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E3 2014 Predictions And Why It Doesn’t Really Matter #E3Live #E32014

UPDATE:  Watching the Twitch E3 preview with @DJwheat and gang.  In just a few minutes, Microsoft is doing their Day 0 press conference.  There’s a lot of wishing and hoping for Fallout 4 (and a new Gears Of War).  That sounds AWESOME to me but I won’t hold my breath, simply because Bethesda has already shot down that notion and they’ll want to let Elder Scrolls Online marinate a while first.  The next Fallout won’t be for at least another year or two.  What do you guys, think?

In the past week, everyone has been asking me if I am excited about E3.  I don’t know how to answer without sounding like a bitter old man or being a wet towel..  Truth is: I’ve barely given E3 much thought.  Everything I want from gaming is here and now so it was not a big deal to me..  Then, during HorsePLAY! LIVE EP25, TCollins89 asked why E3 is on weekdays. It got me thinking:

E3 is not for the everyday or common gamer.  So what is it really about and does it really matter?

DISCLAIMER:  What you are about to read is an editorial.  This, like anything else on Geeky Antics, is the opinion of me, the author.  I may ruffle some feathers but I am being honest and open here.  Keep an open mind.  I am not trying to belittle anyone.  We can disagree peacefully!

As far as I’m concerned, E3 is a glorified trade show meant to hype up gamers who, somehow, can’t get enough content or want more fuel for the console wars. It is geared towards marketers, suits, developers, and journalists.  Think about this:

How many of the presenters actually PLAY games?  Are they gamers first or marketing/business people first?  I reckon the latter is often the case.

For most, E3 is just an excuse for a change of scenery or time off from work. I would venture to say the only way you are looking forward to E3 is if you want the social experience or are super hardcore about gaming (i.e. you have to play every single major game that is released).  This is wishful thinking but I think I’d care more about console gaming again if the entry points were more appealing, at least for the software itself.

That may sound harsh but I think I have finally converted back to PC for good. There are countless reasons but, for me, it’s simply because all my friends are sharded amongst different games and the PC offers too much bang for your buck to even consider dedicated console gaming. I can’t justify the cost or budget the time for a console right now.  As a family man, it does not help that my kids are growing up and playing games with daddy is no longer cool.  Without the bonding experience, console gaming is ho-hum.  I just don’t have the time or interest to do single-player games.

I love my XBox 360 but, for the first time in around ten years, I have let my XBox LIVE subscription lapse for more than two months. My video game wall of shame beckons yet I do not feel compelled to fire her up. I am satisfied by my options on the PC and I don’t have to worry about the hidden costs or suddenly finding that online support has been shut down.

Granted, I have been mostly playing Hearthstone, League of Legends, and SolForge lately but I have a library of games on the PC that excites me every time I look at it. With my consoles, I have mostly felt depression and regret for the past generation or so. I will eventually get an XBox One to play with friends but I do not feel left out of the water cooler conversations.

Now, I can already hear people saying that E3 is about electronic entertainment (hence the name E3 – Electronic Entertainment Expo) as a whole. That is true but it can’t be denied that the expo focuses on the gaming consoles more than anything. With that in mind, consider this fact:

During the transitionary period between console generations, we can’t expect fresh, innovative games. The developers will stick to the console with the greater install base until they figure out how to take advantage of the new framework.

I have nothing against Watch Dogs or Titanfall. I just don’t think they are system sellers for me.  They are the games that are good now because there is nothing else.  Besides, after how Microsoft botched up the original XBox to 360 transition, I think they will play it smart and keep the 360 going for another two to three years.

Glorious PC Master Race - Dirty Console Peasants
[ source: comicvine.com ]
I am no elitist but the future of gaming has been on mobile devices and the PC.. For a while now. $300-500 gets you solid upgrades for your PC and you’re good for a while. With consoles, you have the hidden costs of accessories, DLCs, micro transactions, macro transactions, forced annual releases, preferred server access, season passes, etc. Yeah, I am a smidge jaded and cynical..   But I am also hopeful, especially with so many brilliant small studios and indie developers paving the way (THANK YOU)!

Continue reading E3 2014 Predictions And Why It Doesn’t Really Matter #E3Live #E32014

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Beyond The Graphics: Realism Vs. Immersion In Video Games

The Game Theory Podcast
Episode “Science of Immersion in Video Games”

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I’ve been meaning to dive deep into the topics of realism, immersion, and video game violence for a while now.  The folks at The Game Theory Podcast dissect these issues very well in these two episodes.    You, the awesome geeks and gamers in our community, have also really started to talk about game mechanics and the psychology of gaming so it’s time to really talk about it.  I’m stoked about the response because this is the heart of what makes the world turn – game mechanics!

