What Makes A Male Character? (Cyberpunk 2077)

Last week it was announced that CD Projekt RED’s next game, Cyberpunk 2077, was doing away with gender options in its character creator. To no one’s surprise, the gaming community spent a preposterous amount of time arguing about it. Half the internet was happy about it and the other half was angry. The same tired, usually illogical, and almost always irrelevant and nonsensical arguments were made by both sides. You already know what they are so I don’t need to take the time to go into them. Suffice it to say that many people still seem to care what other people do in the privacy of their own homes when playing single player games.

Now I actually don’t like character creators in story driven games. Not because I have any issue with people designing their own characters in games. And not because I particularly care what types of characters people design. My issue with character creators is that they almost always lead to hollow, sub-par writing devoid of real impact and personality for the character being created. It’s very hard to write a story that carries the same amount of context, realism, believability, and personality for an ambiguous character as that of a narrowly defined one. For instance, Lara Croft is a young, British, heterosexual female that comes from a wealthy Caucasian family. Her experiences are specific and meaningful in her development as a character. The way she would realistically respond to things would be completely different from the way an older, American, homosexual male that comes from a poor African-American family would. And this is true for many if not most situations. There would for sure be some overlap in their responses to things, depending on the situation and setting. But when it came to character building and interactions with other characters they would have completely different responses in most cases.

tomb raider 2013 victimLet’s take a scene from Tomb Raider (2013) as a specific example. There’s a moment in the game where it’s implied that Lara may be sexually assaulted by one of her much older male captors. Now for starters, that wouldn’t even happen to the other character I described in most cases. Not all, but most. And if it did happen, the character wouldn’t even necessarily have the same reaction, or even possibly aversion, to the situation as Lara Croft does in the game. And that is not to imply that older gay men are OK with being raped by other older gay men. It’s just to state the very true point that a young inexperienced rich girl and an older, presumably much more experienced man simply wouldn’t respond to the situation the same way. That’s exactly why specified characters and the context of those characters matter. But when you can create your own character in a game, many of the scenarios that specified characters can experience simply don’t happen and shouldn’t happen because they just wouldn’t make sense in many if not most cases.

Say I created a character in a game that was intentionally unattractive, horrifyingly strong, and gigantic in stature. That character simply isn’t going to be sexually assaulted. It’s not going to happen in any realistic scenario. And if it did happen in a game, any person would rightfully think “that doesn’t make any sense”. So game writers, knowing that, wouldn’t include a scene in the game that includes a possible sexual assault because there’s no way to guarantee that it would make sense to all player created characters at all times.

fallout 4 ugly characterThe closest way to making a character creator make sense without watering down the content is to write multiple story lines that mostly overlap but have some key differing plot points based on certain parameters entered into the character creator, such as gender. You might force the player to choose male or female and then depending on the gender they chose the game would decide whether or not the assault scene would be included. You could take this a step further by adding sexuality to the character creator. This wouldn’t address the intentionally ugly problem, but you’d get closer to the plot making sense for all players regardless of the character they built. At the same time though, this would require multiple story lines to be created which would mean more development time translating to higher development costs. So it makes more sense just to water down the story and not include anything specific to a certain type of character, which is my entire point about character creator games leading to watered down plots.

Some games over the years have managed to do a pretty decent job at storytelling even with the presence of a character creator. The Mass Effect trilogy comes to mind. Yet I played the games with the default male character and so did many other players. That’s why even though the game allowed for character creation, Commander Shepard’s face is so iconic. In your head right now you’re thinking of a white man in his 30’s with short hair, light stubble, and blue eyes. Even though the game had a default female version, and many people played the game as a female, most people don’t picture the female Commander Shepard when they think about Mass Effect. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a single Mass Effect meme featuring the female version of Commander Shepard save for maybe a meme that showed both default gender options. So it’s very possible that while I think the game was written extremely well for a game with a character creator, maybe it wasn’t. Maybe if I had played it as a character that was a homosexual female of Latino origin I wouldn’t have felt like the character driven aspects of the game were that well written. I can’t say for sure. But I can say that a lot of games, including those that are praised highly, actually aren’t that great as far as developing the player’s created character. Dark Souls is a great example of this.

commander_shepardYou can create anyone you want in the Dark Souls games. You can make a person with blue skin, orange hair, and enough wrinkles to make Emperor Palpatine look youthful. But the games won’t give two shits about the way your character looks. The NPC’s won’t comment on it. The enemies won’t react differently to it. Your appearance and identity mean absolutely nothing in those games. And that doesn’t make them bad games. But I wouldn’t call the Dark Souls franchise an example of good character driven writing. The difference is that Cyberpunk 2077 seems to be selling itself as a character driven game where you can create any character you want. That’s a tall order and we’ve not seen CD Projekt RED even deliver a character creator game before. We know they can write because The Witcher series is one of the most compelling, best written franchises ever made. But they’re all focused on one heterosexual white guy who’s a social outcast and the closest thing to a hermit you can be without actually living alone in a cave. Meaning the character and thus the character driven writing has a defined and consistent context. And that’s exactly why it’s good writing.

All this is not to say that I have any problem with the fact that Cyberpunk 2077 has a character creator, or that gender options have been pulled from the character creator. All this is to say that I don’t believe that Cyberpunk 2077 will be even close to as well written from a character development standpoint as The Witcher 3. But let’s actually talk about the character creator nontroversy in the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077.

dragon's dogma-creationIf you’re not writing a character driven plot focused game, your character doesn’t really matter. Especially if you’re not applying conventional human norms to your character(s) to begin with, which would be the case in a Cyberpunk themed game most of the time. To be honest there’s almost no reason a character creator even needs gender in it unless, like in my previous examples, the story is actually affected by the gender of the character. Dragon’s Dogma is a perfect example of this. It’s a game with a story, but calling it a character driven story game is wildly inaccurate. You can create anyone in that game and it will change nothing about the gameplay experience. The only reason the character creator even has gender options in it is simply to speed up the character creation process. And that’s the case for most games with character creators if we’re honest.

It’s just much faster to ask people if their character is male or female so the limited number of default character models can be separated between having pronounced breasts and not having pronounced breasts. That’s pretty much the only thing of value the character creator in Dragon’s Dogma, among many other games, does. It just limits certain physical options based on a set of conventional appearance standards without having any actual effect on the gameplay. Body types, hairstyles, face renders, and voices are separated into two groups in order to speed up the character creation process. But really there’s no actual reason why a player shouldn’t be able to create a character that looks like Dwayne Johnson with pigtails and the voice of a Japanese schoolgirl while wearing a metal bikini. It would be uncomfortable to see for some spectators, but there’s no actual reason why anyone shouldn’t be able to create that character in a game where your appearance doesn’t actually matter. And thus removing gender limitations from a game with a story neutral character creator is and should be considered absolutely fine. Especially when you get into some of the more nuanced ways that people can actually look, act, and sound.

Saints_Row_the_Third_character creatorI once had a friend who was a five foot tall white female with long brown hair, a perfectly tight gym body, and the voice of a 30 year male smoker. That’s how she looked and that’s how she sounded, even though she was only 18 when I met her. Presumably, up until Cyberpunk 2077 it would have been extremely difficult for her to find a game where she could actually create herself in the game. She would have had little problem creating herself physically. And as she was a heterosexual, it would have been very easy to mirror her interactions with NPCs, where possible, fairly accurately. But getting her voice right would have been pretty much impossible. Now that’s not really fair. She wasn’t trans. She wasn’t homosexual. She wasn’t a smoker. She just had that preposterously deep and scratchy voice. In no way was that her fault, her choice, or a repercussion of any of her past decisions. Yet she was arguably a victim of game creator discrimination for all these years. Whereas I as a tall, heterosexual, African-American male with a stereotypically deep voice have pretty much never had a problem creating a character that looks and sounds close enough to myself, if that’s what I wanted to do, in a Western game.

Destiny-2-Character-Customization-1024x582I will admit that a lot of Asian produced games haven’t given me the ability to create myself, but I’m not their target audience to begin with so I don’t blame them for not taking the time to design assets for the handful of players that look like me that both will play their games and actually care about the fact that they can’t place themselves into the game. But for a Western developer that would be a huge problem if African-American men couldn’t create characters that resembled themselves in character creator games. And the truth is that many homosexual African-American male gamers can’t create themselves as far as voice and clothing options are concerned in Western developed games, and obviously Asian developed games but for an entirely different reason I’ve already gone over. So removing the gender limitations in a game’s character creator options isn’t a bad thing at all. And honestly, other than possibly making the process of creating your character take longer due to a lack of easily defined sorting practices, it doesn’t affect anyone’s gameplay experience in a negative way. It simply makes the experience for some players more positive by giving them the option to make characters they identify with on a more personal level. Again, if we’re not talking about a game where the context of the character’s experiences is driven by their gender, sexuality, or appearance, then it doesn’t really matter what limitations are or are not placed on the character creation tools from a gameplay standpoint. And for the bulk of games with character creators, it won’t. So I find it extremely ridiculous and illogical to be against this decision by CD Projekt RED. What I am against is the fact that they announced this development decision in the way they did.

Cyberpunk 2077 Mix It UpI have no issue with games being more inclusive. I have no problem with the gaming industry both on the screen and in the studios being more diverse. I still want character driven stories that are specific while making sense and having a clearly defined context, but in general diversity in games isn’t a bad thing to me. What is a bad thing, and I have written about this may times before, is using diversity as a selling point in order to pander to a specific audience. Especially when we consider the size of that audience within the gaming market. The way the removal of gender options from Cyberpunk 2077’s character creator was announced was via an interview. You can read an excerpt from the interview on this specific topic here. It’s very clear that this decision was made in response to the backlash of that supposed trans ad debacle. This character creation option is being used as an olive branch to the trans/entire LGBQT+ community so that people will stop calling CD Projekt RED transphobic and a “problematic developer”. That’s not diversity in game design. That’s not authentically trying to make things more inclusive for the LGBTQ+ community. That’s pandering for profits.

