Tag Archives: Black Flag

Standing by my point of view

I have looked at games for almost 30 years, and so far in the mode of gaming I have been in, I tend to stand by my position. It has nothing to do with stubborn, or with some kind of elevated sense of correctness. Time has proven me right again and again. Even now as SuckerPunch is regarded as the gospel of gaming  (these things happen), I tend to see how things fair and so far I agree with the many voices, but this too made me realise that there is another path. To see this, we need to go back to 2014, a new Infamous was launched. Now, I still stand by my original view, is was above average, but it had failed to be great, even as all the elements were there. Two massive elements influenced it. The game was almost tediously linear and after the final fight you do not get to use the concrete powers to the degree I had expected. These two parts make the game good, but not great and that was a shame. Yet that is not the issue, I reinstalled it today to play it again for a few hours, even as I had completed it 100%, and in almost record time well over a third of the game had been done. This is not due to memory, I had forgotten most of it, it was due to linearity, but that was not the surprise, I know I had updated the game on day 2 or 3 and now another update was there. Over 6 years the game had seemingly seen 7 updates (It installed 1.0.7), the final update and the only one I had to install was less than 4 GB, for a PS4 game that is decent, and here we see the first issue, Ubisoft sets games to dozens of GB’s per game per update and this game from the early days does a mere fraction of this. I personally see this as proper testing was done at Sucker Punch, and Ghost of Tsushima shows this again (and again and again). A good developer will always win and innovation in gaming (a thing Sucker Punch has shown a few times) will always beat iteratively thinking Ubisoft. 

Even as I still stand by the view I had, the game was still as enjoyable as the first time I finished it. That is the power of a decent game and this game if not hindered by the two flaws might have remained on the legendary games list. Still, this does not stop Sucker Punch from creating a decent game, an innovative game and this is the issue, no matter how I see this game, I recognised it as innovative gaming, when I revisit this old game, I see just how powerful innovative thinking is in gaming. And whilst we consider just how correct I am, Google Search is filled with all the game magazines that are trying to use Sucker Punch as much as possible, Forbes even states ‘‘Ghost Of Tsushima’ Is The Game Of The Generation’ and it is hard to disagree. They also give the additional text “I am more glad than I expected to be to have a game like Ghost of Tsushima. Rather than giving us innovation, Sucker Punch has given us care and craft with the things we already know. It is a comforting thing to have, here in a moment when my country is still grappling with its failure to contain coronavirus and when the future seems less predictable than it ever has before.” In this I am not sure if I completely agree, I personally see this game as innovative, as such I partially disagree with ‘Rather than giving us innovation’, yet when we look at the separate elements, Forbes might have a case, it is the ‘Sucker Punch has given us care’ that is true, but proper testing tends to get us there (often enough), no matter how we see it, we see that compared to a player like Ubisoft it is a mere dwarf, a dwarf that creates titans, so whilst the news is full of all the things going wrong at Ubisoft, I have stated (for some time), that they have bigger issues, and perhaps these events we see hit the news now is a consequence of stress and taking it out internally. And even as we see the news on all kinds of statements and promises, we see that Ubisoft has a rather large problem, one that Sucker Punch never had, or fixed well over a decade ago, properly testing games. That is the heart of the matter and they do know how to do that. No matter how I see Black Flag, it was near perfect and so was Origins. So as such, I cannot fathom why they cannot hold the rudder right, Sucker Punch shows how it can be done and they have done so for a very long time. 

These two players need to be shown for the mere reason that one player relies on hypes and marketing, all whilst the other does not and gives us great games. So whilst I am getting a little weary of messages like ‘Ubisoft teases us with…’, I would rather see that they cleaned their company from top to bottom, because no matter what we see on certain people, the failings there go to the very top. It angers me, not because of whatever, the fact that they had good games and they wasted 2-3 franchises is a real drag, all whilst the products show that there is graphical talent and the music as applied is close to legend. As a gamer, does that not upset you? And even as I remain cautious on Far Cry 6, does it not sound like something we played before? Now, this is speculative so do not treat this like gospel, but what the internet gives us is apparently nothing more that Far Cry 4/5 in a Far Cry 3 setting. I hope that I am completely wrong, but Ubisoft does not have the greatest track record when it comes to innovation, all whilst my idea on WatchDogs 4 is a setting that is completely innovative and I wonder if all that innovation would fit into a new console (I just do not know) but is that not the foundation of gaming, to be on the edge what is possible and see if it can be done? MGSIV in the beginning of the PS3 and the Last of Us at the very end show me to be correct, In that same view Black Flag in the beginning of the PS4 is in that same foundation, so why are these franchises developed too short for their own good? 

Even now, games like Breakpoint might ‘sell’ high end graphics, but it lacked joy, joy that a GameCube game (Metroid Prime) had in abundance. Even now 8.5 years later, I can still find joy in Skyrim (originally released 11.11.11), apart from AC Origins, what Ubisoft game released since 2017 has that (I am personally not considering Rainbow Six as that is not my kind of game). When you see how short that list is and how many games Ubisoft released, we see the flaw of iterative game releases. And this is not merely Ubisoft, how many think fondly back to the Mass Effect Andromeda, after the release? All issues that proper testing could have avoided and it took less than one day to come up with Mass Effect based IP that surpassed Andromeda, it is that flawed and we need to get angry, because a life of good gaming depends on it, for all of us. 

