Tag Archives: Eidos

Taught by the past

There will always be one TV channel that remains in my heart. It does not matter how they go, what series they have and whether they stop existing. They had one thing right, the one thing above it all was their slogan ‘the story is everything‘, it still reverberates in my heart, and for years (when I had cable) they proved that they understood their own premise. The story was indeed everything and they stood by it. It should be the cornerstone in entertainment, but it is not (for some). Some have a setting that is nowhere near there. It does not matter how they go that journey, how they pass the time in their product, they forgot that one truth that makes all the difference.

This takes us to Eidos. I had a good connection there for the longest time, so when I got an early copy in the summer of 1996 to take a look at some game called Tomb Raider I had no idea what I was in for. I loved it, apart from the part that the hero was a woman, the game was new, it was different and we all wanted more, that would be delivered a little over a year alter and for the most we were all hooked, not merely because of Lara, little Lara, but the setting from the first to the second became a much larger leap. Even as the story for both was not the greatest, the levels, the design and the challenges made up for that. Over time we saw that the story become much more important and as we went through the stages, on PlayStation, PC, PlayStation 2, Dreamcast, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One the story evolved and it became to some degree a real story. In all this there was an evolution (to some degree). Now we are confronted with ‘Tomb Raider – makes Lara Croft look boring‘. The Guardian gives us (at https://www.theguardian.com/games/2018/sep/10/shadow-of-the-tomb-raider-review-lara-croft) “This game revels in its own beauty, but the plot collapses under the slightest scrutiny“, now first the important part. I did not play it myself, but I saw a large amount of videos. First the bad part, a few games back. When the definitive version on PS4 was launched, I became very upset. Not only was the game shallow, too easy (on hard) and way too small. It became the first game I ever returned to the shop. I had finished the game in hard mode under 10 hours. It was perhaps one of the most upsetting acts I ever did, mainly because my gaming experience with Lara Croft over 4 systems had been so good. When we look deeper into that game we see something that was perfectly placed on an island, the setting could have propelled in many direction and the graphics were amazing, even now I look back (in my mind) to that level when you arrive near the ocean and you see that large tugboat in the sea, I need to acknowledge that graphically it was an amazing feat, so when we see the setting where we could have had at least 20 hours of additional play, but the makers overlooked or ignored that opportunity. In a gaming sidestep, I realised the same with Assassins Creed Rogue, the remastered edition. What could have been nice story to side missions ended up being merely the setting of running to a marker and press the dig button or simply violently resolve it. All opportunities missed (in that case) by Ubisoft. So back to Lara, after that disappointing episode, I decided to give the second game a miss, something I partially regret now, because the third game (for hat I saw was a pretty amazing result). The graphics were still really good, yet the story is, as I saw it better and they took effort with the stealth part. A much better game overall (comparing to the first relaunched PS4 game). I liked Lucy O’Brien’s review in IGN giving us the parts that count (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tdEfROL2Wx8). If there is one part that I personally do not like is the use of ‘scripted moments‘. I get it that it essentially needs to be there (especially in the introduction), but in the end, the best game does not require scripted events, or requires them to be minimised to the biggest possible degree. Even as the stories are better, we need to address the Guardian verdict. We see the first quote “Shadow of the Tomb Raider nails the former, with sumptuous South American locations to climb, dive and rappel around, ranging from ancient Inca cities and missionary crypts to modern-day Peruvian jungles and towns. But it does Lara a disservice, turning her into a deadly mud-camouflaged jungle warrior without much interesting to say, pushed along by a plot that’s more concerned with prophecies and supernatural artefacts than with its main character“, so was that not always the case? I personally like the entire stealth upgrade, but is that just me? It might be, I was merely in that setting of trying to figure parts out. Yet I saw too many references towards Uncharted and Far Cry 5, which makes sense and it is not a bad thing, yet when we look back at what was and what should be, going through the other titles is not what I hoped for. Still Tomb Raider for all I saw remains Tomb Raider, so why did the Guardian give me that jump?

There were two parts in that. The first was: “Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s series of amazing places is held together by a plot that collapses under the slightest scrutiny. The narrative is an incoherent mess that goes well beyond the usual action movie/video game suspension of disbelief” and “when Lara shows up in an undisturbed native settlement filled with people who have somehow avoided the outside world for hundreds of years, is she instantly welcomed into their midst and put to work resolving their disputes? How does she communicate fluently with them? At first, Shadow of the Tomb Raider’s narrative inconsistencies are ignorable, but with every new convenient riddle or magical artefact, pointless revelation or paper-thin character, my tolerance for nonsense wore thinner“. Now, I need to tell you that I do not always agree with the assessment of the reviewer Keza MacDonald, yet that level of disagreement is more about our preference for gaming. Keza is a good reviewer, hence her view matters to me, and I have absolutely no issue accepting her view on the Tomb Raider game. I like her two issues as I saw a similar setting as an optional solution towards Watch Dogs 3. Just like I designed what might optionally become Elder Scrolls VII (6 is being made now). My setting for my version of a new Elder scrolls would have been three times the size of Skyrim with optional story lines worth 150-200 hours of gameplay. In addition, if possible I could pull it off with Watch Dogs 3 as well. This is where the FX part comes in, the story is indeed everything!

So if I can add 100% to the first PS4 Tomb Raider, which merely took me an hour or so to come up with, why can some designers not do a much better job? In case of the new Tomb Raider, we see the optional shortage, but we also see that all the Far Cry games (3 and later) gave us similar parts and so did Far Cry Primal, and the less said on the story failings of Assassins Creed (except for Origin and optionally Odyssee) the better.

