Beach Brain Strikes Back

Happy Anniversary, discordianbliss.com. I looked back to the first posts on this blog ten years ago, even then marked with a look back and some uncertainty of what the future would hold. I mused on my music collection, on astronomy and advancements in particle physics, a game innovator who I admired, and I wrote about my love for the beach.

The whole of outdoors is a draw to me, I feel similar about my hikes on and to the top of Humphrey’s Peak Arizona, weekends snowboarding or just exploring the trails in Coconino National Forest. Even still, my feelings about the thin line between ocean and sand have yet to fade, that spot in Topsail, North Carolina in particular. I’ve been to other beaches and enjoyed them, but I feel like I left a piece of my heart there on the pier on the east coast.

I wonder how that quiet beach community has changed in ten years. I feel like it was simultaneously yesterday and a hundred years ago that I picked up a pair of coffees from a local coffee shop there. Would I feel a sense of the familiar if I returned? Or would it be like returning to my childhood home, discovering even the house where I lived in grade school had been razed to widen the main road and the market I bought candy and trading cards at was converted into a gym. There is a metaphor in there somewhere.

No, I don’t think I am headed back to that beach soon. Some things are best left to memory, and the thrill of the unknown is the stronger pull for me today. Somewhere on one of the countless lengths of sand I have yet to visit, the wind whispers to me. Beneath the ocean’s surface, the shipwrecks of my imagination hum a siren song. Enthralled, I will find my way.

To my doom or not, my path lies forward.

Ten Years?

Taking a glance at my own archive for “Discordian Bliss”, I noticed the first post on this site was April 2011 – ten years ago next month. Maybe it is time for a new theme, new banner, or a refresh? No time like the present..

I think back to where I was when I started this site, freshly relocated to North Carolina and feeling nostalgic about my first web page ages prior, before Google, Facebook or “the like button” were a thing. I’ve since moved again and am staring down yet another cross-state move, who knows if for the last time. Some things remain the same – my interest in science and technology, my love for books, art, writing, gaming and my passion to keep learning and exploring.

 

Three things I hope to see in Watch Dogs Legion

credit: newsweek

Keep Calm and Resist. Watch Dogs Legion follows one of my favorite games of all time, Watch Dogs 2. The third installment of this story driven stealth sandbox by Ubisoft continues the exploits of the hacktivist group Dedsec first told in Chicago, San Francisco and now in the near future of the UK. With a narrative that frequently feels torn straight from actual headlines, Watch Dogs has skirted closer to current events and issues than most games dare tread. Still, the success of Legion is not guaranteed and I would not envy the writers tasked with releasing a “Post Brexit” story in the ongoing real world political climate. With that said, I can’t wait to see how well they have done. Here are three things I hope to see in the upcoming release.

A memorable, well written cast

The Watch Dogs franchise has been told from the perspective of exceptionally well written characters to date, from Aiden in the original to Marcus, Sitara, Wrench and Josh in Watch Dogs 2. Their individual backstories were of no small consequence in how the world was built. Watch Dogs Legion treads into new territory with a breakthrough concept of potentially millions of complex but otherwise randomly generated characters living and going about their lives in London that are potential protagonists – a next gen sandbox for storytelling. Transitioning from a fixed cast in Watch Dogs 2, perhaps one of the best in a game in the last decade to loosely random characters with plot seeds must be an incredibly daunting task for their team of writers and world builders. I applaud them for their pioneering spirit in this effort, but I remain cautious to see it succeed. I hope to feel the same kind of attachment to the characters in my story that I did in 2. Tall Order? You bet, but I wont count this team out until I see it myself.

Deep Stealth

Probably one of my favorite aspects of Watch Dogs 2 was how many of the complex puzzles could be solved by only non-lethal means, many by stealth and good situational awareness alone – including one of the hardest missions late in the game. With all respect to the folks who work on the combat systems, hacktivism and gun culture have marginal overlap at best and with the saturation of technical survival shooters on the market today Watch Dogs Legion has nothing to bring to the RPG-lite shooter genre.

