Tag Archives: Ultima

The power of push

Yup, push is by far the greatest power in levelling the playing field. So when I heard that Bethesda had joined the Microsoft farm. From a tactical point of view, it was a brilliant move, the research a few weeks ago showed that merely 1 in three would select a Microsoft system, 1 in 3 is set to 3 in 9, but now there is every chance that the purchase might give Microsoft a shift towards 4-5 in 9, this is an important shift. We might see that it is a shift that cannot be avoided, but I see it as the opportunity to add to the power of Sony. You see, every RPG game is the same, there is land and there is a story, but what happens when we change that? What happens when the map is not defined by the story? What happens when we set it in two different dimensions? So what happens when the story has a localisation part? What if the map is wherever we need it to be, and we add the story on top? What if we can add the story to the map wherever it is? There is off course the need to transfer the map of the world into a playable map (which is not initially possible), yet the segregation of the two is a first step in a much larger frame, a frame that RPG games have not considered in the past. Yet it is only one of two parts, the second part is the revitalisation of the maps we play on. Yet what happens when the actions of a first game transfer to the second game? I am not talking about merely a change to an area because of actions (Fable), but the stage where the castle we add in the first game will be there in the second game as an existing location. At present, games are designed retroactively to avoid issues (Harry Potter), yet what options come alive when we embrace them? I thought in the direction before, but not to this degree. So consider the stage in a land, as we play the first game we offer quests we offer choices and so forth, but what happens that even beyond what we see in Mass Effect, the impact is not merely people, what happens, when we add and destroy locations, so the second game has the added/removed parts? We have seen shadows of this in games, but not to this extent, it is a larger stage of the accountability of the player. We accept that some will choose to only add locations, but in all this we forget that any RPG can have two sides, so what happens to the power core of any land, when there is no destruction? Bethesda did that quite nicely to leave us the options to save or destroy Megaton, but the is merely a fraction of what is possible, in that game the trade routes and the surrounding locations were not impacting by a shifted economy. So what happens when (in Fallout 4) the vaults become power villages? Each with an economy? That was in the back of my mind as I was looking at the Ultima setting, but that game is not alone. Yet there is no good example, because it has never been done to this degree before and it opens up all kinds of new settings and options in RPG gaming. 

In all this we need to thank Bethesda, no matter what reasons they had (the number 7,500,000,000) is a pretty nice reason, the station is now a larger setting, all kinds of needs to see a larger RPG change and even as Microsoft has the lead with its (as some say) 23 first person studio’s, it was a guy like me on a sofa who came up with the idea that no one ever brought to a game, not to this degree and that is where 23 studio’s came up short and Sony has the option to make a change to gaming, a larger change and that is what they have always done, I wonder how they will do it this time. I hope that we get to teach Microsoft another lesson, they have already been inclined to the fact that not listening to their gamers comes at a cost (only 1 out of 3 decided to buy the next Xbox), but there is every chance they get to learn that money does not solve everything, if you do not have the grasp of those who can create, you have nothing.

The power of push tends to hand a lending hand, but this time not to Microsoft.

 