Recently we talked about realism in shooters (FPS games) and the surge in realism units.   Obi touched upon the main facet of immersion and realism: graphics.  Your typical gamer will first judge a game by theme and presentation, but I would argue that these alone do not create immersion and realism.

We will continue through the key points here with this in mind:

HD graphics do not guarantee immersion or fun, though they do improve realism.

To me, graphics only serve the purpose of providing an initial hook, much like theme, effective marketing, or good buzz/word of mouth could accomplish.  I am a firm believer that graphics won’t see much innovation within the next decade or so.  Even more importantly, graphics should be judged more on the art style, cohesion in presentation (and storytelling), and overall tone of the experience, not in terms of frame rates and resolution.

The questions we need to ask ourselves should revolve more around replay value, community, and support.  Innovation and fresh new ideas are important as well but, as we’ve seen with indie games, new is not always good.  The next few sections will give provide a game mechanics crash course but, if you are already familiar with game design and the psychology behind it, feel free to skip ahead!

Game Zen or "The Flow Zone"

Basics Of Game Mechanics: Immersion, Realism, And Stickyness

 

Realism is what we’ve mainly been talking about so let’s tackle that first.  Realism can be defined as a state of simulating or copying real life.  When the world as we know it is translated into a believable digital form, it can be considered realistic but not necessarily immersive.  The more important thing to consider here is that a story-driven video game, much like a good book or movie, should allow us to suspend our disbelief and get lost in a new world (while likely losing track of time).  Thus, good graphics are a significant part but not the major or only factor to consider here.

Immersion is what I think we really think about when we talk about realism.  Immersion is the experience of feeling fully-indulged and perhaps committed.  Simply put, it’s getting lost in an experience. The most immersive video games have dynamic elements such as customization, branching storylines, and personalization.  Immersion can be impersonal or personal; for the latter, think of role-playing games.

Stickyness is similar to immersion but it focuses more on the aspects of game design that keep people coming back.  It’s more about the commitment and lifestyle changes than the actual experience and indulgence itself.  Today, stickyness is usually forced through terrible game mechanics like those we saw in Farmville or Tiny Tower, where game developers act as if you are dedicated to their game only and can set your schedule around it.

We’ll proceed with this discussion with the understanding that we are determining what really matters in what we consider “good games”.  In doing so, we’ll further distinguish immersion from realism and why the foremost is far more important.

 

Personal & Impersonal Immersion: What About Role-Playing?

One of the easiest ways to design an immersive video game is to make it more personal.  Personalization allows players to see themselves as their digital avatar and feel more fully-vested in the virtual world.   Personal immersion usually involves the main character and his abilities, decisions, and so fort but it can also incorporate story, supporting characters, environments, and so much more.  Traditional Dungeons & Dragons can be considered the most personally immersive experience.

Of course, all the aforementioned does not mean that we as the players cannot identify with a character if we are not pretending to be them.  Impersonal immersion places us in pre-set roles but the immersion comes in the form of the things that remain dynamic.   Even “on-rail” or linear games can be immersive provided the experience sucks us deep into their worlds.

Role-playing games tend to favor personal immersion and the beauty of this approach is that every experience will be unique to each individual player.  On the flip side, we have games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect, where the characters have been chosen for us yet we can easily be immersed in the experience if we enjoy it.  The common thread here is that the details tend to create more realistic and immersive worlds.

What’s interesting is that even fantasy worlds with magic, dragons, and other craziness can be both realistic and immersive.  The trick to creating realism is keeping your facts in check and establishing a believable premise.  In doing so, storytellers and game designers alike can have players see their creation as real, maybe moreso than the real world we live in (just ask the LARPers). Great storytellers know how to keep people hooked long enough to instill a sense of commitment, total “surrender”, or loyalty.

 

The Fun Quotient: What Does Gabe Zichermann Think?

Gabe is considered to be one of the forefront authorities on game mechanics and what he calls “gameification by design”.  One of his most well-known theories is the fun quotient, which simply states that theme and realism do not matter, games just have to be fun. I agree with this design philosophy but I do feel theme is a much bigger factor than Gabe thinks.

Theme is not only part of the initial draw. Theme is a big part of immersion and stickyness too. This is evident in our choices between otherwise exact games. League of Legends comes to mind for me because I prefer DotA (Defense of the Ancients) and Guardians of Middle-Earth (sometimes Smite too) yet I am constantly drawn back to LoL. The characters are a big draw for me (YAY boobies). Heck, I sometimes even read the lore and get intrigued, even though the experience is by no means story-driven. Every now and then, we strange MOBA/ARTS players find ourselves role-playing, flirting with the digital avatars, and being fully immersed in the characters, even if only for 20 to 60 minutes at a time.

