The apparent evolution of free-to-play games

In my opinion, the quality of free to play games has drastically improved in the last few years. Maybe I was too young to really notice all of my options a while ago, but looking around me now, there seems to be a wealth of fantastic opportunities for enjoyment, all for the low, low price of the space on my hard drive.

It feels like it wasn’t that long ago that the only free games I played were incomplete demos, or flash games on a web browser. Admittedly they were fun, especially years ago when new games for me were fewer and farther between. However most of the time I felt they never quite matched the quality or size of triple A titles. Also hogging the family computer got me in trouble regularly, which kinda sucked after a while.

Needless to say, I’m fairly older and more independent now, and long gone are the days that Newgrounds and Miniclip are my only sources of free gaming entertainment. As I have grown up, it feels as though free to play games have as well.

There is a slew of high quality, fully fledged free games to choose from on clients such as Steam, that honestly feel like could be on store shelves.

My gateway into this whole new realm of gaming? Dota 2

While I’m not such a big fan of it anymore, a few years ago I was a raging Dota 2 addict. Coming home from high school and jamming to some Dota with some friends was a pretty typical afternoon, and was one of the only games I played for several months (and is still my most played game in my Steam library, despite not touching it in almost 3 years).

Dota 2, is of course, a free game. It was the first free to play game that really showed me that free to play games can in fact be as great and large as a game costing $100.

From there I began to explore other options, and I came across other great games. Team fortress 2, League of Legends, Hearthstone, all some of the biggest games in the world, all incredibly fun and entertaining, and all completely free of charge.

Obviously the fact that they are free is great in and of itself, but what I appreciate more is the accessibility of it. They are free, hence the only barrier to trying it out is hard drive space and waiting for it to download, minuscule in comparison to monetary payment. This means if I want to play it with friends, we can. There is no looming financial wall standing in the way of our fun.

On top of this, all of the fun is completely natural. Maybe this is just me, but sometimes when I buy a new game, I almost feel as if I need to get my moneys’ worth of enjoyment out of it. The idea of spending money on a game, and that I won’t play or enjoy it is the worst, and is usually the reason I don’t buy many new games. This means that some of the enjoyment could be contrived, or forced in a way. With free to play games there is no investment, and no pressure. If I don’t enjoy it then I don’t lose anything from it. Hence there is no forced fun, and that makes the experience all the more satisfying, and as I said, naturally fun.

Perhaps my only problem with free to play games is the abundance of microtransactions. Sure, they are very prevalent in paid games as well, no doubt about it, which isn’t a surprise. Neither is their appearance in free games, I mean, they have to make money somehow, and microtransactions are a great way to do it, so I’m not necessarily bitter about it. Another thing which makes them so much more tolerable is that they usually relate only to cosmetic items within the game, such as skins and emblems etc. which have no real impact on the game, and which I have no care for. So most of the time they aren’t a bother. But as anyone can agree, when microtransactions actually influence gameplay and/or progression, or when they are ‘pay-to-win’, that’s where I become annoyed and disheartened.

Nowadays, I tend to stay away from MOBAs because of the intense competitveness around them, and stick to more casual free games such as Brawlhalla and Toxikk, among others, which I can jump into, with or without friends, and just have a blast.

As usual, I am very much looking forward to what the future holds for free to play games, and the good times that await with these advances.

But these are just my thoughts, and I would love to hear what you think. What are your thoughts on free to play games? Are there any in particular that you have enjoyed? Let me know in the comments, and if you enjoyed this post, be sure to give it a like, it’s free and it just makes my day. Until next time, stay beautiful 🙂

 

Why soundtracks in games are awesome

I used to not pay much attention to soundtracks in games (sorry to all of the game composers out there), it wasn’t something I focused on, and certainly not something I appreciated. However, a number of my recent posts have been focused on how I have matured, and how this maturation has brought to light many features in games I perhaps missed or didn’t view with importance. Gaming soundtracks are one of them.

