Deanna’s Shadowrun House Rules & GM Tips

Much like our very own Greg, I GM for our little group over here; however I run a tabletop RPG called Shadowrun. A brief backstory is that sometime in the next few years, orks, trolls, and elves are born to human parents. This marks the beginning of the Sixth World: the return of magic to society and a highly advanced technical era. Corporations run pretty much everything and tax the ever-loving crap out of the poor while skirting around taxes themselves and reaping the rewards. Meanwhile, shadowrunners are those who are fed up with the system, so they made their own. Dealing almost exclusively in black-market, back-alley deals, shadowrunners make a living off-the-grid and on the run.

All this and more lies at your fingertips. (via Save/Continue)

The Main Difference

While D&D may focus more on the story of the world the players are in and exploring that to its fullest, Shadowrun is easier to run a one-off campaign with. Most runs start with a fixer, lovingly known as “Mr. Johnson”, giving one or a group of shadowrunners a job. This could be any number of things: information extraction, assassination, smuggling, you name it. There are plenty of pregenerated worlds for you to set up shop in as the GM. Catalyst Labs, the makers of the game, go to some pretty impressive lengths to make sure that the game is immersive despite this, though.

For instance, Shadowrun not only offers general base stats, but skill sets to go on top of that. At character creation, you get a certain amount of points to put into each section. Dice pools (which I’ll cover later) are calculated depending on how many points you have per skill and how many points you have per attribute. Even on top of that, there are pages’ worth of gear for your players to choose from to make their character exactly how it should be. Since we’re playing in the future, also, there’s another pile of cyberware and bioware enhancements that players can buy. You wanna have glowing tattoos that change color with your emotions? How about hair? Well, you can. No magic needed.

Game Mods

I should start off by saying that Shadowrun, in its fifth edition, is incredibly number-heavy. It’s dense. Character creation, with an uninitiated player, takes a solid hour and a half if you’re fine-tuning your gear list. It’s run entirely through d6 rolls instead of the various dice that D&D uses. For each point you have in a specific skill plus the base attribute associated with that skill, you roll one d6. When characters start getting good, dice pools can easily reach 40 or more.

Combat in and of itself is another beast. If you’re familiar with tabletop RPG combat at all, generally you have an initiative roll which determines the order of operations once per combat engagement. Shadowrun has one every combat turn– and if you roll high enough, you can move more than once per turn.

Complications aside, I have a set of modifications that I implement in games that I run. More than once I’ve considered having gear and weapon cards available for players to look at when they’re offered the opportunity to upgrade. I now know that Catalyst offers such as a printable PDF. I feel as though especially with Shadowrun, the more you can prep your players during the campaign, the better they’ll roleplay.

GMs come prepared. AliExpress celebrates. (via /u/pizzatuesdays on Reddit)

Custom Mechanics

To keep gameplay moving with a regular group of six or more, I’ve modified the way things are supposed to be. Just a touch, though. GMing is a fairly new experience so I’m keeping it pretty vanilla for now.

One thing I completely threw out the window in the current campaign is turn-based astral and matrix combat. It’s a free action, it just happens. My attention capacity isn’t enough to have up to three separate initiative counts running. Shadowrun 5e has rules for hackers and mages performing combat in their respective planes, but it’s complicated, slows down physical plane combat, and isn’t really fun unless you have a party of all deckers and technomancers or astral-projecting magicians respectively.

I also run simplified rigger actions. This is a bit of a homebrew solution, as either it’s not discussed in the core rulebook or I keep overlooking it. {Double-check the rules on this.} Since there’s only one rigger in the group, I don’t want to slow them down in combat. Plus, if you’ve spent 100,000 nuyen on a Roomba, you should at least know how to use it.

Another mechanic of combat in Shadowrun is the fact that guns fire different counts of ammunition per pull of the trigger. This creates interesting layers for advanced players like reloading and being careful with what they shoot. Once again, I threw these out the window along with things like carry limits and guns being unconcealed by default. There are a lot of little things like this that I choose to overlook because they can slow down the roleplay.

House Rules

My first house rule is that if anyone has a legitimate concern with something happening in the session, voice it. Things like extensive torture, mutilation, and the like can be stuff that does happen in the underworld. Just because it exists, it doesn’t mean it has to be in the session to move the story along. This is a public topic in the group, but I encourage players to tell me privately if something makes their stomach turn a bit too much. Likewise, I have some limitations with what I do and don’t let players do in accordance with those concerns.

Another, more lighthearted house rule I have is that if you know you’re going to miss a session and want your character to still be active in the background, you write their story. For instance, one player’s character is incredibly mundane, so he went to the dentist during one session. This is mainly to keep people engaged whether they’re there or not. It also usually gets a good laugh.

One other, more whimsical rule I have is something called a point of the D. Players are rewarded for doing cool dumb shit by getting a point. One point is equivalent to one reroll of the appropriate dice pool.

Lastly, it goes without saying, but I run a lot of free sessions since the group is so large and (at least I think) the story I’m trying to tell is important. Not every session has combat because even small battles take close to an hour. There are times where I’ll make decisions for the group to set up key plot points. I’m not sure if this is standard practice, but I don’t do it too often and sometimes a shove in the right direction won’t cut it.

