Were You Actually Waiting for a New Crash Bandicoot?

Last week, a new Crash Bandicoot game was revealed. The game’s official title, as of right now, is “Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time”. I take issue with this subtitle. It’s a pun about time travel referencing the third game, Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, which is clever. But it also implies that people have been waiting with anticipation for another Crash Bandicoot. My question is was anyone actually waiting for a new Crash Bandicoot game?

The Crash Bandicoot franchise is a classic that stretches all the way back to 1996. I’d argue that it was this franchise that put Naughty Dog on the map. They no longer develop titles for the franchise but they were the ones who started the titular character’s journey. Crash Bandicoot was so famous and successful that he was PlayStation’s equivalent to Mario for a long time. Some might even argue he still is. Not unlike Mario and Sonic, Crash Bandicoot is a platforming franchise at its core but has at times branched out into other genres, with games like Crash Team Racing and Crash Boom Bang! Overall Crash Bandicoot has 16 games, 4 mobile games, and appears in at least 2 non-franchise titles. But if we’re looking at just the core platformers, Crash Bandicoot hasn’t put out a game since 2008. Unless you count N. Sane Trilogy, which is a remaster of the original three Naughty Dog games. There have also been a large number of cancelled games in the franchise.

I’m a fan of Crash Bandicoot, but I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a die hard. I grew up playing these games. I think I’ve played five or six of them overall. I, like most people, agree that the franchise has only gone down in quality since the original trilogy. They have had some interesting ideas over the years. I liked the concept of Crash of the Titans more than the game itself. But when it comes down to full game execution the Naughty Dog trilogy still takes the cake in that franchise. The problem is that the last Crash Bandicoot platformer from Naughty Dog came out in 1998. It’s been more than 20 years since the franchise did anything truly great. Yet people still talk about Crash Bandicoot. People still celebrate the character and talk like he’s a current part of their gaming habits and interests. Currently that’s sort of true with the recent remasters of the original trilogy and Crash Team Racing, but again we haven’t seen an actual new game, other than some mobile shovelware, in more than a decade. And those last few games were considered average at best. I’d go as far as saying the Crash Bandicoot franchise has even underperformed and under delivered compared to the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. And that’s been tepid at best for a long time with a few positive outliers. So is it that people have really been waiting for a new Crash Bandicoot game, or are people just unwilling to officially let the franchise go?

N Sane TrilogyThe statement “it’s about time” implies that the public has been asking for a new Crash Bandicoot game. While I’m by no means opposed to a new Crash Bandicoot game and will of course by this latest announced title if it looks good, I can’t say that I’ve actually thought to myself that I actively want another Crash Bandicoot probably since before I played Crash of the Titans on the Wii. Now I don’t claim that everyone shares that opinion, but I can say that other than in the occasional thread brought on by the official Crash Bandicoot social media team, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a request for a new Crash Bandicoot on any other platform or thread. I have seen demand for Crash Team Racing to be remastered on several occasions, which is why that happened. But a new Crash Bandicoot platformer just isn’t something I’ve seen evidence of being in high demand.  Yet when that teaser dropped it seemed like a lot of people were chomping at the bit like they’ve been actively waiting for such an announcement for a long time.

Crash of the TitansIn my honest opinion, I think we’ve just moved on from Crash Bandicoot as a mainstream franchise. Mario has maintained the quality for a majority of games since the beginning. Sonic hasn’t necessarily maintained the quality consistently, but they have kept up with releasing titles, diversifying the franchise, and innovating gameplay. But I’d argue PlayStation very effectively just replaced Crash Bandicoot and moved on. If you asked me what would be the next best core platformer franchise from Nintendo after Mario, I’d probably say Donkey Kong. Yet the last home console Donkey Kong platformer came out in 2014 on the Wii U. Yes it was ported to the Switch in 2018, but that doesn’t count. Whereas we’ve gotten Mario Odyssey in 2017 and a grip of other Mario games that are also great but not necessarily core platforming titles. If you asked me what would be the next best platformer franchise from SEGA after Sonic, I’d not be able to give you an answer without Googling it first. The problem isn’t necessarily that SEGA doesn’t have other platforming games as much as it doesn’t have other ones that are alive and well. Maybe I’d say Super Monkey Ball, but that’s not really a platformer as the core mechanic. But if you said to me name the next best platformer from PlayStation after Crash Bandicoot, I’d say Crash Bandicoot isn’t currently even in the top three. Nor is it a PlayStation exclusive franchise anymore, which is fine but it also proves my point that PlayStation moved on from the franchise. I’d quickly say that Ratchet & Clank, Knack, and Jack & Daxter were/are all better platforming franchises from PlayStation. Jak & Daxter’s last serious home console outing was admittedly in 2005, but I’d say it was better than Crash Bandicoot’s last serious home console outing three years later.

Mario Crash SonicThe hard truth is that the reason Crash Bandicoot hasn’t really accomplished much in the last decade is that it hasn’t had to. It has been replaced with higher quality, more modern franchises. Remember that Jak & Daxter was also developed by Naughty Dog and the first game in that franchise was the first game they released after their final Crash Bandicoot. Mario and Sonic, on the other hand, have not been replaced by other franchises. They have both evolved over time in order to stay current. Meanwhile, Crash Bandicoot lost his position on the podium. I am way more excited for Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart than I am for Crash Bandicoot 4. It’s just a better, more exciting platforming franchise that I’m more invested in at this point since the franchise has continued consistently releasing high quality platforming games since its debut in 2002, just four years after Naughty Dog’s last Crash Bandicoot platformer, Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped, released.

There are 13 Ratchet & Clank games, not counting the upcoming PS5 title. Looking at just the home console titles, I’ve played at least nine of them and while I wouldn’t say all of them were consistently better than the last, I would say that only one of them was bad. That’s of course Ratchet & Clank: All 4 One, which is proof that if a franchise model ain’t broke then you don’t need to fix it. Based on the releases and their reception, I think it’s quite fair to say that Ratchet & Clank replaced Crash Bandicoot as PlayStation’s main platforming franchise and they did it several years ago. At this point, Crash Bandicoot is more like a star that still hangs around Hollywood because people like him rather than out of a desire to see him get back into the spotlight.

So to circle back to my question, was anyone honestly waiting for a new Crash Bandicoot game? Or are you just happy that it’s happening because the franchise is nostalgic for you? I can say honestly that I was actively waiting for a new Ratchet & Clank game. I have more platinum trophies in that franchise than any other one. I can say that I’m actively waiting for a new Donkey Kong platformer and a Super Mario Odyssey 2. I can even say that I’d happily play a Knack III. But a Crash Bandicoot 4 is simply something I’d play because I played the original trilogy and the N. Sane Trilogy. Not because I was genuinely hoping for or expecting another game to be released. I may be wrong but I think this is how most people actually feel about the situation based on what I’ve seen prior to the official announcement.

It’s not my intention to knock Crash Bandicoot. The original trilogy were some of the best platformers of their time and had a huge influence on the platformers that came after it. I think it’s fair to say that Ratchet & Clank wouldn’t be what it is without Crash Bandicoot first paving the way for PlayStation platformers. It’s a foundational franchise that is extremely important to gaming history. But that doesn’t mean we have to keep it on life support. Franchises can and should end when it’s time. I’d say the same thing about the Oddworld franchise. Was anyone actively waiting for Oddworld Soulstorm? It’s possible but I doubt it. I’d like to see these development teams build new IPs and cast off the chains of tradition rather than keep trying to revive franchises that are way past their prime. And it is fair to say that Crash Bandicoot is past its prime. This new game may revitalize it, and congrats to the studio if they manage to accomplish that, but the honest truth is there isn’t/wasn’t some army of Crash Bandicoot stans actively demanding a new installment in the franchise. Probably because they were too busy demanding a Final Fantasy VII Remake and Bayonetta 3 for the last several years.

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Support Diversity, Not Fascism (Little Devil Inside)

As an African American, it does not make me happy to have to write a post like this at this time. I would argue infighting is one of the main reasons that so many groups with a seemingly common goal fail to accomplish real change within whatever context. Whether it’s government, healthcare, or the games industry, I think infighting among special interest groups happens too often and always to the advantage of those fighting against change. But I will also not stand by and just let people, of any race including my own, spout off takes that are not only blatantly wrong but also detrimental to people of color in the long run. So while I did not want to write this post, and had not originally planned to write it this week if at all, I felt it was important and necessary.

Little Devil Inside is an upcoming indie game from a Korean developer called Neostream Interactive. And by Korean I don’t mean Asian people living in America. I mean actual Koreans born and raised in Korea. This game was shown during the PS5 Reveal presentation earlier this month. In fact, it was the topic of last week’s blog post.  Little Devil Inside was one of the trailers I liked most from the entire presentation. In this game, you explore different parts of the world (unconfirmed if it’s the real world or a made up one) and hunt monsters. These monsters include dragons, krakens, giant felines, and many other things. There are also humanoid, but not necessarily human, enemies found in the various lands you explore. The game looks absolutely awesome and I’m looking forward to playing it. I will probably even contact the developer and request a review copy.

Soon after the PS5 Reveal presentation, some YouTuber, who I won’t name here, decided that they were offended by this trailer. Specifically they were offended by a specific group of humanoid enemies shown in the trailer. Again, these enemies have not been confirmed to be actual humans. And this world has not been confirmed to be our world. But this YouTuber decided they were offended. Specifically they were offended on behalf of us Black people. I don’t know the YouTuber personally. I don’t know if they are or are not Black. But I know that they were offended specifically because of how this character design resembles Black stereotypes to them. They proceeded to post their opinion online and that opinion went viral ultimately causing the development studio to apologize profusely and promise to change the designs. The YouTuber ultimately accepted the apology, once again on behalf of all of us Black people, acknowledged that they felt the developers, a group of Koreans with no history of African slavery or systemic racism against Black people, were sincere in their claim that they had no intention of offending Black people or trying to further stereotypes. After the apology was given and accepted, the YouTuber followed up by making the claim/demand that all studios need to have a person of color in the room to ensure things like this don’t happen in the future. And by person of color they meant Black person because obviously Asians don’t count as people of color . . . There are a number of things that need to be unpacked here.

MasksFirst, let me start by saying social media influencers have too much power. A single person should not be able to make a tweet on behalf of all Black people, cause a viral outrage, and possibly end the careers of an entire studio of developers. Sure it’s an indie studio with only 12 core employees so it’s not a ton of people, but it’s still a flagrantly abusive level of power for someone I’ve never even heard of before to have as an unelected member of our society. That’s the first issue I want to layout. But now let’s actually talk about the real problems with this entire scenario.

A big problem, which has only gotten worse over time, is that Americans tend to dictate the terms of reality to the rest of the world while ignoring the fact that their reality doesn’t apply to the rest of the world. Take sexism as an example. In the United States of America, the tech industry is bogged down by sexism. It is difficult for women to get jobs in the tech industry. Or at least that’s what I’ve been told and led to believe for most of my life. I’ve never actually worked in the American tech industry so I can neither confirm nor deny this claim. But I do work in the Taiwanese tech industry and have for several years. I can say with the utmost level of assurance that sexism is absolutely not a problem for the tech industry in Taiwan. I might be inclined to say racism was, but not sexism. I’d even go as far as saying that women might outnumber men in the Taiwanese tech industry. And that’s at all levels. Sales, engineering, PR, marketing, and so on. It would be insulting to the industry as a whole for someone to claim Taiwan’s tech industry has a sexism problem. What that means is that the issue(s) American women are complaining about and fighting for in the American tech industry doesn’t apply to Taiwan. So when certain policies and expectations are set by Americans concerning this issue and then forced onto the rest of the world it becomes a real problem. This is probably even more true with racism.

American Stereotypes MapThere are two types of racism: systemic and individual. The former often manifests itself within the latter. Many individuals are racist because the system has taught them to be so. Also, many people don’t see themselves as racists because the system has done the racism for them. So they don’t see their beliefs and actions as racist because they’re just behaving normally within a system that’s inherently racist so they are literally incapable of even recognizing their own racism. America is rampant with both types of racism.

In my opinion, individual racism requires two things: intent and knowledge. You have to be aware that something is racist and you have to intend to offend with the racist act. If both of these things are not true then it’s not racism. The act might be racist in a certain context, but the person doing the act is not a racist. Though they may be a victim of systemic racism causing them to unintentionally act in a racist way. For example, people who vote for a candidate that supports policies that will disproportionately hurt the Black community are not necessarily racists. Because they may very well support those policies for reasons that have nothing to do with how they will affect the Black community and may not even be aware of those negative effects. These people are not intentionally racist. They are victims of systemic racism guiding their decisions. It’s still a problem and they do need to be properly educated on the issue, but labeling them as racists is inaccurate until they are made knowledgeable about what their voting decisions will do to Black communities.

tosh_11_009_is_it_racistOn the other side of the coin, if you don’t know something is racist and you do it then you aren’t a racist, because you didn’t know the act was racist and didn’t intend for it to be. That doesn’t necessarily make it OK. But it’s another example of the actor not being racist. So before moving forward I want to make it very clear that Neostream Interactive is not and did not intend to be racist with their designs in Little Devil Inside. And most people, including the YouTuber, agree with that statement. Neostream Interactive is not racist against Black people. Or at least this issue is not proof of that if they are.

So if we can move past the issue of the developer being racist, which I think we can and have already explained why, then all we really need to discuss is what is and isn’t OK for developers to do. And this is the much more important question in a globally active and relevant creative industry. Though many Americans hate to acknowledge it, not all games are made by or for American audiences. And even within the American audience, not all games are made for all American players. So what is and is not OK for creatives to do with their time, effort, and money? This is the question that continues to plague this and many other creative industries. In this specific instance, are the designs created by Neostream Interactive for these supposedly offensive characters problematic? Or more to the point, should the developers be forced or expected to change them?

Masks LDINow the main list of complaints regarding these designs were that they resembled Black stereotypes. Specifically they had darker skin, dreadlocks, wore masks that had had big red lips, and the dart blowers they hold resemble marijuana joints. Now you can say these natives are Black, in the American sense of the word, but that’s not confirmed given there’s no locational context, no breakdown of how race works within the world of the game, and no specific confirmation that they’re even humans given the fact that they’re wearing masks. Also, they’re not dark skinned, as in Kenyan, they’re just darker skinned as in not Caucasian. But that includes a lot of different people. If you took all the people in the world that have skin tones similar to the characters in the image other than those of African descent you’d still have several including Indians, Middle Eastern/Arabs, Maoris and other native island populations, Filipinos, Sri Lankans and other Southeast Asians, and the list can go on. To just say “well they aren’t White so they must be Black” isn’t really accurate. I’m not gonna be one of those White people that goes “you’re the real racists” because that’s a stupid argument that doesn’t hold any water given the context that it’s always used in, but I will say that no it is not fair to just ignore several different non-Black ethnic groups simply because you are Black and as an American think the world revolves around you. I’m an African American but as an expat I’m aware that there are people who aren’t Black that have darker skin than me around the world.

Indian Dreadlocks
FYI this is a Native American. Shame on you for being racist . . .

Of course many people will then say what about the dreadlocks. Sure you can argue the skin doesn’t automatically mean Black but when you add it to the dreadlocks it’s a no brainer. Again, that’s an assumption. Yes dreadlocks are stereotypically applied to Black people, usually Jamaicans because of iconic figures like Bob Marely, but people all over the world can and do have dreadlocks. You might remember a White band called Korn that was famous for having them. But I can show you countless examples of non-Black dark skinned people with dreadlocks. Just Google “indian dreadlocks” and you will find countless pictures of dark-skinned, non-Black people with epic dreadlocks. So to just assume these are Black people is pretty unfair. Especially when the developers are Korean. They are much closer to places like Southeast Asia and India both physically and culturally. It’s not ridiculous to think they pulled inspiration for the designs from a culture other than African tribesmen.

© Bill BennettThe masks I don’t agree with at all and I hate that people do this. Black face is a very culturally specific issue that applies to pretty much only North America. And really it only applies to the United States in an overwhelming majority of scenarios. Because Black face is specifically about African Americans not being able to work in show business so White people dawned makeup to simulate Black people both on stage and in movies rather than allowing Black people to represent themselves in the form of Black actors. You can’t really apply Black face to any other culture because no other culture has a long history of making movies with Black characters in them, outside of African countries, that had the resources to produce films. Even today, an overwhelming percentage of movies with Black characters in them only come from North America or the UK. Korean films don’t really have Black people in them. The only one I can even think of is Snowpiercer. Which has a Korean director, the great Boon Joon-ho, but I don’t know if I’d call it a Korean film. It’s based on a French graphic novel, filmed in the Czech Republic, and starring a white guy, Chris “Captain America” Evans. It’s as much a Korean film as a Mexican guy using kimchi in tacos is Korean food. Black face doesn’t really apply to most cultural histories because most of them didn’t and still don’t put Black people in their films to begin with. Now that in and of itself is racism, kind of, but it’s not Black face. So to expect people outside of America to register Black face within their content is wrong. And it happens all the time and it irritates me a lot.

SnowpiercerJapan, for example, gets accused of doing Black face all the time. But it’s not really fair to accuse them of something that has nothing to do with their history. And then people say “well they should know better in 2020”. But why? Why should they know better? Do you think people in Japan spend their days learning about the racist history of the American film industry? They don’t. Most Americans don’t spend their days learning about the racist history of the American film industry. So why would a bunch of people in a country that has for all intents and purposes no (a negligible amount) Black people be aware of these sorts of racial offenses? Do you as an American know all the different cultural faux pas of Japan? I bet you don’t.

Can we also acknowledge that the masks aren’t black? They’re white. If anything, this is White face. So the entire premise of these masks representing Black face is just ridiculous. You’re taking a piece of these designs out of context, blatantly ignoring the rest of the design, and declaring a racist stereotype. That’s not fair. What if I saw a Canadian person drinking beer and called them a Nazi? They’ve not said anything offensive or anti-Semitic. They’re not wearing Nazi memorabilia. They didn’t vote for a racist candidate. They’re just drinking a beer. And I said well beer is stereotypically German and Germans are stereotypically Nazis so by drinking a beer you are emulating Nazis and thus that makes you a Nazi. That Canadian person, and hopefully every other person, though I doubt it in 2020, would say I was insane. And I would be. Because you can’t just apply pieces of things with no context to other things and label them racism. These characters aren’t dark skinned people with big lips. They’re darker skinned people with white masks that have big lips. But that’s just tribal mask designs embellished with artistic license to make them standout in a video game.

India Mask
From India

Google “tribal masks”. Now the first thing that’s gonna happen is that you’re going to assume they’re all African tribal masks and that’s you being a little racist by exclusion. There are native tribes from all over the world and many of them carved masks. To just assume all tribal masks reference Africa is not only exclusionary, but also wildly inaccurate. What you will notice is that many of these masks have thick, exaggerated lips on them. Not just in red but in many colors. Are there African masks like that? Absolutely. Are there also masks like that from other cultures? Absolutely. Now I am happy to acknowledge that a great many of the masks in the general Google search are/will be African masks, but to just assume that this Korean team was absolutely trying to depict Black people would be confirmation bias based on that fact. Also, that actually would be to their credit if they were trying to depict authentic tribal masks, because the real masks do have large pronounced lips. So it’s not a reference to Black face or Black stereotypes. If anything referencing Black people, it’s an attempt to be accurate in the depiction of African tribal masks. So not only are the masks not black in color but they’re also not necessarily Black in terms of cultural background. And even if they are, they’d still be an accurate depiction of the source material. So I consider the red lips, and by extension the masks as a whole, to be a non-issue. I could debate the skin tones with you. I can debate the hair. But the masks cannot be seen as racist. Unless you want to go the cultural appropriation route but I’m not gonna even dignify that line of reasoning in this particular discussion.

