StarvingGamer's Games Worth Starving For (or Otherwise) in 2014

Let me preface this by saying Fuck. This. Year. As my first full year as a proud parent of two, many late nights were spent watching the gaming community and an entire country implode under the weight of oppression and social injustice while trying to shush one of my spawn back to sleep. I learned that hashtags are even more the-fucking-worst than I previously imagined and nothing retweeted after 11PM is anything good.

Thankfully, it wasn't all doom-and-gloom, as 2014 was another amazing year for games to distract me from the ever-looming maw of oblivion. The early year saw my gaming habits largely unchanged, with an infant son spending half the day asleep and a daughter in preschool. (Un)fortunately, children inevitably become more and more upwardly mobile and, as time passed, I found myself relying more and more on portable devices, be they my Vita, 3DS, iPad or iPhone, to fulfill my gaming needs.

While many games I would have loved to invest dozens-if-not-hundreds of hours into (including a handful of games I may have Kickstarted for way too much) ended up falling by the wayside, several more rose to the surface as standout experiences. So without further ado, this was my 2014 in video games:

2014's Old Game of the Year

Much like the GB staff in 2013, this year I wanted to expand the category beyond games released in the previous year so I could mention the 2012 banger, Final Fantasy XIII-2. As one of the most vehement supporters of FFXIII, largely on the strength of its battle system, it's criminal that I didn't get around to playing XIII-2 until just-before the release of Lightning Returns. While I simultaneously loved and hated what the Pokémonlike system for the third party member did to my min-maxer brain, the entire game was fantastically fun from start to finish. That said, the actual winner of this category is...


I<3U SolForge but FUCK this card

The handful of you that read my GotY blog from last year may remember me saying something along the lines of

...once I get an iPhone I'll be sure to spend thousands more [hours playing SolForge] in 2014, probably while driving.

Well, I got an iPhone. And I definitely spent thousands of hours playing SolForge. And at least a few-hundred of those were while driving. OK I HAVE A PROBLEM.

As a person who craves, nay, needs to be multitasking everywhere at all times, SolForge has been a godsend. The incredibly lenient turn-timer and clear UI allow me to asses any board-state at-a-glance, then devote the rest of me to other tasks while my brain works on figuring out my next move. I can play while cooking. I can play while changing diapers. I can play while shopping. I can play while taking a shower (by propping my iPad up on the towel rack). And yes, I can even play while driving (NOT RECOMMENDED).

SolForge promotes creativity and freedom of expression in the way all great CCGs do while providing more than enough mechanical depth to keep my mind engaged in-between turns. Unlike Hearthstone, the variance is significantly more manageable and losses rarely, if ever, put me on tilt, meaning even a bad (luck) day is a good day to play SolForge. While the most recent card release (just a few weeks old) has introduced the swingiest deck to the metagame since the beta and has managed to scare me off of constructed for the time being, I am still having no shortage of fun playing unranked games and I have no doubt that with the next update, the developers will start steering the game back to where victories are decided by the play instead of the draw.

Runner-up: Final Fantasy XIII-2, FTL: Faster Than Light

Best Surprise

Fantasy Life

Everyone who described this game as "sort of like Animal Crossing" and left it at that has done Fantasy Life a massive disservice. Animal Crossing is a job. You do a bunch of menial repetitive tasks day after day, beholden to a limited window for productivity, with NPC's that get pissy when you forget to have lunch with them at 1PM or, god forbid, don't have time to play the game on their birthday. Don't get me wrong, I'll still probably pick up whatever the next iteration ends up being and I'll have "fun" with it for a handful of weeks before resenting the franchise all over again, but it's that comparison that almost caused me to write off Fantasy Life entirely were it not for a few key tweets from people whose opinions I trust.

So what is Fantasy Life? Well, you talk with NPCs and do stuff for them and there's a bunch of menial repetitive tasks you can perform every day like collecting shells and shaking/chopping down trees and you have this house where you can buy furniture and you can dress up your character or get your hair styled or... OK, so the comparison isn't completely off the mark. But while there may be some parallels in the systems for interaction, at its core Fantasy Life is more a mash-up between a tight RPG job-system and a single-player MMORPG.

Also the art is AMAZING

At the onset, I was asked to choose one of twelves lives (jobs, classes, whatever) including four for combat, three for gathering, and five(!) for crafting. Shortly thereafter, I was free to take on as many or as few of those lives as I wanted, and I easily transitioned between them to take advantage of the myriad ways they complimented one another. This eventually lead to a sort of cascading playstyle where a simple task transformed into an hours-long play session.

Ok, I finally killed that dinosaur but now I'm having trouble mining the ore it was protecting so I probably need new pickaxe. If I'm going to make one I should probably make a better blacksmithing hammer first so I have a higher chance of my pickaxe coming out with a high quality modifier. The best hammer I can make needs master-rank beams and I'm only an expert carpenter right now. Well, I'm going to want to rank-up carpentry eventually anyways so I might as well do that now so I can make the beams myself instead of paying a ton of money to buy them from the vendor. I have almost all the materials I need to complete my carpenter challenges and rank-up, but I'm still missing a scale from that one really tough dragon that's a component for the bed I'm making for whatever reason. I need to kill that dragon for a paladin challenge as well so I can kill two birds with one stone by doing that. But actually I'm doing almost no damage to it with my current sword so I should probably smith myself a stronger one. Actually, I can make a sword that would be perfect for fighting the dragon, but it needs ore from that vein I haven't been able to mine yet. I probably need a better pickaxe.

With an abundance of widely varied progression tracks to make sure I never felt bored and an almost incessantly positive storyline of hope and kindness (you can beat the game without killing anything!), Fantasy Life was exactly the psychic salve I needed to deal with the darker parts of this year. If you have a 3DS you owe it to yourself to buy a copy of this game and let it put a smile on your face. Unless you can't appreciate dad jokes. Almost every joke in the game is more-or-less a dad joke. AND I LOVE IT.

