Weekly Log: July 2020 Gaming

Playstation controller surrounded by video game boxes from all systems.
Image Source: https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/life/entertainment/g30910862/best-video-games/

So, yesterday’s post should give a bit of context for why this is going to be a fairly short post for this week. I’ve played a lot of games, but I’ve not gotten very far in them in the short-term.

Horizon Zero Dawn

This game came out in 2017. I put in quite a bit of time with it, but moved on to other games. I came back earlier this year (in April), and made significant progress in the game, but now I’m stuck again. I’ve done all that I can do without having to do “circle arenas.” Both of the next missions, have me squaring off against two super creatures (one is spoiler related, but the other is a Thunder Jaw, one of the most powerful creatures in the game). As I described in yesterday’s post, I really hate circle arenas–it is an old, tired video game trope.

One of the problems (for me) is that the game was marketed as an action game, but it really is more of a stealth game. The systems really favor a more stealthy approach. Taking on more than 1 or 2 enemies becomes problematic, especially if there is a tougher enemy mixed in with them. Now, I love this game and the concept, but the game, itself, isn’t an easy one to get through (for me). I do want to finish the game this summer as the sequel is (pardon the pun) “on the horizon.”

Call of Duty Modern Warfare (2019)

Like Horizon above, this is a game that I’ve had for a while. Usually, the very first thing I do is play the campaign, finish it, and then move on to the online portion. However, this time I got to a point in the game which is essentially a “stealth” section (in an action game) and stopped playing, and went almost exclusively to online multiplayer play.

While I like variety in Call of Duty games, the designers have to understand that the campaign is “virtual shooting gallery.” That’s what players play it for — not to run around and hide from an enemy while trying to whittle away at its health. I’ve not looked at the trophy completion percentages, but I would guess that there is a steep decline on the section where I am. Like Horizon, I’m trying to push past this section, but it is so annoying that after one or two tries, I just move on to multiplayer again.

Borderlands 3

This has been the only really gaming success since the last gaming log post. I have been able to make significant progress–finishing missions, gaining levels and experience, getting a ship and moving to the 2nd planet in the game. The driving mechanics leave a lot to be desired, but I’m able to get my “virtual shooting gallery” fix in this game instead of CoD where I’m stuck on a (non-shooting) segment. There’s a very “YouTuber/Influencer” vibe happening in the game that is pretty humorous as well, especially because I watch a lot of YouTube and see many of the traits/behaviors that the game is satirizing. While the game is not always puppies and unicorns (there are some mini-bosses that are way too tough for your level), but, for the most part, I’ve been able to make progress in the game–which is what I want from my gaming experience.

In conclusion, ideally I would like to alternate between two games, and maybe a third one on the weekends. However, until I break through the arbitrary roadblocks on either Horizon or Call of Duty, that’s not going to happen–at least, not unless I switch to a different game, but that’s part of the problem, it takes time for me to get back to the game (risking spoilers all the while–I already know far more than I want about Horizon due to the voice over in the first 10 seconds of the new game’s trailer), so I’d like to power through if at all possible to get these games finished.

Anyway, that’s what I have for today. Have a great weekend!

Sidney


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Currently Working On (7/2020):

  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: 2nd Draft (Working Draft)
    
  • Childe Roland Graphic Novel 
    Up Next: Rough Draft (Story)
    
  • I, Mage (Urban Fantasy Story)
    Drafting: 1st Revision

Video Game Tropes that Need to Go Away

Bayek squares off against a boss with a mallet inside an arena.
Image Source: http://www.gamersheroes.com/game-guides/unlock-krokodilopolis-arena-assassins-creed-origins/
  1. In thinking about tomorrow’s “Log” post on gaming, I started brainstorming about all the reasons why I’ve been majorly un-enthused about gaming for the past 2-3 weeks. I’m in a Pandemic and I’m not going out, so gaming should be the major activity right now for me. However, streaming is probably what I’m doing most, as well as reading and writing, be it for school or creatively. Gaming is far behind these activities.
  2. The original title of this post was going to be “Video Game Tropes that NEED to DIE!” However, I felt that was way TOO over the top and sensationalist, and we really need to stop saying things “should die” on the internet (too many imbeciles use “death threats” as a way of intimidation and fear against ideologies that they don’t believe, so I don’t want to encourage that way of thinking, no matter how tangentially.)

