Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Top 25 reasons to hate Fallout 76

Posted in botch, business, video game design by commorancy on December 10, 2018

11-24-2018_1-30-49_AM-oyduc45dIt’s clear, Fallout 76 is a failure. From its lackluster controls, piss poor collision detection and poor enemy AI to its poor graphics quality and poor storytelling, this game fails in practically every conceivable way. Here are the top 25 reasons this game sucks. Let’s explore.


25. Map and Pins

Fallout76-MapWhile the map mostly works in terms of seeing locations, this game really needs multiple pins to mark items found that don’t have map markers, such as where specific plants are, veins of ore, small houses and other points of interest.

How it should have worked — Support multiple pins with labels which can be placed onto the map to allow for marking points of interest, specific areas of plants and other things that may be difficult to locate again.

How it actually works — You get a single custom marker that you can place down. You can’t mark anything else after that one marker, you simply have to remember where you found something. There’s only a single large marker that points your way to whatever you’ve marked. And believe me, you do need this in the game. Because all of the quest markers all look the same, when all of the quests are active at once, there are so many markers on the HUD, you have no idea which one is which.

24. Farming at your CAMP and Blast Zone

You can plant certain limited fruits and vegetables, but they are not irradiated when in a blast zone.

How it should have worked — You should be allowed to plant any type of plant at your CAMP that you have discovered and picked. Any camps in a Blast Zone should be removed from the map and/or severely damaged. If not moved, then at least any planted crops should be irradiated like the ‘naturally occurring’ plants in the area.

How it actually works — Fallout 76 limits you to planting but a few fruits and vegetables from the build menu. In Skyrim, if you could pick it, you could plant it. Here, you can only plant those limited fruits and vegetables selected by the devs, such as Blackberries, Muttfruit, Corn, Razorgrain, Melon, Carrots and Gourd. If you want to plant Soot Flowers, Snaptails, Bloodleaf, Diseased Cranberries or anything else, you cannot. If your camp ends up in a blast zone from the Death from Above quest, your camp remains totally intact including your fruits and vegetables. I wandered into it wearing a Hazmat Suit that I found at the Westek building. While other flora in the area become irradiated, your CAMP planted foods remain completely ‘normal’.

23. Random Server Disconnects

This one might be expected occasionally considering it’s an always-on multiplayer game experience.

How it should have worked — Actually beta test your games and your servers so that server disconnects are the fewest type of failure points.

12-9-2018_10-41-26_PM-qybv0b53How it actually works — Random server disconnects are very common. You’ll run around the wasteland and with or without a *hang*, followed by a “Disconnected from Server”… well no duh… I can see that.

22. The Wrong Gender

At one point, I heard female grunts coming out of my male character.

How it should have worked — Keep track of the character and its associated characteristics.

How it actually works — The wrong vocal grunts were played for about 5 minutes while running around the wasteland. I have no idea why the female grunting began at all, but it’s clear that this game was not beta tested. And no, there was no one else around me at all. The game was playing female player character noises from my definitely male character.

21. Changing Weapons and Applying Medicine

Screen Shot 2018-11-26 at 1.34.10 AMThe supposedly favorites wheel to help get to stuff faster isn’t actually any faster than using the Pip Boy. In fact, neither the wheel nor is the Pip boy easy to use to change weapon loadout or apply Stimpaks when you can’t pause.

How it should have worked — For controller systems, it should have used the D-Pad to cycle through the favorites in a vertical list to the side of the screen so that doesn’t block your vision and it should remember the last choice so you can use it again quickly. Simply by pressing the D-Pad up and down, the favorites cycle to the next and previous. This way, the next time you press the D-Pad, it will bring up the last used item, then press the A button.

Favorites WheelHow it actually works — On the Xbox One, D-Pad up is assigned to favorite choices. D-Pad down is emotes. D-pad left and right seem to automatically assign to a weapon on the left and a healing item on the right. I haven’t actually determined how to assign these. It may have something to do with ‘last chosen’ from the wheel. When you have the wheel actually open, D-pad left cycles through the wheel clockwise starting at the 1 O’Clock position. D-pad right cycles through counter-clockwise starting at the 11 O’Clock position. There is no easy way to get to the item in the 12 O’Clock position when you’re fumbling for items from the wheel. The wheel covers your vision instead of keeping the vision open so you can see what the enemy is doing.

20. Pacifist Mode

This mode is mostly pointless the way it is currently implemented.

How it should have worked — Pacifist mode should prevent your player from giving damage to other players and prevent taking damage from other players.

How it actually works — This mode, while it does stop damage to other players from your weapons, it doesn’t prevent other players from damaging or killing you. This is wrong on so many levels and is entirely designed incorrectly. Bethesda, take a page from Rockstar’s book in GTA 5 and make it so Pacifist mode both stops outgoing and incoming damage to the player.

19. Obtaining Caps

You know, this one really shouldn’t be this hard!

How it should have worked — Caps should be bountiful practically everywhere. Traders should actually buy items for close to their ‘worth’. Sellers should carry more than 200 caps. Caps should always be given as part of the rewards when you finish all quest types.

How it actually works — Caps are exceedingly scarce and probably one of the scarcest things to find in Fallout 76. Caps are not given when a quest ends. Instead, you get mostly useless stuff. When you do find a trader, they carry 200 caps at most. Most sold items yield 1-4 caps per item. However, you can sell practically anything to a trader including Soot Flowers, Mongrel Meat, Plastic Plates and even flower pots. The difficulty is that it requires carrying a bunch of junk around with you until you can find a trader. Obtaining caps in Fallout 76 shouldn’t be this hard. The only quest types that seem to give caps on completion are Events and possibly Daily. Even then, they only give like 20 caps at most.

18. Fast Traveling

How it should have worked — The point in discovering a location is that you can fast travel to it. Fast traveling should be free as part of the perk of discovering that location. Charging caps to fast travel is just stupid design.

How it actually works — When you choose to fast travel, you are required to pay caps to every discovered place other than Vault 76 and your CAMP, which are both free (See CAMPs below for additional problems). You’ll also pay progressively more caps the farther away the place is. Because this is the primary means of travel in the game, fast traveling shouldn’t cost anything. The only point in making people pay is to deter them from using the feature. Why would you include the feature at all if you are intent on deterring gamers from actually using it?

17. Eating, Drink and Diseases

To disguise the leanness and the barrenness of the game’s features and quality, Bethesda devs force you to search for and create boiled water and cooked food. Otherwise, you’re subject to radiation, starvation, dehydration and diseases.

How it should have worked — Leave it out… a totally unnecessary addition that only serves to degrade the game.

How it actually works — You are forced to continually go get water, food and disease cure potions so you can actually play the game. You know, the thing that we’re supposed to be doing. Instead, because at least 50% of the time is spent constantly foraging to prevent from running out of food, water and avoid catching diseases (which you can’t avoid), you must constantly stop whatever it is you are doing and go get supplies. This problem is compounded by the fact that the inventory system is so poorly designed and because these supplies weigh far too much, particularly water.

16. Photo Mode

12-7-2018_5-54-58_AM-ma4zjmynPhoto Mode is a new thing many game developers are adding to games. However, some game development companies haven’t figured out how to build it properly. In the case of Fallout 76, while it works, it’s a hassle to use and isn’t properly designed.

How it should have worked — When in Photo Mode, the character should disappear from the world and not be visible to enemies or other players. This allows you to line up and take your shot without interference from enemies or other characters. This would allow you to actually take pictures of enemies doing whatever they are doing while in close proximity. The depth of field system should allow for both shallow and deep depth of field shots to blur both the foreground and background once the focal distance is set. Photo mode should support unlimited photos limited only by the Xbox’s hard drive.

How it actually works — Photo Mode leaves the character live in the environment. This means that if an enemy comes along, it will see you and attack you, losing the shot. Getting out of Photo Mode is slow and cumbersome when it should be a single button rapid exit. The quality of the photos could be improved a lot. We got 50 photo slots that requires us to go delete photos every time we run out… irritating.

15b. Crafting

I’m separating Crafting and Inventory into parts A and B to be more clear, but these two go together. Modifying and creating armor and weapons should be easy, yet it is completely cumbersome. Crafting food should be easy, but it is also cumbersome.

How it should have worked — Recipes requiring water should work with any water you have in your inventory including Dirty, Boiled or Purified. Water is water is water. If you choose to make your food out of dirty water, then you need to take the consequences of that choice. Crafting armor or weapons sometimes requires inexplicable items (i.e., Ballistic Fiber). The game should lead (or at least show you a small area marker) where you can search to find these needed items. Like Skyrim, Fallout 76 should have forced you to scrap new items to ‘learn’ what they are made of. Once you learn this, the game can then point out potential sources using pointers, instead of running around blind.

How it actually works — Recipes requiring water only allow the use of ‘Boiled Water’ . This means that even if you have a water purifier set up, you must still go draw water from a dirty water source (a very time consuming operation and adding Rads) and then spend time boiling it at a food craft station. These two steps are overly time consuming when you could have cooked with purified water and been on your way.

Locating specific components in the game is like pulling teeth. You have no idea what items contain what components until you carry them back and actually scrap them at a crafting table. Even then, putting a search onto a component only means you’ll see a magnifying glass on the item when you get close enough to pick it up. The game doesn’t offer a mechanism (at least that I have found) to locate the item on the map or via a sound in close proximity.

15a. Inventory

The inventory system in Fallout 76 is entirely broken. Each player only has two places to store stuff. The first place is directly on the player. The second place is the Stash Box. The player is limited by weight, but inexplicably so is the ‘Stash Box’.

stash.pngHow it should have worked — Inventory should be able to be sent to the ‘Stash Box’ at any time right from the Pip Boy. Permanent sharable boxes should be available to drop stuff off for friends or other players. Sharable boxes should hang around even when you log out of the game. Instead of a single Stash Box, we should be able to create independent objects in our CAMP that limit only by number of items and not limited by weight. A physical box on the ground doesn’t have weight limits, but has physical number limits.

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-iujn21rsHow it actually works —  The inventory system is way too limited and uses weight to judge capacity. On a person, weight makes sense as you can only carry so much. However, the game gives far too little per person. For a stash box sitting on the ground, weight limits make absolutely no sense. The Stash Box is always linked to you and there’s only one. If your Stash Box fills up, you’re screwed. You have to start dumping items out of your inventory in a paper bag to be lost. Paper bags are entirely transient. If you drop a second paper bag of stuff, the first one disappears. Be absolutely certain that whatever you drop in a paper bag isn’t something you want… otherwise, that bag may disappear at any time.

The Stash Box currently holds 600 weight which is not nearly enough as you progress in levels. By level 30, you’ll already be running out of space. The only way you can actually play is to have two characters and move stuff between them when both are logged in. The second character is just a storage place, but that means you need to have two systems to play the game. The Stash Box was recently raised from 400. Instead, Bethesda should charge atoms for more space. Just let us pay for the space we need. I don’t want to be limited with no options.

14. Power Armor

12-9-2018_9-41-56_PM-3ra4ojsuThroughout the game, you’ll find power armor in various buildings. The Power Armor may have Raider, T-51, T-45 or T-60 armor attached, usually only some of the pieces and usually with only half or less condition. Instead, you’ll have to go find the rest of the pieces you’ll need for that armor and you’ll need to find Power Armor crafting station somewhere so you can actually repair your armor.

How it should have worked — Power armor should add a seamless combat experience similar to Fallout 4. You enter your armor, you use it as you need to, you exit the armor and leave it behind. Wearing the armor actually gives you, you know, armor protection. Instead, you are forced to carry it in your inventory with a weight of 10 and it provides very little actual HP protection.

How it actually works — Power Armor is only slightly better than without it. It’s glitchy, buggy and sometimes it will trap you in it and you’ll be unable to progress in the game. Use the armor sparingly to avoid glitching up your game that you can’t even play. It takes up space in your inventory and it’s clumsy to use. The only one benefit is that you can jump from great heights without injury. Other than that one benefit, Power Armor is mostly for looks, not functionality. You must exit the armor to perform any crafting.

13. Collision detection

As a shooter, the single thing the developer must get right is the collision detection between a fired weapon and hitting an enemy with the bullet. Otherwise, the game just won’t work.

How it should have worked — With proper working collision detection, you shouldn’t be able to walk into or under objects, projectile physics should always land on their targets when the cross hairs are even remotely lined up and random animals and objects shouldn’t get stuck inside or walk through other objects.

How it actually works — You’ll never see bullet trajectories in a game unless the game developer adds a slow-mo bullet-time option. None of that here. Instead, aim, fire and miss. Even worse, you can use a high power sniper scope’s cross hairs on your enemy’s head directly in the middle and still manage to miss the target when pulling the trigger. If you’re up-close and personal with a Ghoul, it’s even worse. Up close, you’re actually much more likely to miss your target and you’ll expend a great deal of ammo on miss after miss. The only sure fire way to hit is to use a melee weapon or gun bash them.

This the poor collision detection isn’t limited to weapons and bullets. It includes trees, animations (getting into and out of Power Armor), enemy AI walking through environmental objects or other enemies including items getting stuck inside of doors and walls. This isn’t all possible examples, but these are the ones most prominent to show off how bad this part works.

12. Leveling up doesn’t work as expected

I’m not talking about the level up screen itself. In fact, the mechanics of actually applying perk cards to your S.P.E.C.I.A.L. attributes works just fine. It’s one of the few things that seems to work well in this game, though I’m not fond of the card system. It’s what comes after that doesn’t work.

Lucky BreakHow it should have worked — Characters should always fight enemies at or close to their own strength and level. If you wander into a building, you should only find enemies within 4-5 levels of your own level. If you’re a level 4, this means you should only see levels 1-8 near you. This is how every other Bethesda RPG has worked this. This prevents having a level 5 character trying to kill, for example, a level 63 enemy. Perhaps Bethesda needed to find a Lucky Break card?

The card system should have been simplified to require less perk cards to provide the same amount of perks instead of needing loads of perk cards which do less per card. Simpler is always better, even in video game design.

How it actually works — When wandering around, not only will you find AI characters leveled randomly from 1 to 63, you’ll find random levels all bunched together. For example, as a level 5 character wandering into a camp, you can find ghouls and scorched ranging from level 1 to level 63. This means trying to fight level 63 enemies as a level 5 or 10 character. You’ll also find Scorchbeasts randomly flying around that are at always level 50, but in fact are probably level 100 or better. It takes so many shots to kill a level 50 Scorchbeast, it’s almost not even worth it unless you’re on a big team.

On top of this, you can run into randomly leveled up multiplayer characters who add to the problem. Thankfully, unless you engage in two-sided combat, the game sees to it that your character takes minimal damage from an opposing player of any level.

HomebodyThe cards have been broken out to the point of being pedantic. Instead of categorizing cards so that Lead Belly should cover for ALL food, drink and disease, it only covers for ‘food’ only. You have to get the Lead Stomach perk to drink irradiated water unharmed, even then there are limits. Because the cards are so pendatic, there are other perk cards like Natural Resistance to reduce diseases and All Night Long to reduce hunger and thirst (a stupid unnecessary addition).

The pedantic actually carries to the point of being broken. For example, the Aqua Boy perk allows you to swim and wade in water without taking radiation damage, yet drawing water from a water pump still incurs +5 rads damage (or more)? Huh? Clearly, the designers didn’t carry that logic through.

11. Crap enemy AI

Here’s a gaming portion where you think Bethesda might have been able to lock down, particularly on the heels of the Elder Scrolls Online. Nope. When you wander the wasteland, you’ll find either animals (Wolves, Mongrels, Radrats, Radroaches, Radstags, etc) or Supermutants, robots (i.e., Eyebots, Mister Handy, Miss Nanny, Protectrons, Assaultrons or Sentry Bots), Feral Ghouls, Scorched or Scorchbeasts. Whatever you run into, you’re likely to find them acting strangely. Sometimes they attack and sometimes they just stand there.

How it should have worked — Like, Fallout 4, when you run into an enemy, they should behave and act like they’re trying to kill you. They should point their gun at you and they should move in naturalistic ways. You know, like they’re actually walking around.

How it actually works — Many enemies, particularly Ghouls, slide around the environment without actually moving. Some people have found them sliding around in “first position” (the initial position a 3D character assumes without having been posed). I haven’t found the enemies in “first position”, but I have seen them locked into a single pose, then moving around the environment like a static posed action figure. They even shoot from these locked posed positions.

When I do find characters not locked up like this, the characters hold their weapons incorrectly. Some hold them downward, yet still manage to shoot at my character. The enemies also move way too fast. They can be on top of you in a matter of one jump or movement. One top of the AI movement, they can see and shoot me through walls, through floors and through buildings. There is no such thing as line of sight in Fallout 76. Even if you hide, they can still find you and kill you through walls.

Molerats must somehow be magic in this game as they can burrow not only into ground surfaces, but wood, cement and even thin air. They can also burrow and jump incredibly long distances in a fraction of a second. Radscorpions can also burrow into cement and other incredulous surfaces, yet they don’t even leave a burrow hole behind like Molerats.

10. Screen blur filters

For whatever reason Bethesda decided to not only add an intense depth of field to the actual gameplay making distant objects blurry, it also added an unnecessary light halo overlay making it seem like you might have vision problems.

lens flareHow it should have worked — Filters applied to the screen should be controllable (on, off and strength) on the settings screen. There is no reason to hard apply such annoying settings to the screen when not everyone wants it. Let the gamer choose what filters they want applied to the screen.

How it actually works — The depth of field applied to the full screen makes the game difficult to look at. When looking at a light source, the game applies a lens flare type blur filter that looks less like lens flare and more like your character has eye problems. These effects degrade the overall gameplay look and feel.

9. Scorchbeasts and Loot

In any game where there’s an oversized and consequently much more difficult opponent, when you do finally kill it, you should get fairly substantial loot more than, say, nothing.

How it should have worked — When you kill a Scorchbeast, the Scorchbeast Queen or a Deathclaw, the loot that is dropped should contain at least one legendary item. In addition, it should drop rare components in reasonable quantities. You should also receive a fair amount of caps.

How it actually works — When you kill an oversized ‘boss’ kind of creature, the dropped enemy loot may range from nothing at all to meat and hide. Basically, worthless items. They’re worthless because even if you do cook the meat, it offers nothing special. Radstag meat is probably the best meat in the game as it offers 20 extra carry points. Eating Scorchbeast steak does nothing for you and is mostly worthless. What’s the point in killing a Scorchbeast?

8. Non-existent non-player characters

While there are talking trader robots, the lone wandering Supermutant trader Graham and a few Mister Handy or Miss Nanny robots dotted throughout the game to provide some quest progression, this is of little consolation when you’re trying to find meaningful interaction with other Vault 76 or locals within West Virginia. Unfortunately, there are no NPCs to be found. See ‘Story’ below for more details as to why.

How it should have worked — While the overseer of Vault 76 may have died and there are 24 players wandering around the environment with you, there have to have been at least a few Vault 76 dwellers who aren’t player characters. In fact, 24 seems an awfully small number of live inside of a vault that big. Ignoring the vault situation, having everyone not in Vault 76 dead is improbable. Because there are also other vaults in the area, a few of these settlers should have survived and been available to talk with. Cities around the area should have been teaming with NPCs, some of which you should be able to convince to come to your own settlements.

How it actually works — Instead, Vault 76 churns out 24 people who are all multiplayer characters. As we all know by now, multiplayers characters don’t interact in meaningful ways. Those who don’t know each other rarely, if ever, work together. In fact, you’re likely to find more hostile multiplayer characters than you will find friends. It’s the nature (and expectation) of PvP. This means that the story failed to consider this problem. Trying to rely on 24 multiplayer characters to bring a story together is like mixing gasoline with fire. It just doesn’t work, unless you’re itching for an explosion… and an explosion is exactly what Bethesda got.

7. Graphics

nuka quantumWhile Bethesda touted an all new rendering look in this engine, it’s pretty much the same rendering engine used in Fallout 4. On top of the unnecessary screen blur (see #10 above) and filters, the rendering distance, shadow distance and up close textures are amateur attempts at best. There are times where the game devolves into a sheer mess, such as invisible buildings, structures that aren’t there and textures are so low-res, you could swear you were playing it on a PS1. This Nuka Cola Quantum bottle looks B_A_D (click on it and see)! When added to the low res background and texture, this looks like something rendered on a PS1.

How it should have worked — We should have gotten a next gen engine capable of producing superbly realistic rusty, sharp, dangerous environments. Sunbeams and moonbeams should be blocked by corresponding solid objects. Textures should hold up on close inspection. Textures should resolve when looking through a sniper rifle sight or binoculars. You shouldn’t notice pop-in at all when wandering.

