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.

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.

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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Would a Deadshot by any other Race not Shoot as Well?

A couple weeks ago, we had DC Fandome. I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. Though I was unable to watch it live and didn’t see most of the content, I was very impressed with a number of trailers. The two game trailers I saw were for Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League (Suicide Squad) and Gotham Knights. I was impressed by both for different reasons. Though Suicide Squad didn’t show any actual gameplay, I was way more interested in that trailer based on the perceived entertainment value. But alas it’s 2020 and people on the internet of course watched the whole trailer, ignored everything, and focused only on the fact that Deadshot is Black in this upcoming game.

I was no fan of Deadshot being “reskinned” in the Suicide Squad movie. But if your only beef with the Suicide Squad movie was the fact that Deadshot was a Black guy, then you’re clearly a racist because that movie was absolute trash. Deadshot being Black was so far down the list of problems that I could do a 3 hour podcast about the movie and I wouldn’t even have time to get to that. But at the end of the day, race doesn’t matter. Continuity does. The Suicide Squad movie placed Will Smith as Deadshot in a world where no established Floyd Lawton had already existed. Meaning that while the character is usually Caucasian, it was not breaking established movie cannon to make him Black. See Samuel Jackson as Nick Fury in the MCU as another contemporary example of this practice. Fair is fair though. The Suicide Squad game is part of an established universe with a previously established Floyd Lawton. So while the race of characters shouldn’t matter to anyone, the broken continuity can and should.

Arkham Asylum DeadshotDuring a DC Fandome interview with one of the members of Rocksteady Studios’ team, it was officially announced that the upcoming Suicide Squad game takes place in the Arkhamverse. This is the same universe as the games Batman: Arkham Origins, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Batman: Arkham City, and Batman: Arkham Knight. The interview went on to say that the game takes place after the events of Batman: Arkham Knight. This caused a number of people, having done no additional research or deductive reasoning, to immediately question and complain about the fact that the Deadshot in the Suicide Squad game trailer is Black while the Deadshot in all the preceding games, that he appears in, is Caucasian. They asked “how can this possibly be that a person’s race can just change from one game to the next?” So I have taken it upon myself to do the big brain work for them and answer this question in detail with evidence and the most basic level of logic that any comic book fan should already be privy to. Smooth brains rejoice. I’m here to tell you why/how Deadshot in the upcoming Suicide Squad game can be Black without breaking the established canon. In fact, I’ll provide you with not just one but three possible explanations based on established comic related entertainment practices. And yes I will provide citations so that you can verify all this information for yourself. And to top it all off, I will not use the “it’s just another random person using the Deadshot designation” lazy writing trick that can and has been applied to countless characters throughout comic book history including Batman himself at times. Let’s go to work.

Black Deadshot

Explanation 1: Totally Easy Bad Writer’s Answer

For those who don’t actually care and just want any answer based on some past comic related work, I present to you the Hooded Justice explanation. Hooded Justice is a character from the Minutemen. The Minutemen were a precursor group to the Watchmen, the titular crime fighting team from Allan Moore’s iconic graphic novel.

In the Watchmen HBO series, setup as a sequel to the original graphic novel, it is revealed that Hooded Justice was actually an African American dawning white face paint around his eyes in order to hide his race. While this new iteration of Deadshot shows his entire face at times, it’s still very possible that his entire identity is hidden behind a lifelike mask. We’ve seen this countless times in a variety of comic related works. Sir Reginald Hargreeves of The Umbrella Academy is really an alien wearing a facemask. Clayface of the Batman Rogues Gallery is constantly dawning the appearances of other people. It’s highly possible and believable that this version of Deadshot is really just the same Caucasian man in an elaborate disguise.

Jovan Adepo.photo: Mark Hill/HBO
Jovan Adepo. photo: Mark Hill/HBO

Note I don’t actually like this explanation, but it would be an easy way to get around this canon issue that’s been used in comics countless times.

Explanation 2: Less Easy But Still Lazy Average Writer’s Answer

The lazy way to do anything in comic books is to use science fiction. In a world where aliens run amok, super powers are created by lab accidents, and a city of highly intelligent gorillas with Wakanda level cloaking technology just sort of exists you can pretty much get away with anything just by saying the word “technology”. In this case that technology is nanomachines.

Nanomachines have been used in movies, games, and comics in order to explain away any number of continuity errors. In the G.I. Joe movies, Cobra Commander uses nanomachines to transform Zartan into an identical copy of the President. The entire premise of later Metal Gear Solid titles is that nanomachines can do anything, giving people the ability to have super powers, rapidly heal, change their appearance, and survive deadly poison. They’re also used in countless manga series such as Battle Angel Alita, Black Cat, and Project ARMS. You can pretty much say nanomachines to justify anything and writers have on countless occasions.

Nanomachines sonIt would be easy for the writers to say Deadshot completely changed his appearance to that of an African American in order to go deep undercover for a job using nanomachines. I don’t like this explanation either but I do think it’s funny that this is essentially what my playthough of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain was like. I created a Black character only to then have them transform him into a copy of Big Boss, which wasn’t revealed until the end.

Explanation 3: Big Brain Great Writer’s Answer

This is what I believe the explanation actually will/should be. Floyd Lawton first encountered Batman in Batman: Arkham Origins when he was hired by the Joker, posing as Black Mask, to kill Batman. He of course failed to complete the job, but that’s irrelevant here. According to the Arkham wiki, Deadshot was 27 during this first encounter with Batman. Let’s examine why that specific age is important.

Arkham Origins DeadshotDeadshot is an ex-military sniper that gained acclaim for his perfect execution of countless hits. Even before becoming a freelance assassin, he had already gained prestige for backing up his future signature line “I never miss.” Eventually he was dishonorably discharged from the military as his behavior became more volatile and the level of risks he took on to complete hits became untenable. Now this is where we need to make some assumptions. So let me start by saying remember that the point is not to justify a Black Deadshot in the upcoming Suicide Squad game with 100% undebatable accuracy, but rather to justify him within a reasonable and believable explanation that works within the established canon without being lazy. You may not agree with some of the assumptions I’m about to make, but you will have no valid reason to dispute them based on the available evidence within both the canon and reality.

If the Joker hired Deadshot to assassinate his arch nemesis, then we need to assume that Deadshot was already a well-established and highly respected hitman by the time of Batman: Arkham Origins. The Joker wouldn’t have hired an amateur or unknown hitman for that job. So we have to assume that Deadshot had already been discharged from the military and established himself as a hitman by this point, which again was at age 27 for Floyd Lawton. So I am going to make the assumption that he had been discharged at age 23. Why 23? Because that’s a period of four years between Lawton being discharged from the military and first meeting Batman. Though possible, it makes little sense to assume that a military sniper that was actively fighting for his country would automatically go from that to hired gun overnight. This is even more true when you consider that Lawton suffers from clinical depression (you can verify this claim in the wiki as well). So I think it’s fair to assume that Lawton spent up to two years trying to get his life together after being discharged and then after realizing he didn’t have any options he decided to become a gun for hire in order to support himself and his family. Meaning that he was 25 years old when he first became Deadshot. We’ll get to the family part later, as it’s very important.

batman_arkham_origins-1920x1080If Lawton spent two years post discharge before becoming an assassin, that gives him a period of two years to establish himself as a hitman worthy of the Joker hiring to kill Batman. While two years may be fast, I think a hitman as exceptional as Deadshot could reasonably have established his credibility within a two year span of time. You can also adjust the dates slightly and say it took Lawton less time to transition from being discharged from the military to becoming a hitman. The point is that I believe it’s completely reasonable to place a four year gap between Deadshot being discharged from the military and first meeting Batman in Batman: Arkham Origins. And that means that Lawton was discharged at 23 years old, again taking the wiki established age of 27 as when he first met Batman.

If we follow the timeline, we can say that Deadshot was about age 37 during the events of Batman: Arkham Knight, assuming he was/is still alive. While he did not physically appear in the game, some of his gear is shown in the Gotham PD evidence room. But whether he is alive or not isn’t really that important. What’s important is that the events of Batman: Arkham Knight take place about 10 years after those of Batman: Arkham Origins which would place Floyd Lawton at 37 years old. For reference, Batman: Arkham Asylum takes place eight years after Batman: Arkham Origins, Batman: Arkham City takes place one year after Batman: Arkham Asylum, and Batman: Arkham Knight takes place one year after Batman: Arkham City. So again, 10 years have taken place after Deadshot first encountered Batman by the end of Batman: Arkham Knight. Now let’s roll back to events pre Floyd Lawton being discharged from the military.

Arkham Knight Deadshot 2While this isn’t confirmed by any of the sources I found, I believe that Floyd Lawton never went to college. He went directly into the military at age 18 after graduating high school. We can call that an assumption, but I think it’s a fair one to make. Based on that assumption and the previously explained assumption that he was discharged at age 23, that means he served in the military for five years. According to a military service information site I found, the average length of service for most veterans today is four years in active duty plus an additional four years in reserve. Obviously these numbers are averages based on all service people across all branches and ranks, so they aren’t necessarily indicative of what a spec ops sniper’s military career might look like, but the fact is that based on these figures one could argue that five years in service would be long enough for Lawton to have served out his original enlistment contract and then remained in active duty for an additional year before being dishonorably discharged. When taking into account his high level of marksmanship, it’s not ridiculous to assume that he was quickly granted a sniper designation and spent most of that five years as a sniper rather than having spent a substantial amount of time as an infantryman. It also means that he had most likely already taken many lives as a sniper before actually becoming a hitman.

Depending on which story you subscribe to, Floyd Lawton’s home life was always shaky at best. I really like the way it’s developed and depicted in the Arrowverse. Lawton suffers from clear PTSD and clinical depression because he makes a living killing others in defense of his country while not always agreeing that his targets are people that deserve to be killed. This causes mental and emotional strain on his home life that directly worries and endangers his wife. In the show, but not in all comic book storylines, he has a wife and daughter. Ultimately his wife kicks him out in Arrow. I want to run that same line of reasoning. Floyd Lawton is a clinically depressed expert sniper doing hits for the US military. I also want to go along with the narrative that he married young, presumably while in the military or right before he joined at the age of 18. Now the reasons why he got married and who he married are up for negotiation in the Arkhamverse, because Deadshot’s personal life had never really been established in the past games. So I’m going to assume that he married an African American woman at the age of 20. And I will go one step further and say the reason Floyd Lawton got married at 20 while working as a sniper for the military is that he knocked up that African American woman. Conversely, he could have also had an affair with an African American women at the age of 20. This is no less believable or possible for a military sniper suffering from clinical depression and PTSD that has problems at home because of his troubled mental state.

Arrow DeadshotThis is all very believable, age appropriate, and does not break canon. Floyd Lawton had a Black son with a Black woman at age 20 while serving in the military as a special ops sniper. Three years later, he was dishonorably discharged. Over the course of two years, after being discharged, his clinical depression and PTSD coupled with an inability to make a legitimate income put a massive strain on his marriage ultimately causing his wife to divorce him. Heartbroken, depressed, banned from seeing his son, and broke, Floyd Lawton returned to the only thing he had even been good at: long range assassinations. Thus Deadshot was born at age 25. An expert level sniper with military training, clinical depression, and an estranged ex-wife with a son he wasn’t allowed to see. The son’s name is Floyd Lawton Jr. Fast forward to the events of Batman: Arkham Knight and Floyd Lawton Senior is 37 years old while being either dead, in prison, or retired. We can assume one of these three outcomes is true because again his effects are on display in the Gotham PD evidence locker. It doesn’t actually matter which of three outcomes it is as long as we accept that he’s not working under the name Deadshot anymore.

During the events of Floyd Lawton senior’s life as Deadshot, Floyd Lawton Junior was an African American boy being raised by his mother. We can assume that Deadshot sent them money, because Floyd Lawton was never depicted as an irresponsible asshole who would just leave his wife and child to starve. But we can assume that his not being around was still hard on his wife and son. His wife most likely suffered some form of loneliness and depression coupled with fear that she couldn’t remarry because Floyd Lawton might come back and murder her new husband out of jealousy. This is a fair assumption for a scared wife to make given his fragile mental state was the reason she threw him out to begin with. So Floyd Lawton Junior was a single child that spent most of his life watching his mother battle depression and solitary parenthood. He also had to grow up without a father.

In true comic book style, Floyd Lawton Junior’s troubled upbringing led him to resent his father. And as happens with many comic book characters that same resentment led to him emulating his father. He grew up to also be an expert sniper and even followed the career of Deadshot in order to learn about his father’s achievements and try to emulate and ultimately surpass them. But he was not raised with the moralistic and patriotic backbone that his father had, so Floyd Lawton Junior didn’t join the military. He went straight into contract killing. If Floyd Lawton Junior was born when Lawton senior was 20, then that makes him 17 at the time Batman: Arkham Knight. While I can’t yet confirm this, I’d like to say the Suicide Squad game will take place at least three years after the events of Batman: Arkham Knight. Technically it’s releasing seven years later, but I won’t even jump that far ahead. Just give me three years of time between the two games. Doing that places Floyd Lawton Junior at 20 years old during the time of the Suicide Squad game.

