Anthem – The Heck?

If I were to say that EA was developing a Destiny clone, most people would consider that reasonable.  EA and Activision have been cloning each other’s games for years.  They are big for a reason, and that means breadth of choice.  They each have  game of pretty much every type.

Now, if I were to ask which dev shop within EA would develop a Destiny clone, who would you pick?

  • Criterion
    • Racing games, Battlefield and Star Wars Battlefront 2
  • DICE
    • Every FPS from EA for the past 15 years
  • Ghost Games
    • Need for Speed
  • Visceral
    • DeadSpace, Army of Two
  • BioWare
    • Mass Effect, Dragon Age, SWTOR
  • Motive
    • Brand new, working on new IP

Pretty much anyone but Ghost and BioWare, right?  This Forbes article (I know) covers a lot of points.

  • Anthem looks like a neat idea, and great visuals
  • A 3rd person shooter could work…Gears has shown that
  • The multiplayer aspects sound a little too good to be true after.  We’ve been burned on a lot of those promises over the years (Division, I’m looking at you).
  • Story could work… but not for repetition.  SWTOR has shown that to an extremely large audience.

But most importantly, BioWare?  The studio that prides itself on story-first games?  The one where actual combat mechanics and fighting have always had rough edges?  It’s sort of like if Bethesda decided to enter the MOBA market, just a whole bunch of “what?”

On the good side however, EA uses a single engine (Frostbite) for all their games now, and they have a whole pile of shooters to leverage.  Dead Space was a 3rd person game, so there’s certainly something to use from there.  Maybe this is just a continuation on the Shadow Realms IP – there is certainly a whole pile of overlap.  Maybe this game ends up being good, and reverses the trend of BioWare overreaching for the past 5 years.  I would certainly hope for that, given the history of that developer.

That said, I think it pretty much means that BioWare is out of the true RPG business. Which really stinks, since it was BioWare that really established what RPGs meant for the west for the past near-20 years.

Fingers crossed.

Wonder Woman Does It Right

Very similar thoughts to Isey on this one, Wonder Woman is just an excellent super hero movie – full stop.  My wife was super pumped before the screening, and even more so after.

The film is good for numerous reasons – though the majority are due to comparisons to previous DC films.  Zack Snyder films comic books, he likes painting pictures and slow pans.  There’s very little character development, and way too much exposure.  Suicide Squad was a change of pace, though there were still some rough spots.

WW has a good story.  Diane’s child-like innocence and growth is well paced.  (Minus that one scene that is never referred to again in the movie).  The supporting cast all have their own quirks, which is really quite nice to see.  The enemies suffer from the traditional “why are you a bad guy again?” issue that all super hero movies have, but the context of WW1 helps fill in the blanks.  I like that there are real stakes in the film, and that the happy ending is bittersweet.  Diane is extremely principled, and there’s a relationship built with her throughout.   DC comics were always about people relating to the heroes, and that was not achieved until this film.

The film itself is well done technically.  The scenes are really well shot, the lighting is great, the action is fluid.  There is a lot of orange and brown.  The brown is relative to the setting (WWI) but the amount of orange really caught my eye.  The music is well timed with the action pieces, and works really well to punctuate what’s happening on screen.

I really enjoyed the final act.  It’s a relative mess mind you, but the consistent casting and choices that are made by the characters generally work.  It feels like something was achieved.  And lordy, that final blitz that WW does on the soldiers is all kinds of cathartic.

I don’t get to see many movies at the cinema.  This is one of the few that made the top of list, and one of the few that I’d actually pay to see again.

I am ever hopeful that the DC-film masters pay attention to why this film works and apply those lessons for the next versions.  Joss Whedon is doing the final part of Justice League – so there’s some minor hope there.  Aquaman still has time to be tweaked, though I have less doubts on that one to start.  I think it’s safe to say that the days of heavy exposition are done – people want to have relate-able characters.  Sorry Zach.

