Black Friday 2019

Last year’s Black Friday was not great. There were of course some purchases, but I ended up failing to get more than I actually got from my list of desired game purchases. Interestingly, I now own every game on my Black Friday 2018 list except for three of them. And my nephew did ultimately get a Switch. So overall it wasn’t a bad shopping year. Just a bad Black Friday. But out with old, in with the new. It’s time to talk about Black Friday 2019.

It’s no secret that I love Black Friday. I post not just one but two posts about it every year. But sadly it’s never as epic for me as when I was in college. Now that I no longer live in America, I always have to do my Black Friday shopping online. I miss the rush of waiting in line all night and then rushing into the store to hopefully get that one item you really want. The holiday is starting to make more and more headway outside of the US though. Here in Taiwan they are actually advertising Black Friday deals at Costco this year. Sadly Costco doesn’t sell video games here but maybe I’ll buy a 4K TV if the price is actually way better. But as with the past several years the bulk of my purchases will be made online.

Black Friday 2018 Aftermath
Black Friday 2018

It’s an interesting place I’m in right now because I’m actually waiting for a bunch of games to release like Nioh 2 and Ghost of Tsushima. There are also a number of games I’m interested in that just recently came out and almost certainly won’t be on sale this soon. This includes games like Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order and Luigi’s Mansion 3. This year, I’ve created two lists. My core list are items I am confident will be on sale for the right prices this year. And an extended second list of games I’m interested in buying for the right price but don’t realistically expect to find on sale this year. There’s also a few hardware items I’m looking for as well, but most likely those will just be straight Amazon purchases.

dealThe Black Friday code of conduct has not changed. As with previous years, I have created a list of products I’m looking for and the prices I’m willing to pay for them. If I am unable to find the items listed at or below my set prices, I simply will not buy them until a later date when they have decreased in price by the correct amount.

As per usual, I need your help with deal hunting. If you see something on my list at or below the price I’ve listed available for online purchase, please take the time to leave a comment with a link or tweet me directly for me to see it even faster. And of course I shall do the same for anyone who leaves their list in the comments. With that, here is my Black Friday wish list for 2019.

Black Friday 2019
Black Friday 2019

Core List:

  1. Shadow of the Tomb Raider – Croft Edition (PS4 or PC) – $20
  2. The Banner Saga Trilogy (PS4 or PC) – $ 10
  3. Vampyr – (PS4 or PC) – $10
  4. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice (PS4 or PC) – $20
  5. Yakuza 2 – Kiwami (PS4) – $20
  6. The Legend of Zelda – Link’s Awakening (Switch) – $40
  7. Just Dance 2020 (Switch) – $25
  8. Overcooked 2 – (Switch) – $10
  9. MediEvil (PS4) – $10
  10. Sushi Striker: The Way of the Sushido (Switch) – $10
  11. Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K – $25
  12. Elgato Stream Deck (15 Keys) – $100

Extended List:

  1. Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order (PS4) – $25
  2. Mortal Kombat 11 – Premium Edition (PS4) – $20
  3. Death Stranding (PS4) – $20
  4. Control (PS4) – $15
  5. Devil May Cry V (PS4) – $20
  6. Apple AirPods with Wireless Charging Case – $100
  7. Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Switch) – $40

Please note that while the platforms aren’t negotiable, unless stated, the games can be in physical or digital form. They just have to be at or below the prices listed.

stream deck xlThe most important item for me this year is the Elgato Stream Deck. I got to test one out earlier this year and I fell in love with it. Giving it up was so painful. I’ve been waiting to buy one on sale ever since. There actually was a sale some months ago at the price I listed but they were sold out before I was able to get to a computer and make the purchase. I’d actually like to get the XL version with 32 keys but that price is just way too high for me to float. Even on sale it would still end up being like $200 and I simply can’t swing that as a streamer that makes $0 in returns for streaming currently.

As always, I have prepared a convenient graphic with target prices to make my list easier to reference for those trying to assist in my deal hunting. Save it, share, it, reference it, use it for yourself. Thank you in advance for your help with this endeavor. As always, Happy Thanksgiving to my American readers. Happy Black Friday, and may the deals be ever in your favor!

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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.

Gaming in Taiwan – Ring Fit Adventure Woes

I think it’s important to tell stories like this every so often so that gamers and people in general can have a better understanding of how the world works differently for different people in different places. If you follow my content regularly then you probably know that I’m an American living in Taiwan. This is my firsthand account of the struggle of trying to buy the recently released Ring Fit Adventure for Nintendo Switch.

