State of Play(Station)

Last week, Sony debuted the first episode of “State of Play”. In short, this is the PlayStation version of Nintendo Direct. I think this is a great thing. It’s just another example of how E3 is dying, which I’ve been saying for years. Every year I do a blog post about E3 and in the last several years I have been very critical. I want to reiterate that my problem with E3 is not the general concept but the business model and execution. I think live gaming events for the public are a good thing. I think making them private events that only allow media while charging game companies a fortune to give the event content is preposterous and outdated. And I praised E3 for finally selling some public access tickets in my post last year. But really it’s too little and nearly too late. If drastic changes aren’t made to the model soon, the entire concept will be dead in the water if it’s not already. All that is to say that I happily support State of Play as a concept.

Let’s be honest, the content shown in this first episode was lackluster. It was a bunch of VR announcements that affect less than 10% of the entire PS4 user base, a remake we don’t really need, an indie Gauntlet clone with a minor PVP component, Concrete Genie, and footage from two AAA titles that we were already well aware of. Concrete Genie was probably the only part of that presentation that had any real value to the bulk of PS4 users. And please don’t try to tell me that presentation told you anything about Days Gone you weren’t already aware of if it’s a game you were actually interested in before watching the presentation. But the content shown isn’t why I already consider State of Play a success and ultimately a good thing.

5 Nights VR

Sony announced that they weren’t attending E3 this year months ago. They were very open and honest about the fact that they have very little to show for this year. Between such a strong 2018, with games like God of War, Detroit: Become Human, and Marvel’s Spider-Man, and the all but confirmed transition to PS5 coming in less than two years, they’re basically riding out the rest of this generation. Also remember that there are great third party titles coming out that Sony has no real reason to try to compete with directly this late in the gen when the largest user base is on their platform anyway. Games like Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice put plenty of money in Sony’s bank account for a fraction of the work it takes for them to make the next God of War level project. And since they’re putting out a new console soon anyway while concurrently dominating the current generation, and have the largest console multiplayer base with games like The Division 2, there’s really no reason for them to rush out anything. I genuinely believe the only reason this first State of Play was released now is that they were trying to console people who have been complaining about the lack of announcements directly from Sony since the last E3. Remember that PlayStation Experience was cancelled last year as well. In a way, this is the ideal scenario though.

Sony and E3 BreakUp

When a company has nothing to show, it’s fairly common for them to say nothing, make up some bullshit, or show something way too far in advance. For whatever reason, a large number of gamers seem to be happy when the second or third thing occurs, but get livid when the first, the most honest of the three, happens. Yet Sony did none of these three things with this State of Play. They had nothing and they used it. Even with very little to show, they put together a 20 minute presentation about what was on the way, and in true Nintendo Direct style, they only showed things that will be out relatively soon. This level of transparency has never really existed in the gaming industry before from a AAA publisher and hardware manufacturer. I would much rather a company honestly tell me they have nothing than lie to me or show me stuff that may not even happen (glances at Scalebound). So for me State of Play was great even if the games shown were a combination of junk and information I already had.

scalebound
Still not over this.

I also really liked the format. I want all gaming presentations to be done like State of Play. No bullshit. No random people I don’t care about trying to make badly written jokes to transition between projects. Just a single faceless voice giving bare bones facts about upcoming projects over gameplay footage, with release dates in the not too distant future. They showed 17 games, all releasing this year, with gameplay footage, in less than 20 minutes. That’s amazing. The recent Nindie Showcase showed 18 games and took more than 25 minutes. The time of the long drawn out presentation is past. People watch these at work in a corner window or while traveling, on their phones and tablets. I don’t need pomp and drama in my games presentations. I need facts and footage in an efficient and informative manner. And there’s no resentment.

I won’t speak for everyone, but a large number of gamers are fed up with media and gaming personalities. Over the last several years, a lot of faux pas, bullshit, and disappointing moments have been perpetrated by the games industry and media, not to mention “influencers”. Much of this has been overblown, but there have also been many valid criticisms. People no longer want to see unqualified hacks or unknown randoms present games. Unless it’s an actual developer talking, I could personally do without a face at all. A large part of this comes from jealousy, and I include myself in that statement.

pewdiepie

Why does this random millennial get to present games while I have to work my boring job? Do they game more than I do? Do they have some degree in gaming that I wasn’t aware I could get? What gives them the right above all the gamers watching to have that job? This is the thought process that has developed over a generation of random unqualified media personalities with nothing to justify their positions except a social media following getting the privilege of working alongside the games industry. It has bread a lot of bad blood that has even often spilled into development as well. Many people are kind of just done with people, which is admittedly sad but not unjustified. I appreciate that Sony recognized this in how they formatted this first State of Play. Faceless voice presenting games with a minimum amount of marketing fluff. No one to get jealous of. No experiences to envy. No reason or target to hate. Just gaming. And really isn’t that what these presentations are supposed to be about?

AAA State of Play

I genuinely liked State of Play. The content was disappointing but the way it was presented was ideal. And this also showed that Sony is willing to do State of Play presentations even when nothing huge is in the pipeline. That’s great for indie games. There are so many great smaller titles that never get any attention simply because people don’t hear about them and they don’t have the budgets for marketing. But if Sony, like current Nintendo with the Nindies Showcase, will take the time to do presentations with no spectacular announcements, that gives indie titles a real chance to shine on PlayStation consoles.

I guess the point I’m making is that a lot of people have been complaining about State of Play but I think it showed a great amount of potential as a format and the future of gaming news. Slowly but surely we are breaking down the walls between the developer and the gamer with more direct access to information without the need for middle men, media companies, and elitist events that most of the gaming community can’t attend for one reason or another. In my book, the future of gaming information distribution is going in the right direction.

What are your thoughts on State of Play and what this means for the future of gaming news?

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The Division 2 VIP Beta Review

Let me start by saying that I did not preorder The Division 2. I did play the VIP beta, because I was fortunate enough to obtain a code. But I would never preorder a game in order to demo the game. For me, since demos are now almost completely dead (written as I currently download the Devil May Cry V demo), betas are the new demos. This is even more true when you consider just how little beta feedback actually changes the final game from the beta these days. Betas are the new way we try before we buy. And developers know that which is why they’ve started doing these closed betas that require most participants to pre-order the game. It’s a dumb system and dumb choice to fall into it, but lots of people do it so developers will keep getting away with it. That opening statement was not in any way, shape, or form meant to disparage The Division 2 as a game. It’s merely to comment on current business practices I disagree with while also stating my objectivity with this review because I haven’t spent any money on the game and thus can judge the beta from a neutral position.

The first thing that needs to be said about The Division 2 is that Ubisoft did not reinvent the wheel, and that’s a compliment. I really liked The Division. I liked the core story. I loved the gameplay. I loved the map. I loved the concept of the dark zone. I loved a lot, but not everything, about the gear system. For me it was a great game. The endgame was severely lacking at the start and then by the time it released I had no interest in jumping back into the game so I never really got to experience a lot of the later content. But in general I thought it was an excellent game. Really what I wanted from The Division 2 was the same core game with a lot more polish in a new locale with better endgame content. While I can’t speak to the amount of content in this sequel based on the beta, I can speak to the gameplay and basic mechanics and those are for the most part almost exactly what I wanted.

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Improvements have been made. One of the most noticeable is in the storage. It’s organized now. As soon as you open it, you notice the specific gear type categories. Thank God! So much more convenient. And managing your gear is streamlined as well. You can mark things as junk and leave them in your backpack or stash to return to them later still marked as junk. Or you can press “Deconstruct Junk” from the sub-menu and all your junk gear is instantly deconstructed. I will never go back to manually deconstructing again, because it takes longer to manually deconstruct one item than to just mark the one item as junk and deconstruct it through the sub menu. The gameplay is still really tight, but I think the cover to cover movement is even smoother than in the first game. The weapons and gear system is pretty much the same with the color coding, numbers, and special attributes. And that’s fine. The compare items system works much better than I remember it being in the first game. Maybe I’m just imagining that part though. But in general the gameplay feels better while not totally different. The crafting is still an annoying RNG system though.

The world is much more interesting. I know a lot of people were/are whining that it’s no longer set in New York, but that’s a stupid complaint. What really matters is how alive the setting itself is regardless of where it is. The world of The Division 2 is much more alive . . . with NPCs. There are many more animals in the map now. Not just dogs. There are dear, raccoons, rats, birds, dogs, and probably other things. Hopefully a bear appears at some point. And all the animals are interactive. You can even kill the rats, which I of course tested FOR SCIENCE! There are many more patrols of enemies as well as friendly NPCs roaming the map. You can call for backup from NPCs, which is awesome. You can take control points and then they get guarded and managed by friendlies, who you can then supply with resources to make them stronger. And these control points act as fast travel points so you have a lot more efficiency when traveling around the map, if you want it. At the same time though, the world outside the DZ seemed pretty devoid of other players. I want to believe this was just because it was a closed beta, but I saw plenty of other players in the safe houses. But outside I had very little contact, or even sight of, other players that I wasn’t personally grouped with. And honestly even the DZ wasn’t as populated as I expected/hoped it would be with actual people.

Dead Rat
Rat postmortem.

The lack of players was hopefully the cause of this, but I had so much trouble with the matchmaking. Really that was my only serious complaint about the beta. The entire matchmaking system outside of main missions is/was absolute trash in the beta. The first problem, which the game didn’t notify me about, was that your settings are defaulted to friends and clan members only. The problem with this is that it didn’t tell me which led me to spending over an hour trying to find people to join my group from the matchmaking station with no luck. Someone on Twitter had to tell me to change my settings. But that didn’t even really help. First, the game kept switching back to friends and clan only no matter how many times I set it to open. I’m not sure what was causing this. But even when it was set to open, I had no luck with getting people to join me. I’d sit at the matchmaking station forever and no one would join. I’d get tons of invites to join others but never got anyone to join me. Now usually I don’t care about being the group leader, but because of what I consider a content management flaw, being group leader when you’re actually trying to complete stuff outside of main missions is required.

The matchmaking in main missions works great. You go to the mission start point and the matchmaking station is right there. It works quickly and effectively. And when you complete the mission it’s done for you even if you weren’t the host. The same cannot be said for random map activities. Taking control points is challenging. It’s not impossible to do solo but it is hard. The final control point on my map was too difficult for me to solo with the gear I had at the time. So I opted to try to do it with other people. I joined a random group and we cleared it. Then when I returned to my session it was still unfinished, leaving me stuck still unable to finish it and still unable to get people to join my group. My main issues with the matchmaking come down to a lack of hard controls/customization options.

