In 2013, I was in a really weird place in my life. Maybe the lowest I’ve been since I graduated college. I was living in a shitty town in a shitty state making pizza in a bar with a dual degree from an Ivy League university. No this isn’t the story of another failed liberal arts degree student. This is a story about love. My girlfriend, now wife, was attending graduate school in a small town I’d never heard of and I moved there with her to support her financially. What I wasn’t aware of when I agreed to move there was that there were no real businesses in that town except bars. I didn’t own a car at the time because we had moved there from abroad. And even if I had owned a car, we lived in a college dorm, provided by her graduate program, that charged a fortune for parking so owning a car in that scenario wasn’t really an option anyway. So I got the only local job I could find, which ended up being making pizza in a bar. I worked long hours, weekends, and was paid very little. But I did it because you gotta do what you gotta do.
At the time I owned a SONY Vaio laptop that was three or four years old. I had used it during college and couldn’t afford to replace it so I continued using it as my only computer option. It was good enough for basic things but it couldn’t run most games other than older emulators and indie titles. Some of my followers may remember my failed attempts to stream via that laptop back in those days. I spent most of my time gaming on my PS4 and Wii U and usually streamed via my PS4 directly to Twitch. I also recorded a lot of footage and uploaded it after the fact. My laptop could handle this. It just took a really long time to process the videos.
During this time, a friend recommended that I try a game called The Witcher. It was a PC game made in 2007 by some Polish developer I had never heard of. I didn’t know a thing about the game. Today that seems ridiculous to say, but this was before The Witcher 3 was really being talked about. In fact, it was like right before. If you followed the company and the franchise, then you probably already knew about it and were looking forward to playing it. But if you weren’t already into the franchise then, like me, you probably knew nothing about it. And I’m someone who’s usually pretty knowledgeable about upcoming games even when I’m not looking to play them myself. I wasn’t really interested in playing The Witcher but both it and The Witcher 2 were on sale on GOG for like $4 together so I bought them more to appease my friend than out of any actual interest.
As with most games I buy, I didn’t end up playing The Witcher as soon as I bought it. A few weeks or maybe even months went by. Then suddenly The Witcher 3 began its mainstream marketing run. This was actually one of the last games I remember seeing commercials for on cable, because this was the last time in my life that I regularly watched cable TV. The game looked amazing. We know now that it was/is, but at the time the ads were the thing that really sold me. But I’m the type of person that needs to play all the games in a franchise in order. So my desire to play The Witcher 3 finally pushed me to start The Witcher.
Thankfully my old laptop could run The Witcher. This shouldn’t be surprising because the game came out about three years before my laptop. I would call The Witcher the best bad game I’ve ever played. It can only be described as some of the best writing I’ve ever seen in a game coupled with some of the worst gameplay I’ve ever forced myself to slog through to the end. It’s not even accurate to call it a great game so much as a great experience. I absolutely hated actually playing it but I couldn’t get enough of the story, characters, and world. So when I finished it, I immediately knew that I was gonna play The Witcher 3 and literally loaded up The Witcher 2 as soon as the credits finished rolling. This is where my troubles really began.
The Witcher was released in 2007 and my laptop from 2010 could run it with little issue. Even though it wasn’t a gaming laptop, the leaps forward in technology over that three year gap made an office laptop viable for playing an old game. The Witcher 2 on the other hand was released in 2011. While it wasn’t released that far after my laptop, it was a modern game with hefty graphics for the time. Sadly my SONY Vaio just couldn’t hack it. Even at the lowest settings, I was not able to run The Witcher 2 smoothly. I was so depressed that I couldn’t play that game. At this point I no longer owned an XBOX 360 and for some stupid reason that was the only console the game was available on. I could have went out and bought a used one but I refused to go back to a console that had already broken down and been replaced on four separate occasions before I finally gave the system up for good. That meant that my only option was getting a new PC.
It was at this moment that I finally decided to build my own PC. I had known multiple people in college who had built their own gaming desktops but the prospect of doing that always scared me. It seemed too difficult, too expensive, and too risky. But I decided that was as good a time as any because I really wanted to play The Witcher 2. The Witcher 3 was a non-issue because I could get that on PS4 if I wanted to. But I had to play The Witcher 2 first. I never do anything small. If I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna take it seriously from start to finish. I wasn’t just gonna build an OK PC that could barely run The Witcher 2. I was gonna build a hefty system that could easily tackle running The Witcher 3. It ultimately took me three years of studying, saving, and planning before I finally built my gaming desktop. By that time I had left that shitty state (and country at this point), moved back abroad, and had landed a job in the PC hardware industry. My passion for playing The Witcher 2 in many ways led me to where I am now.
I got the PC built but rather than play The Witcher 2 right off the bat I, like many gamers, got distracted by other titles. So the game I had built my PC to play got pushed aside for a long time. I’ve played countless games on my PC since then. If you watch my streams then you know some of the much more advanced games I’ve played on PC such as Watch Dogs 1 & 2, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, DOOM, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and the list goes on. I’m very happy with my PC and I’m proud of myself for the accomplishment it was to pay for and build it. But I didn’t actually end up starting The Witcher 2 till three years after it was built.
Last month I finally started The Witcher 2, and last week I finally completed it. It took almost seven years of dedication to a single goal to reach this point. There were definitely distractions and roadblocks along the way, but I got here. It might not seem like the biggest accomplishment in the world, but to me it’s important. That’s why I felt it was necessary to document this moment here.
I committed to building a PC and playing The Witcher 2 in 2013. I finished The Witcher 2 on May 11th, 2020. And now I can finally play The Witcher 3. But I’ll probably put it off for like another three years because reasons.
Having now played Animal Crossing: New Horizons for 170 hours, I can say two things. The first is that the game is a depth defying evolution of the concept since the original game released on the Gamecube almost 20 years ago. It’s accessible, simple, and addictive while not taking advantage of any of the predatory microtransactions Nintendo could absolutely get away with. It’s complicated enough to hold the attention of adults, both causal and serious gamers, while also being simple enough to be played and enjoyed by children. While it is not the best game ever made, it may be the most Nintendo game ever made in the last two generations or more of Nintendo consoles. The second thing I can say is that the game is riddled with quality of life problems. Not glitches or coding errors, but intentional problems that ultimately hurt the gameplay experience.
I have been absolutely floored by some of the island designs I’ve seen posted online. People have accomplished things that I couldn’t even imagine. The amount of things you can actually accomplish/build in Animal Crossing: New Horizons is insane. Yet my island still looks like garbage. One could argue that my island looks like garbage because I simply lack creativity, but I don’t agree with that statement. Now I’m not saying that I’m as visually creative as everyone else. I’m a writer by trade so visual design isn’t really my strong suit. But I do have plenty of ideas and a vision for my own epic island design. And I’m happy to acknowledge that the chances of the design I have in my head, or reference notes after I took the time to draw and plot out everything I wanted to do on paper, probably isn’t as impressive as many of the things that I’ve seen go viral online. But at the very least my island wouldn’t look like garbage if my vision could be realized. The problem is that at every turn the game goes out of its way to arbitrarily limit my ability to create my own vision. And again none of these limitations are due to glitches. They are intentional design flaws that can easily be fixed, but simply won’t be because Nintendo gonna Nintendo.
Landscaping and Island design isn’t the only place where the game has monumentally inconvenient limitations that are easily fixed but simply won’t be because reasons. There are a host of quality of life issues that simply don’t need to be present in the game. So for this week’s post I wanted to go over my top 15 complaints about Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This is not an exhaustive list; and I’m sure some people will disagree with some of the things mentioned. But I believe every one of these issues could easily be patched out and would make the gameplay experience better for a majority of players. Better being defined as giving players the ability to maximize their own personal enjoyment and/or creative freedom. List is in no particular order.
1. No Natural Island Features Should be Permanent
When you first start the game, you are asked to pick an island layout. If like me, you started the game on day one with little to no prior knowledge or plans in the works, then you chose a layout that seemed the most convenient at the time without knowing exactly what you were committing to. My island’s natural layout has been a nightmare for pretty much my entire time playing the game. It of course started with house placement. I knew exactly where I wanted my house to go when I first looked at the map layouts. That has never changed. What I didn’t know going into the game was that I wouldn’t be able to reach the location I wanted for my house until much later into the game. I thought I would be able to get the vaulting pole and ladder from the start and place my house exactly where I wanted it. Instead I was forced to put it in the complete opposite side of the island from where I wanted it because not only did I want my house on a mountain, but I also wanted an island with a single continuous river that went from end to end, locking me to only about 40% of my island’s total land for the opening portion of the game. As you can imagine, this was very annoying. But I was OK with it because I knew eventually I would be able to move my house and even reshape my river, if I wanted to.
Eventually I was finally able to reshape the land and the water, while also having the tools to go wherever I wanted. By the time I unlocked K.K. Slider (about 110 hours in), I finally had an established vision for what I wanted my island to look like. I set out to complete this task only to then realize my plan wasn’t possible because my river inlets from the ocean weren’t located in the right places. This cannot be altered, which I wasn’t aware of when I devised my grand plan. You’re simply stuck with the river to ocean connections you have. Now yes I could technically build my own rivers from scratch and just not connect them to the ocean at all. But that’s not really what I wanted. Furthermore, one of my inlets is located too high on my map which blocks me from having the perfect cliffs I wanted.
