Tuesday, May 10, 2016


Hello all!

If you're reading this, then you may have missed the memo!  I just launched my website, www.thestarsmasher.com, which is where I'll be hosting my blog from here on out.  Blogspot was fantastic, but now I want to focus on more than the blog, so the evolution was necessary.  All of my past blog posts are already up, along with my newest update.  Every form of social media that I use is there, and, soon, I'll have a links page to other sites I'm published on and an image gallery to show off my gaming accomplishments/shenanigans.

Thanks to everyone that read my blog early on, especially Legendary Blades and the Scruffy Ninja crew!  You guys encouraged me to keep doing what I love and helped boost my confidence.  And thanks to my wife, Lilly Hammer, who continues to support me and reminds me to not be so harsh on myself.

Hope you all enjoy the website, and I look forward to the future!


Thursday, April 28, 2016

I Have Become Embered (The One About Dark Souls 3)

A beautiful night for hunting monstrosities!

First, my apologies for being MIA for a while; I've had a big helping of life smack me in the face on top of investing +70 hours in Dark Souls 3, so I've been a bit preoccupied!

I gotta say, the masterminds behind Dark Souls 3 have really outdone themselves.  After investing as much time as I have, which I have defeated every single boss, I can say that this is my favorite entry in the Dark Souls Trilogy.  The boss battles are challenging, the puzzles are clever, and the locations are gorgeous.  Jolly cooperation is the best of the series, and PVP is exactly what you'd expect from Dark Souls; entirely unpredictable, yet fun and grueling.

Which is why I'm somewhat upset with some of the community bashing/trash talking arguably the best entry in the series.  This doesn't seem to be coming from the "core" Dark Souls fans; it's coming from people who are either new to the series or casual players.  Mind you, there's nothing wrong with either player type...if it were nearly any other game, I would consider myself a pretty casual gamer.  And I was new to the series at one point (having dropped in at Dark Souls 2,) so I will relate to some of the new gamer frustrations with the game.  What I cannot relate to, however, is the nonsensical whimpering of those who simply don't "get it."

I would like to say that, to those claiming the game is too "easy" and made for a wider audience; you obviously didn't continue to play after the final boss fight.  This was experienced first hand by one of our members in our online group, or clan, which they now must go back through the game on a much harder difficulty and fight these monstrosities for the first time.  If you're speed running through the game to collect the best gear/armor and not spending time reading the lore and exploring literally every single nook and cranny, I feel that you're doing it wrong and should be playing more linear games (Lords of the Fallen may be a good alternative for you...not kidding...I love that game!)

The crew and I enjoying some Jolly Cooperation!  (I'm the middle back character)

This is a game full of challenge and reward...if you're willing to invest the time.  Even with as much as I've put in, I have barely scratched the surface of the underlying story.  The crew and I have done very minimal guide look-ups, only referencing the bare minimum while still maintaining the sense of awe and wonder the series is so famous for (I will admit, however, that I did look up one boss battle, but I was getting STOMPED.)  At end game, you're main hurdle is finding a good fight via PVP.  If you're finding that to be a breeze, it's time to up your game to New Game Plus.

And in regards to the complaining about stats, frame rates, etc, they're all trivial things.  The stats work near exactly as they did in the last entry, and, if you're not able to best your fellow "Embered One" in PVP because they maxed out one or two stats, you have some character leveling to do.  The frame rate rant, in my opinion, is bogus as well; with as many giant creatures, multiple minions, and up to six PVP-ers in a world at once, 30 fps was the obvious way to go to avoid issues.  Mind you, this argument is for the vanilla launch, so the horrible experiences players are having with patch 1.04 aren't being debated here.  But players knew of this before launch if they paid attention to anything that was published beforehand.

While it may be irritating, I'm not letting the whiny, yet very vocal, few cast a shadow over an excellent game.  Regardless of your previous experience with the Dark Souls series (or lack of,) this is a phenomenal game that is more than worthy of your time...I plan on investing plenty more of mine before moving on!

If you'd like, I invite you to check out my YouTube page, TheStarSmasher, or follow me on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram for regular updates, pics, videos, and random nonsense!  Also, there will be a central hub for everything soon (a dedicated "website," if you will,) which I will be sure to update on soon(ish)!

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Destiny: The April Update

*Image is the property of Bungie: I lay no claim to it*

Yesterday afternoon, Destiny players were able to get the newest batch of content with what Bungie called "The April Update."  Since I'm still waiting on my copy of Dark Souls 3 to arrive (I bought the collector's edition, and it has to be shipped from another store...long story) I dove right in to tackle the new challenges they made for us veteran Guardians.  I'm going to assume that, if you're reading this, you've read the patch notes provided by Bungie and are somewhat familiar with the game...if not, you may want to check out the details on Bungie's website!

After waiting for the update to download and install, as well as for everyone in our group to get ready, we decided to tackle the story missions first.  I was under the impression that there were going to be 3 story missions, but I was mistaken; there were 3 quests for us to tackle, and they weren't all new missions/levels.  All in all, there is 1 new story mission and 1 new strike.  Our Fireteam took about 1-2 hours to finish these up alongside 2 of the quests.  We got a bunch of new loot, so it was worth our efforts (especially the new sword...it drops at light level 320!)

So, now that we finished the story missions, the quests, and the strike & Nightfall, we moved on to the content we were most anticipating; the new Prison of Elders and Challenge of the Elders!  Both promise greater rewards and fantastic loot, and we are all eager to hit the new light level cap of 335, so we went in, guns blazing.

