They’re playing Basketball..

With the basketball season now underway after the proposed lockout, NBA fans find themselves in the throes of the season. I love basketball and also love playing its digital counterpart. 2K Sports have held the championship belt in the b-ball gaming space for the past couple of years and have now embarked on a really ambitious endeavor: the mobile gaming market.

After playing with the game for a couple of weeks now I can say a couple of things. I appreciate the attention to detail that 2K places in all of its sports games. They pay attention to a painstaking amount of “little things” that many gaming companies leave on the cutting room floor. You can see it in their graphics, sound and gameplay, but when porting from a PC/Console version to a handheld device you also expect some degradation in all those things. This is the case with NBA 2k12 for mobile.

I wondered how their award winning game would translate to both a smaller screen and to the touch controls that iOS devices employ. I would say that for as much game as they put into this version it is hampered by the usual touch-control schemes that plague most action-based, touch-based games. There are two versions of control that you can use, “Classic” and “One Touch” controls.

The classic controls use a virtual stick and virtual buttons for both movement, passing and shooting. Using this option gives you the most control over your players but on a smaller device takes up way too much screen real estate to let you see what you are doing half the time. I would assume that this is lessened on the iPad or any compatible tablets, but unless you have one of those devices you are going to have a rough time playing the game with these controls. They just aren’t responsive and make you feel like the game isn’t able to keep up with what you want to do. Player movement seemed sluggish, the offenses didn’t move realistically and the ability to play on ball defense seemed to be lacking in many areas.

Your other option is actually a lot better but you then lose manual control of your players all together. The “one-touch” controls basically let the AI control all movement but lets you pass and shoot. Although this sounds terrible it actually makes the game more playable, but also takes a bunch of the fun out of the game. The ability to switch on defense goes away and the AI doesn’t move the offense intelligently, so although you can now see your players better you now have a team full of NBA zombies who can’t figure out how to move when they have the ball and don’t know how to get open for a shot. Nor can they defend in any way that makes sense or is helpful.

With all that said, I think that they do put a lot of things into the game that I didn’t expect. The presentation is still very good with very cool camera cuts and replays. Player faces are pretty true to life and they do have several play modes that include full season, playoffs (with playoff-specific commentary) and auto-updated rosters. I also think that this is a great stepping stone for what could be an amazing handheld experience but they have lots of work to do. There are overlapping audio glitches, graphical glitches and their roster updates could be more timely. I think if they get these things handled it could be awesome for next year.

What I would really love 2K to work on would be a PS Vita version. I think that could seriously be great — you would have the fidelity, processing power and dedicated buttons to really have the control you want from a sports game.

For those who are wondering if they should pick this up, I would say to pass on it, or at least download the lite version of the game on the iTunes store. Although there is potential there, I would suggest you keep your wallet in your pocket.

If you have any comments on the game or the article please leave comments or feedback in the section below and if you liked it, please share.

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On The 2012 Horizon

Christmas is less than a week away, people have stuck their gaming gifts under the tree, and we are still playing through the glut of games that came out during 2011. The only logical question to ask is “So, what are you going to play next?” The crazy amount of awesome games we all got to experience this year was pretty mind-blowing. There was so much to choose from and play that there are still things that I haven’t had the chance to tinker with, but we as gamers are always looking for the next best new thing. So I thought now is a great time to look at what the industry has in store for us for 2012 by giving you our “What, do you think money grows on trees? Ok here is my money most anticipated 2012 games list”.

First up is a game that intrigued lots of people back when it was announced in 2010 and really got a lot of buzz going after its trailer at the 2011 VGA’s. This game is Bioshock Infinite, set in the dystopian floating city of Columbia where raging factions are fighting for control. The protagonist Booker Dewitt and his newly found sidekick Elizabeth are stuck in the middle and need each other to survive. The game has a number of good things going for it, beautiful graphics, engaging fast-paced gameplay and lots of new interesting systems going on at the same time. The best thing it has is Ken Levine, he has been making thought provoking games since System Shock and with him again behind the helm of the Bioshock universe, it can mean nothing but good things for Infinite.