Even as we need not worry on Sony and Nintendo, a Microsoft pushing boundaries would keep Sony innovative, that too is a given, when there is no competitor the remaining players tend to relax, history has shown that part a few times, so I prefer that Microsoft wakes up fast, but reality is not in my favour, as such here is every chance that after the PS5, the PS6 might not be as advanced as we hope (unless Nintendo really changes the game). 

If we look at the past, many have heard of Melinoe and the nightmares she brings, but who remembers Makaria? When we consider Makaria and according to the scrolls of Nikolaos of Damascus her meeting Ares, what was the result? When we see all these greek god based games, we tend to see the big three and the direct dependants, but what of some of the others? With the exception of series like Xena (PS1 game) all based on Lucy Lawless and her formed fanbase of life under greek god reign, nowadays we see covers of ancient greek books, but we forgot to pick them up and read them. Yet the foundation of RPG and sandbox games is larger than that and I see a lack of grasping the unexpected by many developers. 

And this is not some console war, a game war can be fought on many fronts, as such the setting of google Stadia versus Apple Arcade is not over, not by a long shot and these systems have limitations, it matters, because the days of the CBM64, a system with 38Kb of RAM, a 64Kb system showed an entire generation how cool gaming could be, 10-17 million units sold and 99% bought it for the games, no matter what excuse, like ‘I want to learn to program’ they gave (I was one of them). Innovation comes with limitation, and that is where true treasures are found. I feel certain that browsing through the Amiga 500 list, I will find at least half a dozen that will make it and become successes on a system like the Google Stadia, in this, even Ubisoft has a few titles, neglected titles that would be a good match to the iPad, a system at times forgotten for the games it can play and if it does it there, it will be wanted on the Google Stadia and the Apple version. Even later than that, anyone who remembers the Microprose titles would instantly try them on these systems in a new jacket, games born from limitations and they could be upgraded to fit a whole new generation (and please the previous generation as well). 

I stand by my point of view and as I see Ubisoft buckle and Sucker Punch become one of the most revered software groups, I see the options of games and how they can be on several systems between now and 2023. Time has proven me correct a few times now, I wonder when some developers wake up, as I see it, they have little time left.

 

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Death of the creed

Before I begin I must warn you, if you are an AC fan, a fan of what Ubisoft produces, you will hate this story. The second part is that this is based on personal views, speculations and what the ‘leaked’ 30 minutes of AC Valhalla brings. The game is still in development, so the end result could differ. Keep all that in mind!

We saw the creed getting killed, its fans have seen a steady decline since the third game, and that is where we stand, it took 8 years. It took this long because no one will argue that AC4 (Black Flag) and ACO (Origins) are indeed excellent pieces of work, but it was marketed by what I like to call a group of people without any backbone, softcovers the lot of them. Black Flag is an excellent game but it is not an AC game (the escape from prison level is perhaps an exception). Black Flag is the pirate game that Sid Meier dreamt of making, but technology stopped him and Ubisoft had the inside track here to make a new piece of memorable IP, but they moved away and set the stage to a much larger IP hoping to set new standards, perhaps they partially succeeded, I will let you decide. After that the quality went down fast and as I see it they had a chance to make a new IP with Origins, they took a separate detour and it was truly an amazing product, but they spoiled it with Odyssey and now we have Valhalla, one person had the same idea I had, it is Odyssey with a new skin, it feels like that. Graphically it does look good, but the parts I saw is all about spicing and lacking substance, one viking goes into the fray, onto the breach and into the masses and slaughters what can be slaughtered. A lot of posturing, it feels off and I was afraid of this from the beginning, their marketing was so intent on creating hypes, this early, 6 months before the game is out, that usually reeks of shallowness and in all this, the game is as disappointing as I feared. The Creed was murdered by its own friendly forces. An IP dragged to death by shallow idea’s and a lack of creativity and staging of braced ego, or is that braised ego? It is a shame, for even as the first one lacked to some degree, it was an amazing start, after which we got Ezio in 2 and Brotherhood and legend status was reached. There is a decent case for revelations, but it was downhill from there, which is a shame, including AC3, the story was pretty amazing, there was a much larger stage and even as some (including me) did not consider AC3 to be a great game, it did bring surprises, there was no denying that. The Graphics department has never disappointed and that must be stated out loud, graphically the game remained at a high point all the way to Odyssey, even as we dread the last game, it was close to sublime in the graphics department. 

Perhaps this is the future for all who wants to make a game pleasing everyone, as I see it you are left with a product that pleases almost no one, it is my view on the matter.

So as I consider the Valhalla leak (no idea how the game was leaked, I think it is marketing, afraid of what is most likely to happen), I see a game that is shoddy on several fronts, but I do realise that I was watching something that had not been released yet. However, the stage I saw is in line of what AC had become. Yes, it is a game, as was Odyssey, but when you realise that not one fort on the planet had thousands of arrows, their aim was not that great (especially as they cannot shoot things in the night that moves), we see a much larger lag in gaming and a lag in the AC series. You merely need to see the first two seasons of Vikings to get that picture across to a much larger degree. To create arcade gaming situation in sandbox games implies the game needs triggers and that leaves you in a stage moving from mini game to mini game, did you sign up for that?

