Change Up the Anime Games on Gaming Rebellion

One of the biggest announcements at E3 this year has to be Dragon Ball FighterZ. It looks awesome but at the same time I’m underwhelmed by the prospect of yet another anime fighting game. I wrote about my thoughts on this problem with anime game development on Gaming Rebellion this week. Here’s the introduction:

final bout

I really like anime. At one point in my life I would have said I loved it. I grew up during the first generation Toonami era. This was a time when anime had just started to become normalized in the United States. Up until then we had it but it was considered niche. Most people who called themselves anime fans only watched a handful of shows such as Dragon Ball Z. Toonami was one of the first places, maybe even the first place, where American kids could watch anime on cable easily. They started showing flagship anime like Dragon Ball Z, Ronin Warriors, and Sailor Moon. As it got bigger, they created a nighttime program where they could show more mature anime such as Cowboy Bebop and Ghost in the Shell. This was the origin of Adult Swim. Now Adult Swim is mostly American cartoons but in the heyday it was basically all now classic anime.

The beginning isn’t really games focused, but the rest of the post is all about the anime games. You can read the rest right here on Gaming Rebellion.

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E3 Not For Me

If you’ve been reading my blog for a long time then you know that I am no fan of E3. But really that’s a half truth. I’m actually a huge fan of E3 as an idea. I just genuinely hate the modern E3 model. I grew up in the 90s. The first E3 was in 1995. America Online, which I would consider the start of the commonly used internet we have today, started in 1991. I remember a time before the internet. I remember a life before we had it and then after. I remember the shitty dial up connection and the scratchy noises. This is important to this discussion because there was a time when E3 existed, but it wasn’t the over hyped, social media/YouTube driven fanboy party it is today. For me E3 is outdated, but sadly it’s only outdated because of the way E3 is now handled. It’s much different from the way it was in what I consider the golden age of E3.

When I was a kid there were no gamers like me today who genuinely don’t care for E3. That was unheard of. The reason was because it truly was a necessary thing. It was a time when all gaming news was distributed to normal gamers who didn’t work in the industry, via either print media or word of mouth. There were no Reddit leaks. There were no YouTube trailers. Twitch streamers weren’t getting their asses kissed by publishers for a mention. There were no developers tweeting out tidbits about their games. IGN wasn’t a big thing yet that you just automatically went to. I don’t even know what actually happened at E3 back in those days. All I ever knew about E3 was what I read about in the magazines like Nintendo Power and Electronic Gaming Monthly. And I wasn’t a special case. That was everybody.

EGM

E3 was a moment during the year where you literally got gaming news for the year. And when I say news I mean “new”. You didn’t know about it before E3 unless you had some unheard of connections or worked in the industry. There was never a time where someone would say “I knew about that way before E3”. Because you couldn’t. It wasn’t really possible for normal people. Especially for minors. That’s the E3 I grew up with and that’s why I don’t like E3 today.

My three biggest issues with modern E3 are it’s a waste of time, it’s a waste of money, and the bulk of the content shown is no longer news. If anything it should be called “olds”.

Shredded_solid_waste
Waste!

E3 is a waste of time in a world where the internet is as big, powerful, and widely used as it is today. In a time where people couldn’t quickly pull up live streams, videos, and articles on their phones while riding the bus to work/school, it made perfect sense to put on a huge event once a year to distribute a year’s worth of gaming news. That was the most affordable and efficient way to get the word out to the largest number of people. But today that’s not at all the case. EA can tweet out a video of a trailer with gameplay footage, a release date, and the name of the development studio and there’s a good chance more people will see it or a reference to it than actually watched the EA presentation live. That’s just the nature of social media. And if they had that tweet sent out by the right account the reach could be way more effective than any official E3 account.

The official E3 Twitter account has 1.87M followers. The official EA Twitter account has 4.91M followers. The official Justin Bieber Twitter account has 96.4M followers. He has publicly stated that he’s a Call of Duty: Black Ops fan among other games. If the name of the game is hype, reach, and ultimately sales, wouldn’t it make a lot more sense just to get someone like Justin Bieber to help promote or even just tweet about a game than take the time to set up a huge, inefficient press conference that most people won’t even get to see live because of time zone differences and region locked content? I’m not personally saying I’ll be following Justin Bieber anytime soon, but clearly E3 isn’t the sensible way to try to promote games in 2017. There’s just no need for it when you have the internets.

bieber cod
I did not create this image but I wish I had of.

E3 is a huge waste of money. Most trade shows not open to the public are. I may not have been to E3 but I have been to and worked at a number of trade shows such as just recently Computex 2017 in Taipei. These events are sinks for companies. They waste time, money, labor, energy, and basically every other resource a company has for a very limited number of overall sales because of it. Really the same amount of attention for any company could be obtained by sending out some PR samples to the right members of the press and/or fake press like YouTubers for a fraction of the cost. These shows really only benefit the press because they get extra traffic and excuses to travel and party while other people are doing actual work hosting those tradeshows. The consumers and the companies get very little out of it in the grand scheme of things. They’re done more for tradition than anything else. They’re also admittedly fun at certain times. But that’s not enough of a reason to spend millions of dollars collectively to have them.

One of the biggest problems right now in game development is inflated budgets. The cost to actually make a game is often a drop in the bucket compared to what publishers are now spending to promote them. E3 is a part of that. Extravagant stage shows with paid influencers and preposterous props all cost lots of money. Don’t think for a second that those costs don’t ultimately come out of your wallet as a consumer. The increasing use of and increased pricing of paid DLC and season passes is all done as a way to pay for this useless marketing that isn’t even necessary most of the time. Especially when we’re talking about games that don’t even really need any serious marketing.

