Tag Archives: Fable

The end of diversity?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are we seeing the end of diversity in gaming?

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

 

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Of mice and rats

Today news reached me that has me a little baffled. News that seems weird to say the least but, it is news and it is a reality. The news: “Microsoft is cancelling development of Fable Legends, Lionhead Studios’ Xbox One and Windows PC game, and is “in discussions” to close the Fable developer, according to a statement released by Hanno Lemke, general manager of Microsoft Studios Europe“, from several sources gives us the issues at play. In the 10 years running, between 1996 and 2006 we see Lionhead being created by visionary creator Peter Molineux. The man who created Bullfrog, sold it to Electronic Arts and got serious with Lionhead. During his reign, he created Black & White, Fable, Black & White 2, Fable 2, Fable 3 and so on. Each of these titles would shake the foundations of gaming. The originality and vision brought towards these games would continue for a long time to come. Fable 2 and 3 were made as Lionhead had been sold to Microsoft, but now, the curtains are closing. They had one more cash cow by remastering Fable into Fable: Anniversary and that was it.

In the same time that Peter grew Lionhead in the 10 years, Microsoft broke it down to what it is now. A cancelled brand, IP wasted and no look towards the future.

The quote “The free-to-play spinoff of the Fable franchise was intended to be cross-play compatible between Windows 10 and Xbox One” is perhaps the most interesting one. You see, people would have lined up around corners to get a next gen Fable 4, and they would have paid full price for it. Even though Fable 3 was not the jump forward we got when Fable became Fable 2, but the materials created had left plenty of options for a new story, a new storyline in somewhat familiar and accepted surroundings.

What is it with large corporations, especially non-gaming ones, to think that their business solutions will work in an area that is all about art?

On one side there is all the benefits of a separate and different Fable game, yet we have clearly seen that Fable 1, 2 and 3 worked. In an age where good titles are everything, the massive delay Fable: Legends brought is one that gave despair to the gaming community. Consider that both Fable: Legends and No Mans Sky would have been late, yet a multi-billion dollar operation like Microsoft could not get their act on line, whilst Hello Games, a party of 15 people (and roughly £1,827.43 in the bank) are about to release one of the biggest ground breaking games in gaming history, can anyone see my reasoning here?

Gaming visionaries are rare, really rare, I am at least able to recognise those people. It seems to me that Microsoft failed on several levels. The IP that could be transformed and the IP that is still out there is worth billions. Someone like Richard Garriott is sitting on IP that could rival and even surpass Bethesda (this does not reflect negatively on Bethesda). Hello Games has created IP that can revolutionise RPG gaming and sandbox gaming as we know it, whilst Ubisoft, Electronic Arts and Microsoft are barely getting by.

Now in case of Electronic Arts there are still irons in the forge and it is possible that the silent kept Mass Effect 4 could break barriers too, we will find out much closer to the end of the year. I am not taking a look at Ubisoft for now. Every MMORPG has a start-up phase and a game with millions starting within 24 hours will create entirely unseen levels of bottlenecks. Let’s give them a little space!

Yet in all this gamers should see the premise that exists, because two small time developers (David Braben and Sean Murray) have achieved IP originality and growth that none of the large developers have achieved for some time. Large developers have been forgetting that art is the focus, a view Jason VandenBerghe has shown, which is why I have faith that For Honor will be the success I expect it to be. It does not matter that this is an Ubisoft title, I expect it to be a great title! Even though it is not my cup of Tea, it is very likely that I will get this game regardless. For the same reason that I will never part with Bloodborne, even though I am hopeless with this game. It is one of the most amazing titles to play, it shows excellence from the very first moment I started to play; everything regarded for Honor showed the same slither of uniqueness and excellence. The fact that Ubisoft confirmed that For Honor will have a complete single player campaign (perhaps even three, which is a speculation from my side), makes me more and more interested in this game. The release date is TBA, but when we look at the overall score, there is a worry (not specifically towards Ubisoft), the large players seem to have ignored (for the most) the creation of truly new IP, they rely on remastering of franchising, whilst there is still a massive area to explore. In an age where the next gen war is in full swing and the winner decides what platform makes the cut, in equal measure as Microsoft broke its own foot on claims regarding the initial Xbox One, we see a change due to Windows 10 that is fueling additional dangers and fears, herding a massive group of undecided players towards the corral of Sony. This is of curse good for Sony, but that means that Microsoft is either pulling out of the gaming front or transposing gaming for ‘generic entertaining downloads’ that is all about Digital Selling. It is their choice to make, which would allow Sony to become the unopposed winner for 5 generations of console.

