Saturday, 21 November 2015

Fallout 4

Anyone who knows me in real life knows just how much I love Bethesda games. Something about their open worlds have shaped how much I enjoy open world games. I first started playing them when Oblivion was released, clocking up well over 600 hours on my XBox 360 (so completely unmodded Oblivion too!). I’m not too ashamed to say I’m a Bethesda fanboy, so take my recommendation with a grain of salt: Fallout 4 is a really fun game, wrapped up in a package with the usual Bethesda flaws.

For some reason, people like me are able to ignore the flaws that every single Bethesda game has and just get immersed in the giant worlds that they create. Fallout 4 is no exception. Exploring the irradiated wastelands of Boston with your trusty dog by your side is some of the most engaging gameplay I have had since The Witcher 3. Sure, the game’s physics are tied into the frame rate, and you have to edit an .ini file to turn off mouse smoothing, but I don’t care because I got to shoot a super mutant camp with long range artillery.

Gushing aside, F4’s core gameplay is much of the same from New Vegas and Fallout 3. You explore ancient buildings, scavenging what you can, fighting off the bandits and creatures of the wastelands that attack you. The biggest change to the base Fallout gameplay is the addition of Settlements. I can only assume the people at Bethesda were looking at all of the multiplayer survival games that allow base building when this system was thought up, and I think it really changes the whole feel of the game. Where previously you felt like a drifter, running from place to place but never making any part of the wasteland yours, now you can create settlements all across the map, making buildings and defences. You can use radio towers to attract settlers to join the settlements, commanding them to man towers, farm crops, or even run shops to make caps for you.

The settlement system also impacts the scavenging side of the gameplay. Previously I would only collect guns, ammo, stimpacks, and caps. Now, almost everything is useful, as junk items are broken down into their parts, and even unwanted weapons and armour can be scrapped for additional components. These components are used for crafting the parts used in settlements, or even upgrading your items to be better. Gone are the days of needing to repair weapons and armour after every fight (a change I welcome completely), instead replaced with upgrades to allow you to play the way you want. If you prefer long range then you can give your weapons scopes and long barrels to increase the range of them. Or for close encounters you have the option for reflex sights and silencers.

Combat is improved from New Vegas, and vastly improved from Fallout 3. All of the guns have functioning iron sights, and the developers have included a couple of different types of sights for those who prefer a particular type (reflex sights have a dot or circle option to give one example). The guns feel different enough, and even the look of the early game “pipe” weapons suit the scavenged style. As an example of how different weapons feel, the laser musket, a gun you get very early in the game, requires you to charge the weapon manually before you can even fire, but does massive damage. As I mentioned previously Bethesda have done a great job of trying to allow for different play styles with the different weapons, providing options via the modding system. Some people have criticised the game for becoming more of an FPS than an RPG, but I personally have enjoyed all aspects of the combat.

Armour now has individual parts, allowing you to mix and match pieces for maximum protection. If there is one complaint about armour in the game, it’s that the best armour in the game looks the worst, and the complete sets that look great have some of the worst stats. If you are playing in first person it’s not that big a deal, but you do see yourself more in Fallout 4 than any of the previous games. However, this isn’t the biggest change to the armour system in F4. Power armour is now a separate suit, treated almost like a vehicle that you get into and use until it’s out of power. 

You get your first set of power armour very early in the game, and can customise and upgrade it however you see fit. Customisation includes paintjobs, built in stealth boys and even a jetpack. The limiting factor to the power armour is the fusion cores they use for power. You will find these out in the wasteland scattered about, but at least in my travels I’ve only found 18 in about 35 hours of play. This gives the power armour a feeling of escalation. Were you just murdered by a deathclaw? Go back with your power armour and show him who’s boss! I personally like this system, as I never liked wearing power armour constantly in the older Fallout games. Along with that, going back to base to get your best weapons is something I appreciate. Power armour is also more common on enemies in higher level zones, and you can obtain many different versions of it that can all be individually customised and even given to followers to wear.

