2013 - Best Year In Gaming History?

We all have our personal choice for best year in gaming history. Mine has to be 2004, the year we got Halo 2, Half Life 2, Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, World of Warcraft and Far Cry among others. This generation most people point to 2007 as the defining year with the release of Halo 3, Modern Warfare, Bioshock, Mass Effect, and The Orange Box. I have to say that 2013 is shaping up to be a year to remember. Will it eclipse 2004? I don't know but it has the best shot since 2007. On the docket just in the first quarter are games like Bioshock Infinite, God of War Ascension, Tomb Raider, Devil May Cry, Ni No Kuni, and Crysis 3 among numerous others. Later in the year we'll have The Last of Us, Prey 2, Metro: Last Light, GTAV, Gears of War Judgement, Beyond, Watch Dogs and numerous others. By the end of year we'll probably have a couple new consoles in the mix which will launch with Star Wars 1313 and the new game from Bungie. If that doesn't sound like a lineup to break wallets then I don't know what will be. All we need is for Half Life 3 to be miraculously announced for the launch of the next gen systems and it will easily be the year gamers have been dreaming of since 2007. What are some of your guys favorite years in gaming? Do you think 2013 will eclipse them?

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The King Arthur Paradox

So this past weekend Steam had a sale going for the games of publisher Paradox Interactive. Among these games was the King Arthur series. I knew nothing about the games going in but the screenshots and videos made the series seem similar to Total War so I decided to give the games a shot. Several days later the first game in the series had finished downloading.

The game is fun. It mixes RPG elements with Total War gameplay. It lacks the complexity of the Total War games as far as strategic depth is concerned, but it has its interesting RPG elements that somewhat make up for it. My biggest hitch is the performance. I have a computer vastly superior to the recommended specs, and I'm able to play Empire Total War at 40-60 fps. This game looks much worse than that one yet during heated battles the framerate can drop as low as the low 20's. It's not a massive issue due to the genre of the game, but I'm worried that if the first game runs this poorly, how will my computer handle the second game, released only earlier this year?

Of note, I tried changing the settings around to improve performance but there was virtually no difference between medium and high settings. I gained a massive 1 frame per second. It's a shame that this game is hampered by both that issue and by a bug that crashes the game to the desktop at the start of battles once every couple of hours. The game keeps something like 10 autosaves for you, but I don't get why they save at the end of a battle instead of the beginning. There is a major difficulty issue in this game where you are often given quests to defeat certain enemies whose power you don't know before the battle begins. A large portion of the time these battles end up being way over your head and you end up getting slaughtered. Of course the game saves directly after the battle, meaning you have to load the save before the end of your last turn if you want to survive. And it is very important that you do load if a hero falls as upgrading heroes takes a lot of time and losing any hero and all of the artifacts he holds can be a devastating blow to your empire.

All these weird quirks aside, I'm enjoying the game. It doesn't seem super long and the core campaign is RPG like enough that you wouldn't really want to replay it other than to choose the opposite side of the morality scale. Compare this to something like the Total War games which can be played over and over with different results every time, and it does feel a bit limiting. I hear, though, that the DLC which was included in the collection I got is more strategic and less RPG like so I'm interested in trying that out once I finish the main campaign.

So has anyone else tried this game? I know Paradox games are something of an acquired taste but I feel this is one of their better efforts and is something that can be understood without too much effort assuming you are familiar with this type of game already. Anyone have any tips or any tricks for improving performance?

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Deceptive Marketing?

Last year when EA was showing off Battlefield 3 they spent most of the year showing off only the PC version. They were pretty upfront with the matter but if all you did was watch a commercial on TV then you might have been disappointed when your shiny new game didn't look anywhere near as good as the version from the trailer. Now for a lot of people graphics don't matter and getting a watered down version of the game wasn't a huge loss. I'll argue that getting it at only 30 fps was a bigger loss especially for those use to the smoothness of Call of Duty. Regardless, while EA never outright lied, for those who didn't do their research there could have been a big blow to the face when they started playing their game.

