RDR2 – The Great Demise

I am a firm believer in karma, rather than some arbitrary being that picks a favorite.  In that there are direct rewards for an action, and indirect rewards.  Life just finds a way to balance itself out.

*Spoilers.*

Last I left RDR2, I was heading into Saint Denis trying to find the big score so the gang could buy some land and freedom.  Well actually, I was there to rescue a kid that was taken from a mob boss.

There’s the adage of big fish, little pond that applies well to Dutch, the gang leader.  He espouses some amazing views from his pulpit, but they are just hot air.  From a player’s perspective, that seems somewhat obvious, but from the character perspective you can see the attachment.  As the game progresses, you can also see the cracks start to show.  Dutch’s plans never really work out, there’s always someone else a single step ahead.  He’s never as bright as he thinks he is.  Always trying to reach for the sun and getting burned at every step.

Every job in Saint Denis goes wrong, at different levels too.  The one that seems to go well, takes a massive nose dive when the Pinkertons show up.  You lose a lot of good people whom you’ve spent hours/days getting to know.  Things go so awry, that you end up stowing away on a ship to Cuba, get shipwrecked, lose all your money, and end up freeing a slave camp to get out of there alive.

The trip back to town… the game throws you in a semi-dream state with the only voice-song that I’ve seen so far.  (Neat effect – you see more deer if you’re honorable, you see more wolf is you’re dishonorable.  Very reflective of native mythology.)

When this finished, I just stopped for a bit and started thinking.  After all the hell that Arthur goes through, he’s still bent on finding his people and trying again.  He’s doubtful of Dutch, but still trusts in his intentions.  The entire gang really starts to question the sanity of the man, and the decisions over the past months/years.

Blackwater is the watershed moment.  It’s when all the luck runs out and the dues start being called in.  Where Dutch is focused on the micro, the world around him is just taking massive strides.  Day by day, mission my mission, each previous decision has repercussions on the next set of events.  When you find out why the bank job went south, it’s a really impressive piece of art.

I’m nearing the clear end point now.  Arthur’s journey towards the grave is assured, it’s all about the timing.  And for the walls of the house of Dutch to fall down.

Hype for Diablo

Or not.  The Diablo panel is on the main stage right after the opening ceremony, which is usually reserved for ultra amazing news.  From Blizz.

BlizzCon 2018 is almost here and we’ve seen a lot of rumors flying around about our plans for Diablo at the show. These are very exciting times—we currently have multiple teams working on different Diablo projects and we can’t wait to tell you all about them . . . when the time is right.

Advertisement

We know what many of you are hoping for and we can only say that “good things come to those who wait,” but evil things often take longer. We appreciate your patience as our teams work tirelessly to create nightmarish experiences worthy of the Lord of Terror.

While we won’t be ready to announce all of our projects, we do intend to share some Diablo-related news with you at the show.

November 2 will be an especially diabolical date—not only is it the first day of BlizzCon, it’s also when Diablo III arrives on the Nintendo Switch. If you’re planning to pick up the game (the digital download will be available starting at midnight on launch day) and are joining us in Anaheim, be sure to bring your console. We’d love to slay some demons with you on the show floor.

Again, we want to thank you for your patience and support. We are eternally grateful to you and the millions of other Diablo fans around the world whose passion for this franchise inspires us and keeps our fires burning.

We’ll see you in hell . . . and at BlizzCon!

There are two ways to read this.

Downplay the Hype

Blizzard is aware of the hype for a Diablo 4 announcement and are attempting to temper expectations.  I can’t think of anyone who wants to spend an hour listening to Diablo 3 on the Switch.  Realistically, there’s no way that Blizzard would announce a new title in 45 minutes and then not have any reasonable follow up sessions.

The ol’ Switcheroo

That was a bad pun… but it could be that they are throwing water on the flames to only throw gas back on it during Blizzcon.  That would require significant META thinking, which honestly… no.  Blizzard can’t go a week without leaking a new Overwatch character, or HotS option through seedy internet means.  The Diablo team  is the least subtle of the bunch.  Really feels like the no-BS dev stream.