One of the most important reasons these stories/posts are important is that they help people have a better understanding of how value/pricing should work vs how it actually works. “Value is subjective” is the go to bootlicker answer that most people give when confronted by complaints about overpriced entertainment media such as games. But most of the people who tow this corporate shill line are speaking from a place of privilege in a country with a much higher standard of living and a much lower ability to stretch currency because of how much things cost. So I want you to read this post with the context of money relative to Taiwan rather than relative to your own country and standard of living.

TaiwanTaiwan is a modern country. It has democracy, running water, modern technology, Netflix, and so on. The government is not a fascist dictatorship. The police cannot just arrest and detain citizens indiscriminately with no cause for undefined periods of time. It’s by no means a third world country. But the cost of living is relatively low compared to the US, most of Western Europe, and expensive parts of Asia like Japan and Hong Kong. So for context, allow me to explain to you with a few examples how money works here.

As I write this, $1 USD  = 30.42 NTD. You can buy dinner in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, for 50 NTD ($1.64). This is not what everyone pays for dinner in every part of the city at all times mind you. But this is the price that I have paid for dinner literally hundreds of times. And by dinner I mean something at the caliber and amount of food as a Panda Express 2 item plate including a drink. The subway charges you relative to the distance you are traveling but the minimum cost is 16 NTD ($0.53). Taipei has a pay as you go bike share program that costs literally nothing for the first 30 minutes you ride. I commute to work every day with this bike share program in under 30 minutes, meaning my cost to commute is absolutely nothing. The first hour (up to 30 minutes after the first 30 free minutes) on the bike share program costs 10 NTD ($0.33). Rent is very low here, but owning property is not. Most people rent apartments, while few people own them. I spent the last four years until I just recently moved paying 15,000 NT ($493.02) for a three bedroom apartment, which I lived in alone. A standard AAA video game usually launches for 1790 NTD ($58.83). For the rest of this post I will mostly write prices in NTD for the purposes of relevance and time.

taipei-game-show-2018Taiwan has a huge gaming community and culture. Many gaming events such as Taipei Game Show are hosted here. Game launch promotional events are quite common and often involve giveaways and huge displays. The most recent one I personally attended was for Pokemon Let’s GO. Death Stranding Tour will stop in Taiwan as another more recent example. While gaming is big in Taiwan, there is no regulated gaming market and there are no giant corporate gaming entities such as GameStop to help regulate game pricing. There is a store akin to Walmart called Carrefour that sells some games, but their prices are always marked up for reasons I have never understood and they don’t carry everything. Every game focused store runs independently as a mom and pop style game seller. This is a bitter sweet situation.

On one hand, consumers are not beholden to one evil corporation monopolizing the games market. Game stores all run however they want to and even carry items that are hard to get in other places. When Fallout 4 launched, the Pip Boy Edition was super hard to find in the US. Even preorders were selling out in many places. In Taiwan they were easy to find. You couldn’t walk into any store and be guaranteed to find one, because that edition didn’t actually get distributed here, but many shop owners imported them. I didn’t buy one, because I don’t play Fallout, but I could have easily bought more than one of them if I had wanted to. Another example of this freedom of operation was God of War: Ascension’s collector’s edition. I bought the collector’s edition in the US. This version came with a steelbook and a Kratos statue. The collector’s edition in Taiwan didn’t come with a statue. It came with a Kratos themed PS3 controller. This controller wasn’t distributed to the US so you couldn’t get it there unless you imported it. I really wanted the controller but I wasn’t going to repurchase the game. I was able to go to a game store and tell them that I just wanted to buy the controller because I already had the game. They took the controller out of the collector’s edition and sold it to me at fair market controller price with no markup. I assume they later sold the steelbook edition of the game without the controller. This sort of thing could never happen at a legitimate game store in the US.