When your crew pulls through that insanely hard battle with one box of damage before down, you end up feeling pretty damn cool. (via Fandible)

Other Encouragements

The only thing that really distracts me when GMing is players who aren’t paying attention to the game. Again, due to the large party it’s alright to check Twitter for a few seconds while you’re not in combat. But don’t watch TV while we’re playing. Or I’ll come for your ass when you least expect it.

I do recommend that everyone be the GM at least once in their own campaigns, just so they’re aware of the work that goes into it. It took me two months to start running one Shadowrun campaign because I was learning its ins and outs and developing the world. Show your GM some respect. Give them the few hours they’re asking for.

Also, help out your GM by reading up on your character a bit. Know what their gear does, know what your cybernetics do, and know what your abilities do. If your character has qualities that affect your rolls, know that, too. Keep up with combat when it happens, and ask questions.
Be engaged in the session. There’s little more that makes me, personally, happier as a GM than when I feel my players are enjoying interacting with the world around them.

Now go out and play some tabletop RPGs. There’s nothing like a bunch of people getting together and telling a story together. That’s really where the magic is.

Cover image is from Shadowrun Universe.

VR’s More Likeable Sibling: Augmented Reality

AR, or augmented reality, is VR’s younger cousin. VR is targeted mostly towards developers at this point. AR doesn’t have many popular apps, and security is becoming a large issue now with Pokemon Go being able to read everyone’s GPS data and sell it to our reptilian overlords.

It’s just like in real life! (via The Verge)

Let me start out by outlining the difference between the two. VR (virtual reality) is essentially using a headset to project oneself into a made-up experience. AR uses images from the world you’re in and puts virtual elements over them, like an interactive skin. Got it? Good.

Plenty of AR applications have already been developed, most notably: Pokemon GO!. The technology and the idea has been around for a while, though. Hell, Ikea has one to help you pick out furniture for your home. There are a plethora of apps that work with Google Cardboard– remember that thing?– that use AR as their base, from horror games to Yelp and Google Translate. The possibilities are endless.

AR’s main selling point is that it’s a lot more accessible than VR. Aside from that free GearVR Samsung was giving away with the purchase of any Galaxy S7 for a while, it’s pretty expensive and hard to get into. Not everyone has $800 to drop on an HTC Vive, and not everyone has the funds to get the newest Galaxy either.

Unless you’ve got one of these that you can put your phone in. Then VR might be within your reach. (via Amazon)

As far as real-world applications go, Yelp and Google Translate have it pretty spot-on. They offer something expected. Useful, instant information about the surrounding world. Ikea’s onto something as well: better to see what your furniture would look like rather than buy it, bring it home, build it, and realize that it doesn’t go with your home decor. At least, that’s what I think.

On the gaming side, there are plenty of things that would benefit from an AR facelift. For instance, take Viridi: a free game on Steam about raising a small garden of succulent plants. There are expansions you can buy that allow you to have plants around an apartment, among other things. If you haven’t picked it up on Steam yet, it’s free (with micro transactions). It’s relaxing and each week there’s a random free plant available in the shop. I highly recommend it. Needless to say, it would be pretty sweet to have some low-maintenance electronic plants chilling in my house.

There are other situations I can speak to that would lend themselves to VR nicely, and for fear of being unable to develop them myself, I won’t disclose quite yet. (Sorry folks!)

The long and short of this is, while I think VR is going to be big and it’s going to be something pretty interesting to get into, I don’t think now is the time. It’s much like 4k video: it’s expensive (noticing a trend here?) and a bit unwieldy. No one’s going to wander around with a full headset on, but almost everyone has a smartphone.

Then again… nah. Still looks silly. (via Engadget)

Furi – Intense Combat, A+ Soundtrack (Early Impressions)

OH MAN. Here we go, guys. Furi is a game where many of my favorite things intersect. First, you have a neon-dipped, fast-paced game based around satisfying controls and combat. Next up, a somewhat vague story driven by characters who sincerely kick ass, in more ways than one. And finally, to round out this list of things, a shorter list: a killer synth-based soundtrack with collector’s edition vinyl, and immensely difficult gameplay.

I should preface the rest of this review by saying that I’m not used to difficult games by any margin. I’m pretty sure Bloodborne and Hotline Miami rank among the hardest games I’ve played. I don’t know if that says anything about me as a person, but I like to take it easy in my games. You know, go along for the ride.

Furi is having none of that. Even during its tutorial level, Furi pushes gameplay that’s challenging to most people. The fights are long and frustrating at times, and my only qualm here is that a checkpoint after a boss has lost a certain amount of health, maybe two-thirds, would be nice. Furi offers an easier difficulty for those who don’t want to put up with the normal one, but you sacrifice the ability to earn achievements and unlock harder difficulties. You also lose the ability to unlock their speed run mode.

There’s something that keeps me coming back to Furi even as the difficulty ramps up. There’s no feeling quite like decimating a boss in their final stage without getting hit, and it’s something that comes with practice. Even in my limited play time so far, I can see myself improving. And we’ll get to that in a bit.

To set the scene, where I’m at, anyway, you’re an unnamed silent protagonist breaking out of prison with the help of some other unnamed dude wearing a purple bunny hood. To gain your freedom, “The jailer is the key. Kill him, and you’ll be free.” After every battle, you learn more about your guide, and about why you were locked up in the first place.

