Bit of history on this one: I intentionally avoided the Souls series for a long time. A short relationship was had with Dark Souls 2 SotFS on PS4 before succumbing to the excruciating difficulty. I wandered into a zone and found myself facing off against giant knights 1v1. I could kill the first one, avoid combat with the second, and then die to the the third. This went on for about two hours before quitting. This didn’t seem far off from the general discussion around the series. Everyone is always going on about how good the series was was because of this difficulty. “The game wasn’t cheap, it just punished you for making bad decisions” or something to that effect… or “git gud” when someone wanted to be a dick to novices trying to get into the series. None of that is a desirable environment for me when I’m gaming. Having my skull crushed in for two hours while not advancing my character or the campaign just isn’t my thing. In the past with other games like Fallout 3 and Oblivion I played with the difficulty slider all the way down. I grind JRPGs for hours to get ahead so I can sidestep the challenge of combat encounters. Most recently I played through Uncharted 4 on the easy setting so I could enjoy the story without frustration. So all this praise about difficulty had me avoiding the Souls series like the plague. Yet this year it finally caved when I picked up From Software’s debut title that kicked off the series, Demon’s Souls, on PS3 as part of #4iF (Four in February, a social media driven initiative to finish 4 games from your backlog). I’m so happy I made that choice as I went on to love every damn minute of it. So what spawned the change of heart? Well, I played it wrong without regret.

Start of a new journey.

Start of a new journey, I stand before Lothric Castle.

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Just wanted to put something up so here I go. It’s partially driven by guilt of not committing to something, partially trying to get some practice writing in, and partially trying to pull myself away from playing games. I know writing about them doesn’t seem that far off but it definitely feels more productive. Life has been getting really chaotic from a work standpoint after I agreed to a new position. Constantly assured at work that the carrot dangling in front of me exists as they continue to dump more weight on me to lug. The latest and greatest development includes switching over to six day work weeks starting no later than September, managing a department I’ve not touched in over six years, constantly fluctuating schedule starting anywhere from 3am to as late as 1pm, and being a core element in the opening of a new location in Michigan… which also happens to be the largest in the state as well. In short work blows until at least January. By default in times like this when I get home I just want to veg out and scoff at any idea of being productive. Writing gets pushed to the wayside along with any other creative endeavors I have on my plate. Find myself booting up a game that I may not even be that invested in just because it’s easier than the alternative. I need something to counter that so something’s gotta give.

As this blog originated to keep me mentally well in times of depression, it looks like I’ll be leaning on the keyboard once again to see me through a patch of life that’s overwhelming. To keep myself going I need to layout some sort of schedule to motivate me instead of all the “why does it matter anyways..? no one really cares.” thoughts that creep in. I’ve got a few drafts written up that I want to finish and some that I need to toss as the time has passed on their relevancy. Looking to keep you dear readers abreast in the comings and goings in the times to come.

I’m going to share 2 new posts per month. I’m going to finish all the drafts that I have pending. I am going to start a new 7 part study that will wrap before 2016 has ended. That leaves me with 166 days or 23 weeks, however you want to spin it – To write up 12 new articles. That’s plenty of time so I’m hoping to push that number closer to 18 once I get a groove going. Hopefully once all is said and done I’ll have a few more people interested in stopping by and finding a few moments of distraction on this blog.

So what do I have planned coming up in the next six months? Here are some of the articles that are baked to some degree so far…

  • Dark Souls 3 impression
  • Questionable Value of Game Reviews
  • Always Sometimes Monsters Analysis
  • Resurrecting the Fave5 posts on a monthly basis
  • Final Fantasy series (2 unrelated articles)
  • Cultural reach of games (will have to revisit due to Pokemon GO)
  • The value of Cloud Strife
  • Depression/Anxiety Coping (in the air on posting this or not)
  • Late Console Releases
  • Players and meeting their diverse needs
  • RPG Design (7 part series)

Hopefully one or more of those core ideas will scratch an itch for you. I’m excited to finish them and share them with you.

