Gaming with David

FishingGrowing up as the kid of a gamer has to be a bit weird. A lot of stuff I would have had to begged my parents for is just lying around our house. David is the oldest, so he has the most gaming experience of the kids. He’s smart and has great reflexes. It won’t be long before he’s beating me at a ton of games.

I thought I take some time to write about the gaming experiences with each of my children. Then I could check back on them now and then to see how their gaming tastes evolve. I do put limits on their gaming time, and punishment revokes gaming privileges. I’m sure they do end up gaming more than some of their peers simply due to opportunity. They play on Mom’s phone, Dad’s phone, our old phones, the iPad, our android tablet, a couple Leapsters, LeapPads and Leapster Explorers. Then, of course, they get some console and computer gaming time. Now that I think about it, I’m glad we put time limits on them. They could be gaming nonstop.

We also play board games together. This past summer we played chess, King of Tokyo, and Monopoly (and Empire). We’re still working on how to be a good loser and winner.

David does have some school games. I’m not sure I understand some of their thinking. It seems like the school would buy a subscription for a year for age appropriate learning. Most of these websites seem to have the student account expire at the end of the school year. You would think that summer would be a great time for them to keep kids minds in shape before the next year starts. I guess not. Anyway, most of these sites focus on math or reading with a bit of science or social studies thrown in.

I’m not entirely sold on Leapfrog products. Yes, it certainly makes me feel better as a parent that the games are trying to teach something. It just seems like most of the interaction is on the game level and not the learning level. The best thing I can say about them is that they foster flexible thinking. Of course, some non educational games do that as well. I do appreciate the effort. I worry about how they will stand up to the $.99 learning app though. The prices were ok when comparing to a Nintendo handheld but not when looking at the app store.

So how much of a core gamer is David? I actually debated whether to have him start with some of the classics. The problem is that some classics are best left in our rose tinted memories. Of course, more modern for me might be considered old school for some of you. He’s played Super Mario World and some of the original Ratchet and Clank games. He just finished the Ducktales update and the remake of Mickey Mouse and the Castle of Illusion. He enjoyed all of those. They’re not as forgiving as current games, but they’re not ridiculously punishing either.

We’ve played a lot of Wii and PS3 games together. On the Wii, we’ve played Wii Sports (and Resort), Wii Play, Super Mario Sluggers and Strikers, Zack and Wiki and Boom Blox. On the PS3, his favorites have been the Ratchet and Clank series, LittleBigPlanet and Toy Story 3 (toy box mode). He also loved a little game called Supersonic Atomic Powered Battlecars. It’s basically playing soccer with little RC cars. For a little PSN game, it gave us more hours of fun than almost anything we’ve played.

When David started back to school, of course it limited his game time. With their focus on health and fitness, the school is encouraging healthy eating and increased activity. That inspired David to take up Wii Fit again. I used to question whether Wii Fit actually did that much for you. But I can tell you that after some time off, his balance and reactions aren’t what they were when he last stopped. Of course, flexibility is something we all need to work on.

On the Xbox 360, David’s pretty much been playing Kinect games. He liked Kinect Adventures, Kinect Sports and Doodle Jump (which can be a surprisingly good workout, something you wouldn’t expect after playing the phone game). The clear winner in time played is Kinect Party by Doublefine. It’s a great game that understands the limits of Kinect 1.0. Even better, he can play it with his brother and sister. For most of the minigames that makes it even more fun whether they’re good at the game or not. That’s good design for a party game. All of them actually played the precursor of Kinect Party, Happy Action Theater. There was plenty of overlap. Fortunately, Microsoft realized that Doublefine had created the best demonstration of the power and fun of Kinect. They expanded it and made it free for a while. Who knew that would be the best move Xbox would make for years? Kidding.

The 360’s best family friendly games can stand with the PS3’s, but there just are enough or enough variety. It’s kind of sad the most of my 360 library is a bunch of M rated games that my kids have never seen me play. When they watch me play or ask to play a console, it’s usually the PS3. I will say next gen has been disappointing on the family friendly front. I should make an exception for the WiiU, but if they haven’t convinced a fan like me to get one, I worry about its future.

The last game David and I have played together was Lego Marvel Superheroes on the PS4.  Now if I had played all the Lego games, I’m sure I would have detested this experience, but it’s been a couple of years since my last Lego game.  We had  a ton of fun playing the whole game Co op.  OK, there were a few races that I had to do alone since they stretched the usually forgiving controls to the limit.  The flight model need to be completely redone if they want tight control for races.  However, those are completely optional, and we were only doing them for the Platinum trophy.  For the vast bulk of the game, the controls are simple and flexible.  More impressive is that they work so well for a vast array of powers.  Yes, some characters got shorted, but overall the heroes felt distinctive.