The setting is extremely important, as the current Shadow of the Tomb Raider could have been 90% instead of the 81% that Metacritic gives it now, and if we translate that to the three stars Keza rating, it would translate to an optional 70% at best. This gets us back to the story is everything, when we see that this translates to an optional 15%-25% more, ignoring that element is just too weird. It is to some extent the one element that Games and movies have in common. So if we translate that to the now, we see that the right story makes the larger impact. Merely see Dev Patel in Hotel Mumbai, rated by IMDB at 93% to see how the right story makes for the impact. This translates to games as well, the better the story, the better the game. It is visible on nearly every level. Yet, that is not the only part in Tomb Raider and We see the goods on the negative side of the game as Keza gives it to us with: “Salvaged outfits for Lara offer meaningless bonuses (“gain more experience for assault kills”), crafting materials are so plentiful that they are not an exciting reward, and new skills or weapons are seldom used. Oddly, items such as lockpicks that open up new treasure-hunting possibilities are sold by merchants, not earned through exploration. It is very weird that so much of this optional content is incorporated so badly“, as well as “The places Lara visits and the things that she does, especially when she doesn’t have a gun in her hands, are beautiful and entertaining. But it lacks a coherent plot or creative vision to hold it all together, and the opportunity to make an interesting character out of Lara Croft is squandered“, that does grasp the heart in a not so good way and it matters a parts could have been dealt with in a better story setting and parts would never have been better. That negative part is exactly the impact that Ubisoft missed with AC Rogue. There we run for Viking swords, crosses on the map, opening bars with thugs, merely points to run to, yet the ‘rescuing’ of a bar from thugs could have been the start of a side quest line and in all this, much more could have been reached, when one leads to the other, instead of running over the island, from chest to chest, glitch to glitch and sometimes doing a Prince of Persia for some pirate shanty, meaningless actions that could have been a dimension all by itself in the game, all options lost and even as both franchises have amazing graphics, we see that this alone does not hold a game. I wonder how many developers are revisiting the current setting of their game that is in development, because if they are not then it does not matter to anyone how many games are being released between now and December 2019. If they do not up the ante for their own game, they will merely release something that is good, not great and it sits on the shelf until the game retail store has a large sale and the game is up for grabs at 50% or less, or people merely wait for one of the producers to add it to the ‘for free’ subscription monthly download bonus, what a waste! Merely because the simplest of all lessons was ignored by too many; It all starts with a good story, not with ‘Lara needs to look cool (or different) in the jungle, how can we do that?‘, or ‘Where is the next Assassins Creed story? When have we not yet been?

 

That is the part given to us in complete contrast when we realise that with the end of God of War we were treated to: [CENSORED TEXT REDACTING SPOILERS]. When I saw that unfold on my screen, my jaw dropped on the floor. It was not merely some twist, it was the setting for at least two more games in a way I never saw coming and I do remember my Nordic mythology. It was brilliant, indeed the story was everything and Santa Monica Studio’s treated us to the perfect meal (listening to Bear McCreary was an added desert that is just too surreal).

In the end, I know that I am a goof, I am creative and I can weave a tale like no one in my mind at the speed of the Deep Blue Super Mainframe, but overall, I cannot fathom why the game makers are not better at this, I never got that, because until lately I never thought I was on their level, yet recently I was shown (confirmed by a few sources) that I am on their level and even higher, but I am not a programmer. So when I see the lack of a storyline, I merely get sad, when opportunities are missed I get frustrated and when too much scripted issues show up, I tend to get angry. I do get the fact that some part requires scripted events. A certain boss fight, the introduction to one is the setting that cannot remains unscripted, yet at times it is too scripted deflating the tense moments it had been built to and the first PS4 Lara Croft had that flaw too much (as well as the shortness of the game).

So how can they do it better? Well this is seen in several clips in Shadow of the Tomb Raider and you might have missed them. Consider an optional reality, a reality we missed in the Far Cry, Assassins Creed and other games. You pick them off one at a time, I get that part. What I do not get is that when you are on a patrol and You are in a team, when one falls away their nerves are up (like in the Arkham games), yet in the earlier games, often enough they relax and go to their old ‘relaxed’ setting. In reality, my nerves would be in the stratosphere, so there will be no lapse and even as you can get the drop on others, only the first one is ‘free’, the others need to be close to perfect or all hell breaks loose. That part was never learned correctly, not in one decade of stealth gaming, weird is it not? OK, Far Cry did get that part right (to some degree). And even as the setting evolves over an act, a larger level or a chapter in the storyline, we see that some opponents are harder, yet the overall setting no longer gets to be more complex, which is also weird. It seems to me that only Far Cry 3 got that part better the most other games and here too Lara had her lesson to learn, or better stated her opponents. So even as we see her take out the enemy, in most cases when other vanished nerves did not get that much bothered, a missed opportunity.