Yahua_Blowgun_Amazon_Iquitos_Peru
This is a Native from a tribe in Peru.

Now the dart blowers I’m 50/50 on. Not on whether or not it’s some sort of attack on Black people but whether or not they resemble joints. Let’s be very clear, blow darts are a type of weapon that have been used by multiple cultures and not stereotypically applied to African tribes. If anything they’re a stereotype of Central and South American native populations. Africa you think spears as the stereotype,  not blow darts. So if anything the presence of dart blowers should move you away from the assumption that these characters are meant to be Black. But after doing some research I can understand why people would say the dart blowers look like joints. Real life dart blowers tend to be much longer than the ones in this picture. They can be this short but it’s very rare. So saying they look like joints, though no one is saying they are joints, is a fair opinion to have. But if anything that just means that these aren’t necessarily humans at all and thus the same standards of representation shouldn’t be applied to them. Or this isn’t meant to be our world at all, meaning we shouldn’t be applying any of our standards to it. Also, I think it’s really offensive to say that only Black people smoke weed. I’ve known potheads of every race. There was a time where weed was applied as a stereotype to Black people but that’s one of the few instances of racism that I think we’ve actually moved past as a society. Probably because White people were given permission to profit off it legally. But joints for sure aren’t a stereotype of Black people. If anything they’re a stereotype of hippies. Now if those dart blowers were brown and looked like a Philly blunt then sure I’d get on board, but a regular white joint is not iconic to Black people.

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If it’s not obvious, I think all four of these complaints are not valid claims that Neostream Interactive has been racially insensitive and that these are offensive depictions of Black people. Because as I’ve shown, there’s no hard evidence that these even are depictions of Black people. And if they are, they’re not offensive. They’re fairly accurate depictions of tribesmen wearing traditional masks, other than the short length of the dart blowers. So this comes back to my original question: what is and is not OK for developers to do? More specifically what is and is not OK for a group of Korean developers to depict in their games? Because that’s what this is really about. This is about Americans deciding what is and is not OK for non-Americans to depict in their art. I assume at least some of these Americans are actually Black, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they weren’t. It is 2020 after all. These people who have complained don’t actually want more racially sensitive depictions of Black people in this or any game. What they actually want is for Korean developers, among other foreign, non-Black developers to not depict Black people in their games at all. And that’s a different issue altogether.

Rachel Dolezal
Not a Black person.

There are two commonly occurring opinions on the representation of Black people in visual art forms. Usually you either are fine with anyone doing it as long as they don’t cross certain obvious lines. Or you don’t want anyone doing it except for Black people. There are other opinions, but these two are the most commonly occurring. Sadly, a lot of people take the latter view. Not just Black people. A lot of people think that only Black people should be allowed to depict Black people. Many will offer a compromise and say well if you aren’t Black you can hire a Black person to make sure your work is racially sensitive. I have major problems with that compromise though.  First off, it puts forth the idea that one Black person gets to speak for all Black people. Like the YouTuber stated that Neostream’s designs are why every game studio needs to have a Black person in the room. At least when depicting people with darker skin in their games. The YouTuber didn’t make that clarification in the posts I saw, but I will give them the benefit of the doubt that they wouldn’t expect a Japanese development team making a game about exclusively Japanese characters to hire a Black person to give their insight about representation. I could be wrong. Again, it is 2020. But I assume they have some level of practicality in their head. But this is a ridiculous level of power to give one person. The argument is literally that this development team is meant to trust this one Black person to represent the views of all Black people accurately. Or at the very least they will be able to determine what will offend the lowest number of Black people while still appealing to the largest number of Black people as a realistic depiction of Black people. We’re not a homogenized group of a singular mind. This post is proof of that. I’m so in disagreement with the opinion that this game is offensive to Black people that I’ve taken the time to write a post more than five single spaced pages long to defend the developer. And I almost never defend developers on any issue.

Barret Wallace
Not made by Black people.

The first issue leads into the second one. In what world is it practical, either financially or physically, for an indie studio of only 12 people located in Korea to hire a Black person? More so, to hire a Black person in order to make judgements for what probably amounts to maybe an hour of content. Unless this game is just rife with enemies that can be thought of as Black people, we’re talking about enemies in a single area of a game that appears to have several areas. If this was a AAA studio located in the US or the EU, sure. I can 100% agree that they have a Black person on staff. I would hope that the Black person isn’t there just to be the resident Black person and that they can actually contribute to game production in some way. But yes, the Western gaming industry can and should do more to diversify their hiring practices. And no hiring a bunch of white women is not enough to consider the diversity issue dealt with. But an indie studio located in a place where the number of Black people is so low that the word negligible isn’t even low enough to describe the percentage of available candidates is ridiculous. I live in Taiwan. The country has a population of 23.78 million people. I would be surprised if there are 500 Black people on this entire island. And if you mean African American and don’t count actual Africans, it’s probably not even 200 people. And to be frank, a lot of us aren’t fluent in the local language, Mandarin. Now I’ve never been to Korea but I would assume it’s a similar situation to Taiwan. There aren’t loads of Black people running around, fluent in Korean, looking to consult on video game wokeness. And even if by some magical coincidence there were, it’s completely ridiculous to expect an indie studio to shell out the money to employ one. Many indie studios struggle just to keep their doors open. So this entire line of reasoning doesn’t make any practical sense.

Big black bro koreaAdditionally, I don’t want people being handed jobs in the gaming industry that don’t actually have any interest or relevance to the gaming industry. I’m an African American that has spent my life trying to break into that industry. The idea of just handing Black people jobs at game development studios that have nothing to do with actual game development cheapens the accomplishment of every Black person who has struggled to and ultimately achieved the goal of working as a game developer. I don’t want to see that cheapened.

Finally, this is offensive to creatives as a whole. As a creative myself, I don’t like the idea of people being able to dictate what we can and can’t do to realize our own artistic visions. Yes there are lines. Like you probably shouldn’t make a game where there’s a group of people known for their violence, love of fried chicken & watermelon, and their ability to dance that happen to have dark skin. But that’s a pretty obvious line that’s easy not to cross. But if we’re gonna start saying giving a character dreadlocks is offensive then how are creatives supposed to even create? And that’s why I don’t actually buy into this compromise of hiring diversity consultants. I think it’s a red herring for people who actually just don’t want to see Black characters created by non-Black people. And to be honest I can understand why people feel that way.

Creative FreedomI’ve written more than once about the fact that Black people aren’t usually represented well or properly in games. We’re rarely protagonists. When we are protagonists it can be done really badly. And often when they do try to do it the game ends up sucking for other reasons and then the presence of a Black protagonist is blamed for why the game didn’t do well. It’s really hard and unfair. So much to the point that many Black people have given up. They would rather not see a white company make Black characters if the alternative is doing Black characters poorly. I get why people feel that way. At times, I have felt that way. But ultimately I don’t like the idea of preventing anyone who isn’t Black from putting Black characters in their games. For the simple fact that it hurts the goal of normalization in the long run.

I yearn for the day when a developer or publisher announces that a game will have a Black protagonist and nobody cares. Black people don’t care. White people don’t care. No one cares. Not because people don’t like games with Black protagonists and will just ignore the project, but because it’s so common that it’s no longer a selling point. I hope for a time when EA says a new game will star a Black guy and all the White people in the comments section reply by saying that’s nothing special because they’ve already played three AAAs that year with Black protagonists. That’s where I want us to get. Women, or at least white women, are starting to get there. I think it’s very telling that some of the most popular upcoming games and even games of the last generation star women. The Last of Us Part 2, the latest Tomb Raider trilogy, and Horizon: Zero Dawn as well as the recently announced sequel. I’m not saying that female protagonists are now so common that they’ve become a trope, but we are at a point where a majority of gamers don’t think it’s particularly out of the box to have one. At least when it comes to white female protagonists anyway. That’s where I hope Black protagonists get one day.

Horizon 2The fact is that such a level of normalization can’t happen if only Black developers are allowed to have Black characters in their games. We simply don’t have the access and resources to create that many noteworthy projects. There are Black owned and operated game development studios. But all of them are indie and almost none of them are widely known by name. It’s much easier to get a large number of non-Black gamers to play a game starring a Black guy by Ubisoft than it is to get them to play one by an indie developer. That’s just the truth of the market. That means that we have to rely on others to help normalize us in games. Because we literally cannot do it ourselves at this point. So I would rather allow a Korean studio be allowed to have Black characters in any capacity in their game and help to build up the normalization of Black people in games than stifle that normalization process because some people looking to get offended don’t like historically accurate depictions of tribal masks.

Watch Dogs 2 Screenshot 2020.02.01 - 14.45.07.40I still don’t agree that it’s valid to state with 100% certainty that those tribal characters are Black, but if they are I want you to really think about what that means. A small Korean team of 12 people living in a country where they don’t even really have Black people chose to include them in their game. Maybe not as the protagonist, but that’s still a huge leap in the fight for normalization. There are still AAA titles from Western devs that have zero Black characters in them. The fact that a group of people who collectively might not even know a single Black person at a personal level chose to include them is really spectacular. And the fact that people attacked them for that is a step in the wrong direction, in my opinion. Because now the next indie studio from Asia probably isn’t going to do it. They might think about having Black characters and ultimately decide it’s not worth the risk. We should not be trying to stifle our own inclusion in games. We should be encouraging it. Especially when we believe beyond a reasonable doubt that the developer did not have ill intentions. But instead those people of color are being removed from the game completely. The dev has already stated that they will make their skin tones lighter. That may not mean that they end up being Caucasian, but they certainly will not be Black. Meaning Black people, or at least those who chose to speak on behalf of Black people, literally white washed us out of the game. Solutions like that will never lead to normalization.

Again, I’m not happy that I had to write this post. I’m not happy that some people will read it and call me an Uncle Tom. Even though we’re talking about Koreans and White people have literally nothing to do with this issue. I hate the fact that I was forced to write an opinion against some of my fellow African Americans during this critical moment in Black history. That all makes me very unhappy. But I am not going to stand by and watch what looks like a great indie project get destroyed because of unfounded political grandstanding by social media influencers looking to get clicks. I side with Neostream Interactive on this issue. I’m unhappy they were forced to change their designs out of fear for their project’s success. I think Little Devil Inside looks great and I am sad that there will absolutely be no Black people in the final product and most likely no projects coming out of Korea for quite some time. I wish the studio the best of luck and I can’t wait to try the game.

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Let’s Talk About the PS5 Reveal

Last week, we finally got to see the long awaited PS5 reveal. So let’s do a deep dive of the entire presentation, or at least the parts of it that gave us information we didn’t already know. I considered just going through the whole thing chronologically but I think it would be better to discuss the presentation as a whole, then the console, and end with a rundown of the games shown. But if you want to skip right to the games then you can scroll down to the “The Games” section.

THE PRESENTATION

I really liked this presentation. Or more specifically, I really like how they structured the presentation. They started off by doing a flashback sequence to the PS1 era and then traveled through PlayStation history all the way to today. Now this was cool because it was very nostalgic for people like me who have been playing games on PlayStation consoles since the debut system back in 1994. But at first I really didn’t like it because it subliminally set an expectation of focusing on yesterday. They primed the viewer to expect a bunch of ports and remasters to be shown followed by a discussion on backwards compatibility. And that’s exactly what they didn’t do, which is awesome. They set the bar really low for me by starting with a history lesson. They even went as far as announcing that GTA Online would be on PS5. Because we really need to keep playing that almost a decade later . . . So I was ready to be disappointed. I thought it was gonna be like the Switch just announcing a bunch of games I’ve already beaten on PS4. But after the GTA Online announcement they didn’t mention a single game available on PS4. That made me so happy. For some reason everyone has focused on backwards compatibility and playing old games. I don’t know why, but for some reason people want all this additional power in their next console so they replay stuff they’ve already beaten. And that’s not just PlayStation users. XBOX users have continuously whined about backwards compatibility as well and Nintendo is often celebrated for porting Wii U titles to the Switch and charging full price for them. So I was so glad that SONY essentially made the statement that the PS5 is about gaming tomorrow. Not gaming yesterday. Thus naming the presentation “The Future of Gaming”.

Another aspect of the presentation I really liked was the order of the games shown. They didn’t really have any sort of pattern to them. You had AAA titles, lots of indies, every genre, and no specific order. You’re looking at a third person AAA action game and then suddenly they were showing an indie game about being a cat. You’re watching a slow paced indie trailer about space exploration and then it’s followed by a AAA cooperative brawler. They didn’t allow you to get comfortable or have any preconceived expectations about what was gonna be shown next. I liked this because you could never get complacent while watching. It was a long presentation but because it had so much variety and no real structure to it you were never allowed to zone out or you might miss something important. So it kept me engaged the whole time. I’m really happy they chose to show a lot of indie stuff and a lot of it was really nice indie stuff. There were a few titles that I felt were not up to the standard of what a console reveal presentation game should be, but that just means that SONY wants people to realize just how much variety will be available on the PS5. So many SONY haters like to say “PlayStation just has third person movie games”, which is an inaccurate description of the PS4 library, but the point is that SONY went out of their way to say that not only will the PS5 have variety, but it will have variety supported directly by SONY.

xbox-series-x-vs-sony-ps5-graphics-performance-2It’s also important to note that they showed a lot of games. I don’t know what the most games I’ve ever seen shown in a single presentation is, but this presentation showed 24 new games, one remake, and one port. And of those 24 new games, I think 20 of them were new announcements with no previous discussion other than assumed sequels like a new Horizon was on the horizon (pun intended). People kept asking “What about the games?” and they delivered the games in this presentation. I don’t care about specs. Like for me there is no comparison between PS5 and XBOX Series X because XBOX Series X has yet to show me a single platform exclusive title that I actually want to play. I don’t care if it has more teraflops. And I certainly wouldn’t buy a console to play multiplatform titles when I have a custom built PC. So for me the better console is the console with games I want to play. And before even showing me price, which I’m not happy about SONY, they’ve already shown me at least 10 games that I’m absolutely gonna play. I make it a personal rule not to buy a console until it has at least 10 games available I’m interested in buying. PS5 isn’t even out yet and they’ve shown me 10 games I want to play. Now I will say that I make it a point of applying that rule to AAA caliber games and no this presentation did not show me 10 AAA caliber games that I want to play. But it did show me six and that’s without counting Sackboy: A Big Adventure, which I would argue might count since I did count Knack on the PS4. So they’re at nearly seven of 10 with the reveal presentation. And that’s me as a person who isn’t going to pick up Hitman 3, Returnal, or Deathloop. So if I liked shooters, that’s an additional three games right there because all three of them definitely looked to be at the quality I would require to count them in my opening 10. I just don’t like shooters for the most part. And I still could see myself picking up Returnal in the long run. So the showing of games was very strong here as a first announcement.

mark-cerny-ps5-revealThe one thing I didn’t like about the presentation of games was the lack of consistency between the type of content shown from game to game. Some games were just a cinematic trailer. Some had gameplay. Some didn’t even have actual game content and just showed an unrelated cinematic or a couple flash images. There was no coherency in the quality of the individual game presentations. Like the Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart segment was probably the best segment in the entire presentation because it had everything. It had a developer discuss the game, in game cinematics, and actual gameplay footage. It was a proper presentation of a game. Meanwhile NBA2K21 was literally an actual basketball player saying “here’s a trailer for the game” and then all it showed was that same player rendered in game but not actually doing gameplay. He just plugged the game digitally by shooting alone in a gym and then walking away. It was dramatic, uninformative, and ultimately pointless. It did literally nothing to make you want to buy a PS5 or even the game. All it did was confirm that another annual release was coming even though we already knew that intuitively. So for me that was the flaw of the presentation. Some games, including indies gave you meaningful content. While other ones just sort of participated. I would have wanted every game to have been presented at the level of content quality as Ratchet & Clank regardless of the quality of the individual games shown.

Finally, they were really smart to leave the hardware till the end because honestly people did want to see games more than hardware at this point. We’d already sat through a long discussion from Mark Cerny about hardware improvements on the PS5 and we’ve spent months comparing specs between the PS5 and the XBOX Series X. It was time to focus on games. So ending with hardware was the right choice here. Overall I thought it was a great presentation as far order, structure, and what was actually delivered. So now let’s talk about the console.

THE CONSOLE

I’m just gonna say it. The PS5 is an ugly console. I do not like it. In no way does that affect my decision to buy, because like I said, I buy consoles based on the exclusives. If a console has enough games I want to play and I can’t play them anywhere else (legally) then I’ll buy the console. But the PS5 is a hideous looking machine. SONY dared too hard to be different. And I don’t believe that the airflow will be any better than on the PS4.

PS5 VersionNow this wasn’t expressed during the presentation, but the console can lay on its side, which for my current setup is a must. When I saw the console, I wasn’t sure if it could lay on its side or not so I was really worried. Because like most adults, I have an entertainment stand with compartments for different machines. The Switch is super inconvenient in the fact that it has to not only stand vertically when docked also but be accessible at all times so you can undock it, which I do a lot. But if I had to have my PS5 freestanding vertically, that would really inconvenience me. Because it’s a bigger machine and I will never move it save for the occasional dusting. I will buy it, but I do not like the way it looks. My plan is to wait and buy a PRO version, assuming that will still be a thing in the next gen. So I hope everyone bitches and moans about how terrible this console looks so they make a better looking version down the road for me to buy.

PS5 HorizontalThey still haven’t shared a price but they announced a Digital Edition. I do not like this one bit. We all know it’s inevitable that eventually all consoles will be full digital, but I do not like this intentional fracturing of the user base. And sure it won’t affect gameplay at all but it will have a drastic effect on the games market. What I do want them to do is confirm to me that we’ve all learned our lesson and will completely do away with region locks for good. Nintendo was behind on this issue for so long and now they’re the absolute best. You can buy a cartridge in any country and activate it on any Switch from any other country with any account set to any region and play the game in whatever language you want and access all DLC content. That is how every game on every console needs to be in the next generation of gaming. I am tired of this bullshit. I plan on getting the regular version of the PS5, because I do like discs, but if there are still region locks I might just go for the digital because it’s just too inconvenient for me as an American living in Taiwan. I have to import all my discs from the US or I can’t play any DLC. And that was fine on the PS3 where many games didn’t have DLC but now every game is constantly getting DLC and patches so region locks between digital and physical content don’t work for me. And I love steel books but it’s just so much trouble not being able to just walk into my local game store and buy games that will work on my US PSN account in English and let me access all the additional content. I buy my Nintendo Switch games locally, and it’s great. But I haven’t been able to buy a PlayStation game locally in more than five years. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

The other thing I don’t like about a digital edition console is what does that mean for hardware pricing? Are these consoles gonna be the same price? That would be ridiculous. But an optical drive doesn’t actually cost that much. Yet you’ve never seen a console priced at like $484.99. So are they gonna take a hit on the Digital Edition and lower the price to a more marketable number or are they gonna go the opposite direction and charge extra for the regular edition in order to justify the Digital Edition’s price tag? Because most people are stupid and will fall for that. They will get angrier about the Digital Edition costing the same as the regular edition than they will about either version costing more than it should. So for me this is a big concern. Again I won’t be buying at launch so I’m not overpaying for the console either way, but the launch price will ultimately dictate how long I have to wait to buy mine. Because the price has to decrease and be bundled before I buy it. So the higher the starting price the longer I have to wait till it gets to a price I’m willing to pay. And again, I’m buying the PRO version so that’s an even longer wait.