The story was a bit cheesy.  I didn’t care.  It played out like a greatest hits version of the Marvel universe.  Special love was given to the recent Marvel Studios movies.  It was neat seeing David discover all the heroes I grew up with.

I should mention that as much as David likes playing games with me, he really loves playing with his baby brother.  He wants to teach him everything.  He encourages him and makes sure the baby feel loved.  That makes me proud as a Dad.

Big Brother

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Friendly Reminder: Update Your BIOS and Drivers

BIOS updateI was having a weird problem with Windows 8.1 and Office 2013.  I would get memory errors that would sometimes even crash the programs.  It was hard to troubleshoot since it wasn’t easy to reproduce.  Intermittent errors are always the worst.  I could have lived with it if it wasn’t for the one place I could reproduce it.  One Outlook profile would crash on start up every time.  I could occasionally get in if I launched it right after booting the system, but after that it would crash on start up.  The weird thing was that if I did get in, the program and system would function normally until I closed it.  Then I couldn’t get in again.

I tried repairing the .pst file. I tried deconflicting start up programs.  Nothing worked.  Separately I was having some problems with USB devices after sleep/hibernation mode.  I went to update the BIOS from the motherboard manufacturer’s site. When I grabbed the BIOS update, I noticed that nearly all the motherboard drivers had been updated since I had last checked.  I ended up spending a couple of hours updating the BIOS and chipset drivers.  That was a lot of reboots.  In the end, it solved not only my USB problem but also the Office memory problem.

Maybe I’m spoiled by all the automatic Windows and Steam updates.  It never hurts to go back to basics.  Make sure your drivers are up to date before you start troubleshooting.  It would have saved me a lot of headaches.

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Homeworld Remastered Collector’s Edition

logo_hwIn addition to Homeworld: Shipbreakers, Gearbox is releasing HD updated versions of Homeworld and Homeworld 2.   These will be full updates.  From the site:

Crafted with the assistance and guidance of the original creators as well as the help of a passionate fan community, Homeworld Remastered Collection introduces Relic’s acclaimed space strategy games Homeworld and Homeworld 2 to modern players and operating systems using modern advances in graphics rendering technology. Homeworld Remastered Collection includes updated high-res textures and models, new graphical effects, and support for HD, UHD, and 4K resolutions. Homeworld’s original audio and video artists have also recreated cinematic scenes in beautiful high fidelity.

Homeworld Remastered Collection uses Homeworld and Homeworld 2’s original source audio to create a stunning new mix of effects and music. On top of that, multiplayer for both games has been combined into one centralized mode that will allow you to interact with other players like never before. This collection also includes archival versions of Homeworld Classic and Homeworld 2 Classic, preserving the purest form of the original releases with compatibility for modern operating systems.

Pretty cool.  Even better since they’re offering Collector’s Editions that will include a Mothership model, manuals and an art book.  They want you to choose which Mothership model you’d prefer.  I think I’m leaning towards the lighted version despite the higher price point.  Did I mention how much I love the Homeworld series?  I do.  Also, the Homeworld manual was one of the great game manuals of all time.


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Game of the Week: Bravely Default Demo

Bravely coverYes, it’s a demo of a JRPG.  It also has more gameplay that some full games I’ve played lately.  I’m not just talking about indie passion projects or mobile games.  I also admit that Bravely Default isn’t a great name.  It’s memorable, but that’s about it.  Fortunately, we live in a gaming world with products like the Wii, the Xbone (yes, I know), and the Oculus Rift. Weird names don’t necessarily indicate poor quality.

I’ll save a deeper dive into the game for the full version. The demo does exactly what you want it to do. It gives you a good, meaty feel for the game. It showcases the unique features of the game. It introduces and explains some of the more complex systems of the game. It makes you want to play the full game. Finally it gives you rewards to use in the full game for playing the demo. Don’t worry. None of the rewards are game breaking. They just make the initial powerless part of the game a little less difficult.

So what is Bravely Default. It’s a JRPG in the vein of Final Fantasy. It has a job system similar to Final Fantasy Tactics. Overall power is increased by gaining levels through experience. Skills are unlocked by increasing job levels. Jobs normally are unlocked by defeating the holders of that job’s asterisk, but the demo just gives you some to try out.

Your skills, stats, and weapon proficiencies are set by your job, but everyone can dual class and bring in the combat abilities from another job they’ve held. Then each character has a set of support ability slots that they can assign to any ability from any job they’ve held. With four characters with two combat jobs and four support ability slots, you can tweak your party to your heart’s content.

