Let’s Talk About Mark Cerny’s PS5 Talk

A few weeks ago, Mark Cerny delivered the originally planned GDC presentation for PS5 digitally. In this he spoke at length about hardware developments for the upcoming PS5 home console. To start, this was the GDC presentation. GDC stands for Game Developers Conference. That’s where the presentation was originally intended to be given but because of the coronavirus this was changed to a digital presentation. So to be clear, this was originally intended to be a presentation given exclusively to developers about what the new PS5 architecture will look like and how it will help them better create the games of the next generation. Which means it was not and was never intended to be a presentation of new games. PlayStation was very transparent about the fact that this was the GDC presentation. Meaning if you were one of those mouth breathers that responded to the presentation with “this is boring where are the games?” you’re either an idiot, misinformed, or some combination of the two. The presentation was exactly what it was always intended to be, should have been for the venue it was originally created for, and was actually extremely interesting and informative if you actually care about the technology you’re going to invest hundreds to thousands of dollars in over the course of the next 4 – 7 or more years.

GDCCerny spoke at length about a number of things, but the two topics I found to be most interesting and informative were the SSD and the audio experience enhancement technology. I’ll start with the audio technology because it’s a bit more straight forward and less debatable. He showed that the PS5 is working towards fully immersive 3D sound from normal TV speakers or headphones. Now I’ve never been a huge sound guy but I do appreciate the fact that PlayStation is trying to build up the immersion factor by giving audio technology its just deserts. What I was extremely interested in was the idea of using HRTF (Head Related Transfer Function) to mix sound in a more immersive way. HRTF can be summarized as the way ears receive sound. The idea being that if you can master the way the ear perceives sound then you can trick the listener into thinking they’re hearing sounds from different angles and locations regardless of where the sound is actually coming from. This is how PlayStation is attempting to make TV speakers sitting in front of the player simulate sound coming from behind, above, or anywhere else not immediately in front of them. This is also how and why headphones are better able to simulate sounds from multiple directions than just left and right.

What was fascinating about the HRTF was how it could be applied to make games seem more real without changing the sound in games all that much. Really it’s more about how sound is delivered than the sounds themselves. The problem is that HRTF is person specific. Meaning that your HRTF profile and mine can be very different. So for most games they use a general HRTF based on average testing. This isn’t optimum for any player but works generally well for most. Cerny showed this in the presentation next to his own specific HRTF and they were noticeably different. He went on to say that when his own personal HRTF was applied to games for testing the games sounded way more immersive to him. He then went on to say that the problem is that there’s currently no practical way to personally get every player’s specific HRTF profile and apply it to game audio, but he does see a future where that is the case.

HRTFI think the idea of being able to have games tailored to my own sound profile is amazing. It would completely change the way we as individuals experience games. They would be way more immersive, audio (not music) would be taken way more seriously in the discussion and judgement of video games, and everyone would have a more personal direct connection to the games they play. I do believe one day it will be easy to measure your own HRTF. There will surely be an app that you use with a VR headset or something like that. Since your HRTF generates an image, it would be easy to send to developers and they could tailor the game’s audio to your specific hearing profile. But that’s still a lot of work. If every person that purchased FIFA wanted their own sound profile applied that would be millions of profiles to implement for the developers. So there certainly needs to be an AI component added where the game can automatically apply your HRTF directly without human intervention. I imagine a world where you measure your HRTF directly on your console, have it tied to your username/profile, and AI applies it to all the games you play automatically. The only question is how does this work for couch co-op? Unless everyone has headphones, you’d still need to have the general HRTF in place or the audio experience might be severely reduced for other players if the profile owner has a really abnormal HRTF. But that’s the smaller hurdle in my opinion. In any case, I’m very interested in seeing how personalized audio experiences develop in gaming.

PS5 SSD StatsThe SSD aspect of the presentation was very interesting but left me with a number of concerns about SONY’s approach to storage. To be clear, the use of an SSD is a great development for consoles. The things Cerny described made me really happy. The idea of no more wait times for fast travel, no more annoyingly long hallways and ladders just so games can render in the background, lightning fast respawn times, and many other examples given made the future of gaming sound great. And you could tell that Cerny was actually thinking about the problems the ways gamers think about things. His examples spoke directly to the problems we often face. My new favorite gaming quote is “What we euphemistically refer to as fast travel.” Currently I’m playing Dark Souls 3 on PS4. If you’ve ever played a Dark Souls game then you know the fast travel function comes with really long loading times. Cerny implied that with the new SSD architecture this would no longer be the case. Amen!

While I thoroughly support the move to SSDs, SONY’s cost cutting and proprietary measures are no bueno for me. The out of the box PS5 SSD will only have 825GB of storage. Now Cerny explained that with compression, this translates to considerably more, but at the end of the day it’s not nearly as many games as I want to store. Currently I have an internal 2TB HDD and an external 4TB HDD for my PS4. I’m using a total of just under 4TB of that 6TB total. Now I’m willing to admit that I have a lot of free shovelware in my hard drives. But I also have a large collection of meaningful games I actually paid for. Technically speaking I have just under 450 applications listed in the purchased section of my PSN profile. Again, not all of this is meaningful paid for software. But I’d say I’m storing at least 250 plus meaningful games between my two drives. Cerny stated that this is not the way PlayStation envisions the PS5 to be used. The 825GB number was stated to have been chosen based on the average weekend use of players. In other words, he’s saying that if you look at the data of player usage the average player only uses up to 825GB worth of software on their console in a single weekend. While that is probably true, or even inflated for wiggle room, it’s not the way most gamers handle storage management.

Dark Souls 3 loading screenI’m happy to admit that at most I’m playing three console/PC AAA games at one time. Currently I’m playing Dark Souls 3 (PS4), Nier: Automata (PS4), and Animal Crossing: New Horizons (NS). I’m also casually playing a few other games irregularly such as Smash Bros: Ultimate (NS), Pokémon Sword (NS), and Strange Brigade (PS4). In a given weekend it’s possible but unlikely that I’ll actually play all six of these games. Even if we said each game was 100GB, which I don’t think any of them actually are, that would still be only 600GB if they were all PS5 games. And that’s without applying compression. Cerny is right in saying that 825GB is enough storage space for the average user’s singular weekend. But the implication here is that PlayStation believes that I want to download/manage my stored games for the weekend every week in advance or that I have lightning fast internet so I can quickly erase and install new games if I want to change any of my currently installed list on the fly. These are two grossly misinformed assumptions because personally I’m not doing the former and while my internet is pretty solid, it’s not good enough to quickly download a new 100GB game on the fly in a manageable amount of time relative to when I decide I actually want to play the game. Now for most players this will be a rarity. It’s accurate to say that if you’re in the middle of a game, such as an RPG or adventure title, then you’re probably going to be playing it for a while so you won’t need to uninstall/install games often. But that doesn’t change the fact that in practical terms if I did want to change games I’d most likely have to delete one of the ones I have installed. Personally I don’t like being asked to do that.

