Sunday, April 27, 2014

Marvel Puzzle Quest, Octodad, Trials Fusion, Second Son, and More...  


It’s been a while since my last post, so apologies to my regular readers who were wondering about the delay… I was holding off on new entries in the hopes that I’d have a formal announcement to make (a good one!) but the time is not quite here yet. Soon! In the meantime, it’s business as usual…

Games: First, a quick check-in on Marvel Puzzle Quest. I'm still playing daily, and it’s still quite a bit of fun. If you haven't been following the game closely for a while, you might be surprised at how many changes have been instituted lately. 

Although it's hard to quantify exactly how much, it seems to me that the penalties of losing to PVP opponents have been greatly reduced, so it’s not nearly as soul-crushing as it used to be. Also, ‘Alliances’ are now a thing that have been integrated into the game overall, so grouping up with friends pays great dividends. There's been a steady trickle of new characters added to the roster, and some events have been re-worked and broken up into seasons. For example, it didn't make a lot of sense to play the S.H.I.E.L.D. Simulator mode in the past, but now that there’s a deadline for point accumulation, it's a more worthwhile endeavor.

Much respect to Demiurge for keeping development going and constantly instituting changes that make the game bigger and better. This is a quality product that I'm happy to support with my dollars, and it's giving me who knows how many hours of entertainment in return. If you haven’t checked it out yet, now is a great time to jump in.

In other games news, I just played and reviewed Octodad: Dadliest Catch on PS4. I won't say much about it now, except that it was hilarious and a fantastic amount of fun to play, and the developers are extremely clever people.

Embrace difference.

I've heard some people complaining about the difficulty of the game, but I found it to be quite easy in most regards. I'm not trying to say that I'm some kind of phenomenal games player or anything, but honestly, I think the chatter about the difficulty was overblown.

As far as I'm concerned, this is a must-have for the PS4, and doubly so if you have kids… Sit your little ones down beside you and be treated to a family-friendly good time.

Over the last few days, I also completed and wrote a review for Trials: Fusion, although I’m both surprised and disappointed to say that my opinion of this installment is much less positive than I expected. I'm a huge Trials fan and enjoyed the hell out of both HD and Evo (still play 'em!) but Fusion just doesn't match up at all.

I'm still chipping away at the Extreme tracks (I even streamed my struggles with the Rock of Rages track last night, and it ended in a finish!) but I'm already noticing that it doesn't have the same pull over me that the previous ones did. If you've never played a Trials, I'd say go for either of the two older games before this one.

In my last bit of PS4 news, I tried inFamous: Second Son for a day, but didn't find it to my taste at all. Though it was a very beautiful game that had some cool ideas, the general feel of the gameplay was more irritating than anything else. 

Y'know, I'm pretty sure 520 doesn't lead straight into Queen Anne... 

Full disclosure, I'm tired of open-world games that don't have a unique spin or a real justification for being open, and giving me a big area dotted with random objectives to complete doesn't cut the mustard anymore. In this respect, it definitely didn’t impress. Even so, I might have powered through it just because except that I found it to be completely irritating to play. 

The inFamous titles always come off like shooters disguised as superhero games, and this one is no different. Whenever going to any location, I got really tired of being surrounded by a huge number of enemies firing at me from all directions, and it's just not what I'm looking for.

(Random side note: being someone who lives in Seattle, I found the depiction of the city disappointing. It's not like I expected things to be re-created block for block, but although you could catch occasional glimpses of what the real city looks like, it just didn't feel right to me at all. Oh well.) 

Parenting: The other day, my wife went to the Wendy's drive-through and the person at the window asked if we wanted the girl’s or boy’s toy in the kids’ meal. I realize there was probably no ill intent in it, but it would be great for society to get to a point at which toys are not immediately gendered. 
It's fun for all kids.

After all, kids of both sexes are often curious about all sorts of toys, and there's absolutely nothing wrong with that.  It’s perfectly fine for little girls to play with action figures, and for little boys to dress a doll. The way we constantly reinforce gender roles as a society is disappointing, and something that we’re consciously trying to correct as parents. Let’s just let kids be kids!

Television: Finally, just a quick shout-out to a new show that the wife and I started watching called My Mad Fat Diary.  

We've only seen the first episode, but the story about a big girl who's coming to acceptance with her size and society is both brutally honest and incredibly funny. The entire first season is available for free on YouTube, so check it out if you're in the market for such a thing.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Parental Guidance with Dark Souls 2 and Titanfall  


Any consumer of media will have heard the term Parental Guidance countless times, but how many moms and dads really give it much thought, wonder what it really implies, or actually put the concept into practice?

To me, Parental Guidance is a hell of a lot more than someone getting their kid a ticket to an R-rated movie and then dropping them off for two hours, or buying them a copy of GTA when the Gamestop clerk says they’re not old enough.  To me, Parental Guidance is an involved, active process that’s about real-time learning from a parent who’s connecting with their child and sharing knowledge.