The world itself is always an interesting topic for open world games. I’ve never really liked the map size comparisons that occur whenever a new open world game is announced or released. My metric for how good the world in an open world game is has always been how much fun it is to explore and ‘live’ in that world, and Fallout 4 impresses me in that respect. Even 35 hours into the game I’m still seeing something new, and more importantly, interesting to explore. The settlements help a lot with that, as you can even just get lost into the act of building this base up for your fellow settlers, and then exploring the world for more materials to continue building that base. Along with this, the world also feels very alive. While exploring, you will often hear gunshots in the distance and if you head toward them, you’ll find some bandits harassing settlers, or super mutants attacking some soldiers. It’s little details like this that go a long way to making the world feel alive without you.

Graphically, the game has improved a lot from New Vegas. Gone is the green and brown tint they put over everything in the two previous games, in favour of bright colours, blue skies and god rays. Weather effects look fantastic, especially the thick fog that occasionally rolls in, making it hard to see what that shape in the distance is. The wasteland has never looked better. However, if there is one thing the game doesn’t do well, it’s run above 60 FPS. I personally have not had any issues, as I decided to keep vsync on after reading the reviews, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. There have been reports of any framerate higher than 60 causing issues with the physics of the game, including not being able to exit terminals or the lockpicking screen not coming up. Bethesda tying physics to framerate is not new, and was a big criticism of Skyrim as well.

Speaking of standard Bethesda game issues, there are also bugs aplenty. The game has never hard crashed for me, but I have had several cases where the gun models stopped rendering entirely, leaving my character standing there with his hands awkwardly outstretched. The menus occasionally bug out and won’t display, with the only way to fix that being to quit to desktop and return. Sure the bugs will eventually be fixed, if not by Bethesda, then by a modder. For some reason, gamers in general like to give Bethesda a pass on those bugs, but it’s a source of constant frustration that one of my favorite game companies continues to rely on modders to fix their games for free. If this was a Ubisoft or EA title, there would be riots. Along with the bugs, there are also reported performance issues with the aforementioned god rays on AMD graphics cards due to their tesselation issues (tip: turn them down to low. The difference in looks during gameplay is tiny and you get an immediate performance boost even on nVidia cards).

Now to the elephants in the room: skill trees and dialogue systems. If you’ve read anything about Fallout 4, you’ve probably read about the new skill tree and dialogue system, and maybe not in a positive light. Personally, I like the new skill system, and I am indifferent to the dialogue system. 

Let’s focus on skills for now. In previous fallout games, there were individual skills for every part of the game, and if you never improved that skill, you would never get better with that part of the game. So when you picked up a laser rifle, and had never improved Energy Weapons, your damage was reduced. At level up, you would get a number of skill points you could distribute into the different skills, as well as being able to select a perk every level in Fallout 3, or every 2 levels in New Vegas. In Fallout 4, they have scrapped skills entirely, in favour of using perks to progress your character. When you level up, you gain a single point that gain be used to either increase a special stat, or improve a specialized part of your character, such as improving damage with pistols by 20% or being able to pick better locks. I like the change, as it streamlines character progression, and allows you to immediately improve an aspect of your character without needing to be hyper focused on one particular thing. On the other hand, purists of the RPG side of Fallout may find the system too streamlined, causing them to consider it dumbed down. It’s a massive change to the way Fallout plays, but one I feel Bethesda have done correctly.

As for the dialogue tree, the biggest immediate change is that your character is fully voice acted now. While some people prefer the silent protagonist, I have always loved voiced characters, as I feel more like I am playing a character, rather than a camera with a gun. The other big change is the addition of a dialogue wheel instead of the selection screen previous Fallout games have used. On this change I am torn. On the one hand, the wheel uses a simple up for question, down for yes, left for calm, right for aggressive, meaning you can always play your character in a particular way. On the other, they never actually tell you that, and I only figured it out after about 20 hours of play. It’s very vague as to how your character might respond until you work that out. A simple change of colours for the buttons would have solved all those problems (green for yes, red for aggressive, blue for calm, yellow for question if we use the Xbox button colours for example). I can certainly see how people dislike the voiced protagonist and wheel, however it’s a very small bump to an otherwise solid game.

