My Adventures in the Witcher... Novel. Also, X-Files.

Hey, two blogs in less than six months. This is a good trend, I suppose.

Heya folks! Have you been craving more bullshit about the Witcher? Have you not been inundated by countless articles, videos, podcasts, emails, letters, and faxes about Jerry of Revlon? You have? Wait! Come back! Don't go to that other person's blog. I have... uhhhh... GIFs? Wait. No GIFs this time. I can only promise boredom and tears. Wah wah.

Jerry of Revlon in the bleakest alternate universe I can imagine.

Fuck. Well, okay, for the one or two people still reading this, I've bee enjoying the Witcher 3 for all the reasons you've heard stated more eloquently elsewhere. It's a huge game, it's a good game, and cool-sounding people say some pretty intelligent stuff. That's the game for you, condensed into one idiotic sentence.

In fact, I liked it so much I finally dug around in my Kindle's backlog and pulled up what I thought was the first novel by Andrzej Sapkowski. As it turns out, kiddos, you really shouldn't just rely on the publication date of an American translation of a Polish novel to steer you in the right direction of a novelist's timeline. Wikipedia can be your buddy - who knew?

The First Second Novel Short Story Collection: The Last Wish

OK, yes, I also thought The Last Wish was a novel. I screwed up there too. What do I look like, a guy with an English degree who is perfectly capable of researching these things?

I am? Well... poop.

Here's what you need to know. Sapkowski was not originally a writer - he was a sales manager. Oddly enough, reading through this short story collection, I get it. He knows how to sell the reader fast, weaving in with a gripping story right off the bat about a notorious striga. In common, pre-Christian mythology, strigas were basically women who had been twisted into predatorial bird-like creatures, who could alter their shapes to seduce men and then kill them with their poisoned breasts. No, really, go read up on your classical mythology. it's full of great shit like that. Now, I can't claim to be at all familiar with Polish mythology, but I do know that in other cultures witches were known as strigas.

But in Sapkowski's work (and maybe that of Polish mythology, which now I really, really want to read up on), the striga is an undead teenager, come about at the age of seven after being buried in a tomb previously. Sapowski goes to great lengths to have Geralt learn the history of the individaul creature through lengthy conversation with a local lawman and a king. It's a fascinating approach to getting the necessary information out of the way, one that I'm not sure I entirely like.

Info dumping has been a pet peeve of mine for a long time. Exposition straight off the bat in any story will leave me grousing. An author taking the time to explain some term or something to either the reader directly or through a character who probably knows better (see: The Strain, every medical procedural ever, anything written by Clive Cussler, and a whole avalanche of crummy 70's and 80's science fiction and fantasy). It breaks one of the great golden rules of good writing - show, don't tell. If you can't weave a story's necessary details into the plot of a novel without dumbing it down for someone involved, you're not doing your job as a writer.

Sadly, Sapkowski is mighty guilty of info dumping by the gallon. However, the way he does it actually sort of works - Geralt needs a lot of the pertinent information, and it's given to him. The dialogue is good, though it lacks the well-defined translation of the Wticher 3 and comes across as a bit wooden.

That said, though, once the initial conversation ends and the action begins, Sapkowski really shows his strengths. The combat scenes are terse, fast-moving affairs. He picks and chooses his words efficiently and brutally, using descriptors only as they are necessary to the battle. This is in delightfully stark contrast to a later short story in the collection, when he takes the time to describe a mansion and its grounds, which then become almost characters themselves. Sapkowski picks his battles well with descriptions, leaving what isn't important to the reader's imagination, but surprising the reader with quick jabs of imaginative, colorful descriptions of a beautifully haunting world.

I mentioned all that plot information earlier to drop in that the novel really makes me want to revisit the mythologies and beliefs of more focused areas like Poland. It's fascinating stuff, and I'm curious how much of it was further fictionalized for Sapkowski's work. The monsters in here are fairly unique, though anyone with a passing fancy for mythology will recognize most of the generalities of the creatures and lore. Familiar, yet unfamiliar, in the best way small changes to stories and legends can be.

The format works well too. The stories are linked together with general overall plot details - Geralt goes to get healed between one battle and the next, giving him a more grounded feel, like the battles he is facing are actually taking a toll. It humanizes a Mary Sue of a character, giving the reader a way to associate with him even as he prepares to take down another monster.

One final thought on The Last Wish - it kept occuring to me throughout the collection that this felt very much like a smart modern adaptation of medieval tales, particularly L'Morte d'Arthur. That assessment is clearly wrong - these stories are nowhere near as important or as beautifully written as Malory's works - but for some reason, Sapkowski's stories smack of the sort of thing that might have had its roots in that era. Of course, this being modern fantasy fiction, it's clearly written more to entertain than to educate in morality or (questionable) history. Geralt of Rivia tends to raise as many questions about morality as he does answer them, but I really liked reading about his encounters with monsters both good and bad, and I'll gladly recommend the collection to any fans of either the games or fantasy literature in general

The Truth Is Out There. Sadly, Plot Resolution Isn't.

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR THE FIRST THREE SEASONS OF A TWENTY YEAR OLD SHOW. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED. WHY AM I SHOUTING THIS? IT IS AN OLD-ASS SHOW. NO ONE WILL BE OFFENDED BY SPOILERS. NO ONE. IT'S LIKE SPOILING IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE. HE MEETS AN ANGEL, HE SEES HOW AWESOME HIS LIFE IS, AND HE GOES BATSHIT CRAZY WITH HAPPINESS AT THE END AND NO ONE THROWS HIM INTO THE LOONY BIN IN A SHOW OF QUESTIONABLE INTELLIGENCE BY THE COMMUNITY. SERIOUSLY, GEORGE BAILEY SHOULD HAVE BEEN LOCKED UP IN THE DRUNK TANK AT THE VERY LEAST. BUT HOLY CRAP I LOVE THAT MOVIE. IT'S MY ALL TIME FAVORITE. OKAY, ENOUGH WITH THE SPOILER ALERT. I AM GONNA FIX A SANDWICH THEN FINISH THIS SECTION. OR MAYBE I WILL JUST HAVE SOME WATERMELON. WATERMELON IS DELICIOUS, BUT THIS HAS BEEN A GOOD YEAR FOR HONEYDEW. SERIOUSLY, HONEYDEW PEOPLE, YOU ARE DOING GOD'S WORK AND I THANK YOU FOR YOUR DELICIOUS BOUNTY. WELL, BACK TO IT. LATER.

One of my greatest irritations with television as a format is the usual distinct lack of focus to overall plots. It's what separates Netflix and HBO from the rest of the crowd - their series might meander a bit episode to episode, but there is clearly an end goal of each season, and most episodes of most shows will build to that in more satisfying ways than your usual NBC or Fox hour long.

It's unfortunate then that I like the oh-so-relevant X-Files so much. See, I never watched the show up until a month or so ago when I was bored and looking for something cool on Netflix. I dove in with some hesitation - I'd seen one of the movies (there are multiple ones, right?) and almost immediately forgot the gist of it practically hours later. I'm glad I gave it a shot, because here I am three seasons in and for every minute I spend cussing out the main plot, I spend another five adoring the general brisk pacing and concepts of the individual episodes.

I was bound to like David Duchovny, whose work I enjoyed greatly in Californication as well as a few other movies and projects. He does the lovable, quietly cool guy thing pretty damned well, even if his performances never really change all that much. I know next to nothing about Gillian Anderson, even no. Her vaguely bland first impressions in that first season thankfully give way to better writing for her character in general in the second and third seasons, but I still feel like the show has yet to give her a proper due. Hopefully that changes.

I'm also surprisingly fond of their boss, deputy director Skinner, who starts off as a relatively straightforward hard-ass cop boss and evolves into someone more fleshed out and three-dimensional as he observes from the sidelines and nudges Moldy and Scullery in the right directions. The questionable air of authority he lends to the proceedings, with his nefarious shadowy bosses pushing him in one direction and his nigh-rogue agents pushing in another, adds a nice layer of frustrated tension to the role. I'm super curious how his role in all this pans out. Spoil nothing!

The casting directors had a hell of a sharp eye for future up and comers too. So far, I've noticed Ryan Reynolds, the cat lawyer guy from Battlestar Galactica (a whole bunch of Supernatural nerds will probably shake their fists and remind me his biggest role is on that show, but whatever, cat lawyer is cooler), Jack Black, the pissy little shit brother from the remake of Gone in Sixty Seconds (and Boiler Room, which you should watch if you haven't because holy balls that movie is awesome, especially paired with Rounders), and bunch of great TV actors that continue to get roles to this day. By and large, they get some great performances out of practically all the guest actors, particularly in the first and second seasons before the episodes get a little more eye-rolling. Neat to see such talent in their early days (and in the case of actors like Peter Boyle, let's go with prime to twilight years).

Scientifically proven to be the better show, says one crazy person out of ten billion whose name rhymes with Barky Shmuzzpaw.

