writing about tech

Tag: gaming (page 1 of 4)

Early impressions of the new Apple TV

7/10, with the potential to be a 9/10 once Apple actually finishes it. There are some glaring omissions:

  • The iPhone/Watch remote app not working.
  • The way Photos works. Why can’t I share use my Favorites as a screensaver?! It seems like the most obvious thing.
  • The fact the Universal Search API isn’t ready for third-parties.
  • Random bugs. I somehow reached a point where none of the buttons on the remote other than Siri would do anything, so I had to unplug it and plug it back in. ¯\(ツ)

It’ll still be my default way of watching stuff, though, because the core functionality is pretty great. Not having to dig around Hulu’s shitty UI to find the next episode of something is glorious, as is using voice to jump around a YouTube video. “What did he say?” even works on YouTube, though I don’t think it turns on subtitles yet.

Biggest surprise: holy shit, Alto’s Adventure on the Apple TV is actually really fun. The graphics and sound are pretty great on a home media setup, and there’s something relaxing/meditative about that game in particular – likely a combination of the game’s fantastic art direction and the simplicity of the controls.

Most of the games I downloaded to play around with I’ve already deleted, but this one is definitely sticking around, and as a result I’m slightly more bullish on the Apple TV as a gaming thing than I was a day ago. I don’t see it as a hardcore gamer’s paradise, but for “sit back and relax” stuff with simple controls? This thing has definite potential.

I could see it being especially great with stuff like Telltale’s games. Heck, it’s not hard to imagine a future where you’re watching Game of Thrones and a recommendation engine suggests you download the games – it could be great for discovery if Apple allows third-parties to glue pieces like that together.

Current recommendation: if you want a new streaming box, and live in Apple’s ecosystem already, get the $150 model – but maybe wait a few weeks/months unless you’ve had it with your current setup.

The Juxtaposition of Bloodborne and Dragon Age: Inquisition

This weekend, I divided my gaming time equally between Dragon Age: Inquisition and Bloodborne. It was an unexpectedly interesting juxtaposition.

I started off with Dragon Age and while I remember enjoying it at the time, on reflection, the experience ultimately felt…hollow. Like running on a treadmill; you feel like you’re accomplishing something at the time, until it’s over and you realize you actually went nowhere. It’s as much playing a game as it is marking things off of a checklist, especially given how relatively mindless the combat is. The only time a battle in Dragon Age felt remotely as fun as a battle in Bloodborne was against a dragon, and there’s only 10 of those. So, yeah.

Meanwhile, Bloodborne kept me up until 1 in the morning, and made me wish I’d started playing it that much earlier in the weekend. Even now, as I write this, the experience of defeating the Blood-Starved Beast is fresh on my mind. I’m thinking about what I want to do next in the game, where I want to go. I’m thinking about trying different weapon combination and different approaches to the same enemy and groups of enemies. It sounds more shallow than Dragon Age, but somehow Bloodborne is the one that sticks with me after I’m done playing.

I’m just not as invested in my Dragon Age experience, and I’m not really sure why. I know where I’ll go and what I’ll probably do next, but I’m not sure I care, beyond hoping to clear more tasks off of my quest backlog. The only area where it truly excels is in the characters and storytelling, but that’s a fraction of the overall experience. The problem is that, as a game, it often fails at being fun to play. Why would you fill 95% of your game with combat encounters that aren’t even that fun to go through? Why would you have groups of enemies constantly respawn when stopping to fight them is little more than a nuisance? Bioware, for some reason, still hasn’t realized that less is more when it comes to good combat encounters. It’s also probably my fault for playing on Hard, which Bioware interprets as ‘GIVE ENEMIES MORE HITPOINTS’, because grinding through larger health bars is just the best.

So why am I still playing it?  That’s…a good question. Probably because I’m already 70 hours in, and part of my brain wants to finish off that checklist, while the other part wants to see where the stories and characters go. That’s a really depressing reason to play through something that’s supposed to be fun on its own merits, but perhaps the shallow entertainment it provides at the time is good enough.

If nothing else, maybe Dragon Age can be my safe, mindless happy place on those occasions when I rage-quit Bloodborne.

My 10 Second Review of Bloodborne

I can’t stop playing Bloodborne – well, except when the absurd 45-second load times every time I die literally stop me from playing Bloodborne.

Seriously though, I can’t stop playing it. Send help.

More thoughts on Hearthstone, and why I hate to love it

Today, an Honest Game Trailer was released for Hearthstone, and it’s basically perfect.

I love and hate Hearthstone, depending on the day, the time of day, the phase of the moon, etc. It’s really, really fun, but also quickly devolves when I think about it too much. As you get higher in rank, it becomes distressingly clear that everyone is using some variant of some competitive deck they looked up online. “Oh good, another Warlock rush deck”, I mutter to myself, while resisting the urge to throw my iPad at the wall.