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First, why do I have to go to the matchmaking station? It’s 2019. This is supposedly a map full of players constantly roaming around looking for things to do. Why can’t I just initiate matchmaking from anywhere in the world and nearby players can just join up? In Destiny I you would see people running around the map all the time. You could easily work together without being in the same group and easily join up without having to change sessions or forgo your own game’s progress.

Second, why can’t I control specific details of the matchmaking process? I would get countless invites to other groups but no one ever joined mine. Why can’t I set that option in the matchmaking? I should be able to tell the game exactly what I’m looking for, whether or not I want to be the group leader, and what specific type of activity I want to do. The matchmaking station only had six categories: random activity, random main mission, open world exploration, answer the call, and random bounty and dark zone, both of which were not available during the beta. These matchmaking options aren’t specific enough. Random activity truly was completely random. It would just pick a task with no regard to what I actually needed to do on my map and try to toss me into some random group. Random main mission seems completely pointless until/unless you’ve already done everything and are just looking to farm XP. I hope I never need to use that. Open world exploration is too vague. Instead you should be able to choose from a list of available activities on the map like take control points, farm XP/gear, side missions, or any other number of things that can be done on the map. Random bounty gives me hope because bounties are a nice new addition. They’re randomly occurring hunt missions where you have to take down a specific NPC within a time limit for special gear and additional XP. Having a specific matchmaking option for this gives me hope that there will be tons of them constantly running on the map. During the beta I only encountered two or three bounties. A dark zone matchmaking system is of course necessary and will obviously be present in the final game. I just hope they put a matchmaking station in the DZ entrance, since there wasn’t one in the beta, in the final game because the safe houses aren’t near the DZ entrance, which you can fast travel to directly.

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The answer the call feature is the beginnings of a great idea that I hope works better and easier in the final product. While you can’t match make from anywhere on the map, you can call for help. This is not when you’re bleeding out and hoping for a revive. You can send up a call directly from the map or menu at any time. People can answer your call and randomly join your group to help with whatever activity you’re doing. This was the only time I was able to get someone to join my group. It took a while, but eventually a white knight answered my call. The nice thing about this feature is that you can leave the call on while still playing the game so you’re not just sitting around waiting like at the matchmaking station. And the game notifies you when someone puts out a call nearby. The problem is it doesn’t show you on the map where they are unless you answer the call so you never really know how far it is till you’ve already committed. Another problem with the feature is that I think you have to go to the matchmaking station and use the answer the call feature to help someone else. I kept getting random notifications via ISAC that someone was in need of assistance and had put out a call. And I genuinely wanted to join these players and help them. But I couldn’t figure out how to do that from where I was when getting the notification. I hope I’m wrong and just couldn’t figure it out because the feature will only be effective if at any time from anywhere you can just answer the call, join their group, and run directly to the location of the player in need. If you actually have to go to a safe house and use the matchmaking station first then it’s a wasted concept no better than the open world exploration matchmaking feature. The matchmaking needs to be heavily improved. Being part of the Division is the main crux of the game’s plot/concept. If you can’t easily and effectively team up and work with others then it’s a waste of what’s for the most part an excellent shared world shooter.

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The Dark Zone seems much improved in some ways and worse in others. There is no longer a single dark zone that everyone plays in. Instead, like the map itself, there are dark zone districts of varying difficulty levels, each with multiple entry points. This is a way better system. It allows players to choose the level of challenge they’ll be facing and better manage their DZ experience. I kind of hope there will be some sort of management controls from Ubisoft’s side that will ensure that super high rank players can’t just roll into the noob DZ and tear through lower level players. That’s the only problem I see with a system that actively tells you where the easy and hard parts of the DZ are. It’s essentially creating a shooting gallery for advanced players. The DZ otherwise works much the same as in the first game. But now there are more marked enemy spawn points and notifications to tell you when they’re occupied so you can better manage your roaming time and not just wonder around hoping to find stuff to do. I didn’t see enough other players in the DZ, but again this was a closed beta so I assume this won’t be a huge issue in the final game. My biggest complaint about the DZ was the frequency of valuable drops. There were not nearly enough air drops taking place. In the time it took me to reach DZ level 10 I saw only two or three total air drops. This is too slow for a populated DZ. They should be happening every five to ten minutes so there’s enough swag for all players to at least have time to get to and try to fight for. And the occupied landmarks weren’t dropping enough valuable stuff at all. Many times I would clear areas and not even get any contaminated gear. While I really liked the fact that you could get some gear in the DZ without having to do the extractions, this shouldn’t be happening at the rate it was compared to finding contaminated gear. And the contaminated gear I was finding was mostly complete trash.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-02-10 02-28-56

Since there was no DZ matchmaking available during the beta, I ran the DZ solo. I liked that I was able to do that effectively. I worked with other random players I found within the DZ without ever officially teaming up with them. The system works and people are able to coordinate well within the DZ without being in groups. I was also able to kill a rogue agent, steal his gear, and extract it solo. I only saw two the entire time I was in the DZ so a 50% success rate is pretty good. The DZ leveling system is nice. You can level up fairly quickly if you stick to farming landmarks. In The Division 2 DZ levels come with special perks that only affect the DZ. There are level tiers every five DZ levels and each tier grants you a perk. Some levels have only one perk and others have you choose which one you want to implement, sacrificing the others in that tier in the process. You can respec your DZ perks but this feature wasn’t available in the beta so I don’t know what the cost or process of doing this is.

In general, I really like how the map is broken down. Each area, including the DZ is clearly marked with level range recommendations/requirements. There are a fair number of fast travel locations in each area, once you’ve unlocked them. There are events constantly appearing to farm additional XP such as bounties, hostage situations, and broadcast hacks. Even if the endgame isn’t super strong, there seems like there will be more efforts to keep the game alive past the base game. But there is definitely going to be what seems to be a lot of end game content as well.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-02-10 02-45-17

Endgame is always the Achilles heel of these types of games. It’s especially difficult when they’re not trying to go the Destiny route of adding plot based expansions at additional cost, which I can’t say will or won’t be the case with The Division 2 at this point. What I can say is that the beta featured a number of endgame clues and teases. There is of course the DZ, which I already discussed. Each mission can also be replayed on a harder difficulty. But that’s not all there is. There are definitely going to be raids because they’re mentioned in the beta’s pause menu. But there are also invasion missions. Invasion missions are replays of old mission maps with completely new enemies and plot tie-ins. But these aren’t just the same enemies with new skins. These enemies are way harder, way smarter, and way different. I finished the final (second) main mission in the beta at level six. The maximum level you could reach during the beta was level seven. That’s regular level as opposed to DZ level. Upon completing the last available main mission you unlocked special access to an invasion mission. This gave you access to three specialty builds that were much higher level and had way better gear. This gear also included an additional (fourth) weapon with a special feature. Examples included a grenade launcher and a compound bow. This mission had enemies set to level 32, more than four times higher than the enemies in the regular mission. They were a special military group that was invading the area and presumably trying to conquer Washington DC. They had crazy stuff including literal attack robots. This mission was difficult. It took me, as part of a four man team, 58 minutes to complete. It was stressful, it was scary, it was exhilarating, it was satisfying as hell once completed. While I don’t love the idea of replaying the same mission maps over and over, calling these the same missions does a disservice to the people that designed them. It is a wholly different experience. In light of all this, I’d say it looks like there is going to be a fair amount of endgame. I just hope it’s available as soon as I reach the end of the base game.

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Finally, there seems to be a new PVP mode other than the DZ. The Conflict mode was described in one of the tutorial messages, but sadly I didn’t have time to try it before the beta ended. Hopefully I’ll be able to try it in a public beta before the game releases. Based on the little bit the tutorial screen tells about it, I believe it’s a PVP mode with multiple specialized maps and modes that nets rewards. It also has its own leveling system, making a total of three within the game I’ve seen so far. I could also believe that many people were playing this mode which might explain why the map felt so devoid of players to me.

Overall I was really happy with this beta. It showed me the things I needed to see and experience to want to buy the full game. Gold edition seems like it will probably be necessary, but without a content timetable, I can’t say if it’s the best decision for me, as I really didn’t make proper use of the season pass in the first one. I had a good time with this beta and I think this game will do very well. It’s the same core game from the first one with a number of noticeable improvements, added modes, and a new setting. I’m definitely looking forward to retaking Washington DC.

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Taipei Game Show 2019

Once again, I had the pleasure of attending Taipei Game Show this year. It’s one of my favorite shows because of how hands on it is. It’s also one of the better game conventions that’s both completely open to the public and extremely affordable, with a single day ticket price of just $10. I will say though that the ticket price is up 50% from last year so while it’s not high, that increase in price percentage wise is worrying for the future of the show. I will qualify that statement by saying Taipei Game Show is one of the best shows for high quality free swag that’s open to the public. Every year I get a fairly good haul of stuff I probably don’t need and this year was no different.

The best thing about gaming events in Taiwan is the large number of playable demos. I’ve been to company specific events like PlayStation Gaming Festival Taipei and neutral events like Taipei Game Show over the last few years and consistently events in Taiwan always focus on having playable demos open to the public rather than just footage and demos only available for VIP invited visitors. This is the main reason I keep going back every year.

sega booth

In general, I’d say this was a weaker show than last year’s. At last year’s show, the bulk of games on display to try were unreleased titles or games that were very new. At this year’s show there was plenty of new stuff that hadn’t been released yet, but there were also a lot of demos for stuff that was already out.  Even some stuff that I’d already beaten. Take the Ubisoft booth for instance. They had Just Dance 2019 on their main stage, which is fine because they always have that year’s Just Dance running with people dancing because it makes for a good show. But their other offerings were lacking. They of course had The Division 2 Beta and that’s exactly what should have been there. That was the main portion of their booth. But the only other games they had on display to try were Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and Trials Rising. That means of the five games they had on display three of them had already been released last year. And I personally own all three of them so unless you wanted to wait in line for over an hour to try The Division 2, which I didn’t having already played the alpha, I just tried Trials Rising, which I’ll discuss in detail in my demos review section of this post.

