Category Archives: Gaming

A little more slamming

It is only one day from release and the initial findings I saw, with which I stand, needs adjustment. You see, those reviewers who got the full copy, learned a few more things, and actual gameplay shows issues that all the YouTube play throughs never did. One of the better review sources Eurogamer, gives us (at http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-03-19-mass-effect-andromeda) with quotes like: “BioWare’s fourth Mass Effect smacks it over the head with a prospector’s shovel and boots it out the airlock during the first few hours of play. You’re left with a zesty but unsurprising third-person shooter“, which is not a good start, and it goes down after that with “go to a waypoint, scan 10 Remnant collapsible shelving units with your ugly wrist-mounted display, scoop up five mineral deposits for some lazy boffin back on the Nexus, blow up three raider outposts, and so forth” as well as “Andromeda is most disappointing when it’s at its best“, this reflects the subtitle of the review: “mediocre writing and tepid quests add up to what is probably BioWare’s worst RPG yet“, this is not good for an RPG that has been 2 years in the waiting. A lack of proper QA, not unlike Ubisoft has been through gives one other contemplation. The issues shown (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CPYw5uxER4), show us a few disturbing issues with the game and animations. What I found most interesting is the excuses that the narrators of the review give. The issue is proper testing which is now shown to have been absent to more than just a small degree.

There are a collection of additional videos when we look at Mass Effect Andromeda, some are partially funny to hear, but they will not give you the quality review that Eurogamer gives. The nightmare that BioWare now faces as it has received a mere 77% from IGN, gives that those not willing to pay full price might want to wait 6-8 weeks and pick it up for $29 as shops will now be stuck with massive piles of something that the gamers at large will not want at full price. I did like the mention that Dan Stapleton gives (IGN). “Mass Effect Andromeda has a few great moments that recapture the highpoints of the original great trilogy“. It shows that EA is not on the ball and more important, the initial presentation teaser is exactly what we thought it was, much ado about nothing.

So the RPG gamers can now relax and realise there is only Bethesda that as a real RPG maker remains (OK, I admit, Guerilla games is the new kid on the block), which is both unsettling and problematic, because actual competition will breed diversity and push cutting edge gaming forward, a party of one does not tend to do that. An improvement issue that is not coming our way any day soon, so it seems. I have my own sense of humour in all this, as I created a new open world game in my mind that already outdoes Mass Effect. I only wish I had the programming skills to make it a reality. So as you see, we are all flawed, although it seems that Electronic Arts is at present a lot more flawed than most others. The only thing remaining is the contemplation of what to think of certain reviews (like for example in Empire Online) where we see: “Combat clicks far better than it did in previous instalments, however, providing a twitchy experience more akin to a dedicated third-person action game than an RPG with some shooty elements tacked on“, a view I would have partially agreed with, yet several movies now show that to be not the case. Still, this would be a matter of opinion, and that reviewer has every right to feel this way. As you might remember, I made a similar statement last week, but clearly based on videos with playthroughs shown to me. The full reviews a few days later show a very different image. Even before the awakening by Eurogamer, there was no way that the game showed me “Andromeda’s superior combat allows you to play like a space marine, Sith lord, or the best combination of both“, in this I think I agree with several YouTube Bloggers that BioWare is not off to a solid start and a Mass Extension of additions and improvements will be required to show the next game not to be as good, but basically to be worthy to stand in the shadow of Mass Effect 2, which should be regarded as an issue on several levels.

I will be honest, the teaser trailer offered on June 12th, 2014 was the start of something that should have been a lot better than the end result that will be officially released tomorrow.

 

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Slamming the Game makers

There are many games that get released, there have been titans that we still yearn for and even as several games are upcoming or just now released, there is no denying that the gaming community at large have been anticipating the arrival of Mass Effect. YouTube is getting swamped by groups of people, some are utter idiots, trying to get traction in viewers, so the least said about them the better, some have outspoken opinions on the game, which is fair enough and some of those videos are actually decently insightful and some give us a view, but they do not give the game away. One of these very good reviewers is JV2017gameplay. In that regard, the video (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGdGEqYYJjA), gives us a backdrop on the game in relation to the original trilogy. The video is well worth viewing. Seeing this before the game is launched is a very good idea, yet not essential. We get to see some of what we will see in the game, yet we are told explicitly, the video holds no spoilers, which is really good, because I like my surprises to come from the game, not from someone’s video. I have to admit that there were two issues in the story shown, but there could be a very good explanation. This movie and one other (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7hs5cu43Ck), which is about exploration show one element in absolute clarity. That is the fact that Mass Effect Andromeda is clearly arriving 5 years after the previous game for a very good reason. This game shows to be a massive leap forward from the last two games. There is a level of familiarity when we see the interfaces, so those whomever played it before is likely to get a quick handle on the game play. Two videos that show us that Bioware has taken the game to a new level, one that seems to be trumping the sum of both Mass Effect 2 and 3.

I am not going too much on the videos, you will just have to watch them, which is a good idea if you are serious about getting this game. What is important to me is that this game is one of the earlier games that is upgraded so that you could enjoy the maximum that either the PS4pro of Xbox 1s has to offer. So if you have the right TV, you would be able to enjoy this game in 4K resolution, which is great. My issue (in the positive) is that Bioware shows us, not unlike Bethesda did in recent past, that good games do not get released on an annual bases. I truly hope that Yves Guillemot learns his lesson from this. A second lesson that I hope he will learn, is that a game that has all the elements of different games, will not add up to be an excellent game at all.

Now, some will see this as my slamming Yves Guillemot, yet I disagree, although, if Yves proclaims to not agree with this assessment, he might not be 100% incorrect #JustSaying. It is my view on the creation of mediocrity. Yet, are all bad reviews correct? Here I feel that more than one person has not been fair against all things Ubisoft, which needs to be stated as well. You see I do disagree with the vision that James Marvin gives us on how adaptations of movies from films seem to consistently flop, this with the reference to the Assassin’s Creed film. What constitutes a flop? You see with a Production Budget: $125 million, a movie making $238,396,337 is in my view a success. I give $125 and I get back $238 that is 90% profit! With banks giving you 5% if you are lucky, that result constitutes a good day’s work. I will say that I did not consider this a great movie, yet it is not a bad one either. Anyone who saw the remake of Point break 2015 will happily agree with me. The AC movie had a good cast, the cinematography is actually a little overwhelming at times, but the filming shows to be slightly too chaotic and too many jumps to Michael Fassbender in virtual device mode, which is pretty much it. As it was a financial success blaming Justin Kurzel is equally unfounded, but here is part of the issue, it is the vision that was given. I think that the error was to some extent as stated earlier, not the greatest visions, making it less a success than it might have been.

This now reflects back to Mass Effect, because the game has one thing as it went from game 3 to game 4, it shows vision, the eternal platinum trump card that makes a game an instant classic and the 90%+ success rating that really good games get.

What should overwhelm you are the ‘upgrades’ that Mass Effect offers. Looking through windows showing the actual space where you are, which is a little overwhelming. Like the AC series, the voices have been taken well care of with Clancy Brown is the voice of ‘your’ father, an actor that the younger player will recognise as Mr Krabs (a SpongeBob square pants production). Others might recognise him from Cowboys and Aliens and the classic sergeant Zim from Starship Troopers. You, as the player will be voiced by either the stunning model Fryda Wolff, who weirdly enough has not seen too much camera on TV or the big screen (hinting towards Michael Fassbender here for his next production), but has been active in games like Civilisation, Final Fantasy 13, Call of Duty, Fallout 4, XCom 2 and the Technomancer, and if you are playing the male character by Tom Taylorson who is actually new to this level of work. Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, the Tudors), Gary Carr (Downton Abbey) and several others. Oh, and to be fair, Assassins Creed 2 had no lack of actors and actresses either. They gave us Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), Alex Ivanovici (X-men, Mirror Mirror), Lita Tresierra, who sadly passed away (the Factory), Carlos Ferro (Dominic, Gears of Wars series). So this is what both sides took pride and effort in and there has never been anything but the highest praise for both game makers. Also it is the graphical side that was never a flaw, you only need to look at Assassins Creed Black Flag (which has other issues), to see what the Ubisoft graphical department can do when they set their mind to it, they really got the sense of the Caribbean right, it almost felt like I was actually there in that time, or so I would believe it to look like.