Sure, you have to fill in the blanks if you don’t have certain cards, but it’s really hard to shake the feeling that a CCG in the vein of Hearthstone falls apart in a world where you can just Google for a good deck and then smash that deck up against other people who have also Googled for a good deck. The arena helps mitigate this issue, but it’s also highly reliant on luck, and also isn’t “free” – you either pay for entry, or go back into the world of matched-play to earn the gold to play again.

When I want to play a card game on my iPhone or iPad, I find myself going back to Ascension, which is much less polished presentation-wise, and isn’t even really the same genre, but scratches much of the same itch, while being more fair and balanced than something like Hearthstone.

As much as I enjoy Hearthstone, it might be time for me to admit that CCGs just aren’t for me. Well, maybe after one last Arena run…

My 10 Second Review of Hearthstone

Despite first being released on PCs, Hearthstone is, I believe, the inevitable result of tablet gaming.  I’ve long felt that tablets are an ideal medium for board and card games – I’m also hopelessly addicted to Ascension, for example –  and Blizzard embraced that by creating an incredibly-polished collectible card game that anyone can pick up and play.  The twist is that many of the rules would be incredibly complicated (if not impossible) to implement in a physical game, which I think is where tablet card games truly shine.  I can’t even imagine playing the physical version of the aforementioned Ascension, since there’s just so much to keep track of.

I would seriously recommend it to anyone who owns a tablet (especially now that it’s on Android), but I take no responsibility if you end up hopelessly addicted.  You have be warned.

(But seriously, it’s super-fun).

My 10 Second Review of Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor

8.5/10, would kill Orcs again.

To elaborate:  This review was on my to do list for awhile, but I kept ignoring it because I’d rather have spent that minimal amount of time playing Shadow of Mordor than writing about it.  I’m also glad I played it to the end before writing about it, because Jesus, what a terrible way to end a game. It wasn’t enough to sour the whole experience, but it was close. The fact it doesn’t ruin the whole thing is testament to how great everything else is. Also, it’s probably the best Assassin’s Creed game you’ll play this year.

I can’t wait until the second one, where they take the good ideas and make them even better and blow us away, and their third game when they run the idea into the ground and ruin the franchise for everyone.


The new Assassin’s Creed is another reason to never pre-order a game

Did you happen to pre-ordered the new Assassin’s Creed game?

Oops.  Turns out it’s not very good at all, which is probably why reviews of the game were delayed for until noon today, so people wouldn’t cancel their pre-orders and early adopters would get bitten in the ass.

The only way to fix this is to vote with our wallets, which means:

  1. Stop pre-ordering games.
  2. Stop buying games before review embargoes are lifted.

Chances are, if you have a chance to buy a game before that game is actually out, it’s probably because the publisher is trying to hide something.  Of course, as Giant Bomb’s Patrick Klepek points out, the gaming media also bares some responsibility:

Nintendo still has no fucking idea what they’re doing

Every now and then, I start to think Nintendo might be starting to “get it”, and then they go and pull something like this:

Nintendo revealed today its New Nintendo 3DS system, an upcoming version of the 3DS hardware that features a second stick built in, in addition to new shoulder buttons.

Additionally, the system will features a better CPU than previous models, according to Nintendo, which allows for faster eShop browsing and downloading. It is also set to come with a built-in NFC on the bottom touchscreen for the upcoming launch of the amiibo NFC models, while sliding custom covers will also come with the device, allowing owners to customize the hardware. Nintendo also claims that stereoscopic 3D will also be better than it was in previous devices.

So, here’s what we have: a new version of their handheld system, which they’ve named poorly – “New Nintendo 3DS” is right up there with “Wii U” when it comes to “shitty names that will confuse consumers” – and which will have exclusive games:

Here’s the catch: This version of the game will only be able to be played on the new 3DS hardware, meaning owners of the older hardware will be locked out. 

Don’t mistake this for anything but what it is: it’s a new handheld console, with exclusive games, that happens to be backwards compatible with everything the 3DS already has.  That number of “exclusive games” might be tiny and it might be huge, but it will obviously exist.  Handhelds aren’t smartphones; customers aren’t willing to upgrade them once every two years.  To make matters worse, Nintendo has been releasing special-edition model after special-edition model of 3DS XL, and is now turning around and releasing a model that makes all of those models obsolete overnight.

Nintendo…what are you doing?  My inner fanboy wants you to succeed, but you continue to make it harder and harder to root for you.  Not only is this a dumb business decision that will inevitably lead to confused customers who now have to make sure the 3DS game they buy will actually run on their 3DS, but it also makes me question whether or not I want to buy handhelds from you in the future.  When is it a safe time to buy a Nintendo handheld now?  Usually the safe answer is to say “wait until the second hardware revision”…but I honestly can’t even answer that anymore.  It’s impossible to predict what Nintendo is going to do next, which makes me hesitate to support them in the future.

