let’s talk about Phase 3

With only one more film left in Marvel Studios’s Phase 2 of films, we start to look forward to what we can expect in the third phase of the studios expanding Cinematic Universe. With the recent successes of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy (link) Marvel Studios has shown us that they have things figured out. “While none [of the Marvel Cinematic Universe films] are perfect and a few might even be considered mediocre, Marvel Studios have not made a single awful movie, which means a lot today. This is the kind of track record that makes moviegoers trust the Marvel brand and why with the exception of The Incredible Hulk, all their movies have been box office hits.” (source)

The rumours have been flying about what Marvel Studios has planned for us in the near future, so I wanted to take a moment and talk about what I think may (and should) be coming for us in the next few years.

The Avengers: Age of Ultron

With Ant Man lined up to be the first film in Phase 3, and with it, the introduction of Hank Pym, Pym is not really available to create the titular villain. Instead, Ultron will be the creation of Tony Stark. Similarly to the Ultimates line of comics, Ultron is created to control an army of expendable robot soldiers, whose creation, I think, is inspired by the fall of S.H.I.E.L.D. With S.H.I.E.L.D. out of the picture, the door is open for Stark’s “privatization of world security”, like he mentioned in Iron Man 2. However, the Avenger’s can’t be everywhere and do everything, hence Ultron was created to assist. This, of course, doesn’t work out for the heroes when Ultron decides that humanity, and, in particular, the Avenger’s, are the greatest threat to the earth, and so decides to destroy them all.

And what of the heroes? We already know that Quicksilver (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson), and the Scarlet Witch (played by Elizabeth Olsen) will be joining the team. Also, Paul Bettany will be playing The Vision, who I assume will be a creation of Ultron who turns on Ultron and joins the Avengers. Then, there’s this interview with Joss Whedon:

Two important things to catch in that. 1) “Four prominent female roles … in the center of the movie” I can think of 3: Black Widow, Scarlet Witch, and Maria Hill. Who is the fourth? 2) His face may not have been a confirmation of Captain Marvel appearing in the film, but it’s also not a denial.

So, could we see Carol Danvers as Captain Marvel in Age of Ultron? Perhaps, but also perhaps not, but I certainly hope so. It would be a good way to set up for a solo film for Captain Marvel, and we so desperately need a female-led solo film from the studio.

Expanding the Universe

Phase 2 was entirely made up of existing franchises, with one notable exception: Guardians of the Galaxy. That was a very interesting, and a very deliberate choice. Phase 1 was all about establishing the Avengers, setting up and introducing us to the main characters, and Phase 2 was mostly about showing the aftermath and consequences of The Avengers. We saw what happened when those same people who we had met in the first phase tried to go back to their previous lives. However, as the last film before Age of Ultron Marvel decided to take a leap of faith, not only giving us a look at the cosmic side of the universe, but also a brand new (and completely unknown to the average viewer) group of heroes.

Phase 3 will be about expanding the MCU, and bringing in new characters. So far we’ve already got dates for Ant Man and Dr. Strange, which sandwich the third installment of Captain America. (source) This will likely be the trend in Phase 3: we’re likely to also see a third installment of Thor, we know we’re going to see a sequel to Guardians (source), if we’re really lucky we might see a stand-alone Hulk film with Mark Ruffalo, but I think we’re going to see a couple more new people as well. (Personally I’m hoping for Captain Marvel and Black Panther)

Update: Marvel seems to be moving ahead with an Inhumans film. (source)

MacGuffins

Whether or not they decide to do the Infinity War storyline in the third installment of The Avengers, Phase 3 will definitely introduce us to a few more infinity stones.

Marvel's Main Macguffins.  Say that 5 times fast.
Marvel’s Main Macguffins. Say that 5 times fast.

As a recap: so far we know of 3 infinity stones. The Tesseract is the Space Stone, the Aether is very likely the Reality Stone and the Orb (the MacGuffin in Guardians of the Galaxy) is the Power Stone. That only makes up half of the collection.

There is a lot of speculation on the part of fans that Loki’s staff contains the Mind Stone, but I do not think that is the case. For one thing, in Avengers it was pretty clearly stated that the staff drew power from the Tesseract. Additionally, we know that while the Infinity Stones will not match up color wise with their comic book equals, Marvel seems to not be duplicating colors between different stones. (source)

Three gems remain, the Time, Soul and Mind gems. What forms these will take I can’t even begin to speculate, however, I do have a couple of thoughts as to when we might see these last three Infinity Gems.

