Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Gaming: PS5 vs XB SX Case Design Review

Posted in game controller, gaming, video game console, video game design by commorancy on June 14, 2020

Since the Xbox Series X and the PS5’s case designs have now been unveiled by both Microsoft and Sony, respectively, let’s explore these case designs.

Sony’s PS5

Let’s start with the recent elephant in the room, the Sony PS5. Here are some images:

Xbox Series X

Note, I will henceforth be calling the Xbox Series X the Xbox SX. Here are images of this console:

Design Goals

Sony claims they wanted something “bold, daring and future facing” according to Sony’s CEO. Microsoft’s Xbox Phil Spencer claims they wanted the, “fastest, most powerful console ever”.

Regardless of the claims, let’s dive into the designs of these consoles. The first word that comes to mind is “dated”. Both the Xbox SX and the PS5 offer odd choices in case designs.

Let’s discuss the Xbox SX’s case design. This design has already been done and been done better… thrice, in fact. Once by NeXT and twice by Apple. Let’s look at designs past, shall we?

The above computers consist of the following:

  • Apple G4 Cube (circa 2000)
  • NeXT Cube (circa 1990)
  • Apple Mac Pro Cylinder (circa 2012)

All three of these computers are of a very similar design to the Xbox Series X. Microsoft never can seem to come up with original designs, instead choosing to abscond with older manufacturer designs. I’m not sure what it is about Microsoft’s inability to come up with innovative case designs, but this is what we get with Microsoft: clunky, outdated designs.

That’s not to say that Sony’s case design is much better. It’s unique, but in a word, “ugly”. If you like the look of consumer routers, then I guess the PS5’s case design is what you might like.

The main problem I have with both of these designs is that neither of them are stackable. It seems with Sony, it’s all about having an oddly round shaped surface. This means when you place it horizontally, you can’t stack anything on top of it. With the PS4 Pro, it offered us a fully flat top. Unfortunately, the PS3 had that, again, oddly rounded design. It seems that Sony vacillates between flat topped systems and oddly shaped systems. If Sony’s were the only device in the home, it might be okay. Since some of us have several pieces of gear, including multiple older and newer generation consoles, we want to stack them so we have them together.

Additionally, stacking a console vertically, at least in my cabinet, is out of the question. There is no way for me to locate the Xbox SX or the PS5 vertically. In fact, I have yet to place any console vertically in the last 10 years (no space) and it’s not going to happen now. Note, I talk about alternative placement of the Xbox SX below.

Waiting… and airflow

As a result, I’m likely to wait until the second case iteration of the PS5. I’ve invested in too many first gen consoles and gotten burned. The only time where having the first edition console was a boon was with the PS3… before Sony yanked out the PS2 compatibility and several other useful features for later iterations. That was the one and only one time when it was a benefit. That didn’t excuse the horrible rounded PS3 case design, nor does it excuse the rounded case design of the PS5.

With the Xbox SX, it can at least be placed horizontally. In fact, this console design might actually fare better horizontally than vertically. Why? When standing vertical, there will be limited airspace under the bottom of the unit with which to pull air up and through. The airspace distance is probably designed well enough, but sitting close to a surface will still limit the amount of air flow.

Placing the Xbox SX case horizontally completely unobstructs the bottom intake vent and allows full and complete airflow through the unit. Placing the Xbox Series X horizontally might actually be the better way to place this unit for the best airflow possible. Sony’s case design probably won’t have an airflow problem. They usually don’t.

Sony’s choice of white case, black inner section using blue case lighting is also a throwback design problem. It has the same aesthetic as the Nintendo Wii. It’s not the same case shape, of course, but it has a similar lighting and visual aesthetic.

Form vs Function

One thing that video game console designers need to understand is that it really doesn’t matter how aesthetically pleasing a case design is. What matters is how well the console functions. That isn’t to say that we don’t enjoy seeing a pretty case, but we don’t spend time staring at it either. We want to use the unit, not stare at the case.

Therefore, the most important aspect of a video game console isn’t its case, it’s what’s under the hood and how well all of that works. Spend time making the innards work well. Make them solid and functional and with proper air flow. Put your effort and money into designing the innards and make that innovative. We don’t really care what it looks like.

In fact, as a gamer, I’d prefer the case be flat on top with airflow front-to-back or side-to-side so I can stack my other gear on top of it. A boxy looking case? Not a problem. Failing to understand this functional stacking issue is a design failure in my book. Clearly, Sony’s industrial designers weren’t considering ergonomics or functionality of its case design. For that matter, neither was Microsoft with the Xbox SX.

Case design isn’t really that important to a video game console unless it gets in the way of being installed into a cabinet… which both of these case designs do.

Vertical Design

More and more, game console creators want to produce vertical case designs. I’m not a fan. I don’t want my console sitting vertically. Not only do I have no cabinet space for this, I simply don’t like this design aesthetic. I prefer my computers to sit horizontally. This is partially to do with the cabinet I’ve chosen, but it’s partially due to the wasted space needed to place a console upright.

Case designers need to reconsider this unnecessary trend of designing for vertical installation. Any design that can be installed vertically should also be designed to install horizontally. Design for both use cases!

Blue LEDs

I’m also not a fan of blue colored LEDs. They are 1) too bright and 2) annoying as hell. At night, you simply can’t sleep with blue LED lights staring you in the face. They’re like little lasers piercing your retinas. I hate ’em with a passion. The faster we can get away from this blue LED trend, the better.

PS5 Reveal

Here’s the part where some of you may have been patiently waiting for me to chime in. Well, here it is. The PS5’s reveal was, meh. The gameplay was actually not any better looking than the PS4 Pro. The CPU and GPU might be somewhat faster, but Sony is reaching the law of diminishing returns. The PS5’s play was, well, not at all impressive. In fact, I was so unimpressed by the PS5’s gameplay so as to be disappointed.

I was expecting so much more from the PS5 and we’re basically getting another PS4 renamed PS5. It’s really unimpressive. Going back to the CEO’s remark, there’s really nothing “bold, daring or future facing” about this PS5 console. From the uninspired and knock-off case design to the PS4 graphics shoved into a new case. It’s really very unimpressive.

I’m not sure what Sony has been spending the last 2 years doing, but it’s clear they were not spending the time designing an innovative new product. The PS5 is a rehash of the PS4 in an oddly shaped case.

Innovation

Nintendo Switch

What is innovation? Innovation means to come up with something which hasn’t been seen or done exactly like that before. I’d consider the Nintendo Switch innovative. I’d also consider the Apple G4 Cube innovative. Why is the Switch innovative? Because not only is the Switch a dockable home console, you can take it with you and play on the go. It’s a powerhouse well big enough to work in both situations.

I was fully expecting this same level of innovation with the PS5. Unfortunately, what we got was exceedingly underwhelming. Even the “new” PS5 controller is bland and uninspired. This controller looks pretty much like the old controller with, again, horrible blue LED lights piercing your retinas and lighting up your face. Let’s hope that this time you can actually turn these silly lights off.

The touch pad remains, but is an unnecessary and almost never used feature of the PS4’s controller. The touch pad was simply a battery suck and a gimmick. I wouldn’t mind seeing Sony get rid of that touch pad garbage. As I said, battery suck, gimmick and completely unnecessary.

Yet, here the touch pad is again, making yet another unnecessary appearance. That’s most definitely not innovative. It simply means Sony is way out of touch with how most game developers use the PlayStation’s controller. Short of a handful of early game titles on the PS4, the touch pad was almost never used, other than as a button. Simply get rid of the battery hogging touch pad and replace it with a button, like the new Xbox SX controller has. If you need a touch pad for PS4 compatibility, allow connecting a PS4 controller via Bluetooth.

See, I innovated for you there, Sony. Microsoft’s Xbox SX controller, on the other hand, is about as simplistic and utilitarian as you can get. That doesn’t make it a problem. In fact, it looks so much like an Xbox One controller, you might not even notice that there’s a new button in the middle of the controller surface. It’s a button that basically does the same thing as the touch pad button on the PS4’s controller.

I was actually hoping to see a few more buttons added to both the Xbox SX and the PS5 controller. Buttons that can be programmed for lesser used functions so that game developers don’t have to keep overloading functions onto the same buttons depending on context. It’s frustrating, for example, to play Fallout 76 and expect the square button to do something, but does something entirely different because you’re too close to an in-game object. You have to move away before the original function resumes. Frustrating.

By having more buttons on the controller, you can map these lesser used functions to these other (smaller buttons) so that button overlapping in games becomes much less common.

PC’s don’t have this problem because you have a keyboard with usually 101 keys. On a controller, you have basically 13 buttons on the face plus 4 on the shoulders. I want more buttons on my controller’s face so game developers don’t have to overload button functions anymore. Yet, no such luck on the PS5 or Xbox SX. They are still basically the same ole controllers with the same limited buttons. Yeah, basically no innovation here.

Overall

I’m planning on waiting to purchase these consoles until the second iteration of the console. Possibly even until they release a case redesigned version. You know that both Sony and Microsoft will introduce subsequent case styles in the future. I tire of buying a the first day console and then having them redesign it six months later.

My plan is not to buy the console for at least six months to 1 year after release. I’ll stick with my PS4 and Xbox One until then. Even then, it doesn’t seem that many game developers will be taking advantage of the new console hardware fully for at least that time. Anything in development today on those consoles will have been using the gaming company’s older non-optimized engine. It will take at least six months for most developers to retool their engines to be optimized for the new platform.

For this reason and for the typical dearth of features that Sony is likely to offer us come release day, I’m waiting. There’s nothing like spending $700 to play one game, then let the console sit for 6 months without using it at all. Such a waste of $700.

No, I’m not doing that again Sony. I’ll lay out money towards a console once it actually has some gaming momentum behind it and usable features to boot. Once Netflix and Hulu and all of the staples arrive to the consoles, then there will be some reasons to consider. Until that day arrives, it’s a $700 paperweight.

Pricing

Don’t kid yourself about this next part. Even though pricing hasn’t been announced for the PS5 or the Xbox SX, you can bet that after buying games, accessories, cables, chargers and the console itself, you’ll easily have spent at least $700. The price will probably be closer to $1,000. Even the PS4 exceeded the $1,000 price point if you included a PSVR unit. If there’s a VR unit on the way for the PS5, then expect the PS5’s price point to hit $1,000 to $1,500, possibly more.

We’ll have to wait on the pricing, but Sony and Microsoft have to announce it soon. Few people will place a pre-order on these units without knowing what they’ll end up paying. I won’t. It’s a fundamental aspect of gaming. You have to know the cost of the unit to know if it’s worth the price.

If both Sony and Microsoft price at or close to $1,000 for a base unit, they are probably making huge mistakes. Since the gaming price point has always been $500 or so, doubling that price approaches PC pricing territory. If you can get a PC for cheaper than a console, what’s the point in buying a console?

Microsoft and Sony must be very careful when considering their price point for these consoles. For me, I’d value these consoles at being worth no more than $600-700 (regardless of the actual costs to assemble it). If they’re priced higher than this, the console industry is going to have a real problem on its hands. Even Nintendo may feel the pinch from it. Considering that the Switch costs $299, that’s an excellent price point for such a universally useful unit. Unfortunately, Nintendo has been lax on wooing developers to the platform. So far, Nintendo has only been able to woo Bethesda. Even then, Bethesda’s involvement on the Switch has been limited.

Sony and Microsoft must be very careful with their pricing. I’m actually hoping Microsoft announces their pricing first. This will start a price war between Sony and Microsoft. Sony will have to price the PS5 at or below the same price as the Xbox SX. Sony and Microsoft can ignore Nintendo’s pricing as Nintendo has never offered a similarly competitive console entry. It’s very unlikely Sony or Microsoft will ever price their consoles at $299. At least, not the day one console.

In the future, though, the pricing will be fluid and may approach the $299 price tag… yet another reason to wait.

Let’s hope that Sony and Microsoft can choose to do the right thing with these units and price them accordingly. At least, they shouldn’t be priced any higher than the Xbox One X or the PS4 Pro. As for the design, yeah, it could have been WAY better on both consoles.

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Top 10 gripes for Fallout 76

Posted in advice, botch, business, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on December 8, 2019

Fallout 76_20191108124032

You’re thinking of buying Fallout 76? You’ve rationalized, “It’s only a game, how bad can it be?” Let’s explore the top 10 gripes for why Fallout 76 may not be the best game purchase in 2019.

Number 10 — It’s not a new game

This game was released over a year ago in October of 2018. It’s over a year old already. Games typically have a 1 year lifespan of relevance before losing steam. The useful lifetime of this game is already waning and the clock is now ticking down on this game. Bethesda knows it, the industry knows it and gamers know this. You could invest your money into this game and find in 5 months that Bethesda has decided to pull the plug. For this reason alone, I’d be cautious in investing time in building a character.

