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

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

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

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

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1. No Natural Island Features Should be Permanent

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

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

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

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2. The Game Needs Mass/Rapid Landscaping Options

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

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3. Build and Destroy Landscaping Functions Should be Separate Buttons

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

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4. Why Can’t I Build Giant Walls?

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

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5. Inclines Have So Much Wasted Potential

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

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

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6. Construction Delays Progress so Much

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

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

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7. Housing Development Shouldn’t Be Limited

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

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

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

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9. Just Let Me Store Turnips For Goodness Sake

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

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

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

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11. Add a Fossil Record to the Museum

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

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12. Let Me Mass Buy Clothing in the Fitting Room

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

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

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13. Why Do the Store’s Close?

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

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

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

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

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

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15. Add a Dynamic DIY Vendor

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

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

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

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Animal Crossing: New Horizons is Predatory Capitalism at its Worst

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The End of an Era: Gaming in the 2010s

As we enter 2020, it’s not just a new year of gaming but a new decade. In a way it seems appropriate that we’ll be getting a new PlayStation and XBOX this year almost as a way to usher in a new era for the gaming community. There were a lot of wonderful things that happened in the last 10 years of gaming. There were also a lot of terrible things.

Looking back at my own gaming history over the last decade has been very surreal. In 2010, I was still in college. I was still using an XBOX 360 and had no interest in switching over to PS3. I borrowed a PS3 from a friend just to play God of War III. The next year I finally got a PS3 and have been a committed PlayStation user since then. I’ve played on three different Nintendo consoles in the last decade and in my opinion they showed the most improvement and innovation from generation to generation. They’ve also had the smallest library of noteworthy games and the highest prices. Or more accurately the slowest price drop rates. PlayStation and Nintendo have proven time and time again that single player gaming is not only not dead but thriving. There have been a great many phenomenal single player games that have released over the past decade.

xbox 360 coverGaming hasn’t been all sunshine and roses over the last ten years. We saw many controversies, problematic movements from the public, blatant lies from many companies, the introduction of predatory practices and rampant profiteering, and  some very depressing cancellations among other things. I’m still not over the cancellation of Scalebound and don’t think I ever will be. Politics has gotten way too close to gaming both from a policy and public opinion standpoint. Games are being shaped and censored based on the views of people who don’t even play games. While I consider this a bad thing, it would be inaccurate to say that it hasn’t worked in the favor of consumers in at least one situation, namely Star Wars: Battlefront II.

The state of gaming journalism has become a combination of disappointing, depressing, and insulting. Also related to politics worming its way into gaming discourse from outside the player base, we have seen countless examples of writers blessed with the opportunity to get paid to write about video games wasting that opportunity on insulting players for things they don’t actually deserve to get insulted for. This is especially ironic considering the many things that players actually do deserved to get called out for like continuing to support microtransactions financially. Made all the more ironic by the fact that gamers keep complaining about microtransactions even while continuously spending massive amounts of money on them.

games as serviceThe games as service model was formed and proliferated way past the point of sustainability over the last decade. Some publishers have even stated publicly that they’d like all their games to use this model and have no plans of making single iteration story focused games anymore. At the same time, some publishers seem to have learned at least one or two lessons over the course of the last 10 years. Even EA delivered Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order with no microtransactions or multiplayer.

We’ve seen the gaming community accomplish massive achievements as a group. Not all of which were positive. Some good examples include shifting how EA managed Star Wars: Battlefront II by organizing the most downvoted comment in Reddit history, getting Shenmue III released, and supporting a number of independent projects such as Cuphead. But we’ve also seen the negative side of that level of power with movements like GamerGate, many people trying to force developers to change their games even at the expense of their own creative vision, and as a result some games weren’t localized to US. I think the last decade was fairly great for gamers and quite profitable to some developers/publishers, too often at the expense of artistic integrity.

Cuphead Screenshot 2018.11.23 - 21.22.40.38It seems that in one way or another companies have tried to disrupt the current market by attempting to introduce new platforms and methods to access games, but just can’t seem to deliver something serviceable and accordingly priced for the current market. Examples of this include attempting to introduce new consoles, store fronts, and subscription services like the Ouya, Epic Games Store, and the latest attempt with Google Stadia. Subscription services seem to be the way many companies are trying to go in the next decade of gaming with Ubisoft introducing Uplay+, EA introducing Origin Premium, and Microsoft introducing XBOX Game Pass. What’s interesting is that all these services were announced after the mostly disappointing PlayStation Now failed to take the market by storm.

VR has become the gift that keeps on failing because companies seem to keep focusing on power and gimmicks while ignoring the main reason these headsets continue to be for niche audiences i.e. accessibility. The software has finally started to come around to a more normalized gaming audience with a selection of options, both AAA and indie, that actually have markets outside of rich kids who like FPS. But the headsets themselves are still too expensive and require too much power behind them, especially for players on PC, to become a widely used gaming medium. This fact is multiplied for users outside the US. I do think that in the next 10 years we’ll finally see this problem remedied though.

psvr amazonUltimately I’d say it was a good decade of gaming, but a number of problems were revealed and created that if not solved and/or put to rest can have drastic long-term consequences for the gaming community and industry. The current system of predatory practices, political conflicts, and inaccessibility is not sustainable. But the death rattle will last a quite a long time if nothing changes.

Now I’d like to look at my own gaming history over the last 10 years. Every year I make and usually publish a list of all the games I beat that year. Going through all of them and looking back over the many great games that were released was very nostalgic. I was also reminded about just how backlogged I am and how many great games I’ve still not played. I honestly could spend the next decade not buying any games and I’d still probably come out at the other end with a decent sized backlog remaining.

gaming timeline ps4I want to take the time to summarize the decade by discussing three games I played in each year: my top game for the year, an honorable mention that accomplished something special that year, and the worst game I played in that year. I want to note that I will only be addressing games I actually completed. Games I tried but never finished and games I have yet to play are not included in this. There will be much worse games than the one I mentioned in pretty much every year, but I didn’t play those so they weren’t included. It’s also worth noting that “worst game” is hyperbolic in nature. Really it’s more the game that I was most disappointed in or had strong negative feelings about because of issues that were a detriment to the experience of playing them. The fact that they’re even being mentioned in most cases is still an honor because it means they were memorable enough to have any sort of feelings about and seemed good enough for me to take the time to play all the way to the end to begin with. I also want to make it clear that I separated these games by release year, but didn’t necessarily play them all in the year they were released.

My Last Decade in Gaming: 2010 – 2019

2010

Best Game: God of War 3 (PS3)

This was the final installment of the original God of War franchise and characterization of Kratos. I had to borrow a PS3 to play this game because I had followed the franchise since the beginning but had gone for XBOX 360 instead of PS3 up to this point in that generation. It was so fulfilling to see the end of that story and even more impressive that Santa Monica Studio was ballsy enough to end the game with a supposed suicide. I had actually hoped that this was Kratos’ last installment but then they decided to milk him more with God of War: Ascension three years later, which was mediocre at best. We all know what ultimately happened to Kratos but if you had told me about God of War (2018) at this point I wouldn’t have believed you. The Nemean Cestus is still one of my favorite weapons in all of gaming and the way you get them in this game was absolutely phenomenal.

god of war 3Honorable Mention: Bayonetta (XBOX 360)

Bayonetta is like a cult classic that’s also main stream. She’s had her ups and downs, jumping between platforms, getting a sequel, multiple ports, and then the announcement of another sequel while also moonlighting in Smash Bros. This first installment of the character was a great game because it denied pretty much all convention and normalcy. Even now it seems like a fever dream when you write out what the game actually is on paper. But both men and women still love this female protagonist even as she kills angels, shoots guns with her ridiculously tall heels, and casts magic spells that require her to get naked on screen. She defies all logic and maybe that’s what makes her so special to gaming.

Worst Game: Fable III (XBOX 360)

I was really unhappy with how Fable III turned out. The first game was one of the best modern fantasy RPGs ever made. The karma system was good, the choices mattered but didn’t necessarily limit you, and the game didn’t take itself too seriously. Fable II wasn’t an all-around better game, but it too delivered on the fun factor with a funny, but forgiving karma system tied to a narrative that was serious but not annoyingly so. The third game just took the karma system past the point of enjoyment. Being the brother of a king who had lost his mind and ultimately having to rule a country in his place sounds fun but it wasn’t because they focused on all the worst parts of ruling a country and then bound the ending to all decisions you had made along the way in order to try to get you to play the game a second time to see the opposing karmic ending. It really just wasn’t a fun game.

2011

Best Game: Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception (PS3)

This was a tough year to judge. I went with Uncharted 3 because it was the supposed culmination of Naughty Dog’s spectacular treasure hunting franchise. Nathan Drake and Sully had been through so much by this point and it was nice to see it all wrapped up nicely, or so we thought. A lot of people didn’t like this installment, but it’s actually my favorite of the original three games. Visually it was amazing for the PS3, the gameplay had some great moments like the plane cargo sequence, and the characters had a great ending. The fact that they pushed out a fourth title that worked even better than this one truly shows just how capable Naughty Dog is at telling compelling stories.

uncharted 3Honorable Mention: Mass Effect 2 (PS3)

The reason I listed Mass Effect 2 in 2011 instead of 2010 is because this is when we got the PS3 version with all the additional content. This is one of the few RPGs I’ve played more than once over the course of just a few years and the only one I’ve played on multiple platforms in the same generation, since I played the XBOX 360 version first. What’s important to note is that the PS3 version is the definitive version of the game. The original sans DLC version is a completely different game that’s not nearly as impressive. It showed just how problematic it is for games to be released “unfinished” and lacking all the story content because the DLC directly affected the events leading into Mass Effect 3, which released the following year. Now when you buy the Mass Effect Trilogy collection you get all the content, but at the time of release this wasn’t the case and people were experiencing widely different narratives depending on which versions of both 2 and 3 they played.

Worst Game: Catherine (PS3)

I absolutely hated Catherine. I hate that it was rereleased in 2019. I hate the gameplay. I hate the preachy, nonsensical writing. I hate that people tried to apply real world politics to it and argue it was saying something about the LGBTQ community. I hate that it was taken seriously as a mainstream game. Everything about it was hacky and ridiculous while the gameplay was unnecessarily unfair. I won’t say difficult because the basic mechanics weren’t hard to grasp. It was how the game manipulated the levels in real time that made playing it way more troublesome than it really needed to be. Not to mention the developers had the nerve to include three different endings as if the game was worth playing through more than once. It’s still a wonder that I finished it a single time. I’ve said this multiple times in hyperbole, but it’s the most appropriate way for me to describe Catherine. I would rather jump out of a window and slit my own throat on the way down than play that garbage game again.

