Can We Be Done With Grinding?

I’ve been playing RPGs for a long time but not the longest time. My first serious RPG that I actually finished was Pokemon Red (1998) on the Gameboy. It’s important to note that as a handheld RPG the experience of playing it is/was much different than that of a home console RPG. It wasn’t until three years later that I beat Final Fantasy X (2001) on the PS2. While this was not the first console RPG I ever played, it was the first one I ever finished. The first one I can remember playing was Digimon World (1999) on the PS1. I put many hours into this game and enjoyed it quite a bit but was ultimately never able to complete it, which I actually blame on design flaws due to the nature of the generation style gameplay. Call me a noob if you want, but that’s not really relevant to this particular discussion. I had been aware of RPGs like the highly prestigious Final Fantasy VII, but I never completed any console RPGs before FFX. I consider this the true start point of my love for RPGs. And I still consider FFX the best FF after having now played FFVII, FFX, FFXII, FFXIII, and some spin off titles.

I would now consider myself a high level RPG enthusiast. I have and continue to play both Western and JRPGs such as SoulsBorne, Nioh, Elder Scrolls, The Division (I’d say it counts), Xenoblade Chronicles, Pokemon, Dragon Age, and of course Kingdom Hearts. This genre has evolved considerably since I first started playing it. Gameplay has changed from turn based to active and real time combat. The level of customization has evolved from a single weapon and armor to countless pieces of gear, accessories, skill trees, and even aesthetic appearance. Dialog has become dynamic and consequential. In a lot of ways we are kind of living through the golden age of RPGs. But one thing has remained consistent over all these generations of consoles and games. I’m of course talking about grinding.

FFX

Grinding, or training as we called it in my youth, is the process of battling enemies over and over again with no relevance to plot progression. It is merely a way to strengthen your character(s) in order to make combat easier. Often this occurs when you’re stuck on a boss or area and can’t progress forward in the plot. But often it’s just for the vanity of reaching the level cap. In any case, it’s the most mindless part of playing any RPG but is required to complete just about all of them, in some form.

Some games handle grinding better than others. The Division 2 did a great job of handling baseline grinding to the level 30 cap, in my opinion. It’s organic, as in you just play through the base game and by the time you clear all the missions and side activities you’re at or above level 30. You don’t have to really grind because you never have to replay any content to reach maximum level. But as this is a loot shooter, you will then spend an exorbitant amount of time replaying missions for better gear, which yes does count as grinding in its own way, but I won’t include it for the purposes of argument in the point I’m trying to make in this particular post.

Tom Clancy's The Division 2 Screenshot 2019.03.18 - 01.39.53.91

Some games meet you in the middle with grinding, where it’s not required, ignoring trophies, but can be used as a tool. Final Fantasy X is like this. You can grind to pretty much unlimited levels, amassing unnecessarily high strength stats, making all bosses a cake walk. But you aren’t required to do this. You can challenge whatever boss you’re at whenever you want. If you’re good enough, by implementing strategy, you can progress without grinding. You will almost certainly have to do at least a bit of grinding though as the bosses get progressively harder and you need better magic spells. In general though, the model used for grinding in the game is very balanced. You don’t have to do it, but you can, and when you do there’s no reason to try to fully max out your characters. You just do it enough to get to the strength level that makes you happy/comfortable.

Finally, some games just shit on the players by forcing them to grind. That doesn’t necessarily mean the game sucks as a whole. It just means that the implementation of grinding within the game is predatory in nature because it acts as a time sink to artificially lengthen the game. This is most often done in games with either level minimums to progress past a certain point in the plot or stat requirements for gear. You see this a lot in Soulsborne games. You find a piece of gear and it’s better than what you currently have equipped but you can’t use it till you reach a higher specific stat. But raising stats is tied to leveling. So you then have to spend a bunch of time grinding out levels just so you can equip a new piece of gear. This is burdensome and honestly pointless. It’s not a level threshold that defines any sort of skill level or ability to move forward in the game. It’s just a wall from content placed behind time played vs dollars spent. Such a system may have been passable back in the days where there were few RPGs and kids needed games to last longer because of cost issues. But the mechanic was never really a good thing as far as objective game design criticism.

Souls series

Making games arbitrarily longer with no ties/relevance to story is simply bad design. The saving grace of Soulsborne games in this instance is that you technically can progress forward without needing to use that piece of gear. Because of mechanics things like summoning help, you don’t actually have to take any time to grind in Soulsborne games if you don’t want to. So From Software took the time to balance their grinding system out, which is why I wouldn’t criticize those games overall on the issue of grinding, even though I’ve used them here to exemplify this predatory grinding mechanic.

As I said, I’ve been playing RPGs for many years and still do. Recently I finished Kingdom Hearts II on Proud Mode. It took me 55 hours including all the bonus stuff I could be asked to do.  I maxed out all the drive forms, defeated Sephiroth, beat all the Organization XIII members/Absent Silhouettes, defeated Lingering Will, grabbed all the puzzle pieces, and solved all the puzzles. So it’s finally time to move on to the next game in the collection as I make my way to Kingdom Hearts III. One of the things I did was reach level 99. I always do this in main Kingdom Hearts games for a few reasons. Part of it is the trophy, part of it is that the amount of time it takes me to get all the materials to fully finish the synthesis list gets me close enough to make it worth going the rest of the way, and part of it is the difficulty of the Sephiroth battle. In the case of KHII, I spent an unnecessary amount of time grinding. Not a preposterous amount like I have in other RPGs, but more time than should have been wasted on mindless grinding. And if you count farming for materials as part of grinding then that amount of wasted hours balloons even more. But I did it because it’s just what you (I) do in these games.

Episode - Screenshot 2019-05-15 00-35-57

As I was finishing up the climb to level 99, I asked myself, “why is this still a thing?” Why are we still being asked to grind in RPGs? For some games, such as the aforementioned Soulsborne titles, you’re not really grinding because death is a key mechanic to the gameplay. So while grinding does happen, you’re never really able to say that you’re mindlessly grinding. And since there isn’t really a level cap, you don’t have any reason to grind other than the need to get stronger. So I don’t really include games like that in the discussion. But in normal xp focused RPGs I don’t see any practical reason for grinding to be a thing in 2019. If I’ve already killed an enemy 100 times, clearly I’ve mastered fighting that enemy. So at that point why not just allow me to automatically level up to wherever I want to be rather that making me refight the same enemies over and over and over again? I know what level I want to get to. I know why I’m leveling up. I’m not looking for any specific items. I just want/need xp to reach my level goals.

It seems preposterous in 2019 to have to waste time mindlessly killing enemies for experience points that you don’t need to progress forward in the game. The fact is that I didn’t need to hit level 99 to finish the game. I probably didn’t even need to hit level 99 to beat Sephiroth. So what is the actual value in taking the time to reach level 99? Or more to the point, why is getting to level 99 such a time sink? It’s just making the game take longer unnecessarily. Now KHII is a game from 14 years ago, so obviously it’s not fair to cast a blanket shadow over the RPGs of today based on that game. But has much about grinding really changed in 14 years? Not really. Some has been done to make the grinding seem more justified like trying to tie it a bit more into the story or gear in order to give it the appearance of legitimacy. But it doesn’t change the fact that in the bulk of RPGs players are still forced to mindlessly battle the same foes over and over for xp, past any point of actual learning. It’s referred to as grinding because it’s a real grind as opposed to an entertaining, educational, or relevant experience. So at that point, why are we still doing it? And note that I’m not asking why as in we as players should stop hitting the level cap. I’m asking why as in developers should remove or streamline this mechanic in games.

