Tag Archives: RPG

To emphasize ‘flawed’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now consider the two headlines:

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

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

 

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A little more slamming

It is only one day from release and the initial findings I saw, with which I stand, needs adjustment. You see, those reviewers who got the full copy, learned a few more things, and actual gameplay shows issues that all the YouTube play throughs never did. One of the better review sources Eurogamer, gives us (at http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2017-03-19-mass-effect-andromeda) with quotes like: “BioWare’s fourth Mass Effect smacks it over the head with a prospector’s shovel and boots it out the airlock during the first few hours of play. You’re left with a zesty but unsurprising third-person shooter“, which is not a good start, and it goes down after that with “go to a waypoint, scan 10 Remnant collapsible shelving units with your ugly wrist-mounted display, scoop up five mineral deposits for some lazy boffin back on the Nexus, blow up three raider outposts, and so forth” as well as “Andromeda is most disappointing when it’s at its best“, this reflects the subtitle of the review: “mediocre writing and tepid quests add up to what is probably BioWare’s worst RPG yet“, this is not good for an RPG that has been 2 years in the waiting. A lack of proper QA, not unlike Ubisoft has been through gives one other contemplation. The issues shown (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5CPYw5uxER4), show us a few disturbing issues with the game and animations. What I found most interesting is the excuses that the narrators of the review give. The issue is proper testing which is now shown to have been absent to more than just a small degree.

There are a collection of additional videos when we look at Mass Effect Andromeda, some are partially funny to hear, but they will not give you the quality review that Eurogamer gives. The nightmare that BioWare now faces as it has received a mere 77% from IGN, gives that those not willing to pay full price might want to wait 6-8 weeks and pick it up for $29 as shops will now be stuck with massive piles of something that the gamers at large will not want at full price. I did like the mention that Dan Stapleton gives (IGN). “Mass Effect Andromeda has a few great moments that recapture the highpoints of the original great trilogy“. It shows that EA is not on the ball and more important, the initial presentation teaser is exactly what we thought it was, much ado about nothing.

So the RPG gamers can now relax and realise there is only Bethesda that as a real RPG maker remains (OK, I admit, Guerilla games is the new kid on the block), which is both unsettling and problematic, because actual competition will breed diversity and push cutting edge gaming forward, a party of one does not tend to do that. An improvement issue that is not coming our way any day soon, so it seems. I have my own sense of humour in all this, as I created a new open world game in my mind that already outdoes Mass Effect. I only wish I had the programming skills to make it a reality. So as you see, we are all flawed, although it seems that Electronic Arts is at present a lot more flawed than most others. The only thing remaining is the contemplation of what to think of certain reviews (like for example in Empire Online) where we see: “Combat clicks far better than it did in previous instalments, however, providing a twitchy experience more akin to a dedicated third-person action game than an RPG with some shooty elements tacked on“, a view I would have partially agreed with, yet several movies now show that to be not the case. Still, this would be a matter of opinion, and that reviewer has every right to feel this way. As you might remember, I made a similar statement last week, but clearly based on videos with playthroughs shown to me. The full reviews a few days later show a very different image. Even before the awakening by Eurogamer, there was no way that the game showed me “Andromeda’s superior combat allows you to play like a space marine, Sith lord, or the best combination of both“, in this I think I agree with several YouTube Bloggers that BioWare is not off to a solid start and a Mass Extension of additions and improvements will be required to show the next game not to be as good, but basically to be worthy to stand in the shadow of Mass Effect 2, which should be regarded as an issue on several levels.

I will be honest, the teaser trailer offered on June 12th, 2014 was the start of something that should have been a lot better than the end result that will be officially released tomorrow.

