The Return of Splitscreen Coop

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It's been a while since I've thoroughly enjoyed splitscreen coop. Sure the last few Call of Duty games had Spec Ops and zombies, but none of them ever felt that polished. The coop missions had no story, and they didn't feel that polished. The Spec Ops missions were taken directly from the campaign. Now I haven't finished playing through the campaign of Blacklist, but I can say that each coop mission feels unique. Not only are there cutscenes and story elements, but they are missions that feel like they are meant for two players. Each coop mission feels unique and lengthy. They can easily take 30 minutes to complete, as opposed to the Spec Ops missions that take only 5 minutes. And, no matter what anyone says, there is something special about playing with a friend beside you, than over Live.

To make things even better, the upgrades system keeps you begging for more missions. There's a drive to unlock every gadget and weapon because each gadget fundamentally alters gameplay. Using a drone to stun enemies plays differently than using a frag grenades. Splinter Cell is stealth based, but not every single mission requires it, leading to varying tactics and replayability. Theres nothing like failing with one strategy, only to change it on the fly. The maps feature multiple paths to each objective to fit any play style. Of course, performing timed takedowns with a partner is more fun than running and gunning, but the option is always available after you get detected. Well, usually available. There are some missions in which detection means failure, but that makes cooperative play all the more important and raises the tension to new levels.

There is never a dull moment in the missions, whether its zip-lining to an objective, avoiding snipers in a mine field, or sneaking around a military compound. Missions are filled with constant tension that always have you wondering where the enemy will appear. And while enemies generally stick to the same pattern, they sometimes change their routes keeping you on your toes.

Simply put, Blacklist is the coop game of the year. I have never played another game that has better coop.

Why MOBA?

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Trends come and go, and copying is abundant in the games industry. As soon as somone makes a hit game, everyone follows suit and steals the game's mechanics. Look no further than Halo 4. It took plenty of mechanics from Call of Duty because Call of Duty is a more popular game. I am not debating whether this made Halo 4 better or worse, but it is an undeniable fact. 

The current trend, however, is creating MOBA games. I've never played them, heck, I don't even know what it stands for. As far as I can tell, people control a hero with special abilities and work as a team to destroy the other team's base. They do all of this while killing countless minions, earning gold, experience, and destorying towers.

There are two MOBA games that really stand out though, Leage of Legends and DOTA 2. I'm not sure how they are different, or why they are so good (I've heard DOTA 2 is punishingly difficult), but I'm curious why those two are so popular. Do people play DOTA and LoL above all other MOBA games because there simply aren't that many high quality MOBA games? Is it because not enough game companies have caught on to the trend and created MOBAs, or is there something unique about these two games? 

I'm waiting for Activision to create a MOBA that draws millions of players away from DOTA 2 and LoL. What makes these two games specifically, better than the other MOBAs? I'm confused about this. Furthermore, why is the turnover rate so slow for MOBAs? How are people still content with LoL after all these years? It's been almost four years, and people are still playing it religiously. Are MOBAs more similar to MMOs than shooters? Why can't we keep the same Call of Duty for four years? 

Perhaps it's a matter of economics? People buy champions and skins, so one could argue they would be reluctant to give them up, and would want to spend more time in an old game. This point, however, is not entirely correct. People buy skins in Call of Duty, yet they still buy the new version every year. So what is it about MOBAs that have people playing the same one years after release?

I can't pinpoint it, especially having never played one before. It seems that they are more like MMOs however, where the players expect the game to be there for years to come. Perhaps it is really just the players' mindsets; they know a new shooter is coming out the following year and they are trained to purchase it. If players don't purchase the new shooter, the community dies. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with playing an old game online; I would love to still play Halo 3, but the community is gone. If the community knows no one is leaving, then there is no need for players to jump ship. I only leave an online community (Halo 3, MW2) when it's dead. I hold on as long as I can until then to save money. If everyone has that mindset though, you don't have to migrate.

Hardcore MOBA fans likely got started with the original DOTA, which has been around for years. They were trained not to jump ship every year to a new game, so they carry along that tradition now, but who knows. What's your opinion?

