Saturday, August 29, 2015

Destiny


     Destiny...Released in the end of the third quarter of 2014, Destiny cost over 500 million dollars to produce, which is 2.27 times the budget of The Avengers1. It made up that money in the first week of sales... despite having mixed and low reviews. The reason for this is the little name at the bottom right of the image there... Bungie, the creators behind the Halo franchise.
     Destiny was designed to basically be the World of Warcraft of first person shooters, in that it is a massively multiplayer online game, but the similarities stop there really.
     Sold exclusively to consoles, Destiny is nearly a year old now, with its first paid expansion on the way in September. So, I finally hopped on the bandwagon and gave it its fair shake...


     ...and the story is just as bad as you may have heard. Though not just the story, the world is not up to snuff either. It looks beautiful, but it is like a rich person's house. It looks really impressive, but it is usually fairly bleak and empty, and ends up seeming like a place you do not want to live in.
I know EXACTLY where Destiny went wrong, and how others can, in the future, avoid their mistakes.


     First of all, no, Peter Dinklage as the Ghost (a tiny robot who acts as the exposition fairy) was not a bad idea. At first when I heard the complaints about his acting, I was thinking that he did just not care about the project and phone it in... but honestly the stuff he had to read for it was already incredibly dull. He is being replaced entirely by Nolan North in the upcoming expansion, and he sounds a bit more chipper, but it will not solve the real problems behind Destiny.

    The first problem: there is no dialogue. Oh, people say things, but they are all exposition. Or not even exposition, just dancing around telling people things like in the case of The Speaker, who could tell you things but instead just decides to ramble. The main character does speak, so they aren't mute, but he or she says barely anything. The main character is just an exposition sponge; they do not ask questions, they just accept what they are told in its entirety.
    This leads into the second problem: no one has any personality. Well, there is some personality in the game... but none of it comes from the main characters. Like I said, exposition sponge. They aren't allowed to say something funny amidst the chaos, or blow off something serious; they must treat every damn thing as stoic serious bizniz. There is nothing memorable about anyone. The only characters you'll remember are the ones that make you mad, or because you know the voice actor (Nathan Fillion plays the leader of one of the game's classes. He is pretty much Malcom Reynalds/Han Solo).


      Now, compare point 2 to a game like, say, World of Warcraft. Their characters are memorable, not just because they are main characters, but because they have traits we can remember about them. For instance, there is Moira Bronzebeard. Once the daughter of King Magni bronzebeard, she was kidnapped and married to the king of the dark iron dwarves. Upon his death at the hands of adventurers, Moira became the queen of the dark irons, and eventually, upon the apparent death of her father, led the dark irons to rejoining their brethren under Iron Forge.
     I did not have to look up any of that information, I knew it off the top of my head. There are others like that, like Budd Nedreck, a man who's a few eggs short of a basket, who somehow manages to survive some crazy situations by being just about as crazy.
     There is also a key difference between WoW and Destiny: WoW allows for some fun and comedy to exist in its world. It has people like Budd Nedreck running around in the same world as monsters like Deathwing or the Lich King. Being serious 24/7 is just depressing, and unfun.

      How would one make Destiny more memorable without impeding its expository train? the simple answer is to give everyone a bit of character, and be less serious. Make the Ghost be malfunctioning a bit, to where it'll play Reveille occasionally when the player respawns, or, when it trips an alarm for the thirteenth time,  it starts apologizing profusely, and you just hear it apologizing in bigger and more extravagant ways as the fight goes on.
      Of course, even better would be to have the player character actually talk back to the ghost more often. Have them argue with the Ghost about opening a door; where the player character thinks they'd have less of a chance of calling attention to themselves if they use a crowbar, rather than the Ghost's light thingy. You're going to be spending most of your time alone in the game, with only your ghost as company; he should be GOOD company.

For a direct comparison, lets compare the Ghost to Wheatley of Portal 2.
      Both robots, both talk a lot and exposit stuff, but the difference is this: Wheatley is a moron. He doesn't seem it at first, because he has a British accent, but his entire thing is that he was programmed to think up a constant stream of terrible ideas. He's also funny, so people remember him fondly.
Meanwhile, the Ghost gets...
      A reference to The Fairly Odd Parents.



      The story is devoid of personality, and thus devoid of a reason to care. You can have a dark world, where everything is bleak, but you have to remember one thing about humans: we thrive, and cope. We keep hope alive, and we try to have fun in our lives. To quote Joss Whedon: "Make it dark, make it grim, but then, for Christ's sake tell a joke."
      Your goal is to make the world fun. You aren't making anything fun by expositing all the things all the time.