Anthem
Anthem

When it comes to marketing there are only four types of games: new IPs, long standing guaranteed successful IPs, indies, and bad games. New IPs require a lot of marketing because there are so many games coming out all the time now that the only way for a new IP to make a profit is to stand out from the rest of the crowd. In that situation, ballooned marketing budgets may ultimately suck for everyone but they’re necessary.

Long standing guaranteed successful IPs don’t need any serious marketing. There are very few new customers when it comes to old IPs. 10+ year old franchises do not rely on new markets to turn a profit. They rely on repeat business and everyone knows that. The people who bought Madden, COD, and FIFA last year will buy Madden, COD, and FIFA this year. The people who bought God of War I, II, III, Ascension, Ghost of Sparta, and Chains of Olympus will buy Dad of War IV. That’s just the way things work. I am not at all excited about this new GOW and I was genuinely unhappy about the announcement when they made it last year. But you can be damn sure that I’ll end up buying it because I’ve been playing them since 2005. No one just tosses away a plot they’ve been actively following for 12 years. People just aren’t like that. I’d be willing to bet a larger percentage of married couples will get divorced this year than people who bought COD last year won’t buy it this year. That may be dark, but tell me it’s not true. These sorts of franchises have guaranteed profits. That’s why Ubisoft keeps making Assassin’s Creed games. Because we’re stupid and keep buying them. Because we’ve been buying them since 2007. We can’t help ourselves. And we always say we’re gonna quit every year. Yet when the next title roles around we’ll ultimately end up buying it. Maybe not on release day, but come Black Friday we all end up running back to bad habits. Thus is the nature of gamers. So there’s no reason for Sony Santa Monica Studios to pay to put up a giant God of War IV sign in the middle of LA. That’s a waste of money.

gow4 billboard

Indies need marketing. I’ve reviewed tons of indie games and I’ve spoken to countless indie developers. The number one problem most of them face is attention. Getting people to learn about their game is the hardest part of the process for most of them. It’s the reason they’re much more willing to give out review copies. It’s the reason they sell their games for cents on the dollar compared to AAA titles. They would charge $60 if they could. Just look at No Man’s Sky. They had that Sony marketing so they charged full price. And people paid it. Marketing is everything when nobody’s heard of you. That’s why it makes perfect sense for XBOX to get behind titles like Cuphead and push them heavily. Otherwise even if people would probably want to try it, they most likely wouldn’t ever hear about to make the decision to try it. Indies and new IPs are the only games that genuinely should be shown at E3 for sensible business reasons.

Finally we have bad games. The funny thing about bad games is that they can still make tons of money. I won’t cite any specific ones so as not to offend, but I’m sure we can all think of at least one game in the last five years that we’ve purchased that was objectively bad and a complete waste of our hard earned money. Some of them have already been mentioned in this post. These are an example of why companies throw so much into marketing. With the right packaging and hype, even a pile of crap can look like gold. But that’s the worst way to make and sell games. Publishers and developers should just work on making high quality games with less releases than throwing away millions into selling turds. The reality is that if marketing was done more realistically, the cost of releasing games overall would shrink considerably without profits, of deserving games, dipping by a noticeable amount.

The Witcher 3
Proof that quality trumps marketing.

My biggest peeve about E3 is rightfully the lack of actual news. As I said before, when I was a kid everything shown at E3 was news to me. There were no moments where they were talking about stuff I’d already known about. There weren’t lists of remakes, DLC, and games that had already been shown multiple years past. Everything at E3 really was gaming news. Today many people joke about the fact that E3 is mostly not news. And that’s sad. Only further proving that E3 has become a redundant and obsolete tradition.

I did not watch the conferences this year, nor did I last year. But I always check the highlights later. Just looking at the Kotaku round-up is pretty depressing for me. Without taking the time to do any research about what has already been shown before this E3, let me just list off the games I didn’t already know about or absolutely expect that were shown during this year’s farce of an expo. I’ll only do home consoles and PC because I don’t really track handhelds so it’s mostly news to me at any time. I’ll only be considering titles shown during the presentations that actually got more than just sizzle reel time because there are lots of indies that most of us won’t remember or know about even after they finally get released that will be on the floor at E3. No, I won’t be including remasters or rereleases because why would I? I will not even dignify DLC announcements by as being a legitimate part of E3 reveals.

nintendo news fixed
The sad part being that the only thing in this image we didn’t already know about was BotW Amiibo. Great job GameSpot.
  1. Sony
    1. Monster Hunter World (Actually surprised, impressed, and excited about this one)
    2. Shadows of the Colossus Remake (Great game that I already own 2 copies of and have beaten countless times. Remakes rarely impress me and they rarely count as news)
    3. Bravo Team (Put that in the VR bin where it belongs)
    4. Star Child (Put that in the VR bin where it belongs)
    5. The Inpatient (Put that in the VR bin where it belongs)
    6. Moss (Put that in the VR bin where it belongs)
  2. Microsoft
    1. Metro Exodus (Didn’t expect it but wasn’t surprised)
    2. Deep Rock Galactic
    3. Dragon Ball FighterZ (Didn’t expect it but wasn’t surprised)
    4. The Darwin Project
    5. The Last Night
    6. The Artful Escape
    7. Code Vein
    8. Tacoma
    9. Ori and the Will Of The Wisps (Actually surprised and interested in this one)
  3. Ubisoft
    1. The Crew 2 (Didn’t expect it but wasn’t surprised)
    2. Transference (Put that in the VR bin where it belongs)
    3. Skull & Bones
    4. Starlink: Battle of Atlus
  4. EA
    1. Anthem
    2. A Way Out
    3. Need For Speed Payback (Wasn’t thinking about it but also wasn’t surprised)
  5. Bethesda
    1. The Evil Within 2 (Didn’t expect it but wasn’t surprised)
    2. Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus (Wasn’t thinking about it but also wasn’t surprised)
  6. Nintendo
    1. Kirby Switch (Yay!)
    2. Another Pokemon Game but for Switch (You can’t truly be surprised when you’ve been demanding something for literally a decade)
    3. Metroid Prime 4
    4. Yoshi Switch (Yay!)

