Final Fantasy VII Remake Trailer (FFVII Remake)

Sony has released a trailer for the Final Fantasy VII Remake (FFVII Remake) for PlayStation 4. It’s a mix of cutscenes and gameplay footage. Many gamers swear that the original is the best role-playing game (RPG) of all time, while others feel that it’s immensely overrated. No matter which side of the fence you’re on, there’s not denying that the original was highly influential and that the FFVII Remake will be a huge deal.

The FFVII Remake trailer shows an early portion of the game that fans of the original will certainly know. It’s the intro mission, featuring protagonist Cloud Strife, supporting character Barret Wallace, and a bunch of AVALANCHE scrubs. As someone that played the original multiple times, I found it cool to see the scene recreated with modern PlayStation 4 graphics. As someone that loves the FFVII universe (thanks to Crisis Core and Advent Children), it was awesome seeing a modern version of Cloud. The voice sounds like Steve Burton, the voice actor that did a great job with the character in Advent Children.

While it’s hard to know what gameplay will be like without knowing the underlying system that fuels the action, the FFVII Remake trailer left me with a better-than-expected feeling. I feared that the game would have modern action-RPG gameplay, which is to say too much action and not enough RPG elements (for nerds that were weened on turn-based action RPGs). In some ways, the fight scenes reminded me of Final Fantasy XIII (which I liked) and in other ways they reminded me of Crisis Core (one of my all-time favorite games). I’m hoping, perhaps foolishly, that the final gameplay system will be similar to a spruced up Crisis Core. Though I admit that I have no idea if younger gamers would enjoy that (also, get off my lawn!).

Anyway, I’m going to watch the FFVII Remake trailer a dozen more times. When you have a chance, please check it out and let me know what you think of it.

Coffee Talk #665: ESPN’s Closure of Grantland is Disheartening

On October 30, 2015, ESPN made the horrible decision to shut down Grantland. The website offered a fantastic combination of sports and pop-culture coverage. It quickly became my favorite website on the Internet shortly after it launched. Grantland’s writing was longer, smarter, and sharper than most of what you’ll find on the Internet. The site’s closure is disheartening on several levels.

As a readerGrantland’s closure is disappointing because it had some of ESPN’s best writing. The site excelled at long-form articles that were informative and entertaining. It had a wide variety of writers that skillfully covered a wide variety of topics. While sports was Grantland’s emphasis, it also covered movies, music, television, pro-wrestling, and more. No matter the topic, I could always depend on a well-written article on Grantland that always entertained me and often left me a bit smarter than I was before I read it.

As a reader, I also appreciated Grantland’s simple layout. The design emphasized content and the advertising was tame by today’s standards. Grantland loaded quickly on desktop and mobile devices, unlike some of my other favorite websites (I’m looking at you, The Verge). Sadly, a website with great writing and user-friendly design is uncommon these days. That Grantland offered both was extraordinary.

As a longtime Internet writerGrantland’s closure is depressing. It shows that corporate hacks are unwilling and/or unable to support great content creation. It’s sad that the dozens of fantastic editors and writers at Grantland no longer have jobs, while ESPN continues to pay Stephen A. Smith to act like an idiot on television. It makes me wonder what kind of support the website had from the suits, its advertisers, and its readers. Obviously something was missing. The high-quality content was there, but did the suits support it with enough marketing? Did the site not get enough ad dollars? Were people uninterested in longer articles? It’s baffling.

As a longtime ESPN.com reader, I’m amused that Grantland’s closure killed the best writing the company had to offer. I used to love ESPN.com, but it has become garbage. While the site is ESPN’s Internet flagship, the writing on Grantland and FiveThirtyEight (another ESPN-owned website) was superior to anything on the “main” website. ESPN.com has devolved in a mashup of moronic click bait, AP reposts, thoughtless opinion pieces, daily LeBron James updates, and the occasional solid article. Copyediting is, sadly, optional on ESPN.com.

Add it all up and it’s disheartening. My favorite website is gone. Another corporate overlord has pissed on the value of quality content. Instead of enjoying my daily dose of Grantland, I’ll have to read the crap on ESPN.com. Oh well, maybe it’s time to give Yahoo! Sports another look.

