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Brakketology Goes Ball’n, Gets Soaked

NBA 2k14 - VC

If you’re a JtS listener (and you should be, because we’re still awesome), you know I finally unpacked my, uh, kids’ Xbox One over the holidays. For scientific purposes, I also picked up NBA 2k14. The things I do for science.

Can I just say, right out, that for all the flack we give to EA (wholly deserved) for how ostentatiously they over-monetize their middling products, and treat their customers like drones who should just shut up an pay already, there’s not nearly enough disgust thrown 2k’s way? They’re awful. And consistently so. It’s not just an NBA 2k thing, although 2k14 is by far the most blatant, irritating, and just plain icky swindle so far. But even quality games like Civilization 5 ($5 civilizations and map packs anyone?) and XCOM ($5 to choose armor color?) are not immune.

As a gamer, I’ve lived with it because who really caress about an extra civ here and there? And $30 may suck for an expansion, but the expansions for both Civ and XCOM were extremely good. NBA 2k14, though? Yeah, Brave New World, not so much.

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Jumping the Shark Podcasts #197 and #198

No High Scores Podcast Logo

Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Believe it or not, we’ve been recording podcasts. Not that you’d of read about them here, of course. That’s on me. I checked-out over the holidays. It was rather nice, true, but it’d also be cool if you folks who don’t use services like iTunes knew it when we’ve actually, you know, done stuff. So here’s the official JTS catch-up post, covering our two year-ending shows.

Episode #197 (not embedded; just follow the link instead)

It’s our last episode of the year, so Brandon and Todd do it right with Ye Olde Traditional Game of the Year Shenanigans. Hear all about our picks for best and most disappointing titles for the year in gaming that was 2013. On the list in one capacity or another, Gone Home, Fuse, NFS: Most Wanted, God of War: Ascension, Papers Please, Mark of the Ninja, Tomb Raider, Bioshock, Beyond Two Souls, FTL, Fire Emblem: Awakening, GTA V, and XCOM: Enemy Within. You’ll have to tune in, though, to find out what we slotted where.

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Episode #198 (embedded below)

Brandon and Todd are here (even if Brandon’s voice isn’t) to talk about their most anticipated games of 2014 as well as Todd’s problems with the Xbox One and NBA2K14 and Brandon’s problems with The Walking Dead Season 2. Yay! Hope and complaints!

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Brakketology Sees Betas and Alphas; Exclaims, “Oh My!”

Pillars of Eternity

It’s holiday time here in at NHS, which makes the site pretty much indistinguishable from any other time of year, except that behind the scenes I’m spending money on other people. I do not enjoy this. I like my money. I’d like to have more of it. And then spend it on myself. Alas, that Xbox One my dad is getting the kiddos won’t play itself and that means some games for the kids and a second controller and maybe something for myself along the way. It all works out in the end.

Anyway.

This week’s round-up is decidedly half-assed. Below the fold you’ll find links and videos for Pillars of Eternity, Wasteland 2, and Elite: Dangerous; three games that all look incredibly good. I don’t remember the last time I was well and truly excited for the next year of games. It’s been a long time, but I am wildly excited for 2014. Steam boxes. Dragon Age: Inquisition. Banner Saga. FTL for iPad. About a half-dozen other projects I’m forgetting about. Oooh. Witcher 3, too! I’m definitely into getting my Witcher on. I like this feeling.

In the meantime, I would imagine the site is going to go very quiet for a couple of weeks. I don’t know what, if anything, Matt and Michael have planned, but I’m taking at least the next week off and possibly the next two. Brandon was out for the year a couple weeks ago, claiming nothing new was coming. I call him a shirker. We will have a podcast up next Monday. In the meantime, I wish you all a very happy holiday season and hope you all get a little new gaming goodness under the Christmas tree!

Hugs!