PS5 AccessoriesI like the accessories they showed. I’m ready to make the switch to full wireless play and charging. I’ll be getting that wireless charge dock. The white color, though easier to get dirty, looks really nice. But chances are by the time I buy mine they will have added variety so I’ll end up getting a God of War bundle or some other theme and red accessories or some other cool color. But for now we really just need to get prices revealed.

THE GAMES

A lot of games were shown, but like with any other games presentation, I’m gonna give each game their due and take the time to do a summary of my thoughts for each game. I’ve done my best to keep it short for the purposes of time.

1. GTA V (GTA Online)

It’s a true testament to the quality of GTA V/GTA Online that a PS3 game will now have been ported across two generations as a mainstream title. It’s also a testament to how much money GTA Online makes. I am not happy that this is still being focused on but I appreciate that it’s going to be free for all PS Plus members on PS5 (Note that I have heard conflicting reports about whether or not it’s free indefinitely or just for a limited amount of time). What I actually think is more important is that it shows a shift towards compartmentalized game distribution, which I’ve been advocating for years. The idea that a person has to buy an entire game to play a single mode in 2020 is stupid. Most people don’t want to play COD’s campaign, though it should be noted that the quality of them seems to have improved considerably over the last few years. So why can’t people pay a fraction of the total game cost and just purchase the multiplayer mode digitally? That’s the future I’d like to see. And this decision to only make GTA Online free to PS5 players is a step in that direction.

2. Spider-Man: Miles Morales

This is an interesting one more for what happened after the presentation than during. The presentation was very vague on what this project actually is. All we knew was that it was a direct sequel/spin-off from Marvel’s Spider-Man and that the playable character would be Miles Morales. We assumed it was a new game but we didn’t have hard proof of that. Then someone did an interview and said it was an expansion for the remastered version of Marvel’s Spider-Man exclusive to the PS5. Then Insomniac Games clarified that it was a standalone project. Currently it seems that it will be something like Assassin’s Creed: Freedom Cry where it’s an expansion that will be sold separately that builds off the story and world of the previous game but will be able to standalone, or more to the point be purchased separately. I assume it will be packaged and sold like Uncharted: The Lost Legacy. Meaning it will be really good content, but not enough to be a full game, but most likely launched at a full game price. I will definitely play it but by the time I pick it up it will be severely discounted if not a PS Plus freebie.

3. Gran Turismo 7

Now I don’t personally care about the Gran Turismo franchise but I’ve always respected it. My uncle has been playing them since the very first game on the original PlayStation so I’ve been seeing them for a long time. They have always been top tier games for graphics and realism. GT7 looks like the franchise will continue to live up to that standard.

4. Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart

While this isn’t necessarily the game I’m most excited for from that presentation, it was the game with the best presentation. It was thorough, informative, multifaceted, and showed actual gameplay footage in a context. I love the Ratchet & Clank franchise and this really could end up being the best one yet based on the few new gameplay elements shown.  The craziest part is that two of the first three games shown, not counting GTA Online, are from Insomniac Games. And rather than focus on Spider-Man, which was definitely what more people would have wanted, they chose to put more effort into the Ratchet & Clank presentation. Considering I’m a bigger fan of Ratchet & Clank than Marvel’s Spider-Man, this made me really happy.

5. Project Athia

This looks very Square Enix, which in this case I will consider a compliment. The trailer gave me Final Fantasy XV vibes but as a solo experience and full action gameplay. The monsters look really cool by using a mixture of traditional video game enemies coupled with some sort of magical virus type effect. The little bit of level traversal shown gives me the impression that this will be a fluid, fast moving experience, which is always my preference for games with platforming elements. Obviously it’s very early, since the game doesn’t even seem to have a proper name yet, but what they showed looks very appealing to me.

6. Stray

I don’t like trailers like this because they aren’t really video game trailers. They’re trailers that just happen to be for products that ultimately end up being video games. It was a very pretty trailer set in a futuristic world where robots are the new humans but animals still exist. That’s not a bad sci-fi premise. But here’s where the trailer gets too vague. The game is called Stray and the trailer follows a cat, but no gameplay footage is actually shown. Meaning we are assuming the cat is the playable character but really it could be a game where you play as one of the robots and interact with the cat. If you are playing as the cat and it’s a legitimate game with real substance and the graphics quality of that cinematic trailer, then I’m all in. I’m fairly certain my wife will want to play it too. But if it’s actually a game where you play as a robot and interact with the cat then I’ll be very disappointed. And my wife will almost certainly not have any interest. I wish these sorts of announcements didn’t even exist. Games shouldn’t be announced until they have something to actually show.

7. Returnal

This trailer also was mostly cinematic, but it appeared to be in game footage. And there was a tiny bit of actual gameplay at the end. My reading of the trailer was that this will be a Soulsborne style alien shooter. Honestly I don’t recall a Soulsborne shooter appearing before now so kudos for trying to evolve the genre to appeal to a different audience. I don’t know if that concept will work for a shooter, but I’m not opposed to finding out. Also this appears to be a third person shooter, which is of course my preference, but I’m not someone who usually enjoys shooters in general. At this point all I can say for certain is that it’s meant to be a scary experience but not one where you feel powerless.

8. Sackboy: A Big Adventure

This is a must buy for me. Over the years I’ve come to grips with the fact that I’m not really into games where I have to create my own levels or play community developed levels. The concept always sounds good to me on paper, but I just can’t be asked to care about gameplay content when it’s not driven by a narrative. I always liked the Little Big Planet art style and gameplay concepts, but I just wasn’t into the community aspect of it. So to be getting an actual adventure game built like a traditional platformer with coop options is really good for me. This is exactly the type of game I want to play from that IP.

9. Destruction Allstars

This looks like Rocket League and Overwatch had a baby at the same time as Twisted Metal and Fortnite and then those two babies grew up and had a baby of their own. A demolition derby game is not a bad idea. I got Roller Champions vibes from this, and I really like that game. And I thought it was cool that you can get out of your car and keep fighting. But that trailer also looked really busy. I was reminded of the game they play in the music video for ‘New Lands’ by Justice. The fact that they used the word Allstars in the title seems like a throwback to PlayStation All-Stars Battle Royale. Sadly that game didn’t end up being the successful competitive title they wanted it to be. Mostly because it was too much like Smash Bros. without being better. So here it seems like they took a bunch of familiar concepts and mashed them together to try to create something entirely new so they wouldn’t actually have to compete with any existing IPs for a meaningful spot in the world of e-Sports. I won’t be surprised if this ends up being a free to play game.

10. Kena: Bridge of Spirits

I really liked this trailer. It gave me Pikmin vibes with a great level of maturity and a fantasy themed plot. Not to mention it’s an action platformer, which is way better than the gameplay in Pikmin. And I’m speaking as someone who absolutely loved Pikmin 3. The gameplay didn’t seem revolutionary, but there were hints of Breath of the Wild in there that appealed to me a lot. I’m really happy that SONY included a lot of indies in this presentation and more than one of them looks really good. This was on my list of must watch titles from the presentation and it’s not even my favorite looking indie project they showed.

11. Goodbye Volcano High

For me this was a low point in the presentation. I haven’t done any additional research on this game, but it came off like a visual novel, which I’m not a fan of. That being said, if this really is a visual novel then I think it’s cool that SONY included it because that just ads to the diverse list of genres included in this presentation. They really did try to include something for every type of gamer and that’s exactly what needs to happen when you’re trying to launch a new console. But if this isn’t a visual novel, then I got shovelware vibes. I didn’t like the art style and it seemed very Life is Strange (the first season) as far as themes, which I think is made cheaper when you use non-human characters because it makes the whole experience less emotionally challenging for players while still taking credit for taking the risk of making a game about socially aware themes. I also really don’t like the implications of the game’s logo because I absolutely hate stories where you go through a bunch of stuff only to have everything get wiped out by a cataclysmic event at the end thus nullifying everything you did. And if you can stop the cataclysmic event, then based on this trailer it seems like it’s just a dragon/dino themed version of Life is Strange. And at that point you might as well just go play Life is Strange and save yourself some money and time.

12. Oddworld Soulstorm

I’m not a fan of this franchise. I’ve been seeing them since the very first one back on the original PlayStation and I’ve never had any interest in playing them. I tried one of them once years back and I just couldn’t connect with it. This latest installment looks great visually. But that’s about all I’m qualified to say about it as the sixth game in a franchise. It didn’t look like a bad game, but I’m not one to jump into a franchise six games in.

13. Ghostwire: Tokyo

This trailer killed this game for me. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting after the E3 announcement but I was absolutely not expecting a first person Japanese ghost themed Skyrim game. This gameplay did not look fun for me. Which is a shame because the subject matter will be scary but the type of scary I actually enjoy. So I was looking forward to this one. But alas I will not be buying a game set in first person about shooting magic beams with Naruto hand signs. The art style also seemed a little on the cheap side to me compared to many other things shown. Even some of the smaller indie projects looked better, in my personal opinion.

14. The Far Shore

This looked like an indie game version of the movie Interstellar. That’s not a good or bad thing. But I will say that I’m getting tired of all the No Man’s Sky clones. Suddenly so many games seem to be about exploring new planets just for the sake of wandering and discovering with no fixed narrative, protagonist, or inciting incident. We have No Man’s Sky, Outer Wilds, Journey to the Savage Planet, and so on. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with the genre, it’s overdone at this point and it’s not even that old in its modern conception. I won’t say this game looks bad. And I do like the art style. But I simply don’t need another No Man’s Sky. Even if there’s a bit more narrative to it such as “our planet is dying so you need to find us a new one”.

15. Godfall

In the most unsurprising, cliché way possible, I’m really excited for Godfall. But this is contingent on the idea of it being a cooperative story campaign based game. I do not want to play a Warframe clone or any other such never ending cooperative experience. I want a linear or semi-linear campaign that can be played with up to four people. If it’s that, I’m all in. If it’s anything else, I’m most likely out with the exception of a few models. For instance, I’d play it if it was structured like Monster Hunter World. Gameplay wise, it looks like a God of War style action hack and slash game with gear and weapons customization. It’s a fairly obvious launch title choice and the gameplay footage hooked me almost immediately.

16. Solar Ash

I am so thrilled that Heart Machine is making another game. I didn’t even know the studio was still active given the lead developer’s personal story with Hyper Light Drifter. This essentially looks like Hyper Light Drifter done in 3D with what appears to be super fluid movement mechanics. They didn’t show much but given how much I enjoyed their first title and how similar this looks to that as far as setting and art style, I’m fairly confident that it will be good and I will enjoy it.

17. Hitman III

I’m one of those people that actually enjoyed Hitman: Absolution. In fact, it’s the only Hitman game I’ve made it all the way through. I haven’t played the last two games in the franchise. I tried the first one and didn’t like certain limitations about how I could complete kills and just gave up on it. This is the third and final installment of the current iteration of the franchise. Seems a lot of franchises are hitting their culminating trilogy milestone recently. Based on what they showed, it seems like if you didn’t play the first two games in the trilogy then you probably won’t care to play this one either. I did think it was cool that you get to go to Dubai in this one though.

18. Astro’s Playroom

This trailer was actually very misleading and gave me a completely different impression of what this is compared to what it actually is. If I hadn’t of taken the time to research it more before publishing this post, my write up of this game would have been completely wrong. I thought this was another example of a developer following the successful release of a childlike theme/art style game with a shoverlware collection of mini-games rather than a legitimate sequel. What it actually will be is a free preloaded, non-VR 3D platformer that essentially gives users a gameplay based tutorial of the new PS5 DualSense controller. What’s important about this is that in a way it unofficially names Astro Bot as the mascot of PlayStation moving forward. They never really had a mascot like Mario to Nintendo. Just a bunch of iconic exclusive characters. But it seems that they are leaning into the idea of naming an official mascot character for at least the next generation of PlayStation gaming.

19. Little Devil Inside

I need to see some real gameplay footage, but this was one of my favorite trailers from the entire presentation. It has an almost Shadows of the Colossus vibe to it where you apparently play as a lone adventurer hunting down giant monsters. I like the cute, but still serious art style, the Monster Hunter style giant beasts, and seemingly large number of landscapes to explore. I really hope this ends up being something good with action gameplay and not some junk indie experience with slow paced gameplay and mostly QTEs.

20. NBA 2K21

This was probably my least favorite part of the entire presentation. And not because I tend to dislike sports games. This teaser, if you can even call it that, pretty much exemplifies the annual sports franchise mentality. They know you’re going to buy it so they don’t even try anymore. Just telling you it’s coming is enough effort on their part. They didn’t show any actual gamplay footage, didn’t announce any new features, or do anything to even try to sell the game to new players. It was the video equivalent of “blah blah blah blah blah blah Madden”. Kudos if you got that reference.

21. Bugsnax

This looks really weird and that’s not a bad thing. The Octodad: Deadliest Catch team is at it again with another odd concept game. It’s set on an island inhabited by living food bugs that transform the characters’ bodies when they eat them. It’s a bit creepy even just seeing it played out in the trailer. And the cutesy art style makes it even creepier in a way. I can’t say if the game will be fun at this point but it definitely seems like it will be interesting. Also, there’s a monster so it does seem like a game of actual substance and plot rather than just the experience of eating weird bugs and transforming your character’s appearance.

22. Demon’s Souls Remake

I’m not gonna play a Demon’s Souls remake, since I already played the original. But I am very happy that they decided to rerelease this game. I think it’s a shame that there are so many Dark Souls players that never played the game that started the genre. Since this is a remake, I really hope they don’t alter the original game too much. It was very hard and much less balanced than the Dark Souls games and I think it’s important that people, especially those who consider themselves Dark Souls aficionados, get a taste of what difficulty really is. It would be a shame if they nerfed the experience to be less excruciating for the sake of not wanting to turn off modern players.

23. Deathloop

When I saw the announcement trailer for this during E3 2019, I was really intrigued and invented an entire game concept in my head. Based on the trailer shown during this presentation, my concept is completely wrong, and I’d argue better, than what this ultimately looks like it will be. I may be reading this wrong, and hopefully I am, but this seems like a grindhouse style soulsborne FPS. I got Wet (2009) vibes from it and that is not a compliment at all. There also seems to be magic powers in it, which doesn’t go with the setting they appear to have created. I just don’t like anything about what they appear to have done here compared to how the first trailer was. Maybe one day I’ll publish the concept I wanted for the game, but as of right now I’m definitely not interested in playing this one.

24. Resident Evil VIII: Village

So I didn’t get that this was a Resident Evil trailer after the first viewing. I missed the subtitle on the title review screen because I was too focused on the letters in “Village” becoming roman numerals. But the odd spacing kept me from reading it as “8”. So I just thought it was a new horror game IP. I was getting Deadly Premonition vibes but like as a game that’s not garbage. I won’t say I was definitely interested even before I knew it was a Resident Evil game, but I was curious. Now that I know it’s a RE game I’m almost certainly going to pass. But it didn’t look bad.

25. Pragmata

What even is this game? This trailer looked more like a tech demo for the graphics than a game trailer. I got serious Kojima vibes, which is not a compliment. The trailer didn’t tell us anything about what this actually is as far as gameplay or even story. Do you play as the astronaut or the little girl with technopathic powers? It was just a pretty looking trailer set in a futuristic dystopia and buzzword trailers with no substance piss me off a lot. Especially when you have games like Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart going the extra mile to actually try to sell you the game based on actual merit rather than just pretty graphics.

26. Horizon: Forbidden West

Talk about ending on a high note. While I didn’t like this trailer for much the same reasons I didn’t like the Pragmata trailer, the difference here is that we’re talking about a sequel to an established and successful IP. They don’t really have to show me anything new other than settings and monsters to get me to want to play the game. The first game proves the concept and if you liked that then you will almost certainly like a sequel. And I’ve always been of the opinion that a sequel only needs to stand on the writing and improvements to the gameplay. Meaning if the gameplay was flawless in the previous game, which I’m not saying it was in Horizon: Zero Dawn, then you don’t actually need to change anything. A lot of people and developers fall into the trap of change for the sake of change. I don’t agree with that line of reasoning. If they have a new story to tell that’s compelling and the gameplay is pretty much the same with just slight tweaks and improvements then I’m totally fine with that. Because the first game in this case was good. So yeah I’m all in for a Horizon: Zero Dawn sequel but as I’ve already said multiple times in this post, I do not like trailers like this. A console reveal presentation is not the time or place for cinematic trailers lacking of any real substance other than pretty graphics.

That’s every game shown in this presentation. SONY called this presentation “The Future of Gaming” and I think they have lived up to that claim with this show of games. They focused on new games and introduced new IPs, both indie and AAA. They revealed a new console and how it will allow players to enjoy new gaming experiences. I’m glad that this presentation wasn’t more appropriately called “The Yesterday of Gaming” by focusing on ports and remasters. That being said, Jim Ryan opened the PS5 reveal presentation by saying this will be the “biggest generational transition our industry has yet seen”. That is a bold claim that this presentation did not live up to for me. I put that statement on par with the book Life of Pi which starts with a character saying “Let me tell you a story that will make you believe in God.” Now I do believe in God and if I heard that story and believed it to be true it would have no effect on my religious views nor change them in any way if I didn’t believe in God. It’s just a nice story about a boy and a tiger surviving on a boat for a long time. It’s a good story. It’s not a revolutionary story. And that’s how I felt about this presentation.

Every generation since the N64 has claimed that this generation will be the “biggest generational transition our industry has yet seen”. And they rarely if ever deliver. In my opinion, the transition from the SNES to the N64 was such a depth defying and industry changing generational transition. Gaming changed from 2D to 3D. Suddenly the entire way we saw video games was altered. Our expectations for what games could be were revolutionized in every way. It was like seeing in color for the first time after a life of black and white. The Gamecube/PS2/ XBOX era did not fulfill the same level of revolutionary transition. I would argue the Wii kind of delivered on this by revolutionizing the motion aspect of games but it didn’t revolutionize the industry as a whole. Or even Nintendo. They still make most of their games work without the necessity of motion based controls. The Wii was more of a branching generational transition than a mainstream one. One could argue that the XBOX 360 and PS3 revolutionized the social aspect of gaming by making online interactions a much more central part of game design. As well as the digital distribution of games. But I would argue that gameplay itself wasn’t changed that much. And that’s even more so with the PS4/XBOX One generational transition. I’m still holding controllers that look pretty much the same as they have for the last two generations. I’m still playing 3D games that operate pretty much the same way. Sure we’ve added a second set of shoulder buttons and a touchpad, but gameplay for the most part has only gotten faster and prettier but not much different.

