Pushback Against Liar’s Year 2020

Today I want to “push back” against a couple of assumptions in a YouTube video. I want to be as respectful as possible as I feel that there’s too much negativity out there, especially when one person disagrees with another.

Liar’s Year 2020

So, the YouTuber in question is Jim Stirling and the video I want to push back against is his latest Jimquisition episode: Liar’s Year 2020. A little context: Jim is a video game’s journalist who started his own YouTube channel. While he does discuss video games, he takes it upon himself to point out various corporate shenanigans and duplicitous schemes within the larger corporate paradigm, but most specifically inside of the world of video games. As noted above, while don’t agree with him on some of his points (this obviously being one of them), I do watch his videos as he is one of the few voices that actually discusses the excesses of corporations–although I wish it could be done in a less strident way.

However, in this video, he rails against several game companies for not showing gameplay footage at their “gameplay” reveals or showing footage that is “aspirational” of what next generation will look like in the future. He takes Sony, Epic Games (Unreal Engine), Ubisoft, and Gearbox (among others) to task for their propensity in a new console generation to exaggerate, stretch the truth, and outright lie about the capabilities of the new machines. While he isn’t necessarily wrong, I do feel that he 1) overstates the case and 2) ignores the changes at least one company has made (Sony) to address his concerns.

Gameplay = Gameplay

Let’s start with that second one first, as it is the impetus for me writing this blog entry. Sony takes it on the chin (yet again) in this video. For as much as Sony is discussed, you would think that it was them, and not Microsoft (the true guilty party) who held a “Gameplay event” with trailers that barely showed any gameplay (or only stylized, non-representative gameplay). Sony, however, had the misfortune of releasing a Killzone video that was unrepresentative of actual gameplay in the early 2000s.

The reason I feel this is so wrong is that Sony has spent an entire console generation making up for that previous mistake. I’ve linked an entire 18 minute gameplay trailer for their upcoming game releasing this year: Ghost of Tshushima. It even included (what appears to be) HUD elements.

Now this isn’t the first game that Sony has done this for. Most of its major titles this generation have gotten this treatment: Infamous: Second Son, Horizon Zero Dawn, Spider-Man, The Last of Us, Part II, Until Dawn, God of War, The Last Guardian, The Order 1886 and even Killzone Shadowfall got “gameplay trailers” that showed actual gameplay. Below is a video of young woman skeptically wondering if the Horizon Zero Dawn “gameplay” trailer was actually “true” and being absolutely thrilled when she realized it was:

Sony has spent an entire “console generation” trying to win back the trust of gamers when presenting games to the public. While most Sony games are presented without UI/HUD, for the vast majority of their games, the game you see in the “gameplay demonstration” is the game you end up playing.

All Microsoft has to do is utter the words 12 terraflops and Gamepass and gamers (not necessarily Jim, but the gaming community in general) and Microsoft is forgiven for trying enact one of the most restrictive consoles policies and launches in the history of video games.

Overstating the Case

The other problem I have (in this instance) is that Jim “cherry-picks” his examples. For instance, nowhere does Jim discuss the original C. D. Projeckt Red’s Cyberpunk 2077 48 minute gameplay demo in which the developers take pains to point out how much is in flux. This is the nature of game development in general. The exact arguments he levels against Sony, Epic, Unreal Engine 5, and Ubisoft are the very same arguments used by the developers of Cyberpunk 2020 to illustrate that they were still iterating on the design.

No where does he mention that this gameplay demonstration was presented in the same light as the gameplay demonstrations that he is objecting to, but Cyberpunk 2077’s gameplay wasn’t in Liar’s Year 2020, but 2018. This video has over 19 million hits and is insanely popular–but in the first 5 minutes of the video, the developers hedge the features and look of the demo, not once, but twice.

The start of a new console generation does allow developers, marketers, and executives to perhaps stretch the truth, but that’s not necessarily all on them–that’s also on us. One of the mantras should always be: check the reviews! Too many people buy games sight unseen based on the marketing materials.

Who Do You Trust?

In conclusion, I guess I really wanted to push back that the console generation switch means that “lies” are the only thing that is a part of the experience. When you have a console maker spend several years trying to make up for a mistake and show “gameplay” and when have another console maker not show “gameplay” at a “Gameplay Reveal Event,” it calls into question the credibility of the argument.

