Review: That Trivia Game

Which trivia game? PlayStation 4′s new trivia game

sac city gamer, that trivia gameWhen I read the news on the PlayStation Blog the other day that That Trivia Game was coming to PS4 with Tuesday’s PSN store update, I was pretty stoked.

My wife and I are huge fans of games like Buzz, Wheel of Fortune (the good one by THQ, not that other abomination), TV Show King and more. It’s not often that we find games we can play together as aside from being a Mario Kart enthusiast and a Candy Crush addict, my wife doesn’t really game much.

Curious as to who made the game, I looked up Happy Dance Games on Google and didn’t find much. I then found their Facebook page and came to realize that this is the first game by the studio for a home console. Happy Dance Games is an offshoot of The Game Room, a company that produces things like arcade machines and pool tables.

“This is our very first PS4 title,” wrote the game’s social media manager in response to my inquiry. “We have developed other products but not for the consumer home entertainment industry. Also the focus of That Trivia Game is purely on the trivia and if you check out our credits, you will see the dev team is quite small compared to everyone else out there. We also wrote the engine and our tools from scratch – there is no middleware.”

I was a little worried when I heard this, but didn’t think much of it considering the game looked good based on screenshots and with it being a $9.99 download game, I figured it was worth the money even if the wife and I only get a few fun plays out of it.

Presentation

ss-002After purchasing the game from the PlayStation Store, I jumped right into the action. The first thing I noticed is that there is no options menu. There’s no way to alter difficulty, adjust screen size, edit sound options, swap controls; nothing at all. There are two options on the main menu, which features the game’s logo and a TV production studio that feels similar to menus from some of the Buzz games. The first option is to play by yourself and the second is to play with others.

Upon clicking either option, players are taken to a character select screen. Multiplayer, by the way, is offline only and can be played with up to three friends. The game features 6 characters ranging from a pirate to a rocker to a nerd, all with male and female variants. Each one has a few costumes, which are just color changes. Players are also asked to choose a buzzer sound (this is the sound you hear when chiming in with an answer) from a list of about 20 that feels like it was plucked right out of the most recent Buzz game.

A controls screen then comes up to show you what buttons to press. Not much to it. The face buttons are the answer keys and that’s about it. The only use of the DualShock 4 is the light bar. The light turns green with right answers and red with wrong answers.

Graphics

The visuals are not much to write home (or to the SCG readers) about. For a PS4 game, the game doesn’t use much of the system’s power. Being an independent game, I’ll give it a pass here, but the game just feels like it would have been better suited for mobile devices in this department.

However, I’ll say this, the game is crisp and clean, runs smoothly, has nice lighting and environment and overall looks pleasing. It just doesn’t feel original, and doesn’t have a next gen feel at all.

For a game that was, as the Facebook post said, focused on the trivia aspects, it’s not a bad looking game. It just leaves a little bit to be desired.

Sound

There’s not much to say about the sound. The game features the right amount of cheesy game show music, a host that reads all the questions and makes silly comments in between rounds, when choosing a category and in other parts of the show in that perfect game show, over-the-top tone of voice.

This is fun at first, but the comments become repetitive and a little annoying. If the host was more enthusiastic and sounded like a real voice actor, it wouldn’t have been so bad, but the host’s voice just sounds odd. He tends to pronounce words phonetically and speaks in chopped up speech patterns, leading me to believe it was not a real voice actor but rather a programmed voice with pieced-together sound bites.

The crowd sounds are repetitive, but the buzzer sounds are fun. Lastly, I found it funny that the sound the game makes when players get an answer right and points are added to their scores sounds like grabbing a coin in Mario.

Gameplay

ss-001The “show” begins with generic, yet as I mentioned before, perfectly cheesy, game show music and the host welcomes everyone to That Trivia Game. The host is quite creepy looking and I couldn’t help but think he was a ripoff of Buzz. His mouth doesn’t sync properly, his eyes are a little scary and the lines are delivered in robotic monotone.

The host introduces the contestants, who don’t appear to be very excited to be on a game show, and round one begins. The first round is just a basic point builder. The host asks a question and the players answer by pressing one of the face buttons.

Before the round begins, the human player is asked to choose a category. In a multiplayer game, out of the three games my wife and I played, it always asked player one as opposed to asking the person in last place to choose the category like other games.

