Jack Gardner

 
Though it has been several months since Metal Gear Solid V released, the online competitive multiplayer that released on consoles is only just making its way to PC... sort of. The online portion of Metal Gear Solid V will be entering a beta phase on Steam later today to iron out any unforeseen kinks that could be lurking in the PC version's multiplayer. The beta should be relatively short, though Konami hasn't stated when Metal Gear Online will officially release. 
 
Konami's community manager, Robert Peeler, announced via Twitch that the beta should be going live at 10pm PST tonight, though it may be pushed back later by a couple of hours if issues arise. 
 
Players need to opt into the beta by adjusting their beta preferences for Metal Gear Solid V in Steam. 
 
On top of all that, a new map inspired by Mother Base will be added to Metal Gear Online and Konami is giving players the power to help name it. Suggestions need to adhere to the following naming convention: A color followed by a proper noun for a structure (i.e. Ivory Citadel, Silver Keep, etc.). Player suggestions can be sent via Twitter to @MetalGearOnline.   

Jack Gardner

 
35 GameStop stores will be closing in March of this year and all of them are going to be in Puerto Rico. First reported today by CyberboxPR, the closures are being attributed to the worsening economic situation in Puerto Rico that has led to an increase in taxes from 7% to 11.5%. While there isn't any hard data on how many employees will be affected by these closures, some are estimating upwards of 400 employees will be left without jobs. GameStop cites this as a purely business decision driven by increased economic pressure, which could be attributed to the increased taxation and the under performance of key titles in 2015 like Halo 5: Guardians, Star Wars Battlefront, and Assassin's Creed Syndicate (not that these didn't sell well on the whole, but digital transactions made up a larger portion of their sales than GameStop had expected). 
 
GameStop's director of public relations, Joey Mooring, released a statement to Gamespot clarifying the decision to close the Puerto Rico locations: 

Given the ongoing business challenges and increased governmental restraints we have experienced in Puerto Rico, GameStop has made the business decision to close all of its video game stores and operations located on the island. As a result, GameStop will be exiting the Puerto Rican market by the end of March 2016. Until that time, we will continue to conduct normal business operations.
 
Puerto Rico will be losing its only dedicated gaming retailer, leaving residents with fewer options when it comes to obtaining games. Many have pointed out that the remaining options aren't terribly promising. For those looking to get their hands on games in Puerto Rico, Amazon, Best Buy, Toys R' Us, Walmart, and digital purchases appear to be the best retailers for gamers. However, there are drawbacks to each seller for potential customers. Amazon shipping costs can be prohibitively expensive for people as Prime does not ship to Puerto Rico. Best Buy, which does not match prices with mainland US locations, and Toys R' Us have a limited number of locations that not all island residents can access. Walmart is rumored to be pulling out of Puerto Rico soon due to the increased economic pressure, too.
 
What is happening in Puerto Rico to lead to this decision?
 
Essentially, the island commonwealth experienced a long period of people investing in its debt by buying its uniquely tax-exempt bonds and locating their businesses and manufacturing facilities on the island for special tax credits. However, about twenty years ago, the tax credits began phasing out and a few years later Puerto Rico was hit with the recession. The recession made investors more skeptical of investing in the bonds and fewer people participated in the once thriving tourism industry. This caused a lot of the money Puerto Rico had made from the booming investment years to dry up and leave the government with billions owed to creditors that have trapped it in a worsening spiral of debt. Because of its unique position as a territory of the United States, the tax code as it exists today has no mechanism for the government of Puerto Rico to declare bankruptcy, which means that the only ways of escaping the debt spiral is to pay off the debt or refuse to pay. Refusing to pay Puerto Rico's bondholders could prove to be disastrous, as that would lead to lawsuits which could put payments to bondholders ahead of payments to school districts, law enforcement, and other public departments. 

In an attempt to reform, taxes have been hiked across the board in Puerto Rico and a delicate game of juggling funds between necessary debt payments has kept the territory afloat. However, that hasn't been enough. Only a handful of days ago, the governor of Puerto Rico defaulted on millions of dollars to lower-priority creditors in order to pay the highest-priority creditors and the lawsuits have begun rolling in. 