This boss features Carpenter Brut’s “You’re Mine”, composed for the game. (via PlayStation Blog)

Gameplay and Handling

If you’re going to make a boss-rush bullet hell game, you need to nail the responsiveness of your controls. And congratulations, The Game Bakers, you’ve done it. Moving around is satisfying, as it should be with twin-stick games. You have a parry which will heal you when successful, a slash attack, and a dash at your disposal to get yourself out of tight situations and inflict damage. Parrying an attack at the last second activates a “perfect parry”, which knocks the boss down.

There’s some advanced tech in the movements as well, where you can charge a slash while dashing to avoid enemy attacks.While I find a lot of these are situational, it’s pretty nice to know. Along with healing after a successful parry, there are green projectiles that turn into health orbs when shot. They’re few and far-between, and it can sometimes be riskier getting to them than staying put.

There are a couple mechanics which make the long fights more manageable. One which I find breaks up the monotony of endless dodging is that after knocking out a boss’s shields, combat shifts to a close-quarters fight. Additionally, when you take a full bar of life off a boss, your current one is entirely healed. Conversely, the boss gets this advantage as well, and if you fail in close-quarters, the boss heals up their shields, too. This is another area where I’m critical of the choice. It seems unfair sometimes, as parrying while in close-quarters or during the shield phase doesn’t heal all too much, but it’s not a deal breaker.

Between the bosses, there’s a fair amount of exposition. These are like walking simulators with some story and background. I’m not a huge fan of walking through them so slowly. The great thing here is that there’s an auto-walk option, so you can sit back and enjoy the cutscene leading up to the next boss.

There isn’t much but talking and walking. (via The Game Bakers)

Difficulty and Frustration Factor

While I’ve already covered how difficult the game is, I haven’t quite covered how infuriating some battles are. There’s a lot to watch out for, and a lot to focus on. Sometimes due to the colorful nature of the game, projectiles and ground attacks blur together. And while it makes for interesting visuals and some pretty hard stuff to dodge, unfortunately it makes it so I can’t sit for hours and work my way through. I can do 45 minutes at most without getting sloppy– dodging directly into damage, parrying poorly, and giving up too much of my precious life bar. And unfortunately there’s nothing I can do to combat this but get better at rushing the boss and taking breaks.

I don’t want to, though. I want to be able to sink hours into the game without tearing my hair out, and to prove to myself that not only can I get good, but I can actually withstand the difficulty a game puts in front of me without falling off in how effective I am at fighting. I feel like the real fight here is to not set the difficulty to an easier one. And trust me, that temptation is alive and kicking even as I write this.

Up close and personal with the first jailer. (via The Game Bakers)

Soundtrack

Despite all the shortcomings I have with difficult games, the one thing that keeps me going is the soundtrack. Initially I heard about the game browsing on YouTube. I can’t remember what led me there, but I saw a new track with Carpenter Brut’s name on it. I wasn’t a hard sell, Carpenter Brut is among one of my favorite synthwave artists. He sits among several others that are well-known for their music: Danger, Lorn, Scattle, and Kn1ght, to name a few. It’s available for purchase on Bandcamp (here!) as either a digital album or a collector’s edition vinyl, which is limited to a run of 800. Excuse me while I stare out my window and wait for it to arrive, please.

It’s worth the exorbitant shipping price, you gotta believe me. (Image via Bandcamp)

In Conclusion

If you enjoy difficult games, or even just a challenge, do yourself a favor and add this one to your collection. I can’t urge you enough, without being entirely repetitive, about how much you should play this game. Even if you have to do it on easy mode, do it. There’s no game I’d recommend more from this year so far.

Diversity in Gaming: LGBT Spotlight

Everyone wants to see themselves in video games, and that’s not a problem. In recent years gaming has become increasingly diverse, to the point of some games offering both male and female players an equal experience in playing through the story. What’s rare to see, though, is a character in a story-driven game who falls on the LGBT+ spectrum explicitly. Riding on the coattails of Pride Month and still reeling from the Twitter trends of the past couple of days, here’s a spotlight on some of them.

 

Gone Home

Obvious spoilers ahead, but if you haven’t played Gone Home yet, you’re doing yourself a disservice. It’s a short little game about two sisters. The oldest, Kaitlin, has come home after being overseas for some time (I assume for a semester abroad, though I could be remembering that wrong), and finds a note from her younger sister, Sam upon coming home. Throughout the game you play as Kate, and by finding things throughout the house you find out what happened to your sister.

Going in, I thought that something pretty awful had happened. The game takes you through some pretty dingy basements and hidden passages in the old house, so I initially thought it was a horror game. As I progressed, though, it became clear that Sam had run away for some reason or another. It seemed like she had a good life, albeit a tensioned relationship with her parents.

Again, spoilers ahead, if you’re still reading. While you’re exploring some of the areas in the house, you find a feminist zine that Sam and a friend were planning on publishing. If you didn’t catch it before, the game is set in the mid-’90s, and there’s your proof. As you find out more, you realize that Sam had, in fact, fallen in love with her friend and your parents didn’t approve, so they ran away together.

In the end, Sam’s happy. You’re happy for her, you accept her. It kinda tugs at my heartstring a bit.