2012

Best Game: Mass Effect 3 (PS3)

There are very few games that deliver as much catharsis and gravity as Mass Effect 3. The culmination of Commander Shepherd’s good work trying to bring the galaxy together and fight the Reapers was absolutely phenomenal. The only other “end” of a franchise that was as powerful as this one was God of War III. The irony being that both games went on to release another installment. But it’s not actually the single player mode that I think was most impactful for me in Mass Effect 3. This was the first massively fulfilling online cooperative experience I’ve ever had. The non PVP, cooperative multiplayer was so much fun to play. I literally played more than 500 hours of the multiplayer and at one point was in the top 10% of players in the world. I may have even been in the top 1% at one point but I don’t want to overstake my accomplishments without evidence present. It was so well made, so challenging, and so enjoyable. I made friends, tracked achievements, and got good at shooting in a game like never before. Since then I’ve never had another cooperative multiplayer experience as fulfilling as Mass Effect 3 though I have gotten close a few times.

mass effect 3Honorable Mention: Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning (PS3)

I don’t think there’s ever been a game as externally problematic and scandalous while concurrently being so good as Kingdoms of Amalur: Reckoning. A game created by an ex baseball player that cost a state millions of dollars because of embezzlement just sounds like a train wreck, but it’s honestly one of the best fantasy RPGs ever made. The gameplay is phenomenal and has definitely inspired later games. In my opinion, it still has the best mage class and the best class restructuring system of any long form RPG. It was a full length game with tons of side quests and a compelling main questline. The ending was good but left open ended for a sequel which even today people still want to see made even though the company and development team is completely disbanded. Usually projects with such troubled development either don’t release or come out terrible. This came out great and is still worth playing even in 2020.

Worst Game: Prototype 2 (PS3)

Prototype 2 is not a bad game so much as it’s a lackluster sequel with a stereotypically mediocre main protagonist, which I find personally disappointing because of how rare Black main protagonists are in AAA franchises. It’s the story of a Marine whose daughter gets killed in an accident, caused by the protagonist of the first Prototype(a much more interesting game), so he’s out for revenge. The gameplay is pretty much the same, which is fine. But the story is way less interesting. The first game is about politics, corruption, profiteering, and the runaway military industrial complex in America. This game is “white man killed little girl so Black daddy have to kill him”. It delivers stunning dialog from the main protagonist like “I hate f&$king computers.” A line that I still think was offensive in the portrayal of an African American in a time where pretty much no African Americans were being portrayed as main protagonists in video games. It’s by no means a terrible game. But it is terribly unoriginal.

2013

Best Game: Tomb Raider (PS3)

I was not a Tomb Raider fan growing up. I was aware of the games but never had any interest in playing them. To this day I own all the old ones on Steam but have never taken the time to try any of them. The 2013 reboot of the franchise was given away as a PS+ freebie back in the days when that service was actually good. I played it and absolutely fell in love with the franchise. The gameplay is excellent, the writing is good, and the graphics are beautiful. It’s a brutal, semi-realistic survival game with magical elements and interactive puzzles. I’m so glad I got to play this game and that they made another two games after it. I’ve yet to play Shadow of the Tomb Raider but I just got it on Black Friday so I’ll be getting to it soon hopefully. I’d say this is one of the better reboots of a franchise in the last 10 years.

tomb raider 2013Honorable Mention: The Wonderful 101 (Wii U)

Nintendo never fails to lead the gaming industry in noteworthy innovation with a focus on fun. They may not always be successful in their innovative endeavors, but every risk they take is in pursuit of fun. They don’t change the formula in order to make a political statement or try to corner a market that doesn’t even exist. They simply want to create experiences that people will enjoy simply by experiencing them. No game expresses this better than The Wonderful 101. It’s a fairly ridiculous game that conceptually makes no sense when looking at the physics of it all but it’s super fun. It’s one of the only games I actually would like ported to the Switch from the Wii U because once people play it, they’ll realize how good it actually was and demand a sequel. Many games try to appeal to the minds of children and appear to be cool. Few games actually feel like they came from the mind of a child that just wanted to do something they thought would be cool. That’s how The Wonderful 101 feels.

Worst Game: Anarchy Reigns (PS3)

It’s hard to mess up a sequel this badly but Platinum Games, a studio I actually really like, managed to do it here. MadWorld (2009) for the Wii is one of the best motion control games ever made. It’s probably the best third party game that ever released on the Wii. The writing was solid, the action was super over the top brutal, the graphics were phenomenal, and the main character was a complete badass. It was as close to a perfect game as could have been released on the Wii. The sequel on the PS3 was complete and utter trash. I still can’t believe I platinumed this game. It had six full game completion trophies with no retroactive difficulty trophy gains, meaning you had to play it six different times on three different difficulties in order to get the platinum. It was nothing like the original game, the story was mediocre, and don’t even get me started on how broken the multiplayer was. The sad part is the game actually had good ideas. They were just executed so poorly pretty much across the board.

2014

Best Game: Alien: Isolation (PS3)

I am not a fan of either horror or survival games. I am however a fan of the original Alien film. What this game does so well is simulate that same feeling in the form of a game. Written as almost a direct sequel to the original film, this game handles literally every aspect of game development well. It’s scary, it’s well balanced, it’s fair, and it’s unforgiving. It is the best horror game I have ever played and the fact that a sequel was never made is borderline criminal. The one flaw this game has is that you can’t do anything about the Xenomorph. You can’t scare it away with any of your weapons and you can’t escape from it. You have to execute the stealth perfectly for the Xenomorph sequences. I feel like you should be able to scare it away with fire or certain weapons and items. Other than that, it’s a perfect game and I will die on that hill.

alien isolationHonorable Mention: The Wolf Among Us (PS3)

It’s sad what became of Telltale Games. Their software was fun, though dated visually and a bit repetitive. In a way, The Wolf Among Us kind of started it all. They had several other games before this one like the Sam & Max series, and The Walking Dead season one had already been released, but the company didn’t really get popular until they introduced us to Bigby Wolf. They created an episodic model that most studios would get lambasted over. Their graphics engine was over used and out of date by the end of the company’s run. But for many The Wolf Among Us was this magical experience that just worked. It was compelling writing, a justifiably comic book art style, and a great main character. Honestly the entire model was unsustainable, but this specific game was the sweet spot. The fact that we’ll probably never actually see a season two is kind of a shame but probably for the best at this point.

Worst Game: Dragon Age: Inquisition (PS3)

I want to point out that I’m specifically referring to the PS3 version of Dragon Age: Inquisition when I say it was the worst game I played. The game actually won GOTY for 2014, but that wasn’t the PS3 version. This was such a broken experience on PS3 that it’s the game that finally made me retire the console and move to PS4. It constantly lagged and skipped. My first save file got corrupted like 30 hours in and forced me to start the whole thing over. It was just too powerful a game to run on a last gen system. It’s actually a phenomenal game that I thoroughly would have enjoyed if I had been playing it on the appropriate platform. If I wasn’t so backlogged I’d have probably picked up a complete edition on PS4 and replayed it with all the DLC.

2015

Best Game: Splatoon (Wii U)

What I like most about Splatoon is that it’s another example of Nintendo circumventing conventional wisdom and proving that fun trumps everything. They showed that you can make a highly competitive shooter that isn’t violent, graphically intensive, or at all realistic and still make a widely successful and engaging experience. I played so many hours of Splatoon PVP even though I hate shooters and I usually can’t stand PVP. I didn’t end up connecting with the second one nearly as much as the first but Splatoon was definitely one of my most played games on the Wii U for the simple fact that it was really fun, even for someone who doesn’t usually go for shooters.

SplatoonHonorable Mention: Toukiden: Kiwami (PS4)

Toukiden: Kiwami was such a great game because it was almost the game that ultimately is Monster Hunter World. In my opinion, that game inspired MHW in many ways. It’s a demon hunting game with up to four teammates in a squad. It gives you the option of using NPC teammates, which is really helpful. The demons come in many shapes and sizes and have removable limbs. It was clearly inspired by older Monster Hunter games but improved on the formula in a number of ways. There is a huge amount of content and a decent enough but ultimately ignorable story. It’s the game that made me ultimately want a game like MHW to get made.

Worst Game: Star Wars: Battlefront (PS4)

The Star Wars: Battlefront reboot was bad for two main reasons: no single player campaign and no bots. The addition of those two things would have made it a much different and far better experience. The game had modes I wanted to play, like the dogfighting mode, but you couldn’t play them unless you had a full lobby. The player base dropped off so quickly that this became nearly impossible for any except the most common modes. This made completing  certain achievements nearly impossible. The gameplay actually wasn’t bad and the concept worked fine, as it had in the original Star Wars: Battlefront games. But this version was executed poorly do to assumptions about traffic that just didn’t happen.

2016

Best Game: Tom Clancy’s The Division (PS4)

The Division was good because it was a number of new experiences coupled with an interesting setting that pretty much only Ubisoft seems to be trying to deliver in recent years. An RPG style shooter set in New York City in the holiday season where you play as a dark ops agent for an organization so secret that agents don’t even know who else is a fellow agent. Not to mention the Dark Zone concept was a great blending of single player and multiplayer gameplay without separating the game into differentiated campaign and PVP modes. As with most games as service games, the content lagged behind the player base in the late game, but it was still a massive achievement and had a fairly large amount of content ultimately delivered. It was one of the few instances where I was an active part of a clan and devoted a large number of hours to playing the game with other people. Sadly I didn’t connect with The Division 2 nearly as much as the first game but I did develop an overall appreciation for Ubisoft shooters.

the division 1Honorable Mention: The Last Guardian (PS4)

The Last Guardian isn’t so much an amazing game as much as it’s an amazing moment in gaming history. This was a game that was supposed to follow one of the most highly respected cult titles ever made. Shadows of the Colossus was neither AAA or particularly main stream and yet it is widely loved by pretty much everyone. It’s been ported to both the PS3 and the PS4 from the original PS2. The sequel took like 10 years to finally release. I waited with hope the entire time. Many people said it would never happen but it finally did. Honestly the game is just so so. It’s my least favorite in the boy with horns franchise but I was glad to see it release, glad to play it, and happy that I got the collector’s edition. Trico is also one of my wife’s favorite game characters of all time.

