WEEK IN GEEK: In what should be a Shortcast ended up being an entire episode, this week Dan and Andrew have a lot to say about their respective Weeks in Geek. Andrew attended Emerald City Comic Con and attended some panels and people-watched while also playing a bit of the officially licensed sequel to the NES cult hit, River City Ransom, Conatus Creative Inc.’s River City Ransom Undergroundwhile Dan saw Logan and has a lot to say about it (spoiler-free), nerd tribalism, and superhero movies.
Although Dan and I lamented, cursed, and even sang songs about the year that was 2016, it was sort of a big year in one important way. The mobile game market has become a hot bed of gaming activity. 2016 (including the end of 2015, to be fair) saw a few big names throw their intellectual properties into the ring. Somewhere in that maelstrom that is pay-for-play micro-gaming, I got caught up in the ride. Although we’re already several days into the new year, I thought it would be appropriate to look back on all the games that I looked at, played, talked about, and otherwise engaged with in 2016.
Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes by Electronic Arts
Technically, Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes was released near the end of 2015, but I did not get to it until much later. It was my Week in Geek in Episode 93 – The Clay Man Incident. Filled with many characters, locations, and ships from the Star Wars universe, this turn-based squad based battle game provides a vast amount of content. There are a lot of different characters from the movies and television shows that you can group together to battle.
Since I first started playing back in April, they’ve added a great deal of content. The game expanded beyond the simple five on five combat to include massive “raid bosses,” in which player-organized guilds fought to defeat a massive enemy in turns. More recently, they added a ship combat mode in which X-Wings and TIE Fighters shoot it out in an entirely new (yet surprisingly similar) game mode. Some of the more recent content has been viewed somewhat negatively; what started out as an effective “could be played for free but maybe I’ll spend a little” game has turned into a “if you can’t spend a huge amount, don’t even bother” game. Accusations of rampant cheating have also soured some paying players from participating (at least some of those that I have spoken to), an important consideration since so much of the game relies on playing against other players.
In the end, the biggest draws for Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes are still the ongoing stream of new character content and the powerful license. Even for folks that disliked The Phantom Menace (or the prequels in general) or don’t follow Rebels, the depth of Star Wars content in Galaxy of Heroes will keep nearly every fan interested for as long as they keep providing it.
Always interested in trying to do something as well as somebody else, Warner Bros. released their own squad-based battler in November. I discussed my initial thoughts back in Episode 114 – Su Gana. Very similar in feel to Star Wars: Galaxy of Heroes, this game features an array of heroes and villains from the DC Comics universe. Perhaps the biggest gameplay difference from the aforementioned Star Wars title is the presence of a loose story to tie the narrative together: “As the shadow of the Blackest Night prophecy falls on every world, sheer force of will alone cannot save the shattered DC Universe.”
Still in its first few months, most of the additions to DC Legends so far have come in the form of character and event additions. As with other freemium games, chasing the “hot new character” is an important part of the gameplay. The game has yet to do any major additions or changes, still relying on the basic gameplay elements to keep the game going.
With so many similarities to the slightly more mature Galaxy of Heroes, this title has a lot of catching up to do. The biggest driver for this game is the fact that you can have Black Canary, Sinestro, the Flash, and Zatana fighting together against… well, whoever gets thrown at you. At that point, it feels like it’s more a matter of what license do you want taking your money and time and less which game you think is better designed.
Final Fantasy: Brave Exvius is the second Final Fantasy themed freemium mobile game that Dan and I both found ourselves playing (at least for a bit). We both discussed our initial impressions of this game in Episode 99 – Jaw-Jackin’. Since that initial release, they’ve added more content both in the way of the “story” mode and in semi-regular themed events. Compared to the previous mobile game, Final Fantasy Record Keeper, Brave Exvius brings a lot more to the “game” front. The “story mode” feels a lot more like something that might be a classic Final Fantasy game with a narrative, dungeon exploration, and the sorts of thing one expects. That being said, random battles have been replaced with a more “spend energy to explore” style freemium model.