As I already stated, Floyd Lawton Senior probably joined the military at 18 years old.  So while the path isn’t exactly the same for his son, I don’t think it’s ridiculous to say that Floyd Lawton Junior got into contract killing at 18 rather than join the military like his father. Two years later he was captured by Amanda Waller and Argus and forced into the Suicide Squad at the age of 20.

Amanda WallerSome will say that they think Deadshot looks older than 20 in the Suicide Squad trailer, but this is a subjective assumption. Given how African Americans age, it’s completely acceptable to assume that character is as young as 20 years old. How many times have we seen African American males vaguely profiled by law enforcement during manhunts with wide potential age ranges? That character could be 20 or 40 and there’d be no objective way to tell without being given a character dossier to confirm his age. Also, the trailer plays him off to be more cocky than the classic Deadshot of past Arkham games. He invokes the phrase “I never miss” causing all the characters to groan and mock him because he apparently says it so often. What if he says it all the time because really he’s trying to live up to his father’s reputation and has a chip on his shoulder about it, as many sons who resent their fathers often do. “I never miss” is his way of declaring that he’s just as talented if not even more talented than his father. And again, I’m assuming Floyd Lawton Junior was conceived when Floyd Lawton Senior was 20 and that Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League takes place only three years after the events of Batman: Arkham Knight. It would be just as believable within the canon to say that Junior was conceived when Senior was 18 and that Suicide Squad takes place up to seven years, or even more if you want to ignore the year of release as the setting, putting Floyd Lawton Junior at upwards of at least 29 years old or even older. Some will of course argue that this many years in the future can’t be the case because of how young Harley Quinn looks, but I’d counter that line of reasoning by asking “how old does Harley Quinn actually look?”

SS HQThere are two things to consider when analyzing Harley Quinn’s age. The first is that she never ages. In all the Batman properties you’ve seen, Harley Quinn has always been an early to mid-20’s looking blonde girl with a childlike demeanor. Even while ignoring the fact that she was a successful psychologist at Arkham Asylum with a PhD before becoming the infamous co-conspirator of the Clown Prince of Crime. By all rights she wasn’t in her mid-twenties even when she first became Harley Quinn. She would have finished her undergrad at about 22 years old and then needed at least another four to five years minimum to obtain her PhD in psychology. Then she would have had to do a residency before being placed as the head psychologist at a place with inmates as infamous as Arkham Asylum. So really she’s at least in her late 20’s to early 30’s during her first appearance in Batman: Arkham Asylum as Harley Quinn. Yet she also appears in Batman: Arkham Origins pre-transformation as Dr. Harleen Quinzel. At this point she’s either in the midst of her residency at Blackgate Prison under Dr. Hugo Strange, making her at least in her mid to late twenties. Or she’s post residency and already working at Arkham Asylum, putting her in either her late twenties or early 30’s. Remember that Batman: Arkham Asylum takes place eight years after the events of Batman: Arkham Origins. So based on that she’s gotta be in at least her early 40’s by the time Batman Arkham: Knight happens by even the most conservative estimate of her age. She’s never actually been depicted accurately for her age within the Arkhamverse, if at all.

Harleen QuinzelSecond, Harley Quinn is constantly caked in clown makeup. You don’t actually have any idea how old she is because you’ve pretty much never seen her in her natural appearance other than during that one sequence in Batman: Arkham Origins. She could be covered in wrinkles with massive crow’s feet and you’d have no idea. Her blonde pigtails, perky breasts, and childish demeanor coupled with acrobatics abilities make you think she’s a young girl barely pushing her late 20’s but that’s just an illusion you tell yourself so you don’t have to reconsider or analyze the childish sex fantasies you’ve been having since Batman: The Animated Series. By even the most conservative estimate, there is absolutely no way that Harley Quin can be less than 40 years old in the Suicide Squad: Kill the Justice League trailer. She’s either being depicted falsely, she’s not the original Harleen Quinzel, or she’s had massive plastic surgery all over her body. Since this is comic book rules it could also be some sort of anti-aging serum or the aforementioned nanomachines. In any case, using her perceived age as the main reason why the current Deadshot can’t be the now half-African American adult son of the retired original Caucasian Deadshot is completely ridiculous.

Will-Smith-DeadshotIf you don’t like that Deadshot is Black, that’s fine. You’re entitled to your opinion. But please don’t pretend like there’s no way that an adult aged Deadshot can be Black in the upcoming sequel to Batman: Arkham Knight because it doesn’t make sense in the canon. Because that’s absolutely not true, which I very clearly just proved. If you’re a racist, just own it. Don’t invoke canon when you haven’t taken the time to research it. Because I have taken the time to research it and let me tell you that a Black Deadshot is the least of the questions you should have about that trailer. For instance, when did Captain Boomerang get teleportation powers? That’s a question that I can’t find of justify an answer for based on the established canon.

Now I don’t work for Rocksteady Studios (though I’d take a job there as a writer if offered *hint hint*) but I assume they’ve taken way more time than the 30 minutes it took me to come up with this explanation. They obviously know the canon even better than I do and have a whole team of writers and continuity analysts to make sure that everything makes sense. Not to mention Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment publisher oversight constantly asking questions. To think that they haven’t already addressed this issue in a way that’s even better than the explanation I came up with is just willful foolishness. You don’t spend years making a game just so Twitter racists can tear it apart after seeing one trailer. That plot hole will definitely be addressed at some point. I for one can’t wait to try out this game and if I wasn’t a Captain Boomerang fan I’d probably be planning to main Floyd Lawton Junior aka Deadshot.

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Marvel’s Avengers Beta Review

I went into the Marvel’s Avengers open beta genuinely excited. I tried the alpha back in 2019 at Gamescom and I really enjoyed it. There are things about the alpha that were specific, intentional, and effective at drawing my attention and long term interest. Specifically, it only featured the opening sequence ending with Captain America’s death. Essentially the first third/half of the beta’s tutorial. This portion of the game is an effective demo experience, which is why they used it in the alpha and so much in the trailers. But honestly it’s not indicative of the long term experience of playing the game. Or at least it wasn’t indicative of the long term experience of playing the beta.

Sadly, I did not leave the beta enthusiastic about this game. I saw many people online during the pre-order beta, which I didn’t participate in, complaining that the game wasn’t good. I assumed they were just being whiny because it wasn’t as good as Marvel’s Spider-Man, which shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone because the scope of Marvel’s Avengers is much larger and harder to manage than a single player, solo character, open world story focused game set in one map. It would be genuinely surprising if Avengers was as good as Spider-Man. Anyone who expected it to be needs to learn more about how games and game development actually works. So I ignored these nay-sayers. I would play the beta myself and form my own opinion. Now that I’ve done that, I sadly have to agree with them.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-08 00-55-37Let me be crystal clear at the start of this review. Marvel’s Avengers (beta) is not a bad game. It’s a boring one. It had many issues, but with the exception of many server errors, it had few objective problems. Rather it’s just not a well-paced and exciting game. From a design standpoint, I certainly had some complaints about menus, UI, and character development/RPG elements, but nothing I could definitively say made it a bad game. But what I can say is that the beta did not leave me excited to play the full game the way it should have.

Let’s get the foundational development stuff out of the way quickly, because that’s not where this game has issues. The graphics are fine. I’m tired of reading stupid complaints from misinformed people about the fact that the characters don’t look like the ones in the movies. I’ve written and tweeted about that a lot already. Basically, these characters are all 40+ years old with several iterations that have existed long before the MCU. Your lack of knowledge of this history is not the fault or responsibility of Crystal Dynamics. They are not making MCU movies and thus have no obligation to make the characters look like Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, and so on. To clarify, the graphics aren’t necessarily impressive. Spider-Man is a much more impressive looking game. But Avengers doesn’t look bad. It looks fine. And, when the server was working, it played smoothly. I didn’t have issues with lag or any sort of performance based problems during gameplay.

Marvels Avengers GameThe audio was fine as well. I honestly can’t say a single bad thing about it. The voice acting worked effectively. Hearing Hulk say “Hulk Smash” for certain attacks is a nice effect. You also have different Avengers saying stuff as you play in order to build the atmosphere. The sound effects also worked well. Thor’s hammer specifically stood out to me because it has that heavy impact sound that you would want. In terms of fundamentals, Marvel’s Avengers delivers. It’s the finer details that ultimately leave this game lacking.

Writing is really tough to judge based on the beta. This is for two main reasons. The first is that the game is not structured in a clear linear fashion. Or at least the beta didn’t appear to be. It’s a mission based game, which is fine. But usually mission based games have a clear track for story based missions. I couldn’t figure out if that’s how Avengers will work based on the beta. Though it may very well have been that they didn’t include any additional story missions once you completed the tutorial. I actually enjoyed the story sequences a lot. There were boss fights, character development via conversations, and a traditional single player game structure. I’m all but certain there will be more missions like this in the full game, but the overall structure of how the plot is presented was unclear. The other problem, and I pray this was because the beta was intentionally built to skip over things, was that there were serious continuity errors. The small number of story sequences at the beginning of the beta jumped around so much that I thought I was just not paying attention closely enough. I assume this will not be the case in the full game. I was interested in the plot, but I can’t speak to the quality of the writing at this time.

AbominationThe game is built on replayability so that’s kind of a no brainer. They want you to replay the same missions and new missions continuously using different characters and collecting different gear. The question isn’t whether or not the game has replayability but whether or not it’s worth replaying. I happen to hate replaying things. Especially when the replay experience is much the same. I have to say that a lot of the replay value in this game is cheap replay value. You replay for the sake of loot and XP. Not meaningful development of the experience or to gain new insight into the plot. Loot is character specific, meaning that each time you play a level you will only get loot for the character you’re using at the time. In a way this is good because you can prioritize your characters and make sure you’re getting gear for the ones you want. But it also means that you will eventually hit a gear wall with any character and start getting stuff you already have rather than gear for other characters in your roster.

The game also doesn’t have shared XP. This is my biggest peeve about games with large rosters. When you play as Iron Man, you’re only developing Iron Man. So if you get to level 10 with Iron Man and decide to switch to Hulk, you now have to go back to level one stats and trash gear. Then you gotta replay the same missions and upgrade Hulk. That might be OK with one or two characters. But Avengers has already confirmed like 20. I don’t want to replay the missions from scratch 20+ times. The characters are different but not that different. Pooled XP would make this game way more manageable.

Iron Man CostumesThe game definitely has replay value, and a lot of it at that. There are at least 40 levels of rewards for every character. The rewards include costumes, emotes, name plates, and items. But to have to hit level 40 20 or more individual times replaying the same 10 missions would be annoying. The game implies that playing through missions with different characters is a different experience with access to different areas and secrets, but from what was shown in the beta it’s not nearly that complicated or intricate. I was able to get to most places with the characters I was using. Only occasionally did a wall appear that couldn’t be broken by my current character. And those moments were really annoying because the AI doesn’t help and you can’t take control of AI party members.

Now let’s actually talk about the gameplay. The fact is that while the gameplay mechanics are fairly good, the game as a whole is repetitive and boring. It’s for the most part a button mash fest with open area maps and loot chest collecting. There is some nuance to the gameplay in the form or special moves and certain enemies with special abilities or conditions that have to be dealt with in non-straight forward ways. But for the most part you’re just mashing square and triangle. Which usually I don’t have a problem with. But in this case it’s so generic. You’re just fighting faceless soldiers or robots. And most of the time you’re just fighting them to fight them. The missions are mostly devoid of purpose other than get loot. Only a few had any real story or reason behind them. The rest were just there to be there.  This made the entire experience boring unless I was playing with friends. Co-op was fun, but more because of my friends than the gameplay being entertaining. It’s a game you don’t have to think too much about so you can talk to your friends. You can zone out and totally ignore what’s happening in many of the missions. That makes for great multiplayer, but terrible single player.

4 ManYou can use AI companions in place of real people in your four man team. They work in some ways but in others they just remind you that the game was meant to be played with other people. For instance, there are lots of soft puzzles that involve hitting multiple switches, sometimes within a time limit. The puzzles are not hard. In fact, calling them puzzles is an exaggeration. They’re just tasks that force you to look around the nearby environment. AI won’t help with these. They can all be done as a solo player, but you will have to waste your time looking for all the switches and “racing” to hit them all before the time runs out. But if you had a team this would be much easier and more engaging as you compete with your friends to find a switch first. That’s how most of the game is structured. Lots of moments where it’s clear that it would be more entertaining and engaging if you had real players rather than AI companions. You see this in the combat too.