Getting back to Mass Effect 4, the entire game as shown so far seems to be nothing less than Mass Effect 2 on steroids. The exploration, the graphics and large land masses, the fact that a map has several fast travel points give rise to the facts that the planets are a fair bit larger than ever before. This will be the game for anyone who loved the original trilogy, anyone who has a need to shoot things and for those with a reverence to role playing games. Now, as this game is not out yet for another 7.61 days (roughly) we have no idea on the amount of hours of game play that this game brings, the actual amount of planets you can land on and explore and so on. In addition, the Mass Effect series, like some others have always lend their design for additions (DLC’s) and season passes, so I wonder if more would come. I cannot state whether this would come with the overwhelming value that the Fallout 4 season pass gave us, but we can hope, can we not?

The power of games is at times great to experience, especially when we see a game like Mass Effect Andromeda. True, several good games have been released, but when we focus on the 90%+ ratings, over the last 12 months gives us Nioh, Dark Souls 3, Dishonored 2, Deus Ex: Mankind divided and Overwatch. 5 games over the last 12 months (Witcher 3 GOTY edition is also making the cut, but the original was released in 2015, which is why I omitted it). So as you can see 5 (or 6) great games a year. Now, there will always be games that did not make it to the 90% level, but we still want to play them (sport games), those games are niche games, but consider how many games you play per year and how many of them were in that 90% plus range? Now consider Horizon Zero Dawn from Guerilla games, which is one of the newer players on the block (2000), Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 (2002), which is CI Games first attempt to produce an AAA game, or Elite: Dangerous, who is now entering the PlayStation 4 field, a game originally made on a BBC Micro B in 1984 (a machine with 32Kb RAM). Last I want to mention Subnautica by Unknown Worlds Entertainment, which is a company that has 20 employees. Its founder Charlie Cleveland shows what vision can bring, in his case an ‘open’ world survival game where you are adrift on an ocean after crashlanding on a water planet. What happens after that is up to you, so as the radio tells you (when you get it fixed) that you can wait 99,999 hours, which amounts to 11.4 years, or make a life for yourself. This starts a very different game which you need to see to believe. I hope that the PlayStation people get to experience it as well, because the game will bring you a hundred hours or more of challenges, entertainment and visual wonder. This is visionary on a new level! There are a few other surprises in this game. You have not lived until you tried to get anywhere in this game in hardcore mode (1 life). In this I would slam both Ubisoft and Electronic Arts. I honestly cannot state whether it is complacency or what I would call an adherence to mediocrity. The two makers who bedazzled us with greatness have been regarded as below par too often for a little too long. This visibility comes out even stronger as we see how great Mass Effect 4 could be (Electronic Arts) and Ubisoft who basically has not produced a 90%+ game since Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013). When did spreadsheets overrule the need for excellence? When we all expected that Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands would give back some confidence in Ubisoft, we see reviews that hardly make 80%, which is a really bad thing for Ubisoft. When I see the review comment ‘Writing is terrible and it’s riddled with bugs, but there’s fun to be had with friends‘, I wonder whether the second part was given there to be soft to make sure that Yves Guillemot would not cry too loud. Yet the truth we also see is “Of all the publishers out there, it’s Ubisoft that has most affectionately embraced the open world” should have been the driving force that could have given Ubisoft a super seller (a slice of Skyrim anyone?), yet the reviews imply that it is not to be. In addition the reviewer (Sam White) shows the lesson I tried to impart on Ubisoft more than once “that is when you realise that Ubisoft has taken collectibles too far“, a lesson they should have learned before Assassins Creed Unity was released.

When smaller places like Unknown Worlds Entertainment and Hello Games surpass you with each less than 25 staff members, you need to seriously wake up. I am actually surprised that Ubisoft Still exists, because to be honest, they should have imploded with no funds left by 2015 (so you see, I can be wrong too!). The question is how such places stay afloat. Marketing only make up for so much, in the end it is the product that matters!

The question is where do gamers go to next? In all this, I too need to keep an open mind. I have a specific desire for games and even as I admire Dark Souls 3, I know I will never actually finish it. I am not that great a slasher. I am all for stealth games, which is why Styx was such an amazing experience and challenge, so as we are about to get its sequel, I too join a group who will accept a lower than 90% game (which shows that there is more than just high ratings). However, we do know that Ubisoft has had its successes in that genre too: Blacklist and Conviction are both 90% games and they delivered (apart from one annoying issue in blacklist) and I cannot wait for a new instalment of that series. Here too we see that when we look deeper that there are lines of games that could result in new 90% versions, not just because the player group is large enough, but because developers like CI Games are showing that there is interest in getting a stealth game that is a serious challenge (Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3). Will this statement remain true if the reviews scores are barely making the 80% grade? I believe so, I believe that quality games will always find a home and I also believe that the proper attention will drive new players, especially if the reviews and scores correctly reflect the quality of the game. This is what I meant again and again when I stated towards Ubisoft: ‘A game that is based on a matrix on how to not make a bad game, will reflect that and not be a bad game. Yet in that same setting it will also never become a truly great game‘, Mafia III, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Watch Dogs 2 have proven me correct. On the opposition, those who made it (like Witcher 3 and its additions), excellence is more than merely its own reward, it creates a following and it sets a milestone for others to strive for.

In the same way that I see stealth games, I see that ‘open’ world games like the ones Bethesda produces, gives us options and replayable versions unlike most other games, which now give rise to the question why can’t others get there? Oblivion (2006), Fallout 3 (2008), Fallout: New Vegas (2010), Skyrim (2011) and Fallout 4, all of them 90%+ games. With two of them given a 100% score by more than one reviewer; that is what makes them essential games to own (for those not hating RPG games). I think we can agree that there is a fairly sized group of people who are not into RPG’s and that will always be fair enough. In that same view, I am not, and am unlikely to ever become a GTA fan. Yet the RPG group is growing, so I wonder where these two players go. You see, living on Mass Effect alone will not aid EA in its growth, who actually was one of the innovative distributors of one of the pioneers in this field (the Ultima series), so why not seek in those revamps? In that same light Wing Commander and Privateer brought the light of space flight, now they will have to compete, but our love for these games have (for the most) not diminished, so where is the IP on that? Eidos gave us Soul Reaver a game that could be rebranded in something awesome (even though the originals were actually pretty good). Yet, here I go on in the remake directions. What I hope is that these two once great development houses will seek visionaries to give us the next batch of (hopefully new) true visionary game play. If crowd funding took only 9 days to get the minimum requirement to get the relaunch of System Shock started, do you really think that RPG and tactical games are on the way out? No, most gamers are looking towards the thrills we once had and some are looking for that next new original challenge. Perhaps the makers need to start looking into the Comic book dimension. Marvel might be booked solid, but there is a league of comics that might never ever make the light of day outside of its own clique following. Even if we look at what has been tried before, an actual good Buffy video game would draw millions towards the shops. An actual good version would ensure large lines in front of a game retailer. The Darkness, what I considered to be a fine game (not great), but a good reflection of the comic style which I considered to be essential. Series like Witchblade (awesome artwork, yet awful TV series), or perhaps Michael Turner’s Fathom. You see, the ‘non-failure’ spreadsheet of Ubisoft might not allow for a game based on Fathom to be created, yet Subnautica seems to be proving them wrong at present. So as the elements of Fathom with ‘members of a race of aquatic humanoids called the Blue who possess the ability to control water‘ give rise to very interesting settings (as well of the majestic unknown that we call the seven seas). The idea of a game, open world or not (more like large levels) where we need to think in three dimensions when playing calls for quality gaming, if properly executed, we could see an entirely new level of game play one that does require next gen consoles and powerful PC’s. Consider that in 2015, the sales of comic books surpassed $1,000,000,000. Now also consider that the market size of comic books was estimated to be $280-$200 million market in 1998, and even though we have seen a decade of hard times, this market has never stopped growing from 1998 to 2016 (source: http://www.comichron.com). Is it such a leap to not seriously consider that market? And in this case, I am specifically taking DC Comics and Marvel out of the equation.

Visionaries are worth their weight in gold. So if EA and Ubisoft have any, then give them a 6′ stack of comic books and see what they can come up with. I reckon that these two players waste more money on some brainstorm lunch with BI executives, so that expense should be easy to justify. For me? If this results in them each producing at least two 90% plus game within 3 years, we all end up winning. Is that not a beautiful consideration?

 

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The end of diversity?