PlayStation XBOX gensGames are bigger now. Games are smoother now. Yes these are all improvements that we’ve seen with each generation. But they’re not revolutionary. They’re just improving on already existing foundational concepts of gaming that have existed for the past three or more generations. I would say the Switch is revolutionary in the fact that it bridged the gap between home and portable gaming and gave people the ability to have home console quality gameplay and graphics with optional motion controls on the go. But as far as actual gameplay is concerned it revolutionized local multiplayer more than gaming itself. The motion controls come from the Wii. The graphics aren’t monumentally different than games we’ve seen in past generations. Really the Switch revolutionized convenience. But not gameplay.

For me the promise of the “biggest generational transition our industry has yet seen” means that the fundamental way I view and play games needs to change. There needs to be a moment where my expectations of what a game was and now is are clearly different and defined by specific differences that are objectively measureable. Better graphics isn’t objective. It’s an opinion. 3D graphics vs 2D graphics is objective. It is a measureable difference in what games looks like compared to what they used to look like that has nothing to do with preference or opinion. That’s what I need to happen for that statement to have any real meaning to it. And it doesn’t have to be graphics. It can be gameplay. It can be storytelling elements. But it needs to be measureable and consistent among a majority of AAA titles. We said/say that one day everything will be in VR. That would be such a generational transition. I don’t like VR personally but when the day comes that a console is 100% VR and it’s not an option to play without VR, that will be a legitimate generational transition of noteworthy magnitude. But if all the PS5 will offer is shorter/non-existent loading times and cleaner graphics then that’s not really anything to write home about. It’s good and I want it. But it’s not the “biggest generational transition our industry has yet seen”.

DualSenseNow supposedly the DualSense controller has new gameplay altering features that will change the way we play video games. I hope that’s true. But anyone who has been playing Mario Kart since the SNES will tell you that the karts go faster the harder you push the button. Haptic feedback and gameplay sounds cool but it doesn’t mean anything if it doesn’t actually change the way I play games. Unless I actually have to press buttons differently than I do now then it’s not revolutionary. I will say that it does sound like they are working towards revolutionizing the audio experience of gaming on the PS5, and that’s cool. But I don’t know if I would count better audio as revolutionizing gaming, no matter how much it improves, until it changes the way I play games. Like you can make a game where I can hear the direction of my enemies to a perfect level where the sound experience actually affected my perception of what was going on. But if you also give me a mini-map, an on screen directional sensor for damage, and all these other quality of life features that games have added over time then is the sound really going to change much about how I engage with the game? I’d argue not really. Now you could say well you can turn those features off, but that’s not the point. Revolutions aren’t optional. Either the gameplay is revolutionary or it isn’t. If we all aren’t going to experience this change together then it’s not really change. That’s basically how VR is right now. We’re not all using VR. We don’t all own VR headsets. All games aren’t made for VR. Thus VR has not actually revolutionized gaming . . . yet. And let me be clear. I do hope that the PS5 ushers in such a revolutionary generational transition. I want that to be the case. But this presentation didn’t lead me to believe that this was actually going to happen. From what I’ve seen so far, it just looks like gaming will be exactly the same but faster and with better graphics. Just like it has been for the last two generations of gaming on PlayStation. I might be inclined to agree that the shift from PS1 to the PS2 was revolutionary. I would not say the same about the PS2 to the PS3, unless again you want to focus on online interactions and digital distribution of content as the revolutionary factor. The PS4 I would absolutely not call revolutionary compared to the PS3. Save for the amount of money I was asked to spend to play multiplayer games online. And from what I’ve seen so far, it looks like the PS5 is just a faster more powerful PS4. And that’s speaking as someone who never owned a PS4 Pro. The transition will probably be even less noticeable for the people who did get a PS4 Pro, based on what we’ve seen so far.

Overall this was a good presentation. I liked it and I liked a lot of the games shown. I am excited for the PS5. What did you think of the presentation? Are you sold on the PS5? What games impressed you and why?

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What Happened to State of Play?

If you read my blog regularly, then you may have noticed that I did not do posts about either the Ghost of Tsushima or The Last of Us Part II State of Play presentations. This should have seemed strange to my normal readers because up until this point I have done a post about every State of Play episode since the beginning. So I wanted to talk about why I chose not to do posts for those two presentations and will continue not to do posts for State of Play presentations done in the same style as those ones moving forward.

I really like the original State of Play format. It’s very similar to the Nintendo Direct format, but in some ways I like it even better. I won’t go into too much detail, because I’ve already written at length about this previously. But basically what I like(d) about the State of Play format was the highly informative, time efficient, look at multiple upcoming games. Even more so did I value the fact that they often gave time to games that were not highly anticipated AAA titles that had already been hyped up for more than a year. These recent single game presentations have betrayed that original format/style.

AAA State of PlayThe last two State of Plays were your run of the mill AAA E3 presentations done via video. You could have taken either one of those presentations and played them live at E3 and they would have been no different. And I think it’s fairly obvious that they happened because E3 will no longer be happening this year. And let me state clearly that I have no problem with such presentations and that I was already planning on buying both of those games. I’m especially excited for Ghost of Tsushima and preordered the Special Edition before this presentation even went live. What I do have a problem with is that these presentations are being given the State of Play label.

By labeling these extended single game presentations as State of Play episodes, SONY has essentially betrayed the original format and altered it to be pretty much any game related content they choose to put out digitally. That’s a bad thing, in my opinion. It’s disorganized and completely derails the user base’s ability to set expectations for future State of Play episodes. The next time we get a State of Play announcement, we will have no way of accurately setting expectations for what it will be. Will it be a single game presentation, multiple snapshots of upcoming indie games, a new game announcement, or something completely different? Note that I’m not saying that any of those types of content is more of less valuable than any others. What I’m saying is that users have varied interests and should be able to decide whether or not they want to watch a presentation before hand based on the expectations of what it will be. But SONY has removed our ability to accurately set those expectations, thereby trying to manipulate everyone into sitting through presentations they may or may not have an interest in.

Ghost of Tsushima State of PlayThe weirdest thing is the fact that the, now rightfully delayed, June 4th PS5 presentation wasn’t labeled as State of Play. This was billed as a presentation of upcoming games by multiple studios of various sizes. Other than the longer running time, this was way more in line with the original State of Play format than the single game presentations and yet they labeled it The Future of Gaming. So the question I have is why create an entirely new name for this presentation that falls more in line with the original State of Play format while not creating a different name for presentations that don’t fall in line with the original format?

Truthfully they didn’t even need to give those single game presentations a label to begin with. They could have just billed them as gameplay presentations of their respective games. That is a commonly occurring form of content released by publishers and developers. The decision to label them both as State of Play presentations was an intentional one and I find that disappointing. Because I want more of the original State of Play format content. I don’t want the only type of presentations from PlayStation to be long form presentations of AAA titles I already know I’m going to buy. That type of content is pretty much useless to any informed gamer. It just builds hype. I know plenty of people who didn’t even watch The Last of Us Part II presentation because they had either already decided to buy it or already decided not to buy it, because we’ve already seen previous presentations, hype build up, and for some the leaks. Meaning the presentation did very little to push people in either direction. Whereas a presentation of upcoming titles that weren’t already super hyped and highly anticipated would have been much more valuable and informative to a larger number of players.

The-Last-of-Us-2-PlayStation-State-of-PlayI know I probably sound like Grandpa Simpson yelling at clouds, but these sorts of choices are important. They can mean the difference between calling attention to an otherwise unknown game and getting it some much needed, and often deserved, time in the spotlight and an indie studio going bankrupt. They also affect users. I don’t necessarily care to watch an extended gameplay presentation of a game I’m already decided on. But I absolutely want to watch a presentation of multiple game announcements or snapshots for titles I’m not aware of or familiar with. And like most people, my time is both limited and valuable to me. But next time SONY says a State of Play is incoming I won’t necessarily know what to expect. So in a way they’ve taken away my agency as a viewer because I’ll potentially be going in blind and can very possibly be highly disappointed with the content. Not because the content is necessarily bad. But because it’s content I have no interest in watching.

Predator Hunting Grounds
Not good.

Again, I like the original State of Play format. I’m sad to see it already being betrayed after only four episodes. I hope SONY hasn’t decided to kill it off altogether this early on and opted for exclusively traditional single AAA gameplay presentations. For me, that would be a real tragedy. It’s only because of the State of Play presentations that I took a serious interest in games like Untitled Goose Game, Predator: Hunting Grounds, and Wattam. And it doesn’t matter if any or all of the games were ultimately good or bad. Predator: Hunting Grounds is bad by the way. What matters is that the State of Play episodes got me looking at games that I otherwise was never going to consider buying or probably even trying. That’s what the original format of State of Play was accomplishing: alerting gamers to games they may not have had on the radar. And that’s what it needs to continue to do. As such, if PlayStation continues to put out State of Plays as AAA game presentations for games that have already been hyped up and had lots of previous content released, then I will continue to not cover them on this blog. Because talking to you about previews we didn’t need serves even less purpose than the presentations themselves. It makes more sense just to wait and review the full games after I’ve played them at that point.

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The Time for Smaller Maps is Nigh

I’m not a huge fan of open world games. I don’t hate them. Nor do I have any problem with playing them. I’ve played countless open world games over the course of my life. This year alone I’ve already played three or four of them. Currently I’m playing Assassin’s Creed: Origins. I definitely play and enjoy them, when made well. But I don’t prefer them. I’m fine with a linear game. I think the best design choice is the soft open world game though. Not a full open world but rather a limited sized map that allows for exploration in controlled environments. Games like Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Nioh 2, and God of War (2018) are all different versions of this concept. They all contain open exploration in controlled map settings but are not housed within large open worlds. As a 30 year old with a large backlog and many responsibilities, this type of world/exploration design is definitely my preference. It allows the feeling of exploration and discovery without the daunting task of spending countless hours combing wide empty spaces for a single collectible.

When I was a kid, open worlds existed but they were rare. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is probably the most prolific example of an open world from my childhood. They also weren’t the standard or the preference for most players. By the time I finished high school, open world games had become common. Franchises like The Elder Scrolls, Assassin’s Creed, and GTA had now become favorites in the gaming community and ushered in a new era of game development standards. By the time I graduated college, open worlds had become more than just a genre. They were an expectation. Everyone seemed to want open worlds and developers went out of their way to provide some version of them. Even when the games they were making didn’t really need it. Competing with franchises like Red Dead Redemption, Borderlands, and Far Cry made open worlds a must for many players. But the way open world games were judged was pretty stupid and misinformed.

Ocarina of Time MapFor whatever reason, open worlds weren’t judged like other video games for a long time. Most games were/are compared based on their gameplay, graphics, and story. But open world games were being judged on things like map size, percentage of interactive elements, and graphics specific to the environment. A badly written game with a large open world was being judged favorably next to a linear game with a tight, well written story. Suddenly size and appearance seemed to be the only things that mattered in game design. And developers were happy to play along. It seemed like every game was getting bigger and bigger while the content quality was getting lower and less focused on storytelling. This is the era where fetch quests and collectibles re-surged and then blew past N64 proportions. It was a time of repetition and lots of walking. Even today, most games still don’t get fast travel right, but back then times were real bad. But it seemed like everyone was eating it up. People were complaining about games being too linear and not having enough content while defending things like “collect 40 feathers” scattered around the map. I hated it. Played through all of it, but really did not enjoy it. It’s one of the main reasons I never really got into 100% completion runs of games. I can’t be asked to do collectithons when the map is huge and fast travel is garbage. And Ubisoft, among other studios, love collectithons. Especially back then.

Dark Souls 2 MapWhile the open world genre has now been tempered with smaller map franchises like Dark Souls, South Park (Ubisoft), and Darksiders, the demand for bigger maps continued to proliferate at the same time. Games like GTAV, Arkham City, and Dragon Age: Inquisition are all examples of franchises that just kept growing the map size more for the sake of comparison than anything else. Yes those three games do have lively maps, but they also have lots of open space that’s good for nothing more than wasting your time as you move from point A to point B. And maps have continued to grow even more out of proportion. Ghost Recon: Breakpoint has a map that is just unnecessarily large. I’d say the same thing about Metal Gear Solid V and many other open world titles. And sadly this is the fault of consumers rather than developers.

It’s important to note that there is nothing inherently wrong with open world games or large maps. But there’s also nothing inherently right with them either. It’s the way the world is constructed and what you can do in it that matters. The setting plays a role as well. Let’s compare Ubisoft games as an example. Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Watch Dogs 2, and Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag are all open world Ubisoft titles. Of the three games, Breakpoint’s map is the only one I’d say was too large. Yet I think the Black Flag map might actually be the largest of the three games. What it comes down to is setting and scope. Black Flag is set in the entire Caribbean region of the Atlantic Ocean, Watch Dogs 2 is set in San Francisco, and Breakpoint is set on a fictional island. Black Flag is set in a time/setting where your only means of transportation across large areas is a ship. Watch Dogs 2 is set in a time/setting where you can only use road vehicles like cars and motorcycles. And Breakpoint is set in a time/setting where you have access to smaller boats, helicopters, road vehicles of various types, and motorcycles. When it comes to scope, Black Flag should feel the biggest. It has you traveling between countries by sailing ship with no motorized power. Watch Dogs 2 should feel the smallest. It has you driving around a single city. Breakpoint should feel larger than Watch Dogs 2, but not so large that it rivals or even surpasses Black Flag. Yet it’s the most grueling and time consuming of the three games to travel across.

Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Breakpoint MapBreakpoint’s unnecessarily large map size is coupled with the fact that the map is fairly empty. You spend an exorbitant  amount of time just traveling across the map.  To its credit, a large number fast travel points are present in the game. But even then you still have to travel a ways to get to most objectives and collectibles even after using fast travel. The helicopter, which is easy to get, doesn’t make the trip that much faster. The map could easily be condensed by about 25%, or even more, and suddenly the amount of empty space with no encounters or gameplay value would stop being such an issue. But in the pursuit of bigger maps for the purpose of marketing and bragging rights, they made the map as big as they did. It did not make the game better in any way. It only made it appear to be bigger than it actually is when comparing actual content. These inflated map sizes have become the standard in open world game design. And it’s made games worse because of it. But it seems that change for the better is finally on the horizon.

I have not played Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey yet but I intend to. I’ve heard it is very good and considering how much I’m enjoying Assassin’s Creed: Origins I’m not surprised. But the biggest legitimate complaint I’ve heard against the game over and over again is that the map is simply too big. Or more accurately it’s too empty for how big it is. Seeing consumers complain that maps are starting get too big in larger numbers makes me happy. It means that demand is changing. It means that people are finally maturing to the fact that more time spent in a game doesn’t make the game better if that time isn’t spent on meaningful content. It means that the never ending push for bigger maps is on its way out. It means that collectithons will finally start to reduce or disappear altogether from open world games. Games are shaped by demand and the demand for mindlessly larger maps is finally in decline.

Assassin's Creed Odyssey MapAssassin’s Creed: Valhalla is the next game in the franchise. Ubisoft has already stated that the map size will be managed better. They have waffled on what that means with conflicting announcements about whether that means smaller size, less empty space, or something else. But the point is that Ubisoft has openly acknowledged that the large map in Odyssey was not enjoyed by a large number of players and that this issue would be addressed in Valhalla. This is how it starts. This is how the industry ultimately gets past the idea that bigger maps automatically mean better games. People making their voices heard in large numbers and developers actually listening and making small, but notable changes. Valhalla will still probably have a map that’s too big with a lot of empty space. But some considerations will have been made. Then people will complain again and more considerations will be made in the next game. And other studios will see this and these responses from the public and they too will start to reduce the size of their maps. Or fill them with more meaningful content and less empty space. The market is finally primed to return to practical maps where space exists for the sake of content and not spectacle and I for one am looking forward to it.

 

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These Aren’t the Cuts You’re Looking For

I’m not really big on director’s cuts of movies. Or more accurately, I’m not really big on the idea of multiple cuts of movies existing and being distributed. I want the theatrical cut of a movie to be the director’s cut. The entire concept of director’s cuts irritates me because it assumes that not only do I want to watch a movie a second time, but that I want to pay additional money to do so with the promise of a bit more footage. In my opinion, they should just let directors direct. But producers actually control a production a lot more than many people realize. The truth is that 9 times out of 10 you’re actually watching the producers cut of a movie.

The most interesting thing about this odd dynamic between producers and directors is that the people have been conditioned to favor directors while not really caring about producers. Think about how movies are billed. Producers are always listed in the opening credits, on posters, and in ads, but they’re never the focus. People are sold on the director and actors. Most don’t care in the slightest bit about who the producer is unless they’re currently being accused of sexual assault or heading a larger franchise like Kevin Feige at Marvel. But for a majority of films, regular people don’t really care about producer credits. And yet producers hold all the power. We’ve even seen productions where a director was fired simply because producers felt like they weren’t being shown enough respect. But still the movie marketing machine pushes people towards favoring directors rather than producers.

The ProducersThe director’s cut concept is a money making scheme that only works because of this relationship between producers and directors. But up until now it didn’t matter that much in most cases. Think about what director’s cuts actually accomplish. They give people the opportunity to rewatch a movie with a few additional scenes and rarely affect anything important about the story. Even in the case of a franchise, they usually don’t affect much. Look at The Lord of the Rings trilogy by Peter Jackson as an example. The extended director’s cuts add in some scenes for the sake of lore, but don’t really alter the story in significant ways. Of course part of this probably comes from the fact that Peter Jackson was both director and producer on those films. This is often the case with bigger productions. But it’s not always the case. The Avengers (2012) was written and directed by Joss Whedon but the only listed producer credit is Kevin Feige. While we of course couldn’t speak to the dynamic between them during production, on paper Kevin Feige was in charge of that production. Whedon was simply the instrument being used to create his vision. And yet it was Whedon who wrote the script. And notice that there is no director’s cut of the film available. There is an extended cut with a few extra scenes, but in no way has the marketing ever implied that the theatrical version and the home release version were significantly different films.

The AvengersThe real question is what happens when the dynamic changes from producer vs director to producer vs director vs director? The public has always been fed the idea that directors and producers often disagree and that this is the reason director’s cuts exist. But never before have we seen a scenario where a movie was released and then the same movie was remade by a second director with the same footage. This is completely different from the idea of a theatrical release vs a director’s cut. This would be two completely different movies with completely different visions. And technically producers could still disagree with both versions of the movie leading to two sets of theatrical versions and director’s cuts.

Releasing two completely different versions of the same film by two different directors is problematic. Doing it as part of an established franchise with an interconnected set of films is an absolute shit show. Think about how much people already fight over things like canon in nerd franchises. Now apply that to a comic book universe where two different directors make the  same film in the timeline. It has the potential to be continuity chaos. With all that being said, let’s discuss the Snyder Cut.

