A BOOK CLUB [ , ] FOR ALL INTENTS AND PURPOSES: In a rare moment where Andrew and Dan’s reading habits align, they spend this episode discussing Chris Kohler‘s addition to the Boss Fight Books line, focusing on Square Enix’s (simply Squaresoft at the time of the game’s initial publication) Final Fantasy V. The first half has the hosts discussing the game itself, while the second half talks about the BFB line and written gaming criticism.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew goes back to his undergraduate roots and dives into programming with the Unity engine via the online programming courses taught through Udemy while D. Bethel updates his nostalgia with the Super NES as he plays around with Analogue’s Super Nt system.
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew pauses his walk down the Star Trek Nostalgia Trail and attended a day of PAX West (starts at 2:14) while Dan dips into the history of his favorite comic book franchise by reading Marvel Epic Collection Vol. 5: X-Men – Second Genesis which collects the early issues of the great X-Men reboot from 1975 when the “All-New, All-Different” X-men were added to the team (Wolverine, Colossus, Storm, Nightcrawler) and started the 16-year run of writer Chris Claremont (18:17).
FINAL FANTASY VII AGAIN: (28:23) September 7th marked the 20th anniversary of Squaresoft’s (at the time, now Square Enix) breakthrough hit, Final Fantasy VII. Dan and Andrew talk less about the game itself and instead talk about the impact the game had on gaming and nerd culture.
NOTE: Sacramento’s Crocker Con | Art Mix is happening September 14th at the Crocker Art Museum at which D. Bethel will be exhibiting with his wares. Come by and say hi!
WEEK IN GEEK: Andrew saw Spider-Man: Homecoming so now they can talk about it while D. gets upset that Vice Media fired gaming journalist, Mike Diver, who co-created Vice’s video game wing, Waypoint.
NAME THAT CHIPTUNE: After going deep into an YouTube hole watching marching bands playing video game music, Andrew brings to the table the question: When the hell did video game music become so popular? Is it that good or are we just getting old?
For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“Scene III (Final Fantasy – ‘Opening Theme’, ‘Town’, ‘Matoya’s Cave’)” by The Tokyo Symphony Orchestra (from Symphonic Suite Final Fantasy; arranged by Katsuhisa & Takayuki Hattori)
WEEK IN GEEK: The guys are again on the cutting edge of entertainment as Andrew begins playing Skyrim (albeit the Special Edition that was released for current platforms last year) while D goes all the way back to 2006 and plays Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age (albeit the recently released HD remastered version).
DOCTOR NEW: After speculation accruing since Peter Capaldi announced he would be leaving the lead role of Doctor Who earlier this year, the BBC announced his replacement, Jodie Whittaker. And the internet went wild. (Time Stamp – 38:38)
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.
WEEK IN GEEK: In honor of the 53rd anniversary of the show, Andrew watched the 1970s Doctor Who serial, “Day of the Daleks,” and follows that up with the new timey-wimey show, Timeless. Dan gets nostalgic to re-read X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills by Chris Claremont and Brent Anderson and finds, to his estimation, that it holds up rather well.
WAR KIND OF CHANGES: Andrew picks up Fallout 4 on PS4 and talks about what he’s seeing with Dan, who still hasn’t beaten it.
THE CRAFT OF CRAFTING: Building off of Fallout 4‘s systems, Dan and Andrew talk about the rise of crafting mechanics in video games, from Minecraft to Diablo II to Skyrim.
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For all intents and purposes, that was an episode recap.
-“Stayin’ in Black” by Wax Audio
-“It’s All Over But the Crying” by The Ink Spots
-“Building the Deathcoaster” by Joseph LoDuca (from Army of Darkness)
My journey into Final Fantasy continues with the second part of my ongoing series! This time, I actually advance the “storyline” a bit and even find a boat! And by “find a boat,” I clearly mean “take a boat from a bunch of stupid pirates through the use of excessive force.”
The “crossing the bridge” sequence is one of the more memorable moments of the game for me, which I suppose makes sense because it’s so different from the rest of the game. When you consider that the original release simply started with the player in front of Corneria/Cornelia (no cinematic intro) and very little was said outside of single text boxes, that bridge crossing was the closest the game had to a scripted story sequence. It’s the kind of game element that Final Fantasy would later become inundated with, but in the original 1989 release, this was the only one. If you compare it to some of the games contemporaries, that single sequence stands out as sort of a big deal.
As a kid, I never thought too much about how the game is “staged” based on what you can get to. First, you get the bridge to the north. Then, you get a boat, but the boat can only really go to one other place. Eventually, you blow a canal to the outer sea and can go to one or two more places. Then you get an airship. Although it looks like you’re in a big, open world to explore, you’re really not. I suppose I contrast it to the original Shining Force on Sega Genesis, which divided the gameplay into discrete chapters. Once you finished Chapter 1, you moved on to the area of Chapter 2 (and couldn’t go back). At this point, I could not say which method I prefer. Perhaps, when I get to a game that’s more “open world” I’ll have something different to say.
One of the things that became apparent to me during this part of the game was the totally wacky pricing structure within the world of Final Fantasy. It’s always sort of a weird joke when you compare prices of things. At this point in the game, it cost me 80 Gil to raise a character from the dead while it cost 50 Gil to stay at the Inn. A suit of fancy armor was 450 Gil, which is a hell of a lot more than 80 Gil. Of course, it’s a fantasy world and the whole idea of how the economy changes in the presence of the ability to raise the dead is the kind of thing nerdy economists write papers about.
Growing up, I was one of those kids who didn’t have an original NES. I always had PC games to play (and I played plenty of them), but there was always something magical about the NES. I never felt like any of the PC games I had could capture the awesomeness of something like Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda. Luckily, a friend decided it would be an acceptable choice to let me borrow his NES for a few months some time back in 1989 or 1990, and I finally had a chance to catch up.
At one point previously, a different friend of mine demonstrated Final Fantasy to me. It reminded me a lot of the Ultima series, one of my favorite PC RPGs, which got me really excited. Unfortunately, I did not have a copy of Final Fantasy and the prospect of buying a game for a system I did not own was obviously unacceptable. Luckily, this was the era when video stores rented NES cartridges. The store my family regularly went to had two copies of the game, so I rented it one weekend and started playing.
Many Friday and Saturday night rentals later, I finished the game (with a fair amount of assistance from the official Nintendo Power Final Fantasy Strategy Guide, borrowed from yet another friend). As it was my first JRPG experience, I enjoyed it quite a bit and made a point to get myself some sort of video game console so I could play more of these games. I always kept my eyes open for JRPG ports on the PC, but that was a relatively rare event in the 1990s.
Looking back, it occurs to me that one of the things that appealed the most to me as a PC RPG player was the linearity of the game. Where a game like Bard’s Tale or Ultima threw you into “the world” and let you figure it out on your own, Final Fantasy was a relatively directed game. You begin the game stuck on an island with only one dungeon to explore. When you complete that, you get to move onto another land mass with a cave and a city to explore. Each piece gives you access to a little bit more of the world, but that little bit ends up being the next bit you needed.
I will undoubtedly have more to say about the game as I continue to play through it, but here’s to the beginning of the Final Fantasy. Final, insomuch that there have been some twenty something sequels.
Another week, another Shortcast! This time, the boys are back with a brand new, video game infused Week in Geek.
Week in Geek: Andrew plays Wild Arms 3 while Dan plays Fallout 4 and they ruminate on the state of RPGs both at the start of the new millennium and now sixteen years deep into it.
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For all intents and purposes, that was a Shortcast recap.