Tag Archives: Mass Effect 4

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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What is it?

It is time to get involved! Part of me tried to promise again and again not to do so, but Google search made me so angry that there is no option left other than to get involved. Really bad reviews all over. The hatchet job metro.co.uk does by just phrasing some ‘opinions’. Even places like Christian Today took several options to rely on bad writing and half-baked unsubstantiated rumours of what they considered to be No Mans Sky. I ignored it for the most, but it is March now, so No Man’s Sky is a mere 12 weeks away. So it is time to start tapping the keyboard.

First of all, do not just rely on my word. A good review, an open review and a good look on the near final version. You can find it at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KTRb1E9s6pg. The preview by Chris Bratt and Martin Robinson is an excellent piece of work. It gives you part of the game, it gives you the impressions and it shows you the excellence. I would personally call it one of the best previews ever. I also believe that as they were doing it together, you will hear the bouncing of ideas and impressions, so not a rant from a singular person in any way.

From my point of view No Man’s Sky is what I always believed it to be, an open game of exploration. In that way it has earned its own niche. I will go one step further, together with Elite Dangerous you would end up with the one of the best near perfect experience of interstellar sandbox gaming. One quote is still at the axial of the game ‘You move to the centre of the universe’, yet would you want to? That is the magic of the sandbox game, as everyone builds a castle, you could sculpt a mermaid; that is the beauty of the sandbox, it is about your imagination. Do you want to become the next Darwin and catalogue a planet? Do you want to be the next Roald Amundsen and map a planet, or would you like to be the next James F. Reilly and map the elements? This game offers it all as far as I have seen it. In balance you get to do it all, see it all and move from planet to planet in the process.

I must also ask the question all others are claiming, would it be a disappointment? I feel for 100% that for me it will nothing less than an amazing experience. That does not mean you will feel the same way. We all have other interests. There is however one element that no one can deny. Just like the legendary games Elite Dangerous, Minecraft and Diablo 3. These are games you play you play something else and at times you pick these games up again. That is the beauty of games like this. You can always get back to this game, making games like this the best gaming investments ever.

There is another side to this game. I feel certain that it will evolve over time, which means that like Elite Dangerous, we will very likely see additions down the road, how could that not happen. The fact that ED is offering Horizons this year, an addition that allows you to land on planets and drive around. I started playing Elite Dangerous again after 2 months, mainly because it took a little while to finish 2 games and get my Fallout 4 character to level 60. I feel that this is what we get with No Man’s Sky (NMS), you want to play it non-stop at first, but like any other event, we will suddenly get a game we must play immediately (like Mass Effect 4, Shenmue 3 or Bards Tale 4), whatever YOUR bowl of cereal is, you can always return to NMS, making this an amazing choice. Now again, it might not be your cup of tea, which is fair enough. Let’s face it, some people just want to play Destiny morning noon and night, which is their choice to make.

Going back to that video, the one thing that is clearly shown is that the graphics give a first clear indication that a team of 11 can equal if not surpass the abilities of a 1 Billion Euro corporation called Ubisoft. This is why I believe in No Mans Sky, because they show the basic flaw of players like Ubisoft. By setting up rules for a game to not be a failure, you set up the equal rules for a game to never be truly exceptional.

Personally, I believe that this is why No Mans Sky took so long, this is why letting Hello Games run at their own speed was the only option ever. So when we consider the hatchet job reviews from a place like hardcoregamer.com with the specific quote “This game is quite literally promising the moon, and that’s exactly why it will be so soul-crushingly underwhelming“. No Brandon, the game has so far shown to be beyond normal, it has so far proven every bit of hype the gamer has had for it and we are a mere 12 weeks away from learning the truth.

It is not the gamer, it is the press that had been hyping NMS whenever they could and now they have a go at Sean Murray (and the game). I tried to remain absent of those discussions until now. Now we must face what we are about to get and Eurogamer does that in an amazing way. Even Forbes Tech got involved in a not too positive way comparing it to Spore. The reality is that it took longer to finish. Like Minecraft this production is truly visionary and truly unique, which beckons the question where Forbes (Paul Tassi) has his views, because as he hits out against NMS, he is in equal measure really quiet on the ‘downgraded’ graphics of ‘the Division’, but he’ll likely call it the semantics of the moment, mainly because Ubisoft did not send out review copies, which is really weird a week before launch. The  quote “an…interesting course forward with the way The Division will be covered by the games press at launch” (at http://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2016/03/02/there-is-no-the-division-review-embargo-because-there-are-no-review-copies/#18df7a3016cd) gives more questions towards Ubisoft, more precisely why they are not asking them from the 1 Billion Euro Ubisoft and negatively speculating them towards Hello Games. This is perhaps the most upsetting part, especially from Forbes. The additional ‘BS’ quote “Since it’s impossible for us to populate the servers in a way that would adequately replicate playing The Division on launch day, reviewers will start playing the game along with everyone else when it’s released on March 8“, my reference to BS is as follows. They either admitted to the fact that the game has not been properly tested, which might make this a valid case for prosecution against Ubisoft down the track, or they just do not want ANYONE to see the game before release for other reasons, when that includes the press I tend to get a little jumpy!