Reflecting back on some of the games I have played in the past, the songs and music are so influential it’s almost a wonder how I missed it in my early years of playing games.

So, why is the soundtrack so important to me? Let’s run through it.

1) It breathes life into the game

Soundtracks have an incredible ability to turn what is already a beautiful view, or an intense fight, or wandering through a cave, into something special. A beautiful view suddenly becomes a window into the gaming world, a wondrous sight that you are able to behold as if you are actually there. An intense boss battle becomes an epic showdown for the fate of the world you are protecting from annihilation. Wandering through a cave becomes an adventure into the dark unknown, an abyss that curiosity will not let go unexplored. Everything becomes so much more immersive and intense, and I love it.

On top of amplifying what is already happening, the soundtrack can also alter how you feel. The

The emotions that soundtracks can create can be spell bounding, and can add another level to an already amazing game to help it achieve new heights. This brings me to my next point…

2) It can create unforgettable memories

Emotions are at the core of some of the longest lasting memories we have, and games are no exception when it comes to evoking emotions. If soundtracks can trigger emotions, and emotions lead to memories, the link between a soundtrack and memories is undeniable. When I hear songs from games I have played in the past, whether it be in the last week or even as far as 10 years ago, it can trigger some intensely vivid memories. All it takes is to close my eyes and for a moment, it as if I am sitting there playing through that exact part of the game again, and it is breath-taking to be able to experience fond memories such as those so clearly.

To this day any time I hear Saria’s song from Zelda: The Ocarina of Time, it’s as if for a brief moment I am back in Hyrule with the warm sun on my face, Navi by my side, solving puzzles and rushing to crush Ganon once and for all. The feeling is indescribable.

3) It is genuinely enjoyable to listen to

Some gaming soundtracks are just a great jam from time to time. Nostalgia aside for a moment, when I am walking around town or heading to university sometimes I just can’t help but switch on ‘Hopes and Dreams’ from Undertale. Obviously this might just be me, but the way the song makes me feel (along with other non-gaming songs) is awesome.

This leads me to my next point.

4) They can make you feel awesome

No question about it, songs are amazing at making you feel stuff. I realise I mentioned this earlier, as yes, the emotions that soundtracks can produce can imbed vivid memories in your brain. But the emotions they can make you feel can be awesome in themselves.

Going back to the example of walking into university, listening to something like Hopes and Dreams, a boss battle music theme,  can imbue me with an incredible sense of confidence and excitement. The same feeling that you get when you are taking on a boss in a game.

Even sometimes before studying or during, putting an inspiring gaming soundtrack can skyrocket my motivation, and kickstart my motivation to work hard into high gear, something I can definitely appreciate when the going gets tough.

 

But this is just me, and I would love to hear from you. Are there any games with soundtracks that you think rock? And what makes them awesome for you? Let me know in the comments, and if you enjoyed this post, be sure to like it and follow me for more posts. Until then, stay beautiful 🙂

 

 

The aging of video games with time

Video gaming might not be the oldest art form, but it’s without a doubt one of my favourites, and despite this relatively short time the medium has been around, we have seen a number of greats to grace this planet in the past. Much like art, we have had games that were revolutionary for their time, and which have impacted the gaming market seen today. We have also had numerous failures from which we have learned from, and moved on to make masterpieces.

I’m more of a gameplay and story focused gamer. By this I mean that if a game is fun to play, and/or is well told and interesting, then I’m bound to have a good time. In this way, I love to play classic games.

Old, potentially outdated graphics don’t bother me at all as long as a game is enjoyable to some extent. Even now in 2017, having seen extraordinary technological leaps in how games play and look, I enjoy going back to old favourites, in fact I would even go so far to say that I enjoy them more as I now know what makes games fun for me.

As I mentioned previously, this is mainly because playing games made 20 or so years ago doesn’t mean I need to sacrifice any quality of the experience. Loading up Pokémon Red on my old Gameboy Advance still fills me with joy, as does loading up a ROM of Crash Bandicoot 2. These are games that I have incredible memories playing in the past, and replaying them in this age of gaming doesn’t taint or reduce my satisfaction in any way.