In my personal opinion, all due to a ‘business’ core that looks at a spreadsheet and does not understand the gaming business. Sony will regard this as no great loss. The moment that Microsoft realises that the power given to Sony also deflates the future of the ‘Xbox Two’ (or whatever it will be called), we will see many overreactions and no resolution. This last part is not due to Lionhead, this is the beginning downward spiral as we are getting exposed to the ‘carefully released leaks’ of a next Xbox with changeable graphics card. The move by Microsoft to remove the gap between computer and console. As I see it, it will be the end of Microsoft gaming. The issues that graphics bring, often due to open drivers might give a better resolution, yet in addition it brings issues too. You only need to look at Arkham knight and how it is no longer a reality for PC’s, whilst running nicely on Consoles (in my case on the PS4) to see the dangers of this step. With Arkham knight there is no blame towards the developers. One source (extreme tech at http://www.extremetech.com/gaming/224216-is-nvidias-physx-causing-amd-frame-rate-problems) gives us “Ever since Gears of War Ultimate Edition came out last week, there’s been a rumour floating around that one reason the game runs so poorly, with so much stuttering on AMD hardware, is because Nvidia’s PhysX is actually running on the CPU“, which is now impacting Microsoft’s own product “Microsoft has launched the PC version of Gears of War Ultimate Edition, but the characteristics of the two titles couldn’t be more different. The new Gears of War is catastrophically broken on Radeon cards“. So how long until you get a card that makes old games trash and new games rubbish? This is the core that gamers will get to face. In addition, how will you enjoy your console when you end up buying a new graphics adapter at $1200 every other year? There is a reason why I decided on consoles. Yes, I accept that 4K gaming is not an option. However, the equal reality is that I have never stopped loving playing Diablo 3 on the PS4, as well as the fact that Minecraft has ZERO hardware requirements (regarding the graphics adapter) and is every bit as fun and addictive as those needing the Nvidia GFX 980 TI.

Was this ever a consideration for those in charge of making the call of change for the future?

The end of Xbox is not in sight, neither will that be the case for this generation (unless Microsoft goes lopsided on DMA issues). So what about the mice? The mice are the independent developers who softly walk by delivering awesome achievements, may we see many mice on our way to great gaming. The rats are the executive business ‘leaders’ who gotten themselves in a $$$ environment, not understanding that world they move in. Good luck I say! One of these mice is Tom Francis who is on route to bring us a game, currently not yet finished as far as I know. A game that given its size could become a desired game for both PSN and Xbox Live. No matter who gets it, it will be a winner for that brand. I believe it requires ‘better’ graphics and a little ‘more’, but in its basic setting it is as appealing as many ‘hi-res’ games currently for sale. The title is called ‘Heat Signature’ and I hope it will be playable this year. Did you count with me? Three original games, with the larger players showing indecently less promise and in addition the possible upcoming console dangers Microsoft might bring its consumers will impact the gaming scene in even larger ways. That market could shift towards Sony, with a market worth billions for the next real visionary.

Let the games begin!

 

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Sandbox games

The first time I saw the title I thought it was a new brand for the younger player. It is an easy to make mistake, we see sandbox, we remember the hole in the ground, or the large box wooden square filled with sand in the yard where we used to play as kids. Yet, this is not it. Sandbox games are true open world games, even more important, the true sandbox game lets you change the world you are in.