 

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The second zero hour

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

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

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

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

So why is this game so amazing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seeking the next stage

As we move towards the end of an era, exams, some move towards a new life and towards other challenges and new games. Tonight the start of Fallout 4 begins, too busy to make a real dent in it, but I will take a peak. I did take a peek at Assassins Creed in another way. I did not buy the game for the reason that Ubisoft has disappointed twice now, thrice including the latest one. As far as shown it does not have the massive issues that Unity had, but overall it ends up being more of the same. The finale is completely over the top, but at times one must allow for that. Like all previous AC games, the graphics are beyond unreal, but that is it. The AI of the opponents is still out there, the control, or better the consequence of assumption by the game engine is also still out there, just like in Unity. In all fairness those who want more of the same will like it, partially I want it too but too many irritating moments where Assassins Creed is controlled by the Prince of Persia team and I hate that part. In some instances loading took forever, but that was a PC edition so there are a few elements in play. Even after the introduction when you arrive in London will you get into a squirm who lifts your pocket, you chase and then you need to fight someone (2 persons in this case) Assassins Creed 2, AC Brotherhood, 3 and Unity anyone?

Of course there is more ‘synchronisation location’ here, but that is the one repetitive element I do not object to that much. It shows up the graphics (which has always been awesome) and it is one way to upgrade the map, but that is it, upgrading the map, not buying what you must seek, but upgrading what any synchronisation offers. Did no one at Ubisoft consider that? Oh and again chests all over the place, in the age of Queen Victoria, do you really think that a chest only you will reach has silk money and other things waiting? I can go on for hours, but if you like the game, you will get it, if you don’t you will not bother reading this (which is fair enough), so after that part it is time to get onto the next game. It will not be Fallout 4 as that game is 3 hours away. At the end of the month the GOTY edition of Bloodborne will arrive. Now, this game is not for the weak, it is near impossible to play and I have not been able to finish this game. Yet, I will not give up because it is graphically one of the most beautiful games I ever beheld. All this whilst I see another part of AC Syndicate passes my eyes with particular view on the bad scripted AI and the glitched civilian reaction to you the player. The reason for both games is that both have awesome graphics, but as Bloodborne is unplayable because of the high challenge level, AC becomes almost unplayable due to the faulty approach. If AC had no glitches but remains unplayable because the challenge is massive I would end up revering the game as I did in the time of AC 2 and AC Brotherhood.

Yet here is the kicker, is it all me?

I have always shied away from racing games as it was never my cup of tea, RPG and stealth games were. This is why I have had massive issues with the AC range, but is that fair? I believe that my view matters here, but it is for you the reader to decide how my view adheres to YOUR view of the game, because it is about you the gamer! I can only offer my view and hope that your view is enhanced, nothing more. Whatever you truly enjoy is what you enjoy, so keep that in mind. Another game to keep in mind in November is the nextgen release for Deadpool. Now consider the next paragraph.

In the first I was never a fan of that comic, never followed the character and never played the console editions. There are a few things on this game. It is one of the most politically incorrect games you will find at present. It looks nice graphically. It is smooth, the graphics have a nice comic book look to all of it. So as the doorbell goes and the narrative goes ‘let’s forget about the boobs and go for pecs and biceps’ you know that this gamer is decently over the top. So as you learn how to control Deadpool in original new ways.

So even as you are reading this now, this part was written after midnight. Yes, Fallout 4 is here. I will not bore you with the intro, the explanation that you will read everywhere or the codes. Let’s get to basics. Graphically the game is awesome, I had a go at the PS4 version and the intro that you will likely have seen in many places shows the intro in a decent way. Controls are very much like the previous versions of Fallout, so if you played those, you are well on your way. If this is new then realise a few little things. The interaction is about freedom, in this version it is a lot more about freedom and a little less about carrying all kinds of things and not knowing whether you need them yes or no. the development is also as YOU see fit, so if you are a slugger (slam bam fisticuffs), ‘tchk tchk bang’ (gun nut), or squeak squeak slice (stealth), you have a freedom of choice to go your own way. For the non-initiate I still feel that a first need is intelligence and repair skills (do not decide now, finish reading the article). You see, whatever direction you take, intelligence gives you skills faster and repair gives you better weapons and in addition more revenue from selling them. So we might consider there is a small flaw in the game, but that is not entirely true, it is the way of the world the game is set in. So what should you do? That is the beauty of Fallout 4, you decide and whatever you decide, there is no wrong here, there is just your choice and unlike in real life, you must live with the consequences of the choices you make. In real life you just blame someone else.