Mario Tennis Ultra Smash Preview (Wii U)

At E3 2015, I spent a couple of hours playing Mario Tennis Ultra Smash for Wii U. I’m a longtime fan of the series and have spent hundreds of hours playing Mario Tennis games on numerous platforms (N64, GBC, GBA, and GameCube). The earlier games did a brilliant job of imposing everything that’s adorable about the Mario universe on a solid tennis game; they’re addictive, fun to look at, and play well. Last week, I played a near-final version of Mario Tennis Ultra Smash. I was already sold on the game at E3 2015, but after playing it with more characters, I can’t wait for its release.

Unlike Mario Power Tennis for Wii, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash does not use motion controls. Instead, it offers a standard gamepad experience. While fans of flailing their arms about will be disappointed, as a longtime player of games in this series, I like the traditional controls much better.

In the E3 2015 build, there were only two playable characters — Mario and Bowser. Last week, I played a doubles match that pitted Waluigi and Peach against Donkey Kong and Rosalina. The characters have distinct movements and shots. For example, Rosalina floats around the court instead of running. I was told that Yoshi takes adorably small steps, since his legs are so short. My character, Waluigi, was lanky and focused on defense. Like the previous games, I really appreciate how the different characters have noticeably different levels of speed, power, and spin.

Confirmed playable characters include Mario, Luigi, Toad, Peach, Daisy, Rosalina, Wario, Waluigi, Bowser, Yoshi, Boo, and Donkey Kong. In addition to the characters available from the get-go, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash will have some unlockable characters. Known unlockables include Bowser, Jr., Toadette, Dry Bowser, and Sprixie Princess. I’m looking forward to seeing what other players there are to discover and hoping there will be some nifty crossovers.

There will be a number of different courts and surfaces in Mario Tennis Ultra Smash. The real-world surfaces include clay, grass, and hard courts. Clay is the slowest and has a higher bounce. Grass is the fastest and has a lower bounce. Hard courts play fast and have a level bounce. There will also be mushroom- and water-themed courts

What makes Mario Tennis Ultra Smash different from its predecessors is its generous use of power-ups. Players can pick up mega mushrooms and grow to a ridiculous size. Naturally, this gives the powered player a ridiculous amount of power that’s difficult to handle; counter-shots have to be times more precisely when dealing with a powered-up player. Visually, players that consumer a mega mushroom temporarily grow to take up a large chunk of the television screen. While the in-game effect is fierce, the visual effect is bold and hilarious.

If you want to have a more traditional tennis experience (you know, one where players aren’t taller than buildings) then you can opt for a mode that eschews power-ups. In this mode, Mario Tennis Ultra Smash plays more like its predecessors. The exception is the new “jump shot” technique, which can be used in all modes.

Mario Tennis Ultra Smash looks like a fine addition to the Mario Tennis series. From the limited time I’ve had with the game, it looks and plays great. Like the previous installments, the developers have done a superior job at making the players and courts feel distinct. The power-ups add a new layer of fun, especially in party-game situations. Mario Tennis Ultra Smash appears to have everything I loved about its predecessors, with a new wrinkle. I can’t wait to storm the courts as Waluigi when the game hits in late November!

Hell in a Cell 2015 on PickSix (iOS)

The excellent people at Tether Studios have added Hell in a Cell 2015 content to the wonderful PickSix app for iOS. So in addition to virtually betting on NFL, MLB, and League of Legends games, you can bet on WWE PPV event results. If you’re not familiar with PickSix for iOS, here’s a brief writeup on the game. If you are familiar with PickSix then I triple-dog dare you to challenge me in a round of Hell in a Cell 2015 bets.

The bet questions are totally straightforward and easy to follow. You can choose individual match results by winner, pick how each match will end (pinfall, submission, DQ, etc.), make over/under bets on the length of each match, and more. There are even some wonky bets to place, like the number of tables that will be broken in the WWE Tag Team Championship match between New Day and The Dudley Boyz. There’s even a speculative bet on John Cena’s WWE United States Championship “open challenge” opponent (I’m hoping for Daniel Bryan or Samoa Joe, but would bet on something tame, like Dolph Ziggler). Since Hell in a Cell 2015 is in Los Angeles this year, there’s a chance that part-time wrestlers like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Chris Jericho will show up. Think they’ll make an appearance? Put your virtually currency where your mouth is and bet on it in PickSix!

