Are Games Really Being Devalued? Are Gamers Really Being Cheap?

I’ll admit right here I probably buy my indie games on sale most of the time. In fact I buy most games on sale period, months or years after their initial launch. It’s a prominent discussion right now — on whether consumers are too cheap and whether Steam Sales and Humble Bundles devalue games, especially indie games. I’ve started to value games based on how much time I have to play these games relative to how good they are — that is, how much a game causes me to want to make the time to play it. Too many games are also suffering from a discoverability problem. At the point we’re at now, I won’t really think about buying a game at launch or at full price unless it’s nearly a game of the year contender.

For years I only owned an N64, and for years after that I only owned a Gamecube — two consoles that didn’t have the best third party support and thus not the biggest selection of games. My N64 and Gamecube libraries are full of games ranging from merely decent to mediocre to probably bad (I bought Superman 64 at full price and still own it), and this is because I didn’t have much to play at the time. N64 fans jumped all over a game like Quest 64 because it was basically the closest thing to an RPG on the system at the time. Now people with Steam accounts or mobile devices are neck-deep in not just games, but good and even great games. I no longer have the money or time for every merely “good” or even “great” game. If a game turns out to be just pretty good I will buy it when I’m ready to play it, that’ll probably be after it’s been on sale.

I’ll buy a game on day one or at full price if excited enough to where I’ll set aside other games to play it. This fall, two upcoming games fit into that category: Super Smash Bros. on 3DS, and the PC version of Grand Theft Auto V. And maybe Hotline Miami 2. There are many other games this fall I’m interested in, but they can wait. I even have a whole tier system going on ranging from “day one full price,” to “I’ll wait on reviews and videos,” and “I’ll wait for a sale in six months.”

One reason for this is my backlog, which itself is full of games considered to be all-time classics. Some of the most fun I’ve had with gaming in 2014 has been from games that came out last year, in 2009, in 1990, and in 1988. I could buy and play Destiny in September, or I could finally start my unplayed copy of a game like Final Fantasy VII, or Mark of the Ninja, or finally install both Baldur’s Gate games. That’s what any new release is up against when it comes to my time and attention.

That said, there are some games in the past I might have been more enthusiastic about if I had more information about them before launch. FTL and Hotline Miami were game of the year candidates for me in 2012, but I bought both on sale because I knew little about them beforehand. Meanwhile, as crazy as it sounds I didn’t become hyped for GTA V until after I rented the game and played it for several hours (on PS3, then waited for the inevitable PC version). There are at least a few indie games I bought as a direct result of having downloaded their demos from Xbox Live Arcade. This is why I’m disappointed a lot of high-profile indie games (and games in general) don’t have demos anymore. I wasn’t sure about buying the PC version of Super Time Force until I finally tried the demo on Xbox Live. I wish I could say the same for games like Shovel KnightAzure Striker: Gunvolt, and Broken Age. My favorite Steam Greenlight and Kickstarter pitches are the ones that come with playable alpha demos like Stasis or Chasm.

One system I really like is the trail system XBLA used and PlayStation Network on PS3 sort of adopted by default, where the initial game download is a trial and you can pay the full price for an unlock key. That to me sounds like a quick way of turning the first sections of a game into a demo. Capcom seems to like doing this with its iOS games as well. This is basically what old PC games like DOOM did back in the day — make the beginning of the game shareware. I’ve heard a lot of people don’t like this method but I’m not sure why.

Maybe demos aren’t a positive for sales on a general level but they definitely work as marketing tools for me. I guess the same goes for video content like Let’s Play videos or Giant Bomb Quick Looks. Perhaps I should have watched more of those for FTL and Hotline. The recent video for The Vanishing of Ethan Carter does a really good job of marketing the game if you ask me. PlayStation Now is trying out a rental or trial system which sounds nice, and rumors indicate Microsoft is readying some other kind of trial system on Xbox One. Either way, there are definitely really great games out there that still suffer from a visibility problem. In my opinion it’s from a lack of playable preview content.

Maybe my saying all this means these games really have been devalued. If so, then it’s due to the sheer quantity of games being released these days. When something becomes more common or more numerous it naturally drops in value. The increased competition has raised my personal standards for how good a game needs to be to get my attention and money.

…Or you can just look at this data indicating a lot of people absolutely do still buy games at launch for full price.

