A Quick Update – Leaving This Blog

I must apologize for this sudden and unexpected change in plan, but I have recently been hired as one of the writers for a website called The Nerd Stash. I’m very excited about this opportunity to write for a community that I love on a much larger scale, and I can’t wait to start.

Unfortunately, this means that I will have no time to put into this blog of my own design, as all of my writing efforts will be going toward The Nerd Stash. I would like to thank everyone who has given this blog even just one quick glance – you all are the reason I decided to write about video games. And if you wish to continue following my work, you know where to find me!

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I Grew Up With Pikachu and Yoshi

Sometimes it’s strange to look back on your life and think what might have happened if just one thing had been different. Now, I’m not trying to get all sentimental and deep with this idea, but it’s actually interesting to me! I would be a vastly different person if I had not grown up with video games the way that I had.

I have been playing video games since we got our first Nintendo 64, complete with “Banjo Kazooie,” “Spyro,” and “Super Mario 64.” Not long after that, I was given my own Gameboy so I could play Pokemon Yellow… and the rest is history.

One of the stereotypes that people often connect with video games is that of someone sitting indoors all day, staring slack-jawed at a screen and ignoring everyone else around them. While I will admit that there are times that I have behaved this way (and still do), I would like to refute this negative stereotypical image of a gamer with experiences from my own life.

First, I didn’t spend all my time indoors staring at a TV. Yeah, there was a lot of that, I will admit; but I also grew up on five acres of forest. And for some reason, although I might have had lots of video games at my disposal, I still spent at least a few hours outside each day. Now, you might say this was because of my parents limiting our time in front of a television, or because sharing with three siblings meant you couldn’t always be attached to the controller without someone complaining.

However, I actually think it might have been more than that. I loved playing outside, even if I was just running through the trees with my dog by my side. The video games that I played, as well as the books I read and TV shows I watched, broadened my imagination. Endless possibilities awaited me outside; I could be whoever I wanted to be, go wherever I wanted to go, even though I only had a limited space to roam in. Perhaps that strong imagination was part of who I already was, and video games were attractive to me because of it – but I like to think that the games I played made me more creative and imaginative in every aspect of my life.

For my second point, video games were not a slack-jawed, single-player experience in my household. My family often played games together, especially my siblings and I. It was part of how we spent time with each other and communicated. I still remember Saturday mornings when my brother, sister and I would wake up early, only to sit in front of our fireplace playing Pokemon together for hours. It wasn’t just the kids in the family either – my mom loves to play pretty much whatever we are, as long it’s not FPS, and my dad has even tried to play Call of Duty with us a few times.

So no, I don’t believe the typical gamer stereotype is true. And I could go on and on about reasons why – these experiences from my own life are just a few examples.

Gaming as I grew up was just one thing that shaped who I am, but it’s a big part of who I am. I can’t imagine what my life would be like without video games in it; but I certainly would not be here writing this blog!

Why Graphics Are Not Everything

Nowadays, one of the biggest aspects we focus on in the creation of new video games is the animation and graphics of the game.

A small disclaimer: just because I am writing this article does not mean that I do not appreciate good graphics in a game. We have come so far from the days of NES, Nintendo 64 and the Gameboy, where pretty much any game that functioned without too many glitches was considered a marvelous feat. We now have the advantage of being able to play video games where trees can sway in the wind, where blood/gore can actually make us queasy at times, and where character’s faces do look like the real people around us.

But just because we can have amazing graphics in our video games does not mean we should pass over the rest of the game’s features, especially the story and details. Back in the days when video games didn’t look that amazing, what really hooked people into playing them, in coming back to the same 8-bit images time after time, was the connection they made with the characters and their world.

Take the Super Mario series for instance. When “Super Mario Bros.” came out in 1985, it was not built on any outstanding animations – Mario runs through courses with mostly basic square block figures on his way to rescue his captured princess. Yet despite this, Mario’s world so captivated players that Mario and his friends continued to crop up over and over again, and even today Mario is one of the most recognized video game characters across the world. All because of a simple game with a creative story.

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(“Super Mario Bros.” World 1-1. Photo taken from Wikimedia Commons, by Umweltshutzen)

As we continue to get more technologically advanced, aesthetically-pleasing video games become a lot easier to produce. However, this does not mean that other details should have any less effort put into them; just because a game looks amazing doesn’t mean it is always entertaining.

I recently read a review for a new game called “Wander” (you can check out the review here; the blog is one of my favorites to read in my spare time). While the game appeared to have everything going for it on paper – a new MMO, with beautifully designed graphics and all the freedom in the world to roam – the lack of a storyline and purpose for the player ultimately ended up hurting its potential to be an awesome game. While I am sure the developers spent a lot of time working on “Wander,” perhaps if they had put more effort into a storyline or explanation for the character, the game would have been more successful.

However, there are many video games that carefully thought through all of these important aspects, such as the Elder Scrolls series (especially Skyrim) or the Dark Souls games. While both of these series look fantastic and pay great attention to graphical details, they also pay a lot of attention to the story aspect, drawing players in with unique places, people and lore.

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(“The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” screenshot near Fort Amol. Photo taken by me.)

A balance is needed in video games. My strong belief is this – while people may be attracted to a game by its appearance, they will continue to play it because of its ability to make them care about the world and it’s characters. I hope we will continue to get more games that focus on both of these aspects in the future.

