Computer America Radio Show–Gamer Tuesday

On the second Tuesday of each month, the Computer America Radio Show hosts “Gamer Tuesday” in which Craig and Ben devote the entire show to news and reviews about video games and the video game industry. Invited on as a guest host, I debate the latest topics with them and how they might affect the future of the industry.

In this month’s edition, we dive into E3 and the many announcements and surprises from Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo as they each took the main stage. Which camp stole the hearts of gamers across the nation this year? Tune in and find out!

 

Here is the link for hour 1, and Here is the link for hour 2. Hope you enjoy!

 

See you in the next level,

Gray

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iPhone and Wii U Manufacturer Admits to Employing Children

According to a report from Reuters, electronics manufacturing giant Foxconn has admitted to employing underage Chinese citizens. Following initial investigations, it was revealed that a number of workers in the student intern program were as young as 16. The report does not indicate how many were found.

Foxconn, the more common name of Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision Industry, is one of the largest manufacturers of consumer electronics in the world. They are widely known for being Apple’s largest manufacturing partner, but recently they have also begun manufacturing of Nintendo’s upcoming console, the Nintendo Wii U. The plant accused of using underage laborers is located in Yantai.

When asked to comment by IGN, Nintendo released an official response: “Nintendo is in communication with Foxconn and is investigating the matter. We take our responsibilities as a global company very seriously and are committed to an ethical policy on sourcing, manufacture and labor. In order to ensure the continued fulfillment of our social responsibility throughout our supply chain, we established the Nintendo CSR Procurement Guidelines in July 2008. We require that all production partners, including Foxconn, comply with these Guidelines, which are based on relevant laws, international standards and guidelines. If we were to find that any of our production partners did not meet our guidelines, we would require them to modify their practices according to Nintendo’s policy. For more information about Nintendo’s Corporate Social Responsibility report, please visit http://www.nintendo.co.jp/csr/en/index.html.”

Foxconn has been under scrutiny in recent years following various incidents at their plants. In 2010, there were a number of reports of employee suicides due to labor abuse and excessive overtime. In September, a riot broke out at the iPhone manufacturing plant in Taiyuan regarding living conditions for workers. Following the admission, Foxconn stated they will work with local Chinese governments to bar the schools associated with the Yantai case from the intern program.

Computer America Radio Show: Gamer Tuesday!

It’s that time of the month! Last night the Computer America Radio Show had their monthly Gamer Tuesday show, for which I am their guest host and video game correspondent. If you didn’t get a chance to tune in last night, you missed some great discussions about Steam Greenlight, the new Half-Life redesign called Black Mesa, predictions for the upcoming Nintendo Wii U Media event, and others. Below are the links to the podcast versions of last night’s show, So tune in and enjoy!

Hour 1:

Hour 2:

See you in the next level,

Gray

Radio Show Time…

Stay a while and listen!!

I know it’s been a while, and for that I cannot apologize enough. I’m sure a bunch of you out there have been knee deep in Diablo 3 like myself. Thankfully, I was able to pull myself away and make this post about the radio show I was on last week!

The Computer America Radio Show with Craig Crossman is a nationally syndicated radio show, and the 2nd Tuesday of each month is Gamer Tuesday, for which I am now their official video game correspondent! That’s right people, I get a nation-sized amp to talk about video games once a month. So why not check it out? Have it on in the background while you game, read, go to the bathroom, on the road, wherever! This month we go indepth with Diablo 3 and recap the bigger announcements at E3 this year.

Here is the first hour, followed by the 2nd hour:

See you in the next level,

Gray

On Kid Icarus: Uprising…

***NOTE: I recently published this on the SA Current’s video game blog, “the People’s Gamer”. I am re-posting it here to keep my work together on my personal blog here. Hope you enjoy!

How many of you remember Pit? I can say with complete honesty that before Super Smash Bros. Brawl came out back in 2008, I never knew of him. As it turns out, the last time Pit was around it was all the way back in 1986 on the NES in his first game ever, Kid Icarus. Well, someone in the big Nintendo family finally decided to get around to making a a sequel, but not any ol’ run of the mill sequel. In fact, Kid Icarus: Uprising is so vastly different from the original game that I wouldn’t even call it a sequel at all. Blending on-rail shooting elements familiar to Star Fox fans with a very cool, customizable on-the-ground fighting system, Uprising is a refreshingly unique and awesome 3DS game that boasts some of the best use of the portable console’s 3D graphics.