All that being said, it combines enough of “new experience” with “recognizable intellectual property” that seems to be essential to the constantly churning market that is freemium mobile games. The story introduces a new world with new characters, but connects it with the recognizable characters of classic Final Fantasy through the power of “Visions.” You build a party of characters from both the main characters and these collectible “Visions” and use them collectively in battles to explore new areas, discover treasures, and unlock additional content. Since its initial release, they’ve added some significant content updates that provides access to more things to do, additional things to unlock, and more items to craft.
Similar to Final Fantasy: Record Keeper, this game leans heavily on overall Final Fantasy nostalgia and probably has little appeal to people that don’t know much about the expansive worlds. Although essential in battle, these characters do not involve themselves in the story or have any contribution to anything; they simply serve as warriors to kill off the never-ending legion of monsters. However, as Dan pointed out, the characters are drawn and animated very well, giving a new appearance to many of the classic characters. If nothing else, they look good.
I first talked about the new Molyneux title, The Trail, in Episode 114 – Su Gana and followed up in Shortcast 19 – What Was Town? Although it didn’t stay too long on my play rotation, it did stand out from most of the mobile games on the current market. Whether due to the Molyneux involvement or, in the alternative, development by Kongregate, The Trail feels more like a collecting and crafting themed video game and less like a pay-to-play freemium title. Yes, the game still occasionally throws a “buy this special pack” splash page at you, but with nowhere near the intensity of most of the market.
But, let’s be honest. Though it may feel like a collecting and crafting video game, it’s not a particularly great one. Specifically with the need (whether literal or perceived) to play for extended periods at a time, it makes it tough for this game to survive in a market that specializes in repeated, yet relatively brief, engagements. When you put these two together, it feels like the better option would be to try a different mobile game or get a more in-depth crafting game for the console or PC instead of mobile.
In the ongoing quest to play as many of the hot new mobile games as possible, this is one that pretty much came and went before I even had time to mention it. First released in October 2016, Plants vs. Zombies: Heroes is a fusion of the recognizable franchise that is Plants vs. Zombies with the mechanics of something like Hearthstone. In a sense, it’s tower defense meets digital trading card game. Players play as either a plant or a zombie, with a deck of cards built from a pool corresponding to your side and whatever sub-faction your “hero” is affiliated with. For example, the zombie hero Super Brainz can choose his cards from the Sneaky and Brainy categories of zombie cards. The game is played one-on-one, with a slight difference in how the game plays for zombies and plants.
There are a lot of different cards out their with which to customize decks, leading to a lot of variation in play. Of course, like any trading card game, it requires a certain dedication to the meta. Players can’t just be good at playing cards; they have to be good at figuring out which cards work well in which decks. Like Hearthstone, the deck-building portion is just as important as the actual play portion of the game. This puts it in a strange place with respect to the competition. It is not as deep or developed as a card game as something like Hearthstone and its likely too involved and complicated when compared to the original Plants vs. Zombies. Although I don’t personally know that many PvZ players, I suspect most of them were quickly turned off by the complexity of PvZ:H. We will have to wait and see how it turns out going forward.
This is another one of those “it actually came out in 2015” games, but it found its way back into my play rotation when I started playing Fallout 4. This is one of the few mobile games that Dan and I did NOT spend a great deal of time discussing on the show, mostly because it sort of “came and went” for both of us relatively quickly after its release (although Dan played it obsessively for a week or so). However, you can hear our friends at the Nerdhole talk about it here, in Episode 33 – Fallout Shelter.
When released, Fallout Shelter was mostly a quick little “collect resources, build more buildings, grow more people, collect more resources” sort of game. Not much more than your typical aquarium “log in and tap” sort of game. Since its release, they’ve added some content meant to add more depth to the game. There is now a quest system, special outfits and equipment, and some new features added. It’s a nice improvement from the original title and worth the time for folks really engaged with the Fallout style. With Bethesda already moving to develop more smartphone and mobile titles in the future, it should be interesting to see where they take gaming to next.
