The Superhero Phenomenon (OR How Dan Decided that Superheroes were Pretty Freakin’ Cool!)

*Spoiler Warning: I will be fanboying over a few Marvel films, so if you haven’t seen them, perhaps don’t read this post. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!*

Hi all,

This post may just be the most nerdy thing I have ever written, but I’d like to write a post discussing the recent surge in superhero films and how very pleased I am that this has become the huge phenomenon that it has.

I remember, back when I was maybe eight years old, that every now and again I’d walk up the road to the local newsagents with my parents, and I would pick up a comic for me to read. Of the ‘superhero’ comics that I can remember, I used to read The Amazing Spiderman, sometimes the X-Men comics and on rare occasions, some of the Asgard comic universe (Thor etc.). I loved reading about superheroes fighting crime, about the strange and wonderful things that they could do, it was just so… cool. And, somewhat more recently, I have been reading a number of Deadpool comics, alongside some of the offerings from DC Comics in the Watchmen series, and it has brought me right back to being an eight-year-old, sat on my bed, reading about my favourite superheroes’ latest adventured. So, being the twenty-year-old ‘man-child’ that I am, the recent emergence of Marvel as something of a cinematic giant pleases me greatly.

Marvel seem to be going from strength to strength these past few years. From the flurry of Avengers related films to the release of some quite popular videogames, (see their tie-in with the LEGO universe for a brilliant gaming experience!) they seem to have become a somewhat unstoppable cultural force. The Marvel cinematic universe is a constantly expanding entity that gives fans a universe to explore, experience and fall in love with each time a new film is released. They’re awesome, humorous and exciting, and I just love them to bits.

My three all-time favourite Marvel films (so far) are:

1 – Guardians of the Galaxy

Marvel's Guardians of the Galaxy Movie Poster (credit: www.marvel.com/images)

Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy Movie Poster (credit: http://www.marvel.com/images)

Man, this film was good. It was self-ridiculing, action-packed, filled with top-level, well-written characters, and contained perhaps the most evil collection of villains I think I have ever seen in any Marvel film. Oh, and Chris Pratt is just unbelievably adorable in everything he has been in. Seriously, this film is what re-ignited my newfound interest in all things Marvel and is a mainstay in my personal list of all-time favourite films. Definitely take an hour and a half at the end of a tough day to watch this  funny, heart-warming and surprisingly self-aware film, I promise you won’t be disappointed!

2 – X-Men: Days of Future Past

X-Men: Days of Future Past Film Poster (credit: www.marvel.com/images)

X-Men: Days of Future Past Film Poster (credit: http://www.marvel.com/images)

This was a tough one to call. I like most of the X-Men films (although I have yet to see X-Men: First Class) but for me, this film stood out as one of the most gripping and entertaining of the series. Many of the cast return as their previous characters, with some great new additions, and the concept behind it is mind-blowing to say the least. Add in some awesome sequences and, in my opinion, you’ve got yourself a winner. Plus, the very first time I watched this film was in a hotel room in Amsterdam, one of the most unusual and interesting cities I have ever visited, so this film will always carry with it a level of personal and sentimental significance. Also, who doesn’t love the constant love-hate relationship between real-life best friends Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen? I for one look forward to it each and every time I watch a new X-Men film, and am looking forward to the next instalment (X-Men: Apocalypse) which is scheduled for release in 2016!

3 – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Marvel's Avengers Age of Ultron, (credit: www.marvel.com/images)

Marvel’s Avengers Age of Ultron Film Poster, (credit: http://www.marvel.com/images)

I saw this at my local cinema the other day, and allow me to quickly say: this film was amazing. And it’s still out in cinemas so if you haven’t seen it yet, head on down to your local cinema and prepare to be amazed. It’s very rare that you’ll find so many superheroes in one film and it works (although, admittedly, the X-Men franchise does a pretty good job of keeping them all together) and the cast is just brilliant. Robert Downey Junior’s performance as Tony Stark / Iron Man is hilarious as ever, Chris Hemsworth’s Thor is as ‘godly’ as ever, and even the new additions to the Avengers’ cast (without giving too much away) make a nice variation on the standard ‘Avengers’ team. Coupled with some genuinely funny, laugh-out-loud moments, this film is definitely worth a watch and would definitely be a recommendation of mine to anyone wanting to see a ‘good honest superhero movie’!