FF7 Level Up

I never played Final Fantasy VII as a kid. I played the PS4 HD port last year. And you know what, I’m fairly certain it was way better than the original. The PS4 port has cheats built into it. Not cheats that make the game easier. Just cheats that make the game faster. You can increase the speed of the game as far as how fast everything moves including battles, walking, and text. You can increase the accumulation of xp so you can grind less but level up faster. And you can increase the speed of special move/overdrive accumulation so that special moves don’t require you to go do a bunch of random battles to fill them up. And the best part is you can toggle these on and off at literally any time. This is not an easy mode. These are quality of life changes that the player has full autonomy over at all times. What used to take a hundred or more hours now can be done in under 50. The story isn’t affected. The gameplay isn’t affected. And unless you count the hours spent grinding as part of the difficulty, the challenge of the game isn’t affected. This was a great modern port and I’m glad I got to finally finish FFVII because of it. Which leaves me asking the question, why aren’t more RPGs like this?

I don’t mind farming for materials. It’s annoying but it’s a legitimate part of the challenge of the game. I don’t mind having a level up mechanic. That’s what an RPG is. But in 2019 with a huge backlog of games, many of them being RPGs, I just don’t want to spend tons of hours grinding. I don’t want to do it because it’s not fun and it’s not legitimately challenging. Grinding is not difficulty. It’s a waste of my time. Once I’ve killed an enemy x number of times, just let me pick the level I want to upgrade to so I can move on. Even if it just became an endgame mechanic in RPGs, that would be fine. Like once you hit that open world backtracking portion of the game and a certain minimum level or number of kills has been done, the game should just let you choose what level to upgrade to. Or at the very least let you increase the xp multiplier by a considerable amount. That was one of the things I didn’t know about KHII while playing the bulk of it. You can triple your xp accumulation if you’re using a certain keyblade, which I didn’t get until I was already in the high 80’s but could have gotten back at like level 50. That would have made the endgame way more efficient.

FFX Sphere Grid

As long as it’s fun, I don’t mind. Like if there are new enemies to tackle and rewards to find, then I’m fine with leveling up manually. But if I’m reengaging the same enemies in the same areas countless times for items I absolutely don’t need, like in the case of KHII, then what’s the point? When you don’t have any other games to play and no money, it’s fine. As a kid, spending more than a hundred hours on FFX, Kingdom Hearts I, and The Elder Scroll IV: Oblivion was great. It gave me something to do. But as an adult with The Witcher 2, The Witcher 3, The Surge, Dark Souls 3, Final Fantasy XV, World of Final Fantasy, and Kingdom Hearts III all on my “short” list with countless other games on my backlog in total, I don’t need to waste a single minute on throwaway gameplay. And I shouldn’t have to. I don’t want games to be easier. I don’t even want them to be shorter. I just want them to be meaningful for every minute of the game. If it’s not a meaningful experience or at the very least something I haven’t done before, then I shouldn’t be forced to do it more than a handful of times to reach my goal. This is not a discussion about making Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice easier. That shouldn’t happen. This is a discussion about how a Final Fantasy VII HD Remake won’t be a better game than the original if you still have to pour in countless hours to level up just to fight a bonus boss for a trophy. I guess what I’m saying is can we just be done with grinding?

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State of Play Episode 2

Last week PlayStation released the second episode of State of Play. For those who aren’t aware, State of Play is the PlayStation version of Nintendo Direct. The first episode released in March of this year. You can read my thoughts about that first episode and the concept as a whole in this blog post. This second episode was in many ways considerably less impressive than the first one but, like with the first one, I think it shows that there’s a really strong concept here.

The first State of Play was about 20 minutes and showed 17 games. This latest episode was only 10 minutes and showed six games plus an ad/announcement for a limited edition PS4 and “Days of Play”, which appears to be their replacement for E3 this year, if I had to guess. When comparing the two episodes it’s kind of hard. This one had much fewer games shown, but the caliber of games shown was considerably better overall. We got announcements for a serious DLC expansion for Monster Hunter World, actual gameplay footage of FFVII Remake, which we haven’t seen in like three years, and a lot more substantial footage of MediEvil. Plus three indie projects, one of which will most certainly crash and burn, one which could actually do rather well, and one that’s quite possibly gonna be a sleeper hit. In general though, half of the games shown were important titles with a great amount of quality content shown. And again, this was all kept to 10 minutes.

 

As I said in my post about the first episode, I think the State of Play format works really well. It’s short, no nonsense game focused content. Yes they did throw an ad in for a limited edition console, but I feel like that’s appropriate here even if kind of annoying. The larger take away from that is that PlayStation is using this platform to make any and all gaming related announcements, big or small. I think that’s a great thing.

Riverbond
Riverbond

Many people complained that the presentation was too short and didn’t show enough, but I think that opinion shows a lack of perspective. The problem with E3 is that it’s only once a year. Companies have to make long presentations that impress because they’re making an impression that has to last an entire year. It’s expensive, time consuming, and forces companies to make announcements way earlier than they often should.  And even after putting all that time, effort, and money into it they can still disappoint the crowd and have to deal with a year’s worth of anger and vitriol. Every E3 ends with a bunch of gaming journalists, YouTubers, and streamers doing “Who Won E3?” posts.  But with something like State of Play none of that has to apply.

MHW Iceborne

In a scenario where State of Play happens one to two times a year, both episodes were absolute garbage. Not enough games, not enough big announcements, and not enough details. But in a scenario where State of Play happens say bi-monthly, both episodes were great. And with that format kept to only 10 minutes, even monthly wouldn’t be that hard, time consuming, or costly to make. That’s what State of Play really could and should be. A short monthly update of any and all PS4 news, big or small. One of the games shown in this latest episode was Away: The Survival Series. This game has you play as a sugar glider trying to survive in a world post cataclysmic natural disaster. Honestly it looks great. I’m definitely biased because I have a pet sugar glider, but even if I didn’t I’d definitely consider playing it . . . If I found about it.

MediEvil
MediEvil

Away looks like something that would ultimately be a hidden gem. Or at least it would have been if there wasn’t a video presentation showcasing small indie titles coming to PS4. Few people would have heard about it unless it was like Cuphead impressive. And that’s a shame because an indie game shouldn’t have to be record breaking to be valued if it’s a solid game. That’s the true potential of State of Play. There’s not a huge list of big flashy announcements every month. But there are always indie games, new DLC, and other updates that players should be notified about but just aren’t. State of Play can be used to fix this. If it’s done fairly often, gamers will be trained not to expect bombs every time. Sometimes it will just be news of small titles and DLC. But that’s fine because we’ll know that the next State of Play is just a few weeks away.

Away

Nintendo Directs are rare because the production value really is fairly high. They’re fairly lengthy, have real people hosting them often, and go out of their way to create high quality graphics. State of Play, on the other hand, is the bare minimum of production value. And that’s not an insult. All the excess is cut away. It’s a simple blue background, panels, and straight gameplay footage. A bodiless voice reads a fairly simple script and there are no impressive visual or audio transitions. It’s the perfect fast and friendly low budget games presentation. And that makes it perfect for taking the time to focus on lower profit indie titles on a frequent basis.