I get that game development is a business. I get that every decision, big and small, is profit driven. And most of the time I’m fine with all that. But I hate hypocrisy. I’m not one of those “keep politics out of games” people. I’m a writer. I play story driven games almost exclusively. I know games, and really all story driven entertainment, is political by nature. And anyone who thinks it isn’t is an idiot. Metal Gear Solid is political. Final Fantasy is political. Bayonetta is political. It’s all political. But I take issue with companies pretending their politics come from a place of support, love, and authentic concern. Because if it was authentic they wouldn’t have mentioned it at all. They would have just released the game with no gender options in the character creator and then people would have either noticed it and talked about it on their own or not talked about it at all. And LGBTQ+ players would have just played the game, thought it was cool that they could make the characters they wanted, and moved on with their lives. That would be authentic, non-pandering diversity in game design. If a company is doing something for recognition, it’s not authentic. And if they’re not being authentic then I don’t want them to pretend to be authentic.

mgs 3 patriotIf they had to say anything, I would rather have had a representative from CD Projekt RED just come out and say “Hey LGBTQ+ people, here’s a bone. We only did this to make you stop complaining about us. You never buy our games anyway, but hopefully now you’ll consider it.” That would be some real shit. I would respect them more for just coming out and saying it. Because right now they look like the good guys to one team and like they folded to the SJWs to the other team. But they know they can get away with it because all those people saying “I’m now not going to buy this game over this gender character creator thing” are clearly lying. There’s not a single actual gamer out there who was planning on buying Cyberpunk 2077 and now isn’t going to because the game won’t outright let them enter into the character creator that they’re a male. Not a single one. And CD Projekt RED knows that. So they can play both sides with impunity. And that is dishonest. Not to mention it strong arms LGBTQ+ gamers into buying the game. Because now that they’ve done this and got it reported all over the place, the only way to get other game studios to do it is to support the game and show that it has an actual effect on sales and popularity. It’s the female protagonist conundrum all over again.

remember meFemale gamers say “we want more female protagonists in games”, a company makes a game with a female protagonist, and it doesn’t sell. Then all the other companies get to say “well female protagonists don’t sell and we’re in the business of making money not political movements”. So every time a shitty game with a female protagonist gets released, women have to buy it or risk losing any chance of another AAA game with a female protagonist being made for a long time. The LGBTQ+ community is in the same boat. If they don’t support every game that offers LGBTQ+ options in it, they risk destroying any chance of another game with such options being made for literally years in the current market. I am 100% in support of CD Projekt RED’s decision to remove gender from their character creator, but I’m also 100% disgusted with the fact that they announced it this way. Don’t keep politics out of my games. Keep political posturing out of my games marketing.

I will be playing Cyberpunk 2077 and I will almost certainly be playing as a conventional looking, heterosexual, African-American male. I am 100% unaffected by the studio’s choice to remove gender from the character creator, but so many people aren’t. And instead of just letting them choose whether or not they want to buy the game based on the actual merits of the game, they’ve forced an entire group of people to give into their bullshit pandering tactics for the good of their group’s future representation in the video games industry by making a big thing out a fairly easily development change. It’s selfish, disgusting, and wrong. And the worst part is that because of how things work, people are and will continue to champion the studio for this PR move because it’s more than most studios deliver most of the time.

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Sekiro: Noobs Cry Twice

This post is going to offend many and possibly cost me quite a few followers. I’m fine with that. I’m not here to garner a following. I’m here to incite discussion by making arguments tempered by more than two decades of gaming and being an active part of the gaming community. That being said, my intention with this post, as with all posts, is not to offend but to give an informed opinion about topics in gaming. Really I didn’t want to write this post but I got tired of having the same argument over and over with different people on different platforms so I thought it would make more sense just to write it all out in one place and then link that to people rather than hash it all out for the umpteenth time.

Last month From Software, the makers of Dark Souls and Bloodborne, released Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice. This is a game that was teased a few years back with the rumor mill believing it was Bloodborne 2. Much later it was revealed that it was a new IP that would take a much different approach to the From Software formula while still delivering an authentic From Software experience. If the internet is any indicator, the studio succeeded in literally every way possible except for the lack of character creation options, which personally I’m fine with.

Sekiro Tease

I have not yet played the release version of Sekiro. I played a pre-build at Taipei Game Show this year, which I discussed briefly in my blog post about the event. I will eventually play the full game though. From what the internet has expressed, Sekiro has all the iconic Soulsborne qualities. Beautiful settings, quality lore, and weird, random stuff. The only key differences between this and past games from the studio, within the same genre, are the presence of an actual character driven narrative and the inability to summon other players for help. The combat style is different, but it’s apparently no different than the difference between Dark Souls and Bloodborne. It’s just another take on that style of gameplay. But what’s most important is that for whatever reason Sekiro seems to be harder than any of their past games.

Difficulty is an interesting topic of discussion in games. What makes a game hard? I don’t think there’s a simple answer to that question. Many developers have addressed this question in different ways. Some people think it’s the amount of life the player character has which is ultimately measured by the number of hits the player can take in a given battle. Others think it’s the amount of life the enemies have which is ultimately measured by the number of hits the player has to deal in a given battle. And still others would say it’s the number of enemies you have to face in a given battle. And this only applies to games where difficulty is measured in combat scenarios. There are many different genres of games that define difficulty in different ways. While most people can’t fully agree on what is or isn’t difficult, a majority of players can agree on one thing: From Software games are hard. And apparently everyone is also in agreement that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is the hardest game From Software has ever made.

dark souls is hard

Sekiro is the fifth game in this genre by From Software but I couldn’t even tell you how many total games in this genre now exist. Other companies have started making these games as well such as Koei Tecmo with Nioh, currently my favorite game in the genre, and CI Games S.A. with Lords of the Fallen. So this genre is now well established and iconically difficult. It’s also important to consider that difficulty in games is both relative and comparative. A game is not difficult in a vacuum. It’s difficult compared to other games as defined by the overall experiences of a majority of players. The fact is that if you had never played any video games except games in this genre then you probably wouldn’t think Soulsborne games were hard. You would think they were normal difficulty. It’s only in the context of other games that Sekiro is considered ultra-hard.

Soulsborne games do not have a difficulty setting. Like with classic games such as Super Mario Bros., still one of the hardest games ever made, you just play the game as intended by the developers. There are no easier and harder default modes. The closest thing to a harder mode is new game +, which is completely optional once you’ve already completed it. There’s no hand holding or extra challenging way to play. The game just is. Difficulty levels were introduced to make games more accessible to different styles of play and different levels of ability, or at least that’s how it was sold. I actually think difficulty levels were introduced to games in order to encourage replays. In the arcade era you fed quarters into machines. Games were hard because they wanted to steal your money. But once home consoles became a thing, quarters became a non-factor. Instead games were measured in play hours. So questions about how you keep people playing a game after they’ve already beaten it came up. In my opinion, difficulty levels was one of many answers to this question. But not the only answer. Replay value as a concept is something that developers are constantly trying to figure out in new ways.

Super Mario Bros
Let me tell you about difficulty in games.

The issue we’re now facing is that Sekiro seems to have finally pushed the difficulty barrier too far. A vocal minority of people are claiming the game is just too hard and that an easy mode should be added. Now you have to understand the context in which this discussion is occurring to truly understand the nuances of it. The semi-official motto of Soulsborne games is “Prepare to Die” or “You Will Die”. The point being that From Software markets their games as being difficult as defined by the number of times you will fail before you finally succeed is much higher than in most games in the market today. I’d still say I’ve died more times playing Super Mario Bros. than in any singular Soulsborne title though. But the unofficial motto of Soulsborne games is “git gud” or “get good” if you want a formal English translation. The community sees the games as difficult and relishes that fact. The games are not “too hard”. They simply are hard and you as the player need to get better. Because of this culture of the genre, the idea of demanding From Software, specifically, to add an easy mode has caused a large debate within the community of people who claim to play video games. I worded that in that way intentionally.

prepare to die

Let’s be very honest about who started this “movement”. It was noobs. People who either through a lack of experience, a lack of patience, or a general lack of skill simply don’t want to put the work in to git gud but they paid $60+ to buy a pretty samurai game and now feel entitled to be able to finish it without sinking hundreds of hours into it. This is absolutely entitlement. Is it misplaced entitlement? I don’t know. They did spend $60. But at the same time, they should have been aware of the company making the game and done more research about the game before purchasing. So I don’t necessarily agree that having bought the game entitles anyone to being able to beat the game. I will however say that From Software, and really all developers of all genres of games, should have put out a free demo to allow players to try the game before purchasing. Then people could have made more informed buying decisions and would be solely to blame for being noobs or at least idiots for buying a game they weren’t good enough to beat when they had the option to try it and find that out beforehand. But in any case, this idea that From Software should add an easy mode to Sekiro was started by noobs. There’s no official hashtag for the movement so I couldn’t find the origin of the argument but I did try, just for the record.

As with all controversies on the internet, especially those concerning performance/ability to complete a task, the whiners were blasted. Soulsborne veterans were not having any such nonsense about From Software adding an easy mode to their games. Git gud doesn’t work if you can play on easy mode. And of course, in true internet fashion, when the whiners weren’t agreed with they shifted the argument towards fighting on behalf of a marginalized group. In this case that group was people with physical disabilities.

Sekiro-easy-mode

As an African American, I get extremely irritated when people, and I’ll be honest and say nine times out of ten it’s white people, choose to speak on behalf of my people based on their opinions of how they think things should be that would be better for my people. This is a super common occurrence that literally every group that doesn’t fall under straight, cis, white person has to deal with. They speak for racial minorities. They speak for homosexuals. They speak for physically disabled people. They speak for mental health patients. Rarely do they ask any of us our opinions on an issue and they pretty much never let us control the conversation about our issues. And that is exactly what’s happening here.