It wasn’t just Ubisoft that was featuring a lot of already released stuff though. Bandai Namco always has a large booth, and this year was no different. But the only game I tried from them was God Eater 3. The main focus of their booth was Ace Combat 7: Skies Unknown, which makes sense because it literally came out this month. But they were featuring demos for Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun!, Katamari Damacy Reroll, and a bunch of Gundam stuff that’s focused on the Asia market that I’ve never heard of, as per usual. The only game that they had that was truly special for a show was One Piece World Seeker, which I didn’t even get to try because I didn’t realize they had it until the show was closing for the day. They did no special promotion for it. No large display, which they had for two or three other games, including Ace Combat 7, no posters, no special One Piece swag. They just had it set up on a few screens and you had to notice it on your own, which sadly I didn’t.

bandai booth

As usual, there was no XBOX presence there. Other than PC gaming, which is a big thing at the show every year, Microsoft has no showings at Taipei Game Show. You can buy some PS4 and Switch games at the show every year, but not a single XB1 game could be found. Speaking of which, they had physical copies of Kingdom Hearts III available which is awesome because the game launched in Taiwan the day I attended, which shows just how on top of their game SONY really was for the show.

The thing I found most disappointing about the show this year was the limited Nintendo presence. They didn’t take the time to show up in person like PlayStation does every year. You only get glances of the Switch through third party developers/publishers like Ubisoft and Bandai Namco. But an actual Nintendo booth and store would have been so much better. PlayStation had their own official booth and store, selling new physical games and merch, like they do every year. You could even buy Death Stranding t-shirts this year, though they didn’t have any new footage or gameplay for the game being shown, because of course they didn’t. In a way PlayStation is uncontested just about every year at Taipei Game Show because they put in the investment to make a spectacular booth and feature a huge number of playable demos including PSVR offerings. Most of the demos I played at the show this year, as is true every year, were at the PlayStation booth. And really I don’t think it should be that way. It simply is because enough other companies don’t care enough to participate, which is sad to say the least.

playstation booth

On the PC side of things, it was kind of disappointing because though most of the big Asian players attended such as Nvidia, HyperX, Gigabyte, Cooler Master, ASUS ROG, MSI, and even ThermalTake, they all focused on parts rather than games. They were selling parts in their booths, which is fine, but really that was the main focus of their booths. Showing off and selling products that could be used for gaming rather than focusing on actual gaming. And while this makes perfect sense from a business perspective, as these are hardware companies, it really detracts from the spirit of the show. They could do a lot more to feature more playable demos for new and yet to be released games and make that the focus of their booths while showing off their hardware. In my opinion, this would be the more appropriate way to do things. Of all the PC booths I saw, only ASUS ROG had a demo for an unreleased game. They had a small section where you could try out the PC version of Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice as evidenced by a single mid-sized poster on the far side of their booth. In comparison, PlayStation had a giant statue of one of the game’s bosses and a small Japanese hut shaped structure where you could try out the game complete with Japanese style stools/backless chairs. This was the only PlayStation demo I experienced that did not require you to stand. The point is that PlayStation put in that much investment to display a game that isn’t even exclusive to their platform, meanwhile these PC companies were doing the bare minimum to talk about actual games.

cm booth

On the swag front, I’m always really impressed most by the mobile app companies and indie studios. It shows just how much money mobile apps make in Asia, because their swag is on a whole other level compared to companies like PlayStation and Nvidia. The swag for the PlayStation booth was game specific. Meaning you got different stuff for trying different games, with most games having no special items at all. Every PlayStation demo gave you red envelopes with a 7 day free trial for PlayStation plus. This is very standard for Taipei Game Show as it always happens right before Chinese New Year, so the envelopes are culturally specific to Asia. Over the years I’ve gotten red envelopes from numerous brands. This year only PlayStation had them. But certain games also gave you special items for trying them. Dead or Alive 6 gave a lanyard and collectors pin. A VR game called Focus on You gave a full sized couch pillow. But most of the time you just got the envelopes. And remember that this is after waiting forever in those long PlayStation lines. Meanwhile some random mobile app company gave me a fairly large stuffed cow, which I named Mr. Moo Cow, for trying three apps over the course of maybe 10 minutes. I will clarify that trying the three apps gave me the chance to draw a prize and that’s what I won, but they had lots of great prizes and plenty of those cows to give away.

An indie PC game studio that I’ve never heard of gave me a full length mousepad of very good quality. Again I drew this, but the same logic applies. SEGA gave out blue lanyards. Nvidia made me travel to five different locations around their booth as well as one at another booth they were partnered with for the chance to draw a prize, which ultimately got me a Monster energy drink and some stickers. Of all the larger companies at the show, I’d have to say the best single swag item was from Bandai Namco. It was a Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun! themed neck pillow. But it required you to try five different games they had on display, all of which had their own separate lines. Sadly I didn’t have time to complete this. I even offered to pay for the pillow because I really wanted one and they refused to let me buy it. Overall I was very happy with my swag haul, but my point is the larger companies in the industry really could stand to step their game up.

swag tgs 2019

I will say though that Ubisoft impressed me this year by thinking more outside the box with their swag. Last year they had a system where you tried any game, of which they had several compared to this year, and you got a prize draw. You went to the claims table and they had you play a Just Dance themed prize machine like the one in Just Dance 2018 and you won a random prize, of which they had a large variety of prizes you could win. I got an Assassin’s Creed Origins t-shirt, a Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle t-shirt, and a Rabbid Mario hat. It was a really nice system because most of the prizes were really good and the system was entirely random so you didn’t have to wait to try a game you didn’t necessarily want to try to get the swag you wanted. It did however mean that you could get swag you absolutely didn’t want or repeat prizes. They also had a special For Honor keychain which was only available to those who waited in line to try that specific game, which I of course did. This year they didn’t have general swag. You only got a 5% coupon to the Taiwan UPLAY online store. But their game specific swag for The Division 2 was very creative. You got a “Tommy the Teddy Bear” backpack charm which consists of a teddy bear with a bowtie and a The Division 2 keychain. But the really cool part is that it comes with an in game activation code that will give your character in the game the teddy bear charm for their backpack as well. That’s cool swag. It makes a direct connection between the live event and the game. It’s limited edition, which players really care about for some reason, and it motivates people to buy the game. And it was still cheaper to make than the neck pillows or Mr. Moo Cow while being just as valuable to the gamers at the show. Kudos to Ubisoft.

tommy the teddy

Now let’s talk about what’s really important at game shows: the playable demos. I had the privilege to play seven AAA/large studio demos for games that weren’t yet released at my time of playing (I’m counting Kingdom Hearts III because it wasn’t available in the US for another four days) as well as a few indie titles. Sadly, the three indie titles I recall playing, one on PSVR and two on PC, weren’t anything special so I won’t take the time to go over them in this already long blog post. So let’s just talk about the big stuff. Please note that at Taipei Game Show demos only last 10 – 15 minutes due to the sheer number of people waiting to play. They simply can’t let people play for as long as I would have liked to, and that makes sense. So be aware that my assessment of these demos should be taken with a grain of salt because I didn’t have time to change any settings or get super comfortable with the controls. Also note that the demos in Taipei Game Show are mapped for Asian players, which is different from standard button maps in the West. For instance, on a DualShock 4 controller O is the confirm button in Asia, while X is the confirm button in the West. These sorts of things do really make a difference. I remember going to Taipei Game Show back in 2016 and trying Attack on Titan for the first time and absolutely hating it because of the button map and my inability to read the directions, since they’re always in Chinese or Japanese at Taipei Game Show. Then when I got to try the game at home with an American button map and English directions I absolutely loved the game.

red envelopes

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice

Of all the demos available, this was the one I was most excited to try. Obviously Kingdom Hearts III was more important overall, but that was set to release less than a week from the event so trying the demo for 10 minutes wasn’t really that important in the grand scheme of things. Sekiro on the other hand is one of my top games for this year that won’t be out for some time. The only game I wanted to play more than Sekiro is Ghost of Tsushima, which sadly wasn’t available to play. Though they did have a giant poster and a guy dressed up like a samurai to promote the game and taunt my very soul. But thankfully I at least got to try the next great soulslike title.

Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice was a rough demo experience. Obviously the game is difficult, which it should be. But it’s also not the same gameplay as Dark Souls or Bloodborne, so you can’t just walk on with that past experience and expect things to just click right away. This is a completely different animal. For starters, the pace of the gameplay is much faster than even Bloodborne. You’re zip-lining around the level, dealing with long range attacks like rifles, and having to dodge the view of spotters stealthily hidden throughout the world. It’s as much about stealth as it is about combat performance. And you are not very powerful in the grand scheme of things. Basic samurai go down in a few swipes, or instantly with a stealth kill. But even the first tier armored samurai were quite the amount of effort/attacks to take down. And the first mini-boss was pretty much impossible for me to bring down in the 10 minutes I had. This is because he had four other enemies in the area with him, two of which couldn’t be stealth killed. The three of them together were just too difficult for the items I had. The long range attacks are severely lacking. At least what was available to me in the demo. I really hope to be able to get a bow and/or rifle in the full game. I really hated the button map in this demo. I hate to be one of those people that makes excuses like that for not being able to beat a game, but honestly if I can’t remap that game and that’s the final layout for the US version, I’m gonna have a terrible time. It did not work for me at all. It’s not that it’s drastically different from Bloodborne. It’s that what you’re doing in Bloodborne with the controls is vastly different and that makes all the difference in the effectiveness of the button layout.

sekiro__shadows_die_twice_gx

I want to be clear in saying that I don’t think it’s a bad game after playing the demo. I’m fairly certain I’ll be buying the Collector’s Edition day one. It’s very challenging, which is what it’s supposed to be. But there are definitely things I want to see changed in the final product from what I experienced in the demo. That’s of course assuming the conditions leading up to the point in the game the demo took place in are inevitable for the items, skills, and damage I was getting in the demo. It’s very possible that the experience I’ll have based on my preferred play style will net drastically different outcomes from what I got in the demo.

Dead or Alive 6

I’m a big Dead or Alive fan and have been since I bought the third installment on the original XBOX 18 years ago. I had played the earlier games causally in arcades but DOA3 is when I really fell in love with the franchise. It’s still in my top five fighting franchises and I play every game. Really I don’t expect things to be too different from game to game and I prefer it that way because the DOA formula is nearly perfect in my opinion. I just want some new fighters, new stages, and maybe some new special moves and I’m pretty much fine with it.