Games (in general) age very well, similar to movies. A game that was awesome when it was released is still the same game decades later. In this way, nostalgia can’t be the only thing that makes these games fun to play after so long. The first time I played Final Fantasy VII was 15 years after it had been released, and I absolutely loved it from start to finish. As another example, Zelda: Ocarina of Time, one of the greatest games ever made, I didn’t have the chance to play until 2011, 13 years since its release. Again, a timeless classic, everything about it was on point, and it makes me wonder how many fantastic games I have yet to play simply because it was before my time, or I didn’t have the opportunity to get into it when it was still new.

This is where remakes or remasters tend to come to rescue. For me they are a means to experience classic games that I didn’t get to play at the time of their release (or if I lost a classic game that I loved, I’m sure it’s happened to all of us). Take Halo: Combat Evolved for example, I am a big-time Halo fan, but the first Halo game I ever played was Halo 3. I never got to play through the first one, the one that started it all, or better known as the one with the super-powered pistol. Getting to play through the remastered version having missed out on the original was amazing, and if it wasn’t for the remaster I may have never touched the first Halo game.

Needless to say, gaming has changed a lot since the days of Final Fantasy VII and Pokémon Red. Most obviously in graphics, which have drastically improved, but that’s not what concerns me. I am constantly impressed with how creative and inventive creators can be, forging new and unique experiences for everyone to enjoy. It is the way that gaming evolves and expands as both an art form and a mode of entertainment. Learning from past failures and successes, as well as the near infinite creative drive and passion has led to a generation where there is such a huge range of amazing games, of so many different types, offering experiences unique and engaging in their own ways, to suit each and every person. I think it’s beautiful, and I can’t wait to see the direction that it takes next.

These are just my thoughts though, and I am just one person, I would love to know your thoughts. What games really struck home for you? And how do you think they have aged with the times? Let me know in the comments, and if you enjoyed this post, be sure to give it a like. Until next time, stay beautiful 🙂

 

 

Replayability in games

Don’t you just love coming back to a good game again and again. Maybe it’s a game you played as a kid and now you are just picking it up again after all this time, the nostalgia you feel, unable to forget how awesome that experience was. Perhaps you just beat it, and you want to start from scratch and try a new path through it.

I sure do.

Playing through games again and again isn’t something new to me. Sure enough, when I was a kid and I got my first game and handheld console, which was Pokemon Ruby for a Gameboy Advance, that was the only game I had. Playing through it again and using different teams each time was basically how I spent a year of my life.

Even today, I have played through some of the games in my Steam library 4 or 5 times at this point.

But what keeps me coming back?

Mostly because it’s super fun and enjoyable. Think about it, what do you do when you are thirsty and you finish a can of Coke? You have another (unless you have none left, then you sit and cry about what could have been). The point is, why stop at one? You enjoyed the first can so much, and the second is no different. Playing a game is similar, you play through it once, love it, and repeat.

Another feature of playing through a game a second time is that you already know what is coming. Hence, you can invest more time into exploring and looking for secrets and completing bonus objectives without having to think about the story too much. This always changed up the gameplay enough to warrant at least another second playthrough for me.

But eventually this gets boring, after a couple of cans of Coke, you get full. So how to developers get around this to ensure you don’t get full of their game?

Variety is the obvious one I can think of. Different ways to play through, such as different classes each offering a unique experience. Difficulty settings, these change up the game by offering a new level of challenge and getting you to think differently about how you play. Randomness of course, the purest of the lot. Why would you stop playing a game when you will basically never have the same two playthroughs? And you have open world games, that afford you so many options that you can pick one of many pathways through the game, again, changing it up.

These features may occur alone, together, or all at the same time. That would be an open-world, randomly generated class-based game with a selection of difficulties. I can’t think of one off the top of my head, but I’m sure there is one out there. The point is, they are all there so you can continue to enjoy the game.