  • Soul: In the comics the Soul Gem was embedded in the forehead of Adam Warlock, and artificial human who had great amounts of power. The Soul Gem gave him the power to control the souls of others, including killing people by absorbing their souls into the Soul Gem itself. (He even did this to a future version of himself, killing himself to prevent the evil Magus from every becoming.) We already have seen hints of Adam Warlock in the movies, the after credits scene of Thor: The Dark World had a long lingering shot of Warlock’s cocoon in the Collector’s collection, and his cocoon appeared opened during the post-credits scene of Guardians (source: the freaking movie. However, you could also read this) The most likely place for Adam Warlock (and subsequently the Soul Stone) to appear would likely be in the Dr. Strange movie. Hopefully not as major plot device (because there is so much that would be going on in a Dr. Strange film) but just as an introduction to that character.
  • Time: This gem I could definitely see appearing in the sequel to Guardians of the Galaxy. Of any of the established franchises this is probably the setting that a time travel story would fit the best without feeling out of place. However, they also might want to not do this, since the first film was very much driven by an infinity stone. We’ll just have to see.
  • Mind: This one I don’t really have a good idea for. One potential place would be the third Captain America film, but similar to the Time stone, I don’t think Marvel wants to introduce multiple stones within the same franchise. If it were up to me, I would save the Mind Stone’s introduction for Phase 4. (This is in part because I would like to see Civil War or some other non-Thanos story for the third Avengers, more on that in a few paragraphs)

A Female-Led Film

I also really hope that Phase 3 we will see our first Female Super-Hero film. It’s long overdo for Marvel to bring us a movie with a woman at the helm, and it’s very likely they will want to do it sooner, rather than later.

While lots of fans are rooting for a stand-alone Black Widow film, I would much rather see Carol Danvers’s Captain Marvel take to the big screen. I’ve already talked about a possible cameo in Age of Ultron, but I also think we’ll see her origin story in it’s own film next phase.

Now that the Kree have had their introduction, it is not unreasonable to have them play their part in the creation of Carol Danvers’s abilities. Of Marvel’s good female heroes, adding her to the universe would provide a lot of opportunity. She is a powerful hero, whose abilities are on par with Thor, which is excellent for the spectacle that we have come to expect from our super-hero movies. She also provides a good opportunity to act as a bridge between the earthbound heroes and the cosmic ones, herself being a hero with cosmic origins. Of all of the possibilities, she seems the most likely.

Hopefully we'll soon see Carol Danvers suit up on the big screen.
Hopefully we’ll soon see Carol Danvers suit up on the big screen.

Also, regarding Black Widow, according to Kevin Feige “if we do a Black Widow movie after Age Of Ultron, when she’s been central in three or four movies, I don’t think we’d get the quote unquote credit for it. People would say ‘she’s already a big giant superhero'” He also confirmed that they’ve considered Captain Marvel. “I think that would be very cool.” (source)

Black Widow, on the other hand, shines best when she is part of a team. Her role in Captain America: The Winter Soldier was incredible. I can’t wait to see her in future Captain America and Avengers films, but I don’t think that a solo Black Widow film is the right move for Marvel.

Civil War

As is the case with every other phase so far, we can expect Phase 3 to end with another Avenger’s film. While many people suspect that Marvel is building up to do the Infinity War storyline in the third Avengers film, I want to explore another avenue: Civil War.

It’s too early for Thanos. Thanos is basically the ultimate arch-villain in the Marvel Comics. He has been the hands behind both Loki and Ronan, but we still haven’t had the proper setup. Without making Phase 3 all about Thanos and the Infinity stones I don’t see them getting properly set up for Thanos in the third Avengers adventure. Also, where do you go after Thanos? After revealing the big bad, and defeating him, where do you go without rebooting? Marvel reportedly has their movies planned all the way to 2028, and I don’t see them rebooting, or revealing their hand so early.

What I think would be much more compelling, much more interesting, would be to do an adaptation of the Civil War storyline instead. For those that aren’t familiar, the story of Civil War in the comics revolves around what is known as the Superhero Registration Act, which forces everyone with superpowers to register themselves with the government, stating what they can do. This is so the government can track, evaluate, and in some cases, imprison those who are a danger to society because of their abilities. The heroes of Marvel are split on the issue, and end up forming two groups: Those who are in favour of the act led by Iron Man, with those that are anti-registration following after Captain America.

