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Jack Gardner
Over the past few days, I had the opportunity to spend an extended period of time experiencing a small selection of multiplayer maps and modes from the upcoming Titanfall. What did I think? Read on to find out!
My initial thoughts on Titanfall were far from positive. I booted up the game and was greeted by the training tutorial which appeared to be a black screen full of polygons. I managed to progress a few lessons into the tutorial, but noticed with growing alarm that weapons were missing, textures were wonky, and the final straw was when enemies would be covered in strange twisted wire sctulptures. My gaming rig can play most games at max settings, so I knew something was wrong. After spending several fruitless hours searching for solutions, I was directed toward a YouTube comment that solved my problem. In some instances on PC, Titanfall will default to use the integrated PC graphics rather than the actual graphics card users have installed. So, if you want to save yourself a great deal of frustration when you boot up the retail version of Titanfall, make sure that you check to make sure it is running on your graphics card.
I was... confused.
After resolving that issue, I managed to complete the tutorial, which consists of both pilot and titan training. In a number of ways Titanfall seeks to improve the established multiplayer FPS gameplay established by the likes of Battlefield and Call of Duty. One of the most prominent being the emphasis on mobility and verticality to level design and combat. While on foot, players can run on walls for a limited time or jump from wall to wall indefinitely. The inclusion of jet packs also means that reaching higher ledges is easy and juking enemies becomes a valid option. This mobility comes in very handy once enemy titans enter the fray.
Called down from orbit, these giant robotic suits can kill players simply by stepping on them without even bothering with their array of rockets, giant chain guns, reflective bullet shields, and dashes. Stepping into the cockpit of a titan or seeing them sow destruction across the battlefield is always impressive. When a match starts, all players begin with a certain amount of time to wait before they can call down their titan and eliminating enemies reduces the timer.
This system might seem to favor teams who receive their titans first, but on-foot players aren't completely defenseless. Armed with an anti-titan weapon and the ability to cloak, players can make themselves undetectable to titans while also packing a punch. But be warned, while cloaking is very effective against titans, it doesn't work quite as well against other enemies on foot. Titans are also limited to  ground. They can't climb on buildings or jump, so sometimes having the higher ground can be a very effective way to fight against their overwhelming force. Titans can also be exited and made to follow the player or to guard a position, which can be useful if you want to provide a big distraction or hold a position. If this all sounds impressive and fun, that's because it is very impressive and fun.

Three game modes were available during the beta: Attrition, Capture Point, and Last Titan Standing. Attrition was by far my favorite, which pits two teams of six against each other with each player or Titan kill deducting from a team total. If your team loses, all surviving players have to make a mad dash for an escape shuttle while the enemy team hunts down the survivors and attempts to destroy the shuttle. An interesting factor in attrition is that, even though there are only six players on each team, there are large numbers of AI soldiers who also participate in the battle, shouting to each other for back-up, calling out the positions of enemy pilots or titans, and respond to various combat situations relatively well. They aren't all that bright, but they lend every battle a feeling of scope that would be lacking otherwise. Capture Point is very similar to Attrition, but with the tried and true systems we've seen from other multiplayer FPS games before. Last Titan Standing is a single-life death match between two teams where every player starts with a titan, and the team to eliminate all enemy titans first is the victor. In a nice twist, even if you happen to lose your titan, you can still help your teammates while on foot.
Titanfall rewards players with experience following each match, allowing players to feel a sense of progression. Each level brings with it an unlocked weapon, mod, ability, etc. and completing certain challenges can unlock more gear to test out on the battlefield. While the level cap during the beta was fourteen, it is expected to be much higher for the full game with many other goodies unlocked later on like different titan chasis. Eventually, players will unlock the ability to use burn cards, which are cards that can be activated in-game while respawning to give a limited, one-life advantage in the form of a more powerful weapon, faster movement, etc. which serve to spice up the combat even more.