Sadly, though, one of the show's greatest assets - the sleazy, underhanded, and strange Marlboro Man (or Smokey the Bear, or whatever you wantt o call him) - is almost entirely attached to the looming trainwreck of the show's overarching plot. As the show goes on, it becomes readily apparent that th plot isn't headed anywhere in particular, but is barreling along solely on the whims of whoever wrote those particular episodes that week. That lack of pre-planning doomed the later seasons of shows like Lost. Maybe X-Files will turn things around and end some of its plot lines in satisfactory ways, but seeing as how I'm reaching the end of season 3 and nothing's been wrapped up at all (while gleefully trying to create infinitely more questions than answers), I suspect the show won't have any answers at all. Hopefully I'm proven wrong, but I suspect the truth isn't actually out there at all.

What Else?

Rocket League is car soccer. If you liked those episodes of Top Gear, play the game. It's good.

I'm having a lot of fun with the rogue-like shooter Ziggurat. It controls much better than Tower of Guns, but unfortunately it can, at times, share that game's brutal difficulty, feeling more like a bullet-hell game than anything requiring skill or reflex. That said, I really like the leveling mechanic, the controls are spot on, and the general aesthetic is pretty cool. Needs better feeling gunz. Or wandz. Whatever.

Orange is the New Black continues to be pretty good, This third season, without spoiling anything, lacks a bit of focus and tends towards too much of a fantasy about prison life, giving everyone a heart of gold and little responsibility for their actions. It's disheartening to see it make any real strides forward or tell a meatier story, but what's here is certainly entertaining and the cast continues to be absolutely fantastic.

That about does it. I hope you all are having fun with whatever you're playing. Anyone got any fun summer plans? Playing anything good? Reading anything?

Later on, and as always, thanks for reading.

12 Comments

Sparky's Update - Mid-Year Check-In

Heya folks, and welcome one and all to the freshest, hottest Sparky's Update! I've fallen off the blogging bandwagon lately. I've got no excuses, but let's do some catching up today.

Hey there!

E3! Wow, it hasn't even started yet and I'm pumped. Fallout 4! XCOM 2! Doom! A Gears of War remake... okay, so I'm not at all excited about that last one, but still, stuff has been announced and I'm stoked. The 800 pound behemoth is obviously Fallout 4 for me, since I consider Skyrim, New Vegas, and Fallout 3 to be among the very best games ever made. I nailed my prediction years ago that Fallout 4 would take place in the Commonwealth, which I figured was the plan even before it was rumored so long ago. Don't mean to pat myself on the back on that one, but it's cool to see my hopes for the next game come true.

Having it come to Boston should allow for a lot of creativity in the world, not entirely unlike what happened when the series was brought to DC. We'll likely see lots of robot-related stuff (what are the Vegas odds that the main character finds out he's actually a robot?), new tech, and hopefully some new perks and abilities related to those ideas.

XCOM being announced as PC only was a bit of a bummer, but it's understandable. And who knows, with everything getting ported to consoles these days from a PC thanks to the console architecture in the machines, we still might see a port. I'm not ruling out a parternship with Sony or Microsoft either at E3, but I think it's an outside shot.

As for the rest, I thought about writing up an E3 predictions blog this year, but I'm just not sure what I even want that hasn't been announced. Maybe Saints Row V? Maybe a new Rockstar game? I don't know. Certainly I want some new IPs, as always, and I'm super curious as to what will be ported from the PC to consoles, as well as the continued stream of awesome indies.

And speaking of indies, let's jump into what I've been playing this year!

The State of Games and What's to Come

It's been a fantastic year for me in terms of gaming. I've upgraded my PS4 to a 2 TB drive with a minimum of fuss. I've continued my trend of focusing more and more on console gaming, although there have been some great PC experiences too, including two of my early frontrunners for GOTY.

We've seen a lot of cool indie releases, a few really good AAA titles, and some solid announcements being made. Apart from the games I've already mentioned, I'm particularly stoked for Final Fantasy XV, Disgaea 5, and Just Cause 3, surprising exactly zero of my regular readers. I don't know though, it's super weird being excited for a Final Fantasy game again. it's been the better part of a decade since I really looked forward to one, but XV looks to fix a lot of XIII's problems. I did try XIV for a trial period on the PS4, but even with the zoom, it's a little hard to keep track of everything on the screen and see the fonts. Oh well.

All I'm really hoping for from Just Cause 3 is a reason to cause mayhem. Like I mentioned with my coverage of JC2, visible effects of the chaos I create on the enemies would drive me to do more around the world. If I take out a communications tower, I want to see troops cussing out their radios when they try to call for backup. When I take down a dictator's statue, I want to see the people start to get angry at the soldiers around them and rise up in more random encounters. That sort of thing would make for a way more immersive world.

And as for Disgaea 5, look - it's Disgaea. They're not going to change the formula or update the graphics in the way I want, but it's going to be some Disgaea-ass Disgaea, and I want that.

The Best of the (Relevant) Games I've Played This Year

Tales from the Borderlands

One of the best games I've played this year technically started off as a 2015 release, but without more content, I felt uncomfortable adding it to my GOTY list. But this shockingly well-written, hilarious, and genuinely fun adventure game won me over from the start and I hope it sees its last few episodes release this year. The story focuses on events post-BL2. While fan service usually annoys the piss out of me, with this story, it seems to be working for me so far (save for certain aspects regarding Handsome Jack, who has been played to death, as much as I like the character).

What's particularly nice about this game is that the UI has become immensely more readable thanks to its new color scheme. Telltale's other series this year, Game of Thrones, unfortunately doesn't follow this new color scheme and is still ridiculously hard to see at times, which is a shame, because that game has a good story to tell too.

Anyways, check out Tales. It's a good one!

80 Days

Not only a great iPad game, but a great game in general, 80 Days is the gaming equivalent of a choose your own adventure wrapped up in a delicious Jules Verne inspired story. Combined with a slightly random inventory system that winds up making the game feel different with every playthrough, it's a novel (heh) approach to the text-based "pick your path" game like you might see in Shadowgate or Long Live The Queen. I don't want to spoil anything. Go pick this up. It's far and away the best iPad game I've played, and I hope it gets ported to everything.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein takes the old level-based shooter, throws in some shiny graphics, a surprisingly good story, and a frenzied forward momentum broken up by some tender, personal moments. It's a fantastic shooter even without the story elements, but with, it's a great straightforward game. I'm hoping we see more great things from this universe, hopefully moving further and further away from the traditional occult/Nazi stories we've seen in so many mediums of entertainment.

Trials Fusion

While the single player is kind of crappy thanks to a camera that's often way too far away, I'm listing this here due to the excellent multiplayer, which keeps the camera focused firmly at just the right distance. There's an active online community, the maps are solid, and I really enjoy the two-heat/multi-race system. It gives players points not just based on their speed but on how many restarts you use, so a second or third place finish can net you more points if you've finished clean. It's cool!

Shadow Warrior

While the maps sometimes wear out their welcome, the core gameplay of Shadow Warrior (the remake, not the original) is so freakin' good that I'm willing to overlook it. Like Wolfenstein, there's a surprisingly okay story behind all the action too. At its bargain price, this was a thoroughly pleasant surprise, and I hope a sequel is in the works.

Dying Light

Again, if you know my history, you know I loved Dead Island probably a fair bit more than is considered sane. I'm a huge fan of the shoot and loot gameplay. Throw in multiple character classes, a giant skill tree, and crafting, and of course I was going to look past Dead Island and Riptide's faults.

Dying Light is the natural evolution of those games. Though I do wish it had more character classes or deeper skill trees, I think it's a masterful way to revisit the Dead Island formula. The movement feels great, particularly the natural parkour elements. The combat is about on par with Dead Island (unles you liked the analog control scheme, which has been ditched). The game is friggin' gorgeous, even on consoles, and there's a lot of meat here. With better side quests and more character customization options, this could be a hell of a franchise. It leaves me really looking forward to Dead Island 2. Shame Hellraid got cancelled though.

Always Sometimes Monsters

One of the best surprises of my gaming this year was just how charmed I was by ASM. It's a day-in-the-life sim with clear goals and questionable ways to get there, and I ate it up. The dated graphics might turn some off, but don't let that stop you from trying this game. Trying to make ends meet, trying to meet up with your true love, trying to protect your friends - these are all elements of a good story, and they come together nicely.

I liked the game so much that I even wound up spending two bucks to have it available on my iPad. Also, that score. Mmm. Mmm!

Diablo 3: Ultimate Evil Edition

I wouldn't have pegged a retooled version of Diablo 3 as one of my favorite games of the year, but holy hell, this is night and day compared to the game as it was originally released. The console control scheme and UI work well. With only a few abilities active at any given time, the button mapping to the controller feels intuitive and not at all stripped down. The UI on consoles features a super handy inventory wheel system that should be the new gold standard for all PG inventory systems. It's so easy to navigate and find what I want fast, as opposed to something like Witcher 3 where nothing is easy to find and it's all a cluttered mess.