Well, a first sandbox game would be the Sim city, made by Maxis. It is likely the first one that allowed you the player to change the world you were in. I remember the game in its old days, it was 1989 and I was already reviewing games. I saw it as more than just a game, yes, the core was a game. You could not change landscapes in the first edition but the start of open choices was there. I saw and reviewed it as more than a game. It had the foundations to be a learning tool and a Planological simulator. What happened when you build houses by the lake? When industry gets to close and so on, how to keep the balance of commerce, industry and residents as you grew your town larger and larger? The game was addictive, it was fun and it had an educational side. The game was a great success and it was the sequel SimCity2000 that truly brought the wave of open editing.

Some define the true sandbox game to be without a goal. I feel the same way, which is why most of my favourites are not sandbox games, but open world games, with Bethesda games being pretty much the pinnacle of open world games. Yes, they do have goals, yet in Oblivion we see how the goals can be ignored and you as an adventurer can just go on your merry way. This is almost true open world. It comes with the usual downsides and glitches, but for the most, Bethesda, makers of Oblivion, Skyrim, Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas kept an openness to the games that make them as close as ‘sandbox’ as possible. Yet the ‘changing the world’ in almost its most founding form makes those games fall short and we are left with one overwhelming winner, namely Minecraft.

I reckon that this is the reason it is such a success. The game offers true openness; you can go on your merry way and as you mine, build and explore the world will shape according to your actions. It is one of the most compelling versions of gaming, because it is the one game where you are for the most, only limited by your own imagination. This makes it in my mind such a compelling game, it all comes to maturity as the game was released on PS4 yesterday and as per today it will be available for the Xbox One, making it one of the widest released console games ever with over 100 million registered users on the PC alone. This shows that a good game will outperform a graphic game EVERY time. Yes, according to Gamespot, only 14.3% has bought the game, yet the Xbox 360 has already sold over 10 million and the PS3 edition surpassed the one million mark. Now we will see how the NextGen gamers react and they get a treat, because who already have it on their other consoles will be able to buy it for $5, which is an awesome deal.

I hope you are all catching on at this point, because the question that follows should be ‘Why are there not more sandbox games?

This is indeed one of the questions that linger in the wake. The answer is actually less simple. The line between the Bethesda RPG games (open world) and Sandbox games is actually a lot finer than most consider. Some will consider GTA (Grand Theft Auto) and Fallout to be sandbox games, I do not! The option to change the world is not there, which makes it open world in my book, but that line is really not that big so it is an easy mistake to make. I also think that NextGen systems now allow for large true sandbox games to be made and time will tell how this will continue, because allowing for the limit to be ones imagination is a lot harder than you think and Minecraft had it just right!

There will be a truckload of open world games to come and many will allow that to be enough, but when will they come to NextGen? That is at times the question. We will see the next massive sandbox game to arrive in 2015 when No Man’s sky is released yet is that the only one? There could be a host of re-engineered games going all the way back to Midwinter on the Amiga/Atari ST, which could be seen as the initial Far Cry 3, but then without a storyline or missions. Far Cry 4 is coming soon, yet again; this is open world and not sandbox (from my definition). In my view that small margin is important, yet both versions will allow for immense gaming pleasure, so do not let the label ‘sandbox’ or ‘open world’ to stop you from having fun, because I personally feel that the old title ‘RPG’ (Role Playing Game’ was too often ignored by players, who thought that these games were dull. I think that Minecraft is one reason why people feel more and more drawn to the Open world and RPG gaming.