Fun is paramount but I also find that community is a critical component in keeping us addicted to our games of choice. The interaction, both social and objective-driven, make for more fun and immersive experiences. We forget about the food we are cooking, block out nagging wives, and forget our worries. This is not to say that the most fun or immersive experiences have to be multiplayer-focused, but it certainly helps unless maybe you are a total hermit or introvert, which is okay too!

Prioritized Sensory Information & The Impact On Immersion

The gang at The Game Theory podcast touched upon sensory stimulation and prioritization of information. One thing they did not get into really was the way game developers can guide us through the intended experience to distract us from the aspects that may otherwise detract from it. In such a manner, sub-par graphics can be excused if everything else is impressive. A better example exists when we look at boundaries in linear and open world experiences but we will get into that in the next section.

Since we have no smell-o-vision (yet), game developers have to rely on stimulating our senses of sight, hearing, and touch (i.e. force feedback and vibration) to create immersive experiences. Let’s look at a great horror game. While great graphics may help create a more realistic and immersive experience, it’s the sounds that create more tension, despair, and fear. I would say sometimes it is better for things to be left to our imaginations as we can often conjure up far more gruesome or compelling things.

The prioritization of audio is not always the best option but it certainly bolsters immersion. After all, who doesn’t get lost in good music? Tactile response is an aspect that can be improved upon but there are good examples of it out there. Nothing beats total silence and non-events interrupted by a sudden, unexpected vibration jolt. This works great for horror so it’s no wonder we are seeing a surge in survival horror with Slender, Outlast, Day Z, etc.

As I mentioned before, the details lend a lot to immersion. When our senses are stimulated in a deliberate manner, even non-story-driven games benefit. In open world games where exploration is a major focus, lavish worlda with nooks and crannies to explore are a fantastic thing to experience as a gamer.

Quality definitely trumps quantity. I still find Shenmue’s worlds to be as good as, if not better than, anything we have seen in the Elder Scrolls games to date. Almost every detail provides deep interaction and triggers new events. Having a massive world like we see in Skyrim is nice but it can be overwhelming to the point of breaking immersion. Once again, theme helps maintain the illusion of reality and immersion alike. If you enjoy the mythos, you will dig deeper and stick with it longer.

The most interesting thing about prioritized sensory information is that the right balance can make otherwise ho-hum aspects shine.  Back to audio, the right sounds can build us up for visuals that may not otherwise have impact.  When you look at these efforts as a whole, we appreciate the creative aspects individually as well.

Willingness and pre-disposition to certain experiences help improve or detract from immersion.  This places a greater focus on the sensory information because game developers can illicit emotional and psychological responses even when other information does not immerse us enough or, worse, causes disruption.  It’s certainly easier to accept something we are already familiar with or believe in, but immersion goes beyond any individual’s framework for realism or their world views.

With traditional pen-and-paper games, veteran GMs and DMs understand that they can’t force players to do things they are unwilling to do.  The challenge is finding ways to guide players through the experience as they intended it.  They have to seduce their participants or risk having reluctant players that ruin the experience for the rest..  Or just giving up before the good parts start up.  There’s no doubt that a seductive narrative can make it easy to give up our existing realities but I must reiterate that a gripping story is not the only path to achieving deep immersion.

Think about the last memorable game you enjoyed so much you replayed it or logged hundreds of hours in it.  Chances are your memories will all tie into senses.  To this day, I still recall the music from the original Sonic The Hedgehog and I remember that being a huge factor for why I would tune out the world and get lost in the bright colors and hyper-fast action.  Sonic was never a deep game (unless maybe you consider the Adventure games on the Sega Dreamcast) so it brings up some interesting points…

Deadpool loves breaking the fourth wall!

Breaking The Fourth Wall

The term breaking the fourth wall, goes back to the early days of live television and stage performances.  Just picture a stage or TV set where there are three walls.  We are able to look in because there is no physical fourth wall.  The fourth wall is essentially us: the audience, gamers, players, readers, etc.  Video games sometimes try to get cute with tongue-in-cheek antics that bring self-awareness to the gamer within the virtual construct.  This can be entertaining but it kills immersion because we are reminded that essentially all we are doing is killing time or playing pretend, with no direct value being created in the real world (usually).