And the game just feels more fun. The loot drops are definitely more tailored to your character, giving you relevant armor and weapons on a regular basis. Playing the game alone is definitely more viable this time around thanks to the loot drops and skill rebalancing, which hasn't changed the core of the game but has definitely made it more accessible. It's a neat package for the price, and it gave me a solid 40-50 hours of fun. I keep meaning to go back and do more of the post-game content, which strips out the story and leaves you taking on waves of dungeon baddies and bosses in portals not entirely unlike the cow level from D2.

Citizens of Earth

Citizens of Earth is Suikoden-light. If that got your attention, great, go play it. If it didn't, then CoE is a party-based, turn-based RPG wherein you collect a big group of eclectic characters who band together to save Earth. I like the cartoony styling, the goofy sense of humor, and the mixing of characters. The combat is fast, you see enemies on the screen beforehand, and there's not a single random encounter to be found. it's pretty great, but not perfect. Some crew members were just impossible for me to obtain, the game is surprisingly buggy for such a simple interface, and the UI could have really used some work. But for what it is - a budget big RPG - I love it, and I want to see more budget minded RPGs like it make it to consoles.

Technobabylon

This has the curious distinction of being the first new release I've played and completed before a QL appeared on Giant Bomb. I'm usually not that up to date on my games, but for whatever reason, I saw the Wadjet Eye label, saw the cyberpunk theme without any of that garbage combat from Gemini Rue, and I bought it immediately on its release. Really glad I did. This is a top-notch adventure game, with logical puzzles that reward you for paying attention. With the caveat of one item I had to pixel hunt for, most everything in the environment is fairly obvious to spot, and it all makes a certain sort of sense that's often the hallmark of Wadjet's better games (namely the Blackwell series).

It really doesn't hurt that I liked the characters and story. There's a smart background to the world too, wherein Ai has become a daily watchdog and genetic experimentation has led to things great and terrible for people on a day to day basis. The hints too of a world on the rebound from the verge of collapse all help to make this a well-realized universe, one I greatly hope to see more of in the future.

The Witcher 3

Admittedly, I'm taking a break from Witcher 3 right now to wait for the big upcoming patch, but the ten or so hours I've sunk into it have been an absolute joy. The world of the Witcher has always been fascinating, both on a personal and political scale. While the thrust of the main story seems relatively simple, there's a lot of intrigue surrounding it. The details of this universe are not-so-secretly its most compelling factor - I want to keep unpeeling people's motives, finding out what makes the movers and shakers tick while keeping to the mantra of "don't trust anything you see or hear." The dialogue is top-notch too. Right now, gun to my head, I'd say this or Tales from the Borderlands are my frontrunners for GOTY with Technobabylon maybe pulling in third.

Special Mentions:

I also bought Borderlands: The Handsome Jack Collection and Saints Row 4 for the PS4, and I've gotta say, i don't regret either. Borderlands 2 runs smooth as silk on the PS4, and while the Pre-Sequel still has nagging problems with overly tough bosses and poor map layouts, it's still a hell of a game with some okay DLC (I really hope Lady Hammerlock is a mainstay in the series, as she's a terrific playable character).

Saints Row 4 is just as batshit crazy as it always was. I still love its sense of humor, but it still feels like the cash-in that it was. Not entirely unlike Batman: Arkham Origins, though, it's still remarkably fun to play even if it's a thin coat of paint on an old veneer.

I'm also deep into Crossy Roads, Marvel Puzzle Quest, and Adventure Capitalist on the iPad. MPQ is probably the most robust package there, but is full of cheap F2P bullshit. Crossy Roads is Frogger, so if that does it for you, get it. It's loads of fun. And Adventure Capitalist is... well, don't play that game, but I really enjoy it for some reason, even if you are literally just clicking numbers to watch said numbers grow bigger.

Let's Wrap This Behemoth Up

I'm excited about games again. Well and truly excited. There's a lot to look forward to, a lot to play, a lot to see and do. With the PS4's zoom feature, I don't really feel like I'm on the outside looking in so much anymore, although I suppose there are always going to be limitations in that regard. Still though, it's been a tremendously fun year for me in terms of what I've played and how accessible those games are to me, and I'm stoked and ready for some hawt, hawt E3 action. Soon, it'll be time for some vidya games, some Barking Dogs (my yearly E3 treat consisting of grilled hot dogs stuffed into a tortilla with processed cheese and green chiles, then grilled on a Foreman), some alcohol, and all the E3 magicalnessilitude all the big companies can muster .Get your shit together, because it's gonna be a lockdown, baby.

Pretty much how I'll feel after E3.

Also... the E3 banner contest is coming. Tell your friends. Tell your loved ones. Prepare your finest MS Paint skillz. Gather your spray cans and your crayons. It's gonna be fun times for us mods and a great way to contribute to the site.

Whew. Thanks for reading, folks. E3!

3 Comments

Sony's newest update and how it helps one gamer

For those of you who haven't heard it a billion times from me by now, I'm a legally blind gamer. Being legally blind doesn't mean I'm without sight - I still have some in my left eye, while my right eye is kind of a mess. I suffered a detached retina over a decade ago and it never quite healed right, despite the wonderful work done by my surgeon. On top of my already severe myopia, I wasn't able to continue driving or enjoy some of the things I love the most.

For a while, this didn't really affect my gaming when it came to systems like the PS2 and Xbox. Most games back then had reasonably large fonts, especially considering I mostly played JRPGs and games like Morrowind. I had some issues, particularly with racing games and mini-maps throughout all sorts of genres. Competitive multiplayer games were also hit and miss. I was okay when it came to things like free-for-all deathmatch scenarios in cartoonish games like Timesplitters, but often found I was at a severe disadvantage when playing team-based stuff like Battlefield 1942.

Fast forward to the HD generation of consoles and the advent of the annoyingly tiny fonts. Suddenly, I was cussing out games left and right for having unintelligible UIs or fonts designed seemingly by people who had the eyes of damn eagles implanted into their thick skulls. Of course, this wasn't really anyone's fault, but it sure got annoying. Games I wanted to really enjoy, like GTA IV or Dragon's Dogma became unplayable because of UI issues.

I always hate being one of those people who bitches constantly about problems but never actually tries to do anything about it, so on numerous occasions, I've reached out to various gaming developers and tried to get some changes happening. Usually, my emails or comments were ignored. A few times, if the developer was small enough or had a large enough Q&A team, I got a generic form response. Only a couple of times did I ever actually get a message through to a real person, and always ended up with a variation of "it's a problem we'd like to fix, but it only affects a vast minority of people, so..."

You might think that response might gall me, but I actually applaud it. I've known many people from the National Federation of the Blind and have gone to a couple of their big meetings. Their ability to help make meaningful, genuinely helpful changes for the lives of the blind is admirable and incredibly crucial, but at times, they can come across as militant and abrasive in their demands for small, petty things for the blind, like the need for bus drivers to call out every stop on their route as opposed to the ones the blind ask them to shout out.

By and large, if the minority's whimsical base wants are forcing an inconvenience upon the larger majority, then the minority should have the dignity to separate what they want and what they need. it's something we've lost sight of in this "I gotta get mine" world, but it's always been hugely important to me to be able to pull my own weight and not be a burden on other people. And when you've got a disability as life altering as being legally blind, you spend almost every day in some small way or another inconveniencing someone. It's not shameful, exactly, but with that comes a great deal of guilt, and well deserved too. Instead of going about their lives, my loved ones have to spend obscene amounts of time helping me with pretty basic stuff.

As time goes on, companies have become better and better at making life easier (and more fun) for the blind. Amazon's Prime service, for example, has been a huge godsend for me, allowing me to do a large amount of my shopping through its Pantry and regular services. The iPad has made it easier for me to watch television when I want to lay down, bringing a screen just inches away from my face as opposed to the eye-stressing usual TV distance.

Perhaps the biggest example of them all, the grand mack daddy of awesome tools for the low vision, is the e-reader. Whereas before I had to seriously cut down on reading time lest I strain my eyes and wind up with another detached retina from trying to negotiate with poor lighting (I usually can't read a page if a heavy shadow lies across it), now I can read whole libraries of books at whatever size font I need with great contrast. I'm fond of audio books for their presentation (there are some amazingly well read audio books out there and if you're looking for something to listen to while gaming other than podcasts about durgers and big ass ramps, you ought to check out what your library has available). But the problem with audio books is that for a reader like me, they're agonizingly slow. By the time they've finished a sentence or two, I could've finished a page. So having that alternative way of reading, with adjustable fonts and colors that are easy to see in any lighting situation, that works amazingly well for me. I love my Kindle (this is starting to sound like Amazon shilling, but they're just my preferred site of choice for this stuff - the Barnes and Noble Nook is cool too), and I think the e-reader is one of today's modern marvels.