Which is a damn shame, because my 3DS XL is fantastic and the Zelda game that came with it is one of the best I’ve ever played, but now I can’t even really recommend it anymore, because there’s a better model coming.  For fuck’s sake Nintendo, I want to love you – why do you make it so hard?

Should you buy a game the day it comes out? Yes! No! Maybe?

Ben Kuchera writes:

Early adopters pay the most for a game and get the least finished version of the release. It’s often worth it for them to play it along with the huge rush of other fans who want to be there first, but you don’t have to join them, even if many are perfectly happy to sign up for the journey of a game’s patches and updates and price drops rather than the pure destination of just playing the damned thing.

So, I agree and disagree. Fiscally, he’s right – but if I was fiscally logical person, I probably wouldn’t have a PS4. So, there’s that.

The problem I run into is that I read a bunch of gaming websites and listen to several gaming podcasts, so I want to play some of the same things they’re playing so I have context for the things they’re saying. It’s also hard to hear multiple people talk about how great The Last of Us is (for example) while resisting the urge to buy it. The louder the crowd’s voice, the more difficult it becomes to resist. What it all boils down to, though, is that buying games on release day is a fundamentally social thing, and I enjoy being part of that conversation.

At the end of the day, though, I take it on a case-by-case-basis. If your game is online-only, I probably won’t buy it on release day, because it probably won’t work. If your game is single player always-online, then I probably won’t ever buy it…period. That’s why last night I played Diablo 3for the first time, because the console versions aren’t always-online, and I put my money where my mouth is.

What “Console Wars” taught me about myself and being a fanboy

I pride myself on trying to be as unbiased as possible when it comes to technology.  While this is inherently impossible – bias will exist in any personal opinion – I at least acknowledge that there may be reasons to choose products or services that I would not use myself.  Of course, 10-year-old-me was not nearly as accepting.  In 1991, there was no doubt in my mind: Nintendo was right, and Sega was wrong.  Why?  Because Nintendo had Final Fantasy and Chrono Trigger and Zelda.  Duh.  I recently discovered, however, that far more of 10-year-old-me’s opinions remained than I ever would’ve expected.

This revelation came to me during my recent rediscovery of the joy of owning a Kindle, specifically about a third of the way into Console Wars by Blake J. Harris.  If you aren’t familiar with it, Console Wars uses narrative nonfiction to dramatize the “war” between Nintendo and Sega, starting shortly after the introduction of the Sega Genesis in North America.  As I read, I found myself more and more annoyed that so much of the novel took the perspective of Sega.  What about the other side of the conflict?  You know, the right side?  I want to read about how Nintendo crushed Sega because Sega was all style and no substance, and what do you mean Super Mario World wasn’t as good as Sonic, and holy shit I’m still a Nintendo fanboy in a console war that’s been over for over 20 years.

That particular thought hit me about halfway through a run on my treadmill, which I immediately halted so that I could make a note to myself to write about this at a future date.  After a brief conversation on Twitter with the the author, I was inspired to finally sit down and do so.  While I’ve always acknowledged that reading can be just as much a reflection on the reader as it is on the author, I’d never really been consciously aware of it happening to me until that moment.  I was upset at Harris for reasons that had absolutely nothing to do with his writing and everything to do with that Nintendo fanboy mentality that hasn’t existed for almost 20 years.  It’s fascinating – and disturbing – that these companies are so incredibly talented at dividing consumers into tribal factions that these thoughts are still somewhere in my head long after any conscious loyalty I had to any particular company was supposedly gone.

For as long as I can remember arguing on the internet, I’ve always looked down on fanboys.  I’ve never understood the idea of being fanatically loyal to a company.  To a particular product, sure, but I’ve never seen any value in defending a multi-national corporation that has no actual interest in my well-being.  While I still don’t see the value in that, I feel retroactively guilty for spitting on them from my high horse.  After all, I’m no better than they are; I’m a 32-year-old who got mad at someone “badmouthing” Nintendo’s products and behavior during a console war that happened before I reached puberty. I can’t even imagine the level of asshole I’d have been if I had access to the internet during the early 90’s.

Still, I’m glad I was knocked off of that high horse.  Even if it was initially painful to realize that I was a hypocrite, at least I had the self-awareness to realize how my own hypocrisy, which is something I think everyone needs from time to time.  More importantly, it makes me all the more aware that people – corporations, the media, politicians – will gladly exploit our natural tendency to divide up into “us vs. them” if it serves their own interests, and that it’s everyone’s duty as both a consumer and a citizen to educate themselves as much as possible through expanding our own personal experiences.

If you love the PS4, go over to a friend’s and try a Wii U or an Xbox One.  Adore your Android device?  Maybe use a friend’s iPhone for a few minutes.  Read a book or visit a website you disagree with.  Expand your horizons; worst-case scenario, you’re back where you started with a bit more experience than before.  And you knows?  You might even find something new to love.


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