The new Prison of Elders was, mostly, a breeze.  We tore through 5 rounds of enemies and 1 boss battle, with a few "diffuse/destroy the mines" tasks thrown in.  Our Fireteam is comprised of a 319 Warlock, a 310 Hunter, and a 315 Titan (ME!), so it should come to no surprise that we decimated the first challenge which has a light level recommendation of 260 (if I recall correctly...it was under 300 regardless.)  We then moved on to the Challenge of the Elders, which has a light level recommendation of 320.  Our Hunter was getting nervous, but our faith wouldn't be wavered; we came to conquer!

*Image is the property of Bungie: I lay no claim to it*

We, the Scruffy Ninjas (our Destiny Clan, which is what our Fireteam was comprised of) were cautious when we first entered the new arena.  As it turns out, we were too cautious, since we were able to breeze right through the new arena despite us being under the 320 recommendation.  The modifiers this week, which gave extra damage to primary weapons, may have had a hand it this, but I believe our group is just that well put together.  Our group was able to hit over 30000 points 3 times in a row; something that we didn't feel too pressured into obtaining, especially when we did this a third time around.  We filled up our score cards and finished off our night with running the Court of Oryx over and over to obtain more loot/drops to further boost our light levels.

So, after all of that, I feel pretty good about the new content.  The Prison of Elders update has been long awaited, in my opinion, and I'm sure I'll be eager to fight new foes with different modifiers each week (and earn some sweet loot as well...looking forward to the new Lord of Wolves!)  The new weapons, armor, and shaders are nifty as well, but I'll most likely stick with my Iron Banner gear for now.

I think what I'm happiest with is that Bungie assured their fans that they haven't forgotten Destiny players, and that there will be more content coming down the pipe (squashing my fears from an earlier blog post.)  Lets just hope Bungie follows through and continues to make content that is both rewarding and challenging!

Monday, April 4, 2016

Give New Games A Chance

In my long career in retail, I find that I am passionate in recommending things to customers based on their personal tastes.  This is the thing that I love most when working at a game store; I get a chance to ask questions, get an idea as to what the customer wants, and, based on their input, offer something that they may potentially like and, often, would not have picked up otherwise.  One of my favorite experiences involved me recommending a game called "Metro: 2033" to a gentleman who, later on, came back ecstatic that they gave it a shot.

With that in mind, I would groan when I'd have a customer walk in, either a month before the game launched or within the launch week, and tell me why the latest release was garbage.  Of course, 9 times out of 10 this person had no experience with the game itself, having never bought, borrowed, or demoed the game beforehand.  They would quote what they read in a magazine or on a website as if it was their own thought, explaining why the game mechanics were terrible or that the story was lacking...none of these things being from their own time spent.

This has really turned me off from game reviews in general, especially when it's right before a game launches.  Now, the reviewer usually has access to a completed copy of an upcoming game and has spent some time with it before writing their review, so I'm not going to go so far as to claim they don't know what they're talking about (otherwise they wouldn't be at their job, right?)  What I will say, however, is that I feel that reviews for A list titles are pushed out entirely too soon.  

Take Tom Clancy's The Division, for example.  The IGN review was published a week after launch, and, while it gave it a fair rating by my standards, I felt didn't give the game a fair chance.  A couple of things I felt that it missed the point on were the end game content, how the Dark Zone works, and how character stats work.  Some of these things alluded me until my second or third week with the game, honestly, and I'm glad that I've invested the time to understand it better.  

If, say, I was an overanxious gamer and wanted to know immediately if the newest game is going to be worth my $60, I'd be all about listening or reading reviews that rapidly.  I personally fall into the category of overanxious gamer (DARK SOULS 3 IN 1 WEEK!!!) but I try my best to avoid reading my latest Game Informer or browsing the web for a podcast.  There's something to be said about giving a game a fair shot, which means that you, the gamer, must be willing to invest both money and time into a game and come up with your own conclusions.  Was the Dark Zone in The Division really only for end game players, or was the reviewer focused on the PVE part until then?  Should I judge a game's end content just on the package delivered at launch, or do I keep open minded as new missions are released and judge then?  Are the stats for characters really confusing, or have I spent some time playing with the mechanics?  

This is just an example from a recent title.  Game reviewers are quick to either praise or shun new games, and I feel that hurts the industry as a whole.  On the side of praise, a reviewer can give an excellent review to a game that, they initially thought, was absolutely amazing...only to find that it falls short on promises made a week or two later.  On the shun side, you have a reviewer telling you things like, "lack of content," and, later on, having their foot in their mouth because the developer gave out new missions (for example.)  

What I'm trying to say is this; if a game looks like something you may be mildly interested in, give it a shot!  No, you don't have to spend $60 to find out if you'll like a game or not; go and rent a copy from that big ugly box thing outside of your local gas station or invest in a rental subscription of some type.  But, please, take the time and come up with your own opinions.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

The 5 Most Disappointing Boss Battles in Gaming (From Recent Memory)

There's nothing more frustrating than spending hours upon hours playing through a game, conquering difficult missions and slaying hundreds of minions just to have a "meh" end boss battle.  Thankfully, this doesn't happen very often, but it does happen every now and again.

Before I get into my list, I want to explain my two qualifications for a boss battle to be disappointing.  First, and most importantly, is the level of challenge they offer.  A boss battle should be a test of your skills and abilities obtained up to that point in the game.  And second is design...is the boss an original creature/character, or just a knock off of another enemy encountered earlier?  There are more qualifications, but some are on a case-by-case basis (not all boss battles are the same, you know!)