Runners-up: South Park: The Stick of Truth, Wolfenstein: The New Order

Local Multiplayer Game that Makes Me Wish I Wasn't a Busy-ass Adult

The Jackbox Party Pack

What smart design. Even with the desync issue that seems to hit at least one player every other game, the fact that anyone with an internet browser can participate in a game of Fibbage or Drawful is one of the best gaming developments of 2014. I bought the game twice and played the game twice and already have gotten more than my money's worth of fun out of it. Unfortunately I'll be moving across the country soon to an area where I have no friends meaning my local multiplayer experience will likely be restricted to my Beyoncé and kids, and a 3-year-old and a 1-year-old aren't properly equipped to appreciate the comedic genius that is xxcloud420xx. Though our time was short it was ever so sweet, The Jackbox, and while we may be apart, know that every time I see Clippy what I'll really be thinking about is a sad penis and you.

You don't even know

Runners-up: Gang Beasts, Lethal League

Biggest Disappointment

Sid Meier's Civilization: Beyond Earth

Following a similar vein to my biggest disappointment from last year, SimCity, Beyond Earth is a game that I have played and enjoyed for dozens of hours already and will likely continue to do so into 2015.

BUT IT'S JUST CIV V WITH A SPACE SKIN. Sure, some interesting tweaks were made to the underpinnings with a build-your-own-Civ sort of approach and a fancy new tech-web, but I felt like I had explored both of those addition to their fullest extent within a handful of games. Now I'm basically just playing Civ V with less annoying military and much more annoying miasma. I guess from the start they made it known that they were going to be making Civ V in space, I just wish they had leaned more on the "in space" side and less on the "Civ V" side.

Whatever, it's still alright, and maybe they'll be able to differentiate it even more whenever the first expansion drops. Maybe they'll add religion!

Runners-up: Magic: The Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2015, Watch_Dogs

The Game to Pay Full-Price For but Not Play Because of Dragon Age: Inquisition of the Year

Assassin's Creed: Unity

Only downside: missing out on this hot hot action

Look, I like Assassin's Creed, alright? Even III was great. The series appeals to my gotta-collect-'em-all map-scouring sensibilities and I consistently derive hours upon hours of enjoyment out of every entry. So it was a given that I would be buying either Unity or Rogue and I figured what's the point of having this sleek current-gen box if I can't shove some games inside of it. Besides, if I waited I could probably just pick up the inevitable HD update for Rogue somewhere further down the line like I did with Black Flag.

My copy arrived in the mail and, sure, there was some weird business going on with embargoes and completely busted framerates or somesuch nonsense, but I wasn't concerned about that. However, my extremely limited sit-down time with console games meant I was still flailing away at the tail-end of Bayonetta 2 and I knew I had to get that done before Inquisition came out.

I beat Bayonetta 2. Then Inquisition came out. Inquisition is still out. 120 hours later and it's still out. And not done. So I'll get to Unity some time during the January doldrums while my kids are with their grandparents and I'm supposed to be doing something like packing up for our big move. The fact that the game will be significantly more playable by then is a fantastic bonus and, honestly, I can't wait.

Thanks, Dragon Age!

Runners-up: Far Cry 4, Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

Game of the Year

Ultra Street Fighter IV

Not a big surprise

I love fighting games, which should be abundantly clear from a majority of my activity on this site. If I were going to be stranded on a desert island with one genre (and an internet connection), I would want it to be fighting games. In fact, three-fourths of my blog posts from this year had something to do with fighting games. So when Capcom updated the most recent version of their storied franchise for 2014, it was an obvious lock for my GotY.

And so it is, but not simply because of some sense of nostalgia or genre loyalty. Ultra Street Fighter IV is, beyond question, the most balanced modern fighting game on the market. With a massive roster of 44 characters and a wide variety of system mechanics, it's an accomplishment that is nothing short of miraculous. There is no clearer proof of this than the remarkable character diversity that has been showcased at every tournament top-8 since the game's release. The competitive-scene has never been more exciting, and 2015 promises to push things even further with a massive $500,000 prize-pool for the Capcom pro-tour courtesy of Sony.

Some characters may have been left out in the cold (sorry Dee Jay), but Capcom continues to fine-tune the game with free balance updates to try and shrink the already minuscule tier gap. The experimental playground of the newly-released Omega mode seems to be pointing at a possible direction for SFV, but until that game comes out (in 2016?), I'll continue having a blast losing repeatedly with Rose in USFIV. I can't wait to buy the game for a fourth time on PS4.

I just hope they adopt the driver Cowboy cooked up for the guys at Lab Zero so I don't have to buy another joystick. Even though I kinda want to buy another joystick. Man I want another joystick. JOYSTICK!

Runners-up: 2. Dragon Age: Inquisition 3. Bravely Default 4. Bayonetta 2 5. Fantasy Life 6. Super Smash Bros. for 3DS 7. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call 8. Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII 9. The Banner Saga 10. The Last of Us (Left Behind DLC)

P.S. If you're looking to get into fighting games a little bit more, be it as a player or a spectator, I'd like to wholeheartedly recommend the Tuesday Show on UltraChenTV. Hosted by David "ultradavid" Graham and James "jchensor" Chen, the show is a sort of catch-all for everything fighting games, including game news, tournament results, scene drama, and anything in between. You can catch it most Tuesdays at around 8:30PM Pacific time, but your best bet is to follow @UltraChenTV on twitter to find out when they're going to be streaming.



Smash Scene Shaken By Rise and Fall of False Idol

Okay, the title might be a little over-the-top but this is a pretty weird/interesting story.

Earlier today (yesterday? Ugh why am I up so late/early?) a GameStop in West Hollywood held a promotional event, giving players a chance to get some hands-on time with Smash for Wii U before its release on November 21. Many players from the SoCal Smash scene were in attendance, alongside D'Ron "D1" Maingrette who was acting as host. Even if you don't recognize his handle, you may have seen him commentating this year's Smash Invitational during E3. Being one of the pillars of the Smash community, everyone's ears perked up when he put out the following tweet:

A complete unknown, the young girl earned herself the moniker Karissa the Destroyer for the dominating manner in which she dismantled a majority of her opponents. One of the attendees managed to capture a fair amount of her rampage on his phone, and another caught her beating D1 with a convincing 2-stock victory (exhausting both of her opponent's lives without losing any of her own).

