Anthem – Prediction

Due Fall 2018

The only video from the game so far dates from June 10th.  5 months ago.

Given that EA is in the news, why not have some rampant speculation!  None of it positive!

1 – It’s Destiny but with flying

The same BioWare team that did Inquisition would be working on Anthem.  Inq was mmo-ified, just lacking multiplayer.  Sure does look like Destiny – just with a different background and more focus on the 3D space.

2 – MTX everywhere

Where EA applies the EA logic to gameplay, and the lootbox fun that no one wants.  Want that neat gun that does double damage?  Gamble away for it.  Don’t actually buy the gun, that would cheapen the gun.  Gamble away for a secondary credit that you get in random amounts.  The gun could cost $10 or $100, cross your fingers!

3 – Timers everywhere

Gate things through timers and charge people to reduce the timers.  Crafting, missions, grouping.  Timers.

4 – Looks good, hard to see

I’ve never been a fan of the Uncharted series combat, since line of sight (LOS) is so hard to come by.  Most quality FPS games have a mix of open spaces, then closed spaces.  All told, you can still SEE things, targets in particular.  Horizon (robot dinosaurs) are a challenge, in particular in dense foliage because you can’t see them.

Anthem, in that video in particular, has a line of sight issue.  From that 3:00 to 5:00 mark, it is really hard to make out what is going on.

5 – Bugs.  Everywhere.

I was a huge Bioware fan for many, many years.  When the doctors left, it was a passing of the torch.  SWTOR launched, buggy and missing key pieces.  The story was amazing, but the other parts lacked polish.  That was the way every Bioware game had ever launched – we just ignored the rusty bits.  Fine enough for single player – just reload.  Time is crunched, things don’t work, day 1 patch, day 30 kitchen sink patch and then cross your fingers.

6 – Frostbite is a limiter

The engine all EA games work on (Frostbite) is both a bane and a boon to the dev cycle.  It’s “easy” enough to swap people from one project to the next, and to re-use previous content.  The engine is purpose-built and after a few years now, people are getting a better handle.  Unfortunately, it is built for closed-space FPS games.  Large scale, dynamic systems are a challenge.   Battlefront will help, but that will also mean that Anthem is more akin to lobby-based/sectional games than an open-world game.

7 – Poor inventory management

This is just a general problem with RPGs today.  Inventory is a mess.  There’s just too much stuff and no way to organize it.

8 – No group management

Following the Destiny trend, there will be no group management.  Guilds/clans, sure.  But active grouping and easy to use tools… nope.

9 – Poor length

Again, like Destiny and the Division, a lack of forethought to extending the life of the game so as to merit the name “games as a service”.  I would love to avoid another “dark zone”, or “single run forever” mentality.  Breadth of options = longevity.

10 – 1 year delay

To be fair, any game that wants to launch to a very large user base aught not be silent for months at a time (nearly half a year).  If it’s to launch in 12-18 months, then dev cycles tell me the core gameplay is done, and the side systems are being worked on.  No news means no progress, means at least a year’s delay.  Launch will be in the Sep-Nov timeframe… in order to get as many eyes as possible.

11 – Bioware’s last game

In two ways.  BW was recognized for making deep RPGs with interesting stories.  Mass Effect: Andromeda shook that trend, enough to shutter one of the studios.  Anthem appears to be taking the MMO part of SWTOR (people and stats) and ditching the RPG portion.  Those interested in a story will have to stick with SWTOR (which isn’t a terrible thing).

Second, EA has a tendency to close their studios who do not exceed expectations.  Unless Anthem is a smash (see above), this could be the final hurrah for the company name.  Which would be a shame.

 

 

The Problem with Complacency

Microtransactions, DLC … they make a crap ton of money.  More than the box.  Game development costs are through the roof and we’re still paying $60 for a game.  20 years ago that was $90, 10 years ago that was $70.  Games are cheaper to buy, and more expensive to make.  Math.  Simple math.

‘Member when horse armor was ridiculous?  That seems quaint now.

I have built my career over implementing change.  It’s always painful, always slower than planned, and never ever stops. (insert Terminator reference)  It always comes down to a simple choice – stand in front of the wave and let it hit you, or head out and meet it on your terms.

Complacent people will ignore that wave of change, pretend that it doesn’t impact them.  They will stay on the beach as it recedes.  They’ll watch it take over other parts, and feign immunity.  Once that change finally hits them, all of a sudden it’s a big deal.  There’s a level of hypocrisy that is tough to digest.

This whole EA debacle of selling a full priced game, then loading it with microtransactions is entirely our fault.  The collective gaming community allows this to work.  Every time we buy a full priced game, then buy the MTX and DLC, we say “this is allowed”.  Every time we defend the practice by comparing it to something that is nothing like it, we allow the practice to continue.  Every time our greedy competitive nature says “I want to be better than them” and we open our wallet, we do the same thing.

There are certainly games that do not appear to go down this path, or at least provide some tangible value for their extra content.  Horizon, Witcher, Breath of the Wild are all examples.