Time to Think of Games as Art

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I attended Games for Change Festival 2013 earlier in the summer and the number of educational games entering the market astounded me. Some games are trying to interest kids in books, while others are helping kids learn math and science. While I have no problems with the latter, the former seems incredibly offensive to any gamer.

Notice, I did not say a game that is teaching players to read, that is an educational game, I'm talking about games that help kids enjoy reading books. On the outset it's not a bad thing, books are great, although this sort of game says something about games themselves. A game that tries to get players to love books is saying that books are a higher form of "art", "culture", or "leisure". Why can't games be "art"?

I'm not claiming that books are not a form or "art" or "culture" or anything of the sort, although I am claiming that they deserve to be equal with games. If you are going to say that we need games to get players interested in books because many young gamers might not want to read, it is important to understand the reasoning behind this. Are we trying to educate kids in the "arts" and "culture"? If that is the case then we should also have books that teach help kids enjoy games because they are just as much an art form as books. 

Unless we have books that help readers enjoy games, we are stating that books are a higher form of "art" or "culture" than games. Where does this superiority come from? Why do we need books to teach kids narrative and not games or movies? It seems these two art forms (but games to a greater extent) have been deemed a lesser art form than literature, music, or visual art. 

Society views games and movies as a waste of time, instead of as an art form. Where are the classes in elementary school that teach kids about classic games or movies? Why do kids have to learn the literary, musical, and painting classics and not classic games or movies? 

"Culture" and "art" are evolving and we are not evolving with the times. We are stuck in a society where we think only literature, music and visual art have cultural value, while games and movies should be left to rot, or lightly touched upon when in conjunction with a book. I watched more than a few Romeo and Juliet movies, but what about playing Dantes Inferno to contrast with the book? Where are the games? 

There is also a distinction between playing games, learning about games, and making games. Perhaps kids should learn to create games alongside art, or learn the history of videogames alongside art history. Anything that people study with literature can be studied with games. If someone is studying how culture reflects history, we can study how games are influenced by events around them. For example, in post 9/11 war frenzy, EA vilified the GLA in Command and Conquer Generals to mock Middle Eastern terrorists. It was overly stereotypical of the Middle East, and while Im not passing judgment on it, I am only arguing that it was a product of a certain era, the same way paintings are influenced by world events.

We don't need games to help players fall in love with books; we need games that help players understand that games are an art form. It's time to start viewing games as a form of art on the same level as literature. They are equals in the realm of culture and it is time we embrace that.

 

I Stink at Strategy

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While I have always been a fan of strategy games, from Red Alert to Civilization, I have become aware that I suck at them. Yes, I can beat the game on easy and enjoy them, although I am never good at them. When I play shooters I can master a game and learn how to control a map, although I can never do that with strategy games. All too often I try to steamroll rather than actually use strategy to beat my opponents, and I'm finally learning this flaw in XCOM.

I cannot flank and it's killing my soldiers. It's not that I don't know how to, it's that I can't position properly. I don't know when to risk going into the unknown to flank and when to charge head on (with cover of course). I try to flank, but it never seems to work. I'm also playing on easy. I can't tell whether XCOM itself is supposed to be this hard, or I just suck. It's unlike any strategy game I've ever played so I'm sailing in new waters. 

It's making me feel crappy though. I've got to pull it together and kill those enemies. I haven't lost a soldier yet, but ever mission I come closer and closer. I had been getting straight A's in my council reports and for the last month I dropped to a C. How'd I get so bad? Am I mismanaging my money? Research? Something? Or is it just hard in general?

One of the biggest problems with XCOM is that it hides all the resource and management elements of the game and lacks a place to view everything. It seems like XCOM was built primarily for consoles and ported to the PC. And why can't I view the equipment of each of my men? It drives me insane. If I want to optimize my squad I have to click on each one individually. It's a pain that should have been avoided. It makes me want to just go with the preselected squad that try to figure out who has what equipment.

XCOM Enemy Unknown on Summer Steam Sale!!!