I remember when all the cool kids were still making ‘zines in the early 2000s. (via Wikimedia Commons)

Life is Strange

Obvious spoilers here as well, folks. I have my issues with Life is Strange, I’ll tell you that from the start. I think the writing’s pretty awful (though who am I to judge?), the devs are really out of touch with what the young’uns are doing nowadays, and a crucial moment between Max and Chloe is entirely skippable. That crucial moment being the decision to kiss Chloe.

While I applaud the game (kinda) for taking on tough subject matter, the writing really gets in the way. And that’s a damn shame. I probably would have played and actually cared about spoilers had I gotten past that. It grapples with a lot: the toxic environment of exclusive clubs in a college setting, suicide, and the whole lesbian thing, to name a few. I just wish it did it better.

That being said, I’m glad it exists. Take that as you will.

Just gals. Being pals. (via Eurogamer)

Dragon Age: Inquisition

This is the only game on the list I haven’t played more than a couple hours of, mostly because I’ve been lost in the Hinterlands since it came out. So I can’t speak much for gameplay or story, but I do know that it has a cast of diverse characters. My favorite being the Iron Bull, purely due to the fact that he’s the first bi or pansexual character I’ve seen in a video game. Again, that’s in my kinda limited experience. Either way, it hits home. Among others, there’s Sera, my favorite gal with pals, and Dorian. This may sound weird but I like that they’re there and that they have a rich history.

The only thing I have to criticize here is the modding community, which I probably shouldn’t, but hey. Personally I haven’t looked at the mods, but I do know they exist. Again, limited knowledge. Maybe I didn’t wanna give it the attention, but look at where that ended up.

If you guessed what I’m talking about, it’s two mods that are available for Dragon Age: Inquisition which change Dorian and Sera’s programming so that they, effectively, are bi. Both characters have a past that directly involves being uncomfortable with what they identify as. I know plenty of people who fall into that label and choose to appear heterosexual because it’s safer, mentally and physically. I kinda think that discounting the history of these characters just because you wanted to romance them says a lot about what we think of outliers to “the norm” in general. I know it’s a longshot on some days, but not after this fucked up month we’ve had.

Unfortunately Sera’s the one character I’ve heard about the least. A damn shame. (via Nerdy But Flirty)

Overall though, I appreciate devs at least attempting to make their casts of characters more diverse. Like I said, everyone should be able to see themselves in a video game. And I’m glad we’re working closer towards that, even if we take a couple steps backwards sometimes.

Drawful 2: Quantity & Quality

I’m a fan of multiplayer games. Drawful 2 is one of them. I like being able to sit in a room or in a voice chat and play a game together. Growing up, my cousins and I were always playing board games that could accommodate the lot of us, and surprisingly enough Monopoly was a favorite.

Playing Drawful with my friends felt a lot like playing Monopoly with my cousins. We’re all crammed into a room with no AC and rapidly heating up the space. Laughter and impromptu charades are mere seconds away at any given time.

When I bought Drawful 2 last night I immediately went to the group chat for willing volunteers. It’s time to socialize, kiddos. Half an hour later, four of us were laughing about our crappy drawings just a hair past midnight.

Good times and late-night drawing sessions aside, Drawful 2 is a big improvement from the first one. After a few games, the prompts got stale and the whole thing was a chore to play until we expanded our horizons to include everyone who happened to pass by our college’s video game lounge, which didn’t appeal to many.

Play Style

The first Drawful allowed for up to eight players, and promised a good time to anyone with a smartphone or a tablet to draw on. The premise is that you get a prompt, a blank space to illustrate it in, and an audience to convince. Needless to say, playing this with artist friends (such as our own Kennedy) is great.

If you’re like the rest of us and don’t have a career lined up based on your ability to draw or produce something visually coherent, it ends up being a challenge to come up with a caption that makes sense with the rest of the audience, sans the artist whose piece is displayed. After that, your job is to guess the  correct caption. You get points for everyone you fool into picking yours, and the artist gets double for representing the prompt well.

via Polygon

Initial Thoughts & Impressions

At first I expected to have a couple rounds go by and then have the whole thing get boring, but fortunately that was not so. The prompts kept coming, and kept forcing me to get more creative with my fake prompts. I like that it was challenging to draw some of the prompts given, and it made the whole draw-and-display process fun.

What I really like is the fact that Drawful 2 boasts more prompts than the first. It gives the game some replay value and gives players a variety of things to draw. Seriously, this is a huge improvement.

via True Achievements

Improvements & Playability Upgrades

If you’ve ever thought about streaming a Jackbox game like Quiplash or Drawful 2, you’re in luck. Jackbox has graciously added in a couple features that’ll make the game go a long way.

For starters, the interface for drawing and submitting captions lets you draw in two colors. Think of all the added depth! Aside from that, if you thought that the prompts were getting a little stale, then you have the option to make your own. Make one for your friends, for your family, and even your grandparents if you please. This adds a social aspect to the game that’s much-needed, in my opinion. You can share prompt episodes with others if you so choose.

For streamers specifically, Drawful 2 comes with a host of censorship options for prompts and drawings alike. If your players are more inclined to submit lewd images, you can filter them out for your audience. And that player stays filtered out for the rest of the game. To ensure that Twitch.tv players aren’t hiding behind an alias, there’s a feature to log in through Twitch as well.

via Arnie Niekamp on Twitter

Final Thoughts

Overal, Drawful 2 is solid. Like, really solid. It’s a vast improvement over the original and a good addition to anyone’s multiplayer arsenal. It’s got replay value, custom prompts, and it just feels nice. Would highly recommend. And if you’re feeling friendly, we’ll be hosting sessions where you can play along with The Lifecast crew as well. Consider this an open invitation.