Next up is Ghost Recon:Future Soldier. Now I’m sure someone just looked at their screen and gave this article the side-eye. I can understand why, they had a pre-alpha showing and a Kinect demo that left a lot to be desired; BUT I can say with the latest couple of videos Ubisoft has shown they might have a really awesome tactical team-based, third-person shooter on their hands. The game seems to have all the cover-to-cover, flank your opponent gameplay plus all the tech you would want from a game based in the not-too-distant future. There was an awesome article on Popular Mechanics about some of the tech in the game. Check it out here.

A game that I think will be on people’s radars is pretty awesome because it’s both a re-imagining and a reboot of a popular decade long franchise. Tomb Raider with a totally new and updated lifelike graphic style, new gameplay elements like broken bones affecting movement and using scavenger survival tactics will hopefully take the game in a totally new direction. The one glaring issue for most after watching the trailer was all the QTE’s. Trust me, although I love Heavy Rain I hope this game is not super QTE heavy.

Grand Theft Auto V is hopefully coming out this year as well. Little is known about it besides the fact that you are goin’ back to Cali. It looks like they have made big strides using bits and pieces of the GTA IV and L.A. Noire engines. For open world gamers this might be all you need in 2012.

Last but not least is my most anticipated/wanted game. It’s something that for me and many others seemed to have come out of nowhere and has captured my imagination; this game is called Journey. From ThatGameCompany creators of Flow and Flower, this game is just honestly one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever seen. I usually don’t heap praise like that upon games unless it deserves it and this totally does. The amazing use of scale, desolateness, subtle nuanced music and minimalist gameplay elements combine to make what I hope is a huge success for those developers. I hope it’s a success because it would prove that games that don’t require you to be a guns-blazing meathead can prosper in today’s gaming market. The game drops you into a world with no direction but shows you a huge beacon in the far off distance. It uses human intuition as a gameplay mechanic to a certain extent–you see things and you go and explore them. By exploring you gain fabric to extend your scarf, the longer you’ve been playing, the longer your scarf will grow and obtaining fabric also lets you open up new areas to explore.

The scarf mechanic really becomes interesting in terms of how multiplayer works. The trick is that you can’t pick who you play with; you will always play with strangers and that is the best part. You will have to use “body language” and audible chirps to coordinate how to progress during the game. Also you can’t start a game with someone, there are no lobbies so if you come across another person you can decide to follow or go it alone. This provides the player the chance to have a totally different experience every time you play. After playing the beta earlier in the year and seeing the gorgeous vistas, this has to be at the top of my list for next year.

There are also some honorable mentions that I won’t go into detail about now but will later when more information is released. Some of them are The Last of Us, The PSVITA games Sound Scapes and The Escape Plan. These are just a taste of the games that will be or should be released this year and should provide massive amounts of gaming goodness for all of us. If there are any games that you think I might have missed or want us to cover for your list, please drop us a line or shout it out in the comments below.

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The Beautiful Game

We live in amazing times: we can instantaneously communicate pretty much with anyone we want to, go further and faster than any of our ancestors could have ever imagined. We have the capacity to literally have the world at our fingertips. I had a discussion with a friend of mine and he griped and complained about how awful this generation’s games are; he cried foul about how terrible Skyrim looked on his console and how this year produced the most “flops” of any previous year. As I always do, I take his opinions with a salt lick amount of salt, but it made me think about just how spoiled some of us are and just how far we’ve come.

The amount of tech that has been invented and implemented just for our enjoyment has gone leaps and bounds past anything my late 70’s baby brain could have ever imagined. Videogames have truly become not only a vehicle for storytelling but a device to exhibit art and evoke emotion. Emotions that are just as unique and visceral as the ones that we get when interacting with our human brethren.

So with that as a backdrop I decided to take a look around the web for some images that would counteract my friend’s argument about not only Skyrim but about this generation’s graphical fidelity. I came across a site today that not only shut those allegations down but also gave me the utmost respect for the artists in gaming development. The people who make something out of nothing using binary code, the people who can dream up worlds and characters that live somewhere in their amazing brains. These people deserve their due and hopefully in some way we as gamers can give that to them. I can only imagine what is next for us. I can hardly wait.

So if you are ever asked the question “Are games art?” This can be your answer:

I want to thank the site Dead End Thrills and give the massive credit to it’s founder Duncan Harris for creating such masterpieces. Send them a shout out here and let them know we sent you.

