Monday, February 29, 2016

Marketing Gimmicks I think are cheap...

"But wait!!" I live in a house that runs cable tv for most hours of the day. The Internet is so ubiquitous, we rarely use the term anymore...it's just an extension of life. Either way, with the ability to make one-click orders from your phone or pc, it baffles me why tv commercials still do this gimmick. I'm glad I watched the whole commercial to get the deal. If I had picked up the phone, I may have paid full price!

Out-of-genre shots in marketing. The slick action shots in this Paul Blart fat-guy-comedy trailer are just incongruous. I'm not saying we shouldn't have quality parts to a movie, but I think it's a cheap laugh.


I...just made you watch that. This lame contrivance is related to the "least expected" lazy humor. Remember that foul-mouthed bear Ted? What about the cute white girl Sarah Silverman who cusses like a sailor? These lousy acts are funny because bad words are coming from where you least expect them.

Next up: ultra-HD-uber-colorful-commercials-with-super-crisp-colors-and-graphics that take no loading time, during your choppy, constantly buffering streaming videos. I get it, we need sponsors, but (internet speed) throttling is wrong. (Source: youtube.com, especially on 3G)

Teaching ESL, you run into this everywhere.
Now, the next one is a humdinger for friends and other folk who want to call me a hypocrite. *Takes a breath.* Websites that hide everything behind an even-free login. I_don't_want_to create an account before I know what your site is about. I'm talking to you, Pintrest! I'm preemptively attacking myself because once I get a big website, I'll hide content behind a login. That's right, friends, get ready to throw this one in my face!

Music tropes. For a while, there were parodies of the flat, blasting trumpets from the Inception trailer, and now all action movie trailers use this. In comedies, you know the black characters are on screen because it sounds like 80s rap instrumentals with record scratching. Me, Myself and Irene, one of my favorite comedies, is a great example of this, though I can't find a clip to prove. Towards the end of the movie, his three black sons show up in a helicopter and save the day to this music. Other examples are the saxophone to tell your stupid ass the movie is supposed to be funny. And don't forget that it's a spooky comedy because there are pizzicato stringed instruments. Get outta here with that corny stuff! I'm not going to pick on every single genre and music type, but I have seen these a bit too often and wonder if it's time for an update. The trope with the strong trumpets and male choir for a swords and sandals flick never gets old, though. Always cool.

This article made it pretty far without a video game reference.

...pre-orders...
Pre-orders. The granddaddy of them all in my orb-clutching-gesture-causing marketing gimmicks. Fuck pre-orders. I see that it's a good gauge for how many games will sell, that's very important to the company. But how often do we get games that could have used another week of bug-testing because of "Day-1" releases? The company makes a decision that the million preorders means we want a buggier game now, more than a polished game next week. There is one exception to this, and that's companies that simply lower the price for preordering. Amazon Prime members can get select presales for $47.99, which is slick. Bonus gripe: why is digital content the same price as physical?


Season passes are another bullshit marketing ploy. That's where you plunk down another $20-60 on the game to ensure you get the often-tiny expansions to the game. You get an extra 10% of content for another 30% of what you paid initially. Some games are so great, you don't want them to end, and DLC is a blessing. However, the most frustrating part about these is that the season pass often go on sale for ~50% right after the first season release, meaning early adopters simply get financially punished for not waiting to purchase it. Thrifty Mark don't like that. Don't like that one bit. So, I never buy season passes until after their first release / price drop.

I hope to kick out some positive examples of great marketing troupes in the coming weeks! What are your favorites and least favorites?



Friday, February 19, 2016

Games of 2016: Winter p2

January: Wolfenstein (PS4), Zheroes (XB1)

I was ready to talk shit about this dumb-looking white guy, too...
Wolfenstein: New Order might be my favorite fps game ever. It took me a few hours to discern it from your average FPS game with another white male lead. The setting is great, though; the graphics are stellar, the controls are very responsive, and the two gimmicks work just fine. I'm referring to dual-wielding and leaning. The former works just like it should, adding a longer firepower, which is especially devastating with two shotguns. For the lean mechanic, you hold on L1, and can quickly crouch, lean out from cover, and even raise up on your tippy-toes to fire over cover with the movement stick. Finishing this game with my buddy left me feeling so uber-satisfied, and I'm only glad that there's a lot more content waiting for me. Wolfenstein's cinematics were able to make me give a shit about that white jarhead soldier because the writers were on point with context. BJ Blaskowicz Blazkowicz is one of the last Allied soldiers, after Germany wins WWII. This characters has existed for 30 years or so, since the first Wolfenstein, but your character's ethnicity is important because he passes the Aryan test, allowing him some natural infiltration abilities.