So I guess the title of that video is a bit of a spoiler. You see, while some players, like Keith "Southpaw" Gordon, took their loss in stride, others, like Sky Williams, started getting an inkling that something was amiss. Key tells included Karissa showboating by performing difficult combos without looking at the screen and a third controller plugged into the Wii U with a wire that mysteriously disappeared behind the stage. Sky's full account of his experience is definitely worth a read, but it culminated in him witnessing a top Smash player, who had not been seen by anyone during the course of the event, hastily sneaking away from the GameStop after the event had ended.

The fact that Karissa is actually an actor represented by Talent Branded Entertainment was only a Google search away. Then someone dug up this megaton:

It's a casting call for people with some experience in Smash to act as ringers and lose to "[the casting company's] girl". The twitterverse reacted in its usual fashion. Many people merely brushed it off as nothing more than a cute joke. Some took exception to the idea that someone had put one over on them and responded in the traditional fashion with insults and, apparently, death threats accusing anyone in attendance of being in on it. And while the actual wording of the casting call seems to indicate that the plan has always been to reveal the truth in a future marketing push, others, like designer, ex-Smasher, and advocate for women in competitive gaming Lil "Milktea" Chen were more concerned about the impact such a stunt could have on young female gamers looking for inspiration, and the social implications of the fact that any such repercussions likely never even crossed the minds of the professionals behind this marketing campaign.

It's hard to think of a worse time for a marketing campaign centered around a fake gamer girl being backed by a male player. But whether this crops up later as a TV ad or a web promo or simply another thing for people to not pay attention to while they're shopping at GameStop, at least now you'll have some idea of where it came from.


Sticks with Chicks

Now that you're properly titillated, I'd like to show you my joystick. And by joystick I mean penis. And by penis I mean PS3 peripheral by which I control my characters whilst fighting streets. You know, this one:

Not an actual penis

This is my limited-edition Femme Fatale Fightstick from Madcatz, number 73/350 made. There's isn't much that makes her special, but I swapped out the stick when the old one went bad and of course traded my square-gate in for an 8-way gate because I'm not a maniac, so in those little ways she's unique to me. I've spent more time with her on my lap than pretty much anything, but never went in for any fancier mods because A) money B) what if I break her and C) money.

But the week of E3 Arcade Shock announced a set of Street Fighter chibi pushbuttons and something inside me (my common sense) snapped and I knew I had to buy a set. I had no idea how much they were going to cost, I just knew that I needed them. At first I thought about buying a complete set of Rose because, well, it's Rose, but decided that would be a bit redundant and besides, I'm nowhere near good enough to consider myself a character specialist, so I immediately set to wracking my brain for which characters I wanted to buy.

I decided that I would buy 8 different characters that I play with some degree of competency, then assign each of them to buttons that I felt really exemplified that character. I came up with something like this:

It worked out pretty well (although I don't actually play Ryu) and fit within the limited set of characters they had available, but I couldn't figure out who would be KKK. Maybe Claw?

It didn't matter though because Arcade Shock started announcing more characters. Then they announced ball-tops. Then they announced more characters. Then they announced prices (ouch!). Then it hit me. Looking through the cast there were exactly 8 female characters available (sorry Poison, Elena & Decapre) and duh, I had a femme fatale stick. And of course once that was decided, the ball-top had to be Dan. Who else in the cast is a better fit for creepily hanging around a bunch of girls?

With this in mind I decided on a new layout based on my extremely limited character knowledge for most of the characters I was going to buy:

  • Jab = Makoto (she has that one command normal? I don't know...)
  • Strong = Rose
  • Fierce = Sakura (cl.Fierce, cr.Fierce, j.Fierce, even with the nerfs)
  • PPP = Ibuki (her target combo got buffed to not whiff as often)
  • Short = Chun (Short, Short xx EX Hyakuretsukyaku, Ultra)
  • Forward = C.Viper (because LOLOL she has footsies now so fair)
  • Roundhouse = Cammy
  • KKK = Juri (sometimes her punches are kicks!)

July 1st rolled around and I "happened" to be awake around 3AM and just "happened" to be refreshing when online preorders became available so I fought my way through the phone interface, got all eight buttons and one ball-top in my cart, and checked out. The next morning I told my Beyoncé that I had done a bad thing and had spent (exorbitant sum of money) on cosmetic upgrades for a video game interface device and she thought it was cute because she rocks my face off.

So on Saturday I got my package, tore it open, hastily watched a tutorial on button replacement on youtube, skipped most/all of the important parts, then opened up my stick and got to swapping. Outside of a minor mishap involving me not remembering which wires went into which buttons nor the fact that I had unbound L1 and L2 in the options, things went off without a hitch and she plays as crisp as ever.

Now I'm fully ready to get hype over Evo weekend, and if you run into a Rose player on PSN named catbond just know that while I may be ass at Ultra, I have a sweet stick! See you in the chat!



TANG: Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist

(The following contains spoilers for Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist. Watch Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist HERE)

It all started with Street Fighter: Legacy, a two-and-a-half minute fan-made proof-of-concept short that showed more love to the acclaimed video game franchise than Hollywood had managed to muster in two full-length feature-films. Reactions were overwhelmingly positive and, a few years later, the short's creator, Joey Ansah, returned with a Kickstarter campaign hoping to raise the funds necessary to realize his vision of a Street Fighter movie that would be faithful to the source material.

In the first few weeks the campaign only managed to raise ~$27,000 out of a million dollar goal. The situation looked bleak until the announcement came that that the strong buzz surrounding the project had caught the attention of private investors. The crowdfunding campaign was cancelled immediately so that production could begin on Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist. A year later, the completed product was streamed as a movie on Twitch and uploaded as a 12-part miniseries to the Machinima YouTube channel.

An origin story within an origin story, Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist follows the early days of central series characters Ryu and Ken and their training under their master Gouken. Depicted in parallel via flashbacks is the young Gouken training alongside his brother Gouki under their master Goutetsu.