Post Launch Content

Of my three wishes, after what we saw in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey and Origins this seems like the easiest (?) ask – compelling ongoing seasonal content. The DLC for the prior Watch Dogs felt very late however well done. Origins and Odyssey were each blessed with substantial support for further story and timed events that drove player engagement long after the story was finished.

To conclude with a fourth wish, I hope we catch a glimpse of the stateside Dedsec crew at some point in the story as it evolves, it was too good to leave behind. I hope to see an official release date announced soon.

The Outlaw – Anthem Speculative Fan Fiction Short

In my dreams, I can fly forever. The night sky became as endless stars shuddering under an omnipresent groan like stressed ice.

Against the towering cliffs that shrouded the ancient ruins, the Elementalist was but barely a speck of light shrouded in the dark, curtained by waterfalls and overgrowth. She watched from her trance-like state as a pack of Wolven prowled far below, much like the ones that had killed her squad just weeks before, but her blood ran cool. They had been destroyed. These, unaware she hovered far above them, were of insignificant existence.

She felt nothing. Her form long twisted by an echo of rage, her mind was wholly bent on something she could sense but not see. There is something in these ruins; the same draw that called the storm-touched chimera to wander its halls, and now, the Scar.

Cunning scavengers, the Scar were drawn like flies to a carcass wherever shaper tech remained. These were heavily armed, far from the pathetic scouts usually found in this sector. She would find their quarry first but could not risk an open fight.

Already one of their hardened sharpshooters was perched on an outcropping of the ruins surveying the cliff shadows she hid in suspiciously. She would have to be patient. Her shields shimmered around her as she hovered beneath a crumbling arched bridge, just out of view of the Scar lookout as she evaluated the safest approach to the darkened corner of the ruins the Scar seemed to be congregating at. She had nothing but mundane scraps on scans of this location previously but expected a group this well reinforced had better intel. Furthermore, by their manner they were still searching for whatever they came for. Her attention turned to the glassy pools below.

That sound.. a pulse nearly inaudible that grappled her like a phantom pain rippled from below the surface of the pool. She darted from her cover, locking gaze with the Scar sharpshooter for an instant before disappearing into the water, where she spotted a subterranean entrance to the ruins eroded by a hidden water channel. Above, the Scar searched for her.

She emerged on the other end of the channel in complete darkness, lit only by the optics on her blackened javelin. Crumbling sarcophagi lay at the center of the walled-in chamber, most appeared to have long since been looted but something faint had registered on scanners. Outside the stone walls, a sudden commotion erupted into gunfire. Over the din of Scar scrambling she could make out the distinct sound of Sentinel issue assault rifles. These ruins were out of range of standard patrol but the gathering of Scar must have attracted them.

She had been prepared to fight the Scar if she must but tangling with Sentinels without preparation was a risk too great. As she contemplated her retreat, she spotted a freshly crumbled section of wall leading into a smaller chamber where a stone chest rest undisturbed. She slowly lifted the top, a soft glow reached out towards her and a feeling of wonder filled her heart as the memory of accomplishment; and then bitter resentment as a will beyond her own flexed its control over her as she retrieved the precious contents of the stone box. A single scrap of dark stained cloth nearby shone a sunburst insignia. Somewhere in her, a flicker of recognition. Then came a deafening crash.

An explosion of rocks and dust shattered the largest of the chamber walls as Sentinel vs. Scar combat shredded through steel and stone alike, revealing the once hidden chamber to a burst of daylight. She immediately took to flight, speeding out of the disadvantageous cover while she had an element of surprise on her side to assist in her escape. Unlucky for her however, the Scar sharpshooter had been waiting to reacquire her and pierced her shields in a single shot, sending her plummeting to the ground. Shaken but unharmed, she took low cover, un-shouldering her long rifle as her shields began to replenish. Sentinel chatter indicated they may have been flanked by Scar reinforcements, including the detachment’s elite.