Who Shot FirstThe Snyder Cut refers to an alternate version of the film Justice League (2017). For the purposes of accuracy, I will give a detailed summary of the entire Snyder Cut controversy here. Many people are either not aware of the situation or are working with incomplete and/or inaccurate information. So I will summarize my interpretation of the situation, based on the reports I’ve read, here:

After the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe Phase One (Six films released between 2008 – 2012), DC/Warner Brothers decided that they could create a similar level of success with the Justice League comic pantheon. This would go on to be called the DC Extended Universe (DCEU) They decided that rather than try to copy and paste the Marvel tone and style that they would create a darker toned cinematic universe. They also wanted to get their first big crossover film out before the MCU released their culminating crossover film (Avengers: Infinity War). Zack Snyder was chosen to head the project. Or at least he was chosen to be the lead director if you want to be entirely accurate. With darker toned comic films under his belt such as 300 and Watchmen, this seemed like a fine choice for a darker toned cinematic comic book movie universe. Snyder directed both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, the first two films in the DCEU. For the most part, people weren’t happy with either film. Neither film has above a 60% on Rotten Tomatoes. And Batman v Superman, the latter of the two has exactly half the score of Man of Steel. In both cases, the audience scores are significantly higher, but neither gets above 75% and Man of Steel still ranks higher than Batman v Superman. Meaning both the critical and public response to the DCEU films by Zack Snyder were received less than successfully and were dropping in approval from film to film. At the same time, both films were financially successful, bringing in more than double their production budgets in box office receipts. As such, Warner Brothers chose to have Snyder direct Justice League, which would serve as the equivalent to The Avengers (2012).

BVS RTZack Snyder started Justice League and it was reported that he produced an unfinished but technically entire draft of the film. Meaning that shooting had been completed but editing and reshoots had not been finalized. His daughter died during post production of the film. That’s an important detail. She died during post production of the film. This confirms that a complete draft of the film was produced. It just hadn’t been finalized. Due to the tragedy of losing a child, Snyder resigned from the project and was replaced by Joss Whedon, the writer and director of The Avengers. It’s important to note that a majority of people believed and accepted this story at the time of reporting. No one was unhappy with Snyder for leaving the project to mourn his daughter. And pretty much no one took issue with the idea of bringing in Joss Whedon for post-production, as a director proven to be capable of creating both critically and financially successful ensemble comic book films. Ultimately Justice League sucked, but was also financially successful, more than doubling its production budget in box office receipts. Technically speaking, it sucked less than Batman v Superman but more than Man of Steel both critically and to the public, based on Rotten Tomatoes critical and audience scores. But people decided to ignore this fact and argued that Snyder would have made a better movie. This is where things get tricky.

Release the Snyder Cut AgainIt’s only because Justice League was disappointing that people turned on Joss Whedon. If the movie had been as good as The Avengers, the conversation would have ended there. In the same way, it’s only because the movie sucked that people supported Snyder. People were not happy with Snyder ‘s first two DCEU films. But they were so unhappy with Justice League that they wanted to believe that Snyder’s film would have been better. This was coupled with the fact that it had been announced that an actual full cut of the film had already been produced by Snyder. Again, he left the project during post production. But really the most important detail in this entire story is the fact that after Justice League released, and sucked, it was reported that the producers actually didn’t like Snyder’s cut of the movie. Suddenly conspiracies saying that the producers had actually wanted to fire Snyder from the project but were able to use his daughter’s death as an amicable way out were going viral. Essentially people invented a story that made it seem like Snyder originally made a completely different film than what was released and that the evil woke producers, with the help of Joss Whedon, killed Snyder’s vision and released what again was a critically and  publicly better received film than Snyder’s last DCEU film. It was these conspiracy theories that led to the #ReleaseThe SnyderCut movement.

you can't save the world alone bigFor the past three years, people have campaigned unceasingly that they want to see Zack Snyder’s version of Justice League. For most of that time, Warner Brothers stated that they would absolutely not release that version of the film. This makes sense for two major reasons. First, it is extremely rude to Joss Whedon, who again not only produced a better received film than Snyder’s last DCEU project, but also a financially successful film. Joss Whedon did what he was hired to do. Directors are hired by producers to make financially successful films. That’s all they’re expected to do. Winning awards is nice. Making fans happy is nice. But those aren’t a director’s job. A director’s job is to make producers money by delivering financially successful movies. Joss Whedon succeeded in this endeavor with his cut of Justice League. The other equally important reason that Warner Brothers didn’t want to release an alternate version of the film, ignoring the fact that it’s pretty much never been done before, is that it would be a continuity nightmare.

Three other films within the same universe as Justice League have already been released with more films on the way, one of which is already completed and another already in post-production. All of those films potentially don’t make sense depending on the events that take place in an alternate version of a crossover event film. What if someone dies? What if someone lives? What if a dynamic changes? What if a special item is lost or found? The idea of releasing an alternate version of a key film in the timeline four years after the fact is world building suicide. After three years of campaigning, HBO was allowed to purchase the distribution rights to the Snyder cut of Justice League from Warner Brothers. HBO realized the cut was in fact garbage but knew that the public would pay to see it. So they paid Snyder to recut the film and are investing additional funds to do reshoots and additional CGI. The “new” Snyder cut will be available for HBO Max subscribers in 2021. That brings us to today.

 

SWBF 2 CoverI do believe in the power of the consumers. I believe that through diligence and organization we the people can accomplish great things. I often think back to Star Wars: Battlefront II and how the public demanded change and got it. Another example is the XBOX One and the always online announcement. So even though I absolutely don’t agree with them in this case, I respect the commitment shown by the #ReleaseTheSnyderCut people. Ultimately I’m disappointed by how this appears to be ending though.

Let me be clear in saying that while I respect their right to campaign, personally I’m 100% against this release the Snyder cut movement. I think it sets a terrible precedent for entertainment media. Especially for creators. If people can just decide that because they don’t like something it has to change then that means those who create have no say in the works they produce. We’ve already seen movements to recast actors in certain roles, fire directors, and reshoot entire seasons of shows. We’ve seen fan reedits of films and deep fakes removing/replacing actors in movies. This is not a good thing. People spend their lives trying to make things and people being able to just change them or say they don’t exist shouldn’t be considered a viable option. I’m fine with people not supporting something they don’t like. I encourage people to withhold their money and choose not to participate in games or movies they take issue with in order to vote with their wallet. But I do not support the idea of people being able to negate things that have already been produced. Movements should shape the future, not the past. If you were unhappy with the last three Star Wars films then you should let Disney know that by not paying to see the next one. This in turn will hopefully lead to the change you want to see in how the films are made. But no matter how unhappy you were with the films you should not be able to dictate that Daisy Ridley, Kelly Marie Tran, or John Boyega weren’t ever in Star Wars. Because that’s not true nor is it fair to those actors that spent their lives trying to make it as actors. They deserve recognition for the work they have done, even if you weren’t happy with it. As much as I hated The Last Jedi, I’d never argue that Rian Johnson’s name should be taken off the project.

Luke-and-Leia-in-Star-Wars-The-Last-JediI’m also a big stickler about canon. I like connected universes and intertwined plots. I like that some small detail revealed in one movie comes back and ultimately shapes the plot of another character’s movie much later. That sort of universe construction can’t work in a scenario where films can be changed or redone at the whim of the people. The alternative is badly produced one off films that sort of connect to each other based on recurring actors and names. Look at the X-Men cinematic universe as the best example of this. 10 movies that are sort of related, filled with plot holes, and almost no coherency or general direction. Plus two Deadpool films if you want to get technical. And most of those movies are carried more by Hugh Jackman’s acting and special effects than the quality of the writing or general interest in the other characters. Which is a tragedy considering how good the X-Men characters and stories from the comics and cartoon are. But that’s exactly what happens when you create a franchise of movies with no defined direction and change installments based on the whims of the people after the fact. And that’s still not as problematic for canon as rereleasing films a second time would be. How will canon be defined in the DCEU moving forward? Will the events of the original release still count or will changes in the Snyder cut be considered valid canon? Will people now be forced to watch multiple versions of the same movie and debate what counts moving forward? These are questions that no one seems to be asking. So no I am not in support of the Snyder cut.

Deadpool 2 XmenWhile I am absolutely not in support of the Snyder cut being released, I do support the idea of the people’s demands being met in response to their avid dedication to sticking to their demands. That’s why I am very unhappy with how this whole situation has ultimately turned out. The people who campaigned think they won, but in reality they’ve been conned. I’ve already been seeing people declare victory since the official HBO announcement of the Snyder cut release next year, but the truth is that they’re not actually getting what they demanded. We were told that a version of Justice League exists that was already completed by Zack Snyder. It was rumored that the producers didn’t like this cut. Because people didn’t like the Whedon cut, so they demanded the Snyder cut. But that demand was based on the understanding that such a cut of the film already exists. Yet that’s not what is being delivered. If such a cut really does exist, there’s no need to wait for 2021. They could release it today. Instead they’re investing millions of dollars to bring back the actors to do reshoots, adding CGI, and letting Snyder take another crack at cutting the film.

The Cake is a LieLet’s be very clear about what’s happening. Three years of criticism, debate, blog posts, and film reviews have been released stating what’s wrong with Justice League, a movie originally shot by Zack Snyder but credited to Whedon based on last minute edits and a few rumored reshoots. We’re not gonna get to see the Snyder cut. We’re gonna get to see the Snyder mulligan cut. He knows what made the people angry. He now knows what will make the people happy and what wouldn’t have worked in his cut. He’s being given the budget to reshoot and reedit vast sections of the movie. That movie better be damn great. And there’s no reason it shouldn’t be. But that’s not how movies are made. Any movie could be great the second time around. Imagine if J.J. Abrams could just redo Star Wars Episodes VII – IX. Imagine how much better they would be and how much more people would like them. That’s not real film making. Making a movie is about risk. It’s about reading the fanbase and trying to impress them while also trying to surprise them, without making them angry. If you already know exactly what makes them angry and what makes them happy, you can’t really mess up the movie. But that’s not an honest film making scenario. I would want to see the real Snyder cut. I assume it would be shit, but I’d watch it anyway. I don’t want to see Snyder get the easiest golden parachute film making scenario ever conceived so that people end up praising him even though his first two DCEU movies were at best OK and at worst hot garbage. But that’s exactly what’s going to happen.  The Snyder cut movement is getting conned into subscribing to HBO Max to not watch the movie they fought for 3 years to see. And they’re thankful for it. That’s really depressing. That level of blatant and out in the open manipulation pisses me off something fierce. The hashtag was #ReleaseTheSnyderCut, not #ReleaseTheSnyderReCut. These people didn’t win. At best they tied.

The thing that makes me really mad is that it appears that this whole movement isn’t over. I’m not surprised because I’ve already stated my fears for filmmaking moving forward, but it hasn’t even been a month and I’m already seeing new hashtags like #ReleaseTheAyerCut in reference to Suicide Squad. As if there’s some other version of that film that isn’t a dumpster fire. This is the problem with allowing post-release alternative versions of films. People will no longer accept any movie as is if they don’t like it. They will just assume they’re being lied to and that producers are snubbing directors from presenting their vision. I hope this whole line of reasoning ends here, but if it doesn’t the future of cinema, and arguably all plot based entertainment media, is in for hard times.

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Finally Finished The Witcher 2

In 2013, I was in a really weird place in my life. Maybe the lowest I’ve been since I graduated college. I was living in a shitty town in a shitty state making pizza in a bar with a dual degree from an Ivy League university. No this isn’t the story of another failed liberal arts degree student. This is a story about love. My girlfriend, now wife, was attending graduate school in a small town I’d never heard of and I moved there with her to support her financially. What I wasn’t aware of when I agreed to move there was that there were no real businesses in that town except bars. I didn’t own a car at the time because we had moved there from abroad. And even if I had owned a car, we lived in a college dorm, provided by her graduate program, that charged a fortune for parking so owning a car in that scenario wasn’t really an option anyway. So I got the only local job I could find, which ended up being making pizza in a bar. I worked long hours, weekends, and was paid very little. But I did it because you gotta do what you gotta do.

At the time I owned a SONY Vaio laptop that was three or four years old. I had used it during college and couldn’t afford to replace it so I continued using it as my only computer option. It was good enough for basic things but it couldn’t run most games other than older emulators and indie titles. Some of my followers may remember my failed attempts to stream via that laptop back in those days. I spent most of my time gaming on my PS4 and Wii U and usually streamed via my PS4 directly to Twitch. I also recorded a lot of footage and uploaded it after the fact. My laptop could handle this. It just took a really long time to process the videos.

2020-04-16_0205_1During this time, a friend recommended that I try a game called The Witcher. It was a PC game made in 2007 by some Polish developer I had never heard of. I didn’t know a thing about the game. Today that seems ridiculous to say, but this was before The Witcher 3 was really being talked about. In fact, it was like right before. If you followed the company and the franchise, then you probably already knew about it and were looking forward to playing it. But if you weren’t already into the franchise then, like me, you probably knew nothing about it. And I’m someone who’s usually pretty knowledgeable about upcoming games even when I’m not looking to play them myself. I wasn’t really interested in playing The Witcher but both it and The Witcher 2 were on sale on GOG for like $4 together so I bought them more to appease my friend than out of any actual interest.

As with most games I buy, I didn’t end up playing The Witcher as soon as I bought it. A few weeks or maybe even months went by. Then suddenly The Witcher 3 began its mainstream marketing run. This was actually one of the last games I remember seeing commercials for on cable, because this was the last time in my life that I regularly watched cable TV. The game looked amazing. We know now that it was/is, but at the time the ads were the thing that really sold me. But I’m the type of person that needs to play all the games in a franchise in order. So my desire to play The Witcher 3 finally pushed me to start The Witcher.

2020-04-23_0147_1Thankfully my old laptop could run The Witcher. This shouldn’t be surprising because the game came out about three years before my laptop. I would call The Witcher the best bad game I’ve ever played. It can only be described as some of the best writing I’ve ever seen in a game coupled with some of the worst gameplay I’ve ever forced myself to slog through to the end. It’s not even accurate to call it a great game so much as a great experience. I absolutely hated actually playing it but I couldn’t get enough of the story, characters, and world. So when I finished it, I immediately knew that I was gonna play The Witcher 3 and literally loaded up The Witcher 2 as soon as the credits finished rolling. This is where my troubles really began.

The Witcher was released in 2007 and my laptop from 2010 could run it with little issue. Even though it wasn’t a gaming laptop, the leaps forward in technology over that three year gap made an office laptop viable for playing an old game. The Witcher 2 on the other hand was released in 2011. While it wasn’t released that far after my laptop, it was a modern game with hefty graphics for the time. Sadly my SONY Vaio just couldn’t hack it. Even at the lowest settings, I was not able to run The Witcher 2 smoothly. I was so depressed that I couldn’t play that game. At this point I no longer owned an XBOX 360 and for some stupid reason that was the only console the game was available on. I could have went out and bought a used one but I refused to go back to a console that had already broken down and been replaced on four separate occasions before I finally gave the system up for good. That meant that my only option was getting a new PC.

2020-04-23_0054_2It was at this moment that I finally decided to build my own PC. I had known multiple people in college who had built their own gaming desktops but the prospect of doing that always scared me. It seemed too difficult, too expensive, and too risky. But I decided that was as good a time as any because I really wanted to play The Witcher 2. The Witcher 3 was a non-issue because I could get that on PS4 if I wanted to. But I had to play The Witcher 2 first. I never do anything small. If I’m gonna do something, I’m gonna take it seriously from start to finish. I wasn’t just gonna build an OK PC that could barely run The Witcher 2. I was gonna build a hefty system that could easily tackle running The Witcher 3. It ultimately took me three years of studying, saving, and planning before I finally built my gaming desktop. By that time I had left that shitty state (and country at this point), moved back abroad, and had landed a job in the PC hardware industry. My passion for playing The Witcher 2 in many ways led me to where I am now.

I got the PC built but rather than play The Witcher 2 right off the bat I, like many gamers, got distracted by other titles. So the game I had built my PC to play got pushed aside for a long time. I’ve played countless games on my PC since then. If you watch my streams then you know some of the much more advanced games I’ve played on PC such as Watch Dogs 1 & 2, Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order, DOOM, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and the list goes on. I’m very happy with my PC and I’m proud of myself for the accomplishment it was to pay for and build it. But I didn’t actually end up starting The Witcher 2 till three years after it was built.

2020-05-10_2359_2Last month I finally started The Witcher 2, and last week I finally completed it. It took almost seven years of dedication to a single goal to reach this point. There were definitely distractions and roadblocks along the way, but I got here. It might not seem like the biggest accomplishment in the world, but to me it’s important. That’s why I felt it was necessary to document this moment here.

I committed to building a PC and playing The Witcher 2 in 2013. I finished The Witcher 2 on May 11th, 2020. And now I can finally play The Witcher 3. But I’ll probably put it off for like another three years because reasons.

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons is Good but Riddled with Unjustified Flaws

Having now played Animal Crossing: New Horizons for 170 hours, I can say two things. The first is that the game is a depth defying evolution of the concept since the original game released on the Gamecube almost 20 years ago. It’s accessible, simple, and addictive while not taking advantage of any of the predatory microtransactions Nintendo could absolutely get away with. It’s complicated enough to hold the attention of adults, both causal and serious gamers, while also being simple enough to be played and enjoyed by children. While it is not the best game ever made, it may be the most Nintendo game ever made in the last two generations or more of Nintendo consoles. The second thing I can say is that the game is riddled with quality of life problems. Not glitches or coding errors, but intentional problems that ultimately hurt the gameplay experience.

I have been absolutely floored by some of the island designs I’ve seen posted online. People have accomplished things that I couldn’t even imagine. The amount of things you can actually accomplish/build in Animal Crossing: New Horizons is insane. Yet my island still looks like garbage. One could argue that my island looks like garbage because I simply lack creativity, but I don’t agree with that statement. Now I’m not saying that I’m as visually creative as everyone else. I’m a writer by trade so visual design isn’t really my strong suit. But I do have plenty of ideas and a vision for my own epic island design. And I’m happy to acknowledge that the chances of the design I have in my head, or reference notes after I took the time to draw and plot out everything I wanted to do on paper, probably isn’t as impressive as many of the things that I’ve seen go viral online. But at the very least my island wouldn’t look like garbage if my vision could be realized. The problem is that at every turn the game goes out of its way to arbitrarily limit my ability to create my own vision. And again none of these limitations are due to glitches. They are intentional design flaws that can easily be fixed, but simply won’t be because Nintendo gonna Nintendo.