Fallout 4 is a massive game, and what I have typed here hasn't even touched on the main story at all, because in 35 hours, I've not progressed past the introductory quests for the story quest. I may look at writing a review of the story if I ever get around to completing it. I mentioned in the outset of this that I am a Bethesda fanboy. I want to say it again here, because I know I get blind to some of the more glaring issues with Bethesda games until the honeymoon period is over (like the menus in Skyrim until SkyUi came out). If there was some advice I might give, it’s this: if you haven’t already picked up Fallout 4, consider waiting until it’s on sale. I love the game, and I have no hesitation shouting that from the hilltops. However, I think time is still needed for this game to become truly amazing due to the bugs. If you are likely to want to push the game above 60 FPS, wait until a fix is found for the physics issues the game has (if a fix is even possible with how they have tied in the physics).

However, if that warning doesn’t stop you from wanting to play Fallout 4, then I highly recommend it! Come and live in the wasteland.

As always,


Friday, 6 November 2015

World of Warcraft: Legion - My Thoughts So Far

I completely missed most of the Blizzcon intro because it starts so early here in West Australia, so I only got to catch the tail end of the Warcraft Panel. However, MMO-Champion had the key points detailed in a post as usual, and reading through it some things jumped out at me. Here's my thoughts on what we know about Legion at this stage.

First of all, I'm an Illidan fanboy. I've detailed this before, and seeing him come back, especially after the hints last year at a redemption story for him, is a massive draw for me to the game. I'm interested in the prospect of playing as a Demon Hunter too, but will definitely reserve my judgement until I can actually try them out (double jumps sound cool though). The lore explanation for why the demon hunters are only the elvish races makes sense to me too: you are an Illiadari, one of Illidans followers captured by Maiev Shadowsong at the end of the Burning Crusade and locked away.

Artifact weapons are a big part of the Legion as well, and I have mixed feelings about them. Each spec in the game will get a weapon that is unique to them. For example, a Beast Mastery Hunter will get a gun, while a Marksmanship Hunter will get a bow. While the prospect of using these legendary weapons is cool, I'm not sure how they will handle it in a lore sense. Weapons like Ashbringer (the weapon that shatters Frostmourne in ICC) are important in the lore, and Ashbringer is currently used by Tirion Fordring. So how paladin players will get an Ashbringer, or really how players get any of the other Artifact weapons, is a question that needs to be answered carefully. Blizzard have also said they intend to not have weapon drops at all this expansion, and that the artifact weapons will be upgraded in a similar style to how the last two legendary questlines have worked, including visual customisations. If you want to have a look at the artifact weapons for each spec, click here.

On to something I'm a lot more apprehensive about: scaling zones. They intend for you to be able to quest in the zones Azsuna, Val'Sharah, Highmountain and Stormheim in any order and at any level, with all zones eventually leading you to Suramar at level 110. Using what they have learned from flex raids, Blizzard want the zones to scale to your level, with the idea being "if it takes 12 seconds to kill a boar at level 102, it will take 12 seconds when at level 106". Before I really started playing WoW, I played Guild Wars 2 a lot. For those of you who didn't play GW2, they have the player scale down to the zones level. So when you enter a level 32 zone, your character is now level 32. It's fun for a while, but I never got the feeling of progression that WoW gives when you can breeze through mobs in a zone that gave you trouble before. Again, I'm reserving judgement until I can play with it, but I hope that at level 110 there is some kind of buff to damage you do via better gear.