Bolting skyward with the throttle open wide, she outpaced the waiting laser sight of the sharpshooter scope, as it attempted to reacquire her. The crack of the Sharpshooters rifle pierced the air as it fired off a round, it zipped past her narrowly missing her left arm. She stopped to hover on an impulse. Swiftly spinning around she took aim and returned a single high caliber round to devastate its primitive shields before unleashing her javelin’s unstable potential energy. With its shield depleted the twisted snarl of lightning reached out and struck the Sharpshooter. As the smoke cleared it was clear that only cinders remained where the sharpshooter once stood. However, she had now drawn the attention of both the Sentinels and the Scar Elite.

A rapid series of pops and bursts of smoke was the only warning she would get as an incoming missile barrage from the Scar Heavy, concussed the air around her as she scrambled to dodge the incoming attack. She plunged towards the ground, dodging and weaving the incoming fire while her shields tried to compensate. Critical system warnings lit her expressionless face as she skimmed the pool surface, rapidly approaching the blind side of the slow but heavily armored and dangerous Scar. Memory of the hulk’s known armor flaws haunted her aim as she pierced its ammo reserves with explosive result. Opposing Sentinel fire cut the brute down where it stood. The surviving Scar began to scatter.

There was a still moment where neither she nor the Sentinels acted as tendrils of muzzle smoke dissipated into the chill evening air. In the distance a lone grabbit’s ear cocked to one side. One of the Sentinel had sustained substantial armor damage and clung to what was left of the rocky cover they had fought from. The other pair of Sentinel had fresh magazines loaded and studied intently the harried Elementalist for her next move. Ripples of charged potential roiled on her suit’s armaments.

Before either side could make a move, a thunderous boom shook the sky above as a Colossus class javelin entered the fray from the cliffs above, guns blazing. The air around the Elementalist vibrated ahead of the shelling as she blinked to narrowly escape incineration. Spent brass casings sang across the rocks from the heavy main cannon of the Tarsis-forged embodiment of might, quickly draining what remained of her shields as she fled deeper into the ruins. The Colossus stopped its pursuit once it had positioned itself between her and the injured Sentinel. She turned quickly mid-flight to look back at the Colossus as she rounded a corner to safety.

The Colossus had now loaded a fresh drum of ammunition, sights steady on the hallway she had disappeared into. On any other day this would have made for a sporting fight, but she carried with her a treasure she must deliver.

She turned, descending again into the hidden water passage and through to the other side. She glided to a stop just outside before taking a flight path that could expose her position, checking her shields and ammunition.   That is when she heard a familiar growl, followed by several more. Her respite was short lived, as the pack of Wolven she had previously tracked lay waiting to ambush her.

(Update: additional edits by Anthem Insider community member kyu2130 , thank you)

My Five Favorite 4K HDR Games

One piece at a time, I upgraded the components of my console gaming setup to support true 4K and HDR, and found myself revisiting a lot of games to see how much better they looked, or didn’t. Some games that seemed like contenders for exceptional graphics at the high end lose a lot of their luster in actual gameplay due to UI or effect choices, and others seem to apply the ultra HD textures inconsistently at best. However, there are some games that really do shine in 4K next to their 1080p versions. Here are my five favorite.

Forza 7

It is no accident you might find this as the running demo at your electronics store for the most expensive televisions, as this flagship of eye candy by Turn Ten is laps ahead in terms of extreme graphics performance.  Forza 7 and its playful openworld peer Horizon 3 are as well tuned as the real world cars they depict, and are a must play for any racing enthusiast. The cars, environment and weather effects are pure bliss on the eyes, and play as well too.