Yes, all those speculations in the negative for Hello Games and in the denial of reality on the side of large developers. I wonder what excuse the press will give next.

For my side, the question on ‘what is it’ regarding No Man’s Sky is harder to answer, because there is no clear answer. It is a sandbox game and that makes it what YOU make of it, you as the gamer. In my case it makes me wonder what else the game has in store and in about 12 weeks I will learn, I hope that you will take a moment to find out and to truly look at the facts and not at the gossip or the speculative. With that I leave you with the fact that the Eurogamer video was hands on the game, so look at it and form your own first opinion.

 

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Redo from start?

I have been considering the games that are, that are soon to come and those we wish to see again. I feel that I am not unique, I am one of many who feels the same way many gamers feel. It all started with a simple pre-order notice I saw at JB-Hifi. The order was not for Mass Effect 4, but for Mass Effect, which seemed a little odd. Soon I found a few less reliable mentions of a possible upcoming re-release of Mass Effect 1, 2 and 3 for Nextgen (Xbox One and PS4). I got excited, because overall the Mass Effect series are nothing short of a marvellous achievement. Consider that Mass Effect is one of the earliest Xbox360 releases, it still hold a storyline that was amazing to play. Yes, we will replay and we will know certain key parts, but that is still not an issue for those who love Mass Effect.

The revamped version of the last of us seemed to have instilled a desire for games on Nextgen that should make developers happy. Is that because the lack of good games or is that because the new games are leaving us cold? I think it is a little bit of both. As studios tried to play the ‘marketing game’ they are now learning harshly that playing that game on gamers is a sure way to see your product get smashed. The outrage that Assassins Creed Unity brought is only one of the elements. I will go one step further, a relaunch with upgrades to the story of Assassins Creed 1, 2 and brotherhood would very likely be more successful than the next Assassins Creed. This for the simple reason that the makers seem to have lost their way (the fact that Unity is regarded by many as the worst Nextgen release does not help any).

Even a relaunch of System Shock (1+2) is likely to draw in a much larger crowd than the likely disappointments new PS4 RPG’s are going to bring. The added issues is not just the game, the problem is for the most the marketing division for these developers; a decent example is the Division by Ubisoft. My issue is that so far the game might look good and could even become great, but in their approach to feed the hungry hordes of journalists and to remain ‘visible’, the people at E3 2014 got to see something that is now not coming until 2016, even the Q1 part here is currently under debate, so as the gamer is promised a game that is now 19 months from its initial ‘presentation’ the people are wondering whether to trust the game because of the mental link we all make between presentation and delivery. It leaves many of us with the thought ‘how many bugs do they need to fix‘? Now, that thought might not be the correct one, but when 10,000+ people think it, some outspoken nitwit will scream it on YouTube, which results in many players moving away from what could be a good game. An example here is Elder Scrolls online, which is a marketing disaster, yet when we see the review from ChaosD1 (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=2082&v=csY7RYF4rKQ), which is excellent and might change the minds of those who walked away from Elder Scrolls Online.

We the players now want to move to games we know, we trust and believe in, which gives added weight to relaunched games. Let’s not forget that Borderlands, The Last of Us and God of War 3 were excellent games. There is however another form of relaunch, one that is not actually a relaunch, but a new evolution of the game. Elite, the legendary game from the BBC Micro B, might have made its fame on the CBM64, it is the upcoming console version which left some parts intact that is now the talk of many towns and even more gamer communities. It shows a new air and an approach to a ‘sandbox’ world many are eager to get onto. As Elite upped the game by mapping the galaxy, with the added wink to legendary science fiction moments, which they did by adding Vulcan and the Leonard Nimoy Space Station as well as Pratchett’s Disc Starport. It is still many years away (as he is in good health), but the moment will come when we will get a place like Badger’s station or the President Lampkin’s station of justice as Mark Sheppard joins the legendary ranks in Elite: Dangerous. You might wonder what does it matter, but it does! You see, as the gamer identifies with moments of his own ‘reality’, the things he/she is passionate about! The game becomes more fun and we will see that people connect more to a game. The danger is that when the threshold lowers and too many ‘legends’ are added, it could drive down the sentiment overall, but the sentiment remains! This will not hinder the upcoming No Man’s sky and both titles will very likely appeal to many players. In that same air we should see the upcoming Shadow of the Beast. What was a scrolling game with slashing on the Amiga/Atari ST, is showing itself to be a Nextgen blood dripping slice and dice extravaganza. This is a new group where the makers can relaunch their original idea and many gamers will love them. So, as the ‘new’ games don’t hack it, the gamers will get treated to a game that did and will do so again. The benefit here is that game makers will need to up their game by a lot to get out there. In the end the gamer wins no matter what! (Don’t you just love that?)