How it actually works — The sun up and sun down moves too fast. There’s too much night and not enough day time. The sunset and sunrises are almost impossible to distinguish the difference. Textures look fine at an average distance from the player. Up close textures look horrid. Pop-in is horrible and happens way too close to the player.

If you try to zoom in with a sniper, everything falls apart. The sun remains the same size overhead as it does on the horizon. The moon always produces moon rays. The rays don’t actually come from the same direction as the sun and moon sky objects. Moonbeams and sunbeams shine out of rocks, the ground and structures. The smoke coming out of chimneys looks like flat spinning blobs. The character models actually look bad. The only saving grace here is the naturalistic lighting, but the rest of it might as well be cartoons.

The 59 sign below shows everything wrong with this game. The word INTERSTATE is much higher resolution than the 59. At least the texture folks could have used sufficiently high resolution images to create these signs. I just don’t even get why sun shines out of rocks and objects.

The only good thing about the graphics is the naturalistic lighting on the trees and house structures. You can get some great environmental shots with the sunbeams through the tree branches. Other than that, nothing else looks particularly realistic.

6. Multiplayer

Here’s one of the saddest parts of Fallout 76. This feature, in fact, is the entire reason Fallout 76 even exists. Yet, it’s one of the worst designed parts of this game. Though, it’s not this game’s #1 problem.

How it should have worked — Bethesda should have sat down and designed a compelling multiplayer experience around the Vault 76 reclamation date rebuilding goal. This means allowing players to fix up, build and then set up shops in towns. If the idea is to rebuild the wasteland, where is this idea in execution?

How it actually works — The Player vs Player (PvP) available in Fallout 76 consists of taking over a workshop and then fighting to keep it. When you do take over a workshop, you are required to spend your own resources to fix it all up. Yet when you log out, you lose that workshop. At most, you get to keep that workshop for as long as you remain logged in.

Once you claim ownership of the workshop, the game forces you to go into a PvP battle to keep it within just a few minutes of taking ownership… most definitely not enough time to both fix up the workshop and build defenses. The only way this would work is if you are on a team of at least 6-10 people who can all pool their resources to fix it up and build defenses simultaneously. One person has no hope of fixing up a workshop alone, particularly considering how little resources you can actually carry with you (See problem #

5. CAMP and Plans

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-uba3cuivCAMP is a portable device you can set down in the wilds of the wasteland and create a small CAMP. It doesn’t hold that much. Finding new plans allows you to craft new items.

How it should have worked — Actually, CAMP is entirely unnecessary. Without NPCs to recruit back to your CAMP to live there and help defend it, the point of the CAMP as a settlement is entirely useless. CAMP as a crafting area works, but it could have been implemented better. Plans shouldn’t be needed. Everything you need should already be available to build if you have the resources. If you scrap any weapon or object, it should automatically give you the plan to it. Big items that you can’t carry or scrap should have been unlocked from the beginning.

How it actually works — You drop your CAMP device in the wasteland and that gives you the ability to build a building and crafting tables. Unfortunately, the building allotment is far too small to actually build anything meaningful. In my allotment, I was able to build a small cabin with all of the crafting tables except a Power Armor station as I have no plan for it yet. After that, my CAMP is entirely out of available building allotment. Other than having a portable building that contains all of the crafting tables, there’s no point in CAMP. Plans are dotted all throughout the wasteland like a needle in a haystack that you have to go hunting for. The difficulty with this idea is that they’ll get found by players and documented on the Internet. The idea of hunting for a “thing” is pointless because the Internet will eventually find even the most rare thing and tell you where it is. Instead, plans should come to you by way of scrapping items. As it is now, scrapping certain weapons unlocks certain mods for that weapon… the wrong design.

12-7-2018_5-55-04_am-tgn02n2u.pngWorse, the game encourages you to move your CAMP frequently, yet it continually charges you more and more caps to move it from place to place. The cap rate to move it is also entirely random. Some days it’s 5 caps, other times it’s 25 caps and others it’s somewhere in between that. The game can’t even seem to make a decision on exactly how many caps it costs to move the CAMP. If you move your CAMP, there’s a very real possibility you will lose all of the items outside of your build structure (i.e., crops, water purifiers, turrets, defenses, etc). If the CAMP is supposed to be semi-permanent, then it needs to remain no matter what. If someone else has plopped their CAMP in the same location and there’s a conflict on that server, then the game should auto-disconnect and choose an alternative World server where there isn’t a conflict so the CAMP can be placed. This should be an automatic part of the login process.

Even more poorly designed, your CAMP may disappear at any time including objects in the CAMP. Placing a CAMP is not in any way meant to be permanent. There’s just no place to park it where it’s cannot disappear. I’ve had my CAMP disappear at least 6-8 times or more. The last time it disappeared, it lost every item outside of the building structure. I had a bunch of crops, a turret, a water purifier, a floor decoration and a water pump all outside of the building structure. All disappeared entirely from my inventory. These objects were not stored. Normally, these items should be stored under the STORED area, but not this time. Those items completely disappeared with no explanation and without a trace. It’s frustrating and stupid that the game makes you go find all of the food crops after it wipes them all out.

4. VATS

How it should have worked — Without pause, VATS should have been left out. It’s pointless without pause.

How it actually works — Because this game doesn’t allow pausing, VATS remains live as you attempt to shoot whatever enemy that it is. As the enemy moves around, VATS percentage of hitting the target constantly changes. Unlike Fallout 4 where the game paused to allow proper targeting, this VATS is entirely worthless without pause. However, the Mysterious Stranger remains, but only works with VATS. You have to remember to use it if you have the Mysterious Stranger card in play.

3. Story

As mentioned above, utilizing limited robot characters to progress stories, the rest of the time the stories are progressed by popping a Holotape (audio log) into your Pip-boy and listening. Boring!

How it should have worked — Any RPG should have NPCs who not only exist to provide conversation, but also provide story development. You get to learn about these characters along the way and expand on the story.

How it actually works — Because no NPCs exist in the game, the entire story narrative plays out through a series of holotapes you must find and play. Because the holotape system is simply an audio log, it’s as boring as watching paint dry. If Bethesda had taken a page from a few other games that staged “ghost” reenactment scenes in the area, you could examine the scenes and watch the story unfold through a sort of hologram type environment. None of that here. It’s simply a series of boring holotapes audio logs. Without interactive characters, there is effectively no story worth exploring. The story and its quirky characters is the reason we play Fallout. Without NPCs, it’s not really Fallout.

2. Player Death and Dropped Loot

How it should have worked — When a player dies, the loot should remain on the player. There’s entirely no need to drop loot in the game on death. Also, respawn the player in place or alternatively, allow the player to respawn at the last death marker.

12-7-2018_5-55-03_AM-iujn21rsHow it actually works — When the player character dies, a death marker is placed on the map where the player last died and also marks the place where the player’s loot is dropped in a paper bag. When the player character dies, the game also gives the choice to “call for help” and get someone to revive the player with a Stimpak or you can “give up” and then respawn. If you do neither, you sit in limbo and can do nothing. When you choose to respawn, the game requires you pay caps to move to the nearest spawn location or if you can’t pay, then you’ll have to respawn at Vault 76 or at your camp, if it’s still there… that or kill the game and restart it (which, of course, loses your dropped loot). This player death and dropped loot issue is completely unnecessary and has never been part of Fallout in the past and shouldn’t be in Fallout 76.

If your game happens to crash immediately after dying or if you are killed by something on the way to pick up your loot, your loot is entirely lost. You get ONE chance to go pick up your dropped loot or it’s lost forever.

Oh… and the paper bag is such a stupid and unrealistic idea, I don’t even know how this idea passed design review. How can you possibly fit a Fat Man or a Missile Launcher into a tiny paper bag?

1. Glitches, bugs, quest bugs and client crashing

How it should have worked — Actually beta test your game product with real live QA folks, not holotapes. Get them to sign off that both the game client and the servers work consistently, as expected and are better than 95% stable. Actually play test the game internally. Get people to walk through the environment and see if they can break things.

How it actually works — There is so much to say here, that’s why this is the #1 problem. The game client is closer to 50% stable (maybe less). If it crashes or disconnects twice a day, consider yourself lucky. Sometimes it goes on a crashing / disconnect spree and just doesn’t stop. The network servers disconnect far too frequently. As mentioned above, you can be playing and *hang* with a long pause, then disconnect. Sometimes, the game hangs and then recovers. Sometimes it just disconnects out of nowhere. If any hangs or random disconnects happens you should always disconnect and reconnect and get a different server as that other server is likely having problems.

Sometimes the entire client crashes with the repeating audio loop and then the whole client dies. You have to start completely over when this happens. Hopefully, it’s not immediately after having dropped loot or you’ll have lost your “loot”. Below is a texture glitch video. I’m certain this is a client side problem.

Quest bugs are common in Bethesda games. These types of bugs prevent completion of quests because the character you need to interact with, for example, is already dead. This means you can’t complete the quest. There are plenty of other bugged quests as well.

Overall

This game was released way too early! Without NPCs, this game is completely devoid of feeling like ANY Bethesda RPG, let alone Fallout. Whomever’s idea it was to include no NPCs should be walked to the door at Bethesda. I realize this is considered an off-shoot game, but it is still a Fallout product. It should always true to being a Fallout product. Fallout 76 isn’t true to Fallout.

However, the instability trumps everything. If you can’t reliably even play the game without crashes, bugs and quest failure, then you don’t really even have a game.

Ultimately, this game needs a whole lot more development time and effort. I have no idea why Bethesda released this product so finished. Yet, here we are. Note that there are plenty more reasons to hate Fallout 76. These 25 reasons are just the tip of the iceberg. I’m quite sure you’ll find many more to hate on if you choose to buy this game.


If you’ve had a different experience when playing, please leave a comment below.

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The FTC is investigating pay-to-win loot boxes

Posted in advice, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on December 4, 2018

img_3728.jpgThe FTC is investigating video game loot box issue that was so prominent in Star Wars Battlefront II and in many other games. Is it a form of gambling? Let’s explore.

Pay to Win?

The issue with loot boxes is that people feel ripped off by them, particularly after having already spent $60 for a big named video game title. If you spend $60 to buy a game, the implicit nature of that already hefty price tag is that it covers everything needed to play and win the base game without any additional payments. Any additional downloadable content (DLC) that appears later has a separate price tag. We understand this aspect of DLC. You can buy DLC if you want, but it’s not necessary to pay for DLC to win the base game. DLC is a tried-and-true model and it works to extend the gaming experience, but is not necessary to win the base game. Not everyone likes DLC, but as long as the DLC is created as separate world components, it’s fine.

When loot boxes were introduced, you might end up spending another $60 in addition to the already spent $60 to for the random chance to gain rare weapons or armor or level-ups that are not available in any other way and which are required to progress in the game.

The argument by game developers is that these pay add-ons are not strictly necessary. It depends on how you interpret that statement. It may not be strictly necessary to play the game, but it may make the game experience less enjoyable and possibly even problematic. If you plop down for the loot in the loot boxes, then your experience becomes much easier and better. Loot boxes turn games into a pay-to-win model.

Pay-to-win games to me are not fun. There’s no challenge in plopping down $5 here and $5 there just to get past a level or a boss or whatever it is holding you back. The challenge is and should be in the base game, not in buying add-ons needed to win. If the add-ons become the game, then the base $60 you paid is seen as a rip-off.

Smart Phone Games

Pay-to-win games have been available on the smart phone market for years and that’s fine. These games are typically free to download and free to play to a point. You only run into pay-walls when you want to progress beyond certain points or to buy more lives. Again, most phone game apps are designed around a pay-to-win model. However, there’s no challenge in paying to win a game. Paying to win only depends on how much money you are willing to spend. It’s just a money making scheme.

In the free download app model, you’re not paying an initial $60 to download the game. You’re paying nothing. This means there’s no base expectations set. So then each micro-transaction does help cover the developer costs of producing that free game. In the AAA $60 game arena, you’ve already paid for the development costs and you expect a fully functioning game in return for that $60. That’s the expectation of paying $60.

For example, adding loot boxes to Star Wars Battlefront II was simply a money grab by EA and nothing more. Everyone expected this loot to drop as a result of completing levels. No one expected that you’d have to pay to buy level up cards in addition to the already spent $60… cards that you might not see for many, many hours of play if they ever drop at all. Cards that are needed to unlock key pieces of the game.

Rethinking this Model

Fundamentally, game producers need to think long and hard about the pay-to-win model. Personally, I don’t like it and I will never be a fan of pay-to-win. You pay for the game itself, not for the ability to win it.  You should win the game or not on your own skill as a game player. For a $60 price tag, the game should drop all necessary loot or, if absolutely necessary, offer some kind of in-game credit system that you can spend towards the loot crates as you progress. Many games do give in-game credit that are awarded at level’s end that can be used towards ‘buying’ loot. You can also spend real money to buy those same credits in a store. This gives you two ways to ‘buy’ loot in the world. You can play the game and win credit or you can pay for it. The difficulty is when the game only drops the tiniest amount of credit within the game and then expects you to make up the difference with real money. Again, pay-to-win and I am so not a fan of this.

If you’ve already paid $60 to buy the game at the store, then don’t throw down real money loot boxes in front of the gamer and expect people to open their wallets and be happy about it. Real cash microtransaction loot boxes, again, turn the game into a pay-to-win model.

The argument here is that loot box costs offset the already expensive price tag of video game production. I counter argue that if a game now costs $80 or $100 or $120 per copy to develop, then simply raise the price of the game in the store accordingly and leave out the unnecessary loot boxes. No one says that a developer must sell a game at $60. They can price it at whatever they need to recoup their costs. If they can’t recoup their costs of a game at a $60 price tag, then perhaps they shouldn’t be in the video game business. Or, perhaps they should have kept to a lower budget production. However,  they are also free to raise the price of their game of they want to build bigger, flashier and more expensive games.

Other Alternative Systems

Let’s take a page from the toys-to-life games area. If developers want to offer a level-up swag system for the game, then do it through physical trading cards you can buy at Target or Walmart. Then, use a code on the card to load the card into an app linked to the game. This then gives you legitimate reasons to go buy the cards at the store. It also means anyone can go buy these cards to enhance their game experience… and you’re getting actual collectible trading cards for your money.

It also means the retailer can put the cards on sale and offer discounts on them. Digital cards coming from loot boxes purchased in-game are a waste that can only be used once and have no value after the game ends. It’s just money lost in addition to whatever you paid for in the game itself. Physical trading cards hold their value long after a game becomes a fond memory running on a Raspberry Pi emulator years later. It also means you can trade or sell these cards to others who might value them and at least recoup some of the money spent towards the game. Some of the cards might even become extremely valuable. A video game copy will never have that value.

Having cards produced into 5 or 8 card blind packets means the consumer gets to discover what cards they got and they can trade them with their friends if they get duplicates. It’s a real world way of adding value to the game and a shareable component, but at the same time offers a real world tangible component. Having these cards should also not be necessary to win the game, but they can be used to gain access to weapons, armor and character stats that might otherwise take a lot of grinding to obtain. All physical cards sold in blind packs should be discoverable in the game itself. But, they may contain exclusives that aren’t necessary, but add fun value to the game.

I’m a much bigger fan of using add-ons like real world trading cards than using in-game digital loot boxes… as long as these items are not needed to win the game. Pay-to-win needs to stop in general and these pay-to-win systems definitely have no place in a game sold at $60.

Are Loot Boxes a form of Gambling?

Here’s where some people feel that there’s a problem with loot boxes within video games. If you pay real USD to purchase a loot box, then you’re paying for the ‘chance to win’ something rare. In fact, when you pay for a loot box at all, it can be seen as a form of gambling strictly because of the ‘chance to win’ aspect. If the loot boxes drop on their own for free, there’s still a chance to ‘win’ something rare, but you’ve paid nothing for it and this would not fall under gambling. Gambling is when you pay money for a chance to win.

The paying of real USD to ‘win’ in-game loot is THE bone of contention and is the part in all of this that is seen as a form of gambling. Paying money to win anything is technically a form of gambling. It could also be considered a form of a lottery, much like a scratch card. Because lotteries are considered illegal unless operated by official state organizations, placing an illegal lottery into a video game could result in legal problems for video game producers. As a result, many people view for-pay in-game loot boxes as a form of gambling and in need of regulation under US gambling laws. Because gambling, at least in the US, is only allowed by persons 21 years of age or older, placing pay-to-win ideas into a video game designed to target minors and underage persons could be a problem for the video game industry. It also means the game should, at the bare minimum, put an M rating on any game that includes this mechanism.

These games could also be considered a form of early conditioning designed to teach children about gambling early and get them addicted to its risk-reward system. Because many video game companies also hold stakes in gambling operations, such as producing gambling machines for Las Vegas or actually own stakes in casinos, loot boxes could become very problematic for video game companies.

On the other hand, gambling usually entails winning money, not prizes. In Vegas, you pay to win money. At Dave and Busters, you pay to win prizes. So far, playing games to win tickets at an arcade has not fallen under gambling laws. However, you’re winning tickets, not prizes. The only random chance involved is how many tickets you win. In an arcade, simply playing the game is guaranteed to give you at least one ticket, usually more. The tickets are then redeemed for prizes of your choice. It’s not exactly a random chance kind of thing like a loot box. In addition, arcades use the payment given towards playing a game of skill which then gives you tickets. Giving tickets after playing a skill game that you can redeem is not exactly like paying for a loot box in a game with random chance to win its contents. Loot boxes are much more like a slot machine or lottery scratch card than they are like Dave and Busters skill-game ticket model.

I’m hoping that the FTC will find that any payment of real money towards ‘winning’ in-game loot is ruled as a form of gambling. This would mean that instead of paying for blind random chance boxes, that video game producers would have to set up a store and sell you exact items needed in the game. No ‘random chance to win’ involved. Either that or they must continue to drop the loot boxes in-game at no cost. Better, don’t drop loot boxes at all. Just create a store and sell us the the things we need… that, or use the suggested trading card system sold separately outside of the game.

If the FTC rules that the loot box is considered an illegal form of lottery, this mechanism could no longer be added to video games. I’d be fine with that outcome too.

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Game Review: Fallout 76

Posted in reviews, video game, video game design by commorancy on November 26, 2018

11-24-2018_6-24-33_AM-r2dy5mq3Fallout 76 has arrived. There is some to like within Fallout 76, but there’s more than plenty to dislike. I was personally hoping for a bit more than what I got in the game. However, because it’s still an early release, it could get better. Unfortunately, some of it is an outright fail. This one is quite long, so grab a beverage of your choice and let’s explore.

Fallout 76 Map

Let’s get this review started with the Fallout 76 Map:

Fallout76-Map
I’ve not yet explored all of the places on this map, but above is what I’ve explored so far. You can click the image to see a larger map. So, yes, there’s plenty to explore in West Virginia. With that said, let’s get into the nitty gritty of what’s good and what’s bad, what’s beautiful and what’s ugly about Fallout 76. And believe me, there’s plenty to talk about.

Contents

This review has the following sections:

The Good
🔥 The Fail
💋 The Beautiful
🛑 The Butt Ugly
🚌 Missed Opportunities
👎 Overall (or TL;DR)
💯 Score


The Good

11-24-2018_1-30-30_AM-ye254zpmFallout 76 looks and feels like an extension of Fallout 4 with the exception of the multiplayer aspect. When wandering around the wasteland, it looks and feels very much like Boston in Fallout 4. Obviously, the landscape and terrain are different, but the structures and decay and rusting vehicles seems the same. A little too much the same, in fact. Even the enemies are the same including Supermutants and their mutant hounds, rad roaches, ticks, feral ghouls, Eyebots, Protectrons and many more. So, kudos to Bethesda for getting this part the same.

Photomode

There is a photomode in this game. The photomode does perform well, but unlike Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Origins photomode which, even though the game didn’t run at 4K on the Xbox One S, it did take 4K images… where Fallout 76 firmly takes only 1080p images. I was hoping for the higher res snapshots like Ubisoft’s Origins supported on the Xbox One S. Nope.11-24-2018_6-24-33_AM-gqvzwvoq

The exterior lighting and shadows looks reasonably good, but it all depends on the model. Some models, like the tractor above, look fairly good. However, some texture maps used on the sides of buildings are very low res like this Nuka Cola sign.

Particle physics in this game, particularly smoke, looks fake and flat and cartoony… nothing like smoke. For example, these smoke stacks look bad, particularly when animated:

11-24-2018_1-30-35_AM-3pb3yi3d

Photomode’s depth of field only offers far depth of field, not near. Basically, you can’t focus it to offer both near and far depth of field like an actual camera lens works. Instead, everything in the foreground is always perfectly clear, but the background is blurry. I’d also say that the Bokeh doesn’t work that well in photomode.

