Black Friday 2020

It is tradition for me to do a Black Friday post. I’ve done one every year since the beginning of this blog. It’s one of my favorite times of the year. I literally refer to it as “Gamer Christmas”. But this year feels weird. For some reason I’m just not in the spirit of the holiday this season. Maybe it’s COVID, maybe it’s the fact that my home country is still fighting over the Presidential election results, or maybe I finally just own enough games. Whatever the reason, I’m just not that excited or motivated about Black Friday this year. But tradition isn’t about excitement. It’s about commitment. Whether I’m excited or not, Black Friday is coming. So as is tradition, here’s my Black Friday post.

Last year was a great Black Friday. Looking back at the haul from 2019, I bought a lot of stuff. I picked up 21 games plus some other items. What’s also impressive is that when I look back at my goals for Black Friday 2019, I now own everything on the original list except for four games. That’s a high percentage of successful acquisitions.

Black Friday 2019 List

This year I have a very modest list and I’m much less enthusiastic about it. But I will still buy what I can for the right prices. Hopefully with the new consoles now launched prices for the last gen stuff that I want will go down considerably. With a shorter list, I’ll hopefully be able to get everything I want with little to know effort.

As per usual, I have created a graphic showing the things I want and the prices I’d like them for. I’m once again calling on you to help me find the deals I’m looking for. So if you see anything on the list at the prices I want or less, please tweet me a link @GameChangerDOC. I’m not doing the core list and extended list this year. The list is short enough to not need to make a differentiation. Here’s the full list of games and hardware I’m hoping to get during Black Friday and holiday sales this year.

  1. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (PC or PS4) – $20
  2. Mortal Kombat 11: Ultimate Edition (PS4) – $20
  3. Death Stranding (PC or PS4) – $20
  4. Just Dance 2021 (Switch) – $25
  5. The Last of Us Part II (PS4) – $20
  6. Ghostrunner (PC or PS4) – $7
  7. Paper Mario: The Origami King (Switch) – $40
  8. Judgement (PS4) – $20
  9. Clubhouse Games: 51 Worldwide Classics (Switch) – $20
  10. Yakuza: Like a Dragon (PS4) – $20
  1. 400GB Nintendo Switch MicroSD Card – $40
  2. Switch Pro Wireless Controller – $40

While I wouldn’t say any of these are must haves this year, I really do want to find Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for $20. It’s appalling to me that games released later have already dropped lower than that game in price even with all their DLC included. All the other From Software games go on sale all the time. But this samurai adventure game simply will not drop below about $40. And it has no story based DLC. I simply can’t understand what the reason is for the game being price managed like a Nintendo title. Especially given that other high quality samurai themed games have since then released. So really if I can just find that at the price I want I’ll call it a successful Black Friday.

As always, happy Thanksgiving to my American readers. Happy Black Friday, and may the deals be ever in your favor!

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Bloggiversary 2020 (7 Years & Counting)

Last week marked the seventh anniversary of my weekly gaming blog. I wanted to publish this last week but the post about games of the last generation seemed more appropriate given the launch of the new consoles. I’m happy to report that I plan on continuing this blog for at least the next year but I assume years to come. I love this blog and I’m very happy with the things it has accomplished. But I will also say that I have improved my streaming endeavors a lot in the last year and really started to build regular viewership. I have improved the quality of my streams at a technical level considerably in the last year and have even started to get support directly from some developers/publishers including big names like Ubisoft. I’m very proud of this growth and I will continue streaming regularly. If you aren’t hooked into my Twitch channel, please consider checking it out. My reason for mentioning this is that I could see the potential for doing more types of video content and at some point that might mean the end of the blog, in its current form anyway, in exchange for a more video focused format. For now that is not the plan, but it is something I’ve been thinking about more in recent months.

This last year was hard on everyone for various reasons. We have a global pandemic, various political issues, and even in the world of gaming there have been a lot of snafus, delays, that should have been expected, and crazy acquisitions like Microsoft buying Zeni-Max. So I won’t be insensitive and say it’s been a great year in general. I will say that I have personally been blessed to have not been too badly affected by most of the issues plaguing the world, because I live in Taiwan. Though the constant fear of China finally invading has worn on my wife and I a lot as of late, mostly because of the Presidential election in the United States. Sadly we live in a world where hard working people in one country have to care about the political choices of the citizens of another country. In my case, I actually am an American citizen and did vote in the election, so it’s a bit closer to me, but as my wife is Taiwanese, she has a lot more to worry about if her native country is invaded than I do. But let’s get back to the games.

One would have predicted that I would have been able to set a record amount of gaming in the past year given the pandemic, but that was not the case for me. Living in Taiwan means that I actually wasn’t confined to my apartment for an extended period of time. They only had/let us work from home for about two months. I’ve been back to my office full time since like June. My marriage and dog, in no particular order, have also worn away at a lot of my gaming, and writing, time. This is also one of the reasons live streamed video content has become more manageable than writing this blog. No additional time for editing required and the planning isn’t too time consuming for the type of content I’m currently generating. I’ve also been playing an exorbitant amount of open worlds and RPGs. It seems every game is open world with RPG elements now. And those games have only gotten longer, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but certainly can be and was with some of the games I’ve played in the last year. While it’s on the list, I’m actually not done with Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey yet, even though I’m more than 150 hours in. That many hours for one game becomes untenable when you have a stack of open world RPGs to tackle, which I do. So while the list of games I completed since the last bloggiversary is by no means paltry, it’s not nearly as impressive as I would have liked.

I put up 26 completed games in last year’s bloggiversary post. This year I can happily report 30. So I did manage to improve thankfully. But if I’m being honest two of the games listed are DLC expansion packs and, as previously stated, one is still unfinished. But that is still 27 completed games over last year’s 26. Here’s the complete list of games that I beat in the last year.

I want to take this time to once again express how thankful I am for all those who read and share my blog posts regularly. I do have regular readers and I do see and appreciate your likes. I get the notifications to my phone and they do matter to me. I recently realized that a lot of comments have been going to spam for some reason, so I will try to be better about managing that so that your comments do appear and we can have more discussions based on the posts. That is the ultimate goal of this blog after all. So thank you for your continued support and engagement. Here’s to another year of gaming, writing, and engaging!

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Game of the Generation

This week both the XBOX Series X and PlayStation 5 will launch, barring some last minute Cyberpunk 2077 level troll. This is a momentous occasion as it means that we have officially started the next generation of gaming. As expressed in last week’s blog post, I still don’t know if I really consider these consoles truly next gen worthy yet but the fact is that these are what we have for the next generation of gaming. But that’s not really what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the last generation of gaming.

While the consoles will still be supported for presumably and hopefully some years to come, the fact is that the time of the PS4 and XB1 is officially in its twilight. These consoles are now the walking dead in the throes of their death rattle. This is not meant to be inflammatory or argumentative.  It’s merely factual. Our current/last gen consoles are now in the final stretch towards obsolescence.  So I wanted to take the time to discuss the high point(s) of the last generation by “officially” naming the Game of the Generation (GOTG).

GOTG =/=Guardians of the Galaxy

I have seen many discussions, Twitter debates, video posts, and gaming news site articles about what the Game of the Year will be, with the debate centering around Ghost of Tsushima versus The Last of Us Part II, due to the fact that Cyberpunk 2077 missed the cutoff. In my opinion, Ghost of Tsushima should win between those two and when/if the time comes to discuss it (probably in like a week or two) I will do a full post about it. But let’s not talk about 2020 today. Let’s talk about 2013 – 2020.

It’s always hard to differentiate gens because of the overlap at the beginning/end of each gen and cross-gen titles. So for the purposes of discussion I will only include games that launched between November 2013 and November 2019. I’ll also not include any games that launched as cross-gen titles on either last-gen (PS3/XBOX 360) or next-gen (PS5/XSX) consoles. I will only include Switch games for Nintendo’s part in the discussion, though an argument for Wii U titles can certainly be made. And I will not include any ports for any platform. I will allow full remakes, but no cross-gen remasters, which are just glorified ports. So Link’s Awakening remake, yes but The Last of Us remastered, no.

The real question is what defines the GOTG? Like with GOTY (Game of the Year), it’s a very nuanced debate that too many people try to rush through with a simple level of reasoning, usually based on their own personal preferences. The truth is that it can’t be as simple as which game you liked the most, which game got the best review scores, or even which game sold the most. I believe it’s a combination of those things but also so many other things, many of which are almost impossible to measure completely objectively and this early in the discussion. And yes I realize that I’m using the term early even though we’re literally at the end of then generation.

I think there are a number of different factors that need to be considered when discussing the GOTG, and I’m happy to admit that a number of them aren’t exactly easy or even possible to objectively answer or even necessarily compatible to be asked in the same discussion. So here’s a list of 10 questions that I think we should consider when trying to determine the true GOTG. Note that these aren’t even all the questions one could ask. I started with 15 and whittled it down for the sake of time.

  1. When was the game released?

I think time plays an important role in this question. As I’ve said, it’s hard to differentiate gens when many games overlap. Another issue is that certain games are rushed out at the beginning of a gen to get launch status and boosts in sales. It’s also apparent that games launched at the end of a gen can struggle because people are waiting for the next gen consoles. Really it’s the games in the middle of a gen that get the right amount of time to develop something great while already having enough data from other games to really push a console to its limits. Marvel’s Spider-Man is a great example of this. That’s not to say that a game launched at the beginning of a gen, such as Dragon Age: Inquisition, or at the end of a gen, such as Ghost of Tsushima, shouldn’t be serious contenders for GOTG.

2. How many people actually bought the game?

This matters because game development, while art, is also business. Sales numbers also help to measure appeal. If no one was willing to purchase a game, was it really that good? Yet there are countless examples of games that actually were really good that people didn’t buy, such as Alien: Isolation. The game is criminally undersold. At the same time, there are plenty of trash games that sell millions of units. Annual sports games being the best example. We also have to account for the fact that many games are free to play or launched free as a promotion. Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout was one of the most downloaded games in the PS4’s history. It also launched free for PlayStation Plus subscribers. So you have millions of people playing a game they didn’t pay for. That also happens to be Fortnite’s story. Does it matter that people probably wouldn’t be playing these games if they had to pay for them? Conversely, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout was not free on Steam and yet has millions of users on that platform as well.

3. How many people actually played the game?

Hidden gems are fairly common in the gaming industry. There are simply too many games to play and many aren’t published by big companies with massive marketing budgets. So it’s easy for a lot of great games to fall through the cracks. But is it right to award GOTG to a game very few people played? Even Among Us was able to build a following eventually. At the same time though, the idea of not having a big marketing budget keeping you from being a contender for GOTG seems extremely unfair. Yet it wouldn’t make sense to name a game nobody played as the defining experience of a generation. Another issue to consider is exclusive titles. The fact is that far less people played Ratchet & Clank (2016) than Devil May Cry V simply because the latter was available on more platforms, allowing for a wider net of potential players. At the same time though, God of War, The Last of Us Part II, and multiple other PS4 exclusives outsold many multiplatform games, including Devil May Cry V, in the last gen.

4. How many people actually finished the game?

This one is pretty straight forward. A lot of people start games but often don’t finish them. No matter how much fun a game is, if people aren’t willing to finish it then clearly something is wrong. Some games are too difficult for some people, such as Dark Souls, and some games are really good but simply too long, such as The Witcher 3. But should we punish a game for providing too much content or being too challenging for mediocre players even while being totally fair/acceptable for average players? There needs to be some middle ground with this topic but how does one even try to measure that?

5. Was the game actually good or were the people behind the game just really popular?

This is the problem with brands being part of the discussion. Many games sell well based on franchise popularity or studio prestige while not actually being a good game. Again, all the annual sports titles fall into this category. They aren’t bad games but there’s not really anything innovative or new about them from year to year. They just up the graphics a bit and update the rosters. But let’s consider an even more obvious example: Death Stranding. That game is proof that people will do anything to support Kojima, including convincing themselves that delivering mail is fun. Yet I would bet that the people who argue the game is actually great wouldn’t be willing to die on that hill if it wasn’t a game by Kojima. It’s impossible to fully divide a game’s popularity and sales based on its own merits versus loyalty to the brand, but it does need to be considered in the discussion.

6. Was the game good at launch or did it require several post launch improvements to become something worth playing?

While we’ve had patches since the last gen, this was the first generation where genuinely bad games launched and then were fixed over time to become not just serviceable but supposedly good games. No game exemplifies this more than No Man’s Sky. That game launched terribly and was met with huge outrage. But over time it has added several large scale updates and transformed into a highly favorable game. But is this acceptable in a discussion about GOTG? Should a game that was only made better because of backlash at launch be considered a triumph? In a way though, it does express what the experience of gaming in the last gen has been like. Post-game patches, updates, and sometimes large scale changes are here to stay. This also factors into games with large amounts of DLC, whether paid or free, and expansions. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was great, but a huge part of the game’s success came from the impressive expansion packs and the extremely fair pricing of post launch content, including a bunch of free DLC. So do we grade the game in totality or only in its launch form? Because we have to apply the same criteria to all games. Some win big when you include post launch updates and content, while some lose or get no extra points.

No Man’s Lie eventually became No Man’s Sky

7. Are certain genres excluded from the GOTG discussion?

This is an issue that can anger many people, because there are many types of gamers. Some, like myself, play for the story. Others hunt trophies. Many people hate single player experiences and only want to play multiplayer games. There are so many different types of games and people that play them. So how does one pick the best of a generation when no matter what game it is large swaths of people will hate it? For me, I’d eliminate all games that don’t have a single player mode driven by a story, but many people would vehemently disagree with that decision.

8. Are our expectations for GOTG the same this generation as they were last generation?

I think this is one of the most important questions a person can ask in this discussion. The fact is that what gamers collectively called good games last gen is different from this gen, for better or for worse. Today some of the most popular and profitable games are those with no single player mode, no story, and run on constant microtransactions with no cost to jump in. Many require an always online connection as well. In the PS3/XBOX 360 era, these types of games were hated. Constantly maligned for their terrible business models and called lazy cash grabs for their lack of meaningful content. Today they’re championed and given special award categories just to keep praising them long after their release. Clearly there has been a fundamental shift in the way games are viewed and judged within the community and that needs to be accounted for in a GOTG discussion.

9. Do GOTG contenders have to have won previous awards?

This is an interesting question because often games get snubbed. But at the same time if a game couldn’t win any meaningful awards then how can it be considered GOTG? It would be easy just to look at all the GOTY picks since 2013 and compare them but I think that’s a bit too easy. Also, there are several game awards. The Game Awards is just one show with one set of awards every year. But there is probably something to the idea of focusing on the games that have won the most awards overall.

10. Does a game’s length factor into the GOTG discussion?

This is one of those questions where the answer is objectively supposed to be no but there are also clear nuances to the discussion. A game can be too long and most open worlds are. But a game can also be too short.  And I definitely think value has to play a factor in the discussion of GOTG. Value also happens to be relative though.

 When I try to pick a single GOTG that best encompasses all the greatest aspects of the last seven years of gaming, I draw a blank. There are simply too many games that were important, for different reasons. I can come up with a short list, but it still seems impossible to pick a single game. And that’s ignoring the fact that I didn’t even get to play every game. Or even every game actually worth considering. Of course there are specific games that stand out amongst the sea of great titles we experienced. God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, The Witcher 3, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Bloodborne, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, Ghost of Tsushima, Assassin’s Creed : Origins, and Monster Hunter: World just to name 10 I’d happily consider off the top of my head. And I could keep going. Now I could easily cut that list down to five. I’d quickly eliminate The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Bloodborne, Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Ghost of Tsushima, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for various reason. We could also quickly remove Super Mario Odyssey, because while the game is great it certainly doesn’t stand up as GOTG. And I’d say the same thing about Monster Hunter: World. So that leaves us the big three: God of War, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and The Witcher 3. Now it’s hard.

I think it’s interesting that those three remaining games are all established franchises, though this iteration of Spider-Man is an original game series. When it comes to gameplay, it’s a toss-up between Marvel’s Spider-Man and God of War. When it comes to writing, I think it’s easy to default to The Witcher 3, but in reality all three games are fairly well written. For game length it’s of course The Witcher 3, but for pacing I’d say God of War takes it with Marvel’s Spider-Man close behind. We could do this all day. Going through every criteria between these three games will never net a clear winner. And that’s the bigger point that I think needs to be addressed. It’s not really realistic to choose a GOTG. Because the choice could never be totally conclusive. It makes much more sense to name Games of the Generation, as in multiple titles.

A generation of games is simply too many to choose from. And choosing a single one to fully encompass everything the generation had to offer is laughably impossible. What makes much more sense is to choose a collection of games that together expresses what this last generation was able to achieve. Obviously there will still be debate over what games should be included, and there should be. But I think creating a list of titles that together delivers the overall experience of what the last generation of gaming was makes way more sense than trying to pick an all-encompassing game to represent the Switch, PS4, and XBO over the last seven years. So let’s make a Games of the Generation list.

For me, a Games of the Generation list should not simply be the top 10 games of that generation. While that would be an excellent collection of games that would certainly be worth playing, it wouldn’t be the best list of games to fully express what the last gen was about. Rather I want to select the most appropriate games that together distill the last generation of gaming into a single well curated collection. Similar to what the PlayStation Plus Collection intends to do on the PS5. The first thing I’m going to do is not choose 10 games, but instead choose 12. Why 12? Because then you could play one game each month of the year and by the end of the year you would have gotten the full eighth generation gaming experience. So here’s my full list for the Games of the Generation with an explanation for each game in the collection.

Games of the Generation (A Collection by DJMMT)

This list is not in any particular order. It has not ranking and is meant to be played as a collection with each game taking up to a month to complete. Some games are top shelf experiences and others are not, but together the collection is meant to express the overall experience(s) that truly defined the last generation of gaming.