Let’s take games, for example…  (Shocker, I know.)

As any gamer, I have access to a wide variety of titles that fill different niches. Just like other forms of media, certain things are off the table when my four-year-old son wants to watch me play. For example, he’s dying to try The Walking Dead, but that’s a no-go until he’s older due to its intense and sometimes-graphic nature. No matter how much guidance you give, some of it is just not okay at a young age. So, once we decide on something that seems appropriate enough to not cause nightmares, the process begins.

Parental Guidance at my house means that my son sits right next to me when I'm playing (or vice versa) and we have a constant running dialogue about what's going on in the game, what he’s seeing, and what I’m doing.  If you've never played games around kids, you might be surprised at how much they can pick up in a short period of time… of course, some games lend themselves better to this process than others. One of the biggest successes we’ve had so far is Dark Souls 2.

So what might happen if I go on this bridge? Does it look safe?

My son is already quite interested in monsters and zombies, so the imagery in the game was nothing he hasn't seen a million times before in other games, TV, movies, and books. However, Dark Souls 2 is a great PG game for three big reasons beyond monster appeal.

1> It's a slow-paced, deliberate game. There are very few times when something happens onscreen that's too fast to follow, or when something comes as a complete surprise. This gives my son plenty of time to take in the scene and evaluate what's going on -- he can look around for threats, think about basic tactics, and develop an idea about where to go or what to do. This pace also affords us plenty of time to talk. Once enemies are dispatched, it’s usually safe to simply stand around and break down what just happened. Why did I get hit? What is that sword called? Why did I not use an Estus Flask there?

2> It’s easy to set up clear goals that are simple to grasp. For example, in a certain area I could say that if I made it to the bonfire or got to the next boss, then I’d call that a success. Then we would both have something to look forward to -- will I make it, or won’t I? What do I need to do to get there? The game is naturally broken up into bite-sized chunks between bonfires as it is, so it was never too much to be overwhelming, my son was never lost about what we were doing, and he had a great time analyzing each segment. 

In fact, he did so well with it that after I was done and passed the disc off to my wife, he was doubly enthusiastic about sitting down and watching her -- he was even giving great advice based on the stuff he saw and understood from my playthrough.

(Protip: that scorpion dude is friendly.)

Fighting this turtlebro up close is really tough. How else can we get him?

3> It’s got a good life lesson embedded within in it. Dark Souls shows that tough challenges can be overcome, and that even though your character may die a bunch of times in a row, you don't give up -- you try different things, new approaches, or just do a little bit better next time, but you don't give up. You might need to take a break or do a little FAQ-ing, but you keep pushing on until you do what you set out to do.

While our experience with Parental Guidance in Dark Souls 2 was great, not every game is perfectly situated for the process. For instance, I recently started playing Titanfall on 360, and while my son is incredibly interested in guns and robots, I found walking him through it to be quite difficult.

The biggest obstacle to proper PG’ing here was the speed at which Titanfall plays. It’s an extremely fast game and everything is constantly in motion, not to mention that when players get killed, they respawn quickly with little fuss, Things are constantly running at full tilt. As a result, there's no real time for analysis of on-screen elements, of what just happened, or really, to have any discussion at all

This is a lot of stuff happening really, really fast.
For example, I’d find that when I died, my son wouldn’t know that it even happened until a few moments later, and then he’d ask why I went down. With nothing to show at that instant and only a vague idea of who got me or how, there wasn’t much to teach after-the-fact.

Another interesting aspect of this was that the first-person interface made it a lot tougher for him to follow what was going on in general.

Because he was unable to see either my Pilot or my Titan in third-person view and in relation to the environment, the screen looked like a lot of random motion to him. Since I was holding the controller, I knew that I was double jumping, wallrunning, or that I was dashing backwards to get out of the way of a rocket, but without that agency and the limited field of view afforded by the perspective, it wasn't quite clicking with him. 

A lot more info than you might expect is affected by the perspective a game uses. 

He was certainly interested in the game and he never got tired of seeing "bad guys" get taken down or enemy Titans blowing up, but as a parent, I felt that the time we spent with Titanfall felt less satisfying from an educational perspective.

While both of these experiences were quite different, they did have something in common -- after ending play sessions, my son would immediately want to roleplay what he’d just seen. Acting these things out via real-life play is a great way for kids to process information mentally, so even after the consoles were shut down, we had even more time to learn with (and from) that content.

When playing ‘Dark Souls’ he would pretend to be a bad guy and hide around a corner, or behind the couch. As the player character, I would walk forward and let him pop out and stab me in the back with a plastic sword, or we would circle around each other with weapons and shields, and try to block or parry. He was also very quick to remind me to ‘drink my potion’ every time he had delivered a few hits.

