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!

 

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Xbox creating drama series with UK Channel 4

Following in the footsteps of Netflix, Xbox Entertainment Studios, together with UK Channel 4, is co-producing an eight-episode series called Humans. The series will be available for viewing on US Xbox platform and Channel 4 in the UK in 2015. News about the hour-long series was announced earlier today, by StreamDaily‘s @melitakuburas.

 

 

 

 

Microsoft testing backward compatibility on Xbox One

We still haven’t decided whether we’re buying Xbox One or PS4 consoles in this gaming house, so you can imagine the excitement around here when we read the breaking news report from Appy Gamer this morning:

Some fantastic rumors are emerging this week, suggesting that Microsoft has been secretly testing a feature, to allow the playback of Xbox 360 games running on a PC — using streaming and Microsoft’s new-found cloud technologies.

As you may or may not already know, PS4 will not be accepting PS3 discs. That said, Sony and Gaikai are positioned to change the PlayStation gaming experience in a massive way with Gaikai’s cloud service. Gaikai and Sony plan to release a PlayStation app which would allow users to tether smartphones and tablets to the console’s hub. Users will then be able to stream mobile games and access PSN and the PS Store. Using Gaikai’s cloud, Sony plans to offer users remote play and streaming of PS3 games on the PS4.

I’ll provide more news about Microsoft’s plans to use their cloud for backward compatibility as I have it. Looks like the competition between the new-gen consoles continues to be close…

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?

Prepare for Retail-Ready Minecraft

MINECRAFT: If your gamer is under the age of 16, the chances are excellent you’ve heard of this incredibly popular E10+ digital download for PC and Xbox (PlayXBLA).  This week, PlayXBLA announced they`ll be unleashing Minecraft on parents disc for Xbox users who aren’t connected to the game through XboxLive.  Ready yourselves to see Minecraft on disc hit the US retail market next month — April 30.

According to IGN the disc version of the game will have the same features and content found in the current digital version and players using both game formats will be able to join each other in multiplayer mode. As well,  retail Minecraft will include the highly anticipated additions from the ninth update.

So what IS Minecraft anyway?

Let me start by telling you what it isn’t: it’s not a campaign and there’s no narrative guiding the action, per se (although the final goal of the game is to fight and slay the Enderdragon). I’ve heard it referred to as a sandbox game, meaning the player has tools to modify the world they’re playing in, and to create how they play in it. The overarching goal of Minecraft is to build whatever captures the imagination from the highly stylized and pixelated Minecraft world.

Your child will choose between Creative play mode and Survival play mode. Both play modes experience day and night play, but in Creative mode the player is invincible and in Survival mode, you guessed it — players are required to survive attacks from creepers, enders, spiders and other monsters that reproduce in dark crannies and spaces of the game.

During the day in Survival mode, players will be conscious of feeding themselves and maintaining a level of health that is above 30%.  There are animals that drop meat throughout the game and players need to pick this food up when they find it, but they’ll also need to pace themselves because animals don’t frequent the Minecraft terrain! Also, GamerBoy emphasizes the importance of sheep for their wool — you can make a bed of their wool and sleep safely through the night (this is the only time I’ve ever heard him talk about the importance of sleep to his quality of life).

At the start of the day, players need to build well-lit structures and weapons with the resources they find through their explorations. Weapons are helpful in defeating and fending off monster attacks. But both modes have players searching for and accumulating resources.

As the game’s name suggests, crafting is central to Minecraft. Players will be able to craft some items from the inventory provided to them at the start of the game, but a craft table is necessary for the heavy-duty crafting that intense Minecraft play demands. GamerBoy tells me that the bread and butter of the game as far as resources are concerned are stone and coal. You’ll use these resources to craft your first, most important tool — the iconic Minecraft pickaxe. Once a player has this tool they can go on to mine cobblestone, which can be used for even stronger tools!