Bethesda RPG-like games usually take months to fully play through. You might not even see all of the endgame content before Bethesda pulls the plug. Though, you can most certainly get through the main quest line before then, as short as the main quest is. Keep in mind, however, that because it’s an online game, there’s no local save file on your computer. If Bethesda pulls the plug, all of your characters and the work you’ve spent building them will disappear.

Number 9 — Multiplayer Game Modes

If you’re solely looking at the purchase of Fallout 76 for its multiplayer player-vs-player (PVP) game modes, you might want to think again. There are only three multiplayer modes in Fallout 76:

  1. Native (Workshop and Adventure)
  2. Hunter / Hunted Radio
  3. Battle Royale

Native PVP

None of the 3 PVP modes are particularly well designed and none of them fit into the Fallout universe and actually make sense. This first mode, “Native”, requires two people to initiate this mode through a handshaking process. One person fires on another. The second person must fire back to complete the PVP handshaking and launch into PVP mode. The problem is, there’s no fun to be had in this PVP mode and it’s rarely, if ever, used. Most players in adventure mode are there to explore and play PVE, not to get into PVP battles. So, be cautious when trying to elicit a PVP action from another player.

The second half of the PVP mode is at Workshops. If you claim a workshop, the handshaking mode is disabled and the entirety of the workshop area becomes an active PVP zone. Once you own a workshop, anyone can come into the workshop and begin PVP with you or your team. It’s the same PVP as the version that requires handshaking, except there is no handshaking.

Speaking of teams, be cautious when teaming up with other players. It only takes one player in a team to begin PVP with another player. Once that happens, the entire team becomes vulnerable to PVP with that player (and anyone on a team with that player). No warnings are issued by the game to other team players when one team member begins PVP activities with another player.

Hunter / Hunted Radio

The second game mode, “Hunter / Hunted Radio” requires you open a radio station on the in-game Pip boy (heads up display giving access to your inventory, weapons, armor, etc). This “radio station” links you into a matchmaking mode that allows up to 4-5 players in a given radius to begin PVP activities. As the name suggest, it’s about hunting for other players all while being hunted yourself. It’s also a sort of ‘Last Man Standing’ mode in that whichever player ends up with the most kills gets the most rewards.

Both of the above listed game modes are effectively “death match” style PVP. That means that it’s solely about player characters killing one another… which then comes down to which player has the best and strongest armor and weapons. Both of these styles rapidly elicit boredom because “death match” is the oldest and weakest type of PVP mode there is and is simply about killing other player characters.

This PVP also makes no sense within Fallout 76 where all of the people who lived in Vault 76 were supposed to remain civil and friendly towards one another. Not even the game setup or later found holotapes reveal any story aspect of people in Vault 76 turning on one another before “Reclamation Day”. If that had been a story element, then perhaps the PVP might have made some sense. But, no. The holotapes found almost ALL tie into the Scorched threat or other similar environmental survival threats (bad water, radiation, etc). None of the holotapes discuss bad blood between the residents within Vault 76. If that had been true, the “Reclamation Day Party” the night before would have ended in bloodshed before the vault even opened.

Nuclear Winter — Battle Royale

The third PVP activity is separated from the above because it arrived much later in 2019. At the same time it is a merely a weak copy of other better implemented Battle Royale games, which are currently “trending” in the game industry. Bethesda added this game mode, not because it made sense to Fallout 76 (or the Fallout universe), but because it is so popular in other popular game franchises, such as Fortnite and Apex Legends. It’s simply Bethesda’s attempt at a cash grab in an industry being inundated by other better Battle Royale based games.

Battle Royale is nothing new. It is a game mode that has been around since the early days of PVP. However, games like Fortnite and Apex Legends have turned this mode into hugely successful franchises. This mode is another “Last Man Standing” mode which is simply an alternative version of “Death Match.” In this death match style game, instead of people picking off one another and continually respawning until the clock runs out, you only get one try to win. This means that once your character has been killed, you can only watch the action unfold for the remaining active players. The point of any Battle Royale mode is to survive as long as you can and possibly become the “last man standing”.

With Fortnite and Apex Legends, it’s not so much about being Battle Royale, it’s more about the game makers crafting the game using interesting characters using gimmicks (building forts) with interesting attack modes. It’s about finding a character who has the “best” attack in the game. This means you can bring in experience earned and weapons owned back into the game to use over and over.

Why is all of this important to Bethesda’s “Battle Royal”? Because Bethesda chooses to allow nothing into its Battle Royale mode. All experience earned is earned explicitly within this game mode. But, even that experience doesn’t matter. Any weapons you may have used or armor you may have found cannot be used in subsequent plays. You must ALWAYS find weapons and armor in the game once it begins. Even then, it’s all random what you find. The chests generate random weapons, armor and loot. It could be good loot or it could be bad. Since you have no idea what you might or might not find, you’re at the mercy of the game to outfit you while you’re in the game. All the while, the clock is ticking.

You’re never given enough time to really outfit your character in a useful fashion. You end up spending inordinate amounts of time hiding from other players and, hopefully, finding decent armor and weapons in the loot chests. Some Battle Royale games offer this “loot chest” idea, like Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG). Unfortunately this game concept fails to work in a game like Fallout 76 where the entire point of playing Fallout 76 is to gain experience, weapons and armor over time. Having to “start over fresh” every time you play is, unfortunately, tedious.

Ignoring the nonsensical nature of this game mode even being IN Fallout 76, Nuclear Winter is boring. Even after one playthrough, it’s the same every time. Hide, search, outfit, stay alive. In fact, in this game mode, if you actively attempt to go looking for other players to kill, your character is more likely to be killed. To survive in this game mode, you need to remain hidden until the ever enclosing “ring of fire” gets too small to ignore any other players.

Additionally, any earned experience in “Nuclear Winter” is not carried into the “Adventure Mode” of Fallout 76. Everything in Nuclear Winter is for Nuclear Winter and vice versa. These modes are mutually exclusive.

Considering that Apex Legends and Fortnite are free-to-play, buying Fallout 76 solely to play Bethesda’s Nuclear Winter game mode is a waste of money. Go get the free Fortnite or Apex Legends or buy into Player Unknown’s Battlegrounds which do Battle Royale mode much, MUCH better. Bethesda would have done better to separate Nuclear Winter into a separate, standalone, free-to-play game… not tied to Fallout 76. I might even suggest retheming it either as its own franchise or theme it under a franchise more known for multiplayer games, such as Doom or Wolfenstein.

But… don’t run out and buy Fallout 76 strictly for Nuclear Winter. It’s too expensive for as weak as this game mode’s design is. If you already own the game, then it’s worth trying.

Number 8 — Holotape Hunt

This game has categorically been chastised for its lack of NPCs. And… that criticism is rightly justified. All previous Fallout games have been HEAVILY centered around NPCs and their dilemmas. To yank a mainstay out of a Fallout game means to yank out its very heart-and-soul and its reason to exist. The reason players play Fallout and Skyrim is because of the sometimes heart wrenching stories of its human NPC inhabitants.

In Fallout 76, because there are no human NPCs, save Super Mutants and a bunch of robots, the game is devoid of ANY interactivity with other NPCs. Instead, the game’s primary story sees you hunt down a trail of pre-recorded holotapes to “listen” to a bunch of canned messages and read random text on computer terminals. Worse, many of these holotapes open up quests that you are required to complete, yet the holotapes are way too short to really give the player any sense of urgency. Indeed, the holotape has likely been sitting by a dead body for months, if not years already. How can there be any sense of urgency around listening to something that’s been sitting there that long? In fact, whatever that dead person may have been doing to prompt that tape is likely long over and done.

Worse, sitting around listening to holotapes as a matter of story course, then reading text on a bunch of terminals is entirely boring. Storytelling, particularly in video games, should be done by interactive characters, not by text on a screen or pre-recorded audio tapes. In fact, such a storytelling tactic thwarts the point of even using a video game to tell a story. This isn’t the early 80s when Zork was the best that computers could achieve, it’s the days of Call of Duty when it’s all about realistic cinematic 3D character storytelling. Yet, the best Bethesda can come up with is effectively what we got in a game from the 80s?

Number 7 — Shorter Than Expected

While there are a wide number of side quests, events and tertiary activities, the main quests total 22. Considering that previous Fallout installments had way more than this number for its main quests, this is a sad number for Fallout 76. In fact, if you solely focus on just these 22 quests, you can probably get through all of them within a week or two at most. Note, most of this time is spent grinding up levels and gaining resources to ensure you can complete some of the quests properly and, of course, survive.

Number 6 — Eating, Drinking, Diseases & Weapon and Armor Breakage

To extend the amount of time you play Fallout 76, Bethesda has implemented some, at least they think, clever time extending mechanisms. Mechanisms such as eating, drinking, diseases and then there’s weapon and armor breaking frequently. The point to adding these mechanisms is less about realism and more about making you grind, grind, grind to keep your character from dying. Sure, in real life we do have to eat and drink. We’ll also have to repair armor.

These mechanisms in Fallout 76 are implemented poorly. For example, water consumption is entirely too frequent. You will find you have to consume water and food at least once per hour of play. No one eats food that frequently. You might sip water over the course of the day, but you don’t drink the amount of water they force your character to drink at every interval.

Worse, if water consumption drops too low, the penalty is reduced action points. Action points aren’t even a concept in real life. This is where the realism ultimately ends. It is also where it becomes apparent that the point to why Bethesda added these unnecessary additions comes into play. It’s not about realism, it’s about extending the time it takes you to play the game. Indeed, it can and does slow you down. Instead of actual, you know, questing, you’re not forced to forage for food, water and resources to keep your weapons and armor repaired and keep your character from dying. That’s not survival, that’s stupidity.

Worse, it’s all manual. To eat and drink, you are forced to stop and perform a manual task. There is no perk card that automatically consumes marked favorite foods whenever it gets too low. No, it’s all manual. In the middle of a fight? Too bad, now you have to open a menu and consume some food. Forgot to mark it as a favorite? Now you have deep dive into a bunch of slow menus in the middle of a battle. Yeah, not fun.

Number 5 — Menu System / Lack of Pause

As was discussed immediately above, the menu system is clumsy, cumbersome and dated. As I was talking about Zork from the 80s, that’s how this game feels. Like it was designed in the 80s for an 80s audience. Fallout 76 doesn’t in any way feel modern.

When you’re in the heat of battle (and because this is a multiplayer game that doesn’t allow for pausing), if you want to change weapons or swap armor, it’s a laborious process involving a convoluted set of menus.

Sure, there’s a wheel you can plant your favorites, but that’s limited and must be used for ALL items in the game. This means this small menu wheel is overloaded with food, clothing, aid, armor and weapons. You don’t have separate wheels for weapons, armor and food… which this game desperately needs.

While the PipBoy seems like a great idea, in practice and for a game UI, it really sucks for quick access when in a multiplayer non-pausable environment. For Fallout 4 where pause was a mainstay, thus allowing you time to think and swap, in Fallout 76 the PipBoy’s UI system entirely fails the player and Fallout 76.

Number 4 — Scorched and Broken Canon

With Fallout 76, Bethesda introduces a new enemy into the Fallout universe. The Scorched. However, this enemy addition doesn’t really make any sense at all. Fallout 76 is a prequel to Fallout 4. If the Scorched existed in Fallout 76, they very likely made their way to from Virginia to Boston in Fallout 4. After all, Scorchbeasts fly. This is where Bethesda breaks its own canon and lore simply to create new games.

There are a number of places where Bethesda has broken canon in the Fallout universe, the biggest faux pas being the Scorched. So, let’s focus on the Scorched. Even after you complete the game’s main quest (which is supposed rid Appalachia of the Scorched), the game remains status quo and unchanged with regards to Scorchbeast Queens, Scorchbeasts and even Scorched… which continue to reappear. The player following the Scorched quest line does nothing to resolve the Scorched plague… which doubly means that the Scorched should have made their way to Boston to appear in Fallout 4. Yet, they inexplicably don’t. And, it’s not like Bethesda couldn’t have rolled a Fallout 4 update to apply retroactively continuity to add the Scorched information into Fallout 4 and make the universe consistent. Nope, Bethesda didn’t do this.

So, now we have Fallout 76 which remains with story incongruities by introducing enemies, clothing, items and concepts which have not appeared in games that have chronologically come after Fallout 76.

Number 3 — Grind Grind Grind

While some people might think this is the number 1 problem in the game, it is not. In fact, we will come to the biggest problem in just a few, but let’s grind on with number 3.

While this one is somewhat tied to the number 1 problem, it is separate and unique. But, it is not at all unique to this genre of game. Developers seem to think that grind, grind, grinding your way through the game is somehow fun. It’s a mistaken thought rationale. While grinding does extend the length of time it takes to play the game, we gamers can see right through that charade. We know when game developers have added grinding for the sake of grinding and not for the purposes of general game exploration.

There’s a fine line between grinding to complete a quest and grinding because you have to play the subgame of surprise grab bag to locate the best weapons, armor and loot in the game.