When playing "Titanfall", he would be a Pilot and dash madly around the living room, firing a plastic gun and giving jump kicks to imaginary enemies. After a few seconds (because he knows you can't call your Titan right away) he would draw an imaginary green circle on the ground, and call me in. He then hops on my back and we run around as I take shots with my own cannon. Of course, anyone who’s played the game knows the Titans don’t last long, so he'll frequently "eject" (aka, jump off my back) after a few minutes and then watch me ‘explode’ in a nuclear fireball.

(And yes, I explained nuclear fireballs.)

These play sessions are great not only because they show what he’s learned and how much he understood from the games via his own internalization and subsequent expression, but they also give us another opportunity as father and son to bond over something that we've shared. Parental Guidance explains and gives context to things on screen, but it also extends to what we do in the living room, and how we play together. To me, this shared understanding about content and the shared time together represents the real definition of Parental Guidance, and I find it to be a very effective tool indeed.


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

On Hold, Escape Goat 2, Golden Sky Stories, and Design A MH Weapon!  


Diverging a bit from my usual format tonight... You've been warned.

So, the last few days have been kind of a weird time for me… I feel like a lot of things are on hold at the moment, and for someone who’s used to charging full-speed ahead on a bunch of things at the same time, it's odd to have a few nights when I'm not really focused on much.

For example, I was getting ready to start putting word out about my new book and had hoped to have full details on how people can buy the print version by this time, but there's been a slight delay. Although the electronic version is out and about, I don't really want to start pimping it in earnest until people can have a choice between e- and print.

In terms of games, I finished Dark Souls II a while ago, and that was the last big thing I was doing for review. Since then, I haven't started anything from my backlog because I hate putting a game aside half-completed if something to be reviewed comes in, but then nothing that needs to be reviewed has come in…

(Side note, my wife started Dark Souls II after I wrapped it, and she is KICKING ASS. Going melee with a mace and shield, she’s been burning through Drangleic with little resistance. Just watched her squash the Ruin Guardians this morning and then she pulped the demon at the base of the windmill in Harvest Valley after that. SO proud of her!!!)

Yeah, so I suck the clothes right off of you. So what? Everybody needs a hobby! 

Anyway, I guess I should be grateful for a few days when nothing is hanging over my head and I have time to relax, but that's kind of a weird feeling in and of itself. All that quasi-angst aside, I do have a few things that I can mention…

First off, Escape Goat 2 is now available on Steam, GOG and Humble, and it looks fantastic.

Although my computer is not able to run it (note to self: get a new computer this year!) I absolutely loved the first one, and I have total faith in @MagicalTimeBean to turn out a quality product. Everything he's ever made has been good, and there's no reason to think that he's going to break that streak anytime soon.

Look for the official review on @Gamecritics soon, courtesy of @Gelles22, but in the meantime, do yourself a favor and check it out. If it's anything like the first one (and I expect that it is) you'll be in for a good time. Probably a hardcore one, too.

Any of my Monster Hunter fans will probably already know about this, but Capcom is sponsoring a contest to let players design one of the weapons that will be featured in the upcoming Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate. Click on over for more information, and best of luck if you enter!

Next up, I've been asked to spread the word about a pen-&-paper RPG called Golden Sky Stories.

Full disclosure, I have not had a chance to play this yet (it's recommended for between 3-5 players) but it looks incredibly cute and the artwork is great. Also, I'm always interested in non-violent games, and this one is about friendship and cooperation. Also, anthropomorphic animals. Be a fish. 

I've got it on my game table to bust out the next time I have enough people gathered together, but since those instances are pretty few and far between, I can't vouch for it YET. However, if this sounds like your sort of thing, check it out.

Finally, this was a link that my wife passed on to me, and I have to say that I absolutely agree with it. It's a piece written by a mother on the subject of "tough love", and what the true definition is. If you ask me, it's a hell of a lot tougher to be the kind of patient, giving parent this mother is talking about than it is to be one who’s quick to spank and scold… We need more moms and dads out there practicing what she's preaching, for sure.

That's it for now. More to come!


There's more than meets the eye in Taisho year 20 when private detective Shouhei Narumi and his assistant, Raidou Kuzunoha receive an unusual request from a young girl, fearful for her life. But no sooner does she appear than she is kidnapped right in front of the two detectives by military police. Now, Raidou must use his skills as a Devil Summoner to find the girl...

Thus the story is set for Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Summoner: Raidou Kuzunoha vs. The Soulless Army, now available on PlayStation Network. Like previous PS2 Classics, the action RPG will be $9.99 and is currently available in North and South America. Rediscover the classic blend of action and mystery on your PlayStation 3 -- oh, but don't forget to visit the Gouma-Den to fuse some demons. Check out the game here


So the ESRB post everyone seemed to find earlier this week told you that Persona 4 was coming to PlayStation 3 as a PS2 Classic, but it didn't tell you when, did it? It didn't, but we're going to go ahead and tell you anyways. Persona 4 will be available to download on PlayStation Network beginning April 8!

Astute fans will recognize the date is three days before the main character transfers to Yasogami High School, so if you're the type of super-dedicated player that wants to play the game exactly to the calendar date, there's still time!