How interesting would that be, for the third Avengers, to have a film about superheroes fighting eachother. The political climate that they have set up in the MCU would fit well with the creation of this sort of act. Tony Stark has been haunted by the dangers and the damage that supers can cause, and would be supportive of this sort of act. Steve Rogers will have just spent his most recent film tracking down and finally fighting alongside one of his oldest friends, someone who is haunted by their own past and who deserves privacy, and would want to afford privacy to individuals who put their lives on the line to fight to defend others. This clash is something that would fit perfectly into the world that Marvel has been building.

One argument against this possibility is that Marvel Studios lacks a large amount of the characters involved in this story. The Civil War arc included Spiderman, the Fantastic Four, and tons of characters from the X-Men comics, both heroes and villains, all of which are properties that are licensed out to other studios. However, Civil War was also a massive story, so they would need to condense it to fit into movie length anyway.

Phase 3 seems to be geared toward expanding the universe as well. With the new characters available to Marvel I could see them making a really good adaptation of Civil War. It would be great to see Iron Man and Captain America go head to head in a battle of both strength and ideals. While these two characters are not the close friends they are in the comics, they still have developed a mutual respect that I see only being developed further in Age of Ultron. We also have access to not only the new characters that may or may not be introduced in Phase 3, but also the minor characters that haven’t been a part of the Avengers, people like Warmachine, Falcon and the Winter Soldier himself.

One more reason why I think Civil War will be a good place to go: The Death of Captain America.

Chris Evans has 2 more films in his contract after Age of Ultron, which we can assume to be the third Captain America Film, as well as the third Avengers film. Sebastian Stan (who plays bucky) currently has 7 films left in his. In the comics, Bucky Barnes takes over as the new Cap after the death of Steve Rogers, which is the event that finally ends Civil War.

Hopefully in the movies they wouldn't bring him back in a dumb way a few years later.
Hopefully in the movies they wouldn’t bring him back in a dumb way a few years later.

Also, Steve Rogers is killed by Crossbones, aka Brock Rumlow, who was played by Frank Grillo in Winter Soldier. (Well, technically Crossbones is only one of two people who shot him, another was a brainwashed ally of the Captains) While he was never identified as Crossbones in the film or credits, the fact that he was emphasized as a character (including the shot of his burned but living body found in the wreckage of the Triskellion) hints to me that they are setting up for him to kill Cap at the end of the third Avengers film. While they could do the death of Steve Rogers without Civil War, it’s such an integral part of the Civil War story that I think they will do it there.

I may be completely off, however, and they will instead jump straight to Infinity War for the third installment, but I think that would be a huge missed opportunity.

Guardians of the Galaxy

tl;dr: Guardians of the Galaxy was easily the most fun I have had at the movies this year. You should go see it. I mean, right now, stop whatever you are doing and go see this movie.

By the way, the fuzzy stuff is for spoilers, don’t click on it unless you want to have stuff spoiled (or have seen it already)

While it took most of my social circle quite a while before they got excited about Guardians of the Galaxy, I was an early boarder of the hype train, starting to get excited and do research as soon as I heard that this film was announced. Having been introduced to superheroes through films (I was 11 when X-Men came out in 2000, and I never really had a comic store near me growing up) I had to do some research to really get a grasp on who the Guardians of the Galaxy are, which made me even more excited.

As with all my reviews that I’ve done this one is going to be pretty much a stream of consciousness and I will mark any spoilers.

origin stories – aka bringing the team together

Like in The Avengers, Guardians is a film about a team, rather than just one individual character. Whenever you have a story about a team there is always the challenge of getting them all together. In The Avengers there had been previous films that had established the characters, the characters had their own arcs, their own demons, their own franchises, and The Avengers was about taking those characters and bringing them together to fight a threat none of them could handle alone.

Wait, I thought this article was about Guardians of the Galaxy?
Wait, I thought this article was about Guardians of the Galaxy?

So, how do you do that? In the case of The Avengers Marvel Studios decided to use S.H.I.E.L.D. as the driving force behind the Avengers assembling. In Avengers it works, but in the case of Guardians not really an option.

Origin stories are also hard, and are usually the biggest struggle and the weakest part in most superhero films. (That’s why, in my opinion, Winter Soldier is a much better film than the first Captain America film, the origin story roadblock wasn’t there to screw with the pacing. Similar story with the Thor films.) In Guardians, I think they did a really good job at solving this problem, they skipped it. They don’t spend half the movie introducing us to the characters, telling us their back-stories, they instead get into the action of showing us how they meet, how they grow to stand one another, and they do it by doing things. There is a scene at the beginning that shows us Peter Quill leaving earth, there is a silly dance number and then BOOM, almost non-stop action at that point. They show us Peter’s origins, and then they leave us to divine the rest from context and from dialogue, they don’t spell it out for us, which is the right way to do it. (This is related to a point I’m going to make a little further down about respecting the audiences intelligence, I’ll get to that in a minute.)