No rulesThe reason these sorts of things can happen in Taiwan is because of the lack of regulation. Game stores are not distributing games on credit from publishers and beholden to their rules. Instead they’re purchasing stock in advance and then selling it to the public at whatever markup they decide. This allows them the freedom to do whatever they want. Sometimes this can work in the consumer’s favor, such as when I wanted to buy the Kratos themed PS3 controller. Another example is that I was able to preorder the Pokemon Sword and Shield double pack for 3040 NTD ($100 USD). That’s $20 cheaper than a preorder in the US. The reason they were able to sell it to me at that much lower price is because they were able to purchase it at a wholesale price and distribute it at below standard global market value. In the US, GameStop would never sell you a new Nintendo game at a 17% mark down because Nintendo wouldn’t let them. In Taiwan, the only thing stopping a game store from doing so is how much profit they want to make. That’s the sweet side of an unregulated games market. Now let’s talk about the bitter side.

kratos controllerThe problem with a completely unregulated games market is that there are no price protections for consumers. When a game launches, stores can charge whatever they want for it, and they often charge too much for certain games. While this doesn’t usually affect the pricing of AAA games, it absolutely affects indie titles. Indies almost always get sold at a high markup in Taiwan. Because they don’t have a standardized breakdown of indie vs AAA market pricing. Instead they’re all just games. So you often see indie titles and titles that aren’t supposed to launch at full AAA price being sold for more than they should be because the store(s) have decided that’s what they think they can get for it. To be fair though, this can go the other way as well such as with my Pokemon Sword and Shield preorder example. Along with this is the fact that the standard price degradation over time system pretty much doesn’t apply here. In the US, you can all but guarantee a non-Nintendo Switch game will drop in price at an almost systemic rate. Not to mention peak discount holidays like Black Friday. None of that applies in Taiwan. Games often go down in price over time, but there are no guarantees it will happen and it can take literal years. And the platform doesn’t matter. Nintendo games almost never drop in price in the US. In Taiwan, that same slow rate of price decline can be applied to PS4 and XB1 as well.

no dealAnother problem is that there are no guarantees about stock. In the US, if a game is getting distributed to physical stores you can pretty much guarantee that the game will be available somewhere. You might have to look around, because the game might sell out in some places, but you can pretty much know for sure that if it’s legitimately being distributed to the US then you can find it at GameStop, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, and a number of other stores. In Taiwan, you have no guarantees that a game will be available in store unless you’ve personally gone to a store and asked about it. Basically, the Taiwan games distribution industry operates almost exactly like a black market but without the criminal element. This is the backdrop with which I tried to purchase Ring Fit Adventure for the Nintendo Switch on launch day/weekend.

Ring Fit Adventure for the Nintendo Switch is a special game because it can only be sold as a physical release, due to the required ring accessory, and, also because of the ring accessory, the packaging is large and the cost is in no way standardized. Especially in a place like Taiwan. The game was first announced during a Nintendo Direct in September 2019. I was sold by the end of the trailer. I immediately decided that I would purchase it on launch day for the full price. A very rare decision for me. Since launch was only about 2 months away from announcement, I immediately went to game stores and started inquiring about the price and preordering it. No stores could give me a definite answer about whether or not it was going to be released in Taiwan, when it would be available, or how much it would cost. Sadly this is a common occurrence in Taiwan for non-standard games. So I kept checking back periodically.

Ring-Fit-AdventureLike I said before, there is no regulation and no larger games distribution franchise that you can easily access online and check for standard prices. This means you have to physically enter stores to make these sorts of enquiries. Admittedly you could call stores, but as a person who doesn’t speak Mandarin, the local language, fluently this is much more difficult than actually walking into stores and asking in person. I also have to say that a large number of game store employees in Taiwan aren’t true believers. They aren’t knowledgeable about a lot of details concerning upcoming games, hardware, and services and often need to have things explained to them, which I find really irritating, if I can be honest. And it’s not just with games. Tech store employees in general often disappoint me with their lack of knowledge even though the bulk of computer products are being developed and often manufactured in their back yards. But I digress.

I kept checking back periodically and finally got an answer that Ring Fit Adventure would release in Taiwan on 10/31. I found this odd since it was officially announced to be releasing on 10/18 but this has happened in Taiwan before so I didn’t think twice about it. I asked what the price would be and stores were still not giving me a clear answer. At this point, no store would offer me a preorder, since they couldn’t give me a price quote. Based on the general lack of knowledge, the lack of physical ads showing up in stores for the game, and the lack of a price, I assumed the game was not in high demand here.