Sea of Thieves

This unique and immersive open seas pirate adventure by Rare Ltd is one of the most dramatic examples of a game that looks completely different on 1080p next to a proper 4K HDR display running on the same hardware. Its cartoonish style is deceptively nuanced, and features some of the most jaw dropping lighting and dynamic weather. The animation is also exemplary, maintaining its looks even in combat while keeping an ear to ear grin. Hats off to the art direction team for making one of the best looking games of this generation.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins

Where this game does suffer a bit from losing polish in chaotic combat sequences, it more than makes up for it in its breathtaking presentation of historical settings and grand sense of scale. The included free camera photo mode makes these moments all the more enjoyable, giving the player opportunities to capture truly spectacular screen shots. From shots of Senu against a sky of kites over the Nile at sunset, Bayek atop monuments, wind sailing, free diving or sneaking through glittering hoards of treasure lit by torchlight, Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Origin is visually quite stunning.

Mass Effect: Andromeda

I include this game although it was never upgraded on consoles to proper 4K like PC, it does support HDR and is nothing short of a masterpiece of visceral, well animated graphics that seem to get better (instead of worse) the more serious the action gets. Everything from the environments, UI, vehicles, weapons and armor are showcase examples of top shelf, built for 4K graphics. The Bioware title had a mostly undeserved initial reception for odd issues that included character faces, some silly animations and such but I felt they had near zero impact on actual gameplay where it mattered. At the heart of the game was a genuine breakthrough in combat mechanics that still look and play a generation ahead of most other games. Take issue with the facial appearances of some characters if you will, or a departure from deeper RPG elements of Mass Effect 2 and 3, but this game still shines on its merits.

Destiny 2

Bungie’s grand space opera shooter is another prime example of a game that looks generations different on a 4K HDR display next to a 1080p one. The lighting and effects aren’t even close. I do believe some compromises are made in the fastest of the game modes like PvP (similar to the degradation one might notice in For Honor), but in nearly every other case it remains faithful under fire, made all the better by some of the best monster and environment designers in the business.

Notes on the future of 4K gaming

Looking ahead, it isn’t a guarantee that the coming generation of games will automatically look better. In fact, the burden is on them to match and maintain (let alone surpass) the standard given accelerated release schedules and a shift in what is considered to be innovative in games. Upcoming megahits like Anthem look pretty on the E3 big screen, but will it play as well as Destiny 2 or Mass Effect: Andromeda? Contender with good credentials Cyberpunk 2077 melted faces in a closed-door gameplay demo but is already getting side-eye for not sharing this footage due to it (presumably, maybe) changing before release. Battlefield V looks promising, but may also get sucked into the propeller of Battle Royale resource prioritization. Fallout 76 is too early to tell. Shadow of the Tomb Raider *should* be born to win, given how good Rise of the Tomb Raider already looks but the E3 trailer was kind of modest in comparison.

Are high end graphics the most important feature of a game? Arguably not, but this coming year or so should really show if we can have both.

 

Three Sheets to the Wind – Thoughts on the Sea of Thieves Beta

It is easy to see why there are so many poems about the ocean. “My heart lies in the sea, at anchor”, and so forth. Not many games manage capture this feeling, an intangible, deep enjoyment of sailing. Not only does Rare Ltd pull it off but spectacularly so, crafting an experience so engrossing time slips away, day turns to night as you navigate under starry water-colored skies. But this is no ordinary seafaring simulator – these waters are a veritable nest of knives; a voyage punctuated by completely unhinged PvP hijinks and peril. Sea of Thieves is a masterpiece-in-progress.