One of the more recent mobile games to make its way onto my smartphone, Marvel Avengers Academy is one of the many “aquarium” style games present in the market. I first mentioned it in Episode 111 – #CyclopsWasRight. It’s nothing complicated or fancy. Some even argue it’s not much of a game; it’s more just a thing you turn on every few hours and tap with some regularity. But don’t let that fundamental lack of compelling gameplay fool you! It can actually be quite an entertaining product, especially for people with interest in the characters upon which the game is based.
From a gaming perspective, MAA is probably easiest to compare to a worker placement style board game. There are fixed locations (Stark Tower, the Avenger Dorms, the Shooting Range), a set of characters with fixed actions that take different amounts of time, and a series of tasks or missions that need to be accomplished for prizes. Part of the challenge is finding ways to best (rather, most efficiently) complete the missions assigned. Inefficient play is not prohibitive to advancement, but it does slow down unlocking new characters, buildings, and actions.
What keeps the game changing is a constant stream of new special events. When I began playing back in October, they had just started a special Halloween-themed event. The Academy was under attack by the forces of Mephisto and an array of strange characters joined my Academy team, including Ghost Rider, Misty Knight, and Moon Knight. Shortly after that four-week event concluded, the Academy fused with Dr. Strange’s Sanctum Sanctorum as the forces of Kaecilius attacked. With each new event comes new characters with novel new actions and animations. All of it is tied together with a somewhat organized storyline in which the origin of the Academy, the fact that most of the characters are in their teens, and the “truth” about what’s going on are waiting to be uncovered.
As a Marvel fan, it’s a cute time-waster that never asks too much. The narrative that they are slowly revealing is enough to keep me tapping and the ongoing array of new and interesting characters are sufficient to keep me coming for more.
2016 saw a lot of new content come to mobile and handheld devices. A lot of it came wrapped in massive licenses, whether they be comic books, video games, or movies. As we enter 2017, new games will be made, old ones will be upgraded, and some will just fall by the wayside. Continuing to find new ways to keep the gameplay interesting while not driving away too many players with paywalls will continue to be a challenge. Of course, there’s always the issue of micro-transactions and the lasting effect it has on player retention, but that’s a discussion for another time.
That the comics industry works through strange machinations puts the whole situation mildly. It’s an industry perpetually flailing for readers and sales, but its movies are making more money than any other adapted medium in history. Combined with all of the crossovers and events that “The Big Two” (Marvel Comics and DC Comics) push––and the associated bumps and crashes in sales––there is no doubt that there is something funky about how the comics industry works, but it also that blame has been mercurial, shifting scapegoats depending on the ails of the current generation: people aren’t reading comics anymore because of video games; people are waiting for the trade paperback collections instead of buying individual issues; the movies and tv shows are more accessible and modern than the books; print versus digital distribution, etc.
The problem this has caused shows that the blame-shifting that moves the industry has done its job rather well, getting the industry to blame itself rather than looking for a deeper seed. This Outhousers (what a name) article does a fine job at pointing the finger away from general culture (which does have its share of culpability, just not nearly as much as we apparently want to foist upon it) and toward the one constant in the last, at least, thirty years of the industry: a monopolized distribution system.
Diamond Comic Distributors is the only distributor for the Big Two as well as the other top-tier publishers such as Image, Dark Horse, Oni, etc. While that in itself is not inherently bad, a look at its practices and demands upon the publishers (and creators) reveals a rotten core tethering together the ever-changing problems from which the industry suffers.
It’s a bold statement, but also not much of a surprise––as an independent comicker, if you want to get any ground in comic stores around the country, you must meet the demands of Diamond, and their barrier to entry is unreasonably high. Some of it comes across as honest gatekeeping, which is fine to a point; you want only good comics to make it to stores, but it also puts an extreme burden on pretty much any independent creator unless you have found word-of-mouth/viral success through the internet. Even then, it’s still best to pitch to a publisher and have them deal with the distribution.