When characters in a video game are aware that they are in a video game, immersion suffers (though we can forgive Deadpool or Zelda for this) but there are better examples.  Some argue that games with no HUD (Heads-Up Display) are more immersive.   I’d say that is a fair point but it depends on the context.  I definitely feel that the visual assets are far more important than the quality of the graphics.

That may be so but the biggest immersion-breaking gaming trope that comes to mind immediately for me is the tutorial.  The best games find ways to teach you the core mechanics naturally.  Pop-ups and forced tutorials make me want to smash my head against a lawn gnome, just because such an action would probably be more worthwhile.

Another game-breaking trope are the elusive invisible walls we see in so many games.  A good game would find a way to weave the boundaries into the story or guide us through the proper paths and habits.  Game developers should not place a heavy focus on exploration if it is not obvious where you can go and can’t go, or where you should look or shouldn’t.  It’s really quite simple yet this mark is often missed.

More commonly, gamers experience bugs/glitches that are so bad that the game is no longer enjoyable, let alone immersive.  Cumbersome core mechanics are a similar shame.  Clunky controls, wonky movement, repetitive gameplay, and so many other things plague games and prevent us gamers from getting immersed.  All this tells us that anything that breaks the game thus disrupts the experience and ruins immersion.

Now for another concept in game mechanics:

The flow zone or “game zen” is when the perfect balance between challenge and reward is achieved.

Maybe I am just getting old and jaded but I feel games lack proper rewards or other hooks to keep us invested.   Sometimes games are too easy or too hard, which is augmented further by lack of rewards.  Scaling is another major game development pitfall because we as the players are not properly prepared for the shift in challenge.  These things certainly detract from immersion because it’s hard to indulge when we’re too busy huffing and puffing.

Accepting the transparency of the fourth wall further reinforces that we are willing to make certain concessions to enjoy a creative work.  Artists, writers, and game designers are all tasked with the challenge of maintaining the illusion and appealing to our senses.  This is the very essence of immersion: hooking us in and keeping us hooked.  The epitome is when the experience is so good we come back to it in our heads and in conversations..  but that’s for another discussion!

Why Is Violence So Prevalent?

It seems that you can’t talk about realism without violence coming up so let’s talk about that briefly.  The scope of this obviously goes beyond what we’re really getting at here but here’s my main thought on the topic:

While we may complain about the excessive violence in video games, there is no doubt that violence appeals to our hidden, more visceral desires.

I am of the opinion that violence has been over-done in video games yet I still find it satisfying when I am in that dark place where all I seek is blood.  The sad truth is that game developers today still see this as the easiest opportunity to create mass appeal and get gamers hooked.  As long as it works, it will continue to be prevalent.

What’s interesting is that if we had 100% realism in violent video games, it’d be a very exclusive experience.  Imagine if a headshot always resulted in a kill (unlike in Halo or CoD).  Imagine if there were no respawns.  For the average gamer, that does not sound like fun yet I go back to the days of Soldier Of Fortune II: Double Helix.  The “real damage” servers running infiltration play modes were always fun for me, even if I spent a lot of time in spectator mode.  The Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, and Arma games have always been the most realistic but not to a degree where they sacrifice the fun quotient.

Even on Call of Duty, I prefer Search & Destroy but no one really plays that so I’m relegated to play deathmatch and other terrible modes.  I can’t lie: the violence is gratifying but the fun and immersion is introduced when you go deep with the tactics and teamwork aspects.  Shooters may be stale these days but, when you play with friends on a regular basis, it’s satisfying to know people have your back.  I am intrigued by realism units in Arma II but I worry if the realism may be TOO much…

What are your thoughts on video game violence?  Leave us a voicemail on the GANG Hotline at (206) 415-4987 and we’ll flesh out the core issues further together!

 

Ghost In The Shell - One of the classic VR/cyberpunk experiences in sexy anime form!

Conclusion:  Virtual Reality, Simulations, And True Immersion

With all the talks about Sony’s Project Morpheus and Facebook buying the Oculus Rift, some gamers are hoping that virtual reality will finally be here to stay.  I personally feel it would be nice to have another way to enhance and experience video games but I don’t see the need for VR to come in and improve realism.  VR comes with a strong promise behind it.  We are hoping that we will have truly immersive experiences but, as we already revealed, if the core mechanics are lacking and features feel tacked on, immersion is disrupted and inhibited.

Alongside RPGs, simulation games provide a genre that lends to deeper immersion but I would argue that not every simulator is immersive or realistic for the same aforementioned reasons.  I’d say that realism may be served in high doses but that does not guarantee deep immersion.  Ultimately, games have to be fun for us to log in the hours and consider them true escapisms or alternate realities.

