Tag Archives: Elder Scrolls

To emphasize ‘flawed’

There are all kinds of issues playing. Murdoch who admits that they benefitted from hacked emails (so what else is new), the call for the leadership of the Tories or even more annoying the battering ram of North Korean rants and counter rants and the nauseating gossip train of the Las Vegas shooter. All of that is worth a few dozen words, yet in my mind, in light of yesterday’s view of IP and gaming IP, I think it is clear that a few more words need to be spend on the category, but now on a different field.

IP is at the heart of the matter, but now we will look at another side. For those who have had a view of games and gaming, many will remember the awesome trilogy called Mass Effect. Those who went through the growth of the Xbox 360 brand will have been aware of the Mass effect trilogy, there is no way escaping it. The first one gave us something new and exciting. When we consider the Elder Scrolls and the Fallout games, we were clearly introduced to a competitor in this field and Mass Effect delivered something new, 2007 became an almost magical year. Then something new happened, in 2010 we saw the sequel, a sequel that is still regarded as one of the best RPG games that the Xbox 360 ever received. I will skip the final part in all this. So in this history, you might understand that the expectations were so high (perhaps too high) for Mass Effect Andromeda. The people at Bioware had 5 years to get it right and they failed. The game was flawed on several levels and even as we need to accept that it is not a bad game, the utter quality of Mass Effect 2 was not equalled, not by a long shot. I am not alone, many reviewers saw the game as one that does not equal the initial trilogy and even now, the interest of a remastered original trilogy is desired a lot more than Andromeda is. I finally played the game, I was unwilling to pay the full amount after being shown the most basic of glitches and issues, but when offered as a new (not pre-owned) game for $25, I gave it a go. So as I have finished the game in a week, I concur, the game is flawed on several levels. I am not going into the animation and graphic glitches, too many did this. The game from the beginning shows a flawed approach to several sides. Now, it is shown in the initial level, a level which I usually ignore as it tends to be an intro level as to train the gamer how to play the game. So after the intro movie (which is actually quite brilliant) we get to go to the first place. Here we see the impact of flaws. So after 650 years in travel we get to a planet and whatever they have we can use to reload our own weapons. We see a new opposing player and that is fine, yet the battle strategy, the weapons, the resources show us a flaw from the very core onwards. Ammunition is the clearest part, but it goes beyond that. The Nexus, the entire evolution that we play through, we can go two ways here. Either the game should have been a lot bigger with a lot more to do to grow us into the nexus and locations, or live with the assumption jumps that were made, jumps that were wrong on a few levels (as I personally see it). Now, we need to accept that things like this happen in action games and shooters, because the focus of such a game is different. Yet in RPG you can’t get away with it. The plot does not thicken, but the elements get to be a lot more questionable. The Salarian ark and the Turian ark are just on the surface of that. When we get confronted with those elements in the story we see the flaws grow. Patched stories for the sake of whatever they thought it was going to be. So when we see (from Wiki) “Mass Effect: Andromeda required a team of over 200 developers and, according to Aaryn Flynn, was given a total budget of C$100 million, which included marketing and research costs.” we get the first realisation on the bungled level of a game. My initial personal design (concept) of the sequel to Skyrim took less than an hour to construct in my mind and an additional 4-5 hours to type. So I got to be in a much better place from the get go. Now, do not take my word for it, because you never should. So instead I am going to introduce you to a group of 20 people, not having anywhere near such a budget. The team is Unknown Worlds Entertainment and their take on RPG with Subnautica is one of the best, one of the most refreshing (all that water helps) and amazing trips I have had in my lifetime of gaming. I hope that this game makes it to the PS4 and if it is still available on Xbox live in early release do it because it will be the best $30 you are likely to spend this year. The comparison is important because even in its non-final stage Mass Effect does not get close to what Subnautica has already delivered. OK, granted that if shooting is your need in Mass Effect, Subnautica might not be for you, but overall Subnautica kicks Mass Effects ass on several fronts. Three programmers outshine the dozens that Mass Effect had and that is just embarrassing. If you want to learn more take a look at IGP (the Indie Game Promoter) who (at https://www.youtube.com/user/TheIndieGamePromoter) has all kinds of videos. So take a look at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KgyCiWXPZzE&index=76&list=PLVxH6E2fftrfbnmjYAXXiCJJwleb-HZvB for a first view of the game which gives a view almost two years before the final release. You want to skip to 1:45 and skip to the start of the game. The game is very much the truest view of RPG as they can get. So the intro is not as flash as Andromeda is, but that is the only time Mass Effect wins. Now, as stated, this is not a shooter, so be aware of that. The part that should amaze you is that this game is more about survival and the basic survivalist edge is often ignored by many RPG’s.

So as I am giving you a parallel on the skips of Mass Effect and also ‘story lining‘ of Mass Effect, we need to dig a little further. Now in their defence at times we cannot prevent that in the case of Mass Effect, but consider that after a trip for over 600 years, we get to aid certain players (Salarians) ‘just’ in the nick of time. This is an issue on a few levels.

Also even as we accept that many bought it soon and the game had sales close to three quarter of a billion, which is a financial success, it comes at the realisation that the game scores 72% which at the budget given is a massive flaw, yet here I will admit that the shooting side of the game is as some stated it: “The core shooting mechanics feel stronger here than anywhere else in the series“, which was made by Scott Butterworth of Gamespot and he is right, this part they did do very well and it is likely the one reason why the game remained the financial success it has turned out to be.

Yet the QA was far below par, the delivery was wrong and in the end I personally profited by getting a decent game for $25, a mere 6 months after release. So consider how this game could have gotten closer to the $1 billion mark by getting things right? An additional twice the investment by thinking things through and properly testing it from the start, and not even requiring to think too intelligent; the basic story line debated on the flaws that they needed to avoid from after the intro level onwards. Consider that the ‘Salarian Ark’ event became a basic shooting mission, whilst it optionally represented dozens of hours of additional gameplay on several levels. So apart from the timing as a ‘just in the nick of times‘ mission that is underused and oversold, we see that the other Arks become mere wasted moments in the game. In a place that has so many shortages, leaving behind an ark that has thousands of tonnes of resources seems weird, even if it does not have any lives left. It is not as the Nexus had an abundance of resources, did it? So there we see more, just after a setting that had a revolt, shortages and deviant issues, we see every time the Tempest comes and go’s (too often because of other flaws) we see that the docking level shows an environment that equals the embassy level of the citadel itself, all missed options and opportunities. There we see the option of an additional 10% score if it was done and properly tested. So now we get from 72% to 82%. Then there is the premise that this is a game with only 5 worlds to fix?

There could have been a few more, and more important, changing the way the vaults were accessed on at least one world might have made the game a little less obvious (to some extent). So here we have another 5% in the making, making the game approaching a 90% game, which is a given need when you waste 5 years and a hundred million. Subnautica, when you like that part of RPG gaming is giving you at 25% of the full price of the Mass Effect game. A game that was already awesome when I decided to get it and whilst playing the early release, the game added at least 4 more expansions to the main game and they are now part of the main game. In one part Mass Effect wins. The graphics, there is no denying that the graphics of Mass Effect were really good, but we might see that an additional 80 staff members (and 90 million more) should guarantee that part. All this and as we know that RPG’s are set over time, so we can accept that growing the impact over time as we play might have given a few more options and a few more changes to the way that the game was played, giving the gamer a better game (and optionally a much larger game).

