The Problem with Hype

Uncategorized

Our culture is one which is ruled by hype. We let ourselves get excited about every little upcoming thing like it’s the greatest thing since sliced bread. So what’s wrong with that? There’s nothing with being excited for something you like. When a movie or a game you’re looking forward to is coming out soon, it’s only natural to be excited for it; but in this day in age when everything has to be the next big thing, it can be hard to tell what will be good and what will end up being a disappointment.

If everyone gives in to the feeling of hype, then they could be caught off guard if the thing they’d been waiting for turns out to be bad, and so they would be even more disappointed than usual. In this case, the point of hyping up the product in the first place is completely nullified.

Something that sort of proves the prevalence of hype in our culture is that the word’s very meaning seems to have changed over time. In the dictionary, it refers to the extravagant and exaggerated claims surrounding a product or service, but on Urban dictionary.com, hype simply means “to be excited about something”.

I guess the point I’m trying to get at,is that the underlying problem with a culture so riddled with hype is that it creates a vicious cycle; one where something tries to claim it’s the best thing there is, only for people to realize it isn’t the case, thus prompting the next big thing to claim it’s much better than the last big thing, which is ultimately proven false because of the huge amount of hype involved, and so on and so forth.

I Hate Everything has a good video on this topic available on Youtube, and I encourage everybody to check it out.

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What is a 10/10?

Gaming, Uncategorized

In many gaming publications, critics are quick to assign a numerical value to the end of their review; usually grading it out of a total 5 10, or 100 points. I believe that this is a bit more arbitrary than it would seem at first. The general conception is that a 10/10 is perfection and a 0 or 1/10 is utter garbage. But game reviews are made my countless different critics, and so in the end, these numerical assignments are totally subjective.

what this means is that, everyone will have their own opinions about any given game, and that someones’ 10/10 will be someone’s 7 or 8/10. However, recently, I have seen many 9.5 or even 9.75 reviews out there. When I see these I will often wonder what prevented this game from getting the full 10? They came so close, so why not just round up to make a whole number? Apparently, as good as these games may be, they still have some minor flaws. But nothing can truly be perfect; especially in the gaming industry, where bugs and glitches will always be a factor. This being the case, I wonder what this imaginary perfect 10/10 game is that these reviewers are comparing other games to. What, if anything, will get the full 10 points?

The Troubled Release of Dark Souls III

Gaming

The Dark Souls franchise is one that has a very special place in many gamers’ hearts. It walks the line between punishing and rewarding and offers up some of the best level design, gameplay, and world-building the gaming industry has to offer. So it comes as no surprise that the third installment of the beloved series is generating quite the amount of hype. However, the road leading up to the game’s release has been quite a bumpy one to say the least. The game is self published by developer From Software in Japan, but elsewhere in the world, the task of publishing has been the responsibility of  Bandai Namco, and it would seem they have taken a series of missteps in the eyes of series fans.

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The first thing that set some people off was the staggered release date for the game. In Japan, the fiscal year runs from April 1st to March 31st, and it would appear that From Software and Bandai Namco both wanted to release the game in different fiscal years. From opted to release their game towards the end, on March 24th, while Namco wanted the sales of the game to show a strong start for the company; and so they decided to wait for the beginning of the new fiscal year, on April 12th. A staggered release in and of itself is nothing to get upset over. Oftentimes, it takes a long time for a Japanese game to get ready for a western audience; localization and translation being the most obvious issues to contend with, and marketing and distribution matters also in need of sorting out. However, in this case, those things were already done, and when consumers found out about this, they quickly saw Namco’s business strategy as corporate greed.