This year EA did a repeat of last year. Except this time they showed virtually every game at their press conference off on the PC. And this time they didn't own up to it right after. But this year it wasn't just EA. Ubisoft was only showing its games on PC (I understand that this was the case even at Sony and Microsoft's press conferences), Tomb Raider was running on a PC, RE6 was running on a PC, everything was running on a PC. The only games actually running on the consoles they were being displayed on were the exclusives (You Halo and God of War and so forth). Now arguably Sony's exclusives especially looked better than most anything anyone else was showing save for maybe Watch Dogs and the stuff confirmed to be next gen. But the question is, for all of these third party games, will they actually look and run anywhere near as well on a console as they did on PC? The answer is obviously no. At best they will look pretty close but run at half the frame rate. At worst you will get the type of game we saw at the end of the last generation, where games looked decidedly worse on consoles than on PC. The question is, which games are going to look good regardless of system and which won't? And furthermore will gamers have any heads up in advance or will we be at the whim of critics to tell us what games are functional on consoles and what games aren't?

It's going to be an interesting year and a half until the launch of next gen systems and in that time I expect PC gaming will see a big explosion in popularity as people await a console that can keep up with the PC's on the market already. As someone who buys most of his games on the PC I think it is great that developers aren't holding back when it comes to their latest engines, but I also feel bad for those who don't do their research and end up buying something that doesn't work how they thought it would. What do you guys think? Do graphics and performance matter enough to you that this is going to be a problem? Or are you content with the graphics of current gen systems even after seeing what the next gen will be capable of at this year's show?

Oh and as a final note, thanks to everyone who took my survey over the past 24 hours. I got over 150 responses thanks to you guys so I'm set to go other than needing to get some more girls to take the survey. Didn't think of that skew when I posted it here. Oh well. So thanks everyone! I really appreciate it!

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Help A Duder Out

Hey duders. So I'm taking a marketing class right now and we are working on a project involving bottled water and flavored bottled water. Boring subject, I know. Anyways I need some help from people. We have to send out a survey and I was hoping some of you guys could take it for me. It's 10 or so questions and should take under 5 minutes. For the final question, my name is Seth. Linkage

For your help I will reward you with this trailer for the new video game movie from Disney, Wreck It Ralph.

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So At Least The Graphics Were Nice

Last year at E3 I said that the theme of the show seemed to be showing the same thing as the year before only with better graphics, save for Nintendo actually innovating. This year we haven't hit Nintendo yet but the first part seems pretty much spot on a year later. Halo 4 looked like all the other Halo games, but with better graphics. Tomb Raider went the Uncharted route and let's face it compare those graphics to Underworld and you honestly wouldn't believe we were talking about the same console generation. Assassin's Creed looked like Assassin's Creed with better graphics. The same is true of Far Cry 3, Crysis 3, Dead Space 3, Medal of Honor Warfighter, and God of War: Ascension. Yea all of these games were in a way different and hopefully superior to their previous entries but they were still very much entries in franchises that had been going on for quite a long time. Microsoft mentioned a couple new IPs partway through their conference, but that was pretty much it. We got short 30 second trailers for them but none showed any gameplay. In fact there was only one game shown so far that genuinely made me say, "Huh, haven't seen that before," and that game was Watch Dogs. The game came completely out of the blue, a new IP with absolutely no fanfare and it actually looked pretty cool. I'm not even remotely sure what the hell the game is about, but I can safely say that it is a genuinely interesting idea. Did the end hint at a MP game? Or do you play as a bunch of different characters? I don't know but regardless the idea seemed cool, and yes, it had great graphics.