Sorry I didn’t include Devolver Digital’s list, but I can’t seem to find a single semi-reputable source that actually lists off what they showed this year. Instead every gaming journalism firm is just talking about how crazy their presentation was. The honest truth is that I’m still personally trying to find out exactly what they showed without having to actually sit through their presentation or read through a dramatic piece about the art of making E3 presentations. I just want to know about the games, because that’s what E3 is actually supposed to be about.

who won e3
Going by the numbers it was Microsoft. For actual purchases I’ll make before E3 2018 it was probably Nintendo.

Of the about 60 notable titles that were shown at E3, give or take what does and doesn’t technically count (Didn’t count Horizon this year as an example), I was only unaware of or not fully expecting announcements for 28 of them. That’s less than 50% of the total games presented. Of those 28, only 15 are new IPs and could actually justify the marketing need for being presented during E3 stage shows. Of those 15 new IPs only 10 aren’t VR trash and should actually be taken seriously. That literally means that this entire farce of an event was done to show me, and I am not nearly as up on my gaming news as many other people, a measly 10 games. That’s not news and it’s certainly not worth throwing an entire trade show over. That could have easily been announced at many of the various other events throughout the year that Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft already host on their own. This entire expo is laughable when you look at the numbers realistically. The gamers don’t win. This is all just a pointless hype train which isn’t even that effective by Twitter standards.

nintendo spotlight b
The only presentation I took the time to go back and watch in full.

 

I commend Nintendo for doing Nintendo Directs for E3 now. It’s smart, more cost effective, and is another example of Nintendo actively choosing not to play by the status quo of the gaming industry. And I think it’s hilarious that E3 doesn’t even complain about it. They very well could have told Nintendo to screw off when they said they weren’t doing a real stage show the first time a few years back. They could have stood their ground and held another presentation during the same time frame. Instead they play the video on the big screen for Nintendo and probably don’t even charge them to do it.

I like the idea of E3. I believe that it’s important for there to be a special time of year where gamers can come together and celebrate gaming by looking forward to the next year of great adventures to be had. But modern E3 is not that. This tradeshow is a big waste of time and money. It gives very little actual news and has gotten bogged down with titles that were announced years prior, DLC announcements, and remakes. Or games that won’t even be out before the next E3. As long as this trend continues, I will continue to not waste my time watching E3.

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Time For A Good (Far) Cry

Let me start off by saying that this post will most likely offend some people. As always, it is not my intention to offend but to speak honestly and openly about my opinions concerning the gaming industry and occasionally, as with this post, how certain topics in gaming are affected by the wider world.

There has been a lot of buzz after several reveals about Far Cry 5. In all honesty I’m not actually a fan of the Far Cry franchise. I own Blood Dragon because I got it for free. But I have never once played it or had the slightest interest in doing so. I also purchased the Apex Edition of Far Cry Primal, but that was on sale and my reasons for purchasing it are almost exactly the same reasons that I haven’t had any interest in any of the ones in the main series up until now. And to be perfectly honest, I haven’t actually taken the time to play Far Cry Primal as of yet. My interest in Primal was mainly because of the animals. I really liked the idea of being a beast master and after watching some gameplay footage of the player commanding animals to do his bidding I was sold. But just as important was the fact that this wasn’t a gun game. In fact it’s set in a time where guns didn’t and couldn’t exist. I have little interest in gun games and FPS is my least favorite of the shooting genre. But the main reason I’ve avoided the core Far Cry games until now is the narratives.

primal

Far Cry, in the main series, is traditionally about some guy going to some remote place where he has no business being and saving the natives. More often than not this ends up being a white man shooting up minorities but there have been some moments in the franchise where that wasn’t the case or didn’t necessarily have to be. Far Cry 4 makes the biggest departure from this by having you play as a Himalayan man fighting other Himalayans under the dictatorship of an insane Hong Kong gangster. Though I have to say that without looking it up, Pagan Min comes off totally white. At the same time though the game is still about a guy traveling off to somewhere remote that he doesn’t belong because the protagonist doesn’t actually live in the Himalayas. He was just visiting the motherland to bury his mother who actually was from there. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with plots about people, of any color, travelling to a faraway land to shoot up the locals. While some people might get offended by games like Resident Evil 5 (2009) where a white man goes to Africa and kills a bunch of Black people, I just find it rather boring. The entire idea is overplayed. As an African American who no longer lives in America, I for the most part find the narrative concept of an American travelling to faraway lands to better the lives of the locals to be hacky and unoriginal. The fact that it’s so common place says a lot about the American gaming market.

