Military Entertainment

What do you think of when you think of the United States Military? Is it uniforms? Tanks? Battleships? Video game design? Hollywood producers? Well, maybe you should, because some of the popular culture we love -and hate- nowadays have their roots in the Department of Defense. For the record, that is the apparatus which helps keep us safe and defends us against threats from abroad, and that is a good thing. However, today we need to examine the military entertainment complex. It is the apparatus that is not so much designed to fight wars as it is to influence how we think and feel about war. After all, games series like Call of Duty, and Battlefield might be fun, but they are also designed to promote certain aspects of the US military and the industry that supports it. It is a tool of propaganda meant to influence our ideas of war, the military, and defense spending.

Marvel at the Bad Ideas
Last year, Northrop Grumman, entered into a promotional deal with Marvel Comics to produce a semi-serious, semi-promotional comic title about the world’s fifth largest defense contractor. It was the type of cheesy promotional tie-in that Marvel has done with all sorts of different companies over the year, with cameos of everyone from Ant-Man to Captain America. The book itself centered around a Northrop Grumman team that helps the Avengers save the world, while also promoting all the great things that Northrop Grumman does. When it was announced there was a pretty big backlash against the idea. After all, it is kind of hard to justify getting in bed with a company that profits off of war, when several of your major characters -especially Tony Stark- would be morally opposed to such a thing.

Marvel did cancel the promotional tie-in, but the incident exposed how defense contractors and the US military view the opportunities of the modern entertainment culture. After all, comics themselves embraced their roles as US military propaganda back in the 1940’s. Captain America essentially started as a way to influence America’s attitude toward going to war in Europe. That famous comic where the star spangled avenger can be seen punching Hitler, appeared nine months before Pearl Harbor. Jack Kirby and Joe Simon even received hate mail because people believed that they were just acting as tools of the government trying to push America into another European War. They weren’t, and once the war started you had everyone from Superman to the Howling Commandos fighting Nazis and Japanese soldiers.

After the war, comics -perhaps because of the perception that they were for kids- fell off of the radar for the military entertainment complex and were left to their own devices. In that time they began talking about the military, defense contractors, and American ideals in more nuanced and morally ambiguous ways. These days, Marvel and DC can be as critical of the US government as they can be supportive, and that is a good thing. It allows for more varied and thoughtful storytelling, rather than just blind patriotic flag-waving. It teaches readers to think critically about what is happening around them and just because something is draped in a flag, doesn’t make it right. Unfortunately, the same could not always be said about certain video games.

Call of Duty: Modern-Fare Ware
During the 1980’s DARPA famously approached video game developers to help them create games that could be used to teach military tactics and be used as a recruiting tool. The US Marines once used a modified version of Doom II to teach their recruits. Games, like 2004’s Full Spectrum Warrior and 2002’s America’s Army, were created in US Army University Affiliated Research Centers for general release to encourage military recruitment. Of course, those games pale in comparison to the popularity of the Call of Duty series and the Battlefield series. These mainstream games are not supported directly by the US military, but the creators do pay fees to weapons’ manufacturers in order to be able to use the likeness of their guns in the game. In that way, they are still paying into the military industrial complex and promoting the use of actual military weapons.

Now we are always the first ones to defend video games, and we don’t want to claim that this is all some sinister or underhanded plot to influence the minds of gamers, but the relationships are complicated. After all, everything from the computer to the Internet had its origins in DoD spending. The relationship between the two is actually a fairly natural extension of what has come before it. This is capitalism, and capitalism is good. Kids want to play war games, and war games help promote the military. In reality, it is no different than product placement by Pepsi or McDonalds, and the military has been doing is since the dawn of cinema. Even if it is not inherently a negative thing, it is still something we scrutinize. Game designers for games like Call of Duty have been called to consult with the Pentagon, and vice versa. It is a two-way street between many large video game companies and the military, and it not something that either of them hides.

What we are talking about here is how video games and the military –more than any other entertainment industry– have an odd symbiotic relationship. These days military recruitment campaigns are designed to look more like video games. There are humvees with .50 caliber machine guns controlled by objects that look a lot like Xbox controllers. There is no reason to re-invent the wheel when most young soldiers already know how to intuitively use game controllers. There is even some criticism of this trend from the military side, as gaming ideas lead more and more to remote control warfare and less of a reliance on human soldiers and intelligence. It is an odd reversal to think that the gaming industry may be ruining the military instead of the other way around. In anything that shows that we are not talking about some overtly sinister and meticulously planned plot to corrupt the minds of today’s youth.

Let’s all GI Joe to the Movies
Does anyone remember Battlehship? If you do, we are very sorry for the trauma you have endured. Whether you realize it or not the US Navy put a lot money and time into that movie. US sailors even served as extras and the US Navy helped produce the movie as a positive tool for recruiting. The Department of Defense had veto power over the script, and this was not a unique situation in Hollywood. Zero Dark Thirty was created with help from the Central Intelligence Agency, and the allowance by the CIA for the filmmakers to have access to some classified information. It also meant that the spy agency had a say in what went into the final script. This has been the case from movies like Top Gun all the way through to almost any Michael Bay film you have seen.

Between 1911 and 2017, more than 800 films received DoD support. On television, more than 1,100 titles received support from the Pentagon, and 900 of those have been since 2005. The CIA has assisted in the creation of more than 60 Hollywood films since 1947. That includes a swath of time in the 1940’s and 1950’s where they essentially influenced producers to keep mention of their very existence out of movies and television. They even had a talking to with Robert Di Niro about his character in the Meet the Parents, and managed to derail a big budget Marlon Brando movie about the Iran Contra debacle through the use of a front company run by Colonel Oliver North. All of this information was obtained through a Freedom of Information Act, but these numbers and level of influence in our entertainment industry is a little scary. After all, movies and television influence how we see the world, and the US military has been influencing them almost from the start.

Just like with comics, this relationship is as old as World War II when everyone from Paramount to Disney was releasing war propaganda movies to help defeat the Nazis. However, unlike comics these relationships are still very much alive today in Hollywood. In fact, it is one of the movie industries biggest open secrets. Sure, there are plenty of movies that are critical of the military, such as Full Metal Jacket or Platoon, but there are just as many that glorify them as well. Movies that the US military are involved with are made to follow strict guidelines, which means that producers need to assure that the military and other DoD assets are shown in a positive light. The biggest is that the army, navy, air force is always seen as the good guys and always in the right.

The problem with that, as Marvel has figured out, is that the military and the defense contractors are not perfect. We love our boys and girls in uniform, but our defense apparatus is not infallible. The military entertainment complex is designed to boost the positives, downplay the negatives, and to tilt public perception. Now sometimes the attempts are as clumsy as awful movies about board games or bad comic books about Northrop Grumman. It can also be as slick and enticing as the next Call of Duty. The relationship between Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and others is symbiotic. It benefits all sides, and we very much enjoy the occasional war game -especially Battlefield. We are not saying that you shouldn’t enjoy these movies or video games any less. However, we cannot escape the fact that this is one of the largest, most expensive, and longest running government-funded information campaigns being aimed at the American people, and that is worth at least some scrutiny.

Our Friends over at Shortcut have clued us into this amazing and interactive history of online gaming. So check out their work and take a tron cycle ride through the world of games online. From dial-up bulletin boards to augmented reality headsets, online gaming has leveled up a lot since the 1970s. These advances wouldn’t have been possible without hardware breakthroughs and the evolution of the internet itself. Our thanks to the people at Shortcut for sharing this graphic and letting us share it with you.


It seems like the latest hype in gaming these days is virtual reality headsets. This new technological innovation has taken over consumer shows and comic conventions by storm. From the Oculus Rift to a cardboard box glued onto a Galaxy 7, every gamer and mega tech corporation is out to get a piece of the virtual pie, but how virtual is it? Will VR be the next big thing in gaming or a passing fad like Google Glass, the Tomigachi, or Tony Danza? We decided to take a look at these gaming devices and what you can expect from the in the next ten years.

Two-Dimensional Returns
The biggest test for viability of a product is usually the capitalist system that kills ideas, like flying cars, and promotes other ideas, like wheeled-hoverboards that may or may not explode. -Capitalism is weird- Regardless, when we’re talking about the financial sustainability of virtual reality gaming it works best to start with the two most popular and touted gaming systems, the Oculus Rift and the lesser known HTC Vive. Upon initial release both managed to sell out their product very quickly. However, since their release their sales has pretty much come to a halt. In fact, according to Forbes, Oculus Rift lost tens of millions of dollars its first year of sale. Yet, that was also expected.

Despite the massive loss of money, everyone from Sony to Steam to Facebook is investing in making more and more games for virtual reality, because there is a feeling among investors and designers that future profits will far outweigh short-term losses. According to Statista, revenues from virtual reality products and software are expected to spike to $5.2 billion in 2018. They also predict that there will be around 171 million virtual gaming devices in homes by that year. Comparatively, Sony and Microsoft have only sold around 60 million Xbox One and PS4 consoles since their launch in 2013. Still, those are bold predictions for VR technology, but is that all they are, nothing more than predictions, which are as virtual as the graphics of the games themselves?

Please know that we are not discouraging the rise of virtual reality. In fact, the predictions could be right and one day we might all be walking around our houses falling over the couch, the dog, and our first born all while trying to slay a level 45 dragon. All we are really saying is that a lot of people remain unconvinced at the power and prowess of these devices. Gaming -for the most part- still remains largely done through consoles or computers. Maybe that’s why VR is looking to expand into the general consumer market as well as the gaming industry.

VR’s Guide to Walking into Traffic
According to Deloitte Global, and their projections for virtual reality headsets, they foresee two types of devices, a “full feature” and a “mobile” headset. Whereas the “full-feature” is basically the gaming headset we have been discussing so far, the “mobile” version is cheaper and incorporates a high-end piece that basically allows a user to wear their mobile device on their head. This is already possible with a lot of current phones, but these current incarnations are more like hype-grabbing add-ons. Exclusively, VR mobile devices will be more of a general purpose device. They will be a CR headset with smart phone features, not vice-versa. You will be able to use them to play mobile-type games… So, Candy Crush in 3D, but it also will have several other apps for your personal use.

The most notable will be TV and movies. In 2016, the film and television industry has not seen much impact or competition from VR devices, but that could change. Already there are movie makers and other entertainment front-liners experimenting with the virtual reality technology. For now the camera equipment needed to capture VR experiences remains expensive and usually out-of-reach of casual hobbyist, but not for long. Popular TV shows, such as Game of Thrones and Adventure Time already have accompanying virtual reality experiences. Bjork -remember her- won an award for a music video she produced in the virtual world, and even TV news shows, like Vice, have experimented in using the technology to tell stories and put watchers in the middle of the action.

Beyond those obvious applications, there are still many others worth talking about, including things like messaging, phone calls, and even augmented reality.

Pirates with Google Glass say ‘AR’
Remember Google Glass? It was Google’s attempt to hold up its part of the bet they made with Bluetooth to see who could make everyone look more awkward and pretentious. Though Glass failed -I’m not sure anyone has yet broke the news to Google- it did start a conversation about another type of virtual reality device… augmented reality. We have talked about this before, because this summer saw the biggest explosion of AR gaming to date with the release of Pokemon Go. Augmented reality and AR gaming is basically just that, a digital overlay placed over the already existing environment, and if VR headsets are going “mobile” -as we know they are- than it is only going to be a matter of time before we have a merging of these two ideas. Though playing Call of Duty 18 is going to be fun in virtual reality, imagine how much more fun it will be to play Call of Duty 22 in augmented reality. Your neighbors backyard could become a war torn battlefield and with every click of your fist your friends will fall dead at… on second thought that also sounds a little disturbing, but we’re sure there will be AR puppies or something to balance it out.