Dungeon content is going to be getting an overhaul in Legion. Blizzard have announced 10 new dungeons (though if all 10 are in the final release remains to be seen), with 5 of them being leveling dungeons and 5 endgame. Blizzard are making some bigger promises regarding dungeon content, saying they want them to all of them be viable as endgame content, instead of just one or two as has happened in the past. They are also introducing a new way to run challenge mode dungeons: the Challenger's Keystone. This item can be leveled up to gain access to harder content with better rewards, as well as introducing some different mechanics like enrages, bigger packs, or the party taking constant damage. They are intending for this system to complement or even replace raiding based on how you play with it, being true endgame content.

The last thing I want to talk about is the release date. Blizzard have the release date as "On or Before 21 September 2016". There has been some unhappiness about how far away this date is, and I agree with it in theory. If Legion was to release in September, that would be too far away in my opinion. However, I think a lot of people have missed the part that says "before". Beta has been announced as "soon after Blizzcon", and most beta's have been around 4 months. It's my hope they release it a lot sooner than September, with my ideal time being May. Here's hoping they get to release it a lot sooner than we expect.

I'm looking forward to Legion. Like most people there are things I like and things I don't, but I'm still generally positive about the games future. While they have been bleeding subscribers, I still think WoW is doing ok, and people are just burnt out on the game from playing it for 10 plus years. I'd like to play the beta, but we'll have to see how they handle the invites. Here's hoping I get in.

As always,


Saturday, 12 September 2015

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

When I started playing The Witcher 3 I didn't expect to have a new favourite RPG. I like it so much that it's toppled Mass Effect 2 from that position in my list of favourite games. A brilliant melding of fantasy, action, story and character progression, The Witcher has completely changed how I look at characters and their stories in games. I'll preface everything else here by saying: I'm no where near the end of the game. With the move, being distracted by Rocket League, game crashes, and various other real life things happening over the last few months, I have not had as much time to sink into the game as I would normally like. Despite this, I do feel that I have a good enough hold on the game to write up my thoughts on it.

To begin, I confess that I never played the first Witcher game, and only briefly played the second. While I liked the concepts behind the second game, it never grabbed me like this one has. Perhaps that's something to do with the open world nature of Wild Hunt. In a time where everyone is talking about how the new Mad Max game is "just another open world game", The Witcher succeeds in being more than that in my mind. Everywhere you go throughout Temeria, there are interesting things to see, loot and fight, and the best part is that none of it feels forced, something most recent open world games fail to do.

You play as Geralt, the titular Witcher, a kind of monster hunter for hire. Not entirely human, Geralt has undergone witcher mutations, a series of procedures that greatly increase his agility, durability and stamina. Because of these mutations however, Geralt and his fellow witchers are regarded with disdain by the general population, occasionally drawing insults or even violent reactions when attention is drawn to them. However, when the townsfolk are attacked by monsters, they call upon the witchers to hunt down and kill them, usually with the secondary silver sword that witchers are known for carrying.

At a glance, the Witcher's combat could seem overly simple. You have a fast and heavy attack with a sword, some magical abilities called signs, and two different types of dodge (a roll and a sidestep) that move you different distances and have different recovery times. Combine this with the fact that enemies take off massive chunks of health, and combat will often turn into you using your superior agility to try and avoid damage, then dart back in to deal the killing blow. As you progress through the game however, you start to gain access to potions, oils that increase damage to certain enemy types, bombs with different effects and a crossbow that can help interrupt attacks, or bring flying enemies crashing down to earth, adding to the depth of the combat. The game does a fantastic job of making you feel powerful against normal human enemies or some monsters, but a lot weaker against the larger and more scary monsters.

At release, not everything was rosy for me with The Witcher 3. The game would hard crash after about 20 minutes of play, with no error messages or any indication as to what was causing the issue. I updated drivers, scoured the net for solutions, but nothing worked. However, CD Projekt RED has been very active with releasing patches, and finally the game is in a state where I feel I can recommend it to other people. On top of bug fixes, CD Projekt have also kept on top of feedback from players, going so far as to implement an optional alternate movement mode for people who originally found that Geralt's movements felt floaty and disconnected. They have done a great job of acting like a company that actually cares about the experience people have with their product, and implementing features that help with those experiences.