RDRD2 Install SizeThe other reason storage is important is because it retains “ownership” of the games you buy. We’ve all seen games disappear from PSN and other online stores. This can happen at any time. Servers are repurposed, games are discontinued for political reasons, and businesses are sold or sued. There are countless examples of games being made unavailable to download both temporarily and permanently that apply to countless games over the years. Not to mention that one day the PS5 server will inevitably shutdown. When that day comes, you don’t want to be limited to just 825GB worth of games to store forever. I’d be giving up more than half of my digital PS4 collection in that scenario. I buy a lot of games and I want to be able to play them at any time I choose, even long after the PS5 server goes down.

Of course SONY is aware that 825GB is low so they have provided players the ability to upgrade storage. The problem is they did it in the most expensive way possible. The PS5 uses an M.2 SSD. From a hardware standpoint, that’s awesome. From a consumer standpoint it’s an absolute nightmare. M.2 drives are really fast. But they’re unregulated for size and are extremely expensive. A normal 2.5 inch SSD looks like a bargain compared to a large M.2 drive. Large size M.2 drives aren’t common. 2TB is more widely available but 3TB+ drives are extremely rare. And again, there’s no regulated form. So even if you do manage to find one, it may not fit in the PS5. The pricing is atrocious. A 2TB M.2 SSD is gonna be a minimum of $200 and they can go over $500, still at only 2TB. Add the fact that prices will mostly inflate for “PS5 compatibility” being used as a selling point and you’re paying more for the storage than the console in some cases. For reference, you can get a 2TB 2.5 inch SSD for under $200 easy. And technically they go all the way up to 7.6 TB. Good luck paying for that size though.

M2 CostThis storage limitation and cost issue is a huge problem for many, myself included. As soon as it was announced, people got angry. And rightly so, in my opinion. 1TB default drives are the minimum standard for consoles, Nintendo notwithstanding, in 2020. What I actually would like to see is a multiple SSD board on the PS5 that works like a PC motherboard. Imagine if you had three or four M.2 SSD slots and you could install them as time goes on, thus increasing your storage without having to completely gut and reset your system every time you upgrade storage space. These could work more like interchangeable memory cards with the default one being the only one that has to be changed prior to initial startup in order to not have to gut your whole console and start over. While I will definitely buy a PS5, this storage issue means I won’t be buying one until way after initial launch. I’ll have to wait both for the price of the console to come down and the price of a large M.2 SSD that’s compatible to drop.

The future looks bright for actual gameplay. Mark Cerny’s presentation gave me high hopes for how games will play and sound on the PS5. But the way they want me to manage software is not acceptable. I will continue to store my entire digital library concurrently and if that means investing in large drives and having to wait longer to buy the console then so be it. I’m backlogged anyway so upgrading from PS4 later is a non-issue for me.

How do you feel about the PS5 based on current information?

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Let’s Take a Backlog Year

When I was a kid there were no backlogs. Games were released very sparingly with maybe one to two new releases every two to three months at best. And many of those releases were skippable. Holiday season was the time when the good games dropped. I still remember waiting for Christmas to get The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (November 1998). This was a time when replaying games was not just common but the norm. There simply weren’t enough games to play. Not to mention that games were more expensive.

When I say more expensive what I really mean is that the prices didn’t drop. It’s fairly common to see a new release drop from $60 to $30 or less within a few months today. With the exception of Nintendo, it’s pretty much the norm. I bought Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order a month after it released for $16 in a holiday sale. Worth every penny and then some, by the way. We didn’t have those price drops when I was a kid. Games simply were the price they were. We also didn’t have weekly free games on Epic Game Store, monthly free games on PlayStation Plus, and so on. You bought or borrowed every game you played, the prices weren’t discounted much if at all, and there weren’t a ton of games to play. This meant that you were usually caught up on games you actually wanted to play, assuming you had the money or friends to borrow games from. It’s not like that anymore.

Epic Free GamesI often feel like we as gamers have become spoiled when it comes to the volume of games available to us these days. There are just so many great games to play releasing so often now. In 2020 we get Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot, Animal Crossing: New Horizons, Doom Eternal, Cyberpunk 2077, Nioh 2, Ghost of Tsushima, The Last of Us Part 2, Marvel’s Avengers, Watch Dogs: Legion, God & Monsters, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms XIV. That’s just 12 of the many AAA titles releasing this year. We can also be sure that most of them will either have additional content added or will take hundreds of hours to play at a minimum. Then there’s the many remakes/remasters coming as well such as Final Fantasy VII, The Wonderful 101, Resident Evil 3, and so on. We have well over one knock out game a month. There’s enough content to get every normal gamer through the year with games to spare.

ghost of tsushima
Cannot wait!

Not only are there plenty of new games to play this year but there are also all the games we still haven’t gotten to play. When I was a kid, we were waiting for the next release. “I have nothing to play” was a literal statement of fact. Not a metaphorical statement of preference based irony. I haven’t had nothing to play in a good 10 years. My backlog is so preposterous that I know I will never actually complete it. I have unplayed copies of Final Fantasy XV, World of Final Fantasy, The Surge, The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening Remake, Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor & War, The Witcher 2 & 3, Shadow of the Tomb Raider, and countless other AAA titles sitting in my backlog with the intention of playing them. And that doesn’t even account for the fact that my Black Friday/Christmas sale purchases from 2019 just arrived at the end of February adding all of this to my already preposterous backlog. That is to say that I have well over one AAA game a month at my disposal for the next several years without ever buying another game. And remember that this doesn’t include the countless indies I have and would like to play, doesn’t include the various freebies from Epic Game Store and PlayStation Plus, when I don’t already own them (looking at your Shadows of the Colossus and Sonic Forces) and doesn’t account for all the retro ports I never beat as a kid and would like to play available on Nintendo Switch Online.

 

PS Plus March 2020My backlog is quite large, but it’s not abnormal. I don’t know any gamers that aren’t backlogged. Pretty much every person I know that considers them self a gamer has accepted the fact that they will always be backlogged. Backlogs are like the US national debt. We as people have simply accepted it as part of life and though we may complain about it constantly we have no intention or putting in any serious effort or life changes to reduce it by a noticeable amount. Being a gamer means you simply are backlogged as a natural state of being these days. I believe that this is the first time in gaming history that we’re in a position where the industry can take advantage of that fact.

Let me preface the rest of this post by acknowledging that what I’m about to write is never going to happen. I’m aware of that fact. I have no delusions about the fact that this idea, though good and productive for all parties involved, goes against the status quo and would never actually happen. But I think it’s important to put it out there anyway.

Rainbow-6-Siege
Rainbow Six Siege

As I said, games used to be in limited supply and expensive. The prices couldn’t drop in order for larger publishers to remain profitable because they had a limited number of products and no additional revenue streams. Now we’re in the completely opposite situation. Not only are there so many games to play, but those games continue to be relevant with additional content for multiple years in the case of some games. Rainbow Six Siege is four years old and just broke its concurrent player record on Steam. Games last way longer now and have tons of additional revenue streams with things like DLC, expansions, microtransactions, and e-sports revenue. What this actually means is that a company can put out a game and continue to support that game for a long time and remain profitable without releasing a new game for quite some time. What if that became normal practice?

 

cyberpunk-2077
You can wait . . . unless coronavirus destroys the world.