This is the situation deemed by GameStop to be too financially risky to continue operations under and has Walmart thinking twice about remaining open. For a more in-depth and easily digestible rundown of the situation in Puerto Rico, I'd recommend this excellent write up by Matthew Yglesias.

Jack Gardner

 
Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots, once thought to be the conclusion to the entire Metal Gear Solid franchise, received almost universal acclaim when it released in 2008. Hideo Kojima's creative vision of a near future in which both government and private oversight would create and maintain a perpetual war machine for profits seemed plausible enough at the time to serve as a dire warning of a new world to come. Does it hold up eight years later as one of the best games period?
 
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.
 

 
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod
 
Outro Music: Metal Gear Solid 4 'Never Go Away' by Chris ~ Amaterasu, Claire Yaxley, Dj Mystix (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03189)
 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday

Jack Gardner

 
A ton of amazing games came out during 2015. Jeremy, Daniel, and Jack bring their number one game of the year along with one honorable mention apiece. What game will be remembered as one of the best games period in several years? Feel free to share your top pick and honorable mention in the comments. 
 
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.   
 

 
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it (though this week's is delayed due to recording late)! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod
 
Outro music: Metal Gear Solid 3 'Innocent Deception' by Claire Yaxley and Dj Mystix (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR02573)
 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday

Jack Gardner

 
People have Star Wars on the brain for some reason. To honor that popular trend, Daniel and Jack present the Star Wars games they believe should be considered one of the best games period: Dark Forces and Knights of the Old Republic. Jeremy goes AWOL due to a Ceti eel infection (name that movie!).
 
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.   
 
 
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it (though this week's is delayed due to technical difficulties)! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod
 
Outro music: Neverwinter Nights 'Kara-Turian Nights' by Ceracryst (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR01848)
 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday

Jack Gardner

 
Ico released in 2001 to wide praise from critics, but slow sales in the West. Over time it attained cult status and became one of the games that shaped major design decisions across the industry right up until the present day. The puzzles, immersive storytelling, and enduring influence seem to make Fumito Ueda's classic an ideal candidate for this podcast. Surprisingly, Ico proves to be the most divisive episode yet recorded of The Best Games Period.
 
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.   
 

 
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod
 
Outro music: Ico 'Save Me (OCR Edit)' by SGX (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR01056)
 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday

Jack Gardner

It’s no secret that I enjoyed the debut of King’s Quest a few months ago. The lighthearted romp through new-yet-familiar territory represented a wonderful modernization of the venerable adventure game series. Imagine my surprise when Rubble Without a Cause delivers a deeper, more complex experience that packs a surprising punch while maintaining a family friendly demeanor.
 
*slight spoilers to follow*

Chapter 2 opens by giving players more insight into the ailing health of the old King Graham. Scared awake by a storm in the middle of the night, Graham’s granddaughter, Gwendolyn, runs to her grandfather’s room to find him struggling with his infirmity. Soon a storytelling session ensues, painting a portrait of a newly crowned King Graham overwhelmed with the weight of leadership as he is thrust into a life or death scenario where his subjects depend on his success for their protection. Taken prisoner by a goblin raiding party, Graham needs his wits to deliver old friends from the clutches of the enemy. This is a far cry from the coming-of-age adventure that comprised the majority of Chapter 1.  
I would have been perfectly content with more of the same from The Odd Gentlemen, but clearly the studio wasn’t content with a rehash. While Chapter 1 focused on exploration and reestablishing the Kingdom of Daventry after the series’ long absence, Chapter 2 goes hard into puzzle-solving and testing the relationships created in the previous chapter. Not only that, but the tone becomes slightly more serious. While there are still plenty of puns and witty lines, lives are put at stake. As a prisoner, Graham needs to keep his subjects alive and well while searching for a way to free them from captivity. Rubble Without a Cause brings with it a slight biting edge to the humor that was absent in the first installment.

