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Aidan Hall sits down with former EIC of BYTE and current Playboy freelance writer Joseph Knoop, to discuss his thoughts on GDC and the VR experience. Check it out!
We talk the new Batman game, Lara Croft's new movie, and Inspector Gadget coming to Netflix.
Flying serpents, ebony-skinned elves and fantastic vistas teeming with foreign life inhabit the covers of our favorite fantasy novels, but it can be easy to forget the artists serving as the gatekeepers to new worlds. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can certainly ponder the journey the artwork and its creator took to get it to you.
by Joseph Knoop Flying serpents, ebony-skinned elves and fantastic vistas teeming with foreign life inhabit the covers of our favorite fantasy novels, but it can be easy to forget the artists serving as the gatekeepers to new worlds. You can’t judge a book by its cover, but you can certainly ponder the journey the artwork and its creator took to get it to you. Enter Tracy Flynn, fantasy artist and painter. The middle-aged father of three has a knack for bringing imaginative worlds evocative of Dungeons & Dragons to life, turning his passion for the art into a large part of his identity. Like many artists, Flynn was inspired by the works of prominent creators, such as Frank Frazetta. “I saw ‘Conan the Usurper’ sitting on somebody’s book back in middle school, and it found its way home with me,” Flynn said. “I was 12 or 13. I was fascinated with it, and then it just grew into ‘I can draw like that.’ With fantasy art, you can do portraits, landscapes, people, beasts. You can do everything. You encompass all aspects of it.” Flynn’s work has been published in a number of creative fictions, including David List’s novel “A Sawmill’s Hope” and Blade Runner Press’ “Endless Terror” role-playing game. Flynn’s commission work often affords him a high level of freedom. “I was sent a copy [of ‘A Sawmill’s Hope’], read it, and the author said, ‘Pull out what you like,’” Flynn said. “One guy describes ‘OK, this is the premise of the book. I want to see a girl standing over the dead king with his crown at twilight,’ and I take it from there.” Sometimes the creators Flynn works alongside with, like the developer of “Endless Terror,” have even more specific requests. “He wanted four people at nighttime in a camping setting, and he wants him and his three friends’ portraits as the characters,” Flynn said. “Hey, it’s his game.” Make no mistake, though, the life of an artist is often more difficult than determining what shade of green to use for troll blood. Flynn, who works a day job in the electronics department of an Indiana Wal-Mart, underwent neck and carpal tunnel surgery, briefly rendering his right hand too weak to paint. “I couldn’t just sit and not paint for three months, so I taught myself left-handed,” Flynn said. “It was exhausting. You have to think about it. Right handed, it’s just unconscious. Without insurance, I wouldn’t be able to use my right hand.” Though that difficult time is in the past, Flynn continues to rely on his family for support. Art became a central component of the family’s life when Flynn married his wife Dana and became a stepfather to her daughter Tia. “Art comes up in a daily basis for us,” Tia said. “It’s not just something he does. It’s not just his job. It’s our lifestyle. We’ll sit in the living room and he’s got his paintings that he’s working on sitting next to the TV. I always knew I was going to be a teacher, but for years I wanted to be an art teacher.” According to Flynn’s wife, that sense of authenticity translates into greater learning experiences and opportunities for their family. “My kids have grown up with real art in the house,” Dana said. “They’ve seen the process, they know how long it takes. They know the difference between Kmart art versus real art that someone actually made. It’s neat to not have to take the kids to a museum to see real art. You don’t draw with a paintbrush. It’s sketched. There’s an underlayer of all the shadows, then color’s applied, more color applied.” “Then there’s the part where you throw it against the wall and say it sucks,” Tracy said. That process has taught the Flynn family the value of hard work within the realm of art, including how some people might disregard the true value of a piece. “We know he’s got 40 hours in that,” Dana said. “Of course, he’s asking for $400. That’s only ten bucks an hour. He had one guy say ‘Well, you can’t judge it like that.’ Yes, he can. It’s his work.” Then Tracy raised the price to $500 for arguing with him. “I gave him a lesson in economics,” he said. “There’s a demand for this painting, so the price has gone up.” Thankfully for the Flynn family, the world of art has taken a turn in the creators’ favor. Websites and printing companies like Society6, Kickstarter and Storenvy have put the control of professional works back in the hands of those that make them, eliminating a needless middleman. Many retail stores demand artists supply hundreds of prints before sale in order to bring the price down to the price range of a regular consumer. “A gallery is going to mark you up anywhere from 50 to 70 percent, so that’s out of the range of most people,” Tracy said. Though the fantasy art industry can be a tough place to make a living, Tracy has experienced anything but hardship from other fantasy artists. He takes his greatest inspiration from the man that started it all, Frank Frazetta, artist for “Conan,” “Tarzan,” “King Kong” and is a 1995 inductee of the Wil Eisner Comic Book Hall of Fame. Frazetta also created album covers for groups like Nazareth, Yngwie Malmsteen and Wolfmother before his death in 2010. “The fantasy community is wonderful with sharing information and talking,” Tracy said. “They’re all open and totally willing to share their knowledge and help you out. Everybody benefits from everybody.” While attending college, Tracy managed to track down Frazetta through a phone number listing, meeting the artist a few years later at his residence in Pennsylvania. Treated to a tour of Frazetta’s museum and ranch, Tracy went on to spend roughly three hours in the artist’s studio. “You know how you always dream of meeting your idol, whoever it is, and you always want it to be better than anything you can imagine?” Tracy said. “It was like that. He was very complimentary about my art. We got to talk about guns and knives and all sorts of things, but it was the way I want to treat somebody when they come up to me.” Tracy also received unsolicited assistance from Joe Jusko, the artist behind “Savage Sword of Conan,” as well as runs on the Hulk and the Punisher. Jusko had taken a painting of Tarzan that Tracy had created and modified it, later surprising Tracy with a message detailing the changes he made and how he could recreate them in future works. “It was a really cool thing to do,” Tracy said. “He made it a better image.” Though he prefers taking a back seat to any limelight fantasy art might attract, Tracy acknowledges a desire to instill the same sense of wonder and community that artists before him did. “We’re all links in the same chain,” he said. “You can either be a strong link and teach and train and pass on what you know, or you can be a weak link and let it rust.” If you’d like to check out Tracy Flynn’s work, you can purchase prints at his Society6 page or blog.
By Nicholas Ewing / Ball Bearings
1. Alien: IsolationAfter the abysmal effort that was Aliens: Colonial Marines, complete with its gussied up “vertical slice” trailer, you couldn’t have sold me on a game set in Ridley Scott’s infamous universe for anything less than pure excellence. Thankfully, developer Creative Assembly (known for the Total War franchise, oddly enough) managed to create a nearly perfect organism in Alien: Isolation. From the haunting thump-thump-thump of its massive, clawed feet to the unpredictable methodology the creature uses to hunt you down, Isolation creates one of the year’s most tense thrillers. I can’t wait for a sequel.2. TitanfallHow do you make a gamer love multiplayer again? Well, giant robots certainly help, and Respawn Entertainment perfected a blend of frantic, aerodynamic gunplay between pilots and Titans. The inclusion of AI opponents is key in keeping less skilled players a chance to feel like they’re contributing, a big selling point for players who wouldn’t otherwise even glance at a traditional Call of Duty-esque multiplayer. The seamless transition between pilot and mech makes for numerous “This one time in…” moments, as you’ll never quite know what you’re up against.3. Mario Kart 8It’s a tough call between Super Smash Bros. and Mario Kart, but the racing game will always hold a dear place in my heart for facilitating countless friendly gatherings--and some not-so-friendly ones, too! With the transition to HD graphics, Mario Kart’s tracks look greater than ever, and a healthy dose of innovative gameplay, including zero gravity hover mechanics, add enough to the package to justify falling in love all over again.4. Infamous: Second SonAs a huge fan of the first two Infamous games, Second Son managed to capture a similar sense of otherworldly powers unlike any other game. Now, with the processing power of the Playstation 4, Second Son managed to reign as one of the prettiest looking games to this date, especially when the rubble started flying. A brilliant traversal system allowed for quick and easy transport across the city and above its towering buildings. That a battle could quickly transition from a bombed out street to the 30 story building next to it is incredibly impressive. Troy Baker, Travis Willingham, and