Friday, January 12, 2018

In Memoriam: The Kinect


The Kinect was not perfect. From the initial E3 pitch to the idea of gaming without a controller, many brushed it off from the start and once it launched it had its fair share of issues. It misheard what you said most of the time, misread your actions, it failed to provide many games that truly captivated you, and ultimately failed to compete with the juggernaut that was the Wii.

I want the rifle that does the Assaulting!

But do not be fooled, Kinect ultimately had success. Over 35 million units were sold from its initial run in 2010. [1] Aside from gaming, the technology has also been a popular tool for research and development in the medical field. Surgeons have used it to help in hands free navigation of imaging [2], and its sensors have been implemented in various other hardware dealing with security or tracking. [3]

As the door closes on the Kinect, dare I say...I had fun with the device. 

The Kinect was what you made it. I never expected it to provide a twenty hour epic or competitive multiplayer. It was a game to play with friends and family who rarely played games and were intimidated by the controller. It was a time not to take things too serious, and let loose as you flailed to deflect objects or chop fruit. It got you up and moving off the couch, something I sometimes enjoyed doing after sitting at a desk all day at work.

Never...skip...leg day

Kinect: Adventures provided the best showcase of what the technology could provide. Tracking arm and leg movements as you navigated a conveyor of obstacles, plugged holes in a leaking submarine tank, and played goalkeeper in a dodgeball-esque sport. Short segments were quick to play, easy to join in on, and ultimately made for the perfect party game as you laughed at your friends and family jumping and squatting around on-screen animations.

Dance Central delved further into the motion control tracking, offering a DDR type game utilizing the camera to track all arms and legs in coordinated efforts to flashcards on screen. The tracks were catchy, the dance moves were choreographed by a professional, and once you got the hang of it you got a solid experience altogether.

Before High Noon was cool

But the game that ruled them all for me was Gunstringer. A narrative that was a western Kill Bill meets cheesy puppetry, gameplay that was engaging but simple, and an art style that complimented the zany character design. It was short, simple, and ultimately, fun. Sure it had some accuracy issues on occasion, but overall the general feeling of having one hand control the puppet movement and the other a literal finger gun was just too funny to ignore. Out of all the games I purchased for the Kinect, this was the one that gave me hope for the technology.

Sadly, nothing else of substantial work ever came about for the hardware. Fable: The Journey and Star Wars: Kinect, while enjoyable in their own right, never made the impact it could or should have made. Tons of fitness games and Just Dance titles fizzled out the lineup near the end of things.

I still have a Kinect for my Xbox One and to be honest, the only use it has is voice control for pausing and playing Netflix or launching an app. But while the tech has seen its end, the mark it made in hardware and the fun it provided with new ways to play is hard to ignore. While it makes its final wave goodbye, I can say I never regretted my purchase and dare I say, hope to revisit a few of the games on a rainy day.

...Also, never forget:



__________________________________________________________________

[1] - Fortune - Microsoft Has Finally Killed the Kinect Xbox Sensor - Don Reisenger October 25th 2017 -  http://fortune.com/2017/10/25/microsoft-kinect-xbox-sensor/

[2] Rad Rounds - Xbox Kincet-based radiology & medical image exploration - December 2nd, 2011 - http://www.radrounds.com/video/xbox-kinect-based-radiology-medical-image-exploration

[3] EPFL - Connecting Kinects for Group Surveillance - Didier Bonvin - December 2010 - https://actu.epfl.ch/news/connecting-kinects-for-group-surveillance/

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

My 2018 Gaming Resolutions


I set practical goals throughout the year for life in general; eat healthier, cut out sodas, run more, etc. I never think of applying them to the activity I enjoy most of all; gaming. This year I decided to change a few habits and set a few goals for my year in gaming for 2018.

Keep Track of All Games Played

I have never kept a list of games completed, explored, purchased, etc; So this year, I have decided to see how much this hobby impacts the year in both quantity and cost. I plan to not only track games purchased and completed, but the ones I loved, the ones I hated, and the ones I wished I had gotten to experience. Shadow of War, Hollow Knight, and Dead Cells showcase a backlog to kick off the year and with so many new titles to go through, I can already tell this list will expand as more is unveiled.