Predator

What are being called flaws should be seen as improvements from the first episode. It’s streamlined to just 10 minutes to show six games. 10 minutes of gameplay footage spread across six games is nothing. Especially if you consider that most people can’t play six games in a month to begin with. I could produce that in my sleep. And if they make the developers write their own game descriptions and provide gameplay footage for the presentation, it’s a cake walk. It’s one voice recording session and maybe an hour of video editing. The original replay link on the PlayStation YouTube channel was 25 minutes long. It’s only a 10 minute presentation. More than half of that presentation video was a static banner. Now it’s been cut down to 13 minutes. It’s way harder for PlayStation to cut the video down to 10 minutes than it is to get a measly 10 minutes of gameplay footage.

FF7 Remake
FFVII HD Remake

I think State of Play has the potential to revolutionize the way console companies present games and updates to the public. Keep them short, sweet, low budget, and publish them often. No content is too small in this format. Little puzzle games, hidden gem indie titles, and DLC expansions all have a place there. They can even announce sales in the presentations just to bolster the time if there’s literally nothing else to talk about that week/month. I really like what I’ve seen so far from State of Play and I hope it continues and thrives.

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Do First Impressions Still Matter?

When I was a kid, there were no patches. There were no updates. There was no DLC. The closest thing you could get to additional content in a game, other than buying a sequel, was an expansion. And honestly expansions were usually just sequels on a smaller scale. They were bought and sold as separate games, but continued directly from where the base game left off and required an existing save file. My point is that games were static for the most part. When you bought a game, that was the final product. There was no additional development, no tweaks or rebalancing to the gameplay, and certainly no making a shitty game better or, as in the case of some developers, worse.

Today, the bulk of games seem to be using what’s known as “agile development”. Wikipedia defines this as:

. . . an approach to software development under which requirements and solutions evolve through the collaborative effort of self-organizing and cross-functional teams and their customer(s)/end user(s). It advocates adaptive planning, evolutionary development, early delivery, and continual improvement, and it encourages rapid and flexible response to change.

Agile Development

Through the magic of marketing speak and fancy packaging, agile development appears to mean that software is delivered to end users faster and then improved rapidly based on user feedback. This all sounds very nice. But what it actually means in practical application is companies release broken, shitty software that works enough to pass minimum functionality expectations/standards but ultimately needs a ton of work. This work is then done based on user feedback by prioritizing what customers, having already paid for the software, are complaining about the most at a given moment. In gaming terms that means bad games are released and then patched over time while it still seems profitable to do so.

In the olden days, reviews worked. Not just “professional” reviews from places like GameSpot and IGN. User reviews were equally valid depictions/critiques of a specific game’s experience. Reviews were timeless. A review about a game published on the day it released was an equally valid depiction of the game a year or even 10 years later. First impressions were valid judgments of games and honestly didn’t need to change, assuming a fair amount of time was put into playing/testing that game when making that first impression. But that is often far from the case today.

IGN OoT Review
IGN’s review of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is still completely relevant and accurate when judging the game 21 years later.

Whether intentionally or by design, we are seeing more highly hyped and marketed AAA games released in broken states than ever before. Examples like No Man’s Sky, Sea of Thieves, and the recent Anthem come to mind. We are also seeing lots of games as service titles that aren’t released necessarily broken, but certainly not in a completed and satisfying state as far as content provided. Examples like this include bother Destiny I and II, The Division 1, and from what I’ve read, the recently released Days Gone. While these two groups of games aren’t in the same boat quality/user satisfaction wise, they are both using some form of agile development. More importantly, all the games mentioned were/will be much different on day 365 than they were on day one. And more importantly, what they will be on day 365 will most likely be much better than what they were on day one.

On a previous blog post, I recently received a comment saying that they didn’t agree with my views on Destiny because I was ignoring the fact that Bungie had improved the game(s) over time based on user feedback. This is specifically what I want to discuss today. The commenter was factually correct in saying that both Destiny titles evolved over time and had been noticeably improved based on user feedback. That is a position that I cannot and would not try to deny. But I am equally right in saying that Destiny I was a huge disappointment at launch. I think most people, including that commenter if I understood him correctly based on that one comment, would agree with that statement as well. I preordered Destiny and purchased the Collector’s Edition. I invested $100 into the game and don’t/didn’t feel that I got $100 worth of content delivered to me. At the same time, if I had waited a year, I could have gotten a huge amount of content for less than $60 with The Taken King Edition. If you remember that time, then you will recall that many early adopters were angry about this. Because it was much more blatant and “unfair” than your standard GOTY edition release of a game. Since I haven’t personally played that additional content, because I absolutely refused to give Bungie another dollar for that game, I can’t say if I would have felt like I had gotten $100 of content or not. But based on what I’ve seen and read, I am of the opinion that I probably would have felt satisfied if my $100 preorder had netted me all the content of the Taken King Edition.

Destiny Pre order

So you have two people with two very different opinions of the same game because they played the game at two very different times and thus had much different experiences. But is one opinion more valid than the other? Is my take on Destiny a more legitimate critique because I judged the launch version of the game, which would rightfully be considered the most authentic experience? Or is the commenter’s take the more legitimate one because it was/is the most up to date and arguably better represents the intended experience that the developers had for the game? I don’t actually know if there’s a right answer. What I do know is that this question and how you answer it presents a real problem when it comes to reviewing, grading, and ultimately valuing games in 2019.

Anthem is a trash game. It is an objectively broken experience that does not live up to the BioWare name. 99% of gamers agree with this statement, 0.5% are lying, and the other 0.5% don’t know what Anthem is. That is the current state of the game and the reason the player base has declined so rapidly. In true EA style, it was released broken, lacking of all character, and not at all like the BioWare games of old that ultimately led to people buying a shared world shooter from a long established RPG dev to begin with. But that shouldn’t have surprised anyone. I predicted the game would be disappointing at release months before launch. I will admit that I didn’t see it being as bad as it ultimately is though. But I also believe that Anthem doesn’t have to remain bad.

BioWare Games
Things weren’t always the way they are now.

Anthem has a ton of problems and is missing a plethora of things to be a proper BioWare game. But the skeleton is fairly well made. I genuinely believe that Anthem in year two can and will be a great game if EA continues to invest in it and doesn’t shutter BioWare, as everyone, myself included, is worried about. In fact, that’s why I made a blog post called Anthem Year Two back in July of 2018. In the same way that Destiny, No Man’s Sky, The Division 1, and countless other games added a lot of additional content, made changes, and patched out bugs over the course of the first year to ultimately create a great game in the long run, I believe Anthem can, and must, do the same thing. The real question is how do you judge and valuate such a game?

Let’s say on February 22, 2020, exactly one year after the original launch of Anthem, BioWare releases an update that completely revolutionizes the game. Let’s assume they fixed everything. Loading times are lightning fast, story actually exists, decisions matter, romance is an option, gear is more consequential, and drop rates are drastically improved. Imagine that basically the game went from where it is now to Mass Effect 2 status for quality of experience while maintaining the balance between single player and multiplayer at the same time. Essentially GTA Online with much stronger writing. I’m pretty sure that we would all agree that such an improvement would be welcomed and revolutionary. But how would/should we value and grade Anthem as a whole in this scenario? Would we just ignore the original version and pretend it never existed? Would we average our opinions based on both iterations? Would we still condemn the game based on our first impressions? What exactly would be the right way to go about judging this new and vastly improved Anthem?

