Advanced Spellcraft

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I’ve talked about quite a few things that I experienced at Pax South, and this mornings post is going to do some more of the same.  I feel like this year more than others I walked away with a treasure trove of things I wanted to talk about.  I guess in theory it is because I approached the convention significantly differently than I have in past years.  In the past I largely only stood in line to play the games that immediately seemed to be in my wheelhouse, and as a result I am sure I robbed myself of a whole slew of interesting things.  The game I want to talk about this morning is a prime example of not being able to rely on our instincts and tastes.  If you have read my blog for any length of time you will know that I do not handle “finger wigglers” that well… or to clarify my own personal slang…  spell casters.  So when I walked past a booth demonstrating a game where the main character is slinging spells left and right, my first instinct is to keep moving.  However as a group we stopped and listened to the intricate tale that CEO Louis-Félix Cauchon had to weave.  Admittedly what make this game so interesting is just how detailed the spell system is.  We got to watch a twenty minute demo covering nothing but how the spell system works, before even getting into the awesome pedigree of the storytelling.

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Functionally your character has four spells, which in itself doesn’t seem like a lot.  However each spell can be modified with what I have been generically calling “mutators” to change the way it responds.  So you might have a spell that at face value is a small point blank spark, however by equipping a a behavior you can make it fire out like a fireball…  or by equipping an augment you can make it veer to the right after firing it.  If you suddenly decide that you don’t want to throw fireballs… but instead iceballs, you can simply go in and change the base element of the attack.  Over the course of this demo of the system we got to see personal shields turn into charge attacks, and glorious cascades of rock from the ceiling in place of a traditional blizzard spell.  Now you might ask yourself why on each you would need this level of detail for a spell system apart from the simple “wouldn’t it be cool” aspect.  Functionally the magic not only serves as a weapon, but also as a complex puzzle system.  So there might be switches that you cannot reach unless you modify your fireball to arc in a certain way in order to hit the trigger.  The spellbook also allows you to save off several different configurations of a spell, and in the final version you will be able to give them unique names allowing you to quickly recognize which version of a given spell is your avalanche and which is your frost barrier.  The only immediate limit to building insane combination spells is your imagination, and of course your mana bar.  Each trait that you give a spell increases its cost, and while it was described that this matters less and less as you go through the game… it does limit your early tinkering.  Additionally as you play through the game you find modifiers along the way, meaning your palette of abilities starts small and grows as you progress.

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Up to this point we have literally just talked about the technical spell casting system, which in itself is a pretty amazing game.  On top of this however they have added what is sure to be a pretty great story.  Ed Greenwood of Forgotten Realms fame has penned the story for this game about epic spellcasters, which only makes sense given that he gave us the character of Elminster.  Functionally I heard the game described as Harry Potter meets Zelda and that seems fitting, with a huge alteration in that there seems to be a lot more physical puzzle solving with your spells.  I find it so bizarre though that I am looking forward to the release of a game about magic users, and that includes absolutely zero armor clad characters for me to bash baddies in the head with.  At face value this game is traditionally far out of my wheelhouse, but it was also quite possibly the freshest feeling game concept I saw on the Pax floor.  We’ve done so much for martial combat and making it feel interesting and nuanced, but have done so little to bring that same level of nuance to weaving complex spells.  Most games give us the option of push button throw fireball, or push button create bubble…  but this is the first that I have seen that lets you take that bubble and then project it outwards or trigger another spell after the bubble casts.  I have this feeling that in many ways it will have an almost metroidvania feel in that each time you unlock a new ability to give you spells it is also going to open up new ways to solve puzzles and allow you to move deeper into the content.

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The game right now is targetted for PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One and does not have a firm launch date… but we heard March or April mentioned which I largely translated into a “Spring” launch window that might be plus or minus a month.  They are doing something extremely interesting to get us into the world ahead of the launch by releasing a comic that updates Tuesdays and  Thursdays and explains the world and setting.  I love it when I experience a game like this, not necessarily because “woo spellcasters” or anything of the sort, but because this is clearly the love child of a bunch of folks who care deeply about it.  Talking to Louis-Félix Cauchon within second it was clear to see just how passionate he was about this game, and the work and imagination that went into creating it.  That in truth is what makes the convention experience special.  You get to meet the creators face to face and see just how much they love what they are doing.  In many ways it feels like Pax South recharges the spark inside of me each year, and gives me fuel to keep going throughout the year.  We spend so much time on the negatives, the little details that bother us about this game or that.  However seeing a game like Mages of Mystralia shows me instantly that there very much still is magic out there…  pun only slightly intended.  I would definitely add this to your watch list and check it out when it ultimately releases.  I find it so bizarre that of all of the games I have experienced, this one ranks insanely high on the list of “wish I had early access” titles, if for no reason other than to play with the spell crafting system.  This is the first release from Borealys Games, but if they can pour this much passion into every project they are going to be a studio we see lots of amazing things from in the future.

