The Blackest Tuesday

I would say the games journalism industry has lost one of it’s own but Ryan Davis was far more than just a “guy who wrote about video games”. As the voice that kept me company when I cooked, drove or even during my breaks at work, Ryan Davis was an example for what a modern human being should strive to be. As a man who perceived to know just about everything on every subject ranging from food to number stations, I was always baffled by the knowledge and expertise that he seemed to exude with every single podcast I listened to. He was an everyman and the first person you cling to on the podcast because of his kind and humorous nature.

Having never met him myself, I feel like I knew him, watching and listening to him for the past 5 years. I always imagined him taking me in as one of his own if I ever mustered the courage to finally go up and say hi after seeing him at a trade show. Ryan had a big heart and such an explosive personality, you couldn’t help but pay attention.

Ryan, you always made me laugh and now you’ve made me cry. You may never have known who I was but you were a big part of my life. I will miss you more than you will ever know and I offer your family and friends my deepest regrets and condolences. The Bombcast will never be the same without you. Rest in peace.

RIP Ryan Davis June 4th 1979 – July 3rd 2013

Categories: Uncategorized

mmmmmmmmoba

It must have been around 2004 when my brother pulled me into my friend’s house to show me how excited he was to play a Warcraft III mod. I was obligated, but sat down with a sigh waiting to finally see what he had been talking about so I could get it over with and go home.  Making use of the Warcraft 3 models, I could see the mod made use of a blue hooded dwarf sniper controlled by my brother and my friend’s hero who played a pandarian brewmaster that could split into 3. The excitement in his eyes spoke volumes about how much fun they had been having that night. I was hesitant, since I was done with the game’s original and expansion campaigns. I had also already seen the first wave of mods that flooded Battlenet since launch day. Hero line arenas, Dragonball RPGs, Resident Evil survival mods, you name them, I played them. So there I sat looking at a list of heroes to choose from for my first game. “This one can turn into a dragon and can shoot a ball of fire”, “that one can lay mines” he began to explain. He decided to choose for me since I had no clue as to what I was doing. Leoric The Skeleton King, a walking tank with vampiric aura, the ability to throw a stun hammer, slice enemies with a passive critical strike skill and best of all, could rise from the dead shortly after being defeated. “Ok this is how much gold you have and these are the items you can buy” he went on. I took my lane and played a one on one battle with my brother who chose his favorite hero at the time, Sniper. Following a back and forth in the middle lane, bashing creeps for money and keeping my distance from my long-range foe, I began to understand the rhythmic flow of the game. It wasn’t long before my stun was too much for the fragile sniper. Incapacitated, he made a bolt for it while I chased him to his death. A smile grew on my face as my friends cheered me on and busted my brother’s chops. I laid waste to his towers and spent my time chasing him when I wasn’t fighting alongside the waves of creep allies. I purchased, crafted and then finally equipped a weapon called Battlefury and swiped at my enemies draining them of their health for myself. Barracks and towers fell as I followed the path to my brother’s base and there in the firery burning ashes of what were called his ancient, was the birth of my relationship to a game called Dota.

For the next 5 years, I spent many nights playing Dota in my older brother’s garage as we hosted lan parties and played public games online. We hit the forums and researched strategies to best each other in 1 on 1 games and even made our own rules and ladder matches. It was a daily affair for all of us and many times it occupied the nights meant for sleep so we could go do “important” things like work or school. It consumed us and I partly blame it for not having done anything with my young adult life but in reality, they aren’t to blame for my fascination with a genre that has now finally exploded onto the video game scene. It was the equivalent of an underground nightclub, waiting to become the next biggest thing, but this was a video game after all, and if you told someone in 2009 that they should be playing this mod from a game engine that was already in motion since the days of starcraft 1, they would probably lose interest. The fact that the game was tied to such an old piece of technology and yet evolved to accommodate for the shortcomings of the software, proved that the curator of the game who popularized it, a young game designer known as IceFrog, deserved to be scooped up by a developer who could give them the tools to bring the vision to life. I was ecstatic to hear that Valve was going to give the game not only its own voice, but help solidify the game as a new video game genre in itself.