But that brings it back to the root of replayability. The game needs to be fun. If you don’t enjoy it, you might not even get through the first can. Let alone a second.

As for remakes of old games, I feel like they provide the opportunity to relive old games with a fresh coat of paint, rather than offer a whole new experience. Otherwise, they offer people who never played the original version a chance to play the game on modern machines, which I adore. In truth, the only time I get remakes is if I have never played the base game that is being remastered, or if my copy of the base game is lost and not found. I do recall the Halo: Combat Evolved remaster had an awesome feature where you could switch between new, remastered graphics and the classic graphics on the fly, a feature I wish more remasters could employ.

But that is just me, I would love to know what you think. What games do you enjoy playing through again and again? And what do you think helps the replayability of games? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and if you enjoyed this post, give it a like, and maybe read it again, granted it will be the same post, no random generation here. Until next time, stay beautiful 🙂

Immersion: The tale of experiencing a video game

Have you ever been so immersed in a game that you feel as though you are the character you are playing as? As in, you feel as though you are in the world you are exploring, and not just at a computer. Have you ever felt so invested in a game that as events unfold in the game, you have emotional, and/or physical responses, as if you are experiencing it directly?

Immersion is a powerful force and as I have matured as a gamer (and in life) it is a force that I have stumbled onto, and which has shifted the way I play through and enjoy games.

As I mentioned, this feeling of truly experiencing a video game and the ability to transport myself into the game I are playing is something I have developed. I have no recollection of this as a child, and I’m not entirely sure when it started. But suddenly playing games such as Pokémon, I really feel like I am on an adventure to learn and catch ‘em all (and have fun, that never changes), and not just in it to win the game as I used to be.

I have been inspired to write about this because I recently bought and played through The Witness. First of all, the game is brilliant. Everything about it is simple, but executed perfectly, cleverly, and creatively, and I love it. The reason it inspired me is that from the get go through to the end of the game, I felt fully immersed and in awe of the world around me.

You start alone, stranded on this beautiful island, and I felt like I was there. When I turned my head and looked around in the game, I felt as though I was physically doing that, and experiencing the world around me. I felt inclined to explore, and discover all the secrets and features hidden throughout. There is no dialogue or cutscenes, the whole game is witnessed (pun intended) through your eyes. In effect, the world tells the story, and it was up to me to interpret it.

I didn’t feel like I was playing a game, I felt like I was experiencing it.

This experience that is The Witness was far more rich and deep than anything I have played before it. As I moved from area to area, my mood and feeling changed with it. From the joy of being in an autumn forest one minute, to the curiosity of going through a dark cave the next. Exploring the world was immensely satisfying, and the puzzles were so inventive and smart I could spend hours doing either and it would be a joy. Plus who can’t appreciate no load times.

While this is a perfect example, it isn’t the only game where it feels more like an experience than a game (which is a good thing). Horror games such as Slender and Outcast put you in some of the scariest environments possible, and I scare easily, so that was more of a “pissing-myself-in-fear” experience rather than exhilarating as some of my friends find them. Also Half-life and Portal both do a great job at immersing you in the story and the world, and make experiences such as firefights and flying through portals that much more visceral and heart-racing. These are just a few example, there are many, many more but I won’t name them here.

Surely this is what a lot developers strive for in their games. All the time and imagination that goes into crafting a world for you, the gamer, to explore and play in is designed to immerse you, and make you feel for it. Without a doubt, some games achieve this better than others, and when it’s executed well as in The Witness, the result is magical.

But I am just one person, I would love to hear from you. What games do you really connect with? And how is the experience different from other games? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and if you enjoyed this post, be sure to give it a like. Until next time, stay beautiful 🙂

Is there an age limit to gaming?