People often complain about games getting delayed, such as Cyberpunk 2077, but there’s not really a valid reason to complain about those delays. As I’ve said, everyone is backlogged. You don’t need to play Cyberpunk 2077 today. You’ve almost assuredly got something else to play that you haven’t already beaten. You can also lean into online multiplayer in many games if you have absolutely no backlog to speak of, which is ridiculous. There are also plenty of free and older discounted games to take advantage of during the wait for a new release. Delays also mean a game gets more of its bugs worked out before launch. It means less patches required day one. It means less crunch time for the developers. There are lots of good things that come out of delays with very few bad things, unless a project ultimately gets cancelled because of a delay, such as with Scalebound (never forget). So generally I don’t have a problem with delays. So why don’t companies leverage all the time they need to get a game right from launch like they used to? I’m tired of large day one patches, broken games that need to be fully updated, and hearing about developers getting worked to death to make an arbitrary deadline. It’s simply not necessary when people can fill the time. Especially when you’re a company like Ubisoft where people can fill the time with other games already published by Ubisoft. Personally I’m nearing the end of Watch Dogs 2 and still need to play Assassin’s Creed: Origins & Odyssey. So the fact that Watch Dogs: Legion got delayed doesn’t faze me in the slightest bit. If anything it helps me.

Watch Dogs 2 Screenshot 2020.02.16 - 13.42.33.77
Finished Watch Dogs 2 just after writing this.

When you look at this year’s AAA lineup you can see a large amount of corporate representation. Just about every large publisher is putting out something noteworthy this year. And most of these will be long form games with DLC, games as service content, and or plenty of base content. So why do any of them need to release another big game in 2021? What if instead every publisher agreed to make 2021 a development year? All studios will not publish any games and will instead allow all developers to work without a 2021 deadline so they maximize the performance of their games that would have released in 2021. Why isn’t that a thing? All larger players agreeing to periodically take a year off releasing and just ride their current revenue streams, allowing studios more time and gamers a year to focus on their backlogs. This is the first time in history that taking a year off publishing new titles won’t break the larger players. With so many additional revenue streams available now, they don’t need to release new games as often as they do and can still remain profitable.

2020 releasesImagine what you could get done if you had an entire year where you were guaranteed that you wouldn’t miss out on any new games. How would that make you feel? What would you do with that time? You’d finally put some real work into your backlog. You’d revisit games you wish you had time to revisit. It could be a super productive time for many gamers. And people could save money for the next year of games.

Now obviously everyone wouldn’t care for this. Indie studios that can barely keep their doors open couldn’t take a year off like this and shouldn’t. Streamers that focus on new games at release would be starved for content, which isn’t really a concern of mine but it is something that should be acknowledged. Also let’s not forget that the PS5 and XBOX Series X are scheduled to release at the very end of 2020 so them not releasing any games in 2021 specifically is a tall order. But that’s a specific situation that doesn’t happen every year. So focus on the concept rather than the specific dates.

XBOX Series XAgain, this won’t happen. Too many powerful people would complain too much about a year off with no additional revenue streams being added to the mix. And too many whiny gamers that don’t want to work on their backlog would take to the internet with change.org petitions and angry Reddit posts. Changing the status quo is hard. Changing the status quo when it will reduce profits, even if only temporarily, is nearly impossible. But I think it’s important to note that for the first time in history, such a thing could be comfortably implemented without a required lapse in total gameplay hours for consumers and without AAA game companies having to suffer real losses from not releasing for a year. The only scenario where a company really loses is if they were already gold and ready to launch because that would mean idle time for that studio where no work is actually getting done. But something as radical as an entire year devoted to backlog play would be coordinated in advance so studios shouldn’t end up in that situation in most cases.

Deserve a VacationI think the idea of granting a year of gaming furlough to both consumers and developers would be a good thing. I think there would be many positive benefits to it, including the fact that gamers would be that much more appreciative of new games after having to wait an additional year to play them. People wouldn’t be nearly as critical when they spent a year playing only older games.

What would you do with a backlog year? Would you be able to keep yourself occupied or would you have absolutely nothing to play? Would you appreciate the time to catch up with older stuff and save money or is it a non-issue for you?

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Not Like This . . . E3 2020 is Officially Cancelled

Last week E3 2020 was officially cancelled due to concerns about COVID-19 aka coronavirus. If you have been reading my blog regularly for the past several years, then you know that I have been very negative about E3. I have called for a massive change to the structure of the event, I have maligned the ESA for their focus on using the event as a way to uplift media personalities, both professional and private, and I’ve said countless times that the event needs to be more focused on the public and providing them access. It is not inaccurate to say that I would happily have supported the show closing down for good. I even wrote a blog post in February pretty much saying that I believed E3 was on its way out within the next five years. But this is not how I wanted it.

While I did want to see E3 change or die, I wanted it to be a choice made in good faith. I did not want it to be at metaphorical gun point. I did not want the world to literally be collapsing under the weight of a pandemic that has led to the indefinite cancellation of the rest of the NBA season, several other events being cancelled or delayed indefinitely, and the delay of both movies and TV shows. Sure I’ve been very negative about E3 for years, but not so much that I wanted things to get to a point where people started dying in order to get it cancelled. It’s fairly depressing to have predicted and even called for E3 to be cancelled and to then have seen it cancelled in this way. It’s kind of like being able to see the future but not the causes of it and ultimately using that partial information to make things worse. Like being in an episode of That’s so Raven but much more depressing. Well maybe not much more depressing . . .

E3 Coronavirus NoteIt is sad to see not just E3 but many gaming events cancelled because of coronavirus. Taipei Game Show, which I attend every year in person, was also cancelled, or “delayed” to be completely accurate. I am encouraged that some larger brands have already stated that they will still be able to present their E3 announcements on time via digital means. This is what I’ve wanted to be implemented for years. Again, I didn’t want it to be a forced decision in order to literally save lives, but yes the E3 announcement cycle needs to be replaced with digital presentations and should have been years ago. Every so often Nintendo has the right idea before everyone else.

I hope the industry as a whole takes this opportunity to completely revamp the way gaming announcements are distributed. We and they should not be limited to big news at a couple of key events in limited locations in specific languages at pre-determined times every year. Developers and publishers have the ability to create and distribute digital presentations at any time to everyone in the world concurrently in whatever language and style they want. The freedom of directly controlling and distributing information without having it filtered by media personalities and specific event dates should be taken advantage of by all developers and for whatever reason really hasn’t been to a wide degree. There’s no reason a developer that’s ready to announce a project in February should have to wait for June when a bunch of other projects by will also be announced by their competitors. It would be much more beneficial to that studio, and in my opinion effective, to be able to announce the information they want to when they’re ready directly to consumers via social media.

nintendo direct 9-4I love the Nintendo Direct and PlayStation State of Play presentations. I wish PlayStation had a bit more consistency about when they released them, but I believe the models work and more importantly work well. Every publisher can and should do something similar. And they shouldn’t try to release them all at the same time. Imagine a world where every month you get to watch a new presentation with announcements about different projects you may or may not have known about so you have enough time to properly analyze and consider each one, giving it a fair amount of consideration before rendering a verdict. Imagine being able to watch a company’s presentation without having to consider stupid questions like “Who won E3?” because each company presents their games as an independent entity at their own time trying to deliver products they’re passionate about rather than compete for media hype. Imagine a world where presenters can talk about the games they’re presenting without constantly being interrupted by entitled YouTubers trying to get free special editions of unreleased games and garner hits to their channels. This is the world of game announcements I want to live in.