There are ways to work together as a team in combat. I’m not talking about official team attacks/combos. I’m talking about strategy. For example, there was a moment where I was using Kamila Khan and had Hulk as an AI companion during a fight against a shielded enemy. Shielded enemies are annoying because you can’t attack them from the front without special abilities. You have to get behind them. There are multiple ways to do this. Few of them are convenient. In this instance I had an AI Hulk companion fighting right behind this enemy. He was engaged with other enemies but easily could have attacked this shielded enemy I was engaged with. A single attack to its back would have thrown it off balance and allowed me to make short work of it. But I couldn’t communicate with AI Hulk and AI characters don’t actually care about you as the player. They fight in an effective but ultimately random manner. They aren’t there to support you. They’re simply there to help deal with the large groups of enemies. They can’t be used for any higher levels of strategy. But if that AI Hulk had been a real person I could have told him to punch that shielded enemy in the back to create an opening for me. That pretty much sums up the single player experience, unless you’re playing without AI companions. A constant reminder of how much better things could be if you were playing with friends.

 

Kamila KhanThe combat is different for different characters, but it’s not equally satisfying for all characters. For some characters, the combat feels great. Surprisingly, my favorite character to use in the beta was Kamila Khan. I would not have guessed that going in. Her combat feels good. The stretching and growing powers work in an almost Luffy (One Piece) fashion. You are limited in what you can do of course. But the combat feels satisfying. Bounding through the maps to quickly close distances feels good with her as well. Her legs constantly stretching and contracting to cover more ground. A big part of the combat feeling satisfying comes down to perceived impact. Thor’s combat feels good as well. When you hit something with that hammer, you feel the impact. The controller vibrates in such a way and the audio generates a sound effect in such a way that you feel happy with that hammer hit. This is not the case for all characters. Somehow they screwed up the Hulk. When you hit something with Hulk’s giant fist, it rings hollow. I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I think it’s the vibration, or lack thereof. For some reason they didn’t give Hulk’s punches the haptic feedback they deserve. It’s like they’re trying to say that the Hulk feels nothing with each punch. He’s so strong that hitting things doesn’t even register for him. That may be good from a character development standpoint but from a gameplay standpoint it’s terrible. When you’re playing as the Hulk you want to FEEL the power. You can see the power happening on screen but you can’t feel it and that’s really disappointing.

HulkThe game also lacks a number of UI, quality of life features. For instance, there’s no mini-map. The maps aren’t huge but they are open and have plenty of useless places you can explore. By useless I mean they don’t contain useful content such as enemies or chests. They’re there for atmosphere. This is a good thing. But not having a map to quickly and easily be able to determine where you actually need to go is troublesome. You can temporarily scan for points of interest, which causes them all to appear on screen. But they don’t stay on screen so you have to keep rescanning. Chests are hidden throughout the maps. JARVIS will notify you when chests are nearby. But that doesn’t tell you how nearby. And there’s no guide to finding them. So you wander around aimlessly hoping to find a chest. Just show me where the chests are with waypoints, Crystal Dynamics. I’m not playing this game to search for loot. Lean on the combat. That’s the only part of the game that people care about outside of the story.

Missions can feel aimless at times but that’s not technically ever the case. There is a main objective and a number of additional points of interest. But the value in doing them always feels a bit hollow. You’re basically just roaming around farming XP and hoping to get superior gear drops. Enemies can also be found randomly throughout the maps without official points of interest. So you just kind of explore hoping to find something until you get bored and go to the nearest point of interest. Then after you get bored with points of interest you just go finish the mission’s main objective. In a way the game can feel like a chore. But even worse, it often just feels boring. I even nodded off while playing solo a few times.

Bounding KhanI found the combat to be challenging but fair in most cases. I died a few times, but I never felt like the game was particularly unbalanced. I can at least say that the AI will revive you. The game also has an effective respawn system for when you fail. You are put right back where you were when you died but you have to restart the current objective. This works exactly the way it should.

For all the issues with the gameplay, there’s still charm in playing an Avengers game. It’s nice to be able to choose one of your favorite heroes, team up with your other favorite heroes, and fight bad guys with signature moves. One of the features I really liked is the companion request feature. When going into a mission, you choose your character and select the heroes you want as companions. As there were only four options in the beta, you always played as Black Widow, Iron-Man, Hulk, or Kamila Khan and chose the other three as your companions. But the mechanic implied that you could customize your team however you wanted, even in multiplayer. So for example, once there’s say 10 characters available, you’ll be able to choose what companions you want specifically. If I want Ant-Man, Hulk, and Captain America to be my companions then I can request that and the match making will only allow people playing as those characters to join my team. And if no one is available using those characters for the mission I want to play, then it will give me AI companions. I liked having that level of control over my squad.  But in general the matchmaking and setup system needs a lot of work.

Marvels+Avengers+Online+LobbyStarting a mission is unruly and unnecessarily complicated, as is general character management. For some stupid reason, you can only deal with character customization while playing as the character. This means that if you are currently Black Widow and you want to customize your Hulk, you can’t. You have to wait for the next time you’re playing as Hulk. As in you’ve already selected Hulk for a mission. This is even true when in the hub area outside of missions. You can’t just customize characters available in your roster whenever you want. Starting a mission is convoluted and troublesome. Picking your character seems easy but the game needs a clearer UI showing the selection has been confirmed. Starting a mission is convoluted. You press start and then it doesn’t always initiate the start sequence. Then sometimes it does and during the countdown it just randomly ends and you have to restart it. The countdown for single player with AI is 4 seconds. The countdown for multiplayer is 60 seconds. Why such a huge gap? Going into a mission should be way more streamlined and simple, multiplayer or not. There’s also no real direction in choosing missions. There’s just a map full of them with no seemingly defined reason to differentiate them other than rewards. I was just randomly picking them.

GoldChestsInAvengersYou can set the difficulty between four difficulty levels per mission, which I liked. But the scaling of missions was fairly annoying. By focusing on Kamila Khan, I got her power level up to 16. But then when I wanted to play as Hulk, who at the time only had a power level or 8, all the missions were scaled to 16. I found this super annoying and unbalanced. There needs to be committed power level requirements for each mission, depending on the difficulty level selected.

Ultimately I’m still on the fence about buying Marvel’s Avengers. I want to like the game. I want to enjoy a game starring the Avengers with a large roster of playable characters, multiplayer, and a constant stream of new content. But they have not built a game that I would call enjoyable. Or at least the beta did not confirm that they built such a game. What it comes down to for me is friends. If my friends buy the game then I guess I’ll jump in. But if they don’t then I can’t justify spending the money.

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Do You Really Want to Play as Spider-Man in Marvel’s Avengers?

Hot Take: Spider-Man is an overrated Marvel character. The character is quite good and very relatable. My best memories of the character are watching reruns of Spider-Man and His Amazing Friends and Spider-Man: The Animated Series as a kid. I remember when Tobey Maguire, still my favorite Peter Parker, showed us what a live action Spider-Man could be. I had Spider-Man themed birthdays as a kid. I know and love Spider-Man. But you know what; he’s not the best Marvel character by a fairly wide margin.

Spider-Man is a good character because he’s relatable . . . sort of. People relate to Spider-Man because Peter Parker comes off as a nerd with a heart of gold and family problems who often fails but never gives up. He’s pretty much the Marvel comics version of Luke Skywalker (pre-Episode VIII of course). But really that’s a misconception of who Peter Parker actually is. Peter Parker, long before being bitten by the spider, is a brilliant scientist. He’s no Reed Richards, but he’s much smarter than your average Joe. He’s also fairly snarky and great at making witty, funny comments and comebacks off the cuff. He’s also not really a loser the way many people make him out to be. Remember that he landed both Gwen Stacey and Mary Jane Watson. A hot blonde nerdy girl and a hot red head popular girl. What about this character is so relatable to the general public? In my more than 30 years on this planet, I’ve met a fair number of people. Some are smart, but most aren’t brilliant. Some are funny, but most aren’t that funny all the time. And some are good at charming certain types of women/people but not all types at all times. I don’t know anyone who is brilliant, hilarious, and charming, while also being poor and having confidence issues. Those five characteristics don’t actually appear concurrently within one person commonly, if at all. That is to say, YOU ARE NOT PETER PARKER!

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-18 22-31-21The arrogance a person has to have to relate to Peter Parker is astounding. I’d say it’s easier to relate to the Hulk than it is to relate to Peter Parker. Because Bruce Banner is a brilliant scientist who has anger issues and is terrible at romantic relationships because of insecurities brought on by his anger issues and physical appearance. That’s a real person. I know plenty of people who can relate to the Hulk. Hell I can relate to the Hulk at times. No one can actually relate to Peter Parker. I tried to think of a famous person that might be able to relate to Peter Parker and I couldn’t. I kept coming back to Elon Musk, but then I remembered he was raised rich from an Apartheid Diamond mine fortune. No one has all five of the main features of Peter Parker. Some might have three. Essentially people are misidentifying with Peter Parker. And I want to address the fact that I’m intentionally focusing on Peter Parker because Spider-Man was a fan favorite long before Miles Morales, Spider-Gwen, or any of the other modern Spider totems that people outside of straight white males latch onto due to a lack of identifiable options. Most likely because of the mask, which allowed for everyone to pretend to be Spider-Man without having to deal with the cosplay color barrier. But at the end of the day the character is an OK player in the Marvel power tiers and in reality most people shouldn’t even be able to relate to Peter Parker, even before he got his powers. Though I will accept the counter argument that he was only able to land M.J. because he got his powers. But still I say Spider-Man is overrated.

MJ WatsonWhy does this matter? Why is a post on a gaming blog discussing the merits of Spider-Man? Obviously it’s because Spider-Man has been a part of gaming for multiple generations and its once again a current topic of discussion in reference to gaming. Specifically the announcement that Spider-Man will be a PlayStation exclusive character in the upcoming Marvel’s Avengers.

Marvel’s Avengers is a game where you get to play as Thor, Hulk, Iron Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Ms. Marvel, and several other characters yet to be introduced. I tried the game last year at Gamescom 2019. It’s an action game with cooperative elements. It plays well enough, but probably won’t revolutionize action games that much. And that’s fine. I don’t need every game to change the game. I just need them to be fun and ideally well written. It’s certainly better than any other Marvel collection of heroes game I’ve ever played. Shots fired Marvel Ultimate Alliance. The point is we’re getting a cooperative Avengers third person 3D action game made at AAA quality. That’s awesome. Forget everything else you know or think you know and just take a second to appreciate the fact that we’re finally getting the game we’ve been waiting for since the first Avengers movie back in 2012. If nothing else, we can be thankful for that. Now let’s get back to Spider-Man.

marvel-ultimate-alliance-3-the-black-order-switchRecently it was announced that Spider-Man will be a PlayStation exclusive playable character in Marvel’s Avengers. Let’s start by quickly summarizing why that is. IT’S BUSINESS! SONY owns the rights to Spider-Man in high concept console games because of their contract with Marvel’s Spider-Man. There is much more nuance to it than that but pretty much any new AAA Marvel game can’t feature Spider-Man unless it’s on PlayStation and SONY has the legal ability to make it exclusive, probably with some additional payments made for the privilege. Spider-Man appears in Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order because Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3: The Black Order is a Switch exclusive. If it wasn’t then Spider-Man wouldn’t be in the Switch or XBOX ONE versions of the game. Meaning it’s an apples and oranges situation when compared to Marvel’s Avengers.

Is it right that exclusive content exists? Depends on the project, funding, and a host of other factors. But is it common in the gaming industry? Absolutely. Acting like this is surprising or unprecedented is like being surprised that Anthem flopped. I think a better question is why do I as a PlayStation user care?

PS5 VersionExclusives are an interesting topic. Especially at the end of a console generation. No one is buying a PS4 in late 2020. There’s no reason to. You’re either not buying a PlayStation console or you’re waiting and buying a PS5. That’s 90% of the market. Sure a few people will pick up budget pricing PS4s on Black Friday and visit the fairly impressive library after a generation of being disappointed by their XBOX ONE. But that’s a very small portion of the market. 100 million PS4s have already been sold. So there’s not really anyone buying a PS4 at this point just to use Spider-Man in an Avengers game. But maybe this will sell some PS5s, I guess. Really it’s more a slap in the face to XBOX users than it is a boon to PlayStation users at this point in the generation. Especially when you consider that probably 100% of players who are considering buying Marvel’s Avengers on PS4 have already played Marvel’s Spider-Man on PS4.

I don’t want to play as Spider-Man in Marvel’s Avengers, as a PS4 owner. Precisely because I’ve already played Marvel’s Spider-Man. Insomniac Games’ Spider-Man game is objectively the best Spider-Man game ever made by a wide margin. I won’t even debate the statement with anyone. No better Spider-Man gameplay experience currently exists. And I platinumed that game, like many other players did. So first we need to deal with Spider-Man fatigue, which apparently no one other than me gets. But also we have to deal with the issue of lower quality gameplay. I know beyond a reasonable doubt that piloting Spider-Man in Marvel’s Avengers will not feel as good as piloting Spider-Man in Marvel’s Spider-Man. I am sure beyond a reasonable doubt that the gameplay will not be better in a collection of characters game than that perfectly crafted PlayStation exclusive masterpiece. I don’t think anyone who has actually played Marvel’s Spider-Man would disagree with that statement. I can’t prove it as of yet, but I know it’s true. So the question is why would you want to play inferior Spider-Man gameplay after having already experienced the pinnacle of Spider-Man gameplay? If you had the best burger you’ve ever tasted you wouldn’t then turn to eating an inferior burger. If you found a beer you really liked you wouldn’t then turn to drinking Budweiser. So why after having the In-N-Out of Spider-Man gameplay would you want to go back to McDonald’s?