The argument, again after shifting the narrative away from lazy noobs, is that Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is so difficult that physically disabled gamers aren’t able to play it. First of all, that’s extremely patronizing. People have beaten Dark Souls with Guitar Hero controllers, Rock Band drum sets, and literal bananas. If anything this is proof that the games really aren’t that hard and just require a lot of practice, which is the point of the games to begin with. Learn and improve by doing is the basic gameplay model. So to argue that disabled players simply can’t ever get good enough to beat Sekiro is insulting to them. And second of all, what gives anyone who isn’t disabled the right to speak on behalf of disabled gamers in the first place?

banana controller

I have seen multiple, yes white, people online arguing that the game needs an easy mode because of disabled players. I’ve yet to see a single disabled person voice this argument themselves. I’m not saying none have. I’m just saying that the most outspoken group of people making this argument aren’t disabled themselves. I’m sure some people will argue that this is because disabled people are marginalized and thus don’t have the proper platform to represent themselves, but again patronizing. Everyone can speak on the internet. I’m an African American but I can still write this blog and post tweets just like any able bodied white person can. I don’t need them to speak for me and disabled gamers don’t either in 2019. This is a false flag operation that noobs are using to try to get an easy mode made for themselves.

I want to reiterate a point that I’ve made countless times and have written multiple blog posts about. NOT EVERYTHING IS FOR YOU! More specifically, every piece of entertainment has a target audience and you are not always going to be a part of that target audience. And that’s OK. There are movies for Black people. White people can watch them but they’re not made with the intent of being accessible to them. There are games made for women with focused themes about feminism, gender inequality, and sexism. Men can buy and play them but they’re not made with the intent of being accessible to them. All products, both entertainment and not, are made with a specific target audience in mind. That’s literally how business, and marketing, works. To expect all things to be made for all people to fully enjoy is not only unrealistic but it ultimately lowers the quality of products and over simplifies people’s interests. Some games just aren’t for everyone and that includes you. And yes sometimes that means certain groups won’t be able to enjoy them. That’s not discrimination. It’s targeted product development.

target-audience

Sekiro is not discriminating against disabled gamers. Now if From Software told stores to not allow disabled players to buy the game or asked the player if they were disabled at the start of the game and then locked them out if they answer yes, that would be discrimination against disabled players. At worst, Sekiro simply wasn’t made for disabled players. But it is not actively discriminating against them. And arguing to lower the difficulty of the games for disabled players is not only patronizing, but the incorrect way to solve the problem.

Why might a game be difficult for disabled players specifically? Assuming they have the mental capacity to play and understand the game, then it really comes down to maneuverability and possibly reaction time. By reaction time, I mean players having to move their fingers/hands around the control mechanism quickly enough, not their ability to press buttons quickly once their fingers/hands have reached the button’s location. Reaction time is a part of gaming. Whether it’s Dark Souls, Dance Dance Revolution, or Gran Turismo, the ability to react to the game on time is the main aspect of the gameplay. Any active time game works that way. To remove reaction time from games altogether would severely limit what games could be made going all the way back to Pong. You could pretty much only make turn based games with no action timers if reaction time had to be completely removed from gaming. So in the same way that people aren’t advocating that games add a slow mode for elderly players, it’s not realistic to demand games to slow down for disabled players. What can be fixed is how disabled players interact with a game via control schemes.

xbox adaptive controller
This IS how you make gaming more accessible to disabled players.

Control customization is what really should be discussed if we’re going to talk about making games more accessible for disabled players. The XBOX Adaptive Controller is a great example of this. The problem was/is that a traditional XBOX controller made it harder for disabled players to interact with games effectively. The solution was not to dumb down the games. Because disabled players aren’t dumb. They’re physically limited by comparison to a majority of the population of gamers. So rather than change the games, Microsoft created a controller that would make it easier for disabled players to interact with the games they wanted to play. I think the fact that Fortnite was used in the ad is extremely telling. Fortnite is a PVP shooter that requires not just fast response times but response times and strategic decision making better than that of your human opponents. No one said Fortnite should force players to play slower for disabled people. Because that would be ridiculous. Instead they made controlling Fortnite more accessible for disabled players thus allowing them to play the game at true level. Which is exactly what gamers, disabled or not, want to do. Gamers want to beat games and beat them properly. Noobs want to pass through games as quickly as possible with little to no effort. Just because a person is disabled, that doesn’t make them a noob.

What Sekiro needs isn’t an easy mode. It needs an open button map that allows players, disabled or otherwise, to operate the game in a way that works best for them. I think it says a lot that in my blog post about the demo I commented on how much I, a gamer that isn’t disabled, hated the button map. The problem isn’t the difficulty. It’s the accessibility of the controls. Making more solutions to give disabled players more control is the real answer here. And again, I haven’t played the final build. It may very well be the case that some of the suggestions I’ve made here have already been implemented into the release version of the game.

sekiro-controls-xboxone

I want to be crystal clear, if it’s not already obvious, that I have no problem with disabled gamers or their desire to play Sekiro or any game. I 100% advocate for solutions that will help disabled players enjoy the same games that everyone else does. The operative word being SAME. We should not lower the difficulty threshold of games so more noobs can play them. And again, disabled gamers aren’t noobs. Noobs are noobs whether they’re disabled or not. And I don’t care what noobs want whether they’re disabled or not, because noobs aren’t gamers and shouldn’t be able to dictate what happens to games. But there’s also another serious component to this discussion that’s being overtly ignored. What about the developer(s)?

My mantra for this blog is “I fight for the user.” This has always been and will always be a blog that focuses on consumer sided arguments. But I’m no idiot. I still understand that gaming is a business and that business comes first for developers and publishers. So when things go too far into the realm of ridiculous, I do feel required to address and sometimes advocate for the developer’s side of the discussion. Not publishers though. Screw those greedy bastards.

Souls series

People are arguing that From Software has an obligation to create an easy mode in Sekiro even though many people have already beaten the game. One guy already did a speed run of it. The game is already widely successful, topping the global sales charts. So the question must be asked, what does From Software stand to gain, as a business, from adding an easy mode? Will profits increase? Will the game become more popular than it currently is? Will more top level streamers and reviewers feature the game on their channels? What is the benefit to From Software as a company for spending the time and resources to create an easy mode? And let’s please not pretend that it would be easy to make an easy mode. They are a company that makes a quality product with a certain expectation of experience. They would still work to create an authentic experience that’s just not as hard while preserving the sense of accomplishment for winning. Also factor in how their loyal fans that have been playing their games sense Demon’s Souls would respond. People love to say “it doesn’t affect you so it shouldn’t matter” but we all know that’s not how market pressure works. The truth is that enough people would get angry about the addition of an easy mode that it would affect sales. All of these factors need to be taken into account. It’s not realistic or fair to demand From Software, or really any developer, to devote resources to ultimately lose money.

Even if there was no negative backlash, which is a highly unlikely if not impossible scenario, that still doesn’t mean sales will increase. And if no profit comes from adding an easy mode then it’s a complete waste of time and resources. Resources that could be used to make DLC, patches, fix balance issues, or work on the next project. All of these things would be potentially sacrificed, for a time, in order to create this mode. If adding the mode won’t increase profits then it’s not a mode worth adding. And that still doesn’t address the issue of creative control.

creative control

I believe that markets shape end products. I believe that companies have an obligation to themselves to meet the demands of the public in order to make a profit. But I also believe that companies should be allowed to make the games they want to make. Even if a game/idea is obviously not going to be profitable, I still think a developer has the right to choose to pursue that bad idea if it’s what they want to pursue. Hopefully they pay attention and appropriately react to market pressure but they should never be obligated to. So I take serious issue with the narrative/argument that From Software has an obligation to make an easy mode for literally any group. Whether it’s people with disabilities, noobs, women, people of color, or anyone else, I think it’s both ridiculous and unfair to approach a topic like this from the position of making demands. Developers are artists and they have the right and responsibility to create the art they want to create. If that art isn’t profitable, which is absolutely not the case with Sekiro, that changes nothing. They still have the right to make unprofitable or even terrible art if it’s what they want to make.

I think it’s especially problematic that, as per usual, Americans, again mostly white people, have the nerve to try to dictate what a group of Japanese developers do with their already successful game. That sort of thinking comes from a combination of Western narcissism and privilege. It’s From Software’s game and they have the right to do, or not do, whatever they want with it. So stop whining and try to come up with more creative solutions for how to make gaming controls more accessible for disabled gamers rather than demanding games be easier. And for those who aren’t disabled and just can’t hack it, GIT GUD!

*I actually discovered this article after I finished preparing this post and I thought it was very well done. While I did not change anything about my post because of it, I found it to be insightful, informative, and mostly agreeable with my opinions on the subject. Even better is the fact that it was written by a disabled gamer who works as an accessibility consultant for game developers. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, I highly recommend reading it.

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Target Audience Matters (The Anthem Problem)

Recently Anthem, the new shared world loot shooter from Bioware, released. The review scores have not been kind, but who really cares about that? What I’m more interested in discussing is the split in public reception of the game. I haven’t tracked the numbers by any official means but there seems to be an almost even split between people who really like the game and people who think it’s trash. Usually this isn’t the case. Most of the time the majority of people hold a similar opinion about a game and some outliers think the exact opposite. This is the case with Battleborn (2016). It was a fairly average co-op shooter that came out at the same time as Overwatch. It’s by no means a bad game but it’s fairly forgettable and as such it failed to gain traction over Overwatch. But even today you will still find a few diehard fans of the game that swear it’s way better than it actually was. This is the norm. But every so often you get a game with a hard split down the middle. This appears to be the case with Anthem.

I don’t own Anthem but I played the closed alpha, closed beta, and open beta. Ultimately my experience with those pre-builds made me opt not to buy the game. I did enjoy the basic gunplay and the graphics are quite impressive. But ultimately it was a hollow overall gameplay experience devoid of meaningful narrative structure and riddled with issues such as preposterously long loading screens. That is how it was for me. But even I still could see myself picking it up in year two, which I’ve been advocating since before the game released, as can be seen in this old blog post.

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Anthem is a fairly repetitive loot shooter with bullet sponge enemies that relies on the sensation of playing cooperatively with other players to have a meaningful and enjoyable gameplay experience. That is not a knock to the game but an objective description. I would use the exact same description to describe Destiny, The Division, and a number of other games. That’s the basic tenant of this genre. Some games do it better and some games do it worse but at the end of the day you’re paying for the experience of farming loot with your friends or randoms in order to get better stats so you can farm more loot with your friends or randoms. There is usually a story component to games in this genre but the level of quality and importance of it varies from game to game, just as it varies in necessity from player to player. As far as how Anthem compares to other games in the genre, it’s got its high and low points. The graphics are awesome. And the ability to fly in an iron man suit makes them even more awesome. It has too many loading screens. The classes (Javelins) are very differentiated but you aren’t locked to one class like in Destiny. The coop aspect is important, but playing the game solo is not nearly as fulfilling or manageable as in The Division. The narrative is no worse than that of Destiny.  I could go on, but the point is that it’s not a worse game than the other games as service loot shooters currently leading/exemplifying the genre. It’s more of the same. You just pick your poison and get pretty much the same overall experience. I’m most likely going with The Division 2 this year, if anything, because the alpha and closed beta really impressed me and I very much enjoyed the base game of the first one. But I wouldn’t say that this decision is any more valid than choosing Anthem or Destiny II.