A couple of positives here are, according to its website,  the development team aimed to make the game easy for everyone, so the answers are displayed on the screen in the order the buttons appear on the controller. This is great. One issue I’ve had with other trivia games is that the answers don’t match up to the button layout and it makes it hard for newcomers.

Also, I love that the host actually reads the questions. Too many trivia game force the player to read the question, often not leaving enough time to read and answer the question. That’s not a problem here. One interesting note though is that there is no pause function. I’m sure the developers did this to cut down on cheating for trophy earning, but it’s a bummer if a player needs to use the restroom or receives an emergency phone call.

At the end of the first round, there’s one last question, which can be wagered on. Why this wasn’t a whole round, I’m not sure but players can pick 100, 250, 500 or 750 points to wager. Of course, players earn that amount for a right answer and lose it for a wrong answer.

Round two is the countdown round. This round works the same as the first round except that the wrong answers begin to disappear. The longer players wait to answer, the less points they’ll receive for a correct answer. Round 3 is called the quick draw round where players get more points based on how fast they can correctly buzz in. The time counts down in points instead of seconds in this round.

ss-005The final flash round is similar to one of the rounds in You Don’t Know Jack in that a question is asked and several answers are flashed on the screen, one at a time. Players must press X the fastest when they see the correct answer. If all answers flash and no one gets it right, the answers will cycle again in a different order.

The problem with this round is that it subtracts point for a wrong answer, so making a mistake here can take players from leading the pack to being in last place. This wouldn’t be much of a problem if this wasn’t the final round. Often, I get an answer wrong toward the end of the round and then there aren’t enough questions left to redeem myself. It can be quite frustrating to lead the entire game and then lose because of a mistake in the last round.

One last blunder of this game is that despite having up to four players in multiplayer, in single player, all games only feature two contestants. There is no way to play against two or three CPU players.

At the end of the final round, the game shows the results screen which includes who came in what place and how many correct/incorrect answers each player got. After this, the host wraps up the show and the credits roll while the contestants stand at the podiums with very bored looks on their faces.

Overall

Though the trivia here is a mix of easy, medium and hard questions across categories ranging from animals, to science, to outer space, to movies and TV, to miscellaneous, to sports and more, and is pretty fun to try your hand at seeing how much you know, as a video game, it just isn’t very exciting.

There are no unlockables or customization options. There are no special rounds to make the game stand out as unique. The game isn’t flashy or graphically stunning. The sound isn’t anything special.

In the end, the game takes a lot of elements from other games, presents them in a minimalistic visual style and combines all of that with a solid trivia engine that features 1,000 questions for a game that’s worth a play only if you’re really into trivia games. I can’t recommend it as a video game for traditional reasons or as a way to show off your PS4, but with so few games to play on the PS4 and the fun this game can bring to families, it’s a solid downloadable title for a reasonable price.

Photos courtesy http://www.thatriviagame.com. Review based on PlayStation 4 game downloaded by Daniel Wilson for personal use.

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Put down the pen, pick up a gamepad

The latest and greatest video games to play over spring break

Originally published in the April 10, 2014 print edition of the Sac City Express

Graphic courtesy Sac City Express

Graphic courtesy Sac City Express

 

If there’s one thing that’s for sure in life, it’s that being a video gamer and a college student is a tough combination to juggle.

It’s hard enough trying to find time for any hobbies while slaving over stacks of paper, reading endless pages of textbook goodness, studying all night long for tests and quizzes and trying to stay awake through all those hours of lectures, but free time to play video games? What’s that?

Luckily, spring break is here and it’s an exciting time because that shiny new Xbox One and PlayStation 4 actually have some games coming out to play. The recently released “Infamous: Second Son” for PS4, “TitanFall” for Xbox One, and the multi-console “Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes” are sure to keep gamers busy during this year’s break from classes.

In addition, “Thief” for current and next generation systems recently began pick-pocketing gamers, and “Castlevania: Lords of Shadow 2,” “Dark Souls II” and “South Park: The Stick of Truth” hit current generation consoles over the last couple of months.

As for new releases over the seven glorious days of freedom, according to IGN.com, “Lego: The Hobbit” turns Bilbo Baggins into a mini- figure, Elder Scrolls Online finally drops on PC, “Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn” brings the legendary series to the realm of MMORPG and Red Lynx Studios’ critically acclaimed series “Trials” comes to PlayStation with “Trials Fusion,” which will also release for PC and Xbox One.