Other Options

Thinking about this a bit more, I find that Blizzard is oddly quiet regarding the mobile app space.  Hearthstone is manageable.  The WoW mobile app seems designed by a slow witted chimp.  Diablo, Overwatch, HotS all have zero presence.  Could D3 work with mobile controls?  There are certainly other ARPGs that make it work, and it’s not like D3 has that many buttons to press.

Even a large stretch, Diablo has enough lore built in to make some sort of large media push – maybe a Netflix series – some sort of animated one.  I can’t really see them financing a movie.  There are likely still fresh scars around the Warcraft movie.

Blizzard rarely initiates anything – they react.  Torchlight Frontiers is out next year… so maybe they are trying to get in front of that message.  Hard to argue that D3 isn’t the most accessible ARPG on the market now.  PoE seems to require a degree in spacial physics, and Grim Dawn lacks an effective end-game.  Be curious to see how that turns out.

 

Final Space & Dragon Prince

In fits and spurts, I’ve watched both Netflix series.  They only have 1 season, and they are relatively short episodes at 20 and 30 mins each.  They are both worth the watch, but for different reasons.

Final Space

This is more like 2 series in one, and that really swaps over in episode 7.  The first part is a near absurdist buddy comedy, with what amounts to verbal diarrhea.  The second part is more of a mix between Voltron and Cthulhu.

Where is lacks in consistency, it makes up for in sheer drive.  Gary Goodspeed is half bumbling idiot, half hero… and when he does go idiot, he goes full bore.  He ends up befriending some interesting folk along the way; a time travelling captain (both versions), a cat and his son, a demented robot, a lisping nutjob, and an army of cloned robots.

anm4kzn_700b

The typical joke

Where the first part is more US comedy fare, and simple at that, it’s when it tries its hand at larger things that the story really splits off and has trouble holding on.  The overall arc that a bad guy is trying to open Final Space is passable, but the reasons why make little sense.  The ability to prevent it make little sense either, as it feels more like a McGuffin chase than much else.  It doesn’t take itself seriously, as much as it tries to make emotions come to the font.  I mean, there’s only so many times you can watch Gary’s dad die before it just doesn’t have any real resonance.

Side note – Fry from Futurama was is a good comparison in this.  Futurama earned those heart felt episodes, because you saw the characters develop.  Find me someone who didn’t have a tear at Jurassic Bark and I’ll show you someone who’s dead inside.

That said, the overall arc is well framed with a 1 minute countdown at the start of each episode which foreshadows the final one.  Or I guess 1-9 are each flashbacks.  Pick your poison.  It has solid pacing, and that to me is worth more than gold.  Other Netflix series all seem to want to pad an hour with nothing.  Final Space takes the 20 minutes, and fills it to the brim with forward movement.

Curious as to how season 2 will take this.  Either the galactic storyboard that was alluded, or a more episodic approach.

Dragon Prince

Lead by the same guy who brought Avatar (animated) to the screen, Dragon Prince is the story of, well, a Dragon Prince.

The backstory lasts a couple minutes, and generally revolves around nature vs man conflict.  Humans found a new type of magic, that steals life force from the other natural magic sources.  A war breaks out.  The king of dragons (feel I should capitalize that…) defends the border between humans and elves (at least 6 kinds of elves).  Humans manage to kill him, and destroy his only egg.. the aforementioned prince

Elves want revenge, plot a coup to take out the human king and prince… things go wrong.  Seems the egg wasn’t destroyed, but taken.  Who knew?

The elf assassin sees that this would stop the war, and leaves with the prince and the prince-in-law (that will be an interesting backstory I’m sure), and shenanigans occur.  Still the 3 character party + animal companion from Avatar, just no demi-god in the ranks.  Each character has strengths and flaws, hidden secrets.  The team dynamic works well, and it doesn’t take long for it to seem more like a family than a party.

The humans though… that’s a rough bit.  The king had an advisor who is an expert in the evil magic.  He appears to be his best friend… and when that friend proposes using said magic to protect the king, the king decides to go all righteous.  Where was that righteousness for the years where he was the advisor?  The king maybe dies?  I don’t know.  Then the advisor goes full evil mode for the rest of the series.

tumblr_pf2kjnzci11wuxwqpo2_1280

My favorite human character.

