Wednesday, October 12, 2011

My Thoughts On The Deal With GameAnyone...

Alright, so no doubt everyone (well, almost everyone) has heard about the incident near the beginning of September this year, where a bunch of us top contributors seemingly all-of-a-sudden just up and left GameAnyone. This has understandably caused some confusion, concern, and even some turmoil amongst the smattering of followers that we collectively have.
I'm here to finally lay the cards out on the table and fill you in on what happened, and my thoughts on it. I'm going to, for all intents and purposes, try and remain amicable as I write this. The intent is NOT to just spout slander, but rather to illustrate why I (read: we) acted in the way that we did, so you can understand our reasoning. In order to arrive at such a conclusion, I will have to divulge some details, which may come across as slanderous. This is purely a recount of how things went down, so please bear that in mind before choosing to react in a way that takes what I am about to say out of context...

First, a little background. I joined the site in late 2008, after an invite from the site's owner and founder, Maceman, and hearing some new promotions on the beginning of DavetheUsher's videos. I decided to head on over to see what they had going on over there. I joined up, and started submitting my content to the site, which at the time, was simply a forum community of people who liked games, liked recording, and wanted a place to hang out. The site was a collection of peoples' contributions from their YouTube channels, and served as a collection for video game walkthroughs, accessible from one single source. Great idea right? One of my biggest projects at the time, and probably my claim-to-fame, was Fallout 3. Through the work I put in on that game, and the exposure that I gained, I was invited to become a GameAnyone director. At the time, the directors were supposed to be heavily revered as people who were good at what they did. I mean, as best as could be quantified... they put out great quality videos, they generated traffic, and they used proper editing techniques (not to mention, they agreed to plug the site...). Through some time spent there, I had pegged Maceman a few times regarding help needed on the site. A growing site, needing features to be implemented, what better person than someone with a background in software engineering? I was promoted to moderator, where I was able to establish myself as a face in the community, and at the same time, develop a working relationship with Maceman. All that was peachy, so eventually I became an administrator for the site. A role I took very seriously for my duration on that site. Together, Mace and I did a lot of behind the scenes work on the site that took it from where it was when I joined, to what I had grown to legitimately support until I left. As a result of that work, I developed a relationship of sorts with what we now refer to as the "GameAnyone Crew", whom membership in said club has morphed over the months, but basically consisted of DavetheUsher, Shadowzack, and Volvagia. We all started talking because of some co-commentary that we provided for a special recording done by Dave, called Desert Bus. This brought us together and eventually became the basis for the team that eventually carried GA to where it is now. We provided creative direction, did podcasts, co-ops, forum awards, and pretty much anything else we could think of to set ourselves apart from any other site on the web. Now that you have the background for how we got where we did (note, a lot of smaller events were omitted, to save time, but this is really the crux of it all here), I can begin to take you through what ultimately happened.

GameAnyone had risen to the point that it was no longer viable to maintain the level of computing resources we had when we started. GA started getting into the market of video hosting, which is not a cheap feat by any stretch of the imagination. With the traffic levels we were generating, it was a daunting and expensive task. Mace and I worked countless hours to build up our servers, configure our optimal settings, and fighting issues with downtime and well, let's face it, a shitty server. It was a lot of time and work. Work that nobody really knew happened, because it was all behind the scenes. As the time went by, as with everyone, things in our lives take hold. Volv decided he no longer wanted to contribute and had to take some time for himself to do his thing. I started school and couldn't code and upload as much as I could. Dave pretty much stayed strong. We had some directors that came and went, and the popularity sort of shifted. Podcasts started happening less and less often, another year of poster awards came and went, where we were chastised as staff for being allowed to be nominated for the awards (that's another story), and there were features on the site that had to be added/changed by Maceman alone. Along with those features, and rising costs, there had to be a way to pay the bills... most of which was advertising. Getting good advertising is no easy feat. You have to demonstrate your site has what it takes to justify earning decent rates. The traffic has to show it. Mace handled most of that, so we gave him the credit for that. For the most part, those of us on the staff team, worked for the good of the site, without expecting any sort of compensation for our time, even though we knew it could be afforded. We were led to believe, and rightly so, that since we were allowed to rise to where we were, that we had a stake in the "ownership" of the site's direction.