Near the end, when Peter gives his big “people who’ve lost stuff” motivational speech we, as an audience fully understand the pain that each of the characters have experienced. We understand because we’ve gotten to know these characters, we’ve seen it, and they didn’t have to spend enormous amounts of time showing us what it was like for Gamora growing up as Thanos’s favourite daughter, they didn’t have to show how Rocket was tortured and created, or have a scene of Drax weeping in rage over the bodies of his wife and daughter. We know about all that, we can identify with all that, and we don’t need to be taken on that journey, because those aren’t the journeys the film is about.

As far as the team getting together, I think they handled it excellently. No S.H.I.E.L.D., no heavy handed fate or anything, it just flows, it just works.

You're Welcome.
You’re Welcome.

respecting the audience’s intelligence

This is, to me a very important point, far too many films and video games and other media seem to not respect the intelligence of the audience. There are many that feel the need to explain things to a ridiculous degree, as if the audience won’t appreciate a plot point or an aspect of the world without it being explained to them. (A good example of this unfortunate trend being Star Wars Episode I and the lame-ass Midichlorians explanation. It’s THE FORCE, we don’t need to know how it works.)

A good example of this in Guardians of the Galaxy is the character of Yondu. Yondu has an arrow that he keeps in a holster thing on his side, and he is able to control it, make it fly, etc., by whistling. The film does not take the time at all to explain this, no character feels the need in unnecessary dialogue to mention Yondu’s sound-sensitive arrow, he just uses it, and we, the audience understand intuitively that he controls the arrow by whistling.

This is especially the case when he uses the arrow to kill a bunch of Ronan’s troops. The second he opened his coat I could understand and get excited for what was about to happen. It was an epic moment, and it wasn’t one that I had to be explained.

If you were a fan of the comics (or, like me, had researched the characters beforehand) you may have already known about Yondu and his ability to control his arrows with sound, which would add to your appreciation of the character. However, even if you weren’t aware of this, you are able to understand it because it is shown happening. This is what I mean by the film respects your intelligence, it doesn’t feel the need to give you explanations about things like that.

these guys

These guys completely stole the show.
These guy completely stole the show.

Rocket and Groot were by far my favourite characters in the film. They were hilarious, they were charming, they were heartwarming. Rocket, the result of illegal genetic and cybernetic experimentation on a raccoon-like creature, has a bad attitude and a love of advanced weaponry and is voiced by Bradley Cooper. Groot, the talking tree creature who is only capable of saying “I am Groot!”, who is a tough brawler but is deep down just a bit softy, voiced by Vin Diesel.

While all the characters of the film are great, are well written and well acted, I especially wanted to mention these two, because in a lot of ways they are really the heart of the movie. They had, to me, a similar vibe as C-3PO and R2D2 did in the original Star Wars. Groot, as previously mentioned, is only able to say “I am Groot”, constrained to those three words in that exact order, however, for whatever reason, Rocket is able to understand exactly what he means. Because of this we get scenes where Rocket plays as Groot’s voice, and others where Rocket and Groot banter back and forth while we only hear one side. The exchange and dynamic between these two is really funny, and at the same time, really heartwarming. I just about broke out in tears when Rocket begs Groot not to sacrifice himself for everyone else near the end of the film.

Unlike R2D2 and C-3PO, however, these two are also bad-asses. Groot is just a tank, while Rocket is an ace pilot and a sharpshooter.

Actually, that brings up another good point. None of the characters ever had a moment in the film where they were useless. The team had a really good dynamic, even Starlord, who is for the most part a smooth talker, had his moments of action where he got heavily involved in the fighting.

Rocket is also, in my mind, my favourite character. While his dynamic with Groot makes him a very interesting and fun character, on his own he stands as one of my favourite characters who has ever been on the silver screen. He is angry, full of pain, witty, wise-cracking, and in many instances the voice of reason. At the start of the film he only has Groot. There is nothing else in the Galaxy like him, and it is something that pains him and gives him depth. In a drunken rage fight against Drax, he breaks down, weeping “I didn’t ask to be made. I didn’t ask to be taken apart and put back together again over, and over, and over.” That moment made me feel attached to the character, gave me a glimpse into the pain and loneliness of Rocket. By the end of the film Rocket, and all the others, finally have one another, finally have a family, and a place to belong.

When Guardians was first announced I knew people that were skeptical about a movie with a talking raccoon. In the end, I am so glad that they did.