Wrapping up my diatribe before HorsePLAY! LIVE starts up in a few minutes, I believe true immersion does not require realism or high-end specs.  It always boils down to the little details and core mechanics that make a game fun and allow us to surrender ourselves to the experience.  We can definitely talk about this further so, before I go off on more tangents, leave us some comments and we’ll keep the conversation going.  See you guys on the ObioneX2 Twitch Channel!

HorsePLAY! Zombie Talk Series: Two Podcasts Featuring Zombie Cast!

HorsePLAY! LIVE
Episodes 10 & 11 – Zombie Talk Series Featuring Zombie Cast

Pass the brains and smoked paprika – Zombie Talk is here!

In this special two-episode series, Zombie Cast from AllGames.com joins us for our best horseplay yet. In fact, the geeky antics and shenanigans are so good that we get to talking about tons of stuff beyond zombies and even horror. In Part 2 of this Zombie Talk series, we do manage to get Shawn and Matt to behave bit so we could talk about The Walking Dead and zombies in depth.

Gosh, there are too many hilarious moments and great topics to highlight here.. Well, here is a little taste.. zombie bite, if you prefer:

  • Matt does crossword puzzles and plays with his desk toys to distract us.
  • The truth about Canadian bacon is revealed!
  • A cross-eyed crafter’s Stanley Cup replica unveiled.
  • Now you too can have your very own K-9 (snarky remarks database optional).
  • Beth and Daryl might be going the wrong way on the tracks, away from Terminus!
  • What if Daryl is being set up to be killed off??!
  • The military’s real-life Iron Man project.
  • Matt and Shawn share intimate Fun Facts about themselves.
  • Norma rolls wit da homies.
  • The Walking Dead spin-off show details.
  • Why Shane was a real douchebag.
  • Attack of the Flappy Bird!!

Watch HorsePLAY! EP11 “Night of the Zombie Geeks” HD
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=STUsNX70kkk

…And, for your convenience, we’ll even embed the video.  Technology OP.

 

Knuckleballer Radio: Soap Taste – Yummy!

Knuckleballer Radio
Episode “Soap Taste – Yummy!”

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I’ve been joining friends on different shows, particularly ones on the AllGames Network, and Knuckleballer by far is the craziest experience.  You just never know what to expect.  This episode was no exception.

Norma (Normii477) had an evil plan and I had no idea.  She got the families of Shawn (Freemandaddy5) and Eli (Sodoom) to blind-fold them and put put random things in their mouths.  At one point, Shawn ate soap (too bad it wasn’t bacon soap) and started crying.  LOL..  It was pretty epic!

If you’ve never heard Knuckleballer Radio before, the basic format is that there are three main hosts and rotating guest hosts.  Each participant has to share a knuckeball, which is a random topic or challenge that everyone else has to participate in.  Since no one knows what these knuckleballs will be, the antics that ensue are always quite entertaining.

I love the raw, mostly unscripted approach of this show.  It makes for great radio.  What’s even better is that the hosts are such authentic, awesome individuals.  Be sure to give them a listen and show my friends some social media love!

The B-Team: Ball Gaggies 2013 PLUS Indie Game Talk!

The B-Team Podcast
Episode “The Ball Gaggies 2013”

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Does the so-called next-gen of gaming got you down?  You’re not alone.  2014 doesn’t look much better if you’re only looking at Triple A titles and gaming consoles.  Hey, you know it’s true!  We’re just seeing more of the same old (with slightly prettier graphics and better performance) in this generation of consoles.

Fortunately, there’s the PC and the indie gaming scene to save the day.  Now, I know some people love to take a proverbial dump on indie games.  I recall Derrick Hopkins agreeing with some AllGames.com chatters that indie games needs to stop meaning “cheap, crappy games with retro graphics” and be more about quality games that aren’t from a big studio.

I reckon indie games are already there, though we arguably back to the days of the NES; that is, it’s so easy to develop and distribute video games nowadays (thank you, Steam, RPG Maker, Blender, Physx, Unity, etc.) that there are tons of crappy releases cluttering the marketplace.  It’s unavoidable that we’ll run into games that should not even exist.  There are also those that are more tech demos and experiments than anything else, but there are far more unique titles coming from small, virtually unknown studios than there are from the major studios.

In one of the first episodes of 2014 for The B-Team Podcast, everyone shared their favorite games of 2013 in a special call called the “Ball Gaggies”.  I joined for a bit before kicking off HorsePLAY! LIVE for the evening and it was great fun.  The different categories that were covered were interesting.  What was more interesting is how lots of indie games popped up in non-indie categories.