So as I have enlightened you on some of the flawed parts, there is now the link to the previous article to set. The longevity of a game as well as the IP is the sellable part of any developed game and in that part Subnautica is all about original IP and they got the IP to grow value, loads of value. Even as we see that Mass Effect is to some extent more of the same, they did grow their IP range, but only to a fraction of Subnautica. This now gets us to the setting that is the link. In the digital age the value of the service purchased is the money we invest in the product we thought we bought. You see, as gaming progresses, we see a dependency and as such we no longer buy the property, but we lease it in some ways and rent it in other ways. The gaming industry has no choice but to set the multiplayer sides into a renting foundation (buying with an open point or termination), whilst the single playing part (the missions) will be leased for the term of the console. Now consider the satisfaction you get from leasing a game that is rated at 72%. Are you willing to go on paying the amounts we see? At this point I have now shown you the essential need to properly test a game before release. You see, it is shown in the quote that several sources gave. With: “Following Mass Effect: Andromeda’s poor critical reception and lacklustre sales, BioWare put the Mass Effect series “on ice”“. So even as we saw some sources state a sales numbers surpassing $500 million whilst there was $100 million invested, so either the numbers given were wrong, or we see the impact of greed as others walk away from a $400 million milk cow. In that part, what were the true costs and why would any company walk away from a possible $100-$250 million in season pass revenue. This part and the issues had shown from several sources that the detrimental financial health of IP and IP value is shown to be at least to a larger part to be due to the flawed quality of proper testing. Ubisoft has been though it (Assassins Creed Unity) and as we see Bioware and Electronic Arts walking away from half a billion dollars, we need to consider beyond games and the value of a gamer, we need to see that the impact of IP is not set in stone and the quality of the product (or service) is at the foundation of what we think we purchase and what we expect to receive. In this there is the clear evidence of the flawed product that is Mass Effect Andromeda and the weird part is that I saw the flaw in the first hour of the game. This now sets the premise of the wrong players (read: business parties) that were in charge within Bioware and Electronic Arts. It is my personal believe that their marketing division has either too large a vote and they looked at the wrong sides of the game. This in a setting of a 100 million invested, how weird is that?

So now we get the treasure that the Cullens, Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys give us on their web site. With “Whether buying or selling a business one of the most overlooked aspects of the transaction is the intellectual property of the business. Proper identification, scrutiny and valuation of intellectual property will have benefits for both the purchaser and vendor“. It is the issue that is really the bread and butter of growing game developers. In this the word business can mean either that or it can be set to ‘product’ or ‘service’ and the realisation of this quote which is not new, shows just how flawed (or sloppy) Mass Effect Andromeda turned out to be. Now, we look at the bad sides here, but the game has loads of good sides too. Yet it missed the boat by at least 20% (72%, instead of 92%) and I lighted up 15% in the easiest of ways. The last part we see when we dig into the world of the game testers. Now I can relate here, because I reviewed and tested games for the better part of a decade. My knowledge and skills showed me the parts I illuminated and I truly believe that there are better testers than me, so that implies that none of them work for either Electronic Arts or Bioware which is statistically near impossible, so that means that the large investment was made on a flawed infrastructure, or at least that is as I personally see it. You see, the old joke (from when I was young) has been that it takes 90% of the time to fix the last 10% of a project. At some point highly educated graduates were hired in places where the foundation of art is the core of the business and they introduced the setting of ‘linearity’ of art based projects. So that a project is done at 10% a month and the last two months of the year were for testing, which is not how it works and not how it will ever work. Now, I simplified the idea for illustration, so it is not an exact given, but the clarity of flaws that Mass Effect Andromeda shows on day one of release gives the validity of my view and shows just how breached the concept of design linearity is (perhaps you remember the Ubisoft statement of ‘every year a new Assassins Creed game’). As such, I believe that the game lost out on massive revenues.

Now consider the two headlines:

Bringing Mass Effect to a new galaxy isn’t quite the shot in the arm the series needed” or “Blown away in another universe 640 years later“. The first is IGN and the second one is one I came up with, if they had done a proper job. So would you buy the game if you read ‘isn’t quite the shot‘? Gamespot had “After the first few hours of Mass Effect: Andromeda, I was discouraged“, whilst Forbes gave us “I don’t think anyone will claim it outclasses the original trilogy, outside of maybe the very first game“, so a new game merely on par with a game released a decade ago. This is the setting of a flawed product and the fact that this was not seen in the beta stage of the game is questionable. So in an age of digital rights that are moving more and more from the permanent availability into a stage of temporary usage, where we no longer get to own the product, yet merely lease (read: rent) a product also requires others to realise that the game of gaming is shifting, and these players can only continue if they ‘up the quality’ of the product or service they make available. This shows in one way just how amazing a game like Skyrim is proving to be, the fact that the game still embraces gamers 6 years later whilst Electronic Arts loses the bulk of value of a product within 26 weeks. That is the evidence that shows that flaws are becoming a much larger issue for all in these fields and it shows that the players like Ubisoft, Electronic Arts and others as well, need to take a harsh look at what they offer and not merely listen to their own marketeers as the value of what they bring forth is now shifting whilst a product is in development, which is the third nail in the coffin for Electronic Arts as it took 5 years to get to a very much less than perfect place they ended up. I believe that the flawed setting can be improved upon, yet the people at Bioware better realise that the stakes are raised and they are raised by a lot, in that we need to ask whether they can match the needs of a shifted market.

I cannot answer for them, and like Nintendo Electronic Arts and Bioware are not out of the game. You see, even as Nintendo bungled the WiiU, they hit back with the Nintendo Switch, which is becoming a game changer in gaming. I believe that both Electronic Arts and Bioware can do the same, the question is whether they will, time (read: the next release) will tell. Should that fail, they could always move forward by charging their fans an additional $10 for a steel box of a game. Oh wait, they are already doing that with FIFA18, ahhh how the world turns!

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Gaming, IT, Media, Science

The end of diversity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we seeing the end of diversity in gaming?

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

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Gaming, IT, Media

The second zero hour

On 11/11/11 Bethesda released a game, we know Bethesda is pretty good at what they do, so they knew they had something that the RPG niche market would enjoy. Yet, I wonder if they were even close to realising that they were clueless on just how well they had done their job? You see, I am a passionate RPG fan, so I was on board from day one. Yet, Skyrim was different in many ways. To illustrate that, consider that it’s your 18th birthday and your parents give you a new kind of Maserati, a real one, but this one has one extra option, this car allows you to drive without any speed limits, so not speeding tickets ever. How would you react?