It is worth noting that while most of the weapons are different takes on weapons we've all seen before in FPS games, there was one that I found enjoyably different. The smart pistol lines up headshots automatically, requiring more time to target more powerful enemies. Once all shots are locked on, the pistol can fire and each bullet will hit, provided something else doesn't get in the way. If this seems cheap, it can be, but the downside is that with all the movement enemy players are capable of, locking all your shots can be a difficult task, especially if your opponent has a more conventional rifle or sniper rifle and has noticed your approach. 
Overall, my experience was overwhelmingly positive. Discovering small things like the several different animations that play depending on how you approach getting into your titan, or that you can hitch a ride on friendly titans, or calling down your titan on an unsuspecting enemy are all amazing little touches that give Titanfall a feeling of depth and excitement I haven't felt while playing online multiplayer since the original Halo. My first thought upon coming out of my first online match of Titanfall was that Respawn Entertainment has crafted the next big thing. It is fun, slick, responsive, creative, and you get to punch the snot out of giant robots. What's not to love?

Titanfall releases on Xbox One and PC on March 11 with an Xbox 360 coming March 25.

Jack Gardner
Yesterday, Ken Levine, the head of Irrational Games, announced that following the release of the final DLC for BioShock Infinite he would be massively down-sizing his studio to focus on smaller, replayable, digital-only games.
For those of you interested in Levine's goodbye letter, you can read it over on the Irrational website. For those of you wondering what happened, I'll try to break down the situation. Bear in mind that no one right now knows what went on behind closed doors between Ken Levine and publisher Take-Two Interactive and that some of this analysis will dip into speculative territory.
Here are some of the things we do know: Irrational Games was the studio that created BioShock and BioShock Infinite, two of the most widely acclaimed titles of the previous console cycle. About 90% of Irrational will be out of a job when all is said and done, leaving Ken Levine and about fifteen other people with a place in the studio. Ken Levine wants to be a part of a smaller team with more creative freedom and not just be a BioShock IP machine. Finally, 2K now has the rights to the BioShock series.

What initially struck me about this announcement wasn't excitement regarding Ken Levine's next project or that we can expect to see more games like BioShock 2. I just couldn't stop thinking about how huge Irrational Games was and how over 100 incredibly talented programmers, artists, writers, and scripters will now be looking for work and contemplating relocating their families because... well, we don't really know why.
Taken on a surface level, it could seem like Ken Levine and his creative desire to return to a smaller studio might be the reason so many people are out of work or that Levine saw the writing on the wall and decided to jump ship with his closest development leads. However, I don't think that's the case at all. I don't know Levine, but I'd like to give him the benefit of the doubt and think that he genuinely cares about his employees. In his farewell message, Levine mentions that he had been planning on striking out as an independent developer. After meeting with publisher Take-Two Interactive the company convinced Levine to stick with them along with the smaller team he desired. I find it likely that Take-Two Interactive saw this as a way of keeping their high-profile industry auteur while also drastically cutting costs. Maybe BioShock Infinite didn't make back quite as much money as the publisher would have liked, given the AAA budget and massive marketing campaigns. Perhaps the commercial failure of other projects like XCOM: Declassified put pressure on Take-Two to save money elsewhere. Whatever the case, Take-Two probably saw this as a win-win business scenario and gave Levine the go ahead to work on his smaller project.
Ultimately, the reason these talented game makers and world builders will cease to be a part of Irrational isn't, as I'm sure some fanciful journalists might like to believe, the result of one man's creative callousness or hubris, but rather a cold, mundane business decision. Someone somewhere crunched the numbers and they stacked up against the continued existence of Irrational Games as we know it. This is how the video game industry works these days. Take-Two has every right to make this move. At the same time, business decisions like this that lead to the difficult and often harsh working conditions that plague the people who make the games we enjoy. Irrational's situation is just the most visible symptom of a larger problem.
As for Ken Levine and his remaining team, what kind of a game can we expect to see out of them in the next few years? Reading between the lines, Levine wants to make a game that focuses on telling a compelling narrative while also being replayable and digitally distributed. This might seem a bit odd because most games that focus on narrative aren't necessarily the most replayable games. However, if you played BioShock Infinite, you might remember that throughout the game you made a handful of small choices. Admittedly, those choices had little impact on the overall story of Infinite, but what I thought was awesome about those few moments was how well they were woven into the core game. If I were to go out on a limb, I'd say that Levine wants to make a game similar to The Stanley Parable, a game whose narrative changes organically depending on how you play the game and respond to scenarios rather than with onscreen prompts or pauses in the gameplay. To me, that seems to fit with the ideas being highly replayable while also focusing on its narrative. It would also explain why such a long period of design would be required. I would also hazard a guess and say that it might be an FPS, given Levine's history with that genre.
It really sucks whenever a studio loses so many great people, especially when it is one of the most talented game developers in the AAA gaming space. My heart and prayers are with those people and their families. As one of my colleagues put it, "Maybe the next great indie developer will rise out of the ashes of Irrational. Good could come out of this yet."
What do you guys think about Irrational's ending? Also, here is a link to one of my favorite "Will The Circle Be Unbroken" covers. 