Worst Game: One Way Trip (PS4)

This is an indie game you haven’t played and you’re better for it. It’s the only game on this list that I was “forced” to play in order to write a review. I know we’re supposed to respect and value games for the achievement of having even been made and distributed to main stream platforms but not this time. One Way Trip is what happens when you tell everybody that if they just work hard enough they can make their dreams come true regardless of their talent for something. It’s pretty much what happens when a college student says “it would be cool if they made a game for drug addicts to play while high”. It’s so bad that it’s even worse than so bad that it’s worth playing just to experience it. Calling it a game is dishonest because really it’s more of a visual novel with choices and the occasional slightly interactive gameplay sequence. The writing is off the walls ridiculous and the graphics look like you’re expected to be high to truly appreciate them. This is the only true indie I mentioned in this entire list because it was so bad that I couldn’t even look past it for something more meaningful from 2016. Don’t ever play this game.

2017

Best Game: Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

I knew I was going to buy a Switch as soon as they were announced. I have bought every Nintendo home console since the NES and that’s not going to change anytime soon. At the same time, I also knew that I wasn’t going to buy a Switch at launch. I needed them to release a pile of games I actually wanted to play and a nice bundle deal before I was going to buy one. Super Mario Odyssey was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I literally shed tears the first time I watched the Odyssey trailer. It was the Super Mario game I had been waiting for since I was a boy. An open world Mario platformer with HD graphics that I could play at home and on the go. They had me at open world Mario platformer. The game delivered so well and I have no regrets about buying it or a Switch.

Super Mario Odyssey Screenshot 2018-01-18 02-16-56Honorable Mention: Nioh (PS4)

I’m a big Nioh fan. I’ve written extensively about the franchise, posted several hours of gameplay videos, and played all the prebuilds before it launched. Personally I prefer it to Dark Souls. What is interesting about the game is that it showed that a studio other than FromSoftware could both do the genre successfully and use it to construct a main protagonist focused narrative without detracting from the gameplay experience. I believe that it was the success of Nioh that directly led to the creation of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. Samurai Dark Souls just makes sense but for whatever reason Koei Tecmo was the first studio to figure that out. I am so happy that we are finally getting Nioh 2 this year and I look forward to more from this franchise.

Worst Game: Mass Effect: Andromeda (PS4)

I am not one of those Mass Effect: Andromeda sucked people. I didn’t have major graphics errors when I played it. I didn’t have game breaking bugs or glitches. I had lag at times and some stuttering, but nothing as bad as what I’m getting in Ghost Recon Breakpoint on PC right now. It’s not that it’s a bad game. In fact it’s a fairly good game in comparison to many of the other games that released in 2017. The problem with Andromeda is that it didn’t live up to its legacy. I, like so many others, bought it because I wanted more of the experience I got playing the original Mass Effect trilogy. What I got just didn’t live up to that. And in a way it might be precisely because the game took too much from the original games rather than innovate and create something new. So much of the game references the original trilogy while simultaneously failing to live up to it. It’s not a bad game. It’s simply the most disappointing game I played in 2017.

2018

Best Game: Monster Hunter: World (PS4)

The reason MHW is here instead of God of War is because Capcom accomplished something that Santa Monica Studio didn’t have to. They took a franchise that I wanted to love but always hated and made it playable for me. I have always loved the Monster Hunter concept. The idea of working together with others to hunt giant monsters has always appealed to me. The basic concepts of the franchise such as tracking, choosing your preferred hunting weapons, and causing injuries to ultimately bring down monsters all appeals to me. But the gameplay has always sucked before MHW. Every time they put out a new Monster Hunter, I would try it and hate it. The controls were always rigid and confusing. The mechanics always asked too much of the player in order to make it arbitrarily more challenging. This was never the way to go about this. MHW changed all that by making the game accessible for non-hardcore Monster Hunter players. The gameplay is much more fluid. The character development is way more straight forward. The graphics are really good. It’s the Monster Hunter game that I had spent years waiting for and they delivered that past my expectations and continue to do so. I had to force myself to stop playing the game because it was so addicting and had so much content but I had so many other games I wanted to play. I know there’s a version of me in the multi-verse that’s still playing MHW and hasn’t gotten the least bit tired of it.

monster hunter worldHonorable Mention: God of War (PS4)

Obviously this was an amazing game. Cory Barlog should be commended for both using a character that everyone, including myself, wanted retired and for changing the God of War franchise so drastically while still delivering such a phenomenal game. I’m still shocked that Kratos delivered a Thor gameplay experience better than any of the games actually featuring Thor as a playable character. I went into the game a naysayer and I was proven wrong. There’s a reason it won GOTY in 2018.

Worst Game: Starlink: Battle for Atlas (Switch)

I actually really like Starlink. There’s a lot about it that’s superior to many other games of the same type. In my opinion, it’s what No Man’s Sky should have been in many regards. But it’s so broken by microtransactions and the toy gimmick, which they ultimately did away with for the PC version of the game. I played the deluxe edition of the game on Nintendo Switch and as such my experience was much better than that of many players. Plus I got to use Star Fox. But if you didn’t have the deluxe edition your experience was severely degraded. So much so that I ended up writing two separate reviews for the game to account for the difference in enjoyment players would have depending on the version they bought. So really it’s not that this was the worst game I played as much as it was a game I played that was worse for many other people who might have also played the game.

2019

Best Game: Kingdom Hearts 3 (PS4)

This choice is riddled with bias, if I’m completely honest. For one, I’m currently playing it as opposed to having already beaten it like all the other games in this list. Also I have yet to play Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Death Stranding, or any of the other GOTY 2019 nominees, save for Smash Bros. Ultimate so I’m much more limited in my personal 2019 experiences at this juncture. There’s also the fact that I’d been waiting  14 years to play Kingdom Hearts 3. I spent much of 2019 playing all the other games in the franchise in order to prepare for this game. It really is quite good and visually stunning, so I’m not sure how it got snubbed on a GOTY nomination in the first place. But in any case playing it was more cathartic than anything and I’m glad to finally be done with the franchise (fingers crossed).

kingdom hearts 3Honorable Mention: Pokémon Sword and Shield (Switch)

The last time I played a mainline Pokémon game was Gold and Silver on the Gameboy Color. I was just starting middle school, had essentially no real life experience, all I cared about was catching ‘em all. Now literally 20 years later I find myself playing a new Pokémon game. There are six generations of Pokémon I’m only slightly familiar with because of Pokémon GO.  There are mechanics I had never even heard of before like Surprise Trade. And for the first time I’m breeding Pokémon with eggs. You could do that in Gold and Silver but I wasn’t aware of that as a kid. Pokémon Sword and Shield are phenomenal in the fact that a game I haven’t played in two decades still interests me so much. I’m enjoying these games immensely. The graphics are unimaginable coming directly from Gold and Silver. The number of Pokémon available is insanity. In my head there’s still only supposed to be 151. It’s like waking up in the future and seeing how far technology leaped. I couldn’t care less about what the haters say. These games are great and I’m happy to be playing a new Pokémon game on a home console for the first time. That’s the main reason I haven’t played in five generations. I stopped buying handheld consoles after the Gameboy Advance.

Worst Game: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint (PC)

As with Dragon Age: Inquisition, I don’t think this is actually a bad game, just an unoptimized one. In fact, I really enjoy Ghost Recon: Breakpoint immensely compared to Wildlands. There are a few changes that I didn’t like but ultimately this is a much better game that I find considerably better mechanically, visually, and narratively. But the game is riddled with performance issues. My PC is pretty solid. I have a GTX 1080 GPU, 32 GB of DDR4 RAM, an i7-6800k CPU, and the list goes on. It’s not the current highest end PC you can build but for a system built more than two years ago it’s fairly respectable. But I get so many bugs and glitches while playing Breakpoint. Lots of stuttering and lag, countless minor glitches, and a number of errors that have caused me to fail missions and get locked into loops forcing me to reload a checkpoint. I’ve even had the game glitch on me at the end of a mission and force me to replay an entire mission objective. It’s a really fun game when it’s working properly but it just doesn’t run smoothly enough. I don’t know if it’s just the PC version or the game as a whole, but it is a shame that such an impressive game is crippled with so many performance issues.

So that’s my last decade in gaming. It was actually really good. A lot of these games still hold up today and are worth visiting if you haven’t tried them. Many games from the past decade are still in my backlog and honestly I may not move forward for a while and just spend some time focusing on completing more games from this era. There are seven Yakuza games plus a spinoff (Judgement) that I’d like to play, as a good example. I think that a lot of lessons could be learned from the past decade of gaming. I just hope both the industry and the community actually learned them. I look forward to the next decade of gaming. It already looks promising with the many power house titles announced for 2020. Out of the gate we’re already looking at some real fire games like Cyberpunk 2077, Ghost of Tsushima, and Marvel’s Avengers. How was gaming for you in the last decade? What were your favorite and least favorite games? Let me know in the comments.

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Black Friday 2019 Aftermath

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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Gaming in Taiwan – Ring Fit Adventure Woes

I think it’s important to tell stories like this every so often so that gamers and people in general can have a better understanding of how the world works differently for different people in different places. If you follow my content regularly then you probably know that I’m an American living in Taiwan. This is my firsthand account of the struggle of trying to buy the recently released Ring Fit Adventure for Nintendo Switch.

One of the most important reasons these stories/posts are important is that they help people have a better understanding of how value/pricing should work vs how it actually works. “Value is subjective” is the go to bootlicker answer that most people give when confronted by complaints about overpriced entertainment media such as games. But most of the people who tow this corporate shill line are speaking from a place of privilege in a country with a much higher standard of living and a much lower ability to stretch currency because of how much things cost. So I want you to read this post with the context of money relative to Taiwan rather than relative to your own country and standard of living.

TaiwanTaiwan is a modern country. It has democracy, running water, modern technology, Netflix, and so on. The government is not a fascist dictatorship. The police cannot just arrest and detain citizens indiscriminately with no cause for undefined periods of time. It’s by no means a third world country. But the cost of living is relatively low compared to the US, most of Western Europe, and expensive parts of Asia like Japan and Hong Kong. So for context, allow me to explain to you with a few examples how money works here.