It is hard to write anything positive, and that too is an issue, apart from the graphics which has been far above par again and again. So even as we see the ‘leaked’ footage, we realise that the stage that Ubisoft created was the makings of hypes with no game play, it was perhaps the most stupid thing they could have done, and they should not have started the creations of hypes until October at the earliest, perhaps the birthday of the board of Directors on October 4th might have been a good idea (World Animal Day). If the game continues the way it is (as I saw it) there is every chance that it will be the last AC game to be made, I only bought AC Odyssey as it was on special at 80% discount, I stopped playing it after day 2 as the game was massively inferior to Origins and as I see it Valhalla is going to be even worse. If not, then Ubisoft better make it very clear in a next presentation with actual gameplay. 

Can the IP be saved? I am not certain whether it should, there have been too many massive misses, a new IP station makes a lot more sense and they have options there, they merely decided to ignore them (as I personally see it). So whilst we might consider bashing the Guillemot members (which is never a bad idea), we need to realise that they have bigger problems at present, because as I expect Valhalla to disappoint us, they only have one shot let, Watchdogs: Legion better be a slam dunk home run, if not the existence of Ubisoft might be done for. After Odyssey and Breakpoint, Ubisoft cannot handle any more disappointments, even as the Division 2 is heralded by its fans as a serious step forward, it does not get bonus points, Valhalla needed to be a win and there is every indications that this is not going to happen, implying that the life of Ubisoft will be in the hands of Watchdogs: Legion. It might not be fair, but that is how it is and even as it is shown to be pretty amazing, the failure of Valhalla will impact Watchdogs: Legion as well, unfair, but that is life, often not fair. Can I give Ubisoft any advice? Yup, they should have listened to me when I stated again and again that games need proper testing and both Odyssey and Breakpoint can be seen as evidence that this was not done. 

Could I be wrong?

Yes, of course I can, but those who have seen and flocked to the 30 minute leak will agree with me that Ubisoft has massive problems and not everyone is a Rainbow 6 lover, a game that so far has remained well above par (according to those who play it). So whilst the Creed is that ‘everything is permitted’ the Ubisoft board might have taken this too literally and releasing below par games should have been prevented, it is merely my view on the matter.

Oh and in the coming stage of the PS5 (and the Microsoft alternative), they better stop the entire stage of 25GB+ patches, it will hurt their business even more as I personally see it, and Ubisoft actually knows this, you merely need to see the opinion of internet in Rural France for that (which is France outside of Paris, Bordeaux, Cannes, Lille, Lyon, Marseille and Nantes) and Europe has a few of these places, as such, the people interested in Ubisoft games will be dwindling down faster than they are happy with.

 

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the next game stage

There is a new game coming. Keith Stuart writes about it and is taking loads of space for it. The title ‘Far Cry 5’s violent civil unrest is a much-needed reality check for games‘ (at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/02/far-cry-5-games-civil-unrest-trump-us-reality-ubisoft). Now, you know hat I have issues with Ubisoft. My issue with Far Cry is even more out there. Let’s start with my introduction to the game. I started it once on the Xbox 360, that version was my introduction to the game. In the past I have only ever returned 2 titles, Far Cry was returned the next morning. I did not like it. I thought it to be a bad game. Now, this is not the end or the killer here. We will always have a game that seemed interesting but ended up not being the game we signed up for. So I ignored Far Cry 2 completely and initially Far Cry 3 as well.

I had heard good things regarding the third game, yet we don’t all like the same games, so as such I have no issue with Far Cry. Next thing I get to (several months later) is that my PSN plus allows me a free download of Far Cry 3, so as I had heard good things, I downloaded it and had a go. Boy oh boy, what an excellent game that was. It starts great with the intro and Vaas is just one of the greatest lowlife badass villains in gaming history and the game stays on a decent high note, which is rare for an open game like that. Yes, there are issues, there is repetition (to some degree), yet the part that a game took a 300% improvement over the first game is stunningly rare. So I was on board! Yet, as we got to Far Cry 4, Ubisoft was facing a lot of issues. I believe that they started in 2013. You see, Black Flag was a good game, yet as I see it it was not an Assassins Creed game. Someone dropped the ball here in a massive way. You see, Black Flag could have been the pirate game that Sid Meier could never make because technology stopped him. The game is excellent in so many ways, but it was not an AC game (my personal view). It had a few other issues, but lets not squander time on those details. Ubisoft with the large issues of Watchdogs was already on the ropes, that is when we got AC Unity (a failure in so many ways, graphical glitches not being the biggest one), Far Cry 4 arrived and The Division was delayed (and would receive more delays until 2016). So Far Cry was already under the gun. It was more about explosions, too much repetition, running back to the outpost you just freed. The game had its fair share of issues. The biggest one was that it was basically a new crazy person and pretty much getting the same thing done. This last part does not need to be a bad thing, yet it was not great either. Like the previous game, the graphics were great, the AI was still shoddy (not the worst part of it all). I found that there were too much scripted issues. Wave after wave after wave of attacks, their AI not being great lessening the joy of the game. yet some parts were brilliant too. the dream missions to the temples were really awesome as it added a little more to it all.