Augmented reality devices are already in development. Similar to smart watches AR headsets will link up with your mobile phone to give you access to everything from onscreen navigation to Facebook to picture taking to phone messaging to -of course- gaming. Minecraft even has a demo version that works with the Microsoft HoloLens. Instead of building your Minecraft world on a computer or an Xbox you could build your virtual world, similar to how you construct Legos on your coffee table. Then you just pick it up and put it on a shelf to save for later, literally.

Down the virtual reality road, the same could be conceivably be done for anything from artwork to simulated plants. You could save them to a geographical location in your house and anyone wearing AR or VR headsets could look in that direction and see you virtual painting or flower vase. Of course this also means that when walking down with your headset you should not be surprised to buildings or billboards advertising products and services marketed directly to you based upon your Google, Amazon, and other Internet searches. So don’t get too upset if you find yourself in Times Square and suddenly all the billboards are promoting “Live Girls” or “Meet Single Russian Women,” because in the future, that’s going to be on you.

For right now, however, we can’t be sure of what the future of virtual reality gaming will be as a viable platform. Mainstream gamers may reject it because of motion sickness, usability issues, or because of a multitude of other bugs that still exist in the concept. However, we tend to believe those predictions made by Forbes and Statista. We have a feeling VR and AR technology will be with us for long time to come.

No Man's Sky

We want to start out by saying that this is not a review for No Man’s Sky, the hotly anticipated game by Hello Studios. If anything, this is just us thinking aloud about what this game is and what it means for gaming going forward. The game we released for Playstation 4 on Tuesday and is being launched on PC through Steam today, and there are plenty of reviews already out there. We have poured over all those reviews from both professional and amateur game reviewers and one theme has emerged among them, most people still don’t know what to make of No Man’s Sky.

An Atlas to a Larger Universe
Here is what we know so far with reading reviews and playing through the beginning of the game. First, No Man’s Sky, is -at its core- a game of discovery, but it is also a survival game. Gathering resources to fuel and repair your ship, to power up your exosuit, and even to upgrade and arm yourself are essential gameplay mechanics. Unfortunately, this means that -especially at the beginning- you are going to be spending a lot of time gathering resources just to stay ahead of dying. Thankfully, this is not a hard thing to do and all indications seems to point to the fact that once you upgrade your tools and exosuit a little the task will become easier to accomplish. However, we doubt it will disappear entirely, but that may not be a bad thing.

Being forced to mine also means being forced to explore and if there is one thing that No Man’s Sky gets high marks for it is the sheer scale and wonder of the galaxy it inhabits. While searching for minerals or just trying to survive you can find yourself coming across the most amazing sights. This includes animals of all shape, sizes, and temperaments; plants as big as houses; subterranean caves of fire or ice; or almost anything you can imagine. The galaxy of No Man’s Sky is generated completely by complex mathematical algorithms, and has literally quintillions of worlds to see. That means that whenever you step on a planet or see an alien creature -or run for your life from an alien creature- you are almost certainly the first person ever to do those things. You might be the first person to feed a pink giraffe, or the first person to set foot on a world with floating forests.

Exploration might be the stated goal of the game, but real truth is that there is no goal of this game. You can choose to be guided by an artificial intelligence named Atlas, but even this computer’s instructions are only limited to the most basic of hints. For the most part, players must figure the game out on their own, and that is good. Too often modern games hold our hands and tell us where we need to go and what we need to collect or destroy. No Man’s Sky seems to religiously avoid any hint of having linear goals or quests. This will turn some people off, because it means you may never find that sense of satisfaction you might get from completing a game or beating a final boss. However, there is also a marvelous sense of freedom that comes with literally being your own person. It is just you, your ship, and the ‘black.’ This will probably be the most divisive aspect of the game, but it is also its core principal.

As your own person you can choose to continue exploring or even try your hand at space piracy, but be warned there are consequences. Combat in the game is possible and even sometimes necessary, but thanks to automated sentinels and over-aggressive space police choosing the route of violence has serious consequences. Being a pirate means garnering a vast amount of resources quickly, but it also means having to fight your way past an ever increasing number of galactic police that make the cops in GTA seem tame. It is the kind of thing that would be easier if you had a partner, but that actually leads us to the biggest oversight of No Man’s Sky.

Alone in the Void
There is no multiplayer, and that needs to be stated clearly and unequivocally. You will never be able to find your friends or meet up with another human in the game, and in our opinion, that is the biggest missed opportunity of this franchise. No Man’s Sky could have been like DayZ, but in space. We’re not sure how that would work with the procedural generation of the galaxy, or the astronomical mathematical impossibilities it might take for two players to actually find each other among quintillions of planets and stars, but just knowing that it would be possible would have been a great addition. Multiplayer has been one of the biggest mysteries of this game. Even we were fooled initially by the early reports of what No Man’s Sky would and wouldn’t be. Perhaps, Hello Games never saw this as a multiplayer endeavor, but a game about surviving alone in space. Unfortunately, we believe it may take away some of the replay value for some people. When that initial awe of exploration wears off, what are the vast majority of people going to do?

We are going to use DayZ as a comparison. Similar to its younger space-based brother it is a survival game. There are no goals but to collect items and loot corpses to give yourself a better chance at surviving another day in a zombie-based world. However, the survival and even the zombies do not give the game its main appeal. It is the interactions between players, the weird and crazy things that happen when people are allowed to roam free with no clear objectives. People form survival groups, become fire-extinguisher wielding superheroes, play in a Hunger Games like contest, and generally just get to experience the mean, generous, sadistic, crazy, caring, insane world of a game driven by the players. Now can you imagine all that, but in in an infinite galaxy of worlds and stars? How long would it take before a group of players become a galactic empire, or started a Federation? How long would it take for people to form a Firefly-esque crew of smugglers and outlaws, or an Enterprise-esque crew of explorers? Maybe that would take away the initial lonely space survival feel that Hello Games was looking to achieve, but it is an appealing idea.

To Infinity and Beyond
So what does the future hold for No Man’s Sky? Hello Games has already stated that they will be continuing to support the game with new patches and features going forward. They talked about things like player-owned freighters and even space stations. Maybe they might even choose to add in multiplayer one day, but that is pure speculation on our part. After all, the game is selling like hotcakes -which makes us wonder how well hotcakes actually sell these days- and with today’s release of the PC version there seems to be no indication of it slowing down. It will be interesting to see what the game looks like in a month or six. Will people still be enthralled by its endless wonder or will they have moved back to Call of Duty?

As much as it feel sanctimonious to suggest this, maybe No Man’s Sky is not quite the game we have been waiting for all our lives. Do not get us wrong. We love it and we will be playing for a long time to come, but it is not quite there, at least not yet. More and more online games are trending toward the idea of directionless-player-driven content, and maybe this game is just another large step in the direction we want to go. All it means is that we have not yet reached the Ready Player One aspect of gaming, where players can travel, explore, conquer, and completely shape the game they inhabit. It may take 20 years but we believe that is coming.

So maybe it is unfair to judge No Man’s Sky based upon our astronomical expectations, because let’s face it, if this game had only half the hype that surrounded this past week’s launch then by any metric it would have been a mind blowing success. Over the past few years the game became a magnet for everyone’s unrealistic presumptions, and yet even with all the inflated hype it still manages deliver a beautiful and immersive experience. Perhaps that is why most people and most reviewers -including us- still don’t know how to classify this game. Is it a space-sim, a survival game, some sort of genteel zoological study? Then again, maybe going forward those types of labels are going to be less and less applicable. With the increase of computing power and more open and infinite world simulations, we might find it harder and harder each year to be able to label exactly what games are and what they aren’t.

End Transmission
As for the freshman game by Hello Studios, most of us still aren’t even sure what or if this game will evolve into something completely different later on down the line. The developers have been very tight-lipped about the surprises, Easter eggs, and other content that players are going to find and discover as they progress. Maybe there is still amazing things to uncover that we cannot even fathom yet. What we do know is that No Man’s Sky is about exploring, but real exploring. Truly surviving in space would be a tedious and sometimes incredibly dangerous endeavor and this game does not shy away from those aspects. Yet, even those annoyances are overshadowed by the sense of scale in No Man’s Sky. It is truly mind-blowing.

Living on Earth we might have the academic or existential understanding that we are small specks floating on a small speck in one corner of a small galaxy in a near-infinite universe of stars and planets. However, when you are playing No Man’s Sky that understanding is not just academic, it is driven home with almost every action you take. You could walk for hours on a planet and not even experience a fraction of all it has to offer, and yet you can get into your ship and rocket into space watching as that singular and unique world becomes nothing more than a mote of dust below you, as if it never mattered at all. If there is one thing we can say that this game succeeds wildly at, it is making us feel very very very tiny.


Greetings fellow travelers. We here at The NYRD have been out on the road, seeing sights, looking for adventure, and trying to catch ’em all. Yes, we’re talking about Pokémon, because much like the rest of the country we have also been caught up in the craze of Pokémon Go, but unlike the rest of the country we thought our road trip across America would be a good opportunity to really explore the limits of this new augmented reality game that has very quickly revolutionized how ew think of phone games.

I Choose You
20160716_135708Just two days after the games release in the USA the newest Pokémon game had already been installed by more than 5% of Android users. That may not sound like much but consider that means it was installed on more phones than Tinder, and people didn’t just let it sit there either. Over 60% of people who downloaded the app have continued to use it daily. It has about the same daily usage as Twitter, and the numbers are still going up. The average use time per day is about 43 minutes, which is more than the average person used Instagram, SnapChap, or visits The NYRD. Thanks to the massive release, Nintendo’s stock has surged 20% and it gave the game company its best day on the stock market since 1983, which was before most of our staff was even born.

However, there are some downsides. There have been plenty of humorous stories of people who were too busy trying to catch their eighth Pidgey to pay attention to where they were walking. Some people have fallen off cliffs, fallen into water, and one even caused a very serious car acciden, though there is some debate over that. In fact, more than once on our journey across this nation we had to stop Todd from walking into a building or large southern men who, “don’t take too kindly to yankee types,” which is absurd because we don’t even follow baseball.

Despite all the bad press the game is getting it is worth mentioning that Pokémon Go is the popularization of something new in our society. It is a game that encourages people to get out of their homes and interact with the environment, even if part of the environment is digital. The app is making kids walk and run and explore the world we live in. It is no coincidenc that there are PokeStops at all significant and historic locations in almost every area of the country, and trust us we know. The game even changes what Pokemon a person can find based upon the time of day and the area someone is in.

What the Psyduck?
Of course, in our own adventures we have encountered a lot of different pokemon. Unfortunately, we can’t really answer the question you are probably asking? Do you catch special pokemon in historic or significant locations? Well, we never came across any legendary ones, but we definitely encountered high level and more exotic pokemon in certain areas, such as Niagara Falls -which by the way offers free wifi on the American side- We cannot say for certainty that going to national parks or similar sites will net you anything that you can really show off to your friends. Yet, we still recommend you go all the same, because these are just cool sites to visit.

We can tell you however, that playing Pokémon Go alongside the Mississipi River or through the streets of Chicago or even in the parking lot of some roadside motel that we happen to be staying definitely enhances the experience. It is also a great way to meet people. We have not visited a single city or even café yet where we have not overheard people comparing their pokedex or talking about where they found this Evee, or why Team Instinct is the worst. Bumping into people with their head buried in their phones is very common these days and it makes it very easy to start conversations.