~Chris, aka PunkrawkBbob

Me. I'm the one with real hair.

Me and Monkey, ready to take on the world.

LoZ: BotW

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has been unveiled and some have criticized it with “what’s the big what” with it – A lot of the features shown are found in numerous other games for the better part of a decade now. Those thoughts are not wrong, but there’s a lot more to games now than the mechanics. We’ve gotten away from technology limitations with the assistance of beefier hardware and middleware solutions. No longer are the key identifiers of a game it’s mechanics or systems. What you know as a genre has become increasingly irrelevant in classifying a game. In short, genre is dead. What we’re left with is something with a much greater potential…

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Fair warning for anyone that hasn’t played, there will be some general spoilers ahead. After all, you can’t discuss something properly without analyzing the whole.

Domestic Drake, longing for adventure

Domestic Drake, longing for adventure

Let me preface this post with Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End does a lot of things right. Gun play was dramatically improved for me as they reduced the count of weapons and upped the approaches to resolving an encounter. There’s a lot more power in stealth than previous games as you can mark enemies to better keep track of them as they follow their pathing patterns or hide in bushes. Another nice change is that if you blow your stealth you have the ability to disappear if you lose the attention of the hostiles. New to UC4 is a roping mechanic that lets you Action Jackson all over the place during a gunfight. All-in-all the arenas were a lot more fun to play through for me thanks to those seemingly minor tweaks. Visually it’s set a new standard that I’m sure all following PS4 games will be ranked against. Vistas are stunning, character animations are human, and even water pooled tarp has caused people to stop in awe. Social media was flooded with image after image taken in photo mode. I’ve even seen a few people that have decided they want to try and create a “Postcards from Uncharted” series. Acting performances were on point with Nolan North reprising Nathan Drake’s final outing and Troy Baker running wingman as Samuel Drake. Beyond those two as the leads of the game Sully, Rafe (the new villain), Nadine, and Elena’s actors all killed their roles. So what went wrong?

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#UncoveredFFXV event happened last week and it blew expectations out of the water for most. They revealed quite a bit about the project that most would have never guessed. Aside from the core game, there’s going to be a complete CG feature called Kingsglaive with some high profile names doing the voice work. It focuses on Noctis’ father, the king, before the events of the game while Noctis is still a young boy it seems. Likely in the same time we also got a demo that night dubbed Platinum Demo. The content found within it was said to be specific to the demo and wouldn’t be incorporated into the final game. While mostly a tech demo it does have settings and a bit of story tied to Noctis. Specifically it deals with him being knocked out by an outside force while everything inside the demo takes place inside his mind. The demo concludes with child Noctis transforming into his late-teens, more aligned with what we know him to be during the events of FFXV proper. There’s a bit of learning who he is and where his heart lies. Then for the third leg of announcements that night, independant of both of those stories is an additional anime mini-series with Noctis, Ignis, Prompto, and Gladio – the four heroes of li… I mean the protagonists of FFXV. Titled Brotherhood, it’s set shortly before the game takes place and gives fans an opportunity to get to know the crew and understand their relationships before the game starts. Going into Final Fantasy XV we’re expected to have a good read on the fellas. The first episode, “Before the Storm” is already available and plays out like a scene you’d find in the game. Dialog, camaraderie, camping, and gravity-defying combat. It works as a great showpiece for what the world of FFXV has in store. During the events of the first episode they recall moments of Noctis as a young boy (again) when he nearly died when his city was under siege… but why go through all this trouble with episode of anime, unique demo story, or a full CG movie? Historically with The Spirits Within and VII: Advent Children the non-gaming viability for Final Fantasy is questionable at best. Why not just focus on the game, especially after the negative response to the Final Fantasy XIII saga? Let’s go back a bit to answer that question.