So as I saw the choice for Far Cry 5, I saw another path, not necessarily a bad one, but a different one. The quote “I began to get the sense that America was ready for a Far Cry,” said producer Dan Hay during a recent press event is a fair one, it could be anywhere, so why not the US? The next quote gives us “The group gathers under the edict ‘Freedom, Faith and Firearms’ which is so close to the language of pro-gun religious right firebrands it cannot be coincidence. Furthermore, during the press event, the 2016 armed takeover of a federal building by a civilian militia in Oregon was even name-checked as an influence, tightening the game’s connections with the modern US, with civil unrest and unease, and with the intricate connections between religion, politics and gun control“, which should increase the interest in the game. I remember Bethesda Fallout 3, I was hooked, because I have been to that area, yes it was in 1998 and it was recognising the train station and how alike it was, just added a bit to it all. It is like watching a movie (3 in my case) as the shoots were in the places you have been in (one in my street), it just adds a little tingle on your spinal cord when you see it. This would be the same if an open world arena is placed in an area you know and recognise. When it includes events that actually happen, the suspense of the game goes up, so good for Ubisoft here. Yet now we see Keith going into the wrong direction with “The politics of Trump’s US and Brexit Britain are fascinating cauldrons of fear, uncertainty and division“, which is not false, but he does not mention that ‘cauldrons of uncertainty‘ are created by the media as it prefers too often to leave the people in the shadows instead of clearly exposing certain elements. Yet he hits the nail on the head with “Fear and truth make great, compelling art and the idea of a game steeped in the complex politics of the modern US is hugely enticing“, that is shown as the desire of Cyberpunk 2077 just keeps growing. In addition, the option to drown in ‘fear and truth‘ is not enough, as I see it, the gamer wants to influence both become the decider. In that we need not just more of it, we would like something truly new (or reengineered). Consider the chances that Far Cry 5 will have hunting not just for food, but to increase your backpack? Why not just for food? Why not the need to find scrap and other materials to upgrade the backpack, or the pouch, or whatever? Montana is not a small place. So are they looking at that part? Perhaps they are, it is to soon to tell, yet what if your success is not just to prove yourself to one native American? What if a better chance would depend on getting connections to the Blackfoot, the Cheyenne and Crow? Perhaps this is done, we will know when the game arrives. Keith writes that Ubisoft is ‘already taking steps away from broader controversies‘, which is actually a shame, because it is in the limelight of possibilities where true legendary games are shaped. In addition, we see “And by framing the group as a crazed sect, rather than a plausible conservative right-wing operation, the game distorts any sense of true representation.” Now, this is a shame, because keeping that as close to the reality could be a really good thing. Do not forget that some of these conservative groups are only made crazy by the media. Some prefer to be left alone, they get along with their neighbours, but most important, there is growing evidence that they are not always the bad guys. If we just look at the EPA violations in Montana, and how they were settled, some for less then $400K whilst the cleaning of the water is often no longer a possibility. So skating closer to the reality and options and opportunities could make Far Cry a true legendary game, yet will they go there? I doubt it, we will have to see. I like the very end where we see: “Whatever happens with Far Cry 5 it is at least a tacit admission of something important. We can’t, with a straight face, claim that video games are the storytelling medium of the 21st century, unless we’re telling stories about our real lives, our real fears and the very real monsters around us“, which is actually a really good path to consider. So as we have looked at covert spies (Splinter Cell), at the option to survive in the wild against crazy evil people (Far Cry) and as we have protected the good by cutting throats (Assassins Creed), so what happens when we take certain TV series to an entirely new level? What if we had Washington DC mapped in detail and we re-release ‘Covert Action’, but now we use the latest in digital options, in surveillance where you would have to break into places of ill repute (the North Korean Embassy for example) and truly hunt for intelligence by hacking and gathering intel? To become an actual data broker. Now some is not done on those locations, some happen in server rooms, in cars, in apartments. However, the idea to take Watchdogs and Splinter Cell to a new level, one that is based on an actual flowing political situation? Could that be done to the degree that gamers would like to go. Yet in this game, we apply legal issues as well, so murders are a problem, evidence is an issue, more important, visibility of any kind would stop you to take missions on. You see, the setting in a game is one, but it is set on a storyline, because that is the part that gets us through the game. We can accept that scripted issues happen, especially in the intro of the game, yet we tend to find interference of scripting a lot less fun in the game. In Far Cry 3 with Vaas, it was resolved pretty brilliantly, yet it would always happen there at that point. So what happens when the game has a path that is altered by parameters? What if the shift from Acta to Actb suddenly shifts?