We are seeing a push in the gaming world, one that is coming before the next gen follow ups are here. Before the PS4Pro is maturing, before even the Xbox Scorpio is launched, we see new games that are told to be another style of Far Cry (Horizon Zero Dawn), another Dark Souls (Nioh), another Sniper Elite and in that same trend more sequels and more prequels. Yet, the overall game time seems to be dwindling down. Resident Evil 7 for all its amazing changes and story line, the game can be played in 10 hours, with speed gamers (not my cup of soup) doping it in less than 2 hours.

The same people who trolled No Mans Sky, pointing at absurd newscasts by writers trying to score exclusivity points and airing utter BS video’s with ‘scientific’ reviews whilst the game offered well over 50 hours (to get the 100% achievements) of gaming fun. That game gets trolled! In equal measure they all praise Tomb Raider, a game that could be completed in 12-15 hours. The quantity and quality of games falling more and more when considering the cost of games in dollars per gaming hour.

Now, let’s get back to the mention of Far Cry 3. For me a pivotal point as the first one on Xbox 360 was the only game I ever traded in because it was such a bad game. I had never done that before and I had not done that since. I steered clear of the second game and I only played the third one when it was offered on either PS Plus or Gold Live (I forgot which one), that is when I learned what an amazing game Far Cry three had turned out to be. So as Horizon Zero Dawn is ‘tainted’ to be some Far Cry/Tomb Raider game, some people get nervous. Are they doing it because of the references, or the lack of play that Tomb Raider offered?

Dan Silver of the Guardian (at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/feb/20/horizon-zero-dawn-review-a-stunning-but-barely-evolved-rpg-contradiction) states “At times Horizon: Zero Dawn, the latest title from Dutch studio Guerrilla Games, those behind the Killzone series, feels uncannily like prophecy rather than escapism” as well as “in truth, there’s no real freedom here to play any role other than that proscribed by the game’s writers” and in conclusion “the RPG elements of Horizon: Zero Dawn are undercooked and ultimately unnecessary, or a sneaking acknowledgement that its action is so good players will want to jump straight into it – but both sentiments have a ring of truth“. The last one gives the part that matters with ‘both sentiments have a ring of truth‘, this is the can of worms I see.

Now let’s state this up front: ‘I have not played this game yet!

The game gets released in a week and what YouTube offered via Guerrilla Games shows a game that is well worth the time and also worth the effort. It is the image shown by Guerrilla games and there is no doubt that they are showing the more enticing parts. Yet the fight in the dark showed that there are more sides to the game, there is a mandatory intro part and there are parts that separate acts, so that you cannot take some ultimate short cut. All very acceptable in gaming.

In that same manner I saw some 15 things to learn before you buy Mass Effect 4 and I never bothered to watch the whole list. Speculation and listed ‘innovation’ from demos by people who are not involved with making the game. The only part that was interesting is that the launch was done between Mass Effect 2 and Mass Effect 3, which is not surprising. At this point, in light of the Microsoft Console Unconsented Data Collections that are currently happening, I have switched off my Xbox One for now, which is annoying as I love Elite Dangerous and SubNautica, but fortunately one of them will be released on the PS4 in the coming quarter.

Yet, in the same air of originality I want to play the remastered version of System Shock (also coming to PS4). I feel that my drive is the ability to play this game in what is now possible. In that same trend System Shock 2 makes me equally anxious to replay what I loved so much. There is a list of games that give me this feeling, mainly because they were the originals. These games drove the existence of other new games. Games that were not bad, in some cases great, but it is the original game that drove us towards these games. Yet the creation of some games were uncanny, some made games with vision. Just like the maker FTL games who saw Asteroids and Moon lander and decided to create Oids (very addictive in those days). They were already famous with Dungeon Master and less known was the space explorer and trade game Sundogs, but overall they were true visionaries in games. So was the game the Sentinel on the Atari ST, which was later relaunched (with an awful cover story) on the PC. Cover story or not, they gave the game with the sentiment that the original had with the amazing bonus of the music made by John Carpenter, which was a bonus you should never deny yourself.

It is the decades of experience that made me design the story for a new single player Elder Scrolls (Elder Scrolls: Restoration), which is still on my desk. It gave me the idea for a New Ultima game, yet none of this is original. Our minds allow to create what we loved in the face of what we see now, which is re-engineering at best, it is not creation as such. It might still be the foundation of a great game, yet it is unlikely to become a great game without proper evolution of what initially was. It will appeal to the original lovers of the game with an updated following of those who never played it. Yet as greed comes around the corner, what we hoped to be great (example: Dungeon Keeper on the tablet), becomes a hoax that is soon after hated by all who loved the original. In that same fuel we might love a new Dungeon Keeper 2, a new Magic Carpet and a new Populous. In a similar trend, remaster these originals to Tablets could still work (when we kill the greed driving entities connected to them). Games like Flood were fun to play and the history of games is full of examples that people could and would enjoy if given the chance to play them again.

The issue of diversity rises again and again as we see the failure of true innovative gaming. Far Cry 4 gave us that as it tried to upgrade Far Cry 3 and as I personally saw it fail. In that Far Cry Primal is to some extent equally a non-winner. I phrase it like that because the game has good sides and it is not a bad game, yet the curve and growth allow for more escapism, whilst not giving true challenges in gaming. The issue with the ‘duplicated’ map is not even on my radar because anyone who could memorise a map like that has perhaps different issues to work with. The Ubisoft failure checklist is as I personally see it their biggest problem. In addition, there approach to include more and more might generalise gaming, yet I feel it, it is also reason these games lose more and more success ratings.

This is clearly in contrast with For Honor, which is reviewed as not a great single player game (some advised against getting the game for that reason), but at its core it is an overwhelmingly amazing multi player experience. So far having seen several video’s some at amazing resolutions, For Honor seems to deliver the best multi player action that 2017 is likely to offer. Which early in the year is quite the statement to make.

In all this Horizon New Dawn is still a force to be reckoned with. The biggest threshold now becomes, how many hours does the game offer and have they given thought to replayability. So as we replay Diablo 3 again and again with different characters, we see other games failing in that attempt, or succeed only to the smallest degree. Skyrim is perhaps the only one who offers decent levels of replayability, although we can all accept that the need to surpass level 70 to get to the legendary dragon achievement is still decently beyond ridiculous.

As we accept certain needs, values and requirements, there is always the danger that my view is the view only I would appreciate. In that I disagree, as I have heard similar views from others, some to a smaller extent and some to a larger extent. As I see the replayability option grow, I see that games like SubNautica will score high with the gaming community when the full game is launched on other platforms, seldom have I ever seen a game where the evolution of a game keeps on coming as it now enters the 4th wave of evolution and additions. It is to the same degree that nearly all RPG fans agree that the Witcher 3 is pretty much the most perfect RPG game ever created and as Project Red still has a future RPG (we hope) on the development table (read: Cyberpunk 2077), most gamers are looking forward to what 2018 and 2019 will bring.

So if some places see the light by opening their eyes, we hope that a specific place (Electronic Arts) will take steps to avoid to get the repeat label ‘A Cancer That’s Eroding The Market‘ (by Kotaku), where the quote ““A cynically motivated skeleton of a non-game, a scam that will take your cash and offer nothing in return,” writes Escapist’s Jim Sterling, “A perversion of a respected series, twisted by some of the most soulless, selfish, and nauseating human beings to ever blight the game industry”” is at the heart of the matter of despicability. You see, there are plenty of other games that could make the jump, yet as I see it, when such a game still acquires 4 star ratings, we know that the game is rigged and the provider of these games are trusted less and less. There is a certain failing when we see 136K people gave it a 5 star rating. Not with the push for money spending this game offers! Yet it is a similar population that is crying ‘foul’ with the 50+ hours that No Mans Sky offers and the fact that no extra cash was needed. When you look at the initial videos, the game was to the greatest degree what was promised. We have seen actual issues with the game and most of them were all patched away, none of the patches have been over 150 Mb, whilst the Ubisoft patches that did not solve too many issues surpassed Gigabytes in size. Hello Games with only 11 people achieved something amazing, but that is not what this is about!