Also, If you haven't played the games below, you may want to avoid this post until you get a chance.  There are some spoilers (though not many) and I do not want you to judge an entire game based on a very lack luster fight.  Go play the game first, then come back and let me know if you agree or disagree...I welcome the conversation!

So, without further delay, the list, starting at...

     5: Phogoth (Destiny)

     A fairly straight forward, and, in all honesty, bland boss battle.  The encounter itself is little more than fighting an over-sized ogre while wave after wave of enemies rush in to take you out.  Having run the mission this boss is in multiple times, I've found that the waves of enemies are way more challenging that the boss itself.  And even then, the encounter can be done without exposing yourself to the enemy, if you know where to set your team up.  If Phogoth was given an unique ability, like Gulrot and his Bile that slows players for 10 seconds, he wouldn't be on this list, but that, sadly, isn't the case here.  

    4: Spider Bosses (Nearly Every Fantasy Based Game)

     This battle seems to be the one you can expect every time you play a game involving swords, shields, and magic.  The set up is almost always the same; you fight your way through a dark cavern/cave/abandoned mine/whatever it's dark, fend off against swarms of smaller spider creatures, then, when you're about to exit the area, the mother of all spiders in the world appears to slow your roll.  Spider bosses are entirely over used at this point, especially in fantasy games, and usually offer little in variety.  There are only so many ways a spider can stomp you with it's feet, bite you with its fangs, shoot out webbing, and spawn even more spiders to hinder the player.  There are a few that have different attacks, such as the spider boss in Dark Souls 2 that somehow learned to shoot lasers, but ultimately they all follow the same pattern.  At this point, I'd much rather have one less boss to fight than to keep fighting the same 8 legged creepy crawly.

     3: The Joker (Batman: Arkham Asylum)

     Let me start off by saying this: I absolutely LOVE the Arkham series, and each one deserves to be on everyone's collection.  That being said, I felt that the end encounter with Joker, who has injected himself with the deadly Titan formula, was very lackluster.  The battle is pretty much the same as every encounter with the over-sized Titan filled minions from before; stun them, then follow up with a flurry of combos.  This fight is exactly the same, except that it is broken up into several phases and you get to listen to Joker taunt you while fighting his minions.  While I wasn't expecting to fight the Joker in hand to hand combat, I felt that the boss battle could have been handled differently (maybe Joker sends out another villain or two to finish you off while racing against the clock to keep him from releasing the formula upon the entire city?)  We didn't get that, however, and are stuck with dealing with a re-skinned, bantering Titian boss to wrap up the otherwise phenomenal game.

     2: The Destroyer (Borderlands)

     Throughout Borderlands, the end boss was hyped to be an epic showdown against an awesome entity of massive power.  What we got was a giant, pink, tentacled thing straight out of an adult rated anime film.  For a game that had amazing encounters and interesting characters, "The Destroyer" felt out of place.  The battle itself can be completed by staying far away and sniping its weak points, which, if you're at the appropriate level, won't take but a minute or two tops.  Much like Phogoth from earlier, the real threat comes from a swarm of enemies that harass you as you're trying to maintain focus on the boss itself, which has a limited number of attacks.  It's also sad that the loot gained afterwards is, in my opinion, lacking as a whole.  Maybe I didn't invest the time to max out my character, but this is one boss that could have been done a lot better all around.

     1: Lucien (Fable 2)

     This is probably the biggest middle finger to gamers who took the time to play through Fable 2.  Lucien is built up to be the big bad boogieman of the game; he controls nearly everything, has a small army that's building a tower to channel magical energy for nefarious reasons, and regularly undermines the player's progress.  So, when I finally get a chance to fight the boss, I'm hoping for an epic encounter on par with the first Fable (which, by the way, was a very enjoyable fight against Jack of Blades.)  What I got instead was the chance to press 1 button to end it.  Yes, pressing any button at the end of Fable 2 will instantly kill the big bad boss you fought so hard to get to.  Actually, that's not entirely accurate; you can press NOTHING and the boss will be defeated, because a member of your party gets a little impatient.  Absolutely no challenge here, which makes an otherwise OK game very disappointing and leaves me asking, "How could a sequel lack content in comparison to its predecessor?

This list is in no way definitive, and is purely my opinion.  I also want to point out that there are many other boss battles that are disappointing that didn't make the list.  The ones listed are the ones I find to be the "cream of the crop" in regards to being major let downs.  Disagree?  Comment and lets have a conversation!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Destiny's Bid To Keep It Fresh

What a way for Bungie to make me put my foot in my mouth.

As most already know, Bungie announced on their official site that there will finally be new content that's expected to release April 12th.  This will include missions, weapons, and a new strike, among other things.  If you haven't already, go check out their posts; they've already done a video last week on their Twitch account with details, and they're doing one today and next week (Wednesdays) at 11am Pacific.

I'm glad that Bungie has been working on new ways to keep Destiny filled with new content.  If you've been keeping up with my blog, you know that, while I love Destiny as a whole, I feel that it has been going downward after the honeymoon period with The Taken King expansion wore off.  It seems that they've also revealed that they're working on the next version of the game (Destiny 2, I suppose, until they reveal otherwise,) so it makes sense that they've been keeping a tight lip about their goings on.

What has me hyped at the moment is that there will be an update to the Prison of Elders arena; something that I believe should have happened back last September.  It seems that Skolas and the rest of the degenerates that hang around the Reef are going to get even meaner.  I'm excited about the challenge, but I'm already dreading the time investment on this boss alone...I recall dying a ridiculous amount of times before taking the Kell of Kell down.  However, it all seems to be worth the headache with gear dropping at light level 320 (or, on the harder mode, 335.)