Pirates, In Progress

The beta being a slice of early gameplay features just one of the quest-giving characters at the starting island, and most of the character or ship customization has been kept under wraps for now. Your pirate is randomly generated for the beta, and you start with all of the basic equipment you’ll need and a ship appropriate to the size of your crew. If you begin alone or with just one teammate, you have a single mast, two-cannon ship that is smaller, fast and relatively easy to manage. Team up with three friends and you get an impressive warship with three masts and a mouthful of cannons, but have more to manage in terms of keeping sail length and angle ideal for wind conditions. Other tasks aboard include repairing the hull should it be damaged by rocks or cannon fire, bailing water from any number of ways it can get aboard, reloading cannons and keeping a sharp eye out for other ships. Between destinations you can get fall-down drunk, dance and play music together with your crew. Players must communicate to navigate, as the ships map and wheel cannot easily be crewed by the same person – and definitely not when the pressure is on. It is important that everyone on the crew is able to do most of the tasks required to keep the ship off the rocks and in fighting shape, as once combat starts all hell breaks loose.

Salty Dogs

Dying in PvP is worth a brief stay on a ghostly Ferry of the Damned; a short time-out before returning near your last location. Shoot, stab and outwit the opposing crew, steal any treasure they may have had and protect your own. Escape, or for the truly committed: sink their ship. More than likely, a lot of the above with perhaps a pursuit mixed in. The penalties for dying are only relative to the risk of losing the treasure chests, for which the treasure maps may have cost some gold. This dynamic fuels a nothing to lose, winner takes all spirit. As of closed beta there is no strict PvP ranking, scoring, tracking or advancement other than the standard advancement for turning in a treasure chest. As-is, this works great and keeps superfluous concepts of kill-death ratio off the table, and negates some potential for griefing or other bad behavior. That isn’t to say you wouldn’t run the chance of encountering a crew with underhanded intentions or find yourself attacked while vulnerable, but rather that the reward for attacking a smaller crew isn’t measurably better than sailing to find your own treasure, nor is the setback for failure. As the game heads to retail release I hope any system added later to augment or celebrate PvP maintains some code of honor to preserve the current zany feel of ship to ship combat.

In spirit of full disclosure, my very first treasure chest was quickly swiped by a pirate who had trailed me to the island and watched me dig it up. He however had forgot to put anchor down on his own ship. I didn’t get the chest back, but he had a long swim back to that ship, if he ever got there. I think I saw sharks. Lessons, learnt.

Scanning the horizon

Tangle with a few well-coordinated crews and you’ll develop a good habit to mind the horizon. You will also do well to keep good friends. Sailing alone, as well described right in the opening menu of the game is quite dangerous. Crewing your ship solo is difficult enough without a cannon in sight, and truly frightening when you spot the topsail of a triple mast ship… with lanterns dimmed and bow in your direction.

Beta only provides a basic glimpse at how character advancement will work, which appears to follow an intuitive “get maps and find treasure” curve. More advance maps have multiple treasure chests and may also require solving riddles or locating and defeating enemies. As you rank up better gear and more advanced objectives unlock. Presumably this will include ship and character customization in final release.

I really enjoyed every minute of beta, and am excited to see the final work at release. I recorded a few clips of solo game play from one of my return voyages, mostly just sailing, but they show a glimpse of how pretty the game is.

I hope to see you on the high seas!

For the love of unnecessary RPG character backstories

While diving through some old documents, I found a backstory I wrote for two of my Elder Scrolls Online characters. It reminded me, sadly, of an era of online RPG when you commonly ran into other players who enjoyed playing in character.

In his mind, it would have been raining as he stood at the bottom of the mage guild hall stairs, waiting for her to emerge. For a week on the trail here he had thought
through this moment, if she would recognize him, what he would say or if he would be harassed by the city guard before he could deliver it. His burden that had started as
light as a passing thought now dug into his shoulders with weight beyond the natural, a weight on his heart of what he had promised to do. Although by birth his word is worth nothing, for he was no fair-born orc, to him it meant everything because it was for her. She had given him a name.