I reckon that games like No Mans Sky are likely to be at the rear end, some of the last games that had true diversity in them. It can be the Horizon New Dawn is equally a game offering diversity, but the reviews call that in question to at least the smallest degree. Prey by Arkane Studios shows some originality, but when you play, there are elements that give a Bioshock view, a Dishonored view and more than one source is making the reference to System Shock. It led me to the question, when is new diversity no longer diverse? When we see the architecture and internals, there is a Bioshock feeling to it all (even though this is not under water). When we see the first person abilities with alien powers we see a glimpse of Dishonored. And it is the wrench start that gives us other references. They might just be winks to games like Half Life, it does not make it less diverse. Yet it takes more time and more game play to see actual diversity, so I wonder if we are seeing the end of it. As we play games and wonder about the replay of the Mass Effect and Fable Trilogy, is that the part we now hunger for? That feeling we had when we took another path to see Bowerstone Old Town evolve in a place not with gardens, but muddy with thugs?

Perhaps we want to do the journey one more time, because no matter how we slice it, both trilogies had an amazing storyline and it shows that the TV station FX had the best slogan of them all: ‘the story is everything‘. This is the side we desire and System Shock delivered like no game ever did ever before. Dungeon master had the long term challenge based on the shallowest of reasons (get to the exit). We saw again and again that storylines do the job. In that, a game I never cared for (Final Fantasy series) did deliver way beyond my comprehension, so I am very aware that this game has plenty of reasons to be adored by millions. So as I see it, it might be the equal view that shows us that a game like Prey will deliver on its own merit.

I wonder whether diversity without a decent story has a chance, just like great stories without diversity. In that last example it is the Assassins Creed line that is the best example. From my point of view it is the glitches that killed it, but diversity is equally a reason. When we consider these points, we see that the old great games are still optional winners. They offered originality, diversity and challenge. The response that remake (even 20 years later) is no diversity at all is true and I agree for those replaying it, but for those who never played it before it will be plenty diverse. Now we can depend on that element, as well as the essential element that it is the personal desire to replay a game, yet how does that get us to the never completed remake (at present) game called Midwinter? In the old days, being able to do all these different things on the Atari ST was truly amazing, but those moments have been surpassed long ago by Far Cry 3, so where is its need? We can see that plenty of people would love to see the remake of Paradroid 90, a game that should work easily on tablets and as such it could be a nice way for Andrew Braybrook to increase his retirement fund by a fair bit, because absent a few little issues, the game was near perfect and playable to the largest of extents. I always regarded Loderunner, the ‘1984 game of the year’ in a similar way. I actually had to take the day off (read: sickie) one time as I had been playing all night and continues playing through the day, when I finally made it to level 151 I saw the very first level again yet now at a higher speed. With 80+ lives left I started again until I had enough, I stopped before level 200, exhausted with millions of accumulated points. Best gaming day ever, I was deaf and blind to whatever happened around me and the biggest workout for my Sharp TV ever (in those days).

Perhaps it is that feeling I desire, a feeling many gamers desire, but I do not think so. I believe that the challenges we saw in the past (Mass Effect trilogy) were almost equalled, but never surpassed by anyone, System Shock falls into that category, so do the titles Neverwinter Nights, Dungeon Master (1+2) as well as the 1985 original Elite, which was released on the PC, MAC and Xbox One as Elite Dangerous. The fact that the Elite Dangerous group on Facebook gets dozens of images added on a daily bases for places seen and Elite statuses achieved, shows that this game enhanced and surpassed its own limitation due to limited hardware in 1985. That alone gives rise to the remake of other games. Bullfrog games are likely to top these games, yet the quality that Origin games (Ultima series) offered then and could offer now boggles the mind. In light of what Bethesda Elder Scrolls crated offers a view to remade games that would be overwhelming, whilst not needing to be an Elder Scrolls clone, the challenge of Britannia and the Serpent Isles (Ultima locations) have massive levels of original, never remade options here. The fact that Ultima 4-7 has a deep philosophical drive is equally good as the bulk of RPG games never emulated that part to the degree the Ultima series did. In an age of Intellectual Property, the gaming industry has millions up for grabs, the question is how well this IP has been maintained and at what price are the owners willing to part with it?

This leaves me to the final game that can make it on several fields. In this day and age where the people are eager to have their kids learn abilities through gaming, I cannot remember when, but in the 80’s I was handed a game by Epyx, that was an isometric game where you had to program a droid to walk around scan and avoid obstacles. It was called Chip Bits but never saw the light of day. We can agree that it was a geeky game, but in this day and age where the user age lowers with every iteration of computer hardware, it seems to me that teaching a skill like that could change the implementation curve (and it was truly original). So we are looking at two groups, the ones that were great and the ones that for the silliest of reasons never made it to the final stage. As we see the ease of releasing IOS and Android games, we see a fountain of possible revenue on many levels and the best part is that the starting obstacle is low enough for most toddlers to pass. Even as we see the success of all these mini consoles with dozens of games being released and most of them initially sold out in every shop, is this such a leap? We know that plenty of games have been redone and in some cases surpassed, that is for the games some publishers deemed worthy for release. I remember Psygnosis and the only reason that Lemmings got released because the Marketing manager had nothing to do, literally ‘had nothing to do‘, and those who remember the game might also remember the success it became in the end. So what about the games that didn’t make the cut? Of what about the games that were not that highly regarded initially? ‘Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego?‘, an educational game that can easily become a tablet mega seller. Yet, what about the Castles of Dr Creep? Remapped that game might make for a nice puzzle game. So many options, but in itself, there is too much remake on the horizon, which returns me to the initial question:

Are we seeing the end of diversity in gaming?

The answer is yes to a certain extent, but that does not need to be a bad thing, because the limits that we saw in games like Soul Reaver are those we can easily surpass nowadays, meaning that a game that was 20-30 hours on the first PlayStation, could be a 50+ hours game on the PlayStation 4 (and equal systems), giving us plenty to game and plenty to enjoy, whilst the question whether it is diverse enough remains a valid question; one we need to keep in the back of our minds. This remains a valid stopper for a game like Rampage world tour, but is that equally true of a game like Crusader: No remorse? That answer hangs with the evolution the game goes through, meaning that it requires added diversity, showing again that diversity is a gaming currency which decides success to some degree, but it gets added value as the story and challenge are high in the game.

 

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Alphabet Soup

I have been away for a little while. I delivered my final paper on Friday after a 34 hour stretch, mainly because I have the unequaled ability to doubt my own work any given moment. This is weird, because when it comes to data and data systems, I can see through the fog of implied BS in ways most cannot fathom. In that same way, I am now seeing a weird transition by Microsoft that has the ability to endanger its own customer base, which might be a new low in their list of achievements. After a day of attempted rest whilst I faced 44 degrees (summer in Sydney), the Guardian treats me (at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/feb/03/skills-shortage-harming-uks-ability-to-protect-itself-from-cyber-attacks). There is something either incomplete or not matching here. The article by ‘Rajeev Syal and agencies’ is actually quite good, it gives us “the role of the Cabinet Office, which is responsible for coordinating information protection across government, remains unclear“, which is in one way awesome because of the admitted issue, a little less so when you consider that his has been going on for over 6 years. You see, those people still got paid, and the admission of non-clarity for that amount of time should validate a few additional questions to those occupying postal code SW1A 2AS. So, when you are in front of that Downing Street fence, which separates the Prime Minister from the common riff raff, it will be the building on the right! One of the interesting quotes is: “The threat of cybercrime is ever-growing, yet evidence shows Britain ranks below Brazil, South Africa and China in keeping phones and laptops secure. In this context it should concern us all that the government is struggling to ensure its security profession has the skills it needs.

I would add to that is the fact that those nations tend to hold employees accountable for cyber losses, which might not be fair but it is apparently wildly effective. In the cyber industry a decent dose of paranoia tends to keep people cautious and on their toes, which does allow to explain the situation the Commonwealth at large finds itself in, not just the UK. One of the gems in the article was “The report said the Cabinet Office’s ability to make informed decisions about security is “undermined by inconsistent and chaotic processes for recording personal data breaches”“, that is just one factor. The fact that Microsoft has been uploading gigabytes of data (per person) from gaming consoles, without consent and whilst Microsoft is in denial blaming the ISP for this event, the question the press at large has not considered asking Microsoft. Why do you need 6 GB of data from a console playing a single player game? There is no way that this is about ‘enhancing‘ the experience.

newzoo-games-market-segments

This is about collecting data and in addition, there is no divulging on what exactly is being uploaded, the fact that it is done without consent is another matter and there is no record on the system. If one victim had not shown me the $60 additional fee he got for 2 weeks of unknown uploading, I would not have believed it. The fact is that this person had mobile broadband was a kink in the attempt to keep the uploads unnoticed is one that Microsoft had not considered and as such we need to consider that an Xbox User needs to realise he is facing an estimated $1400 a year in additional fees upload fees, how affordable is that console now?