For those gamers who are into motion gaming, Xbox One serves up “Kinect Sports Rivals” in time for spring break. While the picking is a little bit slim for the handhelds and Nintendo’s home console, the Wii U, gamers who haven’t picked up “Super Mario 3D World” yet owe it to themselves to play one of 2013’s biggest games.

In fact, picking up a Wii U is a good idea if nothing on the other consoles jumps out as must-play right now because in May, “Mario Kart 8” hits store shelves and a new “Smash Bros.” game is slated for release later this year.

Whether it’s a new release that has college students firing up their consoles or PCs this spring break, or if they’re setting out to tackle that backlog of recent games that college classes have kept gamers from playing, there’s plenty of rest, relaxation and 12-hour button mashing marathons to be had during this year’s week away from campus.

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Sony announces Project Morpheus – Virtual Reality for PS4 (Update)

PlayStation Blog post confirms the long-rumored VR tech for PlayStation 4

A post over at the PlayStation Blog confirms Project Morpheus, Sony’s new VR headset for PS4. The post isn’t fully up so more details to come. But take a look at the photo!

Update: The post over at PlayStation Blog has been updated for more info.

“Our current prototype for Project Morpheus features a head mounted display with 1080p resolution and a 90 degree field of view. Accelerometer and gyroscope sensors built into the head mounted unit as well as PlayStation Camera accurately tracks head orientation and movement, so as your head rotates, the image of the virtual world rotates intuitively in real-time. Project Morpheus also features our new 3D audio technology that re-creates stereoscopic sounds in all directions and changes in real-time depending on your head orientation. In addition to PlayStation Camera, Project Morpheus works with DUALSHOCK 4 Wireless Controller and PlayStation Move to deliver an easy-to-use, plug-and-play VR experience.” - Shu Yoshida, PlayStation Blog.

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Local Microsoft Specialty Store to hold TitanFall launch event

Pick up the game at a local game store and get in on a chance to win cool prizes and other swag

DfvUklksPicking up TitanFall for that shiny new Xbox One? Want to buy it local and support local businesses? Well, then you are in luck!

Jesse Ely, an assistant store manager at the Microsoft Specialty Store in the Roseville Galleria reached out to SCG recently and asked us to let our readers know about a special launch night event the store will be holding.

“We are trying to get the word out to the gaming community that we are holding a HUGE Launch Title Night for the game TITANFALL on XBOX ONE,” Ely said in an email.

According to Ely, there will be prizes and giveaways as well. They will be raffling off a TitanFall Xbox One console (a brand new Xbox One with a free digital download of the game) as well as a Nokia Lumia 1020 AT&T phone. Untitled

“We will be giving out $2,000 in prizes, raffle items, a special TitanFall T-Shirt for all attendees and a FREE YEAR of XBOX LIVE GOLD for the first 25 people in line,” said Ely.

The event takes place on the night of Monday, March 10 at 9 p.m. and leads up to the midnight launch of the game. The store will have 3 large flat screen TVs where people can play the game while they wait. In addition, Ely added that there will be beverages and food.

The game will also be available on PC. The Xbox 360 version was delayed and will now be available on March 26.

If you have any questions, you can email Jesse Ely at jeely@microsoft.com or call the store at (916) 742-5409. The store is located near Crate and Barrel inside the Westfield Galleria at 1151 Galleria Blvd. in Roseville.

Let us know if you attend and tell us how it went. We’ll feature your comments on the site!

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SCEA President & CEO Jack Tretton steps down

Legendary Sony Computer Entertainment America leader leaves position March 31

19-year Sony veteran and current President & CEO Jack Tretton has stepped down, official March 31. We here at Sac City Gamer wish him the best in the future and thank him for all of his contributions to PlayStation and to gaming. Read his official statement here.

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Rocksteady Announces Arkham Knight; Some People are Surprised


Well, it finally happened. Rocksteady Games announced Batman: Arkham Knight, its third entry in the Arkham series it started back in 2009 with Batman: Arkham Asylum. And apparently, it’s a huge surprise to some people.

I predicted this shit as soon as Arkham Origins was announced. I called it a placeholder by some pinch-hitter studio (WB Montreal) while Rocksteady did the real threequel for next-gen consoles and PC. And I was 100% right. The next game is exclusively on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC. But it’s not like I was some oracle looking at a crystal ball; I just followed the breadcrumbs.. Arkham City has several compelling subplots that aren’t resolved (and didn’t need to be since the main plot was resolved so well) that could lead to a new story. Azazel and Hush are running around Gotham in that universe doing weird shit at the end of City.