Fortnite

I hate Fortnite. I hate the battle royale shooter concept and experience. I hate the microtransactions, the lack of single player modes, and the fact that these games are so popular. But I’d be flat out lying to not include this game in the collection because BR shooters were a huge part of the last gen of gaming. Epic Games made more money from Fortnite Battle Royale than all their other in house developed games combined, and it’s a free to play game. So many people got into Fortnite that random franchises and people went out of their way to get involved in the craze. Travis Scott held a concert in game, Thanos made an appearance, and people I never would have expected became addicts. Even my sister, who never played a shooter before in her life, got into Fortnite. It simply has to be included in a list expressing the essence of the last seven years of gaming. But note that this game is not included only because of how prolific it is. It’s included to express the entire BR shooter genre. PUBG, Fear the Wolves, Hyper Scape, and countless other battle royale games came to be during this generation. The genre solidified itself as a staple part of modern gaming, for better or for worse (let’s be honest it’s worse).

Honorable Mention: PUBG, though no longer as popular, and not nearly as creative, started the modern concept of the battle royale genre.

Tetris 99

I included this game because though it started with shooters, the battle royale experience in general became a huge part of gaming as a whole. Nintendo especially showed that the battle royale concept didn’t have to be limited to any specific genre. People just like the concept of playing a game they already like competitively with a large amount of other players. Tetris 99 started this idea of branching the battle royale model out to other types of games. This idea proliferated and ended up being used in games such as Mario 35 and culminated with the creation of Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout by Mediatonic. But I still chose to include Tetris 99 here because it best expresses the idea that anything, even the simplest of games from decades ago, can be made into a successful battle royale game.

Honorable Mention: Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout is currently the most successful non-shooter battle royale and has more modern gameplay than Nintendo’s takes on the genre.

The Witcher 3

I struggled a lot with which open world RPG to include. The open world genre has saturated gaming. It seems every new game that isn’t an FPS is an open world RPG with way too many objective points and bloated maps. Ubisoft is responsible for a lot of these like multiple Assassin’s Creed titles, multiple Ghost Recon titles, and multiple Watch Dogs titles. But we also had Red Dead Redemption 2, Ghost of Tsushima, and even God of War added some open world RPG elements. But I think the most noteworthy title in the genre is The Witcher 3. Not only does it have a large map, lots of missions and objective points, and RPG elements, but it also has a ton of story content of the highest quality. It expresses not just what was best about this genre but also what was best about this generation. There were some games that just went above and beyond expectations while keeping the prices manageable for consumers. None delivered more so than The Witcher 3.

Honorable Mention: For a streamlined version of the well written, open world RPG experience, I highly recommend Ghost of Tsushima.

Bloodborne

While many would think Bloodborne would be a given, I struggled a lot with this decision. It’s certainly a keystone title of the PS4. But this is not a PS4 collection. It’s a general gaming collection, though some exclusives have been included. I chose Bloodborne because it expresses the fact that the Soulslike genre was started by From Software but also addresses the fact that Dark Souls is over. We’ve moved past Dark Souls and branched off into new franchises that make use of the Dark Souls gameplay model. Nioh, The Surge, Code Vein, Mortal Shell, and Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order are all takes on the genre that have nothing to do with Dark Souls or even From Software. I’m glad the genre was able to branch out away from the one limited art style, gameplay mechanics, and weapons types. And really Bloodborne is not my favorite non-Dark Souls Soulslike game. I picked it more because it’s still a From Software title and ushered in this move away from the Dark Souls franchise.

Honorable Mention: For a Soulslike with an actual plot and less somber aesthetic, I highly recommend Nioh. Also, it’s not by From Software which I think better expresses the point of this entry.

Uncharted 4

I didn’t choose Uncharted 4 because it was the best story focused third person action game from the last gen, though it was a top tier one. I chose it because it was made by Naughty Dog and is the fourth installment in a franchise that didn’t by all rights need to continue. A big part of the last generation of gaming was sequels we didn’t really need but that still managed to knock it out of the park. There were many games I could have put here such as God of War, which I do consider a superior game. I could have even put Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. The point is that many studios decided that rather than creating new franchises they just wanted to lean back into tried and true IPs that were guaranteed sellers. Many of the games were astoundingly good, but at the same time it became very apparent that sequels were now all the rage for studios because marketing a new IP is just too much trouble. Ubisoft even went on record saying that they were no longer developing single release titles and that everything they plan on making moving forward will be meant to be a longstanding franchise with several installments.

Honorable Mention: God of War is simply one of the best games made in the last 10 years even though it was a sequel we absolutely didn’t ask for and certainly didn’t know we needed.

Detroit: Become Human

One thing that was really great about this gen was the fact that many alternative gameplay styles were able to accomplish amazing things. Both indie and AAA projects that did not do the same old thing gameplay wise were able to proliferate and succeed in ways we haven’t seen in a long time. I don’t think any non-action game impressed me this gen as much as Detroit: Become Human. I was always a lukewarm fan of Quantic Dream and absolutely hated Beyond Two Souls, but this latest installment from them was a top tier experience with powerful writing, exceptional acting, great visuals, and compelling QTE based gameplay.

Honorable Mention: Until Dawn, which I’d argue doesn’t control quite as well, is a similar experience with a horror element and more well-known actors.

DOOM

One of the things about the last gen that became a big topic of both debate and support was accessibility. But I think the definition of accessibility extends past being playable by people with physical disabilities or slower reaction times. Accessibility is about making games playable for more people, regardless of what the barrier is. I don’t think any game expresses that as much as DOOM (2016). DOOM was the first modern FPS game I ever played that was built for walk on players without having to play it on easy. I hate FPS games and I don’t particularly like gory demon themed aesthetics but I had such a blast playing DOOM. It was made for people who aren’t experienced or enthusiastic about FPS gameplay. Everything from the writing to the gameplay loop was constructed to make the player feel confident about what they were doing and thereby made the franchise more accessible to more people who wouldn’t traditionally play that sort of game. The fact that there’s an Animal Crossing DOOM meme expresses this point better than words ever could.

Honorable Mention: The Last of Us Part II was legitimately built with a focus on traditional accessibility options and has a number of features that make the game playable for people with a wide range of disabilities and limitations.

The Division 2

Love it or hate it, the games as service model is here to stay. Live games with continuously evolving content, no defined ending point, an always online requirement, and continuous updates and microtransactions are just too profitable for larger publishers to ignore and no company seems to do them as much as Ubisoft. Multiple franchises pushed out multiple live service games in the last gen. Ubisoft came strong with The Division, Ghost Recon, and Rainbow Six Siege. Even sports games have elements of live service in them now. I think The Division 2 is one of the best examples of this type of game but admittedly, it’s hard to get the authentic experience when you don’t start on day one.

Honorable Mention: Animal Crossing: New Horizons is a great example of a softcore live service game that updates on a literal daily basis from player to player. Content is still rolling out seasonally and while the gameplay is simple the constant compulsion to keep logging in has never been stronger. Also, there’s no microstransactions.

Beat Saber

VR remains a gimmick. There are some impressive VR experiences but the price and spec barrier for entry remains too high while the quality of software, for the most part, remains fairly low. PlayStation, which could have led the charge on accessible VR options, went as far as saying that the PS5 won’t even support upgraded versions of PS4 VR games. No company has invested enough into the technology yet to make it go widespread the way it should have by now compared to other gaming technologies over the years. And Facebook just keeps making the whole thing worse. Beat Saber is probably the best example of VR in the last gen in that it’s well known, fun to play, and gimmicky as hell. Definitely worth trying out but not enough to invest in your own VR headset.

Honorable Mention: Astro Bot Rescue Mission is a PSVR exclusive that was supposedly going to revolutionize VR. It was highly regarded by pretty much everyone who played it and was a fun take on classic 3D platformers.

Cuphead

Few indie games have been able to accomplish the demand, acclaim, and exposure of Cuphead. It’s a game that started out as an XBO exclusive and then eventually made its way to both the PC and Switch due to sheer demand. While the art style is what attracted people, it was the promise of extreme difficulty that hooked them in. So much hype was established around how challenging the game was. People went out of their way to play it in order to prove they were legit enough. Eventually the developers released an easy mode because so many people complained that they couldn’t move forward but wanted to see the ending. I eventually played and beat it on PC without using the easy mode.

Honorable Mention: Ori and the Blind Forest is another indie that was widely praised and also started as an XBO exclusive before making its way to PC and Switch. The general opinion is that it’s not nearly as hard as Cuphead.

Final Fantasy VII Remake

I did not support the FFVII Remake. I have major issues with many aspects of the game including breaking it up into multiple parts, drastically altering the story, and destroying the original gameplay. That being said, the new gameplay is quite good. Or was for the short duration I tried it during my experiences playing the beta build and the demo. The reason I included this game in this collection is that it best expresses this gen’s obsession with remakes and remasters. So many games were ported, remastered, or remade for the PS4 and XBO. It’s like people stopped wanting to play new games. Resident Evil, The Last of Us, and countless other games, many of which weren’t even old enough to need remastering, were ported and slightly upscaled for easy profits. Even Nintendo got in on the action with a huge number of Wii U to Switch ports.

Honorable Mention: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening remake is an excellent remake that is absolutely worth playing. Since I didn’t get to finish the game as a kid, it has been quite a joy getting to play it on my Nintendo Switch with amazing graphics and smooth gameplay.

Monster Hunter: World

This game can actually have fallen into multiple categories on this list. It’s a live service game, a long RPG, a sequel, and the most accessible entry in the Monster Hunter franchise, gameplay wise, to date. Monster Hunter: World is impressive in the fact that it was able to take a fairly niche franchise and make it a mainstream craze. I put in over 100 hours before I finally stopped and I hadn’t really even scratched the surface of what was available to do even though I finished the main campaign. The game is fun, addictive, and works well as both a single and multiplayer experience. Everything about it just screams eighth generation of gaming. The funniest thing is that it doesn’t necessarily do anything better than other things from this gen. The graphics are great, but by no means the best. The gameplay is solid, but by no means the best. The writing is average at best. Everything about the game was done better by a different game. And yet it is still such a superior and addictive experience compared to many other games that did specific things better. It’s just a game that’s worth sinking time into.

Honorable Mention: Pokemon Sword/Shield is another example of a franchise that spent many years being popular while also niche that released a much more casual and accessible experience in its latest installment. Changes to the formula and the addition of online multiplayer content coupled with an amazing open world map and 3D visuals improved the franchise considerably for casual and new players, making it just as much a time sink as Monster Hunter: World but way easier to play.

That wraps up my Games of the Generation collection. I want to reiterate that this is not meant to be a collection of the best games released in the eighth generation of gaming. It’s a collection of experiences that together summarize what the eighth gen was about in its totality. There are better games than many of the titles in this list and each of the honorable mentions is worth a play as well. This was an excellent gen for gamers, albeit not necessarily the most innovative one, and many of these games will be remembered and (re)played for years to come.

What games do you think best define the eighth generation?

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Truly Next Gen or More of the Same?

As next week will officially start a new generation of console gaming, I thought it was important to go into this supposedly new era of gaming by discussing what next gen actually means in 2020 and more specifically what it should mean. A new $500 box being sold with a higher number on it doesn’t make it next gen. The way we play games on it determines that. And yes the games are the important part. So let’s ask some tough questions of both Microsoft and SONY.

Before getting down to brass tacks, I want to take the time to say a few things about the transition between this gen and next gen. At the start of every generation, we debate the cutoffs; and rightly so. How do we really determine what is and isn’t next gen during the transitional period? Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a PS5 launch title and yet I can play it on my PS4. Cyberpunk 2077 will release a week after both PS5 and XSX launch and yet it’s been in development for the better part of a decade and will release on both current and next gen consoles. It’s difficult to really differentiate between gens when games release on both gens at the same time and began development years before a new gen had even been announced. Are these games really next gen or should they be categorized as current gen?

While there are many different arguments about differentiating gens, I think it’s important to discuss what our expectations should be for generational transitions as a whole. For context, I think the transition from the SNES to the N64 was the most noteworthy generational transition we’ve ever had and I think the transition from the PS3 to the PS4 was the least noteworthy generational transition we’ve ever had. My reasons for this are that for me generational transitions should fundamentally change the way we experience games or gaming as a whole. Nintendo has always been very good about this. Pretty much every generational change going back to the NES has delivered noteworthy shifts in the way people play games on their platforms. Even the failing generations such as the Wii U were huge departures in gameplay from the preceding console. That is what generational shifts used to be. That’s what they’re supposed to be. Today new generations, for PlayStation and XBOX but not Nintendo, usually just mean better graphics and somewhat faster load times. For me, that’s not a worthy generational transition.

If the gameplay experience is not changing in some fundamental way, then it’s just a spec upgrade akin to buying a new graphics card or CPU for your PC. I don’t care if the graphics are slightly crisper. It’s nice, and I’ll take it for a good price, but it’s not really next gen. I don’t care if loading times are slightly faster. Again, I’ll take it for a good price. But in no way will that fundamentally change the way I experience games. Say what you want about Nintendo’s crazy controllers but every console since the NES made you redefine what it meant to play Nintendo games at an almost foundational level. That’s a generational shift.

I like to focus on actual gaming when talking about next gen upgrades, but I will admit that in certain ways external features that aren’t actually gaming can count as part of the discussion of next gen upgrades as well. For example, the PS3 didn’t really change much about how we played games from the PS2, other than again much better graphics and loading times, as well as the size of games. But it did solidify the online component of gaming for PlayStation users. The PS3/XBOX 360 introduced us to an online console store, accounts based gaming, trophies/achievements, cloud saves, subscription services that include “free games”, and the beginnings of online e-sports as a serious mode of competition at a professional level. None of these things reference actually playing games but they all had and continue to have huge effects on the way we participate in gaming today. And that is why I consider the transition from the PS2 to the PS3 a much more noteworthy generational shift than the PS3 to the PS4. The PS4 and XBOX One did very little to revolutionize gaming. They essentially offered better graphics and faster loading times with more convenient content creation features and media streaming capabilities that have absolutely nothing to do with gaming. That’s really it. You’re playing the same types of games in the exact same ways but now it’s easier to stream, capture pictures and video, and share to social media directly from your console. Didn’t affect actual gaming much at all. So the question is will the PS5 and XSX constitute actual next gen console upgrades?

We haven’t actually used the consoles yet, but from what I’ve seen the main upgrade between the current gen and next gen consoles is the SSD. The graphics will get slightly better, but not enough to really change much. Control schemes don’t seem to be changing much at all, though I am excited to see if developers will actually take advantage of the DualSense’s haptic and pressure sensitive features. That actually could be a true generational shift if taken seriously by studios. But really the main upgrade appears to be the SSD. An SSD will make games much faster than the traditional HDD consoles we’ve grown accustomed to. But, like with the controller features, it will only matter if made to matter by developers. Spider-Man: Miles Morales is a PS5 launch title that is being touted for its lightning fast loading times, and they are impressive. But that’s not a change or improvement to my actual gaming experience. It’s an improvement to my overall experience by wasting less of my time and keeping me more active longer. But the way I actually interact with the game will be no different than with Marvel’s Spider-Man. I don’t care if the subway loading screen no longer exists when I fast travel. It’s nice but it doesn’t change the way I play the game.

The SSD actually does have the potential to revolutionize gaming, but so far the only game I’ve seen actually trying to do that is Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, which I cannot wait to play. Insomniac Games is actually trying to use that SSD to affect gameplay and storytelling with this game. The ultra-fast loading means you can hot swap worlds in real time with no lag. That’s a potential game changer for how games are made and played as well as the type of games that even get made. Think of what’s actually possible with no loading times at a gameplay level. When I played Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice, one of the things I was truly impressed by was this barely used mechanic where when you walked through certain archways the world would change in real time. The changes were small but completely changed the game. Things such as ladders appearing or paths opening would happen by walking through a specific archway. I said while playing the game that you could build an entire game around that mechanic, and with an SSD you actually can. This appears to be the premise of The Medium: A next gen game where you play within a dual reality and can constantly change between two dimensions of the same world. We’ve seen games like that before but hopefully not to this level of detail and transition. But even that is still level one use of the SSD. What if you could hot swap between four different alternate realities like in Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions but in real time as part of the gameplay and not just the storytelling? Now that sounds next gen.

Another facet of the SSD, like with the PS3/XBOX 360’s online additions to gaming, does have a lot of non-gaming potential as a next generation transition as well. Whether or not it sticks is a different matter. One of the things that really impressed me from the PS5 UI presentation was the ability to take advantage of the console’s speed for quality of life features. Features such as the ability to look up hints in real time on console and show them as picture in picture videos. The ability to watch others play games and chat with them as picture in picture videos. The ability to hot swap between games and return to your first game almost instantly with a couple button presses. Currently I don’t usually play multiple games in a single session of gaming on the same platform. Sometimes I’ll do stuff like play a mobile game or Switch game concurrently with a PS4 game, but rarely do I play a PS4 game and then switch to another PS4 game in the same session. I just play one game until I’m tired of playing and then turn the console off altogether. My first thought tells me that this is more a function of habit than preference, but when thinking about it further it’s probably more due to time. Specifically loading times.

I rarely play more than one game on the same platform at the same time. There are exceptions, but in general I try to focus on one game per platform at a time. And really I prefer one game at a time in general but live games and streaming have made that impossible. Currently I’m playing Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey (PS4), Ghost of Tsushima (PS4)(will be finished by the time this is published), and Animal Crossing: New Horizons (NS) regularly. That means almost every day. I’m playing Animal Crossing because it’s a live game that constantly adds updates and I’m compelled to continue playing it for now but I’m admittedly ready to be done. I’m streaming Ghost of Tsushima, which matters because when I stream a game I only play it during streams, with a few exceptions for collecting and grinding where necessary. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is my current narrative game that I’m just playing for me. I’m also causally playing Link’s Awakening Remake, which I’m nearly done with, Super Mario 35, and I need to jump back into Pokemon: Sword since the new The Crown Tundra DLC recently dropped and I haven’t even fully finished the Isle of Armor DLC yet. Note from this list that I’m currently only playing two games on the PS4, but I play these two almost every day. I’m also nearly finished with both. Yet I’ve never played them in the same gaming session. The fact that I’m streaming one of them definitely plays a factor, but even if I wasn’t I still probably would never play them both in the same session. This is because swapping between them takes forever.