far cry series

What I have always found the most interesting is that this issue of making games where Americans, mostly white men, travel to other places and kill the locals is a strictly American concept. Games with protagonists from other countries don’t commonly do this. Or at least not to the same degree in the same way. Games from Japan are usually not set in realistic places or they weirdly enough make the game about Americans. Look at Metal Gear Solid for instance. A Japanese studio, led by a Japanese man, makes a super long, iconic franchise about a white guy(s) doing a bunch of stuff in Russia and the USA. The only times they aren’t in white countries is when white villains have traveled to other places like South America (Peace Walker) and Afghanistan (MGS5) to start shit up. Games starring Europeans, like Assassin’s Creed, tend to have characters go about their adventures in their homelands. Ezio finally leaves Europe for Constantinople after two other full length games. That was more of a need to make the story interesting than a cultural thing. And at the time of the game Constantinople had a lot of European influence due to the Turkish Empire’s reach so it’s still a pretty reasonable location for him to go. A lot of Japanese games do this as well by recreating periods in their own history or at least other Asian countries they’re closely tied to. It’s only games starring American protagonists that commonly create plots where people from a country, again usually white, travel to other places and try to “save” those savage, primitive races from themselves. It’s that idea coupled with the same old FPS gameplay that turned me off of all the previous Far Cry titles.

white protags big

The upcoming Far Cry 5 is a different story. Now I am not saying that this is the first/only game like this, but I can’t think of any AAA examples from earlier in my life (almost 25 years of gaming) that are this real and relevant to me as an American. Ubisoft may not make the best games in the world, but in recent years they sure do know how to pick a culturally relevant setting. This latest Far Cry is set in modern day Montana. And by modern day I mean like today. There’s no zombie apocalypse. There’s no coming out of the vault 100+ years after a nuclear war. There’s no disease that killed off most of the country. It’s just everyday racist 2017 USA. But it’s about a real problem with a real villain. GTAV may be in a realistic setting and it may have believable characters, but it’s not really about some larger social issue. It’s just the story of three guys trying to survive as best as they can. It’s a small story. It’s a personal story. Far Cry 5 seems to be about real life problems plaguing the entire USA today. And this isn’t about some visitor from a faraway land coming to help the locals. The playable character isn’t even from another state. You’re a local deputy. Sure you can choose your skin color in this one, but let’s all be honest and admit that in the real life scenario this Montana deputy is almost assuredly a white man.

This is a game where the developer asks the American market to take up weapons against their own kind. And not as monsters, mutants, or hypnotized victims. As normal gun toting, red blooded, Trump supporting Americans. There’s no other AAA like this and there has never been a time in this country where a game of this budget from a franchise of this level of established credibility has put American gamers in this position. This will be an experience like no other for everyone. White American players will be forced to actually sympathize with the enemies on the screen. Minorities will on some level finally get to experience what it’s like to be a white American male gamer. I can’t see myself not playing this game. And you can damn sure bet I’m gonna use a Black avatar. This whole experience sounds nuts. Honestly it’s sad that in 2017 such an experience sounds so off the deep end because it means that such experiences aren’t a normal part of gaming. I can list off tons of games where you kill enemies of any other race in various countries in various time periods. But when it comes to white American enemies, it’s basically never in a realistic setting. It’s a dystopian future or zombies or aliens pretending to be humans or some other such mumbo jumbo to defuse the situation. This will be a definite first for so many gamers out there around the world.

fishing in montana

Now I’m not one to usually support politics in games, but that’s only a half truth. What I have an issue with is people inserting politics into games that aren’t political for their own grandstanding and agendas. For example, making Street Fighter V a discussion about sexism and female objectification is stupid. Trying to argue that the Mario Bros. franchise is an example of how people have been indoctrinated with sexism is just unfounded and generally ridiculous. Note I’m not saying that issues like sexism aren’t real issues. I’m merely saying that people tend to insert politics into games unnecessarily and often unrightfully because games and gamers are an easy target. So in those cases I’m all for the “keep politics out of games” argument. But when a game actually is political and intentionally is written about real political issues, especially in a realistic modern setting like in the case of Far Cry 5, then I’m all for it. If you go into Far Cry 5 thinking it won’t be or shouldn’t be political then you’re an idiot and you’re playing the wrong games. This is a political game and the entire experience, both in and out of the game, will be and should be political.

games and politics

This will be a highly polarizing and political experience. I can already see some of the things that are going to happen. Live streams and YouTube videos of Mexican avatars killing white people. Fox News doing stories about how this game promotes domestic terrorism and violence against white Americans. Various hate groups and media arguing that the game paints hard working lower and middle class Americans in an unfair light. Trump will probably make a statement about the game at some point. I won’t be surprised if it gets banned in certain cities or even states. It’s become that kind of America. It’s gonna be a circus and I’m totally in support of that.

I’ve already seen a lot of people online saying that a game like this is inappropriate right now. I disagree. I think a game like this is most appropriate right now. It’s when things like this actually are happening that it matters most. It’s when people are already talking about this sort of thing and these sorts of fears that it matters most to make a game or movie discussing these issues. What I like most about what I’ve read so far is that the game is not taking extreme positions against religion or targeting certain races. It’s specifically villainizing extremism. A lot of people today are altogether anti-religious and think religion is the problem with American conservatives. But that’s an oversimplification of the issue. Supposedly this debate comes up in the game through the fact that you’re fighting a religious cult, but one of your main helpers in the game is a Black pastor. I really like this move because it shows that Ubisoft has really put some thought into how they want to portray these serious issues in current American politics.

religion far cry 5

Now I’m prematurely giving Ubisoft a lot of credit for things that haven’t happened yet. It is extremely possible, and very likely based on their recent track record, that this game will only scratch the surface and then quickly fizzle out. The studio is great at picking settings. But they aren’t great at writing full-fledged stories. Take a game like Watch Dogs. Great premise, lackluster delivery. Every Assassin’s Creed since like three, if I’m being nice, has a similar problem. Great settings coupled with terrible writing. I’m also not expecting much from the gameplay. It’s gonna pretty much be the same FPS experience they always deliver with a couple new bells and whistles. I’m playing this game strictly for the plot and I’m hoping they don’t screw it up. They need to write an amazing, fully developed, powerful story and not pull any punches. If they just deliver that I’ll be happy. Also the game has coop and I’ve already planned to play it with my Mexican friend. A Black guy and a Mexican guy killing rednecks in the backwoods of America. That sounds like a YouTube series to me.

