Sea of Thieving Devs

Last week I wrote a blog post about people incorrectly defending games and I lightly touched on gaming apologists, a group/practice I can’t stand. Now in that post I stated that we were almost assuredly going to see apologists defending Sea of Thieves. To hopefully no one’s surprise, considering both my track record with gaming predictions and the beta reviews, this is of course what is now happening. Sea of Thieves was released last week for the XBOX ONE and Windows PC. I was very interested in it, but reluctant based on what I saw and read of the betas. Now that the game and initial reviews are out, I can say with certainty that I will not be purchasing this game. If I’m honest, I knew this was going to be the case. When I first heard about it and watched the alpha footage I could quickly see that this was going to be another pointless, endless shared world experience devoid of any actual substance. Sadly, it’s not even as fulfilling as Destiny as far as content is concerned and that’s saying a lot, or more to the point, a little.

Sea of Thieves Metascore

I haven’t personally played the game, but I have read and watched quite a bit about it. From my understanding it’s a fairly decent sized world of sand and water with little actual content. There are only three types of let’s call them tasks because the word quest seems a bit too charitable for what they really are. These tasks, which can be done countless times, net you loot. You can also get loot by stealing it from other players while they try to complete these same three tasks. Basically this game is a glorified chat room where you can sail ships around some water, occasionally team up with other groups to fight a giant squid, and fight other people for pretty much useless treasure. All that is to say, this is a pointless game that charges you $60 to make a pirate themed avatar and joke around with your friends. A Reddit user by the name of calibrono summarized it best. His entire post is a bit long and I do encourage you to take the time to read it, but allow me to quote a passage from it.

“Sea of Thieves is an experiment. “How little content can we stuff in a $60 title and hey away with it” kind of experiment. The same kind of experiment EA did try with SWBF2, except not with microtransactions, but with content.”

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This is very sad. Once again a developer/publisher has decided that instead of making a proper game they can take advantage of the bored masses and offer them nothing in exchange for a AAA price tag. I’ve actually seen a number of people compare Sea of Thieves to No Man’s Sky, which seems very appropriate. One Twitter account I follow referred to it as “No Man’s Sea”, which is just brilliant.

Microsoft trying to take money out of our pockets for little actual work is nothing new. They’ve been nickel and diming us for Windows, an OS they didn’t originally create to begin with, for more than 30 years. But gamers falling for it, yet again, is the much bigger issue. This game has literally no content. It doesn’t even have a giant map to explore with endless islands of differing environments to discover and explore. There’s literally only one type of land based enemy, skeletons, and they can’t even hurt you if you’re standing on a rock. Yet people happily paid $60 for it and are defending it like it’s a legitimate game. I even read an article today, which you shouldn’t take the time to read, where someone tried to compare it to The Last of Us, which just sounds ridiculous and it is. If anything, this is worse than Star Wars Battlefront II because at least that was/is a playable game with a single player campaign and match based PVP with clear objectives. This is little more than a glorified server test for the pre-alpha stage of an actual pirate game. Why are people putting up with it and even going out of their way to argue it’s a good game? This is exactly why things only seem to be getting worse in the gaming industry. People need to stop actively helping publishers take advantage of them.

Pirates Black Kat

I’m angry because I actually really like the pirate theme. One of my favorite PS2 games was Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat (2002), which Ubisoft clearly was inspired by in the making of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which I loved. Nothing would make me happier than to see another great pirate game with solid gameplay and a well written plot. And RARE is/was a studio that I would have trusted to do that. They could have done that. They should have done that. But of course they didn’t do that. So here we are with yet another shitty cash grab game that will make a butt load of money in initial sales compared to what it cost to make, then they’ll add paid DLC and make more money, telling publishers that this is a viable model for game development, ultimately leading to the further detriment of the industry and lowering the general quality of future games. What do we learn? Apparently not a damn thing.