What I got from this demo is almost exactly what I wanted. The graphics are good. The roster includes all the characters I wanted, including Hyabusa, and the gameplay is much the same. There are some new specialty attacks, similar to what you get in the latest Soul Calibur, but by and large it’s the same buttery smooth, fast paced gameplay fans of the franchise are accustomed to. There was also a great selection of costumes for all the fighters. I’m very much looking forward to playing this game.

doa6

Devil May Cry 5

I’ve never beaten any of the DMC games, unless you count DmC: Devil May Cry (2013) by Ninja Theory. But I’ve always wanted to play them all. I’ve been very impressed by the things I’ve seen about DMC5 so I finally bought  1 – 4 remastered on PS4. The DMC5 demo delivered both what I wanted and expected. It’s fast paced, smooth, visually gruesome, and slightly comedic. I was very happy with the gameplay, though I do feel that I didn’t fully understand the robotic hand system they implemented. I thought it was a bit weird, but I also liked that you could completely destroy your hand and then have to fight with one arm. The different arm types were cool as well because it allowed you to create a more customized gameplay experience based on your preferences. The gameplay was fair. I’d recommend playing this one on hard if you’re a hardcore fan of the franchise or genre. I beat the boss in the demo with little fear of dying. But overall I was very happy with it and I’ll certainly be buying the game.

devil-may-cry-5

God Eater 3

God Eater is a franchise I’ve always been interested in but never had the time to really play. I actually own the first two games on PC, but I’ve never played either of them. I really like the genre because of games like Toukiden and Monster Hunter World. But when you have games like Monster Hunter World available the motivation to take the time to play anything else in the genre becomes sorely lacking. But I still wanted to try this demo.

Personally I struggled a lot with this demo. A large part of that comes from the fact that it wasn’t in English. I had such a hard time trying to figure out the weapons controls. I kept accidentally changing from the sword to the gun mode and then couldn’t get the gun to fire properly. The demo had me running around looking for monsters but very few were spawning in the level. I actually ran out of time before the real monster showed up so my whole demo experience was really lousy. I hope they release a public demo because I’d genuinely like to try it again with a full understanding of how the gameplay mechanics work before passing final judgement. That is to say the game is not at all intuitive.

god-eater-3

Kingdom Hearts III

I have waited more than a decade to play Kingdom Hearts III. I have watched as Square Enix dished out garbage handheld spin off title after garbage handheld spin off title. I have seen Sora travel to worlds that made up my childhood and fight alongside some of my favorite characters growing up. But in all these years I have never seen his story get a proper conclusion. It is my hope that I will finally get this in Kingdom Hearts III. No I did not need to play a demo for a game that will literally be released before this blog post is even published. But of course I took the time to wait in line and play it anyway.

The game dropped me directly into Toy Story world. I don’t know how far into the game that was/is, but it seemed like it was quite a ways in because I was really OP. I could combo through the air for what seemed like forever. I had magic attacks that were super powerful. It was definitely fun but it did not feel earned. The team up moves were amazing and quite beautiful. I also really liked that Buzz and Woody fought alongside me without me having to sacrifice Donald or Goofy from my team. The demo definitely did its job in making me excited to play the game. But I’m hoping they don’t just drop me in at that level of power from the start. The gameplay was very smooth overall, as is to be expected. And the AI for my team mates was very effective as well. I can’t comment on Donald’s healing AI/ability at this point because I didn’t take enough damage to require healing.

kingdom hearts 3

At the end of the day, I already preordered the game months ago so playing the demo didn’t matter much to me or have any impact on my decision to buy and play the game. But I am really looking forward to finally getting to play it. As I write this post, I’m preloading it onto my PS4.

Space Channel 5 PSVR

I didn’t actually know this game was in the works. Space Channel 5 was one of my favorite games from the Dreamcast. It’s one of the only games that I enjoyed with my sisters as a kid. Even my mom liked watching us play it. I’m a big music/rhythm game fan and SC5 was one of the best from that era. The blend of story, challenging gameplay, and sci-fi graphics made for a great music game experience. And it featured Michael Jackson. So I was both shocked and ecstatic to find out that a VR version of the game was in the pipeline and available to try.

I have to say that it worked very well gameplay wise. You really had to do the moves and keep to the rhythm. It was responsive, mostly fair in its judgement of your move accuracy, and quite fun. The demo didn’t have any of the more challenging dance battles because it was only the first level, but from what I experienced I think it could end up being a stellar overall gameplay experience. What I didn’t like was that they changed the level structure and presentation. In the original game you play as Ulala and travel through the stages dance battling aliens and rescuing people along the way. In this demo you played as Ulala’s trainee and the entire concept of traveling through the stage was removed. You just stayed in the same place the entire level and the aliens came to you, bringing their hostages along with them. This lazy way of doing the level really took away from the overall experience of the original game. And playing as a trainee was kind of a bummer. Especially since she never talked back to Ulala. I would have much preferred an entirely new story as the third installment of the franchise with this new system rather than change up the process of the original game in this manner. The gameplay is quite solid though so hopefully we’ll see something like that in the future whether it’s Space Channel 5 or a new IP altogether.

sapce channel 5

Trials Rising

I only tried this game because I played and liked the beta for Trials Fusion and didn’t want to play Starlink: Battle for Atlas or Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, both of which I already own. And I certainly wasn’t going to wait two hours to try The Division 2 beta. Especially after having already played the alpha. So I tried the one game that was completely new to me.

Trials Fusion is extremely hard. I’m so glad you can continue from the very plentiful and automatically applied checkpoints because wow is it difficult to get past the various obstacles in a given course. The ramps and angles are so unforgiving. Timing is everything and you rely on luck way too much. I crashed so many times trying to get through a single course that it got depressing. I don’t know who the target audience is for that game but it’s certainly not me.

trials rising

The only two demos that I didn’t get to play but really wanted to were One Piece World Seeker and Concrete Genie. Both of these were under marketed, as in not marketed at all, so I wasn’t even aware of them till the booths were already closing up for the day. This was probably my biggest complaint from the show this year. There simply wasn’t enough put into providing people with information. Usually there’s an information booth in every main intersection. This year there was nothing. No people walking around to ask for directions. No help desk inside the floor. You could get assistance about specific booths from booth employees, but for general help about the show you were on your own with nothing more than a printed map, which I had to go out of my way to find because they weren’t handing them out at the door like they always have in past years that I’ve attended. There should have been a list of playable demos made available online before the show started so you could plan what you wanted to try in advance.

One thing I noticed about a number of demos, both indie and AAA, was that many of them had intros that were way too long. If you tell me I only have 10 – 15 minutes to try out a game, less than a minute of that should be taken up by story introductions. I didn’t wait in line for an hour to get plot points. I just want to try the gameplay and see the graphics. Between that and loading times, so many games were just wasteful in their time management of that 10 – 15 minute span of time. A VR demo I tried from an indie studio had me sit through 10 minutes of introduction with Chinese subtitles and not enough volume before I got to fire a single bullet. This is not OK.

just dance bracelet
My prize for competing.

I’ll end this post by sharing a rather interesting experience I had at the Ubisoft booth. If you follow me on Twitter, then you’re probably aware that I’m a big Just Dance player/fan. Though I’ve never formally competed, based on my online performance for the past two or three installments of the franchise, I genuinely believe and tell people that I’m in the top five players in Taiwan. At least on Nintendo platforms. While I was at the Ubisoft booth waiting in line, I mentioned to one of the employees that spoke English that I was a big fan of the franchise and that I was a top player in Taiwan. As they do every year, they had Just Dance, 2019 in this case, running on the stage. But this year they allowed anyone to walk up and play rather than limit it to invited guest players only like they usually do. I actually didn’t want to play because I had only played about three hours of Just Dance 2019 at this point, having just opened the game earlier in the week. This employee went and told the guy in charge of the Just Dance section of the booth that I claimed to be a top player. He, also being able to speak English, came and asked me if I’d play. I felt like I had to at this point otherwise it would look like I was lying about my skill level. After reaching the stage, they introduced me to the host and Ubisoft’s brand ambassador for Just Dance in Taiwan. The host seemed to be an active Just Dance player but he wasn’t actually playing at that time. The brand ambassador was introduced to me as the number one player in Taiwan. I chose to introduce myself by my Just Dance online name rather than my real name and to my surprise they both recognized my Nintendo Switch User ID from previous Just Dance versions. The brand ambassador was quite good. He had already mastered all the 2019 songs, which makes sense if you started playing it day one because it’s been out since October. I just got a late start because I usually close out the year with the previous version before starting the installment for the next year. I will say without argument that he was better than I was consistently. But of the four to five players playing, I was getting second place and the ambassador was not blowing me out of the water. At times I was even ahead of him but he was ultimately closing out each song in the lead. I actually really would have liked to play against him in some songs from 2018 because I do believe that I was at his level of play. Ultimately they interviewed me after I was done playing and featured my interview in this official Ubisoft Taipei Game Show video. See if you can figure out who I am.

So that’s it for another solid Taipei Game Show. Here’s looking forward to a great year of gaming and attending again next year.

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

Pre-order at Your Own Price

I’ve been a frugal gamer for a great many years.  I have been actively watching and comparing game pricing patterns and trends across all platforms for at least a decade. I have learned to be patient about buying games. I don’t fall for day one purchases for fighting games, except for Smash Bros., because I know the GOTY edition with all the DLC will drop later. They just announced a full edition of DragonBall FighterZ as a perfect example. I often wait multiple years before buying a game just to get the price I want. I’m still waiting for Cuphead for instance because I won’t buy it until it drops to $10. What I think is important as well as gratifying is that I am not alone in these practices.

Gamers the world over have established their own systems of measuring the value of games and setting their own bite prices well before games even release. The fact that this practice is so common tells me two things. First, not all gamers are mindless drones throwing their money at anything with a pretty trailer and a big publisher name behind it. Many gamers are like that but I wouldn’t even say the majority of them are. Second, the market isn’t really interested in paying $60 for new games and thus $60 is probably not the optimum price of new games even though that number has been normalized for a great many years.

Buyer's Market Big

Gaming is a buyer’s market. While the industry would have us believe that it’s a seller’s market and that we should be thankful that prices are as low as they are, this is patently false. The truth is that we as consumers control and shape the market as we see fit with our wallets. We simply fail to exercise that power as a collective group. Microtransactions exist because the collective we continue to pay for them. Unfinished games are released and patched later because we continue to buy games released in an unfinished state. If we collectively decided not to do these things, they would cease to be a problem or exist at all. The real problem comes down to the fact that we rarely do get organized and too many gamers, especially in America, simply don’t care about the collective good of the community. If you have the money to overpay for games and spend on microtransactions, more often than not you participate in the current corrupted system regardless of how those decisions affect other, often less fortunate, gamers.

After thinking about these topics in detail I came up with an idea that I don’t think I’ve ever seen before. The closest thing to it would be the Humble Bundle system but that’s a much different concept when it comes down to it. Crowd funding might be comparable in some way, but it too isn’t the same type of thing. Before I go into details let me state for the record that I am fully aware that what I’m about to suggest will never actually happen. I am fully aware that a lot of people, day one purchasers and pre-order players almost exclusively, would be livid if such a system were introduced. Shareholders of large corporations would hate the idea of their returns being regulated so directly by consumers. This is an idea that I think would revolutionize the games market, but I understand that it’s strictly for discussion purposes. I’m optimistic not naïve.