The film opens in 1989 with Mike Moh as Ryu and co-writer Christian Howard as Ken facing off against one another on a riverbank. Fans will instantly recognize Ryu's white headband and Ken's long hair, a look that was established in the Alpha series. The action flows between furious assaults and moments of slow-motion highlighting the heaviest blows. Ansah's decision as director to stay away from the ever-popular shaky-cam keeps the fighting crisp and clear, lending a real weight to the thud of every punch and kick and allowing the audience to fully appreciate the beauty of the choreography and the skill of the actors.

Before the fight can reach its conclusion, time moves back to 1987 as Ryu and Ken train in Ansatsuken (lit. Assassin's Fist) alongside Akira Koieyama as Gouken. Ryu and Ken are immediately set up as foils, as Moh's portrayal of Ryu's introverted and obedient nature clashes perfectly with the brash confidence and insolence of Howard's Ken. Context for Ken's demeanor in provided in a brief flashback as his father Mr. Masters, played by Mark Kileenn, leaves him at a young age in Gouken's care.

Red, White, and Blueish

Ryu and Ken are preparing to move on to the next stage of their training, mastering the art of the Hado. For fans of the series this is the good stuff, as Gouken breaks down the technique behind the Shoryuken and explodes a training dummy with a respectable CG Hadoken. Ryu and Ken spar in one of the many excellent fight scenes, managing to work in a few of their trademark attacks including the Collarbone Breaker.

The film begins to cut back and forth between Ryu and Ken, and the Hado training a younger Gouken underwent in 1956. The fatherly love in Gouken's warm but firm training style, that Koieyama expertly portrays, is brought into stark contrast against the aggressive training style of Goutetsu, portrayed by the legendary Togo Igawa

The difference between Gouken's Mu No Hado (Power of Nothingness) and Goutetsu's Satsui No Hado (Murderous Intent) is immediately apparent in the demeanors of young Gouken, played by the actor Shogen, and his brother Gouki, played by Gaku Space. While the brothers' characters closely mirror the balance between Ken and Ryu, their rivalry has taken on a harder edge due to the nature of their training and mutual interest in Goutetsu's niece, Sayaka, played by the actress Hyunri. Most notable is the barely-contained rage that Gouki's body trembles with in nearly every scene. It teeters dangerously close to caricature, but ultimately is successful in portraying Gouki's struggle to master the violent force within him.

(Don't worry if all the "Go" names have you confused. There were times when even I had trouble figuring out who was being yelled at.)

Anyone familiar with these sorts of martial-arts stories knows what happens next. One student remains on the true path while the other steps close to darkness in an effort to hasten their training. While Ken is quickly set straight by Gouken, Gouki ends up leaving everything behind and eventually succumbs to the Satsui No Hado, transforming into Akuma. This change in character also means a change in actors, as Ansah steps in to fill the role of the Raging Demon. The effect can be jarring if not a bit confusing for series newcomers, as the half-English, half-African Ansah bears absolutely no resemblance to the decidedly Japanese Gaku Space. That said, with a series of spectacular feats of strength and a gravelly Japanese accent accurate enough to fool an avid anime-watcher, Ansah manages to pull off the character quite nicely.

Can you see the resemblance?

There is a beautiful loneliness to the Bulgarian countryside that stands in for Japan in these linked narratives. The quiet isolation of Ryu and Ken's life is only broken on occasion by comedic relief in the form of an old man named Goma who constantly heckles Ken during training, and a brief stint to a bar near an American military base featuring a uniquely trollish cameo. Goma, also played by Igawa, sticks out as a particularly sore thumb with a ridiculously obvious wig and painfully forced lines, but thankfully his appearances are occasional and brief.

Everything comes to a head as the film reaches its consecutive climaxes, first with the reckoning between Akuma and Goutetsu, followed by a graduation battle of sorts between Ryu and Ken. It is some of the best martial arts choreography out there and replete with nods to the long list of techniques available to Ansatsuken users. Finally Gouken bids a bittersweet farewell to his students as they set out on their Musha Shugyou, a warrior's journey to self-discovery. While some viewers may be left wondering what happened to the seemingly inevitable showdown between Gouken and Akuma, fans of the lore know that the actual confrontation does not take place until after Ryu and Ken have finished their pilgrimages and Ryu has been overcome by the Satsui No Hado a second time during the World Warrior tournament.

Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist succeeds where other Street Fighter movies have failed, by paying proper tribute to the franchise that defined and continues to dominate the fighting game genre, and goes above and beyond expectations by being not only a good video game movie, but a good movie in its own right. While it is unclear what is next for Ansah and his crew, he has already stated his interest in making further films should Assassin's Fist prove to be a success. Whether you're a Street Fighter fan or simply someone who appreciates good action, this is a movie worth watching, and hopefully the start of a long, long series.

Stray thoughts:

  • "...who the hell's Dan?"
  • Blanka cameo, watch for it or you might miss it. If you think about it, you'll know when it's happening.
  • When did Mr. Masters become Australian?
  • "Hi Roo" (shoutouts to S-Kill)
  • In the original canon, Akuma fights Gouken during his first visit and loses. I guess they didn't want to compromise his badassedness.
  • Despite some confusion, even within Capcom, as to the true nature of the Shun Goku Satsu, Ansah gets to the root of it in the subtitles.
  • A fight scene that inspires people to start talking about frame data in the comments section must be doing something right.
  • Yo Ken, you're not supposed to give Ryu his red headband until Alpha 2.
  • I wish you were here for this one Ryan
  • Some excellent comparisons between gifs of the movie and game sprites here and here.
But seriously, fuck this guy


WotC Can't Stand the Heat, Tries to Kick Other Cook Out of the Kitchen

It was probably just a matter of time, but Wizards of the Coast, the makers of Magic: The Gathering and MTG Online, have filed a lawsuit against their biggest direct competitor. No, I'm not talking about Hearthstone.