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The house of RPG

Yup, the news only just hit the walls of the internet and a new stage is already underway. This is not about slamming Bethesda, they made a decision and I reckon that 7 billion plus is a nice looking bandaid, but now the house is falling over, because the stage of gaming is set into another realm. Do you think that Sony will like the age of dependancy of Microsoft? So as Bethesda becomes a Microsoft institution, Sony will have to look in other directions. Yes there are good RPG’s out there. There is the Witcher and Cyberpunk is about to arrive, yet the stage is largely untapped and now we see that there is a larger need for an exclusive option for Sony. Lucky for them there might be an option. Richard Garriott created the Ultima series in the early 80’s, yet it was in 1985 that Ultima IV: Quest of the avatar was born. It would take RPG’s to new heights, heights that would not be equalled for well over a decade. Now consider a first person RPG (like Skyrim) with its own rules, its own places, and a storyline that can surpass most RPG games out there. On a map that would be close to 6,000% larger than Skyrim. The map of Britannia (Ultima 1-9) was almost completely designed by the time Ultima 4 was there and the game only got better. The stage would add new dimensions to RPG gaming, something that could be done again in a 1st person setting. It would add new directions in gaming from the original setting, something that had not been done for some time. And then there is the story. Even now I see new stages in shrines and stones that the original never allowed for. There is the stage to combine Ultima 4 and 5 in a much larger setting in sequence in one game. It implies a gaming size that surpasses most RPG’s in hours and way the game is played. The Ultima series set a larger stage with the use of ships and that could remain, so there would be more in the game and more challenges. The largest is to stay original to the Ultima formula and not be swayed towards more of the same. A game that becomes a journey, a journey that we have not seen before and in this Bethesda opened the door by becoming part of Microsoft. I hope that they will remain on the Sony systems, but there is every indication that Microsoft will take a time advantage and use Bethesda games to push people towards their console. That move makes sense because there are plenty of Elder Scrolls and Fallout fans, but that also means that Sony now has the task to protect its core gamers by offering an exclusive brand of their own and that is where we see the value of Richard Garriott optionally go through the roof. I believe that for Richard Microsoft buying Bethesda might seem like the opportunity of a lifetime. No matter how Bethesda phrases it, they are quoted to have stated “all future Bethesda games will release on both Xbox and PC, but their appearance on other consoles will be determined on a “game by game basis”” this is what I would call a dicey setting for Sony, but not all is lost, they could look towards what was and redesign it to the new. Ultima is one of the most likely franchises and the stage is much larger than you think. Microsoft has paid over $7 billion for Bethesda (actually they bought Zenimax Media, the parent of Bethesda), it is a clever move, but if Sony counters it with new RPG, that price might be a little sour, especially if the RPG marketshare brittles away from Bethesda. Microsoft ends up in a stage where the overpaid for a brand that is well worth it, but as Sony counters what was not set to value, the value of Zenimax media will take a bit of a dive. So not only is there an alternative, my mind has already seen the optional design for an adjusted RPG game that would be every bit as satisfying as the original, more so when you consider that the original was never first person, but in my mind I added a stage that the Elder Scrolls never possessed. It is not merely good news for Richard Garriott, it would also be great news for Iolo, Jaana, Julia, Dupre, Geoffrey, Mariah, Katrina and Shamino. They can dust off the weapons they hung up in 1992. And the world would optionally see them back into action as early as 2022 if Sony gets a deal with Richard Garriott sober rather than later, because Microsoft was sly in getting the deal, but was it a clever move? I am not so sure about that. If we are to believe some market research results, only one in three opted for Microsoft, the rest went the way of Sony. I had issues with the results as it was against two systems and Nintendo was left outside the choice, I believe that the Microsoft numbers are not that great to begin with, but that is pure speculation from my side. Will I be proven correctly? 

I actually do not know, but the Bethesda move has set a level of shock on me, that is true enough, yet I have made up my mind, I will not get the Xbox, and if that leaves me without future fallout and elder scrolls games, so be it, yet it took me no more than an hour to set an optional new stage of Ultima, so there is always an option, there will always be RPG, the question becomes will Bethesda be part of that? I actually do not know, there is too much unknown at present.

 

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The set stage

It started a week ago, not directly, but the thought was born at that point, it was the realisation that the stage is set to the player, the stage is empty, especially we set the stage as we are playing an RPG game, it is perhaps the largest issue that a game can have. The danger of repetition. To get there we need to return to 1985. I was a happy chappy. I had my CBM-64 and the whole world was in front of me. That year two games came to my attention, well, not completely, the first game I had already seen as a friend had a BBC Micro B. Yet getting the games was an issue, but there it was on a Friday I was made aware that a shop in Breda (90 minutes by train) had both games. It was odd as I was living in Rotterdam, but there it was a dealer in Breda had both Ultima-3 and Elite, both for the CBM-64 and I was off to the races (the train) and a little less than 2 hours later I was in Breda having bought 1 copy of each game. My love for these two games continues to this day. Of course Elite is now Elite Dangerous (and a few thousand times bigger) and Ultima no longer exists, but the stage is there. Yet as I remember my days in Elder Scrolls Oblivion, we tend to set course for the most beneficial route, but what happens when that is not an option? In case of Ultima, what happens when 3,4,5, and 6 are played, but in this, what happens when we influence the development of the game for others? Ultima is an excellent example as the map remained close to the same in 4,5,6, and 7. But those who have played Oblivion, perhaps you remember the Rockmilk Cave north of Leyawin. Because there are two fighting parties, you get to have the drop n those who survive and get a lot more loot, early in the game that matters, and it is close to a city, so it is a ka-ching moment. But what happens, when everyone does that? We get away with it the first time, but what happens when the people in that cave become a lot more adapt? What happens when the second time around the people are suddenly 1 or 2 levels higher and that happens in EVERY subsequent visit? This takes me back to Ultima 5, near Empath Abbey there is a good source of Spider Silk, so what happens when everyone does that? What happens when we suddenly have to ACTUALLY explore to find what we need? I have been thinking of a first person approach (an Oblivion approach) to the Ultima games. You see, that game had everything from the get go and it would take plenty of designers 10 years to get close there, so what happens when we get the stage like Oblivion, but with the entire land of Britannia mapped? The 4th game would b a great start, but even as we start, we set our mark on the land. As such roads will develop different. We will end up having much better roads between Britain and Paws. There was some form of an economy in Ultima 7, but that can evolve from the 4th game onward. This sets for a very different game, as such when we start Ultima 5, we are set in a land that evolved from OUR actions in Ultima 4, not just that, as markers of thousands of players are aggregated, the map might evolve differently, We could see that New Magincia and Buccaneers Den would be much larger cities the the places we had (and reset) from 4 up to 7. It is a set shape of RPG that we have not seen before, and that makes it exciting. Even as I was (initially) designing Elder Scrolls VII: Restoration, I had something similar in mind. Not merely a stage for a quest, but a stage where we set in motion the action, but beyond managing resources, we get to have no say in the matter. 