So they will pray at the ‘shrine of Pong‘ to replay System Shock, which does not hinder others either. When we consider Paradroid, or even some games for a chosen crowd like Sierra Entertainment’s games called Manhunter New York and Manhunter 2: San Francisco. They were well above average games then and could now get vamped into truly awesome games tomorrow. Perhaps we will actually live to see the conclusion of part 3 in London. It will be up to Activision to decide and as I see it, it just takes one visionary view within Activision to unlock that revenue! That same feeling is there for the Ultima series. Even though game 10 was an experience released too soon, the idea of an ‘Elder scrolls World’ that is Britannia could be massive. The fact that a developed ‘world’ is scanned and transferred to a first person environment complete with quests, side quests and upgraded storyline could give way to a new generation of gamers, let’s not forget that those who played the original are now regarded to be in the ‘old’ section (yes, that includes me), whilst the young section will experience something completely original in a new jacket. A world where you get Ultima 4, 5 and 6 in one game on the same world with the challenges to master is not only new and novel, pulling it off would raise the bar of gaming considerably. Something all gamers desire!

We became complacent in gaming as we played the Assassins Creed series, which for the most was just ‘more’ (specifically 2, Brotherhood and Revelations). Shadow of the Beast and Elite: Dangerous are now showing that ‘more’ can be an entire new range in evolution, a part many gamers (and developers) have not truly contemplated. As those behind the developers, learn to look behind them on what was and what can be great again, we learn, actually as I see it, it is the gamer taught the developer that games can be recycled.

Yet, we must also consider that it is not about the open world part, a trap I myself tend to fall into. The immersing part of being trapped in a house and surviving it, or as some will call it Alien: Isolation is basically redoing what was great and leaving the player with a replayable challenge. Which is the holy grail of gaming! I believe that more could be coming. I still regard Metroid Prime and Metroid Prime 2 (GameCube games) as one of the most amazing games Nintendo ever released, they did on 3” DVD what many developers could not achieve on a 4.7” Blu-ray, which is truly amazing.

On the other side we see the failures, the hype that was Watchdogs is regarded by some as a failure and a joke. I do not completely agree, but overall the game is not the titan it was heralded to be, but it could be the introduction to a second game that is really awesome (Assassins Creed 1 + 2 are evidence of that), I am just willing to see the glass half full in the case of Watchdogs and I am willing to give Ubisoft a little slack in this game, especially as they do not deserve any slack for butchering the Assassins Creed series (yes, I am slightly obsessed with that). On that same line I tend to set Thief! It was not great, but decent, I do not regret getting the game when I did.

What will come next? Well, that is the question, so as many stare at the horizon for Fallout 4 and Mass Effect 4, we should not hesitate to look behind us to see new (and hopefully improved versions) of Tenchu and Mega-lo-Mania. In my view as all the developers are focussing on multi-player and micro transactions, they forget that the bulk of ALL gamers need moments of escapism, where they need not weigh anything, but focus on just having fun. This is why Minecraft is so bloody addictive. Diablo again shows levels of fulfilment. It is basically why people on Facebook keep a game like Zombie Slayer around. It has no mental need (minimal) it has decent graphics (images) and it shows progress. I will take it one step further, especially as I am not that much of a zombie fan. It is in my view one of the reasons why some of these games will always survive, when we add Pokémon to the mix we see that part even further. It is only because of the technological flaw that Sapphire and Ruby could no longer be played, yet now, with the 3DS editions, we see the power of that formula. Those who played before still love what can be played again, so as some stare forward to the horizon of new games due to technology, do not forget about the treasures behind us. Now some do not feel that ‘vigour’ when they play Colonization, a Sid Meier masterpiece, because it is board like and turn based, but what happens when the mastery of Colonization gets blended with the freedom of play that Seven Cities of Gold on the CBM-64 brought? Evolution, re-playability and challenge all in one go! I would really be curious to see such a result. I believe that within 95% of all gamers is a casual gamer that just wants to have fun, which is why Diablo and Minecraft will survive forever, we will do the multi thing in Mass Effect 3 for periods of time (best multi player experience EVER!), yet we will always return to the games that mentally satisfy, the part that scripted games cannot deliver, a niche market with long term gaming fun many developers seem to ignore.

Let the games begin!

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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.

 

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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.

 

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