The Outhousers article shines a bright light on the issue, but being an independent blog in its own right, I wonder how much change it can actually inspire. I’ll just do my part, then, and keep the conversation going.
For all of the video games that land onto store shelves or on the front page of an online retailer, it’s astounding to see how many games are out there right now. From what I have come to understand, mostly from listening to gaming podcasts that have interviewed developers (to having interned for a startup developer myself back in the late nineties/early aughts), what astounds even more is how many games don’t get made, despite going into production.
Development is shut down all of the time with apparently little cause given, in many cases. Luke Winkie’s article presents a fascinating case study into one example of this, through the lens of a developer who worked on the nearly-finished Infinite Crisis, a MOBA featuring all of DC Comics’ major characters, before it was shut down.
I argue that the saddest part of a game getting shut down mostly has to do with the ache of possibility, that a game with promise won’t ever see the light of day. What’s heartwarming, though, is that an unreleased game seems to have little effect on a developer’s resume, often because it’s not the developer’s fault that a game got pulled. It usually has to do with business decisions from investors and the like, people gauging the market and finding it unfit for whatever they had already pumped thousands or millions of dollars into.
What this tangentially touches upon is another heated conversation in the gaming world right now, one about the poor working conditions afforded to people who work in the industry. If there is a bright spot, it could be that despite all the other issues you have to face as a game developer––working within strict budgets, big teams, time crunches (and long hours), aggregate review scores, etc.––working for years on a game that never gets released doesn’t damage your possibilities to continue working in the industry at all. In fact, the bigger the “failure,” the better it could be for you.
Last weekend was San Diego Comic-Con, and although lots of news filtered out of the event, super heroes were an important element of that story. Marvel and DC both showed up ready to spill with trailers, news, and all sorts of superheroic nonsense up in the air for fans to ingest.
DC Comics has a lot of ground to makeup for, with 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice leaving a lot of eager fans less than thrilled. Probably one of the biggest things they had to present was the trailer for next year’s big superhero movie, Wonder Woman:
There’s been a lot scuttlebutt around the DC Cinematic Universe in the last six months, but the one thing that seems to still be on track is the stand-alone Wonder Woman. Set in the era of World War I, it looks like this movie brings a lot of what you’d expect from Wonder Woman: some weird quasi-Greek stuff, some lasso action, and punching. And kicking in wedges, let’s be honest. Swords and shields, and the rest.
Of course, not one to disappoint, DC and WB also provided a look at the other big movie coming out next year: Justice League. This is less a trailer and more a bunch of “footage,” but it does provide a little look at what’s going on. We get to see Bruce Wayne and Wonder Woman talk about stuff. Bruce Wayne tries to recruit Aquaman and Flash, with varying levels of success. If anything, it provides a look at the different relationships the characters will have with each other in the movie.
Apparently, there’s still some confusion as to whether or not this is going to be one part of two, or a stand-alone movie. I suspect a lot of the future of the DC Cinematic Universe rests on the shoulders of Wonder Woman and this first Justice League offering.
On the other side of the aisle, Marvel had its fair share of dazzling videos to put forth. With respect to movies, Marvel put out a new trailer for the upcoming Doctor Strange film. In an effort to prove that this movie has no respect for conventional notions of reality and geometry, it features some of the most bizarre cityscapes in recent cinematic history:
It was also announced that actor Brie Larson will be taking on the role of Major Carol Danvers, the superhero (eventually) known as Captain Marvel. Although not scheduled for release until 2019, Captain Marvel is currently the first Marvel movie headlined by a female character.
On the television side, Marvel surprised a lot of people (or, at least me) when they announced the arrival of Ghost Rider in Agents of SHIELD, Season 4. Probably bigger news, though, is the newly released trailer for Luke Cage, the third show produced from the Marvel-Netflix alliance and part of their Defenders storyline.