Photomode also supports additional filters and frames to create unique images. As you play and discover locations, you’ll get additional photomode frames and other photomode add-ons. With these frames and filters, you can produce images that look like these:

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Personally, the frames and logos are fun enough, but after having used them once, I don’t really want to overuse the frames and effects as it’s like having too much of a good thing.

Loading Times

Here’s another area where the game works quite well. I’ve found no problems with loading times, even after being killed by a gang of ghouls. I have no complaints at all about loading times. Even loading a game after a crash is decently speedy. Though, it would be nice if it didn’t crash in the first place.

Crafting

This process works much the same as any other Fallout. You simply need to find the correct ingredients and have a recipe (or plans) to make the item and you’re set. Sometimes you need to luck into finding the recipe or plan before you can make it. Some basic recipes and plans are given to you from the beginning, but the more advanced ones will need to be found through exploration.

The crafting that you’ll become intimately familiar in this game is cooking. You’ll end up making a lot of boiled water and a lot of meat steaks (to avoid all of the random diseases).


🔥 The Fail

While the look and feel are very much the same as previous Fallout games, the gameplay is a bit off. Some of this is due to the multiplayer aspects, but some of it is due to the way the game has been designed.

Missing NPCs

In all of the time I’ve been playing, I have yet to see a single NPC in this game. Where Elder Scrolls Online and Fallout 4 both had cities teaming with NPCs, Fallout 76 is quite devoid of them. With the exception of Graham and his Brahmin, Chally the Moo-Moo (the wandering Supermutant merchant) and a handful of Mr. Gutsy and Protectron robots, there are no human NPCs to be found in any of the the towns (big or small). Only enemies including mostly ghouls or scorched, but sometimes Supermutants are found. It’s a huge miscalculation for a Bethesda RPG. Perhaps they were trying to save money by not having to hire voice talent? Who knows the real motive here?

Personally, if I had been the manager over this project and this project idea was thrown my way, I would have tossed it back. I would have asked for alternative ideas involving NPCs in the game. It doesn’t need to be a large number of NPCs, but there should have been at least a few here and there, if only wanderers. Without meaningful interactions with NPCs, a game like this is a very difficult sell. The game would need to have chosen some other means of NPC interaction, if not using “ghosts” in the environment or some found technology that lets the player interact with live holograms of dead characters. There’s just nothing like that here.

While there’s no shortage of enemies to fight in Fallout 76, the only conversation you do get to have is with other live players using chat headsets. Even then, it’s simply discussion about problematic game mechanics. Instead, it seems that all quests come to your character by proximity to towns, picking up holo tapes, listening to audio logs, scouring computers, picking up objects or searching recently dead bodies (of which there are plenty to find). There are no one human NPCs here to talk to.

With Elder Scrolls Online, I found that there was random camaraderie between actual players, particularly when you’re trying to complete a dungeon… so you implicitly team up to get the job done. So far in Fallout 76, this behavior hasn’t been true. Partly because there’s so few people playing on any one “World” and partly because everyone seems to want to do their own thing. Yes, I do find the lack of NPCs a bit disturbing in this game’s design and it is probably the single biggest overall failing of Fallout 76 because the main quest falls extremely flat as a result.

Fast Travel and Traveling

With all Fallout games, you pretty much have to hoof it everywhere on foot. I kind of get used to this in Fallout. I was hoping that Fallout 76 would introduce a horse or motorcycle or even a bicycle (these could easily be repaired). This would let you move a little faster over the terrain and get from place to place a bit faster. Nope, nothing here.

Instead, this game relies on location discovery and fast travel, like all previous games. I think it’s about time that the Fallout series added some kind of vehicle besides Power Armor. The difficulty with Fast Travel (like moving your CAMP) is that it costs caps to fast travel. The cost is dependent on how far away from you the location is. If you’re on one side of the map and you want to go to the other, you’ll likely pay 20-30 caps. If it’s the next town over, it might be 1 or 2 caps.

If caps were more plentiful in this game, this wouldn’t even be a fail. However, because caps are so hard to find in this game, using even 1 or 2 caps to fast travel one town over adds up when you do it a lot. It really shouldn’t cost anything to fast travel anywhere because that’s the perk of discovery. Yet, here we are.

There are two places on the map that are free to fast travel and the first is Vault 76 and the other is your CAMP. You’ll want to place your camp somewhere a little south of the middle of the map so you can fast travel to the lower portions of the map easily. Vault 76 fast travel lets you travel to the upper parts of the map easily. Placing your camp a little south lets you easily cover pretty much the whole map without spending a lot of caps. Once you finish with an area, you may not need to visit it, so you can move your CAMP to be more beneficial to the upper level areas. It also means you don’t have to move your CAMP often.

Eating and Diseases

Unfortunately, here’s where Fallout 76 takes a turn for the worse. Even though Fallout 4 did require drinking and eating to recover HP, you only needed to do it when your health became low.

11-26-2018_12-16-12_AM-eomehsb0In Fallout 76, the game designers took this aspect to a whole new Sims-ish level. Now, you have a separate food and water meter from the HP meter. When these begin to drop below an arbitrary threshold, your character is socked with penalties. Sometimes the penalties limit your action points, sometimes it causes you to lose HP. It all depends on how low it is and whether it’s low food or low water or both.

As for diseases, these were in Fallout 4, but they usually appeared as a result of being exposed to certain things. Basically, in Fallout 4 it was rare to contract a disease. In Fallout 76, it’s super easy and it’s compounded by the fact that you have to eat so frequently, which means more chances.

Because of the excessive amount of unnecessary eating and drinking, you’ll spend inordinate amounts of gaming time running around looking for water, food and ingredients… then cooking it so you don’t get ‘diseased’. That is, instead of actually playing, you know, the actual game for its story or combat (i.e., the parts that actually matter), you’re spending at least 30-50% of your time in search of food and water (parts that are trivial and don’t matter). This is way too much time spent on such trivial tasks. And it gets worse. Because food and water weighs so much, you’re forced to carry it around all of the time which limits how much other stuff you can carry. It’s just a pisser at just how much this whole eating, drinking and disease aspect negatively degrades the game experience. Instead of playing the quests, you’re out running around looking for ingredients to create a Disease Cure potion or you’re out looking for Brahmin or Rad roaches or Bloatflies or water to make meals.

And wait, it gets even worse. When you get to a water source, it takes ages (real world time) to dip and collect a single dirty water due to the animation and overall slowness of this process. To collect 20 or 30 of these, you’ll be standing there 3 maybe 4 minutes (maybe more) doing this activity. It also takes 2 Dirty Water containers to create 1 Boiled water along with wood. That means if you pick up 30 dirty water containers, you’ll only get 15 boiled water containers. Unrealistic. You don’t lose 50% of your water to boiling that I recall. Anyway, you’ll also need wood, so you better also pick up a bunch of wood on the way to get to the water source and pick more up on the way back.

Bethesda needs to rethink this part of the game. Everything around eating and drinking is so trivial, banal and unnecessary, yet takes an inordinate amount of time away from the gamer when they could be interacting with story elements or taking part in more important events in the game.

In fact, I’d be much happier playing this game without the constant food, water and disease interruptions. This isn’t a Sims game. It’s an RPG. It doesn’t need to mimic real world survival aspects to that trivial level. At some point you have to ask, “Does this really enhance or degrade the game experience?” If the answer is that it degrades the game experience, then it needs to be taken out… regardless of how much developer time might have been spent on it. Eating, drinking and diseases heavily degrade the gaming experience and, IMO, should be removed. Or, at least calmed the hell down. For example, require that you eat or drink once a day instead of 5-10 times per day. I’d prefer removal of the disease aspect, or at very least calm it down so that we don’t catch diseases nearly as often… and put way more Disease Cure potions in loot stashes or make these crafting materials much easier to find.

There was one stretch of gaming where I spent most of a real world day with “parasites”. Parasites make your food health line drop rapidly. So, the only thing you can do is run around gathering foods and eating or try to locate or create a Disease Cure potion. I finally decided to stop eating food and see if it would go away on its own. It did, but the first thing I accidentally ate after gave me parasites again only to start the whole thing over. I was seriously pissed by that point.

Disease Meter

Like the HP, AP, Water and Food meters, if Bethesda really plans on keeping the disease aspect at this level in Fallout 76, then the devs needs to add a disease meter. The addition of a meter would allow the gamer to see how far they are from catching a disease (whatever it is), but also how long it will be before the disease wears off. Basically, you can use the Disease Cure potion or you can wait it out. With a disease meter, you know exactly how much longer it will be before the disease is gone… and whether it’s worth spending a Cure Disease potion. Some diseases should wear off faster than others. The meter should also display the name of the disease right on the HUD.

Disease Cure Crafting

11-24-2018_6-24-31_AM-3lssgfavI’ll point out that the Disease Cure potion requires four ingredients and access to a cooking fire… so, you should build your CAMP somewhere close to the necessary ingredients and have also built a cooking area.

The ingredients you’ll need for a Disease Cure potion consist of Snaptail Reed, Bloodleaf, Firecap and Water. The difficulty is that all of the ingredients aren’t close together. However, three of them are somewhat close: Bloodleaf, Snaptail Reed and Water can be found along the banks of the river that runs through Flatwoods. The fourth ingredient, Firecap, can be found not far away in the Vault-Tec Agriculture facility just outside Flatwood. It’s in the basement of the building in some soil tables. Unfortunately, it only grows four at a time and it seems rare to find it in there. You’ll need two Firecaps to create one Disease Cure potion. This means that, if all four are present, you can create two potions and then you’ll have to wait for the Firecaps to regenerate (might be hours) or try to find them growing somewhere else. There are other locations for Firecap, but these ingredients are also subject to spoilage. Once you find the ingredients, you better be prepared to drop whatever it is you are doing and go search for Bloodleaf, Snaptail Reed and Water to make some potions before the ingredients spoil. Note that all recipes involving water require Boiled Water. This means you’ll need to boil all your water before trying to create a potion.

Food Spoilage

Here’s another design blunder. When you go pick flowers or kill some rad roaches for their meat, you’ll find that within a few in-game hours, the meat will have spoiled. In your inventory, the item will go from showing its original food name to “spoiled meat” or “spoiled vegetables” or “spoiled biofluid”.

This is a design blunder because food doesn’t spoil that rapidly even in real life. Worse, some items that spoil don’t even spoil in real life, like flowers. You can pick, dry and use flowers for long periods of time. Flowers don’t spoil. Yet, in Fallout 76, they do.

What this means is, if you go pick a bunch of flowers or plants or come across some meat, you’ll need to cook it up quickly into whatever prepared dish you have a recipe for. And, you will have to go find these recipes. Prepared foods tend to hold their longevity longer than raw foods, apparently. However, eventually even these prepared foods will spoil. So, if you find meat, expect cook it and eat it quickly.

If you eat spoiled food, you’re going to get a disease… which means you’re going to be running around looking for ingredients to make the Disease Cure potion rather than playing the quests. Yet another Bethesda FAIL.

Spoilage Meter

If Bethesda wants to keep this food spoilage idea in the game, then they need to add a small spoilage meter next to or below the food item in the inventory. I realize there’s a CND meter in this area that may act as the spoilage meter, but I’d prefer this be relabled to SPL instead of CND if it means spoilage. This meter will show just how long it will be before each food item spoils. This means you can better plan which foods or ingredients to eat or use first. If it’s a ganged up item and there are multiples each with different spoilage times, then either normalize all of the ganged up items to the same spoilage time or represent the item that is the quickest to spoil in the meter and use that item first from the multiples.

Sleeping

11-24-2018_6-24-31_AM-bdti42iwEven sleeping in this game isn’t without peril. So, you think you’re going to grab a few quick ZZZs at some random bed in a house. But, then you hop in and almost immediately you’re diseased. I shake my head at this. The only bed you can trust (maybe) is the bed you build in your C.A.M.P. This may be limited to bedrolls on the ground, but don’t count on that throughout the game.

C.A.M.P.

11-24-2018_1-30-50_AM-wfg3dg31I will say that CAMP isn’t a 100% fail, but it’s close primarily because it’s mostly pointless. The fact that you can carry it around with you and drop it wherever you want is an improvement over stationary settlements in Fallout 4. This portability is not enough to call this idea a full win.

As you exit Vault 76, you’re given a number of supplies to help rebuild the wasteland. One of these is the CAMP device. It is a small camping gadget that you can deploy that lets you build a settlement within a radius of wherever you place it. You can’t place it everywhere, but there are plenty of ground locations that allow placement.

Once you place it somewhere, it becomes very much like the building of a settlement in Fallout 4. Instead of being a fixed location like the settlements, CAMP is portable. While the idea of CAMP is okay, it’s more or less a pointless exercise… other than giving you convenient crafting tables and it adds a free fast travel point to wherever you place it, these are its two primary reasons to exist… and that’s not nearly enough. Because the map is fairly sprawling, this portability only helps a tiny bit in terms of travel.

Here’s where the CAMP idea breaks down (which is why it’s under this FAIL heading). Wherever you first drop your CAMP is free. If you want to move your CAMP to a new location, you’ll have to pay caps to do this. If you want to move it a second time, it’s going to cost you progressively more caps each time. To move your CAMP, you’re going to pay caps. Why, Bethesda, why? You encouraged us to move our CAMP frequently, yet you’re going to take more and more hard-to-find caps each time? FAIL!

Even though the portability aspect of CAMP is a fail, setting up a camp lets you build crafting tables and this is much needed because of the food and water problem. In this game there are 6 crafting table types: Cooking, Armor, Weapons, Tinkerer, Power Armor and Chemistry tables. When you build a camp, you need to build at least one of these tables so you can easily and quickly scrap the junk you find into components. You’ll need the component parts to craft new items and mods and to reduce your junk weight. However, I’d recommend building the full complement of crafting tables so you can easily do everything in one place. You will need to look for plans for some of them.

I’d even recommend putting the crafting tables all inside of the structure you build so that the structure is easily portable. The only thing you can’t build inside is a water well. But, you will want a water well so you can easily get to a water source and create boiled water… which critical in this game.

Caps, Stimpaks, Disease Cure, etc

Here’s another place where Fallout 76 has lost it. Caps (and certain crafting resources) are extremely hard to come by. While there are some sellers where you can sell whatever you happen to find, they’ll only give you 1 or 2 caps no matter what the item is. I’d recommend doing this with random junk you happen to find around the seller. Unfortunately, many other players have caught on to this idea. Because these robots only carry like 200-300 caps, you can quickly drain them of caps. I’ll talk about the multiplayer aspect of this problem below. The good thing is that they’ll buy practically anything. The bad thing is that you’ll only get 1-2 caps for nearly everything including Stimpaks, which are equally as hard to find as caps. It means you need to run around locating tons of junk to sell to these dealers before you can drain their caps.

Bugs, Glitches, Bugs and even more Bugs

11-24-2018_6-44-06_AM-r1nxyocxThis game is chock full of bugs. From the bugs that crash the entire game client to bugs that kick you out of the server to quest bugs that prevent you from finishing the quest to floating rocks to flashing textures on robots to event bugs that prevent the event from working to bugs that prevent you from even playing the game at all. They’re all here.

Here’s a sample of texture glitching:


I can’t imagine that this is a fully ready game. For me, it’s still feels very much like a beta version. In fact, it feels very much like Elder Scrolls Online when it was first released. ESO was bug city. Well, Fallout 76 feels very much this same way. Certainly, there are odd cosmetic problems like floating rocks and invisible structures.

11-24-2018_1-30-32_AM-hsg2w0qeHowever, some people have experienced showstopper bugs related to the Power Armor that prevent them from doing anything in the game. Basically, they can’t exit the power armor, they can’t use the power armor and they can’t do anything else including play the game. Bethesda has what they think is a workaround, but apparently it doesn’t always work. Why is it that every game seems to have floating rocks?

Bethesda has a lot of work ahead of them to get this game to a better usability. The first thing I would do is fix the major bugs followed by majorly reducing the eating and disease problems. The latter problems only serve to heavily detract from the game and prevent the gamer from making story progress. That’s a fail any way you slice it.

Inventory, Carry Weight and Photo Gallery

Carry Weight is a problem in every Bethesda game. You’re always given a pittance allotment of weight that you can carry starting at around 120-150. This problem is actually compounded by bad design in Fallout 76. By level 15, I’m able to carry 190… which is not more than what the game gives you from the start. Granted, I haven’t used all of my perks to level up Strength, so I can’t tell you how high it would be if I had done this. I wanted a good mix of perks on my character… particularly the Lead Belly perk, which avoids much of the radiation problems in the game. However, even though I have worked to get Lead Belly to level 3 (maxed out), I found that this perk is limited by the disease factor. Meaning, even though you take no radiation damage by eating food, you can’t willy nilly eat random food because you can still get a disease. You must cook it all first. If there was a perk that made you 100% disease resistant, I’d most certainly level that one up too.

The photo gallery is limited to 50 pictures, way too few. When you fill it up, you have to stop whatever it is you’re doing and spend time jumping into the Photo Gallery area to delete some. It’s such a pain in the butt and so unnecessary. In reality, don’t even save them into an in-game gallery. Use the Xbox captures area, tag them there and use them in-game from there. Problem solved as the Xbox Gallery is limited only by system storage.

Multiplayer

Personally, I’d call multiplayer in this game mostly a fail which is ironic considering Fallout 76’s claim to fame is its multiplayer aspects. Some of this is because of the game design and some of it’s because of the players. Together, the multiplayer part of this game doesn’t work well and it’s actually worse than the multiplayer in Elder Scrolls Online.

Resource Collecting

The first problem is with collecting resources. Because resources are finite (and some are exceedingly scarce), any player who comes along before you and takes the resources means it won’t be there when you get there. If you need Firecaps and there are only two in the building and another player swept through the location 5 minutes before you, nothing will be there for you to find. This makes playing this game unnecessarily challenging.

Resources should remain independent in each player’s game. This means if I enter a building looking for Firecaps, they should always be there in my game and they should be there in everyone else’s game. These resources should be unique and independent of the multiplayer part. I don’t want to have to wait in-game hours for something to respawn simply because another player swept through and took it. That’s entirely a waste of my time. For this reason, I deem this problem a multiplayer fail.

Pacifist Mode

The second problem is with Pacifist mode. While I cannot accidentally hurt another player with this mode set to on, another player can come and kill my player. No! Yet another fail. Like Grand Theft Auto, pacifist mode should disable not only my ability to hurt other players, it should disable their ability to hurt me. If I want to quest the wasteland without fear of being killed by another player, that should be my choice. There are already enough enemies in this landscape without having to watch my butt around other players… particularly when a Level 63 player comes after my Level 15 player. No. Just. No.

Microphone Chat

Here’s a third problem. Because Microsoft makes it so difficult to locate a cheap compatible microphone + headset to use on the Xbox One, I find very few people using them when playing Fallout 76 on the Xbox One. Instead, people rely on emotes to convey limited information. While the emotes are fun and all, I don’t know why people can’t go get a cheap $9.99 set of Heydey compatible earbuds at Target so they can chat with other players. Even these $4.99 Heydey earbuds with mic might work. If not, Target’s return policy works well, so you can always return them.

Also, when you’re in first person view, you cannot see if your microphone is working. When in third person, there’s a small speaker icon that appears over the head of the player speaking, even yourself. If you’re in first person, this icon does not appear on the HUD.

Settlements and Workshops

11-24-2018_1-30-29_AM-2fnvsquwHere’s the fourth problem. This is a two problems in one, actually. In Fallout 4, settlements were designed to offer refuge and safety for NPCs whom you recruit to the settlement. Unfortunately, because this game seems entirely devoid of NPCs, there’s no one to recruit into your CAMP. Thus, the point in the having a camp in Fallout 76 is lost on Bethesda. Other than having a fast travelable location on the map and a convenient location to craft, there’s really no other reason to have a CAMP. You can invite other players into the camp, but other than interacting with the crafting tables and the ‘My Stash’ boxes, there’s little reason to visit someone else’s camp. It’s not like you could create a Ghoul infested building with full quests attached.

The second half of this problem is when taking over found workshops. In Fallout 4, when you find a workshop, you can establish a settlement there. In Fallout 76, again this is lost on Bethesda and there’s no reason or incentive to claim them. Because there are no NPC’s in the game, the only reason to claim a workshop is to start a multiplayer PvP war. What’s the point in that? Deathmatch went out with Halo 3. Trying to revive this play style in Fallout is, well, antiquated. Can’t we think up better ways to get players to team up in multiplayer mode?

