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 -

Friday, January 15, 2016

Friday Spotlight: Cobalt

PC - Xbox 360 - Xbox One
Developer: Oxeye Game Studio
Publisher: Mojang
Release Date: February 2016

Cobalt is an adorable 2D action side scroller. You are thrust into the role of Cobalt, and must shoot your way through a multitude of hallways and baddies.

Highlights of the combat include a bullet time feature that slows down the action, the ability to deflect bullets against opponents, and space hamsters. The combat is so quick that it turns into a test of reflexes as bullets come your way and you slide and dodge your way around the rooms. It looks simple enough for casual players, but offers enough complexity for more seasoned players to try out.

There will be a multitude of multiplayer features including capture the flag, deathmatch, survival, and other modes. Additionally players will be offered a map creator of sorts to create your own levels of mayhem.

The game is shaping up nicely, and looks like a fast paced shoot em up with character. It is expected early February 2016.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Overwatch Beta Impressions/Gameplay

Overwatch was running its Closed Beta test late last year and I was lucky enough to participate for a weekend. Here is a rundown of the promising features as well as a video highlighting the notable standouts:

A Hero for Anyone

There is currently a roster of twenty one different characters. That is twenty one different characters with twenty one unique play styles and twenty one unique "ultra" abilities. No matter what play style you prefer in first person shooters, you will find a Hero you love to play.

The roster is split into four distinct classes:

These are your damage absorbing, party leading, first to charge in juggernauts. They take damage and excel at doing so. Most heroes in these roles will hand out damage protective shields, yank enemies closer to your party, or knock enemies back. It is all about controlling the enemy, keeping their eyes on you, and keeping any from forcing their way around your back.

Do not think that just because you are a tank you are invincible. I found myself overwhelmed at times with little support, and those times I found my health ticking away with little thought. It takes communication and timing to make sure you keep baddies at bay without becoming a bullet sponge.

While a Tank excels at absorbing damage, sometimes you are outnumbered and need a little cover. Defense class acts as support, viewing the entire battlefield or capable of providing the protection needed to escape an otherwise dire situation.

These are often able to reach places other Heroes cannot with fast traversal or even a wall of ice to boost their jump. Traps, mines, and sentry guns are the name of the game; being the class that has your back if the enemies are rushing forward.

The most popular class, it is all about tackling each enemy head on and showing little mercy. This class is made to pack a punch and deliver as much pain as possible, using lightning fast moves to dodge and weave through enemies to a specific healer or target.

The speed and power of these units is offhanded by relatively lower health. Most can die in a few hits so if you plan to deal out damage, be ready to take some in return.

My personal favorite to play and the often overlooked, the Support role is all about keeping everyone around you alive and moving. Most are not just limited to healing, as some are able to create teleporters to get your team back in the action or even boost your movement speed.

Like the Offense class, these are not combat units and have relatively lower health. Your focus should be your teammates, but in a pinch, you can stand your ground.

While each Hero is lumped into a category, every single one is very unique in their abilities that you should not feel limited to just healing or just tanking. Mercy was primarily about using her healing gun, but Zenyatta felt more like a battle healer. Zarya was a good mid-range Tank, but Reinhardt was more melee and close ranged.

The highlight of Overwatch was experimenting and exploring each Hero in the roster to see their strengths and weaknesses. People chose favorites, but one never felt more powerful than the other.

Highlight Reel

At the end of each match, the winning team is displayed, but the most impressive kill in the match was showcased for everyone in the Play of the Game. You are put in the view of the player who ended up making the biggest scoring play, and see first hand the destruction and devastation they unleashed. It was a wonderful addition that gave credit where credit was due to the biggest play of the game, and a subtle touch to add a goal to play efficiently to get featured.

Work Together, or Fail Together

On the right hand side as you choose a Hero you will see a tip on what you could do to improve the team's balance. Perhaps you are stacking Offense or stacking Tanks, it will suggest the class that is missing until someone decides to change sides.

This is solid advice, as the most balanced teams are the ones that come out on top. Having an offense focused team (which was common) was quickly shot down as tanks and healers mowed through the multitude of snipers.

Map Diversity

The maps, though linear, offer a wide variety of platforms, side halls, and overlooks to work your way around to the objective. Moving through a map as a tank was a different experience than the assault players that would fly from rooftop to rooftop. Side halls to lay traps, overviews for snipers, and close quarter hallways for melee heroes were common; and it helped to have a terrain made for your method of play.

Objectives would also shift from simply capturing a point to escorting an objective. While the game modes are pretty straight forward, they sometimes would be forgotten as the hectic melee of enemies was entertaining on its own.