Episode - Screenshot 2018-09-08 00-55-37Let me be clear. I’m not saying the gameplay for Spider-Man in Marvel’s Avengers will be bad. I’m just saying it won’t hold a candle to Marvel’s Spider-Man. So why is it a selling point for you as a PS4 owner? This game will offer some of, if not, the best gameplay for other characters that you’ve ever seen. It will probably be the best Thor gameplay you’ve ever played. It might be the best Hulk gameplay you’ve ever played. It will absolutely be the best Hawkeye, Black Widow, and Ms. Marvel gameplay you’ve ever played. So why do you want to waste your time playing inferior Spider-Man gameplay when you can player superior gameplay of just about any other character that will appear in the game? It doesn’t make any sense. I get being a Spider-Man fanboy. I’m a Kratos fanboy. But I wouldn’t play a lackluster God of War game because of it. Not intentionally anyway. I just don’t see the logic in caring about Spider-Man in this particular game following a much better game with hopefully another great Spider-Man game on its way; Spider-Man: Miles Morales on PS5. I can’t wait to play Marvel’s Avengers. And I will absolutely play a Marvel’s Spider-Man 2. But I have no interest in playing as Spider-Man in Marvel’s Avengers. I get why XBOX ONE players would want Spider-Man in Marvel’s Avengers. They didn’t get to play Marvel’s Spider-Man. If anything, it would be better business for SONY to make Spider-Man paid DLC on XBOX ONE for a cut of the profits. Better business for them, not the consumers.

Marvels Avengers GameUltimately I think all characters should be available on all platforms for free. But I understand how Spider-Man has become a PlayStation exclusive. I just don’t get why most PlayStation users care. I’ll be busy using Hulk and Thor. Maybe even Kamala Khan, because rubber powers are awesome. But I have no interest in playing an inferior Spider-Man game less than a year before another superior Spider-Man game will release. I have to many other games to play to waste my time with that. And hopefully I’ll have too many other characters to use in Marvel’s Avengers as well.

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State of Play (8/6/2020) Review

I hadn’t planned on doing a review of this latest State of Play episode. When they said it would be mostly third party stuff, I thought of that last Nintendo Direct and was like I’ll watch it but not waste my time writing a blog post. I was also really unhappy with the last State of Play because they completed abandoned the format. You can read my thoughts on that in a previous blog post. Then I watched it and had to take the time to push my blog post schedule back a week and write this post. The first thing that needs to be said is that this last State of Play was great. Probably the best non-first party games presentation I’ve seen this gen. It’s proof that third party and indie presentations don’t have to suck. They just need to pick the right games and provide meaningful information about them.

What was impressive about this State of Play was that not only did they stick to the formula, but they did it with only third party titles while still managing to present a large number of games I will almost certainly play. As I’ve said many times, I love the State of Play format. It’s straight forward, time efficient, and devoid of industry/media bullshit. No influencers, no “hi I’m Bob” moments, and for the most part no gimmicks. It’s just straight to the games at a fairly rapid pace. But the formula wasn’t the only part about the presentation that was impressive. The quality was there as well. They showed 16 games in about 46 minutes. I will absolutely play five of them. If I had PSVR, I’d absolutely play a sixth one. Of the remaining 10, I’m very interested in playing four more of them. That’s 10/16 games presented that I’m genuinely interested in after a single trailer. That’s more than 50% of the content doing its job. For a presentation of non-first party titles, I’d say that’s really good. And I wouldn’t say the presentations of the other six games were bad or even boring. They just weren’t games I’m interested in playing. This is the standard that all presentations of this nature should be trying to hit. The last Nintendo Direct (Mini) did not manage to hit even 50% interest from me.

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Now let’s talk about the games.

Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time

The presentation opened with Crash 4. Before even officially starting the presentation, they just went right into the game. I like this approach because it sets the tone for the entire presentation. What you’re about to watch is about games and games alone.

My opinion of Crash 4 is that it’s an unnecessary sequel that people will play but nobody asked for. I wrote a blog post saying as much a few weeks ago. But just because we didn’t need or ask for a sequel doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be made. It just means it has to go out of its way to be worth our time. And after this presentation I have to say that Crash 4 appears to have achieved that.

The gameplay and graphics both look awesome. There are several costumes, all of which are earned via gameplay with no microtransactions in the game. There are new playable characters, new world concepts, a list of new powers, and a ton of replayability. They have certainly put in the work to justify this game getting released. I’ll definitely be playing it after what I saw in this presentation.

Hitman III VR Mode

I’m not a fan of the Hitman series. I’ve only finished Absolution and no that’s not the reason I don’t like Hitman games. I’ve tried the other ones and was unable to finish them because I found the gameplay a combination of dated and boring while the story was lacking considerably. Absolution is the only one that played like a modern single player game. And I actually liked that one. But I was very intrigued by the idea of playing a Hitman game in VR. That could be really fun. What I’m not into though is the idea of using a controller to play a VR Hitman game. That just sounds disappointing. Like you know the game could be way more fun but it isn’t. I also don’t want to play it with PS Move controllers either. If ever there was a game that would be at its best with VR power gloves, it’s a game about detail oriented assassinations.

Braid Anniversary Edition

For whatever reason, I’ve never heard of Braid before. I did have an XBOX 360 for several years, but I never had an XBOX Live Gold membership. I don’t think that should have mattered though because you could still access the online store with a silver account. But for whatever reason I’ve never heard of this neat looking little game. The trailer, even though it’s just a remaster of a tiny indie platformer, was very charming. The art style looks nice and quite improved. After doing more research on the original game, I’m definitely interested in playing this, provided it’s not over priced.

My one issue with the trailer was that there was text appearing all over the game but it was flipping by too fast to read. Apparently this is in game commentary for the Anniversary Edition, but I had to do outside research to find that out. As far as presentations go, that shouldn’t have been included in the way it was without a clear explanation.

The Pathless

I was so impressed with this presentation. I liked Abzu. It’s a solid indie game. But it wasn’t anything to write home about. One of the things I liked most about this presentation was the clear evolution of the studio in terms of scope, gameplay, and overall quality. They are evolving, as all indie devs should. This reminds me of Naughty Dog. They started out with very simple education software and then moved on to bigger projects that weren’t all winners but all showed their potential as a studio. Then they made Crash Bandicoot. Then they evolved past Crash and made Jak & Daxter, which I would argue is just a next gen version of Crash Bandicoot style game development. Then they evolved past that and made Uncharted. Now they’re one of the most highly celebrated developers in the industry with record breaking games like The Last of Us Part II. That’s the potential I now see with Giant Squid in the move from Abzu to The Pathless. In 10 – 20 years, provided they continue this level of progression and evolution as a studio, I can see them being the next generation of Naughty Dog level studio.

The Pathless looks beautiful. It gave me Journey vibes but with much more interesting gameplay. The idea of making a timing based archery game rather than an aiming based one and then fusing that with fluid motion sounds phenomenal from a gameplay standpoint. I am really excited for this game.

Spelunky 2

I never got into Spelunky. I have a copy of it on some platform, but I don’t think I’ve played a single round of it. I’m just not into games that don’t have a clear end goal. Maybe if I had other people to play it with I would have, but as a predominantly solo gamer, it never appealed to me. That being said, Spelunky 2 looks like a very well made sequel. I’m not interested in playing it, but the presentation made me feel like the Spelunky community will be happy with the new game. The developer spoke with passion and reverence for the community that has built up his game and by extension his career. It was a good presentation of what I have always considered a passable indie game.

Genshin Impact

I don’t particularly like reveal trailers like this. I understand the point of them, but I find them lazy and uninformative. They don’t show actual gameplay. It’s just a fancy display of graphics and voice acting meant to lure people in with no real substance. It’s a basic marketing tactic that honestly we should be past for games in 2020, even at reveal. But here we are. Genshin Impact appears to be your standard soft weebo anime JRPG with lots of characters and combat styles. How the combat actually works though, I can’t say based on the trailer. What I was able to find out via Google search is that it’s a free to play open world action RPG. The fact that I had to take the time to Google that because the trailer didn’t tell me anything is exactly what I hate about reveal trailers.

Aeon Must Die!

This is basically the same problem as the Genshin Impact trailer but cranked up to 11. This trailer looks and sounds insane. It looks like playing a Dark Horse comic or a punk anime. The music was riveting, the voice acting was intense, and the graphics are awesome. But I couldn’t understand how the game actually worked at all from that trailer. And with that much production value from a small studio making their first game, I’m inclined to believe this could end up being mediocre gameplay because everything went into production value rather than substance. It has happened numerous times before. Hopefully I’m wrong. The Steam page says it’s a “unique beat-em-up” with “innovative tactical fighting” and an “RPG alignment system”. To me this all sounds like marketing speak for gameplay you’ve not seen before that hopefully won’t be too convoluted or confusing in an attempt to be original at the expense of fun. Game looks great visually but I will go over the gameplay with a fine toothed comb before I invest.

ANNO: Mutationem

This is a really solid looking indie game. I really like the mixture of 2D and 3D graphic elements. The action gameplay looks fast paced and smooth. It has a cyberpunk feel, which may be a bit overdone at this point, but I won’t fault the game for that since everyone is trying to ride the pre-release coattails of Cyberpunk 2077. For what this game appears to be, I’m very impressed and exited. But I won’t be surprised if the price ends up being higher than it should be in the current market.

Bugsnax

I really love how the marketing for this game is just leaning into the criticism. The trailer’s opening is so ironic in an almost Deadpool way. But what I liked about this trailer was that it actually started to give us an idea of what the gameplay really looks like. It’s a first person adventure that has you complete tasks for characters in order to get them to join/rejoin a community. You play as a journalist documenting the events of the island and village. Now people actually have a reason to consider playing and the game can be discussed in more serious terms. Whether or not I’m excited for the game, I really liked the direction they went with this trailer.

Vader Immortal

It’s accurate to say that I’ve waited my entire life for an interactive, motion controlled light saber game. It’s also accurate to say that VR is the best thing for this experience. But this game isn’t just about wielding a light saber. You also have Force powers. But in a way, that’s a problem given current control mechanisms for PSVR and VR in general. The PS Move is actually perfect for light saber gameplay. I can’t actually think of a better controller for that. But it’s terrible for Force powers. Just like with Hitman, this is a game that needs as new type of VR control mechanism. Something like power gloves. I do not want to wave a PS Move controller around to Force push things. And I certainly don’t want to play a light saber game with a DualShock 4. This is a prime example of a game being held back by current hardware conventions and why VR continues to be niche.

Control Expansion: AWE

The trailer didn’t say much because it’s an announcement trailer for an expansion that was already expected for a game that has already established itself.  This trailer accomplished what it needed to because all it needed to do was give logistics information to potential customers. I have no complaints or praises to give.

Auto Chess

I appreciated this trailer. It was gameplay focused and very direct in showing exactly what you would be buying. I wish more trailers were this honest from the start. That being said, this is not a game for me. I love chess, but turning it into an RTS is a big turnoff for me. And somehow it looks like they’ve managed to make a game as complicated as chess even more complicated. That trailer had so much going on at once while appearing not to have much need for player input at all. Thus the name Auto Chess.  I’d try a demo but I don’t think I’d enjoy it based on the trailer. Also, further research shows that this is actually a free to play mobile game already so you can technically download it today on your phone, but the Google Play Store reviews say it’s extremely buggy.

The Pedestrian

This game looks so cool to me. The concept is original but also reminds me a lot of old flash games I used to play as a kid. It had a sort of Astro Bot Rescue Mission feel to it where you seem to be helping the protagonist rather than controlling the protagonist, which I like for this type of game. It’s also really creative on a visual level by how it strings together the real world as one continuous path. It’s one of the only games in the presentation that I had never heard of and absolutely want to buy after just the one trailer.

Hood: Outlaws & Legends

This trailer was able to garner my interest but I wasn’t exactly sure what I was watching. It was actually not even the first Focus Home Interactive trailer in this presentation. It gave me vibes of a medieval Assassin’s Creed with a co-op component but then there also seemed to be PVP elements. So I’m not really sure what the game is or isn’t. Further research suggests that it’s a cooperative heist game with a PVP component.   So like imagine Payday 2 if you had multiple crews going for the same score at the same time. You have the option to stealth your way through or bash your way through. It’s an interesting concept for sure but my gripe with most heist games is they rarely play the way you want a heist game to actually play. I feel like that genre needs to be improved considerably before you can really start effectively playing around with it by adding a PVP element. Payday 2 was certainly a good attempt at heists, as was GTAV. But there are things about both of those games that always irritated me when it came to execution.

Temtem

This Pokemon clone has actually been in early access on Steam for a while. It’s already got an established user base on PC. I would hope that it has crossplay with PS5 or the value of a Pokemon clone MMO drops considerably when you already have to compete with Pokemon holding so much of that market on Switch.

