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.

Friday, October 24, 2014

My continuing thoughts on Destiny.

I have a lot of games, I mean A LOT!  Far too many really.  I would say I am midpoint through playing at least 40 excellent titles and have about 10-15 more I just haven't even started...plus older ones I want to get back to.  Just recently many amazing games have been released, Wasteland 2, Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel, Middle Earth Shadow of Mordor and Alien: Isolation to name a few.  But Destiny is one game I cannot stop playing, and it is actually really astonishing as that kind of multiplayer focused re-play style of game is something I tend not to enjoy or stick around for.

I often play a story mission, a strike, a few patrols and a couple of multiplayer matches a night.  Right now my focus is strictly on levelling my vanguard rank and taking out Guardians in the crucible just to unlock this exotic weapon:

I am working through a really tough exotic bounty to get this weapon, currently I have to get 500 points by killing Guardians in the crucible using only void damage.  The catch is that any deaths set you back so you need to have a good kill/death ratio.  I am being really strategic when I play and have a void shotgun and heavy weapn but it is still a grind.  So why do I do it? Why do I keep playing when all other games that forced my hand in such a way turned me off?  Part of the answer is in my review for Destiny:

Destiny Review on Blogcritics

But deeper than than the fact that the game is slick, has great controls and plays buttery smooth, the game allows you to interconnect tasks that makes grinding completely addicting.  You have ranks you can get in certain factions, the base vanguard faction, a clan faction and when events like Queens Bounty and Iron Banner arrive you can also level in there as well.  The trick is you can only accrue experience in one at a time.  If you equip a standard cloak (or whatever the equivalent is for Warlock/Titan) you rank Vanguard, if you wear the Queens cloak or Iron Banner or Future War Cult colors then you rank with them.  You care about this because each of them have somewhat unique legendary items you can buy, but only if you achieve a certain rank!  This inspires you to level up so you can buy Legendary items which is much easier then waiting for them as drops.  I am currently Rank 2 in FWC and nearly rank 2 in Vanguard.  The goal being having all Legendary items equipped.  Why?  So I can level up.   Past level 20 you can only level by equipping items with light points, the Blues have decent points, but Purple Legendaries are better and Yellow exotics obviously the best.  To achieve level 30 you need the killer gear.

So Levelling is one reason to grind/play, but that would not be enough.  In order to make me want to do it Destiny has bounties which to me ties everything together.  I know I have to grind crucible matches to get my exotic Hand Cannon unlocked, so I take Crucible bounties as well, these could be melee 10 people from behind or kill 10 warlocks or take over 10 control points.  All of this reward me with experience (which convert to Motes of Light, which equals additional levelling and a currency).  By layering these bounties on what I already want to do personally it gives me that extra incentive to play match after match.  There are bounties for Strikes, patrols and other actions that make playing through the game sequences over and over rewarding on a continual basis.

Having all of these different goals, bounties are a way to keep me interested but Bungie also has daily story missions with extra rewards as well as weekly strikes and crucible matches with bonuses that sweeten the pot.  Plus the gameplay is just so damn fun.  I mean really flawless.  I have not enjoyed a shooter so much in ages, so much so that the gunplay in Borderlands: TPS seems frankly subpar.  Bungie has said that they will continue to grow Destiny and I see it in the content patches and Public Events.  I am hopelessly addicted to this game and frankly I don;t care, it is pure fun to me and I wish I was home playing it right now.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

PAX East 2014 Preview: Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel!