If I wanted to go directly from standing in the map in Ghost of Tsushima to standing in the map in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, on my normal PS4, it would take approximately 4 minutes and 20 seconds. The full process includes saving and returning to the title screen in Ghost of Tsushima, going to the dashboard, selecting Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, closing Ghost of Tsushima, and finally loading through Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey’s not one, not two, but three start up loading sequences. It’s important to note that open world Ubisoft games always take a long time to load up. It doesn’t matter what platform you’re on. They always take a long time to start. Ghost Recon: Breakpoint takes a while to load on PC as well. It is admittedly considerably faster to transition from Odyssey to Ghost of Tsushima than vice versa. But the point is that in either case it’s minutes of wasted time. The motivation to switch games is simply not present. I’d rather just end that entire session when I get bored with one game than waste that much time switching. Supposedly this issue will not exist on the PS5. You can instantly switch between games and then switch back to the exact spot you were in without loading. That speed of transition may get me to play more than one game in the same session.

I can see myself playing something like Dark Souls and getting stuck on a boss and then deciding to change to something completely different for like 30 minutes to cool off and then going back to fight the boss again. I can see myself playing Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla, having a friend login to play Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout and deciding to jump in and play with him for a few rounds, and then jumping back into Valhalla. It the transitions are seamless then I have no reason not to. But if I have to go through the massive transitional times between games that we have right now then it’s not worth it. I’m gonna ask my friend questions like how long does he intend to play and ask myself how long do I feel like playing that for. Because if the answer to either question is not long enough then taking the time to switch games just isn’t worth it. The Nintendo Switch is surprisingly fast to load up the games so I actually do switch between games on there often enough. But on my PS4 or PC, it’s a super rare occurrence. So while I can’t say for sure, I could see the PS5/XSX being a true generation transition externally from actual gameplay as well if it’s really as fast as being touted and these special features are actually as easy to use as they say. The ability to look up hints for collectibles on console instantly is a game changer in and of itself.

At the end of the day, what I want to see is a real generational shift. I want to see these new consoles fundamentally change the way we play games. And not just in how we pay for them or access them via streaming services. I want the games to actually be different in noticeable ways. I want the ways games are made and tied to narratives to be different. Not just different, but better. I don’t want the next big new IP to just be another God of War, The Last of Us, or Assassin’s Creed clone. I want something I haven’t played before. When I look back at the last gen of games, many stand out to me as being really good. Few stand out to me as being really good and different. Many indies are different. Sadly few are actually depth defying in how good they are while being different. That is of course a limitation of budgets more than anything, but that doesn’t change the fact that it matters. I want to see AAA games made differently. But more importantly I want to see those games made possible only because of the technological advancements provided by the PS5/XSX. If I can play it on my PS4 and the only difference will be slower loading times and nominally worse graphics, then it’s not really next gen.

I remember the last game I bought for PS3. It was Dragon Age: Inquisition. An excellent game that was almost unplayable on PS3 because it required too much of the last gen console. I had so many glitches and enough lag time to go to the store and buy a PS4. It played terribly on PS3 and that let me know that the console was done. But even then I won’t say that the limitation was in actual gameplay differences. It was just that the game was too large and detailed for the older hardware. That don’t impress me much. The last game I played on PS2 was The Force Unleashed, and you know what, it played fine. It looked terrible but it ran smoothly. I only shelved my PS2 after that because I already had an XBOX 360 that had been gifted to me so I saw no reason to keep buying games for the older console when they would look better for basically the same price on the next gen console. But if I hadn’t already owned a next gen console at that point I would have kept buying PS2 games until they wouldn’t run smoothly anymore. Graphics and load times aren’t next gen. They’re just a given for next gen. I want the PS5 to wow me in new ways.

I will not be buying a PS5 day one. I actually can get one fairly easily, since I live in Taiwan and people aren’t insane here. But I have opted not to rush. This is because while the PS5 has already shown exclusive games that I want to play, and eventually will, it has not shown me anything that I absolutely must play right now. Not to mention that some of the games announced that I really want to play, like Spider-Man: Miles Morales, will be available on PS4 as well. If I just can’t wait, I’ll buy it on that platform. Add that to the fact that I’m still very happy with my PS4’s performance, and that I have a huge backlog of PS4 games actually worth playing, and there’s simply no reason for me to upgrade at this time. I’m happy to hold out for a PS5 PRO, given the current information and games available. It’s up to SONY, and developers, to change my mind. I don’t owe SONY or Microsoft anything. I don’t have to upgrade. They need to convince me to upgrade by providing content that I can’t get anywhere else and can’t pass up on. They haven’t done that yet. But I hope one of them, almost assuredly SONY at this point, eventually does. Are these new consoles actually next gen? Or just more of the same with a speed boost? Only time will tell.

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Nobody Cares About Balanced Cooperative Play (Ghost of Tsushima: Legends)

While I have never been a big fan of online PVP, I really enjoy playing games with cooperative multiplayer. Specifically PVE cooperative multiplayer. I don’t play many games cooperatively but that’s due to a combination of limited time and limited options. It’s hard to coordinate three or four people living in different time zones with real life responsibilities such as jobs, children, and spouses to sit down and play a video game all at the same time. Not to mention convincing all of them to want to play the same video game. So it’s really irritating when a game that has a cooperative mode that I actually do want to play, and can get my friends to want to play, works against this goal because of inconsequential things like difficulty balance.

One of the most discussed and debated topics in multiplayer game design is balance. The art of creating games that are fun while still being both challenging and fair while also preserving the ability for the objectively best players to win a majority of the time for being the most skilled at the game. You see these issues all the time with fighting games. They’re constantly patched and debated in order to try to maintain balance. And balance is important . . . for PVP. There’s nothing worse than an unbalanced competitive gaming scenario. It literally feels bad to play. Especially when you’re on the losing side. Balance doesn’t only affect PVP scenarios though. Balance in PVE is just as important. A game being too easy is almost as bad as a game being too hard. But the fact is that no one really gives a damn about easy balance in a cooperative PVE mode.

Before moving any further, allow me to make a clarification. There are two main types of online PVE. There are games like The Division or Destiny which are games that blend the line between single and cooperative play and there are games like Toukiden: Kiwami and Mass Effect 3 that have a defined cooperative PVE mode separate from the main campaign. For the rest of this post, I am talking about games in the latter category.

No one plays cooperative PVE with friends for the challenge. Never in the history of gaming have four friends teamed up online and started a game together only to get angry that the gameplay wasn’t challenging enough, ultimately causing them to get bored and quit out of disappointment. This doesn’t happen because friends aren’t there to actually care about the game. The game is simply there to give the friends an excuse to talk in the voice chat. That’s the point of online cooperative play. It’s not about rising to the challenge or accomplishing some great task. It’s about having fun with your friends.

In the past, I’ve written about the game FUSE by Insomniac Games. It is at best a mediocre third person shooter with a mostly forgettable story. But it is one of the best online cooperative playthroughs I’ve ever experienced. Why? Because it had serviceable gameplay, decent enough graphics for its time, and a story that didn’t really matter past the larger beats. It was a game that you could play casually and not take too seriously. You could ignore most of the cutscenes and it wasn’t too hard. A recipe for failure when it comes to single player games and, not surprisingly, it didn’t sell well. But for online coop it was top tier. I had so much fun playing it with two of my friends, who I still play games with online today. We died several times, but the gameplay never felt too hard. But even if we had never died even one time, we never would have said the game was too easy. Because we didn’t actually care about the game. That’s not why we were there.

The worst moment in cooperative PVE is when you have to stop your conversation because you can’t seem to progress forward in the game organically. There are exceptions of course. If it’s a puzzle game like Strange Brigade then it’s forgivable. You have to work together to solve puzzles so obviously you’re going to have to talk about them. If the game is telling you information required to move forward then of course it’s forgivable. But if you’re not moving forward because you keep dying, that’s when it becomes a problem. Every so often you have that moment in a game. Whether it’s single player or multiplayer, if you’re talking to someone while playing there always comes a moment where you have to stop talking to the person/people because the sequence is too hard to fight through without actively focusing. While this is totally fine in single player games, because that’s actually how they’re meant to be, it’s totally off putting in a cooperative scenario. It means the game is actively trying to draw your attention away from the purpose of people playing the game at that moment to begin with: to converse with their friends.

Strange Brigade (2018)

I understand why developers would want to fight against this. No one wants to have their game labeled as too easy or forgettable. But that’s what the single player mode is there for. That’s where a game is judged on its merits. In cooperative, it should be about developing the most satisfying cooperative experience. That means first and foremost focusing on creating an experience that lets users meet their goals, which in this case is the exact opposite of a great single player experience.

For whatever reason, the default number of players allowed, and encouraged, for online cooperative, and usually PVP, play is four players to a team. What this means is that people who play online cooperative games tend to establish groups of four for this purpose. The consequence of this established practice is that it’s very inconvenient when developers deviate from this number. Establishing a consistent team of four that you always play with is great until a game with a max limit of three players for online coop comes along. Now you have to knock someone off the team or try to put together an entirely different team so as not to offend anyone on your team of four. This entire scenario sucks. But why does it actually happen? Once again, it comes down to devs worrying too much about balance in a cooperative PVE game.

Developers deviate from that four player group almost always because of balance. They’re worried about the game being too easy with four players. So they limit the cooperative mode to two or three players. This is the wrong decision, in my opinion, because as I’ve already said, people aren’t playing the games for the balance anyway. They don’t really care so much about the difficulty, as long as it’s not too hard for them to progress while talking. The rewards matter only in the fact that they make harder difficulties, and by extension even better rewards, available. But really people wouldn’t care if the cooperative mode was a bit too easy. And since that is the case there’s no reason to limit the number of players to under four. Even if the mode was built around two players, they still should allow four to play. That brings us to the recently released Ghost of Tsushima: Legends.

Recently a new update was added to Ghost of Tsushima. A great number of additions and improvements were added to an already nearly perfect game. One of the most impressive additions is the new cooperative multiplayer mode called Ghost of Tsushima: Legends. Playing Ghost of Tsushima cooperatively is very fun. Running stealth in that game as a pair is both fulfilling and mostly easy to coordinate. Every so often a glitch or error occurs, but it’s not often enough to be off-putting. And it doesn’t matter what classes you’re playing as. There is a light story that mostly exists just to justify the gameplay, which is exactly how it’s supposed to be. It’s present, but can mostly be ignored. And it’s simple enough to follow while talking to your friends. My one complaint is that it limits you to just two players.

Cooperative Modes in Ghost of Tsushima: Legends

I should clarify that Ghost of Tsushima: Legends has two cooperative modes. A story mode that is limited to just two players and a survival mode that allows up to four players. This comes down to personal preference, but I prefer the story mode. Not because of the story but because of the gameplay loop. In general, I find survival modes fairly disappointing in most games. I enjoyed it in Mass Effect 3. Probably too much if I’m honest. But that was an exception. Survival modes, unless the gameplay is fairly straight forward, such as in God of War, remove all the nuance from gameplay. And it’s not even that they have to. It’s just that developers usually construct them that way for some reason. In the case of Ghost of Tsushima: Legends, the survival mode does the classic guard these points objective and just sends waves of enemies at you with milestone boss waves scattered into the totem pole of waves.

Survival mode way work well for a samurai approach to Ghost of Tsushima, but it’s terrible for those who prefer to play the ghost approach.  The entire point of the single player game is the debate between fighting honorably at the risk of death or fighting intelligently at the sacrifice of honor. And it’s brilliantly constructed both from a narrative and gameplay standpoint. The player can choose how to approach conflict. If you want to walk up to your enemies and challenge them head on, you can do that. If instead you want to stealthily kill them all and use fear as a tactic, you can do that too. And while there don’t appear to be any real alterations to the narrative based on how you play, the narrative is constructed around the duality of the protagonist’s desire to live by the code of the samurai and his desire to actually defeat his enemies and save his people.

The two player cooperative story mode offers players this same choice. You can choose to take a stealthy approach as a pair, or you can attack your enemies head on. But the survival mode doesn’t afford players this choice. You simply fight the incoming waves of enemies. As a person who plays the ghost approach, literally maining the assassin class in the multiplayer mode, I think it’s a travesty that the four player mode robs the players of this choice. Especially considering that it’s the crux of the game’s narrative.

If gamers have been taught to create groups of four, making a casual online cooperative mode that allows for only two sucks. It forces the group of four to split in half and in my case, using only a group of three, it simply screws someone out of the loop with no recourse. Or of course we could play the survival mode and completely lose one of my favorite aspects of the gameplay. The worst part is that the cooperative story mode actually would work just as well with four players, as is. Yes it would be easier, but that wouldn’t actually detract from the experience. You would get to coordinate stealth approaches with up to three friends. That’s really all I want. That’s really what all ghost style players want. To have denied people this is a minor tragedy.

Really though the thing that irritates me is the reason there’s no four player option in the story mode. It’s an issue of balance/difficulty as perceived by Sucker Punch Productions. As with so many cooperative modes, the developers are worried too much about preserving difficulty while ignoring the fact that people aren’t playing with their friends for the difficulty to begin with. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying that I actually hate it when games become harder to play when you play with other people. If anything that should logically make them easier. But in the case of Ghost of Tsushima, it’s not even about difficulty. It’s about an inability to play cooperatively with my full multiplayer squad in the gameplay style I prefer. And I honestly can’t see any logical reason for this. I’m fairly sure it came down to limited resources to design the story mode levels to be big enough for four players to be “properly” challenged.  But again, no one actually cares about that when playing with friends. Sure the random matchmaking crowd might care a little, but mostly they just want rewards. No one ever said they were unhappy with a multiplayer mode because they got good rewards too easily.

The fact is that no one ever didn’t enjoy spending time playing cooperative modes with their friends because the game was too easy. The opposite isn’t true because it’s annoying when games are too hard and the group can’t progress forward. But basically any game that allows for two player coop would be just as entertaining with the ability to add an additional two players. Provided the game could actually function with the additional two of course. I really love Ghost of Tsushima and I really like the Ghost of Tsushima: Legends story mode. But I want to be able to play it with my entire crew. Making me choose which member of the squad to play with is a disappointing design choice in 2020. And yes I’m aware that it’s a free update that wasn’t promised or expected to begin with. That’s exactly why I’m not calling for them to remake it for four players. I just want them to add the ability to let me play the exact same levels as is with a maximum of four players rather than two. I don’t in any way feel like the developers didn’t do enough actual development. I just think they made a bad logistical choice at the end of development. Here’s hoping raids aren’t just more of the survival mode.

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Mediatonic Should Have Kept Cheater Island

I’ve written a fair bit about Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout and I’ve played quite a bit as well. I was one of those people that played the alpha and the beta. I also took the time to hit level 40 in season one with almost a month left in the season. Suffice it to say, I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about Fall Guys. So while this title may sound crazy, just bear with me till the end.

A few months back, the official Fall Guys Twitter account posted a thread about “Cheater Island”. The thread is very interesting and you should take the time to read the whole thing, but the short version is that the game, on PC, has suffered a massive amount of hackers (a very specific but not exclusive form of cheating). In order to combat this, Mediatonic created an exclusive server where people who, based on their metrics to find cheaters, were guilty of hacking got sent to play exclusively with other cheaters. The kicker was that this was never officially announced so cheaters were playing with other cheaters with no idea that it was all intentional. Sadly, the developers eventually killed off this server and turned to straight banning people. In my opinion, that was the wrong move. But my reasons for why I think this are almost certainly different than what you’re expecting.

Let me start by saying that I am not a cheater/hacker/griefer or whatever other term people use to reference people who cheat to play games. I have never modded, hacked, or changed anything about any game I’ve ever played in an unnatural way since the days of cheat codes on N64 games like NFL Blitz and Mortal Kombat Trilogy. I had a Game Shark and literally never used it. The only “legitimate” cheats I’ve used in the last 10 or more years is when emulators have speed up hacks like increased movement speed and xp generation. Specifically I’ve used these hacks in emulators for Pokemon White and Quest 64. I’ve also used the built in “cheats” to speed up the process of playing the PS4 port of Final Fantasy VII. Yes I can literally count all my instances of cheating/hacking in the last decade on one hand and no I have never used any form of cheating in a multiplayer scenario. My belief that they should bring back or not have done away with Cheater Island is in no way self-serving. I play Fall Guys on PS4 anyway so hackers didn’t really affect me personally in any case. I do feel like there were a few on PS4 though.

My reasons for supporting the existence of Cheater Island are a combination of scientific and observational. That is to say, I believe such a space carries immense value for people viewing the activity within the cheat server rather than as a participant. I don’t condone cheating in games in any way. I’m still on the fence about performance mods and haven’t personally used them myself, save for the aforementioned instances of speeding up xp generation, which I think should be a default feature in RPGs today anyway. But I’m also not so naïve as to think cheating in games will ever cease to exist. There will always be people who don’t want to put in the time or effort to be actually good at something and in a competitive space that’s even more true because the skill threshold is much higher than in single player spaces. Even for something as inconsequential as currency that can only be used for cosmetics, there will always be people actively trying to cheat in games. Yet we never seem to take advantage of this fact as a general industry/community.

There is a wealth of information and entertainment that could have been gleaned from a Fall Guys cheat server, assuming it continued to remain an open secret. For starters, it would be very entertaining to watch. If Mediatonic had mounted a camera in the Cheater Island games and streamed it continuously, I believe thousands to even millions of people would have watched it. Just seeing the few clips that were posted of entire groups of cheaters all playing at the same time was both interesting and entertaining.

It’s extremely rare that the larger public gets to see cheaters in action. The fact is that for all the cheaters in Fall Guys, most people only saw cheaters on an infrequent basis and only usually one at a time. Seeing cheaters compete against each other is almost unheard of in video games. Fall Guys also happens to be a game where watching cheaters is actually interesting. No one really cares to watch cheaters in shooters because the cheats are fairly unimaginative and the gameplay itself isn’t super dynamic from a viewing standpoint. Cheats always amount to auto-aim, invincibility, unlimited bullets, and a few other choice buffs in FPS games. One of the things about cheats in those games is that they’re not very noticeable to someone who isn’t familiar with the games and they don’t look all that interesting even when you’re aware of them. Watching a bunch of people cheat against each other in COD or CSGO would be extremely boring and fairly pointless. You wouldn’t learn much of anything from it. But a game like Fall Guys is actually interesting to watch because of how much variation the gameplay has from player to player even when people aren’t cheating.