Although fans of the Netflix-Marvel collaboration have already seen Luke Cage appear in Jessica Jones, this series has already established a very different tone than its predecessors. A teaser trailer for the NEXT series, Iron Fist, was also released, reminding people that there will be an ongoing onslaught of Marvel characters pouring through your television screens. Of course, in an effort to flood the bitstreams with even more Marvel excitement, they also released a teaser trailer for the upcoming Defenders mini-series, featuring Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Luke Cage, and Iron Fist together.
Of course, there’s even more news out there for super hero movie and television fans. This is just the tip of the iceberg. From all of the television and film being produced, it looks like the age of the superhero has at least a few more years of kick left in it.
Week in Geek: Andrew plays through Resident Evil HD Remaster while Dan struggles with the humor and politics of Broforce.
All in a Name: An incredible blowout occurred on the internet after certain fans of Baldur’s Gate found, in the recent expansion Baldur’s Gate: The Siege of Dragonspear, an openly trans character and found it offensive, for a variety of reasons. Dan and Andrew ruminate on this and associated controversy in the realm of video games to varying degrees of civility and calm demeanor.
DC Comics Talk with Andrew and Luke: Andrew has a sit down with Luke Turpeinen from AcrossTheBoardGames.net about all things DC (perhaps touching on the issues around Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice).
Leave a comment on the topics of this episode at forall.libsyn.com. Be sure to join our official Facebook and Google+ pages. Email the show at forallpod [at] gmail.com. If you want to help the show, be sure to leave a review (stars and/or text reviews) at the iTunes store page for this show.
For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
Week in Geek: Andrew watched an entry from the DC Animated Universe, an adaptation of Justice League:TheFlashpoint Paradox while Dan saw the Disney Animated feature, Zootopia.
Men in Capes, Punching: Both Dan and Andrew have seen Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and have things to say about it.
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For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Is She With You (Wonder Woman Theme)” by Hans Zimmer & Junkie XL (from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice)
-“Be Prepared” by Jeremy Irons (from The Lion King)
Week in Geek: Andrew burns through Daredevil season 2 and lives to tell the tale, while Dan reads the Lovecraftian novella, The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor LaValle.
BvS:DoJ: Since neither Dan nor Andrew have seen the newest superhero effort by Warner Bros. and DC Comics, the talk around the imminent release of the movie has been heated and divisive. They talk about the suppositions, biases, and expectations people have going into this movie and how we approach movies before they’re released.
Leave your thoughts as comments at forall.libsyn.com or join the conversations happening at the official Facebook or Google+ pages. You may also e-mail the show at forallpod [at] gmail.com.
For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
The podcast reaches an arbitrary milestone and our hosts celebrate in style! They also make another podcast that falls into line with the standards set by the preceding episodes.
The Week in Geek: Andrew plays a video game card game based on an MMO as well as, in his words, “eating comic books.” Dan talks about his own comic, Long John.
Boasts of Bethel: Dan reminisces on his two experiences with ComicCon, and tries to figure out what the SDCC (as the REAL fans call it) is actually about.
Discussion: Since one of the biggest nerd gatherings happened this week in San Diego, Andrew and Dan decide to discuss it; but, more specifically, they try to answer the age old SDCC question: Who won––Marvel or DC?
Games That Matter: Dan and Andrew craft an argument as to why the Playstation 1 game, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, is super-important and should be on everybody’s roster.
Geek Thoughts: After finally answering last week’s question, they go broad with this week’s, asking:
What is a movie, tv, or video game soundtrack that you hold particularly dear and why?
Submit your answer as a comment on the episode’s page at forall.libsyn.com, on Facebook, Google+, or Twitter (Dan and Andrew). Also feel free to subscribe to the podcast on iTunes and be sure to leave a comment there about how much you enjoy our thoughtful investigations into things geeky and nerdy! It’ll help to spread the word! Also, feel free to e-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You’ll be glad you did.
For all intents and purposes, that was the tenth episode recap!