Who-won-E3I want to live in a world where the popular media outlets are the ones that create the best content by the strength of their writing and presentation. Not their access to information. I want to live in a world where all media, big or small, famous or just starting out, get information at the same time and can create their content the way they want to without having to worry about getting beaten out in the news cycle by someone who was given early access and handed an automatic win. We are in an age where consumers and developers no longer have to be held hostage by media entities and event organizers for exorbitant fees, favoritism, and inconvenient optics, both physical and digital. It’s now possible for any developer to present the content they want to present directly to the gamers with no middle man. I hope more of them take advantage of this opportunity moving forward.

Coronavirus MapMake no mistake, I am not happy about the spread of this virus. I am not happy that the world is getting turned upside down because of it. I am not happy to learn that most of the world’s governments are run by ill prepared career politicians that never really had the best interests of the public in mind or the ability/desire to protect them. None of these things make me happy. I am not happy that gaming events, among other things, are being canceled. All of these things make me sad. But let us not ignore that these cancellations are an opportunity to completely overhaul the way games are announced, hyped up, and even released. Hopefully it won’t be wasted.

Stay safe, stay inside as much as possible, and use this time to work on your backlogs.

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Sonic the Hedgehog Movie Works But Why?

I recently saw Sonic the Hedgehog. I’m not really sure what I expected from it. As a long time Sonic fan stretching all the way back to the Sega Genesis, I’ve encountered many iterations of Sonic and because of this I had both low and high expectations for the movie. Real Sonic fans will understand what I mean by that. It’s a love hate relationship with that franchise. I have to say though the movie actually worked really well.

I don’t want to write a full review of the movie. To summarize, it’s cute and fun. The story is child friendly and whimsical while also providing an, admittedly cliché, emotional plot about friendship. The sound effects were surprisingly good. Especially the robot and tech related stuff. Robotnik’s gloves are probably the best example of this. Jim Carrey gives a phenomenal performance and Dr. Robotnik is developed in ways as a character that I hadn’t seen previously. The same is true for Sonic.

Dr RobotnikVideo game movies, by and large, usually aren’t great. But it’s also not super accurate to say they always stink to high heaven. The rhetoric used goes that way but it’s a fairly hyperbolic claim when you actually look at the entirety of video game movies. I can think of many examples of bad movies based on video games. Street Fighter: The Legend of Chun-Li (2009), Assassin’s Creed (2016), and Prince of Persia (2010) come to mind. And Prince of Persia tried so hard to be good while respecting the source material. But a number of video game movies have also been passable over the years. Rampage (2018), though by no means a great movie, wasn’t terrible. The Tomb Raider franchise has always been respected as serviceable video game movies. The older stuff tended to be way more campy, but it was also very fun to watch, which honestly should be part of the video game movie experience, just as video games should be fun to play. Like Mortal Kombat (1995) was fairly solid for a movie based on a fighting game and a fun viewing experience. Street Fighter (1994), for all its over the top muscles, preposterous overacting, and silly plot, is extremely entertaining. And the late, great Raul Julia gives one of the most amazing performances in the history of acting.

The weird thing about video game movies is that there doesn’t appear to be any specific formula that works consistently. There are movies based on adult focused games that have serious plots and work genuinely hard to make a good movie that sucked terribly. There are campy movies that make absolutely no sense that are super entertaining. The opposite is also true in both cases. Hitman (2007) should have worked but it was incredibly boring. People give shit to Super Mario Bros. (1993) all day and yet it’s great to watch for the pure spectacle of it and is objectively better than many other video game movies. The most curious thing is that plot wise, Sonic the Hedgehog really isn’t any more true to its source material than Super Mario Bros. and yet most people will probably remember it as being the better video game movie. So again I say there is no formula.

street-fighter-desktop-wallpaperIn my opinion, the best video movies have tended to be the ones based on games with the least amount of actual in game storytelling. There are exceptions, but I actually think the exceptions sort of prove the rule. The main problem with Assassin’s Creed is that it pretty much ignores the entire established story of the game franchise. And yet the same can be said about Super Mario Bros. and Sonic the Hedgehog but those movies don’t suck. That’s an interesting conundrum when it comes to trying to pick the best games to make movies out of. People always say they should make a God of War movie, but honestly I don’t think that would work at this point. A TV show maybe, like The Witcher series, but a movie just seems too difficult to execute well. And it’s because of the great storytelling in the games that I think a movie just wouldn’t work. It’s simply too much to fit in one movie. Whereas Super Mario Bros. was much easier to execute and had much lower expectations precisely because of its lack of plot.

Think about how you would summarize the plot of the original Super Mario Bros. (1985) or really any Super Mario Bros. game from that particular game series. For reasons never explained, an Italian plumber, and his brother if you’re playing with two players, travel through a world of mushroom people that has been possibly invaded by an army of evil turtles at the behest of their giant turtle overlord in order to rescue a princess who has been taken hostage. That’s the plot of Super Mario Bros. at face value. You don’t know where the plumbers come from or why they’re in the Mushroom Kingdom. You assume they’re regular Earthling plumbers mostly because they’re Italian and thus would have to hail from a world where Italy exists. But we’re never told where they actually come from. We don’t know why Bowser has invaded the Mushroom Kingdom and kidnapped Princess Peach. We just know he has and since she’s a pretty blonde and he’s a giant fire breathing turtle, the plumbers decide to go up against him and save her. That’s literally all we can objectively say we know about the plot of Super Mario Bros. at face value when actually playing the game(s).

Super-Mario-Bros-MovieWhen you think about it, the “plot” to Super Mario Bros. games is pretty much non-existent. But in a way that makes producing a movie easier. There are pretty much no plot expectations other than have Italian plumbers save a princess from an evil reptile. And ideally that reptile has a giant shell and breathes fire. That gives the writers the freedom to come up with whatever they want without being hindered by fan expectations. So instead of looking at the movie as not being about Super Mario Bros. consider the pitch for the movie to producers in 1991/2.

In our world people evolved from apes, or so the science says. But there is a second world where people evolved from reptiles. That world is in political turmoil as a fast talking usurper  with a god complex has stolen the throne from the rightful monarch of one of the kingdoms in that world. Two run of the mill Italian plumbers/brothers are accidentally pulled from our world into this world of reptile evolution and forced into a mission to save the princess of the rightful royal family. That sounds insane. For the early 90’s, a pitch like that would definitely get someone’s attention. You might not be sold but you’d have major questions about what happens. It’s original, it’s creative, and it’s really never been done before. Now tack on the fact that it’s based on one of the most successful games of the time. That movie gets made. You could never be that creative with something like a Bioshock movie. Because Bioshock is steeped in plot. And not adhering to that plot would surely anger and disappoint viewers. But that plot is also made to work for the pacing and interaction of a video game. As a movie, it would probably not fair too well even while people would say it sounds like a great idea for a movie on paper. I think it’s that freedom from a preexisting highly developed plot that made Sonic work as a movie.

sonic 1 hdWhat is the plot of Sonic the Hedgehog (1991)? I honestly don’t know. In fact, I couldn’t tell you the plot of any Sonic the Hedgehog game until Sonic Adventure (1998) which is technically 13 games into the franchise. I haven’t played all the games though so maybe some of the older ones have more developed plots than the original game. But if I was going to summarize the first game I’d say something like this. A blue hedgehog with super speed terrorizes an evil robotics engineer by destroying his machines and freeing his animal test subjects, in a world that’s not really ever established to be Earth or somewhere else. Even that simple plot description might be a bit too exaggerated from what you can actually gleam from the game(s). This meant that pretty much all a movie absolutely had to have was a fast running blue hedgehog destroying robots in a fight against a robotics engineer named Dr. Robotnik. As with Super Mario Bros., that’s pretty open ended. And that’s exactly why I think the movie worked.