But finding good accessibility options in gaming has always been a bit of a drag. With a lot of effort and modding, I could have played World of Warcraft, but the customization I needed wasn't available at the outset of my installation and the inconvenience and work it would have taken to get me to enjoy that game's sprawling lore wasn't for me. Call of Duty has been inching slowly but surely towards more accessible multiplayer gaming, but until they include the options for larger in game fonts as well as truly customizable colors for the in-game text, they simply can't keep me playing. Even games like Forza, which made racing games wildly more accessible by offering up tons of assists and the oh-so-game-changing rewind feature, still feature mostly unmanageable menus with tiny fonts and badly contrasting color schemes.

Only one game in recent memory - and please, feel free to correct me here if I missed a similar feature in other games of its era - had the right idea when it came to menu accessibility, and that was Gran Turismo 6. The idea was simple but revolutionary for me - by holding in a trigger, I could zoom in on fonts in the menus. It was the sort of thing that should have been a slam-dunk no-brainer for just about every developer out there with an extensive menu system or text-heavy UI particularly when there's no action or the game is paused. But nope. It was a flash in the pan, a brief hope of something better that no one else implemented.

Until now.

Perhaps not so surprisingly, it was Sony itself that revived the idea for their recent 2.5 update. Along with the suspend-resume feature (which I still need to tinker with), they included a few handy backend accessibility tools. Most of these only work at the system level, not in games, but the options to increase font sizes and have bold fonts are hugely appreciated nonetheless. And perhaps there's some way they could tie in those options and make them available to use in games in the future if developers are willing to take the time to work with them on it. Who knows?

What I do know is that along with all the other little (and not-so-little, depending on your needs) features came the zoom. I figured it was just another system level tool, one I'd use when I was browsing PSn or looking at messages. It's fairly simple. You enable the zoom in the accessibility options of the system. After that, you just press the Playstation button and square at the same time, and a basic zoom tool takes over the screen. You can't do anything but look around the screen while it's active, so you have to push the zoom every time you change a page or move to a different section, but it's still super handy.

I was excited to find that the feature also works in game as well - in any game. As I mentioned, you can't use it in an action-intensive game because it won't allow you to control what's happening in game while you're using it. But for games with interfaces that can be read while the game is paused, like the menus in Borderlands or Dying Light, it works well. Gone are the days when I zoom in on the screen with a digital camera or my iPad and take a picture so I can read it. Now I can read what's happening on screen in-game without much of any issue at all.

This isn't going to mean much to most of you, but it's big for me. It hasn't received a lot of coverage besides a few obligatory "here's what's new in update X" news articles, so I hope this helps illuminate a hugely beneficial feature for a vast minority of gamers. Developers of games and systems, please take note of what Sony's done and try to build on it. It's awesome to see games reaching out to more and more people.

17 Comments

Sparky's Update - Let's talk about Z Nation

Let's do away with any preamble this week because guys and gals, I am here to tell you the news. The news is Z Nation.

Let me be the first to welcome you to the Z Nation Nation. Trust me, you get a little taste of this show, and you're gonna become a member for life. Let's get something absolutely clear right up front - Z Nation is terrible. There's not a single moment in this show that's well done. Not one. And that's perfectly okay. It's a Syfy stinker in the most glorious of ways. At some point in this show's production, everyone must have decided, "You know what? Fuck it. We can't compete with Walking Dead, so let's not bother. At all. Let's shoot for the moon. Wait. That's perfect. Moon zombies." Which aren't actually a part of season one, but I guaran-fucking-tee you someone producing Z Nation is thinking it.

That kind of pervasive sense of no one giving a shit gives the show a great big set of brass balls. Since there's no end to the list of C-list actors Syfy can pull in (seriously, when do we get Casper Van Diem on this show?), anyone on the show at any point can die. That kind of uncertainty in something with weight like Walking Dead or Game of Thrones can lead to powerful scenes, rife with emotion and tension. Here, it just leads to me cramming my face with popcorn, a gleeful devilish grin stretched across my face.

It's a fairly standard setup for the survival horror genre - three years after the zombie outbreak, the lone hope for humanity must be brought across the nation to a lab in California where a vaccine can hopefully be created. This man, Murphy, is guided by Harold Perrineau (Michael from Lost), hamming it up here as a Special Forces soldier. The two are also accompanied by a group of eclectic survivors, including Tom Everett Scott (the poor sap who starred in American Werewolf in Paris, among other late 90's movies).

Every episode sees the group dealing with new threats, and in the usual shitacular Syfy vein, these are often natural or man-made disasters or straight-up knockoff scenarios out of popular apocalyptic culture. One episode sees them dealing with radioactive glowing zombies straight from the likes of Fallout, while another sees them dealing with a cannibalistic cult not entirely dissimilar to something you'd see in House of 1000 Corpses or, well, just about any and every apocalyptic tale revolving around the trope.

These are all delightfully absurd, and if I've got your attention and you want to watch this grand display of delightful idiocy, STOP READING RIGHT NOW. Go watch the show, preferably with good friends and a lot of alcohol. Otherwise, keep reading, because I'm about to tell you the show's gold-winning moments.

The season's two "best" episodes are pretty clear. The first comes at about the midway point, when the group of survivors are forced to take shelter in one of their leader's home towns in the Midwest. A storm's a-brewing, you see, and they need to find shelter before the shit hits the fan. The plot is, as always, forgettable and unimportant. Lead protagonist is looking for her long-missing husband, yadda yadda yadda. What makes this great? A motherfucking zombie tornado. I'm not really sure this needs much more explanation, but the brewing tornado cuts a swatch through a herd of zombies, picking them up and flinging them in a spectacularly shitty SFX session at four of our plucky heroes as they're out on the town. A zombie tornado. It's just as great as it sounds.

The second episode, and the clear winner of the King Of Television Award, goes to the second to last episode. One of the group is kidnapped by a group of thugs hoping to get into a pharmaceutical company's warehouse. Upon arrival, it's explained that zombies love drugs, apparently, especially Ritalin and - get this - Viagra. Yep. Viagra zombies. This show could not be any more perfect.

And there are so many other little moments, too. I want to print some of the bad one-liners on shirts. The show's title card often crops up in poorly edited moments. The gleefully stupid idea of everyone in the show referring to killing zombies as "giving them mercy" is shoehorned into semi-serious situations (though you can't take anything this show does seriously). The character Doc might just be the worst played and written character to grace TV, but like everything else in the show, the actor is enthusiastic and takes on the role with gusto. Stinking gusto, but infectiously charming gusto nonetheless.

And that's not even getting into DJ Qualls's character, an NSA agent operating out of a remote base and overseeing everything across the world. Qualls has many of the shows supposedly more somber moments as he goes stir-crazy, but this is Qualls we're talking about, so those moments are played up with all the nuance of a dump truck giving a back massage. He's over-the-top, his lines are straight-up horrible, and he's given sparse few moments to interact with anyone else in the show directly. It's great, because in his awfulness, he's kind of the perfect figurehead for this show.

This is precisely the sort of show I want out of Syfy when they aren't capable of doing a Battlestar Galactica (and it's become abundantly clear that one was a flash in the pan for them). I cannot recommend it enough to anyone who revels in the B-movie garbage Syfy pumps out. It's on Netflix streaming, and it's been renewed for a second season. Here's hoping for eighty more.

18 Comments

Sparky's Update - Hopes for 2015 in Gaming

Heya folks, and welcome to the blog I intended to push out a week ago. I know, you were all super concerned, but never fear, dearest of readers, your "once in a blue moon" fix of Sparkiness has arrived.

Tetherball will be huge in 2015, mark my words.

2014 didn't exactly inspire a lot of award touchy-feeliness in me, so let's jump straight in to my absurd demands for the new year. Is it still new? I don't know, I can't catch that new year scent anymore. Oh well. Let's call it the New-ish Year Predictions and Demands, shall we? We shall.

GET ON BOARD THE 2015 HYPE TRAIN! I already made up a list of my most anticipated games of 2015. You can check that out. I haven't done any work in explaining why I'm hopeful for any of the games there, as anyone reading this is probably intimately familiar with most of the games on the list.

What I'm Predicting for 2015

The New Exclusives War Is Further Stoked

This would have seeed odd a couple of years ago, but with Killer Instinct, Tomb Raider, Street Fighter V (!), and all the usual timed DLC nonsense building a head of steam in this last year, it's now a reality.

What will be announced? This one really seems like it could go either to Sony or Microsoft, though Nintendo's exemplary showing at E3 this year leaves me perhaps most curious for their exclusives. The smart move for Nintendo at this point is to continue bolstering the first party exclusives as well as content for the New 3DS, which I anticipate will see the most hype this year as they quietly wind down the Wii U.

Nintendo

For Nintendo's side, I'm predicting we'll see a new Fire Emblem get announced, along with new RPGs from Level-5 and Square for the 3DS. It's probable we'll see Bravely Default's sequel get a stateside announcement (has that happened yet?) as well.