This is what Skyrim achieved. In the first week a little over 7 million copies were sold, which is already a record in RPG land, what no one thought possible happened, Bethesda pushed RPG clear into the mainstream gaming area, they somehow got the magical formula right. So up to now there are well over 23 million copies sold making it one of the few billion dollar plus game revenue.

Now, 5 years later we get another zero hour, the same game is being released on PS4 and XB1, the people are about to go nuts again. Leaving us with the realistic prospect that this game could equal and possibly surpass Grand Theft Auto 5 sales. That would still be a very tall order as they sold 65 million copies, but it is possible and the rage and hype that is out there at present is definitely a decent indication that it could happen.

As I said: ‘they were clueless on how well they had done their job‘, which is perhaps one of the better compliments on the doorstep of Bethesda. Even with Fallout 4 surpassing all records, this one will push their records even further. I have stated again and again, if you aren’t willing to get to the edge you will never make a truly exceptional game. Bethesda went to the edge and stared into the void of the dread father Sithis. They are coming out on top!

So why is this game so amazing?

I believe that open world games are the long term trend of games and the true desire of gamers. In this game you start as being a convict on the way to execution (a wink to the previous Elder Scroll game). After a small introduction that helps you keep your character mobile and alert, you are about to get your head chopped off and that is where the world goes pear shaped on your executioners. From that moment on you have the ‘escape’ part teaching you the elemental things of the game, which takes about 20 minutes, fraught with action and after that, it will be whatever you want to do. Follow the path offered to you or seek your own destiny. That is how most RPG players like their game and this appeal has gone mainstream (meaning the non RPG population at large). A game that offers you value for money. For the same reason that I was ‘offended’ that a $90 game named Tombraider brought with 10 hours of game-play, and for the repetitiveness that some other games bring. The open sided part of Skyrim offers a long term fun that not many games offer. For that $90 on Skyrim I have had well over 1000 hours of gaming fun. That is value for money to say the least and this version will be a one price with complete game and all the DLC additions that the game had offered for Skyrim. So for the new players this will keep you busy until the New Year. For the returning players it is a different story. You see, in my case, it is the same thing, but now with upgraded graphics. In addition, the consoles will now get the option to play mods, which was until now only an option for PC players. It will be a brand new day for RPG players, and that brand new day starts at midnight as the remastered HD edition of Skyrim hits the shelves for PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

In that regard, there is one additional bonus for those who went all out earlier this quarter and bought the Xbox One S, will, if they have the right TV enjoy this game in 4K, which is as far as I can tell a first (please correct me if I was wrong), which would be a nice additional feather in the Bethesda cap. Giving an additional edge to the Xbox One market. Even as some ‘gaming experts’ have stated that there is no market for it (too expensive, no games and so on), the fact that the Xbox One S at present has two clear advantages over the PS4 Pro, the setting that Skyrim now offers can (and might) drive Xbox One S sales as it is introducing Skyrim to an even wider audience. That last part is a given as pre orders are of the charts in some places. Yet all this is now pushing for another side of visibility that also needs to be said.

That other side is seen as we look at Forbes, we see that merely 15 hours ago (at http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikkain/2016/10/25/bethesdas-decision-to-withhold-review-copies-is-bad-for-gamers-and-sets-a-dangerous-precedent/) the following was released ‘Bethesda’s Decision To Withhold Review Copies Is Bad For Gamers And Sets A Dangerous Precedent‘, and in that regard, I would initially be completely on his side, apart from the fact that Ubisoft has been doing that since Assassins Creed Unity. Yet when I look at www.youtube.com/watch?v=onFm-7_wTyA as well as https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mpQF-01raY we see reviews of that new versions a week ago. Of course we agree that ‘new’ is a relative term for a game originally released on the 11th day of the 11th month in the year 11 (+2000). In addition, the second video also shows that the game has a few additional effects to the Skyrim experience. Yet the issues shown, does not diminish the words we see in Forbes. The article brings good points, yet with Cam Robinson and minion having reviewed this game a week ago, my issue is not with the article, but I am stuck with the question why that reviewer had no ‘advanced copy’. It could be for any reason, but is that a real problem? This game is a new format release, the game itself still has the same missions, quests and places to visit, what is new are the mods. So the review would not have needed that much time in the first place.

skyrim-646x372So, will you get the game on PS4 or XB1?

If you loved the game the first time around, the answer is very likely to be yes, if you are new to this game than it should be yes for several reasons and one additional reason if you are the lucky owner of the Xbox One S. Also, ‘new’ gamers should remember that this game has been played and loved for almost 5 years, which is quite the achievement for any single player game.

The one thing that is a definite, is that it will give rise to one question on a global level: ‘When will Bethesda release the 6th game in the Elder Scrolls series?’

As for me, I will enjoy playing this game again and I will try not to take an arrow to the knee this time around.

3 Comments

Filed under Gaming, Media

When game makers don’t get it

This is another day where we get to bash the game maker. This is not done out of malice or spite, this is done because certain ‘players’ in this industry need to wake up and consider hard and clear that they are running out of rope, out of options and out of any future. For the same reason why the malicious bashers of No Man’s Sky don’t get why it is a good game, the same reasoning why many of the triple-A game makers are now no longer producing 90%+ games.

So, this all started this morning when I saw ‘Mafia III review: how can a super stylish 1960s shooter be this boring?‘ (at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/oct/10/mafia-3-review-1960s-shooter-gameplay). First of all, I haven’t played it. Yet, to offset this, I looked at several sources. The issue is seen in the quote: “To say Mafia III is a disappointment is an understatement. It has all of the surface components to form a great game: the writing and acting are superb, its direction and style are great, but its mechanical underpinnings are archaic and desperately unimaginative. It’s ironic that Mafia III’s predecessor had a similarly stylish open world, but wasted it by giving players nothing to do besides its main story missions. Mafia III has the opposite problem – tons that you have to do, you just don’t want to do any of it“, which gives us the main goods in all this. I played the first game on PC, a game that had more than a few issues, but overall it was original and showed a game style that was novel in those days. So when I see this, I see another issue, which I will address later. The second review is one you cannot miss if it is your intent to buy the game. It is the video review on IGN (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d7mkCsJm8Lk). This is actually an excellent view on the game. It also supports the reasoning I had (I will get to that, I promise). There are a few issues that also popped up, which are not negative sides, but they are linked to this all.

IGN mentions it in the video. There are references and similarities to the generic play of Assassins Creed and for what I saw, partially to Watchdogs 1 too. In these semi-open world games, there is a need to explore the world and find things, but what is the issue when you have to get items again and again, for no other reason than to find them? I reckon there is a plus to find album covers and playboy covers, if they are the actual covers and issue covers. A little historic on one side, a little sultry on the other. Yet, if it leads to nothing, why run through the city of London, finding all the ales? In Mafia 3 and as I am from the era, finding a Jimmy Hendrix album cover would be cool and could bring a tear to my eye, remembering this great guitar player, yet, what is the point? Same for AC and finding all the chests filed with cash all over the city where everyone is in states of poverty? Apart from the ridiculousness of it all, it stopped fulfilling a purpose long ago. The same in Watchdogs. Getting all those jackets without some bonus is just emptiness of cash spent.

