One of the most anticipated releases in the MMORPG world this year has been Guild Wars 2‘s first expansion Heart of Thorns. It came two years after the game’s initial launch and boasted the first raid, new class specializations and even a completely new class (in addition to plenty more). Last week players flooded into the new region to face the game’s recently awakened elder dragon Mordremoth and his hordes of minions.
So how is it? As someone who’s been playing for the last two years, the expansion feels very enjoyable so far. The class specializations take awhile to unlock (too long, according some of the most vocal critics of the new system), but the Hero Points needed offer a nice alternative to simply grinding enemies to gain experience for a new level as many MMOs opt for. Another new mechanic is gliding which feels smooth and offers a great way to traverse the new areas. Very reminiscent to Aion, another NCsoft-published MMORPG released in 2008.
Music and art direction are also strong. The background music is quite enjoyable and gamers may find themselves turning up their volume a bit to enjoy it. Plenty of new enemies have also been added and many feel unique and foreign. One of my favorite additions are the bipedal mushrooms which are happy to dive at players as they cross the jungle. Looking forward to discovering more as I venture further.
I can’t comment too much on the story, but playing the introductory sequence that brings you into the new region felt exciting and also set the tone for the story.
One special note I have to make is about the expansion’s launch: there was no downtime, no queues and little lag. Online games seem rarely prepared for hordes of players at launches or expansions, but ArenaNet did a great job of keeping the experience smooth and pain-free. I remember the launch of Warlords of Draenor and what a nightmare that was, so it was extremely refreshing to be able to play as usual even with such a surge of people.
Have you played yet? We’d love to hear your thoughts.
GaymerGate, often shorted to the acronym GG, is an online movement that began in August 2014 after it came to light that a gaming journalist had engaged in sexual acts with a female game developer whom he had written about without disclosing any type of relationship. Tens of thousands of homosexual gamers took to social media to voice their discontent. The movement claimed to have been against what its members saw as an ethical transgression and fiercely criticized the standards of modern gaming publications in general. Officially, it had nothing to do with the heterosexual nature of the impropriety, but the fact that it had happened at all.
Some were critical of GG and pointed out the double standards of the movement. Developers and journalists had never been criticized for any exclusively-male orgies often held after conventions. Feminist culture critic Anita Snarkiseen called the group a bunch of “gay white nerds” who weren’t willing to let women into the industry.
Getting in with the Gaymers
In order to fully understand GaymerGate and find out what it was really about, I had to infiltrate the movement from within. After familiarizing myself with their home on Reddit in a forum called r/KocktakuInAction, I began speaking with those that personally identified as belonging to the shadowy and leaderless group. One such “GaymerGater” agreed to speak to me, but asked to only be referred to by his initials “A.S.” Repercussions for those who turn their backs on GG are often ridicule and online harrassment… bullying which can only be prevented by completely logging off from social media, something near-impossible to do in today’s connected world.
The first question that had to be asked was, “Is it really about ethics?” I could see A.S. pause over Skype, but he slowly shook his head. “No,” he said, “and I’m sick of pretending it is.” The narrative just kept unwinding from there. It was, he admitted, an organized attempt to get women out of gaming.
My link into GaymerGate patiently explained that gaming was never intended to be an activity for females. He pointed out the phallic origins of the joystick which still remains an iconic symbol for the hobby.
“This has always been a unique celebration of male-ness. When you wrap your hands around a controller and start jerking it around… it connects you. You’re right there with your brothers. It’s deep, man. Girls just don’t get that,” A.S. seemed to get a bit choked up a bit and I gave him a moment to collect himself, “It just isn’t fair for women to try to tempt the weaker straight men among us.”
He also admitted that GG would do anything it could to stop the influx of women into gaming, including criticizing their fashion sense and hairstyles on social media. Weight, however, was off-limits because “gaymers understand how tempting chocolate can be”.
