So, this is it then?

Say what you will about old games and the improvements in technology that the gaming industry has made over the last decade or so, but one thing seems to be turning into a constant: we are waiting for months after release for “finished games”.

Now, I don’t mean episodic games. I’m talking about release a full priced, AAA (often) game that comes out and is either missing a chunk of the story that was pulled to be included as DLC or games that just didn’t get the polish they deserved.

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As an aside, I don’t have a problem with DLC as a concept. Because, I’m sure most of you have been gaming long enough to remember, DLC used to be something to extend the life of a game. When fans were clamouring for more after the ending, sometimes they’d get a smaller nugget as DLC, like Bioshock’s Burial At Sea. Now, DLC is used to fill in purposely created gaps in a lot of narratives to be able to get a little extra on top of the title price.

I could probably fill up a Simpsons/Family Guy rolling credits list of games that would make a list of the kind of games I would describe, but for the sake of your eyes and my fingers, I’ll pass for now.

But let’s look at some of the major offenders here:

No Man’s Sky: This game is going to forever live in infamy. Released actually unfinished. The game lacked the lion’s share of features that the developers had touted. It received a recent update, seven months (approximately) after initial release and we’re just starting to get (what I feel) is close to what the game’s original concept was meant to include.

Mass Effect Andromeda: Can’t say I made the wrong choice in cancelling my pre-order here. The thing that makes this a real debacle is that BioWare is one of those studios who I feel (and I’m sure many would agree) was great because they showed serious attention to detail in their games. And then this happened. Now they’re releasing updates (granted in a timely manner) that are meant to fix and “tweak” the animation issues and increase customisation options. Good for you BioWare. Too bad you didn’t think about this, I don’t know, before selling it?

Destiny: I won’t over scrutinize Destiny. If you read me regularly, you know how I feel about the lackluster release that Destiny received.

So, now we ask: Why?

Well, the simple answer is money. The companies that own these studios want to see results in their quarterly profit reports, and sometimes that means shoehorning in a game to a release date it isn’t in any way prepared to meet. I know this is a business. I’m in no way naive. But when the companies do this, when they release unfinished, terrible looking games – it isn’t just the companies at fault. There is a level of complicity among us as well.

In some cases, like ME: A, how could we know? People take for granted that BioWare produces excellent games, especially for a series that is more or less beyond reproach. And then it ends up having serious issues. But in cases of games like Destiny, we know. We know what the first game was. We know it came out unfinished and missing a lot. But I guarantee, even for a lot of people who complained about it, they will be on the front lines to pre-order and pick it up day one same as the last. And in that, we show our complicity in this crime against the medium.

So what’s the answer? I’m not sure. I know that we need to find some way to make it clear to companies that we won’t be apart of the cycle any more. Whether it means boycotts or at least turning every game into a “wait and see”, something has to change and hurting the profit margin is all they understand.

– The Ego

Here’s to the ones we love

I’m not ashamed to admit that I cried the first time I finished Final Fantasy Tactics (and I know someone will probably complain about spoilers, but if you haven’t played it by now – too bad).

When you find out that Ramza and Alma are dead – oh man, it pretty much crushed me. They were easily two of the only likable people throughout the entire plot. In terms of being good people, anyway. I mean, I love Delita Hyral – he is still one of my favourite characters from any media, game or otherwise, but I do tend to root for the villains. So when we see their graves, and people saying how great they were and how sad it was that they died – oh man – tear central. Of course, when they appear moments later you’re given to smile because they were faking it all along, but it doesn’t change the those moments where you thought they were gone.

But here’s what I ask you: Who is it and why do you love them?

Now, I’m not saying you always have to have an emotional investment for the characters to be loved by you – they don’t all have to reduce you to tears. But there has to be some kind of investment.

I think the leading reason has to be: time invested. Truth be told, there are times when bad things happen to main characters, even protagonists, who are good people – and I laugh, or outright just don’t care. So it isn’t necessarily that I hate to see bad things happen to good characters – like the Beoulves. Given that I probably spent over 200 hours with them – grinding their levels up and following their story, I think it’s easy to see why the connection was established. Hell, I still well up every time I replay that game and I already know what’s going to happen… On the contrary, when I play games like Skyrim that make you the protagonist – I don’t rightly care when I fall off of a mountain or get eaten by a dragon. Ironically, the fact that I’m supposed to be the protagonist makes me care less about the fate of the character. In defense of that sort of narrative – the ultimate fate of the protagonist is left open-ended because there is usually more game to play after the story is over.