Weekend Hibernation

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It was a truly bizarre weekend for a whole lot of reasons.  Primarily because whatever illness my wife had seemed to strike with a vengeance during the tail end of last week.  As I said before I was originally planning on going to RiffTrax with work friends on Thursday night but by the time I left work I realized there was no way I could make it through an entire evening.  Instead I begged off and went home and crashed on the sofa in my fuzzy blanket cocoon.  By the time Friday came around I was really doing considerably worse and took a sick day…  which in turn screwed up  our evening plans.  We were originally slotted to do this monthly family dinner thing, but we rescheduled it for next weekend because I was not sure how well I would be to drive.  Instead I returned to the blanket cocoon once more and was as a result available for our normal Friday night Emerald Nightmare clear run.  I wound up tanking it, with the stipulation being that I was not going to talk at all.  In fact to  prevent myself from doing this I muted my microphone…. which lead to a weird run since I am fairly vocal as we make it through the content.  To make it even more odd, we were without the OTHER vocal leader Kylana which meant a whole slew of people had to step up to the plate and help make sure the run went smoothly.  So seriously huge thanks to Mort, Phy, Beist, Bledd, and I am sure a whole slew of other people who also were chatty and helpful but I am not remembering at this very moment.  It was once again a super clean run, and in the end I wound up swapping off for Erry for the final encounter since it generally requires a bit more vocal tank coordination.

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Past that night I spent a lot of time piddling around in stuff by myself.  Namely this meant an awful lot of Final Fantasy XV, and I think maybe just maybe I am finally to the point where I am willing to move on past “world 1”.  As I said before there is a point where the game warns you that if you continue on you might not be able to return for awhile.  I took this warning to heart given that I just came from playing Final Fantasy XIV where this sometimes means that a two and a half hour long cut scene is about to happen.  Instead over the weekend I found out from some of the other folks playing it that at least in this case… the game is talking about a ten minute process and not a thirty hour long one.  In past games these warnings often times meant that you would not be able to return until you found the airship, and I am pleased to find out that this is not the case.  At this point though I am running out of things I can actually do in the starter world, and all of the hunts are of a significant level difference from my current level so I think the game is not so subtly telling me to move the hell on.

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Another thing that took up some time this weekend is that I tore down a chunk of my office and set up my new Xbox One.  For awhile now I have been interested in owning an Xbox One to be able to play the titles that don’t exist on the PS4.  Similarly there is an entire group of friends that I have that are on the Xbox path, and I have not been able to play with them.  Unfortunately there were really no titles that supported Xbox 360 crossplay with Xbox One, so as each of them has upgraded…  my options similarly narrowed.  While I have had this latent desire… I also just could not justify the street price for the console given that I am primarily a PC gamer first… and a Console gamer second.  However on Black Friday I actually partook of a deal on Dell.com for an Xbox One, Extra Controller, Headset, and Five Games:  Halo 5 Limited Edition, Farcry 4, Ryze Legendary Edition, Sunset Overdrive, and Metal Gear Solid V Ground Zeroes all for right at $200.  For this I was willing to jump on it and the box arrived at my house Saturday during the day… and I wound up setting it up after editing the podcast on Sunday morning.  There was another deal on Cyber Monday to pick up a copy of the Destiny Collection for the Xbox One for I believe $25 and I jumped on that too, so while I was installing other things…  I ported over my Xbox 360 copy of Destiny.  Firstly since I am largely a digital only gamer on PS4… I did not realize the whole download after installation was as much of a tedious chore as it actually was.  Halo 5 took a good three hours worth of download time, which I found insane and shocking.  Is this what disc copy gamers on the PS4 have to deal with as well? or is this largely just an Xbox One thing?  In any case… I was kinda happy to see that my PS4 clan tag ported over to the Xbox One, and while I will still primarily be playing Destiny on PS4, I want to level something to hang with my friends playing on the Xbone.