Jack Gardner
Titanfall, the first game from the creators of Call of Duty since they left developer Infinity Ward, has gone into open beta on both Xbox One and PC for the next few days.
Though originally slated to end on the 18th, it was announced via Twitter that the beta would be extended due to server down time and would instead end on the 19th at 6pm Pacific. Everyone who registered for the beta should now have the game added to their Origin libraries. However, if you didn't register it would appear that you are out of luck as new registrations are not being accepted.
Those with access to the beta can try out three different game modes: team deathmatch, Last Titan Standing, and capture point. The beta allows players to raise their accounts to level 14 as well as customize their Titans and loadouts.
Titanfall is being released on March 11 on PC and Xbox One with a Xbox 360 version coming on March 25.
Are you playing in the Titanfall beta? What do you think of it?

Jack Gardner
Yesterday, Riot Games announced that a new featured gameplay mode titled "Hexakill" would be making its way onto the Fields of Justice.
Hexakill will be available for a limited time beginning February 20. It will take place on the traditionally 5v5 map Summoner's Rift with the addition of an extra player on each team and a new voice over clip for those lucky enough to witness a full team of six destroyed at the hands of one player.
This will of course open the doors to many ridiculous team compositions and formations: triple mid, three duo lanes, and of course, the infamous triple jungle!
Featured gameplay modes are a way for the team at Riot Games to test out new and creative ideas to see what players find enjoyable without committing long term support. The previous featured modes were All-for-One, where each member of a team played the same champion, and the Showdown, in which one or two players would duel against equally matched adversaries. Both modes were only available for about a month, so League players should expect about the same life-expectancy from hexakill.
Good luck, Summoners!

Jack Gardner
This year's Game Developers Choice Awards will take place on March 19 in San Francisco. Most nominees will have to wait until the ceremony to see if they have received a coveted GDC Award, however a handful of special recognition award winners have been announced ahead of time.
The Ambassador Award is given out each year to people who have helped games "advance to a better place." Anita Sarkeesian was selected for her work on Feminist Frequency and Tropes vs. Women in Video Games which turns a critical eye on how women are portrayed in video games. Most people will recall Sarkeesian's work after the harassment-wrought Kickstarter campaign for the Tropes vs. Women in Video Games YouTube series.
Riot Games' co-founders Brandon Beck and Marc Merrill have received the Pioneer Award for helping to create League of Legends, the most commercially successful free-to-play game, and the most played game, in the world. They are being honored for growing the eSports community and making great strides in large-scale community management.
Who do you think deserves recognition for their work during 2013?