Watching cheaters adapt to each other over time would not only be hilarious but extremely educational for both the public and developers. And not just the developers of Fall Guys. You would be able to see the thought process of cheaters as they continuously improve their methods of cheating in order to compete with other cheaters. As games changed and evolved, such as the recent patch of updates and additional game additions, cheaters would then have to alter their cheat strategies as well. Mediatonic could even secretly alter the Cheater Island versions of games to make things harder for cheaters. They could have basically created their own rats in a maze scenario that the world would be able to watch via Twitch. And they wouldn’t even have to manage the stream. They could just leave it running and people could go in and out at their leisure to watch whatever cheaters were currently around. It would be like The Truman Show for gamers.

In general I’m completely against cheating. I’m fine with players being banned permanently for cheating in games. And I’m well aware of the fact that if you let cheaters play together in their own space that you are in a way condoning the behavior. I don’t think games in general should make it official policy to let cheaters do what they want in a private space. That encourages bad behavior and makes cheaters feel justified or even encouraged to continue their nefarious practices. But I do believe there was actual value to the Fall Guys cheat server existing. At least for a longer period than it did. But again, this value only really exists in a world where Mediatonic makes it possible for the public to view what is happening within the server. If it was simply about giving cheaters a space to exist then I would say ban them without remorse and move on.

There are also some ethical concerns about the entire notion of a cheater server put on display for the public. People would be streamed without their knowledge or consent. Granted this could be kept anonymous for the stream within this server. There is also the issue of encouraging people to cheat in order to join the server and said stream. A whole host of other issues can possibly spring up as well. So it’s not a completely risk free endeavor. But I still say such a space within Fall Guys held real value for both data. Gathering and entertainment purposes.

What do you think of the idea of developers creating private spaces for cheaters? Should this be done or should they be banned outright? Is it OK for developers to stream these cheat servers to the public? Is it OK for devs to make revenue for streaming this sort of content? Let me know your thoughts in the comments.

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Dragon’s Dogma Animated Series Review – 5/10

I randomly binged the Dragon’s Dogma animated series on Netflix last week. It wasn’t intentional. The show is just really short with only seven episodes. At about 30 minutes each, it was a quick watch. So I decided I might as well review it, since it has been forever since the last time I reviewed a TV show.

I’m still pretty ambivalent about the idea of adapting games into TV shows. On one hand, a show allows for way more character and plot development than a movie, so it makes a lot of sense for a game adaptation since games tends to be long interactive movies anyway. The logic behind such projects is very sound. My issue is more with the fact that the games that seem to get made into shows fail to capture what the game is actually about or meant to be from an experience standpoint. For example, the Castlevania animated series on Netflix. This show is great. It’s extremely well animated, well written, and a generally great viewing experience. But I don’t really feel like it captures the Castlevania games well. They basically cherry picked a few details from the franchise, such as the family name Belmont, and obviously Dracula, and then wrote a story that pretty much has nothing to do with the games other than the fact that Belmonts hunt vampires, among other monsters. I think the reason I love the show is that I have very limited experience actually playing Castlevania games. I’ve only beaten Super Castlevania IV on the SNES Classic.

My general lack of knowledge and interest in the Castlevania game series is what I believe allows me to enjoy the show so much. I have no preconceived notions or expectations and thus I have no way of critiquing the show for accuracy or authenticity to the games. I just happen to know the games aren’t nearly as round about in their plots as the show is, which is why I even made the statement that the show doesn’t really capture the games. Therein lies the problem though. Castlevania, the games, isn’t really about the story. At least the older titles anyway. It was always about the gameplay. There’s almost no plot exposition other than an opening and closing title card and of course the understanding that the boss is Dracula. Such a vague plot allowed the show to kind of do whatever it wanted as long as Dracula ends up dying. Season three, in my opinion, is the weakest season because it no longer has the benefit of a clear goal. Dracula is already dead and thus they’re now struggling to establish the next Dracula while killing time with multiple sub-plots. The show could have easily ended with season two and been a fine achievement.

Funny enough, I’d say Dragon’s Dogma, the game, is similar to Castlevania in that it has a very vague narrative with just the barebones semblance to a real plot. As far as fantasy RPGs are concerned, it’s not even mid-tier in terms of storytelling. It really is more about the gameplay. There seems to be a trend with Netflix greenlighting animated shows based on games that don’t have a strong narrative. As a writer myself, this is nice in the fact that it allows the show creators to pretty much do whatever they want with the absolute minimum in narrative expectations. But as a gamer, especially one who played Dragon’s Dogma, it’s a bit irritating for me because I’m aware of how different the show is from the game(s). I’m also very aware that a show has to make those narrative changes in these scenarios, because again these shows tend to be based on games with either badly written or basically non-existent narratives. A show based on something like Uncharted or Detroit: Become Human would have much higher expectations for the plot matching up with the game because those games have well written, fully fleshed out plots that are often the main reason people play the games. The main problem with the Assassin’s Creed movie, for example, is the fact that it goes so far off the rails of the games’ plot. When I heard about a Dragon’s Dogma show my first thought was that the story in that game was terribly bland and would be terrible for a show. Yet that’s probably exactly why it was chosen. It allows the writers to do whatever they want with little to no real narrative expectations.

 The first thing I would say about the Dragon’s Dogma series is that I like what they did but I don’t like how they did it. This translates to almost every aspect of the show for me. The art style is good, but I don’t really like it. The computerized animation style looks a bit closer to hand drawn than many other shows I’ve seen in the modern era, but it still has that uncanny valley feel to it. I wish it was fully hand drawn like the Castelvania show. It comes off like that Godzilla: Planet of the Monsters Netflix movie series. The animation works but it’s not necessarily what I would call great. You notice the issues with the monsters especially. The cyclops, griffin, and hydra are the three most notable monsters from the season and all three look like when a movie has bad CGI in an otherwise realistic looking film. It’s not necessarily that the monsters look bad in their own right. It’s just that they clash with the rest of the artwork in the show. The show itself does look slightly computer generated, which I don’t particularly like, but it’s not the end of the world. It’s only when those monsters are on screen that I was really hit with how much I don’t like this style of animation.

My own animation preferences aside, the visual quality of the show as a whole is adequate. It plays well with a consistent level of general animation quality from episode to episode. This is true for the action as well, save for episode six, which is intentionally a smaller scale story and monster. They don’t cheap out from episode to episode. The other six all feature a fairly grandiose beast sequence, which for a show based on Dragon’s Dogma is kind of a necessity. The show could use more gore though. Blood is used very sparingly even though the narrative doesn’t shy away from death. I was very impressed with the show’s willingness to kill off characters, including meaningful ones, in violent ways but the lack of gore to go with those deaths left a lot to be desired. How is it that a boy can get grabbed by a dragon and flail around in its mouth for several seconds with pretty much no blood shown? Most of the blood in the show is used after the fact rather than during. Like something will happen and then in the next cut blood will be shown pooling or stained on something rather than spilling in the moment. I can only recall one sequence where a person bled in a meaningful way during the actual action. Visually, the show is serviceable but I’m not a fan of this art style.

The voice acting and audio in general worked fine for me. Audio is an issue in some games still, but I can’t really remember the last time I was genuinely unhappy with the audio of anything on Netflix. There is of course going to be complaints by some about dubbed vs subbed in English and Japanese, but I’m not one of those people. I watched the show dubbed in English and it was fine for me. Really the disconnect comes more from the fact that it’s a Japanese show originally filmed in Japanese but the setting is a Medieval European world with pretty much only Caucasian characters. So it doesn’t really make sense that these characters would be speaking Japanese to begin with. Yet the show does odd things like name a character Yang which isn’t really a European name and certainly not a Caucasian one. It’s not that I particularly care as much as I’m aware of the weird issues that occur when you task a group of people to try to make something they’re passionate about in a setting that’s culturally foreign to those creating it. Music wise it’s your standard fare with a mixture of dramatic music sequences during battles and mostly sad, somber tracks the rest of the time. Which is appropriate given how somber the show is.

The plot, or more accurately the way the plot is presented, is my main issue with the show and really the concept of shows based on games with vague writing in general. I think a Dark Souls themed show would almost certainly suffer from many of the same issues I have with this series. This show centers on a specific man, named Ethan, who is what is known as an “Arisen”. This is the core concept of the game. A dragon steals the heart of a human and tasks that human with seeking out said dragon in order to kill him or die trying. After this process occurs, Ethan gets a Pawn that he names Hannah. Pawns are probably the laziest character origin ever written in that they’re people who can’t be killed that appear out of some magic realm in order to protect and assist Arisen on their journey to slay the dragon. The show’s entire plot centers around the adventures Ethan and Hannah have on their way to try to slay the dragon that destroyed Ethan’s life by killing his family and literally stealing his heart. 

The problem with Dragon’s Dogma, the game, is that it establishes this dragon plot and the player’s status as an Arisen and also delivers you a Pawn in much the same way that the show does. But then the game really isn’t about much else. You just sort of travel around talking to people and doing tasks till you get strong enough to defeat the dragon. Then when you defeat the dragon they toss in this weird god plot where you kill god, become god, and then commit suicide only to return to the beginning of the game. It’s not great but it’s enough to motivate you to keep playing. Most of the tasks involve killing monsters. It’s like The Witcher without the interesting characters, well-constructed sub-plots, and sexy ladies. This worked for the game because it introduced a number of interesting gameplay features such as the ability to grab on to monsters and “ride” them while trying to kill them. The gameplay was able to distract players from the mediocre plot and almost complete lack of actual character development. While they do use this aspect of grabbing on to the monsters in a number of sequences, you obviously can’t build a show around that. So they had to build a plot with some level of real character development. The problem is that Ethan and Hannah aren’t particularly interesting characters. I will commend them however on including monsters from the game that look like they came right out of the game without making them feel shoehorned into the narrative.

Ethan is an Arisen, which could be interesting, but the show makes it a point of letting you know this isn’t actually that interesting. Even though the dragon hasn’t been seen for more than 100 years at the start of the show, people are already familiar with and comfortable with both Arisen and Pawns. Not once throughout the show does anyone question what Ethan and Hannah are or where Hannah came from, even though she literally appears out of thin air. One character even takes the time to say that he prefers Pawns to humans because of their lack of human emotion. Yes the male protagonist has a blonde haired, totally obedient female companion that lacks the mental/emotional range to be able to complain about his decisions. She sometimes disagrees with him, but always goes along with whatever he decides without fail. That is what Pawns are meant to do, so it makes sense within the narrative they’ve created. But that doesn’t mean it’s not a bad narrative to have created to begin with. My issue is more with Ethan himself rather than Hannah though.

One of the key issues with the show’s plot is that Ethan is not interesting and the character does nothing to challenge the viewer or the traditional storyline we’ve seen a thousand times. Handsome angry white man pursues revenge for his lost family through violence and uses violence to try to help others along the way to his vengeance. That’s the entire show. One of the first questions Ethan made me think about is the fact that he’s Caucasian. Dragon’s Dogma is a game where you can create your own character to be any race and appearance you want. Yet they chose not to address this fact in the show. That wouldn’t necessarily matter, though it would have been interesting anyway, if being an Arisen was problematic within the social system of this world in some way, but it’s not. One character even thanks the “gods” that Ethan is an Arisen, because it means someone will try to slay the dragon. This is a show where the most special thing about the protagonist, the fact that he’s an Arisen, isn’t even special. So they should have done something to make the character stand out and have challenging experiences other than killing monsters. Like imagine if he had started as a white man but then his skin changed as part of the Arisen transformation process. And the story was about him being discriminated against for his abnormal appearance while fighting to save the very people ridiculing him by slaying the dragon. Or better yet, just make him a person of color in a world of Caucasian Europeans to begin with. The character’s only character trait can’t be the principle premise of the show. Because that means the character isn’t particularly special. Now technically this is how the game works as well. The character isn’t particularly special. That works for a game because you’re there for the gameplay. As a show though, it’s just boring.

They do try to tell you that Ethan has a tragic past from even before he was an Arisen in an attempt to develop him more. But that doesn’t really do much when he’s already living a tragic reality in the loss of his family. The character is meant to beat you over the head with sympathy pleas rather than having any nuance. You never question their motives or their drive towards revenge, because they’re singularly motivated, traumatized by loss, and tragically alone. Yet the show still tries to be philosophical by attempting to turn this on the head at the end in the laziest of ways.

Each of the seven episodes is named after one of the deadly sins, which is not particularly creative in 2020. The episode titles tell you what kind of adventure/challenge will be addressed today. The lust episode is about sex. The greed episode is about money. The gluttony episode is about food. And so on. The show tries to make this point about how all people are trash by having each interaction Ethan has during his travels end badly. Every time he tries to help someone things end up worse off for those involved even though the monster has been killed. Except for the lust episode. That was just lazily thrown in as a way to round out the seven deadly sins theme. The problem with the all people are trash concept is that all the people aren’t actually trash in the show. They’re products of trash environments and situations.

Every episode shows Ethan try to help someone by killing the monster they’re dealing with only to have the people become monsters of their own kind. But this is never without justification. The gluttony episode is about how an entire kingdom of people are starving while their king steals all their food. Then when the king is executed, the people storm his castle, take all the food, and burn it down. It’s a depressing display of selfishness and violence where rather than sharing and working together, the people all fought to obtain more for themselves. Ethan gets depressed at this display and ultimately feels like he shouldn’t have gotten involved. But these people were literally starving to death and had to sacrifice their children in order to keep from being eaten by a cyclops. It made sense that they responded to the situation in the way they did. The envy episode shows a man murder his wife and then commit suicide. But this was after the man witnessed his wife attempt to cheat on him in plain sight for what’s implied to be the umpteenth time. While in 2020 many will argue that this behavior is inexcusable, it’s not the first time we’ve seen a crime of passion of this nature. The OJ trial was about this very issue. The fact is that if the woman hadn’t of been so blatantly disloyal to her husband then he wouldn’t have killed her. While I’m not advocating for the character committing a murder, it’s not really a fair conclusion to call this an example of people being trash. Not the husband anyway. Each of the first six episodes works like this. The final episode is probably the most irritating though.

The last episode, which felt like it came way too fast, is basically the dragon talking to Ethan and telling him that people are trash so he kills them. It tries to hash this out with almost no nuance and ends with a fight to the death between the two. The final conclusion of the battle is not surprising, but there’s a twist at the end. This twist deviates from the game slightly but sort of makes reference to it. The problem is that the twist totally tosses out the entire discourse the dragon had literally stated just minutes prior to the ending. And like with the other six episodes, the people are trash narrative comes full circle by accusing Ethan of being the ultimate example of trash. Yet he also was justified in his actions leading up to that conclusion. Everything the show tries to say is nonsensical in its presentation, even if the points being made are fairly accurate. This is why I started with the statement that I like what they did but not the way they did it.

I think the show had the potential to be so much more. To move past the mediocre writing of the game and become a long form adventure story where Ethan and Hannah travel for multiple seasons fighting monsters and developing a relationship, not necessarily romantic, with each other while having philosophical debates about the nature of man. Then the ending could have been the one they had with a more nuanced debate between the dragon and Ethan with some slight changes to the dialog. Ultimately I was not impressed with Dragon’s Dogma. The show, like the game, is not well written. The difference is the game is at least a semi-fulfilling experience, because of the gameplay. The show doesn’t have the crutch of gameplay to lean on while being mediocre in terms of story. While by no means should the art style be labeled as bad, the animation isn’t what I would call good. While I think the show had the potential to continue past a first season, I’m glad it won’t. The ending, for all my issues with it, was fairly conclusive. This is one of the first shows in a long time where I was happy it ended with only one season. My final verdict is a 5/10.

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Microsoft, ZeniMax, and You

The greatest problem with capitalism is the general public’s inability to see the long term repercussions of business developments as they’re happening. It is an extremely small subset of people that have the ability to predict long term outcomes of often seemingly benign decisions years or even decades in advance. It’s such a valuable skill that careers have been built over appearing to be able to do it. Look at games analysts like Michael Pachter. Whether you tend to agree with his predictions or not, he is paid to literally try to guess what will happen in the games industry. Something I’ve been doing rather successfully free of charge for years.

I am a PlayStation user, but I do not consider myself a PlayStation fanboy. The reason for that distinction requires a recounting of my personal gaming history. I had a PS1, but I don’t really look back at the console that fondly. There are some key franchises I remember playing like Crash Bandicoot and Spyro, but for the most part my memories of the console are very limited. My favorite games were three Japanese Dragonball Z imports that I could play but not understand (I don’t speak/read Japanese). I played but never finished the first Spyro and never played the other two games in the series during that console generation. It wasn’t until years later when I played the ports on PS3 that I finally beat them all. I never played any Resident Evil, Final Fantasy, Silent Hill, or Metal Gear Solid games on the PS1. I very much preferred my N64 in that generation.

In the next console generation, the original Xbox released alongside the PS2 and the GameCube. I had all three. When looking back, I loved my GameCube, very much enjoyed my PS2, and liked my Xbox. I played a ton of games on my PS2. Excellent franchises that I continue to play such as God of War and Kingdom Hearts started there. This was also my first time playing a Final Fantasy game. I still consider FFX to be the best in the franchise to this day. Yet I don’t consider the PS2 my favorite console from that generation. It’s the GameCube that I remember the most fondly. Hundreds of hours playing Super Smash Bros. Melee from middle school all the way into college simply can’t be compared to. There were plenty of single player games I enjoyed on GameCube but it’s objectively false to say that I got more memorable games out of it than the PS2. Yet I still consider it my favorite console from that generation for whatever reason. When I think back to my Xbox, it’s more memories of a technological wonder rather than a collection of great gaming experiences. For instance, I remember being so impressed with the idea of internal storage. The age of memory cards was dead. Sadly now I miss hot swap memory cards. Game wise, I can’t really remember much about my Xbox. Never owned Halo: Combat Evolved. I had Halo 2, and I hated the story mode. I remember playing ToeJam & Earl III: Mission to Earth. It was much different from the rest of the franchise. Not bad, but nothing to write home about. I know I must have played other games on that console but I can’t really remember them. What’s important to note is that I used my PS2 longer than either my Xbox or GameCube.

