Belgium Nixed Loot Boxes

Relevant article

More specifically, they have come to the decision that loot boxes are gambling, with a particular finger pointing to

  • FIFA 18
  • DOTA2
  • PUBG
  • Rocket League

Further, they need to remove the “almost winning” animations, the ability to chain open loot boxes, and prevent “vulnerable groups” from using them.  This is very similar to a casino effect, where a picture is on the wall.  That doesn’t always work, curious how it will apply to virtual games – user ID I suppose.

This doesn’t mean that lootboxes are illegal, oh no.  It means that selling lootboxes without a gambling license is illegal.

I’d be curious as to the process of getting a license in Belgium.  Canada it’s a rather tough slog, since all gambling is owned by the government (or native tribes).  The US is more about bribes than it is about getting an actual license – plus a massive aversion to anything considered online gambling.

The worst outcome for gaming companies is always legislative compliance.  Governments are notorious for putting everyone through the wringer to get the last cent… and tax evasion is the easiest way to get after a company on international terms.

 

How game companies comply with this change will be interesting.  Either they modify the entire game, modify it for that region, or stop offering the game in that region seem the most likely scenarios.  My guess is to stop offering based on IP would be the simplest.

What I’m interested in is how this trickles into other nations.  The US was all bluster on this front but no action.  If I was a gaming CFO, I’d be worried about this type of change.  Loot boxes are programmed to prey on the addictive tendencies of players.  There’s a reason they are such a massive cash cow.  Unless China or the US decides to take similar strides… I’d be quite curious to see how this plays out in the long run.  Maybe it’s just a blip on the radar, which would be quite a shame.

Wishes and Dreams

A bit off topic this one.

Maybe it’s mid-life, maybe it’s just that I’m able to look forward a bit more.  I’ve been considering the difference between wishes and dreams, at least in terms of what’s next for me and my family.

Wishes are the types of things that are out of the ordinary, or require a substantial amount of luck to achieve.  Nobody dreams of wining the lottery, they just wish that they did.  The types of things that you do need a genie to grant.  They are not in your control.

Dreams are long term goals that require effort to achieve.  A dream job.  A dream car.  All things that are usually long term, and/or require a lot of work.  They are often times largely within your control.

A simple example is that you dream of having a retirement of relative ease.  You’d stash away parts of your pay for a long time, sound investments, and get a decent return at the end.  Not worry about bills and have some flexibility to do various things.  Alternatively, you could wish for a jet-setting retirement after winning the lottery by playing every week.

Fun stats:  Powerball in the US is around 1:300,000,000 odds of wining.  6/49 in Canada is about 1:13,000,000.  Getting hit by lightning, twice, is 1:9,000,000.

I’m already living part of the dream though.  I have a really great job/career.  Great family/kids.  Financial stability.  Pretty much every plan I put into play when I was finishing high school has worked out.  A immense amount of work & effort to get there, but I got there.

Now it’s about enjoying what I have, and planning for the next part.  And truthfully, there are 3 major things left on this.  A specific type of cottage, a set of trips to specific locations, and a good education for my kids.  The last 2 are long term and already have some pieces in play.  The former… that’s been on my mind for 20 years.

Enough that I have it etched into my mind.  I know the layout, the size, the items within, the fixtures, the sunrise… it’s quite ridiculous in fact.  For the next couple years, I’ll be building a book of ideas.  Pictures, articles, plans, estimates – enough to transfer the picture in my mind’s eye to reality.

I think I’ll use this blog, and a new page to keep track of some of them too.  I love new projects.

Console Wars

There’s a story that Nintendo has enough money stashed away to be unprofitable for a dozen years with no impact.  That works out since every other console seems to have less than ideal sales numbers.  It’s hard to say that they are even in the console wars… aside from connecting to a TV they are really living on their own planet.  I would hazard to guess that people don’t think “PS4, XBOX or Switch”.  They instead think “PS4 or XBOX… and might as well get a Switch”

XBONE

All joking aside, Microsoft took some rather dumb risks at the launch of their console and followed up with rollbacks.  Kinect and always on internet anyone?  Instead of focusing on the ease of gaming experience, they went for integration into other services.  Don’t get me wrong, that’s hyper useful and an actual cross-platform system (XBOX to PC), but it shouldn’t be the focus.

They do have a solid set of free games when you are a subscriber, but is that enough?

Quick, name me 3 games that are only playable on the XBOX?  I’ll help

  • Forza
  • Halo
  • Gears of War
  • PUBG
  • Sea of Thieves

All of which are also on PC, but that isn’t exactly a stellar list.

PlayStation

Sony is hyper competitive and anti cross-platform.  They are often at the front of the “quality media” trend, but that’s expected when you have a backpocket billion dollars in the media / movie business.

Instead, let’s look at the game front.  When the PS4 launched it had a smattering of quality games, and a very large independent game base.  It’s moved on to 1st party exclusives.  Here’s a sample of top tier games.