The B-Team’s Ball Gaggies were entertaining and very enlightening.  I’ve noticed that we are seeing indie games permeating more mainstream spaces and that’s not going to change any time soon.  Crowdsourcing seed money and influence via social media – that’s what has made this all possible.  Thank goodness, too, because the mega-publishers are too scared to take risks and try out fresh new ideas.  As such, everything that is being released is utter rubbish.

Risk of Rain - WTF Is Going On?!
Risk Of Rain – You gotta play to understand WTF is going on here.

My picks for 2013 are games that have been released in the past four to six years yet are still fun today.  As you may have already learned, a good game in my book is one that has high replay value, social/online features, and/or deep immersion.  Amongst my favorite games of 2013 were X-Com: Enemy Unknown, Steam Marines, SolForge, Scrolls, League of Legends, DotA 2, Space Hulk, Risk of Rain, Rogue Legacy, and Skullgirls.  Many of these games could be considered indie or at least follow an indie spirit.  Quite a few of these were Kickstarter projects or funded through unusual methods.

Space Hulk - Kickstarter - Classic Remake
Space Hulk – Tactics, terror, deep space.. PREPARE.

Of particular note is Rogue Legacy (as depicted in the featured image), a game that will instantly remind you of Metroid, Castlevania, or, to a greater extent, Ghouls N’ Goblins.  This is a game that I felt was just a hipster favorite due to the retro graphics and nostalgia, but I soon found out it was so much more.  Rogue Legacy is amazing in my book because it is a single-player game that I actually want to keep coming back to (I’m more of a multiplayer gamer) <u>AND</u> it manages to make you feel fully-invested in the experience, something most roguelikes inherently have an issue with.

Steam Marines - Sci-Fi Tactics Game
Steam Marines – Kinda like XCOM LITE.. Dope!

Another game worth mentioning is Steam Marines.  I think this one may fall under the radar, which would be a great shame considering that the tactics space is lacking.  If you enjoy XCOM, Final Fantasy Tactics, FTL: Faster Than Light, or anything of the sort, this game may have something for you.  In simple terms, it is a sci-fi tactics games where you are marines in space killing stuff..  But there is surprising depth in this simple little package.  Best of all, every playthrough is completely randomized so there’s always a challenge to be had!

I won’t get too into these games because, really, they deserve their own review..  but this just speaks to the innovation we see in the indie industry.  It was nice to see the Ball Gaggies embrace some of these titles because, really, the mainstream stuff is becoming quite repetitive, amirite?

Be sure to leave The B-Team some love on Stitcher, iTunes, AllGames.com, Twitter, and their web site.  They’re easy to stalk, just like me – just Google “The B-Team Podcast”.  Tell ’em Yogi sent ya!

Game Theory: The Barriers & Mishaps In League Of Legends

Game Theory Podcast
Episode 21 – League of Legends with JT Eberhard and Michaelyn

I only recently discovered this podcast, thanks to Stitcher Radio, and boy is it right up my alley!  The show is the culmination of avid gaming fandom, psychoanalysis, and game development/design knowledge.  It’s the perfect podcast for anyone that wants a complete look at video games from a mostly scholastic perspective.

My only complaint is that the show hosts are sometimes a little TOO smart for their own good.  We are taking a different approach with our upcoming Bit-By-Bit Gaming show (formerly Game Mechanics 101).  I think the voice of the gamer needs to be heard more and, if you listen to TGP episodes, they often look at game mechanics from the outside in (i.e. their LoL and rogue-like episodes).

In Episode 21, League of Legends (LoL) is scrutinized heavily.  While I do not agree with all their conclusions and lament the fact that the general consensus is that the game should be avoided, I see their points.  LoL is a mainstream game so it’s to be expected that there will be plenty of trolls and little kids ruining the fun for the rest..  But the issues extend far beyond that.

One aspect that is common in all first impressions of League of Legends or any MOBA is that the communities tend to be very caustic.  LoL is particularly bad in this area for a few reasons:

  • Every Tom, Dick, and Harry aspires to be a pro player and make tons of money, or at least score free stuff.
  • Due to the aforementioned, no one wants to admit that they are not as good as they’d like to think.
  • Poor sportsmanship leads to externalization of opportunities, so the trolls rarely improve and new players are scared away.
  • The way the game rewards and announces game highlights caters to a selfish style of gameplay and more finger-pointing.
  • Since the game is free, there’s very little keep young, angsty squeakers away from the general populice.

