Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Game Review: Red Dead Redemption 2

Posted in botch, video gaming by commorancy on October 27, 2018

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I was so wanting to like Red Dead Redemption 2 right out of the gate. For Rockstar, this game’s lengthy intro and dragging pace is a total misfire. Let’s explore.

A Horrible, Horrible Intro

The whole slow snow covered mountain terrain opening is an incredible fail for a game series like Red Dead Redemption. It’s so slow and rail based that I just want to toss the disc in the trash. This insipid opening doesn’t inspire me to want to “wait it out” for the “rest” of this game. All I desperately want to do is skip this opening and get through it as fast as possible. Unfortunately, not only is it unskippable, it’s ….

Slow, Slow, Slow

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When following the rail based opening “stories”, even when you do manage to follow the correct path (a feat in and of itself), it’s entirely far too slow of a pace. I could run to the kitchen and make a sandwich in the time it takes to get from point A to B in this game.

The horses run like they’re drugged. Even worse is the forced stamina meter on horses. This isn’t a simulation, it’s an RPG style “Old West” game. We don’t want to water and feed our horses so they can run fast. Then, have to stop and feed them again when they run out of “energy”. That’s akin to making us fill our GTA5 cars up with gas at in-game gas stations. Thankfully, they didn’t make us endure that stupidity in GTA5. Unfortunately, that stupidity is included in RDR2. We also don’t want our horses to run out of energy while running at full gallop. A stupid concept made stupider by the mere inclusion of it in this game.

The game seems like it’s running in slow motion. I’m not sure what’s going on here or why R thought this opening play style would be okay, but it isn’t. At least with GTA, when you got in a car, it was fast. Here, everything moves at a snail’s pace and the rail based gang quests are sheer torture. I just want this part to be over so I can finally get to the meat of the game.

R, let us skip these insanely boring, long and insipid intros. I don’t want to endure this crap. This opening is a horrible misfire for a game in a franchise like Red Dead Redemption. It’s fine if a tutorial opening takes 15-20 minutes. But, when an opening takes 2 hours or more to get past, it’s entirely WAY TOO LONG. Cut it down… seriously.

Failed Intro Setup

I understand what Rockstar was trying to do with this opening. Unfortunately, it just doesn’t work. It’s fine to see the gang camaraderie being built, but it doesn’t take 2+ hours and snail’s pacing to do it. This dragged-out opening is a horribly unnecessary.

I realize the opening of any game is typically tutorial city, but let me skip most of it. I don’t want to be told how to open a cabinet or how to sit down. I can figure this out on my own. Just show me the screen icon and let me do the rest. I don’t need little black boxes appearing in the corner telling me how to do the most simplistic things. It’s like Rockstar thinks we’ve never ever played a video game in our entire lives. Shit, it’s RDR 2 for crisake. It’s a sequel. We’ve likely already played RDR. I have.

Condescending treatment to gamers by hand-holding even the most basic of actions is as torturous as this far-too-slow-paced intro. Whoever greenlit this intro should be removed from producing future video games. Just get to the game already, Rockstar!


Camera

Batter Batter Batter… swing and miss. And, what a miss this one is for R! Let me start this section by saying there is no “photo mode” at all in this game. Instead, you have to obtain an “old timey” camera from some hack who’s in a bar. Then, you have to equip it from your satchel. Only after you obtain and equip this camera can you actually take pictures in-game. Uh, no. I realize this is supposed to be some kind of immersion tactic, but having characters take photos for quests with an in-game camera should be entirely separate from having a photo mode built into the game for player use and sharing. A photo mode should be available from the moment the first gameplay begins. It shouldn’t be something that’s “found or earned” later in the game.

Rockstar again swung and missed on this one. Rockstar, next time, just add a photo mode into the game as part of the UI for the player to use from the start. If the player character needs a camera to take pictures for a quest, just make it disposable and disappear after the quest is completed.

The reason for having a photo mode is so you can add features like exposure, filters and get bird’s-eye views of the environment. Limiting the photos to the perspective of the character holding the camera is stupid and wasteful. We want to use an actual photo mode, not a character acquired and limited camera.