It is  stage that is enabled and disabled by us. We tend to forget about the latter part, but it is an equally important stage, because it sets for a different stage of replaying a game. Consider Oblivion and Skyrim, what happens when we set the new Dark Brotherhood? What if we choose not to place the new sanctuary not in Dawnstar? What if there had been an option to place it near Whiterun? The choice is then set for re-playability, which was a focal point for me in TES7: Restoration. 

In addition, I had set more than one red line in the design, a red line the follows markers as you play the game, but markers that cannot be influenced after voices are made. Basically, you get to sleep in the bed you make, you do not get to design the bed. Makers of RPG’s have been so involved in getting everything there that we drown in options, but at times, the gamer can merely inhabit the stage, he/she does not design the stage, it is the cornerstone of something we want to replay and when you consider that Skyrim is still going strong since 11.11.11, what do you think happens when we take away some f the training wheels and give the player the fun of playing and the consequence of choice? It is something that had been lacking in RPG’s for the longest time. I set that in motion in my design, but in the end, it is what the owners of the IP decide to do. 

It was the only issue I had with Skyrim, the grinding to get to the legendary dragon, and I know there are part I missed (not many), yet it gets me back to the avoidance of grinding. What if levels are not the only way of measuring? Why if the player class needs to have at least 1,2 or 3 skills at 100? The thief might have bow, lockpick and sneak at 100, but what would the Mage have? What  would the fighter or assassin have? We forgot to set the stage to a larger field, I cannot tell whether that was intentional or not, I reckon that the PS4 already had the power to take care of these matters, but that is me. What if every skill will give the player an ability at 100? Not skill point driven, but automatically, it could be something trivial. For Sneak it might be pussyfoot for 60 seconds, for the Bow it might be the arrow dagger, for Restoration it might be paralyse soul, for illusion it might be daylight, and so on. We seemingly have forgotten that there are any rods to a solution, but some of the makers (due to no fault of their own) have made most missions a linear stage and we have to evolve from that. Limitations is one way to do that. When you were playing Oblivion (or Skyrim), how many benefits did you get by going to White River Watch on the second play (Skyrim) as soon as possible or Crumbling Mine (Oblivion)? We can up the NPC level on subsequent plays, but what can we gain by limiting what. Person COULD find at the first few levels? What happens when we set a randomiser to some loot not on whether it is there, but where it is? In Skyrim some books are always in the same place, what if that changes? Consider that we have 4 levels of loot, what if those levels (when it is not a quest item) are 4 mixed piles? As such, we could run to the Milkrun Cave, but what we get there would not be a guarantee, in addition, some loot can only be found ONCE! As such certain loot will not be there to spike our personal coffers, just a thought. 

In this day and age, we are not merely on one system, as such we should see what benefits the games could get, it is my personal belief that this is not done enough. I get it, makers like Ubisoft (merely an example) like to be on ALL systems, but what if we set another premise? What if we use the power of Sony and for example Google Stadia to the max what that system can give? Will the gamer not end up with a much better experience? If you doubt that, consider Metroid Prime 1 and 2 on GameCube, a game that is still mostly unsurpassed on Xbox One and PS4 11 years later, an entire generation later, the is the premise we need to return to a field that is maximised, not equalised by the lowest system around. 

Just my point of view, have a great weekend.

 

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The console stage

I made a claim last week and I forgot to follow up (my bad), and here it is. I was watching on the games out there in the past and games that might have a lovely return. First is the Sentinel. It caught my eye on the Atari ST in 1987, I played it them and I got the remake in my fingers on the PC in 1998, complete with the addictive music by the one and only John Carpenter. I believe that this game would be a nice asset on the Google Stadia (or Sony/Nintendo console), it is a game that you can play, put down and play again when you feel like it. Each of the systems can outdo the PC 1998 graphics without impeding on playability. I believe that the Ultima RPG games, but now with a Elder Scrolls first person look would be another game that could rise to fame (again), the important part is that games 4,5,6,7a and 7b would be one great game, a station that evolves as you play and they set a much larger stage that has not been achieved EVER. As such each of these systems could bank on a million fans almost overnight when properly transferred. And that is only the top of the chart, the state we see when we take the games that were not entirely at the top of the charts (like Paradroid) and we tweak those, we get a whole new range of games that would be out there for a renewed chance of more and more gamers. Another setting is seen in Mega-Lo-Mania, the game was good, not great, but it is set on too limiting a setting. It should be improved on, especially as RAM and hard drive are no longer an issue. The same could be said for forgotten Ubisoft gem Conquest: Frontier Wars, there are a few tweaks suggestions, but for the most, the skirmish part is all that is needed to give thousands of gamers fun for many many hours, and it could be ready for Google Stadia, Nintendo Switch et al quite quickly. I reckon that the Nintendo is especially interesting as it has no real space management games of that magnitude and it allows people to play by themselves and online against one another. Two stages that are easily achieved, Ubisoft does have the knowledge to run out to those fields (and they can use any win possible). In that same stage, who could forget 1989 addictive game Archipelagos, made by Astral Software? I reckon that in its original shape it is slightly too dull and too shallow, but the stage was good and when we consider other games from that era and we can spice things up a bit, the stage changes it from better than average to really good. It is not really a fair setting, because the original was better than ‘better than average’, but it was a game designed on a system lacking resources and as such improvements and additions are an option, yet there is a stage where we see that the 80’s and 90’s gave great creativity on the lacking stage of hardware, and as such we see that there is a whole range of games that can be revived on these systems. 