This is where we see the emerging issues of these games nowadays. There is no longer proper play testing and the fact that the game is only given to reviewers on release day is only in support that the game makers know this. In my view when properly addressed it could make a 75% Mafia game a 92% mafia game, with the clear option to double revenue, because gamers will jump at a 90%+ game and there have been a lack of it.

In opposition we see Ubisoft, not their generic games. No! When we see the effort that For Honor has been showing with closed alpha’s additional rounds and now the closed alpha game on PS4 with releases on YouTube. This is exactly why I foresaw that For Honor would be a high scoring game, I want it and I am not even a true fan of this game type, but what is shown is what I see, gaming on a new level, a different level. That is what makes a top game. Even as Ubisoft has been dropping the ball in several games, they have shown a multitude of evidence that they got this right! Proper play testing is all the difference and taking time to get that right is all the reason why Mafia 3 is as I can see it the non-success at present it could end up being.

 

When you lack the open world that Bethesda has, play testing is the only way to get the semi-open world and mission based games correctly. This is why the original game released on 11/11/11 was the long term success and now it is about to be rereleased on HD for consoles. After 5 years it still have the appeal it originally had. I am of course speaking of Skyrim, and now that people have had a taste of Fallout 4, the Skyrim fan base could grow even further, Bethesda achieved that chance and in likelihood, it will be one of these games that will be found gift wrapped at thousands of thanksgiving parties, especially when some November releases decide not to deliver. Even though my version of Elder Scrolls 6 will not make it to the systems, Bethesda is already looking at new projects and as we are unlikely to see them before 2018, whatever makes it will be a new game changer, just as Fallout 4 was the game changer for players on all systems.

The others (Ubisoft, 2K, Square Enix) have issues to some extent, in some cases the issues are not big of massive, but they are still the reason that a game makes 80% instead of 91% and in this business 11% is not a margin, it is the reason that people wait for the game to drop 50% or more in price. In my view Far Cry4, Assassins Creed Syndicate, Assassins Creed Unity, Far Cry Primal, and this list goes on are all games that suffered such blows. I think for me Infamous Second Son remains one of the best examples. The game that started great became bland, repetitive and too linear. It is hard to point the finger at a single reason yet the elements tend to be their marketing department, the timeline pressed upon them and the vision of the people behind the game. That last elements is shown when we think back to Jason VandenBerghe when he gave a glimpse at E3 2015. This is not whether he should or should not have done it, he gave a glimpse and at E3 2016 he showed stuff, I think what he showed wetted the apatite and in 2016 we became thirsty for the real deal, which is now a mere 15 weeks away. More important 15 weeks with increased game play testing and movies that showed more and more final quality in a near flawless gaming interface. He showed vision, he did not just show a game, which set him apart from a lot of game producers. He also looks like he is the adviser for the Baltimore Stegmer Brothers on how to make a Skull Cleaver (just kidding, the Stegmer Brothers are experts in their own right with any kind of forged weapon). Here we see the issue, as explained in ‘When they get it right‘ (at https://lawlordtobe.com/2016/07/30/when-they-get-it-right/), so when you consider these elements and take into consideration the multiplayer movie (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r59DAyolTyw), we see how a multiplayer game is not that ‘simple’, not because of game play, but because of the required tactics. So multiplayer will require people to team up, because for single players in a team match will have no chance to survive an actual team. Giving this game more than just a little edge. As I personally see it a quality play test crew is what made the difference (beyond vision and good coders). Yet the latter two were not the most important players. In my view, those two elements were present with Infamous Second son, well at least the good coders. Proper play testing and evaluating the game and post adjustments could have resulted in at least 11% more. When such a margin impacts the revenue to the degree we have seen in several games, the need for proper overhauling a game studio becomes apparent and the fact that this is either not happening or not having the desired effect, is now cause for concern (it should be for the game developer). You see, that part is shown in Mafia 3 (especially in the IGN video), because apart from all the nice little Easter eggs and other little titbits, the fact that we see “tons that you have to do, you just don’t want to do any of it“, is likely to limit sales and it will push people towards other games. In light of all the clips and advertisement we have seen in the big cities, that seems to be a massive impact on a game that would have had an 8 figure development cost. The weird issue in addition is that these game makers want a success, they want to be known for the 90%+ game they made, so partially, the road not taken is not making sense at all.

So we see that there are more games coming this year, the question becomes how good will they be? I am holding my breath for a few of them, including one that even as extreme snow sports was never my thing, this game has piqued my interest. Ubisoft is releasing the game Steep in December, so far it is the most ambitious and the most appealing snow based game I have ever seen in my life. The in game quote “Challenge cancelled, no death allowed in this challenge” is just hilarious (and you better realise that elbowing with a rock tends to be a terminal choice). One video titled ‘How an Open World Changes Action Sports‘ is exactly the issue. As written before, I have never been this excited over this type of game before, even when I was excited on playing SSX, when it got released with the PS2, it never came close to what I thought a snow game should be about. This game is it, yet, when we see the movies, which do look great, how much play testing did the game go through? We see the Ubisoft version of how smooth things play, and that might be so, but individual or independent are lacking. How many play testers went to the top of one mountain, just skiing to the very bottom? Ignoring all the tracks and challenges, just an open world ski trip, seeing if the game rears its ugly heads with a glitch?

The few I saw were all the same track and that is not what is supposed to make the game great. So, when we see the actual open area, what will it be then? (Not attacking, just actually asking). Like me, many others acted really positively on the initial parts we saw. The map implies that there is a massive amount of area’s to see and to explore. The game shows 4 ‘play modes’, which is not a given. From my point of view, there is a lot more that they could add, especially when the dynamics are already in play. In the lower area’s cross country skiing (not exciting, but a completionist option) and the way that reaching points could open up markers, I would have considered sleigh and bobsled tracks. Again, it is a completionist idea and adding this might give the game a feeling of completeness, especially when you are not multi-playing (which would be the driving force in a game like this). My idea’s will not make it a better game, it might make the game a lot worse, the question is what was considered, what was done and how was the game play tested? What is the impression a professional boarder has when looking and playing this game? Parts that I have not seen published or I missed it). The reason to ask these questions is because until December there is still time, for Mafia 3 it is too late to make a good first impression, for Steep there is time to get the upgrades done if required, depending on the time needed this game might miss thanksgiving and would need to globally rely on Christmas, which is not a bad thing. What is important is that the not extreme snow sport lovers are considering this game, implying that Steep could make a massive splash (revenue wise too). As to the verdicts of certain games, we will need to see the release of quality reviews, what is a given is that no early reviews is no longer a tool to get a better revenue, too many gamers have felt the impact of that flaw. Ubisoft lost a lot of cloud and 2K is getting hit as well soon enough, the question is what these players will do to up the game and get the gamers back to their fold. Time will tell, however in this year, there are a few too many games being released, so those hoping to see this level of revenue, would face the risk of losing their revenue being used to pay for games like Dishonored 2, games that have already proven themselves and are already showing to be equal or better. Some will even be holding on to their cash for the coming quarter, because Q1 2017 shows at least 3 games that are setting new levels of game play, and buying a wannabe for $49 is a lot better than the same anticipated title for $99. So make sure you get to the actual quality review goods BEFORE you buy the game you thought was going to be great.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Finance, Gaming, IT, Media

