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Friday, July 5, 2013

Ender's Game: Book Review

If you ever ask a sci-fi fan for a book to read, odds are they'll ask you if you've read Ender's Game yet. And if your answer is no, you've been missing out. The first time I ever read Ender's Game, I was 11 years old. It made enough of an impression that I decided to read the entire Ender Saga over the next few months. All of them are great books and as I re-read them, I'll be sure to write reviews for anyone considering reading them.

Ender's Game is about Ender Wiggin, the third child in his family. In this future, Earth is becoming overpopulated and in an effort to conserve resources, families are limited to two children. Adding insult to injury, Earth was attacked by the "buggers", an insectoid race bent on annihilating the human race. Due to the unique nature of the Wiggin family, they are authorized a third child in hopes that he will be able to combat the "bugger" threat.

The book follows Ender as he heads to attend the Battle School, a special school in Earth orbit used to train the new generation of leaders for the military. During his time there, Ender faces steep odds and almost insurmountable challenges, all in an effort to shape him to one day lead Earth to victory. All along the way, they'll push him as far as they can without breaking him, running the risk that if they do, humanity is doomed.

If you've been considering picking up the book before the movie releases in November, do it. I think you'll find it a pretty good read, and you'll want to see Ender's Game even more once it releases.

Ender's Game (Kindle Version)
Ender's Game (Print Version)

Till next time, peace!


Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Long Disappearance

It's pretty easy to see by looking at the site that I've been gone for a while. Last year, pretty soon after my last post, I went to Basic Military Training to join the US Air Force. Since then, I've been pretty busy, first with training, then with my new job. But things are starting to calm down now. I've been debating the likelihood of bringing back the site for sci-fi reviews and I haven't quite decided yet. Part of me wants to keep the site running, but another portion of me realizes that I might not quite have time for it.

Over the next week or so, I'll decide if I want to keep it online. Of course, whatever my decision is, I'll be sure to share it will you all.

Till then,

Kai Strife

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Vicious Cycle of Piracy

Piracy has become a large problem in today's world. The Internet has made anything and everything readily available with you know how to search for it. Movies, music, and even games are all out there, ready to be downloaded at the click of a button. Companies have been trying for years to stop it, and have been failing. In fact, you can even say that some of the measures they are taking have led to further piracy. Let's examine a few cases of how the increase in DRM has possibly increased piracy.

Take a look at Capcom's new Street Fighter X Tekken game. It has recently come to light that the DLC (downloadable content) for the game is actually already on the disk, but is locked. In essence, they have locked a section of the game that was already completed and ready at release, and require and extra fee later to use it. In layman's terms, they're trying to milk the (already broke) gamer for even more money for content you've already paid for.

Actions such as this encourage people to pirate the game. If the content was not finished and the fee you paid later was to obtain brand-new content finished after release, people would not have a problem with it. The reason this encourages piracy is that the content is already there, just locked behind a pay wall because the developer wants to make more money on it later. So, rather then pay the fee, pirates and hackers will simply crack the "pay wall" and obtain access to the content. And personally, I don't blame them.

Let's also look at the increase in invasive methods of DRM. Ubisoft's "always on" DRM is a perfect example of DRM that encourages piracy. Imagine you purchase the game legally. You're playing the game and suddenly your router goes out. A message pops up, "You've lost connection to the internet. The game will now close." And of course, it closes immediately, without giving an option to save your current progress or anything. The question I pose is, "Why would anyone want to put up with this?" You purchased the product legally, and are punished for a slight technical hiccup.

Now take a look at the pirate. They crack the DRM from the outset, and never have to worry about not being able to play the game. For instance, earlier this year, Ubisoft took down their authentication servers for an unspecified period of time. During that period, no one who had purchased the game could play it. Meanwhile, all the pirates played on. So what happens when Ubisoft decides it's not worth the money to maintain the servers anymore? These poor decisions by companies often drive people to pirate, or at the very least never purchase from those producers ever again.

Until companies stop hurting the paying customers in an effort to stop the pirates, piracy will never stop. The more you punish the ones who support you, the more that will turn to other methods if they want to play the game. This trend does not bode well for future generations of gamers, especially considering the rumors surrounding the next-gen consoles. But more on that later in a later post. Peace.


Video Game Review: Mass Effect 3

Back in 2007, I purchased my first 360 on a whim. I was a freshman in college, and needed something to do in my off time. When I did buy it, I needed a few starter games, so I grabbed Halo 3 (of course) and, on a whim, I grabbed Mass Effect. I had seen a few commercials for it and was intrigued, so I figured I'd give it a shot. I didn't fully play it until that winter break, but once I did, I was hooked.

For those who may not know, Mass Effect follows the story of Commander Shepard, the first human Spectre. He uncovers a plot by Saren Arterius to destroy human colonies. However, it turns out it's not just a plot to destroy colonies. You come to find out that he's actually under the influence of a being known as a Reaper, who is named Sovereign. The Reapers are responsible for wiping out all space-faring life in the galaxy every 50,000 - 100,000 years. At the end of the first game, the Alliance (human) fleet just manages to bring down Sovereign.