Easily the graphics champ of the day though wasn't in any press conference. Star Wars 1313 premiered on Spike after Sony's show and let's just say that those are some ridiculously good graphics. The guy being interviewed said he didn't want people to know what was a cutscene and what was being played if they watched someone play the game. I can safely say that they succeeded at least in the parts shown off today. The game easily looked as good as the CG in most other games and put the other great looking games at the show to shame. I'm interested if they were running the demo off of a PC or a console, cause nothing else shown today looked even remotely that good. Plus a Star Wars game that shows a darker, grittier side of the traditionally PG-13 rated series is welcome in my book. I'm honestly surprised neither Sony or Microsoft opted to show the game at their press conferences because the demo shown was easily superior to the Wonderbook or whatever it was called. And I could easily have skipped the lengthy multimedia demonstrations at Microsoft's show.

In the end, first off I am simply amazed at the graphics being shown this year. I'm curious if some of the best looking demos were running on a PC or on a console, but at the very least some of the amazing looking PS3 exclusives must have been running on a PS3. Halo 4 looked beautiful but I felt it was upstaged later in the show. Tomb Raider did look quite good, but the animation was a major sore spot for me. It was okay but not nearly as good as the procedural animation Naughty Dog and Sony Santa Monica are doing on the PS3. Oh and Beyond definitely has my interest. No idea how it actually plays, but it did have the best facial animation of the show and the premise was interesting for a story. Quantic Dream's games are always more enjoyable to watch than to play, but maybe they can prove me wrong and make something that I enjoy playing as much as I enjoy hearing the story.

And that pretty much sums Day One up for me. Amazing graphics, probably mostly running on PC, and a few interesting unique ideas here and there (Beyond, The Last of Us, and Watch Dogs stood out to me) and that Star Wars game is just fucking beautiful.

And final note, was it just me or did Leon really move and shoot at the same time in the RE6 demo? Cause I'm pretty sure he did. Seems like Capcom is truly entering a new generation. Took them long enough.

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Kicking It Oldschool With Kingdom Hearts

So sad story. I'm broke. I actually spent time today scouring my apartment for loose change so I could buy a soda. Yea it's that bad. What that means is that I won't be able to buy any new games for a while. That doesn't bum me out too much as there aren't really any games coming out soon that I am all that interested in. So what to play? Well I have quite the backlog and now seems like the perfect time to start working through it. So I dusted off the old PS2 and took a look through my collection. I had played the original Kingdom Hearts maybe 5 years ago or so. I had RE: Chain of Memories and 2 sitting on my shelf untouched. So I decided that now was as good a time as any to continue playing this interesting series. So I popped in Kingdom Hearts 2 and my God the intro was one of the weirdest I have ever seen. 2 and a half hours of playing as a character never mentioned in the first game. Talk about late title screens. Anyways after the weird intro where you play as a Nobody named Roxas, you return to playing Sora and exploring Disney worlds. I'm 8 hours in right now and I still have no idea what that intro was about. So being confused I consulted a friend who is a huge Kingdom Hearts fan. Seems I need to play Chain of Memories to understand what is going on in 2. So after writing this I am going to pop in Chain of Memories and see if it is good enough to warrant a playthrough.

Other than the nonsensical story I like the improvements they made to Kingdom Hearts 2. Putting the camera controls on the right thumb stick freed up the L1 button to be used as a modifier so you can use abilities and spells without going through a menu. It makes the game about 10x better. I still don't use magic very much and the gumni ship levels are still pretty pointless and out of place, but overall I think this game holds up decently well and I'm enjoying it more than anything Square Enix has done this generation. One day when I'm not broke I may buy the DS and PSP games in the series. Until then I'll enjoy these old PS2 games during our latest summer gaming drought.

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Finally Level 10


Well I finally am level 10 on PSN. It took over 100 trophies to do it. What finally put me over the edge was getting all the pieces of subject 16's video in Assassin's Creed 2. I was honestly thinking it was going to be something better than that. The ending of the game pretty much said the same thing. But, combined, that is a good twist to be sure. I'm interested in how the series progresses from here. Will Desmond take front and center in the third entry? Will a new twist be revealed that will blow all our minds? I'm interested in seeing how things progress. I guess it is a testament to the quality of the story that I am so eagerly anticipating the next chapter. 