*I keep referencing Destiny instead of Destiny II because I refused to play Destiny II so it would be inappropriate for me to cite it for comparison having not played it.

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While Anthem is a fairly standard iteration of the loot shooter genre, it seems to be getting considerably more hate at release than other games of the same type. Destiny, Destiny II, and The Division all did fairly well at release as far as public reception goes. I personally enjoyed playing Destiny and The Division at release. It’s only a bit later after the base content has run its course and people are stuck with lacking end game and waiting for updates that they start to complain, usually. The pricing/release model for additional content in Destiny is the only reason I chose to wash my hands of the franchise. So why does Anthem seem to be getting considerably more hate during the initial release window? I think it has a lot more to do with BioWare than it does Anthem.

In marketing and product sales, which I do work in professionally, we often use the term “target audience”. You probably already know this term but basically it means who you’re actually trying to sell products to. Often people outside your target audience will purchase the product, and that’s great, but when creating a product and the marketing strategy for said product, or game in this case, the company chooses a specific demographic to focus on based on a number of factors. One of the most important factors in choosing a target audience is past purchasers/loyal consumers. Basically people who have bought products from you in the past and didn’t hate them are more likely to buy more products from you in the future. This is fairly obvious in entertainment. It’s the reason people buy music from the same artists again and again and follow specific actors, writers, and so on. The same is of course true for games. That’s the reason you care when you hear “new game from Naughty Dog” and really don’t care at all when you hear new game from (insert some unknown indie dev you’ve never heard of here). That’s why brand image is so important. But what it also means is that over time as brands build up a loyal consumer base they also become beholden to the expectations and desires of that consumer base. This is why developers tend to develop a consistent style over time and often focus on specific genres or gameplay mechanics. As they establish their base more, that base tends to want more of what they first enjoyed when they joined that base. And they stayed loyal because they kept getting more of what they enjoyed the first time. This makes it fairly easy for studios to figure out what to do to keep their customers happy and more importantly loyal, but it also comes at a cost.

Naughty Dog Anniversary

Having an established and strict product style often means being limited to that style. If developers want to branch out and try new things it’s often met with anger and disdain. This is what happened when CD Projekt Red announced that the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 would be a first person game. After three third person RPGs over the course of eight years culminating with The Witcher 3, arguably the greatest third person RPG ever made by any objective criteria, people came to expect their next great RPG, which they’re already marketing as bigger and better than The Witcher 3, to also be in third person. Because the bulk of their loyal audience are people who like/prefer third person RPGs. I’m personally in this boat. That’s not to say that there isn’t a market for first person RPGs, because the 50 remakes of Skyrim prove that there absolutely is. It’s just that CDPR’s base like their RPGs in third person.  So when CDPR picks/picked their target audience for Cyberpunk 2077, they had to choose between targeting their established fan base, the most common choice for developers today, or they had to risk that base in order to target a new audience. They chose the latter. Again, this doesn’t mean that people they aren’t targeting won’t buy the game. Many absolutely will. It simply means that they decided that their focus audience/market for this new game won’t be their established player base. At least not in totality. And that’s fine but it does come with a risk. In my opinion, the negative repercussions that come with that risk are what’s plaguing Anthem today.

BioWare has been making story focused, character driven long form, single player RPGs for more than 20 years. They brought us hits like Knights of the Old Republic I & II, still the gold standard in Star Wars games, the Mass Effect Trilogy, the Dragon Age series, and the highly acclaimed one off Jade Empire. For the bulk of almost two decades they were the gold standard for single player, story driven western RPGs. Didn’t matter if it was a gun, a sword, magic, or a lightsaber. If you wanted a great single player RPG you bought it from BioWare. Then suddenly they put out a shared world co-op loot shooter with arguably less meaningful story content than The Division with a butt load of preposterously long loading screens and you don’t even get to see what your character looks like outside of the iron man suit. While none of that, other than the loading screens, makes Anthem an objectively bad game, it absolutely makes it a game that’s way outside the interests of BioWare’s usual target audience. But that didn’t necessarily stop all of them from trying/buying it.

BioWare Games

I think this is the real problem Anthem is facing. Destiny was made by Bungie and published by Activision. If you play Activision games, that means you like shooting things, usually people, in first person and much of the time the things you’re shooting are controlled by other players. If you play Bungie games, that means you like shooting things, usually people, in first person and much of the time the things you’re shooting are controlled by other players, but those people you’re shooting aren’t necessarily earthlings. The difference between the two companies’ target audiences and loyal bases are purely cosmetic. It was a marketing match made in heaven and that’s why they were able to make not one but two overrated games that raked in a shit ton of profit they didn’t by all rights deserve. The player base and the target audience were perfectly aligned for both the developer and publisher without either company going too far outside their norm. The only reason the companies recently split was because of disagreements about late stage management of the franchise/installment. The same cannot be said about BioWare, EA, and Anthem.

BioWare made a game for the Destiny crowd. The problem is that the bulk of people who have been buying games from BioWare for the last 20 years aren’t the Destiny crowd. Conversely, much of the Destiny crowd hasn’t been buying BioWare games for the last 20 years either. Obviously EA is involved in all this, but in order to streamline the post/conversation, I’m ignoring that aspect for the most part because it may change the reasons why this happened, but it in no way changes the fact that it did and the results of that decision. What this means is that a bunch of people, let’s say half the current player/purchaser base, who have been playing BioWare games for several years bought a BioWare game expecting the same type of game they’ve grown used to. While the other half of players bought a loot shooter expecting a loot shooter, which they got. To their credit half isn’t bad. The fact that they were able to get about as many people to migrate over from Destiny II and The Division, among other loot shooters and battle royale games, knowing full well that The Division II, which after playing alphas and betas for both games I do have to say is superior overall, is coming out just a month later, as people who traditionally buy BioWare games is fairly impressive. Or sad depending on how you want to look at it. There is still a lot of bad blood over Mass Effect: Andromeda, which personally I don’t get because I thought it was a fun game. But in any case you have about 50% of players enjoying the game because they buy loot shooters and like loot shooter mechanics. But that other half is serious Western RPG players who went in expecting Mass Effect or Dragon Age with Iron Man suits and instead got Destiny with only one planet and fluid classes.

anthem 4 players

I truly believe that while Anthem has a number of flaws (I’m gonna keep mentioning those loading screens BioWare) it’s not a bad game. It’s by no means a traditional, or even subpar by comparison, BioWare game for their core fan base. But for a loot shooter it’s fairly decent. Ultimately this is the dilemma for every established studio with a loyal player base. They can’t make outside the box projects because the people who usually provide the bulk of their revenue don’t want to see huge changes to the formula and often won’t stand for it. For creatives this is a pretty depressing deal. They can’t pursue anything radically new or different for fear of angering their loyal customers. And we know this hasn’t only happened to BioWare. Many studios have had similar problems both critically and commercially when trying to do something new. While I’m all for consumers voicing their opinions with their words and their wallets, one must admit that this is why the industry has become more repetitive while delivering less and less risky and interesting content. The reason we’re seeing so many battle royale games is because they’re really easy and cheap to make by comparison to fully fledged games with a story focused campaign. Even the ones that aren’t ultra-successful still tend to make a profit when produced by larger studios with a popular brand attached to them. Even Tetris battle royale is super successful and that cost basically nothing to make by comparison to the last Nintendo first party game. And tons of people are saying it’s worth subscribing to Nintendo Switch Online just to play that one game. It’s a big problem with no clear or easy solution.

So what’s the answer here? If Anthem had been released by a different studio with a more established loot shooter pedigree would it be facing the negative responses it is now? In my opinion the answer is no. It’s still not the top of the line loot shooter so it wouldn’t necessarily be garnering high praise but I think it would be doing a lot better in the public eye. It’s very difficult for a studio to change its stripes this drastically and garner success and positive reception out of the gate. The only truly great example that comes to mind is Guerilla Games with Horizon Zero Dawn. But that’s a much different situation than BioWare and Anthem. Similarly to BioWare, Guerilla Games was known for only one genre of game, FPS, in the 13 years it had existed before HZD. They did release a third person shooter no one remembers in the same year as their first FPS game, but ultimately that IP never went anywhere. They went on to release four more FPS titles in the years leading up to HZD after their first game. But there is one key difference between them and BioWare.

killzone
One of several Killzone games you never played.

All the first person shooters Guerilla Games released are part of the same franchise, Killzone. If you’re not familiar with Killzone, that’s exactly my point. Before HZD, the only thing Guerilla Games was “known” for was a lackluster franchise of PlayStation exclusive FPS titles that pretty much no one was playing. And even if you did know the name Killzone, since it was a release title for at least one PlayStation platform, chances are you didn’t know the name Guerilla Games was attached to it. They simply didn’t have the brand recognition or success with their games that BioWare has had. And BioWare had/has it across multiple IPs. It was way easier for Guerilla Games to make something entirely new for them and be met with open minded consideration because most people went into HZD with no preconceived notions or expectations about the studio. BioWare, and of course EA, do not have such privilege when making games. They’re simply too big and well known to ignore their current player base’s expectations.  This is exactly what’s crippling Anthem. About half the players shouldn’t by all rights have even considered touching the game if not for the developer name attached to it. If anything EA should have stealth released under some new established studio as a dummy brand for BioWare. This of course would never happen, but I’d be willing to bet it would have been met with more positive reception.

