How Nidhogg Is Like Real Fencing…Sort Of

From the first moment I saw the indie fencing game Nidhogg, I knew I had to play it. There isn’t much to it really: two brightly colored, blocky figures that remotely resemble humans duel to the death with pixelated lines that kind of look like swords, all in a frantic game type that can most closely be likened to tug of war.

There is a reason the game grabbed my attention immediately — I duel with swords in real-life.  I started fencing around five years ago when I started my freshman year of college and since then the sport has become one of my favorite hobbies (aside from playing games and writing about them that is.) I watched the game from afar and learned more about it, and in June during the Steam Summer Sale I finally managed to pick the game up and play it for myself. It’s super fast paced, intense, and features a fantastic soundtrack. I also found that for a game about people dueling to the death for the honor of being sacrificed to a crudely drawn worm monster called the Nidhogg, Nidhogg the game actually has a surprising amount in common with real fencing and martial arts in general. Minus the Nidhogg, of course.

In sport fencing, two fencers duel to a specific number of points on what is called a “strip.” The strip is basically a narrow playing field where the duel will take place. You can move forward, back, and slightly to the left or right. Depending on what weapon you are using the rules are different, but for epee, the type of fencing that most resembles actual dueling, you can stab your opponent anywhere and receive a point. In foil fencing players earn points only by hitting the chest and having what is called “right of way,” which is basically a way to determine who will receive a point if two attacks land at the same time.

The objective in Nidhogg is a little different, but along the way does manage to incorporate many of the rules of actual fencing. In Nidhogg, one player needs to run all the way to the right of the level to win, while the other needs to run all the way to the left.  The map is symmetrical, and both players start in the middle of the arena. Killing the other player grants the winner “right of way,” which allows them to run and progress to the next screen, with the eventual goal of running far enough in their respective direction to win. The only catch is your opponent will respawn shortly after death in your path, requiring you to defeat them again. If they defeat you instead, they are granted right of way and can progress in their respective direction, essentially erasing your progress and creating a game of deadly tug of war. Watching the game in action will give you a much better understanding — it sounds kind of complicated, but in practice it is painfully simple.

Like in actual fencing, duelists in Nidhogg are restricted to a 2D plane not so different from a fencing strip. You can move forward and back but not to the side. While in sport fencing you can jump and duck, because in Nidhogg the actual objective is to get past your opponent and run to the end of the level, you can actually jump or roll past your opponent and make a mad dash for the objective. This is likely to get you killed, as players can also hurl their blades through the air in Nidhogg, something that as you can probably guess is illegal in actual fencing. Players can also punch their opponent if they happen to lose their sword and even sweep kick their opponent off their feet before killing them and taking their weapon. So you know, Nidhogg is basically real fencing.

When it comes down to it, fencing is really all about three things: distance, timing, and reading your opponent. Speed comes in at a close fourth, but without understanding the first three and putting them into good practice, speed won’t get you very far. Each of these essentials for being a better fencer just so happen to have a place in a game about virtual fencing as well.

First up is distance. Distance in fencing is everything. Distance is knowing when you can hit your opponent, knowing when they can hit you, knowing how many steps you need to take to be able to make that critical lunge, and knowing how long it will take for your point to hit its mark. Without a good understanding of distance, you will find yourself on the end of your opponents point far more often than you would like.

This applies in Nidhogg as well. Unless you are running the opposite direction, players always have their sword tips pointed towards their opponent in Nidhogg, and can raise or lower the level of their point. Depending on the height of your weapon, the longer or shorter your lunge distance (attack) is. If your opponents blade occupies the same height as yours when you attack, your blades will bounce off one another. Knowing when your opponent can hit you at any given time is critical in Nidhogg. If your blade is high and your opponent’s is low, you have to know who has the longer reach or else you will wind up bleeding neon orange blood all over the stone tiles. Unlike in real fencing, in Nidhogg players can run forward and backward as well as  jump and roll, which opens up more possibilities for setting up your distance and striking when the time is right.

That brings us to our next important factor — timing. Timing is basically just that, and is hard to exactly train for. You just have to be able to see the opportunity and take it, going all in on pure reflex and gut reaction. The moment you see your opponent flinch, lower their blade, or take a moment of relaxation, you have to be ready to spring that instant. Wait even just a second and the moment will be gone, along with your opportunity for victory.

