Chewie Finally Gets a Medal (Star War Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker Review)

WARNING: This is not a spoiler-free review. If anything this is more a discussion piece meant to be read post viewing rather than a traditional film review. Many spoilers ahead. You have been warned.

I saw Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope for the first time in 1997 when it was rereleased to theaters. Greedo shot first! I was eight years old. Without warning my mother took me and my younger sisters to see this movie. To this day I still don’t know why she took us to see it. She’s not a sci-fi fan. My sisters aren’t sci-fi fans. I believe she just thought I would like the movie and decided to force herself and her two young daughters to sit through it for my benefit. In any case, I absolutely loved the movie and became a Star Wars nerd. To this day A New Hope is still my favorite Star Wars movie of all time.

A New HopeI consider myself a classic Star Wars fan. I believe in the canon. I believe in the established rules of the universe. I have taken the time to learn a lot about Star Wars outside the movies. I don’t hate the prequels but I’m happy to admit that they’re bad. I do hate Revenge of the Sith and I don’t know why people defend it. I was angered by The Force Awakens. I had massive problems with that film and to date I have never watched it a second time. But I do not hate the film. It has tons of problems, but honestly I believe most of them could be corrected with a few minor changes. Maybe one day that movie will get the George Lucas style patch treatment and become decent. I absolutely loathe The Last Jedi. I don’t even consider it a Star Wars film. It’s the most insulting, condescending movie ever made within an established IP built around a developed universe with fairly well defined rules. It left me so bitter that I considered not watching Episode IX, for just a second. My wife was so unhappy with The Last Jedi that she refused to pay money to see it in theater and had me go watch it alone so I could let her know how it is. She plans to watch it at home when it’s available for streaming.

Given how I felt about Episodes VII and VIII, I was very apprehensive going into The Rise of Skywalker. I expected it to be bad. Let me clarify, I didn’t think that highly of J.J. Abrams before he made The Force Awakens. I liked Super 8, but I wasn’t amazed by it. I enjoyed his Star Trek films as much as any diehard Star Wars fan can enjoy them. But to say that I turned on him because of Episode VII would be a false statement, because I wasn’t with him to begin with. Rian Johnson I had even less of an opinion on than Abrams. I liked The Brothers Bloom. I did not like Looper. I haven’t seen anything else by him. So my judgment of these latest Star Wars films has nothing to do with the directors/writers and everything to do with Star Wars and Star Wars alone. And to be clear I’m speaking as someone who has a B.A. in Cinema Studies and believes that the original Star Wars script (the original pitch script not the shooting script) is one of the worst screenplays ever written by an employed member of the Hollywood film industry. George Lucas is an abominable writer in his own right. So please don’t read my judgments as comments made with rose-tinted glasses.

The Force AwakensAs I have already said, this is NOT a spoiler free review, but I am taking the time to warn you one more time before we get into the real meat and potatoes of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. For those who haven’t seen the film, go see the film. I highly recommend it. For the rest of you who will continue reading, let’s get down to business.

I’d like to start by presenting my rankings of the nine mainline Star Wars films as it currently stands.

  1. Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope
  2. Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
  3. Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
  4. Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker
  5. Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace
  6. Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones
  7. Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens
  8. Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
  9. Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi

Look at that list again. I ranked The Rise of Skywalker fourth best. That’s basically the highest praise I could possibly give any Star Wars movie not in the original trilogy. I need you to understand how impressed I am with J.J. Abrams after watching that movie. He made a movie I ranked third from the bottom, let some joker follow his movie with the worst of the worst, and then jumped to the highest possible rank that anyone could ever hope to achieve outside of George Lucas himself building a time machine, going back to 1977, and ruining the original trilogy. I was so impressed with Episode IX that I hope they never make another Star Wars film, because no future film, possibly from any IP, will ever hit me as positively on an emotional level as The Rise of Skywalker did. I’ve watched 11 different feature length live action Star Wars films. I’ve only cried in The Rise of Skywalker, and I cried multiple times. This ladies and gentlemen is a real Star Wars film. Now allow me to tell you why.

Rey cryingI’ve thought long and hard about this and I’ve come to two conclusions about Star Wars films. The first is that Star Wars films are not actually for children and haven’t been since Return of the Jedi. They are marketed as for children, as Disney wants it to be so, but this is inaccurate. At most they are child friendly, as in children can safely watch them without parents having to worry about the content shown, but they are not for children. Star Wars movies are for adults. The only real topic of debate is which adults are they actually for? The second, more important conclusion, is that good Star Wars films, at least in the mainline sagas, are not good films. In fact, I will go as far as saying that it’s fairly impossible to make a good film that’s also a good Star Wars film.

I have a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema Studies. I know a hell of a lot about “good film making”. I know why the movie that makes the most money every year almost never wins the Oscar for Best Picture. I know why established paid film critics grade a film one way and then the audience grades it completely opposite. It’s because the established conventions of traditional quality film making are very clearly defined over several decades of intentional implementation. The problem, if it can be called that, with the textbook definition of good film making is that it almost directly opposes good Star Wars film making. A New Hope was considered good film making at the time of release because it revolutionized special effects, established the modern sci-fi genre, and possibly began the modern day blockbuster film system. But it’s also full of hacky writing, plot holes, and it’s fairly predictable. I’m not saying these are bad things. I’ve already stated that A New Hope is my favorite Star Wars film. I’m just acknowledging the fact that even the very first Star Wars film isn’t an example of “good film making”. The fact that every single film in the mainline nine has the line “I have a bad felling about this” should tell you everything you need to know about the quality of Star Wars films in comparison to movies that most people agree are just objectively good movies. Because again, good Star Wars movies aren’t the same thing as good movies and vice versa.

Return of the JediWhat makes a good Star Wars film? This is the question that has plagued writers and directors since 1983. Possibly 1980, if you’re one of those Return of the Jedi nay-sayers. I believe that the question is hard to answer because the question isn’t framed correctly. The question shouldn’t be what makes a good Star Wars film. The question should actually be “What is the goal of a Star Wars film post 1983?” The answer to that question ultimately shapes how a person approaches making a Star Wars film in 2019. Disney would say the goal of a Star Wars film is to captivate and excite new audiences to the franchise with a focus on children and non-nerd females with the understanding that the established audience is already established and thus will go see the movies regardless of how they are. If this is your thought process going in then it makes sense that you would do things like ignore established canon, create Mary Sue characters, and shit on old favorites, and their fans, by doing things like killing off Han Solo in the opening film of the saga. In my opinion, it’s not that Episodes VII and VIII were made incorrectly. It’s that their objectives were wrong to begin with.

I vehemently disagree with Disney’s answer to the question “What is the goal of a Star Wars film post 1983?” As an old school Star Wars fan, I believe the goal of post 1983 Star Wars films should be to create films that continue to prop up the original trilogy as the greatest films in the series while rewarding fans for their long-term loyalty to the franchise. If that’s your mindset, you’ll make a much different film than you would going in with Disney’s goals. Now obviously the goals I’ve stated as correct Star Wars filmmaking aren’t nearly as lucrative in the long term. They aren’t going to expand the franchise’s market nearly as much. They aren’t going to appeal to outsiders at all. It’s simply not as profitable on paper. That’s not to say that Star Wars films can’t work to expand audiences while accomplishing these goals. It’s just to say that the expansion will be much more tempered and not nearly as fast. I think the way a good Star Wars film expands the franchise’s market is by including moments that get new audiences interested in checking out the older films. Episode IX absolutely takes the time to do that. The best example of this is the inclusion of and dialog surrounding the character and legend of Lando Calrissian. The movie goes out of its way to make you like Lando, show you that everyone knows and respects Lando because of events in the past, and establish that Lando’s character could still do even more. So when you leave the movie, if you don’t already know who Lando was prior to Episode IX, you will leave wanting to know more about him and that will encourage you to go back and watch the original trilogy. That’s how you expand the Star Wars audience while still making good Star Wars films. The reason The Rise of Skywalker works is because it understands the goals of making a good Star Wars film, while its two direct predecessors don’t.

