Tuesday, 14 October 2014

[General] - We're spoilt for choice

Games, like seasons, come and go. Some games once thought immortal have slowly shriveled away into irrelevance, as more and more games come into existence.

You may ask, what games? Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time will never die in my heart, you would say if you were a Nintendo fan. Or Master Chief, for Xbox fans, or Rachet and Clank for Playstation fans, or Metal Gear Solid, or...

But all we have to do is look at the market these days, especially the Steam platform, being not only a platform where big publisher games are being released, but also smaller, "indie" games have been released via Greenlight, allowing for carefully and lovingly crafted games by individuals or small companies to be shown to the world.

And this is amazing. Gone were the days where we'd have to wait foot and hand on a big breakthrough by a large corporation to re-vitalise the gaming industry, and push the way forward. Now individuals, by their game's own merits, can revolutionize it's genre now. A great example of this is Bastion - sure, it may be 2011 old, but it's one of the first few indie games that propelled an indie developer into the spotlight.

And that's why I say we're spoilt for choice.

Over eight-thousand games, available on just one platform, with more coming out each day. That's insane. Back ten years ago, we'd be lucky just to receive a choice between ten or more games (granted, those ten games were quality production titles more likely).

And Steam doesn't even include the old "classics", which Good Old Games have collected and tweaked so we can play gems such as Fallout 1 on our brand spanking new Windows 7 computer (sorry, I'm still using Windows 7. I'm assuming they're compatible on Windows 8, too). Not to mention the Humble Store, which sells more indie games, as well as other popular stores (which I can't seem to name off the top of my head).

Enjoy the now. Don't give your money towards the big brand companies if they're not pumping out quality content - better, more quality content are available at a fraction of the price if you decide to go looking for it. And even then, if that's not enough, feel free to travel back to the past where SHMUP's were arcade shooters like Raptor: Call of the Shadows and Tyrian 2000, not these new-fangled things like Call of Duty!

League of Legends vs Dota 2 - should we even care?

League of Legends, and DOTA 2 (Defense of the Ancients). Two of the biggest games in the current (still debatable, according to some people) in the Action Real-Time Strategy/Multiple Online Battle Arena genre. However, it wasn't all smooth sailing between the two communities at the beginning, with a history between the original DOTA and League of Legends spanning since the inception of the latter (for more history, google Pendragon and Dota Allstars. This may give you a picture of what has happened).

But as both player bases reach soaring heights, and tournaments where professional players compete for nearly millions of dollars, should we care about two games crowding the genre stratosphere? Should there be only game which reigns supreme? If you're a player of both games, should you actively root for one game, and just outright refuse to play the other?

The answer is no, and at this stage we should simply focus on the gameplay and entertainment of the game. League of Legends is by far the game that I would play with my friends (especially my girlfriend), as it's much easier to get into. DOTA 2 I find a more strategically rich game, with a more open pool of heroes and increased item choices that expand the strategies a team may take.

At this stage, I don't care about either companies' skeletons in the closet, or what transgressions may have happened in the past. Yes, a community may have been destroyed due to an individual's actions, but in this current day we should celebrate the merits (and criticise the weakness) within each game, and enjoy them for what they are - games to enjoy with friends.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Terraria - Why is it so enjoyable?

I find it frustrating sometimes that it's quite difficult to find games to play with my girlfriend. Sure, we play League of Legends together (I came from a DOTA 2 background, and she played LoL with her friends, so there's more to this story in the future), but rarely is there a game that blends perfectly well to fit both of our tastes.

We tried many games. Shooting games were out of the question ("Help, where am I?" The frequent question being asked when we tried playing Left 4 Dead 2 together). Mass Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games, too, didn't seem to attract her attention ("You're playing Wakfu as your Waifu," she criticised me multiple times), and assorted free-to-play games just didn't seem to work at all ("I'm bored" x 300, after I tried getting her to play Runescape).

And then Terraria came along.

On a sale for the cheap, cheap price at two dollars, it was my first playthrough as well. We both agreed to give it a shot.

Five weeks later, we both question whether we're going to pass our exams from the time we have used devouring this game.

To be honest, when I first started playing Terraria, I thought it was just "a 2D Minecraft", where the only limitation you'll have is simply limited into the 2D dimension. Boy, have I ever been so wrong.