other actors managed to convincingly inhabit their world through stunning motion capture and voice performances. Second Son remains a game that I revisit even months after release.5. HearthstoneHow incredible is it that a card game based on an MMORPG I don’t even play has hooked me as much as it has? Taking the already whimsical and entertaining art style and molding it into a competitive 1v1 formula takes a lot of guts, and keeping players after the initial novelty is a sign of true passion for Blizzard’s product. Expansions like Goblins vs. Gnomes serve to keep the fire going in entertaining ways, and I can’t wait to see what lies in store now that the game is available on Android tablets.Honorable Mention: PTP.T."Forgive me, Lisa. There's a monster inside of me."True horror lies in the unknown, the sense that something just isn't quite right. After descending the steps to the door at the end of the hall, after listening to the chilling tale of a family's murder, you'd be forgiven for thinking you were about to walk into Hell. Surprise, you'd been there all along. The shifting doors, the droning cries of a mysterious one-eyed woman and her baby, that...damn...fridge. That one can only discover the true ending by following a convoluted series of instructions adds to the uncertainty. You're never safe, and people are still discovering ways to evoke Lisa's terrifying form. Hideo Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro have reinvigorated interest in a suffering franchise with 20 minutes of pure, unknowable horror.-----------Joseph Knoop is the Editor in Chief of BYTE
by Joseph KnoopI’ve committed a cardinal sin of gaming; I never played any of the Mass Effect games, the series that most critics agree works best with a female Shepard.In fact, I can’t remember the last time I played a female protagonist in a game where you get to choose gender, if ever. I was a male Wood Elf in Skyrim, the boy in Pokemon had a cooler hat, and if I’m going to romance an NPC in some role-playing game, I’d rather the sexual dynamic be my own.So when I booted up the Destiny beta, and eventually the game itself, I had no doubt in my mind that I wanted to play as a female Guardian. My short-haired, brunette, green-eyed Hunter was ready to save the galaxy, with or without an assortment of friends by her side.And as is common knowledge by now, Destiny managed to drop every ball in terms of meaningful story direction, thematic coherence, or even just explaining what the hell “The Darkness” was.What could have been a meaningful journey as the opposite sex became another mindless sci-fi series of grizzled threats and whispered techno-babble. Instead of sending your ghost off to calibrate the “cerebral vortex,” maybe we could get some juxtaposition between what it’s like to be a human Guardian or machine men Exo Guardians. Would my female Guardian receive more information or tools to complete the Queen of the Reef’s mission if she favored her own gender? Would the Queen hinder a male Guardian’s mission? Don’t tell me Earth has suddenly become a bastion of sexless (occasionally actual) automatons, where gender is meaningless. Something tells me the Darkness doesn’t mind influencing gender politics in between crushing civilizations.One of the most criminally simple fixes to the whole lack of identity would be the option to name your character. It wouldn’t even require changing Peter Dinklage’s dry line reading. A name is such a fundamental aspect of our civilization, from mortgage contracts to birthday cakes, that ceasing it from ever being uttered feels neutering. Who are these Guardians? Surely they must have some thoughts on the whole matter.Destiny opens in a fairly engaging manner, as your Guardian runs from patrols of the Fallen outside and within the Cosmodrome wall. Your ghost initially finds your body in a pile of car wreckage, reawakening you to serve out your mission. It’s just a shame that we get zero background on how we ended up there. Evidently, we had been serving as a Guardian long before the collapse of humanity, and yet all we need is a quick stroll and nary a shower before we’re back on the job.I really wanted to know more about Destiny’s world. It’s not every day a giant floating Christmas ornament protects you from the forces of evil. I wanted to structure a character that was fundamentally different from me for a change, just to see how it might affect the greater universe around me. Destiny continues to promise a lot of things, and delivered only a minimum. It’s a technically solid game, but perhaps a few more bugs and less-than-stellar shooting mechanics might have been forgivable in the face of a reason to return. For now, my lonely Guardian sits atop the Tower, surrounded by numerous other players with the same identity issues.Maybe she should have just kept the helmet on.