HEX: Shards of Fate is an upcoming Free-to-Play digital card game being designed by Cryptozoic Entertainment, creators of the World of Warcraft TCG that heavily inspired Hearthstone and a wide variety of other tabletop/board/card games. A self-described MMOTCG, Hex hopes to offer players a wide breadth of PvE content to be experienced solo and in groups in addition to the traditional PvP trappings commonly associated with TCG's. It also borrows more heavily on the mechanics of Magic than any other TCG I'm aware of.

This is a bigger problem for WotC than it might initially seem, as the online version of Magic has been under fire this year as players have gotten fed up with the incredibly poor quality of the client. Their feeble attempts at an update have only served to make things worse, and have left players bewildered as to how a company could let their flagship product remain so fugly and non-functional when Duels of the Planeswalkers exists.

One of these things is not like the other...

Of course for a long time none of this mattered because Magic was literally the market when it came to online TCG's. Even with the recent genre explosion of significantly prettier games like Might & Magic: Duel of Champions, SolForge, and Hearthstone, WotC were able to cling to the fact that no competitor could match MTGO in terms of breadth, depth, or complexity, which granted them a captive audience of the most hardcore card-game players. But that seems to be exactly who Hex is targeting.

No bones about it, there is a lot of Magic in the DNA of Hex. It seems less like Cryptozoic set out to build a completely new TCG ruleset and more like they reimagined Magic as a modern game designed to take advantage of a purely digital format. Outside of a slightly more flexible resource system and a number of card mechanics that would be impossible with cardboard, Hex plays exactly like Magic, right down to deckbuilding, win conditions, and turn structure. Once a Magic players learns that a Troop is a Creature and that "Spellshield" means "Hexproof", they can jump right in to playing Hex.

Look familiar?

Hex is literally offering everything that MTGO has (minus the absurdly large cardpool and the exorbitant prices that come with it) with a significantly more attractive wrapper. This has put MTGO under much closer scrutiny and, instead of putting up or shutting up, WotC has fired back with a "no you shut up" by suing Hex and Cryptozoic for copyright violation, trademark violation, patent violation, and consumer confusion. You can find an excellent breakdown of the entire lawsuit and how much of a leg WotC has to stand on in this article by Douglas Linn. He's a lawyer specializing in business law and estate planning by day, and the director of QuietSpeculation, a site focused on strategy and finance in Magic: The Gathering, by night.

Perhaps most worrysome are Linn's conclusions:

This is company-killing litigation if Wizards prevails on its claims AND gets all the damages that it wants. It means that if Wizards wins on either the second or third claim, the court could permanently prevent Hex from making the game.

I predict that Wizards will win on its patent claims, it has a good shot at winning on copyright claims, and it will lose on its Lanham Act claims.

There is a very real chance that Hex will never see full release. By the way, did I mention that this is a Kickstarter game?

The most interesting wrinkle in this entire story is the fact that Hex is one of the multi-million-dollar video game Kickstarters that followed in the wake of Broken Age née Double Fine Adventure. 17,765 people funded Hex: Shards of Fate, to a tune of $2,278,255, with 13 of those people paying $10,000 each. Of course there are inherent risks when backing any Kickstarter project, but this is likely the first and certainly the biggest video game Kickstarter at risk of failure due to legal action.

While the people at Cyptozoic are trying to stay positive, their dream of building this incredibly ambitious digital card game (and their entire company?) may be at an end. What could this mean for Kickstarter if over $2 million in backer money suddenly disappears? And where does this leave the future of MTGO and the DCG space? All I can say for sure is that they are Wizards and this looks fucked up.


StarvingGamer's Games Worth Starving For (or Otherwise) in 2013

Between the down and dirtiest brawl we've ever seen leading up to a console release and so many flagrant misuses of the word "misogyny" that Merriam-Webster and Oxford are literally going to have to update their dictionaries, 2013 has been an incredibly topsy-turvy year in the world of video games. Thankfully, it hasn't all been controversy and knife-fights, as 2013 has also been one of the best years for video game releases, and I got to play quite a few of them.

2013's 2012 Game of the Year Presented By PC Ports

Resident Evil 6

His name is "Rookie Cop"

No one is more surprised about this than me. Last year, my experience with RE6 on PS3 was so negative that I wrote a blog post breaking down all the mechanical failings of the game, and subsequently named it my "Biggest Disappointment" of 2012. They had ruined the perfect balance of Resident Evil 5 by trying to make it play more like a shooter and, as everyone knows, shooters suck with a controller.

You know what shooters don't suck with? A mouse and keyboard. It was with this in mind that I felt compelled to pick up the game again on PC, at a significant discount of course. And let me tell you, the increased fidelity made such a difference it was like night and early evening.

Yes, the game still straddles genre lines in all the wrong ways, but being able to reliably snap headshots and melee enemies down without burning all my stamina on quick shots changes the gameplay from an exercise in frustration into an activity that is kinda maybe sorta fun. Of course I continue to be 100% bought in to the dumb-ass fiction of that universe and all of its unintentional camp, and the interwoven storylines are handled in interestingly, rather than being another instance of dumb Capcom recycling assets in that dumb Capcom way (*cough* Devil May Cry 4 *cough*)

It doesn't excel at much of anything, but like all games Resident Evil, RE6 manages to provide a decidedly unique experience. I'm glad I was finally able to play it.

Runner-up: Dust: An Elysian Tail

Best Sexy(ist?) Surprise

Tomb Raider

You're going to catch a cold!

As one of the games responsible for launching us into this dark age of video games "journalism", thanks in no small part to the developers going out of their way to cram as many feet into their mouths as possible during every interview, Tomb Raider quickly fell off my radar of games to care about in 2013. But a conspiracy of 33% off coupons and my loyalty to Rhianna Pratchett via her father convinced me to pick it up anyway.

And wow, what an excellent game from top to bottom. Sure, ludonarrative dissonance. Okay, she should probably put a coat on. But none of those things take away from what is, top-to-bottom, an incredibly fun action game in the Metroidlike style. The combat is crisp and varied, and the various travel tools doled out throughout the game make exploring the well-crafted environments consistently fun. The story succeeds in giving an origin story to this more relatable, more human Lara Croft (gameplay conceits aside).

