EA Play 2018 Conference Review

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EA Play 2018 (Fifa 19, Anthem, Unravel Two Game images).  Image Source: Coming Soon.Net

Word Count (What I’m Writing)

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 357
  • Project Skye Word Count: 1617
  • Project Independence Word Count: 3041 
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

0.  Zero. Nada. Zilch. That’s my level of production since Tuesday of next week.  What happened?  Bad day on Wednesday and a realization that I’m still not focusing on enough on characters when I sit down to “plot” out my stories.  To be fair, school and reading for school interrupted as well as I should write after class (about 4:15pm), but usually end up spending the time in the sun outside watching YouTube videos instead.  

Currently Reading (What I’m Reading)

  • For Fun:
    Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson (Fantasy Novel, Stormlight Archive Book 3)
  • For School:
    Rhetoric in the European Tradition by Thomas Conley (A Book on the History of Rhetoric)
    Rereading the Sophists: Another book on the history of Rhetoric
  • For Research/Personal Development:
    Great Aircraft of WWII by Alfred Price and Mike Spick (for Project Skye)

I wanted to read Oathbringer over the summer break before classes started again, but BS said that it might be helpful to read a Novella entitled, Edgedancer, before starting on Oathbringer.  I finally found a copy at MTSU’s library and I’m reading it now.  X gives a history of Rhetoric.  Great Aircraft of WWII is a book that I’ve had in my collection for sometime–I’ve glanced at it periodically, but never read it cover-to-cover.  Now, with Project Skye, I intend to do just that.

Game Mode On (What I’m Playing)

  • Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon Wildlands (Ubisoft Multi-platform): Open World, Third Person Tactical Shooter–About ¾th of the way through.  Special Ops/Military combat in a fictional Bolivia taken over by a Mexican drug cartel.  Difficulty is auto-leveling to its hardest difficulty (Tier One status) and it is slowing down my progress in the game as enemies take more hits to die, but you take far fewer hits to die.  Difficulty is currently set to ADVANCED–the game’s doing, not mine.  Very irksome when all you want to do is finish the game.

  • Until Dawn (Sony PS4 Exclusive): Third Person, Horror– branching storyline game that features a variety of choices that affect the outcome of the story using a system call the “Butterfly Effect.”  As I’m writing this, I haven’t put any time into this game as of this weekend because of E3.

Beginning of E3

So, while “technically,” E3 doesn’t begin until Tuesday (June 12), Saturday marked the beginning of the various E3 Press Conferences from the major game publishers to showcase their new products for the upcoming year(s).  As I type this, Electronic Arts (EA) is the only one to have shown their press conference as of yet (although, by the day this goes live, all of the major platform holders will have presented their shows).  I will wait until next week (June 18th) to start reviewing their shows, but since EA started a day early, I can talk about their 2018 show.

Battlefield V, Indies, Sports Games, and Anthem

While EA debuted and talked about many more than what is in the header above, their show basically broke down into these 4 main sections, with these four areas serving as the main topics of discussion for gamers.  Battlefield V seems interesting, but not nearly as revolutionary as 1) Battlefield One, their WWI game, or 2) as the designers seem to think that it is.  While being a part of the Norwegian Resistance is a novel concept, it doesn’t seem as if they are really invested in “doubling down” on that story to tell a truly “gritty” WWII drama (although it remains to be seen).   There were two notable indies talked about during the press conference, Unravel Two and Sea of Solitude.  While I didn’t play more than a demo of the original Unravel, I didn’t mind it.  It was okay . . . but I’ve played many games like it, so I decided to wait until it was on sale at a very low price (or hope that it would come to the “free” PS Plus games program).  U2 will probably go the same way.  Sea of Solitude (SoS) looks interesting, but as a poor college student, I’ll probably end up passing on it as well.  The sports games all look fine, but EA has pushed me out of the sports game market.  I used to be a heavy sports game enthusiast, but with the inclusion of “franchise” modes, “story” modes, and “ultimate team” modes (virtual trading cards purchased with real currency), I find that I simply can’t play the game like I want to–take my favorite team, play 1 “season,” and see if I can win the championship, and rinse wash and repeat each year, so I stopped buying them.

