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October 3, 2013 / Andrew Nino

McDROID: The Original Strawberry Miner

As an industry, we’re in a renaissance of tower defense games. Hybrids between tower defense and first person shooters are becoming more and more commonplace; the genre is in need of a new gimmick to reattract gamers.

Enter McDROID. After a kickstarter earlier this year failed to gain traction, Elefantopia turned to Steam Greenlight to try and bring their game to the masses. Overall the Greenlight community has received McDROID very positively, leading to their Greenlit status.

With the beta available for purchase, I was given a chance to play a few levels of the game. McDROID features an adorable and colorful art style that is sure to appeal to gamers of all ages. Each level I played featured a different locale, so it never felt like levels were being rearranged and reused.

McDROID 2 McDROID: The Original Strawberry Miner

The only place where the art seems to be lacking is in the UI, with the menu’s appearing clunky and tossed together. The UI also seems geared towards a console, which seems out of place for a PC beta.  Of course, these are small gripes when compared to the superb gameplay.

Levels vary in objectives, such as defending a central point, or collecting the rarest substance in the galaxy. Strawberries. McDROID sets itself apart in that the same weapons that the players’ uses are the same weapons towers use. This offers a wide variety of strategic options, such as filling up turrets with weapons and focusing the main character (also named McDROID) on gathering resources, or leading the charge with a mounted laser gun.

McDROID 1 McDROID: The Original Strawberry Miner

On the normal difficulty, the game was easy enough that even much younger gamers should be able to have a blast with it. Although the difficulty isn’t too punishing, I still had fun time scurrying about repairing turrets and firing upon enemies.

Overall, McDROID seems to be hitting all of the right notes with their unique blend of third person shooting and tower defense. With the game already greenlit, it’s only a matter of time until McDROID shoots its way onto the Steam Store.

June 13, 2013 / Andrew Nino

Xbox One Microsoft Store Event Impressions

116. I was the 116th person waiting in line on Monday, June 10. Hundreds waited in front of the Century City Microsoft Store, eagerly awaiting a chance to check out the Xbox One, and to get a chance to speak with the Xbox Team. A large display for Windows 8 blocked any hope of getting an early peek into the store. After an eternal wait, my group and I were allowed access to the coveted store.

Microsoft StoreAs an aside, the Century City Microsoft Store is fantastic. The staff there is kind and welcoming enough so that even technophobes feel at home. Light wood tables across the floor are reminiscent of an Apple Store. However, a screen spanning the perimeter of the store is unlike anything I’ve seen. This store-wide screen is ideal for displaying stunning adverts for tablets like the Surface, or for the latest Gears of War game.

Back to the event, once inside I was treated to chaos. Lines spanning the sides of the store led to crowds of people. Feeling a bit overwhelmed, I moved on over to the store’s front desk where a developer for Sunset Overdrive was giving away some snazzy looking t-shirts and free three month Xbox Live cards. Having seen the cinematic trailer for Sunset Overdrive I was already eager to find out more about the game. Unfortunately, details were sparse, as the game is still being fleshed out. However, one important fact is that the game is not an MMO. It has set lobbies to play with friends, but the world is not continuous among players.

After trying to decide what to do next, it was announced that Major Nelson (Larry Hryb) would be coming to the store. Having been a fan of Major’s Minute, I was eager to at least meet him. However, it seems many of the event’s attendees were equally as eager.  With enough people stepping ahead, I walked away with my tail between my legs only to be greeted by Major Nelson himself. He was extremely polite, and even posed for a photo. However, during our conversation it became apparent that he was exhausted. As a matter of fact it was obvious that anyone with an E3 lanyard around their neck was wiped out. Of course, given how much was going on at E3 it’s no surprise that anyone in attendance would be too tired to do anything.

IMG_0148Merging into a line, I eventually found myself at an arcade cabinet playing Killer Instinct. This cabinet used two Xbox 360 fight sticks that were inserted into the frame of an arcade cabinet. Whether the game was running on an Xbox One or a 360 was not revealed unfortunately. What I did find however, was that Killer Instinct is very noob friendly. Being a casual fighting game player, I was impressed watching some tournament level fighters going at it. Yet when it was my turn at bat, I found the controls to be smooth and combos were easy to pull off even with no prior instruction. I found it interesting how large both characters’ health bars were, so even after being pummeled, a match still isn’t over. There are many opportunities to change up the flow of the round, and I left the game ultimately satisfied and looking forward to the free-to-play title.