     But, there is a third problem with Destiny... and this is on gameplay. No, it isn't the constant horde mode via opening doors (though that is an annoyance), it is the lack of reward for exploration.
      The world is full of caves, side rooms, and dead ends. They are all well detailed and crafted... and utterly pointless. In Destiny, I can find a cave that is carefully hidden, and find absolutely nothing in it. No chest, no rare enemies, not even an enemy of slightly higher level that'd tell you to come back later so you can reap some rewards. It is just a cave, an empty cave. Why even have the cave if there is nothing in it? There are caves one can;t enter, and that's because enemies spawn from it, so these caves are clearly different. The only time I saw an enemy in a cave was when the cave was relevant to a quest. Meaning, you have no reason to ever explore, just stay on the path, and complete quests.
      This isn't just a thing about caves either; every place is thoroughly unremarkable beyond how pretty it looks. They're just battlefields...
      Imagine a forest; imagine there is no end to that forest, and while there is the occasional fallen tree, there are no real land marks. That is how Destiny feels. Some fallen trees, but it is otherwise just the same.

      Compare this to say, Elwynn Forest in WoW. To the north there is the Northshire abbey, where human characters get their tutorial. South of it is Goldshire, which is a small town with an inn and a blacksmith; pretty much exclusively catering to travelers. At the southern edge of the forest is a pair of farms, with warring families like that of romeo and Juliet (no literally, one of the quests there is to help two of the members elope), separated by a mine full of kobolds. Near Goldshire is a lake infested with Murlocs, and further to the east there is a lake feeding into the river that separates Elwynn from its surrounding zones, also infested with murlocs, but also some groups of bandits. To the southwest, there is an elite mob, capable of wiping out hundreds of level 1 gnomes, the terror known as Hogger.
      Elwynn Forest is a level 1-10 zone. It is one of approximately 9 zones in that same level range, each one as diverse as it. During cataclysm, it was 1/72 of the zones one could level in. Each zone has something memorable about it, and diversity throughout.
      But Destiny? I can recall a radio tower station infested with The Fallen. I can also recall a field of downed air craft... also infested by The Fallen, and occasionally The Hive. Some beached ships also filled with Fallen... Point being they all blend together because there isn't anything unique about it, it's just different typography for a battlefield. Why not throw some rogue guardians in an area, and have them rabidly attack players for their loot? or some wild animals scurrying about, thriving amidst the war? Not everything has to be focused on fighting the war; how about a quest where you go into a destroyed town looking for some kid's toy? A personable moment among being some badass space warrior.

All things considered, I can say there is already a version of Destiny that has all of its pros, and none of its cons; it's called Mass Effect, and people were mad that it didn't get a satisfying conclusion to its trilogy, instead of being mad that the story was bad. Mass Effect is by far the better Destiny.


In conclusion, to avoid the problems of Destiny, here's what you do:
Make interesting and fun characters
Don't just do exposition. Add character development to the mix.
Make people feel rewarded for exploring, whether it is finding some cool items, or discovering a cool set of enemies, or unlocking some quests... The zone should be diverse enough where people can recall places from it, and why they are unique, from memory. (I did not look up a map of Elwynn for my speech on it, I remember it that well.)
You can only be dark, serious, and somber for so long. After a while it's just depression. Add some cheer!




This has been Fixer Sue, talking about a game people gave crap for its story a year ago. Haven't played the expansions yet... but really, do we expect them to be less expositiony? Do we expect The Speaker to tell a joke?
... Bungie, have the speaker tell a joke. It doesn't have to be funny; in fact it might be funnier if it isn't funny. Have the speaker tell a joke that just doesn't work. It is the ONE time I'd accept awkward humor as being funny.
Seriously. Do it.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Shaun the Sheep: The Movie

I had actually gone to see this film last weekend... But I had nothing really to say at the time beyond "it's really good." But now I do have something I can talk about with Aardman's latest film, Shaun The Sheep The Movie


Technically Shaun the Sheep Movie, but everyone says The Movie so nyah.
    The film consists of Shaun the sheep and his flock, and the farm's dog, trying to bring the farmer back to the farm after an attempt to have a day off goes awry.
     The film is entirely visual humor, with no (intelligible) dialogue at all. This is incredibly rare today, usually only done by small indies trying to be edgy... In this case however it is staying true to the popular short films occasionally featured on the Disney Channel in America.
     However, I was thinking on the focus on visual humor, and I had an epiphany: this is the film Minions wishes it could be.

Minion's first half was visual comedy with the only dialogue coming from a narrator, and some occasionally intelligible minions.  After the second half it became a bad comedy. Shaun the sheep is the first half of Minions, improved upon and expanded to a full film.

Yeah, Shaun the Sheep is a non-annoying, better written, and more fun version of Minions. It even has a maniacal villain with crazy gadgets, who is actually interesting, and has some funny bits.
Now, the film isn't a silent movie; there is sounds reminiscent of speech, and some songs, but it is tasteful and fun as opposed to just being annoying and silly.
Like this song from the film that book ends it:

The film is also claymation like most other Aardman films, with a very clear and neat style behind it. It is a breath of fresh air in modern animation which is normally dominated by 3D models painted with pastels.