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A few weeks back I was thinking of how much I miss Hack ‘n Slash games. Some of the best were on PS2 with both the Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance and Champions of Norrath series of games. For whatever reason those “Diablo-clones” were better than Diablo itself was for me. I really wanted to sink my teeth into a portable game again like Untold Legends PSP again. To my surprise on 3/15/16 Sony released a new game for me to go dungeon crawling with called Murasaki Mist: Akara’s Journey. Ecstatic at the chance to go on a grindy lootfest for only $8 on my Vita I jumped at it. All I could find was a trailer from E3 2014 that looked promising enough. Tack on the extra dev time between now and then and I’m sure it’s even better. It was too new and too low-key to have any reviews… but what the hell, YOLO or something, right?

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Welcome to the 1950’s. Y’know, the time of poodle skirts, drive-in movie theaters, soda fountains, and video games. Only one of those things really exists these days and we’re still calling it by the same term. Care to guess which? Over sixty years of progression for the hobby we all know and love and yet we’ve never managed to do away with the oversimplified technical term as a label. I don’t want to jump into a history lesson on video games… Plenty of other places do a well enough job with far more attention then I would have the patience to go into. Let’s just take a look at what qualified as a game back in 1958 though with “Tennis for Two”.

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Video games were conceived as a means of play using video displays. Purely a technical term in an era of discovery it was appropriate. It made sense to people uninformed without a heavy explanation. A simple definition of games has been described as follows: “a physical or mental activity or contest that has rules and that people do for pleasure” . A very broad statement that could include nearly anything you do for entertainment that is dictated by rules. A crossword puzzle for example requires you to figure out intersecting words that match the clue associated with the numbered field. Ignoring the rules we could just load whatever letters we want into the blank boxes and render the game useless. The point of a game is to challenge the player mentally or physically. Without that it becomes indiscernible from just another activity. Challenges imposed by rules create what becomes a game. So where do we stand once the challenges and structures (rules) are removed from video games? I don’t mean simply being tied to what’s coded within the reality of the game. That’d be like explaining that gravity is a rule for competition in physical space. We’ve stumbled into an era where the focus of video games isn’t to be challenged anymore. Every year more and more titles are being released without any expectation of adhering to what previously defined a game. Gone Home, Dear Esther, Stanley Parable, or even some Minecraft modes are tough fits under the umbrella of video games. That isn’t meant as a slight to them at all either. Each and every one of those releases has earned a circle of respect from different communities of gamers. With the advent of Virtual Reality in 2016, writing them off “video games” is going to get more and more inapplicable to the experience held within. I’m thinking maybe it’s finally time we retired the term video game entirely and found something more relevant to today’s applications. Otherwise as long as it’s mislabeled people are going to have a disconnect between the expectation and the delivered product, as well as limiting the scope of what can and can’t be created while developers are trying to jam a square peg into a round hole.

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Star Wars PosterAs I’ve been sifting through reactions to Star Wars: The Force Awakens it’s been pretty much a unanimous success. Fans old and new appreciate it as both as standalone film and a soft reboot. It’s apparent their goal was to structure it in a way to feel familiar, almost like a love letter to the childhood of all those 40-somethings. I’m not going to go into any details or spoilers of TFA at this point since I’m sure there are plenty waiting to see it still. All I’ll say is what everyone is openly saying: TFA is A New Hope for this generation. I see all the parallels, understood all the throwbacks, but my reaction is far from everyone else’s that was at that magical age when the original trilogy was released in 1977-1983. Watching reviews I had a realization that I’ve fallen into a weird gap of time where I can’t claim any trilogy as my own.

I was born in 1984. I didn’t watch any form of Star Wars until the Special Editions were on the hype train to rerelease in theaters, so 1996/1997. Even then it was a sub-optimal experience going into it as it was an old hat for everyone else. There was no air of surprise, no mystery, no suspense. All the big story beats and spoilers were public knowledge and it kept them from being great for me. Even my own mother chimed in while I was first watching The Empire Strikes Back with “Did you find out that they’re brother and sister yet?”. Being able to plow through the whole trilogy in an entire weekend eliminated any time to reflect and wonder on where the story might go next. Usually for me those moments allow for the excitement to build with endless possibilities. It was one of the better parts of watching Lost when it was airing versus returning to binge watch it on Netflix or DVD. I still fell in love with the world, it’s lore, and aspects of the story… but it was well past the point where I could connect emotionally with New Hope, Empire, and Return of the Jedi unfortunately.

