Android: Netrunner; Why I Love It

Android: Netrunner might be the card game for you. Up until October of 2013, I wasn’t much of a card game person. The TCG format didn’t make too much sense to me, but that wasn’t even my biggest issue. I have several groups of friends who enjoy playing Magic: The Gathering, so last summer I tried to get into it. A bought a started deck at a somewhat-local card shop, and a customer there took the time to explain the game to me. Of course, many of the rules went right over my head, but that didn’t stop me from hanging out with my M:TG group later that night. They gave me a second crash course on the game, and I played a few half-assed matches that night.

Once again, the TCG format never really made sense to me. At the back of my mind, two things were (and still are) present. The first is that I don’t want to buy randomized packs of cards. I’m fine with spending a lot of money on a hobby (God knows how much I’ve spent on comics this Winter), but I can’t really justify spending the money for a chance of useful cards. To me, that doesn’t sound like a satisfying way to spend the little cash I have for this kind of stuff.

The second thing is a sense of “been-there, done-that.” I appreciate Magic’s longevity, considering that the game is literally as old as I am. But as a child, I played multiple trading card games, and many of them run with similar mechanics. The idea of cards having strength/defence numbers as they protect your life points is something I have seen before. In a time of my life where I am constantly experiencing new board games, on a weekly basis, it doesn’t make sense to put so much time and money into something that doesn’t feel all that original. Once again, I am aware of Magic’s longevity, and that it set the traditional format for many game afterwards. It just doesn’t make sense for me to jump onto this bandwagon this late into the game.

So up until October, I was happy to ignore card games entirely. The only card games I played were contained into a single box, and blended its categorization with “board games”. Smash Up is responsible for getting me into this whole craze. Gloom, Love Letter, and Dixit are other examples of how I steered clear of TCGs in 2013.

You can imagine my surprise looking back, as I am currently hundreds of dollars deep into my all-time favourite tabletop game, Android: Netrunner. But this time, things are different. I am getting ahead of myself, so lets dial back the clock to October. At that point, I was visiting Snakes and Lattes (a board game cafe in Toronto) several times a week. I was, and still am, one of the most recognizable locals. One day, in early-to-mid October, I walked in the place like it was any other day. But it wasn’t. Half of the cafe was occupied and reserved for a tournament. Now, I am fully aware that it was the “Plugged-In tour”, and hate myself for not being a part of it, but at the time I was just interested by the crowd. I asked an employee what was going on, and he explained that it was a tournament for Netrunner. I didn’t know a thing about it, other than the fact that the box art was really nice. Other than a few comments throughout the night, I proceeded along the rest of the night as if the rest of my year wasn’t going to be entirely impacted by this.

Throughout the month, the selection of games to pick up and learn was narrowing. Eventually, I decided to grab Netrunner off the shelf and take a crack at its instructions. Things didn’t go well. I spent about an hour and a half trying to understand such a complicated game. The rules and cards were written with so many symbols and specific terminology that it was entirely hopeless. Netrunner was simply too complicated to play that night. So I finally put down the book and put away the game. The art was still really nice, and the lore was very interesting, but it was just too hard.

Anyone who knows me well knows that I won’t take defeat that easily, though. So, despite what would be the wise thing to do, I bought the game anyway. For quite a while, it just sat on my shelf at home, unopened. But during that time, I was watching and reading beginner’s guides on the internet. It took a while, but look at me now.

So, that’s the long, and very unnecessary story of how I got into the game, but why do I love it so much? Well, for the very two reasons that I didn’t love Magic. The first was that it is not a Trading Card Game. Fantasy Flight Games has created their unique format for their card games, called Living Card Games. This means that the game can be played out of the box, and all expansions are contain three of every card, non-randomized. You never have to make a blind purchase with Netrunner. Every month, a “data pack” is released with the same 60 cards for everyone. Isn’t that nice?

For someone who doesn’t mind spending the money, like myself, it isn’t hard to go out and own every card available in the game. For someone who doesn’t want to inherit a small fortune into a card game, all they need is the starter set. If they want a specific card afterwards, they know exactly what to buy.

It just makes sense.