Shaun the Sheep is the movie you should be taking your kids to see, not Minions. It is better in every single aspect, and I hope it is a candidate for an Oscar. (We all know the academy is going to pick Inside Out because their sorting algorithm is always good Pixar > good Disney > good dream works > anything else. But it'd be nice for it to at least be recognized as a really cool film.)



This has been Fixer Sue, promoting an awesome film.

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Minions

There are so many possible jokes for this opening...
Can you imagine 90 minutes of Willy E Coyote?
Can you imagine 90 minutes of Mater from Cars?
Can you imagine if Jarjar from Star Wars was given his own movie?

     Minions was a tough idea form the start. Or at least, if you're going for quality it is tough. If you're just looking to fill 90 minutes and sell the film to sugar-induced hype bunnies, then you do in fact get the current product known as Minions.

      Just for the record, when I say that the comedy in the film doesn't work very well, it isn't just from my dislike of it; it also comes from the reaction of an audience filled with children, who are supposed to be the primary audience. There were chuckles, but the strongest laughs came from the preview for The Secret Life of Pets. Not once did the audience laugh as heartily as in that preview.


      Before discussing how to improve it, I'll have to go through the plot... None of this is spoilers though, as pretty much everything was spoiled by the trailers already. No surprises to be seen.
      First, the story begins with the opening level of Spore; the minions as cells, finding the biggest monster to follow. This goes until they reach the second level of spore, and the apex of their evolution as they walk onto land. Their journey and troubles are then explained by a narrator, who sounds a lot like the narrator from The Stanley Parable (especially when he names the very simply named Stuart, Kevin, and Bob (in order from left to right in the image above)).
      For roughly the first half an hour, the minions are traveling, looking for and following their latest boss. Other reviewers have said this was the best part of the film, and they are correct.
      After the three aforementioned minions hear about Villain Con, they hitchhike to Florida.

      Now, here's the thing about the minions... a lot of what they say and do are small in-jokes. By in-joke I mean you have to be fairly film and history literate to catch some of them. In the hitchhiking scene, they reference the same scene in It Happened One Night. The scene isn't funny, whether you get that reference or not. Later on, Bob is crowned king (more on that later...) and starts to give a big impassioned speech... That is referencing Winston Churchill. I only recognized it because I realized it was the same joke that was in Robin Hood: Men in Tights. Again, it wasn't funny. These in-jokes extend to previous films as well, as the minions were singing "Another Irish Drinking Song" in the last film. A lot of these jokes are really only humorous if you know the reference; otherwise it's just them being silly.

    But, back to the hitchhike... They get picked up by a family of villains, and the most surprising thing occurs: an actual glock appears on screen. No high tech, no bright flashing lights... a regular gun. Clicks and everything. I cannot actually name an animated film where someone is holding an actual handgun (outside of japan that is.)

In the US, we only get invisible guns.
   So they arrive in Florida, and any chance the movie had just stops, with the introduction of the antagonist,  Scarlet Overkill.
    Now, this is nothing against Sandra Bullock, or her acting; she played the part quite well. It's just that she didn't have good lines or material; Scarlet Overkill was more of a buzzkill (assuming there was a buzz to begin with).

      Scarlet ends up with the minions as henchmen, and orders them to steal the Queen of England's crown. This, among other points in the film brings up many questions, but with one simple answer.
Why does she need henchmen to steal the crown for her? Why can't she steal it herself? Why doesn't she work with the minions to steal it?
       The answer to all of them is one phrase: The plot needed them to. Narrative convenience. I can think of NO reasons why she couldn't do it herself, as later in the film she proves she could barge right in whenever she wants, and has an arsenal capable of destroying London if she wanted to.
      But fine, she sends them off to collect the crown... they get to the crown, but fail in securing it before ti is brought to the queen. So they give chase, and end up in a park somewhere, where Bob pulls out the sword from the stone.
      Why was the sword in the stone in the square? Because the jokes needed it to. This is similar to the plot needed them to, but it is obvious the writers REALLY wanted to do jokes about being rich and doing things like corgi polo and messing with butlers. The plot also needed them to be at odds with Scarlet, who was furious that Bob became king, as apparently she hoped from a young age to become the queen, and acted like Bob being king was shutting the door rather than opening it. Of course, Bob immediately proclaims that she will be king and he will step down, and she is allowed her coronation. 
      But, Scarlet still hates them, and orders their torture/execution. Why? The plot needed her to.
      The minions escape, and end up ruining her coronation when they try to get in to apologize. Scarlet again orders their execution, and manages to capture Stuart and Bob. Kevin runs off to rescue them, but gets cornered in Scarlet's lair, where he jumps into a machine to escape, presses all the buttons, and suddenly becomes a giant. Because of deus ex machina.