Sonic the Hedgehog movie was pretty much an original plot that goes out of its way to make references to the games. It has Sonic travel to Earth from another dimension because his powers are sought after by greedy, evil people wherever he goes. He’s forced to hide in order to stay safe. He accidentally reveals his powers and that causes Dr. Robotnik to come after him so he can harness that power to improve his robots. While running to survive and hide, Sonic makes some friends and ultimately has to fight Dr. Robotnik in order to save them. That’s the entire plot of the movie. It has almost nothing to do with the games. And pretty much no one seems to have any issue with that. Because again, the games don’t have great plot development to begin with. And since the beginning of the franchise, the existence of humans in Sonic’s world have been canon. Dr. Robotnik is human after all. So placing Sonic on Earth isn’t even ridiculous. The only thing the game did that seemed to completely alter game canon is turn the rings into magical warp gates. Funny enough though, I don’t actually know what the rings are for in the games after more than 20 years of playing them. I just know Sonic collects them and I’ve never thought to question it further before watching the movie.

SONIC THE HEDGEHOGIn my opinion, Sonic the Hedgehog works as a movie for all the reasons that most people would never consider making it into a movie. It has no real story to go off. It’s pretty much an invitation for a writer to tell whatever story they want. Meaning that the success of the movie lies solely on the writer and filmmaker(s) rather than the game(s). By that logic though, it means that movies like Uncharted are very well likely to fail. Monster Hunter World, being a game that has a plot but isn’t really plot contingent could go either way. But again, we do have examples of story driven game franchises working as movies. So there’s really no exact science. All I really know is that I was excited for Assassin’s Creed back in 2016 and it was garbage; and I had little faith in Sonic the Hedgehog, especially after that original model debacle, but was pleasantly surprised. There will be a second Sonic the Hedgehog movie. There will not be another Assassin’s Creed movie. At least not set in the same universe as that 2016 film anyway.

What did you think of Sonic the Hedgehog? Did you think it was a good video game movie or a bad one? What about it worked for you and why?

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Nothing if Not Generic

Every so often I do a post defending developers. This is one of those posts. A few weeks ago, I got into an argument with some people online about video games, as I often do. Basically we were arguing over which game in the Mass Effect Trilogy was the worst. Notice I said Trilogy so Andromeda was not included in the discussion. Otherwise that would have been the shortest argument in the history of the internet. I don’t want to rehash the entire argument but one thing that really stuck out to me was that some people said they thought Mass Effect 2 was the worst in the series because the gameplay was generic and they didn’t like the writing. Now I don’t agree with either of those points, but what I specifically want to discuss is the complaint of generic gameplay.

It’s become trendy to complain that a game is generic. In a way this is fair when every year we get another COD that looks and plays exactly the same, another copy and paste FIFA and Madden, and enough military 1st and 3rd person shooters to build a literal fort of stacked game cases out of. But as I’ve thought about it more I don’t think it’s fair to argue that gameplay, in and of itself, is generic. Or put more accurately, I don’t think it’s fair to complain about generic gameplay.

FIFA CoverThe word generic is derived from the word genre. Genre is defined in the dictionary as “a style or category of art, music, or literature”. Now assuming we include video games within “art, music, or literature”, which most people do, then it’s accurate to say that video games can be classified/organized based on genre. We know this is true because we have plenty of established game genres. RPG, third person shooter, FPS, platformer, battle royale, and so on are all established and widely recognized genres of video games. What this means is that there are established expectations for how a certain type of game within a certain genre will play. Yes a studio can try to alter or even revolutionize what that looks like but ultimately for a game to fit within a genre it needs to share a minimum set of gameplay characteristics with the gameplay expectations/standards used to define its declared genre.

For instance, it doesn’t matter how different the vehicles are or how crazy the physics work, for a game to be part of the racing genre it has to have the player controlling an in game object in order to get it from point A to point B in a limited amount of time. That time may be denoted with a clock or it may be denoted with other competing racers, but there has to be a motivating factor for the player to reach the finish line/goal as quickly as possible for a game to be part of the racing genre. No amount of innovation can change that because that’s what a racing game is. Yet no one would ever complain that a game where cars race from point A to point B on a map is generic. It is generic because it’s supposed to be. The game is intentionally trying to be included within the racing genre. If anything saying the game wasn’t generic would be the more noteworthy complaint/insult because it would mean declaring the game different from what it’s intended to be by its creators. This same logic can and should be applied to any genre of gameplay.

Gear of War 3The gameplay in Mass Effect 2, the gameplay in The Division, and the gameplay in Gears of War 3 can all be considered generic and it should be. Because they’re all third person cover to cover shooters. They are part of the same genre and were declared as such by their developers. They play the way they were meant to be played and that gameplay is what makes third person cover to cover shooter a genre. If they didn’t all play essentially the same way then they wouldn’t be part of the same genre, even if each individual game feels slightly different in various specific ways. For instance, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint does not have cover to cover maneuvers in the gameplay. Thus it isn’t a third person cover to cover shooter. When compared to the other three games, it is not generic. That doesn’t make it a better or worse game. Nor does it make it an original game. It simply makes it a game not classified in the same genre. And were Ubisoft to classify it as a third person cover to cover shooter then it would be both not generic and really lousy as far as other games in the genre go, since again it has no cover to cover mechanics.

We need genres. They’re important. They help studios/publishers convey what games are intended to be so consumers can purchase games they actually want to play. Imagine if we had no genres. You want to play a first person shooter and no genre based games classification system exists. So you go to the store and all you know is you want to play a game where you can’t see your character during combat and you have a gun. So you pick up a random game off the shelf with a character holding a gun. For example, maybe you picked up Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune. On the front of the box is a white guy with a shotgun in one hand and a pistol in the other. So you buy it because the only classification information you’re able to recognize is guns are in the game. Now Uncharted might be an amazing third person adventure game with acceptable third person cover to cover shooting mechanics but it is a piss poor first person shooter. As far as first person shooters go it’s anything but generic. In this case generic gameplay would be a godsend. But that’s entirely the point of genres. The gameplay for each game within a genre is supposed to be generic. So for people to then turn around and complain that the gameplay in a game is generic seems rather odd because it’s supposed to be that way.

death-stranding

Notice that I’ve only discussed gameplay up to this point and that’s both intentional and important. Gameplay is and should be generic unless a studio is legitimately trying to create something new. Like Hideo Kojima with Death Stranding. That’s a genre that really we haven’t seen before. And note that I’m only talking about the mail delivery portion of the game with a specific focus on the walking/running, balancing, weight distribution aspects of the game. The combat and stealth aspects are old hat. And the term “strand game” isn’t a thing. But to call Death Stranding’s core gameplay loop generic would be inaccurate. Originality is bitter sweet though. On one hand the game is completely new and incapable of being categorized as a run of the mill clone of other existing games. On the other hand it’s really hard to sell a product when no one really understands what they’re supposed to be buying. As much as people love Kojima, Death Stranding didn’t sell as strongly as he had hoped it would. That’s not to say it sold badly. Just that it didn’t do nearly as well as more than one of his past works, and not for lack of attention.