Rogue OneRogue One is an objectively good movie. It has good characters, solid character interactions and development, real stakes, and a surprising ending. Or at least it would be surprising if it didn’t have the name Star Wars attached to it. You could have easily released that film and never connected it to Star Wars and it would have been just as well received. Maybe even more so. But in my opinion it’s a terrible Star Wars film. It accomplishes literally nothing other than taking people’s money in exchange for telling them a story they already knew going in. There is nothing of consequence shown in Rogue One. No characters that actually matter are shown, save for cameos of Darth Vader and Moff Tarkin. No information that we didn’t already know that has any long term consequence to the Star Wars film universe is given. It’s basically Star Wars fan fiction. That’s why I didn’t like that the film was made. It’s a good film but it’s a bad Star Wars film. It doesn’t include any of the things that make Star Wars movies Star Wars movies. Again save for the cameo of Darth Vader at the end.

The problem with The Force Awakens is that J.J. Abrams refused to commit to a side. He tried to make both a good film and a good Star Wars film. As a real Star Wars fan, it feels like he was talking to a room full of people that we were invited to enter but he wasn’t actually talking to us. He simply included us in the room because it seemed like the right thing to do. That’s why it’s a bad Star Wars film, but it’s still absolutely a Star Wars film. The Last Jedi on the other hand isn’t a Star Wars film at all because Rian Johnson did commit to a side. It just happens to be the incorrect side for making good Star Wars films. Watching Episode VIII is so angering for old school Star Wars fans because it feels like we weren’t even invited into the room. He was absolutely not talking to us at all. He just wanted to make a good film that people with no background in Star Wars would enjoy and connect with. He even went as far as saying that he wasn’t trying to do Star Wars in an interview. He wanted to do something completely different. I believe he made the wrong choice and that’s why I ranked his film at the very bottom of the totem pole. I will however commend him for at least committing to a side. I would rather see a director make a hard decision and risk the entire franchise being destroyed then see one fence sit and pretend to make a good Star Wars film while really just trying to cater to his/her Disney overlords.

Lando Episode 9The Rise of Skywalker succeeds where The Force Awakens fails because J.J. Abrams finally committed to making a good Star Wars film. Watching it didn’t just feel like Star Wars fans were invited into the room. It felt like everyone else was asked to leave the room and he was only talking to us true fans, occasionally inviting Rian Johnson in for a stern lecture about following the rules of Star Wars. That’s what makes it a good Star Wars film. That’s not to say that the film is perfect. It’s absolutely not. I have a number of notes. For instance, the film goes out of its way to pander to Black viewers. So much so that it made me uncomfortable and I am an African American. A Black female character, not the first in the film with a speaking role, is introduced fairly a ways in. The only two characters she talks to for the entire rest of the movie are Finn and Lando, the only two Black male characters with speaking roles on the rebellion side. Her exchange with Finn came off like a weird callback to slavery and the exchange with Lando makes absolutely no sense. They defeat Emperor Palpatine and the first person she talks to is the old Black guy? And after talking to him for less than 60 seconds they decide to go off on a new adventure together? That’s not how Black people interact. Because that’s not how people interact.

There are plenty of other flaws I could list. Like why was Babu Frik in the ship with Zorii Bliss at the final battle? It would make no sense and has never been established that high level engineers just jump into battle ships to go along for the ride. Like he’s literally just standing on the dashboard looking cute. The movie is definitely flawed. But none of the flaws I mentioned make it a bad Star Wars film. They make it a politically questionable one. And, as with all Star Wars films, not a good film in general. But as far as Star Wars films go, the flaws don’t detract from the movie.

Jannah and Finn WorkIf I had to sum up why The Rise of Skywalker is a great Star Wars film in one sentence that sentence would be “Chewie finally got a medal.” Leia dies and leaves a medal from A New Hope to Chewbacca. This adds literally nothing to the story in this film. It doesn’t affect the plot in any way and if you completely removed that scene it would change nothing to the non-Star Wars fan viewer. But it’s one of the most important moments in the entire post 1983 franchise for real Star Wars fans. A New Hope was an amazing film that featured no non-White humans. Not one. So in a weird way Chewbacca filled this sort of every other man role for minority viewers and pretty much anyone who wasn’t a straight white guy with short hair. Now later we, as in Black people, got Lando. But pretty much anyone who couldn’t identify with a straight white guy or girl in A New Hope only got Chewie or a droid. And no one identifies with the droids. At the end of A New Hope you’ve watched a pretty much perfect movie and the best Star Wars movie that has ever and will ever be made and the heroes get medals but for some reason, that to this day I still don’t know the answer to, Chewbacca gets snubbed. He just doesn’t get a medal. No explanation. No answer. He stands on the stage and just doesn’t get a medal. For more than 40 years real Star Wars fans, of all races, have complained about the fact that Chewie didn’t get a medal in A New Hope. J.J. Abrams making the choice to feature that scene where Chewie gets a medal from Leia is exactly what post 1983 Star Wars is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be referential, nostalgic, and self-aware. And that’s exactly what The Rise of Skywalker is.

A New Hope MedalI cried multiple time while watching Episode IX. Not a single tear was shed due to some emotional sympathy for any of the characters. Not a single tear was because the narrative was so powerful and emotionally moving. Every tear I shed was a tear of nostalgia. The movie is 142 minutes of J.J. Abrams apologizing to real Star Wars fans for the last two films by acknowledging and rewarding them for 42 years of dedicated service as fans. They brought Lando back. They brought Han back. They brought Palpatine back. This was the first time since 1983 that all the original heroes appeared in the same movie. Luke, Leia, Han, Lando, R2D2, C-3P0, presumably Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda’s voices, and the Millennium Falcon all appeared in the same movie 36 years after the last time that happened. Of course I cried in that movie. It’s not particularly original, and it’s not supposed to be. The plot has twists but ultimately isn’t too unpredictable, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s not an example of generally good film making, and it’s not supposed to be. What it’s supposed to be is Star Wars, and that’s exactly what it was. Apology accepted J.J. Abrams. You’ve earned my forgiveness, because you did your research and listened.

I haven’t actually read any of the other reviews for Episode IX but I’ve seen the headlines and it’s very divided. Now I don’t really see how an OG Star Wars fan could not like this movie. Because it’s basically a movie made to clean up the messes made in the last two films. When viewed from that framework I don’t really know how it could have been any better other than nitpicky issues like the ones I brought up already. It’s literally made for us. And that starts from the beginning of the film. In fact, the movie goes out of its way multiple times to trick you into thinking that it’s going to be another The Force Awakens and then flips it on you to let you know that they actually listened this time. In the first 10 minutes of the film Poe light speed skips the Millennium Falcon. Now any traditional Star Wars fan knows that YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO DO THAT. Why? Because the late, great Han Solo said that you’re not allowed to rush light speed travel back in 1977 when Luke suggested it. So seeing it in the opening minutes of the film was really jarring. Until you realize why it happened. As soon as they land the Falcon, Rey who wasn’t with Poe and Finn in that light speed skipping scene, shows up and the first thing she says is “You can’t light speed skip the Millennium Falcon.” This is one of many important meta moments in the film. They’re intentional and they matter. These are moments where J.J. Abrams is acknowledging that the last two films got it wrong, that the rules actually do matter, and that when they’re not adhered to that needs to be addressed and apologized for in some way.