I’ve decided to start linking the podcast on Monday mornings in what generally ends up being a weekend rundown post.  Not that I think there is anyone who doesn’t have access to it… but just in case the youtube version embeds nicely.  The other big take away from the weekend was all of the food that we cooked.  We wound up having a weekend full of comfort food, cooked in the crock pot.  So Friday night before going to bed I threw our breakfast casserole on to cook so that when we woke up Saturday morning it was ready.  This dish consists of egg, cheese, potato, ham and sausage and it amazing.  We wound up eating on it for breakfast and lunch on Sunday as well…  and still have a bunch left over.  My wife had the bright idea to turn it into a breakfast burrito with a little salsa.  We also cooked our Chicken and Cheese Tortilla soup, which we only got two meals out of…  well and an extra helping or two.  Finally on Sunday we tried out this Orange Chicken thing…  that is close but not quite there.  It was good enough but it needs something to make it work properly…  and I think I screwed it up by putting the rice directly in the sauce and letting it cook.  I should have simply made a couple cups of rice and then ladled the sauce over it instead.  In any case…  my wife and I are both largely on the mend but we pretty much spent the entire weekend hibernating.  We started taking some OTC meds when it initially hit and I think it helped out quite a bit.

Snagging Playstation Plus Games

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Playstation Network Trick

This is a trick that my good friend Ashgar showed me some time ago, and I have talked a bit on the blog… but given several comments from my twitter feed I thought it was probably time to create a dedicated blog post about it.  One of the awesome things about Playstation Plus is the way that it synergizes between all of the available Sony platforms.  For the longest time I had only a Playstation 3, but had even intent of some day picking up both a Vita and a PS4.  At one point I think I was lamenting having to go upstairs and log in my PS3 because I had forgotten to grab that months free games.  It was then that Ash shared with me that you could in fact log in through the Playstation Network website and not only grab games for the systems you owned but also for everything that was currently available.  What was great about this is that for several months ahead of picking up my Vita and PS4 I was able to start stockpiling a library of games to play on it, so when I finally purchased them I had more than enough content to keep me interested.

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Having done this now for a couple of years… I have to say the Sony Network site is less than easy to navigate.  Since their site is somewhat resistant to deep linking, I sorted out the best path to get to where I needed to go in a matter of clicks.  As a way of demonstrating the path, I threw together a quick image.  Once logged into the website, from the site header click the “Games” tab in the menu bar.  On the next screen that loads click “Playstation Plus” which is confusing because there is also a Playstation Plus Specials option that doesn’t really lead where you want to go.  Finally on the next page click “Free Games” which will then get you to the area of that months games.  Now something I have noticed is that it sometimes takes a few days for the PS+ titles of the month to show up in this section.  From here it is simply a matter of adding all of the games to your cart and checking out.  The games will all have a $0 price on them, but you still have to formally check out with them to get them added to your account.  If you encounter games saying that you are “not eligible” generally speaking that means the game supports cross buy and you only need to have one copy of the game for it to work on all platforms.  The store however will be showing a separate copy of the game for each platform it is available on.  Go ahead and check out with what is available, and if you refresh the page all of the games should then show up as “Purchased” like the below screenshot.

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Game With Gold As Well

The other thing I have realized is that this sort of trick works with Games with Gold from Microsoft as well.  Their system of releases is a little bit more fiddly as they seem to like to stagger them throughout the month, and when the next batch is released you generally lose access to the previous batch.  I have however been successfully adding Xbox One games to my account, without actually owning an Xbox One.  I figure at some point I will pick one up, and it will be nice to have a huge batch of games to play on it when I do.  The quirk with Games With Gold is that you have to check out with them individually, and often it still shows a price tag associated with the game… until you get to the final step of the checkout process.  Hopefully this post helps some folks out, because it is nice knowing that you can quickly snag your months worth of games without booting up the individual consoles.

On Exclusivity and Microsoft

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rise-of-the-tomb-raider Yesterday was the first day of the GamesCom conference in Cologne Germany, and generally speaking during past conferences we have for the most part seen a repeat of what was just announced at E3 a few months before.  This year however we got quite the bomb shell dropped during the Microsoft press conference, in the form that they claim that Rise of the Tomb Raider is going to be an Xbox One exclusive title.  This of course caused a wave of outrage through the community in part because up until this point all signs pointed to this being yet another Square Enix multiplatform title.  In fact during the E3 event, this appeared as part of the Sony PS4 press conference and was not even shown during the Microsoft event.  The outrage that I see so far is far less about Xbone vs PS4 but the fact that at least on initial pass it seemed like it would not be coming to PC either.

If you dissect the message that was delivered you can see something subtle happening.  Every single time they mentioned that this was exclusive they played with the words a bit.  They kept repeating the carefully constructed phrase “coming exclusive for holiday 2015”.  Over and over at least four separate times they used that exact same wording.  So that screams to me that they are putting a lot of hype behind something that may or may not be the case.  There are always a number of 100% platform dependant titles on a console.  The best example of these are the classic titles that you can only get on a Nintendo console like Zelda, Mario, Metroid, Kirby and Kid Icarus to make a few.  Then there are titles that come out first one a given console, but later on ship on every other console.