Even if this is the optional end of Lara Croft, we see that there was a lot more to be had and it was missed. Will that lesson not be learned? The story is everything, but how to set the story properly in the frame of it all. That part will remain a challenge and solving it, or finding some level of a better solution will aid the game makers as well as the player, a win-win for all. In this, the loss is already there, but not setting the in-game bar higher, we see what looks really well is merely a 70% game, yet with the insight that should have been there, it could have been a 90% game which makes me sad. Yet I do acknowledge is that this game is a good game, everything shows that there is positive growth in several places and in many ways (especially the underwater parts, they were awesome), yet I feel that it is steps short of being a great game, whilst it could have been a great game. It is hard to put my finger on it without playing the game through until the end, but all reviews do support my view, the story could have been better making it overall better, and this game is not the only one that had that ‘flaw’.

So, as we agree that the past is a good tutor we see that partially the past is used to make this game better, that is good, some of the levels and the natural view that these levels seem to give is always good and this game got to be better at it and that matters too. In the end, on everything I faced, I regard this to be a 80%-85% game, whilst I feel that the setting and upgrade of the game would have made it a 90% game at least, and they should have done better than I would have been able to be and that makes me sad, especially as it might be the end of the Tomb Raider games for now. It will not ever be the death of the Franchise; it is in comparison very much a better game than that first relaunched game and several other Lara titles, which is a good thing. In my personal views, after seeing the play parts, seeing the reviews and watching the cut scenes, I get to the end conclusion that this is not the game to buy on day one, especially with Spiderman PS4 available, yet on special, Christmas sales and at discount sales? Yes! At that point it will definitely be my game of choice.

What a difference a stronger story makes.

I wonder if the makers will catch up to that part down the line, because higher ratings turns that, down the track to buy outright and in the end, that is still the name of the game in gaming, and not merely gaming. There is in my view every indication that the entire Chris Pine mess (OK, mess is a perhaps too strong a word), is not entirely about the money (what some sources indicated), I believe that the story is part of that too. Do you think that some starts would have given any ‘eff’ (censored) on money if they had the chance of becoming a main player in The Usual Suspects, or Silence of the Lambs? You have got to be kidding!

Yes, you want some decent remuneration. When you are a lead player in MI-Fallout, costing $178M to make, whilst the return at present is $726,386,554, one would hope that their income is slightly better than $73,559 for their part. If you are an extra, then you need to shut up, when you carry the family name Cruise, Cavill, or Pegg the amount should be larger (I have no idea what they are making, and I personally do not care either). Yet if the story would have been a legendary one, would you care? That is the part that matters in the long run, because over time, we will forget the MI titles, however we will forever remember titles like Ghandi and The Usual Suspects and that can drive a career (especially in the beginning as well). Star Trek showed in the Movie Star Trek Beyond that it did not consider that part too strong (even as I enjoyed watching it, and it had fresh looks), it did fall short of Star Trek Into Darkness and that was a shame. I have no illusions, getting to the Wrath of Khan levels is not to be expected, yet the relaunch in 2009 did pull it off (based on Rotten Tomatoes), so in that it had options and started to fall flat after that, I believe that this is also part of the decision for some actors to feel worried, Star Trek (2009) opened door, yet I personally believe that Beyond started to close doors, even with Idris Elba upping the ante by a decent amount, also in my personal view largely the reason it got an 85% rating and not an 80% rating. So when the actor is the pillar and not the story, we see a much larger flaw in all this and even as I do have idea’s to fix it, they will need a specific person to fix that for them over two movies (as I see it) and get the rating back to 94%, the number that the 2009 movie pulled off. The question is can they afford him and more important, are they willing to stick their necks out? In my personal view they have the option of doubling the 2009 box office revenue twice over and with two movies the overall cost goes down as well making it even more appealing, but in the end, their saviour will not be special effects or merely a good cast, it will be the story, it will be everything. Are people like JJ Abrams and Damon Lindelof willing to make that $250M splurge? In the end it remains an actual risk whether that $250M becomes $1.3B (hopefully better), and it the one factor is the one writer who can pull it off. It has never been done in any Sci-Fi ever, making it not merely novel, if it does work, will it be the game changer that brings 1,635% of cost (Jurassic Park), or an Iron Man 2 giving a mere 312%? Yet, what if we consider that it is like Gravity, ‘only’ 716%, yet regarded as the 4# best Science fiction movies of all time, would you still not do it?

How strong is the story in all that? I personally remain with the faith that the story will forever be everything, yet when it is all about the box office and $1 billion versus $600 million, what path would you take? In this games and movies are more alike than not; making it a fascinating setting, but also a very personal, and set on one’s own perspective. It is the ultimate objective versus subjective view and I am not sure what the best path is for either game or movie, making the setting for a movie of gaming score harder, not correct or incorrect, merely harder.

 

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About Gamespot!

It happens; we all make mistakes, even I (although I do not think I made one). I have been a member of Gamespot, officially since 2005, unofficially several years longer. I reviewed, I wrote and sometimes I complained. So, last week during the E3, where I followed it all for the second year in a row, I was again confronted with the technical flaws from Gamespot during the E3. Now, is it the fault of Gamespot? That is hard to answer, considering that they get a few million plus watchers to see the E3 shows live as many cannot attend the events in person. (it costs a boatload to get to E3 and stay there for 3-4 days). So we see the shows, the live events and the walk through the event.

These items are nearly always flawed because we get a lag, the buffers time out and then the show stops until we restart it and we miss some of it. Such things happen when too many attend (or even too many watching from the distance and your ISP times out). Several steps going wrong and it is unclear to see if there is even any blame. Oh and every time there was a timeout and you reloaded the screen we got the mandatory UBI-Soft advertisement again and again. I reckon I saw the Black Flag advertisement trailer at least 50 times during E3 2013.

