Tag Archives: Oblivion

A Congressional Country Club Neighbour

There is a problem when you are the neighbour of the Congressional Country Club. It is not on the CCC mind you, they did nothing wrong. No, it is all about their neighbour Bethesda. Yes, you guessed it; the slamming of software developer Bethesda is just escalating and escalating. The latest one (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJ-kIlMPoYY) gives a rise too blunders on many levels, all made by Bethesda. The tweets are off the wall; Bethesda is in actual problems at this point.

I believe that in part the mockery is deserved, apart from the fact that Fallout 76 was an error, or published way too early, the clarity of failure on how the entire mess was dealt with, the lack of communication, shallow party lines and bad response to an even worse situation is what is strangling Bethesda, and to some degree, deserved or not. It is unfair.

Until Fallout 76 the bulk worshipped Bethesda, consider that a game like Skyrim, released on 11.11.11 is still played today, that requires true vision. Many (like me) became fans of Bethesda as ES: Oblivion was released. There is another view (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2kRRYgf54oM) that takes itr into another direction. I believe that he is wrong, but I get the point of view. You see, what we call puzzles are basically locking systems in the game. That locking system was staged in those days and these places were filled with soldiers in those days, so the ‘puzzles’ were actually merely locks for those without keys. It is not a hard core puzzle and should not be seen as such. Yet the same person also makes a point with the Fallout 4 references in RPG, the gutting of the Special perks part. He has a point, there was regression, making it too much like an action game with RPG elements. Was it a mistake? It never bothered me whilst playing Fallout 4 over and over again, but that is just me, the story itself did not suffer to the larger degree, if that was the case, my reaction might have been different.

He makes a good point, New Vegas is actually superior in a few ways and that is a shame, even as we loved the ability to make our place more specific, we lost in other ways and that was a shame. When I decided to design ESVI: Restoration, I added from Oblivion, added to Skyrim and made two additional sidesteps, that is progress; that is game evolution.

So there was additional challenge, new options and additional lines to complete. More important, I realised that not everything is in your hands, so I added a side quest where you can influence, but not control it all, that is a part of life. That question will move like a red line through the entire game and in some cases that project will not be completed by the end of the game, time had become a factor as well, an element often ignored in RPG. In my view, you can influence time in the project, yet the end is almost predetermined as you find the elements.

So how is that better?

The fact that there are several choices and you can only commit to one, is the part that matters, it makes for replayability. Also, the end result will influence the economy in play and more important, ass certain choices were obtained/found the place will also open up another set of NPC’s in the game giving another feel and optionally other quests and optionally another achievement. That is merely one place.

I set the stage for 23 side quests that are not the same, require a choice to be made (to some extent) and in addition, would optionally change the favour you get in return, that is something that had not been done before. Although based on previous games, the entire main storyline is set in the past, in the past you played before (to some degree) making the entire line of ES games a historical part of what had happened, optionally what you had played before, that is a side we have not seen before (as far as I know).

What else could there be?

Well, that was my initial thought when I started Restoration and what if we get to choose? What if it is not as shallow as the legion versus the storm cloaks? What if the choice is a fundamental one? What if we select progress of now versus the return to the old age? That is an RPG, it is your choice, it is something given to us in the very beginning of Oblivion.
This is exactly why I considered what I did and I believe that it has the merit of giving the gamers optionally over a hundred hours of gameplay, more than that, they can replay and get a partially different game out of it all, something a lot more than merely manic versus mania; more than Elf versus Imperial. What if we take this to a new level and realise that the light cannot exist without the dark. When we accept that there are no clean solutions and that we have to live with choices and see the impact around us, that is when vanilla RPG transforms into something we seemingly have not seen before (implied as I never played all the games that there are).

And what happens when this is translated to an entire new level of Fallout later on? My ideas are new and partially unique, but the evolution I have in mind is not something that is unheard of. the question becomes is Bethesda (or any other serious RPG developer) willing to take the gamer into a different direction, adding to the need of a lot more graphics and a lot more changes, but that will in the end entice people to replay a game like that again and again. Skyrim opened many eyes, I am merely offering the part where a place like that becomes your universe and you can actually tinker it through gameplay into something more, it has been seen before, but it is really really rare as it requires the software maker to be truly committed to a product for the long term and those in charge now are all about the full time hit, as fast as possible and make it the next profit treasure. Ubisoft showed us that in Assassins Creed, the Division (version 2 more so), Far Cry and Watchdogs. I need to start with the clarity that this is never about the graphics; the graphics from Ubisoft are close to sublime on all these games they really worked it out. The long term part is missed (especially in the Division) as this is about non-stop action. Now, that part seems natural, but it is not. When you have been in a warzone you will get it. You see, it is about stamina. Not fictive but actual stamina. We might think that this does not apply, but it does. It is so much clearer in Division 2, as we see the game to be a much better game, we see the failure on how a person does what they do with 30 Kg of backpack and weapons and do the stuff they do. Stamina should have intervened to some degree; in addition it was ignored as a reward. When you play more, your character will have a better level of stamina, have you ever run for your life holding onto a 7.62mm FN MAG? I have and trust me it is intense, when stamina leaves you for the moment. Things become a little blurry, motor skills diminish a little and you really need 5 seconds to get a hold of yourself. Now, this is a game and I get that, but it is the ignored element, which is a shame. We see Stamina in Skyrim and there it makes sense, yet Skyrim missed a little as well, not intentionally and perhaps not even noticeable and it does not matter to the degree it might, but the internal blocks have not been addressed in any RPG game as far as I can tell, which is a shame. It does not make the Division (1 and 2) a bad game, not at all. I am not a great fan of online gaming and plenty are, yet there is a side of me that looks at the game and whilst there is nothing to say about the first division (we all have to start somewhere) we see that the second one needs to be a step forward and that is clearly the case. It is a large leap forward, anyone telling you different is merely insincere on it all (not lying, merely not seeing it all correctly) Now, there I might be wrong, even as i am not much of an online player, others are and they hold a much larger candle towards the quality of such a game. They will look at other elements. I merely noticed that Stamina is a missed opportunity in the Division both one and two), but in the end it is merely one element of plenty of elements that might be improved on. Stamina is the most visible one as it equally impacts Assassins Creed, Far Cry and Watchdogs. Consider, when was the last time when you had to climb up a tower with gear, let alone the pyramids?

We see to leap forwards in many areas except debilitation (like Stamina). So what happens when you do need to get from place to place and also rest at spots to regain stamina? We played Fallout 4 and Skyrim, yet how many took time to sleep and eat? What if that becomes the foundation in the game for the character? What if we see that the Khajiit needs sugar and meat at least once a day? What if the High Elf needs little food, but will require fresh clean water every day? What more can we get out of the game when we focus beyond the story and make sure that our time in the elements are properly addressed? I believe that plenty of games will end up with an added level of game play and satisfaction when the elements become actual elements to take heed of. Fallout New Vegas had so much of the added elements in its game that the consideration that Fallout 4 was a step back is not that big a leap and that is such a shame.