BULLETS:

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Tomb Raider And A Post-Exclusives Console War

Honestly it feels a bit strange to see people arguing over exclusives on game consoles in 2014. I just feel like the market has evolved so much since the days when people argued over whether Mega Man was better than Sonic, so angry reactions over Microsoft’s deal for Tomb Raider exclusivity sound overblown, but the deal itself feels like an antiquated strategy to me.

Microsoft probably hopes having timed exclusivity over Rise of Tomb Raider for fall 2015 will sell some Xbox Ones. I’m honestly not so sure it won’t just limit sales of the game. Maybe it’s because I’ve never been too hyped over Tomb Raider, but I don’t see a whole lot of people crossing over just for that game. People have also argued this deal will help Square Enix, whether Microsoft’s resources will go towards helping fund development or marketing for the game. I say if Square Enix needs it that bad then there’s something wrong with the whole direction of production for the franchise.

I agree with a point John Davison made in last week’s John & Garnett podcast. I believe I said it a while ago too: the production of the 2013 Tomb Raider was probably over-budgeted to meet impossible expectations. Davison speculates Square Enix published Tomb Raider Definitive Edition on PS4 and Xbox One to make up for the initial release failing to meet its first month sales goals. If that’s true then the same probably goes for Sleeping Dogs and its upcoming remastered edition. Around three million copies in the first month is probably what Square Enix should have expected for any kind of Tomb Raider game whether or not they put a $60 million budget on it. I wouldn’t be surprised if we also got a remastered edition of Hitman: Absolution. If Square Enix really did accept Microsoft’s proposal for resources like development and marketing money, that indicates they haven’t really solved their budget problem with the franchise. That’s getting into a whole other discussion though.

Rise of Tomb Raider obviously isn’t the only third party exclusive deal going on right now, but I feel like it is the most artificial. It’s literally just Microsoft buying exclusives. Some people got mad over Bayonetta 2 being a Wii U exclusive, but that game literally wouldn’t exist without Nintendo — no one else was willing to publish it or fund its development. Titanfall is also a bit different because prior to Microsoft’s deal it actually wasn’t going to be released on Xbox One. Bloodborne is exclusive to PS4 because Sony is publishing and co-developing the game. Rise of Tomb Raider on the other hand was initially revealed as being planned for PC and PlayStation as well as Xbox. I think it’s also worth noting every single Tomb Raider game ever so far has at least debuted on Windows and PlayStation.

Back in the day when a game was exclusive to one console or another it was often for a technology-related reason. Japanese developers very often deliberately made a game for a specific platform and that was it (they often still do today). Today budgets have forced things to be multiplatform, and western developers have a greater tendency to simply develop software, then release it on platforms. This is moving us to an environment where third party exclusives don’t really exist anymore, and I’m fine with that.

I don’t believe in different consoles having “personalities” based on what unique software they have. Nobody really get’s worked up over what exclusive software iOS or Android have. Yet, some people choose one or the other for various reasons. That’s sort of what I see PlayStation and Xbox as today — two competing operating systems (that are each locked to one piece of hardware) that run most of the same software. The competition now is really about the features of each operating system and service offered by each company.

Xbox Live’s features were the real reason the Xbox 360 succeeded over the PS3 — features like party chat and how much more smoothly the system installed software. First party software is virtually the only truly exclusive software these days. Even supposed exclusives like Dead Rising 3 and Ryse eventually end up making it to Windows. The main reason the PS3 even caught up to the 360 in hardware sales is because it sold better in regions like Japan and continental Europe. A big factor in that was how weak Xbox’s software feature set is in Europe compared to North America. Most Xbox Live media apps either didn’t work or still don’t work in Europe, decreasing the value of a Gold subscription over there. The Xbox One’s software feature set seems to be repeating the pattern with a lot of features that only make sense to Americans. If Apple or Google were in Microsoft’s situation they would probably try to regain the initiative in terms of platform-level software features, not try to buy the timed exclusivity of one piece of third party software.