If you do decide to take over a workshop, you’re expected to “fix it up” with your own caps and your own resources. When you do find an unowned workshop, they’re so run down, you’ll have to deplete nearly all of your resources not only fixing the place, but adding defenses. The game also only gives you about 15 minutes to fix it up fully and place defenses. There’s just no way to not only fix up the entire place, but build that amount of defenses in 15 minutes, Bethesda. Bah… FAIL!

Worse, even if you do manage to set up defenses and fix up the workshop, you’ll lose it all after you sign out of the game. Yep, your resources and caps… gone forever. So then, what’s the incentive here? If I’m going to spend nearly my entire inventory I’ve collected over many days in one location and then lose it in a few hours later, why? Why would I ever do that? No, if I’m going to claim a workshop, I better be able to own it for as long as I want or until some other faction of players takes it away from me. Let ownership rule so long as the player signs in at least once every 30 days. If the player fails to sign in for 30 days, then the workshop reverts to unowned.

Considering how unstable the Xbox One client is and how often it randomly crashes, there’s no way I’d ever consider investing in building and defending a workshop. Until Bethesda can get the bugs ironed out of the game clients, there’s no incentive for me to even consider attempting to own a workshop. Why bother with it anyway? It’s not like you can invite settlers into it to help man and defend it.

Also, why not let groups own a workshop together? If a group of folks get together and spends their resources to fix up the place, then it should be jointly owned. This means that even if the first person to establish ownership disappears, the property should revert to the next owner in the group list until there are no more people listed who can own it. A single day’s ownership is worthless. Perpetual ownership until the player or team forfeits the property or it is taken over by a new faction is the way to handle these workshops.

Not only does perpetual ownership encourage owning and fixing up a workshop, it encourages group ownership to prevent the workshop from being lost if a player suddenly disappears. Yet, that’s where we are today. If the first owner disappears and logs out, the property becomes unowned. Bethesda has a lot of redevelopment ahead. Yet another fail.

Worst case, do it like Cyrodiil’s campaigns. Let people own workshops for 30 or 45 days. At the end of the campaign, all ownerships are revoked and people will have to reclaim their workshop if they want it for the next campaign round. Owning a workshop for 24 hours only? This is stupid.

Power Armor

The fifth problem is the power armor. Not only are there bugs around using this armor, some of these bugs are show stoppers. Besides the bugs, the armor is just not that useful in this game. It does add a small amount of extra carrying power, but at the price of carrying around a 10 weight power armor suit + the weight of each armor suit piece in your inventory until you need it. It’s not like we’re given a ton of extra carrying capacity to begin with, but this? Really?

If we’re trying to be realistic with the survival eating and drinking, how is it then possible to carry an entire suit of power armor on your person? This is why it’s a fail. You shouldn’t be able to carry around power armor at all. You’re either in it or you’re out of it. If you want to use it, like Fallout 4, you have to go get it having parked it at a Power Armor crafting station. Carrying it around with you is as stupid as the horse that appears and disappears in Elder Scrolls Online. It’s a stupidly unrealistic addition that makes as much sense in Fallout 76 as eating and drinking every few minutes.

Additionally, the Power Armor has no light. If you’re in it and press the light button, nothing happens. No light. At first I thought it was that there was no armor on the suit, but no. It’s a bug with the armor. Basically, the usefulness of wearing power armor comes down to carrying a bit more so you can stop being over-encumbered which allows you to fast travel. That’s the only reason to carry around an extra 10 weight of junk in the inventory. I frankly carry the base suit only with no armor pieces. It’s well enough to lift the over-encumbered problem and let me fast travel. I don’t need it for combat, so that point is useless.

The secondary trouble I’ve found with wearing power armor is that this seems to be an implicit deathmatch challenge signal to other players. If you’re in power armor, they seem to come after you and kill you… moreso than if you’re not wearing it. I’m not sure what’s going on here, but there seems to be some kind of unwritten rule that wearing power armor = “come kill me”. I don’t like this and so I rarely wear power armor because 1) I don’t want to trip the get stuck bug and 2) I don’t want to constantly fight other players. So, I rarely wear Power Armor so I can mostly quest in peace (such that questing is in this game).

Missing Elements

The final problem is what’s not here. In ESO, there was a Risk based board game scenario where factions could challenge each other by taking over each other’s territory. While I didn’t agree with the ESO implementation of PvP in Cyrodiil, it at least encouraged people to work towards maintaining their castles. Unfortunately, it had the side effect of spending each person’s money and resources to fix up the castles during and after battle. I’d have preferred if the castles could have made their own money and their own resources that could be used against rebuilding rather than forcing the player to dip into their own inventory.

Unfortunately, Fallout 76 has no such PvP element at all… at least that I’ve found. Granted, I haven’t explored the entire map yet. So, there might be other “different” PvP areas I’ve yet to uncover. I doubt it, though.


💋 The Beautiful

This section is devoted to what parts I liked most about Fallout 76. First and foremost, the landscape and the daytime lighting quality is amazing, particularly dawn and dusk. The sun ray aspect is probably the best part of this game and it’s done amazingly well… I’d say that it’s much better than the sun’s rays in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Let’s take a look at some of these images. They’re just stunning against the apocalyptic ruins. Here’s a quick slideshow of some of these:

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Unfortunately, the night lighting isn’t quite so spectacular, but it still provides some stunning visuals nonetheless:

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With that said, I’m also equally disappointed with the far too many of the low res 3D models and the low res image textures within the game. I know this is supposed to be the Beautiful section, but I have to cover both sides, like I did under the Fails area. Let’s look at a few of the problems with this game’s models and textures:

The above images illustrate how badly the texture mapping can go wrong in this game. In fact, even the tree leaves and ground plants are pretty much flat planes. When you get close to an object, the reality and illusion of it breaks down rapidly. For example, the white flowers above show the edges of the texture map when illuminated by the Pip Boy. You can’t see the lines in the thumbnail, but if you look at this image full size and zoom in a little, you can see these thin edge lines. It’s very prominent when playing the game.

This lack of resolution even includes the character models themselves. Up close and personal on the characters, you’ll see the squared off edges of arms and legs of the character model rather than being smoothed out. I understand why they don’t include 3D model smoothing in games as it takes more CPU power. I’m hoping that this will be available on the PS5 and Xbox Next. 3D model edge smoothing would help the character models look far more realistic.

Pip Boy

11-25-2018_11-32-23_PM-n5eaph0cThe Pip Boy, while not much different than Fallout 4, performs its function quite well here. I will say that the 3D model could do with a bit of work, particularly the orange lit button that seems too low res. I’d also prefer to have the map in the Pip Boy rather than having to pop into a separate screen. It made it so much more handy to get to and fast travel via the map when using the Pip Boy. It was also much more immersive than having a separate and pretty colored map. It’s fine if they want to keep the nice pretty colored map, but having a map in the Pip Boy prevents the need of getting out of the Pip Boy to move move to a different screen. It’s all about time savings and this change would help a lot.

Here’s a little trick you can do with the Pip Boy that maybe you didn’t know. You can use the right stick and move the Pip Boy around, like so to get a better look at it:

If you really dislike using the Pip-Boy, there are two alternatives: 1) Hop into Power Armor. It has its own separate heads-up display. 2) If you don’t have Power Armor handy, you can press and hold the two squares (left button below the Xbox button) until it changes. It will give you a HUD that looks like so:

11-26-2018_12-16-12_AM-eomehsb0

This HUD performs all of the same functionality as the Pip Boy using a different color and without the distraction of it. To switch back, press and hold the two-square button again and the Pip Boy will return. Personally, I prefer the Pip Boy, but I’d like to change the screen color from green to something else. I remember you could do that in earlier Fallout games.


🛑 The Butt Ugly

Daytime and Nighttime

Day and night in this game is weird. It seems that daytime blows by quickly, yet night seems to drone on forever. It could be that there are more nighttime hours than there are daytime hours in the game. This is, frankly, unwanted. I’d prefer to choose day or night and let it stay that way until I change it. Since the clock is mostly unnecessary, each player should be able to choose the time of day setting they would prefer (day, night, dawn or dusk). Let the clock roll by, but let me keep my visuals on daytime. Rainstorms and Radiation storms can still roll through, but let my game remain on my visual choice.

Enemies and Levels

Simultaneously, enemies are both weak and strong at the same time. For example, I’ve run into level 1 Molerats that take at least two shots to kill and my character is level 15. How is that possible? One shot should kill a level 1 molerat. I’ve also run into level 33 enemies who I’ve been able to kill in 5-6 shots. The level system is broken. I shouldn’t even be able to come close to killing a level 33 enemy at level 15… or at least, it should take so many shots that I’d run out of bullets before I finished.

Aiming, Misfires and Collision Detection

This game has some of the worst collision detection I’ve seen in a game of this caliber. When the enemy is up close making hits on me, I can’t even seem to make a point blank shot with a gun… and believe me, I’ve tried. I know that the bullets should be connecting, but the game doesn’t register it. Not only have you lost the ammo, but you’ve wasted health points because the enemy is hitting you. Even worse is that some enemies constantly move around you. If you’re trying to shoot them, they’ll intentionally run behind you… even animals. This AI behavior is stupid and it means you’ll be constantly fumbling to locate them somewhere in your camera view. Combat is already difficult enough without having to constantly swivel to find them

On the flip side, I’ve used my .44 Somerset Special sniper pistol and hit enemies at a distance in the head when I know my aim was way off. I don’t understand this discrepancy in how weapons work here. This problem is even true of even shotguns which are known to have a wide dispersal pattern. Meaning, if there is a ghoul inches from you in Fallout 76, the chance of actually making a hit is very low unless you have exactly perfect aim… when, in fact, the dispersal pattern of an actual shotgun at that range would decimate an enemy as long as it’s aimed in the general direction. Still, in this game when enemies are up close, there’s an unnecessarily high chance of missing. When they’re far away, somehow you can connect shots even when you’re aiming in the ‘general direction’. This is very, very ugly for a shooter.

Instead, up close shooting should be much more accurate than distance shooting. Bethesda’s devs somehow got this one backwards in Fallout 76.

Inventory Storage Maximums

The inventory system on this game is what you’d expect, only worse. Unfortunately, Bethesda keeps adding stupid after stupid into these games. The weights you can carry are way too low for what’s needed to actually play this game. This poorly conceived idea compounds to make a bad situation worse. Once you fill your character’s personal inventory and your stash inventory, you have no other place to store anything. You are forced to drop stuff. You have no choice.

In previous single player games like Skyrim and Fallout 4, you could always store excess stuff in chests or drawers or practically anywhere and go get it whenever you need it. You can’t do that here. Once you’ve filled up your inventory, you’re screwed and there’s nothing you can do about it. As you can see from this video, the way the Stash Box is implemented simply doesn’t work…

Sweep System

Why can’t you drop stuff? This game is constantly sweeping dropped items. The sweep system is so bad and so aggressive that it will sweep away even recently killed enemies before walking over to them to get their loot. It’s particularly bad if you’re a sniper. If you snipe your prey from a distance, don’t expect anything to be there when you arrive. I’ve had so much kill loot stolen from me by the sweep system, I should have stopped playing then. But, I kept toughing it out hoping it would get better. It doesn’t.

This is the fundamental blocker that has made me stop playing. Being over-encumbered is a problem, but nothing’s worse than not being able to drop your stuff off easily and remove that problem or potentially lose it after a character death because of the dropped loot.

Note that the My Stash location holds a maximum weight of 400 … well, actually 399. Once you reach that level, it won’t let you store more. I tire of playing these systems which provide arbitrarily low limits when you really need at least 3 times as much storage space. This is the reason this one falls under The Butt Ugly.

Dropped Loot and Respawning

Upon your character’s eventual death in the wasteland, you will be allowed to respawn. When you do, the map gets a death marker and your character is respawned to the nearest chosen spawn point.

The fail here, and boy is it EVER a fail, is the fact that the game drops loot when you die. What’s the point in this dropping loot? It doesn’t make the game more challenging, it simply makes it a hassle. I absolutely and totally hate this design that’s now being implemented in so many games. Whomever thought that the death marker and dropping your loot upon death was a great idea should be walked to the door after being summarily fired. This is not a design that anyone wants.

Worse, it hangs your loot out to dry whenever you’re out questing. If you’re playing a game that doesn’t allow you to store your items, then maybe it might have a point to exist. Since ALL Bethesda RPGs allow you to store stuff in containers, there’s no point in dropping loot upon death. This just encourages you not to carry loot with you and continually go and drop it off.

The danger with dropped loot is compounded by Bethesda’s absolute crap storage maximums. When you’ve reached the storage maximums of the stash box and of your character, you have to being carrying more stuff with you as you can at least carry over-encumbered. The stash box can’t accept anything else once full.

This means that if actually want to go out questing, you have to carry a shit ton of stuff with you that could potentially be lost under bug conditions (as I’ve described above). It means your loot is being hung out to dry every time you go out questing.

I really don’t want to have to fight with a game’s systems over playing the quests. This game is already cumbersome enough to when attempting to apply stimpaks or change weapons while in battle. Having to fight with stupid bugs that lose stash items is just insane… which is why I’m done with playing this disaster of a game.

Changing Weapons and VATs

Because this is an online game, there is no such thing as pause. This means that while you’re changing your weapon, the enemy is hammering on you. Same for trying to apply Stimpaks or eat food to increase HP. Basically, it’s almost impossible to change weapons, eat food or apply medicine when you’re in combat. In the standalone games, the game pauses while you go into the Pip Boy. It doesn’t work that way here.

Yes, there is a weapon wheel, but it’s just as cumbersome to use as going into the Pip Boy. Because there’s like 15 slots, trying to target just one of the slots perfectly is a challenge, particularly when you’re trying to battle fast moving Ghouls. This part is really trying and needs a drastic redesign by Bethesda. It needs not only a simpler system to get to the most used weapons, it needs a faster way to get to them without blocking the screen. While this is a fail, it’s incredibly butt ugly.

CAMPs randomly disappear

While I believe this to be a current bug which may get resolved in a later version, I have found my CAMP has disappeared twice in the time I’ve been playing. The first time I’d built hillside camp with stilts. It was designed specifically for that hillside. After my camp disappeared, I quickly realized that I wouldn’t be able to build custom designed hillside hideouts as it’s almost impossible to locate that exact terrain to place the hideout in the same position.

Instead, I’ve opted to create a small cabin that can sit on practically any terrain. It means that it’s easily portable and can be dropped almost anywhere that’s reasonably flat. This helped because my CAMP disappeared a second time and I had to relocate it. Having this small self-contained shack made it easy to rebuild. I’m sure it will disappear again. When your CAMP disappears, the game doesn’t charge you to place it down again. It’s not considered ‘moving’ the CAMP, so there’s no fee involved.

However, the hassle of having to move CAMP around and the fact that it disappears is a highly ugly experience overall. Bethesda is aware that CAMPs are disappearing, but they’ve done nothing yet to solve the problem. Perhaps they can solve this in a later update.

The benefit is that if you want to move your CAMP and you don’t want to pay, this bug would let you move your CAMP somewhere else for free. You just have to wait for the bug to be triggered and have your CAMP disappear from the map.

Game Worlds

Finally, I should mention a miscalculated design decision that Bethesda engineers made for Fallout 76 that has contributed to the failure of this game. When you log into the Fallout 76 world, you are placed onto a individual server. It seems Bethesda’s engineering team made a fateful decision to limit each “World” to a maximum of 24 player slots. It also seems that a “World” is technically a server located in some datacenter. While I understand the need to help scale a game may involve using many servers, it seems the engineers decided to limit the number of players on each server to improve the gaming experience, but at the same time, this design choice limits multiplayer interactions.

This design decision has only served to make the game seem smaller than it is. There are times when I’ve been in some “Worlds” where there might be 4 or 5 other people online. Basically, the server is empty and thus, the game seems empty.

This is butt ugly because it causes two problems. The first problem is that in a game that should be teaming with multiplayer folks, you might only see and interact with only a handful of other players ever. You also don’t know how many people are on other “World” servers in total or whether a friend is on another server. Secondarily, this server boundary problem serves to make it impossible at times to put teams together. There was a time when one person on my team couldn’t get back onto the “World” server because it was full with 24 people. We all had to interrupt our gameplay, drop off of that world server, team up at the main menu, then reload the game by following one of the team into a new “World” server. A tedious hassle, at best. Any situations like these that serve to interrupt playing the game are not only a fail, but an extremely bad design decision. The game should seamlessly handle these issues without any interactions on the part of the player.

The engineers should have also designed the “World” system to allow cross play between “World” servers so that seeing people on the other servers is a seamless experience. This would drastically improve the game showing a teaming world of multiplayers rather than seeing no more than 24 people online. In a game where it is entirely devoid of NPCs, limiting the “World” servers to 24 people only serves to make the game seem even more barren and lifeless. Vault 76 then becomes less about hope of repopulation and more about the deaths of the Vault 76’s dwellers.

Vault 76 and Reclamation Day

I don’t even get the logic of Reclamation day. Unless the vault was running out of provisions to support its inhabitants (possible, but not explained), opening the door to let everyone out was a bad Overseer decision. It would have been better to send out a small scouting party to determine the situation “outside”, then report back. That’s the only logical thing to do before opening the door for everyone. If the scouting party didn’t report in at all or reported in unfavorably, then why open the door? I’m not sure what the Overseer was thinking by opening Vault 76 at that moment in time. Clearly, it was a bad decision as pointed out via the multitudes of holo tapes and the clear world devastation that the Vault 76 inhabitants were ill prepared to handle. Why would you intentionally sacrifice the safety of the vault’s inhabitants to such a hostile world? The story starts off badly and doesn’t get any better, unfortunately.


🚌 Missed Opportunities

With the introduction of Fallout 76, I was expecting a whole lot more to this game, particularly the multiplayer portions and settlement building. For example, with the idea of settlements and settlers, comes the idea of letting players settle and run businesses in the wasteland. Instead of roaming around the wasteland, they could man businesses and buy and sell merchandise they create or find. If the player wants to explore, a robot could step in and man the store with whatever merchandise is there. When the player wants to man the booth personally, they can step in and do so. This would allow for actual haggling in prices between players.

There’s also the idea of building a community. Letting players group together to create structures for settling and for extended quests. The settlements could even grow into thriving cities. That’s the point of what Vault 76’s opening meant… to rebuild. This means that players can not only build residential and business structures, but also build structures that might contain enemies including containers with loot and various other things. It would also let players create water treatment plants to filter out the radiation, set up farms for cultivating crops, building power systems and rebuilding manufacturing to allow for building of Power Armor, cars, and trucks to bring the modern world back.

Letting the players build extensions to the world to make the world more dynamic should be the plan of any multiplayer world. Of course, when just starting out in a new game, you don’t want low level players taking advantage of the modern conveniences and improvements… yet. So, they should be restricted from seeing and participating in these activities until they have either leveled up sufficiently or completed the main quest.

Yet, here we are. Fallout 76 is just a mere shell of what it could have been.


👎 Overall

As it is now, this game gets a thumbs down from me with a rating of 2 stars out of 10. I classify it as a disaster worse than the nukes that decimated West Virginia in this game. While the daytime wasteland is very pretty to look at, there’s so little to see and do that Fallout 76 really feels mostly incomplete. The lack of NPCs makes the whole game seem barren and lifeless. The quests are average, but it doesn’t really make me think that this game is heading in any direction like Fallout 4. Like Elder Scrolls Online, the whole experience feels hollow and without a point. Instead, it seems like you are asked to chase information about already dead Vault 76 characters via holo tapes and computer logs. You never seem to run into any other actual NPC characters from Vault 76 other than multiplayer characters whom are “just there”, but don’t play a part in the narrative.

Fallout 4 did at least have a cohesive story to tell. Fallout 76 feels like a pale imitation of Fallout 4, but doesn’t have the meat or the core.

What’s left then is the main quest line and so far that’s simply chasing holo tape after holo tape or logging into a computer to read notes on a computer screen… and you don’t even need to read them to get quest credit. These audio logs and computer screen entries are, well, uninteresting. Other than the enemies you have to kill to find or get to these quest items, the rest are mostly boring exercises with nothing to engage the gamer into wanting to progress.

This is all made worse by the fact that the game is chock full of bugs and glitches. The overly unnecessary eating, drinking and getting diseases simply interrupts and detracts from questing. The lack of a well designed PvP system, including the poorly designed unowned workshop system, simply makes everything seem pointless. The game’s entire reason to exist is for poignant multiplayer PvP, but then fails to even deliver on that. The biggest event to tackle is killing a Scorchbeast, but even the fun of that deflates once you’ve done it and all you receive at the end is basically nothing or some Scorchbeast meat, you really begin to sense just how hollow and tedious this game really is.

