Tag Archives: CBM64

The set stage

It started a week ago, not directly, but the thought was born at that point, it was the realisation that the stage is set to the player, the stage is empty, especially we set the stage as we are playing an RPG game, it is perhaps the largest issue that a game can have. The danger of repetition. To get there we need to return to 1985. I was a happy chappy. I had my CBM-64 and the whole world was in front of me. That year two games came to my attention, well, not completely, the first game I had already seen as a friend had a BBC Micro B. Yet getting the games was an issue, but there it was on a Friday I was made aware that a shop in Breda (90 minutes by train) had both games. It was odd as I was living in Rotterdam, but there it was a dealer in Breda had both Ultima-3 and Elite, both for the CBM-64 and I was off to the races (the train) and a little less than 2 hours later I was in Breda having bought 1 copy of each game. My love for these two games continues to this day. Of course Elite is now Elite Dangerous (and a few thousand times bigger) and Ultima no longer exists, but the stage is there. Yet as I remember my days in Elder Scrolls Oblivion, we tend to set course for the most beneficial route, but what happens when that is not an option? In case of Ultima, what happens when 3,4,5, and 6 are played, but in this, what happens when we influence the development of the game for others? Ultima is an excellent example as the map remained close to the same in 4,5,6, and 7. But those who have played Oblivion, perhaps you remember the Rockmilk Cave north of Leyawin. Because there are two fighting parties, you get to have the drop n those who survive and get a lot more loot, early in the game that matters, and it is close to a city, so it is a ka-ching moment. But what happens, when everyone does that? We get away with it the first time, but what happens when the people in that cave become a lot more adapt? What happens when the second time around the people are suddenly 1 or 2 levels higher and that happens in EVERY subsequent visit? This takes me back to Ultima 5, near Empath Abbey there is a good source of Spider Silk, so what happens when everyone does that? What happens when we suddenly have to ACTUALLY explore to find what we need? I have been thinking of a first person approach (an Oblivion approach) to the Ultima games. You see, that game had everything from the get go and it would take plenty of designers 10 years to get close there, so what happens when we get the stage like Oblivion, but with the entire land of Britannia mapped? The 4th game would b a great start, but even as we start, we set our mark on the land. As such roads will develop different. We will end up having much better roads between Britain and Paws. There was some form of an economy in Ultima 7, but that can evolve from the 4th game onward. This sets for a very different game, as such when we start Ultima 5, we are set in a land that evolved from OUR actions in Ultima 4, not just that, as markers of thousands of players are aggregated, the map might evolve differently, We could see that New Magincia and Buccaneers Den would be much larger cities the the places we had (and reset) from 4 up to 7. It is a set shape of RPG that we have not seen before, and that makes it exciting. Even as I was (initially) designing Elder Scrolls VII: Restoration, I had something similar in mind. Not merely a stage for a quest, but a stage where we set in motion the action, but beyond managing resources, we get to have no say in the matter. 

It is  stage that is enabled and disabled by us. We tend to forget about the latter part, but it is an equally important stage, because it sets for a different stage of replaying a game. Consider Oblivion and Skyrim, what happens when we set the new Dark Brotherhood? What if we choose not to place the new sanctuary not in Dawnstar? What if there had been an option to place it near Whiterun? The choice is then set for re-playability, which was a focal point for me in TES7: Restoration. 

In addition, I had set more than one red line in the design, a red line the follows markers as you play the game, but markers that cannot be influenced after voices are made. Basically, you get to sleep in the bed you make, you do not get to design the bed. Makers of RPG’s have been so involved in getting everything there that we drown in options, but at times, the gamer can merely inhabit the stage, he/she does not design the stage, it is the cornerstone of something we want to replay and when you consider that Skyrim is still going strong since 11.11.11, what do you think happens when we take away some f the training wheels and give the player the fun of playing and the consequence of choice? It is something that had been lacking in RPG’s for the longest time. I set that in motion in my design, but in the end, it is what the owners of the IP decide to do. 

It was the only issue I had with Skyrim, the grinding to get to the legendary dragon, and I know there are part I missed (not many), yet it gets me back to the avoidance of grinding. What if levels are not the only way of measuring? Why if the player class needs to have at least 1,2 or 3 skills at 100? The thief might have bow, lockpick and sneak at 100, but what would the Mage have? What  would the fighter or assassin have? We forgot to set the stage to a larger field, I cannot tell whether that was intentional or not, I reckon that the PS4 already had the power to take care of these matters, but that is me. What if every skill will give the player an ability at 100? Not skill point driven, but automatically, it could be something trivial. For Sneak it might be pussyfoot for 60 seconds, for the Bow it might be the arrow dagger, for Restoration it might be paralyse soul, for illusion it might be daylight, and so on. We seemingly have forgotten that there are any rods to a solution, but some of the makers (due to no fault of their own) have made most missions a linear stage and we have to evolve from that. Limitations is one way to do that. When you were playing Oblivion (or Skyrim), how many benefits did you get by going to White River Watch on the second play (Skyrim) as soon as possible or Crumbling Mine (Oblivion)? We can up the NPC level on subsequent plays, but what can we gain by limiting what. Person COULD find at the first few levels? What happens when we set a randomiser to some loot not on whether it is there, but where it is? In Skyrim some books are always in the same place, what if that changes? Consider that we have 4 levels of loot, what if those levels (when it is not a quest item) are 4 mixed piles? As such, we could run to the Milkrun Cave, but what we get there would not be a guarantee, in addition, some loot can only be found ONCE! As such certain loot will not be there to spike our personal coffers, just a thought. 