As a loyal servant to his goddess Palutena, Pit is an angel that is tasked with taking on Medusa, who has risen again from the Underworld they put her in all those years ago. Unfortunately, Pit doesn’t have wings of his own, and Palutena can only bestow the gift of flight for five minutes at a time. If the idea of an angel with temporary flight seems a bit funny, you’ll be happy to know that the writers make fun of that fact frequently. The whole narrative is kept very tongue-in-cheek and peppered with bits of humor that keep the story from folding in on itself. It’s always refreshing when developers don’t take themselves too seriously and give their characters a little breathing room to joke and point out some of the game’s more ridiculous points. Pit and Palutena have gentle banter with each other that will often force a smirk out of you.

The various chapters begin with a flight segment that guides Pit from the heavens to the location on the ground below. All of them have great visuals that really bring out the world and make it seem like a much larger place, but the on-screen action will often prevent you from having a moment to enjoy the scenery. Once on the ground, you take control of Pit with the analog while aiming his bow with the stylus. The action can get a little hectic at times, but the 3DS doesn’t falter even when several enemies are launching projectiles at you. Holding the 3DS while moving and aiming all at once, however, gets taxing very quickly. Fortunately, the game comes bundled with a stand in which the 3DS can sit upon, taking the pressure off your wrist. Looking around with the stylus makes sense at first, but the camera is actually a bit looser than I would have preferred. Normally this wouldn’t be an issue, but when it is directly tied to your aiming ability, you’ll start to notice how the camera makes you more inaccurate.

A welcome innovation in Uprising is the sliding difficulty scale. Before each chapter, you can move the slider to how easy, or how difficult, you would prefer it to be. Harder difficulties means more enemies with more health, but it also improves the quality of loot you can pick up. Better equipment and weapons are frequently dropped by enemies, which you can later sell, fuse or equip for better attributes. If a bow isn’t your thing, Pit has access to clubs, swords and even giant energy cannons that each cater to different play styles.

From the ground to the air, Kid Icarus: Uprising is a delightfully fun action game that keeps each level short and sweet. Never too demanding, yet not without moments of real challenge, Uprising is a fantastic reintroduction of a long-forgotten Nintendo character that deserves the spotlight. With the WiiU looming over the horizon, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a full-fledged Kid Icarus game happen on the Wii U sometime (unless they’re already working on it). But if not, this game will do just fine.

See you in the next level,

Gray

 

Author’s Note: In my excitement to purchase this game, I overlooked the very small print that the movement/aiming system is for right-handed people. Left-handed controls could only become available with the recent 3DS add-on that gives you another analog stick on the right side. Due to my extreme reliance on my left-hand, the game is almost unplayable for me. I was unable to complete any chapter beyond a difficulty of 4 or higher, and my improvement over the several hours was very little. While I understand why I can only play it right handed since the analog stick is on the right side, I can’t help but feel a bit cheated. Moreover, when I went searching for the 3DS add-on, I found that every GameStop or Best Buy I went to either didn’t have it, or didn’t even know what I was talking about. The only way to get my hands on one was to order one through Nintendo’s website which is, well, disappointing. The experience has me wondering about the strategy behind this add-on and how Nintendo seemed to drop the ball. Perhaps it’s just me, but I should have been informed about this factor before buying the game, or at least a notice that’s VERY BIG and VERY READABLE.

On Skyward Sword…

****NOTE: This was also posted December 6th on the SA Current’s website, under the blog titled “People’s Gamer”. I am re-posting it here to keep my professional and personal work together for others to find. Hope you enjoy!

Cast aside what prejudices you have against Nintendo; let go of the fanboy arguments and die-hard allegiances you may belong to. Video games are, like other media, diverse and fascinatingly engaging. They are about telling stories, about paralleling reality, about imbuing power in the hands of the player. But underneath all of that, there is a common element among all games–having fun. The Legend of Zelda has been Nintendo’s flagship series since the days of the NES. Most would agree that Zelda games are system pushers, guaranteed to put Nintendo’s newest console in the homes of many, and they’d be right.

But Skyward Sword is not simply a Wii-pusher. It is not worthy of settling for such casual adjectives like “great” “entertaining” or “moving”. It is what I can only admire as a video game masterpiece. Seldom are games made that can perfect the balance between passion, technology, adventure and innovation so intuitively–and I’ll gladly admit the Wii is a system far removed from the term “intuitive”. But Nintendo has no qualms taking time and patience when it comes to their precious Zelda series, and it shows brighter here than ever before.

At its heart, Skyward Sword is a story about childhood friends coming through for one another. Link and Zelda share a definite emotional bond that surpasses anything depicted from past Zelda games. Though the story turns into one about destiny and salvation, Skyward Sword never strays from the friendship these two share as you can feel the emotion emanate from Link each time he gets closer and closer to saving Zelda.