That is one side. The other side is different. At times we the viewer would get the chance to ask questions live on the show. These are golden moments and we all hope that our question gets asked. Can you imagine getting personally answered by Hideo Kojima, Nobuo Uematsu or Yoshitaka Amano? In the past I met and spoke with Sid Meijer, Richard Garriott and Peter Molyneux and a host of other game makers. I can tell you that getting a personal response from a man like Hideo Kojima would be similar to Lara Croft walking up to you and asking you to sit down and share a beer with her. These are epic moments we might get once in a life time (if ever). So when I wanted to ask a question last year in regard to Arkham City the following happened.

The Gamespot comment screen shows a ‘log in’. (I was already logged in), but I go to the login screen, I re-entered my name and password and it takes me to the comment screen and I cannot comment, because I am not logged in. I try it half a dozen times and the moment to ask the question is gone. Man was I angry! However, I get that the servers are busy! I complained and let it go. Sometimes technology is not on our sides and we just have to swallow the bitter pill of defeat. This year the same thing happened when I was trying to comment on events and this time I really lost it (which happens to all of us)!

Even when angry I do try to keep my sense of humour about myself. So when I saw the article “E3 2014: Kojima Responds to Metal Gear Solid 5 Torture Controversy“, my pesky and creative inner demon woke up. It was quite an interesting article (at http://www.gamespot.com/articles/e3-2014-kojima-responds-to-metal-gear-solid-5-torture-controversy/1100-6420442/), and I responded on my Gamespot blog roughly (the response was deleted by Gamespot) as stated below:

Perhaps it is an idea to add an Easter egg and let the gamer torture information from the Gamespot web team“. There was a little more, but that was what it amounted too.

So read this carefully! I added ‘Easter egg‘, so something to unlock in a game, more importantly, the game Metal Gear Solid 5. The Metal Gear Solid being one of the most revered gaming franchises in gaming history. I would reckon that the web team would like to be immortalised in such a revered gaming franchise. As you see, I did keep some sense of humour about it, even though as I saw it, the Gamespot system failed twice (perhaps even more often). What was their response? I have now been banned (perhaps for life from Gamespot). It is interesting how some people react to issues.

The response was unbalanced and extremely unfair. I decided to take an additional look at Gamespot. There was a lot on IGN and most of it related to either biased or incompetent moderation. The quote “I have been temporarily banned for voicing my opinion on another member’s poor review of a game, after he continually sent me hostile PM’s” is only one of several voicing the quality of moderation. I did however find something else that made me wonder about the state of affairs at Gamespot. I found this at http://bbs.stardestroyer.net/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=116270

By now, most have heard that Jeff Gerstmann, Editorial Director at GameSpot, is now the former Editorial Director at GameSpot. The short of it, confirmed through our own sources: Gerstmann was fired for his negative review of Eidos Interactive’s Kane & Lynch. But there’s more to the story in which Gerstmann — one of the site’s leading editors for over a decade — was terminated this week.

The GameSpot staff is currently keeping publicly quiet, but CNET, the parent organization of GameSpot, issued a response today. “For over a decade, Gamespot and the many members of its editorial team have produced thousands of unbiased reviews that have been a valuable resource for the gaming community. At CNET Networks, we stand behind the editorial content that our teams produce on a daily basis,” reads CNET’s statement.

We’re told Eidos had invested a sizable chunk of advertising dollars for Kane & Lynch — check the before and after shots above of GameSpot’s front page for proof — and then allegedly threatened to pull the ads if the “tone” of Gerstmann’s “6.0” review (just under the current Game Rankings average score of 70%) wasn’t changed. Gerstmann did alter the tone of his critique ahead of publication, but it looks as if that wasn’t enough for management. When asked about the situation, Eidos declined comment to 1UP. “Eidos is not able to comment on another company’s policies and procedures,” said a company representative.

But pressure from other advertisers may have contributed to the clash with editorial. Just a few weeks prior, GameSpot came under fire from Sony Computer Entertainment America for scoring Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction a 7.5. In his former position, Gerstmann was responsible for overseeing (and defending) all reviews.

1UP did contact Gerstmann, but he declined comment, likely due to signing a non-disclosure agreement upon his termination, common in situations such as these.

What’s interesting is the timing of his termination, though. GameSpot has never been a stranger to review controversy or publisher backlash. Gerstmann himself had a long history of bucking the popular trend with certain review scores over the many years he critiqued games for the site, most recently scoring The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess an 8.8 on Wii. With no transparency into the situation, no one knows if this is something that had possibly been brewing for a while now, but sources point to a recent change in GameSpot management as the real catalyst. Stephen Colvin, former President and CEO of Dennis Publishing — the group responsible for publications like Maxim, Blender and Stuff — became CNET’s Executive Vice President at the end of October. One of Colvin’s jobs would be to oversee the growth of CNET websites, including GameSpot. The editorial in Maxim and Stuff, publications who routinely review games months ahead of their completion and where the line between marketing and editorial is a little less clear, is much different than GameSpot’s. That was apparently reflected quickly when Colvin joined CNET. “New management has no idea how to deal with games editorial,” said one source not long after Colvin came on board. Indeed.

The question becomes what is happening at Gamespot. This is not about the web team, or just the quality of moderation, this goes much deeper. Consider the almost massive amount of advertising that is as I see it UBI-Soft only advertising. I am adding two questions here.