As I write this, $1 USD  = 30.42 NTD. You can buy dinner in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, for 50 NTD ($1.64). This is not what everyone pays for dinner in every part of the city at all times mind you. But this is the price that I have paid for dinner literally hundreds of times. And by dinner I mean something at the caliber and amount of food as a Panda Express 2 item plate including a drink. The subway charges you relative to the distance you are traveling but the minimum cost is 16 NTD ($0.53). Taipei has a pay as you go bike share program that costs literally nothing for the first 30 minutes you ride. I commute to work every day with this bike share program in under 30 minutes, meaning my cost to commute is absolutely nothing. The first hour (up to 30 minutes after the first 30 free minutes) on the bike share program costs 10 NTD ($0.33). Rent is very low here, but owning property is not. Most people rent apartments, while few people own them. I spent the last four years until I just recently moved paying 15,000 NT ($493.02) for a three bedroom apartment, which I lived in alone. A standard AAA video game usually launches for 1790 NTD ($58.83). For the rest of this post I will mostly write prices in NTD for the purposes of relevance and time.

taipei-game-show-2018Taiwan has a huge gaming community and culture. Many gaming events such as Taipei Game Show are hosted here. Game launch promotional events are quite common and often involve giveaways and huge displays. The most recent one I personally attended was for Pokemon Let’s GO. Death Stranding Tour will stop in Taiwan as another more recent example. While gaming is big in Taiwan, there is no regulated gaming market and there are no giant corporate gaming entities such as GameStop to help regulate game pricing. There is a store akin to Walmart called Carrefour that sells some games, but their prices are always marked up for reasons I have never understood and they don’t carry everything. Every game focused store runs independently as a mom and pop style game seller. This is a bitter sweet situation.

On one hand, consumers are not beholden to one evil corporation monopolizing the games market. Game stores all run however they want to and even carry items that are hard to get in other places. When Fallout 4 launched, the Pip Boy Edition was super hard to find in the US. Even preorders were selling out in many places. In Taiwan they were easy to find. You couldn’t walk into any store and be guaranteed to find one, because that edition didn’t actually get distributed here, but many shop owners imported them. I didn’t buy one, because I don’t play Fallout, but I could have easily bought more than one of them if I had wanted to. Another example of this freedom of operation was God of War: Ascension’s collector’s edition. I bought the collector’s edition in the US. This version came with a steelbook and a Kratos statue. The collector’s edition in Taiwan didn’t come with a statue. It came with a Kratos themed PS3 controller. This controller wasn’t distributed to the US so you couldn’t get it there unless you imported it. I really wanted the controller but I wasn’t going to repurchase the game. I was able to go to a game store and tell them that I just wanted to buy the controller because I already had the game. They took the controller out of the collector’s edition and sold it to me at fair market controller price with no markup. I assume they later sold the steelbook edition of the game without the controller. This sort of thing could never happen at a legitimate game store in the US.

No rulesThe reason these sorts of things can happen in Taiwan is because of the lack of regulation. Game stores are not distributing games on credit from publishers and beholden to their rules. Instead they’re purchasing stock in advance and then selling it to the public at whatever markup they decide. This allows them the freedom to do whatever they want. Sometimes this can work in the consumer’s favor, such as when I wanted to buy the Kratos themed PS3 controller. Another example is that I was able to preorder the Pokemon Sword and Shield double pack for 3040 NTD ($100 USD). That’s $20 cheaper than a preorder in the US. The reason they were able to sell it to me at that much lower price is because they were able to purchase it at a wholesale price and distribute it at below standard global market value. In the US, GameStop would never sell you a new Nintendo game at a 17% mark down because Nintendo wouldn’t let them. In Taiwan, the only thing stopping a game store from doing so is how much profit they want to make. That’s the sweet side of an unregulated games market. Now let’s talk about the bitter side.

kratos controllerThe problem with a completely unregulated games market is that there are no price protections for consumers. When a game launches, stores can charge whatever they want for it, and they often charge too much for certain games. While this doesn’t usually affect the pricing of AAA games, it absolutely affects indie titles. Indies almost always get sold at a high markup in Taiwan. Because they don’t have a standardized breakdown of indie vs AAA market pricing. Instead they’re all just games. So you often see indie titles and titles that aren’t supposed to launch at full AAA price being sold for more than they should be because the store(s) have decided that’s what they think they can get for it. To be fair though, this can go the other way as well such as with my Pokemon Sword and Shield preorder example. Along with this is the fact that the standard price degradation over time system pretty much doesn’t apply here. In the US, you can all but guarantee a non-Nintendo Switch game will drop in price at an almost systemic rate. Not to mention peak discount holidays like Black Friday. None of that applies in Taiwan. Games often go down in price over time, but there are no guarantees it will happen and it can take literal years. And the platform doesn’t matter. Nintendo games almost never drop in price in the US. In Taiwan, that same slow rate of price decline can be applied to PS4 and XB1 as well.

no dealAnother problem is that there are no guarantees about stock. In the US, if a game is getting distributed to physical stores you can pretty much guarantee that the game will be available somewhere. You might have to look around, because the game might sell out in some places, but you can pretty much know for sure that if it’s legitimately being distributed to the US then you can find it at GameStop, Best Buy, Walmart, Target, and a number of other stores. In Taiwan, you have no guarantees that a game will be available in store unless you’ve personally gone to a store and asked about it. Basically, the Taiwan games distribution industry operates almost exactly like a black market but without the criminal element. This is the backdrop with which I tried to purchase Ring Fit Adventure for the Nintendo Switch on launch day/weekend.

Ring Fit Adventure for the Nintendo Switch is a special game because it can only be sold as a physical release, due to the required ring accessory, and, also because of the ring accessory, the packaging is large and the cost is in no way standardized. Especially in a place like Taiwan. The game was first announced during a Nintendo Direct in September 2019. I was sold by the end of the trailer. I immediately decided that I would purchase it on launch day for the full price. A very rare decision for me. Since launch was only about 2 months away from announcement, I immediately went to game stores and started inquiring about the price and preordering it. No stores could give me a definite answer about whether or not it was going to be released in Taiwan, when it would be available, or how much it would cost. Sadly this is a common occurrence in Taiwan for non-standard games. So I kept checking back periodically.

Ring-Fit-AdventureLike I said before, there is no regulation and no larger games distribution franchise that you can easily access online and check for standard prices. This means you have to physically enter stores to make these sorts of enquiries. Admittedly you could call stores, but as a person who doesn’t speak Mandarin, the local language, fluently this is much more difficult than actually walking into stores and asking in person. I also have to say that a large number of game store employees in Taiwan aren’t true believers. They aren’t knowledgeable about a lot of details concerning upcoming games, hardware, and services and often need to have things explained to them, which I find really irritating, if I can be honest. And it’s not just with games. Tech store employees in general often disappoint me with their lack of knowledge even though the bulk of computer products are being developed and often manufactured in their back yards. But I digress.

I kept checking back periodically and finally got an answer that Ring Fit Adventure would release in Taiwan on 10/31. I found this odd since it was officially announced to be releasing on 10/18 but this has happened in Taiwan before so I didn’t think twice about it. I asked what the price would be and stores were still not giving me a clear answer. At this point, no store would offer me a preorder, since they couldn’t give me a price quote. Based on the general lack of knowledge, the lack of physical ads showing up in stores for the game, and the lack of a price, I assumed the game was not in high demand here.

Game store taiwanFor me personally, there are a great many game stores I visit in four general locations. One store by my apartment, three by my office, eight to ten at one shopping district, and another eight to ten at a second shopping district within walking distance of the first. I say eight to ten because some smaller stores open and close frequently, don’t consistently carry all products, and often mark up prices a great deal to the point of them not being worth wasting my time at unless I’m desperate for information as opposed to making an actual purchase. This means I literally take the time to visit 15 or more stores when I’m trying to buy a game. And I always go for the best price I can possibly find on principle. Like I said, the cost of travel is often free here so it’s just a matter of finding the time to visit all the stores.

Right before Ring Fit Adventure released, I was finally able to get a store to tell me the price would be 2500 NTD. Based on my own estimates due to experience in this market, this was exactly the price I assumed it would be. Still I was unable to get any store to give me a preorder, for reasons I still am unsure about because I’ve preordered multiple games here in the past. I even had some stores tell me that they wouldn’t be getting the game outright. But at least I had a release date, which I found odd considering it was the same release date as Luigi’s Mansion 3, a price, and the time to go buy the game from one of the four closest game stores on launch day, which was a Thursday. I had the money, the time, and the access. I was as prepared as I could possibly be to buy this game at launch.

luigis_mansion_3As soon as I got off work, I rushed to the first of four game stores. They were sold out. They said they only had enough units to fill preorders. This was odd to me for two reasons. The first was that the store hadn’t offered me a preorder when I had enquired multiple times over the past two months. The second was that it’s extremely bad practice for a game store to only carry enough units to fill preorders. It’s also unheard of in Taiwan for anything other than super limited collector’s edition stuff. Even Nintendo Labo sets were and still are super easy to find all over Taipei. But I didn’t have time to discuss it so I rushed off to the next store. Sadly and surprisingly, I got exactly the same answer. Then again at the third store. The fourth store had told me that they weren’t getting the game, but I went there to check anyway. They now had a physical ad for the game, brochures, and some units sitting behind the counter. But they too wouldn’t sell me a copy because they had already been preordered.

At this point I was both in shock and angry. This had literally not happened to me since I was a kid living in LA trying to get a new copy of Mirror’s Edge (2008) for XBOX 360 a week or two after release. I went to multiple stores only to be told it was sold out and then finally gave in and paid a GameStop $55 for a used copy. That was literally the last used game I purchased, because I don’t buy used games as a general rule. Over the course of that evening of failure it started raining so I had to take a bus (15 NTD) once and also went over the 30 minute free limit on the bike share costing me another 10 NTD. That’s 25 NTD, or half a dinner, wasted on failing to get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure on launch day. But these were all smaller local stores so while I was angry and surprised by what had transpired, I was confident that I could get a copy on the following Saturday, since I didn’t have time on Friday to go to the shopping districts.

super monkey ballThe following Saturday I went to the shopping districts and I fared no better. Stores kept telling me the same thing I had heard two days ago, with one exception. Some stores did have one or two spare units but their prices were extremely inflated. I learned that the standard price for Taiwan had actually been set at 2550 NTD, or one dinner higher than originally quoted. While I found this annoying, I deemed it a manageable price increase. If I was purchasing the game in my native California, I’d most likely pay more than that with tax. But the prices these stores were offering me were way above that standard price. 2700 NTD, 2990 NTD, and so on. I even had one store offer it to me at a whopping 3450 NTD. That’s a markup of 900 NTD ($29.58). For reference, Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz HD Remake on the Switch released here just a few days prior to Ring Fit Adventure for 790 NTD. Meaning this store wanted more than the price of a new game in addition to the standard price of the game I was trying to buy.