Whether or not the developers actually understood what they were making, they succeeded in modernizing Lara in all the right ways, transforming her from a caricature to a character and providing me with one of my favorite experiences of the year.

Runners-up: Attack of the Friday Monsters! A Tokyo Tale, Soul Sacrifice

P.S. If you own a 3DS, you really should pick up Attack of the Friday Monsters! I can't think of any game that does such a good job of capturing the joyful innocence of childhood. Just press play, alright?

EDIT: Embedding is broken for some reason. Linky instead.

Best Digital Card Game that is Embarrassingly Better Than Magic: The Gathering Online


Cards that level up!

MTGO is not a good game, or rather is a good game saddled with horribly broken technology. It's a sad state of affairs when the first online experience of one of your top players is so poor, they immediately declare it to be their last. So the timing couldn't be better for the various DCG's that have entered the market in varying levels of release, and right now the cream-of-the-crop is SolForge.

It may not have the production value of Hearthstone or the sweeping ambition of Hex, but it is the only game on the market to take full advantage of the digital format by creating something wholly unique from the more traditional ways of playing with cards. The draw five/play two structure means that there will always be meaningful decisions to be made, whether you're on turn one or turn twenty. And with a fully implemented tournament system, it is the best place for players looking for high-level constructed and draft play.

I've spent hundreds of hours on SolForge in 2013, and once I get an iPhone I'll be sure to spend thousands more in 2014, probably while driving.

Runners-up: Hearthstone: Heroes of Warcraft, Hex: Shards of Fate

Biggest Disappointment


Let me preface this by saying that I do not hate SimCity. I have actually been able to eke out something in the area of a hundred hours of play time that I genuinely enjoyed.

Unfortunately, that doesn't change the fact that the SimCity I got was not the SimCity I wanted, and those hundred hours can't fill the shoes of a game that I would have eagerly played for a thousand more. I'm sure I'll check back in on SimCity from time to time, but it will always be underscored by thoughts of what could have been.

Runners-up: Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Plants vs. Zombies 2: It's About Time

The Game to Pay Full-Price For and Not Play of the Year

Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

Oi, get off youer duff and play the game, mun!

I was so excited for this game since I first heard about it who knows how long ago on the 8-4 Play podcast. The team up of Level-5, one of my favorite developers, and Studio Ghibli, makers of Whisper of the Heart, sounded like a dream come true. But when it finally came around to release time, I had just bought DmC and was still hurting in the wallet a bit from the holidays and thought, well, maybe I don't actually need this game.

Then came the Quicklook and I was immediately sold. The quality of the voice work and animation blew me away and I just knew I needed to be in this world. So I put my order in to Amazon and by the end of the week, the game was in my greedy little hands.

It's hard to remember now, whether I was on the tail end of DmC or something else was pulling my attention, but I was only able to make it through the prologue into the first instance of actual gameplay before I put the game down to play Fire Emblem: Awakening. That held me until March happened and I never looked back.

Right now it's sitting at the top of my to-do list, right behind Final Fantasy XIII-2. Just a couple 60+ hour JRPG's. No sweat.

Runners-up: Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team

Game of the Year

Fire Emblem: Awakening

What happens when you take all the best bits of a long and storied franchise and cram them into a single game? You get something singularly amazing, and that's exactly how I would describe Fire Emblem: Awakening.

Fire Emblem: Awakening is not only the best game to come out in the TRPG genre since 1998, it is easily one of my favorite games of all time. The well written story provides just enough intrigue to keep things moving without getting in the way of the incredibly designed battle system. The gameplay is the perfect balance of breadth and depth, not too intimidating for genre neophytes but complex enough to keep the most dedicated min/maxers entertained for hundreds of hours.

Nintendo joined the digital age just in time. No matter what the new hotness may be on 3DS, Chrom and friends will never be more than a few button prompts away.

My waifu! (What? I want dragon babies!)

Runners-up: 2. The Last of Us 3. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Dual Destinies 4. Beyond: Two Souls 5. SolForge 6. BioShock Infinite 7. Starcraft II: Heart of the Swarm 8. DmC Devil May Cry 9. Remember Me 10. Gone Home


The Worst Burger King in the World (oh, and Video Games Live)

TL;DR - You can watch an archive of the Comic-Con concert here

At some point, you may have stumbled across this blog I wrote last June when I was invited to be part of the choir performing on-stage for the Video Games Live concert being held in conjunction with E3. It was a strange and magical experience, and I was instantly on-board when I found out we had been invited back to perform in not one, but two VGL concerts this summer.

Russel Brower and Neal Acree defaced my property

So apparently my home town decided it was classy enough to need metered parking up until 10PM but not classy enough to install parking meters that take credit cards, which was a fun thing to deal with after fighting through an hour-and-a-half of rush-hour traffic trying to escape West LA. I eventually got to rehearsal which was rehearsal. Some of the songs were repeats from last year and some were new. "The Song of the Dragonborn" (footage from us last year!) made a triumphant return. The most notable additions were a song from a next-gen game (sekrit!) and "One Winged Angel" which always seemed like an odd omission from last year's concert. I mean, if we're talking about orchestral music from Japan, that's the song right?

I knew that Russell Brower was going to be back so this time I came prepared to nerd out and get my copy of the CE soundtrack from Diablo III signed. What I didn't know was that two other Blizzard composers were also going to be there. Neal Acree, who did a lot of the music for Heart of the Swarm, and Jason Hayes, who has been responsible for tons of Blizzard stuff including World of Warcraft, were guesting as conductors for songs they had composed. If only I had known, I would have tried to dig up more CE soundtracks buried in boxes somewhere in my home. Russel did recommend that Neal sign my D3 CD since he did a fair amount of the music for that game as well.

On the day of the concert I dropped my daughter off with my mom before heading down to Irvine. It was a crazy song and dance, trying to make arrangements for a full day's worth of childcare, but we made it happen. After arriving at the Verizon Amphitheatre a few minutes ahead of our call-time, I set about to find the choir and ended up with an interesting walking buddy. Derek Duke, yet another Blizzard composer, was there and he helped me find my way to the stage.