BULLETS:

  • This is an interesting scenario if the game industry is just going to keep doing post-apocalyptic settings: http://t.co/KoDBcW7DdM
  • Ancient Mayan cities discovered deep in Mexican jungle: http://t.co/4ttQ7LsMuN
  • Pretty good scope of the protest issues going on in Ferguson. http://t.co/jhqz0ZyUR8
  • Yet another exciting anime is planned for Blu-Ray — Moribitohttp://t.co/BpCgFNjzl4
  • Oh, and a Princess Mononoke art book. http://t.co/PVRSUPuUzX
  • I didn’t even realize Sony was closing down PlayStation Home in Japan. For a while it was far superior to its western counterpart, with areas and obtainable items you couldn’t get on American PS Home.
  • We might get a SHODAN announcer pack for DOTA 2http://t.co/94pHTzMTRa
  • I think I’m sold on The Vanishing of Ethan Carterhttp://t.co/Z2asRrXhlG
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Late To The Party: Super Mario World

Moving up in my “get good at Mario side-scrollers” quest, I just finished Super Mario World. I’d heard a lot of feuding over the years between people who prefer this game and people who prefer Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s almost all I could think about playing through World, and I’m still trying to figure out what exactly sets them apart.

Let me put it this way: to me, SMB3 feels more like a game — on the level of Monopoly or something, whereas World feels more like a typical modern “video game.” They both have very simlar structures but a few key differences.

In my LTTP post on SMB3 I displayed surprise at how much its world map felt like a tabletop game. The way the game gives you choices for how to move about the “board” and between levels while gaming the lives and items system makes exploration its own game where I make decisions. World on the other hand feels like a “world” Nintendo wants you to travel through. It has alternate routes and secrets to find, but there isn’t the sense that moving about the map is a game in itself. That’s fine, but World’s size in today’s terms just isn’t what it was 23 years ago.

Y’know how everything felt bigger when you were a kid? I guess video games can be the same way, because that’s how I feel about World now compared to when I dabbled in it as a child or watched my brother play it. The copy I just finished is a cartridge my family has had since 1991. We played the game on and off for years and my brother never beat it. It felt like a huge, labyrinthine thing. Playing through it now though, I was able to blast through the better half of World in a day, and complete the main game in a weekend. Not to mention overall it’s far easier than the NES entries in the series.

In today’s terms, World feels like a lot of indie games — fun, but very short. I think a big reason for this compared to SMB3 is because World has its own save system.

When I start a game in SMB3, I feel like I’m starting a one-time “session” of the game, and the next time I start it up I’ll just start over from the beginning. Even when I have save states I avoid reloading them. I really treat it it like starting a new game of Monopoly or something like that. I think this is the reason why I immediately started a new game upon finishing SMB3.

With its save system however, World instantly becomes a game that’s finished after multiple sessions. Once I’ve reached the end and even found all the secret content, it feels like it tries to be the end of a long journey and not a short game. I’m generalizing of course, but let’s compare both to recent indie games and other console action games of its era. What it’s really about I guess is replay value.

Older games couldn’t have a lot of content, so they were made difficult so it would take you 50 tries to get through certain parts. By the time you beat the game you’d probably played some parts dozens of times. You were also already trained by that repetition to possibly start the game again after beating it. That was the replay value. A lot of indie games from the last few years try to emulate 8 and 16-bit gaming, but when you bring a save system into an 8-bit platformer that’s the same length as most 8-bit platformers, people end up finishing it in five hours, often in a single session. Maybe most people don’t mind that, especially if they only paid $15 for these games, but it’s something that bothered me about some indie games — I felt like I was done with them too quickly with little incentive for replay.

This is why I really like some more recent indie games that are roguelikes or incorporate new game plus. The roguelike elements force you to constantly restart and slowly master these small games while introducing randomization. It’s kid of a way to bring back the pacing and replayability of old games in a modern way. A great way to maximize the value of a low-budget $15 game is to design it so the game never truly ends.

Of course there are short, linear games I like replaying all the time. Maybe I simply don’t have that urge for World the same way I do for SMB3. I think it’s because World attempts to be a grand, epic experience set to play out in relatively linear way, but in 2014 it ends up feeling tiny.

BULLETS:

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Trying Battlefield 4 After Having Played ArmA

So I took advantage of Game Time — EA’s latest gimmick to get people to install Origin, to finally try out Battlefield 4. EA advertises the game with everything it does compared to Call of Duty, but it’s odd having played through its campaign after going through ArmA III. The three franchises form an interesting scale of military first person shooter gameplay.