finn and poeAnother big example of the film acknowledging and apologizing to the true fans was the faux death of Chewbacca. You spend about 10 – 15 minutes thinking Chewbacca is dead and it’s an angry 10 – 15 minutes. It’s like a consider walking out of the theater in disgust 10 – 15 minutes. But then it’s revealed that actually he’s alive, he gets saved, and he gets a medal. I believe this was an apology for killing off Han in such a vainglorious way in The Force Awakens. And bringing his ghost back to redeem Ben Solo was exactly what I needed to see happen. So was Ben dying at the end of the movie. Him turning back to the light side was great. Him giving up his life and saving Rey was great. Rey kissing him was great in such a meta way. But he still needed to die. Because you don’t get to just kill Han Solo. Again J.J. Abrams, apology accepted.  So my assumption is that the negative reviews aren’t from old school Star Wars fans, save for those who disliked VII and VIII so much that they just refuse to enjoy Episode IX regardless of how good it is, but from new agers who actually liked Episodes VII and VIII. I understand how those people could hate Episode IX because it basically fixes most of the things wrong in VII as best as it could and pretty much erases VIII. Like there are multiple moments where the movie openly shits on The Last Jedi, and I loved every second of it. Like the fact that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter was just the best reveal ever after that garbage orphan nonsense in The Last Jedi. Screw the broom boy. I don’t care about him.

last-jedi-broom-kidAs I said at the beginning, I hope they don’t make more mainline Star Wars films. I know they will but I don’t want them to. But since they will, I hope Disney and future directors takeaway the key lessons that this saga and this individual film have hopefully taught us all. Star Wars is not about gender. A woman can be the protagonist or a man can be the protagonist. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the rules surrounding the Force and how that person navigates them. To say Rey was disliked because she’s a woman is dishonest and inaccurate. Rey was disliked because she didn’t adhere to the established rules of the Force. She also had some attitude problems. I particularly liked that her main takeaway in The Rise of Skywalker was that she couldn’t do it alone. She spends the whole movie getting her ass metaphorically kicked until she finally accepts that she has to trust her friends and let them help her. Star Wars isn’t about sexuality, unless we’re talking about bloodlines being built up for the next generation of great Force users. In general, characters can be gay or straight. It doesn’t matter because that’s not, nor should it be, the focus of Star Wars. I was really happy with how tasteful their inclusion of a lesbian couple in Episode IX was. It’s not talked about. It’s not focused on. It’s simply shown in a celebration scene and then they move on, like normal people would in a story that has nothing to do with sexuality

Star Wars can and should include everybody, but it shouldn’t change to suit the whims and desires of anybody. Star Wars shouldn’t focus on or justify anybody specifically because of their race, gender, or sexuality. Star Wars is a universe of rules. As the long as the rules are followed, the rest of the stuff doesn’t really matter one way or another. And thankfully all the rules only concern how the Force works, who gets to use it and to what level, the limitations of technology, and respecting established canon. Other than that, have at it. Make a Black Jedi. Make a gay Sith Lord. Make a trans rebel commander. It doesn’t actually matter. Because if we’re talking about that then the movies have already gone too far by focusing on those things when that has nothing to do with Star Wars. Nobody in the movies ever calls Lando Black. He just is Black and that should be good enough for Black viewers. And it was for Black viewers in 1980.

Mace Windu PurpleStar Wars is about good vs evil and good always wins in the end. But good doesn’t win because it’s stronger. It wins because those on the side of good are stronger together. The climactic scene near the end when Lando shows up with an armada of random ships was beautiful because that’s exactly what Star Wars is supposed to be about. I especially liked the line delivered by the Final Order Commander’s first mate when asked where this navy from. He says “It’s not a navy sir, it’s just people.” That’s what Star Wars is actually about. It’s not that everyone is an epic hero that gets to lead an army or wield the Force. It’s about how while there are some people who stand above everyone else, everyone else has a role to play and even if we don’t know their names, they’re just as important because good only wins when everyone helps. That’s why we don’t need random people sprouting up around the galaxy being the next great Jedi. Because that’s not their role. But that in no way diminishes the fact that they are needed for good to triumph over evil. For most people, that’s your role in Star Wars. And if you have a problem with that, the problem is with you, not Star Wars.

Rey Star WarsIn conclusion, Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker was a roaring success. It was everything I wanted from the final act of this saga and more than I expected from it. J.J Abrams has redeemed himself as a Star Wars director in my eyes and I’m glad that I’m able to say that. If you’ve read this far, I commend you. If you’ve read this far and haven’t seen the movie, I hope you now choose to go see it. Thank you for reading and may the force of others be with you. Sorry scratch that. That’s actually the garbage original phrase that was written in the first draft of the original Star Wars screenplay by George Lucas. What I meant to say was May the Force be with You.

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State of Play Episode 4 Review

Last week, Sony released the fourth episode of their State of Play series. Ironically it dropped on the same day as a Nintendo Indie World Showcase. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not but it was certainly nice to see both Sony and Nintendo take the time to address their user base with some announcements before the end of the year/decade. In my opinion, this wasn’t the best State of Play we’ve seen to date but it did what it needed to do.

In a slim 22 minute presentation, Sony showed 10 different games, some of which were fairly significant announcements. Funny enough they started by presenting Untitled Goose Game, which will now be coming to PS4. Funny enough this was the first trailer I’d seen of the game that genuinely made me want to play it. That, if nothing else, should be the point of these presentations. Showcasing games that people weren’t already sold on or aware of.

Untitled Goose GameThe most significant announcements/showings, in my opinion, were Resident Evil 3 Remake and Babylon’s Fall. Both look excellent based on what was shown in the presentation. Babylon’s Fall honestly came out of nowhere for me but it looks phenomenal. It appears that Platinum Games has taken the Bayonetta combat formula and applied it to swords rather than guns. If that’s not a winner then I don’t know what is.

The Kingdom Hearts III DLC, Re: Mind, finally has an official release date and pricing. What was shown during the presentation was quite impressive content wise. It appears that additional story content, several boss fights, and multiple new playable characters will be included in the DLC. But that price is absolutely atrocious. $40 for DLC better mean an entire new game’s worth of content a la The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine. I doubt it though because from what I’ve read outside of the presentation it’s mostly just new boss fights and cutscenes.

Predator Hunting GroundsThe Predator: Hunting Grounds trailer was bitter sweet for me. Gameplay wise, I was impressed. But graphics wise it looked disappointing to me. Hopefully that was just because the trailer was being live streamed so the quality was reduced/compressed, but if this ends up looking like a PS3 game, I will not be happy. I also felt that the trailer leaned way too heavily on showing the Predator dominating humans, which makes sense. But this game is similar to Evolve where people can play as humans and try to kill the Predator as well. While it makes sense to focus on Predator gameplay for marketing purposes, I feel like they’re setting this game up to be a bunch of players trying to be Predator and ultimately not having anyone wanting to play as humans. For an online multiplayer game, that could be bad news with such a lopsided interest in the player base. I hope in future trailers they do more to show that playing as humans is actually fun as well.

Dreams ps4They showed another fancy trailer for Dreams, but at this point I just find that sort of marketing annoying. Every trailer is just them showing different creations that have supposedly been made in Dreams but almost nothing has been shown that makes me as a regular person with no game development experience feel like I could use the software to actually make good games. If it’s just Unity or Blender with PS4 controllers and is ultimately inaccessible to normal people from the creative side then the game will not have delivered what it’s selling. Super Mario Maker works because the creative aspect is accessible to everyone. Not just the ability to play other people’s creations.