“Circle Arenas”

So, this one is a “biggie” for me. Circle Arenas are my name for a whole class of enemy encounters in which you, the protagonist character, are forced into an “arena” of some sort (usually a circle) and are forced to square off against a vastly overpowered opponent (or multiple opponents) in some way. Sometimes you are fight the opponent/opponents by themselves, but more often you either have to fight numerous other smaller/weaker enemies (current gamer slang = “adds” or “minions” or “mobs”) alongside the overpowered opponent.

The arena is designed in such a way that there are basically two moves that the player has: dodge and attack. The player must dodge the enemy’s attack, waiting for the right time to strike. Then the player attacks and whittles away at the (usually) massive life of the boss character. Rinse and repeat until either the enemy is defeated (or moves on to another “form”) or the protagonist character is dead.

This game design tactic needs to go away because it shuts off avenues for learning. It is basically tied to reflexes and timing. You need the reflexes to consistently avoid the attack and you need the timing to line up your attacks while avoiding being hit yourself. If you’ve discovered a successful strategy for taking out the enemy in the game world, chances are good that you aren’t going to be able to use it here in the “circle arena.

This an overused game design mechanic–I can’t tell you the number of games that it is in. Assassin’s Creed Origins has it (of course, it has actual arenas, but this mechanic features into some non-arena encounters as well). Two games I’m currently playing–Horizon Zero Dawn and Strange Brigade–both have these and that’s where I’m currently “stuck” (well, not really stuck, but have little interest in continuing the narrative because of my annoyance and lack of motivation to continue playing because of these “circle arenas“). I even quit a game that I was playing a while back, not because I couldn’t finish it, but because of the lazy over-reliance on “circle arenas.” It was Inversion on the Playstation 3 and I just stopped playing because of the “circle arenas” in this game.

Boss Fights

Okay, so I’m not opposed to Boss Fights in theory, but I don’t like the way most are executed. Most boss fights stop progress, acting as a sort of “test” of your gaming abilities in that game and not allowing you to progress until you defeat it. There are usually bespoke mechanics that you’ve either been taught earlier in the game that you are required to use here, or they teach you the mechanics inside the boss fight itself.

Now, it isn’t that I don’t like boss fights per se, but game designers seem to love combining them with “circle arenas” listed above–especially in open world games. Bespoke mechanics not withstanding, you much usually hide/take cover/dodge as the boss attacks, and then wait for the opportunity to attack, taking small chunks off the enemy’s health. And woe be it unto you if you make your character not combat related–such as taking a stealth approach to the game–as this will often make the boss encounter much more difficult, if not impossible. Don’t believe me? Here is a game journalist discussing his experience with the game Deus Ex: Human Revolution and its boss battles using stealth.

Going Away From Core Game Mechanics

Now this one sounds like it shouldn’t be on this list–you want there to be variety in a game. Without it, the game gets boring. Except that designers are going away from what their game is actually about. Call of Duty Modern Warfare (2019) is an example of what I mean. There’s a section where you guide someone in the embassy away from terrorists using video cameras. Okay, not the arcade shooting gallery that I bought the game for, but I see what you’re trying to do.

However, I’m stuck on the section where (minor spoilers) you play as a little girl hiding from a terrorist. It is a boss fight encounter inside a “circle arena” and you have to stab the terrorist and then hide, repeating this multiple time before the game will let you continue. This is NOT the Call of Duty experience I signed up for! I want a “virtual gun” and I want my skill at “virtually shooting” foes to determine my progression, not my ability to “hide” from foes and stealthily stab a “virtual knife” into the enemy’s leg and run away. There’s a game for that already, Little Nightmares, and it does a far better job than a CoD campaign ever could. In fact, you be the judge:

versus

In trying to be controversial and “edgy,” CoD moved too far away from its core mechanic of “virtual shooting gallery” and created a “circle arena” boss fight that completely robbed the narrative of any punch and took me out of the game–so much so, that I’ve still not gone back to it to finish it.

In Conclusion

While no game developer will probably ever read this blog, I write it in hopes that someone will, if not now, then in the future, and eliminate some (or praise be, ALL) of these tropes from his or her game. I think these are old, tired tropes, that need to go away from gaming (if not forever, definitely for a while).