Nidhogg is no different.  In the game you can disarm your opponent by having the tip of your blade half way past the tip of theirs, and then moving your blade either down to land on top of their weapon or coming from under and hitting their sword up to perform what we in fencing would call a “beat attack.” In Nidhogg it is a disarm, and gives you the perfect opportunity to strike. Timing, however, is essential. Moving your blade far enough in to perform the disarm isn’t easy, especially when your opponent can simply lunge and stab you at any moment, made all the easier the closer to them you are. The perfect time to disarm then is to wait for your opponent to lunge, allowing them to bring their sword to you, and then disarming them before their sword point finds its mark. This requires excellent timing and a little bit of anticipation. Hesitate for even a moment or misread your distance and you are done for.

Reading your opponent is by far the hardest ability for any fencer to learn, and you never stop learning. Every opponent is different, and it is a constant challenge to keep up. As one of my fencing instructor’s likes to say, fencing is like playing an extremely physical game of chess. You have to always think a couple of steps ahead. If I do this, what will they do? What if I do this instead? To succeed, you need to be able to anticipate your opponents actions and be able to understand what his or her reaction might be to any given attack, all while trying to not get stabbed. By knowing those reactions, you can further set up your opponent to put them right where you want them. This is where gauging your opponents defenses and baiting them come into play. By doing attacks never meant to hit their target, you can see what your opponent does and adapt. By presenting yourself as a target, you can invoke an attack from your opponent, and as long as you are expecting it and are fast enough, can turn their attack into one of your own.

These tactics work just as well in Nidhogg. Knowing that if you turn your back and run your opponent may hurl their sword at you gives you an advantage. As long as you are fast enough to dodge the weapon, you can then quickly turn the tables on your unarmed opponent. Knowing your opponent likes to lunge high whenever your blade is low gives you a similar piece of vital information. By knowing what your opponents habits and strategies are, you can adapt and take advantage of them.

While these aspects of fencing apply especially well to Nidhogg due to the dueling inspired nature of the game, timing, distance and the ability to read your opponent can be applied to any fighting game. In this way games really do imitate life. While specific skills or techniques from martial arts don’t carry over to the virtual world, the knowledge and understanding of the concepts do. Professional fighting game players exhibit an extraordinary understanding of distance, knowing exactly how far they need to be in order to land a hit at its maximum range. They show an incredible sense of timing, having memorized the exact number of animation frames any given attack in the game takes and the time associated with it. They know when their opponent makes a mistake, and they don’t hesitate to jump on the opportunity and turn a game in their favor. They know how to make their opponent react and anticipate those reactions to come out on top.

In spirit and in concept, virtual duels and fights are not much different from ones in real life. They take the same kind of discipline, knowledge, and practice as any martial art in the real world does. Games just sometimes have giant unicorn worms that swallow you whole after you win.

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My Favorite Sports Game Is From 1978

I’ve never been one for sports, at least not mainstream ones. After playing every sport under the sun as a kid I migrated towards individual sports like swimming in high school and fencing in college. I’m not much of a sports “watcher” either. I watch the occasional football game, go to a basketball game every once in awhile and have been watching the World Cup off and on like many, but keeping up with the sports world has never been a priority.

You can imagine then that modern sport video games don’t do much for me. I love more arcadey titles like NBA Jam or Mario Tennis, but games like Madden or Fifa have never appealed to me. They lack the physical aspect of actually playing sports, and combine it with the visuals and audio of watching a sports broadcast. I just find it…boring.

It’s amazing then that a sports video game has quickly become one of my favorite arcade titles. When I went to my local arcade a few weeks back with a friend, I found a strange new cabinet that wasn’t around during my previous visit. It looked like a table with a screen in the middle. Two stools sat on the ends, right in front of a trackball and two buttons, alongside some scribbling I didn’t immediately understand. Older readers may know the game I’m talking about, but I was completely unaware.

Curious, me and my friend took a seat on each side of the table and started to play. It is football, plain and simple. Players are identified with Xs and Os, and each player gets four offensive and four defensive plays to choose from. Though it took a little figuring out, the game is basically glorified rock, paper, scissors. You try to get first downs and score touchdowns. Like I said, it’s football.

Atari Football to be exact, and there isn’t anything fancy or flashy about it, especially in 2014. There isn’t any color. No character models. Yet what I found was that this game from 1978 more perfectly captured the physicality and excitement of a real sport far better than Madden ever has.

It all boils down to great, simple gameplay. If you are on offense and your opponent can correctly guess your play, they can easily counter it by picking the corresponding defensive play. It all becomes mind games, trying to think like your opponent in order to succeed. While this could be fun by itself, it would be nothing with Atari Football’s main attraction — the trackball.