The second reason why I fell in love with this game is the game itself. It is formatted in a way that plays like a board game. First of all, it is asymmetrical. The two players take the side of the “Runner” (an at-risk hacker) or the Corporation. The corporation sets up his or her three central servers; Head Quarters, Research and Development, and the Archives. These are you hand, your draw deck, and your discard. Notice how the theme is absolutely everywhere. Anyway, The corporation places ICE (protective programs) in front of the servers in order to stop the Runner from making successful runs. All of this is in order to protect and score “agenda points”, which can be placed in additional “remote servers”, which should also be protected. Meanwhile, the Runner sets up his ICEbreakers and tries to steal the Corp’s agendas.

Are you still following? Its complicated, and unfortunately, that doesn’t cover the half of it. But it does show you how much the theme really matters. Everything exists around these “runs” on servers, and everything you play revolves around scoring agenda points. Since the Corp always plays face-down, it also becomes a substantial mind-game. Did the Corp just instal an agenda, or a trap? If it is an agenda, why did he leave enough credits (money) to rez (flip over) the ICE in front of HQ (hand)? These scenarios are at the heart of what makes Netrunner so different from other card games.

So the second point I wanted to make was that it is nothing like Magic: The Gathering. It is nothing like Yu-Gi-Oh, or Pokemon. Netrunner is very much its own game, more so than many other games I have seen. That doesn’t make it the great game that it is (I would attribute that to the theme, the bluffing, the strategies, and the feeling you get after setting up an elaborate trap that actually worked out), but it certainly ups the intrigue.

And maybe that justifies why I am on Ebay, spending too much money on alternate art cards and playmats.

Advertisements

It’s Been A While…

Hello?
Is this thing on?

Hey, remember Tiny Little Reviews? I posted some podcasts and reviews and other fun nerdy stuff? It certainly has been a while since my last post. I think it is dated as far back as E3-time. Anyway, I’m not quite sure if I’m going to resume posting, but let me explain what I’m considering;

Yeah, I still play games. I got my Oculus Rift and I am ordering the Omni. I got both new consoles as well! Yeah, I am still a film major. There hasn’t been too much out lately, but I’ve seen a handful of good film and television since I last posted (I watched the entire series of The Office in September, and Breaking Bad in October and November!). However, lately I have been truly absorbed in only one medium; Comics!

Since I finished Breaking Bad in mid-November, I’ve been looking for something to watch in the last few hours at night before I sleep. After a few days of browsing Netflix with no success, I decided to start re-reading The Killing Joke. Ever since, I have been reading a graphic novel a night (and sometimes more). I have read issues 1-82 of Fables, 1001 Nights of Snowfall, issues 1-28 of Jack of Fables, issues 1-16 of Saga, issues 1-4 of The Last of Us: American Dreams, and I am about halfway through the 600 page goliath that is Blankets. I have also made myself a reading list to complete over the holidays (which includes the 60 issues of Y: The Last Man, Black Hole (re-read), Batman: The Long Halloween (re-read), and much more Fables/Jack of Fables related works.

So, clearly, if I am going to be writing on here again, it will be about comics for the time being. If anybody has any suggestions for what I should be reading or wants recommendations based on what I have been readings, feel free to comment below. Also, if the 150 issue-count of Fables is too intimidating for you to jump into, I have no problem sharing my elaborate reading order that I put together.

Podcast 404: Podcast Not Found – Episode 2

E3 is officially over, and its time to go through each and every conference with a fine-tooth comb. Tony, Daniel, and newcomer Clarence discuss all 5 major E3 conference, and chose a “winner”.

Note: The intro and outro are very temporary. Next week we will have a new and improved one. And we have the podcast’s art, done by Stef, from last week’s episode!

GAMING

Podcast 404: Podcast Not Found – Episode 1

Tomorrow marks the beginning of E3 week, and there’s no better way to initiate the annual event than starting a gaming podcast and talking about it for an hour and half! Podcast 404 is yet another gaming podcast being hosted on TinyLittleReviews, but is much more general than From The Extranet. We plan on posting them on Sunday nights. This week, we make E3 predictions. Be a part of the discussion in the comment section below.

Note: The intro and outro are very temporary. Episode one was very time-sensitive, but we will have a proper tag by next week.

Are You Ready For E3?

What has or hasn’t been said and confirmed about the Xbox One’s online requirements? Is Nintendo going to be at E3? What does the PS4 look like? Why is it called the Xbox One?

If you have asked any of these questions, know that you are not alone. E3 is next week, and to most of us that is not news. It is no secret that people like you and I have been counting down the days until this year’s biggest gaming-centric event since late-June last year. For us, the year revolves around E3, and this year is no different. Even so, there has been so much confusion revolving around all three of the big console manufacturers, and it is time to clear the air.

