Football season's starting to get under way. The draft is coming up later this week, and I'll be interested in seeing who John Fox and the Bears select in their efforts to rebuild the team. However, there's a more personally-interesting story that popped up this week: according to several reports, the Oakland Raiders are showing interesting in relocating to Las Vegas. According to multiple sources, Raiders' owner Mark Davis has already visited Las Vegas in preliminary talks about relocating his team, and he will return on Thursday to meet with the Nevada tourism officials to discuss UNLV's planned domed stadium.

Mark Davis and Sheldon Addleson
Mark Davis met with Sheldon Addleson and Las Vegas representatives about possibly moving the Raiders to Vegas.

This all sounds like a terrible idea, and I don't think it's a good move for either the Raiders or the city of Las Vegas. I'm not a big fan of the domed stadium proposal to begin with, mostly because I think the location is a disaster of traffic management waiting to happen. UNLV wants to build the stadium on or near UNLV's campus in order to encourage live-in students to attend games, since many of them might lack cars and can't travel out to Sam Boyd Stadium out in the middle of nowhere. Seems understandable, except that the proposed area is already a major traffic arterial that is prone to congestion, and the stadium is planned to replace the current parking lot of the Thomas and Mack basketball arena. The Strip, and the roads around it, already suffer from severe congestion and gridlock on a pretty regular basis, especially on Saturday nights when UNLV games are typically played. And that's without 60,000 people trying to funnel into a stadium!

Las Vegas is a commuter town (and UNLV is mostly a commuter school), but Vegas lacks any large-scale mass transit options. Our bus system is lackluster, and we don't have any kind of light rail. The monorail system that runs along half the strip doesn't even stretch to downtown or to the airport, and won't enable opponent teams' fans to travel from the airport to the stadium - let alone support commuters wanting to come from the suburbs of Henderson, North Las Vegas, Summerlin, or the rapidly-growing southwestern corner. In addition, I doubt that the location of the stadium on-campus will help all that much with student attendence at UNLV games. I think a bigger factor in students not attending is that many of them have part-time jobs and work on Saturdays. So they wouldn't be attending no matter where the stadium is located.

UNLV is considering building a new football stadium [LEFT] in the place of the
Thomas & Mack Center's existing (and barely-sufficient) parking [RIGHT]

And then there's the parking issue. Without public transit, fans are stuck driving to the game, and Las Vegas citizens are (from my experience) frustratingly-averse to carpooling. If you build a 60,000-seat stadium, you'll need a 60,000-car parking lot to go along side it. Except this stadium is replacing the existing parking lot outside of the Thomas and Mack. So where will everybody park? Are they going to add ten floors to the existing southern parking garage? They can't build an underground parking garage; that would be a disaster waiting to happen. Las Vegas is located in a valley, and UNLV's campus is at one of the lowest points in that valley, which means when we get our late August and September "monsoons", the area is prone to flooding. UNLV's parking lots have been known to flood during heavy rainstorms. An underground parking garage would likely turn into a subterranean swimming pool when a similarly heavy rainstorm inevitably happens.

Mark Davis and Sheldon Addleson
The UNLV campus has flooded during heavy rainstorms, damaging vehicles and leaving students and visitors stranded.

But I digress...

In any case, such a stadium won't be completed for years! I'm not even sure if it's even been fully approved yet. But these reports are saying that the Raiders could be playing in Las Vegas as early as the 2017 NFL season. So where would they play? Mark Davis supposedly has already visited Sam Boyd Stadium, and has approved of it as a temporary home for the Raiders until the new stadium gets built.

...

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Dark Souls II : Scholar of the First Sin

Hot off of playing Bloodborne's The Old Hunters DLC, and with Dark Souls III just over the horizon, I thought I'd get myself hyped up by playing through the re-release of Dark Souls II, Scholar of the First Sin. This version of the game was a next-gen enhancement of the original game that was released on the PS3, XBox 360, and PC a year prior, and it includes improved graphics, faster frame rate, and more challenging enemy-placement. It's available on PS4, XBox One, and PC, and is treated as a completely different game as the original version. It's not a DLC or a patch update (though it does include all three of Dark Souls II's DLC content).