The advisor has 2 kids, a not-too-bright knight and a smart-ass mage.  They are tasked by the advisor to kill the princes and take the egg back.  They apparently have zero moral struggles with this… but then again there’s maybe 5 minutes total across all episodes between the two.

The Dragon Prince deals with theme of loss and growth.  All good stories do.  There are hints of a much larger world, and this feels just like the initial journey of a grand adventure.  That final shot really isn’t a cliffhanger as much as an “ok, time for the real stuff to start” message from the writers.  It follows the book format of avatar, with a potential of 7 seasons of episodes (if 1 per source of magic).  Avatar was 61 episodes, so it’s pretty close.

The head team is open to audience feedback too, which is a mixed bag of risk, but certainly a novel *cough* way to pick a direction.  Should be an interesting journey.

Morally Grey

There is a big difference between and idea and the execution of that idea.  Great idea to go to the Moon but it took a very long time, and some really smart people to make it happen.

The idea of a morally grey character is a good one.  It fits in with the times of leadership trying to make the best of a bad situation.. and society’s fascination with anti-heroes.  We understand altruism and evil, but it doesn’t interest us anymore.  We need the complexity.

I’ll refer to a memorable character for me, and that’s Mark Purefoy’s portrayal of Marc Antony in HBO’s Rome.

mark_antony-james_purefoy

Smug bugger

The question of why he’s interesting is the point.  He is an anti-hero… in fact often times he’s simply a villain.  His quick to emotions, egotistical, violent, and will hit on anything that moves.  His is the embodiment of borderline control… as clearly he’s moved up the Roman ranks.  The audience can empathize with his situation in nearly all cases, if not outright support his actions.  When he does die, he does it on his terms.

His arc is known well in advance, given that there are still records of his actions from history.  It’s still an interpretation granted, and writer’s discretion does exist for some steps.  The point is that even we he makes reprehensible decisions, things that clearly will not work out in the long run (like his perpetual bender in season 2), viewers are still interested and wondering what will come next.  Sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s bad.

In comparison, no less well written is Augustus, who represents technocracy and lack of emotion.  He goes from petulant child, to isolated adult with world domination in mind.  By the end, he’s lost all his close allies.  Which again, is based on historic records.  He makes the same difficult decisions, and without emotion.  He cuts off his family when he believes they won’t help the longer game.  Essentially the other side of the coin to Marc Antony, who acts with this heart.

In both cases, regardless of the actions taken, they are always in the scope of their character. They may not make rational decisions based on the viewer’s set of moral/ethics, but they do may them based on their own.

It’s a real testament to the writers and to the actors that this is pulled off.

HBO Factor

No question, in the short term most HBO shows that are green lit have solid writing for the first few years.  Few can keep going past 3 seasons, arcs are generally done.  And they get a lot of pitches over the years, they have the luxury of picking the best ones and going forward.  It’s not like we’re raining Sopranos.

Blizzard

I think the downside here is the lack of consistency and direction.  Story arcs are years in the making.  They clearly knew that Teldrassil was going to burn in order to allow their CGI team time to make the video, and build an expansion around it.  They are often 2 years in the future.  It’s based on concepts.  Great!

Then you get shoddy execution.  Yrel is very good example.  She’s a freed slave to start WoD, then becomes the world leader at the end.  No idea how that actually happened, since the middle act of WoD was never released, and it seriously looks as if Blizzard is ignoring anything that came from that expansion (except Garrosh’ death).

Relating to Sylvanas and her actions, Rohan has a good point:

In my opinion, the problem is the writers’ use of emotion. Emotion must be anchored in reason. If emotion is divorced from reason, the character is irrational. And no one likes following irrational leaders. It’s especially bad for Sylvanas, who’s basic character is the cool, calculating, ruthless archetype. A night elf talks smack to Sylvanas, she gets mad, and burns the tree in a fit of anger? That’s so far out of character that it’s just senseless.

Legion had plenty of morally grey stories, along with lot of redemption.  It feels real and rational.  Suramar works in particular because of this… the story is just a bunch of bad options and people trying to make the best of it.

The bridging novel and comic have some interesting threads.  It’s a good thing that they brought Christie Golden to help with the overall story arc.  It’s jarring to have such quality provided in a consistent fashion, and then have the past few weeks of delivery that are rough.  Time will tell if that improves.