  1. Is UBI-Soft the only one advertising? Which would be rather odd as the gaming industry is a lot larger than just UBI-Soft!
  2. Why was Assassins Creed Black flag reviewed so immensely high? It could be a genuine rating!

I personally saw Assassins Creed a firm notch lower, especially as it contained a repeated 4th generation of glitches. The blog post lights on several issues I had noticed on Gamespot, the first being that early reviews and ratings were less and less common. Consider this quote from Gamespot “We have no player reviews for EA Sports UFC yet“, which is fair enough as the game is not out until…… Yesterday! So that is possible, there is however also no review from Gamespot, which is in my book slightly unacceptable. Are they or are they not a gaming site? I know the E3 just ended, but not all writers went to the E3, did they? The same could be said for Sniper Elite 3, out next week. Not all game developers want their games reviewed early, but at this stage when loads of games are only reviewed after they get into the stores make me wonder why Gamespot is not taking a harder look on this. Over time I have seen several reviews that would not appear until after the games were in the store.

I have been a reviewer myself for 13 years, published in several magazines. In one high point of my ‘career’ I wrote 18 pages in one issue (which was a unique event), which might have been overdoing it a little. For the most, I always wrote positive reviews. As I had at the most space to write about 2-3 games, I had to choose the good ones. I had no intention wasting space on a 30% game if I only had 3-4 pages to write about.

I have seen other opinions from people writing that the 100% game does not exist. Yes, they do, but they are rare moments!

I have given (as far as I remember it) two 100% scored games. The first one was Ultima 7: the Black Gate. When it was released in 1992 in the age of floppies, 640 Kb computers and extended memory, this game was so high above what was released in those days, it was intense. The water views, the houses, the characters. This game was ahead of the games pack by a lot. The second one was Neverwinter Nights. It was released in 2002. This game took RPG in a visible, creative and story based level unlike before. The creation set was just the icing of a very impressive cake. I still regard these two games as bright lights showing the way to game developer as possibilities on how high the quality of a game could go. There were others, but they got a 90%+ rating. Games like System Shock that even, if re-released today, would likely become greater hits then what they were when they were initially launched.

Let’s get back to the issue. I cannot tell how true the blog was. I do however question the influence that is implied in the article on reviewers. I think that GTA-5 is a good game (not my choice of game) and 90% is a view of the reviewer, as was the 75% for Ratchet and Clank. Is the review far below our expectation less value than the one reviewed higher? I have always loved the Insomniac games (I have the bulk of them), which makes me wonder what to make of the ‘star destroyer’ piece and more important are the high reviews too high, the low too low and where do we base the comparison on?

The quote “New management has no idea how to deal with games editorial,” is another matter. A game is software, which means we look at the quality, the play value and the content. Is there a reason to debate Infamous Second Son at 80% when we get 15 hours of play time? Yet, Thief was only granted 60% (which was too low in my mind). A reviewer writes in his (or her) own street of passion, and in my street the games like Ultima, Mass Effect would end up with a high score compared to GTA-5 (which was not my cup of tea). However, no matter what my view is, over the timeline of games reviewed there would be a consistent view, and as such, some will value my views, some will value the view of Carolyn Petit. In the end, reviewers, not unlike columnists will have their own distinct styles and choices which they voice. I believe true reviewers will keep a fair view towards games, even towards games they do not like.

If Gamespot as implied by some has become a mere vessel for advertisement and basic information, then what value is there? The quote “I agree with Gamespot, they use to be good but have gotten far worse” is one that I have seen growing for some time now. I wonder why CBS Interactive is letting, what could be a powerful trademark, slip into something that just seems to become below average. I do not think it is just the people. I immensely enjoyed Johnny Chiodini when he was making Feedbackula (still a shame it got scrapped), Jess McDonell, gaming goddess, wearer of the coolest gaming T-shirts and bringer of excellent news in an upbeat way and there is Cameron Robinson with his Reality Check. They all bring video news in interesting ways. Gamespot also has its share of writers, which makes me wonder why CBS is not taking much harder stance on protecting and ensuring the value of the Gamespot Trademark and the issues that are at hand as I see them. Getting back to Cameron Robinson, you should watch his video “Surprising Facts About Video Games You Probably Didn’t Know” and it only gives a lot more question marks in regards to the implied ‘buckling’ of reviewers to the pressure by the software houses. Is it true? I cannot tell as the only name that keeps coming up is Jeff Gerstmann but the numbers that Cameron Robinson brought states that gaming sales is outperforming the US box office numbers, giving additional power to the question why CBS is not stepping up to the plate fast and immediate.

In the end games are product, they have a represented value and they rely on ‘good’ views. The consumer relies on a trusted portal where they can get reliable information from those with a view on that industry, simply because most people only get to spend money on a game once and they want the best game for them. If Gamespot loses the credibility, then others will step up to the plate, because one does not ignore a market that surpasses the 100 billion dollar mark this year, others will come and take the Gamespot share, whether they will or not will mostly rely on the actions of CBS Interactive.

 

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First day peril

What do you do when you like a game? The initial answer is to buy and play it. Yet, this was not the case in the past and there are now growing issues that allows for the creation of a situation where might soon be the case again.

In my youth I had hundreds of games on my Commodore 64, many of them were less hindered by original packaging. I knew it was not quite right, but I did not think I was breaking any laws. Reasoning? I did buy original games, however many of them were not for sale and would never be for sale.