They took the time to show two really outside the box VR games, Superliminal and Paper Beast, both of which look really trippy. If I’m honest Paper Beast didn’t necessarily seem like a game that needs to be in VR. The experience may be enhanced in VR but it looked like your standard exploration puzzle game with a focus on art rather than gameplay. Superliminal on the other hand seemed much more about the use of VR for gameplay. The focus appears to be about visual perspective, which obviously lends itself to VR fairly well. Neither game wowed me enough to want to go buy a PSVR headset though.

SpellbreakYet another online battle royale game has been announced, named Spellbreak. It appears to be Fortnite with magic instead of guns. Honestly it looked fairly good considering it’s a genre that I would never personally get involved in. But who knows if it will be able to penetrate an already saturated market and become the next e-sports phenomenon? I’d be hard pressed to  believe that a game not featuring guns in that genre could end up having that significant of an impact. I could be wrong though because if that had been the original concept rather than PUBG I might have actually tried it.

Last but not least, Sucker Punch continues to tease me with glimpses of Ghost of Tsushima. They played the beginning of a trailer and announced that the rest of it would be shown at The Game Awards, which also occurred last week. I won’t be covering the show on here though so don’t expect a post about it.

ghost of tsushimaI do consider this a mostly successful State of Play. Once again Sony chose to focus on mostly projects that aren’t huge guaranteed successes while also including a few things of note to make sure that the presentation was relevant for both indie focused and main stream gamers. Of the 10 games shown, I can honestly see myself playing at least four of them with a potential fifth one to consider. That’s a fairly good success rate. Especially when compared to the Nintendo presentation that took place on the same day. Of the 16 games, admittedly all indies, shown in the Nintendo presentation, I would genuinely consider picking up maybe three of them with one of those three being a sequel to a franchise I’ve played before. Again it’s apples and oranges when one presentation is all indie titles but it still says a lot about the quality of this State of Play by getting me interested in nearly half the games shown. That being said, I will admit that I was already aware of and interested in buying Ghost of Tsushima and the Kingdom hearts III DLC long before this presentation aired.

There will be a post next week and the week after, but as people are busy with the holidays, many may not have time to check out the blog in the upcoming weeks so I’ll end this by saying Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all my readers. Thanks for another great year of gaming discussion.

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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.

Picking GOTY the Right Way

Every year The Game Awards disappoints us all by choosing a list of five or six games to contend for Game of the Year that usually makes little to no sense. They always nominate the arguably but not necessarily correct choice, a correct second choice when compared to the first, two or three games that are justifiable but not really contenders, and inevitably one game that just absolutely should not be there, ultimately robbing a more deserving game. For this post, I only want to talk about the Game of the Year category from The Game Awards. I won’t discuss any of the other categories.

This year the nominees for Game of the Year, listed in the order as shown on The Game Awards nomination page are:

  1. Control
  2. Death Stranding
  3. Resident Evil 2 Remake
  4. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  5. Smash Bros. Ultimate
  6. The Outer Worlds

As soon as the nominees were announced, the debates and vitriol started to hit social media, as is tradition. This happens to be one of those really divisive years that always happens when a Kojima game is involved. I ended up tweeting a long thread about my views on how GOTY should be picked but then I realized that writing a blog post on the topic would be more appropriate because it would let me expand and describe my thoughts on the subject better than a string of 280 character blurbs. If you’d like to see the original twitter thread you can find it unrolled for easy viewing here.

Nominees.pngI want to clarify that the purpose of this post is not to try to tell people who to vote for specifically but rather to create an objective system for how people should approach voting for GOTY in general. This isn’t meant to be applied to any particular year of nominees but rather should act as a general guide that could be applied to any list of nominees in any year.

I think the first and most important part of choosing a GOTY is first defining what the term “Game of the Year” actually means, or more specifically should mean. As with real politics, a lot of people think GOTY means the nominee they enjoyed the most. This is incorrect thinking, in my opinion. GOTY, as with actual politicians, isn’t meant to best quantify your tastes in the options available. It’s meant to best exemplify the traits/values that define the award. In other words, you’re not supposed to vote for the thing you like but rather the thing that best exemplifies the topic you’re voting on. If you’re asked to vote which number is higher and the candidates are 5, 9, and 42, you’re supposed to vote for 42. It doesn’t matter if you like 5 better than 42. 42 is the highest number and thus the correct nominee to vote for. I believe GOTY can and should be approached with the same level of objectivity. The subjective portion is the debate about which of the nominees best meets the criteria of GOTY, but the criteria itself should be objective and the only basis of voting applied by each individual voter. That is to say, we might not agree on which game should be chosen as GOTY, but we should all agree on what GOTY is supposed to mean and be voting for whatever nominee we ultimately chose for the exact same reasons.

right waySo let’s define what GOTY actually means, or more accurately is supposed to mean. Listed on The Game Awards page as the description for the Game of the Year category is the following: Recognizing a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields. That’s what GOTY is. It doesn’t say “Game I liked the Most” or “Game that got the Best User Score on Metacritic”. It’s supposed to be the game that best exemplifies the craft of overall game design and implementation within the highly competitive and comparative medium of video games. Let’s unpack that.

I believe that choosing the GOTY, based on the described category by The Game Awards, requires looking at several factors while considering a number of key points in order to keep things fair and balanced between the nominees. I’ll go over each one, in no particular order, separately before making a final conclusion on what I believe the GOTY pick for this year should be.

5 Pillars of GOTY.jpgA Game is made up of 5 Equally Weighted Factors

 

There is always debate about what matters most in a game. Is it the story, the gameplay, the graphics, or something else? Are certain factors more important than others? Can developers get a pass for cheaping out in specific areas of development? In my opinion the answer is always no. At base value a game consists of five areas of creativity that define its presentation to the player: Gameplay, Writing, Graphics, Audio, Length. None of these factors are more important than the others. They are all equally important in the creation of a video game and should all be weighted equally when comparing games. This is similar to how I have always approached reviews save for a larger focus on replay value and cost. The category isn’t Shooter of the Year. It’s GOTY. So the gameplay shouldn’t outweigh the story, because the story is no less important than the gameplay when “recognizing a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields”.

A GOTY has to do all five things in tandem better than all the other nominees. The art of game development is understanding that there are limits to what can be done in each field with the time and resources available during development and deciding what can be sacrificed while maintaining an overall standard of quality higher than all the other games released that year, and ideally in previous years as well.

All-for-one-handsI’d like to take some time to discuss length specifically because it’s always a topic of debate. The appropriate length of a game is a very subjective topic that is often muddied by concepts like replay value. In my opinion, length also needs to be directly tied to actual value as defined by cost. I also think that a game being too long is just as problematic as a game being too short, but when factoring in value the longer game is always better than the shorter one. Replay value needs to be factored based on the level of direct repetition and the actual value of replay as opposed to subjective enjoyment.

A game that’s only 20 hours long that you enjoyed enough to play twice isn’t equitable to a game that’s 40 hours in one playthrough. Because it’s not accurate to say that everyone will want to replay the game. Replay value can only be counted towards length if there’s a legitimate reward of value for taking the time to replay it. This is hard for many games to do well; especially in the current landscape where nearly 100% of gamers are backlogged. There is no objective value in replaying Cuphead on the harder difficulty after completing it on the standard difficulty. If you completed it without using the easy mode then you experienced everything it has to offer content wise. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t replay the game on the harder difficulty if that’s what you want to do. But the game doesn’t magically double in length compared to the length of other games because you want to take the time to play it again. There’s no additional content, no meaningful rewards, and no alternate/additional story content gained from replaying the game on a harder than normal difficulty. It’s simply for love of the game, which can’t legitimately be applied because not everyone will love the game enough to want to play it again just for the fun of it.

replay value smash brosMultiplayer replay value is not authentic replay value. The length should only be counted based on the time it takes you to experience it all once. An hour of maps that you play 50 times is not objectively 50 hours of added gameplay. It’s one hour of gameplay you replayed 50 times. Length should only be defined by the amount of time it takes at face value to experience all the content the game has to offer one time.