The added emphasis on puzzles adds to the depth of the King’s Quest experience. It feels like a slightly better bridging of traditional King’s Quest with modern adventure gaming than what was achieved in Chapter 1. While there were puzzles in the first chapter, they weren’t particularly difficult. However, I’ll confess to finding myself stumped at least twice during my time with Chapter 2. There are few things as puzzling as finding yourself with a chair, chopsticks, a pea, and no idea what you should do with them. This different approach to adventure gaming sacrifices some of the flowing transitions popularized by Telltale Games, but introduces more gameplay decisions. The way you solve the different conundrums presented to the player result in different outcomes. That idea might seem intuitive, but in practice it leads to a varied experience that’s actually pretty neat.
King Graham makes progress through the dungeon over the course of several days. In addition to solving puzzles, players have to monitor the health of their subjects. If a subject’s health reaches zero they will definitely remember how their king didn’t look out for them. At one point in my playthrough I made a mistake. That mistake resulted in a sick, pregnant woman being carted off by the goblins to an unknown fate. I felt awful and, of course, attempted to reload my save. That’s when I realized that King’s Quest doesn’t allow for reloading to previous saves. King’s Quest autosaves every time Graham moves to a new screen. There is no rewinding, no do-over. From a user friendly perspective it would be nice to have a rewind feature of some sort, if only so players who want to replay certain chapters don’t have to start from the complete beginning. However, I appreciate King’s Quest as a harsh mistress. It forced me to come to terms with the consequences of my own poor decision making. That tied in really well with the thematics of the chapter; how leaders aren’t always perfect and must live with the weight of their decisions. Not being able to go back forces players into the same position as Graham and I think that’s a good thing, albeit frustrating.
If I could suggest a change to Chapter 3, it would be a more obscure choices. The Odd Gentlemen have really made a great amalgamation of new and old with King’s Quest, but I think that the first two episodes have been overly obvious about the various paths open to players. It usually comes down to a choice between one of three paths: Bravery, cunning, and compassion. Level layouts and some really on-the-nose dialogue have often been overly telling rather than allowing the decisions to speak for themselves. It’s not a knock against what Chapter 2 offers, as it easily improves on this over Chapter 1, but King’s Quest can do even better. A bit of murkiness to the decision making process would go a long way.

The animation in Chapter 2 remains absolutely gorgeous. Almost every screenshot looks like it could be a painting. Watching everything in motion and seeing the still frames during some cutscenes makes me ache for a King’s Quest film with this aesthetic. There were a few technical issues with the version I played; occasional frame stuttering when entering new areas, lighting effects not appearing properly, etc. However, these were rare and didn’t detract from my overall experience.   
Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by the number of great soundtracks that have been released this year, but I wanted more from the soundscape in Rubble Without a Cause. It felt a bit empty and lacked a signature King’s Quest flavor of its own that wasn’t borrowed from the previous chapter. The production schedule for King’s Quest must be ridiculously intensive, but hopefully future episodes can have the same care and attention paid to the soundtrack as the visuals, voice acting, and writing.
Conclusion:
King’s Quest Chapter 2 drastically increases my faith in The Odd Gentlemen as a studio that can do justice to the legendary Sierra property while bringing its gameplay into line with modern adventure games. It demonstrates that they’re committed to pushing their design and storytelling further with each episode rather than with every adventure series. Most importantly, Rubble Without a Cause brings back crucial gameplay elements that Telltale’s brand of adventures have lacked. If The Odd Gentlemen continue to push the envelope of episodic games, King’s Quest might be able to push the entire genre in new and exciting directions.

King’s Quest Chapter 2 – Rubble Without a Cause was reviewed on Xbox One and is available now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.

Jack Gardner

 
After months of wondering what has been going on behind the scenes at Konami, Hideo Kojima has officially broken ties with the company. The developer of the Metal Gear franchise announced the formation of a new development studio called Kojima Productions with its stated goal to "push the boundaries in innovation and ignite consumer interest worldwide." Alongside the formation of Kojima Productions, the developer took to the internet with Sony's Andrew House to make public a partnership between Sony and the newly formed Kojima Productions. Watching the somewhat subdued announcement video you can definitely tell how excited both Kojima and House are to be able to formally announce their partnership. 
 