It is a shame because future games will be measured in different ways, the growing demand for survival games is showing us that path and RPG’s need to catch up fast, or better stated Bethesda needs to up their game in several ways. They do not have the luxury they had in January 2012 (after the first Skyrim wave). They now need not merely a good game, they need a landslide rating to get the people aboard and enthusiastic again, they dropped the ball that often in the last year alone. If they do not, we will see the RPG community moving to other shores and perhaps that is what Obsidian Entertainment will deliver with the Outer Limits. Time will tell, and the gamer has time to go from game to game, Bethesda no longer has that benefit, they squandered too much of it internally, and externally towards their fans, the gamers and their marketing will need to learn that merchandising is not a solution, it is not a stop gap. Every piece of merchandising is another piece of evidence to hold Bethesda as a company up to scrutiny, did they not realise that?

 

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We test da game

It is time to talk about Bethesda. It is having a rough week and not wrongfully so. Yet the application of exposure is something we do need to talk about. We see headlines like ‘Publishers like Bethesda Should Accompany Sony in Skipping E3 2019’; it is time to do a little more than merely disagree. Another review, the one from Eurogamer made a real effort to keep it clean and academically and that should be appreciated. With: “Bethesda’s attempt at Fallout multiplayer is, like so many of the series’ vaults, a failed experiment.” Those who played the Fallout games will know that this is a jab at Vaultec and that is fine. You see, the short and sweet of it is that we can look at Bethesda and think Nintendo; we can consider that Vault 76 is the Bethesda version of the WiiU and guess what? Out of those ashes the Nintendo Switch was born and it is a massive success, as such Bethesda can do the same, get a similar solution. Now, that does not stop the immediate, and it might not be immediately fixed, is that so bad? The fact is that Bethesda has never been a real ‘more of the same‘ company and we have applauded them for it and this time, we get to wait a little longer. Guess what, Ubisoft made us wait 9 months for Watchdogs (2012/2013) and the end result was still flimsy, Bethesda can outdo that achievement (effortlessly) whilst sleeping. Even as we see articles like ‘9 Ways Bethesda Can Fix Fallout 76‘, we see the impact of some people that have an axe to grind, merely because their expectations were smashed and that is fine. You should have seen me rant in the direction of France (specifically Yves Guillemot for screwing up the AC Franchise to the extent that they had done), we all have axes to grind and it comes with the field of gaming, emotions will run high. It is all linked to the complex mind and the necessity to play. We value that downtime like the hall passes we get on powernaps in the office on Monday morning, isn’t that what the Monday morning is for? When I looked at the list of 9 (at WhatCulture) there were parts we can optionally agree with and some we might not. You see, fast travel is a nice way to exploit glitches and the soul of Vault 76 might be the survival of you, as such the option “There’s not really any reason for the game to charge for fast travel, so it’s simply an unnecessary annoyance. It can be easily patched out of the game without upsetting its balance, and so it should be done” might be rejected, and focus on another stage. I very much felt like agreeing to ‘Add an Offline Mode‘, as this has been the core of everyone, to play offline, or online in solo, singular and lonely mode, optionally merely with the additional path to invite friends.

There I would go with ‘United we Stand, Lonely we Quest‘. I have friends (merely a few mind you) and I got unnerved way too much as they got into my line of fire. You see a marksman needs a clear field and when you get in my way you will get a bullet in the back of your head to remind the others not to get in my fucking way (I apologise for my applied use of French here). In a stage where an opponent needs to cross the 800-400 meter range so he/she can effectively open fire on me, my friends better not screw up my stats, I fought hard to have a decent accuracy rating, so one idiot getting in my way in whichever way is not my choice of acceptance, and people catch on quick, they kept out of my way and whichever enemy got too close was made permanently redundant (and they went down with satisfying graphics) . This is why I never cared for the Olympics, I absolutely love that the winner is heralded, yet why are the others allowed to live? (Sorry, I do have a weird sense of humour)

So back to that list as the previous part was linked to this. You see, I disagree with: “With the inclusion of an offline mode, though, Bethesda could also add in accessibility options for players to toggle the punishment factor of the survival elements“, I disagree here, if Vault 76 is about survival, having an impact and penalty is important, it also prepares you to not run into situations as most gung-ho players tend to do, survival is something else, it is cautious and tends to be slow. There is no greater sense of achievement as wiping out all life in a village and until the last person remains alive, these NPC’s had no idea what he was up against, which is a little wink at the Oblivion ‘Whodunit?‘ mission. In his list of 9 I failed to see a true link for greatness. There are valid points in there and some should be considered fast. Yet the bigger picture I miss is not what I saw, it is what I missed. In my view (apart from the bug fixing) which will take time and Bethesda is on it, I want to give a few points of my own.

  1. A built site needs a much bigger budget; in addition, the cost of defences should be down by at least 50%. Optionally build sites should be expanded on, so when the building budget is full, optionally expand it (for a price, or expansion mission add what would be up to 3 satellite mobile builders (one for each time a maximum budget had been reached), giving you the option to gain well over 100% of space, to optionally create an actual outpost, or perhaps link to a building, an official or community building, so that you can build something lasting. Not sure if that would be possible (software architecturally speaking), yet consider Fallout 3, who had not considered making the US Capitol their own personal space? Perhaps it is too large an example, yet that impact, like a subway station might be an awesome idea to build your own ‘town’. That was my hope when I was introduced to the intro of Vault 76, we understand why another vault is not an option, yet a failed vault (one that was not ready in time) is still an idea. Whether that idea is added as a DLC will not matter. It can even become a quest line in the game.
  2. Quests, there is (seemingly mind you) a lot missing here, as I mainly gathered from loads of reviews. My immediate idea was to add quests like ‘the Greenhouse effect‘. A mission that sets a stage where we need food to survive, aiding an NPC in setting up a greenhouse, growing vegetables and setting the stage to sell groceries to other settlers (a wink to fallout 4 Greygardens), not merely getting the entire structure up, but creating robots so that the work can be long term and automated.
    A similar quest could be created for clean water ‘the shape of aqua‘, and should not be repetitive in shape and challenges like the previously mentioned one. With these two in place, the game can give perks for outposts created. Another part for general goods stores ‘Crazy Goods‘ (a Crazy People wink). The trick is to make the challenges very different and testing, giving not merely a stage of improvement, but one with different sided challenges. It is one thing I partially missed in the past, there is a sneak preference in me, yet having a mission that is dependent on a technical skill, and perhaps one on heavy weapons/explosives and one on sneak gives a new view to how we ourselves, play that game, it is merely a thought. And it important to see that this is merely partial criticism on all this, I have not played the full game, not played to any large extent (merely a few hours at a friend’s place, as he has 4K and I do not). Even as it all looks impressive and even as it is buggy, it is still new, as well as in a new direction and that is what I love about Bethesda. I was never a rage fan, I never went beyond the first ‘the Evil within‘, yet they never stopped surprising me and they are willing to take leaps. They prove that their games are not for everyone and that is fine, the ones that do like their games tend to be extremely committed, you merely have to look at the Rage population for that part of the equation.
  1. Diversify! There are too many ‘password for terminal‘ moments in all this (I was given awareness of this, I have not tested this part). I get it that this is the operational stage of the Fallout series, yet the alternative to download terminals so that your Pip-boy can hack it (over time) gives us the need to find empty Holotapes and perhaps add the write capability to the Pip-boy (for the downloaded terminal), was that considered? How come that we cling to the ‘caps’ part, if this is the beginning, is there not a real needs for goods? Making the water, food and goods part more important and optionally also making those missions more rewarding? Then there is the option of ‘RandomWare‘. Spawn unique pieces in solo mode whenever a new game is created. So you cannot run to a place, you have to genuinely find it. For example a power armour helmet with sneak abilities (converting that item to sneak perks card perhaps), or a level 4 Rifleman card (+25% damage). This could be done for different sets and in different ways giving much more challenge and reward to the game. For example, adding 2 special parts for every S.P.E.C.I.A.L. skill might give the people true incentive to find every location and if those 14 parts are scattered randomly over 200 locations, the cheat guides will take a step back requiring people to become better players, it is merely a thought to consider. Consider that you have a game where you need to get lucky. That feeling that you get with Diablo 3, when after finishing the game 10 times, you still get a legendary item you never had before, in a trait that really gives you an edge; it is a real Adrenalin rush when that happens.