-MICROSOFT-

The most controversial subject of 2013 has easily been Microsoft’s Xbox One. After almost 8 years, Microsoft has announced the successor to the Xbox 360. It was incredibly underwhelming. Many of the dreaded rumours about always-on connectivity were vaguely mentioned, leaving both fans and press confused. Microsoft’s lack of clarity (on many subjects) only indicate that they will have to readdress the controversial topics next week.

However, you may have not watched the Xbox Reveal. That is alright. Let me fill you in, as impartially as I possibly could.

Going into the event, there were a lot of questions. Rumours have been spinning out of control for the past 6 or so months, and the majority of gamers weren’t too happy about what they were hearing. These rumours included the requirement for always-on internet connectivity, required Kinect, Always-on Kinect, and the blocking of used games.

Keeping in mind that the PS4 was revealed months in advance, it was a no-brainer that Microsoft would show what their console looks like. And that they did. Along with that, they even gave us the controller and all-new Kinect.

The next 50 minutes of the 1 hour conference, however, left many people disappointed. Once again, I am trying to remain impartial. This is not my bias speaking, but the entire IGN community. Take a look for yourself.

It took about 40 minutes for Microsoft to present a single game. It has been said that they never promised any games at this event, but they still didn’t even try to appeal to their most important fan-base; the gamers who have helped make the Xbox a household name. Dismissing that, however, there was still a problem. The problem was that the rumours earlier stated turned out to be true. While they didn’t address them directly at the conference, multiple respectable members of Microsoft has confirmed most of this information shortly afterwards. Phil Harrison told Kotaku that the Xbox One needs to be connected online once every 24 hours in order to run both single-player and multiplayer games. Many are still confused, however, due to some terrible PR phrasing;

“The system does not have to be always connected, but Xbox One does require an internet connection”

Also, here.

Let me make something crystal clear. SimCity (2013) is somewhat infamous for a less-than-acceptable launch. Its always-on connectivity policies made the game unplayable for about 3 days. There is absolutely no debate that SimCity is an “always-on” game. However, you can play up to 20 minutes offline. After the 20 minutes are up, you must connect to a server in order to store the recent progress you have made offline. Whether the time is 20 minutes or 24 hours, it is still a requirement. Thus, the Xbox One requires internet. It prefers it to be always-on, but it must be connected at least once a day.

That wasn’t the only bombshell on May 21. Gamers were up in arms over the “used games issue”. Allow me to explain what all the hassle is about.

Remember online passes? Sure you do! They were those codes that came with almost every multiplayer game in the last 2 years. From Uncharted 3 to Battlefield 3 to Mass Effect 3, it felt like every game had one of those things bundled with it. The idea was that you needed an online pass in order to play online. If you bought the game used, however, you would need to purchase the pass for a small fee, which was on top of the price you paid for the game.

Online passes, which are thankfully on their way out, were used in order to prevent gamers from buying a used game. Used games are sold cheaper than their new counterparts, but the money goes solely to the distributor. The people who make the games get absolutely nothing from the purchase. It is almost understandable why publishers would start such a nasty trend like the online pass.

Microsoft is taking the debate, however, to a whole new level. Instead of taxing those who buy used games, they have come up with a new tactic. The Xbox One will not play used games. New games will come with a one-time-use code. The disc is installed onto the Xbox One, and then it can’t be used by anyone else.

There are a lot of problems with this, however. First of all, gamers can no longer buy used games. Microsoft is taking an almost anti-consumer approach to their war on Gamestop. Secondly, if you own multiple Xbox Ones, you can’t continuously swap them unless you are constantly signing in and out of your account. Furthermore, you cannot bring your games to your friends house, unless you want to sign in and out of your account again. This would make sense for a digital copy of the game, but physical copies don’t naturally have this constriction.

All of this, however, doesn’t even touch upon the biggest problem with blocking used games. The biggest problem is that you, the consumer, must instal the game completely onto your Xbox’s harddrive. The Xbox One will have an internal drive, meaning that it is not swappable, of course. What does all of this mean for us? It means that we will fill our harddrives relatively quickly, because of all the mandatory installs, and then have to carry around USB sticks to play our games. It sounds like an absolute disaster, to say the least.