At this point I was confused, shocked, and angry. Why was it so difficult to get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure? For all the problems I’d had in the past with games pricing in Taiwan, rarity had pretty much never been an issue for things I wanted that could be gotten in Taiwan. And honestly I can count all the things I really wanted in Taiwan and just absolutely couldn’t get without importing it myself. The most recent example I can think of is the collector’s edition of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice for PS4. They got the game here with a steelbook but not the edition with the statue. So why was Ring Fit Adventure so hard to get for a fair price? Eventually one clerk who understood English and saw my frustration with the ridiculous price he offered told me that all the units in Taiwan were not legitimately distributed there but instead had been imported from Hong Kong or directly from Japan. This was why the markup was so prolific and ridiculous throughout all these stores. While he didn’t give me a reason why this was the case, he did help me understand what was going on.

sekiroFinally I made my way to the store I should have started with, but didn’t because it’s the most out of the way so I usually end there. There’s a game store in the middle of Taipei that has a clerk that is both knowledgeable about games and fluent in English. He’s the only clerk in this country that I consider a friend. He knows me, greets me personally every time I enter the store, and always fills me in on what’s going on. The reason I don’t start there every time I want something is because his store never has the best price. They always have the standard base price. If I was willing to pay the standard market price for games, I’d always just go there. But I always hunt for the best price so I never start there because that’s the last resort shop. If I absolutely can’t get a good price then I go to his store and pay the base price, because their prices are absolutely fair. They’re just not a deal. It’s like buying from Target instead of Best Buy because Target is selling the new game for $57.99 while Best Buy is selling it for $59.99. His store is Best Buy. That’s actually the store I bought my Switch at as an interesting side note.

It’s important to note that he doesn’t own the store. He’s just a part time employee there. That means I have to catch him at work. I actually visited the store multiple times in the two months leading up to the release of Ring Fit Adventure but he just happened to not be on shift when I walked in. If he had of been then I would absolutely have been able to get Ring Fit Adventure for a fair price of 2550 NTD on launch day (10/31 for Taiwan). When I walked into the store on the Saturday he was there, thankfully. I asked him about the game and he told me the same thing every other store that didn’t have spare copies to markup told me. They were sold out and only had enough to fill preorders. The difference was that because he both speaks English and is knowledgeable about games, from both the consumer and business side, he could tell what the hell was actually going on with this game.

contrabandAs it turns out, I had been completely misled, or more accurately misinformed, about Ring Fit Adventure’s distribution in Taiwan. Every store told me that the game would be available in Taiwan on 10/31. I took this to mean that the game was being legitimately distributed by Nintendo to Taiwan, like any other Switch game such as Luigi’s Mansion 3 which was and still is widely available here, on 10/31. This was not actually the case. The truth is that the game was not legitimately distributed to Taiwan at all. Apparently the Taiwanese government agency that is in charge of approving products for sale in Taiwan didn’t approve of the ring accessory for Ring Fit Adventure. I still don’t know why this is the case. But like I said, the games market here operates like a black market. So rather than not sell the game since it couldn’t be acquired through legitimate publisher/distributor channels, all the stores imported the game manually via connections in nearby countries, specifically Hong Kong and Japan. This means that 100% of Ring Fit Adventure copies sold in Taiwan currently were/are contraband. This is why the prices were so marked up and the game was/is so hard to find.

Now I don’t personally care about the legality of owning a game that isn’t supposed to be sold in Taiwan. No one does. The government isn’t going to knock on anyone’s door looking for Switch games. And even if they were, everything is paid for in cash in Taiwan and no records are kept for game sales, so they wouldn’t know whose door to knock on anyway. I just want a copy of the game at a fair price. I’m less angry now that I understand the situation, but I’m still really pissed that I wasn’t offered a preorder. All these stores told me I couldn’t preorder the game and then apparently sold preorders to everyone else. I assume it was because of the language barrier and that most people just couldn’t explain the situation to me clearly. I will give them that benefit of the doubt, because racism against Westerners isn’t really a thing here so I don’t assume it was anything like that. But if I had known about this contraband situation I would have dragged my wife to a game store and had her demand a preorder for me. Or I would have preordered it from my friend clerk if he had been at work when I went to his store prior to launch, because he would have informed me about the situation.

try fail succeedUltimately I did not acquire a copy of Ring Fit Adventure during the opening week. As I write this I still don’t have a copy now. But my friend allowed me a special order and said they will put one aside for me in their next shipment at a price of 2550 NTD. He couldn’t tell me when it would be available but the store will call me when it is. So I ended up spending a bunch of time and 56 NTD (just over one dinner) in travel costs to not get a copy of Ring Fit Adventure plus I have to spend another 30 NTD to go back to the store when they do finally get my copy in stock. Hopefully it becomes available the week of November 15th week so I can pick it up at the same time I pick up Pokémon Sword and Shield.

If not for the wasted travel money, I wouldn’t be super angry about not being able to get the game during launch week. While it’s a game I’m really looking forward to, I’m extremely backlogged and have other fitness games I can play like Just Dance anyway. What I’m really unhappy about is the rampant overpricing that many stores sold the game at to parents and kids without the patience and knowledge required to make an informed purchasing decision about Ring Fit Adventure’s odd product status in Taiwan. This sort of information, though kind of risky because of the illegality of it all, should have been more widely distributed. As I went to store after store looking for the game that Saturday, I realized that I was not the only one desperately trying to get a copy. Originally I thought there was no demand because all the stores seemed so out of the loop when I inquired about it over the two months leading up to release. It turns out that I was extremely wrong. Lots of people preordered the game and lots of people who didn’t preorder the game were hunting in stores just like I was. I saw many a parent and their pleading child in game stores asking about it. And I know those marked up units were ultimately sold to parents with spoiled children as well as to parents who just aren’t knowledgeable about such things and thought the prices being quoted were just the normal price for the game. It’s a really despicable scenario that should not have occurred in the way it did. But that’s what happens when you have a completely unregulated games market. Free market capitalism is never for the benefit of the consumer. Especially when it comes to entertainment.

ring fit adventure battleI hope that eventually Ring Fit Adventure does get legitimately distributed to Taiwan and is sold at a fair price to gamers of all types and ages. I also hope that I get my copy soon.

Some people are probably wondering about the online aspect of buying physical games in Taiwan, since I didn’t really address it here. The reason I didn’t is that it’s not super simple, it doesn’t work in cash like the brick and mortar market does, and the prices are often marked up at a default. There is no Amazon type entity here. Nor are there brick and mortar stores with an online component like a Best Buy or Walmart. The best you can hope for is something akin to Newegg, where there’s a well-known online store that you can trust, but the prices aren’t usually better for games. There are a few of these such as PlayAsia, which usually has marked up prices, sometimes ridiculously so, and a site called PCHome. You also often have to pay shipping on these online purchases. So to answer the unasked question, yes there is online game purchasing here but it isn’t the most convenient or affordable way to buy games here. In the five years that I’ve lived in Taiwan, I’ve never purchased a single physical game online. You also need to be able to read Chinese for many online stores in Taiwan. For reference though, PCHome sold Ring Fit Adventure on opening day for 2550 NTD. I’m not sure what the cost of shipping would be, but they are currently sold out as I write this and were sold out opening weekend. PlayAsia has multiple versions of the game from different regions with prices ranging from 2457 NTD all the way up to 2872 NTD. This does not include shipping cost.

*This post was originally written on November 4th. Due to my busy blog schedule I was not able to publish for some time. I ultimately was able to claim my copy of Ring Fit Adventure on November 12th. Same week but not the same day as Pokemon Sword & Shield.

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Gamescom 2019

This year was my first time ever attending Gamescom. I would like to thank Ubisoft for inviting me to attend the event as a contestant in the Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle Grand Championship. While I was extremely depressed to have lost in the first round, and even more so to have lost because of a single error in an otherwise flawlessly executed match, I am still happy to have been given the opportunity to participate and attending Gamescom was amazing. I also want to acknowledge that the main reason my experience at Gamescom was so good was that Ubisoft was gracious enough to provide me with an exhibitor’s ticket. This allowed me special access and privileges that normal attendees just didn’t have, which in turn allowed me to try out way more games than probably anyone else.

Over the course of the show I was able to try/experience 22 different unreleased games that are mainstream and some additional indies which I won’t take the time to talk about in this post for the sake of time. I truly believe that other than press I played more mainstream games at Gamescom than anyone else. An exhibitor ticket gave me early access every day which meant I could skip at least one to two lines a day. For example, the lines for FFVII Remake and Marvel’s Avengers were right next to each other in the Square Enix booth. Both consistently had lines of at least 2.5 hours every day of the show. But I was able to enter the show floor an hour early every day. So one of those days I talked one of the Square Enix team members into letting me try Marvel’s Avengers before the official opening time. This allowed me to then be one of the first in line for FFVII Remake right after, allowing me to try two of the biggest games being demoed at Gamescom this year in under 30 minutes of actual show time. That was literally record breaking. And because there was no line at the Square Enix demo for Trials of Mana remake, because everyone was trying it at the Nintendo booth, I was able to try that game right after FFVII Remake. So I managed to try three mainstream titles within the first official hour of one of the days at Gamescom. I used similar tactics throughout the week in order to try literally every game at the show I wanted to try. The only two games of note that I didn’t try were Borderlands 3 and Control. I honestly didn’t want to try either, but after having read the reviews for Control, I do wish I had tried that game and could have if I had wanted to take the time during the show.

 

Gamescom Entrance

This was my first time visiting Germany and I really enjoyed it. Cologne is a great city and I could definitely live there. It’s a beautiful and large but still kind of quaint place with culture and character. And German people are so nice. That being said, German gamers suck. I’m sorry, and I know that’s a wide brush to paint with, but I have to say that of all the gaming and tech related events I’ve been to in three different regions (Asia, NA, EU) of the world, the Gamescom attendees, most of which were native Germans, were the worst, most selfish, and unprofessional people I’ve ever interacted with in a setting like this. And that’s saying a lot. I’m not talking about the staff. Save for a few exceptions, they were great. I’m talking about the people attending the event. So many selfish assholes. They can’t wait in lines like adults. They have little to no concept of what’s appropriate in a crowded public setting. And worst of all they defend each other’s bad behavior even when they aren’t actually guilty of said behavior themselves. I won’t go into specific details of the various ridiculous occurrences I experienced and witnessed, but for such a large event with literally thousands of visitors, I expected better from the attendees. The behavior I saw at Gamescom does not happen at Taipei Game Show. It does not happen at CES. I haven’t been to every gaming event in the world so I can’t say for sure if this was an isolated occurrence or not, but in my experience, German gamers need to grow up. And I’m speaking as a 30 year old man who waited four hours to try Iron Man VR.