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin - graphics comparison
Scholar of the First Sin looks much smoother in motion, with higher resolution and framerate.
Lighting and textures are (at best) only marginally improved from the last-gen release.

I was honestly expecting Scholar of the First Sin's graphics to be considerably better than they are. In fact, I honestly don't think the graphics are much better than the last-gen release; I think the only difference is that it displays at full 1080 resolution and plays at a high end of 60 frames per second. Colors are a little more vibrant, and the game doesn't look as washed-out, but models and environments don't seem any more complex, and textures are only maybe slightly more detailed. Unfortunately, darkness still isn't as dark as it needs to be to make the torch as necessary for exploration as it was apparently intended to be. In pre-release demos, darkness was implied to be a complete fade to black that rendered objects within the dark invisible. Simply adjusting the brightness of your TV wouldn't change that. In the released version, darkness doesn't go completely black, so objects are only hidden if your TV brightness is low - lower than the recommended brightness level of the game. Even then, the release game looks brighter, and Scholar of the First Sin does very little to change that.

Dark Souls II - preview footage graphics comparison
PREVIEW FOOTAGE showcased greater contrast between light and dark, and more detailed textures and geometry...

This graphical downgrade, the complete failure of FROM or Namco/Bandai to inform the public about it, and the resultant misleading marketing that repeatedly showed demos, screenshots, and footage that wasn't representative of the final product left a huge negative impression on a lot of players - especially those who pre-ordered it. That poor initial taste is probably a huge part of the reason why this game has gotten such a negative reception, even though that negative reception is mostly warranted. Scholar of the First Sin was an opportunity to wash that bad taste out of consumers' mouths and give us the game that was advertised, marketed, and pre-ordered. But Namco and FROM didn't bother.

Darkness is just rarely ever a meaningful component of the gameplay. Darkness may lower the range of target locks though, so even though I could plainly see enemies, I felt like I wasn't able to target lock them as readily as I could in the PS3 version. Even so, there's enough sconces laying around that you can light a sconce, extinguish your torch to fight, then re-light it at the sconce after all the enemies have been dispatched. It ends up just being some extra overhead if you care enough to bother with it, and not an essential element of gameplay.

Dark Souls II: Scholar of the First Sin - graphics comparison
... FINAL PRODUCT shows low contrast between light and dark, frequent repeated textures, and simplified geometry.

Textures, character models, and world geometry don't look noticeably better. Many areas still have generally blander textures than what was presented in pre-release videos, and the textures noticeably repeat. World geometry also seems less detailed and intricate compared to pre-release videos, which takes away a lot of the personality that these preview areas exhibited. I was expecting Scholar of the First Sin to restore many of these superior textures and models from the previews, and I'm really disappointed that the game doesn't look better than it does.

Darker contrast in previews [LEFT] made real-time shadows more vibrant,
and creatures more threatening and mysterious than in the release build [RIGHT].

The improved textures also don't do much to help the game's generally bland art design. There aren't many visually-appealing locations in the game, as they are all just variations of run-down castles and forest paths. Most of them have pretty sparsely-decorated hallways with simple geometry that has little-to-no personality. There's nothing here that even approaches the ominousness of Demon's Souls' Latria, and the oppressive environments of Bloodborne make Dark Souls II almost serene by comparison. Again, Scholar of the First Sin does little-to-nothing to address this. No Man's Wharf probably remains my favorite location in this game, as it's one of the few locations that takes place in a fairly unique setting that actually utilizes light and dark for gameplay purposes.

So while the visual upgrade doesn't really add much to the game, the higher framerate definitely does make a noticeable difference. The PS4 doesn't seem to maintain a full 60-fps at all times, but it seems to always run better and smoother than the 20-30 fps of the PS3 version. Animations are much smoother, and ambient effects (such as foliage swaying in the wind) look much better. I admittedly had to spend some time re-adjusting to the game's speed. After coming back from the rapid pace of Bloodborne, this game almost seemed to be moving in slow motion, and the higher framerate probably contributed greatly to that sensation. That's not necessarily a bad thing; it's just a stylistic difference. Scholar of the First Sin plays smoothly (on the PS4), and it looks decent (even though it should have looked better)...