GOTY doesn’t have to be replayable. It simply needs to provide the correct amount of gameplay for the best overall experience. A well-crafted one and done is no more or less valid than a game that asks you to play it multiple times. Especially if those replays offer little in the way of actual value outside of subjective enjoyment.

Each of the five topics should be weighted equally but compared separately between games. A game with shitty gameplay and great story is not better than a game with great gameplay and shitty story. Both are equally bad and should lose out to a game with both above average gameplay and story. But again it’s best of five categories. A game that does length, story, and audio better than a game that does gameplay and graphics better should win between the two. Because it’s a 3 factors to 2 factors comparison at that point. And three is higher than two. Now ideally this isn’t what ends up happening because it would be odd if in a given year the winner had garbage gameplay and graphics but the other nominees all had garbage audio, were too short, and were terribly written.

The Game Awards Nominees NoteThe Nominees Are the Nominees

The Game Awards gets the nominees as a whole wrong pretty much every year. There’s always at least one that just shouldn’t be there and there’s always at least one that absolutely got robbed. Last year it was Celeste that shouldn’t have been nominated. This year it’s Control. And make no mistake, no matter how much you personally may have liked Control, it wasn’t a more qualified contender for GOTY than Devil May Cry V, Astral Chain, and Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I have my thoughts about why Control was nominated but it doesn’t really matter. The nominees are the nominees and we can’t change that. Rather than fight about would should have been nominated, we should just accept the nominees and pick the appropriate choice from that pre-determined list of games and make sure not to allow the off pick to win or it could have devastating long term ramifications for the industry. It would have been absolutely horrendous if God of War and Red Dead Redemption 2 had lost to Celeste last year. And I’m speaking as someone who enjoys playing Celeste.

1200px-Port_of_Cape_Town
It’s a Port . . .

Ports, Remasters, Remakes, and Reimaginings

There is always debate about the validity and fairness of reused, rehashed, and remade games being contenders for GOTY. It’s a valid question and it’s hard to create a completely objective set of rules, but there are definitely obvious points that shouldn’t be considered debatable.

The issue comes down to comparative fairness, effort/work put in, and not allowing double counting. A game gets only one chance to win GOTY. Many games have come over the years that in other years would have definitely won GOTY. But that’s not how it works. A game has to be the best in the year it was released because all the games previously made were made with the knowledge of how the market responded to those past games. Letting a game get considered twice gives it an unfair advantage and more chances to win than every other game. It’s differentiating original games and their rereleased counter parts that’s tricky, but I say when in doubt always error on the side of caution.

02 The Last of UsThe question of fairness comes down to work put in compared to other studios in order to achieve comparable results, in each category. When given two games with similar levels of quality and no clearly superior choice, the one that did more work should be considered the winner.

Reimaginings don’t really need to be debated. If it’s a true reimagining where everything is redone, rewritten, and changed to the point of it not even being the same original game, then of course it should be considered as a potential GOTY candidate. Ratchet & Clank (2016) is an excellent example of a true reimagining that was absolutely valid to consider for GOTY. Note that “considered” does not mean “had an actual chance of winning” in this context.

20 Ratchet and ClankPorts and remasters by their very nature aren’t new games. Updating the graphics and adding a little DLC doesn’t compare to creating an entirely new game. The amount of time put into concept development, art style, visual assets, story development, voice acting, and so on just doesn’t compare to making a new game of similar quality. A port already got its chance at GOTY in its original form and shouldn’t be considered again. Remasters are glorified ports. A bit more work may have been put into improving them, but the bulk of the foundational work still doesn’t compare to all the new games released in a given year. Looking at examples like The Last of Us and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe from years past, it should be fairly obvious that like ports, remasters have no business being reconsidered as GOTY contenders.

Remakes are where things get tricky to define. There is no objective criteria for defining a remake. Some are little more than glorified remasters while others are completely new games. Some are able to reuse tons of assets while others have to start almost completely from scratch save for writing. So they need to be judged on a case by case basis. The one thing I think should be 100% undebatable is that in the event of a tie the remake should always lose out to an original release in the same year. Again, we need to take into account all five categories. The problem is that a true remake, such as Link’s Awakening, involves almost no creative development. The writing, assets, music, and length are all predefined. Yes a lot of work needs to be done to recreate those assets, but the creative aspects of the project simply don’t compare to that of making a new game from scratch. But again, it’s all comparative. If a remake looks genuinely better than all the original nominees in a given year then you give it the point for graphics. But if other games look similar or as good, then you award that point to one of the original titles. Directly ported things like writing shouldn’t be considered as valid for comparison. The points should never go to the reused content.

resident evil 2 remakeThis year’s nominees include Resident Evil 2 Remake. At face value many people do believe it was GOTY for 2019. I have to disagree. From what I’ve heard, the only thing about it that’s truly original is the gameplay. It’s been essentially redesigned. Everything else is pretty much a spirited recreation of the original game. That’s not to argue that Resident Evil 2 Remake isn’t a good game. Not including it is more an issue of fairness than an issue of quality.

I’m sure this issue will come up again with FFVII Remake next year. The difference is that Square Enix has stated that it will be intentionally different from the original. Having already tried the gameplay myself, I can say that it certainly looks and feels like a completely different game. But until we see how much of the game has changed from both a narrative and length standpoint it’s impossible to comment on whether or not it’s actually fair to consider it.

KojimaProductionsGame of the Year Doesn’t Mean Studio of the Year

A major issue that comes up a lot when judging games is the consideration of who made the game. This shouldn’t actually matter when picking a GOTY. The studio, director, actors, and so on are irrelevant. No matter how much you love Kojima, that doesn’t make Death Stranding a better game than it is. No matter how much you hate Ubisoft, that doesn’t make Ghost Recon: Breakpoint a worse game than it is. Games should be judged in a vacuum that only takes into account the comparative quality of each nominee. External factors, with the exception of how much content is actually original in the case of remake and remasters, should never be considered when choosing GOTY.

sekiro__shadows_die_twice_gxSales Numbers Matter, Long-term Popularity Doesn’t

GOTY implies it’s the game of the year for everyone, or more accurately a large percentage of gamers. That means that people had to actually play it, which implies they had to actually be interested in it. This is the sole reason that Control wasn’t appropriate to nominate. If a few people absolutely love a game, that’s great. But it’s not GOTY material. Because games are experiences made for an established gaming market. Making games that don’t appeal to that market may be innovative, but that’s not the point of GOTY. A contender needs to actually appeal to the community in order to be considered worthy of the title. Regardless of how much some people like a game, if few people were even interested enough to try the game then it’s not GOTY material. That doesn’t mean that the bestselling game in a given year should win that year. But there does need to be a minimum number of units sold to be able to imply that it appealed to a large percentage of gamers. Because GOTY is for everyone. Not just a small subset of people within a specific sub-group within the gaming community. Every gamer should be able to look at the GOTY and acknowledge it as a legitimate choice even if it wasn’t their favorite game in that year. That’s what was so good about the 2018 nominees. While there were two fairly clear frontrunners, five of the six nominees could have been chosen and no one would have legitimately been able to say the choice was biased. All six of the nominees were highly acclaimed and sold well. “Everyone” loved them all. Celeste wasn’t up to the standard of the AAA titles which is why it shouldn’t have been nominated, but other than that any of the games in the running appealed to gamers as a whole as opposed to a niche audience. You can’t say that about necessarily any of the nominees this year, mostly because the wrong games were nominated, but some games get closer than others. The ones that get closest are the ones that should actually be considered for GOTY.