Now I’m sure more content will eventually be added to this game. I hope it’s added for free from an ethical standpoint, but at the same time I’m always in support of people learning their lesson the hard way. But adding content after the fact because people are unhappy doesn’t excuse the fact that in their ideal scenario Microsoft wanted people to happily pay them for nothing and get away with it. So in my book new content as a reaction to user complaints is a step in the right direction but too little too late.

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Work =/= Quality

I’ve been noticing more and more recently that there’s a group of people that believe that a game shouldn’t be judged by the quality, sales figures, critical scores, or really any other widely used metric normally applied to the judgement and comparison of games. Instead they believe the only thing that matters is the amount of people that worked on a project and by extension, the amount of work put in. I even got into an argument with one of these people on Twitter (of course).

This is an odd, nonsensical point of view that has no place in reality. Especially not the highly competitive, very crowded entertainment sector known as the gaming industry. Judging a game, or really anything, strictly by the amount of work put in makes no sense. No one does that in any other field. They can spend years and millions of dollars making a movie, but that doesn’t make it good (glances at Suicide Squad). It has to actually be good. What if you walked into a restaurant and ordered a steak. Then the waiter brought you a cold, under cooked piece of meat smothered in ketchup with rotten vegetables to go with it, but when he served you he said 10 people worked on this over the course of 5 hours. That wouldn’t suddenly make you appreciate the steak more, or at all. If anything that would make you even more unhappy with it because it means an entire team of people did a shitty job and no one said or did anything to fix it. Just because a lot of effort is put into something doesn’t reflect the quality of the finished product or, more importantly, the value of that finished product.

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We have a very rigorous and competitive system for critiquing games. We have Metacritic, professional reviews, amateur reviews, opening week sales figures, total sales figures, and game awards shows just to name some of them. There are so many techniques used today in order to figure out the quality and value of a game and arguably we still haven’t quite figured it out. But no one with half a brain actually cares how much effort is put into it in a vacuum.  People care about the final product. Many games take a long time to make, but that doesn’t mean they end up good. Remember Mass Effect: Andromeda? And let’s be completely honest, The Last Guardian was good, but it wasn’t 10 years of development across three gens good. And really the less time and staff it takes to make a game, the more impressive it is, both for the consumers and the publishers. So why would we ever use the amount of staff and work that went into a game as the means of judging its actual value? Paper value for investors sure. That makes sense. But actual consumer value? That would only hurt consumers in both the long and short run.

TricoI had a guy argue with me about Battleborn. Battleborn is an average at best game. It reviewed at a six to low seven. It did not sell well. It did not last long. It didn’t win any notable awards. The servers were quickly dead. And yes it did have to compete with Overwatch, even though the developers said it wasn’t trying to, but that excuses nothing. If it was good, people would have played it instead of Overwatch. By all counts it was a bad game. But some guy tried to argue with me that none of those things matter. All that matters is that a team of people worked on it and because they worked hard, supposedly since we have no way to actually prove that, it should be respected alongside any other game like Horizon Zero Dawn, Monster Hunter World, or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That’s some of the most ridiculous bullshit I’ve ever heard.

People don’t even get judged solely on their effort. You can work your ass off at just about any job. You’ll still be judged on the quality of your work product and output. No employer will allow you to do a terrible job and keep your job just because you always show up on time and work hard while you’re there. That’s not reality. And really I can’t even believe I had to take the time to write a blog post about such an obvious fact of life. And I wasn’t going to till I saw this same faulty line of reasoning show up in multiple places in references to multiple terrible games. And I’m sure I’ll be seeing it again soon in reference to Sea of Thieves as well.

 

sea of thievesImagine a world where all games are considered equal. A world where The Last of Us, Neverdead, Super Mario Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed Unity, and Mighty No. 9 are all treated equally within the market. It would be chaos for consumers. Games would cost way more than they already do. The quality of product would be severely lacking. Esports would be more of a joke than it already is because they’d be featuring terrible games. There is absolutely no sense in judging a game based on the work put in. Especially if it’s not a small indie game made by a kid in his basement. The amount of work and time in no way reflects the quality of the final product. And we as consumers shouldn’t allow developers and publishers to even try to value games that way, even though they already try to. Because if we do, every game will end up being No Man’s Sky . . . pre-patches.

