The State of Destiny (Destiny 1 and Destiny 2)

Today, I want to quickly talk about the video game series Destiny and its current slate of games (Destiny and Destiny 2).  After a strong start, Destiny 2 is currently in free-fall with its players.  Many hardcore players are leaving for other games.  The original Destiny supposedly had a slow start, but found its footing after the release of the Taken King.  Those of you who read the blog from the beginning know that for the longest time, I had a Destiny countdown clock widget on the side of the blog.  I was an avid Destiny player.  However, Bungie, the creators have made a few mistakes that have caused me to fall away–but they aren’t the same mistakes that the current “narrative” would have you believe so I’ll cover what I think are a couple of the biggest ones.

“Shared World Shooter” vs “MMO”

Bungie was quick to point out that Destiny wasn’t an MMO (which has certain connotations in the game community), but was rather a “Shared World Shooter” (implying that it was a shooter first and that it was a shared world between you and other players).  You could intersect with other players or go “lone wolf.”  Well, that appealed to me–however, in actuality, the game functioned like an MMO.  You needed a “crew” to do the best missions, The Raids.  The content they added changed the game and the paradigm, and they kept tinkering with the game mechanics, rather than creating new (better) content to flesh out the world.  They “sold” the game in marketing one way, but the presented the game in practice another.

“Vanilla” Destiny was actually better than “Taken King” Destiny

So this is one where the majority of Destiny players and I part ways: “Vanilla” Destiny, before all the myriad of changes, was actually pretty good.  Bungie got too involved in listening to criticisms and changed the game based on people who had left rather than those who stayed.  Their goal all the way through The Taken King seemed to be to “recapture” those who had left the game rather than on those who had stayed.  Those who stayed just wanted more story.  Had Bungie prioritized that over changing weapon balancing, fixing “cheeses” to bosses (ways of defeating boss characters in ways unintended by the developers), etc., I don’t think Destiny series would be in the position that it is.  They made a different mistake with Destiny 2, but the result was the same.  They focused on story in Destiny 2, but forgot that the players wanted compelling content for the endgame (additions that I didn’t care for, but seemed to resonate with other members of the hardcore Destiny community–such as Trials of Osiris).  Destiny 2 should have included all the major components of Destiny and added new components to satisfy gamers until the next major expansion, but this didn’t happen–they went back to changing systems and mechanics that worked perfectly fine in Destiny, such as having two primary weapons, etc.

Here’s an example of Destiny 2 gameplay (PvP) from a high-level, highly skilled player, “Ms. 5000 Watts”:

The Social Network is not always Right.

The point that I’m trying to make is that by listening to the vocal fans who don’t even play the game and trying to create a game for them, Bungie lost focus and helped to dilute the game for those who were still playing.  I no longer play Destiny because of the multitudinous game currencies, not getting enough story and answers about the The Traveler and The Darkness.  I’m sorry, but I’m not all that interested in the “Lore” of the Guardians–The Curse of Osiris DLC, I’m looking at you–I want to find out what the Traveler and why its Light is gone and how I can “heal” it and I want to find out what the Darkness is, why it hates the Traveler and what I can do to stop it.  I want to be able to do that on my own or with a team of 3-6 players (no less–sorry to inform you BungieDestiny is only fun by yourself or with a full”fire-team” because that’s how you designed it.  Those 2 player events are annoying!  To be honest, anything under a full 6 players is not really ideal, but I understand how hard it could be to get 6 players together to do all the content, but Bungie really should be designing with 1, 3, and 6 player/players in mind).

Basically, if anyone at Bungie reads this post, please stop listening to the forums and start listening to the people who actually play the game and to your own designers.  The people who have left the game and who are “slagging you off” in the comments are never going to be satisfied with what you create–no matter how good it is.  Your best bet is to follow the original creative vision you had to tell an epic story about The Traveler and The Darkness and let the fans who are really invested follow you along for the ride!

Sidney



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Economics of Buying an EA Game

So, Electronic Arts (EA) has taken a lot of heat in the past weeks for its decision to go all in on Loot Boxes and Microtransactions.  For those not aware, the major controversy in the video game industry right now is the fact than an already (comparatively) expensive hobby like video games where you are expected to pay $60.00 upfront for the product (compare with a movie that is anywhere from 7.99-19.99, a novel that is 9.99-24.99, a season of TV 9.99-39.99, or a streaming subscription, 9.99-14.99, etc.) and then buy “additional” Loot Boxes for the chance of substantially improving your character (or “grinding” for a long time by playing the game in a monotonous way in order to earn the same chance improving one’s character).

