It’s been a while since I did a Gaming Photography post, but I finally “finished” Breath of the Wild so I thought this was more than worthy of such a post. I’m actually going to do a longer “review” of this game but for now I just wanted to take the time to appreciate the stunning visuals of this game.
I took more than 1,600 pictures in this game because there are just so many great moments in it. Though I could never hope to capture this game with enough screenshots in a post like this, I’d like to present my top 30 photos from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I also post game photos on my Twitter and Instagram often.
*If you’d like to see the full resolution image please right click and press “view image”.
Please let me know what you think of my shots. Any feedback is appreciated because I would like to improve my gaming photography skills.
This is gonna be one of those blog posts that are way too serious about an issue that’s at most not that important and at worst absolutely stupid. But it seemed kind of interesting and a bit funny to write about so here we are.
I’ve been playing The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild for the past several weeks. I’m currently at more than 115 hours of play. Around hour 90 I realized that I had made a drastic change in a certain aspect of how I was playing the game; specifically how I was interacting with the natural environment of the game world.
Depending on the game and how it works, I try to apply my own real world ethical views to how I play most games. This affects how I answer in conversations and make decisions in games like Mass Effect. It informs how I progress through TellTale Games titles. It even affects how I deal with the game’s environment where applicable. Obviously there are exceptions, but in general this is how I approach games. In real life, I’m an environmentalist. No I’m not a vegan or some other such annoying person on a moral high horse. But I do believe that the environment and its preservation are crucial to the continued survival of humanity. This too affects the way I play video games and I don’t think my views on this issue have ever affected me as much as they have while playing Breath of the Wild.
Breath of the Wild is an amazing game because of how much freedom it gives you to interact with the world. If you want to ride a horse, you can literally run out to a field and jump on a horse’s back. It takes patience and effort but you can do it. And doing it is a great feeling. Then, if you choose to, you can keep that horse. You can befriend it. You can stable it. You can release it. The game encourages you to build relationships with your horses and only allows you to own a limited number of them at any given time. It asks you to name them and build relationships with them. Then if you get a horse you like better, usually one with better strength and speed, you have to decide which horse to release to make room for it. It’s an overall beautiful and personal experience. But horses are just a small part of how you can interact with the environment in this game.
One of the biggest ways you interact with the environment in Breath of the Wild is by farming natural resources. There are many types of resources such as insects, minerals, meat and other wild life products, and plants. For me, the most personally impactful resources in the game are meat from animals and wood from trees. Unlike the other Zelda games, this is an RPG. That means you need lots of resources to accomplish various things such as leveling up your armor, completing quests, and often most importantly, making money. Money is very scarce in Breath of the Wild. It’s not like in the other games in the series where you can just cut grass and get rich in a matter of minutes. As I said, I’m more than 115 hours in and I still don’t have that many rupees. The game asks you to spend quite a lot and offers you very little money for free. Instead you have to actively earn the money you need to accomplish things like buying armors, refilling your supply of arrows, and purchasing a house. Yes that is a thing you can do in this game. In my opinion, the quickest way to make money is by selling meat skewers. These are obtained by collecting meat from animals, cooking them, and then selling them to any vendor. Another way you constantly interact with the environment is by collecting wood, which is used for starting fires, crafting certain items, and is even required to complete certain quests.
When I first started playing Breath of the Wild, I was extremely conservative with how many trees I felled and how many animals I killed. I was pretty much only taking what I needed at the moment. I often accidentally knocked over trees and I felt bad about it every time. I always felt like I was hurting the environment and I felt actual guilt about this as I played the game, even though trees grow back rather quickly. When it came to animals, I killed them when I could to harvest meat, but it was never for selling. I saved all the meat I collected and used it to make healing items. The interesting part is that on Twitter I discovered that I wasn’t the only one who felt like this while playing the game. But eventually my environmentalism became too big a hindrance to my gameplay. With trees, this started when I was doing the “From the Ground Up” side quest line. This required you to give an NPC tons of wood. More wood than I had even collected up to that point. Suddenly I found myself indiscriminately destroying trees one after the other in the pursuit of large quantities of wood. I distinctly remember a moment where I had wiped out all the trees in a specific area and I felt genuinely bad about it. Caring about respecting the environment within the game had forced me to have to spend like an hour harvesting wood. And by the end of this ordeal I was done with respecting the trees. If I was going to be asked to provide NPCs with such large quantities of wood then I wasn’t going to stop farming it until I needed it again. Suddenly I was downing trees all the time while working on other stuff just to grow my wood stores in case I needed a bunch of it again.