 

Cover image via VideoGamesAwesome.com

Keeping us waiting with antici…

…pation. For games from this year’s E3.

That’s right, folks, it’s that time of year. The time where we all gather ’round our computer screens and talk about what we saw at E3 that we actually liked. Of course there’s a handful of things that I couldn’t have guessed would be shown. Others I knew would be teased, and I’m even more excited for them now than I was last week. So: shall we?

This shouldn’t come as any surprise if you’ve read my author description on this site at all. (via ScreenRant)

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Much like anyone who watched Nintendo’s Treehouse over the course of Tuesday and Wednesday, I, too, really want to see the newest in The Legend of Zelda’s franchise. Breath of the Wild looks like it’s going to be huge, and I mean that literally. Nintendo teased us to only 2% of the game’s world, and I really hope that’s true. Since I got into the series I’ve wanted a game I could fully immerse myself in, and this seems like it’s a step in the right direction.

On top of that, it’s rumored that the story isn’t linear, per se, but that you’ll be able to go fight the final boss even at the beginning of the game. I think this is especially interesting for speedrunners, as it’ll make that sub-20 minute Ocarina of Time run look pretty damn mediocre. Of course, running a two-day treehouse at E3 wasn’t ideal, though it was nice to be able to tune in for a few minutes at a time for news. Good job, Nintendo!

Next up! Horizon Zero Dawn doing what it does best thus far: generating hype. (via GameSpot)

Horizon Zero Dawn

To say I’m excited for Horizon Zero Dawn may be a bit of an understatement. I like fantasy, archery games, and I like cyber, mechanical games. I also happen to enjoy games with a female protagonist. Call me politically correct, if you must, but playing as a dude 90% of the time in games is boring. Not that I won’t, but hey. Change is good. (Unless that change is 4k.)

It seems like it’s hard for developers to make a survival-action game and have it be colorful, but with Horizon, that’s not the case. The colors are striking and rich, and it’s going to stand out, especially when I play it in my drab-colored living room. The story seems expansive, the gameplay seems novel, and overall the game promises something that at least looks good.

Speaking of striking visuals, it’s time for my final most anticipated game of E3 2016. (via Playstation Lifestyle)

ABZU

Similarly to the other two games in this list, ABZU is richly colored, story-driven, and, well, anticipated. Like its predecessor Journey, it promises an immersive musical score with Austin Wintory returning for its composition. It should be noted, though, that ABZU is not a sequel or a successor to Journey. It’s different.

While some people may not like Journey or even think it’s a game, I probably won’t be able to get enough. If the game’s going to be pretty short, that’s fine. I liked Journey and Flower all the same. What I’m looking forward to the most about this game, though, is the fact that it’s coming to Steam. I can finally play a thatgamecompany game in the comfort of my own home. A PC’s all I got.

And now, for everything else. (via GameSpot)

Honorable Mentions of E3

That’s not all that got teased at E3, and that’s not all that I’m hype for. Now that I’ve heard more about games like Days Gone and Resident Evil VII, the future looks promising for gaming. I want to know more about Hideo Kojima’s Death Stranding, though, as I’m curious to know why Norman Reedus oil beach fetus was the first thing that he decided to make after leaving Konami. Then again, maybe some mysteries are better left unsolved.

That being said, I don’t think my wallet’s going to be able to keep up with the upcoming gaming binge. Regardless, almost everything shown off is something I want to get to at some point or another. Except for Resident Evil in VR, that just looks like it’ll make me afraid of the dark again.

4k Gaming Extravaganza!

Or, why we absolutely do not need 4k gaming any time soon.

Let me preface by saying that I have a background in tech. I’ve been up to snuff on computer hardware for a while, some legends estimate that it’s been exactly half my life at this point. (But I digress.) I’ve seen the transition from dial-up internet to DSL to whatever kick-in-the-pants speeds we have now. And that’s been great! I remember when standard definition capture cards were expensive. Point being, I’ve been through a lot of tech “revolutions”.

Yeah, I was even there for this bad boy. (Image from Brainless Tales)

For the most part, they were great. It was cool to suddenly see videos and movies in clearer resolutions. Movies were the first big thing to make the transition. And it was cool! Suddenly the big screen in the movie theater didn’t seem so big, and it didn’t seem as special. I could see whatever I saw there in my house, no problem.

Fast forward almost two decades and, full disclosure, I’m so sick and tired of having 4k gaming, 4k video, 4k vlogs of someone running errands at the supermarket pushed down my throat. We’re not even at the pinnacle of HD video yet. Phone video still, quite honestly, looks like shit in some cases.

And as a species, humans still have fixated on the best and newest thing. And that happens to be 4k. This frustration is no doubt brought on by Microsoft’s E3 conference this past Monday, where they announced Project Scorpio, slated for a holiday 2017 release. It’s all well and good that Microsoft wants to push the boundaries of what they think is possible.