Basically, EA is changing the nature of the game (pardon the pun), from playing the game to continually paying for the game (“games as a service”).  Unfortunately, not only doesn’t the gaming public like this, EA doesn’t realize this isn’t a sustainable model.

The Economics of Buying a Game

I’m not boycotting EA games, but their tactics make it clear that I can’t support their economics any more–especially after releasing a game that clearly needed more development time: Mass Effect Andromeda.

How so?

So, I’m rarely into multiplayer–yes, I’ll sometimes dive into the multiplayer component of a game, but outside of select titles (Burnout Paradise, CoD: Modern Warfare, Destiny, and a select few others), I don’t really dive into the multiplayer components of games for any real length of time.  So you can subtract $20.00 from the game value right there.  So, a game that EA charges 59.99 for, is really only worth 39.99 to me as I don’t really delve into the multiplayer.

Okay, so now we’re down to 39.99, right?  Well, you can subtract another 10.00 for the “grinding” in this “new” system.  I buy games for fun and for diversion, not to endlessly “grind” in order to complete the game.  So, your new system that you put into to make you more money in addition has actually wasted you 10.00 because I want to be engaged, not bored–so now that I know I’m going to be “grinding” and bored, I knock off 10.00 with what I’m willing to pay.  Now we’re down to 29.99.

Add to the fact that I have a backlog of games to play and there are more coming out from other publishers that have lessened versions of or no Loot Boxes/Microtransactions altogether and as such, seem like they’re going to be more fun than the current crop of EA games, so now I subtract 10.00 more for the game (I still need to finish incredible games like Metal Gear Solid 5, Horizon Zero Dawn, Final Fantasy XV, etc.).  Now we’re down to 19.99.

Give us Good Games and We’ll Give You Money

The equation is simple–the publishing (book) industry relies on a stable of good to great authors pumping out books on a consistent basis.  You don’t get “gimmicks” such a Loot Crates with Stephen King’s latest novel.  You know his books are going to meet a certain level of quality and entertainment value.  This is what EA has lost and must get back if they really want to connect with gamers.  Otherwise, they are going to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs and then where will there shareholders (and their dividends) be?

Sidney




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Author’s Note: HAWKEMOON

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Well, it’s been a long, hard, road (much longer than it should have been–more on that a little later), but I finally FINISHED my short-story entitled, HAWKEMOON!  It needs a little more revision before I’m ready to send it out to markets, but the hard work of creation is done–now it is all about refinement and evolution.  In college, I took a Creative Non-Fiction course where we wrote an “Author’s Note” about the creative influences, hopes, and goals for our work after we finished a draft (sort of like a “Postmortem” from video games, TV, and Movies).  In the same spirit, that’s what this blog entry is about.  So without further ado:

AUTHOR’S NOTE–HAWKEMOON
HawkeMoon started out as a concept that I had in response to a Call for Submissions for two anthologies that Rhonda Parrish (the Editor of Fae who bought my story, “Faerie Knight”) was doing last year.  The anthologies, Corvidae and Scarecrow were to have stories of Corvids (birds like crows, ravens, etc.) and Scarecrows in them.

The story came together from a note that I’d made to myself about a “Hawk King and Raven Queen.”  I was going to use this idea to submit to her anthologies.  Originally, the story was to be two linked stories–one dealing with the two main characters, the Hawk King and the Raven Queen.  In the second story, those two characters were going to have to deal with an on-coming evil, a darkness consisting of a King of the Scarecrows.

Then, school started.  To say this year has been more challenging than last would be an understatement.  I was not able to get any traction on the story at all.  I tried one aborted attempt at it fairly close to the submission deadline, but the tone and the characters were all wrong.  In the draft that didn’t work, I’d made them brother and sister, but those two had a banter and playfulness that didn’t match the grimmer story that I had in my head (FULL DISCLOSURE: I actually liked those two and may reuse them in another story at a later date, but they just didn’t work for this one).  In my head, these two didn’t know each other and had to discover more about the other.

So the project went on ice and seemed destined not to get written in the way I wanted.  That was until the 1st expansion for Destiny came out–The Dark Below.  In it, their main character was an agent who had infiltrated the Hive named Eris Morn.  She had three items in her inventory that players could work for called: Predawne, Middaye, and Sunsetting.