Yes, we all want new IP, but lets not forget that great IP remastered is still a good place to start and a lot of it is up for grabs and for those not up for grabs, the original makers could get a new lease on life and an additional pay check for the IP they know really well, gamers and game makers both seem to forget that part.

A stage that is in motion, and could set the console wars to another stage, the actual and factual stage where it does not matter how powerful your system is, it becomes a setting on who offers the most fun and that part has been forgotten to the largest extent, I wonder why?

For me, I still remember the many hours I rejoiced playing Fur Fighters on the Dreamcast, the PS2 version sucked, but the Dreamcast edition was massive fun and I still wonder why that game never made it to PS3 or XB360, now that most of the games can make it to a wider selection, I wonder if anyone will pick up the treasure trove before it is too late. Or perhaps the original makers will consider the larger stage that is now open to them.

2021 could be a great year for gaming and not just the new IP, golden oldies could be a genuine important stage for all systems willing to step into that mix.

 

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Project One Fiver

We all have the setting in our heads, we have an idea and we partially roll with it. It is there where we get the problem, some see problems, some do not. I am the one in category two, yet I also have flaws and they show themselves rather quickly. I am the entire opposite of those, I am one who quits as the challenge is gone. It is a basic law, it is stupid, but in 1989 there was a different stage, the BS artists were in charge, I was new, I knew nothing, but I had my 

Nantucket clipper compiler and a book on how to program and within weeks I was ahead of a lot of people.  I was asking container programs, admin programs and I loved it. But it came with an inner flaw. Someone in the cinema world asked me for a solution, I was not thinking like a consultant, because I was self trained, I rejected the offer, not because it was hard, but because it was easy. I had in my mind set the stage and developed the solution in an hour, I saw what was needed and my mind set the stage in minutes. The shows, the cinema’s the date’s, it was the simplest application of Clipper and dBase 3, as such I saw the premise that I was doing all the work and getting almost nothing for it, because people would state that it was too easy, and in those days the rent was due. I leaned a lot over time and I went in a different direction, but the ability to see solutions remained in me. 

So as I am watching the Battlestar Galactica series (again) an idea came to mind, what if the premise of the RPG is changed? What if the game is not one game, but 15? All linked into one massive game, into one large game that is in part driven by the parameters of other gamers? Not just that, but your achievements will be an added parameter for them? Over time your stage will be the overbearing one, but you are not one voice, you are one of a choir and over time you are the choir. As far as I can tell, that has never been done before and even as my idea grasps some idea’s from others, the stage of philosophical drives, the stage of a limited stage is not new. Other games programmed around it, I am considering it to be part of the game. And over that stage we see the ability where we intersect in a much larger stage. Yes, it sounds confusing, me talking about stages, about parameters and about requirements, yet games are like that and we fill in the blanks in stages, the stage of where we play, the stage of where a character is and we have the ability to set a much larger field of play in a  game that could set a new record in gaming in the next console war. 