"What's a raccoon?"
“What’s a raccoon?”
Additionally, tiny dancing Groot during the credits was freaking hilarious.

conclusion

Guardians of the Galaxy was one of my favourite movies of the past few years, and easily the most fun I have had at the movies this year. It’s fun, full of action, really well paced, has a good mix of funny and dark/serious, and is overall a wonderful addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

To finish off, here are a few other favourite moments from the film:

  • Finally getting a good look at Thanos and hearing his voice. Gave me chills and made me really excited to see more from the Mad Titan in upcoming films (Avengers 3, maybe?).
  • The prison escape.
  • Drax’s complete inability to understand metaphors.
  • The way the characters meet, by beating the shit out of eachother.
  • Just about every scene with Yondu.
  • “Where did you learn to do that?” “I’m pretty sure the answer is ‘I am Groot’.”
  • The final showdown with Ronan. I loved the fact that Ronan is the one who first called them the Guardians of the Galaxy, and the sequence where they collectively master and use the Power Stone was epic.
  • Nebula. I didn’t talk about her at all up above, but Nebula is a really interesting character.
  • The Howard the Duck cameo at the end, I just about laughed up a lung.

let’s (not) talk about potato salad

The internet is a weird and wonderful place. It’s a place where thousands of people can simultaneously play the same game of Pokémon. It’s a place of wonder and frustration, of conversation and trolls. A place where even the silliest idea can go viral.

A few days ago, a guy going by Zack Danger Brown (Danger might actually be his middle name, but I’m assuming not) started a kickstarter to make a potato salad. “I’m making potato salad.” reads his description, “Basically I’m just making potato salad. I haven’t decided what kind yet.”

His original goal was $10, however, at the time of writing, he now has $17,367 with 2,304 backers…

What the hell?

Look, I get it, the internet loves potato salad. The internet loves making a big deal out stupid crap. But seriously… $17K for a guy to make a POTATO SALAD?!?!?

Let’s talk about why this is a bad thing.

I don’t think that Zack Danger intended, or even imagined that this little gag project of his would explode like this, or that it would draw this much attention. That’s sort of the way the internet works, you can work hard for years and never get noticed, or you can post one thing that millions of people like/agree with/laugh at/scoff at/hate with a passion and then you are famous out of nowhere. This is just a side effect of how the internet works.

Now, this may be like a Twitch Plays Pokémon, where it explodes in popularity and then quickly wanes. (I just learned that TPP is actually still running, they are in Pokémon Black 2, though now the average viewership is much lower.)

But for now this thing is all over the internet. All day as I was at work on the computer I was seeing tweet after tweet about this stupid potato salad thing, people kept talking about it, and that’s a big part of the problem. Hell, by writing this blog post I am talking about it and being part of the problem. All the attention this project is getting is a bad thing.

Crowdfunding, while it has revolutionized the way that small projects can be funded and created, is still a fancy new-fangled thing. (My parents could not understand why crowdfunding worked for a while. Why would you invest without equity?) A project like this just draws negative attention to kickstarter, makes it harder for something like crowdfunding to be taken seriously.

However, the bigger problem with the potato salad project is that all this money could be going instead to fund other projects, projects that have work and talent behind them. Project that matter. While there is nothing inherently wrong with Mr. Danger wanting to ask for money to make a potato salad (though, honestly, dude, don’t you have a job or something that you could get that money from), but the money and attention he’s getting is far better served going to better projects.

Here’s a list of just a few projects on kickstarter right now that are far worthier of your attention (in my honest opinion):

A project to make durable toy swords with interchangeable parts

Playing cards that help you make backstories for RPG characters

A dieselpunk sandbox RPG

A game about becoming a monster to protect someone you love

And SO MANY MORE!

Please, take whatever money you were going to throw at Mr. Danger and his potato salad, because God knows he doesn’t need any more money than he’s already been pledged, and use that money to help out a project that actually needs it. Crowdfunding is a wonderful opportunity for the collective that is the internet to help out a project that needs it, to help out a project that you personally believe in, that you want to see come to fruition. So, please, let’s not talk anymore about potato salad, and let’s help make some great things come into being.

personal website

Starting working today on putting together a personal website where I should hopefully be able to post links and information about my small game projects that I have been working on and will be working on. Still in rough shape, but I hope to get it polished up by the end of the week and I’ll post a link to it here.

I will still use this as my personal blog, hopefully I can be a little more consistent with my posting here.

Passing Shadows – a poem

I was bored and feeling a little pensive, so I wrote a poem.