Along with the river mouths, you also have to contend with beaches and even worse beach stone. These black rocks eat up the sides and corners of your map for literally no reason and prevent you from having perfectly square edges to your cliffs. Some may also refer to them as OCD stone. Why Nintendo decided to make all these physical features permanent is beyond me. What I do know is that not only have they dashed my island landscaping dreams multiple times, but they also cost me so many hours of hard work because I had to alter several map units of land to account for them. This entire issue is stupid and shouldn’t be a thing. Just let me redesign my island however I want once I’ve reached the landscaping portion of the game.
2. The Game Needs Mass/Rapid Landscaping Options
Being able to reshape land and water is extremely convenient. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the game. Even with the many limits it has to it, the fact that you can reform cliffs and rivers to create the landscape you want (mostly) allows for every island to be truly original. That being said, the process of landscaping is one of the most tedious and troublesome endeavors I’ve ever experienced in a Nintendo game. You have to manually shape each block unit of land in the game one at a time. It is appalling that there isn’t a Mario Maker style landscape editing mode where you can just build entire sections of cliff and water in a few seconds. I have spent literal weeks trying to build, and rebuild, the cliff structure I wanted. And this doesn’t include all the time I’ve had to spend moving around trees and flowers to do it. I wouldn’t even mind having to pay a bells fee to do it. I just don’t want to have to spend hours to build a cliff after I’ve already taken the time to clear all the land. The cliff should be the easy part. And joy-con drift never angered me so much as it does while trying to landscape in this game. The game already has a unit based map. Allowing the player to draw cliff or water on it quickly rather than unit by unit landscaping would be an easy thing to implement.
3. Build and Destroy Landscaping Functions Should be Separate Buttons
In order to keep the coding simplistic, Animal Crossing: New Horizons throws all landscaping functions into two buttons. You select what kind of landscaping you want to do by pressing the plus button and then the A button to make a selection. Then you use the A button to interact with the unit of land directly in front of you, assuming your joy-con doesn’t drift. If the landscaping selection you currently have active isn’t on the unit in front of you, the A button adds it. If the active landscaping selection is on the unit in front of you, the A button removes it. While simple in practice, this causes a lot of problems. Again, many of them are the result of joy-con drift. Often you end up removing land when you intended to add it. Or adding water when you intended to remove it. And vice versa. This could easily be remedied by dedicating the A button to adding landscaping options and a different button being dedicated for removing landscaping selections. Of course this would only be the case while the landscaping app is active. Having this function would save users so much time by not having them make unintentional landscaping mistakes throughout the entire process of terraforming their islands.
4. Why Can’t I Build Giant Walls?
I have absolutely no idea why you can’t build two story cliffs, but it’s one of the most irritating limitations the game has. For some reason you can’t build a cliff on top of a cliff. You have to leave a space of at least one unit between the first level cliff and the second level cliff. So instead of building high cliffs you end up with big two step stairs. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the reason for this probably has to do with the incline limitations, which I will get to. You can’t make two story inclines, so building two story cliffs would prevent you from being able to access the tops of them. But I don’t see why that’s a problem because if I’m building a two story cliff then clearly I don’t want it to be climbed to begin with. Also, couldn’t’ the ladder just extend if it was really an issue that needed solving? Not only is this issue visually troublesome, but it also wastes a lot of real estate. You only have so much land. Having to waste the outer edges one unit in all directions is quite a loss of total available land.
5. Inclines Have So Much Wasted Potential
The only way to reach a higher level without a ladder is an incline. This is fine. Even the process of adding inclines for a fee is fine. What isn’t fine is all the things inclines should be able to do but can’t. First, inclines are locked to one cliff unit up and two ground units wide. Inclines are extremely useful but they could do so much more. You can’t build them adjacent to each other either vertically or horizontally. They need a gap of at least one space. So if you wanted to make a two story cliff with an incline it would have an annoying one unit step between the two inclines. You also can’t build them side by side. Meaning you can’t build hills or epic continuous grand entrances.
You also can’t repave or plant flowers on inclines. Meaning if, like me, you wanted to use floor paths to build long “roads” that went up cliffs, you would not be able to fully coordinate their colors because inclines can’t be customized past picking from a limited selection of incline designs. The inability to plant flowers on them also means you can’t have continuous flower paths for your “roads” that go up cliffs either. While some of this may be a lot of trouble to remedy, much of it shouldn’t have been part of the game to begin with. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to install adjacent inclines and bridges.
6. Construction Delays Progress so Much
Construction projects are a sensible idea. Moving buildings and adding/removing inclines being a bit more special so you aren’t constantly changing everything on your island makes you appreciate your decisions more. Having to pay for them does this adequately. But making me have to wait for the day to flip and only allowing me to move one building and one incline/bridge a day is such a waste of time. If I’m trying to reshape my entire island after acquiring the landscaping license, I shouldn’t have to wait a day to move each house on my island. I shouldn’t have to wait a day to demolish or move each bridge/incline I built in the early game while just trying to access more of the land and amass resources. It’s no wonder why some players, myself not included, use time travel. So much progress is stopped by limiting construction projects to one of each type a day. Just charge me express work fees and let me do everything in the same day. At the very least let me reshape the island in mass at least once after unlocking the landscaping license. Because obviously most players wouldn’t have put things where they are if they had had full access to all the tools and landscaping abilities you eventually get from the start.
Also, it’s completely ridiculous that you have to pay twice to change the surrounding landscape of a building or incline. I had my house in the perfect spot the first time I moved it. But I did not yet have landscaping abilities. Once I unlocked them, I wanted my house in the same general spot, but moved over three units and on top of a cliff. Doing this required moving my house to a completely different location by paying a fee of 30K bells and waiting a day for construction, then reshaping the land where I wanted my house, paying another fee of 30K bells, and waiting another day for construction. This sort of process was required for four of my islanders’ homes as well, ultimately costing me 460,000 bells and 10 days of waiting. The process should not have been that long, that expensive, or that troublesome.
7. Housing Development Shouldn’t Be Limited
You can expand your house’s interior by paying off loans. This is fine. The prices may seem a little high but once you start playing the stalk market “correctly” money becomes almost a non-issue once you get past your initial landscaping costs. But there’s a limit to how big your house can be. In reality, this makes sense. But this is a video game. Why can’t I just keep expanding my house indefinitely? Or at least past the point of realistic practicality. You can only have a maximum of six total rooms in your house. You can’t control or expand the size of them and their dimensions are kind of inconvenient as well. Why can’t I just pay more bells to expand these rooms or add additional ones? If I want a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, a workshop, a gameroom, a bedroom, and a guest room, why can’t I? I have plenty of bells. So just let me keep expanding. And let me keep expanding storage as well. You can get up to 1600 storage spots by the time you fully upgrade your house. But why place a limit at all? Just let me keep paying a flat rate of bells to expand my storage indefinitely. Why does it matter?
8. Why Can’t I Stack Items Based on Space?
Certain items can have other items placed on them such as tables, chairs, and rugs. But then other items can’t even if there’s enough space to do so. For instance, the wooden speakers. This stereo system is quite big and it looks cool. But it takes up a lot of room. The top of it has enough surface area to act as a table or stand. So why can’t I put things on top of it such as potted plants or trophies? That’s something a person would actually do in real life. Yet because the game doesn’t designate it as a piece of stacking furniture, you aren’t allowed to do this. You can’t even put things on beds. So much space is wasted in an already limited space environment.
9. Just Let Me Store Turnips For Goodness Sake
Once a week you find yourself having to store turnips in the most inconvenient of places. First I was storing them all over my house. Every open space of my floor would be covered in turnips. I wasn’t even decorating my basement because I needed the storage space. Then, like many other players, I took to building an outdoor storage area for them. This is more convenient in many ways, but it’s also a complete waste of real estate. Having to essentially sacrifice a large piece of land to store your turnips every week is an unnecessary inconvenience that adds no enjoyment to the game. Either let me store them in the storage or raise the single item volume considerably. I buy 16K turnips a week. That’s 160 item slots to store. That’s a ton of wasted real estate. And sure you don’t have to buy turnips every week, and certainly not in those large quantities. But in the weeks that you do, you need that space available so it makes more sense just to leave it open rather than build on it at all.
10. Why Can’t I Turn the Camera When Outside my House?
The camera in Animal Crossing: New Horizons can be quite troublesome. You often can’t see things behind buildings and trees. But there are often important things there such as dig spots and bugs. You can turn the camera in the house just fine. In fact, it’s very convenient. But you can’t do this when outside your house and I can’t think of a single justifiable reason for this.
11. Add a Fossil Record to the Museum
In the game, you have a phone that catalogues every fish and bug you’ve caught and whether or not you have donated them to the museum. Why the same is not true for the fossils is beyond me. I don’t even need a fossil record on my phone. Just put it in the damn museum, like literally any real museum would have. Finishing the fossil collection, which I finally managed to do by trading in the fossil market on Discord, is such a hassle because you literally don’t know how many or which fossils you’re missing without looking it up online. Even when you do try to look it up, it’s still fairly unclear what you’re actually missing because you have to manually walk the museum and try to figure it out. Just add a damn fossil list to the museum so it’s like an actual museum.
