The Agent Reviews A Game… UPDATE: The NEW Pokèmon Go

Catching ’em all just got a bit more interesting.
Source: Business Insider

As of the writing of this, we are one week from celebrating the one-year anniversary of the release of Pokèmon Go. Personally, I hope to hang out at a HUGE meet-up in Nashua, NH while celebrating a friend’s birthday (provided I get the time off).

And just in time for the festivities, Niantic Labs and Nintendo have made some major changes to the game that – in my eyes, at any rate – are much needed and long overdue.

There are three major changes to this year-one update we need to concern ourselves with; the revamped gym battle system, the new raid battle system and some new items to improve gameplay.

The Pokèmon Gyms have been completely rebalanced to encourage a more competitive atmosphere and the changes are simple enough to follow. They are as follows:

  1. Gyms, in addition to their original functions, now also act as special Pokèstops that give additional bonuses if spun by someone of the same team controlling the gym.
  2. The max number of Pokèmon allowed at a gym has been reduced from ten to six.
  3. Pokèmon will defend the gym they are assigned to in the order they have been placed, not by order of CP Level.
  4. No gym may have more than one of the same kind of Pokèmon.
  5. Instead of training to level up a gym to assign more Pokèmon and battling to lower gym levels and remove Pokèmon, a motivation system has been introduced.
    • Frequent defeat will cause a Pokèmon to lose morale – temporarily lowering its CP level until it’s motivation reaches zero and it returns to the owner.
    • Motivation can be restored by feeding any berry to a Pokèmon, thus returning its CP up to its original point and allowing it to defend longer.
  6. When a Pokèmon is removed from a gym, it returns to its owner with a number of Pokècoins to be used in the shop based on the amount of time spent defending.

These changes make the gym battles so much more enjoyable. There’s more of a challenge and incentive to try to defend and maintain gyms, you can’t cheese people with a wall of Snorlaxes or Blisseys, fresh faces are more likely to appear in gyms, and gym defense rewards are applied automatically.

Gyms also serve as the site for the other new addition to the game; raid battles. What is a raid battle? Well, you remember that scene in the trailer where everyone in a major city gathers in the middle of the square to ROFL-stomp Mewtwo? Yeah, it’s like that.

Raid battles are group efforts of up to 20 players to take down a RIDICULOUSLY overpowered Pokèmon – up to and including legendaries – using the same battle mechanics as the gym battles. Should the group be successful, everyone involved is granted a number of Premier Balls (you know, those white Pokèballs you get in the other games for buying other balls in bulk) based on their individual performances. You then get the opportunity to use those Premier Balls to capture the raid boss (note that I said OPPORTUNITY; you can still fail to catch it as with any wild Pokèmon). I sadly didn’t get to join a group, but I did solo a lower level Croconaw that I was fortunate enough to catch with my second ball.

Finally, these raids can also net you new items. They include Golden Razz Berries (a more powerful version of the normal Razz Berry that also fully restores motivation), Rare Candy (used to level up ANY Pokèmon) and Fast and Charged TMs (used to change the fast and charged attacks of your Pokèmon).

So, what do I think of the changes? Well, like I said, these are all changes that the game desperately needed to add challenge and renewed interest in the game. It won’t result in the server-destroying frenzy we saw when the game first dropped, but it has clearly brought some players back to the fold and is catching some fresh eyes.

If I had to complain about anything, it’s that the shop still doesn’t have options to buy stronger Pokèballs beyond the standard model. That would have been the first thing on my list. All you would need to do is give an appropriate price hike for the boost in quality.

Still, you can believe that I’m playing harder than ever before now that this update dropped. I hope to see you out in the field on the anniversary.

The Agent Reviews a Game: Seek

I know; it feels like I just reviewed a mobile game. But I was so genuinely happy to discover this thing that I had to share it with you.

So, I’ve been on the hunt for AR games (short for “Augmented Reality) to encourage me to get out of the house and stave off the twin demons of idleness and depression. You’ve seen me discuss AR games here before in the form of Ingress and Pokémon GO. However, those games are a bit too competitive for a someone looking to game while taking a leisurely stroll. I need something that turns a walk in the park into a fun, casual treasure hunt.

In otherwords, I needed Seek.

Seek is simple enough to understand; there are digital ‘treasure chests’ scattered throughout the world and you need to find them and claim them. The chests come four colors that correspond to their rarity and, by extension, the quality of the stuff you find inside them. Rarer chests will also require that you have keys to open them. The rarer the chest; the more keys required.