Killing animals had a similar trajectory for me. At first I wasn’t killing them too often and I was using all the meat for myself. Then Reddit told me that selling meat skewers was the most effective way to make money. After many hours of not being able to afford the items I wanted and having to struggle just to buy additional arrows, this information was a godsend. I could hunt animals for pretty much free with my bombs and melee weapons and could never kill enough of them because I needed so much money. And really there is now end to the amount of money you can have because there’s no wallet limit, at least none that I’ve managed to reach yet, and you will never not have things that would be useful to buy. Especially when it comes to ancient weapons, which have a finite lifespan. I was killing animals a lot more and specifically for profit. I was even targeting specific animals because of higher quality meat yields which sell for more money. I had become the equivalent of a fur trapper in the colonial United States, mindlessly killing whatever animals I could find for profits. But this wasn’t even enough to satisfy my greed. Then I unlocked the Master Cycle and eventually made my way to Tabantha Tundra. This is straight up the North American wilderness at the beginning of The Revenant (2015). Except I have a motorcycle and the ability to wield a spear while riding it. I blaze across that frozen plain killing every animal I can find (wolves, moose, and rhinos) for a hefty return of meat. I can quickly farm several thousand rupees this way in under an hour. If I could somehow collect the meat without having to leave my motorcycle it would be a perfect system.
After farming large quantities of meat in the tundra several times I realized that the amount of animals I had killed had grown exponentially. Meanwhile, the amount of meat I was actually eating had shrunk to almost nothing because of the advanced healing power I had attained coupled with much improved armor. No longer did I even need the meat for sustenance. I was just killing animals for profit. It got to the point where I had so much meat that I started using base quality raw meat for motorcycle fuel because it wasn’t valuable enough to take the time to cook and sell like the higher quality meats. I had/have become one of those greedy venture capitalists of the colonial era, destroying and taking everything nature has to offer for my own personal gain.
What really got to me wasn’t so much what I ended up doing to the environment of the game as much as the transition to that point or more accurately the lack thereof. There was no moment where I actively decided that I was no longer going to care about my in game environmentalism. I just became irritated with being poor gradually and slowly found more efficient ways to deal with my resource problems. I hopped on that motorcycle and started hunting from it without a second thought. It was just faster and after so many hours of play I really wanted to speed things up. It wasn’t till far into this behavior that I had even realized it had happened.
Now I don’t have some profound point I’m trying to make here. I’m not going to change the way I play the game this close to the end because I’m actively trying to complete all my goals as quickly as possible so I can be done with the game and be ready for God of War. But I do wonder what the game would look like in the end if things didn’t instantly grow back when you teleport to a different area. It would be very interesting and probably depressing for me to see what the world would look like after I ravaged it for personal gain.
I started playing Pokémon GO on July 7th, 2016. That was the very first day that the app was available for download here in Taiwan. I started with the declared goal of catching ‘em all. Let me clarify that for me that only includes the original 151 Pokémon from the base set in the Kanto region. For me, that’s Pokémon. I started with Red and Blue (and Yellow), played through Gold and Silver, and then stopped playing. I’ve never really had an interest in the Pokémon past the original set, with a few special exceptions. So for me Pokémon GO was always about catching Bulbasaur to Mew. I finally accomplished this feat last week after 1 year and 9 months of continuous play. By continuous play I mean playing every day without fail, often for hours at a time. I’ve walked 2,411.3 km, caught 21,123 Pokémon, and spun 24,745 PokéStops. Finally I’m done. And let’s be very honest. There are players who have walked, caught, and spun way more than me and still don’t have all 151. That’s not a good thing.
I am a serious gamer. By serious I don’t mean I spend a ton of hours gaming, even though I do. I don’t mean I own and buy a lot of games, even though I do. And I certainly don’t mean that I play PVP at competitive level, which anyone who reads this blog or follows me on Twitterknows I absolutely don’t, because I hate PVP. What I mean when I refer to myself as a serious gamer is that I take my gaming seriously. As in I think about and play with a consciously serious mindset. I’m not the type of person to say things like “as long as it’s fun that makes it a good game”. I’m not the kind of person who buys a game, plays it for 30 minutes, gets bored, and then moves on to another game. I play games with intent and I think about them critically at pretty much all times. I set target goals for the games I play to specifically define when I’ll consider myself finished with them and what I need to accomplish before I stop playing them. This is true regardless of genre, platform, or hours spent. Some games I play with an achievement based goal like how I platinum every single Ratchet & Clank game that gets released. Sometimes I play just to get to the end of the single player story campaign like with most of the Final Fantasy games. Even with multiplayer PVP games I tend to set a target goal like achieve prestige level 1 in Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood. And as I’ve already stated, with Pokémon GO my goal was to catch all 151 base set Pokémon.
At the end of most games I complete, regardless of what my goal is/was, I’m usually happy to finally be done with them. With such a long backlog, I really like to clear games as quickly as possible. And some games are so long that by the time I get to the end of them I’m just completely burned out. But every so often when I reach the end of a game I want to play more but there’s nothing left for me to do. With most games I play, this occurs only when the game is very good, such as with Super Mario Odyssey. But for the first time in my life, it’s the opposite situation. I have finished a game, Pokémon GO, and would like to play it more but won’t because it’s not a good game.