12. Let Me Mass Buy Clothing in the Fitting Room
The fitting room in the Able Sisters clothing store is really nice. It’s exactly what you want when trying to decide which clothes to buy. But damn if it isn’t the most inconvenient thing in the world when trying to buy multiple colors of the same piece of clothing. If an item comes in multiple colors and I want more than one, why can’t I just buy all the colors I want at once? Making me have to pay, then exit the fitting room, then reenter the fitting room, find the item again, and pay again is completely unnecessary. Just let me buy as many items as I want at once.
Also, let me know which items I already own. The crafting table tells you what items you already have in your pockets and in storage. Why doesn’t the fitting room do the same?
13. Why Do the Store’s Close?
I work a full time job. I am not alone. I have to commute to my job. I am not alone. I can’t use my Switch at work. I am not alone. Nook’s Cranny doesn’t open until 8 AM and closes at 10 PM. This means that anyone who has to leave for work before 8 AM can’t sell things they are carrying from the night before and can’t check the morning prices of turnips, much less take advantage of them. Anyone who works late can’t purchase or sell anything at Nook’s Cranny either. There are days where I have to leave for work before 8 AM and don’t get home till almost 8 PM. Then I have other responsibilities like cooking dinner and walking my dog. That makes the operating hours of Nook’s Cranny very difficult for me. And I don’t even have children. But one must ask why does the store close at all? This isn’t real life. They don’t need to sleep. Tom Nook and Isabelle never close the Residential Services office. So what’s the deal with Tom’s nephews? The store should definitely reset every day like the calendar does with new announcements. And if for the sake of balance you wanted to argue that the turnip purchasing time should still be locked to specific hours of day, I could understand an argument for that. But the store closing is unnecessary. Or at the very least remove the fees for using the box to sell items. I don’t mind waiting till the next morning to get my funds in the mail. That’s a realistic mechanic I guess.
Don’t even get me started on the Able Sisters shop. Why does it close an hour earlier than Nook’s Cranny? What is the justification for that? Realistically you only need to visit it once a day, assuming you aren’t strapped for bells, in order to do all your business there. But it’s still the same issue of availability. If someone isn’t able to get to their Switch between the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM, then when do they get to purchase and design new clothing items? The game may be geared towards kids, but adults play it. If the shops have to be open for limited hours, at least let the player set those hours for their island. Maybe the employees sleep during the day and work through the night.
14. Why Doesn’t my Nook Phone Have a Debit Function?
I have a bank account and a smart phone. That is literally all a person needs to make purchases without carrying cash. So why can’t I purchase things from shops without the cash in hand? Just let me pull the funds needed directly from my bank account. Not for Daisy and NPC purchases, because that wouldn’t be realistic or practical. Though Zelle is a thing. But if I want to buy a chessboard from Nook’s Cranny with 3 million bells in the bank but not 95,000 bells in my pocket just let me purchase it with funds directly from my bank account so I don’t have to run to Resident Services, access the bank account, withdrawal the funds, and then run all the way back to Nook’s Cranny.
While we’re at it, let players access their bank accounts from other islands. Not their storage because that would be unrealistic. But as with my digital purchases argument, the technology is already there. The entire purposes of bank accounts is so you can access your funds anywhere that has an ATM. Every island has an ATM so let players pull bells from the Resident Services on any island.
15. Add a Dynamic DIY Vendor
Much of the game is built around the idea of interacting with NPCs and the environment to get new recipes. Characters like Celeste are key to making the most out of your crafting experience. But in my opinion there are serious issues with the volume of DIY recipes acquired as well as the ability to get the ones you want. I find it very irritating when I’m trying to complete a seasonal set like the bamboo collection and I get drops of repeat bamboo recipes before I’ve even finished the collection. That forces players to have to try to deal with the market and convince other players to trade them the recipes they want/are missing because the game itself doesn’t seem to be providing them.
While I won’t outright say you should just be able to buy every recipe in the game whenever you want, I do believe there should be a constant stream of DIY vending that takes bells or even Nook Miles. Technically the game kind of has this at Resident Services, but the list of available recipes is fixed. That shouldn’t be the case. As with the Nook Shopping service, the DIY choices should be changing daily. Like with turnip prices, it should be completely random with some days giving you repeats or junk recipes while other days can include super rare ones. Every day players should have the ability to acquire at least one new recipe no matter how much time they put in. This also makes every day seem eventful in some way even when nothing particularly special is otherwise going on.
So there are my 15 biggest complaints about Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I want to clarify that I love the game. I have played it literally every day since it released. I have never time traveled and I take my progress in the game very seriously. I play the stalk market like a pro and have great aspirations for my island and its residents. But the game is severely lacking in a number of quality of life features that would make the experience of playing the game way more convenient and fulfilling. The game is by no means bad, but it could be considerably better.
I’m not really a fan of advanced release date announcements. I hate the hype trains and unrealistic expectations. I think announcing release dates far in advance ultimately leads to broken promises or even worse, unfinished games. Most importantly, I would rather see a game as near to perfect as possible before release rather than a promised deadline met and an unfinished product sold to be patched later. So I don’t actually have a problem with games like Beyond Good & Evil 2 being very vague about when they will be released. In fact, I wish games weren’t even announced till they were already gold so that there were no broken promises or delays because we honestly shouldn’t be notified about unconfirmed possibilities to begin with. I understand why early announcements are made. I understand why companies announce release dates far in advance. From a business standpoint, it all makes sense. Even the added pressure put on the development teams, though scummy, is a perfectly sensible business decision from the publishing side of the games industry. I don’t have to like it and I don’t have to agree with it, but I definitely understand it. But it’s also important to note that these early release date announcements are what ultimately lead to delays and even cancellations. I’m still not over Scalebound. The issue that rarely gets discussed though is the meaning of release dates.
As consumers, we’re sold the idea that release dates aren’t arbitrary. We’re led to believe that they take into account a number of factors based on estimated development time coupled with budget limitations. But we also know that’s not really the entire picture. We’ve seen countless games go gold and then still not release for months. We’ve seen games get delayed at the last minute when it should have been obvious it wouldn’t be ready on time much sooner, if the delay was really an issue of development and not business. It’s also quite preposterous to assume that every single project, with differing sizes of development teams, differing scopes of project size, differing starting points as far as resources available, and differing numbers of years in development can all always be ready in summer or holiday season just after Black Friday or just before the school year starts. Release dates are not solely based on development. They’re based on business analytics in order to maximize sales. Games are often ready to launch much sooner than they are. And they’re also often launched before they’re actually ready in order to make a peak selling date since they can be patched later. While there was once a time where announced launch dates may have been truly based on development time, they’re now more the business/marketing side of the industry than anything else. That’s why I don’t really feel bad for publishers when a game is delayed. Because I know that original date probably wasn’t right to begin with. It was probably much too soon.
The Last of Us Part 2 is an interesting story in the fact that Naughty Dog had kind of implied it was basically ready to ship before it was delayed the first time. Originally it was announced to be releasing in February of this year. Then it was delayed to May 29th because they felt like it “wasn’t polished enough”. They didn’t say they couldn’t launch in February. They said they were choosing not to. That’s a weird situation in the fact that it’s fairly rare for a AAA developer to be so transparent about making a decision that fans won’t like. They could have said that the game wasn’t ready and had to be delayed three months and pretty much no one would have gotten angry. People would have griped, as they always do. And they would have been sad, as they always are with delays. But if people were led to believe that the game truly wasn’t ready to be launched then they would have accepted it. What people didn’t want to accept was the idea that the game was basically ready but was just being delayed for an extra spit and polish. Now as a cynic I don’t actually believe the game needed to be delayed to May. I believe the game was ready by the original February date but Naughty Dog and/or PlayStation decided it wasn’t a great date to launch from a marketing standpoint. Probably because the world was being plunged into chaos in the midst of a global pandemic.
Releasing a game about a post-apocalyptic world that has been devastated by a virus probably didn’t seem in good taste to the marketing department over at SONY. So they chose to delay to May hoping things would have quieted down about the coronavirus by then. Sadly that wasn’t the case, but since everyone already had to work from home or stop working altogether by that point, the virus became a great alibi to layer on top of the original polish story and justified saying the game was being delayed indefinitely due to the team’s inability to finalize it because of the coronavirus limiting development practices and resources. The pieces just kind of fell into place for that second delay to work with the first one. But at that point the public wasn’t having it anymore. Because if they’ve already said the game was basically ready it doesn’t make sense to indefinitely delay because of the virus. That is unless the release date has basically nothing to do with development and everything to do with profit analytics. It’s no secret that now is not a good time for businesses to launch new products. Especially entertainment products. A lot of people have been hit hard by this virus. People do not have leisure funds right now to pay $60+ for a video game. Lots of people are just trying to keep their homes and feed their children while worrying about devastating medical bills or at the very least the threat of them. So it makes since for PlayStation to want to hold off on releasing their GOTY contender and one of the biggest exclusive sequels they will have ever launched until things get back to normal. And yes I do believe this is more a decision from SONY’s side more than Naughty Dog’s.