For example, that the Dead Space path has two additional elements, one is time (the longer it takes, the less time you get for the asteroids, or the more subsystem you repair, additional paths or rooms become available later on. We see that story driven games are confining, yet open world games lack direction at times. So as we do every mission in Skyrim or Oblivion we tackle the game in one go, but if we are another race or gender, or even the actual time? What if that decides our missions and paths? I see it as a way to ignite a larger value for replayability. Paths that have been ignored for the longest time in gaming. Although Dishonored gave us additional options to get somewhere based on our powers, that is exactly one of those reasons why Dishonored is a ladder higher than most other games. In such ways Ubisoft dropped the ball in several games. Primal could have given us more if certain considerations were made. It seems more and more that it is not entirely with the makers. It seemed to me (I could be wrong) that Ubisoft Marketing thinks it knows its gamers and from that limited view ‘decisions’ are made that seems to be more and more about the stakeholders, and not the need to get a 95%+ game. They have settled for less, whilst the impression is clear that within the timeframe other considerations could have increased the value and the need for the game. Again, that is just my personal view. So as we see other games coming this year, we will more likely than not see the failing of certain other choices, which is a real shame, because we were truly baffled by Assassins Creed 2 and Far Cry 3. Games that took the edge of gaming, and stretched it making the world of gaming truly larger. So they do have the ability to do that. Yet whether they still have it remains to be seen, time will tell us that. yet the fact that Watchdogs, Far Cry 4 and AC Syndicate are nowhere near the reviews of AC 2 and Far Cry 3 are gives us the clear need to not stay on the same path. In addition, the least stated on Mafia 3 regarding this, the better for all involved. We can agree and accept that some winners face hardship as a flaw was introduced, that happens (Microsoft Vista for example), yet from that we got the winner Windows 7, some Ubisoft titles could end up on the same high path. They only need one person with vision to make it happen.

I have to conclude that Ubisoft due to their number of titles was chosen, yet I think we can agree that other makers have made similar mistakes (Mass Effect Andromeda anyone?) For me it is almost a crusade, not against Ubisoft, but for the next Assassins Creed to give us the buzz that the second and brotherhood gave us. If it is done before, it can be done again! The Ubisoft graphics department proved that by setting a new level of graphical excellence with Black Flag.

Let’s all hope for the best!

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Wakey, Wakey

Finally someone in the Guardian tech section seemed to have gotten a clue, the title ‘Video games have a diversity problem that runs deeper than race or gender‘ (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/sep/10/video-games-diversity-problem-runs-deeper-than-race-gender)makes an attempt to scratch a surface that many gamers knew and until recently I was nearly the only one trying to break it to the audience. So happy hurray hurray to “a games industry insider with years of experience in a variety of studios. They wish to remain anonymous“, a singular person hiding in plurality! The quote “I don’t really care if you put a female avatar into Assassins Creed” is interesting, but also extremely wrong. Not for political correctness reasons, in that regard I can be even more politically incorrect than an ecstasy head shagging a crack prostitute in the main chambers of the House of Lords. No, this is all about innovative gaming, a female character could change the field and the quote is part of the problem as I will illustrate soon.

It is the quote “The problem of marginalisation in games development isn’t just about women, or people from different religious or ethnic backgrounds, it’s about entire genres. Marginalisation is happening in the very fabric of the design process, and this is just as damaging to the health of the industry and its ability to hold our attention” that gives a pause, because I have stated part of this for well over 2 years. You see, when Ubisoft started to claim the release of an Assassins Creed every year, which I still see as the beginning of the end for Ubisoft. They show a nice face, their books might seem nice, yet overall they have been lucky with over 50% now based on the digital channel. Yet, there is also cause for concern, first the Division is delayed again until 2016 (Q1), which if it is truly a good game will still rake in loads of capital, yet consider on how AC Unity was close to a flop, in my view the ‘sales numbers’ seem high because Unity came free with nearly every Xbox One shipped. It is one way to get the sales numbers up, but will it give contribution (you know revenue minus costs)? Now AC Syndicate and so far the game is another iteration with another location, with Prince of Persia styled chase scenes, repetitive missions and triggered events. This is part of the problem. Yet, Ubisoft must also be praised, you see, the game ‘For Honor’ is part of the stable that can revive gaming. Gamers wants something new, they want change and For Honor seems to be all that, new, smooth and challenging (as far as I could see).

My biggest issue with Ubisoft remains that success is not a formula, yes a formula does tend to diminish the chance of failure, in equal measure a true success becomes utterly unobtainable too. Add to that unrepaired glitches and a QA department that adheres to marketing regulations and a disaster is close to an assurance. I have stated it in the past on more than one occasion. The article states “Mainstream big-budget video games have been shifting towards a mechanical singularity for years, and it’s really time to ask if that’s something that might be keeping people away too“. It is not a wonder that independent developers are now starting to be the big thing in gaming. If we ignore a release date we get Hello Games, by Sean Murray with ‘No Man’s Sky’. What is interesting here is that even the gospel papers are using ‘hints at release dates’ to pull in the viewers to their site. This must be a first in gaming history too! The old games still have the pull of two generations of gamers, David Braben is proving that with Elite Dangerous. More people are flocking towards the games that offer more than a mere 10 hour trip, a game that offers more than just the chases, the views and a fake open world. Metal Gear Solid 5 is in that case unique, Fallout 4 is unique, and none of those game franchises come on an annual base. The weird part is that Ubisoft sat on a treasure, Black Flag could have been the pirate RPG Sid Meier could not make because technology stopped him and marketing relied on the AC brand to proper something that was close to utterly perfect. They got lucky because Black Flag become the only decent game on launch night of the PS4. I reckon that is pretty much the only reason why it became the success is should not have been destined to be.

