Learning to Let Go

For the longest time, I was a believer in playing games to completion no matter what. A large part of this sentiment was codified back in my semi-official reviewing days in which we were required to beat a given game before we could review it. That always seemed like a reasonable request, and it meshed rather nicely with my general sense of optimism (…stop laughing) regarding the possibility of a game making up for its earlier shortcomings in the 11th hour. Kind of like… err… huh. I can’t think of any examples at the moment, but I’m sure there are some. And maybe this next game will be the one!

In the past few weeks, I have made a concerted effort to abandon such sentiments.

You might have noticed that I am reviewing less games these days. While I still enjoy writing reviews, I’m less convinced that many of the games I play either need or deserve them. I finished Batman: Arkham Asylum a few days ago, for example, but who out there would really benefit from my take on a game which has two sequels and a derivative (Middle Earth: Shadows of Mordor) already? It’s an open question if anyone benefits from any review I do, but at least more topical games are easier to justify to myself. Once the “review potential” of a game is reduced to zero, I no longer feel any need to finish it.

Or, in some cases, even start them. My original plan was to start playing the old Tomb Raiders before starting the Square Enix reboot, but I just “Nope’d” out of there after seeing some screenshots. Company of Heroes was played just long enough to start realizing that I liked Dawn of War better. I started playing Thief Gold two days ago and stopped this afternoon. Minutes before writing this post, I was going through the tutorial of Fable: the Lost Chapters; camera was a little too wonky for my tastes though, and now here we are.

I still do feel a little bad when I banish a Steam game into my Finished category, as obviously I spent some amount of money acquiring it at some indeterminate point in ages past. But on the other hand? I can acknowledge that I have likely past the threshold beyond which there are more legitimately fun games that I am actually excited to play than I have time on this mortal coil to do so. Perhaps it is crass to say, but… if I had cancer, would I spent my remaining time playing the original Hitman? Or, really, any of the Hitman games (I’ve heard Blood Money is the best though)? Probably not.

It pains me to know other people will not likely experience the joy that was Xenogears or Tenchu or whatever, but I understand the dilemma now more than ever. No matter how good Game X was for Y reason, sometimes the Z era was what made it so. Can I really appreciate the original Thief in the proper context of its time? Well, I did make it to the third level before shutting it down. I have heard conflicting reports as to whether the Thief reboot lived up to its lineage, but I am now more inclined to spend the $6 (deal is over, alas) to purchase the new one than I am to play through the original(s).

In any case, that is where I am at the moment. I’m not opposed to older games, but they will have to work extraordinarily hard (and quickly) to keep my attention, starting now. Ain’t nobody got time to play games out of some misguided sense of obligation.

Devalued Steam Bucks

So this past Black Friday, I took advantage of two deals which, at the time, seemed to be no-brainers. First was a $50 Steam gift card being sold by Best Buy for $40. The second was the Logitech G502 gaming mouse being sold for $80… with a $50 Steam gift card thrown in. Pretty sweet, right?

Well… I’m now having a hard time imagining what I’d buy with this.

It’s not that there are no games I want to purchase on Steam, it’s that there aren’t many games I want to purchase from Steam. My Steam Wallet money isn’t going to pay for purchases on GetGamesGo, or GMG, or Amazon, or Square Enix’s own website, or Humble Bundle, or wherever else. When you limit yourself to just the Steam store, I’m finding that the value just isn’t there in many cases. Or at least not to the same degree. And it feels real damn silly to knowingly pay $2 more or whatever for a digital product you could purchase cheaper somewhere else with a similar number of mouse-clicks.

Basically, I am really hoping that this year’s Christmas Steam sales are extraordinarily good, lest I feel dumb for locking up my dollars in Steam’s storefront specifically. Which is a scenario that would have been outrageous even a few years ago.

On FF7 Remakes

As you may or may not have heard, Sony trolled their fanbase pretty hard during the Playstation Experience event a little over a week ago. Basically, the big announcement was Final Fantasy 7… being ported to the PS4. No HD remake, no enhanced graphics, just the Steam port. Good job, guys, way to be. If Sony spent half as much time on IT security as it does teasing FF7 fans, perhaps their executives would still have access to email.