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Last night some of the Character Select crew and I watched the Spike VGA’s and did what most gamers do when they watch the show. We yelped, balked and bemoaned the awfulness that is the VGA’s (Listen Here). It’s not like we didn’t know going in that it was going bad, in the best case scenario we hoped that after the semblance of promise last year’s show had would carry over and possibly they could improve. It looks like again we all got teabagged.

I will make this post short and sweet, what we want is to let the developers speak to their fans. I only half jokingly said during the opening monologue “Wouldn’t it be awesome if David Jaffe hosted the show?” After his awesome PAX Prime keynote this year, I think any gamer worth his/her salt would agree. Why would he or someone of his ilk be better you ask? Because Jaffe even when he is in the middle of a incoherent cuss laden tangent is ten times more entertaining than seeing Will.I.AM or a Jonas brother tell you what trailer is coming up next. We aren’t idiots, most of us at this part in our gaming lives are adults who understand what Spike is trying to do and see right thought it. Ask G4 TV where there gaming audience went after they went for the lowest common denominator, we know where they went; anywhere but back to their channel. We also know that the content that we’ve all come  to see (the trailers) in total would take about thirty minutes from start to finish, that leaves us with another half and hour of nothing but filler. Not even awesome filler, nonsense Augmented Reality scenes, unfunny gamer jokes and half-assed award presentations. I would have loved for the guys at WB to get their due for bringing Mortal Kombat back from the dead or Mark Hamill do his Joker on stage and not in CG form but instead of that we get Felicia Day playing real like Fruit Ninja and terrible I love Lucy sketches.

What we need to do at this point is not watch it,  we need to Un-Occupy the VGA’s.

It’s the only way folks like Geoff Keighley and the execs at Spike will understand that this is not what we want or need. If you want to “mainstream” gaming this isn’t the way you do it. You don’t put people who have no vested interest in showing gaming and gamers in a good light front and center at what some would say is big night for our form of entertainment.

I would really like to hear from you, tell us your thoughts on what you saw. Was there anything that you liked about the show? Absolutely hated? Feel free to sound off in the comments below.

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There are no fluffy pillows in Starhawk’s B&B

Starhawk is trying to regain it’s title as one of Sony’s flagship franchises, piggybacking off the huge successes of Warhawk which ushered us into the next generation of console gaming. With a totally updated art style, single player campaign and revamped multiplayer LightBox Interactive are looking to stake big claims in 2012.

I was lucky enough to snag a beta code from Frankie Peppers over at @starhawkradio (thanks again Frankie) and have some initial impressions that I would like to share. I will update this once I have more time on the sticks but here are some of the things that I’ve noticed.

The graphic style is beautiful, it mixes Sci-fi and Western with a drop of Mad Max just for flavor, this is conveyed by having characters with bio-luminescent veins running through their bodies. Those blue streaks aren’t just there for aesthetics, they play directly into the story-line. The developers have incorporated this idea of “Rift Energy”. This energy is what motivates all those in this world, it has a multitude of uses from health to ammo and most importantly the game’s currency. A currency that wraps around what I believe to be Skyhawk’s most ambitious idea.

The B&B (Build and Battle) system is something that only a genius or a mad man could have come up with. I’m sure when the person who came up with the concept walked into the programmer’s room they wanted to hit him/her with a garbage can. The system basically lets you build structures, weapons and vehicles in real-time almost anywhere on the battlefield. If you need a wall to protect yourself from fire, drop one right in front of you. Need a jetpack to get around the map? Build it.

After playing for a bit it almost becomes second nature to navigate the radial wheel and pick whatever you need to help your team out. I would say so far that they nailed something with the B&B system — something that you won’t really find anywhere else.

The Warhawks are back and now have a bi-pedal mode (I will avoid making Transformer noises) which feels really intuitive and easy to navigate. The flying felt as good as ever but until they let us play with the bigger maps you won’t really be able to stretch your wings. Aiming feels tightened up on all vehicles and standard weapons, voice communications sound clear and so far with the amount of people logged in there isn’t any lag to speak of.

So far the beta only allows CTF games but they are insanely fun, I’m hoping to see very soon what else LBI has up their sleeves. From the numerous tweets and posts on their blog they seem to be listening intently to the user base and that can only breed good things for the gamer.

I will update this post in the future once patches and other updates have been made and will report back here. Also, check out our Google+ gaming podcast “Character Select”. We will give a code away so you can try it too.

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