When I look back at my second computer I was happy to have bought the Commodore 64 with a 1541 disk drive for the price of almost $1500 dollars, those were the days! I also bought four games in the first 3 weeks. Loderunner by Broderbund, Suspended by Infocom, US Mail by US Gold and the Flight Simulator 2. The FS2 was the big one at $200, the other games were $90 each and I do not regret buying these games. US gold was a low level entry into flying, the FS2 was a high end flight simulator with all kinds of maps and Infocom was a challenge unlike any I would play for a long time. Loderunner was the odd duck in that list. I got so hooked on it that I had to take a sickie, so that I could play through the entire game in one go (no save and continue options in those days), all 150 levels, level 151 was the first level on a higher speed. It took the best part of a day and most of the night to get through it all. When I stopped I had well over 65 million points, 80 lives and no physical energy left, those were the days. In those days I also learned the hard way how distribution exploitation worked. The games that we all read about we could never order and the some games were 200%-500% more expensive in the Netherlands then they were in the US. So for a long time, there were no games to get. I remember these issues, because I was truly happy to get the original game (Ultima 3 by Origin) 2 years after I had already finished the game. This is however not about the legality of gaming.

This is about gaming itself. When I go through the ages of the games I bought on the CBM-64, Atari ST and CBM Amiga. The games had a massive amount of value. This only increased when the Nintendo N-64 and the PlayStation arrived. I am talking about good quality graphics (for those days) and the amount of game time a game offered. The Ultima series offered weeks of fun (if you are into RPG games), Ultima 3 on CBM-64 and Ultima 4 on Atari ST. I will go one step further stating that this last game had so much depth and story line that it is still for the most equaled, but not surpassed on today’s RPG games. If you are into a more active role in gaming then we had Boulder Dash, Ghosts and Goblins, Sentinel, Green Beret, Iridium and Rambo, each of these games offering well over 20 hours of gaming pleasure. Not to mention the pleasure you got from replaying at times.

So here it is: How come that a new PS4 game named Infamous: Second Son only offers 15 hours (1 play through) at $109? I did this in one weekend and I am not the best when it comes to action shooter games. This is at the heart of gaming now. Marketing gives us the ‘flim-flam’ of graphics, the storyline is decent, but the amount of play time is basically in the basement. With the engine in place, they could have offered an easy 10-20 hours of additional game play, so why are they not giving the consumer that? More important, as this is the first year for the new PlayStation, why is Sony not taking a better look at the games that are slowly pushing people to the Xbox One?

Yes, I did read that Sony is happy about the 6 million consoles and they think they are the clear winner now. This is an error that could prove to be fatal! Consider the PS2 (over 150 million), the PlayStation (the first one) over 100 million. The PS3 only sold 80 million, which is roughly the same as the Xbox 360, so 6 million consoles is no victory. The current lack of releases, the delays and now the released games are not the incentive Sony should be hoping for.

There is an overall lack of quality gaming and both big players (Sony and Microsoft) need to get their thinking caps on and consider the implications that a lack of quality brings. No matter how secure you make your system, people have almost no money to spend and spending $100 for something that represents less than a day of fun will not cut it. People (read students) will find a way around it. They do not just want to play games, they are quite right to demand value for money and that is what is found lacking more and more, no matter how good the graphics are.

I understand that an RPG is not for all, but then consider the amount of time it took just to finish the very first Tomb Raider. The second Tomb Raider took almost the same amount of time, each offering well over 300% of the fun that current games seem to bring (including the latest Tomb raider). Next gen consoles are one, but a regression of gaming quality is not what we wanted to see. This evidence can also be seen when we see the launch of remastered games from one console to the other one. The fact that Banjo had a huge following was shown as many bought the game on Microsoft Live Arcade (I reckon many of them former N-64 owners). So when we consider the games of Rare (a truly rare high quality developer for the Nintendo) and the need for gaming, compared to the pale imitations of games we see nowadays, I cannot stop wondering who is behind the lacking vision of some games and why some games just do not make a decent quality cut.

This last part can be countered or defended when we look at what I regard to be a questionable game. Metal Gear Solid 5, Ground Zero is an introduction game that is coming out this week for $50. Now, I still consider MGS4: Games of the patriot to be one of the best games the PS3 ever released and it was released in the first year of the PS3. With MGS5 however, there is a video out that completes the main game in only 10 minutes (when bypassing cut scenes and side missions), it is at http://www.gamespot.com/articles/you-can-finish-metal-gear-solid-5-ground-zeroes-in-10-minutes/1100-6418384/

I get that MGS fans might have missed their favourite character, but can anyone explain how a game can remain interesting when the main mission is so small? It comes down to a $300 an hour game and that is asking us to hand over cash for all the wrong reasons.

Gaming is taking a turn for the worst for now. Yes, better games will come, but how? We see more and more games relying on micro transactions. Either, you pay $3-$5 for additional outfits, weapons and downloads that give you additional missions at $5-15, yet when we add this to the base game, does the consumer still get value for money? In this day and age of economic hardship, that is the true issue that counts for families having a console and that demand is not being met, not even close. There is a reason for giving the spotlight to Metal Gear Solid in this case. The fact that a franchise that had a game that ended up being regarded as the best on a console twice is not a fluke. MGS on PS1 and MGS4 on PS3 showed that the makers knew games; they understood their gamers and they drove a console forward. It is slightly worrying that the bosses at Sony behind the PS4 have not been on top of this, because games do not appear overnight, it took more than a year of planning. When we see the amount of delays now, we can only conclude that someone was not paying attention and we are all paying the price for that.