So what happens when you finish a game and then set it on the back burner indefinitely while trying to wait out a depression level economic collapse? People get both angry and bored. A dangerous combination when dealing with digital products. Physical products are fairly easy to safeguard. You store them in a safe place, secure them, and guard them until you want them distributed. And yet they still get stolen all the time. Digital products are hard to safeguard. They can be copied, hacked, data mined, accidentally leaked, and are susceptible to a whole host of other security issues. And when hackers are bored, they’re even more motivated to take advantage of those digital weaknesses. Now I don’t know exactly how or who leaked The Last of Us Part 2 story details. I’ve heard rumor that it was an actual employee of Naughty Dog. Then I heard that was false. I don’t know and honestly I don’t really care. But I do know that anyone with even a sophomoric level of knowledge about the history of gaming leaks wasn’t surprised that the leak happened. It was always going to happen once that second delay was announced. I’m surprised we made all the way to the latter half of April before it happened. But how curious is it that within a week of the leak happening and people getting angry about the story details that were leaked magically the game is ready to launch in June. We went from the game being finished but needing a polish for the sake of assurance in February to an indefinite delay to a launch date in just two months’ time. That sounds fishy to me. That sounds like the date never actually mattered as far as development is concerned.
What happened with The Last of Us Part 2 is no different than what happens with every other troubled entertainment product long term marketing campaign. A company made a plan, unforeseen circumstances damaged that plan, the company overreacted to that damage, that overreaction caused more damage, and then the company gave up and scrapped the plan altogether in order to recoup as much profit as possible. The company I work for has done the same thing many times. The release date for The Last of Us Part 2 could have been more than two months ago and wasn’t because of a failed attempt to maximize profits. That’s how the game is played. PlayStation just didn’t win this round.
Now personally, I didn’t care about the delays for The Last of Us Part 2. I don’t care about most games being delayed. I am so backlogged that they could delay all games for a year, which I suggested in a previous blog post, and I’d still come out of the other end backlogged. In fact, they could cease all game production for a decade and I still probably wouldn’t be done with my backlog. So I’m infinitely patient. I also had no intention of buying the game at launch. Like with most games, I was just gonna wait for it to go on sale and pick it up for Black Friday. And that is still my plan. I haven’t seen any of the leaks and even if I do, I’ll still play the game at some point because I’m not a child. You knew Thanos was going to die before you watched Avengers: Endgame. You knew the Joker was going to get captured at the end of The Dark Knight. People aren’t stupid. Stories are fairly predictable. Getting bent out of shape about leaks is immature because you already knew what was going to happen anyways a large portion of the time. You just didn’t have confirmation. And it’s not as if the experience of the story is completely diminished by not being surprised at key moments. Stories are more than just who lives or dies at the end.
While I’m always happy to see a company get called out on their bullshit, I do want to take the time to address the fact that weaponizing leaks isn’t OK. PlayStation delaying the launch date for reasons that had nothing to do with development is dishonest, anti-consumer, and just plain disagreeable. But it’s not hurtful. It’s not illegal. It’s not outside of their rights as a company. It’s certainly manipulative. But all marketing is manipulative. That’s the entire point of marketing. And yes launch dates are a part of marketing. That’s why hype trains exist and are desired by corporations. But forcing PlayStation’s hand by leaking content from the game is not an acceptable response. That’s a scummy move. Essentially the public used the leaks to create negative hype in order to push SONY into launching sooner than desired before the leaks became too widespread and preorders began to fall off. That’s not a good precedent. I do believe we as consumers should organize and work together to make demands of both studios and publishers. I do believe that we get mistreated by the industry a large amount of the time and not enough protections are in place to prevent or curtail that. But I don’t believe that using illegal and invasive means to push back is the answer. Because that’s not a world I want to live in.
Game companies could take on my idea of not announcing launch dates until set in stone and ready to go. But they could also go overboard and not announce games at all until they’re ready to release. I’d be fine with that, since I don’t usually preorder games anyway, but a lot of people wouldn’t. Using leaks as a weapon will ultimately lead to companies releasing as little information and explanation as possible for fear of being hacked and having their projects leaked. You won’t try to steal something if you don’t know it exists. So I think we shouldn’t be encouraging leaks or using them to force companies to be honest with us. Do we deserve honesty? Yes. Should we use dishonesty in order to obtain it? No. There are much better ways to motivate companies to stop bullshitting us. We just need to organize, make our demands known, and stick to them. It really is that simple.
When I was a youth, the very first Animal Crossing was released for the Nintendo Gamecube. It was such an odd game. The concept was different from anything I had ever considered playing before. It was like The Sims and DinoPark Tycoon had a baby. But it was intriguing, so I bought it. It was a surprisingly fun game. I still remember it quite fondly. And I’m speaking as a person who doesn’t play games like Minecraft, Stardew Valley, or The Sims and have never had any interest in those types of games. But Animal Crossing was just the right level of resource management and progress to be fun for a casual sim player.
More than one sequel to Animal Crossing has been released since the first one launched in 2001. The franchise expanded into handheld consoles and mobile games. I skipped all of these. It’s not that I didn’t want to play more Animal Crossing. It’s just that I never owned any of Nintendo’s handhelds after the Gameboy Advance and didn’t want to. It wasn’t until two decades later that I finally purchased another Animal Crossing game for the Nintendo Switch. This is of course the recently released Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
I really like New Horizons. It’s by no means a perfect game but it is quite fun, for whatever reason. It delivers that same feeling I got playing the original all those years ago. It is interesting how the game is very much driven by money and Capitalist ideals while also being very relaxed and easy going. People often joke about Tom Nook being a robber baron type but if we’re honest he gives you interest free loans and lets you pay them off at whatever pace you like. He’s very fast about completing construction projects and doesn’t charge you extra for labor. Money is certainly a component but it’s not the driving force of the game. Really the game is just about building a community that makes you happy. I have seen so many amazing creations, designs, and concepts developed in New Horizons. I have visited islands that made me feel like an inferior Resident Representative because of how shitty my island looks by comparison. It is a delightful game that allows people to express themselves in ways I couldn’t have even conceived of when playing the original Animal Crossing back in 2001. But money is still a part of the game and that fact has brought out the worst in Nintendo’s user base.
Nintendo fans, which I do include myself in, often get a bad rap. We are known for our incessant complaining and unruly demands. We are often labeled as some of the most virulent members of the gaming community. While XBOX and PlayStation users are constantly at each other’s throats, Nintendo users are usually fighting each other and attacking the people who make the games we play. Look at how people responded to Pokémon: Sword & Shield. Look at how the Smash Bros. Ultimate community behaves when it comes to discussing DLC characters. One has to admit that Nintendo fans are often guilty of heinous levels of nonsense. Many people see Nintendo fans as childish. The fact that most Nintendo games are geared towards younger audiences definitely adds to that image. At the same time, that childish image has allowed Nintendo fans to be seen as some of the most wholesome members of the gaming community as well. Nintendo fans aren’t complaining about loot boxes or the level of gore in a game. We just want to be able to give our characters purple hair and green shoes. Or at least that’s how the stereotypes tend to come off. If you had asked me which group of gamers were most likely to try to take advantage of each other for profit, I never would have said Nintendo users . . . until I played Animal Crossing: New Horizons.
While money is not meant to be the main focus of New Horizons, it does play a crucial role. Money allows you to do all the fantastic things you want to do. Increasing the size of your house costs money. Changing the layout of your island’s buildings and infrastructure costs money. Adding new villagers to your island costs money. Buying the awesome clothes you want like the Royal Crown (sold at the in game store for 1,200,000 bells) costs money. Now the point of the game is to take your time. Things don’t cost money to make you care a lot about money. They cost money to give you a concrete reason to keep playing the game. To keep catching and selling fish and insects. To keep cultivating fruit. The money is there as a motivator to keep you playing the game. But the online component of this particular Animal Crossing installment allows money to control the way players play the game both alone and with others. And it has brought out the worst in people.
Over the 105 hours I’ve played New Horizons I’ve come to understand the game as having three main stages of gameplay which I will refer to as early game, mid game, and late game. Note that I’m not saying this was Nintendo’s intent when building the game. I’m just saying that based on what I have witnessed in other players and felt myself, this is how users are playing/experiencing the game.
Early game is some of the most gratifying but also depressing gameplay. Everything is new. Everything is fun. You are motivated to do all kinds of things without complaining. I chopped so much wood during the early game. Every day I went through my entire island and shook all the trees for twigs and then hit them all for wood piles. I did this almost religiously without complaining. I made sure to hit every rock, dig every dig spot, and catch as many fish and bugs as I could. Why? Because I needed more money. I needed to turn my tent into a house. I needed to expand that house for more storage space. I needed to buy land plots so I could add more villagers. I needed money. In the early game, I was happy to do manual labor in order to acquire that money. For me, it was about work ethic. If I wanted to expand, I had to be willing to earn it. And for a long time I did earn it. I paid off all the home loans save for the last two with manual labor. I paid off two inclines and two bridges with manual labor. Every piece of furniture or clothing I acquired was either crafted, sourced from the environment/villagers, or paid for with manual labor. I didn’t even get to play the stalk market for the first time until I was already on my second to last home loan, built the Nook’s Cranny store, and had manually paid for at least five villagers to move in. I did this because I had a vision for what I wanted my island to be and I was motivated to work towards it.
