Barbarian At The Gates–Barbarian C64 Game (Nostalgia Review)

So this is one of those games that I didn’t really play a whole lot growing up.  I got it based on the strength of reviews and screenshots from a Computer Magazine, but it was based on the Amiga version and back in the early days of computers, there could be a whole world of difference between one system’s game and another (not like today where most games produced by companies other than Sony or Microsoft have virtual parity with their counterparts),  Barbarian (Commodore 64/C64) was a game that was essentially a side-scroller.  As I recall, you moved right or left and tried to defeat enemies on the way to a specific objective.  I don’t really recall all that much about it–except that I remember being disappointed that the game didn’t have more depth to it.

Compare the Differences

This is the Commodore Amiga Version:

and this is the Commodore 64 version:

You’ll notice that the title of the C64 video is Bad Conversions.  This is very accurate as the game does not stay true to the original and was poorly executed.  I remember that this game was released not too long after the original Conan The Barbarian movies with Arnold Schwarzenegger and while the Amiga version recreated the experience of the movies as faithfully as possible at the time, the C64 version did not.  I can’t recall if this was a Christmas present or a Birthday present–like most children, I got my games as gifts as presents and I remember the potential of this game being so great (I was, of course, into He-Man, Conan, and even Red Sonja along with all things warrior related at the time).

This is why I now rely on Reviews rather than screenshots–I learned early that media, especially advertisements can be manipulative and that it is up to the buyer to beware.

Caveat Emptor!

 

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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 there 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, you’re 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?

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.”

The Death of Single Player Games?

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EA shuts down Visceral Studios, Image Source: YouTube

So last week was a bad week for gaming in general and the single player game, in particular.  Two of the largest gaming companies, EA and Activision, both had stories hit the media that showed that they are not necessarily committed to the development of strong gaming experiences for their player base (especially players of single player games–like myself), but may be using the games a “vehicles” to increase their own war chests with anti-consumer practices.

To be brief, EA shuttered a well known & respected gaming development studio that was making a Star Wars single player game. They moved the game over to another division in order to (paraphrasing) open it up to better reflect their players’ wants in a game.  Activision, on the other hand, had a patent discovered by players, that could be used to match players together, not based on skill, but on the purchase of extra content and could match players with “premium” content with those who had not yet purchased the content in order to create an unfair skill gap between the players and incentivize the non-purchasing player to go out and buy the “premium” content to stay on a level playing field.

So why does this matter?  Players were incensed last week with these revelations and decried the death of the single player video game.  The problem is that this situation was made BY THE PLAYERS years ago.

“Knack is Kack”
I still remember this statement made by staff member of the Official UK Playstation Magazine on their podcast when the Playstation 4 was announced at Sony’s reveal way back in 2013.  Knack was a platform game that was developed to show off the potential of the hardware.  It was a good game, not great, but it was widely and roundly criticized in the media and online as being “old game design” and “antiquated.”  Now I personally liked it so much that I earned the Platinum Trophy for the game (do all of the in-game “requirements”) which shows how much I enjoyed it.  But if I had listened to the critics and the online community, I wouldn’t have given the game a second look as they considered it a waste of development time.  This attitude continued and now (in 2017) there are a dearth of good, triple A platforming games–their all either shooters or open world games.

The Order 1886
Here is another example of the market deselecting a type of game.  The Order 1886 was an alternate history game that full of promise and hype when it was announced.  However, that hype turned to bitterness and vitriol online when it was discovered that it was a short (5-8 hour) gaming experience and that there was no multiplayer involved when it was released in 2015.  What once was a darling of the press for its unique setting became an also-ran and a dog for its short campaign in regards to its price tag.  And based on the pricing models of games in 2016/2017 that are the same length (Ratchet and Clank remake and HellBlade) which are in the 29.99 price range instead of the 59.99 price range of The Order 1886, perhaps the price of The Order was too high, but the critical reception for both of those games (as well as the online reputation) is completely different that it was for The Order and that response to The Order was noticed by game development companies and (more importantly) game publishers.

Yes, last week was a bad week for gamers who like to play offline, single player games, but we have to remember that it is our choices as gamers that ultimately drive the market.  By being so dismissive to the single player experiences in 2013 and 2015, we gamers shouldn’t be surprised that publishers no longer want to fund or make these types of games in 2017.  Much like real life, if we say that we want diversity in our experiences, we actually have to show that we value that diversity.

Player Unknown Battlegrounds

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Two combatants with guns square off with one another. Image Source: Crave Online

I won’t get too carried away talking about games exclusively, but I will take a moment to highlight a game that has taken the “hardcore” gamer by storm.  You’d think it would be Zelda and/or the Nintendo Switch based on the amount of coverage that the media is giving both the game and the system (and while they are fun and/or unique), it is Player Unknown Battle Grounds (PUBG–known affectionately as “Pub–Gee”) that currently has the hardcore gamers’ attention.  It is coming to the consoles, but right now it is only available for computers.

What is PUBG?  It is a game where approximately a hundred players are all dropped on an island and must fight it out in a huge Battle Royale until there is only 1 player/team remaining.  You can have up to 4 players on a team and while they just added a first person mode (as if you are looking out the characters eyes), the game normally features characters in the 3rd person mode (as if you watching the character on a movie screen).

The actual design of the game is actually pretty ingenious–I’ll have to give it to the designer.  The map is not quite an open world–it is a fairly large island “sandbox” that has trees, scrubland grass, and buildings.  There are a couple of named areas such as towns, but there are also smaller areas such as “The Barracks,” etc., and other deserted buildings.  Players drop onto the island without any weapons and must scavenge weapons and gear from the deserted buildings.  What is so brilliant about the game however, is the design mechanic of an “electrified shield” that slowly restricts the play area every 2 minutes or so, forcing the remaining players into an ever smaller playing environment until there is only 1 winner.

