Game Review – Game of War: Fire Age + A History of Freemium, RTS, and MMO

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Rexis here!

Hey everyone! I’m establishing this new category of game reviews on my blog that I think will open up a lot more topics for me to write on, so I’m pretty psyched to try this out. I’ve been considering it for a while, but always held back on reviews because so many people already do them.  Then, I had an epiphany. I want to give you more than just a standard review, so stay tuned and I hope you enjoy what is to come.

Today, I want to look at a game called Game of War: Fire Age. It is a freemium MMO strategy game for mobile (iOS and Android), but before we get into the review, let’s discuss what freemium is and take a look at the history behind this whole thing. Freemium refers to a pricing strategy whereby a game is released to the consumer for free. The game only charges money for certain features, functionality, or virtual goods. Having played MMOs in the past on PC and console, it was typically frowned upon to pay cash for in game currency or items, thereby circumventing the hard work involved in attaining these things. This was typically due to the in-game economy which mobile games tend not to have. In essence, what was once considered a hindrance to cooperative online MMOs has become a common place and acceptable form of gameplay. The best part is that games that utilize this pricing strategy don’t suffer from it and can become quite successful.

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Utopia for Intellivision

So how did all of this come to be? Real-time strategy games began as early as 1982 with a game called Utopia on the Intellivision.  Two players took turns establishing a civilization on an island, exactly how we would imagine RTS today. There were no grand wars, however, as the game was decided by points. The game basically established the genre and made way for a far more popular and familiar title, Warcraft, a massively popular RTS that spawned sequels and expansions. Other well-known titles include Age of Empires, StarCraft, and even Halo Wars.

Mazewar

Mazewar

RTS is actually a sub-category of the more broad term, MMO (massively multiplayer online). These types of games range from any of a number of sub-categories, such as building games, flight simulators, and first-person shooters. Pretty much any game can be an MMO and it seems we are moving further in that direction as online gameplay is pushed harder and harder every year. Of course, this social aspect is not a new concept. Video games practically evolved from the idea of playing with others. The idea of playing online was first implemented by Mazewar in 1974. It was a computer based FPS playable on the forerunner to the modern internet, ARPAnet. Today, you’d be struggling to find a new game that doesn’t support online multi-player.

Even freemium has an interesting history as the model has been used since the 80’s. You might recognize it as that little pesky pop-up that says “Would you like to purchase Win-Zip?” Computer programs have been releasing freeware for years in an attempt to get you to buy the full version and unlock parts you didn’t have access to. What would initially seem like a new way to pay is, in fact, dated. Our home game consoles are becoming more like PCs every year, is it any wonder all of these elements managed to come together to create a unique gaming experience? Funnily enough, even Warcraft evolved from an RTS into an MMORPG with purchasable in-game content.

Game of War: Fire Age

Game of War: Fire Age

With a little history in mind, how does Game of War: Fire Age stack up? I’ve played lots of freemium games and usually found disappointment. For me, clicking a “build” button and waiting three hours is not my idea of fun, but game of War does not leave me hanging. Yes, I have to wait, but this is an RTS after all. The beauty of it is that the wait time is not a game killer. I still have plenty of other things to do in-game and often find the timer flying by as I tap away. It is an RTS in every sense of the word and an enjoyable one, as well.

The MMO aspect of the gaming has a degree of depth. You have to join an alliance to survive after the 24 hour safe period. I managed to join one, but, unfortunately, I’m not a big social gamer so that aspect is still a bit of a mystery to me. Perusing the chat reveals rather technical strategies for growing as a community and it all seems very active with a new block of text coming in every few seconds. I even saw text translated from other languages. It’s obvious that the creators wanted this to be a highly social game!

top down kingdom

The graphics are quite nice and colorful from the isometric perspective. Everything is distinguishable and your little kingdom is easy to navigate on the touch screen, as it should be. The sound is good, although the background music tends to be repetitive. Each little award is marked by a chime which I enjoy because it tells me when tasks are complete without me staring at the phone in anticipation. This makes it easy to multi-task and play at the same time. And I have to point out that at no time did I feel overly pressured to make an in-game purchase.