Humble-Bundle-weekly-bundles

If we know that many, possibly most, gamers don’t buy games at release price then there’s a service that the industry is severely lacking. Why can’t consumers pre-order/pre-purchase games at their own chosen price? Currently we can purchase games digitally or physically before they are released. The process is simple and fairly efficient in most cases. We also have the ability, in limited frequency, to pay for certain games, and other forms of media, at any price we set. That’s the entire system behind Humble Bundle with a few slight regulatory factors. So why can’t we apply this concept to purchasing all games in a pre-paid scenario?

Imagine a system where, just like you do already, you see a game you want and you set a price. Let’s use the soon to be released, and already pre-ordered in my case, Kingdom Hearts III. The game will be releasing for $60 on January 25th. But let’s assume, unlike me in this case, you have decided that it’s not worth $60. Let’s say you have gone through whatever process you use to determine your bite price and have concluded that you will spend only $30 to get the game. Completely fair assessment and decision. You know you will buy the game and you know you will buy it as soon as it’s $30. Being an experienced gamer/consumer, you already know that this will probably not be the price for at least four to six months if not longer. But you want to make the purchase now. Why do you want to make the purchase now? For many of the same reasons people pre-order games.

bindingofisaacpreorder

Pre-ordering a game has a number of positive benefits for some people outside of just being able to play it on day one. First, the purchase is already made. You don’t have to think about paying for the game anymore. It’s already yours. You don’t have to worry about having the money later or thinking about looking for a vendor. Second, you are supporting the dev/project. Pre-ordering games shows devs and their publishers which projects you really care about and helps to ensure the game looks good to investors and media based on the number of units sold in advance as well as the amount of money made. Third, pre-order bonuses. Though I find the practice extremely predatory and unfair, rewarding people for buying games in advance of real reviews and established public opinion is a common practice and one of the main reasons I occasionally get pulled into pre-ordering games myself. These are just a few examples of the benefits of pre-ordering but there are plenty of other ones.

So you want to pre-order Kingdom Hearts III but you only want to pay $30 for it. You know it will take four to six months for it to hit that price on the platform of your choice and you’re perfectly fine with that but you would still like to pay for it in advance. Currently this is impossible. There is no way for a normal consumer to pre-order a game and reap the benefits perceived from pre-ordering, for their chosen price. They can either pay more, in this case double, what they actually want to pay for the game, or they can wait until the price drops and hopefully have the money still lying around. But why can’t a person instead declare in advance that they want a game for the price they want to pay?

KH3

I think this system would fundamentally change the way games are bought and sold. If people could declare their chosen price for a game in a concrete way that shows companies in dollars how much the public perceives the value of their games while still netting most of the same benefits of preorders for both consumers and developers, it would improve the system for everyone involved. Consumers could give direct feedback about their perception of games to studios and publishers in a way that actually matters and is measureable. Companies would be able to better perceive how the public feels about their games pre-release without having to necessarily incur a hard boycott or lacking unit sales numbers early on. Publishers could set more acceptable starting prices based on actual sales data from the public, ultimately leading to more units sold quicker in the long run.

Such a system would create a more symbiotic relationship between studios and consumers where business decisions would be based on actual data rather than perceived public opinion from the vocal minorities that often control social media. It would even help shape marketing plans because companies would be able to track the number of dollars made for specific ads and campaigns compared to the number of preorders and dollar amount applied to them. And it would considerably reduce gamers complaining about pricing because they’d be setting their own prices. And it would help publishers and retailers to better track and plan their price reduction strategies, ultimately allowing them to maximize total profits.

Destiny Pre order

It would be an extremely simple system to implement in the digital market. The only trouble with doing it in the physical market is storage space. If everyone pays $30 for a $60 game, companies might have made more money faster, but they’d then be responsible for storing all the pre-order units until the prices hit the level of each customers’ desired bite price. This would admittedly be troublesome and costly for brick and mortar stores. But the digital market could easily handle this system. It would be no different than pre-ordering a digital game today other than that the release of the game would be tied to the digital store price listing as opposed to a specific date. And it would be great for consumers, if the games are automatically delivered as soon as they hit the target price or below, because it would mean no more missing sales. At the same time it would allow sellers to make more than they would have necessarily made if the sale price goes below the target price.

The system wouldn’t refund any money. It would simply take the amount of money the consumer wanted to pay for the item and set the item as purchased in the digital store. Then instead of tying the release of the item to that account based on date, it would do it based on price paid being at or above current price in the store. Fairly simple to implement within the current digital marketplaces for games we have available.

SWBF 2 Stocks

While such a system would take some getting used to for everyone at first, I do believe that it would be better for all parties involved in the long run. It would give consumers more agency to shape industry trends while also not forcing us to do full boycotts of games when we have a complaint pre-release. Imagine a scenario where instead of outright boycotting Star Wars: Battlefront II people were able to simply show that they were unhappy with certain decisions made by quantifying how much in value the game was missing from that $60 target price. DICE wouldn’t have had a game completely tank but the public also wouldn’t have had to be taken advantage of. Fallout 76 is an even better more recent example. A lot of people actually really like many aspects of the game but they still want all the bugs and server issues addressed. Currently there’s no way to show that in dollars and cents, the only language publishers really care about. Either people buy the game to show they support the concept and have to be disappointed in their purchase. Or they don’t buy the game and end looking like they are completely against the concept, which is an inaccurate set of choices for many gamers.

GTAV Price

I will say that there is indeed one serious potential flaw with this system and that’s the minimum price. If you can set any price, what happens to people who set a price lower than the game will ever really go? Let’s take GTAV for example. The game released on the PS3 in 2013. It never really dropped in price until it had already hit the PS4 a year later. And it took another half a year after that for it to finally hit PC. Even today it still costs $30 on PSN without a sale discount. The Black Friday sale price was $20. What this means is that even five years after release if you had pre-purchased for $10 then you still wouldn’t have had the game delivered. This could be a potential problem. To combat this there would of course have to be minimum prices for the pre-purchase system. I’d say $20. I chose this price based on the PlayStation Greatest Hits system currently in place. While many games do eventually fall below the $20 greatest hits rate, it’s objectively the only price we can almost guarantee that most games will hit on a platform before being unavailable for one reason or another. This price also works for pretty much all platforms, except for maybe Nintendo, because there pricing system is totally screwed up. At the same time, one could assume that Nintendo would eventually adjust their pricing schemes based on all the newly collected pre-order data.

Again, I don’t actually believe such a system would even be implemented. I believe that it easily could be and that it would make things better for everyone involved. But the people at the top of these companies and their boards would never happily cede so much control of profits to the public. The current system is akin to voter suppression in American politics and it works. So why would they change it? What do you think? Would you take advantage of a system that allowed you to have your cake and eat it too with purchasing games? What specific ideas do you think would make a system like this work even better?

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As always, thanks for reading. Please take the time to follow my blog, leave a comment, and check out some of my other channels if you enjoyed what you read.

2018 Year in Review

I’m gonna be honest and say that I was not looking forward to writing this post this year. Not because it was a bad year for gaming but because it was too good. There is just so much to say about gaming in 2018 that I didn’t want to take on the daunting task of trying to summarize it in a single post. There’s really no way to address all the positive things that happened in gaming during 2018. Outside of gaming, the last year was shit. Literally right up to the end of it. But gaming wise it was one of the best years we’ve seen in a long time. So while I’m gonna do my best to do this year justice in a single blog post, I acknowledge that I’m going to come up short. But this post is tradition so it had to be done.

As always, let me talk about how gaming in 2018 was for me personally first. This was an excellent year. I played more release window games in 2018 than I have for the last five to ten years. And I didn’t even break my oath to only buy three day one release titles. Due to review copies, which I’m now getting again in small amounts, as well as borrowing from friends, sales, and winning some contests, I was able to play many games while they were still relevant, which almost never happens. Some of the games I played this year include Monster Hunter World, God of War, Detroit: Become Human, Spider-Man, The Crew 2, Starlink: Battle for Atlas, and of course Smash Bros. Ultimate. I also got a copy of Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey but I haven’t played it yet because I still haven’t played Origins, which I just got for Black Friday. So many of the games I played this year were amazing. I got four platinums. That’s not me bragging. Usually I only get one in a given year. I got four because games kept being so good that I wanted to fully complete them. Plus I played some amazing games from past years like Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If I had to pick my absolute favorite for the year I would reluctantly say God of War. But we’re talking inches of difference between first, second, and third place. The game that I actually felt had the strongest narrative experience for me personally was Detroit: Become Human. The game that surprised me the most was Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. I went into that game thinking I would hate it but it was great. Really it was just a full year of phenomenal gaming experiences.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-05-06 22-39-59

As for completing my gaming goals in 2018, I was pretty disappointing. I only managed to complete six of my 13 main goals and one of my bonus goals. This is much lower than my completion rate for 2017. I’m gonna try to be better and set more practical goals for 2019. The goal I’m most proud of myself for finishing is that I beat Final Fantasy VII for the first time. Now let’s talk about the highlights, good and bad, of 2018 for the rest of the gaming community. Highlights are in no particular order. As I said already, I’m not really going to be able to do this year justice but I’ll do the best I can.

PS4 Wins the Year

Many great games were released in 2018 on all platforms, but there can be no debate that the overall highest quality total gaming experience was on the PS4. SONY delivered exclusive hit after exclusive hit while still allowing players access to the great cross platform exclusives released in 2018 like Red Dead Redemption 2. The best overall platform for gaming in 2018 was objectively the PS4.

ps4 trophies

God of War

In my opinion, this was the game of the year. I was very much against the idea of them making another Kratos game. I was worried about them changing the setting, changing the actor, and adding in a kid. I went into the game expecting something mediocre, but Cory Balrog managed to reboot a franchise that didn’t need to be touched beautifully. It was visually stunning, well written, expertly acted, and mechanically sound. While I wasn’t happy with the cliff hanger ending, I’m happy that a direct sequel will be made and I was extremely impressed with this game overall. And so was everyone else. It won several awards including PlayStation Game of the Year at the Golden Joystick Awards. At the time of writing this it has a 94 on Metacritic. It truly was a perfect reboot to an already great franchise.