“Hey did you see that Zubat over there?”

“No, do you want to be best friends forever?”

“Of course.”

See how easy that was, but we have also noticed that Pokémon Go is doing more than just enhancing personal relationships or personal waistlines. A lot of businesses are getting in on the action. It has not been uncommon in our travels to find businesses that are regularly putting down lure to draw in Pokémon and paying customers. There is even a story about police using Pokémon lures to catch fugitives, which is pretty awesome. However, the technique works particularly well in cafes or other business where people can sip their coffee, chat with friends, and enslave poor defenseless creatures in a case the size of a baseball. Its basically a win-win for everyone, except that poor Pikachu that got nabbed by the cops for all those unpaid parking tickets.

A Magikarp Ride
Really, we just want to report that the state of the Pokemon Union is strong. People all over the country are mindlessly wandering around state parks and into traffic. We know that this is not the first AR or environment interaction game, lest we forget geocaching. Ultimately, we believe that this newest use of crude but effective augmented reality is a step in the right direction. The best part is that the game will only keep growing with the possibilities of new Pokémon, trainer battles, and a slew of other possibilities. At the very least, Pokémon Go is getting people active again and interacting with the world and each other in new and previously unthought-of ways.

Also there is nothing so unifying as being a bunch of thirty year old adults excitedly squealing over finding a Squirtle, and then rubbing it into face of a group of twelve year olds. Truly, we live in a magical time.

Until next time, keep watching our adventures on SnapChat at thenyrd.

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Be the envy of all rockers and nerds and stack up on these beautifully designed tees, because we want you to Shop Cooler. Shop like a NYRD.




We here at The NYRD are big gamers, in that we mostly just play Candy Crush and Angry Birds when our slave driver of a boss unchains our ankles from the computer and let’s us step away for a few minutes to remember what sunlight feels like. However, when word leaked out two days ago about the upcoming Steam Summer Sale, we got so excited that we almost snapped a few of our vitamin D deficient bones while clapping through our manacled hands. So in preparation for the happiest time of the summer our staff got together to give you our recommendation for what you should be playing instead of going to the beach, or hanging out with friend. Play them well. Play them for us.

Shovel Knight
ShovelKnightLet’s start out this list right by bringing up one the best games ever made, and we’re not just digging our own grave either by making that boast -See what we did there? Shovel pun- It doesn’t get much better than Shovel Knight. It doesn’t matter whether you grew up mashing buttons on an old Nintendo or while mashing keys while playing some “classic” games on Mod for the PC. Shovel Knight is a true testament to the old 8-bit retro gaming aesthetic while still managing to bring in a new flair that’s all it’s own. This game is a platformer, but don’t let that scare you away. You will be amazed by the its beauty, awesome soundtrack, and seamlessly fun gameplay. The difficulty, though not overwhelming, still offers a good amount of challenge to keep you interested, and at $14.99 on Steam it is a real steal. We promise you will not be disappointed. In fact, we think you’ll really “Dig it.” -Get it? It’s another shovel pun-

Darkest Dungeon
We have talk Darkest Dungeon before, but it is so good, we thought we would bring it up again, like that annoying cousin who will never stop telling you about that time he met Ewan McGregor. “We get it, Greg. You know he’s not really Obi-Wan, right? That’s Sir Alec Guinness.” However, Darkest Dungeon is worth bringing up again. One of the New Yorker’s Best video games of 2015, this game has all the macabre turn-based action you could hope for. A true love letter to Lovecraft and video games geeks alike. It is equal parts frustrating and entertaining. Each time you enter into a dungeon you will never know what might happen, who you might lose, or who might just go plain mad. As much a work of art as a video game, the aesthetics will really draw you in, but it will be the challenging gameplay that will make you stay. It is $24.99 on Steam and now with new updates, characters, and dungeons, Darkest Dungeon is even darker than before… but watch out for the pig vomit.

Stick of Truth
Stick of TruthWe usually try to stay away from reviewing big console games that have been ported to the PC, but our next two entries are going to be the exceptions to that rule. The Stick of Truth is everything you could hope for in a South Park Fantasy game. In fact, this might be the game you don’t even know you want. Coming in at $29.99 on Steam, it is well worth the price. South Park has been a mainstay of humor and culture for almost two decades and Stick of Truth proves their staying power. One part parody and one part kick-ass fantasy game it encapsulates all the humor and greatness that is the Comedy Central series without overstaying its welcome. Whether you like Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings, or just a really good RPG game, Stick of Truth is no laughing matter. We recommend you check it out.

Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor
Shadow of MordorNot only is this game the second major developer game on our list, but it is also the second game adapted from a larger franchise. Lord of the Rings is a phenomen and it seems almost impossible that a video game could enter into the world of Middle Earth and even come close to being worthy of the books of JRR Tolkein or the Peter Jackson movies. Yet, Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor is damn good at proving that point wrong. A unique story with interesting characters it works well to keep our attention storywise, but that is not where it really shines. No, the true genius of this game is in its gameplay mechanics, specifically the Nemesis System that allows you to conscript your orc enemies into working for you. Even better the enemy AI means that orcs have a hierarchy all their all their own, and your enemies will change and grow over time. It’s a little pricey at $49.99 on Steam, but well worth your wishlist. Hey, that’s why Eru Ilúvatar created the Steam Summer Sale.

Crusader Kings II
Crusader Kings IIMore Game of Thrones than Lord of the Rings Crusader Kings II, is a grand strategy game taking place in the late Medieval period. This game focuses on raising a family from nothing to become powerful emperors, until you lose it all again when you decide to sleep with your brother’s wife. You can bribe your way to power, assassinate your way to power, or just become a good old fashioned conquer, the possibilities are endless. Crusader Kings II will let you turn history on its head all while sucking up your own time in the process. Admittedly the game is not without its flaws, but they are ultimately forgivable in the end. A slick looking map and the ability to play multiplayer -and assassinate your friends- goes a long way to endearing Crusader Kings II. Currently $39.99 on Steam, we definitely recommend you put this one on your list, because in the game of thrones you either buy now or you wait for the Summer Sale.

StellarisWe move now to another grand strategy game, Stellaris. The latest in a galaxy spanning tactical genre, this game distinguishes itself on several notable points, not the least of which is its customization. Stellaris allows your to design your starting species, homeworld, traits, and even emblem. This game is also incredibly vast in scale, and with an infinite variety. Solar systems and stars are randomly generated so each game is going to be slightly different than the last. However, it is the Pops mechanics where this game truly shines. Introduce new technologies to your empire and your people and you could face unexpected consequences. The game is by no means perfect, there are some AI and UI bugs that need addressing, but don’t count this one out. We talked about StarDrive 2 in the past, and Stellaris managed to take all the good of that game and increase it by ten fold. if you like games where you need to manage entire galactic empires, than we highly recommend you check out this Stellaris. It is currently $39.99 on Steam.

Garry’s Mod
Garrys Mod2Can we get weird for a minute with you? Because we want to talk about Garry’s Mod, an incredibly strange but strangely incredible game that you can download for only $9.99 on Steam. This game is a physics sandbox. It has no goals or predefined rules, other than physics. You cannot win but we promise you will not lose either. With thousands of ready made physics objects that you can spawn and use to create everything form a jet to a jet boat to a jet footstool, the limits of this game are endless. You can create and play and just get as weird as you want, either by yourself or with your friends. Maybe you’re not creative, well don’t worry. There are millions of already user created content in this game that you can simply grab and paint red or add antlers to or just have fun with. How will you ever be bored again?

Divinity: Original Sin: Enhanced Edition
DivinityDespite the overabundance of colons in the name Divinity: Original Sin: Enhance Edition, delivers on its promises. Gamespot named it PC game of 2014, and it has received over 150 awards and nominations. if you like playing classic RPG fantasy or like playing Dungeons and Dragons, than this game is right up your dragon-infested alley. An open world RPG experience, you can design your characters, collect your party and interact with everyone you meet. Best of all the “Enhanced” in “Enhanced Edition,” means that everyone you meet is fully voice-acted. You can fight, cheat, lie, steal, and make decisions that affect not only you but the world at large. Still, what sets this RPG apart from others in the genre is its insanely fun combat system. An innovative turn-based mechanic, it allows you to control the action and effortless micromanage your group and your combat strategies. Even better, if you get lonely, you can play with a friend. At $39.99 on Steam it is well worth the price.

Pixel Piracy
Pixel PiracyOf all the games on this list, Pixel Piracy is the lowest rated, but at 71% it is still well worth your time. A 2D simulator you will get the chance to design your own pirate ship, recruit your own crew, customize, and sail the seven pixelated seas. Falling somewhere between beautiful, simplistic, and brutal, Pixel Piracy is the kind of smooth running fun game that can eat away your hours.  It is a simple game to learn, but that does not mean it is simple to master. You will need to manage resource and your crew while you raid other ships, plunder islands, and explore a two-diminsional world. This pirate RPG is not perfect, but if you are looking for a little piracy in your life we highly recommend it. Also, there is a lot of opportunities for poop jokes, and at $9.99 on steam, who can resist that?

Homeworld Remastered Collection
HomeworldRounding out our list is a classic video game, Homeworld. You command the helm of a massive mothership in this real-time strategy game. With your world on the the brink of disaster, you are the only thing left to protect and guide the last remnants of your sleeping people as you desperately try to find a new home. Hauntingly masterful and with a story that will live on in your memory, the original Homeworld, came out in the 1999 and was a triumph of gameplay for its time. Now it has been remastered with new graphics and updates including enhanced audio and cinematics. For $39.99 on Steam this package contains remastered editions of Homeworld and Homeworld 2, as well as the originals. If you were a fan in the past, or even if you have never heard of these games, we cannot express enough how much you need to play this RTS. It is not always an easy game, but always highly enjoyable. This needs to be on your list.

Now that you have our recommendations for the upcoming Summer Sale, we want to hear yours. After all, we are always looking for new games too, assuming our boss ever opens the food-hole in our cell doors wide enough so we can escape. So let us know what’s on your wishlist in the comment section below, and happy gaming.

All images courtesy:

Money is a tricky thing. We need it to survive and even be happy, but too much money can hurt fragile ecosystems. This is especially true for environments that are designed to balance skill with hard work, much like video games or politics. The gaming giant, Blizzard, found that out the hard way back in 2012 when they introduced the Real Money Auction House so that players could simply purchase high-level weapons and armor with real-world money, as opposed to in-game gold. It nearly ruined the game in much the same way that the current explosion of campaign finance is threatening our political system, and if you think it might be too simplistic to compare to a hack and slash video game with the hack and slash world of the US Congress, than we would agree. At least Diablo III has rules that make sense.

Your Starting Class
In case you haven’t been paying attention this week -and let’s face it, a lot of the news media has not- hundreds of people were arrested at the Capitol, in a protest called Democracy Spring. The group is demanding that Congress pass the Government by the People Act, the Fair Elections now Act, the the Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2015, the Voter Empowerment Act of 2015, and/or the Democracy for All Amendment… Really they are just looking for any sort of change that can begin to reform our broken campaign finance system, as we all should be. The influence of money in campaigns and the political process has been increasing over the past several decades. “Why is that a problem?” you might wonder. Well as Deckard Cain would said, “Stay a while and listen.”