One of the surprises leading up to PAX East was hearing about the new game in the Borderlands franchise called Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! Developed by 2K Australia with heavy partnership from Gearbox, this new title focuses on Handsome Jack’s rise to infamy in the period between Borderlands one and two. While the game was not playable by attendees at the show, Gearbox and 2K Australia had a developer-led playthrough of the new game that was focused on introducing new characters, environments and weapon types. It was a great presentation and alleviated my fears that this would be just more of the same Borderlands we are used to.
click to view larger imageThe presentation started with the character of Athena, a Gladiator class who was an NPC originally introduced in DLC for the first Borderlands. Athena’s abilities focus on a shield she can generate to absorb shots and then fire for tremendous damage.
As the presenter moved around the world, which is the moon orbiting Pandora, he introduced some of the new mechanics offered by this new playground. On the moon the gravity is lower, which allows for higher and longer jumps, as well as the potential to knock items and even people off the surface with enough force. The second major addition was an extra item slot called O2 Kits (but which looks like it says “OZ Kits,” a nod to the Australian development of the game); these slots not only give an oxygen timer but also have benefits similar to ones given on shield slots.
As they started to move around and explore, the addition of O2 kits and Oxygen itself started to really come out as a huge difference in this title. Certain areas have breathable environments being generated and others don’t; smash a canister when there is no oxygen/gravity and items float away. Kill a bad guy just right and he floats away into space as well. You can also fire at people’s helmets to cut off their oxygen supply, which could be a key tactic in some battles. The oxygen tank you carry can also be used tactically to trigger longer or higher jumps, but it depletes oxygen faster which is something you have to be aware of.
The O2 meter can easily be looked at as similar to the shield bar – you are in trouble one way or another when it starts to get low. Thankfully there are air pockets all over the place (and marked on the map) as well as atmosphere generators and buildings that can replenish your O2. Plus the O2 kit is another item type, so larger and more powerful ones can be found as you play.
click to view larger imageThe developer then took us to a loot drop in order to explain some of the new weapon types found in The Pre-Sequel!  The first was a cryo gun model that is a first for the series, giving the ability to slow, then finally freeze enemies with multiple shots. If enemies are killed when frozen they shatter, which actually looked really cool in the low-gravity setting. A neat moment occurred with this gun type later in the playthrough when an enemy froze and was shattered in low gravity with the bits floating away. When atmosphere was restored the bits fell to the ground all around.
The other major weapon type is a sustained laser-style weapon that can have whatever elemental power the gun happens to be created with, so you can have a fire, ice or corrosive laser. Of course all the weapon manufacturers have their variants as well, so assume some fire faster, some explode and others do other over-the-top actions you would expect from Borderlands guns.
The developer was playing alone as Athena and she was quite effective especially once the shield’s ultimate power was unlocked, giving her the ability to chain-hit many targets. Soon though a large horde appeared and another presenter jumped in and started playing as Wilhelm, who was the first boss from Borderlands 2. In Borderlands 2 Wilhelm is a giant robot, but in The Pre-Sequel! he is a cyborg and his skill tree is all about adding other robotic components until he is the Wilhelm we know.
His key power is called Air Power and it revolves around calling in Drones to assist you.  Wilhelm is a Defender class and he looked pretty interesting and will be the tank class in this title. Wilhelm and Athena took on waves of bad guys, working together to take advantage of frozen enemies and claiming oxygen-rich areas. Eventually they encountered a mini-boss called Red Belly who kicked Athena through the glass of the compound, and the demo ended with her flipping through space. There will be two other playable characters available upon initial release, ClapTrap the FragTrap and Nisha the Lawbringer (who was sheriff of Lynchwood in Borderlands 2), but they were not presented as part of the demo.
click to view larger imageInitially I did not have a lot of excitement for Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! I assumed it was just Borderlands with a coat of paint, but the story of Handsome Jack becoming the head of Hyperion seems interesting and the new tweaks look fun. The inclusion of O2 kits and the new gun variants look to add depth to the game and we were even teased with a new moon vehicle that looks like it will be a blast to drive around Pandora’s moon.
Interestingly enough the game is coming to last-gen consoles (PS3, Xbox 360 and PC) so that the developer could focus on content and not engine changes to suit the newer-generation boxes. This also means we get to play the game that much sooner, and after what I saw at PAX East I am looking forward to finding a gazillion new guns in Borderlands: The Pre-Sequel! when it is released this fall.