But a few websites weren’t sure if this was actually happening. In mid-2012, rumors started floating around about a Silver Age Batman game. With no evidence to back them up, some sites ran the story anyway and started talking like this was already a sure thing. Some folks even started speculating that Rockstead was working on a Superman game. I distinctly remember Giant Bomb’s Brad Shoemaker asking “do we really need another Batman game?” Did everybody in the games press forget that these games have stories to tell?

Obviously, those rumors were unsubstantiated. Yes, we did get a Batman prequel, but it took place in the Arkham universe, copying the aesthetic of the previous games. I don’t know if the collective amnesia the games press had for the story in Arkham City speaks to how weak it’s story was (I thought it was good), the fatigue of the franchise, or if story in games really doesn’t matter to these men and women. But I’m glad we can at least put to rest rumors of an Adam West-inspired Batman and just admit I’m right. Like I’m right about everything.*

*I’m so not right about everything.

The phenomenon that is watching others game

Live streams, “Let’s Play” videos, countless internet walkthroughs and why it could mean the end of single-player games

Twitch MainGrowing up in the late 80s and throughout the 90s, I watched video games evolve from a new and niche platform for entertainment to a globally popular pastime.

Then, with the introduction of online gaming for console’s during the PS2 and Xbox era, the scope of how games could be experienced was pleasantly altered. But in the age of social media, YouTube and live streaming, gamers have taken that to a whole new level.

In today’s gaming world, the playing field has drastically changed in terms of how gamers experience video games.

In a recent Plugged In article, one of the founders of TwitchTV, a streaming site that allows video games to be live streamed  straight from the PS4 and (soon-to-be) Xbox One or other platforms, was quoted on just how popular live streaming has become.

“Each month, over 35,000 individual accounts stream content,” Kan said. “The high watermark for concurrent streams (simultaneous broadcasters streaming at the same time) is around 1,450.”

That’s pretty impressive, I must say. And gamers who become popular streamers can even make money doing it now. But I still wonder about the appeal of watching other people play games.

I mean I’ve logged on to my PS4 a few times and watched other people play for a few minutes, I look up gameplay footage all the time just to see if a game looks like a worthy purchase and I’ve looked up clips from walkthroughs when I’ve been stuck trying to find that last collectible.

Hell, I even sat through an entire “Let’s Play” video of Superman 64 because I wanted to see why it is regarded as one of the worst games of all time. I also wanted to see more of it, seeing as I never made it past the ridiculous “fly through the rings” opening level.

I admit, watching it was fun and very educational, as the particular player hosted a ton of information about the game’s history, development cycle and more. Not to mention, I definitely realized why the game is so hated.

But I still scratch my head at why so many gamers enjoy spending hours watching others play. Is it to learn new techniques, hints and tips? Is it to save money by enjoying the story of a game you don’t find to have appealing gameplay?

I just don’t get it.

I’m a gamer. I play games. Watching others can be fun for a little while, but the huge amount of popularity it has garnered just makes little to no sense to me. Nonetheless, this new way of experiencing video games is here to stay and I’m not knocking it.

I mean this isn’t much different from when we were kids and read gaming magazines that featured full-on game guides. It isn’t much different than going to a friend’s house and watching them play a game, and with the ability to comment and/or voice chat with the person streaming the game, it’s not much different than cheering or booing said friend while they played.

It’s definitely an interesting trend, but I wonder if it’s just that: a trend. How ever long it stays popular, though, it’s an important step in the evolution of gaming because it could have serious implications on how developers approach making their games in the future.

With more and more games moving away from single player game experiences and pushing for more online gameplay, I hate to think about where the gaming world could be heading in terms of single-player games. Will the streaming revolution make the end of single-player games come sooner than later?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments and as always, keep it locked to Sac City Gamer.

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Examining gender roles and social constructs through Lara Croft, Ellen Ripley, and Katniss Everdeen

The term “gender” gets conflated with the term “sex” all the time. Sex is the biological term for “male” or “female” and gender is more encompassing. Gender refers to the social expectations accompanying sex. When you think of female and male, you associate characteristics with each gender. The problem is that a lot of our gender-based expectations exist only to perpetuate stereotypes and arcane social structures that seek to undermine the progression of women in the male-dominated world (patriarchy). But with time, every system degrades, and art and life imitate each other to create this ouroboros of influence.