These are merely three elements that could add heaps to the challenge, prestige and rewarding sensation that is currently temporary lacking in Vault 76. I use the word temporary as I have complete faith that in the end Bethesda will come through for its players, so far it has never failed them and that must be said too. With about 5000 hours in the Elder Scrolls (not online) and Fallout, I feel that I know what I am talking about, besides the part where I have been connected to games going all the way back to 1982 (CBM Vic-20).

Is there more? Yes, there is always more but is that not the main concern with every Monday morning quarterback? So far Bethesda has not disappointed me and they will get past this, or perhaps not and the next gem we truly end up desiring is the one that comes after. It is always a side we have to accept, merely because games and gaming is not science, it is an art and art will always be personal, we either embrace it, or we do not. Yet in the end, like junkies we hope that the next Rembrandt is another Nightwatch, yet the next one might be merely ‘An Old Woman Reading‘, which is still a Rembrandt mind you. So when you realise that both him and me are both from the ‘van Rijn’ family branch, yet did that branch matter? It absolutely does not and I am not related to him at all, we are two separate trees completely (implying it at times, especially in New York was heaps fun, seeing the shock in the other person alone is worth the entertaining act), giving us another form of artistic entertainment.

When we realise that art is the foundation of any game you should start to realise how insane the Ubisoft claim ‘another Assassins Creed game every year‘ was. As I stated in a different blog before, it took me no more than 8 hours to create the foundation of Elder Scrolls 6 (not the one being made now), yet it is not merely the story, it is the art, the graphics (a part Ubisoft has truly mastered in all their AC games). It is the science of ‘AI’ so that the NPC’s are acting natural in the game and that part is still not perfect (in any game), there are so many parts and they all need to interact (making the Ubisoft claim much worse), because it all takes time and time will never ever bargain. It will never state that it will decrease itself in speed by 10%, it is the one constant we all face (until we die that is), making game testing crucial to success and taking into consideration that a game is finished whenever that is (the perfect CD Project Red) response to its fans. We can design and conceptionally spring the game in moments, yet it still needs to be done in the end and the visionary programmer will be worth gold at that point, yet the interactions with other parts of the game makers (graphics and sound) are still part of it all and that requires time. Bethesda’s approach to use golden oldies songs (in the fallout series) was a master move, we all (most of us at least) want those soundtracks with those old songs and they also give life to the consideration of classics, two home runs for the price of one. All parts that can be used to add to the game even more. The question becomes how to give proper positive impact to the gamer? It is a question no one can honestly state, not even the best marketeer. We can merely hope that the impact is appreciated, perhaps even loved by the gamer exposed to it. So far Bethesda has done really well and even as I was not playing them from the beginning (I started in 2001), I have so far never really been disappointed. Is that because I await the game, or perhaps I refuse to adhere to my own expectations? The second one is extremely dangerous. The moment that you start to live by your own expectations you will miss out, as I did ignoring Far Cry 3 for too long. It is an important moment even as I have raised my fist against Ubisoft for the longest of times, they got that one really right (4 and 5 a lot less so). If there is one impact for Bethesda is that they will face (deservingly) the issue that their launch day following will decline, yet I believe that they will overcome and any really great game will restore faith in the brand. Ubisoft faced that upbeat when we were introduced to AC Origin (still a true gem).

EA could face that same upbeat if they remaster (still a big if) the Mass Effect trilogy, they would have an option to fix the Andromeda parts if they are willing to go all out, but in the end, will they find the cash? It is important to look at this now; you see, most gamers cling to the old successes and so far plenty of people have seen the positive impact of a remaster, so the noise for the Mass Effect series is increasing again (and again, and again). Yet, is that enough? There is an option to set the stage for a fifth Mass Effect game, if the makers can learn to ignore the shouts for early release (aka muzzle their entire marketing division) and focus on quality, if the errors (seen in the first hour) are addressed and looked at as a challenge to make a better product, we see and we get to live through a new challenge that is a true new Mass Effect, but it implies that EA Games needs to be willing to put it all on the table and so far, they have not shown to be testicularly ready (aka they lack the balls), so why mention it? I am a gamer like all the other gamers and Mass Effect 2 is still one of the most perfect games I ever played; like everyone else I do want more of that and it is within EA to find that solution (there are millions of gamers wanting that) implying that if they get it right, it will come with millions of copies sold. Consider that Andromeda might not get that, yet link it with Mass Effect Hegemony (fictive future title) it becomes another matter altogether, especially if they are willing to change the focal point. I merely have to point at movies like: The Day the Earth Stood Still, Escape from the Planet of the Apes, Conquest of the Planet of the Apes, Earth 2, where the humans are basically not the good guys to create a stage that is invigorating, creates moral ambiguity and gives consideration to other venues. A game like that would be a game changer, especially in the Mass Effect range. That same path should be considered with Bethesda. What happens if we up the game, what happens when there are real setback to the choice of becoming Railroad, Brotherhood of Steel or Institute minded? Just like we saw in New Vegas, where a direction impair another one, when direction offers options as well as impairment, we see a need to replay the gamer and that replay is actually just as exciting, providing that the missions are different and new, not merely a palate of sense (replace goods with slaves), it is a path less trodden because of the effort needed, yet the impact also implies that the game is valued up to 200% more that way.