 
Though Kojima's new studio is independent, the partnership with Sony has made the as yet unannounced first title from the company a collaborative effort between Sony and Kojima Productions. The working hope is that Kojima's new game will launch an entirely new franchise for PlayStation. 

If the name of Kojima's new studio sounds familiar, that's because it was the name of Kojima's internal studio under Konami. Kojima revealed the studio's logo stating that it's intended to look like a a medieval suit of armor as well as a space suit, embodying the idea of taking aim "at the new world with the latest technology and [a] pioneering spirit." 
 


Jack Gardner

 
The Odd Gentlemen and Sierra released the second chapter in the serialized King's Quest reboot today. The second chapter, titled Rubble Without a Cause, takes place some years after the first tale of King Graham. Players will have to deal with the goblin threat that has spiraled out of control since the events of the first chapter. Chapter 2 sees Graham become a king and struggle with the new responsibilities and duties that come with being a leader under pressure. While the first chapter proved to be a lighthearted romp, the second outing seems to be going a darker route. The trailer promises some tough choices ahead for those who take up the crown of Daventry. 
 

 
King's Quest Chapter 2 - Rubble Without a Cause is available now for PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, and PC.

Jack Gardner

 
In 2012, the minor indie studio Telltale Games exploded into the mainstream consciousness with the five episode Walking Dead series. Released across every device capable of running it, Robert Kirkman's comic opus made the leap to gaming and received tremendous praise, winning numerous awards for storytelling, voice acting, and all-around goodness. Three years later, is it one of the best games period?
 
Each week we will be tackling a video game, old or new, that at least one of us believes deserves to stand as one of the greatest games of all time. We'll dive into its history, development, and gameplay, while trying to argue for or against the game of the week. Sometimes we will be in harmonious agreement, other times we might be fighting a bitter battle to the very end. However each episode shakes out, we hope that everyone who listens will find the show entertaining and informative.   
 

 
You can download or listen to the podcast over on Soundcloud, our hosting site, and (soon) iTunes. A YouTube version is available as well, so you can watch what we are talking about while we talk about it! You can also follow the show on Twitter: @BestGamesPeriod
 
Outro music: The Walking Dead: Season One 'Don't Go' by RoeTaKa (http://ocremix.org/remix/OCR03244)
 
New episodes of The Best Games Period will be released every Monday.

Jack Gardner

Review: Sublevel Zero

By Jack Gardner, in Features,




A kaleidoscopic carnival of vibrant colors and pixel explosions, Sigtrap Games’ Sublevel Zero manages to remix old gaming genres into something novel and engaging. Long after humanity has been scattered among the stars due to some cataclysm that has warped the fabric of the universe, a lone scout finds an ancient space station from before the event. However, entering the area around the station causes reality to rip, pulling both the pilot and facility into a place beyond space and time. The only hope to return home rests in whatever technology the facility contains, provided the lonely pilot  can overcome the advanced automated defenses within the station.  

Sublevel Zero represents roguelikes in the classical sense: When you die, you start over from scratch (or nearly scratch if you happen to have unlocked one of the alternative starting ship designs) and the world rearranges itself. The core gameplay loop remains intense and frantic no matter how many times you play through the twisting corridors and labyrinthine levels. However, with more experience, you’ll begin to subconsciously count your shots and learn how many hits it takes to destroy each enemy type. This is practically a necessity because wasting ammo can lead to desperate shortages in later levels. Every shot is important and could hold the secret to victory or defeat.



Chests and challenge rooms reward diligent exploration as players progress through each level. Inside these chests could be ammo, nanites, or parts that can be used to tailor the player’s ship to a specific playstyle. Nanites are used between levels to acquire passive upgrades like increased damage or a small amount of ammo regen. More importantly, nanites are used to combine items with the in-game crafting system which allows the player to upgrade the gear they come across into different, deadlier weapons, sturdier armor, or faster engines.