Lighting and Graphics

I was actually expecting a whole lot more from the RAGE engine here. While Grand Theft Auto wasn’t perfect in rendering realism and didn’t always offer the most realistic results, the lighting did offer realistic moments, particularly with certain cars and with certain building structures under certain daylight lighting conditions. With Red Dead Redemption 2, I was actually expecting at least some improvement in the RAGE engine for 4K rendering. Nope. It seems that Rockstar simply grabbed the same engine used in GTA and plopped it right into Red Dead Redemption 2.

So far with Red Dead Redemption 2, I’m entirely underwhelmed with the indoor lighting model being used. “Wow” is all I can say, and that’s not “wow” in a good way. I am not only underwhelmed by the realism of the character models themselves, but of how the lighting falls on the character models. When a character opens his/her mouth, the teeth read as a child’s attempt at a drawing. It’s bad. B.A.D! Let’s take a look at RAGE’s poor quality indoor lighting:

The wood looks flat and dull. The clothing looks flat and dull. Metal doesn’t look like metal. Glass doesn’t look like glass. The faces just don’t read as skin. The skin on the characters looks shiny and plastic and, at the same time, flat and dull. The teeth look like a child’s drawing. Part of this is poor quality lighting, but part of it is poor quality models and textures. The three main character models in GTA5 (Michael de Santa, Trevor Philips and Franklin Clinton) looked way better than this, likely using the same RAGE engine. The RAGE engine is not aging well at all. Even the “sunlight rays” here look forced and unrealistic. This game looks like something I would have expected to see in 2004, not 2018. Let’s compare this to Ubisoft’s AnvilNext engine which is night and day different:

Wow! What a difference… (click to read Randocity’s Assassin’s Creed Odyssey review)

Screenshots vs Camera

And speaking of teeth… trying to get these Red Dead Redemption 2 screenshots is like pulling teeth. I have to attempt to position the gameplay camera just so. I can’t use the “Old Timey” camera for the above in-game shots as there’s no way to get that “Camera” into the proper position using the player character. Using the actual gameplay camera is always hit or miss. If the camera moves a little bit too far or too close to a figure, it pops over the character and you can’t see them.

The point to adding a photo mode is positioning the camera exactly where you want it, to get the best shot. It also allows you to use depth of field. I can’t do that in Red Dead 2 and I’m limited to playing tricks with the camera placement and hope it turns up with a shot using the PS4’s share button. Not to mention, I have to spend time running to the menu to turn off HUD elements (the reason the map and the money is visible in one of the RDR2 screenshots).

R⭑ , get with the program. It’s time to add a real photo mode to RAGE… a photo mode that offers so much more than the player character holding and using an “old timey” camera. It’s fine if the character needs an in-game camera for quest reasons, but it’s time for a real photo mode… which is how I captured all of these Assassin’s Creed Odyssey screenshots above. I should also point out the reason for having photo mode in a game is for the game player, not for the benefit of the in-game character. Adding a photo mode means you’re thinking of the gamer and how they want to use the game to capture and share their gameplay. By not including a photo mode and having such poor quality graphics, it shows that R‘s interest is more in making money and not in advancing their RAGE technology to provide a next gen quality experience.

Red Dead Redemption 2 is a huge step backwards for realism in video games.


Meat of the Game

I’m finally past the torturous intro and I’m sad to say that the game itself is absolutely nothing like Red Dead Redemption. Red Dead Redemption was open prairies, tumbleweed and Arizona-like environments. These environments worked tremendously well for “The Old West”. This game is lush green valleys with trees, forests and streams. It’s not so great to set an “Old West” kind of ambiance. Ignoring the wrong environmental settings in which to place an “Old West” kind of game, the game’s pacing is sheer torture to endure. The pacing in Red Dead Redemption was near perfect.

Here, the leisurely slow pace in how the player character moves and walks and how slow the horse runs is totally wrong for this game and is *yawn* b.o.r.i.n.g. Again, this is nothing like Red Dead Redemption. I’m not looking for Lamborghini speeds, here. But, I am looking for a much quicker pace than the la-la-la leisurely pace of this game. In fact, this game’s pacing is so arduous, it makes you want to pop the game out and go do something else at a faster pace. Again, another total Rockstar misfire.