These rigid categorizations of gender permeate media at every conceivable level and they’re not going away over the course of a few short years or even decades. Each generation takes small steps to break down and examine the relevance of gender roles and constructs in their politics, their entertainment, and their art. And some attempts are more successful than others.

Lara Croft first appeared in Tomb Raider in 1996 on the PlayStation. She and the game she starred in represented rarities in the gaming world; a female protagonist in the traditionally male-dominated action genre gained a lot of mainstream attention. Cut to the reboot in 2013, titled Tomb Raider, and she and the game she stars in are still rarities.

In 17 years, the country’s rigid gender constructs haven’t shifted enough to allow for equity between male and female characters in popular culture. That’s a problem, but it’s not the only one in the context of Tomb Raider.

The bigger problem is the character herself. Lara doesn’t represent a step forward for female character design, for one. She doesn’t break down or examine gender constructs at all. But aside from that, she fails as a rounded character in her own right. But that’s a discussion for another time.

If Lara is supposed to represent a feminist hero, then she shouldn’t get all of her motivation, skills, and life lessons from male figures. Her mentor: gruff, old dude. Her main enemy: crazy, old dude. Her pre-existing familial issue: following in the footsteps of her dude parent (known in clinical circles as the father). The only female character in the game she has a real relationship with is Sam. The relationship in this game: rescuing her before she gets sacrificed by the derelict, male populace. Sam is the damsel in distress and Lara’s role is to save her. Her femininity, and her humanity by the same token, is limited to her moments of vulnerability. After the killing starts, she just becomes another video game character. She couldn’t conform to traditional male gender roles more.lararadiotower

This prevalence of male figures in her life and this chapter in particular meanthat her worldview has essentially been shaped by men. If our attitudes, personalities, and prejudices are inherited or affected by our relationships to others, then we can only assume Lara Croft is shaped by the men in her life because the only other important characters in the game around Lara are guys.

Katniss Everdeen falls somewhere in the middle between Lara Croft and Ellen Ripley; while her empathetic nature falls into traditional female gender roles, she is definitely “coded” male, in the words of the Escapist’s Bob Chipman. “Katniss is so macho, she even hates the cat,” he points out. “For fuck’s sake, even Clint Eastwood was nice to the cat.”

12135531-katniss-everdeen-from-the-hunger-gamesAgain, this is judging her by the standards of “conventional” feminine and masculine qualities. Her terseness, disdain for the cat, and physical prowess are “coded” masculine. There’s no logical reason for that; it’s just the way society has conditioned us. What’s even more insidious is how we are conditioned to call qualities like softness, compassion, and tenderness as “feminine.” They should just be called “human.” But we live in a society that values male aggression to the point where boys are conditioned to be violent and our prisons are overwhelmingly full of males.

But Ripley, at least in Alien and Aliens, shows how pointless the social construct of gender as we know it is. She is a living amalgamation of the best of “traditionally” masculine and feminine traits: she’s a capable soldier, a caring and empathetic parental figure, and a clever problem solver. Her empathy doesn’t just show up in her arc with Newt, but in the scene where the marines first encounter the aliens. As the company man refuses to help the marines, she takes control of the vehicle and barges through to save them. She saves her surrogate daughter by blasting away aliens. Both of these scenes combine a traditionally “masculine” action with a traditionally “feminine” motive. By placing these two traits within one character, Aliens says that these terms are arbitrary. She is masculinity and femininity in one.

It asks the question “why do these matter?” while we respond “because that is how society is built and continued to be molded by.” It’s not the film’s fault that we are constantly trying to place Ripley, Hicks, and others in specific categories. It’s how we were trained. Aliens invites us to throw all that away by focusing on a character that doesn’t fit into those categories. Even though the film also focuses on the concept of maternity, it still places that concept in the context of an action movie where dudes are blowing away aliens with shotguns. Call it tonal shift, call it dissonant, call it genius; it’s still crazy. And the most badass, heroic, fearsome, and competent figures in the entire picture? The mother figures.

aliens ripleySo if Ripley is simply “masculinized,” that means she can’t be heroic. Because to be “masculine” as we define it, means to be direct, action-oriented, and heroic. That’s a narrow, regressive view of humanity that illustrates how useless gender constructs are. It means that Ripley isn’t feminine because she actually kicks ass. It means that male protagonists have to sociopathic assholes who only express anger if they are to be considered “men.” For example, I read that Ripley becoming an action hero betrays the feminist undertones of the first film because it categorizes her as a “chick with a dick[gun].” If a woman taping an assault rifle to a flamethrower like a fucking champion “de-feminizes” her in your mind, you’re the one with the problem. You should look at how she treats people and how she acts. A gun is just a gun. Just because Freud would call it a dick-replacement doesn’t mean it is.