Things started changing rapidly in the months leading to when we ultimately decided to leave. Mace started making decisions without consulting his "team". There were MANY occasions throughout the years that needed staff discussion, simply to be made aware of the circumstances, that never happened. Mace used to talk with us on Skype. Frequently. During a portion of time where we used to play jokes by "kicking" people from the calls, Mace was a frequent target. He didn't like that. As a result, he left Skype and started developing the GA TeamSpeak server. That's where he hung out. We didn't take well to it. This further exacerbated the gap between the admin and his "team" because he wouldn't seek us out. He waited for us to come voice concerns. This didn't sit well with us, since any good team leader (and for that matter, any member of a team) knows that good leadership is founded on communication. Good communication. That was missing from the beginning. This ultimately became what broke our bond to the site, and caused us to become alienated from what we knew (or believed) to be our work. All we wanted was to be recognized and appreciated for our hard work. We had feature time taken away from top members (granted, this was a hot commodity anyways), we had features of the site removed or changed without warning, we were given no credit for anything we'd done to bring new members to the site, none of the work I did for the video server was recognized, including the 2 days I spent fixing a broken server... (it broke twice, the first time was my fault, so that was a freebie). This is really what led to us leaving. We were more or less led to believe we had a stake in the website, but ended up just being people that were there who did the work, and got more or less shit on for it. We mulled on it for weeks, deciding what to do. The communication was terrible, the attitude and lack of disclosure was even worse, and then all this talk of discontent got all my server access revoked. That right there is a trust violation. We collectively decided to go our separate ways, and had our videos pulled from the site. I will not support a site that doesn't support me.

I spent a lot of time on that site. I genuinely thought it was a good idea. I passed up a partnership opportunity with Machinima to continue my work with GA, because I thought my work there was leading to something. When we left, Mace was scrambling to offer the long-hidden revenue system to the remaining directors to get them to stay. Too little too-late. I for the most part let my YT channel go into back-burner mode so I could upload exclusives (and at the time, get longer videos), and as a result, I think I alienated the fans I attracted, that just didn't want to bother to go to another site to see my work. Upon returning, I'm feeling that hit. It sucks. I pretty much just wasted all that time. Granted, I made some good friends out of the whole thing, but it's unfortunate that we are all almost back to square one. Sure, we have a lot of loyal fans who both came from GA and followed us all the way to and from, but there's some truth in saying, people don't like frequent and abrupt change. I'm one of them. I can understand the frustration with this whole thing.
The important thing to note is, this was as much our own individual decisions, as it was a collective agreement, because the site just wasn't what it used to be. I for one, won't miss it one bit, and I'm better off because of it.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Deus Ex: Human Revolution Review

Alright... so the time has come to write a review... a real review, which may or may not cover every little aspect of the game, but enough to illustrate my thoughts and impression of this game.

The story revolves around Adam Jensen, a former SWAT-turned-security director for Sarif Industries. One of Sarif's manufacturing plants is attacked and many scientists are presumed dead, those especially involved in research in the controversial field of human augmentation. Sarif Industries is one of the leading companies pioneering this research. Jensen is involved in a serious accident and is left for dead. He is saved and given a second chance through the use of this controversial method.
He is contracted to figure out who was behind the attack and what happened to his beloved love interest, Megan Reed.
Throughout the story, the plot thickens in many ways, allowing you to explore the story through several side quests and extra dialog.
Anyone who is a fan of the series (specifically the first Deus Ex, released in 2000) will know that this is paramount to really getting into the story. The more you explore, the more you uncover, the more choices you have regarding your actions later in the game. One of the praises in the first game was the ability to take multiple routes to achieve the same objective. This game is no different. As the story unfolds, Adam discovers the truth behind the research of human augmentation, and the effects it has on society.

The game plays differently than its predecessor. This will be one of the first things fans of the series will notice. It's played in a fashion similar to Splinter Cell: Conviction, which is a cover-based stealth/shooter hybrid. I had mixed feelings on this at first. I played SC:C and I really enjoyed the game, but when playing this, I wasn't sure I was ready to allow it to take this path. I quickly got over this. The game designers did a very good job leveraging this system, and still allowing the player to act in the way they choose. Cover is not necessary, but strongly encouraged. The system for the most part, was very easy to use. Often times in games that use cover, the camera is not your friend, or cover is placed in locations which make shooting or deciding which path to take very difficult (if not impossible). That was not the case in this game. There were some places where the cover system was flawed, but all-in-all, it was very well done. You could easily lean from cover to track a target and more often than not, make your move effectively. The cover system is natively a hold-button action. You have to hold that button down to stay in cover, and special in-cover only moves would become available using an action key, if the space permitted. The player has the option of making cover a toggle based operation, if so desired. The addition of the special contextual moves made using the cover system enjoyable and much less of a hassle than making the moves yourself. The detection system was also done well enough that the player could reliably move behind an object, and still remain hidden, even if not in cover.

The enemy AI is for the most part, very well implemented. Depending on the difficulty, it's fairly easy to rely on the actions of the enemies. They will investigate noises, follow set routes, and behave differently in alarmed states, allowing the player to adapt accordingly. Sometimes, the enemy AI would become frustrating, or would notice fallen allies even if hidden behind cover, but this was not something I experienced throughout the game. Sometimes it was difficult to tell if an enemy was going to turn around, but it wasn't something that was hard to get by.
As for boss fights, this is a new addition to the DE series. The boss fights were a good idea, but until later in the game, it can become challenging for a player focusing on stealth abilities to be pitted against a boss where those abilities have little or no effect. Most notably, the first boss encounter (which is actually a good distance into the game). This made the difficulty a little harder to adapt to, since bosses were pretty tough to fool, in comparison to the other enemies encountered throughout the game.