I won't say too much more here and just urge you to take a moment and watch the videos...but it looks like they're going to be kicking and screaming to keep their players entertained until next year.  My only concern is that this will be the last significant update until Destiny 2 drops sometime in 2017.  Of course, Bungie might have something else up it's sleeve, but we just won't know until later this year

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

On The Go: Mobile Gaming

Right now, I'm waiting for my chest to unlock in a game called "Clash Royale," which involves you creating a "deck" to battle opponents and protect your castles from invasion in a span of 2-4 minutes. It's a mobile game (for smart phones/devices only) that goes with the "Free to Play" platform; meaning, you can completely and totally play this game for free, but they offer in game purchases to help speed up progress.  These purchases can range from $1 to $100, depending on how fast you want to progress.

So, for the chest I'm currently waiting on, which takes a total of 3 hours to unlock by the way, I could instead spend the in game currency of gems to unlock it instantly, which starts at 18 gems.  A bundle of 80 gems is only a buck, but you'll find that you can blow through gems rapidly since chests drop after each of your wins against other players.

Now, I'm not a fan of the "Free to Play" platform based on the words used to describe it.  "Free to Play" should mean exactly that; no costs, no fees, no penalties for not spending money, etc.  I would much rather a game be forthcoming on how much it'd like for me to spend and ask outright.  I understand that this is a tactic used to gain more money over the course of time, but still, I feel that a company should either put a price tag on their game up front or relabel it as "Free to Start."

Unfortunately, there are a slew of games for Android and iOS devices that follow this format.  Some are incredibly frustrating and unwelcoming to newcomers, in my opinion, such as the big brother the Clash Royale, Clash of Clans.  If you're just starting out, you can easily find yourself getting ransacked by bigger and tougher players...the in game ranking works in such a way that a player that has made a lot of upgrades to his characters/weapons can drop down to lower levels, making his potential attackers & defenders more easy to handle.  That's just one I'm very familiar with; looking through the main page and top pics sections on either market you'll find that every other game is that way.

I'm sure that this is not a big issue for most casual gamers, which is the intended market for these games.  They're made with little more in mind that to occupy a few minutes of your time and to try and grab a couple bucks here and there.  Sadly, there are few games that cater to someone like me; I want to play games on the go and take up an hour or more (especially when I'm waiting in a line somewhere...double especially at the DMV.) There are several that fit the bill, such as Five Nights at Freddy's, Final Fantasy (pick a number,), and Shadowrun Returns, but options are, for the most part, limited.

What I would like to see is an app market on both Android and iOS that embrace gamers such as myself.  I currently own a Nintendo 3DS and play a horde of games that require more than 5 minutes of your time (Pokemon is an obsession of mine, as well as Monster Hunter, Zelda, and Super Mario Bros 3.)  These types of games are challenging, offer tons of replay-ability, and, in some cases, are very enjoyable to play with a group of friends.

I propose that the mobile gaming market take some time and learn the successes of mobile game systems such as the 3DS and PS Vita.  There's obviously a market for it, otherwise people like me wouldn't be sold on buying a $200 console to carry around in addition to the cellular device I can't function without.  To continue to grow, and to stay competitive, the mobile game market needs to cater to core gamers and offer up new and in depth experiences.  Now, I know that's dependent on the developers and not Google (Android) or Apple (iOS,) but I think they could nudge things in the right direction (maybe drop a few subtle hints at the next conference, Apple?)

I'd personally would like to see not just games that appeal to core gamers, but some hardware and accessories to go with it.  Right now, I have an off brand controller that works via Bluetooth to play mobile shooters (Shadow Gun is pretty sweet...if you have the time, I suggest you give it a try!)  but it doesn't quite feel right...it's not as comfortable as, say, a PS4 or Xbox One controller, and I can definitely tell that the device is made from cheap parts; at times, I think that I'm going to break a button from normal operation.   My dream would be for Google to make a Nexus 7 that comes with a great controller...imagine if Asus or Motorola were to handle that!  From my experience, they have the chops to make that a reality.

I would ditch my 3DS altogether if I could have a rich experience on my Android device as I do on my 3DS.  With the current treads in gaming, though, it seems that my 3DS is getting games that are similar in appeal as mobile games, which I don't want to see at all.  If anything, Nintendo should stick to its old strategy and just make solid, quality games that are exclusive to their platforms and continue to drive their sales.  If, however, Nintendo wants to get away from making mobile hardware and go straight to mobile gaming for Android and iOS, I know a guy that has a few good ideas that could set them apart from the competition!

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Nostalgia Investment

The other day I spent some time going through and organizing my video game collection in alphabetical order just so I could get an idea as to what I have and what I'm wanting to get.  While looking through my catalog of games, I noticed that, for a "Next Gen" console, I own an awful lot of remakes/re-releases...at least 7 by my count.  I didn't dwell on it too much until I did the same for my 3DS and GameCube: I have several games that have released on a previous console that I know I paid for once before.  I sat and thought, "Damn, that's an awful lot of exposure to the same game!"  But it had me thinking; is it really worth the money to invest in nostalgia, or am I wasting my money?