Ripley’s characterization illustrates the relative uselessness of current gender conceptions. Katniss represents what might be the most progressive step in female characterization in cinema since Aliens. Lara Croft is an abject failure, but at least she exists. At least she is there to say “women can be main characters.” Even Ripley represents how entrenched gender roles and expectations are in our society. Cinema and gaming continually overlook half of the world’s population. And when creators do acknowledge the fact that the female gender exists, the (mostly male) corporate creative body inconsistently portrays them. Sometimes, they do it well, sometimes they fail, but they will always create characters that we examine under centuries-old sociological microscopes.

What a Star Trek game could be

TNG_crewThere’s a very obvious reason why I’m writing this article: I’ve been watching a ton of Star Trek: The Next Generation. In fact, I just finished the series. Seven seasons, mostly of good to great quality, of a science-fiction series with the kind of optimism, open-mindedness, and ideals that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in my life. A lot of movies, literature, games, and television have happy endings, but they don’t arise out of genuine optimism (unless it’s someone like Spielberg) but instead out of business concerns: placating an audience.

TNG’s optimistic view of humanity in the future, a humanity that has largely shed it’s pettiness, become benevolent explorers of the galaxy, and adopted an open-mind of alien cultures, fascinates me for many reasons. One of which is that the vibe of TNG, or even the vibe of Trek overall, has largely been ignored by subsequent sci-fi properties where cynicism, pessimism, and darkness are hip. And, yeah, one of my favorite shows of all time is Breaking Bad but I don’t see why everything has to be so relentlessly dark.

The most talked-about TV shows, now that Breaking Bad is over, are The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, both of which feature horrible things happening to people while horrible people perpetrate them and succeed. Prestige television seems to focus almost exclusively on the amoral, with shows about serial killers, meth dealers, and crooked advertising agents. The most popular, and to be honest some of the best, games of the past few years center around bank robbers, mercenaries, apocalypses, and patricide. I honestly can’t remember playing a game that exuded optimism about the future of humanity.

There have been plenty of supposed Star Trek emulators in mechanics or plot, but the distinct vibe is never replicated. It always gets too dark and pessimistic. And this comes from a guy who spent his high school days as a proudly cynical asshole. I’m also not saying there isn’t a place for dark and gloomy, I’m just saying there’s room for more of it. I’d like to see people get excited about a game that looks ahead and tells us positive things. With the recent release of The Banner Saga, I’m seeing yet another soul-crushingly dark game where there are no victories, except for maybe Pyrrhic ones, reap praise. I think I’m just tired of games making me depressed. So, let’s talk about what a Star Trek game could be.

FIRST: THE IMITATORS, THE SUCCESSORS, AND THE TRIBUTESFTL-Faster-Than-Light-review-6-e1349790095187

Star Trek‘s cultural footprint is undeniable, massive, and impossible for me to truly comprehend and appreciate. But I do recognize certain  games as clear byproducts of Gene Roddenberry’s seminal shows. Mass Effect and FTL: Faster than Light both capture different specific aspects of Star Trek. Mass Effect captures the space-faring, intergalactic political strife while FTL captures the moment-to-moment battlestation duties of an Enterprise Captain. Both of these in isolation make for fantastic games on their own, but combining them would be about half of the overall Star Trek formula. However, both of those games lack the fundamental spirit of the shows.

In FTL, you are a Federation Captain on the run from the “Rebels” for some unknown reason. Your goal is to rendezvous with the remnants of the Federation. This means that you are not doing what the crew of the Enterprise was. You are not exploring, seeking out new life, or boldly going where no one has gone before. Instead, you’re blowing shit up, bargaining with slavers, and constantly running with your tail between your legs. Now, I do remember an episode of TNG ( Parallels) where a Grizzly Adams-looking Capt. Riker refused to go back to a universe where the Borg had taken over. This makes me think a Star Trek game like FTL or Mass Effect 3 could work under that context, but let’s establish the Trek that is, instead of the alternate-universe Trek that could be, first.