A stage that has several planets, a stage that is set where we have a formula that creates 15 planets, and you have no idea where you are. This is not for the weak of mind, or those walking around in Minecraft, this is Elder Scrolls Oblivion on a scale that is 15 planets big and we do not set out to gain a flag or to kill a monster, we set out to create a dynasty and that is never a clear sailing premise. I see the solutions that other greats did before this, There was the Ultima series an RPG by Richard Garriott that is something that still drives me and why it was never refurbished in a new coat with new graphics still puzzles me. But they were not alone, there were others, to some perhaps forgotten, but with gems in its coding. Hopefully we will see a remade System Shock soon, yet it was not alone. Whist Ubisoft is all about triggers and respawning enemies, the stage is out there for a different kind of RPG, I believe that the PS5 will open up more options and different sets of games. The problems is not the game, the issue will become where is the IP, who owns it and how can it be staged in different ways. We see series like Westworld and we wonder how it can become a game. There was someone with the Westworld Shelter approach, I never saw it, I would have liked to have seen it, but it was removed before I could see it. This is not a random phrase, the question becomes that in the age we face, sources are limited, so how can we make a game enjoyable, repayable and original without it becoming a mesh of Minecraft and Animal Crossing? Whilst Ubisoft showed us how not to do it, w still need to do it and we need to do it right. It needs a hand that looks outside of what coders look at. We need to consider the creation of a strategy guide before there is a game, so that we can ensure the long term existence of the created game. And to be there for the long term you need to look with different eyes, to see in a different scope. I saw the option of scope when I created the foundation for Elder Scrolls VIII: Restoration, I saw the option of views when I considered Watch Dogs IV: Refugee, it also gave me the idea to set different dimensionalities (there was was an example in System Shock), yet the combining of elements is a much larger stage and it is a different stage. It is not like we go to the theatre, it is the entire block around the building that houses the theatre as well. That is the stage we work from, because when the surroundings are there, that is when we give size to the stage in that theatre. It has always been that way, yet in the past the computers could not deal with that stage, computers are finally catching on and even as the remade Pirates (Sid Meier) was betrayed into a diminished stage and labeled Assassins Creed: Black Flag, does not mean that it was so, we had no reason to give up on a time honoured classic, yet that stage was burned before it flourished. I wonder what we can get done when that is ignored in a future project, what happens, when we have a planet making program like we see in No Mans Sky and we prepare 15 codes, 15 places with enhanced detailing, 15 stages where the plant is the stage, where we are a person in a much larger field and we get to set up the stage of history, I reckon that it has never been done before, not to this degree and not to this reference of options, a stage much larger than ever before and to the degree where we at the end of 200-600 hours want to play it again, so far only Bethesda and CD Project Red have come anywhere near that stage, there is off course GTA5, no one denies that, so out of 2300 game developers, only 3 only got that near, would it not be the right challenge to be one of 10 ever to get that near? It is not a hard question to answer. 

I’ll let you simmer on the question and the questions that will be in your mind at this time.

 

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Hoping the best

The earlier piece was merely the introduction, it matters as we all make choices, we all embrace what appeals to us. I have seen this path all the way going back to the VIC-20, and it was a good path. I have seen on system after system how new players made true innovation happen. If we consider the Atari ST/CBM Amiga, it was the ground where Psygnosis made several steps of true innovation in gaming. There was Westwood (Command and Conquer, Red Alert), Bullfrog (Populous, Dungeon Keeper), and there is no escaping the one true original Faster then Light with Dungeon Master.  The list goes on, whether you accept it or not, but the bulk of all new games created have a foundation towards the old originals. Many have forgotten, and many never knew. There is no blame here, we all have our history with games and gaming, some started with Candy Crush, some have been around when games were not cool.

We grew up watching games evolve, when it was limited to the hardware of a system. The foundations of civilization and Elite were set to systems with only 64 Kilobytes, as such you can imagine the creativity that these people needed to employ to get past these hardware limitations and get beyond this. 

As new systems are coming, so is the need for new IP, new ways for software companies to create a cash incentive. Some rely on microtransactions, the option to grind for time and push for additional paid incentives. Yet the treasure trove that is there, the trove that is absent of IP protection is a worthy chest full of new makes. Most have forgotten that and as they try to find a way to appease Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo and optionally Google, they look for what not yet is and forget the amazing benefit to investigate what was. A simple list of titles Millennium 2.2, Paradroid, Seven Cities of gold, Laser Squad, Chipbits and even the Ultima series. All games mostly forgotten by all but the seasoned fans. I would mention System Shock, but that is being remade at present (hopefully being released in 2020).

Games that are not merely ported, but games that can be upgraded in all kinds of ways, the new consoles allow for much more options as they are almost 1,000 times the power and ability that the CBM 64 had. I am not merely talking about a new version of a game, but a game with additional sides and more depth then before. 

Consider the option of a game that could be out in under a year, all upgraded to the max of the new systems. That is the race they now face, that is where the initial coin was. Microsoft (and Sony) are at present in the setting where gaming is backward compatible and I am fine with that. Yet you as a gamer, would you prefer a PS4 or Xbox game, or a PS5/Xbox One X game?

I am not going to Speculate what these two larger players will do, yet I believe that the game makers will have additional options, they merely have to look into the right direction. I personally believe that there is a larger option here and the right developer will find a lucrative business, especially with players like Ubisoft being in the shape it is. Consider No Man’s Sky, in 2015 very few knew of him, there was a trailer out and that was it. Less than 5 years later everyone in gaming knows him, one title did that. People might think of him one way or the other, but he is there and he produced a game everyone remembers, that path is open to any developer who is willing to make a run for the gold.

It is great that some want to create a new level of IP, yet with 1.2 million games out there over time, making and creating something new is becoming increasingly difficult. Yet close to 25% of the games out there are old, forgotten and no protection on that IP as it remained unregistered. There is an awful lot of digital gold in the out and the open getting ignored.