The primary thing I’ve found to hold my interest is scavenging. Even then, that’s actually limited because you find the same things over and over in each container. So then it becomes about dismantling these into component parts for crafting mods and such. Basically, scavenging becomes repetitive fairly quickly. This situation is then made worse by the extremely limited inventory storage amount that you’re given, into which you can store these component items. Once your storage space fills up, the game is pretty much over. There’s really no point in playing once you’re constantly over-encumbered.

What I recommend is the following. Wait 6 months to purchase this game. After 6 months or more of patching, this game might become more playable and usable. This same problem occurred with Elder Scrolls Online. Only time will tell. As it is now, unless you like playing these simplistic and poorly designed thin multiplayer games, you should steer clear and try playing this one 6 months from now, at the earliest. It’s definitely worth giving Fallout 76’s developers plenty of time to attempt to right this listing ship and improve the play value of this game in the process.

I’ve lowered my score from 3.5 to 2 stars because this game is far too much trouble than it’s worth. The problem is with the bugs and glitches. For example, here’s several bugs and glitches in a row that compounded into losing all of my “junk” inventory on my character… none of it was my fault in playing the game poorly and was entirely responsible by poor game design and bugs.

I’m currently at level 27. During combat, game lagged for about 5-10 seconds. It was logn enough for a low level scorched to kill my character. The controls didn’t respond at all during that 5-10 seconds. I couldn’t move or shoot or do anything. My health line before the glitching was at least 75%. The glitching allowed more than that scorched’s fair share of hits on my character (which, of course, I couldn’t see or respond to). After the game unlagged and showed my character dead, I respawned to the same location and within 15 seconds of respawning, the entire game hung and crashed on the Xbox with the signature sound looping. It was not enough time for me to go collect my dropped loot (which I don’t believe in dropped loot in games anyway). I believe this is a stupid tactic that doesn’t belong in any games.

After the game restarted, my dropped loot was gone as was my last death marker. All of my “junk” was lost and I had a lot of stuff on me important to repairing items. Items I couldn’t stash because my stash box is entirely full. At this point, I’ve had it with Fallout 76 and I killed the game. I won’t be playing Fallout 76 anymore and with that, I dropped this score to 2 stars out of 10. It’s a pointless and worthless piece of drek from Bethesda that you’d do best to avoid.

Parental Advice

This game is designed as a multiplayer (MMORPG) game. Because of the continuous multiplayer aspect, there is no way to fully rate what your child might be exposed to or with whom they might come into contact. Basically, use your best judgement if considering this game purchase as a gift for a child. As for the themes in this game, they are mostly adult themes. Children too young may not understand the themes contained in Fallout 76.

Requirements

This game requires an always-on and relatively fast (i.e., broadband) Internet connection to function. If you don’t have always-on Internet, you will not be able to play this game.

Updates to this game usually end up in the range of 30GB to 50GB per update. These updates appear at least every few weeks and may come more frequently as Bethesda attempts to squash bugs during the first few months after release. If your Internet connection is metered and/or you only have a small allotment of data, you might want to steer clear of buying this game. Also, once an update has been released, you cannot play the game until you have fully downloaded and installed the latest update.

💯 Score

Graphics: 7 out of 10
Audio: 8 out of 10
Gameplay: 2 out of 10 (too much dependence on eating and drinking)
Questing: 4 out of 10
Settling: 4 out of 10

Overall: 2 out of 10 (Nothing new to see here, just not unique enough, too many bugs)

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Review: Pokémon Let’s Go! Pikachu

Posted in botch, business, video game, video game design by commorancy on November 16, 2018

img_0072[Updated: 11/19/2018 for Pokéball Plus Controller] I’ll make this one short and sweet. This is the first Pokémon for the Nintendo Switch and in some ways it’s fun, but in many ways it’s a sheer disappointment. Let’s Go!

Pikachu

In this review, I’m playing the Pikachu edition. I’m sure that the Eevee edition will likely be very similar in play value, with the exception of certain Pokémon you can only collect in each separate edition.

Controller Problems

Here’s the first disappointment with this game. I want to get this one out of the way right up front. The Nintendo Pro Controller doesn’t work at all in this game. When you press the connect button, the light Cylons back and forth, but never connects.

img_0065Unfortunately, you are forced to use the JoyCons with this game. This is an extreme disappointment. But wait, it gets worse. If you pull the JoyCons off of the console and hold them in your hand and use the JoyCons wirelessly, you can’t use both of them together like you can when they are connected to the console. When they are separated from the console, the game mistakenly assumes that two people will be using one each. An entirely stupid decision. If there’s only one player, then let the player use both. If a second player wants to join, then remap the keys so each player is separate. Don’t just make bad assumptions about this.

Even if you place the two controllers into a JoyCon Grip to make the JoyCons feel like a Pro controller, the game still assumes one controller per person. Bad, bad design. It gets worse, again. If you want to hold the JoyCon horizontally so that the buttons are on the right and so you can hold the single JoyCon with both hands… not possible. The only possible orientation for holding the JoyCon is vertical.

I’m very disappointed in Nintendo and Game Freak here. It keeps getting worse. Because the JoyCons are not capable of the same distance away from the Switch as the Pro Controller, the connectivity to the console is entirely spotty using the JoyCons when it is docked several feet from you. Unless you intend to game with the console just a few inches in front of you (in which case you might as well attach them), using the JoyCons at a distance is entirely problematic and frustrating.

So, the only way to use both controllers to play the game as a single player is when they are connected to the console and that means holding the Switch in your hand playing it using the built-in screen. You CANNOT play Pokémon Let’s Go using the Pro controller at all or by using both JoyCons together when they are not attached. You are forced to play this game using a single JoyCon per player when detached. A stupid and unnecessary requirement and decision. And people wonder why Nintendo is in third place for its consoles.

Pokéball Plus Controller

pokeball-plus.jpgNow that I’ve found, purchased and have had a chance to use a Pokéball Plus controller, I understand Nintendo’s reasoning not to support the Pro controller. It’s all in the name of making yet more money off of a new gadget. Considering that the Pokéball Plus controller costs $50 (just $20 shy of a Pro controller), this Pokémon game is simply a scam means to get you to buy into this new Pokéball controller.

With that said, the Pokéball Plus controller plays the game substantially better than using the JoyCons wirelessly and it has a longer wireless range. Though, with this controller, it’s still nowhere near perfect. However, I do see the attraction in using it.

The Pokéball Plus controller has two main functions:

1) To toss at your screen (cables hopefully keep it in check) and capture Pokémon with Pokéballs. When you toss, it simulates the action of throwing a Pokéball. The throwing action is heavily reminiscent of using a Wiimote.

2) The center knob acts as a joystick and the A button. On the red half, there’s another button that acts as the B button. I’m concerned with the longevity of this controller as you push through a rubberized surface to depress the button. I’m not sure how well that rubberized material will last.

Like the Wiimote, there’s a speaker in the ball. So, you’ll occasionally hear noises coming from the Pokémon when you trap them in the Pokéball. It’s a cute feature, but it’s really just a gimmick and the volume is no where near loud enough.

The downside is that the Y button is used throughout the game, but there’s no Y button on the Pokéball Plus controller. This means you’ll miss all of the areas where Y is used. Worse, there’s no way to take a screen snap or begin a video. You’ll still need to have your JoyCons sitting out for these functions. There’s also no button to get back to the Switch’s main desktop (to easily share videos and snapshots). Because you can only have two controllers active at any one time in this game, you can either have the left JoyCon active (sharing button) or the right JoyCon active (desktop button) in addition to the Pokéball Plus controller. This means you need to choose either to have the sharing button active with the Pokéball Plus or to have the desktop button active with the Pokéball Plus.

Basically, sharing anything from Pokémon Let’s Go is a pain in the rear. It’s just not easy, and it should be. If the single active controller could be the Pro controller, having both the sharing and desktop buttons available would be simple. Nooooo…. they can’t do that. This is only a problem if you have your Switch in the dock. If you’re carrying the Switch around with you and the JoyCons are attached, this isn’t a problem.

For the price of the Pokéball Plus, it’s a hard sell. Thankfully, I got it for about $36, but if you have to pay $50 for it, I’d certainly think twice. There is the game bundle where you get the game and the controller in one package. I don’t think it saves you any money, but it’s one way to give both as a gift. I bought the controller separately.

The round shape, unfortunately, leaves some to be desired. I’ve had problems with spherical shaped input devices in the past and these same problems arise here. If you don’t put the strap on correctly, you’ll always end up holding the ball backwards. You’ll have to take it off and flip it around. This makes it tedious to use this controller. Even if you are holding the ball in the correct orientation, if the controller position in your hand is slightly off, moving the character can be difficult. I find myself constantly readjusting my grip on the ball so that the joystick moves the character correctly.

The accuracy of “throwing” the Pokéball controller is hit or miss. Sometimes I think I’m throwing it correctly, but the ball goes off to the left or the right and misses. It’s a cool idea, but the accuracy and execution of this controller just doesn’t work all of the time. However, I will say that it is more accurate than trying to use a JoyCon. So, there’s at least that.

If I’ve somehow managed to sell you on getting a Pokéball Plus controller, I’d recommend looking for it at your local Best Buy store. Amazon appears to be out of stock and third parties on Amazon are selling it for $75 or higher. It’s also likely to be a hot seller over the holidays. If you’re considering it as a gift, I’d suggest going and getting it now. Don’t wait for Black Friday sales. It’s not likely to go on sale anyway. Just find it at Best Buy for $50 and pay for it at that price. If you have a Best Buy rewards card, I’d suggest using that with your purchase. You can eventually get some money back on it.

Dock

This game almost completely ignores the fact that there’s a dock and, as a result, doesn’t properly support it. Instead of allowing use of the Pro controller when docked, it forces you to pull the JoyCons off of the Switch or use the Pokéball Plus controller instead. I found the JoyCons to be cumbersome, problematic and unwieldy. We spend $70 for the Pro controller and we can’t even use it. To not be able to use the Pro controller on Pokémon (one of Nintendo’s flagship properties) is just an extremely bad design choice. It also ignores the the idea of using the dock to play your game on your large screen TV. It almost seems the developers want to force you to play this game out of the dock by holding the Switch in your hand. In fact, I’d consider Pokémon Let’s Go to be Nintendo’s first real misstep on the Switch platform. Let’s hope this is not a sign of things to come as missteps like this could doom the Switch to failure.

Game Play

img_0064Not completely ignoring the stupidism that is the controller system (which is stupid), the gameplay is underwhelming. Sure, Nintendo finally added the ability to see the Pokémon running around in the weeds before you collect it, but that’s of little concession when the game is basically the same game as every other DS version.

Let’s go back to the controller again, but for a different reason than above. When you are attempting to capture Pokémon with the JoyCons attached to the Switch, it’s much, much easier and simpler to throw Pokéballs. The ball throwing motion needed when using a detached JoyCon is much, much more difficult for no apparent reason. Worse, when using a loose JoyCon, the hand on the screen when trying to interact with your Pokémon is entirely difficult, where using the touch screen is easy peasy. Here’s another place where forcing the use of a JoyCon a tremendously bad idea. The motion to throw a Pokéball with the Pro controller would mimic the same motion used when holding the console… where using the a detached JoyCon for throwing a Pokéball is … well … strange.

Game Design

img_0068I was actually expecting a whole lot more use of the player camera than what is being offered. It’s effectively a 3DS version ported to the Switch. Nintendo completely missed the opportunity to give this game a much needed facelift for the Switch, like they did for Breath of the Wild. It is effectively the same game as every other Pokémon game. This is quite disappointing, but it’s also a double edged sword.

For some players, it is like a comfortable glove. If you’ve played Pokémon in the past, then you can fall right into this game without any problems at all. It’s old hat and feels old hat. The graphics are improved, but it needed a more open world RPG style update rather than this constrained old-school Pokémon conversion.

I’m sure a lot of people will absolutely adore this game. Because Nintendo has chosen to play games with how the controllers work, it really constrains this game to feeling rushed and unfinished or a really bad port.

Graphics

To be honest, the graphics are very low res, flat and cartoony. I sort of expected this, but not at this low of a level. It’s at such a low level, that it looks like a Nintendo DS. Though, as I said above, it is somewhat better than the DS only from the fact that the resolution is higher… but that’s not really saying much.

Overall,  was expecting a whole lot more from this game.

 

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Score

Graphics: 4.5 out of 10 (Underwhelming)
Sound: 2 out of 10 (Music is way too loud and unnecessary)
Controls: 2 out of 10 (Controller system is strange, no Pro controller support)

Overall: 4 out of 10 (Antiquated, strange controller design, seems unfinished or bad port)

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Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Posted in reviews, video game, video game design by commorancy on October 6, 2018

a2b4debe8beb1ac5dee92d4a3774b014Truly, there’s nothing wrong with this game. Nothing, except for the fact that it’s an almost identical functional clone of Assassin’s Creed Origins, chock full of all the same bugs in Origins. I’ll make this one somewhat short and sweet. Let’s Explore.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Earlier in the year, I wrote a rather lengthy game review of Assassin’s Creed Origins. I had a lot of gripes about Origins. Well, I’m sorry to say that few of my suggestions in that review made it into Odyssey. Most of those design flaws were pulled straight into Odyssey, something I should have expected.

I’m not going to write much on this game because I already had my long-winded say with Origins. Writing it here again would simply be redundant. I’ll suggest heading on over to read Randocity’s Assassin’s Creed Origins game review if you’re curious to find out what things I truly disliked.

Clone

If we thought Origins was a simple money grab, Odyssey most definitely is. Ubisoft basically copied the entire Origins game, created a new character or two, added a few new quests and called it a day. Odyssey is literally just a rethemed Origins with a slightly different locale and storyline. There’s also a bit more sailing involved, but the ship battles still offer a mostly horrible game mechanic. Senu is replaced by Ikaros. It also adds recruiting lieutenants for the ship which is akin to Brotherhood and already been done. You can recruit them all day, but you can’t do anything with them. Though, it’s a good mechanism to use to prevent bodies from being littered all over a fort when you’re trying clear it out in a stealthy way.

Overall, Odyssey feels like a clone designed to make Ubisoft yet more money without doing a lot of work. I was actually afraid of this possibility when I heard that Odyssey was announced so quickly after Origins.

Combat

I take some of what I said back. Odyssey is actually worse than Origins in combat. Now not only do enemies STILL use the stupid backing up tactic, now they climb away from you. I don’t know who thought THAT was a good idea? Enemies who are engaged in combat should STAY engaged in combat WHERE THEY ARE. Finish the battle right there. I don’t want to have to keep chasing them down to fight them somewhere else. Stay put!

Worse, the enemies are even MORE sensitive than in Origins. As soon as even one sees you, the whole camp knows you’re there. That’s just ass. There is no way one single enemy can alert the whole camp without a warning. And since he’s been engaged in combat the whole time, there is no way for him to alert. Sure, you might argue the clanking of swords might alert someone, but in reality, these guys fight test fights anyway. So, that’s not enough alone to alert the whole camp.

Desynchronization Game Loading

This part is just a total clusterf***. When I save a manual game save, if it is the most current save, I expect that game to be loaded after a desync. No, it doesn’t. It loads some random previous autosave instead. This forces me to wait through that autosave to load, then I have to go and load my manual save again. Stupid and time wasting. Ubisoft, get with the program here.

After a battlefield battle, it’s even worse. This is just some shit. If you run off the battlefield, the battle restarts immediately. If you desync, the game forces you to endure the entire restart of the battle including talking to Stentar and going through all of the game choices. OMG. NO effing NO. If you can restart the battle simply by abandoning it, you can let us rejoin without having to go through that long ass restart process.

Battlefield Simulators

Okay, no. This piece is just suck, all the way through. This is Assassin’s Creed. Got it, Ubisoft? It’s about Assassins. It’s not Warrior’s Creed, it’s Assassin’s Creed. Right? Say it with me Ubisoft, “Assassin’s Creed.” If I wanted to play WAR battles, I’d play Battlefield or Call of Duty or any other war simulator. Ubisoft has plainly gone off the deep end. No more battlefield simulators in Assassin’s Creed games, particularly when they are entirely useless (more about that later).

If you want to add this crap in, then at least let the hero act as an assassin and use the assassin moves. At least let my character get away from the battle and work on stealth or long range tactics. No, you can’t. As soon as the battle starts, at least two guards earmark you and there’s no way to get rid of them short of killing them. Even then, that triggers even more guards to come after you. You can’t shake them to hide and perform stealth maneuvers. Again, this is Assassin’s Creed!

Worse, there’s absolutely no warning of this play mechanic until it’s on top of you. Then, it’s too late to go back and bone up on the warrior skills. You have to fail out and then “come back later”. I hate that shit in a game. If you’re going to lead me into a battle simulator, at least give me a warning that shit is coming long before I get there so I can plan my skill-ups and armor accordingly.

Worse, these battlefield simulators are entirely pointless. You can win the war and claim victory for Sparta, then about a day later in the game be required to go do it again. What’s the point in claiming victory over a territory if you have to keep doing it over and over and over? At least warn me the territory is about to fall to the hands of the Athenians and let me go take care of it before it does.

Such absolute crap!

Bosses

I can’t speak for all bosses, but this particular boss is annoying as all hell. This is the Kalydonian Boar. This thing has two attack phases and the second phase is as frustrating as it is unnecessary. Thanks Ubisoft for making such crap bosses. The boar claims to be a level 13, the same as me. Yet, it takes massive numbers of hits to even whittle its health down. It’s not a 13, it’s like a 26. I hate this fake numbering of bosses when they are many, many levels of above you. Truth in labeling, Ubisoft. Tell us what the actual boss’s level is. Don’t sugarcoat it making us think it’s a 13 when it’s actually 26.

As soon as you enter the ring, it runs at you full speed. If you’re lucky, you can miss this attack and start hammering on it. That’s not the issue. As soon as you whittle its health down by about 1/8th, 4 baby boars show up and start goring you, in addition to big boar boss. Swarming is not something I go in for in any game of any type. When swarming is the tactic, I’m out. I also call bullshit on that tactic. It’s just a way to whittle your health down for big daddy boss. To me, this is a bullshit tactic. I’m here to fight the boss boar, not a bunch of annoying baby boar. And, where the hell did they come from anyway? They’re not in the cave and don’t emerge from the cave. They just miraculously spawn onto to the field. Again, I call bullshit. If you’re going to have enemies show up on the field, make the idea at least appear real. Put cages and open them up so we can at least know what’s coming. Just magically making them appear out of thin air is total BS.

The problem I have with the baby boar is that they gored at me so much, they pushed me off the playing field which… stupidly… resets big boss boar’s health, but not mine. I’m still being gored with red health, yet big boss boar has miraculously healed and the whole thing has reset. Yet, baby boar hang around to be a nuisance? Get with the program Ubisoft.

Even though big boss boar won’t leave the playing field, baby boar will and they’ll chase you down even if you leave the ring. Again, I call bullshit on this design.

In fact, there are so many design problems with this boss level I don’t even know where to begin:

  • If you’re going to have a border that resets the whole thing, then mark it clearly with some kind of translucent effect. I need to know when I’m about to leave it and can move back into the field.
  • I also need to be warned with a “return to the battle” timer to avoid resetting the boss.
  • I should be able to kill this thing from the top of a cliff with an arrow. Nope, you are forced to enter the playing field and battle the boss boar strictly with melee weapons. Total bullshit.
  • No baby boar necessary. The level is well hard enough without that extra crap.
  • If you’re going to spawn baby boar, when I leave the area, they need to despawn immediately.
  • Set up the baby boar in the cave and have them come out of there so at least it makes sense where they came from.
  • Truth in labeling. If the boss is level 26, then put that number above its head.

More crap design from Ubisoft. This is kinda becoming a trend, Ubisoft. Might want to work on that.

Wood, Wood Everywhere, But None To Cut

As you wander around this forested landscape in Greece, you’ll notice a lot of wooded areas with so much wood, you might be wondering why you’re limited to “Olive Wood”? This part about games like this one makes me terribly frustrated. Just give me an axe and let me chop trees down. Don’t make me hunt all over the land for tiny “special” spriglets that are difficult to find and even more difficult to see.

Wood can only be obtained through the small mentioned spriglets like so:

Assassin's Creed® Odyssey_20181019111022

Instead of being able to use the ready amount of wood you find everywhere as far as the eye can see, you’re limited to locating these tiny little shrublets and harvesting them. It’s stupid.

