To Ryan, The Golden God

Reposting this from Facebook because it's important to me.

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This isn't going to be one of my normal lighthearted posts, and for that, I apologize. This will probably end up being rambling, emotional, personal and on a very specific topic, but I figured I've probably bought myself at least one of these.

Today I learned that someone who was very important to me died over the long weekend. It wasn't someone who I knew very well at all, as a matter of fact I had only met this person a few times, both very briefly. It was a man by the name of Ryan Davis.

In the past, I never really understood how the death of a celebrity could have affected someone emotionally, but now I see that sometimes it hits about as close to home as I can possibly imagine. He had just been married a week prior and was on his honeymoon, passing away at age 34.

For the quick history lesson, Ryan Davis was one of the folks on staff at the video game website Giant Bomb. It's a very small site run by just a handful of people, focusing mainly on video content and a lengthy weekly podcast. It was ready apparent to me, however, that it wasn't really a site about video games. That was just a thing that happened to be a shared interest.

This was a website run by a group of friends who had managed to make it their life. All of these guys have been in the game journalism for over a decade and had managed to finally make a site where they could be themselves and talk about what they wanted about, and the passionate community that they fostered could not be more supportive.

Over the years, since they as a group have been making content (even before Giant Bomb, they were together creating content as part of the website Gamespot), there has been hundreds and hundreds of hours of podcasts alone (over 700 hours), let alone the piles and piles of video content. I would argue that over 25% of that content isn't even about video games at all, but just friends shooting the shit with one another.

Ryan was definitely the asshole of the bunch, but a good natured asshole. He was excited about everything and was always happy to meet new people. He had the type of attitude that indicated he was just wearing his heart on the sleeve, and those close to him have confirmed (and supported the notion) that he was the same person when not in the public eye. He could be harsh, but he did so with the intention of wanting to bring everyone up to the level of his exacting standards - and it worked. I'd say that of all the podcasts I listen to, I'd be hard pressed to count on one hand the groups of people who had chemistry that group of people had, and it came across as engaging, funny, and just legitimately forward people.

If you pay attention to any people for the better part of a decade, especially those that are friendly and commonly engage with their audience, it's hard not to feel like you know these people. Ryan (and the rest of the people at Giant Bomb) was always so enthusaistic to do anything live and make content for people. These people were (and are) entertainers who loved what they did, and loved their audience.

I rarely wear my heart on my sleeve on serious issues, and I tend to try and keep a happy face on regardless of anything else going on, but hearing about the death of Ryan Davis hit me like a knee to the stomach. I would not have predicted that I would have reacted the way I did to this news. I seriously haven't felt such a surge of emotions since the death of my own grandfather, if that speaks volume as to how much this person I only talked with briefly at E3 and PAX a few times has touched me.

And I'm not alone. His name has been a worldwide top trending topic on Twitter all day. The posts about his death have been on the front page of Reddit for hours and hours. All of his fans, and other artists like Jhonen Vazquez and Nolan North have come forth offereing condolences. I've read pages and pages of blog entries from close friends, coworkers and family, as well as all the reactions from other random people on the internet who have had their lives made better by his asshole attitude and wry grin. There was one particularly touching post I read from an older gentleman who was going through a lot of health problems who used the fun, upbeat podcasts from Giant Bomb as a way to help him power through his recovery process and start his days off.

But wow do I feel bad for the rest of the guys who run the site. I can't even begin to imagine the heartbreak that Jeff and the other members of the site are going through. If Ryan managed to make so many people legitimately happy and entertained, I can't imagine what he has done with the friendship he had with all those people for their whole lives.

So much of what Ryan meant to me is brought together by the amazing people he surrounded himself with. The back and forth and just pure, unadulterated joy they could create was immeasurable. I have been making a long commute for years, and being able to listen to Ryan and his friends shoot the shit every Tuesday for years (for free, mind you) is something that is just as therapeutic as anything else. Even if I was having a bad day, if I were able to listen to these guys and everything was okay again.

I guess I just needed to emotionally blow off some steam, since I've been holding it back all day since I heard the news. Every new person giving their heartfelt condolences, and people talking about how many amazing (and stupid) things he did just made me swell up with emotion. I can count the amount of times I've actually cried in the past 5-10 years on one hand, but I was finally able to have some relief writing this.