Landscaping and Island design isn’t the only place where the game has monumentally inconvenient limitations that are easily fixed but simply won’t be because reasons. There are a host of quality of life issues that simply don’t need to be present in the game.  So for this week’s post I wanted to go over my top 15 complaints about Animal Crossing: New Horizons. This is not an exhaustive list; and I’m sure some people will disagree with some of the things mentioned. But I believe every one of these issues could easily be patched out and would make the gameplay experience better for a majority of players. Better being defined as giving players the ability to maximize their own personal enjoyment and/or creative freedom. List is in no particular order.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-05-06 16-14-19

1. No Natural Island Features Should be Permanent

When you first start the game, you are asked to pick an island layout. If like me, you started the game on day one with little to no prior knowledge or plans in the works, then you chose a layout that seemed the most convenient at the time without knowing exactly what you were committing to. My island’s natural layout has been a nightmare for pretty much my entire time playing the game. It of course started with house placement. I knew exactly where I wanted my house to go when I first looked at the map layouts. That has never changed. What I didn’t know going into the game was that I wouldn’t be able to reach the location I wanted for my house until much later into the game. I thought I would be able to get the vaulting pole and ladder from the start and place my house exactly where I wanted it. Instead I was forced to put it in the complete opposite side of the island from where I wanted it because not only did I want my house on a mountain, but I also wanted an island with a single continuous river that went from end to end, locking me to only about 40% of my island’s total land for the opening portion of the game. As you can imagine, this was very annoying. But I was OK with it because I knew eventually I would be able to move my house and even reshape my river, if I wanted to.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-05-06 16-19-21Eventually I was finally able to reshape the land and the water, while also having the tools to go wherever I wanted. By the time I unlocked K.K. Slider (about 110 hours in), I finally had an established vision for what I wanted my island to look like. I set out to complete this task only to then realize my plan wasn’t possible because my river inlets from the ocean weren’t located in the right places. This cannot be altered, which I wasn’t aware of when I devised my grand plan. You’re simply stuck with the river to ocean connections you have. Now yes I could technically build my own rivers from scratch and just not connect them to the ocean at all. But that’s not really what I wanted. Furthermore, one of my inlets is located too high on my map which blocks me from having the perfect cliffs I wanted.

Along with the river mouths, you also have to contend with beaches and even worse beach stone. These black rocks eat up the sides and corners of your map for literally no reason and prevent you from having perfectly square edges to your cliffs. Some may also refer to them as OCD stone. Why Nintendo decided to make all these physical features permanent is beyond me. What I do know is that not only have they dashed my island landscaping dreams multiple times, but they also cost me so many hours of hard work because I had to alter several map units of land to account for them. This entire issue is stupid and shouldn’t be a thing. Just let me redesign my island however I want once I’ve reached the landscaping portion of the game.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-05-06 18-00-51

2. The Game Needs Mass/Rapid Landscaping Options

Being able to reshape land and water is extremely convenient. It’s one of my favorite aspects of the game. Even with the many limits it has to it, the fact that you can reform cliffs and rivers to create the landscape you want (mostly) allows for every island to be truly original. That being said, the process of landscaping is one of the most tedious and troublesome endeavors I’ve ever experienced in a Nintendo game. You have to manually shape each block unit of land in the game one at a time. It is appalling that there isn’t a Mario Maker style landscape editing mode where you can just build entire sections of cliff and water in a few seconds. I have spent literal weeks trying to build, and rebuild, the cliff structure I wanted. And this doesn’t include all the time I’ve had to spend moving around trees and flowers to do it.  I wouldn’t even mind having to pay a bells fee to do it. I just don’t want to have to spend hours to build a cliff after I’ve already taken the time to clear all the land. The cliff should be the easy part. And joy-con drift never angered me so much as it does while trying to landscape in this game. The game already has a unit based map. Allowing the player to draw cliff or water on it quickly rather than unit by unit landscaping would be an easy thing to implement.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-05-06 18-02-34

3. Build and Destroy Landscaping Functions Should be Separate Buttons

In order to keep the coding simplistic, Animal Crossing: New Horizons throws all landscaping functions into two buttons. You select what kind of landscaping you want to do by pressing the plus button and then the A button to make a selection. Then you use the A button to interact with the unit of land directly in front of you, assuming your joy-con doesn’t drift. If the landscaping selection you currently have active isn’t on the unit in front of you, the A button adds it. If the active landscaping selection is on the unit in front of you, the A button removes it. While simple in practice, this causes a lot of problems. Again, many of them are the result of joy-con drift. Often you end up removing land when you intended to add it. Or adding water when you intended to remove it. And vice versa. This could easily be remedied by dedicating the A button to adding landscaping options and a different button being dedicated for removing landscaping selections. Of course this would only be the case while the landscaping app is active. Having this function would save users so much time by not having them make unintentional landscaping mistakes throughout the entire process of terraforming their islands.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-05-06 18-05-37

4. Why Can’t I Build Giant Walls?

I have absolutely no idea why you can’t build two story cliffs, but it’s one of the most irritating limitations the game has. For some reason you can’t build a cliff on top of a cliff. You have to leave a space of at least one unit between the first level cliff and the second level cliff. So instead of building high cliffs you end up with big two step stairs. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the reason for this probably has to do with the incline limitations, which I will get to. You can’t make two story inclines, so building two story cliffs would prevent you from being able to access the tops of them. But I don’t see why that’s a problem because if  I’m building a two story cliff then clearly I don’t want it to be climbed to begin with. Also, couldn’t’ the ladder just extend if it was really an issue that needed solving? Not only is this issue visually troublesome, but it also wastes a lot of real estate. You only have so much land. Having to waste the outer edges one unit in all directions is quite a loss of total available land.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-05-06 17-12-48

5. Inclines Have So Much Wasted Potential

The only way to reach a higher level without a ladder is an incline. This is fine. Even the process of adding inclines for a fee is fine. What isn’t fine is all the things inclines should be able to do but can’t. First, inclines are locked to one cliff unit up and two ground units wide. Inclines are extremely useful but they could do so much more. You can’t build them adjacent to each other either vertically or horizontally.  They need a gap of at least one space. So if you wanted to make a two story cliff with an incline it would have an annoying one unit step between the two inclines. You also can’t build them side by side. Meaning you can’t build hills or epic continuous grand entrances.

You also can’t repave or plant flowers on inclines. Meaning if, like me, you wanted to use floor paths to build long “roads” that went up cliffs, you would not be able to fully coordinate their colors because inclines can’t be customized past picking from a limited selection of incline designs. The inability to plant flowers on them also means you can’t have continuous flower paths for your “roads” that go up cliffs either. While some of this may be a lot of trouble to remedy, much of it shouldn’t have been part of the game to begin with. There’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to install adjacent inclines and bridges.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-05-06 18-08-51

6. Construction Delays Progress so Much

Construction projects are a sensible idea. Moving buildings and adding/removing inclines being a bit more special so you aren’t constantly changing everything on your island makes you appreciate your decisions more. Having to pay for them does this adequately. But making me have to wait for the day to flip and only allowing me to move one building and one incline/bridge a day is such a waste of time. If I’m trying to reshape my entire island after acquiring the landscaping license, I shouldn’t have to wait a day to move each house on my island. I shouldn’t have to wait a day to demolish or move each bridge/incline I built in the early game while just trying to access more of the land and amass resources. It’s no wonder why some players, myself not included, use time travel. So much progress is stopped by limiting construction projects to one of each type a day. Just charge me express work fees and let me do everything in the same day. At the very least let me reshape the island in mass at least once after unlocking the landscaping license. Because obviously most players wouldn’t have put things where they are if they had had full access to all the tools and landscaping abilities you eventually get from the start.

Also, it’s completely ridiculous that you have to pay twice to change the surrounding landscape of a building or incline. I had my house in the perfect spot the first time I moved it. But I did not yet have landscaping abilities. Once I unlocked them, I wanted my house in the same general spot, but moved over three units and on top of a cliff. Doing this required moving my house to a completely different location by paying a fee of 30K bells and waiting a day for construction, then reshaping the land where I wanted my house, paying another fee of 30K bells, and waiting another day for construction. This sort of process was required for four of my islanders’ homes as well, ultimately costing me 460,000 bells and 10 days of waiting. The process should not have been that long, that expensive, or that troublesome.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-05-06 18-11-12

7. Housing Development Shouldn’t Be Limited

You can expand your house’s interior by paying off loans. This is fine. The prices may seem a little high but once you start playing the stalk market “correctly” money becomes almost a non-issue once you get past your initial landscaping costs. But there’s a limit to how big your house can be. In reality, this makes sense. But this is a video game. Why can’t I just keep expanding my house indefinitely? Or at least past the point of realistic practicality. You can only have a maximum of six total rooms in your house. You can’t control or expand the size of them and their dimensions are kind of inconvenient as well. Why can’t I just pay more bells to expand these rooms or add additional ones? If I want a living room, a kitchen, a bathroom, a workshop, a gameroom, a bedroom, and a guest room, why can’t I? I have plenty of bells. So just let me keep expanding. And let me keep expanding storage as well. You can get up to 1600 storage spots by the time you fully upgrade your house. But why place a limit at all? Just let me keep paying a flat rate of bells to expand my storage indefinitely. Why does it matter?

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8. Why Can’t I Stack Items Based on Space?

Certain items can have other items placed on them such as tables, chairs, and rugs. But then other items can’t even if there’s enough space to do so. For instance, the wooden speakers. This stereo system is quite big and it looks cool. But it takes up a lot of room. The top of it has enough surface area to act as a table or stand. So why can’t I put things on top of it such as potted plants or trophies? That’s something a person would actually do in real life. Yet because the game doesn’t designate it as a piece of stacking furniture, you aren’t allowed to do this. You can’t even put things on beds. So much space is wasted in an already limited space environment.

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9. Just Let Me Store Turnips For Goodness Sake

Once a week you find yourself having to store turnips in the most inconvenient of places. First I was storing them all over my house. Every open space of my floor would be covered in turnips. I wasn’t even decorating my basement because I needed the storage space. Then, like many other players, I took to building an outdoor storage area for them. This is more convenient in many ways, but it’s also a complete waste of real estate. Having to essentially sacrifice a large piece of land to store your turnips every week is an unnecessary inconvenience that adds no enjoyment to the game. Either let me store them in the storage or raise the single item volume considerably. I buy 16K turnips a week. That’s 160 item slots to store. That’s a ton of wasted real estate. And sure you don’t have to buy turnips every week, and certainly not in those large quantities. But in the weeks that you do, you need that space available so it makes more sense just to leave it open rather than build on it at all.

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10. Why Can’t I Turn the Camera When Outside my House?

The camera in Animal Crossing: New Horizons can be quite troublesome. You often can’t see things behind buildings and trees. But there are often important things there such as dig spots and bugs. You can turn the camera in the house just fine. In fact, it’s very convenient. But you can’t do this when outside your house and I can’t think of a single justifiable reason for this.

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11. Add a Fossil Record to the Museum

In the game, you have a phone that catalogues every fish and bug you’ve caught and whether or not you have donated them to the museum. Why the same is not true for the fossils is beyond me. I don’t even need a fossil record on my phone. Just put it in the damn museum, like literally any real museum would have. Finishing the fossil collection, which I finally managed to do by trading in the fossil market on Discord, is such a hassle because you literally don’t know how many or which fossils you’re missing without looking it up online. Even when you do try to look it up, it’s still fairly unclear what you’re actually missing because you have to manually walk the museum and try to figure it out. Just add a damn fossil list to the museum so it’s like an actual museum.

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12. Let Me Mass Buy Clothing in the Fitting Room

The fitting room in the Able Sisters clothing store is really nice. It’s exactly what you want when trying to decide which clothes to buy. But damn if it isn’t the most inconvenient thing in the world when trying to buy multiple colors of the same piece of clothing. If an item comes in multiple colors and I want more than one, why can’t I just buy all the colors I want at once? Making me have to pay, then exit the fitting room, then reenter the fitting room, find the item again, and pay again is completely unnecessary. Just let me buy as many items as I want at once.

Also, let me know which items I already own. The crafting table tells you what items you already have in your pockets and in storage. Why doesn’t the fitting room do the same?

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13. Why Do the Store’s Close?

I work a full time job. I am not alone. I have to commute to my job. I am not alone. I can’t use my Switch at work. I am not alone. Nook’s Cranny doesn’t open until 8 AM and closes at 10 PM. This means that anyone who has to leave for work before 8 AM can’t sell things they are carrying from the night before and can’t check the morning prices of turnips, much less take advantage of them. Anyone who works late can’t purchase or sell anything at Nook’s Cranny either. There are days where I have to leave for work before 8 AM and don’t get home till almost 8 PM. Then I have other responsibilities like cooking dinner and walking my dog. That makes the operating hours of Nook’s Cranny very difficult for me. And I don’t even have children. But one must ask why does the store close at all? This isn’t real life. They don’t need to sleep. Tom Nook and Isabelle never close the Residential Services office. So what’s the deal with Tom’s nephews? The store should definitely reset every day like the calendar does with new announcements. And if for the sake of balance you wanted to argue that the turnip purchasing time should still be locked to specific hours of day, I could understand an argument for that. But the store closing is unnecessary.  Or at the very least remove the fees for using the box to sell items. I don’t mind waiting till the next morning to get my funds in the mail. That’s a realistic mechanic I guess.

Don’t even get me started on the Able Sisters shop. Why does it close an hour earlier than Nook’s Cranny? What is the justification for that? Realistically you only need to visit it once a day, assuming you aren’t strapped for bells, in order to do all your business there. But it’s still the same issue of availability. If someone isn’t able to get to their Switch between the hours of 8 AM and 9 PM, then when do they get to purchase and design new clothing items? The game may be geared towards kids, but adults play it. If the shops have to be open for limited hours, at least let the player set those hours for their island. Maybe the employees sleep during the day and work through the night.

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14. Why Doesn’t my Nook Phone Have a Debit Function?

I have a bank account and a smart phone. That is literally all a person needs to make purchases without carrying cash. So why can’t I purchase things from shops without the cash in hand? Just let me pull the funds needed directly from my bank account. Not for Daisy and NPC purchases, because that wouldn’t be realistic or practical. Though Zelle is a thing. But if I want to buy a chessboard from Nook’s Cranny with 3 million bells in the bank but not 95,000 bells in my pocket just let me purchase it with funds directly from my bank account so I don’t have to run to Resident Services, access the bank account, withdrawal the funds, and then run all the way back to Nook’s Cranny.

While we’re at it, let players access their bank accounts from other islands. Not their storage because that would be unrealistic. But as with my digital purchases argument, the technology is already there. The entire purposes of bank accounts is so you can access your funds anywhere that has an ATM. Every island has an ATM so let players pull bells from the Resident Services on any island.

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15. Add a Dynamic DIY Vendor

Much of the game is built around the idea of interacting with NPCs and the environment to get new recipes. Characters like Celeste are key to making the most out of your crafting experience. But in my opinion there are serious issues with the volume of DIY recipes acquired as well as the ability to get the ones you want. I find it very irritating when I’m trying to complete a seasonal set like the bamboo collection and I get drops of repeat bamboo recipes before I’ve even finished the collection. That forces players to have to try to deal with the market and convince other players to trade them the recipes they want/are missing because the game itself doesn’t seem to be providing them.

While I won’t outright say you should just be able to buy every recipe in the game whenever you want, I do believe there should be a constant stream of DIY vending that takes bells or even Nook Miles. Technically the game kind of has this at Resident Services, but the list of available recipes is fixed. That shouldn’t be the case. As with the Nook Shopping service, the DIY choices should be changing daily. Like with turnip prices, it should be completely random with some days giving you repeats or junk recipes while other days can include super rare ones. Every day players should have the ability to acquire at least one new recipe no matter how much time they put in. This also makes every day seem eventful in some way even when nothing particularly special is otherwise going on.

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So there are my 15 biggest complaints about Animal Crossing: New Horizons. I want to clarify that I love the game. I have played it literally every day since it released. I have never time traveled and I take my progress in the game very seriously. I play the stalk market like a pro and have great aspirations for my island and its residents. But the game is severely lacking in a number of quality of life features that would make the experience of playing the game way more convenient and fulfilling. The game is by no means bad, but it could be considerably better.

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The Leaks of Us

I’m not really a fan of advanced release date announcements. I hate the hype trains and unrealistic expectations. I think announcing release dates far in advance ultimately leads to broken promises or even worse, unfinished games. Most importantly, I would rather see a game as near to perfect as possible before release rather than a promised deadline met and an unfinished product sold to be patched later. So I don’t actually have a problem with games like Beyond Good & Evil 2 being very vague about when they will be released. In fact, I wish games weren’t even announced till they were already gold so that there were no broken promises or delays because we honestly shouldn’t be notified about unconfirmed possibilities to begin with. I understand why early announcements are made. I understand why companies announce release dates far in advance. From a business standpoint, it all makes sense. Even the added pressure put on the development teams, though scummy, is a perfectly sensible business decision from the publishing side of the games industry. I don’t have to like it and I don’t have to agree with it, but I definitely understand it. But it’s also important to note that these early release date announcements are what ultimately lead to delays and even cancellations. I’m still not over Scalebound. The issue that rarely gets discussed though is the meaning of release dates.

beyond-good-and-evil-2As consumers, we’re sold the idea that release dates aren’t arbitrary. We’re led to believe that they take into account a number of factors based on estimated development time coupled with budget limitations. But we also know that’s not really the entire picture. We’ve seen countless games go gold and then still not release for months. We’ve seen games get delayed at the last minute when it should have been obvious it wouldn’t be ready on time much sooner, if the delay was really an issue of development and not business. It’s also quite preposterous to assume that every single project, with differing sizes of development teams, differing scopes of project size, differing starting points as far as resources available, and differing numbers of years in development can all always be ready in summer or holiday season just after Black Friday or just before the school year starts. Release dates are not solely based on development. They’re based on business analytics in order to maximize sales. Games are often ready to launch much sooner than they are. And they’re also often launched before they’re actually ready in order to make a peak selling date since they can be patched later. While there was once a time where announced launch dates may have been truly based on development time, they’re now more the business/marketing side of the industry than anything else. That’s why I don’t really feel bad for publishers when a game is delayed. Because I know that original date probably wasn’t right to begin with. It was probably much too soon.

TLoU FebThe Last of Us Part 2 is an interesting story in the fact that Naughty Dog had kind of implied it was basically ready to ship before it was delayed the first time. Originally it was announced to be releasing in February of this year. Then it was delayed to May 29th because they felt like it “wasn’t polished enough”. They didn’t say they couldn’t launch in February. They said they were choosing not to. That’s a weird situation in the fact that it’s fairly rare for a AAA developer to be so transparent about making a decision that fans won’t like. They could have said that the game wasn’t ready and had to be delayed three months and pretty much no one would have gotten angry. People would have griped, as they always do. And they would have been sad, as they always are with delays. But if people were led to believe that the game truly wasn’t ready to be launched then they would have accepted it. What people didn’t want to accept was the idea that the game was basically ready but was just being delayed for an extra spit and polish. Now as a cynic I don’t actually believe the game needed to be delayed to May. I believe the game was ready by the original February date but Naughty Dog and/or PlayStation decided it wasn’t a great date to launch from a marketing standpoint. Probably because the world was being plunged into chaos in the midst of a global pandemic.

HL Mencken Money Quote BigReleasing a game about a post-apocalyptic world that has been devastated by a virus probably didn’t seem in good taste to the marketing department over at SONY. So they chose to delay to May hoping things would have quieted down about the coronavirus by then. Sadly that wasn’t the case, but since everyone already had to work from home or stop working altogether by that point, the virus became a great alibi to layer on top of the original polish story and justified saying the game was being delayed indefinitely due to the team’s inability to finalize it because of the coronavirus limiting development practices and resources. The pieces just kind of fell into place for that second delay to work with the first one. But at that point the public wasn’t having it anymore. Because if they’ve already said the game was basically ready it doesn’t make sense to indefinitely delay because of the virus. That is unless the release date has basically nothing to do with development and everything to do with profit analytics. It’s no secret that now is not a good time for businesses to launch new products. Especially entertainment products. A lot of people have been hit hard by this virus. People do not have leisure funds right now to pay $60+ for a video game. Lots of people are just trying to keep their homes and feed their children while worrying about devastating medical bills or at the very least the threat of them. So it makes since for PlayStation to want to hold off on releasing their GOTY contender and one of the biggest exclusive sequels they will have ever launched until things get back to normal. And yes I do believe this is more a decision from SONY’s side more than Naughty Dog’s.