This is the opportunity that the big three have, all three have systems capable of supporting an evolved and upgraded game that would stand up to any game created today. That is before you consider the options that are out in the open. EA made a game in the early 80’s called ‘Murder on the Hindenburg’, now combine it with the 1993 game ‘Iron Helix’ and you have the making of a new game, optionally first person with a zepplin mapped out and the need to find a murderer. As you have a library of NPC people you can replay the game again and again with different outcomes every time. So it would be a whodunnit heaven for anyone that loves the genre. Add to this the option to select the detective you play (and the strengths and weaknesses of them) and the game becomes something more. More evolved, deeper even as we merely are in one large location, yet does it need to be? 

All options from two individual games that became more than the sum of both. It took me 5 minutes to work that out, and I am but one person. So how many new games are there at the heart of being picked up by others?

There is a great time ahead for gamers, but will they face that utopian future? Time will tell.

 

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It’s been that long

I got alerted to a milestone yesterday on YouTube, you see, last week was the 25th anniversary of System Shock, one of my most beloved games from the past. I still remember the two moments that set the milestones for this game. The first was the PC Format by Future plc. About a month before the release, PC format included the entire first level of the game (medical level). So you got about an hour of gameplay into that game, a month later the game arrived and of course, I had to have that game on day one! I did and that started a tour of around a week getting through the game. Someone was nice enough to stream the game (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4IzNzVAxk8E) the stream starts at 10:00. Even now, hearing the intro music still gives me the good shivers. For a game to do that is so rare, it is to some degree scary. I am still awaiting the remastered edition by NightDive Studios. It will be launched a little later than planned (2020) but on all the consoles, so I might get that happy feeling again on all my consoles.

This is the foundation of better than great gaming, the story, the emersion and the control. The game offered all three to a great degree. That part is also important as System Shock 2, a game that came 5 years later had almost all the same controls, the first game was the founding father of RPG games, and control was close to that perfect. Graphics did upgrade by a lot, yet the shock (for me) in this game that the game only sold 170,000 copies, not much for a game this perfect, as such I do hope that the remaster will hand out the multimillion copy achievement sold. When we look at PC Gamer we see: “System Shock smokes. It is the most fully immersive game world I have ever experienced“, as well as “no matter what kind of game you’re looking for, you’ll find something in System Shock to delight you“. Finishing with “unquestionably raises computer gaming to a new level” (at https://web.archive.org/web/20000309153138/http://www.pcgamer.com/reviews/1024.html), I gave the game a similar review and gave it a 95% score when I reviewed it.

From that moment on, I reviewed RPG games using System Shock as the minimum bar, as you might imagine not many games got to that level. It was also the first game where ‘leaning around corners‘ became an option in shooting games. As far as you see the stream and listening to the makers of the game, you get the part how this game became a trendsetter of excellence, even if they do not mention it, it was a labour of love and passion gets to be the deciding driver in any game towards excellence.

Depending on your age, consider the game that you would play again after 10, 20 and 25 years. What titles come to mind? In my view Elite Dangerous (after 35 years), Ultima 4 (after 35 years), System Shock (after 25 years), Ultima 7 (after 25 years), System Shock 2 (after 20 years), and the list goes on, but it is not a long list, games that are dipped in excellence are rare to say the least. Yet I am a gamer, a game junkie and like all other gamers I remain hopeful that another developer gets it right to the largest degree, Ubisoft did that with Assassins Creed 2 (and Brotherhood) then stuffed up to a much larger degree until Assassins Creed Origins was released. That is why the scrutiny of 93%+ games is so essential. Most gamers will take a turn in other direction if it gives them excellence, yet when they leave their comfort zone in gaming, excellence is the only marker that they will accept to make them do so. Games like Mass Effect 2, The Witcher 3, Grand Theft Auto V, Horizon Zero Dawn, all games that relied on near perfection; it is a stage that is seldom reached. And in all this the FX Slogan was key (for me it is) ‘The story is everything‘. Horizon Zero Dawn is perhaps the strongest example. In the beginning I enjoyed the game, yet it was the storyline after the proving that set the stage for me to continue and learn more and more. The origin story of Elisabeth Sobeck and Aloy is absolutely marvellous. Yes, I have seen the rants against the game, rants like ‘Giving up Horizon Zero Dawn‘ (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qv_1DzGf_1s). His response ‘I just don’t find it interesting anymore‘. Yes, I do not agree, but it is his view, and his view is valid to him, just when we see this he is still not completing: ‘The War – Chief’s trail‘. Yet the best story parts were still coming up and the game takes it time getting into the story, it is important to show this, because you might have a different love for games, I love stealth games, games with an essential need for stealth, not everyone loves this, I get that. You have to realise that, I might not be the voice for you; I might have other loves in gaming. I was never a lover of GTA5, I admire it for its excellence, but it is not my game, it is however for millions of other gamers.

