Archive for February 2012

Geek Critique – Reading and Games   Leave a comment

I’ve known one of my oldest and dearest friends since I was 8-years-old. It’s extremely rare for us to stay so close to people throughout our lives, but for 15 years, nary a week has gone by when we haven’t hung out, played video games and cracked jokes. Being five years younger than me, he’s the closest thing I have to a younger brother, and he’s one of the most awesome people I know.

He doesn’t read anything I write. He doesn’t read the Geek Critique. He’s not even in the Facebook group.
The reason isn’t because he’s uninterested in the things I write about. He’s been a life-long gamer for even more of his life than me. He’s not so interested in sci-fi or other traditionally nerdy things, but (in case you haven’t noticed) I do mostly write about video games.

No, there’s a much simpler explanation to why he doesn’t read the things I write: I write them. Ergo, he would have to read them. And he doesn’t want to.
This has always been a difficult thing for me to understand.

I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t reading. My mom read to me from the time I started talking, whether it was books, letters or even the backs of cereal boxes over breakfast. I vividly remember sitting on my Dad’s lap and reading the list of supplies I’d need for kindergarten.

And yet, I suppose, I can find a way to understand.

Let’s draw a comparison.

Just about everyone has a favorite movie or a favorite song. Film and music are extremely accessible, easy and cheap forms of entertainment. Everybody does it.

Everybody is, at least, tangentially aware of what’s going on in these industries.

Not everyone has a favorite video game. Games are more expensive to enjoy, both in how much they cost and how much dedication they take.

They’re a much denser option, and not everyone has the time, patience or desire that it takes to reap the rewards of a game.

Reading is the same way, now.

Our culture currently ties the very notion of reading to our public school system, and as a result, reading is related to working and studying rather than having fun or relaxing.

It’s not a leisure activity for most people, and I’ve met people who boast (proudly!) about how they haven’t read a book since they got out of high school. Reading has more correlations to video games.

They take a lot more time to digest and they require a skill that not everyone wants to put in the effort to learn.

They’re both niche hobbies, far less mainstream than an enthusiast of either would prefer.

However, in my (not-so) humble opinion, video gaming and reading both have the potential to be a much more engaging experience than a movie.

You have to put more into it, but you can get a lot more out of it. They’re deeper, they engage your senses in a totally different way, and (at least for me) they tend to be much more memorable.

Reading certainly isn’t going anywhere.

It’s still the most efficient and direct form of communication we have, and I don’t think we’ll ever stop writing.

And of course, no matter how many people out there play Facebook games, we’ll always have the more enthusiast-oriented video games that fuel the passion of hardcore gamers.

We can accept what our hobbies are, and we can take pride in ourselves for putting the time it takes to reap the rewards of them.

As for my friend? Well, I hope you read this one. After all, I based my entire point around you. (Narcissist! Narcissist! Narcissist!)

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Posted February 23, 2012 by positivejosh in Uncategorized

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Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II – FEELIN’ GOOD!   Leave a comment

image

So! Screenshots of Sonic the Hedgehog 4: Episode II leaked over the weekend, being put up on the Xbox Live Marketplace along with an apparent release date of May 16, and what I think is an AWESOME new art style.

Sonic 4’s first episode in 2010, if I may draw an analogy, was like finally dating that girl you’d been wanting for years and years and finding out she’s utterly mediocre at relating to you, in personality, and, indeed, in the sack. It’s not AWFUL, it’s just not what something you’d devoted so many years to should’ve been.

Last year’s Sonic Generations, in contrast, was like the girl that you’re not looking for, who comes out of nowhere and completely turns your world upside down, and you realize that THIS is what you should’ve been after all this time.

Yes, I am alluding to my past and curent relationships as well, here, haha.

The point is, Sonic 4 was a disappointment, and it didn’t deserve to follow in the legacy of the Genesis series.

Sonic 4: Episode II, fortunately, looks a whole, whole lot better.

Gone are the bright, plastic-looking graphics. This is far more vivid and detailed, and looks a bit like watercolor to me. It’s beautiful, in any case.

Sega’s also promising a whole new physics engine which SHOULD much more accurately emulate the Genesis series’ pinball physics.

Needless to say, I’m really excited about this one. Sonic’s been on a HUGE upswing in recent years, and while I’m not expecting it to quite live up to Generations, I am expecting it to be worthy of being called Sonic 4. It’s another chance for the one who almost got away.

SOURCE: Sonic Retro

Posted February 16, 2012 by positivejosh in Uncategorized

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Sonic Generations – Are the stages better than the original versions?   Leave a comment

GREEN HILL
No, but I wouldn’t expect it to. This is an introductory level for a reason, and its linearity and simplicity compared to a 3-act stage from 20 years ago isn’t surprising. It is gorgeous!