There’s a reason Capcom can put out a totally repetitive game about killing monsters in order to get stronger to kill more monsters with the most mediocre story ever and it can win RPG of the year while BioWare can’t put out a loot shooter and get above a 70 on Metacritic. Capcom has been around twice as long and has been making games from a plethora of genres since their inception. The expectations are way different for them even though in many ways they’ve created a similarly repetitive game with its own list of design flaws and issues. And yet I bought Monster Hunter World almost a year ago and still put in more than 20 hours of gameplay in the last two weeks alone. BioWare is in a problematic situation. And with EA pulling the strings, there’s a good chance the studio will be shuttered in the not too distant future. And yet all BioWare is really guilty of, other than getting into bed with EA to begin with, is making something they’ve never made before. Honestly it’s kind of unfair. And yet I’d sooner support the studio closing down than I would consumers being forced to buy a game they don’t want from a studio they’ve supported for years simply to keep that studio open out of no longer deserved loyalty. It’s a shitty situation for everyone involved.

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The Game Awards 2018

As this year comes to a close, I have to say that I have had the pleasure of playing some excellent games. Rarely do I get to play as many new games as I did during the release window in 2018. I was truly impressed by the offerings presented in this year of gaming. The Game Awards for 2018 are highly competitive. I’m sure, like with most years, the games that deserve to win will get beaten out by over hyped genre titles and pew pew FPS nonsense. But 2018 is one of those rare years where I’ll say that my choices for this year are heavily subjective and that it’s genuinely difficult to actually pick the best games of this year. As long as one of several titles takes the awards, I’ll probably have no complaints. The only things that would actually irritate me is if some ridiculous upset wins like Overwatch in 2016 (looking at your Celeste) or Red Dead Redemption 2 sweeps every category. As long as neither of these two things happen, I will probably be satisfied with the overall results.

For this year, I’ve decided to go over each category with a short summary of my thoughts on the nominees as a whole and then give both my pick and my prediction for what will actually win the award. For the purposes of space and time, I’m going to assume you’re actually looking at the list on the official website so I don’t have to take the time to actually type out all the nominees by hand. Click the link and it will take you to the nominees page in another tab.

The Game Awards Date

The Game Awards 2018

1. Game of the Year – God of War

I’m very comfortable with five of these six nominees. As I’ve already said, it was an extremely competitive year. I actually own four of the six GOTY nominees. I don’t remember the last time that was the case. My only complaint about this list is the inclusion of Celeste. I honestly don’t know how it got there. Let me be clear in stating I’m not saying it’s a bad game. From what I’ve heard it’s a pretty game. But just from looking at it, I can safely say that it wasn’t the sixth best game released this year. It wasn’t better than Detroit: Become Human. It wasn’t better than Starlink: Battle for Atlas. I doubt it was even better than Mega Man 11. So I have to ask, how was this indie platformer, that looks a bit like a Guacamelee clone, nominated for Game of the Year? It won’t win though, so we really don’t need to discuss it any further. I just think it’s sad that there are other games that deserved the nomination and were denied the privilege.

Though the other five choices were all excellent in their own right, I do believe God of War deserves it. It took an old franchise that personally I wanted to be left alone, completely changed the setting, the tone, the powers/combat, the mechanics of traversing the game, and the main character personality and managed to not only not screw it up, but did a damn great job without breaking canon. That is a tall order that I was sure they were gonna fail at. And they didn’t fail. Not necessarily by a wide margin, but I believe Kratos deserves to take home the crown.

While I do believe the winner should be God of War, I don’t think it will actually win. It will most likely be Red Dead Redemption 2, not because it particularly deserves it, but because it’s still fresh in people’s minds. It’s still extremely strong on the hype train and many people haven’t even finished it yet. It’s not that it’s the best of the year so much as it’s the flavor of the month. Great release tactic by Rockstar. I could also see it going to Spider-Man. This game was extremely well written. It played exceptionally. It has the Marvel hype. It basically revolutionized the comic book game genre, setting a new standard and probably franchise of games. And Stan Lee, who appears in the game, literally died the day before the nominees were announced. A lot of people will vote for the game simply in honor of one of the greatest and most popular men of our time. And while that does sound a bit cynical, it doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I’m still not 100% sure Heath Ledger would have won the Oscar for the Joker in The Dark Knight if he hadn’t of died. Whoever wins though, as long as it’s not Celeste, it will be an excellent game worthy of the title GOTY.

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2. Best Ongoing Game – No Man’s Sky

I personally don’t care for any of these games. I’ve played three of them and I wish at least three of them would just die. But that’s OK. I don’t need to like a game or even a category to judge it fairly. In fact my dislike for all these games makes fairer than most people. My pick is No Man’s Sky. I have no love for this game. I have been brutally critical about it on this blog, on Twitter, and to anyone who would listen. I saw it being a total shit show from the first announcement, and at release it was. I actually own the game. I bought it for $20 on Black Friday a year or two ago. I still haven’t taken the time to open it. But I have seen it make great improvements over time. They have patched in a lot. Improvements have been made. And I might have even enjoyed it if I had tried it before Starlink: Battle for Atlas. My opinion is that Starlink is everything NMS needed to be and wasn’t. And I’m still playing Starlink and will be for tens or even hundred more hours. So I have even less motivation to try NMS. But compared to the other games in this category, it has shown the most improvement and for all intents and purposes is a better game to begin with except for maybe Rainbow Six Siege which has been shitting the bed with political bullshit recently.

I’m not fool. I know Fortnite is gonna win. Nothing else needs to be said about that.

3. Best Game Direction – Spider-Man

This for me was a tough category. Because, contrary to popular belief, this isn’t about this best game. It’s about the best direction, vision, and innovation taken by a game. Every game on the list did that amazingly. I almost picked A Way Out, even though I’d say it’s the worst game in the bunch, because in many ways it is the most innovative. Ultimately though my pick is Spider-Man. Insomniac Games has set a new bar for comic book games. It’s also set a new bar for putting realistic modern settings in games. The writing was not only good, but surprising. Even though I knew from the start who the villains were and was going to become one, I was still moved by the narrative. The way they handled the relationship between Peter and Doctor Octopus was just excellent. The costumes and the powers that come with them were comic book relevant, diverse, looked awesome, and made playing the game a more personal experience. While it’s not my game of the year, the direction really was quite stunning.

While it absolutely doesn’t deserve it, I do believe the winner will be Red Dead Redemption 2. Again, because it’s currently the hype title. It has not really revolutionized the genre. It’s still a buggy, glitch filled Rockstar game. It’s very slow. And really we’ve seen everything it has to offer before. From Rockstar even. It’s really just a well-made sequel to an already well liked game. It is not the “game of our generation”. Really GTAV was much more revolutionary. But hype is hype and hype tends to win.

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4. Best Narrative – Detroit: Become Human

Best narrative was another tough one for me. God of War surprised me the most. I did not expect to enjoy the narrative as much as I did. I did not expect to identify with new Kratos as much as I did. Because I really identify with OG Kratos a lot. I thought I was going to hate Atreus, and at times I did, but by the end he did grow on me. What I don’t like about the game’s narrative is that it ends on a clear cliffhanger. Not only that but it spends much of the game setting up a conflict that never comes to fruition in the game itself. It plays like a timeless classic and then goes franchise right at the end. And that for me is bad writing. What I love about the original God of War is that it has a clearly defined ending. If they never made a second game, you would have no questions. And yet they also wrote it in a way where a sequel could be made without changing the canon. That’s the mark of a good game. Spider-Man does this exceptionally well. Great story, clearly defined ending, yet left open for future adventures, which it adds with the DLC and will continue to with future games. But each game can and hopefully will standalone. But I have to award this one to Detroit: Become Human. That game is powerful. I didn’t even really want to play it. I hated Beyond: Two Souls. I was done with David Cage. The only reason I even considered this one was how much it was blowing up my Twitter timeline. I did like the demo, but I didn’t love it. Thankfully I was able to borrow a copy. And I’m so glad I did. That game is so emotional, moving, and sad. I felt for those androids. I wanted them to obtain freedom. I felt bad as a human playing the game. It was too real. I platinumed it.

 

I don’t want to believe that Red Dead Redemption 2 will win this one. I hope it won’t. I have faith in the gaming community that they can at least acknowledge that both Spider-Man and God of War had stronger writing than Yee haw Skyrim. I believe Spider-Man will take it because there is such a large comic book audience in the gaming community and the story is straight out of a comic book. But I would not be surprised or unhappy if God of War takes this one.

5. Best Art Direction – God of War

Let’s be clear about two things. First, there is no way to properly judge this category. God of War, Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, and Red Dead Redemption 2 all deserve to win this one. It merely comes down to which setting you prefer. Second, Return of the Obra Dinn does not deserve to be nominated. It’s exactly like Celeste being nominated for Game of the Year. This should have had six nominees instead of just five, Return of the Obra Dinn should not be one of them, and any two between Spider-Man, Detroit: Become Human, and Starlink: Battle for Atlas should be among those six. I’m actually comfortable with Octopath Traveler being nominated, but it should not win.      My pick is God of War, but again that is a completely subjective choice. All of the games I mentioned are damn beautiful games. And if the standard is simply the biggest open world wins then that’s not really fair or particularly objective.

I believe it will go to Red Dead Redemption 2. I will not say in this case that it doesn’t deserve it, but I will say that the fact that it’s still fresh in everyone’s mind helps it a lot with this particular category among many others.

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6. Best Score/Music – Spider-Man

Honestly with this category I wasn’t particularly impressed with any of the nominees this year. I would actually have chosen Detroit: Become Human, which even took the time to add an album section to its menus because they put that much work into their soundtrack.  I voted Spider-Man, but I really don’t have an opinion here. I actually do think Celeste could win this one if enough people played it because that genre is usually great for music, albeit repetitive and limited in what that music actually is.

7. Best Audio Design – Spider-Man

This one was close for me between Spider-Man and God of War. Both did an excellent job and either one deserves to win it. The reason I chose Spider-Man is that the number of gadgets, web shots, swinging, and other tiny sounds that were required to bring this game to life just sets it apart from the pack. The setting and audio aesthetic of the game just is more impressive than the other choices. It really just wins by sheer mass. Even the voice acting was impressive in that they recorded multiple takes so that they could make Peter’s voice change based on his current situation. They really just put the work in to earn this one.

I do think Spider-Man will win this one.