I was six when I started playing games. Occasionally I would borrow my older brothers’ Game Boy to play Pokemon and later The Adventure of Zelda, and people didn’t seem to mind. I’m sure that at that age people were just glad they could leave me to do something on my own and they didn’t have to worry about me.

Needless to say, I’m not six anymore. As I have gotten older however, peoples’ perception of my gaming has also changed, and not for the better. It seems as though while playing video games as a child was all good, they didn’t expect me to keep playing games past getting into university. When my answer to the question “Do you still play games?” is yes, people walk away as if I just told them I’m a psychopath.

I feel like I should clarify. By people, I mean anyone in my family apart from my parents and brothers.

This is very frustrating for me, not only do I enjoy playing video games for fun, it’s so much more than that. For me it is a means of relaxation and relieving stress, a medium through which I can interact and spend time with friends, and I’m interested and passionate about it. So, the perception that perhaps I’m getting too old to play games, or that there is an age limit at all, is ludicrous to me.

Perhaps it is just a traditional way of thinking that causes them to think that I should rethink my hobbies, and pick more adult pass-times such as reading books or watching movies. But I don’t see why I can’t enjoy those things, and still enjoy playing video games, without feeling like everyone still sees me as a child (give me a good book and I’ll happily read it over playing video games).

Also, how did gaming become seen as a childish pass-time? If anything, one of the reasons gaming is so great is because of the huge variety of games out there to pick from, meaning there is likely something for everyone, of any age. Besides, playing video games has been linked to many health benefits such as improved memory, reduced stress and depression, better decision making, and improved vision. And it makes me happy, isn’t that the main thing?

Well, that’s my little rant of the day, hopefully I’m not the only one that feels this way. I would love to know what you think though. Is there an age limit to gaming? Let me know in the comments, and if you enjoyed this post, give it a like. Until next time, stay beautiful 🙂

My 10 favorite co-op games

I’ve talked about my love of co-op games on this blog a number of times. I have praised the immense potential they have for enjoyment and the fact that by requiring co-operation, they test friendships and relationships like no other games can.

So I figure that this is a good time to run through some of my picks for my favorite co-op games I’ve ever played. The basis of my criteria is fun. Enjoyment is what I’m all about in games, and that’s the main thing I’m going to consider.

Some things to note beforehand though. Firstly, if I haven’t played a game, I can’t say if it’s one of my favorite, so there may be games out there I would absolutely love that I just haven’t played. Secondly, this list is highly subjective, so don’t be surprised if a co-op game you love doesn’t make it onto the list. Each persons’ list is bound to be different.

But without further ado, let’s jump into it:

10) Crawl

Kicking off this list is the dungeon crawler where “Your friends control the monsters”. Crawl is an inventive, original game that is an interesting blend of dungeon crawler, and hot potato. One player is the hero, who tries to kill monsters and get experience and loot to defeat the boss and win the game. The rest of the players are monsters, who are trying to kill the hero and become the hero themselves to have a shot at winning. The result is an incredibly fun game where one minute you are all ganging up on the hero, and the next minute you are fighting for your life against all of your friends. Every game is different, and the replay value is amazing.

9) Killing Floor 2

Killing Floor 2 is a class-based, zombie killing gore fest that improves on the original in nearly every way, making for an extremely enjoyable experience as you and your friends fight off waves of Zed. Every class feels balanced and unique in their own way, with my personal favorites being the Medic and Berserker classes. One of the main attractions however is the gore system. Named the MEAT system, every enemy has 22 distinct locations on their body that you can hit and potentially gib. The system works wonderfully, with the gore feeling realistic, impactful and satisfying as it should be.

8) Dungeon of the Endless

While I only got Dungeon of the Endless about a month ago, I have fallen in love with it. The hybrid tower-defense/roguelike strikes all the right notes. It is challenging and intense, while also being enjoyable and exciting. When playing with friends however, that is all amplified. Working together and managing your limited resources to fight off increasingly difficult waves of enemies is vital, and things can go from happy and good to “Holy crap we just got wasted” with a single bad turn. Fun to play alone, but way better with friends, this is how a co-op game should be.