Passing Shadows

Do we ever truly belong anywhere
Or, rather, is our life meant to be transient
filled only with passing shadows,
some who linger longer
while most fade into distant memories?

In the moment when we stop moving,
when we “settle down” as they say,
is that the moment we begin to truly live,
Or is that the moment when we begin to die?

What is home?
Is it a place, some large, imposing space?

Or is it something you can carry with you
Is it even a thing
Or can it be a moment, a memory, or even a person?

Is home a sail,
Or an anchor,
Does it carry onward to distant a new seas
Or does it keep us entrenched so deeply
that our rudders can no longer bear the weight of adventure

Is happiness a journey, or a destination
Once we’ve achieved enough, gained enough,
Then will we be happy?

Or, is joy there to be found in every moment,
even when “plenty” is a foreign word?

Does any of it even matter?
Or are we all just passing shadows,
passing through the world without leaving a trace

streaming schedule

So, last semester I dabbled with streaming a bit with my friend Luke, aka BlueWales73. We had a ton of fun doing it, and while we didn’t really have more than one or two viewers in our few test streams, we felt like it’s something we want to keep doing.

While we’re not doing it trying to get a ton of viewers or anything we still think that it’s good to set an actual streaming schedule so that at least we are consistent. Who knows, maybe people will watch in the future.

As of right now the plan is to stream Tuesdays and Saturdays, 8-10 MST. You can find those on my twitch channel, or if you follow me on twitter I always tweet a link whenever we start streaming.

I will also likely stream at random times as well, but those aren’t going to be on a schedule or anything, since some weeks will be busier than others.

customer feedback and early access

Just before the holidays I completed my penultimate semester of college, in which one of my classes was on Software Business, in particular about starting one. One of the most important things we talked about in the class was customer validation before you begin making the product. Before you write the software you find out what it is that the customers wanted. In the course of the class we formed groups that acted as start-ups and we did surveys to find out if people would actually buy the software we were going to make. (Most of the groups were just in it for the grade, though a few were planning on taking their business ideas beyond the scope of the class, for which I applaud them. I was certainly not one of them.)

The point of the exercise was that before you put a lot of effort into making a piece of software you should figure out if people will buy it, and what they’ll be willing to buy it for. As Steve Blank said “No business plan survives first contact with the customer.” So, better to have that contact before you invest time and money into that business plan.

This also applies to the game industry. When you are making a game you want to make sure the game is fun to play, that the mechanics work and that your players understand your story. As you make the game, though, you get blinded by your own bias and you become unable to see the flaws, the things that might be unclear, or the things that might not be so fun. In order to make sure you have the best game possible you want to get outside input. Just like in the software industry many companies will do an alpha or a beta release.

In comes “early access”. In the past year we’ve seen more and more games starting to get released under the early access system, either on Steam or through their own sites. The idea behind these games being released in this way is that developers can get player feedback so that the game can be even better.

Cube World, being developed by Picroma, currently in alpha
Cube World, being developed by Picroma, currently in alpha

From the Steam website:

We like to think of games and game development as services that grow and evolve with the involvement of customers and the community. There have been a number of prominent titles that have embraced this model of development recently and found a lot of value in the process. We like to support and encourage developers who want to ship early, involve customers, and build lasting relationships that help everyone make better games.

This is the way games should be made.

There is merit to this, and there are success stories that show that early access to a game can help the game develop into something great. Minecraft, for example, exploded in popularity during it’s alpha and beta releases, giving the developer Mojang access to mountains of player feedback. It’s a game that continues to evolve even today, each new release adding more to the game.

Unlike a pre-purchase of the game you get access to it immediately, and from the get go you can play the game in it’s current form. However, both pre-purchase and early access come with one inherent problem:

You are buying a game that is not finished yet.

When you pre-purchase a game you are paying for something before it has come out. You have no idea, and no way of knowing, if it is any good. With early access you are paying for a game that is in progress, but you also have an opportunity to be a part of the game’s development, which is a unique opportunity. However, you have to keep in mind, the game isn’t done yet.

Hearthstone, Blizzard's digital CCG, currently in closed beta.
Hearthstone, Blizzard’s digital CCG, currently in closed beta.

There will be problems, there will be crashes, there will be changes, there will be bugs. As long as you understand the risks associated with purchasing an early access game then there isn’t a problem. Getting early access to a game is a great opportunity, however, early access in itself as a business model is doing damage to the gaming industry.

Not everyone understands that the game isn’t finished yet. When the game is released to the public in an unfinished state it effects the way that people view the game. When the crashes and the bugs happen those become what are focused on, and it does damage to the game and to it’s development cycle. People who were at first excited about the game coming out start to lose interest, and the game can die before it’s even finished.