Linked to all this is the quote “The thing is, the recent excitement around Capcom’s decision to release a remastered version of series favourite Resident Evil 2 suggests there’s still a large audience for the original recipe“, this is absolutely true. The second one was an amazing piece of work and gamers remember that, which means that the IP can be reapplied to the new consoles. Re-applicable IP is worth a fortune, because any established IP of quality is more than a mere lottery ticket, it is the grail to a 9 figure revenue ready to be a pool of sustenance. This is why I believe that games like Ultima 4,5,6,7, System Shock (1+2) are not dead, they only await the right team to fix it up for the system of today (or tomorrow) ready to feed 50 million hungry gamers. That’s just 2 out of a dozen of IP’s ready to service a community that has a hunger that will not go away. Even as we speak, new games are coming, yet the approach that Tomb Raider took, no matter how nice it looks, it shows perfect graphics at 10% of the gaming time the first game brought. It doesn’t matter whether this was a lack of budget or vision. Gamers are offered less and less, which means that the old IP shows 5 times the gaming the new games are doing.

This is all proven in addition with the quote “Nintendo’s recent Wii U multiplayer “shooter” Splatoon provides a pretty good example of how thinking outside of the box – mechanically as well aesthetically – can turn a “core” genre on its head and make it speak to people who enjoy a slightly different way of playing games“. I think it goes beyond that. This game is worth buying a WiiU for. An original game has always had that effect. PS One with Tekken (Tomb Raider can almost a year later and truly brought sales numbers to a high), PS2 with Ridge racer V, Dreamcast with Soul Calibur, GameCube with Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, the list goes on and in that regard PS4 and XB1 both disappointed. Yet overall the next gen consoles are now showing less exceptional games and the future is not super bright. Yes there are really good releases but the number of them are not great, in that regard we see a new wave, consider that many (including me) are currently more interested in the remake of the 3 Mass Effect games for NextGen systems than in Mass Effect Andromeda. That is brought through disappointing NextGen releases and sloppy QA. So far Phantom Pain is one of the few true NextGen releases that are turning public opinion about by being truly exceptional, another title in that regard is Witcher 3.

The appeal for the massive joy that playing these old masters brings cannot be ignored, yet that also brings the problem that the title gave, namely ‘Video games have a diversity problem‘, it does and until true NextGen originality comes knocking (more than 3 titles) this feeling remains. Yet, good games are coming, the E3 showed that, but gamers do not know when and the Ubisoft problem is not going away at present. The quote “A new generation of successful indie developers is currently moving into the mid-sized AA space that so many more experimental companies occupied throughout the 1990s – and they’re hiring” is the most uplifting one, because that brings more likely than not a new wave of originality (we hope) and that will get the gamers on board.

I believe that 2017 is what will make or break the current consoles, yes the PS4 is doing extremely well, yet both systems have a massive market share and as the great titles are brought that field will move in either direction (PS4 vs XB1). That struggle will keep gaming alive and as more gamers have both systems they will win no matter where the game ends up, but the winner will be decided by the best games, Microsoft learned that with the 360 and ignored that with the XB1 as the powers that be decided on some ‘family entertainment system’ a choice that nearly bankrupted the Microsoft console division. In all this one part must not be ignored. It is ‘diversity’ and the owner of that part will bring the winning ticket to a console, for a long time Sean Murray held it with his upcoming game, yet as the flawed choice of keeping people in the dark on release date grows, so will the interest in the game dwindle to anti-climactic proportions, which is a shame. What Sean forgot was that gamers do not mind waiting, as long as they get some insight as for how long. We will wait until Q1 2016, but we want to know about the delay (and for roughly how long) so that we can buy something else to play. Sean forgot about that part, the fallout will come and as fallout 4 is released people will no longer wait and just move towards another game that gives them long term pleasure. I truly hope that we get to play No Man’s Sky because I believe this to be the one new game that will give me long term pleasure, the one side AAA game marketeers just do not grasp. It was never about the price, it is about the fact that 10 hours of gaming is not gaming, it nothing more than a narrated short story we can do without.

One part the article did not illuminate.

 

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As we trusted games

There is an interesting article in the Guardian I had an issue with to some degree. There is nothing wrong with the article itself, Keith Stuart made a good piece and it reads well (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/nov/13/games-reviews-are-changing-from-product-assessments-to-tourist-guides), so it came out last week and I only saw it just now.

First paragraph: “A decade ago, a games publisher would send out early copies of its latest release to magazines and websites. It would arrive with some sort of embargo restricting the date of any subsequent review coverage. Then, before the game hit the shelves, there would be range of critical responses to read through. That’s how games reviewing worked for 30 years“, well apart from the embargo, which I was never got. That is pretty much how it went. I started my reviewing in 1988. The age of CBM-64,  Atari ST, CBM Amiga and the IBM PC, which had something graphically ‘state of the art’ called ‘EGA’, the enhanced graphic adapter, which added up to the 15” resolution roughly the same of the average low level smart phone today. Games were in CGA and even though the quality of graphics was low, the quality of gaming was exceptionally high (for what we knew in those days). Roberta Williams (Sierra-on-Line), Peter Molyneux (Bullfrog), Richard Garriott (Origin) and Sid Meijer (Microprose) were the titans of gaming; they are the most profound, but not the only ones from those days.