The list goes on and on but, essentially, League of Legends has been both a boon and a bane to MOBAs.  With LoL’s massive popularity and eSports buzz, everyone feels more pressured to step up their game rather than enjoy the experience.  What’s more is that the scoring and team dynamics feel more like Call of Duty than a MOBA.  It’s very centered around K/D (kill/death) ratio rather than teamwork and setting up plays.  What’s more is that it’s hard to play LoL casually, even with friends (sorry Obi), because everything is about winning rather than just having fun.

With this heavy focus on frags, people tend to get desperate when they die more than they kill.  When a sure-fire kill ends up in a death, the frustration piles on.  Throw in teammates that are feeding or screaming at you for seeming like a total newbie and now an otherwise fun game becomes a vein-popping, heart-attack-inducing experience.

Wow, this is sounding a lot like Call of Duty, eh?

ms-paint-rages-league-of-legends-ryze-misses-last-hit

One of the biggest frustrations for me is how Riot decided that, in all their infinite wisdom, they would focus on individual performance most of the time and only bring the team focus into play when it is least logical.  In ranked play, you can literally have five or more consecutive games where random teammates throw matches or just rage quit.

Leavers, flamers, and ragers are only a symptom of the root issues.  I concur with the folks at GTP that the design of LoL encourages poor sportsmanship.  The tribunal, loading screen tips, and honor point systems are decent enough band-aids but they are flawed because…

  • There is no incentive to giving honor to other people.
  • It is human nature to complain rather than compliment.
  • The visual feedback (i.e. profile ribbons) attached to honor points seems unattainable and/or worthless.
  • Most people go pee, grab a snack, or watch videos/Vines while the game is loading, ignoring the sportsmanship advice and game preparation (the same happens post-game).
  • The core mechanics do not support good sportsmanship.

Riot has been campaigning to remind people that people who are helpful and calm during gameplay win more matches, but they do not support the behavior organically or internally, if you prefer.  The core mechanics could easily be fixed to address the glaring issues with the game.  If you are curious what some of these issues could possibly be, just watch to see how people always fight to play certain roles or positions.  Most want the glory to themselves, so ADC, Mid, and Top are always the preferred picks.  There’s too much pressure for Jungler so they are usually the last picked and the most blamed..  And Support players are often expected to be miracle workers.  If you get first pick and go as any of offense-focused positions, do not under-perform because jealous people will troll you hard.

Welcome to League of Legends!

What’s even more disheartening is how LoL does not factor in how well you played with your team or the fact that leavers cost you a match.  A loss is a loss and, thus, you get stuck in elo hell..  Unless maybe you assemble a reliable pre-made team and avoid solo/duo queue.  If a teammate loses his Internet connection during your qualifying matches, you’re pretty much fubared.  Bronze and Silver tiers consists of taking two steps forwards and three steps back.  Not very fun.  Normal matches are a similar hellish experience.

league-of-legends-why-did-you-leave

While Diamond Tier players and above may argue that elo hell is a myth, I argue that it is very real.  On a greater scale, the design decisions behind League of Legends make it a rather exclusive experience.  In spite of that fact, millions of people worldwide play the game and it is the #1 online game for the PC, heck, all platforms.  Statistically speaking, that means there are a lot of frustrated, bitter scrubs and wannabe pro players out there..  and most of them only stick around to troll and make others miserable too.

Misery loves company.

For the more casual MOBA players, there’s ARAM (All Random All Mid), a battle-royale style mode focused more on action than strategy, and bot matches.  There is also Domination, which shifts the focus more to land control and objective-driven play rather than straight-up killing and lane pushing.  Still, the core experience resides in the traditional 5v5 three-lane game mode..  And there’s lots to be desired there.

I will reiterate that I LOVE League of Legends but, as I listen to these brilliant GTP folks talk about LoL from the perspective of newbies, I can’t help but nod in agreement.  One of the strongest points made in this episode of the Game Theory Podcast is that League of Legends rewards the end result rather than the process.  I could not agree more.  Blizzard’s Heroes of the Storm seems to be doing a better job of making each match fun from beginning to end, mainly by using a team-leveling system and starting players fully powered-up.  Plus, there’s no loot so you can focus on the action and team strategies.

Another aspect of League of Legends that sucks is the overall sense you get of feeling like you need to grind.  LoL is “free to play” (more like freemium) but, in order to truly enjoy the game, you have to put in many hours before you can unlock enough champions to experiment with and find your strongest picks.  The amount of IP (Influence Points), the free in-game currency, you earn does not vary much, whether you play well or terribly.  There is a slight bump for high frag rates but nothing for setting up plays.