NMS MP

On one hand, you’d have a phenomenal game that everyone would be dying to play. But on the other hand you’d have, if estimates I found online are correct, somewhere between three and six million players (purchasers) who bought the game at/near launch who were ultimately disappointed and quit playing the game. While many of them would probably jump back in for this new version, many will have already been soured by the game, rightfully so, and would choose not to pick Anthem back up for all the patches and improvements in the world. This later group would be accurately judging the game on their first impressions. At the same time, anyone judging the game based on the new content would also be making a fair critique of the current product. This presents a number of questions that really haven’t been fully addressed or properly answered by the gaming industry or community. Also the pricing of this magical update would need to be part of the discussion as well. Would it be free like the improvements made to No Man’s Sky? Or would it be at cost like the way they’ve developed Destiny with periodic paid expansions?

What I’m most interested in discussing is how we as consumers should be judging games, and the companies that produce/distribute them, that fall into this situation. First impressions used to be super important. To me, they still are. Most people can name at least one developer or publisher that they absolutely do not trust anymore because of one or, in the case of EA, several projects that soured their feelings toward the brand. But in world where games are improved over time and often go from being some of the worst games currently available to some of the best games playable over the course of an extended period of time, how do we as consumers navigate that system? How do we judge games like this? How long do we give games to stop sucking? How do valuate games like this in terms of pricing? Possibly most importantly, how do we discuss games with each other on fair terms when we could literally be playing different games depending on when we started and stopped playing a specific title?

Destiny The Taken King

I think Destiny I was disappointing. I started playing day one and stopped after the House of Wolves expansion. I spent $100 total. Another player started playing after The Taken King Edition was released. He paid $30 for all the content I got plus a lot more. He thinks the game was phenomenal. In my opinion, we are both correct and both wrong at the same time. But how do we officiate those opinions in a useful, constructive way without having to precede them with three or more pages of explanation, a personal gaming history, and a notarized record of gameplay experience every time we try to engage with each other online? Obviously I’m exaggerating a bit but the point still stands, two players played the same game and yet didn’t play the same game and one felt justified in attacking the other’s opinion as a legitimate criticism of that opinion, and not just a troll.

For me, I think first impressions matter a lot. I don’t support the idea that a company can release a garbage game and improve it over time with no repercussions to their public image or the way we discuss that game in the long run. I think we should absolutely be mindful of the fact that a game was released unfinished and severely lacking for $60 or more in the case of AAA titles. I think it’s criminal for a developer/publisher to release a broken, unfinished game and then charge extra to repair it, even if those repairs ultimately turn it into a masterpiece. At the same time, I also think that it’s important to give a clear and accurate depiction of a game in its current form in order to help late adopters make decisions that will ultimately net them the best overall gaming experiences within their limited budgets.

Starlink-Crimson-Moon

I didn’t buy Anthem. I played the alpha and the beta and saw that it was going to stink to high Heaven. It was very obvious to me and ultimately why I published my previously linked post about it. But I also believe that Anthem has the potential to be a great game in the future if given the proper time, care, and resources it needs to evolve into something beautiful. So when/if I buy it, I’ll be getting a hopefully great gaming experience. And I will discuss it as such. But that won’t negate the bad experiences that the many people who did buy it day one first experienced before ultimately quitting the game. The gaming community needs to evolve to a new set of standards that properly address this point when discussing, judging, and debating games in the current landscape.

There’s a bigger issue at play here as well though. Let’s say BioWare really does improve Anthem. In fact, let’s say they completely fix it and really do ultimately deliver an award winning, GOTY level gaming experience. Would that make everything OK? Would it suddenly be acceptable that they released a steaming pile of crap, charged everyone who bought it day one or preordered it $60+, and made them wait a year before delivering a serviceable product? Should we then champion BioWare like in the days of old and commend EA for sticking with the game till it met the expectations they promised us? Now as an old school gamer who was gaming years before patches were even conceived of, I say no.

mass effect 2
A return to normalcy would be much appreciated.

I wouldn’t forget that release, the lacking content, or the fact that day one players were asked to return to a game a year or more after release, and possibly have to pay extra for the expanded content. Even if I did buy the game a year later and got something great, for me that wouldn’t negate the fact that BioWare and EA tried to pass off something terrible to the public. Because Anthem day one is what they wanted us to accept. Anthem day 366 is what we forced them to ultimately deliver. In my opinion, consumers shouldn’t have to strong arm studios or publishers to get quality games. There’s supposed to be a social contract where they deliver good products and we purchase them, and because those products were good we’ll purchase their next product as well, assuming it also looks/is good. That system falls apart when studios try to put out crap and then apologize by making patches. Yet many people today, especially younger gamers, see this as the modern norm. They’re fine with a studio releasing crap as long as they fix it in the long run, because they’ve been raised on patches. They don’t let first impressions define their perception of a game or studio.

In some ways this modern form of judging a game is kind of beautiful at the human level. The ability for a person to see the potential in something bad, trust the creators to evolve their work to its full potential, and then not carry any grudges or spite from the past is a quality that I think all people could benefit from . . . when dealing with other people. But we’re talking about multi-million to sometimes billion dollar corporations. We don’t need to feel any sympathy for them. A lot of people try to say corporations are the people who work for them, but that’s not really accurate for larger studios. That’s just marketing and PR over many years of inceptive messaging. Why should I pity a studio that puts its employees through 80 hour crunch weeks? Why should I feel sympathy for companies that are known to work their teams to the bone and then fire the bulk of their employees down to a skeleton crew once the project is launched? These corporations aren’t people. They’re heartless money making machines that care more about profits than the health and well-being of the creative minds that make their profits possible. So while I’m not actively calling for the gaming industry to reform itself, though I do believe it needs to, I’m also not going to look upon these companies with any sort of charity or sympathy. These is merely business.

Blizzard Fires 800
Corporations are not people.

Sell me quality products at a fair market price, take my money, and I’ll see you again for your next game. That’s the full extent of the relationship. So for me it’s a real issue if products being delivered are no longer being delivered at an acceptable standard. The fact that they’re getting improved down the road doesn’t negate that first impression. Especially if there’s an added price tag for those improvements. But as a whole, the gaming community is not in agreement on this topic. Many are fine with the agile development model. Many are happy to forgive a studio or publisher as long as the game is good in the long run. We even have review sites now updating their reviews over time to account for these changes to games rather than having projects deal with their troubled pasts for the entire duration of their tray life. And that’s not necessarily wrong. It’s not the way I judge games and the studios that release them, but it’s certainly a valid position to take in the current system. We really need to come to some sort of agreed upon system for how we as consumers are to judge and discuss games like this fairly and accurately. Because this model of development is here to stay, whether we want it to or not.