In this day and age, we are not merely on one system, as such we should see what benefits the games could get, it is my personal belief that this is not done enough. I get it, makers like Ubisoft (merely an example) like to be on ALL systems, but what if we set another premise? What if we use the power of Sony and for example Google Stadia to the max what that system can give? Will the gamer not end up with a much better experience? If you doubt that, consider Metroid Prime 1 and 2 on GameCube, a game that is still mostly unsurpassed on Xbox One and PS4 11 years later, an entire generation later, the is the premise we need to return to a field that is maximised, not equalised by the lowest system around. 

Just my point of view, have a great weekend.

 

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Light of creativity

In creativity we normally see a theme, or perhaps better phrased, some (like me)( are thematically driven, it might change per project, but in me there is a drive to think thematically, it is how I set the the stages of Elder Scrolls VII: Restoration, Watchdogs 4: Refugee,  and Far Cry 7: Timing

In this I have spoken about the Elder Scrolls and Watchdogs before, but not too much about Far Cry, in this game the stage is a little bit different. The game has two sides, a day side and a night side, yet that is not really made clear in the beginning, The game is stages in Japan on the Island of Amakusa, the man is in the city as it is today, yet when he falls asleep he becomes the boy or Girl named Sage. For the kid its 1945, for the adult its 2010, and the stage is different, the man learns skills that the boy has when he falls asleep, the kid finds things and places (and avoid US troops) the difference is that this is a game without guns, the US troops have them, but the boy/girl cannot fire them. The man learns to be better and more apt with knifes, and it helps the other one, but is only deadly to animals. The story starts in 2010, the man is evicted, he lost his job in the meltdown, he is making it on his own and when he gets to an abandoned house, he finds an engraved phalange, and as he holds it, he falls asleep. 

At that point it becomes morning 1945 and the boy takes over. 

It is the foundation of the game, in this we see the entire island twice, once as the boy in the midst  of an American occupation, with lose combats against the Imperial army, we see the game starting in one stage in July 1st 1945 and July 1st 2010 in the other stage. The idea of having two stories that intertwine is interesting, the 2010 story sets the stage of what knowledge is gained in 1945. This stage is depending on stealth, that is often not important in 2010, as we try to gain the treasures and rare items to pay the debt, as that unfolds, we see two stories unfold as well as two needs to be scored in a single night, and as the stage unfolds more and more we get to see a WW2 story from a Japanese side, yet the Americans are not shown too evil, but they are scary to a 11 year old child. 

That is merely the beginning of the setting and it took no more than two hours to come up with it. So when we see “a small team at Visceral also worked on a pirate game code named Jamaica. That game wound up being canceled when Ubisoft announced the pirate-themed Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag, and EA wound up with a bigger a bigger priority for its “genre” studio: a Star Wars game”, a quote a mere three days old, yet I was able to (semi)create three games in a week, so where is their creativity? I came up with the setting of the game Evolution which was came from an Idea I had when I was playing the game Mercenary on the CBM64 and was based in Amsterdam, The centre of Amsterdam was completely mapped and I came up with a map change which I got from the documentary Zero Hour, as I see it, the lack of creativity from some of these large software houses baffle me, it really does.

Well, its fine as I see it, I came up with 6 games (completely) original in its foundation, as such the entire stage of ‘being canceled when Ubisoft announced the pirate-themed Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag’ passed me by completely. And in that regard, we see that even their version is not that original, Sid Meier set that stage with Pirates, as such I wonder what they will create next, and beyond that, which of them will actually make it to the consoles, because that is another setting.

As we see all over the place ‘Apple clashes with Microsoft, Google, and Facebook over cloud gaming’ no one is asking the question, who will hand us original games? In this the setting that only Sony and Nintendo remains is not the weirdest idea. So as the others are fighting on how to gain the largest slice of pie in the GaaS game, some will focus on originality and make the largest gains. 

So what games will you play and which system will focus on original games? Is that not important too? 

 

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Reflections

These are the days where a lot of people reflect on choices made and I am not any different. I was at the foundation of gaming, when gaming was young, when people thought that this was the sport of nerds and I did not care. I reviewed games for 13 years and I never regretted it. I was there when Commodore release the CBM64 and the Amiga 500. Sony released the PlayStation, I was there when Nintendo released the N64 and the GameCube. I had the Sony PlayStation 2 on day one, I saw with amazement when the SEGA Dreamcast was released. I saw an amazing range of games and systems, even now I think back to how great gaming was in those days. Even now we see how some makers misrepresent their games on how unique their game is whilst in the end it is merely another version of Candy Crush or Bejewelled. The hide behind quick animations and we see some Zombie game and the list goes on, they all need to make a game that is quick so that it is downloaded, their name depends on the amount of downloads, the sheep that play games follow the games that have a lot of downloads, yet they miss the larger stage. A game is something larger, it keeps you interested, it offers a larger stage and there is no denying that Microsoft Game Pass might actually entice people who call themselves gamers will actually end up playing actual games. Yet there is a danger there too. I personally believe that Microsoft is in it for the soft money, the micro transactions and it makes sense, micro transactions represents billions a year in revenue, and there mobile systems are the biggest source of micro transactions and that too is a reason why Microsoft wants Apple access. 