Not the kind of griffin found in high fantasy right?
The Witcher is a decidedly adult aimed game. Monsters are not "high fantasy" style, more of a dark faerie tale style, with everything looking as though it could kill you just by breathing on you. There is frequent gore, occasional nudity, and stories about themes that definitely aren't aimed at kids. That said, I mentioned in the outset that the Witcher has redefined how I think about story telling and characters in video games, especially when it comes to these themes, and I'd like to expand on that a little here: 

Warning: Spoilers for one story arc early in the game are ahead in the next paragraph. Skip ahead to avoid.

There is a character who initially appears to be nothing else but a drunk and a bully. When you meet them, his wife and daughter have disappeared, and there is some evidence that this character is involved. You eventually find that his drinking lead to an argument with his pregnant wife that got physical, leading to the miscarriage of his unborn child. At this stage you, as a player, can simply dismiss the character as nothing but an evil man and carry on. If you choose to progress through the storyline however, you get options in conversation with them to hear their side of the story. At no point does this character try to justify his bad actions, and he knows he has done wrong. He knows that his actions have lead to losing his wife and daughter, and he is making changes to try and fix his life. The game doesn't condone those actions, but still manages to discuss it in a way that is very mature and engages you with the characters. It lends an amazing level of humanity and depth to them, without making them simple one dimensional "hero or villain" characters. 

Everything about the characters in The Witcher shows a level of thought that I haven't really experienced in any other game. Characters are expressive, the voice acting is top notch, and the stories are varied. I find myself looking forward to conversations because I might learn something about characters that I didn't know before, something I've honestly never experienced with any game. It really does a fantastic job of immersing you in this fantasy world, making you feel as though you are the witcher Geralt. Choices you make can also come back to haunt you. Ridicule someone who has some sway in the community, and you might find yourself attacked in the street. Make a choice to go out of your way to rescue someone, and that persons relative might give you something as a reward because they want to.

The Witcher 3 is a huge game, and I haven't come close to touching on all aspects of the game in this post. Needless to say, I highly recommend it, even for the story telling alone. You can find it here on Steam, or here direct from CD Projekt on GOG

As always,


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Moving House!

Just a quick post to let you all know that I'll be moving house over the next two weeks, and as such may miss posts about any major events that come up during that time. However, when I get back online, I will more than likely have my thoughts on the Witcher 3 all typed up and ready to post. As a preview, I will just say that the game is brilliant, but massive, making it hard to write a review earlier. In any case, I will update as I get the chance.

As always,


Friday, 21 August 2015

Rocket League

Four small cars barrel around an arena, using boosters and jump jets to chase after a large ball. The two orange ones manage to get the ball past the two blue ones, lining up a shot at a blue coloured goal. The ball flies through the air, and passes through a sensor exploding and knocking everyone flying into the air, as the crowd goes wild. Team Orange has won again!

Rocket League is a game where you play soccer with cars. That's it. It's so simple in fact that you could be forgiven for thinking the game has no depth to it. But that's where you'd be wrong. You see, unlike Fifa, where you control an entire team of soccer players, in Rocket League you directly control one car. There are no predetermined button presses to pass, shoot for goal, or tackle.

The controls are deceptively simple, one button to throttle, one to brake, a boost, a jump, and a slide or drift button. Learning to control your car takes a moment, but learning to master the controls and make your car race around the arena is a matter of practice. From simple kicks by jumping and rotating your car a certain direction, to flying halfway across the field using boost and scoring a goal. It's not easy, but when it all comes together, skilled play in Rocket League is beautiful to behold. Take a look:

In single player, Rocket League offers an exhibition mode, where you play one off matches, a season mode, where you can play through a season with your team, and lastly training, where you can hone your skills. Honestly, single player in Rocket League is great to learn, but poor AI can sometimes leave you feeling angry, as it seems like your team mates don't adapt to what you are doing. They rarely set you up for shots, and when you set them up, they won't take them. I've actually seen AI players run the ball directly into their own goal, which is great when they are on the other team, but rage inducing when they are on your team.