There's a side romance story with one of the characters Anya, which at least has the visual payoff of a couple sex scenes. I think this is acceptable because romance in movies and games is often a waste of time. Live action relies on the actors' chemistry, but rendered scenes rely more heavily on good writing, which is a lot easier to control. Also, in a mature game, if you're onboard with the violence -- ohh, there's LOTS of that in this game-- then you've earned the right to see some T&A. So often are we subject to bullshit romance without any payoff more than the couple finally being able to show their affection publicly. Big whoop.
This boss, which you actually fight, is about 3 stories tall.

The game has giant scary mechs, blasting out garbled German in robot voices, sadistic high-ranking officers, and a milleu of vibrant characters that react off of your stoic main character. Bethesda, id and Machine Games did us good on this one!

Zheroes is a comic-style beat-em-up game, free for Xbox Gold members last December. The game's two characters are styled like Mr and Mrs Incredible. There's nothing particularly great about this game, but I can't complain about a free game with couch co-op!

February: Star Craft II (PC), Dishonored (PS3), Guns Up (PS4).

My favorite Christmas gift was Star Craft II. I sure as heck haven't played it much, and all of that has been multiplayer skirmishes. Another mode is an objective-based survival mode, which has you building a base and protecting nodes from being reached by the enemy team. I hope to write more about this game as I play more, but it was worth mentioning that it, like every other Blizzard game, is rad! My main complaint about this game is that the units are so small that they feel insignificant. I've always been more of a fan of Warcraft III, where your armies are a little smaller, along with heroes that level up. Starcraft II's quickly-dying units mean there's a lot of back and forth with base and roaming armies, rather than WCIII's spawn-explore-micromanage abilities gameplay. Great game, nonetheless.

Gorgeous, and the palette isn't supposed to be vibrant.
I think I'm playing Dishonored at the wrong time to fully appreciate it. It's another Bethesda game, right after I completed Wolfenstein and had such a stellar experience. Dishonest is gorgeous in it's depressing and blandly-colored European slum backdrop, and plays very similarly to Bioshock with a stealth element. You chase an objective and clear out enemies with special abilities or weapons, and loot while dodging traps and listening to awesomely-voiced NPCs. The platinum trophy for this game sucks, though, because it diverts you from letting loose. There's a trophy for completing the game without any abilities, and the other trophy is to complete the story without alerting anyone. Both of these encourage you to COMPLETELY play off the beaten path. I understand I'm complaining about something totally optional, but team in charge of these trophies could have been more creative in their design. I'm glad I got off the hook without insanely time-consuming multiplayer-based trophies. Fuck multiplayer trophies ALWAYS.

Guns Up, like Gems of War, is another free to play game with very-accomplishable trophies and short gameplay. You spawn army units that follow their own (often terrible) AI to destroy enemy bases. Each round takes 3-5 minutes, and your profile gains levels and munitions--the in-game currency to buy better units and upgrade your base. You do the latter to survive waves of attacking units, and get permanent fixtures for your base, as well as more munitions, for surviving beyond 2 minutes.

As you're deploying units from your ever-creeping truck, you also pick up specials to cast on the battlefield. These include a decoy, which makes the enemy divert their fire away from your units, to a napalm or missile that does heavy damage to either buildings or moving troops.

That anti-air tower protects against missiles, bombing raids,
paratroopers and napalms!
The game's creative point is that you completely design your base, adding and upgrading buildings. If you want to place your tent, which spawns soldiers at intervals, at the entrance and keep all your sniper towers near your main base, you can do that! You can add fences to divert their units, and explosive barrels next to cover in hopes that stray bullets will make it go boom! Between rounds, you can place and angle the buildings to your liking. When you're ready to see your base get destroyed, you hit DEFEND and an endless wave of increasingly-stronger enemies shell the shit out of your base.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Games in 2015: Winter p1

December: The Order 1886 (PS4), Final Fantasy VII (PS4), Gems of War (PS4).

The game looks like this...all the time. 100%, no jerks or blips or texture errors.
The Order 1886 was a really enjoyable experience. The story takes place in London, and the Knights of the Round Table have survived and protect Britain. You play as Sir Galahad, who fights anti-government rebels and werewolves in this gothic steampunk, Tesla-fueled alternate history. This plot is in the minority of perspectives that is not cynical about government and authority. Mechanically, it uses a polished Gears of War engine, but has very little firefights in between some top-notch cutscenes. After the opening cinematic, the camera kinda starts following one of the characters, and that's when I realized the game's scenes were all rendered in realtime, and absolutely gorgeous.