It is time that this stage changes and if there is one stage we want to protect then it is the gaming stage, that stage gives direct access to the younger players. Even as these ‘critics’ proclaim loot boxes are ‘gambling’, there is no status on games like Candy Crush and all others designed to drive gamers to spend money, the addiction of achievement. Yet we see a lot less on that part do we? I remember playing the very first Lemmings, from the first hour I saw just how addictive it was, I still have great memories on Magic Carpet, I saw amazing games from Mirrorsoft, Microprose, Psygnosis, Rare, Westwood, Bullfrog and too many others to mention. Even then the creativity outranked corporate types and the gamer won. That field has changed!

Even today, I remember playing games like Millennium 2.2, Lemmings, Covert Action, Ultima 3, 4, 5, Eye of the Beholder, and that was long before PC’s started to take gaming serious. One title I am leaving for last, In 1987 FTL (Faster than Light) created Dungeon Master, it changed the way people looked at RPG games. It was only surpassed by Dungeon Keeper because Dungeon Master paved the way and created the love of the RPG game, Dungeon Master became the best selling game of all time for the Atari ST, others would follow and Dungeon Keeper would push the love of RPG to even greater heights, in the end 700,000 copies would be sold and it is there where we see what we can gain, in those days 700,000 copies were sold, in this day it would be 10 to 50 times as much. And we overlook the playability of those games now, yes we see the hypes created (and the games EA screws up), yet they also had there share of successes and underestimations. Who remembers ShadowCaster and Black Crypt? Upgraded they would make interesting games and in that same setting EA has close to half a dozen games that could raise the setting for Google Stadia. So what happens when we tinker Magic Carpet to become larger and multiplayer? And that is only the tip of the iceberg, Microprose has even more titles and that is all before we look at the near future and see what else we can do to set a larger stage of games that people either cast aside or ignored in the first place. An excellent example of that is Microprose’s 1990 release of Knights of the Sky. I loved the game and many others did as well, but the larger group seemingly forgot about this game, a game that could be upgraded and work on a whole range of systems, including Google and Apple systems. We need to take another look at these games, games produced in the era spanning from 1985-2005 gives us close to 100 titles spread over half a dozen systems and we forgot about them. Why is that?

I get it, some people moved on, they moved on to other things and that is fine, but there is an entire generation of people that is limited in its view of games and it is limited to match three shapes. That is not really gaming and we need to make sure that this does not happen. For a system like the Google Stadia, it is the difference from being in the game and setting a goal towards being the 4th system in gaming, from there the sky is the limit. There are enough games, the question becomes where do they (or Apple) want to go, offering a system or committing to a system. It is a small but distinctive difference, one is seemingly going that way (it doesn’t matter who), yet it opens up a larger stage. A stage where people can optionally now play a larger and repaired Mass Effect Andromeda, a game that is game 1 and game 2 together. A stage that Google Stadia and Apple allows for and that is good, perhaps the others will catch on, but that is not a given and perhaps not even required. Hardwire gives options, but when did all systems need to offer everything? I believe that Nintendo and Sony can work side by side, I feel certain that either Google or Apple will be the third system, there is a chance that people will select EITHER the Google or the Apple system, but I cannot be certain of that at present. And it does not matter, like Android and iOS, people will make a choice giving Google an edge but at present not a given victory, time will make determination, yet in time and over time we need to revisit the old games, the fact that we see more and more remasters is because the old jewels remain jewels, some of them merely need to get dusted, others need polish, but they remain jewels and the sooner some see that, the better their hardware will fare. 

 

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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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Parallels

I started playing a new video game. Well, it is not new, I have played it 7 times (I think), I played it on the Xbox 360, the PS3,the Xbox One and the PS4. The game was released on 11/11/11 and it is called Skyrim. I have loved this game since its release and it all started with the predecessor Oblivion. So how does a game become this amazing? There is a parallel with the series I Claudius made in the 70’s. You see there are two distinct differences, this game is great, not great through marketing (Microsoft never learned that lesson). In I Claudius its greatness came from 4 elements. 

  1. The Script
  2. The Cast
  3. The Director
  4. The Environment

I believe that games have a similar side to it, and we can see the difference between a good game and a great game. Even as there is no real cast in Skyrim, the makers have to define the characters, on TV they are played but the impact is similar. It is the environment that has the greater pull, whilst it was Roman times for Claudius, the medieval era that the Elder Scrolls exhibit have a similar pull on people.

It drove me to make the first design for TES: Restoration, yet in all this, I do recognise that another Skyrim was not going to make it, gamers are innovative driven not iterative and we have seen this going back to Tomb Raider 2 (1997) and even before that. 

The first question becomes ‘How can we continue a franchise and remain innovative?’, the second one is ‘How can gaming be pushed towards future greatness?’ In the first case we need to investigate, the second one is for the visionaries. The first question is important because what was released between Assassin Creed 2 and Assassins Creed Origin was less and less and almost destroyed the franchise, it is nice that Ubisoft remains in denial and after that makes a ‘Looking towards the future comment’, yet the issue is much more important than you think. 

Great gaming does not happen overnight and places like CD Project Red are really rare. A lot of game designers tend to be one trick ponies when it comes to great games and so far they pulled it off more than once, as did Bethesda as did a few others. Yet the ones that do are a minority and in the light of console wars investigating what is possible matters, good gaming is good for all, the era where Microsoft and Sony keeping each other one their toes driving gaming is almost a thing of the past and we need to see better games to resolve that issue. It does not matter how it goes, but at present only Sony and Nintendo remain great, Microsoft a lot less so and as such it will impact great gaming for Sony players down the line. 