The defense for this design decision is that catering to K/D makes it easy to see who is fed and set up plays accordingly.  I disagree.  That is what pressing Tab and viewing score summary screen is for.  All the announcements and point distribution puts a heavy focus on K/D and this really hurts the game.

feeder-trouble-league-of-legends-parody

One reason there is such a huge rift between players in League of Legends is that feeding is often seen as a single-person issue.  What people fail to see is that feeding is often a missed opportunity for teams as a whole.. and Riot.  People tend to get antsy when matches take too long (LoL and most MOBAs are inherently slow-paced by design) or they give up when their teammates badger them too much (including unsolicited “advice”).  Riot could help alleviate some of these issues by creating more fast-paced modes.  Another good update would be to create a coaching mode where know-it-alls could help out the players that opt-in for “pro tips”.

UPDATE:  The new Team Builder mode alleviates many of the aforementioned issues by allowing players to queue up for the positions they really want to play..  But this is just a start.

Speaking from firsthand experience, I have seen a huge difference between matches where I just play and don’t bother communicating, and matches where I encourage my teammates and engage in authentic, friendly banter.  Every now and then you’ll have the asshat who decides to be an Internet tough guy when you’re just trying to create some synergy and good will, but usually people will respond in kind to your efforts.

Our own Stan Faryna has a brilliant suggestion here: remove anonymity.  People don’t act as tough when they are exposed and vunerable like everyone else.

Sadly, the notion of preemptive good will goes against most Internet rationale as people prefer their anonymity and  ability to just blend in with everyone else.  LoL’s honor system was supposed to help encourage more good will but it’s not quite working out that way.  People these days are also quite jaded and cynical so, if someone is being nice, they always suspect there are hidden motives.

I can knit-pick about LoL’s shortcomings all day long but, at the end of the day, it remains a game I truly enjoy in one of my favorite genres.  I do feel Riot needs to step up their game as there are more quality MOBAs coming out.  DotA 2 and Smite are taking more risks to find what works best whereas League of Legends has remained mostly the same for around four years now.

It’s easy to blame the community or human nature for the issues in League of Legends but the truth is that it’s lazy programming that make the players the way they are (or at least augment their ignorance and angst).  Most players have enough knowledge to be dangerous but not enough to understand that it’s a team game.  As such, if you’re entering LoL for the first time, brace yourself: it is a fun game but the trolls will try to eat you alive.  Play with some friends – it makes things FAR more enjoyable!

Welcome to League of Duty!

Source:  http://gametheorypodcast.libsyn.com/episode-21-league-of-legends-with-jt-eberhard-and-michaelyn

HorsePLAY! EP 9 – Who/What Is The Shredder, Anyway?

In EP 9 of HorsePLAY!  we started to reminisce a bit about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  As per our usual style, the discussion somehow derailed into speculation about The Shredder.  So, tell us what you think..  What are Shredder’s origins?

[audio http://recordings.talkshoe.com/TC-131961/TS-826228.mp3|titles=HorsePLAY! EP 9 – Super Ad Bowl and V-Day Conspiracy|loop=yes|animation=no|initialvolume=80]

Don’t forget to check out HorsePLAY! Episode 9 (full HD video link), where we talk about commercialization, exaggerated marketing and special effects, consumer scams, V-Day, and the Super Ad Bowl.  There are tons of interesting updates in our Obligatory News segment, too.

We’ll be showcasing more episodes of HorsePLAY! right here on GANG soon.  Still debating if we’ll sprinkle in the full library to date or just feature select episodes.  Let us know what you think in the comments below!

Hmmm, maybe favorite HP! episodes will be the next poll…  Anyway, if you’re viewing this from somewhere other than the Geeky Antics Network Global (GANG) site, be sure to visit us and take the poll.

Zombie Cast: The Walking Dead Predictions, ZomBees, and Demonic Kids

Zombie Cast
Episode “Yogi Fang”

walking-dead-daryl-needs-more-screen-timel

Show Highlights In A Nutshell:

    • Yogi and Fang share their zombie views and definitions.
    • Traditional walkers versus wild infected runners.
    • Rick Grimes is going to cry more.
    • Team Governor VS. Team Rick
    • A real-world demonic possession.. Kids are scary!
    • ZomBees taking over the Northeast and West coast.
    • To survive, stick with Daryl, the tank killer.
    • Carol and Daryl will finally hook up.
    • Commando Carol will be the greatest hero and may be the last survivor on the show (hopefully not)!
    • Fang interrupts everyone (LOL).

Source:  http://www.zombiecast.net/post/75553397109

Also available on AllGames.com, Stitcher Radio, iTunes, and Downcast.

Andrea is a derp.  No guns for you!

P.S. Andrea is, errr, WAS a derp.