On Exclusivity and Microsoft

This is after all a card Microsoft has played for years, trumping the supposed exclusivity of a given title that then not only comes out but in part becomes far more famous on another platform.  If you remember both Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect were XBox exclusives, yet in both cases the franchises came out on the PC and with Mass Effect it now exists on all of the consoles and was a massive sales juggernaut.  Similarly even during this generation both Dead Rising 3 and Ryse: Son of Rome were supposedly platform exclusive titles but in both cases they are being released on the PC.  There was even the situation of Ninja Gaiden II that was a platform exclusive, and then later Tecmo released the game as Ninja Gaiden Sigma II so that they could break their exclusivity agreement.  All of this leads me to believe that this is just more marketing chicanery from Microsoft and not actually a platform exclusive title.

Ultimately games are developed to make money, and right now with 5 million Xbox One units being dwarfed by 10 million Playstation 4 units, it simply does not make sense to ignore the larger platform.  Ultimately this was a master stroke on the part of Microsoft however if they manage to pull it off.  I wouldn’t exactly call Rise of the Tomb Raider a platform selling title, but it certainly helps to buff up a console that has floundered a bit in its first year.  A good friend of mine has this rule that he refuses to buy a console before there are five titles that he wants to play on it that he cannot get anywhere else.  I personally have found this to be a pretty good rule so far, and ultimately this lead me to purchase my PS4.  If I reached a point where I had five titles for the Xbox One… I would consider getting one, but for the time being I just don’t have any interest.

Results of Poor Messaging

Microsoft has reached this point out of some phenomenally poor messaging.  When the console was announced they made a series of blunders in trying to guess exactly what their console buyers would want.  All of the touting of its television features really lost me in the process.  I barely watch television, and when I do it tends to be for a specific purpose… to watch one show and then move on to the next thing.  The only channel I watch with any frequency is Cartoon Network, more specifically Adult Swim.  Even then the last time I sat down in front of the television to actually watch television on purpose was well over a week ago.  So the focus on the initial marketing message of the console by demonstrating all of the admittedly interesting things it can do with television…  really landed off in left field.

Since then he has been struggling to out message Sony who has quite frankly dominated the news cycle with some pretty innovative features.  For sake of fairness I personally own right now 2 Xbox 360s, a Playstation 3, a Playstation Vita and a Playstation 4.  So I am not exactly an unbiased observer here.  I have clearly chosen the Sony Platform over the Microsoft one in part because all of these consoles work so well together.  The other thing is that Sony has focused in with laser precision on a very specific message.  “This is a console about video gaming, and we want to provide you an awesome gaming experience.”  So far this message has worked and resounded with folks looking for a next generation gaming console and not necessarily a next generation media pc.

It’s About the Value

The primary reason why I jumped allegiance during the last generation is admittedly just how amazing of a value Playstation Plus is, or more so how disappointing a value Xbox Gold was.  PS Plus is a $50 dollar a year subscription that gives you tons of free content as a result.  I just made a list of titles I have gotten in the two years I have been subscribed to the program.

Dust 514, DC Universe Online, Ratchet and Clank Collection, Dead Nation, Unit 13, Gravity Rush, Wipeout 2048, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, Hitman: Absolution, Outlast, Resogun, Pinball Arcade, Infamous 2 , Little Big Planet 2, Ico, Shadow of the Colossus, Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, Malicious, LIttle Big Planet Karting, Uncharted 3, Mod Nation Racers: Road Trip, Thomas Was Alone, Stealth Inc: A Clone in the Dark, Lone Survivor: The Directors Cut, Zen Pinball 2, Worms: Battle Island, Labrynth Legends, Zombie Tycoon II, Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysee HD, Hotline Miami, Grid 2, Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons, Payday 2, Metro: Last Light, Closure, Knytt Underground, Dyad, Bioshock Infinite, Darksiders, Saints Row: The Third, Batman: Arkham City, BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend, Poker Night 2, Joe Danger 2: The Movie, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Borderlands 2, Soul Calibur: Broken Destiny, Tekken 6, Galaga Legions, Sonic & All-Stars Racing Transformed, Castle of Illusion, Jet Set Radio, Binary Domain, Vanquish, The Cave, Monster Hunter Freedom Unite, Street Fighter X Tekken, Dragon’s Dogman: Dark Arisen, Remember Me, DmC Devil May Cry, Resident Evil Chronicles HD Collection, Mega Man 9&10 Combo, Tomb Raider, Pro Evolution Soccer 2014, Battlefield 3, Sleeping Dogs, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, Trine 2, PixelJunk Shooter, PIxelJunk Monsters , Velocity Ultra, Soul Sacrifice, Stick it to the Man, Limbo, Puppeteer, Surge Deluxe, NBA 2K14, Warframe, Flower, Strider, Towerfall Ascension, Doki-Doki Universe, Terraria, Muramasa Rebirth, Vessel, Dead Space 3, Fez, Dragon’s Crown, Metrico, Rogue Legacy, Proteus, Road Not Taken, Crysis 3