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A character parachutes into the map.  Image Source: Business Insider

I have seen “streams” pop up from more and more gamers as they play solo or with teams of friends/acquaintances in order to be number 1 and earn the game’s virtual prize of the catch-phrase “Winner, winner, Chicken-Dinner.”  While this game my not be a media darling like The Switch or the newest Zelda game, it is most definitely part of the gaming zeitgeist of 2017 and its design mechanics will surely be used (filtered) into other games in the future which is why I would have liked to have been able to talk about it during my Digital Rhetoric class.

Well, that’s all from me–I’m off to work on my project on Virtual Reality for the aforementioned Digital Rhetoric class–who knows, maybe eventually there will be a Battle Royal Virtual Reality simulator one of these days.

VR Hype!

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Image Source: UploadVR

So this post is late for a reason–I went to the MTSU’s Library and to their Maker Space and scheduled time to use their VR Headsets (for a presentation on technology on Wednesday).  I scheduled 1 hour with Oculus Rift and 1 hour with the HTC Vibe.  These are 2 of the 3 VR Headsets that are currently on the market and after today’s demonstration, I want to get a PSVR (Playstation VR Headset).

It was incredible!

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Image Source: Bestbuy

I tried Oculus Rift first and this was the best starting point.  It allowed me to get used to the VR space.  It is mostly a visual and auditory experience.  It is true and full 3D VR, but movement in the demos was limited.  You can mostly stand in one area or move one or two steps to see all of the content.  The content is fully 3D and moves all around you so that you can look up, down, around, and behind you.  I saw several demos that were really immersive.

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Image Source: YouTube

Moving on to the HTC Vibe, it has a headset like the Oculus Rift, but it also has handsets that are tracked in realtime by two cameras and it allows you to have space to move around and this really opens up the “play” environment.  I was able to look at spaces, but I was also able to look in spaces as well.

Whereas Oculus Rift shows you the potential of VR, the Vibe allows you see how that potential will be realized once the technological limitations are addressed.

I’ll talk more about VR in upcoming post, but I just wanted give a quick impression of these two VR systems.  They look really awesome and change the nature of the interactive experience.  I’m looking forward to getting a PSVR sometime in the near future!

Sportsmanship–The Lost Art

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Image Source: emaze.com

So, I’ve recently become enamored with a video game that has a mostly online focus: Gwent Beta for the Playstation 4.  The Witcher fans will recognize the game from Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt as it is a heavily reworked version of that game.  Gwent is essentially a “card” game in the Magic: The Gathering sense, but the cards are often animated and the computer administers the effects of the cards and acts as scorekeeper and referee.  The game, ostensibly a Free-to-Play game (meaning that it is free to play, but offers a store where players can purchase “kegs” of cards using in-game and real-world currency).  Many gamers term this a “Pay-to-Win” in that those who are willing to pay real-world money often have a distinct advantage over those who just grind away for the (slower earned) in-game currency.

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Image Source: PlayGwent

Now, I really don’t like this model and I was determined not to spend any additional money on this standalone game (I mean, I bought the Special Edition version of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt for double the cost of the base game.  How much more does CD Project Red–the makers of both games–want me to do?)  I was also resigned to the slow pace of earning in-game currency and losing multiple matches while my currency slowly accrued.  It is also a beta and the current build on PS4 is buggy as all-get-out.  It has crashed my PS4 more times and in many more different ways in the past 3 weeks than any other game that I have owned.  And we’re not talking just random freezes, but hard crashes.  It crashed so utterly, one time, that I had to pull the power cord from the PS4 and replug it in because nothing that I did would shut off the system.  I even put up with that, but the thing that finally got to me and inspired this blog is the “taunt” system that the designers included with the game.

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Now, I realize that they didn’t want to open up players to the abuse of a regular voice chat, but “taunt” system is the “canned” version of verbal abuse because no one online understands the concept of sportsmanship–i.e., being gracious when you’re winning and not being salty when you’re losing.  You just play the game to have fun.  However, these days, playing the game is not enough, it seems, unless you can decimate your opponent and then “taunt” him or her about it.  There have been matches where I’ve done the math and I’ve clearly won and declined to play the rest of the cards in my hand because what’s the point?  I’ve won already–I don’t need to destroy your ego or use the taunt feature to make you feel bad about yourself.  We were playing a game and I happened to win that round.  I’ve been in the losing seat just today, knowing that I did not have the cards and rather than the opponent just ending it, he/she played their entire hand and and added with a pre-canned taunt for good measure.  Needless to say, that person did NOT get a “Good Game” response from me.  And this is increasing.  Where it was rare, it has become something that happens 3 out of every 4 games–and there’s no mute button that I know of (except the mute button for the TV which blocks out all sound effects)

I see this in other online venues as well.  If players can’t win/aren’t winning, you can be sure that some will choose to leave no matter how bad it hurts their stats or the team’s performance.  “Backing out” is the term for it if you aren’t a gamer (i.e., “this sucks, let’s back out” and blip they are gone).  Winning too has taken on this same level of destructive behavior, but instead of just taking a loss and learning from it, the winners are now narcissistic braggadocios.  They are the greatest thing on God’s earth if you listen to them after a match.  There are even people online–YouTubers and the like–who brag that they just want to get online and “crap talk” with their buddies.  That’s what is fun to them.

Really?  I thought it was about playing the games and having a good time while online.  Why does the idea of sportsmanship (being a gracious winner or loser) have to die for you to feel like you’re having fun?  When did just playing the game not become enough and it was decided that in order to have fun you have to belittle other players?  And why are we okay with that?