Tag Archives: Richard Garriott

Premise towards boredom

Yesterday’s article in the Guardian by Alex Hern is a bit of a wakeup call. When I re-read the article I start to agree with him more and more. As a gamer, RPG’s have been my life. This started in the old days with the Ultima series by Richard Garriott on CBM-64. The first full game experience was the third installment. On the CBM-64, the quality was a little less then you see now, but the entire experience was amazing. This game made me addicted to RPG’s for life and Ultima 4 made matters worse for me. I was lucky; some RPG’s will never have the amazing depth that the Ultima series offered, not for at least a decade.

Yet Alex asks the important question: ‘are role-playing games getting too predictable?‘ When I sat down I did exactly that, try to avoid predictability. In my version of TESVI I was at all times considering replayability. As such the creation required sidesteps, not to be reflectively repetitive, but to set the stage of 100 missions at least twice over, so you did not play two versions of a mission, but two very different missions. It allowed for the market value of a game to remain high, whilst at the same time give other players something to think about. I had been there. I must have played Oblivion 3-4 times all the way through the end. Yet at heart it remained repetitive, so my design was the thwart that nuisance. Skyrim was a little the same in many ways, and Skyrim even as it outperformed Oblivion by a large amount had a few issues, some slightly terminal, but with a game that large it is almost unavoidable (I did say almost). So if we open The Elder Scrolls to number 6 a lot more was required, and as I set the model in play (not the one Bethesda is releasing) I remained dedicated to what Bethesda will offer, because so far they have not disappointed me (this is NOT about Fallout 76). So as we see the push towards the outer Worlds, we are given: “In this world, where mega corporations are starting to take over alien planets, you can act like a hero, an opportunistic mercenary, or a total idiot. The writing is sharp, snappy and funny, the world exciting and vibrant, and there’s a classic New Vegas interplay between factions of characters, any of whom the player can help or hinder“, I am not questioning, not judging, and not placing a verdict. I await the final result that is open for review and purchase. The writer (at https://www.theguardian.com/games/2019/aug/20/from-cyberpunk-2077-to-the-outer-worlds-are-role-playing-games-getting-too-predictable) is giving us a lot more. So when the article ends with: “But their genre needs its Breath of the Wild moment: an outsider to toss out the conventions, and build something beautiful from what is left. Surely choosing between shooting, stealthing or sweet talking can’t be the only options that the next generation of virtual worlds have to offer“, I find myself agreeing with him to the part that games (at times) need more. Yet is that in part the limitation of an RPG? What if we take another look at the Ultima range? Ultima 7, the Black Gate is one of the few games that EVER received a 100% rating from me (on PC). In that time (1992) that game surpassed anything else, and others never came close to what The Black Gate offered. So when we see the part ‘shooting, stealthing or sweet talking‘, we need to consider alternatives. There was the option of getting a job (so not shooting and killing), stealing (stealthily not working), and Retail industry (not sweet talking). In part we saw the retail on Skyrim by selling (just like in Oblivion), in Fable 2 and 3 we see the option of doing jobs and gaining money that way, even buying the place and getting the revenue, so we have seen it (almost) all. Yet what happens, when the world is truly a lot larger? What happens when your impact is seen as one of thousands creating commerce and in that way create price fluctuations? What if the game needs to be set to the larger premise? To get one part right, and through the linked limitations create a new system of balances to get the whole environment correct? Make the game impact seen through the changes that not just you create. As a member of the thieves guild you can never be a companion, or with the fighter guild or the Mages guild. So what happens when we take a much larger bite out of the apple of gaming and actually set the apple to be an actual much larger play of impact? The apple of knowledge (Eden), the golden apple (Olympus) and the apple of immortality (Asgard), set the stage where you can merely choose one of them, creating a tripod where one leg is rigid and the other two vary to create some form of balance.

What if one choice demolishes the others and through that path offer 300% more? There is still the challenge of making all missions decently unique and challenging, and if you realise that the Skyrim guide is over 1100 pages, we are facing a serious clambake, not a mere picnic. It was the largest stage setting, so whatever I considered to be the design of TESVI, needed to be able to surpass that, and I mean by no less than 20%.

Now, this does not mean that boredom will not set in, the biggest issue with any RPG is the danger of grinding, and preventing that is a first. Most games have become decently adept in minimising that risk, yet it is not zero, even my version would not have zero grinding, so the need to remain long term appealing is essential. The game does not stop there. Now that the gamers soon get Google and Apple with streaming gaming, the game changes even more and finding original content in any RPG game is the essential search for every gaming junk (I am proudly part of that family), so basically the ante is upped by a fair bit. It becomes even more impressing as I look to more challenge and the Skyrim guide has 350 quests, which implies that in my book, I will need close to 800 missions to keep head of the curve and in all this, anyone getting the range of 800 quests is less interactive in what we see and the mountain of work we look up to. It also requires very different IP to continue on a higher level of gaming.
The second level of grinding is often the places where things are found. In many situations we needed to get to the same places (shouts) and we needed to find essential hardware, however if the word wall did not contain Kyne’s Peace, but a random shout? In addition, what happens when you influence the entire game by making another choice as to where the Fighters Guild, the Thieves Guild, the Dark Brotherhood and the clan of Minimarco is placed (Necromancers), more important when you shape the game as you play and the impact is seen on a larger scale. A stage where the trade route from Skingrad, via Arenthia, to Riverhold, Orcrest, Rimmen and Bravil takes another step as the Fighters guild is placed in Riverhold and not in Rimmen, these are all choices that shape a world you live in. Consider the real (non-virtual) world if not Brussels, but Paris had become the centre of the EU, it would massively impact Belgium economy negatively and France’s economy positively, the direct aftermath is that living in Paris would be almost impossible, cause and effect in play. That same setting might be applied to gaming. Where the aggregation of the lowest and highest 1,000 gamers sets the parameters of your RPG game. a game not set in stone, but in motion as 2,000 players are not set to the average, but on the outliers of the high and the low players, a game that is shaped by all as the economic footprint changes. Yet to prevent deal seekers, we make time a much more definite in any RPG game.

As the measure evolves over time, other players become part of the low and the lower high end. A game now in flux, no longer rigid and confined. Add to that that they all might have issues on some of the resurrection choices and we get an entirely new path towards gaming. Boredom can only start to set in when the game is fixed, so we start by setting change to the game itself. A second choice is to add a management part, not just overall, but a specific super large quest, where you cannot complete the quest, but you provide the options for the quest. I can no longer sneak in like William Tell grasping apples, now we create a workforce working the field and still we are involved to maximise what is possible. Yes, we need virtual worlds that have more and differences to offer, but the best option is allowing evolution in ways that we cannot set, we might be able to influence them towards 6%, impacting but not overwhelming. That too allows for a game to be enjoyed again and again. That is the kind of RPG all RPG players want and yet up to now, no one delivered that option, it is surprising and perhaps it will be the cornerstone of any RPG, the amount that cannot be predicted, for all those coming from the very bottom of the maze and interesting challenge to face.

For now we await The Outer Worlds and Cyberpunk 2077 to make it into the family of RPG fanatics, yet we too await the next Elder Scrolls, and who know, perhaps my idea makes it into The Elder Scrolls VII, as a gamer I can only hope to be given the chance to change the game for thousands of RPG lovers in a new never seen before direction. Even as I accept that this is almost not possible and I would settle for a ‘novel’ place in new original gaming, we need to see that it all has been done before, well, it almost all has been done before. Yet so far, the idea’s I had have not popped up anywhere, so I am sitting pretty for now.

I actually do not care whether someone else finds them and implements them; it means new and original gaming, the ultimate rush for an RPG gamer, preferably additions done to a game that the gamer loves. So Alex Hern is correct and the first step in avoiding all this is to make sure that we take a non Ubisoft approach to gaming, I have faith that Bethesda can do that, they might have missed the ball with Fallout 76, but still, they took it in a direction that had not been done before. Let’s not forget that before Nintendo gave us the Switch, we were given the WiiU. Everyone gets to have a bad day and when we realise that Bethesda have given us winners from 2002 onwards, over a dozen clear winners in 16 years, the existence of one less popular title (Fallout 76) with so many winners is not an issue at all, in Bethesda we trust, the rest can take a number and await their turn with the global RPG population.