CHiPs. So huge in 2015.

I'm guessing we'll also see a bigger influx of developers looking to put content on the 3DS. I think Bravely Default kind of took everybody by surprise, and I'm hoping it influences what developers do on the platform. I'm not really familiar enough with who develops for the 3DS to hazard a guess, but I'm thinking Capcom will probably put out some kind of thing and we'll see Konami slowly crawl back towards the light. Maybe. Hopefully.

Microsoft

For Microsoft, I have to wonder what isn't nailed down out there that they can pick up. It would certainly be a coup for either Sony or Microsoft to lock up Bethesda's next big announcement (see below), but I'm guessing for Microsoft the big money winner will be Blizzard's action-RPG thing Overwatch. With the (from all accounts) successful relaunch of Final Fantasy XIV on the PC and PS4, it makes sense for Microsoft to try to corner a big hitter in the MMO/F2P market, and I think this is the most logical choice. That said, Blizzard's a smart company, and they've always been PC-centric, so this is seriously questionable and not at all grounded in anything even approaching reality.

I'm also going to bet that we see a big Minecraft announcement by the end of the year, even if it's just a teaser. What this will be, I'm not sure. Obviously, we'll continue to see more Xbox exclusive skins, but what about new blocks and designs? Could we see a massive update given Microsoft's staff and cash? Sure. This is pretty much a no-brainer, but who knows what the announcement will end up being?

I'm also guessing Rare ends up coming back in 2015 in a big way, though what that will be is also questionable. I think the safest bet is probably a new kid-friendly IP, with some new mascot-types. We haven't seen a really big platformer from Microsoft in a while, so why not?

Sony

As for Sony, they're definitely the company I'm most curious about, since I put down some cash on their system. I'm guessing they'll continue to play it relatively safe as far as exclusives are concerned. We'll likely see a new platformer - but I'm guessing this time around, it'll be the MIA Jak and Daxter's turn to shine. We've gotta be hitting the saturation point on Ratchet and Clank games, right?

I'm guessing we'll continue to see less and less of the Vita, but it will continue to receive ports of good indie games. If I'm guessing correctly, the PS Now service will start to see PS2 and PS1 games by the year's end, but the Vita will slowly start to see services dropped by year's end leading into its announced demise in 2016.

I'm guessing Sony will also come out with a vague announcement about a reboot of Gran Turismo of sorts. I know the games still put up monster numbers, and the PS4 could seriously use a quality racer. This is the obvious go-to choice. What this game will be exactly is questionable - will it be a gargantuan sim racer in line with what we've seen in the past? Will they update it to reflect the obvious draws of Forza? I hope we see more assists and a rewind, as well as more cosmetic options (please, introduce a paint system similar to Forza. Please!).

Santa with Muscles 2 in 2015. You heard it here first, folks.

Otherwise, I think Sony just needs to stay the course this year. Continue pushing big draw games like Uncharted, put out new IPs like The Order (even if it doesn't wind up being something good, it's something new, and a helluva showcase for the system if nothing else). Keep cranking out the indies, keep updating services like PS+ and PS Now, and add the TV feature. It should be a solid, if mostly predictable, year for Sony.

The Others

As for third parties, the only big question in my mind right now is if Bethesda will finally announce a new Fallout. I was hopeful 2014 would be the year, but I'm almost certain 2015 will see it get announced. I'm perfectly fine with them taking all the time they need to develop a massive, genre-pushing title. If it has to be 2016 or beyond, so be it. I'm also guessing we'll see them go F2P by year's end on Elder Scrolls Online, which will continue to dodder along until it's inevitably yanked in 2017 or so.

I'm really hoping Firaxis comes out of nowhere and announces XCOM - In Yo House or whatever the subtitle ends up being. We could use a good strategy title on the consoles.

I'm going to take a wild stab and say my dark horse developer super secret project will be whatever the Wasteland 2 folks are coming up with next.

What I'm Hoping For (And Most Likely Won't Happen)

-A new Gazillionaire-type game based loosely off Pirates, announced by Firaxis. I don't think I actually want a new Pirates! (but that'd be sort of cool), but a new IP based on a space trader seems right up Firaxis's alley, and I desperately want to see them do something entirely new but still in their wheelhouse.

-A rest for Jagged Alliance. Let it go, fellow fans, and just play JA2. Obviously, no one can get this one right for whatever stupid reason, so let's just let this series ride off into the sunset with a tear in our eyes.

-A Sony-developed Minecraft competitor. Probably in the works, probably won't be announced for a couple of years yet. We are getting that cool Russian-centred game, but I'm talking about a full-on world builder.

-A not-shitty knockoff of Elder Scrolls. Oh, Two Worlds, you looked vaguely interesting, but you sucked balls. Let's see someone come up with a frenzied, soulful competitor to Elder Scrolls, even if it has budget graphics and sounds.

-Ubisoft to take a fuckin' break now and again.

-A new Sony-developed shooter.

-Borderlands 3. Let's face it, this is probably a 2016 announcement.

-A new Suikoden. Haha. Joke's on me. I think this is the tenth anniversary of this being on my yearly wishlist. Sigh.

Everything should end with a Police Squad clip, right? Hit me up with your own predictions, guesses, and wild wishes for 2015. Or feel free to shout at me about mine. Either way, hope you enjoyed reading. Later!

24 Comments

Sparky's Update - Borderlands 2, Sunshine and Smiles Week

Heya folks!

Boy oh boy, what a couple of weeks. Months, really. I just want to say how proud I am of the majority of this amazing forum we call THE Giant Bomb dot com. Moderating these discussions with the gang has been nothing short of exhausting, but thankfully, you've made this bearable.

That said, though, Rorie and us moderators, we're human. I know, I know, at times we seem like RoboCops, laying down the law unstoppably, unfeeling, and incapable of human emotion, but underneath our impeccable beautiful/handsome/hamburgerish exteriors, we're skin and bone, and we need a break. So therefore, we're declaring this Sunshine and Smiles Week, wherein we try to focus on the positive and promote a sense of, I don't know, huggability and what have you. We're going to be happy, damn it, and we're dragging you with us!

This guy knows what I"m talkin' about.

I also want to encourage everyone to get psyched for this weekend's Extra Life charity events, easily some of the best stuff the gaming community as a whole does each year. Every single one of the individuals putting on a show deserves a round of applause, some Tootsie Rolls, and a used REO Speedwagon CD, at the very least. So check out what's going on, pop in your favorite eight track this weekend, and enjoy some good times - for the kids!

So Hey, I Broke My PS4 - But That's A-OK! Sunshine and Smiles!

In what seems like a lifetime ago, I wrote about buying a PS4 and my early thoughts on it. Well, about a week after that blog, I started getting that nasty little disk eject error. In the middle of the night, my PS4 tried to regurgitate my copy of Watch Dogs, and even when I pulled the disk, it kept making the disk eject beeping noise at random intervals. After going through the recommended (and utterly useless) steps to try to fix the problem on my own, I ended up contacting Sony and sending it in. Unfortunately, it's still out for repairs.

But you know what? The timing couldn't have been better.

Because REASONS! OK, Actually, Because of Borderlands

Kids, I'm kind of a Borderlands-oholic. I sunk probably close to fifty or so hours into the first game, easily a hundred or so into the second, and I've already beat Borderlands - The Pre Sequel.

My succinct thoughts on the Pre Sequel.

Naturally, I played as Wilhelm first, because turrets. I'm not sure that kind of narrow thinking is the way to approach the Pre Sequel, because the character classes are at their very best when you're not trying to shoehorn them into the classes of the prior games. Sure, Wilhelm can play a bit like Roland or Axton, but when you decide to go off the rails a bit and focus in on some goofier aspects of his skill trees, he really comes into his own.

That said though, the characters do still fall into that classic skill tree-based game trap of needing very specific skill trees in certain situations. Take the end bosses - I won't spoil who they are here, but they're practically impossible if you're simply following the Wolf skill tree. You've got no cover, no safe haven, so you practically need to be a damage dealing, quick healing, kiss-stealing, wheeling, dealing son of a gun.

The whole game is a bit like that - it's really good, goofy, and a lot of fun, but there are some little niggling problems left over from other Borderlands games that rear their ugly little heads, along with a couple of new minor ones. The biggest problem is simply that the spine of the game doesn't receive any sort of a big update. This is still very much Borderlands - with the exception of the new lasers, cryo weapons, and O2 kits, the equipment is exactly the same. The menus are exactly the same. The badass rank mathematics have not seen an update, meaning most who play through the game with four characters will cap out somewhere around 12-15% bonuses. That's super disappointing, particularly in a game that's otherwise so much better than it should be.

That said, though, The Pre Sequel does a remarkable job at reusing its graphical assets. Throwing this game on the moon allows them to use new color palettes and some clever reskinning of old characters and objects. They really ran with the ball on this one, and while some of the indoor environments tend to lack flavor, the outdoor environments feel fun and inventive. Take note, Destiny - this is a moon I want to explore.