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Star Fox 2: The Soft Review

In 1993, one of the greatest and most influential flying based rail shooters ever made was released. This was of course Star Fox for the SNES. I’ve always had a love hate relationship with the game. As a kid, I poured many hours into it, but never was able to beat it. In fact, I’m fairly confident I never passed the third level as a child. I struggled consistently with level two, the asteroid field. It was too fast paced and difficult for me to play it confidently as a boy. But I kept playing the game anyway. And I kept losing. But I never stopped liking the game. Some years later the N64 was released and in 1997 my favorite of the Star Fox games, still to this day, was released. Star Fox 64, like every other core Star Fox game, is just a fancier recreation of the original SNES game. It doesn’t matter which version of the core game you’re playing on whatever platform. You’re always playing the same general game. The graphics, controls, and available vehicles change and improve over time, but it’s always the same story, levels, and characters in the same basic order and the same awesome looking map. For a different Star Fox experience you have to go to one of the few alternative titles like Star Fox Adventures (2002) or Star Fox Assault (2005), both for the GameCube. Both excellent games, in my opinion, because they are so different from the core games. They are also made by different teams than the core games.

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While most people have probably played at least one core Star Fox game, very few have had the pleasure of playing Star Fox 2 (2017). This game has an odd and colorful story. It was originally developed for the SNES to be released in 1996 but was cancelled with the impending release of the N64. It wasn’t until 2017 with the release of the SNES Classic console, and much pleading/begging from fans, that the public was finally given access to this game. This is the main reason I bought that console. As a diehard Star Fox fan, I absolutely had to play this game. I was fortunate enough to find a store that had imported the American version of the console to Taiwan, because I can’t read Japanese . . . After first finally beating the original Star Fox on the SNES Classic, I immediately played Star Fox 2.

StarFox 2

I want to talk about this game, and honestly I meant to weeks ago, but haven’t had the time to do a proper write up before now. But I don’t want to do a formal review. Let me be perfectly clear. If you are given the opportunity, and don’t already run emulators, you should buy the SNES Classic. This is one of the best gaming purchases I’ve made in a long time. If you grew up in the SNES era, this is a must buy console whether you’re a Star Fox fan or not. This console has given me the ability to go back and play some of the best games from my childhood and I’m actually beating them finally. Of the 22 games provided on the console, I had actually only completed one of them (Donkey Kong Country) on the original SNES. To be fair, I only owned four of the games provided on the SNES Classic, but this console has just about all the must play titles. And I am so happy that I’m finally getting to beat them. So again, even if you don’t give two shits about Star Fox 2 you should still buy an SNES Classic if you have the chance. But I want to take the time to discuss Star Fox 2 specifically in greater detail.

I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from Star Fox 2 going in. It could have been just another rails shooter or a completely different genre altogether. I didn’t know what the story would be or who the villain was. Assuming it was directly connected to the original Star Fox, Andross was supposedly dead already. So really I had no idea what the game was going to be.

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Star Fox 2 is a completely different animal from Star Fox, but it, like all the core sequels assumes no prior games have taken place. You go up against Andross like in all the other core games, and have a very similar all range mode fight against his head. But that’s pretty much the only similarity other than recurring characters and the Lylat System setting. For starters, the game is not on rails. Every level is in all range mode. The levels are different. You do not follow a strict pre-mapped path and the levels on the new map aren’t the same as those from the original game. The map is open, meaning you can travel around it freely and complete levels in whatever order you want, with a few caveats. Also very notable, you don’t have to play as Fox McCloud. There are six playable characters, two of which are never before seen female characters. You choose two of the six at the beginning of the game and can complete the entire game with just those two. There are also three difficulty levels, one of which is locked at the start of the game. This game plays more like a real time strategy shooter than a mission based rail shooter. You are given the ultimate goal of reaching and defeating Andross but to do that you have to accomplish certain key tasks on the map as well as prevent enemy forces from destroying Corneria. The game keeps you active even in the map portion of the game. You have to take into account shield levels, enemy locations, incoming missile strikes, and there’s a timer. It’s like no other game I can remember playing in that era.