Many people will point to the decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission as the main tipping point in the rampant campaign finance spending that has been flooding politics over recent years, but that is really just the last save point on a long journey to hell. An equally important decision was arguably 1976’s Buckley v. Valeo, which held that political money is equal to speech. That challenge by Senator James Buckley set the stage for Citizens United, which further argues that campaign finance spending is not just equal to speech but protected speech and that the Federal government has no right to limit corporations or unions from spending their money to exercise their right of “protected speech.” By the time Bill Clinton was elected in 1996 the Democratic party had raised over $122 million in “soft money,” which is campaign finance that is unregulated and undisclosed money that can be spent by third parties in favor of candidates. The Campaign Reform Act eventually banned soft money from federal campaigns, but the damage was already done. Politicians had seen the power of money in elections and in 2010 when an appeals court struck down the limit on contributions to independent expenditure groups -aka Super-PACs- things like soft money were the least of anyone’s concerns. 

We don’t think there is anyone out there that disagrees that money affects the way the political process is conducted, but as a correlation it is worth returning to our example of Blizzard and their Real Money Auction House for Diablo III. Like Citizens United, it was a decision built upon a growing trend. For Blizzard it was the popularity of purchasable DLC, freemium Candy Crush bonuses, and the black market that existed for selling Diablo 2 items on eBay. So Blizzard went ahead and added an auction house where players could spend real money on high level items to help them advance in the game, instead of having to find and work for them like everyone else. However, when you break it down that grind is kind of the point of the game. Putting a Real Money Auction House may have been done with noble intentions, but in the end it just allowed people who had more money to acquire more items and level-up more quickly. It was a system that gave more power to people with expendable income over people who wanted to play the game fairly. In the strictest sense of the word, it was a cheat for the rich. More money meant more power and greater standing in the game’s community, and we’re pretty sure you can guess where we are going with this.

The Cash Cow Level
In arguments that are often similar to the  ones used by the defenders of Diablo’s Real Money Auction House, people will try to make the case that candidates who have more money don’t always win. In fairness, that is true, but more money does at least guarantee you a place in the adventuring group, because nobody is going to fight Diablo with someone who has a low level dirk and and cloth armor. No political party is going to take a candidate seriously if they don’t have enough money to stay in the game -or at the very least a slotted Resplendent Rage Blade. This year’s candidates are certainly finding that out. After all, a candidate can have the best platform in the world, but if they don’t have the cash to get their face or their message in front of the voting public it won’t matter. Still the question remains, how much does money influence a candidate’s ability to win?

The answer is, we can’t be 100% sure. It is a tricky question because there are a lot of factors in play in any given election, but a more accurate question might be, “how poor does a candidate have to be to lose an election?” You see, the tricky thing about campaign finance is that elections actually do cost money, and every year they cost more and more, thanks in no small part to the massive build-up of campaign spending over the past decade. The Maplight Foundation found that the average cost for winning a seat in the 113th Congress was $1,689,580. That was the average cost. Unfortunately, the average household income of Americans in 2012 was about $51,000. Thus -unless your Bernie Sanders- politicians generally need more money than the average donor can supply. According to the Sunlight Foundation, in the 2012 election cycle 28% of all disclosed political contributions came form just 31,385 people. that is about 1% of 1% of Americans. And don’t be fooled. Corporations and donors may not be explicitly “buying” politicians, but they are definitely buying influence. You don’t need to look any further than the 1991 Keating Five Incident, where five US senators -including John McCain and John Glenn- tried advocating to Federal regulators on behalf of Charles H. Keating and his failing savings and loan business. Keating gave all five senators a combined $1.3 million in 1990’s money, and that is the problem. Americans may all get one vote, but thanks to massive importance of campaign finance that small 1% of 1% receives a disproportionate amount of attention from those in power. It is their issues that take precedent when it comes to campaigning.


In the 2012 elections it would have taken 322,000 middle-income Americans donating .37% of their net worth to match the donations of Sheldon Adelson’s 91.8 million dollars worth of donations, which is only .37% of his net worth. Incidentally, 322,000 is more people than it took to crash the Diablo III servers -just 300,000- when they opened for beta testing in that same year. Even worse 31% of the $1.03 billion spent in 2012 by outside organizations was “dark money,” meaning those donors were undisclosed to the general public. When it comes to elections there is a lot of money exchanging hands and more and more a lot of it is happening outside the realm of public scrutiny. In fact, one of the unintended consequences of taking “soft money” out of the hands of the GOP and DNC, but later allowing unlimited Super-PAC donations has only served to diminish the power of political parties and campaign finance accountability. Parties are losing control of their candidates because they no longer have a financial leash to hang over them. Just think about this year’s Republican circus of a primary. The two frontrunners are not who the GOP would have picked. Thanks to Citizens United, the influence of the DNC and GOP are waning in realms of campaign finance as the influence of big donors grow, like Adelson, the Koch brothers, or Thomas Steyer. Candidates are less reliant on the party bosses, but are more under the influence of a very small percentage of those who can afford to buy the best armor, the best weapons, and the best candidates.

Patch Notes
In 2013 Blizzard shut down their Real World Auction House for good. They officially acknowledged that “it ultimately undermines Diablo’s core game play: kill monsters to get cool loot,” and it was the right thing to do. It restored the integrity of the game. Diablo III was never supposed to be about buying your way to the top, but about earning it through work and dedication. Politics is very similar. Getting elected should never be about who has the most campaign contributions, but who has the best policies and the most support of the people. On the Democratic side, Bernie Sanders has done an amazing job grinding for his loot, but even with all his small donations he still cannot match the likes of Hillary Clinton’s campaign finance and her big donors and Super PAC. In a sense, they are not even playing on the same difficulty mode, and that’s not fair. The democratic process should be about “killing monster speeches and getting cool votes,” not having enough money to plaster your face on every billboard from here to the voting booth.

That is why we desperately need campaign finance reform, and that is what the recent Democracy Spring protests are all about. We urge you to again take a look at the bills they are fighting for. Many of them offer common sense solutions, such as creating a fund that helps match campaign donations from individual small donors; giving $25 refundable tax credit for political donations; a public debate requirement; political advertising vouchers; fair broadcasting time for all candidates; limits on the raising and spending of money by candidates; and a lot more small ideas that could really add up to a big change. The sad part is that most elected officials agree with a lot of these reforms, but they are also completely pessimistic about them ever getting passed. After all, Congress has tried to enact campaign finance reform before. At worst it falls flat, but even at best it ends up being a temporary relief, because for every Campaign Finance Reform Act that gets through there is a Citizens United waiting in the wings.

Yet, as long as the current system reigns the issues that candidate focus on will always tilt toward the interest of bigger donors, leaving the rest of us out in the wild, with all those skeletons and ooze creatures. The races are getting too expensive. It is forcing candidates to stockpile cash like nukes during the Cold War. Nowadays, to even be considered competitive you need a Super PAC or some other massive financial backer. That could mean literally selling your soul to Diablo, and that’s not fun or fair. Any gamer will tell you that you don’t give up when things get difficult. You keep fighting and working. If Blizzard can restore integrity to a game about fighting the devil, than we can do the same for politics. We just need to keep grinding away.

If you agree or want to help, maybe it is time to write a letter to your Congressman. Let them know how you feel, because if we don’t fix this, we really could be facing Hell on Earth.

MAGFest stands for Music and Gaming Festival. It is an annual convention -now in its fourteenth year- that takes place every winter in Washington DC’s National Harbor. MAGFest is a great place to check out video games, board games, and roleplaying games, as well as geek-tacular music and panels dedicated to all forms of gaming. With a library of board and tabletop games, as well as an entire wing dedicated to retro arcade gaming MAGFest is also the place to be if you consider yourself a gamer or if you just like rolling a D20 every now and then. Independent developers set up booths to show off their latest games and allow fest-goers to playtest their products. MAGFest is a great opportunity to see a lot of impressive wares and interact with the men and women on the forefront of the Indie gaming community.

The NYRD sent a few representatives down to our nation’s capital to eat, game, and be merry, and this is five of the best and brightest products and people we think you need to keep an eye on. Check out what they found:

5. Ninja Burger
Ninja Burger is not necessarily what you might consider a new find. MAGFest offers  a wide variety of old and new games in their board game library. Ninja Burger was created by Steve Jackson -who created the successful series of Munchkin games- and has been around for a few years now. However, it was new to the crew at The NYRD, so we felt strongly enough about the game that it deserved to be on this list. We found this game tucked in the far corner of the game library in a beat-up old box and we could not be happier that we did.

A wildly imaginative and not-so-serious game, in Ninja Burger you take on the role of a ninja in the Ninja Burger franchise. You must deliver your burgers to customers ranging from super spies to speeding car drivers, all without being noticed, in true ninja fashion. To do this you complete mission cards with a set of skills and fortunes. Failure means that you bring shame on yourself and the franchise, but success brings honor and possible a nice tip. Gain enough honor and you could be promoted.

This game was so fun that The NYRD crew had to go back for a second round of gaming the next day. We highly recommend this find to anyone who enjoys playing casual and hilarious card games with friends.

4. Just Beats and Shapes
Just Beats and Shapes is an award winning Indie party game. By far, the most frequently played Indie game by The NYRD crew at MAGFest. it is fun and challenging, yet the controls are simple enough that even the most inexperienced gamer can jump right in and play along. Just Beats and Shapes won multiple awards at PAX East and GDC, and the game has not even released yet.

You and up to three of your friends need to navigate your node around obstacles and impressive graphical side-scrolling shapes all to the beat of some catchy tunes. Even if you are not into dance music or techno beats we promise you will be toe tapping along with the songs on this game, mostly because you will have to redo level sections multiple times as you fight and maneuver your way through minefields of colorful lines, blocks, and fast-moving dots.

According to the developers the full version should be ready by the summer for release on Steam and most major gaming platforms. You can also follow the developers on their Twitch feed to get live updates and watch the progress of the game as it develops.

3. Eight Bit Disaster
A mix between the Dave Matthews Band and that creepy kid in college who did nothing but play Mega Man with the lights out, Eight Bit Disaster is the kind of band you need to experience live to truly understand. Immensely talented musicians this group of five gentlemen rock out to classic and modern video game, TV shows, and cartoon music remixes.

We definitely recommend checking out one of their shows if they are ever in your neighborhood or if you are ever in their vicinity of North Carolina. With a saxophonist leading the charge, old and classical video game songs become new again. There is also plenty of musical interludes where the individual musicians get to show their talent and jam out with guitar, keyboard, bass, drum, and of course saxophone solos. Eight Bit Disaster was anything but a disaster at this year’s MAGFest and both the audience and our crew members came away cheering and clapping.

You can check out their music on Band Camp, but -be warned- it does not do justice to their live show.

2. Liege
Perhaps one of the biggest surprises for The NYRD crew at MAGFest this year, Liege, is a serious and dark Indie game done in the JRPG style with a twist.Created by CodaGames, Liege takes the classical turn-based combat approach of JRPG’s and gives the player a dynamic and innovative tactical element to go along with it.

Though we were only able to play the Alpha run-through the game looks not only mechanically fun but graphically beautiful. This is definitely a title we would recommend keeping your eyes on. Currently the project has over $81,000 but we would love to see this game brought to full realization. It is an exciting title with a lot of potential for fun and incredible storytelling. Any fans of Final Fantasy or other classic JRPG styled games would enjoy Liege.

Check out their Kickstarter to learn more and see if you want to pitch in some money to help.

1. Bit Brigade
By far the highlight of MAGFest was a band called Bit Brigade. They are a staple of the festival and they never fail to amaze. Their self proclaimed lead singer is a practiced classic video game speed runner. With a range of games from Contra to Castlevania he can blow through games in under an hour, often with one or less deaths.