I'd also like to note just how much fun it was to hear the Australian accents that so permeated the game. I've grown used to American, Japanese, British, and Eastern European accents in games, so the Australian flavor definitely was a breath of fresh air. And truth be told, as much as I like guys like Nolan North, hearing some new blood get introduced into the mix is welcome. Hopefully this opens the doors to other games deciding to rethink using the same ol' same ol', while still giving the vets a chance to collect a paycheck.

Also, for those bemoaning the O2 stuff, trust me, it's not an issue. You're given so many chances to refill your oxygen that it feels like it's just an unnecessary system meant to at best introduce some new equipment. At its worst, it's a very minor annoyance and completely unnecessary to the gameplay. Eh. Just don't let it be the reason you're missing out on this game.

So yeah, despite a few rough edges, The Pre Sequel really delighted me. I'm playing through as Claptrap right now. It's loads of fun, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

So High Five, Duders!

Let's keep it friendly, jovial, cheerful, happy, silly, and wonderful out there this next week, folks. And then let's do it for the next month. And then the next year. And let's strive, every day, not to approach each other with shouts and curses, but with open ears and a smile. Because this is a great hobby, and we need to strive to make it even greater. So let's do this. Sunshine and smiles, folks.

10 Comments

Sparky's Update - Borderlands 2, Sunshine and Smiles Week

Heya folks!

Boy oh boy, what a couple of weeks. Months, really. I just want to say how proud I am of the majority of this amazing forum we call THE Giant Bomb dot com. Moderating these discussions with the gang has been nothing short of exhausting, but thankfully, you've made this bearable.

That said, though, Rorie and us moderators, we're human. I know, I know, at times we seem like RoboCops, laying down the law unstoppably, unfeeling, and incapable of human emotion, but underneath our impeccable beautiful/handsome/hamburgerish exteriors, we're skin and bone, and we need a break. So therefore, we're declaring this Sunshine and Smiles Week, wherein we try to focus on the positive and promote a sense of, I don't know, huggability and what have you. We're going to be happy, damn it, and we're dragging you with us!

This guy knows what I"m talkin' about.

I also want to encourage everyone to get psyched for this weekend's Extra Life charity events, easily some of the best stuff the gaming community as a whole does each year. Every single one of the individuals putting on a show deserves a round of applause, some Tootsie Rolls, and a used REO Speedwagon CD, at the very least. So check out what's going on, pop in your favorite eight track this weekend, and enjoy some good times - for the kids!

So Hey, I Broke My PS4 - But That's A-OK! Sunshine and Smiles!

In what seems like a lifetime ago, I wrote about buying a PS4 and my early thoughts on it. Well, about a week after that blog, I started getting that nasty little disk eject error. In the middle of the night, my PS4 tried to regurgitate my copy of Watch Dogs, and even when I pulled the disk, it kept making the disk eject beeping noise at random intervals. After going through the recommended (and utterly useless) steps to try to fix the problem on my own, I ended up contacting Sony and sending it in. Unfortunately, it's still out for repairs.

But you know what? The timing couldn't have been better.

Because REASONS! OK, Actually, Because of Borderlands

Kids, I'm kind of a Borderlands-oholic. I sunk probably close to fifty or so hours into the first game, easily a hundred or so into the second, and I've already beat Borderlands - The Pre Sequel.

My succinct thoughts on the Pre Sequel.

Naturally, I played as Wilhelm first, because turrets. I'm not sure that kind of narrow thinking is the way to approach the Pre Sequel, because the character classes are at their very best when you're not trying to shoehorn them into the classes of the prior games. Sure, Wilhelm can play a bit like Roland or Axton, but when you decide to go off the rails a bit and focus in on some goofier aspects of his skill trees, he really comes into his own.

That said though, the characters do still fall into that classic skill tree-based game trap of needing very specific skill trees in certain situations. Take the end bosses - I won't spoil who they are here, but they're practically impossible if you're simply following the Wolf skill tree. You've got no cover, no safe haven, so you practically need to be a damage dealing, quick healing, kiss-stealing, wheeling, dealing son of a gun.

The whole game is a bit like that - it's really good, goofy, and a lot of fun, but there are some little niggling problems left over from other Borderlands games that rear their ugly little heads, along with a couple of new minor ones. The biggest problem is simply that the spine of the game doesn't receive any sort of a big update. This is still very much Borderlands - with the exception of the new lasers, cryo weapons, and O2 kits, the equipment is exactly the same. The menus are exactly the same. The badass rank mathematics have not seen an update, meaning most who play through the game with four characters will cap out somewhere around 12-15% bonuses. That's super disappointing, particularly in a game that's otherwise so much better than it should be.

That said, though, The Pre Sequel does a remarkable job at reusing its graphical assets. Throwing this game on the moon allows them to use new color palettes and some clever reskinning of old characters and objects. They really ran with the ball on this one, and while some of the indoor environments tend to lack flavor, the outdoor environments feel fun and inventive. Take note, Destiny - this is a moon I want to explore.

I'd also like to note just how much fun it was to hear the Australian accents that so permeated the game. I've grown used to American, Japanese, British, and Eastern European accents in games, so the Australian flavor definitely was a breath of fresh air. And truth be told, as much as I like guys like Nolan North, hearing some new blood get introduced into the mix is welcome. Hopefully this opens the doors to other games deciding to rethink using the same ol' same ol', while still giving the vets a chance to collect a paycheck.

Also, for those bemoaning the O2 stuff, trust me, it's not an issue. You're given so many chances to refill your oxygen that it feels like it's just an unnecessary system meant to at best introduce some new equipment. At its worst, it's a very minor annoyance and completely unnecessary to the gameplay. Eh. Just don't let it be the reason you're missing out on this game.

So yeah, despite a few rough edges, The Pre Sequel really delighted me. I'm playing through as Claptrap right now. It's loads of fun, and it couldn't have come at a better time.

So High Five, Duders!

Let's keep it friendly, jovial, cheerful, happy, silly, and wonderful out there this next week, folks. And then let's do it for the next month. And then the next year. And let's strive, every day, not to approach each other with shouts and curses, but with open ears and a smile. Because this is a great hobby, and we need to strive to make it even greater. So let's do this. Sunshine and smiles, folks.

Start the Conversation

Oh hey, I bought a PS4.

Edited - Somewhere along the way, the headings went back to a regular sized font. Apologies. Should be fixed now.

Hi there! I'm Sparky. You might remember me from such Giant Bomb classic blogs like the dead-on-arrival Doctor Whoganza or the critically acclaimed (but commercially floptastic) Disgaea series. I'm here to tell you today about a new blog, a three for one special. And if you read in the next ten minutes, I'll throw in a bonus section - for free!

When I'm not cruising the Internet Explorer on my laptop personal computing device, I like to play video games. A lot of video games. Probably an unhealthy, absurd amount of video games. See, video games are these fun boop-dee-beep electronic games you can play on your home television set. Sounds complicated and sciencey, I know, but trust me, I can game and so can you!

A couple of weeks ago, I purchased a newfangled Sony Playstation 4 (that's "four"), one of the newest and hippest gaming machines on the market today. These machines, known by "with it" youngsters as the "PS4," allow you to insert round diskettes referred to as "Blu-Ray discs." These discs allow you to play the latest smash hits with a "remote controller."

Through scientific witchcraft and some small amount of technical savvy, I managed to hook up my latest purchase and play through several such games. These are a far cry from the "Ponging" and "Pac Mania" of yesteryear, I assure you! Allow me to be your guide in this deliciously spine-tingling Jules Verne-ian world of entertainment and astonishment.

An Analysis of the Gaming Mechanism's Startup Woes - Collected Thoughts and Musings

As an avid gamesman and great lover of the chosen sport of the Doritos gods, I have quite a history with this Sony Computer Entertainment. I daresay I was quite the guru at each of its previous models - the PlayStation, the PlayStation 2, and the cleverly titled PlayStation 3. Therefore, it was quite the treat to turn on the power and see what gamers refer to as the "Main Menu."

Wait. No. My first impulse was to scream curses at the top of my lungs. OK, let's drop the old timey act and get real.

I meant to go this year without buying a new console. I lasted six months until Sony announced the white PS4 Destiny bundle at E3. The combination of its potential rarity and the sleek design were too much to resist, and I found myself hitting that pre-order button within a couple of days.

Fast forward to Destiny's launch and the arrival of my PS4. Amazon managed to get it to me the day of launch, a hugely pleasant surprise since most everything I order gets delivered a day or two later than advertised. It was the early evening, I didn't have much light left, and I had a hell of a busy day scheduled the day after, so I thought about leaving it in its box and waiting until I finished my business. That thought lasted all of about five minutes (though I did hold off on playing Destiny until the next day).