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I picked up XCOM for $9.99 on the Summer Steam sale, so understandably it's taken me a while to post about it. It's one of the most engrossing games I've played since Civilization. XCOM is just another example of why Sid Meier is the king of game design. Everything he touches is pure gold. 

After coming from Rollercoaster Tycoon and expecting a resource management heavy game like Civilization, I was pleasantly surprised with the combat taking a front role in gameplay. Resource management is pushed to the side, perhaps a little too much for my liking, in favor of turn based combat. The combat itself is good, and there's nothing like watching an alien explode to bits, although the camera sometimes misses the action opting instead to highlight gorgeous walls.

The resource management is kept to a minimum and feels like XCOM could missed so much potential. That's not to say that the game is bad. I love it. I cannot stop playing it. There is always more room for depth though. There could have been two bases instead of one (or maybe there are and I just haven't reached that point yet), or there could be more resoureces, or more upgrades in the baracks beyond the measily 7 or so I see now. It's just I thought there was more to the game, and it's a little bit of a let down. I don't regret my purchase, just I'm worried there won't be as much replay value as say, Civilization V that was on sale for the same $8. Only time will tell though. And it's not like I have that much time to play games anyway. I should be working.

Some Old Games

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This past week I spent most of my time after work building a computer. I never touched the inssides of one before, and I installed a disk drive, wifi card, and graphics card. While the computer isn't the best, its nice to get my hands dirty with it. The thing is now I have a computer that runs Windows 7 although has a graphics card from about 2003. It's got an GeForce 8400 with 512 mb and 4 gb of DR2 RAM. So it's not the best, but it does it job. I'm looking to upgrade it soon I think. I want to buy a better graphics card and RAM.

This old computer though has left me playing old games like Rollercoaster Tycoon and Command and Conquer Generals. I can't say I'm upset about that, but it's not the Crysis machine I was hoping for. It's interesting to go back to these games years later and see how they hold up. Rollercoaster Tycoon is as perfect as ever, while Generals fairs a little worse. The AI is awful now. It's not even a comptetition. Maybe I'll try playing challenge mode on hard though. I never did that before. It's probably worth a try. Off to play some games...

Europa Universalis: After the War

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I started my game as Russia in the late 18c. I was bored simply building up my colonies and provinces, so I declared war on the Ottoman Empire. I'm winning the war, but paying the price on the homefront. My once high manpower level has dropped to below 30,000 from its mighty 250,000 at the beginning. My provinces have also started revolting, and not just a thousand soldiers here and there. Armies 9,000 strong spring up overnight in any province. My forces are spread thin chasing down one revolutionary army after another.

I want to end this war although I don't know how. I thought I would get income from my occupied territory, although I can't. I have to win gain control of the provinces in a piece settlement. The Ottoman's won't give me all of them though. I can only take a certain number even though the war is long over. I'm slowly steamrolling them to defeat. I can't figure out how to fully annex a country. When I conquered a smaller country (that foolishly allied with the Ottomans), I had to leave it with one province. I'm not sure how to declare peace with them and keep all the provinces. That was a real bummer after investing in the war effort. 

In hindsight I probably should have read the manual, but I have a digital copy and I hate reading manuals on the computer. EU3 does an awful job of teaching you everything in the tutorials though. I learned by failing miserably a few times and then jumping in as a superpower. So I'm not sure where to go from here. I think I'll pursue peace and then build up my trade power. The problem is that I don't know how to really win the game. It's open ended so there's no goal for me. It's hard to determine what it is I should be striving for. Once I finish this game though maybe I'll jump in as someone better. Who knows...

Team Fortress 2? Goodbye sleep.

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i own a simple 13 inch macbook pro. No extras, just an Intel 4000 integrated graphics and 4 gb of RAM. I had held off on gaming for a long time on it because I thought there were no games for mac, and because I thought there was no way I could play anything without a dedicated graphics card. Little did I know TF2 works only requires Intel HD 3000 and up. Woah. The download took forever, but eventually I was ready to try my hand against TF2's bots.