I walked away from Overwatch with a newfound admiration and excitement for the game. The potential for the game is huge and the characters are a blast to explore. Matches are fast-paced and enjoyable, and hopping in and out of them is easy which makes it simple to get hooked into that "one more match" round. The beta is temporarily shut down to analyze data, but will open again mid-January and allow more people to come into the beta as well with new features to test such as a character progression system and tweaks to hero balances.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Friday Spotlight - We Happy Few

We Happy Few
Xbox One - PC
Developer: Compulsion Games
Publisher: Compulsion Games
Release Date: June 2016

In a disturbing Bioshock/1984 like manner, We Happy Few stands out as a sadistic world full of potential. The theme is to hide in plain sight in the town of Wellington Wells, acting as though you are one of the happy citizens taking their "Joy" pills. You play the role of a "Downer" and need to escape the dystopian society by learning to blend in and follow the rules while keeping your agenda secret.

The hitch being, if you die. There is no reloading a save, as the game is designed to be replayed. From the official website [1]:
Each time you die, you’ll restart in a brand new city, thanks to our procedural generation tech. You’ll be able to customize the world to your liking, and play through using multiple characters and playstyles. Each time, you’ll learn a little more about how to survive in Wellington Wells.

This offers an interesting trail and error centered gameplay, learning about the world a little more with each death.

Additionally, expect plenty of melee combat, crafting, and looting. Gameplay shows a stamina bar for melee combat, the ability to loot corpses, and the necessity of water and food to stay alive.

The game is in alpha stage, but the initial gameplay looks promising. It seems to be an interesting world with a huge replay potential. We Happy Few is set for release in June of 2016.

[1] - We Happy Few - Official Website -

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Confession Time - I Rarely Customize My Character

Fallout 4 opens and immediately throws you into a character customization screen. There are sliders for nose length, forehead size, eyelid shape, and any facial feature imaginable. It beckons you to create your own persona, as wild or serious as you want. Duplicate your favorite celebrity so you can see what life is like for Taylor Swift in the wasteland. You can even put your likeness into the game, throwing yourself into the role of the vault dweller.

Despite all the customization available, I altered a few small items like my hair and beard before moving along. Two minutes in total was spent in this feature. I have done the same thing for Mass Effect, Skyrim, Dark Souls, Guild Wars 2, and any other title that allows you to craft a character. I spend a few minutes changing the hair before moving on to the game itself.

This time I had to ask myself...why not stay and delve into this further?

Time. That is one of the biggest factors of it all. Creating a character from scratch, starting from head to chin, takes a large amount of time. Going into the finer details and making sure everything is exactly how you envision is something that takes longer than a few small tweaks. Sure it will payoff in the end, but I always just wanted to dive right into the game and get to playing. Spending my time hopping right into a menu full of bars and checklists is not what I want to do.

"Tell me I'm beautiful, Miranda"

Regret. I always mess up somewhere. The eyes looked fine before but become distracting during dialogue later. The ears looked normal before, but in action I look like a Keebler elf fighting a space pirate. No matter how much time I manage to spend or how much effort I take to pay attention to detail, something usually goes wrong. Call me a perfectionist, but having to spend forty hours with a face I am annoyed with will usually have me leaning toward a default template with a few modifications. 

Helmets. More than likely you are creating a character in an RPG and that means you are likely to get a helmet. That also means you can fully expect to never see the thing you worked so hard to perfect. Like throwing a glass case on Mona Lisa, the beauty and craftsmanship will be tarnished but the protection is a necessity. While there will be the occasional option to hide the helmet's visibility in most titles, ultimately your main hero will be hidden from scrutiny.

Someone put Khaleesi in Dragon Age...I'm guessing for a tactical advantage?

In most cases, this will have little impact on the game itself. You can be the ugliest being in the world with a forehead the size of Texas and a lazy eye and still manage to seduce anyone. You can be a pirate with an eyepatch and still shoot with the same accuracy as the guy who looks normal. No change to your cosmetic appearance will affect the world around you. That is not to say some games leave your choices completely unscrutinized, with Dragon Age standing out as a game in which NPCs would treat noble humans higher than lowly dwarfs. Even World of Warcraft and Skyrim had certain bonuses and abilities for each race that could compliment a class. Regardless, the cosmetic look did nothing and even the ugly duckling could still rise to the same fame as anyone's chiseled dreamy warrior.

While I shy away from cosmetic looks to the face, I do, however,  spend far too much time maintaining my character's wardrobe. Like a Project Runway judge, I find myself investing a lot of time cycling through armor or messing with shaders to get the perfect intimidating look. Even if an armor had superior stats I would toss it aside if it dared to clash with my ensemble. This made more sense to me than messing with the physical appearance due to the consistency of seeing the armor continually in gameplay.

In the end, it is all about the fun you have with it. Some people love the ability to shape a character that looks like Miley Cyrus and send her into space to fight the Reapers. There are detailed tutorials on how to shape and mold any likeness you wish into a character, and the time and dedication you put toward that is all up to the player. It is another tool to add your own personal creativity and humor into a game, and more power to the player is always a bonus to any game.