I may or may not have time to do a review of the game, but I think it's about an 8.5. The controls could still be improved, the framerate has a tendency to take a dive when things get hectic, and some parts of the game are more boring than others, but the good far outweighs the bad. Most of the time the game controls well, is difficult but not frustrating, looks good, and has a deep and twisting story. I really liked upgrading my armor and weapons. I didn't like doing the assassin tombs. I felt that the controls and camera just couldn't keep up with what the game was asking me to do. It did force you to get better at the game, though. Still, I prefer the platforming in other games better. I think it would help if the game had a sticky system similar to Sucker Punch's games like Infamous. Basically when you jump your character locks onto the object that the game thinks you are jumping to. It is a little overdone in Infamous, but far too many times in Assassin's Creed 2I found myself trying to jump towards an object and ended up jumping off the side of a massive building. I understand that the game wants to give you a great degree of freedom, but if I am jumping along and directly in front of me is a ledge and slightly to the side of me is a gaping cliff the game should be smart enough to realize that I want to jump to the ledge and not over a cliff. It's difficult to quickly aim the stick in the exact direction I want to jump, especially when the camera is not directly behind me. Most of the time it isn't an issue, or at least a big one, but when you are trying to beat a timer, or have spent 10 minutes climbing up a huge tower, falling all the way back down just because you jumped at a 30 degree angle instead of a 40 degree one can be really frustrating. But again, most the time it isn't a problem. 

The combat also is good but could use work. Enemies take too long to kill. I don't think I died in combat a single time, but it often took me ten or fifteen minutes to clear out a room of guards. If I can take down a whole army without dying then the game is too easy. I often felt that the game would tell me I would get slaughtered if I tried assaulting somewhere, but it just happened that I had cleared that entire fortress of guards five minutes ago. There is a definite disconnect between how powerful the game says you are and how powerful you really are. A couple times the game had me trailing a target but didn't let me kill them. I would get within three feet of them but was told I had to wait until the right time. Of course the right time was when they are in a secluded fortress surrounded by dozens of guards. That just doesn't make sense. If I am within five feet of a target I should take him out. In fact several times throughout the game I was within five feet of the final boss and had to only leap forward to end the whole plot once and for all, but the game told me to stay back and just watch. This disconnect really frustrated me. Again, it isn't a huge problem most of the time, but when it does happen it can be very upsetting. 

So overall I liked the game but there is still a lot of improvements the third entry can make to allow this series to reach its full potential. Whether that entry takes place in the past or present, though, is anyone's guess. But I don't think you'll survive jumping off the Empire State Building into a bale of hay.    

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Miracle Tea

 

So yesterday in Speech class a girl gets up and does a speech on a special tea called Kombucha. It is made using something that people refer to as a mushroom but is really a mix of fungi and bacteria. This culture is fermented with sugar and the result is an acidic, carbonated beverage that tastes like a very sour citrus soda. According to the girl giving the speech, she suffered from major stomach problems for her entire life, and several months ago a friend convinced her to try this tea. Within seconds of drinking it her stomach felt better than it had since she was a little kid. She has been drinking it for 3 months since and has not had a single stomach problem. As someone who suffers from major stomach problems myself, I decided to buy some Kombucha and see how it worked. The results were staggering. Within seconds of drinking the tea my stomach felt better than it had in years.

I looked up the tea on several sites and the basic consensus is that there are no proven benefits of the tea, but also no proven side effects. Doctors recommend drinking about 3-6 oz a day for several months, then take a week or two off and then start again for another three months. I plan on continuing the drink Kombucha and seeing what the long term effects are. I know there are several of you on here who have stomach problems so I'd highly recommend trying this tea. There are other unproven benefits of the tea but those are probably vastly exaggerated. I would simply recommend Kombucha for fixing stomach or digestive problems. You can buy Kombucha pre-bottled at stores, or you can culture your own. Buying a culture is cheap and you need only sugar and water in addition to that to make as much as you want.