The thing is, we can’t even get many games to run at a full 60 frames in 1080 HD. We’re not there yet. I’m going to pull examples from Playstation 4 releases here, but the difference in processing power between the current PS4 and the Xbox One consoles is negligible. Fight me.

Behold, your competitors. (Image from WCCF Tech)

For some of the biggest releases in gaming this past year, there have been frame rate issues. It’s not that a game can’t get up to 60fps regularly, it’s that they’re having trouble hitting 30, in some cases. The Witcher recently introduced a patch to improve sections of the game that were consistently running at 20 frames. Bloodborne, what I consider to be one of the best-looking games on the PS4, is locked at 30 frames and has trouble getting in that many when there are masses of enemies on-screen.

I’m not here to discount console gaming, despite the fact that I’m not a console gamer myself. The truth of the matter is that consoles are not at the level of 4k gaming and they won’t be for a while. PCs, with their ever-improving arsenal of new graphics cards and DDR4 RAM, can’t do 4k gaming yet at a reasonable framerate. In my opinion, the so-called dream of 4k gaming is so far off that I just don’t think we should try for a while.

That being said, I don’t want a standstill of improvement. Make high definition gaming more crisp. Optimize games to run at 60 frames on consoles. We need to concentrate on bettering what we have rather than moving on to something that may give us a worse result if pushed too soon.

There’s a difference, but it’s a slight one. (Image from Digital Storm)

I admit that there is a difference between 4k and full HD. There’s also a difference between standard definition and HD, but it’s a bigger jump than this. The main difference I see between the two shots is the crispness. 4k looks real crisp. Conversely, the HD image just looks like it needs a boost in dynamic range to match.

All of this rambling is to say that, hey, maybe we don’t need 4k video. As humans, our eyes can’t tell the difference between 4k and 1080 when it’s in motion. A still image is one thing, but in some cases a film camera can produce a better image than a digital one, right? There’s a reason brands like Leica still make film cameras.

Another thing is, 4k video is still wicked fackin’ expensive dude. It’s expensive to develop for, expensive to own, and expensive to mass-produce consoles that will run 4k. The price point will not even be in the ball park of affordable for a very, very long time. I’d argue that video games just aren’t affordable, period, but that’s another article for another day.

Now, is this one article going to stop 4k from being pushed in video games? Absolutely not, I don’t think I have that much power or influence over anyone. Was it necessary? Nope. Then again, neither is 4k gaming.

End Point: The Beginner’s Guide

The Beginner’s Guide came out on Steam last October as a much-anticipated follow up to Davey Wreden’s first game, The Stanley Parable. It’s not a sequel, so rest easy. The Stanley Parable was a great little game in and of itself; however The Beginner’s Guide felt like it had more weight to it.

A segment of The Beginner’s Guide, placed in space. (Image from AVClub)

The big similarity between the two games is that they’re both made in the Source engine, so the gameplay, look and feel, and sense of progression are the same. I really have nothing to say in this regard, they’re both pretty standard on this front.

Where they differ is the content of the story. They’re both narrative-driven. In The Stanley Parable, you play as Stanley. For the most part, it’s linear. There are multiple endings and it’s all very whimsical. It’s some good fun!

The Beginner’s Guide gets a bit more serious than I would have expected. It details the friendship of Davey and someone nicknamed Coda. Coda turns out to be Davey’s inspiration for making games, and through the game we learn the extent of their friendship.

All the humanoid figures that appear in the game take on this shape, more or less. (Image from The Jimquisition.)

Early on, Davey presents players with snippets of Coda’s games. They’re mostly short playthroughs, going through a specific point in each of Coda’s games. Each beginning is designated by Davey giving players a short description of what the circumstances were surrounding each game. Whether he or Coda was going through hardship, or whether they weren’t. He assumes that what Coda put into his games was a reflection of his emotions at the time.

The rest of this post contains spoilers for The Beginner’s Guide.

As the game progresses, we learn more and more about Coda through Davey’s monologues. The deeper we get, though, the more of an enigma Coda becomes. He’s this person who creates these weird, seemingly random games with no solution. He puts lampposts at the end of them as a signature. And the whole time, why? Why does he do the things he do, and why is Davey so obsessed?

This isn’t even the final level in the game. (Image from BoingBoing)

The final level takes place in a tower that Coda developed and sent to Davey. As you walk through the various pitfalls and traps that this tower has to offer, Davey monologues about how Coda has suddenly become closed off, reclusive, and seems like he doesn’t want to share anything with Davey. In previous levels, Davey remarks about how private of a person Coda was initially. After all, they met at a game jam. Coda made games, and that was pretty much all he did. Davey thought he was incredible… and by the looks of the game, he still does.

Coda didn’t share his work with anyone. He may have been reluctant to even share it with Davey, and when he did, Davey may have been the only person he showed, period. Sensing this greatness, Davey shows other people.

After what I assume would be the point where Coda finds out about Davey’s sharing his games, everything starts getting weirder. The games don’t make sense. They’re unsolvable puzzles, and Davey is perplexed by it all.

Going back to the final level, Davey tells us, pretty plainly, that Coda has cut contact with him. And rightly so, he even says himself. Davey had developed a sick obsession, and during the game’s final moments, Davey reads Coda’s final email aloud. It’s plastered on the walls, and there’s no way Davey can deny that he ended up hurting Coda more than he could have thought. But it’s all for the good of giving him recognition, right? Surely it was righteous.