Not StonksSo what happens when you finish a game and then set it on the back burner indefinitely while trying to wait out a depression level economic collapse? People get both angry and bored. A dangerous combination when dealing with digital products. Physical products are fairly easy to safeguard. You store them in a safe place, secure them, and guard them until you want them distributed. And yet they still get stolen all the time. Digital products are hard to safeguard. They can be copied, hacked, data mined, accidentally leaked, and are susceptible to a whole host of other security issues. And when hackers are bored, they’re even more motivated to take advantage of those digital weaknesses. Now I don’t know exactly how or who leaked The Last of Us Part 2 story details. I’ve heard rumor that it was an actual employee of Naughty Dog. Then I heard that was false. I don’t know and honestly I don’t really care. But I do know that anyone with even a sophomoric level of knowledge about the history of gaming leaks wasn’t surprised that the leak happened. It was always going to happen once that second delay was announced. I’m surprised we made all the way to the latter half of April before it happened. But how curious is it that within a week of the leak happening and people getting angry about the story details that were leaked magically the game is ready to launch in June. We went from the game being finished but needing a polish for the sake of assurance in February to an indefinite delay to a launch date in just two months’ time. That sounds fishy to me. That sounds like the date never actually mattered as far as development is concerned.

Failed PlansWhat happened with The Last of Us Part 2 is no different than what happens with every other troubled entertainment product long term marketing campaign. A company made a plan, unforeseen circumstances damaged that plan, the company overreacted to that damage, that overreaction caused more damage, and then the company gave up and scrapped the plan altogether in order to recoup as much profit as possible. The company I work for has done the same thing many times. The release date for The Last of Us Part 2 could have been more than two months ago and wasn’t because of a failed attempt to maximize profits. That’s how the game is played. PlayStation just didn’t win this round.

Now personally, I didn’t care about the delays for The Last of Us Part 2. I don’t care about most games being delayed. I am so backlogged that they could delay all games for a year, which I suggested in a previous blog post, and I’d still come out of the other end backlogged. In fact, they could cease all game production for a decade and I still probably wouldn’t be done with my backlog. So I’m infinitely patient. I also had no intention of buying the game at launch. Like with most games, I was just gonna wait for it to go on sale and pick it up for Black Friday. And that is still my plan. I haven’t seen any of the leaks and even if I do, I’ll still play the game at some point because I’m not a child. You knew Thanos was going to die before you watched Avengers: Endgame. You knew the Joker was going to get captured at the end of The Dark Knight. People aren’t stupid. Stories are fairly predictable. Getting bent out of shape about leaks is immature because you already knew what was going to happen anyways a large portion of the time. You just didn’t have confirmation. And it’s not as if the experience of the story is completely diminished by not being surprised at key moments. Stories are more than just who lives or dies at the end.

Thanos inevitableWhile I’m always happy to see a company get called out on their bullshit, I do want to take the time to address the fact that weaponizing leaks isn’t OK. PlayStation delaying the launch date for reasons that had nothing to do with development is dishonest, anti-consumer, and just plain disagreeable. But it’s not hurtful. It’s not illegal. It’s not outside of their rights as a company. It’s certainly manipulative. But all marketing is manipulative. That’s the entire point of marketing. And yes launch dates are a part of marketing. That’s why hype trains exist and are desired by corporations. But forcing PlayStation’s hand by leaking content from the game is not an acceptable response. That’s a scummy move. Essentially the public used the leaks to create negative hype in order to push SONY into launching sooner than desired before the leaks became too widespread and preorders began to fall off. That’s not a good precedent. I do believe we as consumers should organize and work together to make demands of both studios and publishers. I do believe that we get mistreated by the industry a large amount of the time and not enough protections are in place to prevent or curtail that. But I don’t believe that using illegal and invasive means to push back is the answer. Because that’s not a world I want to live in.

Big Leak
Leaks are not a good thing.

Game companies could take on my idea of not announcing launch dates until set in stone and ready to go. But they could also go overboard and not announce games at all until they’re ready to release. I’d be fine with that, since I don’t usually preorder games anyway, but a lot of people wouldn’t. Using leaks as a weapon will ultimately lead to companies releasing as little information and explanation as possible for fear of being hacked and having their projects leaked. You won’t try to steal something if you don’t know it exists. So I think we shouldn’t be encouraging leaks or using them to force companies to be honest with us. Do we deserve honesty? Yes. Should we use dishonesty in order to obtain it? No. There are much better ways to motivate companies to stop bullshitting us. We just need to organize, make our demands known, and stick to them. It really is that simple.

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons is Predatory Capitalism at its Worst

When I was a youth, the very first Animal Crossing was released for the Nintendo Gamecube. It was such an odd game. The concept was different from anything I had ever considered playing before. It was like The Sims and DinoPark Tycoon had a baby. But it was intriguing, so I bought it. It was a surprisingly fun game. I still remember it quite fondly. And I’m speaking as a person who doesn’t play games like Minecraft, Stardew Valley, or The Sims and have never had any interest in those types of games. But Animal Crossing was just the right level of resource management and progress to be fun for a casual sim player.

More than one sequel to Animal Crossing has been released since the first one launched in 2001. The franchise expanded into handheld consoles and mobile games. I skipped all of these. It’s not that I didn’t want to play more Animal Crossing. It’s just that I never owned any of Nintendo’s handhelds after the Gameboy Advance and didn’t want to. It wasn’t until two decades later that I finally purchased another Animal Crossing game for the Nintendo Switch. This is of course the recently released Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-08-20I really like New Horizons. It’s by no means a perfect game but it is quite fun, for whatever reason. It delivers that same feeling I got playing the original all those years ago. It is interesting how the game is very much driven by money and Capitalist ideals while also being very relaxed and easy going. People often joke about Tom Nook being a robber baron type but if we’re honest he gives you interest free loans and lets you pay them off at whatever pace you like. He’s very fast about completing construction projects and doesn’t charge you extra for labor. Money is certainly a component but it’s not the driving force of the game. Really the game is just about building a community that makes you happy. I have seen so many amazing creations, designs, and concepts developed in New Horizons. I have visited islands that made me feel like an inferior Resident Representative because of how shitty my island looks by comparison. It is a delightful game that allows people to express themselves in ways I couldn’t have even conceived of when playing the original Animal Crossing back in 2001. But money is still a part of the game and that fact has brought out the worst in Nintendo’s user base.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-00-12Nintendo fans, which I do include myself in, often get a bad rap. We are known for our incessant complaining and unruly demands.  We are often labeled as some of the most virulent members of the gaming community. While XBOX and PlayStation users are constantly at each other’s throats, Nintendo users are usually fighting each other and attacking the people who make the games we play. Look at how people responded to Pokémon: Sword & Shield. Look at how the Smash Bros. Ultimate community behaves when it comes to discussing DLC characters. One has to admit that Nintendo fans are often guilty of heinous levels of nonsense. Many people see Nintendo fans as childish. The fact that most Nintendo games are geared towards younger audiences definitely adds to that image. At the same time, that childish image has allowed Nintendo fans to be seen as some of the most wholesome members of the gaming community as well. Nintendo fans aren’t complaining about loot boxes or the level of gore in a game. We just want to be able to give our characters purple hair and green shoes. Or at least that’s how the stereotypes tend to come off. If you had asked me which group of gamers were most likely to try to take advantage of each other for profit, I never would have said Nintendo users . . . until I played Animal Crossing: New Horizons.

Royal CrownWhile money is not meant to be the main focus of New Horizons, it does play a crucial role. Money allows you to do all the fantastic things you want to do. Increasing the size of your house costs money. Changing the layout of your island’s buildings and infrastructure costs money. Adding new villagers to your island costs money. Buying the awesome clothes you want like the Royal Crown (sold at the in game store for 1,200,000 bells) costs money. Now the point of the game is to take your time. Things don’t cost money to make you care a lot about money. They cost money to give you a concrete reason to keep playing the game. To keep catching and selling fish and insects. To keep cultivating fruit. The money is there as a motivator to keep you playing the game. But the online component of this particular Animal Crossing installment allows money to control the way players play the game both alone and with others. And it has brought out the worst in people.

Over the 105 hours I’ve played New Horizons I’ve come to understand the game as having three main stages of gameplay which I will refer to as early game, mid game, and late game. Note that I’m not saying this was Nintendo’s intent when building the game. I’m just saying that based on what I have witnessed in other players and felt myself, this is how users are playing/experiencing the game.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 14-58-58Early game is some of the most gratifying but also depressing gameplay. Everything is new. Everything is fun. You are motivated to do all kinds of things without complaining. I chopped so much wood during the early game. Every day I went through my entire island and shook all the trees for twigs and then hit them all for wood piles. I did this almost religiously without complaining. I made sure to hit every rock, dig every dig spot, and catch as many fish and bugs as I could. Why? Because I needed more money. I needed to turn my tent into a house. I needed to expand that house for more storage space. I needed to buy land plots so I could add more villagers. I needed money. In the early game, I was happy to do manual labor in order to acquire that money. For me, it was about work ethic. If I wanted to expand, I had to be willing to earn it. And for a long time I did earn it. I paid off all the home loans save for the last two with manual labor. I paid off two inclines and two bridges with manual labor. Every piece of furniture or clothing I acquired was either crafted, sourced from the environment/villagers, or paid for with manual labor. I didn’t even get to play the stalk market for the first time until I was already on my second to last home loan, built the Nook’s Cranny store, and had manually paid for at least five villagers to move in. I did this because I had a vision for what I wanted my island to be and I was motivated to work towards it.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 14-58-46Late game is when the player has finally reached their vision. It’s when you’ve paid off everything, gotten the clothes you want, gotten enough houses for the number of villagers you want/need, and have finally built the island you want. The infrastructure, the building placement, the land marks. All these things that make your island a home are finally acquired and in place. It will have taken you lots of time and several million bells to accomplish, but it can eventually be done. Late game, which I haven’t personally reached yet, is an interesting place, because it’s like the early game in that you’re playing for the enjoyment of it. You don’t have things you have to do anymore. You have things you want to do. You don’t have to farm every day for bells. If you want to fish or catch bugs you just do it for love of the game. Money is no problem. You have millions of bells stored in the bank. You simply play the game because you want to and wait for special occurrences and events. It’s the way the game was meant to be played and it took time and hard work to get there. It’s a beautiful place that all Animal Crossing players hope to reach some day. But to get there you have to get through the mid game.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-10-26Mid game is a bad place. It’s where most players are currently and where you spend the bulk of your time and effort. This is where you are now a bit jaded and tired of manual labor. You have found certain ways to make money faster. You play the stalk market regularly. And worst of all, you’ll do just about anything to make a quick bell. Because you need those bells. You’re not in it for the fun anymore. You’re in it for the vision. You want to build that amusement park with giant robots and rides. You want a perfectly paved road system lined with Imperial walls and high end bridges. You want that royal crown. Fun is gone. Now it’s about respect and prestige. You know what you want and you see it in reach. But it will cost you a lot of money. And making that money manually is just gonna take more time than people in 2020 want to devote to hard work. So you start wheeling and dealing. And you become a monster.

New Horizons has an optional online component. They want players to interact with each other both locally and online. In order to motivate players to do this, they have built in a number of incentives. People, being people, took advantage of this fact and have turned to profiteering. This is the mid game in a nutshell.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-10-17One of the quickest ways to make money in New Horizons is the “stalk market”. The fact that it’s a play on the phrase “stock market” is intentional and sadly prophetic. Every Sunday morning, you can buy turnips. They are sold by a single traveling vendor at a price that fluctuates from week to week. You then have seven days to sell them to a different vendor and hopefully make a profit. The vendor that buys them from you changes prices twice a day every day except on Sundays when they aren’t buying. If you do not sell them within seven days of purchase, they rot and become useless. As the old adage states, “buy low, sell high” is the name of the game. The way it’s meant to be played is one week the vendor may sell the turnips at 104 bells and then the other vendor will hopefully buy them from you at an increase. Say 155 bells as a common example. You then have to choose if you want to sell at that price or wait for a better one. Sometimes a better price comes and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes a price lower than the best you saw comes that will still net you a profit and sometimes the price is lower than what you bought at. The name of the game is knowing when to sell. Most of the time the sell price is relatively normal. It usually falls somewhere between 80 and 200 bells. The price you bought at usually ranges between 90 and 120 bells. So if you invest 100K bells you’ll probably net about 50% in profit or about 50K bells total, give or take. But every so often the buyer will offer a crazy high price like 600 bells. Enter predatory human capitalism.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-11-15Now you can play the right way and just buy and sell on your own island. Or you can play the smart way and buy and sell on whatever island you can get to with the best price. This week my island had a turnip selling price of 108 bells. That’s a pretty meh price all things considered, but it’s very normal. I didn’t buy on my island. Instead I went to the Discord and found an island selling turnips at 91 bells. I bought my turnips there. Then a day later my island was buying at 107 bells. Now if I had bought at 108 from my local vendor, that’s a losing price. I would absolutely have needed to wait for a better price later in the week and hope it eventually came. But since I bought at 91 bells on a different island, I could have turned a profit selling at 108 bells. I didn’t do that though, because it’s not smart and only mildly profitable. I found another island buying turnips at 621 bells. I sold there. I flipped 250K bells worth of turnips in less than 24 hours for a profit of about 1.6 million bells. Before that, the most money I had ever had at one time was 750K bells, which I earned from manual labor. I made more than double that in a fraction of the time. It’s a great way to get to the late game faster. It should be no surprise that islands that can offer those services are in high demand. And anything with a high demand can be used for profit. Even when used by Nintendo gamers.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-02-52Nintendo wanted people to interact with each other in friendly ways. They wanted people to help each other with the occasional friendly trade or visit for fruit. That’s not how people are playing the game though. People are using the benefits of their islands to make staggering profits. Here’s the scenario. Person A has invested one million bells into turnips at a price of 94 bells. That’s a good price. It’s also a big investment. Person A only has seven days to flip those turnips before they rot. If they aren’t sold in time, that’s one million bells down the drain in the form of 10,638 rotten turnips, which cannot be sold for anything. In fact, I think there’s even a fee to dispose of them. Person B has a vendor buying turnips at 600 bells. If Person A can manage to sell his 10,638 turnips at Person B’s island, he will net a profit of about 5,382,800 bells. Assuming he can flip those turnips at those prices on the first day, that’s more than five million bells made in less than 24 hours. Now Person B can choose to be a good Samaritan and just let Person A come sell at his/her island. But that doesn’t help Person B at all. Person B has to do some things in order to let Person A sell at their island. Person B has to be online the entire time it takes Person A to sell. If it takes multiple trips, because of carry inventory limits, then Person B has to wait around for Person A to make multiple trips. Person B can’t do much on their island while Person A is there, due to limitations set by Nintendo to make sure nothing nefarious happens like thefts or people being trapped on foreign islands. Person B also has Person C, Person D, and many other people also wanting to sell their turnips at 600 bells a piece. Person B will logically feel entitled to something in return for helping Person A make all those bells. And arguably Person B isn’t wrong.

Rotten TurnipsPerson A understands Person B’s situation and offers to share some of those bells or something else they might have that Person B wants in exchange for letting them sell their turnips at a profit. But Person C also wants to sell on Person B’s island. And Person B only has a limited amount of time before the turnip price changes. So Person C offers Person B more than what Person A offered. Now Person B is in a position of power. Person B can make demands. Person B can hold an auction. Person B has a supply that’s highly in demand. And Person B knows it.

I didn’t get to flip my turnips for free. I got to buy at 91 bells for free because I found a good Samaritan, but those are rare. Most people on the Discord are charging an entry fee to buy/sell turnips on their island, when the prices are good. And some of those fees are absolutely ridiculous. I had to pay a fee to sell my turnips at 621 bells. It cost me six Nook Miles Tickets (NMT) to travel to that island and sell my turnips. NMT are weird in the fact that their value is very relative. There are many different ways to qualify them. For whatever reason they have become the main currency in the Discord market. I think the best way to qualify them is based on the amount of manual labor it takes to acquire them. Without getting into the minutia of it, it’s fair to say that one NMT takes about 2 hours to acquire on average if we’re talking minimum earning rates. So six NMT equals about 12 hours of gameplay labor time on average, if you earned them honestly. I did not, but we’ll come to that later.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 14-59-16The point is that the owner of the island where I flipped my turnips charged me 12 hours of labor as an entry fee for something he did not earn. And I paid it happily. Because that was actually a really good price in the market. A large number of players charge astronomically high prices just for entry to their islands. 10 NMT is common. Rare materials and recipes, special items, and large numbers of bells are all common demands. The most ironic part being that they often refer to these taxes as “tips”, as if they’re optional. It’s a disgusting display of greed and opulence. But again, this is what happens when you’re in the mid game. Because you don’t want to be there so you do whatever it takes to get out as quickly as possible. And I am just as guilty as everyone else.

The problem with this predatory profiteering behavior in New Horizons is that it spreads like a virus. One person doing it leads to more people doing it because they all need to come up with fast ways to acquire the means of paying the entry fees to other players. I needed to flip my turnips. This required NMT. Now I could spend my Nook Miles and buy them, but as I said, that’s about two hours of labor per a ticket. It was much easier and more efficient to take part in my own greedy business dealings . . . and that’s exactly what I did.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-20 00-04-34Celeste is an NPC that occasionally visits your island at night. She visits maybe three times in a month at most. Every time you speak to her on a new date or island, you get a special rare recipe. There is a list of these rare recipes that can only be acquired from her or from someone else who acquired one from her. Some of her recipes are also seasonal, meaning you have a limited amount of time to acquire them before you have to wait an entire year to get them again. So being able to visit islands that have her is very high in demand. So high in fact that people will literally line up to visit them and happily pay a “modest” fee.  The night I bought my turnips, Celeste showed up at my island. I had already spent several hours trying to find an island that would let me sell my turnips at a good rate (600+ bells each) for a “fair” price. The demands were often atrocious. 10 NMT, super rare recipes, 5% of the total turnip earnings, and other ridiculous demands. It was a gross display of greed. Eventually I realized that I simply couldn’t afford to pay these entry fees if I did not also play the game in order to amass resources to pay them. So I too succumbed to the allure of predatory Capitalism.

Animal Crossing New Horizons Screenshot 2020-04-21 15-11-19I advertised on the Discord that I would let people come to my island to see Celeste for their choice of 99K bells (the minimum unit currently used in the market for passage to other islands), one NMT, or any number of rusted parts. Let’s be very clear what I was doing. I was charging people to come to my island to spend a few minutes with Celeste. Celeste is not part of my island. I did nothing to get her to come there. She just showed up for a visit and I trapped her there so I could sell visits to her off to needy strangers for personal gain. Essentially I participated in forced prostitution. Nobody’s going to call it that, but in reality that’s what it was. And it was damn profitable. In a span of just two hours, Celeste had serviced more than 20 customers. I amassed six NMT, four or five rusted parts, and enough money to pay off my second to last home loan (1.7 Million bells). Business was booming. The only reason I finally stopped pimping out Celeste was that it got to 3AM and I had to work the next day. Ultimately I used those six NMT I “earned” to pay for passage to sell my turnips. All of this was/is gross. It’s a disgusting display of greed, selfishness, and a complete lack of ethical business practices. Even Gordon Gekko would be ashamed. Yet so much of the player base is doing it, and they’re unapologetic about it.