Now I know I went a little overboard in certain places in this post, but I was trying to drive home a point that too many Americans still don’t seem to get. I’m hoping Far Cry 5 is good and if it is good I believe it can do a lot to bridge that gap. Or start another Civil War. Both are totally possible in the current political climate.

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Prey for Bethesda

Recently Kotaku put out an article complaining about Bethesda’s policy on review copies. You can read the whole thing here, but allow me to summarize the main talking points for you. Essentially Kotaku is unhappy with Bethesda because their general policy on review copies is that they don’t distribute them in advance of release date. And when they do release them in advance, as with the recently released Prey, it’s with such a negligible amount of time before launch that they might as well not have released them in advance at all. The author goes on to say that this is a bad decision on the part of Bethesda for a number of reasons. Some of the more important reasons are that A) Such a policy forces reviewers to rush out reviews too quickly to get a proper feel for them, often leading to lower scores due to an inability to adequately experience the game. B) The low scores hurt developers because supposedly some publishers, while it was never actually stated that Bethesda was one of these publishers, give bonuses based on Metacritic scores that hit a minimum of 85 or higher. The article states that Prey was resting at 80 at the time of publishing. C) Metacritic is a bad system that causes problems and somehow this is not only Bethesda’s fault but the responsibility to go against their own policies/beliefs is a must in the wake of the current system. That basically sums it up.

Bethesda-Logo

I really didn’t like this article. As a long time game reviewer, I don’t actually disagree with the author’s general opinion that it is quite inconvenient that Bethesda doesn’t give out their review copies in advance. But the bulk of his points, general philosophy, and reasons for judging Bethesda negatively are mostly preposterous and overlooking the bigger issues at hand which stem from a flawed reviewing industry, not a flawed development/publishing industry. That’s not to say that the development/publishing industry isn’t flawed, because it for damn sure is, but in the case of this article, for once the publisher can’t rightfully be blamed. For the purposes of discussion I’ll keep the conversation focused on Prey as the article did.

The first point that needs to be addressed is that Prey had a pre-release demo. It wasn’t on PC so that’s a fair point of contention but at least a demo was released a week in advance of the game, giving a large percentage of potential buyers the ability to try the game in advance and giving basically 100% of potential buyers a chance to at least see the game in action in advance of the launch date via services like Twitch and YouTube. I myself posted a lengthy playthrough of the demo a week prior to the game’s launch. Whenever a demo is released, reviews cease to seriously matter. Maybe not to developers but to consumers they’re nearly irrelevant unless you don’t personally have access to the demo. Demos have become a rare thing. Most AAA titles don’t get them anymore sadly, and for a really unethical reason too. But when a game, like Prey, gets a demo the reviews are at best just to read for kicks. Why do I need anyone to tell me whether or not to buy a game when I can play the game myself and make an informed buying decision?

Prey Demo

Remember that the only true purpose of reviews is to help uninformed or on the fence consumers that have not played the game in question make a buying decision. They aren’t for people who have already played a game to read and either troll if they disagree with it or jerk off to it if they agree with it. People who have already purchased or played the game aren’t the target audience and honestly have no business commenting on a review unless it’s genuinely to answer a question from someone who actually is considering buying the game or to debate a legitimate point of contention with the review because they feel it misrepresents the game and/or misleads readers into making a bad buying decision. Otherwise reviews aren’t for people who have already played a game. That means that in the case of Prey very few PS4 and XB1 owners had/have any real need to look at reviews of the game. If you’re interested, you play the demo, which is long enough to get a fair understanding of it, and make your own informed purchasing decision. I played the demo, was unimpressed, and did not buy the game. I’ve yet to read a single review all the way through for Prey, because I have no legitimate reason to, since I already tried the game.

To address the author’s point about having to rush out reviews when given a short or no lead time to launch with a review copy. This is not the publisher’s fault. There is no law that says your review has to go out first. This is a personal issue with your business/industry that is made inconvenient by Bethesda’s policy. But so what? Bethesda, or really any publisher/developer, doesn’t actually owe review firms anything. Review firms owe Bethesda for providing them games to review, whether free or not, so they can continue to have a business. Really the race to be first published shows inherent flaws in the review industry more than anything else. A traffic based compensation system does nothing good for anyone because it leads to click bait writing, rushed content, and a general lack of quality in today’s journalistic system where marketing and social media do more than quality content ever will. Not to mention, such complaints show a lack of brand loyalty from your reader base. Or at the very least a fear of such a thing. If you run a quality firm then you should be able to retain your readership. If you can retain your readership then it doesn’t really matter if your review comes out first or not. But if you don’t run a quality firm then it would make sense to be unhappy about Bethesda’s decision about review copies because you’re always vying for the click bait audience to stay afloat. Yet that still isn’t Bethesda’s problem because it’s not their responsibility to keep review firms happy. In fact they would probably prefer if they all ceased to exist and just worked directly with private content creators.

Ricky Bobby

The author’s second point about review scores and how they affect Metacritic numbers which can translate to bonuses is based on a lot of speculation. In the article it’s stated that his information on the subject is all anecdotal and he provides no specific sources for these claims. It’s also kind of weird to assume Bethesda knows nothing about how Metacritic works and how their review copy policy affects their scores. If anything this is an intentional measure to keep developers loyal to Bethesda by artificially controlling the numbers. Is that a bit scummy? Sure. Is it in any way an actual problem for the people at Kotaku, IGN, or any other review firm? Probably not really. I mean it’s not like those firms artificially control access to content or opportunities in the gaming journalism industry right?