by Joseph KnoopE3 is over. Bless the magnificent star children of Ganymede, it’s over, and with its conclusion comes the flurry of forum bantering and interpersonal debate.Who won? Which company came out on top? Who had the biggest gaffes?As one should expect, any answer is tantamount to pure opinion, because without it there’d be no reason to get excited in the first place. We were just subjected to some of the biggest and brightest titles. We’re allowed to squeal like catty school children if we feel so inclined.So here’s my take on the best (and worst) of E3 2014.The CG ShowdownNot to start off on a negative note, but the majority of E3 trailers (at least early on) seemed to have no problem doing so. The latest trailer for The Division, now just one of a couple Tom Clancy games heading our way, showcased the origin of New York’s plight. A deadly disease has wiped out some portion of the American populace, driving numerous individuals to the depths of madness, despair and violence.While the concept of reading this world’s history through a beautifully realized, narrated timelapse sure seemed impressive, it was indicative of the expo’s unwillingness to hammer home just how powerful these new consoles are. They shouldn’t be trying to sell us on CGI. Trailers like those meant something when games were still discovering bump mapping. Now that I can practically caress Nathan Drake’s stubble, aren’t we a bit past this?What little new gameplay of The Division we did see failed to impress. More firefights in the cold city streets and what amounted to a miniboss. Even though this latest trailer spent its duration giving us background, we’ve done the apocalypse before. We’ve done plucky ragtag gang of freedom fighters. How hard can it be to mix it up even just a little? Wildly stupid games like Wolfenstein: The New Order can manage to make us feel something for murderous psychopaths simply because they took the time to do so.We saw equal attempts at this style with trailers for a new Crackdown, Battlefront, and Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. We knew there was a new Uncharted, and of course it would star Nathan Drake, Sully, and very likely Elena. Stop toying with us and give players more than just meaningless story beats. Saying “We’ve got to do this job one...last...time,” means nothing to us. You “wow” gamers by demonstrating what we’ll actually be achieving. No less than that.The Darn GoodFirstly, let’s give a hand to Rocksteady reinvigorating interest in a franchise that could have easily fallen by the wayside. WB Games shoved Arkham Origins out there, and it showed with the slightest attention paid. The new Gotham looks sleeker, more diverse, and just plain fun. It says something when The Batmobile’s ability to drive through concrete street dividers elicits mass approval. I regretted renting Origins, and now I can’t wait for Arkham Knight. Now that’s how you demo at E3.Speaking of demos, after a fairly impressive introduction to Far Cry 4’s new villain, a full gameplay demo managed to stir up the crowd, no doubt delighting Ubisoft. It looks an awful lot like the gameplay of Far Cry 3, but new weapons and abilities look like they’ll mix up the formula enough to make sure it stands out on its own. Surfing through the sky in a wingsuit was one of Far Cry 3’s biggest highlights, and with a helicopter in the mix, traversal looks like no problem.Oh, and you know...suicidal killer elephants, man.The BestI think it’s a safe assumption that most people started playing videogames for that unique sense of wonder inherent to the medium. Wonder at an open world begging to be discovered, fear in the darkest hallways as something slinks up behind you, the sense of triumph over god knows how many beasts.I felt all that and more, once again, with No Man’s Sky, developed by Hello Games.Though the question of just what we’ll be doing in this world remains (and I realize that complaint mirrors the ones I make above), I have no doubt that I’ll find plenty to explore and engage with in this literally endless universe.Elements reminiscent of Minecraft, the ability to name the materials and monsters you encounter, and the seamless transition between everything simply fills me with joy. There’s color, and most importantly, a real sense of life. Granted, this trailer could be the careful manipulations of a director, but a series of high moments means nothing without some lulls in the action. I can only envision my time in the darkness of space. Maybe I’ll find a peaceful planet at the break of dawn, just turn off the ship’s engine, and soak it all in. There’s no shortage of possibilities, and that’s why the games industry is as successful as it is. We’ve built these worlds, and now we get to explore them. They’ve become something of their own. In this procedurally generated adventure, I can’t wait to discover what’s out there.In a nutshell, that was E3 for me. Plenty of other games deserve your attention, but these will be the ones on my radar for the time to come. We’re seeing Microsoft react to Xbox One’s negative press with at least a little grace. We’re seeing Sony pushing forward on the majority of promises they’ve made, with new details to reinvigorate interest. I can’t wait for Project Morpheus and Oculus Rift to completely renovate how we view games. I can’t wait for horror titles like Alien: Isolation. Despite this excitement, there will be quite a bit of waiting, with more and more games being pushed back to 2015.If you can stomach the wait--and really, we’re gamers, we’re used to this--then the coming years look shinier than ever.