The reality is that people like generic and there’s nothing wrong with that. Studios choosing to make games that people find accessible should never be seen as a bad thing. Especially if the studio is trying to tell a story. People often argue about whether or not story or gameplay is more important in a game. But I think that depends on the story being told. Some studios don’t actually care about the story they’re telling. They’re simply trying to sell gameplay. This is how I would describe Destiny. Or at least the first one since I didn’t play the second. But many studios are trying to sell a story. And more often than not the gameplay isn’t directly connected to the story. It’s merely a means of telling the story the studio wants to tell. That means the best course of action is to make the gameplay as accessible as possible without getting boring. Take our original example of Mass Effect.

Mass Effect 1 skill treeNow you can argue that BioWare wanted to create a sci-fi themed alien/robot shooting spree with overt story elements. But that’s not really what BioWare has ever claimed to be about. At least not before Anthem anyway. It’s more accurate to say that BioWare wanted to create an epic sci-fi fantasy story with easily accessible gameplay elements. At first they didn’t want to go full shooter because that was never their thing. But it also didn’t make since to make Shepherd a swordsman in the future setting. So they tried to make an RPG based shooter in a time before The Division. And honestly they failed. The gameplay in Mass Effect 1 is original and broken. It is not generic and we all suffered because of it. But the storytelling was excellent. And everyone agreed about that. That’s why BioWare switched the gameplay to a generic third person cover to cover shooter in Mass Effect 2. They realized the gameplay was hindering the player’s ability to enjoy the story and corrected that. Generic worked there because it works. And while those people I argued with didn’t agree, most people I’ve talked to on the subject would say Mass Effect 2 was the best game in the trilogy. And it’s that generic gameplay that made it so. Because people could focus on the epic storytelling, as BioWare originally intended.

If it feels good then it’s good gameplay even if you’ve played it 100 times before. I get so irritated when people play the sequel to a game and complain that the gameplay is exactly the same. It should be exactly the same save for improvements to flaws in the previous game’s gameplay or meaningful additions that make the gameplay feel better or more enjoyable. But changing the gameplay for the sake of changing it is stupid and people complaining about it not changing is even stupider. Like you wouldn’t go to a restaurant and complain the food tastes similar to the last time you ate there. It’s supposed to be like that. The changes and originality should come out in the story. Generic writing, unlike gameplay, is 100% acceptable to complain about.

dragon-ball-z-kakarot-wallpaperGameplay needs to be generic for various reasons, in most but not all cases. But storytelling should not ever be generic if the purpose of the game is to tell a story. That’s one of the main reasons I avoid FPS games. They lean too hard on the exact same storytelling tropes over and over again, because their target audience doesn’t seem to care much about story. How many more games about white guys fighting in WWII do we need? Generic writing is a bad thing and it has crippled the gaming industry in favor of better graphics and gameplay for a long time. There’s a reason people love Naughty Dog. They lead with story. People remember and cherish their games because they show them something different and compelling in terms of storytelling. That’s what people connect with emotionally. I complained a ton about the gameplay in The Last of Us. But I’ll definitely be playing The Last of Us Part 2. Because I do want to know what happened/happens to Joel and Ellie. I will absolutely play another God of War. Because I do care about Kratos as a character. But there are countless games I’ve played over the years that I don’t care to play a sequel to because the writing was generic. The biggest example being Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot.

I don’t think there’s a more generic games franchise currently in existence than Dragon Ball Z at this point. They don’t even pretend to change things up anymore. It’s the same story over and over and over again. I loved Dragon Ball: Xenoverse simply because the story was slightly altered. But the joke was that your character was tasked with making sure the exact same story remains intact. Make a Dragon Ball Super game for goodness sake. Or a Dragon Ball game. I’d play the shit out of that. But I can only fight Freeza, Cell, and Buu from the perspective of Goku so many times. Even the Legend of Zelda franchise at least occasionally goes off the beaten path with games like Twilight Princess and Majora’s Mask. Writing in Dragon Ball Z games is so generic at this point that Goku can be described as its own genre of writing. Storytelling is when it’s absolutely OK to complain about games being generic.

Mortal Lombat vs Street FighterAt the end of the day, games are meant to be enjoyed. Gameplay gets reused because a large percentage of players enjoy it. Think about your favorite fighting game. Each one plays a bit differently and you tend to play the one(s) that you like the gameplay the most in. When the studio changes that gameplay in a later installment people lose their minds, like they did with Street Fighter V. And honestly they should have. Mortal Kombat feels different from Street Fighter and it always has. If you’ve been playing Mortal Kombat since 1992, the game has changed significantly over time. But it has never felt like Street Fighter. It’s always been a bit more fluid and arguably easier to play at an amateur level. If NetherRealm Studios made the next one slower and more methodical like Street Fighter, people would get mad. The gameplay is generic for both franchises and that is why both franchises have remained successful. Generic gameplay isn’t a bad thing. Bad gameplay is a bad thing and the two shouldn’t be conflated. So really the question players should be asking isn’t “is this gameplay generic?” It’s “am I currently in the mood to play another game within this genre?” Because when generic gameplay is a problem for the player it’s more the player’s current state of mind being at odds with the game rather than the game being poorly or lazily designed.

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E3 is Knocking on Heaven’s Door

It’s no secret that I’ve been over E3 for quite a few years now. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while then you know I think it’s an outdated media event that does little in service of both the consumers and the companies presenting that couldn’t be done in much more efficient and cost effective ways. I also see the idea of praising media personalities with a weeklong party where they pretend to work while critiquing hard working devs based on a couple images often released years in advance is preposterous. So I’m fine with the event pretty much dying off and have said as much many times. It seems Sony is in agreement with me because now for the second year in a row they have announced that they will not be attending the show.

Let’s be very clear about something, right off the bat. Neither Sony or Nintendo needs E3. To say otherwise is either willful ignorance or a bold faced lie. E3 needs Sony and Nintendo. Yes there are other companies outside of the big 3 that present at E3. EA, Ubisoft, Devolver Digital, and others all present and that definitely matters. In fact, it’s safe to say that, just like last year, even though Sony wasn’t officially at E3 they still attended. The number of games that were presented at E3 2019 that will ultimately release on PlayStation hardware was more than enough to say that PlayStation users/fans were given plenty of reason to continue being happy as PS4 owners. So it’s more accurate to say that Sony not attending gets most of the benefits of E3 but none of the hassle and expenses. It’s kind of like how Kleenex is a brand but everyone just refers to all tissues as Kleenex at this point because the brand name has become synonymous with small squares of soft white paper for blowing your nose. PlayStation simply is part of console gaming DNA at this point so even if they don’t formally attend every game not specifically locked to XBOX consoles will almost always end up on a PlayStation console as well. Unless of course it’s a Nintendo exclusive. So from a business standpoint Sony doesn’t really need to be at E3.