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Earlier this year, it was announced that CBS will be creating a new Star Trek television series to celebrate the franchise's 50-year anniversary. Very little was known about the series except that it would be under the leadership of Bryan Fuller (a former Deep Space Nine staff writer), and that it would premiere on CBS's All-Access streaming service. As one of Fuller's first actions, he made a lot of Trek fans very excited by hiring Wrath of Khan and Undiscovered Country director Nicholas Meyer to be the chief writer of the new series. These happen to be my two favorite Star Trek movies (with Undiscovered Country getting better each time I see it).

Star Trek 2017 series poster
A leaked poster for the new Star Trek series.

But the biggest questions were when would the series take place, and what would it be about. Many of the previous pitches for show ideas that I had read sounded terrible. Many sounded like really cheap fan-fiction concepts. Like the idea of a series about James Kirk's descendant becoming captain of a new Enterprise to save the Federation from an extra-galactic alien threat.

I avoided talking about the topic previously because I wanted to reserve judgement until something more concrete about the show was announced. Well now, something has, and it has me very excited. According to rumors, Fuller and Meyers are producing a seasonal anthology series similar to the popular American Horror Story. This means that each season would contain its own self-contained, independent storyline that could explore any time period, characters, locations, or concepts from the entire series' canon. I've been saying for years that Star Trek would be a great fit for an anthology series. The canon is large and expansive enough that focusing it on a singular time, place, and characters feels very restraining and limits the types of stories that can be told.

Of course, when I started pitching that idea to friends and anyone who would listen (don't know why I never blogged about it...), I hadn't conceived of a seasonal anthology. I was thinking more along the lines of a true anthology similar to The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. The problem that I was fully willing to point out was the difficulty in establishing compelling characters and relationships within the span of a single hour-long episode. I had, at the time, proposed to resolve this by occasionally re-visiting specific characters and events from specific episodes in order to further flesh out their plots. I had even suggested having a few independent story threads going simultaneously each season, and then maybe tying them together through a uniting theme, plot element, or some other relation. A seasonal anthology is an elegant and easy solution, and American Horror Story has been a fantastic model.

Star Trek VI: the Undiscovered Country
The first season will supposedly take place sometime after the events of The Undiscovered Country.

In addition, the first season is rumored to take place after the events of the The Undiscovered Country (during the gap between the original series movies and The Next Generation). There's a lot of material in that time period that is rife for exploration. The changing dynamics between the Federation and the Klingons could make for some good stories. First contact with the Cardassians occurs sometime during this period. And the end of hostilities with the Klingons meant that Starfleet finally had an opportunity to de-militarize and go back to performing the peaceful exploration that it was founded to do.

But that's not the end of it. The anthology nature of the series means that it won't be constrained to that time period. The following seasons could go anywhere. Subsequent seasons could take place entirely on alien worlds; could show us the formation of the Borg collective; could [finally] explore the Earth-Romulan wars that Enterprise teased but never actually got to; or it could go into the distant future of the series and show us the death of the Federation. Even more, there's nothing to say that an entire season couldn't take place within the mirror universe (like Enterprise's episode "In a Mirror, Darkly", but extended out to a full season); or, a season could even hypothetically take place in the new continuity created by J.J. Abrams.

Star Trek Enterprise - In a Mirror, Darkly
An anthology could go anywhere and anywhen in the Star Trek canon - even an entire season in the mirror universe!

This new anthology series is one that truly could boldly go where no series has gone before, and it can boldly go anywhere!

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Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom Pain

It took months, but I finally finished and reviewed Metal Gear Solid V. It was a tough game to review, mostly because my dreams for an epic conclusion to the Metal Gear franchise seem to have been dashed by corporate stupidity forcing the game to be released before it was finished. Maybe Kojima (and Konami) have some elaborate trick up their sleeve, and there's going to be some crazy patch that replaces the recycled missions in Chapter 2 with real missions, and which adds the missing third chapter and the "Kingdom of the Flies" mission. Unless that happens, I'm going to operate under the assumption that the recycled missions of chapter 2 were put in as placeholders for missions that were planned but never completed. And I have some ideas of what a couple of those missions might have been about.

There's half of Foxhound from Metal Gear Solid 1, right there!

After retrieving the microfilm in mission 38, you get a couple of intel tapes that might inform exactly what chapter two was supposed to be about.