Where Rocket League shines however is in multiplayer. Playing with friends online, especially while on some form of voice chat is some of the best fun I've had in some time. The closest way I can describe it is like playing Super Smash Bros on a couch. The game is simple enough that literally anyone can pick it up and play, so you can get people who normally wouldn't be interested in that kind of game to play as well.

Something else I am extremely impressed with is the business model that the developers have decided to go with. They release updates that contain maps for free, meaning that the player base isn't split by updates, and then DLC packs with new cars, and cosmetic upgrades. At this stage, the cars all handle fairly similarly, with bigger cars having a slightly larger hitbox making for great defenders, and smaller cars having a flatter hitbox, meaning you can aim shots a little easier for better attack, so even the DLC cars have no advantages besides looking cool.

In fact, Rocket League is so good that the one criticism I have with the game is a minor one that I'm sure they already have plans to change. The maps in Rocket League are literally all the same. They look different visually, but the same basic layout is used. While I understand the reasoning behind this, especially with how the game is being treated competitively, I feel a mode with more varied maps for more casual players would definitely increase the fun factor of the game. I also highly recommend a controller for the game. It's playable with a keyboard and mouse, but feels right at home on a controller.

For a $20 game that you could be excused for not knowing anything about before release, Rocket League has really taken a hold among the gaming community. And it's no wonder. Rocket League is just a good, maybe even great, game. I know I keep saying this, but it really is beautiful in its simplicity, and addictive in its challenge. I highly recommend it.

As always,


Thursday, 16 July 2015

Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment: Kings of DLC and Pre-Order Culture

At the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con last weekend, Warner Bros. showed the trailer for the upcoming Suicide Squad movie. As usual, the trailer was immediately leaked to the internet, and for the next 24 hours WB's "anti-piracy team" tried endlessly to stop it getting out. After dismally failing to do so, they eventually just uploaded the trailer to Youtube, with a super passive aggressive message about how they wanted this trailer to be a "unique experience for Comic-Con". Now, none of this has anything to do with gaming, so why am I bringing all of this up? Well this attitude extends into Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment, their game publishing arm.

You might have gathered from my extremely moody post about Arkham Knight and its PC port, I'm not super happy with Warner. Holders to the rights of some of my favorite franchises, such as DC Comics, Scribblenauts and Lord of the Rings, WB have a hit and miss record when it comes to games they produce. As a fan of Batman, seeing that my preferred platform to play these games on was treated as a second class citizen behind the consoles hurt me more than I'd like to admit.

Arkham Knight is just the tip of the iceberg however. WB has a history of shady practices, ranging from poor ports to slicing parts of the game out to offer as DLC or pre-order bonuses. When Arkham City first came out, they put codes in all of the boxes to access the Catwoman missions, content that was already on the disk, but locked to try and stop people buying the game preowned instead of new. If you did buy the game second hand, the Catwoman missions had to be purchased, ensuring WB got their little slice of the pie. I actually initially bought Arkham City on the Xbox 360, because they delayed the PC release, and in my brand new, sealed copy of the game, my code for the Catwoman missions failed to work, meaning if I wanted to access the content I had paid for, I would have to purchase it again. That copy was returned immediately, and I decided to wait for the PC version.

Not pictured: the rage this bug caused me.
Every one of Warner's games I've played has adverts for season passes and DLC right there in the main menu. Exclusive pre-order bonuses from certain retailers ensure that to get the complete game you would need to order the game multiple times, or more commonly in Australia, that you just can't get access to them without paying for it later. The very first trailer for Arkham Knight ever released included an advert for the Harley Quinn missions, but only if you pre-ordered. It always seemed to me like WB treats games as more of a platform to sell more DLC. After all, this is the company that straight up said they weren't going to fix bugs in Arkham Origins because "the team is currently working hard on the upcoming story DLC." They did eventually fix the game breaking bugs, but to this day there are still non game breaking ones all throughout Origins.