Thanks to the trackball, playing this game is physically exhausting. You always control the player with the ball, and rather than using a joystick you use the trackball to run and juke your way to the end zone. That means using your palm to rotate the ball as fast as you can to make your character run, rolling it rapidly to the left to sidestep, then rolling it back to the right and then forward as you make a mad dash for the touchdown. Your opponent is doing the same on defense, making their ball spin as fast as it can as they try to chase you down and tackle you. After just a few minutes of playing your arm is aching and your palms are sore, but it is so much fun you don’t want to quit. You know a game has done something right when I am in physical pain but want to keep playing.

That physicality is really the secret ingredient to why I think Atari Football is so great. Actually “running”, so to speak, gives the game a rush of excitement that modern sport titles really lack. The smaller number of plays and the simplicity of it all boils football down to its essence and allows for even non-football fans like me to really enjoy what the sport is all about. Maybe that is part of the reason Wii Sports found so much success — there is just something about actually being active in a sports game that makes it more enjoyable.

Whatever the reason, for 20 minutes me and my friend were cheering and yelling as we furiously spun that trackball as fast as we could. In the end our hands couldn’t take any more. Me and my friend stepped away from the table and returned to our old favorites like Gauntlet, Smash TV, and Galaga, exhausted but happily surprised that a game so old, and a sports game no less, could capture and hold our attention like few games can. It’s for that reason that Atari Football, a 36-year-old video game from a long gone era, is my new favorite sports game. Unless Madden 2016 comes with a trackball, I expect it will stay that way.

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Destiny’s Optimism Is Desperately Needed

If the majority of science-fiction is to be believed, the future isn’t all that great. While the circumstances are always different — evil mega corporations, alien invasions, depressing dystopias, war and pollution — science fiction has a history of making the future out to be mighty bleak. Authors, filmmakers, and game developers always count on humans to never learn from their mistakes. We will continue to kill our planet. We will continue to wage war against our fellow man. We will continue to fail.

Destiny, then, is a breathe of fresh air, but not necessarily from a gameplay perspective. It’s a shooter with RPG elements, a fun and addictive combination of gameplay that will no doubt keep players hooked for a long time. But that isn’t what has me excited for the game. What makes me excited and what I find so refreshing about Destiny can be described in one word — optimism.

It can be found everywhere in Destiny: from the game’s fictional past to the purpose of the Guardians, to the sun filled environments and the NPC dialogue. Humanity once lived in a golden age, where they expanded to the cosmos and unlocked the secrets of the universe thanks to help from the Traveler. Human life span tripled.  It was a time of miracles. This was a future where humanity lived up to it’s utmost potential and shined.

When players start their journey in Destiny that future is no longer the case. Humanity has been pinned down into one city, protected by the power of the traveler, and their cosmic civilization has crumbled. Darkness encroaches on all sides and it is unclear for how much longer the Traveler will be able to protect humanity.

Rather than wallow in the bleakness of the situation, Bungie takes a different approach to their new universe. The darkness can be fought back they say. Hope is not yet lost, and humanity can once again reach their potential and reclaim the civilization that was at once lost. Fight back the darkness. Unite.

That optimism is a far cry from the majority of other sci-fi shooters. The future presented by popular third person shooter Gears of War is about as bleak a future as you can get, with humans waging endless wars over limited resources only to be decimated by the monster like Locusts from deep beneath the earth. The world of Gears of War is brown and gray, filled with despair, hardship and a never ending sense of doom and pointlessness. None of the characters feel like there is much reason to continue fighting, other than to simply survive and keep their friends alive. Bungie’s own Halo series is a constant uphill struggle, with humanity at the brink and the Master Chief really being the only force strong enough to fight back against the seemingly unstoppable Covenant and the horrific Flood.

All three franchises — Halo, Gears of War, and Destiny — have a similar core theme of humanity being on the edge of destruction, but the way they go about presenting them are wildly different. Destiny is bright, vibrant, and filled with the hope that Earth’s heroes, the Guardians, can fight back the darkness and lift up humanity once again. That isn’t present in Halo, Gears of War, or most science fiction for that matter.

That’s because Destiny embraces an older idea of science fiction, one that isn’t about predicting one of humanity’s potential dark futures but about capturing that special kind of wonder that can only come from gazing up at the stars and wondering “What’s up there?” This kind of sci-fi is about exploring colorful alien worlds and discovering the mysteries of the universe. It’s about a humanity that isn’t grounded on Earth where it is destined to stagnate, but about a humanity finding it’s place in a wide universe filled with mystery, danger, and adventure.