Late game is when the player has finally reached their vision. It’s when you’ve paid off everything, gotten the clothes you want, gotten enough houses for the number of villagers you want/need, and have finally built the island you want. The infrastructure, the building placement, the land marks. All these things that make your island a home are finally acquired and in place. It will have taken you lots of time and several million bells to accomplish, but it can eventually be done. Late game, which I haven’t personally reached yet, is an interesting place, because it’s like the early game in that you’re playing for the enjoyment of it. You don’t have things you have to do anymore. You have things you want to do. You don’t have to farm every day for bells. If you want to fish or catch bugs you just do it for love of the game. Money is no problem. You have millions of bells stored in the bank. You simply play the game because you want to and wait for special occurrences and events. It’s the way the game was meant to be played and it took time and hard work to get there. It’s a beautiful place that all Animal Crossing players hope to reach some day. But to get there you have to get through the mid game.
Mid game is a bad place. It’s where most players are currently and where you spend the bulk of your time and effort. This is where you are now a bit jaded and tired of manual labor. You have found certain ways to make money faster. You play the stalk market regularly. And worst of all, you’ll do just about anything to make a quick bell. Because you need those bells. You’re not in it for the fun anymore. You’re in it for the vision. You want to build that amusement park with giant robots and rides. You want a perfectly paved road system lined with Imperial walls and high end bridges. You want that royal crown. Fun is gone. Now it’s about respect and prestige. You know what you want and you see it in reach. But it will cost you a lot of money. And making that money manually is just gonna take more time than people in 2020 want to devote to hard work. So you start wheeling and dealing. And you become a monster.
New Horizons has an optional online component. They want players to interact with each other both locally and online. In order to motivate players to do this, they have built in a number of incentives. People, being people, took advantage of this fact and have turned to profiteering. This is the mid game in a nutshell.
One of the quickest ways to make money in New Horizons is the “stalk market”. The fact that it’s a play on the phrase “stock market” is intentional and sadly prophetic. Every Sunday morning, you can buy turnips. They are sold by a single traveling vendor at a price that fluctuates from week to week. You then have seven days to sell them to a different vendor and hopefully make a profit. The vendor that buys them from you changes prices twice a day every day except on Sundays when they aren’t buying. If you do not sell them within seven days of purchase, they rot and become useless. As the old adage states, “buy low, sell high” is the name of the game. The way it’s meant to be played is one week the vendor may sell the turnips at 104 bells and then the other vendor will hopefully buy them from you at an increase. Say 155 bells as a common example. You then have to choose if you want to sell at that price or wait for a better one. Sometimes a better price comes and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a price lower than the best you saw comes that will still net you a profit and sometimes the price is lower than what you bought at. The name of the game is knowing when to sell. Most of the time the sell price is relatively normal. It usually falls somewhere between 80 and 200 bells. The price you bought at usually ranges between 90 and 120 bells. So if you invest 100K bells you’ll probably net about 50% in profit or about 50K bells total, give or take. But every so often the buyer will offer a crazy high price like 600 bells. Enter predatory human capitalism.
Now you can play the right way and just buy and sell on your own island. Or you can play the smart way and buy and sell on whatever island you can get to with the best price. This week my island had a turnip selling price of 108 bells. That’s a pretty meh price all things considered, but it’s very normal. I didn’t buy on my island. Instead I went to the Discord and found an island selling turnips at 91 bells. I bought my turnips there. Then a day later my island was buying at 107 bells. Now if I had bought at 108 from my local vendor, that’s a losing price. I would absolutely have needed to wait for a better price later in the week and hope it eventually came. But since I bought at 91 bells on a different island, I could have turned a profit selling at 108 bells. I didn’t do that though, because it’s not smart and only mildly profitable. I found another island buying turnips at 621 bells. I sold there. I flipped 250K bells worth of turnips in less than 24 hours for a profit of about 1.6 million bells. Before that, the most money I had ever had at one time was 750K bells, which I earned from manual labor. I made more than double that in a fraction of the time. It’s a great way to get to the late game faster. It should be no surprise that islands that can offer those services are in high demand. And anything with a high demand can be used for profit. Even when used by Nintendo gamers.
Nintendo wanted people to interact with each other in friendly ways. They wanted people to help each other with the occasional friendly trade or visit for fruit. That’s not how people are playing the game though. People are using the benefits of their islands to make staggering profits. Here’s the scenario. Person A has invested one million bells into turnips at a price of 94 bells. That’s a good price. It’s also a big investment. Person A only has seven days to flip those turnips before they rot. If they aren’t sold in time, that’s one million bells down the drain in the form of 10,638 rotten turnips, which cannot be sold for anything. In fact, I think there’s even a fee to dispose of them. Person B has a vendor buying turnips at 600 bells. If Person A can manage to sell his 10,638 turnips at Person B’s island, he will net a profit of about 5,382,800 bells. Assuming he can flip those turnips at those prices on the first day, that’s more than five million bells made in less than 24 hours. Now Person B can choose to be a good Samaritan and just let Person A come sell at his/her island. But that doesn’t help Person B at all. Person B has to do some things in order to let Person A sell at their island. Person B has to be online the entire time it takes Person A to sell. If it takes multiple trips, because of carry inventory limits, then Person B has to wait around for Person A to make multiple trips. Person B can’t do much on their island while Person A is there, due to limitations set by Nintendo to make sure nothing nefarious happens like thefts or people being trapped on foreign islands. Person B also has Person C, Person D, and many other people also wanting to sell their turnips at 600 bells a piece. Person B will logically feel entitled to something in return for helping Person A make all those bells. And arguably Person B isn’t wrong.
Person A understands Person B’s situation and offers to share some of those bells or something else they might have that Person B wants in exchange for letting them sell their turnips at a profit. But Person C also wants to sell on Person B’s island. And Person B only has a limited amount of time before the turnip price changes. So Person C offers Person B more than what Person A offered. Now Person B is in a position of power. Person B can make demands. Person B can hold an auction. Person B has a supply that’s highly in demand. And Person B knows it.
I didn’t get to flip my turnips for free. I got to buy at 91 bells for free because I found a good Samaritan, but those are rare. Most people on the Discord are charging an entry fee to buy/sell turnips on their island, when the prices are good. And some of those fees are absolutely ridiculous. I had to pay a fee to sell my turnips at 621 bells. It cost me six Nook Miles Tickets (NMT) to travel to that island and sell my turnips. NMT are weird in the fact that their value is very relative. There are many different ways to qualify them. For whatever reason they have become the main currency in the Discord market. I think the best way to qualify them is based on the amount of manual labor it takes to acquire them. Without getting into the minutia of it, it’s fair to say that one NMT takes about 2 hours to acquire on average if we’re talking minimum earning rates. So six NMT equals about 12 hours of gameplay labor time on average, if you earned them honestly. I did not, but we’ll come to that later.
The point is that the owner of the island where I flipped my turnips charged me 12 hours of labor as an entry fee for something he did not earn. And I paid it happily. Because that was actually a really good price in the market. A large number of players charge astronomically high prices just for entry to their islands. 10 NMT is common. Rare materials and recipes, special items, and large numbers of bells are all common demands. The most ironic part being that they often refer to these taxes as “tips”, as if they’re optional. It’s a disgusting display of greed and opulence. But again, this is what happens when you’re in the mid game. Because you don’t want to be there so you do whatever it takes to get out as quickly as possible. And I am just as guilty as everyone else.
The problem with this predatory profiteering behavior in New Horizons is that it spreads like a virus. One person doing it leads to more people doing it because they all need to come up with fast ways to acquire the means of paying the entry fees to other players. I needed to flip my turnips. This required NMT. Now I could spend my Nook Miles and buy them, but as I said, that’s about two hours of labor per a ticket. It was much easier and more efficient to take part in my own greedy business dealings . . . and that’s exactly what I did.
Celeste is an NPC that occasionally visits your island at night. She visits maybe three times in a month at most. Every time you speak to her on a new date or island, you get a special rare recipe. There is a list of these rare recipes that can only be acquired from her or from someone else who acquired one from her. Some of her recipes are also seasonal, meaning you have a limited amount of time to acquire them before you have to wait an entire year to get them again. So being able to visit islands that have her is very high in demand. So high in fact that people will literally line up to visit them and happily pay a “modest” fee. The night I bought my turnips, Celeste showed up at my island. I had already spent several hours trying to find an island that would let me sell my turnips at a good rate (600+ bells each) for a “fair” price. The demands were often atrocious. 10 NMT, super rare recipes, 5% of the total turnip earnings, and other ridiculous demands. It was a gross display of greed. Eventually I realized that I simply couldn’t afford to pay these entry fees if I did not also play the game in order to amass resources to pay them. So I too succumbed to the allure of predatory Capitalism.