Even games that are completely worthy of praise aren't immune to controversy due to decisions made by WB marketing executives. Shadow of Mordor, my game of the year in 2014 and possibly one of my top games of all time, faced some poor publicity after they offered Youtube personalities early access to the game in return for only positive coverage of the game. Jim Sterling, then at the Escapist, got his hands on a copy of the contract and revealed just how strict it was. With messages like "persuade viewers to purchase the game", "videos will promote positive sentiment of the game" and "videos must not show bugs or glitches", and giving Warner the final say on if a video can be put out, the contract reveals just how strongly WB wants to control the messages about its games. Oddly enough, the contract also forbade mentions of the Lord of the Rings and the Hobbit movies, characters and books, arguably hamstringing anyone who actually likes the Tolkien universe from being able to compare to them, even in a positive light.

The ridiculous thing about this contract was that the game was good in the first place. Had WB not tried to control the message so hard, all of the news surrounding Shadow of Mordor on launch would have been overwhelmingly positive. The PC port was amazing, the story was strong for fans of the established lore, and the Nemesis system is a mechanic I really hope to see implemented in future games. As it stands, Shadow of Mordor will always have that black mark in its history, and WB will always be remembered as trying to control a message that didn't need controlling.

Even when Warner eventually did the right thing and pulled Arkham Knight from sale on Steam and other digital distributors, they had to spin it to sound like they weren't doing it to stop the flood of refunds they were no doubt getting. Rather than just saying, "yeah we messed up, and are going to fix it," they had to say that a significant amount of players were enjoying the game on PC, just to twist the knife to those who were having problems.

Realistically, Warner are probably worse than EA and Ubisoft, both of whom have copped a lot of flak over the years, and rightfully so. But where EA and Ubisoft at least make efforts to try and fix things, the message we get from Warner is "lololol too busy making more stuff to sell you suckers". I can pretty much guarantee that the only reason they pulled Arkham Knight from sale on Steam was because of the recent addition of the refund option by Valve, and they saw the number of people who weren't going to put up with their crap. Had the option been there with Arkham Origins, I'm convinced that the message wouldn't have been "we're too busy making DLC", it would have been "we're going to fix those bugs".

All of this has been stated before, many times, and by people with far larger audiences than me, and still Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment show us that they don't understand why we dislike the stunts they pull. I've never been one to complain about the commercialization of video games, but I'm done with way WB treats us, especially those of us who prefer the PC platform. And really, in my mind, it comes back to how they reacted to the inevitable leaks of the Suicide Squad trailer. Warner is old media, trying to hold onto that sliver of tenuous control they have over their message, being dragged kicking and screaming into the new age of the internet, where people can share information faster than Warner can suppress it. Get with the times WB, and maybe I'll play your games again.

As always,


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

Star Citizen and My Thoughts on Derek Smart's Blog Post

There's something about all of the marketing for Star Citizen that never fails to excite me. The Freelancer and Constellation commercials both make me tingle with excitement. Whoever is doing the marketing for Cloud Imperium Games is doing a stellar job of hyping the concepts of Star Citizen (pun completely intended). But as time goes on, I find myself doubting if Star Citizen will ever actually happen, and if it does, if it will live up to the expectations that Chris Roberts and his team have created for the game.

Derek Smart - litigious game dev &
self confessed troll.
Small disclaimer: I at no stage have put any money toward Star Citizen. My wish for the game to succeed is not from a financial standpoint of wanting my 'investment' to pay off, but a general love of space sim games.