Game store taiwanFor me personally, there are a great many game stores I visit in four general locations. One store by my apartment, three by my office, eight to ten at one shopping district, and another eight to ten at a second shopping district within walking distance of the first. I say eight to ten because some smaller stores open and close frequently, don’t consistently carry all products, and often mark up prices a great deal to the point of them not being worth wasting my time at unless I’m desperate for information as opposed to making an actual purchase. This means I literally take the time to visit 15 or more stores when I’m trying to buy a game. And I always go for the best price I can possibly find on principle. Like I said, the cost of travel is often free here so it’s just a matter of finding the time to visit all the stores.

Right before Ring Fit Adventure released, I was finally able to get a store to tell me the price would be 2500 NTD. Based on my own estimates due to experience in this market, this was exactly the price I assumed it would be. Still I was unable to get any store to give me a preorder, for reasons I still am unsure about because I’ve preordered multiple games here in the past. I even had some stores tell me that they wouldn’t be getting the game outright. But at least I had a release date, which I found odd considering it was the same release date as Luigi’s Mansion 3, a price, and the time to go buy the game from one of the four closest game stores on launch day, which was a Thursday. I had the money, the time, and the access. I was as prepared as I could possibly be to buy this game at launch.

luigis_mansion_3As soon as I got off work, I rushed to the first of four game stores. They were sold out. They said they only had enough units to fill preorders. This was odd to me for two reasons. The first was that the store hadn’t offered me a preorder when I had enquired multiple times over the past two months. The second was that it’s extremely bad practice for a game store to only carry enough units to fill preorders. It’s also unheard of in Taiwan for anything other than super limited collector’s edition stuff. Even Nintendo Labo sets were and still are super easy to find all over Taipei. But I didn’t have time to discuss it so I rushed off to the next store. Sadly and surprisingly, I got exactly the same answer. Then again at the third store. The fourth store had told me that they weren’t getting the game, but I went there to check anyway. They now had a physical ad for the game, brochures, and some units sitting behind the counter. But they too wouldn’t sell me a copy because they had already been preordered.

At this point I was both in shock and angry. This had literally not happened to me since I was a kid living in LA trying to get a new copy of Mirror’s Edge (2008) for XBOX 360 a week or two after release. I went to multiple stores only to be told it was sold out and then finally gave in and paid a GameStop $55 for a used copy. That was literally the last used game I purchased, because I don’t buy used games as a general rule. Over the course of that evening of failure it started raining so I had to take a bus (15 NTD) once and also went over the 30 minute free limit on the bike share costing me another 10 NTD. That’s 25 NTD, or half a dinner, wasted on failing to get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure on launch day. But these were all smaller local stores so while I was angry and surprised by what had transpired, I was confident that I could get a copy on the following Saturday, since I didn’t have time on Friday to go to the shopping districts.

super monkey ballThe following Saturday I went to the shopping districts and I fared no better. Stores kept telling me the same thing I had heard two days ago, with one exception. Some stores did have one or two spare units but their prices were extremely inflated. I learned that the standard price for Taiwan had actually been set at 2550 NTD, or one dinner higher than originally quoted. While I found this annoying, I deemed it a manageable price increase. If I was purchasing the game in my native California, I’d most likely pay more than that with tax. But the prices these stores were offering me were way above that standard price. 2700 NTD, 2990 NTD, and so on. I even had one store offer it to me at a whopping 3450 NTD. That’s a markup of 900 NTD ($29.58). For reference, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD Remake on the Switch released here just a few days prior to Ring Fit Adventure for 790 NTD. Meaning this store wanted more than the price of a new game in addition to the standard price of the game I was trying to buy.

At this point I was confused, shocked, and angry. Why was it so difficult to get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure? For all the problems I’d had in the past with games pricing in Taiwan, rarity had pretty much never been an issue for things I wanted that could be gotten in Taiwan. And honestly I can count all the things I really wanted in Taiwan and just absolutely couldn’t get without importing it myself. The most recent example I can think of is the collector’s edition of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for PS4. They got the game here with a steelbook but not the edition with the statue. So why was Ring Fit Adventure so hard to get for a fair price? Eventually one clerk who understood English and saw my frustration with the ridiculous price he offered told me that all the units in Taiwan were not legitimately distributed there but instead had been imported from Hong Kong or directly from Japan. This was why the markup was so prolific and ridiculous throughout all these stores. While he didn’t give me a reason why this was the case, he did help me understand what was going on.

sekiroFinally I made my way to the store I should have started with, but didn’t because it’s the most out of the way so I usually end there. There’s a game store in the middle of Taipei that has a clerk that is both knowledgeable about games and fluent in English. He’s the only clerk in this country that I consider a friend. He knows me, greets me personally every time I enter the store, and always fills me in on what’s going on. The reason I don’t start there every time I want something is because his store never has the best price. They always have the standard base price. If I was willing to pay the standard market price for games, I’d always just go there. But I always hunt for the best price so I never start there because that’s the last resort shop. If I absolutely can’t get a good price then I go to his store and pay the base price, because their prices are absolutely fair. They’re just not a deal. It’s like buying from Target instead of Best Buy because Target is selling the new game for $57.99 while Best Buy is selling it for $59.99. His store is Best Buy. That’s actually the store I bought my Switch at as an interesting side note.