In this view it is important to find more voices until you find the reviewer that aligns with your fulfilment in gaming. It is easy to find good reviews and for many games a lot will have the same view, but in the 90%+ range you need to find the one voice that is on your level of gaming. It is easy to merely see that The Last of Us was a great game, pretty much everyone will agree, yet Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne? I loved both games; I never got to complete them. With Bloodborne I actually stopped (after a dozen attempts), I still have the game as it shows excellence on many levels and the engine is sublime, but it is also an excellent example for ratings. I would give it 91%, yet others will give it 93%-95% and now we have the review issue. Are their reviews better? They might be, they might be better at playing this game, more important, they might highlight things I missed, because I was not great at this game. Graphics and engines are easy, the subtle parts defining Bloodborne (as well as Dark Souls 3) is another matter. And now you come into the mix thinking it was merely an 85% game as you did not like the game (which is fair enough), finding the right reviewer is important, more important, the one that aligns with your game play and this is where a game like System Shock differs. The game remained playable for a much larger audience. Now we accept that the gaming bar was not as high in 1994 as it is in 2014, yet playability had remained similar over 25 years, it is my view that Bloodborne is a great game, yet, to me, it is not as playable. That small distinction is important when you seek out buying a full priced game that totally rocks your world.

To me the story is a deciding factor, whilst play style is the most important second. That part is visible to many who remember Metroid Prime on GameCube; I still love that game as well. I never got beyond 98% completion, and I would love to play it again getting to 100%, that is because the game is extremely playable with a play style that is set to comfort. We might sneer at the graphic level (compared to the Xbox and Playstation2 in those days), yet Metroid Prime still delivered as an equal and better to anything the other two could offer. That part validates the 97% rating it received. Yet, if it is not your game, would you still regard it as high?

The question is important as System Shock did make that cut, even by those not loving the game style, they were all impressed with the game, it set a new bar of quality, Metroid Prime and Horizon Zero Dawn both did that as well.

And it is there where we see the stage for streaming games, for Apple Arcade, Google Stadia and thee we see the links. Apple Arcade shows smooth gaming, but not hi-res gaming. That is not an issue if you consider Metroid Prime, the lowest resolution of the three consoles delivered the best gaming experience of all. You can see this (at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q73cHEAwKVw), I found the top 10 interesting, but not overwhelming, of course the number one is like some Zelda clone, with decent graphics, but not great graphics. There are 100 games announced yet there too I wonder if people are willing to pay $5 a month, $60 a year to do this, You can argue if you can find even 3 games you really like, then the money is well spent. So it is a decent idea, the issue I have with the stage is that the solution will be years two and later. However, in a family setting the game changes massively, the cost is per family (up to 5 players) as such $1 per person per month is just too good to pass up.
More important is the fact that the games look amazing on the iPad, so there is that to consider. My larger personal issue is long term. For me it is $8 month (Australia), as such in Australia it gets down to $100 a year. It has good games and the important dig is: no ads, unlimited access to 100+ new games rolling out later this year, as well as download for off-line playing are the catchers that will make people try this. Consider the initial $100 for the entire year, seems a lot, but playing 100 games for the price of one is still a game changer. I am assuming that you can only play for as long as you are a member, but we get the same on consoles, so that should not be the issue.

The arrival of Apple Arcade and Google Stadia is still important, but not for the reason you think. System Shock was important as the game was a true innovator in gaming. These new streaming services are set on a stage where the amounts of gamers imply the revenue for the makers. Even as marketing get you in the beginning, the bulk of gamers will push for games that are TRULY innovative and I have learned and seen that true innovation pushes the envelope of games in general. System Shock, Command and Conquer, Metal Gear Solid, Wolfenstein 3D, Gran Turismo, Warcraft 3, Minecraft, Tombraider, Diablo, Zelda – Ocarina of Time, Goldeneye, Super Mario 64, Half-Life, Doom. These are on a short list of the most innovative games in history and the most important part is that most of them started on systems lacking resources. Systems like the first PlayStation, the Nintendo 64 and the PC-Pentium One. Most mobiles and tablets now surpass what was possible even in those maxed out years. As such, innovation was always about imagination and I love the idea of streaming services as it pushes the need for innovation. I go back to System Shock one and two, yet some might remember Molyneux’s titanic achievement Black and White, a god video game. A game where you influence actions and not control all actions, when you realise that innovation is creation linked to imagination, we start considering the lack of resources required, not the max of resources. In this games and gamers are about finding the right note, the right chord that makes your heart sing. System Shock still does that to me 25 years later (OK, Elite Dangerous does it as well after 35 years).

I still play Blockheads by Dave Frampton after 6 years on my very first iPad, it is basically the only reason I still use my very first iPad for anything else but reading (until I get a new one). I got the game to deal with my Minecraft addiction when I was not at home and I never regretted getting it (oh, and I found the tablet edition of Minecraft not that playable), even today (last night actually) I still play Blockheads.