I will say though that if it is in fact true that the minimum score for developers to get a bonus is 85 on Metacritic then that’s another example of a totally unbalanced and unrealistic expectation of success. An 80 is a good score. For some it’s a great score. Personally I hate the number system for reviews. As a reviewer who genuinely tries my best to be fair and honest with every single review, whether AAA or indie, I find picking the number to be the most difficult, most stressful, least useful part of writing a review and judging a game/movie. First off, it gives people an excuse not to actually read the review. Many people just look at the number and don’t take the time to try to understand where that number comes from or if it’s even legitimate. We’ve all read at least one review where the number said one thing but the review said something completely different. It’s also extremely difficult to be completely fair about choosing that number. I have a system, as I’m sure most experienced reviewers do, and I believe in my system. I’ve crafted it over the course of writing more than 100 game reviews. Yet even today I still struggle with making sure I’ve actually picked the right number for a game. Other than supporting Metacritic, there’s little gained from the number in terms of actually helping the consumer. It also hurts developers more often than helps them in a world where standards are so high that an 80 is supposedly considered a weak score.

Metacritic Bad

While I may agree with the general idea behind the Kotaku article, my point still stands. The article is not motivated by a genuine desire to help consumers or developers. It’s selfishly motivated to help review sites continue to take advantage of a system that is unfair to begin with often at the expense of developers and consumers alike. I may not completely agree with Bethesda’s choice to not distribute review copies in advance, but I 100% support their conscience decision not to support these review sites that have become so arrogant that they believe they can dictate the way publishers do business. That is the right of the consumers who actually pay for their games. Not those who get their software for free regardless of the situation. Before you ask, yes I am aware that Kotaku is blacklisted by Bethesda. But the article is not written with a focus on Kotaku. It’s written for review sites in general and as such should be discussed in that way.

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Mass Effect: Andromeda on the Backburner

Last week, it was reported that BioWare Montreal is being downsized. This is the team responsible for producing and maintaining Mass Effect: Andromeda. The downsizing not only means that the onsite team will be shrinking but also that the game, as in maintenance/updating, story DLC, and sequel, will be put on the backburner for an undisclosed amount of time. Multiplayer maintenance and updating will still be handled by the remaining team.

First, let me make sure you understand what “downsized” means here. According to the sources reporting, this does not mean staff members of BioWare Montreal were fired. All of the ones who have been taken off of Mass Effect: Andromeda appear to have been transferred to other studios under BioWare or other extensions of EA. The bulk of which seem to have been transferred to EA Motive, also located in Montreal.

EA Not Hitler

I have to applaud EA for this move. Usually when projects like this are broken up, people in the development industry are not treated this well. I have read countless stories about entire teams being fired with no notice. Projects like Scalebound get scrapped out of the blue and everyone involved gets left out to dry. And even when people do get to keep their jobs, they often have to transfer to other studios a world away. That’s not just true for the gaming industry. I have a friend right now who’s being forced to choose between moving overseas or losing his job with less than a week to make the decision. In this economy, labor getting screwed over is common place. EA not only letting these people keep their jobs, but stay in the same city is a truly commendable move in a time where companies often don’t care about the wellbeing of their employees past what the law requires. So for the first time in years, if not ever, I have to say kudos to you good guy EA. You’ve earned that.

As far as Mass Effect: Andromeda being put on ice for a while, I’m totally fine with that. In fact, I’m in support of it. I just recently finished Mass Effect: Andromeda with a 96% completion. It took me 94 hours. I still plan on putting a bit more time into the multiplayer. It was/is a good game and I very much enjoyed it. That being said, it’s a buggy mess with tons of glitches. I enjoyed the plot but I felt that it was a bit smaller than I would have liked. The fact that the game takes place in a new galaxy and only one new race was introduced really irritated me. Even the villain race is just the new race after having gone through massive genetic mutations. You only get six party members. The plot wraps up pretty well while still leaving room to grow, but overall I expected better considering what was delivered in Mass Effect 2 & 3. It’s because of this that I think a real break is needed.

MEA Completion

I don’t want paid plot DLC like in Mass Effect 3. I don’t want a rushed out, badly written Mass Effect: Andromeda 2 like every Assassin’s Creed since Revelations (2011). They can continue to expand the multiplayer, but I really want the Mass Effect: Andromeda campaign to be considered closed. What I want is a top shelf Mass Effect: Andromeda 2.

History has shown us that no good can come from annual releases. Excellence isn’t bred from creating never ending games that keep piling on more and more paid DLC. Good games take time, preparation, and patience. Here’s what needs to happen and why I believe Mass Effect: Andromeda riding the pine for a while is not only a good decision but the right one.

assassins-creed-all-character
Too much too quickly leads to shitty games.

 

The first thing that needs to happen is that BioWare, and by extension EA, needs to accept that Mass Effect: Andromeda 1 is finished. They don’t need to try to add anything more to that game. It’s a full sized adventure. It has a conclusive story. It already takes a good number of hours to complete even without ever trying the multiplayer. All they should do with that game from here on out is work on patching the glitches, improving the graphics issues, and continue to support the multiplayer. Everyone, including the consumers, needs to move forward based on the thought process that the next Mass Effect plot based experience is going to be Mass Effect: Andromeda 2. No DLC. No additional difficulty modes. No frivolous crap. Any unanswered questions like the whereabouts of the Quarian Arc should be left to be answered in the next full game.