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Avengers: Endgame – A Post Not a Review (No Spoilers)

11 years ago I was in Thousand Oaks, California visiting a friend for his birthday. We watched Iron Man (2008). I was a freshman in college living in Philadelphia, single, and had no idea what I was actually going to do after I graduated. This past weekend I saw Avengers: Endgame. Today I have a B.A., live in Taiwan, work a full time job, and I’m engaged to be married. So much has happened since Iron Man both for me personally and the world as a whole. Like the MCU itself, there have been ups and downs. Advancements have been made, new entities have come and gone, and people have evolved at a personal level. As I walked out of the theater with my fiancé, she jokingly said “so what do we do now?” In many ways this question is extremely appropriate. If we’re honest, the MCU has had such a huge impact on popular culture that it’s hard to imagine a world where the Avengers don’t play a role in it.

This post is not a review, as plainly stated in the title. There will be some comments that would be very appropriate to place in a review, but I refuse to formally endeavor to try to review Avengers: Endgame for two main reasons. First, such an endeavor would be damn near impossible without spoilers. Because of what this particular movie is, just about every scene spoils something. What this film is more than anything is a wrap up to 11 years of interconnected films. So basically everything that happens is a spoiler or Easter egg for someone. For instance, this movie finally tells us where the name Jarvis, Tony Stark’s first AI assistant voiced by Paul Bettany who later became Vision, came from. So trying to review it with any level of depth without spoiling it is like the Hulk trying to life Mjolnir. The second, and in my opinion more important reason, is that writing a review for Endgame is pointless.

My school of thinking has always been that reviews are for people who haven’t yet experienced something. The purpose of them is to help people decide if something is worth their time and money. Reviews are not for people who have already played or watched something to circle jerk about how much they liked or hated it. That’s not the purpose of reviews and ultimately why I often avoid the comments sections for main stream reviews. Because the people there usually have no business reading the review to begin with since they’ve already seen the movie or played the game. Based on this mode of thought, I find the entire idea of an Endgame review laughable. If you’ve spent the last 11 or so years watching a total of 21 other movies, not to mention multiple other TV shows on multiple platforms, possibly read comics about newly introduced characters such as a Black Nick Fury, and all the other MCU related things I could mention, is there even a chance that you aren’t going to go see Endgame? Could anyone actually convince you that it was so bad that you’re better off not seeing the culmination of the largest interconnected film franchise in the history of the world? No. The answer to that question is an emphatic and absolute no. If you’ve watched the other 21 movies, you will absolutely go see Endgame regardless of what any and all reviews say. And honestly if you haven’t seen the other 21 movies, then I wholeheartedly recommend that you don’t watch Endgame. You owe it to yourself, and to everyone who worked on that universe, not to spoil the experience of watching that particular movie until you’re fully prepared for it.

Honestly speaking, Endgame isn’t the best MCU movie. I don’t even think I’d put it in the top five. It has time travel in it. Sorry if you consider that a spoiler, but it seems fairly obvious that would have been the case after the events of Infinity War. It’s understood that pretty much any plot that relies on time travel to fix a problem isn’t going to be a top shelf plot. But that’s OK in the case Endgame. The truth is that it wasn’t meant to be the best MCU movie. This movie was meant to bookend the largest, most impressive, and most impactful interconnected film franchise the world has even known. It didn’t need to be the best MCU film. It simply had to be the most emotionally gratifying to the audience. And again, the audience in this case is only people who have watched 21 other related movies over the last 11 years. Those people will leave the theater satisfied. Not necessarily happy, but satisfied.

All MCU Movies

I never cried in a comic book movie before. I’ve cried in tons of other movies. More so the older I get. But of the more than 60 comic book movies I’ve seen over the course of my life, Avengers: Endgame was the only one I can remember crying in. And I didn’t just cry once. I cried three separate times from three separate emotions. The first time was when my favorite Avenger did something that everyone had been waiting to see happen at least once. I was overwhelmed with excitement, awe, and happiness to the point of tears. The second was in the climactic moment when probably the most epic reveal scene in the history of film we’ll ever see happened. I was overwhelmed not by the majesty of the moment or emptions of the scene. I was overwhelmed by the history that scene represented. In one moment, more than 10 years of my life came crashing down on me. In a single sequence I relived every instance that the MCU had affected in my life over the last decade. Every movie viewing. Every nerdy conversation. Every date. Every debate. Every fan theory. It hit me like a wave at that moment. And I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything like that moment ever again in my life. Maybe if I have a kid I’ll feel that way when he/she graduates college. Maybe . . . The third and final moment that made me cry was near the end of the film in a deep moment of sadness that by all rights needed to happen. I didn’t predict it but it was the right decision and was meant to make you cry.

The feelings I felt while watching Endgame were supposed to happen. Those tears weren’t a coincidence. They were the intention of the movie. Like I said, this wasn’t meant to be the greatest MCU film ever made. That’s what Infinity War was intended to be. This movie was meant to thank people like me for being a committed and diligent fan for 11 straight years. It’s like playing The Citadel DLC in Mass Effect 3. It didn’t fully make sense that all these characters were in this location at the same time. But it didn’t have to make sense. It was fan service to thank the players for five years of hardcore fandom and literally hundreds of hours of story focused gameplay. That’s what Endgame is. There are plenty of plot holes. I left the theater debating my fiancé about time travel paradoxes. There were questionable plot decisions. Like why were so few aliens involved in a plot following half of all life across the universe being destroyed? But none of that detracted from the intense feeling of satisfaction you get when you reach the end of the credits. You leave the theater with a sense of completion.

Spider-Man Far From Home

The franchise isn’t even over. They’ve already confirmed multiple TV shows, at least two of them were set up in Endgame. They’ve already said Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 is for sure happening, showed footage of Spider-Man: Far From Home, and have teased a number of other movies as well. But honestly this was the bookend. This was the last MCU film you absolutely need to watch. I do not see the next phase of the MCU being able to recreate what was done with this first collection of 22 films. Especially considering the characters that are now obviously retired for one reason or another, what ultimately happens to the Infinity Stones, and the lack of an all-encompassing villain that can truly affect all characters within the universe simultaneously. I’ve been trying to figure out who the next Thanos could even be and all I could come up with was Galactus or the Celestial(s)/Eternals. But those characters don’t have a wide ranging effect on the universe as a whole all at the same time. There’s no snap risk. Galactus eats one planet at a time. That might be sad for those people, but it’s a drop in the bucket to the rest of the planets and their inhabitants at any given time. Celestials potentially have that level of threat. Like with how Ego tried to destroy all planets at the same time. But there was no long term build up to that plan and he was taken down by just eight characters, only three of which had anything close to actual super powers. So really I think for all intents and purposes, it ends with Endgame. Everything else will just be icing on an already fulfilling cake.

The movie had something for pretty much everyone. No matter who you Stan in the MCU, if your character wasn’t already killed in a previous movie, there was a moment where they were honored in some way during Endgame.  Even the female characters had an epic moment of feminism which I know lots of sexists will complain about online, but really it was just a nod to the A-Force and I’m fairly certain that all serious comic book fans appreciated it for what it was. That’s the point of the movie. Every fan gets a nod to their character. I Stan Cap. I was happy. I even got my wish fulfilled to have it confirmed that he wouldn’t die a virgin.

MCU Phase 4 Fake
Not an official image.