Complete 10 Total Games

The old me would scoff at this as attainable in a mere month. However the busy life of a married adult makes this a challenge. Between looking after and improving the house, tending to the family (yes, dog is included), and the grind at work; gaming takes a backseat most days. Ten seems a reasonable amount, given the short run time of most side scrolling platformers and indie titles I have to get to this year, this seems like a healthy, attainable goal.

One does not simply turn down the difficulty

Keep it Difficult

I am currently going through Shadow of War and had to notch it down to Normal mode just to see if I was playing as intended. Turns out Normal mode is not an option for me anymore. The simplicity and ease of taking out enemies with no real concern for health is just not my way to play. I want challenge; I want that dire thought process of what to do next, that prayer that no bullet hits me as I rush toward a health pack, and that feeling of satisfaction of completing a checkpoint after dozens of attempts. No normal mode for me this year. 

Lose that Anger

Sometimes you just need to walk away or play a simpler mission. I will admit, it gets the best of me on occasion, primarily in multiplayer games. In those times, I need to learn to play something easier or more soothing and come back later if it is making me that frustrated. This is especially true with harder difficulty modes and online multiplayer games where sometimes things are just out of your control. Sometimes you are matchmade with a bad team, sometimes you are dealt a bad hand, sometimes you just need to practice. There is always a formula for success without getting overly upset.

No mission marker needed

Take Your Time

I try to breeze through games too often. A bad habit indeed. Some games are best when you are just messing around, mindlessly throwing a box at an NPC to see their reaction or going out of your way for that collectible on the hillside. It is when you see how far you can push a game that you can have the most fun and truly see what the developer tucked away. This includes reading those logs you pick up, listening to those audio conversations between characters, and interacting with world around you. Many developers put a lot of care into games, you may notice things you never noticed before if you just stop and look around. 

Blog More

I have since abandoned this blog last year. The busy season of life catches up with you. It did not mean I did not play as much or did not have anything to say. I just completely lost touch in writing those impressions or reviews out. This year I hope to upkeep the blog better. Reviews, updates, video blogs; I want to improve but also share the excitement and energy I have for gaming's memorable titles and experiences.

Ori 2 tugging at emotions before even playing...

Whatever your own goal this year, write them out. Put them in front of you. Make small efforts. Resolutions are tough, but doing a little at a time can make them possible. The list above may seem trivial in regards to video games, but they reflect personal changes too. Challenge yourself, keeping track of personal progress more often, and stopping to smell the roses every now and then. Resolutions in general are made to break a bad cycle or habit and to be better than you were before, so make your list, even if it's something small or just one thing. Here is to your 2018. Now get out there, Guardian/Hero/Ranger/Chosen One. You have work to do.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

My Date with Destiny - A Week with Destiny 2


I will be honest, I have rewritten this a dozen times over. Every time I go back into the game an issue I once thought was a big deal was dealt with or I went about something differently that made me think a small issue was not as dramatic as I thought. That is when I realized, that is the core of what this game is about...

That is Destiny 2. An ever evolving, ever shifting world where something will be irritating one week and enjoyable the next and vice versa.

Not to say there are not some constants.


This game is just fun to play. The shooting in Destiny is what made such an impact, and without a doubt it has been further refined in this installment. The satisfying sound of your weapon when pulling the trigger, the pop of headshots on enemies, and the destruction that follows your super is seamless and innately satisfying.

One constant I found unchanging is the soundtrack, because from start to finish it is a step above previous releases. Bungie has posted the entire soundtrack for free on their official Youtube page [1], and listening track by track you will hear a myriad of powerful, driven tones complimenting somber, hopeless music. Whether you are browsing inventory in the Tower or fighting waves of Fallen in a Public Event, the track backing your actions compliment the game.

The single player experience feels rushed, but is wonderfully put together. From the fall at the Tower to your rise against Ghaul, the missions are more structured and have many raid elements incorporated into their play like slamming orbs, using vehicles (new potential for Destiny), and acts as preparation for end-game content. While I was hoping to delve into the story of the OG fireteam (Cayde, Zavala, Ikora), it still delivers some powerful moments on its own. New characters are entertaining, but the need to have not two, but three "witty" characters proved irritating. The final fight though...very lacking in impact. I will not spoil anything but it gave very little payoff in both the encounter and end result.