BOOM!  Somehow, my mind clicked and the story came together.  It would take place in one day.  Predawne would be the beginning and focus on the Hawke, Middaye would focus on Moon, and in Sunsetting, they would have to find a way to stop an evil or die a horrible death.  I even added an epilogue of sorts called Morn to finish out the “day.”

So, I’ve been writing it since about the last of December/first of January.  I was on track for my normal 3-4 months writing cycle when I heard an episode of about making a living as a writer on the Wisconsin Public Radio show “To the Best of Our Knowledge.” I’ll have a LOT more to say about that episode in another blog post, but in it, it talked about ways of making it a full time writer.  I realized that I’m taking too long for short-stories based on their rate of return.  So I challenged myself a goal of a short-story a month (writing on weekends).  I normally write about 4-5 scenes in the story and if I can write a scene or two a weekend, I can do it.  So I challenged myself to finish HawkeMoon by the end of Feb.  and I finished it Feb. 28.

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The title is an amalgamation of the two characters names Hawke and Moon joined together.  It is also a play on a powerful hand cannon found in the game Destiny (Hawkmoon) that I’ve yet to acquire (gun drops in that game are mostly random and while I’ve been lucky with other rare items, I’ve not manage to acquire this one, so the title is also a bit ironic as well.)  🙂

I’ve already picked out a market that I want to send HawkeMoon to first.  As the deadline for Far Orbit is at the end of this month (3/31), chances are good that I’m going to let HawkeMoon lie fallow for the month and pick it up for revision with (hopefully) fresh eyes in April.  With any luck, I’ll send it out to its 1st market by Tax Day (April 15), but you never know.

So that is a little peek behind the creation of my story HawkeMoon.

ROUTER UPDATE–Router stable, wifi unstable (up Friday & most of Sat., down today–Sunday)
STORY UPDATE–HawkeMoon FINISHED! (yay!).  Upcoming–Rocket-Man revision for submission to Far Orbit Anthology Call for Submissions.

Destined for Greatness: Destiny and Deadlines

So, now I understand why characters are so compelling in fiction.

They are your conduit into a new world.  If you create the right character and imbue that character with traits that are irresistible and then put that character into a compelling world, then you can LOSE yourself into the story.

That is essentially what has happened to me for the past 2 months.  Bungie’s Destiny has taken hold of me in a way that few games have done.  My character is mostly a cipher, but does talk in a couple instances.  Yet, mostly I ascribe a history, backstory, and to some extent, a narrative around my character’s actions in the greater world.  Yet, there is something that is SO compelling about Destiny and the way its mythos has snuck its tendrils into me.  I have thought about writing in this blog for weeks, but each time I pulled out the computer, I realized that what I really wanted to do was to go and play Destiny.

I daresay that it was an addiction of sorts.  There was nothing more for me than Destiny.  I played it every evening after coming in for work and I played it on the weekends when I probably should have been writing.  I could lie and say that I’m not sure why Destiny grabbed me the way it did, but I do know the reason: Levels.

My strength is starting at Level 1 and progressing (however tediously) through the levels until I reach the top level (or close to it).  Give me a level and a number and I will chase it with dogged determination.  I’ve been doing this since 1st Grade (Grade 1, Grade 2, Grade 3, etc.).  I can’t resist.

Destiny was smart–they essentially have 3 levels of levels.  The first set of levels (up to level 20) is the “base game.”  All of the story/narrative content gets your character up to level 20.  After level 20, you have start looking out for armor that has light on it.  This moves the character up to a “soft” level cap of 30 (taking off the armor with “light” drops the character back down to 20).  But once you’ve gotten some “light infused” armor, you’re still not done.  At level 26, you have the option to do a super-hard mission called a Raid.  This raid (known as the The Vault of Glass) is ridiculously hard until you hit level “light” 28/29.  I’ve managed to finish this raid successfully a couple of weeks ago.  So essentially, Bungie set up a three tiered level system and it fed my inner OCD for levels just perfectly.

I might still be caught in Destiny’s web if not for On Spec, the Canadian Sci-Fi/Fantasy magazine.  They had a deadline of Oct. 31st for stories to be submitted to them.  In the time of Destiny’s release, I had finished I, Magi (yay!) and I wanted to submit it to them.  So, on Halloween night, when ALL I wanted to do was play Destiny, I edited my story and sent it out (with 44 minutes to spare before the deadline was up).  I realized that Destiny, while a great game and a great learning experience for creating good characters and a compelling world, was starting to get in the way of my writing, so I’ve consciously worked to mitigate the Destiny effect.  I’ve started writing rough drafts and I’m now back to working on my novel.