Purveyor Murmrgh is the poster child of everything wrong with not only grinding within Fallout 76, it also bookends and highlights this major industry problem across the RPG genre, but also of video gaming in general.

fallout-76_20191207153431.jpgSlogging through the same pointless battles over and over just to gain “currency” to play the Loot Bag Lottery is not in any way fun. That’s exactly what Purveyor Murmrgh is to Fallout 76. It is the icing on the grinding cake… but it’s more like Salmonella.

Oh, and believe me, most of the junk given out by Murmrgh is just that, junk. It’s a Junkie’s Meathook dealing 25 damage. It’s a Vampire’s Knuckles dealng 20 damage. It’s an Instigating Shovel dealing 5 damage. It’s a Vanguard’s Pipe Pistol dealing 10 damage. It’s literal junk. The only thing you can do when you’re issued this junk is turn it back in and get at least some Scrip back. Yes, you might get super lucky and get a Two Shot Gauss or a Instigating or Furious Pump Action Shotgun, but it might also take you hundreds of tries (100 Scrip per try) to get it.

Let’s understand exactly how much grinding is needed to gain the 100 Scrip required to “buy” a 3-star randomly generated legendary weapon from Murmrgh. Each 3-star legendary traded in offers 40 scrip. That means it takes three 3-star legendary weapons to gain 120 scrip and top the 100 Scrip mark. That means that it takes at least 3 Scorchbeast Queen kills to gain three 3-star legendary weapons… and that assumes she will even drop a 3-star legendary weapon every time. Hint, she doesn’t. Many 3-star legendary enemies rarely drop 3-star weapons. In fact, most drop 1 or 2 star weapons most commonly.. which you can trade in at a lesser Scrip value (see chart below). Ultimately, this means even more and more grinding just to find those ever elusive 3-star legendary weapons to turn in and gain Scrip.

You also can’t get Scrip in any other way than grinding for and “selling” Legendary loot. You can’t buy Scrip with Caps. You can’t buy Scrip with actual money (although that would be an even bigger problem for Bethesda). You can’t buy Scrip with Atom (because you can buy Atom with real money). You must grind, grind, grind your way into getting Scrip.

Here’s a table of how it all breaks down for Legendary Scrip:

Legendary Type Scrip Trade-In Value
One Star Legendary Weapon 5
Two Star Legendary Weapon 15
Three Star Legendary Weapon 40
One Star Legendary Armor 3
Two Star Legendary Armor 9
Three Star Legendary Armor 24

What this table means to a gamer is that you should expect to grind, grind, grind to find 3-star legendary weapons (which you can trade toward Scrip), versus any other type when you’re looking to get a 3 star legendary weapon out of Murmrgh any time soon. That doesn’t mean you won’t happen upon a great 1, 2 or 3-Star legendary weapon or armor along the way while grinding. But, it also means that if you want to play the Scrip Loot Box Lottery game at Murmrgh, you’re going to need to grind your way through a lot of legendary weapon drops before you get enough to visit Murmrgh. Even then, because it’s a Surprise Loot Box, you’re at the mercy of whatever crap it decides to roll the dice and give you.

Ultimately, Fallout 76 is about grinding and Bethesda’s understanding and design of its game constructs are intended for gamers to spend inordinate more amounts of time grinding than questing. Bethesda’s rationale around this is having people grinding on the game is better than not playing it at all. To some degree this may be valid, but only because there are some gamers that actually LIKE grinding. I’m not one of them. Doing forever repetitive tasks over and over is not something I want to do in an RPG, let alone in Fallout. Let’s grind on.

Number 2 — Bugs, bugs and More Bugs

This one goes without saying for Bethesda. The game industry has been in a tailspin in this area for the last 3-5 years. When the N64 was a mainstay in the home gaming, game developers did their level best to provide solid, reliable, robust, well crafted gaming experiences. Literally, these games were incredibly stable. I can’t recall a single N64 game that would randomly crash in the middle of the game. While there were logic problems that might have made games unintentionally unbeatable, the games were still rock stable.

Since then when the N64 console was popular, games have moved more and more towards hardware being driven by Microsoft’s operating systems (and also adopting Microsoft’s idea of stability), the former push towards gaming excellence has severely waned. No longer are developers interested in providing a high quality stable gaming experiences. Today, game developers are more interested in getting product out the door as fast as possible than in making sure the product is actually stable (or even finished). What this has meant to the gaming industry is that gamers have now become unwitting pawns by paying retail prices to become “Beta Testers”. Yes, you now must pay $60 to actually beta test game developer software today. Let’s bring it back to Fallout 76.

Bethesda has never been known for providing particularly stable software products in its past gaming products. Even Fallout 3 had fairly substantial bugs in its questing engine. Obsidian muddied the already murky waters of Fallout with its Fallout New Vegas installment. Obsidian is much more attuned to producing high quality stable products. This meant that many gamers probably conflate the stability imparted by Obsidian’s Fallout New Vegas with Bethesda’s much buggier Fallout 3 as both games were released during a similar time frame. Fallout 4, however, can’t rely on this conflation. Fallout 4 stands on its own, for better or worse, and its bugs were (and are) readily apparent. Fallout 4 even regularly crashes back to the dashboard hard. By extension, so does Fallout 76. Fallout 76 was also born out of Fallout 4 and many bugs in Fallout 4 made their way unfixed into Fallout 76. Some of those Fallout 4 bugs are even still there!

Fallout 76 has, yet again, become an unwitting poster child for this newest trend towards cutting corners. Even though Bethesda has always provided buggy experiences, Fallout 76 is by far Bethesda’s worst. Even The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) at its worst never fared this bad, even though it was not completely bug free when it first arrived and was still considered fairly beta. Fallout 76, however, was released entirely unfinished and chock full of serious bugs.

Worse, the whole lack of NPCs feels more like cutting corners than it does an active design decision. It’s like they simply couldn’t get the NPCs working day one. So, they cut them out of the mix and quickly threw together a bunch of voiceovers for holotapes and wrote a bunch of terminal entries. The bugginess and being unfinished for Fallout 76 is readily apparent, but what may not be apparent is this lack of design forethought for the (lack of) NPCs. There are even areas of the game that seem as though they were designed to have functional quests on day one, but never had anything attached. For example, Vaults 94, 51, 63 and 96.

Recently, however, Bethesda released add-ons that fill in Vault 94 and Vault 51 (sort of). Vault 51 is still unfinished in the Adventure server portion of Fallout 76, but it exists as Battle Royale (a completely separate game mode). Vault 94 is a raiding vault intended for multiplayer group play. Unfortunately, Vault 94 is entirely a disaster. Not only is the interior one of the worst designed vault interiors I’ve seen, the actual gameplay is so overloaded with unnecessary amounts enemies, it’s a chore to go in there. By ‘chore’, I mean literally. There’s so much stuff being thrown at you, the game engine can’t even properly handle it. It ends up a completely stuttery, herky-jerky gaming mess. If you can even fire your weapon timely, you’re lucky. Most times, you’re so inundated by swarms of enemies, you can’t even properly aim or fire. VATs barely even works in this “dungeon” simply due to the enemy overload.

As for vaults, 63 and 96, there’s still nothing associated with them in Adventure. It is assumed that, like Vault 94, both will become part of later group raids.

Still, there are many, many unfinished quest lines throughout Fallout 76. Not only are there many presidential ballot systems all over the wasteland, including in Harper’s Ferry and Watoga, there is also a locked presidential suite in the Whitespring Enclave bunker. Also, while there are several hand scan locked rooms in the Whitespring villas, there are also many more hand scan locked rooms in the Whitespring Hotel proper. This almost entirely indicates that being General in the Enclave may not have been the end of the road for the Enclave quest line. Instead, it seems the quest may have led the player to becoming President over the Wasteland. With all of the random ballot systems, it seems that you may have had to repair enough of these systems to allow vault residents to vote for you to become President using those ballot systems, thus giving you access to the Enclave’s Presidential suite. It seems Bethesda abandoned this quest idea somewhere along the way. This, in fact, may have been dependent on NPCs which were summarily stripped from the game. Without NPCs to help vote you in as President, there’s no way to actually play this quest… probably the reason it was left out of the game.

In addition to this abandoned quest line, there are the upper floors in the Whitespring hotel. The front desk Assaultron specifically says the hotel is still under refurbishment. This is, yet another, unfinished quest. You don’t build a hotel like Whitespring and then lock off half of the building as “unfinished”. These are self-autonomous robots. They can easily finish this refurbishment process… and should have finished it by now. This Whitespring Hotel part is simply more on top of the vaults that still remain locked. There are likely even more than this in the Wasteland (crashed Space Station with no explanation), but these are the ones that stand out.

And now…

Number 1 — Revisionism of Fallout 76

Here we come to the biggest foible of Fallout 76. Instead of fixing bugs, Bethesda has focused solely on revising Fallout 76. Instead of releasing a complete and functional game, the developers got to about a 45% finished state and Bethesda pushed it out the door. Unfortunately, when something is pushed out unfinished, it never does get finished.

What that means is that like what’s described in #2, too many long standing bugs remain. Instead of Bethesda focusing on knocking out the remaining bugs, they have instead diverted to “value added content”. More specifically, designing shit they can sell in the Atom shop… that and the addition of mostly pointless short term events that haven’t even dropped loot that they should have dropped. Because of all of this, this game hit the game market hard, garnered intensely negative criticism (and still does) and ended up as a huge miss with many Fallout fans. Bethesda, however, has been riding this storm of negativity in hopes they can somehow succeed.

Unfortunately, all of what Bethesda believes to be “better” for Fallout 76 has been merely temporary bandaids, without actually fixing much of the basic underlying problems. There are so many bugs in Fallout 76 from day one that remain unfixed, it’s a surprise the game actually even functions (and in many cases, it doesn’t).

Bethesda has even spent time towards targeting “fixes” for things which haven’t even been problems. For example, Bethesda has reduced the damage output of weapons that in previous Fallout installments have been some of the most powerful weapons in the game. What that means to Fallout 76 is that the game is so heavily nerfed (reduced) that it’s almost no fun to play. You go into Fallout to spend time looking for the best weapons and armor in the game. Since all of these “best” have been so heavily reduced in damage, they are no longer the best. They are, in fact, now some of the worst weapons in the game. For example, they have reduced the Two Shot Gauss rifle’s output damage to no better than a non-legendary shotgun.

This has forced the remaining gamers to perform even more rounds of grind, grind, grinding. Because now you blow through even more armor and ammo… meaning you now have to go repair everything every few plays (yes, even when you have the perk cards equipped).

And here’s even more unnecessary meddling… Bethesda has mucked with how well the perk cards work. Many cards claim up 60%-90% reduction of “whatever”. Yet, if you really do the math, it’s way, way less than that percentage. Sometimes, it’s more likely 10-15%. The cards lie on their face. Many perk cards don’t even function.. AT ALL. You can buy into a perk card stack, but some cards literally do nothing. When the cards do function, they function at much less than what the face value of the card says. The perk cards nearly all lie in some way. They are merely there as “feel good” helpers. Many of them don’t function as intended, if they function at all.

Much of this reduced functionality is because of Bethesda’s revisionism. Instead of leaving well enough alone with the cards, Bethesda has continually felt the need to tweak these cards silently without informing gamers of the changes they are making. The cards are not the only place where they have done this. Silently screwing with VATs seems to be yet another pastime of the Bethesda devs. Yes, Bethesda is sneaking in changes without letting anyone know. But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Simply equip your Perk cards and see if they actually perform at the level they state. This all assumes that you really want to invest in this way less than mediocre game title. It’s these unnecessary changes that make this game less than stellar. It is also why this is the #1 gripe for this game.

The only thing that Bethesda’s revisionism has done for Fallout 76 is turn it into even more of a disaster than it already was. Yes, Fallout 76 is actually worse now than it was when it launched (when most of the game actually functioned as intended). Only after Bethesda began its revisionism has the game turned into junk heap. And, junk heap it is.

Bethesda continues with its revisionism in Fallout 1st (pronounced “first”), Bethesda’s monthly / yearly subscription service. You should be careful investing into this service. Considering the state of Fallout 76 today, it may not have a year of life left before Bethesda cans this game. If you’re considering purchasing a year of 1st, you may find that in 6 months, the game is shut down. How you get half of your $99 back is as yet unknown. If Fallout 76 remains in service for one more year, I’d be surprised.

Bethesda also doesn’t want to listen to what the gamers want. Instead of adding things gamers have actually requested, Bethesda has had its own agenda of questionable add-ons. Add-ons that no one has actually requested or even wanted (Distillery?). Add-ons that have added limited value back to the gamers. For example, Purveyor Murmrgh. No one wants surprise loot-crates. We want to BUY our legendary rifles already outfitted and ready to go. We want to buy legendary module add-ons so we can add legendary effects to our existing weapons and armor. We also want to be able to level our weapons up along with our player. None of this has been provided by Bethesda. All of these requests have gone unfulfilled and unanswered.