7) Gears of War 2

One of my favorite games from my days of being an Xbox gamer, and one of my all time favorite games to play with friends. Gears of War 2 was for me the high point in the series, the campaign was awesome, killing Locust was as fun as ever, and like Killing floor 2 earlier in this list, the gore was on point. The stand out feature for me was the Horde mode. It was the first time I had played a survival-esque mode in a game and boy was it a blast. Rounds started easy and quickly became a matter of running for dear life and finding choke points to hold off the seemingly invincible monsters with a friend. Intense, gory, and insanely enjoyable in one game mode.

6) Borderlands 2

Hands down one of the best loot-fest games I’ve ever played. Borderlands 2 would technically be a first-person, role-playing shooter game, and it nails every aspect of it. In a word, it’s just fun. Everything about Borderlands 2 makes it a joy to play, the comedy is some of the best I’ve seen in a game, it is fast paced and the loot is rewarding and of course, there is a huge variety, making each gun feel different from the last. On top of all of this, it was built for co-op play. Playing with friends is hectic, chaotic and fun, making it one of my favorite co-op games ever.

5) Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Modern Warfare 2 was for me, the peak of the franchise. Aside from the fun, fast paced action and all the times it got me through study breaks when I needed some stress relief, the thing that puts this game this far up the list is it’s near perfect spec-ops mode. The spec-ops mode is a series of 2 player missions, and each and every one of them is so much fun. Some of my fondest memories gaming was trying to get 3 stars in every mission with my brother, and especially the final missions which are just full of juggernauts, made for some incredibly fun moments.

4) Terraria

A pixel art, 2-D, open world role playing game with exploration, crafting, and more items, and monsters than you can fathom, sign me up. The exploration and combat is incredibly exciting and enjoyable, and with such a huge range of items to find, which change the game and make you feel unique and awesome, there is always something to do, and I can easily spend hours upon hours in this game without even realising. With a friend to go through all of this with you, the game becomes even more fun and exciting. Exploring and fighting together is almost addictive sometimes.

3) GTA V (GTA online)

The sky’s the limit in open world games, with so many options and such freedom to do what you want to do, the world is literally a playground, one where your imagination is the fuel for what you do. This freedom is what I enjoy most about open world games, and GTA V represents the pinnacle of this genre. Of course, the best way to skyrocket the fun is to add a friend and see what kind of crazy ideas you can up with and try out together. Certainly discovering all of this games’ features and experimenting with many silly ideas has been a source of a lot of antics, and more fun times than I can remember.

2) Towerfall Ascension

The king of local co-op games, Towerfall Ascension is an endlessly fun and addictive game, and is the most fun you will ever have shooting your friends in the face with an arrow. Simple and easy to learn, but difficult to master, Towerfall was designed with multiplayer in mind, and that is certainly where it shines. All the way through the campaign it is challenging, hectic and endlessly funny. Absolutely recommended if you like having fun.

1) Portal 2

It makes sense that this legendary game made it to the top of this list. The portal-based puzzle game is as endlessly clever and funny as it is enjoyable and fun. Taking everything awesome about the first, and adding more of it created a perfect single player, and a co-op campaign that strains the mind as well as the relationship between you and whoever you are sharing the experience with. By forcing you to work together to achieve victory, Portal 2 provides an infinite number of opportunities for fun, as well as screwing each other over, until you reach the end of end level, which never fails to fill you with an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. Like the single player, the comedy is on point and hilarious, as your AI narrator constantly puts you down, and tries to pit you and your partner against each other. It creates an experience that is almost difficult to put into words, as it is so special that you really need to play through it yourself to know what I mean.

 

Well those are just some of my favorite co-op games, and now I would love to hear from you. What are some of your favorite co-op games? What are some of your fondest memories playing games with someone else? Let me know in the comments, and if you enjoyed this post, be sure to give it a like. Until next time, stay beautiful 🙂