It’s important to note that he doesn’t own the store. He’s just a part time employee there. That means I have to catch him at work. I actually visited the store multiple times in the two months leading up to the release of Ring Fit Adventure but he just happened to not be on shift when I walked in. If he had of been then I would absolutely have been able to get Ring Fit Adventure for a fair price of 2550 NTD on launch day (10/31 for Taiwan). When I walked into the store on the Saturday he was there, thankfully. I asked him about the game and he told me the same thing every other store that didn’t have spare copies to markup told me. They were sold out and only had enough to fill preorders. The difference was that because he both speaks English and is knowledgeable about games, from both the consumer and business side, he could tell what the hell was actually going on with this game.

contrabandAs it turns out, I had been completely misled, or more accurately misinformed, about Ring Fit Adventure’s distribution in Taiwan. Every store told me that the game would be available in Taiwan on 10/31. I took this to mean that the game was being legitimately distributed by Nintendo to Taiwan, like any other Switch game such as Luigi’s Mansion 3 which was and still is widely available here, on 10/31. This was not actually the case. The truth is that the game was not legitimately distributed to Taiwan at all. Apparently the Taiwanese government agency that is in charge of approving products for sale in Taiwan didn’t approve of the ring accessory for Ring Fit Adventure. I still don’t know why this is the case. But like I said, the games market here operates like a black market. So rather than not sell the game since it couldn’t be acquired through legitimate publisher/distributor channels, all the stores imported the game manually via connections in nearby countries, specifically Hong Kong and Japan. This means that 100% of Ring Fit Adventure copies sold in Taiwan currently were/are contraband. This is why the prices were so marked up and the game was/is so hard to find.

Now I don’t personally care about the legality of owning a game that isn’t supposed to be sold in Taiwan. No one does. The government isn’t going to knock on anyone’s door looking for Switch games. And even if they were, everything is paid for in cash in Taiwan and no records are kept for game sales, so they wouldn’t know whose door to knock on anyway. I just want a copy of the game at a fair price. I’m less angry now that I understand the situation, but I’m still really pissed that I wasn’t offered a preorder. All these stores told me I couldn’t preorder the game and then apparently sold preorders to everyone else. I assume it was because of the language barrier and that most people just couldn’t explain the situation to me clearly. I will give them that benefit of the doubt, because racism against Westerners isn’t really a thing here so I don’t assume it was anything like that. But if I had known about this contraband situation I would have dragged my wife to a game store and had her demand a preorder for me. Or I would have preordered it from my friend clerk if he had been at work when I went to his store prior to launch, because he would have informed me about the situation.

try fail succeedUltimately I did not acquire a copy of Ring Fit Adventure during the opening week. As I write this I still don’t have a copy now. But my friend allowed me a special order and said they will put one aside for me in their next shipment at a price of 2550 NTD. He couldn’t tell me when it would be available but the store will call me when it is. So I ended up spending a bunch of time and 56 NTD (just over one dinner) in travel costs to not get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure plus I have to spend another 30 NTD to go back to the store when they do finally get my copy in stock. Hopefully it becomes available the week of November 15th week so I can pick it up at the same time I pick up Pokémon Sword and Shield.