I advertised on the Discord that I would let people come to my island to see Celeste for their choice of 99K bells (the minimum unit currently used in the market for passage to other islands), one NMT, or any number of rusted parts. Let’s be very clear what I was doing. I was charging people to come to my island to spend a few minutes with Celeste. Celeste is not part of my island. I did nothing to get her to come there. She just showed up for a visit and I trapped her there so I could sell visits to her off to needy strangers for personal gain. Essentially I participated in forced prostitution. Nobody’s going to call it that, but in reality that’s what it was. And it was damn profitable. In a span of just two hours, Celeste had serviced more than 20 customers. I amassed six NMT, four or five rusted parts, and enough money to pay off my second to last home loan (1.7 Million bells). Business was booming. The only reason I finally stopped pimping out Celeste was that it got to 3AM and I had to work the next day. Ultimately I used those six NMT I “earned” to pay for passage to sell my turnips. All of this was/is gross. It’s a disgusting display of greed, selfishness, and a complete lack of ethical business practices. Even Gordon Gekko would be ashamed. Yet so much of the player base is doing it, and they’re unapologetic about it.
The online business of New Horizons is so commonplace and so lucrative that someone created a website to help people manage their visitors. Turnip Exchange lets users post their island to a public list and automates the entire process of finding and queuing players to visit their islands. It’s scary how well it works and how realistic it is to real world business practices. It’s impersonal, it’s efficient, it’s Capitalism at its worst. Yet I played along. We all do. That’s just how the mid game is. You don’t want to be there and people are charging. So you have to charge in order to be able to pay the fees other players are charging. It’s an endless cycle of mindless consumption and greed. And it’s all happening with wholesome intentions. We all just want to build our dream islands and reach the late game. That desire has turned us all into monsters and ultimately the game is made worse for it. But I need to amass like 10M bells to accomplish everything I want, so what choice do I have?
Recently I finished DOOM (2016) for the first time. I was not planning on playing it when it was originally announced, because it’s way out of my normal wheelhouse. Not only do I not like shooters for the most part, but I specifically hate FPS. I also tend to dislike Hellish/Satanist aesthetics in games, with some noteworthy exceptions such as the immaculate Dante’s Inferno (2010). So while highly praised by most, I was gonna pass. After many people recommended the game to me, I still wasn’t going to play it until they finally released a demo on PS4 sometime in like late 2018. I don’t know why the demo was released on PS4 so far after release, but this was the first time that I actually got to try the game hands on. While I’m not a fan of the genre, I immediately could tell this was a well-made game. That’s the mark of a truly good game. It’s when someone who isn’t a fan can play it and quickly tell that it’s a good game to a point where they want to play it even though they usually wouldn’t. After finishing this demo, I agreed to eventually purchase and play the game. Several months later, I was able to purchase it on Steam for $5. Then several months after that I finally decided to play it. I’ve actually been live streaming a let’s play of it, which you can check out here if interested.
My reason for not usually wanting to play shooters is that I’m not a fan of guns. But I play many third person shooters anyway when they seem compelling. I’ve streamed many Ubisoft shooters such as Watch Dogs 1 & 2, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and The Division 2 as examples. My reason for not usually wanting to play FPS games is that I really dislike the first person view. I often find it disorienting and don’t like not being able to see my character. Especially when they look like a badass. That’s the main reason I’m appalled by games like Deus Ex. Why would I want to be a badass looking cyborg if I can’t see him in action? As with shooters in general, there are exceptions where I will play a game in first person, but these are much fewer and far between. This is especially true for FPS titles. I’d much rather play a first person RPG like Skyrim over a first person shooter. The last “full length” AAA FPS game I recall playing was Destiny (2014). So playing something like DOOM is extremely out of character for me. But as I said, exceptions do occasionally occur. DOOM being the most recent one.
I tend to dislike hellish themed games for similar reasons to why I hate zombie games. The subject matter calls back to internalized fears that stem all the way back to my childhood. It’s for this reason that I don’t play many Hellish themed games. Or at least not the Western/Bible inspired hell aesthetic anyway. I have no issue with demon filled games from Japan. I can’t wait to finally play Nioh 2. I also don’t have any issue with games like God of War, where you visit Hades. These alternate interpretations of the underworld do not instill any sort of fear within me and thus I have no problem playing them. Whereas the last game I played based on the Christian idea of Hell is probably Dante’s Inferno, which I played at release. And the last zombie game I played was probably The Last of Us Remastered in 2017. I guess you could also say The Last of Us – Left Behind DLC, which I finally played this year, if you want to be completely accurate. They’re just not games I play. To date I’ve never played or watched a single Resident Evil game or movie.
What I think is interesting about DOOM is that not only am I playing it, but I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying the gameplay. It’s quite good. I don’t really think I need to delve much further into this because I’ve already stated that the main reason I decided to play it was because the gameplay in the demo was so good. But what I think is more interesting is the fact that I don’t feel uncomfortable playing it aesthetic wise. As I said, Hellish games make me uncomfortable. The only times I generally allow myself to play them is when the graphics aren’t trying to be too realistic or when the gameplay is just too good to pass up. The latter was the case with both Dante’s Inferno and now DOOM. I went into the game expecting to be uncomfortable. One of the reasons I decided to stream it was that I’d not be playing it alone so I could distract myself from my discomfort with the aesthetic. But I haven’t really had any issues playing it. And I think the reason why is Doomguy.
In general, there are two main types of protagonists in any sort of narrative driven game focused on violence as the main form of gameplay. There are of course occasionally exceptions, but for the most part you’re always either the underdog or the badass. The underdog is not qualified to be in the situation he/she has been thrown into. They get placed in a conflict they didn’t really want to be in and then sort of luck and hard work their way through to the end. Nathan Drake, modern Lara Croft, and Joel all exemplify this underdog persona. It doesn’t matter how many adventures they’ve been on or what they’ve already accomplished. They always seem to be up against overwhelming odds with little chance of succeeding/surviving. But with brains, a can-do attitude, and luck they somehow make it to the end alive. The badass is unsurprisingly the polar opposite. This character is always the go to person for the task. They’re over qualified for whatever the problem is and no one believes they can’t actually complete the task given to them except the villain, for obvious reasons. This is how protagonists like Kratos, Master Chief, and Doomguy are characterized in their games. They’re revered and downright feared by almost everyone they come into contact with. Their reputations precede them, and rightly so. Take just about any super successful story driven AAA franchise and the main protagonist usually falls into one of these two archetypes.
You never see a game where you’re just some average cop, solider, or agent who’s qualified but not the ideal choice. It’s either a highly decorated person or a rookie who literally just started. This is done intentionally in order to set the tone of the game. The developers either want you to feel unqualified so victory seems so much bigger at the end. Or they want you to feel overly qualified so they can give you lots of awesome weapons and moves without having to justify them narratively. But there’s also an experiential aspect to these types of characterizations. The underdog instills a sense of fear in the player. As you’re being told you shouldn’t be there and you have no chance, you feel inadequate as the person controlling that avatar. Conversely, as you’re being told you’re a badass and this mission shouldn’t be a problem, you feel confident that you can get it done as the person controlling the avatar. And very few avatars are built up to be as badass as Doomguy.
I think the reason I haven’t been uncomfortable playing DOOM is that the persona of the Doom Slayer, or Doomguy as I will continue to call him, is just so epic. It’s a man that’s so badass and powerful that the demons in Hell literally set up monuments in memory of his legend. He’s said to be a man that was so angry at the demons of Hell that he was granted immortality by the Seraphim (angels) in order to fight eternally against the demons and take revenge for whatever wrong they did him. How can you be scared when the enemy is literally afraid of you as part of the canon? And it’s not just in the canon but in the gameplay. On more than one occasion I’ve seen demons of multiple types try to run away from me during combat. Doomguy is the epitome of the epic declaration “I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me.” And that level of confidence and badassery is transferred to the player.
I’ve beaten Demon’s Souls, all three Dark Souls games, and Bloodborne. Yet every time I go to start another From Software soulslike title I’m intimidated. It’s not because I don’t think I can beat it, because I have more than enough proof to know that I can. I’m intimidated because the game presents itself as being more than the player can handle. The motto is literally “Prepare to Die”. The game chops your comfort and confidence down from the start. DOOM does the exact opposite. It actively builds the player up from the very beginning to feel like you can achieve anything and already have. And as such you can stroll into Hell by choice, rip and tear through demons twice your size, and then stroll back out at your leisure. Because you’re Doomguy.
The positive psychology in the presentation of a game is not something I’ve thought much about before playing DOOM. The negative psychology I’ve thought about many times. It’s fairly obvious how it works and how effective it is. Because the player almost always goes into a game with a natural inferiority to begin with. I’m not a super solider, monster hunter, or Dhovakin. I’m just a guy that plays a lot of video games. So it’s fairly easy for the developer to make me feel unqualified for the challenge to begin with. This is how most zombie games are presented. You’re always a normal guy with at best a bit of cop training plunged into an undead nightmare. Even the zombie games where you’re not an amateur still pretty much make you an average guy with a bit of experience at most. You’re never an otherworldly epic badass seasoned by a mountain of corpses beneath your feet. That’s because zombie games are always framed as survival games. You’re always trying to survive an apocalypse. From a narrative standpoint that makes sense because zombies always bring about a dystopian reality in narratives. But that doesn’t mean it has to necessarily be that way.