Let me further elaborate: I hate purchasing games over and over again.  I feel that I'm being asked to buy the same product twice, normally with small improvements over the original release, and that I'm giving game companies money just because I enjoyed a game once (I'm looking at you, Nintendo...Ocarina of Time was a good game, but not, "Lets release it on 3 different consoles at $40" good.)  I'm very much against buying a game you already own on another console, UNLESS it's a complete and total remake (for example, the original PS One Resident Evil and the GameCube Resident Evil.)  I argue that, if you really enjoy a game, you should keep your console and a copy of the game(s) to avoid additional costs.  My concern is that I'm paying big money for little or no reward.

I also want to mention that I included any game that was a release, regardless of if I had purchased it before, just so I didn't have to argue with myself if it "truly" counted while figuring out if my money was worth the purchase.  I assumed that it would be a good chance to get an idea if the games I'm buying were worth the investment as well without having to go through the entire collection as well.  

I decided that I needed to review each title and find out if I got my money's worth out of the game.  To find out, I normally put a dollar amount to each hour of game play spent.  If the total turns out to be either at or above the cost of the game, then I have come out ahead...and if the opposite is true, then I'm at a loss.  So, I approach it with the mindset that 1 hour of game play is equal to $6...which means that a new release game that's $60 should give me a minimum of 10 hours  (that includes if I beat it once and decide to replay it.)  

Surprisingly, I found that I'm not purely investing in nostalgia.  Out of the initial 7 games, I concluded that 5 of them were worth my investment.  Mind you, I picked them up at various prices, which range from $20-$60, but I was getting at least that much out of those 5, and, in some cases, a little bit more.  The other 2 were, unfortunately, not so worth it; they have been sitting in a binder since they were bought, which means they're basically space occupiers at this point.

What I did find that was surprising was that a game's cost affected this.  The 2 games that I haven't started (yet) were at cheap costs: one was $7, and the other was part of a "Buy 2 Get 1" promotion, so it was free since it was the cheapest of the 3.  I thought I'd move on to analyze my 3DS and GameCube collections, but that posed a bit of a problem.  The 3DS games I own are mostly digital and from the Virtual Store section, so most of my games cost between $3-$8.  The GameCube games weren't all store bought or paid for with cash; I have been trying to catch up on titles I missed the first time around, so I trade some of my other games for the games I'm missing via online bartering.

That's when it hit me: I have a Steam account!  I decided to do the same comparison with my games on there.  

After going through the same process with my Steam collection, I went through a total of 12 games that I previously owned on another console and found that the same was true as before; if I paid more for a classic, I would tend to invest more time than if I paid less.  Of the 12, only 3 were played enough to be worth the initial investment.  The other 9 were either played a total of 10-20 minutes or not at all.  

So, what did this mean for me?  Am I splurging too much on the same game(s)?  

I decided that, while I had games that haven't been played, overall I was getting more than what I paid for.  For my PS4 games, I invested enough time in the 5 games that it took care of the cost (and then some!) of the other 2.  The Steam games were barely noticeable from a financial standpoint...I bought most of them in collections for a $1-$7, so, if I put 1-2 hours in 1 game from the bundle, I got my money's worth.  

Most of the games I purchased were for consoles I either never owned or no longer have...in the case of the latter, I am guilty of being part of the "trade and save" cycle that most game stores pull you into.  I'll post another time how I feel about that, but I will say that I'm no longer sucked into that.  But I am glad that I have been making purchases that aren't going to waste.  

I'm happy that the games I either enjoyed or may have missed out on the first time are available to this day to enjoy.  There are some games, like Super Mario World, that I'll always enjoy spending time going through over and over again.  I lament that there is focus on only a few franchises, however, and would like to see some other previously released games get a remake or re-release.  Can we get another Eternal Darkness or Jet Force Gemini perhaps?

I'm glad that my concern has been diminished...though, I should complete my back log of games before the next holiday season hits!  

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Over The Top

Recently, I finished watching one of my favorite anime series for a third time: Gurren Lagann.  The plot is fairly simple; two guys, who've been literally living under rocks (OK, it's an underground city) find their way to the surface to discover that it's crawling with monsters.  Surviving is rough in this wasteland...unless, of course, you happen to stumble upon a giant robot suit.  Things get intense rapidly, and the show continues to escalate the battles to insane heights...such as a battle involving hurdling entire galaxies at each other.

This had me thinking; why aren't there more games like this?  Crazy, over the top, nonstop action would be killer, if done well.  What I mean by that is that it would have to be entertaining enough to keep my attention longer than 10 minutes, as well as have enough story and depth that would leave me wanting more well after the final boss fight.  

There are a couple of games that go after this idea, like Mad World and Deadpool, but none embody the idea I'm going for quite like Asura's Wrath.  From free falling from space to fight a giant tentacled monster, to destroying a god-like being that's bigger than the planet (and that's just the first 20-30 minutes!) this game keeps the adrenaline pumping throughout.  The story is surprisingly good and in no way detracts from the action.  My only lament is that it has a big focus on using the "rapidly tap the A button to defeat the monster" mechanic, but it's forgivable after watching the title character completely demolish anyone and everyone that stands between him and revenge.

I'd like to see that idea taken to the next level.  A game that offers crazy amounts of action, a solid story, and a combat system that's on par with other action games...possibly along the lines of Devil May Cry.  I want to see two overpowered characters clash in an epic battle that's going to shake the planet to its core, then shrug it off like it's nothing because, "OH NO THE EVEN WORSE BAD GUY IS COMING!" but I want it to involve a little more than mashing the same button over and over.  