Random improvements also help the experience. The Nightfall is much more challenging and enjoyable instead of a simple "you die you're done" rule from the last installment. Loot feels more plentiful and you will get your fair share of exotics through a multitude of events. Armor looks more unique and impactful, and as much as you may hate the shader system in place, it allows for a piece by piece customization. Weapons are automatically upgraded, and the sheer variety offer a multitude of options to lean toward a close quarters, long range, or all around type of Guardian. Strikes are way better with more interesting boss encounters and better overall engagements including giant drills, laser grid navigation, and fighting towering bosses.

The Crucible feels...slower. I have had a more limited time with it but have found most find this to be a good or bad thing depending on your preferred multiplayer experience. It is now 4v4 in lieu of 6v6 and the TTK (time to kill) is drastically increased. This means if you encounter two players and are all alone...likely you will die. It is much more team dependent, and lone wolfing it will likely result in death. The bad habits people have from D1 like running in and spamming fusion grenades or sliding shotguns into a group of three people does not have the tradeoff it once did. Playing together is rewarding, and playing for yourself results in failure. It is a shift from multi-kill centered chaos to celebrating something as simple as a double kill.

The Quickplay tended to shuffle to Supremacy the most, despite Control and Clash being the more preferred experience for Destiny players. Competitive is fun when you get a team that works together but needs a lot of rework in terms of the solo queued player. If a player quits in Competitive, unlike Quickplay, no player can fill in their spot. That means the one guy who says "screw this" and dips out, has left you at a 3v4 disadvantage which is HUGE in this game. A punishment system and a fixed MMR to avoid queuing against clans will be big, but for now there are some games where the odds are stacked against you.

New Crucible maps are interesting, but fail to capture the magic of the original. Everything feels closer together, more tight quartered and claustrophobic, making snipers feel potentially useless. The Crucible rework feels like it was maybe too much of a change, as I found myself preferring the PvE aspect of weekly rewards in lieu of the PvP promise of loot.


The good things outweigh the bad in Destiny 2. Most of the irritating issues are quick fixes like moving menus, adjusting map icons, and a few tweaks here and there for gameplay. They have fixed these in the past and can fix them now too. The game is fun and I find myself pouring hours into it much like the first installment. As you read this the raid is currently underway and I find myself excited to dive in and figure out the latest challenge as past raids always took a week or two to truly overcome.

So far, one week in, I find myself returning to finish a weekly event and level a new character. There is a lot in store in the coming weeks, and I look to it optimistically.

[1] - Youtube - Bungie - Official Destiny 2 Soundtrack - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4jQ_NbelyZE&list=PLZUnIN1M4R_8kx4NXV3Nzdtsds6N_QKz6

Monday, August 14, 2017

Castlevania - Netflix Series Impressions


Adapting any video game to film or media has never been a high point. Something goes awry, be it sticking too close to the source material or straying far, far away from it. When a Castlevania anime series popped up on Netflix, I expected to be underwhelmed. Maybe it was going in with such expectations that let me leave the small series arc with a sense of optimism.

The Netflix series opens by doing away with the expectation of a young warrior off to fight an ancient evil. A young woman seeks Dracula's library to learn sciences that would help in healing her village and Dracula, intrigued by her purpose, entertains her and even falls for her. Many in the town see it as witchcraft and she is burned at the stake. Dracula goes from unsympathetic to justifiable as he unleashes his revenge on a town. The one love he had in the world, taken by those who did not understand.


Where do we find our hero, Trevor Belmont? Drinking in the pub far away from the mischief, looked down upon by the locals, his family name disgraced, getting into a drunken brawl before stumbling away to his own devices.

It was a refreshing change of pace, where Dracula would be established as the villain being a villain for villain's sake and our hero having his life together and nothing but praise and adoration from those around him. The story may not make any huge plot twists or devices, but the simplicity of picking the story up at this point was intriguing.

Most surprising is the sheer gore showcased. The games always had such a simplicity to it, that to see guts and body parts splitting apart took me aback, especially when it involved children. The show does not hold back at all. But when you unleash an army of hell on an entire village, ignoring such casualties as a possibility would be unrealistic.

The voice acting is standout. Nothing feels forced or unnatural, even side characters deliver dialogue to the tee.