The only question I have left is where do we go from here? Not just in terms of the MCU. I’ve already made those predictions in a previous blog post. I would actually be careful about reading that post if you haven’t seen the movie yet because many of them were half confirmed and/or half correct in Endgame so it unofficially contains spoilers. But I pose the question more generally. As a culture. As a planet. As nerds, where do we go from here? Let’s not pretend the DCEU has even the slightest chance of rivaling the MCU for quality, longevity, or impact. Lord of the Rings is done and has been for several years now. Star Wars ends this year, and honestly for many people it ended with The Last Jedi if not before. Harry Potter, which was semi-niche to begin with, has been death rattling since Deathly Hollows Part 2. X-Men has never really had the impact of other franchises because of its continuity issues. What do we do with our time now? What do we nerd over as a culture. We all have our individual fandoms, but there’s really nothing else that sort of brings “everyone” together around the world. Arguably we haven’t had WWIII yet because literally everyone wanted to see what would happen with Thanos. Now that’s gone. And while the ending was necessary, poetic, and beautiful, the world is a little less bright because of it.

It’s over guys. This was the finale. I don’t think we’ll ever see something as beautiful and impressive as the MCU Infinity War ever again. I’m thankful to have been a part of it in my own small way. I’m thankful that each of these actors, many of which were quite famous before Iron Man (2008), stayed with it the whole time. This whole endeavor was, in the words of Taneleer Tivan, “Magnificent! Magnificent! Magnificent!”

I wanted to end this post with a quote from Avengers: Endgame that really stood out to me. I think it sums up the entire MCU quite well and also should inspire all the people who did watch these movies from start to finish over the last 11 years. I can’t actually say who the quote is spoken by in the movie because that in and of itself would be a spoiler, so I’ll just leave the quote anonymously.

Everyone fails at who they are supposed to be. The measure of a person, a hero, is how they succeed at being who they are.”  –Marvel Cinematic Universe (2008 – 2019)

Actors Assemble

SPOILERS AHEAD

As promised, I did not include any real spoilers in my post. But there are a few things I wanted to say about Avengers: Endgame that are spoilers. Some of them are jokes. Some of them are questions. Some of them are just statements I felt needed to be voiced. I wanted to put these here because I didn’t want to publish an entirely separate post of these. I also wanted to get them out as quickly as possible so other people couldn’t steal my thunder by publishing these thoughts first. There’s nothing I hate more than having an original idea that someone else gets famous for. So if you have not seen Endgame yet, definitely stop reading now.

  1. Sam Wilson: I’ve been waiting five years to say that line to you, Cap.
  2. The unsung hero of Avengers: Endgame is the rat in storage unit 616.
  3. Did the planets that had already been halved by Thanos before the snap get affected again by the snap in Infinity War or did he give them a pass?
  4. What about the Extremis in Tony Stark’s DNA?
  5. Can Hulk finally have sex?
  6. So that’s the Loki who will be featured in the TV show?
  7. That boy you didn’t recognize at Tony’s funeral was the kid from Iron Man 3.
  8. Cap returned Mjolnir to Thor with the time machine.
  9. When did Pepper get that suit?
  10. How the hell did that entire spaceship go through the time portal with 1 tube of Pym Particles?
  11. If they each only had enough Pym Particles for one jump roundtrip each, how did Nebula get back and then bring Thanos’ ship back when she gave the tube of particles to Thanos?
  12. How is it that absolutely no one else knows how to make Pym Particles after all these years and no records of the formula were kept by Hank Pym?
  13. I really hope Thor is in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 and that it starts with an epic battle sequence that doesn’t have Thor in it and then after the title appears on screen Thor drops in and saves the day. Then in hand written letters “AS” is added to the title changing it to “Asguardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3”.
  14. Did Cap still live the hero life while married to Agent Carter or was he fully retired and living his best life for those 70+ years?
  15. Edward Norton probably kicking himself right now.
  16. The Ancient One said when you make a major change to the past you create a new branching reality that can only be removed from existence by reversing that change at the exact moment it was made. If Cap inserted himself into the timeline and married Agent Carter wouldn’t that have created a branching timeline? And if it did how did Cap end up on that bench at the end of the movie? Wouldn’t he have been in an alternate timeline and thus not been able to return to that same moment in time in that original reality?
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Cap Better Get Some

If you read my post from last week then you know my predictions for Avengers: Endgame and some of the developments I believe we’ll see in the next one to two phases of the MCU. If you haven’t read that post, you definitely should, but for the purposes of this post all you need to know is that I believe Captain America will die in Endgame. I’m not going to delve into why and how again so if you want that explanation you’ll have to go read that other post. From here on out I won’t make reference to any information contained in that or any other post so you can read on comfortably.

I’m fine with Captain America dying in Endgame. In fact, I think it’s the right way to go for dramatic effect. The First Avenger gave up his life to save the world from the Red Skull and the first Infinity Stone to reach Earth, assuming we don’t count the Reality stone as having been placed on Earth in Thor: The Dark World. He was then resurrected to protect Earth again because of the threat of the same Infinity stone(s). (Technically two stones are featured in The Avengers.) It would be so poetic if he died dealing the killing blow to Thanos, ultimately saving the galaxy from the threat of the Infinity stones. So him dying is not just OK with me, but it’s the right decision.

cap frozen

Let us also remember that, as has been reported, Endgame will supposedly be Chris Evans’ last performance as Captain America. Of course these sorts of things are always intentionally vague and up in the air. And things change in the movie business, just like in comic books, all the time. But considering how long Evans has played the character, I tend to believe that he is tired and the writers are fine with letting him go permanently. So yes I do fully believe that this will be the last time we see Chris Evans carry the metaphorical shield. I of course say metaphorical because of the events of Captain America: Civil War.

Captain America dying is fine for me. But what isn’t fine is Captain America dying having never really lived. I’m of course being hyperbolic here, but my point is that to the best of our knowledge Steve Rogers is still a virgin. Before everyone gets their underoos in a bunch, let me clarify a few things. There’s nothing wrong with being a virgin by choice. There’s nothing wrong with waiting till you meet the right person, or till you’re married, or whatever else you may be waiting for. I’m not trying to make some sort of high minded political statement about sex politics in 2019. I’m saying specifically Captain America, the representation of American ideals, honor, and exceptionalism, dying a virgin after serving not just his country but his planet honorably and faithfully for more than 70 years, if you count the ice nap as a form of active service, and missing out on the person he was actually in love with, Agent Peggy Carter, dying a virgin doesn’t sit well with me.

Tiny Steve Rogers

To further clarify, Captain America choosing to remain a virgin isn’t a problem. But that’s not really what’s happened here. Steve Rogers, pre-transformation, says he has given up on trying to find a woman because they overlooked him due to his lacking physical appearance in a time period where shrimps just didn’t get any. He later says that he’s interested in women, but hasn’t found the right “dance partner” yet. He then goes on to tell Agent Carter that he is interested in her but loses out on the opportunity because he gets frozen. So it’s not really that Cap has chosen to remain a virgin. His circumstances have forced him to.

But what about the end of Avengers: Age of Ultron when he tells Tony Stark he’s not looking for that anymore, you might be asking. To clarify (using that phrase a lot today), he says he is done looking for a family and stability. At no point does he say he’s lost interest in women as potential love interests, either physical or emotional. Here’s that scene in case you don’t believe me.

*Skip to 01:05.

What we have here is a man who has served his time, paid his dues, and then some who, based on my prediction, will ultimately die in service. Call me old fashioned, but that man deserves to get the/a girl. That’s not to say that it has to be a girl for all parties in all scenarios. It just so happens that Cap has verbally identified himself to be a heterosexual male, so in his specific case it would be a girl. All that is to say that Cap deserves to get laid before his final watch is ended. (Look I made a Game of Thrones reference in a Marvel post!).