You know Teletubies? The show is random and colorful, with very little meaning behind the actions of the characters, with its sole intent to be entertaining to its really young audience. Your film should not resemble Teletubies. I believe that is a maxim everyone can get behind.

     Anyway... explosions happen, Kevin saves the day by sacrificing himself... except not because no film will ever let characters freaking die in POINT BLANK EXPLOSIONS. Seriously the bomb WAS IN HIS MOUTH. There should've been minion chunks flying all across England... But nope, Kevin survives, and is knighted by the queen... for fixing the problem he and his brothers caused.

     But, just before the film ends, Scarlet Overkill appears and steals the queen's crown (SERIOUSLY, WHY DID SHE NEED MINIONS IF SHE COULD JUST DO THAT?!), but is stopped by a familiar freeze ray. Yup, Gru gets a cameo appearance where he steals the queen's crown, then flies off back to America, the minions in pursuit of their new boss.



    Just... I can forgive low balling a film. It's made for kids, and kids will be entertain for a bit by it. But like so many other reviews said, this film doesn't have the heart of the previous installments. Scarlet is a terrible antagonist, she has no redeeming qualities at all, and just isn't funny... And the minions... If you didn't like them in the previous installments, they get worse here. There are actually two groups of minions; the main characters, and the tribe of minions trying to get to the leads and their new boss. So occasionally we'll cut from the comedy of the main three... to the comedy of the tribe, with very little to differentiate between the lot of them.
     The film was relentless... it never took a break, never let the audience catch its breath (so to speak; again, not a lot of laughter), it was just constantly trying to be funny, and never tried for any kind of actual drama.
     This is what they mean when the critics say the film has lost its heart; there is nothing calm or dramatic in it. In the previous films, Gru was that stability, his interactions with the girls gave a good counter balance to the comedy.


     And therein lies the solution to how Minions could've been a decent film... Making Gru a main character again. Yes, it can still be a minion focused origin, but here's the thing: Gru is an awesome boss. He knows each of the minions by name and treats them really well. And he has somehow survived their service, despite all previous bosses being killed by the minions. The film could've been about why he knows and treats them well, and why he has survived. It could've been about Gru's days as an apex villain, and how the minions helped him get there. There can be good drama to occur in that situation as well, when the antagonist of the film proves to be a more powerful villain, and the minions reluctantly go to work for him under horrible conditions. Gru then steps up and saves them, and the minions bring down their current boss to resume working for Gru.
     The film did not need Scarlet Overkill, the minions becoming king, or any of the other stuff... They could've done an actual origin story, and gotten just as many, if not more, laughs out of it.
As it stands, I'd actually say that Minions was... Boring, and all their references made me want to go do the more fun things they were referencing.


This has been Fixer Sue, and can we please in the future NOT dedicate films to the comedy relief? The reason for their existence is to relieve the audience from the real part of the story, the drama; not be a headlining act themselves.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Minecraft: The complete Handbook Collection by Scholastic

     Minecraft is the biggest indie game success story. It recently announced it had 20 million users, all of them digging, building, and fighting in the world's most well known indie. Minecraft has spawned a toyline of action figures and play weapons; they got a Lego set in the works (as if the game wasn't already Lego); there are sections of the game guides section of the book store devoted to how to play, build, and survive in Minecraft.
      My first thought in the latter case is: why? How can these books turn a profit? What do they contain that would be so valuable to a minecraft player?
       I got a collection of the handbooks by Scholastic, which were approved by the creator company, Mojang. I intend to see what they could explain about Minecraft that is apparently hard to find on the internet.




Book one: Essentials


      What are the essentials of minecraft? Punch stuff to get materials for crafting. Punch a tree to get wood, and marvel as the tree then defies gravity! Punch dirt, and it does the same! Punch sand, and die of suffocation when it falls on your head!
     Though seriously, the essentials book is pretty much the tutorial a first time user of minecraft needs. The game doesn't explain anything, from how to get materials to what you do with them when you get them. The book itself isn't bad.

...However, they made a very strange decision with the book, which makes me wonder why they bothered to make it in the first place.
     You see, in addition to the developer interviews, there is an interview and tips from youtube Minecraft let's player, Captainsparklez. Now, on the surface that makes sense; he plays a lot of Minecraft, and is well known for doing so, so it'd make sense to put info from him in the book.
     However, it is for the same reason that I find it bizarre. If the audience reading it doesn't know about Captainsparklez, they aren't going to care what he says, or just wonder why he's so special as to be interviewed. But, if they know Captainsparklez, they don't need this book. If they want to know how to play, they'll watch his videos, of which he has a lot of. So you see the conundrum:

The internet is free (kinda; at the very least there are ways to access it without paying for it personally), and houses all the info on minecraft in a myriad of places, be it in video, wiki, or forum. Why would you buy a book to explain what the internet can already?
There are some possible answers, but none of them are really all that good...