Pokémon GO is not a good game. I have played hundreds, maybe even a couple thousand, hours. I’ve played in four different countries. Though I’ve never spent money in the game itself, I’ve spent more than my fair share to play it with travel fees, phone data fees abroad, and of course time spent. With all this experience under my belt, and of course the many years of gaming and reviewing games I have and had long before ever playing Pokémon GO, I can say without hesitation that it’s not a good game. If not for my serious commitment to gaming with a purpose and completing my declared goals, I would have stopped playing months ago. I have grown to love catching Pokémon just like I did as a kid and genuinely would like to keep playing the game because there are still more Pokémon for me to catch and new ones being added in the future, even if I don’t have any sort of personal connection to the later gens. But there are just too many problems for me to keep wasting my time with this game considering how many other games there are to play.
The saddest thing of all about Pokémon GO is that it doesn’t have to be a bad game. Niantic willfully makes it so. At its core level, it’s actually a pretty solid game. Certainly one of the best mobile games I’ve ever played. But the higher level mechanics are just wrong on so many levels. Almost all of which come down to a combination of greed and gameplay padding in order to arbitrarily increase play time. With just a few simple fixes this game could be something good that wouldn’t be constantly hemorrhaging players as it has since at least gen two. It could very easily be fun and playable for more than just us committed hard core players, and again the fixes necessary aren’t rocket science. The most important being adding PvE coins and rare candies, wild Legendary spawns, rotating spawns in any given area, removing all regionally specific Pokémon (as in distributing all Pokémon to all regions), making incubators acquirable at all levels by spinning PokéStops in unlimited quantities, prioritizing hatches to Pokémon players actually need, and adding trading, which in all honesty would become unnecessary if all the other changes mentioned were implemented.
What it really comes down to is that Pokémon GO plays like a game that only considers paid players. Like with most things by EA today . . . cough Star Wars Battlefront II cough . . ., it demands you to spend money not just to make the game better but to even make it manageable. I’ve been playing since day 1, yet I only have 500 spots in my PokéBank. I believe the current maximum is 1500 spots. Really these spots should be free, but instead they cost coins. Coins can only be acquired through sitting on gyms. Depending on where you are, this can be extremely easy or extremely difficult. For me, a person living in literally one of the most competitive GO cities in the world, Taipei, with no gyms that can be reached without leaving my block, it’s very difficult to get on and more importantly stay on a gym. And when I can there’s of course the 50 coin limit so I can’t even get my maximum potential coins in those extremely rare moments where I can actually keep a gym for several hours. For my friend, who literally lives on top of a gym, he has never gone a day since the latest gym update where he didn’t get his 50 coins. He of course has the maximum number of PokéBank spots available, even though he too is a free player. Of my 631 eggs hatched, I would say maybe 20% of them were Pokémon I could actually use. That’s Pokémon I needed to add to my Pokédex. This low number is due at least in part to the fact that I have such a limited number of incubators as a free player and the fact that I tend to get 5k eggs, which are the absolute least useful eggs in the game. Of the four Pokémon, not counting regionals, that I still need to hatch in order to finish the current available Pokédex, only one is available from a 5k egg and I have never hatched a single one. And to be honest, I’ve only seen one in the wild, which I caught. For the record, that Pokémon is Lileep. For the most part, these are all super easy fixes that would drastically improve the gameplay experience for pretty much all players, other than those who are willing to spend tons of money and can travel the world to catch a single Pokémon. But sadly those are the only players that Niantic considers when developing the game.
*After writing this but before I published it, I did see a second Lileep in the wild, which I caught, so I have actually now seen 2 Lileeps in the game.
Free players and casual players matter in Pokémon GO, as well as every other game with multiplayer elements. The fact is that GO makes a ton of money, but the percentage of paid players is relatively low. Yet if all the free players stopped playing the game would literally cease to work. You couldn’t have working gyms without players to fill them. You couldn’t complete raids without players to help. The game cannot work without your free player base because that makes up the majority of players that give all the paid players a reason to spend money in order to be competitive. So really it’s in the best interests of Niantic to do everything they can to keep free players happy enough to keep playing the game. The truth is that GO only still exists because of the popularity of Pokémon. If this was just a random game about catching monsters no one knew about it would have already collapsed due to the terrible management of the app. These flaws are why I cannot happily play this game anymore even though I would very much like to.
Let me be very clear about something. I don’t expect Niantic to fix their game. In fact I’m confident they won’t. But what I do hope for is that this post and others like it by gamers as serious as I am are seen by other developers looking to make similar games and hopefully they will take my feedback to heart when designing their own games. It’s not just about hour 1. It’s about hour 100. Mobile games like this only work with long term, dedicated players and many of them. As I said before, GO, in its current form, wouldn’t still be a thing if it didn’t have the advantage of Pokémon. We will soon be getting Jurassic World Live and I will be playing it. I haven’t decided what my goal for it is yet because I don’t know enough about it, but I do hope that the developers do a better job than Niantic at making a game that’s actually fun after the honeymoon period ends for all players, whether paid or free.