It’s refreshing. In an industry where dark, gritty and hyper violent Mature rated games are far too often the norm, Destiny is a Teen rated game that can be played and enjoyed by nearly anybody. Destiny embraces optimism, the idea that humanity’s best days are not behind them but ahead, the idea that maybe we can overcome our faults and our challenges and rise to the occasion. Maybe, just maybe, we can take to the stars and carve out a new destiny for the human race rather than suffer the bleak one that so often is presented as our future. I don’t know about you, but I think the game industry could use a little more optimism.

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Diablo III’s Unlikely Comeback

As my friend so eloquently put it a few days ago, if a future version of myself came back in time to tell me in 2012 that I would be pouring dozens of hours into Diablo III in the year 2014, I would have laughed in his face and sent him back to his own time without a second thought. That I would be playing the problem filled Diablo III two years after its release would sound like an impossibility, and it was. Until a few months ago.

You may have seen my write up during my GI internship on some of the Patch 2.0.1. changes. That was just the beginning. Since then with the release of Reaper of Souls expansion, Diablo III has me hooked. I’ve made a new character, poured more than 70 hours into end-game content, and have become obsessed with finding the perfect gear to finish my character builds. How is it possible that a game so plagued with problems a few short months after its original release could be completely reborn two years later? It all comes down to Blizzard, and their willingness to admit their mistakes and go back to the drawing board.

When Diablo III launched in May of 2012, it had a fair share of problems. First among them was the always online component, made even worse by the fact that for the first several nights after the game’s release it was near impossible to log on and play thanks to server issues. This, however, would become the least of the game’s numerous issues.

Diablo III at launch shared a nearly identical formula to that of Diablo II. Pick a hero and level them up as you play through the story mode multiple times, with each completion allowing you to tackle a more challenging difficulty. End-game was Inferno difficulty, the hardest of the hard. Only the most well equipped and skilled players had any chance in hell of getting past Act II of Inferno. Repeated deaths in Inferno carried a heavy cost as well, as gear durability degrades after each death, eventually resulting in broken gear and an absurdly high amount of gold needed to repair it. Trying Inferno for many players wasn’t even worth it.

Therein lied the problem. While skill was certainly a factor, progressing in Inferno mode came down more to gear than skill. Without legendary gear and item sets, you could not succeed. How is one to obtain these items? In theory drop rates in Inferno mode for better gear were much higher, but due to repair costs and the high difficulty, most players could only farm for items on lower difficulties, replaying boss battles or certain encounters in the game’s story mode hoping and praying the loot would drop after defeating the enemies.

In practice, useful item drop rates around the board were abysmally low. You could play for days and find nothing remotely usable for your character. It was frustrating. RPGs, especially ones like Diablo, are all about character progression, and due to a lack of things to do and new useful gear, Diablo III players ran into a brick wall. This frustration played directly into Diablo III’s other main problem, the auction house.

A good idea in theory, the in-game auction house became a symbol for everything wrong with Diablo III. Implemented to eliminate illegal item and gold selling sites that were incredibly popular in the time of Diablo II, the Diablo III auction house gave players an easy to use, legal version of the same idea, while also cutting Blizzard in on the profits. Diablo III’s auction house came in two forms; an auction house where in game gold was used to purchase items, and one where players could buy items with real world cash.

Many players, frustrated with being unable to obtain gear through simply playing the game, resorted to farming insane amounts of gold to purchase new gear for their characters in order to have a fighting chance in Inferno. If a player did have the luck to encounter a legendary item, chances were it wouldn’t be useful for their character, resulting in the player selling it on the auction house for huge profits and then using that money to buy gear they could actually use.

Or, as became common, you could just spend real world money to gear out your character. Diablo III in essence became a “pay to win” game, the type of business model despised by gamers everywhere and more often seen in free-to-play titles. Except Diablo III wasn’t free to play. It was the sequel to one of the most loved RPGs in gaming history, and millions of gamers paid $60 expecting a game they would play for years to come. What they got was a game that through all i’s systems pushed players towards spending more money, with Blizzard getting a cut out of every auction sold.

Whether this cycle of “pay to win” was intentional on Blizzard’s part is hard to say, but as more and more players began leaving Diablo III barely three months after it’s release, the developer took serious notice. Numerous changes came to the game over the next year and a half, though most of them small and not addressing the core issue of loot and the auction house.

The first big step in truly bringing Diablo III back to life was Patch 2.0.1., released on February 25 of this year. While it implemented a number of changes, the most important were the refining of the game’s previously implemented paragon leveling system and what Blizzard calls “Loot 2.0.” Paragon levels could be achieved after hitting the level cap of 60, allowing players to still put their XP to good use. Each paragon level grants small choices in character improvement, whether slightly increasing base states or reducing resource costs. The more paragon levels, the more improvements, slowly adding up some substantial character improvements.