Let me be clear, I’m not calling for Marvel, currently owned by Disney, to toss a Captain America sex scene into Endgame, though I’m sure many viewers of whatever gender and sexuality wouldn’t mind. I’m not even saying he has to get laid during the events of Endgame. I just need them to clarify for me on screen, either verbally or visually, that at some point in his life Steve Rogers got it in. That’s all I want. It could be as simple as Cap gets an email from a snap survivor no one knows about and when asked about it he admits that there was one night in Wakanda, or whatever. I don’t actually care how it’s shown, done, or clarified. I just need to know definitively that Captain America doesn’t die a virgin.

cap widow

I don’t care who the girl is. It could be any consenting, of age female from any time period, planet, species, realm, or dimension. It could even be that pre-Cap Steve Rogers lied to Agent Carter all those years ago and actually did get laid in high school once. It could be the girl on the news at the end of The Avengers. It could be Black Widow after The Winter Soldier because she decided she really did enjoy that kiss. It could be Nebula in a grief stricken bender after the snap. Hell, I’d even take an A’askvariian who came calling looking for Peter Quill and took a stop on Earth, because she knew he was Terran. It really doesn’t matter who it is. I just don’t want to see Captain America die a virgin.

If we go down the list we can assume that pretty much every other Avenger (notice I said Avenger and not character/hero) isn’t a virgin, except for possibly Wanda Maximoff who’s a little younger, but we know she’s at least working toward that with Vision if it hasn’t happened already. The only unconfirmed ones would be War Machine and Falcon, but we’ve been given clues to assume they have some background experience with women/sexual interest. Some examples would be how Falcon talks to Black Widow when he first sees her drive up in The Winter Solider and how War Machine impresses that group of women with his story at the party in Age of Ultron. And those aren’t even founding Avengers anyway.

thor jane

Tony Stark (Iron Man) – Countless/Pepper Potts

Bruce Banner (Hulk) – Betty Ross pre-accident

Thor – Jane Foster

Clint Barton – Laura Barton

Natasha Romanoff – It’s implied that as part of her work she has had to seduce men and was sterilized by the KGB because of it.

Captain America – ??????

I find this disagreeable, depressing, and downright unfair. If there’s one person who’s earned a pity lay, it’s Captain America. While I’d never argue that any particular female character owes Cap a piece, I will absolutely argue that the MCU as a whole does. And it’s already been confirmed that there are plenty of women in this universe that would be more than happy to oblige. (Remembers Private Lorraine (Natalie Dormer) in The First Avenger.) So it’s not like I’m arguing “hey who’s gonna bang the talking raccoon?” Because that would be weird for some reason.

Cap Comic Kiss

This is a comic book universe, so as is customary; let’s go back to the comics to justify my argument. It is canon that Cap has gotten down and dirty with at least a few women. He’s no Wolverine, but it has happened. Here’s a list of lovers I found that will have some surprising names on it for people who only know Captain America as played by Chris Evans. And no I don’t consider number 15 as an acceptable argument without some form of verbal confirmation. What makes The First Avenger so sad and impactful is the fact that Steve and Peggy never got to realize their romance past that kiss before he boards the plane.

I don’t think I’m asking too much of the MCU. In fact I’m not asking for anything that isn’t already comic book canon. I just need them to tell me that Captain America didn’t die the same lonely boy he started out as. Give me that and the most epic death scene imaginable and I’ll have no complaints no matter what happens in Endgame. Except for some bullshit time travel retcon storyline a la Days of Future Past. I would most likely complain about that.

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What’s the (Avengers) Endgame?

As we are just a week away from Avengers: Endgame, I thought it appropriate to do a post about the future state of the MCU. This upcoming and highly anticipated film is called “Endgame” but let’s all be honest in saying that there’s no end in sight. The comic book business is dying, Marvel games are at the low end of the spectrum for quality and profit, and Marvel animation has played 2nd fiddle to DC animation since like the 90’s. Movies are the bread and butter of Marvel now and predictably moving forward. So it should surprise no one that the MCU will absolutely not be ending with Endgame.

They’ve already confirmed Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 (woo James Gunn!), Spider-Man: Far From Home, and a Black Widow movie. Black Panther 2 was unofficially confirmed after the success of the first one. Plus now that Disney has acquired FOX, they have the ability to introduce the X-Men and Deadpool into the mix, among other properties. So there’s no question that Marvel plans to keep churning out MCU films. At the same time though, we’ve already been promised high stakes in Avengers: Endgame. For instance, it was basically confirmed that this will be Chris Evans’, among other actors, last performance in the MCU. I’m sure we might get some cameos down the road from some, but for all intents and purposes some top tier characters are being retired, whether by death or some other means. So I wanted to make a few predictions of my own about the future of the MCU based on things I’ve seen and heard as well as my own understanding of how the industry works.

All MCU Movies

 Avengers: Endgame Predictions

Someone or more likely multiple characters are going to die by the end of this movie. I don’t mean the snappening. Personally I predict that they reverse the snap by the end of the second hour and everyone comes back, ultimately all working together to kill Thanos, who will certainly be dead by the end of the movie. But after the snap is reversed there will be people permanently dead by the end of Endgame.

Spider-Man, all the remaining Guardians of the Galaxy, Captain Marvel, Black Panther, and Black Widow will all surely survive. They’ve all got movies confirmed in the future so let’s assume they aren’t going to die. Ant-Man isn’t going to die because they just reintroduced Janet Van Dyne, flipped Ghost into a potential protagonist, and gave us our first adventure with The Wasp. There’s simply too much potential to keep that team going to remove any of them now. I could see Hank Pym dying though, but I doubt it. I don’t see Falcon dying because for one you can’t kill off one of only two African American (T’Challa is African) heroes before either of them gets a solo movie in the current political climate. It just doesn’t happen. I don’t think Valkyrie is dying either, for the same reason. Even more so when you consider that she’s not just Black, but the only Black Asgardian still living and one of only two living Asgardian heroes/warriors, unless you’re in the Lady Sif is still alive camp. And if you were going to kill off one of the Black characters it would be War Machine, because the character has already appeared in more movies, is much older, and has already gotten injured critically in the field previously (Captain America: Civil War). And the character can be easily replaced while preserving the suit as a character. Not to mention that Falcon becomes Captain America in the comics once Steve Rogers retires. I could see a similar occurrence happening in the MCU where Falcon takes up the shield.

The fallen resize

Hulk won’t die because for one it just doesn’t happen, but more importantly they haven’t yet introduced a replacement for him yet. Eventually they will most likely introduce a She-Hulk or Amadeus Cho replacement and allow Banner to retire, but that hasn’t happened yet. I’m also waiting to see them mention whatever happened to Abomination, which would require a Hulk to be present in the universe, because of course it would. I’m also going to assume Doctor Strange won’t die because they sort of teased a Doctor Strange 2, have introduced magic, which means there needs to be a master of magic within the universe, and the character has been heavily under used to just kill off so quickly. Those are the characters I’m fairly certain won’t die.

