Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Gaming Romances that Stick With You

Valentine's Day. For some it is a time to reflect on their relationship, others indulge on a multitude of candy shaped hearts, and a lot more await the following day when the candy shaped hearts will be half off.

It has me thinking about the amount of romantic encounters or couples in the gaming world. Most games act out the classic tale of boy meets girl or hero saves princess; Mario and Peach, Link and Zelda, Earthworm Jim and Princess What's-Her-Name. Lately, however, you find much more complexity and realism thrown into the game's main story, and that makes for some memorable and sometimes heartbreaking romances. From open ended RPG romances to the established cookie cutter damsel in distress, these are the romances that come to mind.

The Blissful

Kairi and Sora - Kingdom Hearts Series

In a story all about dark and light's coexistence, Sora's constant fight for his friends is what keeps him going. Despite the close bond with his friend Riku, Kairi is the standout, especially in the first installment. His desire to unite his friends again has this underlying hint of unrequited love to it all. Kairi is the voice that calls him back after turning into a Heartless, basically being consumed by darkness. It was a huge moment in the franchise, and one that solidified this desire to see them end up happily ever after. She is the continual source of drive in his journey, and hopefully we will see more of their story evolve in the upcoming installment.

So...Netflix and Chill?

Elena and Nathan Drake - Uncharted Series
When you take a character as colorful and unique as Nathan Drake, you do not just set him up with an average girl. The key to the relationship between Elena and Nathan is how much she challenges him. She is far from helpless, and not only goes toe to toe with him in witty banter but stands at his side in a firefight. Their relationship's evolution from the first game to the third constantly has them at odds with each other, as if fighting their true feelings or unwilling to be vulnerable in any way. It is the lively, engaging banter that really helps them stand out. Even a brief separation could not keep them apart long, and Uncharted 3 solidified their dedication to each other.

Squall and Rinoa - Final Fantasy VIII
Most are all about Titus and Yuna, Cloud and Tifa, or Garnet and Zidane if you name a go-to Final Fantasy couple. For me, Final Fantasy VIII was a personal favorite entry to the series. The captivating world, the addicting card games, and the satisfaction of using a gunblade made it a standout for me. But primarily, it was the interaction of Rinoa and Squall that led me to add this above the others. Rinoa's constant bubbly personality clashing with Squall's reserved shell across four discs was an entertaining sight with some genuine moments. Eventually chipping away at him, he stands by her side throughout her possession, abandonment, and imprisonment.

The Tragic

Leon Kennedy and Ada Wong - Resident Evil Series
The rookie cop and the woman in the red dress with a hidden agenda; it was one to be remembered. In the midst of blood thirsty zombies, an unstoppable bioweapon, and dangerous humans attempting to cover up their mistakes; this was an environment that should not foster a love connection. Yet, Leon's agenda to protect the few living beings he encounters finds him going out of his way to protect Ada, even going so far as to take a bullet for her. At the time, Ada's true motives and ominous shadow in the final battle gave hope that we would see her again, and Resident Evil 4 paved the way for future meetups. They constantly bump into each other in installments after that, but separate agendas have them at odds. You never see the loving embrace, or house with picket fences; instead it seems they are cursed to never settle so long as the threat of Umbrella exists.

Hopefully nobody unplugs the router...

Cortana and Master Chief - Halo Series
An AI is not suppose to feel emotion, and events in Halo V could take this any direction (I will withhold that spoiler). Yet, throughout the series Cortana has been with Chief for much of his life. She has seen the battles he has waged, the friends he has lost, and guided him every step of the way. It is an unconventional relationship, but one that really tugged at your heartstrings in the fourth installment. With Cortana's impending rampancy, there is a moment with Master Chief that she has essentially longed to experience; a true one on one. There is a sadness that overtakes Chief, and knowing that this is a unique relationship that can never be only makes it a tragic one. Hopefully we will get some closure in the last installment, but Halo V solidifies his dedication and undeniable bond with Cortana.