It wasn’t raining. It wasn’t even cloudy, just a seasonally strong coastal wind of spring in Daggerfall on an otherwise sunny morning. His black hair whipped about
his face as he caught a scent of his own odor, his lips creasing into a frown. He looked around the square outside the guild hall, wondering how long he would have to wait. A
nearby guard patrolled peacefully, paying no mind to the outsider. Other travelers and laborers bustled about the busy cobbled streets, further down a cheerful din could be
heard from market square. The beautiful voices of hammer, anvil and bare metal sang in the distance. Then came the ringing of the guild hall bell, and the great oak doors
parted to a horde of young robed mages.

Arms full of books and eyes on the ground before her, she sped down the stairs and nearly passed him before he spoke. “Naya,” be tried to say, but croaked. He cleared his throat as she glanced up. “Naya,” the old orc said clearly as he forced a smile. She froze as disbelief painted across her face, her fellow students’ bootsteps fading into the distance. “Rom’tog?” she wondered, smile beaming as she recognized the orc. “You came!” With a lunge she wrapped both arms around him, fumbling her books. His heart leapt, he was certain she would feel it pounding in his chest. Or maybe she would faint from his smell. For a moment it didn’t matter, despite the lump in his throat.

“How did you get here?” she began, taking a half step back. “I had heard all paths from the north were ordered closed.” She shook her head to dismiss her own question, looking him over. “You look great.” Compared to how he had looked when they first met, she was right. Rom’tog was among the few mine bilge to survive to be sold before dying young, broken and nameless.

It must have been the troubled look he could not hide, as her smile faded and fears tucked safe away in the back of her mind came to the surface. “Something’s wrong,” she guessed correctly. “What’s happened?”

Again with the lump in his throat. “I found it,” he forced. “The one she was looking for”. Unshouldering his ruck, he untied the leather just far enough to reveal its edge to wide eyes. “She was right about where it would be.”

He wished he could read her thoughts behind the now stone eyes as she slowly looked up back at him, searching his eyes for the answer she wanted next.

“I saw her,” he blurted. “I saw your sister,” forcing himself to remember what he would say. “She’s still in there.” Naya fought back tears, face flush with anger and disbelief. Her mind was ablaze with unanswered questions.

“Your sister is still alive”

Half of the VR titles I am most eager to try are not games

While a look at the SteamVR Game titles coming in 2016 seems quite promising, the coolest things I’ve seen demonstrated over the last year weren’t traditional games at all – but rather “experiences”. That’s not to say there aren’t some really great games coming to VR, because there are, but while game developers tackle bringing current gen game themes to VR space, others are turning heads with original content so immersive and mind-blowing it challenges how we define a VR title.

Let’s start at the top – of the world, that is. Take Sólfar and RVX’s “Everest VR” teaser as a perfect example of a non-game VR experience, despite being built with one of the most powerful gaming engines.

Another room-scale VR experience that captured a lot of attention at recent road shows was Wevr’s “theBlu: Encounter” , which simulates a deep ocean shipwreck and a profound meeting with wildlife there. Here is a link to one of their blogs from behind the scenes on that project.

A glance at the Wevr company page shows the wild diversity of VR content in development, everything from the Sundance Film Festival, music concerts, Sports Illustrated to the mind-bending space-themed “Irrational Exuberance Prologue“. Wevr also provides a platform for VR producers, which looks promising.

Another announcement coming out of the Sundance Film Festival was a partnership between traditionally game-focused Ubisoft Montreal and a VR venture co-founded by Elijah Wood called SpectreVision that will focus on interactive VR Horror titles. The short teaser that accompanied this announcement was a chilling 360 stereoscopic ride through a scary scene in Assassin’s Creed “Jack the Ripper” add-on, although their production project is likely not related to that specific Ubisoft franchise at all. In any case, any VR “interactive horror” to get air time at Sundance has my full attention.

Google’s Tilt Brush is a cross-platform VR painting tool that has also been an enormous success at VR road shows. It supports room scale VR, and watching an artist paint a three-dimensional object while walking around it in real life is a poster of a new generation of immersive, non-gaming content. Nvidia sponsored a VR art contest last year, here are some video highlights from that event.