Personal Record

There’s a certain zen when you do any exercise.  Hockey has that effect on me, time just seems to slow down.  That mindset provides a unique point of view, a specific focus on a set of goals.  When momentum is going your way, there’s nothing that can stop you.  When it isn’t, it feels like all the bounces are going the other way.

Weight lifting is very similar, though the only competition is yourself.  You’re competing against numbers and progress.  For a decent amount of time, that progress is constant, so it’s a continuously positive cycle.  You eventually reach a plateau and need to re-assess your goals.  There’s a rather intense focus on very minute gains.  But when that number hits the goal, it’s like winning the lottery.  I hit one of those last night.

I have 3 main goals relating to Squat, Bench, and Deadlift.  Those are 250, 200, 300 (750lbs combined).  I hit the squat number a while ago and realized then that playing hockey 3x a week could not allow me to push the bar much higher.  So rather than reset my squat goal, I aimed to hit the other ones instead.

Bench has had it’s ups and downs.  I’m thinking it will take until mid-summer to reach it.  I need to re-focus my technique, since I’m stalling earlier than I had planned.

Deadlift though, I hit my 300lbs last night (5 reps).  It felt really good and I considered adding more weight to find my true 1 rep max.  Then I realized I was out of breath and way too high on hormones for that to be considered safe.  I’ll be playing it safe the next few sets and cap it at the same amount and truly focus on the Bench moving forward.

Once the fall comes around, I’ll be dropping one night of hockey (it was too much) and reset my lifting goals.  I think that adding 50lbs total (so, 800) is more than doable.  I am looking forward to the next session!

Truth and Trespass

This is going to be a gripe post.

I’m nearing the end now, or at least it feels like it.  I’ll have a summary post at that point, but the general themes so far have stuck through.  There are bits and pieces that work, and others that don’t.  The ones that don’t are unfortunately systems/mechanics.  The things that work are the small story bits, but it’s highly inconsistent.

Truth and Trespass is the most perfect example of this.  There are some spoilers here, be warned.

This quest happens after you find the Salarian ark.  Seems that there’s a possibility that the Salarians sabotaged themselves.  This is a very cool premise, given that the lore of Salarians is that science >>>> reason.  So, there’s potential!

What happens next is you running across 5 locations.  Moving between locations takes 2-3 minutes, depending on the loading screens.  Then you need to get to the quest locations, which is another 2-3 minutes.  Often times you have to run through a small set of enemies once there.  Not challenging in any shape, just filler.  Then you either scan or talk to an NPC.  There are no options presented, it’s just reading dialogue.

The final step does have a decision point.  You find the truth of the matter and are given the choice to exact justice or exchange freedom for information.  This is one of the few times where I thought about it for more than a few seconds.  The information is presented as being extremely valuable, and the damage is already done.  So you’re not actively preventing something, it’s simply a “justice” question.  I therefore opted for the information path.

I was rewarded with a codex entry of 3 paragraphs with information that I had already gathered through other means.  Well, that and info that 2 other races existed (but not meet them in this game).

So, nearly an hour of running around, what appears to be a difficult decision, and I get a codex entry.  This is bullshot-level quest design.

 

History

ME:A’s largest issue is history.  ME:2 & 3 were good games, with good writing.  The ending of ME:3 is a separate discussion for this point.  When we quested in those games, there was impact in the decisions.  Changing the leadership of the Krogan, reversing the genophage, freeing the Geth.  Those were big deals.  The actual quests were in rather unique, isolated locations, that were thematically appropriate.

ME:A does little of this.  Many quests span multiple planets for no reason.  Aside from three quests (Krogan, Primus, and Exiles) there doesn’t appear to be any decision point that has any in-game consequences. When there are no consequences, then why bother making a choice in the first place?

There is a pile of breadth here.  Lots of stuff to do.  Piles.  There’s just no depth.

The sad part is, if this was a new IP, it would be somewhat acceptable.  The fact that this game carries the Mass Effect name, there are expectations that are simply not met.

Movie Musings

Went and saw Guardians of the Galaxy 2 last night.  It’s a solid enough retread of the first movie.