As to how to fix this, I have no idea. Yet the thought does propel me forward and I Claudius is still a prime example of what makes a product great. The fact that it can stand against any drama produced almost 50 years later is proof of that, yet in that regard looking at the elements help us. The two elements that are the strong drivers here are the Script (the game story) and the environment. In that regard Bethesda is sitting pretty for now. Evenas there is no finality towards Hammerfell (2021), the signs are good and as I personally see it, it would also benefit my idea of TES: Restoration. It doesn’t change the premise, it merely makes it larger and the new consoles are ready for that, the fact that PC’s need to reserve 150GB for the new flight simulator confirms that and gamers do not care about that space, they will do a lot more to their budget to get the best out of games. Thousands of Elite Dangerous fans are evidence of that, they beat flight simulators fans almost two to one on hardware. Andforthese fans storage is an important element (another thing Microsoft never learned in 8 years). And the setting is not PS5 against Microsoft, it is old, stale and Microsoft lost. It is getting The Apple and Google Solution to par off beyond Nintendo. It is not an easy trip but it can be done and a few good games is all that is needed. Not games already released (Diablo 3 and Skyrim), but actual new IP that the others do not have, that makes any new great game 5 times the challenge for the existing consoles. And it can be done, in all this I refuse to discard Apple, when it comes to TV Shows, they are showing to give Netflix a run for their money, and if they can do it on TV, they can do it on gaming too. 

It is a wild west of digital format and both Google and Apple are on equal footing for now, yet the stage in 2022 is not known and cannot be set until the IP comes out for comparison. So all the junkies that are hardware driven will learn a very interesting lesson, the lesson that it was never about the hardware. The CBM64 people saw it, the PS1 and N64 people lived it and no one seems to catch on. It has always been about great games and as we see copies of great amiga games arrive on Android the decision makers are starting to wake up, yet they lost dozens of opportune IP that is now in the hands of those making a few dollars from microtransactions. It is the loss that we have seen over a year and the larger players are apparently not catching on, so where do the gamers stand?

Well, that remains to be seen. I Claudius was almost never a reality and so far has never been remade. The chance of equalling I Claudius is rare to say the least and surpassing it will be almost impossible. It is the impact of a near perfect TV series and games have had that same impact. On TV we saw other series making it good, even great and games can do that too. Will we see it? I have no idea, but if I can come up with 4 golden idea’s in a year there is no way that there is no one else doing that same thing. My biggest issue is that it is unlikely to be Ubisoft, it is more and more likely that several indie developers are sitting on that great idea and finding them by the right people is what counts towards the next console battle. As I personally (and speculatively) see it, someone (high up) at Microsoft will open their mouth making a needed jump to their precious Azure solution, making the game a no go, as such I am more and more curious on what Apple and Google pull off. They might have what it takes to become a member of the big 4, the question at this point will be, does Microsoft have what it takes to remain one of the big four in 2023. The game is open for a lot of players, yet will they have the software to make it count?

 

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Sources of negativity

We are all binomial in origin, we like yes/no, we dislike yes/no, we hate yes/no and we love yes/no, yet most of us hide this in long winded excuses of reasoning, we all do that (including me). I partially hate Microsoft for what they did, for how they destroyed something that was pretty fabulous, I am upset with Ubisoft or how they squandered excellent IP and hid into the woodworks and made a quick buck, destroying the IP they created in the meantime. And as such as I was looking online for a few more tidbits as we approach the demise of Xbox, I came across a few items that puzzled me. 

I love Bethesda, I do not love all their products, which is fine. I am no lover of Rage, but others are, and that is fine. On the other hand I love Fallout, but was never a fan of Fallout 76 and that is fine too. I prefer my games not online and single player. Still, I accept that this is a pathBethesda went on, we all have growing curves and there is a collection of people (a large one) who do like Fallout 76. Perhaps the evolution of Fallout 76 will turn into Fallout 176, Fallout 276 and whatever comes and I will like it at some point, but the barricade that is out there is not one that Bethesda created. In another story we see the interaction, ‘Call of Duty: Warzone console players are turning off crossplay to escape PC cheaters’ it is merely one reason why I hate online play, I do not really hate it because I loved online Mass Effect 3, I was addicted to it, but the world has enough cheaters, when I game I want to get away from that and play on a level playing field, as such I focus on single player only, and in that my taste goes wide. 

As time went by I must have invested tens of thousands of dollars in console gaming, I agree when people say that it is wasted money, but that was my choice, I had a good job, my last ‘true’ vacation was in 1998, so when I get home I need escapism and puzzles, or challenges all at the same time and the consoles provide. It got me to the first issue on consoles, the pricing YouTubes are a little redundant and obsolete when you realise the origin.