Why call it Bravely Default? That has to do with its main variation on turn based combat. Normally you get one action per turn. Instead of having a block action, a character may default. It does increase their defense like a block, but it also gives them a bonus battle point for their next turn. Next turn they can choose to brave and take two combat actions at the price of slightly lowered defense.Bravely_Default_character_art

You don’t have to stop there. You can bank up to three Battle Points using default (or some skills that increase BP). Then you can use brave to launch up to four combat actions in a single turn. The system is even more flexible than that. You can actually go negative in BP. That means at any time you can launch up to four combat actions per turn. However, if a character has negative BP to start a turn, they will be automatically skipped until their BP is back to zero (you gain 1 BP per turn normally).

Then there’s Bravely Second.  You can actually stop time and get in some extra turns.  You can save up to three of them by putting the system in sleep mode while the game is running.  You just hit the start button any time during the battle to take an immediate action.Bravely3

All these systems together give you a lot of flexibility.  You can take on any challenge any way you’d like.  Add in the fact that the demo gives you bonus items in the real game as you make progress in the demo.  You just get a few extra pieces of starting equipment and some consumables like potions, but it’s enough to feel like a reward and make starting the full game a little easier.  So if you have any nostalgic feelings for Final Fantasy, you should check out the demo.  If it sucks you in, there’s a very solid full game waiting for you.  Recommended to all JRPG fans.

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Kickstarter: Unsung Story

Unsung StoryYes, it’s another Kickstarter.  However, you get a bunch of leeway from me if you create one of my all time favorite games.  I don’t even know what to say if you create two (Final Fantasy Tactics, Final Fantasy XII).  Yasumi Matsuno has also created games I enjoyed (Vagrant Story, Tactics Ogre, and Final Fantasy Tactics Advance) and at least one that intrigued me (Madworld).  Honestly, I wasn’t even going to mention this one, but time is running out, and they haven’t hit their primary goal yet.  Yes, the last 72 hours tend to create huge surges that push projects over the edge, but those surges come from increased publicity at the end.  Here I am providing it.

Unsung Story: Tale of the Guardians is a new strategy RPG from Matsuno and Playdek.  It’s set in a new world.  You play heroes in episodes that span a lengthy war.  Ok, two kingdoms locked in generations of war may sound a bit trite, but I’m going with them on this.  Actually, I’m going with Matsuno.  Gaming is better for him, and my personal gaming history is much better.  I hope he and Playdek knock it out of the park.  Besides the triangle based movement grid has me intrigued.

Triangular Movement

Triangular Movement

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Playstation Vita

PS-VitaMy wife got me a Playstation Vita as an anniversary gift. She wasn’t pleased that the only edition available locally was the Walking Dead Vita. Fortunately, it’s a plain Vita bundled with a game code for the Telltale Walking Dead game. I assured her I wouldn’t take any added meaning to the gift.

Since I got it before the hardware refresh, not much has changed externally. The new model will apparently be a little smaller and lighter, but will give up OLED screen for a standard LCD. Given how great the screen looks, I’m glad I got the old style. Overall, it’s a pretty slick feeling piece of kit. There are some compromises to portability. All the buttons are a little small, but the only ones that bother me are the start and select buttons. They’re still useable but hard to reach in a hurry. Fortunately, you almost never need to hit them in a hurry.

The biggest complaints about the launch Vitas were about the software. There have been enough updates that I find little to complain about. The overall interface clearly borrows from smartphones. The big, beautiful icons could have been a bit too big before folders, but right now they just look great.

There’s not going to be any confusion for anyone who’s used a smartphone or tablet. The icons scroll vertically while open app pages are spread out horizontally. App pages function like Palm’s WebOS cards or open apps for iOS or Android. They also scroll down to game activity to see updates or what your friends have been doing. There are buttons at the top of the page to control other functions such as Playstation Plus features. The center is dominated by a screenshot of recent activity. You press that to give focus back to that game or app.

One of the neat features is the ability to do limited multitasking. As with most mobile devices, this is done with a suspend/wake feature, but given that most games require full system resources, instant resume for the active game is pretty impressive. The majority of system apps will run without requiring that a game close. So you can check on friends, update trophies or even pull up a game guide and instantly jump back into the game.