We are all protective on what we desire and love, especially the games we embrace, it is natural to do so, yet we must be willing to be honestly critical when it does not meet our realistic expectations. As long as our expectations were realistic we will be able to do that, as such I feel no reason to joining the AOC (Active Oxhorn Critics). Here we see (via Reddit) “Seems like people hate the game despite it being good or not“, as the operative part is: “Oxhorn gets hate for actually liking Fallout 76“, it does not matter whether the expectations of Oxhorn were really low, or that he is like me, in Bethesda he trusts, all others pay cash up front. His dime, his choice. People are entitled to that part, plain and simple.

Faith is strange and fickle that way. I believe that the entire setting of the stage is not the one or the other, it is the appreciation of art, especially art that remains in transit and is still being upgraded, when the final product is a good one. We got the value for our bucks. Even if that is not the case, the price of art is what we are willing to pay for it. I have always been willing to pay $20 for any Rembrandt, yet that is the limit of my budget for an oil painting. Others pay $1200 for a pre-released No Man’s Sky, it is merely what we are willing to shell out at that moment and it is up to us to learn that we accept the choices we make. So even as some feel really bad of getting a launch day copy of Vault 76, we merely need to learn to look at the right sources informing us on what is and what is likely to be. Granted that this is difficult when a game is as large as Bethesda, or Project Red RPG’s, yet in this the success versus fail rate with these two players is so far massively in favour of the ‘I trust my maker‘ that we tend to go with the launch day part.

We win some, we lose some.

So get over it, especially as Bethesda is openly and loudly committed to fix the product, which in the end is still the biggest part we need to accept and I did mention the result after 9 months of waiting for Watchdogs 1, did I not? So let’s give them time to do the Sir Fixalot routine and await the upgraded result.

 

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the next game stage

There is a new game coming. Keith Stuart writes about it and is taking loads of space for it. The title ‘Far Cry 5’s violent civil unrest is a much-needed reality check for games‘ (at https://www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/jun/02/far-cry-5-games-civil-unrest-trump-us-reality-ubisoft). Now, you know hat I have issues with Ubisoft. My issue with Far Cry is even more out there. Let’s start with my introduction to the game. I started it once on the Xbox 360, that version was my introduction to the game. In the past I have only ever returned 2 titles, Far Cry was returned the next morning. I did not like it. I thought it to be a bad game. Now, this is not the end or the killer here. We will always have a game that seemed interesting but ended up not being the game we signed up for. So I ignored Far Cry 2 completely and initially Far Cry 3 as well.

I had heard good things regarding the third game, yet we don’t all like the same games, so as such I have no issue with Far Cry. Next thing I get to (several months later) is that my PSN plus allows me a free download of Far Cry 3, so as I had heard good things, I downloaded it and had a go. Boy oh boy, what an excellent game that was. It starts great with the intro and Vaas is just one of the greatest lowlife badass villains in gaming history and the game stays on a decent high note, which is rare for an open game like that. Yes, there are issues, there is repetition (to some degree), yet the part that a game took a 300% improvement over the first game is stunningly rare. So I was on board! Yet, as we got to Far Cry 4, Ubisoft was facing a lot of issues. I believe that they started in 2013. You see, Black Flag was a good game, yet as I see it it was not an Assassins Creed game. Someone dropped the ball here in a massive way. You see, Black Flag could have been the pirate game that Sid Meier could never make because technology stopped him. The game is excellent in so many ways, but it was not an AC game (my personal view). It had a few other issues, but lets not squander time on those details. Ubisoft with the large issues of Watchdogs was already on the ropes, that is when we got AC Unity (a failure in so many ways, graphical glitches not being the biggest one), Far Cry 4 arrived and The Division was delayed (and would receive more delays until 2016). So Far Cry was already under the gun. It was more about explosions, too much repetition, running back to the outpost you just freed. The game had its fair share of issues. The biggest one was that it was basically a new crazy person and pretty much getting the same thing done. This last part does not need to be a bad thing, yet it was not great either. Like the previous game, the graphics were great, the AI was still shoddy (not the worst part of it all). I found that there were too much scripted issues. Wave after wave after wave of attacks, their AI not being great lessening the joy of the game. yet some parts were brilliant too. the dream missions to the temples were really awesome as it added a little more to it all.

So as I saw the choice for Far Cry 5, I saw another path, not necessarily a bad one, but a different one. The quote “I began to get the sense that America was ready for a Far Cry,” said producer Dan Hay during a recent press event is a fair one, it could be anywhere, so why not the US? The next quote gives us “The group gathers under the edict ‘Freedom, Faith and Firearms’ which is so close to the language of pro-gun religious right firebrands it cannot be coincidence. Furthermore, during the press event, the 2016 armed takeover of a federal building by a civilian militia in Oregon was even name-checked as an influence, tightening the game’s connections with the modern US, with civil unrest and unease, and with the intricate connections between religion, politics and gun control“, which should increase the interest in the game. I remember Bethesda Fallout 3, I was hooked, because I have been to that area, yes it was in 1998 and it was recognising the train station and how alike it was, just added a bit to it all. It is like watching a movie (3 in my case) as the shoots were in the places you have been in (one in my street), it just adds a little tingle on your spinal cord when you see it. This would be the same if an open world arena is placed in an area you know and recognise. When it includes events that actually happen, the suspense of the game goes up, so good for Ubisoft here. Yet now we see Keith going into the wrong direction with “The politics of Trump’s US and Brexit Britain are fascinating cauldrons of fear, uncertainty and division“, which is not false, but he does not mention that ‘cauldrons of uncertainty‘ are created by the media as it prefers too often to leave the people in the shadows instead of clearly exposing certain elements. Yet he hits the nail on the head with “Fear and truth make great, compelling art and the idea of a game steeped in the complex politics of the modern US is hugely enticing“, that is shown as the desire of Cyberpunk 2077 just keeps growing. In addition, the option to drown in ‘fear and truth‘ is not enough, as I see it, the gamer wants to influence both become the decider. In that we need not just more of it, we would like something truly new (or reengineered). Consider the chances that Far Cry 5 will have hunting not just for food, but to increase your backpack? Why not just for food? Why not the need to find scrap and other materials to upgrade the backpack, or the pouch, or whatever? Montana is not a small place. So are they looking at that part? Perhaps they are, it is to soon to tell, yet what if your success is not just to prove yourself to one native American? What if a better chance would depend on getting connections to the Blackfoot, the Cheyenne and Crow? Perhaps this is done, we will know when the game arrives. Keith writes that Ubisoft is ‘already taking steps away from broader controversies‘, which is actually a shame, because it is in the limelight of possibilities where true legendary games are shaped. In addition, we see “And by framing the group as a crazed sect, rather than a plausible conservative right-wing operation, the game distorts any sense of true representation.” Now, this is a shame, because keeping that as close to the reality could be a really good thing. Do not forget that some of these conservative groups are only made crazy by the media. Some prefer to be left alone, they get along with their neighbours, but most important, there is growing evidence that they are not always the bad guys. If we just look at the EPA violations in Montana, and how they were settled, some for less then $400K whilst the cleaning of the water is often no longer a possibility. So skating closer to the reality and options and opportunities could make Far Cry a true legendary game, yet will they go there? I doubt it, we will have to see. I like the very end where we see: “Whatever happens with Far Cry 5 it is at least a tacit admission of something important. We can’t, with a straight face, claim that video games are the storytelling medium of the 21st century, unless we’re telling stories about our real lives, our real fears and the very real monsters around us“, which is actually a really good path to consider. So as we have looked at covert spies (Splinter Cell), at the option to survive in the wild against crazy evil people (Far Cry) and as we have protected the good by cutting throats (Assassins Creed), so what happens when we take certain TV series to an entirely new level? What if we had Washington DC mapped in detail and we re-release ‘Covert Action’, but now we use the latest in digital options, in surveillance where you would have to break into places of ill repute (the North Korean Embassy for example) and truly hunt for intelligence by hacking and gathering intel? To become an actual data broker. Now some is not done on those locations, some happen in server rooms, in cars, in apartments. However, the idea to take Watchdogs and Splinter Cell to a new level, one that is based on an actual flowing political situation? Could that be done to the degree that gamers would like to go. Yet in this game, we apply legal issues as well, so murders are a problem, evidence is an issue, more important, visibility of any kind would stop you to take missions on. You see, the setting in a game is one, but it is set on a storyline, because that is the part that gets us through the game. We can accept that scripted issues happen, especially in the intro of the game, yet we tend to find interference of scripting a lot less fun in the game. In Far Cry 3 with Vaas, it was resolved pretty brilliantly, yet it would always happen there at that point. So what happens when the game has a path that is altered by parameters? What if the shift from Acta to Actb suddenly shifts?