 

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When the old is new again

Finally the news is there; on December 3rd people from the later generation can finally see what the first PlayStation was like. You might think that there is no value in that, especially as the machine is there just before Christmas for $159. What is remarkable is the amount of games I had hoped to see and we will only get 20 games. But not to fret, the 20 games include Final Fantasy VII (not my favourite game), Metal Gear Solid, Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey, Rayman, Resident Evil Director’s Cut, Syphon Filter and Tekken 3. Each of these titles would have been worthy of the full price, so to get them all is so worth it, every penny of it. There are other titles, but this is the cream of the crop and even as I was never an FFVII fan, it is for that generation the pinnacle of Final Fantasy, a claim made by many.

Some will state that the very first GTA is also a classic, for me it is merely to see how far the game evolved over 5 cycles. It goes further, even as there has been rustling in the weeds, there is still no official confirmation for the N-64 mini; you might think that this would push Nintendo across and even as we have seen certain patents to optionally revamped N-64 hardware, there is still no official confirmation.

For me it is more than merely a sentimental journey. It should be the momentum to open the eyes of any optional game designer on how far games had gotten three cycles ago. In this stage that we were merely stopped by resources and in the end we get to see that the lack of resources made the game designers a lot more creative in adapting technology to the max. Even as I irritatingly got confronted last night with the Far Cry failure and taking into account “Far Cry 5 is a game that takes excess as ethos, yet, in pursuing that goal of more-more-more, stretches itself so thin as to offer up nothing at all” (source: Vice), we need to contemplate when is more actually less in the end? In my case it is the stage of adding more and more in Far Cry 4 that got to me (trying to get a few more achievements by replaying the game). It is my personal believe that Ubisoft should give both devices to the game developers and see if they learn something from it. The demonic precision and challenge that is known as Oddworld: Abe’s Odyssey is perhaps the most visible one. As puzzles go, I have never met anyone who without cheating and hacking got all 100. And even as I do not oppose people seeking the internet solutions, I have never met anyone who got all 100 in one play through; it might not even be possible. To get this on a system with 2 MB RAM and 1 MB VRAM, with a disc that stores 650MB that is the lesson right there. Now we do not want a copy of that game, but the ability to give something that is still revered 21 years later, that does count. I don’t expect Ubisoft, or many others to ever pull it off, yet does not also show our growing common lack of creativity?

Personally I thought Tenchu Z, not the greatest game, was still an awesome stealth game to play. The Xbox360 gave us a cool version of a 1998 game. Even as the score was a mere 56%, the fact that no one took that to the next level is a surprise. Even as the game had issues, it also had clear promise and direction towards a much better game. There are several reviews that have given since that Tenchu Z was underrated and I support that. It reflects back to the PS mini as we see (for all valid reasons) that Soul Edge and the Tombraider games might be missing, we do see an amazing classic Resident Evil Director’s Cut, that whilst the remake of Resident Evil 2 is about to launch, showing us what a dedicated fan can do when he gets his hands on a true classic. No matter how we view this, the first two set the bar high enough making it impossible to equal for several years and that took some doing. The remake is not merely a remaster; it gives new light to hardware what it can achieve when it is kicked to a higher level. Its application of torches (what the original did not do) as well as the challenge of limitation and choice pretty much made me shit my pants and for a video game to achieve that takes effort and dedication.

The danger is that someone merely makes a new version. I did not mind that, especially in the case of Loderunner (CBM64), or The Sentinel that when it got converted to PC, with music by John Carpenter himself, I was delighted to still feel the buzz of playing that game. Yet is it not time to add 20 years of games evolution and max out games that can be taken to the next stage? Even as we eagerly await the remake of System Shock (and hopefully System shock 2), we need to see that the older systems do have gems that still await their turn in getting a polishing and technological upgrades. I believe that Seven Cities of Gold (Amiga) could have all kinds of educational insights, not unlike the original SimCity did. The same could be said for Richard Garriott and a trilogy of his achievements (Ultima 3, 4 and 5), Ultima (6) and Ultima 7+7b in the third part. The power of one island with all games over time, a place 9 times the size of Skyrim with 6 main stories and close to a hundred side stories, it could optionally equal AC Odyssey in time to complete. We are already seeing an upcoming version of the Bards Tale, so the idea is not that novel, yet I see that the main players are still not looking into that direction, which is a shame. When a reviewer from PC Gamers gives you: “Three hours into the beta of The Bard’s Tale 4, I realized how late I’d stayed up puzzling my way through the labyrinth beneath a wizard’s castle“, you should be able to consider that these remasters and remakes are a clear golden path to good gaming and we all want good gaming. I personally believe that whilst we admire all the things Bethesda has done, I believe that it was The Witcher 3 that truly gave the RPG bar a nudge into a much higher direction and those who played it want a lot more than we had in the past. I believe that this is driving the players (and perhaps their desire to get Cyberpunk 2077 as soon as possible). I loved every moment of Bethesda RPG gaming and still do (after playing those games for well over 5000 hours), yet it missed a part (unintentionally), even as Bethesda was all about you shaping your character and the world around you, Project Red gave us Geralt of Rivia to play and the person that he is a pure blend of light and dark that we found overwhelmingly addictive. Project Red got the jackpot with that character and pretty much all the gamers want more of him, or perhaps better stated a taste of someone else like him.

So how can we evolve gaming? I do not believe it is better hardware; it never was about the hardware. When you consider the GameCube, it had 24MB RAM, 16MB of DRAM a 1.5GB RAM optical disc (30% of a DVD) and even today finding something that equals Metroid Prime (one and two) is pretty impossible. It is about the quality game and we need a new generation of game developers to open that gaming superhighway, and this is where the PS mini can open doors. You see Creativity is within a person, you can polish it, you can teach that person skills to tap into that creativity, yet when that person cannot tap into creativity, the best thing we can hope for is a new version of a spreadsheet program.

Limitations drives creativity, but it needs to be within that person. Here again we need to go to Ubisoft, because the game ‘With Honor‘ shows that Jason Vandenberghe has creativity and loads of it. It was not my game because I prefer to play alone, I am not a multiplayer gamer, and With Honor was all about multiplayer, which is fair enough. It might not have been the game for me, but I was pretty amazed with the game. We can Monday morning quarterback that game all we like, yet in the end it was a well-made game. Here too I believe that the 80% score was underrated (by close to 12%), and that is whilst I am no fan of multiplayer games.

I believe that Ubisoft is sitting on a hundred million dollars of underestimated or neglected potential and even as we accept that making games costs a lot of money, sitting on a chest worthy of funding a dozen games, a chest that is collecting dust seems like such a waste. Consider that Far Cry 5 81% could have easily added 10%, how much sales was lost because of that? In this I add parts of a list called ‘14 Ubisoft Video Games – Ranked From Worst to Best‘ and see what could have been done better.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity. There is no avoiding that title, the QA, the testing and the AI bugs were a joke. This game should not have been released before proper testing would have been done, but we have been here a few dozen times, so let’s move on.

Zombi (PS4 Edition). A game that was actually better on the WiiU, can we get any clearer, a decent idea was not properly set forward making it a joke. This went beyond testing, I can only speculate that it was never properly programmed and the original had loads of potential, for the limitations of the WiiU, the makers actually got a whole lot further, even as the random spawning had a few knockbacks of their own the end result on the PS4 was pretty much completely unacceptable.

Watch Dogs. I had this as a day one order (with the PS4 launch), so I was miffed. It went further in the game with programmed settings and a few other quirks (a lot of them) the game fell short in many ways (that is even beside the delay that outstretched any pregnancy), yet the concept was pretty good, I made the AC1 comparison that as an original it had potential and just like AC2, the game would make or break. Watchdogs two was weird in some way, but it was so much better, the second game made the franchise, so that was good. The first game had a good story, we all could relate to it, yet some parts were too awkward and it never got fixed or improved.