Whenever Sony does show its line-up, I have a fairly high confidence that what I’ll be seeing is what I’ll be playing. While I know that the Unreal 5 “tech demo” was just that, a proof of concept of what is possible on the hardware, it isn’t the prerendered trailers that we’ve been shown in the past and it represents what is possible at this time. Yes, much of it could be marketing hype. However, given the track record of Mark Cerney, chief architect of the Playstation 4 and Playstation 5, and the fact that games like Horizon Zero Dawn, The Last of Us (Parts I and II), Spider-Man, and God of War actually looked like and played as their gameplay demonstrations showed, I’m willing to give them more credibility versus an actor who is put in a game and is brought out on-stage to try to sell a game (Ubisoft & Microsoft, I’m looking at you). It is highly possible that the Unreal Engine 5 will not be able to do what it is promising, but based on Sony’s recent track record (especially in light of Microsoft’s), I’m willing to take that bet.

Sidney


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Epic, Unreal Engine 5, and the PlayStation 5

White and Black PS5 controller with blue highlights.
Image Source: https://www.theverge.com/2020/5/13/21256959/playstation-5-release-date-no-delay-sony-fy-2020-earnings

Why did I skip yesterday’s blog and upload this one so late? Well, when you read the following paragraph, you’ll get some hint of where the is post was originally headed–rather than talking about the PS5, I went “deep” into bashing both Microsoft and the media’s love for Microsoft and their absolute disdain for Sony. However, I felt that I was way too negative and simply was contributing to the “toxicity” that is all too common on the internet these days. So as I was rethinking the blog post, Epic Games discussed their Unreal 5 game engine and showcased it on the PS5. So, I changed the post to reflect this new, more positive, direction in the games’ industry. I left the original paragraph below as I think it is germane to the discussion and would like games’ media to consider as they go forward in covering the transition to the next generation.

A recent “headline” in Forbes cried out in regards to Microsoft’s recent teaser for its upcoming gaming console, “Micosoft Just Showed an Uncomfortable Truth About the X Box Series X and the Playstation 5.” I wonder how that could be since, to my knowledge, no Sony Playstation 5 game was actually shown on the stage. Wasn’t the whole point of an X Box presentation to show how “great” Microsoft’s new system was going to be? How then, do you as a writer, justify linking one console’s lackluster debut to the other one? How does the “stink” of Microsoft’s mistake translate back to Sony? When Sony makes a mistake, such as a “boring” presentation, that in no way translated back to Microsoft, so how does Microsoft’s missteps always seem to translate back to Sony?

Moving On . . . From Microsoft’s Marketing to Sony Substance

Unreal 5 running on a Playstation 5

Luckily, Unreal 5 (a game engine that helps to power games) was announced today. What was notable is that is was specifically noted that the demo is running live on a Playstation 5! And it (in my opinion) is stunning! Now let’s not kid ourselves–X Box will get this engine too. However, the fact that it is an impressive demo, running on a PS5 and truly doing two things: 1) showcasing new technologies that will better enhance creativity and graphical fidelity and 2) showing visuals and enhancements to the next gen experience (something that MS’s conference didn’t do according to “social media” and the media) is something that needs to be applauded and should translate to Sony (and not Microsoft).

It is a tech demo, but does some really interesting things. The technology behind the demo sounds impressive and looks like it will handle the vision of artists in new and unique ways. The game design engine does what Sony tried to articulate, but was “booed” for (called boring and unintersting) by the public–and by the people who should have known better–the games’ media. This what got my ire up and why my “claws” were out in the earlier draft of this post.

Just because something isn’t meant for you (aka the public or the media), doesn’t mean you can’t learn something from it. Sony’s talk was originally for GDC (designers), but talked about problems that other consoles and generations weren’t trying to solve. Today’s event really helped, to me, crystallize and visualize what the next generation of games might come to life and this is just one company.

The Coming Future

My hope, in addition to breaking the love affair between Microsoft’s Marketing Department and the media, is that this announcement will be the beginning of getting the “conversation” started for the next generation of gaming. For me, the big take-aways from this announcement are 1) artist’s assets don’t need to be scaled down in any way from the platform they were created, 2) the dynamic light source, 3) sound separation and authoring (esp. in light that Sony is also trying to address the sound issue), and 4) water and the way it is generated and created in games (this was a small mention in the demo, but has huge potential for games as water is often the hardest to achieve, but is one of the best ways to aid in graphical immersion.

For me, the next generation discussion started today–and I’m so glad that Playstation 5 was the platform that got to help kick off the discussion in a meaningful (and positive) way.