Godfall

I was already excited about this game. This presentation, which I almost feel like it wasn’t fair to include next to most of the other projects in this State of Play, just confirmed what I already knew. I’m definitely going to buy this game. I don’t necessarily like the term “looter, hack-n-slash” but the gameplay looks and sounds great. And there’s no microtransactions or waiting for content. You just buy a complete game and can play it with two friends cooperatively. It’s exactly what I want and I already know who I’ll play it with. This is the sort of game presentation that all games need. A technical, but not too in depth look at the actual gameplay with important key details given in very straight forward terms.

As I said already, I was really impressed with this State of Play overall. I think it was very well done, extremely well-paced, and in most cases informative enough to help people make actual buying decisions based on more than just hype. The more hype that gets shaved out of these sorts of presentations the better. I want to be informed in order to make the correct buying decisions for my gaming interests. And I want to be informed about games that not only matter to me but will matter to me in the near future. Most of the games shown here should be released within the next year. I hope over time State of Play can get closer to Nintendo Direct where they start showing content for games releasing in the next quarter. Ultimately this was a great episode and I’m happy to continue watching these presentations in their current form.

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Where is the Profit Line?

A couple weeks ago, Jason Schreier wrote another insider article that brings light to issues, now seen as problematic, in game development. Mr. Schreier has made a career writing pieces like this about a great many games and studios such as BioWare and Anthem, Naughty Dog and The Last of Us Part II, and a number of other big ticket examples. I qualified my opening sentence, because it’s important to note that problematic practices, like most issues within society, are often tied to flavor of the month/year political/cultural opinions.

We have seen countless examples of people having no problem with a well-known or fairly obvious given practice and then suddenly turning on a studio for the same issue after a random article is printed about it or an employee, present or past, comes out and complains about it. What this tells me is that people seem to only care about issues as much as caring about them will gain them clout. That also means that conclusions like right vs wrong are subjective and not based on any sort or established set of rules. So I don’t think it’s accurate or fair to demonize one studio once it’s reported on while ignoring similar practices at another studio that just hasn’t gotten its five minutes of infamy yet. I also think it’s unfair to get mad at one company for following industry trends in order to maximize profits while not treating every other company with the same amount of ire before Mr. Schreier takes the time to write about them.

Clout ChaserThe article in question focuses on sexual misconduct at Ubisoft. I want to start by saying that none of the reported sexual misconduct issues are OK. Not all of them are illegal, but all of them should be seen as problematic in a professional setting. I’m not going to defend them and I don’t feel there’s any need to debate them. That’s not what this post is about. Another issue, that I actually do want to discuss in this post, that was also discussed in the article, is the minimization of female roles in Ubisoft games. In many ways this was actually the bigger news to come out of that article. Many other media sources reported on the article with a focus on this development practice at Ubisoft. You can read the full article but the summary of this particular issue is that Serge Hascoët, the chief creative officer, among others at Ubisoft, made it a point to limit the roles and focus on female characters in the games produced during his long tenure at the company. He was also accused of sexual misconduct, but those are two separate issues. And that’s the first problem.

Serge Hascoët was accused, and is presumably guilty, of sexual misconduct at his work place or with people related to his work place. As I already said, this is not OK and such behavior shouldn’t be defended. But to automatically link his misconduct with his game development decisions is, in my opinion, wrong. It’s an inaccurate linking of correlation with causation. One can both be a sexist and make successful business decisions. One can be both a sexual predator and be good at their job. We have countless examples of this in the film and television industry. Some of the greatest actors, producers, and directors of the last several decades have been outed as sexual predators. That doesn’t negate how good they were at their jobs or how seriously they took their jobs. It simply means they were both good at their jobs and trash human beings. So in the same mode of thinking, I think it’s more accurate to say that Serge Hascoët was a great chief creative officer and a trash human being rather than saying he was a terrible chief creative officer because he was a trash human being. Because making a successful game is measureable.

ubisoft-clubWe can debate whether or not there is one way to make a successful game, but we can’t debate whether or not he was good at making successful ones. His list of credits speaks for itself. He was the chief creative officer on more successful games than most developers even get to work on. Some examples include the Assassin’s Creed franchise, several Tom Clancy games, and the Far Cry series. And not just one installment either. He was leading the production of most titles in multiple franchises. Say what you want about his conduct, but the man clearly knows what makes a game that sells. And let’s make sure we address that point. A successful game is a game that turns a profit when you’re one of the largest publishers and developers in the world. A family run, publicly traded company, especially one that fought off a hostile takeover, cannot afford to make games that don’t sell. The objective definition of a successful game in this context is one that turns a profit. And the larger the profit the better, as is the way of capitalism. So in that mode of thinking, Serge Hascoët was great at his job and made Ubisoft several boatloads of money.

Many people will refuse to disconnect the two issues. They will say they are incapable of separating Hascoët’s personal misconduct with the sexist, and arguably racist, practices displayed in his work conduct. But most of these people almost assuredly have never and will never release a AAA game. Certainly not as the lead producer. The correct question is not were Ubisoft’s decisions concerning the minimization of female roles in their games sexist? Yes, they absolutely were. This is not debatable. But it’s also not the issue that needs to be discussed. The correct question is were Ubisoft’s decisions concerning the minimization of female roles in their games the correct business decisions at the time(s) they were made? This is the issue I really want to discuss.

HL Mencken Money Quote BigMany people hate this discussion because it addresses an issue that many people don’t want to acknowledge as the entire backbone of the discussion. And yes I’ve discussed it in reference to different events in the past. Game development is a business, plain and simple. Some games are willing to risk profits to make a statement, but every game needs to make a profit for the team to continue making games. A baseball player nearly bankrupted the state of Rhode Island trying to make a game. And that game, Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning, was actually really good. Games are expensive, time consuming, and high risk. Doing everything you can to make sure the game makes as much money as possible and keeping literally hundreds to sometimes more than a thousand people paid, and ideally employed for the next game, is the number one concern of any AAA game development studio. And that’s while dealing with a greedy board of directors that would rather see their annual dividends go up than their employees paid properly. So it’s really important for a game to be successful. Especially if development took years. So the question is did the decisions made by Hascoët concerning the reduction/exclusion of women in Ubisoft’s games improve, suppress, or have no effect on the financial success of the games he managed?

Ellie Mouth CoveredThe sad thing about this question is that we can never know for sure. We can use other examples, like The Last of Us Part II and Horizon: Zero Dawn, to try to extrapolate conclusions but we can’t ever know with 100% confidence what the real answer is. This is because of a number of factors. Some of these include the following.

  1. We have yet to have a Ubisoft AAA quality title with a female protagonist to know how one would perform.
  2. Ubisoft doesn’t make new IPs much so all their games in question are beholden to established franchise audiences, expectations, and canon.
  3. The games industry and community has changed significantly over time because of steps taken by Ubisoft and other publishers/developers by using mostly slow incremental steps towards more diversity.

Let’s look at Assassin’s Creed as a currently relevant franchise for this discussion. Over the course of now 13 years and 11 main platform titles plus another 11 spin-off titles on various platforms ranging from mobile to PSP to DS, Ubisoft has established a power house franchise that now is essentially too big to fail. Today they could do pretty much whatever they wanted and get away with it without the game tanking . . . to a point. But that took a lot of time and effort over many games, and other types of content such as animated films, books, comics, and one garbage live action movie. In those 11 main titles, only one features a female protagonist, and that position is shared with a male sibling. In a few others, female characters are playable for limited periods of time in specific sequences such as Aya, in Assasssin’s Creed: Origins. Two of the spin-off titles feature female protagonists as well. These being Assassin’s Creed III: Liberation and Assassin’s Creed Chronicles: China. Has the franchise been successful regardless of the minimization of women or because of it? That’s the question that needs to be answered. But really it first needs to be asked.

Paper Mario Color Splash Screenshot 2017-10-22 19-30-45It’s easy to demand a committed female protagonist in an Assassin’s Creed game in 2020 when you know the game won’t fail, even with all the naysayers online. But was that the case back in 2007? If Altair had been a woman from the start would Assassin’s Creed be the franchise it is today? If Ezio had been hung with his father and brothers and Assassin’s Creed: II, Brotherhood, and Revelations had followed his sister Claudia Auditore da Firenze, also a member of the Brotherhood of Assassins during the same time, instead would she, like Ezio, be one of the most beloved assassins in the franchise? It’s easy to say yes after the fact. But there’s no evidence to support that claim. Consider this; Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (2016) sold 8.7 million copies in its release year. The Last of Us Part II, which is still in its release year, has sold about 4 million copies. It outpaced Uncharted 4’s opening week record, but now its sales have declined considerably since then compared to Uncharted 4’s sales pace in the same time frame. Why? Is it because Ellie is a woman and Nathan is a man? Can’t say for sure but a social media analyst would certainly argue that it’s a factor.

Caludia AuditoreTake it one step further if we want to have a discussion about all inclusion and not just gender. Is the fact that Nathan is a straight, white male and Ellie a lesbian a factor in the difference in sales? Again, impossible to know for sure but a social media analyst would certainly argue that it’s a factor. And more importantly, it’s a limiting factor. Compare the sales of Uncharted 4 to those of Shadow of the Tomb Raider (2018). Uncharted’s sales are way higher. That’s not to say that Tomb Raider’s sales are/were low. But it’s factually true to say Uncharted’s latest main line installment was stronger than Tomb Raider’s even though it came out two years later to a much more inclusive gaming industry and community. Or at least that’s how it seems. One could of course say maybe Shadow of the Tomb Raider just isn’t as good as Uncharted 4 and gender had nothing to do with it, and that may be true. But it’s not an objective measurement of comparison. Companies make decisions based on perceived facts. Even if the facts are suspect, decisions are made based on something. Not just guesses. You look at the numbers comparing multiple similar games, you identify their key differences, and you make seemingly likely conclusions based on them. That’s how entertainment works. Why does Thanos die at the end of Avenger’s Endgame? Because enough data can be shown that people like seeing the villain die at the end of Marvel films. If that wasn’t true he’d still be alive. In the same way, the data shows that male protagonists sell better than female ones in video games. That very well may be a self-fulfilling prophecy, but it changes nothing about how the data looks.

Horizon 2Let’s look at it another way. Horizon: Zero Dawn (2017) was a great success. So much so that the PC port and the recently announced sequel are both highly anticipated and are expected to sell millions of units each. But 2 questions should immediately come to mind. Would those sales numbers be higher if Aloy was a man and would that game have been as successful if it had been released with Aloy as the protagonist in 2007? Can’t say for sure on either question, but I bet if you took a poll of AAA game developers and they answered honestly you’d get an overwhelming number of them answering yes to the first question and no the second question. Again, cannot say for sure, but the data appears to indicate certain conclusions that inform the way creative directors like Serge Hascoët do and have done their jobs for now multiple decades. Still waiting for that totally awesome and financially successful Nintendo franchise starring a female protagonist that didn’t spend more than half her career being mistaken for a man in a suit of armor. And yes I do still remember when it was revealed to the wider public that Samus Aran was a woman. It was because of the ray-gun revealing her skeletal structure in the original Smash Brothers on the N64 and was widely reported in multiple gaming physical magazines. Many boys decided to change their Smash main after the news broke. And no that’s not an exaggeration. It’s a sad truth of our history and society. Remember how mad people were last year when they found out Hooded Justice was Black in the Watchmen show? That’s the world we still live in. And because of that, I believe the development decisions concerning the role of female characters at Ubisoft were profit driven rather than some systematic attack on women.

Jovan Adepo.photo: Mark Hill/HBO
Jovan Adepo. photo: Mark Hill/HBO

One of the examples expressed in Schreier’s article concerning the minimization of female characters is Aya in Assassin’s Creed: Origins. I thought this example was especially interesting because currently I literally just finished Origins for the first time last week. It was reported that originally the main protagonist, Bayek, was supposed to be killed off early on and the game would focus on his wife, Aya, getting revenge for her murdered spouse. Instead he was kept alive, made the main protagonist, and she played an auxiliary role with a few playable sequences. The fact that those sequences exist tell me that this report is most likely true. She was originally meant to be the main protagonist. But my experience with the game, which I’m happy to admit is biased as a heterosexual, African American male, makes me believe that making Bayek the main character was the right choice.