Town Bounties and Game Interference

Just for the sheer heck of it while trying to relieve the boredom with the game’s slow pacing and lame story activities, I decided to have a shoot out in Valentine, the first town you’re supposed to reach in this game. As you progress in dying and getting a higher and higher bounty, the game stupidly pushes your character farther and farther away from the town with each respawn. Game, if you don’t want the character doing this in a town, then just prevent it. Don’t respawn my player character farther away from the town each time. Respawn the character where he fell and let me choose whether to leave or stay. This intentional interference is not only an asinine game design mechanic, it makes me want to break the game disc in half.

I’m merely trying to make the game at least somewhat more interesting and tolerable than the forced slow pacing… but then the game feels the need to frustrate and interfere with my efforts by sending my character farther and farther away from town. On top of that, once you get a bounty, the NPCs that come after you are practically unkillable. I’ve hit them with perhaps 5-10 shots of a shotgun (many times in the head) and they’re still getting up and shooting at me. There is absolutely no way that’s possible. I realize this is a game, but that’s taking the unrealistic nature of this game way too far. It’s not like they’re wearing Kevlar. If I shoot an NPC twice, they need to die. This includes any character, deputy or otherwise. These are not SWAT characters in Los Santos wearing police armor. It’s asinine how the game works this bounty mechanic by protecting the town residents.

If this game is truly supposed to offer RPG style open world play, then I should be able to go into any town and have a gunfight with the entire town if I so choose… and the characters in the town need to die with a realistic amount of bullets. It might make my character wanted, put a bounty on his head, turn him to the “dark side” or whatever, but I should be able to play this game on my own terms without the game interfering with my choice of play. By interfering with my choice of play, the game is specifically telling me that this isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing and that I should be following the story path laid out by the game developers. That’s the very definition of a rail based game. That’s NOT an open world make-my-own-choices game.

Now, I do realize this interference is intended, but this interference takes away an important gamer choice… to play the game in any way the gamer chooses. If you’re going to offer guns and bullets, you need to make them count in the game. Bullets can’t act deadly in some situations and act as mere bee stings to other NPCs. Bullet damage must remain consistent against ALL NPCs under ALL conditions unless you implement a visible character level system.

Because of the boring slow pace, the lame story elements (Really? A tavern brawl is the best you can do?), the absolute crap hand-to-hand combat mechanic, the unkillable-NPC-bounty situation, the lackluster lighting, the game’s meddling interference in my choice of play, the poorly created character models and textures, the lack of photo mode and the broken Social Club site, my 2 out of 10 stars firmly stands for this game.

An Utter Disaster

This game is a disaster for Rockstar. I guess every game studio is entitled to a dud. Most times I can give some creative advice on how to improve a game. I’m at such a loss for improving this game’s disastrous design, I can’t even begin to tell Rockstar how to get this hot mess back on track. I think it needed to go back to the drawing board. Oh well, my high hopes for this game have been utterly dashed. It’d be nice to get my money back. This game is crap. Avoid.


Graphics: 5 out of 10
Sound: 7 out of 10
Voice Acting: 2 out of 10
Brawling: 2 out of 10
Gunfights: 5 out of 10
Pacing and Stories: 1 out of 10
Stability: N/A

Overall Rating: 2 out of 10
Recommendation: Don’t buy. Avoid. If you must try it, rent only.

I’d actually rate it lower, but I’m giving it 2 stars for sheer effort. Let’s just forget all about this game and remember the fun we had with Red Dead Redemption.


Agree or disagree? Please leave a comment below and let me know what you think about Red Dead Redemption 2.

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Rant Time: Snapchat’s update failure

Posted in best practices, botch, california by commorancy on February 14, 2018

In business, the quest is always to provide the best most consistent user interface (UI) and the easiest user experience (UX) possible. Sometimes, that doesn’t always work as planned. Sometimes, it outright fails and backfires. Let’s explore.

Flickr

Before 2014, Flickr had a very useful grid layout. Sometime during 2013/2014 Marissa’s then team decided to “reinvent” Flickr. They gave it a facelift and then rolled it out to much user ire. While it’s every company’s right to make design changes to their application as they see fit, it can also spell doom to an application. Flickr was no exception. After Flickr updated their app in 2014, this drastic UI change immediately drew the anger of thousands of Flickr users. Yet, Flickr still hasn’t changed anything substantial in spite of the massive number complaints. The UI is still the disaster it was designed to be and does not in any way offer what it formerly did.