Anyone here know anything about Kombucha? Anyone make it at home?

Later kiddos.

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A New Blog


So I know that it's been over a year since my last blog, but for those of you who still check my profile, thanks for that. I decided the other day to sign into Giantbomb for the firs time in a long time, and I'm glad to see how much the community features have improved since the site started. I'm going to keep this short and sweet, but expect longer and more detailed blogs in the future.
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The Cinema Episode One: Anime

Most of you probably don't know this, but I studied film for a while in college and have been a cinephile since I was a kid. I find it saddening how little people know about cinema's history, about the various movements in film and so forth. It especially discourages me when people refuse to watch foreign films, either because of a sense of patriotism, or more commonly because they are just too lazy to read subtitles. I was hoping that I could pique the interest of some of Giantbomb's user base. So I decided to write some things about different cinema movements, nationalities, genres, figures, and so forth. I racked my brain over a topic that would be of interest to users here and decided that Japanese cinema would be a good place to start. Specifically I thought I would focus this blog on the history of anime. If people enjoy the blog I would be happy to write about other film topics per people's request. Just to make clear, this is a blog about anime cinema, so no TV shows or OVA's will be mentions unless they relate to a movie. And no I don't count Naruto The Movie as an actual important anime release.

 So, you may sometimes wonder to yourself, how did anime get its start. The answer lies actually in the works of early American animation. After WWII American soldiers occupied Japan and brought with them many American products. The Japanese game industry actually started this way, when soldiers brought over Atari arcade machines to play in the 70's. Japanese animation has a similar start. Soldiers often watched cartoons as both a form of entertainment and as a form of training. Disney for example made many interesting shorts on basic daily duties of a soldier. The soldiers liked the Disney films and brought over many of Disney's feature length works to pass the time. Soon the Japanese were watching cartoons as well. One of the key inspirations to the Japanese art style was Max Fleischer, an early innovator in animation whose works include Betty Boop and Popeye the Sailor. Betty Boop's massive eyes for example were used by Osamu Tezuka in what many consider the first anime of all time, Astro Boy. Not that this is surprising as Fleischer was in charge of designing army training cartoons. After seeing his work on the job, soldiers wanted more entertaining fare and turned to his TV shows from the 20's and 30's. They brought these shows, including Boop with them to Japan, where they were seen by Tezuka. In 1963 the first episode of Astro Boy was released in Japan. Since then the show has gone on to inspire a film movement that has spanned dozens of genres and tens of thousands of films, shows, and video releases.

However, anime was largely restricted to Japan until the mid 90's. In Japan though the movement pushed forward, and revolutionized animation in a very important way. That is, it made it so that cartoons could be for adults as well as kids. In fact, many anime, including the pornographic Hentai are exclusively made with adults in mind. 

Like American TV cartoons, anime released on TV in Japan is poorly animated, using such patented Hannah Barbara techniques as reusing frames, having dialogue over still shots, panning over a long still frame to give the illusion of movement, and animating only a single aspect of a picture (A hand for example). Like American animation as well, feature films are given a much better treatment. Probably the first international hit to come out of Japan theatrically was from a small animation studio named Studio Ghibli. Jointly run by directors Hayao Miyazaki, Isao Takahata, and producer Toshio Suzuki, the studio is the most successful non-American animation studio in the world. Ghibli's first film, released in 1984, was Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. It was one of the first anime films to receive a (terribly butchered) VHS release in the US. Ghibli followed this film with Castle in the Sky in 1986.