Informant's Report: Part 2 talks about the "Third Boy", who is a young Psycho Mantis. The first part of the tape reveals details on how Psycho Mantis' powers work. The second part is a bit more interesting, as it poses the conjecture that Eli was projecting his will onto the Third Boy, and controlling Sehalanthropous. This establishes how Eli (who would later be revealed to be Liquid Snake) begins his partnership with Psycho Mantis, the first recruit in his Foxhound team that would eventually take over Shadow Moses in the first Metal Gear Solid game.

Was mission 40 supposed to be about Sniper Wolf?

Metal Gear Solid V - Quiet / Sniper Wolf
Obtaining Sniper Wolf's handerchief from the retread of "Cloaked In Silence" unlocks the Sniper Wolf costume.

With that in mind, let's take another look at mission 40. It's a repeat of mission 11: "Cloaked In Silence". It's a repeat of the sniper battle with Quiet, complete with the same mission briefing and even repeating the cutscene of Quiet shooting down the pursuing plane on the way back to Mother Base. All the repeat missions in chapter 2 are reproduced verbatim from the original mission, right down to the bookending cutscenes (even though they make absolutely no narrative sense). But there's two interesting things about mission 40 that make it stand out. The first is that Quiet isn't wearing her regular bikini outfit. She's wearing a jumper - Sniper Wolf's jumper from Metal Gear Solid 1. She even has blonde hair. Secondly, completing the mission awards the player with a Handerchief item that allows Quiet to be equipped with the Sniper Wolf outfit.

Is this a simple fan-service Easter Egg? Or was Mission 40 supposed to be a battle with a young Sniper Wolf that would establish how Eli [Liquid] and Sniper Wolf first met?

Metal Gear Solid V - capturing Sniper Wolf
Quiet even wears this uniform during the battle.

Sniper Wolf was born in Iraq, and she grew up amongst military conflict, she moved around the Middle East and Africa frequently to avoid the authorities, and she was eventually rescued from that life by Big Boss. So her backstory is actually a near perfect match for an appearance in Phantom Pain! Maybe Iraq was supposed to be a third area of operations? Mission 40 could have been intended to be a mission in which the player finds a young sniper wolf, engages her in battle to test her ability, and then captures and recruits her. Kojima may not have had time to finish this mission, and so Quiet's alternate outfit model was used instead, and Quiet's duel mission became a place-holder.

I would expect that if a young Sniper Wolf had been planned, then Kojima would have already cast a voice and mo-cap artist. But as far as I know, nobody has found assets for any character model or dialogue from any one who could qualify as a young Sniper Wolf. IMDB does list some voice actresses for various soldier roles, but no young girls other than Paz's voice (from Tara Strong). But if the game is truly unfinished, and whole chapters hadn't even been developed yet, then it's possible that such casting simply hadn't happened yet. If early rumors of the mission list are true, then the game wasn't nearly as far along as we think. That mission list, by the way, has a mission late in the game called "Beauty of the Battlefield", which could be a prime candidate for the mission that would have introduced a young Sniper Wolf, and the fact that it takes place during a chapter called "The Cost of Revenge" could also be appropriate to Sniper Wolf's story. Though, this mission could also just have easily been a mission about Quiet.

Metal Gear Solid V - Quiet and Snake embrace
It is implied several times by behavior and dialogue that Quiet has romantic feelings for Snake.

Alternatively, the intent of establishing a link between Quiet and Sniper Wolf might be to imply that Quiet is Wolf's mother. There are hints of a possible romance between Quiet and Venom Snake. Ocelot suggests that Quiet might not have killed Snake because she likes him as early as right after you bring her back to base. There's the infamous "playing in the rain scene", and her final casette tape after "A Quiet Exit" even says that she has "feelings" for Snake. And then, of course, there's her suggestive poses in the brig and helicopter. It's possible that there could have been a point during design in which they were planned to have a romantic relationship and possibly even a child together (assuming Quiet is even capable of conceiving and bearing children in her condition). Alternatively, Quiet could have mothered Sniper Wolf prior to the operation in Cyprus. Her injuries during that operation, and abduction and experimentation by Cipher and Skull Face could have separated her from her young child and left Sniper Wolf an orphan...