The Division. Again a multiplayer game, which was not my thing, yet the story line, was immersive and people around me really went for the game. So as we passed a few quirks and bugs (blocking the door being the most visible one), we see a game that in its first premiere has loads of potential, potential brought to light, yet these flaws were not deadly and that too is important to recognise. the two parts that Forbes gives us is “As excited as I am that The Division has matchmaking for every single activity, for daily missions, it’s a complete and utter disaster“, as well as “I mean it is literally bugged to all hell where you are lucky if you can even start a game, much less finish one”. They are both indicatory of larger failings and beta playtesting to a much larger extent might have shown the weakness, yet the biggest issue in these games will be hackers and cheaters. I do not mind that they are around, but when I get fleeced for everything I have, it becomes annoying really fast. Still it is a franchise with optional forward momentum, that too much be recognised.

Far Cry 3. We need to look at this, as it is quintessential the best Far Cry ever, the main adversary Vaas Montenegro (brilliantly voiced by Michael Mando) is amazing, the graphics are good, the stealth is stellar and the challenges are equally from out of this world. Chasing all these objects are well overboard (not in a good way) and the stage of cell towers and outposts are pretty amazing. the ballistics are a problem as I have never seen any tiger walk away from a .50 headshot let alone 2, but if that is as bad as it gets we have a winner here and that is exactly what it was, a winner. From this it was downhill, 4, Primal and 5 are nowhere the third puppy (neither were one and two for that matter) and even as 5 is a step forward in many directions, the game in the end was not a better end product. This ended as Vice gave us: “Far Cry 5 is a game that takes excess as ethos, yet, in pursuing that goal of more-more-more, stretches itself so thin as to offer up nothing at all” and they are right.

Assassin’s Creed II. The game that should be regarded as the franchise starter of the AC range is brilliant, even as there are a few issues; the game was so far forward from AC1 that we eagerly forgot about the flaws we saw. The game in every respect shows that it is the fortune maker for Yves Guillemot and his two baby brothers (Michael and Gerard). Even as AC Brotherhood was more of the same, it was still forward momentum in a few ways. These two games were the start of an addiction but also the end of the original push forward, in the end what came after was more of the same with too little forward momentum, It actually reflects TombRaider, which after the second one was trying to be too clever and ‘deceptive’ with twists, yet we never got something really new, just more and that would not change until the definitive version was released.

In the end we could also look at Splinter Cell and how that went not forward, but more and if you love stealth, you will love more, yet in blacklist the ball was dropped by too far and that is what hampered Ubisoft. This is seen when you consider that the ratings went from 94%, to 89%, to 85% and 84%. I would have thought that after the second rating alarms would have been raised, they might have been, but they did not work. It is this path that needs to be reflective in all this, because if we consider Watchdogs 3, Whatever AC comes next, the Division 2, Far Cry 6 and Hopefully another Splinter Cell, Ubisoft needs to consider on how to make the games actually better, not merely bigger, or give us more of the same. the story will be everything, yet the playability with have a massive weight on the vision handed to the players that is where a few dozen million Euros are hidden and Ubisoft might lose out on that; the amount of missed money represents well over 50 of my life time earnings, so I think that some of the people behind the players need to take a serious look on how to secure said optionally lost funds. I see it in another direction, if my mind can construct a virtual foundation of (an imaginative) Elder Scrolls VII within eight hours, how many opportunities did some designers lose by not truly investigate the projects they were working on? I might have been in games since 1984, but I know I am not the best, I have met the best (Peter Molyneux, Richard Garriott and Sid Meier) and I know they surpass me by a lot, yet I have the drop on some developers today and that saddens me. They should be running loops around me without breaking a sweat.

The gaming world is ready for new unique games and new franchises, even as some of the older games might point the way, we see that finding a new game, and actual new original game is a hard thing to do, it can only be done by a dreamer, a dreamer that others will listen too, an artist to give view to the dream, a programmer to set the stage and a writer to translate the dreams into stories, even as the writer and the dreamer are likely the same person, the place where the two acts are done is likely to be different and until that part is recognised, the making of any new 90%+ franchise will remain out of reach for all developers like Ubisoft. If you doubt that part, merely look at the history of a game called Lemmings. I tested it initially and I remember on how Psygnosis got to the game in the first place, so when you think that all good games are a calculated results of proper investigation, think again. A game released in 1991, whilst we still see today: “The best Amiga game of all time (2011)“, you better believe that artsy has everything to do with it. This is quite literally the shit that gamers live for, how else can you explain the desire after decades for a game like System Shock (or the remake of FFVII for that matter)?

If there is one part that must be told, than it would be the part that I never saw coming. For that we need to look at the Xbox360. I never knew the game, so I got caught off guard. I initially did not buy it as I was playing Bioshock 2 and awaiting both Fable 3 and New Vegas. So when I heard the score, I got curious. One gave it 90% the other 83%, this piqued my curiosity and it was not disappointed. They say that 97% liked this game and that should have been the rating. Mikael Kasurinen, Sam Lake, Mikko Rautalahti and Petri Järvilehto surpassed themselves and many game designers with Alan Wake. The game was everything we hope for and more, the setting of a mere danger by being in the dark was a direct original approach to our primal fear (even in games) and Alan Wake did use that to the max. It was an amazing stage of open world and level challenge all into one and your life does depend on the power of a battery here, so there was that to get worried about. Alan Wake also shown that the creative dreamer will always have the advantage over the stage of calculated new versions of a franchise. Even as Alan Wake might have that fear to deal with, the original was more challenging than many other developers were able to give us and Microsoft Studios actually created an instant classic on launch day, something not many game developers have ever achieved.

I never saw it coming, so I do not hold all the wisdoms, I will not even make such a claim even as the article might imply it. The fact that a game like Alan Wake could surprise me to such a degree is also the reason why I am still a gamer, just like a junkie hoping for its next fix of amazement. The nice thing here is that it is a lot cheaper than either Heroin or Cocaine, so there is that benefit for any gamer too.

We seem to chase the old to get a new version because of that feeling of amazement, which is good in one way (especially the owners of the IP), yet the lack of true new IP is also a worry for the gamers and getting the right developers and creating the right programmers is not about giving them all the resources, but to teach them how to overcome shortcomings in current architecture. It is not the programmes that maximises a system we need, it is the one who gets it done on a 75% system that is the one we need to get. Merely because that game will be lean, it will be mean and it will still transgress the borders that a seasoned programmer did not consider. to be able not to merely to make a stronger game, but to set a proper stage where replaying that game is just as rewarding as playing it the first time, that is the classic of tomorrow going home with a 95%+ rating and taking home the coffers of gold. This is what all the game developers need and some are in the process of getting there; it would be a shame if players like Ubisoft and EA games miss out because they were not willing, or able to go that distance.

And as a gamer as well as a dreamer, consider the game when you add AI in the mix, not the AI of the enemy, but the AI that you as the gamer get to shape. In this we need to consider an oldie like Sundog, Frozen Legacy by FTL Games (the maker of the legendary Dungeon Master and Oids). Now consider that the game starts with only you, but as you shape the AI, you can hand your navigation skills to an android and grow your crew. The game will only be as good as you are. As you grow the positions on the ship upgrade the ship and get a larger one. You will need to get more knowledge and only when you have one placement over a certain percentage an android can take over. You have to be the navigator, helmsman, the tactician and the engineer. You need to master one role after another, downloading your skill enhancements into the android and growing a crew, not programmed intelligence, but your game interactions that are transferred to the android. What game thought of that? Actually Epyx had a game called Chip Bits, yet I don’t think it ever made the light of day.

If such an addition is added to a game like Elite Dangerous when you upgrade from a 31 meter Eagle fighter to an 88 meter Python (see Image), how many hundreds of hours of gameplay would that get you? Elite Dangerous now has 30 playable ships and you have the option of ‘merely’ flying the ship, yet what extra will you get when you are adding functions and you have to repair the ship under combat conditions? A side that Sundog had to the minimum degree and with 1MB RAM the Atari ST did not get far, yet it gave us more than some games currently do, is that not weird either?

There have been so many games between 1984 (CBM-64) and 2005 (Xbox360), a timeline filled with gems, many of these gems could be the foundation of jewelry that is multifaceted, colourful and challenging in so many ways. Many of these are not merely remasters; they could be the foundation of new and optionally uniquely new IP.