This brings us to E3, the event focused on pleasing gamers. Microsoft has made just about everyone upset, and next week, they will have to make it up to us. Their policies and their box is not going to change, so hopefully the games that they show will outweigh all the nastiness we have had to put up with. Considering how little we know about Xbox One games, it hopefully goes without saying that they will have an onslaught of first and third-party games to show. However, if not, this wouldn’t be the first time they ruined E3.

-SONY-

I would like to think that Sony has put themselves in a good position going into E3. They have multiple exclusives already announced and in full force. The Last Of Us’ embargo was just lifted, and the game has been received admirably. Beyond: Two Souls has been welcomed with open arms at the Tribeca Film Festival, and a bunch of next-gen outings are already out in the wild, being led by new Killzone and Infamous titles. Already, it is easy to see that there is a lot that Sony can talk about. With that said, E3 is all about surprises. What has the second half of the Naughty Dog team been up to? What does the PS4 even look like? Will we hear pricing and launch date information? These questions, and many more, will surely be explored next monday.

-NINTENDO-

No, you have not been sleeping for the past two decades. Nintendo has just been operating like they are stuck in the 90s, according to EA’s senior engineer. Needless to say, this puts them in an awkward position come E3-time. Let me explain why.

This story starts quite a while ago. Anyone who is old enough to remember marketing in the 90’s will tell you that Nintendo used to have sharp teeth, figuratively speaking. They were once the king of the industry, and had impressive tech to hold off that position. While one might be perplexed by the business strategy, Nintendo decided, a little less than a decade ago, that they might be able to get a free ride solely with their brand name. The Nintendo Wii was grossly underpowered compared to its competition. While the system had an incredible launch period, it only lasted a few years. Eventually, everyone’s Wii started collecting dust, and Nintendo thought it would be wise to roll out a new console earlier than its competitors. The Wii U was born, and with it came a lot of headaches for Nintendo.

To begin with, it is not as powerful as current generation consoles, so it struggles to pick up notable third-party support. The bigger issue is that new consoles are being released this holiday season, which will leave the Wii U looking as technically impressive as the Wii did seven years ago. The most notable problem that Nintendo has faced, however, is its new console’s name. With perhaps the least marketable name in console history, the Nintendo Wii U has lost the casual market due to confusion in the family scene. People identify “Nintendo” as the manufacturer, and the “Wii” as the product. The Nintendo Wii U is just too similar to the Nintendo Wii. Without the core, and more educated, market bringing the console home in the first place, Nintendo is left with less-than-stellar sales, to say the least.

That leaves Nintendo desperate. It is getting harder for them, and their dated hardware, to impress the core market that they should have woo’d initially.

But that is not what all the buzz is about. If you have read any electronic media news outlet in the last few weeks, you have probably heard that Nintendo is not holding an E3 conference. This decision is an incredibly unwise move partly in tune with the philosophy behind Sony and Microsoft’s debut conferences. Let me explain the strategy.

There have been electronic media events for the past many decades, and they always generate a lot of talk. E3 is the most notable event revolving around video games. However, there are many other conventions and conferences for products such as televisions, phones and computers. Apple started a trend that broke away from this model. They thought that their products might be lost in the noise surrounding these conventions, so they held their own events. When Apple holds their events, only Apple products are discussed, obviously. Ever since, companies like Microsoft and Samsung have followed. The PS4 was announced at an exclusive event, so all the coverage revolved around Sony. The same applies for the Xbox One.

Nintendo has been conducting many “Nintendo Direct” videos for the last year and a half. Nintendo Direct is a video series that is meant to capture the same essence of these exclusive conferences, except they are held entirely online. The strategy is sound, and even a little safe. However, cancelling E3 in favour of this has presented a lot of problems.

Let’s gloss over these problems:

1) Holding a Nintendo Direct during E3 eliminates the purpose. The Nintendo Direct is a smaller production, thus it will get less coverage during a very busy week.

2) The only people that watch Nintendo Directs are dedicated fans and press. The series has not gain the reputation of an Apple Event, and are rarely reported on outside of the usual suspects (IGN, Kotaku, Destructoid, etc.).

3) Nintendo has caused a lot of confusion by saying that they will not be at E3. The few people who care may very well be under the impression that Nintendo will be silent this year.

4) Nintendo Direct is not marketed strongly outside of Nintendo-based networks.

Nintendo will be at E3. They will have their games on the show floor, as well as…..American Best Buys? They, however, will not have a traditional conference, but will instead be showing off their games via a Nintendo Direct early Monday morning. You can expect a new 3D Mario title for the Wii U, A Link to the Past 2, and Super Smash Bros. if Nintendo is to be believed.