I’ll never fully kick the Destiny habit (nor do I want to–this game was MADE for me!), but I do need to find a way MODERATE its effect so that I too can be “Destined for Greatness!”  🙂

WEEKLY WRITING UPDATE – 11/10

Currently Writing: The Great Game (Fantasy Short Story)
Currently Writing: Chapter 3 – Project Skye Novel (Chapter 3: Storm Breaking)
Rough Draft Finished: Project Djinn
Rough Draft Started: Project Roland

The Good, the New, and the Problem (. . . with reviews)

So Destiny has released and I’m absolutely loving it (yes, Destiny is why I missed a blog entry last week.  So sorry!)  🙂

The game is AMAZING and I’ve reached the “soft” level cap of 20 just today.  I enjoyed  Mass Effect 2 and 3 on the Playstation 3, but looking at their backgrounds, I said to myself that the verisimilitude just wasn’t there yet.  There was a mission where Commander Shepard goes against an AI and the mission was awesome, but the backgrounds just didn’t sell it.  The backgrounds looked flat, almost painted.  The system just didn’t have enough resources to truly replicate an alien world, plus alien sky, plus character actions and shooting, plus enemy actions and shooting and everything that the Mass Effect 2 and 3 were trying to achieve.  I told myself that the “next” generation of systems would capture that realism much better and that is what Destiny has done.

Yet, many reviews (and reviewers) have called Destiny mediocre.  They say that it is a mediocre shooter that has simply taken some of the trapping of a MMO (massive multiplayer online–like World of Warcraft).  Many reviewers claim that Destiny’s success is simply based on hype and marketing (although I can’t help but remember that Bungie ALSO created Halo for the Xbox and that didn’t get the same criticism, but now that Bungie and Activision have a preferred marketing agreement with Sony, now that criticism is being raised, but that’s a blog entry for another time . . .)

My problem with reviews, and by extension, many critics, is that we the audience want the GOOD, while the reviewers and the critics prize the NEW.  And unfortunately, the new and the good are not necessarily mutually compatible.

Reviews and reviewers face a problem–they live in a world that doesn’t match reality.  You can see it easiest in movie reviews (especially those who are “film” critics as opposed to “movie” reviewers), but many reviewers (professional and amateur) fall into the same trap: they seem to prize the new and innovative irregardless of actual quality.   Reviewers see many more films, are sent (or must purchase) many more games, comics, food, or whatever is being reviewed.  Many (not all) people seem to have problems watching a movie more than once–for them, seeing how the plot will unfold is the gold mine.  Once they’ve watched it, they KNOW what happens and they are satisfied.  Now magnify that for reviewers–they’ve watched the buddy cop movie over and over again (with different actors in different roles), but they are seeing essentially the same movie.  Same with many genre pieces–by default, a Fantasy movie is going to have some element of magic to it, that’s what makes it a fantasy.  Same with Science Fiction–there are certain tropes (robots, aliens, spaceships, future, past, etc) that are associated with Sci-Fi.  Sure, you can vary those tropes, but they still have to be present in some way at some level or you don’t have a Sci-Fi story.  Thus, many reviews note the novelty of something.  It’s doing something new and different from the rest, and that to many reviews seem to be the ultimate goal and that many reviewers seem to prize.

However, most audiences want the good.  Most audiences want to know if the movie is a good representation of whatever type of product or genre of product is being reviewed.  Generally, we don’t get to see movies all day long.  We have finite resources.  We need information from someone who has seen it, played it, read it to make an informed decision.  Is it good, is it worth spending money on?  Yes, it can be innovative, but that by itself doesn’t guarantee quality.  Audiences seem to have a higher tolerance for repeated types of media so long as they are good.  For instance, it has taken years for the Western to go out of favor.  The Western was a staple of the movie industry from its beginnings to well into the ’60s and ’70s, but slowly fell out of favor starting in the ’80s and ’90s.  There are always a few attempts to test the audiences’ reaction to Westerns (Dances with Wolves and Unforgiven are two notable examples), but the Western as a genre is still moribund in movies (although there have been TV series that have become fairly popular and the Western seems to be making a resurgence there).  Right now, thanks to CGI, the genres of Fantasy and Science Fiction have risen to a new prominence.  (Yet there are still critics out there who refuse to give credence to ANY Speculative Genre work–not to slander, but I think the magazine was Film Comment, but I could be mistaken, but if I am correct, I challenge you to read that “magazine’s” review of Lord of the Rings: Return of the King.  I couldn’t do it because the reviewer’s prejudices against the fantasy genre were on display (again, if that is the wrong journal, I apologize, I tried to read the review at the library and the library no longer has the paper issues of that particular magazine so I can’t fact check the way I want . . . but based on their feature Trivial Top 20: Worst Winners of the Best Picture Oscar, I’m pretty sure they’re the right magazine–take a look at #22 on the list).