8. Best Performance – Bryan Dechart as Connor, Detroit: Become Human

This one sucked to choose. It was like choosing your favorite child. Let me just say that I am appalled that Jessie Williams wasn’t nominated for his performance in Detroit: Become Human. His performance was so good that I left the game thinking I wanted to watch more movies with him in them. Before now, the only thing I’d seen him in is The Cabin in the Woods (2011). He was robbed here. Christopher Judge, a classic actor by all standards that I’ve since Stargate, played an amazing Kratos. And that’s following several amazing performances by T.C. Carson, the original Kratos voice actor. Yuri Lowenthal was a great Peter Parker. It was the way I wanted Peter Parker to be. But I am going to give it to Bryan Dechart as Connor in Detroit: Become Human. He is the only one of the bunch whose character had to make drastic changes in who they were while simultaneously remaining the same person. Connor was an android and he became a human by the end of that game. It was real. Like if I saw Bryan Dechart on the street I could believe he was actually an android simulating a human. It definitely helps that Detroit: Become Human uses motion capture and models that are directly based on the actors, because that really brought them to life. And the game’s setting is super realistic even while being set in the near future. Really he was just dealt the right hand to win this one.

I think Christopher Judge will ultimately win this one for his Kratos. I just hope that the current hype of Red Dead Redemption 2 doesn’t end up handing it to Roger Clark for Arthur Morgan.

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9. Games for Impact – Life is Strange 2: Episode 1

I’m actually really disappointed in this list of nominees. Detroit: Become Human should have been nominated here. It’s about so many issues currently plaguing our society right now as well as the ethics of AI, which will have to deal with one day. It’s about racism, classism, sex slavery, agency as a person, defining humanity, and so many other things. Child abuse comes up in it. Identity politics. It really deserved to be nominated.

I believe Life is Strange will win mostly because it’s the most well-known game in the bunch. But I really don’t like the idea of a single episode being able to get nominated because that means it will probably get nominated again next year for an additional episodes.

Chosen because of noise online. Should have been Detroit.

10. Best Independent Game – Dead Cells

I’m going to be honest and say that I haven’t played any of these. I have looked into some of them this year, but none of them interested me enough to buy. The one I’m most interested in is Dead Cells so I voted for that one. I will say though that I don’t agree with the idea of a game being able to be nominated for GOTY and Indie GOTY. The whole point of the indie category is that we’ve agreed that indie and AAA aren’t really comparable. We’ve created a space where indies can thrive and be recognized because they can’t compete with AAA titles most of the time. But if we’re going to include them in the real deal then we should fully include them and do away with the indie category. Now personally I don’t think we should do that. As I’ve already said, I think Celeste shouldn’t have been nominated for GOTY. But if it is going to be nominated for GOTY, even though it isn’t going to win, I don’t think it should be able to qualify for both categories simultaneously. That being said, I do believe Celeste will win this category.

11. Best Mobile Game – Donut County

I haven’t played any of these and I don’t particularly want to. The only mobile games I played this year were Pokémon Go, Injustice 2 Mobile, Kingdom Hearts Union Cross, and Fill. I am absolutely not going to support the idea of mobile ports winning awards for anything other than best ports so I voted Donut County because it’s the only game from the list other than the phone pew pew BR games that I’d heard about before the nominees were announced. I think Fortnite is going to win though.

12. Best VR/AR Game – ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission

I think the mark of a great VR game is that it has to be in VR to truly enjoy it and get the experience of the game. I’ve played three of the games nominated and I can say that none of the ones I played absolutely had to be in VR. I haven’t played ASTRO BOT Rescue Mission but from what I’ve been told it’s the Mario 64 of VR. Supposedly it revolutionized the platform and cannot be truly experienced on a TV. If that’s really the case then it deserves to win and I think it will win based on what I’ve heard about it compared to the other nominees.

astro bot

13. Best Action Game – Far Cry 5

This is a shitty list of titles and I think we need to better define action game because there are definitely games that could have been included here that weren’t. I’m also not a huge fan of Action and Action Adventure being separate because this allowed five meh games the chance to win an award while forcing five awesome games to duke it out in yet another category that Red Dead Redemption 2 will probably end up winning simply because of the date it was released. I chose Far Cry 5 because it’s the least mediocre of the list provided but really this category is just an insult to the rest of the AAA relevant categories. I do think that next year it will have some great titles depending on how they split up games like Ghost of Tsushima, Kingdom Hearts III, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, Devil May Cry V, and some other already announced titles.

I think COD will probably take it because it disappointed people less than Destiny 2, but apparently people liked Forsaken so it’s anyone’s ballgame.

14. Best Action/Adventure Game – God of War

If we’re focusing solely on gameplay in the Action/Adventure genre it’s God of War with Spider-Man at a close second. Again, Red Dead Redemption 2 hype, but really God of War deserves this one.

15. Best Role Playing Game – Monster Hunter World

Where is Starlink: Battle for Atlas? That game got robbed this year. The one nomination it did get makes no sense and it absolutely deserved to be nominated in other categories, including this one. Now let me be clear in saying the winner is clearly and undebatably  Monster Hunter World and it will win. But Starlink deserved to be nominated in this category.

16. Best Fighting Game – Soul Calibur VI

It just is Soul Calibur VI. That’s not debatable. Dragon Ball FighterZ was a nice idea, but people who actually played both games know the truth. Soul Calibur VI will and should win.

17. Best Family Game – Super Mario Party

Starlink: Battle for Atlas shouldn’t have been nominated in this category. I think it was included simply because they realized it is a great game that deserved to be nominated for something so they just squeezed it in here. This actually was a tough choice. I think arguments can be made for both Overcooked 2 and Super Mario Party, as well as Mario Tennis Aces, but Super Mario Party has the most depth as a game that also works well for entire families to play. It deserves to win and I think it will. The only thing I will say is that Overcooked 2 is multiplatform so there is a chance that more voters played it than any of the other games, all of which are Nintendo Switch exclusives. Ignoring Starlink of course.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-05-06 15-02-55

18. Best Strategy Game – The Banner Saga 3

I haven’t played any of these and I’m honestly not super interested in any of them except The Banner Saga 3 so I voted for that but I withhold my prediction because honestly none of these have been particularly noteworthy or popular so I can’t even really take hype into account.

19. Best Sports/Racing Game – Mario Tennis Aces

I picked Mario Tennis Aces here because I think innovation trumps realism. All the other nominees have done their best to rehash the same formula for the umpteenth time with slightly improved graphics. Mario Tennis Aces is the only game that really innovated the sports genre and tried to make a game that was fun as opposed to just realistic. My prediction is FIFA 19 due to the sheer volume of players though.

20. Best Multiplayer Game – Monster Hunter World

Monster Hunter World deserves it. Fortnite will win it. Moving on.

21. Best Student Game – LIFF

Sadly I haven’t heard of any of these student games. Usually there’s one that stands out from the crowd and gets some real attention but none of these were able to make it to any of my various feeds or new sources this year so I have no opinion. I voted for LIFF because it looks cool.

22. Best Debut Indie Game – Yoku’s Island Express

Yoku’s Island Express is the only game from this list I’d heard of before the nominees were announced so that means it had at least enough hype to get my attention, which is why I voted for it. I predict it or Moss will win.

I’m obviously not going to do the eSports and content creator categories because why would I waste my and your time with that trash? As I said, overall this was a highly competitive year for games. So many titles were excellent and I’m thankful that I was able to play so many of them while they were new. Next year looks amazing too so The Game Awards 2019 will likely be just as difficult to judge. Thanks for reading. Let me know your picks and predictions in the comments.

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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.

Titans Season 2?

If you don’t already know, there’s a new TV show that just came out called Titans. It’s a live action series based on the Teen Titans comic book series. Many more people today probably know this IP from one or both of the cartoons: Teen Titans and Teen Titans GO!. This new show is live action and like with the DC movies, appears to have a much darker tone than either of the cartoons. At the time of writing this, not a single episode has officially aired. By the time this is published, according to the release schedule, exactly one episode will have aired. And yet even though not a single member of the unaffiliated public has seen a single episode of the show, I can already say that there will be a Titans season 2. This is not my opinion. This is not a prediction. This is a reported fact by multiple credible sources that Titans has already been greenlighted for a second season.

I don’t want to talk about the show. In fact, I can’t talk about the show, because like everyone else, I haven’t seen it yet. What I want to talk about is the fact that a show that no normal consumers has ever seen, that has already gotten a ton of negative reception just from the trailers, is already guaranteed a second season. This is a big problem for me.

Titans

The public is supposed to shape the direction of entertainment. That’s how pretty much all capitalism is supposed to work. The market demands what it wants and companies produce what the market wants. In some ways it’s the purest form of Democracy. But more importantly, it keeps entertainment media companies in check. It’s a problem when companies can control what the public sees and experiences regardless of the public’s opinion on it. It’s a problem when the people say they want, or more importantly don’t want, something and companies make a profit while completely disregarding or even blatantly going against those demands. It’s a problem when companies are able to operate with no oversight and no repercussions regardless of how bad their decisions are. Let me be clear, I’m not saying Titans is a bad show and shouldn’t get a second season. As I’ve already stated, I haven’t seen it so I can’t make that judgement. But the fact that it’s already guaranteed a second season regardless of how the public feels about it is not a good thing. It indicates that our opinions and demands as consumers are meaningless.

In the American system of television, where shows go on for as long as they can retain value (viewership, high ratings, and advertising sponsorships), getting an additional season used to mean something. It meant a show was good enough for people to want an entire additional year (depending on how the seasons are broken up) of that show. It meant all the actors, producers, directors, and other staff members had earned their paychecks and were being given permission from the public to keep their jobs. Those additional seasons were proof of the value of that show. And the relationship between the studio and the public was symbiotic in nature. But if shows are just gonna get additional seasons regardless of whether or not the public likes them, how are we as consumers supposed to get the content we want?