Minecraft play is chock-full with details of mining and creating and I’ve really only scratched the surface here. One of the best (and most entertaining!) tutorials I’ve seen on Youtube — and there are LOTS — is Conan O’Brien`s Clueless Gamer review. Also, Conan appears to have and advance copy of the retail disc Minecraft in this video!  *Edit: GamerBoy drew my attention to Conan’s LIVE version, so, like, no advanced copy. Still — Enjoy:

Shizzle’s going down — Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag’s Coming!

Shizzle is going DOWN this Monday. Why? Oh, a little game called Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is on the way.

In a statement sent to Digital Spy Ubisoft said:

“We confirm that Ubisoft will announce all the details of Assassin’s Creed IV Black Flag on Monday March 4th at 5pm GMT.”

HOLD THE PHONE — I haven’t even given permission for Gamer Boy to play AC3 (never mind rumored AC3: Washington Edition, a bundle including all of the DLCs to date AND the game). Now Ubisoft raises expectations/excitement/anticipation with another chapter of the franchise? So much AC, so little time…

According to Matthew Reynolds from Digital Spy, AC4 is slated for release on current and next generation systems this year — during Ubisoft’s 2014 fiscal year — and it will be game-ready for Xbox 360, PS3 (PS3 will also have 60 minutes of exclusive content — sweet), PC, and Wii U.

What’s the setting for AC4?

Apparently it’s the high seas — pirate-style. Reynolds confirms that the location is somewhere in the Caribbean, and that the main character (Edward Kenway) is a privateer, assassin (of course), and a pirate. Here’s a peek for you — box art from the game:

Assassin's Creed 4

Paul Tassi for Forbes confirmed that Ubisoft would be dishing out more information this Monday, March 4. So I’ve got A LOT of reading and research to do in preparation for Gamer Boy’s AC4 harassment pleas. Hmmm… I wonder how long I can manage a successful Assassin’s Creed media blackout in this house…

This just in: IGN will be livestreaming the AC4 announcement all day Monday at 9am Pacific (pre-show at 8:30am)!

 

Super Meat Boy — Super Gross — Super Good

Super Meat Boy

Super Meat Boy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I fell in love with the creators of indie game, Super Meat Boy, months before I let my son buy the game. Edmund McMillen and Tommy Refenes’s story of writing, producing, and finally releasing their game on Xbox 360 formed part of  award-winning documentary Indie Game: The Movie, which I saw last winter. So when my son asked to buy it over the Christmas break this year I was pleased to say yes (and he was pleased to hear it).

Super Meat Boy has done exceptionally well with game critics and reviewers. IGN’s Daemon Hatfield says it’s “one of the best modern platformers,” adding “[i]t’s infuriating, exasperating, and arduous, but it’s also delightful, thrilling, and hilarious.” And he gives the game two nines (out of ten) in presentation and gameplay.

The ESRB gives Super Meat Boy the rating of T(een):

Super Meat Boy
Platform: Macintosh, Windows PC, Wii, Xbox 360

Rating:

     Teen Rating Symbol
Content descriptors: Animated Blood, Cartoon Violence, Crude Humor, Language
Rating summary:This is a platformer game in which players help an animated cube of meat (Meat Boy) rescue his kidnapped girlfriend. Players run, leap, and cling to walls throughout each maze-like level to avoid a variety of hazards (e.g., meat grinders, spinning buzz saws, propellers). Meat Boy leaves behind gooey red liquid when he lands on these hazards, causing him to disappear in a red spray of blood. Some cutscenes also depict instances of violence: Meat Boy is blown up by a rocket, resulting in cartoonlike blood; a girl stomps and dances on a character named Dr. Fetus, causing puffs of blood to appear. The game also contains an instance of bathroom humor: after a toilet gets flushed, a brown character, Brownie, emerges and emits flatulence. One cutscene also depicts a character who sticks out his middle finger.

So what does this non-gamer Mom have to say about the game?

While I don’t disagree with the T-rating, I’d allow kids under the age of 13 years to play it, depending on their temperament and their level of exposure to some of the themes in the game. I love Meat Boy’s relationship with Bandage Girl; though it’s his job to rescue her, he’s not just being chivalrous (and reinforcing sexist themes). Meat Boy’s a bleeding mess without her — Bandage Girl’s his strength and he needs her to help him stop bleeding, which to me is a lovely message to reinforce.