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Why the fascination with Dota? Well, its hard to explain in one sentence. The competitive nature speaks to all of us as gamers. We have been groomed since the days of Pong( Halo for some, World of Warcraft for others etc.), to relish in the defeat of a stranger, friend or family member. It’s no surprise that multiplayer is as mandatory as a jump button now. Another major characteristic is the randomness of it all. Not only are you facing different opponents online, who already have their own strategies and varied skills of play between the 100+ hero lineup, but the weapons and items purchased during the game also have a major influence. Like an MMO, people are always debating over certain builds for characters (or expected ones as some heroes require them) and even how early to buy specific items. Selecting the right items and making changes to your hero build based on the opposing team makes for a very different experience every time.

People can also choose to level up a certain set of skills compared to what is expected for a character and it is that sandbox element of strategy that allows the game to be very unique every single time. Take a character like Doom Bringer for example. His 4 core skills are Devour (eating an enemy creep for extra gold and stealing certain creep skills), Scorched Earth (covers the floor in flames giving him increased movement speed, healing him and hurting the enemy team), Level Death (a ranged spell that does a certain amount of damage based on the enemy’s level) and Doom (Silences a single enemy from using spells and does damage over time). You could literally build this character as a support hero, a tank or an offensive battle mage. By leveling his devour and scorched earth first, Doom Bringer could successfully spend his time fighting neutral creeps in the jungle, gaining high amounts of gold faster than the 3 core lanes you are meant to protect. A player could also choose to take a lane and level up the Level Death and Scorched Earth skills to chase down and kill enemy heroes all the while, receiving gold from their deaths. Once you have farmed this gold, you can build Doom Bringer however you would like. Buying the Aghanim’s Scepter will increase the damage of his Doom skill but the items required to build it do nothing for his physical melee attack and also take a big chunk of time and money. Going big on the Scepter item would essentially not make Doom as much of a tank or a damage dealer. You could alternately choose to double down on the health regeneration and the fact that he is a strength hero with high health points by buying health regeneration items and armor that will make him last longer in team fights but again, his Doom skill won’t be his biggest asset. Finding a balance between the skills, the items and the amount of income you have coming in are all part of the way you play with the cards that are dealt to you.

The aforementioned Knight Davion, with the power to turn into a fire-breathing dragon

The learning curve is a steep one; Dota 2 has planned a list of sweeping changes to the game to make it enjoyable to newcomers and veterans (more on that forthcoming in my Dota 2 Beta impressions post). The Dota 2 community is a passionate and outspoken one as everyone has come to know. People have to work as a team to defeat the opposing enemy and this important team element is what has the majority of the community up in arms because the role of every single person on the team is crucial. The reward for becoming one of these know-it-all strategists pays off when you begin to outwit your opponents. It is by far one of the most enjoyable, dopamine-firing, fist pumping accomplishments you could wish to achieve in a video game. Shooting an enemy in your cross-hairs doesn’t compare to wiping the battlefield of an enemy team with carefully constructed teamwork. As the end of the game comes to a close, the start of a game signifies the beginning of the RPG cycle which I think is by far the most addictive attribute of Dota and Dota 2.

Call of Duty 4 struck gold because it successfully married the first person action element and the persistence of a role-playing game. For once you weren’t just shooting people, but were gaining levels and unlocking new items, something that RPGs had been very familiar with for decades. You have seen this in MMOs where you put hours and hours into a character to get stronger and more powerful and buy those high value items. You are essentially playing something like a micro MMO every time you start a game of Dota 2. This addictive treadmill factor is highly palpable and yet goes unnoticed because of the hybrid nature of the genre. You start at level one with only so much gold and a single skill/spell. You spend the majority of the game killing creep waves and high level enemies to gain gold, level up and craft/buy items for your selected hero. The trade-off being that you don’t buy mounts or take on quests and the 30-60 minute game all takes place in an arena. By the time you cap at level 25, you are maxed out with high level gear that makes your character almost unstoppable. Follow that up by besting the enemy team in a game of what seems like virtual chess, and you have the high appeal of a game like Dota 2.