With the flood of military shooters and medieval RPGs, we need something else tossed in the mix.  Yeah, I like a good round of Call of Duty, and I will always enjoy dying many times in Dark Souls, but I believe we're well overdue for some more insane action games.  Imagine what a company like Capcom or Blizzard could do with such an idea...the hi-jinks and battles would be grand, to say the least!  

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Why DLC is Good For Gamers

In recent years, we've found ourselves piled under an ever growing pile of DLC (downloadable content) that begs for you to spend money beyond the initial $60 investment.  There are many mixed feelings on this front, but I would argue that most are upset having to spend anywhere between $20-$50 for a "season pass" or $1-$20 for vanity options...I particularly love the vanity options, FYI, because I enjoy seeing people with paid emotes in Destiny and saying, "Hey, I noticed you once had $7!"

Despite this being aggravating and an obvious grab for more of your money, I would argue that this is good for both gamers and the gaming industry at large.  Chiefly, this has kept the cost of software down for consumers in general.  Yeah, I know the math may not seem to add up, but consider the alternative, which is having to purchase a game at $100$-$120 at launch.  Currently, the DLC structure helps keep everyone happy.  

If, for example, you're up for playing the basic package that comes with Call of Duty (which includes maps, story, and zombie modes,) you'll pay the initial $60 and be done with it.  That's an appealing option to me, because normally after 2 months I'm done playing Call of Duty and am on to the next big thing.  On the other hand, if you know you're going to be investing in the game for a while, like some of my friends, then you have no issue ponying up the extra $50 to gain access to the entire experience.  I did this with Destiny right off the bat because I knew I was going to obsess over it, and, 1.5 years later, I've finally put it down.  

I think this is a very appealing option because I'm given a choice.  Based on my time working at a certain big box game store, I've heard people complain when the only option available is an expensive version of a game (this didn't happen too often, but sometimes we would run out of copies of the "standard" version of a game and had to sell the "premium" copies instead, which usually were $20 more.)  I like that I had a choice, in particular, with The Division: I wasn't confident that I would enjoy it starting off, so why would I want to invest more than I'm used to paying?  

My one, and only, complaint is the idea of paid game progression.  This is most rampant in mobile games...Clash of Clans, a favorite of mine, being a terrible offender.  I do enjoy playing it for free, but the game seemingly punishes players like myself that aren't OK with spending anywhere between $1-$100 to speed things up.  Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag also lets you pay to completely level up your character and the ship you sail.  

I'm also against indirectly paying for it as well.  For example, look back to the last 3 Call of Duty releases.  There was a "free" double XP code either inside of Doritos bags or in soda cans...so you're rewarded if you buy in to the product they're selling.  At that point, why not just have the "Double XP" weekends only, and have them sponsored by (insert company here)?

My point being, if you're wanting me to pay for it, why not give me a price upfront?  I'd gladly pay $5 to have a decent copy of Clash of Clans, or Plants vs Zombies 2.

Ultimately, giving me the option to choose how much game content I want is the best way to go because it gives a company a chance to let me see their product and for them to say, "OK, now that you've done everything that you can, here's some more things we've been working on for $XX."  Which, by the way, is something else I enjoy about DLC; most of it is being worked on post launch date, so there's a chance for the developers to make some really interesting content after the game's release.  Fallout 4 is about to drop a package that lets you custom build robots, and that's going to be nifty (I plan on making a Futurama Kill-bot...pics will be posted as soon as it happens!)

There are those that aren't for DLC, but, given that there are far worse option, I'm content with having a choice.  Yeah, I'll sometimes spend more that way than, say, spending $100 upfront.  For most casual gamers, though, I'd say that it's going to be a more cost effective way to enjoy multiple titles and get the most bang for your buck, as well as avoid massive buyers remorse when a dud of a game drops (imagine paying $100 upfront for Duke Nukem: Forever *shudders*.)  So, I say, quit your belly aching and be thankful that you are given a choice!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Destiny's Fall From Its Own Golden Age

A year and a half after launch, the MMO/FPS shooter Destiny is starting to feel barren.

I am a die hard fan of Bungie; I've conquered every single Halo game to date (except Halo 5...I only own a PS4 right now, sadly) and I was stoked when they announced Destiny years before it launched.  I was lucky enough to participate in both Betas, and, while some were a bit underwhelmed, I was enthusiastic; SPACE MAGIC!  SPEEDER BIKES!  GIANT TANKS!  What could possibly go wrong?!

And I've conquered nearly every challenge in game since then; I've done each raid except King's Fall on Hard, participated in a LOT of Iron Banner, and sometimes, when I feel like putting myself in my place, dare to fight in the Trials of Osiris.  My light level, at max, is 314, which isn't too shabby at all.  I'm one trophy away from 100% completing the base game (I just am too lazy to search for all of the Ghosts, honestly.)

Destiny's first year was pretty exciting; we had both DLC packs "The Dark Below" and "House of Wolves" as well as the introduction of the yearly events (something nearly every MMO does, but I appreciate it nonetheless.)  And when they announced The Taken King, I was jumping for joy in hopes that we were going to be treated to several more fantastic experiences!  A chance to take on the father of Crota, the biggest bad-ass of the game until then, was going to be awesome!   But now I'm at a point where I turn on the console, scroll past the looming Oryx icon on the dashboard, and let out a, "meh."

Six months since The Taken King dropped, I have found myself in a rut.  I almost never play unless it's to participate in Iron Banner (and that's because I know I can get a group of friends to jump in) or Xur has that one piece of gear I haven't got from a random drop.  There's literally nothing new or exciting going on, and that's frustrating given that I paid for the collector's editions for both Destiny and The Taken King (no regrets though, my Dinkle Bot is pretty freakin' cool, as well as the book with Cayde-6's notes.)

