Wednesday, May 11, 2016

PAX East 2016 Coverage Part 1

I attended PAX East once again and as always it was an amazing time, the show just never gets old for me. You can browse Triple A blockbusters like Overwatch and walk 10 feet to see a small game called Thimbleweed Park in the Indie Megabooth. There are huge Tabletop areas that you can sit and join Magic or D&D rounds (as well as dozens of other game systems), you can chill in the arcade or handheld lounges, get food, attend panels and just have a glorious time. 

The fact that it is in Boston is the icing on the cake, it is such a cool chill town with hundreds of years of history, architecture and amazing seafood. I attend PAX every year to represent Blogritics.org as a freelance writer and tend to write 8-10 articles about games and events at the show. I checked out a ton of games, panels and events, but I have to say Fated on the VR platform was one of my favorite items. Below is the first block of articles I wrote while attending the show this year. Enjoy! 


PAX East 2016 Preview: Fated: The Silent Oath

This year can easily be called the year of Virtual Reality, with the Occulus Rift, HTC Vive and Samsung Gear all out in commercial release and The Playstation VR coming later in the year some amazing VR titles are arriving. I tried a very promising title called FATED: The Silent Oath at PAX East and it wowed me with it’s detailed interactions and focus on storytelling.

The demo was unique to the show as I was sitting on a bench holding horse reigns and there are some scents, wind, and fog that hit me as the demo runs, but even without that it would have been a stellar experience. The game takes place in a Norse mythology infused world, and I was part of a family trying to stay alive during the end of the world – Ragnarok. 

The game starts with my family and I on a carriage as I guide the horse using the reigns. It starts calm at first with the wife and daughter chatting with me; my daughter sat next to me as the journey progresses. As this is VR I could look all around, looking behind as the family talks or all around at the waterfalls, trees, and mountains surrounding me. At one point two giant ravens landed on the carriage and I found myself jerking away from them, the immersiveness of VR in this game cannot be understated. The main character doesn’t speak (part of the story focuses on him losing his voice) but because of head tracking I could nod and shake my head to answer. 

Click Here to read the rest of the Preview on Blogcritics.org

PAX East 2016: Inside Gearbox Panel

Gearbox has a long history in video games with their start as a mod developer for Half Life and then as an independent developer creating Brothers in Arms, porting Halo to the PC and then finding major mainstream success with the Borderlands series.  They have had highs with Borderlands and theHomeworld remasters and lows with the Duke Nukem Forever completion and Aliens Colonial Marines, but they never fail to entertain with their dynamic presence and passionate approach.

I checked out their panel at PAX East and, while it was a little awkward and uneven, they had some interesting information about their upcoming titleBattleborn and some tidbits of the very early (at the conception stage really), but inevitable next title in the Borderlands franchise.

The panel started slowly and with some magic from the President of Gearbox Randy Pritchford as they waited for Kinda Funnys Greg Miller to join them a tad late. Once he arrived they entered into a discussion about Battleborn, which just ended it’s open Beta as it nears the May 3rd launch date.  Randy was joined on stage by producers, art directors, and writers from the series to discuss the creation process and lifecycle plans for Battleborn.  Right at the start they talked about how they will provide 5 new characters, and the game starts with a staggering 25 already, for free over the next few months and that the Season Pass will offer 5 DLC packs that focus on story and co-op content.  All PVP (Player versus player) content will be free for all owners of the games which is a welcome change from the Call of Dutiesof the world.  This promises to reward players with a steady stream of content both on and offline which is great news.

Click Here to read the rest of the article on Blogcritics.org

PAX East 2016 Preview: Thumper

PAX East is as full of Triple A games as it is independent and quirky ones. I had the pleasure of trying Thumper by Drool Games on the Playstation VR platform, and this is a game that shows what great audio and visual design can accomplish on the Virtual Platform.
Thumper is described as a “Rhythm Violence” game in the vein of Rez and AudioSurf. You are represented by a silver ship that looks like a futuristic Beetle as you coast along vibrant and whirling rails towards portals and bosses. Music is your guide, and the name Thumper comes from the need to jump and thump on light symbols on the ground. You also need to hold on to the button or ‘note’ when passing through flat lines on the ground, and you need to aim into corners to avoid taking damage. All of this thrown together with the electronica soundtrack pulsing and changing as you progress made for a trippy and enveloping experience as I soared though the neon-infused landscapes.
Played on the Playstation VR system (which by far is the most comfortable of the three big VR vendors) added an immersiveness to the experience that is hard to describe. You can see the winding track ahead pulsing and changing as it stretches to the edge of your vision. Explosions, lights and pulses rock around you and make you feel like you are jacking into the Net as Cyberpunk movies portray it. You swiftly fall into this world in the VR experience and move in tandem with your ship as you try to navigate to the end of the level.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Dad Plays Games at Lunch - Episode 3 - Diablo 3 Re-Visited