It was in the seventh generation that I’d say a real console divide happened for me. Up until this point, I had always owned all the consoles concurrently. To date, the only two consoles I never owned were the Sega Saturn and the Xbox One. The former was not by choice. I owned a Wii. I wanted to continue playing Nintendo exclusives and I don’t regret the purchase. Super Mario Galaxy (1 & 2), The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, and Donkey Kong Country Returns are all games I remember very fondly. I still hope to see a Super Mario Galaxy 3. Nintendo is always a given for me. They will continue to overcharge for both hardware and software and I will continue to buy. But it was in this generation that, for financial reasons, I was forced to take a side between PlayStation and Xbox. Due to financial issues, there was no way for me to own both a PS3 and an Xbox 360, when they released. So my family chose Xbox 360 for me. I don’t remember why this is. I feel like it was what I asked for, because all my friends were getting it, but my family may have made the decision on their own. In any case, they got me an Xbox 360 for my birthday. This is when I became an Xbox Stan. I have a great understanding and level of sympathy for console Stans because I understand how it happens due to personal experiences.

Stans aren’t chosen. They’re created. Usually by circumstances out of their control such as financial hardship. I had an Xbox 360 and I couldn’t afford a PS3. At the time, the two brands decided the best type of marketing was vitriol and breaking up the gaming community into defined factions. And I fell for it hard. I defended the Xbox 360 like it was my job. Ignoring the fact that my first 360 broke outside of warranty and Microsoft wouldn’t help me. I was lucky enough to have gotten it from Costco which has/had a default one year warranty on all electronics. Ignoring the fact that I later used extended warranties, something I had never paid for on a console before, to replace two more 360s because of the red ring of death. Ignoring the fact that Microsoft was actively pushing gamers like me who didn’t care for FPS or sports games out of the Xbox community. Ignoring the fact that I never got to play online multiplayer except during free weekends, because I refused to pay for the privilege on top of the price of the games. I still actively sang praises for the Xbox 360 and claimed it was superior to the PS3.

While the Xbox 360 was a very problematic console for me, I do want to clarify that, at least at the beginning of its lifespan, it did have some really great games that I remember quite fondly. Kameo: Elements of Power is still one of my favorite games, concept wise, of all time. I would by a sequel to that tomorrow, if it was on PC, Nintendo, or PlayStation. I really liked Chromehounds, which absolutely deserved a sequel for being a much different take on the military shooter genre. I liked games like Beautiful Katamari, Dead or Alive 4, and Ninety-Nine Nights (1 & 2). There were definitely games on the console I played and loved. And because I didn’t really have a choice, coupled with the fact that I was still too young to be able to be look at the games industry from a mature, consumer focused mindset, I Staned for the console.

It is totally fair and accurate to say that I didn’t actually know shit about the PS3 and yet I attacked it in defense of the Xbox 360 all the time. I was born and raised an American. My grandfather served in the Navy. My mother was so American that she didn’t even like the term African-American because she felt it detracted from how American she was. There is nothing more American than criticizing and actively attacking things you haven’t actually researched because they oppose your side of a conflict that shouldn’t’ actually exist. Being an Xbox Stan is American Exceptionalism in its purest form. To be clear, I don’t consider American Exceptionalism, either in concept or practice, to be a good thing.

The funny thing about being an Xbox Stan in the 360 days was that it was easy. Pretty much all my friends in high school had gone for the Xbox 360. I don’t recall a single friend that had a PS3, though I’m sure there were some. It wasn’t until I was in college that I actually knew people who played and researched video games as much as me that were playing on PS3 exclusively. Many people would call these friends PlayStation Stans, but in hindsight I don’t think that’s a fair label. I think part of the definition of being a Stan that’s often ignored is that your position has to be objectively wrong or indefensible. Like you can’t be a Star Wars original trilogy Stan by definition because the original Star Wars trilogy is the best trilogy in the film series. You can be a sequel or prequel Stan but if your favorite trilogy is the original and you’re actively willing to defend it then you’re just an accurate Star Wars fan. I was an Xbox 360 Stan because the console wasn’t superior to its “adversary” but I went out of my way to argue that it was regardless of the verifiable facts. I cannot apply that same definition to my PS3 friends in college. Because they were right.

I fought my PS3 friends hard in defense of the Xbox 360, even as I stopped playing the bulk of exclusives. I was basically only playing multiplatform games but I still defended the console as being superior. Then I got a PS3. Years into the gen, I was gifted an old fat PS3. My father had bought it for himself at some point while I was in college. Later he decided he wasn’t using it enough to warrant owning it so he sent it to me. Acquiring that PS3 was an eye opening experience. Suddenly I cared about exclusives again. Suddenly I could play online multiplayer at no extra charge. Suddenly I could expand my hard drive space for a fraction of the cost with third party storage rather than some overpriced, undersized proprietary storage expansion. The PS3 was just an objectively better console. It was not winning the console war that gen, but mostly that was due to a ludicrously high release price, the focus by too many Americans on the fact that Xbox was “the American console”, and I’d argue that Microsoft had stronger advertising in that gen.

Very quickly after acquiring that PS3, my first used console not counting those refurbished Xbox 360s Microsoft kept sending me, I shelfed my Xbox 360 for good. I finished up any remaining games I had on it and packed it back into the box. I never used it again. I even ended up giving it to my dad some years later, because he wanted to play Madden. From this point on, I defended the PS3 over the Xbox 360. But I was not a Stan. Because having used both consoles extensively, I knew the PS3 was the superior console and that it had superior exclusives. God of War III, Uncharted 1 & 2, InFamous, Demon’s Souls, and several other games were better than just about anything I’d gotten to play on Xbox 360 as an exclusive. For me, PS3 was the objectively better console after having spent a fraction of the time with it than I had defending the Xbox 360.

Yet even after this radical shift in my opinion on 7th generation consoles, I still considered buying an Xbox One instead of a PS4. Indoctrination is an effective tool, even when you’re aware that it’s happening. Microsoft could have grabbed me for another gen, if they had taken my concerns seriously. Instead they went even farther away from meeting my demands. Rather than provide a well-rounded library of exclusives that gamers of all types and interests could find something to enjoy, they went even harder towards a library of almost exclusively shooters and sports games. Two genres I pretty much never play save for a few outliers. Not only were they going to continue charging people for online multiplayer, but they wanted to make the console always online. Note that didn’t happen because the people revolted, which they should have, but the point is that Microsoft showed us exactly who they were and what they wanted. Buying a PS4 over an Xbox One was a no brainer by the time the consoles had both launched. I didn’t buy my PS4 at launch, because I never buy launch consoles, but I had already made the decision by then.  Make no mistake though, even as a non-Xbox user, Microsoft has definitely affected my gaming experiences over the course of this last generation.

I was and still am avidly opposed to paying for online multiplayer. I never gave Microsoft a dime for online multiplayer. In fact, I never even used my Xbox Live Gold free trials. I praised both PlayStation and Nintendo for keeping online multiplayer free in the last gen. Now here I am with online multiplayer subscriptions on both my PlayStation 4 and Nintendo Switch consoles. Yes, I blame Microsoft for that. They introduced that profit scheme into the industry and the other companies followed suit after realizing that people would pay for it if they didn’t have a choice. I am avidly opposed to paid DLC. I praised Nintendo for sticking it out as the last bastion of full game releases. Yet here we are now with Smash Bros. Fighter passes, Breath of the Wild expansion passes, and additional paid subscriptions for old songs in Just Dance games. Yes, I blame Microsoft for that. The first instance of paid DLC in console games was on a Microsoft console. As was the first instance of a devoted paid DLC marketplace in a console online store. Again, PlayStation and Nintendo later followed suit after seeing how lucrative it was for Microsoft. Most of the things I complain about in gaming today sprouted out of Microsoft. The fact that I ever defended them still blows my mind. That’s the historical context with which we need to look at the next generation of gaming and Microsoft’s recent acquisition of ZeniMax.

I don’t actually care about console specs. I care about software and services. I happily bought my Nintendo Switch, knowing full well it was the weakest of the three consoles, because I wanted to play Super Mario Odyssey, Breath of the Wild, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and a number of other Nintendo exclusives. I didn’t even really care that the Switch offered handheld play. I would have bought it regardless to play the Nintendo staple exclusives, because I love playing them. I will always buy the console with the most games I actually want to play and can’t play anywhere else. I built a gaming PC just to play The Witcher 2. But doing so made the idea of buying an Xbox One even less sensible once Microsoft decided to port all their games to PC. The only Xbox One exclusives I seriously wanted to play were Sunset Overdrive, Ryse: Son of Rome, and ReCore. I now own all of those games on PC. Ironically I still haven’t played any of them, but the point is that I didn’t need to buy an Xbox One to play any of them legally. The same cannot be said for the exclusives I wanted to play on PS4. God of War, Uncharted 4, Marvel’s Spider-Man, and Ghost of Tsushima are just some of the games that I actively wanted to play before they released and would never have been able to play without purchasing a PlayStation console. Or at least that was true. We don’t know for sure now that PlayStation is starting to port some exclusives to PC. But at least for now the bulk of games I wanted a PS4 to play are games that I could only play on my PS4. But even if the PS4 had only five exclusives I wanted to play, that would still be more than the three I wanted to play on Xbox One.

Now I can’t say whether or not if the Xbox Series X will have more exclusives I want to play than the PS5 will, but based on Microsoft’s track record I wouldn’t bet on it. What I can say though is that I know with 100% assurance that anything that launches on Xbox Series X that I want to play will also be available on PC. The same cannot be said for exclusives available on the PS5. That’s enough of a reason for me to opt for a PS5 over an Xbox Series X. Because once again I will not be buying both consoles. However, I am/was considering Game Pass for PC.

Game Pass for PC sounds like a great deal. In fact, it sounds like the best deal in gaming right now. You build a PC and buy a PS5 or just build a PC and bet on PlayStation porting to PC years down the road allowing you to play pretty much every game save for the Nintendo exclusives. For $120 a year, access to Microsoft Studios titles, EA Play titles, and Bethesda titles day one plus a large back catalog sounds great. But then I took the time to look at the current list of titles available for the PC branch of the service. Sadly it’s pretty disappointing. For instance, I wasn’t aware that you couldn’t play the Xbox 360 titles on PC. Those are reserved for console subscribers only. I went through the entire current list and of the more than 100 games available, these are the only ones I would even consider playing that I don’t already own. As you can see it’s a pretty lackluster list for $120 a year. I could buy most if not all of these games outright in the next Black Friday sale for $120. I do assume the value of the service will increase as we start to see next generation games appear. But for now it would make no sense to subscribe. Again, speaking as someone who doesn’t care for FPS or sports titles. But rather than speculate about the subscription service, let’s look at what it means now that Microsoft owns ZeniMax and more importantly the long terms repercussions of such a large acquisition.

Looking back over the years, I have come to the conclusion that Microsoft’s ultimate goal is to move every gamer to PC. Microsoft made their money nickel and diming people with subscription and hidden fees. Build a PC, need to buy Windows. Want to do work, need to buy Microsoft Office. Want to do work in 2020, need to subscribe to Office 365. Microsoft has made so little money selling products. Their money comes from repeat charges and services. They’ve probably made more from DLC than actual console or game sales. And business is good. They spent $7.2B on ZeniMax. That company is valuable, but I simply can’t agree that they’re that valuable. What that purchase was is a statement. A statement to SONY and any other naysayers that they aren’t in this game to sell consoles. They’re in this game to control markets. And they have the cash flow to do so. If Microsoft wanted to they could buy SONY outright. It might take some years of collecting stocks, but they definitely could just change the gaming landscape as we know it. SONY doesn’t have near the capital Microsoft has. SONY is basically losing money in everything they do except games. Microsoft is basically making money in everything they do except games. Microsoft wants everyone gaming on PC and subscribing to services for continuous repeat revenue. And that makes sense given their history. Of course they created paid DLC. Of course they created paid online multiplayer. Microsoft’s bread and butter is microtransactions. They didn’t buy ZeniMax to destroy SONY outright. They bought them to increase the value proposition of their subscription service. They aren’t even thinking about PlayStation. The negative effects that happen to PS5 owners will not be intentional. They will merely be a consequence of this grand plan.

The problem with Microsoft buying a large publisher like Bethesda is that it has the potential to permanently fracture the gaming player base. If Microsoft goes full exclusive with Bethesda’s titles, it would mean people have to choose between God of War: Ragnarok and The Elder Scrolls VI. That’s a big problem when you consider that millions of people have been buying Elder Scrolls games on PlayStation consoles for the last two installments. But it’s not even the best example. Look at Ninja Theory. Microsoft acquired them in 2018. This is a company that made the bulk of its money selling games as multiplatform titles. Their last three games sold better on PlayStation consoles than Xbox consoles. Not much better mind you. The split is something like 52% vs 48% of sales skewing towards PlayStation users going back two gens. But what that means is that if they are now a Microsoft exclusive developer then they’ve lost 50% of their console player base. That’s not an estimate. It’s an objective fact of their sales numbers. If they can’t sell to PlayStation users then they will most likely sell 50% less units for the next game on console. A developer that has been multiplatform for the last decade is now potentially unavailable to 50% of the people who helped fund the company’s survival. That’s a problem in my book. Even if Microsoft doesn’t shut down the studio, a very possible outcome for a studio that small with sales numbers as low as theirs, Ninja Theory’s games will now potentially be blocked off from a large percentage of the people who helped get them get this far. I don’t think that’s right.

The next game by Ninja Theory will be a Microsoft Exclusive

We’re not talking about a studio like Insomniac Games that made literally all their money from one platform and then was purchased by the owner of that platform just to make it official. We’re talking about games that were built from the ground up as multiplatforms being torn away from large numbers of long time financial supporters. Imagine if tomorrow EA or Ubisoft went full exclusive to either side. Suddenly Madden, Battlefield, or Assassin’s Creed wouldn’t be available to millions of players who have been supporting these franchises just about every year for more than a decade. Even with those losses, I don’t see the bulk of PlayStation users transitioning over to Xbox though.

The bulk of Xbox and PlayStation users differ on their general gaming interests in many ways. I do believe that these differences in preference have been baked in over the last 20 or so years of propaganda and genre focused development practices by platform. But it doesn’t’ change the factuality of the statement. PlayStation users care a lot more about story than Xbox users. PlayStation users are a lot more comfortable with settings outside of Western-centric real world locations than Xbox users. PlayStation users tend to be less drawn to gunplay than Xbox users. There’s a reason Killzone performs at a fairly mediocre level on PlayStation while Quantum Break performed just as if not more mediocre on Xbox One. The key difference is that PS4 has more than double the player base that Xbox One has so Killzone of course sold more than double the units of Quantum Break. But note that Horizon: Zero Dawn, made by the same studio as Killzone Shadow Fall, sold almost two times as many copies on PS4. The reason these differences in player interests matter is because it means that the majority of PS4 users aren’t going to transition to Xbox Series X in order to play Bethesda games. Simply put, The Elder Scrolls 6 won’t outweigh God of War: Ragnarok, Spider-Man: Miles Morales, Horizon: Forbidden West, and many other upcoming exclusive sequels. It will for sure be missed by many PlayStation users if it becomes a full Microsoft exclusive. But not enough to make people choose Xbox over PlayStation in the next gen. What it may do is push more people into going for PC. With a PS5 and a PC, users will be able to play both God of War: Ragnarok and The Elder Scrolls 6.

The problem for SONY with Microsoft focusing on the PC market, is that all roads lead back to Microsoft. SONY getting pulled into releasing exclusives on PC will very likely come back to bite them in the ass. In the next gen it won’t. PS4 users will buy PS5s. Some will also add on PCs. But with the much longer use life of a PC, once people start realizing that they could have gone for a PC only and just waited to play ports of all those PS5 exclusives, they’ll rethink buying a PS6. That’s exactly what Microsoft wants. Over time every user will just jump into PC, subscribe to Game Pass for PC, and drop off consoles all together. Maybe they’ll still buy the lower priced Nintendo option for their exclusives alongside their PC. Microsoft wins in that scenario. SONY’s market share shrinks, no other large publishers lose any business, and Microsoft gets their OS money, Game Pass money, and whatever other microtransaction revenue they have their fingers in. Because that’s how they’ve always made their money.

Microsoft buying ZeniMax doesn’t help Xbox gamers win. It just makes all console gamers lose. Because the market will eventually split in half and then become homogenized on PC. Microsoft still wins if Xbox dies to PC. They don’t care which platform you play on. That’s literally their value proposition right now. You can even play on your tablet or phone. They still make a profit. But by killing PlayStation and eventually driving everything not Xbox to PC, Xbox users will be forced over to PC as well in the long run. It is not good for platform owners to buy large publishers. Microsoft doing it is bad. SONY doing it is just as bad. You won’t be happy as an Xbox user if tomorrow SONY buys Konami or Capcom. It’s just going to cause a larger schism within the games industry/market that eventually leads everyone to PC. If anything, you really should start saving to build a PC now if you plan on continuing to be a gamer three gens from now. The plan is already being set in motion. And the sad part is that consumers are too stupid and narcissistic to see it.

Xbox users cheer when PlayStation users lose. In turn PlayStation users call for SONY to buy up a company so Xbox users can lose. Really all consumers should be angry whenever any gamer loses. Can you imagine how different the gaming landscape would be if when Microsoft started charging for online multiplayer every PlayStation user publicly spoke out against the decision in solidarity with Xbox users? Can you imagine how different things would be if Xbox users had refused to pay for multiplayer and were welcomed into the PlayStation community instead of being ridiculed? What would have happened if the first time Microsoft charged for DLC that all gamers on all platforms spoke out against it as one organized voice and not a single microtransaction was made? We let these companies trick us into feuding with each other and then we let them take advantage of that feud to trick us into paying more money for things we used to get for less/free. We are responsible for our own downfall. And I don’t see that changing. I already have a gaming PC so I’m good. To the rest of you, I say good luck trying to find an RTX 3070 or 3080 GPU.  

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Prioritize Quality of Life Functions in Game Development

Currently I’m playing Ghost of Tsushima from Sucker Punch Productions. I’m streaming it live on Twitch and YouTube. You can check out my past streams here. The game is absolutely amazing and I highly recommend it. But this post is not a traditional review. I haven’t finished the game and honestly I’m not even a third of the way done with it based on my understanding. So reviewing it now wouldn’t be realistic. What I actually want to talk about is the Quality of Life (QoL) decisions that make the game superior to a vast majority of games today and most from the past. Specifically in the genre of open world action games with “crafting” elements. Ghost of Tsushima is a great game as far as combat and writing, but it’s the QoL features and design decisions that make it stand out to me as one of the best games of this generation. Yet I still would even call this game perfect, as far as QoL features are concerned.