This whole post started because of a blog post I recently read by Derek Smart, the president and lead developer at 3000AD Games. Derek's games have always been controversial (putting it politely), and unfortunately, his response to criticism usually involves bans and threats of lawyers. Smart has also said in the past that he will occasionally "post just to piss these guys off", and "go in there (forums) and start trouble", essentially describing himself as an internet troll. However, despite his history of poorly made games, litigious nature and generally toxic personality, I still feel like Derek raises some valid criticism of CIG and Star Citizen, even if I disagree with his message of wanting everyone who backed the game to demand refunds or sue CIG.

When Star Citizen was Kickstarted back in 2012, the features they listed were reasonably humble: a 'rich universe' with single player (online co-op available), persistent online multiplayer, the option to create modded servers (not hosted by CIG) and submit player created ships to CIG for implementation into the main game. Where Elite Dangerous promised, and delivered, a massive universe, Chris and his team promised a smaller universe with far more depth to individual systems. All of this was slated to be released in November 2014, and the game eventually raised $2.1 million on Kickstarter.

We're now in July of 2015, and at the time of writing Cloud Imperium Games has raised just over $85 million from just under 925,000 people. You can actually watch in real time how much they have raised here. That page also contains all of the stretch goals they have hit. They are no longer adding stretch goals, giving the reason for this move as they don't want the game to have too much feature creep. However, I would argue that the game already has some pretty severe feature creep.

Today the list of features has grown to immense levels including:

  • 100 star systems (handcrafted)
  • Professional motion capture, including facial capture
  • Orchestral score
  • A single player campaign, Squadron 42, that has at least 50 missions (although further stretch goals hint at more than that)
  • Ship boarding
  • Immersive capital ship gameplay (putting out fires, repairing systems, etc)
  • Ship modularity, the ability to completely customize any aspect of your ships performance and features
  • Pets
  • Fully fleshed out AI characters on planets
  • Real alien languages created by linguists
  • And much, much more
Chris Roberts - has his baby gotten too
big for its own good?
It's starting to look more and more like something Peter Molyneux would put together as his list of "features that are totally in my next game guys, please trust me please I need money". It's also not unlike Freelancer, where Chris Roberts promised a dynamic economy and world that would change around the player based on actions of other players and even AI factions. Freelancer was eventually released, and while regarded as one of the best space sim games, fell very short of these promises due to technical limitations. And here we are again, with Chris promising a lot and perhaps not able to deliver as much as he would love to. The game pitched in 2012, while not as grandiose as the game presented now, was at least achievable in a reasonable amount of time.

Another point of criticism CIG comes under is the "pledge system" they have used to continue crowdfunding. You can buy ships that grant access to the games packages with prices ranging from $30 to $325 for individual ship packages that include other in game goodies (most of which don't exist yet). There are also multi-ship combo packages that range from the $1,100 "Battle Pack" that contains every fighter sized ship currently available, to the $15,000 "Completionist" pack that contains almost every single ship. 

The stretch goals page that I linked to earlier has an auto update function. Just for fun I left it running while I wrote this post: around $1200 from 11 people over about 3 hours. In the last 6 months, they have made more than $2 million every month. The hype around Star Citizen, and the amount of money that some fans have spent on the game has also created a culture where any criticism is shot down in flames. Because they feel the need to justify their investment, these hyper fans go out of their way to defend any aspect of the game, including legitimate concerns about the direction the game is going, how long it is taking, and that CIG might be in over its head with what has been promised.

Even if Star Citizen fails, the Redeemer will remain one of my favourite
ship designs. Props to CIG for running the Next Great Spaceship competition.
Yet, despite all my misgivings, and as I mentioned in the start of this post, I really do want Star Citizen to succeed. Something about the idea of piloting a ship with friends in a persistent universe has captured my imagination. I want to explore a universe with a crew just like in the Constellation trailer. I want to ship cargo and fight off pirates like in the Freelancer trailer. There is no doubt in my mind that if Star Citizen actually somehow manages to live up to the hype, it will be remembered as one of the greatest games in history.

However, if it fails... if they don't deliver the product they've promised... it'll go down as the biggest internet scam in history.

As always,