However the real joy of Bit Brigade comes from the band standing behind the man who is hunched over a controller on a small 90’s mini TV. The band plays through the entire game, giving each level of classic 8 and 16 bit music new life with wailing guitars and reverberating drum beats. This year the band treated their crowds to performances of Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man 2. There is nothing quite like rocking out while also being transfixed by the skill and magic of a live speed run.

We recommend you check out their page, their skill, and their tour dates, because if you see one video game band live this year, it should be Bit Brigade.

The NYRD crew had an amazing time this year at MAGFest. It is a far cry from the media and entertainment circus that can sometimes be New York or San Diego Comic Con, but that does not mean it is a modest convention in the slightest. Instead it feels like a gathering of thousands of thousands of like-minded friends who just want to come together, play some games, and rock out to some quality musical groups. For anyone who has not attended we highly recommend the experience. You will not be disappointed.

We here at the The NYRD are all huge nerds, in case you could not tell for some reason. So any franchise that combines our love of history and our love video games is a winner in our D&D rulebook. The Assassin’s Creed games have always been a fun mix of action and mythology, as well as -you know- assassination. Their newest platform game, Assassin’s Creed: India, follows in the tradition of its older and more graphically developed brothers. The second title in the Assassin’s Creed Chronicles series, this new game takes place in 1841 during the First Anglo-Sikh War between the Sikh Empire and the East India Company.

On a very personal note, we have been thrilled with the Chronicles series. As much as we enjoy the ongoing modern warfare between the Assassins and the Templars, and the legacy of Desmond Miles, it is great to step out of that every now and then and just enjoy the story of historical assassins, especially ones that are so ethnically diverse from previous mainstream games. It is especially thrilling to have a chance to explore new non-European/American-centric timeframes in history. The people at Ubisoft really know how to bring their attention to historical detail to all these new places and locales, and the Chronicles series certainly does a good job of filling in the time between their major flagship releases.

Visually, it is also worth mentions that this newest game is very stunning. Colorful and well designed it really does invoke a very Indian aesthetic that makes the game markedly unique in a library of other Assassin’s Creed titles.  We especially applaud the little touches of detail. The architecture, the clothing, and even the fact that localized voices can also be heard speaking Punjabi.

Unfortunately, Assassin’s Creed India is not a perfect game. It is a 2.5 D platform stealth game, so we can forgive some of the clunkiness, but when it comes to combat the game is almost painful. Thankfully, being a stealth game combat is not a main focus, but there are areas where you need to engage in it to overcome the mission or complete the different challenges set out for you. This is a particularly disappointing aspect, as Assassin’s Creed games have always had a fairly decent combat system. Thankfully the stealth and the tools at your disposal help make up for this flaw, at least in part.

As a platform game it is a fun, and with simplified controls it is also fairly easy to pick up, even for the casual gamer. However if you are looking for a pure stealth-based game then Assassin’s Creed India will, unfortunately, fall short of your expectations there as well. There are plenty of better sneaking games on the market, but none of them are Assassins’ Creed. Ultimately, that will probably be the game’s biggest selling point. As anyone who already enjoys the Assassin’s Creed franchise will be the ones who will take the time and the energy to enjoy this newest mini-installment. After all, we have come to accept at least some clunkiness in our Assassin’s Creed games, whether it be frustration while free running or randomly failing to make a leap of faith, even though you are on the goddamn right spot, damnit. “Jump into the hay! It’s right there… Now he’s dead, again.” Loyal fans are able to forgive more when it comes to these games, except for maybe Assassin’s Creed Unity. That game had more bugs than our first downtown office space.

Even worse, if you choose to play the game via PC, then you will quickly find that it does not support a PC controller, which is extremely odd, considering its predecessor, Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China, already did. It shouldn’t have been that hard to do, either, considering China and India basically have the same controls.

However, seeing as Ubisoft has announced that there will be no mainstream fully rendered immersive Assassin’s Creed title for 2016, fans of the franchise will have to content themselves with India, not that that is a bad thing. It may not be a flagship title, but it certainly has its charms. Another added benefit is that you will not have to spend half of your new year collecting Animus Fragments, which is both tedious and frustratingly unavoidable.

As we said above, Assassin’s Creed India is by no means a perfect game. It is not even a perfect Assassin’s Creed game, but it is also enjoyable in its own way and decent buy on Steam. Anyone who is a fan of the franchise, and especially if you were a fan of ACC: China you will enjoy this game. It is not the best stealth game, nor the best combat game you will find on the market, but it has enough lore, puzzles, and storyline to keep you coming back to play. However, for anyone trying to get into the Assassin’s Creed franchise we would personally recommend you start with Assassin’s Creed II. It is only $10.00 more on Steam and a much better game.

This newest 2.5D platform game is not enough to give you a truly full and favorable impression of the franchise, but once you have played as Edzio or Connor, come back and revisit Assassin’s Creed: India. It’s worth the wait… for a Steam sale.

Image courtesy:

It is 2016, a shiny new year in the 21st century. There is no denying that we are in the future, a time when our sock hopping ancestors believed we would have things like jet packs and underwater cities. Instead all we have are underwater pollution and -criminally mislabeled- “hoverboards.” Still, our modern era is not all bad, and we here at The NYRD are optimistic about what is yet to come. 2016 holds a lot of promise and we thought it would be best to start the year off right and talk about all the good possibilities, trends, and breakthroughs for the coming year, because we all know there will inevitably be bad enough ones too.

Virtually All Reality
2016 will mark the beginning of consumer virtual reality. VR headsets are set to become the next big “thing” in the technology and gaming world. This year will see the release of the Oculus Rift as well as several other devices. These new VR sets will range from premium high end models to cardboard boxes that can be fit around your smart phone, but rest assured our reality will never look the same again. Whether it will be playing games, watching movies, or even experiencing news stories first hand, the world is going to start to look  a lot different in ways even we cannot imagine.

Franchise, Franchise, Franchise
We would be remiss if we did not use this opportunity to bring up some of the most anticipated video games, movies, and TV shows coming out in 2016. This new year will most assuredly be the year of the shared universe, with movies like Batman V. Superman, Captain America: Civil War, Doctor Strange, Suicide Squad, X-Men: Apocalypse, Ghostbusters and of course, Star Wars: Rogue One. Disney will be certainly looking to shove even more Star Wars and Marvel down our collective gullets, and -truth be told- we are sort of okay with that. On the small screen side there will be plenty of old and new shows to look forward to, including the return of Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and Sherlock. However, we are also looking forward to new Agent Carter and Daredevil, not to mention a possible Luke Cage show near the end of the year. Meanwhile, other shows like Preacher and the new X-Files have our interest piqued, and, of course, we would hate to leave out that 2016 will mark the last season of Mythbusters.

In the literary world, everyone is talking about a possible 2016 release date for The Winds of Winter, George R. R. Martin’s next installment in the Song of Ice and Fire series. Unfortunately, we would advise that you don’t hold your breath, unless you want to be just another causality in the long list of deaths attributed to the blood soaked career of Martin. JK Rowling is also getting back into the Harry Potter game with her newest movie Fantastical Beasts and Where to Find Them, and a new stage-play following the adult Harry Potter titled, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.

On the video game side, there is only one title we here at The NYRD want to talk about, No Man’s Sky. This self-creating infinite galaxy MMO has the possibility to blow the lid off the immersive video game genre, and has the potential to pave the way for all new gaming experiences. Last year, NMS “stole the show” at every conference and convention where it was previewed. This could mark the next leap forward in video game experiences and we fully expect that we will have to shut down our office for a week just to get a grip on it.

Juno, the Dragon, and Beyond
This year in space exploration will see the Juno probe visit Jupiter in hopes of unlocking more of the gas giant’s secrets, including the moisture content of its atmosphere and how it was originally formed. There is still a lot we don’t know about the largest planetary body in our solar system and Juno is going to help us figure it out. We should also see the first manned launch of SpaceX’s Dragon V2.  SpaceX just ended 2015 with the successful landing of reusable rocket boosters that have the potential to dramatically cut costs of space launches. If everything remains on schedule American astronauts will no longer have to be dependent on Russia to reach the International Space Station. Instead NASA will buy them tickets on the Dragon, much like one might buy a bus ticket, except with more explosions and more leg room. Lastly, the Five hundred meter Aperture Spherical Telescope (FAST) will be completed this September in Guizhou Province of China. The largest single-aperture telescope in the world it will be able to gaze three-times further into space than its predecessor, the Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico.

Weathering the New Year
We ended 2015 on a high note, the Paris Climate Summit was an unmitigated success, but in 2016 the real work begins. There is a lot of reason to be hopeful. In June all the states of the USA need to submit their plans to reduce emissions from power plants. The US Energy Commission is predicting an impressive increase in all renewable energy sources, and a steadying of CO2 based emissions in comparison with the past four years. This includes a 14% growth for solar and wind energy. With hybrids and electric cars becoming more affordable and commonplace, and with increasing EPA emissions standards even car manufacturers and other big businesses are starting to think green.

Around the world places like India and China are starting to slow their pollution. China has even suspended new mining endeavours, which gives real hope that we can stay under the 1.5 degree mark for global warming. One could even say the winds are starting to change, at least as long as that person doesn’t mind using terrible cliched puns. We at the NYRD are completely above all that, of course.

The End of the Rainbow Discrimination
With both Hilary Clinton and Barry Sanders -who co-sponsored the amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964– have expressed deep concern for the fact that 31 states have no explicit law  against firing members of the LGBTQ community for their gender or sexual identity. This is despite the fact that it is now legal for gay and lesbian couples to marry in all 50 states. There is a strong hope that 2016 will see an end to this type of discrimination. With the two front-running democrats both claiming they will push for a more protection for LGBTQ people we have high hopes that something will get done this year on this issue. At the very least it should become a topic of major debate both for Presidential nominees and members of Congress.

50 Shades of Gun Metal Gray
President Obama recently announced that he will be enacting an executive order to tighten existing gun laws in the country. This comes after a 2015 filled with mass shooting and nonsensical rhetoric. In fact, 27 Americans were killed by guns on Christmas. We will not go into the specifics of the President’s plan -as he still has yet to announce the majority of it- but hopefully more regulated gun control can make 2016 a much less violent year. Unfortunately we are already off to a rocky start. With any luck things can only improve.

Another hope for less violence comes in the form of an announcement that the Justice Department will begin keeping track of how many individuals are killed by law enforcement officials. In the past, the data collection on either purposeful or accidental deaths caused by police and other law enforcement were voluntary. In other words, it was near impossible to get clear statistics, data, and accountability on the rise and decline of police violence in certain areas. This is only one small piece that has led to more mistrust of law enforcement by citizens, especially by black Americans, in a year already riddled by alleged brutality and possible police misconduct. Having greater statistical accountability is only a small step, but it is one in the right direction. With any luck, in 2016 we will heal the wounds of the previous year and help us move forward not as black or white but as citizens and neighbors.

No Country for Old Politics
Currently, the American political landscape is a mess. The Republican primaries are more bloated than Jabba the Hutt after a large meal, and the front-runners are more extreme and perverse than even some of Jabba’s tastes. On the Democratic side a David and Goliath battle is being waged between the party establishment-hopeful, Clinton, and the social media darling, Sanders. Even worse everybody on your Facebook seems to have an opinion and none of them are completely satisfying, but there is a possible silver lining to this darkening and maddening cloud.