Isaac Clarke and Nicole Brennan - Dead Space

Another survival horror love gone wrong. Isaac Clarke spends the main game of Dead Space in hopes that the horrors he encounters in the space station have not consumed the love of his life. After finding her in the station and communicating with her over the coms, there is a glimmer of hope in escaping together. His feelings end up being twisted by the Marker, and in a turn of events, the video he replayed over and over finally shows the ending - Nicole committing suicide as the outbreak intensified. The visions of Nicole would plague him in the following game as well, and the haunting talks he has with her really struck a chord. It is a tale about letting go, something that Isaac struggles with but ultimately accomplishes thanks in part to his newfound interest in fellow survivor Ellie.

The Personal

Bastila Shan - Knights of the Old Republic
When you first start your path of the Jedi, one character is there to guide you. She acts as your mentor and you, her padawan. During my playthrough there were multiple moments of discussion on the ship, battles fought together, and I felt unstoppable if she was also in my party. It flipped when she was captured and later turned to the dark side. It took me aback as she stood with Sith garments, telling me to join her in her quest for power. In a final battle, I was able to turn her back to the light using our relationship as the basis for the good I still saw in her. The thirty plus hours fighting by her side made the ability to turn her that much more memorable.

Let's be honest, I'm doing this to buy your house

Wife Villager - Fable II
This one was a little different, but one with impact. In Fable II you can take a wife, buy a home, and have a family. Funny thing was, I found myself returning to my home in the hills to visit my family on more than one occasion. My son would run out to meet me, my wife was quick to welcome me home as I stepped inside. It was subtle, it was endearing, it gave a break from the action. Watching this random NPC suddenly take shape into a character of interest was an interesting transition, and one that stuck with me as the credits rolled.

Triss Merigold - Witcher Series
The Witcher has a complicated story and features a classic love triangle.  I entered into the franchise with the second installment and the primary love interest automatically directs you to Triss Merigold. She was a loyal and trusted compatriot, siding with you when everyone else turned, and assisting Geralt when he awoke with amnesia. When my memory was restored, it was revealed that I was initially in love with a sorceress, Yennefer. I was torn. Stick with the initial love that was unbeknownst to me or continue with the love I knew. I chose to stick it out with Triss, but it was a decision and situation that did not come easy.

The Bizarre

Chell and Companion Cube - Portal
In a game where you are trapped underground in a twisted game to get to the surface, your most loyal companion ends up being a cube with a heart on its surface. Holding your buttons while you leap around, loyal to the core with an...unmoving personality. The companion cube slowly took shape through jests and chides as your most trusted compatriot. It was a relationship that fit well with the hilarious demeanor of GLaDOS, and you ended up giving some sense of empathy with the hollowed out block of plastic.


Yeto and Yetta - Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess
The Snow Cap Ruins was a memorable dungeon because it was so unconventional. You basically worked your way through someone's home. As you make your way through, the mirror fragment you seek in this dungeon has driven Yetta mad, and upon her defeat the couple reunites and fills the room with hearts. It was awkward, it made no sense physically, and it introduced the furry fetish in a game where I was part wolf...

There are plenty more to consider with this blog in each of these categories, but these were the personal standouts that stuck with me the most. As long as writers have unconventional characters, there will be a plethora of coming gaming couples that will have their share of bliss, tragedy, and oddity.

Have a romance or gaming couple that stuck with you?

Friday, February 5, 2016

Friday Spotlight: Mirror's Edge Catalyst

Mirror's Edge Catalyst
PC - Xbox One - PS4
Developer: EA Dice
Publisher: EA
Release Date: May 24th, 2016

The first Mirror's Edge was a unique title; a parkour filled adventure of speed and action as you leap from rooftop to rooftop. The character of Faith and world she inhabited was captivating, and a sequel can only improve the first experience.