I have to admit, compared to COD games, Battlefield 4’s campaign indeed feels more open and dynamic as EA advertised. Instead of trying to straight-up copy COD like Battlefield 3 mostly did, BF4 makes design decisions that starkly contrast with COD’s extremely linear campaigns. You often hop in and out of vehicles in BF4, run around groups of fully-explorable and destructible buildings, give basic commands to characters, and most importantly fight in open-ended arenas. There was more than once instance in the game where I was able to skillfully build my own plan for opening assaults and see them play out in both expected and unexpected ways. The whole thing still feels linear, but also slightly tactical.

Let’s imagine a scale (I don’t have the time to photoshop it together) between linear shooters that just want you to move from cover to cover and shoot what’s in front of you, and tactical shooters that ask you to plan things. You have COD at 0% (for lack of a better term) on the linear end of the scale and ArmA at 100% on the tactical end. Classic squad-based shooters like the original Ghost Recon or the old Rainbow Six games might be at 75%. Modern squad-based shooters like Rainbow Six VegasGhost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, and SOCOM 4 would be around the 25% mark. In my mind BF4 would be at the 15% mark on this scale, so maybe it’s like halfway between a COD game and GRAW. Either way, it accomplishes what it attempts. I just wish the developers of these big AAA games had more ambition.

Battlefield and COD get all the attention while ArmA attempts to create the most expansive and open-ended military shooting experience ever, even if it doesn’t completely succeed. It’s a game where I can literally fly a helicopter carrying 12 soldiers 20 kilometers across the landscape, pick my own route so as to avoid anti-air, determine where to safely land, pick where I’m gonna drop my men for a mission, plan and accomplish said mission, take my own route to my own chosen extraction point, and make my way back home. I deal with all the bugs, rough edges, and hard-to-learn game mechanics because this group of guys in the Czech Republic are the only ones willing to make this game. I’m just mad because I don’t know if EA or Ubisoft or Activision will ever try to make a mainstream, accessible AAA game with ArmA’s level of ambition. I’m sure with their hundreds of people and budgets in the tends of millions of dollars they could make such a game feel polished. Battlefield 4’s campaign, for all EA advertises, feels like a baby step in that direction.

Anyway, BF4 has some pretty fantastic graphics. Part of the reason I did this Game Time thing was to finally test how my computer handles a “next-gen” game. It truly does look visually on another level from even most cross-generation games we’ve seen, and I wasn’t even playing with the graphics on ultra. Judging by the release calendar, it looks like my computer won’t be consistently put to the test until it’s already over a year old.

BULLETS:

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25 Years Of SEGA Genesis: My Personal Experience

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This one kind of went right by me, but the SEGA Genesis turned 25 years old in North America this week. I didn’t even put it on my 2014 anniversaries list. I personally had a simultaneously close and distant relationship with the console.

The Genesis was basically my first experience with a “next-gen” leap. My earliest memories are of Mario and Ninja Turtles on the NES, and soon after being exposed to Sonic the Hedgehog 2. If you’re familiar with Sonic 2’s release date along the Genesis’ lifespan, then you already know how old the Genesis already was by the time I got into it. Truth be told I didn’t even own one until 1995 — the year before I got a Nintendo 64. Despite that, the Genesis was host to some of my most beloved childhood gaming.

Compared to the original Super Mario Bros.Sonic 2’s speed, loops, graphics, and sound encapsulated the first time I thought a game had reached the “next level.” It was like a kid having been raised on Grand Theft Auto III (as messed-up as that sounds) all of a sudden being exposed to Grand Theft Auto V. I think that was the start of how I pretty much grew up on Sonic. I say that as someone who simultaneously still reads the Sonic Archie comic book and avoids the part of Sonic fandom that get’s so much ridicule these days.

You see, I spent my formative years in the 90’s console war — the vicious schoolyard arguments between Super Nintendo and Genesis. For most of that time I was firmly in the SNES camp, spending my time on games like Super Mario WorldTurtles in Time, and Final Fantasy VI. Despite that, I had to have Sonic. It was most of the reason I went to other kids’ houses. When I eventually did get a Genesis it was basically a Sonic player, and that was enough.

On it I mastered Sonic 3 — my personal top game ever, and spent who knows how many hours cracking the original SonicSonic 2, and Sonic & Knuckles. On top of that the Genesis became the center of things whenever friends gathered at my house. Sonic 2 in particular was a main multiplayer game for that era in my experience. Thinking back it’s kind of odd Sonic multiplayer never became much of a thing afterwards. Even more odd is how nobody picked it back up since the old Sonic games became available on pretty much every modern system (even phones). Maybe Sonic multiplayer was the first real casualty of the fall of that franchise. In any case, it helped build friendships.