The second part is the first part I disagree with “Now, it’s so much more complicated. Publishers don’t like releasing code early. It’s not just about protecting sales of mediocre titles (though that happens): they worry about piracy; they worry about major spoilers that could put players off purchasing a game that is highly narrative driven“, I personally believe that it is about mediocre titles. The worry of piracy is less an issue, for the reasons that consoles don’t really allow for piracy any more (compared to the days of Atari ST and Amiga), PC Games need more and more internet authentication (like 99.99% of them), and there is a truth in narrative driven games. When a $50 MGS Zero can be played in less than 30 minutes (according to Gamespot), you know that there is an issue. I go for the mediocre side, because in case of Ubisoft, we saw Watchdogs, AC Unity and now Far Cry 4, Far Cry 4 might have gotten themselves a 85% rating (only 70% on Gamespot), yet this is below par (for such a triple-A title), it means that Ubisoft failed to deliver a main title with a 90% plus game review this year, which is a really bad thing. In addition, Destiny didn’t make the high numbers and on the PlayStation 4, the only titles that truly showed the rating was ‘The last of us’ an amazing game originally released on PS3. From my point of view, it is one of the worst release years in a long while. No matter how new Nextgen consoles are, there is a level of competency lacking more and more.

This links directly to the next part of the article “With triple-A releases now costing $30-50m a pop, no wonder the companies responsible want to control the dissemination of their data and messaging. As in movies, everything is geared toward that opening week – millions of dollars of marketing, the acres of shelf space bought at key retailers – everything has to work just right“, if everything has to work just right, it made me wonder why quality assurance was not managed in better ways. If we see the failing that Assassins Creed Unity shows, gaming is overdue for an overhaul, especially considering the cost of such a triple-A game.

It saddens me to say, as a Sony fan, it did hurt me to see that PS4 gamers have not met the high octane game quality I had expected, I was personally more impressed with several titles exclusive on the Xbox One.

The next part is one I do completely agree with “And then the games themselves have changed. Most new titles have intricate and extensive online multiplayer elements – or they require you to be online just to download updates and/or because publishers want to keep an eye on you“, even though in several regards online play is less and less appealing, or just plainly inferior, the updates are more and more an issue. GTA-V, which is regarded as a good game ended up having a day one 1 Gb+ update need. Which is not the worst, but it shows a level of pressure to market deadlines and not quality. Our broadband internet connections seem to have removed the need of quality testing and fixing before release.

Then we get the part that is indeed an issue “The industry is always telling us that games aren’t products anymore, they are services. You get the initial release, but after that, you get updates, downloadable content, new modes, missions and experiences … So what are you reviewing when a game comes out? It’s potential? It’s raw functionality? You are not reviewing the complete experience anymore” Keith is nailing the nail on the head with a massive hammer, we are now getting a service, not software, but if we see the option that a bought game is nothing more than a service or a potential, how can we be treated fairly as a consumer, when we do not know the full article we are buying? It is a dangerous development when we buy not a game, but a concept. We are not there yet, but the danger is slowly creeping towards the installation drive of the computer we use for gaming, and with that approach is a larger and larger danger that the PC/console will get invaded in a hostile way and how can we be protected when not the system, but the game becomes the backdoor into our private lives, because that is a danger that several parties are not yet looking at (as far as I know).

The rest of the article, you should just read on the Guardian site. I do not completely agree, but Keith gives a good view of his reasoning and it is sound and well worth reading. The question becomes where will we go next? There is more and more indication that people (gamers), are less and less interested in the MMO/multiplayer experience and more into a quality solo play game. There is also a feeling from many that Multiplayer is more and more about micro transactions and less about quality fun. Most will accept micro transactions in free multiplayer games like ‘Blacklight’ and ‘War frame’, we can accept micro transactions to get the weapons that really pack a punch, yet with $90 games, people are not interested in additional charges. Even though in the situation of Black Flag, the additional $4 to get the weapons or technology advantage is nice, and the option clearly states that the upgrades can be gotten in the game whilst playing it. It is left to the person to choose. There is nothing bad about it, but when we see AC: Unity, where micro transactions can get up to $100, questions should be asked, even if those parts can be unlocked through playing. Now, I am not judging the $100 micro transactions, but there is a worry why such a purchase is even offered, how much can be leaped through? The worry is not with Ubisoft’s Assassins Creed: Unity, but after the ‘lessons’ many players were taught through Forza 5 how unsettling micro transactions were. Yet, in all honesty (as I am not an Xbox one user), can they be normally unlocked? If so, the issue is not really there, yet the value of high end cars, when we consider that in Forza 5 you get driver payouts of 35,000. However, some cars go into the millions, you need 285 level updates to be able to afford the 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO and that is only one of many cars, which seems to be an unacceptable way to push people towards micro transactions, it left many players with a bad taste in their mouths. If we look at the issues we see, no matter how we feel about a game, there are sides we’d not agree with and there are sides we are truly against. This varies per player, and as such we need to balance view and feelings, because there is no denying that gaming and games are all about emotions. We go for the games that drive our passion. I myself have been a massive RPG fan, yet when I look at the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) game, I see little interest to continue this path, yet when I look at Mass Effect 3 and Diablo 3, I see and I experienced the best multi-player ever. To illuminate, ME3 has micro transactions, yet the boxes can be gotten by playing multi-player games, each round gets you credits and the higher leveled you played, the more coins you would get, and then you buy a box with random stuff, some good, some amazing and some average. Diablo has no micro transactions; multi-player there is just great and makes the bosses harder, which gives you better loot. There are not the only good games, there are more, and there are many games are nowhere near this good.