Detroit: Become Human

As hit or miss as David Cage is, he delivered an amazing narrative experience with this one. This story was powerful. These characters were meaningful. This world was depressing while being extremely realistic. Parts of this game hit me so hard I thought I was gonna cry. The multiple social issues addressed were done tastefully while not being overly preachy. I will definitely go into the next Quantic Dream game with optimism. While this game didn’t score as high critically as some of the other games released this year, it is a respected PlayStation exclusive and was nominated for several awards.

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Spider-Man

Insomniac Games managed to revolutionize the comic book game genre with this one. This game played perfectly. It looked amazing and had one of the best photo modes I’ve ever seen. It was written at the quality of a Marvel movie and even had a Stan Lee cameo. Hopefully it’s to games what Iron Man was to movies and we will now get a collection of amazing interconnected comic book games taking place in the same universe. It’s a PS4 exclusive though so if you don’t have one you better buy one soon so you don’t get too far behind in the timeline.

ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission

I’m not a huge fan of current VR and I have yet to be truly impressed by any games released on PSVR, or really any VR platforms for that matter. While I haven’t personally played ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission, the talk is that it revolutionized VR gaming. It’s been called the Mario 64 of VR. That’s a hefty claim, but if it’s true I hope it means that we’ll start to see consistently great VR games that make the platform actually worth buying for the majority of gamers. I do personally want to try this game after watching some footage but not enough to go out and buy one of those overpriced headsets. Hopefully as the library grows so will my interest in making the purchase.

DECAHEXATRIS

Tetris Effect

It warms my heart to know that Tetris still mattered to people in 2018. It still matters to me and always will. While I think the VR aspect of the game is overrated, it is an excellently made Tetris game overall. Filled with stunning visuals, hypnotic music, and an overall calming vibe, this may be the best Tetris game ever made. The price is way too high but it’s quite a good game for what it ultimately is.

PlayStation Won’t be at E3 2019

Just over a month ago, SONY announced that there would be no PlayStation/SONY presence at E3. The reasons why aren’t exactly clear but many people have their theories. Really this shows that SONY is so confident with the PS4 at this point that they’ve become arrogant.  Maybe that’s OK though. As long as prices don’t go up and they continue to release great exclusives it really doesn’t matter how they get the word out. In the age of the internet, it’s more effective to do news posts all year round like Nintendo than to launch all your bombs in one event. Personally I have no problem with them ditching E3 as long they continue to keep the public informed about current and future projects.  I find the fact that they cancelled PlayStation Experience in 2018 to be more unsettling.

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XB1 Continues to Disappoint

I have no love for Microsoft but I also have no reason to hate the XB1 or the people that use it. At this point I just feel sorry for them more than anything. They get all the cross platform games so that’s nice, but that’s not why you buy a console. It’s the exclusives that make or break a gaming platform and by any objective standard the XB1 is broken. The only truly great exclusive they released in 2018 was Forza Horizon 4. And while it may be a good racing game, that genre doesn’t justify consoles or those who purchase them all on its own.

Sea of Thieves

Sea of Thieves is to XB1 what No Man’s Sky, which wasn’t even an exclusive, was to PS4. It’s a boring, repetitive, mostly disappointing pirate themed farming scenario except the prizes are even more disappointing than those of Destiny. Even more depressing is the fact that it was developed by Rare, because we all expect better from them.

Backwards Compatibility

The one thing that the XB1 must be praised for is the backwards compatibility. The library of backwards compatible games continues to grow and that’s a beautiful thing. It still doesn’t justify the console overall, but it’s a noble thing that Microsoft has taken huge steps in preserving the overall useable lifespan of games. This is even more important in light of Nintendo literally suing private citizens for trying to preserve their older titles. I’d like to see PlayStation take on similar policies with the PS5.

sunset overdrive

Sunset Overdrive

I have spent years waiting for them to port Sunset Overdrive to a platform I actually use. In November, they finally ported it to PC. While this is great news for PS4 users, it only serves to cheapen the value of the XB1 even more.  Porting an exclusive like that is a slap in the face to the entire loyal XBOX user base.

Nintendo Gonna Nintendo Hard

What can I say about Nintendo that hasn’t already been said about pet cats? They do whatever they want. They almost completely ignore public opinion on most topics. Nothing they do ever seems to make sense from the outside. They literally attack those who love them. But we still love them. The company doesn’t always make the best decisions, but they almost always make profitable ones. Sales wise, Nintendo owned this year. And that’s following 2017 where we saw Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. They just print money.

Pokémon Let’s GO

Haters ranted and raved and continue to do so, but this game sold three million copies in the first three days after release. I haven’t purchased it but the more I see footage from it the more I want to. It looks the way Pokémon was originally intended to but couldn’t because of technological limitations. While I think it’s ridiculous to be charging $100 for it because of a single use controller, the overall concept of the Let’s GO games works. And linking it to Pokémon GO was a brilliant move. I doubt this is the last we see of the Let’s GO series.

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Smash Bros Ultimate

Simply put it’s the best Smash Bros. ever made. It is definitely missing a number of features like break the targets and a story mode reminiscent of the original game. But I would still argue that it’s the best in the series. And I do foresee patches and additions being added to it. I will be playing this a lot more than I already have and I don’t even have Nintendo Switch Online.

Super Mario Party

This was certainly a step in the right direction but it came up short. Most people who grew up with the original Mario Party wanted Super Mario Party to just be that with online pvp functionality. Instead they just did a small list of boards, lots of mini-games, and limited online functions. This game was so close to being perfect, but isn’t that what Nintendo does all the time? They love to get about 75% there and just screw up the end game.

Nintendo Online

This service is pretty much everything I feared for Nintendo. It’s peak predation in every sense of the word. The so called deals are basically non-existent. The number of games worth having the service for is super limited. The retro titles are too retro to warrant paying for the service. This is pretty much an additional paywall for Splatoon 2 and Smash Bros Ultimate that has to be repaid annually.

Switch Online cover

Dead or Alive Xtreme 3: Scarlet

This is noteworthy more in how surprising it is than the actual game itself. This port of the latest Dead or Alive Beach Volleyball game was not expected to be available on the Switch. Even more surprising is the fact that the Switch version will be uncensored while the PS4 version will be censored. And let’s not forget the HD Rumble feature. Basically playing this game on the Switch is as close to feeling up a woman that the people who are gonna buy this game will ever get to. For a console and company that’s always packaged itself as the family friendly gaming brand, it’s quite shocking and meme worthy that Nintendo allowed this.

Ports, Ports, and more Ports

Ports on the Switch aren’t just for Wii U games anymore. Real AAA PlayStation and XBOX titles are making their way to the Switch and they play and look fairly good while also being portable. DOOM, Wolfenstein II, and Final Fantasy XV: Pocket Edition are just a few examples. And many more have been announced from current and past gens. Slowly the Switch is becoming the most versatile console to game on and the sales numbers show that it’s working.

Noteworthy Non-Exclusives

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Monster Hunter World

Supposedly this was the bestselling Capcom game ever released  . . . and rightly so. What’s great about MHW, and why it was so successful, was that they took an already award winning concept and made it accessible to all gamers. The idea of hunting giant monsters with a very limited narrative structure has always been a good one. The problem with past MH games is that they were always too complicated and had a steep barrier of entry. This game keeps what’s good about the past games but made it much easier for new players to jump in. The many limited time events throughout the year with various cameos like Ryu and Dante have kept the game relevant even several months later.

Battle Royale is Cancer

Cancer is a disease that takes already existing cells within a body and transforms them into harmful cells. As the disease spreads across the body, more and more cells are taken over by the spreading cancer until the life form eventually dies. I think this is a rather apt description of the battle royale genre. It has over taken the industry as the most watched genre on Twitch and developers have taken notice of that. More and more games are adding BR modes. It’s a genre that adds nothing particularly new to gaming. It just transformed traditional PVP into baseless 100 man maps with no story, no chance to turn the game around after dying, and no reason to care about the match once you’ve died. I think it adequately portrays how much people’s attention spans have fallen due to technological advances. I fear for the day that all games become Battle Royale and real gaming eventually dies.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2

What happens when you take The Witcher 3 and set it in the Wild West era? Something extremely popular even when riddled with glitches. I’ve heard people say this isn’t just the GOTY but the “game of the generation”. Slow your roll. It’s an epic achievement in many ways and Rockstar Games should be proud to have delivered something so impressive. That being said, it still has many of the various issues we’ve grown accustom to with Rockstar titles. While it was certainly one of the most impressive games of 2018, I’m fairly certain we won’t be talking about it once Cyberpunk 2077 releases.

WTF Bethesda

Bethesda went whole hog on not giving a damn this year. Not only did they put out the travesty that is Fallout 76, but they followed that up by saying The Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield would use the same broken engine they’ve been using since 2011. Skyrim was an excellent game but it’s really time to move on to the next engine. I don’t completely blame the engine for all the problems with Fallout 76, but it definitely played a factor. Of course Bethesda is nowhere near closing down, but the fact that we keep letting them get away with releasing broken games is problematic to say the least.

Spyro Trilogy Remastered

When you find a winning formula you keep doing it over and over again until people get bored with it. Spyro Reignited Trilogy is a testament to how successful Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy was. They’ve also announced that Medievil is being remastered for 2019. Personally I’m OK with them remastering much older games and clearly everyone else is as well.

Spyro

Destiny 2: Forsaken

While I have no love for Destiny and would never buy another game in the franchise, it must be acknowledged that people really seemed to like the Forsaken expansion in Destiny 2 so kudos to Bungie for getting that right. That being said, Activision is doing everything they can to make people angry with microtransactions.

No Man’s Sky Patches

I still haven’t played No Man’s Sky but as they have evolved the game over time the idea has become more and more appealing. While I’ll probably never completely trust Hello Games, I will commend them for acknowledging that they screwed up with that game initially and have worked tirelessly to improve it, which they have and continue to do. I think NMS is directly responsible for Ubisoft’s decision to make Starlink: Battle for Atlas, which is an achievement in and of itself.

Starlink: Battle for Atlas

In my opinion, this was the hidden gem of 2018. I don’t know why it wasn’t talked about way more than it was, but I will admit that there are some inherent flaws with the way it was priced and distributed. I finished it and really enjoyed it, but I did feel like it was short at only 30 hours for an open solar system game. I have said it before and I’ll say it again, Starlink is everything we wanted from NMS plus Starfox, if you play the Switch version. It’s really just a narrative focused NMS with the ability to fast travel, a manageable amount of content, and a real plot to follow. You also have multiple playable characters. I think the toys, specifically how they were priced, were a turn off for people. I have the digital deluxe version and I think that really is the superior way to play. If they had not done the toys and instead just sold the deluxe version content with all the characters available as the vanilla version and then a gold edition with additional story missions, that would have been a lot more successful. Because the game isn’t about the toys. They’re a gimmick to try to compete with amiibo. But the game itself is great and it’s a travesty how little attention it actually got.