Bungie has made a few attempts to keep the community interest, adding speeder bike racing for a few weeks and a ho-hum Valentine's Day PVP event, but, beyond that, its been dismal.  Even right now, I'm looking at a text message from a friend wanting to know if I'd care to jump into a fire team and run the daily challenges, but those are, at this point, boring.  I have done nearly everything, and I'm only a few items away from having every exotic for my main (EXO TITAN FOR THE WIN!!!)

Honestly, the only thing that keeps me coming back is the fact that there are so few games I can play with 6 friends cooperatively on PS4.  Say what you will about the many flaws of the game (still waiting on a fix for the run button -_-) Bungie got co-op with friends right.  Yeah, there's a lack of match making to pick up a random person to help clear a raid after someone drops out...and that is very frustrating not to have when a person drops out an hour after starting, but I've learned to keep a big list of friends, just in case.  Which is another positive for me; I've met a lot of really good players and made some pretty cool friends as a result.

We keep in touch here and there, but it's not the same when you're coordinating a group to take down huge robots and platform jump across disappearing platforms (and we have some great one liners, like, "The F@$%ing walls are made of rubber!!!")  Some of our clan have been playing games from their back log (I've been trying to play catch up on Pokemon Omega Ruby,) some have been playing other FPS games, like Call of Duty or Battlefield, and a very select few are still holding out hope for Destiny on a regular basis.  They continue to fight for the Traveler and the Tower, and I commend them for their continued efforts; I was right beside them from day one.

So, since we're pretty positive that there's going to be a lack of content until Destiny 2 arrives, what does that mean for a Titan ready to smash the Hive back into their holes?  It probably means that I'm going to have to be OK with one of two outcomes; either continue to be OK with the grind and deal with the lack of content so I can spend time with friends, or hang up my Suros Regime & try and con my group into migrating over to other cooperative games.  The thing is, I don't want to be OK with that outcome, but, given the lack of exciting new content combined with dwindling support for issues from the initial launch of the game, I'll probably find myself migrating over to "The Division."

That is, until Destiny 2 arrives.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

What Can Be Learned From Dark Souls?


     Dark Souls...the very name strikes a sense of fear and dread for those unfamiliar with its content.  For others, it's a constant festival of anger, rage, and frustration.  But, for those that are left, it's an amazing, though extremely demanding, experience.  I've personally have invested a minimum of 60 hours in each installment (except for Demon Souls, that one I've yet to complete, unfortunately, but life is hectic,) and I don't regret it one bit.  The series is known to be intimidating to the faint of heart and the weak of spirit, but, in my opinion, it's a must play game for anyone even remotely interested in fantasy based games and great story telling.

     As the gaming world prepares for the launch of Dark Souls III, I would like to share some of the life lessons I've taken from the series and how it relates to life (particularly my life, but I feel it applies to everyone.)  Please note that Dark Souls teaches a lot of difficult lessons, but it's important to learn them; I'd personally would rather learn them through a video game than, say, several months of real life hard lessons, but that's just me!

  • Life is Frustrating

     Dark Souls is notorious for one thing; you will die, and you will die many, many times (the original Dark Souls has a "Prepare to Die" edition, and the second installment has an achievement/trophy called "Welcome to Dark Souls," which is awarded after your first death.)  Casual gamers will be infuriated with this, causing many to give up before leaving the first area they come across.  

     This is true in real life as well...I often find myself giving up on new things before giving them an honest shot because I found it way too hard, when, if I had just given it a chance, I know I would have excelled.  I've also have learned that raw talent means nothing in the real world.  Just because you're naturally good at something doesn't mean you'll be great, it just means you have a talent.  Talent means nothing if you're not willing to push it even further; you have to challenge yourself to overcome the daunting and strive to emerge victorious, even if it means failing over and over again.

  • Hard Work Pays Off

     In every version of the game thus far, you start off with minimum equipment; you may be lucky and have a sword and shield, or you may find yourself stripped down to your undergarments.  When you start exploring the world and face off against formidable foes, you'll see that you are rewarded for your efforts.  Unlike most of today's "free to play" or "follow the path from A to B," games that give instant feel good rewards just for playing, Dark Souls demands that you learn from your failures, study the patterns of your foes, and use it to tackle new and ever increasingly challenging obstacles. 

     I've found that, while it's not true in every single case, working hard on a given task and pushing yourself to learn things from different angles is extremely rewarding.  From something as grande as being promoted at a job to as small as a "Thank you," and a handshake, when I take the time and put all of my effort into a job/hobby/passion, I find that it pays off.  If nothing else, I take enjoyment from being able to say, "I gave it my all, now look at what I've accomplished!"  

  • The Path Forward Is Not Always Clear

     One of my favorite things about Dark Souls is the fact that, beyond telling you the basic button functions, the game itself does not give you a clear path to follow.  Unless you're willing to invest the time, you'll find yourself running around in circles trying to open a door down the hallway in a fortress when in fact you should have been in the forest fighting giants to obtain the item you needed.  Dark Souls prides itself on keeping most things hidden from its players, who must strive to put together the small hints and clues the game occasionally leaves behind.  