Jedi Fallen Order WallpaperThe problem with the entire concept of GOTY is that it takes a year to decide on the nominees. That means that a game has to stay in people’s heads for a year. Honestly that’s a ridiculous ask. Because as I’ve said, one and done games are perfectly legitimate GOTY contenders. Take a game like Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. It just released in November 2019. It will be included in the running for GOTY 2020 because it missed the 2019 cutoff. The reviews are great. The public loves it as well. It might be the best EA game we’ve gotten since Mass Effect 3 and the best Star Wars game since The Force Unleashed II. But it’s ridiculous to think that we’ll still be talking about it in November 2020. Why? Because we’re about to go through a year containing Cyberpunk 2077, Nioh 2, The Last of Us Part 2, Marvel’s Avengers, Final Fantasy VII Remake, DOOM Eternal, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, and Yakuza: Like a Dragon just to name a few of the games coming in 2020. Even if Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order is the objectively best game to release in the next year, we absolutely won’t still be talking about it after reaching the end of this gauntlet of big budget games and power house IPs. That’s not a fault of the game. It’s just the reality of an ADD ridden consumer base coupled with a constantly moving stream of new noteworthy games. It’s ridiculous to think we should still be talking about games we’ve already finished and moved on from after playing five or ten other impressive games released after it.

cyberpunk-2077Currently a lot of people are saying Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice isn’t being talked about anymore so it shouldn’t be nominated. That’s an irrelevant point. Since that game released in March, we’ve gotten Yoshi’s Crafted World, Mortal Kombat 11, Days Gone, Judgement, Super Mario Maker 2, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Astral Chain, Monster Hunter World: Iceborne, Daemon X Machina, Link’s Awakening Remake, The Surge 2, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Luigi’s Mansion 3, Death Stranding, and Control. Of course we’re not still talking about Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Why would we be? And this was considered a mediocre year by the way. It’s this thinking that I believe ultimately led to Devil May Cry V getting robbed of a nomination. It’s simply too old by this point, because it came out before Sekiro did.

It doesn’t matter if we’re still talking about a game when the awards season comes up. What matters is how the game compares in the five expressed categories compared to the other games released that same year coupled with whether or not it reached the unwritten popularity by sales threshold. Remember that Sekiro was the third highest selling Japanese game ever to release on Steam. It sold over 2 million copies worldwide within 10 days of release. It absolutely deserves to be considered as a legitimate contender for GOTY.

death strandingInnovation Doesn’t Mean GOTY

Innovation is a good thing in the gaming industry. But only if the innovation pans out as a positive thing. Games are still products made for consumers in an established market. If a product doesn’t appeal to that market, then it shouldn’t matter how innovative it is. Look at the Wii U. It was extremely innovative. People didn’t like it. We didn’t award it console of the year simply because it dared to be different. Nintendo went back to the drawing board and tried again. Now we have the Switch, which is super successful. Awarding GOTY strictly because of innovation is incorrect thinking. A game still has to appeal to the market and hit all the other points I’ve expressed in order to legitimately be considered for GOTY. Innovation is good, but a lack of innovation isn’t automatically problematic. If the people want the same old thing then a studio can and quite possibly should choose to give that to them. Because remember what GOTY means: a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields. The fields never change. How studios approach them does but the same five categories are set in stone and will be for the foreseeable future. This is the question that needs to be asked about Death Stranding. A lot of people have argued that it’s the most innovative game in years so it should win. I disagree with that thinking. It may very well be the most innovative game we’ve seen in years. But does it beat out the other nominees for gameplay, writing, length, audio, and graphics? Maybe it does. If you think it actually does then that’s the game you should vote for. If you think it leads in innovation but not in a majority of the actual categories, then it’s objectively the incorrect game you should be voting for this year.

controlIn conclusion, your GOTY vote shouldn’t be for the game you personally liked the most. It should go to the game that you believe best meets the criteria set by The Game Awards which is defined as “recognizing a game that delivers the absolute best experience across all creative and technical fields”. All the nominees should be compared based on all the major factors that make up a gaming experience: gameplay, graphics, audio, writing, and length (based on value as defined by price).

Looking at the nominees, I have to say that the wrong list of six games was nominated for this year. But as I said, the nominees are the nominees and that can’t be changed. So we must compare these six games and make a GOTY selection based on them. The fact is that Control didn’t sell well and we don’t really have any sales figures available for The Outer Worlds other than the phrase “exceeded expectations”, whatever that means. Honestly both of those games weren’t nearly as popular as they needed to be to consider as legitimate GOTY contenders. I don’t think they even need to be compared to the rest of the group. Death Stranding I actually feel like is getting hyped due to Kojima and how close to the nominations announcement it released, so I will absolutely acknowledge it as a contender but I don’t believe something that niche would have necessarily been nominated over many of the games that got snubbed if it had released earlier in the year. Resident Evil 2 remake was definitely popular, definitely well made, and definitely a safe choice to nominate. But because of the fact that it’s a remake, I believe there are games that didn’t get nominated that are at least as if not more worthy for a nomination than it was. So I won’t consider it a legitimate pick for this year either. Really it comes down to Death Stranding, Smash Bros. Ultimate, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as the only objectively acceptable picks for GOTY based on this list of nominees.

Nominees top 3 2019It’s interesting that two of these three nominees are console exclusives (at the time of nomination) and all three are Japanese developed games. Smash Bros. Ultimate is the most massively appealing with more than 12 million units sold the month of release as a console exclusive. But sales figures aren’t the only thing that matters. In fact, it’s not even close to the most important thing. So let’s go down the list of categories one by one.

Game of the Year 2019 Assessment

Gameplay

For gameplay I’d say Death Stranding is the most innovative, but it’s also the least appealing to a general audience of gamers. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice has the most controversial gameplay, having spawned an online controversy about accessibility in games. Smash Bros. Ultimate has the most accessible gameplay, but I’d also say it was the least innovative because this is several sequels into the franchise. But a lack of innovation isn’t a bad thing if it appeals to the consumer base. And the amount of additional fighters has drastically impacted the gameplay, even if only marginally to casual players. So I actually think that an argument could be made that Smash Bros. Ultimate wins out for gameplay not because the gameplay is necessarily superior but because of the three it’s the most widely liked/tolerated gameplay with little to no real controversy surrounding it.

Graphics

 It’s easy to say that Smash Bros. Ultimate has the least impressive graphics because of the art style but it also has the largest number of characters, settings, and objects of the three games in question. Counting it out really comes down to bias for art style more than objective comparison. That being said, many of the assets used in Smash Bros. Ultimate have been recycled from past games. Death Stranding has a much more expansive map than Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice but I wouldn’t argue that it’s necessarily a better looking game. Sekiro also has a lot more movement and interacting elements than Death Stranding. Between the three, I would give the win to Sekiro but I believe an argument can be made to award it to Death Stranding as well. Remember that the grading is subjective by nature. It’s the approach to grading that needs to remain objective.

Audio

 Comparing these three games for audio is tough. For music, it goes to Smash Bros. Ultimate. It has the largest library of music that pretty much any game has ever had. The sound effects for this fast paced fighting game are also fairly accurate and of great quality, especially for the hardware the game runs on. I’d probably award the audio category to Death Stranding over Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice but having not completed either game yet, I’m willing to acknowledge that my view on that could be inaccurate. When considering that most of the audio library for Smash Bros. Ultimate isn’t original content, I have to award the audio category to Death Stranding.