Sony and E3 BreakUpI have been really happy with Sony’s continued support of the State of Play series. Similar to Nintendo with Directs, I think this is the future of gaming announcements. I still remember when Reggie Fils-Aimé said at E3 some years back that the purpose of moving over to the Nintendo Direct system as opposed to doing formal presentations at E3 was in order to reach a broader audience of Nintendo users around the world in a more direct and accessible way. I agreed with this statement so much and that’s even more so the case having now lived outside the United States for more than five years. The Nintendo Direct system is way better for the millions of gamers who aren’t fluent in English and/or don’t live in North America. Seeing Sony follow suit is a good thing. And if E3 dies in the process I’m perfectly fine with that.

Since the announcement that Sony would be skipping E3, I’ve seen a lot of people online malign Sony, calling them things like anti-gamer, selfish, and out of touch. I find comments like this to be laughable, ironic, and in true American style, extremely narcissistic and self-serving. I’m no Sony Pony and I’m happy to acknowledge a list of issues I have with how the brand has operated the last few years, but their choice to leave E3 isn’t an example of them being bad for consumers. One of the things that I really liked about Sony’s announcement that they were skipping E3 again is that they also stated that they would be participating in “hundreds of consumer events across the globe”. I totally believe this statement because I’ve been seeing it first hand for years. I go to Taipei Game Show every year and Sony always has the largest booth with tons of demos. I tried Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and Kingdom Hearts III months in advance because PlayStation demos were available at that show. Sony also hosts a special event in Taiwan that’s essentially an E3 show floor that only features PlayStation games. At Gamescom 2019, which I attended in person, PlayStation had one of the largest spaces at the show. Quite possibly the largest. What all these examples have in common is that they didn’t take place in the US and weren’t focused on by American media. And that’s the point. Sony is expanding their focus to gamers of all places, cultures, and languages. Americans don’t like that because they’re used to being the center of attention and nothing expresses that more in the gaming community than E3.

PlayStation FestivalRemoving the focus from E3 is a slap in the face to all Americans, and honestly that’s a good thing. And I’m speaking as an American born citizen. Gamers come from all over and they should all have equal access to news, demos, and attention from the publishers they patronize. Sony isn’t anti-gamer. They’re pro gamers worldwide. They may be a for profit company and thus are selfish by nature, but pulling out of E3 isn’t an example of that. Microsoft never shows up to Taipei Game Show. Would it be fair to call them selfish? Maybe. But it’s no more selfish than Sony not showing up to E3. Sony isn’t out of touch. The PS4 sold way more than the XB1. Why? Because Sony understands that the US isn’t the only market and has taken steps to expand their market reach outside of that one country. A country they aren’t originally from by the way.

Microsoft will of course be at E3. It’s an American based company with a predominantly pew pew focused audience made up of mostly Americans. They have almost no market penetration in Asia. How could they possibly even consider not going to E3? It’s pretty much the only AAA focused show they really matter in every year. And once again they’re gonna focus on things like Cyberpunk 2077, a cross platform game that you will be able to play on PS4/PS5. Free advertising for Sony yet again. Sony is playing chess and winning while Microsoft is losing at checkers. Microsoft better hope that third party publishers like Ubisoft don’t eventually bow out of E3 as well or it will basically be an XBOX circle jerk event they have to foot the entire bill for. And having done corporate budgeting for events like Computex myself, let me tell you that it is not cheap by any stretch of the imagination.

cyberpunk-2077-keanu-reevesPersonally I have no problem with E3 going the way of the dodo. But even if I was still a fan of E3 I’d still completely understand why Sony no longer attends. And make no mistake, they no longer attend. Every year now people will wait for the announcement as if there’s a chance they’re going back, but they won’t. That ship has sailed and there ain’t no turning back. Especially now that a lot of media have already turned on E3 after last year’s data leak fiasco. Enjoy it while you can kids because E3 will be dead in no more than 10 years. And that’s a conservative estimate. If this year’s show tanks hard enough, it’s probably dead in five. See you at Taipei Game Show.

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Pokémon Sword & Shield Expansion Woes

Let me start by saying that I have been a supporter of Pokémon Sword and Shield since the first trailer. I have defended Game Freak throughout this entire debate over whether or not the latest generation of Pokémon games is good or not. I am happy with the graphics. I am happy with the number of Pokémon that were originally included. I am fine with the story, though I do miss a Team Rocket style villain narrative. I purchased the double pack on launch day and have put 80 hours into Pokémon Sword at the time of originally writing this. By the time of publishing it will be considerably more. I still maintain that Pokémon Sword and Shield, though far from perfect games, are good additions to the Pokémon main franchise. And I would have said this was a successful generation . . . until this latest Nintendo Direct.

On January 9th, Nintendo announced that Pokémon Sword and Shield would be getting a paid DLC expansion pass. Now we don’t have all the information yet but what we do know from the presentation is that two additional wild areas are being added to the games with additional story, characters, clothing, and Pokémon. Supposedly 200 or more additional Pokémon will be added to the games comprised of mostly older Pokémon, some with Galar versions, and a few new additions. Both new areas and content will be added to your version of the game with the purchase of a single $30 expansion pass. A different expansion pass is required for purchase for Sword and Shield meaning that if you want the expansion pass for both games you have to purchase two $30 DLC expansion passes. I’m sorry but I can’t defend Game Freak on this decision.

Pokemon Expansion Pass WallpaperI have a lot of problems with the way Pokémon Sword and Shield are being managed. At face value I was fine with the games at launch but in light of this new information I’m very unhappy. I always buy both games in the Pokémon generations I participate in. There’s little reason for this. You could always trade to get the Pokémon missing from your version. And with the ability to keep multiple saves you could make sure to get all the starters and legendaries. Sadly you can no longer have multiple saves in one account. So while you can build multiple accounts and trade between them, if you can find another Switch or friend to be a middle man, you can’t do everything with the simplicity that you once could. I don’t agree with that but I guess I understand it. But with this generation the differences between the two games are more than just Pokémon available. There are legitimate differences in the content for each game such as the gym leaders. I really don’t like this change. Even though I bought both versions, I am against the idea that players who only bought one version didn’t get to experience all the content this generation of Pokémon has to offer, even before an expansion pass was announced. But I could at least acknowledge that in differentiating the content, there’s more value in buying both versions.

Pokemon UpdatesThe problem with adding additional content, paid or otherwise, is that while it adds value to purchasing one version it decreases the possibility/value/necessity of buying both. As I said, I’ve put 80 hours into Sword and I still haven’t completed the Pokedex or the Battle Tower. The longer it takes me to complete Sword, the less likely I am to play Shield. Because one can only play the same game for so long. Especially with so many other games to play. But more importantly the expansion pass is paid content. It’s one thing to ask someone to buy two versions of the same base game. It’s a much different discussion when paid DLC comes into play because now you’re turning an already big $120 purchase into an exponentially higher one by adding divergent paid DLC to both versions. Suddenly $120 becomes $180. Then another expansion pass turns into $240 and so on. If they had told me from the beginning that they were going to continue updating the games at cost I would have never bought both versions because either version would have been sufficiently long enough and continuously growing to the point of making a second playthrough unnecessary and undesirable. Yet at the same time the content is different thus adding to the amount of missed content by not playing and paying for both versions plus DLC.