One of the articles that popped up on Kotaku amidst the memes though, was basically making the argument that a FF7 remake shouldn’t happen. The argument goes that there are essentially two scenarios, A and B. In Scenario A, Square Enix updates the graphics and leaves everything else alone. This is bad because… the game is so good that we all already played it. No, really:

In other words…we’ve done this all already. Many of us, several times. A remake that overhauled the graphics but kept everything else the same-that’s what most people want. But as we’ve all journeyed through this world many, many times already-and in fact, revisited it through things like Crisis Core, Dirge of Cerberus, and Advent Children, a graphical-but-otherwise-identical remake would initially wow us…but we’d end up feeling empty afterward. Where would the excitement be? Every one of us can recite the story by heart. Every one of us knows how to breed a Gold Chocobo, how to beat Emerald Weapon, and we all have the high score on G-Bike.

So, I ask you: what does a remake really offer? There’s nothing new there.

I find this to be a highly bizarre argument, especially since it seems to apply to all remakes everywhere. You know, like the FFX/FFX-2 HD one. Or any of the earlier FF games.

In Scenario B, Square Enix remakes FF7’s graphics and then essentially changes the entire game with a new battle system or whatever. I agree that such an outcome would be bad, but that is because the scenario itself is dumb. That is no longer a remake, it is an entirely new game with the same characters. Which at this point I would probably play, but nevermind.

In the comments for these sort of articles, there is inevitably one or more individuals who feel to the need to express the sentiment that FF7 is overrated. Perhaps you even share that sentiment. In which case I feel the need to punch you in the face suggest you are objectively wrong. The game came out 17 years ago and it still consistently appears at the top of Most Wanted Remakes surveys in Japan. It has remained the best-selling Final Fantasy game ever released to this day. It was only ever outsold by Gran Turismo on the original Playstation. Just think about that for a minute: the second-most popular game for the entire life of a console system was a JRPG. One that outsold Halo, Resident Evil, GoldenEye, and similar (gaming) cultural touchstones of the era. If that is still considered overrated, I have to ask what you would consider “rated,” e.g. a game that matches its critical reception and/or reputation.

All that being said, I admit there would be issues. I haven’t played the game in decades (!) but I am not sure how an HD version of the Honey Bee Inn sequence and similar goofiness would translate. The general structure of the game means the artists would have to generate entirely new 3D environments pretty much the whole way through. And perhaps archaic mechanics such as random battles and limited save points would start to grate a bit on the newer (or even older) generation of gamers.

Nevertheless, I still feel like it is one of those things that just needs to happen. I don’t sit around believing that it will, but it should.

H1Z1 Pre-Alpha Early Release

So after a rather extraordinarily long amount of time, it appears as though the F2P SOE PlanetZombieSide MMO might actually be released on 1/15/15. On Steam Early Access. For the low, low price of $20, or an indeterminate amount of money if you want to alpha-test the super-secret special modes.

I am poking fun at the EA payment model – ahem, Early Access – but honestly I am not nearly as miffed as Keen. I too remember the days when game companies would ration out alpha/beta access for free… and I remember that same access commanding tremendous cash values on eBay. $100+ beta Gmail invites, anyone? So it makes perfect sense to me that a game company would see that situation and decide to cut out the middleman. They get prepaid game development, and you get a Kickstarter you can actually sorta play.

What I am infinitely more concerned about is the state of H1Z1 generally. The topics have not really changed since the last time I talked about it (“4-6 weeks away” back in April 2014…), but these days I am almost cringing at the PlanetSide 2 engine usage. Don’t get me wrong, Ps2 can certainly look really awesome. It also ends up looking extremely angular with a poor sense of physicality, collision, and ephemeral bodies. All of that is perfectly acceptable in a sci-fi FPS (especially one with 100s of people in close-quarters), but have you seen these H1Z1 streams? The outdoors look okay with the trees and hills and such, but indoors? It’s… too modular.

Perhaps these are the sorts of things that get papered over with better textures in beta or whatever, but the Ps2 vibe is weirding me out. That and the fact that it’s difficult to go back to manikin-on-a-pole style character interaction after the more grab-y Dead Island/State of Decay/etc style. I suppose the current system is more conducive to MMO design, but it’s tough to go back.