So is this about money, about data or about privacy? The issue is that worldwide 15 million were sold by November 2015, whilst the US has roughly 8.5 million of them. So a sizeable chunk of the 6.5 million outstanding consoles are in the UK and whilst Microsoft is not revealing the sales numbers, likely as the humiliation against the PS4 sales is too great, we also need to wonder in light of the upcoming Scorpio (the Xbox One plus plus) edition, the light of so much uploads without consent is an issue, because in the first the people did not get a choice and the second is that there is no way to tell what was uploaded, how much privacy information. In that light, we need to look at not just what is done, but what actions need to be made against these large corporations and I am willing to bet the house that these ‘inconsistent and chaotic processes for recording personal data breaches‘ involve groups giving protection to Microsoft to some degree creating chaos. In addition, I wonder if GCHQ is aware on what Microsoft is pushing into its Azure cloud via Windows 10, what level of privacy breaches is Microsoft involved in?

That is part of all the issues because there is no issue with skill shortage, especially when cybercrimes cannot be properly monitored as everything is in a cloud environment, a US driven cloud environment I might add. Before those in Whitehall start to snicker on the premise of gaming, perhaps those are reminded that as we see in Newzoo (at https://newzoo.com/insights/articles/global-games-market-reaches-99-6-billion-2016-mobile-generating-37/), the gaming industry is a $100 billion plus field and the UK has shown its teeth in this field for the longest of times.

q2_2016_newzoo_global_games_market_revenue_growth_2015-2019

Yet the makers are now creating an unfair advantage (and without consent) on mineable data allowing US companies to take the highest road at the least cost. In all this they have the ability of selling spiked lemons, impeding the industry outside of the AAA American companies’ even further. That is all before we see the dangers of cloud intrusions and the damage organised crime can inflict. And any of those people claiming that this cannot happen, I would advise those people to take a look at the Sony track record of getting hacked. There are too many unknowns, but the fact that a lot of this is done without consent is perhaps the most damaging one and so far, it seems that skills shortage in the UK is not even the most debilitating one. When you consider this quote: “The government ignored its own advice by failing to carry out a business case for government security classifications system, which was meant to deliver £110- to £150m-a-year in benefits, MPs said“, a quote that is not in question perse, yet the fact that the games industry surpassed $100 billion, in this the UK could stand to corner up to $30 billion, I am decently certain that ‘£110- to £150m-a-year in benefits‘ won’t be getting close to covering it any day soon.

The losses and the growing loss of industries in several sectors are leaving the UK with a diminishing amount of options in an industry that will the first and almost the only one growing its production, manufacturing and development base. All items that would have the effect of spicing the coffers of her majesties treasury by a fair bit, that is of course not the bottom line, but it is the icing on the cake and those who had to live by ‘let them eat cake‘ have been doing so without any icing for nearly a decade. And that is all before Google has decided on the next step that could bring them an additional 6-13 billion (13 billion would be most advantageous forecasted model), a jump that will affect software and hardware evolutions in a few ways for the next decade as 5G gets a hold of these new devices and opens the field for even more devices and concept solution. A change few had seen coming and less of them thought the change was realistic, some hold that opinion even today, it’s a sad world, I know!

In that atmosphere the Cabinet office and MP’s are deliberating on Cyber needs and skills whilst their train is already 3 stops delayed and they have no idea what is awaiting two stops ahead, meaning they are already one train stop behind and that is just delay through inaction. So as we are looking at the last part given, where we see: “A National Cyber Security Centre spokesman said: “The government has been clear that the newly formed NCSC is the UK’s definitive authority on cyber security. In the four months since becoming operational, the NCSC has transformed how the UK deals with cyber security by offering incident management capabilities, fostering technical innovation to help prevent attacks and providing real-time cyber threat information to 3,000 organisations from over 20 different industries”“, yet in that, where is the turnaround? You see, as we see linked to all this: “New generation of ethical hackers aims to impress recruiters“, we see: “Defence experts have long warned of the growing menace of cyber-crime and now they have good reason to believe the threat is being given priority treatment“, yet we do not see: “Last year’s Cyber Security Challenge was fairly fanciful. It involved a bio-hazard attack and a threat against a minor royal. This year, the challenge is more grounded in reality. The contestants are asked to find evidence of large corporations gaining an increased advantage by uploading personal data without consent for advantageous data mining“, that no less a threat and it seems that government parties on a global scale are actively avoiding this. You see, we agree that organised crime and batches of exploiting hackers must be stopped, yet for the longest time, the party’s involved are ignoring the ‘legal‘ crimes and how it is shifting the balance of cyber power. slowly but certainly towards the 5 big players leaving the field barren for nearly all other innovative corporation hoping to grow into that field and as the field is limited to 5 players we will lose out on actual innovation and we are left with the iterative field we have had for slightly too long. By the way, this goes far beyond games, this field is now intersecting a very different field. Consider the paper ‘Big Data Framework for Analyzing Patents to Support Strategic R&D Planning‘, by Wonchul Seo, Namhyoung Kim and Sungchul Choi. In this paper they set in the abstract “In this paper, we propose a big data framework to process and analyse large-scale patent data. The proposed framework consists of four layers: an aggregator layer, a storage layer, an analysis layer, and an application layer. These layers are designed to collect patent data, store the collected data, analyse the data, and present the results. The primary objectives of the proposed framework are to provide a patent analysis service platform based on big data technologies, and to support strategic R&D planning for organizations“, now consider interfacing that with a database that has the goods on 270 million devices using Windows 10. Does it still sound so strange? The gaming industry might seem juvenile to the people in Whitehall, but even they cannot be stupid enough to ignore a $100 billion plus industry. So as Microsoft is uploading data and no one is asking questions, we have to wonder why the questions are not asked, more important, the fact that ‘without consent‘ is not addressed is even more worrying, especially with the cyber players in town and the fact that anyone actively ignoring a few billion in revenue tends to not have a career after that comes out.

So you tell me, is the water still too murky or are the players murky about the actions taken?

And when we see the marketing responses like ‘to give the players a better gaming experience‘ or ‘uploading is not with us, that responsibility lies with your ISP‘, you better be able to answer the question why the ISP is dumping all that data on the Azure cloud, because ISP’s tend to not do anything they aren’t paid for and they tend to not do anything without consent, as the retaliatory claims and penalties tend to be much too high. So when the alphabet soup gives us Avarice, Build-up & Covetousness. Is the alphabet soup about protecting against cyber-attacks or trying to minimise corporate losses?

They are both victims, but one does not include the other, I’ll leave it up to you to decide who remains a victim in the long run.

 

 

 

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Taking Xbox to Court?

Microsoft seems to have done it again and if the evidence holds up, there will be a powerful backlash towards Microsoft which will have interesting repercussions for Sony. Now, we have seen this all before and even I have a few issues with this all, which was until the following evidence was presented.

  1. The Broadband 4G modem had been exclusively used for the Xbox One.
  2. Security was properly in place (as far as I have been able to confirm)

The following had happened:

Without consent, the Xbox One has seemingly uploaded the following amounts of data:

Date Uploads Date Uploads
2017-01-13 339.1 MB 2017-01-21 591.0 MB
2017-01-14 445.1 MB 2017-01-22 277.6 MB
2017-01-15 242.3 MB 2017-01-23 607.5 MB
2017-01-16 268.8 MB 2017-01-24 210.6 MB
2017-01-17 113.1 MB 2017-01-25 358.8 MB
2017-01-18 793.6 MB 2017-01-26 493.5 MB
2017-01-19 251.6 MB 2017-01-27 482.4 MB
2017-01-20 332.0 MB 2017-01-28 65.2 MB

 

According to the mobile provider the uploaded files are all labelled Windows Azure – support large files download? When calling Microsoft, the help was not any better, the lady was trying to be nice, yet not really aware of what she was talking about. Her response was: ‘we have no influence on uploads, that is the responsibility of your ISP!

So, as the Xbox is uploading, that is suddenly the worry of the victims ISP?