Speaking of Mass Effect, it also captures Star Trek in some striking ways while also making a distinctly individualized universe. The political machinations and diplomatic struggles are there with the Turian/Krogan/Salarian conflict. The other races of the galaxy don’t trust the new kids on the block, the humans. And of course other races and worlds having their own hangups, like the Quarians manufacturing artificial intelligence that almost wipes them out. Bummer. These conflicts don’t mimick Trek so much as they capture the essence of that part of Trek. mass effect 3

However, Star Trek does not have piles of dead bodies lining a corridor leading you to the conclusion that yes, resistance is futile. Which is essentially what Mass Effect 3 wants you to believe. This doesn’t need to be a bad thing, but, as I’ve said before, I’m tired of it. Seemingly every game tells me that everything is going to end poorly no matter what I do and I should just kill myself (also, this sentiment was not well-explored). I want some games to provide me with a vision of the future I can look forward to, even if I won’t see it.

Don’t Worry, Be Happy

Optimism, awe, wonder, and hope are the foundations that Roddenberry built Star Trek on. The aesthetics, allegories, and battle mechanics have been replicated before but not these core themes. And I applaud Bioware and Subset Games and other studios for taking inspiration and forging their own works. But those works contribute to my malaise of gritty, serious, cynical art that permeates American culture and my generation in particular right now.

So, how does one make a Star Trek game feel like Star Trek? First, make characters that embody the best aspects of humanity. Intelligence, altruism, empathy, and respect for others are the important ones. These characters need to be good at their jobs as well as be caring and respectful of others and other cultures, even the cultures with whose morals they don’t agree with. Picard and Riker don’t exactly agree with one alien culture’s idea that everyone should die at 60, but they understand that cultural norms, morals, and vices are all relative. Ethnocentrism has no place on a Federation starship.

Therefore, relationships among these characters can’t play out the way they would in among real 21st century people. Moving through dialogue Mass Effect-style would have to lead the player to try to reach situations best for everybody involved, or to make a moral judgment and aid the greater good, whichever that may be. Crafting dialogue that gives meaningful choice and conveys a specific, defined character is tough. But these tough choices don’t have to conflict with the ethos of Star Trek, which acknowledges that our pasts and cultures make us unique from one another, and it could still lead to externalized conflict. It could also provide an outlet for you, the player, to discuss these issues in-depth with your crew. Next-generation technology’s allowance for more memory space could conceivably allow for more dynamic conversations, reactions, and arguments. Maybe a discussion of a certain issue with your crew could be as scintillating as a battle with a Klingon warbird.

But good weapons-training does. Even if humans are benevolent explorers, there are plenty of assholes out there. And a good Star Trek game needs some good space battles. Those could and should absolutely take inspiration from FTL. That game provides a tentative blueprint for Star Trek to follow in the interactive realm. Many of TNG’s best set pieces involved crew members diverting power, raising shields, and solving problems on the fly in the middle of a crisis. But what of dealing with intruders onboard the ship and on land? Well, how about we take a look at Grand Theft Auto V?

GTA V’s best feature? Switching between protagonists at will. Envision the following scenario: the captain sends an away team down to a nearby planet to investigate something. His/her first officer reports  that negotiations have gone to shit, the transporters don’t work, and now they’re about to murdered. Then, an enemy ship appears. The player switches between FTL-captain’s eye space battle to third-person shooting as the first officer on the planet. Not only are the developers giving the player a choice in how he/she plays, but they are highlighting the different tactical approaches and skills of different crew personnel while also highlighting the fact they share a common goal. And it’s all done through the mechanics.

Speaking of these crew members, I think they need to be, to some extent, their own personalities. After all, a 21st century man or woman would not be as, well, morally upright as these characters. We’re dicks, to be blunt. But you have to take in mind that player agency transcends pushing the action forward. It also means changing the course of the action. This means that choice has to walk a fine line between player-interaction and character-appropriate. And it might be the toughest line to walk. It’s something that very few, including Casey Hudson, Jake Rodkin, and Sean Vanaman, have been able to nail.

But beneath all of those mechanics, lies the most important aspect of Trek. Star Trek game should be about all these things, as well as wonder, awe, exploration, and optimism for the future. Nailing that vibe will be a tough challenge, but after my recent exploration into the TNG, I genuinely think gaming can benefit from a game that tells us not every future has to be a dystopia, that we don’t have to be cynical little shits, and that humanity can move forward if we just tried.

That’s what Star Trek could be.