QoL features are an interesting topic of discussion in games because they have no official standards. There are no right or wrong answers when discussing QoL, because they don’t have to do with realism or logic. They’re simply there to make the game experience more palatable and hopefully enjoyable without taking away from the gameplay. That struggle between convenience, balance, and realism is what makes QoL so hard. Some studios go too far. They make a game too easy in order to keep the player from getting bored or irritated, ultimately leaving players unchallenged and more ironically, still bored. Conversely, most studios don’t go far enough. For one reason or another, they skimp out on the QoL features, hiding behind excuses like realism and preservation of difficulty.

The real challenge of QoL is that conventions and expectations change over time. It’s not so much a limit of technology as much as limits to what developers want to allow players to do, because there’s no official rules or standards in place. But developers don’t know for sure what players want. They just guess based on how people responded to past games. And let’s not forget that not all players want the same things. That’s why I’m all for some of the recent trends we’re seeing from studios like Ubisoft that have started adding features like “hacking the animus” where you can do all sorts of things with the gameplay. But that’s not really what I’m talking about when I say QoL features. That actually goes beyond the scope. I’m talking about normal things like fast travel methods, item management, and map features. Things that exist in some form in most games, of specific genres, but that don’t technically have to work in a specific way for the game to work properly. Sometimes they don’t technically have to exist at all. Those are the specific features that I want to discuss in this post. Please note that I’m gonna make a lot of references to Assassin’s Creed (specifically Odyssey) in this post for comparison. It’s not because I have a specific problem with Odyssey, but more that I’m currently playing it at the same time as Ghost of Tsushima so the differences between the two games stand out a lot to me and were in many ways the inspiration for this post. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is an excellent, though very flawed, game that I highly recommend to fans of the franchise and open world action RPGs in general.

I play a lot of open worlds. Too many considering that I actually prefer linear narrative games in most cases. But most of the reasons I have for not preferring open world games definitely come down to QoL features, or more accurately lacking QoL features. Probably the most important feature that Ghost of Tsushima gets right where so many others today get it wrong is fast travel. I don’t know why fast travel seems to be difficult in 2020. I don’t know why there’s any debate about how it should work in open world games. Fast travel should be the most convenient and available part of any open world game. I’ve played countless games with so many different fast travel systems and almost all of them suck because almost none of them do it the way it should be done. I want to clarify that Ghost of Tsushima wasn’t the first to get it right. They’re just the most recent game I’ve played that got it right. And they got it really right.

Fast travel should (yes I’m using the word should here) be map point to map point with no exceptions. Every map location that you have discovered should be a fast travel point. Whether it’s a town, city, temple, vendor, mini-game, or base, if it has a specified map icon in the game, and you’ve already discovered it, then it should be/become a working fast travel point. I’m tired of having to backtrack to a town that I’ve already been to as part of a quest by fast traveling to some random point on the map and then manually traveling several meters to reach the town. Just make the town a fast travel point. Assassin’s Creed: Origins didn’t have enough fast travel points. But it did make every town/city an automatic fast travel point. This wasn’t done in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey even though it has a much bigger map, and it’s the most inconvenient thing ever. So much time is wasted traveling back to places you’ve already visited in that game. We had this figured out back in Skyrim, 9 years ago. Any discovered point on the map could be fast traveled to. Why in 2020 am I still having to call my horse and ride from a random tower in the forest to a town I’ve already visited? Ghost of Tsushima does it the best because all map points become fast travel points after being discovered and cleared. Literally anything on the map is a fast travel point. Every base, shrine, campsite, and town becomes a fast travel point as soon as it’s cleared. It’s the best thing ever. You have to earn the fast travel point by discovering it and clearing it of enemies, but once it’s done you now have a useful tool to help you continue your journey from there at any time. This should be the case in every open world game. Why am I still climbing pointless towers and buildings and having to jump off them every time I fast travel in Assassin’s Creed? Why am I limited to random campsites and having to summon a helicopter every time I fast travel in Ghost Recon? Just let me travel to any discovered and completed location. I don’t get why Ubisoft doesn’t implement this system. They already put a checkmark on all the completed map locations. Just make those fast travel points. If you want to leave the forts out because they respawn enemies, that’s fine. But all the other shit on the map should still be available for fast travel. Especially towns.

My next favorite QoL feature of Ghost of Tsushima is upgrade tracking. When you look at the map, all the points that have upgrade vendors are highlighted in gold. But that’s just the tip of the feature. When you hover the cursor over those points, it shows you which vendors have upgrades available and how many. So you don’t need to remember where to go to upgrade your sword vs your armor vs your item pockets. The map tells you where the vendor you need is located. And you don’t have to manually track which type of vendor you need to visit after collecting a certain number of materials. The game tells you in the map which type of upgrades you have available. It admittedly doesn’t tell you the specific upgrades you have available so it’s not as if you don’t have to keep track of things if you’re building towards a specific upgrade, but the point is that the game does most of the leg work of managing upgrade logistics for you. Managing upgrades needs to stop being my job in games. I know that sounds lazy and entitled but come on. In Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey I have three loadouts (you can have up to five), each with two hand to hand weapons, a bow, and five different pieces of armor. Each of those weapons and pieces of armor can be upgraded continuously as you level up over and over again. Each piece of equipment can have up to four special bonuses. It is extremely difficult to properly manage all your upgrades, and gear in general, in that game. You’re constantly running out of materials, switching pieces of gear around, and min/maxing stats to get hopefully the best results. Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t have this issue because it’s not really an RPG so your only item management is fixed upgrades, bonus charms, and cosmetic appearance. So I won’t compare it here. But it does show you that there’s a much simpler way to manage item upgrades in games.

On the subject of serious item management systems in RPGs, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey could do a lot more in the QoL department. The game is built around the idea of damage types. You can deal assassin damage, warrior damage, and hunter damage. This system is pretty annoying because separating them means that if I want to use my bow (hunter damage) from afar when first approaching a base, then sneak up to stealth kill (assassin damage) hidden targets, and then fight the remaining enemies head on (warrior damage), then I need to change to each of my three loadouts during the course of taking a single fort. There are of course other ways to play this. You don’t have to min/max each type of damage with multiple loadouts. You can create a mixed build that makes you OK at each type of damage. But the game, at least on hard difficulty, is so unbalanced that if you don’t go for maximum effectiveness in each type of damage then you’re going to struggle through all of them. Using bows sucks in that game because unless you build a bow loadout you can’t get one hit sniper kills. 80% of my entire Assassin’s Creed: Origins experience was sniper kills with a single arrow. Making that happen in Odyssey takes so much effort in terms of gear management, and it’s really not fun. What would be really nice, to at least make this system more bearable, is an equip most effective gear function. This function is hard to manage in a game like this because it’s going to default to highest base DPS and base Armor rating, but that’s not how I would want it to work. The way it should work is that you can set one stat/enhancement type and then have the game equip the most effective gear for that -stat/enhancement.  So for instance, if I want to build a hunter damage loadout to maximize my bow damage, I should be able to set hunter damage as my tracked stat and then use the equip most effective gear function to get a loadout that prioritizes hunter damage specifically. This would allow players to choose their preferred playstyle and quickly generate the most effective loadout for that rather than having to do it manually. If you want to use poison damage, you shouldn’t have to read through every piece of gear you have and try to figure out which eight pieces all have the best poison damage coupled with DPS and armor. You should just have to set poison damage as your tracked stat and then the game finds those pieces for you. Even better would be if you could do this with up to three tracked stats/enhancements.

Another QoL function that is a must for any gear based RPG in 2020 is a mark as junk function. In The Division 2 you have the ability to mark gear as junk. This is because you’re constantly getting so much gear and most of it is trash. This is true for any loot based RPG. But for some reason this same function isn’t available in Assassin’s Creed games. Before Odyssey, I never would have asked for it. In Odyssey, it’s a demand not a request. You get so many useless pieces of gear in that game but have to manage all of it manually. Yes you can quickly dismantle it if you just want it gone, but most of the time I’m trying to sell it for more gold. But blacksmiths are actually pretty rare in that game so I’m often carrying 30 or more extra items to sell by the time I find a blacksmith. This means I have to manually examine each piece of gear relative to my three loadouts every time I try to sell stuff to make sure I don’t accidentally sell a useful item. If I could mark items as junk, I could do that every time I got a new piece of junk and then my meetings with blacksmiths would be reduced considerably. The fact that it’s needed in a Ubisoft game but originally appeared in another Ubisoft game is quite irritating.

One feature that Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey gets right that Ghost of Tsushima doesn’t is resource purchasing. It’s actually more accurate to say that both games get some aspects of it right and others wrong with Odyssey being the more right of the two. Back in the days of Skyrim and before, crafting numbers seemed to be a lot more practical. You needed five of something. Maybe 15 of something for an item that was a little fancier. Kingdom Hearts is notoriously inconvenient for crafting requirements and yet even those games keep the required items to under 15 of any individual resource and under 25 total resources for the best item/weapon in each of the core games. Meanwhile in both Odyssey and Ghost of Tsushima I’m tasked with collecting literally hundreds to more than a thousand of the same resource to get later upgrades. That’s ridiculous. It’s especially bad when you consider the drop rates. In Ghost of Tsushima there is no money. Instead you have supplies. That’s your general collectible that sort of takes the place of money. But not completely since it’s only used for crafting weapons and armor. Vendors selling other items and upgrades, such as cosmetics and throwing item upgrades take other resources like predator hides and flowers. I like Ghost of Tsushima’s break away from a general currency system because it creates a more varied and dynamic crafting infrastructure that requires the player to constantly be paying attention to the whole environment and interacting with everything. But the drop/spawn rates of many items are unacceptably low. There are upgrades that require more than a thousand supplies but on overage supplies come in bundles of about 8 – 15. Sometimes you find some bigger bundles in the 20 – 40 range, and sometimes in bundles of less than five. But even at 40, which is rare, that’s still collecting more than 25 instances of a single crafting resource. And that’s as part of a list of required resources of varying required amounts and rarity. 1000 is simply too much at these drops rates. Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is no better on this issue.

Upgrading your ship in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey is a nightmare. Especially when it comes to wood. You have nine different upgradeable components to your ship and most of them require large numbers of wood. Some in the range of more than 10000 pieces of wood. Other than the occasional drop of 30 – 50 pieces of wood, most wood is collected via manually collecting them from trees in bundles of eight or dismantling certain types of gear for 3 – 6 pieces each. You can also go the piracy route, which has varying drop rates from a low as 20 to as high as 100+ pieces per drop but the ship combat isn’t as satisfying or useful as it was in Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag. As most of the game it spent on land, land based wood farming is the bulk of your wood acquisitions. The amount of extra effort you have to put in to max out your ship is so inconvenient. It’s actually harder than in Black Flag because that game had lower crafting requirements and was way more generous with materials from storming ships. Not to mention that wood is used for gear upgrades as well with high costs. So the amount of wood you need is way higher but the rate of acquisition is unbearably low. It’s the same problem as supplies in Ghost of Tsushima but the amount of the resources needed in Odyssey is several times higher overall. The difference is that Odyssey does let you buy wood from certain vendors. There’s a limit to it and it’s not nearly enough, but it is something. Ghost of Tsushima has lots of vendors but you can’t buy any crafting materials. You can sell them, which is great, but they can only be used to obtain supplies. Supplies is the most needed resource, but it’s not the one you want to buy. Many upgrades require 1 -3 pieces of much rarer resources that you would absolutely be willing to trade certain other resources for but can’t. I’d happily give up several hundred pieces of bamboo for a few pieces of silk. Except for super rare items like Orichalcum in Kingdom Hearts, games with crafting mechanics need to have an unlimited buy/trade system for all general resources if they’re going to be pushing these numbers we’re seeing now. I have over 100K gold in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey but it’s only useful for upgrades once I’ve acquired all the other materials I need. Being able to buy thousands of wood would make that game way more manageable.

One really simple QoL feature that Ghost of Tsushima does and too many other games don’t is showing you the number of collectibles from the start. Collectibles are not a realistic gameplay mechanic. Real life doesn’t task people with collecting some large number of the same type of item scattered throughout the world. This means that nothing about collecting needs to be particularly challenging or inconvenient to manage. Yet so many games choose to keep the number of collectibles hidden. I’m not sure why this is. It’s inconvenient and accomplishes nothing save making people manually count items that don’t usually matter and Google the total they need. Ghost of Tsushima just tells you how many of a particular item you need to find as soon as you find one of them. That’s so useful and convenient. Being able to track that automatically saves the player so much trouble and time. Even more convenient is the fact that Ghost of Tshushima lets you manually set specific collectibles as trackable items with the navigation function. I haven’t used it yet since I’m still fairly early in the game, but that’s a real game changer. No Ubisoft paid DLC map. No inconvenient Google image maps. The game just lets you track collectibles as an unlockable ability. That’s the absolute best way to do it other than just letting you use in game currency to buy a collectible map from a vendor.

I’ve always had some ambivalence about bosses in games. I think they are important and necessary, but I often question how they’re constructed in games. The problem with many bosses today is that they don’t properly line up with the experience of the rest of the game. This certainly depends on the genre. Like a boss fight in a Super Mario game is usually fairly good because the skills required to beat the boss are relevant to the rest of the gameplay. The bosses in that franchise, at least in the traditional platformer titles, have almost always been a final test of your mastery of the gameplay leading up to that moment. This is how a boss fight should be. My least favorite boss fights in the Mario franchise are the Bowser fights in Super Mario 64, because those fights weren’t really relevant to the rest of the gameplay. There was really no other portion of the game that had you grab and swing an enemy into a target/bomb. It’s this part of the game that was always hardest for me as a kid. Getting to the tail grab point was always easy, because that was basic dodging and jumping. These were skills developed by getting to that point in the game. But targeting a bomb with a giant koopa while swinging around in a circle wasn’t relevant to anything else you’d done up to that point save for the previous Bowser fight(s). So there was no muscle memory built up over time. Most post Super Mario 64 boss fights have been more relevant to the core gameplay, and that’s how it should be. I hate most of the boss fights in Metal Gear Solid games precisely because they don’t match up with the core gameplay. You’re playing an action stealth game and yet all these boss fights are serious direct combat sequences you hadn’t really been prepared for. That’s the mark of bad boss fight design but it happens so often because it makes sense for narrative purposes. You see similar issues in Assassin’s Creed games. You spend hours mastering stealth kills only to have a face to face brawl with someone as a milestone. It doesn’t make any sense from a thematic standpoint. I think this is why secret and mini-bosses exist in a lot of games. It justifies the main bosses by normalizing the boss gameplay. The problem is that these non-main bosses, especially the optional ones, rarely add anything to the overall experience other than additional fights. They don’t really have a point other than filling time.

Whether a boss fight is good or bad, relevant or irrelevant gameplay wise, and fun or totally off-putting, all main bosses have something in common: they’re rewarding from a narrative/progress standpoint. Bosses are milestones. They give you new items or powers, unlock new areas of the game, or represent meaningful moments within the narrative. Optional bosses, and often mini-bosses, almost never do this. Optional bosses usually net a lot of XP but rarely give you anything truly meaningful. They’re just there to be there for those who like fighting bosses. This is how I feel about a large number of optional bosses in the Dark Souls franchise. Though I’ve beaten all three games, I’ve killed very few optional bosses. Because there doesn’t really seem to be a point for me. Maybe they’ll drop an item I don’t personally plan on using. Maybe they’ll give me a bunch souls I don’t particularly need, since I’ve already gotten strong enough to finish the game. Rarely does the prospect of defeating them have any real value for me. Many fight them for fun, but I actually don’t like the bosses in Soulsborne games. My favorite part about that genre, whether in Dark Souls, Bloodborne, Nioh, or anything else, is not the boss fights. It’s the levels leading up to the boss fights. The boss fights are simply milestones you have to conquer in order to progress, but they’re not the fun part of the games for me. Some boss fights are quite impressive, but rarely do I find them enjoyable. Again, this is because they rarely represent the core gameplay in a relevant and accurate way for me. Ghost of Tsushima tackles the issue of optional bosses in probably the best way I’ve ever seen.

Optional Boss Fight from Ghost of Tsushima

Ghost of Tsushima’s take on boss fights is duels. These are one on one sword battles that limit your abilities to just that of your katana. You can’t use throwing items or your bow. It’s a proper samurai showdown scenario. The first thing that needs to be said about these fights is that they’re some of the most relevant boss fights in a modern video game. None of them require you to learn or implement any techniques that you haven’t been commonly using in the regular gameplay. Instead you’re tasked with implementing the core gameplay at an advanced level of mastery, which is what a boss fight is supposed to be. Six of these duels are part of the main plot and thus required. The other 19 duels are optional. So really that’s 19 optional boss fights. What I like about these optional bosses is that not only are they gameplay relevant but they’re also meaningful as far as rewards. They give you rewards that you don’t need to beat the game but that have real impact on your gameplay when unlocked. Special techniques and special weapons are some examples of what optional boss fights get you in Ghost of Tsushima. For example, my second duel got me the longbow. This item is a complete game changer.  It gives you the ability to snipe targets from afar with one hit kills that are ALMOST impossible with the normal bow you get as part of the plot. That’s the way an optional boss should be. The reward for defeating it should be meaningful by having a direct effect on the gameplay after it that doesn’t actively force the player to completely change their play style. I was already making use of the bow when I unlocked the longbow. Now I can just do it from farther away with more power and accuracy. If every optional boss fight was as rewarding as those in Ghost of Tsushima, I’d never skip them.

Ultimately there are a lot more QoL features that I could discuss but the general point is that convenience is a good thing. Games need to make the challenge come out in the core gameplay. Not in the management of things leading players from one instance of core gameplay to the next. The less resistance and inconvenience for the player, the better. Ghost of Tsushima goes a long way in this department and I’d like to see more games follow their example moving forward.