This was a gaming event so of course we need to talk about swag. You know me. I’m all about that free stuff at events. I have to say that for quantity, Gamescom was not the best swag event I’ve been to. I make much better hauls at Computex each year. But I’ll also say that with so many more people and much longer lines in a way it’s possible that I just wasn’t able to access as much swag as there actually was. I’ll also say that the giveaways at Gamescom were top notch, but giveaways don’t really count as swag because not everyone can get them just from waiting in line. For example, I got four shirts (Watch Dogs Legion, Ghost Recon: Breakpoint, Everspace 2, and Biomutant). But of those four only one of them was given out for waiting in line to try a game (Biomutant). The other three were special privilege acquisitions. The Everspace 2 one I got for work related reasons and the two Ubisoft ones I happened to catch when they were thrown out into the crowd during presentations. That means really only one shirt was available as actual swag in my whole haul. I got 11 pins, which is awesome because I actually collect them. But two of them I paid for and one was another instance of a work related acquisition. So really I got only eight pins as swag, three of which were from Nintendo (Link’s Awakening, Luigi’s Mansion 3, and Pokémon: Sword & Shield). The three Nintendo ones weren’t even available until later in the week so if you tried those games earlier then you couldn’t get those pins. In my case I went back to the Link’s Awakening booth, because I tried that on the first day, and begged them for a pin later in the week. I managed to get two hats and a visor as actual swag. But the visor was a disappointment because it was for Cyberpunk 2077 and I really just expected better swag from CD Projekt Red for that game. I wanted a Cyberpunk 2077 shirt so badly. So all in all the swag was average at best for both quantity and quality.

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Now I want to take the time to give single paragraph reviews of each of the noteworthy games I tried at Gamescom. So pretty much the rest of this post will be games coverage. It is a lot to read, but like I said, I played a lot of games. I have listed the titles in bold so you can skip over the ones you aren’t interested in. Games are not listed in any particular order.

Trials of Mana HD Remake (Nintendo Switch)

This was awesome. I never played the original Mana series but I was considering buying Collection of Mana for Nintendo Switch. Now I’m definitely going to wait for them to remake the other two games in this style and then just buy a collection of the remade versions. Trials of Mana looks beautiful and plays so smoothly. For a remake of a classic game, it does not feel super retro. It’s nearly a normal action RPG. The combat was good, the real time party system worked well, and the boss fight at the end of the demo was exciting, challenging, and yet still well balanced. Highly recommend picking it up if you’re interested in this classic series and I hope we see the whole collection soon.

FFVII Remake (PS4)

My gosh this game plays well. I have been avidly opposed to this remake ever since they announced that they were changing the gameplay and making it episodic. But I will give credit where credit is due and admit that this gameplay is otherworldly. It is so revolutionary for the franchise and extremely well made. Even playing it in German felt great. I hate that I’m going to buy this game, but I am going to buy this game. The gameplay alone made sure of that. It’s a real time action RPG with the ATB system from FFXIII being used to implement the turn based feel from the original FFVII without slowing the gameplay down to the point of breaking your groove. It’s hard to even explain because I’ve never seen anything like it before. And the graphics are just phenomenal but that should surprise no one at this point. One thing I will say though is that the gameplay shown was used for multiple characters (Cloud and Barret), which leads me even more to ask what the point of episodes is because the original sell was that the episodes would essentially be different games telling one coherent story. That’s not what I was getting from this gameplay. This system can and will almost certainly be used across all characters so there’s really no justification to break this into episodes because the story aspect can easily shift between cutscenes. Changing your walking avatar from Cloud to another character is not a justification to sell a separate game if they’re going to be part of the same party anyway. In any case, based on what I played this is a must play.

 Marvel’s Avengers (PS4)

This game got a lot of flak after the E3 announcement and I really don’t know why. Visually, the demo I played did have some issues. It was mostly hair that I had problems with. Everything else was fine for an alpha build. It played smoothly, the controls didn’t lag, and I didn’t get any dropped frames. It’s a pretty standard brawler done in the spirit of the Arkham games. But each of the playable characters has a slightly different move set and feel. Personally I liked Hulk and Thor the most because they felt the most appropriate for the gameplay with Captain America in a close third. Black Widow was only featured in a boss fight so while she did work appropriately, I can’t speak to how she wields in normal combat scenarios. The demo was very linear with each character merging into the next one to tell a whole story, but I don’t have a problem with linear games. If the gameplay is good and the story is coherent while having enough length to justify $60+, I’m absolutely fine with a linear story. But the attendant informed me that the final product will be way less linear than the demo I played. I liked it and I’ll definitely pick it up.

Monkey King: Hero is Back (PC)

This game is trash. Which really depressed me because I love the Monkey King character and stories and was super excited to try this game. I didn’t even know about it until I saw the banner at Gamescom. I had high hopes because the character and settling are great for a game, but this was executed poorly. The gameplay isn’t necessarily stiff, but it definitely isn’t smooth either. The graphics are tolerable for the sake of the animated film it’s based on, but they aren’t good. The thing that angered me most was ladder transitions. To climb from one floor to another, even when it’s all part of the same interactive area, you have to wait for an animation clip rather than just climb the damn ladders. This is not acceptable in 2019. Especially not from the company that helped produce games like The Wonderful 101 and Final Fantasy XV. This demo was just unacceptably bad and I’m really, really depressed about it.

Asterix & Obelix XXL 3 – The Crystal Menhir (PC)

I actually only just found out about XXL 3 about two weeks before Gamescom. And honestly I only found out about XXL 2 a couple months before that. I used to watch this cartoon as a kid and play some of the games so I was really happy that they’re still making them and that I could try the newest one at Gamescom. This is by no means a AAA title, but it’s quite fun. I played it solo but you can play it with two player co-op. It’s a well-made top down brawler. A bit repetitive but not bad. Some of the puzzles, if they can be called that, are more annoying jump challenges than actual puzzles but nothing game breaking. It’s really more something you play because you’re a fan of the franchise than because it’s a great game. But if you liked the previous games then this one definitely won’t disappoint.

Link’s Awakening HD Remake (Nintendo Switch)

This was phenomenal. I waited three hours to play it and I don’t regret it. It’s beautiful, the gameplay is smooth, and it’s fun. I never finished the original Link’s Awakening but I will definitely be buying and beating this. Even playing it in German, which I don’t read, in no way turned me off the game. It’s just good. It’s not worth $60. That I will say. For $30, this would be a no brainer purchase. But at full AAA price, I’m gonna wait for a Black Friday deal. But it’s definitely a must play for me.

Doom Eternal (Google Stadia)

There are two main reasons that I wanted to play Doom Eternal on Stadia. The first was that I didn’t want to wait three hours to try Doom Eternal and the second was that I really wanted to try Stadia but the only other game they had available to try was Mortal Kombat 11, which I’ve already played on PS4, so it seemed like a waste of time to try that one. I will admit however that playing a game I had already played and comparing it to Stadia probably would have given me a more legitimate ability to judge the platform in a single 15 minute demo.

Stadia runs fine. What I mean by that is I was able to play Doom Eternal comfortably with no lag, frame rate drops, or any legitimate gameplay issues. The game ran adequately. Now I’m not 100% sure on the setup they actually had because they had a controller and other cables running into a table and then a laptop with nothing on the screen except the Stadia logo sitting next to a monitor, which the game was running on. So the implication was that you were dual monitoring a laptop and running Doom Eternal via Stadia on the monitor while playing with a wired controller, but I have no actual proof of that because they didn’t present the setup to me. They just sat me down, handed me a controller and declared it was Doom Eternal on Stadia. So I believe that’s what I was experiencing, but take this with a grain of salt because there’s no evidence to suggest that this was actually the case. The one negative I will say about Stadia is that the graphics don’t hold up. Playing Doom on my regular PS4 looks better than Doom Eternal on Stadia. The game looked acceptable but not beautiful. If you’re used to high spec PC gaming with a 1080 or more card, which I am, Stadia doesn’t hold up. It runs fine, but it’s not the perfectly crisp HD picture hard core PC Master Race gamers are used to. It’s more like playing games on a PS3. Looks and runs fine, but doesn’t hold up to current high graphics standards. So if you are a minimum spec gamer, it’s probably fine for you. But if you are a 120 FPS, 2080ti, 4K gamer, then you will absolutely not be able to play games on Stadia in its current form.

Doom Eternal was great. And that should surprise no one. It’s the same formula as Doom, and that’s a good thing, because the formula works. Even on the lacking graphics of Stadia, I was having a blast playing it. If you liked Doom, you’re going to like Doom Eternal. Enough said.

Ghost Recon: Breakpoint (PC)

I don’t think I’ve played a game since Destiny that required team work as much as Ghost Recon: Breakpoint. This was a demo where you were forced to play on a squad of four and it was tough. Granted the other players were native German speakers and I speak maybe four words of German, but we were all experienced gamers and we struggled. We failed (all four dead at once) multiple times. The game is hard but fair. We had to learn how to work together and be more conservative, but once we did that, we got through it. A big part of the game is fighting drones and robot type enemies. This is where the game gets really difficult because they don’t go down like people. But they mow you down easy. The game works well and looks great. My only real complaint about the gameplay is that you still can’t button to cover like in The Division. Like with Ghost Recon: Wildlands, you just sort of naturally flow in and out of cover as you move. I think intentional cover would improve the gameplay but many would probably argue that it would make it too easy. But in my opinion if being able to cover in a shooter makes the game too easy or less enjoyable, then it’s probably not a good game to begin with. I think Breakpoint would play just fine with button press cover and cover to cover movement. But in general it’s a great game that I’ll definitely be playing, so I can take on the Punisher.