Toning Down the Testosterone
Women have not taken kindly to GaymerGate or its facade of caring about “ethics in journalism”. Opponents of the movement have created their own group: Females Against GaymerGate, or faGG for short. They promise to keep shining the light on the misogyny spawned by GG. Multiple YouTube series have demonstrated how important characters such as Lara Croft are to gaming; “She’s definitely one of the most important female role models as far as characters go. For the next game though we really hope that Square Enix highlight her privileges, such as being white, thin, able-bodied, and cisgendered as well as acknowledge the inherent cultural oppression in exploring new territories.”
Girls fighting under the faGG banner have also sharply criticized gaymers for the assumption that they hold a monopoly on geeky men. They point out that some of the most desirable traits can be found among gamers, chief among them being their skilled hands from countless hours spent nimbly nudging analog sticks and timing precise keystrokes during critical moments.
Where do we go from here
GaymerGate wasn’t predicted to be a long-lived, but even today proponents keep the movement going. Likewise, faGG supporters are there at every turn to ensure women are able to get in on the joystick-slamming action in gaming.
The war rages on, but I hope that my exposé brings attention to the real motives behind GG and just how divisive it is in gaming. Bear this information in mind when deciding which side you support.
Niantic, the developer of Ingress and the upcoming Pokémon GO, has announced that it raised its Series A financing round, totaling an initial investment of $20 million and a further $10 million promised upon meeting agreed goals, from Google as well as gaming giant Nintendo and The Pokémon Company. The development studio is known for putting gaming into the real world; Ingress tasks players with physically traveling to locations in order to take control of them. Pokémon GO similarly showed trainers gathering together in New York’s Times Square in its announcement trailer to take part in a massive battle against a legendary Pokémon.
The involvement of Google may come as little surprise, considering that Niantic is headed by John Hanke who was one of the creators of Google Earth. Some may remember 2014’s April Fools joke which added a “Pokémon Challenge” to Google Maps. GO‘s logo bears a striking resemblance to the prank as well.
Fans of the Pokémon franchise should be happy to hear that the company tasked with bringing the monsters to our world seems to be well funded. This will be a drastic departure from the series’ previous games and allow trainers to interact in new ways with beloved characters. It’s clear that corporate knows expectations are high and Nintendo is also committed to develop new technologies, which may even appear in other franchises down the road.
Let us know in the comments what Pokémon you’d like to catch first in GO!
Nintendo is well known from their quirky gimmicks. We all remember the tragic release of the Nintendo Glove, the Wii motion controls, and the annoying Friend Code system. Perhaps one of the very first Nintendo gimmicks came with the game Mario Paint. At that time in the early 90s, basic home computers were starting to gain momentum in technology culture. Mario Paint saw to profit off of this strange, magical box known as a “computer” by the use of a computer mouse as a controller. As silly as it sounds, this was actually (in my opinion) one of Nintendo’s best gimmicky addons as it contributed a great deal to the style and cuteness of Mario Paint.
Mario Paint is set up like a series of computer programs, all playable with the use of a mouse. Players are immediately thrown into an immersive environment free of tutorials or instructions, so you can freely play around with the various tools and games at your disposal. As the title implies, you can “paint” various Mario scenes using dozens of colors and textures of your choosing. You can even create your very own scene using Mario textures and character stamps of classic 8 and 16 bit characters.
Probably the most memorable feature is the music game. Here, players can create their
very own song using silly in game sound effects like dog barks and cat meows. You can be as simple or complex as you’d like, as people have gone so far as to compose famous modern songs using the in-game sound effects.
What made Mario Paint truly amazing was the fact that amateur animators can use the games’ animation programs to paint simple looping animations, add music to them using the in-game music generator, and even record animations on a VHS tape. Gamers were essentially creating movies in the early 90s using their Super Nintendo, which is pretty goddamn amazing.
After nearly 25 years, some claim that Mario Paint is the most innovative thing Nintendo has yet to develop. Especially given the time of release, immersive and experimental games simply didn’t exist in the gaming culture. Mario Paint and the Nintendo Mouse both create a simple, fun game that you can easily sink hours without even realizing it. Go deeper into the music recording and animation programs and you’ve got a whole new beast on your hands.