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Visually speaking, it’s on the same level as Star Fox. But because of the smaller all range mode levels, there’s a lot less detail in specific stages. Much of the game is played in first person view for your space flying missions and the planetary missions have you switch between Arwing and Walker modes in real time. It does have a much more advanced HUD though, including a mini-map. Plot wise there’s not as much going on as the first game, but that’s because the game is active the whole way through. You’re kind of writing the plot as you go. There is dialog though. The game controls fairly well for the SNES era. I would say it’s on par with Star Fox but also calls for finer movements in a number of indoor missions that require but don’t force you to use the Walker mode. All in all, I think it’s very different but actually a really solid game for the time.

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The true shame of Star Fox 2 is that it wasn’t released as planned in 1996. In my honest opinion, it was very revolutionary for the time. For instance, the Walker is a key part of the gameplay. In the core games the Walker was only just made available in the latest version, Star Fox Zero (2016), for the Wii U. I was shocked to discover that they had this vehicle playable all the way back in 1996. Looking back, I think of all the great games that never were because this game didn’t get released to inspire them. Playing it today, there’s really nothing new here, except for maybe two playable female characters in a Nintendo game that’s not Smash Bros or Mario Kart . . . You’ve seen all the stuff this game has to offer by 2017 if you’ve been gaming since the original Star Fox. But you really hadn’t seen it all in 1996. Even Star Fox 64 didn’t have everything Star Fox 2 has to offer. Certainly no vehicle morphing and multiple space based levels in all range mode. I feel like this game would have inspired a ton of games that we never got to play and it could have easily influenced the Star Fox franchise more than it already did. Imagine if there was an entire second branch of Star Fox games based on Star Fox 2 that released in each gen along with the core games. Or they could have eventually merged the two into one bigger, more versatile game. As a big Star Fox fan, I feel kind of like I was cheated out of some great games all because this game was never released in its heyday.

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Ultimately I’m glad that I got the opportunity to play Star Fox 2. I’m glad they released it and I’m glad I got to experience it. I hope they do make another game inspired directly by this one. In reality it’s not very long and can be completed in less than 40 minutes so technically they could just add a mode to the next core Star Fox game. If you get the opportunity, I definitely recommend you give it a shot.

If you’re curious about seeing the game in part or its entirety, I published the entire Normal Mode playthrough on my YouTube channel.

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Final Fantasy VII Finally

I finally played and beat Final Fantasy VII. That’s right. Before this year I had never played Final Fantasy VII before. I had played other Final Fantasy games and plenty of other titles from Square Enix, but I’d never actually played the renowned FFVII. I actually had the chance to play the original version on PS1 when I was a kid but I passed. I remember when a used version of the game was given to me and I immediately handed it off to my cousin. I was not going to play a three disc game. That task just seemed too daunting to me. To this day I’ve only ever completed one three disc game other than now FFVII. That was FFXIII. I started but never finished Blue Dragon and Star Ocean: The Last Hope. But the three discs were just too daunting. I spent years being ridiculed for having not played Final Fantasy VII. People constantly stating it’s the best one (until you play it and then have everyone tell you actually it’s FFIX, which I also haven’t played) and how it’s a must play. I got to a point where I legitimately regretted having not played it as a kid because I was tired of not being included in this fan club. But I decided I would wait because I wanted a remake.

