of it. I think Outlast is a testament to just how far the gaming interactivity has come for us.

Now, let’s look at the immediate future: VR gaming headsets. One of the big wave-makers in the industry is the Oculus Rift. According to their website, the Rift is allowing for a full 3D headset experience, completely removing the TV from the equation. Though the Rift is not on the market yet, the promise of future games using this is a little

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Oculus Rift

exciting, if you can get past the initial awkwardness of wearing a giant box on your head.

Of course, the Rift is not the only headset being promised on the market. Being a huge Sony fan, I was interested in hearing about their line of VR headset, dubbed Project Morpheus. Playstation’s blog speaks on this headset, boasting a 90 degree field of view at any given time along with1080p resolution and stereoscopic sound. Now, don’t get too excited. You can’t walk around your living room with the headset and expect to save the world. You’ll still need a controller and a Playstation Camera to interact with this world. But, the implications are pretty promising, not to mention the future happiness of FPS competitive gamers who struggle sometimes to find the right TV to aid in their killing conquests.

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The Morpheus

Now, one has to consider some of the consequences to this. First of all, what is the cost? Will these headsets be affordable toys for the masses or luxuries for those with plenty of time and money on their hands? I’m inclined to believe that they’ll start off somewhat pricey and come down as time and technology grow. That’s usually the trend with these things. Another implication is eyesight degradation. Mom and Dad always say don’t sit too close to the TV. Will headsets have the same effect on the eyes? You can go either way on this one. You are experiencing a first person view of things just like you do every single day. However, you’re experiencing it through a synthetic screen, which is not natural for people to look through. So, a bit of caution may be in order for this new wave of gaming.

Finally, let’s think outside the gaming box. These headsets are great, but if you’re imaginative, you can find more uses for this tech. Astronauts and the military already using virtual simulators for combat and flight practice, that’s already known. What other ways can this be used? Maybe nursing schools and hospitals can train students to administer aid while removing some of the fear of mistakes. Computer techs can play with the insides of their devices before working on them for real. What if real estate agents and homebuyers could coordinate to create a dream home that a person can “walk” through before actually buying or building the place? This may sound a bit extreme, but VR can definitely be useful in the real world. Think about that in a few years when you see how things turn out.

If you’re trying to stay up to date with gaming news and devices, then obviously you’ll want to invest in a VR headset. These things can definitely open up a new world of interactive possibilities. It’s really going to be a matter of choice as to which device to pick, just like in picking a console. Personally, I’m not really in a hurry to pick a headset up. I’d like to let the market mature a bit before choosing to do that. I am optimistic though. The world is an evolving place, and the VR business is looking up. Or down. Or all around.

The Complex Weave of Two Sons’ Adventure

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The journey of two brothers

I’m all for a good adventure. Save the damsel, get the treasure, fight the monster. All these work into classic gaming scenarios that seem to stand a test of time. However, if you take one of these basic adventure structures and throw in something more pressing and thought-provoking, you then get a product that leaves you with a lot more than you started with at the end of the day. 

I feel like that’s what game developer Starbreeze Studios did with their downloadable title Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons. What I expected was a quasi-co op adventure played by one person in control of two characters. What I found was that the whole title centered on family, loss and the struggle to keep going through it all. Though some could probably label this game as a very simple Lord of the Rings-type story, I see it as a boy’s forced life in having to deal with reality and tragedy. (Minor spoilers to follow)

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The world around them

See, the subtitle of the game leads most to believe that the game centers around two brothers. And it does, in a way. The two are faced with a sort of crisis in the form of a sick father. They are forced to travel somewhat far away to find a special tree of life. This sets up what the adventure is: leave home, find magical cure, get back to father just in time. But from the start, the point of view is on the little brother, who is mourning the recent loss of their mother. Through subtle cutscenes, you can tell that the boy blames himself for his mother’s death. So, are we watching the boys save their father or the one son attempting to not repeat past mistakes? 

If you think about it, it’s almost a tale of the one son reconciling his regrets and trying to control his future. After all, who wouldn’t do everything possible to prevent both of their parents dying? I think that this is reflected in small ways throughout the gameplay. For those of you who played the title, you may have noticed that the big brother relies a lot on the little brother to open paths and accomplish tasks. Yes, you need both sons to get through the game, but the big brother seems to do little else than heavy lifting and mirroring what the small brother does. And (without giving away the ending), the focus intensifies on the small child, making it seem like he’s been the hero all along. These little parts make up for a convincing argument about there being only one main protagonist in this whole game. Image

In a different point of view, the big brother is responsible for the forward progress of the gameplay. With the player using both sticks and shoulder buttons to control the siblings, it may not be a stretch to think that the game mechanics accommodate the supervisory personality of what a big brother is. So think about this for a second: what if the player’s controller tactics are meant to be reflective of the big brother and the story view is reflective of the little brother? That would make a good point as to why the game is labeled as a story of both sons. Yes, that may be reaching somewhat, but I have never been accused of being simple. This game left me with a sense that something just happened in the ending and that I needed to really sit and consider what I saw.