Many gamers and fans of anime or manga know of Akihabara, the Japanese Mecca for video games and comics. Often it is seen as an ideal destination for travel because of its novelty, after all where else in the world are you going to find such a relatively large area packed with stuff for nerds (and I use that term lovingly)? As a Tokyo resident for going on five years now, I’d like to dispel the notion that it is an end-all and be-all for gamers and share why it may not be that great a second time around.
The Internet Ruined Everything
Before Amazon and other online retailers gained widespread use, there was a specific draw to Akihabara: you could buy things there that weren’t available anywhere else. Old games, limited edition comics, rare figurines… they’re all there in spades. Fans looking to complete their collections could browse through niche stores and find something they may not have. Unfortunately, the Internet’s ability to put everything at one’s fingertips has made purchasing these rare collectibles much easier than it used to be and taken away Akihabara’s corner on the nerd market.
This might not affect tourists in the same way, because seeing Japanese products in person is much better than window shopping on Amazon, but unfortunately large chain retailers have replaced many smaller shops since the latter have a much harder time paying Tokyo’s exorbitant rent prices and the problem of online shopping has probably contributed to a decline in foot-traffic to many places. Huge stores such as LABI, Yodobashi Camera and more have large locations within Akihabara, but they’re also available to see anywhere else in Japan and lack charm. Droves of foreigners, both Western and Chinese, seem to keep them in business though.
You May Feel like a Creep
Another famous aspect of Akihabara is its prevalence of so-called “maid cafes”. These women aren’t out to serve your every need, but will be very happy to take a picture with you if you pony up some cash. Young women dressed in suggestive French maid outfits dot the street, often handing out fliers for the cafes they work at. They’ll often call customers “master” or “older brother” in Japanese to show their subservience.
I visited a maid cafe only once and would not repeat the experience. After reaching the 5th or 6th floor, I stepped out of the elevator and into a world full of “cute”. It was as if a daycare had been designed for adults. As a maid brought out the orders my friend and I had placed she made us do a Japanese chant and corresponding hand motions before we could eat. To fully enjoy anything here you have to give up your sense of dignity and play along with strangers to keep the fantasy alive. It may be worth trying for the experience (unforgettable), but I can’t say it’s guaranteed to be comfortable.
Other than the maids, you may notice that Akihabara shoppers are interesting. Two or three years ago I spent time interviewing people for a project and what piqued my curiosity is what they were sitting on the sidewalk doing: showing off Polaroid collections. These pictures were of AKB48 (AKB = AkiHaBara) singers posing individually. This pop group serves as a religion to some and because of the intense male scrutiny, the girls are not allowed to date while part of it. It is fantasy just as much as the maid cafes and encourages the fan base to pick out a few “favorites” to support and vote for in influential polls (often requiring merchandise purchases).
Akihabara hides itself in flashy electronics and cloying fanservice, but look under that and you see an intense loneliness in the most populous city in the world.
It is Worth One Trip
I’ve taken issue with the area’s big-box takeover and the underlying desperation, but there are reasons to visit. The merchandise is fun to see, especially retro games and intricate figures, and the variety of shops will keep you busy for awhile. There’s even a seven floor shop of nothing but adult goods and, if you’re old enough, I definitely recommend. In general the atmosphere is somewhat unique and a five or more hour trip is plausible if you’re really passionate about gaming, anime, manga or computers. Many shops are tucked away in multi-level buildings with little signage, so if you are planning a trip I highly recommend you read up about the area, because it is easy to miss out if you don’t.
Other Places of Interest
There are also other locations which are similar to Akihabara, but are worth visiting for their own reasons. The first, Nakano Broadway, is a must-see if you’re already in Tokyo. Like Akihabara, it focuses primarily on shops that would appeal to our inner nerds, but many offer goods from long ago (#only90skids). Toys from the original Godzilla movie, posters from a wide variety of films and more… it’s all there. This is all in one shopping mall, so it doesn’t have the sprawling presence of Akihabara, but the trip back in time gives great insight into Japanese popular culture and a nuanced look at history.
Osaka, Japan’s second-largest city, also has an electric town called DenDen Town. I haven’t visited for more than 10 years now, but if you take a trip to the Kansai region of Japan instead of Tokyo it shouldn’t be left off the itinerary!
Please feel free to share your own Akihabara experiences in the comments below!