Friday, April 18, 2014

PAX East 2014 Preview: Defense Grid 2

Tucked away at PAX East was a booth for Defense Grid 2, a sequel to the well-loved Defense Grid: The Awakening which to me defined the tower defense genre with its tight action, wit and customizable experience. Despite being a terrific game and a solid seller the first title did not put its developer Hidden Path in a position to fund a sequel and they did not want to go the traditional publisher route. That left Kickstarter, which they approached it in an interesting way: If they got a certain amount they would release an expansion to the original game, while if they achieved their top goal a sequel would be released.
They missed their top goal, but a mystery backer topped up their funding and work was started. They released their expansion last year and then eventually reached out to 505 games for publishing support and are well on their way to releasing the full sequel later this year.
click to view larger imageI had played a great deal of Defense Grid: The Awakening on PC and noticed when I got to the booth that they had an Xbox One version playable as well so I took that for a spin. The point of the Defense Grid series is to fight off hordes of monsters that are trying to steal your power cores. The action takes place on set maps with multiple paths and you have the ability to direct the monsters by placing towers at blocking points. You win if no more monsters are left and you still have cores; you get a perfect game if none are stolen. One of the neat things about the series is that the monsters have to walk back with the cores to steal them, so you have a chance on the return path to finish the hordes off, but cores return to base slowly so care is needed.
Off the bat I could see there were some subtle differences that will improve playability.  First off, the top of the screen has a host of information such as what monsters are queued; the core, shield and resource numbers; and a graph showing your progress and mapping any previous attempts. The monsters now have a health bar, which makes a big difference when gauging how you are doing. Hidden Path also eliminated flying creatures as they were too chaotic and could easily ruin a perfect run; this allowed the developer to come up with many more interesting monster variants. Finally, they added a lot of dynamic content within the maps – towers that move and land masses that rise and fall, for example – which changes the battlefield.
click to view larger imageControl was easy on the Xbox One, with the left stick controlling general movement and the right stick intuitively zooming with up and down movements and shifting viewing angles with left and right. The bumpers are used to speed and slow down the monster movement, and placement/upgrades is controlled with the A button. It worked pretty well, movement was responsive and the system was very lenient when you were hovering on a build point – it would build in the most likely spot.
Despite the controls being a little different I was pulled in right away and enjoyed a round of the new title (winning a perfect match, I may add). The game in its current state did not have any of the story elements in place, but I was assured that the charming AI narrator from the first game (Jim Ward) would be back along with a number of new characters. The company’s goal is to refine and deepen the story and the tidbits I was given have me excited to play through the game’s main story mode.
While the core gameplay of Defense Grid has been tweaked more than revolutionized, the sequel will offer additional modes that will lengthen the life and enjoyment of the title. It will be released across multiple platforms (PS4, Xbox One and PC), but the PC version will have a leg up with Mod support. Tools will be provided with the full version for people to create their own themed maps and voiceovers. This could be a really cool way to get some iconic scenes or scenarios as well as plenty of unique content into Defense Grid 2.
click to view larger imageI was told the game will also have two-player co-op and competitive MP modes. Players can work with or against other players to evolve strategies. Co-op mode allows a player to work with a friend to build towers and defend power cores. Competitive mode allows players to compete and modify each other’s gameplay experience while interacting. That last competitive mode is the one I am really looking forward to as it was described as similar to the old multiplayer Tetris on the Gameboy – as you eliminate monsters on your side, some spawn to the other player.
Defense Grid 2 is shaping up really well on all platforms, but having checked out both the PC and Next Gen console versions I can say that the PC version has a clear edge. The textures were crisper and better shaded, and movement is far more intuitive on a mouse and keyboard than with a controller. This is not to say that the Xbox One and PS4 versions are bad, they just don’t quite measure up to the PC version. With some time left before release we could see the gulf shrink, but if you have a choice go for the PC version first.
Being a big fan of the original I was looking forward to Defense Grid 2 and my anticipation level has just risen further now that I have tried out the game first-hand.  The gameplay tweaks, expanded storyline and solid multiplayer additions make this the one Tower Defense game to look out for when it is released this Fall for Xbox One, PS4, and PC/Linux/Mac.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012


The PAX East Exprience

Unlike a certain author from a major publication, I attend PAX East to experience the culture and games, not to view it as a sociological experiment. The culture, games, and the people are what PAX is all about, these are not people to look at in a mocking or degrading fashion, instead these are people who fuel an industry that is now larger than the movie business. PAX East is very much the people's gaming convention and the experience is one that is full of amazing moments that far outweigh the few tedious ones.

Before I begin, a description of PAX is necessary, but instead of paraphrasing or making up my own, it just makes sense to give the official line:  

"PAX is a three-day game festival for tabletop, videogame, and PC gamers. We call it a festival because in addition to dedicated tournaments and freeplay areas we've got nerdcore concerts, panel discussions, the weekend-long Omegathon event, and an exhibitor hall filled with booths displaying the latest from top game publishers and developers. Even with all this amazing content the best part of PAX is hanging out with other people who know their shit when it comes to games."