Sausage Party

This reference is not from the article we see in the Guardian called ‘Sony announces October release for PlayStation virtual reality headset’ (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2016/mar/15/sony-october-playstation-vr-virtual-reality-headset), it refers to the trailer for a new cartoon, one that is as child friendly as Deadpool is (meaning not child friendly at all), It is the twisted view of food through the cartoon eyes of Seth Rogan (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c7fP9q_LyDc), it is as screwed up as it gets. You see, when I see the approach of a 28 week release of new hardware, I want to see how it applies and more important to which games. After this Keith starts telling us how 230 developers are working on games for the device and ends with the quote “Over 50 titles are expected to be available by the end of 2016“. It is the quote “It will be the quality of the first VR games and applications that will decide whether the technology succeeds” that rings true, even if that is followed with the quote “the next title in the multimillion-selling Gran Turismo series of driving sims“. For Gran Turismo fans of course an immediate reason to get this updated, yet overall the 50 titles as stated for by the end of the year, there is no decent call for what we would call outstanding games. 1 in 50 is not something PlayStation should be proud of. The verge (at http://www.theverge.com/2016/3/15/11225030/new-playstation-games-list-gdc-2016) gave us this list:

  • Allumette
  • Driveclub
  • Gary the Gull
  • Golem
  • Harmonix Music VR
  • Job Simulator
  • Joshua Bell: Immersive Experience (tech demo)
  • Megaton Rainfall
  • Playroom VR
  • Star Wars: Battlefront VR experience
  • SuperHyperCube
  • Thumper
  • Tumble VR
  • Valkrie
  • Waltz of the Wizard
  • Wayward Sky
  • Xing: The Land Beyond

Which, if we add Gran Turismo too is still not something to get joyous on. Other places give us titles like ‘PlayStation VR’s launch line-up looks impressively diverse’, which is after that followed by no titles at all (Source: engadget). Yet, Keith in the Guardian does offer: “Ubisoft, 2K Games and Electronic Arts – the latter has revealed that it will release a PlayStation VR mode for its massively successful shooter Star Wars: Battlefront“. Ubisoft is still on the waning side of life with not the greatest hits at present. Even though the Division seems to present itself a true hit, like Ubisoft used to make them. For me personal, the fact that Elite Dangerous will support to Oculus Rift on the Xbox One is great news and this is the kind of title people who are into those devices would be interested in seeing. The fact that Sony is keeping their distance on several titles is little unsettling to me, but that could just be me. Eurogamer gives us a little more (at http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2016-03-15-heres-230-developers-making-playstation-vr-games), in addition they notice that “Bethesda, Bungie, Epic, Rockstar and Telltale are pretty big names holding out on this PlayStation VR wave“, in my view not an immediate issue. Yet, Eurogamer had more in today’s article. “A special version of Star Wars Battlefront produced by EA, LucasArts and DICE exclusively for PlayStation VR“, this implies that it could be a totally separate product, which would make decently sense in this early stage of a new piece of hardware. In addition we see: “PlayStation VR does not include the PlayStation Camera, which is required for head-tracking. So you may want to tack another £40 or so onto the initial £349 price. (It currently goes for £38.08 on Amazon)“, in all this we see that Eurogamer has the goods that the Guardian failed to deliver, although in honesty, some Eurogamer facts were only known today.

This gets us to the title, is this s sausage party? Is Sony dicking around now? It seems a crass way to state this, but if there are 50 supported titles, the ones we have seen so far (bar 3) do not encourage a $700-$800 investment. I would have thought that Sony had learned from their PS Vita mistakes, or is that PS Vista?

The initial which I hoped for was that No Mans Sky was initially delayed due to the VR interface for No Mans Sky, which would have been an absolute killer combination to own. It turned out to not be the case (that rumour was stated to be false), but I have high hopes for PlayStation VR, even if that inclusion comes after the initial release at the price of a DLC extra. Consider the feeling you as a RPG player will have when you walk through Fallout or Skyrim. The idea to see space like you are really there (Elite Dangerous) or explore No Mans Sky whilst having to look around to see it all is overwhelmingly enticing, likely to gamers all over the world.

There is however opposition, also from within me. Should we switch to VR all the time? No! Of course not. I do not believe that a VR offers an addition to Diablo3. It will give a jump to Minecraft, but I doubt that this feeling will be present when I play something like Need for Speed, Assassins Creed or Tomb Raider for that matter. As we play more games, as we see new innovation in gaming, a VR set will become an essential option for some games. Consider that as the VR evolves, more important as the VR and gaming evolves, we could see the evolution where the controller and our eyes become medium for interaction in a game. Take for example the old arcade Sniper, or the CSI games. There were depending on the mouse to interact, if the mouse pointer changed, we knew there was something. What if we must rely on seeing before we can act? The ultimate Sniper game, if we cannot spot the sniper, we cannot shoot him/her. So as such we get to see an entirely new iteration of Battlefront games. Consider the game Thief. Their brilliant slogan is one thing: ‘What is yours is Mine‘, when it becomes ‘If I see it I’ll take it from you‘, it ups the ante for the player. It would give a new level of player detail. Now in all honesty, I doubt that at present the VR can be the perfect RPG optical device (for now), yet what happens when that changes? What happens when the elder Scrolls gives us the boost that we see what Ogres, Wood Elves or Khajiti see? A new level of gaming, not just for us in general, what if the bedridden child can see abroad, see places they could never visit like they were actually there? This leap is not that far a leap. The simulators like a train or a truck simulator becomes a very different experience when those who cannot go could still experience. You might think of this as a weird side jump, but let’s not forget that for decades gaming was on the edge of technology. Until serious gaming came, hydro cooled graphic cards were not a needed reality, the mouse would not have evolved the way it did and the controller would remain a concept at best.

The VR will open doors and it will open different doors, but for the most it will open doors many did not consider, because there was no need for it. I reckon that the travel idea’s I gave earlier could spawn a new ‘Where in the world is Carmen Sandiego’, a game that has an educational and an analytical side to it. Hugh Jackman did sing it in ‘the  Boy from Oz’, where he sang everything old is new again and that is the truth, because some of the initial ground breakers that gave life to the Commodore 64 could see rejuvenation through the combination of new hardware and new avenues to explore the story that games offered. Elite Dangerous (Elite in those days) will support the headset. Yet what if the VR does not replace, but complement? Consider the legendary X-Com games. What if the screen is for the gameplay and the VR is for tactical base management? There are plenty of other games where that show promise by adding a new dimension. Some will work, some will not, and the more you like a game, the more receptive you are likely to be for the addition if you can afford it (one will hope).