Should you download and play this game? If you are a fan of RTS, particularly MMOs, absolutely! The tutorial is quick and the game is easy to pick up, but be prepared for a learning curve when it comes to alliances. I went into this game blind, but I would recommend reading about alliances beforehand, perhaps even during your 24 hour safety period as you build your kingdom. I would honestly say that in a sea of bad freemium games, this one stands above the rest. But don’t take my word for it, it’s free! Go download it and try it out yourself!

Game of War: Fire Age for iOS      –      Game of War: Fire Age for Android

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Gamergate and Sexism – Feels Like I’m Taking Crazy Pills

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Rexis here.

What an age we live in, eh? I didn’t want to do this. I didn’t want to address Gamergate, but I see it constantly. Everywhere I look someone is hashtagging about sexism in video games and a lack of ethics in journalism. There are so many different angles involved in this nonsense that it’s hard to know where to begin. I’m going to attempt to wade through some of this controversy. If you are of the mindset that you only like people who agree with you, turn away now. Spoiler alert: I think anyone concerned about Gamergate in any sense of the word is either ignorant or looking to profit. Stay tuned to find out why.

My understanding is that there are two sides to this coin. Let’s start with Gamergate supporters. Click on over to Gamergate.me and check out their “about” wiki. Proceed to read about how terrible ethics in video game journalism are. The creators of this entire deal have gone through great lengths to get their point across. You’ll actually find little to do about games here and quite a bit regarding journalism. Not to mention the rampant group attribution error. How do you label an entire group of people as unethical because of the actions of a few? That aside, do we truly, honestly expect journalists and game reviewers to be ethical? Really? In a perfect world maybe, but come on, really? Even Brian Williams can’t get his facts straight.

It seems that this more formal view of Gamergate is somewhat of a new development. The other side of the story if rife with feminist claims about sexism in video games. I’ll take a moment right here to say that I am not a feminist. I believe in equality for EVERYONE. Are women getting the short end of the stick this day and age? I can’t say. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’m skeptical about everything. In my entire adult life I’ve never seen or met a woman who was suffering from some form of constant sexism in her life. The media would have me believe otherwise.  If this were such a huge problem, wouldn’t I see more evidence of it? Everything I’ve seen or read, every study, every graph about women’s pay and sexism in the workplace has an equally opposite counterpart. To add to this side of the Gamergate story, apparently everything was kicked off when there were some death and rape threats against some feminists coming from the gaming community. Another case of group attribution error? (Welcome to the internet, by the way, where everyone wants to maim you for everything you say.)

To me, this seems to boil down to two opposite sides of feminist issues that have taken up gaming as their next “voice.” It’s amazing to me that this controversy was even used as a theme in an episode of Law and Order. The funniest thing is reading through the comments about that particular episode as if people didn’t see the humor and ridiculous satire of it all. They aren’t taking you people seriously! As if the puns didn’t give that away.

I suppose the only thing left to address is sexism in the video games industry. Unfortunately, there are female game designers out there who feel as if there is no future in gaming for them. I even heard this from professionals at PAX South. To me, that’s a sad state of affairs. I can’t imagine how it would feel to give up doing what you love for fear of harassment.  I would encourage anyone in this situation to be strong. You have supporters, despite what the hate mongers of the internet might say.

For the final part of my little tirade, I want to address art. There are masterful works of the human form that no one should consider sexist or objectifying. Birth of Venus and Michalangelo’s David are a couple of examples that come to mind. Google art and the human form and you’ll see what I mean. The Venus statuette is the oldest wood carving (link at the bottom). It’s a small, chubby woman with big breasts. They exaggerated the sexual characteristics. But why? Because it was the ideal female form at the time. It’s what we’ve been doing for the last 35,000 years in art. And it is not restricted to the female form.