Now for the truth, after AC Syndicate (or Unity for that matter), does the game have bugs. Well, I can tell you that this is a fair certainty. So far I have not crossed any, but that will be a mere matter of time. Skyrim had bugs, Fallout New Vegas had its share of bugs and this one will have them, yet in this case we must also consider two parts. Fallout 4 is completely open, so in many cases you can go around such an issue, in the past patches did come out and they resolved many (not all) issues. Will this be the same? It is too soon to tell, but when I learn, I will inform. For now realise that a good game remains a good game and that some things (like open worlds) tend to come at a price, but is that what you wanted to hear?

That is not the main issue, is the game worth it all? So far as I see it, with Rise of the Tombraider the answer is no, with Fallout 4 the answer is yes. Is there another game you seek? Than look for it, perhaps read the review and if you do, always read more than one and decide after you get the goods from a reliable source. You see I do not side with the IGN review, but I stop short form disagreeing with it, because a gaming review tends to be a personal one. In this case Lucy O’Brien writes “Although I could have done with a few more puzzles and fewer firefights“, which was a given in previous versions, but as I saw it to the part I saw, it was massively repetitive form the previous game, so I had an issue there. Another part is what Lucy experienced, which is fair enough “She’s such a potent fighter that I didn’t find any real incentive to avoid combat altogether“, that is in truth the formula that Lara relied upon in the path, yet the steal options we got introduced to in earlier games were very enticing, too often there was a trigger forcing a fight, but the idea of taking a decent part out in stealth is too appealing to ignore, it is one addition I truly enjoyed. In addition, the quote “For true completionists, there are plenty of relics, documents, murals and caves to discover, which can take an average play through from 15 hours to around 30 or 40” implies much improvements above the previous version, yet the initial issue remains that 15 hours (likely just the main game) is not good enough. It is slightly less than the very first game which required 10% of the power we see nowadays, and the game was contained on a disc holding less than 2% of what a Blu-ray can store, so the question becomes, is it value for money, which is something I will let you decide.

Now it is time to take a look at fallout 4. I went in with the experience of the previous games, so I made my character on the Xbox One and I went off to the races (oops, I almost forgot, the installation takes a little over half an hour, so feel free to start the installation and prepare the room with snacks and drinks so that you do not look at that super slow installation progress counter. The game began and here I made an interesting ‘mistake’ Fallout 4 plays in the same way the previous versions did, but that turned out to be an oops moment. This is not something I regret. You see, the play is the same, but the game is also vastly different. An important issue here is the fact that guns no longer degrade! It has changed into upgrading weapons. It does so more versatile than you see in the Bioshock games. Now it will be about finding junk, scrapping it and use those parts to upgrade the weapons you have. In addition perks now have several levels, which means that certain perks will receive additional options. I will not go into this any deeper, because exploration of what you find and what you could be is part of the massive fun that Fallout 4 is delivering in this game.

As for the rest?

Well, building your settlement is a fun addition and that fact is not giving away anything (shown in many demos), but you will soon learn that this part is a lot more important and it shows a new side to the fallout 4 games and it just shows why Bethesda still rules the RPG land. So far, the game is showing me everything I wanted to see, including a decent level of surprises. For me gaming will now stop for a week as exams are about to start. I am still uncertain how bad my exam scores will be in the end, but that will not stop me from fighting for every point I did not get (I am an incurable optimist).

Whatever you do, make sure you enjoy what you do! (I am referring to gaming and not the equally rewarding horizontal lambada)

See you all next week!

 

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Building Social gaming

Yes, this is about games, about video games specifically. There are two sides to the current article we see in the Guardian (at http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2015/mar/16/roblox-minecraft-user-generated-gaming). The first one is the entire ‘for kids’ approach.