Throughout the game I have constantly said that I wanted Aya to play a larger role in the story. But I never thought that in terms of gameplay. I wanted her more present in order to develop her relationship with Bayek. That was the thing I disliked most about her character: the fact that her marriage with Bayek was so distant and odd. The character is attractive and Bayek goes out of his way to show loyalty to his wife, even when she is not present, constantly. Multiple female characters come on to him throughout the story and he always makes sure to let them know that he’s happily married. Yet to me his marriage was anything but happy. His wife was constantly a country away doing her own thing. Every time he asks her to stay with him she says she has work to do and can’t. She’s portrayed as the stereotypical working husband in many ways. I didn’t like this at all. I like her but wanted her more present, as Bayek’s wife. Of course you can say that’s the sexist view and that she shouldn’t be held to the misogynistic fantasies of the male player, but that’s not a business minded response. That’s a political response. Again this is about making profitable games. They made a character I liked and wanted more present, but failed to make her more present. But they did not make me want her more present as the playable character. Of course I can’t speak for everyone who played the game. Maybe a majority of other players did want to play more as Aya and didn’t like Bayek. But Bayek is a really great protagonist so I highly doubt that. He really is the best assassin since Ezio in many respects. I’m speaking as someone who hasn’t played Odyssey yet, for the record. But the point is I genuinely believe that I wouldn’t have liked the game as much with Aya as the main protagonist. But to be fair, we can assume they would have written her and the plot in general at least slightly differently if she was the main protagonist. So obviously that has an effect on my opinion. Making this another situation where we can’t say for sure if gender actually matters or if Ubisoft is just making causality out of correlation. It’s a tough question. But what’s not a tough question is how much money did the game make?

Assassin's Creed® Origins2020-5-19-1-50-10Assassin’s Creed: Origins has sold more than 10 million copies. It was released in 2017. Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate (2015) only sold about 5.5 million copies by 2017. Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag (2013) sold 11 million units by 2014. Now I can’t prove or disprove anything, but what I can do is compare the three titles from a completely objective standpoint devoid of context. The game that sold the most of the three has a white male protagonist as the only identified playable character. The game that sold the second most has a male person of color as the main protagonist with some portions of the game played as two other female people of color. The game that sold the least has the play time nearly split down the middle between a white male protagonist and a white female protagonist.

Having played all three, I can say that they’re all good Assassin’s Creed games. Syndicate was certainly the worst of the three, but I still feel like it was better than multiple other games in the franchise. So what was the factor that made Syndicate sell so much less than either of the other two games? You can’t use race as a factor here. And as these are all post Assassin’s Creed III games, story is possibly a factor, but I’d argue none of the games post ACIII have a particularly relevant meta story. Taken one step farther, I’d argue that while Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag is the best of the three titles for gameplay, it’s the worst for story. Not character development or world building, but specifically the plot. Meaning that there’s not really an objective way to compare these other aspects of the games. The only things that are 100% measurable factors that can’t be debated are the genders and skin colors of the playable characters in each of these three games. While you could say gender isn’t the reason for the large difference in sales, it should be obvious how someone could reach that conclusion based on the sales data. And as we have seen with countless games, the social media response to female protagonists in the Assassin’s Creed franchise, among other franchises, tends to lean more negative as well. So when you couple that with sales data those conclusions make sense on paper. I believe this is the root cause of Serge Hascoët’s design choices in Ubisoft’s games.

ac syndicateAs a community and industry, we need to be able to make a distinction between sexism and profiteering. I would argue that both of those things are problematic, but only one is a foundational property of our economy. So I can’t blame a company for chasing profits. So the question shouldn’t be is Ubisoft guilty of making sexist design choices? The question should be are sexist design choices in pursuit of profits acceptable? Is there a line where profits should no longer drive decision making in video game production? Consider this scenario. You’re chief creative officer of a AAA game. You have a team of people, men and women, who want to do a female protagonist. They are excited, passionate, and unified in their vision. You also believe, or even know, that putting a female protagonist in the game will have a large effect on the future of game development by making it more accessible to women as well as leading to a noteworthy increase in the number of future AAA games featuring female protagonists. You would greenlight that project. I’d almost argue you have a responsibility to do it. Choosing not to do it for no reason other than you don’t want to would be blatant sexism.  But what if you also knew that it would drop sales by 3 million units? The company would still be fine. No one would lose their job. You’d still get to lead the next game. But you would be costing the company 3 million units in sales. Would you still use a female protagonist? Would you willingly choose to sacrifice 3 million units of sales for a political agenda? This decision can affect people’s bonuses’ and even the future of the franchise. Even if the only repercussion is reduced sales, if you know that for a fact then you probably won’t choose to go with a female protagonist. And depending on your contract, you might have an obligation not to in that situation.

Female EivorI’m not saying that Serge Hascoët made the right design choices. Because I can’t prove that sales would have been lower for any of those many games he managed had he have not minimized the roles of female characters in them. But I can absolutely say that based on the data I have available, which is obviously way less than the data available to him when making such decisions; he made the choices that appear to have been the most profitable. And that was his job. Again, that doesn’t excuse his sexual misconduct in the work place. But we shouldn’t conflate bad workplace behavior with being bad at one’s job. Those are two completely different things. It’s an objectively false claim to say that he made games that weren’t profitable. In a way, to have included both issues in the same article was a bit dishonest and inflammatory because it paints every game developer as sexist for putting profits first in their development decisions. I don’t think that’s fair. Furthermore, I believe that the only reason that you will get to choose to play as a female Eivor in Assassin’s Creed: Valhalla is because of the years spent building a strong franchise that can now take those types of risks. That may not be the nice way to look at things, but the sales data, in my opinion, shows that it’s the accurate way to look things.

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Hype Development: Hyper Scape is Step 2

Two years ago, I wrote a review for the closed beta of The Crew 2. One of the topics I touched on was the inclusion of followers as an in game mechanic. Ultimately followers took the place of experience points in that game, but the point I made back then was that Ubisoft was addressing, kind of ironically but also not, the modern construction of value within our society. In other words, your accomplishments are defined by the number of people watching rather than the accomplishments themselves. The issue I had with this idea then, and still do now, is that it means people aren’t doing what they want to do, or even what’s the best experience for themselves, but rather they’re doing things in order to increase viewership. This is not a new concept. It’s no different than politicians lying to get votes or actors pretending to support causes in order to increase viewership of their movies. But what is different is that this idea is now seeping its way into gaming. Not just game playing, but more importantly game development.

More and more we’re seeing games that are being developed with the viewer and presenter experience in mind rather than just the gamer. We’re seeing games built around the idea of players being watched while playing rather than just playing with the understanding that some people will watch some people play games. Street Fighter V is a good example of this. The competitive community complained that the game had been made easier to complete special moves/attacks. Capcom did this so that matches would look more exciting when being streamed or during live competitive events. Understand what this means. A fighting game that has always been known for being technical and difficult to master was made easier so that people not playing the game would get a more exciting show when watching people who hadn’t taken the time to master the game play it online. While I have no problem with the idea of games being made more accessible to players, I absolutely take issue with the idea of changing one of the foundational qualities of the franchise in order to improve the experience of people who aren’t even playing the game. That’s such a weird way to even think about games. If I buy a game, I want the game to be fun for me and other people like me that are actually playing the game. I couldn’t care less about the experience of people who haven’t paid for the game and aren’t playing it. This was my fear when Ubisoft put followers in The Crew 2. Now they’re pushing this idea even further with Hyper Scape.

Street Fighter VI don’t like battle royale games, and I don’t think that surprises anyone who follows me. But this discussion is about more than just Hyper Scape or the battle royale genre. Hyper Scape is a newly announced competitive battle royale game. It was formally announced during Ubisoft Forward but was already in closed beta before that. Since Ubisoft Forward, it is now in open beta and will still be at the time this post was published. I’ve played multiple rounds and for all intents and purposes it’s a pretty standard FPS battle royale game when it comes down to basic gameplay. You fly into a closed map and try to kill other players/squads while the map slowly shrinks. There are a number of different types of guns and special powers. It also has some semblance of a story, which is a breath of fresh air for the genre. But the real difference with Hyper Scape compared to other battle royale games, and PVP games in general, is that it introduces viewer generated match conditions.

During play, once the game is officially launched, Twitch viewers will be able to vote during matches on occurrences that affect the tide of play.  From what has already been shown, this is currently limited to temporary match phases such as specific powers, item boosts, or other such low level effects. But those effects will affect match outcomes. Meaning that regardless of your skill level, planning, or current situation, the audience watching your match will have the ability to affect your gameplay situation and possible outcomes in real time. I don’t like that.

Hyper scape votingI don’t like the idea that I can lose a match because of input from outside viewers. I don’t like the idea of my competitive gameplay experience being shaped by the public in real time. This is certainly an interesting concept, and it’s much different from anything we’ve seen before (in real life) but I see it as cause for alarm. We know for a fact that Twitch viewers are petty, organized, and biased. We know they’re dedicated to affecting outcomes based on their own desires and narrow minded opinions rather than any sort of objectivity, fairness, or morality. The idea of letting them, or really any group of anonymous viewers, shape my gameplay experience should be seen as cause for alarm. Even while also commending Ubisoft for what truly is a technological achievement of game development.

Consider this scenario. It’s the final match of a Hyper Scape esports event with a huge cash prize on the line. One player is a man and the other a woman. For the purposes of argument let’s say they’re evenly matched when it comes to base skills. But they have strengths and weaknesses with specific weapons and conditions. The Twitch community, being the Twitch community, is made up of a combination of mostly simps and misogynists. In the competitive scene, it’s mostly misogynists while in the casual scene it’s probably about 50/50 between the two groups. So since this is an esports event we can assume the viewership is mostly misogynists. As such the majority of viewers in this scenario want to see the woman lose. Not because the man is the better player but simply because they don’t want to see a woman win. The vote comes up and there’s a choice between a match condition that favors the man’s skills and one that favors the woman’s skills. The vote would of course favor the conditions that would give the man the advantage. He wins and the crowd is happy that they were able to sabotage the female player. And all of this is completely acceptable within the rules of the game. There was no hacking or foul play. It was simply people exercising their ability to affect the game’s outcome based on their own biases. And it doesn’t really matter if the roles were reverse. Say the crowd was mostly simps and they wanted the woman to win. Same exact thing happens to the man. He doesn’t lose because he should have. He loses because the crowd chose to work against him. For me, this is a nightmare scenario for competitive gaming.

simp vs chadThis problem doesn’t just stop at PVP though. This viewer centered development style can easily worm its way into single player games as well. The same level of promotional value comes from streaming single player games if a streamer has the viewership. So why not make it so people can affect the gameplay experience of single player games too? Imagine a game like God of War being affected by viewer opinions. A streamer is playing and their stream gets raided by a bunch of haters. Then a scenario comes up where they get to vote on what powers/abilities/weapons Kratos can use. And they want to see the streamer fail, since they’re haters after all. So they vote to give the streamer the worst possible conditions for their play style to intentionally ruin their stream with stagnant progress. These are the types of issues I see in a scenario where viewers can shape the gameplay experience directly.

From what I’ve seen of Hyper Scape, it’s not that extreme yet. But it’s the second step in a process that Ubisoft seems to almost be leading unintentionally. The Crew 2 was step one. They referenced the idea and made it a fake gameplay mechanic. Hyper Scape is step two. Viewers will now be able to create small effects to the outcomes of matches in a possibly but not guaranteed successful battle royale esports title. How far will the next step go? And it’s not just going to be Ubisoft. They’re pioneering the concept, but they aren’t the only players in the game. What happens when EA implements this sort of concept? What happens when Nintendo starts letting people affect what happens to Mario while you’re trying to do a no death run? These are the sorts of future problems we need to start thinking about before it’s too late.

Destiny The Taken KingMany people might be thinking, why don’t you just play the game offline? But that’s not necessarily an option anymore. Hyper Scape is a battle royale game. That means there is no offline. Even if you aren’t streaming it, there’s almost certainly going to be someone among the 99 participants who is. You won’t be able to escape the public viewers. Think about games like Destiny that are always online even when you do play single player. What’s to stop viewers from affecting your solo gameplay experience when the world is a shared one with at least one person most likely streaming at any given time? These aren’t even extreme examples. They’re very probably outcomes.

Even without the idea of viewer direct influence on gameplay, games are still being developed with viewers in mind rather than players. In my book, that’s a bad thing. I’m not paying $60, excuse me now $70, for a game to be built around the enjoyment of people who didn’t buy the game while I try to slog through a lackluster experience that wasn’t built for optimum user enjoyment. At some point a line needs to be drawn, but that line will never be drawn within the current industry. Profit is all that matters and I’ll be the first to admit that viewer centered development is profitable. If I had a stake in a large publisher/developer I’d be pushing for games like Hyper Scape too. Because that’s where the money is. But who is working to protect the interests of the actual people buying and playing the games?

Guns AkimboMore and more it seems like we’re moving towards a system where gamers are content laborers working for free with the miniscule opportunity to make a profit while developers/publishers are making money on multiple fronts. They profit on selling the game, profit on ad revenue from people streaming the game, and then profit on merchandise referencing the game all while getting free advertising from streamers. And this model works for them because streaming has become so prolific. But now development is moving past the gamers altogether and being done for stream viewers. In the long run I see this hurting the experience of playing games. And if games raise in price while dropping in quality, then the number of people streaming them will ultimately decline as well. Especially when most people really won’t ever make a career out of it. The whole system seems to be slowly cannibalizing and people don’t even recognize it because it’s profitable in the short run.