So what will happen to console gaming next?

I do not pretend to have the answer here, but consider the releases and the marketing we saw on new Sony games, then consider the amount of time Infamous is offering us; what else will we learn after the fact?

In the end, good games might come, but realise that the two anticipated games (Thief and Infamous) are mediocre to fair at best. Sony still has the lead in regard of number of games released, yet, if the next one is found to be mediocre then Microsoft could take the lead in next gen gaming. Let’s not forget that the 360 became a contender because of the games they offered, the tables could turn on Sony with this system before the end of 2014. My personal belief is that Sony could pull through; it just takes some quality daylight (pardon the pun) to make all the difference.

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A body blow to gaming

We are about to start Q2 of 2014 and the news is not good for Sony. Thief is about to be seen as below average by several reviewers (a score of 60 from Gamespot at http://www.gamespot.com/reviews/thief-review/1900-6415675/). Now, Thief might be an acquired taste, but its following has been fierce fully loyal. The issues and the ‘good’ looks that were given at the E3 are now getting slammed on several levels by several review sites; in this regard I gave it a score of 75%. I initially gave it 80%, but as the blatant levels of sloppiness became visible after completing the game, the score dwindled a little.

People might think that it does not matter, but consider the game release claims that Sony made for 2014. It only takes up to 4 games under achieving the gamer’s expectations, for a console to lose a massive following. Yes, Sony is at present happy with the fact that 6 million are sold, but how long will that continue when the released games do not hold up to scrutiny?

I personally thought AC4 was a lacking game on several fronts, and thief might have given pressure and serious nervousness to UBI-Soft. This is however no longer the case considering the score Thief got. Yet, they are not out of the woods yet. Watchdogs was initially a first day console game, which is now supposed to be out by the end of Q2. If they do not meet expectations, Sony will enter Q3 with its PS4 having several flops, that is a massively bad result for something that is supposed to save Sony. Before you think I am Sony bashing with some Xbox-One motive, then think again, I willingly choose Sony and I am hoping that they will get their ‘game’ in order, as one more flop could have an majority of ‘console undecided’ people running towards Microsoft’s Xbox-One. When we see quotes like “Thief’s main story ultimately goes nowhere” and “Thief rarely captures the right sense of risk, however, which in turn reduces the sense of reward” should give many gamers cause for concern, especially with an icon title like Thief.

This is in my mind however, the consequence of a larger issue. I have noted it before on several occasions and again I state that the addition of what some laughingly refer to as ‘Business Intelligence‘ to the gaming industry might be seen as the main cause of several failed titles in the last year alone. Whether it was to hatch onto an established branding, because a certain deadline had to be met or because budgetary needs (which is actually a more valid reason), outstripped in the end the legendary status a game could have gotten, is now left with score like ‘average’ or ‘fair’ and many will now try to solve the revenue issues through subscriptions and micro transactions.

So, we could in the near future see the status: “Gaming is dead, long live……whatever!

This is no way for gaming to go down. This is not just about setting up the IP of a brand, or just branding in general; this is about the pure lack of visionaries in gaming!

Is it a fair statement to make, even if it is only my view?

Consider what a game costs, for that we want to see something pretty spectacular, but overall, the value for money is no longer given by the creator, but by an analyst and a marketeer, who both seem to be oblivious to the gaming condition of the gamer. They look at branding, profitability and in the end it will all be about micro transactions.

In the gaming industry, I am a devoted RPG fan. So, I have little interest in HALO, GTA and a few other games, which is fair enough. There are plenty of gamers liking them, but overall, consider how many hours you actually play a game. Will it be worth it? Make no mistake, I do enjoy a decent multiplayer and I have played many many hours on Mass Effect 3 multiplayer mode. In my view it is the best multiplayer experience I have ever had. God of War Ascension is another game where the multiplayer is a great experience. There we see the additional part that these levels are quite unique, so that just adds to it. These games have a certain level of playability which makes multiplayer a delight. Something UBI-Soft never figured out. When I start on level 1, and Assassins Creed (2/3/4) gives me a ranked match where I end up against people from level 51, something is definitely wrong and the fun to play multiplayer is soon diminished. Another mess they did not solve in 4 iterations of the game.

So as we see Sony move forward on PS4, they will depend on good games to remain the top player. Many of the games we expected in Q1 2014 (as mentioned in Nov 2013), have been delayed. That makes for unhappy gamers. Now, in all honesty, every game is likely to have some delay, but when we see a delay of three quarters (Watchdogs) there will be cause for alarm. Now, we see that not just the delay, but the diminished power punch that a disappointing game brings is still a fear on the mind of many. No matter what Sony does, if Titanfall truly delivers on the Xbox-One, then Sony will have a first fear to deal with, because it takes one good game to make a gamer reconsider. That was clearly shown when Metal Gear Solid: Guns of the Patriot was released on the PS3. Even now, 6 years later it can still be regarded as one of the most perfect games ever to be released on the PS3. Here I agree with Gamespot who named the game as ‘technically flawless‘! It sold almost 6 million copies, which is an impressive result, especially as the action adventure is not for everyone. Analysts stated that this game would be the reason for increased console sales, so as high scoring PS4 games remain absent; will Titanfall be a first step changing the direction of gamers? For me it is hard to say. The first worry is that Gamespot had no preview, or review on their site, which is weird as the game will be released in one week time. Titanfall is not my cup of tea, so I have no view one way or the other, yet overall as the next-gen consoles are supposed to be the hot item, the absence of top games on the PS4 will have an impact.