For the record, I have causally continued playing Pokémon GO at a drastically lower level of play since catching all 151 while I wait for Jurassic World Live to drop. Can’t say for how much longer that will be the case.
Let me start off this review by clarifying that I never read the book Ready Player One and I have no contextual understanding of how the movie compares to the book. So I’m going to write this review as if the book doesn’t exist or is not relevant to the discussion.
I went into Ready Player One very reluctantly. As I said, I haven’t read the book so I didn’t know what to expect. There was also a ton of hype, which for me is usually a turn off for IPs that I’m not already familiar with. I then read a review of the film from either Kotaku or IGN. I can’t remember but whichever site it was painted the film in a bad light. Or at least that’s how I read it. So I wasn’t very interested or that excited but I agreed to go see it at the behest of a friend. Before we get into the meat and potatoes, let me state very clearly that it was an enjoyable film that I’m glad I watched, but that’s only because of who I am or more specifically the things I’m interested in.
If I was to describe Ready Player One in a soft pitch, I would say it’s the 80’s pastiche of films like Back to the Future and the cultural outlook that spawned them, the modern cynicism of the current gaming community induced by greedy corporate interests in the gaming industry, and our hopes and dreams for futuristic technology a la Tron, or more appropriately Tron: Legacy, all mixed together into one dystopian landscape. Yes that’s a lot to unpack, so let’s get to it.
Ready Player One is a simple film. Plot wise it’s just any other good vs evil kid’s story with a dash of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The basic idea is that there’s a kid who comes from humble/poor beginnings and he wants to not be poor anymore. And by kid I mean young person who doesn’t have a real job or any actual responsibilities. The age of the main character, Wade Watts (Parzival) is actually 18, or soon to be, and since he doesn’t seem to be in school, legally speaking that makes him an adult. There’s a contest that can only have one winner, who will be made rich and put in charge of everything the kid cares about. There’s an evil entity (corporation in this case) trying to win the contest and take the prize for themselves. The kid teams up with other kids and they stop the evil corporation and win the contest. It’s Stranger Things. It’s It. It’s Star Wars. You’ve seen it all before. The plot isn’t really why you’re here. Yes this is a Spielberg film, but no it’s not a SPIELBERG film. Outside of effects and costume design, this movie will not be winning any Oscars. And that’s fine. But to be clear, this is no high minded plot about the future of technology. It’s just a kid’s fantasy story set to the backdrop of VR gaming in a world that actually looks like it’s on the horizon with the way things are going politically in the United States currently.
The film was clearly written by a team of nerds who play video games today, but also played them yesterday. This is apparent because the film makes tons of references to games and pop culture going all the way back to the Atari 2600 and all the way to today with references like Overwatch. What I liked a lot about the movie was that it discusses and criticizes the direction the gaming industry has taken/is taking today. There are covert digs at companies like EA, Activision, and Microsoft for their predatory pricing and distribution practices. The movie mentions and complains about practices like in game ads, microtransactions, predatory pricing practices that turn people into gaming addicts and plunge them into debt, pay to play subscription schemes with cost based player rankings, paywalls, and other such modern industry bullshit. In many ways the movie is about an old schooler who created a video game that he thought was perfect, complaining about all the modern practices that turned his video game and gaming culture as a whole into the trashy money pit that it is today. This is very apparent in the fact that the villains aren’t actually evil in the traditional sense. They’re just a corporation trying to maximize profits at the expense of the public’s wellbeing and enjoyment. And while yes they are doing things that are extremely unethical, in most cases, just about everything they do is entirely legal by the standards of the world of the universe they’re located in. And sadly legal by our real life standards as well, for the most part. It’s not until way late into the movie when the stakes get super high that the “bad” CEO finally approves something blatantly evil and illegal. But even that was very believable by today’s standards.
As previously stated, there are tons of references to gaming culture of all types, but there are also tons of references to 80’s culture. This for me was kind of problematic. Now as a person who was born in 89, I enjoyed and appreciated literally every reference. I can say confidently that I probably got at least 90% of all references in the movie. And not just the gaming ones. There’s all kinds of stuff mentioned or shown in this film. Batman, Mortal Kombat, The Shining, Back to the Future, King Kong, Gundam, Godzilla, and the list goes on and on and on. But here’s the weird part. The gaming references span basically all of gaming history from the Atari 2600 all the way to today. You see tons of gaming stuff and you will know at least some of it. They even mention Twitch. But all the pop culture references outside of gaming seem to only span from about 1979 – 1999, with the latest overt reference being The Iron Giant (1999).