Sexual/Adult Themes & Language

While there’s no overt sex in the game, themes of sex and abortion are manifested by the villain, Dr. Fetus, a top hat wearing, black gloved fetus in a jar.

Drfetus

Your level of comfort with the game may depend on how comfortable you are with these topics. In our house, my husband, a cradle-Catholic, is the most uncomfortable with this game specifically because of the presence and role of Dr. Fetus. Abortion is never mentioned, nor is it an aspect of the game. I’m not even sure the game developers were aware of the underlying symbolism in the game — certainly it’s lost on my son who’s only aware that Dr. Fetus is a malevolent, antagonistic, and rude character.

Oh yes, and in case you missed it, Dr. Fetus is also infamous for flipping the bird. There’s no swearing, nor are there any other profane gestures, but this aspect of the game may be a deal breaker for you.

Violence & Gore

As I’ve already mentioned, Meat Boy is a bloody mess. Literally. As he moves through the game he leaves a trail of blood splotches, which can also be helpful breadcrumbs showing players where they’ve been. Aside from Dr. Fetus, Meat Boy faces numerous buzz saws as he makes his way through levels in his journey to Bandage Girl. As you can imagine, Meat Boy becomes a splattering mess when he comes in contact with a buzz saw. And he dies, returning to the beginning of the level. According to my son, “You die a lot.” (said with a certain level of graveness)

In addition, Meat Boy faces the challenge of escaping a hospital that fills with blood. But it’s not just blood that contributes to the grotesqueness of the game; Dr. Fetus also makes a likeness of Meat Boy out of his feces and names him “Brownie“.

brownie_super

Closing

As Hatfield says, this game is frustrating (my son concurs). There’s a lot of dying and repeating levels, which can be difficult on some kids. My son loves the game and sometimes dislikes playing it for this reason. If your child has a tendency towards frustration, you might want to reconsider this game.

VERDICT: RECOMMEND FOR SOME KIDS 11 YEARS PLUS

Praise for Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

ESRB Rating

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
Platform: Windows PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Rating:

     Mature Rating Symbol
Content descriptors: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Sexual Themes, Use of Alcohol

Skyrim is the game Commonsense Media calls a: “vast and violent RPG filled with moral choice and ambiguity” and they rate it “Not For Kids”, in support of ESRB. Interestingly, both parents and kids rated this game as “on” for 13 year-olds, which I believe is more appropriate.  I will say the game’s not for all kids. Like with so many games (even supposed E for Everyone games), it’s important to know your child and to consider the following:

1. context and purpose of violence,

2. context and appearance of blood,

3. what constitutes sexual themes,

4. which objectionable word is used and in which context is it employed, and

5. what context do alcohol/drugs appear?

When Skyrim was placed on the table for my consideration and approval a few months ago the feature of the game that I found to be the most striking was its gorgeous graphics — the game animation, especially of the landscape and the world of Skyrim, is outstanding.

The most risqué content found in the game is found in mods, which are created by developers and the public.  That said, not all mods push the envelope in controversial areas like the ones listed above. About a year ago, Bethesda released its Creation Kit for this purpose.  Some reliable spots to find game mods are Steam WorkshopNexus and  ENB.

Another area of interest for parents should be whether the game is an online multiplayer. Skyrim isn’t, but with the help of Skyrim Online a player can interact with other players in a game. It’s in online multiplayers  where your child may come across some of the most adult content, and it’s not an easy thing to regulate. At my house, there are very few of these gaming opportunities and another feature of Skyrim that I liked was its closed-play environment.

Recomomdations & praises

There are a lot of aspects of Skyrim that I like — a lot — which is why my son plays it in our house (a lot), and why we’ve bought the game as a gift for his friends. The epic story and mythology woven through the game is beautiful, as is the musical score. A bit about my game rating process: I always check out the graphics, plot, premise, and music first. And I’m a sucker for beauty (which my son knows, and he’s learned to promote these aspects of games with me first!).