Sidney


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Gaming Log: The Division 2, Knack 2, and The Crew 2

Black Sony Playstation 4 Pro with a black controller laying against it on a beige table with a gray background.
Image Source: https://www.digitaltrends.com/video-game-system-reviews/sony-playstation-4-pro-review/

Over the “Lockdown” period, I’ve played quite a few games (although not as many or as much as one might think). I’ve converted my class to “Distance Education,” so much of my time has been devoted to that–grading, checking email, and the like. However, I managed to finish 3 games over the period (all strangely sequels with the number “2” in the title–go figure), so I thought I’d briefly talk about them.

The Division 2

This is a game that I finished during the Covid-19 Pandemic and “quarantine.” It is a game about reforging America (specifically during Washington DC) during a Pandemic. So, to use the current term for this one, it was so “meta.” I was playing a game that had elements of what was happening in the real world. Now, to be clear, the pandemic in the game is mostly over and you’re using your “military” training to “rebuild” the city from roving “factions.” In a way, this is a power fantasy of good over evil, or what I wish both Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead had been instead of the “man’s inhumanity to man” plot lines that inhabit most of both shows’ runs. I finished the “main” game and saw the “ending” cinematic, before the game “reset” and tasked you to redo the most of the game over again–just on a harder difficulty (won’t go into more detain due to spoilers on how that happens in the game). I finished the “main” story-line and I’m happy with the resolution of the game, so I will be moving on to other games. I thought it was worth the purchase price (I got it on sale), and enjoyed my time with it. GRADE: B

Knack 2

Okay, so Knack 2 is something that only I like. It (along with the first game in the series) is roundly criticized as a game that should not exist. It is an “old” design, repetitive, and the story is too “traditional” as it is “good vs evil.” Or, at least that is the critical and popular opinion. However, Knack 2 is definitely a game for one person–me! I love the series. Knack has its issues, don’t get me wrong. It is no Grand Theft Auto (GTA) by any means, but that’s not a bad thing. Gamers decry the fact that there’s no variety in the game offerings any more, but just as I am NOT the target audience for The Hunger Games, so too are most gamers NOT the target audience for this series and it seems to make them angry–just look at the level of vitriol because this series exists. However, the game is an action platformer that I can put my brain on cruise control as I play. It does have some weird difficulty spikes, but for the most part, is simply mindless fun–something that I want after a hard week of reading, writing, and grading papers. Over the break, I’ve finished the “main” story and I’m going back and replaying it to try to get all the trophies (100%) for the game. Again, although no one else likes its combat and platforming, I really do and I hope they keep making them despite the gamer “rage” that it seems to inspire. Grade: B

The Crew 2

This is a racing game that I finished recently. It is set in a (truncated) open world version of America and let’s you travel to various places in America while taking parts in different race types. You can either race in various events scattered throughout the map or you can drive the open world and explore. They have many U.S. cities (although outside of New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Salt Lake, and maybe Seattle, as well, the smaller cities don’t have any correlation to what they look like in real life. They even have a version of Chattanooga & Nashville (areas where I live/work as Murfreesboro is about a 30 minute drive from Nashville) in the game. Surprisingly, no Atlanta or Boston–two cities that are more populous/well known than Chattanooga or Nashville, but hey, I’ll take it. I finished the game and all the event types and I’ve done every trophy except for two. Unfortuntely, both are multiplayer trophies and depend on getting someone else online to do those two activities with you. I tried over the weekend, but no one wanted to “join” me, so it’ll be a matter of luck to get those now–when the game was “young,” tons of people wanted to do those trophies–now, not so much.

It’s a shame, really, as the game was technically a Christmas gift. I’d really like to get those two trophies to get 100% to show that I really enjoyed the game and my time with it. A mini-rant: game designers–please, please, please STOP putting multiplayer trophies in your games. They work “early” in the game’s life-cycle (sometimes), but are almost always impossible to get without “boosting” or “cheating” in some way later on. Yes, we know you’d like us to do your marketing for you by convincing our friends to buy your game. No, we’re not going to do this (in most cases), so please stop. Also, while you’re at it, please stop with the “Drifting and drift events.” They’re not good in this game and they’re rarely ever good in racing games, in general. Thank you. Mini-rant over.

Outside of the fact that I’ll probably be stuck at 96% completion for the rest of my time with the game, I enjoyed it. I hope they bring out a sequel for the next generation consoles (without multiplayer trophies this time).

Edit: I was able to find a player who wanted to “partner” up and I got one of the two trophies that I needed. So now, I’m currently at 98%. It was super-lucky that the player wanted to partner up — this player just wanted to drive around (which is fine–that’s mostly what I do in this game which is why it has taken me so long to get all the activities done), so I wasn’t able to get the other trophy done — which is to “team up” to do an event, and this player didn’t seem to want to do this. Still, I was happy and surprised to knock out one of these two trophies.