The formerly well spaced grid layout was convenient and easy to use in that it showed how many views of each photo at a glance. With the new tight grid interface of random sized images, you now have to drill into each and every photo separately to find the views of that specific photo. Sure, you can use the statistics page to see which photos are most popular or most interesting, but that’s of little concession when you simply want to see how well your most recent photos are doing at a glance. In short, the latest Flickr interface introduced in 2014 still sucks and Yahoo has done nothing to right this wrong. I’d venture to guess there are fewer users using Flickr now than ever, particularly with newer apps such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook… and speaking of Snapchat…

Snapchat’s Update

As of February 10, 2018 and taking a page from Flickr’s playbook, Snapchat decided to roll out a brand new interface to its app. An update that has, just like Flickr, drawn the ire of many of its app users. Some users are lamenting this new interface so much, they are seriously contemplating app deletion. Because of the app’s unannounced surprise layout, some Snapchat users were unable figure out how to post causing them to lose their streaks (a way to measure how many consecutive days a user has posted). Some users streaks have been running for several hundred days. Others are just ranting about what they don’t like about it. Here’s what some Twitter users are saying:

What a disaster. Do these companies even perform basic usability testing before a release?

Design Fails

The old saying goes, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Literally, what problems was Snapchat trying to solve with this update? If you’re planning on a UI and UX redesign, you better throw in some bones for the users to go with it. Give people a reason to want to use the interface and they’re willing to overlook other minor inconveniences. Without such bones, it ends up as merely a change for change’s sake without offering up any useful new features. Burying UI components in ever deeper layers is not more UI efficient and does not offer up a better user experience. I’m not even sure what Snapchat was thinking when they decided to roll out this UI update.

Test, test and more testing

Here’s where the rubber meets the road. If you make a UI/UX change without adding anything useful into the app for the end user, what have you accomplished as a designer? The answer is, nothing. As a designer, you have failed. Changing a UI design requires careful consideration, even more careful planning and product usability testing. This means actually giving your app to your primary target demographic and letting them use it for a few days. Let them tell you what’s wrong with it, what they like and what they dislike. Do this long before putting the new update in the app store for general release. If you do this, you can avoid the problems that Flickr and Snapchat faced with their UI and UX redesigns. If you don’t do this, you end up in the news. Failure is not an option, but so many companies fall into this trap not really knowing how to get out of it.

Rollback Plan

If the Tweet above is true regarding that support team reponse stating that there is no way to roll back, then that’s a failure on the part of the application’s designers. You should always design a rollback plan into your releases. You can’t know what may fail as a result of a release, so offering a rollback plan should always be part of a release.

If you fail to test and fail to include a rollback plan, you’ll end up just like Snapchat (and Flickr) … that is, in the news for all the wrong reasons. What this says is that the Snapchat design team should be fired and replaced. Failure is not something any company needs to endure, especially when that failure is so visible and makes your company look inept…. and it was all preventable. In this day and age, there is absolutely no reason why companies release software into the wild that angers its user base in this way. Seriously, that is such an amateur move, it’s a wonder such companies even remains in business. Worse, after such a seriously amateur move and after the dust settles, you may not have much of a business left. Your app is your lifeblood. Screw it up and you’re done.

Overconfidence

Snapchat clearly doesn’t understand its audience. Teens are some of the most finicky users on the planet. It doesn’t take much for them to dump something and move onto the next better thing. Changing a UI interface that angers so many of them is the quickest way to lose the userbase you’ve spent so much time and effort attracting. Perhaps Snapchat will realize its mistake and correct it pronto? Perhaps it will pull a Flickr and let users suffer through with the horrible new design and not change it. With Flickr, Yahoo at least had some leverage because of all of the professional photographers entrenched in the service. Where would they go? With Snapchat, the company does not have this luxury. Snapchat isn’t a required service like Flickr is to professional photographers. This fail could easily lead to the demise of Snapchat.

It’s time for Snapchat to seriously consider all of its options here, but let’s hope they come to the right decision and rollback the interface and rethink it’s UI and UX design. Best of all, maybe they have learned a valuable lesson in software design… test your interface on your primary demographic before you ever consider a release.

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