Pokemon Expansion Pass New CharactersContinuously adding content to a single Pokémon game is a great idea in theory. But if that was going to happen then there shouldn’t have been two different versions. Think about Pokémon Yellow, Crystal, and Emerald. There was always only one version of the extended content games for that very reason. It’s too much to ask players to play the game up to four times. Really it’s too much to ask players to play the game two times and really that’s what’s good about the expansion pass. Players can now go straight into the additional content without replaying the base game. But that content should be the same for both versions of the game. Or really there should just be one version of the game so everyone gets to play all the content in a manageable amount of time for a manageable cost. At the very least the DLC should be the same for both versions or you should get both versions of DLC for buying the expansion pass once. Never before in any game on any platform have people been asked to purchase the same DLC twice to experience everything a game has to offer. That’s ludicrous even by EA standards. The fact that I’m citing EA as the good guy versus Nintendo is sad and appalling for so many reasons.

Expanded VersionsAnother issue I have with the expansion pass is that now we actually do have a responsibility to be honest and acknowledge that all those gen 8 nay-sayers were right. I defended Game Freak’s decision to limit the number of Pokémon to just 400 because of limited resources and time. That made sense to me and seemed fair. But now less than two months after release I’m being told that 200+ Pokémon are being added less than a year after release at cost? That’s fishy. That timeline does not say to me that Game Freak didn’t have time to add more Pokémon. That tells me they purposely left Pokémon out so they could then justify adding paid DLC. If this was more than a year after release and the game was already basically dead and they were trying to bring new life into it and they said they had spent the last year working to create more content I could buy that. I’d still not be happy with being asked to spend an additional $30/$60 for the additional Pokémon but the added areas and story would make it seem more justifiable. But not even half a year after release I’m being told more than half the currently available Pokémon are almost ready at a 50% markup from the base price. I’m sorry but that is just flat out predatory capitalism. Sure you don’t technically have to spend money to get them because you could trade for them but come one. Who in their right mind will trade for more than 200 Pokémon and what would even be the point? The fun is in catching them. This could have been managed way better. At the very least it should have been announced before launch so people could make a more informed decision about buying the games. Especially when you consider how Nintendo handles pricing for games and DLC.

pokemon double pack no shjeldIf I had been told about this DLC before launch I would have only bought Pokémon Sword and I probably wouldn’t have even bought that at launch. Because we all know there’s going to be a Pokémon Sword “Full Version” that includes the DLC. And we know that while the base version and expansion pass prices will never go down separately, the full version will get slight discounts for holiday sales. Look at Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle as a relevant example. If you bought the vanilla version of the game like I did then you were forced to buy the DLC at full price to get the additional content because the season pass never went down in price on the e-shop. But if you waited then you could have gotten the gold version of the game that includes the season pass at a major discount. That’s exactly what’s going to eventually happen with Pokémon Sword and Shield. And that’s fine when you’re made aware of it before making an initial purchase. Take Ubisoft games not on Nintendo Switch for example. They are extremely transparent about their content cycle so you know almost exactly what you are and aren’t getting when you buy their games at launch and choose the vanilla version over the gold version. But Game Freak didn’t give us the ability to make an informed and financially sound purchasing decision for this gen. I would much rather have bought one version of the game and DLC for $90 than bought two versions of the base game and no DLC for $120 plus one or possibly both expansion passes for an additional $30 or $60.

From Nintendo’s point of view this is all working according to plan. They wanted us to buy both versions of the game and at least one if not both expansion passes. That’s more money for them. But we’ve seen countless times that screwing over your user base with backhanded pricing models only works so well in the long term. I don’t see many people buying into gen nine knowing how things now work with the franchise. I know I won’t be buying another Pokémon game at launch. And I certainly won’t be buying both versions if I’m going to have to account for paid DLC as well. So while they may have made more money in the short run, they’re only hurting themselves in the long run. And again I’m speaking as someone who defended the release versions of Sword and Shield. I supported Game Freak’s initial product. But I can’t in good conscience do that now. Because it’s now clear that they did just cheap out and pull content to charge us for it soon after release.

National DexLet us also remember that this is just the beginning of the profiteering. Pokémon Home, which was mentioned in the Direct as well, is a paid service that will let you bring your other Pokémon into the games. You can’t trade with yourself to get all the Pokémon even if you do buy both versions unless you take the time to create a second account and install it onto another Switch. This makes the idea of picking up a second Switch seem way more sensible than in the Gameboy days. Because now trading with yourself is way more trouble and a security risk when you do it with a borrowed console. It’s like every aspect of Pokémon has become more inconvenient and costly while the overall quality of the experience has gone down. And the worst part is that it didn’t have to be this way. There are a few very simple measures that could have been implemented to make the entire experience way more user friendly and cost effective so that it didn’t seem like Game Freak was taking advantage.

For starters, Pokémon Home, which I personally wouldn’t be using either way, should absolutely be a free service when all Pokémon aren’t in the latest game to begin with. That should have been used as an apology not a means of profit. If all the old Pokémon were available in the base game then it would be totally justifiable to charge for the luxury of bringing Pokémon over from another platform and generation to the Switch. The DLC should not be different between both versions. Even if the base games are different, they should not be asking players to purchase DLC twice. It should be that once you’ve played through both versions of the base game then you just commit to one version as the games continue to grow. Or at the very least buying the expansion pass should give you all the content for both versions at a single $30 price tag, which is already too high a price for DLC, Nintendo or otherwise.

Pokemon HomeAt this point they really need to do away with the dual versions model if they’re going to run on a paid DLC profit model from here on out. There should just be a single version in each gen that contains all the available Pokémon, including legendaries, and then you just buy the game and additional DLC once each time to experience all the content. I’m honestly shocked that Game Freak actively did literally everything in their power to poison the well in this way when they already had about a 50% disapproval rating for these games at launch. The audience was split down the middle on whether or not Sword and Shield were good at release. Now that is going to shift considerably. And their long term profits will suffer because of it. In fact, these decisions really only make sense in a scenario where this is the very last new generation of Pokémon. I doubt that’s the case but imagine if it is. Suddenly all this blatant greed makes perfect sense. Because you would logically squeeze every dime you could out of the public before killing off the franchise. You wouldn’t have to care about long term customers because you’d know that you didn’t need them anymore. You could just milk them dry one last time and then not care if they were never going to buy another Pokémon game because you’d secretly know that they weren’t going to have the chance to regardless. Again, I don’t think that’s what is happening here, but it would make way more sense than what we’re currently seeing.

Slowpoke GalarHonestly I no longer know what direction I’m going in with Pokémon this gen. I was happy playing Sword and was almost done with the Pokedex. Then I was going to play Shield and be done for this gen after finishing that game and Pokedex. But now I have to decide if I buy the DLC, do I even take the time to play Shield, and how to manage all this divergent content. I’ve never regretted buying a Pokémon game before this gen. But the fun has all been sucked away with all these decisions that we’ve never had to make before while also having Game Freak spit in our faces. It’s an odd time to be a Pokémon fan. Maybe I too won’t be buying into gen 9 after this whole ordeal.

Update: Ultimately I sold my unused copy of Pokémon Shield at a financial loss and used the money to buy the Sword expansion pass.  I will never buy two versions of a Pokémon game ever again.

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