For example, that the Dead Space path has two additional elements, one is time (the longer it takes, the less time you get for the asteroids, or the more subsystem you repair, additional paths or rooms become available later on. We see that story driven games are confining, yet open world games lack direction at times. So as we do every mission in Skyrim or Oblivion we tackle the game in one go, but if we are another race or gender, or even the actual time? What if that decides our missions and paths? I see it as a way to ignite a larger value for replayability. Paths that have been ignored for the longest time in gaming. Although Dishonored gave us additional options to get somewhere based on our powers, that is exactly one of those reasons why Dishonored is a ladder higher than most other games. In such ways Ubisoft dropped the ball in several games. Primal could have given us more if certain considerations were made. It seems more and more that it is not entirely with the makers. It seemed to me (I could be wrong) that Ubisoft Marketing thinks it knows its gamers and from that limited view ‘decisions’ are made that seems to be more and more about the stakeholders, and not the need to get a 95%+ game. They have settled for less, whilst the impression is clear that within the timeframe other considerations could have increased the value and the need for the game. Again, that is just my personal view. So as we see other games coming this year, we will more likely than not see the failing of certain other choices, which is a real shame, because we were truly baffled by Assassins Creed 2 and Far Cry 3. Games that took the edge of gaming, and stretched it making the world of gaming truly larger. So they do have the ability to do that. Yet whether they still have it remains to be seen, time will tell us that. yet the fact that Watchdogs, Far Cry 4 and AC Syndicate are nowhere near the reviews of AC 2 and Far Cry 3 are gives us the clear need to not stay on the same path. In addition, the least stated on Mafia 3 regarding this, the better for all involved. We can agree and accept that some winners face hardship as a flaw was introduced, that happens (Microsoft Vista for example), yet from that we got the winner Windows 7, some Ubisoft titles could end up on the same high path. They only need one person with vision to make it happen.

I have to conclude that Ubisoft due to their number of titles was chosen, yet I think we can agree that other makers have made similar mistakes (Mass Effect Andromeda anyone?) For me it is almost a crusade, not against Ubisoft, but for the next Assassins Creed to give us the buzz that the second and brotherhood gave us. If it is done before, it can be done again! The Ubisoft graphics department proved that by setting a new level of graphical excellence with Black Flag.

Let’s all hope for the best!

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Slamming the Game makers

There are many games that get released, there have been titans that we still yearn for and even as several games are upcoming or just now released, there is no denying that the gaming community at large have been anticipating the arrival of Mass Effect. YouTube is getting swamped by groups of people, some are utter idiots, trying to get traction in viewers, so the least said about them the better, some have outspoken opinions on the game, which is fair enough and some of those videos are actually decently insightful and some give us a view, but they do not give the game away. One of these very good reviewers is JV2017gameplay. In that regard, the video (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XGdGEqYYJjA), gives us a backdrop on the game in relation to the original trilogy. The video is well worth viewing. Seeing this before the game is launched is a very good idea, yet not essential. We get to see some of what we will see in the game, yet we are told explicitly, the video holds no spoilers, which is really good, because I like my surprises to come from the game, not from someone’s video. I have to admit that there were two issues in the story shown, but there could be a very good explanation. This movie and one other (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l7hs5cu43Ck), which is about exploration show one element in absolute clarity. That is the fact that Mass Effect Andromeda is clearly arriving 5 years after the previous game for a very good reason. This game shows to be a massive leap forward from the last two games. There is a level of familiarity when we see the interfaces, so those whomever played it before is likely to get a quick handle on the game play. Two videos that show us that Bioware has taken the game to a new level, one that seems to be trumping the sum of both Mass Effect 2 and 3.

I am not going too much on the videos, you will just have to watch them, which is a good idea if you are serious about getting this game. What is important to me is that this game is one of the earlier games that is upgraded so that you could enjoy the maximum that either the PS4pro of Xbox 1s has to offer. So if you have the right TV, you would be able to enjoy this game in 4K resolution, which is great. My issue (in the positive) is that Bioware shows us, not unlike Bethesda did in recent past, that good games do not get released on an annual bases. I truly hope that Yves Guillemot learns his lesson from this. A second lesson that I hope he will learn, is that a game that has all the elements of different games, will not add up to be an excellent game at all.