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The term “ludonarrative dissonance” was an interesting concept when first proposed. The core of the idea is there’s an uncomfortable disconnect between the story being told and the actions of the playable character which then corrupts the experience for the player. A common example is Lara Croft struggling emotionally with her first kill in the 2013 Tomb Raider reboot, followed by a guilt free murder spree for the next 15 hours of gameplay. What was an intense struggle for her an hour ago in-game has become as easy as changing channels on the remote. It doesn’t throw me off. Games aren’t reality after all, and expecting them to mirror our world is a strange goal to chase.

I understand the knee-jerk reaction to be thrown off by this gaming specific phenomenon. For starters it comes built on the idea of games as a Hollywood-film substitute. You can’t really blame players for expecting that either since it’s been the intent of game publishing bean counters to replicate Hollywood for the potential crossover audience. Hell, it’s not even an oddity in passing years for film directors to become involved with game creation, the most recently notable project being P.T./Silent Hills that was set to be a collaborative effort with Guillermo del Toro of Pan’s Labyrinth fame. It’s remarkable how much has changed in the relationship between games and film given their start of cheaply made tie-in products meant to turn an easy buck from impulse buyers. The lack of new ideas within Hollywood at the turn of the century now has them knocking on the doors of video game publishers for the rights to create derivative films since games are continuing to outsell films annually.

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PSP-1001 Straight OnI’ve had a long history of spending hours with handheld gaming. Thinking on it I’d have to say it goes all the way back to the original GameBoy. I’m sure for most that’s where it starts in one form or another. Nintendo really put some legs on that machine, stretching it out until 2001 when they finally released a successor in the form of GameBoy Advance. For some perspective on just how incredibly long of a shelf life it had, before transitioning to complete support of the GBA Nintendo had sold the original NES, SNES, N64, and GameCube while selling original GameBoy games. Sure there was a flurry of redesigns with the GameBoy Color, GameBoy Light, and GameBoy Pocket – All of which were spruced up form factors that shared the same gaming library. Nintendo established a firm lock on the handheld market and created a rich legacy of portable experiences. Several other companies tried to jump in with their own offerings, all of which were met with weak sales before eventual abandonment. Atari Lynx, Sega GameGear, Tiger’s Game.Com, Bandai WonderSwan, and the side talking Nokia N-Gage to name a few.

There’s a good reason why Nintendo has held the market as tightly as they did. Personally I have a ton of fond memories with the original GameBoy. Even before Pokemon took the world by storm, I dumped tons of hours into both of the Super Mario Lands, Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, and Tetris. That torch carried into the GBA’s remodel (the GBA SP) as it was the only system I owned for awhile. I remember spending countless nights playing Final Fantasy Tactics Advance or one of several SNES era ports/spiritual sequels like Metroid Zero Mission or Mario Kart Super Circuit. Nintendo always stacked a potent and varied catalog of games that pulled you into that tiny sub-3″ screen. Speaking of which having a backlit screen and rechargeable lithium-ion battery made it the perfect solution to play in bed. Eventually they had to lose some steam though and the DS released to an eager audience with no new content. Thankfully Nintendo had the foresight to include the ability to play GameBoy and GameBoy Advance cartridges to help carry new owners through that drought. It wasn’t until the DS Lite launched that it really caught fire by it’s own right and eventually grew to become the best selling handheld system of all time at 154m units sold. Between the DS and the Wii, Nintendo was banking enough money to buy an island made of pure gold. Times were good and Nintendo remained untouchable in the handheld space. There’s always another side to every tale though…

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