Ultimately though, he'd be so annoyed at all this sappy shit that everyone was writing. He loved stupid shit, he loved dark shit. He wasn't above a self-deprecating joke. He just wanted everyone to be happy and have a good time. So fuck this, and fuck Ryan Davis. I even have the T-shirt. So I'm gonna pay my dues the best way I know how - in the alley. This one's for you, Ryan.

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E3 2011 Day One: On Da Floor

Hi! I went to E3 today. I was on the show floor and I meandered. I will talk about things I saw and/or played, as much as I can remember them in the order I played.

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Star Wars: The Old Republic - Something deep within me told me I had to endure the line to see this game, so I did. Two hours. Fuck, remind me not to do stupid shit like that. I'm not press. If I go back another day, there is no way I am standing in a line that long for Battlefield 3. ANYways.

The game is okay. It's an MMO. I played some sub-class of the Imperial Agent that had a bunch of knife attacks and also some stealth and guns? Weird. Whatever. Player motion felt pretty good, which is always important for an MMO. Picked up a quest on Tatooine, ran around killing stuff. Everyone has a pet in the form of a companion. They work, for the most part. I stealth, they stealth. I had a little hovercart that I piddled around in. There was a Sith in a cave crying about something, so I shot him in the face.

I dunno - I'm not into the whole super voice acted MMO. When I play an MMO, I want to get involved with systems and stuff. It felt like it was there, but I didn't really have time to get a good handle on it with the limited time available.

Ghost Recon Online - This seemed like a pretty cool game. I walked up and played a 4v4 match against the Frag Dolls (lol). I was presented with an option to pick one of three classes, so I picked Assault. Each one has a 'class ability', and my class ability was I pulled this tech armor shield off of my back and charged forward, which allowed me to get right up to the front lines pretty easily, as well as flank behind all the other players that were kind of cowering in cover.

I also had time to customize my weapons before the match, which had some sort of a currency system associated with it. No idea how that will work with the in-game currency stuff, but it seemed pretty straightorward. Extended mags, longer barrels and the like.

The match that started was a Domination match that started with a chokepoint on a bridge. I ran up and defended it for a while, and killed one or two enemies that ran up. My teammates got their bearings pretty quickly and caught up, and we pushed them into the second checkpoint towards their base. The rest of the match revolved around that area, with me getting picked off occasionally by a sniper, but otherwise laying into them with grenades and gunfire pretty heavily. The guns felt pretty good, and the cover systems worked well. It felt solid overall.

We ended up pushing them back into their spawn and winning. One of the Frag Dolls called me a spawn camper. Deal with it?

TERA Online - This game is still looking good. I played it last year, and I played a bit in the Korean Open Beta (couldn't understand a word!) - I played a higher level character this time. It's twitch, you click and you attack. The attacks feel super solid, and unlike games such as Vindictus, it's a full persistent world, unlike the lobby-based dungeon crawlers. Super interested to see how the PVP and dungeon content work out in this game.

Minecraft Android - I played this at the Xperia Play booth. I ran around and spelled Non with blocks. It works! The phone itself is actually super slick. It's tempting.

Lord of the Rings: War of the North - The media lady who helped me get started on this was incredibly friendly. She gave me a wristband for some press event with free booze that I regret forgetting what it actually was. The game, thankfully, was also pretty fun.

I played as a dwarf, and I was with an elf and a human (shock of shockers). I had an axe and a shield, and I ran around being better at the game than the other people I played with. There is loot, there are talent trees, and it seems pretty competent. It's from a third person over-the-shoulder perspective, but it does feel much like a spiritual successor to Champions of Norrath and Dark Alliance. Dunno how deep the loot will go, but I saw what appeared to be suffixes and colored items, so we'll see!

Our human's 360 crashed, oops. But I summoned a giant eagle and it ate a troll, and we won. Yay!

Warhammer 40K: Kill Team - It's a twin stick shooter. But you're a marine and there are orcs? I dunno. Seemed okay.

Bastion - Oh, Bastion. I friggin' love the Supergiant Games guys. If you are reading this and you don't know who they are, go watch the Building the Bastion videos here on the site to learn about the development process behind Bastion. They were all incredibly nice to me, and Jen was especially nice for helping me get another chance to play after I got booted off for press. Twice! I met all of the team and they were incredibly friendly and positive.

Also, hey! The game is pretty damn good! I have a sweet spot for games that let me roll around like a crackhead. The rolling will let you break little blocks and stuff, too, since it does a minimal amount of damage. The mix between melee and ranged combat works out incredibly well. I didn't get too much of a chance to mess with the upgrade stuff, but the tonic system seems pretty cool, and all the weapons I used felt definitively unique. I would go as far as to say that if you were to create a Zelda-style game in the isometric Diablo mold, you might get something pretty similar to Bastion.