Now, some will see this as my slamming Yves Guillemot, yet I disagree, although, if Yves proclaims to not agree with this assessment, he might not be 100% incorrect #JustSaying. It is my view on the creation of mediocrity. Yet, are all bad reviews correct? Here I feel that more than one person has not been fair against all things Ubisoft, which needs to be stated as well. You see I do disagree with the vision that James Marvin gives us on how adaptations of movies from films seem to consistently flop, this with the reference to the Assassin’s Creed film. What constitutes a flop? You see with a Production Budget: $125 million, a movie making $238,396,337 is in my view a success. I give $125 and I get back $238 that is 90% profit! With banks giving you 5% if you are lucky, that result constitutes a good day’s work. I will say that I did not consider this a great movie, yet it is not a bad one either. Anyone who saw the remake of Point break 2015 will happily agree with me. The AC movie had a good cast, the cinematography is actually a little overwhelming at times, but the filming shows to be slightly too chaotic and too many jumps to Michael Fassbender in virtual device mode, which is pretty much it. As it was a financial success blaming Justin Kurzel is equally unfounded, but here is part of the issue, it is the vision that was given. I think that the error was to some extent as stated earlier, not the greatest visions, making it less a success than it might have been.

This now reflects back to Mass Effect, because the game has one thing as it went from game 3 to game 4, it shows vision, the eternal platinum trump card that makes a game an instant classic and the 90%+ success rating that really good games get.

What should overwhelm you are the ‘upgrades’ that Mass Effect offers. Looking through windows showing the actual space where you are, which is a little overwhelming. Like the AC series, the voices have been taken well care of with Clancy Brown is the voice of ‘your’ father, an actor that the younger player will recognise as Mr Krabs (a SpongeBob square pants production). Others might recognise him from Cowboys and Aliens and the classic sergeant Zim from Starship Troopers. You, as the player will be voiced by either the stunning model Fryda Wolff, who weirdly enough has not seen too much camera on TV or the big screen (hinting towards Michael Fassbender here for his next production), but has been active in games like Civilisation, Final Fantasy 13, Call of Duty, Fallout 4, XCom 2 and the Technomancer, and if you are playing the male character by Tom Taylorson who is actually new to this level of work. Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones, the Tudors), Gary Carr (Downton Abbey) and several others. Oh, and to be fair, Assassins Creed 2 had no lack of actors and actresses either. They gave us Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), Alex Ivanovici (X-men, Mirror Mirror), Lita Tresierra, who sadly passed away (the Factory), Carlos Ferro (Dominic, Gears of Wars series). So this is what both sides took pride and effort in and there has never been anything but the highest praise for both game makers. Also it is the graphical side that was never a flaw, you only need to look at Assassins Creed Black Flag (which has other issues), to see what the Ubisoft graphical department can do when they set their mind to it, they really got the sense of the Caribbean right, it almost felt like I was actually there in that time, or so I would believe it to look like.

Getting back to Mass Effect 4, the entire game as shown so far seems to be nothing less than Mass Effect 2 on steroids. The exploration, the graphics and large land masses, the fact that a map has several fast travel points give rise to the facts that the planets are a fair bit larger than ever before. This will be the game for anyone who loved the original trilogy, anyone who has a need to shoot things and for those with a reverence to role playing games. Now, as this game is not out yet for another 7.61 days (roughly) we have no idea on the amount of hours of game play that this game brings, the actual amount of planets you can land on and explore and so on. In addition, the Mass Effect series, like some others have always lend their design for additions (DLC’s) and season passes, so I wonder if more would come. I cannot state whether this would come with the overwhelming value that the Fallout 4 season pass gave us, but we can hope, can we not?

The power of games is at times great to experience, especially when we see a game like Mass Effect Andromeda. True, several good games have been released, but when we focus on the 90%+ ratings, over the last 12 months gives us Nioh, Dark Souls 3, Dishonored 2, Deus Ex: Mankind divided and Overwatch. 5 games over the last 12 months (Witcher 3 GOTY edition is also making the cut, but the original was released in 2015, which is why I omitted it). So as you can see 5 (or 6) great games a year. Now, there will always be games that did not make it to the 90% level, but we still want to play them (sport games), those games are niche games, but consider how many games you play per year and how many of them were in that 90% plus range? Now consider Horizon Zero Dawn from Guerilla games, which is one of the newer players on the block (2000), Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3 (2002), which is CI Games first attempt to produce an AAA game, or Elite: Dangerous, who is now entering the PlayStation 4 field, a game originally made on a BBC Micro B in 1984 (a machine with 32Kb RAM). Last I want to mention Subnautica by Unknown Worlds Entertainment, which is a company that has 20 employees. Its founder Charlie Cleveland shows what vision can bring, in his case an ‘open’ world survival game where you are adrift on an ocean after crashlanding on a water planet. What happens after that is up to you, so as the radio tells you (when you get it fixed) that you can wait 99,999 hours, which amounts to 11.4 years, or make a life for yourself. This starts a very different game which you need to see to believe. I hope that the PlayStation people get to experience it as well, because the game will bring you a hundred hours or more of challenges, entertainment and visual wonder. This is visionary on a new level! There are a few other surprises in this game. You have not lived until you tried to get anywhere in this game in hardcore mode (1 life). In this I would slam both Ubisoft and Electronic Arts. I honestly cannot state whether it is complacency or what I would call an adherence to mediocrity. The two makers who bedazzled us with greatness have been regarded as below par too often for a little too long. This visibility comes out even stronger as we see how great Mass Effect 4 could be (Electronic Arts) and Ubisoft who basically has not produced a 90%+ game since Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag (2013). When did spreadsheets overrule the need for excellence? When we all expected that Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands would give back some confidence in Ubisoft, we see reviews that hardly make 80%, which is a really bad thing for Ubisoft. When I see the review comment ‘Writing is terrible and it’s riddled with bugs, but there’s fun to be had with friends‘, I wonder whether the second part was given there to be soft to make sure that Yves Guillemot would not cry too loud. Yet the truth we also see is “Of all the publishers out there, it’s Ubisoft that has most affectionately embraced the open world” should have been the driving force that could have given Ubisoft a super seller (a slice of Skyrim anyone?), yet the reviews imply that it is not to be. In addition the reviewer (Sam White) shows the lesson I tried to impart on Ubisoft more than once “that is when you realise that Ubisoft has taken collectibles too far“, a lesson they should have learned before Assassins Creed Unity was released.

When smaller places like Unknown Worlds Entertainment and Hello Games surpass you with each less than 25 staff members, you need to seriously wake up. I am actually surprised that Ubisoft Still exists, because to be honest, they should have imploded with no funds left by 2015 (so you see, I can be wrong too!). The question is how such places stay afloat. Marketing only make up for so much, in the end it is the product that matters!