 

Will Star Wars Battlefront Live Up To Expectations?

Ever since the announcement of the new Star Wars game at E3 this year, people have been eagerly counting the days until its official release.

And the hype has certainly increased over the past few days, as a new dogfighting mode for the game has been announced. This mode will allow players to fly their own X-wings, A-wings, TIE fighters and other spaceships in aerial battles against their friends. Watch the short Fighter Squadron Mode trailer below to see a little preview of gameplay footage.

The mounting excitement is due to the eagerness surrounding this franchise – not only will fans soon get a new movie, but now they also get a new video game. (Hopefully two new video games, if the secret Visceral project is finished anytime soon.)

Star Wars fans have always been easily impressed by the content they are allowed, and with the beautiful graphics shown in the Battlefront trailer, it is easy to see why they should have high hopes. Epic battle scenes from some of the most iconic areas in the Star Wars series, and the promise of characters like Darth Vader being involved, make this game appealing to all who used to dream of becoming a Jedi one day.

IGN published a review of the game based on a clip of actual gameplay, discussing how the content of Battlefront is designed to look like the effects from the movies. Writer Daniel Krupa stated, “…based on seven minutes of PS4 gameplay, it’s clear what the mission has been: make the most faithful video game adaptation of the original trilogy to date.” That is certainly exciting news for fans.

The game itself is also only focused on the multiplayer experience, with no traditional single-player campaign. Senior producer Sigurlina Ingvarsdottir discussed this decision with Gamespot recently at Gamescom, saying, “As we concepted the game and thought about the legacy of the previous Battlefront games – they didn’t really have campaigns, they’ve always been predominantly a multiplayer franchise. That’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to focus on the multiplayer.” While this news is less exciting for some fans, the game does have a Missions mode available that can be played alone or with a friend.

However, with very little to go on other than a few reviews and a couple of epic (but staged) trailers, the question remains – will EA and the DICE engine live up to the promises they are making to fans? There is some apprehension from the community, as there always is among large franchises when some new content is about to be released. Sometimes, games have so much hype built up around them that when the actual game is released, fans are disappointed because it does not meet what they imagined from the amazing trailers.

My advice: read as many of the reviews as you can. Watch the available trailers. And prepare yourself to be somewhat disappointed. Why? Every new game is usually not as good as the company selling it tries to make their audience believe. And while Star Wars Battlefront is sure to be a huge success for some fans, it cannot meet everyone’s expectations.

The official launch date for Star Wars Battlefront is November 17.

Gaming Is Life, But Life Is Not Gaming

As a gamer, I live in a bubble.

So many events are happening every day in the world. Natural disasters, technological advances, people struggling to find food, water or shelter… Yet I rarely ever think about these things. Because they don’t affect me personally.

Rather, I spent the entirety of yesterday watching the Smite Summer Finals, as different eSports players from around the U.S. and Europe competed in an all-weekend-long LAN event. The day before that, I was researching parts for the gaming computer I would like to build. And as always, every day I spend at least a few hours playing one video game or another.

Although I do understand that much of my intense focus is due to my current unemployment status, I also recognize the same intensity in many of the gamers I have met in this community. Events like E3 or Twitch Con evoke such strong responses that Twitter is overloaded with people posting pictures, linking videos and talking about their favorite new releases or the latest developments in technology.

Heaven forbid that we should have to give up our favorite Twitch streamer for an hour, or be forced to wait on playing Rocket League with our friends, because of something from the real world taking up space in our brains!

Yet gaming is a passion, a real thing that has been around for a while but only recognized recently. Companies make millions of dollars off of selling more advanced consoles every year, as well as releasing more interesting and immersive games to draw their consumers in. Professions like “YouTuber” and “Livestreamer” became more viable with the rise of gamers like you or I wanting to watch let’s plays or walkthroughs of games we cannot get our own hands on yet.

The words that we use and the amount of time that we spent online are not always understandable to our friends and family. And people may never understand the reasoning behind why I would rather spend a Friday evening playing through a particularly difficult quest on Skyrim than go to a noisy, crowded bar.

Yet while they may not understand the culture we have built up, that does not mean we should shut out the rest of the world in favor of our own. We are a part of the real world too, with all its dangers, joys and necessities. Gaming is a passion for many of us, and even a job for some of the truly lucky. Yet even a passion must be set aside in some instances.

We cannot live as ignorant people when we have so much knowledge at our very fingertips. There are places in the world where people hunger and thirst on a daily basis, yet still want to go to school so they can learn. Just even thinking about trying to explain something like Twitch or E3 to those people makes me feel a little sick.

Don’t get me wrong – I am certainly not ashamed to call myself a part of the gaming community. I will not stop turning on my Xbox after posting this, nor will I stop planning for my dream gaming computer. I will still tune in to watch the end of the Smite Summer Finals, and I will never give up my passion for gaming.

What I am suggesting is that maybe we need to look beyond ourselves for even a small moment every day. We are all part of a bigger world, and ignoring it in favor of a virtual one will not be beneficial for gamers, even if it is sometimes more desirable. We should keep up our community, but also understand that we need to connect with the world and people around us on a real level. We should reach outside our bubble of improving our KDA in our favorite MMO every once in a while, because that is not where we really reside.

At least not until the Oculus Rift gets an update.