Jason Hayes getting into it

It's funny, all in all we did a total of four Blizzard pieces and, on my way back to the car after the concert, I overheard one of the audience members saying, "I think I would have liked this concert better if it wasn't this concert. I just wish they didn't have to kowtow to Blizzard just because it's in Irvine". All I could think to myself was that this kid clearly didn't get it. The whole point of VGL is to pay homage and respect to the people who have, in a way, created the soundtrack of our lives as gamers. What better way to do that than to put those composers in front of an audience of thousands with a full orchestra and choir at their disposal to show them what making music really means?

Other guest conductors included the return of Austin Wintory, the composer for Journey and the upcoming Banner Saga, and Eimear Noone, the recording conductor behind a majority of Blizzard's soundtracks as well as the conductor for The Legend of Zelda: Symphony of the Goddess concert tour.

They cut out the solo acts this year but kept the audience-participation sideshow in the form of a "motion controlled" Space Invaders, with the orchestra providing the soundtrack, and a Guitar Hero score challenge on "The Pretenders" by the Foo Fighters, with the orchestra and Tommy Tallarico wailing on guitar in the background. The original challenge was to play the game on hard, and when the contestant requested that he be allowed to play it on expert instead the audience lost it. They were clapping and screaming the entire time, getting especially into it whenever he activated Star Power. #eSports I guess?

The concert was a ton of fun and I'm really excited for the upcoming show this Saturday at San Diego Comic-Con. Actually, I had originally planned for this blog to be a big mess of text covering both concerts. However, I recently learned that, as part of a sponsorship by Ubisoft to promote Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, the concert is actually going to be free admission on a first-come first-served basis. On top of that, the entire thing is going to be streamed live by Twitch! It's probably going to be crazy packed, but if you're in the area it might be worth considering heading down to the venue a few hours earlier and scoping out the line. You might get a free concert out of it! Otherwise, I'd strongly recommend that everyone check Twitch on Saturday around 7:45PM PDT when I'm sure the VGL stream will be sitting right up at the top.

Because he would have wanted it that way

And hey, if you tune in, you might even see me! Then you can say to yourself, "Hey, I know that guy", and it will be cool for like 3 seconds before you forget all about it.

Oh right, the worst Burger King in the world! Well, we had a dinner break in between our rehearsal and the show and so, with extremely limited options, we decided to go to Burger King. It was Wednesday so I went for the $4.99 Whopper meal "for here", rings instead of fries, and started waiting for my "fast" food.

They were still quite a few numbers behind me, I saw them serving number 37 immediately after placing order number 44, but it was only a few minutes before the person standing in front of me in line received his food. I knew I was next. I saw the Whopper sitting on the warmer and some onion rings in a weird plastic scoop/tray thing over the salty, greasy abyss of fries. The guy arranging the orders grabbed the rings, the Whopper, and put them in a bag.

Hey, waitaminute.

My heart sunk as he grabbed the receipt clearly labeled number 50 and headed for the pickup window. He then proceeded to serve my friend who ordered after me, number 47, and a few other people waiting at the drive-thru. I was about to say something when the girl working behind the register noticed me looking antsy. She saw my ticket, sad number 44 still sitting up there, then shouted to the back for more onion rings.

Finally, after a few minutes more waiting, the rings were done. The girl was extra nice about it and stuffed as many rings as should could into the small container before piling a handful of extra ones on top. The food was fine and we still had plenty of time, but I have never waited for anything close to the 15 minutes it took them to serve me my "fast food".

Whatever, fuck that place. See you (you see me?) on Saturday!

My kit: Folder, music, book light, all-access pass, cough drops, 3DS (sick streetpasses yo!), and apparently a toe
The Venue
The venue with people
We had our own trailer!
Russel conducting like a pro
Me taking a picture of Tommy taking a picture of Eimear, and everything is blue?
Austin Wintory is AMAZING
DS'es, Phones and Laptops(?) instead of lighters. We are nerds
Thanks to the audience of VGL, I have transcended humanity and am now a T. Rex


Dead Space 3: The Vilification of Microtransactions

Disclaimer: I have not played Dead Space 3 (DS3) and am basing my opinions primarily on various reviews and information gleaned from the DS3 discussion during this week's Bombcast.


It's no surprise that we, as core gamers, feel an instinctual aversion towards microtransactions. We remember a time when buying a game meant buying a game. We remember when Free 2 Play games first started cropping up and how horrible they were. And now that they've started to bleed their way into our games, we're afraid that the well of fair design has been poisoned by greed.


Electronic Arts has been at the forefront of the $60+ movement, but their tentative forays have been largely innocuous. An unlock here, a bonus item there, and a minor hullabaloo over Mass Effect 3 multiplayer. And while it came as no surprise to me when it was revealed that DS3 would also have microtransactions in-the-box, I was somewhat taken aback by the massive amounts of vitriol being spewed across the internet.

After all, we had no idea how the in-game economy was balanced. How could we possibly pass judgement on a system we knew nothing about. But no, a majority of people seemed to be asserting that the actual design of the game was irrelevant. The mere presence of microtransactions was enough to condemn DS3, sight-unseen.


Now that the game is out in the wild, it sounds like microtransactions have had no negative impact on the design of DS3. The rate of resource accrual is properly balanced for players that choose not to spend any additional money, and in keeping with other EA titles, the single-player microtransactions exist only to serve as a shortcut for impatient players.

A fair assessment?

So I ask you, where is the harm? Are we willing to condemn EA for crimes they have yet to commit? Is it our place to deny the others the freedom to "ruin the experience" in our perception?

Development costs are inflating, making secondary revenue streams more and more crucial to a game's success. When the next generation rolls around, refusing to support a game that features microtransaction may mean finding a new hobby. Or sticking exclusively to the Wii U.