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Namco’s next blunder was giving certain youtubers and streamers early access to the game. Again, this isn’t necessarily something to get angry about; after all,these people have millions of fans and can act as free publicity and advertising, not to mention that they can generate a huge amount of interest in whatever it is they do. So on paper, giving these people early copies is a great idea. However, for some reason, the copies were given out a whole three weeks early. This move really upset the fan-base because it showed them that the game was ready and proved to them that the only reason they didn’t get the game yet was because of the Japanese fiscal year. Furthermore, three weeks is more than long enough to show off the entire game, and it lessens the excitement for the game in a way to know that all its secrets have already been discovered a month before it is even officially out yet. Another reason this upset some fans is the arbitrary way Namco picked people to give early copies to; some channels only having a thousand or so subscribers.Lastly, it was found that people on the Xbox One and Playstation 4 could use a trick to buy the japanese version of the game, with voice acting in english by default, and that Xbox users could then turn the japanese version into the English version, giving them early access to the game.

It should also be noted that the review embargo for this game only lifted roughly a week and a half after streamers and youtubers had been showing and commenting on the game.

These problems have angered the fan base and tarnished the reputation of Bandai Namco, and although these issues have caused less trouble in the last few days as a result of the game’s impending launch, they still serve as important lessons for Bandai Namco. Only time will tell if they have taken those lessons to heart.

What makes an Assassin’s Creed game what it is

Gaming

I’ve been playing Assassin’s creed games since the first installment of the series launched in 2007. Although I consider myself a fan of every entry in the franchise, even the nearly universally disliked Assassin’s Creed: Unity, I must admit something about the games has changed over time.

This should  be expected I suppose; after all, after Assassin’s Creed II released in 2009, developer/publisher Ubisoft has come out with a new installment every year, so it would make sense that the series would evolve over time. However, this begs the question of whether or not the series has evolved in a good way or a bad one.

When people think of the Assassin’s Creed games, they think vast historical settings, a mix of  stealth and action, and a narrative that ties in with a present day meta-story. It could be argued that these are the core pillars of the franchise; in other words, these things make Assassin’s Creed what it is.

Historical Settings

In my opinion, this aspect of the games has remained strong across all of the titles. In each installment, we as players have been given free reign to run and climb around some of history’s great cities, and it never really loses its luster. The settings of these games are always so detailed and bustling with people that it never ceases to look amazing and give off a bit of a sense of wonder. With the advancements of technology over time, each new setting looks even better than the last.

However, each new title (generally speaking) advances the setting forward in time. While I know that Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag director Ashraf Ismail has expressed interest in an ancient egypt setting, and the rumors concerning this are beginning to resurface again, the more recent games have all taken place is a somewhat modern world; the british colonies of Black Flag, the newly founded States of America of AC III, and the french and industrial revolutions of Unity and Syndicate all make for a markedly different experience than the medieval setting of the first game or the Italian renaissance of the first sequel. This being said, the series roots are firmly planted in a time where swords and arrows were the only option. In the later installments, especially syndicate, does it really make sense for the protagonists’ to be jumping into the fray wielding melee weapons? As great as the settings of each game are, it begins to seem like they are at odds with the needs of the gameplay.

Meta-Narrative

Another aspect of the original game that made it stand out from the crowd was the second playable character Desmond, who lived during the present day and whose appearance in the game was something of a surprise. During segments of the game, players could control a character who was trapped in a mysterious lab and embroiled in somewhat of a mystery. Piecing together Desmond’s story was a great addition to the game, and it and the main plotline of Altair the ancient assassin worked together in such a way that made the player invested in both. You wanted to see how Desmond escapes the Abstergo facility and what happens next in the present day story, but you also wanted to get back to the action of Altair’s adventures too.

The next two installments continued this trend, thus solidifying the present day meta-story as a key component of the series. But in Assassin’s Creed III, Desmond dies and his story arc is more or less complete. What now? As the games went on, the present day aspects seemed to be shoved unceremoniously to the background. In Black Flag, Desmond is replaced by a nameless, voiceless researcher with a relatively menial role in the present day narrative. Unity and Syndicate take it down another step further and replace the researcher with whoever is literally playing the actual game. In a strange move that I admit is pretty original but strange nonetheless, the game according to the narrative is still the game, but one made by the fictional Abstergo industries instead of Ubisoft. To put it simply, the player of this game was contacted by the assassins to literally play the game to uncover some bit of information that the group needs for whatever reason.