Turnup ExchangeThe online business of New Horizons is so commonplace and so lucrative that someone created a website to help people manage their visitors. Turnip Exchange lets users post their island to a public list and automates the entire process of finding and queuing players to visit their islands. It’s scary how well it works and how realistic it is to real world business practices. It’s impersonal, it’s efficient, it’s Capitalism at its worst. Yet I played along. We all do. That’s just how the mid game is. You don’t want to be there and people are charging. So you have to charge in order to be able to pay the fees other players are charging. It’s an endless cycle of mindless consumption and greed. And it’s all happening with wholesome intentions. We all just want to build our dream islands and reach the late game. That desire has turned us all into monsters and ultimately the game is made worse for it. But I need to amass like 10M bells to accomplish everything I want, so what choice do I have?

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Rip & Terror

Recently I finished DOOM (2016) for the first time. I was not planning on playing it when it was originally announced, because it’s way out of my normal wheelhouse. Not only do I not like shooters for the most part, but I specifically hate FPS. I also tend to dislike Hellish/Satanist aesthetics in games, with some noteworthy exceptions such as the immaculate Dante’s Inferno (2010). So while highly praised by most, I was gonna pass. After many people recommended the game to me, I still wasn’t going to play it until they finally released a demo on PS4 sometime in like late 2018. I don’t know why the demo was released on PS4 so far after release, but this was the first time that I actually got to try the game hands on. While I’m not a fan of the genre, I immediately could tell this was a well-made game. That’s the mark of a truly good game. It’s when someone who isn’t a fan can play it and quickly tell that it’s a good game to a point where they want to play it even though they usually wouldn’t. After finishing this demo, I agreed to eventually purchase and play the game. Several months later, I was able to purchase it on Steam for $5. Then several months after that I finally decided to play it. I’ve actually been live streaming a let’s play of it, which you can check out here if interested.

Dante's InfernoMy reason for not usually wanting to play shooters is that I’m not a fan of guns. But I play many third person shooters anyway when they seem compelling. I’ve streamed many Ubisoft shooters such as Watch Dogs 1 & 2, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, and The Division 2 as examples. My reason for not usually wanting to play FPS games is that I really dislike the first person view. I often find it disorienting and don’t like not being able to see my character. Especially when they look like a badass. That’s the main reason I’m appalled by games like Deus Ex. Why would I want to be a badass looking cyborg if I can’t see him in action? As with shooters in general, there are exceptions where I will play a game in first person, but these are much fewer and far between. This is especially true for FPS titles. I’d much rather play a first person RPG like Skyrim over a first person shooter. The last “full length” AAA FPS game I recall playing was Destiny (2014). So playing something like DOOM is extremely out of character for me. But as I said, exceptions do occasionally occur. DOOM being the most recent one.

I tend to dislike hellish themed games for similar reasons to why I hate zombie games. The subject matter calls back to internalized fears that stem all the way back to my childhood. It’s for this reason that I don’t play many Hellish themed games. Or at least not the Western/Bible inspired hell aesthetic anyway. I have no issue with demon filled games from Japan. I can’t wait to finally play Nioh 2. I also don’t have any issue with games like God of War, where you visit Hades. These alternate interpretations of the underworld do not instill any sort of fear within me and thus I have no problem playing them. Whereas the last game I played based on the Christian idea of Hell is probably Dante’s Inferno, which I played at release. And the last zombie game I played was probably The Last of Us Remastered in 2017. I guess you could also say The Last of Us – Left Behind DLC, which I finally played this year, if you want to be completely accurate. They’re just not games I play. To date I’ve never played or watched a single Resident Evil game or movie.

Nioh 2What I think is interesting about DOOM is that not only am I playing it, but I’m enjoying it. I’m enjoying the gameplay. It’s quite good. I don’t really think I need to delve much further into this because I’ve already stated that the main reason I decided to play it was because the gameplay in the demo was so good. But what I think is more interesting is the fact that I don’t feel uncomfortable playing it aesthetic wise. As I said, Hellish games make me uncomfortable. The only times I generally allow myself to play them is when the graphics aren’t trying to be too realistic or when the gameplay is just too good to pass up. The latter was the case with both Dante’s Inferno and now DOOM. I went into the game expecting to be uncomfortable. One of the reasons I decided to stream it was that I’d not be playing it alone so I could distract myself from my discomfort with the aesthetic. But I haven’t really had any issues playing it. And I think the reason why is Doomguy.

Doom Screenshot 2020.03.30 - 18.43.34.68In general, there are two main types of protagonists in any sort of narrative driven game focused on violence as the main form of gameplay. There are of course occasionally exceptions, but for the most part you’re always either the underdog or the badass. The underdog is not qualified to be in the situation he/she has been thrown into. They get placed in a conflict they didn’t really want to be in and then sort of luck and hard work their way through to the end. Nathan Drake, modern Lara Croft, and Joel all exemplify this underdog persona. It doesn’t matter how many adventures they’ve been on or what they’ve already accomplished. They always seem to be up against overwhelming odds with little chance of succeeding/surviving. But with brains, a can-do attitude, and luck they somehow make it to the end alive. The badass is unsurprisingly the polar opposite. This character is always the go to person for the task. They’re over qualified for whatever the problem is and no one believes they can’t actually complete the task given to them except the villain, for obvious reasons. This is how protagonists like Kratos, Master Chief, and Doomguy are characterized in their games. They’re revered and downright feared by almost everyone they come into contact with. Their reputations precede them, and rightly so. Take just about any super successful story driven AAA franchise and the main protagonist usually falls into one of these two archetypes.

 

Episode - Screenshot 2018-05-04 22-48-07You never see a game where you’re just some average cop, solider, or agent who’s qualified but not the ideal choice. It’s either a highly decorated person or a rookie who literally just started. This is done intentionally in order to set the tone of the game. The developers either want you to feel unqualified so victory seems so much bigger at the end. Or they want you to feel overly qualified so they can give you lots of awesome weapons and moves without having to justify them narratively. But there’s also an experiential aspect to these types of characterizations. The underdog instills a sense of fear in the player. As you’re being told you shouldn’t be there and you have no chance, you feel inadequate as the person controlling that avatar. Conversely, as you’re being told you’re a badass and this mission shouldn’t be a problem, you feel confident that you can get it done as the person controlling the avatar. And very few avatars are built up to be as badass as Doomguy.

I think the reason I haven’t been uncomfortable playing DOOM is that the persona of the Doom Slayer, or Doomguy as I will continue to call him, is just so epic. It’s a man that’s so badass and powerful that the demons in Hell literally set up monuments in memory of his legend. He’s said to be a man that was so angry at the demons of Hell that he was granted immortality by the Seraphim (angels) in order to fight eternally against the demons and take revenge for whatever wrong they did him. How can you be scared when the enemy is literally afraid of you as part of the canon? And it’s not just in the canon but in the gameplay. On more than one occasion I’ve seen demons of multiple types try to run away from me during combat. Doomguy is the epitome of the epic declaration “I’m not locked in here with you. You’re locked in here with me.” And that level of confidence and badassery is transferred to the player.

Doom-Glory-KillI’ve beaten Demon’s Souls, all three Dark Souls games, and Bloodborne. Yet every time I go to start another From Software soulslike title I’m intimidated. It’s not because I don’t think I can beat it, because I have more than enough proof to know that I can. I’m intimidated because the game presents itself as being more than the player can handle. The motto is literally “Prepare to Die”. The game chops your comfort and confidence down from the start. DOOM does the exact opposite. It actively builds the player up from the very beginning to feel like you can achieve anything and already have. And as such you can stroll into Hell by choice, rip and tear through demons twice your size, and then stroll back out at your leisure. Because you’re Doomguy.

The positive psychology in the presentation of a game is not something I’ve thought much about before playing DOOM. The negative psychology I’ve thought about many times. It’s fairly obvious how it works and how effective it is. Because the player almost always goes into a game with a natural inferiority to begin with. I’m not a super solider, monster hunter, or Dhovakin. I’m just a guy that plays a lot of video games. So it’s fairly easy for the developer to make me feel unqualified for the challenge to begin with. This is how most zombie games are presented. You’re always a normal guy with at best a bit of cop training plunged into an undead nightmare. Even the zombie games where you’re not an amateur still pretty much make you an average guy with a bit of experience at most. You’re never an otherworldly epic badass seasoned by a mountain of corpses beneath your feet. That’s because zombie games are always framed as survival games. You’re always trying to survive an apocalypse. From a narrative standpoint that makes sense because zombies always bring about a dystopian reality in narratives. But that doesn’t mean it has to necessarily be that way.

Resident Evil ProtagonistsI don’t like zombie games but I would probably enjoy one that presented itself like DOOM. Rather than a random gym teacher or beat cop, make the protagonist a complete over the top badass. Not a wannabe badass with a motorcycle and a sob story but an actual balls to the wall, no strings attached badass. I don’t want to fear Mr. X. I want Mr. X to shit his pants when he sees me. Give me a game that frames the protagonist like the Doom Slayer at the beginning of DOOM Eternal. Make the humans more afraid to piss me off than they are of the zombies. Give me epic armor and crazy badass weapons. Don ‘t set me in a world with zombies. Set the zombies in a world with me. I’d probably enjoy that zombie game.

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The Nail in the Coffin (E3 is Dead)

Last week, the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) formally announced the cancellation of E3 2020. Or more specifically they officially announced the cancellation of the digital E3 2020 event that they had previously announced would take place due to the cancellation of the regular on site E3 event, because of the coronavirus pandemic. To be fully accurate, what originally happened was SONY, among other entities that usually are expected to attend E3, decided not to attend this year because of the coronavirus. Eventually enough companies, and media personalities if we’re being completely honest, decided not to follow SONY’s lead causing the ESA to decide it was in their best interests to cancel the physical event altogether. Almost certainly due to projected financial losses. But rather than formally cancelling, they decided to try to save face by promising a digital event in place of the normal physical event. Now they have cancelled that as well. In my professional opinion, I have to say that this is the final straw for E3.

Even without the coronavirus, making E3 into a digital event makes a ton of sense. It’s more cost effective, more accessible to more people, and allows companies with lower budgets a better chance at being able to participate. Honestly there’s little reason for E3 to continue to exist in its current form and this has been the case for years. Note that I am not saying that there is no place for a Los Angeles based physical video game event in the current video game industry. What I am saying is that E3 should no longer be managed and treated like it’s as important as it currently is. E3 today should really be more like a Gamescom or Tokyo Game Show where it’s just another event where companies can and sometimes do announce things but ultimately it’s just about interacting with fans and local business interests for convenience sake. It should no longer be the end all of game industry events. But that’s not even really what I want to discuss today. I want to talk about the fact that E3 is now for all intents and purposes dead.

Nintendo Direct E3 2019

The promise of a digital E3 event was kind of a tall order to begin with if we’re being honest. See Nintendo’s E3 Direct every year doesn’t actually have anything to do with E3. They simply create a presentation independently and just choose to release it during E3 at a scheduled time based on the presentation schedule, which is publicly available. And because Nintendo is such an important player, the ESA chooses to stream the Nintendo Direct on site because they know if they didn’t people would take the time to go watch it, thus reducing traffic at E3 during the presentation. Nintendo does still participate at E3 by putting up a booth, but in terms of announcements and a presentation, that’s all handled outside of E3 and in no way is affected by the ESA. The reason E3 continued to work even after Nintendo decided to do this was because no one else decided to do it. Nintendo was essentially forced to work around E3’s schedule in order to stay relevant in the gaming news cycle. But if no one is presenting live then suddenly there is no E3 news cycle. There’s just a bunch of digital presentations by different companies. Why would any company allow the ESA to manage and police the release of their gaming announcements digital presentation? Nintendo doesn’t and no one else would either. And they especially wouldn’t pay a fee to release their presentation to the internet. So at that point the only thing the ESA could offer them was a scheduled announcement time surrounded by other digital presentations. But that’s not really a selling point.

E3 2019 ScheduleIf anything, you want to release your digital presentation before all the other companies or after all the other companies. Because you want to garner the most continuous attention and hype for your presentation. So really companies wouldn’t want to release their digital presentations that close to each other at all. They’d be better off picking their own random days throughout the year and being the focus of the news cycle when they do release. And if they’re smart, like Nintendo often is, they’ll make their presentation interactive. As in release a presentation that announces a downloadable demo going live that day. Or beta sign ups, etc. If it’s a digital presentation, it can be as long or as short as a company wants and include all sorts of promotional gimmicks without having to be approved by the ESA or any other external entity from said companies. And that’s true for both AAA and indie developers/publishers alike. So the prospect of a bunch of companies, especially the bigger ones like EA, Ubisoft, and Microsoft actively choosing to share the spotlight of their digital presentations with other companies’ digital presentations is pretty ridiculous. Think about the hype Nintendo Directs get throughout the year. Why would any company choose to share that limelight with their competitors, ultimately weakening the impact of their digital presentations?

State of Play CoverThe only reason events like E3 even exist is simply that putting on your own event is very expensive and hard to promote. It’s more cost effective, even though it is still very expensive, to just attend another event. So you sacrifice that spotlight by sharing it with other companies that are all in the same boat trying to save money and garner as much attention as possible. But when it comes to releasing online, everything is backwards. You want nothing to do with anyone else’s content. Imagine if by some miracle you were the only person on Twitch streaming for like three straight hours. Just by some miracle there were zero other channels streaming during that time. You would garner so much attention just because nothing else is going on at the same time. It’s the same concept for these digital presentations. So the idea of a digital E3 was built solely on hope for companies to adhere to tradition rather than sensible business decisions. And of course in 2020 we know tradition doesn’t mean shit. So no these companies were not about to turn over their digital presentations to the ESA and give them control of managing and releasing them. That was never going to happen.

Here’s why I say E3 is now dead. We’re about to have our first year with no official E3 since 1995. For the past 24 years “we” were all led to believe that it was a must. That the only way game companies could properly announce their games to the public was through this one offline event. We were told it was important for the companies, media, and public to interact with each other and share their love of gaming. And many people believe(d) this. Now suddenly we’re not only not having E3, but we’re not even going to have any large scale coordinated gaming events at all. They’re all getting cancelled or postponed and replaced with digital presentations. Mark Cerny’s GDC PS5 presentation was a great example of this. It proved that PlayStation could effectively present their new hardware ideas and intentions to developers digitally without losing any effect or hype and they saved money doing it. Not only that but they were able to garner more media attention and get the public more involved in the discussion. I wrote my first GDC related blog post this year because of that presentation, which I would not have even watched had it been a normal GDC year. SONY isn’t going to forget that. God willing this pandemic ends soon and events can go back to happening again. But don’t think for a second the companies involved are gonna just go back to the ways things were. They will see the hype, the efficiency, the reduced costs, and whatever other benefits and decide they can just keep doing it that way. That’s what’s gonna happen to E3.

GDCFor the next year, you’re gonna have every company create and distribute digital game presentations. They will all be different and specific to their companies. Some companies will copy the Nintendo Direct model and try to keep things current and relevant for the short term. Some companies will do a presentation for the next year’s worth of announcements.  Some companies will create individual presentations for each game coming in their portfolio and release them periodically. But no company is going to coordinate with any other companies to release their presentations concurrently or close to each other. And what we’re all going to have to finally accept is that not only is that OK, but it’s better. It’s better for everyone involved.

Every E3 I don’t watch the presentations. I find a website like IGN or GameSpot and look at their roundup article and then watch the clips from the presentations of the games I’m interested in. Why? Because there are too many presentations to deal with in too short a time span. And a lot of the junk presented is stuff I don’t give two shits about. And when you’ve got Microsoft, SONY, Nintendo, Ubisoft, EA, Devolver Digital, and others even if you just look at two games from each one that’s still way too many games to try to reasonably keep track of and give a proper amount of time and attention to. But if instead each of those presentations was released at a completely different point in the year with nothing going on around it, I’d probably watch every presentation in its entirety. Especially right now. The number one problem with the quarantine for most people is boredom. They have nothing to do at home. Would you rather have everything thrown at you in the span of three days for you to binge and then go back to being bored or have things peppered out throughout the quarantine so that you continuously have things given to you to help combat your boredom in the long term? A singular event is really good for the company running the event, because they can turn a large profit. But for literally everyone else involved, including the audience, it’s at best a troublesome burden disguised as convenience due to travel restrictions/costs and time. But when no one can travel and everyone has too much time on their hands, a singular physical event isn’t useful at all. A singular digital event is only slightly more useful.

Everything is FineAfter this year of disconnected digital game presentations, everyone will be forced to acknowledge that it was fine. Gaming didn’t stop. Profits didn’t go down . . . due to the lack of E3 and other such events. Hype wasn’t reduced. Nothing negative will have happened to any of these larger companies because of the absence of E3. And because of that, when the ESA tries to get companies to invest a large sum of money to be featured at E3 2021, many if not all of them are going to say no. They’re gonna go the way of Nintendo and say it’s just not worth the money, labor, time, and inconvenience. At that point, the event simply won’t have enough attendees to warrant most people buying tickets. And at that point, E3 is dead as a door nail.

Change tends to come by force rather than by choice sadly. This pandemic has forced companies to change the way they announce new games. Yet these changes should have taken effect long before a pandemic because technology had already provided the means to do so more effectively, efficiently, and affordably. These changes were a long time coming. Companies and consumers only fought them out of some odd dedication to tradition. Now that tradition is being forced out, things will never be the same.

game-changerThis statement from the ESA, as reported by PC Gamer, is more telling than people will probably give it credit for right now.

“Given the disruption brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we will not be presenting an online E3 2020 event in June.  Instead, we will be working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements, including on http://www.E3expo.com, in the coming months,” the rep said. “We look forward to bringing our industry and community together in 2021 to present a reimagined E3 that will highlight new offerings and thrill our audiences.”

Ubisoft e3 cancelled

The shift from an online E3 event to “working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements” is a fancy way of saying that the ESA will shift into being a promotional company similar to traditional online media. In other words, they will become leeches that garner value by promoting content created by other companies online. Now of course this statement acts as if it only applies to 2020. The ESA has already stated plans to return to normal for E3 2021. But this assumes that all the companies decide to go back to the old model. I’ve already explained why that won’t happen. In 2021, E3 will be cancelled again, but ideally it won’t be because of coronavirus. It will be due to lack of participation. And once again the ESA will be “working with exhibitors to promote and showcase individual company announcements”. Over time the ESA will either shift completely into the media space and operate as a digital promotions platform that operates pretty much the same way as any other mainstream media/games marketing company or it will cease to exist. At best, E3 may end up becoming a smaller event that acts similar to PAX with a focus on smaller companies and projects desperate for any attention at all. While I have been predicting the end of E3 for some time now, I had originally given it a few more years, as can be seen in previous blog posts. But with the virus accelerating things, I think it’s done. E3 is de facto dead in the water from here on out.

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