Video games are art. We create these beautiful, intricate stories with worlds to match. We design the characters. These characters represent what society tends to believe is the exaggerated form of perfection in the human body. Tifa and Lara Croft are prime examples for obvious reasons. So are Mason from Black Ops and Joel from The Last of Us. They are ruggedly good looking men many male gamers could only aspire to be. To argue that these characters are objectified and sexist means you may as well be arguing art in general. What is the defining line? Is it when the medium becomes interactive? Venus isn’t objectify-able, but Lara is for some reason?

Finally, a video game cannot inherently be sexist. It cannot objectify people. It cannot commit acts against the opposite sex with hatred in mind. Those actions are committed by the PLAYER. The portrayal of a strip club in a reality game is not inherently objectifying. The player’s choice to spend money there is. Fun fact: Did you know you can select Shulk in Smash Brothers Wii U in his swim trunks?

Am I the only one who thinks all this outrage is unwarranted and ridiculous? Can’t we all just play games and get along? I suppose we can’t. That’s why I really didn’t want to bring this stuff up, but it’s just my opinion and what better place for it than on my blog? I seriously hope someone can relate in this regard, though. It sucks being the only one.

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/14/science/14venus.html?_r=0

Is Life a Game? – Let’s Get Philosophical!

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Rexis here!

Is life a game? Google tells me a game is “a form of play or sport, especially a competitive one played according to rules and decided by skill, strength, or luck.” Skill, strength, and luck are all factors in our lives that determine what we can do. We learn, practice, and train to increase our skills. We struggle and ultimately get better. Some of us get lucky. I think that, by this definition of game, it all depends on whether or not you see life as a competition.

We are most certainly governed by rules and laws. We are competing with one another for survival, for the chance to reproduce. It may seem like we are working cooperatively to some degree, but just because we are not physically wrestling a plate of chicken wings away from the guy next to us doesn’t mean we aren’t in competition for those wings. We even compete with ourselves. Should I have another drink? Another piece of cake? Should I get out of bed today? Who needs leg day?  Competition is a daily part of our lives.

So far, this definition is working out… Except for one part. A game is decided. It has a winner. Who decides the game of life? The religious among us may feel they have an answer. That’s fine if you want to see it that way. I come from a religious background and I’ve always heard that life is a series of tests, as if we are working out way through Ocarina of Time’s water temple.  What about those of us who don’t believe there is some higher power determining who wins and who loses. On a physical plane, how do you know if you’ve won? How is the game decided?

I think the answer lies with nature. People who die due to natural causes are the ones who have won. You might think that nature beat them, but we are not in competition with nature. Death is inevitable in this game. To make it to the end of life means you have survived.  You didn’t give in to the challenges. You’ve faced many, perhaps even larger, water temples than others.  So, in a way, nature decides who wins and awards them a bitter prize.

This is a grim way to look at the game of life. I don’t know if there is a name for it, but I know that this way of thinking lies in the realm of philosophy. Let’s take this question into a realm that borders science and science fiction. I’m talking about simulation theory.  This is largely theoretical as it cannot be proven, so take it with a grain of salt.

Is life literally a game? Simulated reality, at its core, says we could be living in a computer simulation and not even know it. If this makes you think of the Matrix, you are on the right track. I can hear many of you scoffing at the thought, perhaps rightly so. Unfortunately, it’s not testable so we won’t know anytime soon. If you really dig into this subject, it is absolutely fascinating. Can you imagine an advanced human race that forces children who come of age to spend two weeks inside a simulated world, in which they will live an entire lifetime? What if, when I die, I were to wake up in a lab, recover my memories of my real life, receive a certificate, and go on my way? This isn’t just a fictional thought, it’s a possible scenario.