In this, the CEO of Ubisoft might have stated it the best when he said: “There will be one more console generation and then after that, we will be streaming, all of us“, that might be true, so getting to new IP now makes perfect sense, in many ways. to do that in the streaming age is a dangerous move for a few reasons, mainly because the streaming power will not be with the gaming side of things, it will be with the telecom providers and there have been more than just a few indicators that this will start in the most rocky of ways, especially outside of metropolitan areas. I have had this issue a few times to a smaller degree, yet as we consider that this is 2 weeks old “Optus say it is congestion but can’t explain how you can get 100 mbs and then the next minute you have a dropout. They appear to be doing nothing as they can’t say how long it will take to fix or what they are doing to address the issue. Have been a customer for over 25 years but the last 6 months the service has been substandard“, I believe that this goes (a lot) further than just one provider, congestion is increasing all over the global field and until some telecom providers (multiple providers) get their house in order and up their game, streaming games will become more and more hazardous over time, it will take years to get this environment a lot better and 5G is not making it any easier. So the next generation of consoles is the best time to maximise IP, because the IP after that will end up not having as much value as the blame game between telecom providers and game developers are likely to flare and they will flare up all over the planet (or is that this planet).

It goes beyond mere gaming. You see The Network Congestion 2030 project, launched in 2009 (for airports), was designed as a two phased approach towards solving congestion issues, yet when we see that approach in the Netherlands we see “Unlike the Telecommunications Act, the Regulation furthermore allows Internet Service Providers to take reasonable traffic management measures, e.g. to avoid imminent network congestion. Such measures must be transparent, non-discriminatory and proportionate, and may not be based on commercial considerations. The Telecommunications Acts allows Internet Service Providers to intervene in the Internet data flows only if a data accumulation must be controlled. A frequent criticism of the Regulation is that it is difficult to monitor traffic management measures aimed at avoiding imminent congestion, which may give rise to abuse. An example in the Netherlands related to network congestion is the ACM’s decision of 2013 to put an end to its investigation of the restriction of free Internet in trains by T-Mobile. ACM concluded that the blocking of certain internet services by T-Mobile was permissible to prevent “traffic jams” on the network“, with the mention of ‘may not be based on commercial considerations‘ we see the optional impact on gamers, because these systems have not been tested with millions of gamers streaming, in European terms even tens of millions. Netflix had a dramatic growth (after this entire issue started) and as gamers do the same added to that same construction devoid of much larger expansions the impact will be there and it will be there very visible; throttling streams will make them collapse and that is where we see that down the track the impact on gamers will be much larger and they are for now, not even considered.

So as the old becomes new, we see new challenges and other obstacles that are now not in the hands of non-gamers, but they will be the moment that streaming congestion becomes the daily reality of every gamer.

So the need of being able to be creative and set the stage for a 75% resource solution would at that point become crystal clear at the moment the situation emerges. Merely a new iteration of complications to solve in addition of all the other corrections needed. At that point to have a much better QA will be essential for the IP holder not to go bust almost overnight. You merely have to consider the Division launch day crash and the idea that this could happen once a month at the very least in that new setting. It will be something that is not the fault of Ubisoft, not the fault of the designers, it will merely be the impact of congestion and the telecom provider will mention that they are sorry, but it is out of their hands and they cannot explain to you why it happened.

Oh and this issue is as stated a global one, in the end you cannot blame the game makers when the issue is that your gaming evening depends on something like the Comcast outage map. When you see: “Comcast/Xfinity is reporting a widespread outage in the south suburbs” and you miss out on the season challenges of whichever game you are playing because of: “An aerial pole in Harvey was reportedly struck, damaging 288 cables, according to Comcast officials. The outage is expected to last until approximately 3:30 pm” and you can forget about gaming that day, that is when you get the first moment of irritation with streaming. In single play you can still get your gaming on, games like Elite Dangerous fall away that day and starting Fortnite becomes a foregone illusion. When all games become a streaming experience you might in the end only end up having Minecraft in offline mode available, a great game, yet when it is the only game it is more likely than not the evening you never banked on, or hoped for.

 

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The sting of history

There was an interesting article on the BBC (at http://www.bbc.com/news/business-43656378) a few days ago. I missed it initially as I tend to not dig too deep into the BBC past the breaking news points at times. Yet there it was, staring at me and I thought it was rather funny. You see ‘Google should not be in business of war, say employees‘, which is fair enough. Apart from the issue of them not being too great at waging war and roughing it out, it makes perfect sense to stay away from war. Yet is that possible? You see, the quote is funny when you see ‘No military projects‘, whilst we are all aware that the internet itself is an invention of DARPA, who came up with it as a solution that addressed “A network of such [computers], connected to one another by wide-band communication lines [which provided] the functions of present-day libraries together with anticipated advances in information storage and retrieval and [other] symbiotic functions“, which let to ARPANET and became the Internet. So now that the cat is out of the bag, we can continue. The objection they give is fair enough. When you are an engineer who is destined to create a world where everyone communicates to one another, the last thing you want to see is “Project Maven involves using artificial intelligence to improve the precision of military drone strikes“. I am not sure if Google could achieve it, but the goal is clear and so is the objection. The BBC article show merely one side, when we go to the source itself (at https://www.defense.gov/News/Article/Article/1254719/project-maven-to-deploy-computer-algorithms-to-war-zone-by-years-end/), in this I saw the words from Marine Corps Colonel Drew Cukor: “Cukor described an algorithm as about 75 lines of Python code “placed inside a larger software-hardware container.” He said the immediate focus is 38 classes of objects that represent the kinds of things the department needs to detect, especially in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria“. You see, I think he has been talking to the wrong people. Perhaps you remember the project SETI screensaver. “In May 1999 the University of California launched SETI@Home. SETI stands for the” Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence,” Originally thought that it could at best recruit only a thousand or so participants, more than a million people actually signed up on the day and in the process overwhelmed the meager desktop PC that was set aside for this project“, I remember it because I was one of them. It is in that trend that “SETI@Home was built around the idea that people with personal computers who often leave them to do something else and then just let the screensaver run are actually wasting good computing resources. This was a good thing, as these ‘idle’ moments can actually be used to process the large amount of data that SETI collects from the galaxy” (source: Manilla Times), they were right. The design was brilliant and simple and it worked better than even the SETI people thought it would, but here we now see the application, where any android (OK, IOS too) device created after 2016 is pretty much a supercomputer at rest. You see, Drew Cukor is trying to look where he needs to look, it is a ‘flaw’ he has as well as the bulk of all the military. You see, when you look for a target that is 1 in 10,000, so he needs to hit the 0.01% mark. This is his choice and that is what he needs to do, I am merely stating that by figuring out where NOT to look, I am upping his chances. If I can set the premise of illuminating 7,500 false potential in a few seconds, his job went from a 0.01% chance to 0.04%, making his work 25 times easier and optionally faster. Perhaps the change could eliminate 8,500 or even 9,000 flags. Now we are talking the chances and the time frame we need. You see, it is the memo of Bob Work that does remain an issue. I disagree with “As numerous studies have made clear, the department of defense must integrate artificial intelligence and machine learning more effectively across operations to maintain advantages over increasingly capable adversaries and competitors,“. The clear distinction is that those people tend to not rely on a smartphone, they rely on a simple Nokia 2100 burner phone and as such, there will be a complete absence of data, or will there be? As I see it, to tackle that, you need to be able to engage is what might be regarded as a ‘Snippet War‘, a war based on (a lot of) ‘small pieces of data or brief extracts‘. It is in one part cell tower connection patterns, it is in one part tracking IMEI (International Mobile Equipment Identity) codes and a part of sim switching. It is a jumble of patterns and normally getting anything done will be insane. Now what happens when we connect 100 supercomputers to one cell tower and mine all available tags? What happens when we can disseminate these packages and let all those supercomputers do the job? Merely 100 smart phones or even 1,000 smart phones per cell tower. At that point the war changes, because now we have an optional setting where on the spot data is offered in real time. Some might call it ‘the wet dream’ of Marine Corps Col. Drew Cukor and he was not ever aware that he was allowed to adult dream to that degree on the job, was he?