Although the game is in Beta, Valve has already laid out some of its long-term and future plans and they look promising. Look for my next post on my impressions of the Beta.

That old chestnut

Seeing as how my favorite hobby has become much more commercialized and profitable over the last 10 years, the changes to the original gaming model itself have become pretty disgusting to me. Call me old fashioned but there is something nefarious about video games lately. Downloadable content, subscriptions, pre-orders and content exclusives have all become pretty exhausting. It makes me wonder if the industry is heading down a path they shouldn’t travel.

I have come to the decision that I will not be making my yearly purchases of the “blockbuster” titles that as a “hardcore gamer” are expected of me. The military shooters have worn out their welcome and I will instead choose to hold out for much more interesting titles like Bioshock: Infinite, Ni No Kuni or The Last of Us. The annual sequelization of certain franchises, with some exceptions,  just bore the hell out of me. I understand the risk with new franchises, the ease of use with familiar assets and mechanics from previous versions of games but that doesn’t apply to something like Call of Duty. I’ve grown frustrated with that treadmill where all I do is pull left and right triggers, and I’m one who loves treadmills. If Diablo 3 had lips, it would tell you I very much like treadmills. But guess what? I haven’t played a game like Diablo 3 since Diablo 2 and that was over a decade ago.

Gout, Video Games, and the G-Man

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment

At the end of this month I will have successfully been on crutches for a total of 9 months. The physically enduring challenges that I have put up with have taught me a lot about my body. One of those lessons is that balancing yourself on one foot to do absolutely everything is quite taxing and time-consuming. I’ve also learned that my body apparently produces too much acid. You see, when your acid levels rise to a high level, which is anything over a 6.0, you are at risk for an attack. A gout attack consists of crystals forming in your body and causes your joints to swell up making you weep like a little girl. Gout is a form of arthritis so it will inflame certain joints like elbows, shoulders etc. Gout to me has been a hard battle to deal with for the last 4 years since I always tend to get it on my foot. Its the kind of pain that will wake you up in the middle of the night. Its the kind of pain that won’t even let you put a sock on because it hurts so bad. Its the kind of pain you wish you would never have experienced in this lifetime or the next. The days spent in bed, changing my diet, trying out wacky remedies and even going to work in my current condition have all been challenging. My experience in this long blur of lunch in bed, and constant need for help has pushed my mind and body to their limit. You would think that 9 months of not being productive would be pointless but I was fortunate enough to have a co-pilot this whole time. My 2-year old son has not only learned to play Half-Life 2 but demanded that I play when he wasn’t able to solve certain puzzles. In meeting these demands, I was finally able to experience one of gaming’s greatest diamonds in the rough, The Half-Life 2 series.

I played the original Half-Life but I can never recall much being an 11 year old at the time. You can also bet I didn’t pass the game at that age but then again, I didn’t fully understand what I was playing, let alone care as long as I was killing something. What was it about Half-Life 2 that made my son select it in the first place? The cover art on steam is a white background with Gordon and Alyx on the front. Maybe it stands out from Steam’s black background? Or the fact that a girl was on the cover (he loves the ladies). As I’ve matured I look for story and experience to anchor my fun just as much as the gameplay so I paid full attention when I arrived in City 17. I realize that I’m coming in 6 to 7 years late but some of the gameplay mechanics are definitely something to be appreciated. I enjoyed the freedom to move about during credits or story sequences. It has completely eclipsed the way I want to experience my them now because a lot of games take away that control when they want you to look at something and Half-Life 2 has gone to great lengths to immerse you in that world with something as simple as the freedom of movement during the game’s major events.