This is one of the more disturbing levels in the game, and what I think is Coda’s most direct description of how Davey’s actions have affected him. (Image from BoingBoing)

No. It wasn’t.

Coda states that pretty clearly. In his levels, in his strongly-worded email, in the way that Davey feels about him after he cut contact.

And so we’re left with Davey’s guiltiness in ruining their friendship, and yet begging for Coda to at least talk to him again.

We’re left with a man who wants a resolution.

If you’re musically minded, the term “coda” might call up a definition, which would be: “a term used in music primarily to designate a passage that brings a piece (or a movement) to an end” (thank you Wikipedia). We know that Davey never learned Coda’s real name. Each level ends at a lamppost, and we learn that it was Davey’s doing, not Coda’s. Coda never intended to be a be-all, end-all for Davey, it just turned out to be that way, and I can’t help but think Coda planned that from the start.

Overall, though, The Beginner’s Guide gave me more of a plot twist than any other game has. Period. I was honestly expecting Davey to reveal himself as Coda, not reveal that he destroyed a friendship by being too proud of his friend and betraying his trust in the process.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved the game, but it made me feel awful for rooting for Davey the whole time. He played the victim too well, and I hate that I fell into that.

I do still love it though, because I don’t think that any other medium would have been able to get the point across so damn well. The thing about video games is that a developer will create a world with complete control over how much you know about it. They literally build the narrative up right before your eyes, and to have it taken away and marred in just a few sentences is one I’ll never forget.

It goes to show that video games don’t have to be based in fiction, either. Often times we forget that creative nonfiction is a genre of storytelling, and I appreciate that this game is part of that realm.

Let’s Talk – What’s the Difference?

Most people don’t play video games specifically for the violence. Or, if they do, I haven’t met them… nor do I want to. Growing up, I heard the authority figures in my life talk about how video games are making kids violent, and that every time there was a news story about a kid going rogue, it was because he played video games.

Much to my parents’ dismay, I took a liking to ’em. I discovered that while there are always rumors about video games making kids violent, and at this point I’m convinced there always will be. And for the most part, that’s what they are– rumors. A vast majority of gamers I’ve met are, without falling in to cliché here, nice people. While the majority of gamers are fine, you always run into those that like to spite people for fun. You know, like people who unabashedly support Donald Trump because of his stances on non-white Americans and women.

The Hatred logo. Looks like a parody of DOOM, perhaps?
This is where a game called Hatred comes in. (Image from Wikipedia)

Right at the beginning of the summer last year, Destructive Creations released Hatred, and it was instantly disapproved of as a whole. I mean, the backlash was wild. Twitch.TV banned anyone from streaming the game in a matter of days, and it even caused them to rework the guidelines on what users can broadcast on their site.

Basically, the game boils down to the fact that you, as The Antagonist, need to kill people. The Antagonist is even quoted as saying this in the announcement trailer for the game, which was released in October of the previous year:

My name is not important… What is important is what I’m going to do. I just fucking hate this world and the human worms feasting on its carcass. My whole life is just cold, bitter hatred… and I always wanted to die violently. This is the time of vengeance and no life is worth saving. And I will put in the grave as many as I can. It’s time for me to kill… and it’s time for me to die. My genocide crusade begins here.
(via Polygon)

First of all, The Antagonist doesn’t care for his life or the life of anyone else. He’s got a death wish and his main goal is to fulfill it, no matter the cost. This leads to a rampage across New York City, in which he decimates innocents and criminals alike.

If you’re like anyone else with a conscience, this is irritating. Some developer decided to give gamers a game they really wanted, where the main character is just as violent as they want to be, or that’s what it seems. It seems like Hatred is a game based on rumors that got too out of hand, and maybe now they actually have some claim. Of course, there’s always gonna be that kid who wants to steal a car because that’s what they saw in GTA. Then again, they’re kids and their parents should really have better discretion about their media consumption, but I digress.

Here’s an example of violence in a game done so, so right. (Image via Youtube)

Here’s where DOOM comes in. The fourth installment in Bethesda’s Doom series, I can’t say it’s ponies and rainbows compared to other games, but it is indeed a violent game. And I can’t help but feel that it takes the violence angle and does it right. You, as Doom Guy, have a mission to protect your home, which happens to be Hell. It’s been used for energy and gain by the human race, and you’re a demon who’s gonna put an end to that.

But really, what’s the difference between DOOM and Hatred? They’re both games where the main character rampages across the setting. You have a clear mission in both games. But when you pull back from the oversimplified facts, the difference really lies in the message behind the games.

Hatred is a game that was made in response to all the “political correctness” that many gamers feel has infiltrated the market. Simply put, people want to see themselves in games, as diverse and expansive as they are. There’s nothing wrong with that. What I’d assume that the devs of Hatred took that to mean was that every so-called special snowflake wanted their specific self in a game, and thought that slaughtering the masses in a fictional New York City was an appropriate response.

What’s up with that? (Image via MediaMath.com)

DOOM is a game that has rage and anger at its center, but because humans on Mars have ravaged hell for its energy and thus, provoked the wrath of hell itself. It’s your typical video game plot about a bunch of bad guys stealing artifacts from the good guys and using them to their own personal gain.