CHEMICAL PLANT
Nah; the whole two-acts vs. one act thing hurts it here, plus the lack of a boss. From a general level-design standpoint, they’re probably about equal, but there’s just not as much here.

SKY SANCTUARY
I’m going to go against the grain here and say yes. They REALLY expanded on this one, and while I miss Mecha Sonic, this zone’s got a lot more going on than the original.

METAL SONIC
Hm… while I’d have preferred a race rather than a fight, I never was a big fan of the original’s layout or how easy it was. It’s kind of a toss-up.

DEATH EGG ROBOT
Definitely not. Just giving you rings diminishes the threat and challenge a lot, but it IS the first proper boss.

SPEED HIGHWAY
Definitely. Took my favorite Adventure level and made it even better.

CITY ESCAPE
Definitely not. Took my favorite Adventure 2 level and made it kind of a bore-fest. The middle portion is okay, but it’s WAY too short, and the truck chase lasts WAY too long and doesn’t have you doing anything interesting. Easily my least favorite Act 2. Act 1’s a blast, though.

SEASIDE HILL
_Amazing_ job on this one. I never cared for Heroes, but this level is one of my favorites.

SHADOW
I’ll say no. It’s a weird gameplay mechanic, though the original wasn’t anything special, either.

PERFECT CHAOS
Big improvement here, especially once you start to learn the paths. It’s a lot more involved.

CRISIS CITY
One of the most difficult and most FUN levels in the game. It should go without saying that this improves on 2k6.

ROOFTOP RUN
A very Unleashed-style level (BOOST BOOST BOOST), but not nearly as long as the original. All the alternate paths and improved gameplay make this a yes, though.

PLANET WISP
A very Colors-style level (PLATFORM UP THE BUILDING), but I ended up liking it a lot more as I played it over and over. I’d say yes. I just wish more of it took place in the forest.

SILVER
Well, duh.

EGG DRAGOON
I don’t even remember what the original Egg Dragoon did, and I beat most of Unleashed about a month before Generations’ release. Big improvement, then.

Posted February 13, 2012 by positivejosh in Uncategorized

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In the Beginning…   Leave a comment

This isn’t really the beginning. This is just a class exercise. And I’ll tell you what, “exercise” is a funny word, and one that I’ve often struggled with spelling correctly. Even there, it took me… haha, Dunn just told us to MIS-spell a few words as we’re typing? You’re going to introduce us to Firefox’s automatic spell-check, aren’t you? Funny, then, that I was just about to talk about that.

I do love me some Firefox, though. Best browser I’ve ever used. Google Chrome might be faster sometimes, but Firefox’s plug-ins and customizations make it so much more worthwhile for a power user.

I guess I should stop babbling about technology and see if I can tie this into video games somehow, right? Ooh! I know!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UHysmKGGLA8

This is a parody of “Gives You Hell” by Palette-Swap Ninja. And I ironically had trouble spelling “palette” right there. I think playing Pokemon confused me, as I wanted to mention Pallet Town.

Anyway, I love this song, and it’s so true. Younger/teenaged gamers often have all kinds of trouble spelling things correctly, and the existence of spell-checkers apparently alludes them. This has become much less of a problem in recent years, as it seems like when people get ot college, all those papers tends to make people write a whole lot gooder.

But when I was in high school, I was literally the only person I ever talked to who typed like this. That was probably for a couple of reasons…

1) I was read to a LOT as a kid, ever since I can remember. All the way through elementary school, I read at a consistently higher level than most of my peers. This was a blessing and a curse, because having to sit there for hours on end listening to my classmates VERY – SLOWLY – SOUND- OUT- EVERYTHING got really old.

2) For whatever reason, I easily understood and internalized basic grammar rules in elementary school.

3) I was present in the very early days of the internet, though I was 7. Back in those days, you would be mocked and not taken seriously if you didn’t type well. Eventually, of course, the n00bs far outnumbered the people who typed well.

Posted February 8, 2012 by positivejosh in Uncategorized

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The Geek Critique: Brave New World   Leave a comment

Just before Christmas break, there were massive television screens set up in the Cave. People crowded around them, and the games they were playing were extremely varied.

From “Super Smash Bros. Brawl” to “Modern Warfare 3” to even “Just Dance,” seeing all these people playing games for a public audience made me reflect on something: to be a geek is “cooler” than it’s ever, ever been.

When I was in high school (2002-06), I spent half of my time feeling like a social butterfly who fit in with everyone, and the other half feeling like an absolute outcast who didn’t fit in with anyone. I was a complete non-box. I was a geek, but an extrovert. I marched to my own drum, but I loved people.