All of these companies – Rockstar, EA, Bethesda, Ubisoft, Activision, Warner Brothers – they are public and beholden to one cause : making shareholders money.  As long as we keep giving them money, they will keep finding news ways to get more of it.  As long as MTX/DLC make them money hand over fist, they will spend more time on it.’

At the end of the day, I vote with my wallet.  Quality games that have an acceptable (to me) financial model receive my money.  I make all efforts to avoid specific developers that have horrible (to me) practices.  I purchase DLC that has tangible value (to me), like extra hours of content – not a new hat.  I don’t ever buy lockboxes. I make rambling posts.

I want to reward ethical (to me) behavior, and I will avoid doing business with any company otherwise.

Even Stranger Music

Ever since my early programming days, I’ve had music playing to help focus my mind.  I often used classical music, but things have waxed and waned over the years.  I still often have earbuds at work.

I’m a fan of Blade Runner.  I often request Final Countdown (Europe) at weddings.  I clearly have a strong reaction to synth music, preferably without any vocals.  The music birthed in the 80s just seems to click.

Both seasons of Stranger Things really hit that cord for me, and I suspect others.  Even the title sequence has a solid track aligned with it.  Enough to recognize it anywhere.

This isn’t to say the rest of the soundtrack isn’t good, but it’s less ambiance building, and more event driven (like the music at the Snow Ball dance).  Playing the Police – Every Breath You take – has a specific meaning to the lyrics and theme, while the instrumental pieces are more for emotions.

Example.  Hans Zimmer.  If you’re a gamer and have watched game recaps on say YouTube, there are very strong odds that you’ve heard his music.  He isn’t pure synth, but there’s a very strong push for it in nearly all of his music.

Enter Spotify.

That is a rat’s nest of lost time and adventures.  I’m sure I’ve lost months of time to Wikipedia – and Spotify is moving on up.  I search for a soundtrack, find something like Blade Runner 2049, or Interstellar… then it suggests similar artists.  Pertubator.  Wave Shaper.  Lazerhawk. Dynatron.  Dozens upon dozens.  Some are good, some are bad, some are great.

I’m going down the rabbit hole.  Don’t bother checking on me.

Stranger Things – Season 2

Finished it late last night.  Thoughts included.  Slight spoilers.

  • Bob (Sean Astin) is really an interesting character.  I think he’s the dad most geeks would have wanted.  There’s a particular scene that is 80s horror trope, and you see it a mile away, and it really drives home the theme of this season.
  • Joyce and Hopper seems forced.  Joyce finally moves away from hysterical to driven, and goes deep into mom-mode.
  • Hopper spends an entire episode making horrible decisions.  Narratively required, but not justified.  There were other methods to reach the same end point, this was a poor writing decision.
  • Jonathan, Nancy, and Steve triangle doesn’t work as well as it should.  Jonathan and Nancy clearly have better chemistry.  It’s forced and corny, but you can see it underneath.
  • Nancy provides too much exposition and little character growth.  Until the last 5 minutes of the series.  Seems a tad wasted.
  • Jonathan does a serviceable job and surrogate dad, big brother.  He moves further away from self-doubt.
  • Steve.  My man.  If they made a series just about Steve, I’d watch it.  He is the star of every scene, and continues to bring a level of realism/grounding to the surreal events.  His character arc is just amazing, coming to terms with the mortality of his fame, his role in the big picture, his openness with Dustin.
  • Dustin has highs and lows.  There’s some good growth here, and he’s that trash talking kid everyone got along with.  His buddy comedy with Steve is the backbone of the tail of the season.
  • Luke is great.  The rage he felt in the former is replaced with trying to protect people in the second.  His relationship with Max is believable, full of the same hurdles all teens go through.
  • Max is interesting but takes a bit too long to develop, then just seems to stall.  Everyone seems to have a role, but hers goes away too quickly.
  • Billy is something else.  Our version of the upside down monster.  There’s just enough there to realize that he has his own demons, and that he’s riding a knife’s edge to keep sane.  Borderline psychopath.  Some solid potential.
  • Mike.  He’s there at the start and there at the end.  More of a lost puppy than anything of real value.  He’s the heart of it all, certainly, but that’s about it.  His dislike for Max seems forced… he’s a team leader but rarely acts like it.
  • Will.  I won’t spoil it but he needs a character arc that makes sense for the next season.  He’s only there for exposition and story purposes.  Well, minus the first 3 episodes, where there’s potential.
  • The supporting cast is top notch.  Paul Reiser goes against type and delivers.  Kali (8) hits the right note for someone who had to grow up alone and is full of anger.  Her posse isn’t too bright, minus Funshine (Kai Greene).
  • Eleven has 2 solid episodes of growth.  The 2nd one feels forced, and teaches her the difference between killing and being a killer.  Her relationship with Hopper works, from her perspective at least.  She’s a bit too much the “golden gun” for the overall arc, as most of the other characters provide minimal value (‘cept Steve, that boss!)