So far the player has only played Fallout 4 without DLC’s, Diablo 3 and the Ezio Collection (Assassins Creed), all these games were played in single player only, so there is absolutely no reason to upload at all. What is even more disturbing is that there are no checks on this part, the mobile provider data so far matches the times that the system was in use for gaming and the times the uploads were happening.

What Microsoft would not be realising, which was a former Microsoft executive referred to as Don Mattrick, who tried to be funny with: “Fortunately we have a product for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity; it’s called Xbox 360“, yes and as orders were cancelled all over the place Xbox suddenly had a new boss. This all started in November 2015. Well as we seem to gather Microsoft is at it again and they haven’t been thinking this through as per usual (that is, if the facts handed to me and collected are correct), because some gamers are now facing a $120 a month additional bill, so year one for these gamers would be 12 * $120 + $450 for the console, making this device at $1850, three times more expensive than any other console. I think Microsoft forgot about mobile broadband users, they just get additional hardship. What is the issue is that all this is happening without consent and as far as the absent help from Xbox support has indicated, without the ability to switch it off. You see, there are plenty of places where broadband is an issue and those people are depending on mobile broadband and at $10 per 1 GB it adds up really fast.

So, even as Microsoft has now changed this approach (again), would customers have a case to get a full refund for console and all purchased games? Let’s not forget that Microsoft has done a 180 degrees turn on their ‘online requirements’ twice now, as well as it seems the requirement to be online to upload, which in light of single player games should result in several additional questions by parties involved.

So this is where I now stand. Awaiting two additional pieces of evidence. Should they arrive, the plan as the victim wants it is to prohibit Microsoft to continue sales of their devices until the forced uploads are deactivated, as well as reimbursements have been made. I do not think that this has any decent chance, but I will lend my support to all this. Microsoft has been playing their game via third party ‘players’ and as such there have been a few things rising to the surface. I personally believe it to be a harassment approach by Microsoft ‘to be online or else‘. I tested that with the Ezio collection. I went offline and played the game, so far after two days, after restarting the game, the achievement begotten whilst off line did not update. An issue the Xbox 360 never had and actually until recently it was not an issue (so this might be the side effect of something else). As I see it, the same day our victim suddenly say his annual Xbox one usage cost go up by a potential $1440, so we can agree that Microsoft, as per their usual self decided that profit at the expense of anyone else is preferred to a situation where the needs of the customer were respected, especially after the backlash that the first attempt had given them, again, awaiting those two pieces of evidence.

So far all contacts with Microsoft have been with the given air of ‘Well, everyone has unlimited broadband, don’t they?‘, which is nice until you get confronted with the most dangerous of obstacles, the disagreeable landlord, which in this day and age is not a good person to cross and that tends to happen more and more often, yet that is not what this fight is about. We are dealing with consent and undocumented consequences that doubles a person’s internet bill, through means that were not even essential. Off course that is not regarding the need Microsoft has to keep a record and copy of everything you are doing on your console, which by the way is well over 1000% of what multiplayer bandwidth would require, so there too are questions that need to be addressed.

From my point of view, apart from the financial damages that some players are now facing there is:

  1. How can uploads without consent be allowed?
  2. How can 2 single player games trigger a 5.8 GB upload in 15 days?
  3. The reference that the Mobile operator gave was: ‘Windows Azure – support large files download’, all uploads have that same title!
  4. Why is there no logging of uploads in the Xbox One?
  5. Which files and what exactly is being uploaded?
  6. Why did this suddenly start at midnight Friday January 13th 2017? (Which reads equally weird).

These are questions that matter, the reason is that without certain facts, there is absolutely no guarantee that this isn’t merely a hijacked router, which I have been able to prove that this is not the case to some extent.

Questions remain, you see, that part is given by the following sources: “They have clearly mentioned that their commitment to the UK is unchanged. In particular, those customers in Microsoft’s UK data centres should continue to rely on Microsoft’s significant investment plans there“, as well as “Microsoft highlighted that they have more than 5,000 highly qualified people working in fields including support, marketing, gaming, communications, cybersecurity and computer science research in the UK. Also, they have built a global centre of excellence for the development of artificial intelligence and other computing disciplines“, which we see in MS Power User (at https://mspoweruser.com/microsoft-re-affirms-its-commitment-to-the-uk-data-centre-expansion-plans-are-still-on-track/), now we need to realise that these are statements from a spokesperson, which means that that we are misrepresented without being lied to. I know, it’s a harsh world. Yet ‘5,000 highly qualified people‘, whilst seeing ‘marketing, gaming, communications, cybersecurity‘, could clearly imply that these are employees and it is not impossible that 40% of that workforce is not working on or connected to Azure. You see, the issue is when we see “Global Data Center Market Strategies, Analysis and Opportunities 2017-2023: Amazon (AWS), Microsoft, Google, and Facebook are in a Class of Their Own“, which we see in Global Newswire. The question that these parts lead to is whether it is possible that:

  1. Microsoft is trying to get an advantage on its capabilities and is trying to maximise the load of their Azure data centres, someone had the bright idea to use gamers for that and the people who tend to be useless in the technical field (read: senior management) forgot about the fact that not everyone has unlimited broadband and that some people (all over the world) pay per gigabyte and after a certain point that gets to be very expensive.
  2. Because the test requires that all (read: unknowingly) must participate, there is no option to switch uploads off, leaving us with the mess in option 1.

Now, this is for now speculative, but in light that I got this scoop and the media is ignoring gaming issues, just like the Sony Issue of 2012, so I am going ahead, so mind you, this story will be updated and there will be a part 2 when the rest of the evidence arrives, which could spark an official request against Microsoft with the Australian ACCC and the British CPS, and if Microsoft is proven not to be the evil organisation that they have been too often, than I will report that too, because just and fairness go both ways, and because it must rain on the just and unjust alike.

So stay tuned!

 

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Deadly diversification

A term that is very much aligned with finances, perhaps to some degree this is about that, but it is even more about the diversification of business. The path we see did not start today or yesterday, yet as the news releases pile up, we need to consider the impact some are creating, mostly by not making any level of an impression. The final straw became clear and visible as Eurogamer (at http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2016-12-20-crytek-breaks-silence-lets-go-of-multiple-studios) gave us the news on Crytek. The quote “Crytek had struggled to pay staff since May 2016, but a source within Crytek’s main office in Frankfurt, Germany, told Eurogamer last week that October salaries had arrived, with November salaries set to be paid this week” is at the heart of the matter and as we realise that it is end December, we feel for those people who have been without pay for the longest of times. Now I am not going to kick a person who is down, that just ain’t cricket. Yet what does matter is that if we were to believe Ubisoft, that this house, the makers of Far Cry, Ryse and Crysis is in a mess that is deeper than a mere slump.

So Ubisoft? Were they not evangelising how great a game Far Cry was and how well Far Cry had been doing? If that is so, how come that Crytek is in such a mess? From what was initially a game I did not like (far Cry 1 on xbox360 is the only game I literally threw out of the window, the disc that is) was a game that I ignored, until I got the free edition on the PS3 as part of my PlayStation Plus, so as one does not look a gift horse (you know what I mean), I had a go at it and I was amazed on how a failure had become such a good game. I even bought the 360 edition later. Yet I kept my distance with Far Cry 4 as things were a little weird and the least said about Far Cry Primal the better, although it was not a bad game (at $20 I was willing to chance the burn of a lost $20 bill).

Yet here I myself was making the initial error. You see Crytek was the initial developer of Far Cry, the rest came from Ubisoft Montreal. Far Cry 3 was awesome and what followed was basically more of the same with a few nagging issues, not bad games mind you, but continuation of the same is what was the matter with the Far Cry series, a lesson Ubisoft has been unwilling to learn. I loved Far Cry 3 because of the stealth part, there is a lack of stealth games and Far Cry 3 filled that need. Yet repetition will never be a good taskmaster so as we saw more focus on large explosions and big guns, I personally saw a decline in the Far Cry series. Everyone said I was wrong and the fact that the ratings have been in decline is to some extent evidence that I was not.

Now we know that Ubisoft sees itself as the multibillion dollar revenue titan, yet we can agree that it only remains to be a titan for as long as the games are really good and it has been lacking in that department. If Ubisoft is still breathing it is mainly due to the impressive improvement that Watch Dogs 2 is turning out to be (by Ubisoft Montreal) and the anticipated success that For Honor is showing to become (also Ubisoft Montreal). So is that all?