1988 was a seminal year for Japanese animation. Three films were released which forever changed the face of animation worldwide. The first was Studio Ghibli's third film Grave of the Fireflies. Crowned by Roger Ebert as one of the greatest films ever made, and acclaimed worldwide, it tells the story of two children orphaned in Japan during WWII. It's content was deemed so devastating that Disney, which distributes all of Ghibli's films in the US, actually passed on it. With the help of Roger Ebert the film was eventually released in the US. Maybe even more important that year was the release of Akira, written and directed by Katsuhiro Otomo. Considered one of the greatest anime ever made, Akira is a post apocalyptic, cyberpunk action film. It is often considered one of the main factors leading to anime's resurgence in America's youth. Finally, Studio Ghibli released My Neighbor Totoro. While not as acclaimed as Grave or Akira, Totoro became a prominent figure in Anime culture, and has even spawned his own environmentalist group. 

The early 1990's were largely uneventful on the film front of anime. While many TV shows crossed over to American audiences, and many studios improved their animation techniques the next major film to be released from the anime movement didn't hit theaters until 1995. But what a film it was. Ghost in the Shell hit like a bombshell. It catapulted director/writer, Mamoru Oshii to the forefront of the anime scene and became what many people consider the greatest non-Ghibli anime of all time. Often defying description, Ghost can barely be summarized.

It stars a cyborg, Major Motoko Kusanagi. She is the head of Japan's section 6, a post apocalyptic Japanese anti-terrorism unit which fights cyber crimes. The film deals with such issues as identity, religion, humanity, the nature of life, the mind/body relationship, the ghost in the shell theory and many more major philosophical issues. It is considered by non-artistes as too brainy to be fun, but those with a tolerance for violence and a desire to see films which deal with real world issues, call Ghost the epitome of the adult cartoon. It is often said to be deeper than many Oscar winners, but many say that it lacks any real entertainment value. Regardless Ghost in the Shell caused a stir in the anime industry and the film industry worldwide. 

Anime finally reached mass market awareness in 1997. The maker was Studio Ghibli, the film was Princess Mononoke. The film stars a boy who must find a way to reverse a curse which has been cast on him. He travels to a forest where he meets a forest princess, the titular character. The film deals with classic Ghibli issues such as environmentalism, social responsibility, growing up, and accountability. The film was seen by Miramax heads Bob and Harvey Weinstein. The two, along with Pixar head John Lasseter, convinced Disney to buy the rights to release Mononoke worldwide. Soon after Disney signed an exclusive global distribution deal with Studio Ghibli. With Disney marketing them, Ghibli films reached the eyes of viewers around the globe. Anime had finally entered the vocabulary of the mainstream.

In 2001 Studio Ghibli received it's greatest award yet. Spirited Away may not have been the greatest anime film, but with Disney's help it sure as hell found the widest audience of any. Released in theaters in the US Spirited Away was ripe to win an award never before possible for an anime: an Oscar. And sure enough it did, becoming the only non-american film to ever win the animated feature film category and giving it recognition to millions of viewers previously unaware of anime's existence. Meanwhile Satoshi Kon released his second film, Millennium Actress, and a new director Makoto Shinkai released what many people consider the greatest anime love story of all time, Voices of a Distant Star. Finally the animated version of Metropolis, written by Otomo, was completed.

Since 2001 many great anime films have been released, including the second Ghost in the Shell, Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle, Satoshi Kon's Tokyo Godfather and Paprika, Makoto Shinkai's The Place Promised in our Early Days and 5 Centimeters Per Second, and Katsuhiro Otomo's Steamboy. And many films are still to come. The anime industry is in great shape today. All of the directors and writers mentioned here are still active and making films. Although anime is now more popular than ever, there is still a ways to go. Hopefully one day the movement will be as watched as Disney. 

 

Obviously this history is very abridged. There are many more great anime films that have been released over the years, but I thought it important to focus on the most seminal.

 

I wrote about anime first because many of Giantbomb’s users are interested in it but I hope to make this an ongoing project for me. I would also like to write about French cinema, Japanese live action cinema, Italian cinema, German expressionism, and certain directors and writers from those nations, among others. I would be happy to hear feedback about this piece, and I would be interested in knowing what genre or nationality 
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