 Length

How do you compare length between a game with countless repetitive side missions, a die countless times Soulsborne title, and a fighting game? Honestly it’s hard to really define the length of any of these games and it’s even harder to decide if at least two of the games are the correct length for what they are. According to How Long to Beat, which isn’t necessarily a perfectly accurate rating system for game length, Sekiro is 27.5 hours for the main story while Death Stranding is 36. In general, longer is better if we assume neither game is longer than it needs to be. But there is an assumption that dying countless times to the same boss counts as fun. Equally so, there’s an assumption that delivering packages over and over is fun. The difference is that delivering packages is the point of the game, while dying is more of a repercussion of not playing the game well. The speedrun times for Sekiro come in at under 30 minutes while the speedrun times for Death Stranding come in at more than five hours while skipping cutscenes. So between the two I think Death Stranding beats out Sekiro for length. But we need to talk about Smash Bros. Ultimate. This is a fighting game, but it’s probably the most comprehensive fighting game ever made. There are 69 default characters plus six more DLC characters. If you play just 10 minutes per a default character, you’re already at 11.5 hours. The World of Light story mode is easily a three or more hour experience on its own. The spirit board mode is constantly updating. Plus there are a number of other modes like Classic Mode and the later added Homerun Contest all at no additional cost. Even if you never replay a single match and don’t play any online or PVP matches, you’re still getting way more bang for your buck from Smash Bros. Ultimate than you are in Death Stranding without having to arbitrarily add length to the games. So objectively speaking I have to award length to Smash Bros. Ultimate.

 Writing

At a glance most people will award the writing category to Death Stranding simply because it’s Kojima. I am not one of those people. I have always held that Kojima is a mediocre writer with interesting ideas. The fact that he uses names like Die Hardman, Deadman, and Mama for his characters is proof that he’s kind of an overrated hack when it comes to writing. That being said, his general narrative ideas are fairly good. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice isn’t necessarily amazing writing, but it is some of the best writing to come out of FromSoftware in this genre for the simple fact that the game actually has a running narrative with a defined main protagonist as opposed to the usual character creation lore fest with no actually story they use in Dark Souls and Bloodborne. Smash Bros. Ultimate needs to be commended for having actually created a story mode that had an actual story. Was it high writing? No. But it was a huge leap forward for the franchise as far as narrative content is concerned. Really all three games can be awarded this category for different reasons depending on how much stock you put into innovation, outside the usual box development practices, and your own narrative preferences. So I actually won’t award this category to any one game and will leave it as a three way tie.

the-game-awards-2019Final Conclusion

Based on my assessments, here are the final results.

  • Gameplay – Smash Bros. Ultimate
  • Graphics – Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  • Audio – Death Stranding
  • Length – Smash Bros. Ultimate
  • Writing – Three Way Tie

Based on these results here are the final scores.

  1. Smash Bros. Ultimate – 3 Points
  2. Death Stranding – 2 Points
  3. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice – 2 Points

My Vote GOTY 2019Ultimately I voted for Smash Bros. Ultimate as GOTY. At first glance I had chosen Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and had even tweeted as such when debating it with someone who had read my original thread. But after taking the time to really examine the games, I came to the conclusion that the objectively correct choice for me was Smash Bros. Ultimate, as I have shown here.

Now again, I’m not saying you should vote for Smash Bros. Ultimate. I’m saying that your vote should be justified with an objective criteria that adequately meets the definition of the GOTY category as defined by The Game Awards. Your vote should not simply be the game you liked the most or that was the most popular on social media. Even the game that had the highest Metacritic score isn’t automatically the correct choice. Only by comparing the games with an objective set of criteria that is fairly applied to all of them with as little bias as possible can we hope to accurately choose the GOTY. Voting for this year’s GOTY is still open until December 11th at 6PM so so make sure you vote and do your best to vote objectively.

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Black Friday 2019 Aftermath

I am weighted down by all the games I bought during Black Friday sales this year. Black Friday deals were interesting this season. Last year I bought ten games, seven of which I was targeting from an original list of 17. This year I bought 21 games, only five of which I was specifically targeting from an original list of 16 games. So my targeted success rate has gone down slightly but my rate of total acquisitions has increased considerably. I definitely don’t need to buy any more games until Black Friday next year, but we all know that’s probably not what’s going to happen.

In many ways this was a much better Black Friday than last year’s as far as total deals available and the quality of them. But there were also some really terrible occurrences. Specifically GameStop and Rakuten really disappointed me. It seems that for some larger game distributors the term capitalism has become synonymous with the term nationalism. Here’s the deal: consumers have rights. Consumers have a right to privacy for one. American consumers specifically also have rights such as the freedom to live and work where they choose. They do not have the right to force businesses to change the way they conduct business, but they do have the right to be treated the same as any other American consumer regardless of their location when making an order. Both GameStop and Rakuten have decided that this is not the case and this cost me games I wanted to buy at the prices I wanted to buy them at.

gamestop badApparently GameStop has just recently changed their website and have now region locked it to be inaccessible by anyone outside the United States where their own country doesn’t have a branch, which are just a few places in Europe. Literally two days before Black Friday I was able to access GameStop’s website from here in Taiwan. The day of Black Friday I was no longer able to do this. I tried from multiple desktops and my phone to no avail. Then I looked it up on Reddit and found that countless other people around the world were having the same problem.

Rakuten, a Japanese company, was the only place during Black Friday that I found selling both Link’s Awakening and Luigi’s Mansion 3 at my desired $40 price point. This required you to purchase both games at the same time and use their 20% off Black Friday discount code. I was happy to do so. Rakuten’s US site doesn’t accept foreign credit/debit cards. No problem. I’m an American born citizen with a bank account from an American banking institution. Rakuten doesn’t ship outside the US. No problem. I’m an American born citizen with an American shipping address. And not a P.O. Box mind you. I have an actual home address I have things shipped to in the US. This is literally where I ship 100% of my Black Friday purchases. I made the purchase, it showed up on my bank statement, and then less than an hour later my order was cancelled. Long story short, they cancelled my order because I had made the purchase from an IP address outside the US. It didn’t matter that I’m an American. It didn’t matter that I paid with an American banking institution in USD. It didn’t matter that I was shipping to an American home address. All that mattered to them, and Gamestop, was that I wasn’t standing in the United States when trying to make my purchase.

black-friday-failThese sorts of location based limitations are a problem. They go against the rights of consumers, they ignore the fact that the world is now a global market, and they personally infringe upon my rights as an American. I was not demanding special treatment in my attempt to make purchases from these two businesses. I wasn’t using foreign currency or a foreign banking institution. I wasn’t shipping outside the US. Nothing I was attempting to do was illegal or an inconvenience to either company. I simply wasn’t in the US at the time of purchasing. Now I happen to live outside the US for work, but that’s not their business. What if I was traveling? What if I was seeking medical treatment outside the US for whatever reason? It doesn’t actually matter. My business is my business and I should be able to purchase American goods and services with American money to be shipped to American addresses from anywhere in the world.