Nope, the other side of their gaming franchises are taking another hit when we consider the Guardian (at https://www.theguardian.com/film/2016/dec/19/assassins-creed-film-review-michael-fassbender-videogame-marion-cotillard), when we see ‘achieves transcendental boredom‘ gets a rating of one star and scores a lot lower than last year’s remake of Point Break, we know that the bottom of the barrel had been reached. Ubisoft might not mind losing $120 million as they are approaching 3 billion in value, yet that value becomes debatable and questions whether the value of Ubisoft has been inflated when we look at the non-successes from the last few years. As for the movie? Well I personally think that other questions come to mind when IMDB gives it 8.2 out of 10, yet Rotten Tomatoes sees it as 26% fresh, making it basically 74% rotten. Where the tomato dudes and dudettes state “the CGI-fuelled end result still is still a joylessly over-plotted slog“, with a stellar cast that includes Michael Fassbender (12 years an entrepreneur), Jeremy Irons (from Brideshead Revisited to Justice League a hit) and not to forget the utterly lovely fashionista  Marion Cotillard from Orleans (which is cool as this is one of the few French cities I actually visited in the past), who some saw first in Taxi (by Luc Besson) and most remember for being the person who drive the dagger home into Christian Bale in The Dark Knight Rises, with dozens of additional awesome gigs in between. So the cast was already top notch. So as I see the ratings and critics we can set the issue with the director and script that both might be regarded as below basement levels. In all this Ubisoft needs to be pointed at as the cause for the mere reason that you do not sit idly by as what should have been regarded as the most important franchise of Ubisoft to take a hit like that. A mistake that is not the first one (remember Unity). In this, the review Forbes is giving, as diplomatic as they could be, gives way that several high placed Ubisoft meetings are due and these board members better get a really good grasp of the risks they are now running. Although, I thought they would not last this long, the fact that they are still around can only be attributed to the hit ‘the Division’ became (it really is), the improvements Watch Dogs 2 proved to contain and the informing approach that Jason VandenBerghe has done through quality gameplay videos on YouTube showing the people that For Honor is indeed the awesome journey gamers hoped it to be. We could speculate that the life of Ubisoft would be depending to promote several people from Ubisoft Montreal to get promoted to the board of directors whilst we trim the fat with a sharp blade from the current collection of board members, whether Yves Guillemot would like to call it trimming fat or slicing off surplus weight is up to him, but he needs to do something to get Ubisoft to stand out in a few ways, standing out in one way will no longer be enough, the movie is making sure of that. Regarding For Honor, we have a small addition (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B1LF52R8U_0) where the gamer himself is really not that good, yet we still get to see some awesome gameplay, making us all wonder, what damage can we, as overall better gamers do? The fact that I had this question in mind in a multiplayer setting is something I rarely have, mainly because I am not that much of a multiplayer person.

Yet let’s get back to bleeding and sickly Ubisoft. We will see how they will do and how desperate the fans will be to see the movie, yet the reviews are not great and as the AC fans have Rogue One, Moana and Office Christmas Party to see the options for the AC movie are not that great, yet we should consider that any large issues we will possibly see in the new releases could be countered by Ubisoft giving us a free download of the movie, which they can then book as sales and as negative sales (loss) keeping their tax deductibility high as well as their ‘revenue’.

We could attribute that approach to optional good CFO management, yet in that regard, the games that are lacking the high reviews they could have had, as seen by Assassin’s Creed Unity, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate, Far Cry Primal and the Crew. We need to wonder what else gamers are missing out on and the issue with the movie should not be linked, yet the gamers are unlikely to see it that way. With two non-hits, the movie now expected to be a flop and the AC franchise a year away from the next one, you should see this as an alarm issue for Ubisoft; in addition it is not impossible that Ubisoft could decide down the track (next quarter) to push forward the time line of the next AC game, with additional risks that the next one is another version of Unity.

In all this I am intentionally ignoring Steep. Even though the ratings are not great, I think it is a great achievement in its unique kind. Extreme snow sports are very niche, just like some sport games. The open world approach is truly cool and the fact that there is a tongue in cheek developer amongst that team and added the achievement ‘Shaked by the bell‘ is just awesome, just remember to go head firsts! I will accept that niche games like this score lower because of the niche character, but the fact that it shows something not seen before needs to be heralded, especially as I have been roasting Yves his chestnuts for not doing so in a few franchises.

Crytek might not be linked to Ubisoft, the issues they face are hopefully a loud wakeup call towards Ubisoft. Diversification in gaming is a good thing, as far as I can see, Jason VandenBerghe is excellent evidence of that, yet the wrong direction and distance could hamper growth and divert attention in another direction. Any firm that has €2.98 billion in revenue, whilst ending up with a remaining €561 million in net income should realise that the cost of 10,000 employees is quite the anchor. It is hard to state whether a remaining 18% of the revenue is a good result. I might have a good grasp on games and gaming, yet the CFO side of such a firm is a close an equal to reading tea leaves. Consider that next year, the AC movie results will be in. Not sure on the producers and where the funding came from, because Ubisoft Motion Pictures is only one of the three producers, so the damage would be limited, but with the additional releases in 2017, Ubisoft needs to make very sure that they have at least 2 really good hits in 2017. For Honor seems to be a definite one, yet the other two at present announced is the South Park game and Ghost Recon: Wildlands. Ghost Recon has a good track record, sales will have to show how good a game it is, of course until the final version is ready, we just cannot tell. Of course in addition there will be the games that remain unknown for now, games that will see the first light of day on June 13-15 2017 at the E3, unable to tell whether it will include additional 2017 releases, yet from my point of view, if the list does not change, there will be slimming required for Ubisoft. It would be great to see Ubisoft escape the abyss, especially as the push at present might not be entirely their fault, yet they were partly producers, giving them a slice of that expected flop too.

In the end, these are only a few parts, as stated, Ubisoft has had its shares of successes and the Division is one, with a new DLC available, those who did not take the road of the season pass will have to shell out $15 to get this DLC, giving Ubisoft another boost in revenue. In the end, do these actions matter to anyone but Ubisoft? I am going with yes! You see, we might be positive or slightly negative for the first Assassins Creed, yet there is no doubt that 100% of the fans have been 100% positive regarding Assassins Creed 2 and Brotherhood. This is the reality and we gamers, we want more of that amazement offered in November 2009 and 2010. I reckon it is that part that has driven fans (me included) to such anger as the franchise started to slide and the movie reviews so far aren’t helping either.

Yet, there is a clarity in the success that Watch Dogs 2 brought, which is a forward momentum, baby steps, baby steps.

From my point of view, Ubisoft needs to diversify as stated, yet I reckon it should be in another direction of gaming. I think that the salvation (read: stronger growth) of Ubisoft lies in new IP, in light of Watch Dogs 2 we know that the right team can salvage broken IP, we also know that the right person can create awesome IP (read: Jason VandenBerghe), so if Ubisoft can pull this off twice more, it could return back to the top it once clearly held, even more interesting for the big dude at the top of that hill (read: listens to the name Yves), possibly with a margin decently better than 18%. In that regard 2017 will be an interesting year.

 

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The playful Prey

Hi all,

Sorry for the longer silence than usual. There is this thing about pesky assignments and as it is my last master subject, I do want to make it count and it is an awesome subject. I am preparing for a research paper which will be shown here after it is graded, because the subject is an important one and it puts some pharmaceutical companies into a very different light, not to mention the financial backers, who allegedly known or not, backed a certain idea. Now as far as I can tell, they aren’t going after the company because of projected losses due to certain acts the company relied on, which makes me wonder how innocent some of these financial backers are, yet fortunately, another system is showing me the money involved, so we will look at that in the decently near future.