     This is perhaps one of the hardest lessons I've learned in my life; things aren't always so clear cut and straight forward, especially when it involves a game plan for the future.  The unexpected is going to happen, regardless of what is done to prepare.  I'm not suggesting to forgo having a plan of attack, rather, I'm asking to be accepting of the fact that there will always be things that happen that can't be predicted.  From having cars fail after owning them for 6 months to sleeping on a bench, I would never have planned for these events beforehand because they happened so suddenly.  But I did get through, oftentimes with a little bit of help, and I gained experience I otherwise would never have obtained...although, I wouldn't have complained too much if things were a tad easier, I'll always argue that I wouldn't be who I am now without the events in my life unfolding as they did.

  • People, As A Whole, Are Good...

     This one isn't particularly about Dark Souls in relation to the game's story or themes, but the community at large.  Dark Souls has a unique form of communication for its players so that you can leave helpful tips and hints for others (this requires being online FYI.)  You're limited to only a few key words, but it's usually more than enough to get the point across; there's only so many ways to warn a person there's a hidden ledge ahead, you know!  This also gives people a chance to do some devious things, such as to leave a message stating "Treasure Awaits Ahead!" when, in reality, there's a dragon ready to reign down fiery death upon you.  Thankfully, there's also a way to give positive and negative "votes" to these messages so other players won't suffer the same fate.

Now, I've worked with the public almost my entire life; I've served food, done tech support, recommended items for loved ones, and so on.  What I've seen, first hand, is that people are going to be good towards you even if you've just met with them.  The most important part of the interaction is attitude...treat people well, and the message I'm leaving them will be positive; treat them poorly, and the message I'm leaving them will be negative.  And even when a person's message is negative, I do my damnedest not to sweat it!  There will always be others that will help support and guide me to a more positive path.

  • ...But Some People Enjoy Being Mean

     In addition to the message system, Dark Souls boasts an equally unique system for gamers to play online.  A person may appear as a "Phantom" into your world (again, online only!) that can either help you through tough points (such as the Ruin Sentinels, whom I despise with every fiber of my being) or hinder you by stalking you in your own world (and your only heads up is a message stating they have invaded your world.)  While most people I've encountered have been nice about invading my world (usually by at least bowing beforehand, just to be polite before following up by giving me  a beat down,) others will employ cheap tricks and downright dirty tactics, such as waiting with a large group of in game enemies to overwhelm you or staying hidden until you pass by and striking with your back turned.  What's more, the game prides itself on this element, making you that much more cautious when the daunting "You've Been Invaded By (username)" comes across the screen.

     Again, people are good as a whole, but I've come across people that enjoy being mean or spiteful because they know they can.  In my experience, it's not always telegraphed, either; I've had customers that I could tell from watching them walk from their car to the door that they're looking to start a fight, and I've had some walk in, nice and calm, only to blow up when they have my undivided attention.  Now, I'm not going to say that every one of them were unjustified; I'd be mad too if I was promised something like, say, a $25 credit on my phone bill that hasn't shown up for 3 months.  But some are downright ridiculous, like the time I had a customer rage that I couldn't set them up for a new cell phone plan within 10 minutes.  The former person I will always sympathize with and will do my best to help them out in a time they're most frustrated, while the latter will most likely receive directions to the nearest exit.  There's never, ever a good reason to be downright rude and mean to the people you come across, because, as John Watson once said, "Be kind; everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle."  Keeping positive and refusing to stoop to that level is it's own reward, because I know my integrity is always intact.

  • Life Is Full Of Want

     This is a huge theme in the second Dark Souls game.  One of the biggest points that Dark Souls II tries to make is that you, the player, are always wanting more; I won't spoil anything for anyone that has yet to play this, but the climax makes you wonder, "Did I really get what I want, or am I still Hollow?" (Hollow is referencing the state of being undead throughout the game by the way.)  My favorite line that puts it all into perspective is, "For the curse of life is the curse of want."  

     Coming to terms with this in my life wasn't easy; it's hard to admit that, regardless of all the things I have, I'm constantly wanting more.  And with commercialism as it is, it's hard not to.  There's a constant war going on for my (and your) dollar, and everyone wants a piece of it.  Living where I live now, I'm sure I'm considered poor by most people's standards (lower middle class at best, honestly,) but, all of that aside, I'm doing very well; I'm fortunate enough to own a video game system to play Dark Souls, as well as a computer that has regular access to the internet, among many other things.  And while I may never become a millionaire that's driving a fully loaded Mustang while living in a mansion on my own private island, I've at least learned to realize that I don't need these things to stay happy; being content with what I already own is more than enough to keep me smiling (although, I do see me buying the collector's edition of Dark Souls III...)

     My experience with the Dark Souls series has been wonderful.  I've put in a lot of time and effort into many games (I think my main WoW character has over a month of in game time put into him, for example,) but none have made me do as much self reflection as Dark Souls.  Many people will just pass it off without seeing the true beauty of working and striving towards a rewarding goal, but that's ok; Dark Souls isn't for them.  It's for those who are able to pick themselves up after falling many times to the same foe (or be humble enough to ask for help from a stranger!)  It's for those who aren't afraid to dedicate their time to achieve their wants and desires.  And it's for those who aren't afraid of what may lurk behind the next corner.  

     If nothing else, I hope that the experiences I've shared will give you some helpful insight, both in regards to Dark Souls itself as well as the lessons we learn in life,  There are going to be times that things look bleak, and the path ahead isn't clear.  However, if you're willing to put forth the effort, learn from your failures, and learn to ask for a helping hand every now and again, you'll be able to overcome even the most daunting obstacles you come across.  After all, that's how I summoned the courage to write this blog post (and many more, I hope!  Special thanks to my wife; without her support, I would still be drowning in a pit of despair.)