Sidney


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




Currently Working On (7/2020):

  • “Project Wall” (Science Fiction Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • Unhallowed (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: 2nd Draft (Working Draft)
    
  • Childe Roland Graphic Novel 
    Up Next: Rough Draft (Story)
    
  • I, Mage (Urban Fantasy Story)
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Gaming Log: Playstation 5 Reveal Event

Futuristic looking Playstation 5 console and controller with black and white style,  flared and curved edges, and blue light highlighting the console along with the black and white Dual Sense controller.
Image Source: https://www.t3.com/us/features/ps5-price-release-date-specs-sony-playstation-5-news-games-event-live

So, I’ve missed so many days that I don’t remember which “Log” that I’m on (and I’m too lazy to go back and look at it). However, since Sony did there Playstation 5 Reveal Event yesterday, I decided to give my reactions to the event along with several high profile games.

You can find the event in its entirety here, if you haven’t seen it yet (it is over 1 hour long, so you’ve been warned):

Source: Playstation YouTube Channel

The Look of the Console

The design is in the heading image above and I REALLY like it! The “black box” design is great, but everyone screams “diversity” in games (“we want to see ‘new’ IPs), so how hypocritical is it to ask every console look the same/have the same basic designs. So, I’m going to keep the focus mostly on the Playstation, but I have to a moment to address the XBox design as they are essentially the same. They have a flat, rectangle box (like a cable box) for their previous generation, and their “next gen” system is the same, except that it is like a “mini-tower” computer. Not that’s boring and uninventive, and yet, that’s not what gets called out–no, only Sony’s tech talk gets called out (go figure).

Back to Sony’s design–it matches the controller, which I liked, and it has a very distinctive design. It almost is a very Apple-like design before they went to the “slate” gray design. I like that it comes in a disc and all digital version. I personally will go with the disc version. I love physical media, and while I’ve bought more digital content recently (through sales on the PSN store), I still MUCH prefer physical media. Even though console can be put on its side, but they display it with a “stand.” For this particular console, I will probably spend the extra money for a stand and display it upright.

Spider-Man Miles Morales

Source: Playstation YouTube Channel

So, I wanted to briefly touch on this one as it directly relates to me. I own Spider-Man for the PS4, but I haven’t gotten very far with it as I had to stop playing it (and many other PS4 games) as I worked on my classwork and part-time job a couple of years ago.

I really liked what got to play and I intend to finish the game once I finish the game I’m currently playing. I enjoyed the trailer, but it was a bit of a spoiler as I now know what happens to Miles Morales’ father based on the trailer. Still, I’m looking forward to getting a chance to play this one and if they nail Miles’ unique movements and move-set, then I think this game will be an absolute winner for me.

Horizon Zero Dawn: Forbidden West

Source: Playstation YouTube Channel

So, this was the ending trailer and the real showstopper from the Reveal event. Unfortunately, I couldn’t watch it as I’m currently playing Horizon Zero Dawn (1st game) as we speak (yes, I know it is a 2017 game, but remember, I only have limited time so I find myself behind, especially on the Sony exclusives as they are so long and massive. I’m only on level 24 for my character and I think there’s a trophy for getting to level 50 (I think). I’m at 55 hours into the game already and I probably still have at least 30-50 more hours (I think) of content (only “half” the map has been revealed yet), and I’ve not yet touched any of the expansion content. I love Sony’s exclusives, but when you put them aside to play other games, it gets hard to stay current.

The very first part of the trailer was actually a spoiler for me as it tells how long it has been since the world fell, something I haven’t yet learned in the 1st game. I hurried and killed the volume and only glanced at it randomly when it played. Once I finish the 1st game, I’ll go back and look at it completely. I wanted to include it in this short round up as it was the showstopper of the reveal event and the one that most interests me (I just got to get through the 1st game now!).

I have other games that I’m interested in from the reveal event, but I’ll save them for a blog topic next week as this one is running long. Have a good weekend everyone!

Sidney


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




Currently Working On (6/2020):

  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
    Editing: Revision 1
  • “Project Arizona” (Weird Western Story)
    Drafting: First Draft
  • Ship of Shadows Graphic Novel 
    Finished: Script, Issue #1
    Next: Script, Issue #2

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


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




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
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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


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




  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
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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.
Image Source: https://www.ranker.com/list/dlc-memes-gaming/robert-carnevale?utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=comicspost&pgid=763663430350503&utm_campaign=dlc_memes

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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    Finished: Story Outline
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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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  • The Independent  (Sci-Fi Short-Story)–
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  • I, Mage (Fantasy Short Story)
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Game Day: The Confluence of Gaming and Writing

Man typing outside at a table with his laptop, coffee, plant, water, and writing journal
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

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