Episode 3 of a Dad (me) playing Games (in this case Diablo 3) at Lunch (I had a sammich I think?) was a chance to re-visit Diablo 3 after many months. I bought Diablo 3 day one and finished the game pretty quickly and swiftly got bored. The games was bogged down by terrible loot drops, a real money market that imbalanced the game and real progression required multiple playthroughs. In the last three years though Blizzard has added so many modes and features as well as an expansion called Reaper of Souls. I jumped back in and finished the expansion and saw what the new loot drop mechanic is like (it is awesome) and got acquainted with the Seasons mode, bounties and many other great modes. Enjoy while I run through the start of the season and see the carnage I inflict as I run through a chunk of the early game.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dad Plays Games at Lunch Episode 2 - Grim Dawn

I continue to play games at lunch and tend to be all over the map on what I will play on a given day. For episode two of my series I played a section of a game I backed on Kickstarter called Grim Dawn - this is from ex-Diablo veterans and really echoes that early Diablo vibe. Dark, gritty, visceral and a lot of fun. The game is finally complete, with 4 acts and a ton of character types. I really enjoy this game, it is not as slickly polished as Diablo 3 (but what is really) but the core game is deep and satisfying....the enemies are really gruesome too which is awesome!

Monday, April 04, 2016

I have started a new series of media called Dad Plays Games at Lunch which is simply me (a Dad) working from home and playing games on my lunch break. I usually do this anyway and I thought it would be fun to record myself doing it and share it online. The first episode focused on the AMAZING game Darkest Dungeon. This is a brutal game that keeps me coming back despite it killing my favorite characters over and over again. It is a dungeon crawl that focuses on the stress and psychology of adventuring and what the terror would do to characters. You need to manage resources, items and skills as well as the stress levels and phobias of your characters. Great fun and a game everyone should try.

Friday, January 09, 2015

Keeping Healthy and Fit at 40

At the young age of 40 I have no parents, both of them were lost to horrible diseases, my Mother passed from Cancer over 10 years ago and my Father passed away from heart disease a year and a half ago.  I have always been blessed with a high metabolism and in my 20's and early 30's I was always active but I ate like crap and had no real plan to stay fit in a proper way.  In my 30's I made a decision to eat better, cut out soda (Coca Cola in particular) and work out consistently.

I want to be active and around for a long time to enjoy my Children and their Children. So to that respect I worked through a number of training regimes from Karate, to self directed, to Shaun T's Insanity.  I have now settled into a really great workout routine and when I started to document it I realized it is actually quite crazy.  I do this a minimum 3 times a week, optimally 4 times depending on work meetings (I have a gym at my office). I feel great, muscle tone is amazing, and I have the lean tone physique I have always wanted.  I just need to fully clean up my diet if I ever want to get rid of the lingering softness around my belly. :)

With this workout and overall better eating I have lost a belt size and shirts that were snug fit amazing now.  Another helpful thing I do is always use the stairs at work.  Each day that amounts to  20 - 30 flights of stairs.

Start - Cardio
  • Warm up the upper body with Tewaza routine from Karate.
  • Punch drills x 10  - Uppercut each hand, low punch each hand, high punch each hand, side punch each hand, cross punch each hand
  • 400 skips on Jump rope (200 traditional, 200 butt kick style)
  • 80 Traditional Jumping Jacks, 20 Power Jacks
  • 13 Minutes of High Intensity Elliptical (treadmill is a strain on my knees for whatever reason)
Stretching
  • 4 Deep Breath cycles (cycle is 10 seconds)
  • 3 squat stretch cycles
  • Knee stretch cycle - each side
  • Ankle stretch cycle - each side
  • 2 Low stretch cycles  
  • 2 Running stretch cycles - each side
  • Hamstring stretch cycle - each leg
  • 3 Deep Breath cycles
Core  Work
  • 4 Handstand drills (unassisted handstand holds)
  • 10 deep pushups - tapping alternating shoulders on rise
  • 10 Tricep pushups
  • 20 wide pushups - with alternating raised legs (always supported by only one leg)
  • 4 alternating raised leg Plank cycles
  • 4 alternating raised arm Plank cycles
  • 30 Alternating Leg lifts (back is curved, leg raised to ceiling) for Abdominals
  • 20 Bicycle crunches
  • 14 shoulder dips
  • 14 narrow pullups
  • 14 wide pullups
  • 20 Medicine Ball lifts alternating sides - 10lb medicine ball
  • 10 Medicine Ball overhand lifts  - 15lb medicine ball 
Weights
  • 20 Bench Press - 170lbs
  • 40 curls each arm - 25lbs
  • 10 tricep curls each arm - 25lbs
  • 10 shoulder lifts each arm - 25lbs
  • 20 Butterfly - 130 lbs (Pectorals)
Stretching
  • 4 Deep Breath cycles (cycle is 10 seconds)
  • 3 squat stretch cycles
  • Knee stretch cycle - each side
  • Ankle stretch cycle - each side
  • 2 Low stretch cycles  
  • 2 Running stretch cycles - each side
  • Hamstring stretch cycle - each leg
  • 3 Deep Breath cycles