So to conclude my argument, Brothers kind of accomplished a sort of simple and complex story telling concept in that it is two different things dependent on how in depth you really look at it. Though the game is really about the two sons working together, I think that each son gets his own focus on a core part of the game, with the older brother more focused on the gameplay while the younger brother is spotlighted in the story-telling. It should be noted, by the way, that Starbreeze brought in Swedish director Josef Fares, an upcoming film maker who was able to bring his own flavor to the game. So a lot of thought was put into how these characters are portrayed. This title is staying on my PS3, because I feel like a rainy day can be well spent playing this title again. Maybe I’ll get something more out of it.  

Who’s The Better Son? A Battlefield/Call of Duty Commentary

ImageComparison is human nature. Something is always better than something else in someone’s eyes, and that someone usually has to try and prove it to someone else. Some concept, huh? That’s just how we act as a society. So when I thought about a comparison piece this week, my mind instantly went to two companies that have been battling it out in the gaming industry for a while now: EA and Activision. Their Battlefield and Call of Duty franchises have polarized gamers for a few years. Is one better than the other? Well, hopefully after reading this, you’ll decide for yourself.

A few things should be noted here in the beginning. First, I do favor Battlefield more than CoD. I’ll insert a few comments here and there to show why. Also, this article is based off my experiences playing the newest iterations: BF4 and CoD: Ghosts on the PS4. I have played more CoD titles in the past than Battlefield, but that will not affect my article on here. Finally, and most importantly, I’m not a great first person shooter player (later designated as FPS for all you non-gamers), so I can’t really speak much on the reasons why a single button for one game works better than on another in terms of competitive advantage. I’m just along for the ride.Image

SO, let’s start with the single player campaigns, the main course of what I look for in any game. After all, a good game has to be accessible to those not plugged in to the network. Both play smoothly and don’t last too long. Battlefield campaign missions are much fewer than Ghosts, but play much longer. I could finish a Ghosts mission in about 15-20 minutes tops, but with Battlefield, you have to invest a little more time in its completion. What surprised me a bit was that Battlefield took the medal for very over-the-top campaign moments, which is usually a CoD thing. To be honest, after I played through the BF campaign, I was a little underwhelmed with the story elements of Ghosts. I just felt like I was going through the motions to get to the ending. Don’t get me wrong, Ghosts was still a pretty decent game to play. I feel like it rested on its laurels a bit and spent more time on the multiplayer, which I’ll get into later. So, in the single player category, I think Battlefield did more for the players.

The multiplayer for both games is a totally different kind of discussion. It’s an apples and oranges sort of preference talk. Battlefield is not really tailored for individual play; you work as a squad and as a team in order to take full advantage of what it has to offer. And it offers incredibly large battles of up to 64 players. That’s 32 people against you and yours. A basic match can become a complex and tactical match that can last for at least half an hour, giving you more time to think between deaths unless you’re foolish. It would be better except for certain technical difficulties that break up the battles occasionally. It’s definitely more for the team player. On the other hand, Ghosts is more for the run and gun player. It’s easy to see why CoD is recognized in the Major League Gaming circuits. Its short and fast-paced matches definitely get the blood pumping. A good gamer can rack up about 40 kills in an average length game. Though there are fewer game map uses, it’s pretty simple in terms of what you need to do. To put the two MP experiences in terms of other kinds of technology, CoD is the iPhone of gaming while Battlefield is the Android.

ImageI describe it like that because these two games seem to draw out different kinds of players in my opinion. Yes, there are some that play both, like myself. However, the majority of FPS players usually spend their time playing one or the other. I don’t know if there is a certain demograph type that floats to one side, but I can maybe make a few inferences to who plays what kind of game. I think BF attracts those who want a little more realism out of their FPS. The visuals are almost breathtaking to me, the kind of effect that the film Avatar had on filmgoers. The guns have very realistic sounds to them as well. Finally, as mentioned before, the multiplayer almost requires teamwork and squad-based command tactics, giving the player more of a company feeling instead of a Rambo gunning scenario.

ImageWith Ghosts, people play to get the experience of gunning and participating in something that millions of others do around the world. You jump in, you learn the controls, and then you just keep practicing. In the business world, you could call this “low entry cost”, meaning it doesn’t take much to invest in this game. I think this is what appeals a certain type of gamer. The marketing for CoD is expansive in order to attract all sorts of new people. They get in and try it out, eventually getting decent at it with practice. I know, because I’m one of those. I’ve been known to spend a lot of time at night playing over and over. I can understand the appeal; I just find BF to be a breath of fresh air in the MP scene.