When I look back, I started with the VIC-20, then the CBM64 ($1349) with disk drive. Overtime I evolved my systems. CBM Amiga ($700), Atari ST ($700) and there was the PC to use (I’ll get to that soon). As a gamer and reviewer I had made some waves, as such the Sega Dreamcast was free (christmas present from Sega), the Sony Playstation (I forgot what I paid for it, but it was less than the N4) The Nintendo 64 ($699) and after that I pushed towards the Sony PSX-II ($899). It was followed by the Nintendo Gamecube, a machine I loved. After that there was a small lull, I got the Xbox at the end of its lifetime for free with my mobile and it brought a few highpoints. We are now getting close to the time where everything changed. I was happy with my Xbox, the controller was a little bulky, but I have large hands, so it was a blessing in disguise. I played several of the games and Time Splitters 3 was an awesome trip, so good that I got it completed to 98% in hard mode. Then Microsoft upped the game, the Xbox360 came and I truly loved it, it was close to perfect in many ways, the 20GB drive was a little small, but you could upgrade it to a 120GB and within a year I did. Gaming life was close to perfect. I mentioned Time Splitters and it matters, there was the clear claim of backward compatibility and I fell for it, yet soon thereafter I learned the hard way that it was not and I never got Time Splitters 3 to 100%, the first annoyance was created. In all honesty, it is close to one defect in its life cycle. I too received the red rings of death and Microsoft replaced it, as such I was 3 weeks without my 360, but that was not an issue, the replacement was faster, the resolution was clearly better and gaming was at an all time high. Microsoft was a clear player in all this. The next step was the PSX3, Sony had always been great but I was not drawn to the third version, I was actually still enjoying the PSX2 (as well as the GameCube). So it was a nice relief when I bought a new TV and the PSX3 was part of this as a bonus, to be honest, I was not drawn to the PSX3, I did love the games I played on it, but overall, until Metal Gear Solid IV, games of the patriot arrived, I was not madly gaming it. As such, when it did the shift was starting to happen. 

Before that time the Xbox360 had 70% of my time, the GameCube 20% and 10% was for the PSX3. MGSIV was the first game to attack that pattern. Sony would give us more games on that system that impacted the consoles.As Sony got more adapt in exclusive games, the PSX3 would consume time: God of War 3, Infamous(1 and 2), Ratchet and Clank, Beyond two Souls, Gran Turismo and the end there was the Last of Us, Sony was reacquiring the timeline. Even as I had Oblivion and Mass Effect 3 on my Xbox, the timeline had shifted to 40% X360, 40% PSX3 and 20% Gamecube. Sony was back through great games, just like it did before and Xbox was not to blame. In all this I did not mention PC Gaming and that was on purpose, from 1989 onwards my PC was for gaming and I had more often than not the best of the best. A soundblaster card? I had it and when the first games came needing the better processor I had that system. Unreal Tournament, Black an White, System Shock(1 and 2), Wing Commander (1,2,3), Red Alert, Populous, Ultima, the list goes on, it was when Thief came that I ‘woke up’, I had a really good Diamond card yet Thief forced me to upgrade to the Diamond Viper 2 (no regrets) and the realisation set in (around 2003). Gaming is about the graphics card, sound, storage and the processor and at that point a graphics card was $600, the soundcard $500, and storage came as is. As such a console was a lot cheaper and my need for gaming was fulfilled. Only two years later a high end graphics card was $999 and as such console gaming was becoming increasingly cheap.

This all matters, when we are confronted with the pricing of the Xbox One X and the PS5, we forget that what came before was a lot more expensie and offers less, it was also the time that we started to realise that we need increasingly more space, the Xbox360 and the PSX3 already taught us that, as such the faults in the Xbox were more than merely stupid. Sony solved it by letting people selecting a larger drive and replacing the old drive, Microsoft had not caught on and would not catch on for the entire life cycle of the Xbox One, it is only now that they are seeing the light and their other flaws (always online) are showing that they are no longer to be the trustworthy system and trust is everything here. 

So when I see this tyrade of options and systems and whether I (and many other gamers) are willing to pay only $500 or are willing to pay $550, I wonder if these people realise that they are continuing a consumer base that goes into pillions and they have spent a massive amount of money. Microsoft is also making the mistake to hunt towards the most powerful systems whilst good games is where it is at, so where are the great games?  This is where Ubisoft comes into the mix, exclusive or not they went from great game maker to mediocre game maker and you merely have to look at the exclusive sony titles to realise that. Whilst the creation of titles gave them 90+% games, we now see that 80%+ is the best they can muster and for the most pushed deadlines and marketing promises that cannot be kept are the cause. The lack of proper testing is another matter where they failed and it impacts the choices of consoles we have, because whether we want to accept it or now, Ubisoft is a big deal in console gaming and as they fail, the exclusives are where it is at and there Sony wins, it is a landslide win. To get the greatest games we need Microsoft and Ubisoft to get back to the top or we need someone to replace them, it is that simple.

Players like Bethesda, Capcom and others help, yet the more the merrier (in the high end gaming cycle) and we are all starved for good games and the consoles are a driving force.

Let’s hope that this gaming force is driven to the max at the highest peaks for years to come by as many players as possible, for in that setting the gamer truly wins, no matter who tops the bill.

 

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It’s been that long

I got alerted to a milestone yesterday on YouTube, you see, last week was the 25th anniversary of System Shock, one of my most beloved games from the past. I still remember the two moments that set the milestones for this game. The first was the PC Format by Future plc. About a month before the release, PC format included the entire first level of the game (medical level). So you got about an hour of gameplay into that game, a month later the game arrived and of course, I had to have that game on day one! I did and that started a tour of around a week getting through the game. Someone was nice enough to stream the game (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IzNzVAxk8E) the stream starts at 10:00. Even now, hearing the intro music still gives me the good shivers. For a game to do that is so rare, it is to some degree scary. I am still awaiting the remastered edition by NightDive Studios. It will be launched a little later than planned (2020) but on all the consoles, so I might get that happy feeling again on all my consoles.