The question is where do gamers go to next? In all this, I too need to keep an open mind. I have a specific desire for games and even as I admire Dark Souls 3, I know I will never actually finish it. I am not that great a slasher. I am all for stealth games, which is why Styx was such an amazing experience and challenge, so as we are about to get its sequel, I too join a group who will accept a lower than 90% game (which shows that there is more than just high ratings). However, we do know that Ubisoft has had its successes in that genre too: Blacklist and Conviction are both 90% games and they delivered (apart from one annoying issue in blacklist) and I cannot wait for a new instalment of that series. Here too we see that when we look deeper that there are lines of games that could result in new 90% versions, not just because the player group is large enough, but because developers like CI Games are showing that there is interest in getting a stealth game that is a serious challenge (Sniper: Ghost Warrior 3). Will this statement remain true if the reviews scores are barely making the 80% grade? I believe so, I believe that quality games will always find a home and I also believe that the proper attention will drive new players, especially if the reviews and scores correctly reflect the quality of the game. This is what I meant again and again when I stated towards Ubisoft: ‘A game that is based on a matrix on how to not make a bad game, will reflect that and not be a bad game. Yet in that same setting it will also never become a truly great game‘, Mafia III, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Wildlands and Watch Dogs 2 have proven me correct. On the opposition, those who made it (like Witcher 3 and its additions), excellence is more than merely its own reward, it creates a following and it sets a milestone for others to strive for.

In the same way that I see stealth games, I see that ‘open’ world games like the ones Bethesda produces, gives us options and replayable versions unlike most other games, which now give rise to the question why can’t others get there? Oblivion (2006), Fallout 3 (2008), Fallout: New Vegas (2010), Skyrim (2011) and Fallout 4, all of them 90%+ games. With two of them given a 100% score by more than one reviewer; that is what makes them essential games to own (for those not hating RPG games). I think we can agree that there is a fairly sized group of people who are not into RPG’s and that will always be fair enough. In that same view, I am not, and am unlikely to ever become a GTA fan. Yet the RPG group is growing, so I wonder where these two players go. You see, living on Mass Effect alone will not aid EA in its growth, who actually was one of the innovative distributors of one of the pioneers in this field (the Ultima series), so why not seek in those revamps? In that same light Wing Commander and Privateer brought the light of space flight, now they will have to compete, but our love for these games have (for the most) not diminished, so where is the IP on that? Eidos gave us Soul Reaver a game that could be rebranded in something awesome (even though the originals were actually pretty good). Yet, here I go on in the remake directions. What I hope is that these two once great development houses will seek visionaries to give us the next batch of (hopefully new) true visionary game play. If crowd funding took only 9 days to get the minimum requirement to get the relaunch of System Shock started, do you really think that RPG and tactical games are on the way out? No, most gamers are looking towards the thrills we once had and some are looking for that next new original challenge. Perhaps the makers need to start looking into the Comic book dimension. Marvel might be booked solid, but there is a league of comics that might never ever make the light of day outside of its own clique following. Even if we look at what has been tried before, an actual good Buffy video game would draw millions towards the shops. An actual good version would ensure large lines in front of a game retailer. The Darkness, what I considered to be a fine game (not great), but a good reflection of the comic style which I considered to be essential. Series like Witchblade (awesome artwork, yet awful TV series), or perhaps Michael Turner’s Fathom. You see, the ‘non-failure’ spreadsheet of Ubisoft might not allow for a game based on Fathom to be created, yet Subnautica seems to be proving them wrong at present. So as the elements of Fathom with ‘members of a race of aquatic humanoids called the Blue who possess the ability to control water‘ give rise to very interesting settings (as well of the majestic unknown that we call the seven seas). The idea of a game, open world or not (more like large levels) where we need to think in three dimensions when playing calls for quality gaming, if properly executed, we could see an entirely new level of game play one that does require next gen consoles and powerful PC’s. Consider that in 2015, the sales of comic books surpassed $1,000,000,000. Now also consider that the market size of comic books was estimated to be $280-$200 million market in 1998, and even though we have seen a decade of hard times, this market has never stopped growing from 1998 to 2016 (source: http://www.comichron.com). Is it such a leap to not seriously consider that market? And in this case, I am specifically taking DC Comics and Marvel out of the equation.

Visionaries are worth their weight in gold. So if EA and Ubisoft have any, then give them a 6′ stack of comic books and see what they can come up with. I reckon that these two players waste more money on some brainstorm lunch with BI executives, so that expense should be easy to justify. For me? If this results in them each producing at least two 90% plus game within 3 years, we all end up winning. Is that not a beautiful consideration?

 

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Gaming ‘after silence’ or ‘pre noise’?

Well, I am back after a few days of silence. You see, I found a few links that were massively worry some. Yet, nothing could be confirmed in any way shape or form. It is all linked to the Australian submarine deal and the issues that are escalating in France. So it is indeed worthy to note and report on. Yet at present there are too many question marks, too much is unknown, more important too much of the material I saw remains speculation, so this is not going to be about the shipyards on Brest and Cherbourg, until I get my fingers on something a lot more reliable.

So what does one do when you need an hour of relaxation from stress and life in general? Well, until No Man’s Sky arrives on June 22nd, I need to find something to help me forget about it all. This is why June 10th the game Batman: Return to Arkham will be a nice distraction, which is the Next Gen editions of Arkham Asylum, and Arkham City, so the Batman fans can go nuts on that part. The two games are close to perfect as Batman games and the initial Arkham Asylum showed a level of gaming on PS3 and XB360 that was so high that not having it could be considered a crime (unless you do not care for Batman, which is fine too).

There have been noises in the past by bloggers and reputable sites on ‘remastered’ games. I remain on the fence. When you can replay God of War, Batman or the Last of Us, games that had set a new level of quality gaming, how can this be a bad thing? I have had my issues with Mass Effect (mostly the last one), but that will not stop me from rushing the queues to get a remastered edition of that trilogy, especially when the achievement bugs of the first game and the sloppiness of the third game are removed.

The second game was near perfect, which is why your shy Lawlordtobe.com (read: me) was part of that adventurous vacation all over the Universe (see photographic evidence below; the photo of me with a Justicar was removed on grounds of censorship).

LVR_MassEffect2 - twitch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yet is this it? Is there nothing more? You see, that is indeed the issue gamers face nowadays. I have been a part of gaming and its industry since 1984, so I have seen it all (well almost all at least). No Man’s Sky could be one of the last true new games I will play for several reasons.

If we look back into our memories than the term ‘god’ game is not new. The idea goes all the way back to the 80’s. The idea hit me initially from a comic as it was published in Computer and Video Games (C+VG) magazine. The Comic was a reason to get it, the other reason for the magazine is that it was in the early days one of a few good magazines that informed gamers on games (remember those pre internet times)? The reference is found at http://www.weirdretro.org.uk/the-bug-hunters-the-forgotten-80s-comic-series.html. The actual comic can also be seen (at https://archive.org/stream/Bug_Hunters_The_1990_Trident_Comics_GB#page/n21/mode/2up), in my case that page gave me the idea of a ‘god game’, which at that time (the age of Commodore 64) was not really realistic.