We might think that innovation fades, as it would over time, but I personally learned that innovation creates a captive audience regardless of time, it is a personal observation and you might not agree, but I also believe that this is the stepping stone for both Apple Arcade and Google Stadia. Consider the re-released consoles. CBM64 mini that gives us: Boulder Dash, Paradroid, Jumpman, Temple of Apshai Trilogy, Uridium, Impossible Mission (1+2), Winter Games and Summer Games II all games that could be upgraded and give a new audience the games they love to play. The CBM 64 brought so much innovation in games with only 64KB available; these games became the foundation for better games as systems upgraded (Atari ST and CBM Amiga). In this Nintendo with their 64 was pushing the envelope even further, Super Mario 64 is just one title, Goldeneye (named after the bond movie) set the bar so high that it was still the most desired game a decade later, even as the Wii relaunched the game, it ended up being inferior to the original, that is the level of excellence we lost out on and in this resources are not the issue, these are games that could easily be streamed and offer gaming perfection.

The list goes on and it would take too long, yet when we consider sources like My Abandonware and other sources (like Amiga Emulators) we see optional chests containing hundreds of titles that are ready to be remade and a lot of it has no IP protection, as such the best programmers can take the great vision and turn it into a cash maker through streaming. I reckon that is what both Google Stadia and Apple Arcade are hoping for, I am uncertain to see a winner at present, but the games that make it will be the deciding factor and even as the games on Apple are not great, they are still off to a good start, I myself hope that the historic database will inspire game makers, and this is a field where both genders can excel, you merely need to remember the name Danielle Bunten Berry (M.U.L.E. and Seven Cities of Gold) to realise that creativity was key, not gender. As such I do hope that we see both genders remain active, even as Danielle Bunten Berry left us in 1998, her games could stay around for much longer, that is the other part of innovation, it has no expiration date; it is almost timeless. If you doubt that, consider her games as well as those by Roberta Williams (King’s quest series). That is actually another part of gaming, there the playing field for genders is almost level as creativity not ego decides on the quality of the game.

As such it might have been that long, but in the end, the timeline was not long enough, I am willing to get into streaming to some degree (Assassins Creed Odyssey might get lag issues) but there are hundreds of games that will never have that issue and the list of games that will hit the spot is a lot larger than anyone ever considered, especially when a good idea (or a great idea) gets upgraded with innovations that were not available when a certain game came out.

Consider the game Command and conquer, optionally a game like Battle for Middle Earth, or even Dungeon Keeper 2. We have gone through those games and finished all the maps; now consider the issues you face when the maps are created procedural, would your strategy still hold up? That question impacts all three games. Often the strategy was in the map design, take that away and the challenge changes by a lot. I believe that ‘It has been that long‘ is a premise that does not really exist in gaming, I truly believe that System Shock will capture the hearts of new gamers, I believe that upgrading innovation that was will give life to other games, even games that were in the 80%-90% and upgrade them by an optional 15%, and be honest, what game maker would not love to be linked to making a 90%+ game? At present Ubisoft is seemingly proud of their 70% games (so are a few other makers mind you), so we can see the essential need of excellence in gaming, the question is who will bring it and with two new players (gaming providers) entering that field, answering those question becomes a lot more important as we (gamers in general) have had our fill of mediocre games.

Even now we see that as we still yearn for Elder Scrolls: Oblivion as well as Skyrim; I stated to Richard Garriott (the man behind the Ultima series) a while go, if we could get the Oblivion/Skyrim engine and create Sosaria to life, we would have a winner that could entice millions of gamers. Skyrim with over 30 million sold is clear evidence of that and the tales of Sosaria were founded on great story-lines and compelling interaction of personal choices and philosophical concepts. The entire Ultima line (story 4 and later) are all about eh seven virtues (Honesty, Justice, Honour, Sacrifice, Compassion, Spirituality and Humility), it would be the foundation of 6 games, each one surpassing the previous one and to see the evolution from isometric to first person would be the game changer for anyone who loved that story-line, in addition, the Elder Scrolls never did concepts to that degree, which is not their flaw, but it could be the strength of any new Ultima IP.

It is in that part where I see System Shock one and two, it was near perfect and it is still ready for a whole new generation of players. Especially when you consider that the original System Shock on floppy (yes there was a floppy version) was a mere 15Mb, and Metroid Prime on GameCube was less than 1.5Gb, whilst Goldeneye was a mere 64Mb, so as you can see size was never the deciding factor.

I believe that 2020 will be an interesting year for games and gamers. I believe that those relying on ridiculous large games and high resource requiring games (like a Core i9-9980XE) will find that their size issue gets thumbed by true playability and innovation setting the stage for much better games after that. Innovation remains a game changer for games and I wonder how much change we get to see in 2021-2022.

 

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Gaming ‘after silence’ or ‘pre noise’?

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

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

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

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

LVR_MassEffect2 - twitch

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me explain this!

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

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

Is this a good path?

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

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

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

 

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Redo from start?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the games begin!

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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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