***

There you go. Do you feel all caught up? Well, you shouldn’t. There is so much to be offered at this year’s E3, it is almost impossible to recap it all in one small blog post. For starters, Mirror’s Edge 2 is rumoured, and borderline confirmed at this point, to make an appearance from EA. Dragon Age 3: Inquisition is probably going to be demoed as well. Bioware’s new IP from the team that brought us Mass Effect is no longer speculation. Watch_Dogs will get its final E3 appearance, after last year’s strong unveiling. Bungie will be presenting a gameplay demo of Destiny. Will we hear some of EA’s plans for the Star Wars franchise? There is clearly a lot to be covered. This E3 is to be one of the strongest, most exciting conventions yet, and all that is left is one question; Are you ready?

And no, I don’t know why it is called the Xbox One, either.

Anime North is Over!

I’m back from Anime North! It was (mostly) a great weekend, and a lot happened. I was part of a Mass Effect group cosplay, as many of you know, and the group grew bigger throughout the convention. “Watch” my DeviantArt page for incoming pictures. Also, there will be some great stories to tell on this week’s From The Extranet! Sorry for the inactivity, its been a hectic two weeks. I’m back now though, so stay tuned for some Humble Bundle praising (probably).

 

Related: I just purchased my first Humble Bundle.

Gatsby Review

Director: Baz Luhrmann
Writers: Baz Luhrmann, Craig Pearce
Cinematographer: Simon Duggan
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Kate Mulvany,  Joel Edgerton,

Great-Gatsby-Leonardo-DiCaprio-Movie-Poster

Where style meets substance

If there is one thing that Gatsby makes evident, it is that it owes most of its acclaim to the brilliant source material. The Great Gatsby proves to be as dramatic, tense, and memorable as an American classic should be. While many define its accomplishments differently, I personally appreciate how masterfully a story is told through the perspective of a simple bystander; the story is about Mr. Jay Gatsby, but the plot follows Nick Carraway. Simply recreating the perspective in an entertaining and respectable manner was a feat in itself, in regards to the film adaptation.

Gatsby, Baz Luhrmann’s contemporary 2013 blockbuster, follows Nick Carraway, a newcomer to New York. He lives beside a mysterious man who’s wealth shadows his own tenfold. After attending one of his neighbour’s grand weekly parties, Nick finally meets this mysterious figure, who turns out to be a vulnerable and sensitive man looking for his lost love. Once he meets Jay Gatsby, however, his life is turned upside-down. The level of detail that the film presents, in order to portray this, is staggering. At one point, in the initial company of Gatsby, Nick drives by a car of young and wealthy black men and women being driven by their white chauffeur. Considering the racial undertones explored in both the novel and the film, this is one of many examples of a symbolic reading of The Great Gatsby. The film is, thankfully, littered with significance. Each character doesn’t just fulfill the role required for the forward progression of the plot, but contributes to the film’s endless interpretations.

As a blockbuster in the most popular visual medium, however, Gatsby stumbles almost as much as it succeeds. The presentation of the film is absolutely critical to judging its merits, considering that its textual content is predictably satisfying. While Gatsby maintains its visual identity almost thoroughly throughout the course of the film, the few moments that broke away from the established style were the most compelling. Gatsby, purposely, has many bloomed colours. Characters pop out from their fabricated backdrops, and the screen is cluttered with surreal lighting. When it works, Gatsby composes a shot that will not soon be forgotten. When it doesn’t, the results are fairly disappointing. The iconic green light, for example, is visualizes in a way that identified more with the second act of A Series of Unfortunate Events than The Great Gatsby. The high-speed car rides bare a striking resemblance to Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, with the car’s yellow paint contrasting the rest of the mise-en-scène. With that said, it becomes fairly easy to get lost in its presentation. When the film looks its best, while accompanied by a bold but fitting soundtrack, it fully realizes the potential that was evident in its debut trailer.

A story so rich in content and context steers Gatsby away from its undeniable style-over-substance approach. If you are familiar with the story of the novel, you have experienced the film’s most appealing side. Knowing that, if you are still interested in the artistic flair, as well as a few memorable performances, Gatsby is a worthwhile adaptation. Ultimately, Gatsby is a success, despite some noticeable visual shortcomings, and you’d be a beautiful little fool to let this film pass you by.