I’ve spent lots of time in and out of religions. I’ve absorbed mountains of information on quantum mechanics and theoretical physics. I’m not a scholar by any means, but I can hold my own in a conversation. I used to be a staunch defender of the sciences. Now, not so much. I still love science and discovering what we can about the world, but I’ve learned to take everything I’m told with a grain of salt. It seems, to me, that if everything we discover could possibly exist in a simulation, then there can be no definitive truth about this universe. Back into the realm of philosophy, eh?

I heard a quote once and it seems to be in dispute as to who originally said it. It goes something like this, “Follow those who seek the truth, but don’t trust anyone who claims to have found it.” These two things combined, simulation theory and the words from this quote, have changed how I look at life. I’m skeptical of everything now (simulation theory included). I’ve been told many times that I should believe in something, particularly by my religious mother. What she fails to understand is that I do believe in something. I believe the things I have experienced are unique to me and my understanding of the world around me. Beyond that, I’m skeptical.

Before I wrap this up, let me share a little story with. Before I fell into this way of thinking, I had an experience that may have kick started this whole line of questioning for me. I was driving in the desert in Arizona late at night, no matter why. If you haven’t been there, it is pitch black. In the distance ahead of me a small blue orb of light appeared on the road and seemed to bounce up and down in place. Never in my life have I been so bewildered. There was no turning back, so I drove toward this light. My hands were shaking. I was scared, probably as scared as I’ve even been. As the light drew closer, I slowed down. My head was hanging out of the window, my mouth agape. My mind was spinning with questions. Was this an alien? A ghost? Is this how people leave the world? As my headlights crept up on this light, it illuminated the source. A man on a bicycle whizzed past me with a blue LED on his helmet. He must have thought I was crazy the way I was staring at him. That’s when I started to realize that there is an answer behind every mystery.

So is life a game? I like to think it is, in a philosophical sense. Is life literally a game? It would be interesting, but I hope not. It would also be tragic to think that all the things we love and care for are nothing more than code. As gamers, we strive for different things. Some of us seek competition in racing and FPS. Some of us just want to build a house of blocks. A similar mentality exists in our real lives. I just want to blog, you just want whatever you want. How we play the game differs and I think an important aspect is left out of our original definition. A game offers experiences, just like life. There’s water temples to overcome. There’s mystery to solve. So get out there and experience the longest game you’ll ever play! Maybe with enough skill, some strength, and a good amount of luck, you’ll make it to the end with some amazing experiences beneath your belt. Happy gaming!

A List of Great Local Multiplayer Video Games

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Rexis here!

It feels like it’s been forever since my last post. Part of this is because I only write when I feel like it. I don’t have a schedule for posting. I’m not a schedule kind of guy. The other part is because Majora’s Mask was just released on 3DS and I’ve been chugging along in that. I’ve also started replaying Kingdom Hearts so my kids could see the game. They love seeing which Disney character will pop up next. And my last excuse is Minecraft. I haven’t been putting as much time into Spumcraft as usual, though. I have builder’s-block (no pun intended).

I did find some time this weekend to go to my local Game Over store where I traded in a couple of Pokémon Blue carts and a broken PS1. I picked up an expansion pak for my N64, then walked over to the bookstore and found a Skyward Sword collector’s edition guide (lucky). While I was in the Game Over, I overheard a guy buying a few games for a game night with friends. He was looking for multiplayer titles.  I was really happy to hear this because some of my best friendships were forged by local gaming experiences. Back in the day, you had to assert your relationship with someone’s mother in person.

This got me thinking… So, I present you with a list of some awesome multiplayer titles! Some are co-op. Some are competitive. All are great.  The number one rule for this list is that the games have to be played on the same screen. No lan. No internet. No connection cables. Here goes…

Mario Kart – SNES, N64, Gamecube, Wii, Wii U

This franchise was a surprise hit. There have been many racing games where you could use weapons to gain advantages, but something about this title stood the test of time. In the early days of the Super Nintendo, two racers could go head to head. You had to be good if you wanted to play a lot because the loser always had to hand off his controller. This changed when the game hit the N64. Four player battles were intense. Red shells dominated. Friends became enemies. It was a blast! I would credit Mario Kart as the game that got me hooked on multiplayer. For your multiplayer night, any of these titles will do well.

