Support Diversity, Not Fascism (Little Devil Inside)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

India Mask
From India

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

Yahua_Blowgun_Amazon_Iquitos_Peru
This is a Native from a tribe in Peru.

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

cheech

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

Rachel Dolezal
Not a Black person.

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

Barret Wallace
Not made by Black people.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What Happened to State of Play?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Predator Hunting Grounds
Not good.

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

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The Time for Smaller Maps is Nigh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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These Aren’t the Cuts You’re Looking For

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Finally Finished The Witcher 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Leaks of Us

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big Leak
Leaks are not a good thing.

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

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The Nail in the Coffin (E3 is Dead)

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

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

Nintendo Direct E3 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ubisoft e3 cancelled

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

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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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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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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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GOG Galaxy 2.0 Beta Review

I’m a big fan of GOG and have been for many years. They’re actually my favorite storefront to buy PC games from. Though their selection is limited compared to Steam and other PC game distributors, I try to buy from them wherever applicable. One of the main reasons I really liked them when I first found out about them was how convenient their distribution system was. There was no launcher. You just went to their site and downloaded the entire DRM free game you purchased directly to be used offline. For me, this was always a better, more convenient option than Steam. Some years later, they released the GOG Galaxy launcher, which I was against at first because it meant having to have yet another launcher and that suddenly DRM was slowly, and sadly, becoming a thing for GOG. Make no mistake, requiring a launcher to access your games is a form of DRM. Having to login to access your games is a form of DRM. Eventually I gave in and started using GOG Galaxy. It’s good as far as launchers go, but there’s nothing particularly better about it compared to other launchers.

In the time since installing GOG Galaxy 1.0, I have had to add a number of additional game launchers to my system. Uplay, Origin, Bethesda, Epic Games Store, and so on. Every publisher has decided they need their own launcher now. I’m not one of those people who gets angry at companies for not putting their games on Steam. I understand their desire to want to make more money and spend less of it distributing their games. But like with TV streaming services today, there’s a point where there’s just too many entities offering what is essentially the same service with disjointed content. This is what first attracted me to GOG Galaxy 2.0.

LibraryGOG Galaxy 2.0 offers a simple value proposition: manage all your games in one place. It’s a launcher that allows you to see and manage all your games, including those you have on PS4 and XB1, in one organized collection. Honestly it sounded too good to be true when I first heard about it. While simple from a technological standpoint, I didn’t see how GOG, or really any company, would deliver something that actually connects all the games I have, except for those on Nintendo Switch, in one convenient location with user data and preferences from that many separate launchers and two non-PC gaming platforms. So I jumped at the chance to download the beta build as soon as I saw the announcement. I’ve now spent a fair amount of time using the launcher and thought it would be beneficial to write a review of my experiences.

The first thing I want to say is that GOG Galaxy 2.0 (GG2) absolutely delivers. I can honestly say that this is the last launcher I will ever use for my normal day to day gaming needs. That being said, there are a number of caveats which sadly still requires me to make use of other launchers to get the full spectrum of PC gaming and management services I require for all my PC gaming needs. The second thing I want to say is that this is absolutely still a beta build and while I have been using it as my go to launcher, it has a number of bugs and fixes that need to be made. It lags at times when trying to apply tags to games from the grid view. It even crashed once and made me have to restart my whole system.

General Activity Feed.pngIn practice, GG2 is basically Facebook for your games via other game launchers. I say that intentionally with all the good and bad that comes with the Facebook platform. The way it works is that you manually connect each launcher you have installed on your system into GG2’s interface by logging into each launcher via GG2. You can connect or disconnect launchers/services you have connected at any time. To me there does seem to be a level of security risk with linking and logging into all your platforms at the same time and handing that login information to GOG. But you make the same sort of decisions with connecting your social media to your phone every day. I will also acknowledge that each launcher you connect has you login to the launcher’s official login window as opposed to a special GOG one so maybe they aren’t actually being given your login information directly. You can’t actually buy any games, other than from the GOG store, in GG2. In fact, you can’t even access stores from other launchers from within GG2. It’s strictly a platform for managing your games while replacing GOG Galaxy 1.0 for GOG related purchases and gaming.

What GG2 actually does is import your library page from each connected launcher, along with whatever play progress data it can find, and mashes all those libraries together in a single, convenient UI. The launcher separates each connected platform via convenient tabs, but the default page shows you your entire collection of games as one massive list. It can be viewed in either grid view with imported cover images for most games, or list view which shows the name and platform each game comes from. When you choose a specific launcher tab it just filters the same view to that one platform’s games.

PlayStation GameI was quite impressed with the amount of information GG2 imported for each game from each platform. It shows all your achievements/trophies, the date they were acquired, and your play activity for each game. As a note though, it only tracks data from PS4 on for PlayStation and GOG data after a certain year, when I guess they officially started tracking play data for users. Many of my games have no data shown. It imports your friends list from each platform and shows you a comparison of how you’ve done compared to your friends in each specific game. On the subject of friends lists, there’s a feed on the right of the launcher that shows friend activity across all platforms in real time, organized by platform. In one convenient location I’m able to see which of my friends are online in Uplay, PSN, Steam, and so on all at the same time. I’m able to see what games they’re playing and what they’re accomplishing in real time with time stamps. Even though the feed isn’t interactive, it’s super convenient when trying to pick which game to play, if you’re looking for a multiplayer experience. You can also hide/show the feed with a single button on the UI. The add friends and chat functions only work for GOG friends though.