Well, I suppose I had better sign this one off, otherwise I’ll just end up fanboying all afternoon. If you’re reading this, feel free to comment on the bottom of this post which is your favourite superhero and why, I’d love to hear from you!

/loggingoff

Blue.

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The Death of Modding in Gaming?

Hi all,

I will warn you now: this post will probably not be a happy one. This will probably be quite a ‘rant-y’ post about the recent news that mod files that are hosted on the Steam Workshop can now be made to be pay to access, which has spawned considerable controversy in the gaming world and, as I expected, has lead to a considerable number of mods being classified as ‘paid content’. Which, for someone who has only recently began engaging with the modding community and using some of the free tools online to enhance, change and improve my experience of gaming completely stands against everything that I started modding my games for. Let me explain.

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A few months ago, I decided that I would start modding my Skyrim game files in order to breathe new life into the gameplay and provide a little bit more flexibility to a game that is, arguably, already one of the most flexible games out there. My computer isn’t the most powerful gaming machine to have graced this earth, so most of the mods have been low level, gameplay tweaks that have implemented new and interesting aspects to the base Skyrim game. And it has been, and I can’t stress this enough, so much fun. There has been a level of creative freedom that I have never experienced in a game before, plus a new engagement with installing and layering mod after mod, that has opened my eyes to a new culture of modding every little thing I can. Since then, I have also began adding to my Fallout: New Vegas files with plans to potentially start adding things to Mass Effect as well. So, as you can imagine, I was somewhat disheartened to hear that many files that were originally free on the Workshop, have now been hidden behind a paywall…

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SKYUI – Perhaps THE best inventory overhaul mod that can be found out there on the internet. The SKYUI team do a brilliant job over at the Nexus, go check them out!

The main problem here is that many mods require other mods in order to function (here’s looking at you, SkyUI) and, as such, the legality of making such content a paid for commodity becomes somewhat grey. For, if you are going to be selling your mod on the workshop, then you would need to provide some form of royalty payment to the creator of the supporting mods, no? Modding is an activity that bases itself on using other people’s content to make inter-compatible, interconnected content that allows users to implement new features into their game without worrying too much about compatibility issues or being put behind a huge paywall, as is now the case within the Steam Workshop. I would have considered donating to some of the more prominent mod creators so that they can continue to develop interesting and fun mods for the community, but to be overwhelmed by what is essentially paid-for-DLC when we already have a considerable amount of DLC being waved in our faces these days, turned me off of the Steam Workshop content for Skyrim entirely.

Now, I understand why Valve and content creators are doing this. I mean, if you’ve spent over a hundred hours working on a mod, then it would make sense for you to want to make some money from this? But to have mods going for over £10 and doing little more than add a sword here and there, or reskinning a piece of armour in your inventory, is absurd. I’m going to be using the content that modders have hosted on the nexus for free with the intention of it remaining free. Being a student, my budget is very tight already, and having to pay £3 or more here and there for game-fixing patches, lighting overhauls and retextures just isn’t feasible for me.

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As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to continue using the brilliant tools over at www.nexusmods.com and I am going to be following their ethos that the modding community should be promoting open access, collaboration and, above all, creative freedom. The freedom to create how you wish to create without fearing that your mod will be stolen and sold for profit elsewhere online. The freedom to utilise other modders’ opensource tools without being hit by a lawsuit for intellectual property theft. The freedom for someone, like me, who isn’t made of money, to mod some extra content into his game that some kind and tech savvy person over in America, or China, or Sweden has made out of pure love for the game. As far as my modding time is concerned, I am going to be continuing to use nexus mods, continuing to engage with a culture that promotes sharing creative works and, perhaps most strongly of all, I’m going to boycott the Steam workshop’s paid mods. We already live in a world where we are constantly being bombarded by micro-transactions at every corner, whether on our phone, on our tvs or now even on the Steam Workshop, a service that originally prided itself on being free, open and based on a spirit of creativity, rather than financial profiteering.

/loggingoff

Blue.

Early Access: Do Good Things Come to Those Who Wait?