Or Maybe We Won’t See

Once again, Blizzard has buckled under the weight of people giving them money:

#ZerothWorldProblems

#ZerothWorldProblems

I would call something like this unprecedented, but I suppose I have experienced something similar firsthand back when Guild Wars 2 came out (Jesus, was it really 2.5 years ago?). I mean, it’s one thing to take people’s money and then not let them play because the servers are on fire; it’s something else entirely to not take the money in the first place.

In related news, someone on Reddit provided the following Twitch screenshot:

Rather unprecedented.

Rather unprecedented, I think.

In case that’s hard to see, it says Hearthstone had 190,704 viewers on Twitch.tv – higher than the next two games combined, which were… League of Legends and WoW. At the time I’m writing this post, it has decreased to ~86k viewers, but it’s still beating out LoL by a few thousand. New expansion and all, sure, but that’s still not a bad performance for a “casual app with a PC port.”

Hearthstone’s Expansion

Goblin vs Gnomes (GvG), Hearthstone’s first expansion will supposed go Live later tonight. You can see the cards here.

I have not talked about Hearthstone in a while, primarily because I had stopped playing for a while. The Naxx Adventure mode (e.g. mini-expansion) brought me back for a bit, but once the PvE content was finished I once again retreated to getting my Hearthstone fix via Twitch.

It is not so much that the game stopped being fun to play, rather it became… well, a bit more prescriptive. An aggressive deck hits its curve? GG. The opponent plays a card you cannot immediately deal with next turn? GG. Don’t get me wrong, it is possible to dig yourself out of certain holes. The means of doing so are completely known though, which means the opponent can either play around it or know when they are safe not to.

Looking at GvG, I am not entirely sure anything will change.

Nevertheless, I have been knocking out daily quests these past two weeks or so. And, surprisingly, been enjoying it. Indeed, I might even show an uncharacteristic break in willpower and straight-up purchase some GvG packs this week.

Some of this interest might be due to the shake-up of the metagame, some due to an ipso facto renewed interest from buckling down and playing Hearthstone some more. Hmm. You know, it might simply be because the marginal value of in-game gold has increased due to the upcoming expansion. After all, once you own 95% of the cards you want, the sense of progression from gold pretty much evaporates as each additional pack/arena run is likely to result in nothing but disenchanting materials. Which is is still useful, of course, but much less exciting. Getting 2-3 brand new cards per pack though? Super exciting.

I suppose we’ll see what happens with GvG tomorrow and in the days ahead.

Review: Tomb Raider

Game: Tomb Raider
Recommended price: $10
Metacritic Score: 86
Completion Time: ~14 hours
Buy If You Like: 3D puzzle platformers, slick Deus Ex-like visuals

When it finally came time to play Tomb Raider, the reboot of a 1997 game, it had been sitting in my Steam library untouched for over a year. I delayed playing this version because I felt as though I might get more out of the experience if I played through some of the original games; I think I got as far as the underwater portion of the very first one, back in the day. Once it became clear that that was not likely to ever happen, I sat down and booted up Tomb Raider.

Holy shit, you guys. This game is slick.

See how even the tutorial message box is inside the screen? Awesome.

See how even the tutorial message box is inside the screen? Awesome.

Although the Eidos Montreal team seems to have only worked on the multiplayer portion, the very first thing I thought of while playing Tomb Raider was “this feels like Deus Ex: Human Revolution.” My gaming rig is starting to get long in the tooth (GTX 560ti), but this is easily the best-looking computer game to ever grace my screen. The whole thing may as well have been an extended cutscene for how good it looks. And not just visually, but conceptually as well – even the UI when camping seems downright cinematic.

After some early exposition, you take control of an inexperienced Lara Croft who very quickly faces some life-and-death situations. While there were some early news articles alleging the game is torture-porn, I felt it did a rather brilliant job at portraying a more “realistic” sense of action. Lara is not the invincible action hero she eventually becomes in the older games – she gets smacked around, thrown by explosions, impaled by rebar, covered in cuts, dirt, and blood. “I hate tombs,” she quips in an early section of the game. While some later scenes clearly get pretty fantastical, I nevertheless remained fully immersed by the utterly reasonable way Lara walked around, hid behind waist-high obstructions, and later became the hardered tomb raider of destiny.