As another example of incompleteness in the game, there are 5 star slots on legendary armor and weapons. Yet, the highest amount of stars is still 3? So what gives with that? If you’re only planning to ever have 3 star weapons and armor, then remove the extra 2 unused stars as we’ll never see any 5 star weapons or armor. So many misses in this game, yet Bethesda keeps going without addressing or fixing all of these simple little problems… instead Bethesda has focused on breaking, breaking and more breaking.

The big takeaway here is be cautious with purchasing this game and be doubly cautious if you decide to purchase a 1st subscription. This game is already skating on thin ice as it is. If it lasts another year, call me surprised.

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Online Gaming and Your Accounts

Posted in best practices, video game, xbox by commorancy on March 24, 2019

As gaming companies grow larger and offer more game selections, game libraries, digital stores other merchandise, online gaming can become a problem for you if you choose to play games in certain unacceptable ways. Let’s explore the dangers.

Online Gaming and Stores

Since the advent of stores like Steam, the Xbox store and even the independent stores, like Bethesda’s and Electronic Arts store and since the addition of multiple games that these stores sell, dangers to your account are present when you play any game.

What are those dangers? As more and more games become multiplayer online capable, along with those online features comes “Terms of Service” agreements. These are agreements to which you must agree before you can play the game. These agreements have legal clauses that let game companies do pretty much anything to your account if you “break the rules”.

Breaking The Rules

What exactly is breaking the rules? Sometimes the rules are not clearly defined. Sometime they are not defined at all. The difficulty with rules is that they don’t have to be defined for a company to call foul against you, to block you, to ban you, to delete your content, etc.

How do you know when you’re breaking the rules? This is a matter of common sense. Unfortunately, because many gamers are of age 9-14, common sense hasn’t yet kicked in. You don’t really begin to get an understanding of “common sense” until you reach your mid to late 20s. With kids aged 9-14, you get all sorts of behaviors, many of these behaviors are entirely unwanted and unacceptable.

Game developers need to be cognizant of this fact when they build their game platforms. Ignoring the 9-14 demographic when building your game is ripe for problems… which is exactly what Fallout 76 experiences regularly. Clearly, Bethesda developed a game and just “threw it out there” without thought to the demographics of those actually playing the game.

Demographics and Gaming

Know your audience. If you’re writing a novel, know the audience you are intending to gear your content towards. If it’s geared towards adults, write the novel with that audience demographic in mind. Don’t cater to children in your words when you’re writing to adults. That not only will insult your target demographic, it will turn them off of your writing. The same goes for video games. If you’re creating a video game, keep in mind your audience members who will be playing the game.

If you’re hoping to get audience from 9-50, then you might want to rethink your content, particularly online gaming content. The 50-something gamers are not likely to want to run around with a bunch of 10 year olds where common sense doesn’t prevail. Think through the demographic strategy carefully when designing an online world.

Duping, Glitches and Out of Bounds

Kids try out anything. In video games, this means they’ll actually try and break your game. They simply don’t care. They’re not in it for the rules, they’re in it for whatever fun they can have doing whatever they feel. If that means glitching their way through walls to get into off-limits areas, expect it. That’s what kids do. It’s in their nature. This even follows through to teens. If your game caters to teens, expect them to do similar things.

In fact, for online multiplayer games, I might even go so far as to only allow children on servers intended for children only. Place adults onto servers with adults only. This way, there’s no mixing of adults and children. Many reasons exist for this segregation, but the interactions between adults and children do not always go over well.

By ‘children’, I mean under 18 years of age, but preferably under 21. By allowing mixing of ages in online worlds, a game dev’s property can become liable for predatory tactics between unsuspecting children and not-so-well-meaning adults. Keeping children separate from adults keeps that unsavory door firmly closed. You don’t want your platform to facilitate this kind of interaction… AT ALL.

Accounts, Companies, Rules and Danger

As a result of digital goods stores now selling multiple games in their own store and because of stringent (and undefined) rules, if you run afoul of the “rules” even just once, you can lose your entire account at that store… including all purchases made through that store. That means that you could have had 10 (or more) different games you’ve purchased over the years. One infraction that bans your account from a single game means the loss of access to all of those other purchased games. This is the danger of running afoul of the rules.

For example in Fallout 76, the duping glitch wasn’t something that was built into the game intentionally. People (mostly kids) took advantage of this duping glitch to dupe and begin selling “rare” items. Expecting Bethesda not to do something about this is entirely naive. That the players thought that Bethesda couldn’t find “them” was even more naive. I spoke with many dupers who were so nonchalant about the whole duping thing, they never thought that Bethesda would ban their accounts. Yet, that’s exactly what happened. Not only did Bethesda ban the accounts, they also heavily reduced the damage output of the duped weapons. They also heavily reduced other parts of the game to get it “inline” with those other reduced parts. In reality, they ultimately damaged their game simply to “teach a lesson” to the dupers. This “punishment” actually hurt the Fallout 76 game property and lost a bunch of players in the process. If you’re trying to chase away paying customers, this is an awesome way to do it.

While I’m not trying condemn Bethesda for their choices, they did make questionable choices in handling the dupers and in dealing with Fallout 76.

What does this mean for you?

If you subscribe to Steam or PlayStation Network or Xbox Live or any type of similar digital game seller, you’re at the mercy of that seller’s rules. In the case of Steam, they are a third party seller not specifically selling their own created games (usually). This means that it is much less likely to run afoul of a game’s rule and see your Steam account banned. Unfortunately, if you’re buying from EA, Bethesda or similar direct digital stores, you won’t be so lucky. If you do something considered ban-worthy in an online game sold by the developer, it’s likely your account will disappear as a result.

In the case of Bethesda’s Fallout 76, it’s clear that duping wasn’t going to lead to anything wonderful. Bethesda was very disenchanted over the whole situation… enough to basically destroy the entire Fallout 76 game (as if it wasn’t already destroyed from the start). Anyway, Bethesda not only removed the ability to find Two Shot Explosive weapons, those that still exist saw their damage output heavily reduced (by at least 75%). That’s a major reduction in damage. Not only this, they increased the hit points needed to kill certain “hard” enemies in the game (Scorchbeasts and the Scorchbeast Queen). So not only were the weapons heavily reduced, the creatures are now even harder to kill.

These are the kinds of changes that Bethesda introduced in Fallout 76 in retaliation for the dupers. Not only did the nonchalant attitude break the game, it basically destroyed it. On top of that, the dupers who were the source of the problem were also summarily banned from the game. Bethesda has said these “bans” are temporary. However, a 2 month suspension is well longer than “temporary”. Temporary is a 1-4 day period. Permanent is anything longer than a week. A 2 month ban might as well be permanent.

In the online game world, a lot happens in two months. You also lose touch with the game and will eventually stop playing it. Yet, these players who were banned also paid $60 (or more) just like everyone else. If Bethesda bans accounts without explanation, Bethesda should be required to refund the banned player at least part of the cost of their game. If Bethesda wants to ban players, they need to do it with a reason and explanation that fits within the terms of service.

What this all means is that when you’re playing an online game, you need to be on your best behavior just like anywhere else. Stick to the confines of the world’s limits. Don’t egregiously go over the limits simply because the game lets you… even if you don’t like the way the game is designed. Trying to intentionally break the game is the quickest way to get your account banned. This is especially true in online games where what you do can affect everyone else on the server.

If you’re playing a single player campaign game on your own console or computer, go ahead and break it. That’s fine. If you’re in a shared online world where there are other players who paid to be there and you intentionally cause the server to crash, then you deserve what’s coming to you. If that’s a ban, so be it. You should never go out of your way to crash or otherwise disrupt online worlds with other players. That’s the quickest way to a ban.

Complaints from Banned Gamers

I’ve heard all sorts of complaints from gamers who have been banned. The primary complaint is that now all of the rest of their games are inaccessible because of the ban. Consider that a lesson learned. Now you know the ramifications of causing unnecessary havoc in online game worlds. This should teach you that all actions have consequences. Games are designed with game mechanisms in mind. So long as you work within the constraints of those designed mechanisms, you’ll be fine. When you decide to go out of those bounds and find holes to exploit, that’s when your account becomes flagged.

For example, players who entered the Bethesda dev room in Fallout 76. Anyone with common sense would know not to go into that room in an online game. It’s an online game and Bethesda has eyes in the online world. They will see that you entered and they will find you. Your activities that you do in an online world are not anonymous, they’re not private and the game developer will most certainly see what you are doing. Thinking you can “get away” with entering a dev room is most certainly naive and definitely stupid. It might be fun to see the room, but that fun will make way to no fun when the developer bans you from their game.

Basically, if you do something in an online world that is out of bounds, expect it to be found and expect your account to be penalized. You can’t just run willy nilly through an online game world and expect no consequences. As I said, in single player offline campaign games, break it as you see fit. Even the game devs don’t care. It’s only when it’s an online world where multiple paying players can be disrupted by what you are doing. Most terms of service have disruption clauses. For example, if you read your terms of service for your ISP, there’s likely a clause that says something similar to “If your account is found to disrupt the internet services of others, your account may be suspended or terminated”. They’re not kidding. If you start DDoSing other folks on the Internet, your Internet account could be closed. Then where are you?

Why mess around with these sort of shenanigans when you can much more easily play by the rules established? A game is meant to be enjoyed by what it was designed to do, not what it wasn’t designed to do.

Overall

Stick to the rules of the game world and you’ll be fine. Venture into unknown territory and expect consequences. In the case of Bethesda, they run the game service, they have every right to eject anyone from that service. However, because you also paid for the game, I believe Bethesda should be required to refund any players they choose to eject. That’s the least that any game dev should be required to do when considering bans on players.

Unfortunately, Bethesda may not be willing to refund you after they banned you, but you may have recourse by disputing the game’s cost with your credit card company. However, there are also two sides to a chargeback. If you dispute the charge of an Xbox Store digital purchase, Xbox Live’s terms of service may kick in and this may result in a ban from Xbox Live. You should be careful. The same problem exists for the PlayStation Store. Even the Steam store likely handles chargebacks seriously.

If you purchased a physical copy of the game, you can also dispute the credit card charge against the seller. If that’s Amazon, Target, Walmart or Gamestop and your dispute is successful, you may find you can no longer use that credit card at those retailers. Chargebacks, while appropriate in some cases, are treated very seriously by merchants. Many merchants see chargebacks as a bad faith transaction from that credit card. As a result, many merchants will blacklist cards from their establishment after even one chargeback. If you’re thinking of using a credit card dispute with your bank, you also need to consider the ramifications if the dispute is successful.

Before considering a chargeback, you should contact the seller and ask if they will refund the purchase price. Only if a seller refuses to refund should you consider raising a dispute with your credit card company. Even then, consider this action carefully as it can also get your online accounts banned.

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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).

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Why I’ve not yet bought a Nintendo Switch

Posted in botch, gaming, nintendo by commorancy on April 13, 2017

I’m usually all over every new Nintendo system by making sure to pre-order it the first moment it’s available. This time was different. Let’s Explore.

Tablet Gaming

Let’s start with the obvious. The primary reason I didn’t purchase a Nintendo Switch is, let’s face it, it’s a tablet. Thanks to Apple’s very aggressive obsolescence of iPads, I now have at least 4 iPad tablets in my house. One that I’m currently using and 3 others that are older models. I also have a Samsung Galaxy Tab S 8.4 and an NVIDIA Shield for gaming … along with an Amazon Fire of some sort that I almost never use. I also have a PS Vita which is tablet-like.

So, let’s just say, I already have enough tablets floating in my house, most of which never get turned on. Buying yet another tablet, even if from Nintendo, that tablet must offer something so compelling it’s a no-brainer. So far, the Nintendo Switch tablet doesn’t have anything compelling to offer. When I buy a computer of any variety, I need to know that it will provide a useful benefit. For example, Android and iOS tablets are at least useful for browsing, email and various other apps (including games) in addition to gaming. For being a general purpose device, Apple and Samsung have the tablet market sewn up.

Nintendo, on the other hand, is a newcomer in this area. Since Nintendo is first-and-foremost a gaming company, the Switch will almost assuredly be a dedicated gaming tablet with limited general purpose apps, if any. For example, I’m fairly certain we’ll see Netflix and a handful of other streaming apps, but that doesn’t necessarily make the Switch a compelling buy. All of my other tablets and devices support these same apps… more, in fact. Because of the lack of real general purpose apps (or indeed a general purpose operating system), it’s almost impossible to justify purchasing a Switch for non-gaming reasons.

Dedicated Gaming

This leaves dedicated gaming the sole means to justify a Nintendo Switch. Unfortunately, this side also leaves a lot to be desired. Just like the NVIDIA Shield, the battery life of the Nintendo Switch is atrocious (2-3 hours). Worse, like the Shield, you cannot play and charge at the same time. The battery of the Switch still runs down even when playing while plugged into the wall. You’ll get a better gaming experience buying an Xbox or PS4.