There is also another side to the sandbox; we are seeing it at present the most clearly in the Elder Scrolls online. I had mixed feelings; first of all it is a daring undertaking to get there, so Bethesda should get a large applause for even attempting it. Yet, there is an overwhelming shortfall. You see, Oblivion and Skyrim both had their quirks (read plenty of bugs), but for the most, they could be addressed and many of them are not fatal (but extremely vexing at times), yet unlike the Assassins Creed series, there has been a massive amount of improvements and as such Bethesda has shown an A-Game programming approach throughout their releases. Here is the first kicker: a monthly subscribed MMO is not a bad idea, yet with World of Warcraft, Elder Scrolls Online and Destiny (to be released soon) we are confronted with a version of gameplay that is more expensive than a Foxtel subscription, which is not what a gamer wants, especially after paying $100 for a game or $115 for the limited edition, add to that the fact that most gamers are left with less and less time playing and additional fees for internet and such, the pickings tend to get mighty slim.

I had an idea for a new Elder Scrolls named Elder Scrolls 6: resurrection, which I committed to a document and is already well over 20,000 words for the setup. It allowed me to reconsider the RPG and their approach to location. Instead of a system with new locations, some gaming franchises have grown to the maximum extend, not just because there are several version, but by the way they approached it all, that we see a world that had evolved beyond the simple markers of the box. The first game in this is the Ultima series, as the gamers passion grew, so did the need for the reality of the location. I personally thought that Oblivion was part of that fulfilment. What if ‘Sosaria’ could be completely mapped according to these lines? I personally feel that The Elder scrolls gave us that notion and Skyrim made that notion grow more and more. What if they had changed the premise, not into an MMO, but by evolving their maps and mapping approach? What if, the engine on the disk is not just a map, but an evolved mapping system, like an automotive mapping system that allows us to grow where we are and where we go? That was at the foundation of ES6 Resurrection, not by just ‘adding’ Elsweijr and Valenwood, but to transfer the maps from both Oblivion and Cyrodiil (added to ES6), so that the game grows upon the complete map. So, the map gets transferred to the hard drive of the console. Consider the game where we could literally run from Solitude to Haven (Valenwood). It would become more than just a simple RPG; Tamriel would become a growing iterative entity where you can live, run, swim, quest, and off course grow. Let’s not forget that if we properly scale the maps, we would get an RPG world where we can literally spend days by just travelling (if we do not use cart, coach or fast travel). Not unlike the Ultima fan, is that not close to the reality of a Role Playing Game that gamers dream of?

In my view I had adjusted the map of Cyrodiil from a 3×3 to a 9×9 grid, so everything would be 300% larger in actual space. The imperial city would actually become 900% larger and the other towns would become larger, yet not that much, it would be the map where we see the massive difference and it would take a lot longer to get from one place to another, so we would at times be actually exploring Cyrodiil. One of the largest missions would be to truly rebuild (Kvatch), yet you the player would not (it seems a bit silly to manually rebuild it). Yet to quest and find people, workers and to see Kvatch rebuild over many months (actual many months of gameplay), is what would have set this RPG apart from all other games. Quests to influence the look of Kvatch as well as what would be in the city, so the player influences whether Kvatch was to be a mere larger city or to make it the jewel that rivals the imperial city. Yet the main mission would remain in Valenwood and Elsweijr.

This growth would transform the Elder Scrolls from open world to something so close to a Sandbox game in what I would call a true unparalleled level of gaming.

You see, soon game developers will see that the dollar only gets you to a certain place, gamers will pay the $149 for such a sizeable game, but the long term of $19 a month will stop them sooner rather than later because the bills need paying and the student population will be left with less and less sooner still. Then what will they play?

You see, this is the response from Elder Scrolls Management: “And it’s important to state that our decision to go with subscriptions is not a referendum on online game revenue models. F2P, B2P, etc. are valid, proven business models – but subscription is the one that fits ESO the best“.