The mechanics of Sublevel Zero are balanced such that every choice players make has a potential downside that could come into play sooner or later. Some upgrades increase the damage of certain ammo types at the expense of damage from other ammo types. Better armor will often limit the maximum amount of ammunition the ship can carry or total inventory space. Choosing to rely on an ammunition hungry weapon and a heavily armored craft might lead to surviving the upcoming level, but it could leave the ship nearly defenseless in the following area. Each playthrough is defined by these small choices and it makes Sublevel Zero a game that players can keep coming back to time and again.


Also scattered throughout levels are journals from the original inhabitants of the station. These text logs unravel the mystery of the facility and its connection with the anomalies that continue to rip apart the universe. While these are certainly interesting, the story’s role in the enjoyment derived from Sublevel Zero is negligible. Perhaps Sigtrap Games had designs to expand the larger narrative and its impact on gameplay beyond the initial premise, but those never come to fruition. I would have been interested to learn more about the wandering, primitive clans and how life goes on when a rip in space-time can pulverize a planet at any given time. Unfortunately, while those types of events are mentioned, they remain firmly in the background.

Sigtrap Games describes Sublevel Zero as a six degrees of freedom type game meshed with roguelike qualities. Essentially, it plays like an arcade space flight sim mixed with Doom. Every level takes place within a confined, randomized space full of bright lights, branching corridors, and rooms of enemies. While the gunplay feels highly polished and responsive, the potential to become disoriented presents a real obstacle for players. Since the premise of the game has the player floating in space, it can be sometimes hard to orient the ship and get a handle on the surroundings. Often entering new rooms, especially in the cavernous middle stages, can prove to be a miserable affair. Once enemies enter the fray, spraying blazing laser pixels in the player’s direction, it becomes confusing to parse out the action on screen and the ship's relation to it. Being unfamiliar with the terrain can mean death if the ship catches on the nearby geometry. The core appeal of both roguelikes and games that successfully draw on Doom is that when you died, you fell like it was fair. You screwed up, so you died. That sense of fairness can sometimes be compromised in Sublevel Zero and that presents a flaw.

The soundtrack composed by Will Bedford, deserves a shout out being a perfect complement to the Sublevel Zero experience. It manages to create a focused, yet chill, atmosphere that occasionally expands dynamically during large encounters to build a feeling of epic resistance. It adds an urgency that the core gameplay sometimes lacks between rooms of enemies. The game would be utterly and completely different with a lesser musical accompaniment.

Conclusion:

If you seek a difficult game to conquer, Sublevel Zero will be a worthy adversary. While its gameplay doesn’t present an overwhelming challenge in the moment-to-moment action, it demands a certain amount of mental and reflexive endurance to make every shot count, avoid enemy attacks, and make smart, long-term decisions. A definite learning curve exists for dealing with the six degrees of motion available and learning how to navigate often unpredictable terrain. For those that can overcome the challenges that could prove frustrating for some players, Sublevel Zero holds a ton of beauty, replayability, and strong gameplay that carries it through the less than stellar aspects of its construction. This won’t be something that most people will invest hundreds of hours into, but it will be something most people will be perfectly happy to play for a dozen hours or more and feel content with their purchase.


Jack Gardner

 
The latest trailer for XCOM 2 has everything an XCOM fan could want. We are treated to flashbacks of a devious looking Thin Man. The new mobile base, a stolen alien spacecraft that will house the XCOM resistance, is shown in all of its flying glory. We see the sweeping forces of the indoctrinated Advent Coalition alongside enemies both old and new. Improved character animations and customization briefly hold the spotlight. New weapons, armor, and alien technology will have to be used to overcome the overwhelming alien threat. I'm sorry, am I drooling?
 

 
XCOM 2 releases February 5, 2016 for PC and Mac. While no console versions have been announced, 2K and Firaxis have not discarded the idea of the turn-based strategy title making its way to Xbox One and PlayStation 4.