Anthem

Closing the show was a “deep dive” on the game Anthem.  I’m actually going to save the discussion of Anthem for later as I plan to do individual posts for the most impressive game reveals/game trailers of E3 like I did for E3 2017.  Basically, I’ve heard some position Anthem as a Destiny/Monster Hunter World “clone.”  Long-time readers of the blog know that I’m a hardcore Destiny fan.  However, after the crap EA pulled with Mass Effect Andromeda, while I do plan to “preorder” the game, I will be waiting on reviews before I actually “purchase” it and will switch my money to another game should the reviews be anything less than stellar; I prefer to wait for a significant price drop in the summer and/or as a holiday game rather than pay full price for a game that is less than stellar these days.  Fool me once, EA.  I’ll be waiting on the reviews on this one.

Overall Grade: C-

So, I went back and forth on this one as I really think that this Conference was an improvement to last year’s EA Conference (mostly due to the host Andrea Rene) and it was an example of a “old school” type of conference that was fine in the PS2/PS3 era of gaming.  The problem is that it could have been so much more.  As the unofficial start of E3, everyone always hopes that EA will do better than it does, but EA refuses to actually do what the gamers want–less developers and more gameplay (and more diverse games).  You have the Star Wars license, please show us Star Wars games.  EA has the licenses for the Army of Two series, Battlefield series, Burnout series, Command & Conquer series, Crysis series, Dead Space series, Dragon Age series, Mass Effect series, Medal of Honor series, Need for Speed series, Plants vs. Zombies series, Rock Band series, SimCity series, The Simpsons series, The Sims series, Skate series, SSX series, Star Wars series, Titanfall series (list pulled from front page of Wikipedia).  

They only talked about Battlefield (newest game), Command and Conquer (mobile game–wrong venue as E3‘s audience isn’t really comprised of mobile gamers), The Sims (in pre-show), and Star Wars (and they couldn’t even release a logo/trailer/etc from the newest Star Wars game which isn’t even releasing until holiday 2019).  That’s it.  All those licenses listed above and that’s all the EA showed, knowing full well that gamers want gameplay.  Hopefully, Bethesda, Square Enix, Ubisoft, and Sony will be much more exciting and will feature the games/gameplay that gamers crave.

Here is a super-salty, but condensed version of the press conference that is only 5 minutes long (clean, but very dismissive–probably more than I would I have been, but the summary is on-point):

Well, that’s all I have for now.  Have a great day!

Sidney




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Commodore 64 (C64) Nostalgia Review: Starflight

  • Project Paradise Word Count: 357
  • Project Skye Word Count: 1617
  • Project Independence Word Count: 1723 
  • Project Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel Page Count: 12

As you can see, I didn’t manage to get any writing done Friday or Saturday.  I didn’t even feel well enough on Friday to get out a blog entry–sorry about that.  I’m still also trying to fine-tune my “process.”  I think I have too many projects, especially since Summer classes are about to start and they tend to be these intense periods of “crunch” time because you’re trying to cover a semester’s worth of stuff in 4-8 weeks.  I trying to decided if Project Skye or Project Independence is the one I want to focus on for May and then I’ll shift the other for June.  I do want to keep working on the graphic novel in the “background” (on weekends?), but I’m not really sure when to fit this in.  I’ll cogitate on it and try to decide on a course of action in the next two weeks before school starts.

Late to the Game

I’m not sure that I have all that much to talk about when it comes to Starflight published by Electronics Arts (before their rebranding as EA.  This was an early space ship explorations/simulation game, heavily inspired by TV shows like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica (the OG shows, not the newer modern reboots.)  In it, you controlled a spaceship and chose which worlds to visit and explore.  As I recall, you could choose destinations and fly your ship there, land on planets, and (I believe) scavenge for resources and discover aliens.  Just browsing through the manual, it looks like you could create, train, and utilize crew members on your ship.

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Screenshot, Image Source: Moby Games

Uncharted Territory

As i mentioned above, I don’t really recall that much about the game.  It would probably have been one that I played and enjoyed and would have probably been one of my favorites, except, as I recall, Electronic Arts didn’t publish this on the C64 right away.  If memory serves, this was a PC game that absolutely “blew up” in popularity.  It wasn’t talked about so much outside of gaming circles, but from what I remember, this was “hot stuff” in the world at the time.  The C64 port came sometime later and people think that modern day Ubisoft “downgrades” graphics are bad (i.e., shows an enhanced game during their presentations of the game and then “downgrades” the graphics so that the game will actually run on current hardware), but the game’s graphics were truly watered down–so much so, that my uncle nicknamed the main character sprite/avatar “Caspy” after “Casper the friendly ghost.”   