Loot 2.0 implemented  the chance of each piece of loot becoming smart loot, or items that roll intelligently based on your character to determine the item’s attributes. This made the chance of finding gear useful to your character much greater. Blizzard also greatly increased loot drop rates across the board, resulting in more and better loot, as well as completely reworking the game’s difficulties. Players could continue to progress their characters once again. All that remained was the closing of the auction house.

That finally happened on March 18, when in preparation for the game’s expansion, Reaper of Souls, Blizzard turned off the auction house, in the process killing the core game feature that plagued Diablo III for close to two years. All auctions being sold at the time either went to the highest bidder or were returned to the seller. Blizzard will close the auction house for good on June 24. While some players were making thousands of dollars in real world cash off the game, the vasy majority of players won’t miss it.

Reaper of Souls reinvigorated the game, adding a new character class, a new act for players to play through, and most importantly end game content in the form of adventure mode, an endlessly replayable form of the game that rewards players for doing bounties with quests, gear, and more. Special events like double XP weekends and a double legendary drop rate weekend, later made permanent, further added icing to the cake and attracted players like myself back to the game.

More than two years since it’s original release, Diablo III is a completely different game thanks to no small amount of effort on Blizzard’s part. No longer plagued by the auction house and lack of end-game content, the game is fun again. Playing the game, farming for that legendary item you need to complete your set, and earning more paragon levels to tweak your character captures some of the vital essence of Diablo that made its predecessor so addictive. I never would have guessed I would be playing Diablo III in 2014, or that Blizzard would put the time and effort to completely gut and reimagine their game. But I am, and Blizzard did. Now all I want to know is this — when does the next expansion come out?

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DinoZ: Surviving in The Stomping Lands

You lay prone, the tall grass concealing your body as you wait for your prey to approach. Fast, agile, the Gallimimus will certainly flee out of your reach if it senses the slightest hint of danger. You equip your spear. With one well placed thrust you can bring the dinosaur down. The moment of truth, the Gallimimus is right there, a few feet away. You stand in a crouch, approaching slowly, but the Gallimimus becomes spooked — it knows you are there. It begins to run, but not before your spear finds its mark. As you reap the spoils of your catch, you hear footsteps. Heavy footsteps. Something big is coming your way.

And then another player comes riding by on a massive Carnotaurus, attaches you to a rope, drags you to his camp, locks you in a cage, and watches as you slowly starve to death while he feasts on your hard earned dinosaur meat. This is The Stomping Land, a Kickstarted survival game that is part DayZ and part Jurassic Park. The game recently launched on Steam Early Access, and being the dinosaur fan that I am I couldn’t wait for the full release to get my hands on the title.

Many of the game features are yet to be implemented including character customization, additional dinosaurs, more craftable items, and all around improvements. What is in place is the core experience of the game, hunting dinosaurs, forming tribes, and fighting or teaming up with other players.

Each player starts near the beach of a large island equipped with a tomahawk. This starting item has a number of uses. It can be used for extremely close ranged combat, but more importantly it is used for obtaining the games two primary resources, wood and stone. By gathering large amounts of these two components you can craft an assortment of weapons and items, ranging from a bow and arrows to totem poles.

Starting off, you almost always want to build a better weapon ( a spear or a bow) and a campfire. The Stomping Land is a survival game — you must eat to survive — and the only food around is dinosaur. Thankfully there are a number of smaller dinos to pick off, allowing you to take their meat and cook it over the campfire to sate your hunger.

As you survive longer in the world, you gain expertise, one for every 30 seconds alive. Killing other players nets you 20 percent of their expertise as well. What is expertise used for? Probably the coolest feature of the game — dinosaur taming. The higher your expertise, the larger and more fearsome of a dinosaur you can tame. Of course, you must also have in your possession a healing herb, found in a handful of caves that are found on the island. After killing a dinosaur and having the necessary expertise, you can heal the creature using the herb and then mount it. Now you can navigate Capa Island in style.

This of course leads to dinosaur drive-bys. The world in The Stomping Land is a dangerous place. While the dinosaurs can be deadly if provoked, players more often than not are much deadlier. Just like in the zombie survival game DayZ, some players in The Stomping Land are much nicer than others. Some will want to form a tribe with you and go on hunting parties to bring down the larger dinosaurs, while others simply want to run you over with a Carnotaurus and take all your stuff. It’s just part of the game, and part of what makes the game so fun.