Finally, after slinking out of a victory with Killer Instinct I made it to the line with the Xbox One controller. Having been an Xbox 360 native for the past generation, I was very eager to try my hands at the future of the Xbox controller. To say the Xbox One controller is an improvement is an understatement. The frame is slightly smaller than a 360 controller, yet the controller doesn’t feel cramped at all. The thumb sticks have been thoroughly improved with concave tops allowing for much easier control, especially after long gaming sessions.  The buttons felt relatively unchanged, they still feel solid and responsive. Though the biggest change comes from the D-pad. 360 gamers will be the first to say the D-pad is the worst part of an Xbox 360 controller. It feels stiff, unresponsive, and difficult to maneuver. The new controller is a different story, with raised edges and the awkward diagonal plastic gone, controlling the D-pad is much easier. The newest part of the controller is the four independent rumble packs. Two are in the traditional locations by the palms, and two are in the trigger area. Several tech demos showcased this feature, including a gun which, when fired, would rumble only where the trigger is. The possibilities are endless, for example reloading a gun would most likely rumble specific parts of the controller as the animation ran. Obviously it’s hard to quantify the benefits of having these four rumble packs, and whether they’ll become an essential part of gaming in the future or if it’s just a novelty.

XBox-One-Controller-Front-Large

Regardless, I left the event impressed. The controller felt like a large improvement to its predecessor, and Killer Instinct may be the next hit fighting game. While I have yet to see the Dualshock 4 in person, it has a lot of ground to cover to have me rooting for it as the next generations’ ideal console controller.

*To clarify, the Xbox One controller tech demos were hooked up to a PC not an actual Xbox One. This article discusses the controller alone.

April 25, 2013 / Andrew Nino

Death Inc. Developer Ambient Studio Closing Its’ Doors

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Today Ambient Studios, best known for their action strategy game Death Inc. has announced via Facebook that as a result of a lack of funding they will be closing their doors.

Unfortunately, what this means for Death Inc. is development has now ceased and it’s now a very real possibility the game has received the axe for good. Fortunately, for alpha backers Ambient Studios has also announced that backers will be receiving their money back.

Read more…

April 24, 2013 / Andrew Nino

How Papers, Please Taught me to be Evil

I’ll be honest; I think I’m a nice enough guy. I am thankful when people do things for me, I try to donate to the homeless whenever possible, I offer compliments to peers I admire, and until just a few days ago I would completely disagree with anyone who claimed that I was a bad person.

Papers, Please is a game which is a part of the newly booming sub-genre of indie-documentary games. By documentary games, I mean games like RIOT which seek to spread knowledge about controversial topics such as the recent Egyptian and Greek riots from the perspective of protesters and the law enforcement.

Though Papers, Please has a fictional premise, the message it spreads is one that not only made me reconsider parts of the world’s recent history, but also made me look inwards at myself and how who we are as individuals may not be as concrete as we’d like to believe.

Papers Please

A quick disclaimer before we begin, Papers, Please is currently in Beta and as such the version I played was a Beta and most likely not fully encompassing of what the full game will hold. Additionally, if you plan on playing the beta or the game you may want to play it before reading as there are some spoilers.

According to Papers, Please developer Lucas Pope’s website the premise of the game is, “The communist state of Arstotzka has ended a 6-year war with neighboring Kolechia and reclaimed its rightful half of the border town, Grestin.

Your job as immigration inspector is to control the flow of people entering the Arstotzkan side of Grestin from Kolechia. Among the throngs of immigrants and visitors looking for work are hidden smugglers, spies, and terrorists.” Players discover which immigrants are to be turned away thanks to an ever stricter set of rules. With each passing day players will have more documents to sift through, and more complex interactions with immigrants who wish admittance to Grestin from Kolechia.

At first a simple glance at a passport and a map will be enough to separate legitimate requests from forgers. However as time goes on the task gets more difficult, with the foreigners forging their passports, visitor passes, and work tickets. As an immigration inspector, it’s the players’ job to find discrepancies and react accordingly.

With the first day I had already made the mistake of allowing a shady individual into Grestin. A small pink slip appeared on my desk alerting me of my mistake and letting me know that it was simply a warning, followed by the words, “NO PENALTY”.  I didn’t want to know what a future penalty would include.

Each day, players are greeted by a stat page showing how they did that day. Things like how much money they made, how much money was taken away as a result of penalties and bills are also displayed. In addition, using text only the player is introduced to their inspectors’ family as well as their status. Each day without paying for food, heat, or medicine leads to the decline of the family.