I may yet set forth and take the time to create a character down to the finest detail one day. As for now, I am sure to cover my ugly mug with a helmet, and let my identity be a mystery to everyone in the a homeless Batman...

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Oculus Rift Comes with a $600 Price Tag

The Oculus Rift is one of the more well known, first true advances at genuine VR integration with gameplay. I was lucky enough to have a friend that tested one in the early stages, and it was a very interesting, enjoyable experience playing through a few tech demos.

Today, the Internet is in an uproar as the Oculus Rift has an official price tag; $600. [1]

While most were expecting the $400 dollar range, the price alone is a hefty cost for the highly awaited tech. This does include the headset, microphone, controller, and remote. As well as 100 playable titles promised by the end of 2016 including EVE: Valkyrie, Minecraft, and Edge of Nowhere.

The pricey start is reminiscent of initial tech launches such as the first cost of HD or 3D televisions that are now a standard. Could Sony's VR compete with price and functionality? There is a lot up in the air, but those lucky few who can afford the new tech will be giddy come March 28th.

[1] - Oculus - Oculus Rift Pre-Orders Now Open, First Shipments March 28th -

Monday, January 4, 2016

Assassin's Creed May Take the Year Off

Assassin's Creed has been annually released for the past six years. In that time we have visited Italy, The American Revolution, England, and many other locales. It has been so steady that it has been hard to keep up at times, especially in 2014 where Unity was released alongside Rogue.

According to Kotaku's latest post [1], an insider has been told the company will be working this year to keep the game in development and work on creating a more polished, refined experience for 2017. While no official announcement has been stated, there speculation has garnered support from multiple sources.

As far as the game itself, the most we know is it could potentially take place in Egypt and is code named "Empire".

This is a welcome announcement, as an avid fan of Assassin's Creed I am overloaded with the amount of gameplay I have left. I have not fully explored Unity, would love to go back and play Black Flag, and have not even glanced at Syndicate. There is a ton of Assassin's Creed to play out there, and an extended year to focus on making an even better one is good news for the franchise.

[1] - Kotaku - Next Big Assassin's Creed Set in Egypt, Skipping 2016 As Part of Possible Series Slowdown -

Friday, January 1, 2016

Here's to 2016 in Gaming

Can you believe it is already 2016? Happy New Year!

This season always comes in a whirlwind as we wind down from the holidays, take down the Christmas decorations, and deny the fact we must return to work or school soon.

As far as gaming goes there is plenty to consider going into the new year.

I am living on a backlog at the moment, after gaining three big titles over Christmas, and expect my 2016 to start with 2015's biggest games. I am breezing through Halo 5's campaign before jumping into Fallout 4. Then there is the matter of Witcher 3 and Rocket League time with friends. With big 40 hour+ titles and other multiplayer matches I wish to delve into, I find myself preoccupied coming into the next year.

Soon, Link, very soon...

This is problematic, as there are a ton of new games that really caught my eye heading into 2016. Uncharted 4 tops that list, as one of my favorite franchises finally makes a next generation debut. There is also the matter of a new Zelda later this year, the sole reason I have been holding onto a Wii-U for so long aside from new Smash Brother characters. Throw in a new Deus Ex, IPs from E3 like Recore, and a slew of other titles we have yet to see debut and there are a lot of big titles coming next year.

The biggest goal of 2016 will be a PlayStation 4. I have the means after the mass of gift cards, it is just all about waiting for the perfect bundle. Console exclusives and the prospect of this consoles capabilities have drawn me to complete my collection of next generation machines. What will E3 bring? Could a price drop be in the near future? Will a VR bundle be a possibility? All keep me waiting, and yearning for what the console could hold in 2016.

Will Smell O Vision be included?

As for 2016 predictions in gaming, this year will be the year of pushing VR. We had motion controls, we had 3D, and now it is shaping up to be the virtual reality push. I expect plenty of it at this year's E3. As for the games, with the success of Force Awakens I fully expect a new Star Wars IP to be teased, as well as the possibility of a Mario Galaxy-Esque Wii-U title given its potential on the gamepad. Nintendo's secret new console will be big speculation, a potential sequel to Destiny could rear its head, and I am in eager anticipation as to next year's big indie hit.

It has been a whirlwind of a year with my wedding this past August, getting a dog, and the many other events of life; but gaming and blogging is something I just cannot let go of moving into 2016. It lessened this past year extensively, skimping on Lets Plays and Video Reviews simply due to time, but I would always find time or sacrifice a few hours sleep to delve into a title a little further.

It has shaped my New Year's resolution, in not only improving my self, but to keep writing, pick back up video reviews, and look at the possibility of a career change. I expect many failures, errors, and missteps along the way; but I know 2016 will be a year to learn and grow, and it is something I must leave a comfort zone to in order to do. One constant will remain, through all the events for the year to come; I will always pick up a controller for whatever experience 2016 has to offer.