On top of the tablet’s design problems, there’s the game round up so far. The only really compelling title is Zelda: Breath of the Wild and even that game is available on the Wii U. This means that if you already have a Wii U, there’s no reason to buy a Switch. This was Nintendo’s primary mistake. The most exclusive and compelling title to force you buy into the Switch… and they make it available on the Wii U.

Wii U, 3DS and Gimmicks

At this point, the Wii U is arguably a dead platform. Nintendo’s newest platform, the Switch, is what I dub a tabsole. It’s not a console, it’s not a tablet. So, tabsole fits. Unfortunately, what should have been the exclusive game was inexplicably made available on the Wii U preventing a compelling reason to buy a Switch. The one and only one compelling reason to buy the Switch is if you truly want a portable faux-HD Zelda gaming experience. Today, 720p is at the very bottom end of an HD gaming experience. In fact, I’d really reclassify 720p as not even HD. HD really starts at 1080p and goes up from there. It’s just a matter of time before 4k gaming becomes the norm and people look back at 480p and 720p as archaic reminders of formats past.

For Nintendo to introduce a 720p gaming experience today shows just how far behind Nintendo is technologically. Nintendo has never been known to push gaming boundaries by including high res display technologies, like on Apple’s tablets. Instead, Nintendo’s boundary pushing has been by adding more-or-less gimmicks to their consoles… like the addition of dual screens to the Nintendo DS, adding no-glasses 3D technology into the Nintendo 3DS, creating the Wiimotes for the Wii or adding the two screens to the Wii U through the combination bulky controller + tablet. Nintendo’s gaming claim-to-fame has never been about pushing technical boundaries, it’s always been pushing gimmicks and fads. While these gimmicks may have worked for some games, most of these gimmicks have limited useful value and end up rarely used.

I find that I rarely ever use the 3D technology built into the 3DS. The added head tracking made the 3D even worse, rather than better. Sadly, most 3DS games being created today rarely ever enable 3D even if the slider has 3D enabled. Even the game developers don’t see the 3D as something useful on the 3DS. Same goes for the gamepad on the Wii U. Few developers ever properly used the two screens on the Wii U. Most times, the screen on the gamepad was relegated to being a map. That’s a perfectly good use for that screen as it’s rarely needed, but when it is needed, it’s right there without having to open up a new screen. On the Wii, the Wiimotes were cumbersome to use and twitchy. Because of their twitchy nature, it made using the Wiimotes for any type of precision almost impossible. For example, Red Steel required using the Wiimote as a sniper and moving the Wiimote in and out as if to zoom. Because of the twitchy and unpredictable nature of the Wiimote technology, it was almost impossible to aim and zoom properly. This forced the game to become a challenge, but not in an intended way.

For each of these technologies that Nintendo has employed, they are not there to advance gaming, but to add a new gimmicky fad that quickly wears off. This gimmicky nature extends yet again into the Switch with its Joy-Cons and the dock.

Tablet Computers and Gaming

A tablet is old-hat at this point and isn’t really a gimmick. I mean, it is kind of a gimmick, but it has at least found a place in societal norms. A tablet offers easy and fast access to search Google or read an email. That’s what’s great about a tablet. It’s good for quick access to information using apps on-the-go. The downside to a tablet is its screen size. It’s bigger than a phone, but still just small enough to cause eye strain. For this reason, a tablet is not really the best for trying to read large amounts of text.

However, for gaming where it’s a visual medium, a tablet sized screen is probably a great size. In fact, I know that it’s a great size for certain types of games. Though, I’d still rather game on a 55″ TV rather than on an 8″ tablet screen. I mean, certain puzzle style games work great on an 8″ tablet when all of the icons and buttons are large and easily readable. It’s only when a game developer is trying to jam a bunch of small indicators and info onto a tablet sized screen does the gaming start to break down. Tablets are good for large touchable buttons with large readable icons. Tablets are not good for 8 point fonts and tiny pixel-sized health bars… design those for 55″ TV displays.

Additionally, games are designed for long duration usage. Tablets are intended for quick bursts of use, limited by small batteries and Eye Strain City. By their very different natures, tablets and games really aren’t a good pairing. That Nintendo thought it would be a good idea to pair the two shows just how out of touch Nintendo is with current technology concepts.

Launch Titles

Unfortunately, the few launch titles released with the Switch is yet another problem. While Zelda: BotW is the most compelling title, it’s not exclusive to the Switch. Meaning, I can play this game on the Wii U without even buying a Switch. That means I need to look to the other Switch games to see if those can justify a Switch purchase. Here’s the list:

  • 1-2-Switch
  • Just Dance 2017
  • Skylanders: Imaginators
  • I am Setsuna
  • Snipperclips
  • Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove
  • Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment
  • Fast RMX

Should I buy a Switch for any of the other launch titles?

  • Both Shovel Knights will be released on multiple platforms… No
  • Just Dance 2017 … on a tablet? Really? … No
  • Skylanders: Imaginators is already on multiple platforms … No
  • I am Setsuna is a JRPG available on other platforms … No
  • Snipperclips … ugh, definitely a NO!
  • Fast RMX is yet another vehicle racing game … No
  • 1-2-Switch is a throw-away party game … definitely No

Out of all of the above titles, there is not one single game that is compelling enough to invest in the Switch. In fact, far too many of the games are already available on other platforms. In other words, most of them are has-been ports. Ports are typically games that avid gamers are likely to have already played. You would definitely not buy new hardware just to play a game that you’ve already played.

Problematic Joy-Con Controllers

The general consensus is the Joy-Con controllers are a problem. Apparently, when used wirelessly, they frequently lose connectivity to the Switch making gaming a chore. There’s nothing worse than losing connectivity while playing a game. I would frequently encounter this same problem when using the PS3’s early controllers. I’d been in the middle of a heated battle only for the controller to drop its connection. I eventually had to invest in a Logitech controller with a dongle to solve that problem. I’m pretty sure the Switch has no other options other than attaching the Joy-Cons to the tablet and using them ‘wired’. This design problem is pretty much a show stopper for using the Switch when docked.

Multiplayer Gaming and Nintendo Transfers

Today, multiplayer gaming is a must have option for any new console. Unfortunately, Nintendo has been so far behind the times with this feature, I really have no idea if they can even rectify multiplayer gaming on the Switch. It seems that Nintendo is likely to require a monthly fee to join a ‘new network’ that may or may not offer proper multiplayer options, but we know how well Nintendo typically executes on these features. It will end up has some half-baked thing that barely works, just like Miiverse.

Plus, Nintendo has some really archaic ideas about how to manage portable devices. For example, the 3DS still requires transferring your data from one handheld to another upon replacement. If you happen to lose your device or if it breaks irreparably, you have to make a call to Nintendo support to have them authorize transfer of that data to your new device… an incredibly manual and time consuming step.

I really don’t relish the thought of spending an hour or two transferring data from my Wii U to my Switch. That’s just a ridiculous ask in this day and age. I understand why this may have existed in the past, but with Nintendo’s store, they can simply store your info there and let you download all your stuff to your new device. Having to backup and restore your data from one console to another manually is just insane. As the saying goes, “Ain’t nobody got time for that”.

Roping in Developers

Nintendo has had a severe problem enticing big game developers into their most recent platforms. The Wii U is a prime example. When the Wii U was released, a bunch of large developers like Ubisoft and Activision were on board with producing games. However, due to the lackluster launch of the Wii U and the less than stellar numbers sold, this led to these large developers jumping ship. This meant that Nintendo had to rely on using its own franchises to sell (or not sell) the Wii U. While Nintendo does have a few relatively strong franchises like Zelda, Mario, Wario, Luigi, Kirby, Yoshi, Super Smash Bros and Fire Emblem, it’s really hard for a single company to produce enough games in a year to keep people coming back, let alone sell even more consoles.

So, the full capabilities of the Wii U were never fully realized. Nintendo tried, but were unable to fully utilize the potential of the Wii U. On top of all of this, Nintendo really never did raise the bar of the Wii U beyond its introductory operating system. The carousel was a complete waste of screen space. On the 3DS, at least the upper screen was used to show what item you were working on. On the Wii U, it was always that stupid carousel with talk bubbles popping up from random Mii. It’s not like Mii’s were that compelling anyway. In fact, that whole carousel idea was Nintendo’s idea of multiplayer social interaction. I digress.

The point is, with as gun shy as most developers are with Nintendo these days, it’s almost assured that third party support for the Switch will be non-existent for the foreseeable future. This means that we’re not likely to see much in the way of big new titles. Though, some developer has promised to release Skyrim on the Switch by year end. I’m not entirely certain that that conversion is coming from Bethesda / Zenimax. It’s more likely that conversion project has been handed over to smaller studio for release on the Switch. This probably means bug-city, but more than that this game is already 6 years old. To bank on a 6 year old game ported to a console with lesser capabilities than a PS4 is almost insane to consider. If Nintendo thinks that Skyrim is likely to spur a whole lot of new Switch purchases, they might want to think again. Bethesda would have to ensure some brand new and exclusive Switch DLC before gamers would buy not only a brand new console, but also buy into a 6 year old game they’ve likely already played.

Overall

There isn’t one single compelling game (or reason) that justifies purchase of the Switch. In combination with Nintendo’s lack of general functionality that a tablet needs to offer to remain competitive in an already saturated tablet market, the Switch doesn’t even stand up to its competition. When docked, the Joy-Cons do not reliably work wirelessly. How multiplayer games will work is still up in the air. In effect, Nintendo has yet to give us a solid reason to buy into the Nintendo Switch.

Perhaps with a few more exclusive games titles and a solidly built and robust multiplayer gaming network, Nintendo can turn that tide and bring the must-buy factor up. For now, there’s just not enough compelling reasons to bring yet-another-tablet into my house… considering how many tablets I already own. I know I’m not alone in this situation. For all of the above reasons, the Switch is not on my list of must have gaming consoles.

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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

Elder Scrolls Online: What were they thinking?

Posted in botch, gaming, reviews by commorancy on May 12, 2014

Elder Scrolls Online[Updated: 8/30/2018 to cover Fallout 76]
[Previous update: 7/4/2014 to cover Cyrodiil and Craglorn]

I’m done playing the Elder Scrolls Online. What is it? It’s the newest installment to the Elder Scrolls video game series as a massive multiplayer online game (MMO). Though, my first question that comes to mind is, “What were they thinking?” This game is a huge step backwards for the Elder Scrolls Franchise in so many ways. I know a lot of players ‘like‘ the game (which is all subjective), but in this article we’ll try to understand why this game is not the caliber of a game that it should have been for an Elder Scrolls installment. Let’s explore.

Console Version — Delayed

The Elder Scrolls Online game was available on the PC first and eventually made its way to consoles such as the PS4 and the Xbox One. For the PC, the game was released on April 4th, 2014. For the consoles, the game had planned to release on June 15, 2015 . Zenimax originally announced a six month delay for the release of the console versions, but it took much longer. In lieu of that release, they have made an offer to let you play sooner. If you bought the PC version before the end of June, you were able to transfer your leveled character over to your console. This, of course, assumes everyone has a PC to play it on. Zenimax attempted to build a unified ESO universe where all players from all platforms are using the same world. It didn’t work. This explains the six month extension required to attempt a unified MMO across all platforms has never been attempted by any game developer to date. That Zenimax attempted this unified world was both ambitious and risky. It also meant trying to get Sony and Microsoft to allow this. It didn’t work. It was ultimately wasted time and effort.

It’s also worth noting that if you’re buy the Xbox One version, you will be required to buy an Xbox Live subscription ($59 for 12 months).  If you’re playing on a PS4, you don’t pay anything extra. The PC game formerly required a credit card to enroll in a subscription to unlock that included 30 days. As the game has aged, Bethesda has changed its policies. Also note that many players whose time has expired have lost the ability to play when their credit card declined for unknown reasons. On consoles, it’s free to play.

Console vs PC

After having played this game nearly to completion, I definitely had second thoughts about marrying the console release and the PC release players together. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize it’s a really bad idea and a recipe for disaster. Why is that?

Consider that it takes at most 2 months to complete the game and obtain veteran rank 1 (level 50). Yes, it’s a relatively short Elder Scrolls by comparison to previous installations. To obtain further veteran ranks, you simply have to grind, grind, grind. Most of this grinding is done by hanging around with groups of other people and doing laps. This means you’ll go from one battle to another (maybe 3 or 4 total) in a loop. This loop battling is, well, boring. It does level your player up, but it’s not really much fun after you’ve done it for a while.