As far as retirements, that’s a little trickier. Retiring characters are interesting to predict because they’re essentially deaths with the potential to come back, as Iron Man did after Avengers: Age of Ultron. But in the case of Endgame, I also think most retirements would have to be considered semi-permanent both from a plot stakes standpoint as well as from a contractual obligation standpoint. It’s safe to say that a number of these actors, such as Chris Hemsworth and Robert Downey Junior, are probably tired of playing these roles. They’re both physically and mentally grueling as well as I’m sure repetitive after this many years. Even Stephen Amell is retiring from Arrow and that’s not nearly as big of an enterprise as any of the first generation Avengers roles, nor has it been running as long. So while it’s hard to specifically guess based on any hard evidence which characters will retire, but not die, it’s safe to assume that a number of them will.

MCU Phase 1
It’s been a long time since those days.

I believe Tony Stark is retiring. Not dying but hanging up the suit permanently. I think killing him off doesn’t work because if we go back to his vision in Age of Ultron, he lives to the end. The fact that he wasn’t snapped away also leads me to believe this. The first trailer tried to imply he might die in space, but then they did away with that theory with the latest trailer showing him in the white suit with the rest of the team. I say he makes it to the end and walks away so he can finally have a family with Pepper. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rhodes died as a straw that finally broke the camel’s back moment though.

Hawkeye is retiring. It’s way past time. Especially after introducing a wife and not two, but three children, including a new born. I’m sure at least some if not all of his family was snapped away, leading him to become Ronin, but as I already said, I don’t believe the snap is permanent. Hank Pym is either retiring or dying, but I see no value in killing him off after introducing his wife who was believed to be dead, so I think retirement is what ultimately happens. Hulk will most likely imply some form of retirement but Banner will still be around a while longer, until they’ve introduced a Hulk replacement. Sadly, I don’t think we’ll ever get a Planet Hulk scenario after the events of Thor: Ragnarok.

null
Planet Hulk-esque?

As I said, I could see Rhodes dying, but retiring is more likely in my honest opinion. Loki will be revived, which I think is garbage because he wasn’t killed in the snap. But as he is both the trickster and has a show coming in the new Disney streaming service, it’s just impossible that he’s dead unless the show is a flashback, which I doubt is the case. So while he should be dead already and remain as such, I think he’s coming back to life. Gotta love those Infinity stones.

Vision is currently dead, but I see him getting revived at the end once they’ve defeated Thanos and gotten the Infinity stones back. Or possibly half way through when they reverse the snap. In any case, I don’t think a character of that power level that’s only been in three movies and has an established romance that’s only just started to bud is getting killed off this quickly. In the same way, Scarlett Witch ain’t dying either. But let’s talk about actual deaths.

Vision Romance

Bucky Barnes is dead. I’ll get into why later, but for me he’s easily on the chopping block. Gamora is staying dead. While I hate the fact that she’s dead, her death was a requirement of the Soul stone being found and as such she can’t be brought back to life or the Soul stone is taken out of play. And that’s not going to happen. So unless they do some garbage time travel story and just retcon the whole thing a la Days of Future Past, she’s done. But because she’s dead I absolutely believe Mantis and Nebula not only survive but become permanent Guardians of the Galaxy members for Vol. 3. I’m not nearly caught up enough on Agents of Shield to confidently make a prediction for Coulson, but assuming the show isn’t on its last legs, I don’t see him dying again after already having been resurrected once. You also need some continuous Shield members in the MCU for continuity into the next Phase. Maria Hill I could see being permanently killed off though. Nick Fury will survive but there’s a reason for that which I’ll get into later. If he is actually a Skrull though, I could see the Skrull version of him dying and the real version being revealed to still be alive. You are going to lose a lot of B and C recurring characters, but which ones I can’t say for sure.

Agent Coulson

The one debatable character for me is Thor. I don’t believe Thor will be killed off for two main reasons. The first is that he is the only surviving member of the Asgardian royal family. I just can’t see the entire bloodline being killed off. Especially after he finally got his full power mastery in Thor: Ragnarok and got a new boss level axe in Infinity War. I also think his presence is extremely important for continuity. The next Phase is going to focus heavily on space, from what I’ve heard. Thor would absolutely be a main link between space and Earth, at least for establishing the foundational transition to this new Phase. Yes there are other characters relevant to space such as of course the Guardians of the Galaxy and even Captain Marvel, but the link between Earth and space was established in the MCU by Thor. I think he’s the ambassador into the next Phase. I predict he ends up retiring a small ways into the next Phase and ultimately reestablishing Asgard on a new planet. Killing him off kind of prevents this.

At the same time though, a very good argument can be made for why Thor will die. For starters, there have been multiple clues/threats going back to at least Thor: The Dark World about the extermination of the Asgardian royal family. Removing Asgard as a main player also opens up a new world of possibilities in space rather than focusing on the same characters/races. Chris Hemsworth is also one of those first generation actors that is probably ready to hang up the cape. So while I don’t see him dying, in this film at least, I absolutely understand why people would predict that he will.

thor and hulk

For me the most important death that I believe absolutely will happen is Captain America, or more specifically Steve Rogers. Captain America is The First Avenger. He has served his country and the world for more than 70 years, if you count the ice nap as active duty. He starts off by saying that he has the right to die for his country just like any other man (not an exact quote). He is the first super hero that ever lived. At least until Wolverine finally gets introduced. It would be poetic, logical, and emotionally moving for him to be killed in action saving the world. Especially if Bucky dies first. Because as has been said multiple times, and was the theme of The Winter Soldier, they’re in it together “till the end of the line”. What more impactful ending could there be than Bucky Barnes and Captain America dying together in the line of duty after having both been resurrected from death at different times? I believe that Captain America will ultimately be the one that kills Thanos but that he will die in the process. It will be a glorious moment that will make us all cry.

MCU Phase 4

Post Endgame Predictions

As I’ve already said, Avengers: Endgame is not the end of the MCU. It’s just the end of Phase 3. Phase 4 will happen and we already have a number of movies confirmed. So I just want to quickly give a rundown of some of my predictions for the next one to two Phases of the MCU to occur in no particular order.

  1. Thor establishes a new Asgard with Valkyrie taking his place as an on call Avenger from space.
  2. Iron Heart is introduced as the next generation Iron Man/Person.
  3. Captain Marvel becomes the new front man of the Avengers in place of Iron Man.
  4. She-Hulk is introduced and then Hulk/Bruce Banner retires fully.
  5. Nick Fury dies or retires, not in relation to Endgame, and Black Widow becomes director of Shield. I could see Maria Hill also taking over Shield but that seems too small a move.
  6. Vision and Scarlett Witch have a child/children.
  7. Falcon becomes the new Captain America.
  8. Nebula becomes a permanent member of the Guardians of the Galaxy.
  9. Mutants will be introduced but not as a full on X-Men franchise.
  10. The next great villain will be Galactus which means Fantastic Four will be introduced into the MCU.

*Even since I wrote this post, but before publishing it, a host of new announcements have been made my Disney/Marvel about future MCU content. It seems that a number of characters are getting their own show including The Winter Solider, Scarlett Witch/Vision, Falcon, and others. While I have not altered my original predictions here, I now am more inclined to believe we’re going to get some kind of time stone scenario where everything is reversed because way too many characters seem to be getting shows. Granted it’s quite possible that some of these will be set in the past/before Infinity War/Endgame.

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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.

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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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.