The resources needed to upgrade your weapons and armor are wood, leather, metal and various crystals. You find these only in specially marked items on the ground and in war chests. In fact, it takes a ton of wood to make arrows, so you’re almost constantly running out just to keep your arrows stocked. On top of this, upgrading your weapons and armor requires tons of all of the listed resources… particularly Legendary Armor that requires a literal shit ton of it.

Assassin's Creed® Odyssey_20181019105956

I can understand the leather problem to an extent. The wood problem has no explanation at all. With piles of wood sitting around like this, what the hell?

The problem I have with leather in this game is that a steer that should yield the maximum amount of leather for any animal, but instead yields about 3 pieces. A bear which is probably smaller than most steer yields 10-15 pieces. An elk yields about 3 pieces. An elk is easily the size of the steer. These numbers are so artificially low, it’s just frustrating to go out and search for this. Oddly enough, wolves tend to yield the most amount of leather even though they’re dog sized. Go figure.

Ultimately, the resources are so scarce it’s not really even much fun to go chase after them. I easily spend hours running around collecting this stuff when I should be concentrating on making progress in the game’s story. Yet, to progress I need to upgrade my armor which requires these resources. So here I am, spending hours running around the game trying to find stupid little trees.

Then there’s Orichalcum. How many currencies do we need in a game and why? I’m getting a little frustrated with having 10 or more different currencies to buy from various vendors. Can we standardize on a single in-game currency, please?

Chickens

This story is as humorous as it is frustrating. It also sums up all of the things wrong with Odyssey in a nutshell. I had just gotten my behind kicked by some animal or NPC. I was running away to recoup my health. Anyway, my health was on the verge of being out (like one tiny little tick). I made my way into a city and a chicken attacked me. I’d never been attacked by a chicken EVER in Assassin’s Creed of any version. That chicken’s attack desynced my character. I know this was an intentional addition. The game made the chicken attack me because my health was that low.

This game is wrongly opportunistic in this way. I’m sure some developer thought this is extremely funny to add this in, but it isn’t. I wasn’t attacking this chicken nor had I made any motions to attack it. However, I do now. Every time I cross paths with a chicken, it dies. This is something that should be removed from the game as it is entirely unnecessary.

Perfect Vision

NPC characters in the game have perfect vision. I’m not even visible around a corner and NPCs see me and come after me. Again, this is so wrong. NPC vision shouldn’t be that acute. Yet another game design flaw. This is one of those pet peeves about games that truly drives me crazy. Game AI characters should have the ability to “see” about as far as 10 feet in the dark, maximum.

Overall

If you like Origins, you’ll probably like Odyssey. Unfortunately, it doesn’t offer anything substantially different over Origins in combat, exploration or play value. In fact, I haven’t found much that’s majorly different from Origins. The one substantial change I’ve found is that you can play as either Alexios (male) or Kassandra (female). Everything else is pretty much Origins all over again. You can easily fall right into Odyssey as an extension of Origins without batting an eye. The controls are the same, the play value is the same, heck even the lands seem the same.

The graphics are still very pretty and the landscape is amazing to behold, but I got jaded by that with Origins. What I see in Odyssey seems just the same as Origins. In fact, I thought that in some ways, the Bayek character and his armor looked better than Alexios and his armor. It’s almost like the Alexios character was rushed or something.

It’s also nice not to hear the same NPC banter constantly being spoken over and over and over. So, that’s a nice change in Odyssey. It makes the play experience quite a bit less annoying, but you can avoid that in Origins simply by turning the voices off.

Because all of the same things about Origins that I disliked went directly into Odyssey (sans the NPC sayings), I’m giving this game the same review I gave to Origins. You’ll want to read Randocity’s Origins review to find out all of those nitty-gritty details. So, head on over to the Origins review right after this one.

Photo Mode Broken

I’m not sure what Ubisoft is doing over there, but they love breaking photo mode. It was broken in Origins and it is again broken in Odyssey. Half of the time the filter selection doesn’t work (up and down d-pad is locked out). The other half of the time, the HUD doesn’t disappear after 10 seconds preventing using the console’s snapshot feature. Seriously Ubisoft, if you can’t get photo mode working 100%, then why include it at all?

Slideshow

Here’s a slideshow of various images I’ve captured in Odyssey. Oh yes, it’s pretty… very, very pretty. Too bad it doesn’t play as nicely as it is pretty.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Score for Odyssey

Graphics: 9 out of 10
Sound: 7 out of 10
Game Saves: 4 out of 10
Gameplay: 4 out of 10
Controls: 4 out of 10
Combat: 3 out of 10
Stories: 5 out of 10
Multiplayer: 0 out of 10 (there is no multiplayer or co-op).
Stability: 2 out of 10 (unstable, laggy, infused with same bugs as Origins, at times unplayable)

Final Rating: 4 stars out of 10
Recommendation: Buy this game at $20 or less from the bargain bin or rent it.

Game Review: Spider-Man

Posted in botch, video game, video game design by commorancy on September 8, 2018

SpiderMan2Here’s Randocity’s review of Sony’s 2018 Spider-Man (Insomniac Games) exclusively for the PS4. Unlike so many other game magazines, this review will be brutally honest. Unfortunately, other than photo mode, there’s not a lot to like here. This review will also be short and sweet and somewhat brutal. Let’s explore.

No Holds Barred

SpiderMan1To be perfectly fair, I wanted to like this game. I really did. Unfortunately, this game is one of the worst Spider-Man games I’ve ever played. The absolute worst Spider-Man game being Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions. Dimensions looked great, played like crap. Same problem here, well mostly. Not only is Spider-Man incredibly weak, he dies at the drop of the hat even on casual play. Dying wouldn’t be quite so bad if it didn’t take ages to reload the game. Absolutely worse, the whole game simply devolves into a button masher. This is not why I buy Spider-Man games. I buy Spider-Man games to swing around the city and occasionally get in brawls. I don’t want to spend 90% of my time brawling as a button masher. Basically, this game effing sucks rocks.

Controls

The controls are, in fact, most of the reason this game sucks. I’m all for web slinging fun, but this goes way beyond into craptacular territory. The first mission is practically impossible to complete, even on easy mode. The game simply doesn’t give you enough moves (or health) to take these guys out quickly. The AI on the enemies is frustrating and nonsensical. Worse, the controls make so many mistakes. When I try to get away from enemy, instead, the game chooses to perform a slide under which puts me right next to the enemy… the exact opposite of what I’m trying to do.

Focus

The “focus” game mechanic is entirely unnecessary, distracting and so lamely implemented that it actually prevents you from using it as intended. What is focus for? Healing. In fact, you gain focus so slowly, you can’t even use it to heal. There is no other way to heal other than spending focus. Let’s let that sink in for a moment.

SpiderMan5

What the hell is with healing through focus, anyway? Whose brilliantly crappy game mechanic idea was this? Just let Spider-Man heal naturally on his own. Don’t make me have to take action to heal him. If Spider-Man needs healing by external means, then put first aid kits around the levels and let me just automatically pick them up and apply them. This whole gaining Focus mechanic is so sloppily implemented, I don’t even know how the game designers thought it would be useful. Why not just use health pickups, you know, like practically every other game? Why throw in something so convoluted that it’s useless?

Distracting Game Mechanics

Here’s my biggest pet peeve with these distracting and unnecessary game mechanics. While I understand that Insomniac wanted something new to add to their repertoire of features, game designers should never implement a new game mechanic solely because it’s new. Instead, game mechanics must enhance the game, not detract from it. Why does the focus mechanism fail so badly? It fails because now you’re requiring gamers to watch the focus and health bars constantly. This means moving your eyes away from an ever changing play field of AI enemies.

In this game, even taking your eyes off of the, admittedly, poorly designed and unrealistic AI enemy combat moves, will see your health drop from 100 to 20 (or less) in one blow (even on easy mode). Ignoring the fact that Spider-Man is a superhero in the Marvel universe, has super strength and is super resistant to injury, there should never ever be a mechanic designed that forces the gamer to take his/her eyes off of the combat field and then manually apply health.

Instead, if you’re planning on forcing a health recovery system, then the health system should either auto-regenerate or self-apply at critically low levels. I shouldn’t have to monitor my character’s weak health and manually apply anything. Spider-Man is a superhero… a Marvel SUPERHERO! Treat him as such and at least give him some level of auto-health generation. Seriously, what is the point in manual application of health in this game? It is absolutely not a challenge, it’s just stupid design.

Web Slinging Cooldown

What was the point in this game mechanic? You have six bars of web action that when depleted means you can’t use your web to subdue any more enemies. No NO NO! Why is there an arbitrary count of how many times you can use your web? Again, this doesn’t make the game challenging, it makes the game stupid. If he has the ability to create web, then it should work 100% of the time or until he runs out of web solution. If you plan to add a game mechanic here, then make it a mechanic that sees him run out of web entirely and need to change his web canisters. At least, that’s realistic. Though, why even do that? This isn’t intended to be a simulation, it’s intended to be a superhero game. Just let Spider-Man sling webs infinitely. There’s no point in this web cooldown system at all.

Spider-Man is Weak

The other big problem I have with this game is that Spider-Man isn’t treated like a Marvel superhero at all. He’s like a random schmoe who picked up a costume and decided to be a vigilante. Not only does it take many blows on an enemy to finally knock them out, Spider-Man loses health at an incredibly rapid rate, even from just one bullet or one enemy punch. This is entirely ridiculous. He’s a Marvel superhero, not a random normal guy in a costume.

Insomniac treated this version of the Spider-Man character with all of the grace of a bull in a china shop, bumbling their developmental way through to a game that, in my opinion, barely resembles Spider-Man.

Photo Mode

The one and only one redeeming feature of this game is photo mode. If you’ve used photo mode on Assassin’s Creed Origins, then you’ll feel right at home in this one as photo mode looks and behaves nearly identical. This feature doesn’t make the game worth playing by a long shot. But, the composition tool does have some cool overlays (see the first image in this article), assuming you can actually play enough into the game to use these overlays in some real way.

Overall

My rating for this game is 3 out of 10. It needs a whole lot more developmental time and it needed better usability play testing. It’s not worth playing. If you must play it, then rent it from Redbox or rent it someplace else. Or, wait for it to get to $15 at Gamestop. Don’t waste your money buying this trite piece of Sony garbage unless you truly enjoy torturing yourself with really bad games. If Insomniac can push out patches that can address all of these identified problems (doubtful), then maybe this game might improve. I wouldn’t hold my breath.

For me, this game goes back to Gamestop as a trade-in. I’ll wait until the game drops in price which will have given Insomniac plenty of time to release more patches… not that that will improve this game. Though, I’m willing to give it a second shot much later in the future.

Graphics: 8 out of 10
Audio: 8 out of 10
Voice Acting: 8 out of 10
Gameplay: 2 out of 10 (repetitive, nothing new)
Combat: 1 out of 10 (enemies swarm in unrealistic ways, manual health application)
Overall: 2 out of 10 (rent only)

If this article helped you, please leave a comment below.

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Game Review: Detroit — Become Human

Posted in video game, video game design by commorancy on May 27, 2018

Chloe from Detroit Becoming HumanI’m usually a big fan of Quantic Dream video games. However, this one tries a little too hard and fails in many ways. Let’s explore.

SPOILER ALERT

If you’re interested in playing this game, this review may contain spoilers. You should stop reading now and play first. I encourage you to come back to this review once you have played it.

Story

This is a story of android emancipation. The world has androids as servants which are being sold in retail stores. They are used as personal assistants, house maids and so on. However, something has happened and androids have awoken from their blissful subservience into thinking and feeling entities. Herein lies the opening of this story and the game.

Stories vs Gameplay

Let’s take a step back just a little from this game and analyze its broader genre within the game industry. The story versus gameplay war has been waged in earnest for the last 10 years, particularly when Quantic Dream released Heavy Rain on the PS3 in 2010. Note that there have been a semblance of these kinds of cinematic games going all the way back to the Amiga days with Rocket Ranger and Defender of the Crown. But, these full blown episodic TV games arrived with Heavy Rain. With the release of Heavy Rain came a game where you effectively watched a TV show unfold with periodic button choices thrown in to change the flow of the narrative.

Well, that’s exactly Detroit: Become Human. In fact, the story that’s being told in Detroit seems like a failed TV series turned into a video game. In reality, that’s what it is. That’s not to say there’s not actual button-press game play in this game, but these segments are so infrequent as to feel less like a game and more like watching a TV show with an interactive narrative component.

Note that there have been a number of episodic style games released very similar to Detroit. In addition to Heavy Rain, these include The Last Of Us, Quantum Break, L.A. Noire, Beyond Two Souls and the Alan Wake series. Note that Quantum Break took this whole idea one step further by including 20 minute (or longer) live actor-filmed episodic TV segments as part of your reward for finishing a game segment. That game was truly like watching episodic TV. Detroit doesn’t make this leap, but does the next best thing by trying to make its rendering as photo realistic as possible on the PS4.

Choices

As with all Quantic Dream games, the game is reasonably chock full of gamer choices. That is, choices that you make that affect whether a character lives or dies or whether you uncover an important detail or not. Though, even Quantic Dream’s stories are not unlimited and must follow a certain limited path to the end. Yes, there may be two or three outcomes, but ultimately the outcomes don’t drastically affect the next segment or, indeed, the entire plot. In fact, the choices may not affect much at all.

Chapters

The game breaks each ‘episode’ into chapters. Each chapter focuses on a specific character and their role in that particular story segment. Occasionally, the chapter switches between two or three different characters… and even less frequently, sometimes the characters meet.

What is the story?

The story is much like I, Robot. It’s about androids that become self-aware and, instead of simply being a utilitarian “thing” now wish all of the equality that humans have. Effectively, it’s a modern day slave story… where humans enslave androids for utilitarian purposes, yet they wake up and become aware that they no longer want this and wish to live free.

As a result, Markus (an android hero of this story) rises up to revolt against humans and bring the android freedom cause front and center. How you make that cause unfold is up to the gamer. You can effectively go pacifist or violent. If you go violent, the story unfolds a certain way. If you go the pacifist way, then the story takes a different turn. It’s left up to the gamer to choose the path.

Story Inconsistencies and Contrivances

Unfortunately, Quantic Dream’s writers failed in a number of important ways. For one, the story establishes that androids have direct contact memory probe capabilities. One android can probe another android’s “mind” simply through touch. Yet in one segment of the game, there’s a 1.5 minute timer that counts down after an android is revived and before it expires again. In this segment, you’re playing as Connor (an android enlisted to work with the cops to solve ‘Deviant’ murders). A deviant is an android that is no longer obeying its central programming and has become self-aware and can make choices for itself.

In this 1.5 minute countdown timer, an android needs to impart crucial information for Connor’s and Hank’s investigation. It would have been simple for Connor to touch and extract that data he needed in less than a second without saying a word to the android. This would have made the countdown timer pointless, yes. Instead, the game forces you to waste time using speech to try to talk to the android via interrogation. If it had been Hank (Connor’s human partner) forced to do perform this investigation segment, this section would have made sense. But, since it was Connor performing this interrogation, it made no sense at all. It’s these stupid little story details that are a pet peeve and that get in the way of telling the story. It doesn’t matter whether the story is in a game or in a novel, logic must be followed in full. If the story’s details aren’t logically presented, then the story fails.

A second one of these writer failures was after Connor is shot and dies in a previous segment. I won’t say exactly how, when or by whom, but it happens. Yet, in the next chapter, Connor is very much alive, undamaged, dressed in his normal Connor android garb. He looks the same and meets up with Amanda in the garden yet again. Is it the same Connor? *shrug* A tombstone in Amanda’s garden says not, but who erects tombstones for androids and when and why would it have been erected? How would Amanda have even known? There was no story detail to state that Amanda had even known of Connor’s demise. However, the title to the upper right of this segment says ‘Betrayed’ with a down red pointer. Amanda completely ignores this betrayal. Without any explanation, Amanda talks with Connor and inexplicably gives him yet one more chance to quash the android rebellion. If this were a replaced Connor as the tombstone suggests, this replacement would have some significant drawbacks… particularly the rapport that he had built with Hank along with all of the knowledge Connor had built up about the deviants’ hide out. Though, later, another story contrivance shows that androids can somehow transfer their entire memory consciousness in the 2 seconds it takes to fall off of a several story building. If this is the case, then why would Connor be afraid of dying in one section of the game?

A third contrivance is the rA9 moniker that’s found written all over walls and posters during the beginning of the game. In fact, Connor makes a point of stating that rA9 had been written on a wall over 1000 times. Yet, halfway through this game, the thread is dropped never to be heard from again. What the hell, guys? If you’re going to bring it up as an important discussion point, at least close it out at the end of the story! Was Markus the rA9 or not? And, what is an rA9? This one deserves an eye roll.

Unfortunately, much of this game is chock full of such story contrivances… this is why I call this premise a failed TV series. Perhaps it’s time for video game studios to actually hire some seasoned TV writers to write these video game stories, particularly when they are so cinematic in nature. These video game stories need to hold up to logical scrutiny in just the same way as any story arc does. Quantic Dream, you need to hire better writers and you need your games to follow through with every story detail.

Gameplay

Combat is where the game really fails the hardest. For some die-hard Mortal Kombat fans, the combat part of the game might be considered fun. For us casual gamers, where random button presses don’t make sense, this section of the game is not only no fun, it entirely detracts from the game and story being told.

This game intentionally plays mostly like one very long cinematic with only small and brief interruptions for you to control a specific character to accomplish a task, get from point A to B or to make a decision. These small interruptions in the narrative only serve to force the gamer to lead the story down a specific path. However, the majority of the game is like watching episodic TV. Unfortunately, Quantic Dream made the entirely wrong control choice for the combat portions.

Much of the game choices are a casual X press or a motion of the controller or some simple untimed action. These casual selections are perfectly acceptable. However, when it gets into full on combat, this is where the Mortal Kombat style combos take over. A style, I might add, that is entirely no fun and detracts heavily from the story at hand. Not only is the gamer presented with sometimes 15-20 different button presses, six-axis motion, multi-button presses, shoulder button presses or any number of other combo choices, they’re presented with such randomness and in such quick timed succession that unless you have the reflexes of an android, you’re not likely to succeed pressing most of them on time. Frustrating.

In these combat sections, the timers are incredibly short, sometimes less than half a second. The button or movement choice also doesn’t make sense with the action requested. You could press the left arrow joystick to kick then press R1 the next action to kick then press X the third time to kick. There’s absolutely no rhyme or reason to why an action ends up on a specific button.

The only saving grace is that these actions are the same in each play through. If you want, you can map them out and then follow them like a script. However, the easier method is to keep pressing pause. This gives you enough time to decipher which button it is, prepare, take it out of pause, press it, then pause again. Whether or not you use pause, this combat system heavily detracts from the story action, so much so you can’t even keep up with what’s going on.

It’s entirely one thing for a developer to assign a specific combat action to a specific button. For example, many games assign X to a sword press or some other melee attack. The left shoulder button button might be block or parry. The triangle button might be kick or jump. When they’re hard mapped, you know what they do. It’s entirely another thing to free form map actions with random abandon. In this game, there is no mapping. The buttons being pressed or the actions being performed have no logical sense to whatever the character is doing. The button or action appears randomly and the gamer is expected to decipher that, process it and press that button all in less than a second. Some gamers are very good at this, many are not. This means that, by choice, Quantic Dream has automatically alienated a lot of gamers who are not good with this style of combat. A style of combat, I might add, that is perfectly placed in Mortal Kombat, but makes zero sense in a narrative driven story like Detroit: Become Human. Who at Quantic Dream thought this was a good idea? The question then is… Do you want your game accessible to all types of gamers or just those who are good at this style of combat? This is QD’s biggest fail in this game.

As gamers, we want predictability in our combat button mapping. We want to know that X is mapped to melee attack. It’s simple to understand why. When we get into combat, we press X naturally. It then becomes second nature pressing X. Most of us don’t want to second guess what’s about to appear on the screen, then try to reach for the button in time. It works fine with Guitar Hero, but it sucks hard in a game like Detroit.

Additionally, the failure with this random combat style is that you don’t know when the next press will appear on the screen. It could come immediately after a previous press or it could be 5 to 10 seconds later. Sometimes you need to wait 1 minute for a bunch of screen action to play out before the next is presented. Sometimes they appear in rapid succession. It’s the combination of this full randomness that is what I consider not only a horrible combat system, but one of the worst I’ve ever encountered in any game. It is also entirely out of place here.