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“Caspy.”  Image Source: Lemon64.com

More Time and Space

Unfortunately, this meant that I didn’t get the game until the very end of the C64’s life-cycle in our household.  By then, CD-Rom systems like the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation were beginning to be talked about in the gaming magazines, and the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo ruled the roost at that time (if memory serves), so a hack-and-slash game like  Golden Axe was more in-line with what I was playing at the time and I didn’t really devote a lot of time to “Caspy” and his adventures (even though I’m a spaceship sort of guy.). I don’t want to turn off modern gamers, but I remember it being a old-school version of No Man’s Sky (which I actually don’t think is as bad as everyone who hates on it, says it is–it’s just slow and more about survival.)  I would actually have kept my copy had I not been in grad. school–I realized that even though I would be able to tolerate it and have some fun with it, but it just took too long to do anything and that I just didn’t have the time to invest in learning its systems and getting really good with them.  That’s sort of how I felt when playing Starlight.  Electronic Arts really should have had a port ready for the C64 much sooner–or if they did, they needed to have advertised it better so that I could have made it a priority Christmas/Birthday request.  As it was, it was a good game that I just didn’t get to put a lot of time into because the “gaming” world had moved on by the time I got to it.  I could only find a DOS play through and not a C64 play through.

Here’s hoping you have a good week!

Sidney




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I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.

Commodore 64 Nostalgia Review: Super Cycle

So, Super Cycle is one of my favorite games.  It isn’t my favorite game, but it up there.  I really enjoyed playing it and wish that the series had continued into present day.  It is a racing game (which, when done right, is always a crowd pleaser with me).  It featured racers on motorcycles who raced across the country in various settings.

It wasn’t anything too special and it wasn’t very unique.  It was just a motorcycle racer, in various environments (which were really just green for meadows, yellow for desert and bluish black for night), in which you raced the clock to get to the next checkpoint before time expired while avoiding other racers and obstacles on the side of the road.  It essence, it was a motorcycle “clone” of the very famous and very popular Pole Position video game (which was similar in design, but featured a “unrecognizable” jumble of pixels that was supposed to represent a Formula One/Indy car).

It didn’t have the depth as some of the racing games that I bought and enjoyed, but I always enjoyed putting the disk into the C64’s disk drive for a good while and I always remember that I had fun with it even when I wasn’t doing so well (crashing and the like).  I think the only thing that could have made it better for me would have been more stages/environments.  I think the C64 version topped at 3–meadows, desert, and night (although I could be mistaken).  Regardless, I don’t remember it being able to capture my attention long-term (for hours) because of the quickly repeating stages/courses.  Still, I remember it fondly and it is one of the reasons why I still gravitate to the racing genre in games even today.

Here is a YouTube Video for the game (ah, that intro music really brings me back) 🙂

The game was developed by Epyx, a studio that I don’t know too much about–they were never really profiled in magazines like hot new studios such as Electronic Arts (EA), Activision and Imagic were at the time (I suppose I can do a google search and report back on what I find at some point), however I remember the few games that I got from them–I know I have at least one more–their games were pretty good–always above average in terms of quality and fun factor.  Like Super Cycle, I wish they were still around and programming/producing games as a Design Studio.

Well, that’s all for today.  Have a great day!

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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As EA’s Value Rises With its Shareholders, EA’s Value is Plummeting With Gamers (especially me)

 

Okay, as you know, I try to have this blog reflect my diversity of interests and as video games are now were a lot of really interesting things are happening in Science Fiction and Fantasy (& one could say Horror, with the explosion of VR and non-VR Horror titles), it is safe to say that I devote quite a bit of time to video games on this blog.

However, some may have noticed that I’m not talking about some of the games that I profiled earlier in the year from EA even though two of them have been released: Need for Speed Payback Star Wars Battlefront II (2018). This is because EA has lost their focus as a company and I’m not really interest anymore in the product that they are producing.