If they had married the environments, it would mean that by the time the console players are eligible to get to Cyrodiil, all of the VR12 players will be picking off these ‘newbie’ console players one by one in PvP mode. It’s going to be quite a bit unfair to all of these new console players. In fact, I believe that it would be better at this time to completely isolate the console players into their own servers separately from the Mac/PC edition. Let the Mac/PC players continue in their own world but without the console players. It already is unfair when newbies try to even enter Cyrodiil if you try to play after the game had already existed for 2 months..

In fact, it would be a whole lot more fair to weed out the veteran ranked players from being able to see or interact with non-veterans.

Released too early?

The PC version? Yes, unfortunately. In fact, I played it on a quad core Mac mini (which has its own set of problems.. some related to the game, some not). That said, the game has lots of bugs, glitches and problems. Some quests have characters speaking German when the dialog printed to the screen is in English. There are times where parts of the environments don’t render correctly. The quests are sometimes haphazard and don’t appear to be in any way linked. Gaining skills and experience is random, though somewhat structured around these random quests. The game lag can get quite annoying at times. The script kiddies are already at it mining for gold, loot and experience.

Immersive Experience? Not quite.

In Skyrim, the environments had been working towards full interactivity and more realism. It wasn’t quite there yet, but you could pick up apples, heads of cabbage, weapons and armor. You could carry them around in your inventory, wear items or even move them around in the environment. It was a fully interactive and immersive experience. While some of this carried over to the Elder Scrolls Online (like crafting) far too many things didn’t (list below).

In Elder Scrolls Online, too much of that interactivity is missing. Sure there are containers to open, but you can’t kick the containers around, knock them over, break them, pick up apples or cabbages or weapons and move them around or even place things into the containers. In fact, far too much of the interactivity that was beginning to show in Skyrim was completely abandoned in the Elder Scrolls Online. So, what’s up with that?

Defiance

What does Defiance have to do with the Elder Scrolls Online? ESO seems to use the same MMO engine. Granted, Zenimax tailored the engine to its own purposes (within limits), but the underlying basics (things that cannot be easily changed) are still there. So, while this MMO engine provides relatively pretty environments, they’re static. You can’t do anything to the environments. The plants are fixed, the boxes are fixed, everything is fixed. There is nothing that the player can do to move anything around. The only thing that’s movable in the game is the player and a horse (and enemies).

One of the things I always enjoyed about Oblivion, and to a lesser degree in Skyrim, is that there are wandering enemies and friends. In fact, you don’t know which is which until you come upon them. One of the things I had been hoping for is a less ‘enemy’ based game.  Meaning, no one should be an enemy until you make them so. Which means, nothing should attack you until you pick a side or provoke them. Alas, not here.

Based on Zenimax’s questionable choice of choosing the same engine that Defiance uses, that leaves the Elder Scrolls Online with less than satisfying in-game play. In fact, for some of the same reasons I abandoned playing Defiance, I abandoned playing the Elder Scrolls Online.

Game Mechanics

While the combat mechanics are similar enough between ESO and Skyrim, they are also different because multiple network players can jump in and help. Though, as I said, in some dungeons, multiplayer is not possible.

On the flip side of that, though, the multiplayer experience is weak and uninspired. The whole running around without collision is way less than realistic. Network players don’t collide and simply walk through one another like ghosts. I’d prefer a much more realistic collision detection. I’d also like an experience where people can participate in commerce, like owning shops and running them at a fixed location. I would also like to see network players be able to create quests, dungeons and bosses. Yes, player created content should be clearly labeled and excludable via preferences. But, it should be part of the universe.

Voice acting and the like

I’m not terribly impressed by this installment of the Elder Scrolls series. In fact, the choice of Michael Gambon (or a very close soundalike) was not a good one. His lines are inconsistent even between the same dialog in the same paragraph of spoken dialog. It sounds amateur and rushed. This is something I would never have expected from Zenimax/Bethesda.

Graphics

It’s funny. This game looks great in some places, and really bad in others. The landscapes, for the most part look spectacular with the sun shining. In the dark, however, it’s just flat and dull. There’s almost no lighting in most places when there’s no sunshine. Interiors are dull and lifeless. The lighting model used in this engine is, at best, fair. Again, this is what you get when you buy into an off-the-shelf engine. Instead, I would have preferred them modify a Crytek engine which has about the most realistic lighting model I’ve ever seen in a game. Unfortunately, this game suffers from the lack of quality lighting in far too many places.

For example, armor on knights looks great when in direct light or in sunlight, but in the dark there’s nothing to make it look volumetric. It just looks flat and dull.

Multiplayer Gaming

Because this is an MMO game, there are plenty of network players. Unfortunately, much of the game is focused on single player questing. Sure, your comrades can join you in defeating some monsters, but there are also plenty of dungeons where this is not possible. This is the same as Defiance and this is the single reason I stopped playing Defiance. You can easily wander into an unbeatable boss dungeon and simply have to abandon that quest leaving it unfinished. If that quest is part of a chain of quests, that whole quest-line is also dead. This is entirely frustrating and I won’t deal with games that do this.

More than this, the single most frustrating thing is that people leave their characters logged in all of the time and clutter up the environment. You’ll find hordes of network players hanging around banks, clothing creation tables, armor creation tables and other similar workbenches. Sometimes there are so many people that you can’t even get to the table to use it. Sure, you can walk through the players, but if you can’t get visible view of the table with the camera, you can’t target the table to work on it.

One of the other frustrating network player problems is that you’ll tend to find network players hovering around key quest giving NPCs trying to do the same thing you’re doing. The problem that falls out of this is trying to determine what character is actually the quest giver. Having hordes of people around something also gives away where that thing is. Also, it’s really stupid to hear a quest giver NPC saying something like “You’re the first person I’ve seen in ages.” Really? Like how many other network players are logged in right now playing this exact quest in this same dungeon? Stupid dialog such as this amazes me in a network multiplayer player game. Who at Zenimax didn’t get the memo that this is a network multiplayer game?

Which leads to one more problem… shared resources. Some items in the environment are basically ‘one player at a time’. That means if you find a Water Hyacinth and someone grabs it ahead of you, they get first dibs and it’s gone. This means you have to go find it somewhere else. This problem has happened far too many times during quests leading me off on scavenging tangents. In fact, a similar issue is when I’ve just started a quest and a minute later, the quest ends saying the quest is completed. I’m like, what the hell? Then I realize, someone else just finished that quest and it gave me the completion notice also. This is bad. You should always be required to finish whatever quests you start on your own unless that quest is explicitly labeled a multiplayer quest.

Cyrodiil

At the original time of writing this article, I hadn’t yet ventured into Cyrodiil. However, I now have. Unfortunately, the gameplay doesn’t get any better in Cyrodiil. In fact, it really takes a turn for the worst. While all of the non-Cyrodiil zones are standard questing and dungeon crawler types, Cyrodiil is the antithesis of what Elder Scrolls has always been.

Yes, Cyrodiil offers a huge map that encompasses all of the cities we’ve come to know from Oblivion, but instead of being thriving quest giving communities, it’s a barren landscape of forts and castles, few and far between. In between these military installations is a whole-lotta-nothin’. Really. There is nothing there. While there are quests that are placed onto your area quest map, the quests are all campaign related. Things like, taking over a fort, capture the Elder Scroll, etc etc.

ZeniMax degrades Cyrodiil into yet another version of Hasbro’s board game Risk, only in MMO video game format. I’d liken it to another game like Civilization, but it’s less like Civilization and more like Risk. There are 3 factions: Red, Yellow and Blue. Depending on which faction you join, you’re responsible for making sure your ‘team’ captures the most stuff during any campaign.. with the idea being to capture the entire game area, just like Risk.

No, I’m not avert to playing a game like Risk, it’s just that I’ve already played Risk many many many times over the years. Risk is not what the Elder Scrolls series should become. Yet, here we are. The Elder Scrolls games should always be about questing and dungeon crawling, first. There are so many better multiplayer ideas that could have been used on the Cyrodiil land, but unfortunately we get Risk instead. This Risk game is not bad for what it is, but it’s just not creative nor in keeping with what I would expect from an Elder Scrolls title. It’s also far less than impressive than what I would expect from Bethesda.

Castles and Rebuilding

The worst part of Cyrodiil’s Risk is its castles. The other teams can build catapults and other weapons to use against your castles. As the castles get bombarded, they break and fall down. If the castle falls down enough, the other team can capture it. To keep this from happening, all of the players must not only continually rebuild the castles, they must also use their own ‘money’ to rebuild it. If you want to rebuild a wall, you have to pay for it out of your own stash of money. No money? Can’t rebuild. Personally, I found this minutiae to be just too over the top and unnecessary.

Winning

Yes, while it’s important that your ‘team’ wins Cyrodiil during the campaign, there are a lot of sub-game types also embedded in the area like capture-the-flag and death-match all wrapped into this single area. It’s also worth noting that Cyrodiil is almost entirely PVP (Player vs Player). There is very little PVE (Player vs Environment) in Cyrodiil.

The problem with Cyrodiil is that it is far too sprawling with literally devoid of anything other than PVP gameplay. Seriously, this land is so big, trying to find enemy players in it can be as challenging as fighting the battles when you finally find them. The sore point when your player dies is that the spawn points are so few and far between, you’ll end up spending literally 10 minutes just trotting back to where you were on a horse simply to try that battle again. Because there are so few spawn points, it makes Cyrodiil a truly painful experience when battling. Definitely not a battle-friendly environment. This is a pretty huge fail on ZeniMax part. The spawn point is also entirely dependent on who kills you. If you’re killed by an environment NPC, then you spawn like you normally do. If you’re killed by another player, you’re forced to respawn at very selective spawn points owned by your faction… which could be on the other side of the map.

Worse, they’ve turned the Elder Scrolls themselves (the actual Elder Scrolls) into a game of capture-the-flag. Instead of being useful as scrolls, now they’re just tokens to carry around. It’s now the job of other teams to grab your team’s ‘Elder Scroll’ and take it back to their own land. It’s then your responsibility to go get that scroll and put it back into its home area. Yes, it’s degraded the Elder Scrolls into Capture The Flag. I mean, I don’t know how much more degrading it is to see the actual Elder Scrolls, which are supposed to be some of the most coveted and sacred of magical artifacts in Tamriel, treated like play toys.

If the Elder Scrolls themselves are such prized artifacts, why are they floating on an alter sitting out in the open under a dome? Shouldn’t they be in a library or underground protected? Who thought this would be a good idea?

On top of the derivative problems present in the Risk-like strategy aspect, it’s just far too sprawling to really make this area of any real value. The campaigns in Cyrodiil literally last 90 days. That’s 3 months. And it would take every bit that 3 months just to even try and take over the entirety of Cyrodiil. I guess if the only thing you’re trying to do is level your character up to Veteran Rank, then it’s worth it. Oh, and the only way to get Veteran Rank is to have taken part in Cyrodiil actively. Yes, that means rebuilding castles, as boring as that activity is.

Unfortunately, Cyrodill literally doesn’t thrill me. First, it trivializes the Elder Scrolls. Second, because the area is so sprawling with nothing else to do there but focus on taking buildings over, it’s really way outside of what I consider an Elder Scrolls game. I mean, the idea behind the battles is interesting. However, using a board game derivative to build your implementation is far less than impressive, Bethesda. It seems like the game developers just didn’t have any better ideas than ripping off the Risk board game.

Instead, I would have preferred to see several types of campaigns. Instead of 3 factions all working against one another (PVP), that they all work together towards a common goal… like taking the area back from the Daedra. I don’t mind PVP and I’m glad there’s an area here, but ZeniMax should at least offer up other methods of conquering Cyrodiil than simple-minded and derivative PVP gaming. If you really want to do PVP, I’d rather just have an arena somewhere. I mean, a small location with limited map sizes where gamers can simply go in and battle in an arena. In fact, Arena was one of the early Elder Scrolls titles. Why not offer an area as an homage to the earlier Arena battles? With multiplayer, it makes perfect sense. Yet, they give us the Risk-derived Cyrodiil. I continually find myself venturing back to the questing areas over being in Cyrodiil.  I find myself bored to tears after spending even 15 minutes in Cyrodiil. Just give me the standard quests and don’t force me to rely on Cyrodiil to advance my player character.

Faction Lands

When you begin the Elder Scrolls Online, you will become part of a faction such as the Daggerfall Covenant, the Ebonheart Pact or the Aldmeri Dominion. Depending on which faction you end up in, certain parts of Tamriel will open and others remain locked. However, once you complete Cyrodiil as a veteran, you will be able to go through all of the rest of the closed lands. Personally, I think this is rather stupid. If, as a designer, you’re going to create a world with many lands, let all players go through all of the lands. Don’t selectively exclude gamers based on a faction. This is stupid. Of course, we can create and level up other player characters who end up on those other factions, but that’s means you have to manage 3 players all leveling up together. This is something I don’t want to do. I play a game no more than once, never three times.

