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.

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.

Many a Road

I don’t exactly have rose-colored glasses for old gaming memories.  Early MMOs had some positives certainly, but they also has some horrendous mechanics.  UO was my first kick and regardless of what people the shard split, it was needed.  EQ provided a “safer” space in true 3d, but it came with a massive grind and hard requirement to group.  WoW took all of that, got rid of everything people complained about (and hired EQ guild leaders) and presented an “optimized” gaming experience that pretty much everyone could get into.  Optimization unfortunately brought simplification of some systems.

I personally like the concept of multi-tiered crafting.  This makes all items relevant in the crafting process.  UO started with this, where that ingot at the start of the game is still relevant at the end.  EvE does this too.  There are multiple ways to find these “ingots”.  It isn’t just one location, and one method.  Find them with miners, find them on enemies, trade them, NPCs trades.  There are some rare materials, or rather less common, but they follow the same thought process.

Warframe follows this as well.  Of the dozens (and dozens) of missions, there’s a lot of cross-over of materials.  Some missions are better at some sources, and some areas require a bit more work.  The end result is that no matter what you’re doing, it’s rewarding and (somewhat) relevant.  It also means that as much as you have vertical progress (levels) you have horizontal progress (options) at the same time, rather than closing off content.

This is a flipside compared to the modern “ubisoft sandbox” model.  All the icons are things to do, but once you do, then there’s no real reason to go back.

The system isn’t perfect but it does work.  Keeping all the content relevant for longer periods of time is a smart investment of resources.  Also means that players have a lot more options to play through as the product keeps evolving. Choice is good.

 

 

Warframe – Hand Holding

Warframe’s greatest strength is also a weakness.  There’s a theory on the paralysis of choice.  Like when you need to buy toothpaste and there are 60 different kinds.  Why?  Sandbox/open world games really suffer from this (or excel).  Minecraft has zero goals, so the fun you have is the fun you make.

Warframe has so many things to do and see, and each one seems to impact another, that it’s a fine mess.  Expected in a 4 year old game, but after years of WoW (and clones) that completely isolate one activity from another, it’s jarring.  I’ll give a rather lax example.

There gate on Mars (to reach Phobos) requires 3 things.

  1. Kill 150 enemies in 1 mission on Mars
  2. Open 3 Lith Void relics
  3. Scan 3 Cephalon fragments

The tasks seem fairly clear, SMART even (dammit).  All non-endless missions have about 100 enemies.  Endless missions have continuous waves of enemies attack you, increasing in level over time.  Mars has 1 of these missions (defense).  If you play in a group, then you won’t get 100% of the kills, so you have to solo it.  I was able to get it just by the 10th wave (you can leave every 5 waves).  Ok, not too bad.

Opening Lith Void relics requires you to a) have Lith Void relics and b) have Fissure missions. I have not found a practical way to “farm” for a), it just seems to happen randomly.  For b) there are one or two available most of the time.  I should have mentioned c), understanding that this system even exists and how it works.

Finally, the Cephalon fragments.  You need to a) know what the hell these things are and b) find them.  I could not find any reference in game to what these were.  I could not see them on any map.  I went wiki-hunting.  Sure enough, here they are.

Ok, now I know what they look like.  It also seems that for b) one randomly spawns in every regular map.  I have played 4 planets, dozens of missions, maxed out a few things.  Never saw a single one.  I’m not saying they are hidden, but they are not on the “main path” of a level.  I tried actively finding them, running some short/easy missions.  No luck.  Most people who have issues, recommend getting a Thief’s Wit mod, so that you can see them on the radar.  That’s another post.  Anyhow, I’m currently at this phase.

Objectives

Each mission has a goal (or goals).  There’s a yellow (do something), red (kill something) or green icon (exit the map) on the screen (radar and actually play screen) that shows where to go.  Without this, it would be impossible to navigate the maps, as there are many branching paths.  Heck, I get lost even with those icons.  But they do a great job of telling you “go here”.  Simple, effective.

The meta objectives though, ouch.  Where to find items to craft.  What an item actually does.  What is on what planet.  What the terms mean.  What the next goal is.  How to actually attack a boss!

This may sound like a complaint, but in reality it is just a comment.  5-6 years ago, when we didn’t have Wikia, this would mean hours pouring over game forums.  Nowdays, people have ideas and they post it out of the game.  The developer can focus on developing rather than training the user base, letting them discover as you go.  For the most part, that discovery works.  It isn’t being thrown in the deep end, you learn gradually.  The irksome part is when you reach a hard wall, where there are no hints.  Where you’re given puzzle pieces without the large image to reference.  What’s the next step after this one?

After years of hand holding in some many other games, it’s both frustrating and refreshing to have to actually learn again.