WARNING. SPOILERS THROUGHOUT THE SHOW. DO NOT WATCH IF YOU WANT THE WALKING DEAD UNSPOILED UP TO SEASON TWO EPISODE 3.Joe and Jake discuss all the crazy, bloody happenings of the latest Walking Dead episode by Telltale Games! What do they think about this installment in the critically acclaimed franchise? Watch to find out!
by Joseph KnoopAs a single-player fanatic in the world of first-person shooters, I’m a dying breed. In no series is this more evident than Call of Duty. With the arrival of the Modern Warfare installments, developer Infinity Ward managed to revitalize some semblance of originality in the series, putting a laser-focus on modern weaponry and engagingly cheesy, yet grounded characters like Gaz and Captain Price, the series was poised to keep its genre firing on all cylinders.So what happened? Between co-founders Jason West and Vince Zampella leaving the studio to form Respawn Entertainment and yearly installments handled (or bungled) by multiple studios playing hot potato with the series, it’s safe to say that Call of Duty has gone down in history, but for the wrong reasons.Make no mistakes, Call of Duty:Ghosts, critically derided by a majority of publications, was a huge step down for the series. With little innovation in a series known for minimal refinement, the franchise finally looked like it was on the decline.Yet here we are, a year later, and once again salivating over the latest (well, only) Call of Duty footage, titled “Advanced Warfare.”So, with a fresh coat of paint and something of a focus on current consoles (there will still be last-gen versions, apparently), what can the series do to stay alive, much less ahead of other shooters?The Small MomentsIt may surprise recent adopters, but the Call of Duty franchise was once known for semi-intelligent writing and visual direction. Who can ever forget the painfully quick, dirty look at an unnamed Middle Eastern nation through its soon-to-be dead president, bound and transported as his people are slaughtered en masse.And that was just a credits sequence.No sooner than Modern Warfare 2 were we treated to a fist-pumping show of bravado and flag waving. As honorable as patriotism can be, it’s hard to swallow the idea that the U.S. could be invaded by Russians because of a radar error. We just had to accept the idea of rolling down a suburb street in an Abrams tank while ultranationalists were still parachuting in.But for every fallacy it committed, the series wasn’t without its smaller moments; chiefly, the Pripyat stealth mission, infamous for its stark, quiet depiction of the ruined city. Not only that, but it gave birth to one of the most tense moments in the series’ history, as a young Captain Price narrowly avoided an enemy patrol by slinking through the grass. Or watching an American soldier succumb to the power of radioactive fallout.And that’s precisely what Advanced Warfare needs, despite being a game about giant industrial militaries, robotic suits, and futuristic tech. We’ve done big; White House sieges, city-stopping EMP blasts, and enough helicopter crashes to shame a Michael Bay flick.And how do they do that? It’s the simplest storytelling mechanic yet: Make it meaningful. Ghosts suffered for these kinds of moments the most. Watching a comrade knife an unsuspecting enemy through the throat means nothing if we’re just sitting back, twiddling our thumbs. Defeat this by putting us in the action, in the heart of the story.Big PlaygroundsThere’s a reason Modern Warfare 2, despite being adored less critically, managed to reach even higher sales numbers than its predecessor.Missions, much like set pieces, were allowed to grow into vast playgrounds of destruction, providing players with numerous opportunities. Whether it was sneaking through an enemy base during a blizzard, using nothing but radar and quick wits, or holding off a counterattack in a forest lodge.Modern Warfare 3 suffered incredibly because of this, and Ghosts fared no better. Missions that could have been vast and varied in their routes were instead handled with an invisible hand. Don’t go too far or else the magic eyes of a thousand unseen guards will ruin your day. How amazing would it have been to sneak all the way through an enemy base as Riley, complete with a few quick throats to tear out? Instead we get a very implied path, and little room to fail or experiment. MW2’s snowy base allowed