Jack Gardner
UPDATE: Dong Nguyen has clarified why he decided to pull the plug on the latest mobile sensation.
Nguyen gave an interview to Forbes that confirmed that Flappy Bird is gone forever and won't be coming back. Why did he decide to take his game off the app market? Turns out he did it as a form of public service. Nguyen stated during the interview that, "Flappy Bird was designed to play in a few minutes when you are relaxed, but it happened to become an addictive product. I think it has become a problem. To solve that problem, it’s best to take down Flappy Bird." Prior to taking down the game Nguyen couldn't sleep due to the guilt he felt over people's uncontrollable urge to play his game. When asked if he might regret his decision, he responded, “I don’t think it’s a mistake. I have thought it through.”
Certainly this has been a very interesting situation, what do you think of Nguyen's stance on the success of his game? Can a game be too successful?
Original Story: On Sunday, Dong Nguyen, the creator of the popular mobile game Flappy Bird tweeted that "he couldn't take this anymore" and that he would be taking it down within the next 22 hours. Today, Flappy Bird is no longer available on the Android or iOS.
Flappy Bird met with massive success following its release, but left Nguyen feeling alienated and he eventually grew to hate the game. People can only speculate as to why Nguyen decided to take down Flappy Bird, but it could have to do with the harassment he received from "fans" or from the press coverage that disrupted his life.
What will Dong Nguyen do post-Flappy Bird? His final tweet following the Flappy Bird take down announcement is simply, "And I still make games." We'll all look forward to whatever he makes next.

Jack Gardner
The film, titled KAZ: Pushing The Virtual Divide, centers around the 15 year evolution of Gran Turismo and Kazunori's development team.
Basically, the documentary explores how Kaz has attempted to capture as much of the essence of racing as possible within Gran Turismo. As the film unfolds, it becomes clear that who Kazunori Yamauchi is as a person drove his dedication and commitment to realism and ultimately spread that quality to the rest of the development team.
The documentary itself is beautifully shot, with more scenic locations than you might expect from a retrospective look at video game development. People involved in nearly every area of development make an appearance, as well as some professions that draw interesting parallels to Gran Turismo; unexpected guests appear from origami artists and race car drivers to sculptors and surfboard shapers.
Though available on Hulu since January 22, the documentary is now being made freely available across various streaming sites including: YouTube, Vimeo, and Reel House. The Vimeo version of KAZ will have English subtitles right off the bat, with Japanese, Spanish, Brazilian Portuguese, and Canadian French added over the next few weeks. The Reel House site will be receiving extra content including downloads for a few of the original songs found in the documentary.

Jack Gardner
Sometimes it can be hard for the average video game enthusiast to find interesting video game art to adorn the walls of their abode. Luckily, there are skilled artists in various corners of the internet willing to sell their work for a fair price. Etsy is one such corner.
For those of you who aren't familiar with it, Etsy is basically the arts and crafts hub of the internet. People make clothes, furniture, jewelry, art, etc. and put it up for sale on the site, usually at quite a reasonable price. Given the popularity of video games, it isn't at all surprising that a significant portion of the Etsy artists and craftspeople decide to put out products inspired by some of their favorite video game titles. As you scroll through these awesome artistic renderings, bear in mind that these represent a small fraction of the work available on the main site.
Click on the images for a better look at the artwork, or visit the linked Etsy pages for more details.
BioShock - Minimalist by CaptainsPrintShop - $20

BioShock - Watercolor by CaptainsPrintShop - $20

BioShock Infinite Poster from WestGraphics - $18

BioShock Infinite Elizabeth by WilliamHenryDesign - $20

Doom II Poster from Kitschaus - $30

Fallout - Minimalist by CaptainsPrintShop - $20

Final Fantasy Tactics Poster from Kitschaus - $30

Ico Poster from Kitschaus - $20

Journey Poster from Geeky Prints - Price ranges from $4.99 to $51.99 depending on print size

Mass Effect Series by WilliamHenryDesign - $25

Mega Man Screen Printed Poster by InspirationxCreation - $19

Mega Man Buster Cannon by AndrewHeath - $10

Metal Gear Solid V - Snake by 2ToastDesign - $19.95 or $39.95 depending on size

Minecraft - Life Goals by MrSuspenders - $39.95

PITFALL Atari 2600 Retro Vintage Classic by RobOsborne - $20

Pong-inspired 8-bit Poster by minimalpixels - $16.77

Portal - Hello by DirtyGreatPixelsUK - $16.77 or $33.54 depending on size

Portal - The Cake Is A Lie by WestGraphics - Price ranges from $18 to $50

Secret of Mana Poster from Kitschaus - $20

Shadow of the Colossus by bigbadrobot - Price ranges from $17 to $38 depending on size

Shadow of the Colossus from Kitschaus - $25

Smash Bros. Link vs. Mario by NukaColaFan - $11.99

Sonic the Hedgehog by VICTORYDELUXE - $6.99

Star Fox by NukaColaFan - $14.99

Street Fighter Character Sakura Alpha In Cubes by BITxBITxBIT - $30

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time from Kitschaus - $20

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker from Kitschaus - $35

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker by PoppyseedHeroes - Currently unavailable, but it still looks incredibly awesome!