Even as these people are throwing AI around like it is Steven Spielberg’s chance to make a Kubrick movie, in the end it is a new scale and new level of machine learning, a combination of clustered flags and decentralised processing on a level that is not linked to any synchronicity. Part of this solution is not in the future, it was in the past. For that we need to read the original papers by Paul Baran in the early 60’s. I think we pushed forward to fast (a likely involuntary reaction). His concept of packet switching was not taken far enough, because the issues of then are nowhere near the issues of now. Consider raw data as a package and the transmission itself set the foundation of the data path that is to be created. So basically the package becomes the data entry point of raw data and the mobile phone processes this data on the fly, resetting the data parameters on the fly, giving instant rise to what is unlikely to be a threat and optionally what is), a setting where 90% could be parsed by the time it gets to the mining point. The interesting side is that the container for processing this could be set in the memory of most mobile phones without installing stuff as it is merely processing parsed data, not a nice, but essentially an optional solution to get a few hundred thousand mobiles to do in mere minutes what takes a day by most data centres, they merely receive the first level processed data, now it is a lot more interesting, as thousands are near a cell tower, that data keeps on being processed on the fly by supercomputers at rest all over the place.

So, we are not as Drew states ‘in an AI arms race‘, we are merely in a race to be clever on how we process data and we need to be clever on how to get these things done a lot faster. The fact that the foundation of that solution is 50 years old and still counts as an optional way in getting things done merely shows the brilliance of those who came before us. You see, that is where the military forgot the lessons of limitations. As we shun the old games like the CBM 64, and applaud the now of Ubisoft. We forget that Ubisoft shows to be graphically brilliant, having the resources of 4K camera’s, whilst those on the CBM-64 (Like Sid Meier) were actually brilliant for getting a workable interface that looked decent as they had the mere resources that were 0.000076293% of the resources that Ubisoft gets to work with me now. I am not here to attack Ubisoft, they are working with the resources available, I am addressing the utter brilliance of people like Sid Meier, David Braben, Richard Garriott, Peter Molyneux and a few others for being able to do what they did with the little they had. It is that simplicity and the added SETI@Home where we see the solutions that separates the children from the clever Machine learning programmers. It is not about “an algorithm of about 75 lines of Python code “placed inside a larger software-hardware container.”“, it is about where to set the slicer and how to do it whilst no one is able to say it is happening whilst remaining reliable in what it reports. It is not about a room or a shopping mall with 150 servers walking around the place, it is about the desktop no one notices who is able to keep tabs on those servers merely to keep the shops safe that is the part that matters. The need for brilliance is shown again in limitations when we realise why SETI@Home was designed. It opposes in directness the quote “The colonel described the technology available commercially, the state-of-the-art in computer vision, as “frankly … stunning,” thanks to work in the area by researchers and engineers at Stanford University, the University of California-Berkeley, Carnegie Mellon University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a $36 billion investment last year across commercial industry“, the people at SETI had to get clever fast because they did not get access to $36 billion. How many of these players would have remained around if it was 0.36 billion, or even 0.036 billion? Not too many I reckon, the entire ‘the technology available commercially‘ would instantly fall away the moment the optional payoff remains null, void and unavailable. $36 billion investment implies that those ‘philanthropists’ are expecting a $360 billion payout at some point, call me a sceptic, but that is how I expect those people to roll.

The final ‘mistake’ that Marine Corps Col. Drew Cukor makes is one that he cannot be blamed for. He forgot that computers should again be taught to rough it out, just like the old computers did. The mistake I am referring to is not an actual mistake, it is more accurately the view, the missed perception he unintentionally has. The quote I am referring to is “Before deploying algorithms to combat zones, Cukor said, “you’ve got to have your data ready and you’ve got to prepare and you need the computational infrastructure for training.”“. He is not stating anything incorrect or illogical, he is merely wrong. You see, we need to realise the old days, the days of the mainframe. I got treated in the early 80’s to an ‘event’. You see a ‘box’ was delivered. It was the size of an A3 flatbed scanner, it had the weight of a small office safe (rather weighty that fucker was) and it looked like a print board on a metal box with a starter engine on top. It was pricey like a middle class car. It was a 100Mb Winchester Drive. Yes, 100Mb, the mere size of 4 iPhone X photographs. In those days data was super expensive, so the users and designers had to be really clever about data. This time is needed again, not because we have no storage, we have loads of it. We have to get clever again because there is too much data and we have to filter through too much of it, we need to get better fast because 5G is less than 2 years away and we will drown by that time in all that raw untested data, we need to reset our views and comprehend how the old ways of data worked and prevent Exabyte’s of junk per hour slowing us down, we need to redefine how tags can be used to set different markers, different levels of records. The old ways of hierarchical data was too cumbersome, but it was fast. The same is seen with BTree data (a really antiquated database approach), instantly passing through 50% data in every iteration. In this machine learning could be the key and the next person that comes up with that data solution would surpass the wealth of Mark Zuckerberg pretty much overnight. Data systems need to stop being ‘static’, it needs to be a fluidic and dynamic system, that evolves as data is added. Not because it is cleverer, but because of the amounts of data we need to get through is growing near exponentially per hour. It is there that we see that Google has a very good reason to be involved, not because of the song ‘Here come the drones‘, but because this level of data evolution is pushed upon nearly all and getting in the thick of things is when one remains the top dog and Google is very much about being top dog in that race, as it is servicing the ‘needs’ of billions and as such their own data centres will require loads of evolution, the old ways are getting closer and closer to becoming obsolete, Google needs to be ahead before that happens, and of course when that happens IBM will give a clear memo that they have been on top of it for years whilst trying to figure out how to best present the delays they are currently facing.
 