But Nintendo also ensured the “destiny” portion would not be left waning either. As the story unfolds, you are shown the deepest insight into the legends of the Triforce and Master Sword than ever before, each temple seemingly unfolding one more chapter into Zelda lore that fans have been clamoring for ages to know. For the hardest of core, Skyward Sword does not disappoint. Perhaps the game’s greatest achievement is intertwining these distinct yet connected stories into one poetic tale about two friends discovering more about themselves–and their world–than they ever thought possible.

Speaking of the world, Skyward Sword takes the Zelda franchise to the skies and beyond, literally. Traveling is accomplished by soaring through the skies on the back of Link’s trusted bird, called a Loftwing. Taking full advantage of the Wii Motion Plus addition to the Wii Mote, tilting and angling the Wii mote is all that’s needed to send link gliding through the clouds from one land to another. For those who remember Wind Waker, flying definitely brings back memories of sailing through the ocean on Link’s talking ship, but now feels perfectly refined and incredibly easy to use.

But Skyward Sword’s biggest challenge was integrating that same level of integration into combat. Since we first learned that Link would have true one-to-one combat motion with the player’s movements, everyone has been wondering if Nintendo could actually pull it off, unlike Twilight Princess’ constant waggling motion as an excuse for sword swinging. After playing through Skyward Sword, however, I don’t think I can ever go back to normal button-mashing ever again. The combat controls are so smooth and precise to my own movements that at times, I admit to even feeling a bit like Link himself. Most of the enemies you face in Skyward Sword are built on this new premise as well, quick to punish those who try to mindlessly swing their way through the crowds. Temple bosses don’t just take the usual 3-round attacks to die; each of them require a new level of timing and precision that no Zelda before has ever come close to.

Also new to the series is the ability to customize your equipment. Through the collection of various bugs and items dropped by monsters, Link can exchange them for unique upgrades to either his equipment or potions. A few rare bugs will boost a red potion to maximum efficiency, while a few monster horns and ancient flowers can upgrade your bow’s damage (though to be fair, I’m not quite sure how that works). While the upgrade process works great, the collection portion has a few nagging issues. The sensitivity of catching bugs quickly becomes more frustrating than it is worth, and the constant sub-window popping up every time I collect something occurs so often you’d mistake it for Navi from Ocarina of Time (HEY! LISTEN! YOU PICKED UP AN EVIL CRYSTAL! HEY! LISTEN! YOU PICKED UP SOME MORE MONSTER TAILS! and so on…)

Finally, I want to commend Skyward Sword for the natural feeling of evolution from beginning to end. While it is true most developers strive for a narrative backbone that can progress relatively naturally from one point to another without sacrificing depth or pacing, it is incredibly difficult to achieve. While most of the Zelda games are excellent in their own right, I never quite felt like the story was taking me somewhere besides simply saving a royal princess. Skyward Sword, on the other hand, succeeds where its predecessors could not. Perhaps it is because of the emotional context stated earlier, but I believe it’s much more than that. As one progresses through Skyward Sword, the narrative leaps are never too great, and the feeling of something being left out or avoiding plot holes has completely disappeared. It is an adventure in its purest form, from beginning to end. Blazing new trails while paying humble homage to what made past games so memorable, Skyward Sword is both a tribute and a new chapter for the Legend of Zelda series. Though I’m sure Nintendo has many more triforce related stories to tell us, I’m happy to say this is undoubtedly the greatest Zelda game ever made, and one of the greatest games ever designed.

On Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D…

The term “remake” is one of both business and pleasure, all but certifying financial gain while simultaneously treading a tight rope between enhancement and sacrilege. Once a game has reached a decade or more in age, modern day opinion seems to agree the title is up for a round two of sorts: shine the paint, replace the engine, fine tune the coding, etc etc etc… But when a game has reached a degree of accolade–some lofty level of worship most developers dream their game one day reaching–it seems as if it also becomes taboo for anyone to even utter the ‘r’ word in regards to these olympian feats of video games. Among the myriad of arguments for and against remaking old games, one of the largest proponents of remaking occurred in my very home. My younger brother, now 16, was only 3 when the Ocarina of Time first debuted. Without the full set of nerd motor skills required to beat Ocarina, he neither finished nor remembered ever playing it. He was soon to become part of the new generation of gamers; not unlike how much of youth today enjoy the new Star Wars trilogy more than the original, they are a culture who have a different rubric for modern entertainment. Upon finishing Ocarina on my 3DS, I finally convinced him to play through it, all the time assuring him it was better than Twilight Princess (the only other Zelda game he had ever completed). It took him just 3 days to complete it–without doing all of the side stories nor collecting all of the heart pieces, of course–and after he was done he doled out the dubious grade of “it was alright. It wasn’t like Assassin’s Creed 2 or anything…”

I’m sorry….come again?