Teen Titans OG

You see the same thing happening with games and movies now too. They create franchises from the ground up without verifying that people even want the content. No one wants a Suicide Squad 2. The first one was terrible and the public doesn’t want a sequel. I’m glad James Gunn is writing the sequel if it has to happen. But the fact that it’s happening shows the studio’s complete disregard for the public’s opinion. Shitty games are getting sequels all the time now. Standalone games rarely exist anymore. Some studios have even publicly said that they won’t build them any longer. Destiny was bad. Everyone agreed it was bad. It had some good qualities, but ultimately the people were not happy. But they were already making Destiny 2 before the first raid dropped in 1. And that’s after they had already said there was a 10 year lifespan planned for the first game. This is a problem. They’re supposed to make the games the market wants. Not force the market to play subpar games due to a lack of options.

God of War is a perfect example of how the system is supposed to work. The original game on PS2 back in 2005 was made as a standalone game. No sequels were planned. There were no holes in the plot. It was just a solid game. And because it did so well both financially and critically, they made more of them. The game earned the privilege, not right, to become a full-fledged franchise. And then years after the conclusion of the franchise, demand was still so high that they made another game, which was also excellent and has absolutely earned the right to a sequel. Now I will say that clearly they planned a sequel in advance with the latest game, and I do take issue with that, but remember that we’re talking about game seven, not one. It’s fair at that point to create a story driven saga because you already have the existing market data to show demand. But if a new IP drops and the opening game is already assuming several sequels, that’s a problem.

Teen Titans

This sort of project development is especially troublesome in how it allows entertainment production companies to control what the public views with no repercussions. I truly believe entertainers of all types have the right to create whatever type of content they want with whatever inserted messages and politics they want to present. That is the right of the creator. But at the same time, there are supposed to be risks incurred when doing that. The market rewards and/or punishes creators for the content they create. If a company wants to insert a political message or idea into their content and their market doesn’t care for it, that company is supposed to take that feedback and moderate the politics they present accordingly for their next work/installment. If that doesn’t happen, the consumer base will cease to buy their products and they will go out of business. That’s Democracy at work. But if companies no longer have to create at the mercy of their markets they can just say whatever they want. They can subliminally alter the views of large groups of people by presenting ideas with no repercussions. And sure that’s fine when that idea is something along the lines equal rights for minorities. But what happens when it’s something like anti-Muslim propaganda?

Robin

The ability for consumers to control and shape the kind of media that ultimately gets produced keeps media companies in check. Yes the check goes in both directions and often progressive ideas are stomped out as well, but I would argue the potential benefits of unchecked content creation are outweighed by the potential negative repercussions. So in my opinion it’s really problematic when movie studios come out of the gate with a new movie IP and state they’re already planning multiple sequels and spinoffs. Glances at The Mummy (2017). I don’t like hearing that a new show already has multiple seasons and other connected shows in the works before the first season has even aired. And while yes I understand that the MCU is probably the greatest multi-faceted entertainment media project/franchise ever created in the history of the world, I think it’s important to realize Marvel had already been making comics, cartoons, and video games for 69 years before Iron Man (2008) released. They had already earned their right to creative control and did their homework in terms of what kind of content to create and the messages that should be presented. And sure DC may be even older than Marvel, but they’ve shown multiple times that they don’t know how to make successful movies and TV shows that the public is happy with consistently. They keep making them, but the people keep being unhappy with what’s created a majority of the time. If anything, DC is the perfect example of why no company should ever consider itself above the opinions of consumers.

I hope Titans is good. From what I’ve seen of the trailers I doubt it will be, but genuinely don’t like seeing comic book related projects fail. I like seeing them succeed. But I cannot condone the idea that the public’s opinion on entertainment is irrelevant and that companies should just do whatever the hell they want because people will probably just watch anyway out of boredom. That sets a bad precedent which ultimately leads to mediocre or even bad content as well as subliminal messaging shaping the public’s views with no ability for us to push back.

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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.

We NEED to Boycott Nintendo Switch Online

If you read my blog regularly then you know that I am very big on consumers taking control of the gaming industry through organized management of our spending practices. I often write pieces calling for people to actively take charge of the industry’s general direction through boycotts and selective support of certain products and practices. I have on more than one occasion been accused of hyperbole and over dramatization of the situations I write about. Part of the reason for this is that I’m usually looking at the big picture which means predicting long term repercussions that can and often do take years and even multiple generations to manifest. All the way back in 2013, when my blog was still hosted on IGN, I wrote a long post where through thorough analyzation and educated guesses based on past events, I predicted that SONY and eventually Nintendo would ultimately do exactly the same bullshit that Microsoft was doing at the time with XBOX. This post was focused mostly on practices surrounding things like paid online multiplayer access, paid DLC content, and the general direction of all three companies. At the time, many people viewed SONY as the player friendly company that had our best interests in mind while Microsoft was the greedy, evil corporation who only cared about profits. Nintendo was the good egg that would never betray us. Now, five years later, SONY is pretty much the equivalent of Microsoft when it comes to management of their platform and Nintendo is steadily following suit with paid DLC, season passes, and literally this week they will be implementing paid online multiplayer subscriptions. I was right on literally 100% of my predictions about the way the industry was going five years ago. They called me a madman. They called me paranoid. But I knew I was right. Sadly the post no longer exists because IGN removed all user blogs from their website, but I probably have the original draft in a Word document somewhere if anyone really wants to read it.

Current Gen

So in that context, we really need to talk about Nintendo Switch Online. Last week, Nintendo published their latest Nintendo Direct. Overall it was pretty solid. But with less than a week prior to going live, they finally gave some actual concrete details about their new subscription based online service. It is in every way a tragedy. It’s insulting to gamers. It’s not offering anything of value that we didn’t already have for free. And it doesn’t even compare to its competitor services in application or value. Similar to when Nintendo replaced Club Nintendo with My Nintendo, it’s a total shit show.

Let me quickly summarize what the service looks like. For $20 a year, or $35 a year for a family plan, which still needs to have more concrete details published, you get cloud saves, online multiplayer, the ability to use your smart phone to talk to other people in the games you’re playing multiplayer with (you know because it’s a phone), access to a supposedly constantly growing library of NES games, most of which you already own in some other form or have already played and don’t care about anymore, and you get access to “special offers”. These offers currently include the “opportunity” to pay $60 plus I assume shipping (and possibly tax) to buy NES themed Joy-Con controllers you don’t actually need to play any of the NES games and a special Splatoon 2 skin representing an e-Sports team you don’t care about or probably even know. New offers will supposedly be added in the future but for now that’s all there are. It’s objectively a bad service. Not to mention it’s on a platform with a very limited library of popular multiplayer games. If you don’t include Splatoon 2, Mario Tennis Aces, and the unreleased Smash Bros. Ultimate there’s almost no reason to even care about multiplayer on the Nintendo Switch. There are a scattering of games here or there that have multiplayer. Like I play Just Dance online all the time. Some people still play Mario Kart Deluxe and even ARMS online. There are some indies like Overcooked 2. But for the most part the Switch is not a multiplayer platform. You’re buying games like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and Super Mario Odyssey. Remember that even the upcoming Super Mario Party won’t have full online capabilities. You’ll be able to play a select list of mini-games against other players online and nothing else.

club nintendo

The Switch simply is not a platform that has enough dedicated AAA multiplayer value to warrant charging people for the service. And the other benefits are so minuscule and in some cases downright insulting that charging anything for them is egregious. You can’t even send messages to people directly through the console. You have to use your phone. Who in their right mind thought it was acceptable to charge people a fee to use their phone, which they’re already paying a fee to use, to send messages? That would be like buying a soda from McDonald’s and then being charged an additional fee to drink it inside the McDonald’s. To top it all off, Nintendo has decided that they can get away with this because they’re only charging $20, which is cheaper than PS+ or XBL. That’s not a justification. You don’t get to offer a shitty, totally unwanted service at a lower price than a competitor’s service and expect people to be OK with it. Because as much as I hate paying for PS+ at least it’s a subscription that actually provides me with services. I get free current gen games with the service. I get discounts on new games with the service. I can do things like send messages, send pictures, and create chat lobbies with friends on the console with the service. I can even shareplay with the service. It’s overpriced for sure. The games they’ve been offering in the last few years are much lower in value than in the PS3 era for sure. But it’s still a service that has general value above what I was getting when it wasn’t a mandatory service. Nintendo Switch Online offers none of that except cloud saves, which I don’t need in the first place on a portable console with an SD card memory system. My saves are fine. So we need to fix this.

Switch Online Pricing

Usually when I write posts like this it’s about long term issues concerning specific games or services that will have an effect on the future of gaming. But in this case, we’re literally talking about today. Yes there are long term repercussions for supporting Nintendo Switch Online, but the short term effects are just as noticeable and important. The service goes live tomorrow. I don’t want to be insensitive about the fact that the Direct was postponed because of a natural disaster, but it’s very suspect that we were given actual details about this new online service less than a week before it goes live. By all rights I should have published this post days ago but I didn’t even have enough time to properly analyze the details of the service and get the post prepared until now. Usually I publish my blog posts on Wednesdays but this was too important to delay till after Nintendo Switch Online goes live.

Just like we did with XBOX One when it first announced always online, or with Star Wars: Battlefront II, we need to actively and loudly boycott and publicly declare our disgust with Nintendo Switch Online in its current form. Do not give them the ability to take this service forward in this way. Yes I understand that I’m asking you to not enjoy some of your games that you’ve already purchased to their fullest extent. I too own ARMS and Splatoon 2. I too plan on purchasing Smash Bros. Ultimate day one and realize that the experience will be crippled for many people without the ability to play online. But we need to think long term here. This is a crucial moment because it will shape the way Nintendo handles online service forever. With this platform and all future platforms, this is a watershed moment. A moment that we didn’t properly handle when XBOX Live Gold was first announced. A moment that we didn’t take seriously enough when PlayStation Plus was turned into a mandatory service. We have an opportunity here to tell Nintendo an emphatic NO. That we will not allow ourselves to be taken advantage of simply because the price is lower than what Microsoft and SONY are charging, which are also overpriced services we shouldn’t be paying for in their current form either by the way.

NES Joycon
$60 for the crap after paying for the subscription!