What comes today is all about my little heart and more important, what makes it tick a little faster, especially around Christmas. You see, I got to see a little glimpsed of what Arkane is bringing us next and my heart just went boom-boom-boom-boom-beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

If we like proper quality gaming, then take a look at the intro video by Arkane (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=81Ofcp8Pp_U). It might be only 8 minutes, yet you get a decent impression of what to expect. From the first instance you get a little feeling of Bioshock from the architectural look. The art is distinct, shapely and if you ever had any doubt whether 4K gaming will be for you, then this game shows you that ‘yes’ will be the answer. It goes a little further, the wrench game me a Half-Life feeling, there is the feeling from System Shock (remake to come in the near future) and as I stated, Bioshock, yet the music style we heard in Dishonored makes an entry too. The best of all games, whilst the game clearly shows and feels not to be anything but utterly original, the narration clearly has a handle on that. You see, the story is everything and the fact that you are set in the open world of a massive space stations adds to the story and gameplay. The other titles are not infringed and replaying System Shock on Xbox One is almost on the very top of my list. This does not take away my interesting in this game. You see, the people at Arkane have figured gaming out correctly. It is freedom of options. They are not the only ones who figured it out, yet in this gaming style they picked it up better than most. You see, I worshipped System Shock for the longest time, yet consider that the game still has to some degree a guided path. For example past medical you can only go to….., which when you consider the game was released made perfect sense, yet today that is not a given. What if I go straight to the bridge in System Shock? I get that you needed skills that will not allow you to finish the game in 2 minutes, which could be seen as good value, but in equal measure the lack of choice feel confining. System Shock, Bioshock, Dead Space, both exquisite games, both have that restriction. Prey will likely have it to some extent, yet what if that limitation was not there? What if you needed to figure it out for yourself? In that I recall Metroid (NES), Eye of the beholder 2 (Amiga), SunDog: Frozen Legacy (Atari ST), here you had to figure things out, which was great! That part has gone missing in most games as we get ‘guided’ towards what we need to do. Dishonored brought it back when we were left to our own devices to figure it out how to get it done. Which makes the brothel level awesome as in the second play through I found a very different way to get into that place. It was even more awesome when I heard how someone had an even more elusive way to get from point 1 to point 2, when the developer stated live ‘that works?’, the house was brought down (in a good way). This is what give a game greatness, this is what makes a game 90% not 75%, a lesson the bigger developer never really figured out. It gives support to my view ‘If you aren’t willing to take a leap, you might never be a failure, but you will in equal measure never become a legend’. A truth some others (like Hello Games) did learn, perhaps a small team of 11 will actually communicate?

So prey is coming and what is shown looks pretty amazing. Now, we cannot decide on 8 minutes, which I understand, yet the game is several months away, so get properly informed and try not to seek out too many spoilers, because a game like this requires a surprise or two. The first hit you’ll get in the first few seconds of the game showing off. What could be a luxurious airfield terminal, or perhaps a 5 star hotel, with golden shine of polished brass, large windows looking out into the night is actually a space station. As the view turned, the large atrium view, the chesterfield sofa’s give that world a shine, apart from the smoothest graphics (likely 4K PC), the sharpness of the signs, the details on the walls and floors. It reminded me of my first game on my second PC (April 1998), it was a Pentium II-450 which was the latest in those days, with a Diamond Labs Viper V330 card and an Illiama monitor, Unreal was the smoothest game ever released and on a viper card the main menu rotating on the Unreal world was something no one had ever seen before to that degree. That same feeling creeps up to me when looking at Prey. That feeling I did not get with Bioshock or Dishonored, which are very good games in the graphical sense. Somehow, this game has that little extra. In addition, the uses of the Glue gun will show you that you get to see a lot more than you consider when you see the different ways the glue gun can be used, or as stated earlier, perhaps you find yet another way the developer didn’t consider, because that tends to be the result of those who are creative. There is a lot more to see and speak of, yet, I feel that that my point has been made and revealing other spoilers seems pointless as there will be other places that show you more of this game. And this game will not be alone. Both Horizon Zero Dawn and Mass Effect Andromeda will like Prey woe you for your attention. And as each of these three would be a great buy, there is plenty of evidence that not everyone can just go out and buy all three games. Some are already trying to get you to 4K gaming, Mass Effect is stating that it is specifically 4K, meaning that without a 4K TV, you will lose out. Again, not everyone will be able to afford that at present, or even in a few months’ time. From that point, you need to consider what to get. In my view, getting whatever can run 4K now, games you can still play fine, then when you do upgrade the TV, you can replay and enjoy these works of art again in 4K. This might leave you with a question mark as some will have heard issues on the Last of us and 4K mode on PS4 pro. Eurogamer gave us some of the highlights (at http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/digitalfoundry-2016-the-last-of-us-remastered-patch-108-for-ps4-pro-analysed), whilst giving us a pretty complete low down on the game.

Yet, I feel that they equally missed the boat to some extent. I doubt that this was one on purpose. I reckon that they are so deep in games that the one element that they forgot was the one we could all have forgotten. You see Naughty dog achieved something we did not consider, the game, originally launched in June 2013 is a game that was made for PS3, launched 5 months before the PS4. The game was already an exceptional game, well worthy of its 96% rating. So, when the remastered for PS4 was launched in July 2014, many went to get that wunderkind as the game itself remained a legendary achievement. So the issue I consider many missed, is that this game, remastered from a previous generation console is running 4K on consoles 2 generations later. Of course patches are needed and a few little issues still remain, but the fact that Naughty dog got this to work shows how excellent their coding skills are. The fact that a few patches are needed is less important than the fact that they got it to work in the first place. So even as we hear from Gamespot less than an hour ago that it is not all perfect (all complete with an advertisement, asking us to pre-order a game that was released on October 7th, shows more on the failing of their marketing divisions in other places. So even as they are all critical (which is a good thing), showing that frame rate dropped from 60 framer per second to 57 frames per second seems a little over the top when we consider that the game was a PS3 game, it was remastered and that was done 2 years before this point where PS4 pro is released. I am happy that Naughty dog is taking the effort to patch their game, because the Last of Us is a perfect game, a game that is an absolute must to any person who likes more than racing or shooting, a real RPG with a few challenges, now running perfectly acceptable on a system 2 generations later (read: OK, 1.5 generations later). The fact that this remains unmentioned is a little bit of an issue, because a proper illustration of the setting goes a long way in people accepting that some patches are cool and really cool that a software house takes this effort 2 years later, an issue that was not mentioned either.

What is interesting is that the reviewer makes a good case for new games to have display setting in game at their disposal, especially native resolution controls and not via the console main interface. That makes a lot of sense and it would be in the best interests of Arkane, Electronic Arts, Guerrilla Games et al to take this seriously into consideration immediately, for any game currently in development for 4K and not later after the facts when too many gamers start nagging.

So no matter what we see next, be mindful of the origin of a game and as we start moving towards 4K gaming, also realise that the face of console gaming is adjusting the ‘mass need’ of 4K game options. I think that many are just trying to sound cool and some are actually into 4K resolution, yet the fact that it requires close to $2K to get decent 4K will remain a hurdle for many gamers, especially the non-mature ones for some time to come, still, as the XB1s has a 2TB edition and as the PS4pro allows for a 2TB drive, both are now awesome options. The XB1s now wins as it has a 4K drive, meaning that 4K movies are optional now without having to spend from $150 upwards to get a 4K movie player, making the Xbox a great choice. As the high end 4K players are currently well over $300, there is no way that I am considering 4K movies at present, yet with the Xbox, we get that option, or we could consider that we are getting a console for a mere $250 extra. Yet this was not about the consoles!

The reality is that the new direction of 4K will be impacting console gamers in ways they are not all expecting. This is actually the logical path to see, even though consoles for the most followed the TV resolution era, the generation that followed (PS3, Xbox 360) was on par with the high resolution TV’s. This is also why Sony offered a free PS3 with the first batches of digital TV’s (which is how I got my PS3). Now the roles are reversing and the consoles are leading the need for new TV’s, although those high resolution games would still be really playable on a ‘normal’ TV, and you will play in 1080p and not 4K mode. Still this change will likely drive TV sales over the next year. Personally I have been happy with the current resolution and until there is a clear need for price adjusting (down) before I am getting a new TV (the one I have now is awesome). What is equally fun is that I have been here before, that PC I had? It was about five years later when my ‘New’ PC was no longer able to deal with the latest games. I could still play them, but at lower resolution, which was really funny that I could only play Unreal Tournament setting all to the lowest setting. However, when I did upgrade to a newer PC and set all to highest, the view changed well over 100%, it is that part that gamers will face on consoles, which will drive the need to replay games.

So, as we now see the play through of new and upcoming games, it is important to remain playful, yet not become prey to the need of technology. It is an expensive track to go and in the end you still lose, because becoming an early adopter in gaming is a lot more fund draining than you bargained for. Yet the feeling you get when you see prey and the jolt to be able to play this game at its maximum potential is equally riveting, lowering the threshold of early adopter in gaming by a fair bit.

 

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