That was pretty much my entire old school experience with the Genesis, which brings me to my strangest point: most of my SEGA Genesis gaming is probably ahead of me. In recent years as I’ve discovered retro game shops, my library of Genesis games has grown alongside my SNES and N64 libraries. You’d be surprised how cheaply you can find Genesis classics like Revenge of ShinobiSpace Harrier 2Aladdin, the Illusion games, and X-Men 2: Clone Wars, most of them in their original boxes. I even managed to track down hidden gems like Mystic Defender and Ranger X for barely any money. And then you’ve got SEGA’s own Genesis classic collections, particularly the one on Steam. For like $10 I was able to legally get over 30 Genesis classics running on my PC.

I still haven’t played any Streets of Rage games, RistarPhantasy Star, or the Shining Series, and I’ve only barely touched Treasure’s Genesis works like Gunster Heroes and Dynamite Headdy, but they’re all sitting on my backlog. I’m just waiting for the right time to dive headfirst into that library.

BULLETS:

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Monster Manor And The Potential of StreetPass

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Geek events like Otakon are bound to be nests of 3DS StreetPass. In places that don’t have Japan’s population density they are often the only chance to really get into Nintendo’s StreetPass minigames. I actually spent a significant portion of my time at Otakon playing Monster Manor. It’s a surprisingly deep and fun game for how little talk I’ve seen about it over the last year or so.

The game Find Mii that comes with the 3DS is a really basic Dragon Quest-esque thing where you do nothing more than turn-based battle after turn-based battle. It’s the kind of thing convention-goers can passively play while also enjoying the convention. Monster Manor though, if you haven’t tried it, is some kind of Resident Evil/Tetris/RPG mash-up that actually occupied my time and full attention, especially after I got stuck at one of the later bosses for a while. That forced me to really start taking the game seriously which in my experience unlocked its potential.

In the game you have to match together pieces you get from nearby 3DS owners on a map of each floor of a mansion to eventually unlock the stairs to the next floor. Rooms of 2×2 or more cubes of matching colors yield treasure. Larger cubes yield progressively better loot. Originally I just slammed together any piece I got looking for staircases but I eventually got stuck on a boss with only crap weapons at my disposal, which forced me to grind for more throughout previous floors. I had to scrutinize each piece I got, finding the most perfect place for it, making groups of colored pieces as large as possible to yield the best loot. It eventually reached  a point where I ended up throwing away half the pieces I got because I couldn’t use them the way I wanted. What I’m trying to say is, Monster Manor would probably make for a fun standalone game were it matched with some kind of puzzle mechanic to substitute for StreetPass.

It also makes me wonder why other full-retail 3DS games don’t do more with StreetPass. Part of the reason I bought Pokemon X recently was StreetPass at Otakon, but all you get from StreetPass in that game is an alternate currency. That’s basically what most 3DS games I’ve seen give you from StreetPass — an alternate source of items or in-game currency in one form or another. It’d be nice if they had some kind of cool minigame at least. Monster Manor even manages to have a minigame within itself. Super Mario 3D Land at least made me go through miniature challenges to get the items.

Even if StreetPass is still a woefully mismatched feature for basically any region outside Nintendo’s native Japan, it still has potential that a lot of third party developers don’t seem to be using extensively. I guess you’re always going to have third parties who don’t particularly care about certain OS-level features.

BULLETS:

  • If you look closely, you’ll notice the Xbox One’s upcoming media player update will add MKV playback to the console. I and many others have been waiting a long time for this. Hopefully Sony follows suit. Game consoles NOT supporting MKV was a main reason I hooked up a gaming PC to my TV.
  • Think about it: What are the greatest third-person shooters of all time?
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Otakon 2014 Photoblog

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I’ll admit I haven’t been watching a massive amount of anime this year, or really for the past couple years. Trends in the medium have been polarizing as of late and the industry has sustained some shockwaves over the past few years. That said, what I saw at Otakon this year was an affirmation that anime in general is not only healthy but probably moving in a good direction.