Fast forward to ME2. Human colonies are disappearing and no one knows who is responsible. Commander Shepard teams up with Cerberus, a group not well liked from the first game. You discover a group of beings known as the Collectors are harvesting humans. Over the course of the game, you build a team to go take them out. During the suicide mission, you discover that they are using the humans to make a Reaper. In fact, you realized that all the Reapers are actually the amalgamation of the previous cycles "head" species. ME2 ends with the destruction of the "proto"-Reaper and the destruction of the base, leaving you with the feeling of "I'm ready for the Reapers."

Now, before talking about ME3, let's examine the lead-up to the release a little bit. Mass Effect 3 was hyped up with a massive PR campaign. ME1 and ME2 combined didn't receive as much advertising as Mass Effect 3 did. The creators were talking about how epic the game was going to be, and reviews were singing its praises. So coming into the game, all the fans had pretty high expectations. At the start, we weren't disappointed. As expected, the Reapers arrive at Earth, bringing instant death and destruction with them. Knowing the fight can't be won on your own, Commander Shepard leaves Earth to rally the species of the galaxy to help Earth.

The game moves fast, with little of the side exploration we've come to expect from the ME series. A lot of people had a problem with this. However, a Reddit user, Thesreyn, had this to say on the subject.

"In ME1, you were uncovering the conspiracy that was Saren, but you weren't under a lot of pressure. Things were still being discovered, time was still (in your perception) on your side and you had the time to go down onto the surface and explore. To "discover the galaxy", as it were.

In ME2, you know the Reapers are coming and it's been 2 years since that period of laidback-space-adventure. Now, you have a serious mission to undertake and not a huge amount of time to do it in. You're under far more pressure than you were in ME1, but you still have SOME time to complete other tasks. Instead of exploring the planets though (which you don't really have time for anymore), you're scanning them for resources as you travel, giving yourself the best chance to fight the collectors.

In ME3, you're out of time. The Reapers are here. But you still need things from the planets of the galaxy. You're under a tremendous amount of pressure and the time you have to spend exploring is far less than ME2, let alone ME1, with everything you have to do for the galactic war. So now, you have tips on what planets you need to visit, you have a means of scanning for useful items (a means you've always had but was never really necessary because of the lessened pressure) that allows you to narrow down anything you might desperately need. Then with your old scanning tools you can find it very quickly."
To me, this makes perfect sense. There isn't time to be driving around for "hours" on the surface of a planet trying to find something useful. The Reapers are here and are actively interdicting your efforts to get valuable resources. In that respect, the "planet scanner" gets a pass in my book.

Like I said, the game moves fast. There are fewer side missions than the first two games, and the "Priority" missions usher the story along, making for a linear-seeming game. Again, this is understandable given the fact that the point of ME3 is not only to show the story of the Reaper invasion, but to tie up the loose ends of the story. The game does an amazing job of this, tying up the Quarian/Geth and Genophage storylines in a poetic manner. As the game comes to it's end, you're left with the sense that all the stories you've been affecting for years are finally coming to a close. By the time you see the mission, "Priority: Earth", you feel you're ready for it. All the stories are done, and all that's left is to destroy the Reapers...at least, that's what should happen.

Up until this point, I could give ME3 at least a 9 out of 10. It was the culmination of an epic sci-fi trilogy in every way. But somehow, this last mission goes downhill. It starts off well enough and continues its climb towards the climax of the story. And as you make that final push, you feel completely invested, ready to do what needs to be done to destroy the Reapers. But suddenly, the whole story falls apart.

The last 10 minutes of ME3 are at complete odds with the series as a whole. I won't spoil anything, but I will say this. The entire point of the series is choice. My game is completely different from someone else's game because we probably made a few different choices along the way. Maybe they saved Wrex and I didn't. Or maybe I punched the reporter while they talked her down. The point was that we had the ability to choose our path. The ending of ME3 took that away from you. Sure, there were choices to be made. But the choices had no baring on what you had been doing in the entirety of the series.

You saved the council while I let them die. Doesn't matter. You saved the Collector Base and I destroyed it. Doesn't change a thing. The ending calls into question the entire premise of the series. Worse, no matter what you choose, all of the ending cut-scenes are the same. Yes, there are a few cosmetic differences, but besides that, you see the exact same thing no matter what. And worse, it opens up plot holes so big at the last few moments that you could fly the Destiny Ascension through them. I won't go into them, but after 5 years of the physics of the world being beaten into our heads through cut-scenes and codex entries, it's a little disheartening to see them discarded to carelessly.

Because of this massive change in quality, I will split my final scores into three parts, the game without the ending, the ending, and the game as a whole. Without the ending, ME3 easily deserves at 9 out of 10. It improved the series and tied up the story excellently. I'd have to give the ending a 2 out of 10. By itself, it could be an okay ending. But taking into account the entirety of the series, it can't be given a passing grade. Putting the two together, ME3 gets a 6/10. Regardless of what people say, the ending does matter. It has the power to make or break a game. And in this case, it definitely broke it.

Upcoming Post Series: Mass Effect 3

This week, Flights will be featuring a 3 post set about Mass Effect 3. First will be a review, from a gamer's perspective, followed by an analysis of the ending (or lack thereof) of the game. Last up will be a look at why the "Retake Mass Effect" movement has garnered so much hate, despise the fact they have a legitimate case for their anger/annoyance. Enjoy!

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