I remember watching GotG back in 2015, where superhero movies were a lot more serious.  It really stood out, with both visuals and sounds from the 80s – like a giant throwback.  Since then we’ve had Ant-Man, Dr Strange (more trippy than funny), Strange Things, and a pile of TV series.  They figure out that laughing is good entertainment.

GotG2 takes that to the next level, where there are no serious people.  Drax fights for about 3 minutes at the start of the movie, then another 3 minutes in the first act, then never again.  He’s relegated to throwing out punchlines (which admittedly are pretty good).  Where GotG went more or less full speed (minus the Collector-related scenes), GotG2 spends a lot more time examining why these people are who they are.  It does work, just not as well as expected given the rest of the tone of the movie.  Still a very enjoyable movie.

Related, this movie is why I am so hesitant on Zack Snyder’s Wonder Woman film.  He seems completely unable to project relateable heroes.  That works in the Watchmen, since it’s part of the underlying theme, but since then… ugh.  Still, the trailers look good and my wife is super-mega-hyped.

The Dark Tower

 

I’ve read the books and have been looking forward to this for a long time.  Given the cyclical nature of the story, this is a sequel to the books.  It’s a weird series to explain to people.  Anyhow, I think the setting works, Idris and Matthew are well-cast.  My concern is around the idea that the Gunslinger is somehow

  • not telling everyone he’s a gunslinger
  • not willing to sacrifice anything and anyone to get to the Tower

If you’ve read the books, those are the two things that make him stand out – aside from you know, being good with guns.  He has no fear, and will do anything to reach his goal.  Perhaps it’s just related to the cut.  Fingers crossed.

Blade Runner 2049

Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies.  I still watch it every other month.  You can clearly see the impact it had on cinema moving forward, as pretty much every sci-fi movie pays homage to the ideas, visuals, or sounds.

This one is set 30 years after the first one.  Deckard is still alive, so that would mean he’s not a replicant (they have short lifespans).  There’s a very large focus on how technology has impacted society, which is very appropriate I think.  Surreal that after nearly 40 years (BR was in ’82) that it retains so much of the original’s essence.  Having Denis Villeneuve behind the camera is nothing but good news to me as well.

ME:4 Jaal and Peebee

I really like these 2 pals.  They are opposite ends of the spectrum, but both are incredibly naive when it comes to the world around them.  Makes for some interesting dialogue, where is has nothing to do with the game.  Plus, their combat abilities are pretty solid.  I’ve not really found a reason to swap for anyone else.  Some spoilers below, but they are minimal.

Jaal

I finished up Jaal’s personal quest, a small sub-zone in Havarl.  The concept is that there’s a leader of an anti-alien group (Roekar) and Jaal’s family has been indoctrinated.  That last part happens off screen, and you get an update that lasts about 15 seconds.  There’s a final standoff at the end, and you make a choice.  I was doing something else at the time, and there was one of those quick-input options that popped up.  By not selecting it, things turned out much different than I had expected.

(as a side, it would seem that nearly all those decision points provide better results if you don’t do anything.)

The combat in that section was against low level enemies, or rather, I ended up clearing it all in half the effort of “open world” combat.  The story ended exactly like I thought it would, which was disappointing.  Felt like another opportunity that was missed, on a much larger subject.

Did I mention that the majority of this quest’s progress is unlocked through emails?

Peebee

More bugs.  This time on Havarl.  There’s even a few posts on it as well.  I ended up moving on through the quest, but a portion will be stuck in my log forever it seems.  There’s something wrong with the pacing of this particular quest line, I think.  The game introduces the heel early enough, then tries to shoehorn another bad guy (that’s only in datapads), then it turns out to be the original bad guy after all.  She all but says “I am Peebee’s rival” the first time you meet her too.

I really like Peebee’s thinking in this line though, and her dialogue is solid.  Clear that she has goals, and what they mean to her.  It’s just too bad that the quest is supported through “fetch quests” and a poorly executed storyline.