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Passion of the player

I have been in a state where I decided to have a second go at some of the games I have had for some time and to get a few of the achievements added to my profile. Because of the Microsoft issues outstanding, my Xbox One is switched off, even if it has one of the most treasured games in my history of gaming. There is something wrong in the Xbox Universe and the press is happy to ignore it, because they want the Microsoft Surface Pro advertisement revenue (or at least that is what I personally think it is). Yet, not to fret, the game I love is coming to PS4, so soon (I hope), I can rejoice and feel alive again. Last week I started to replay Arkham Knight on my PS4. I had not played it for some time and there were several achievements I never got. I got them now (not all yet) and I still think that Arkham Knight is one of the best, near perfect games made for the longest of times. There is only one mission (the ACP mission), where the maker of that mission should consider lobotimisation. Yet that is the only mission that is just too dumb for words. The game gives us a batman world that the batman lover will embrace. The game is just too awesome in too many ways. In addition, I had installed the DLC’s yet I had forgotten to check them, so as I restarted the game, I had 4 additional Arkham episodes to play. What a feeling of bliss that brought. The game has all kinds of issues to some, yet in all of this, I loved pretty much every moment of this game (except the ACP bungle). The feeling a truly good game brings is often overwhelming, which is why I tend to get really testy when some (read: Ubisoft) drop the ball and deprive their games of a legendary status when it was (as I personally see it) within their grasp. I actually stayed away from Wildlands, so that is not a title to consider for bad or for good. Yet I have seen too often how some parts could have made a difference with just a little more effort. Yet, you need to realise that this is what I personally see as ‘a little more effort’, yet after being into reviewing games since 1987, I have a good handle on how certain things could have been better. So when I state that Arkham Knight is near perfect, I am not trying to sway your eyes. Like any game it tends to go a little over the top at times, but the Batman feeling and even the Joker and Scarecrow (masterly voiced by John Noble) gives us a setting that will be hard to overcome. Yet, is that not part of the game, to surpass others? In this I get back to the silent release of Shadow of Mordor, which I initially ignored because it seemed to be some Lord of the Rings title. I have never been happier to have been proven wrong. I saw one small movie on YouTube and I ran to the city in record time. Shadow of Mordor is one of those ‘must have’ games if stealth is what you like. The game is balanced and gives options for the rowdy slasher and the silent throat cutter alike. The entire nemesis system gives the game a flair that is pretty unique and the fact that it is all in Mordor just adds to it all. The game is quite excellent, so as we move towards a bigger sequel called ‘Middle-earth: Shadow of War’ many players will move into the ‘ranger shivers’ stage as they want that feeling of bliss gaming. Where Ryse and Watchdogs fall short, these games deliver. That is the name of the game and Ubisoft has fallen short (read: not flopped) a few times too often. Ryse is also an important title to mention. You see, I did not go for it, mainly because of the ‘button press action sequences’ in the game. I loathe them. The graphics were good, yet there was a repetitive side to the game that was unsettling. The second wind rounds and a few other items that just take the joy away. Yet Ryse is important in another way. This I learned when I decided to watch the YouTube storyline. I was just curious on how bad the game was and that title was soon lost, because Ryse has one of the best storylines I had seen for some time, equal to Arkham Knight, the story lines we see, Ryse has a storyline that is more and captivating, the entire Damocles story is almost an epic Greek story, one that the God of War trilogy would have been proud to have. It is one element in a game that does not satisfy which makes me wonder, could a more visionary maker have taken Ryse and make it a legendary title for the history of the console? I personally believe that the answer is Yes, which is now also an issue, because with the upcoming and less trusted Scorpio and the PS4 pro are going to be reliant on very good titles. You see, the console that wins will be the one that brings the better games. Even as the balance has games like Diablo 3 on both, perhaps Diablo 4 at some point, it is the unique games that make for the push towards a console. I believe that outside titles like Death Stranding will push systems and we cannot wait for the impact of that experience. We seem to latch onto some games like God of War (4) and hope to see the same feeling that the first three gave us, yet the Scorpio will have tis own game list and some of those fans (like HALO linked games) are just as fanatical towards their passion. In this I have to mention that one of these underrated games, on the Xbox was Styx. Those who got it for free on Live: Gold should get the sequel, like the previous game it offers challenge and is again larger then the prequel. I, for one love stealth games and Styx delivers in a few ways that few do. Still there are more games and more options. It is just where you seek your entertainment. When it was introduced, my first thought was not ‘Awesome!’, it was, ‘Why didn’t I think of that?’ (that is apart from me not owning the IP that is), I am referring to Pokken Tournament. Think of a Tekken game and now replace them with Pokémon’s! Can you imagine, the population that is all Pokémon Go! and now gets to battle brawl, crush and batter your opponent using Pokémon’s?  It gets even better if you consider what could be achieved with a setting like that. Apart from the previous Pokémon Colosseum (GameCube), the idea to have an RPG where you have to actually fight in the game. Not just tactical, but in a more arcade setting? The fact that your grass type Pokémon has additional benefits on a grassy knoll is just awesome. That game could keep you busy for months on any next generation console. All this in ways we have never played or even considered playing Pokémon before. As we see the arrival of remaked games this year (System Shock and Elite Dangerous PS4), gamers are recognising certain older games that brought more joy than some ‘open world’ games today claim they bring. I still keep my Wii, because I would love to replay Metroid Prime (1 and 2) again some day. When you feel that deep about a game, you know that the game is well above certain levels. Consider those who loved the Ultima series of Richard Garriott, consider playing that game on a Skyrim engine. To explore Sosaria, a true open world with missions to find, but overall the game is to just live and grow the character you created, exploring based on a ‘central mission’ but one that grows and brings more and more travels and challenges over time. It is in that light I initially made a design that I named Elder Scrolls 6: Restoration. the light of artistic creation (in my case a story and storylines) is one we need to embrace. We all have our own way of growing our artistic side. If you consider this to be not true, then look up ‘GTA5 Story DLC’, the demand for this mentioned product is off the scales and that makes perfect sense for those who love GTA5. The need for more and new challenges is within us all and addressing that is what gives some games the extra desire. Diablo 3 and Shadow of Mordor have their own engine giving us new and different opponents. It is that variety of bosses and treasures that makes us go back to the game that offers it. I was playing Diablo 3 (still) a few weeks ago, only to get a legendary item I had never had before, giving that character (my Witchdoctor) a mojo and dagger that makes short work of opponents, even on Torment 4, which is a decent challenge in the best of days and a nightmare on others. I now finished a portal in 4 minutes on that level, a speed I have never even been close to even before. Those are the moments a gamer lives for, Blizzard and Bethesda have figured that out for some time and they have so far not stopped delivering to the gamers need. In that CD Project Red is another player who with Witcher 3 reached the acclaimed ‘legend’ status of game creators, in that, do you think that there is one gamer, who loves that genre of gaming who does not check for ‘Cyberpunk 2077′ on a nearly daily basis? In all this, the reviewer (as I was in the past) I have been careful not to dismiss genre’s I did not like. For example, I do not give a toss about GTA5, it is just not my game, yet I can clearly see the excellence and quality of that game. So even as I am unlikely to give it a 100% score, it doesn’t take a genius to see that it is clearly a 90%+ game. That insight is one I kept with me when I was reviewing games in my days. very few games made it to the 100% bar, in my time less than a dozen games got that score. One game that did get that score was Ultima 7, my favourite System Shock got 95% and System Shock 2 got 92% if I remember correctly. There is however a shift, as games got graphically better, and as PC systems were more and more depending on more expensive cards the way to correctly review a game changed. I accept that and I was no longer reviewing PC games before that happened, I think the last PC review was Thief 3, which required me to upgrade my Diamonds Lab card in 2003 just to play the game. It was an upgrade well worth it, yet the element of graphic cards had already grown in those days. Nowadays the issue is a serious one. when we now see that the main negative point of such a card would be that ’99 percent of gamers can’t afford it’, in this case the GeForce GTX Titan X card, we need to reconsider certain system for games. now, I am going for the very top, so there are definitely alternatives. It is the aftermath that now becomes more and more important. The idea that I have to give a lifeline of a mere 2 years to a card that would at present cost me an arm and a leg is an issue younger gamers need to realise early in the game. the idea that a gamer needs to reserve around $800 a year to keep his graphics card up to date is a little much. Oh and this is the top of the range, there are good cards that require $500 a year, so there is manoeuvring space. Yet, when you are passionate about a certain game. The idea that you cannot play it at 100% of possible, how does that go over? It is for that reason that I stopped chasing PC hardware. I believe that the console delivers good gaming. I accept that PC’s will always bring better results. Yet in consideration of a $600 console versus a $2500 medium gaming PC, versus a $6000 for an upper range gaming PC, what can you, or what are you willing to dish out? That has always been the issue, and I cannot answer for others, yet when we consider the bad luck PC gamers had with Arkham Knight, my view will remain with the consoles. Although, in fairness the GTA5 edition, is supposed to be worth all 60 $100 bills for a top level gaming PC. It is where your passion lies and who delivers the experience to the fullest.

There are still a few games coming in 2017 and many are counting the days for the release date, yet as we see a shift in consoles, the gamers who have moved to console will have to see how they will address their gaming needs. For me with Microsoft, the issue will remain that relying on a 1TB drive, whilst you have already been shown that this is not sufficient, there will be a blowback, especially as Sony has opted to give gamers the freedom to replace the Drive for a larger edition. Crunching on a mere $60 to give the gamer half the storage is just dumb, no matter how you slice it. It is even more silly when you consider their claim “With 6 Teraflops, 326GB/s of Memory Bandwidth and advanced, custom silicon, the Scorpio Engine is the most powerful console gaming processor ever created“, and now consider that the system would be able to crunch the entire drive in 3 seconds, what are they playing at? Now, in honesty, Sony offers the same drive size, but allows players to place a larger drive. More interesting, I can just move my PS4 drive in a new PS4 pro and start playing almost immediately (OS requires update I reckon), 100% more storage, an option Microsoft does not allow for. Now, again in honesty, Microsoft did offer the Xbox 1s with a 2TB drive and that is well worth it, so why not get 2TB or even 3TB of the bat? the difference between 2TB and 3TB is less than $50 ($80 from 1 to 3 TB), who would not go that distance to resolve storage issues for the better part of the lifetime of that console? I have done that with the two previous consoles and never regretted it, there was never a storage issue. That is comfort we pay for!