No matter how we twist or turn this event, VR, is becoming a reality and it will impact games, it will impact the future of gaming. So in all that, when we see the start of this new device, it is my personal view that Sony bungled the ball. Even if there are still 28 weeks to go, the absence of a list of given AAA titles means that the ‘real shit’ won’t be getting here until 2017, perhaps even later. Now, all this is still speculation from my side, because there are 25+ titles to be confirmed. However, if you are about to give a show, when you start to give visibility to the new show in town, you advertise No Man’s Sky, Deus Ex Mankind Divided and For Honor, not Gary the Gull, Golem or Driveclub. This could just be me, yet I wonder how many other gamers feel that way?

When the Boy from Oz was done, do you think it would have been the success it was if Rick Astley instead of Hugh Jackman played Peter Allen? This is nothing against Rick Astley, just as I have nothing personal against Driveclub, but we all know that the VR will not make it as a Driveclub option. Yes to Gran Turismo and definitely yes to For Honor, so why is Sony silent on those AAA titles that actually matter?

That is the part that got to me in the Guardian, loads of writing, but lacking the data we all needed to read, like the data Eurogamer gave us. Yet, is this the fault of the Guardian, or is Sony playing the wrong game? That is in the end the question that comes to mind, because 6 months is almost nothing in the gaming industry and the lack of AAA titles is an issue, more important, by keeping the people in the dark, Sony is only cutting its own fingers. You see, the bulk of gamers cannot afford to just shove out $700 that is without a game (or camera for that matter), so plenty of gamers pay it forward and shell over $100 a month so that they are ready to shine with their device on day one of the release. Which is not that appealing at present. On the other hand, it is also likely that Sony would, to keep the books interesting, to show the revenue some bigger bosses need, to lower the price of the device and add the camera for free if they want to look good when Tax year 2016 ends, if not, there will be a larger change in management at Sony, but that again is just speculation on my side. So from my side Sony, I reckon you should not throw a sausage party, leave that to Seth Rogan!

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Gaming, IT, Media

Burning out your life

Yesterday’s news in the Guardian is skating on an interesting side. Yes, there are more games awards coming, there are new releases and there are all kinds of events coming into play. So when I read ‘Crunched: has the games industry really stopped exploiting its workforce?’ (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/feb/18/crunched-games-industry-exploiting-workforce-ea-spouse-software), I read it with a different set of eyes.

The first part is “EA relied on vagaries of American law that classify some IT professionals as exempt from overtime pay. The settlement in the second case featured a quid pro quo: employees would be reclassified in order to get overtime but would give up their stock options“, I can guarantee you that I have been in the same set of shoes, Market Research is at times as caring as a steamroller driving over Miss Daisy. It is nice to see the claim ‘stock options‘, yet that flavour of reward tends to be for the managers and the heads of development, not for all the programmers. They tend to get an evening of free food and booze. Take 35 programmers each having done 100-250 hours of extra time, getting paid off with a $300 meal, works out great for the manager getting his 25,000 stocks at $0.50, not so great for others. I am not stating that this works exactly like that in gaming, but I have seen it in other areas of software.

The most common theory is that the industry is simply too young and too fast-moving to integrate proper management techniques. “Our project was huge and our overall quality assurance process at the time was very basic and waterfall-esque,” recalls one quality assurance worker at EA“, is the second part. This has been shown in several games of late, if we look at the flawed releases of 2014, we can clearly see a lacking scale of QA. It then refers to the work of Fred Brooks on how company size influences efficiency. There is no denying that. Proper management is required, especially when the group grows faster than projected. A special mention of the honour guard must be given to the Marketing department who then also changes the timeline, to get that extra revenue, like marketing COULD have figured that part out at the very beginning. All this will add to the burden of quality delivery and the stress of the workers.

This quote is important, as I consider this to be a stronger part of the sliding quality scale “I was a quality assurance tester at Rockstar, and at its worst, we worked 72 hours a week“, a decent reason for quality to slide (irritating that Rockstar still pulled of a 90% plus rating, although they had a few start-up issues), especially when you consider the following quote “if you had issues with it, you were told ‘Well, you can go stack shelves at Tesco instead or answer phones at a call centre’. You were treated as disposable“, not an entirely unknown event for some in the IT pool. When we consider ““Developers and managers should never have to work more than 40 hours a week,” he says. “It’s a fun job, but it shouldn’t be an exploitative one. Everyone has a life. Let them live it, it’s short enough as it is”“, that sounds partially as a solution, but only if it affects the entire range of staff.

I personally see this all as a reason on why there has been a sliding scale of quality. Is there a chance that Ubisoft has been on this track? This is NOT an accusation! You see, too many hours result in burnout, burnout influences creativity and resolve, crunch time, might give a little extra resolve, but in the end it costs more then it brings. I think that the power of innovation will always win, if balance and rest (to some extent) is made available to revive the soul and the mind.

I think that the next quote sounds nice, but is it enough? “Over the past 18 months, EA has been making significant investments in new quality assurance tools and automation technology, implementing ongoing testing right from the beginning of game conceptualisation. These changes are ultimately improving game quality, as well as reducing the need for the crunch periods”. These tools need proper implementation, they need proper assessment and the people need to properly use them. It tends to add a strain to all levels for a little while. More important, it is only one side of the game (pun intended). For example Mass Effect 4, the engine, the locations, the interface, all are under stress to be made. What if a solution throws the gaming experience? What happens then? What happens when the initial reception is ‘average’, what will marketing do then and more, what will the size of crunch become at that point? You see, the article ignores one little part. For all intent and purpose, games tend to surf at the very edge of technology.  In some cases the makers will attempt to get the max of a system that is at times a little buggy and when you try to use 99% of the system, things tend to go pear shaped really fast. We can offer that the danger of being over ambitious is a bad thing, but this is how some games came into existence. The very first Unreal and Unreal tournament were both chartering the maximum of graphical capability when they were released. Some people invested hundreds of dollars to get a Diamond Labs Graphics card to get the maximum of the game. This is only the tip of the iceberg, when we see consoles there is less manoeuvrability, yet getting the maximum of a game has never stopped the developers. That part is not addressed and that part is every bit as important in dealing with the timeline and QA of a game.

Yet, it is not as much as it was (or so they say), but making the great hit at the E3 or another main release date is the main drive of crunch, especially when the final piece of the development puzzle does not quite fit. That part might be addressed in the management charter, but we must also be realistic that a great game takes time to develop, which made a statement given by Ubisoft “We are able to offer people a new Assassin’s Creed every year because they want Assassin’s Creed every year” nothing more than a joke. Especially if they wanted to rule the gaming industry. In addition I would like to raise that the next big thing is supposed to be ‘No Man’s Sky‘ which will arrive in 2015. We must realistically anticipate that the hype gets away from us all, but it is still seen as the big thing. It took several years, which gives additional view to the hilariousness of: “Ubisoft: No Annual ‘Assassin’s Creed’ Would Be ‘Very Stupid’“, it is such an issue because true innovation takes time, consider on how certain glitches had been around in AC2, AC2B, AC3 and AC Revelations. I can understand that some of these glitches were around in the second game, but to still have those issues 2 games after that is just a laughing matter. There is a reason for me to mention Ubisoft, not because I am ‘so’ against them (I truly am not), but their track record speaks for themselves. So will 2015 be an EA year? That part remains to be seen, however, as I see it at present, there is enough indication that Ubisoft had been hit by burnout staff (assumption on my side). Will a change of atmosphere give us better games? I certainly hope so, because games thrive on the creative and innovative mind, a state that crunch time seems to destroy. This is not just my view, there are loads of views out in the open, some scholarly, some less so, most of them all agree that crunch time and creativity are opposites, so why rely on it? My personal view is that in several cases, these companies (the big ones) didn’t choose the wrong style of management, they choose the wrong sort of manager altogether.