Grade B.

Sidney


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The Problem with DLC (Downloadable Content)

A picture of Obi-Wan Kenobi from Star Wars Episode IV, A New Hope in the desert looking out pensively with the captions in white lettering: VIDEOGAMES WERE ONCE SOLD COMPLETE . . . BEFORE THE DARK TIMES . . . BEFORE PAID DLC.
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For me, most (not all) additional Downloadable Content (DLC) for games that either adds on to the story or expands the game in some way just isn’t worth the purchase price. The value of it isn’t there. Usually, less than the cost of the base game, many developers skimp on either content or game design (sometimes both) as (rarely) the full team is invested in created this additional content. Akin to the Dr. Who “Minisodes,” these DLC packs are often much less than a full episode (game) in terms of characterization, missions, and overall structure of the game.

Assassin’s Creed II

I first noticed this problem in Assassin’s Creed II (AC 2) when I bought the “Missing Missions” for this pack. The conceit of the game is that you were learning about your ancestors life through the Animus, a machine that allowed you to relive the life of Ezio (your ancestor) and to play various “missions” around his life. Now all of these missions led you to the final chapter of the game–except, the game designers removed (or “scrambled” to keep with the game’s fiction) two or three missions and you had to purchase them later in order to play through them. I loved the game, so I didn’t wait until later, but bought them immediately and played through them during the course of my game–to simulate me going through ALL the missions without having to skip missions that had been “scrambled.”

Big mistake! These missions were some of the grindiest, unfun missions in the AC universe. From what I remember, one mission was super combat focused, but the other mission–oh boy, the other mission was a stealth mission that had a “no-spot” rule, meaning that if the guards spotted you, the mission was automatically failed. This was not how it was in the base game, nor was it a part of the AC universe until then. There was only one preferred way of completing the mission–where, up until this point, it had been up to the player’s discretion–sneak, do combat, or do a combination of both. In fact, these “grindy” play mechanics made their way into future AC games which helped to deteriorate subsequent games in the series’s popularity with customers and long-time fans. I almost stopped playing because of how unfun those DLC missions were, but I preservered and managed to earn the Platinum Trophy for the game–but I still remember those missions as the only thing (outside of collecting all those feathers) as negative experience in the game.

Assassin’s Creed Origins

This brings me AC Origins. The two DLCs were on sale for a fraction of the price recently, and–despite my better judgement, I went ahead and pulled the trigger and I’m playing through them now. I actually finished the first one, but I”m working on the second one as we speak. Have they gotten any better? In a word, no.

They do manage to keep the core mechanics of the original game, so that’s pretty nice. No game breaking design choices that are different from what happens in the base game. There’s more consistency between the base game and the DLC. No, my issue is with the story and the pacing of the new content. Most importantly, these are short–sure, I’m mostly focusing on the “main” story line and a couple of “side” missions here and there, but I’ve already beaten the game and Platinumed it–I don’t feel the need to do everything in the DLCs anymore as I’ve already done it all in the base game. However, the price I paid feels about right for the content and I would have felt “ripped off” had I purchased it for the original asking price. One thing they do is make the game more “vertical” meaning that you have to do more climbing (which takes longer than running or taking a mount) to get around. This extends (pads) the gameplay time, so that you think you’re getting more value. Secondly, they tamper with the narrative of the main game–instead of introducing new unique characters that are as inventive as they are in the main game, they (in the first DLC at least) change the outcome for a fairly important character in the base game. Not a fan.

Mass Effect 2

So, I’ve given two examples of games not getting DLC right, but Mass Effect 2 is the rare exception to that rule. The content for that game felt like it had been developed in conjunction with the original game (and while some might look askance at that–put it in the base game!), as long as it doesn’t change the tone of gameplay or seek to rewrite base story elements, I’m personally fine with it. However, even this content, as good as it was, still had flaws. I triggered the “penultimate” mission before doing the DLC and so, because I wanted to completely “wrap” up the game, I went and did the DLC first, not realizing that if you didn’t do the “final” mission right after triggering the “penultimate” mission, then you lost the ability to save certain “non-essential” members of your crew. This had never been an issue before–as long as you completed the missions correctly and had enough Paragon/Renegade points to settle “important” characters’ disputes, then the game did not penalize you for waiting to do a mission. And, not only did the game penalize you in this case, it also offered no “warning” that doing the DLC mission would affect how the “final” mission played out. So, even here, we see that DLCs have downsides. And I won’t even talk about the “crappy” DLCs for Mass Effect 3 or the cancelled planned DLCs for Mass Effect Andromeda.