 

Mage Tower and Gated Content

I will start off by saying that gated content makes sense, as long as there’s a catch up mechanism and that it is not obtuse.  Burning Crusade was neither of these things and had one of the most convoluted key-ing structures, so much so that it required a large guide to get through.

Bcattunement.jpg

Seriously.  Look at this thing!

FF14 isn’t a whole lot better, as you must go through every single group event to get to the recent content.  Not so bad for people that have been away, but for new players it’s a massive slosh through content that people are facerolling through (yay relevant groupfinder!).  It’s not complicated or difficult, just long.

The old-TSW had a gating mechanism where you needed to beat a single boss given, with a given role (tank/heals/dps) in order to enter group content with that role. I thought it worked rather well, as it was a test that you have both the proper gear, skills and situational awareness to do more than just press 1-2-3.

Mists of Pandaria brought the proving grounds.  A tiered challenge system where you fought waves of enemies, using a specific role (tank/heal/dps) and received a rank at the end.  Bronze was to check if you had a pulse, silver that you were paying attention, and gold that you understood all your class abilities.  It’s been in the game since, though more as an afterthought in order to allow people to test more than just combat dummies.

Mage Tower

Since this goes away on Tuesday.

There are good things and bad things about the Mage Tower, and that changes depending on your personal view.  It was very challenging, requiring a high level of skill or a high item level (sometimes both).  It was time gated, so that you only had a limited time to try it out, until the next window appeared.  It rewarded cosmetic weapon upgrades (of varying quality).  It required a significant investment of time to even scratch the surface. It was 100% solo, so you were left to your own devices to improvise.

If you think about it, this was really Proving Grounds 2.0.  Can you play your class and role at top tier levels?  The rewards couldn’t be power, since you needed power to actually beat the challenges – cosmetics are a great alternative.

And it was a pretty solid success, all told.

Forward

BfA does not have class-specific raid gear.  All plate wearers are going to look the same.  Which is a bit of an odd one, since top-tier raiders often pride themselves on the look of gear others cannot acquire, and the class that they picked.

Still, it’s an option for a new Proving Grounds mechanic to offer cosmetic rewards.  It’s a further opportunity for these proving grounds to be used as a gating mechanism for group content (LFG/LFR), and allow the difficulty of group content to be pushed up a tad.

The downside to this is that it doesn’t allow for coordination between real people.   But at least it brings up the skill floor to something past “just breathing”, and can help people better understand their class and overall game mechanics.

Complexity and Fear

I am not a rocket scientist, or a brain surgeon.  I work in systems architecture, which is  fancy way of saying that I work in puzzles without pictures, and pieces of different sizes.  My job entails taking an idea, breaking it down into smaller chunks, finding or making things to accommodate those chunks, then bringing it all together.  I make things that are hard from the inside, look easy from the outside.

People, in general, are irrational.  They make knee jerk decisions, and the majority of the time it is based on fear.  Fear is a good emotion, it’s what’s kept us from being eaten by spiders and snakes and alligators.  But we don’t (generally speaking) have that problem anymore.  What we have now are taxes, people who are different than us, massively complex bureaucracies, and dozens of new inventions that connect us to each other without us understanding how.

It is a rather simple matter to explain to someone why a snake would bite you.  It’s also acting in fear and self-defense.  Trying to explain to someone where taxes go and what they do… that’s a challenge.  I had a gentleman ask me why his phone automatically recognized a caller that wasn’t in his contact list.  I had to explain to him that he had shared his LinkedIn and Facebook account, the other had done the same, and the system just linked them.  He immediately went back and set it all to private, then started diving into other applications he had used.  I’ve talked to my wife numerous times about online presence and the mindset of her students that simply cannot disconnect.  Without her experiencing that firsthand, and the insomnia and externalized self-worth that accompanies it, there’s no real empathy.

I read a lot of news, from various sources.  There are some articles that are good, most however are quite poor.  To reduce an argument to a single line, or a single idea… that’s unfair.  Even in this connected age, there is not enough material to fill in 24 hours of fear-mongering news.  Most of it has to be made up, spun up, and screamed about.  Apparently everyone is out to kill me, everyone who doesn’t agree with me should be locked in jail, I should be immune to all arguments, and I should never change my mind.