Check out the screenshots below for some example questions. I’ll be waiting for your bets, sucka!!! (Imagine that I said the last sentence as if I were Booker T.)

PickSix Hell in a Cell 2015a

 

PickSix Hell in a Cell 2015b

 

 

Coffee Talk #663: Colbert, Fallon, and Nerd Guests

Earlier in the week, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert featured music from The Legend of Zelda played by The Symphony of the Goddesses. Colbert has had several nerdy guests on his show, including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, and Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky. As a nerd, I absolutely love that The Late Show With Stephen Colbert has had tech and gaming segments. Considering that many of his viewers grew up as gamers and technology is more mainstream than ever, it makes sense for his audience. Still, I was surprised (pleasantly) that his show’s guests have been so nerd-friendly.

Changing the channel to NBC, The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon has been a disappointment in terms of nerd content. When the comedian hosted Late Night With Jimmy Fallon, guests from gaming and tech were common. Off the top of my head, I recall Kudo Tsunodo giving a demo of Xbox Kinect, Cliff Bleszinski showing off Gears of War 3, and journalist Josh Topolsky talking tech gear on the show. For whatever reason, these types of guests have largely been absent from The Tonight Show. Perhaps the producers felt that gaming and tech content weren’t appropriate for the “big” show. Perhaps some hack executive mandated that Fallon go with traditional guests that have movies, music, and TV shows to promote. Whatever the reason, it’s disappointing that Fallon has mostly abandoned nerdy programming.

The unfortunate programming choices on The Tonight Show, have made me appreciate the guests on The Late Show. Hearing the wonderful music from Zelda on a late night talk show was brilliant. Watching CEOs of the companies that make products and offer services that I love (or in Tesla’s case, dream about) was outstanding. It’s fantastic that these types of segments are mixed in with the overly polished “artists” promoting their latest movie, album, tour, TV show season, etc. When Colbert debuted on Comedy Central, I was delightfully surprised by his mix of comedy, intelligence, and satire. With The Late Show, he has delightfully surprised me with his nerdy guests. Keep ’em coming, Mr. Colbert!

Underworld Ascendant Paul Neurath & Joe Fielder Interview

The followup to the highly influential Ultima Underworld games from the early ’90s, Underworld Ascendant aims to dazzle gamers with an atypical style of fantasy role-playing. The original games were lauded for their sense of immersion; they are considered the first RPGs to offer first-person action in a true 3D environment. While many modern RPGs bombard players with millions of words of text, Underworld Ascendant will attempt to captivate gamers with environmental immersion and unscripted player-driven narrative. In many ways, the game is a throwback in the sense that the developer wants the player to put himself or herself in the game, as opposed to following the adventures of a heavily scripted character.

Underworld Ascendant will give players all kinds of choices, whether it’s character development or puzzle solving. As far as character creation goes, there are three types of skill sets that players can draw from: fighter, rogue, and mage. The skills can be mixed and mashed, accommodating a wide variety of player styles. Similarly, encounters with monsters and environmental puzzles can be handled in drastically different ways. Again, the emphasis is on player choice. You’ll be able to play Underworld Ascendant with the character you want to be, adventuring in the way you want to adventure.

Occupying the Stygian Abyss are three rival factions. There are dark elves, dwarves, and shamblers to encounter. The developer was quick to note that these races don’t fit into typical RPG trappings. For example, the dwarves in Underworld Ascendant will not have Scottish accents. The shamblers are particularly interesting — fungus-like creatures with mushroom heads that operate in a hive-mind society. The way you interact with and help (or not) these factions will alter how you experience Underworld Ascendant.

The interview below was lots of fun for me on several levels. First off, Otherside Entertainment founder & CEO Paul Neurath is a frickin’ legend. The man founded Looking Glass Studios, one of the all-time great game developers. Looking at the list of games Paul has worked on is mind blowing. He should be put on exhibit at The Smithsonian. Also in the chat below is design director Joe Fielder. I met Joe in the late ’90s when I was a corporate hack at Ziff-Davis and he was heading up GameSpot. He was one of the first videogame journalists I met and it’s awesome watching his career in game development burgeon.

Anyway, check out my chat with Paul and Joe below for more details on Underworld Ascendant, as well as lots of gameplay footage.