For the gamer who’s trying to remain focused on the story, this gameplay style completely detracts from watching the unfolding story. Not only can you not focus on the story action at hand, you’re so focused on that next button press that that’s all you’re looking for. There’s also no warning when combat starts. It starts without warning and ends without warning. Most recent games have begun adding musical queues to know when you’re going into combat and when you’ve left it. Not here. Worse, there’s no way to succeed in this gameplay section without tunnel vision focus on the button presses. Even then, you’re likely to miss a few. The game doesn’t even let you know if you’ve ‘won’ or ‘lost’ this action scene after missing one or more than one of these moves. In fact, ‘won’ or ‘loss’ is randomly part of the story whether or not you succeed in hitting every move. In this game, these actions are, in fact, entirely pointless.

This, Quantic Dream, is your greatest failure in this narrative. Not only does this combat style entirely detract from the cinematic / TV episodic nature of the story, it forces the gamer to become so tunnel vision focused to avoid missing a button press, the story is lost. You simply cannot watch what the characters are doing AND play the combo button game. Even more than this, when the combat is all over, the character may die anyway because, you know, story. When designing a combat segment, make that combat actually mean something… especially when the gamer has to jump through hoops to get there. Else, just let the combat play out based on previous dialog choices.

To me, this style of combat is on par with fetch quests. They’re a means to an end, yes, but the techniques are forced, contrived and unnecessary… particularly in a game that relies on this level of cinematic storytelling.

Characters battling other Characters — Confusion

Latching onto the previous combat issue presented, this issue extends that problem even further. There are at least two times in the game when two of your characters end up fighting each other. The already convoluted combat system becomes even more convoluted and confusing. I didn’t think that was possible. Yet, on top of the random button presses and actions, now you can’t even decipher to which character the action is attached. Was that last move for Connor or Hank? *shrug* Sometimes you can tell when they’re far enough apart. Most times, they’re struggling with each other, when the button or action appears, you don’t know to which character the action applies. This system is completely detestable.

Seriously, how did this game even get out of beta testing with this level of combat confusion?

Unexpected Choices and Restarting

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible to predict the story outcomes from choices you make. The dialog choices which seem the most innocent and the least problematic can turn out the most deadly for your characters. This is frustrating on so many levels. Because of this unpredictability of story, it’s almost impossible to read into a specific dialog choice and assume you know what it might accomplish. This is particularly problematic when dialog choices are strung together one right after the other, but then the outcome playback isn’t seen until after all choices have been made. This is an incredibly poor design choice. Instead, the dialog choices should unfold one at a time immediately after each choice.

Many actions I would have deemed to be the ‘safe’ choice end up getting a character killed or taking the story in the wrong direction. This unpredictability, while good in one way, is a horrible idea in the long run. You do want some character predictability. Characters should act in specific ways, or more specifically, show a certain type of moral bent. If I want to keep that character on that same moral path, that shouldn’t lead to death for other characters. I shouldn’t have to compromise my character’s morals to keep some other character alive. The AI should understand this ideal and uphold it for each character. Should you decide to take a character down a path that’s nefarious intentionally, then the consequences should be problematic.

I find the storytelling problems disturbing on so many levels with Detroit. If taking a specific action leads to certain death for a character, or at least a high probability for danger, that choice should be called out in the dialog by flagging it with a red color. At least let me know that the choice that I’m about to make won’t necessarily end well. In reality, the game should offer at least some level of foreshadowing in the choices. For example, if you drink too much then choose to drive, the dangers of this outcome are quite apparent. Let’s offer at least this level of forewarning in game choices.

This also leads to a broader problem with this game. If you make a choice during a long episodic segment, there is no way way to save your game, reload and remake that choice a different way. Instead, you have to cancel out of the entire segment back to the title screen and start the whole segment over. Or, alternatively, you need to wait for the chapter to play out in full, then exit to the title screen and redo whatever checkpoint is available forward to the end. The game makes you jump through unnecessary hoops to start levels over. This is a horrible design choice.

This game mechanic is also quite stupid. If you’re designing your game to enforce an unpredictable choice mechanism, then damn well give me an easy way to restart and remake those choices. Don’t force me to wait up to 15 minutes through an unexpected choice only to spend even more minutes and play through again. This is my time you are wasting. It’s a game, give me the option to abort where I am and start over at some recent checkpoint. I know that the game designers intended you to play it through in one long stretch, but that’s not how I want spend loads of my time (backtracking and starting over)… especially when the obviously ‘safest’ choice isn’t. If you can’t offer reasonable dialog choices that offer some semblance of sane outcome, then you need to offer a compensating control to allow restarting the segment quick and painless. Without one or the other game mechanism, it actually turns this game into a chore to play.

And no, I’m not going to listen to the title screen character telling me to give it a play through in some random way the first time. I’m going to play this game in the way I approach all games… I play it in the way that gives me the most satisfaction. If the game intentionally gets in my way of doing that, then the design is crap.

Making Development Choices

Quantic Dream needs to take a drastic change to its play style choice in its next game title. You have a decision to make. Is this to be a TV show or a game? Trying to marry both concepts into a single whole doesn’t work in many ways. You need to rethink the current combat button play style. In this game, you’d already added the computational component to the game. This component, like VATS, allows the player to pre-calculate the odds of success to a particular string of movements. This play style allows the player to play the scenario out to see the success or failure outcome before commencing the real movements.

This would have been the ideal combat method for this game. Get rid of the quick succession button presses and let Markus (or whomever) calculate the odds of success in advance with a particular combat strategy. Then, unleash the action and let it play out just as it did in other sections of the game. This way, the gamer gets to watch the entire action unfold with his/her strategy choices without unnecessary constant button press distractions. You already had this system in the game, it simply needed to be added to the combat.

After all, these are androids. Let them do what they do best… calculate. Again, this goes back to narrative logic failure. The writers simply did not impress story logic enough upon the game developers … and enforce the significance of the android in this gaming narrative. This, in fact, would have not only shown more of what the androids are capable (cold calculated combat), it would have decidedly ensured a terrifying outcome of exactly how dangerous the androids are. Quantic Dream entirely missed this incredibly important story point.

Title Screen Taunting

This is an issue that’s been progressing at a rapid pace in the video game industry and this title is no exception. When you reach the title screen, an android’s face appears (Chloe) and begins prompting you to do things and even goes so far as to tell you how you should play the game. To her I say, “shut the hell up”. I don’t want to hear what you have to say. If you want to be there and fidget or blink or do whatever, that’s fine. But, don’t intrude on my game and try to tell me how to play it or that I missed a crucial element or that one of my story’s characters died. I already know this. You don’t need to further “rub it in” by telling me this again. Keep in mind that part of the reason a character may have died was due to a stupid decision by the story designer to turn an innocuous dialog choice into a massacre.

This is my game and it’s my choice how I play it. Give me those tools to play the game in the way that I choose. If I want to quit out of the middle of a segment and restart it, that’s my choice. I don’t want to hear taunts from the title screen character telling me in no uncertain terms just how I eff’d up. I’m there trying to work through the story again to correct that mistake. A mistake, I might add, that had nothing to do with me, but had to do with the story designers who chose to turn a dialog choice or action deadly. To me, that’s both poor story design and poor game design.

Skipping Cinematics

Any game that offers long cinematics (by long, I define that as longer than 1 minute) needs to offer a way to skip them. This game does not offer that. There is no button to skip watching very long and, after you’ve seen them once, unnecessary cinematics. Once is most definitely enough in this game. This is, again, a waste of time.

One of the first things a game designer needs to learn is not to waste the gamer’s time. If we want to skip past a long unnecessary segment, give us the option to do so. Quantic Dream has not yet figured this out. By this game, they should have.

Characters and Guns

Here’s yet another thing that chaps me. A character finds a gun on the ground and we are given the choice to pick it up. Yet, the character is never given the opportunity to use the weapon at all… not via dialog choices, not via actions and not via any other means. Why have a character find a weapon then not be given the choice to use it? I shake my head here because this is one of the weakest designs I’ve yet seen in a game. If it’s important enough to have a character do something, then it’s important enough to bring it back into the game later.

Graphics and Sound

This is the single brightest point of Detroit: Become Human. The rendering engine is probably one of the most realistic I’ve yet seen on a console. The models, unfortunately, are a bit stilted in places (hands and mouths), but that only adds to the androidiness of the whole thing. If they were entirely realistic to the point you couldn’t tell them apart from the humans, that might make for a more compelling story, but at the same time, it’s kind of already been done in various TV series including Westworld.

Detroit: Become Human™_20180527171319

Keeping the game a bit less than real only serves to enhance the android idea and to allow buy-in for this world. That’s not to say that the graphics couldn’t be better. Of course, they can always be better. Where this game falls down is mouth movements for speech. I’ve seen so much better mouth movement in video games, it’s surprising this part is so stilted and poorly done. It’s long past time for a developer to produce a mouth phoneme movement kit for the industry as a whole. With rendering engines that look as realistic as Quantic Dream’s games, you’d think they would have spent the little bit extra time to develop a better mouth movement toolkit? Nope. The mouth movement is particularly bad on the main screen android because her mouth is front-and-center. It’s really the only thing you can look at. In-game mouth movement is allowed to be a little off because most times we’re not seeing it. Quantic Dream, spend a little more time when you’re building title screen animations.

The sound quality is very cinematic, particularly the music which ebbs and flows perfectly with the scenes. Unfortunately, the musical themes don’t end properly at times. The music ends abruptly when the task is done. At least get your composers to write an outro for the segment that seamlessly flows with the music already playing… or, at least fade it out. Do something a little more professional than just abruptly stopping the music in the middle.

Movie Replay

I was expecting that by the time we reached the end of creating our narrative that we would be able to replay the full movie without interruption. Alas, no. Quantic Dream doesn’t offer that level of game foresight. When you get to the end of your narrative, it’s over. There’s nothing else to do but replay parts of it again. Again, I shake my head.

Overall

I give Detroit: Become Human 6 out of 10 stars. It’s not game of the year in my book. But, with a few patches, they could fix up some of the deficiencies. Though, it’s doubtful they can patch the story problems or the failed combat system. Though, they might be able to introduce the playback system as an extra.

My recommendation is to rent this. You can get through the entire narrative in about a day. It’s very, very short and definitely not worth $60. The ending isn’t really an ending. It’s more of a cliffhanger. There are also story elements simply left unclosed. Also, Quantic Dream is not known for offering up sequels. I wouldn’t expect one here.

If you liked Quantic Dream’s other games like Heavy Rain and Beyond Two Souls, you’ll probably like Detroit: Become Human. But, don’t expect perfection. If you like heavy story driven games (to the point of almost being episodic TV replete with monologues and touching scenes), then you’ll probably like this game. However, don’t set your hopes high for the game play elements.

Graphics: 9 out of 10
Sound: 9 out of 10
Gameplay: 7 out of 10
Combat System: 1.5 out of 10
Story: 8 out of 10
Fun Factor: 6 out of 10
Stability: 9.5 out of 10
Length: 3 out of 10 (main story takes no more than a day to get through)

Overall: 6 out of 10 (It’s way too short, rent it).

↩︎

Game Review: Resident Evil 7 Demo

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on June 20, 2016

While I realize this is a only demo and may not resemble the real game all that much, what I will say about it is, I’m not terribly fond of it overall. I’m hoping the game is far different from this. Let’s explore.

Story

Your character ends up stuck in a creepy old farmhouse and must figure out a way to get out of it. Along the way you find things that may or may not help your character. Can you actually get your character out of the house alive?

Game Mechanics

Whether or not you can actually get out of the house is not really the question. The question is, are the game mechanics good? First, it is a preliminary game demo. So, in that aspect, it’s a little dumbed down.

On the one hand, it is somewhat better than Resident Evil 5 and 6… meaning, there aren’t zombies running and jumping at your character at every step. On the other hand, there are no zombies at all. In fact, the entire house is devoid of enemies entirely (other than when you answer the phone or find the back door key and try to leave). And then, the enemy is a cut scene that you can’t fight. So, in effect, this is more or less a puzzle questing game… and not a very good one at that.

Second, the only redeeming factor is the video tape. Because watching the video tape is also player interactive, you can do things with the characters on the tape (in the past) that open things up for the player in the future. This is the one and only one cool gimmick about this demo, but it is so underused as a game gimmick that it’s almost hardly not worth mentioning.

Graphics

Plainly and of what you can see of them, the textures, wood, roaches, character models and environments are supremely well done. Unfortunately, you’re hindered by having to roam the house using a flashlight. This means you can only see what you can illuminate with the flashlight. Otherwise, it all ends up dark. It reminds me a little of the way that Bioshock was lit in terms of the dark undersea lighting that gets brighter as you approach walls and items. Not so much the textures, but the lighting concept. In some ways this works, but it gets old and tiring after about an hour of play. I was hoping the fuse box would have actually let me flip the lights on in the house. But no, the only thing the fuse box does is let you drop down the attic stairs. And, that’s just a little weird. In such a decrepit old farm house, why would the owners have installed a drop down electric set of stairs that lead to the attic? Doesn’t really make any sense.

Puzzles

Unfortunately, other than the video tape gimmick mentioned above, the puzzles are mostly weak. Worse, the puzzles are tied to successfully completing events. Meaning, unless you do a very specific thing in the house, you can’t progress to and find the next puzzle piece (i.e., it simply won’t appear). If you cannot figure out what the game wants you to do, you’re stuck. Too many games offer puzzles like this. Some puzzles are glaringly obvious what you need to do. Though in this game, many of the puzzles are so obscure that you can run around for hours and never figure it out. That doesn’t make a game fun, it makes it tedious.

Game Development / Demo / Beta Testing

The game devs have a whole lot of work ahead of them to get this game right. I’m assuming this demo was released to test the waters with gamers. RE4 was a spectacular achievement for the Resident Evil series. But, as much as RE4 was an achievement, RE5 and RE6 were not.

I’m one of those people who firmly believes, “Once Bitten, Twice Shy”. In fact, I’ve been bitten one too many times with this series… both with RE5 and RE6. Shame on me. I won’t be bitten again. This is the reason I’m playing this demo. I was, in fact, hoping that this would have been another Leon game like RE4. After all, it’s been well long enough to finally get another Leon game.

Commentary

While Capcom seems to be on the right track with Resident Evil 7, assuming it can expand on this puzzle questing and video tape idea, I’m still very skeptical. This game has all of the hallmarks of tricking gamers into a decent opening puzzle level only to convert the game into yet another dual player zombie shooter (like RE5 and RE6 turned into) once you exit the house. If Capcom can keep this puzzle questing survival horror idea on-track throughout the entire game (throwing in some zombie apocalypse battles here and there), it might turn out to be a decent game. Unfortunately, it has a little too much of the telltale signs of converting into a completely different game once you leave the house. For this reason, I will wait until the game is fully released into the stores before I plop down $60 for this title. I simply don’t trust Capcom.

Though, I absolutely love the video tape idea of going back in time and opening doors, finding hidden secrets, leaving things behind, etc, for future characters to find and use. This is probably one of the freshest ideas in this game. Unfortunately, it’s way underused in this demo and I’m not certain exactly how much it could be used unless the main character carries around a camcorder and finds tapes along the way.

Game Review: Assassin’s Creed Syndicate

Posted in video game design, video gaming by commorancy on November 9, 2015

Warning: This review may contain spoilers. If you want to play this game through, you should stop reading now.

acsWhile Ubisoft got some parts of this game right, they got a lot of the parts very very wrong. And, this game cheats, badly. Let’s explore.

The Good

As with most Assassin’s Creed games, Syndicate is filled with lots of very compelling gameplay in its open world environment. The stories are decent, but short and the assassinations make it feel like Assassin’s Creed I (mostly). They’ve done well to bring back a lot of what made Assassin’s Creed I fun. Unfortunately, there’s also a whole lot of bad go with that fun. And, if you’re sneaky enough, you get the chance to use cover assassinations, air assassinations and haystack assassinations with much more regularity. Unfortunately, this game is about equally outweighed by the bad and the ugly.

The Bad

Controls

As with every single Assassin’s Creed game, the controls get harder and harder to work as the game progresses. And by harder and harder, I mean the designers require much more fine grained control over button presses or else you miss the opportunity to do whatever it is they have you doing. This usually means you miss your opportunity do take down an enemy, you fall off of a building, you can’t escape a fight or whatever.

For example, a person steals something and you have to tackle the thief. Unfortunately, as you happen to be running after the thief, if you also happen to straddle along side a carriage, the carriage will usurp the tackle button and you’ll end up stealing a carriage (all the while letting the thief get away). The really bad part is that you cannot break out of the carriage stealing maneuver and attempt to continue on with the thief chase. Oh no, you have to watch the entire motion capture playback from beginning to end all while your thief you were inches away from tackling runs away.

As another example, there are times where you begin a fight and a ton of enemies surround you. Then, one of them takes a swing and practically knocks you out with one blow. You don’t even get enough time to press the medicine button before you’re dead or desynchronized.

On top of this, the game still does not tell you every side mission requirement in advance. You only find them out after you’ve failed them.

Zipline Gun

And this is not the only incident of these types of bad controls. Once you get the zipline gun, it’s handy to use for quick getaways to the top of a building. That is all except, when the designers prevent you from using it. And they do prevent its use intentionally in some areas. Meaning, you can stand in front of some buildings and the zipline control appears. In others, nothing. This is especially true in areas where you have to complete a mission. So, you’ll be down on the ground and spotted, the first thing to do is find a rooftop to zipline to the top. Unfortunately, you can’t in a lot of mission areas. In some you can, in others you can’t.

Ubisoft, if you’re going to give me the zipline gun, let us use it on any building of any size. Not just those you randomly allow. This is so frustrating.

Calling Attention

When you’re sneaking around as an assassin, the pedestrians around you are constantly saying things like, “I hope he knows he can be seen” and other stupid things. While it doesn’t bring attention from enemies, it’s just nonsensical and stupid. Most people would merely ignore someone doing something like skulking around. Worse, it’s not like we have control over day or night in this game. Clearly, for most of the work of an assassin, it should be done at night under the cover of darkness. Instead, you’re out doing this stuff at noon.

Syndicate

Syndicate? What syndicate? Sure, you have a gang that you can find and call together on the street, but you barely ever get to use them alone let alone on missions. You can rope in a few at a time, but it’s almost worthless. When you enter into any place, they only thing they end up doing is drawing attention to you. As an assassin, that’s the last thing you want. You want stealth kills, not big grandiose street kill events. This is not Street Fighter. Other than that, there is no other syndicate. It’s not like you can switch to and play Greenie, which would have been a cool thing. It’s not like there were other assassins roaming the city that join in on the cause. I was hoping the syndicate would have been a huge group of assassins who all band together to get something done. Nope.

Recognition

On some levels, you don’t get recognized quickly. On others, it’s almost instantaneous. It’s really frustrating that there is not one level of recognition that you get with this game. Instead, it’s random and haphazard based on the level designer’s whim.

The Ugly

Glitchy

While it may not be anywhere near as bad as Unity, it’s still bad enough that you have to start (and restart) missions over to complete them. I’ve had glitches which locked my character up in a move that I had to quit out of the game to stop. I’ve had glitches where Jacob falls off of a rooftop merely by standing there. I’ve had glitches where I stand inches from an enemy and don’t get the assassinate action. I can hang below windows with enemies standing in front of me with no assassinate action. I’ve fallen off of the zipline for no reason.

The controls get worse and worse as the game progresses, to the point that if you want to get anything done, you nearly can’t.

Cinematics you can’t abort

Throughout the game, you’ll find that when you click a button to enter a carriage or zipline to the top of the building, you cannot break out of that action until it’s fully complete. If you were trying to do something else and accidentally launched into one of these cinematics, you have to fully complete the action entirely before you get control back.

Character Levels

The introduction of character levels is just plain stupid. I understand why they are in the game, but the reality is, they make no sense. Fighting a level 9 versus a level 2 is not at all realistic. You don’t have levels in real life. You have people who are more skilled than others, but not levels. These enemies are no more skilled than any other. If I walk into an area, my level should not dictate how hard it is to kill an enemy. I should be able to perform moves on a level 2 or level 9 in the same way and take them down at the same rate. In fact, enemies shouldn’t even have levels.

Bosses & Gang Wars

As you complete a section of the city, it unlocks a gang war segment. So, your gang fights their gang. Except, it’s not really a gang war. Instead, it’s half a gang war. The first segment starts out as a gang war where your gang fights theirs and you get to participate. After that first segment is complete, you must fight 5 to 6 of their gang members alone (including the boss). That’s not exactly a gang war. That’s an unfair fight. Where is my 4 to 5 other gang members to help me out. If it’s a gang war, make it a gang war. If it’s to be a 1 on 1 fight then make it so. Ganging up 5 or 6 against 1 is not a gang war and is in no way fair. I know some gamers like beating these odds, but I find it contrived and stupid. If it’s supposed to be a gang war, make it a fight between gangs.