The popularity of Sanders, Trump, and Carson -despite what anyone may think of their politics- is actually a hopeful sign. The Democratic and Republican parties have been controlled for too long by party elders and big donors, all of which seem out of touch with what the common American wants. The fact that any of the “fringe candidates” are still polling competitively at this point in the race shows that things are starting to change. Trump and Carson are especially interesting, because even though they couuld never win a general election, they are exposing cracks in the normal GOP/Tea Party rhetoric. There has been speculation that this could even lead to the dissolution of the party or at the very least to a radical changing of the Republican party in America. That may be an extreme example, but either way nothing is ever going to be the same again for the conservatives.

Bear in mind, that we have made our opinions on Trump and his hate-mongering known before, but he does prove that the power of the people can outweigh the power of the corporations and the lobbyists. Bernie Sanders, too, has practically financed his entire campaign from donors giving $200 or less. Whenever anyone talks about the political system these days it is always in tones of how much worse things have gotten, but for once, let’s take a step back and see the positives of what is going on.

All the Rest
Finally, we cannot forget that 2016 marks the Summer Olympics in Rio, where -surprisingly- the USA Rugby team has a decent chance at winning the gold. -We bet you didn’t even know that the US had a rugby team- Of course, there is also San Diego Comic Con, New York Comic Con, and all the other great conventions and annual events look forward to as well. As it stands the coming year offers a lot of promise for a better, stronger, and nerdier America and the world. However, these things are never easy and the path is almost never clear. That is why it takes people like you and us to forge it.

So, if you are looking for a resolution, let us offer this suggestion. Do everything you can to read and educate yourself on the important changes, topics, and events going on around you this year. Use your knowledge to take an active role and not sit on the sidelines. Get out and vote, or volunteer, or even just offer a helping hand to a friend in distress. 2016 can be a truly amazing year, but only with your help. As for us, we here at The NYRD promise to do our part to try and keep you informed and entertained this new year. So stay tuned, because the best is yet to come.

Have a Happy and Hopeful New Year.

No Man’s Sky is one of the most highly anticipated new MMORPGs. It will promise to put players into a near-infinite universe with never before seen planets, animals, and environments. It will also give the player the ability to interact and have an impact on the game universe itself. There is a lot of hype and a lot of hope for No Man’s Sky as being the next leap forward in the MMORPG genre, but it is not the first, nor will it be the last in a long list of massive multiplayer online role-playing games.

A Text-Based Past
In all fairness, maybe the distinction of the first multiplayer role-playing game should go to Dungeons and Dragons. First published in 1974 this pen and paper role-playing game helped set the standard and the preferred genre for many MMORPGs to come. It is no coincidence that most MMOs use the fantasy setting and a system of experience and leveling in their gameplay. Most of those early programmers were spending their off time rolling D20’s like a dungeon boss. So maybe it is only natural that they took the IRL experience they loved and tried to insert it into the virtual world where they worked. The initial results were mixed at best.

It is hard to pin down the first official MMO, but a lot of people tend to point to a small 1978 game called British Legends, which -given the time period- sounds more like a David Bowie album, but you should probably do your best to disassociate it from Ziggy Stardust as much Destiny should be disassociated from Paul McCartney –despite what they have tried. British Legends was also not the first online game. Maze War created in 1974 predates the first MMO, but Maze War is considered the first first-person shooter, and that may be another article altogether. Originally, British Legends was simply called MUD or Multi-User Dungeon. The name was changed because MUD eventually became the descriptor for the genre itself.

Multi-user dungeons were not much more than various locations connected by chat windows. Text-based gaming was all those old machines could handle, as they did not yet have the memory or capacity for graphical representations. All movements, actions, and even magic missiles had to be done through a series of keys. “N” to move to the north, “S” to swing a sword, etc. The other problem was that these games were not “massive” by any stretch of the imagination. Moira which was developed in the 80’s could support up to 15 players on one connection and at the time that was seen as an astounding feat of programming.

Paying for Quality
Things started to get truly weird in the 80’s, and we’re not talking simply about parachute pants and that one time MTV played a music video. Graphics were slowly creeping into the MUD genre, but mostly things just got expensive. Games like 1985’s Island of Kesmai were among the first commercially available MUDs, as previous games were basically just small programs shared around college campuses like MIT or among small groups of hardcore computer geeks. Remember that most people back in the 70’s and even 80’s had no idea that the Internet even existed, let alone how to access it to play crude text-based typing games. However, with the materialism of the 80’s, a few people apparently thought, “Yeah we can sell this.” So games like Island of Kesmai hit the shelves and forced players to dish out 12 dollars an hour to play, -and you thought your monthly subscription to World of Warcraft was too steep.

The first graphical interface was introduced in 1988 with Club Caribe, produced by none other than Lucasarts. Originally called Habitat, the game was not a role-playing dungeon crawler so much as it was the forerunner for Second Life, and every online interaction that eventually leads to a meeting with Chris Hanson. The concept was basically an online chat room with visual avatars interacting in -what we can only assume- was a seethe virtual night club, and because Lucas was involved it probably involved a lot of out-of-place toy endorsements and uncomfortably racial-stereotyped alien monsters.

The first real graphical MUD was 1991’s Neverwinter Nights. It was co-developed by Dungeons and Dragons and AOL, and it only cost a meager 6 dollars an hour to play. In the beginning each server could hold up to 50 players at a time, but that was increased to 500 by 1995. The game also started a lot of the tropes you see today in MMOs, most notably the formation of player guilds, which accounted for the games popularity. By the time the Neverwinter Nights servers shutdown in 1997 the game had more than 150,000 people playing it. That was an unheard of number for players for old-time MUDs.

The Big Three
The age of MMORPG was born with the creation of Ultima Online. By the end of 1990 almost 54 million people owned home computers, and by 1995 3 million of them were paying for Internet access. CompuServe and other service companies lowered their hourly rates down from 12 dollars to $1.95 per hour of use, and the Internet was starting to enter the collective cultural conscience with names like AOL -mostly because they kept sending people a ridiculous number of CD’s for “10 Free Hours.” Times were a-changing and it was onto this stage that Ultima Online stepped.

1997’s Ultima Online coined the term MMORPG as it was the first game to reach widespread popularity -including with may future members of The NYRD staff. Ultima was not the first MMO to give players a 3D avatar, but it was one of the smoothest running games of the time. It also introduced some ideas that would not be replicated for years, such as allowing players to buy property, customizing clothes with dyes, and even a player-crafted economy. The game was far from perfect but it jump-started the genre like none before. Suddenly, walking around in a virtual world with hundreds of people as a wizard or warrior was not just possible but terrifying. -Seriously, the world was open PvP and if you left the sanctuary of town you had to run or risk getting ganked by some high-level jerk of a rogue, not that we’re bitter-

EverQuest and Asheron’s Call were both released in 1999 and along with Ultima have been honored as “The Big Three.” EverQuest, in particular, if often cited as bringing MMO’s to the western mainstream. Unlike the MUDs of the past, these games charged only 10 or 15 dollars a month to play, but they cost upwards of 10 million dollars to develop. In today’s multi-billion dollar gaming industry that may not seem like a lot, but in the 90’s that kind of production cost was unheard of and a huge gamble. EverQuest did not have as many player customization options as Ultima, but it was a lot more graphically impressive and the streamlined leveling system did a lot to set the standard for most future MMORPGs, including World of Warcraft.

No Man’s Future
World of Warcraft, incidentally, is still the most successful MMORPG to date, with more than a 10 current million players and 100 million over its lifetime, but it is not the only one. Nowadays, MMOs are big business and you can find one for everything from Star Trek to Star Wars, DC to Marvel, Lord of the Rings to Dungeons and Dragons. The market is only growing, which is surprising considering that one of the latest trend is Free-to-Play.

Starting in the 2000’s a lot of MMOs transitioned to free-to-play, particularly Champions Online and Dungeons and Dragons Online, as a way to draw in more players. Though many initially saw this as a last ditch effort to save flagging games it turned out to be a wise investment strategy. Players who play games for free were more willing to use IRL money to purchase perks or swag for their characters, using micro-transactions to buy everything from impressive looking mounts to new starships. Even World of Warcraft jumped on the band-wagon, allowing players to play for free with restricted access and limited levels. Currently, many MMO’s use the idea of allowing players a “free taste” before tempting them to buy the full game or other in-game purchasable items. Even console are getting into act with games like Destiny reaching unprecedented levels of users.

Right now the sky is literally the limit for MMOs, as new innovations continue to drive the genre foward, including goal-less and quest-less gaming, such as in Day Z. The point of these games is that there is no point. Players are given a sand-box world with certain abilities and physics-based restrictions, but the game experience is entirely up to the player, leaving people free to explore, kill, and even get into some of the weirdest experiences you could ever possibly imagine. No Man’s Sky will be built along this premise, except that it will take place in a near limitless universe, a place so big it may be possible to never see another human player throughout your entire gaming experience. It will be one of the first systems to use a mathematically created and randomized universe, rather than a developer crafted environment, for the player to explore. In other words, not even the developers themselves have seen everything this game has to offer.

We are excited for what the future will bring. Though we at The NYRD have doubts that MMOs will ever turn into something as all consuming as the Oasis system from Ready Player One, or as immersive as anything in Tron, we do think that there is a very real possibility that in the future most people will have normal second or third identities in these virtual universes, like the one one being created by No Man’s Sky. To think this all began with a few lines of text on a screen.

So do you want to go on an adventure (Y?/N?)…

Do you have a hankering for domination? Is one world not enough? Do you fear incursions by hostile alien forces? Do you enjoy building your own star-ships or doomsday super-lasers? Then you might want to see a therapist because you may have had a psychotic break after that 12 hour Firefly marathon. However, if you are not currently being treated for wearing a tinfoil hat maybe you are just the right type of person who might be thinking of checking out StarDrive 2, a turn-based strategy game currently for sale on Steam.

This successor to the original StarDrive is all about using your economy, military, diplomacy, intelligence, or science to try and dominate the galaxy at large. Being a turn-based strategy game, we already know that StarDrive 2 will not be for everybody. It takes a lot of hours and a lot of micro-managing to really get the full enjoyment out of the game and that’s not everyone’s bag, but that’s cool. Some people play video games turn off their brain, however, we here at The NYRD -well except for Todd- are avid fans of clunky customization TBS games, and if there is one you can say about StarDrive 2, it can be clunky.

There is a lot going on and a lot to oversee, which as we said, is a plus or minus based upon your gaming desires. However, it also seems as if StarDrive 2 sometimes has an unfinished quality. The galactic map is beautiful, if not a little annoying to navigate, especially when your empire really begins to expand. Even the star-ship battles, despite the fact that they take place on a 2D plain -we guess someone hasn’t seen Wrath of Khan– are still very fun and engaging. The land battles however are pretty straightforward and their graphics are far below those of the rest of the game. Also load times seem longer than they should be, and the game has a tendency to lag, especially in ground combat. When you are given a mission the text display is often painstakingly slow, but for some of the instances you can at least click to get the full paragraph without having to watch as each word gets spelled out in front of you. However, the studio, Zero Sum Games, has been working hard to fix all those bugs and we applaud their efforts. More importantly, for all the flaws there are a lot of upsides.

What we enjoyed the most was that StarDrive 2 is almost as customizable as you want. You can rearrange the traits of starting races, you can rename planets and ships, and you can even redesign the specifications of those ships. This allows any-would-Admiral-Ackbar to create new roles and strategies, based upon how you build your fighters, corvettes, battleships, etc. Our biggest complaint is the fact that you cannot rename any of the star systems, which is a minor flaw, but when you are making the galactic civilization equivalent of the Seven Kingdoms, it would really help to keep you in the moment if you could be allowed to rename an entire star system to “Dorn,” or “The North,” but we are digressing… Seriously though, All we’re saying is that Emperor Robert Baratheon ruling from the planet of King’s Landing, should be situated in the star system of The Crownlands, not Sol… Okay, we’re done.