Let’s Talk About Audience
So this is going to be about micro transactions, right? Well, yes and no.  EA has been trying to walk a fine line for a long time.  They want to publish video games and make a profit by having more people buy them than it takes to make them.  However, they’ve increasingly wanted to appeal to their shareholders with business strategies that are designed to get more money, but not through games.  They had a program called Project Ten for a while, designed to get customers to pay ten dollars more for “Deluxe/Enhanced/DLC/etc” for their games, before that it was Season Passes, and so on.  They were the publisher who partnered with Microsoft to make the original Titanfall game an X-Box One exclusive (even while the console was “going down in flames” due to its original “Always On” conception & restrictive used game policies).  In the past month, EA has cancelled a Star Wars game, shuttered a Studio, and included micro transactions in two of its flagship titles (one of which it has “temporarily” rescinded).  All of this is great news to shareholders, but horrible news for gamers–the people who actually purchase games.  Currently, EA seems to feel that they’re number one job is pleasing the shareholders and not their core audience.  Not a great move.

The “Mass Effect Andromeda” Effect
So, I realized what happened after I bought the game Mass Effect Andromeda for full price when it was first released.  I reasoned, “yes, the reviews are lackluster, but this is a seminal “brand” for them–they wouldn’t completely mess it up or they would destroy their fan base.  They would have the same care of the ME brand as Disney had for the Star Wars “brand” after they bought it from George Lucas.  We’ll, Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware).  The game was a buggy mess that was mediocre at best.  Yes, it ran, but not well–from glitches, to frame rate issues, to a storyline that started strong, but meandered and filled with quests and side quests meant to pad the length of the game–it was a huge disappointment.  I linked to it before, but below is a video of a longtime Bioware/ME fan who quit the game out of frustration for such a disappointing effort.

Why did this happen, you might ask?  The answer was simple: the game just needed 6 more months of development time.  However, six months would have put it into the window of Star Wars Battlefront 2 (which is releasing now).  They can’t push that game because of the movie (The Last Jedi) which opens in month, but also they have Anthem coming down the line, and so they chose to release something that wasn’t ready and sell it at full price.

I personally finished ME:A–my completionist nature at work–but I decided that, while I would still buy games from EA, they would now receive the lowest consideration on my part, to be bought only when I bought/played all the other games I was interested in playing.  It will be at least a year based on school and other games in the queue before I get around to purchasing an EA game–and I’m okay with that–and that’s the problem.

Unholy Alliances
Between that experience and the micro transactions, EA has proven that they care not a whit about me as a gamer and as a consumer.  They prefer their share holders over me, so I’m content to wait.  The whole goal of a company is to produce products that an audience loves and will purchase again and again–Apple, anyone?–not to try to dig extra money out of your audiences pockets through tricks and manipulative schemes, so that your numbers look all rosy at the next Investors’ Conference Call.  You can’t make “moon-calf” eyes with the angel while dancing with the devil.

As someone who has bought games from EA, back when they originated (heck, I even remember when Trip Hawkins founded the company and have some of the company’s newsletters from that time period) and they produced games like: Starflight (the “original” ME:A back in the day), Skyfox, and The Bard’s Tale II from the company’s inception, all the way into adulthood, I feel that EA is missing the point by chasing the fickle investor who will dump their stock like a ton of bricks no matter what EA does the moment EA’s dividend doesn’t meet with their expectations.  EA needs to get its priorities straight and until they do, I’ll buy games from other companies that still seem to “get it.”

Mass Effect Andromeda, Glitches

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Image Source: Gamesradar

So, remember when I said that Mass Effect Andromeda has some odd design choices–well, it also has glitches.  I’ve seen the effects of rushed games before Assassin’s Creed Syndicate was particularly bad (the patches for Assassin’s Creed Unity, however, made the game quite stable and glitch free, but Syndicate was just as buggy and crash-prone as Mass Effect Andromeda.  Here are two fairly egregious examples:

Double-Header

Mass Effect™: Andromeda_20170625204051

This glitch came about when I was on the ice world of Voeld (?) and I happened across to “Resistance” fighters who had been “fused” together into one animation rig (take a close look at the aliens head, arms, and legs).  They “phased” in and out of each other but had two heads and you could clearly see that their bodies overlapped one another to create a “Double-headed” character.  Again, with more time in development this would have probably been caught by the Q.A. testers and put on what’s called a “glitch” list to be patched out either before the game shipped, in a day-one patch, or in a successive patch released down the line.