Cyberpunk 2077 (Non-playable Gameplay Presentation)

Sadly I did not get to play Cyberpunk 2077, but the experience of seeing a narrated presentation was extremely informative and valuable. This presentation featured a person playing the game live while a presenter narrated the action. The focus of this presentation was to show how the character development system affects gameplay with what they refer to as a “fluid class system”. Essentially you don’t have classes. You just have skills which you level up with points gained through xp. The two builds they showed were one focused on hacking and the other focused on strength. The way they presented this was very effective because they showed the same mission twice done with these two different builds. The hacker build was much more about stealth and using your skills to clear obstacles and take out enemies strategically, with little direct combat. The strength build just ran in and destroyed everything directly. The best example of comparison between these two builds was during a fight sequence with several enemies and a turret near the middle of the room. The hacker hacked the turret and let it do the work for him, while the strength build used a human shield to get close to the turret and then ripped it out of its stand and used it as a mini-gun. Both approaches were amazing and I’m honestly not sure which one I would prefer to play. They said you could build however you wanted and potentially have features from both builds but they did not answer how much available xp there was in the game in order to reach both these builds simultaneously.

While I still would prefer the game in third person, watching this presentation convinced me that I could probably enjoy playing it in first person as well. The driving did go to third person though so I really hope a patch or mod is coming.

The Surge 2 (PC)

I was really excited to play this. I have The Surge but haven’t actually finished it yet. I do plan on getting it done though. I really like this IP because it plays like a stripped down Dark Souls set in the future instead of the past. I was really depressed that I didn’t get into The Surge 2 closed beta but finding out I could try it at Gamescom made me really happy. Now let me say that the Deep Silver booth sucked. The line for The Surge 2 was never long, but took forever. I waited 45 minutes and didn’t move an inch. I asked multiple employees why it was taking so long and no one could give me an answer other than “I don’t know.” I finally stepped out of line and was considering giving up on getting to try it at all. The only reason I got to play it was that a friend found a fast pass and gave it to me because he didn’t know the studio. While the booth was badly managed, the game is awesome. It plays really well. I especially liked that at the start of this game you don’t have a rig so you have to work your way through learning the combat without power and then once you’ve started to really get it you find a rig and get a real boost of power. It’s a great storytelling mechanic. That being said, it’s kind of a turn off if you don’t will your way through that opening phase of the game. Before you get your rig, you can’t even dodge. And you feel those limitations. But once you get a hang of the combat and then get a rig, it’s so gratifying. I also liked that you start off the game with a sort of boxing gloves type weapon. You get these metal fist covers that allow you to fight against opponents in rigs. I actually hope that in the later game you get supped up fist weapons and can fight boxing style because it works really well. But if you’re not getting weapons grade damage, it’s just not worth it once you get a rig. In general, the game plays great and looks decent enough. There’s also a more human focused story with real conversations and dialog options. The first game put you in a world of mostly robots. This game seems to put you in a world of mostly people after the robots revolted and were finally beaten back. I can’t wait to play the final version.

As a bonus, there was a boss in the demo and for defeating it during the 20 minute trial period, I was given a steel-book case for The Surge. This was an awesome surprise that I absolutely was not expecting. And since I own the physical version of the first game that makes it even better.

Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot (PC)

Sadly I did not like this demo. The controls were a bit overwhelming to learn in a 15 minute session. There’s actually a lot going on. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing because it means there’s depth to the game. It’s an open world with a battle mode which is initialized when you make contact with enemies that are seen on the map. This is all fine. The boss battles are slightly different from regular battles but not by too much. This is also fine. There’s a lot going on in this world. Lots of NPCs to interact with. Sidequests all over the place. Other characters that team up with you and travel the map with you depending on what part of the story you’re in. This is all good stuff. What isn’t good is how much crap is on the screen at one time. There’s so much going on and it’s all on screen at once. Beacons for objectives, a large HUD, NPC dialog boxes in the distance, floating collectibles, and just lots of general clutter. It’s so hard to focus on playing the game with so much on screen information pulling you out of the experience. Like imagine if in Assassin’s Creed the gameplay looked like the map. If all those objectives, side events, mini-games, challenges, treasure chests, and other map icons were all on the screen constantly while trying to play the game. Now imagine that on a screen of less than 27 inches. It would be a nightmare to play. That’s how this game plays. I hope you can turn a lot of that stuff off in menus because if you can’t it’s just too much junk on screen at one time.

Medievil (PS4)

Great remake. Absolutely buying this. It plays well. It looks good. It sounds good. I never played this as a kid, but I was aware of it and I’m so glad they made a good remake. For the most part, it’s challenging yet fair. The controls are accessible and run smoothly. It’s just a really well made remake. My only complaint, which I assume was present in the original game as well, was the resource management mechanics. Like you start off with a sword that I don’t believe can break. But you can pick up other weapons. But when you do you lose your sword. Yet those other weapons can break. So ultimately I got to the boss in the demo and my weapon broke and I was expected to fight the boss with no actual weapon other than my useless bone arm, which also removes the ability to use your shield. Even when I died, I respawned with no weapon. I found this to be a very annoying and unbalanced mechanic. But otherwise it’s a great game that I’ll definitely buy.

Concrete Genie (PS4)

I hate to say it, but this game is not good. The controls are trash. The painting mechanics are not intuitive at all. Making creatures isn’t nearly as accessible or effective as you want it to be. It just does not play well. And I didn’t even get to any of the evil monster sequences. The demo was extremely boring in that all you had to do was find light bulbs hidden around the town and paint them to turn them on. But even this simple task was so tedious with the broken controls. The graphics are OK but not as good as the ads made them seem like they would be. I was originally excited with the initial reveal but now it’s a hard pass for me.

Dreams (PS4)

I’m actually very interested in this. Writing about it is difficult because they didn’t demo the creator mode. What they showed were creations that were already active for you to play. And they were all so different. There was shmup flyer, a puzzle platformer, a soccer type game, a 3D point and click, and other genres. So many different types of games seem to be possible in Dreams. But because I didn’t see the creator mode I don’t know how hard it is to do any of that. If I’m honest, I’m not super interested in playing other people’s creations. I’m interested in creating my own games. The marketing makes it seem like this is totally easy to do. But that sounds improbable. It’s hard enough to make a good level in Super Mario Maker 2 and that’s built on a grid with pre-made assets. I’ll keep an eye out for this but I can’t really say if it’s good or bad at this time. All I can say is that it seems possible for people to create entire games. Now the question becomes will they be compensated for their hard work in the event that someone creates something actually worth talking about. Because the stuff I saw easily bested many indies you can find on Steam.

Biomutant (PC)

I was really excited for this when I first heard about it, and then it got delayed for like over a year. So I was happy to wait in line for about 90 minutes to try it. And it was worth it. The graphics are kind of weird. It’s like an adult cartoon. Not bad, but also not particularly good. Because the level of violence isn’t super cartoony, so it could have been more graphic. But the animal characters also make sense in a less gory tone. So it’s kind of in limbo visually. But the gameplay is superb. It’s fluid, well balanced, easy to pick up, and just really fun. I genuinely enjoyed every fight in the demo from start to finish. It also has different types of physical weapons. I started off with a saw blade, which was great, and then got a rocket punch glove, which was also great. It’s a must play for me.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 (Nintendo Switch)

I haven’t actually played any of the previous games, but I was very interested in this one after the E3 reveal. The gameplay was much harder than I imagined it would be. But not hard in the sense that the gameplay is hard. More in that the controls are very unruly. Even a friend who had played the previous games said it didn’t feel the same as the older ones. The mechanic for weakening ghosts so you can slam them wasn’t clear to me but I sort of figured it out through playing. The bigger issue though was the rotation. You can’t just turn in the direction you push the stick like in a normal Mario game. You have to actually spin around in a circle going in either direction. So if an enemy appears behind you, you can’t just instantly point towards them and attack them. You have to take the time to spin all the way around and then line up your attack. And aim matters in this game a lot. You can and do miss often. Especially in the boss fight included in the demo where you’re facing a ghost riding a horse. The graphics were great. And the concepts of the gameplay were quite good. But the controls just were not good for me. I’m still interested but I want normal Nintendo platformer directional movement. I do acknowledge though that this isn’t a platformer, but the rotating does not work well.

Darksiders Genesis (PC)

I was not happy about this game going into the demo at all. I like this franchise. I like the 3D action hack-n-slash Darksiders games. So when they announced a top down dungeon crawler in the style of Gauntlet: Dark Legacy instead of a sequel starring the fourth horseman, I was not happy. I only took the time to try the demo because I felt like it was something my readers would care about. While I still am not happy that this is the next game in the franchise, I must admit that Genesis is extremely well made. It plays so well for that genre. Maybe the best in the genre I’ve played. I genuinely enjoyed playing it. I wasn’t super enthusiastic about the text based story, but the gameplay is excellent. It’s smooth. You can swap between horsemen easily when playing in single player. The attacks work effectively and fluidly. It’s fairly well balanced. Even the boss fight in the demo was great. I’m not saying I’m going to buy this, but if some friends wanted to play it, I’d be totally in for it.

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics (PC)

I’m an OG The Dark Crystal fan. I watched that movie on VHS so many times I’m surprised the tape didn’t break. So all they really had to say to me was The Dark Crystal game and I was interested. I played an alpha build and I got what they were doing. It was very similar to like a Fire Emblem or Banner Saga type game. But it was buggy. Again, alpha build, so that’s fine. I got the gist of what they were trying to do and I guess it works. I don’t love the graphics, but it is based on a Jim Henson puppet movie, so I don’t necessarily think the graphics are inappropriate. But at the same time, I don’t necessarily need graphics to be era appropriate to adapt a show/movie to a game. Like I get why Stranger Things: The Game looks the way it does but I don’t want it to look the way it does. I would have been much happier with just a higher visual quality game, 80’s themed or otherwise. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance Tactics certainly looks better than Stranger Things: The Game though. It’s a game I’ll continue to look into but at this point I’m not sold on the gameplay or the graphics. It does appear to be very story intensive though, which I consider a good thing.

Death Stranding (Non-playable Gameplay Presentation)

*This video is more useful than the waste of time that was the Death Stranding “presentation” I attended at the Gamescom booth.

Screw Kojima. Screw Death Stranding. And screw that garbage presentation. The line was nonsensical and the presentation was trash. I’m not even going to discuss what was presented, because you’ve already seen it. They literally made us wait in a line to sit in a dark room on shitty box stools to watch four trailers that had already been made available online at the start of Gamescom. I could have taken that time to try another game such as Control or Borderlands 3 and would have if I had known this presentation wasn’t going to actually be a presentation. I thought it was going to be like the Cyberpunk 2077 presentation where a person who worked on the game was going to show gameplay or at least footage and talk about it. Maybe even answer some questions. No one was even in the room during the presentation other than viewers. They just marched us in there, pressed play, left, and then kicked us out after the four trailers had finished rolling. Absolutely ridiculous waste of my time.