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Physical Versions, Next-Gen Upgrades, & Stupid Consumers

Every so often a topic comes up that’s so incredibly obvious with the opposition being so criminally stupid that I just have to state the facts and the bare minimum of obvious logic to make a point that I would have hoped didn’t need to be made to begin with. This is one of those posts. I actually didn’t even need to write this post. I just wanted to have my prediction, to come later, published for the record.

Because of Microsoft’s, for once consumer friendly and absolutely correct, decision to essentially mandate that all new XBOX ONE releases that will have immediate XBOX Series X releases as well provide free upgrades to users that bought the XBOX ONE version, SONY has gotten on board and sort of mandated the same thing for PS4 titles that will soon after release on PS5. Some might argue that SONY’s decision had nothing to do with Microsoft’s announcement, and that may or may not be true, but it’s actually totally irrelevant to this discussion so grow up and let’s move on. One of the more relevant examples of this is/will be Watch Dogs Legion, which funny enough, I’m really looking forward to playing . . . on PC.

Watch_Dogs_LegionFor both XBOX and PlayStation users, Ubisoft will provide free next gen upgrades of Watch Dogs Legion. If you buy the game on XBOX ONE, you will get a free version of the game to play on XBOX Series X. If you buy the game on PS4, you will get a free version of the game to play on PS5. And all will be right with the world. But of course not the gaming community. It’s important to note that the free next gen upgraded version of Watch Dogs Legion, and all other games that will provide such an upgrade free of charge, will be digital versions of the game. That is to say that Ubisoft, Microsoft, and SONY, being businesses with an interest in profit, will not ship you a next gen physical copy Watch Dogs Legion just because you bought a current gen physical copy of the game. They will instead give your online network account, XBL for XBOX users and PSN for PlayStation users, access to download and play a digital version of the game on your next gen console. I assume there will be some way for other accounts on the console to also play the next gen version of the game, similar to how digital games work on consoles now, but I can neither confirm nor deny this claim at this time. What I can say is that if you buy a copy of Watch Dogs Legion on a current gen console, then you will be able to play a digital version of the game on a next gen console when logged into your current gen account that purchased/registered the game. I use the term registered here for those that purchased physical editions of the game.

I first want to recognize that this is an entirely new concept. Back in the day, we were never given free upgrades to cross gen titles. You either accepted playing it on current gen hardware, waited and bought it on next gen hardware, or bought two copies of the game. Those were your options. And you never had the ability to transfer saves. There were no free upgrades. I played The Force Unleashed (2008) on PS2 and only on PS2. I played Dragon Age: Inquisition (2014) on PS3 and only on PS3. It was actually one of the first games I can remember that later added a cross save transfer feature because they decided to keep making DLC for the game but only for the PS4 version. I wasn’t gonna wait to play those games, they didn’t give free upgrades, and I sure as shit wasn’t gonna buy the same game twice. Not like I had time to replay either of them anyway. The fact that we’ve now gotten to a point where publishers are just giving us next gen versions of games for free is amazing. *Glances at Nintendo angrily.*

Cyberpunk UpgradeHere’s the deal. You’re getting a free upgrade from current gen to next gen with the understanding that you’ve purchased a game that you couldn’t wait to play and will hopefully continue playing that game on next gen because in the future there will be additional, most likely paid, content that the developers/publishers want you to also play without expecting you to go back to last gen hardware after you’ve already made the transition to next gen consoles. Watch Dogs Legion is a great example of this because we all know additional content way down the road is Ubisoft’s bread and butter. There will be a Watch Dogs Legion gold edition, there will be paid DLC way after launch, and you probably will have had ample time to upgrade consoles long before Ubisoft stops producing content for the game. That’s just the way things work now. Especially for Ubisoft titles. They are not giving you a free upgrade just to own. And they are certainly not giving you a free upgrade so you can sell your last gen copy of the game. These are businesses after all. The fact that upgrades will be free is already more charitable than I would have ever expected from this industry. Expect paid DLC with meaningful content that should have been in the base game for pretty much every game that offers a free upgrade. Because publishers and developers will want to recoup those lost next gen version sales dollars somewhere.

I’m actually curious to see if there’s a time limit on these upgrades because an easy “scam” would be to wait for PS4 games to drop down to peanuts, buy them, and then get the free upgrade to play on PS5. The PS4 version of Watch Dogs Legion will probably drop to $20 within like six months after the release of the PS5. Meanwhile the PS5 version will probably retain its price for a while during the console’s transition period. So you could potentially get a new AAA for under $30 on PS5 within a year of the console even releasing. Don’t be surprised if they put a time limit on these free upgrades. The amount of money lost in this concept is more than I expect any large publisher to accept. And I consider Ubisoft one of the better ones. Wait till EA starts releasing games with free next gen upgrades.  In fact, they’ve already announced a time limit to get a free upgrade for Madden 22.

watch dogs legion physicalThe point is that you’re not being given two versions of the game for the price of one. You’re being given one game for the price of one that can be played on two machines. That’s the context these free upgrades are being given in. So it would make sense that certain protections would be put in place to protect publishers/developers from losing additional sales of their games due to people trying to game the system. One way one might game the system is to buy a physical PS4 copy of a game, at a discount as I expressed above, claim the digital PS5 version via free upgrade, and then go sell the physical PS4 version of the game. You can’t do this with digital versions of games because we still have no way to sell or trade digital games (legally). But physical versions are absolutely at risk for such practices. So companies need to protect themselves from this in some way.

The way it will work on PS5, and I believe on XBOX Series X based on what I’ve read, is that if you buy a physical version of a PS4 game then you will need to put that disc in the PS5 for the free upgrade to work. As in to play the game on PS5, you need the disc in the PS5 tray at all times. As in the way every physical game has worked for the entire history of physical games. Again, you are not getting two games for the price of one. You’re getting one game that can be used on two different machines. This makes sense, is convenient, and shouldn’t have been a problem for anyone. But this is the gaming community we’re talking about.

Watch Dogs Upgrade NoteThe PS5, and presumably the XBOX Series X, will have a digital only version of the console. Same console with no disc drive for a presumably lower price. How much lower still remains to be seen. The controversy, or nontroversy as I like to call such occurrences as this, came when Tim Warren, Senior Editor at The Verge (of course), tweeted that the PS5 free upgrade of Watch Dogs Legion would require the PS4 disc to be in the tray while playing. People got angry because they asked “What if you buy the digital only version of the PS5?” This presents an interesting thought experiment. The interesting part being trying to figure out what kind of mouth breather is stupid enough to buy the physical version of a game on PS4 knowing they are going to buy the digital edition of the PS5 and want to use the free upgrade? No one does this. No one has all this information in advance and still buys the physical version of Watch Dogs Legion and then the digital edition PS5. The only way this issue actually comes up for someone is they acquired the physical version of the game without purchasing it. They either won it, stole it, found a copy of it lying on the street, or received it as a gift. While all valid scenarios that have yet to be addressed, this is a very small percentage of users. There isn’t some large number of people who are going to end up with physical versions of PS4 games they want to play on PS5 that end up getting the digital edition of the new console. But people will act like there are.

While this is a non-issue, there are a number of people who will and have already complained about this. People are demanding that SONY create a scenario where people who do have the physical version of Watch Dogs Legion, and other free upgrade PS4 games, can still take advantage of the free upgrades on the digital edition of the PS5. And now they will.

PS5 VersionWhile there is pretty much no need to address this from a practical standpoint, the internet is not practical. People will bemoan SONY for not allowing people to make the switch from physical to full digital cross gen. And let’s be clear about why SONY is the one taking the brunt of this criticism. Microsoft hasn’t announced their digital only version of the XBOX Series X yet. Once they do, the same criticisms will be lodged at them if they haven’t already prepared a statement on this issue. They probably will, having seen people complain about the PS5 on this issue. But the point is SONY is being targeted simply because they showed their cards first.

Here’s how I foresee SONY will ultimately deal with this. It won’t be for at least a good six months to a year after launch, but the flood gates are now open so a solution is inevitable. My prediction is that SONY releases a disc drive accessory that connects to the console via USB . It’s a dumb solution but an actionable one. The technology is already fairly common. And of course the accessory will be expensive. In this case, I’m OK with that. People should have to pay extra for being inexplicably stupid. SONY will reap the benefits of that stupidity as they always have. Microsoft will then follow suit in the same way because XBOX Series X digital edition users will whine that they want a disc drive accessory too. The funniest part will be that all of them will pat themselves on the back and act like having the removable accessory is more convenient than just having the disc drive preinstalled in the console. What a sad time we live in.

PS5 Disc DriveIt’s interesting that we live in a time where something so obviously stupid and simple to deal with can become a huge issue that gets addressed directly by billion dollar corporations. At some point I feel like companies should just put their foot down and say enough is enough. But that will never happen after all the flak Microsoft got when they tried to pull that always online XBOX ONE crap. The difference there was that Microsoft was clearly in the wrong. The fact that people have leveraged moments like that to continually make bad arguments sound legitimate is sad but unsurprising. These are the same people that try to justify not wearing masks during a global pandemic. The point is that digital games are digital games and physical games are physical games. The fact that anyone thought that they would be able to buy a physical game and just get a free no strings attached digital version of the game on next gen consoles is laughable. Are people really that stupid? Yes, they really are apparently. And stupidity is profitable. I can’t wait to see what other pointless accessories are needed to quell the opinions of people who shouldn’t be voicing them out loud to begin with.

physical-vs-digital-coverA better question, that one also shouldn’t expect to work in their favor, is what happens if you buy Watch Dogs Legion on XBOX ONE but ultimately buy a PS5 instead of an XBOX Series X? This question is only relevant for third party titles. Obviously a platform exclusive like Ghost of Tsushima isn’t going to be part of a discussion about XBOX Series X. But a Ubisoft game will be on all four titles in question and is published by a neutral third party. So technically there really isn’t any reason why a person shouldn’t be able to get the free upgrade after changing sides. Even more so with Ubisoft specifically because of the Ubisoft Club system. Ubisoft actually has a way to verify who has their games on which platforms independent of SONY or Microsoft. Now with physical games, there’s not really a valid solution that protects the publisher. You can’t just put an XBOX ONE disc in a PS5 and expect it to work. Even though technically it probably could. But if you had a digital version of the game on XBOX ONE there’s not really any reason Ubisoft shouldn’t give you a PS5 version of the game if that’s what you want. Obviously you’d be foregoing the ability to claim an XBOX Series X version of the game in this scenario. I’m not implying this will happen. I’m merely saying that this is a topic of discussion that’s way more valid than expecting Ubisoft to just give you a free no strings attached replacement for a physical game in digital form on another platform. The XBOX ONE copy isn’t transferable or sellable in any way so unless they sell the entire console without deleting their XBL and Ubisoft Club account information from it, there’s no risk of a person selling their original copy of the game.

Obviously Microsoft and SONY would not be happy with the idea of Ubisoft or EA allowing players to switch sides like that and there would probably be some repercussions for implementing such a program. But it’s a much more valid demand from consumers than this digital edition PS5 nonsense.

How much do you think SONY will charge for PS5 their disc drive accessory?

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Optional Trophies

I am not a big fan of achievements/trophies in games. I appreciate that many people do like them. I understand that developers use them to “enhance” the gameplay experience by adding non-plot based challenges to games in order to lengthen the time in the tray. I also get that gaming has become a social spectacle and that many people use trophies/achievements as a way to garner clout within the gaming community. I have done this in a few instances as well, so please don’t consider it a statement of judgement but rather a statement of fact about current trends within the community. But in general, I preferred the time before achievements in games with the only real indicator of accomplishment being the completion percentage. This is why I continue to enjoy Nintendo’s games and platform in ways that I no longer can on PS4 and PC, in many but not all instances.

At one time I was something of an achievement hunter, when I was still playing games on XBOX 360. I mostly cast off this gaming lifestyle when I changed over to PS3 because the total sum of my accomplishments became fractured between platforms, ultimately rendering me perpetually behind my peers on PlayStation. This became even more true when I finally built my gaming PC, because now I had achievements on three different platforms, making it so none of them were particularly high by comparison to gamers committed to a single platform. Even on PC it became difficult to accurately collate achievements because I acquire games from a number of different platforms with either separate or even nonexistent achievement systems such as Steam, UPLAY, GOG, Epic Games Launcher, and Origin.

Game Launchers 2While my change in platforms led me to mostly ignoring achievements/trophies and the idea of obtaining full completions in games, I still have a few minor achievement expectations I hold myself to. I take the time to get at least one platinum trophy every year. This year it was Life is Strange Season 1. I may acquire others as the year progresses, but those will all be due to love of the game rather than a quest for the sake of achievement. 2018 was a great example of this. I platinumed TellTale Games Guardians of the Galaxy to get my annual platinum trophy for that year. But I went on to also platinumed Marvel’s Spider-Man, God of War, and Detroit: Become Human simply because I wanted to keep playing those games to full completion. I also try to get 100% completion in certain games such as story focused games within the Mario franchise and most open worlds I play by Ubisoft. For instance, I obtained all the moons when I played Super Mario Odyssey in 2018. Even though I’m playing on UPLAY and don’t really care about my score on there, I’ve gotten 100% completion in Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Watch Dogs 2, and will soon acquire it for Assassin’s Creed: Origins all in the last year. To some this may sound like a lot of achievement hunting but in reality I hunt any sort of achievement other than complete the campaign in less than 25% of all the games I play, with some years varying by a large amount depending on what I play that year.