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

PS5 Showcase September Review

Last week, SONY did another PS5 presentation and let’s be honest about a few things off the bat. The presentation looked great for the most part, gave some very important information, announced some new highly anticipated titles, and provided more information about some already announced titles. That being said, there was also a fair amount of trash content in that presentation. I define trash content as content that wasn’t needed because it didn’t actually affect sales of hardware or software in a meaningful way. For instance, they “announced” that Fortnite will be on the PS5 at launch. Let’s be very clear and admit that we already knew that, no one is buying a PS5 because it can run Fortnite, and that if the game you play on your PS5 on launch day is Fortnite then you’re just doing it wrong. All that being said, I think it was a fairly effective presentation. Let’s go over the specifics.

Final Fantasy XVI

If you’re going to do a presentation about a new console, opening with a never before seen game announcement is the way to go. Making that game part of a longstanding franchise that prints money is even better. And that game having console exclusivity (temporary), though annoying, is absolutely effective. I have to hand it to SONY for this one, because that is simply how you do it. The only thing that hurt them here was the disclaimer that you were seeing PC footage. I didn’t have a problem with that personally, but I know many people did and I can understand why.

As for the trailer itself, I was very impressed with a lot of what I saw. The gameplay looks great with more fast action combat that reminded me a lot of DMCV. The British style fantasy setting, though not very original, is a fine setting for a Final Fantasy game. I was also happy to see Ifrit and Evrae as the focus magical beasts because that’s a throwback to my favorite game in the franchise, FFX. I also thought the white chocobo was cool. I’ve actually got two FF titles in my backlog to complete so I probably won’t get to this one for a while but it was a really solid announcement that will definitely sell PS5s.

Spider-Man: Miles Morales

We got some legitimate gameplay footage of Miles Morales and it looks great. The new powers show that the gameplay, though similar, is considerably different and will require you to change up your play style. That’s a good thing in my book. I absolutely don’t want to play a game where it’s just Peter Parker in Blackface. There were also plot details given that I think were really useful to fans such as the timeline placing the game a year after the events of Marvel’s Spider-Man, the introduction of Miles’ guy in the chair, the/a villain (The Tinkerer), and what seems like a much more down to earth Spider-Man story. One of the aspects of Spider-Man as a character that I didn’t feel was played up enough in the first game was that it’s not actually supposed to be fun to be Spider-Man. It’s supposed to be hard. You save some people in the first game, but it’s mostly just kicking ass and taking names. This trailer showed a large portion of the game being about rescuing people. That’s what Spider-Man is actually about. The struggle to save lives in impossible circumstances. It may not be as sexy, but it’s a more authentic depiction of what Spider-Man is supposed to be. I’m of course assuming that this will be a larger part of the game and not just a one off sequence.

The $70 price tag was met with a lot of criticism, but I think this is a bad example of a larger issue. PS5 games will be $70 at launch and that’s not great for consumers. Barring a number of meaningful changes to the industry, such as a complete and total removal of paid DLC, raising the price of games is irritable. Sensible from a business perspective but irritable. Hopefully this will cause more people to vote with their wallets, stop preordering games, and wait for price drops like a responsible, change minded consumer. I doubt it, but one can hope. At the same time, I don’t really have an issue with Spider-Man: Miles Morales costing $70 because what you’re getting is more than worth that. This $70 price tag includes a remastered version of the original game for PS5, all the DLC for the original game, and the Miles Morales game that Insomniac Games has stated to be a full length standalone experience. Even if it’s only half as long as Marvel’s Spider-Man, that’s a lot of content for $70. Of course I won’t be playing that remaster or DLC, since I’ve already played it, but the value included on paper is certainly worth $70.

Hogwarts Legacy

I don’t actually know why people are still into this franchise. It was never more than mediocre fantasy to begin with. Like the fact that J.K. Rowling being a terf is the deal breaker for a lot of people irritates me because it means that if not for her having political views you find disagreeable, you’d still be shoveling your hard earned money towards an IP that should already have been lost to history. But fair is fair. Let’s actually analyze the trailer for what it is.

This game is set in the late 1800’s as a Harry Potter universe themed open world RPG. You can create your own character and use those super uncool looking wands to fight fantasy monsters and I presume solve puzzles. The graphics don’t look terrible and there’s probably a quidditch mini-game that people will praise even as they continue to mock Blitzball which is arguably the greatest sports mini-game of all time. I’m sure some people will buy a PS5 to play this game, but I still can’t understand why.

Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War

I had a lot of issues with this trailer. The graphics was not one of them. The game looks great. The voice acting and sound effects were fine. The setting and realism were my main complaints. First of all, setting a firefight focused FPS game in the Cold War seems odd. Like literally it’s called the Cold War. There’s a reason for that. It wasn’t a war fought on the front lines of war zones. It was fought with spy craft, espionage, and countless martinis that were shaken, not stirred. Turning it into a WWII style warfront scenario is revisionist history at its worst. But they take it even further by adding technology that absolutely didn’t exist. Like an RC car that can hit like 70 or more miles per an hour while loaded with enough explosives to take out a plane. Just no. I cannot suspend my disbelief that much for a game set in a historically well documented time period.

I also had issues with the actual events in the trailer. Like there’s a moment where the player is supposed to take out a target with a sniper rifle. The shot seems easy enough but he misses by accidentally hitting a different person standing in front of the target. It wasn’t clear to me if this was a scripted miss or a dynamic one. If it was scripted, then that’s just super irritating because it means the game tasks the player with hitting a target and then has you believe you just suck at your job. If it was a dynamic miss then it means that fire fight didn’t need to happen. If that’s the case then that’s really cool and I’d like to see that alternative outcome. A Cold War game like that where you can get into fire fights but don’t have to would be quite interesting as an FPS title.

While it’s now over, I thought it was nice that the trailer was the lead-in to a free multiplayer open alpha. Again though, was anyone particularly moved by this trailer? Were the people planning to buy Cold War not already planning to buy it before the trailer? If anything, the alpha did way more for sales than that trailer did. That’s the kind of trash content in presentations I’d like to see removed/replaced.

Resident Evil 8

This trailer was basically the same trailers we’ve seen before for this game with an overly long focus on the fairytale backstory that I’m not even sure is playable. All I can really say is that it looks like a Resident Evil game and if you’re a Resident Evil fan then you were already planning to buy it after the first announcement. I haven’t seen anything in any of the trailers that appeals to me as someone who hasn’t played any of the previous games.

Deathloop

I have been unsure about Deathloop since the second trailer. The initial announcement was cool but too vague to make a statement about. I actually concocted an entire game in my head that ended up being nothing close to what it is, which depressed me a great deal. The trailer in this showcase actually did a lot to inform us about what the game actually is and how it works. It has a grindhouse art style that reminds me of the game WET (2009), which honestly wasn’t good. The powers seem really interesting and it’s cool that enemies have them too. Up until now that wasn’t confirmed so it seemed like the player was special but there was no explanation for why. In a world where powers are commonly occurring, it’s less of an issue. I also really like that bosses appear to die like regular enemies.

The more I hear about Deathloop, the more turned off by it I am. Not because of the concept or gameplay but because of the expectations implied. This game sounds unrealistically hard for anyone who isn’t a high level FPS player, which I am absolutely not and have no interest in being. Killing eight targets sprawled around a map within a time limit with no continues sounds stressful, untenably difficult, and irritating. Especially when you consider that another player can invade your game and screw everything up for you. And I actually like the invasion mechanic here. And there actually are good ideas here. Like this trailer showed that you can manipulate events by sabotaging plans so a target will change their plans. That’s awesome. I just think the game as a whole has too many mechanics working against each other. I’m sure some people will beat it but from what I’ve seen so far, I think most will be put off by it. The average gamer doesn’t actually like mandated perfect run scenarios.

Devil May Cry V Special Edition

I didn’t like this presentation because it was built around the idea of marketing to people who already played Devil May Cry V in attempt to make them rebuy Devil May Cry V while concurrently ignoring people who haven’t played the game yet. This was a gameplay trailer that told outsiders literally nothing. It was basically just a presentation of what DMCV looks like on PS5. Having not played the game yet, I was very confused about what made it a “special edition”. Later I was told that Vergil wasn’t playable in the launch version and that was the difference. That should have been stated in the presentation. Especially since it’s one of the only real additions to this edition. People who haven’t already played the game could not just look at the footage shown and understand that was the selling point. In general, I don’t know if I even want to call one additional playable character enough to justify a whole new edition of a game, but that’s beside the point. It was a great looking game, that will presumably run better on the PS5, presented badly.

Oddworld Soulstorm

This trailer didn’t really do any more to sell the game than the past trailers have. The gameplay looks fairly standard with lots of comedic violence and some funny dialog, which has been shown in the previous trailers. Again, who’s opinion on the game changed with this trailer? Nothing particularly special was shown in this trailer that made anyone more likely to buy it than previous trailers have. I get that they want to keep pushing the game for marketing purposes, but there are ways to do that without taking prime time from a formal presentation for the second or third time.

Five Night’s at Freddy’s Security Breach

This was just an announcement trailer with no gameplay shown, but it was definitely well made. I didn’t even realize it was a Five Nights at Freddy’s trailer till towards the end. The GLaDOS vibes were strong with this one. I don’t really play this franchise because I got stuck in the first game and never figured out how to beat it but this was a good announcement trailer.

Demon’s Souls Remake

While I personally won’t play a Demon’s Souls remake, having already beaten the original, wow does this game look pretty. It runs smoothly, the enemies look way more detailed, and the landscapes look beautiful. There were some things I was unclear about, having not played the game in over a decade. It seemed like the player was getting one hit kills every time. I don’t remember Demon’s Souls being that easy. I was also super impressed/stressed out about him/her playing with no UI on. That would give me anxiety for this particular game. I won’t be buying this but I hope many people who haven’t played it do so they can learn about what true difficulty is. Dark Souls has always been an easier experience. I hope they haven’t nerfed this game for a modern audience. I’d absolutely play a Demon’s Souls 2.

Fortnite

Fortnite will be on PS5 at launch. That is all.

God of War: Ragnarok

They gave us nothing save for an image and an announcement but hot damn was it the announcement to beat all announcements. Can’t wait for another adventure with Kratos!

PlayStation Plus Collection

This is a decent enough idea for people that didn’t own a PS4, but, and this seems to happen way too often, it doesn’t do much for loyal customers. It’s a collection of PS4 games, hopefully upgraded, to play on your PS5 at launch if you have a PlayStation Plus subscription. The problem is that it’s a bunch of games any PS4 owner has most likely already beaten. Using myself as the example, of the 18 games already announced for the collection, I’ve already beaten 10 of them and own four of the 8 I haven’t played yet. Of the remaining four games, I have basically no interest in playing 3 of them and only the slightest interest in playing 1 of them if I had absolutely nothing better to play. Obviously I’m backlogged since I am a gamer in 2020, so literally I get nothing from this collection as a loyal subscriber since the PS3 era. There’s not a single game being offered that I actively want to play because I’ve played all of them. They could have at least included Mortal Kombat 11 rather than X.

I don’t think this collection is a bad idea. I just hope that this is the beginning of something better. I’m reminded of the PS3 PlayStation Plus days where you had access to a large collection of games that rotated titles in and out on a monthly basis with most of the titles being AAAs. This is something that I could get behind. And over time it needs to transition into including PS5 games as well. If that’s what this ends up being then I’m all for it. But if we’re just talking about a standing collection of popular PS4 titles, then it adds almost no value to most PS4 users because you should have already beaten these games anyway. And since the PS5 is backwards compatible, you should already own most of these games on your own. Like what PS4 owner hasn’t played The Last of Us? You’ve had that available for two gens. The price has been as low as $10 on multiple occasions over the years. If you wanted to play it, you would have by now and honestly you probably already did. If this is just a service for people new to PlayStation with the PS5 then one needs to ask what’s in it for us loyal customers coming from PS4?

Pricing and Release Date

This is the information you’ve all been waiting for. After months of whining that SONY wasn’t being fair by keeping the pricing a secret, they finally announced that the PS5 will be $499.99 and the Digital Edition will be $399.99. Personally I wasn’t surprised by these prices, but I was angry by the predictably high value being placed on a disc drive. A disc drive isn’t worth $100. I’d love to see the BOM cost on that. I would have happily accepted a gap of $50 but $100 is robbery. And yes I know the story is that SONY loses money on consoles, but that’s been the story since the PS3. Everyone except Nintendo claims to lose money on consoles. Including the consumers. The profit comes from software and it always has.

While I haven’t gotten an official word on it, I’m fairly confident SONY is going to screw up and do their broken region locked DLC system again. This is disappointing for me because it means I will probably have to go mostly if not full digital for the PS5. I still may invest in the disc drive though because there are many instances where physical games fall into my lap for a number of reasons.

We also got a set in stone release date. NA, ANZ, Japan, and Korea will get the PS5 on November 12th and for whatever reason the rest of the world has to wait a week for launch on November 19th, ruining any chance of someone outside of those four countries of getting the first platinum on PS5. Hooray for equal opportunities in the gaming industry, he said sarcastically.

I’ve been very clear that I was going to wait for the PS5 PRO before upgrading, since you know it’s coming, and I’m sticking to that. Especially with the $70 price tag on PS5 games. By the time I’m ready to upgrade, games I actually want will have dropped in price and I’ll walk in with a large library of great titles to choose from. Hopefully PS5 games will have made their way into the PlayStation Plus freebies list and I’ll also be collecting titles that I don’t already own and won’t have buyer’s remorse for once.

Ultimately I think this presentation was solid. It had multiple AAA titles of note, ensured the user base that their PS4s weren’t dead in the water, and announced some new games to look forward to. It also gave us the key details people needed to finalize their purchasing plans. I still think most people are rushing into day one purchases halfcocked though. The smarter decision is to wait for official storage expansion options from third party vendors and buy a 2TB M.2 SSD when available. This is one of the main reasons I’m waiting for the PRO. But the presentation was effective and accomplished the goal of making sure PS5 preorders were sold out within hours, which happened to basically everyone’s dismay.

As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Fall Guys Season 1 Thoughts

I wasn’t planning on “reviewing” Fall Guys, but after finally hitting level 40, almost a month before the season ended, I felt that there were certain things about the game that I needed to say. So let’s not consider this a review as much as a progress report with the hope that improvements and changes are made for season 2 that help shape the game into a better, more accessible, and ultimately more sustainable long term game.

Let me start off by saying that I really like Fall Guys. I knew it would be successful from the very first E3 announcement back in like 2019. A lot of people don’t actually know much about the history behind the game. Or more importantly, the history behind the television show that inspired the game. Fall Guys was directly inspired by an old Japanese game show called Takeshi’s Castle. It aired from 1986 to 1990. Many people watched this, but even more people today probably watched a show called Most Extreme Elimination Challenge (MXC), which ran from 2003 to 2007. This was a joke show that took footage from the original Takeshi’s Castle and dubbed over it with creative reedits and additional fake footage in order to fabricate a hilarious made up gameshow. It was a brilliant experiment that in many ways inspired most of the wacky real physical challenge game shows we see today. Shows like American Gladiator, Ninja Warrior, Wipeout, and so on were all directly inspired by Takeshi’s Castle and/or MXC.

I loved watching MXC, and shows that came after it like Ninja Warrior. Me, and many other children like me, used to dream of competing in these shows. Many people still do which is why shows like this still exist today. Takeshi’s Castle was the direct inspiration for Fall Guys. This has been stated multiple times by members of the development studio, Mediatonic. They even stated that gifs from the show were used in the pitch deck to Devolver Digital and PlayStation when trying to get the game published. I saw the Takeshi’s Castle influences in the very first announcement trailer and it was my own love of the show, or more accurately its dubbed variant, that made me want to play the game. Obviously I was not alone in this. The idea for Fall Guys seems fairly obvious now. People love platforming, competition, and gameshows. Making those concepts into a singular game should have been a no brainer. But now we have Fall Guys and that’s great. I have some issues with the game though.

One of my favorite games in Fall Guys is Door Dash. But that’s not really an accurate statement. A more accurate statement is that I’m really happy Door Dash is in the game because it’s a direct reference to the opening game of every episode of MXC. Every episode started with the real life version of Door Dash. That’s why it’s in Fall Guys. And even though I find many aspects of the game annoying from a gameplay standpoint, it’s without a doubt a perfect recreation of the experience of watching the real life version all those years ago. I’m extremely fond of its presence in the game for reasons of nostalgia and I absolutely don’t want it removed. The problem is the experience of Door Dash was then applied to just about every other game in Fall Guys and that is probably my main issue with the game.

Takeshi’s Castle was not a battle royale style competitive gameshow. Only the Door Dash game worked like that. All the other games were single contestant physical challenges. Each contestant waited their turn and lived or died based on their own performance. Basically like any other legitimate gameshow of this type. And that was why I wanted to be on the show. I wanted to know if I was physically capable enough to complete the obstacle courses. That’s also why I wanted to play Fall Guys. I wanted to know if I was capable of completing the obstacle courses. My main problem with Fall Guys is the multiplayer aspect.

The worst thing about Fall Guys is other players. More specifically the other players who aren’t trying to actively reach the finish line in an honest manner. The term commonly used for these players is griefers. I assume it’s because of all the grief they cause honest players. The intent of the game is to reach the finish line and claim the crown. That’s the point of every show. Get the crown. And the point of every round is to get to the finish line or objective completion in order to make your way towards the crown. But the purpose of the rounds is to weed out the weakest/least skilled players by measuring their ability. Griefers exploit this situation by working to remove players inorganically. It’s one thing to fall off an edge, say in Slime Climb, because too many people were jumping at the same time and you got boxed out. That is an unfortunate repercussion of not being able to build the game to host 60 different obstacle courses simultaneously in the way that the game should actually work to be authentic. The Tetris 99 model, minus the attacking, would be the proper way for Fall Guys to work. Every player would only have to tackle their own obstacle course and you would play until the group is whittled down to one final survivor. But that’s asking way too much of an indie studio with current server and bandwidth limitations to boot. That’s the only reason we’re playing this awkward battle royale version of the gameshow. And yes it is a gameshow. Mediatonic has stated outright that you are playing a gameshow when you play Fall Guys. Thus the logical conclusion is that the rules and etiquette of a gameshow should be applied.