Understand that this is a world set in 2045 where there’s a fully functioning VR world where you can literally create anything you want and be anything you want. As you can imagine, most people would not be original. They would just be copying things they know from their favorite IPs. The movie actually goes out of its way to pretend that this wouldn’t be the case. There are lots of avatars that are pulled right out of other stuff like people walking around looking like Arkham Harley Quinn, Tracer, Master Chief, and even the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, admittedly the newer versions. But for the most part people are pretty original. The bulk of the Avatars you see aren’t from other stuff. We all know that’s not how things would actually be because most people lack originality. I assume part of this was licensing issues and part of it was just that it would be boring if everything was something you’d already seen even if that’s how it would actually end up being. But my point is the scope of history referenced outside of gaming is extremely limited. It’s 2018. The main character was born in 2027. The movie starts in 2045. Why doesn’t the film reference anything past 1999? It’s odd. It’s made even more odd by the fact that the kid was born in 2027 because he knows way too much about the 80’s while also being an active member of his current society at only 18 years old.
Now the movie tries to justify this by saying that in his research to win the contest he had to study the 80’s intimately because the creator of the contest loved 80’s stuff. But the creator of the contest lived into the 2020’s or later. So the idea that he didn’t like or care about anything after 1999 is odd. It’s as if pop culture history stopped existing outside of video games for 30 straight years. Since we’re in 2018 now, we know this not to be true. Where are the Marvel references? Where are the 30 years of film history references? Where are all the anime references past the original Mobile Suit Gundam (1979)? Where’s Harry Potter? It’s weird that these kids seem to only like 80’s stuff as if literally nothing past the year 2000 outside of video games was interesting to a group of kids born after the year 2020. Even most kids today don’t know what an Atari 2600 is. Yet this kid somehow had time to learn intimate knowledge of all 470 (including homebrews) Atari 2600 games while keeping up with his own contemporary pop culture, but literally nothing else? That seems unrealistic.
Now of course part of this comes from the fact that the book was written in 2011 by an author who was born in 1972. But we’re talking about a movie released in 2018. I would expect producers to have taken the time to fill in some history for the purposes of film making and reaching a larger audience. You know, to make money. For me, this closed bubble of history was fun because again, I was born in 89 and I like 80’s stuff. So I got and appreciated all the references. But a kid born in say 2002, who today would be about 16, won’t get most of it. Sadly they might not even recognize the car, which is the DeLorean. But that’s not their fault. They were born 12 years after the last time the DeLorean mattered (Back to the Future III) and 19 years after the original DeLorean went out of production. Of course they wouldn’t know what a DeLorean is. My point, which I’ve gone on for too long to make, is that the writing in this movie overall is just ok, that is to say at the caliber of 80’s mainstream film making. Things are done lazily when it comes to plot. There are inconsistencies in how history works. The main character falls in love way too fast, which I was glad the film took the time to address in the dialog. It’s just not a movie you should go see for plot. Unless of course you enjoy campy 80’s style plots. Then by all means.
Visually speaking, Ready Player One was phenomenal. That is the only word that can be used to describe The Oasis, the VR world that the bulk of the film takes place in. The idea is that the real world is so shitty that everyone, and I mean everyone, spends the bulk of their time in The Oasis. Again, very realistic based on the current trajectory of the United States. The whole of the movie takes place in a dystopian Columbus, Ohio. Even by today’s standards most people wouldn’t want to watch a move that takes place in Columbus, Ohio. People from Columbus, Ohio don’t even want to watch a movie that takes place in Columbus, Ohio. So it made all the sense in the world to set the movie there because then you wouldn’t think to yourself “Why don’t they spend more time showing me the real world?” Not once do you think that while watching this movie. In fact, the 20 or so real world minutes of this 2 hour and 19 minute film was probably too much time spent in real world Columbus, Ohio. But The Oasis was the most amazing thing ever, visually speaking.
I almost went to see this movie in IMAX and I’m glad I didn’t because I think my head would have exploded. The race scene, which was probably my favorite scene in the whole movie, was insane. It was the way racing games will hopefully work one day. I would say the same thing for the FPS world scene. I hate online PVP games. I would absolutely play them if they looked and played like they do in this movie. When you watch this movie as a gamer, it almost brings tears to your eyes because you realize what we don’t have yet and that you might not live long enough to see it happen but know full well that one day it will. I was so overcome with disappointment when I got home from the theater and turned on my PS4. Because it just doesn’t compare. Our VR today is crap. I’ve said that so many times before I ever even heard about Ready Player One. And they actually do make an HTC VIVE reference in the movie, which I thought was cute. But once you watch the movie you start to really think about just how crappy current VR is . . . and make no mistake, it is crappy. It is a gorgeous movie. There’s tons of stuff happening on screen at the same time and it’s hard to keep track of it all, but it’s beautiful. And the war scene towards the end will break a gamer’s heart. Not because it looks cool, even though it does. But because as a gamer, you know that the community today is too greedy, toxic, and narcissistic to actually pull off something like what happens in that scene. The movie basically shows you the fantasy of every true gamer, but you know it would never happen that way in real life. I’m speaking vaguely here because I don’t want to spoil it.
The sound was also really good. I actually could see this movie winning an Oscar for sound editing. My girlfriend said the movie was too loud for her because of all the explosions and crazy stuff happening on screen at the same time. I thought it was awesome.