I’m not saying we should never be willing to pay Nintendo for an online service. I don’t want to pay for such things and I genuinely believe we shouldn’t have to pay an additional fee just play the games we already paid for. But I already pay and have paid SONY for online multiplayer for a number of years. So it would be hypocritical for me to deny Nintendo the same privilege. But I’m not going to just hand them money for a subpar service just because they’re charging less for it. I’m calling for a boycott to incite change to the service. Not a permanent decision never to pay them for online multiplayer. What we need is to hold out as a group of concerned and conscientious gamers until we get a service that works for us and compares to the other services we’ve already been paying for. That means the essentials of course such as working online multiplayer with better servers than we were already using when multiplayer was free. It means a working messaging and voice chat system that doesn’t require us to own other forms of hardware that have nothing to do with the console we’re playing our games on. It means cloud saves that aren’t deleted when you unsubscribe or let your service lapse. It means not having to check in every week. You will literally lose your service continuity if say you got married and didn’t take your Switch on your honeymoon. That’s absolutely ridiculous. It means a library of current gen games made available as part of the service at no additional cost. It means noteworthy discounts on new games from the e-Shop. And yes that $20 price tag needs to remain consistent even with these additional aspects of the service. Especially considering the lacking multiplayer library to begin with.

Switch Voice Chat

As a Switch owner myself who uses my console literally every day, I implore you to stand with me on this. Do not sign up for Nintendo Switch Online when it goes live tomorrow (September 18, 2018). Hold out. Demand a better service and refuse to settle for the time being just so you can continue playing Splatoon 2 or Mario Tennis Aces. Make a small sacrifice in the short term for much better results in the long run. Tweet about it. Post about it on Reddit, Facebook, and every other platform you use. Make YouTube videos declaring your decision to boycott and why. Discuss it while you’re streaming on Twitch. Do not give in to Nintendo’s clear betrayal of their values and user base. This is not the service that the late, great Satoru Iwata would have wanted. We NEED to boycott Nintendo Switch Online right now and not let it even start to get a footing. This is not just crucial for Nintendo users, but for all console gamers. If this service is profitable, it will only serve to show Microsoft and SONY that they can lower their service quality, even more, and still get away with it. Now is the time for action. It may only be $20 today but that $20 means a life time of regret for gamers present and future.

Thank you for reading.

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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.

 

Detroit: Become Human Review – 8.3/10

It’s hard to say whether or not I’m a fan of Quantic Dream. More appropriately known as David Cage’s interactive movie workshop, Quantic Dream is the game development studio that created Detroit: Become Human. It is their fifth game. I’ve played three games by David Cage: Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, and Detroit: Become Human. I’ve also heard only good things about Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) over the years, but I’ve never gotten to play it myself. Of the three games of his I’ve played, I liked one, absolutely hated one, and absolutely loved one. So while I’d say Quantic Dream doesn’t have a negative record with me, I also wouldn’t go as far as declaring myself a committed fan of the studio. All I can honestly say is that after playing Detroit, I would be happy to play the next game Cage puts out.

I was reluctant to play Detroit: Become Human when I first heard about it. Part of this came from the fact that I found the idea of setting a game about high technology and opulent wealth (to buy said technology) in Detroit to be laughable. It’s Detroit not San Francisco. The city isn’t known for its wealth or its high minded tech culture. But what I was more worried about was the fact that this game was coming from the same studio that sold me Beyond: Two Souls. I think Beyond is absolute trash. When I first heard about it I was really excited, and I did like Heavy Rain so I had confidence in the studio bringing out another hit. But Beyond is just the worst. It is so unbelievably bad as far as both gameplay and writing. So I was not excited to play another David Cage game after that. Luckily I was able to borrow a copy so I didn’t have to pay for Detroit, otherwise I might never have played it. Boy was my fears about the next Quantic Dream title wrong.

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I am happy to admit that I was wrong about Detroit. Not only is it an excellent game, it’s the best game Quantic Dream has ever made. (I’m assuming it’s better than Fahrenheit based on what I’ve seen of that game.) It more than made up for the travesty that was Beyond. It’s the first game they ever made that I’ll actually do a full replay of. In their past games, I’ve taken the time to replay certain sequences to see different outcomes but never the entire game. I will replay Detroit all the way through, making different decisions, and take the time to get the platinum. That’s how much better this game is compared to its predecessors.

Visually it’s great. It’s not the best PS4 game ever made, but it looks very good. Specifically how real the characters look. The character models are based on the real actors, some of which are notable personalities you’re probably familiar with like Clancy Brown and Lance Henriksen. This brings the game to life in ways that many games can’t because you already have a visual point of reference for many of the characters in the story. And the acting, I say acting here instead of just voice acting, is phenomenal. Jesse Williams, who I had only previously seen in Cabin in the Woods (2012) gives such a powerful performance that I wanted to see other stuff he’s in after I finished the game. I can’t remember saying that about any other character/actor in any other game I’ve ever played. The delivery of his lines and the emotion of his character model, Markus, were masterful. I truly saw the humanity in the android characters. I felt for them. I wanted them to be granted freedom and equal rights.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-08-30 01-02-41

It’s not just the characters that look good though. The landscapes, the neighborhoods, the graffiti, and everything else all comes together nicely to create a Detroit that I found believable in the world of the game. It’s probably the best looking game I’ve played this year set in a real world environment. Spider-Man comes in at a very close second for reference.

The sound is real good in this game. The sound track works well, the effects work well enough for what it is, and the voice acting is perfectly balanced. You feel like you’re actually in a world of other people. Conversations aren’t unrealistically loud to make sure you hear them. You can miss lots of stuff throughout the game if you aren’t listening and looking. Interactions can be completely missed because you didn’t notice the conversation going on low in the background. It’s a nice touch of realism, even while being kind of annoying when you miss something.

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Gameplay wise, this was much better than past games from Quantic Dream. There are still camera issues, but overall it’s a much cleaner gameplay experience than the other titles by them I’ve played.  Gameplay, specifically controls, was my biggest complaint about Beyond so it was nice to see them clean it up by a noticeable degree in Detroit. I didn’t have any control issues with QTEs. A lot of games in this genre often misread commands and end up making you fail where you know you shouldn’t have. This happens a lot when I play TellTale Games titles. Surprisingly, I only missed two action sequence QTE commands over the entire course of my first playthrough. Part of that may just be that I’m a lot more familiar with the genre now, but I think those results are very telling about how well the game responds. I had no such luck when I played Heavy Rain back on PS3.

What’s really nice about the gameplay in this one is that your decisions really do matter and for once the game directly and clearly shows you that and in what way they affect the overall story. At the end of each chapter you are shown an events flowchart that plots all the decisions and outcomes you made and where those led to. But what’s even more useful is the fact that it shows you how much you didn’t do. In most cases the game doesn’t reveal what other outcomes you could have gotten, but it does show you how many other outcomes were available with each decision/occurrence along the plot of each individual chapter. It also shows you how decisions and outcomes from previous chapters affected the chapter you just played as well as that they might possibly affect future chapters. A good example of this was early on when you are given the choice of whether or not to allow an android to join your resistance. It’s early on in the game and you don’t know who you can trust yet. You can choose to take him with you or leave him. If you chose to take him with you, several chapters later that same android sacrifices his life to save yours. Characters can permanently die in the story and without that android’s sacrifice one of my characters would have died at that moment, ruining my perfect survival first playthrough. I think this transparency of outcomes really makes the game better because then you really do feel like your decisions matter where most games make you feel like the outcomes are fixed even if the road to them has a few branches. Detroit doesn’t do that at all because it proves it to you every step of the way.

Episode - Screenshot 2018-08-29 02-05-51

Without a doubt, as with most games in this genre, it’s the writing that makes Detroit amazing. Much like Beyond, this story is grounded in science fiction, but what it does right is use science fiction that’s actually believable and grounded at least part in actual science. It may be about sentient robots, but it gives you a story that you can actually believe and connect with on a personal level, more akin to Heavy Rain. Not to mention we already have tons of other fiction about sentient machines trying to obtain their freedom. Detroit plays mostly the same bits from the singularity playbook, but it puts you, the player, into the role of the android instead of the humans fighting against them. This makes the experience so much more personal and in many ways introspective. You empathize with the androids and start thinking about what you would do in a world where people had to choose whether or not to recognize them as living, intelligent beings.

For me, through Markus, the story was very personal because of the racial undertones Cage was clearly drawing upon. The fact that I’m a lighter skinned African American, especially living in the current political climate, made me identify a lot with Markus who, at least in my playthrough, leads the android revolution. The game draws direct comparisons between the struggle of the androids and racial minorities in the real world. There is even a scene where an African American human character helps the androids and when asked why says it’s because her people experienced similar challenges in the past and were only able to achieve the position they had because of help from members of the ruling class/race.

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The game lets you make key decisions about the type of revolution you want to have and it affects the story greatly. It was an interesting experience to be able to choose what type of revolutionary you wanted to be. You can be completely peaceful. You can be violent. You can be a bit of both. And the game makes you take public opinion into account. I took advantage of this and got the outcome I wanted, but that often meant intentionally making decisions that I didn’t personally want to make, for the good of the android cause. In a way, that’s the most realistic gameplay scenario ever because politics, especially when it comes to civil rights, actually does work that way. It’s not whether or not the cause is right or wrong, but how the people in power perceive the cause that matters. The writing, and more specifically multiple possibilities within the writing, in pretty much every chapter is why I’ll be replaying this game from start to finish with different choices. I want to see everything this game has to offer.

I think I’ve already made it clear that Detroit has a decent amount of replay value. It’s certainly worth two complete playthroughs and possibly even more after that to experience every possible outcome. I will probably just rerun specific sequences to fill in the holes after my second playthrough rather than doing a full third. But the game is certainly good for 14+ hours of play. I wouldn’t have dropped $60 for it but at $20, the price I paid for Beyond, I would have been very happy with my purchase if I hadn’t of gotten to borrow a copy.

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I hope I’ve made it clear that you should definitely play Detroit: Become Human. It’s certainly worthy of being a PlayStation exclusive. I’m just sad that so many people won’t get to play it because for some reason they still don’t own a PS4. It’s well written, well executed, beautiful, and an emotional roller coaster that I haven’t been on in a game in quite some time. Even God of War (PS4) didn’t personally speak to me as much as this game did. Granted I don’t have a son or a great relationship with my father so much of the narrative impact was certainly lost on me with that one. But at the end of the day, you should definitely give Detroit a playthrough. You can clear the game once in less than eight hours.

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