Is that thought through? It seems that you also need Xbox Live Gold in addition on the console, which is not free. They state that it is ‘only’ an additional annual $60, which might be true in the US, but in Australia it is $90, which is again 50% more, so did they think through the numbers and when they consider the established competition, did they see the danger, threats and weakness of this model? The additional outrage which we quote from the gaming site Kotaku shows an additional weakness to their model “Tomorrow night at 10PM AEST, players who have purchased The Elder Scrolls Online but have yet to set up a recurring subscription or entered a game time code will no longer have access to the game. The issue with most players making their objections heard in the Elder Scrolls Online forums over the past couple of days isn’t the subscription itself — the minimum $US14.99 monthly fee comes as no surprise. What is surprising is that Zenimax Online is pre-authorizing users’ credit and debit cards the full $US14.99 (or more) fee” (at http://www.kotaku.com.au/2014/04/players-upset-over-the-elder-scrolls-onlines-subscription-system/), which shows more than just a small issue. The game lacks the comfort of the solo play, which is comfort the RPG gamer loves. Yes, they are all for teams at time, but like me, many love just to be by themselves and just explore the great digital unknown. The MMO seems to lack that ability, apart from the reported rampant troll issues (actual trolls, not the well-known harassing player trolls).

Al this leaves us with the larger bad taste that there is more and more noise of people leaving the Elder Scrolls Online style and replay either Oblivion or Skyrim. My model allowed for that and in addition would have almost guaranteed loyalty for at least two more instalments, as well as a league of income from additional DLC options. It is a missed opportunity for Bethesda/Zenimax.

Yet the hungry new developers can also learn from the missed options as can current established brands. Consider the current/new Mass Effect universe where we see a new reach of places that become additions, the same could be stated for Neverwinter (from Neverwinter Nights), the earlier mentioned Sosaria as well as the Fable series. This is the final side of the sandbox game. You see, creative freedom seems to breed a mix of addiction and loyalty that cannot be broken. I found it driving me back to Minecraft as well as Oblivion again and again. It also seems to prove the strength of the Diablo 3 approach and the weakness of the Elder Scrolls Online choice.

When we look deeper at the quote “but subscription is the one that fits ESO the best” might be true for their board of directors, but it clearly leaves a sour taste in the mouth of the players, when they move towards the next solution, their board will feel what a deserted franchise feels like, a feeling that Mojang (makers of Minecraft) is unlikely to experience with their simple but genius approach.

 

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Values of insanity

I need to revisit my last article ‘Evolving our lives’, not the article itself, I thought it was a decent article and I stand by what I write. It is the massive absence of visibility that I see in the press that is so overwhelming, that it makes me wonder what on earth is going on.

You see, the fact that someone hacked the phone of Jennifer Lawrence is ‘great’ news. It had several pages of links of all shapes and sizes. I feel for Jennifer, I am happy that she is taking a stand and I hope her lawyer gets to take the hacker and his family to the cleaners for the next 5 generations.

The statement from her attorney Lawrence Shire is quite clear “This is obviously an outrageous violation of our client Kate Upton’s privacy. We intend to pursue anyone disseminating or duplicating these illegally obtained images to the fullest extent possible” (source: Perez Hilton at http://perezhilton.com/cocoperez/2014-09-02-kate-upton-leaked-nude-photos-addresses-statement).

My issue is not with Jenifer, as I stated I do feel for her. It is the LA Times (and many other US newspapers) that I am having an issue with. The LA Times who published only 10 hours ago: “After illegally obtained nude photos of Jennifer Lawrence and other actresses were made public Sunday, the FBI is on the case — and so is Lena Dunham“.

It is interesting that the FBI is all about the famous, yet, as it is portrayed Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian and a few others, who seem to be the object of extreme hatred and this visibility, remains mostly absent.

Now, I do not agree with some of the views Anita Sarkeesian had, especially in her video ‘Women as Background Decoration (Part 2)’, she is entitled to this view. She does bring in several cases a correct view, but again the fact that the view of the Darkness 2 is pretty much how the comic depiction is was not stated. Also is not stated that the prostitutes in Assassins Creed 2 and Assassins Creed 2 brotherhood were a weapon for Ezio Auditore to kill from hiding and to remain unseen. There is more than just a game here and courtesans were a reality in that era in Italy.