It would not be acceptable conduct if you were watching Ninja Warrior and someone pushed another contestant off a ledge. Because that’s not a measurement of who the best contestant is. It’s a measurement of who the most dishonest contestant is. No one wants to see that. Griefers take away from the game because they are objectively playing the game outside of its intended practice. The fact that they are allowed to do so shouldn’t be viewed as license or encouragement to exercise such poor sportsmanship. It’s simply the result of a technological limitation. The crown should always go to the person who is best at completing the challenges in the show in an honest manner.

There are ways to correct the griefing issues, but they would also take away from the game. Griefing is accomplished in two main ways in Fall Guys. The first is by grabbing people unnecessarily and the second is by standing in the way of others trying to make it to the finish line. The second tactic really only happens in a few specific games in specific locations. The yellow cylinders in Slime Climb being the most common example. Griefers just stand on those cylinders preventing people from moving forward towards the goal. This is bad conduct because all players should be constantly moving towards the goal at all times. Any time you are not progressing, or at least trying to progress, towards the goal, you are objectively playing the game incorrectly because it goes against the game’s intended conduct. An easy fix for this would be to institute an AFK type system that eliminates players who don’t move a specific distance for an extended period of time. Say you didn’t move more than whatever the length of one to two cylinders was for a period of five seconds in a race game as an example. Griefers would just be eliminated for not actively pursuing the goal. This is a solution, but it’s not the best solution because it makes assumptions about the movement of noobs. Some players are moving that slowly unintentionally. They’re just bad at that game. They’re never going to win the crown at that point, but they shouldn’t be knocked out prematurely when not intentionally trying to play incorrectly. Something does need to be done to combat this issue though.

Wrongfully grabbing other players is a much bigger issue, but in my opinion it’s actually way easier to solve. Grabbing shouldn’t be in the game at all. We don’t know how season 2 will be yet, but in season one there are a number of games that involve grabbing. Literally none of them need grabbing except one. That one is Egg Scramble. All the other games that involve grabbing in any way include the tail games, the cooties game, and Fall Mountain. Literally none of those games require grabbing to work. In fact, I’d argue all of them would play better if they were contact based rather than grabbing based because the grabbing is inconsistent, glitchy trash in Fall Guys. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve grabbed the crown first and not gotten credit for it in Fall Mountain. And we’ve all had our tail grabbed from a mile away. The grabbing mechanics don’t work. They can also be used for climbing but, in season 1 at least, not a single game actually requires climbing to reach the finish line. The only game that absolutely requires grabbing to work is Egg Scramble. Now they could just turn off grabbing for all games except Egg Scramble. But honestly I don’t think anyone would mind if they just got rid of it altogether. It’s a terrible game. Really all team games in Fall Guys are terrible and I wish there was a single player events only mode, but that’s a different issue. Removing grabbing would reduce griefing by probably 75% or more and the only consequence would be losing a game that maybe an infinitesimal number of players would actually miss. What I truly want is a proper Fall Guys experience where everyone’s only concern was/is reaching the goal. This is how it was in the beta and it was great.

My other main issue with Fall Guys is motivation. Fall Guys is fun. But you can’t really keep a game running on fun alone in 2020. There are just too many games to play. And let’s be completely honest. Unless you just love something specific about Fall Guys that you can’t get anywhere else, there are objectively better games to play and pretty much everyone has a backlog as well. The only reason to keep playing any game, Fall Guys or other, is some sort of motivation which goes past fun. I don’t really know what that is for Fall Guys in its current form. It has trophies but most people will never get them all because one of them is nearly impossible for more than 95% of players. No matter how good you are, the amount of luck you need to win five rounds in a row is just too high. A team game can screw you over and then all your progress is lost. I think it’s a bad trophy to begin with. It should have been combined with the total wins trophy so that either win x number of times total or winning five shows in a row got the trophy. That’s considerably more accessible and fair to demand from players. So assume you get all the trophies you want and then what’s your motivation? You can get every trophy in a single season. I have all the ones I care about except the 20 wins one. But that comes back to the same issue. Winning is difficult and not accessible to every player. Some players just never will be winners. I’ve only won six times and I’m a fairly advanced player. I get to the final round more than 80% of the time. But a bad placement in Fall Mountain or a bad camera angle in Jump Showdown, not to mention server errors and glitches, can screw you over again and again. But even without those issues, some players will just never get good enough to win in a competitive game of this nature. And that’s fine. What’s not fine is locking cosmetic items behind multiple wins.

The only real motivating factor currently in the game, other than trophies most people probably don’t care about, is cosmetics. The game has a vast collection of cool cosmetics. The problem is that all the best ones require you to win up to 10 times in a limited period of time. This is a bad system. A game is supposed to reward players for the time they put in. That’s standard fare in 2020. That’s why so many games/franchises have taken on RPG elements. No matter how trash you are at a game, you can slowly but surely build up enough XP to get the things you ultimately want. Whether it’s better armor in Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, new skills in Ghost of Tsushima, or more damage in God of War (2018), any player can over time build towards that goal no matter how rubbish they are. If you can kill just one enemy, run away, save, and repeat that process, then eventually you can get whatever you want from all those games and most others in 2020. Fall Guys doesn’t have this. Fall Guys doesn’t reward players for their time. It only rewards them for winning or for having real world currency to spend in the DLC Store. There are of course rewards you can buy with kudos, but the bulk of them are fairly boring. It’s the crown rewards that players actually want. And most players, as in a majority of the several million people playing on Steam and PS4,simply won’t ever get enough wins to get all the cosmetics they want.

In my opinion, exclusivity is harmful to a player base of casuals. People who aren’t hardcore don’t like seeing stuff they can’t eventually get as a result of time put in. Performance based rewards are not appealing in a game that relies so heavily on luck. In the long run, I think this will turn a lot of people off Fall Guys if not changed. A simple solution would be to make kudos exchangeable for crowns. Say 500 or 1000 kudos to 1 crown. Allowing this conversion would still require players to put in a large amount of effort or time but would reward them with things they actually want in the long run. No matter how garbage you are at the game, knowing you can eventually unlock the Portal costume would motivate many players to keep playing. Currently no such motivation exists. Once a player accepts that they simply won’t win 10 games, they have no reason to keep playing once fun stops being enough of a draw. The way it should work, in order to preserve a level of exclusivity, is that items are locked behind a single win wall. Meaning that all special cosmetic items should only be available to users that have won at least one show. But once this condition is met, they should be able to convert kudos to crowns and buy whatever they want regardless of how many times, above the required one, they’ve won. Initiating a system like this works to the advantage of all players while still requiring a minimum level of accomplishment. It’s the perfect compromise.

In its current form, Fall Guys appears to be a causal game but was clearly built for the top players. That’s the second worst way to build and manage an online multiplayer game. You don’t build for the top of the player base. You build for the middle. The bottom of the player base requires no attention. They will either stop playing because they can’t get better or keep playing because they just enjoy the game with no need for motivation. The top will keep playing because they’re the top and their vanity will keep them plugged in. People like excelling and rarely choose to leave something they’re already good at as long as it keeps feeling rewarding to win. But the middle of the player base, which also happens to be the biggest, requires actual management to keep their attention. If things are too easy, they get bored and leave. If things are too hard, they get irritated and leave. If rewards aren’t accessible, they get irritated and leave. But a game needs them. The top players are nothing without the middle players, because they need someone to dominate. The opposite is not true though. The middle players don’t need top players. They want to win so they can become those top players. The fewer top players present, the more motivated the middle players are to take that spot. Keeping the middle tier players happy and motivated to keep playing is the only way a game like Fall Guys remains successful in the long term. Currently it doesn’t have that.

Fall Guys has literally millions of players. I don’t know the exact number, but let’s say it has 15 million players. It sold 7 million copies on Steam and it was free for PS+ owners on PS4, topping the charts as the most downloaded free game. So I don’t think 15 million is an inflated number. If anything it’s too low. If I had to make an estimate, I’d say maybe 5% of players have won 5 times. I based this on the fact that the PSN trophy called “Top Tier” requires 7 wins and only has a 4% completion rate. So if only 5% of players have won 5 times, that’s a measly 750,000 of 15 million players. And 5 wins is only half a special cosmetic set. You need 10 wins to get both pieces. Not even 4% of players have gotten more than 7 wins. It’s likely that maybe only 3% of players have won enough times to buy a full special cosmetic set. Let’s also not forget that there have been multiple high demand special cosmetic sets. Yet only 1.1% of players have achieved the “Golden Guy” trophy, meaning they won a total of at least 20 times. So few players have actually been able to get the cosmetic items they want in a game that has no motivations to keep playing other than cosmetics. That is not a sustainable model in the long term. People will soon tire of the idea of seeing a few players, many of which are also griefers, wearing the cosmetics they want with absolutely no chance of ever unlocking them for themselves. People will only put up with that for so long. A time based work around for this issue would do wonders for millions of players desperate to get costumes referencing other games they like, such as the My Friend Pedro skin.

There are a number of other things I’d personally like to see added to the game, but I wouldn’t argue that they are necessary to make the game more appealing and sustainable for a majority of players. For instance, I’d like a single player mode with challenges. Like imagine a version of the game that actually runs like the TV show. You play the courses solo and get rewarded in crowns for completing certain tasks like “finish Slime Climb in under 60 seconds”. That kind of thing would be way more appealing to me than the battle royale experience the game currently offers. I’d probably stop playing the multiplayer mode completely unless my friends were online. I’d also love a speed mode where there is only 1 round and all 60 players go for the crown in a single game. I imagine something like a 360 degree Fall Mountain map where all 60 players start equidistant from the crown and rush towards the center. Or you could just do Fall Mountain and other regular final games in lobbies of only 5 to 10 people. I think this mode would be very popular for people and would be an additional method of making crowns and by extension special cosmetics more accessible to a majority of players. You could even set a limit on it like you can only win 5 – 10 crowns a day in that mode. It would definitely help with that “Infallible” trophy as well.

As I said early on in this post, I like Fall Guys. I’ve played it for way too many hours. At the time of writing this, I’m one of only 1.3% of players to reach level 40 in the first season. I want to see the game continue and thrive for many seasons. But in its current form I can’t see this happening. Severe changes need to be made in order to keep the average players motivated. Most of them will probably return for season 2, but if things go much the same then I predict the player base will decline significantly for season 3. I can say personally that once I hit level 40 I was done. My win percentage was simply too low to motivate me want to keep playing these same games with no time contingent rewards that actually mattered to me. I have more than 20K kudos and nothing I actually want to spend them on. But if I could convert them to crowns then that would change instantly. I’ll definitely return for season 2, but if the games aren’t super fun and I can’t see myself winning shows consistently, then there’s really no reason to keep playing. I definitely don’t see myself hitting level 40 again.

Mediatonic has done something great here. They should be proud of the success and I’m sure it has been very profitable. But now is the time to decide what type of game this will be. Is Fall Guys going to be a long term project that lasts for years and becomes a cultural staple like Fortnite, to my disappointment, has become. Or will it just be something that happened in 2020 that we all remember fondly but move past to the next trend just as quickly as the last thing we all tried and got bored with. I hope for the former, but that won’t happen organically or accidentally. The game needs to be managed and altered properly in order for that to happen. Only time will tell.

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I Can’t Stop Thinking About Black Myth: Wukong

Last month, a gameplay trailer for an upcoming game called Black Myth: Wukong by a China based developer called Game Science released to almost immediate viral uproar. When I say uproar, I do not mean it in negative terms. I mean that the gaming community went crazy with how impressed we all were with the footage. I have to say that personally I wasn’t just impressed. I was enamored. In fact, I was so impressed that this is the first game that I have ever thought to myself that I would actually invest in a crowdfunding campaign for it. If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time then you probably know that I have really negative feelings about supporting crowdfunded game development projects, but this trailer captivated me enough to be willing to break my own general rule about them.

Black Myth: Wukong is an action adventure game that stars the Monkey King (Sun Wukong in Mandarin). For those who don’t know, the Monkey King is a Chinese deity best known for his role in the classic Buddhist epic tale Journey to the West. While most people outside of Asia probably don’t formally know this story, there’s a good chance you’ve seen some adapted version or reference to it at some point in your life. When I was a kid, my first exposure to the story was a cartoon called Monkey Magic. It was a Saturday morning anime that sometimes appeared on TV. Sadly it was only 13 episodes and never played consistently but I really liked the show. At this point I had no idea about Journey to the West or the greater significance of the Monkey King character. Other examples of the Journey to the West/Monkey King mythos being adapted for Western and younger Asian audiences are actually all over the place and have been for decades. The original Dragonball manga/cartoon is an adaptation of this story. Goku is the Monkey King, which explains why he always seems to have too much power. The game Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (2010) is an adaptation of this story. There’s a good chance you know the skeleton of the Journey to the West narrative but don’t realize it. For me, I’ve been a fan of the Monkey King character for most of my life, but I’ve never really thought of him in terms of Buddhism precisely because I was exposed to the character via numerous non-religious adaptations of the story and character.

EnslavedThe Monkey King is an interesting character because he’s carefree and funny but honestly way too over powered. He’s like if Superman got the Infinity Gauntlet and destroyed all the kryptonite in the universe. While I’m by no means an expert on the subject, I’m aware of several powers the character has at his disposal. For starters, he has a staff that can shrink and grow to any size and length. This is the “power pole” Goku uses in Dragonball. He also has a flying cloud that he can ride at high speed anywhere he wants to go that can be summoned at any time. You probably know this as “flying nimbus” from Dragonball Z. He is also a great martial artist, using monkey style kung fu, with herculean strength and unmatchable speed. But these are just the surface level things the Monkey King can do. His more epic powers, many of which are not known to people in the West, include an insane number of abilities. For instance, all of his hairs can be picked off one at a time and thrown to create clones of himself. Those same hairs can also turn into weapons and other objects including animals. He can transform into up to 72 different alternate forms each with their own abilities and uses such as animals and special objects. This is made reference to in Naruto when the third Hokage summons Monkey King: Enma and has him turn into a staff to fight Orochimaru. Supposedly the Monkey King even has the ability to manipulate the weather and cast magic that freezes people in place. The character is just a wee bit too strong.

gokuThe Monkey King’s ridiculous amount of power is, in my opinion, why we’ve never really had a great Monkey King game before. We have had Monkey King games in the past but I’ve always found them disappointing. And I’ve certainly not tried all of them. It’s hard to make a balanced game with a character that is just too powerful. Even just making a compelling story about such a character is difficult. That’s why many of the stories surrounding the Monkey King are about him getting his powers stolen or locked away. In fact, the principle concept of his character in Journey to the West is that he has been captured/enslaved by a Buddhist monk with a golden ring that is stuck on his head and keeps him under the monk’s control. The most recent Monkey King video game I tried was Monkey King: Hero is Back (2019) published by THQ Nordic. I was so disappointed with this game and I had such high hopes for it when I tried it. Ultimately I found it to be a lack luster experience for a number of reasons, not all of which had to do with the specific subject matter. But to be fair, that particular game is based directly on an animated movie that came out in 2015. That doesn’t excuse the gameplay and loading issues, but the graphics and plot were completely justified. In whatever case, this was not the Monkey King game I always wanted. Really I didn’t think I’d ever get the game I wanted, until I saw the trailer for Black Myth: Wukong.

I don’t like the whole “Black Myth: Wukong looks like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice” narrative. I think that’s reductionist. What’s important is what the 13 minutes of gameplay footage delivered on its own terms. This is a fantasy game, which is in my opinion important to the setting of the mythos. The Monkey King is a talking monkey with powers. His origin is that of a monkey. He is not a human that fused with a monkey or a human-monkey offspring hybrid. He is a monkey. This requires a fantasy setting where animals walk and talk like people. But this is not a cartoony game. What sets this game’s setting apart from Monkey King: Hero is Back and many other Monkey King adaptations is that the setting is a realistic, more adult version of that fantasy setting. It does look like a Sekiro or a Ghost of Tsushima where the art style is meant to mimic real life in an animated way, but without losing the fantasy aspect of it. While obvious, this is a third person action game. That’s a non-negotiable detail that is an absolute must for a good Monkey King game. The powers are present. Even though many of his powers are OP, it wouldn’t really be a Monkey King game if you didn’t have them. The footage showed the clone power, the power pole, the transformation power, the flying nimbus, and more. This is both an authentic Monkey King game and an adult action game. That’s the Monkey Game I’ve been waiting for.

Wukong SettingThe other thing that really sold me on this game was the lead developer’s response to the trailer going viral. Many devs would have gotten big headed and reveled in the overwhelmingly positive response, but this developer didn’t. He was extremely humble. So much so that he pointed out the flaws in the trailer, none of which I noticed on my own, and apologized for them saying that he wishes he had the resources to do better work. He then proceeded to say that he didn’t even want to release the trailer but did so as a means of advertising employment opportunities. Let me say that again. This guy released a trailer that went viral not in order to promote the game but to promote job openings to make the final project look better than the trailer that went viral. That’s the most respectable shit I’ve seen from a developer in a long time. Get this man a team and more funding right now!

Wukong ClonesThe problem is that this game is a huge undertaking and, as the head of Game Science stated, their team is too small. And since it’s an indie, they’re probably underfunded as well. I don’t know anything about their publishing options for this game. They may not even be far enough along to have started that conversation yet. Their website doesn’t have a release date, but it says the game “shouldn’t take 500 years”. I know that’s a joke reference to the story that the Monkey King was trapped under a mountain by Buddha for 500 years, but that kind of statement still makes me sad. Because it’s definitely a reference to their lack of resources. Usually I don’t care about this sort of thing. Games are shown and cancelled all the time. Plus there are way too many games on my backlog anyway. The last game I got salty about being cancelled was Scalebound, which I’m still not over, and that was cancelled three years ago. I don’t want to see Black Myth: Wukong get cancelled, because I actually care about getting a good Monkey King game. So now I can’t stop thinking about it and there’s not even anything I can do about it. I’m a writer, not a game designer. And clearly they already got the story written. So all I can do is sit and hope other people with more useful skills make my dreams come true. What a futile existence the life of a gamer is sometimes.

I don’t really have a point to this post. I just wanted to rant about my frustrations concerning Black Myth: Wukong and the fact that I’m scared it may never actually be released. I hope one day I get to play the Monkey King game I’ve always wanted. And now I hope that game will be Black Myth: Wukong.

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