The other main connection is generally made when you see elements of the character’s personality reflect aspects of your own. Or, to a much greater extent, traits that you seen in your idealised self.

I personally identify more with the villains in games because they were less hyper-moral. They tend to be moral relativists – which has a very appealing nature. Now, I don’t mean I like the despots and terrible people. But in cases like Final Fantasy Tactics – Delita is the “villain” because he’s effectively willing to do what he has to do to better the world (as he sees it) even if that means betrayal, murder, etc and generally not giving a fuck about the system in place. I can relate.

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He displays ruthlessness, ambition, intelligence and integrity (a skewed personal integrity of course), and these are all traits I admire and would like to think I display (though obviously to a lesser extent, given that I haven’t personally overthrown any governments to date). And honestly, the motivations of the villains do tend to be more interesting, rather than the bland desire “to make things right”. Which is often the case. Of course, there are great protagonists, like Booker in Bioshock: Infinite, whose morality is shaken at best, and his personal quest is fueled by all kinds of relativist agendas and questionable actions.

So, all of that to say, there are a myriad of reasons to love a character. I’ve gone through some of mine. What are yours? Is there a game or character that really did you in? Let me know in the comments or on whichever platform you prefer.

– The Ego

 

Service up

How amazing is Bethesda and Fallout? Right?! They wait and wait to reveal the fact that Fallout 4 is due out within mere months of it’s announcement. Then they start posting all kinds of info and videos, new merch and then things like this:

This is just amazing. It’s so simple too. Anyone who is worth their salt when it comes to videogames, and especially RPGs made by Bethesda, knows how the basic mechanics work. Strength is a given. But here’s a company who says “Let’s do something fun, anyway”. And they have succeeded on a grand scale.

Little promotional videos like this really resonate with me. Not just because they’re fun and funny. And not because it shows it’s a company that actually cares about their IPs. It resonates with me because it’s both of those things, but set in the world of their games, making it something that is actually relevant. And it’s not like today’s movie trailers where every cool plot point, or potential game changers, is run through the trailer – thus eliminating the reason to actually go see it. Seeing this or missing out doesn’t change the impact the game will have. It’s probably not going to bring anyone new to the franchise (this could be one of those rare moments where I’m actually wrong). It’s 100% fan service. Which, in and of itself, is generally not worth the time to watch it. This is one of those cases where the fan service is totally justified. Especially considering that Bethesda is all about their fans. Why else would they just release Fallout 4? Well?

Aside from the obvious, this being another method of delivering game info – without having to craft pages and pages of wikis to monitor and update, it’s the most fun way that the devs can say “check out the way that we’ve improved on something you love” without beating you over the head with it. They also do it in such a way that, even knowing the stat ability and what it usually entails, I still want to watch it. It’s fun and clever and puts a smile on my face.

This style of video is something that Bethesda, and only one other company has managed to do well. The other I’m referring to, of course, is Irrational Games and the Bioshock series. The old-timey commercials for their plasmids and vigors were in the same vein. It’s one of those great ideas that completely sets them apart from the competition. They create these rich and well thought out worlds and they build depth to them with basic concepts with tactical precision. They don’t carpet bomb the fan with media or force-feed concepts, it’s more like a firm handshake from an old and welcome friend.

Like I said a few posts ago – it’s experiential recognition that creates a brand that people are always going to be drawn to. Because, at it’s core, Fallout (mechanics wise) doesn’t do a whole lot than any of the other FPS or post-apocalyptic games don’t do. Yes, VATS is extremely well developed. But beyond that, it’s a shooter. FPS or third person, but it’s a shooter. It’s set in a space that a lot of brands are playing in. But the whole is so good, that no matter who you are, or what types of games you normally play – chances are: you’re getting Fallout 4. Hell, I contemplated buying the Mini-Nuke set for PC just for the box.

So no, the video hasn’t offered anything game-changing or mind-altering. But it has piqued my interest. It’s cool for cool’s sake. It doesn’t offer anything I couldn’t figure out in the HUD menus in a minute or so. But what it does show me is that Bethesda cares enough to put something like this out there, knowing it’s the core audience that is going to really appreciate it. What a great company. In my books, they can do no wrong. And, The Ego is rarely wrong.

– The Ego

Quintessence Quintinued

After writing yesterday’s post, I found an interesting article on IGN (of all places). The insights offered were from fans and players, rather than the staff (thankfully). You can find it here.