Download and Play PickSix For iOS (Please)

Okay, dear RPadholics. I need you guys and gals to do me a favor. At your earliest convenience, kindly download PickSix for iOS. I don’t ask you for a lot (possibly untrue), but I would love for you to check out this app (certainly true). PickSix is a fun and simple fantasy pick ’em game with all sorts of possibilities. Currently, you can bet on NFL and League of Legends games, but the content opportunities are tremendous. It’s easy to envision PickSix used for the Oscars, the 2016 US presidential election, Premiere League, the MTV VMAs, etc.

In some ways, the extensibility of PickSix reminds me of the versatility of QuizUp. They both use a simple core mechanic to extend the fun of existing events by adding an interactive social layer to the mix. Similarly, both apps can be used for a wide variety of topics. Whether it’s a small group of friends or the millions of people enjoying a particular event, PickSix can make anything more fun through gamification. Of course, I want to hear about the content you’d like to see on PickSix, but before we get to that, I need to share my nerdy idea.

I’d love to see WWE PPVs on PickSix. The cards are usually set the week before the event and it would be fun betting on sports entertainment. I’m going to use the last WWE PPV, “Night of Champions,” as an example of what a WWE PickSix looks like in my (silly) head.

1) Out of the five WWE championships being contested at “Night of Champions,” how many will change hands?

  • 0-1
  • 2-3
  • 4-5

2) Who will win the WWE Divas Championship match?

  • Charlotte
  • Nikki Bella
  • No Contest

3) Seth Rollins is defending two championships. What will his “Night of Champions” record be?

  • 0-2
  • 1-1
  • 2-0

4) How many “Night of Champions” matches will end in a disqualification?

  • 0-2
  • 2-4
  • 5-7

5) How will Ryback vs. Kevin Owens end?

  • Ryback retains Intercontinental Championship
  • Kevin Owens wins Intercontinental Championship
  • Disqualification or schmoz

6) How many tables will be broken during The Dudley Boyz vs. New Day match?

  • 0-2
  • 2-4
  • 5 or more

 

(On a side note, my friend Kate says that I would use my WWE contacts to…influence PPV outcomes. I assure you that I have no such power and if I did, I wouldn’t use it that way.)

Obviously I didn’t give these questions too much thought, but I think you get the idea that PickSix can work for all kinds of things. Now it’s your turn! If you’re an iOS-using RPadholic, please download the game. I fully expect you to challenge me to some betting. Irrespective of your mobile OS, I’d love to hear about the content you’d like to see on PickSix. Please leave a comment below with your excellent ideas.

Guitar Hero Live Preview

Once one of the biggest franchises in videogames, Activision’s Guitar Hero series has been dormant since 2010. That’s going to change on October 20, 2015 with the release of Guitar Hero Live. With a reimagined guitar controller, a revamped visual style, and an all-new GHTV mode, Activision hopes that Guitar Hero Live will appeal to a new generation of gamers and longtime fans of the series.

The biggest and most obvious change to Guitar Hero Live is the controller. Instead of a single row of five buttons, the new controller features two rows of three buttons. In normal and harder difficulties, the new button arrangement is pleasantly challenging; you’ll often have to hit multiple buttons in multiple rows. For newcomers and those that enjoy music games but aren’t very good, the easier modes allow for single-row play.

It took me several songs to get used to the new controller and even then I didn’t have enough time with it. I enjoyed being challenged by the different permutations of button presses. The dual-row “chords” make the game more interesting and difficult (in a good way). While some claim that Guitar Hero Live approximates power chords, I disagree. The game is certainly more fun with the new controller, but still a far cry from playing an actual guitar. I don’t see that as a fault at all (go play Rocksmith for that) — just disagreeing with some game writers.

The first three Guitar Hero Live songs I played were a mess due to a combination of the new controller and songs I was completely unfamiliar with. I recall butchering a song by The Black Keys, murdering a Fallout Boy song, and demolishing two songs by two bands I never heard of (I fail at modern music, fyi). After getting accustomed to the new controller and switching to a different kiosk that had songs I knew, the game was easier. Part of it was simply spending time with the controller, while part of it was my deep love of Warrant and Faith No More.