This book holds nothing for veteran players; which is to be expected, it is a beginner's guide. But everything in it, in my view, should've been rolled in with the book on combat in my opinion, which is book #3, and I'll get to after the next one.

Overall, I see no reason to get this book. If you want to learn minecraft, there are a lot of free ways to do it. At best this is a reference guide for some of the crafting recipes, but you'd be hunting for them.

The next book however, is a lot more useful.


Book two: Redstone


     Redstone is one of the most complex game mechanics I've ever seen, though it is simple in theory.
     Redstone is basically a wire. It can carry a current a certain distance instantaneously. A redstone torch can provide a signal that is constantly on unless it is shorted out by another torch. A button provides a second long signal; a switch has a toggleable on/off position; and a pressure plate has a signal that is on as long as the plate is depressed, same with the trip wire. Finally, there is the redstone repeater, which can increase the distance redstone can travel, and can have the signal be delayed a few seconds.
     Simple concepts; so how is it complex?




It is complex because people are able to build computers with it. I am entirely serious.

Redstone is programming and engineering. People go to college for years to learn how to create such complex systems, and they can be replicated in Minecraft.
     The redstone book contains examples like this, of the power of redstone, but sticks to teaching some of the more basic concepts that are still very complex.


     I ranked the previous book as for being for pure beginners only, and this redstone book is strictly for advanced users. Mid level users can do some interesting things with redstone, and the book shows you how, but advanced users are the ones who can truly unlock the infinite potential of redstone.
     Redstone, and book number 4, were the books I expected to be the most worthwhile, considering there are some really difficult things to grasp with redstone. The book is a great beginners introduction, and midlevel's reference guide for becoming advanced.


     Now, there is the argument again that all the info in the book can be found on the internet... But admittedly the book is very handy and informative, with a lot of clear visual guides, which can be lacking in net guides.
     Overall, this book is my favorite of the four, and probably the one most worth your money; provided you can remain interested in minecraft long enough to reach the advanced stage of redstone.



Book three: Combat


     This book is on how to fight in minecraft, everything that will help you do that, and what your end goal likely will be.
     There are many monsters in minecraft, and this book gives a rundown of each of them, in addition to tactics on how to fight them. It also tells you about the two bosses of the game and how to find and fight them.
      The book also explains potions, another quite complex system in the game, as there are many different variables you control when brewing potions. The potions section I found to be the most useful thing in the book, though the ways of fighting the bosses would prove useful to someone who's never fought them before.
     But like I said, the rest of the book is basics, and is quite frankly info that'd be more useful in the essentials book. As such, the combat and essentials books should've been made into one book. It's not like it'd be overly long, the books are 80 pages at most.

Though that thought brings me to the last book in the collection...


Book four: Construction


     Construction consists entirely of instructions on how to make specific buildings, and ideas based on community creations. Which is pretty much what you'd expect from the book. It gives tips on how to vary the ideas
     The idea of the book isn't bad. Minecraft is like a big tub of Legos; the possibilities are overwhelming to the point where you can be stifled into creating just what is simple. This is the same problem with other construction games; if you don't have a heading and a strong plan, you aren't going to get everything you could out of building in the game.
    The contents of the book are fairly solid; enough instructions to help you complete the creations therein, and tips on how to create your own stuff. The only problem is the length.



They planned this


     Length is a problem for all fours books. They are all 80 pages long. At standard cost, they are 8 dollars each; that's roughly a dollar for every ten pages.
     Just for sake of the argument and lack of knowledge on the true cost of production, lets say they make double the cost of production on a sale, meaning the book costs 4 dollars to make. Lets say the pages cost 2 dollars, the covers costs 1, and 1 goes towards the initial cost of production. Now, let's double the pages to 160 by combining essentials and combat, or redstone and construction. Pages now cost 4, and maybe the cover costs say 50 cents more for a bigger spine. the cost of production would then be 6.50, which would bring the purchase cost to 13 dollars if it is doubled. That price is still reasonable. However, the reason why they aren't combined and sold at that price is because they wanted four books.
     In the back of essentials, they mention the three following books were coming soon. They had four books planned form the start. So, instead of getting 26 dollars for getting two books of 160 pages each, they get 32 dollars for four books of 80 pages each. The collection of the books isn't a bundle sale either, it normally retails for 32 dollars, I got it on sale for 24. (I beat the odds!)
    They made the books piecemeal and short, in order to make more money.