Consider the following historical fact “The Venetian authorities became concerned that it was impossible to distinguish between courtesans and respectable women. Rules drawn up in 1543 determined what the courtesans could wear” and “There was a red light district in Venice but there were also courtesans who were less obvious. They were educated prostitutes who were refined and well dressed and serviced the social elite“. This is how reality was. There is no real defence from me, for the most Anita Sarkeesian gives a truthful view, even though that view is not giving the whole picture. The same she does with watchdogs, where not just women, but also men are the target, yet her reasoning does hold water. In addition, the issues as shown in Far Cry 3 are not unknown (at http://www.economist.com/news/americas/21586575-laws-punish-domestic-violence-are-too-often-honoured-breach-everyday-aggression) the economist and many others show that there is an abundance of violence against women. This does not make it okay, but it is a reality we are all still fighting against. The economist states “it is a slow process“, I personally think is “a much too slow process“. There have been several views by many people that things have to change and I personally believe that Anita Sarkeesian should be allowed to voice these issues in safety and whilst not getting harassed.

My issues only partially against that view is that Bethesda (Fallout, Fallout New Vegas, Oblivion, Skyrim) and Lionhead studios (Fable series) and Electronic Arts (Mass Effect series) offer the option of creating a main female character, that part she left out. In addition, Female Shepard from the Mass Effect series is just as deadly as the male one. Yet, I admit these seem to be exceptions.

As Anita and Zoe are real people, why is their safety not more strongly advocated? Anita Sarkeesian’s dangers made the Washington post, yet it seems that these people (both Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn) seem to have escaped the view of the bulk of all American Newspapers. An Indie game developer stood up for her, his name is Phil Fish. When I looked for more info, I found this description on some Wiki page “Phil Fish (Powerword: Jacques Paul Philippe Poisson) is a shitty video game designer who received immense praise following his creation of a Super Paper Mario rip-off called “Fez”. A filthy hipster, Fish is widely reviled on the internet mostly because he’s a douche and a drama whore. He’s also French Canadian, which goes a long way towards explaining why he’s such a stuck-up narcissistic twat“. The hatred spilt all over several sites is unbelievable, now, perhaps the man has an ego issue, I do not know, because I do not know the man, yet his quote in support for Zoe Quinn drove a level of hatred that is beyond belief.

Let’s get back to the issues involving women.

There is an anti-women group in gaming wave going on that seems to be utterly unparalleled and is far beyond any normal dimensions. I have no idea how repugnant something called ‘the Daily Caller‘ is. Yet consider the issue. A model named Kate Upton, her phone was hacked and we see this “So What Does Rep. Fred Upton Think About Kate Upton’s Hacked Nude Photos?“, which intros as: “Michigan U.S. Congressman Fred Upton is staying personally silent on the weekend hacking and posting of nude pictures belonging to his niece, model and actress Kate Upton“, so the man is her uncle and he is asked to give his view on his naked niece? How sick is this reporter? This was not some photo-shoot in Playboy and Penthouse, no this was the violation of her privacy and many are making ‘light reporting’ of it all. This is a side that Anita Sarkeesian seemed to have missed in her article, it is not just the gaming image but the press is to some extent glorifying this! Is it such a wild assumption that this is bringing a new low level of cyber-paparazzi? I wonder how much money lawyer Lawrence Shire could get and how much publications will bring in revenue on this matter. This is not about objectifying women, this all reads as a chauvinist tactic ‘to keep women in their place‘, which, if true is a crime as heinous as the acts Pol Pot’s killing of well over a million people. Does anyone remember the Killing Fields or did you all forget that massacre?