Should you have another view (which is fair enough), then also consider the following, when you go to a site like EB games, with the ‘top’ titles at the top of the screen on the PS4 page, only one is for sale now (Thief) the others are all preorders, is that not a little weird?

Personally I do hope that PS4 will win the console war (I am slightly biased here), but they will need the games to make it work and the next possible top game is still 2 weeks away.

 

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Tomb Raider, A game the wrong way round.

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This is for those who play/played games (on a console or PC). I have been involved in the gaming industry for a long time. I have tested them, reviewed them and been in contact with original game creators since 1989. No matter who we applaud for whatever game started what, there is no denying a basic fact. When Sony released the first PlayStation the world of gaming changed forever.

This console came in the beginning with a minimum amount of games; however gaming changed forever one year after the PlayStation was released when a game named Tomb Raider was released. This game was in no uncertain terms the pinnacle of gaming in many ways. It was puzzling, Action, exploring and extremely exciting. It had 4 area’s comprising of 18 levels. It was a massive game filled with so many things that replaying was essential. The game that followed was even bigger and more challenging. I reckon it took no less than 3 weeks to get through either game. I was mesmerised. It was there for a shock that I got through this new game for almost 90% in just two days.

The new Tomb Raider is served like an expensive meal. Nice plate, exquisite display of eatable items, but a nice plate does not necessarily leave you filled and in this case it leaves you hungry soon after dinner. The game is rocky in several places. It is repetitive; at times it has the same shock effect again and again and at times too cinematographic where you must push a button at the exact time.

So, what are the good parts?

Yes, they had so much to work with. Enough so, that I am very concerned on how this was messed up to that extent. The premise that it is on ONE island was pretty brilliant, the idea of a Tomb Raider zero is pretty decent and one thing MUST be stated at the very beginning is that the graphics are UNREAL! That is the one part that is beyond exceptional. The graphics show utter perfection. Especially when you get to a level called coastal base, you have no idea what you are in for. The graphical part of the game is without a doubt utterly perfect. To give you a little more, this is from the same house that brought Deus Ex. A game that brought several times the satisfaction this game brings. Square Enix is a house that has a high quality established name, so what went wrong? WHY is this game so mediocre in my mind?

Let us take a look at the first level. It is decent and a good introduction to this game. It gives the person a way to control and move through the introduction. In the end of this short run we will have seen how easy the game is controlled and that is what any good introduction does. From there we stop at our first camp. The camps are important and it is a good way to progress and safe a game. All that is fine. Next we get to get the bow and do a little hunting. Soon thereafter you will get a first feel on how good the game might be. You as a gamer will quickly become hungry for more. After a day, when you see your progress you realise that overall this game could have been a lot more, and it is without a doubt way too small. The indication that ‘downloaded’ tombs are coming might not even be a consolation, especially if those tombs cost extra (unknown at this time whether it will cost). I do not know whether the failing is due to timing, due to marketing or just a lack of creativity. The art and graphics are so amazing that the third option is not likely the case.

Levels are overall not that bad and the hidden tombs are nice. The change that the entire game plays on One Island gives the game a good feel, and soon the story will narrate into a supernatural field that is well known and a source of fame for the Tomb Raider series. So, the elements of a great Tomb Raider game are definitely there. However, some levels could have been a lot larger, making the game a lot more and especially longer challenging. I reckon that this is one of the two great flaws in this game. The game does have many decent sides, again, it tends to get repetitive when Lara is dumped in the deep end, suddenly surrounded by overwhelming forces and then the fight starts again. I can understand that approach to happen once or twice, but it happens too often, I would state that this is a big No in my book. This repetition becomes tedious after a while. This is odd way to go, because the approach with stealth kills with a bow is actually a very nice twist for the player. In addition we soon have an idea who is two-timing us, so the average gamer will not get too much of a surprise.

What was good is in some levels there is a running need to jump, climb and skip in a cinematographic approach. This is not bad, but it again happens too often and then it is all about timing the button correctly, or to shoot the right obstacles. 2-3 might be nice, but it happens slightly too often with too many cut scenes.

What could have been done better? Larger playing levels are a definite! 2 of them, like the Coastal area and the climb to the monastery are sizeable area’s to see. However, getting through the levels is at times slightly too fast. If we look at places like the Research Station, we see a place that was way too small. Even additional puzzles in all areas would have been a good thing. Additional levels and depths as well as puzzles to get through the hidden tombs would have given this game additional weight; those additions would have dramatically driven the score of the game. In one weekend I got up to the final temple, and most areas were 100% completed.

I am a decent gamer, but not a great one. I am certain several gamers could have done the same game 1-2 hours quicker on the highest setting, which again is shown in my low score. The hidden tombs are a fun idea; however, for the most each one has one small puzzle and not a challenging one at that. Only the fishery tomb is slightly challenging at first. But all levels do show utter perfection in its graphical and artistic environment. That makes it all so upsetting.

I would rate this game a 7.5 out of 10. With a little more effort it could have been an easy 9.4 out of 10. Which begs the question, why the failing effort? Tomb Raider, of all games should be better than this in my mind. The second question is how the critics came to a score so high, way higher then it currently deserves.

Important that this review is based on the single player ONLY! This game has an additional multi-player option which was not tested.

 

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