Well, that part I am smitten with, you see, games should be to a decent extent to get the next generation into technology. To get them to know how to get by, how to interact and how to properly use technology. Like any skill, a child starts with crawling, moves to walking, soon we see tricycles, bicycles and more advanced options for movement. We have puzzles for the mind, whether jigsaw or other. Even though these options are falling to the back more and more, it is the threshold of technology that will help them move forward and move forward faster. Nintendo has always been a champion in this matter. As it catered to the younger player and to the family game environment, Nintendo had a niche. PC’s have for a long time remained far behind, because the revenue to cater to a less young population was forever more appealing. Even though most will see Minecraft as a provider here, Roblox has been around a lot longer.

Now that Microsoft dished out 2 billion and spare change for Minecraft, Roblox is hoping to see an influx of cash in their market as well, and why not?

Yet now we hit the part that is a little (just a little) cause for concern:

“In December, we hit 4.7 million players. The foundation of Roblox is user-generated content: just like on YouTube there is so much to watch, on Roblox there is so much to play,” says Baszucki” as well as “People get really attached to it: many of our players have played for four to five years, and our developers range in age from eight to 80. Some of the top developers are 18 or 20, and we have kids in high-school who are making two, three or four thousand dollars a month“.

You see, where do they get that money from? More important, who is paying for these ‘costs’?

Well the article explains that as well: “How? By creating 3D games on Roblox’s website, then sharing them to be played online, as well as on iOS, Android and Kindle Fire devices. The money comes from the in-game currency, “Robux”, bought by players to spend within games, and then exchanged for real money again by those games’ developers“.

Is that a problem? Well, no not directly, as I see it, Roblox is all about creativity, yet some things must be bought. So their currency sets 400 Robux at $5 (for builders it is 450 for the same price), making a Robux around a cent (1.25 to be more exact), which might not be a biggie and 10,000 for $100 (15000 for developers), which makes a Robux $0.01, even less for developers. But what does it get you? More important, if some ‘developers’ get 5000 a month, how much money is exchanging hands here? Well, when you become a member of the Outrageous Builders Club and you have in excess of 100,000 Robux and a valid PayPal as well as a verified email address, you could qualify, if you successfully signed up for the Devex program. The last one seems to be set up to prevent phishing, falsehood and a few other markings. This all seems on the up and up. The exchange is 100,000 for $250. That comes down to 0.25 cents to the Robux, which gives the makers of Roblox a 4 to 1 profit. Now we get back to the very first paragraph “Some of our top developers are starting to get about a quarter of a million dollars a year. They’re treating it literally as a career, and starting to hire their friends…”, so how many Robux did that income make?

Now, this is supposed to be about the games and gaming design, which I do not oppose, so when I see the line ‘we have kids in high-school who are making two, three or four thousand dollars a month‘, meaning that they sold R$800K, R$1.2M, R$1.6M. At 4 to one that works out pretty spiffy for the makers, but is no one asking the question, how much money are your children sinking into this game that is the question! Even though much is clearly stated by the people behind it and even though we see “Roblox is free to play, but to get Builders Club which gives you more features“, we soon see that the smallest club is already $6 a month, making this a $70+ a year enterprise, which might not be bad, but everything costs in this game, from hats (that are seen as a status symbol as I personally see it) and there are more parts to all this, so when I saw the ‘promise of income’ as the article seems to imply, my question to Stuart Dredge becomes: ‘How deep did you look into the article you wrote?’ There is another side to the cash thing that was also not mentioned, The Roblox people had relief fund drives, which means that buying a hat (red, Blue, Rising sun) and for every hat sold, Roblox donated to relief funds for Haiti, Red Cross, the Tsunami efforts, so there is also a social drive towards good causes and this game ended up sending thousands upon thousands of dollars fuelled by the people getting the hat to be socially aware. That is a very good thing, especially as this is an environment driven largely towards the ‘less adults’ (small citizens usually younger than 18).

So, am I lashing out at the makers of Roblox? No, not really, they seem to be clear about the options and about the costs, and people can start with a free account, one world and the choice to continue if it is their kind of world. This is all fair, but do the parents realise what happens when these kids sign up for more? Perhaps they do, but do they realise the added price tag? You see, that might all be fair and good and it is important to note that Roblox shows nearly all the information openly and clearly. They have no traps in there. The only paragraph touching on this is “A platform with lots of children playing and a growing number of games using in-app purchases? It sounds like a recipe for controversy, especially with the US Federal Trade Commission poking around in the affairs of Amazon, Apple and now Facebook over children’s in-app spending“. I think the paragraph is much too meager and other elements are not looked at (as I showed in my earlier part).