players to screw up. It meant the battle became a lot harder, but it wasn’t game over, as any action hero would assert. Giving players a reason to come back reinforces your game’s lifespan, so why let it sputter out?Advanced Warfare will need these big playgrounds if it wants to keep the series feeling fresh. Let’s not split hairs here, the game is taking notes from Titanfall’s incredible integration of free running and verticality...at least, we hope. It’d be a shame to relegate those fancy mechanized bits of armor to scripted sequences or tight hallways. If you’re going to tease newer, more mobile tech, you’d better give us the opportunity to break it in.It Builds CharacterNothing infuriates me more than a character whose motivation makes no sense. Not only does it detract from the thrill of the moment, it sours the entire backlog of experiences leading up to what should have been a pivotal moment.Call of Duty is, if nothing else, great at cooking up nonsensical motivations for its villains and sidecharacters. Beginning with Makarov, someone who just happened to rise to power without Zakhaev’s watchful eyes, Black Op’s rent-a-Russian Dragovich, and Ghosts’ seemingly inconsolable old man with a vengeance plan Rorke.These characters, despite being menacing on a moment-to-moment basis, lacked any depth, effectively neutering their overall threat.Makarov, introduced as “the guy that even Zakhaev was iffy about,” was hardly present in Modern Warfare 2, providing back-up in “No Russian” and a few radio transmissions. The few moments actually provided to him are relatively engaging. Voice actor Roman Varshevsky has a captivating skillset, giving a snake-like presence to Makarov, and the demeanor to back it up. Infinity Ward managed to cram his entire backstory into a few minutes of convenient flashback via former ultranationalist and eventual player-character Yuri Gagarin.Ghosts’ antagonist, Rorke, was just a joke. Not only was an initial motivation to hate his former comrades flimsy (they had to leave him behind or die themselves), but the torture he suffered after served as a convenient excuse to pardon any inconsistencies with “brainwashing!”Advanced Warfare, featuring the brilliant Kevin Spacey, will need to provide a much higher level of character motivation to sustain any energy in its undoubtedly high-action scenarios. Spacey, as the leader of the Atlas private military corporation, is ripe for moral gray areas. He obviously advocates a much less philanthropic approach to national security than most, but the best villains (or even heroes) think they’re the heroes.On the player side of things, Sledgehammer will need to give us a compelling supporting cast. We’ve seen a handful of characters sporting the mechanized armor, so go the route of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. Get characters questioning their humanity. Are they more machine than man? Works of art like Heart of Darkness prove that humanity is a questionable concept during war, how much more so when you’re lugging around half a robot on you?Common SenseThe Call of Duty series needs some major jumpstarts if it wants to re-engage players. Sure, there will always be an installed base of fans that will drool over the same formula, but if internet comments are anything to go by, they have no problem jumping ship to a better product. Will it take a Titanfall sequel, with its inevitable gameplay and (potential) story refinements to knock the king off the throne? Or will some other franchise come along eventually?It’s not a matter of if, but rather when, and as common sense dictates, you don’t grow if you aren’t willing to change.Image Credit: 1 2 3
by Joseph KnoopFree Comic Book Day is over for most folks, and BYTE was lucky enough to chat with Scott Snyder, writer of the New 52 Batman and American Vampire, along with James Tynion IV, author of The Woods and co-writer of Batman Eternal.Check out what these industry icons have to say about Free Comic Book Day!Image Credit: Comic Booked
Neon colored paint flew around Saturday morning across from Scheumann Statdium during Muncie’s first Chase the Rainbow charity run.
A Ball State student has received $5,000 after winning a scholarship contest created by the popular website CollegeHumor.com.
A Ball State student has received $5,000 after winning a scholarship contest created by the popular website CollegeHumor.com.