If you doubt my words (which is always fair enough), then consider which games were the true big hits and how they were made. The age old example remains the strongest one. Minecraft was never a big project, yet Microsoft regarded it to be worth over 2 billion. a simple low res game, addictive as hell is worth more than the bulk of the gaming industry, you see, Ubisoft and Electronic Arts both made the same mistake, as they ‘relied’ on a business approach with BI solutions and spreadsheets, they forgot their number one part. If a game is no fun, you lose all your customers really fast. They both made that mistake in huge ways. Both forgetting that their games rely on innovation and creativity, both have ad massive losses in that regard. Will Ubisoft recover? That is hard to say, the EA machine is claiming improvement and it seems that Mass Effect 4 will be their greatest test. EA got hurt badly by Sims 4 and Battlefield, we should also look at ‘Dragon Age: Inquisition is great, but here are 8 things it could do much better‘ on GamesRadar, because when we read that this is a 100 hour game and it loses momentum, we can agree that $100 for a game that could be played within 2 weeks is a little demotivating. It goes back to long before Infamous: Second Son (which is just one of the games that could have been legend), I think that the makers need to retrace their steps on how many hours a game should offer. No matter how good the graphics are, I finished Tombraider in one weekend, which is not good mojo money, especially when you consider that the initial edition (on PS1, 19 years earlier) took a lot longer and was riddled with juicy little challenges. Aren’t games supposed to go forward on more sides than mere graphical resolution?

So as we judge those who make the games we desire, we see that those thinking that they are pushing towards what we desire, only end up delivering a lessened product due to pressures from too many sides, not in the least pressures that they internally created. Even delays (Watchdogs and Elder Scrolls Online) end up not being solutions, in case of the Elder Scrolls, with so many delays that the latest tells us June 2015, has been the reason for many people to just cancel the order altogether. The fact that Elder Scrolls has dropped the subscription part shows just how dangerous their position has been. Here I do want to brag a little, because I came up with an entirely new Elder Scrolls almost two years ago, one that could have saved them many issues as they tried to ‘fix’ their MMO approach. Just as consoles require great games to survive, great games require the right people, people who need to be well rested to get them that golden idea that will make legend. Watchdogs did get a lot closer due to the delay, but what if the difference between 84% and 93% was two weeks of rest? That one golden idea that drove the game to legend status? Is it realistic? You see in hindsight that is all good and well for me to claim, but that is AFTER the fact. I believe my view is the right one, they just needed the right manager to inspire them a little further along, but as always, it is a personal view and it is a debatable one, I do admit to that part.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Gaming, IT

Vision, Budgets and Gaming

What makes a game? Whoever has played a game, and perhaps still plays one, has at times asked themselves this question. Even if you think you are not a gamer, you might be one in disguise.

How does that work?

Well, let’s not get to the controllers just yet; let us take a look at the options.

Is it a puzzle?

On many systems, whether PC’s with or without Facebook, on a tablet or on your mobile. It is possible that you have played Sudoku! I have seen a truckload of them and two stand out. First for the iPad there is Finger Arts Sudoku, which is a massive piece of fun and it is all for free. The game is pretty much a perfect version. The second one to mention is Platinum Sudoku on the Nintendo DS. The game went cheap for around $20 and has hundreds of Sudoku’s per level and as you go along, you unlock sounds, backgrounds and so on. Once all have been done, you unlock a few million additional puzzles, Sudoku heaven in two titles.

Is it Nostalgia?

Again, tablets, PC’s and Consoles have a host of games that are revamps from older computers. Ascendancy, Railroad tycoon, X-Com, the list goes on and many are free through Abandoneware some cost just a few dollars through the Apple store or Google play. They can free your mind from several places and some parts can keep you busy for a while. It is as simple as eating pancakes.

So why these jumps?

Well, I had to make a few changes in my life and as such I missed out on a few games as my consoles remain off line for a few months, which means, no Destiny for little poor old me. Yet, is that the case? I got a link to the ‘Angry Joe Show’ who had his vision on Destiny, the 500 million budgeted cash cow for Bungie. The reviews were ranging from 60%-80%, with one overly high one. This is not good, for a game implied to be budgeted at half a billion; you would expect a 90% plus rating.

So what did Angry Joe state?

  1. Lack of competent story telling
  2. Repetitive mission design
  3. Frustrating random loot

Important is that many critics have said similar things on the game. So how come it is such a success?

Well, there are two parts, the first, the marketing was top notch, they created interest and they kept interest levels high, without overhyping, which is reason that the interest stayed. Another side is that if grinding multiplayer games are your thing, then you are fine. Yet, how are these things any good?

They are not!

It seems that we are confronted with a new level of revenue based marketed games, however the overall quality of the games is going down fast, as well as the overall amount of gaming hours. Some state that the Unity main mission can be completed in 15 hours. I finished Infamous Second son in a little over 12 hours, this comes down to a one weekend of gaming, how can that be a decent investment of gaming fun for anyone? I stated issues with Black Flag, now Destiny seems to up the ante, which gives us pause to what comes next. That can be seen in several ways.

The truly big games for Next Gen, like Destiny and Elder Scrolls online are now falling because the outrage is getting stronger fast. So is making games so hard? No! it is not, for the right person, because a real visionary can create something that is desired for decades, like for example the Diablo series, and even though Elder Scrolls Online are getting a fair share of the winds of contempt, their previous games (Oblivion and Skyrim) are still regarded as top notch, even with the glitches.

When we see houses throwing a massive amount of money into something, the image is growing that things are becoming dubious. There is however an issue with that statement. Although GTA-V is not my game, it is a massive success; the game even broke the billion dollar record, which is as far as I know the only game to ever achieve that within the first week of release. There are other independent successes like Minecraft, yet we see now that Destiny made the revenue and the profit by remaining mediocre. So is it the games, or the players?

To be honest, I am not sure that the answer is that easy, for one, Destiny is almost unique on Nextgen. Xbox one has Titanfall, but the PS4 did not have anything like that (referring to multiplayer slaughtering). This skews the interest of the people. Elder Scrolls Online is also feeling the brunt in another direction. When the overall consensus is “I wish this game would’ve turned out better, but everything I read so far has told me to not even bother“, as one player stated it to be, you know that you a looking at a possible 200 million fiasco. This is in itself odd, because Oblivion and Skyrim redefined RPG gaming in a massive way. True, Skyrim is loaded with ‘glitches’ but the storylines can be played and the main story is great too. It is only when you decide to stay in Skyrim and make your character your lives work; it is then that the issues start piling up. However, as I have stated it before, Skyrim is a massive step forwards from Oblivion, which was a large leap from Morrowind, So the makers have given us more in a large way. This gives us the worry, why did they go MMORPG, when the single player games are so fulfilling.