Halo 1 and 2 – XBOX

Halo is multiplayer split screen FPS at its finest. You might have expected games like Goldeneye, Perfect Dark, or Duke Nukem to land on the list, but honestly, N64 FPS didn’t age well. The lack of a second stick makes them nearly impossible to just pick up and play. There’s a learning curve. Save yourself the time and grab Halo for a fun four player split-screen bout that perfected the original shooter formula and rushed us into the FPS age.

Twisted Metal Black – PS2

I put black on here because I haven’t played anything newer. The original Twisted Metal on PS1 is a great game, but the multiplayer suffers. Black perfected the multiplayer with huge world to battle in. This one will be for two players, so keep that in mind. And if you go this route, always play with Spectre. He is the best!

Biker Mice from Mars – SNES

I know what you’re thinking, but here me out. This is an awesome AWESOME racing title. Unlike other battle racers (like Mario Kart), if you have the skill to kill another racer, they are out of the race for good. Kill all your opponents and you are automatically 1st. This is another two player title, but well worth it.

Rock and Roll Racing – SNES, Genesis

This is a fantastic little battle racer made by Blizzard. You get to upgrade you car, buy newer models, and blow up your opponents with landmines and missiles. Combine that with an amazing rock and roll soundtrack and you’ve got a seriously fun night. You won’t want to put this one down.

Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers – NES

Another surprise entry? This is a co-op two player platforming side-scroller. It’s fun, but if you’re partner sucks, you’re in for a night of heavy sighs. The game is challenging, but in classic NES style, enough play-throughs and you’ll have it mastered in no time. Be prepared to lose a lot of lives.

Goof Troop – SNES

Play as Goofy and Max in a co-op, top down adventure battling pirates on a tropical island. This game is said to have inspired Zelda: Four Swords. There are some fun puzzles and accidentally hitting your partner is always good for laughs.  If you missed this one, check it out sometime.

Battletoads and Double Dragon – SNES, Genesis

There are a few Battletoads titles, but this one was always my favorite. It’s a bizarre crossover, but a fun beat ‘em up. Depending on how you want to play this, you can choose to have friendly fire on or off. You won’t get far if you can hit your partner, but it sure it fun to pummel your friend into the dirt.

Super Bomberman – SNES

I LOVE Bomberman! Love it! With the multi-tap you can play with four players and it is so worth it! You start out in opposite corners of a grid. You must use your bombs to blast through walls so you can blow up your opponents, all the while picking up power-ups to make your explosions even bigger. It’s a literal blast!

Portal 2 – PS3, XBOX 360

Portal 2 introduced multiplayer to this awesome franchise. I’ve only played it a little, but it was so much fun that I’ve been wanting to buy the game ever since. I haven’t committed yet, but soon. If you aren’t familiar with Portal, you use a portal gun to create portals (what else?) that allow you to solve puzzles. The cake is a lie.

Smash Bros. – N64, GameCube, Wii, Wii U

As if this wasn’t an obvious entry. If you aren’t smashing, you should be.

Uniracers – SNES

You and a friend are unicycles and you must race! Perform stunts to increase your speed. First one to the finish line wins! This game was a lot of fun when I was a kid and I recently revisited it. It is definitely entertaining. If you are looking to add to your game night, this isn’t too expensive to pick up (or emulate).

FEAR –PS3, XBOX360

I played this game with a friend for a while and loved it. It’s got a scary environment with a ghost girl or something. I wasn’t really paying attention to the story. We were a co-op team. He was a gun-guy, I was a psy-guy. While he was blasting the enemies from behind a barricade, I was possessing their bodies and flanking them. It was scary fun.