So there you go. My thoughts on the two heavy hitting FPS titles out at the moment. I do enjoy BF more, though I definitely pick up the controller for a few quick CoD matches too. With the PS4 supporting both titles, I’m still trying to decide which one I want to invest more time in. Part of it has to do with how much support I can get from friends to play BF in. I’m not really a team player, and I need reliable friends to play some BF. Otherwise, I’ll be passively yelling at myself for not doing well in that one CoD match. Feel free to come find me on either playing field. (PSN: MogwaiOfOwnage)

Beyond: Two Souls Review (Spoiler-Free)

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Powerful PS3 exclusive

My friends, I’ve played many games that have attempted to impact me emotionally. Some have succeeded. Beyond: Two Souls is one of those games that made me want to completely start over at the end just to experience the whole of the story and the small turns that could be altered in the main character’s life. The gameplay is very interactive, albeit a bit repetitive in the mechanics parts, and I definitely would play through it again, especially if I had about 10-15 hours straight with no distractions.

In Beyond, you plays as Jodie Holmes, voiced by the well-known actress Ellen Paige of Juno fame. Jodie is a gifted girl with a spirit companion who helps her see and do things that others cannot. Alongside Jodie is Nathan Hawkins, a paranormal scientist who nurtures Jodie throughout her younger years. (Hawkins is voiced by actor Willem Defoe.) As Jodie, you experience a non-linear view of 15 years in her shoes, ranging from her early childhood to mid-20s, giving the player an in-depth look at her struggles  and story.

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Emotions range from slight happiness to sheer fury

And struggles there are. What keeps the player going, in my opinion, is not necessarily the overall plot or the gameplay but rather the sheer sympathy that you develop for Jodie. Without giving anything away, I can certainly confess that her life is not an easy one at all. Thanks to the incredible graphics engine created by title developer Quantic Dream, the realism of the characters does nothing but heavily aid in the emotional settings and story-telling one experiences. I found myself drawn into the most random moments that were full of feeling and spirit.

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Aiden paired with Jodie

As for the gameplay, it did everything that a good adventure game should, and it reminded me of the older adventure games on the PC back in the ’90s. A few of the quick time events became commonplace over time, and I would have liked to see more variety in the things that you could do in the game. Some of the tricks you could do with Aiden, your spirit friend, started off being pretty cool but later lost a bit of their allure. Of course, this is just me being very picky, as the whole concept of the spirit companion and what you can do with him is very interesting. Aiden is a sort of playable character as well, especially when you take advantage of the Duo game mode, using another controller, Move device, or smartphone to be able to control one of the two characters.  This gives a new take to the two-player control scheme, which offers a fresh approach to classic game mechanics. The last critique I could find with it is the occasional jerkiness you encounter when controlling Jodie. Getting her from point A to point B can sometimes be more of a chore than is necessary, because of the older turn and walk control layout of old Resident Evil lore. But these instances are few and far between.

Beyond: Two Souls is a title that made the twilight years of PS3 look just as good as when the console was first released. It’s proof that the last-gen console still has some exclusive tricks. The voice and motion capture acting quality is what I came to expect in having played games from Quantic Dream. When I spend ten hours in a game, finish it, and want to start over again, that’s a sign that I was heavily engaged in the product. Now with the next-gen consoles on the market, it will be interesting to see just how far Quantic Dream pushes the boundary between movie realism and video game interactivity.

Morality in A Dead Zone

You sit and watch. Yell at the perceived stupidity of the characters. Tell yourself that you would do things differently. Because you know better than them, right? You, like millions like you in the world, are a Walking Dead fan and pass on your criticism to your television and friends all the time. What’s interesting about being a critic of a zombie apocalypse show is that your opinion could mean less than you think it does. After all, how well do you know yourself in regards to what actions you would take in the characters’ shoes?

ImageSee, I found that I asked myself this question a lot when playing Telltale Games’ award-winning The Walking Dead title recently. I used to sit with friends and watch every Sunday what Rick Grimes and the other survivors did, and we all used to exclaim our distaste for their choices and vowed that we could do better. But, it’s not easy once you have the choice and about 5 seconds to make it. I think that’s what made this game so good to so many people. It turned a mirror onto the player and forced them to consider what exactly holds weight with them.  Continue reading Morality in A Dead Zone

A Pirate’s Life: My Month with Assassin’s Creed IV

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A pirate’s life for me.

Let me begin with a sincere apology: I haven’t written nearly as much as I should these past few months. As I’m sure many of you understand, the tasks of life always seem to overtake the wishes of our pastimes. I promise to be more diligent in the future with my gaming musings and such.

Part of the reason I’ve been away from the blogging scene, besides the long hours I’ve been working, is the even longer time I spent trying to earn a 100% completion rate for Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. I determined a long while ago that out of all the kinds of gamers out there, I’m definitely a completionist, especially when it comes to this franchise. It’s almost a kind of obsession I have had ever since the first title, and I definitely cannot stop now. With this title, I was able to experience a whole new type of simulation in the squalor of a pirate’s life as well as the continuing story both past and present that has kept me intrigued for years. I’ll do my best to keep this as spoiler-free as possible. I’d like to focus mainly on the motivations of the protagonist, both the pirate in the history books and the present-day person you control outside of the Animus.  Continue reading A Pirate’s Life: My Month with Assassin’s Creed IV