And I ran a video game club. (Well, I called it a “software entertainment media” club to slip it by administrative.) Our first day was wonderful. Nearly 50 students showed up. Then they found out we wouldn’t be able to play M-rated games, and I found out that most high school students were way too into “Halo 2.”

Still, we forged ahead with around 15 boys and one awesome girl.

I distinctly remember being affronted for carting around my Game Boy Advance, although I’m sure the fact that it was pink didn’t help my standing. (It was the only one they had left! I’m hardcore! Shut up!)

It’s a brave new world.

I don’t mean to say that all this has happened in the past five years alone. The genesis of it all was probably the anime boom in the late 1990s.

We started seeing big-budget action movies about comic book superheroes. Then, with the release of 2002’s “Spider-Man,” we saw them become raucously successful. Big-name companies started debuting movie trailers and video game demos at fan conventions.

The age of the average video gamer is now 38 years old.

What we do is not child’s play anymore. It isn’t awkward. It isn’t niche. And there are more of us than there has ever been.

A big reason for it is this: you remember that one awesome girl we had in our gaming club? There are a whole lot more of you female geeks out there, now.

One of my best friends is five years younger than me, meaning he just got to ETSU. And through high school, he had many, many more female friends than I ever did.

While I could figure that this was because I was much more of a weird, loud loser in high school than he was, I’ll choose to believe that at least part of that is because being a geek is becoming much more common than it once was.

All the way up the public school system, I was picked on, galvanized, bamboozled and bullied.

And it was a good thing. It only inspired me to march to my own drum that much more. It only made me a better, stronger person. People either loved me or hated me. Nobody used any run-of-the-mill words to describe me, and I liked it that way.

Being a geek changed my life for the same reason we’re now changing the world. It saved me from being boring.

Posted February 2, 2012 by positivejosh in Uncategorized

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The Geek Critique: A Role Worth Playing   Leave a comment

Jon Shell asked, “What is it about role-playing game elements that you do not like?”

Role-playing games, or RPGs, are often characterized by their emphasis on huge worlds, sweeping storylines, and of course, level grinding. There’s so much to see and do and explore. I could conceivably play a game like “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” for 80 hours and still not be totally “done” with it.

However, I don’t find exploring and questing and leveling up to be all that fun for very long. Most RPGs are built to reward the player with things like story and adventure for how much time they’re willing to invest.

I like a game that’ll reward me not for how much time I put into it, but for how skillful I become at it, and that’s a huge distinction.

Steven Barry said, “I am truly befuddled as to why gamers continually dish out money for new ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Madden’ games, when they’re essentially the same games as previous releases under the same name. What is it about these titles that draw so many ‘gamers’ to waste their money on the same game over and over again?”

First of all, your dismissal of these people as being unworthy of being called “gamers” is something I’d like to address.

A gamer is anyone who defines themselves as such, and just because someone doesn’t prefer the same kind of games as you do is no reason to try and make them feel inferior as gamers.

Nonetheless, I see where you’re coming from. It’s interesting that the two games you chose to mention come from developers Activision and Electronic Arts, respectively.

Those two corporations have become the poster children in recent years for lazily releasing minor upgrades to their core games every single year.

Still, the sales numbers don’t lie, do they? “Call of Duty” and “Madden” are immensely popular, and I think I know why.

Each yearly release of a new game is, in fact, not at all the same as the previous.

Certainly, they’re iterations around the same basic concept, but to the millions of fans of these two series, they’re also constantly making improvements.

To a non-fan, seeing gameplay footage of 2007’s surprise hit, “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” and 2011’s “Modern Warfare 3” back-to-back wouldn’t look like a whole lot of innovation.

To someone who is deeply encroached in the iconography, story and online metagame of the series, the massive improvements and differences between the two are, indeed, worth having.

The same goes for “Madden.” I haven’t played a football game since “Sega Sports” was sold off, but EA is always hyping some kind of new improvement or change in the way its new “Madden” game works.

What your question really points to is a fundamental difference in the way the video game industry is now, versus how it once was.

Of all the games to be this incredibly popular, why is it the uber-realistic football simulator and the gritty war simulator?

That’s where innovation is lacking in the industry.

Too many games are trying to be nothing but realistic because younger gamers (who do, for better or worse, make up a huge portion of “Call of Duty”‘s fans) will deride anything too cartoony or too innovative as being “gay.” And that’s terrible.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with football sims or war games, but I wish we still got the really weird stuff, like robots playing soccer and unmanned unicycles racing in space.

Questions? Comments? Am I missing something when it comes to RPGs? Send ‘em all to diamondcutter@gmail.com, and join the Geek Critique Facebook page!

Posted February 1, 2012 by positivejosh in Uncategorized

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