 

The second thing that needs to happen is everyone involved in production and the next game in the franchise needs to just leave it alone. Step away. Don’t worry about it. Don’t think about. Work on other IPs. Get Dylan completed. Get Star Wars: Battlefront II completed. Don’t make any announcements about Mass Effect: Andromeda 2. Don’t promise any release dates or windows. Just let it take a rest. Don’t try to force it out. Every writer is told that the worst thing to do when having just finished a piece of writing is to look at it again right away. Don’t do it. Your head isn’t clear yet. You haven’t mulled it over. You won’t be able to look at is unbiasedly. The whole team needs to just go off and work on other things. And hopefully not together.

SWBF 2 Cover
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure this will be terrible. I’m just making a point.

After a fair amount of time, by which I mean literally a year or more, has gone by then someone can reopen the Mass Effect: Andromeda file. This does not mean start developing. This does not mean put a team together or back together. It simply means that certain key individuals should start to look back at the game in order to begin thinking about the sequel. Look at the flaws apparent in the first game and think about how they can be prevented in the next one. Think about the general direction of the plot. See if people are still actively playing the multiplayer. After much discussion, they can start to make a general plan. Really just ideas about the direction they’d like to take.

Finally they can start to set down some real plans and expectations. Set some goals and create a soft timeline. Again, no actual development has taken place at this point and we’re nearly at the end of year two since the dissolution of the team. Still no announcements to the public. I hate when games are promised too far in advance. It forces a deadline that most likely won’t be met and an expectation in the public which will then lead to negative reactions when not delivered on. I would rather they never announced games until they had already gone gold so there can be no debate about whether or not the game will be released and when. Again I point to Scalebound.

scalebound
Never forget!

Now, in the third year since the game was iced, start building that team and make sure communication is honest and open. Ensure that everyone understands the desired direction for the game and is on board with it. It’s not about getting the best people when making a game. It’s about getting the right people that together can make the best game. And in the case of Mass Effect, the goal should be to make the best game. BioWare should not be settling for good enough. The Witcher 3 should be dethroned with this franchise. Mass Effect Andromeda didn’t even come close. That’s the bar they should be shooting for.

Then it’s as simple as making the game as they’ve done so many times in the past. Don’t rush. Continue not to make promises to the public. Don’t get bogged down by dates. Make the best game possible and take the time it needs to create and test that product. By the end of this process the market will be not only ready, but begging for the next Mass Effect game. Then when the game is actually ready, make the announcement, deliver The Witcher 3 level quality or better, and reclaim the throne.

The Witcher 3
The bar is high. Beat it or don’t even try.

People didn’t lose their jobs (supposedly). The franchise hasn’t been cancelled. This is just a much needed break. BioWare should use this opportunity to take the right steps to craft the best damn Mass Effect game ever made. Ideally the best damn game ever made period. I am fine with Mass Effect: Andromeda being put on hiatus because if handled correctly, this is a great opportunity for the next game in the series to come back stronger than ever thought possible. Here’s hoping they do it right this time.

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Troublesome Trophies

I don’t consider myself a proper trophy/achievement hunter. I make it a point of getting at least one platinum a year just for appearances. But really I hate trophy hunting and very rarely find a game that I genuinely want to collect the trophies for. Recently, in the midst of playing Ratchet and Clank (2016) and Mass Effect: Andromeda, I started to realize exactly what it is I hate about modern trophies so much.

For this year’s platinum I decided to do the latest installment of the Ratchet and Clank series. I have platinumed every one since the PS3 released (the start of trophies) and will continue to do so. I thought it was a good choice for 2017’s platinum and decided to get it out of the way early so I wouldn’t have to think about it again until 2018. My platinum for 2016, The Division, was super annoying and down to the wire. I finished it in December. Ratchet and Clank is never terribly difficult to platinum, but it took me three playthroughs to get it in this one. That should never have happened. The reason it took so long was because of one common, but badly executed, trophy.

Ratchet and Clank Platinum
Ratchet & Clank (2016) – My Platinum for 2017

“Death By Disco” is a trophy you get for using a specific weapon, the Groovitron, on every type of enemy in the game. This trophy has become standard for all Ratchet and Clank installments and technically it’s stupid and troublesome, but I have no real beef with it. What I do take issue with is how the trophy is managed. You are required to use the Groovitron weapon on every enemy in the game, including bosses, and this isn’t too difficult a task. What is difficult is trying to figure out which enemies you have yet to hit with said weapon. Especially when you’ve already completed your first playthrough. This is because they don’t take any measures to tell you which enemies you have or haven’t already hit with the Groovitron. Meaning I had to play through the full game a third time, making sure to waste time hitting every enemy with it, having no idea how many I was still missing.

I got all the way back to the boss of the game, for the third time, and still didn’t have the trophy. Used it on the boss and then got the trophy and finally the platinum. Here’s the problem with this. I don’t know why I got the trophy when I did and not before. I know I used the Groovitron on that boss in my previous playthroughs. In fact I’m pretty sure I could find footage of it on my older Twitch streams if they haven’t been removed yet. But there are a number of factors I can’t account for. Maybe I used it on that boss before but then died so it didn’t save that I had used it on him. Maybe you had to do it all in one playthrough and I had missed one along the way in my second playthrough and then was forced to replay the whole thing again. Maybe I used it on the boss previously but during a point in the fight where it didn’t count because the boss was in a transition period. These are all very possible theories. None of which I should have to be wondering about right now. This trophy is a prime example of a really bad trend in the way many if not most trophies are handled today.