So, for me, I find that DLCs are rarely worth it in terms of value–especially at full price. I only buy extra content now when it is massively discounted, but even then, I find that I’m often still disappointed in the extra content, rather than being excited about it and getting a chance to play more in my favorite game worlds.

Sidney


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BioWare is Apparently Redesigning Anthem–and it Couldn’t Come at a Better Time.

Image of four Powersuits (Javelins) hovering and flying over a futuristic forest world.
Image Source: https://www.extremetech.com/gaming/306094-bioware-announces-it-will-radically-redesign-fix-anthem

So, this blog post was originally going to be about the Oscars–and hopefully, that will still come (although not in any traditional form), but as I was brainstorming what I wanted to say about the Oscars this year that hasn’t already been remarked on, I happened across a small gaming news story that caught my eye. Anthem is set to be overhauled in the future.

Anthem–BioWare’s Black Eye

I’ve made no bones about the fact that I was wary from the very start about Anthem as a game. The reveal of it on Microsoft’s XBox One stage left a sour taste in my mouth from a once avowed “platform agnostic” game publisher (EA). After the game was released, I followed the following PR storm and resulting low review scores on YouTube and in the gaming press. I resolved that I would only pick up Anthem at the sub $10 mark as I feel EA simply no longer cares about its customers. Yes, the game had been in development for quite a while and thanks to a report by game’s journalist, Jason Schreier, we’ve been told that the development of the game was troubled. Yes, I understand that EA is a business and that they need to recupe their investment, but their business is games, not investors, and just like Hollywood, sometimes you have to sink more money into a floundering project unless you want to burn your customers’ goodwill for your future products.

Yes, I Bought Anthem–for a Song

So, yes, I bought Anthem. However, I didn’t lose money as I purchased it from Gamestop for $5. That’s right, Gamestop had bought so many copies and had such a surplus from people not buying the game in the quantities that GS had hoped, that they had to slash the price in order to clear inventory and recoup some investment on the game. I know how retail works, and GS likely purchased the game for approx. half of list price (in bulk quantities, hence the discount–or at least that’s the way it was for books back in the day when I worked at a bookstore). They likely didn’t eat the full $60 price tag, but even at half price, $30 is nothing to sneeze at. Usually stores will discount to around $10 or so to really clear inventory–so to have it at $5 likely means that GS bet big with Anthem (and lost).

Anthem Devs: Get Rid of the Tombs Mission

The reason why the report is timely is that I just stopped playing Anthem over the past weekend. There is a “roadblock” mission (known to the community as the Tombs’ Mission. Effectively, it is a roadblock to throttle player progress through the game since the game actually is much shorter than (apparently) it was designed to be and acts as an artificial barrier impeding progress. I knew the mission was there before I bought it, but I hit it this weekend and after looking at the requirements to complete it, I said, “No, I’m out.” I will NOT pick up the game again to play until that mission is gone (or heavily modified in some way so that it doesn’t throttle progression). I play games for FUN. If you can’t be bothered to design a game that is fun (for whatever the reason, I won’t play it; simple as that). If BioWare wants me to play their game, be invested in their world, and (what they really want) have a chance of selling me on content after I’ve purchased the game, then they have to come up with a compelling game that warrants my initial purchase (& any subsequent time and money that I choose to sink into the game).

Companies have to remember: the purchaser is NOT obligated to give you money for your product (or to continue funding that product) just on the publisher’s say so. Nor is the audience of the company its shareholders, but rather its customers.

No customers = no company. I don’t care how many shareholders you have or how much investment you have–if the customer doesn’t buy it, no one’s going to fund you. Right now, it seems like BioWare is headed in the right direction–time will tell, however, if I ever pick up Anthem again. (Psst, BioWare, if anyone is listening/reading, then a good first step would be to get rid of the Tombs’ Mission. Just sayin’.)

Sidney


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Why I Play Video Games


So, every Friday one my favorite YouTube channels puts out a list video in which they create a list based on video game related topics. As I have a preference for PlayStation, this is right up my alley and is “destination TV” for me after a long week. The channel is called (of course) Playstation Access and a couple of weeks ago, one of the presenters, Rob, listed 7 reason why he liked playing games.

While reasons #1 (escapism and “becoming” the character interactively), #4 (new narrative structures–as the director and writer of your own individual journey) and #7 (keeping the inner child alive) are particular ones that speak to me. However, I wanted to just briefly articulate a couple of the more important reasons why I play games personally.