In a side note, the Bastion booth attracts all sorts of industry luminaries. While I was there, I was able to meet Notch (Minecraft), Tim Schafer, and Ken Lavine. Strange.

Payday: The Heist - I knew nothing about this going into the show. There were a bunch of European developers for this walking around in crazy looking clown masks, so I had to go see what it is.

It's a PC and PS3 game that looks kind of like Left 4 Dead, but replace the zombies with cops, and puts you in an objective-based environment. The individual players would have to do things like erase the security camera footage, use the thermite to burn through the ceiling of the vault, and stuff the money into bags. The entire time while this is happening, the cops are sending in normal police officers, SWAT team officers, cops with riot shields, and so on. You can help downed members up, replenish ammo and health from duffel bags throughout the level, and so on.

How exactly this is an MMO, I'm not sure, but there was a level in the lower left corner, and they didn't go into anything in regards to the persistence. The game seems pretty fun on its own, though, so I'm definitely interested.

Raiderz - This is a Korean MMO by Perfect World. It's like a less polished Tera? I killed a troll and he dropped a club. I picked it up and started hitting a dragon in the face with it. The dragon's horn broke off, and I picked it up and began stabbing him with it. I have no idea what is going on with this game. Someone demoing the game to me was insisting that their three-tier talent tree lets you make your own custom class, but it kind of makes me feel like they only have one class with three trees. I dunno. Weird game.

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That's about it. The SW:TOR line sucked up all my time because I am an idiot and hey if you go never do that the end.

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More developers should pay attention to League of Legends.

Defense of the Ancients, or simply DotA. I would put that Warcraft 3 custom map right next to Counter-Strike as one of the most influential mods ever.  People have finally started to pay attention to the fact that, hey, a competitive team-based experience with a mini-RPG experience inside of it is pretty awesome. Some of the original minds behind that map are developers at Riot Games, which has released League of Legends.
 
League of Legends is bringing it all a step further by also adding an MMO-lite level of persistence. Summoner levels, talent trees, and rune books. They all add tiny little bonuses that you can tweak and fiddle with to your heart's content. At the end of the day, if you are a good player, it won't change the game TOO much, but it would be a bit of a stretch to expect a level 1 fresh out the gate to beat a level 30 decked out person. 
 
That being said, the game is free to play. You gain an in-game currency (Influence Points) that can be used to purchase heroes to use and runes to put in your runebooks. If you feel so inclined, you can purchase Riot Points, which can be used for little things that aren't game changers, such as being able to purchase heroes early, or purchase 'boosts' to the rate in which you gain experience and influence points. Nothing game changing, just convenience items. 
 
Another big point of the formula is the fact that each team fights alongside an allied army. Waves of creatures that are friendly to you are struggling in battle against the other team's creatures. You are merely the champions, the heroes that will turn the tide of the war in your favor, and inevitably crush the opponent's base.
 
So - why should developers pay attention to what they are doing? Because it's frickin' smart. People have already warmed to the fact that they don't mind a little RPG in their games, and League of Legends combines both a match-based leveling system and an out-of-match leveling system flawlessly. Make the leveling and such within the game feel quite powerful, and make the out-of-match stuff be a much smaller level of power, but something that you'll start to feel a difference in after a while. Add on top of that the feeling of being in a larger conflict with the AI-controlled hordes, and it really takes it to a next level.
 
Those features, along with the robust item and item combination system ingame, makes for a type of gameplay that totally has plenty of room for expansion. 
 
Monday Night Combat is sort of doing the same thing, albeit without the out-of-match persistency, and that is in third-person shooter form, and in a more condensed format. A Modern Warfare-esque game could do quite well with the system, but swap out the in-match item system for the out-of-match weapon system from Modern Warfare 2. Leveling within a match would give you access to various ways to assist the soliders that are fighting on your side, trying to push in to take over an objective, such as a capture point or a defensive turret. 
  
Icefrog, the developer who was in charge of the Defense of the Ancients Allstars map for Warcraft 3 for quite a while, has been hired by Valve. That is quite an exciting prospect, since Valve is primarily a shooter company. If any company has been known to foster the innovation of smaller teams, it's Valve. Could a shooter with DotA-style attributes be on the horizon? Man, I sure friggin' hope so.

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