Overall I really enjoyed the movie. I didn’t think I would going in, but it was just a really fun time. My girlfriend said she didn’t get more than a third of the references but she really enjoyed it too. It’s not a movie to go watch for expert film making and award winning acting. It’s just a playful homage to gaming culture and history written for actual gamers who grew up playing proper games and are now having to deal with the fact that things have gotten rather disappointing and expensive in exchange for considerably better graphics, but actually not that great by comparison to future VR prospects. If you’re a gamer and you started before the XBOX, you’ll love the movie. If you’re not a gamer and you didn’t grow up in the 80’s or 90’s, you probably won’t like it or even totally understand why anything happening is important.
Last week I wrote a blog post about people incorrectly defending games and I lightly touched on gaming apologists, a group/practice I can’t stand. Now in that post I stated that we were almost assuredly going to see apologists defending Sea of Thieves. To hopefully no one’s surprise, considering both my track record with gaming predictions and the beta reviews, this is of course what is now happening. Sea of Thieves was released last week for the XBOX ONE and Windows PC. I was very interested in it, but reluctant based on what I saw and read of the betas. Now that the game and initial reviews are out, I can say with certainty that I will not be purchasing this game. If I’m honest, I knew this was going to be the case. When I first heard about it and watched the alpha footage I could quickly see that this was going to be another pointless, endless shared world experience devoid of any actual substance. Sadly, it’s not even as fulfilling as Destiny as far as content is concerned and that’s saying a lot, or more to the point, a little.
I haven’t personally played the game, but I have read and watched quite a bit about it. From my understanding it’s a fairly decent sized world of sand and water with little actual content. There are only three types of let’s call them tasks because the word quest seems a bit too charitable for what they really are. These tasks, which can be done countless times, net you loot. You can also get loot by stealing it from other players while they try to complete these same three tasks. Basically this game is a glorified chat room where you can sail ships around some water, occasionally team up with other groups to fight a giant squid, and fight other people for pretty much useless treasure. All that is to say, this is a pointless game that charges you $60 to make a pirate themed avatar and joke around with your friends. A Reddit user by the name of calibrono summarized it best. His entire post is a bit long and I do encourage you to take the time to read it, but allow me to quote a passage from it.
“Sea of Thieves is an experiment. “How little content can we stuff in a $60 title and hey away with it” kind of experiment. The same kind of experiment EA did try with SWBF2, except not with microtransactions, but with content.”
This is very sad. Once again a developer/publisher has decided that instead of making a proper game they can take advantage of the bored masses and offer them nothing in exchange for a AAA price tag. I’ve actually seen a number of people compare Sea of Thieves to No Man’s Sky, which seems very appropriate. One Twitter account I follow referred to it as “No Man’s Sea”, which is just brilliant.
Microsoft trying to take money out of our pockets for little actual work is nothing new. They’ve been nickel and diming us for Windows, an OS they didn’t originally create to begin with, for more than 30 years. But gamers falling for it, yet again, is the much bigger issue. This game has literally no content. It doesn’t even have a giant map to explore with endless islands of differing environments to discover and explore. There’s literally only one type of land based enemy, skeletons, and they can’t even hurt you if you’re standing on a rock. Yet people happily paid $60 for it and are defending it like it’s a legitimate game. I even read an article today, which you shouldn’t take the time to read, where someone tried to compare it to The Last of Us, which just sounds ridiculous and it is. If anything, this is worse than Star Wars Battlefront II because at least that was/is a playable game with a single player campaign and match based PVP with clear objectives. This is little more than a glorified server test for the pre-alpha stage of an actual pirate game. Why are people putting up with it and even going out of their way to argue it’s a good game? This is exactly why things only seem to be getting worse in the gaming industry. People need to stop actively helping publishers take advantage of them.
I’m angry because I actually really like the pirate theme. One of my favorite PS2 games was Pirates: The Legend of Black Kat (2002), which Ubisoft clearly was inspired by in the making of Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag, which I loved. Nothing would make me happier than to see another great pirate game with solid gameplay and a well written plot. And RARE is/was a studio that I would have trusted to do that. They could have done that. They should have done that. But of course they didn’t do that. So here we are with yet another shitty cash grab game that will make a butt load of money in initial sales compared to what it cost to make, then they’ll add paid DLC and make more money, telling publishers that this is a viable model for game development, ultimately leading to the further detriment of the industry and lowering the general quality of future games. What do we learn? Apparently not a damn thing.
Now I’m sure more content will eventually be added to this game. I hope it’s added for free from an ethical standpoint, but at the same time I’m always in support of people learning their lesson the hard way. But adding content after the fact because people are unhappy doesn’t excuse the fact that in their ideal scenario Microsoft wanted people to happily pay them for nothing and get away with it. So in my book new content as a reaction to user complaints is a step in the right direction but too little too late.