The best use of this didn’t arrive until the PS4 launched. You can actually keep a Vita game suspended while playing PS4 games via remote play. Let’s face it, remote play on PS3 was a joke. On the PS4 it’s a revelation. The vita is something like a quarter of 1080p resolution. Games look great. Whether it’s graphical detail like Killzone: Shadow Fall or lighting and effects heavy speed gameplay like Resogun, they look great and control well. Of course, if connection speed drops too low, you will notice it.

I presume they’re using some of the technology from Gaikai. If so, it certainly works well on a local level. I look forward to the announced PS3 game streaming on the PS4. Regardless, the vita streaming is so useful that I found myself missing it whenever I was playing on the PS3. I can grab the vita and play even if someone else is using the home theater.

While that could be reason to buy a vita, native vita games are the main draw. Yes, there is a nice collection of PS1 and PSP emulated games available on the PSN store. The vita library has started to fill out. Since I’ve been a PS plus member for a long time, I actually felt like I had an instant game collection for the vita when I got it. Sony’s push for indie developers certainly feels alive on the vita. I wish I could say the same for AAA titles. When games push the vita, they’re lightyears beyond any handheld system. Yes, I’m including the top end phone games.

I’d still love a vita exclusive killer app. Maybe the money is not there yet. Uncharted and LittleBigPlanet are great and use the features of the vita, but still feel like little brothers to their console namesakes. Tearaway is as close as we have right now. I’m not sure it’s something people will buy the vita to play. If we could get another Peace Walker type experience on the vita, it would be great. You can make a case based on the library, but I’d love to see that game that you just can’t miss on the vita.  I can see that Killzone: Mercenary could be that game.  However, Shadow Fall (PS4) feels much better to me.  Then again, I’m not the core shooter audience.

In summary, the vita is a great piece of portable hardware. Games look great. The controls are the best on a handheld and prove comfortable for short or long gaming sessions. In fact, developers have a ridiculous number of inputs. Sound is decent (or very good if you use headphones). It’s beyond the portable system I dreamed of when I first played and Atari Lynx.  There’s nothing else really close to it.  I’d love to see it take off this year since it could host some truly epic and unique games.  Highly recommended.  Must buy if you have a PS4.

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Game of the Week: DMC Devil May Cry

DMCheaderIn the spirit of Halloween, we have the latest version of Devil May Cry available on 360, PS3 and PC.  This is a reboot and comes from the UK instead of Japan.  Perhaps slightly tongue in cheek, we start with an amnesiac hero.  He wakes after a night of wild partying to find a demon hunter coming after him.  The beginning battle is perhaps over stylized, but it sets the tone.  New Dante is still cooler than you.  He’s still flashy and cocky but perhaps a bit more crass.  The writing seems to lift the game above some of the craziness of the scenes.  The art style felt great.

If you like this style of game, you’ve probably already played it.  If not, though you might want to crank up the difficulty.  The default setting was just about right for me, and I’m notoriously poor at these games.  Of course, it could also be that this game is a bit more forgiving.  Most attacks are well telegraphed, some well in advance.  The combo timings are more relaxed.  I’m sure they “fixed” all that on the higher difficulty levels.  For me, it was fun without hitting the wall I ran into in the earlier Devil May Cry games.

So, how does  it feel?  The game is broken down into mob fights, boss fights and platforming/exploration areas.  The mobs are pretty good.  They have a mix of fodder, special attackers and heavies.   This leads to good pacing for battles and the opportunity for large combos.   The platforming is pretty straightforward.  They do mix in some devil pulls, angel lifts, air dashes along with all the jumping.  It keeps you on your toes but is more fun than frustrating.  The boss fights fall down a little bit.  They seem to have all the standard ingredients, but they never seem to come out memorable or epic.  Overall, it’s a step down from Bayonetta but still fun and worth checking out.  Recommended for fans of the genre.


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Game of the Week: Playstation All Stars Battle Royale

allstars1I’m nowhere near a fighting game expert. I never count frames of animation or worry about hit box overlap. However, I have been playing fighting games since the original Street Fighter II arcade cabinets came out. I played a lot of Street Fighter and the clones that followed.

The clones were trying to piggyback on the fighting game success that Street Fighter started. At first I didn’t understand what the clones were lacking and why they failed. Eventually, I realized the great design of Street Fighter II. It had near perfect balance and impressive variety. An unbalanced fighting game isn’t fun because everyone is playing the same overpowered character. Balancing a game is hard. Too many clones balanced by making all the fighters feel the same.

So all the great fighting games had those two things, balance and variety. There’s one more thing they have. It’s tight controls. There’s no point in playing the game if the buttons don’t do what you need them to do when you need them to do it. You can’t master a game if precision gives you the same result as button mashing.