If you want to be a part of the process, if you are interested in seeing the game in it’s early stages, if you are willing to put up with the problems and the crashes and the bugs than by all means, by that game in early access. I myself have played a number of these early access games. The important thing to keep in mind is this:

The game isn’t finished yet.

You can’t judge an alpha or beta game based on it’s current state. The game isn’t done yet, so don’t judge it based on what it is, but on what it can become.

Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons

I don’t say this often, but you need to experience this game. Everyone needs to experience this game. Why? Brothers is, by far, the most powerful game I have ever experienced. Do not watch Let’s Play’s do not read spoilers, do not look it up on wikipedia, you need to experience the game’s story yourself. Heck, you probably should just stop reading this review right here. Here, have a link, just go on steam and buy it right now, and play it.

In case that didn’t work and you need more convincing (or if you have already played it and just want to read my thoughts on it) let me explain why I am praising this game.

In Brothers you play as two brothers who are on a journey to find the tree of life to heal their dying father. The game has a very unique mechanic. You control both brothers simultaneously and use them to solve different puzzles. Brothers only works with controllers, which, for me, is normally a turn off, but in this case it’s completely justifiable.

While at first a bit disorienting, the control scheme feels natural and is fairly simple. You only use the sticks for movement, the triggers to interact with the two brothers, and the bumpers can be used to control the camera. While I would often get the two brothers confused and end up trying to move the wrong one, by the end of the game I mostly was able to keep them straight.

Brother is more of an adventure game than a puzzle game. The puzzles that are there in the game are not too difficult, but they keep you engaged and make good use of the fact that you are controlling two brothers. I would not describe Brothers as a puzzle game, it’s more of an adventure game. You, as the Brothers, are on a journey, and while there are some obstacles and puzzles in the way, the game is really about the journey.

And what a journey it is. The story is incredible, and without any spoilers, it is one of the most powerful stories I have ever experiences in a video game. The game is also visually beautiful.

Brothers is, to me, a prime example of the power of video games. What makes it wonderful is the fact that the mechanics go hand in hand with the story. There is no dissonance between the two, as you play as the two brothers on their journey you are being taken on a journey, and at least for me it was a journey I will likely never forget.

Even after playing through the game myself and watching my two brothers each play it still touches me deep in my soul. This game shows that a game can be powerful, that a game can tell a wonderful story (with no dialogue, by the way), that a game can make you feel accomplished, that a game can make you cry, that a game can change people. I will repeat myself again: You need to experience Brothers for yourself.

toxicity, anonymity, and the word ‘noob’

For some context take a look at this article on Polygon, which talks about online harassment and cyber-bullying targeted at game developers. A very good read, and it got me thinking about this topic.

Toxicity is not something limited to online games, but it is one of the places that it seems to be the most prevalent. When I look back on the last few times I’ve played online multiplayer games I can recall at least a dozen cases of toxicity. Trash talking, insults, cursing, blaming other people on your team, these are just a few of the ways that toxicity comes into place in these types of games.

Why? Honestly, what purpose does this serve? Why do we feel a need to be so toxic when we are playing games?

One of the last time I played Dota 2 I had a particularly bad experience with a particularly toxic player. I am still fairly new to Dota 2, and one of the problems (and one of the intriguing parts) of single draft is that you will often end up with a hero that you have never played before. This was the case, and as such I was floundering a bit. One player in particular got annoyed at me, and in the chat consistently berated me for every perceived mistake, including every time he died and I was nearby. (In one of these cases he claimed that I should have sacrificed myself so he could get away because he was losing too much farm or something.) Now, I will admit that I am not a great player, and I am sure that I was making a lot of mistakes that game, but the abuse (I do not use this term lightly, the level of toxicity was abusive) was completely uncalled for.

The thing I found very interesting in this case was that on our team this particularly toxic player had the second lowest level, had the least kills and the second lowest gold per minute.

In my experience I’ve noticed that good players don’t trash talk. Good players don’t need to blame others, they don’t need to get inside their opponents head, they just play their best and usually win. The players that resort to toxicity are generally not that great, to be frank.

Recently I’ve been prompted on YouTube several times if I want to use my real name instead of an alias on my channel and in comments. I’ve turned this down, but it make me question the motivation to this push. YouTube comments are most certainly one of the few places on earth where you can find almost incomprehensible amounts of ignorance, stupidity and toxicity. I think if people would read their comments aloud it would stop a lot of it, but I think there is an entirely different cause as well, at least for the toxicity part: anonymity. On YouTube you hide behind a username, no one has any idea who you are, and when hiding behind a mask it’s really easy for our ugly sides to come out.