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Remakes are the in thing and have been for the last several years. It’s easy money. Less than half the work of normal/original development and guaranteed sales from both the nostalgia crowd and the younger generation of gamers who weren’t around when a game was originally released, assuming the game already carries prestige. We’ve seen this happen recently with games like Shadows of the Colossus (for the second time). It’s a cash cow scenario. That’s what I was waiting for with FFVII. I got to a point where I really wanted to play it but I also really didn’t want to deal with those old graphics and text based dialog. It’s actually the most demanded remake in gaming history and has been for many years so I was sure a remake would happen, and it is. They finally announced a full HD remake of FFVII back in 2015. It’s still not out but the rumor mill currently predicts a 2019 release. So I was happy . . . for a time.

I was glad that a true FFVII HD remake had been announced. Not just a port of the original game to the PS4 with a bit of upscaling, but an actual legit remake. This made me happy because after so many years of waiting and ridicule I was finally going to play the game in glorious HD with voice acting. Then, in true Square Enix fashion, they started talking about the game and dashed all my hopes.

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What I wanted was a purist HD remake of FFVII. That means the same exact game with the same exact story and gameplay down to the letter. All I wanted was for them to recreate the exact same game in glorious HD. That’s literally all they had to do. But since when do developers do what we actually want them to do in 2018? Square Enix started giving details about this FFVII remake and it all sounded terrible. They said the gameplay was being radically changed, the game was being broken up into multiple episodes (presumably at premium pricing), and the POV and storytelling was going to change between episodes. This is not FFVII, and I can say that confidently having now actually played the game. This is some other game with an FFVII coat of paint. That’s not what I wanted at all. I wanted the authentic FFVII gameplay experience so I could finally say that I played the game and truly understood what everyone else was going on about. So after hearing all this depressing news I ended up just buying the upscaled PS4 port, because then I would at least get the authentic experience. Then I actually played the game . . .

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Having now beaten the game, I have to say that I understand, at least in part, where Squre Enix is coming from with the FFVII HD remake changes. Let me be very clear in stating two main things. First, FFVII is one of the best written Final Fantasy games I’ve ever played. It may even be the best one. Certainly the most mature. Second, FFVII has outdated, irritating gameplay that doesn’t even compare to FFX, which is also a turn based RPG. I had so many complaints while playing FFVII. For starters, the game has no direction. There’s a huge open world and not nearly enough clues about where you’re actually supposed to go. I got lost so many times that I eventually had to turn to online walkthroughs just to progress forward in the game. I don’t have time to walk an entire map hoping to find some totally inconspicuous house with a specific character who offhandedly sort of mentions where you need to go. It’s 2018. I’m 28 years old and have a backlog that can literally reach up to my knees when stacked. I’m more than six feet tall by the way. I don’t have time for a super inefficient materia system that requires hours upon hours of mindless grinding just to have a sporting chance against a boss that holds the item you need that would actually make said boss more manageable. I don’t have time for annoying mechanics like having to play carnival games in order to win points so you can use a save point. It’s 2018. I honestly don’t think a game that plays like FFVII could make it in today’s market without the prestige of FFVII. So having now played it, I’m glad Square Enix has decided to modernize the gameplay. I still hope for some level of original authenticity but the whole process definitely needs to be sped up for a modern audience.

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Writing wise, FFVII is an excellent game. But let’s not pretend the whole thing isn’t full of holes and cliffhangers. I had so many questions during and at the end of that game. A lot of stuff just happens and never really gets an explanation. I don’t like the idea of paying for multiple episodes but I can now absolutely get behind the idea of a more thorough and detailed narrative that actually fills in the holes. Being able to play as multiple characters in a leading role will hopefully give some clarity to a number of events that took place in the original game that are never really explained.

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For once I’m on the side of change in remakes, but I had to play the original game to discover that. I don’t know how these changes will affect a modern audience because without the context of knowing what they’re not suffering through with the original game they won’t truly be able to appreciate a better version of the game, assuming the remake actually delivers. I can’t say that I’ll be buying the remake because I don’t tend to purchase them. But if it is drastically different then I might have to give it a shot. For now, I’m just happy to finally be able to say that I beat Final Fantasy VII and now I understand . . . sort of.

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