And what do you have to earn from these chests? How about REAL WORLD LOOT?

Yes, the chests are filled with in-game items for the most part like keys, in-game coins for purchases, and doublers that boost your potential rewards when you open a new chest. But you can also find stuff like big discount coupons, gift cards, free mail-in prizes, and even ACTUAL MONEY PRIZES.

Now, let’s not kid ourselves; unless you have the speed of Mercury, the endurance of Atlas, and half the outdoorsman skills that Bear Grylls THINKS he has, you aren’t going to be paying your rent with this game. However, the potential of free stuff is a tempting enough promise to get almost anyone out and moving.

Also, remember how I said in my last mobile game review that I hate it when a game forces me to play on its schedule to be any good at it? Not the case here. There are regular log-in rewards that take the form of a free chest every seven hours. However, the rewards are already awesome in-game goodies that you need for better loot with no need for a cumulative build-up. So, if you’re too sick or too busy to go out that day, the game is understanding enough to sit and wait for you until you get back.

If I had any real complaints about Seek, it’s that it – like seemingly every AR game that boils down to a scavenger hunt – doesn’t make full use of its AR aspects. I was expecting to have to use my camera to scan the world for my hidden bounty, but it turned out that the answer was always, “look 20 to 45 degrees to your right.” Honestly, you’d be better off turning off the AR camera to conserve your battery life.

Basically, if you use AR gaming as a motivator for physical activity like I do and need something more friendly and more rewarding than an occasional gold star sticker, you may find Seek to be a great match for you.

The Agent Reviews A Game: Hyper Heroes

Hurrah for generic title screens…
Source: Google Play

I feel like I’ve been doing a lot of more introspective philosophical pieces here lately. And while it’s good to do some soul searching every now and again, I’m sure you need a break from that as much as I do. So let’s get back to a topic I don’t touch as often as I used to; video games.

When I last reviewed a mobile game, I made it clear that I wasn’t sold on mobile games as a whole but remained hopeful that one could change my mood. I still feel that way, but I think that Hyper Heroes may have helped me to single out my issues with the mobile market. But first, let’s talk about the game.

Hyper Heroes markets itself as a, “marble-like RPG,” and that description seems to fit quite well. You select a team of up to four heroes and do battle with your standard high fantasy monsters by click-and-dragging to literally throw them at the baddies until they drop.

It’s marginally more complex than that description makes it seem. Obviously, there’s the RPG trope of level grinding (more on that later), physics-based tactics requiring you plot your angle of attack and memorize how far each hero can travel, and probably the best mechanic in the game; the various attack styles of the heroes.

There are three styles; bounce, penetrate and stick. Bounce will ricochet off enemies making for complex strikes, penetrate can move through enemy lines while dealing damage to reach priority targets, and stick with stop dead on the first enemy struck for precise setups – especially useful for tank characters to draw fire away from frail heroes.

There’s also a promotion system where, as heroes collect required gear, they can be promoted and gain up to four skills; a ‘Unique’ skill that can be activated after building up a rage meter, a ‘Combo’ skill that activated when another hero crosses over them in battle, a ‘Finish’ skill that triggers at the end of their turn, and a ‘Passive’ skill that grants general buffs consistently.

So, a lot of interesting stuff to work with. But, alas, there are some things in design that just irk me and that I can’t shake off whenever I notice them. And I think they may be a the root of why I haven’t embraced mobile gaming completely yet.

For example, it feels VERY cheaply made. I know that it’s a free-to-play game and I shouldn’t expect much from it, but I expect a level of quality even from budget titles. If you can’t afford to do something right, you find workarounds – not half-assed solutions. Case in point; the voice acting SUCKS. The actors are totally phoning it in for a paycheck and it’s painfully clear that most of them just aren’t comfortable speaking English. Those misdirected, disinterested squeals are an assault on my ears and my own enthusiasm – how can I care about the game if they don’t?

Secondly, the writing is distracting. It felt like the crew helming this project knew they couldn’t fit an epic story into a tiny mobile game, so they relied on humor… humor that tries insultingly hard to get me to laugh and fails miserably. the cringe-worthy comedy ranges from dated references (Seriously, Pyro Monk? A reference to Nelly’s “Hot In Herre” 15 years after the single dropped?), pervy non-jokes (Why is the cute deer-centaur druid asking me not to look at her tail?), and just generally bad writing decisions (I’m sure none of my fellow feminists will be bothered by the sexy female fire mage being called Flame Dame).