I personally think that if everyone on YouTube were to use their real names it would stop most people from making toxic comments. Of course, there is a whole slew of privacy concerns with that, but I think that it would at least alleviate a large amount of toxicity on YouTube.

When we play online games, we are essentially hiding behind a mask. We are known by our usernames and gamer tags, and in a way those become an entirely different identity, and in a lot of ways disconnected from who we are in person, and a lot of people really aren’t worried about soiling that second identity because it’s distinct from them. This is another root of toxicity, this idea that you are anonymous online.

It needs to stop. There is no need for it, and it just harms the gaming community. There is a reason that gamers are not taken seriously in society, why when it’s discovered that a political candidate plays World of Warcraft it is heavily criticized and becomes news. We as gamers are perceived an immature, toxic and disconnected, and a large part of why is that this sort of behaviour is so common in online interactions. Are all players that way? Not by a long shot. Enough are, though, to make this a serious problem.

I wanted to finish off with one more point. There is a word that float around in the gaming community, a derogatory term that I feel needs to be buried once and for all. This word is ‘noob’. In no other activity that I know of is it a bad thing to be starting. In almost every other social activity and/or social circle/group that I know of people are happy when new people show an interest. Every time I am at the game store playing Magic the Gathering I am really happy to see someone there playing in a draft for the first time. In my experience people are more than willing to help the new player learn the (admittedly) complicated rules of the game, to help them feel welcome, and to get them to want to play more.

However, a brand new player jumps on to Dota 2, and immediately everyone in the game is yelling at them, calling them a ‘noob’, and telling them to go home. How is this alright? I don’t understand why some gamers are so quick to try and chase away anyone who wants to share in their hobbies? It doesn’t make any sense to me, and I have a strong urge when I hear (or see, as the case may be) the word ‘noob’ to punch the perpetrator in the face. It needs to stop.

DnD personality test

Interesting little test that a friend of mine posted about on twitter. Here are my results:

I Am A: True Neutral Human Bard/Sorcerer (2nd/2nd Level)

Ability Scores:
Strength-9
Dexterity-13
Constitution-11
Intelligence-14
Wisdom-10
Charisma-12

Alignment:
True Neutral A true neutral character does what seems to be a good idea. He doesn’t feel strongly one way or the other when it comes to good vs. evil or law vs. chaos. Most true neutral characters exhibit a lack of conviction or bias rather than a commitment to neutrality. Such a character thinks of good as better than evil after all, he would rather have good neighbors and rulers than evil ones. Still, he’s not personally committed to upholding good in any abstract or universal way. Some true neutral characters, on the other hand, commit themselves philosophically to neutrality. They see good, evil, law, and chaos as prejudices and dangerous extremes. They advocate the middle way of neutrality as the best, most balanced road in the long run. True neutral is the best alignment you can be because it means you act naturally, without prejudice or compulsion. However, true neutral can be a dangerous alignment when it represents apathy, indifference, and a lack of conviction.

Race:
Humans are the most adaptable of the common races. Short generations and a penchant for migration and conquest have made them physically diverse as well. Humans are often unorthodox in their dress, sporting unusual hairstyles, fanciful clothes, tattoos, and the like.

Primary Class:
Bards often serve as negotiators, messengers, scouts, and spies. They love to accompany heroes (and villains) to witness heroic (or villainous) deeds firsthand, since a bard who can tell a story from personal experience earns renown among his fellows. A bard casts arcane spells without any advance preparation, much like a sorcerer. Bards also share some specialized skills with rogues, and their knowledge of item lore is nearly unmatched. A high Charisma score allows a bard to cast high-level spells.

Secondary Class:
Sorcerers are arcane spellcasters who manipulate magic energy with imagination and talent rather than studious discipline. They have no books, no mentors, no theories just raw power that they direct at will. Sorcerers know fewer spells than wizards do and acquire them more slowly, but they can cast individual spells more often and have no need to prepare their incantations ahead of time. Also unlike wizards, sorcerers cannot specialize in a school of magic. Since sorcerers gain their powers without undergoing the years of rigorous study that wizards go through, they have more time to learn fighting skills and are proficient with simple weapons. Charisma is very important for sorcerers; the higher their value in this ability, the higher the spell level they can cast.

Find out What Kind of Dungeons and Dragons Character Would You Be?, courtesy of Easydamus (e-mail)

a blog about technology, gaming, life and whatever written by Ike Ellsworth