I’ve been noticing more and more recently that there’s a group of people that believe that a game shouldn’t be judged by the quality, sales figures, critical scores, or really any other widely used metric normally applied to the judgement and comparison of games. Instead they believe the only thing that matters is the amount of people that worked on a project and by extension, the amount of work put in. I even got into an argument with one of these people on Twitter (of course).
This is an odd, nonsensical point of view that has no place in reality. Especially not the highly competitive, very crowded entertainment sector known as the gaming industry. Judging a game, or really anything, strictly by the amount of work put in makes no sense. No one does that in any other field. They can spend years and millions of dollars making a movie, but that doesn’t make it good (glances at Suicide Squad). It has to actually be good. What if you walked into a restaurant and ordered a steak. Then the waiter brought you a cold, under cooked piece of meat smothered in ketchup with rotten vegetables to go with it, but when he served you he said 10 people worked on this over the course of 5 hours. That wouldn’t suddenly make you appreciate the steak more, or at all. If anything that would make you even more unhappy with it because it means an entire team of people did a shitty job and no one said or did anything to fix it. Just because a lot of effort is put into something doesn’t reflect the quality of the finished product or, more importantly, the value of that finished product.
We have a very rigorous and competitive system for critiquing games. We have Metacritic, professional reviews, amateur reviews, opening week sales figures, total sales figures, and game awards shows just to name some of them. There are so many techniques used today in order to figure out the quality and value of a game and arguably we still haven’t quite figured it out. But no one with half a brain actually cares how much effort is put into it in a vacuum. People care about the final product. Many games take a long time to make, but that doesn’t mean they end up good. Remember Mass Effect: Andromeda? And let’s be completely honest, The Last Guardian was good, but it wasn’t 10 years of development across three gens good. And really the less time and staff it takes to make a game, the more impressive it is, both for the consumers and the publishers. So why would we ever use the amount of staff and work that went into a game as the means of judging its actual value? Paper value for investors sure. That makes sense. But actual consumer value? That would only hurt consumers in both the long and short run.
I had a guy argue with me about Battleborn. Battleborn is an average at best game. It reviewed at a six to low seven. It did not sell well. It did not last long. It didn’t win any notable awards. The servers were quickly dead. And yes it did have to compete with Overwatch, even though the developers said it wasn’t trying to, but that excuses nothing. If it was good, people would have played it instead of Overwatch. By all counts it was a bad game. But some guy tried to argue with me that none of those things matter. All that matters is that a team of people worked on it and because they worked hard, supposedly since we have no way to actually prove that, it should be respected alongside any other game like Horizon Zero Dawn, Monster Hunter World, or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. That’s some of the most ridiculous bullshit I’ve ever heard.
People don’t even get judged solely on their effort. You can work your ass off at just about any job. You’ll still be judged on the quality of your work product and output. No employer will allow you to do a terrible job and keep your job just because you always show up on time and work hard while you’re there. That’s not reality. And really I can’t even believe I had to take the time to write a blog post about such an obvious fact of life. And I wasn’t going to till I saw this same faulty line of reasoning show up in multiple places in references to multiple terrible games. And I’m sure I’ll be seeing it again soon in reference to Sea of Thieves as well.
Imagine a world where all games are considered equal. A world where The Last of Us, Neverdead, Super Mario Odyssey, Assassin’s Creed Unity, and Mighty No. 9 are all treated equally within the market. It would be chaos for consumers. Games would cost way more than they already do. The quality of product would be severely lacking. Esports would be more of a joke than it already is because they’d be featuring terrible games. There is absolutely no sense in judging a game based on the work put in. Especially if it’s not a small indie game made by a kid in his basement. The amount of work and time in no way reflects the quality of the final product. And we as consumers shouldn’t allow developers and publishers to even try to value games that way, even though they already try to. Because if we do, every game will end up being No Man’s Sky . . . pre-patches.
In 1993, one of the greatest and most influential flying based rail shooters ever made was released. This was of course Star Fox for the SNES. I’ve always had a love hate relationship with the game. As a kid, I poured many hours into it, but never was able to beat it. In fact, I’m fairly confident I never passed the third level as a child. I struggled consistently with level two, the asteroid field. It was too fast paced and difficult for me to play it confidently as a boy. But I kept playing the game anyway. And I kept losing. But I never stopped liking the game. Some years later the N64 was released and in 1997 my favorite of the Star Fox games, still to this day, was released. Star Fox 64, like every other core Star Fox game, is just a fancier recreation of the original SNES game. It doesn’t matter which version of the core game you’re playing on whatever platform. You’re always playing the same general game. The graphics, controls, and available vehicles change and improve over time, but it’s always the same story, levels, and characters in the same basic order and the same awesome looking map. For a different Star Fox experience you have to go to one of the few alternative titles like Star Fox Adventures (2002) or Star Fox Assault (2005), both for the GameCube. Both excellent games, in my opinion, because they are so different from the core games. They are also made by different teams than the core games.