TRON poster from adamrabalais - $20 Yeah, I know this isn't a video game per say, but it's close enough in my book.

XCOM Classic Ironman by MrSuspenders - $39.95

Let us know which ones were your favorites!

Jack Gardner
Despite the fishy locale, don't expect the continuation of the Burial at Sea downloadable content to be watered-down. Episode Two will put players in the role of Elizabeth, the heroine/sidekick from BioShock Infinite and Burial at Sea: Episode One. Developer Irrational has also promised an appearance from pretty much every major player from both BioShock and BioShock Infinite.
One of the complaints leveled against Episode One was that its short length left some gamers wanting more content. Ken Levine tweeted that Episode Two will take five or six hours for completionists and hardcore fans to finish.
Burial at Sea: Episode Two hits March 25 and will retail at $15 for people without the Season Pass.

Jack Gardner
The motion picture studio Lionsgate will be working with Twitch and MLG to put on a month long tournament February 5-22, culminating in a championship showdown with $10,000 on the line.
While this represents the first time a major Hollywood studio has partnered with eSports and streaming organizations, it isn't entirely without motivation. Lionsgate is sponsoring the tournament in an effort to market the Blu-ray release of Ender's Game on February 11th. Ender's Game, both a novel and a film, is about a boy named Ender Wiggin who is sent to a remote space station for special leadership and combat training. The tactical tutelage that Ender endures is roughly analogous to the strategies professional StarCraft II players display on their own sci-fi battlefields.
“Lionsgate understands that gamers are more than a niche, they are everyone,” said Ben Goldhaber, the director of content marketing at Twitch. “By leveraging Twitch’s community of 45 million gamers, many of whom spend hours playing and watching sci-fi inspired games, creating an eSport event around Ender’s Game on our platform makes perfect sense.”
MLG, in partnership with GameOn, will run the Ender’s Game on Blu-ray Tournament. MLG will directly invite 12 players, and fans have the opportunity to vote on the remaining four players. Voting will take place from now until February 5th at http://gameon.gg. In total, over $20,000 in prizes are being awarded to skilled players.
What kind of play can we expect out of this tournament? Check out one of the games from MLG's 2013 Grand Finals.

Jack Gardner
Between now and February 2nd, 3DS and 2DS owners can visit the Nintendo eShop and download the classic adventure (with a few new features) for free. 
The original 2003 Game Boy Advanced version of Four Swords came packaged with A Link to the Past, but could only be played with other people who also had the game and with the appropriate connection cables. In the 3DS/2DS update, the multiplayer options are still intact, each player will need a copy of the game and their own handheld, but gamers now have the option to play solo, switching between two different Links in order to solve puzzles. 
Additionally, a new area called the Realm of Memories has been added after players conquer Four Swords. The Realm of Memories will give gamers the opportunity to revisit parts of older titles. 
Now watch this trailer from Four Swords Anniversary's 2011 release with Robin Williams and his daughter, Zelda.

Jack Gardner
Project Aces has announced how and when Ace Combat fans can get access to the PlayStation 3 beta. February 4-11, gamers can download the PlayStation 3-exclusive Ace Combat Infinity open beta client from the PlayStation Store. Access to the beta is free and participants will receive a unique, in-game emblem. Players will be able to give feedback on the beta by filling out this survey. 
The beta will have two modes, one for single player and another for co-op. The solo campaign will feature ridiculous super weapons, over-the-top aerial dogfights, and other staples of the Ace Combat franchise. Co-op will have players teaming up in up to two groups of four, pitting themselves against hordes of NPC aircraft.
As a long-time Ace Combat enthusiast, I am very eager to get some hands-on time with Infinity. Hopefully it will have a relatively long life cycle, despite being a PS3-exclusive.