If not for the wasted travel money, I wouldn’t be super angry about not being able to get the game during launch week. While it’s a game I’m really looking forward to, I’m extremely backlogged and have other fitness games I can play like Just Dance anyway. What I’m really unhappy about is the rampant overpricing that many stores sold the game at to parents and kids without the patience and knowledge required to make an informed purchasing decision about Ring Fit Adventure’s odd product status in Taiwan. This sort of information, though kind of risky because of the illegality of it all, should have been more widely distributed. As I went to store after store looking for the game that Saturday, I realized that I was not the only one desperately trying to get a copy. Originally I thought there was no demand because all the stores seemed so out of the loop when I inquired about it over the two months leading up to release. It turns out that I was extremely wrong. Lots of people preordered the game and lots of people who didn’t preorder the game were hunting in stores just like I was. I saw many a parent and their pleading child in game stores asking about it. And I know those marked up units were ultimately sold to parents with spoiled children as well as to parents who just aren’t knowledgeable about such things and thought the prices being quoted were just the normal price for the game. It’s a really despicable scenario that should not have occurred in the way it did. But that’s what happens when you have a completely unregulated games market. Free market capitalism is never for the benefit of the consumer. Especially when it comes to entertainment.

ring fit adventure battleI hope that eventually Ring Fit Adventure does get legitimately distributed to Taiwan and is sold at a fair price to gamers of all types and ages. I also hope that I get my copy soon.

Some people are probably wondering about the online aspect of buying physical games in Taiwan, since I didn’t really address it here. The reason I didn’t is that it’s not super simple, it doesn’t work in cash like the brick and mortar market does, and the prices are often marked up at a default. There is no Amazon type entity here. Nor are there brick and mortar stores with an online component like a Best Buy or Walmart. The best you can hope for is something akin to Newegg, where there’s a well-known online store that you can trust, but the prices aren’t usually better for games. There are a few of these such as PlayAsia, which usually has marked up prices, sometimes ridiculously so, and a site called PCHome. You also often have to pay shipping on these online purchases. So to answer the unasked question, yes there is online game purchasing here but it isn’t the most convenient or affordable way to buy games here. In the five years that I’ve lived in Taiwan, I’ve never purchased a single physical game online. You also need to be able to read Chinese for many online stores in Taiwan. For reference though, PCHome sold Ring Fit Adventure on opening day for 2550 NTD. I’m not sure what the cost of shipping would be, but they are currently sold out as I write this and were sold out opening weekend. PlayAsia has multiple versions of the game from different regions with prices ranging from 2457 NTD all the way up to 2872 NTD. This does not include shipping cost.

*This post was originally written on November 4th. Due to my busy blog schedule I was not able to publish for some time. I ultimately was able to claim my copy of Ring Fit Adventure on November 12th. Same week but not the same day as Pokemon Sword & Shield.

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Bloggiversary 2019 (6 Years With No Missed Weeks!)

This week marks the sixth anniversary of my weekly gaming blog. That’s six straight years of writing about games/digital entertainment related topics on a weekly basis. And not a single week has been missed. This was an amazing year of gaming related experiences and developments for me. I got to attend both CES and Gamescom for the first time. I competed on stage at a large scale gaming event (Gamescom with Ubisoft’s Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle) and didn’t suck, even though I did end up losing my match. I was invited to one of Ubisoft’s studios and able to give feedback in person. I met gamers from all over the world and established new friendships. I finally got to play Kingdom Hearts III, which I actually haven’t finished yet but it’s important to acknowledge something that I waited more than 10 years to finally do. It has been a monumental year of gaming.

Gamescom-2018One of the biggest developments this year was that I finally got my camera setup going for live streams. No more voice only streams. No more funny snail avatar. I’m streaming with a real camera and showing my actual face while streaming with solid quality video and audio. This is something that I have been working towards for a solid three or more years but had countless roadblocks and technical issues along the way. Even after I got a camera and an expensive streaming mic, I still had a number of issues. It was only because of two freak occurrences that I was finally able to get my setup working properly on all fronts. The first was that my friends at Patriot/Viper Gaming gave me a headset stand that works as a mixer for my headset mic. This was not the intent or reason I wanted a headset stand but without this piece of equipment I was having major audio issues with my streams. Literally the first time I tried using the headset stand for streaming it worked perfectly. So I owe a big thankyou to Patriot/Viper Gaming for sponsoring me that headset stand.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-04-25 19-40-07The second major occurrence that helped me finally get my streams in order was that Humble Bundle had a streaming software sale that allowed me to get a lifetime subscription to XSplit VCam for $1. Streaming my face was a problem because I couldn’t show my apartment in streams for personal reasons. Ironically I have recently moved since I got married two months ago and now actually can show my apartment during stream but I will continue not doing so since I have the software anyway. The point is that I needed to hide my background in streams but couldn’t afford to buy a green screen. That’s the only reason I was using Facerig for the time that I was. But with VCam I’m able to remove the background digitally, allowing me to stream my face without my apartment showing. This also led me to trying out Streamlabs OBS which is much better than the previous streaming software I was using. Because of these major developments, my streams have improved in quality and presentation by a considerable margin over the past year. And I’m glad to finally have kept that promise I said I was working towards so long ago.