The Story

So, with Grim Dark narratives like Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Breaking Bad, it is so very hard to find really good shows that aren’t characters just “crapping” on one another for the prurient interests of the viewer. Shows like this, to me, are anathema and are just like people jamming the interstate to look at the horrific crash that has occurred. Video games allow me to actually engage with stories and characters that I truly enjoy. The “hero” hasn’t gone, but rather morphed into the video game protagonist. Yeah, sure, there are games that are more akin to those hated shows above, (the Bioshock games come quickly to mind), but generally speaking, most games task you with being, if not the hero, then a protagonist that you can identify with and (usually) enjoy playing: Ryder and Commander Shepherd from the Mass Effect series comes quickly to mind here. It seems as if the protagonist “hero” has pretty much come into his or her own here.

Worldbuilding

An interesting corollary to the story (or narrative) is the focus on setting and world building in video games. Sure, the visuals are nice, but the best games have “atmosphere.” Due to the interactive nature of games, it is very easy to “fall in” to the world (much like the way description works in books). It is really nice to be able to play characters who you like and identify with in worlds that seem real and lived in.

Sidney


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Game Day: The Confluence of Gaming and Writing

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Image Source: https://medium.com/read-watch-write-repeat/pursue-your-writing-projects-on-the-weekend-6fcee00848dc

Fall is here and I’m back. I’m in the midst of a flurry of last minute reading for my test on Friday. I don’t really feel all that confident about it, but it is what it is. I wish that I had perfect recall–at least on names. I really want to mention theorists and scholars as a lot of the test depends on “name dropping,” but, except for the biggest names in the field, most names are gone the moment I close/put down the book. Sigh.

Anyway, I’m back after a nearly two week drought. It isn’t that I haven’t wanted to write, but between grading and reading, I just don’t seem to find an hour in the day anymore to write. However, I get discourage when my favorite YouTubers don’t post on time, or go long periods without putting up new videos, and here I am, doing the same. So, not to be hypocritical, I thought I’d take a quick “study break” and dash out a blog post before reading some more and then going to bed.

Saturday is “Game Day”

So, Americans will get this pun as, I feel, will a lot of Europeans. In both countries, Saturday is a prime “sports day.” For Americans, at this time of year, it is “college football,” which is American football played among various university teams in which there are long-standing rivalries. In Europe, a lot of “football” matches (soccer) takes place, again with long-standing rivalries.

However, for me, Saturdays are my primary “gaming” days. Friday evenings are usually too draining, so I don’t usually start my gaming until Saturdays. While I use to bounce from game to game, what I’ve been doing these past couple of years is really investing in one game every week and really digging into it and making myself a “master” at the game (Assassin’s Creed Origins, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands, and Gravel are all games in which I earned the maximum achievement for–the Platinum Trophy–in terms of achievement.

My “backlog” of games to be finished, however, continues to grow, so much so that I’ve come to despair of ever finishing them all before the next “generation” of consoles (i.e., the PS5) arrives Holiday 2020. Recently, however, I found myself switching between two games (God of War and Rise of the Tomb Raider, 20th Anniversary Edition) on a biweekly basis–one week I play GoW and the next week I play RotTR. One game is a Physical game and the other is a Digital Game. When I finish either of these two games, my plan is to simply pick another in the respective genre and start playing. In this manner, I hope to bring my “backlog” down to a reasonable size.

Saturday Morning = Needs to be “Writing Game Day”

My goal is to get to where I can do the same on Saturdays for my writing. Usually Saturday mornings are when I’m just starting to recover from the week, and while I don’t feel fully creative (that’s actually Saturday evenings when I’m usually watching a movie), I do feel much more more creative.

While I can “write” during that time (draft), what I’d like to be able to do is to work on Rough Drafts during that time. I feel that I can probably write (draft) on the current story that I’m working on during the week by creating scenic “milestones” to get to for that week. However, like my gaming, I’d like to have a second project in the wings that I could write out (longhand with a pen/pencil) every weekend and then when I finish the “weekday” draft, I’d move the weekend draft to that spot, start writing (drafting) it, and then move in new Rough Draft during the weekend spot.

I wanted to start that this previous weekend, but was enamored with “cleaning,” that I, of course, procrastinated until it was too late. I’m going to try it again this upcoming weekend and I hope by putting it up on the blog, I will be able to hold myself accountable for actually getting it done. I’m pretty sure two projects in writing, just like gaming, is probably going to be my limit, but, just like gaming, my goal is to shrink my “backlog” of games and writing projects down and get them finished, so any strategy that I find that I can use to do that successfully is one that I plan to implement (& hopefully use it to thrive as a writer).