There is also a second side to Roblox. A side we all ignored unless we actively dug into it ourselves. You see, I was around when Atari had STOS, Amiga has AMOS and when we saw the growth of Little Big Planet one, two and three. We all think we are future game developers. I played with some of the demos and was able to change a few things get some things rolling, but overall, no matter how good my insight, you need creativity and vision. Roblox is giving tools to the makers to address their creativity, but what about vision? Well, I got my parts done in the builder of Neverwinter Nights, and the best result was making an actual adventure for the Commodore-64. The last part was done by a set of articles that were published in a magazine called ‘Computer and Video Games (CVG)‘ in the mid 80’s. I learned so much from those articles.

Here we see the power of these tools, which brings out vision and creativity through patience and persistence. When a parent realises this part and that a game like Roblox could empower these two elements, then spending $72 a year is a steal at twice the price. Whether this results in making some actual cash, or just makes the maker break even with the costs involved, the last one would be worth it all because whatever they make now, will shape the power of innovation down the line. Kids (adults too) could go through life never realising the power that creating innovation brings.

It is the last paragraph that matters: “Ultimately, games that start to look like high-end CGI movies. And companies are starting to realise that this user-generated content segment could be bigger than any individual games company. There’s so much leverage from being a platform rather than a content producer, where every few years you need a new huge property”. There is a truth and a hidden untruth here, the games that look like high end movies come at a large cost for the player, when we see $100 games that give us no more than 10 hours, we see that a move towards sandbox games are definitely worth it, because the overwhelming difference that value for money gives the player, yet the failed attempt we see in games like Assassins Creed Unity, a game released last November, that is still receiving patches (at http://www.designntrend.com/articles/40441/20150218/assassins-creed-unity-ps4-xbox-one-patch-release-ubisoft-gameplay-graphics-multiplayer-glitches.htm). By the way, personally as I see it, when we see the quote “patch 1.05 goes a long way towards promoting ‘stability and performance’ in the latest entry to the annualized franchise“, I mention this for two reasons, the first is that high end games, when not properly supervised could become the end of any software house, the second reason is that the Assassins Creed Wikia calls it a “Assassin’s Creed: Unity is a 2014 sandbox action adventure game“, trust me that any reference to Assassins Creed being a ‘sandbox game’ is like comparing a Ford Edsel to a Bentley, Minecraft being the Bentley that is.

So as we see Roblox and Minecraft as the growing community towards the sandbox loving gamers, I see a win-win situation. You see, I remain a fan of RPG games, these games propel the interest and the desire for RPG games and as such, I will win as better RPG games are released.

So as we consider the subtitle where we see that Roblox is an environment of 4.7 million people, focusing on growth, we can see that Roblox has a future as it focuses on all devices and Cloud based usage. The only danger I see now is that they might try to grow too fast in too many directions. There might be a comparison to Minecraft, but not in the user base, because Minecraft has over 100M users registered on PC and well over 50 million copies sold on consoles. Roblox could grow faster and larger, but as I see it, it will have to offer more to the free player, as I see it by adding 2 worlds and adding those option to have more options for free. It would be fair enough to make those free players earn these options to be unlocked in some way, but as the starting player is reeled in through the growth of options and interactions, so will their eagerness in becoming a premium member. It is that growth curve that Roblox will need, because no matter how proud they are with their 4.7 million players, if they want to attract bigger business they will need to do more than just double their current base, in addition, as the article shows a drive for makers to ‘make’ money, we need to also consider (in all fairness) that in the end, it must be looked at how much currency is transacted in and how this is broken down in user population (especially the age group based demographics). As I stated before Roblox has been on the up and up in this regard, but their continuation will require a massive jolt towards value for money, because that will drive growth faster and a lot more profound.

 

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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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