The overall horror arc has bits that work, others that don’t.  The start is more John Hughes, and the middle gets into Steven King land.  Overall, I’m certainly satisfied but it does less than the first season.  The main issue is that we know 6 of the main characters in many situations (Mike, Dustin, Luke, Eleven, Nancy and Steve), and how they act here isn’t exactly new… and when they don’t stay in character it’s jarring.

It is still binge-worthy. It still makes you want to see what comes next.  It’s still one of the better series that we have available.  And any series that has a Mindflayer as a main villain, I’m in.

Blizzcon & WoW

Meh.  I wasn’t expecting much and that’s pretty much what I got out of it.

WoW launched at this time in 2004.  I played, at least when the servers were stable.  I raided enough, stopped at AQ.  I truly question people’s sanity who think fondly of those days – at least from a game mechanics perspective.  Grinding past level 20, farming materials (tubers!), resist gear, prime rotations, farming tranq shot, running into whelps…looking back you get to realize how far the game has come in 14 years.

I have enough trouble emulating a WinXP or a DOS game today, I can’t fathom how much trouble that would be for an MMO that dates to back then.  I do understand the allure of progression servers, to take that entire trip once again.  I do not understand time locked servers.  But if there are people willing to pay, you can be sure someone is going to find a way to make it work.

 

Even the expansion seems to backtrack on expansion progress over the years.  Mechanically getting rid of the artifacts is a good step.  Level scaling across the board is good.  Lots of dungeons, open groups, all good things.  Ignoring the story, it looks like it can work. It’s the first expansion where I am I not curious, in the least bit.  Borderline apathy I guess.

I’m sure that some folks were quite pleased with what came out over the weekend.  The general theme though appears to be somewhat neutral, if a bit negative.  Maybe it’s due to the lack of a content drought?  Or maybe that there are just too many options on the table today, and people’s time is just not as available as it once was. Curious thoughts.

I am disappointed in the lack of Diablo news.  D4 could be something neat.  After having played a lot of Path of Exile (awesome), Grim Dawn (recent expansion), the loss of Runic (for Torchlight), and Marvel Heroes seeming to go dark… we could use a decent ARPG.

Big Missions

I’ve been relatively spoiled in this front, mostly due to RPGs.  Seems forever that there have been very large missions or boss fights in RPG games.  And I don’t just mean damage sponges… but real tactical bosses.  They really are more like puzzles than they are endurance bouts.  MMOs took this up a notch, though the detriment to that is that everything that isn’t a boss is considered “trash”.

As I play more of Warframe I am noticing that delineation of mission types, and events.  There are certainly “bosses” but not so much in the context we are used to.  They are damage sponges, with some light tactical elements.  The real challenge and rush comes from either defense or survival missions.

Defense missions have you protecting an object over multiple waves of enemies.  The object is usually assailable by many fronts.  Every 5 waves you get a bonus, and those bonuses follow a specific reward framework – A, A, B, C.  This means that after 20 waves, you’ve had access to all the loot tables.  It also means that there’s a “softcap” on how long people will run a mission.

Survival missions are more like horde missions in FPS games – non-stop enemy spawns.  You are continuously losing “mission health” that can be boosted by certain enemy drops, or clicking on spawning items that show up every 60s or so.  Rewards are provided at 5 minute intervals, again with the A, A, B, C reward structure.  Getting to 10 minutes can be a challenge, getting to 20 minutes requires serious firepower.

It’s not to say that other missions aren’t fun, they are.  But they are too focused on a specific activity, rather than just playing.  Spy missions have you go through a trap filled room based on a timer – fun the first time, not the 10th.  Interception has you defend 4 capture points, impossible solo, hard with a duo – and a bit too much like defense missions.  Again, the directed missions are fun, but not as the core.

This is ignoring Nightmare missions (harder, with special conditions like no shields or exploding bad guys), Sorties (like raids), or the recent Plains expansion.  I’ll get there one day.

The more I play, the more I realize that the Big Missions are not the ones with a focus, they are based on the structure and events that I make myself.  The “trash” of other games is the actual fun part.  It’s an interesting twist.

Stranger Things – Mobile

Link off first

I like Stranger Things.  I think the 80s are a great setting of tropes and set the standard for a lot of the media/art we see today.  The 90s were nihilistic, the 00s were new discovery, but the 80s… they seemed self-aware.

Fancy enough, there’s a mobile game out for Stranger Things.  Free.  No in-app purchases.  It’s a call back to 80s exploration games.  Midi-sound track and all.

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It’s not a terribly long game, maybe a few hours. But it has a lot of collectibles, pretty much everything from the series, but isn’t really beholden to the series storyline.

In all honesty, I am overly surprised at the sheer quality of this game.  No news about it until the release showed up, no glitches that I’ve found, no crashes.  Just smooth 80s gaming.  Extremely easy to pick up and play too.  The overall challenge is simple enough for all but the library (act 5) and some of the collectible puzzle.  The upside-down world puzzles are more Sokoban than anything else.

I cleared the main story, now I’m onto the collectibles.  I find myself smiling a lot while it’s up.  It scratches just the right itch.