Power Stone – Dreamcast

This is a fighting game. You can pick up any item on the map and bash your opponent with it, but the real fun comes from the power stones. Collect three and transform into a killing machine. Each character has a different form and it’s a lot of fun to see what each can do. If you have a DC, you have to have Power Stone.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day – XBOX

This little gem had a multiplayer upgrade when it came to the XBOX and you shouldn’t miss it. An army of squirrels vs. an army of teddy bears. Pick from multiple classes and go to war. It was a lot of fun on XBOX Live back in the day, but you can still split screen it for a good time.

Contra – NES

You can’t go wrong with Contra. It offers two players co-op side scrolling shooter in a jungle versus aliens. It can be a short title if you are skilled. If not, you better learn the Konami code. The only real fight here is who gets the spreader gun. Hint: it’s always the better player.

Joust – NES

If you’ve never played Joust on NES, you have no idea what it’s like to ride a flying ostrich while spearing your opponents to death. Watch out for the vultures!

Toejam And Earl – Genesis

This game is an awesome top-down two player adventure. Control the two aliens as they wander a bizarre world looking for missing space ship parts. They just want to go home! You never know what you are going to find in this wacky game. An interesting addition is the randomizer that will change the location of space ship parts and alters terrain generation. It always a different experience!

Star Fox 64 – N64

All the fun of Star Fox 64, but you can kill your friends in all range mode. If you are a Star Fox fan and you haven’t tried this, do it! Do it now! Or whenever you can. Do a barrel roll!

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I think I’m going to end the list here. Do you have any you would add to the list? Let me know in the comments. Get out there and have fun with your friends! Don’t linger behind your headset. The real fun happens in person. Happy gaming!

Final Fantasy XI and Group Dynamics – What games can teach us

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Rexis here!
Final Fantasy XI is on sale on Steam… If you’ve been keeping up with me then you will remember that I had a pretty severe addiction to the game in the past. It wasn’t pretty. Every fiber of my being is saying “BUY IT, BUY IT!” The temptation is very real. I can already see myself spending hours grinding my character toward a totally op beastmaster / white mage, if that is even a viable option still. There was so much I wanted to do in that game that I couldn’t accomplish during my nearly ten years of playing it. That’s what I have to remember. There was a lot left undone and maybe that is why I am drawn back to it. Or maybe it is because of the rush I got playing. Perhaps I just loved the social aspect.

Despite my desire to return to the world of Vana’diel, I simply can’t do it. The game has changed in ways I can’t even imagine since my departure. To think of starting all over at level 1… It’s depressing. Excuse me while I reminisce for a moment. Stick around, though, because this post does have a point. I promise, its more than just me rambling about a time long past.
In the early days of FFXI, I was a white mage, a healer. It was my first job/class in the game and I loved it! I worked hard leveling. It was a lot more difficult in those days. Grindy barely begins to describe it. A tall, dark haired Elvaan, I was making my way in the world. You see, as an Elvaan you have a small MP pool. It’s not the most suited race for a mage class, but I did it anyway because I loved the idea. And just to break the mold further, my nation of choice was Bastok, a far cry from the Elvaan’s home. There were many awesome moments, but he one that really stood out was during a particular battle with a boss enemy. The details are fuzzy, bear with me. We had a full, well rounded part of six and we were doing a good job. The boss was going down, but he was spawning skeleton assistants who wouldn’t give us a chance to rest. My small MP pool couldn’t support all the curing I needed to do and I ran out. Unable to recover, I had to watch as this boss pummeled my team into the ground. In a last ditch effort, I ran to the center of combat and used a special white mage ability called Benediction. Players will recognize this as my 2-hour (it has a 2 hour cool down to use). The party’s health shot back to max and I was subsequently knocked out. Laying on the ground, a martyr, I watched as my team went on to successfully kill the boss. Mission accomplished. Now this stands out to me because it established me as a skilled white mage on the server (Diabolos server). Party invites started coming in from familiar names every time I logged on. It was awesome to have such a tight group to trust.