I don’t like zombie games but I would probably enjoy one that presented itself like DOOM. Rather than a random gym teacher or beat cop, make the protagonist a complete over the top badass. Not a wannabe badass with a motorcycle and a sob story but an actual balls to the wall, no strings attached badass. I don’t want to fear Mr. X. I want Mr. X to shit his pants when he sees me. Give me a game that frames the protagonist like the Doom Slayer at the beginning of DOOM Eternal. Make the humans more afraid to piss me off than they are of the zombies. Give me epic armor and crazy badass weapons. Don ‘t set me in a world with zombies. Set the zombies in a world with me. I’d probably enjoy that zombie game.
Last week, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) formally announced the cancellation of E3 2020. Or more specifically they officially announced the cancellation of the digital E3 2020 event that they had previously announced would take place due to the cancellation of the regular on site E3 event, because of the coronavirus pandemic. To be fully accurate, what originally happened was SONY, among other entities that usually are expected to attend E3, decided not to attend this year because of the coronavirus. Eventually enough companies, and media personalities if we’re being completely honest, decided not to follow SONY’s lead causing the ESA to decide it was in their best interests to cancel the physical event altogether. Almost certainly due to projected financial losses. But rather than formally cancelling, they decided to try to save face by promising a digital event in place of the normal physical event. Now they have cancelled that as well. In my professional opinion, I have to say that this is the final straw for E3.
Even without the coronavirus, making E3 into a digital event makes a ton of sense. It’s more cost effective, more accessible to more people, and allows companies with lower budgets a better chance at being able to participate. Honestly there’s little reason for E3 to continue to exist in its current form and this has been the case for years. Note that I am not saying that there is no place for a Los Angeles based physical video game event in the current video game industry. What I am saying is that E3 should no longer be managed and treated like it’s as important as it currently is. E3 today should really be more like a Gamescom or Tokyo Game Show where it’s just another event where companies can and sometimes do announce things but ultimately it’s just about interacting with fans and local business interests for convenience sake. It should no longer be the end all of game industry events. But that’s not even really what I want to discuss today. I want to talk about the fact that E3 is now for all intents and purposes dead.
The promise of a digital E3 event was kind of a tall order to begin with if we’re being honest. See Nintendo’s E3Direct every year doesn’t actually have anything to do with E3. They simply create a presentation independently and just choose to release it during E3 at a scheduled time based on the presentation schedule, which is publicly available. And because Nintendo is such an important player, the ESA chooses to stream the Nintendo Direct on site because they know if they didn’t people would take the time to go watch it, thus reducing traffic at E3 during the presentation. Nintendo does still participate at E3 by putting up a booth, but in terms of announcements and a presentation, that’s all handled outside of E3 and in no way is affected by the ESA. The reason E3 continued to work even after Nintendo decided to do this was because no one else decided to do it. Nintendo was essentially forced to work around E3’s schedule in order to stay relevant in the gaming news cycle. But if no one is presenting live then suddenly there is no E3 news cycle. There’s just a bunch of digital presentations by different companies. Why would any company allow the ESA to manage and police the release of their gaming announcements digital presentation? Nintendo doesn’t and no one else would either. And they especially wouldn’t pay a fee to release their presentation to the internet. So at that point the only thing the ESA could offer them was a scheduled announcement time surrounded by other digital presentations. But that’s not really a selling point.
If anything, you want to release your digital presentation before all the other companies or after all the other companies. Because you want to garner the most continuous attention and hype for your presentation. So really companies wouldn’t want to release their digital presentations that close to each other at all. They’d be better off picking their own random days throughout the year and being the focus of the news cycle when they do release. And if they’re smart, like Nintendo often is, they’ll make their presentation interactive. As in release a presentation that announces a downloadable demo going live that day. Or beta sign ups, etc. If it’s a digital presentation, it can be as long or as short as a company wants and include all sorts of promotional gimmicks without having to be approved by the ESA or any other external entity from said companies. And that’s true for both AAA and indie developers/publishers alike. So the prospect of a bunch of companies, especially the bigger ones like EA, Ubisoft, and Microsoft actively choosing to share the spotlight of their digital presentations with other companies’ digital presentations is pretty ridiculous. Think about the hype Nintendo Directs get throughout the year. Why would any company choose to share that limelight with their competitors, ultimately weakening the impact of their digital presentations?
The only reason events like E3 even exist is simply that putting on your own event is very expensive and hard to promote. It’s more cost effective, even though it is still very expensive, to just attend another event. So you sacrifice that spotlight by sharing it with other companies that are all in the same boat trying to save money and garner as much attention as possible. But when it comes to releasing online, everything is backwards. You want nothing to do with anyone else’s content. Imagine if by some miracle you were the only person on Twitch streaming for like three straight hours. Just by some miracle there were zero other channels streaming during that time. You would garner so much attention just because nothing else is going on at the same time. It’s the same concept for these digital presentations. So the idea of a digital E3 was built solely on hope for companies to adhere to tradition rather than sensible business decisions. And of course in 2020 we know tradition doesn’t mean shit. So no these companies were not about to turn over their digital presentations to the ESA and give them control of managing and releasing them. That was never going to happen.
Here’s why I say E3 is now dead. We’re about to have our first year with no official E3 since 1995. For the past 24 years “we” were all led to believe that it was a must. That the only way game companies could properly announce their games to the public was through this one offline event. We were told it was important for the companies, media, and public to interact with each other and share their love of gaming. And many people believe(d) this. Now suddenly we’re not only not having E3, but we’re not even going to have any large scale coordinated gaming events at all. They’re all getting cancelled or postponed and replaced with digital presentations. Mark Cerny’s GDC PS5 presentation was a great example of this. It proved that PlayStation could effectively present their new hardware ideas and intentions to developers digitally without losing any effect or hype and they saved money doing it. Not only that but they were able to garner more media attention and get the public more involved in the discussion. I wrote my first GDC related blog post this year because of that presentation, which I would not have even watched had it been a normal GDC year. SONY isn’t going to forget that. God willing this pandemic ends soon and events can go back to happening again. But don’t think for a second the companies involved are gonna just go back to the ways things were. They will see the hype, the efficiency, the reduced costs, and whatever other benefits and decide they can just keep doing it that way. That’s what’s gonna happen to E3.
For the next year, you’re gonna have every company create and distribute digital game presentations. They will all be different and specific to their companies. Some companies will copy the Nintendo Direct model and try to keep things current and relevant for the short term. Some companies will do a presentation for the next year’s worth of announcements. Some companies will create individual presentations for each game coming in their portfolio and release them periodically. But no company is going to coordinate with any other companies to release their presentations concurrently or close to each other. And what we’re all going to have to finally accept is that not only is that OK, but it’s better. It’s better for everyone involved.
Every E3 I don’t watch the presentations. I find a website like IGN or GameSpot and look at their roundup article and then watch the clips from the presentations of the games I’m interested in. Why? Because there are too many presentations to deal with in too short a time span. And a lot of the junk presented is stuff I don’t give two shits about. And when you’ve got Microsoft, SONY, Nintendo, Ubisoft, EA, Devolver Digital, and others even if you just look at two games from each one that’s still way too many games to try to reasonably keep track of and give a proper amount of time and attention to. But if instead each of those presentations was released at a completely different point in the year with nothing going on around it, I’d probably watch every presentation in its entirety. Especially right now. The number one problem with the quarantine for most people is boredom. They have nothing to do at home. Would you rather have everything thrown at you in the span of three days for you to binge and then go back to being bored or have things peppered out throughout the quarantine so that you continuously have things given to you to help combat your boredom in the long term? A singular event is really good for the company running the event, because they can turn a large profit. But for literally everyone else involved, including the audience, it’s at best a troublesome burden disguised as convenience due to travel restrictions/costs and time. But when no one can travel and everyone has too much time on their hands, a singular physical event isn’t useful at all. A singular digital event is only slightly more useful.
After this year of disconnected digital game presentations, everyone will be forced to acknowledge that it was fine. Gaming didn’t stop. Profits didn’t go down . . . due to the lack of E3 and other such events. Hype wasn’t reduced. Nothing negative will have happened to any of these larger companies because of the absence of E3. And because of that, when the ESA tries to get companies to invest a large sum of money to be featured at E3 2021, many if not all of them are going to say no. They’re gonna go the way of Nintendo and say it’s just not worth the money, labor, time, and inconvenience. At that point, the event simply won’t have enough attendees to warrant most people buying tickets. And at that point, E3 is dead as a door nail.
Change tends to come by force rather than by choice sadly. This pandemic has forced companies to change the way they announce new games. Yet these changes should have taken effect long before a pandemic because technology had already provided the means to do so more effectively, efficiently, and affordably. These changes were a long time coming. Companies and consumers only fought them out of some odd dedication to tradition. Now that tradition is being forced out, things will never be the same.
This statement from the ESA, as reported by PC Gamer, is more telling than people will probably give it credit for right now.
“Given the disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we will not be presenting an online E3 2020 event in June. Instead, we will be working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements, including on http://www.E3expo.com, in the coming months,” the rep said. “We look forward to bringing our industry and community together in 2021 to present a reimagined E3 that will highlight new offerings and thrill our audiences.”