The only consolation is that the game gives you one shot at taking down the section boss right before the gang war. If you can manage to kill them then, you don’t have to do that segment during the gang war. Still, a gang war should be about gangs.

Desynchronization and Load Times

This is one of the most ugly parts of this game. If you fall off a building and die, you have to wait through an excruciatingly long load time. So long, in fact, you could go make yourself a cup of coffee and be back in time for it to finally load. I mean, this is a PS4 and the game is loaded on the hard drive. Yet, it still takes nearly 2-4 minutes just to reload a level? I’m amazed (not in a good way) at how long it takes to reload. Once the game finally does reload, it drops you off some distance away from where you were. This is also frustrating. Why can’t you drop my character exactly in the location or at least close enough that I don’t have to run a ton just to get back there.

Starrick Boss Level

This level is ultimately the most asinine fail level of the entire game. Once you finally find the shroud (which is the whole point to the present day piece of this game), the game should immediately stop and move to present day. No. Instead, you have to attempt to assassinate Starrick in one of THE most asinine levels I’ve ever played in a game.

Evie and Jacob, the two twins, have to be the two most stupid people on Earth. Otherwise, they would simply realize they could cut and drag that shroud off of him with a good cut of their knives and then stab him. No. Instead, you have to attempt to wear-him-down while wearing the shroud. As if that were possible with the supposed healing shroud. If it were truly as healing as it is shown to be, there would be no way to wear his health down ever. I’m not sure what the writers were thinking here, but this level is about as stupid as it gets.

Worse, there are times where Starrick gets these hammer-on-your-character-without-fighting-back segments. Starrick just punches your character and you just stand there taking it. Really? There’s no reason given for these segments. These just wear down your health without any method of fighting back, breaking out of it or countering it. Now that’s just plain out cheating from a game. There is absolutely no need for this part of the fight. When in real life would this ever happen? Like, never. It makes the ending twice as hard without any real payoff.

Either of the twins could cut and pull the shroud off of him. It’s very simple. Then just assassinate him like anyone else. Why is it that you must melee this guy to death? These are assassins who kill from the shadows or by using other stealth methods. Assassins are not street fighters. That the game turns AC into Street Fighter is just plain stupid. This is NOT WHY I BUY Assassin’s Creed games. If I wanted a fighting game, I’d go buy Mortal Kombat or Street Fighter. The game devs have lost it. Whomever thought it would be a great idea to end this Assassin’s Creed game by turning it into a stupid fighting game should leave the game development field and specifically be fired from Ubisoft. That person has no business making gaming choices for this (or any) game franchise.

Overall

I give this game 4.0 stars out of 10. It’s a reasonable effort in places, but it’s in no way innovative and the ending plain out sucks from so many perspectives. The zipline is cool, but it doesn’t really help you as much as it needs to. There’s way too much carriage driving. The boss levels are mostly okay up until Sequence 8 as a Street Fighter ending… especially considering that the ‘present day’ part only needed to confirm where the shroud was located. After locating the shroud, the game should have immediately transitioned to present day. There is absolutely no need to kill Starrick, especially in a Street Fighter way. These people are assassins, not fighters. Sure, they can fight, but this tag-team-switching-melee-brawl-that-only-intends-to-wear-down-health is just insanely stupid, especially considering just how quickly that fight would be over by cutting that shroud off of him. I don’t even know how many times either of the two of them had gotten close enough to yank that thing off of him. Yet, the game insists on throwing punches to bring him down.

Ultimately, it has an insanely stupid ending that is majorly out of character for a game franchise that deserves so much better and which offered so much promise. And, of course, where is the Syndicate in all of this melee stuff? Why is it the gang is not there? Instead, Starrick should have been killed by a standard overhead assassination by both of them simultaneously through instant decapitation. I’d have preferred if Greenie had been in on the action and then have all three of them take Starrick out. Even the most healing shroud in the world couldn’t heal a severed head… and it should have been done in one big maneuver by both or all three of the assassins at once. That would have been an ending befitting of the name Assassin’s Creed.

Recommendation: Rent

The State of Gaming

Posted in botch, business, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on December 11, 2013

I’ve been an ardent gamer since the Atari 2600 broke onto the scene. Before that, I was an avid pinball and arcade attendee. Suffice it to say, I’m a gamer. So, let’s explore what’s changed about gaming.

Early Days

In the earliest stages of gaming, experimentation was commonplace. This is not as much true in early pinball games as the physics were pretty much set, but in video games the bounds are endless. Though, the pinball technologists would definitely surprise me over what they could do with a table and with digital displays. I digress. In the beginning, games like Pong (1972) set the stage as to what could be done. A simple table tennis game seemed a good first step. It was a game everyone already recognized, but now it’s on a screen with no need to carry around real rackets. Now you just moved your finger and the paddle moved. No more physical exertion. What was born was couch entertainment.

However, you couldn’t take the arcade home with you. At least, not for a while yet. We wouldn’t see video games become true couch entertainment until after the Atari 2600 is born in 1977, five years after Pong’s release into the arcades .

Arcades

I loved visiting the arcades during the early 70s. The ambience, the music and the machines (oh so many to choose) all beckoned for that quarter. One quarter, the fuel that drove your gaming satisfaction. Of course, at the time, I was too young to have a job, so I was at the mercy of my parents to give me some money. When we visited the mall, my mother would always give us (my brother and I) a couple of bucks and off to the arcade we’d run. For her the cost was a shopping experience without a couple annoying kids constantly making trouble. For us, we got to explore the latest video games in the arcade like Atari’s Pong or US Billiard’s Shark (where you play as the shark eating the swimmer) or some of those old-style pinball games with the wheels for numbers. No digital numbers on these pinball games. Digital displays would come later.

This particular arcade (my first) was always fun and had unique games. It sat right across from a five and dime store. Some of the games even had some quirky behaviors born from carpet static. One of the pinball games would add a free game just by rubbing your feet on the carpet and zapping the coin slot. Unfortunately, living in humid Texas meant you could only do this at certain times of the year. The way-too-humid rest of the time you had to pay. That is, until the arcade owners figured out the trick.

Throughout the 70s and early 80s, I’ve visited many different arcades in malls, strip malls, at bowling alleys, at batting cages, amusement parks, convenience marts, standalone arcades, at mini-golf and at Malibu racing tracks. They all had their own ambiance and games that made each experience unique and left a lasting impression on each visit. I never tire of visiting a new arcade.

One of the arcades I would occasionally visit had a mammoth pinball machine that used what looked like a white cue ball as the pinball. This pinball game was ginormous. Though it was big, it really wasn’t one of the most exciting pinball games. Its uniqueness was in its size, not in its game board mechanics. I always thought that it played like everything was in slow motion. I always preferred the smaller pinball games. This particular arcade had a cave-like quality that made it seem like you were the only one in there.

Video Game Experimentation

During the early years of video games, many different companies experimented with video game ideas. There were even hybrid pinball and video games combined, though none of these really successfully married the two technologies.

The earliest games were flat single color games. The earliest video games also used black and white CRT screens. When color was needed, flat gel color panels were applied to top of the black and white screen. It wouldn’t been until later that color CRTs would be added to video games.

This was a great time to watch as video games progressed from being simple flat shapes on black and white screens to more complex pixel drawn characters in later games like Mortal Kombat and Gauntlet.

Arcade Video Games

As we moved into the era of video gaming, games became increasingly more complex graphically and sonically, but the games themselves remained relatively simple. Games like Pong, Space Invaders, Asteroids and Shark moved into games like Donkey Kong, Centipede, Venture, Burgertime, Dig-Dug, Mr. Do and Galaxian. All of these games had a simple level based premise. Do something to ‘win’ the level and move onto the next level. The win-the-level premise really had its roots back to pinball and simply carried over into video games. However with pinball, it was less about winning the level and more about keeping the ball in play as long as possible. With pinball, you were typically given 5 turns or balls to play. Once you used up all 5 turns, the game was over.

With video games, the premise changed from ‘playing as long as possible’ to ‘playing as short as possible’ so that arcades could maximize their profits. You really didn’t want the same kid playing the game on the same quarter for hours on end. This could easily happen with certain pinball games, but with video games that was not a goal. As we moved into video gaming, it became less about skill and more about defeating the ‘enemies’ (whatever they happened to be). Video game creators quickly learned that ‘enemies’ were the motivator for play. At the same time, the enemies got more and more complex, ingenious and harder to beat. In centipede, it happened to be a big segmented centipede squirming its way down the screen towards your ‘gun’. If you managed to destroy all of its parts of the centipede, the level was over.

Many games adopted the ‘Centipede’ approach to levels and began building more and more complex ‘waves’ of enemies, such as Galaga. So, from where did Galaga descend? From Galaxian, of course. And, Galaxian descended from Space Invaders. Space Invaders was an early somewhat higher res game depicting ‘ufo invaders’ at the top of the screen that you had to shoot until you destroyed them all. From this game alone descended a bunch of other games, some direct clones like Galaxian, Galaga and Gorf, some indirect clones like Defender (a side scroller). From Defender came some sonically similar games like Joust. Note, there are plenty of games I could reminisce over games from this time period, but I’ll move on to get to my point.

Game Innovation

As we progressed, game designers continued to push the boundaries with newer and more interesting ideas with higher res and more compelling gameplay like Paperboy, Marble Madness and Pole Position. There were also a number of vector based games like Battlezone, Tempest and Star Wars which also pushed the boundaries using vector graphics which would ultimately die as a technology. At the time, though, vector games were some of the first games to depict objects in 3D space (even though they were just wireframe drawings). The vector technology did offer, at least for me, more compelling gameplay due to the pseudo-3D experience. Unfortunately, the vector drawing method would only become a stop-gap technology to getting us to the 3D shooters of today. Though, the games that utilized vector technology were definitely one-of-a-kind and would also see produced a home arcade cartridge driven version named Vectrex in 1982. I always wanted one of these.

In among all of the flat 2D sprite based games, I applaud Atari for pushing the vector boundaries at that time. Without these innovative arcade games to keep us interested in plopping more quarters into the machines, we wouldn’t have kept playing.

Moving on, innovation continued with games like Gauntlet which took the arcades by storm. The Tron games didn’t do so bad either. Even Journey (the rock band) got in on the gaming action with the mostly horrible Journey arcade game set to Journey music from the Frontiers album. An earlier Atari 2600 console game was also released based on the Escape album. We would even see video game innovation in the form of laserdisc based games such as Don Bluth’s animated Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace titles. I have no idea how many quarters I plopped into these machines. There were even controversial video games based on movies, like Exidy’s Deathrace 2000 (1976) where you ran people over which turned into a grave.

All during this period, game designers were pushing the envelope on game ideas without much thought to the idea of game genres. That would come later. So while there were fighting games like Mortal Kombat and Street fighter and racing games like Manaco GP and Pole Position, these games would become a staple at most arcades. There would also be a few sports titles like Punch-Out! and these would introduce the idea of sports games, but the Maddens and FIFAs of the world would have to wait until consoles improved. Specifically, the later linked racing games where 4-8 players were linked and could race in unison in sit-down driving arcade cabinets. Other than racing, no other arcade games braved linking their cabinets for multiuser play. That wouldn’t happen until the dawn of home networking and later Xbox Live.

Arcade Gaming End

So, while arcade gaming has never really ended specifically, it is greatly diminished as a result of the introduction of the Atari 2600 and later the Nintendo NES and the Sega Genesis. It’s funny, Atari, Nintendo and Sega were all huge builders of arcade games. Yet they all introduced home gaming consoles that would ultimately more-or-less kill the arcade as the place to game. I guess you might say that it was inevitable looking back now, but it is interesting to consider this fact.

Keep in mind that all during the later home console period (mid 90s), home gaming on the PC would become stronger and stronger with games like Doom, Quake and Wolfenstein. Thanks to iD software, Doom would actually usher in the era of first and third person shooters and, thus, bring this genre front and center. It would be a bit later that consoles would steal the PC thunder and introduce games like Halo.

Anyway, as home gaming consoles improved from the Atari 2600 through the to Atari 5200 and then later from the Sega Genesis to the Sega Dreamcast, from the Nintendo NES to the Nintendo Gamecube and to Sony Playstation 1, this ensured that home gaming would continue to prosper and that arcades would lose ground. However, even up until the Sega Dreamcast, we continued to see innovative titles arriving at home from games like Blue Stinger to Yu Suzuki’s Shenmue series. With Shenmue being one of the first open-world free roaming games that allowed you to interact with much of the world including real-time season changes.

The Era of Home Gaming

With the introduction of the Xbox and PS2, the whole course of gaming changed. Once these consoles were introduced, the gaming landscape began to be shaped primarily by Microsoft and Sony. At this point, we began losing a lot of innovative titles. Sure, we might see one every now and then like Rez, but these were an anomaly and not the norm. Still, with the Xbox and PS2, the genres were solidified into basically a handful of names like ‘shooter’ or ‘racing’ or ‘fighting’ or ‘multiplayer’ or you get the picture. With these new branded titles, it was easy for developers to create and drop games into the slots and people would understand exactly what they meant.

Still, while the genres were pretty much set by the Xbox and PS2, there were still a few developers willing to go outside of these and produce something new and different, but rarely.

As we move forward to the introduction of the Xbox 360 and the PS3, we see undefinable genre titles diminish further and the standard genre become defined. Basically, if your game didn’t fall inside a genre, it likely wouldn’t be released. Or, it would be released as a low priced digital download game. The only real exception to this was Valve who seemed to be able to get a games like Portal released onto consoles. Still, Portal could be considered a first person shooter even though that wasn’t the primary objective of the game.

With games like Halo 3 and Gears of War on the Xbox 360 and God of War on the PS3, this era saw primarily genre based titles released. Few developers ventured outside of these tried-and-true genres, but the rule was that they could if the developer chose to and these still might happen occasionally. In fact, by the Xbox 360 and PS3, there were effectively no titles that fell outside of the genre labels.

Era of the Home Console

With the 2013 introduction of the PS4 and the Xbox One, the era of home gaming is likely coming to an end. With what I consider to be an incremental update to these consoles (Moore’s law no longer applies), these hardware updates are only minimal updates to their predecessors. There was a much bigger leap in quality from the Xbox to the Xbox 360 (moving from 480p 4:3 aspect and component video to 16:9 1080p HDMI output). Changing the video standard between the Xbox and Xbox 360 and between the PS2 ad PS3 was a huge leap. Not to mention, the cell multiprocessor system that Sony put into the PS3. At this point, the 2013 consoles are at the point of diminishing returns.

Both the PS4 and the Xbox One are simply mid-priced PCs with standard Intel processors and standard ATI graphics cards. They’re effectively mid-grade PCs running proprietary operating systems. In fact, I’d actually say the Xbox One is likely running a modified form of Windows 8 with greatly reduced features from the Xbox 360. The PS4, however, is running Sony’s own proprietary operating system similar in looks to was on the PS3, but also with greatly reduced features. Though, the Ustream/Twitch live streaming features of the PS4 are a much welcomed improvement.

Yet for the cost factor of the units, the games haven’t dramatically improved. Let’s observe the problems. With the new consoles, the genres are pretty well set in stone. At this point, no developer would be willing to stray outside of the standard defined genres: shooter, fighting, sports, real-time RPG (which is slowly being combined with shooter), turn-based RPG, puzzle, simulation, strategy, party (encapsulates dance and other party games) and creative. While there may be some sub-genres such as ‘horror’ or ‘mystery’ or ‘period’ which can apply to each of the genres, these are the top genres that are used. Sports encapsulates all forms of sports including baseball, football, racing, skiing, skateboarding, etc.

In fact, most games fall into one of the following: shooter, fighting, sports or RPG. The rest of the genres are lesser used.

The End of the Console?

As the PS4 and the Xbox One are now available, it’s becoming more and more clear. It’s expensive to create a game title on these consoles. To create a game that looks like Ryse, you need to outlay a hefty sum of cash to license the Crytek game engine. And that’s just to get the engine you need to drive the hardware. Still, once you’ve spent your wad obtaining a CryEngine license, you still need to hire a slew of programmers, artists and writers to develop a compelling story and then work to make that into some kind of a compelling play.

From concept to completion, you’re likely talking at least 3-5 years depending on the size of your staff. Of course, the more people you throw at the problem, the faster you can get it done. But, speed isn’t your only enemy here. For the example I mentioned earlier, Ryse, this game is absolutely gorgeous. The environments are amazing, the characters and armor are outstanding. So then what’s the problem?

The gameplay in Ryse is absolute trash. They could have taken the game mechanics straight from a 1990s Mortal Kombat game and plopped into to Ryse for all I know. The characters move in unrealistic ways, the game forces pauses at the most inopportune times and the gameplay is just overall bad. So, this issue is firmly the enemy of the PS4 and the Xbox One. A developer spends years and loads of cash creating a title only to produce something that plays like Ryse. In fact, Ryse is a firm example of what NOT to do on a next generation console. It is the low bar by which to make sure your game is above. Sure, it’s pretty, but that’s where Ryse all ends.

Limited Games, Longer Create Cycle

This will be the continual battle of the PS4 and the Xbox One throughout their console lifespan. Consider that the Xbox 360 and the PS3 have both been on the market for at least 8 years now. That’s 8 years of back catalog of games. Now, go look at these titles. Many of these games took less than 2 years to produce. And, of course, some of them show it (i.e., Two Worlds).

With these new console generations, the bar has now been raised again. Specifically for the graphics. To produce the graphics needed to look great at 1080p, this is not just a small amount of work. Not only does it require high res textures, it requires high res models. Producing such models and textures is not a quick process. Where the textures may have been half the size on the Xbox 360, they are now twice the size on the Xbox One. That simply takes longer time to produce.

This means that instead of the 2 year time it took for the Xbox 360, it might take 3-4 years to produce a title on the PS4 and the Xbox One. So, that means in 8 years, we’re likely to have half the number of big name titles we have on the Xbox 360. That also means it will take perhaps twice as long to produce titles for the Xbox One and the PS4. Further, this means there will also be a lot of engine reuse with new graphics dropped under the hood. In fact, I expect a lot of texture reuse across many games.

For the game studios that can afford the time it takes, these will continue. For those that can’t afford the time it takes to produce that level of a title, they will likely fold, stop producing or move to a different market.

The State of Games

Unfortunately, today we are seeing a convergence of genres. No longer do we see the new innovative titles, other than in digital downloads as small diversions. Occasionally a Japanese developer will produce a title geared toward the Asian market that will cross-over to the US market. But, that’s rare. Most titles produced today fall into one of the predetermined genres. It’s just too risky for game studios to gamble on an experiment. Game studios want to know their title is a guaranteed success. The only way that can happen is by making sure they stay within the trappings of the genres.

When games were like Pong or Shark might take a few people a several months up to a year to produce the game, it now takes many years to produce something like Halo 4. It’s too risky and expensive to gamble on experimentation. Game studios, therefore, won’t risk this. This is why we are firmly seeing more and more repetitive, trite and cliche games. Basically, we are effectively seeing games that you’ve already played at least twice already. Game studios believes having that level of familiarity with the subject matter will make it more likely to succeed. If it’s similar to a game you’ve already played, they assume, that familiarity will keep the gamers happy.

Unfortunately, the only thing this does is make the game crappy and annoying. Game studios don’t want to see or know this, but it is most definitely true. If you make your game feel like some other game or a game that you’ve played before, then it is that other game. It’s then not new or innovative and becomes an exercise in futility.

Predictions and Mobile Devices

I expect we will continue to see the smaller game studios close or be bought out. The larger game studios may continue to weather the longer cycle, but not forever. They have to see a return on their investment or they will also stop producing.

Overall, I expect that we will see less and less studios producing games for consoles. I also see this as the likely end of the ‘epic’ game. Game developers will begin go move back into smaller more easily built titles like ‘Farmville’ and move away from the epic titles like ‘Call of Duty’ and ‘Halo’. The only game studios producing such titles will be those that are subsidized by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo.

Those game studios not being subsidized to produce such ambitious titles will move away from the consoles and begin developing titles for mobile devices. Since mobile computing is pretty much taking over, there’s really no need to own a living room console. It’s easier to play games on devices you are already carrying. Eventually, game studios will realize that it’s far more lucrative to produce games to play on what’s in your pocket than what’s in your living room. Especially considering how many devices are sitting in people’s pockets untapped.

Just a few compelling titles on iOS or Android, like Angry Birds, and you’re pretty well set. Angry Birds has already paved the way, it’s just a matter of time before studios wake up and realize what they are missing.

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