Pre-rendered.
See?
The first Playstation had a bunch of games where pre-rendered scenes were a lot more fluid, with way better textures, and it was pretty obvious that the game system just couldn't produce graphics at that level. These cutscenes usually took up huge amounts of data, relative to the game, which explains why all those multi-disc games that still had less than half an hour of cinematics. The Playstation 2 generation kept this intact, mostly; DVDs could hold so much more data, and you got cutscenes with graphics way better than the realtime rendering again, this time in higher resolutions. Then the devs got really bold and started having cutscenes with realtime rendering. When my friend told me about Halo 4's graphics, I was pretty excited. The visuals are quite amazing, but he was referring to the pre-rendered cutscenes. Halo 4 has quite amazing cinematics, but I don't personally call those graphics: your Xboxes are simply playing a video file.

The Order has realtime cutscenes, meaning your Playstation is capable of keeping those rich textures and details throughout the whole experience. I stopped for a half hour and fiddled around in Tesla's laboratory because the intricacy of all the gadgets and projects was so distracting and breathtaking. This game doesn't have much replay value, but that doesn't mean it isn't worth your time; please play this game.

Final Fantasy VII still holds up as my favorite game overall. The soundtrack is what shuts out all other competition. Nostalgia helps a lot, and I have written a whole entry to this game's story.

*boring voice* MANA SURRRGE!
Gems of War is an amazing freeware gem-matching game. Mobile games are dogshit, and this game almost behaves like one: the matches/rounds/levels last 3-5 minutes, and the game's graphics consist of moving cards and overlaid effects. Each color of gem you match gains you that color mana, which your troops use to cast spells and destroy the other team. You gain XP, gold or souls after every match. As your character levels with XP,  Each match costs gold to play, but your winnings are usually about 3 times this cost. Gold is also used to buy kingdoms, which provide a daily gold bonus. Souls are used to level your troops, which help you win more! The main reason this games is awesome is because you very quickly grow out of time penalties.

Why ohh why do you only have one music track?
Most free mobile games are built to take your money. They do this by having some bullshit mechanic that either suddenly ramps up difficulty, or makes recovering resources very time-consuming. Mobile gamers usually don't mind spending a buck to save a few hours' recharge time. If you really suck at Gems of War, the penalty is a few hours before your kingdom generates you some gold. The reality is that the 3 of us in my friends circle have never had this happen...the game pushes you along, with decent payoffs for victory, and you keep playing. The antithesis of this game is Frozen: Free Fall. It's also a free, gem-matching game. The bullshit mechanic is that every 4 hours or so, you get 10 lives. It costs 1 life to play a round, win or lose. You can't win lives, and most of the levels have either a fixed amount of moves, or your board starts in one configuration and your first dozen moves are already programmed. It works for mobile gamers because they just want a few minutes of entertainment. It's a little harder to fool console gamers; when we sit down to play games, it's clear we're not going anywhere for a while.


Thursday, February 4, 2016

Final Fantasy Seven


Final Fantasy VII is one of my favorite games in the world, and was the perfect spark of interest to lead to where I am today. It sounds really dramatic at first, but if it weren't for this game, I wouldn't have decided to study Japanese, work overseas, and have my multicultural life. The reason for all of that is a rumor that the Japanese version of the game had story variations, and this baited me to start my path to where I am now. FF7's story is great and doesn't take too many leaps in logic and bullshit.

ShinRa...I'm coming for you!
It starts out with AVALANCHE, an eco-terrorism group, destroying a power plant in the mega city of Midgar. Cloud, ex-soldier, has joined this group to make ends meet, only to learn that a mega-corporation called ShinRa owns this reactor, and is exploiting the planet. ShinRa owns the military, has the greatest technology, and generally runs the continent, so being on their bad side is a big deal. To get revenge at AVALANCHE for blowing up the reactor, the president decides to rig a section of the city to be destroyed, killing lots of innocent people in the process. The plan is to blame this destruction on AVALANCHE and cast them as a terrorist group.

As Cloud and his group heads to the top of ShinRa headquarters to get even, they find that some of ShinRa's experiments have turned on their scientists. It turns out ShinRa was making super-soldiers by exposing them to mako, a naturally powerful form of energy. In the old days, mako gave the planet's ancient race of people, the Cetra, the ability to use magic. In modern Midgar, mako is used to provide cheap electricity and power weapons.

...yeah OK, we get your sword, dude.
Enter Sephiroth and Aeris. The first is the best soldier in the world, who was the result of exposing a human to unprecedented levels of mako. The second is a descendant of the Cetra, and ShinRa really wants to capture her. Everyone assumes Aeris can lead them to the Promised Land, a place with unlimited mako. Sephiroth isn't having any of this and beats Cloud and co. to the corporation's headquarters, killing lots of ShinRa in the process. After the president of ShinRa, who ordered the earlier destruction of Midgar, is killed, his son escapes the city and the party follows. The new president of ShinRa leads a much more aggressive company.