POLL: Here


StarvingGamer's Games Worth Starving For (or Otherwise) in 2012

2012 has been nothing if not a controversial year. Both the journalist and enthusiast communities helped prove the law of mob intelligence (lowest IQ among mob members ÷ total number of mob members = mob IQ) and a disturbingly large number of game developers have been either imploding or exploding. Despite all this, there has been such an embarrassment of content to experience that I have barely scratched the surface on many of my most anticipated games.

So without further ado, here is my 2012 in a nutshell.

2012's 2011 Game of the Year Presented By Steam Sales

Saints Row: the Third

This, more or less

I don't like open-world games. I never have. And I've tried, putting at least a dozen hours into the most lauded entries in the genre including Grand Theft Auto IV and Red Dead Redemption, but have never been able to fight my way through the middling mechanics and, in the case of GTAIV, the mental disconnect between the tough and gritty storyline and the manic insanity of what is presumably "fun" about the series.

Then Saints Row: the Third happened and GiantBomb went nuts. I wanted to jump in again, just to see what all the fuss was about, but I couldn't in good conscience pay full-price for the game. It was trapped between a rock (my overwhelmingly negative past experiences with the genre) and a hard place (the impossibly high expectations set by Giantbomb's staff and community). So I waited and waited and waited for the Steam Summer Sale and the $12.49 price tag it brought.

Needless to say, I was blown away. It may have something to do with the fact that I'm a mouse & keyboard snob, but for the first time the gameplay of an open-world game felt tight. The driving and shooting were actually a ton of fun to do. No more slogging through action sequences just to get to the next story beat, I actually went around looking for trouble. And the snappy writing and cartoonish violence set the proper tone for gleeful mischief which is where open-world games shine. Now I'm a believer, and am actually looking forward to Grand Theft Auto V with something approaching actual excitement.

Runners-up: Pushmo, The Witcher 2: Assassin of Kings

Best Surprise

Tie: Binary Domain / Sleeping Dogs

"Welcome to Japan, brother"

These are games that, by all rights, should not have been any good and were so far off my radar that I barely knew they existed outside of their name sardonically stated on the occasional podcast. Then they came out. Then the buzz started, but almost nobody bought them anyways. Then they started showing up on PC at extremely discounted prices. So I bought them, and wow.

Binary Domain is the wrong sort of game from the wrong developer in the wrong genre, so how is it so fun to play? The tactical options afforded by the location-based destruction of enemies make every encounter and interesting puzzle to solve. And while the upgrade paths are extremely shallow, they offer just enough customization to instill a sense of ownership over the characters. Sure, the wildly twisting plot is standard fare for anyone who regularly partakes in Japanese fiction, but the story meshes with the understated western designs of the cast in unexpectedly wonderful ways.

Sleeping Dogs, on the other hand, was caught in a development hell that most games would never have made it out of. The people at United Front Games are nothing short of miracle workers for managing to resurrect the game from its own ashes and elevate the entire genre in the process. The shooting is solid and the melee combat is sublime. And with numerous small touches they created a world that encourages players to drive within the lines and maintain that immersive sense of place.

Runner-up: Asura's Wrath

Geico Insurance's Best Game to Play While Driving

Magic: the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013

Elemental on Archaeomancer Violence

...or pushing a stroller, or walking, or cooking, or giving my daughter a bath, or...

Hi. My name is StarvingGamer, and I am addicted to multitasking.

I have a restless mind that I need to keep occupied. As a kid, this meant lugging around a heavy, cumbersome book everywhere I went. Then the Game Boy Advance SP came out and I was diving a lot and there was this game called Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising and, well, that was that. Since then I have never left the house without a dedicated handheld device in tow, be it 3DS, Vita or, as it was for a majority of this year, iPad with Magic: the Gathering - Duels of the Planeswalkers 2013.

MTG is a thinking man's game. A glance is all you need to get enough information to plan your entire turn, making it easy to play while on the go. And while DotP will never be fully-featured enough to fully satisfy my card-lust, the deck variety and system of unlocks are enough to keep me happy while my 15,000+ collection is in mothballs.

Runners-up: Penny-Arcade The Game: Gamers vs. Evil, Persona 4: Golden, SolForge Demo

Biggest Disappointment

Resident Evil 6

I've already spoken of the myriad failings of Resident Evil 6 at length here so I'll just say this: Resident Evil 5 was an incredible symphony mechanics, balance, and design. RE6 is a cacophony of dissonant ideas from developers completely tone-deaf to the successes of RE5.

Runner-up: Darksiders II

The Game to Pay Full-Price For and Not Play of the Year

Zone of the Enders HD Collection

As a person with a history of giving up food in favor of games, I have become more and more aware of my ever-growing pile of shame. In recent years, I have managed to crack down on my erroneous purchases for the most part, but every once in a while a few games slip through the cracks in my psyche despite the fact that I KNOW I will either not play them until they hit the bargain bins or not at all. This year, that game was Zone of the Enders HD Collection.

But what sets ZoEHD apart from the rest of the pack is my amazing ability to rationalize my poor life-choice. You see, Zone of the Enders: The 2nd Runner is one of my favorite games of all time and still the best example of high-speed, anime mech combat in a game to date. So where is Zone of the Enders 3? WHERE KOJIMA!? You keep teasing me but all you make is Metal Gear games! I want my Jehuty! I want my Anubis! I want my ADA!

So while I may never actually crack open the case and insert disc, hopefully my expenditure is the one push Konami needs to greenlight the next game in the series.

Runner-up: Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask

Game of the Year

The Walking Dead

This game has been talked to death, so I'll just say this. In all my time playing video games, I have never experienced a story so effectively affecting. The Walking Dead sets a new standard for interactive storytelling and player-choice that is going to be incredibly tough for anyone to top. I know I can't wait for the rest of the games industry to try.

Goodbye Clem, and good luck. I'm going to miss you.

Runners-up: 2. Persona 4: Golden, 3. Diablo III, 4. Mass Effect 3, 5. Borderlands 2, 6. Asura's Wrath, 7. Persona 4 Arena, 8. Binary Domain, 9. XCOM: Enemy Unknown, 10. Sleeping Dogs