This is the foundation of better than great gaming, the story, the emersion and the control. The game offered all three to a great degree. That part is also important as System Shock 2, a game that came 5 years later had almost all the same controls, the first game was the founding father of RPG games, and control was close to that perfect. Graphics did upgrade by a lot, yet the shock (for me) in this game that the game only sold 170,000 copies, not much for a game this perfect, as such I do hope that the remaster will hand out the multimillion copy achievement sold. When we look at PC Gamer we see: “System Shock smokes. It is the most fully immersive game world I have ever experienced“, as well as “no matter what kind of game you’re looking for, you’ll find something in System Shock to delight you“. Finishing with “unquestionably raises computer gaming to a new level” (at https://web.archive.org/web/20000309153138/http://www.pcgamer.com/reviews/1024.html), I gave the game a similar review and gave it a 95% score when I reviewed it.

From that moment on, I reviewed RPG games using System Shock as the minimum bar, as you might imagine not many games got to that level. It was also the first game where ‘leaning around corners‘ became an option in shooting games. As far as you see the stream and listening to the makers of the game, you get the part how this game became a trendsetter of excellence, even if they do not mention it, it was a labour of love and passion gets to be the deciding driver in any game towards excellence.

Depending on your age, consider the game that you would play again after 10, 20 and 25 years. What titles come to mind? In my view Elite Dangerous (after 35 years), Ultima 4 (after 35 years), System Shock (after 25 years), Ultima 7 (after 25 years), System Shock 2 (after 20 years), and the list goes on, but it is not a long list, games that are dipped in excellence are rare to say the least. Yet I am a gamer, a game junkie and like all other gamers I remain hopeful that another developer gets it right to the largest degree, Ubisoft did that with Assassins Creed 2 (and Brotherhood) then stuffed up to a much larger degree until Assassins Creed Origins was released. That is why the scrutiny of 93%+ games is so essential. Most gamers will take a turn in other direction if it gives them excellence, yet when they leave their comfort zone in gaming, excellence is the only marker that they will accept to make them do so. Games like Mass Effect 2, The Witcher 3, Grand Theft Auto V, Horizon Zero Dawn, all games that relied on near perfection; it is a stage that is seldom reached. And in all this the FX Slogan was key (for me it is) ‘The story is everything‘. Horizon Zero Dawn is perhaps the strongest example. In the beginning I enjoyed the game, yet it was the storyline after the proving that set the stage for me to continue and learn more and more. The origin story of Elisabeth Sobeck and Aloy is absolutely marvellous. Yes, I have seen the rants against the game, rants like ‘Giving up Horizon Zero Dawn‘ (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qv_1DzGf_1s). His response ‘I just don’t find it interesting anymore‘. Yes, I do not agree, but it is his view, and his view is valid to him, just when we see this he is still not completing: ‘The War – Chief’s trail‘. Yet the best story parts were still coming up and the game takes it time getting into the story, it is important to show this, because you might have a different love for games, I love stealth games, games with an essential need for stealth, not everyone loves this, I get that. You have to realise that, I might not be the voice for you; I might have other loves in gaming. I was never a lover of GTA5, I admire it for its excellence, but it is not my game, it is however for millions of other gamers.

In this view it is important to find more voices until you find the reviewer that aligns with your fulfilment in gaming. It is easy to find good reviews and for many games a lot will have the same view, but in the 90%+ range you need to find the one voice that is on your level of gaming. It is easy to merely see that The Last of Us was a great game, pretty much everyone will agree, yet Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne? I loved both games; I never got to complete them. With Bloodborne I actually stopped (after a dozen attempts), I still have the game as it shows excellence on many levels and the engine is sublime, but it is also an excellent example for ratings. I would give it 91%, yet others will give it 93%-95% and now we have the review issue. Are their reviews better? They might be, they might be better at playing this game, more important, they might highlight things I missed, because I was not great at this game. Graphics and engines are easy, the subtle parts defining Bloodborne (as well as Dark Souls 3) is another matter. And now you come into the mix thinking it was merely an 85% game as you did not like the game (which is fair enough), finding the right reviewer is important, more important, the one that aligns with your game play and this is where a game like System Shock differs. The game remained playable for a much larger audience. Now we accept that the gaming bar was not as high in 1994 as it is in 2014, yet playability had remained similar over 25 years, it is my view that Bloodborne is a great game, yet, to me, it is not as playable. That small distinction is important when you seek out buying a full priced game that totally rocks your world.

To me the story is a deciding factor, whilst play style is the most important second. That part is visible to many who remember Metroid Prime on GameCube; I still love that game as well. I never got beyond 98% completion, and I would love to play it again getting to 100%, that is because the game is extremely playable with a play style that is set to comfort. We might sneer at the graphic level (compared to the Xbox and Playstation2 in those days), yet Metroid Prime still delivered as an equal and better to anything the other two could offer. That part validates the 97% rating it received. Yet, if it is not your game, would you still regard it as high?

The question is important as System Shock did make that cut, even by those not loving the game style, they were all impressed with the game, it set a new bar of quality, Metroid Prime and Horizon Zero Dawn both did that as well.