As I said in an earlier post, Skyrim’s an action, role-playing open world video game. It provides upward of 100 hours of new play experiences as players explore its vast terrain. Players personalize their experience through every action and decision they make, which is both exciting and educational.

Kids practice anticipatory judgement as they learn about consequences playing Skyrim; choices they make affect the development of their character as well as the opportunities that come their way. During the game, players choose whether they will fight for an empire or for a resistance group. They can also play as members of many other groups, called factions, found in the open world such as the Dark Brotherhood or the Blades.

There’s so much to do in this game; players can choose to accept or decline quests as they explore bustling cities, small towns, lush forests, richly illustrated tundra, towering mountains, crystalline waters, and dark caves. Similarly, players can choose the virtual people with whom they’ll interact, which brings me to a possible point of contention: romantic encounters.

Possible Point of Contention: Romantic Encounters, Sexual Themes, & Adult Language

I’ll admit I was skeptical about the ability to meet mates in the game until I learned more about the reasons behind the activity and the player benefits involved in selecting a mate for marriage. (context is everything) As with non-romantic relationships and liaisons in Skyrim, if you take time to be nice and do well by the people you meet, they will be good to you — this usually translates into opportunity in one way or another. The benefits of marriage include: daily meals and gold (100!) as well as a 15% increase in skill experience. When I asked my son why he wanted to find a wife he told me without hesitation, “If you’re good to your wife she gives you riches and helps to make you a better player.” Sounds like a healthy, nurturing, and rudimentary love bond to me.

Some parents may be uncomfortable with the requirement that players sleep with their wives to gain skill benefits. To them I’d say, if you’ve been OK with your kids playing house with dolls etc. this element of the game isn’t likely to pose a problem for you because — unless your child is playing Skyrim with a mod — s/he’ll be literally sleeping platonically with their spouse (no hanky-panky).

NB: there’s some sexual reference in some of the dialogue between characters in the game and some of the outfits may strike you as too revealing. It’s not out-of-place for the genre, so if you’re comfortable with costumes in TV series like Robin Hood and Merlin you’ll be fine with what you find in Skyrim. The language is, for the most part PG-13, with the occasional reference to “whores” and sex (which may be lost on a 12 or 13 year-old). In any case, none of these occurrences represent a main focus of the game.

Is Skyrim inappropriate for kids?

It’s a complex game which may be beyond children younger than 12 years-old, to some degree due to content, but to a larger degree due to its level of difficulty. (How big a drag is it when your kid is frustrated by a game they just bought?)

Violence, Blood & Gore

While it’s possible to enact random violence, players discover that choosing to do so is of no benefit to them (and may detrimentally affect their game).  This is a negotiable category because players choose their violence by the way they play. At my house, we’ve talked about and arrived at an agreement about acceptable fighting/defense plays as well as the unacceptable ones. I believe this kind of dialogue is always fruitful, and sticking to the rules helps to ingrain in my son the concept of chivalrous play (which is just good sportsmanship). Our practice may work for you, but if you’re uncomfortable with the freedom of expression in this area, you might want to steer clear of this game.

Use of Alcohol

Alcohol features prominently in Skyrim as a social and nutritional benefit. As with other aspects of the game, players can choose to drink in moderation — for benefit — or excessively — to their detriment. Maybe this is a point of objection for you, but I think in the context of the game, this aspect reinforces positive social choices.

Closing

In closing, I’m a fan of the game and I completely understand why it won Spike’s Game of the Year award and IGN’s Xbox 360 and PC Game of the Year Awards (2011). It’s a game that I never say “no” to at home for two reasons:

1. I really enjoy listening to it playing in the background (gorgeous musical score), and

2. Whatever parts of the brain it requires to play, it puts my son in a good mental place (as opposed to other games that seem to light his frontal lobe ablaze!).

VERDICT: RECOMMEND FOR SOME KIDS 12 YEARS PLUS