  • Uncharted
  • Hellblade
  • Yakuza
  • Nioh
  • Street Fighter 5
  • Final Fantasy
  • The Last Guardian
  • Shadow of the Colossus  (remake)
  • Nier Automata
  • Persona
  • Horizon Zero Dawn
  • God of War

Spiderman should be around soon too.

Winner

The ideal state is both quality games and the ability to play with anyone else.  Microsoft does the latter, while both Nintendo and Sony do the former.  Hard to pick a winner here.  Games > integration in my eyes.

But if you’re looking for hours of quality entertainment, it is really hard to dismiss the PS4.  It can play any XBOX game (except the above list) and has a dozen “must own” games to boot.  Then go out and buy a Switch.

Streaming Sci-Fi

Renaissance maybe?  Seems to be the go-to theme now.  There are so many options it’s hard to keep them all in line.  Some recent watches below.

The Titan

Conceptually, re-editing genes to live on another planet is a cool idea.  Understanding the sacrifices that people have to make in order to progress through the change would be worth exploring.  Instead it turns into a monster movie.  And not a very good one.

70 minutes of no progress whatsoever, and 27 minutes of content that has no relation to the previous part of the movie.  Taylor Schilling does all the lifting here, while Sam Worthington just stares at labs for an hour.

Lost in Space

Arggghggg.

I really liked the original series.  I don’t have any idea what the attempts was here, other than give Parker Posey a platform to show how great she is.  It also seems like the budget per episode was cut by more and more every every episode.

They could have cut 20% of the running time of each episode – and there would have been no real loss.  And there’s no real tension in anything here – because the focus is on the kids.  Just like in the old series, Will Robinson could not be touched.  The 3 kids here are more or less immortal due to the “can’t hurt kids on TV” rule.  The same rule that makes Stranger Things a bit of a let down in the stress factor.

This should have been “Lost” but in space.  Ah well.

ARQ

A time travelling loop of a story that works quite well.  It’s a cycle story, more like that old ST: TNG episode, where people gradually are able to work things out.  The story makes a bit more sense, the actors do a serviceable job, and the filming is good quality.  The twist (always a twist) at the end is also pretty good.

Primer is one extreme of this genre.  ARQ is a decent middle ground where anyone can follow and appreciate the ride.

Spectral

This was supposed to be a wide cinema release, and has a lot of the bells and whistles of that genre of film.  There’s a lot of (grounded) techno-babble, and you really need to put on the make believe hat to go along with the foundational principles here.  I don’t quite get how the ghosts get to pick what material they can go through, and when, but hey, it’s a movie.

I don’t quite get the movie pitch – a war against ghosts – but it does end up working.  There are casualties that have meaning, including youth.  The final combat scene is really well filmed… it feels very action-y.  There’s liberal use of slow-mo to help sell the idea that ghosts have some sort of weight to the world.

I was pleasantly surprised by the overall quality.

 

EA & BioWare

Casey Hudson is back, with a blog post about the way forward for BioWare as well as Anthem.  Not much there really.

He was the director of the Mass Effect trilogy, which by most accounts was quite solid – minus the ending of the 3rd game.  Ironic that, seeing as how BioWare continues to tout story as a driver.  More of a point against losing Drew Karpyshyn I think.

Aaryn Flynn took over for Andromeda, and well, there’s enough material on that topic already.

What’s neat here is that Casey does have a track record for solid RPGs and there’s some level of confidence that he can deliver that specific experience.  It would be somewhat novel to have a solid story-based shlooter, more like what Borderlands was able to provide.  Destiny sure isn’t it, nor is the Division.

That said, I think most people’s weariness to any BioWare game is the EA taint.  There’s some news going around that they are re-evaluating micro-transactions and their fundamental financial models.  I have as much faith in EA corporate as I do in Zuckerberg’s ability to “fix Facebook”.

SWTOR took a long time to come into it’s own.  There’s a handful of spots to read about it, but it succeeds despite the overlords.  That F2P transition was a turning point as to how not to do it, what with selling action bars for money.  It’s certainly serviceable now.

I do think that Anthem will deliver a good base experience.  I do not think that the financial model and underlying mechanics will be a good experience for gamers.  At this point, it’s really up to Casey to convince everyone listening that Anthem will be the exception to the EA rule.  E3 is a good a place as any.

 

AC:O Itemization & Combat

Hand in hand, naturally.

The last Assassin’s Creed I played was 4 – Black Flag.  Pirate ships remain awesome.  That said, I missed 2 (3?) iterations between.  Bear with me.

AC uses to operate under a simple set of numbers.  Your level went up and you got stronger.  You received points to spend for additional skills.  It was rather linear and vertical.  AC4 was the same when it came to land-based combat.  On the ship you instead had a tree-like growth, with multiple upgrade paths.  There wasn’t a choice so much as a clear progression path that had many iterations.  e.g. canonball 1 to 2, and so on til 6.

Itemization

AC:O goes MMORPG instead.  There are different weapon types (4 bows and 6 melee if I recall).  Each type has a different benefit – slow and heavy, quick, used for sniper shots…so you eventually find one that fits your playstyle.  They have item levels, commensurate with your player level – e.g. level 20 bows when you are 19-21.  Each has a set of passive boosts.  Fast weapons may set enemies alight, while slow ones have higher crit damage.  On top of that, each item has a quality rating (blue, purple, gold) that changes the value of each passive buff (and may add more).  If you like a weapon, you can pay a fee to increase it’s level – sort of like a favorite I guess.