I quickly got on his nerves the following days as I pestered him to explain his opinion. But even when he explained his disappointment by the game’s relatively simple narrative and game play mechanics, I stubbornly refused to think my younger brother, a greater and more capable nerd than I will ever become, could not be impacted by such a monumental game. It took a few weeks of discussion and reflection before I started to dawn on the growing transition within the ranks of gamers across the world. For those who wish to be spared by my usual rants, here is the short version: Despite its perfection, despite the hype, and despite all of the praise it deserves, the Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D can be summed up in four words, “It’s Perfect. So What?”

Now that is a crude and very undermining way of summarizing all of the various points one could make about Ocarina 3D, I agree, but no matter how much I changed my view point or attempted to bridge the gap between my own prejudice and that of the younger masses, the answer was the same. Since most of this writing will be devoted to a darker territory than what is usually discussed in video game reviews, check out my other blog on the SA Current to read my direct review of Ocarina 3D. From this point forward, I seek to explore this growing disparity between Ocarina and the modern gaming era and how the greatest video games ever made may eventually become a legend…literally.

Ocarina was, for the most part, a game changer for the video game industry. Since 3-dimensional worlds were becoming a reality, Nintendo sought to set the bar higher than most could hope to achieve. And much like Super Mario 64, they succeeded quite beautifully; the public was amazed, and gamers were enthralled. It was a Hyrule that was better realized than anything our imaginations could come up with. The combat was tight and responive, the environments were diverse, and the story was near flawless. It was, as I continue to reiterate, perfect.

At that time.

Perhaps the biggest understanding I’ve been forced to grapple with is the level of complexity between games of my generation and those played today. Recently on the G4 network (a channel devoted entirely to video games), they hosted their own American Idol-esque tournament to decide the greatest video game series ever. After hundreds of entries, it came down to the Legend of Zelda versus Assassin’s Creed. Two games, whose stories and plot couldn’t be farther apart in terms of game play or creative narration, were being forced together and the public had to choose. But how did it come to this? It was baffling to think of how Altair and Ezio could be compared to Link and Zelda, yet a choice had to be made. But to my expectation, the Assassins were victorious. Not because they were the superior games, but because they were made for the new generation.

Playing Ocarina again after thirteen years was a fascinating experience, both physically and mentally. Aside from getting used to the new controls and having my own Assassin’s Creed moments of remembering how to beat various bosses or solving the nastier puzzles, I saw that Zelda’s core game play mechanics don’t translate quite well after all these years. In a sense, The Legend of Zelda is…well…simple. Moving from one dungeon to another, acquiring the new item that’s essential to defeating the boss, and rescuing the princess at the end, it’s simply not enough anymore. For the new generation, ideals like these are elementary to what they are accustomed to. When I thought about why my younger brother compared Zelda to Assassin’s Creed, I started to see what he really meant. It wasn’t a slight against the games I grew up loving; it was an observation that those titles had less demanded from them then the games made today. And he’s right.

Both games may be an action/adventure game at its most bare, but AC was born through a complex marriage of historical context and science fiction. This was later perfected in AC2 and AC:Brotherhood, with the addition of peripheral characters coming into play and political corruption fueling hidden agendas. What difference is there between Ocarina of Time, Link to the Past and Twilight Princess? Besides huge graphical leaps and updated item management capabilites, the story seems to be exactly the same time and time again. Both series may still be a work of fiction, but the level of complexity between the two is staggering. In a sense, I believe this distinction is what will forever set the older generation’s games apart from what we play today. It by no means dampers the legacy left by predecessors like Zelda, Final Fantasy or Legacy of Kain, but merely points out that like all facets of life, things change. And I fear that if the Legend of Zelda franchise is to thrive for years to come, they too must embrace the winds of change—the dungeon-crawling, heart-piece gathering, green-garbed hero won’t work for much longer.

There is an evolution in the video game industry, one that is changing with break-neck speed. What took the movie industry to reach in 70 years, the gaming industry has reached in just 30. While technology has forever provided the form of the video games we play, we are just now starting to explore their function.  To me, playing through Ocarina of Time again taught me more about what I love than any game has in the past decade. I can let myself become the ol’ fogey who reminisces about games of old where one analog stick was enough and no character model was more than 64 polygons, or I can appreciate what games like Zelda, Banjo and Kazooie, Metroid, Jak and Dexter, Panzar Dragoon, and Chrono Cross taught me. This is an industry I love, and while some of my favorite games may fade away, my passion never will.

And that’s what makes me a gamer.

See you in the next level,

Gray