Much later we would be treated to Black & White, but it is not until 2016, June 22nd before the world gets a first glimpse of a galactic exploration game the way we used to dream of. Consider the three comic quotes “It’s only when your world made in detail that it gets to you“, “When you start playing god with the people in it” and “Some players get the whole world worshipping them as the deity“. You might laugh at these quotes, but consider these statements and now consider Minecraft, Black & White, Populous and now No Man’s Sky. The statements and the games touch deep within any gamer a truth that many others deny. We don’t just want to be better than anyone else, to be the one who survives, we want to bend others to our fictive will (either openly or hidden). This is a dangerous statement in light of gaming, because I am making the danger of relating to Bicameralism and in specific The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (Julian Jaynes, 1976). I believe that it actually goes a lot deeper. Good vs Evil, Light vs Dark, Commanding vs Obeying, Order vs Chaos. In this light we tend to see a correlating alliance between Evil, Dark, Obeying and Chaos. The statement that control comes from order is equally unsettling. We, our person, our being is more often than not about balance. We are the seesaw of ourselves and as such we keep a preconceived version of order though the balance as we see it. So, there it is, a deeper reflection on the gaming need. When you pick up a game and play an hour every now and then, it tends to be to unwind. When you (like me) have spent thousands of hours in the Bethesda worlds of the Elder Scrolls and Fallout, it tends to be a little different.

I hope that you see how these elements connect. I believe that part of this is subconscious, when we play Minecraft there is a subconscious part that gives us the drive to play it again and again. It goes beyond the sandbox part, it taps into our creative side, like LEGO did when we were kids. Now, not everyone feels that way and I personally believe that there is a group of people ignoring the game as they are in denial because the graphics are not high end. Some are not comfortable tapping into their creative side. I can relate to that latter group, my grasp of drawing is pathetic to say the least. The lack of one element of a creative side does not make a person non-creative. That part is a side many ignore. This links to the games.

SimCity, SimLife, SimWorld, SimTown and Minecraft gives us “It’s only when your world made in detail that it gets to you“. The first part gives us the evolution of games from the limits of systems with 640Kb and VGA displays until Mojang took it into another direction and gave us Minecraft. Your world, making it as ‘detailed’ as possible. This game intersects with the option (read: need) of exploration.

Little Computer People, Populous, Dungeon Keeper and Godus gives us “When you start playing god with the people in it“. This is a game type that is not always appreciated, let’s be honest, some work from a tactical point of view and as such they do not like it. That’s fair enough! There is no negativity towards the game or those who do not like them. I was never one for GTA, plenty of fans there. We play whatever makes us happy as gamers. These games evolved over time and remained a niche style of games.

Black and White (1 and 2) which gets us “Some players get the whole world worshipping them as the deity“, as well as the statement of the previous topic. The smallest of niches, Godus falls in this one too. Worshipping has been an element in several games, yet in that it reflects on one player in the game, in more true godlike games, you are just the element behind the screens.

These games are about control (aren’t they all), so whether you go from the premise of a trader (Elite Dangerous) or an open world exploration (No Man’s Sky), I see the near completion of an area of gaming in a new light. In this No Man’s Sky, as far as I see it at present, is not just an element, it has become the defining moment in time for a large share of gamers.

Let me explain this!

If we see the past with games like Seven Cities of Gold (1985), where it was truly about ‘exploring’ the ‘new’ world. Now we get to explore the ‘known’ universe. This goes beyond the mere sandbox approach. As I see it, the elements of No Man’s Sky have the option to change gaming, especially Role Playing Games forever, If I see the IP correctly (for as far as I saw it), it is worth millions. When we consider the video’s we saw, especially the behind the screens part, than we can consider that the ‘random’ formula part works in two directions. The side we have not seen yet would be the future ability to turn cartographical data into an equation. Once this works the IP of No Man’s Sky will be worth billions. Consider the initial part and that the limited worlds we have had so far in Oblivion, Skyrim, Morrowind and Ultima. Now consider the inverted engine to actually build Tamriel and Sosaria from detailed maps. Worlds where we can actually spend our times in, in real time in a 1:1 environment. This is the ‘after silence’ we are about to experience, the need to grow worlds to play in; a new level of playing. Not just for Hello Games, but consider the options when the gaming map has no further limits, almost like Phantom of Pain, but now with entire Afghanistan mapped. In the last party we can clearly argue whether it brings additional gaming pleasure, yet in our hearts we all know that the thought crossed all our minds. SimCity (older versions) with planetary constraints, the Sims with biological constraints, Sniper 3 with biological constrains but absent of geographical constraints. Games are evolving because we can now surpass constraints we were never able to surpass before and remove them where they were/are limitations. These elements will grow gaming hardware to facilitate and the IP will facilitate the possibilities we never had.

Now we reflect back to Mass Effect. Consider that same game, but now in an evolved setting where the Citadel is 100% available. Where mining and hunting on Gemini Sigma is not on a x*y grid, but planetary. It resets these games in true challenges to get them done in a lifetime (which could become the next hurdle).

Is this a good path?

I believe that size is an issue and overall games at large skipped that part for the most. Witcher 3 is the massive exception and it has opened doors towards the gamer’s expectation. No Man’s Sky and Elite Dangerous are changing it further still. David Braben showed that his re engineered idea from the BBC Micro B (48Kb) becomes a massive platform of gaming on the PC and Xbox One. A game from 1985 as addictive and fulfilling as the original was then, now with the latest graphics and a massive increase of depth.

We are moving towards true open world gaming. The hardware is there, some of the old idea’s fit and now the imagination of the creator(s) needs to evolve the next stage. That is taking into account that the game, fits the description that defines the game. If we want to race all over America we might see that the Crew ‘addresses’ that need, but when we see a 60% score, we see a clear indication that the game did not address the initial need of the gamer. Here is the part that does bring it forward. The growing need that we get when we play games with a 92% score or higher. The RPG’s I mentioned fill them all. We want more, it is there that I see the growing need for true open world. If someone tells me that this is just me, than this might be right, yet in all this consider those who like more than merely RPG, consider the multiplayer Mass Effect 3 part. How many of you (who played the game) want that element to be played out on a much larger scale? When we consider Firebase Glacier, but now the size of a proper base with a full complement of staff. Not a mere trigger point with waves of hostiles, but a base set with security a complement of personnel. Perhaps that is not what people want? I am not certain. I think the appeal in For Honor is set a lot wider than just hack and slash. I think that Evolve (4 vs 1) was initially too limiting from the bat (but great in looks and originality) with a new original approach to teamwork and of course with the option to play as the monster so you can ‘slay’ your friends. For Honor is the next step and perhaps Battlefield 1 takes that a step further still (time will tell). This is not me saying that For Honor is already surpassed. This is me saying that if For Honor is truly the victory I hope it to be, that it will start the growth of an ‘open world’ edition. As we hit the edge of our current games, we feel the need to surpass them, that has always been the case and I personally believe that No Man’s Sky is an essential step forward towards this reality.

This is just my view on it and I expect to be proven correct before the end of 2018, possibly even sooner.

 

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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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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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