Liam

I had mentioned I had completed his quest line.  I don’t understand his character at all, or his motivations.  He has a lot of police/threat training and makes absolutely horrendous decisions that put people’s lives at risk, with no real plans to help them out.  I’m sure if they had unfrozen the cook he would have been smarter.

That said, his last mission was pretty neat in the mechanics and overall story.  Felt like a Lethal Weapon movie to be honest.

Forward and Back

It seems like for every neat item, there’s an equally dumb item behind it.  The more annoying part is the inconsistency of these two things.  Sometimes it’s the writing, sometimes the delivery, sometimes the quest structure…

Good golly there is so much potential in this game.  All the pieces are there.  It just feels like the overall producer took a long lunch at the tail end and let the peons make the calls.  I cannot recall the last time I was left so confused by a game.

So Much Rain…

We opened our cottage this weekend.  Hoping to get a couple days without rain (5/7 now, over the past 3 weeks) in order to stain the deck.  We got through Saturday, but Sunday was a downpour.  Fingers crossed the stain stuck!

I also spent over 2 hours getting the water pump to work.  Hunched over under the cottage.  In the cold.  I had eliminated everything I could over that time and was left with one option – the foot valve.  That’s the bit that hangs at the end of the line, deep in the water.  The water that was ice last week.  Sure enough, the valve was the culprit and 10 minutes later we had water.  We expected an up and down, but it turns out after 8 hours of work, we were burnt.  A good night’s rest at the cottage is something I had forgotten I missed.  I am looking forward to the next run up.

Mass Effect 4

Not a whole lot of time for this, though I’ve now completed Eos, Voeld, Havarl, and Kadara (missing an outpost).  I’ve crafted a super level 5 sniper rifle.  I’ve unlocked Liam’s final skill.  I guess that’s a fair chunk?  75%?  Anyhow, the game still has some interesting bits mixed with some not so interesting.  On PS4, I’ve encountered a half-dozen game breaking bugs – either falling in the world, the game freezing, random teleports, and some of those weird animations.  The most obvious one is that the Nomad (the car) frequently stutters in it’s movement (every 2 minutes or so) and loses sound (every 15 minutes).  The frequency of these last 2 makes me question the effectiveness of QA testing, in particular given that I spend so much time in that car.

I mentioned before the busy work. Given that the main quests have narrowed down, I’m chocked full of side quests/tasks.  I had about a dozen or so to clear out on the Nexus.  One of them ended with “go check your email on your ship”.  I have a holographic gizmo that can turn into a sword, but I have to go to a specific physical location, and email?  There’s also a lot of “go to this planet, and then this one, but only spend enough time there that the loading screens are longer”.  Ugh.  I feel like a ping pong ball, always being hit from one end to the other.  The talking bits are good, but the combat/explore portions are horrible repeats of existing gameplay.  Liam’s last quest was in a unique zone, so that was good.  Hoping the others are the same.

The upside is that the individual quest stories are interesting.  There’s one that deals with an anti-AI faction, which could have been a neat exploration of what being human means.  You fake losing your own AI (SAM), and track them down.  They are planning some EMP attack on the main Nexus, so you track those down.  The final scene has you asking 1 question, then ordering a sniper hit in a cutscene.  I am disappoint.  So much potential!

It’s that potential that keeps me coming back.  Like pulp fiction… if you look beyond the rough edges, there’s some good stuff to find.

Gloomhaven

Plain and simple, I put down some cash on Kickstarter for it.  I am usually against these types of services, but in this particular case, it’s a re-print.  The risk here is that the printing factory goes down in flames and shipping gets delayed.  I  can live with that.  You can take a look at a game review on Ars Technica.  I really love coop games, and one without dice sounds quite interesting.

Kickstart (and similar services) are a great space for board games.  I picked up Shadows of Brimstome, Galaxy Defenders and a few others in the past couple years.  The neat thing about boardgames is that the money is near entirely related to production costs, not development costs.  The game has already been tested and refined ad-nauseum with simple stand-ins, like any true D&D player would do.  Compared to PC games, where the development costs far outweigh production.