I also have to note that I played through the entire Half-Life 2 series back to back with the exception of Episode 3 since I am now part of the millions of zombies out there asking for its release. I spent many hours replaying through the episodes because my son wanted to take over many portions of the game. I also didn’t want him getting ahead of our save point so I would have him replay certain areas. I must have sunk hours upon hours in every single episode so my curiosity took me beyond the game naturally. “What the hell were those weird looking planes? Were those legs?” I thought to myself. “Who’s this G-man? And whats in the briefcase?!” I wanted to dig deeper. I won’t spoil anything as much of what I read was mostly speculation but I think we all appreciate good mysteries and Valve tends to do this with their franchises, Portal 2 most recently.

Getting back on topic here. The way I perceived HL2 was blocky polygons with simple textures attached. You can imagine my face as I opened up the doors to reveal the first exterior courtyard in the game; wide-eyed and intrigued. The game looks phenomenal for being so old. There are very few games that can still look just as great after 7 years. I think the lighting is what especially caught my eye. So I continued the critical path. I tore through the city sewers, the swamps, ravenholm and couldn’t help but notice the emphasis of the physics-based puzzles. They were a small break from the carnage but I appreciated that the world I was walking around in had a lot of time and effort put into it. Physics in games are pretty much standard now but they never work so well as to make them a part of the gameplay. For the sake of blowing up buildings and sending enemies flying, I can understand why it needs to be controlled and scripted at times, but I can’t even imagine how this must have impacted the majority of the industry back when it released.

You would never have known how much trouble this game was in just by playing it. Reading about the infamous release date scandal and the stolen source code, makes you root for the idea that this game even exists. There is an excellent article written by one Geoff Keighly of GTTV. It is quite a read and deserves to be mentioned since it gives an extensive look into the creative process and hurdles that Valve and more specifically Gabe Newell, had to go through just to get his game out the door. The article can be found here The Final Hours of Half-Life 2

The graphical advances in the 3 games are extremely noticeable, especially when you play them back to back. Watching Alyx move and animate in the beginning of Episode 2 was a very telling moment and seconds later the payoff really starts to show. I don’t know anything about the backend stuff they’re doing with the Source engine but playing Portal 2 recently says to me “a lot”. Its left me curious about how much of a graphical leap Episode 3 will make compared to the previous ones. I weep at the fact that I wasn’t able to play these when they first came out because I just didn’t understand Steam, especially since my backwater dirt road neighborhood doesn’t support high speed internet. I’m paying $200 a month for 1.5 MB here and it’s taken a long time just to get to this point.

When you replay a game so many times, you start to see the cracks and that’s not always a good thing. Half-Life 2 will remind you that its a videogame after replaying it so many times but at that point, what game wouldn’t? My son decided to take over the controller shortly after turning 2. He didn’t know what he was doing, but he had an idea. His first instinct was to pull on the trigger which made the gun shoot and flash and he absolutely loved that part. But then came the problem of getting around in the world. It took him a solid 4 months to understand movement with the controller. Oh that’s right, I also forgot to mention that during this whole ordeal I went to the darkside and connected my wired Xbox 360 controller. He loved shooting, and now he could move aound, so progression came naturally. I taught him to climb a ladder, switch weapons to crowbar to destroy obstacles and how to duck under low objects. Then came the real challenge, killing the opposing enemies. His initial reaction was to pass the controller to me and have me pass the hard part for him. I did this a couple of times but you could see the determination on his face as he tried to understand the complete mechanics involved. Measuring up your crosshairs against an A.I. opponent who is taking cover or throwing grenades at you must have seemed daunting. I have successfully recorded his sessions over periods of time, showcasing how he even reached the point of exploiting the “monster closets” and shooting the combine as they hopped out of their planes. He even asks to play specific chapters now and has taken a liking to the shotgun over other weapons.

Its been an interesting time these past 9 months. As brutal as it has been to be confined to a bed and burdening others for aid, my time in bed and in the post-apocalyptic world of Half-Life 2 have come to an end (till Episode 3 of course). I am regaining strength and should be walking by weeks end. As the training wheels have come off and my son has mastered platformers like Mario or other first-person shooters like Bulletstorm, I look forward to not only having my son surprise me, but having a future co-op buddy till the end.

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