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Metal Gear Solid V: the Phantom Pain

Are you one of the poor suckers who paid $30-40 for Ground Zeroes and were ready for The Phantom Pain to make up for your disappointment with what was little more than a glorified (and over-priced) demo? I wasn't, because I got Ground Zeroes for free from my PSPlus subscription around the same time that Phantom Pain was released. I was obviously disappointed with the demo's short length, and I didn't bother doing any of the side missions. But since I didn't pay for it, I wasn't as enraged as some other players might have been.

I actually really liked what little gameplay Ground Zeroes had to offer. The Guantanamo Bay arena was well-designed and offered some good infiltration challenge that tested my Metal Gear capabilities. The A.I. was surprisingly competent and adaptive - not so much that I couldn't exploit them occasionally, but still good. The graphics, lighting, and weather effects all looked outstanding. It was a fun experience. Not "forty dollars fun", but pretty fun. At least part of the battle at Mother Base should have been playable, and I didn't like that large elements of the story were hidden away in collectible audio tapes, but whatever.

I got Ground Zeroes for free on PSPlus, instead of paying $30-40 MSRP for a glorified demo.

Ground Zeroes gave me flashbacks to the phenomenal classic Sons of Liberty demo that came packaged with Zone of the Enders on the PS2. At least that only cost me a $3 rental, and I got to play Zone of the Enders too. After Ground Zeroes, I was looking forward to getting my hands on the much bigger Phantom Pain, and was optimistic that it would provide an equally good experience that would be worth the purchase price. Phantom Pain is a very long, very complicated, and very uneven game. So buckle up, friend. This is going to be a long review.

Table of Contents

After having written a lengthy blog post about how open world, sandbox game design almost necessarily puts the game's narrative in a state of limbo, I was amazed to start up Metal Gear Solid V and see the very first mission took my criticisms to heart. Of course, the game had already been released by the time I had written that opinion piece, so I can't take credit for having influenced its development, but it was still refreshing and gratifying. Anyway, in the very first mission, Ocelot tells you that Miller has been captured by Soviets in Afghanistan, has been tortured for intel, and has three days - tops - to live. You must rescue him before that time.

Metal Gear Solid V - three days to rescue Miller
Ocelot gives the player three days to rescue Miller...

At first, I didn't put much stock in Ocelot's claim. After all, sandbox games are notorious for saying that something needs to be done ASAP, but they never have the balls to actually walk the walk and enforce that objective. Until now. When checking my map, I noticed something in the corner that I hadn't noticed in other sandbox games before: an "elapsed time" counter. The game was plainly tracking how long it was taking me to complete the primary mission objective. I treated this timer with a certain degree of skepticism. But sure enough, failure to rescue Miller within the allotted time actually results in a "Game Over"!

This is exactly how I feel that priority objectives in open world games should be handled: make it apparent to the player (through dialogue and/or explicit notification) that an objective is being timed or that it is otherwise a priority, and make sure that there are reasonable, perceivable consequences for failure to achieve that objective within the expected conditions. Then design some early-game quests or objectives such that the player is put in a position in which they can (or must) fail; thus, teaching the player that when the game says "do x or else", the game actually means it. I put down the controller and gave Hideo Kojima a standing ovation. But would this opening mission set a precedent that priority missions must actually be prioritized, and would that precedent stand throughout the rest of the game? Or was this just a one-off occurrence that would not be representative of the rest of the game? Regardless, a tone was plainly set for the rest of the game, and the stakes had been raised.

... Failure to rescue Miller within the allotted time results in his death and a Game Over.

Would this refreshing precedent carry over into the rest of the game? Well, sort of...

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A gamer's life...

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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'Demon's Souls' servers to be shut down May 31st, 2012; PC port of 'Dark Souls' to include new content'Demon's Souls' servers to be shut down May 31st, 2012; PC port of 'Dark Souls' to include new content04/11/2012 Today is a sad day for fans of Atlus' critically-acclaimed PS3-exclusive game, Demon's Souls. Hot off the heels of my Dark Souls review, the announcement that Dark Souls will be ported to the PC, and new rumors that DLC is in the works for Dark Souls, Atlust just announced that the Demon's Souls servers will be shut-down at...