I am excited to see Virtual Reality break through into the mainstream in 2016 – as much for rich sensory experiences as the ridiculously awesome looking games, the latter which I may cover in another blog entry. What I see in terms of new ways to produce and deliver art is as large a leap forward as the television was for the radio – that is, a once in a century leap in communications-enabling technology, although 2016 is probably just a quiet beginning. I believe developers are only at the tip of a world-changing technology, specially for the field of education, perhaps even medicine, one where fantastic games are just a by-product. Just imagine the recent Star Wars movie – but in VR. Or a tour of the Louvre from your living room. Or a show like MythBusters – (I’ll miss this show!) – but one where it feels like you’re actually there, but completely safe. Confront fears and travel to other places you may never have the opportunity or desire to see in person – like inside a volcano, aboard the IIS, or like the teaser above, atop the world’s tallest and most dangerous mountains.

I’m ready. The HTC Vive debuts in April, shortly after the release of the Oculus Rift.

Top Ten Favorite Games, plus five I can’t wait to try

Like fake news of a celebrity death on social media, console gaming did not die – showing you can’t believe everything you read on CNN. Following E3, Gamescon and PAX 2013 the next generation of game consoles were revealed, setting the stage for a huge holiday season for both Sony and Microsoft. Along with the highly-anticipated super gaming consoles come a dragons hoard of new games – many of which are being released just weeks apart. So many, you might have a hard time picking which to play first.

While pondering this geeky dilemma  (oh the agony) , I found myself recalling fondly the best titles of decades past. I wondered if I could pick a favorite – or even my top five. I kicked a list around and managed to make it in ten, leaving out dozens of awesome titles for the few I felt stood out above 20+ years of amazing games. Following that, I include five more I can’t wait to play over the next six months.

1) The Legend Of Zelda: Wind Waker

This first spot could read “the entire Zelda series”, but I really feel Wind Waker stood out, even surpassing the epic original NES title. With compelling original gameplay, numerous twists to classic puzzle style, eye-popping dynamic cell shaded animation and hours upon hours of exploration, The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker was nothing less than a Masterpiece. I look forward to the HD release on Wii U.

2) Super Mario 64

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Everyone loves Mario – I grew up on Super Mario Bros. Throughout more than a dozen fantastic puzzle jumpers, I felt that Super Mario 64 was by far the best Mario title. Not only was it a stunning launch title at the time, it still holds up to its more recent descendants as a rock-solid, timeless game. It’s no surprise it saw re-release on current handheld gaming systems.

3) Super Mario Kart

super-mario-kart

Yes, Mario lands two spots on my top ten list. I love racing games, and it is tough to pick a favorite (I am very fond of Forza), but my all-time favorite racing game was the original Super Mario Kart. Like Mario 64 – it’s no less relevant than it’s seventh sequel, but holds its place as a classic megahit.

4) Final Fantasy 7

Sony owes its foothold in our house as a gaming platform to Squaresoft and Final Fantasy 7. I was a big fan of the US versions of Final Fantasy 1-3 on the Nintendo platforms, and Final Fantasy 7 by itself justified the new console. It did not disappoint, even with the added lag times from running on CD. This was one of the first games I recall evoking strong emotions and finding myself engaged, even deeply moved by. None of the Final Fantasy titles since have come close.

5) World of Warcraft

Despite its sunset into “Pandaria”, World of Warcraft stands as one of the greatest cross-medium franchises of all time. What Blizzard crafted was more than just the most successful MMORPG ever, it became part of modern culture. I do look forward to the eventual reboot… maybe… to coincide with the release of the movie? Com’on, Blizzard, all the other cool kids are doing it.