Another thing we enjoyed about playing this game was some of the tongue-in-cheek jokes that you find along the way. Admittedly, the stupid robot anchorman for the Galactic News Network got old fast as it kept popping up to interrupt our game-play. However, the parody references to Star Trek, Futurama, Mad Max, Rambo, and others of our favorite properties did not go unmissed or unappreciated. Even better, each anomaly, hired hero, or random event comes with a story line you can choose to pursue. Doing so not only gives the universe a real personality, but often results in some sort of scientific, economical, or military boon to your civilization. Unfortunately, those events do not randomize from game to game, so once you complete them once, you always know what to expect.

Lastly, the AI of other galactic civilizations is a mixed bag. Each civilization has its own personality and interacts with you in different ways by using different strategies, however they are not really that different. Besides a few minor things, each AI player still follows the same path of making demands, and -no matter how unreasonable those demands are- if you do not meet them, they hate you almost immediately. Even the friendlier races follow this same basic principal so most of galactic diplomacy comes to debating which unreasonable demands you can accept and which you can ignore to hold off an opposing player long enough for you to build up your space fleet and preemptively strike at their bases before they do the same to yours. During replays this can make the game follow similar rhythms, regardless of your race or build strategy, and ultimately it feels limiting to the replay value of the game.

Overall, we would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys and is well versed in turn-based strategy gaming. For casual gamers this may not be for you, especially at a price tag of $30.00. Our advice is to wait for the next Steam sale before you pick it up. It will give the developers more time to iron out some of the glitches and you can save a few bucks in the process… or BC’s as they say in the universe of StarDrive. Regardless, remember to hold onto your tinfoils hats, because we promise its going to be a crazy drive.

Image courtesy:

Who among us has not gazed out into the night sky and envisioned the possibilities. Science fictions are all about possibilities. Our graphic artists have taken some of NASA best images and used their skill to insert some of our favorite stories, because space is a vast and incredible place, and there is no telling what is really up there.

Who knows, we may even be up there ourselves someday. Until then, we can only dream.

video games

Game OverHave you ever spent hours or even months on getting some achievement in a video game? Did you have to kill 200 spiderlings to get that gold armor piece, or maybe travel every part of the world to read all the randomly spawning mystical texts that have no bearing on the actual game play, just so you could get the special pet that no one has? Did you spend months of your life gathering the right supplies so you could craft a Green Steel item in Dungeons and Dragons Online? Congratulations, you may be what gamers call a completionist, a person who spends hours and months of their time achieving things in video games, just because. Maybe you wanted the Glowing Weapon of Coolness or the title of  Emperor Badass, or maybe you are just a happier person.

Some people might find it absurd to spend so much time pursuing goals which give no tangible outcome IRL, but our happiness rarely distinguishes between the imaginary and the real. Have you ever felt happy after a very good dream, or satisfied after watching your team win the big game? Those things give us no solid benefits, other than the feelings we keep with us. Happiness is not linked to physical things, and video games and their achievements have been astounding players since Link opened his first treasure chest. Some people may argue that it’s fantasy and has no impact on real day-to-day life, but it affects us nonetheless. Everything impacts us through our mood, and our mood colors how we see and interact with the world, whether it be the real one or a virtual one.

Advancing Levels
Happiness, in not an exact science. In fact, it is one of the hardest human emotions to understand, if only because it can be triggered and affected by so many factors. Certain ancient and modern thinkers have tried to group these levels of happiness. Level 1 is momentary, such as the joy you get from eating an ice cream cone or playing Angry Birds. It is a happiness quick fix. Level 2 is what happens when your accomplishments become acknowledged by others, such as when people admire your rare mount or golden ID patch. It is a more visible sense of lasting accomplishment, and envy by others. Level 3, -which we think is the Underwater Temple Level- is about relationships, feeling accomplished in a group setting. It is the happiness that comes from raiding with your guild or by positively interacting with others online, your-mama jokes and teabagging notwithstanding. Level 4 happiness is about finding balance between yourself and the universe, and it is the level that most humans rarely achieve. Think of it like the end game content of humanity, but with less epic gear. The idea of levels of happiness is just one way humans have tried to classify an emotion that is incredible complex.

Drago SlayerMartin Seligman, states that the requirements for happiness are PERMA, pleasure, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishments. Coincidentally, video games fulfill all five criteria. They offer not only pleasure and engagement, but also the potential for the creation of relationships, both real and imagined. Video games even have one advantage over real-life, they give the player meaning. They are goal oriented and accomplishment-based. Even the old Mario and Zelda games were about battling to save a princess. Nowadays, regardless if whether you are playing as Solid Snake, Nathan Drake, or your Level 70 smuggler/pistoleer you have goals, desires, and ambitions within that virtual world. You adapt the character’s motivations and add motivations of your own, such as assembling the coolest weapon, or collecting all the heart gems. Accomplishment, big or small, is often a big part of determining happiness, and it is the one thing that video games offer in spades.

A lot of people in the media like to talk about the negative impacts of gaming, but no one seems to take the time to highlight the positive ones. According to a study conducted at Oxford University, children who play video games for an hour a day tend to be happier, more social, and less hyperactive. Ultimately, it makes a lot of sense. Video games help relieve stress, give children something to look forward to, increases creativity, and even gives purpose, as we talked about above. They give us experience and fun, which scientists have concluded are much larger factors in happiness levels than even wealth or materialism. Actually, according to University of Illinois psychologist, Ed Diener, “Materialism is toxic for happiness.” It is true that happiness increases once a family or individual’s wealth reaches a certain comfort level, but any excess wealth or material possessions beyond that do not significantly impact a person’s overall happiness. Much like video games, it is more about experience, than loot.

Looking for a Party
Yet, experiences are only one of several factors as we have been talking about. Another large contributor to joy is relationships. You might be thinking that is the one thing that video games cannot offer, but you would be wrong. First of all, gaming is more social than it has ever been and that trend is only increasing. Online play is common and encouraged. On the Internet people regularly form parties, groups, guilds, hate-mobs, and more. Even in single-player based games the experience can be social. Sharing the experience with a loved one can strengthen a relationship, giving both parties a mutual object to bond over. Even when there is no person around to bond with, it is possible that we could form parasocial relationships with the fictional characters in the game. It is a phenomenon we have all experienced, often feeling sad because our favorite character died or how we cheer for a specific character because we empathize with their plight and their personality. Our brains still understand that those characters are fictions, but the bonds we form with them can have tangible psychological benefits.

MerryChristmasRelationships at their core push us to change and grow as people. We often adapt and compromise with those around us, both consciously and subconsciously. The same happens when we interact with both real and fake characters in a video game. The immersion of video games gives us an environment for self-growth and achievement, despite the fact that the environment and the people who inhabit it are just pixels on a screen. Humans, by nature, are empathetic creatures, whether we talk about a lost puppy or a deciding whether to kill/save a small girl in order to harvest her ADAM. Video games offer us the opportunities for social growth and empathy.

Now, let us just clarify. All we are saying is that people tend to not give video games enough credit. Often society treats the gaming community in the same way the literary community treats comic book readers. This article is in no way meant to persuade you, the reader, to park yourself in front of a game console and never see the sunlight again. We would not tell you to give up your real-life to spend it entirely as a well-rendered avatar in a virtual world, anymore than we would advocate giving up your job to volunteer full-time at the homeless shelter. Too much of anything -good or bad- often forces paradigms to implode upon themselves like the Death Star after a well place photon torpedo hit.

After all, Level 4 Happiness is about finding balance as well as a fulfillment with yourself and the universe around you. That means finding a balance in all the things you do. You will never find your ultimate bliss in a virtual environment. That is where IRL experiences and actual friends come into the picture. However, chances are that playing video games in moderation -and even the occasional binging- will make you a happier person.

The real reason happiness is so hard  for physiologists to define is because it is not a single destination reached by a single road. It is the goal at the end of a quest, a new pet that you get to show off to friends, or a new relationship you form with someone you care about. There is no one perfect way to achieve happiness, much as there is no single build for becoming a high RPG level wizard or Jedi Knight. Those accomplishments take work and experience, like real life. All any of us can really do is just continue to grind and strive to find our happiness in both the real and virtual world.

Professional sports are all about high impact hits, nail-biting turnovers, unbeatable strategies, well-timed spells, and most importantly, experience. We are talking about electronic sports or professional gaming. This week marks the 2015 DOTA 2 International Championship being held in Seattle, Washington, and we here at The NYRD have caught the fever, so put on your Boots of Travel and take a journey with us as we explore the rise of eSports and the phenomena that is Defense of The Ancients.

The Earthshaker
DOTA -or more accurately DOTA 2- is a Multi Online Battle Arena or MOBA. There a lot of acronyms in professional gaming, so for any newbs you will have to bear with us. The original game, which started as a mod for Warcraft III has exploded on the professional gaming scene. The basic concept is that 5 heroes compete against 5 heroes in a multi-lane arena. The first team to destroy the opponent’s ancient, or main building, wins the game. A lot can happen in the 30 to 100 minutes it might take to complete the game, including a fair amount of less-than polite talk about your mother. Maybe that is why its popularity in the gaming world has exploded, but hopefully not, because we here at The NYRD support mothers… We supported yours last night.

Each year the DOTA International Championship has broken records for eSports prizes. In 2013, the prize pool was over 2.8 million dollars. In 2014, it soared to over 10 million, with the winning team taking home more than 5 million. For this year, the pool has reached over 18 million, with Saturday’s winners expected to take home about 6.5 million, and we’re not talking in gold or experience points. Prizes are awarded in real American dollars, thanks in no small part to the help of the DOTA community which helps crowdfund the tournament through purchases of an in-game compendium. This game is so successful that it is free to play, but people still spend their money on it. However, DOTA fans are only one source of income for the Valve, the game’s parent company. There are now billion dollar sponsors clamoring to get a piece of the l33t action.

Coco-Cola, Intel, and others are getting on the pwnage and for good reason. According to the International Business Times, the amount of people who currently watch eSports is about the same amount that watches NHL hockey, and some analysts believe that by 2017 that viewership could rival the NFL. That means that currently, almost 71 million people watch eSports and half of those viewers are from the United States. In 2013, about 14.9 million people watched the World Series and 26.3 million watched the NBA Finals, but 32 million people tuned in for the League of Legends Season 3 World Championship. The championship sold out the Staples Center in LA. This year, the DOTA International sold out the Key Arena in Seattle in a matter of seconds. Tickets were so hard to come by that scalpers were selling them online for hundreds of dollars above asking price… Not that we here at The NYRD tried unsuccessfully for hours to get them… or anything like that. We never wanted to go in the first place, anyway.

A Spectre
Though this modern craze over competitive gaming may seem relatively new, the truth is that is has been going on since the Windows 98 era, a simpler time with simpler graphic requirements. Amateurs and enthusiasts alike would gather to compete in small lan parties, where players would link their computers together over connecting cables. Back then the only sponsor was the money in people’s pockets and that one guy who always brought the case of Mountain Dew. However, that all changed in 2012 when Blizzard released StarCraft II.