Running on the Unreal Engine, the game looks solid, and boasts a slick UI that keeps your screen clear of health meters and items bars. That being said, the game is definitely in Early Access. Currently there are no graphic settings, meaning even my fairly decent computer struggles to run the game at times as heavy rain pours down in a forest densely populated with all manner of grass, bushes, ferns, and trees. It makes the game difficult to recommend in this current state for anybody who isn’t using a higher end machine. Some game systems, like in-game chatting, are unnecessarily clumsy, requirng way too many clicks and button presses to type a simple message such as “Please do not murder me.” I expect most of this will be cleaned up at some point as more content is added, but unlike some Early Access games The Stomping Land truly means it when it says “you may want to wait until the game progresses further in development.”

That being said, what is included in this Early Access package is a blast to play around with, especially if you enjoy games like DayZ, Rust, and Minecraft. If so, or you really love dinosaurs, you might want to give The Stomping Land a try even in this early state. Otherwise players may want to wait for the game to receive some more polish, but don’t worry though — there will be plenty of dinosaur drive-bys to go around when you do decide to jump in.

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Battlefield Hardline Is A Nice Chance Of Pace

I have never enjoyed Battlefield as much as other shooters like Call of Duty or Halo. Whereas the action in those titles is near constant, Battlefield as a franchise to me features way too much down time running from point to point, only to be sniped by a sniper’s bullet from afar before I start my trek across the map all over again.

Why the heck did I sign up for the Battlefield: Hardline closed beta then, you ask? The game’s E3 showing impressed me, so when they announced a beta going live right that minute, I signed up, got in, and started playing this new take on classic cops and robbers.

Hardline is definitely still a Battlefield title. There are big teams sizes, vehicles galore, weapons, gadgets, and accessories to unlock, and large maps with destructible environments. Any player who played Battlefield 3 or 4 will instantly be at home here. The game map featured in the beta, High Tension, is set in the middle of a downtown city center, complete with skyscrapers, cranes, and overpasses. While the map is big, it isn’t near the size of many Battlefield maps, lending the game a generally quicker pace than some earlier titles.

Rather than the tanks and machines of war seen in Battlefield 4, Hardline features more civilian grade vehicles, though occasionally supped up to meet the needs of the would be bandits. Armored sedans and muscle cars can be used by the gangsters, while police have access to armored SWAT vans, squad cars, and helicopters.

What really sets Hardline apart from the rest of the Battlefield franchise are the two game modes featured in the beta, Heist and Blood Money. In Heist, robbers attempt to break into a vault and make out with the cash, with the police of course doing everything in their power to stop them. Blood Money puts a stash of cash in the center of the map and tasks each team with collecting as much as possible and bringing it back to their teams respective vaults. Classic Battlefield capture point wasn’t anywhere to be seen, but I would be surprised if it didn’t make it’s way into the final Hardline product.

Of the two modes, I found I preferred Blood Money, despite Heist being the game type that is clearly trying to be Hardline’s main attraction. The pace of Blood Money is frantic. You can be killed while carrying your wad of cash, allowing the enemy to pick up your hard earned money off your corpse. Your team’s vault can also be raided by the enemy if not defended diligently, requiring some members of your team to play defense while others make cash runs.

New equipable gadgets like the zipline and grappling hook shine in these modes. Because of the verticality of the maps, the grappling hook makes reaching sniping positions much easier, while the zipline is invaluable as a tool to quickly escape to your teams vault with a money stuffed dufflebag. Other gadgets like trip mines and the taser are fun additions as well, but the utility of the zipline and grappling hook work well with the fast paced nature of the game types.

Cops and robbers seems like a strange idea to fit into the Battlefield mold, and it is. If you actually think about it, why are the police causing billions of dollars in collateral damage by blowing up buildings, cars, and overpasses just to catch some thieves who are making away with a few million bucks? While the concept isn’t perfect, the game manages to breathe creative life into a franchise that has more or less been the same since Battlefield 1942. Will the full game be worth playing? Who knows, but after spending some time with the beta I can safely say this is the first time I’ve been interested in a Battlefield game since Battlefield 1943.

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Lara Croft’s Therapy Session Isn’t A Sign Of Weakness, It’s A Sign Of Strength

When I saw the teaser trailer during Microsoft’s E3 press conference for Rise of the Tomb Raider, I was excited. I thought it was one of the better game trailers I’ve seen in a long time. It had a great sense of momentum, a wonderful aura of suspense, and a fantastic musical score that had me excited for the future of the franchise. It helped that it was also a complete surprise.