Surely not everyone cared about Desmond, but to me it seems like this series staple has been reduced to an afterthought, which I find baffling. The present day side-story was a major part of the franchise but its future inclusion seems like it could be in danger of fading into obscurity.

Action/Stealth Gameplay

The last topic I’d like to discuss is the unique balance of action and stealth that the Assassin’s Creed titles try to achieve. Looking again at the first title, specifically at the game’s main protagonist Altair, we can see that he is a capable warrior. He has a sword, throwing knives, a bow, and of course the iconic hidden blade. But even as he is bristling with weapons, he is a character with limits. In this game, it’s possible to fight off 1 or 2 guards and if you master the combat system, it is possible to take on a lot more, but you aren’t encouraged to do so. The assassin’s’ way is one that suggests going in quietly and killing only your target.

This has been made less and less true with each new installment of the series. We’ve always has the option to charge in, swords swinging in every direction, but at first this was frowned upon, we were punished a bit for doing it that way. It was the much more difficult way to do things and it didn’t go well with what the game’s narrative was telling us about the stealthy assassins. In the second game, the protagonist Ezio was made much more powerful and had access to a much larger arsenal of weapons than his predecessor. However, the game still valued the stealth approach; It just punished us less for more aggressive playstyles or any mistakes we made.

However, this became a trend, and in the most recent game, protagonists Jacob and Evie Frye can be aggressive as they want with virtually no repercussions. While the combat in these games is still fun, it seems to me like it may have lost sight of what it was supposed to be: a backup plan for when your stealthy approach didn’t pan out like you had hoped.

 

In conclusion

I believe that the series has changed dramatically over the years because of the evolution of its three core pillars. However, is it a change for the better or for worse? After all, the core aspects of the series that make Assassin’s Creed what it is, seem, to me at least, to be deteriorating. However, this could be a sign that those very core aspects themselves are changing. The series is changing what it means to be an Assassin’s Creed game, but due to it’s yearly schedule it must do so slowly. In either case, Ubisoft has the chance to either reinvent the series or go back to its roots with its next installment. The company has decided that 2016 will not see an entry in this series, so it has plenty of time to think about where to take its long-running franchise down the road.

As always, please leave a comment if you feel like it down below.

 

Episodic Gaming

Gaming, Uncategorized

Telltale Games is a studio known for episodic gaming. Unlike the more common method of releasing one game with a long narrative every once in a long while, Telltale specializes in releasing shorter offerings every other month. This strategy has worked spectacularly for the company; over the past few years, its The Walking Dead series has proved to be immensely popular, and its other episodic games like Minecraft: Story Mode or The Wolf Among Us are successes as well.

However, Square Enix (fairly) recently announced that the remake of the ever-popular Final Fantasy VII would be be provided to fans in an episodic fashion. More recently than that, the same company revealed plans that the new Hitman game would also be using the episodic format.

This news got me wondering whether or not this was a good call. Sure, the episodic formula is pretty popular right now, with the success of Telltale Games and other titles like Life Is Strange no doubt on a lot of developers’ minds, but I think Square Enix may have rushed into the decision to have some of their titles follow this trend.

What makes episodic gaming work, in my opinion, is the way it is presented. The Telltale games, for example, are made to work as “seasons”; each episode is its own little contained story, but it still fits into the narrative arc of the season as a whole. At the end of each episode, players are left wondering what happens next, but at the end of a season, it all gets wrapped up in a big finale, much like a television show.

The problem with Square Enix’s decision then, is that Final Fantasy and Hitman don’t really fit this structure. Or at least, it would be a challenge to make them fit this structure. Final Fantasy VII is a game that was already released as one complete package, so it seems strange to break it up into episodes and sell each episode separately when the original could be bought and played as one product. In addition, an episode must have its own rising action and climax, but the season when put together and viewed as a whole must also have these elements. FFVII as a standalone product didn’t have to worry about making a episodic-style plotline, but now its remake suddenly does.