I think the second post hit it right on the head. It got past all of the jargon I was losing myself in. It’s the experience that matters most. Having all of the elements the other points made definitely makes the game, but it’s the experience that those elements combined offers that determines quality. The experience, in this case though, is delivered through balance. A word I’ve struggled with and hated for the majority of my life. Mostly, due to my inability to obtain it.

I can’t think of a single game that I wouldn’t consider great that didn’t have each of those elements in proportion to each other. Certainly, as I said, you can find individual elements of greatness or quality in just about any game. I struggle to think of any games I’ve played that didn’t succeed at least one of the major areas that people use to define quality (or perfection).

Editing note: I thought of one, Knack.

But that’s the point, isn’t it? Great graphics don’t make the game. Neither does great story/writing. The balancing act of the sum of the parts is where quality rears its head. The independent features only offer a novelty. A distraction. Which is fine. The audience is definitely looking for that distraction. However, the ability to walk away from that distraction and be able to relive it time and time again – to find that it is in fact timeless, is the denotation of true quality.

I think the nature of quality, also, lies in the ability of the end user to recognise it. In my time of gaming, and more recently in selling the media, I have found that even if all of these elements manage to find themselves within the same game, that it doesn’t inherently equate quality. I’ve had many arguments with customers and co-workers that specific games are definitely games I would label as quality – and they disagree with me. Now, choice and individual criteria most certainly factor in to this decision. However, I think, much like in literature, there are certain titles that are universally good. You’d find yourself hard-pressed to find an admirer of quality books that doesn’t have an appreciation for Shakespeare. I think there are games that fit that bill as well.

Bioshock Infinite is one that quickly comes to mind. Because not only does it have each and every one of the elements that combined and balanced out represent quality. But it manages to do something very few titles can. It turns back into itself, tying it all in, and reiterating its own brilliance. Through its infinite (huh, see what I did there?) possibilities – story-wise, I mean – it demonstrates all of the levels of quality: graphics, story and play, and continues the experience in the mind of the player. Knowing that a game like that can demonstrate limitless potential, because it hinges on the player’s experience instead of forcing the user to take note. The quality to take note of, in this case, is that the piece of art – game or whatever you want to call it – is able to express introspection and self-reflexiveness.

Now, to finish up, I’m not making any claims that a game needs to have that or it has failed. All I’m saying is, convoluted as it may seem (even to me, to an extent) is that there are even levels of quality, within the defining act of trying to place that title onto something. In this case, games.

I hope that to some extent, you the readers (and hopefully the person who asked the question that stirred in my brain for some time) are able to take something away from this. I’m not sure if I did any justice to answering the initial question, but it made me think.

– The Ego

Still not getting it

Can someone please explain to me the hype around the Gears of War games?

This week past saw (see what I did here? Huh?) the release of the latest in the series of remastered game: Gears of War: Ultimate Edition.

Now, maybe I’m missing something. Maybe there is some element to this series that has managed to evade my understanding. About a year ago, or something like that, I picked up the trilogy on my 360. So, I get home from visiting with my in-laws and I anxiously popped it into my 360. Which, I won’t lie, had been collecting dust for some time. But everyone kept talking about this series. It also kept coming up in basically every “must play” list I saw online. So I sink my teeth into it. I finish the first game, and the question I had to ask, aside from the one I posed at the beginning of this entry, was:

How many times can you chainsaw someone in the face before you’re bored of it? It’s cool, and entertaining, for about the first ten or so times you’re doing it. The Locust’s just keep eating saw – and coming and coming and coming. There came a point where I just kept doing it because – why not? But after a while, everything just kept repeating itself over and over.

What’s the appeal? The story is pretty lackluster, the gameplay is mediocre and I can’t really see why this is one of those “must play” titles.

So here is what I understand:

Horde mode, and the multiplayer is “awesome”. And, frankly, I can totally understand that. I’ve learned to love multiplayer games. Survival mode, in games like Red Dead Redemption, Bioshock: Infinite’s DLC and Borderlands – tons of fun. So, I guess that part of it makes sense to me.

But here’s the game as I see it:

The characters are one-dimensional, roided out jocks. Their proportions are weird, at best. I mean, the fact that this is even a thing…

Makes me wonder how people who love this game could even continue to love it after seeing John Travolta used as a comparison. I think I’d cry a little if Tom Cruise good booked as Booker for a Bioshock movie. Now, I know this isn’t technically a reflection on the game – I saw it and shook my head.