The shift from an online E3 event to “working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements” is a fancy way of saying that the ESA will shift into being a promotional company similar to traditional online media. In other words, they will become leeches that garner value by promoting content created by other companies online. Now of course this statement acts as if it only applies to 2020. The ESA has already stated plans to return to normal for E3 2021. But this assumes that all the companies decide to go back to the old model. I’ve already explained why that won’t happen. In 2021, E3 will be cancelled again, but ideally it won’t be because of coronavirus. It will be due to lack of participation. And once again the ESA will be “working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements”. Over time the ESA will either shift completely into the media space and operate as a digital promotions platform that operates pretty much the same way as any other mainstream media/games marketing company or it will cease to exist. At best, E3 may end up becoming a smaller event that acts similar to PAX with a focus on smaller companies and projects desperate for any attention at all. While I have been predicting the end of E3 for some time now, I had originally given it a few more years, as can be seen in previous blog posts. But with the virus accelerating things, I think it’s done. E3 is de facto dead in the water from here on out.
If you’ve been following me for a while then you know I don’t really like shooters and I tend to hate PVP games. Especially those with no story based campaign. To this day I can proudly say that I have never played a single match of Fortnite. While I enjoy the art style and quirkiness, I absolutely loathe the Overwatch model. These games simply aren’t for me. So when I was invited to try the closed alpha for Rogue Company I went in assuming that I would dislike it. I was pleasantly surprised to find that this wasn’t the case.
I don’t want to write a full review of this alpha. Not only was/is it under an NDA, but it was also very limited in what was available so writing a full review at this point would most likely do the game more harm than good in a way that won’t necessarily be beneficial to consumers. What I will say is that the game blends a number of different styles together in order to make a very satisfying gameplay experience. It has the single life mechanic of a battle royale game coupled with the condensed maps and team mechanics of Overwatch. This is done in a first to five rounds won model. The two modes available in the alpha were 3v3 fights to the death and 4v4 objective matches. I enjoyed both modes. The pacing is very fast with single life elimination. The gameplay, though flawed mechanically in certain ways, is very well balanced and accessible to amateur players. The best way to describe it is the weapons are balanced in a way where the amateur shooting first isn’t automatically going to get creamed by the more experienced player like you see in so many other shooters. The in game money system that allows you to upgrade between rounds worked fairly well and added a layer of depth to the game that I think harkens back to CS GO but in a more refined form. I have to say that it’s the first team based round by round shooter with no story that I’ve ever actually enjoyed playing.
I spent most of my time playing the objective mode in the alpha. This was much simpler than Overwatch’s objective mode. It’s just a bomb in the center that you have to reach before the other team and hack with a single button held for about four seconds. Once the bomb is hacked you have to defend it for 60 seconds. The other team can re-hack the bomb and claim it for themselves. The same rules apply afterwards. Hold it for 60 seconds to win the round. The “problem” with this mode is that when combined with the single elimination mechanics it devolves into killing the four guys on the other team first equals a win. You can win the round by completing the objective, which takes the time to reach the bomb plus the time to hack the bomb plus the 60 seconds defending the bomb. This is how the mode was actually meant to be played. But you can also just kill the opposing team’s four members in a fraction of the time, if your team is better, and net the same results i.e. a victory for that round. As you can imagine, once people caught wind of this they stopped caring about the objective entirely.
I’m one of those people that actually care about the objective. That’s why I play(ed) the objective mode as opposed to the team kill mode. When I first started playing, I was misled into believing I was playing with people but was actually in the bot mode. I had so much fun. Not because the bots were easier but because they were playing for the objective. Rather than just going for kills, the bots had been programmed to play as if completing the objective was the only way to win. This made for a much more interesting and varied gameplay experience because while killing the opposition mattered and happened, it wasn’t the main focus of each round. Both sides played for the objective as their main concern. This shaped the way they approached the map and the firefights. Once I started playing with actual people, I quickly started to enjoy the game less. This was because human players didn’t care about the objective.
Playing Rogue Company’s objective mode, and so many other shooters with objectives I’ve tried, with humans always ends up being the same garbage experience. This is because everyone except me always seems to think they’re playing slayer mode and just ignores the objective. This makes sense when you look at the framework for how these types of games work though. Notice that people who play shooters rarely discuss wins. Have you ever noticed that before? No one ever describes their win percentage when talking about how good they are at shooters. The talk about their K/D ratio. In a way this makes a lot of sense. K/D ratio is more effective at describing an individual player’s skills in the game while wins accounts for a number of external factors that aren’t all related to the individual player’s performance. You can be the best in the world but if you’re playing a team based game against the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th best in the world and the other members of your team are crap then you probably still won’t win the match. Also, even when you do get a good team, the map layout usually gives one team the advantage. In Rogue Company, the objective location changes each round but it’s always to a particular spot from a preset list of locations on the map. These spawn points absolutely deal an advantage to one team over the other and I could see no formula for how these spawns were decided. Some matches my team got the advantage multiple times over and other matches the other team got the advantage more often than we did. It was random and yet clearly gave an advantage to a particular team. Factors like this play a huge role in determining why K/D seems to matter more than win percentage to most committed players of shooters.
Another huge factor in why players tend to ignore the objective is the rewards system in these games. Rogue Company, like most shooters of this sort, has player levels. You amass experience based on your accomplishments and that experience levels up your account. Leveling up presumably has some benefit, but as this was an alpha, I don’t know what the particular benefits will be in this particular game. I assume it will be similar to most other shooters by being a mix of cosmetic options, avatars, and titles. There is of course always the prestige of having a higher level as well. Experience is given based on accomplishments but kills always net more than completing the objective in these games. Completing the objective may be the stated purpose of the game but the experience points given to the individual player for completing the objective never compares to racking up kills. So if you’re a player that cares about leveling up your account, it is the objectively correct decision to focus on getting more kills rather than completing the objective. Again acknowledging the fact that killing off the other team will get you a win even if you ignore the objective completely.
Ignoring the objective becomes the standard of play because it’s always profitable. This is so common that playing for the objective becomes a taboo. This was definitely the case in Rogue Company. As I said, I play for the objective. It’s what I like to do. It’s the reason I play that mode in these types of games in the rare instances that I do play them. I was criticized multiple times during the alpha for trying to prioritize the objective. People would take the time to jump on their mics or text chat to tell me to stop going for the objective and just focus on killing. That angered me, but I understood their reasoning behind it. The truth is that by being the only person on the map playing for the objective, I tended to die first fairly often. But let’s unpack that a bit. Seven of eight players on a map ignoring the objective and one playing for the objective and getting criticized for it should not be seen as acceptable from a game design standpoint. Why even make an objective mode if 87% of players are just going to ignore it anyway? Because there are simply too few players like me who will risk victory for love of the game. What should have happened was not that my three team mates criticized me for pursuing the objective but instead cover my ass so that I can get the objective before the other team does. That’s the intended way to play. But it’s not the common way people play.
It’s very telling when you look at the scorecards from the matches I played. It was extremely common to see something like me with the lowest score on my team but with the most objective completions while the person with highest score on my team would have zero objective completions but the most kills. It’s no wonder most players ignore the objective and I can’t blame them for that. But this, in my opinion, should be considered bad game design. Yes the gameplay loop is fun. Yes the combat is balanced. Yes the round to round character development system is well made. But if more than 2/3 of your players are flat out ignoring the gameplay methodology you’ve built into the mode then it’s a badly designed mode. And that’s not a knock against Rogue Company specifically. That’s a criticism of all these shooters. Because they all tend to have this same issue. So my question is how do “we” fix this?
There has to be a way for a developer to create an objective mode in a shooter that has a fulfilling gameplay loop, meaningful objectives, and encourages people to actively prioritize completing the objective(s) over mindlessly killing the other team regardless of the objective being completed. I don’t know what that looks like. I don’t know if it’s already been done, because I don’t play every shooter. But I do know that this is something that I’ve never witnessed before.
I’ve got some ideas. Maybe completing the objective should net the individual player way more points. Like 10x that of a single kill. Or maybe the game shouldn’t let anyone get killed permanently until the objective is completed. Or maybe if the round is ended without the objective being completed everyone gets zero points or at least severely reduced points. I don’t know the answer but I do believe there’s a way to make a meaningful objective mode in a team based shooter where people on both teams actively care about the objective more than getting kills. But then we have to ask the question does it matter?
If 87% of players will happily ignore the objective in a game, maybe the answer is to stop building objective modes in these games. Clearly people don’t care about them. But is it that they simply aren’t made to be meaningful enough or that most players genuinely don’t want them but play in that mode for some other reason. Maybe they prefer the maps for example. In Rogue Company the objective mode maps were much more interesting than the one straight slayer map that was available. There is a risk that making an objective mode where players have to actually play for the objective could backfire on the developer. People might say they don’t like actually having to take the objective seriously and ultimately not play the mode. This is a real risk to be considered. But I believe that there’s a way to do it successfully. I believe that players will change their conduct when motivated to do so in an effective and meaningful way.
I don’t know if what I’m looking for in a team based shooter already exists. It may have been here for years and I just don’t know about it because of how rarely I play shooters. Maybe that’s exactly what Rainbow Six Siege is and I just don’t know about it. In any case, I want a team based shooter with Rogue Company’s fast paced gameplay loop with an objective mode that actively motivates players to take the objective seriously. Until then I’ll probably keep ignoring team based shooters with no story mode.