When you look at it objectively, both games are about shooting something in the face until it’s really dead. But the fact that Bethesda took the time to at least continue their franchise and put some other meaning behind the whole thing rather than just taking their frustrations out on people wanting to see more faces than white guy with brown hair and stubble in games means that there’s a lot to be said about the culture that allowed Hatred to become a fully-realized game.

A studio, who had experience with the industry in the past, allowed some of their devs, designers, and marketing people to sit down at a formal, professional meeting and listen to someone pitch this idea. This idea was then approved, and actual real life money was put into making it. It went through the normal steps of getting published through Steam, and albeit without a big publisher, this game made it to the public eye. And for what? Is this really the impression of gamers that Destructive Creations wants to give off: violent, homicidal dudes with a death wish?

Grave Digging: The Nerf Mentality of Warframe’s Update 18.13

I’ve been playing Warframe off and on for about a year, now. When I’m into it, I could spend several hours a day claiming rewards, leveling gear, and maintaining this monstrous undertaking of a game and not think anything of it. When I’m not into it, it’s a chore to open the game and get closer to that ever-elusive login reward.

Update 18.13 happened in one of my off bouts. Relatively cut off from the community and what exactly was happening with the update, I checked my Twitter feed one morning and was met with this.

Now, the Viver nerf was before my time. I remember just getting into the game and watching a video from Mogamu, a popular Warframe YouTuber, much like Quiette Shy, talk about the fact that “there will always be a Viver“. For some background, Viver is a map on the planet of Eris where players would group up, infiltrate a ship, and destroy infested hives to complete the mission. From what I understand, a certain team setup would yield immense amounts of experience and allow players to level their equipment quickly and efficiently.

While I agree that devs should balance their game to minimize the need for power-leveling, I also advocate for power-leveling in Warframe’s case. To be considered adequate for high-level play, you need a full arsenal of mods, better-than-decent weapons, and a fleshed-out build for your warframe that maximizes your participation in the team. Luckily another map, Draco, was found to be the next-best place for power levelling.

That being said, maps like Draco and Viver become vital to long-time players looking to throw themselves into the hardest endless survival missions they can find. They don’t want to spend an excess amount of time leveling gear and frames, they want to challenge the game with all they’ve got. These long missions are sought after due to Warframe’s issues with enemy scaling. After a certain amount of time, enemy levels ramp up quickly, and after a while, their levels start glitching out. As seen below, a five-hour survival mission in the games highest endless survival brings on enemies over level 3000.

Update 18.13 brought some changes to certain frames. Some received passive abilities if they didn’t have them beforehand. Other frames were tweaked to improve their performance and make it so that the powers, based on the theme of the frame, had more synergy. One frame, Mesa, the so-called gunslinger, received a buff to her abilities. Her ultimate ability, which had been nerfed late in 2015 to remove its horrendously AFK-enabling auto aim, scales with secondary weapon damage, as many people called for prior to the update, to name one positive change.

As for other frames, such as Mag, a magnetic-based frame, Trinity, the dedicated healer, and Valkyr, the berserker, had no such luck. The aim was to make the frames more balanced, but instead, as was the case with Mag and, in my opinion, Trinity, they have been made relatively unusable.

Valkyr’s ultimate ability granted her invulnerability for as long as a player’s energy pool would sustain it. Now, not only does this ability eat more energy per second it is activate, but also deals a percentage of the damage Valkyr would have taken back to her after the ability is dispelled if she is standing near any enemies. This is one nerf that I’m fairly content with. It removes the “press 4 to win” mentality that Valkyr carried, similarly to Mesa. I see both of these as improvements: they open up different options for builds per frame.

However, Mag, who once dominated a specific enemy faction in combat with her Shield Polarize ability, no longer has the one-button area of effect (AOE) ability that players essentially relied on after her previous nerfs. Trinity’s heal ability no longer targets all players across the map, but limits its range to 50 meters, in game. To me, this diminishes her as an asset to the team, but could give her additional survivability on her own.

Since the nerfs came at a time when I haven’t been too involved in Warframe, I’m in the process of giving both Mag and Trinity their dues. While I’ve picked it back up over the last few days to tweak builds and see how they actually perform, I’m not optimistic for the future of the game overall. The scaling issue has been around for a long time, and while Digital Extremes (DE) promises that it’ll be fixed Soon™, I’m beginning to wonder if they’ll just leave it as-is and let players have at it.

There is a responsibility for devs to make their game balanced, as I stated earlier, but punishing players for making the most of unpopular frames, at least in Mag’s case, doesn’t feel right. I’ll come out and say it now, I’m very biased. Mag was the frame I started with. The fact that I had a certain mod for one of her abilities gave me an edge in starting out, and I was able to overcome the learning curve by being included in higher level missions because of it.

One of Mag Prime’s last promotional images. (Via Warframe.com)

Bias aside, it’s unfortunate to see Warframe suffer so many nerfs in such a short period of time. These sudden changes not only confuse the player base and make it harder for players to challenge themselves, but it also gives the impression that DE really doesn’t care about their community. It seems to me that DE wants Warframe to be played a certain way, and if the player base isn’t playing the game the way they want it, their solution is to force players to do so, but not by editing their game’s core mechanics. Instead, the logical thing to do is to make the frames less powerful and hope that we’ll just get the message, right?