6) Rockband

rock-band

Rockband is the only console game I have ever driven in a car to go play with other adults. While most multiplayer games are fine played over an internet connection, or even better when you have the whole screen to yourself, Rockband rebels as the perfect party game where the more folks you can have over, the better. BOYB. Talent optional. We went on to get the “Green Day” and “Beetles” expansions, in addition to easily a hundred DLC songs. Instant favorite – still as fun as the first time I played.

7) Tomb Raider (2013)

The 2o13 Tomb Raider was a surprise hit for me. I bought this for my wife, who loved the puzzle-jumping, exploration heavy series. Watching her play through this “reboot” as young, pre-awesome Laura Croft, and I could tell right away it was the cure for the modern, dreary cash cow sequel. Solid story telling and a perfect mix of puzzle solving and top-shelf shooter action put this game, and heroine, head and shoulders over most hits in the last few years.

8) Borderlands 2

Anyone can craft a solid, multiplayer shooter – squeeze in amazing writing, memorable characters, seamless vehicle mayhem, real emotion, epic boss sequences and more laughs than you can count, and you’d be looking at Borderlands 2. It might be “the perfect game” – to the point of being potentially un-reproducible.

9) Dead Space 3

I struggle choosing a favorite from the Dead Space trilogy – each stood alone as a near-perfect title for different reasons. I picked Dead Space 3, despite being arguably less scary than the first two, because of the addition of the second main character Carver and the story between he and Isaac. Visceral Games serves up expertly woven character development, dynamic gameplay and absolutely breathtaking visuals. I loved every second of DS3 and it’s too-brief DLC “awakened”.

10) Skyrim

Time will tell, but Skyrim just might be the “last great epic single player game”. No game comes anywhere near Skyrim in terms of open world, exploration, dynamic story and free form character development. No other game, save all the Warcraft Expansions together, counts for more hours of enjoyment on my part. The music, story, environments, memorable characters and freedom of gameplay all add up to a benchmark than will not soon be exceeded.

Here are five more I am eagerly awaiting:

Titanfall

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Coming out Spring 2014 – Titanfall stole center stage at E3 and continues to sweep awards at each show since. Pre-release game footage shows fast-paced “multiplayer campaign” type story telling with hot mech vs pilot action. Titanfall looks to break the standard for team based shooter gameplay, and is one of the best looking next-gen hits we’ve seen. Yes, Respawn, I am “standing by for Titanfall”.

Destiny

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From the original makers of Halo comes a daunting, ten-year promise of a truly epic next generation dynamic cloud based multiplayer shooter. In the distant future, post apocalyptic earth awakens, having narrowly missed total annihilation. Players work together in the last great city to survive and ultimately to learn what happened. Bungie set out to create a story that would grow and unfold over a decade, in a constantly living changing world, experiences both on consoles and supporting high integration with mobile devices. Early footage looks really exciting, raising hopes that it will live up to the hype.

Assassin’s Creed 4

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I liked each of the Assassin’s Creed games, although I was less of a fan of the undercurrent high-science-fiction backstory that links the series. That aside, the rich attention to detail in reproducing historical periods or actual locations and events is commendable. Most recently, AC3 made a big impression on me. When I saw AC4 would feature even more focus on Naval Combat, feature an open world gameplay style – and has pirates – I preordered the same day.

Call of Duty: Ghosts

 

Aside from COD:MW3, I don’t consider myself a diehard COD fan. However, E3 footage for COD:Ghosts and early multiplayer gameplay videos show something unlike the former hits, which in this case might be very good news. The footage and production diary videos showing how they motion captured the dog and brought it to life in the game are remarkable.

Battlefield 4

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Battlefield is a consistently good series with a great engine that has long been a standard for a top-end shooter. Battlefield 4 debuts the Frostbite 3 engine on next-gen hardware, further pushing the limits of graphics technology, mobile device integration and cloud-based computing. It is a picture of what a next-gen launch title should look like, and will be a shoe-in for Game of the Year on its credentials alone.

Is it November yet?