We gamers we have always paid for our passion to be one in comfort, I just do not get it when game makers are ignorant of that part, there is years of data and evidence supporting my view. So to all a good day of gaming, and for those chasing achievements on the games they love, may you get that truly rare achievement today, and if you get ‘The Dark Soul’ achievement in Dark Souls 3, then we all bow to you, oh game master!

 

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Of mice and rats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the games begin!

 

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Confirmation!

It is always nice to see confirmation, as the large players have now made their presentation, I see that the battle lines are drawn in my favour, in favour of PlayStation players. Make sure you get this, I am not stating that Xbox lost, or that they have bad games, in the world of games, the ones I prefer to play, Sony delivered! The Last Guardian coming in 2016 is pure poetry by controller, Horizon is taking post-apocalyptic views to a new level and the small demo gives a clear view that we have new levels of gameplay to adhere to. Agent 47 is coming to PS4 and the console is also giving us new versions of the old, classics like Streetfighter, with new and awesome graphics, but the same play line that Streetfighter fans love. I saw a new part of actual gameplay of No Man’s Sky, the vreator (not a typo) was showing it off and getting the limelight he deserved. He is showing a level of exploring never seen before, the more I look at it, the more that I see on how Elite: Dangerous and No Man’s Sky together are the perfect experiences non shooter addicted gamers will likely see this generation.

It is scary, but it is true. Consider the past. Most of those over 30 grew up seeing Steven Spielberg as the one creator of movies. After that we now get on his level Joss Whedon and JJ Abrams (not dismissing any other directors here). In games we had a few more, but over 20 years, the big names have been Peter Molyneux, Sid Meier and Richard Garriott. Now we get Gareth Bourn (No Man’s Sky) and David Braben (Elite: Dangerous). In the ‘old’ days David was the man of one game (one game I loved). Now we see that same game evolved beyond our imagination blowing me away and that is not all, so as we see more exceptional movie makers, we will also see more exceptional game makers. These Virtual Creators (vreators) are raising the bar by a lot, One on Xbox (me growling a little now) and one on Sony. Personally I truly hope that both consoles get to enjoy both games, because no matter which console you decided on, both games are as I see it, an absolute must!

Sony also showed a few games that were out there. Firewatch and Dreams, dreams is completely off the wall. Different and unique, which means it will completely appeal to the artsy gamer. Firewatch is set in Wyoming, pretty much in the middle of nowhere, you’re all alone. A mystery that involves two missing women, so good luck with that challenge. And this is just the top of the games. More clear appeal than Microsoft offered, more pure gameplay we had not seen before and this is before we get more on Metal Gear Solid 5. So both systems have unique offerings, and offerings on both, you the gamer gets to choose what gaming style appeals to you. For me, Sony delivers what I desire (apart from Elite: Dangerous).

Sony did not ignore the younger players. With Disney’s Infinity 3.0 it will be giving the Star Wars universe with a limited 1 month exclusive for PlayStation players. So, parents who want to imbue the passion for Star Wars to their kids, they will have the materials to do just that. Loads of options and exclusives, which will be opened for all others after 30 days, some will remain exclusive until the holidays. At least it is a temporary thing for none Sony players. Looking back at the presentations, it seems to me that we got twice the value from Sony in the same time that Microsoft was ‘hyping’ some of their exclusives.

The best thing is to go to www.IGN.com and look at the Sony presentation yourself, download the movie, watch online of stream it to your tablet offline. Everything Sony showed is telling me that we are in for an excellent year of gaming. I reckon that most of us will have plenty to play until the end of 2016. The show ended with Drake, a smooth introduction movie with a nice twist at the beginning, which shows us that the beginners that brought a ‘Crash Bandicoot’ is still reeling the wow factors of players today, with games like ‘a thieves end’ whilst ‘the Last of Us’ still has not stopped appealing the players. Yet so far, the one part that was never truly answered was the gossip and ‘leaked’ news regarding the Mass Effect trilogy on Nextgen, which seems to be not happening as far as I can tell from the news released, but I did see the question all over IGN, they all accept that for those new on consoles, Mass Effect is an established game that can grab the imagination of new players, whilst fulfilling the desire of the seasoned gaming veteran. So we must wonder how much can we rely on this information as such, if not, then why can you pre-order the game in some online shops (with a clear TBA mention though)?

The E3 is still going on, but for me, the important parts are done. Tomorrow we will see Square Enix and Nintendo. I still have my Wii in a box somewhere, I never got the WiiU and to be honest, I have no intention of getting it. The Wii started strong, was messed up by Nintendo Marketing, as such, Nintendo lost a market share part. Yet, last year they regained a lot of visibility with Splatoon, a game that amazed and impressed, it was released this month. For now, Nintendo has nothing new to offer and what I have (3DS) works really well, yet an upgraded version of a Gameboy advance game alone will not do it. Nintendo has work to do, whilst Sony keeps on amazing. Square Enix is another matter. Deus Ex is the big ticket for me, yet the remastered Final Fantasy VII should not be ignored. So far the news all over the place are stating almost the same. Sony delivered!

So as Sony ended one part of the presentation of Dreams with the music ‘life is but a dream’, I will say: “Thank you Sony!”

 

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As we trusted games

There is an interesting article in the Guardian I had an issue with to some degree. There is nothing wrong with the article itself, Keith Stuart made a good piece and it reads well (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2014/nov/13/games-reviews-are-changing-from-product-assessments-to-tourist-guides), so it came out last week and I only saw it just now.

First paragraph: “A decade ago, a games publisher would send out early copies of its latest release to magazines and websites. It would arrive with some sort of embargo restricting the date of any subsequent review coverage. Then, before the game hit the shelves, there would be range of critical responses to read through. That’s how games reviewing worked for 30 years“, well apart from the embargo, which I was never got. That is pretty much how it went. I started my reviewing in 1988. The age of CBM-64,  Atari ST, CBM Amiga and the IBM PC, which had something graphically ‘state of the art’ called ‘EGA’, the enhanced graphic adapter, which added up to the 15” resolution roughly the same of the average low level smart phone today. Games were in CGA and even though the quality of graphics was low, the quality of gaming was exceptionally high (for what we knew in those days). Roberta Williams (Sierra-on-Line), Peter Molyneux (Bullfrog), Richard Garriott (Origin) and Sid Meijer (Microprose) were the titans of gaming; they are the most profound, but not the only ones from those days.

The second part is the first part I disagree with “Now, it’s so much more complicated. Publishers don’t like releasing code early. It’s not just about protecting sales of mediocre titles (though that happens): they worry about piracy; they worry about major spoilers that could put players off purchasing a game that is highly narrative driven“, I personally believe that it is about mediocre titles. The worry of piracy is less an issue, for the reasons that consoles don’t really allow for piracy any more (compared to the days of Atari ST and Amiga), PC Games need more and more internet authentication (like 99.99% of them), and there is a truth in narrative driven games. When a $50 MGS Zero can be played in less than 30 minutes (according to Gamespot), you know that there is an issue. I go for the mediocre side, because in case of Ubisoft, we saw Watchdogs, AC Unity and now Far Cry 4, Far Cry 4 might have gotten themselves a 85% rating (only 70% on Gamespot), yet this is below par (for such a triple-A title), it means that Ubisoft failed to deliver a main title with a 90% plus game review this year, which is a really bad thing. In addition, Destiny didn’t make the high numbers and on the PlayStation 4, the only titles that truly showed the rating was ‘The last of us’ an amazing game originally released on PS3. From my point of view, it is one of the worst release years in a long while. No matter how new Nextgen consoles are, there is a level of competency lacking more and more.

This links directly to the next part of the article “With triple-A releases now costing $30-50m a pop, no wonder the companies responsible want to control the dissemination of their data and messaging. As in movies, everything is geared toward that opening week – millions of dollars of marketing, the acres of shelf space bought at key retailers – everything has to work just right“, if everything has to work just right, it made me wonder why quality assurance was not managed in better ways. If we see the failing that Assassins Creed Unity shows, gaming is overdue for an overhaul, especially considering the cost of such a triple-A game.