And finally, we have game mechanics designed to drain time and money. Remember when I said I’d discuss the level grinding? Well, the grind is so slow when simply battling monsters that you have to rely almost exclusively on EXP potions that you can either collect or – more unfairly – buy with real world cash. Now, I’m no stranger to in-game purchases, but they’re meant to sell convenience; not power. When I need to stock my kitchen with EXP potions and fill my wardrobe with rare gear just to have a fair shake in the PvP arena, there’s a balance problem.

The only alternative is to play every day to get the cumulative daily sign-in bonuses and I’ve only just started to learn how much I hate a game that tells me that I HAVE to play it. Once the game puts me on a schedule, it doesn’t feel like a game anymore; it feels like a second job. And unlike a real job, I don’t get sick days. Instead, I get punished by losing by benefits and have to start building them up again from square one… Oh, and I don’t get paid for coming in either.

Still, there is some merit to Hyper Heroes. There is a germ of a good idea in here and I’m hopeful that a more competent studio attempts something similar in the future. If you can get pass the uglier parts of the game, there’s a well-made puzzle-RPG with cute character designs and unique gameplay that can hold your interest.

3 Generally Awesome YouTube Channels

You know what, I’m still reeling from illness and haven’t talked about anything positive for a while. So, let’s shout out some talented people.

The last time I had something nice to say about YouTube was when I shared a trio of channels for the artsy DIYer. Today, I just want to go off on three channels that had nothing in common other than just being a lot of fun and offering something nice and/or useful to the viewer. So, let’s just get happy and celebrate some cool people.

The Obscure

The tongue-in-cheek review has been a staple of internet entertainment for as long as most of us can remember the internet. However, they’ve almost always come from a stance of crapping on old media for laughs.

The Obscure stands out from the horde of angry reviewers by demonstrating genuine nostalgia for the things of the past that mirrors the fond memories that we have for our favorites-gone-by; offered through the character of someone with all the enthusiasm of someone who probably shouldn’t have dropped the brown acid at Woodstock.

While the goofy comedy is the primary draw, The Obscure does occasionally drop some insight on us; showing how these things long-forgotten helped shape popular consciousness today.

AvE

Here’s a little something special for the handymen in the audience.

AvE may be a little to foul-mouthed and rough around the edges for some, but for me, he more than makes up for it with his knowledge of tools and machining.

AvE combines his experience as an engineer with his glorious and uniquely Canadian sense of humor (“skookum as frig,” has become one of my favorite phrases) to teach us the nuts and bolts of making your way around a DIYer’s workshop. In amongst his workshop tricks, he also works on his series, ‘Bored Of Lame Tool Reviews’ (BOLTR for short) where he disassembles and analyzes everyday tools and appliances to determine if they’re actually worth your money.

CGP Grey

An American-born teacher living in England, CGP Grey is the kind of person you want to run an educational YouTube channel; someone you genuinely enjoys teaching and believes that knowledge can change the world.

CGP Grey covers a broad swath of topics including modern technology, civics, politics, and geography while explaining in clear terms why these things are so important to know and how they affect us. Overall, he’s very good at making you care about what he’s saying with a calm, mellow, and charismatic voice.

He also has a podcast with his friend Brady at Numberphile if you need more knowledge dropped on you by people WAY smarter than I could ever hope to be.

The Agent on YouTube’s Restricted Mode and The Value Of Uncensored Debate

“This video is restricted because some people can’t handle a mature critical discussion on some topics. Sorry about that.”
Source: The Independent

What is this; the third – maybe fourth time I’ve had to weigh in on a YouTube policy change? You guys could circumvent a lot of this bulls*** if you just gave us some details before you made the change.

Anyway, for those of you not keeping up with the new media, YouTube recently went live with a new ‘Restricted Mode’ feature that had some, shall we call it, unforeseen effects.

The goal of Restricted Mode is to give viewers the option to hide content that some may deem as questionable such as violence, profanity or sexual situations. And believe it or not, I totally understand why they would want to do this.

Let’s not forget, YouTube is a business first and foremost. Their first priority is to placate their advertisers, shareholders, and viewers. So, anything that might be counter-intuitive to an advertiser/viewer’s interests – say having their ad for a new children’s movie just before a video of a particularly foul-mouthed Let’s Player who uses f-bombs like vocal punctuation or having their five-year-old stumble upon the same – might scare them away.