I will say though, that the brutality of failing the numerous quick-time events almost makes you want to fail them on purpose just to see how awful a death the designers scripted in. Spoiler: they’re harsh.

Yeah... ouch.

Yeah… ouch.

In terms of what you actually do while playing, the game is essentially a 3D puzzle platformer with some extended shooting sequences. The game is divided into discrete areas to explore and solve, but the edges are pretty seamlessly integrated into the whole. Indeed, it wasn’t until about the 5th or so cave before I realized that Lara squeezing through a narrow gap and slowing walking with a torch outstretched was basically a playable loading screen. Sure beats all those elevators in Mass Effect. In any case, the puzzles themselves aren’t particularly difficult and Lara will generally talk her way through them the longer you stay stumped in the same area.

It is sort of difficult to coming up with more words to describe what the experience of playing this game is like. I suppose it is exactly that: an experience. Tomb Raider is a 15-hour movie that could have easily been a satisfying 7 or 10 hour one, but goes that little extra mile and I am glad for it. You will not likely be blown away by the dialog or particularly innovative gameplay experience, but you will be having too much fun looking around and doing things to care.

Seriously, guys, it's like this all the time.

Seriously, guys, it’s like this all the time.

I definitely recommend playing Tomb Raider if you get the chance.

Gray Friday

I’m getting into a weird place when it comes to sales. This past Black Friday consisted of…

  • Shadow Warrior ($5)
  • The Banner Saga ($5)
  • Logitech G502 Proteus Core Optical Gaming Mouse Black + $50 Steam card ($80)

I do not anticipate anything worthwhile happening on “Cyber Monday.”

There were indeed deals on games I technically want to play. I have heard good things about AC4: Black Flag, for example, and it was discounted down to $20. The problem I have – and arguably always had – is the fact that it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to specifically purchase a game if I’m not going to play it right away.

My “currently playing” list in the sidebar hasn’t be accurate for a while simply because I find myself cycling through games much faster these days. Cycling either because the games aren’t grabbing me (and I’ve finally acquired the intestinal fortitude to just abandon un-fun games) or because they end up being short, 5-10 hour experiences. While I am glad to finally start working on my backlog in a more serious manner, it also means there isn’t much motivation to drop $20+ on something right now.

There was no discount on Warlords, which means I didn’t purchase it either.

SOE technically had a Double Station Cash sale on Friday, but I resisted that siren call as well. Primarily because I was miffed that I had used my Walmart SOE card about a month ago after holding onto it for all of last year (it’s a 1500 SC card with a bonus 500), and I wasn’t about to physically go to Walmart on Black Friday to pick up another. There was that reason, and the follow-up to what I would actually spend SC on these days. PlanetSide 2? The upcoming H1Z1? EverQuest Next, released 20 years from now, or whatever? I can wait.

And that is really what it all comes down to these days: I can wait. There’s an indie game on my Steam wishlist called One Way Heroics and it was discounted down to $0.87. Didn’t buy it. Why? It would make the inevitable Humble Bundle it is a part of that much less of a value. Same with Not the Robots, currently 75% off at $2.49. I am not actually that cash-strapped that it matters in a financial sense, but the question I always ask myself is “do I need this right now?” The answer used to be “No, but I might want to play it later when it’s no longer on sale and I’d feel dumb for letting the deal go by.” These days, the answer is more simply “No.”

Besides, worst-case scenario: just wait a few weeks for another sale.

Star Citizen and “Realism”

I have not really been following the development of Star Citizen beyond knowing that it had a pretty successful Kickstarter campaign. I mean, I know the premise and everything, but the name Chris Roberts holds about as much cachet with me as Raph Koster – both supposedly important dudes who made games I never played. Have they done anything lately? No? Okay then.