It saddens me to say, as a Sony fan, it did hurt me to see that PS4 gamers have not met the high octane game quality I had expected, I was personally more impressed with several titles exclusive on the Xbox One.

The next part is one I do completely agree with “And then the games themselves have changed. Most new titles have intricate and extensive online multiplayer elements – or they require you to be online just to download updates and/or because publishers want to keep an eye on you“, even though in several regards online play is less and less appealing, or just plainly inferior, the updates are more and more an issue. GTA-V, which is regarded as a good game ended up having a day one 1 Gb+ update need. Which is not the worst, but it shows a level of pressure to market deadlines and not quality. Our broadband internet connections seem to have removed the need of quality testing and fixing before release.

Then we get the part that is indeed an issue “The industry is always telling us that games aren’t products anymore, they are services. You get the initial release, but after that, you get updates, downloadable content, new modes, missions and experiences … So what are you reviewing when a game comes out? It’s potential? It’s raw functionality? You are not reviewing the complete experience anymore” Keith is nailing the nail on the head with a massive hammer, we are now getting a service, not software, but if we see the option that a bought game is nothing more than a service or a potential, how can we be treated fairly as a consumer, when we do not know the full article we are buying? It is a dangerous development when we buy not a game, but a concept. We are not there yet, but the danger is slowly creeping towards the installation drive of the computer we use for gaming, and with that approach is a larger and larger danger that the PC/console will get invaded in a hostile way and how can we be protected when not the system, but the game becomes the backdoor into our private lives, because that is a danger that several parties are not yet looking at (as far as I know).

The rest of the article, you should just read on the Guardian site. I do not completely agree, but Keith gives a good view of his reasoning and it is sound and well worth reading. The question becomes where will we go next? There is more and more indication that people (gamers), are less and less interested in the MMO/multiplayer experience and more into a quality solo play game. There is also a feeling from many that Multiplayer is more and more about micro transactions and less about quality fun. Most will accept micro transactions in free multiplayer games like ‘Blacklight’ and ‘War frame’, we can accept micro transactions to get the weapons that really pack a punch, yet with $90 games, people are not interested in additional charges. Even though in the situation of Black Flag, the additional $4 to get the weapons or technology advantage is nice, and the option clearly states that the upgrades can be gotten in the game whilst playing it. It is left to the person to choose. There is nothing bad about it, but when we see AC: Unity, where micro transactions can get up to $100, questions should be asked, even if those parts can be unlocked through playing. Now, I am not judging the $100 micro transactions, but there is a worry why such a purchase is even offered, how much can be leaped through? The worry is not with Ubisoft’s Assassins Creed: Unity, but after the ‘lessons’ many players were taught through Forza 5 how unsettling micro transactions were. Yet, in all honesty (as I am not an Xbox one user), can they be normally unlocked? If so, the issue is not really there, yet the value of high end cars, when we consider that in Forza 5 you get driver payouts of 35,000. However, some cars go into the millions, you need 285 level updates to be able to afford the 1964 Ferrari 250 GTO and that is only one of many cars, which seems to be an unacceptable way to push people towards micro transactions, it left many players with a bad taste in their mouths. If we look at the issues we see, no matter how we feel about a game, there are sides we’d not agree with and there are sides we are truly against. This varies per player, and as such we need to balance view and feelings, because there is no denying that gaming and games are all about emotions. We go for the games that drive our passion. I myself have been a massive RPG fan, yet when I look at the Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) game, I see little interest to continue this path, yet when I look at Mass Effect 3 and Diablo 3, I see and I experienced the best multi-player ever. To illuminate, ME3 has micro transactions, yet the boxes can be gotten by playing multi-player games, each round gets you credits and the higher leveled you played, the more coins you would get, and then you buy a box with random stuff, some good, some amazing and some average. Diablo has no micro transactions; multi-player there is just great and makes the bosses harder, which gives you better loot. There are not the only good games, there are more, and there are many games are nowhere near this good.

In the end it is about good gaming and plenty of games have it, but my issue is as mentioned earlier, overall quality is down, more often not properly tested, whilst as Keith Stuart states it, newer games seem to be about buying the concept, not the finished product. How games get higher in graphical quality, yet not in gaming quality. Is it just about the new systems, or are we faced with a new level of designers, that cannot stand up to the older titans, the actual visionaries. Titles like System Shock (1+2) can, when graphically updated, compete with the RPG games that were released almost 20 years later. If you want to consider First Person Shooters, then in my mind, Metroid Prime 1+2 are top notch achievements that have not been equaled. They were released on a system inferior to the PS3 and Xbox 360, so why are there no games of that calibre? Well, that would not be honest, they have games of that calibre, but they are equals at best, two games, and the first one 12 years old.

This shows the issue I have with the statements some make. ‘A new game each year’, now we must allow for the fact that marketeers will make wild statements at any given place to keep the press at bay and well fed, so we should not overly ‘analyse’ that part. An example can be found when we look at the Tomb raider series, a series that has seen highs and less so. The series also illuminates a flaw in the gaming industry, when we consider the earlier games we see an amount of gaming that is unparalleled, especially when we consider the first two games. No matter the graphic levels, the games were truly large in comparison and some of the levels were amazing in design. The cistern in the first one and the ship in the second one show a level of design the last one cannot even compete with. What took days in the first two games, took a mere 15 hours in the last game. I will agree that the graphics were amazingly unreal in that game, the game looks large but the levels are in the end small. I saw it as opportunities missed on several levels, but not for the quality of graphics. the interesting side is that Tomb Raider shows the gaming industry as it moved from storyline and innovation towards graphics and narration, which is not that big a mystery. Yet in that shift we have lost levels and game time. Which is why the appeal of RPG is vastly growing, the option to play long times, to visit places and go it your own way and speed, not hindered by narration, scripted events and scripting is more and more appealing to the gamers at large.

Even though many are focusing on the next generation of systems, the next level of gaming is not ready. As I see it, 2015 will show a large rise in quality of gaming, but the true gems will not come until 2016. Mass Effect 4 could be such a game, but will we see true innovation, or will we see a sliding line as the Assassins Creed series have shown. This thought also has a drawback. Good gaming is based on vision, a franchise is about evolutions and forward momentum, but visionary is not a given, but for good gaming an essential need. This is where the wheels tend to come off the wagon. God of War 3 brought that, the AC series did not, it brought iteration. Mass Effect might, and so far, the hype of No man’s sky is likely to bring new boundaries in gaming, but the reality is not always a given and as such, we can only wait and keep faith with the developers, which is why their change and their approach to gaming is so essential to us. There are of course issues with other approaches too. Even though the title ‘Whore of the Orient‘ sounds appealingly original, but will it be so? Time will tell! The danger isn’t what will be good and what won’t be. The issue is that we know how rare visionaries in gaming are. The last proven one was Markus Persson (maker of Minecraft) and Microsoft bought his idea for a mere 2 billion (it’s not that much when you say it fast), which is the highest amount paid for a gaming IP EVER! Consider Microsoft paying that much for one title and you know how rare visionaries in this field are, which is exactly why games are not set in one year increments, and why franchises seem to be key for gaming, but there is a new iteration that some forgot. The upcoming release of Elite, a revamp from the original game decades old, shows that good games are rare and will stand the test of time. The initial interest for Elite could be regarded as proof for that.

So is this about trusted games, trusted developers or new endeavours?

I have one thought, but I keep it to myself, it is important that you the reading gamer make up your own mind. I have given my thoughts on that what I experienced and what I value. I ignored some parts as they are not my cup of gaming, which we all have, out there are leagues of GTA lovers; I am not one of them. I do not debate the 90%+ score, gaming is for gamers and there is space for all of us, no matter which part we run to, from Silent Hills to Mario land. there is space for all of us, some will slaughter in the world of Unity, some crush in the lands of Diablo, we have our preferred places, yet the overall issue is not where we play or who we play as, but the quality of what we play is now in question, it has been in question for some time now and it seems to be getting more and more visible as the industry is pushing for revenue on 5 systems. My direct worry is that we end up with a product based on a 60% effort, which is something none of us had signed on for.

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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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About Gamespot!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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First day peril

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So what will happen to console gaming next?

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

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

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