Hello all,

Apologies for the giant gap in posts on this new blog, life has been pretty hectic these past couple of months and I have had to focus my time on a number of other endeavours. Without further ado, welcome to a short discussion piece that I have decided to write for this blog, in which I discuss the emergence of ‘Early Access’ titles into the forefront of the gaming world and provide my views on the positives and negatives of the arrival this new-found culture of access before completion. This has been an issue that has been hotly debated across a number of different platforms and I thought it would be an interesting issue to discuss on this blog. I hope I can put across my views in a way that is coherent and interesting, as I have next to no knowledge of economics, consumer business or game development at all, but I thought that would not impede the article too strongly. Let’s get right to it then…

steamearlyaccessgames_2Early Access gaming at its core is nothing new: it appears to simply be an extension of the ‘beta’ concept of game marketing: release a game slightly before completion to a group of people and then ask for feedback on the game for use in improvement and bug fixing. Essentially, this sort of scheme would typically be for a very small number of gamers who often were restricted in their ability to broadcast features of the game to the wider world. What appears to have changed, however, is the extent and availability of even newer versions of games within the gaming scene. Suddenly, games are available on the Steam Store and other online platforms that have yet to reach the alpha stage, with warnings plastered across the descriptions claiming ‘WARNING: Game is unfinished’ or ‘Expect crashes as this is an early release’. Game developers now appear to be releasing games that have barely made it past the first few levels and consumers will pay what appears to be the price of a fully fledged release for the privilege. All this considered, the deal seems rather one sided on the side of the developer, as they make profits from the initial stages of the game to put into the rest of the game and can begin to make back their initial investment as early as possible, while the consumer is left with a buggy piece of software that cannot fully be called a ‘full game’ yet. And yet, consumers appear to buy early access games because it cuts out the long, drawn out wait for a title’s release date and it gives them some input in the development of the game. For the first time ever, developers are able to receive feedback on their games as they develop it, allowing them to shape and alter different elements of the game to better suit the community they are developing for. Effectively, this is a market research dream come true, as it allows the developers to receive constant feedback on areas of the game that are successful and areas that aren’t, ironing out the little glitches and bugs here and there to create a game that best suits the community it is intended for. Suddenly, the glitches and crashes become a big part of the development of the game and allows for a greater dialogue between the two sides through patches and reviews, complaints and alterations. The development process has never been so dynamic and so community driven and with the combination of ‘early access’ and ‘Steam Greenlight’, it has never been easier for independent game developers to get their products off the drawing board and onto the ‘shelves’ of the Steam Store.

dayz-logoConsidering this, let’s take a look at what I have seen to be a highly successful ‘early access’ title on the Steam Store, Bohemia Interactive’s highly acclaimed DayZ. Now, let me just say, I have yet to play DayZ (although it is on my Steam wishlist with a number of other games). Putting this aside, I have noticed a considerable community interest in DayZ throughout the development stages and the hugely positive response that it has received, selling over 2 million copies since its alpha release in December 2013. The game itself originated from the award-winning mod for Arma II of the same name and its conception began with the movement of mod creator Dean Hall to Bohemia Interactive to develop a standalone game. In the game itself, players assume the roles of survivors of a zombie apocalypse and are forced to fend for themselves in a sometimes unforgiving wasteland whilst keeping one eye open for ambushes from the undead and the living alike. DayZ, from what I saw online, brought in its wake an ‘early access’ revolution of sorts: it highlighted the sheer power of releasing a game early and the potential for success that this could inspire. Other successful ‘early access’ ventures include the hugely successful and ground-breaking Minecraft, popular prison-construction simulator Prison Architect and the god-like simulator game, Godus.

minecraftThat said, there have been a number of criticisms aimed squarely at ‘early access’ games that claim that ‘early access’ almost forces game developers to release something that is poorly constructed or simply not ready for public access simply to satisfy the impatient consumer population. The product would often not have gone through rigorous quality assurance tests and could contain code that was potentially incomplete or prone to malfunction; content that was unsuitable for release at that time or simply that there were areas of the game that hadn’t begun development yet. In this respect, ‘early access’ instead imposes a culture of ‘you get half now, and you get half later’ instead of paying for a full release after the release date, as per the traditional gaming business model. Ten or fifteen years ago, the consumer would have been outraged at receiving a half finished product, I imagine in a similar vein to receiving a film that was missing the final half an hour or receiving an album that lacked the vocal and guitar parts. Another criticism is that ‘early access’ removes a lot of the motivation for game developers to actually finish their games: instead, the games are left in a state of almost constant ‘beta’, with a steady stream of patches and updates without ever reaching a state of completion. I would argue, however, that this is a good thing, as it creates a gaming experience that is dynamic and constantly evolving to suit the needs of the community and prevents the game from becoming stagnant as early as perhaps a completed title would. Although ‘early access’ gaming does undoubtedly have its little problems, it cannot be disputed that it has transformed indie gaming into a powerful commercial force that is driven by the partnership between consumer and developer. Suddenly, through crowd-funding platforms like Kickstarter, consumers can directly participate in some of the decision that form the production of a game, not least through financial investment but also constant feedback and evaluation, and I for one welcome it with open arms.