     Now, return ot the fact I mentioned before all minecraft info can be found for free on the internet. The people who least need these books are adults, thus why they are marketed towards kids. That is why I am going to call them a rip off. These books prey on fanatical children and parents that don't know any better.
    For reference, the unofficial guides sold near these were substantially thicker, upwards of 400 pages in a large format. They were specialized as well, but they had more meat behind them, at roughly the same price.That is the problem with these books; they were made with the intent of getting money from children first, and explaining the game second.

     This problem isn't limited to Minecraft; there are many other game guide and books whose intention is to get money before the content, insert joke about textbooks here.


     Let this review be a warning to those considering getting the Minecraft handbooks: they are not all worth it.
This is my ranking of the books in terms of how useful they are:
1. Redstone
2. Construction
3. Combat
4. Essentials


The collection in not worth your money. If you want a handbook on any one of the topics, get it, as it does a decent job of covering the topic. 




As a guide to Minecraft, the books are decent at least, great at most. But as a product they are not worth their cost. Get them when they are discounted on a clearance rack like I did if you're interested. And in the future, when your kids are begging you to get a guide book on the next big game, I suggest looking through it before buying. If it seems really short, and there are others in a series about the game... don't bother with it. If the game is somehow popular enough to where they think they can sell guides piecemeal, there are likely unofficial guides around as well that'll prove to be more worth your while.



This has been Fixer Sue, discussing media that very rarely gets reviewed (for good reason mostly).

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Pokemon Rumble World

So, recently Nintendo announced that it was going to start developing games for mobile devices. This is a very good thing, since most mobile games as of late like to follow the candy crush formula; being a hard game that is meant to eat at your wallet with micro-transactions to make the game easier- or in some cases, to make the game playable. Hell, Pokemon copied the Candy Crush formula to a T with their match 3 game Pokemon Shuffle (which uses the same engine as Pokemon Trozei, another match three game that is instead a pay to play).
So, Pokemon Rumble World is a new addition to their 3DS line-up, and it is a free version of Pokemon Rumble. Basically the idea is that you play as toy pokemon in a hack and slash, and capture other pokemon, with your goal being to collect all 700 pokemon.
The game mechanics are simple: you move around, and attack with the A and B buttons. The elemental attack dynamics are the same as in pokemon; fire does more damage to grass, steel and bugs, grass does more damage to water and rocks, et cetera. Each attack has a different effect as well; some with an increased area of effect not tied to its damage.

Keep in mind, all further mechanics discussed are based on a first impressions look of the game. Some mechanics aren't entirely explained, so these are from my understanding of them.

     When you defeat a pokemon, they will be lying on the ground. Walk over to them to capture them. You'll be told their attack value, which is likely randomized. The chance for whether or not they are capturable appears to be entirely random. You could end up capturing all the pokemon you meet in a zone, or none at all.
     Once you finish with the tutorial, you'll be given the choice of three balloons: water, fire, and grass. These balloons will take you to different zones attatched to the types of pokemon mentioned. Though it is not exclusively grass or fire types in these zones; there are some assorted ones in there too. Even the ones specifically marked Hoenn can contain pokemon from Kanto. When they say you can capture pokemon from a specific region in the zone, they mean from the specific game.
     But anyway, after completing a zone, the balloon that was used goes on a timer. As soon as you reach rank 5, the timer increases. The Hoenn balloon appears to take an hour to recharge, while the element balloons take half an hour. This may not be set in stone, it is possible the times are longer as you continue on; after all, they want you to spend your gems on everything.
     Gems are the premium currency, the ones you don't get through normal play in the zones. You can get gems through streetpasses, and daily challenges. You can get more from completing special conditions in the challenges as well (such as break 10 objects, which is a relatively easy feat as you'll tend to do that anyway). But otherwise, you'll have to buy them to get more. And you will need more, as there are a number of items in the game to use gems on. Such as extra lives and more balloons (which means more playtime before putting it down). However, given the nature of the game, playing the game totally free is not that bad an option, beyond requiring a bit of patience. The game isn't hard by any stretch, you can easily cheese the stages and never die. The only hard thing seems to be capturing rare pokemon, or a specific pokemon. I'm hunting for a Ralts and its evolution line, and am looking forward to finding it, but not so much trying to capture its line.
     Here's one downside to capturing the pokemon: everywhere you go (at least in the beginning) each new pokemon is likely higher level than your current highest. Meaning, once I finally get that Ralts, it will more than likely be outstripped with power incredibly fast. Of course, I can go back to the zone where the Ralts are, and get a new one that is more powerful. but then I'd just be doing that over and over and over again. If the Pokemon max out in power, then there isn't a lot to worry about. But, if they don't, then that means you'll likely replace your favorite with someone who is not your favorite, simply because they are way more powerful, which isn't very fun. You have no connection to something so easily replaceable. But again, this point may be moot if the powers plateau instead of continue to climb linearly.
     Also, you can pick up multiple copies of a pokemon in a zone. However, once you leave the zone, they are all automatically added to your bank of pokemon. I have to micromanage it after every trip to get rid of the weaker copies to keep the number semi-reasonable. It'd be better if they gave you a list afterward and asked "Which of these would you like to keep?" and save some trouble.