And it is there where we see the stage for streaming games, for Apple Arcade, Google Stadia and thee we see the links. Apple Arcade shows smooth gaming, but not hi-res gaming. That is not an issue if you consider Metroid Prime, the lowest resolution of the three consoles delivered the best gaming experience of all. You can see this (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q73cHEAwKVw), I found the top 10 interesting, but not overwhelming, of course the number one is like some Zelda clone, with decent graphics, but not great graphics. There are 100 games announced yet there too I wonder if people are willing to pay $5 a month, $60 a year to do this, You can argue if you can find even 3 games you really like, then the money is well spent. So it is a decent idea, the issue I have with the stage is that the solution will be years two and later. However, in a family setting the game changes massively, the cost is per family (up to 5 players) as such $1 per person per month is just too good to pass up.
More important is the fact that the games look amazing on the iPad, so there is that to consider. My larger personal issue is long term. For me it is $8 month (Australia), as such in Australia it gets down to $100 a year. It has good games and the important dig is: no ads, unlimited access to 100+ new games rolling out later this year, as well as download for off-line playing are the catchers that will make people try this. Consider the initial $100 for the entire year, seems a lot, but playing 100 games for the price of one is still a game changer. I am assuming that you can only play for as long as you are a member, but we get the same on consoles, so that should not be the issue.

The arrival of Apple Arcade and Google Stadia is still important, but not for the reason you think. System Shock was important as the game was a true innovator in gaming. These new streaming services are set on a stage where the amounts of gamers imply the revenue for the makers. Even as marketing get you in the beginning, the bulk of gamers will push for games that are TRULY innovative and I have learned and seen that true innovation pushes the envelope of games in general. System Shock, Command and Conquer, Metal Gear Solid, Wolfenstein 3D, Gran Turismo, Warcraft 3, Minecraft, Tombraider, Diablo, Zelda – Ocarina of Time, Goldeneye, Super Mario 64, Half-Life, Doom. These are on a short list of the most innovative games in history and the most important part is that most of them started on systems lacking resources. Systems like the first PlayStation, the Nintendo 64 and the PC-Pentium One. Most mobiles and tablets now surpass what was possible even in those maxed out years. As such, innovation was always about imagination and I love the idea of streaming services as it pushes the need for innovation. I go back to System Shock one and two, yet some might remember Molyneux’s titanic achievement Black and White, a god video game. A game where you influence actions and not control all actions, when you realise that innovation is creation linked to imagination, we start considering the lack of resources required, not the max of resources. In this games and gamers are about finding the right note, the right chord that makes your heart sing. System Shock still does that to me 25 years later (OK, Elite Dangerous does it as well after 35 years).

I still play Blockheads by Dave Frampton after 6 years on my very first iPad, it is basically the only reason I still use my very first iPad for anything else but reading (until I get a new one). I got the game to deal with my Minecraft addiction when I was not at home and I never regretted getting it (oh, and I found the tablet edition of Minecraft not that playable), even today (last night actually) I still play Blockheads.

We might think that innovation fades, as it would over time, but I personally learned that innovation creates a captive audience regardless of time, it is a personal observation and you might not agree, but I also believe that this is the stepping stone for both Apple Arcade and Google Stadia. Consider the re-released consoles. CBM64 mini that gives us: Boulder Dash, Paradroid, Jumpman, Temple of Apshai Trilogy, Uridium, Impossible Mission (1+2), Winter Games and Summer Games II all games that could be upgraded and give a new audience the games they love to play. The CBM 64 brought so much innovation in games with only 64KB available; these games became the foundation for better games as systems upgraded (Atari ST and CBM Amiga). In this Nintendo with their 64 was pushing the envelope even further, Super Mario 64 is just one title, Goldeneye (named after the bond movie) set the bar so high that it was still the most desired game a decade later, even as the Wii relaunched the game, it ended up being inferior to the original, that is the level of excellence we lost out on and in this resources are not the issue, these are games that could easily be streamed and offer gaming perfection.

The list goes on and it would take too long, yet when we consider sources like My Abandonware and other sources (like Amiga Emulators) we see optional chests containing hundreds of titles that are ready to be remade and a lot of it has no IP protection, as such the best programmers can take the great vision and turn it into a cash maker through streaming. I reckon that is what both Google Stadia and Apple Arcade are hoping for, I am uncertain to see a winner at present, but the games that make it will be the deciding factor and even as the games on Apple are not great, they are still off to a good start, I myself hope that the historic database will inspire game makers, and this is a field where both genders can excel, you merely need to remember the name Danielle Bunten Berry (M.U.L.E. and Seven Cities of Gold) to realise that creativity was key, not gender. As such I do hope that we see both genders remain active, even as Danielle Bunten Berry left us in 1998, her games could stay around for much longer, that is the other part of innovation, it has no expiration date; it is almost timeless. If you doubt that, consider her games as well as those by Roberta Williams (King’s quest series). That is actually another part of gaming, there the playing field for genders is almost level as creativity not ego decides on the quality of the game.

As such it might have been that long, but in the end, the timeline was not long enough, I am willing to get into streaming to some degree (Assassins Creed Odyssey might get lag issues) but there are hundreds of games that will never have that issue and the list of games that will hit the spot is a lot larger than anyone ever considered, especially when a good idea (or a great idea) gets upgraded with innovations that were not available when a certain game came out.