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

My thoughts on Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel

Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is a neat tongue-in-cheek concept, featuring the rise of Handsome Jack and set just after the events of the original Borderlands title. It’s a sequel to the first title and a prequel to the second (excellent) Borderlands game, a cute and effective title.
Those games were incredibly fun to play and hooked many a gamer (myself included) for many, many hours of crazy Claptrap-enhanced antics. So how do you make a new game sandwiched between the two original titles bigger and better? The answer seems to have eluded 2K Australia and Gearbox, as this game is competent and fun but just seems like more of the same.
Let’s back up a bit. The story of Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel focuses on a group of new Vault Hunters hired by Jack (not labelled as ‘Handsome’ yet), who is essentially a Hyperion middle manager at this point, to investigate a vault on Pandora’s moon Elpis. This being a Borderlands game, all goes to hell on Elpis when the Dahl Corporation steps in and hijacks the Hyperion station Helios and starts bombarding the moon (for some convoluted reason, in place just move the story along). Jack tasks the new hunters with helping take over the station and stopping the Dahl incursion. Zany antics, weird plot twists and diverse locations are featured as you fight towards eliminating the Dahl General and placing the station under Jack’s control.
The characters from both previous games make appearances as allies and narrative devices, relating their stories about the rise of Jack and the part they played. This is a really interesting hook to tie the games together. The game has one of the characters being interrogated by the original Vault Hunters and relating their side of the story as it plays out during the course of the game. The voiceover narrative gives your characters perspective on events and fleshes them out in a really creative way. I really enjoyed seeing Jack’s transformation as well: he starts as a person seemingly trying to save Elpis while getting ahead in Hyperion, but discovers (and embraces) his sociopathic tendencies as he is forced to get his hands dirty. From a story perspective I quite enjoyed the journey, especially the anecdotes from my character, Nisha, as she progressed.
The gameplay and progression aspects of the game are certainly capable, but this is where I would have liked to see much more growth in the franchise. They have added a number of new tweaks, such as low gravity, butt stomps, an air canister-equipable item, and lasers that have different firing modes, but the core game is exactly as it was in previous installments. You get a mission, you try to solve the problem, it doesn’t work, and you have to go elsewhere to try a different solution, rinse and repeat.
The game has a large number of story missions and sidequests, but the challenges usually boil down to this: Go somewhere, kill things and hit a button, go somewhere else, kill more things and wait for the action to have an effect. I am not saying I have an answer to what else they could do, but the format is getting a little stale and more variety in mission styles and challenges would have been appreciated.
Thankfully all of those little tweaks the developers added do mix things up enough to make playing through Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel generally very enjoyable. The biggest and most appreciated addition is the low-gravity situation you find yourself in; jumps are higher, and you can glide to increase distance and butt stomp when you are surrounded and need a breather. The benefit to transportation from the higher, longer jumps cannot be overstated.
With all the back and forth required in these games (remember the mission structures are still generally fetch quests), the ability to actually enjoy moving around makes a big difference. There are vehicles again, but the game often gates you away from using them or has whole zones without them, so having this faster and quite frankly fun transport method makes a big difference.
The extra item you can equip is an air canister, and these have varying abilities such as extra stomp damage, quicker recovery, and extra air supply. This adds another layer of tactical thinking as you need to plan your air reserves, and the butt stomp can be a life saver when used effectively. Air pockets, generators, canister drops, and vents are numerous so your air supply is rarely an issue, but it is a nice tweak.
The new gun type, lasers, are quite interesting as there are some that fire bursts while others fire a continuous stream and all have elemental attributes. The lasers actually become the focus of a fun sidequest as the infinitely humorous Torque hates them because they never have explosive abilities (which are his speciality). The lasers are fun to use and add a new dimension to shooting that is not necessarily groundbreaking, but does add a tweak to combat that is appreciated.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel features some of the original characters, but all four playable Vault Hunters are brand new as playable characters, but are returning faces from previous games in one form or another. Wilhelm is the first major boss you face in Borderlands 2 and he is the Enforcer or Assault style character. He is interesting in that he slowly keeps adding parts as he levels closer to becoming the enemy you faced in the, err, sequel.
ClapTrap the Fragtrap is the crazy CL4P-TRP droid that follows you through all the games. This time he is armed and psychotic with his special ability randomizing to often hilarious effect. Athena is another interesting character, pulled from DLC from the original Borderlands. She is basically Captain America with a gun and shield, really as awesome as it sounds. The final character (for now; Jack’s Doppelganger will be added as the fifth playable character) and the one I played through the campaign with is Nisha the Lawbringer.
Nisha was the Sheriff from Lynchwood in Borderlands 2 (and in a relationship with Handsome Jack at the time of that game), and she is the sharpshooter and quick-guns character. I have only dabbled with the other Vault Hunters, but Nisha I know very well. One of the cool things about Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is that the characters interact with the story; your character responds to Jack or the characters you are involved in all throughout the story. Nisha is snippy with Moxxi, flirtatious with Jack (and Janey Springs), angry at the world, and in general a really terrible person. The dialogue isn’t world-class prose, but it did serve to add depth to this character and actually gave me incentive to try the other characters through a complete playthrough which I had never done (nor wanted to) before in the previous games. In typical Borderlands fashion Nisha has three skill trees that focus on specific talents (sharpshooting, pistols, and law and order skills) and that refine how you play the game. The skills are well done and add nice depth to the game.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel on paper has a lot going for it and in fact the game is interesting and fun to play, but it gets repetitive gameplay-wise when you realize that it is the same old formula from the previous two games. The characters are interesting, the game looks fantastic, the weapons are crazier than ever, but there is a kind of fatigue that builds up as you play because you just feel that you have played this game already. It is really hard to describe; I like the game, I am playing the game and having fun, but I just feel that if 2K Australia and Gearbox had tried to innovate on the formula instead of recycling it they could have had a truly exceptional game instead of one that is just very good.
Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel is available on PC, Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Extra Life 2014