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Brakketology Plays Waterdeep, Muses About Theme

Lords of Waterdeep Cover

I’ve bee playing a bit of Playdek’s Lords of Waterdeep on iOS ($7). This wholly competent boardgame adaptation should be right up my alley. It’s D&D-themed, which I like. It’s a worker-placement game, which tends to be the sort of thing I appreciate and excel at. And yet it’s ultimately rather hollow. Not bad, mind you, the core game mechanics are very good and faithfully translated. Playdek, from whom I received a free code to download this game (full-disclosure and all), could not have done a better job of translating this for iOS. The problem is that the D&D aspects of it don’t add anything to the game. At all. And yet, as an iOS port of a game that doesn’t have many Apps Store counterparts, I can’t help but recommend it for fans of worker-placement games. It’s good enough to be worth your time.

More on Waterdeep, as well as thoughts on the PAR closure and some new Elder Scrolls Online trailers, after the break…

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Jumping the Shark Podcast Episode #196

No High Scores Podcast Logo

Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Alright, so we may have missed a couple of weeks this time. That’s no reason not to be excited about a fresh 15 minutes of Brandon and I debating the merits of the movie Pitch Perfect and its inherently awesome, in no way pandering, use of Don’t Your Forget About Me. Also, don’t forget about us either, because we, like, also spend an hour talking about games and stuff too.

First up, I tie a bow around my XCOM: Enemy Within experience. This just in: It’s Good. Then it’s off the city of Waterdeep so I can talk to the lords therein about why, despite a very polished iOS port, the D&D theme means almost nothing to actual game experience and how Firefly: The Board Game does theme and licensing so much better. Then it’s a short metro train ride down to PS4-ville where Brandon spends some time amongst the falling shadows of Killzone, the build it up and break it apart world of Knack, and the pretty colors of Contrast, all while taking along his trusty Resogun. (If puns were ever a good thing –they’re really not– that would’ve been the most fantabulous sentence anyone has ever written. Ever. But it’s not, so instead you are all entitled to say mean things about me on Twitter. It’s okay. I deserve it.)

Enjoy!

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Brakketology Plays The Walking Dead and Enemy Within

XCOM The Final Team

I had a plan. It included skipping Brakketology last week. It’s a holiday and there wasn’t much happening that I was interested in writing about. I mean sure, I did land an Xbox One on launch day, but that’s all considerably less exciting when it’s a gift for the kids that will go unopened until December 25th. (I am trusting you with this secret. Mum is the word.) I’m rather proud of myself, actually, for not so much as opening the box, which I was sorely tempted to do. Not part of the plan was our esteemed Mr. Abner landing the flu Sunday night, forcing us to cancel the podcast. We’re definitely sorry not to have an episode go up yesterday, but Brandon and I will get something recorded this week and up for next Monday.

And so it goes.

In the meantime things are happening…

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Brakketology Faces the Inquisition

DragonAgeInquisition

Here there be dragons. We’re jumping right in this week. There’s a 30-minute gameplay video of Dragon Age: Inquisition that has, so far, managed to survive YouTube scrutiny. It’s from Bioware presentation given to attendees at Digiexpo (whatever that is) and, for fans of the series, it’s worth taking the time to watch. Some highlights:

  • Right from the get go, they’re quick to point out that the area they’re traveling in is bigger than all of Dragon Age 2. Me thinks Bioware still feels a wee bit stung by criticism of DA2 being too small. The thing is, size and scale were never Dragon Age 2′s problem.
  • Combat does look like a meld of both of the DA games. At about 18 minutes in they show off the tactical camera, which is available in the console versions this time around. That said, it still looks a bit arcadey, though it’s impossible to say when you’re watching someone else control the action. There is also a section that shows off group tactics that feels very DA2. I’m hopeful, but this is the kind of thing you have to be hands-on to get a feel for.
  • Combat difficulty does not scale based on your character level. This is a good thing, so long as the world is designed properly.
  • Lots of emphasis on decision-making in this video. In this case, do you defend a town from vile beasties or do you stock up the nearby keep to prevent it from being lost. This element overarches the entire 30 minute demo and is very promising as your choice does appear to affect both the world at large and the members of your party. Yes, yes, appearances can be deceiving and they often are. If you skip ahead, however, to the 24-minute mark, you get a good (narrated) summary of how this particular decision can effect the world at large.
  • Speaking of the world, the 14-minute mark has a world map view that is cool for series fans as it actually shows elements of the DA-verse that we’ve only heard of so far, but not seen. I don’t think I’ve seen a map that showed more than Ferelden (and Kirkwall) and getting to see where some of the nations are in relation to each other was worth geeking out over.