The Preparation

Going to PAX East isn't something you just decide to do, well unless you live in Boston of course. Being from Ottawa, Canada I have to pre-plan a great deal every year for the event. Thanks to Blogcritics I can apply for a Media pass, but I am not guaranteed one. The application involves sending story samples, getting a letter from your editor and your personal credentials (business card, ID, etc). Once the application is sent you just pray it is accepted because three day passes sold out by January 9th, a full four months before the event!

Travel and hotels are stressful enough, but the real challenge of PAX east preparation is the schedule. Not only are there dozens of very interesting panels everyday, there are literally hundreds of games of the digital and tabletop variety to check out. Attending as media, I also have the opportunity to have meetings with various companies that range from quick demos to extended play sessions and interviews.

Pouring over the schedule and e-mails from media contacts, I ended up with a schedule that is nearly impossible for a human to complete. From start to finish, the first two nights I have something slotted for nearly every hour (including events before the show even starts on the Friday). Sunday is a shorter day (till 6PM), but every hour is occupied there as well. At times there are two - three panels at the same time worth attending and a tough choice has to be made. The breadth of content is amazing and these decisions are great ones to be forced to make.

Flight and Hotel dealt with far in advance, day job vacation booked and kids re-arranged during my absence I am ready to head to Boston. The last preparation is figuring out subway travel and confirming the last appointments which change the entire schedule around.

I highly recommend that any out of towners who attend PAX East try and come early and leave late. Because we arrived a couple of nights early, were able to attend the highly enjoyable PokeCrawl, a charity based pub crawl with a Pok√©mon theme, perfect for PAX East. It was the night before PAX started and while that may not have been the smartest of choices the next day, it was very fun at the time.

The Event

If anyone has been to a world class convention before you know what to expect. Hordes of people, a cacophony of sights and sounds and more ways then is right to spend all your money and then some. The event is in the Boston Convention and Exhibition centre and it is a huge sprawling beast of a facility that is completely overtaken by the spectacle that is PAX East.

It is usually  hard to decide what to do first when you arrive at PAX East, for me this year it was a little easier. We had picked up our badges the day before (which saves hours) and media has access to an hour in the exhibit hall before the doors open. An hour may seem like a lot, but with 10s of thousands of square feet of space and hundreds of exhibitors, the time is precious. We ended up seeing Aliens: Colonial MarinesThe Behemoth booth and took a walk through the Microsoft booth.

Once the hour was up, we had to hustle up to the main theatre for the keynote by the legendary Jordan Mechner. This is where the dice rolling at PAX East begins. With so many people (70-80,000 people walk through the doors over the three days) getting into key panels are a combination of luck and the perseverance to line-up for hours in advance. Media access means nothing in regards to the panels, you either get in or not, media rows are not reserved at the conference for panels, no matter how prominent you are.


We were able to get into Jordan Mechner's excellent keynote and this kicked of an incredibly busy day that involved some but not all the panels I wanted to hit. We were able to attend the first Penny Arcade Q&A as well as a gaming and Mental Health panel. But the huge line-ups prevented us from seeing panels by Bioware and Naughty Dog for their landmark games. Foiled but not demoralized, we filled our time by hitting the tabletop section of the exhibit hall, checking out the Nintendo and Ubisoft booth and falling exhaustively onto Sumo beanbags in the handheld lounge.

The day ended with a late appointment at the Warner Brothers booth where we checked out the crazy and fun Lollipop Chainsaw and the Xbox 360 version of the Witcher 2. I was also lucky enough to have a chat with Suda 51 about Lollipop Chainsaw, it was a real treat meeting him as he is dynamic and passionate individual.

The rest of the three day event followed a very similar pattern. I tried (and was sporadically successfully) in attending a number of panels looking at varied topics like Hitman: Absolution; Penny Arcade: Make a Strip; Dragonlance; and Real RPGs: Sexuality, religion, and race in design and play. I also had the pleasure of meeting with a number of developers looking at games such as Sleeping DogsQuantum ConundrumPenny Arcade's On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness 3Max Payne 3, and Borderlands 2 among others. All of the games made a great impression and when the lights came up at the end of the Omegathon I was surprised that PAX East was over.

The Experience

PAX East is something that needs to be experienced if you have any interest in the video game or table top world or just the culture itself. The moment you step into the convention centre you are, as Wil Wheaton said in the inaugural show, Home.