This brings me to something I’ve been studying for college recently (which I just graduated from), the stages of team formation. A psychologist named Bruce Tuckman came up with a number of stages that explain the developmental sequence of small groups. The stages are: forming, storming, norming, performing, and adjourning. You may have heard of this before. Essentially, a team is formed. They all have their own experience, whether negative or positive, and they begin to know one another. This sort of thing happens while waiting for a full team in FFXI. You chat with one another and start to devlope a plan of attack. Where will we go? What will we fight? Are we capable of killing that?

This conversation leads into the storming stage. Everyone has an opinion, after all. Heads will butt. This will continue well into the grinding, repetitive fights. The team might argue if enemies are coming in too fast or too slow. Mages will rage if they can’t recover MP. Tanks will yell if they aren’t healed and will be yelled at if they lose agro. Eventually, if things go right and the leader is competent, the members will have learned one another’s play style and we move into the next stage.
Norming occurs when everyone is functioning and learning to adapt to one another without raging. If there is anyone with a headstrong opinion, it will not work out. I once played in a party where the ninja tank couldn’t keep agro. He was also the party leader and insisted everyone else was wrong. We couldn’t kick him out, so we all dropped out and reformed without him. Things went great after the replacement tank arrived. Differences were resolved and we moved on.
Performing is the goal. This is where you want to be as a group. An experienced leader can facilitate this by engaging with the team members and clarifying any arguments. He must understand each member’s roll and squash any problems as they come up, otherwise members drop out and you are left waiting for a replacement. With the experience rolling in, the chat log slows down and everyone is happy. The party can go on for hours with new members replacing players who have to leave for whatever reason. I was in a party once for a few hours, logged off, came back eight hours later and found it still trucking along.

The team will eventually adjourn; the final step. People have lives outside of video games after all (so lame!). The interesting bit is that a good party leader might log off and go to work at some job he hates, taking orders from someone with no real leadership ability, and he will be unhappy there. As a society, we see gaming as something useless, an endeavor that takes no real skill. You would never list “Modern Warfare Team Lead” on your resume.  You’d never get a call back.
The truth is that video games teach us more than we realize. This example focuses on the leadership ability of a small six man team. Can you imagine what it takes to run a group of 100 members utilizing in game chat and team speak? Or a strike team in an FPS? I’m not even scratching the surface on the skills of multi-tasking and resource budgeting you can pick up in real time strategy games. I even saw a blurb recently about gamers becoming the drone pilots of the future. Seriously, I had no idea what pitch, roll, and yaw were when I was young. Simulators are prepping young minds for futures beyond anything we could have imagined twenty years ago. It’s really awe inspiring.

I hope this article has shown you two things. First, I’m not buying Final Fantasy XI. I have to be strong. Second, games can teach us more than we realize. Next time you are gaming, stop for a moment and ask yourself “What am I really learning here?” You might be surprised.

Handheld Gaming History and the Handheld-Console Fusion Era

MyHandheldCollection

Rexis here!

I was sitting at my desk yesterday poking around on Twitter when I came across an interesting article about Nintendo’s potential plans for the future. The unfortunate thing about Twitter and writing on a work computer is the struggle to find the article so I can share it with you guys. ((Disregard, found it and linked at the bottom)) So what I want to do today is spend some time discussing the history, particularly the key moments, of handheld gaming. It will all build up to my predictions about the future of video games. I hope you enjoy it!

There have been handheld video games since the advent of gaming. I personally own a few including a two player soccer game from the 70’s. Nintendo even entered the market with the Game & Watch series, but it wasn’t until 1989 that Tetris and the Game Boy took the world by storm! As far as handheld gaming goes, the Game Boy brought the idea of “playing on the go” to the mainstream. Every person who pulls out their cell phone for a game of Candy Crush owes respect the granddaddy of mobile gaming. With just over 188 million units sold worldwide, the Game Boy was a juggernaut of success. There are 7 redesigns for the system (DMG, Pocket, Light (JP), Color, Advance, SP, Micro) and even Sega, previously known as Nintendo’s fiercest competitor, was inspired to release the Nomad and Game Gear. A slew of handheld systems hit the market but no one could top the sales of the Game Boy and Tetris.