Thanks for reading this article and I hope it has been an enjoyable and interesting experience!

/logging off

Blue

Relapse: Borderlands 2

Hell yeah, beat normal mode finally!

Hell yeah, beat normal mode finally!

Hello and welcome to the first in a series of posts that I will be doing called Relapse where I discuss which of my favourite games I have returned to and essentially ‘relapsed’ back into playing them. This time around, it’s Gearbox Software’s Borderlands 2 and, my god, I have missed this game.

I don’t really know what it is I like so much about this game. I enjoy trying to beat the same bosses over and over again in order to get the best loot; I enjoy running around an alien world spraying bullets into the faces of countless life forms and I love the graphic novel-esque graphics that gives the Borderlands franchise its unique style. I have found myself becoming a perfectionist in completing the challenges to accumulate ‘Badass Ranks’ and slowly creep the bonus stats up to a good level. I know that it has its flaws but everything I look for in a game like this I have found within the giant alien world of Pandora, the setting for Borderlands 2.

The best pistol in the game! (... in my opinion anyway...)

The best pistol in the game! (… in my opinion anyway…)

At the time of writing this, I have accumulated just under 200 hours playing Borderlands 2. I have also started a character in every single class, except the Mechromancer, that are all about level 15 or so but the pride of my gameplay is my level 52 Commando class which is what perhaps 90% of those gaming hours went into building. I acknowledge that I am far from the best Borderlands player out there, I’ve died stupid deaths more times than I’d care to admit, but there’s something in me that never gets tired of it. I’m currently trying over these next few months or so to collect every single Steam achievement that is connected with it, I’ve already asked one of my Steam buddies to help me with the co-op challenges and, hopefully, should be able to 100% it sometime soon. Which pleases the perfectionist in me no end. I’ve taken a lot of time to complete some of the optional challenges that the game offers rather than trying to level up as quickly as possible and complete multiple playthroughs, hence the 200 odd hours and arguably not being very far through the game. As a gamer, I prefer to take my time with games like Borderlands 2 and get the maximum amount of both playtime and enjoyment out of it rather than power-levelling and speed-running through it.

For anyone who's interested, this is my current Axton build

For anyone who’s interested, this is my current level 52 Axton build

I’m currently running a level 50 Bee Shield and a level 50 Rapid Infinity pistol as the main features of my normal mode raid boss soloing build, although I admittedly completed an entire playthrough of True Vault Hunter Mode to get pistols that were much stronger than those obtainable in Normal mode in order to achieve this. My main intentions with the game are simply to complete Raid Bosses solo in the previous mode to the one I am currently running through to unlock the unique customisation options and the relevant challenges. I am currently soloing Raid bosses on normal mode to supply my other characters with guns and other loot, mainly my Psycho and Gunzerker characters, to aid them in their playthroughs. Which is considerably easier, I admit, but being an average player at best I’m not particularly worried about completing them in my current playthrough. The build above is basically focussed around getting a huge amount of damage out as quickly as possible whilst maintaining a full shield to benefit from the bonus amp damage that the Bee will apply. It’s still in construction, and I do also have a level 30 Legendary Soldier class mod, hence the modifications to the top six skills, so that provides a welcome boost to some of the key stats of the Commando build.

This ‘relapse’ back into playing Borderlands 2 came about as a result of my aim to unlock the Terramorphous-linked Steam achievement and finally 100% Borderlands 2 this year sometime. I am becoming quite a perfectionist when it comes to gaming and Borderlands 2, being one of my all time favourite games, I feel the need to perfect.

So, that’s all we’ve got time for, I’ve managed to indulge my nerdy obsession with all things Borderlands 2, explained a little bit about the Commando build I’ve been developing for a while and provided the justification behind my ‘relapse’ into Borderlands 2.

/logging off

Blue.