Guitar Hero Live adds some significant visual changes too. Instead of cartoon-like graphics, the game uses live concert footage from the perspective of the guitar player. You’ll see your bandmates and the crowd as you play. The visuals change depending on your performance. I’ve never paid too much attention to the graphics in previous Guitar Hero games and the new graphics were mostly lost on me in the bit of Guitar Hero Live I played. I’m so focused on the notes that I block out most of the visuals. That said, it was cool to watch other people play and there are plenty of gamers that watch the whole screen while they play music games.

In addition to the main “Live” mode, Guitar Hero Live features GHTV mode. This mode features different channels of music, allowing constant access to a variety of new songs and different genres. Songs in GHTV mode feature music videos from the associated acts, as opposed to concert footage in Live mode. While you can play along with a GHTV song as it’s streaming, replays require a microtransaction purchase. It’s an interesting approach compared to traditional scheduled downloads, but I’m not sold on it just yet. I need to experience GHTV when it’s full functional and accessible to millions of players before making any judgements.

If you’re interested in the developer of Guitar Hero Live (and I hope you’re interested in all creators of the games you play) then check out FreeStyleGames. Acquired by Activision in 2008, the company has experience with music games, including B-Boy, DJ Hero, and Sing Party.

For the most part, I enjoyed the brief time I spent playing Guitar Hero Live and am excited to play more. Part of it is that I haven’t touched a music game in years and part of it is because the new controller is lots of fun. I’m confident that fans of the old Guitar Hero games will enjoy Guitar Hero Live and curious to see if it will appeal to younger games (i.e. those pesky Snapchat kids).

Guitar Hero Live will be available on October 20, 2015 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Wii U, PlayStation 3, and Xbox 360.

Kabam Aaron Loeb Interview (DICE Europe 2015)

It was a strange privilege interviewing Kabam senior vice president Aaron Loeb on behalf of the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences for DICE Europe 2015. It was a privilege because Aaron is an excellent fellow that has accomplished a lot in the videogame and theater worlds. Prior to working at Kabam, Aaron held high-level positions at Planet Moon and EA, while his plays have been performed across the country. The interview was strange because we both used to be videogame journalists. It’s true! Once upon a time, before Aaron became a powerful executive and I became a verbal entertainer of international renown, we used to be game journalists in San Francisco. To paraphrase the immortal Phil Collins, “Take a look at us now!”

Here are a few excerpts from the interview. The first clip is about whether Aaron’s experience as a videogame journalist has had any impact on his work on the development side:

For a little while there, no. For what I’m doing at Kabam, very much so. As you know, when I was a journalist, I was entirely in the web space and was never really on the print side — even back in the ’90s. Learning how to talk to an audience every single day, learning how to see what they’re interested in or not interested in, and figuring out how to target your editorial to cover the topics the audience actually wants to hear about and how to target your editorial to come up with stuff that the audience doesn’t yet know they want to hear about — those are all things that help me today.

Next, Aaron talks about his experience as a playwright crossing over into his day job:

When I’m working with writers from one of our games, they take my feedback more seriously because they know that I’m also a writer. I’m not just an executive pinhead. [Laughs] Normally if you’re a writer and you’re getting feedback from the senior vice president of the studio you’re thinking, “Why is this jerk talking to me?!? How can he possibly know the difference between good writing and bad writing?!?” So I do get some respect from our game writers because of my background as a playwright.

Check out the full interview when you have a chance (please!). Aaron is an excellent man and I’m thrilled for his tremendous success.

Ronda Rousey Loves Pokemon

Just when I thought Ronda Rousey couldn’t get any hotter…I discovered that she loves Pokemon! That’s right, the first lady of UFC and queen of MMA is totally into Nintendo’s pocket monsters. In the interview below, she discusses how she got into Pokemon, the numerous Pokemon games she has played, and some of her favorite creatures. Miss Rousey is clearly a most impressive physical specimen, but her encyclopedic knowledge of Pokemon takes her sexiness to a whole new level. It’s almost…too much.

Ronda claims to have put in more than 200 hours in her first Pokemon game. I wonder if she’ll be impressed with my nearly 700 hours on Pokemon Pearl. Yeah, that’ll be my in when I meet her. Ha!

Anyway, check out the video below and prepare to be dazzled by Ronda Rousey’s Pokemon mastery. It’s seriously impressive and completely hot.

Source