The Angry Joe show also stated some issues on ESO. It is not unlike issues we see in several games. On top of that, one race is only there available if you buy the limited edition; in addition, it is monthly based, so the $100 comes with an additional $15 a month, with an additional $15 for a month zero payment (to set up your monthly payments). So in NextGen consoles, you will lose out on $120 before you got the first hour in. Now, let’s be fair, we need to pay, as we do with every game, but the reviews from several sources show an average game. For example you could be watching a group of 15 men try to charge whilst watching the game crash as the ESO server went down. These things happen in MMO games, yet we don’t see this with Blizzard games. And as money gets, you get 1 gold piece per kill and 2 gold pieces per boss. It seems entirely weird as a horse costs well over 17,000 gold pieces. You do get a horse with the limited edition that is $20 more expensive. So as we see the greed factor creep into the new games, we should worry on how gaming goes. Angry Joe talks a good story, brings the issues nicely with a few theatrics, so seek his views out in YouTube (seek: ‘angry Joe review’), he has published several interesting reviews.

There is trend that we now see growing, which could end gaming as the joy it has been for over 30 years.

What will come next? This is at the core of the issues we face, some (me included to some degree), as Microsoft bought Minecraft for 2.5 billion, I am worried about what they will do to it next. There is no indication of what they have in mind, but Microsoft tends to be revenue driven, which means that Minecraft will be ‘upgraded’ to ensure no less than 5 billion in revenue, which makes me slightly worried on how they will do this.

Yet, things are not truly covered in darkness yet, however, that revelations will also come with another revelation that will not make you happy. I have spoken to some degree on an upcoming game that seems to be the next real game we all need to look for. The title ‘No Man’s Sky’ is all about newness, originality and sandbox gaming, all rolled into one massive achievement. The important part of all this is the worrying part. You see, like Minecraft, this game is also an achievement by an independent developer.

So as we look at the set developers like EA and Ubisoft, we see that they have not improved their gameplay for some time now. One review on NHL15 wrote “NHL 15 is a disappointment. It lays a good foundation for the future with enhanced physics and an improved presentation, but it’s still mostly potential“, I saw FIFA15 which looks nice, but I am not a soccer fan. Games Radar stated this on FIFA15: “This year FIFA 15 pulls off a difficult trick. Not only is the game closer to a TV-style broadcast than ever, but the experience is better than FIFA’s been in years“, so it seems that there is goodness coming from EA, yet is that enough? Sports games have their own following and as such for THEM there should be a decent quality game to keep them happy, whether it is NBA, NFL, NHL or FIFA. EA is bigger than just the sports section, however in that regard; EA has remained quiet (and as such avoided ugly hypes).

However 2015 should see the light of a new Mass Effect, even though loathed by a fair share of fans, Mass Effect 3 had several good sides, amongst them the best multi player side I have ever played. Mass Effect could be the next big thing, but time will tell, so I will not add to the ‘gossip’ and ‘rumour’ fire at present.

Ubisoft has a few options, but is in my view lacking as Watchdogs became a hyped success. It was graphically amazing, yet in the core a mundane game like AC1 was. This does not make it a bad game, but it could be the mind blowing start not unlike AC2 became, yet Watchdogs one started from a much better place than AC1, so that future could be promising. If you wonder how it helps speculating on this, then I have no real answer to that. Yet, consider that these are also the questions asked in Forbes magazine as gaming is now truly big business with projected revenues in 2014 surpassing 81 billion.

So, what is the issue?

It is vision!

Gaming is about vision; those who have it bring us all the greatest games. In an age where we need to turn around every dollar, we tend to focus on the true innovation. The even nicer thing is that fun and quality gaming does not need to cost $100-$150. Finger Arts and Abandoneware have proven that. There is a clear indication that the larger developers lack vision to a growing extent, which makes for several issues down the track. The Nextgen systems are still lacking a decent pool of really good games almost a year after its initial release. This should currently regarded as a disappointment compared to the previous versions of consoles, especially as we saw Sony announce ‘This is for the players!’ and Microsoft with ‘Everything you can imagine, Plus a few things you can’t’, neither have delivered so far. So, is my view that there are issues and it is my personal opinion that this feels like a marketing machine in overdrive whilst the rest of these companies cannot keep up, my evidence? Look at the initial Nextgen Top 10 as it was published on June 17th 2013, on average 22 weeks before the consoles were released.

  1. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain
  2. Quantum Break
  3. Final Fantasy XV
  4. The Crew
  5. Destiny
  6. Knack
  7. Titanfall
  8. Watch Dogs
  9. Project Spark.
  10. Tom Clancy’s The Division

Out of these 10, 2 made the release date, one was 6 months late, the rest has not been released at present and they will not come until 2015, so we see an announcement that is off by 75% (they get 5% penalty for Watchdogs). Something this far off is pretty unheard of. It views as the hype from Microsoft and Sony to get console sales high and then end up skipping out on the games (to some extent). I must state that those with PlayStation Plus were given a barrage of games, free to download. Some were decent, 1-2 were really nice, which means that some was done, but was it an acceptable step?

What will happen next?

I think that we need re-evaluate the way we look at the gaming industry and more important on how those within it market their customers. In their defence, these gamers are like a group of hungry hyenas, so feeding them any news is at times the only way for marketeers to stay alive. Yet all of this is not done yet and we must all take a long hard look at what was, what is and what should be.

Budgets

There is no denying that games will be bigger and bigger budgeted, yet consider that these games, offering less than 20 hours are closing on the quester billion to develop. Yet, we see in Minecraft that it can be done in other ways, there are more games. Elite, remade from the 1984 edition, originally created to fit a 48Kb home computer. Good games are not expensive and true vision is priceless! That part is what we have seen more than once, if we take a few of the older really good games and their cost we see Ultima VII: The Black Gate – $US1 million (1992), System Shock 2 – $US1.7 million (1999), Resident Evil 2 $US1 million (1999), Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter – $US18 million (2006), BioShock – $US15 million (2007), God of War III – $US44 million (2010). So when we see Unity, Infamous: Second Son with their massive budgets, we see the trade off, where the larger players throw money to hide vision and to some extent they are getting more than just an even payment. It is there where my issue with Gamespot and their ‘closeness’ to Ubisoft becomes an issue. How can we get honest reviews whilst the makers of games are stacking the deck for mere profit? Independent review is the only way to see what is good, what is worth the money and what is bad. How can the consumer get the right information?

This is at the heart of the matter, I would like to solve the lack of vision problem, but that lies with the makers of games. They have options, yet are they willing to learn? Even if they are willing to accept that they are no longer visionaries, not unlike Steve Jobs, there is a chance that they can spot it when they see it. The question then becomes will they protect the future of gaming.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Finance, Gaming, IT, Media