Some sellers are great about this sort of thing. Amazon, for instance, doesn’t give a shit where I’m located when I make a purchase. They will even ship stuff to me in Taiwan and let me use my Taiwanese bank card to buy it. I don’t ship to Taiwan because of shipping costs, but the fact that I can shows why Jeff Bezos is as rich as he is. He puts profit before prejudice, like any good business owner should. Ultimately I was not able to get Link’s Awakening or Luigi’s Mansion 3 because I couldn’t find it at the appropriate price point anywhere else. And had they have told me why my order was cancelled before their sale ended, I would have had someone else repurchase the items for me from an American IP address. Which leads me to another big issue that consumers need to stop putting up with.

take my money futuramaBecause of my location, I have had a number of issues with online purchases over the years. Now as I said, I don’t believe that I as a consumer have a right to inconvenience or change the way American businesses conduct normal operations. But I do believe I as an American citizen have the right to the same treatment as any other American consumer and that when a company fails to deliver that they should be held responsible for fixing the issue at no additional cost to me. I buy a great many items, usually games or gaming related hardware, during sales at discounted rates. One of the most ridiculous practices among many different online sellers is that when they screw up an order, for whatever reason, the consumer is forced to lose out on the original purchase price. Here is an example. It’s Black Friday and you buy a game on sale. The site accepts the order and then later cancels it. You contact them to find out why the order was cancelled. You get a response after the discounted price period has ended. They admit that the order cancellation was a mistake and tell you how to complete the order successfully with a second try. They refuse to let you repurchase the product at the discounted price because the sale has ended. Why is it my problem that the sale period has ended when the seller has already admitted fault in writing? In that situation, the seller needs to reissue me the purchase at the discounted price manually. I don’t care how their system is coded. I made a legal purchase and they cancelled my order by mistake. They should honor that purchase price. Not try to cheat me into paying more for an item I originally purchased during their imposed discount period. That’s completely unacceptable. Honestly I will probably never consider buying an item from Rakuten ever again because of this experience.

best buyOn the positive side, I have to really commend Best Buy for their performance this Black Friday season. They provided free shipping on all purchases regardless of dollar amount and delivered fast. I made a purchase on the Sunday before Black Friday and it was delivered by the Wednesday before Black Friday. That’s phenomenal service. It begs the question why are people even letting Amazon charge a premium subscription fee for Amazon Prime memberships just to get fast shipping? And why are we putting up with a $25 – $35 minimum purchase amount to get free shipping, that’s not fast, when not a Prime subscriber? Best Buy has shown that it can be done fast and efficiently for free, at least in the holiday season if not year round. Consumers are being strong-armed into throwing away money when we clearly don’t have to be.

As far as game purchasing in general, I was impressed by a number of deals but also found that a lot of games I was targeting were just a little inflated this year. I consider myself fairly good, due to experience, at judging the market value of a game. I don’t believe in the modern line that games are art and thus can’t be evaluated accurately for cost. I do agree that games are art. But I also believe that games are a digital entertainment product that can be sold an unlimited number of times, produced for a massive consumer base, and exist within a comparative market. Yes I can put a price on your art. No that price is not based on what a developer, publisher, or even distributor wants that price to be. It’s based on comparative value of products and market trends. When I say a game is worth $20, it’s because I’ve done the research by checking out what the game offers, how much content it has, what it sold for at release, how old it currently is, and what it has been sold for in the past, as just a few of the many specific factors that should be taken into account when determining appropriate Black Friday price points. The prices I choose aren’t just pulled out of thin air. They’re based on a tried and true system of long term market analysis. Now I don’t consider this an exact science, but I do consider it a working system with established rules that can be observed with accuracy more than 80% of the time. So when I see games being priced above my estimations, I consider them to be failures on the part of sellers to adhere to the rules of the system out of greed. And let’s be clear, companies get away with being greedy all the time. That doesn’t change the fact that they’re overcharging for a product within an established pricing system.

shadow-of-the-tomb-raider-artI consider my estimations fair. I consider estimating within $5 of the final sale price during Black Friday to be an acceptable level of accuracy but that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m willing to pay up to $5 more than my declared price point for every game. Some games I will depending on the situation. For instance, I paid $24 for Shadow of the Tomb Raider – Definitive Edition. I deemed the appropriate price point to be $20. The game is more than a year old and Rise of the Tomb Raider 20 Year Anniversary Edition was sold the Black Friday after it released on PS4 at $20. I chose to pay the extra $4 here because I played the first game, Tomb Raider (2013) for “free” via PS Plus. So between three games, at least two of which I enjoyed quite a lot and presumably will the third, I paid a total of $44 to play including all the DLC for the second and third game of the series. I can live with those numbers. From my targeted list this year, there were eleven games that were overpriced for Black Friday pricing standards, five of which were within the $5 estimation range, four of which I still paid for even though they were in fact overpriced by up to $5. There were also games that came in under what I estimated them to be. I bought quite a few of these.

ps plus black fridayOne thing that made me really unhappy is the increasing price of PS Plus (12 month subscription). In the PS3 era, PS Plus was both a considerably better service and considerably cheaper. I remember buying it on sale for $35 and getting a $5 credit for PSN. Now it’s “on sale” at $45, the service offers way less in terms of actual rewards/returns, and the sale price keeps going up. Last year I paid $40. I don’t like this trend. Especially now that we’re not getting PS3 or Vita games and the number of PS4 games is limited to just two a month. XBOX Live Gold was maligned for years because of the low quality offerings and now it has been the superior option for about two straight years in a majority of cases.

As I said, it was a great year of buying games as far as volume is concerned. Here’s everything I managed to pick up this year. The ones from my original targeted list are marked with a star.

too-many-games-too-little-time big

  1. Yooka-Laylee: The Impossible Lair (PS4)
  2. Yakuza 0 (PS4)
  3. Yakuza Kiwami 2 – Steelbook Edition (PS4)*
  4. Yakuza 6: The Song of Life – Essence of Art Edition (PS4)
  5. NieR: Automata – Game of the YoRHa Edition (PS4)
  6. Kingdom Come Deliverance – Royal Edition (PS4)
  7. We Happy Few – Deluxe Edition (PS4)
  8. Anthem: Legion of Dawn Edition (PS4)
  9. Man of Medan (PS4)
  10. Devil May Cry V – Deluxe Edition (PS4)*
  11. Shadow of the Tomb Raider – Definitive Edition (PS4)*
  12. Collection of Mana (NS)
  13. Just Dance 2020 (NS)*
  14. Castlevania Arcade Collection (NS)
  15. The Banner Saga Trilogy (NS)*
  16. Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD (NS)
  17. Contra Rogue Corps (NS)
  18. Thumper (NS)
  19. Lichtspeer (NS)
  20. ReCore – Definitive Edition (PC)
  21. SuperHot (PC)

In addition to this fairly solid haul of games, I also managed to get a few other items at discounted prices.

  1. Elgato Stream Deck (15 Keys)
  2. Amazon Fire TV Stick 4K
  3. Nintendo Switch 80 Cartridge Carrying Case
  4. 12-Month PS Plus Subscription

I’m really glad that I was able to get an Elgato Stream Deck. As I said in my Black Friday lead up post, this was probably the most important buy for me. I loved the Stream Deck when I got to demo it a while back and I’ve been waiting for the price to go down on one for quite some time now. I actually missed out on a sale some months back because Amazon sold out before I got home from work to place the order.

Elgato_Stream_DeckIn general, I have to say that with all its problems, some of which were quite serious and disheartening, this was a much better Black Friday than last year. Specifically because of the number of releases from this year that went down quite a ways in price. Just looking at The Game Awards’ GOTY nominees, literally four of them were on sale with two of them being more than 50% off and the other two just under 50% off depending on where you were shopping. While not all their games were discounted, even the Switch had some fairly respectable discount offerings this year.  I picked up eight switch games compared to last year’s three. Even Pokémon Sword & Shield could be found at a discount. And the truth is that even with all the stuff I did buy I managed to stay under my maximum budget for Black Friday by quite a bit. It was truly a good Black Friday year.

 

How did Black Friday shopping go for you this year?  Let me know in the comments.

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