The victims are given this response “After more than 40 hours of investigation, we have discovered that certain celebrity accounts were compromised by a very targeted attack on user names, passwords and security questions“, so if there is a targeted attack, where did it come from? We get back to the basic need of a secure internet. The system has been built on such levels of ‘convenience’ for speed, that the entire issue of security seems to have been ignored to some degree (a targeted attack that becomes a successful transgression is one that requires investigation). You see, if we accept that any system can be transgressed upon, that it stands to reason that a clear market for the wealthier client is required. Consider the news that the US president was not allowed to have an iPhone and we read “explaining why he is sometimes seen with a bulky super secure Blackberry“, why are the personal assistants of both Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton not looking into that field? Yet, are these not new values of insanity?

Why should any woman need these additional levels of protection from criminals like these? It all goes back to the issue of non-accountability. People can do whatever they like and no one will be there to stop them. If we see the years of publications and the years of recorded issues on Domestic violence, we see an utterly flaccid legal system with too little actual results. The internet is just a new iteration of inaction.

Yes, the FBI is looking into this, yet how long until these women see results? How long until Zoe Quinn and Anita Sarkeesian can go home in relative safety for using their right to free speech? How long until the international press will take these issues and goes for real coverage of the issue, and not in some feigned opposition view as we saw in the Guardian (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/sep/01/how-to-attack-a-woman-who-works-in-video-games) with text like “So, for those out there who have decided to join in and harass a woman developer or critic out of the games business, this is how you do it“.

Did the Guardian print the following in their papers: “If you want to take a good honest look at the breasts of Jennifer Lawrence and perhaps more, this is how you hack the phone“? Oddly, that is not what was printed, so why these two values? Yes, I know that the piece of Zoe Quinn was in sarcasm against the harasser, but I think it missed the point, especially as there is an abundance of non-journalistic sources burning her, whilst only the Guardian gave her any (but debatable) visibility. Is this the realistic view of Anita Sarkeesian view that women are objectified, yet now in a very real way?

Moving forward

I hope that Lawrence Shire might be willing to place a few calls and get a group of real journalists into the plight of both Anita Sarkeesian and Zoe Quinn, possible with Jennifer Lawrence and Kate Upton standing next to them. You see, I think that this is all linked to a much bigger problem, if the threat to both Quinn and Sarkeesian is unreal, then people have a right to know, but if the threat is real then ignoring the threat is no less criminal then what the hackers are trying to publish. All this whilst the media is just printing the names that will improve their circulation, so in their view, the lives of Quinn and Sarkeesian have no value and are ignored.

I will accept that a Hollywood star is news, however, within the last 15 minutes as I was writing this last night speculations regarding Jennifer Lawrence grew by 12 pages, not one fact on either Quinn or Sarkeesian by any reputable source was added. This is not life in the fast lane, this is ‘garbage in the junk lane‘ and too many who should be vocal, remain silent.

The responses

Emma Watson’s response on Twitter is perhaps the clearest “Even worse than seeing women’s privacy violated on social media is reading the accompanying comments that show such a lack of empathy“. Yet, I am personally not certain whether she is correct; when the by-line from the Independent ends with ‘Poor Jay Law!‘ which was read by another woman in a tone of ‘ah well’ we can safely state that the matter is a whole lot worse. The tweet from Ricky Gervais, although badly received is deeper than some realise “Celebrities, make it harder for people to get nude pics of you from your computer by not putting nude pics of yourself on your computer“, which might read as “When you are famous, you have no inherent rights of ANY kind, which means that either you pose naked for the press at large or someone will get those shots for them“.

Which gives us the unjust consideration “Breasts and genitals are coin, coin is essential, you are only temporary!” Whether Ricky Gervais was actively trying to state this, or “The only safe nude of you is no nude of you!” is up to Ricky Gervais, but I hope that my way of stating this all shows that the dangers women at large face (famous and non-famous alike) seems to be escalating. The view that “Domestic or partner violence is a global concern. Worldwide 30% of partnered women will experience physical or sexual violence in their lifetime” is not a figment of anyone’s imagination, yet the fact that women overwhelmingly do not report these issues and only a fraction of the reported issues are successfully prosecuted remains a fact. This all links to all the issues we saw earlier.