This next part is going to irritate a number of people. There are certain types of achievements I simply don’t like for different reasons. I’d say that was true for most people, with the reasons and types varying. For example, I absolutely hate all online PVP challenges in games that are not exclusively online PVP games. I like fighting games. I don’t love them, but I like them. I buy quite a few of them such as Dead or Alive, Injustice, and Mortal Kombat. I enjoy their campaigns. I enjoy their challenge modes. I have zero interest in playing online PVP outside of with friends. I especially don’t have the time to accumulate 100 or more online PVP wins. Also, even though I am a PlayStation Plus subscriber, I don’t like the idea of trophies that require you to pay extra to acquire them. Not everyone who buys fighting games is an online PVP subscriber, regardless of the platform they play on. And that brings up the question of fairness and validity in achievements/trophies.

PVP TrophyIs it fair for a game to require users to pay extra in order to obtain the platinum trophy? Lots of games have paid DLC, but I know of none that require you to buy the paid DLC in order to acquire the platinum trophy. Every game I’ve ever seen with both a platinum trophy and DLC allows you to acquire the platinum trophy without acquiring any of the DLC trophies. This is my Skyrim PS3 trophy as an example. I bought and completed the game before any DLC was released. So I have 100% completion for the Skyrim vanilla game while having 0% completion for any of the DLC. This is the fair way to do this. Because the expectation of people having to pay more to fully complete a game than people who bought the game at release is ridiculous. Also, the amount of effort required for later adopters to 100% a game shouldn’t be more than those who bought the game day one. Yet both of these issues are exactly what happens with fighting games. You have to pay an additional subscription fee, on console, to get the online PVP trophies and over time the achievement of those trophies gets harder because either the skill level of players grows well beyond late or casual players or on the far end the community has died off, making it nearly impossible to find enough people to play against in order to complete the achievements.

In my opinion, I don’t think it’s fair to have required online PVP trophies in a game that’s built mostly around an offline experience. And yes I do consider most fighters, such as Mortal Kombat and Injustice, as mostly built around offline experiences even if they do have an online PVP mode available. I buy both of those franchises for the story based campaign and single player challenges. Note I don’t have a problem with people who buy fighters to play online. That’s a valid reason and way to play those games. But it’s not everyone’s reason they play and because of the nature of online gaming on console today, it incurs an additional cost.

UPLAY ChallengesIn my ideal situation, none of those online PVP trophies would exist. But I know many people do like those trophies so while there are monetary reasons, as explained above, why I think it would be valid to get rid of them, I think a more effective outcome would be to make them optional. UPLAY’s PC achievement/challenge system is interesting in the fact that it has tiered achievements. In the case of UPLAY, they have challenges that net UBI coins and achievements that don’t.  They don’t differentiate them based on DLC versus vanilla game, but they do have a layered set of achievements. I think a similar system could be applied to trophies on PS4/PS5.

Similar to the DLC trophies, I think certain trophies should be present but not required to achieve the platinum trophy. Online PVP requirements in fighting games being a prime example. The trophies would be present in the list but not be required to obtain the platinum trophy. Frankly I’m a bit surprised we don’t already have such a system in place for PlayStation trophies. Not specifically with the fighting game example I’ve suggested but the idea of optional trophies in general. Most people can agree that there are certain trophies in games that are just bullshit. The replay a game on an easier difficulty trophies being a perfect example. If there were optional trophies, the platinum system could be way more balanced from game to game. Because you could now apply a trophy standard to all platinum trophies while still allowing developers to create whatever trophies they wanted. So if a developer really wants to have some bullshit trophies included that could still happen without it being required to obtain the platinum trophy. I think that’s a very fair trade-off for people who can’t be asked to waste their time doing clearly unnecessary achievements.

who's lineThe concept of non-required trophies and regulated platinum trophy standards got me thinking a step further though. What if they created a trophy points system where a platinum required a certain static number of points to achieve? Currently trophies already have a point value tied to them for your overall trophy score. Bronze trophies being worth less points than silver trophies and so on. So what if instead of games having an arbitrary number of trophies and the demand to obtain them all to get a platinum, there was a specific score requirement applied to all games in order to get a platinum trophy? Say bronze trophies are worth five points, silver ten, and gold fifteen as an easy to understand scoring system. Rather than making a person obtain all trophies in a game to get a platinum they would just need to reach a total trophy score for the game. Maybe 300 points just as an example.

Let’s say the game had 500 points worth of trophies for the purposes of argument. With this points system, the player gets to tailor their platinum based on what achievements they actually want to pursue instead of having to do all of them, including ones they have no interest in or find annoying. It also makes it so that every single platinum is equal in terms of value, and by extension effort. Of course it won’t be a perfect comparison from game to game because different types of gameplay are more and less challenging, time consuming, and in some cases not achievable for some players. But the point is that all platinum trophies would be held to some semblance of a regular standard. It’s kind of ridiculous that I can play Life is Strange, obtain only 10 trophies, and get a platinum meanwhile if I play Dark Souls III I have to obtain 42 trophies in a much harder gameplay experience to get what is essentially the same amount of value to my trophy score. What if instead I could just pick and choose the 10 trophies (9 bronze + 1 gold) I wanted to get in Dark Souls III and got a platinum just like I did in Life is Strange? Now of course there would need to be some adjustments made to the system and some games wouldn’t have platinum trophies at all, which is already the case with many games. But I think the idea of a more balanced platinum trophy system is ultimately a good thing.

Assassin's Creed® Origins2020-7-8-2-7-17The ability to pick and choose the achievements that matter to you makes for a better and more efficient gameplay experience for all parties without compelling players to waste their time in pursuit of a trophy they don’t want to deal with in order to get the trophy they actually care about. Not to mention it would allow people to skip trophies they have some sort of personal objection to. For instance, a lot of games where you can make choices task you with replaying them and making different choices in order to get all the trophies. But in my opinion that ruins the experience of a game with choices in it. Your choices matter and made the game personal to you. But if you have to go back and machine through the game with different choices that cheapens all the choices you made the first time around. Maybe I don’t want to see what happens in an alternative scenario where I didn’t romance a specific character or opted to sacrifice Ashley instead of Kaidan. That should be my choice. But when a trophy for both paths exists, that choice is taken away because I’ll have to play through both paths. There are also trophies a player just might not be comfortable with that they could now skip without losing out on the platinum trophy. Like in Assassin’s Creed: Origins there are trophies/achievements for killing elephants. I completed these because I wanted the 100% completion but I wasn’t happy about it. I happen to like elephants and didn’t like being tasked with killing them, even in a video game. Especially not after having just read about more than 350 elephants dying in Botswana in the same week I was doing those challenges. But in a scenario where I could pick and choose my trophies without sacrificing the platinum, I wouldn’t have to kill those elephants unless I wanted to.

This is a much different way of thinking about trophies and many people would definitely be against it. Many people think of trophies as a reason to brag. Many people hunt trophies for the prestige of having a higher trophy score. That wouldn’t necessarily have to change in this scenario because you could still achieve all the trophies if you wanted to. The idea here is more about acknowledging that not all trophies, and certainly not all platinum trophies, are created equal and that can and in my opinion should change. Regulating platinum trophies to be more equitable across all/most games would give them more meaning as a general concept even if at the expense of their prestige in certain games. At the end of the day there will always be bullshit trophies, but whether or not we actually need to acquire them is a topic of discussion that hasn’t been properly addressed up to this point.

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How Do You Score/Review a Remaster?

Last month, SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated launched to mixed reviews. This is another release within the current trend of remastering older games rather than building new ones and releasing them at modern prices. This particular title launched at $30, which is technically considered a good deal for a remaster at this point. I was not able to find the launch price of the original PS2 game for comparison though. What I want to focus on in this post is the reviews/reception of the remake.

Interestingly, the formal media reviews for this remaster are rather low. GameSpot gave it a 2/10. IGN gave it a 5/10. The Metacritic score is at 67 at the time of writing this. And yet the user response has been exceedingly positive with a Metacritic score of 91. Of more than 3,000 user reviews on Steam, the game is showing overwhelmingly positive results. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a large disagreement between the media and the public. The Last of Us Part II has had similar results recently as well. But the reasons for those gaps differ considerably between the two games. In the case of SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated, it seems to be an issue of expectations.

I do not have a lot of experience playing remasters as remasters. What I mean by this is that rarely do I play a remaster of a game I beat previously. Almost all the remasters I play are of games that I didn’t get to play the original version of. This is intentional because in general I don’t replay games often and I’m less likely to purchase a story based game that I’ve already experienced in some form. For me, remasters are only valuable when it’s of games I haven’t played before. So while I’ll never buy a remaster of Final Fantasy X, even though it’s still my favorite FF game, I’d absolutely consider buying a remaster of Final Fantasy IX, since I never played that one. The last remaster I bought for a game I had already beaten was Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and if I’m honest that was mostly to play that added level that was said to be impossible. Sadly it is . . . But I digress. I tend to be an outlier when it comes to remasters though. It’s my understanding that the bulk of people who buy them actually are people who played the original games. In my opinion, these considerably different schools of thinking around the value/use of remasters pose a conflict about how they should be reviewed.

My belief is that the purpose of a review is to inform the reader/viewer in order to help them make a buying decision. A review helping someone decide not to buy a game is just as valid and successful as a review helping someone decide to buy one. I have said this in many past posts. But in the case of remasters we are looking at two vastly different audiences. As I said, when I play a remaster it’s usually my first time experiencing the game. Thus I judge it as a new game compared to the games released around the same time that it was. I’m not going to compare a game released in 2020 to games released in 2003. That’s an unfair advantage that won’t properly inform people about whether or not a game is worth buying in 2020. But if you’re playing it as a remastered experience of a game you’ve already played, then your judgement of the game will almost certainly be much different from mine.

Spongebob MetacriticA person playing a remaster as a repeated experience with improvements is of course going to compare it to its original. Possibly only its original and not any other games. Certainly not any contemporary ones other than other remakes of games from the same time as the original. This sets a much lower bar for the game though. It’s way easier to outperform a game made almost two decades earlier that’s otherwise exactly the same. That basically just means make the graphics and audio better while doing almost nothing to the gameplay except fixing bugs. And from what I’ve read that’s exactly what SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated is. A carbon copy of the original PS2 game with considerably better graphics. In fact, that’s how the official trailer markets the game. And let me be clear in saying that that’s really all I want from any remaster. Make the exact same game with modern graphics. I was actually almost motivated to buy SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated for this very reason, since I never played the original game. But I’m also very aware that if I was to review the game, it would probably get a low score from me based on modern game design conventions. Assuming that the gameplay has aged badly. If the gameplay and writing was great to begin with then there’s a solid chance it would get a really high score from me based on my strict style of review scoring by category. But what’s the right way to review a remaster?

The GameSpot review judges the game by modern standards, often citing the game’s lack of evolution from the original as its greatest flaw. One quote from the review expresses the writer’s position on the issue very well:

“Remasters, ports, and remakes are nice because they make games more accessible to new audiences, and the ones that excel understand that some features from the game’s era are antiquated and should be updated or removed.”

In many ways the writer seems to have judged the game the way I would have; treating it as a modern game and comparing it directly to other 3D platformer collectathons released in 2020. That’s super informative for people like me, who didn’t play the original. But such thinking ignores the perspective and desire of people who did play the original and want to relive that. It also doesn’t address the question of who the remake is intended for. I’d argue that Final Fantasy VII Remake isn’t for OG FFVII fans. They can play it and enjoy it, but I don’t think it was made for them. I think it was made for new audiences, which falls in line with the GameSpot reviewer’s opinion on remakes. But it sounds to me like SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated was created for OG fans. That means a completely different set of expectations for the target audience than the one implied by the writer. And yet I wouldn’t call the GameSpot review a misrepresentation of the game.

ff7 remake cover
Who is it for?

In many ways this presents the entire problem with remasters, ports, and remakes. There is no agreed upon purpose, standard, or target audience behind them. There’s really no basis or justification for how to make them. Every team just sort of does whatever they feel like doing. That may sound nice in the fact that it grants some level of freedom to each studio, but it also makes the task of reviewing these sorts of projects inconsistent, sometimes unintentionally misleading, and can lead to ultimately negative reviews and low scores, as seen with SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated. Really something so subjective and seemingly innocuous as review scores shouldn’t matter much but games, and the salaries of those who make them, are often affected by review and Metacritic scores. It shouldn’t be that way but it is. So there actually are real consequences to reviewers, and the gaming industry/community as a whole, not having agreed upon standards and expectations about remasters, how to review them, and who their target audiences even are.

 

Ultimately it was the GameSpot review that helped me to decide not to buy SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated. Not because of the score but the content of the review. But how many people didn’t even read the review after seeing a 2/10 score?

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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.