Sidney


Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    3rd Draft of 3 Drafts 
    Drafting Section 2 (of 3)
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = January 31, 2020
  • I, Mage (Fantasy Short Story)
    Pre-Production Phase (Planning)
    Pre-Writing on Rough Draft & Character Sketch
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = July 31, 2020
  • Current Longer Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    (Sci-Fi) Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32
    Personal Deadline = December 30, 2019

EA Access: A Whole Lot of Nope

EA Access Logo -- EA Logo in a circle with the word access on the black background.
Image Source: https://www.techradar.com/news/gaming/5-things-you-need-to-know-about-ea-access-1261582

So, there is a YouTube channel that I watch quite a few videos for and he is always “whining” about the Playstation 4 not having EA Access and how it is a “good value” for customers (it isn’t — it’s a good value for EA, but no one else). The reason that I’m writing about it is that the channel’s narrator/host can’t wait for EA Access to come to PS4 later this year after being available for Microsoft X-box and PC for a while now. While, I’m all for personal choice, I think that this is a wrong-headed — at least, to be pushing it on his channel as hard as he is as if there are no downsides to EA Access.

EA is a Corporation, Nothing More

EA Access (at the time of this writing) costs 4.99 a month. Let’s round that to $5.00 (US) and multiply that by 12 (# of months in a year) and it will cost you $60 dollars a year (or $30.00 if you sign up for the year–$29.99 at the time of writing). This is not an arbitrary number because it is “coincidentally” the amount that “new” games cost. So, the “nameless” YouTuber gets to claim that the cost of the subscription is more than equaled by the cost of 1 game (going month to month), so if you were going to buy one EA game “new” in that year, you would have offset yourself cost of the subscription fees. Play any other games on the service, he argues, and you come out ahead in the investment.

Except . . . that’s not how that works. EA is a corporation which (like all corporations) exists to make a profit. How can they sustain themselves if they are giving away their product? And that’s the catch that the YouTuber isn’t seeing–they’re not giving away anything–but getting two (2) things instead.

Thing One and Thing Two

The first thing they’re getting is a predictable revenue stream. EA’s output these past two – three years has been spotty at best (in terms of original games — their Sports titles continue on just fine). This past year, I bought nothing (“new”) from EA. More on that in just a moment. I’m still not planning on buying anything “new” this year either. However, if I was signed up for EA Access, EA would have received $120 dollars from me instead of $0. They are betting on me not cancelling every month in which I do not play one of their games, but rather on the fact that it is easier to just keep paying the fee, even on months when I don’t use their service. Also, if you don’t buy your EA games “new” (i.e., used or at a discount) then it takes you much longer to just your yearly fee. What if you only bought 3 EA games at 9.99 each in a year (just shy of $30), then you actually lose money by going with EA Access ($30 – $40 = -$10) for you and ($40 – $30 = +$10) for EA. And unless you cancel (and most won’t) that’s (+$10 * everyone who falls into that category yearly), so its not just a one time thing with one person. Believe me, that money adds up fast (& EA is fully aware of this).

The second, more insidious thing that EA Access is promoting is the idea that you are “accessing” their selection. Now, this point is going to be contentious as 1) EA does allow you to download the games and 2) unless you are mind-reader (and I am not), it is impossible to know this point for certain. Yet, looking at the moves that EA has made in the past (its alliance with X-Box One’s original “check-in” requirements — no, we haven’t forgotten that, or at least I haven’t– the original Titanfall came to PS4, right? Oh no, that’s right, it didn’t–they read the “tea leaves” wrong and left sales on the table which is why Titanfall 2 was released on the same day and date PS4/X-Box One). There is no guarantee that, should Access become a defacto standard, that they wouldn’t eliminate the download option altogether (actually, it is fairly likely since that’s the route YouTube took and put downloading videos behind their premium service). In fact, Stadia is essentially Access without the download option and Stadia is where Access could be headed in the future (yes, conjecture I know), but again, the YouTuber presents Access with no downsides, while EA doesn’t exactly fill me with “good vibes” & “warm fuzzies” when it comes to the whole customer vs shareholder divide.

Anyway, apologizes if this post seemed long/rambly, but I wanted to get out my thoughts on why EA Access isn’t necessarily the “good deal” that many, one YouTuber especially, seems to think it is and why I’m not excited that it is finally making its way on to the PlayStation platform.