But, the problem arises from what kind of content gets blocked when Restricted Mode is active; namely people weighing in on LGBT politics. Most of them are not even talking about gay sex, mind you; They’re just chiming in on the politics of queer culture.

I think the problem is pretty obvious and it’s a problem that asexuals like myself encounter routinely – people conflating relationships with sex. YouTube saw the phrase ‘LGBT’ show up and just ASSUMED it was about sex without actually checking the content. I assure you, talking about romance or being in love doesn’t AUTOMATICLY imply someone is bumping uglies and we need to stop think like it does.

Of course, this wave of (very likely) accidental anti-LGBT censorship is endemic of a bigger problem that I have with YouTube’s Restricted Mode and censorship in general. Simply put, I’m against censorship because is restricts discourse from both sides of a debate and thereby halts social progress. It’s a pretty simple chain of logic to follow; if neither side is allowed to talk about something, how can they debate it in order to solve any problems with it?

It’s for this reason that I support YouTubers like Count Jackula who dedicate regular live-streams to debates with fans and fellow creators or Armored Skeptic who often makes debunking videos pointing out logical fallacies in other people’s arguments. Yes, things often get very heated, people will get offended, and I frequently disagree with them on at least one point. But at the end of the day, they offer a perspective that made me think and that surge of critical thought is what we need more than anything else in this societal landscape.

That having been said, I can still see where YouTube is coming from in terms of business. It needs some kind of system to please the people that make them money. So, what we need is a common ground… and I think I have it.

Firstly, STOP CONFLATING RELATIONSHIPS WITH SEX. I will scream this 24/7 until I go mute from the scar tissue building up on my larynx.

Secondly, I suggest giving more control to what shows up in viewer searches by employing a sort of ‘ADVANCED Restricted Mode’ that allows the user to select what kind of content gets filtered out based on what they personally don’t want to see. It’s not ideal and those people will still be very likely to miss out on mind-expanding discussions, but it’s probably the best we can do until we can build that utopian society where people’s anuses don’t slam shut like steel security vault doors everytime they hear something that threatens their fragile reality.

The Agent Reviews A (Mobile) Game: Pokémon Duel

Nintendo’s still grabbing for a slice of the mobile pie.
Source: PokéCommunity Daily

So, last week’s gaming discussion was some dark and heavy stuff.  POPULAR dark and heavy stuff if the site statistics are to be believed (thank you all), but dark and heavy none-the-less. So let’s do something I haven’t done in some time – give a proper review of a game. Only this time, there’s a twist.

If I’m being completely honest with myself, I’ve never really taken mobile gaming all that seriously. I just never felt that my smartphone had the means to match my PC or consoles in the level of complex gameplay that I tend to demand. But, I heard some buzz surrounding Pokémon‘s newest foray into mobile gaming – most jeering from some especially negative people about how Nintendo was trying to recover after Pokémon Go failed (which it OBVIOUSLY DIDN’T). So, I decided to download my copy of Pokémon Duel so see what all the fuss was about.

I figured out pretty quick that this game was, in essence, a jambalaya of old ideas mixed with some spice to freshen it up a bit. It involves collecting  Pokémon figures to build your team (similar to Pokémon Rumble), collecting cards to power them up during matches (taken from the Pokémon Trading Card Game), and battle involves spinning a disk to randomly select the actions of your Pokémon (ala the justly forgotten and much-maligned Pokémon Battling Coin Game).

But repurposing and reworking the old has always been Nintendo’s bread and butter. Hell, it’s part of their business philosophy that’s kept them going for so long. So, how do they make it work? By turning Pokémon from a tactical turn-based RPG to a strategic battlefield control simulation with RPG elements.

Every match has you square off against an opponent with a set of Pokémon figures and Plates (the aforementioned cards) with the goal of getting one of your figures into their goal point. This makes the game more focused on proper figure selection and placement rather than just smashing them together until one falls down. In fact, if you’re especially skilled, you can win a match without even getting into a battle once. And if your opponent can easily overpower in one-on-one battle, you can always surround an enemy figure with yours and force them off the field.

As for the RPG elements, victories will net you in-game cash, new figures/plates, and experience boosts to use on your Pokémon. Every time one levels up, you can extend a section of their battle disk increasing the chance of landing on attacks you want and reducing the likelihood of a miss. This level up mechanic, while functional, seems a bit too simple. That said, it’s absolutely necessary to reduce the likelihood that two players with the same Pokémon figure will play the exact same and create an asymmetrically balanced game.