Hitman, being a completely new entry in the series, has a better chance of being made to fit this structure. The question here though is: should it? This newest entry was first reported by Edge Magazine to  only have 3 levels at launch, but recently it was revealed that the game will go fully episodic and only offer a prologue and one level. In a time where games are being criticised for a lack of content, this move seems very risky. The developers claim that the level count is so low because of their size and the complexity of the NPC AI, but is this enough? Paying 60$ for a game is a bit of an investment, and then paying for future levels as they come out down the road feels dangerously like a large company trying to squeeze as much money as possible; this feeling is only exacerbated when the initial 60$ only gives people three levels to play in. Making Hitman episodic is a very risky venture indeed.

What do you think about the rising popularity of the episodic format? It certainly has put out a few successes, but will companies take it too far? Let me know what you think by leaving a comment below.97ghqril8qi-878x0-z-z96kyq

What Happened to Tony Hawk?

Concept art, Gaming

Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5 released on September 29th, 2015, but the newest entry in this series has not been receiving much fanfare. It has been eight years since a mainline Tony Hawk game been released, so one would think that fans of the beloved series would be ecstatic when this title was announced, but apparently this game was destined to be a flop from the start. But Why? What could have gone so wrong for this game? Evidently, a lot of things.

The announcement trailer, a device used almost explicitly for getting people excited for a game, failed to garner much enthusiasm at all, and the game was lampooned for its outdated-looking graphics. Upon release, people began to find many other reasons to complain about the game as well. There were countless glitches, the performance was poor, and the game as a whole felt outdated or rushed. The video below is a pretty entertaining review that does a good job showing off the problems with this game.

There are even rumors that the game was rushed out the door early because of licensing issues. It is troubling that games can be this bad on release, but at least activision seems to be listening to all of the bad press. The company released a statement claiming that they will work with the publisher and try to improve the game.

Do you think that their a sentiment is genuine? Or did Activision really rush a game out the door just to meet a deadline? It does seem at times like the industry does this fairly often, so one can’t really be sure. What do you think? Leave a comment below and let me know what you think happened to Tony Hawk.

Concept Art

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These two pieces of art were done by Peter Mohrbacher, an artist I discovered this week. You can check out more of his work at his website, here. There’s a lot of character design, and all of it is really cool!

The Inaugural Post!

Concept art, Gaming

Hello and welcome to the very first post! Here, as you probably already guessed by looking at the blog’s title, I’ll be talking about games, but more specifically, video games and the goings on in the industry. This can range from release dates of upcoming titles, to my opinions about industry figures and events, to commentary on general happenings across the world of gaming. Basically anything relating to gaming could end up right here on this very blog!

However, this isn’t all. I’m also very fond of concept art, and seeing as it ties in with gaming quite nicely, this will also be a place where I give little shout-outs to artists that I happen to find and think make great pieces of work.

For starters, I’d like to talk about Fallout 4. I’m sure most everyone reading this is following the game pretty closely, but I’d still like to take a moment to talk about the recently announced season pass. Many people feel like the very idea of a season pass is a bad thing, and rips off consumers. Even some game developers feel that season passes aren’t the way to go. However, getting a discounted price on all of the DLC for a game can’t be all bad, right?

In the case of Fallout 4’s DLC, there isn’t really a way to know if the season pass is worth it yet. On one hand, Bethesda Studios has said that they will work with the feedback given to them by players to determine what the DLC will be, and this sounds to me like a wonderful idea. However, this means that what the DLC will be is a complete mystery; even to the developers, and that raises some questions about the 50 dollar price tag. Will the price be worth whatever the DLC ends up becoming? Tell me what you think about The Fallout season pass, or even just DLC in general. Don’t be afraid to leave a comment!

CONCEPT ART

For the first post on this Blog, I’d like to share some pieces of art by Simon Stålenhag, one of my personal favorite artists.

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You can see these works and more from Simon here!