So, what do I think of it? I think it is fun; but then again I love pokemon, So I am biased to give it a good shot. Someone who is not a pokemon fan may feel lost in the large number of pokemon availible, the various attacks and effects as well as the element wheel... The game doesn't explain all of this, just the very basic fire beats grass deal. Unless you're a pokemon fan, you wouldn't likely guess that steel beats fairy, or that dragon beats dragon... or that Charizard is not a dragon.
It's a fun game for pokemon fans, and free to try and play. There is no harm in giving it a shot.

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Five Nights at Freddy's

     The Hollywood Reporter had an article on April 7th, 2015, declaring that Warner Brothers has plans to create a movie called "Five Nights at Freddy's." The high-concept of the story is that it is a haunted and dark version of Chuck-e-Cheese. Now, that may sound like any other Warner Brothers horror film like Ouija (Stiles White, 2014), but this news is kind of a big deal. But some context for those who are not into horror, or watch Lets Players on Youtube:



     Five Nights at Freddy's is an indie horror game, created by one man, Scott Cawthon. Before Five Nights, Scott had made mostly Christian or Family Friendly games, mostly sidescrollers with pre-rendered 3D models. His last game before Five Nights was criticized for having characters that look like creepy animatronics, and Scott had a small epiphany: he thought he could make something a lot scarier.
     Thus he created Five Nights at Freddy's, a horror game where you play a night guard at Freddy Fazbear's Pizza, trapped in the building with 4 deadly animatronics (5 if you count a kind of unexplained mystical one). You play through 5 nights at Freddy's like the title suggests, each one getting harder than the last.
     Your entire goal is keeping the animatronics out of your security room. To do this, you have cameras to check on where the animatronics are, and buttons to close two blast doors. But, using the cameras or closing the doors costs power, which you have a limited supply of. If you run out of power, you can no longer close the doors, and it is game over. If one of the animatronics manages to get in, it is game over. Each game over is accompanied with a jump scare of the animatronic in question getting right in your face and screaming.

     It doesn't sound like much, and it really isn't. It is an incredibly low budget indie game. Yet, the game was successful enough to warrant two sequels: Five Nights at Freddy's 2, which is technically a prequel, and Five Nights at Freddy's 3, set thirty years after the first game. Five Nights has had an entire trilogy, in the span of a year and a half, and the creator has raked in a TON of money for it.
      You might wonder why this game became so popular as to warrant two sequels within months of each other. The answer is simple: people on youtube playing the game. There wasn't much marketing for Freddy's beyond putting the game up on Steam (think of it as a version of amazon focused on delivering games digitally), but some Lets Players (people who, as the name suggests, play games for an audience) played the game enough for it to reach memetic status, and it spiraled into a devoted fandom.

     That's pretty much the brief history of Freddy's, minus the backstory about a serial child murderer who keeps returning to Freddy's, and the stuffing of the children into the animatronics, and someone's frontal lobe being bitten off by one of the animatronics (surprisingly that guy is still alive). Yeah the series is pretty messed up, but pretty tame compared to some of the other horror films and TV shows out there (Criminal Minds comes to mind for people worse than the Purple Man, the serial murderer so named because he appears in game as a pixelated purple man). It sounds like something bog standard for a horror film right?
     That is exactly why this is so interesting and important. Five Nights at Freddy's was created by one man for very little, and now it is a franchise. Even if they also make the movie for very little money, it is a guaranteed success for two reasons:
1. Horror films always make money. Ouija some how made several times its budget.
2. There is a large, devoted fanbase for the series, that will almost certainly go see the film, regardless of its actual quality.
     Five Nights is what is known as a "presold idea," a film property already in the public's consciousness that does marketing by generating hype rather than selling the idea to the audience.

     As for the budget of the film... The budget would be quite minimal from my (fairly knowledgeable) calculations. There is one primary set, Freddy Fazbear's Pizza. There are only 3-4 necessary characters (the security guard, the purple man, and both phone guys (they give the game's tutorial and some backstory)). The animatronics could be done with costumes and not CGI. Altogether, if they were aiming to spend as little as possible, the film could be done with less than a million dollars.
     And of course because the film is quite likely to be successful for so little, there is bound to be a sequel the year after. They very well could make the game franchise into a film franchise.


    To recap: Five Nights at Freddy's is guaranteed to make money, they don't need to spend a lot to make it, AND it is a franchise. All this was made possible by one guy making extremely simple PC games. This is what is interesting: this is the power of the internet, horror, and presold ideas.