I’ve embedded the video after the break, along with your usual dish of Brakketology-style musings…

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Jumping the Shark Episode #195

No High Scores Podcast Logo

Image: Filomena Scalise / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This week’s Jumping the Shark brings you a smorgasbord of topical goodness as Brandon cracks the seals on his new Playstation 4 and uses it to play more with his Vita. Bill joins us to talk basketball foibles and a little TV. And I drop more XCOM: Enemy Within truth bombs than you can shake a stick at. Along the way Brandon and I also get into the excellent new movie, About Time, and talk about what makes Thor: The Dark World a worthy entry into the Marvel movie canon.

Enjoy!

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Musical interlude, “Gentle Autumn Breeze,” by Garret Dwyer.

Brakketology Confronts the Dragon… Despairs

Excalibur Merlin

Look upon the eyes of the dragon and despair. Merlin was, of course, talking to Morgana when he said that, but he could easily have been speaking of game designer and “monetization design consultant” Ethan Levy, who wrote a piece on F2P success at Games Industry Biz. It is insightful, based on sound data, and wholly abhorrent to anyone who actually cares about games. A snippet, cherry-picked to set you against him:

When I compare Arkham Origins to Gods Among Us [ed: the F2P releases, not the "real" games], my sense as a player and a game designer is that NetherRealms has made an undoubtedly better game, but a worse free-to-play product. They have made fundamental changes that will earn them brownie points with gamers wary of free-to-play, but have a negative impact on P&L. Even more damaging is the effect of diverting resources from a top grossing, live game to build a new product. I know from firsthand experience how difficult hiring talented team members can be in a competitive space like mobile game development. But by shifting resources instead of growing the overall mobile team to support multiple games (which I assume is the case solely based on the credits) Warner Bros. has not only delivered a lower performing product, they have missed months’ worth of opportunity to add new features to Injustice that would grow player base and profitability.

I bang my anti-F2P drum on, very nearly, a weekly basis. This kind of stuff is why. These games aren’t games. Games are creative expressions and therefor are art forms. They may often be very low art, but they are creative endeavors and while there is money to be made (nor can they be made without it), you are not making great games if your primary design axiom is built on how you get players to stop in the middle of what they’re doing and fork over more money, and then do so again a session or two later (and again, and again). And that, of course, is F2P’s problem. When games are designed and built to get you coming back to the feeder bar as much as possible without getting too pissed off to abandon the title outright then they are no longer games of any substance or worth. If you eat, sleep, and breathe that business, then you’re not Satan exactly, but you are the guy who goes into the corner store to buy Satan a pack of cigarettes. (Points for you if you know where I’ve stolen that line from.)

Make us a good game, rather than a nickel and dime delivery system, and we’ll pay you for it. Speaking of real games…

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Brakketology Waxes Nostalgic

SteamBox

I was innocently strolling through my Feedly feeds a couple days ago, window shopping for things that looked interesting –things that would justify my desire to not have to, you know, be productive– when I ran across a reference to Vale having taken the wraps off their internally-developed Steam box. And then another. And then another. These are, of course, signs that an embargo just lifted.

I can name the number of times I’ve been invited to go behind the scenes to get an early look at something and then write free PR about it. It was always a fun experience just because you got to actually see stuff that only a small group is privileged to see and you got to meet people in the business (almost universally great people) that you would never ever get to meet in any other situation. Getting to sit down and have a casual conversation with someone like Fred Wester (Paradox Sofware) or a Mike Laidlaw (Bioware)? That’s awesome. Getting home and realizing you now have to try and write something unique about an experience that was exactly the same for a dozen other people who saw the same thing and are also about to write about it? Blech. Waking up and seeing them all online at the same time and then coming across the one or two utterly brilliant iterations that aren’t yours and make you feel bad about yourself as a writer? Vomit.

This is all to say that while I miss getting to have some of those experiences, I absolutely do not miss the sheer pointlessness of the work involved. It’s much better to look from afar and call attention to the stuff worthy of  your attention. Which I’ll do right now…

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