Brandon Sanderson has a great comment on the nature of criticism in an Epilogue entitled “Of Most Worth” in his novel The Way of Kings.  Paraphrasing, one of his characters speculates on what we prize most and, no spoilers, says that it doesn’t matter so much as what is created, but rather what is created first.  This is the same with many critics–they are so busy looking for the new that they overlook the good.

I personally want to know if something is good and I find myself at odds with reviews and reviewers.  I’m using Destiny as an example of something that’s good that critics don’t like, but I do, so I’ll use Bioshock as something that the critics like, but I don’t.  I don’t care for the way it tells its story (through audio logs that you pick up along the way), I don’t care for the grimness of the world, and didn’t much care for the way the story was unfolding.  Another game that I didn’t like was Red Dead Redemption for many of the same reasons (audio logs excepted).  But to the critics, the games were new, innovative–we’d never seen anything like this so it MUST be good and I simply disagree.  Just like I disagree with the assessment that ONLY being great makes a game mediocre.  I just can’t make that leap.  A great game should be great irregardless of whether it is doing something new.  The same is true with other media.

I missed seeing World War Z at the movie theaters because I relied on the reviews saying that the movie was only mediocre, only to buy the Blu-Ray and watching and being BLOWN AWAY by the amazing storyline that was only slightly hampered by its ending (the set pieces were awesome).  I still find myself wondering what it would have looked like in IMAX 3D.  What I learned from that was that there are some things that I’m predisposed to like, so irregardless of the reviews, I’m just going to go and get it (within reason–if the reviews are ALL unanimous and one of the criticisms is incompetence, then it would be foolish to ignore those sentiments.  I’m talking about those things that I like that I already know critics aren’t going to like).  For instance, Guardians of the Galaxy was a movie that I’d made up my mind to see back in the spring when the trailers first started hitting the internet REGARDLESS of the critical reception.  That the critical reception was mostly favorable was a nice surprise, but I was going to see it no matter the reception.  I like Marvel movies, I like Science Fiction, I grew up in the ’80s so I know the songs in the movies, and I like the actors.  I was predisposed to like the movie, so as long as the movie was competently put together, I was going to enjoy GotG on some level.

Please don’t get me wrong–this isn’t a diatribe against reviews, reviewers, and/or professional critics.  I just think there is a disconnect between the ideas of revolution and evolution.  Many critics seem to want revolution while many audiences prefer evolution.  We don’t mind revolution so long as it is good.  Critics seem to eschew evolution for those revolutionary ideas irregardless of the quality of the ideas.  Destiny is a fine game–it merges the old (first person shooter) with the new (MMO elements–not found in shooters) and the makers of the game (Bungie) deserve far more credit than they are currently getting for their efforts.  As much as we value Revolution, our world is an Evolutionary one.  Yes, new ideas are important, but so too are the refinement of the ideas that we already have in order to create a synthesis between the old and the new.

Video

Destiny Update from MoreConsole (via YouTube)

More Console breaks down weekly updates from the Bungie Community. This week’s update is great because it gives a GREAT introduction to the world/setting of the game. If video games are not you’re cup of tea, skip to the setting and world setup (@ 6:45) for a Master Class in World Building 101.

I usually do a “introductory draft” (just for me) that does EXACTLY what this introduction to Destiny does. I have two (unannounced) projects: Deep Blue and PSIber where I’ve done this type of world building. I hope that during the summer, I can revive those projects in different forms based on seeing that I was on the right track with World Building.

Destiny is now probably my most awaited SF/Fantasy project now that I’ve read Words of Radiance. I’ll also try to upload the E3 2013 video that shows gameplay for those who are interested. Again, if you aren’t interested in video games, this post might seem a little odd, but if things come together like I hope, then Destiny could be a major Science Fiction universe that resonates through multiple media spaces.