With the success of the Game Boy came a unique genre. You may recall the late 90’s and our obsession with fighting digital monsters. We had Tamagotchis and Digimon. We had virtual pets that didn’t fight, like Giga Pets and other off-brands. It was insane. These things would hang on a key ring and you’d take care of them like real animals. I believe this was all an offshoot combining growing technology and the original Furby hype. Above all else was the influence of Pokémon over the entire digital pet industry. Nothing could touch Pokémon. Everyone already owned a Game Boy so it only made sense to use it as the games platform. This franchise revolutionized mobile gaming. All of a sudden, everyone had a link cable. “Do you have red or blue?” was a common question on the playground. The hype was ridiculous, but on point.

In the past I’ve said that I believe Pokémon is the single reason we still have handheld gaming today. I think that without this particular franchise, handheld gaming would not be where it is. Surely we would have mobile gaming on cell phones, but the 3DS may not be a thing. To back this up, I did some number crunching. All seven models of the Game Boy included, sales figures are just over 200 million. Games with Pokémon in their title added up to nearly 123 million copies sold. Odds are high that if you owned a Game Boy, you had at least one Pokémon game. Another staggering figure is that Pokémon accounts for 13.8% of ALL games sold for the systems. That’s undeniable influence, right there.

Mobile gaming on a phone is not revolutionary. It is expected. Computers run games and packaging phones with titles helps users understand the touchscreen options better. This is why Windows had solitaire. It builds familiarity with the system. The revolutionary aspect, I realized, was combining a console with a mobile phone. This came to me when I was playing Assassin’s Creed 4 on PS3 while using my phone as a live map. It updated like a GPS wherever I went. This kind of tech has amazing implications. I have a friend who plays Star Citizen on PC and uses a tablet to control certain functions of his ships. Nintendo embraced this two-screen idea in the DS, 3DS, and Wii U. The Vita links to the PS4. Smash Bros. on Wii-U can use the 3DS as a controller by linking it wirelessly to the console. And, if you can believe it, Sega had a screen in their Dreamcast controllers by using a VMU. Really, the mutli-screen gaming idea has been around for many years. PC gamers have been using multiple screens and consoles can trace the origin back to the Game & Watch. It is just finally hitting the main stream.

So what comes next? I posted last year (now deleted) that I felt this would be the last generation of strictly handheld systems like the 3DS and Vita, not because they are going away, but because they are being integrated into console gaming. That Nintendo article I mentioned earlier said that Nintendo may be attempting a mobile home console. Imagine brining the Wii U gamepad anywhere, but connecting it to the big screen at home. Could this really be the future of Nintendo? Well, the news literally dropped today that Nintendo will be bringing smart phone style games to the 3DS. They are adamant about not porting their games to mobile phones and that makes sense. The games aren’t built for touch screens. The only thing that remains to be seen is if Nintendo can pull off a new mobile home console system.

Personally, I’m rooting for them. I love my Wii U and my 3DS. Nintendo is on fire right now. If you haven’t noticed, their products are selling out before they even hit store shelves. The company is bouncing back from the slow Wii U sales and things look very promising. So my prediction for the next generation is that Xbox and PlayStation will embrace VR. The Vita will be cancelled (no sense in a second screen attachment if VR is the primary UI). Nintendo will dominate mobile gaming. And cell phones will continue to have mediocre pay-to-win indie titles.

I’m looking forward to the next generation. For now, I will continue to embrace what I love in Nintendo. I have no plans to buy a PS4 or XboxOne. I simply haven’t seen anything I want to play bad enough to justify the cost. Perhaps when they release a slim model I’ll get on board. Until then, I’ll sit back and watch how everything unfolds with eager anticipation. It an amazing age for gaming that we live in, after all.

-Nintendo Article-