Next we talk about the abilities. Fans of the first will be happy to know, the augmentation abilities return. The player will have the option to spend Praxis Points to unlock and upgrade abilities as they progress through the game. Praxis Points could be earned through gaining experience, spending credits at LIMB clinics, or finding/receiving kits as rewards. Experience can be earned in any number of ways: eliminating enemies (more is awarded for non-lethal solutions), finding secrets/alternative paths, or accomplishing objectives. The more stealthy, the more bonuses you get. In the first game, augmentations were granted by finding Augmentation Canisters, which contained a specific set of augmentations, which the player would have to choose between, with upgrades being very rare. This game allows the player to decide which abilities to unlock and hone, by spending more points to gain new abilities.
DE: HR introduces a very large set of new and old abilities. Some of these abilities include the Typhoon Missile System, the Social Enhancer, the Icarus Landing System, and the Stealth Enhancement System. Where the first game had a hybrid of augmentations and character abilities (such as swimming, hacking, electronics, lockpicking, etc...), HR character enhancements are all done through the augmentation system. Abilities that return are the hacking system, the heavy-lift system, leg/run-silent enhancements, and the cloaking system. None of these abilities are required, but make life MUCH easier later on.
I'll be here all day describing them all, but the hacking system for example, is upgraded incrementally, and is a mini-game of sorts (as opposed to a time-based ICE-BREAKER). The higher the skill, the more complex systems the player can hack. The player will also have the ability to control cameras, turrets, and even security robots, if the hacking system is properly upgraded. This gives the player the flexibility to cultivate a unique experience that is likely never to be the same between playthroughs.

The combat is roughly the same, for the most part, but the player does not have the ability to upgrade their skill in a particular weapon-class, but rather upgrade particular weapons themselves, through the use of the weapon mod system. Since inventory space is again limited, the player must choose which weapons they want to bring with them. The player is thankfully given several opportunities to try out certain weapons throughout the game by placing them in many places, both hidden and not. There is no melee combat in this game. Rather, the player has the option of spending "energy cells" to perform contextual takedowns, which will appear when the player is within range of an enemy. I had mixed feelings on this system, since each takedown consumed a piece of energy, which did not recharge without the aid of nutritional objects (except for the final energy cell). These nutritional objects were not as plentiful as I would have liked, but it forced the player to be conservative with the energy consumption. Many of the augmentations the player uses do not require much (if at all) energy consumption. If energy cells were not fully exhausted, the last partial cell would always recharge. Only fully drained cells would stay drained. This system sometimes made the choice to take down single enemies a tough one, if one wanted to conserve both ammunition and energy cells. Ammunition is also another thing that the player can no longer be cavalier about hoarding. In this game, ammunition can end up taking a significant amount of your inventory space, with some weapons having ammo that takes up a larger footprint (the heavy rifle, for example). This was something I also had mixed reactions on, but fans of the hardcore mode of Fallout-New Vegas, will be used to conserving the ammo they are allowed to pick up.
One of the augmentations I wanted to call out specifically, is the social enhancer. The use of this augmentation is automatic once activated, and will open up new interactive dialog options in certain conversations. This gives the player a leg up in determining which things to say in dialog situations, and at some key points throughout the game, the player is faced with a sort of "boss-conversation", where the object is to have the player influence an outcome. This was something fresh and new, and something I hope is developed further in any potential sequels/installments.

The music was excellent. Very well done. It was new, accurately placed, and touched just the right amount on the music that made the first game so memorable. There were several points throughout the game that I was able to pick out music that was taken from the first. Definitely a soundtrack that makes the game worth picking up, just for that reason.

Lastly, the story. The premise was covered pretty much in the intro, but the story was very well carried along. It keeps the player engaged, and wanting to play more. Side quests and additional dialog only serve to add depth to the story and help shed light on the relationships and the history of Adam and his connections. The elaborate story takes several turns before finally converging on one key discovery, allowing the player to take the path of the first game, by choosing how the story ends. My only critique of this, was that it doesn't leverage upon events that have taken place across the whole game, which detracts from the replay value. It doesn't ruin the story, but it makes the player less inclined to want to pick it up and play it again, simply to uncover another part of the story.

All in all, I was really impressed with this game. It's one of the only games in a long time I was thoroughly stoked to pick up. I have been waiting a long time for it, it arrived, and I was blown away. This was a tough game for me to play, since I was so impressed with the first. The company that developed the first game was not around for the development of this one, and as history shows, that is a recipe for disaster when another company tries to take over the progression. Another success story of such proportions is Fallout 3. A concept developed by a now defunct entity, was undertaken by another with hopes of preserving the story, and delivered a fresh new perspective, on something people actually wanted to play. It was fortunate the original publisher was around to see this through.
Go out and pick this game up. I promise, you won't be disappointed.