Being the sort of crazy nutjob I am, I opened the box and immediately leaned in to smell. There are certain smells I love beyond all others - rain, honey and lemon tea, my mom's homemade chicken and noodle soup. The smell of new electronics isn't quite up there with those, but it's close, and I do it every time I get a game or a device I've been looking forward to opening.

My nostrils satiated, I dug out the system and the cords and set everything up fairly rapidly. I then proceeded to spend a half an hour looking for the damnable power button. For those unfamiliar with the PS4, there are no designations on the machine itself to tell you where the power or eject buttons are. They're set inside a tiny groove on the face of the machine, and only by careful study of the instruction manual was I able to find either.

By that point, I was mildly frustrated, but not yet at that special moment I get when I hook up and unhook electronics I lovingly refer to as "let's burn this motherfucker to the GROUND"-itis.

And so the scene was set. A milk crate, on its side, nestled the PS4 within. I held the PS4's controller in my palms. The power came on. The screen flashed with a generic blue background. I sucked in my breath to let out a war cry of success, the modern geek's version of veni, vidi, vici.

Then the screen flashed black and I was left with one message in the corner of my screen - "no signal."

Fuck. Fuckity. Fuck. Fuck. FUCK.

Believing that a cable came loose, I unplugged and replugged in the HDMI cable to its HDMI switcher. The switcher's power button was a suspicious shade of nothing. I checked its connection to the TV. Nothing. Then I remembered users reporting problems with the HDMI cable and inputs at launch, so I figured it was that. I jumped online, just to be sure, and found a sea of causes and possible fixes.

At first, I thought I could reboot the system into safe mode and start it that way, but not even safe mode would come up on screen. This is when I started to get a bit panicky. But I persevered through a few more forums. Still, I found no answers that really seemed to solve my particular problem, save for one - a guy's switcher wasn't capable of certain high definiton graphics. Huh.

Remember the lack of light in that switcher's power button? Foreshadowing!

Problem finally solved, I sat down, again, and started up my shiny new gaming device.

Let there be light.

Menus!

That first night, I basically set everything up. I hooked up my PS+ account, got my downloads started, and basically just checked out everything it had to offer.

The PS4's main menu is slick, far more intuitive and nicely designed than the PS3's, and seems more responsive. It still trails a bit in comparison to the Xbox 360's basic functionality and design (though it's far less intrusive with ads), but overall, I think I like the PS4's menus quite a bit more than anything I've seen before. Yes, trophies still take a head-scratchingly long time to sync. Yes, PSN still seems oddly crippled in terms of download speeds and fluctuations. And for my color blind friends, there are some odd menu choices, but these should be addressed soon with the addition of themes, or so I hope.

Those negatives aside, there's a slick, no-nonsense sleekness to all of it. Your games and recent apps are laid out after a generic "what's new" box. You press up, and you're taken to a handy, streamlined list of functions for the PS4, including PSN. Gone are the dozens of clunky menu items and sub menu items. Now your options are listed out in an aesthetically pleasing and accessible way. It's very well done.

Also gone (seemingly) is the clunky digital keyboard, in favor of a similar, if less chaotic, familiar keyboard. I still think this needs work - it's ridiculously hard to see the letters, and there needs to be a zoom feature to turn the keyboard into a half-screen or full-screen deal for the low vision. The contrast is also bizarre (seriously, the whole of the PS4's menus must have been designed by folks who've never had to deal with color blindness issues). But it's streets ahead of where the PS3 was at.

I can't say as I'm fond of the way the PS4 handles updates. It's relatively unclear if you're up to date on a game's updates - these should be installed automatically when you click a game, but instead, you're taken to an in-game screen that states you're not up to date and then popped back out to the main menu. When I installed Destiny's patches, I wasn't sure if I was installing a patch that had already been installed. It's by far one of the most annoying parts of the system, hands down, and I can't see them sticking with it. Or at least, I hope not. Please, Sony, just install the patches immediately upon the disc hitting the tray. It just makes sense.

The controller is cool, but the springs are already creaky and I've got this nasty feeling that the plastic on the sticks is a little cheap and brittle. If anyone knows of a better made third party controller, I'd love to hear from you.

And so that was my first night with the PS4. I played a touch of Minecraft, just enough to build a dirt bunker and oooh and ahhhh at the game's draw distance, but beyond that, I did no gaming the first night.

Have Gun, Will Travel (to the Same Locations Over and Over and Over Again)

Here's Destiny's biggest problem in a nutshell - the incentives for having to revisit the exact same areas a dozen times aren't enough.

In ten hours of Destiny, I've seen the same smallish areas at least that many times. And that's a very conservative number. Even when the game opens up its levels to you in a free-roam-esque state, it feels narrow and cramped. And when the rewards for playing those areas are a small amount of whatever the in-game currency is (sparklies or some such bullshit), the slight chance of a good weapon drop, and a small nudge towards your next level, there's just not enough to keep people coming back for more.

It's a fucking travesty, because Destiny is so close to greatness. The combat system fucking rocks. The game looks stunning. Seeing others randomly traverse through the world fighting the same giant crab robot things is genuinely cool as hell.

I like Destiny. I do. I have no regrets whatsoever about buying it. But this has been a year of games overselling and underwhelming audiences, and Destiny is, unfortunately, just another game in that pile. It never quite gets its inspirations right - it lacks the fluid, ever-changing nuances of firefights gone right and wrong from Halo. Its rigid skill trees and minimal loot system don't evoke any of the feelings of "just one more boss fight/treasure chest" of Borderlands or Diablo. And its multiplayer feels a bit half-assed, whether that be in its open world segments or through its competitive multiplayer.

Honestly, it's the kind of game I'll rip through, have a pleasant enough time with it, and then sell it off whenever its sequel pops up its head. This is, for all intents and purposes, the Prey or Shadowrun Returns of the current generation. It's generic and blandly pleasing, but I wish it was just a little bit more.

Hypocrisy, Buzzocrisy?

I like Watch Dogs.

Oh right, yeah, I forgot to mention I bought Watch Dogs when it came up on sale. And I like it. Neener neener boo boo.

What? Oh, don't look at me like that. I know I'm a hypocrite. I just rolled my eyes at Destiny for under-delivering, and here I am, praising 2014's King of PR Lies.

Except, here's the thing - Watch Dogs? It's fun. Through and through.

Sure, it's not the game we saw in the roughly 50 bajillion trade show previews. Not even close. This is a very basic sandbox action game with some pretty neat little tricks thrown in for good measure. I get that. I do.

And sure, it takes itself way too seriously, and it never actually invokes the heart of Chicago (whatever that might be. Pizza? It certainly gets the shitty corrupt politician side of things pretty well). And that ending is just a little limp and predictable, with the eye-rolling prerequisite numbers of people betraying the protagonist for random, arbitrary reasons.

But damn it, tell me you don't like the idea of setting up proximity mines, throwing out some sound lures, and then watching your carefully planned attack on a gang hideout go wonderfully smooth. It's a rush to play Watch Dogs well, even if those moments are a rarity for me. It's also a kick in the pants to break the game's systems wide open with over-powered weapons and some fine cheesing, ala Far Cry 3. Seriously, if you play Watch Dogs, pick up the proximity mine skill as quickly as possible and go into every fight with those, lures, and a grenade launcher, and you've just beat it. Easy peasy.

There are some frustrating decisions made on the ground floor. It's obvious the graphics were a bit unfinished or dialed down due to the underwhelming power of the new consoles (sorry, but they ARE underpowered). There's also a distinct lack of some of the fun things we associate with sandbox games. While you can buy new outfits, these are mild color changes to the hilariously French idea of what a cool American hacker would dress like. You can't customize or store cars (though you can order new ones, which I never did). Some skill trees feel underdeveloped, particularly the devices and driving skills, while other top-tier skills are head-scratchingly useless.

And finally, it's a little on the repetitious side. Some of the side quests are pretty cool - I love the gang hideouts and the convoy missions. But others, like finding the perfect little vantage point to look out and take a picture of a QR code, just aren't rewarding enough to warrant seeing them through. They're just too tedious.

The game could have also used a "skip ahead" feature, ala GTA V, particularly for a couple of late game missions that shift the focus away from the free-wheeling "do as you wish but get here/kill this" fun missions of the game. There's one mission in particular when you're being chased endlessly by cops as the city erupts around you that feels forced and lifted straight from GTA San Andreas without focusing on Watch Dogs' strengths.

But that said, hoooooooly shit, do I love the hacking aspects of this game. Well, aside from the hacking mini-puzzles, which are usually annoying and take away from the pacing of the game. What I'm talking about is the thrill of escaping from some gang or another, hacking a street light as they approach, and watching them get crushed by oncoming traffic. I'm talking about seeing waves of generic video game baddies get it from exploding pipes or electrical systems. Sure, like the rest of the game, these aspects could have used a bit more diversity, particularly in the mid-to-late game, but it's fun as hell.

So, What Else?