Two-Handed

Mass Effect™: Andromeda_20170715122423

The second glitch I want to highlight came about on the desert world of Kadara where a “raider” was supposed to be running at me firing her weapon.  However, this was kind of hard for her to do as neither of her arms worked correctly and were twisted out to her sides.  Her running animation also did not trigger, so she just “hovered” around the surface of the planet as if she had invisible skates.  It was both pretty funny and pretty painful considering that I spent the full asking price for the game.  Again, this is something, with enough time, that could have been seen and fixed before release.

EA, Anthem (another BioWare Game) and Quality Control

So what happened?  EA, the publisher of ME:A had another game by Bioware the company that made ME:A under development (Anthem).  Anthem is one that they are positioning to be a competitor to Destiny, a rival game from rival publisher.  This is where much of the focus went.  This new game was developed by a different “division” of Bioware, has a huge focus in terms of resources and talent, and more importantly was working towards a fixed schedule in terms of release date–2018.  EA also has another big game, Star Wars Battlefront II, in which they’ve invested a lot of time, energy, and marketing in coming out Fall of 2017.  So for EA to have done the right thing by consumers by delaying ME:A would have affected the publishing schedule of these two other games in the pipeline.  So they chose to release a game that was “not fully baked” because they didn’t want to impact the sales of these other two games.  So, in essence, EA sacrificed the fans of the Mass Effect brand in order to satisfy the fans of the Star Wars brand and to “win” (or at least make in-roads) against the fans of their rival in business (i.e., Activision and their game Destiny) having built up this fan-base all through the Playstation 3/X-Box 360 era of gaming.

Now I am a Star Wars fan, still a Mass Effect fan, (& based on the trailer) I will probably be an Anthem fan, but I’m no longer a fan of EA.  Doesn’t mean that I won’t buy EA games, but it does mean that I will be both more selective in the EA titles that I buy and I will be sure to wait both on reviews and patches on EA products.  I will probably no longer buy EA games immediately simply because I cannot trust EA as company to have my best interests as their customer at heart–ME:A proves that EA is more committed to sticking to their production schedule and releasing a game that isn’t fully polished just so they won’t risk cannibalizing sales of upcoming products–ME:A needed 6 more months of polishing, but that would have put it in and interfered with their plans for Star Wars Battlefront II and that is NOT the way a company should treat its customers.

Think I’m the only one who feels this way?  I’m at least committed to finishing the game.  Check out YouTuber gamermd83 take on why she “left” ME:A and why the game was such a disappointment to her.

Sidney




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Need for Speed – Payback

EA_Logo_Wikipedia

Image Source: Wikipedia

Since this E3 week, I’d thought I’d use this week to highlight some of the more interesting games that I’ve seen and I’m excited about that have been announced during the week.  I won’t talk extensively about them, but just to give a little explanation about it and why I’m interested in it.  So far, this E3 has been light on games that have interested me.  EA had two games (well, they had 3, but they botched one by not premiering on their own stage, but giving only a teaser while giving an “extended” premiere to Microsoft, while Bethesda had nothing that interested me particularly this year, so today and tomorrow, I’ll briefly cover the two games from EA that were interesting.

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Image Source: Digital Trends

Need for Speed – Payback

I know few readers of the blog will be interested in video games, and fewer still will probably be interested in a racing game, but this one is doing something different.  It is trying to tell a “story” using racing gameplay as the driving force (no pun intended) to move the player through from one story element to another.  It is very much inspired by the Fast & Furious (F&F) film franchise, but imagine that instead of just watching exciting car chases on film, you could actually take control of the cars and do all those crazy “set pieces” yourself.  That seems to be what NfS:P is going for.

Now, EA has tried this once before in a Need for Speed game, Need for Speed The Run (NfS:TR).  The Run tried to tell a cinematic story, but it didn’t work out very well.  I finished The Run, but felt no desire to go back to it once the story was done.  The story, which had you trying to get the main character into 1st place by the time you reached the other coast line was too restrictive and didn’t work as well as they planned.  However, several F&F films have been released since then and I feel fairly confident that they have figured out how to integrate the narrative with the gameplay this time around.

Here is the trailer for Need for Speed Payback Gameplay Trailer and here is the trailer for The Fate of the Furious (Furious 8) for comparison.  You’ll notice a similar “vibe” between the two, I think.

This one looks like it could be a lot of fun.  I am cautiously optimistic for it and will check the reviews when it releases later in the year.

Sidney




Amazon Associate Disclaimer:
I earn a small commission on the purchase of these items.