That is 94 individual titles that I have gotten for free through either the console itself or the Playstation Plus service.  In many cases those titles are available on multiple platforms and as a result I get a copy for every platform it is avaialble for.  This is a huge deal for me, and not only do most of the titles have what Sony calls “cross buy” where if you buy a copy for any platform you get it on ALL platforms… you also get “cross save” on the newer games.  Lately I have been playing quite a bit of Rogue Legacy, and I can start a game on my Vita and then pick it up later upstairs on my Playstation 4.  On top of that if I have a game I want to play on my PS4 I can pick up the Vita and use it as a remote screen and even play it remotely.  Admittedly playing from your PS4 while not on the same network is a bit laggy, but the simple fact that it exists is mind boggling to me.

Now I realize that “Games With Gold” is a thing that exists now and they have been fighting to catch up, but at this point there have been 35 titles to Playstation Plus that has released 148 PS3 titles, 14 PS4 titles, 48 PS Vita titles and 87 psp/psone/minis titles.  I am admittedly bitter however for having paid for years of Xbox Gold subscription for what amounted to the permission to play games online and watch Netflix.  Since then they have reversed this decision and made Netflix a free software, but when I initially got my Xbox 360 you had to have the full gold subscription to use it.  Sony is just as much of a corporate monstrosity as Microsoft, but they have been doing a much better job of disguising that fact and giving me warm fuzzies along the way.  Since I still have all three of their most recent platforms, and even a PSP if we want to go back that far…  they are doing an awesome job of giving me reasons to care about each and every platform and more specifically the interoperability between them.

Share Play

Hands down the most interesting thing to come out of GamesCom for me was the announcement of Share Play.  The Playstation Now game streaming service has been announced for some time, and it is currently happening playable in beta, but for the time being it just is a poor value.  What Share Play does is take that same game streaming technology but flip it around to make it extremely useful.  Right now if you want to play with a friend, you both have to own the same game and log into it at the same time to meet up and play.  What Share Play proposes is that you can be sitting on your couch and your friend on theirs, but be virtually playing the same copy of the game together.  The idea is that you send your PlayStation network friend an invite to join your current game session.  At this point the game is then streamed to their console and you are playing together in the same session.

I have no clue what the ramifications of this technology will be and what sort of internet connection you will need to make it work.  Thankfully however most of my friends that I hang out with on a nightly basis also have some pretty beefy internet connections.  So I can see us getting a lot of play out of this feature.  Want to try out a new game, awesome… pop in my game and play with me and see if you like it.  Want to work together on some achievement, awesome…  let me send you an invite and we will work on it together.  That is the thing I like the best about the PS4 experience so far is that it feels very socially connected as I am constantly able to see what my friends are playing and especially during the Destiny betas we have been able to pop around freely.  The only negative I have so far is that the voice chat system is horrible, and as a result I still prefer to use teamspeak.

Wrapping Up

I realize that I am not an unbiased voice about the whole Microsoft versus Sony debate.  In truth there really isn’t much of a debate to be had in either direction.  Buy whatever console has the games you want to play on it and ignore everyone that is spouting off about your choice.  I made my choice based on the fact that it had more games that I wanted to play on it, and with the Playstation Plus service from the day I brought my PS4 home I already had a half dozen titles to play on it that night.  PS Plus and all the other consoles do an amazing job justifying the purchase of MORE Sony Consoles.  As far as Rise of the Tomb Raider, I am taking a wait and see attitude.  I think right now that this exclusive agreement is just a carefully marketed and cleverly worded announcement.  Will it ship on Xbox One first?  More than likely… but will it be followed up within six months to a year on every other platform?  Almost assuredly so, because so far if it is popular and demanded enough most Xbox titles see a PC release…  I am looking at your KOTOR, Mass Effect, Fable, Dead Rising and I imagine every other blockbuster that gets released for a Microsoft Console.

#XboxOne #PS4 #RiseoftheTombRaider