Similar to the first game, expect plenty of building leaping, death defying jumps and moves to weave your way through the stages. This is assisted by Faith's runner vision, highlighting the objects that assist in her navigation.

Unlike the first game, the world is now open in comparison to the linear levels. Expect plenty of hidden items, side objectives, races, and challenges. DICE has even promised no load times once the initial game is set, which will provide an uninterrupted experience.

Combat has also received an overhaul. No use of guns will be utilized, instead focusing on Faith's melee expertise and quick movements. Multiplayer will feature leaderboards as well as synchronous multiplayer in which your actions will affect the world of another player.

There is so much potential with this title, and the details released thus far are already fantastic. The look is astounding, and an open beta registration just went live today. You can register here, but be sure to keep this on your radar.

Monday, February 1, 2016

February Packed with a Ton of New Games

The new release page has been updated, and with games like Street Fighter V and Xcom 2, it is shaping up to be a crazy month of releases! You can see the rest of the releases here.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Friday Spotlight: Battleborn

PC - PS4 - Xbox One
Developer: Gearbox
Publisher: 2K Games
Release Date: May 3rd, 2016

A unique look and variety of gameplay is what makes Battleborn stand out among the many titles to come this year. Gearbox has been hard at work throwing this title together, and the latest information makes it one to watch.

In basic terms, this is a first person shooter with MOBA elements; each player starts with reset levels and progressively gets stronger as the game time lengthens. Each unique character will have their own skill tree to progress to the player's desired playstyle. With 25 different characters at initial release, that is a lot of variety on the battlefield ranging from support roles to offensive sharpshooters.

For the solo player at heart, a campaign will also be available, including the ability to play four player co-op. Incursion, Arena, Meltdown; there are a multitude of different game modes ranging from objective based capture to sacrificing of robot minions to appease a god.

The whacky, wonderful nature of Battleborn makes it a standout among the rest. From the large amount of game modes to the huge lineup of heroes, this will be a game to keep in mind this May.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

How Video Games Helped Me in Leadership

 "Alright, for Phase 1, I need everyone to take out the adds. Phase II, step on your plate the second I tell you to and not a moment sooner. Phase III we will DPS the boss. Phase IV we need to hide behind the runes so as not to be killed by his AOE. It will reset after that. Everyone ready? Alright, let's start it up!"
I am a sucker for a co-operative game. Competitive multiplayer is great, but working together to overcome a task in an MMO or squad based game has always been a treat to me. Random strangers banding together and fighting a common enemy is a favorable past time. The less skilled player falling quickly, the veterans rushing to save the day with a sliver of health, the overall feeling of satisfaction of completing a difficult goal; I live for moments like that in gaming. What I did not realize is that the very game in which I was taking and giving orders was shaping me into something I never expected. A leader.

My first experience with leadership came with a little game called World of Warcraft. After spending time with a guild and successfully running difficult raids, I was promoted to a guild admin. Third tier, but important enough to demote certain guild members if needed and lead our "tanks" in the guild, the players responsible for keeping the boss' focus. I offered strategies, gave gear advice, and even ran new members through dungeons for dry runs to see how they interact and perform with our guildmates. I was thrust into the role of a leader.

It was not always pretty. In one instance I had two guild mates arguing back and forth, and only I was online to handle it. After warning them to settle it or drop it, I demoted one of the parties I felt was at fault without attempting to come to a win-win for both involved. That person left, and their wife left with them. Their wife was a high tier admin, higher than myself. I acted rashly and it cost the guild a prime player, and the other guild leaders were none too pleased. It was a lesson I took with me. Sure, it was a video game, but it was also a rash decision I made that hurt morale for our guild.

Squad Goals

Back in the real world, lessons I learned from WoW, Left 4 Dead, Gears of War, and other cooperative games were being carried over into my school and work life. I often took command without realizing it whenever groups were formed in college, using a backbone I forged online to deal with difficult members I otherwise would have passive aggressively ignored. I knew that if you remained confident and encouraging, you could overcome anything.