Craglorn

After having recently reached Veteran Rank 1 (VR) — AKA Level 50, I was ‘invited’ to be transported to Craglorn (the recently released Veteran Rank area). Don’t expect Craglorn to be like any other land you’ve visited. Oh, no no no. Zenimax has once again changed the rules of the game. When you reach VR1, you might think you’re now reasonably strong. Again, no no no. Reaching Craglorn is like starting ESO all over again at Level 1 with no armor or weapons. In Craglorn, ALL of the enemies and I mean ALL of them are VR 11 or higher. Oh, but there’s one more change to this area. ALL of the enemies in Craglorn swarm. There is no way to get a single enemy alone to grind and rank up. Nope. If you hit one enemy, at least 4, 5 or more VR11 enemies come charging at you. Think about this for about 30 seconds and you’ll realize the problem… I’ll wait….

So, having thought through the problem, you quickly realize there is absolutely no place to grind here. None. The only way to grind here is to group with others and grind together. Even then, grouping VR1s together probably won’t be that successful. Effectively, you cannot quest solo in Craglorn until you’ve reached at least VR 12. Worse, the first quest given in the area has you fighting VR11 bosses… which are, in fact, VR20-somethings. Even worse then that, it takes killing a shit ton of enemies just to move the VR experience bar even a nudge. So, yeah. It’s unlikely a VR1 character is going to step into this area and win at anything let alone rank up fast. Expect to spend some gold on new VR ranked weapons before entering this area.

Craglorn is probably one of the worst ZeniMax fails around the entire ESO game. Though, I have to admit that ripping off the board game Risk is right up there with Craglorn’s design. But, setting your character up as VR1 in a primarily VR11 area is just simply insane. Again I must ask, “What were they thinking?” This is not challenging. It’s just an exercise in frustration. I’d have to say that Craglorn is probably game designing at its worst. Every other gaming area, they’ve had general enemies no more than 1-2 ranks higher than where you are. But, throwing a VR1 ranked character into a VR11 territory is just stupid.

About the only thing I have found to do is loot treasure in this area and join in on some world battles whenever I can find them. This way I can at least try to rank my character up very slowly. But, finding world battles around the area is fairly difficult because there aren’t that many people here questing and world battles are few. Even dolmens aren’t in Craglorn. Oh, there are dolmen’s marked, but they don’t work like the regular dolmens. Again, Zenimax changed the way this area works. Inconsistent to say the least.

Craglorn is really designed for grinding, pure and simple. If you go in there, expect to grind, grind, grind.

Gameplay Differences

Let’s understand some of what I consider broken between the Elder Scrolls Online compared to Skyrim. Some of you might like some of the changes listed below, but I preferred where Skyrim was heading. That is, moving towards making everything interactive and more like our reality with real physics. Taking a step back in gaming is never a good idea. Here’s my list (note this is not comprehensive):

ESO: Horses appear out of thin air and disappear into thin air
SKY: Horses are stabled, must be found, can die

ESO: Horse animation is stilted and cartoony
SKY: Horse animation looks at least more realistic than ESO

ESO: Containers are fixed and contain gold 1 max or food (not necessary)
SKY: Containers can contain jewels, gold > 20 or potions.

ESO: Food is unnecessary because magicka, health and stamina regenerate almost immediately after combat ends
SKY: Food is necessary until you get armor or enchantments that increase health regeneration which is typically very slow.

ESO: Objects are fixed and cannot be moved
SKY: Objects are movable in the environment: Apples, weapons, ingredients, etc

ESO: Defeating an enemy yields 1 gold and possibly a glyph or quest item (rarely armor and never armor the NPC was wearing)
SKY: Defeating an enemy yields gold sometimes and whatever armor and weapons they had. Their armor and weapons can be stripped.

ESO: Bows automatically come equipped with arrows. The bow holds the damage.
SKY: Bows and arrows are separate and have separate damage levels. Couldn’t craft arrows. They were always found.

ESO: Unknown if you can own a house
SKY: You can not only own houses, with Hearthfire you could build one from scratch.

ESO: 60 max slots for items and every item (including each ingredient) requires 1 slot (excluding some quest items). If you run out of slots, you have to use the bank which gives you only 60 more. Then you have to buy more with gold.
SKY: Expandable slots for items and unlimited items can be stored in containers in owned houses. Granted, houses cost at minimum 5000g, but once you buy a house the storage space is unlimited. You could get more slots by finding the Horse stone, scrolls, casting a spell or by wearing enchanted items (which can be found or created).

ESO: Soul Gems are very very scarce. Basically only available from sellers.
SKY: Soul Gems are easy to find. Specifically, they are usually found in dungeons with mages or necromancers.

ESO: Once in battle mode, there’s no way to sneak. The game simply won’t let you. If you do manage to hide in battle mode, the game takes you out of battle mode as though you had run away. The enemy’s health resets requiring you to start the battle over from the beginning. This includes bosses.
SKY: Once in battle mode, if you hide behind a rock or container you can usually hide. If you crouch and hide in battle mode, the game does not reset the enemy’s health unless they have regenerative capabilities or you leave the area.

ESO: An arrow’s range is a 5-6 feet. If you’re out of range, an arrow does nothing.
SKY: An arrow’s range is at least 50-100 feet. If you can see the enemy and you can aim, you can hit them.

ESO: If you’re in sneak and attack an enemy, you’re immediately taken out of sneak and the enemy knows exactly where you are and begins attacking you. The best you get is 1 sneak attack.
SKY: If you’re in sneak and attack an enemy, the enemy will come search for you, but you can move and avoid being found. You can continue to sneak attack as long as you remain undetected.

ESO: Equipping a new weapon is cumbersome.
SKY: Equipping a new weapon is through the weapon wheel (as long as it’s set up in advance).

ESO: Entering a menu to switch weapons or consume a potion doesn’t pause the action. Enemies continue to attack while trying to switch weapons or consume potions. You need to have them on hot keys.
SKY: Entering a menu during battle pauses the battle to allow switching or consumption of a potion.

ESO: Dying reduces durability of all equipped items.
SKY: Dying ends the game and you have to reload. Durability of items is determined by its use, not by player death.

ESO: Boss battles inside a dungeon trap you in the dungeon until the battle is done, you quit out of the game or you die. There is no way to flee an interior battle as exit doors aren’t usable.
SKY: You can always exit a dungeon even when in battle.. excluding certain bosses which lock you into an area (i.e., arena battles).

ESO: Swimming yields no skill improvement.
SKY: Swimming improves strength

ESO: Diving in water not possible.
SKY: Diving not only possible, but required to reach some quests.

ESO: Mouth movements with dialogue are simple open close like a puppet
SKY: Mouth movements with dialogue use mouth phoneme animation to seem like they’re actually talking

ESO: Sneaking costs stamina, does not level up
SKY: Sneaking levels up as you use it near enemies, costs no stamina

ESO: Repairing armor is at least 5x more costly in comparison with the gold you obtain. Repairing all items might be 200G-300G and you might have 500-800G or so.
SKY: Gold is plentiful and repairs are 10G or so per item. It might cost 200-300G for all items, but you probably have 2000-5000G

ESO: Bots and script kiddies => a side effect of multiple players
SKY: No bots => no online play

ESO: Some dungeons don’t allow network players in. You’re left alone to complete the boss which can be challenging because you cannot sneak or hide in battle. Basically, you need to be a mage or warrior for these dungeons. Rangers and Thieves won’t easily work.
SKY: N/A.. but you can use alternative tactics like sneaking and sneak attacks which are not available in ESO once battle starts.

ESO: Map is tiny (about a quarter of the screen) and looks like a cartoon.
SKY: Map is full screen, makes it much easier to find things.
Though neither have a search feature which would make finding places on the map a whole lot easier.

ESO: Custom waypoints not available on map
SKY: Custom way points possible

ESO: No stealing, no pickpocketing
SKY: An intrinsic part of every other ES game since at least Morrowind

ESO: Fast traveling costs gold (costs more as game progresses)
SKY: Fast traveling is free

ESO: Books cannot be taken or stored. Though, Lorebooks disappear after reading them and end up in a ‘library’ on your character.
SKY: Books can always be taken (unless it’s specifically stuck to an area).

ESO: Can’t sit in chairs
SKY: Could sit in any chair

ESO: Can’t kill any NPCs
SKY: Can’t kill some NPCs (critical characters, kids, etc), but can kill most.

ESO: Items cannot be dropped and picked up later. They can only be destroyed.
SKY: Items cannot be destroyed, but can be dropped or sold to free up slots.

ESO: Travel only to waypoints at any time. Traveling not from a waypoint costs gold. All territories are infested with large numbers of constantly spawning enemies. Dungeons are not always set to the player level and are frequently set higher to encourage network co-op, otherwise it can be impossible with a single player.
SKY: Travel to any city at any time. Occasional enemies can be easily avoided. Dungeons were set at or close to the level of the player making some levels too easy to play. Though, some dungeons aren’t.

Frequent Updates

While I do realize this is a multiplayer game, some of the updates can be especially big and have long download times. For example, some updates are as large as 8GB (nearly the same size as the full game). Download updates are frequent at intervals usually once a week. So, expect to wait to play while the updates are downloading and installing.

If they’re planning on this many updates this frequently, then the game should come with a background updater to automatically download updates during idle times.

Overall

The Elder Scrolls online is, at best, a mediocre game. The choice of the Defiance MMO engine to drive ESO leaves a lot to be desired. I was actually hoping Zenimax wouldn’t use that engine as there are many problems with it. While Zenimax was able to customize some pieces better than Defiance was able to, there are simply some pieces that still don’t fit with the concept of an Elder Scrolls game. In fact, using this engine is far and away a step backward for an Elder Scrolls technology advance. It’s unfortunate too because I was actually liking where Skyrim was heading. And, taking what Skyrim was to a Next Gen console would have made the next installment spectacular. Instead, with the Elder Scrolls Online, what we’re getting is not the next step, but a lateral move that’s about as compelling to play as Morrowind.

Though, at the time Morrowind released, it was very compelling. Today, Morrowind seems antiquated, as does the Elder Scrolls Online. Unfortunately, Zenimax tried using something off-the-shelf and the result is less than stellar. It’s unfortunate too, because I was just getting into the Elder Scrolls series. If this is what we can look forward to in Elder Scrolls games, Zenimax, you can count me out.

As for Cyrodiil, it is basically boring empty space with mostly nothing to do. There is effectively no standard questing in Cyrodiil. All quests are military quests such as grabbing the Elder Scroll and moving it somewhere else or spying. Unfortunately, Cyrodiil is basically such an uninspired area, I find myself bored often and frequently leaving to find quests in other lands. Unfortunately, at level 46, I find myself actually running out of standard quests and no way to get to the other unopened territories. So, I’m actually kind of stuck for more stuff to do in the Elder Scrolls Online.

In fact, what I’ve been doing as of late is just finding resources and putting them up for sale in guild stores. At least there’s pretty much a never ending supply of resources, except on Cyrodiil where, again, there’s literally nothing but a huge and a big game of Risk.

Fallout 76

This section has been added here to discuss Bethesda’s newest MMO, Fallout 76. It’s highly likely that Bethesda/Zenimax has simply taken the ESO engine and used it to build Fallout 76. I haven’t played or seen any play of Fallout 76, but I’m not holding out hope that FO76 will be substantially better than ESO.

I’m certainly hoping that they have abandoned the Risk board game PVP mode. It was totally unnecessary and out of character even for an Elder Scrolls game. It will definitely be out of character in a Fallout game.

I will have to reserve my judgement of Fallout 76 until its release later in 2018.

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Resident Evil 6: Complete disappointment

Posted in video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on October 6, 2012

As you may or may not know, I also like gaming.  Specifically, RPG and first and third person shooters.  Well, at least some first and third person shooters, anyway.  Whether I like it depends on how it’s done.  In this case Resident Evil 6 is not done well at all.

Resident Evil Franchise

Even though this game series has turned into a fairly hefty cash cow for both Milla Jovovich (and hubby) in the celluloid format, the games have been relatively uninspired for the last several years.  The last really good Resident Evil game was RE4 and that was years ago.  Well, I’m sad to say that Resident Evil 6 is a complete and total disappointment in the gaming department. Capcom just can’t figure this out.  For whatever reasons, the developers over at Capcom Japan just aren’t with the program.

The absolute best game of this franchise is still, bar none, Resident Evil 4.  This game had all the makings of turning the franchise into a smash hit.  Unfortunately, the game developers decided to try something new with whole tag-along partner thing in RE5 which failed miserably, by the way.  That game was an unmitigated disaster.  It had no depth, the story was boring, the fights were stupid and the fact that you had to keep your partner alive in the middle of the fights was asinine.  There was no fun to be had with that game at all.

You’d think Capcom could have figured out that the reason Resident Evil 5 flopped so badly was that it was just so poorly done.  Yet, here we are with Resident Evil 6 bringing in much of the boring and silly storylines from 5 even though Leon is heading this chapter up.  It’s unfortunate, too.  This could have been such a great addition if Capcom had even minimally listened to its fanbase. No, they did their own thing again and assumed this is what we wanted in a game. They could not have been more wrong.