If I have any major complaints, it’s that the lack of variety in maps was annoying. I would have liked to see boards with different branching paths and shapes that force the players to rethink on the fly with every random match. But no; we just get the same square layout with different colored floors.

Overall, I can see why those turned off by Pokémon Go might be drawn to Pokémon Duel. It addresses a lot of the complaints people had such as the inability to play with friends (which was the whole point of the original games) and the lack of focus on combat. While I’m still not sold on mobile games over my PC and consoles, this is one I’m going to keep handy to keep my mind sharp and help me unwind after a long night at work.

 

The Final Philosophy of The Binding of Isaac: Christianity, Satanism, and Accepting Your Sins

At long last, Isaac’s nightmare is at a close…
Source: Steam Community

You’d think that with my history of gushing about the greatness of The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth that I would have written a think piece on its final DLC, Afterbirth +, long ago. But, I wanted to get a feel for the game before I actually sat down to pontificate on it. It was a good thing I did that too because this game gave me a lot to think about.

Anyone who has played the game (or has just read the title and knows their bible stories) can tell you that Christianity is a running theme of the story. But, very few people discuss TBoI‘s associations to Satanism. Of course, one can infer that a story that praises or decries Christianity will likely be touching on Satanism by virtue of how the two are linked. But after doing some light research, I was shocked to see just how much there was to unpack.

First things first, I want to make it clear that this article takes NO OFFICIAL STANCE on either Christianity or Satanism as the superior moral practice. This is purely about comparing the two philosophies and putting them into a modern, progressive context so that everyone of any religious or non-religious background can benefit from it.

Secondly, I’d like to give a huge shout out to horror movie critic and open-practicing Satanist Jack ‘Count Jackula’ Shen for informing a lot of the research I did for this article – especially his semi-in-character rant on why he chose to convert to Satanism and his thoughtful debate on applying Satanic philosophy to social media. Even if you don’t buy into his beliefs, he’s still a funny and insightful man that I’ve supported for some time (you can actually see my name at the top of his credit rolls in his movie reviews from when I helped fund his new editing rig). I also wish to apologize to Jackula in advance if I’ve misinterpreted anything I may have gleaned from his discussions.

Getting back to TBoI, this new DLC gave us a pair of new main story endings that tie together with the previous endings and share a common theme; Isaac is found dead in his toy chest but is soon seen again walking through an empty field resembling the hills overlooking his house.

Another theme that pervades the game is Isaac’s guilt. Not only has he grown up in a VERY strict Christian household that reinforces the idea that he is evil and shames him for his sins, but the scenes that unfold suggest that he’s also from a broken home without a father and that he blames himself for his parent’s divorce. This guilt (or ‘sin’ if you will) manifests as a shadowy devil-like figure that lives inside Isaac and that he routinely becomes.

This is the core belief that both Christianity and Satanism share; all people, regardless of faith or lifestyle, are inherently flawed and ‘sinful’. The difference is that while Christianity believes that morality is to repress sinful nature and shame those who fail to do so, Satanism believes morality is to accept one’s sins as normal so that one can focus on doing right by themselves before moving on to others.

I propose the following; Isaac’s death is not a literal death. Rather, it’s the death of his ego. He’s finally grown up, come to terms with his ‘sinful’ flaws, and is ready to form a new, healthy moral code of his own rather than adopting the one he’s been force fed by family and a millennia old fable that, admittedly, is overdue for re-examination.

In short, Isaac has finally learned a lesson that is so often overlooked in both devout and non-religious lifestyles: Moral Relativism.

Now, am I preaching the virtues of Satanism over those of Christianity? Absolutely not. Firstly, Satanism eschews the idea of virtue by its definition (remember, it’s all about EMBRACING sin instead of repressing it). And secondly, I’m far too much of a free-thinking skeptic to accept any religious ideology entirely.

That said I do believe that good ideas can come from all religion; even one that embraces a figure that many consider the embodiment of evil (I guess that would make me a bit of an Agnostic Omnitheist, but I’m not one to care for labels). And I have to admit that the idea that we are all damned souls no matter what, while pessimistic, takes the painful edge off of our failures.

We can’t always be good people; it’s impossible. Eventually, you’ll be forced to do something that some will call ‘evil’ for the sake of yourself or another or that will make you question your own morality. However, you can always strive to be the best you can reasonably expect and not let yourself be deterred by your missteps.

You can’t be a good person. However, either by the virtues of God or by the sins of The Devil, you can be a decent one.