So, character and story aren’t anywhere near the level they’d have to be to be on anyone’s top ten list. Gameplay is okay. Seeing a Locust cut in half is appealing the first 100 times. Not going to beat that horse any more.

Is the online play really that good? I played through the single player campaign for the first one. I think I got a handful of hours into number two and just never went back. From doing some online searching before writing this – apparently I’m not the first to ask. The only answer that people are offering, that I can appreciate, is the concept that they invented the cover system (magnetic cover) that a lot of other titles based their systems off of. Which, I’ll admit, was pretty good. At least in concept.

In general, I think that X Box exclusives live in the light the fanboys cast. It’s almost nostalgia, but in the present tense. Games are held to a standard that I just feel like isn’t high enough to justify the praise.

What’s disappointing, too, is that this is the same studio that developed such an innovative (and highly underrated) game like Bulletstorm.

Now, that’s a game that has basically no story attached to it, but manages to stay exciting/impressive throughout. Do I care why I’m shooting the enemies? Nope. Am I constantly trying to come up with cool combos with new/interesting weapons? Hell yes I am.

If they can make something like that, why a flagship title like Gears would end up being such a polished turd.

Not sure what else to say, if you think I’m wrong: Sound off.

– The Ego

Wrapping up a generation

It’s been coming up a lot, probably because it’s that time. We need to say goodbye to the PS3/360 generation.

The last of the games are slowly coming out, marching slowly to the funeral dirge. That being said, before we weep those last tears and forget about them, I think I’m going to give a quick “best of” so you loyal readers can take another look back before it’s all over, and move on free from regret.

1) Bioshock 1, Infinite: I’ll be honest – you can skip Bioshock 2. It improved on the mechanics from the first, but lacks the depth the original story had. If you missed out on the first or Infinite, and have a PS3, fret not. Bioshock comes as a free download with Infinite. I recommend going through B1, completing it, moving on to Infinite and do yourself the favour, buy the DLC. You won’t regret listening to me. If Ken Levine (writer on both, but not 2) asked me to – I would have his love child.

2) Red Dead Redemption: Rockstar doesn’t publish a lot – but they know quality. L.A Noire being the exception that proves the rule. They re-imagined and set a new standard in the GTA series with GTA IV and they did something even more special with RDR. Mechanics – oh boy. What a game. Story wise, I was truly sad to see it end. Saying goodbye to John Marston was tough for me. I had zero exposure to the previous titles, and had no clue what to expect. But this was a winner is every category. Even doing something as cliche as zombies – worked. Can’t say that for every other attempt.

3) Fallout 3/New Vegas: With Fallout 4 on the horizon, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t be playing either of these games instead of reading my incessant prattling on. While I hold my blog in high regards, we’re talking Fallout here people! Todd Howard is the other person who’s esteem is so highly rated in my books, he can do no wrong. I really hope I don’t have to expound the virtues of either of these titles. I mean, they’re revolutionary in scope and magnitude.

4) Batman series: Skip Origins. You’ll thank me later. With Arkham Knight having recently come out – play Asylum and City. The quality is there.

5) Alice: Madness Returns: Highly, highly underrated title. The sequel to American McGee’s Alice, twisted beyond words, but very engaging. The story is fantastic in every sense, the gameplay is of a high caliber, but lacking in the precise style I’d become accustomed to. Still, definitely worth a play through just to see the twisted world in Alice’s head.

6) Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions: So far, Marvel’s only contender for the Arkham throne. I completely skipped the sequel, and I’ve never lost a wink of sleep. But if you want to see Spidey at his best, with fun and varied play styles – buy it.

7) Skyrim: Because Skyrim.

8) Transformers: War for Cyberton: One of the few, playable Transformers games. The sequel took away the choice of which Autobot or Decepticon you got to play as, so that was a bummer, but the series managed to stand on it’s own two feet. Doubt we’ll see another of its ilk.

9) Darksider 1+2: With THQ folding, the future of this series in under question, but you won’t regret checking out the post-apocalyptic titles as you attempt to figure out how the end of times was brought about before its time. Great combat and overall enjoyable playstyle. I mean, it’s basically Zelda and God of War.

Honourable mention: South Park Stick of Truth and Splatterhouse. Seeing South Park characters acting out a D&D session with the humour only Matt/Trey could produce was really something. Splatterhouse – you can beat enemies to death with your own severed limbs. You can imagine my delight.

Part of me really wants to include the God of War series. But there are just too many of them. Three was the best, so wiki the lead-in and finish the game.

– The Ego