Day two new types of documents were introduced, and an endless line of potential immigrants wanting entrance to the country prior to closing time. The clock was ticking, and I had to work fast. Ten or so immigrants later, and it was closing time. As I beamed to myself at my quick work, I was introduced to the stat screen only to realize I hadn’t made enough to pay for my families’ amenities. My son went sick and cold that night.

Day three and the line is starting to bother me. It doesn’t end, it doesn’t move, no matter how fast I move there will always be more. I look up as I work jealously at the bored guard behind the barriers.Papers, Please Screenshot

“Papers, please.” My character says as suddenly a metal gate separates me from the unlucky immigrant. I look up, and an individual has broken out of the line rushing to make it across the border. I stare helplessly as the guard I had begun to dislike moments ago began to shoot at the runner. The runner lobs an object at the guard before being shot to the ground. The object: a bomb which detonates instantly killing the guard. With that, day three concluded with a subtitle letting me know that the day was cut short by a terrorist attack.

At the start of the game, I was sympathetic towards those wanting entrance to the country. They seemed, from the few words of dialogue they spoke like genuine people with real lives. However as time went on, that changed. I slowly began to see them in a new light.

Immigrants who provided false documents were no longer family members looking to reunite with their loved ones. They became traitors, liars, who not only were insulting the rules of my country but were insulting me on an individual level. Every time I found an inconsistency I would eagerly press the DENIED stamp into their passport.

With each day however, even though I became proficient at getting immigrants through the checkpoint speedily my family fell into a direr situation. Most of my money would go to the rent, leaving my relatives to face sickness and the elements with no help.

Papers, Please Screenshot 2

This angered me; this fictional family who I knew nothing about nor had ever actually seen was dying due to my actions. Actually, I took the easy route. I pushed the blame elsewhere, to those immigrating to the country. Each individual was guilty of being a terrorist, intent on ruining my family’s life until proven otherwise.

As the beta came to a close, it began to hit me. I had been a part of an “experiment” which rival that of the Stanford Prison Experiment. In the face of the propaganda my “superiors” had sent each day alongside their instructions, the lone attacker, and the idea that I was responsible for the death of a family I began to put myself in the role of the guards of the experiment, and those immigrating were the prisoners. I began to feel inherently better than them, and more justified in being harsh towards them as though I was preventing a great evil from spreading.

Papers, Please Steam GreenlightPapers, Please has been expertly crafted, especially for being in beta. The way the game pushed me into becoming a merciless immigration inspector, is nothing short of amazing. You can grab the game from the developers’ website, and vote for it on Steam Greenlight here.

Note: Turns out the developer is allowing the internet the ability to put themselves into the position of an immigrating citizen with their name submission tool.

March 2, 2013 / Andrew Nino

Can’t We Have A Good Xbox MMO?

Let’s talk Xbox MMO’s. Two words most gamers don’t expect to hear in the same sentence are Xbox and MMO. The reason is two-fold Microsoft and Developers. To see why developers aren’t eager to create Massive Multiplayer Online games we must look to Microsoft, and to see why Microsoft isn’t making it easy for developers we need to look back to them. The entire issue of Xbox MMO’s is an endless cycle that has been going on for years.

Here are the two sides of why Xbox MMO’s are usually something out of the question.

microsoft xbox banner

Microsoft has a lot of titles under its belt, in the game space alone it’s a Console creator, a game publisher, and in terms of its in-house studios it could even be considered a game developer. One of the reasons that Microsoft is capable of covering such a wide spectrum of the industry is its experience in monetization.

Microsoft has monetized Xbox in such a way that even if the hardware was sold at a loss (it’s not), it would still be profitable with the monthly subscription of Xbox Live. With most online functions of the Xbox requiring Gold Membership (the paid option of Xbox Live) Microsoft has made sure that most gamers are constantly putting money into their ecosystem.

Unlike console competitor Sony who has opted for a completely optional PlayStation Plus membership, which offers things like discounts and free games and DLC. Microsoft has made things like talking with friends, and even playing an online game of Black Ops II require Gold.

Gold is a good way for Microsoft to keep the Xbox profitable but when it comes to traditional MMO’s such as World of Warcraft or Rift which require a monthly subscription the benefits are harder to see. Microsoft has an end goal of getting a chunk of whatever profits these MMO’s get. To anyone familiar with the MMO space on the PC these games can’t stay subscription based even without Microsoft breathing down their necks for a cut of subscription fees.

What this means for gamers is regardless of whether developers want to develop for the platform, Microsoft hasn’t necessarily made it easy at all for them to do so.