I do get the flipside.  Issues are complicated.  Like a giant house of cards, you can’t just take one piece on it’s own and remove it.  It’s being supported by, and supporting other pieces.  Ignorance is bliss and people don’t ever want to have a hand in the game.  That’s the worst part about fear.  The thing is, without that knowledge, it’s a slow death.  Everyone has a hand in the game, whether they realize it or not.  By sticking your head in the sand and pretending nothing is going on… there’s only one part of your body left to take advantage of.

I want my kids to grow up understanding that fear is a good thing, it’s a daily challenge. By facing that fear, by diving into it and understanding why it exists, we can make greater changes.  It will be hard going.  There will be failures.  Other people will try to pull them down.  But it won’t matter.  They will ask questions.  They will have sympathy to the plight of others.  They will have empathy to better understand why people act the way they do.  And they will grow smarter and stronger for it.

For that to happen, I have to be better.  We have to be better.

 

 

 

Horizon First Impressions

PS4 is all set up and good to go.  Relatively painless install, which was nice.  I picked up Horizon, Uncharted 4 (in the package deal), and a used FF15.  Horizon was the first kick at the can.  I even got to play a bit with my eldest daughter, who did a pretty good job navigating.

I’ll assume most people know what the game is about.  Futuristic pre-history, open world, robotic dinosaurs, tribes, and bows.  That sums it up somewhat well.

The game is stunning to play through, where I find myself just moving the camera to enjoy the scenery.  It’s also one of those games where if you can see it, you can likely get to it.  It starts off in a relatively small part, then you actually look at the map and the sheer size of it all is amazing.  I’m sure there are other games that are as big, but few that share the same scale on a single unified map.

Running around (or on a mount) is a lot of fun.  There always seems to be something to catch your eye and I find it difficult to stick to the beaten path.  The first large quest has your run something around 2000 distance to the next target.  If I had ran straight, it would have been under 10 minutes.  It took me something like 5 hours instead.  Animals to hunt, gear to craft, bandits to clear, flowers to find, statues to find, cauldrons to explore…there’s always something going on.

Cauldrons in particular feel like tombs from AC2, combined with some stealth combat.  They allow you to unlock converting more and more difficult robots.  Each follows a similar structure – move through a puzzle area, with a few enemies around to make life hard.  Then a final massive battle.  They allow you to explore the lore of the world, which seems very well integrated.  I’m always looking for more.

Voice and sound are all top notch.  The lip sync can be off a bit, but the voice acting itself is superb.  Aloy feels relateable.  Her banter and self-thoughts make sense.  Conversations are about more than the simple stuff.  It’s quite well done.

Combat though, I think that was the real genesis for this game.  The enemy robots all have specific weak spots.  Most of those spots are covered with armor.  Nearly all have a specific elemental weakness that provided an additional effect.  Burn the fuel tank, take off 50% of the HP.  Remove the generator and no more stealth.  Aside from Watchers (the simplest of robots), most can kill you in 3-4 hits.  Some are massive. The first fight against a Corruptor felt like the hardest fight in years.  Then I realized he’s only mid-range difficult.

Most combat games you can stick with a single weapon.  You might upgrade range and damage, but you stay with the same.  Maybe God of War is one where you’d swap between 2 or three weapons.  Here though, you have to swap.  Either you do 10 damage a shot on a 10,000 hp enemy, or: you swap weapons, detach the armor, swap weapons, shoot a fire arrow, swap weapons, stun the enemy, swap weapons and deal a killing blow.  It’s sounds like a lot, and at first it is.  Eventually you get the hang of all the various bits and combat flow.  You turn into some kind of super human archer, pulling off moves that would seem ridiculous an hour before.

Gear itself is upgraded, though only marginally.  My 15 dmg bow is now an 18 dmg bow and “very rare”.  Skill is the differentiator here, and that’s a lot of fun.  Input controls are solid, and you don’t have any lag between what you want and what happens.  It feels like there’s move cancellation, which is more important than if it’s there or not.  My only gripe is that the camera can be a challenge, especially on larger enemies.  In particular in the very hectic battles.

So far, I’m feeling like this game alone was worth the console purchase price.  It hits all the right notes.  Combat, exploration, story, growth.  Extremely impressed.