Once outside of the giant city of Midgar, the group learns more about everyone's past. The group runs into Corel, a city that exposes Barrett's biggest regret. The villagers hate him because he abandoned them when they needed him most. After some time, ShinRa tries to steal a Huge Materia from a reactor near Corel, and casually kills half of the town doing so. Barrett saves the day and sees his old friend Dyne for the last time. Dyne has the bitterest feelings towards Barrett, and upon learning his daughter is alive and being taken care of by Barrett and Tifa, kills himself.

The Sephiroth chase is still on, and the party heads to Nibelheim, Tifa and Cloud's hometown, and victim to ShinRa and Sephiroth's attacks. ShinRa wants to collect another Huge Materia from a nearby reactor. In the distant past, ShinRa used DNA from an alien named Jenova. They thought it was an ancient Cetra, and mixed that DNA with other organisms, resulting in Sephiroth, Cloud, and a number of failures. In the more recent past, Sephiroth learns this and starts to go crazy, destroying the town as vengeance on puny humanity.

Before Nibelheim, the party wanders through Cosmo Canyon, a spiritual center and home to Red XIII. The party learns more about mako, the Lifestream and the planet's suffering. Red learns that his father, whom he had previously thought was a coward, died protecting Cosmo Canyon from an attack from spirits who'd gone bad.

Next comes Cid, the angry pilot who loathes his wife Shera. Cid's theme, as well as his airship theme, are two of the best music tracks in the game. Before ShinRa found that mako refining was profitable, they used to fund a space program. Cid was chosen to pilot the first space rocket, but during launch, his then-assistant Shera called it off at the last moment because she found a loose part that would have compromised the mission. ShinRa abandoned the space program completely after that failed launch, and Cid blames both her and the company for crushing his dreams. Back in the present, you realize that Rufus is chasing Sephiroth and needs to take Cid's only plane.



Shera helps you escape, but the plane is so damaged in the process that it now works like a hovercraft. You also decide to chase both ShinRa and Sephiroth, so take this strange vehicle to a mysterious place called the Temple of the Ancients. You see Sephiroth figure out that to gain power/mako/materia, he has to damage the planet so badly that all of the spirit energy gathers in one place to heal. He's going to do this using the Black Materia, which he manipulates Cloud into handing over. He also kidnaps Aeris!

On the way to retrieve Aeris, you learn about her mother Ifalna falling in love with an ex-ShinRa scientist. In this flashback, the evil scientist Hojo barges in on the two and steals baby Aeris, too. When you finally catch up with Sephiroth, he kills Aeris, the last Cetra/Ancient alive that you know about. Then, Sephiroth starts to unravel your past, messing with your memories. You see a flashback of another soldier named Zack helping Cloud escape Nibelheim. The twist is that some of Cloud's memories actually belong to this guy Zack, leading Cloud to believe that he's a ShinRa creation, just like Sephiroth.

In a dreamy hallucination, you hear that the real Sephiroth died 5 years ago, and that he was revived using "Jenova" cells and mako. Cloud was a clone of the same DNA/cell mixture. Jenova is an alien that was diced up and spliced with Sephiroth clones, who all gather at one place during what's called Jenova's Reunion. The clones gather, with Cloud at the vanguard, delivering the Black Materia to Sephiroth's preserved body.

The Black Materia unleashes hell on the world in the form of Meteor, and your party is separated from Cloud while he figures his past out.

Barett and Tifa wake up on a military based called Junon, and are going to be blamed for Meteor and publicly executed by ShinRa. Right before this happens, Weapon, the planet's creation and defense against Meteor starts to attack Junon, which doesn't go very well for either party. ShinRa goes about their plan to collect Huge Materia from around the world, put it on a rocket and send it into Meteor. Cloud's party would rather use the Huge Materia to research and learn new abilities.

Note: the opposite of this happened.
After Cloud and co. thwart the attempt to launch the rocket into Meteor, ShinRa decides to move a giant mako cannon to Midgar, hoping to destroy the sleeping Sephiroth from the other side of the world. Well, the blast wakes him up and removes a protective barrier, so it's time for the party to go in and finish him off.

Sephiroth is in the heart of a wound in the planet - and doused in mako from the Lifestream, as the planet tries to heal itself. Meteor continues to descend, even after the party defeats the super-mako-powered Sephiroth. Right before it hits Earth, Aerith's magic, Holy, destroys Meteor, and then starts to heal over some of the scabs that humanity has left.

So, while the story unfolds over 40 hours or so, some great lines, amazing sound track and addictive fighting system make this game a timeless hit!

Grey Friday: Know your brands