I don’t haves serious stats or anything, but the first thing I can tell you is the anime fandom I see is definitely growing. Maybe it’s re-growing from the contraction the western Anime industry faced around the mid 2000’s. Either way, Otakon is growing. Going this year, I can definitely see why the convention is moving to from Baltimore to DC in 2017. They said Baltimore’s Convention Center is getting too small — they already had to limit registrations this year, and that still wasn’t enough to clamp down on congestion. They may as well have called it “Linecon 2014.” We’re talking multiple-hour waits to get  in if you pre-registered (which is supposed to be advantageous), then going into those lines again the next day because the convention’s computer system crashed and they couldn’t get everybody in the first night, then more lines for places like the dealer’s room, and lines that get cut off for a lot of the convention’s popular events, many of which they had to hold twice. I’d at least like to think that signals growth after what’s been happening to the industry lately.

The “moe” and “fanservice” pandering that’s turned a lot of people off to anime (and a lot of Japanese games) recently is, ironically, a response to that market contraction — the industry deliberately laser-targeting the most hardcore fans in Japan. I’ve talked here more than once about how hard you have to look nowadays to find anime that might be slightly more palpable to mainstream audiences (again, ironic). Come to think of it, the few anime I have been watching in 2014 so far have basically been the “main” popular shows of the moment like Attack on Titan or Kill La Kill. The biggest reason I haven’t been watching a ton of anime recently though is probably money. There are a lot of anime Blu-Rays I’d like to buy, and more coming, including Cowboy Bebop which Funimation announced at the con. To be honest distribution, of anime is getting a lot better with season sets, Blu-Ray/DVD combo packs, digital, and streaming. Titan and Kill La Kill are even already on Netflix along with Sword Art Online. I guess manga is getting there. Streaming site Crunchyroll held a short panel on the future of its manga initiative. That along with digital Shonen Jump is at least something, after pirate scanlations have been tearing things up. I personally would like the manga industry go in a direction more similar to how Image comics went DRM-free, but I don’t see that happening any time soon.

One sector of anime in which I am having increased interest is fan parodies. This has been a thing at least since AMV Hell’s bite-sized parody videos began several years ago, but went into overdrive when stuff like Dragon Ball Z Abridged showed up. One of my top reasons for even going to Otakon is to see these parodies. There are now whole panels featuring the people who make them. I think part of the reason they took off is because they seem relatively easy to make. The way anime is produced makes it easy for fans to manipulate the footage in a way that doesn’t look completely different from the official material. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if the stuff eventually became a significant chunk of my anime consumption.

Other than being crowded the convention as a whole was great this year. Some nice announcements came out of the panels, and this was probably even one of the more impressive years in terms of cosplay. In the video game section I was sad to see Soul Calibur get pushed back to a small area as opposed to the massive centrally-placed screens which Street Fighter IV has dominated for like six years. It was nice to see the Japanese version of Under Night In-Birth though. Lastly, this was the first year I didn’t walk away from the dealer’s room with some manga or obscure NES games. The selection was still great though.

Enjoy the some of the photos I took (click on them):

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Where Are The Actual Next-Gen Games?

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So, “definitive next-gen experience,” Evolve has been delayed to 2015, The Last of Us just got a remaster for PS4, Capcom just announced a remaster of the original Resident Evil for the current consoles, and now Sleeping Dogs is getting a remaster. Oh, and the PlayStation Blog has spent a lot of its time hyping indie games on PS4 and Vita. I’m not against remasters or indie games at all, but I can see why some people are starting to resent them.

A lot of people probably spent $400 on these new consoles so they could play some actual new games that feel like a next level in console gaming. Not only have we seen little of that over the last several months, but publishers seem to be taking the remaster trend into overdrive.

About a year ago I did a blog post speculating about this. Going back and reading it is a bit shocking due to how many games I guessed might get remasters actually are. I still think they’re ultimately a good thing for a few reasons: 1) Not everybody has played the games on their original systems, 2) Many of these games didn’t run very well on the PS3 and 360, and 3) Releasing PC versions of games like the original Resident Evil is a very good way to make sure they remain available for a very long time. It’s just that it’s starting to look like publishers are actually padding out their schedules this year with the remasters. The Xbox One’s main exclusive release this fall is a collection of remastered Halo games (that’s rumored to also hit PC now). Has this new console generation really started yet?

Ultimately I think if you don’t own a gaming PC it’s still going to be worthwhile to get a new console this year just to get the best versions of all the actual new games coming out, even if almost all of them are cross-generation. Recent cross-gen games like the Destiny beta, THIEF and Wolfenstein: The New Order barely run at all on PS3 and 360 — these newer games are pushing the old consoles past their limits. You might as well get games like Far Cry 4Destiny, and Dragon Age Inquisition on the new consoles. The PS4 has already become a leading platform in sales for games like Watch_Dogs and Wolfenstein.