Though there must be a reason for that, let’s take a look at this problem from the point of view of

phantasy star developer

If having Microsoft cut into profits was not a surefire way to ward of developers, the track run of Xbox MMO’s to date should be.

Here’s something to wrap your mind around, Final Fantasy XI one of the most popular MMORPG’s on the Xbox 360 is a port from the previous generation. Let’s get this straight, in the year 2013 nearly seven years after the first MMORPG has been released for the 360 the most popular MMORPG is a port from the PlayStation 2 and Xbox era.

Which is followed by Phantasy Star Universe, released on PS2, PC, and 360 in 2006. Up until last year, Phantasy Star Universe was running with hundreds of players going through dungeons daily. That being said, the game was published by Sega and ported to the 360 months after the PS2 and PC version. That means, the already “okay” game of Phantasy Star Universe really didn’t take advantage of any of the features available on the 360. Graphically the game was sub-par compared to other big-name titles released around the same time like Call of Duty 3 and Dead Rising. Additionally the online communications were poorly designed at best. The Xbox 360 Chatpad made a splash the year after the release of Phantasy Star Universe but never was made compatible with the game, this led gamers to need to use the games soft keyboard to chat with others. A situation that was less than ideal for gamers.

To add on top of the shabby game, the process of cancelling your monthly subscription was obtuse and unclear. Ultimately the issues were ironed out years later, only for the game servers to be shut down shortly after late last year due to low server population (and presumably to prepare for Phantasy Star Online 2).

Final Fantasy XI screenshot

On the other end is Final Fantasy XI, the series’ first foray into the MMORPG space. The Xbox 360 version of the game was released in 2006, a full four years after the original launch. However despite receiving average reviews on MetaCritic the game is still going strong with an expansion titled Seekers of Adoulin set to release this year with two all new classes.

However the issue here with these games isn’t that people aren’t playing them or willing to pay for them (they are), it’s that aside from a niche community there isn’t really much interest in playing a mediocre MMO. With huge publishers like Sega and Square Enix only able to bring in games that were showing their age when they released years ago, smaller developers would feel no hope of possibly developing an MMO for the 360 and would instead go for the tried and true PC platform.

Perhaps Microsoft and developers aren’t to blame. MMO players would be the first to tell you that an MMO is an intimate experience with many hotkeys and in most cases a customizable UI, anything short of which would be deemed unacceptable. Hence it may be simply the controllers form factor and limited amount of input combinations that prevent the genre from thriving.

Bungie Destiny Banner

That being said, let’s take a look at what the future of Xbox MMO’s will hold. The recently revealed Destiny is possibly the best bet MMO gamers have for the genre.

Coming from Halo developer Bungie, these guys know a thing or two about sci-fi shooters. Destiny is a shooter that claims to blend the line between single player and multiplayer. (While similar claims were made for the ill-fated Brink) The folks over at Bungie have a more successful track record. Destiny by the looks of it isn’t a traditional MMO, there aren’t endless UI customizations or semi-turn based battles. Bungie is sticking to what they know while exploring a whole new genre. The game promises a massive amount of players and requires an internet connection regardless of playing single or multi-player.

Jason Jones, the studio co-founder told IGN in an interview that, “We built this game from the ground up to be social and cooperative.” Leading me to believe that the game will be an MMOFPS of sorts, the closest comparison to which could be Borderlands in a much more massive world with many more players. (Maybe something for GearBox to consider)

Unlike traditional MMO’s though there aren’t any plans to charge a recurring subscription fee, though they do plan to charge for expansion packs. If there is a developer with strong enough ties with Microsoft to allow them to develop a triple-A console based MMO it’s going to be Bungie pushing the boundaries of the genre using their past experience from Halo to draw on.

February 10, 2013 / Andrew Nino

Mobile Console Wars – The Second Part of the Battle for Gamers

The heat is on, with the Wii U now released Microsoft and Sony are left to duke it out as the remaining veterans of the “next generation”. With Sony planning on unveiling their next console in just a few weeks all eyes are focused on the Xbox 720, PlayStation 4, and other less than mobile newcomers to the living room such as the Ouya and Valve with the SteamBox.

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November 20, 2012 / Andrew Nino

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 – Review

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Year after year developers Treyarch and Infinity Ward have pumped out a new Call of Duty  game on an annual basis. Over the years plenty of naysayers have put the series down for sticking with the same formula for so long. 2010 saw the arrival of a story-focused Call of Duty: Black Ops, which pushed the boundaries of what we were used to. Two years later Treyarch is back with Black Ops 2, and this time Call of Duty has changed more than I would have ever expected.

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