Valiant Hearts: a hit with kids & dogs

Gamer Dude’s playing Valiant Hearts — released today on XboxLive and there’s a valiant dog protagonist that’s caught our dog Astrid’s attention. She’s watching the screen wagging her tail and offering her computer game dog friend the lacrosse ball she pinched from the ball bag! LOL

Valiant Hearts was released today for Microsoft Windows, Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One and Steam.  Powered by the same engine as Rayman Origins the game was developed by Ubisoft Montpellier. I’m already a fan. The game art, storyline and musical score is compelling and has a arty feel to it. It’s not an epic war game, but this game has plenty of heart. From the looks of things, the puzzles are satisfying too.

According to Hayden Dingman from PCWorld.com,

Far from a detriment, the silent-film nature of Valiant Hearts is one of its greatest strengths. The game is able to support a multicultural cast—French, German, American, Canadian—without any one culture dominating. And still, these are some of the best characters I’ve played in recent memory, thanks to some strong archetyping and brilliant animated cutscenes.

You also fall in with a trained war dog early in the game, and it’s this dog that most of the game revolves around. The story is the primary draw here, but play revolves around solving a cadre of puzzles more than actual combat.

I’m literally watching Dude play as I write. I’ll update later after the game’s done!

 

No relationship between mood & attention deficit in kids who play video games

APPY Geek<<read @lukekarmali‘s story here!!

“A decade-long study of over 11,000 children in the UK has found no association between playing video games from as young as five, and mood or behavioral problems in later life.”

 (IGN)

The study, known as the UK Millennium Cohort Study, by Alison Parkes, Helen Sweeting, Daniel Wight, and Marion Henderson (British Medical Journalfound that there was no causal link between playing video games and watching TV, and mental health issues. The authors found that watching TV more than three hours per week at five years of age resulted in behavioral problems for kids between five and seven years. However, there were no effects on hyperactivity/inattention, emotional symptoms, or social problems in these kids. Further, there were no problematic results in the kids who played the same amount of video games.

As you may or may not already know, I address some of these issues in my reviews and discussions of video games. My findings are anecdotal, but relevant, I think.When I read findings from studies like the Millennium Cohort Study, I’m seldom surprised at the findings. My personal belief — based on personal experience with GamerDewd — is that there are some games (and TV shows for that matter) that stir up and impair frontal lobe function. Check out this super-cool interactive brain map, which shows that the frontal lobe is where all the planning, organizing, impulse control, problem solving, and control over emotions happens.

I’ve developed a feel for the kinds of games that cause game-raging and you may be surprised to find that it’s not always the violent FPS-style games. One of the worst offenders remains to be the Lego video game franchise — sorry Lego…your blocks are the coolest, but I banned Lego media in my house years ago. 😛

South Park takes on next-gen console war

As console wars kick into high gear in time for the holidays, the passion behind both sides was played out on the popular Comedy Central TV show, South Park, reports Wesley Yin-Poole (Eurogamer).

GamerDewd has been after me for over a year about watching South Park, but it’s still an M (17+) rating as far as I’m concerned. He’s also itching to play the soon-to-be released game, South Park: Stick of Truth, which is slated for a March 4, 2014 release.

Published by Ubisoft and developed by Obsidian Entertainment, this RPG is targeting a Mature to adult audience. The goal of the game is to assist Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman as they attempt to save South Park and to become cool. The action starts with the player as the new kid in town who is faced with the task of making friends. The kids of South Park are in the midst of a live-action-role-playing-game which turns into a universal fight between good and evil, reports IGN.

Like most South Park plots, the simple story arc seems fitting with the protagonists’ age (Grade 4), but the target rating of M or AO suggests there will be plenty of the boundary-pushing scenarios the South Park TV show has become (in)famous for. Still, like all games that are on GamerDewd’s radar, when it comes out, I’ll have a look and make a judgement call at that time.

The console war clip above is hilarious, and, while there’s one bleeped swear (the F-word, I believe), I’d say the clip is  ON for 12 and up. And like Cartman, Kenny and Kyle, it looks like we’re going to start with Xbox One in this house. We’d like to have both, but the economics of the situation demand that we make the choice (and then save, save, save for the PS4!)…because, as Stan says, “that’s how Xbox people are.” 😉

Shank: Gorgeous animation, questionable narrative

Gamer Dude: Can I play Shank?
Me: No
Gamer Dude: Awww, why not?
Me: Because it’s a game called “shank,” I don’t think I need to elaborate.

As you can see from the clip above, it’s a beautifully animated game done in a dramatic comic book style. The story of Shank can be told from two different perspectives: single-player campaign and cooperative campaign. The protagonist, Shank, is a mobster hitman whose MO is avenging the death of his girlfriend, Eva.

Players control Shank and can choose from three different kinds of weapons: melee weapons (including a chainsaw — sigh), firearms (of course), and a pair of knives (to shank with, I imagine). The cooperative mode activates Shank’s able sidekick, Falcone. As in many multiplayer campaigns, this game requires players as the characters to collaborate and combine moves to complete “hits” and advance the story.