Outside of the games and the panels and rock concerts, the real meat of PAX is the people. Everywhere you walk there is a huge array of personalities and cultures and they are all there for the same reason. I never saw fights; I never saw blatantly rude behaviour; instead I saw people meeting, talking, playing, laughing, and just enjoying their passion whether it be Magic: The GatheringPokemon or the latest Call of Duty.

One of the perfect examples of what the experience of PAX is like comes from an encounter I had on the subway on the way to the show. A guy dressed as Nathan Drake stopped me to chat, turns out he is a random person I met while waiting in line at the first PAX East. We were really bored in that line and I had just bought some new dice so I asked the guys if they wanted to join an impromptu roleplay session. As we had no books I made up a scenario based roughly in the D&D 3.5 world and did a 45 minute session with four random strangers. This person on the subway told me that he remembers that and tells people about it as one of the coolest things he had ever experienced. It was one of the things that made his PAX experience that year and locked him and many of his friends in to the show from that point on.

PAX is not just a group of geeks and nerds gathering to talk about children's hobbies and act weird as some outside folks would lead you to believe. It is a community of strangers who reach out to each other with their common passions and ideals and become family.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012


Playstation Plus is the best investment you can make if you own a PS3

While it has faded a bit over time I have to confess I am still a Sony fanboy.  Aside from Bethesda games (which run like shit on PS3 due to lack of skill on that platform) and the Mass Effect series if a game is multi-platform I get it on PS3.  I am currently on my second PS3 and my fourth Xbox 360.  To add context to the disparity on replacing hardware I bought an Xbox nearly 18 months AFTER I got my PS3.  So in 6 years of owning a PS3 it was replaced once and in 4 and a half years I went through 4 Xbox consoles.  Presumably I now have the uber stable Xbox 360 design so I should be good, but still my confidence in the hardware is not terribly high.

When my PS3 died, it was a catastrophic death, the dreaded Yellow light of death.  Because I had the original phat 60Gb system with backwards compatibility I was loathe to give it up.  So I got a local repair guy to fix it, he warned me it would be temporary, but it was worth it to get backups started on my PS3.  You see I had 4 1/2 years of saves on the system, probably in excess of 400 hours of gameplay that would have been lost.  Once I had my PS3 back home I started a rigorous backup schedule and when it inevitably failed I bought a PS3 Slim, restored my backups and discovered that not all games work on the backup system.

I had looked at Playstation Plus in the past, it offered some bonuses in the form of initially bland free games, but the key at the time for me was the cloud based saves and automatic updates.  Nothing is more annoying on the PS3 then putting a game in and waiting 30 minutes for updates to be applied.  With PS Plus these updates (Game and PS3 core) are applied overnight so your system is always up to date.  Cloud saves is another key, all important games are stored to the cloud meaning I will always have a backup of my saves.  I subscribed immediately and as the months went by it became more and more worth it.  The free games and perks such as discounts became deeper every month and at current count I have gotten the following games for free:

-Comet Crash
-All the Magic Orbz expansions
-Sonic the Hedgehog 2
-Crash Team Racing
-Crash Bandicoot 2
-Hydrophobia: Prophecy
-Entire Jurassic Park the Game
-Entire Back to the Future the Game
-Marvel Pinball
-Spyro: Year of the Dragon
-Syphon Filter 2
-Final Fantasy V
-Far Cry 2
-Battle Fantasia
-The Simpsons Arcade game
-Hamsterball
-Fatal Inertia EX
-Mahjong tales
-Supersonic Acrobatic Rocket-Powered Battle-Cars
-UmJammer Lammy
-Splinter Cell Essentials
-Shank 2
-Betas for Starhawk and Ghost Recon Future Warrior
-Plus heavy discounts on Final Fantasy games and tons of dynamic themes.

Many of these games are truly excellent and this month it gets even better with the following being given free:

-Awesomenauts
-Trine 2
-Rock of Ages
-Castlevania SOTN and Chrinicles

I mean this is almost ridiculous.  So many free games and services that actually improve the experience.  Compare this to my Xbox Live account that gets sporadic and not very good discounts and online play.  I get that for free on PlayStation already.  I won't knock the Xbox live experience, it is stable, and cross game chat is amazing, but $50/year amazing?  No.

I will gladly pay $50 per year for PlayStation plus for the games, discounts and features.  My Xbox 360 gold account lapses every month and I wait till offer me live for a month at $1, that is how little the service means to me.