There is an implied inherent air of ignoring, not prosecuting and persecuting these offences, yet overall these issues are more and more visible. I do personally disagree with my previous statement, yet consider the amount of registered domestic violence occurrences and how many of them were successfully prosecuted? Here I do not blame the police; it seems to me that at times their hands are tied even more than those of the victim. Consider the quote from the less likely reporting instance (the Daily Mail). “Domestic abuse prosecutions more than doubled from 35,000 in 2005 to 74,000 in 2010, and the conviction rate increased from 46 per cent to 72 per cent“, yet as we have seen from several sources like the CPS we see: “Nearly 1 million women experience at least one incident of domestic abuse each year (2009/10 British Crime Survey data: http://rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs10/hosb1210.pdf as reported in latest cross-government VAWG strategy http://www.homeoffice.gov.uk/publications/crime/call-end-violence-women-girls/vawg-paper?view=Binary)“, so in 2010 we still see that less than 10% makes it to court, for whatever reason, so that 72% is not a victory it is nothing less than a joke on a massive failure in my view.

That what follows!

For some reason the NSA has an abundance of data, yet women remain in fear of life, we see that consultants and federal agents are looking into the mailbox and pictures of Jennifer Lawrence, yet no progress has been made. You see, something does not add up, when you target 101 celebrities, it means that you are trying to invade 101 secured accounts, now, it might be possible to get ‘easy’ access to some of them, but 101 targets gives the FBI a place to hunt, this is another question that boggles me and I do have a postgraduate degree in this area. Yes, I know that there is plenty of technology around, but in all these issues, traffic needs to occur and specific points were accessed. How did Perez Hilton get her pictures so fast? Was his ‘apology’ sincere? Was he used or was he the go between so that the global press knows that they are truly out there and for sale?

I do not have the answers, yet, here we see again a press driven value of insanity and let us be honest, at present there is no end in sight and too many women are currently in the firing line, not a firing line of Misogyny, but one of Inaestimabilis (non-English for worthlessness), which is a much more dangerous notion, because hatred can be fought, yet if a population at large deem a group to be without value, then we as humanity will have truly become a failure.

Should you consider me wrong (which is forever a valid consideration) then answer the following questions for yourself:

  1. In the US the following numbers were published by the Huffington post: “Number of U.S. troops killed in Afghanistan and Iraq: 6,614: Number of women, in the same period, killed as the result of domestic violence in the US: 11,766“, now make a 1% list, so make a list naming 66 dead soldiers and naming 117 women killed through domestic violence. How long did it take to make either list?
  2. The following two facts come from Steve Stewart, Prosecuting Attorney, Clark County, Indiana. Namely “Domestic violence is the leading cause of injury to women between the ages of 15 and 44 in the United States, more than car accidents, muggings, and rapes combined. (“Violence Against Women, A Majority Staff Report,” Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, 102nd Congress, October 1992, p.3.)” and “There are 1,500 shelters for battered women in the United States. There are 3,800 animal shelters. (Schneider, 1990)” Now, these numbers are a little old, but even then a dog was more than twice as likely to receive safety and treatment than an abused woman.

Where to go next? Well, that is as ever a good question and I am honestly not certain. In my view, placing these issues in the light and coverage by all papers it needs to have is an absolute first. I also think that the US Congress needs to think this through to a larger extent, they should consider that as UK and Australian law is a little better in protecting privacy they should consider the consequence of these women, packing up for a large part of the year and move to Sydney Australia (or London). These places have the same exotic shopping places and they are more likely to enjoy privacy away from the US, how would congress react when the Hollywood top feels safer outside the US and ends up spending their millions outside of the US? I wonder if Governor Jerry Brown truly considered the dangers that the lacking and hacking safety of women will bring him (and the state of California).

 

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