For the last few years I have been joining some good friends over at Team Bombshelter as they participate in the Extra Life 24 hour gaming event.  For those who don't know Extra Life it is a 24 hour gaming marathon run once a year and proceeds are raised to directly support a local Childrens Hospital.  As we are from Ottawa, we choose the great Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO), a fantastic facility that always needs support.

I have not participated as a team member as with my own kids and schedule it is hard to commit for the entire 24 hour period.  I do donate, bring food and join in the festivities and will look to participate a little more directly as a team member next year.

The event is absolutely amazing and the Team truly outdid themselves this year in scale and donations.  This team of dedicated gamers managed to raise far more than double their $2000 goal and is sitting at $4684 and counting (some late donations are trickling in).  It is a great accomplishment and one I was proud to be a part of in my way.

The event is staged at one of the team members house (@boozysmurf on twitter) and it was a doozy this year.  The goal was to have multiple gaming options.  Tabletop in the top floor, console gaming on the main floor and PC gaming/Rockband in the basement.

The Basement is always the epicenter of fun as the truly Epic Rock Band setup is down there along with the PC gamers.  The person who curates the Rock Band environment is a true fan and will never forget this sadly lost genre of band games.  He has a true drum and keyboard setup, 4 mics for harmonizing lyrics and 3-4 guitars.  The game is displayed with a projector on a huge wall (100+ inch screen in essence) and this lets us Rock out to the over 1700 songs he has collected.  Always a crowd pleaser even with my warbling singing voice.

The PC Gamers are also in the basement and bled out to the upper floor as well.  I was banished up there as I arrived late, but it was all good, I was surrounded by good folks and lost myself into the worlds of Middle Earth, Elpis and Alien.

The biggest and most impressive section was the console gaming section, these dedicated and charitable folks brought their consoles and TV's along for the party.  The end result was one room with 5 units setup and the other main room had an astounding 8 units setup!!  This was truly amazing with some folks doing essentially local fireteams in Destiny, others doing co-op Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel and still others playing a truly marathon session of Forza.  The benefit of this environment is that around midnight we had an old school and epic hour or two of Halo 3 local Multiplayer with 9 players.  Great fun at anytime.

Of course there was tons of food as this acted as a potluck, with meatballs, piri piri chicken, three meat lasagna and dozens of cookies were on offer and consumed.  Add that to the copious amounts of coffee, energy drinks and mountain dew consumed you had a haze of gaming Nirvana.

The best thing about this event is the constant remembrance that this is for the kids, CHEO has touched probably everyones life in Ottawa directly and indirectly and it is a really worthwhile institution.  What amazes me every year is the generosity of the gamers here, everyone is welcome from kids and casual players to the truly hardcore gamers.  We were all there to have fun and support a worthy cause.  We did both and cannot wait to do it again next year.