I suppose you could argue that since the days of Kung Fu and Double Dragon, fighting games have been split between brawlers and technique fighters. For me, the split goes back to Street Fighter II and Powerstone. I’m more in the Street Fighter camp even to the point I prefer the straight one on one fighters to even the Vs. series. That’s mainly because winning felt more like mastery than luck in those games.

Now, I have less time to spend on mastery. I’ve been able to appreciate the ease of play of games like Marvel vs. Capcom 3. I’ve also learned to appreciate the Super Smash Brothers series on Nintendo. Yes, there are times when the match devolves into button mashing and luck, but skill and timing will give you an edge over time.

Smash Brothers is fun and chaotic. It really trades on the love of Nintendo’s broad stable of characters. As we saw with cart racing, few have enough recognizable characters to match. Well, now Sony has built up quite a library and they’ve entered the fighting brawler realm with Playstation All Stars Battle Royale. It’s a brawler supporting up to four players. Though there are different winning conditions, you only really score by eliminating other characters. You can’t eliminate them with normal attacks. Normal attacks build up your power bar. You have to catch them in your super attack to score a kill. Super attacks build to three levels. The first level is a short range attack. The second level is usually an area attack. Level three has the potential to wipe out everyone else on the battlefield. It’s up to you to decide how you want to score.

Powerstone and Smash Brothers set the standard for these games. They generally used parallel controls using power, speed, animation, defense, health, hit boxes and animation to differentiate the characters. The developers at Superbot went a step further. Each character has a different and deep command set. So while everyone may have a launcher, heavy and ranged attack, they won’t necessarily be the same commands to do them. Combos feel and link together differently. This can mean a deeper and more rewarding game, but the price is a game that’s harder to learn. It’s tough call, but I think it’s worth it since the net result is that each character plays differently and appropriately for their game series.


Is it balanced? That’s a tough one. Each character can win and even dominate in the hands of a skilled competitor. However, it’s hard to be great with a bunch of characters. Even within a class ( brawlers, graplers, ranged, etc.) characters feel and fight differently. What that means is that you’ll probably have one or two favorites that fit your preferred play style. It’s probably a better use of your time to master them that get a passing familiarity with more characters.

Overall, the core gameplay is fun. You have to balance attack and evasion. Once any character has reached level one, it’s risky to go near them. Letting them get higher levels is risky as well. Keeping track of multiple characters across different levels of a changing battlefield isn’t easy.

The levels are worth mentioning. The whole conceit of the game is that worlds are colliding. The levels reflect this. You might start in one hero’s world, but soon another hero’s enemies will invade that world. The entire layout of the level will change. Many of the invading enemies will have area attacks you have to avoid. The best part is that levels reflect the chaos happening in the battle. It’s rare that any of these invaders or level changes will unbalance a competition. They do have to be taken into consideration when plotting your moment to moment strategy.

It’s got all the standard fighting game modes, story, online, versus, and training. I could go into all the pluses and minuses there, but really, is it fun and rewarding to play?  It is.  Are the characters varied, interesting and recognizable? Yes, they are.  It’s also a cross buy game for PS3 and Vita.  If you have any interest at all, it’s worth checking out.   There’s more here than you’d expect at first glance.  Recommended.

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Homeworld: Shipbreakers

homeworld_shipbreakers_logoI don’t hide my love for the Homeworld series.  It and Ground Control came out at nearly the same time.  It was  a little slice of heaven.  I’d heard the rumors of a new Homeworld.  I’d heard about Blackbird Interactive made up of former Homeworld team members.  Today we get the news that Gearbox, who bought the Homeworld IP in the fire sale, is teaming up with Blackbird to make their project Shipbreakers into a Homeworld game.  It will be interesting to see how this is fleshed out.  To whet your appetite, they’ve realeased three video episodes.  Enjoy:

Episode 1

Episode 2

Episode 3

I imagine some of the lore will change if it’s really going to be a Homeworld prequel.

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XCOM is Expanding

2KGMKT_XCOM_EW_AGNOSTIC_FoB Firaxis has announced that the excellent strategy game, XCOM: Enemy Unknown is getting an expansion pack titled Enemy Within.  It looks like all the improvements, maps and story elements will be rolled into the main campaign.  Since those improvements will include biologically and mechanically augmented soldiers and enemies, it should add some welcome depth to a replay or more value if you’ve waited this long to pick up the game.  Gaming Trend has the War Machine video that convinced me that I need this expansion.  It will be available on November 12.  Good Luck, Commander.


Edit to add this link:  Jake Solomon Meets Julian Gollop.  If you know what that means, you know why you have to watch it.

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