If you have a lagging sense however that those games still aren’t getting the most out of the new machines, then it really does seem like a lot of people bought them too early. In previous posts I speculated we weren’t going to see a lot of “true next-gen” games until late 2014 — the first holiday season after launch, but it’s looking like big PS4/Xbox One/PC-only games aren’t coming out until at least early 2015. As far back as last year I’d said the first such game that looks like a must-buy for me is The Witcher 3. Market-wise though I have a feeling Assassin’s Creed Unity is going to be the most significant system-seller for the PS4 and Xbox One this fall. It’s basically the sole AAA next-gen-only game of the season. The Xbox One has a couple other small ones, but the PS4 has no exclusives this fall.

This is looking like a really slow console transition.

BULLETS:

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Why I Don’t Mind Pokemon X’s Low Difficulty

So Pokémon X gives you the Exp. Share after you beat the first gym, and now it shares experience points to not only one Pokémon, but your whole party. Oh, and in addition to the new Kalos region starter you selected at the beginning of the game, you get to pick one of the original Kanto starters not long after that first gym. So has Nintendo started to evaporate the difficulty of Pokémon like so many other developers have other franchises? The part that surprises me is, I don’t really mind it in this case.

I’ve definitely been part of the outcry against how much today’s games coddle players and prevent them from using their  brains to solve problems. Too many of today’s games drag you through tutorials that insult the intelligence of anyone who plays traditional video games, and too often I feel like I almost had the game beaten for me. However, I think there are particulars behind why this is aside from simply easy versus hard games.

Pokémon X so far really does feel easier than previous entries. Because of the adjusted Exp. Share my team is leveling up a lot faster. I’ve got two Pokémon coming up on level 20 and I’ve only finished one gym so far. And I’ve seen comments from people online saying X and Y are indeed a lot easier than past games in the series. The addition of the Kanto starters can only accelerate this affect.

Maybe I don’t mind so much because I never got into the most hardcore levels of Pokémon play. I never got into EV training or breeding, and most certainly never went near tournaments. For me it’s really just about the novelty of traveling through an RPG world and building a cool team. Maybe that makes me sort of like the Call of Duty audience when it comes to Pokémon, just basking in the core gameplay loop without thinking about the deeper level.

The reason I prefer ArmA to COD however has almost nothing to do with difficulty. I just like ArmA because it offers me orders of magnitude more freedom in a massive world to explore. Pokémon X’s decreased difficulty hasn’t really made the game more linear or less free at all.

In fact Pokémon X’s tutorial is probably the briskest in the series so far: within only a few minutes you’ve gotten your Pokémon and you’re ready to head to the first gym. You can now interact with the game’s online component pretty much anywhere, the process of trading is a lot quicker, and the menu interface is a lot smoother too. Basically, Pokémon X has just made it easier and quicker for you to do whatever it is you want to do. The game doesn’t force you into doing certain things any more than the older versions might have.

A good comparison I might make would be Fallout 3 or Skyrim. I see a lot of criticism of those two games, saying they’re too easy compared to their predecessors. In Fallout 3 it’s not difficult to evenly max out your stats and just blast through most enemies. Skyrim’s critics say its quests and world design are less challenging and meaningful than those of previous Elder Scrolls games. These are also two games where I don’t mind the low difficulty because that doesn’t cut down on their open-ended natures. I totally understand if old fans of those franchises prefer the more challenging earlier games but that’s not a huge priority for me. Dark Souls is one of my favorite games but not because it’s difficult. It’s one of my favorite games because of its atmosphere, how it asks you to think about your situation and surroundings, and how it accommodates many styles of play. What I want isn’t necessarily difficulty, but the latitude to solve a game’s problems on my own.

BULLETS:

 

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Why I’m Optimistic About Assassin’s Creed Unity

It’s easy to understand that a lot of people are “Assassin’s Creed-ed out.” Despite that, the information we have so far on Assassin’s Creed Unity is just interesting enough to make me want to at least pay attention to the latest franchise entry, yet again.