While most people have probably played at least one core Star Fox game, very few have had the pleasure of playing Star Fox 2 (2017). This game has an odd and colorful story. It was originally developed for the SNES to be released in 1996 but was cancelled with the impending release of the N64. It wasn’t until 2017 with the release of the SNES Classic console, and much pleading/begging from fans, that the public was finally given access to this game. This is the main reason I bought that console. As a diehard Star Fox fan, I absolutely had to play this game. I was fortunate enough to find a store that had imported the American version of the console to Taiwan, because I can’t read Japanese . . . After first finally beating the original Star Fox on the SNES Classic, I immediately played Star Fox 2.
I want to talk about this game, and honestly I meant to weeks ago, but haven’t had the time to do a proper write up before now. But I don’t want to do a formal review. Let me be perfectly clear. If you are given the opportunity, and don’t already run emulators, you should buy the SNES Classic. This is one of the best gaming purchases I’ve made in a long time. If you grew up in the SNES era, this is a must buy console whether you’re a Star Fox fan or not. This console has given me the ability to go back and play some of the best games from my childhood and I’m actually beating them finally. Of the 22 games provided on the console, I had actually only completed one of them (Donkey Kong Country) on the original SNES. To be fair, I only owned four of the games provided on the SNES Classic, but this console has just about all the must play titles. And I am so happy that I’m finally getting to beat them. So again, even if you don’t give two shits about Star Fox 2 you should still buy an SNES Classic if you have the chance. But I want to take the time to discuss Star Fox 2 specifically in greater detail.
I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from Star Fox 2 going in. It could have been just another rails shooter or a completely different genre altogether. I didn’t know what the story would be or who the villain was. Assuming it was directly connected to the original Star Fox, Andross was supposedly dead already. So really I had no idea what the game was going to be.
Star Fox 2 is a completely different animal from Star Fox, but it, like all the core sequels assumes no prior games have taken place. You go up against Andross like in all the other core games, and have a very similar all range mode fight against his head. But that’s pretty much the only similarity other than recurring characters and the Lylat System setting. For starters, the game is not on rails. Every level is in all range mode. The levels are different. You do not follow a strict pre-mapped path and the levels on the new map aren’t the same as those from the original game. The map is open, meaning you can travel around it freely and complete levels in whatever order you want, with a few caveats. Also very notable, you don’t have to play as Fox McCloud. There are six playable characters, two of which are never before seen female characters. You choose two of the six at the beginning of the game and can complete the entire game with just those two. There are also three difficulty levels, one of which is locked at the start of the game. This game plays more like a real time strategy shooter than a mission based rail shooter. You are given the ultimate goal of reaching and defeating Andross but to do that you have to accomplish certain key tasks on the map as well as prevent enemy forces from destroying Corneria. The game keeps you active even in the map portion of the game. You have to take into account shield levels, enemy locations, incoming missile strikes, and there’s a timer. It’s like no other game I can remember playing in that era.
Visually speaking, it’s on the same level as Star Fox. But because of the smaller all range mode levels, there’s a lot less detail in specific stages. Much of the game is played in first person view for your space flying missions and the planetary missions have you switch between Arwing and Walker modes in real time. It does have a much more advanced HUD though, including a mini-map. Plot wise there’s not as much going on as the first game, but that’s because the game is active the whole way through. You’re kind of writing the plot as you go. There is dialog though. The game controls fairly well for the SNES era. I would say it’s on par with Star Fox but also calls for finer movements in a number of indoor missions that require but don’t force you to use the Walker mode. All in all, I think it’s very different but actually a really solid game for the time.
The true shame of Star Fox 2 is that it wasn’t released as planned in 1996. In my honest opinion, it was very revolutionary for the time. For instance, the Walker is a key part of the gameplay. In the core games the Walker was only just made available in the latest version, Star Fox Zero (2016), for the Wii U. I was shocked to discover that they had this vehicle playable all the way back in 1996. Looking back, I think of all the great games that never were because this game didn’t get released to inspire them. Playing it today, there’s really nothing new here, except for maybe two playable female characters in a Nintendo game that’s not Smash Bros or Mario Kart . . . You’ve seen all the stuff this game has to offer by 2017 if you’ve been gaming since the original Star Fox. But you really hadn’t seen it all in 1996. Even Star Fox 64 didn’t have everything Star Fox 2 has to offer. Certainly no vehicle morphing and multiple space based levels in all range mode. I feel like this game would have inspired a ton of games that we never got to play and it could have easily influenced the Star Fox franchise more than it already did. Imagine if there was an entire second branch of Star Fox games based on Star Fox 2 that released in each gen along with the core games. Or they could have eventually merged the two into one bigger, more versatile game. As a big Star Fox fan, I feel kind of like I was cheated out of some great games all because this game was never released in its heyday.
Ultimately I’m glad that I got the opportunity to play Star Fox 2. I’m glad they released it and I’m glad I got to experience it. I hope they do make another game inspired directly by this one. In reality it’s not very long and can be completed in less than 40 minutes so technically they could just add a mode to the next core Star Fox game. If you get the opportunity, I definitely recommend you give it a shot.