MEA BS Trophies

There is no transparency in the progress of so many of these types of trophies. Insomniac Games could easily have provided a progress list in one of the menus or even the gallery area you unlock after beating your first playthrough. Each level could have a list of enemies that haven’t been hit with it in the world selection screen. There is any number of ways that this trophy could have been presented in a way that was helpful without making the achievement of the trophy any different. But instead they just leave you to fend for yourself and trust that the game isn’t screwing you over, which in my case I can’t honestly believe is the case because of the conflicting evidence I’ve already mentioned.

Lots of games have this same problem today. I’m currently playing Mass Effect: Andromeda and while I have more than 80% of the game completed in my save file, I only have 75% of the trophies. Some of the remaining ones are easy or plot based and I just haven’t done them yet. But many of the trophies in this game are really annoying and they’re number based. My least favorite example, which thankfully I’ve already completed, is “Fireworks.” This is achieved by performing 100 power combos. While I find this trophy annoying, I have no problem with it at face value. Bioware took the time to create a system where you can combine powers to create special reactions in enemies. Of course they want you to use it. Honestly it’s not really my play style. I’m a pretty committed long range sniper, so I rarely use powers. I played all three of the original Mass Effect games as a hard solider class, literally learning no biotics except the shared power ones from your squad mates and I basically only used the passive shields and maybe charge occasionally just for kicks.

Soldier Class MEA

One of the best parts about the franchise is that you can literally play the games however you want. There are five classes of weapons, several powers, and a ton of power combinations. You can fight however works best for you. Yet I still have no problem with the fact that Bioware decided to force me to get up closer to the action so I could make use of biotics and create power combos. 100 is a lot, but it’s not an illegal amount. The only problem is you have no way of knowing how many you’ve done. Nowhere does the game tell you how many power combos you’ve made. This is pretty inconvenient when you have to do 100 of them. That’s not something you’ll accomplish in one session. So it would really help to have some sort of counter located in a menu. But at least with power combos you could manually count them if you really wanted to. The same cannot be said for the “Fastball” trophy. This requires you to throw an enemy with a power called “throw” into another enemy 25 times. First of all, that’s actually a lot harder than it sounds. I honestly can’t say if I’ve truly done it even once, which is the even bigger problem. This difficult trophy with no indicator also has no counter. So not only do I never know if I’ve even accomplished the task, I have no way of knowing how many more times I need to do it. What is the reason for this? It’s unnecessarily troublesome even though it’s a problem easily fixed.

Back in the day, there were no trophies. There was only the game percentage. You did everything in the game and you got 100% completion. They still have that. Mass Effect: Andromeda has that. But it in no way reflects your acquisition of trophies. In the old days, most things had a visible counter. Banjo Kazooie was the worst game ever for collectibles because all the music notes reappeared every time you returned to a previous level. But at least you knew how many you had missed. The game told you exactly how many you collected every time you entered a level and it told you how many you had yet to collect for the first time. Is that asking too much from modern developers? I’m not saying get rid of dumb collectible trophies. I’m not saying get rid of annoying number based trophies like “win x number of matches online.” All I’m saying is that games should at least give the player the courtesy of letting them know how close they are to actually getting those annoying trophies. That doesn’t seem like a ridiculous request in 2017.

Banjo Tooie
This is Banjo Tooie, but the same concept applies to both games.

Some people might be thinking things like counters take away from the challenge. Those same people probably don’t like life bars in games. To them I would say, I’m not demanding the game forcibly show you your trophy progress if you don’t want to see it. That should be my choice as the player to decide if I want to know my progress of just organically get the trophy. Let’s be honest, these trophies aren’t going anywhere. They’re only becoming more prevalent as more games go open world. Collectathons and actionthons are an easy way to pad the playtime of any game. (Glances at Assassin’s Creed) No one, myself included, should be surprised by the proliferation of these trophies or expect them to disappear. But I don’t think it’s ridiculous to expect the games to at least let you know if you’re actually making progress towards completing them or not. There’s even collectible tasks in Mass Effect Andromeda that don’t tell how many things you need to collect to complete it. Who thought that was ok? Of the 56 trophies in Mass Effect: Andromeda, 16 of them are bullshit task/collectible trophies with no counter. Not counting the 19 story based trophies, that’s 43% of the trophies in the game. Almost half the entire achievement experience is doing annoying repetitive bullshit or collecting things, without any means of knowing how close you are. That’s a problem.

If developers want to be lazy and pad their games with crappy challenges, that’s one thing. You don’t technically have to do them. But if people do want to take the time to fully complete the experience they should at least be able to know how close they are when they want to.

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Star Lores: A Canon Based Justification For SW Battlefront 2 on Gaming Rebellion

This week I published an article defending DICE‘s choice to feature a female Stormtrooper as the main character in the upcoming Star Wars Battlefront 2. I have literally never defended DICE before and I have nothing but disdain for Star Wars Battlefront, but I cannot stand badly made arguments and that’s exactly what all the sexist bullshit since the trailer dropped is. I published this article on Gaming Rebellion but here’s the introduction:

SWBF 2 Cover

Recently the Star Wars Battlefront 2 trailer was released and the most surprising news of all was not only does this game actually have a single player campaign, but apparently it stars a female Stormtrooper. If you haven’t watched it, I’ve embedded it here so you can now. It’s certainly worth the two minutes. Did people complain about the fact that the trailer kind of ignores the chronology of Star Wars? No, not really. Did people complain that the game campaign appears to place you as a member of the Empire instead of the Rebellion? Not from any comments I’ve seen as of yet. Did people complain about the fact that the game makes it seem like the Imperial troops were genuinely unhappy about the end of their tyrannical dictatorship? Not in the slightest. Did people complain that the campaign appears to star a female protagonist? This is the internet. Of course they did.

You can read the rest right here. Please check out my Author’s Archive for other articles by me on Gaming Rebellion.

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