Those bots are so good on easy I can't imagine what they are like on normal. To give you some perspective about my PC gaming habits, the last time I played a PC shooter was 3 or 4 years ago and they were the multiplayer Halo: CE and Battlefield 2 demos. I'm a little rusty on the mouse and keyboard shooters and TF2 was hard to get the hang of. It ran pretty smoothly on my computer though. I think it was mainly the Internet connection more than my actual computer that was creating some lag. 

As far as the gameplay goes I'm finally getting the hang of some of the different classes. Heavy is easy to play as, and I've finally got the rocket soldier dude down, although the fast paced and close range classes I need to work on. The spy and recon classes are too close range for me and I can't keep the enemy in my sites. I don't do as well with a mouse and keyboard as I do with a joystick. I'm not sure if its my crappy mouse, or my computer that freezes up. I have no clue how the engineer works also. Something with turrets, but who knows. I'm having a blast with it though. If anyone wants to teach me or play my Steam ID is Tartarus11.

The tongue in cheek humor is also liberating after a long day at work. I loved the little snapshot moments after I get blown to pieces, and the losing team running around with their hands in the air waiting to be killed. It's little things like that which make the game infinitely better. 

Europa Universalis 3

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I'd been hearing about Europa Universalis 3 for the past few years and always hoped to play it. The game was available in one of the IndieGala bundles earlier this year so I snatched it up. I just started playing this past week and I can't stop! It's incredible! The level of detail that goes into crafting this 16c world and the intricacies of gameplay make for the perfect experience! 

While its fun now though, I must confess it was awful when I started. I didn't read the manual (I only read physical manuals, not the digital versions) so I was a little lost and the tutorial did a poor job of acquainting me with everything. It took me a few false starts to figure out how to actually play. I tried playing as a small pacific island figuring it would be easiest to start with a one island country. The game progressed so slowly I gave up. Next I tried my hand as China in the late 1700s, although that ended within five minutes after numerous provinces revolted. Finally I decided to play as Russia in the late 1700s and I've been sticking with that ever since. 

I started out with small missions to build universities, while colonizing Alaska. After a few decades of that and amassing an unrivaled treasury I decided it was time to do something more. My relations with the Ottoman Empire were not that great, so why not invade? I built an army and crossed liberated province after province, although I was shocked to learn that conquering a province does not transfer ownership of it. You have to acquire it in a peace agreement. There goes my master plan. My war score grows every day though, and eventually it will be large enough to make peace and gain territories. That's assuming I can maintain my manpower. I'm falling behind and I might have to settle for a peace soon. I'll come out ahead though. 

The main problem I find is that there's not always that much to do in the game. I'm occupied with war so it's fun, but before that it was just waiting around for buildings to finish and then building something else, and the occasional colony to deal with. It was hardly edge of your seat action. The war changed that though. I was surprised none of my allies came to my aid though. Seriously Prussia? Where were you when I needed your armies?

Now I'm focusing on the end war; finding out how to get the provinces I want and maintain an advantage over the Ottomans. Russia once considered them a threat, but no longer. 

Estate Takedown

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It's only a few years too late, but I finally completed Modern Warfare 2's Estate Takedown Spec Ops mission. The level mixed both some of Call of Duty's stengths with its weaknesses for a level that is merely ok. Estate Takedown boasts an unparalleled assortment of guns to choose from, while it mixing blind battles through the trees. It's always good to have your gun of choice, but what use is it really when you can't see enemies through the trees. Somehow they are capable of hitting me though. Can I get their scopes? After crawling through the house and clearing it floor by floor, I managed to gain a safe zone. Planting claymores by the entrances allowed me to bait the snipers into submission while the clock ticked on. It was a slow session and twenty minutes. Why are they so hard to see through the trees? To be clear, I have no problem with not being able to see them, it's just that they shouldn't be able to fire at me if that's the case. Is this something they'll fix on Xbox One? The processing power is there. Overall it wasn't too bad though; twenty minutes earned me a gold star. Now if only that gold star got me something...