EA Games, who released Shank in 2010 calls the game “a side-scrolling beat ’em up” game and I say this is an accurate description. Designed by Klei Entertainment, the game is available for play on Linux, Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

Some may call me hypocritical because, as you’ve seen in other reviews, I’ve allowed Gamer Dude to play similar storylines (eg. Assassin’s Creed). Maybe I am, but for me, it’s all about context for the violence. Also, Shank is no Assassin’s Creed. Case in point, the action of Shank seems to center exclusively on executing violent deaths as part of Shank’s revenge plot.

CONCLUSION:

Shank is a straightforward, one-dimensional game with graphic violence at the forefront. While I love the art and animation in Shank, I can see little benefit to having this game in my home, and no value in allowing my kid to play it.

VERDICT: NO DICE 

Minecraft or mod to blame: Child brings weapons to school

Parents, be wary of mods. They change the games. A lot.

Just read this piece on Digital Journal. Apparently Minecraft is being credited for a case in which a nine-year-old boy brought weapons to school. Now he has been sentenced by a Florida state judge to home confinement.

“The student, who has not been named, went to his school with an unloaded handgun and a magazine with six bullets, as well as a steak knife and a sledge hammer (a small-handled one), according to Kotaku.

The father also said that characters in the game use hammers to dig and guns and knives to protect themselves from zombies.

Gunning down zombies is something that players are not able to do in the regular version of Minecraft. The only way this is possible is if players played the PC version, which has to contain the mod.”
So what do you think — Minecraft, mods or parents to blame for boy’s actions?
Just for fun I’ve included @skyzm’s YouTube video about the hold Minecraft has on him. It’s “Real Life Minecraft” — enjoy!

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PewDiePie review of Thomas Was Alone: two thumbs up

Just watched PewDiePie’s recent gameplay of the indie puzzle platformer by Mike Bithell, Thomas Was Alone. Two words spring to mind: happy-making and visually-pleasing (OK, I cheated with the word count). It was first released as a browser game in 2010 but has recently been made to accommodate Microsoft Windows and Mac OS X in July last year. Playstation 3 and Playstation Vita versions were released in April this year.

If you’ve got a gamer of your own, you’ve likely discovered the playful, f-bomb-dropping Swedish YouTube gamer, Felix Kjelberg, better known as PewDiePie. He’s massively popular with GamerDude, and as of this week, with 12 million others who’ve subscribed to the 23-year-old’s unique brand of entertainment/game review. I could do without all the salty language, which honestly, doesn’t add anything to his videos. PewDiePie is very watchable — even for people over (ahem) 30. And often, as with Thomas Was Alone, he takes time to spotlight offbeat, visually unique indie games.

Here’s PewDiePie’s YouTube review. Check it out here:

Ibb and Obb: on for the whole family

Looking for a game that will delight everyone in the house? I think you’ll find it in Ibb and Obb — the winner of Best Title at Develop’s Indie Showcase at the beginning of July. The game developers plan to release this game on PC through Steam, but at present are focusing on their PS3 version, which has been available since August 6 in North and South America. They have plans to release it in Europe too.

Ibb and Obb’s play is a cooperative two-player game requiring both players to work together to advance. Its graphics and the lines are simple and beautiful, though there’s nothing simple about the game’s design. One of the most interesting and elegant aspects of the game is its interplay with a world consisting of two sides — both from which gravity operates in differing directions. The parallel perspectives of the players is a point of interest, a game challenge and one of the most aesthetically pleasing features of the game.

Check out the trailer below:

Xbox One or PS4? Choice is yours.

Not sure if you’ve heard the news about Xbox and Playstation — they’re soon unveiling their newest consoles: Xbox One and PS4 respectively. Microsoft is currently taking preorders for Xbox One and Playstation is taking preorders for its PS4. At my house the debate about which one GamerDude will choose to spend his dough-re-mi on is anyone’s guess.

Today we found this fantastic music video from Machinima which provides some insight  into the gamer’s console choice dilemma:

*note, it gets a little sweary at the very end of the video. The swears are bleeped (for comic effect), so if that kind of thing bothers you, skip the end (or the video — your choice).

Trolling for Good?

I was on YouTube the other day doing some research for MOMmentary and I stumbled on video blogger, MinnesotaBurns’ video, COD4 Hacker Rehab (below). MinnesotaBurns aka Trollarch CEO, Burnsy, and John Trollsten, started his channel January 2011 with the intent of trolling gamers (usually kids) who’ve hacked games (usually Call of Duty 4 and World at War). He calls the game hackers out, records the conversation, and, as in the video below, attempts to turn cheaters into good sports.