Sidney

Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    3rd Draft of 3 Drafts 
    Drafting Section 1 (of 3)
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = July 31, 2019
  • I, Mage (Fantasy Short Story)
    Pre-Production Phase (Planning)
    Pre-Writing on Rough Draft & Character Sketch
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = January 31, 2020
  • Current Longer Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    (Sci-Fi) Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32
    Personal Deadline = September 30, 2019
  • HawkeMoon (upcoming) = Edits turned in to editor 5/31/19

Assassin’s Creed Origins: Finished and Mini-Review

A picture of Bayek with a white hood, shield, and bow standing in front of a golden wall of Egyptian Hieroglyphs.
Image Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/insertcoin/2017/10/28/ten-things-i-wish-i-knew-when-i-started-assassins-creed-origins/#65554fcb6eb8

While these mini-reviews for finished video games (recent) that I’ve finished never do all that well (in terms of people reading them), I still enjoy writing them because my goal for most of my games is to finish them (i.e., to see the credits roll), then reviewing/explaining the good and bad things about them is a fun way to recap my experience with the game and to reflect on why I felt the game was fun, effective, etc. (or why not). This game review is for Assassin’s Creed Origins which tells the “origin” story of the Assassin’s Guild. I actually like the formation of “the good, the bad, and the ugly,” so that’s what I’ll use for this review.

The Good

The characters are really well done in this story and when I say characters, I really mean the main characters, Bayak and his wife Aya, and the other main protagonists in the story. They are from Egypt and their coloring indicates they are of African Descent. As they work towards self-determination (although it is through violence, using assassinations to accomplish their goals), I would still argue that this could be seen (in a less restrictive canon) as an Afrofuturistic text. This, however, is not central to the storyline; at heart, this is a revenge tale, pure and simple along with the ramifications of what happens to love and life when a “bad thing” happens. I also like the fact that the narrative is fairly strong and kept me interested throughout the story. The graphics were also well done along with the gameplay systems. I only ran into sporadic instances of glitches and I don’t think it ever froze on me, although it did push my Playstation Pro fairly hard and made the system rev up as if it were an airplane engine on idle.

The Bad

So, much of the bad will feature into “The Ugly” section as well, so I won’t go too deeply into it here, but length is a definite problem. Simply put, it was too long and took too long to complete. Also, the fact that some story elements are gated off by level, meaning that one needs to “grind” (there’s that word again) and do side quests to build up his or her level in order to tackle ever increasingly difficult story elements. Thanks to “training” open world games (like the InFamous series), I’ve learned that it is a good idea to do a good mix of side quests before going back to the main/story quests, but here it is required. Unless you are within at least a two to three levels of your opponent, the difficulty of the encounter will be close to impossible, especially early in the game. The side missions are of varying quality, but you’ll need to complete them in order to advance, no matter how you feel about them. You just have to hope that you don’t get too many average ones (esp. in a row).

The Ugly

This game is subject to Ubification and/or “Ubisoft Bloat.” Like most recent entries of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, there’s simply too much in terms of “map clutter.” The game litters the map with a ridiculous amount of content for you to engage with, and to be honest, most of it is simply “clutter.” Ubisoft wants you to engage with it as a “games as service.” They don’t want you selling the game back to used game/used book stores, they do want you buying their DLC and interacting with their in-game store, and they really want you putting time into the game world for this reason. Now, to be fair, you can do everything you need to without spending additional money (well, except for the additional story missions unless you get the Season Pass or whichever “Super-Deluxe” edition that includes the season pass. There’s simply too much clutter and things to do. I will probably work on it periodically (just to earn the “Platinum” trophy since the requirements aren’t too onerous this time), but this game wants to be the only game you play for 6-8 months, whether or not the content is actually compelling enough to support it.

Overall: B (85)

I liked this a great deal–they just need to do something that Ubisoft never will: they need to shorten the game and tighten its focus. While I don’t mind that they’ve turned it more into an action rpg rather than a strict stealth game (I actually like action rpg as a genre more than I like the stealth game genre), there’s just too much “padding” and “clutter” to make the game artificially long and artificially extend the game’s shelf life so that one can’t trade it in quickly and there are more opportunities to sell (either overtly or implied) more content to the game player. This game could have received an A had it treated game players as actual players and not consumers and tuned the experience accordingly.

Sidney

Please consider supporting these fine small press publishers where my work has appeared:




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    3rd Draft of 3 Drafts 
    Drafting Section 1 (of 3)
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = July 31, 2019
  • I, Mage (Fantasy Short Story)
    Pre-Production Phase (Planning)
    Pre-Writing on Rough Draft & Character Sketch
    Mythic Mag. Deadline = January 31, 2020
  • Current Longer Work-in-Progress: Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    (Sci-Fi) Issue # 2, Currently on Script Page 32
    Personal Deadline = September 30, 2019
  • HawkeMoon (upcoming) = Edits turned in to editor 5/31/19

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