Seriously, Resident Evil 6 doesn’t even have a pause button!?!?  You can’t even pause the effing game.  I mean, seriously?  Why not?  Every other game on the planet has figured out how to pause, why is Resident Evil 6 the exception?  You can’t even step away to go take a pee without some zombies nailing you.  What fun is there in that?

Worse, when you restart the game, it takes you back almost an entire chapter just to begin again.  You can’t even start at the point where you left off.  Seriously, this is one extremely badly designed game.  On top of just these stupid design issues, the gameplay is sluggish, awkward and the collision detection is some of the worst I’ve seen in a game in a very long time.

No awards for this turd

As much as Capcom seems to think this is some award winning thing, it’s a festering piece of feces covered in flies. It has no redeeming value at all.  This game is so bad, it’ll be in the bargain bin in 60 days.  Less, I’d venture. If you really want this game, just wait about 30 days and pick it up on the cheap.  Even then, why waste your time with this dreadful game?  Go pick up Skyrim or Fallout 3 or Portal or some other much better game than this and spend some time with a quality game.  If you really love Resident Evil, pick up Resident Evil 4.  It’s still far far outshines anything Capcom has ever done to date in this series.  RE4 is, in fact, so far ahead of every other RE game that I can’t even fathom that Capcom had a hand in writing it.  In fact, they probably didn’t.

It’s unfortunate that Capcom doesn’t quite get the gaming landscape today. Resident Evil 6 had so much it could have been and the developers just squandered away that opportunity.  This is and will be the last Resident Evil game I buy from Capcom.  No more throwing good money after bad.  Capcom get with the program.  As they say, once bitten, twice shy.  No more Capcom titles in my house.

[UPDATE 2012-10-24: Thanks Riko]

Apparently you can pause the game, but only if you turn off multiplayer (?) features.  Note, however, that I didn’t ‘turn on’ any multiplayer features when I played.  I just played the game with however the campaign started.  If that enables multiplayer features, I didn’t know it.  Worse, I wasn’t playing multiplayer at all, however.  I was playing the game in as though it were a single person campaign. That this game apparently turns on multiplayer features even though you are not using it (and worse, blocking the pause feature) is just stupid game design.  I have to agree with Riko.  This game is one big turd named starting with an s and ending with a t.

Stars: 1/2 out of 5 (Capcom gets the 1/2 star for effort).

Video game designers stuck in a rut

Posted in video game, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on March 4, 2009

Video game consoles, such as the PS3, Wii and Xbox 360 (and even PC’s) have gotten more complex and provide impressive 3D capabilities and 5.1 sound.  Yet, video games have not.  There was a time many years ago when video game designers would take chances and create unique and unusual titles.  Games that challenge the mind and challenge the video gamer’s thought processes.  Games used to be fun to play.

In recent years…

Today, most games fall into a very small subset of genres: First/Third Person Shooter, Fighting, RPG, Simulation, Sports or Music (with a few lesser genres appearing occasionally).  While the innovation in the hardware continues to progress, the video game designers are not progressing.  Sure, it takes time to get actors into a studio to record tracks.  Sure, it takes time to build and rig up 3D models.  Sure, it takes time to motion capture realistic action to plug into those 3D models.  Yes, it takes time to program all of those complex algorithms to make it all work as a whole. I understand all of that.  But that’s the process, not the innovation.  These are the tools necessary to get the job done.  They are a means to an end and not the end in itself.

Design considerations

For whatever reason, big video game executives have it in their heads that the tried-and-true model sells a video game.  That may be true to some degree, but you can also wear-out-your-welcome with overused techniques.   In other words, when a game title sucks, the word spreads FAST in the video game community.  That can stop a video game’s sales dead.

When starting a new game project, the producer and creative staff need to decide whether or not they are planning on introducing something new and innovative.  First and third person shooters (FPS/TPS) have already been done and done and done and done again ad nauseam.  That’s not to say that yet another TPS or FPS can’t be successful.  It can.. IF there’s something compelling to the game… and that’s a big IF.

Sure, there are video gamers who will play anything they can get their hands on (known as video game fanatics).  But, as a game developer, you can’t rely on these gamers to carry your title to success.  These gamers do not necessarily make up the majority of the game buying public.  As far as myself, I am an much more discriminating buyer.  I simply won’t buy every title that comes along.  I pick and choose the titles based on the styles of games I know that I like to play.  For example, I do not buy turn-based games of any sort.  I don’t care if it’s based on dice rolls or card draws whether in a fighting, FPS or RPG game.  I won’t buy them because turn-based games get in the way of actual playing.  Turn-based games also tend to be antiquated.  I understand where turn-based play came from (i.e., board games).  But, it has no place in a 3D world based video game.

Again, choosing to add turn-based play into your game is your decision as a developer.  But, by doing so, you automatically exclude gamers who won’t buy turn-based games, like myself.  There are gamers who do enjoy turn-based games, but I don’t know of any gamers who won’t buy real-time play styles and buy only turn-based.  So, you automatically limit those who purchase your game to those who buy turn based.  But, by making your game real-time, you include a much bigger audience.

These are up-front design considerations that, as a developer and producer, you need to understand about gamer buying habits.  These are decisions that can directly affect the success of your video game title.

Previous innovations

In the early days of 3D console games (mid-80s through mid-90s), game developers were willing to try new and unusual things.  Of course, these were the days when 3D was limited to flat untextured surfaces.  We’ve come a long way in the graphics arena.  But, even as far as we’ve come in producing complex and unusual 3D worlds within the games, the play styles have become firmly stagnant.  For example, most First/Third person shooters today rely on a very linear story to get from point A to point B.  Driving the game along is an invisible path.  So, while the complex 3D world is wonderfully constructed, the character can only see the world from a limited vantage point.   The cameras are usually forced to be in one spot (near or behind the character).  The character is forced to traverse the world through a specific path with invisible boundaries.   So, exploration of the world is limited to what the game designer and story allow you to do.

This style of game is very confining.  It forces the gamer to play the game on the programmer’s terms rather than on the gamer’s terms.  Worse, when this play style is combined with checkpoint saves, health meters and other confining aspects, these games can easily become tedious and frustrating.  So, what a game developer may consider to be ‘challenging’, in reality becomes frustration.

A shot of new innovation

The video game development world needs is to open is collective eyes.  Don’t rely on the tried-and-true.  Don’t relay on formulas.  Don’t assume that because a previous game worked that your next game will also work.  What works is what video gamers like.  What doesn’t work is what video gamers don’t like.  The video game community is very vocal, so listen to your audience and learn.  Most of all, try new things… and by that I don’t mean tweaking an existing formula.  I mean, take a risk.  Try something new.  Let gamers explore the world.  Produce worlds that are open and complete.  Let gamers build things.  Let gamers take the game to whole new levels.  Build in construction sets to allow gamers to create things you have never thought of.  Build in ways to save the constructions to web sites and allow gamers to monetize the things they’ve built.

These are innovations that lead to progress.  These are innovations that instill addictiveness into the game.  These are innovations that keep your game alive for years to come.  You only need to look at the popularity of Second Life, World of Warcraft and even the Elder Scrolls series to understand that an unlimited world with construction kits allow gamers to take the game into directions you’ve never even thought of.

Most games play through in only a few weeks (sometimes less than 1 week).  The gamer buys it, plays it through and then trades it in never to touch it again.  This is effectively a movie rental.  So, once the gamers have had their fill, the game is effectively dead.  This style of game does not provide your company with a continued stream of revenue from that title.  Only titles that have open ends, that offer expansion packs, and that allow gamers to construct things on their own are the games that keep a title alive for years rather than a few weeks.

 That may require a slightly bigger cash outlay in the beginning (to support a title that has a longer lifespan), but if done correctly, should also provide much more income for that game company.  This is why titles like Fallout 3, Oblivion: Elder Scrolls IV and World of Warcraft are talked about months (and even years) after the game’s initial release.  But, forgettable games like Fracture, Too Human or even Force Unleashed have no extra play value after the game ends.

Gaming elements incorrectly used

In too many game designs, programming elements are used incorrectly to ‘challenge’ the gamer.  Game challenges should come in the form of story elements, puzzles, clues and riddles.  Game challenge elements should not involve game saving, turn-based play, checkpoints, character deaths, camera movement, controller button sequences, or anything dealing with the real-world physicality of the gaming system.  In other words, challenges should not be tied to something outside of the video game or outside of the story.  So, as a designer.. you should always ask yourself:  Does this challenge progress the game story forward?  If the answer is no, the challenge is a failure.  If yes, then the story becomes better by the challenge.

Button Sequences

For example, requiring the gamer to respond to a sequence of button presses in a very specific real-world time limit is not challenging.  This is frustrating.  This means the gamer needs to trial-and-error this section until they can make it through the timed sequence of buttons.  This is a failed and incorrectly used ‘challenge’ event.  This section does not challenge.  Instead, this sequence requires the gamer to ‘get through’ that section.  Note that ‘getting through’ is not a positive gaming aspect.  Worse, if this game section comes in a FPS game, but only occasionally (only to fight a boss), this is also incorrectly used.  If this play style is used regularly and consistently throughout the game, then the gamer knows that it’s coming.  If it’s used only at certain undisclosed points rarely, then the gamer has to fumble to realize what’s going on when there is no warning.

Death Sequences

Another common, but also incorrectly used gaming element is the character death sequence.  For some reason, recent games have promoted the use of character deaths as part of the challenge element.  So, there are sections of some games where the designers specifically designed the level so the gamer has to ‘die’ his way through the level.  These trial and error sequences, again, are incorrectly used and do not aid in moving the story or the game forward.  These also tend to promote deaths as a way to solve problems.  This is not appropriate.

Games should always promote the positive aspects of life and not promote death as a means to an end.  Worse, games like Too Human take the death sequence to an extreme and make the gamer wait through an excruciatingly long cinematic each time the character dies.  This, again, is an inappropriate use of a gaming element.  The game should be designed for the GAMER and not for the game designer.  Long death sequences such as what’s in Too Human overly emphasizes death.  This is, again, not appropriate.

Health Meters

Health meters are another common gaming element that are incorrectly used, or lack thereof.  Every game that allows the character to ‘die’ needs to have a visible health meter.  Games that use the Unreal engine do not have this.  Instead, when your character takes enough ‘damage’, the screen will become red with a halo.  The problem with this system (and this is also why its incorrectly used) is that the gamer doesn’t know how far from ‘death’ the character is.  This is not a challenge.  This is annoying and frustrating.  This leaves the gamer wondering just how much health they have. 

Game Saves

Again, story elements move the game forward.  Having the gamer stop and reload a game takes the gamer OUT of the game and forces them to restart from some arbitrary point.  Checkpoint games are particularly bad about this.  When checkpoints are the only way to save a game, this means the gamer must waste their real-world time through trial-and-error gaming.  This means, the user must wait through character deaths and then the subsequent reload of the level to restart at the checkpoint.  Again, this is not a challenge… it’s simply a waste of time.   When levels are designed such that the gamer’s character will die at least once to get through the level, the level has failed.  This forces a reload of a previous save.  This element, again, is misued as a challenge element.  Taking the gamer out of the game by forcing a reload ruins the game experience and disrupts the story you, as a developer, worked so hard to make cohesive.

Future of Gaming

Even as game developers are now stuck in the genre rut, they do have the power to break out of it.  They do have the means to produce games with more compelling and addictive content.  Instead of using old formulas that used to work, designers need to look for new ways to innovate,  monetize and bring video gamers into their game worlds and keep them there.  Games shouldn’t be viewed as a short term point A to B entity.  Games need to move to open ended and free exploration worlds.  Worlds that let the gamer play on the gamer’s terms.  Sure, there can be story elements that tie the game together like Fallout 3 and Oblivion.   In fact, I’d expect that.  But, these game threads should start and end inside the game as quests.  You can play them when you want to and you can leave them hanging if you don’t want to complete it.

Game elements like checkpoints, saves and button sequences need to be rethought.   Some of these elements can be successfully used, like checkpoints if implemented thoughtfully.  However, allowing the gamer to save anywhere lets the gamer save and start at their leisure.  But, that manual save process leaves it up to the gamer to remember to save.   For this reason, checkpoints when combined with save-anywhere is the best alternative when gaming.  After all, the game was supposed to be produced for the gamer.

Designers, creators and developers need to challenge the notion of what is a video game.  They need to use the 3D worlds in creative NEW ways.  Let the users explore the worlds on their terms, not on some dictated path and story.   Designers need to take a page from Bethesda’s book on free-roaming RPGs and expand on this.  Closed ended, path based games have limited playability and definitely no replay value.  Monetarily, developers need to understand that open ended construction based games let gamers take ownership of the game and make it their own.  Closed, narrow pathed games do not.

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