Not all of MinnesotaBurns’ videos are SFW (or family friendly) though. GamerDude and I watched/listened to the video featured above and I was surprised at the level of support my boy had for MinnesotaBurns’ methods. Game Hacking is apparently a common and reviled activity. Among gamers and gaming platforms alike, hacking is an absolute no-no. According to XboxLive:

“We’ve designed the Xbox LIVE service to help create a place where our members can interact and have fun online. To help protect that experience for our customers, the Xbox LIVE Enforcement team monitors the service for behavior that violates the Xbox LIVE Terms of Use and Code of Conduct. Violations of the Xbox LIVE Terms of Use and the Code of Conduct can result in a variety of actions, up to and including a permanent suspension of a console from connecting to Xbox LIVE.”

I’m interested to see how well a Trollarch staff-assisted rehab goes. MinnesotaBurns is compelling because he’s part tongue in cheek, part irreverent, and part big brother to the kids he calls out on his YouTube channel. It’s clear he’s passionate about gaming as well as the gaming community, and his efforts to maintain the integrity of these online games seem legitimate (though his methods are sometimes questionable — see Mom & Granny Rage video by Trollarch Director, TrollMunchies).

I know some may view Trollarch activities to be a form of online bullying, and maybe it is. I asked GamerDude what he thought and he said he didn’t believe it was. I’m inclined to agree, but I’ll admit I haven’t even come close to completing a thorough review of all of the MinnestoaBurns and Trollarch videos.

What are your thoughts folks?

Verdict: Controlled Yes on COD: Black Ops II

The victory for GamerDude is a bittersweet one (my WordPress friend, Bitter Ben would argue there’s no other kind of sweetness) — I’ve

Keep your cool while playing, ebayUK

Contolled playing, ebayUK

given him permission to play Call of Duty: Black Ops II, if he plays within the following parameters:

1. blood, gore, & language controls on, and

2. no online multiplayer gameplay

Of course, I believe this is a massive step for me in my relationship with video games, but in the time I’ve taken to reach a verdict on this game, the creators of COD: Black Ops II have released one DLC — a map: Revolution — last month. Further, this review/MOMmentary is being published the weekend before a gaming platform-wide release of the second DLC: Uprising (which includes a zombie setting called “Mob of the Dead”). Turns out, keeping up with this franchise is a full-time job.

A little background about COD: Black Ops II

It was released for PS3, Xbox 360, and Microsoft Windows November 2012, and it’s the first game in the COD franchise that features branching storylines influenced by players’ choices — these storylines/choices are called “Strike Force missions”. It’s also the first COD game to use futuristic warfare technology.

The game narrative is complex and compelling — in its single player mode, the campaign showcases two connecting storylines with Black Ops protagonist Alex Mason starring in the first section of the game and his son, David, in the second half. The game spans from 1986 to 1989 (the final years of the first Cold War) and then in 2025 — the onset of a second Cold War (this is where we see futuristic weapons and action). Soldiers in the game are tasked with — among other duties — preventing a terrorist attack.

Zombies

According to Patricia Hernandez (Kotaku), Zombie mode is a bit of a letdown. In her review of zombie mode for Kotaku, Hernandez writes:

There are three game types: the story-based “Tranzit,” the classic “Survival,” and, less excitingly, the maliciously spirited “Grief.” All overtly have the same premise: using teamwork, survive/kill the zombies.

Zombie mode is also very violent. Like, in a gratuitous way. I’ve banned it in our house because I haven’t found any evidence of zombie mode/maps being anything other than gross — and not in a cool, Super Meatboy way!

Violence and Gore (and Language — Oh My!)

COD: Black Ops II is a violent FPS (first person shooter) game, with and without the use of control settings. This review, and my verdict, have taken about two weeks longer than I’d hoped because of my inherent discomfort with the genre. That said, my decision to allow GamerDude to play the game is rooted in my the ability to control the level of gore, violence, and objectionable language in the game. With the content controls on, the screen literally goes black in places — to his frustration and my satisfaction. Also, in at least one instance, I’ve seen a cutscene that was appallingly horrific in the uncontrolled game — a man being burned alive — edited in the gore control mode.  The effect: a cutscene free of graphic visual and sound effects (preferable).

I’ve watched GamerDude play COD: Black Ops II — avec content controls — and, while it’s still intensely violent, the strategy, narrative, and decision-making aspects of the game really shine in this mode (as opposed to being outshone by violent, gory, and profane content). These are factors that contributed to my decision to allow the game in my home.

Closing

The ESRB rates the game Mature for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, and Use of Drugs. The first four themes are controllable and the last two are (virtually) unavoidable. It should be noted that the suggestive themes entail your player entering a nightclub with exotic dancers — in silhouette — and it’s not a primary aspect of the game action or narrative. Regarding the use of drugs in the game, it’s limited to a mission set in a cocaine bunker. To complete the game players need to complete these missions, but if you don’t want to experience these worlds, you can avoid the missions.

I also want to add that the musical score for COD: Black Ops II is stunning. Composed by Jack Wall and Trent Reznor, it’s a powerful combination of classical and contemporary music that serves to enhance the gameplay and enrich what’s already a detail-rich world. Despite the fact that FPS isn’t my bag, I dig the task responsibility of watching GamerDude play this game.

VERDICT: RECOMMEND — with content controls ON — FOR SOME 12 YEARS PLUS