Around the world, but especially in America, professional gaming become something more than just a bunch of nerds sitting around in someone’s basement. Suddenly, it became not only a globally competitive sport, but a spectator one as well. Players began casting their matches. Commentators also started streaming and giving rudimentary analysis and play-by-play over headsets for the enjoyment of others. Perhaps more importantly, people were watching.

Some might argue that this casting craze is what really helped elevate eSports to its current level of popularity. arose to become the most prominent eSports streaming site on the Internet, even if it sometimes crashed right in the middle of the match you are watching, or get hacked, because it’s the Internet. Anyone who has been paying attention, has watched Twitch go from a collection of casters to a full fledged eSports channel to rival any cable network that broadcasts those other sports that you can’t stream over the web. Their production value this year has been top notch, but also might not hurt if they gave correspondents and commentators are least a few lessons in journalism or broadcast. Gamers are great people, but they are not always the most social of interviewers.

A Visage
eSports has really started picking up momentum, especially in Asia. The South Korean military even started its own StarCraft team, and there is a story that a Korean StarCraft team was had to give a pep talk to the Korean World Cup Soccer team before one of their games. These days there are a multitude of online competitive games to play: DOTA, League of Legends, StarCraft, Smash Bros., Call of Duty, and some serious cash to be farmed in professional gaming. The highest earners play DOTA, with Zhihao “Hao” Chen having the highest overall winnings with an all time earning of 1.2 million dollars. That could change depending on how he and his team do in this year’s tournament. Unfortunately, it is not all Cheetos, carpal tunnel, and bling.

Many professional gamers, especially those who live in China, live together in practice houses sometimes playing their dedicated game for over ten hours a day. For anyone who might want to believe that this is not a sport you would be wrong. Teams have trainers, psychologists, media, and communications specialists. They train and work as hard as any professional sports team. It can be grueling, stressful, and full of rage quits. More than one team and player has cracked under the pressure of losing a match that cost them nearly a million dollars. A fact which could be compounded by a competitor’s age.

You don’t have to be an adult to compete. One of DOTA’s best known players, Ludwig Wahlberg, known to fans as Zai, started playing at the age of 16. Unfortunately, the career expectancy on these players is also shorter than that of professional football players. Reflexes and hand-to-eye coordination naturally degrade with age, and most professional gamers will not be able to play competitively beyond their late 20’s. As a side note, that is the statistic we quote the most often over voice chat when we are being tea-bagged by some punk sixteen year old.

The Juggernaut
Professional gaming may seem like a passing fad to older generations, but it is only increasing in popularity among younger generations. In 2000, there were only 27 eSports tournaments held. In 2014, that number had increased to 1,895, with a combined total of 35.7 million dollars. That does not even include the endorsement deals that eSport athletes are receiving from companies ranging from American Express to Ford. What some might find even more surprising is that colleges are now offering scholarships to top online players. Robert Morris University in Chicago gave more than $500,000 to gamers. Overall, as of 2014, roughly 10,000 players in 450 American universities are receiving scholarship money for their gaming skills.

Both colleges and companies understand the potential of this new form of competition. In a world where students and new customers are growing up playing these games there is a new and blossoming market. Younger Americans connect with eSports because they themselves understand and enjoy playing the games themselves. To students in high school, professional gaming seems as natural as professional sports, and furthered by the fact that TV viewership is dying among young adults and teens. More and more Millennials and subsequent generations are spending more and more time streaming channels like Twitch, than watching cable or network television. This means that eSports is already positioned in a place where most major league and professional sports in America cannot be. The NFL just signed a deal with Yahoo to do their first live stream game in the 2015-2016 season, but most traditional sports are still tied up in network contracts. DOTA and games like it are ahead of the curve in a world where more people are turning to Netflix for shows like House of Cards and Daredevil.

DOTA and sports in general are here to stay and will only continue to grow in the future. To check out the current standings of the DOTA 2 International Championship, check out the main DOTA site. We would also recommend checking out a game or two this week to see what all the hype is about. If you we re a newb there is even a beginner’s stream where they will walk you through the game. Already fans have been witness to some epic plays and epic upsets. We here at The NYRD will be tuned in all week and especially on Saturday for the finals, as will almost 40 million other people, but to hold you over until then let us celebrate DOTA in the traditional way, with Swedish dance music.

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The hour has grown late. The world has darkened and the old mansion, your ancestral home, is filled with terrors beyond any half-dreamt nightmare of the human mind. There is no turning back, there is no do-overs, save points, or retries. There is only a team of heroes and the encroaching darkness of insanity.

Darkest Dungeon is a turn-based RPG Indie game available on Steam.

With a Lovecraftian flair, this video game is more than just a dungeon crawler. Set in a land of nineteenth century horror, you must recruit unique teams of heroes, each with their own skill sets, strengths, and flaws. Each dungeon will put your team in not just physical harm but psychological danger as well. If one of your hero’s health becomes too low they will only die, but if their stress is raised too high, they run the risk of becoming damaged in other ways.

There are no save points. The game autosaves your progress, which means each action you take is permanent. If a hero dies, he or she stays dead and you will have to recruit another and train them from the bottom up. Besides leveling heroes and completing objectives you are also expected to level up your town, which will give your heroes a variety of new options including new items, armor, skills, and much needed rest to reduce their understandable levels of affliction.

In a gaming world where death no longer seems permanent and failure is hardly ever an option, it is both refreshing and terrifying to play a game where each step could be your last, and tragedy will eventually strike. That team of heroes you raised to level 4, with all the perfect skills and gear, they will stumble into encounters where something goes horribly wrong and some, if not all, may die. You will have to retreat and regroup, if you can.

With more and more modern games returning to the retro aesthetic of death and failure, like Dark Souls  and Bloodbourne, it is reassuring to see this trend continue in the Indie game community. Darkest Dungeon will keep you on the edge of your seat, praying that each hit by your eldritch foes does not drop your glass cannon to death’s door, or stun your healer. You will curse, you will weep, and you will love every minute of it.

Even though the game is not yet finished the developers, Red Hook, have already crammed it with thousands of man hours of work and care, with promises of much more great things to come. Unique hero classes, dozens of monsters, hundreds of unique items, and an aesthetic quality that will grab you right away. Each corner of the game is packed with the delicate touches that you would expect from developers who continue to show a true love for their game and gaming in general.

Can you keep your heroes together as you face unimaginable horrors, stress, disease, famines, and the ever-encroaching darkness? Step into the Darkest Dungeon and find out.

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We have been procrastinating on writing this article, but for once, it’s not entirely our fault. Blizzard Entertainment, the company that brought us such titles as the World of Where the Hell Did the Past Two Years of My Life Go, and Deckard Cain’s Bogus Journey, has been pushing its newest addiction, Hearthstone, and we finally decided to check out what all the excitement was about.

A New World of Warcraft
Hearthstone is not your typical Blizzard title. It’s not about finding loot, leveling up skills, or even sending roided up Marines to their death against hordes of angry Zerglings. No, on its face, Hearthstone is just a simple and easy card game, but much like the trash in the Death Star’s trash compactor room, there is something much more surprising hidden deep inside.

Hearthstone is Blizzard’s attempt to break into the casual gaming market, or the world of Freemium gaming, if you will. It’s the realm of gaming mostly reserved for birds with anger issues, social networking farmers, and some game where you pulverize pieces of candy and then pay real money. However, unlike those other games it is done with a flair that is unique to the company who created such classics as Battle Chess II: Chinese Chess.

In four simple words: this game is addicting. It’s so deceptively simple that you find yourself getting hooked in relatively no time. Built on the world of World of Warcraft, it is fun and colorful, and requires no special knowledge of WoW to play. There is a twist, because unlike card games like Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon, or that other game that wants to be Pokemon, Hearthstone offers nine different types of decks with nine different types of characters, with more to come.

The Rules and Rage Quits
Currently, you can choose from being a Hunter, Priest, Warlock, Shaman, Druid, Mage, Warrior, Rogue, or Paladin. Each character has cards unique to his or her own deck as well a special power they can use once a turn. For instance, the Paladin can summon a 1/1 soldier, but the Mage can hurl a one point damage fireball to any enemy or player they wish. These special cards and abilities are further enhanced by the presence of a pool of general cards which a player can choose from. It’s hard not compare a game such as this to Magic: The Gathering, as both games use a pool of mana to play cards, but unlike MTG a player’s mana pool in Hearthstone naturally increases by one point every level until reaching a maximum of ten. Additionally, with the exclusions of interrupts, instants, or other “play at any time” cards, Blizzard has created an equally infuriating and enjoyable experience by streamlining the game down to its simplest form.

Now, that is not say that there is not a lot of strategy and complexity involved. Each character lends itself better to a different play style. A Warrior will tend to be more aggressive, with many cards that utilize charge and weaponry, while a Priest may emphasize a deck geared more toward controlling the board and his opponent. Yet, even with that said there are a myriad of possibilities, tactics, and combos that can be made just by rearranging a few cards in your deck. Do you want a rush Druid or a direct damage Warlock? It may not always work, but the game will not stop you from trying, and better yet if you pull it off you’re going to surprise the seven hells out of your opponents, and really isn’t that what’s it all about? Creatively beating some poor sap into submission with a combo of cards he or she never saw coming?

Ultimately, there is no other point of the game except to beat whatever poor schmuck you get randomly paired against. It’s not like Diablo III where there are side quests or monsters to slay, with the occasional interaction with other players. No, Hearthstone is more akin to the PvP arena in WoW, and we all know how calming of an experience that can be. It’s competition at its most basic level, which is where the major problem comes in.

You see, as fun as the game gets it won’t be long before you find yourself wanting to put your fist through the drywall because some jerk on the verge of death pulled out an amazing epic card that saved his half-charred butt at the last second. Of course, sometimes you will be that jerk and then you may find yourself putting your fist through the dry wall in exhilaration. On a side note, we just realized how many holes there are in our office drywall.

+3 Addiction
Hearthstone is a lot like gambling in that you quickly find yourself getting swept up in the highs and lows of a deceptively simple game. The analogy is only enhanced by the fact that you also win coins for completing quests or winning  games. You can then use that gold to buy new cards or to pay entry into the arena, where you are literally competing for more gold.

Hearthstone_on_iPadWe’re not saying this bad, but we are saying it is genius on the part of Blizzard. It is also the reason why we had to ban Hearthstone from everyone’s computers at work, because it gets hard to resist playing “just one more match.” With games that last less than fifteen minutes, they don’t feel like they are eating up a person’s day, but after four or five games an hour has passed, your dinner is burning in the oven, your loved ones aren’t talking to you anymore, and you haven’t showered for days. Unlike WoW, where, when you log onto the game, you have the expectation of wasting several hours, Hearthstone’s format and quick succession of games can eat away your day before you realize it. This is a testament to the power of Blizzard, and a trouble for the rest of us that are trying to get work done. Even worse, Hearthstone is now on tablets and phones, just to make sure that there is no place let to hide.

Overall, it’s hard for us to find anything particularly bad to say about this game, other than its addicting properties. Perhaps, some of the epic cards are a bit overpowered to the point where they can destroy even the most creative and effective strategies of an opponent, but that is kind of the point of epic cards. If you are looking for a fun casual game to fill time in your life, download Angry Birds, but if you are looking for an epic card game that allows you to harness a world of endless card combinations, creative strategies, and lets you compete against other players then Hearthstone is for you. It is a game that has something for video and tabletop gamers alike, and best of all you don’t even have to expend brain power to keep track of hit points and mana costs.

Download it for free and say goodbye to the next few weeks of your life. Now if you’ll excuse us, we need to get back to… something else we were doing.

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