Why Free to Play is Not a Bad Thing


You hear it all the time, publishers milking the players of their cash using microtransactions. Is it that bad, though? The term is Free to Play, used on games where there is no fee up front. You just download and play, but there’s a catch: microtransactions are used to monetize the game. Clash of Clans uses this by charging for gems that allow players to skip the time it normally takes to build and upgrade structures or train troops.

Call it greedy, but I think it’s a fine tradeoff for eliminating the first barrier, which is paying up front. Would you imagine Temple Run or Angry Birds to be as successful if they cost $1-2? Mobile gaming wouldn’t have taken off if this forward-thinking approach didn’t take place. To reach the masses, you have to give them something they want. What better way then than to give it for free? This is where microtransactions come in. The most common practice is putting workarounds when players want faster progression. Want to reach level 20 without spending hours of your time? Buy yourself an upgrade and immediately play as a powerful avatar.
It’s as simple as that. Yes, you hear complaints but this is just a vocal minority. Most of the players are just happy they can play games for free now. A small fraction of that player base is bound to spend cash for that quick workaround. It’s up to the developers to figure out what the player satifaction/money earning ratio will be.
It’s surely a players-first business model. You build up that audience first, then the money comes to you. Yes, there is room for abuse, but you can always count on players to stop playing when the artificial barriers are just too much. I can’t imagine the casual gamer population ballooning to this size before Free to Play became a prominent category. The perfect question to naysayers is, would gaming be cool if Free to Play wasn’t invented? We’d be stuck to that nerdy guy with no social life image forever if Free to Play didn’t take off.

Same Old

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And after all these things
My head is spinning
My eyes are tired
But the bombardments don’t stop
They never, all the thoughts and outbursts
Always there, creeping up the cracks
Of a decaying mind and body
My old self is no more
Replaced by a worldly copy
Yet the cracks and bombardments remain
Creeping up
To the wounds on top

Why Apple Watch Might Be the Next Big Thing

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People have come to learn to take caution before believing the hype around wearable devices. Look at what happened to Google Glass, and all the Oculus VR/Hololens skeptics and you’ll see what I mean. And here we have smartwatches, which were on the market years before the impending release of Apple Watch. Google Glass didn’t take the world by storm, Samsung’s Gear series sure didn’t, but what makes me an Apple Watch believer? And trust me, I’m not one to line up on the first day to buy the company’s new product every time, even if I had the money.

The first thing that caught my eye during the unveiling of Apple Watch isn’t the customary health tracking, camera or Twitter features you’ve come to expect from its device category; not even the interchangeable straps or faces. It’s the use of both the digital crown and the touchscreen, and how it made me think back when they showed off the original iPhone. Sure, it’s not as simple and natural, but it looks pretty damn close. The user doesn’t swipe for the next page, it’s all there, resembling a sphere of app icons, and the zooming capability of the digital crown makes things more elegant and easy to use. It’s this user experience that’s a trademark of successful Apple devices, and this smartwatch has it, and that’s not including the ever-improving Siri.

The next thing that interested me was the two other types available at launch: Apple Watch Sport and Edition, the latter of which brings me to another trademark of the company’s success stories, the immaculate look and feel, which all three versions have. Clearly, maximizing sales potential (there are hundreds of millions of compatible iPhones) is a priority, as both alternatives offer choices for their respective markets, adding to the fact that the Apple Watch comes in two sizes. The luxury and fitness crowds, the fans, and those riding on the tide of Apple’s massive success guarantee one thing: everything is going into Apple’s favor now, and it’s on the software/hardware polish and app ecosystem to make that dream a reality.


Furious 7 Movie Review


In many ways, Furious 7 is the film equivalent of last year’s Xbox One shooter Sunset Overdrive. Filled with action, humor and heart as Dom and company chase off the ghosts of their previous escapade, it’s an unpretentiously over the top film that succeeds both as a blockbuster franchise entry and a fitting sendoff to Paul Walker, who passed away in 2013. Starting from a street racing focus in The Fast and the Furious, this latest iteration is nothing but all-out action, bursting with all guns blazing right from the start.

It introduces a new protagonist out for revenge in Deckard Shaw, brother of Owen Shaw from Fast & Furious 6. He’s surely the more interesting one. It’s not the backstory or acting (it is Jason Statham after all), but his being an equal to Dominic Toretto and Luke Hobbs in brains and brawn. It’s a setup ripe for epic showdowns and elaborate setpieces. A purely badass, unpretentious antagonist that makes the most use of its actor’s charisma, Deckard Shaw is a brilliant addition to a franchise increasing in momentum by the second.