So what traits of a good leader are showcased in games that you may not even realize? Below is a list of the most common traits of what makes a good leader, and the many times I have encountered this in gaming. [1]

THE most important thing in the world for a leader based on all the training I have experienced in the real world. Leaders tell it like it is, no sugar coating it. They are quick to call you out on things you do wrong, without passively ignoring your action to be repeated.

I remember playing Team Fortress 2 and being called out for playing a Sniper poorly. While usually decent, I was not doing well and pulling my weight. Instead of getting upset, he convinced me to go Medic, and we were able to accomplish much more together. He could have easily allowed me to continue occasionally getting a kill or two, but instead was honest and upfront, swaying me to a more useful class and assisting in making our team stronger and more effective. It was a small example of a leader stepping forward, telling it like it is, and influencing others.

"Is there a manual for this fight?...I'm gonna just shoot the bad things"
-Ability to Delegate-
Self-Explanatory. Someone has to lead, and not be timid about it. I have seen some players come in lay down a few orders then back off. Others too headstrong, practically standing over your shoulder issuing commands. I have been in random groups that were failing miserably until someone decided to step up and take charge. "You stand there, you focus adds, you overheal me when he enrages." It is as common as ever with pug runs (pick-up groups), and something I find myself doing in the real world often.

If you do not explain how to achieve a goal and have everyone understand, you will not meet your goal. True in life, true in gaming. In any encounter, people need to know what to do, this is incredibly important in a lot of the more difficult levels of gaming. Recently, the Destiny raid from Taken King acts as a prime example; with complex encounters requiring players to know their role and perform it as expected. We had an instance where we hopped into a group with no explanation, no communication at all, and ignoring any ounce of caution decided to dive head first into the final Oryx encounter. It was disastrous, and frustrations eventually led people to quit.

It is easy to get discouraged or intimidated by a large project, but a confident leader can make a huge difference. Gaming helped build a sense of that in a way. When I took charge in a game and effectively lead a team to victory or accomplished a challenge, that small boost in confidence was infectious. It incentivizes you to try more difficult challenges, to push to become better, to strive to be above average. Little victories in gaming, much like that in work, can only push you forward toward the want and need for a constant challenge to overcome.

Likewise a confident leader was a trusted one. I dropped into a random group in Diablo 3 on a very high difficulty, and a very well versed player stepped up to take charge. This player's prior experience and know how boosted his confidence, and that confidence lead us to effectively overcome the more difficult enemies in our path.
-Positive Attitude-
Wiping on a raid for the tenth time can be discouraging. It takes that one person to say "We got this, we are making progress!" to really solidify your deposition. I have been in far too many negative, downtrodden raids in my time, and each one leaves you defeated. It was the raid with a leader vowing to return and noting improvement that really kept me wanting to come back and try again.

I remember a few months ago, I led a brand new fire team through Destiny's latest raid, King's Fall. These were dads, coworkers, friends; so not exactly pros. It took a lot of patience but it also took explaining fights in a manner that made sense to everyone. Not getting angry or frustrated, but being understanding and trying different methods. After we made it to the second boss to call it a night, I woke up to a text from one of the friends who brought in the new players. He thanked me for not only being patient, but encouraging throughout the raid, and said the new players were eager to get back to it.

I am no expert on leadership, and in my current job I primarily work with coworkers and lead on occasion; but I am finding the same skills and traits are transferable. Social interaction within gaming can be immature at times and try your patience, but I truly believe it can also shape you for the better as well. That high tier Paladin who leads you into battle may very well be the next great leader in a company.

[1] - Forbes - Top 10 Qualities That Make a Good Leader - http://www.forbes.com/sites/tanyaprive/2012/12/19/top-10-qualities-that-make-a-great-leader/#2715e4857a0b11856c8e3564