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Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey

The Assassin’s Creed franchise went through quite a few years of disappointing content. People, myself included, were fed up with the horrible storytelling and the awkward structure of games like Unity. Having finally played Syndicate this year, I have to say that it was actually quite good on all fronts. But it was still the old style of game that had become tiresome and overdone. Changing the formula in Origins really reinvigorated the franchise and Odyssey successfully continued that momentum.

Darksiders III

I don’t think it’s the game itself that’s necessarily noteworthy here. It’s the fact that the game finally released. When THQ shutdown, the Darksiders franchise was up in the air. Most people who had played the first two, such as myself, definitely wanted to see III released, but there were no guarantees it would ever happen. To see it finally release six years after II is amazing. I haven’t gotten to play it yet myself, but thankfully I’ll actually be able to because it exists.

darksiders 3

Gaming Industry Do’s & Don’ts

Ninja

If the battle royale genre is the cancer of gaming, Ninja is a tumor. This toxic hack somehow managed to become the face of Fortnite and end up as the first non-athlete to make it on the cover of ESPN magazine even after having said a racial slur during a live stream and basically throwing all female streamers under the bus. It just goes to show you that the influencer system is no different than systems of the past. Minorities and women get shit on while assholes get rich for doing little to no actual work. I hope this hack goes away and takes Fortnite with him.

Castlevania Netflix Season 2

Castlevania is not just a great game cartoon. It’s just a great cartoon. The animation style, the storytelling, the acting, and the relationship with the games are all done perfectly. Cartoon production studios should take note of this show for literally any genre that contains violence and caters to an older audience. I hope we see other shows like this for other classic game franchises like Metroid.

castlevania

Monster Hunter Movie

The only positive thing I can say about this movie so far is that they cast Tony Jaa. That’s an A+ casting decision for a Monster Hunter movie. Other than that, this whole project looks like shit. They’ve shown tanks and modern looking guns. The casting in general seems to be steering more towards an American audience of people who don’t actually play the games. And don’t pretend like the Resident Evil movies were good. This all reeks of a cash grab franchise that will drone on for years and years against the desires of the people who actually play the games.

Kotaku

This is what happens when you cheapen the term gamer to the point of including absolutely everyone with a smart phone. The number of controversial articles they put out claiming games are destroying society, women, and the future is just appalling. Their twitter feed is one of the most entertaining comments sections you can read though so at least there’s that.

Diablo

I have no love for Diablo. I have no love for Blizzard. I have absolutely no positive feelings about Activison. In fact I’m worried that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice will suck because of Activision. While I don’t support Blizzard in any way, I feel bad for their loyal fans who have spent years hoping for the next Diablo. Them announcing a mobile game and not even mentioning a proper next installment was a real slap in the face to all their fans. I commend that guy for standing up in the middle of their conference and calling them out. And then they followed that by announcing that all their franchises are getting mobile games. Clearly Activision has poisoned that already stagnant well and any smart person would jump ship rather than throwing more money into that pit or microtransactions, predatory pricing, and general disregard for their consumers.

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Goodbye Telltale Games

This hurt a lot. And the news came out of nowhere. I was so sad to hear that I won’t be getting The Wolf Among Us season 2 among other titles. I beat Guardians of the Galaxy this year and Game of Thrones last year. I was waiting for additional seasons of both. But really I should have seen this coming. I have said multiple times in the past that they seem to be taking on way too many projects. And I wasn’t aware of just how bad their licensing agreements were with a lot of these companies. The studio really was mismanaged and it’s a shame what happened to all their employees. It reminded me of when Visceral Games closed down, save for the fact that Telltale didn’t collapse because of bad management from an overarching publisher. Hopefully small studios will learn from this and stop trying to be too big for their britches.

Goodbye Prima Games

Prima Games closing its doors is the equivalent of seeing your childhood home demolished for me. I used to collect their player’s guides. I recall some of my favorite ones that I still have in a box somewhere. Games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Kingdom Hearts, Final Fantasy X, and many others. But it makes perfect sense that they closed down. I’m shocked they lasted as long as they did. Printed gaming tips in 2018? GameFAQs has existed for more than 10 years. YouTube playthroughs and guides can be watched from your phone. Google can pinpoint the exact item you’re looking for and bring up a marked map of where it is in the game in seconds. Who was still buying player’s guides for any reason other than collecting and nostalgia? And they weren’t cheap either. Every time I saw a new guide released by them I was shocked at how expensive they were in recent years. They cost more than many games do now. All good things must come to an end and Prima Games had a great run.

prima guides

2019 Looks Amazing

There are a host of great looking games coming out in 2019. For PS4 it’s going to be the year of the samurai. For the Switch we’ll see new installments of some classic fan favorites. CD Projekt Red may raise the bar even higher than The Witcher 3. This is just a small sampling of the announced games for 2019.

  • Ghost of Tsushima
  • Kingdom Hearts III
  • Yoshi’s Crafted World
  • Medievil
  • Devil May Cry V
  • Nioh 2
  • Animal Crossing
  • Cyberpunk 2077
  • The Last of Us Part 2
  • Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
  • Luigi’s Mansion 3
  • Shenmue III
  • Doom Eternal
  • Bayonetta 3

There is so much more I could cover but no one wants to read a 20 page blog post in 2019 and I really don’t have the time or energy to write one. Overall I’d say this was a really good year for gaming, unless you’re predominantly an XB1 user. I really didn’t cover enough of the bad moments but there were just so many noteworthy goods to talk about. I hope this is not an outlier year and that 2019 continues this trend of great gaming. My biggest concern at this point is deciding which games I’m going to take the time to play because there are so many worthy candidates. How was gaming for you in 2018? What games are you most excited about in 2019?

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The End of E3?

Sony recently announced that there would not be a PlayStation presence at E3 in 2019. The reason hasn’t really been expressed yet other than some bullshit PR speak about looking for new options to connect with their fans, but many theories are of course swirling around the internets. Now I’ve been very critical of E3 for many years now, as has been shown on this very blog. I’m a 100% in support of Nintendo’s choice to do pre-recorded Directs. I love the fact that they do multiple a year because they produce them in advance for less money than the price of doing a single E3 presentation, which gives the public even more information about games (and pricing) in advance of release. I have many complaints about the E3 format, specifically the fact that it’s not open to the public. They did allow for some public passes to be sold at this year’s E3 and I did commend them for that in my E3 2018 post. But in general it’s still too little.

My main problem with E3 is that in 2018 it’s still a media focused shill operation. We don’t actually need established gaming media events in 2018. We have the technology for studios and publishers to convey information and demos directly to the public. The media no longer serves as the gateway between consumers and studios. I can directly tweet a studio a question or complaint about a game and get a response, and I have. In fact I tweeted and got a response from Ubisoft last month. Now in this specific case it wasn’t about the experience of playing a game but I did have a question about a game and got an answer directly from the publisher in a matter of hours. What do I need IGN for when I can talk to the developers or their direct representatives directly? We can have playable demos. Sadly these have become less common as technology has progressed, which makes no sense, but the point is I don’t need to watch some asshole I don’t like play a game I’m curious about to decide whether or not I want to buy it if the developer can let me try it myself from the comfort of my home, which they have been able to do since technically the PS2. Or before if we count demo discs. I don’t need to read some crappy paid review/long form ad to figure out if I should buy a game if I can just try it myself before buying it. That’s why betas are referred to as stealth demos now.

Tweet Ubisoft Big

The point is that we don’t actually need media focused gaming events anymore. The media are little more than shills for the gaming industry or political activists pretending to actually know anything about what gamers are really thinking. It makes way more sense to either have only gaming events that are open to the public to see and try new games or do away with such events altogether and have all publishers make their own Nintendo Direct style videos and release playable demos for download. I’m not saying E3 should be ended permanently. I’m saying what E3 currently is should be ended permanently. It’s an outdated concept. So if it’s for the right reasons, I’m all for Sony pulling out of E3 indefinitely.

At the same time, we don’t actually know if Sony pulled out of E3 for the right reasons. There are a number of theories floating around. Some of them, if correct, are completely valid and acceptable reasons for Sony to not attend E3 2019. Others, not so much.

 

nintendo direct e3 2018

If Sony has decided to quit E3 in order to revolutionize the way they present games to the public by making their own direct to consumer presentations, events, and demos, then I am all for it. I would love to see a PlayStation Direct. Even better if, like Nintendo, they do multiple a year. I would love it if PlayStation made prerecorded videos about upcoming titles and released demos to go with them. If that’s the future of PlayStation presenting information to consumers, bring it on. Even if it’s the same presentations they already do at E3 but as their own PlayStation focused event/stream, I’m fine with that. They have PlayStation Experience already, and that’s better than E3. It is open to the public to buy tickets. It does have playable demos for the public to try. If this is the future, cool. But I don’t necessarily believe either of these reasons are why PlayStation pulled out of E3. Let’s also not forget that they cancelled PSX 2018 as well.

Another theory going around, and I do believe this is the correct one, is that Sony doesn’t have any new big projects for the PS4 that haven’t already been announced so they didn’t want to spend the money, time, and effort to attend E3. This is a bullshit reason that is completely unacceptable. Let’s be clear about a few things. Assuming there are no other PS4 projects in the works that we haven’t already heard about, that in no way means that we don’t want/need more information, gameplay footage, and demos of projects we do already know about. I still don’t know what the hell Death Stranding is about. Or even what the gameplay actually is. I want more information about The Last of Us 2. I would quite literally consider masturbating to more footage of Ghost of Tsushima. And where’s gameplay footage of Nioh 2 while we’re at it? I don’t need them to announce a single new game.

ghost of tsushima
Ghost of Tsushima

There are plenty of games I already know about that I just want to see more information and footage of. That’s enough of a reason to go to E3. If that’s the reason they’re not going, it’s bullshit. I pay too much money for games, DLC, paid online subscriptions, and such for them to be pinching pennies. I overpay for the privilege to see E3 footage. That’s part of the deal. If they want to save money, I better damn well start seeing those savings translated to me, the consumer. If their cost of operation goes down, prices need to go down. Because profits sure as hell aren’t. And prices sure as hell haven’t. The excuse of “we don’t want to put the effort in to show you games we know you’re going to buy already” isn’t a valid one.