Perhaps the only risk taken here is the director, James Wan, who’s proven himself in the horror genre with films such as Insidious and The Conjuring. And what an immediate impact it has done. Furious 7 is easily the best in the franchise, and quite easy to get into if you’re willing to turn your brain off. Newcomers will have a smashing good time with intense action coming in left and right and fans will get a kick out of all the series references. Kurt Russell brings charisma, not to mention that retired assassin role a la Taken as Frank Petty. Tony Jaa of Ong Bak fame shows off what earned him notoriety in the first place, serving as Brian O’Conner’s rival.

From armed drones to its fair share of city destruction you’d normally find in superhero movies, Furious 7’s got it all. There’s even the God’s Eye, a program that can tap into any device that transmits digital data in order to find anyone in the world, a dangerous tool to whosever hands it falls into. You can imagine the good guys and the bad guys battling for its ownership.

And with all the action packed in, the movie never forgets that humor and heart is in its DNA. Tyrese Gibson is really funny, and I found myself connecting with these characters I’ve been with for over a decade now. I’m sure those who know Paul Walker, fan or not, will appreciate what the cast and crew has done in this film by the time the credits roll. Yes, the film uses age-old cliches and at the end there’s too much going on and the tone gets too over the top, but do you really care when the film as a whole is this fun and engaging?

That’s really all there is to it. Furious 7 is a simple movie; a hugely entertaining simple movie with humor and heart to boot. That 90% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes is no joke; it really is that good. There’s no better way to just relax and enjoy this weekend, alone or with friends and family. Go watch Furious 7, you won’t regret it.


The Problem with Filler in Games

Well here’s a depressing problem: AAA games, at least recently, have been resorting to inserting filler to pad out their running times, some even resorting to poor excuses such as “the data we need is in my laptop, which is in…that warehouse full of guards.” In that game, excuses are stacked on top of each other so that the campaign reaches the normal length of six to seven hours for FPS games. Some time after that, we discover that the protagonist needs a device to unlock a safe full of drug money. “And where exactly is this device?” “It’s with an old friend of mine far, far away.”

In another game, you seem to get the impression in some moments that it’s just a succession of obstacles you need to overcome and there’s only an excuse of a “story”. But in this last example, I think I really need to mention the game. It’s Assassin’s Creed Unity, and here the main mission structure is almost the same every time. You infiltrate a multi-story structure full of enemies to assassinate yet another in the ever-extending list of minions the primary antagonist has. It adds nothing to the story and serves only to pad out the game until it reaches the customary 12-15 hours of an Assassin’s Creed title.

Look, I have no problem with a little resource management because I know what chasing a deadline feels like, but using the same thing over and over again as filler is just too much. Gamers deserve more for paying $60 after what we’ve seen from the likes of Skyrim and Half-Life or even Resistance: Fall of Man. It doesn’t have to be an award-worthy story, just a story with effort and enough oomph to it for the player to care for what’s going to happen next.
It’s good that there are still developers out there that delay their games when the quality is not up to par with the standard set by other quality titles. I just wish there were a lot more short games with good stories than those repetitive, dragged-out games with by the numbers length.

Dooley’s Positives

This Dooley guy might be on to something. Coming off of a remarkable Suzuki Cup campaign, he’s implemented a new system with only a little while before THE 2018 World Cup qualifiers start. If that’s not risky, then I don’t know what is. He did the same thing with the Azkals’ 2014 Challenge Cup campaign, inserting a lot of new blood in the lineup, sidelining the likes of such quality players as Jeffrey Christaens and Angel Guirado. It was a true rebirth for the Azkals, starting from square one with a focus on youth development.

This coach has guts. And with risk comes potentially high rewards. This became apparent when the Azkals defeated the much-preferred side Indonesia in last year’s Suzuki Cup with a mind-boggling score of 5-0. You read that right. Newcomers Amani Aguinaldo, Daisuke Sato, Simone Rota, Martin Steuble and Kenshiro Daniels all proved their worth, turning in good performances all around.

It’s not like the coach has a perfect track record; the energetic and highly-skilled (and also probably the best Southeast Asian football player today) Fil-German midfielder Stephan Schrock left the national team in the middle of last year, citing Dooley as the reason. He said he won’t return as long as he’s coach. Dennis Cagara did the same, here citing his dishonesty. Number 1 Azkals goalkeeper Neil Etheridge also had some bad blood with the coach, but things seem to have cooled off as he was included in the recent Bahrain friendly, though an unfortunate accident sidelined him.

This risky attitude clearly has its pros and cons, as his haters would likely say. But it can’t be denied that last year, Dooley’s first year in charge as head coach, was the most successful in Philippine national team history. What he lacked as a coach, he made up for with his high level of experience as the captain of the United States national team. Diehard fans of Schrock would likely disagree for now, but this new system with tighter defense and more aggressive offense might change their minds come this year’s World Cup qualifiers.