     The funny thing is, I predicted this like a month ago, right down to saying Warner Brothers would do it. It's not future sight, it is just knowing the market. It wasn't a question of if, but when.


And that's the story all about how an indie game maker earned a metric ton of money. It simultaneously gives one hope that they too could one day do that as well, and saddens that it takes horror to do it that easily.
(Note, I'm not discounting Scott Cawthon's difficulties in making the game, I'm sure the programming and animation were difficult in some fashion. But it really doesn't seem that hard when his release schedule was August 2014, November 2014, and March 2015. Film makers would squeal for that kind of release schedule)



To sign off, I'll say this: Five Nights may be the only horror film I'm actually interested in seeing. and I have not played the games, nor do I like horror films. At all. Let that speak for how powerful a marketing force this indie game has become.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Life is Strange: episode 1

     A new occurrence in video games is the episodic puzzle/story games. Popularized by Sierra with their take on the Walking Dead series, and expanded to Borderlands, Game of Thrones, and their original series Wolf Among Us, these games are characterized by allowing the player to make choices that alter the narrative in different ways, and by a third person view of a character that walks very slowly while completing puzzles of varying intensity.
     Today's subject matter, Life is Strange, follows this episodic puzzle game nature, with an interesting twist... Also, it is made by DONTNOD and produced by Square Enix.




    Life is Strange follows Max, an 18 year old photography student at an elite high school, who wakes up one day to discover she can rewind time. Now she has all the time in the world to make her decisions, and can try different paths when talking with someone... However, there are some unintended consequences.
     The limit of Max's power is this: she can only rewind to very recent actions (within a minute or two). So, while she could make thing better in the short term, the long term carries effects unknown.
      She discovers this power when she goes into the bathroom after class, and is witness to a boy, Nathan, fatally shooting a girl, Max's old friend Chloe (they recognize each other closer to the third act of the episode). She sticks out her right hand, and suddenly time flies backwards until she is back in class. From then on, she can always choose the right path...

      Then again, maybe there is no right path.
      After every significant choice, or meet a significant event, you are told "this action will have consequences." this ranges from telling the principle the local monopoly's son brought a gun to school, to watering your house plant. Yes, seriously. And the game makes it where you, like the character, instantly feel guilty for EVERYTHING bad that happens because you can prevent it. You can prevent a girl from being hit on the back of the head with a football, you can save a bird from dying... But if you do help them, you get the message "this action will have consequences."
      Depending on how your time travel logic works, this could range from "the consequence is someone has to repair the broken window" to "mass hysteria." and given the ending of the episode, we are headed for the "mass hysteria" section of time logic.
      There is a butterfly motif running through the game, a reference to the butterfly effect and The Sound of Thunder. saving the bird's life might seem nice in the short term, but in the long term, it may cause a hurricane in Egypt...
       ...but then we get to my one problem with the story thus far: are any of our choices worthwhile?

     I'm going into speculation mode, so bare with me, but the ending to this could potentially be infuriating.
     You see, like saving the bird or stomping on a butterfly, actions can have massive consequences when it comes to time. And the entire story may have been screwed before we've even left the tutorial. You see, Chloe died in the original timeline... And Max when back in time to save her. Time is likely going to try and correct this error, if the previews and ending sequence are to be believed.
     Thus, I shall call the worst case, and most likely case scenario: you have to go back in time and stop yourself from saving Chloe. Now, this is most likely, as that was the event that triggered the storm (most likely right now at any rate). This is the worst case because it will mean that everything in between didn't happen. All the actions logged, that we are told will have consequences... all of them undone to undo the butterfly effect. If this is indeed the case, then by hell the only way to play is to do all the good actions, make yourself feel good. Screw the long term, you won't ever get there because you have to undo everything!
     Best case scenario however, is that you don't go back in time to defeat the butterfly effect. Your actions have actual long term consequences, and they have an effect on how the 5 episodes end.

I actually really enjoyed this game quite a bit. I want to do multiple runs to see the effects... but I also don't want to if the worst case scenario up there is true. Part of the reason I just stopped playing the Walking Dead game by Sierra is that no matter what, the end is the same; all the different entangled paths converge onto one point that is made no different by your choices other than small details. I hope that isn't what happens in this game. If a player is given choices in a game, those choices need to mean something in the end... otherwise it is all just metagaming for the theoretical "best run." If anyone cares enough anymore to run it.


Though to sum up, I really like the game and I am looking forward to the next episode (got the season pass, the next episode is in March), but I will be very sad if this takes the path I think it is... Life is Strange is a very melancholic game, and I can only hope that it ends happy. Even just an ending that is, "everyone runs away from the snowstorm in Egypt" is better than "basically the ending to The Butterfly Effect (movie)"
Plox no equivalent to aborting oneself...