Iron Man VR (PSVR)

I waited four hours to play this which was much too long. But I do consider this demo proof of concept. It was hard to control and the graphics weren’t as clear as I wanted. But I do think that may have just been the way the headset was put on me because even Astro Bot Rescue Mission was way clearer when I tried that earlier this year. I could barely hear the sound. Again, I consider this a setup issue rather than a software issue. But the gameplay worked, even though it was hard to control. I felt like Iron Man. Like it felt real. The demo started with me flying over water and I genuinely thought I was going to fall into the water at one point at the start of the demo when I was still learning the controls. It’s not so good that I’m going to rush out and buy PSVR. But with some tuning to the flying and combat controls that game could be one of the most satisfying VR games made to date. If you have PSVR, definitely keep an eye on this one.

Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 (Nintendo Switch)

I have Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games (Wii U) and haven’t gotten any of the other games in this series. I honestly only got it because it came with a Wiimote for less than the price of buying a Wiimote on its own. This latest installment looks really good, but it’s really hard to play. I’ll admit that the directions being in German were a big factor here, but the point is that a number of the events aren’t intuitive. Some games were. I particularly liked the archery game. But the surfing game was impossibly hard to figure out how to do tricks. I was only able to try a limited number of events in the game, but it was a fair amount of them. What I really liked conceptually was that you could also play Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 1964. This was a mode where the graphics were all retro and the gameplay was made to simulate old school NES limitations. It’s a fun idea, but a lot of those events are even harder than the 2020 games. This game isn’t really my cup of tea, but if you liked the previous ones then this one seems like it won’t under deliver the same sort of experience.

Pokémon Sword and Shield (Nintendo Switch)

The line for this game was consistently ridiculous every single day of Gamescom. The only reason I got to play it was that on the last day of Gamescom, using my exhibitor ticket access, I went there at 8:20 AM and was first in line. I waited 40 minutes to be the first person to play the game that day. And it was worth it. Now honestly this was a garbage demo. I wanted to explore the world and catch Pokémon. The demo took place solely in a single gym, had me battle a few trainers, solve a puzzle, and almost complete the gym leader battle. I say almost because it cut out before I could deal the killing blow. But it felt so good. It made me feel like a kid again playing Red and Blue. It plays like any other Pokémon game. The formula works and need not change. But I’ll definitely be buying both Sword and Shield. I did get to try out the Dynamax mechanic. It was fun but not nearly as effective as I’d like because ultimately when used against another Dynamax Pokémon it just becomes a normal battle. The one thing about the demo that I both liked and disliked at the same time was that it gave me all three starters in my team. That’s not going to happen in the real game. Because it never does. I loved being able to try them all out and I did. I purposely changed Pokémon unnecessarily just to try all six that were available in the demo. And I want them all. But we all know the only way I’m actually going to get them all is to get both games and borrow a second Switch to trade Pokémon with myself. For sure going to buy both games though.

So that ends my Gamescom 2019 coverage. I know this was a long post, but like I said, I played more games than anyone else at the show outside of press. And I didn’t even include any of the smaller indie titles I tried. If you have any additional questions about Gamescom, the tournament, or specific games I tried, please let me know in the comments.

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Old Gamers, New e-Sports

This week I’m at Gamescom participating as a finalist in the Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (MRKB) Grand Championship e-Sports tournament. I thought it would be both appropriate and interesting to discuss my experiences. But I don’t want this post to be about Gamescom as a whole. I plan on doing a post for that after the show has concluded. It will hopefully be published next week or the following week at the latest. What I want this post to be about is specifically my experiences as a participant in this specific e-Sports event for this specific game.

This is my first real foray into competitive e-Sports. I’ve never really been fond of or even that interested in the e-Sports industry as a whole. I’ve said many times that I hate the culture, management, and general style of modern e-Sports. Just a few weeks ago I published a post about how much I dislike the mostly repetitive and limited genres often synonymous with the professional e-Sports community. And as I’ve said before without hesitation, I also find the idea of giving a minor millions of dollars for playing video games a detriment to society for more than one reason. So I sort of entered into this whole endeavor kind of ambivalent.

Gamescom-2018I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the inside of the competitive e-Sports community. I’m still not exactly sure if it’s accurate to even compare competitive MRKB to the rest of the e-Sports community. It’s a much different game that anything else we’ve seen taken seriously in the internet era of e-Sports. I’m still shocked that I was invited to play it competitively at Gamescom on stage. There may not be a $3M prize, but just the fact that it’s being featured at such an important annual event legitimizes it as a part of the ever growing, but rarely evolving, pantheon of e-Sports titles. So while I do consider this tournament a legitimate part of e-Sports and by extension this game, I acknowledge that many people won’t. At least not until some real money is offered for winning events involving this game.

What I like about competitive MRKB is that it functions the way I believe competitive gaming should function on a number of levels. For starters, age. Gaming was supposed to be a mental task. Games were supposed to provoke your mind the way sports provoke your body. As technology has developed, the physical aspects of gaming have evolved but only to increase the fulfillment and challenge of the experience on your mind. When games become all about physical performance rather than mental challenges, I think something has gone wrong. Most younger gamers would probably disagree with this opinion because they were raised in the era of fast paced, reflex driven gameplay experiences. The fact that it’s called e-Sports was a topic of debate for a long time. I always focused on the “e” portion of the name. But today too many people seem to focus on the “Sports”.

mlgThe average professional gamer ranges from 18 – 25 in age. This is because the games commonly played are more about performance speed than tactical thinking and strategic implementation. This is why e-Sports consists more of FPS titles and fighters than tactical ones. These genres are much more about speed of implementation than anything else. Whoever can push the correct buttons fastest or aim the crosshair accurately first tends to be the winner. So of course the youngest, most agile gamers in the population would be the best. But put those same kids up against a 40 year old man whose been playing Chess for 30 years in a turn based tactical game and I’d be shocked if any of those kids win a single round once that man understood the ends and outs of the game being played. That’s the kind of e-Sports I want to see. That’s the kind of e-Sports I want to participate in.

I’ve had opportunities in the past to play games competitively. Never anything as big as my current steps into competitive MRKB, but there have been moments where I could play games like Smash Bros. in a local competitive setting. But I’ve never really been interested. And as a now 30 year old man, I would have little chance of winning at competitive level in most of those games. That’s exactly what makes this MRKB competition so special. In a group of eight finalists, I’m one of the youngest at 30 years old. We are all adults with real responsibilities, burdens, and normal life experiences. We all have real jobs. We’ve all graduated from college already. Some of us have wives, children, and mortgages. Every one of us has been gaming longer than the term e-Sports has existed. In my opinion, we’re the types of people that should be given opportunities to win large sums of money for playing video games. We’re the type of people who best represent the gaming community as a whole. Especially when you consider that the current average age of gamers, as reported by the ESA, is 32 – 34. This is why I think it’s really special that Ubisoft has created and invested in an e-Sports event that caters more to the thinking aspect of gaming rather than the reflexive physical aspects; and even more so the fact that they have given actual gamers with realistic lives the chance to be recognized for the achievement of mastering a game while also having to deal with the burdens of adulthood at the same time.

ESA-Essential-Facts-average gamer ageAlong with my general joy at being given the opportunity to participate in any legitimate e-Sports event at my age for playing games I actually enjoy, I also have really enjoyed this particular group of players, both in the finals and the Summer Games seasonal qualifier. I’ll be honest in saying that I don’t follow e-Sports too closely. I only hear about the big headlines like “16 Year Old Wins $3M Playing Fortnite”. I know some of the teams like Fnatic, but that’s more a byproduct of my job than personal interest. From what I’ve seen, most e-Sports pros aren’t people I’d like to be friends with. Like many popular YouTubers, a number of which I have personally met, again through my job, pro gamers seem disconnected from reality, fairly arrogant, and unapproachable. To be honest, those all seem like qualities that would make you exceptional at games but not at life.

I’m willing to admit that I haven’t actually met any top tier pro gamers personally so it’s quite possible I’m reading them wrong. But if they’re anything like top tier tech YouTubers then I think I have them pegged fairly well. So I wasn’t actually sure what to expect from the competitors in the MRKB Grand Championship. But I’m happy to say I was pleasantly surprised.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-07-30 02-25-22This group of gamers is great. Though they all come from different countries across the world, these are some of the nicest, friendliest people I’ve ever met in the gaming community. They are down to earth, humble, and thankful just to be included. Though they’re all 30 or older, they took to the experience of attending Gamescom and competing on stage with the whimsy and excitement of children. We were all scared, nervous about embarrassing ourselves on stage by playing terribly, and unassuming about our abilities compared to each other. Some of the players didn’t even really care about the tournament and were just excited to be able to meet other people who also enjoy playing the same game they like. It’s the gaming community everyone wishes the gaming community actually was like all the time. While we were all there to compete against each other, we didn’t meet and become adversaries. We became friends. A week before the event we were put into a Discord group and little was said about the competition or the games. The bulk of the conversation was eight guys genuinely interested in learning about each other’s lives. None of this was what I expected.

Like with the seasonal finals, I probably took this Grand Championship more seriously than anyone else. I put in several hours of practice time. I developed strategies for each map. I honed my skills. I have to admit that I was extremely guarded in how I interacted with the other players on the Discord for fear of giving them an edge in some way. I wanted to win more than anything else. But I was the outlier. The rest of the players just wanted to have fun. They hoped to win. But none of them needed to win and really that’s the way gaming should be. The gaming community and the world at large are better with more people like them, who just want to enjoy themselves and make friends, than more people like me, who focused on obtaining victory above obtaining friendship.

gamer friendsI am truly thankful to have been invited to participate in this event. I’m grateful that I was finally able to attend Gamescom after years of not being able to go due to financial limitations. I’m glad that I was finally recognized in some way for the more than 20 years of gaming I’ve put in. But in the grand scheme of life none of that matters as much as having made new friends. And because of Ubisoft and the MRKB Grand Championship I made new friends. If this is what e-Sports is like in general, then I need to get more involved in e-Sports. If this isn’t what e-Sports is usually like and my original thoughts are more accurate, then e-Sports really needs to change.

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