In the end it is about good gaming and plenty of games have it, but my issue is as mentioned earlier, overall quality is down, more often not properly tested, whilst as Keith Stuart states it, newer games seem to be about buying the concept, not the finished product. How games get higher in graphical quality, yet not in gaming quality. Is it just about the new systems, or are we faced with a new level of designers, that cannot stand up to the older titans, the actual visionaries. Titles like System Shock (1+2) can, when graphically updated, compete with the RPG games that were released almost 20 years later. If you want to consider First Person Shooters, then in my mind, Metroid Prime 1+2 are top notch achievements that have not been equaled. They were released on a system inferior to the PS3 and Xbox 360, so why are there no games of that calibre? Well, that would not be honest, they have games of that calibre, but they are equals at best, two games, and the first one 12 years old.

This shows the issue I have with the statements some make. ‘A new game each year’, now we must allow for the fact that marketeers will make wild statements at any given place to keep the press at bay and well fed, so we should not overly ‘analyse’ that part. An example can be found when we look at the Tomb raider series, a series that has seen highs and less so. The series also illuminates a flaw in the gaming industry, when we consider the earlier games we see an amount of gaming that is unparalleled, especially when we consider the first two games. No matter the graphic levels, the games were truly large in comparison and some of the levels were amazing in design. The cistern in the first one and the ship in the second one show a level of design the last one cannot even compete with. What took days in the first two games, took a mere 15 hours in the last game. I will agree that the graphics were amazingly unreal in that game, the game looks large but the levels are in the end small. I saw it as opportunities missed on several levels, but not for the quality of graphics. the interesting side is that Tomb Raider shows the gaming industry as it moved from storyline and innovation towards graphics and narration, which is not that big a mystery. Yet in that shift we have lost levels and game time. Which is why the appeal of RPG is vastly growing, the option to play long times, to visit places and go it your own way and speed, not hindered by narration, scripted events and scripting is more and more appealing to the gamers at large.

Even though many are focusing on the next generation of systems, the next level of gaming is not ready. As I see it, 2015 will show a large rise in quality of gaming, but the true gems will not come until 2016. Mass Effect 4 could be such a game, but will we see true innovation, or will we see a sliding line as the Assassins Creed series have shown. This thought also has a drawback. Good gaming is based on vision, a franchise is about evolutions and forward momentum, but visionary is not a given, but for good gaming an essential need. This is where the wheels tend to come off the wagon. God of War 3 brought that, the AC series did not, it brought iteration. Mass Effect might, and so far, the hype of No man’s sky is likely to bring new boundaries in gaming, but the reality is not always a given and as such, we can only wait and keep faith with the developers, which is why their change and their approach to gaming is so essential to us. There are of course issues with other approaches too. Even though the title ‘Whore of the Orient‘ sounds appealingly original, but will it be so? Time will tell! The danger isn’t what will be good and what won’t be. The issue is that we know how rare visionaries in gaming are. The last proven one was Markus Persson (maker of Minecraft) and Microsoft bought his idea for a mere 2 billion (it’s not that much when you say it fast), which is the highest amount paid for a gaming IP EVER! Consider Microsoft paying that much for one title and you know how rare visionaries in this field are, which is exactly why games are not set in one year increments, and why franchises seem to be key for gaming, but there is a new iteration that some forgot. The upcoming release of Elite, a revamp from the original game decades old, shows that good games are rare and will stand the test of time. The initial interest for Elite could be regarded as proof for that.

So is this about trusted games, trusted developers or new endeavours?

I have one thought, but I keep it to myself, it is important that you the reading gamer make up your own mind. I have given my thoughts on that what I experienced and what I value. I ignored some parts as they are not my cup of gaming, which we all have, out there are leagues of GTA lovers; I am not one of them. I do not debate the 90%+ score, gaming is for gamers and there is space for all of us, no matter which part we run to, from Silent Hills to Mario land. there is space for all of us, some will slaughter in the world of Unity, some crush in the lands of Diablo, we have our preferred places, yet the overall issue is not where we play or who we play as, but the quality of what we play is now in question, it has been in question for some time now and it seems to be getting more and more visible as the industry is pushing for revenue on 5 systems. My direct worry is that we end up with a product based on a 60% effort, which is something none of us had signed on for.

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