Top 3 of 2013 (Part 2)

WWE 2K14, Sac City GamerEarlier this week, Michael weighed in on his top picks of 2013. Now I’m taking my stab at making a list.

It’s a tough thing to do in a year that saw amazing indie games hit the scene, the releases of huge titles that were in development for years and the debuts of two brand-new consoles.

Like Michael, this past year has been tough for me as well. Living on unemployment benefits for both incomes in my household has held me back from being able to play nearly as many games as I would have liked. However, services like Gamefly are wonderful for those of us with expensive hobbies and empty wallets. Friends who can afford the newest consoles also come in handy.

Then there’s school. It’s a sort-of catch-22 because I’m working toward my educational goals in journalism so that I can one day make money for tapping at these keys, but at the same time it keeps me from doing what I love: spending time with my wife, my cat and my game controllers.

Nonetheless, I narrowed it down from a list of those games I was able to play. Agree or disagree, this is my list.

Have a different top 3? Let us know in the comments!

3. Knack

Knack, Sac City GamerKnack received a lot of critical disregard, probably because it’s a launch title for a new system and is coming from a legend in gaming by the name of Mark Cerny.

This put a lot of pressure on the game, and to some degree, it didn’t live up to that hype. But was it as bad as most reviewers made it out to be? For me, no.

I feel the critiques of Knack were overly-harsh and that with the massive amounts on the plates of the various gaming journalists who were busy reviewing a 20+ pile of games along with a new system, the game wasn’t given the time it deserved.

On its surface, Knack is a 10-hour action-adventure game with a lot of familiar elements and nothing really new. And despite its debut on the super-powerful new PS4, it doesn’t bring the level of beauty and technical amazement that a game like Uncharted did for the PS3.

But for a launch title, the game does a lot right. For one thing, it’s fun. It’s easy on the easy difficulty setting, which keeps it approachable to younger and casual audiences, but it’s challenging on normal and hard (I believe it even has a very hard setting), which makes it fun for gaming veterans as well.

Where the game shines is with multiple runs from start to finish and I think this is where reviewers missed the boat. It especially shines when you have a group of friends who play because the game features a collectibles system that requires going back and playing the game more than once. Collectibles are discovered at random, but players can choose the collectible they’ve found or one a friend has found. It’s an interesting take on the idea of online play.

Overall, Knack may feel a lot like the Lego games, have a story similar to Uncharted and look a lot like a Disney movie mixed with Ratchet and Clank, but it also feels a lot like the console experiences of my childhood with games like Crash Bandicoot, and it even has a little bit of Mario mixed in at times.

Bottom line, this game is fun and it’s a great addition to the PlayStation 4′s launch lineup. There’s a lot to improve on for the next installment, but that doesn’t leave me disappointed in the first game, it leaves me excited for the sequel.

2. Grand Theft Auto V

gta 5 cover art, officialThis is not only one of the best game of 2013, but it’s easily one of the best games I’ve ever played. I still say Sleeping Dogs is my favorite game in this genre, but then again GTA and Sleeping Dogs are really in two different realms when it comes to these types of games.

After the abysmal mess that was GTA IV, I had high hopes for GTA V, but at the same time I had my reservations. In fact, it wasn’t until I saw this trailer that I was even excited about the game. After getting my grubby little paws on the game though, my opinion completely changed. From the moment I hit the gas in the first car the game allows the player to drive, I was hooked.

As many people probably know by now, Grand Theft Auto V is an experience like no other. It’s fun, content-packed, has a great story that isn’t too short, but isn’t too long and it encompasses all of the things that made past GTA titles so awesome. In, short, GTA V is a masterpiece and it truly is the experience that GTA IV was supposed to be.

1. The Last of Us

Sac City Gamer, The Last of Us, Joel and EllieIf you read my review of Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us, you already know I loved the game.

This was a title I was hyped for, which is not something I usually do, and it delivered on every last bit of that hype.

From start to finish, The Last of Us is a beautiful, fun and memorable experience with one of the best stories in a video game that I’ve ever had the pleasure of surviving through.

If you still haven’t played The Last of Us, you’re doing yourself a disservice. Please, go out and pick up a copy of this amazing game. For more on The Last of Us, read my review here.

Honorable Mentions:

WWE 2K14, Disney Infinity, Tomb Raider, Sly Cooper: Thieves in Time, Lego Marvel Super Heroes, Grid 2, Deadpool and Resogun.

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