Even more worrisome is the theory that the PS5 will be announced soon and that all the aforementioned games and any other projects currently unannounced will be released for that console. Personally I don’t need a PS5 any time soon. I’m very happy with my PS4 hardware wise and I don’t even have a PS4 Pro. It plays my games fine and they look beautiful. If it still runs games smoothly, it’s all I need. So delaying everything to the PS5 doesn’t help me. Rushing out the PS5 doesn’t help me. Because I don’t want to buy a new machine to replace a machine that still works just fine. Now hopefully the PS4 will be like the PS2 where even though the next console is out, they continue to release games on the predecessor for like another decade because they still run acceptably. And let’s be honest, PS5 games will run way better on the PS4 than PS3 games ran on the PS2. So there’s not really any reason to force me to buy a new console. But even if we assume, all the new games will be on the PS5 and PS4, that’s no excuse to skip E3. They don’t get to slack off for a year and just ride the high while waiting for what their analysts believe is the best time to announce/release the next console. I’m a consumer today. I just bought multiple PS4 games in the last month. They haven’t stopped taking my money so they don’t get to stop doing their jobs. One of their jobs is relaying information about upcoming games to the consumers. So even if all the aforementioned games are being released for the PS5, if they’re going to be released on the PS4 as well, and they should be, then they need to be talking about them now. Not after they decide to announce the PS5. Especially if we’re talking about games that have already been announced to the public.

no ps5

Now I hope I’m wrong. I hope this isn’t a PS5 delay ploy. I hope we’re about to enter the age of PlayStation Directs. I’m fine with E3 ending altogether, because we know XBOX can’t carry that event on its own. And I have no love for some middle man company that makes its money by charging companies that actually make products for the “privilege” of showing those products off in a physical venue while selling tickets for profit in an age where a kid in Malaysia can download 4K HD porn on his phone. That doesn’t make any sense. And if all those hack journalists have to work just a little bit harder to write think pieces about how the world is being destroyed because edgelords are beating up feminists in Skyrim Cowboy Edition, I’m fine with that too. Hopefully this is the beginning of something great. An age of gaming transparency where consumers have direct access to publishers and developers, the likes of which we have never seen before. Most likely it’s not.

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Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate – Storytelling Done Right

I’ve been playing Assassin’s Creed games since the beginning and always in order. I’ve never skipped a console release title, including those Assassin’s Creed: Chronicles games, which actually weren’t that bad. I’m currently behind so I only just finished Syndicate this week, but I can’t wait to play Origins and Odyssey. I, like most long time AC players, have a weird relationship with the franchise. It constantly teeters between love and hate. There are things that are truly great about the franchise and to have seen how far it has come since the original release more than 10 years ago is both impressive and inspiring. But there are also issues that have plagued the games for years, many of which have only gotten worse over time. In my opinion, the storytelling is the weakest part of the Assassin’s Creed franchise and has been since at least Assassin’s Creed III. But the storytelling issues have existed since even before that game which was already several games into the franchise. This is extra depressing because the story is ultimately why I continue playing the games. I want to see a clear ending to this franchise. That’s not because I don’t like the franchise and want to see it end, but rather that I play games for the stories and I hate stories that don’t have clear endings.

AC has a host of storytelling problems. This is due mostly to the disjointed nature of the games and how they function as parts of an overarching narrative that has itself drastically shifted in direction in non-sensible ways over the course of the franchise. The big problem with the storytelling is that the modern day content has little to do with the Animus content while also acting as the bridge between multiple games that you’re only really playing for the Animus content. But it’s very apparent that the modern day content has always been an afterthought in the creation of these games. Rather than try to clean it up, Ubisoft decided the best way to deal with the modern day storyline was to significantly reduce its presence within the games. You see this a lot in the games that take place after ACIII. The amount of modern day content has been reduced more and more until you finally get to Syndicate where you don’t even play in the modern day. It’s reduced to four or five short cinematics all with the intention of justifying a single end game cut scene that doesn’t feature anyone of significance other than the weird first civilization MCP (yes that’s a Tron reference) that keeps showing up in games since ACIII but never really does anything. Supposedly it saved the world from a solar flare though.

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I see the direction that AC has taken by almost completely diluting away the out of Animus content to non-playable cut scenes and a bare minimum of time on screen as a good thing, but that’s not actually the part about the storytelling in Syndicate that I like the most. The key factor that I think makes the storytelling superior in Syndicate to just about every other AC game to date is the fact that you have multiple never before seen playable characters experiencing directly related stories and spaces. In past games you never had this, save for a short sequence in ACIII as Haythem Kenway. You had two loosely related characters acting independently of each other in the form of an ancestor and an Animus user/viewer. This never worked well for me because the games always slacked on the setting, gameplay, and writing for the Animus user. I genuinely didn’t care about Desmond and his whiny, depressing parent issues. I cared even less when you were some anonymous drone sneaking around the Abstergo offices. Those aspects of the story (and gameplay) have always been trash by comparison to the ancestor. That’s also why you never saw Desmond on the cover of the games. What I cared about has always been the story inside the Animus. Syndicate fleshes this story out more.

In Syndicate, you have two main playable characters and a third one if you play the Jack the Ripper expansion, during Industrial Revolution London. Plus there’s a fourth playable character in the base game that takes place during WWI for a short disconnected sequence. I thought this entire presentation of interconnected stories was brilliant. It added context, emotion, and background to all the characters involved. It strengthened the overall storytelling in a number of ways. It also led to variations in my gameplay style from character to character because I felt compelled to play each character the way I thought they would play rather than how I preferred to play. In many ways it was like playing multiple games in one while still maintaining a focused narrative. And even though the WWI sequence wasn’t directly connected to the main story, it was still excellent because it followed the progeny of one of the main characters. It was like taking a break from the game without taking a break from the game while providing additional information for the overarching narrative. I thought it was brilliantly executed.

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Syndicate doesn’t have the best plot of any AC game. It’s set in a time where capitalism is already ruining people’s lives in a country that’s not that interesting in the grand scheme of the AC universe. But it tells its story better than most of the other AC games I’ve played so far. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it considering the large number of negative comments I heard about it. I genuinely don’t understand where the negativity came from because it’s way better than Unity and is a nice change from Rogue, which is just a smaller scale copy of Black Flag. Many people even told me to skip Syndicate altogether, but I’m glad I didn’t.

Syndicate even handles the age old main character gender problem in games well. The game doesn’t center on either a male or female character. It stars both. And adds one of each additional character in the special sequences. It’s a perfectly balanced form of gender neutral storytelling that lets the player decide what/who to play as while making them both plot relevant without being plot neutral. There are also sequences that are character specific because the two play off of each other in a very effective way. And they have a few differing abilities to offer you a reason to swap between them depending on the mission you’re in.

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It’s a perfectly democratic way to make and play a game that in no way lowered the quality of the storytelling. Really it enhanced it. And, in this case they made me want to play as the female character in the right way. They made her interesting. Evie Frye is a better character than Jacob Frye. Or at least a better assassin. She thinks things through. She acknowledges the consequences or her and her brother’s actions. She has better stealth abilities. I wanted to play as her more. I still made myself rotate between the two often, even when I didn’t have to, but she’s the better character, in my opinion. That’s how you get male gamers to play games with female protagonists. You make the characters interesting and the games good. It’s really that simple. Tomb Raider does well because Lara Croft is a good character and the games are well made. There’s no magic formula. It’s not a political issue. Real gamers play good games. You could do The Witcher with a female protagonist. But it has to be at the quality level of The Witcher. Otherwise it’s just a “shitty feminism game that wishes it was The Witcher.” But by giving the player the choice in Syndicate, Ubisoft managed to make a game with a female protagonist without having to market it as such.  This made it way more appealing and accessible for everyone. Which begs the question: Why have we been playing these shitty out of Animus sequences for all these years to begin with?

The only reason the Animus is part of the franchise is that Ubisoft needed a link between all the games. For some reason they felt that it wasn’t good enough just to have the same name and general Assassin Templar war. They wanted to directly link each game via an overarching story, which in my opinion they’ve done, but failed to do well. Even as they’ve changed it over time and tried to salvage it, the modern day stuff is still trash. And with the death of Desmond, a character I absolutely hated, I all but stopped caring about who’s involved or what’s happening. I just want it to end so I can have a real conclusion. But why didn’t they just connect the games the way they connect the WWI and Jack the Ripper stories in Syndicate from the start? They could have just used the ancestry concept but directly linked the games via historical meetings. You have Altair get married and have kids. Then you have one of those kids become an assassin and travel to another country. Then that person meets another assassin named Ezio Auditore. Then the game follows Ezio.

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You get the same effect you have now of following a story through time and changing between multiple characters. You can even keep the piece of Eden thing they have going. But you don’t need all that superfluous modern day crap that no one even cares about anymore. You link the characters directly to each other through history as the war continues. That would also allow you to return to older characters later in different points in their lives. Like Ezio in Revelations. It takes place years after Brotherhood. Rather than doing the whole memory sequence mumbo jump they could have just done a game about another assassin he met along the way and then at the end of that game, years later in the timeline, that assassin reconnects with Ezio. Then in the next game a now older Ezio goes to Constantinople. No weird annoying bullshit needed. And it’s not like people can’t deal with time hops. The current games do them and it’s not an issue. You just do a sequence like Connor went to England and then wipe forward years later and show him returning from England, or whatever. The audience isn’t stupid. We can follow a shifting narrative. How else have we been playing AC games for all these years? You could go back in time as well. Just do an Edward found this old journal of a past assassin and started reading it opening sequence as a transition backwards. It’s not that hard.

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My point is that Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate does a great job with the storytelling because for 99% of the game it doesn’t pull you out of the Animus. And that 1% isn’t gameplay. It’s only cut scenes. This created a much stronger and more coherent narrative experience. As I said at the beginning of this post, I haven’t played Origins or Odyssey yet so maybe they’ve finally cleaned it all up. But I doubt it. There’s no real reason we needed this modern day storyline to make this franchise work. And I think it could still be done away with now. By implementing multiple playable characters in the same directly connected time periods, they can tell a much stronger story and solve their diversity problems at the same time. Adewale didn’t really need his own expansion in Black Flag. He should have just been playable in Black Flag with his own special sequences as well as in the open world. Haytham could have been playable for a much larger part of ACIII. These games are already connected in many ways. They simply needed to go the extra mile and not make up some weird trapped in the machine AI story filled with solar flares and faceless walking simulator sequences.

Syndicate was the best AC since played Black Flag. It has revitalized my interest in the franchise and I’m very much looking forward to both Origins and Odyssey, both of which I’ve heard great things about. Hopefully that includes great storytelling.

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