If you haven’t seen the trailer, it shows a hooded woman, later revealed to be Lara Croft, in a therapy session with an older white man. As her therapist speaks to Lara about the trauma she sustained after the events of the previous game and her mental condition, Lara can be seen visibly shaking. Her therapist worries she’s fallen into a “mental trap” that she may never escape from. But there is another possibility — Lara could become who she was meant to be.

I was impressed and excited to see Lara’s return. So when I went online later that day, I was a little confused by some of the reactions I saw. Some shouted “How dare the developers make Lara Croft seek help from a man!” or highlighted the idea that Lara receiving therapy somehow made her weak. They claimed developers were once again stripping a powerful female protagonist of her strength, similar to how Metroid: Other M transformed Samus into a character completely dependent on her male supporting cast.

For me, this couldn’t be further from the truth. Lara Croft is a gaming icon, though probably for all the wrong reasons. She’s starred in her fair share of great action titles and a few poor ones as well, but she isn’t recognized the world over because of her brains, skills, or the quality of her games. She is remembered because she is a female protagonist sporting tight shorts, a small waist, and huge breasts at a time when most gamers were still teenage boys. If you don’t believe me, look no further than the above promotional image. The fact that she is a strong, independent woman is secondary to her sex appeal, at least where the old games are concerned.

I can’t say I was ever a fan of the old franchise for basically that reason. So with no history with the franchise I went into the recent Tomb Raider reboot with an open mind, and what I found impressed me.Tomb Raider is by no means a perfect game, but it does plenty right. Unique puzzles, solid shooting, good platforming, beautiful scenery, great voice acting and good writing. The story left a little to be desired, but after finishing the game and putting down the controller I can safely say that my favorite part of Tomb Raider is, well, the Tomb Raider herself.

It’s brilliant really. Crystal Dynamics managed to transform a character that existed first and foremost as a sex icon into a strong, smart, and believable heroine. She doesn’t begin as a hardened killer or expert explorer. She starts as a very intelligent woman in a deadly situation, who is forced to rely on herself to see that she and her friends make it to safety.The Lara of the the rebooted Tomb Raider has a powerful will to endure, and a desire to protect those she cares about that allows her to do the impossible.

The trailer for Rise of the Tomb Raider looks to build upon this idea by looking at Lara and the events she survived with a level of attention rarely seen in games. On that island Lara killed for the first time, lost loved ones, suffered unimaginable pain and survived near unbearable conditions. But she survived, though surviving in the world of the new Tomb Raider, just as in the real world, doesn’t mean emerging unscathed.

I’ve written about this before. Though by no means the only entertainment medium guilty of this, video games seem to have a knack for completely disregarding the repercussions of a life of violence. Game action heroes kill thousands of people on screen, and then act like completely regular Joes at the end of the game. As a lover of narrative, it’s always been a disconnect that has bothered me.

Which is why I enjoyed the latest Tomb Raider and the new trailer for it’s sequel so much. The developers look to be actually acknowledging that what Lara went through isn’t normal, isn’t something that you can just shrug off. It has to be overcome.

We sadly live in a society where to accept help is viewed as weak. Lara, to some, is showing weakness by seeking help in the new trailer. It is because she is a woman, some say, that the developers are choosing to show her seeking help, reinforcing an absurd idea that women aren’t as strong as men and somehow butchering her character in the process. If Lara was instead a man, they say, he wouldn’t seek counseling. That last bit is correct, and is exactly the problem.

I hear stories every day of veterans coming home from war who are too afraid or too ashamed to seek help for their Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Instead they bottle it up and keep it inside, often with dangerous consequences for both themselves and those around them. The truth is this — men and women are equally weak. Nobody goes through traumatic events like seeing friends killed or killing others and is completely, 100 percent okay afterwards.

I would argue the problem is not with how Lara is being portrayed, but rather the problem rests with how our medium instead chooses to portray its stoic, white, male action heroes, men who often kill without hesitation, thought, or remorse. We don’t see the men of countless military shooters struggle with survivors guilt or the loss of loved ones. We don’t see action heroes like Nathan Drake think twice about killing hundreds in a quest for treasure. It’s all swept under the rug, reinforcing the fantasy that men are magically stronger and better equipped to deal with the horrors of war and combat than woman and thus don’t ever have a problem with it.

The fact that we do see Lara, both in the reboot and in this trailer, struggling with what she’s lived through doesn’t make Lara weak. It’s in fact quite the opposite. It makes her stronger, much stronger than the countless, interchangeable male heroes whose developers choose to make them mentally invincible. It gives her obstacles to overcome that aren’t as primitively simple as “shoot the bad man,” or “blow up the base.”

Seeking help isn’t an act of weakness, it’s an act of strength. And this new Lara Croft has it in spades.