73101611_699217857233425_335869371714895872_nI’ve also had a lot of personal non-gaming related developments this year. I got married, moved for the first time in four years, adopted a dog, and finished my latest screenplay. It has been a busy year full of milestones and achievements. Admittedly, my total gaming time has decreased somewhat but my general happiness has increased. Even though raising/training a newborn puppy is an absolute nightmare and I’ve been sleep deprived since mid-October, I’m happier overall than I was this time last year.

While the total amount of gaming I did in the last year was less than in 2018, I still got to play some amazing games. So here’s the list of games I beat since my last bloggiversary.

Games 2019 BloggiversaryI want to express just how grateful I am to my readers and supporters for participating in this blog for the last six years. Without your support and participation, there is no blog. There are no YouTube or Twitch channels. All of this exists because of your continued engagement. So without dragging this post on for longer than it needs to be, allow me to end it here with a simple thank you. Here’s to another great year of gaming.

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GTFO Alpha Review

I’m not particularly a fan of horror games. Nor do I like FPS titles. Especially not the ones that “require” four player co-op to play. So really it makes no sense that I would have any interest in the upcoming Steam Early Access game, GTFO from 10 Chambers Collective. And yet I am part of their ambassadors program. This is because while I don’t have a personal interest in the type of game they’re making, I do have a general interest in independent games and the studios that create them. I also tend to take an interest in learning about game projects that claim to be at the next level of horrifying to play even if I don’t generally like playing scary games. I still remember the very first thing I read about the first Dead Space (2008) long before that name meant anything. It was an article in a printed game magazine, though I can’t recall which one, that was specifically focused on the design aspects that the sadly now dead Visceral Games was implementing to create “the scariest game ever made”. This intrigued me.

20191029000554_1The discussion within the Dead Space article about the design philosophy of creating a really scary game was what I took an interest in. Not getting scared myself, but how developers defined and created fear within games. Over the years I have seen a great many games that were sold as scary. I’ve played through very few of them myself but I have observed other people playing them out of this almost masochistic interest in the creation of horror. I remember watching a friend play parts of F.E.A.R. (2005) and being very impressed with some of the subtle elements of how the game’s atmosphere was presented. It’s this interest in the creation of horror games that drew me to follow GTFO. Not a personal vested interest in playing it, but really more an interest in seeing it and establishing for myself just how scary it actually is and why. So please take my judgement of the alpha with a grain of salt, because as I’ve already stated clearly, this is not traditionally a genre I particularly enjoy playing myself.

Last week was the first closed alpha for GTFO. As a member of the ambassador program, I was granted access to the alpha and given the ability to invite up to three friends to play with me, since the nature of the game is four player co-op. Sadly I was not able to get three friends to play concurrently. I was only able to get a maximum of three players concurrently, so off the bat my experience with the game was not perfectly authentic to what 10 Chambers Collective intends for the gameplay experience to be. But I still feel like I can give an informative review of my experience that will hopefully help interested readers make an informed decision about whether or not to keep an eye on and possibly invest in this game. I use the word invest here because it is an early access game as opposed to a traditional straight release.

20191029002246_1In all honesty I have to say that I was really disappointed with this alpha both from a horror standpoint and from a gameplay standpoint. GTFO’s definition of horror is dark underground warehouses with crab walking knock off The Last of Us clickers. That pretty much sums up the game visually. The atmosphere is not bad. The graphics, though not AAA quality, were fairly solid. I actually really did like the underground world they built with dim lighting, intense shadows, and lots of junk scattered around. But I wasn’t really impressed by the enemies. They really do just look like clickers with no clothes on. And for some reason some of them crab walk while other walk/run on two legs. The only other type of enemy I encountered was a really tall clicker that moved slowly compared to the normal enemies. I can’t say at this point if there are other enemies in the game, because I couldn’t get very far into the map. More on that later.