For four episodes at twenty three minutes a piece, you can easily burn through the series in a day. It also reveals an odd bit of pacing and little payoff. Simon just begins to gain his resolve and assemble his entourage when the series ends. A lackluster but humorous ending battle, an expectant alliance; it all felt a bit rushed.

Animation is alright. Some of it looks great, like the animation of fire. But characters feel a bit stiff, looking more like a 90's cartoon than modern day animation. Growing up with animation like this, it was not a huge distraction, but for the anime junkie I can understand it being bothersome.

Despite having Castlevania in its name and familiar faces like Alucard or Trevor Belmont, this just did not feel...Castlevania. Maybe the atmosphere is all different, or the lack of any real sequences fans could relate to experiencing in-game, but for now it just feels like a new show that I am watching with Castlevania plastered on its surface.

A second season is inbound and I am interested to see where the supposed trilogy arc will ultimately culminate. Familiar names and creatures are fun to see in a Netflix series but hopefully the second season will provide better overall pacing, animation, and incorporation of Dracula's castle with more elements from the game. Given the short runtime, it is worth the watch for the witty retorts from Trevor alone.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Frontier Defense 2.0 - Titanfall 2 Impressions


The AI typically acts as score fodder in Titanfall 2; running around in small clusters begging to be used to boost your team or cooldown for a new Titan. Frontier Defense looks to turn that on its head much like the original Titanfall mode, providing a co-operative experience against the AI alone.

A team of four is dropped off onto a random map and must hold back five waves of grunts, titans, and flying drones from destroying The Harvester. It acts as a "defend the objective game" that evolves into working together to cover every angle the objective can be hit from, including across the map.

The first waves start simple with grunts and a single Titan to overcome. As the waves increase they intensify, with such enemies as Nuclear Titans that slowly lumber toward the objective to hit with massive damage or Arc Titans that drain the shield and emit and pulse of damage that makes close quarters difficult. Soon you find your team dividing lanes to stem the tide as drop after drop of enemies pile up to be managed. Even mortar Titans drive you out from your shelter as they pepper the shield of your objective from across the map.


You are not completely to your own devices, as a setup phase before each round will allow you to purchase equipment with money earned from the previous round by surviving the wave without dying, being MvP of your team, or preventing the Harvester from taking damage. Such items available for purchase include permanent arc traps that can temporarily disable enemies at a choke point, Sentry turrets, and even a nuke that can allow you to take a Titan with you upon your Titan's demise. Managing these costs and dispersing currency to your team to make sure everyone has a boost will help in controlling the waves of enemies.

The more you play the mode, the higher your Aegis rank advances. Your Aegis rank is tied to the Titan you chose to use, and makes them grow in power the more you play. Northstar, my personal favorite Titan to use, gained a slew of bonuses as I completed each match; the tether traps I usually send out would explode, my railgun would recharge faster, and even the cluster rockets I fired would be better. Every titan gains improvement in this way, some strengthening abilities to others strengthening armor and shields.

All this powering up is to help in tackling the more difficult modes; ranging from Hard to Insane.


It is hard to complain regarding free content, but the mode grew predictable after hitting your 3rd Aegis rank. You knew which maps had the mortar titans, which map had the flyers, and what wave they occurred. I found myself...bored. Bored during the initial waves, waiting for the real challenge in waves 3-5. By the time I had unlocked the harder difficulties and felt like I had the rank to make it happen, I became bored with the mode. Sure the tougher difficulties require coordination and communication to overcome, but the aesthetic reward you get must be paid for with purchased content, lessening my resolve to dive into the effort.

While the Aegis is able to power you up, it also limits team composition. If I am grouped with a bunch of people that lack an Ogre Titan to soak up damage, then we are automatically at a disadvantage and I must level another Titan up all over again. It is an insane grind just to allow you to even use a Titan that is needed on higher difficulties, and by the time that rank is reached you find yourself itching to play the shorter, more enjoyable competitive multiplayer modes.

Despite the shortcomings I found myself coming back to up my Aegis rank and see the potential power my Titan could have with each upgrade. It is an entertaining mode, but you find yourself gravitating back to the multiplayer to remind yourself what makes Titanfall so great in the first place.