This takes a bit to get used to, but eventually you’ll find a gold-tiered weapon, with good passives and be willing to sacrifice the item level to keep it.  At the start you’re changing weapons every 5 minutes, later one you’ll stick with the same for hours.  Thankfully you can break down items to save inventory (and improve passive stats for more damage, HP and so on).

The game starts like a loot pinata, but turns into an inventory management chore later on.  Which is really the same issue all loot-based games eventually encounter.

Combat

Previous games were a simple dance.  Block, retaliate, kill.  You could take on 10-20 enemies without much worry – aside from ranged attackers.  Not here.

Combat is focused on the 1vs1, and you are better off “focusing” on a single target to survive.  There’s the meat fodder you can just swing away on, but the other half of the enemies have more to them.  They will have a red glow to their weapon when taking a big swing.  You can either dodge and counter, or have really good timing and deflect and counter.

Dodging works most of the time, but larger enemies need to have their defenses broken – meaning a large swing.  This swing takes time, and during that time you are vulnerable to attack.  Deflecting automatically breaks defense, but the timing is different for different enemy attacks.  On the really tough enemies, they can swing 3-4 times, in a large area.

Now imagine having to face 3, 5 or 10 enemies at the same time.  You end up chain-stunned, and picked apart.  Even facing 2 enemies, you need to be quite quick and nimble.  I found myself dying a half dozen times to a single strong enemy because of these mechanics… trying to learn the specific dance and avoiding new soldiers from joining the battle.  Phylakes are super-enemies in that regard…and alone it’s a real challenge.  99% of the time though, I seem to pull in extra soldiers and die in seconds.

Back to the itemization part.  While slower/longer reach weapons seem neat, in reality they are useless when facing groups of enemies, and require very good timing for hard ones.  There’s little benefit to them, so half the item types go out the window.

Mechanics

Adding to this is that a good 90% of all missions and side missions require you to kill everything in an area.  I can think of the Synchronization points, and the Constellation side quests as the only without combat.  There’s no real ability to sneak past guards because there are just so many of them.  I mean, it’s great that I don’t need to tail someone on some stupid quest with horrible AI, but the puzzle aspect of finding a solid route or just getting out of danger in time is gone.

The core mechanics of AC, killing from the shadows and combat as a last resort, seem a bit confused here.  Enemy pathing is such that you’re better off using a sniper (predator) bow until you run out of ammo, then stalking until you clear the area.  It feels more like Lara Croft than AC.  And if you do end up in combat, it’s a long-drawn affair, where you need space to properly survive.  It’s fun and hectic, but it’s a departure from the bread/butter of AC as I remember it.

I think there are some solid advances in this, it just requires a bit more tweaking.  It would probably work just fine in another game… but those don’t have 10+ years of franchise history behind them.

Where’s the Sun

I’m on a weird kick of late.  Case in point, I wanted to go bowling.

I come from a low income background, and bowling was a relatively cheap activity that could be done all year round.  I make no allusions – my perception of bowling relates to those days and the neighborhood I was in.  It feels regressive.  But it’s also a fun activity.

Interestingly, a good friend of mine also likes bowling.  Our families were able to get a lane for 10 pins, with 3 adults and 4 small kids (5,5,7,7).  We also went to a local pizza joint that’s pretty famous in our town.  (Side note, pizza does not agree with my stomach.  It does agree with my mouth.)

There’s something to be said of 4 squirts rolling a giant ball at slower-than-walking pace down a lane – and ending up with a spare.  The entire place was super dingy, but that really is part of the charm I guess.  Just like the pizza place, there’s something to be said about nostalgia and taking a small step back.  It hit the right notes, but I am also aware that trying the same activity again in a week or a month won’t have the same effect.  I guess I’ll wait a year or two before trying again.

Summer is Over

Seriously.  The whole North East seems to be getting a late snow kicking.  We missed the snowfall and instead received a quarter inch of freezing rain.  Fun enough to roll down the windows and punch out the ice… but oh so painful to be scraping it off the windshield.  If I recall, Toronto had >1200 accidents on the weekend alone.

Climate isn’t weather though.  We had an extremely mild February, and an ice cold March.  I am a bit curious as to how the late spring / early summer will work out given this overall lack of trends.

Then again, I’m glad I don’t live in Wisconsin.  That is some messed up weather.

Ancient Egypt

Perhaps that’s the draw for AC:O.  Egypt on a projection screen gives a certain illusion of warmth.  Sure looks more comfortable than here!

I think I figured the dip in progress.  The early game (say level 6 to 15) is a mess due to lack of options to level.  Once you find Aya, a large portion of  the game opens up and experience is found everywhere.  That and the patrolling uber-guards that can take you out in a few swings, with little effort.

The next post will talk about the game’s itemization and combat mechanics.  Still trying to get a good handle on it.