I felt the buildup at the start of the game is actually scarier than the game itself. The menus and opening cinematic leading up to actually playing the game are really well done. They’re very bleak and barebones with a fairly ominous presentation. I definitely went into the gameplay expecting to get scared. But ultimately this didn’t happen and sadly a large part of that was due to the gameplay, which I’ll get into later. The alpha ran fairly smoothly, but everything looks a bit unpolished. This is especially true in the menus and map. On one had this helps set a tone that is bleak and scary and that works fine for the menus. But that map is unacceptable. It needs a complete overhaul with much clearer indication points, a mini-map function, and the ability to set beacons. Not getting lost in that system of caves and doors is a challenge all on its own.

20191028234321_1My biggest issue with the alpha has to be the gameplay though. The game is being sold as a “hardcore” FPS experience but when did the definition of hardcore become little more than not enough ammo and no health regen? The gameplay is not hard. The shooting isn’t particularly difficult. The enemies, though resilient and usually in decent sized groups, are mostly fair. They shoot a long range projectile that makes no sense based on what they look like, but I never felt like the encounters were unfair. My only real complaint about the combat is that the gameplay loop is nonexistent. Shooters work based on the idea that each encounter is challenging but for the most part disconnected from all other encounters, in most cases. You kill the enemies, you get additional ammo and health, and then you find and kill the next group of enemies. But that’s not how it works in GTFO.

Rather than an established gameplay loop, GTFO has a single continuous gameplay line that never resets until you die and start over. Imagine playing Dark Souls with no XP or bonfires. That’s what this game is like. Everything resets at the end of each excursion. All the doors you opened, all the enemies you killed, and anything else you’ve accomplished reset every time you die. It’s not even that the encounters are particularly hard, even when playing a man short. The game is only hard in the fact that when you finish a battle you never seem to find any ammo or health restoration so over time you just sort of run out of ammo and then die in the next encounter. I also couldn’t get my special weapons to fire at all. I’m not sure why but they just wouldn’t activate.  This meant playing the game with just two guns and one of the most useless melee attacks I’ve seen in a shooter. You carry this big, slow sledgehammer that takes forever to use. But it doesn’t get one hit kills on basic enemies, which is just ridiculous.

20191028235350_1I can honestly say that in the hour that we actually played the game, we didn’t find a single ammo pack between the three of us. This is really just unacceptable. And since you always restart in the same place, we never made it noticeably farther than in previous attempts from round to round because we always ran out of ammo too quickly. Perma-death and limited ammo are both mechanics that can be used to make a game more difficult. But the two should never be used together. The game needs to drastically alter its ammo system so that you refill from drops after every fight. This one simple change would transform the gameplay experience in a considerably positive way. It was the lack of progress that ultimately drove us to quitting out of boredom. And that boredom came from constantly dying due to being out of ammo. I would also attribute the lack of horror to this issue as well. You’re so focused on ammo problems that you don’t even have time to get scared.

Hardcore should mean challenging, but not unfair. It should mean you have to shoot at a high level of accuracy and work together to watch each other’s backs. But making it so that players can’t play the game because they keep running out of ammo and can’t refill it is not hardcore game design. It’s bad game design using faux difficulty as a shield from criticism. The game needs a properly functioning gameplay loop from encounter to encounter. A few simple changes could establish this fairly easily.

20191029000615_1I was fine with the game’s audio. It wasn’t as intense as it probably needs to be for the game to be as scary as they’d like, but it sounds fine overall. The real problem is that the game doesn’t have a voice chat function . . . yet. So coordinating your team audibly requires outside software. We ended up just using the text chat, which was probably the best working thing in the game.

The writing was not really present in the alpha. I got the impression that there was at least some level of plot development that’s pieced together as you find clues within the caverns, but I never found any such clues myself while playing. It’s obviously not meant to be a plot focused game. But I do hope there’s an endpoint you’re actually moving towards as you progress farther into the game.

20191029001226_1It’s impossible to speak on the replay value at this point in development, but based on the perma-death mechanics, my assumption would be that it’s all replay value that you eventually just get bored with without ever actually getting to leave the underground setting.

I had/have really high hopes for GTFO. The marketing was fairly strong for an indie shooter and the horror aspect was pitched in a very convincing manner. But sadly this alpha left me highly disappointed. Obviously it is just an alpha build and still has a ways to go before being finished, leaving it a lot of room to grow and be changed before launch. But in my experience the sorts of changes required to make this game better very likely won’t happen. There are good ideas here but if they don’t redefine what “hardcore” means they will ultimately release a game that fails to obtain a healthy player base because it’s simply not fun the way things work now. Also, for the love of gaming they need to add public lobbies and matchmaking.

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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.