It's got its own progression system. Two modes, where you can simply stay in one if you're a casual player, or a harder one if you want a challenge. You can fight. You can make potions. You can build grand designs. But most importantly of all, you're only limited by your imagination. And best of all, it's simple, intuitive to get into, and all the help is already there, either inside the game itself or via the helpful guides on the internet, which require a quick Google search (hello Gamepedia, you've been my best help so far).

And I think that's why I would say we've both enjoyed it. We've both been able to find our own forms of fun within the game.

I've always been that combat-heavy, "let's go explore the world" kind of gamer. For me, fighting things was exciting, exploring into the deep underground was both tense as well as adrenaline pumping, for you never know whether you were going to stumble into a trap or not.

For her, it's always been about decorating and architecture. "Can you find me some pretty blocks on your journey?" She would say to me, and I would proceed to mine the diamond or emerald gems (then proceed to throw them into lava in front of her, for there is no better way to watch their tears from their dreams dying away). Indeed, as we speak now, there is in our world, all decorated in different blocks -

A normal house.
A cloud house.
A mushroom house.
A pumpkin house.
A space house.
A museum.
A graveyard (a collection of our mortal failings)
And a honey house!

Which she all built. Not to mention our joint collaboration, a massive railway (both underground and above ground) which connects one end of the map to another (this took HOURS).

So why am I writing this? Because I'm stating this for those who are trying to figure out how to get a friend who may not be so into gaming, to enjoy a game. And Terraria has been one of those games where it doesn't matter where you come from - all you need is a healthy dose of fun (and tolerance for your friends to inevitably screw you over)!

CS:GO - the last one standing?

Counter-Strike. A series that has been revolutionized and immortalised as one of the greatest multiplayer series of all time. Spanning for over a decade, each re-iteration brings more players to the frantic first-person shooter, expanding the playerbase. It's not simply about shooting enemy opponents over the internet however - there are many popular modifications that allow different gamemodes to be played.

The newest addition to the series, Global Offensive, has reached over one hundred thousand active users each month, and over three million unique users. Contributing to this rise of players never seen before includes the cheap price the game is set at ($15 USD, well below the full cost of other premium games, such as market competitors like Battlefield and Call of Duty), the cosmetic upgrades, the Operation packs (which support mapmakers creating more maps to play on in competitive mode), as well as frequent gameplay changes to ensure all guns are balanced and able to be used at a competitive standard.

And that's the reason why it's been so successful. All guns are available to be used, even if you just started the game. At the core, there's nothing that prevents you from using anything, unlike games like Battlefield and Call of Duty, which restricts you to either purchasing extra-DLC's to unlock the guns, as well as achieving enough in-game "experience" to unlocks new forms of weaponry.

The way that Valve is financially supported is by the forms of purchasing "keys" which are used to unlock crates or cases that are dropped during gameplay. Once opened, these crates will give a randomised skin of a weapon or a knife, which only affects the graphical look of the game. Additionally, Valve allows support of map-makers, with Operation passes that are purchased by the players, that fund both Valve's tournaments as well as map-makers that have made it into the Operation.

In a market where games seem constantly more "pay to win", where you can boost your progression in exchange for money, Global Offensive is a stalwart defender. In an era where "freemium" and "pay to win" games are predominant, Global Offensive is a lone game that's standing against everything.

But it needs to be careful. Valve, even though are seen publicly as a company we all love and support, need to understand that currently the game has a lot of support due to its balanced gameplay as well as support for tournaments (recent tournaments have a prizepool of almost 250,000 USD!). If Valve ever decide to proceed in a way that hinders the ability for people to fully access the game, the support of the game will, in my opinion, decline.

If Valve decide to release any "weapon packs" where you need to pay or any minimum hours played on any mode, even if to combat the amount of cheaters in competitive matchmaking, it would lead towards the recent trend of gaming - where we purchase our way into better items and objects. Thus, we should applaud Valve for their current direction with the game - and let our money speak to them. That we're perfectly happy with this model, where we can support both tournaments as well as map-makers and the company. What we're not happy with is if the company decides to tend towards the way of other "pay to win" games, and thus not purchase their product/s if they choose to go this way (see Counter-Strike: Nexon Zombies).