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My Favorite Shooter Isn’t What You Might Expect

I’ve played more shooters over the years than probably any other genre. I distinctly remember Medal of Honor being my first. I remember Halo enthralling me, Half-Life scaring me, and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare addicting me with its progression system. Along the way I’ve played just about every shooter in between.

None of the games listed above rank as my favorite shooter though. No, my favorite shooter is a game I’ve continued to come back to for more than five years, playing an hour here, an hour there. Every match is still just as fun as the first. It doesn’t have a progression system or perks. It doesn’t have crazy power-ups. It doesn’t have regenerative health. It’s simple, easy to understand, a throwback to a different time.

That game is Day of Defeat: Source. If you aren’t familiar with it I’m not terribly surprised. Day of Defeat is the red-headed step child of Valve shooters. It has never been as popular as Counter-Strike, no matter what version you are referring too. It hasn’t undergone a dramatic transformation like Team Fortress 2, which went free-to-play and added a huge number of new weapons and cosmetic items. It’s not the intense cooperative survival experience of the Left 4 Dead series. It’s not an immersive single-player experience like Half-Life.

Compared to all the titles listed above, Day of Defeat: Source is incredibly basic. It’s a simple class-based multiplayer shooter, where players play as either the Allies or Axis in the European theater of WWII. There is no deathmatch to be found. The entire game is essentially capture point, in most cases resulting in a never-ending tug-o-war between two teams. That’s all there is to it really.

Every so often when I’m looking at the hundred plus games in my Steam Library or the stack of Xbox 360 titles next to my desk, wanting to play something but not knowing what, I boot up Day of Defeat. I find one of my favorite maps (Avalanche, Argentan, or Donner). I pick random to be a good sport, even though I prefer the German weaponry to the arsenal of the Allies. I play for an hour or two, most of the time one match on one map the entire time. The two teams more often than not become quickly entrenched. One team will grab the capture point in the middle of the map and set up defensive machine guns, the other team will throw their bodies at it in an attempt to capture it. Sometimes they eventually will, and they will hold the middle for a span before the cycle repeats itself. Very rarely does anybody actually win or go on to capture the two points deep behind enemy lines. It’s quite an accomplishment when it does manage to happen.

Part of what I find appealing about Day of Defeat is the WWII theme. The second World War has always fascinated me, in part because of it’s simplicity. I know the reality is far different, but WWII always seems so cut and dry, so simple. Good guys versus bad guys who want to take over the world. America good, Nazis bad. The world isn’t really like that now. It probably wasn’t like that back in 1942 either, but that’s always what we’ve been taught in school and how it’s portrayed in the media, back then things weren’t so complicated, and now after wars like Vietnam and Iraq they are.

Day of Defeat is a lot like WWII actually. In a time where insane levels of customization and RPG like elements are becoming commonplace in shooters, Day of Defeat: Source is a rapidly aging relic, a throwback to the old days when things were more simple. You won’t find microtransactions here, like in Team Fortress. No weapon skins. No hats. No unlockables. Just shoot the enemy. Do your duty for your team.

Playing Day of Defeat: Source is sort of what I imagine the Norse afterlife of Valhalla being like. Log on. Fight. Die. Fight. Die. Log off. It’s a never ending war, where everybody regardless of team respects one another and collectively reminisces about past battles from the good ol’ days. It’s a small community of game veterans who, for whatever reason, log on every night to play a nine-year-old game most people have never even heard of. More often than not I play with a friend or two, and instead of focusing on reaching level 50 or getting that new skin for a virtual AK-47, we just talk about life instead. It’s nice.

What’s most surprising is that I’m not even particularly good at the game. I do decent enough, but I’ve never been great at PC shooters. I mostly just throw my body at the capture points, try to kill anybody who gets in my way, die, and then try again. My KD ratio is not even approaching positive. I don’t mind. I still have fun.

Team Fortress 2 is a completely different game from when it first released. Counter Strike has been reimagined with Global Offensive. Left 4 Dead has gotten a sequel to further expand upon it’s core idea, with a third game likely on the way. But in Valve’s pantheon of shooters, Day of Defeat stands alone and most likely always will. I will be surprised if the game ever receives a sequel or any kind of substantial update. It’s not the kind of shooter people care about anymore, and that’s okay. As long as the servers are still up and running, I will keep logging on long after Half-Life 3 and Halo 5 are released. Sometimes there is just something refreshing about simplicity, something refreshing about not having any bells and whistles. There isn’t an end goal of prestige mode or end game content to reach. It’s just a game, meant to be played, enjoyed, and then turned off. Sometimes that’s all I want.

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