The franchise, and arguably Ubisoft games in general, have gotten increasingly formulaic since around 2009 (Assassin’s Creed II to be specific). It seems like multiple Ubisoft games from multiple franchises have followed the same formula: experience points to collect, skills to upgrade, things to craft, an economy system, and much of the time an open world with a map full of icons to travel to. The AC games have become annual with their own tried-and-true formula of hay barrels, backstabbing, tailing missions, and other automatic failure stealth missions. If you actually pay attention to what we know about Unity though, it seems like it might try to make the most fundamental changes to the series’ formula since the original game.

Reddit actually has a pretty great, fully-sourced list of currently-known facts about the game. Most of it seems to be tidbits from interviews. What intrigues me is Ubisoft is apparently willing to sacrifice long-standing elements of the AC structure — a structure that I think has gotten bloated over the years. I haven’t played my copy of Black Flag yet (which I was only interested in because of the pirate theme), but if you ask me Assassin’s Creed III could have had half its content cut and maybe gone for a more focused, more polished game. Did running the Assassin’s guild and building a homestead need to be in there? Again? I’m not saying Ubisoft is taking a meat cleaver to the formula for Unity, but it sounds like they’re taking a good look at what really still needs to be there and what doesn’t.

Most importantly, it looks like missions in Unity will be more open-ended. What I and a lot of other people hate most about AC games is stealth missions like the tailing sections where getting seen once or not doing something in a specific way results in an automatic fail state. To put it bluntly, the AC games often seem anti-open-world despite supposedly being sandbox games. In interviews Ubisoft has said that in Unity, a tailing mission instead may start as a tailing mission, but could change into something else if you get seen or if your target is killed. The only real objective there would be to figure out what information that guy had on him, or where he was going.  Apparently you’ll also be able to repeat missions and complete them in different ways. Ubisoft is calling this “Adaptive Mission Mechanic.” This basically sounds like what I’ve always wanted AC to be, even since the original — a game where each mission is nothing more than a place and a goal.

The stealth you’ll employ in these missions has also apparently undergone a complete overhaul. If you saw the E3 gameplay presentation, I think you saw Ubisoft employ a crouch or “stealth mode” that’s manually activated. AC thus far has been about large-scale stealth — hiding in crowds and infiltrating large areas. Infiltration of small areas has thus far resulted in the aforementioned frustrating missions. Maybe Ubisoft wants to allow for stealth on a more intimate scale. I still don’t think this is going to be like Splinter Cell or Thief, but it seems like Ubisoft is at least trying to build an actual stealth game here. I have no idea how well it’ll actually turn out.

Another big change seems to be the scale of the world. Ubisoft already confirmed Unity is going to have the biggest world in an AC game which isn’t hard to understand with the move to new hardware. What might feel really different though is that Unity’s locations will apparently vary between two thirds of real-life scale (2:3), and actual real-life scale (1:1). Where locations in previous AC games have been around half of real-life scale (1:2), Ubisoft said Paris will be at or near 1:1. On top of this around a quarter of buildings will have explorable interiors. That sounds like a big leap from just running through buildings in AC3.

Traversal seems to be getting some of the most interesting changes in Unity. A big thing is that hay barrels are gone. If you want to get down a building you’ll have to parkour down there, for which they’ve tweaked the system. There will also be no guards on rooftops. At the very least it looks like Ubisoft is trying to change how AC players perceive rooftop traversal.

There’s a lot more at the Reddit link that I won’t go deep into here. The new combat and skill upgrade system sounds interesting but Ubisoft hasn’t had a lot of luck in that department over the last decade. Co-op sounds like it might be good but I’m not extremely interested. Let’s just say overall Unity sounds like it’s trying to be a true next-gen upgrade for the franchise.

BULLETS:

  • Man, I really want a new Red Faction Guerrilla game on next-gen hardware. Judging by the sense of scale we’re seeing in games like Unity, Batman Arkham Knight, and Witcher 3, it could be amazing. Just imagine what Red Faction’s Destructibility might be like on modern hardware. Oh, and as I write this I believe Guerrilla is like $2 on Steam.
  • Evo Moment 37 happened 10 years ago. http://t.co/xakbCVSu7p
  • I didn’t realize Dark Horse’s release of Blade of the Immortal reached volume 29 back in May. Volume 30 comes out in October, and it looks like Dark Horse will conclude the series with volume 31 (Samura published the conclusion in Japan in December 2012).
  • Nice article from Wall Street Journal on benefits companies for freelancers. http://t.co/boqklMRDYI
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