Consider the game Command and conquer, optionally a game like Battle for Middle Earth, or even Dungeon Keeper 2. We have gone through those games and finished all the maps; now consider the issues you face when the maps are created procedural, would your strategy still hold up? That question impacts all three games. Often the strategy was in the map design, take that away and the challenge changes by a lot. I believe that ‘It has been that long‘ is a premise that does not really exist in gaming, I truly believe that System Shock will capture the hearts of new gamers, I believe that upgrading innovation that was will give life to other games, even games that were in the 80%-90% and upgrade them by an optional 15%, and be honest, what game maker would not love to be linked to making a 90%+ game? At present Ubisoft is seemingly proud of their 70% games (so are a few other makers mind you), so we can see the essential need of excellence in gaming, the question is who will bring it and with two new players (gaming providers) entering that field, answering those question becomes a lot more important as we (gamers in general) have had our fill of mediocre games.

Even now we see that as we still yearn for Elder Scrolls: Oblivion as well as Skyrim; I stated to Richard Garriott (the man behind the Ultima series) a while go, if we could get the Oblivion/Skyrim engine and create Sosaria to life, we would have a winner that could entice millions of gamers. Skyrim with over 30 million sold is clear evidence of that and the tales of Sosaria were founded on great story-lines and compelling interaction of personal choices and philosophical concepts. The entire Ultima line (story 4 and later) are all about eh seven virtues (Honesty, Justice, Honour, Sacrifice, Compassion, Spirituality and Humility), it would be the foundation of 6 games, each one surpassing the previous one and to see the evolution from isometric to first person would be the game changer for anyone who loved that story-line, in addition, the Elder Scrolls never did concepts to that degree, which is not their flaw, but it could be the strength of any new Ultima IP.

It is in that part where I see System Shock one and two, it was near perfect and it is still ready for a whole new generation of players. Especially when you consider that the original System Shock on floppy (yes there was a floppy version) was a mere 15Mb, and Metroid Prime on GameCube was less than 1.5Gb, whilst Goldeneye was a mere 64Mb, so as you can see size was never the deciding factor.

I believe that 2020 will be an interesting year for games and gamers. I believe that those relying on ridiculous large games and high resource requiring games (like a Core i9-9980XE) will find that their size issue gets thumbed by true playability and innovation setting the stage for much better games after that. Innovation remains a game changer for games and I wonder how much change we get to see in 2021-2022.

 

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Heaven is coming

Last weekend some (including me partially) decided to look at the Deep Dive Video of the upcoming Cyberpunk 2077 release. The video (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FknHjl7eQ6o) gives fair warnings, and to be honest, I initially decided to not watch all of it. Not because of anything negative. What I saw blew me away in several ways. If you think that CD Project Red broke the mold with Witcher 3, think again, I am watching something that could establish a totally new level of gaming excellence in RPG, optionally an entirely new level of gaming experience altogether. The video gives two play styles, direct and brutal, as well as stealth and hacking. It also gives caution that footage was edited to minimise spoilers, you get to see an advanced stage of the game, seeing characters ahead of schedule, and so I stopped watching soon thereafter the first time around. The little I saw overwhelmed me. This is what gaming excellence looks like; this is what EA, Ubisoft and several others never learned. To get a game this perfect takes time and even now in pre beta mode, this game surpasses anything brought to gaming before. If the story surpasses God of War 4 (and I have no doubt it might) this could optionally be the game of the decade.

The little I saw was that amazing at present; I watched a little more second time around and saw a little more and a lot I never expected. It is in part the Netrunner side that has so many options and both sides that have so much freedom that this game is not merely a game; it is what some might regard replay heaven, two different sides with different ways to get from one place to another. It seems that CD Project Red has taken time to maximise this world.

I would love to know how William Gibson values this game (the writer of the original Neuromancer), I wold love to see him play this game anywhere and comment on the game and how it aligns with his cyberpunk vision (he is after all the father of cyberpunk). I got into his book when EA created Neuromancer, that game on CBM64 was my introduction to Cyberpunk, so to see that concept mature in Cyberpunk 2077 into something beyond I thought possible, and the fact that any game could surpass the expectations of the imagination of any person to this degree is pretty much unheard of.

Yet, that is how it seems to unfold. For the most I will avoid spoilers to the max and I will when commenting on the game, it will be to the engine and control of gameplay and avoid (whenever possible) leaving any spoilers untouched. I believe that games like this require that as a game unfolds shaping the story, the way I saw it as an option also implies that one person’s spoiler is not another one, the implied impact of solo person (visceral combat) versus netrunner (hacker stealth) could be that large and it is rare to see that unfold. There is one additional part and that makes me happy. Cyberpunk is expected to be released 5 months after Death Stranding and that makes me happy (I feel certain that Kojima agrees), never before has Kojima faced an opponent on his level of gaming experience. The fact that there is genuine concern whether Death Stranding (Kojima) or Cyberpunk 2077 (CD Project RED) is the best is a new level of gaming. Never before was there any competitor going up against Kojima at the same time. The fact that CD Project RED could seemingly equal and optionally surpass Japanese gaming excellence is a new bar on gaming standards and it has been set to the highest possible level, the final days of XB1 and PS4 are going to be awesome, especially in 4K, what a way to end a console cycle!

Be properly alerted that only non-gamers and those who cannot game would avoid these two titles, or better stated the titles that will be on their system only (Death Stranding is exclusive PS4), and let’s not forget that as it seems to be now, the makers of Witcher 3 surpassed what they did there and that game ended up being a 93% result. A stronger message towards Ubisoft to focus more clearly on gaming excellence could not exist.

 

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