Missing Covers PSNIt needs to be said that GG2 is still limited in what it can actually do in reference to non-GOG games. As the other launchers aren’t actually ceding control to GOG, you can’t directly launch games from GG2. When you press play on any PC game a login window for that game’s launcher will pop up before you can actually play the game. Even if you’ve told GG2 to remember your login information for all platforms, you will still have to manually login to each game’s perspective platform every time. Launch a Steam game, you have to go through the entire Steam login process. Launch a Uplay game, you still have to go through the entire Uplay login process. What GG2 is doing is essentially creating desktop shortcuts for all your games and organizing them into a single unified and curated list for you. I will say though that there are a number of bugs, as this is a beta. For instance, not all my games showed up. Sometimes they show up and then other times they don’t. Often a specific connected account disconnects the next time I load up the application and I have to reconnect it. Thankfully though, when this happens my tagging/filtering options remain intact.

From a security standpoint, this is a good way to do this. GG2 doesn’t actually have full access or control of your other accounts and thus if it was hacked, that wouldn’t necessarily allow the hacker to have access to all your games and account information. At the same time, it’s very inconvenient. Having all your games in one place with access via a single login regardless of where you purchased the games would be amazing, and GG2 almost gets there. Having to login again for that last step to actually play your games is depressing but ultimately manageable. Especially considering the time you saved by not having to open multiple launchers to figure out which game you want to play.

List SortingAs far as PlayStation and I assume XB1 titles, obviously you can’t play them from the launcher. GG2 simply says “launch this game from your console” when you click the play button for a console game. What would have been nice is at least being able to activate the app on console from your PC, but we’re not there yet apparently. It’s also important to mention that, at least for the PlayStation games since I don’t have an XB1, GG2 will only track games tied to your PSN account with a digital footprint. What this means is that all digital PS4 games, including ones you own but don’t have downloaded, will show up in your GG2 list under the PlayStation tab. But only PS4 games that you have actual progress in will show up when it comes to physical versions. I think this is because it’s using the trophy list to figure out which non-PC games you have.

I really like that GG2 shows when you own multiple versions of the same game on multiple platforms. It very clearly shows you how many versions you own, which platforms you own them on, and lets you select which version you’d like to interact with and check player data for. This is a clutch feature that I’m not sure I would have even thought about on my own. It’s not perfect at this point though as some games do show up twice in your list. I think it comes down to naming within each platform more than anything else. For instance, The TellTale Game of Thrones Season 1 game shows up twice in my list. One version on PS4 and the other on PC. But the one on PS4 is just called Game of Thrones while the one on PC is called Game of Thrones: A TellTale Series. So I think that’s why it happened. And yet it didn’t separate my three versions of Batman: Arkham Asylum, each with a slightly different name. In fact, it shows each slightly different name in the game’s main page when you click the versions owned tab. So it’s not an exact science at this point.

Multiple Versions OwnedWhat is actually much more useful and convenient than the tabs is the manual tagging and filtering system.  All your games on all platforms are shown together in one giant list as a default until you use the filters. GG2 gives you the ability to manually tag and filter all the games in your list in whatever way you want. You can also manually hide games from your list. The filtering system lets you use as many tags as you want concurrently to filter the list and tells you how many games using the tag(s) are currently hidden. As a bonus feature, you can click the notice and it will reveal the hidden games and hide the normally shown ones and then go back to normal when you click it again.

The filtering system is a feature I’ve had to do manually for years with folders on my PS4. It’s super convenient in GG2 and makes managing a combined list of more than 600 games much easier. I created three custom tags for filtering: Beaten, Backlog, and Trash. I tagged the games I have already completed with “Beaten”. This allowed me to filter out all the games I’ve finished when I’m trying to pick a new game to play. I tagged the games I actually would like to play from my collection with Backlog. This allows me to set apart games I would actually like to play at some point from the rest of the group, thus streamlining my decision making process. Finally, I tagged the games I would absolutely never play with Trash. My one complaint about the tagging system is that it has to be done manually one game at a time. You are unable to select and tag multiple games at once. This is a non-issue once you’ve gone through and gotten all your tagging done, but it’s hell when you go through and tag your entire collection the first time.

FiltersThere are also a number of small quality of life features that aren’t necessary but make for a way better experience. For instance, when you are scrolling through the grid and you click into a game’s page there’s a back button. Pressing it will take you back to the place in the list you were at when you clicked that specific game. You can give the games star ratings. You can look at your user data measured in daily, weekly, or monthly increments. There’s a general activity feed that shows everything you’ve done such as add games, get trophies/achievements, and play sessions. There are lots of little things like that which make for a great overall launcher experience.

My one big complaint, which doesn’t surprise me and I doubt it will ever be fixed, is that you can’t connect multiple accounts of the same platform. For instance, I have 2 PSN accounts and 2 Steam accounts. This is because I live in Asia but for the most part purchase games in American digital stores. Sometimes I’m forced to purchase a game through my Asian account(s) for various reasons. GG2 doesn’t account for this though so all my secondary account games are not shown in my collection. This is a problem easily fixed that will most likely never get added.

Store FeaturedOverall, I really like GOG Galaxy 2.0. It’s not a finished service yet, but as far as launchers are concerned, it’s the most convenient game organization and management tool I’ve ever seen. I wish I could connect my Switch account to it too. Even people who don’t use GOG can find a use for this if they’re buying their games on more than one launcher/platform. The organizational tools available make it a must for anyone with a large selection of games. I look forward to using the launch version of the software.

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