I also installed Rogue Legacy. I was a bit hard on that game when I played it on the PC early this year, but on the PS3 and PS4, it plays like a dream. I beat it (and Watch Dogs) tonight. I had 259 children, played for 19 hours, and I swore approximately 84,000 times. Yes, I know, I suck at Rogue Legacy, but that's what makes that game great. Even if you suck at it, have enough patience and you'll eventually beat it.

Minecraft is pretty great on the PS4. No having to dick with installing INFERNOGUY45's TOP MODSZORS on the PC, no launcher, none of that nonsense. You click the icon, you play Minecraft. Nice and fucking simple. I've been spending my time developing a small city on the lake, though that's mostly a front for me developing a mega mine and screwing around. I need to get out and explore the world. Uh, both in Minecraft and in real life, I suppose.

Wrap It Up, Buzz Boy

All in all, I'm supremely pleased with my purchases. Sure, Destiny is a little underwhelming, but there's enough there to tide me over until the wave of October and November releases. I adore Watch Dogs, and I look forward to seeing if Ubisoft can make better on its premise in future sequels. Minecraft is Minecraft, Rogue Legacy is that same questionable mix of addicting and frustrating. All in all, I'm glad I broke my New Year's Resolution and snagged myself a beautiful glacier white PS4. Now, bring on Dead Island 2 and Dying Light already, will ya?

In b4 MB's "master race lolzors" comment.

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The Steam Sale Dollar Challenge

My brother and I threw down the gauntlet last night in what has been called the greatest battle since Captain Crunch and Count Chocula duked it out for America's heart. We decided on a fight to the finish, a gaming challenge so devious, so devastating that neither of us would ever recover entirely. That challenge? Buy each other the shittiest game humanly possible for under a buck. Each person would have to play the other's gifted game for a half an hour. Photographic proof would have to be taken, either through videos or Steam screenshots.

Folks, I scoured the sales for hours last night. I enlisted the help of fellow moderator and all around Steam scholar MB in finding a site that helped track the prices of games. I checked reviews. I had Metacritic pulled up in a tab, waiting for me to enter that next shitacular gem into its search field. By the agreed upon time of the ass crack of noon, I was a sweaty, highly caffeinated mess, snapping at strangers, snarling at the sunlight filtering in through my window, and wondering not if I was going to win, but if I was going to survive.

Noon. A wet, dreary day. Fat, low hanging thunderclouds rolling over the mountains. Birds chirping carefree, unaware of the horrors that were about to be unleashed as brother met brother in a virtual battle of bad taste.

We greeted each other online as gentlemen, him with a cautious greeting, me with a virtual tip of my cap. Our digital daggers sheathed for a moment, we took a minute to discuss the details... and do some bullshitting about the day's sales, but that's besides the point. Soon, our polite veneers wore off and we agreed the time was nigh. Cue the music.

War and Fruit and Fish

I sent my game first, but only by moments. The lone bullet in my gun (damn, there's a lot of not-so-sublte phallic imagery in this blog)? Fish Fillets 2.

Fish. Motherfucking. Fillets. The sequel.

Sure. I could've been gentle and gone with something like Legendary, which was mediocre, but still had some shiny graphics. Sure, I could've picked a connect 3 puzzler, of which there are roughly 20,000. But this was not a battle I was taking lightly. There would be no brotherly love shown. No fraternal mercy. I was aiming for a gut shot, something nice and painful and drawn out.

His response was swift and brutal. When that Steam incoming game message came up, I swallowed what spit (and Diet Pepsi) I had left, and I clicked that button with as little trembling in my finger as possible (I really had a lot of caffeine this morning. Damn you, sale on two liters of Pepsi!).

Gut shot? I should've expected it. No. He went for the nut shot. And that Amish-bearded bastard, he succeeded.

The game I'd have to play was Flora's Fruit Farm.

Motherfucker.

The Agony

While my brother dealt with the pain of his wounding by cowardly running to pay bills and deal with real life stuff, I had no such escape. I decided to end my torture quickly and installed Flora's Fruit Farm. I thought I might have time to prepare, to wash my face with water, to to stare at myself in the mirror and try to psych myself up. But holy hell, my friends, those 50 mbs downloaded fast. I rolled my shoulders, grabbed my mouse, and dove into that apple-scented level of citrus-infused hell.

Immediately, I was greeted with... well, no audio whatsoever. At first, I thought I'd managed to mute my game, but nope. It appears as though the audio in that game is just flat-ass busted, as with just about everything about that game. I shuddered through naming my character, opting for the always classy MC Herpes as my handle for this siege upon good taste and fun. Then, I was greeted by the game's hazing phase, a brutal tutorial that made me sit through an insufferable ten minutes of handholding while glossing over the game's "deeper" points. Mind you, this is a game called Flora's Fruit Farm, so it's not exactly rife with complex ideas or gameplay.

By this point, my loyal pug and sometime video game companion was cheering me on by snoring heartily next to me on his chaise lounger (let's face it, all furniture belongs to the dogs). Revitalized by his resolve and window-rattling log-cutting, I decided to forego the rest of the tutorial and brave the game on my own.

At its heart, Flora's Fruit Farm is a watered-down Root Beer Tapper. You grow a tree, from which a handful of fruit grow. You cut down said fruit, drop them off at a stand, and then give the fruit to customers who stand around getting all antsy about buying apples and mangoes and shit. That's it. That's the entire game in a nutshell. There's a day/night cycle, you unlock more fruit to grow and sell, and there are a handful of different environments to unlock.

I wouldn't wish it on anyone. That's a buck you could spend at Taco Bell. It's a buck you could spend on some gummy worms at the dollar store. It's also a buck you could probably tuck away and use to save towards something, but who the fuck saves anymore?

In any case, I survived. Barely. I'm a lesser man now, having been broken and refitted together poorly. I suppose I'll go drown my sorrows in Odin Sphere or SMT: Raidou versus King Abaddon or Kentucky Route Zero. They won't be able to wash away the stain upon my soul, but God willing, they'll ease the suffering.

The Enemy's Take

Here's my brother's video on Fish Fillets 2. He may have wounded me to the core, but it's worth a look anyways.

I don't think there was a winner here today, folks. Mutually assured brotherly destruction is a terrifying concept.

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Sparky's Update - E3 Predictions

Heya folks! This is lifted directly from a FB conversation with friends about E3. Since I'm lazy and don't want to rewrite anything ever again after this week, I've just gone ahead and copied it verbatim. No, "verbatim" isn't slang for a sexual act involving a donkey, a banana, and a monkey wrench. It means... oh, forget it.

Don't let me catch a bazillionty of these posted to the forums. Not because I'll lock them down or anything, but because it was so obviously my idea first, because no one in the history of blogging has ever come up with E3 predictions, ever.

Here you go:

Here's my list of predictions of big games to be announced at E3. Some of these are educated guesses, some are wildly speculative, all are hopeful and at least semi-realistic (obviously we're not getting Full Throttle 2 or Shenmue 3, et cetera).

Fallout 4 - Makes perfect sense to announce this now or later this year, as Bethesda just released Elder Scrolls Online. Logic dictates that they wouldn't release three ES games in a row after Skyrim and ESO, so their next announcement will be a major new IP, Fallout 4, or nothing at all. They do still have Wolfenstein in the works as well, so no new announcements from isn't a stretch.

Just Cause 3 - This one's a bit questionable as to its actual announcement date, but we know it's coming, so why not have a teaser at E3? The only real question is if they'd split their development team from the Mad Max game the developer is working on. My guess is we'll see Mad Max get released first, with Just Cause 3 seeing a fall of 2015 release. Therefore, we still might not see an announcement until later this year or beyond.

Saints Row 5 - Another no brainer, but it's questionable when we'll actually see an announcement, as it's unlikely we'll see another Saints Row game this year. Fingers crossed that they take their time with this one and develop it solely for next gen consoles.

Tomb Raider 2 - This is probably the most likely of all the announcements, save for Forza Horizon 2. Square took some losses on the original, but with the positive reviews and huge numbers of sales, it's inevitable. Inebbbitttaabbble!

Forza Horizon 2 - Even Horizonerary - This is the most "no duh" game on this list, as the Forza games are basically printed money for Microsoft at this point. I'm guessing they'll ditch Colorado for somewhere probably more tropical and varied, but they could go pretty much anywhere with the series.

A new turn-based console RPG from Square - Partly wishful thinking on my part, but given their recent acknowledgment that the sales of Bravely Default made them rethink their stance on classic turn-based RPGs, I'm guessing Square will announce a game for XBL and PSN that will be a test of sorts for player response. Normally I'd say this would be announced at the Tokyo Game Show, but Square's been bringing some of their biggest stuff to E3, and with the focus on PSN and XBL games, I'd be surprised if they didn't have something in the works.

A sequel to Deus Ex: Human Revolution - I have no reason to think this is actually happening. I just think it's a great idea and one of those "wild card" guesses I usually get wron

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