One thing that did catch my eye the other day though, was a short Massively article talking about Star Citizen’s “realistic” health and wound system. Feel free to read the source material itself. The basic idea is that the designers wanted to further the immersion by making a “fun” limb-based damage system. Take a lot of damage to an arm, and your arm gets blown off and/or ruined. There are a total of 10 specific areas to damage, with eight of them being arms or legs. The “Damaged” state is between 50% and 1% health, and… let me just quote it:

Damaged – Damaged limbs are useless and the player cannot use them unless they get them patched up in the field or taken to a mobile trauma system (see: Healing). This is the state right after the hurt phase, where the pain is so severe to the player, that no matter what limb is damaged, they will have a hard time being mobile. If one of their legs are damaged, they fall to the ground and crawl.

Now, there is something to be said about how the CoD/Battlefield-style run-and-gun regenerating health paradigm removes a lot of the weight of battle.¹ Take some damage, hide behind a wall, and ~15 seconds later you are good to go. Or perhaps rush into that occupied room with a shotgun and hope you get lucky, knowing you’ll get back to the fight faster than any of the other guys.

On the hand… Jesus Christ, can you imagine the grief potential? Enormous. I don’t care under what circumstances we have come to blows, I’m telling you now: I’m shooting your legs. I’m shooting your legs and then, whether or not I survive, you are spending the remaining time crawling pathetically across the floor to get anywhere. I am doing that because it is the most annoying thing I can possibly imagine. Screw headshots, if you want to invade my ship, you will spend the next 15 minutes crawling your way to the command chair over my dead body.

If you want to find me, I’ll be flying the most handicap inaccessible ship I can find. One with stairs!

That post about limb damage mentioned permadeath, which was the first I heard about it in Star Citizen, so I read that article too. The short version is that permadeath exists for lore reasons, but doesn’t actually matter. Taking a cue from Rogue Legacy, any time your character permanently dies, you simply start playing as whomever you marked as your next-of-kin. Since there are no RPG elements apparently (i.e. Skill Points), the most you lose is some reputation standing and whatever emotional attachment you’ve developed for a character in a permadeath-enabled game. Considering that the limb-damage system specifically talks about how difficult it will be to instantly die – a Ruined head might be jaw or eye damage instead of missing skull – it sounds like this might not be entirely relevant anyway.

I do not want to give the impression that I am not looking forward to Star Citizen, at least as much as anyone can about a game that could radically change at any moment. Space sims are not a genre I spend a lot of time thinking about, but I absolutely loved them in the past. I played Colony Wars for the PS1 way back in the day for an inordinate amount of time. The Zone of Enders series might not technically count as a space sim, but it is the first thing I think about whenever I see videos of Star Citizen dogfighting. I would seriously consider buying EVE: Valkyrie on Day 1, even though I’m not particularly impressed with CCP’s other spinoffs.

But if/when I do pick up Star Citizen, it will be in spite of mechanics such as limb-based damage and permadeath. I do not actually see such things adding anything of value to the game that would not have otherwise already been there. Instead, I foresee a future in which there will be a lot of people crawling around on the floor, hoping that Chris Roberts included a method to commit suicide and still wake up back at their spawn point.

¹ I don’t actually believe that much, if any, weight is removed in these games (or at least in Battlefield). Dying is already a miserable experience even with instant respawns, let alone in the context of not being able to capture an objective or prevent the capturing of your own. Attempts to penalize them further just makes the game harder, but not in a particularly fun way. Otherwise death penalties would all be “invalidate your CD key and force you to repurchase the game.”

This is Why You Wait

Dragon Age: Inquisition

  • 11/18/14 – Released for $59.99.
  • 11/24/14 – Discounted to $45 via GMG.

 Far Cry 4

  • 11/18/14 – Released for $59.99.
  • 11/24/14 – Discounted to $45 via GMG.

Now, you may be tempted to chalk this up to being a holiday thing. Or a GreenManGaming thing. And you would be right in that prices (probably) don’t drop this quickly under normal circumstances.

But, guys, it hasn’t even been a week.

The GMG deal apparently expires on Thursday, so there is a little tension as to whether we will still see a similar price drop on Black Friday from somewhere else. On the other hand, the Steam sale begins on Wednesday, so you can probably safely hedge your bets then.