Category Archives: Commentary

Responsible Use of Social Media

As reported by PCGamer, the International Game Developer Association (IGDA) is using the ArenaNet firing of Jessica Price as an opportunity to question game companies about their social media policies. Specifically, they have a list of a few dozen questions that game devs should be asking their employers. These are good questions to ask. My suspicion though, is that – much like anyone employed anywhere in the last 20+ years – these policies are already on the books.

So, experiment time. Next time you are at work, please look up your own company’s Responsible Use of Social Media policy. It might be listed under Professionalism/Code of Ethics, and/or Professional Code of Conduct instead. A lot of the time these documents are internal-use only, but here is a refreshingly plain-language example from Adidas (PDF). Relevant bullet-points:

  • Respect your audience. Don’t use ethnic slurs, personal insults, obscenity, or engage in any conduct that would not be acceptable in the adidas Group’s workplace. You should also show proper consideration for others privacy and for topics that may be considered objectionable or inflammatory (like religion or politics). If you are in a virtual world please behave accordingly. We all appreciate respect.
  • Think about consequences. Imagine you are sitting in a sales meeting and your client brings out a printout of a colleague’s post that states that the product you were about to sell “completely sucks”. Talk about a tough pitch. So, please remember: Using your public voice either internally or externally to trash or embarrass your employer, your customers, your co-workers or even yourself is not okay – and not very smart.

Here’s a page from 2009 talking about the the LA Times’ policy. Relevant:

SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDELINES
Social media networks – Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and others – provide useful reporting and promotional tools for Los Angeles Times journalists. The Times’ Ethics Guidelines will largely cover issues that arise when using social media, but this brief document should provide additional guidance on specific questions.

Basic Principles

• Integrity is our most important commodity: Avoid writing or posting anything that would embarrass The Times or compromise your ability to do your job.

• Assume that your professional life and your personal life will merge online regardless of your care in separating them.

• Even if you use privacy tools (determining who can view your page or profile, for instance), assume that everything you write, exchange or receive on a social media site is public.

• Just as political bumper stickers and lawn signs are to be avoided in the offline world, so too are partisan expressions online.

Now, Jessica Price has been quoted many a time as saying that she brought up her social activism during the hiring process at ArenaNet, and that they supported and encouraged her to continue. I will believe that on face value, as I can certainly imagine ArenaNet doing so.

Here’s the one, crucially important detail: Price was not fired for expressing feminist views or activism. She was fired for the much more mundane reason of insulting her employer’s customers.

Polygon has another article up lamenting Price’s firing as “reinforcing gaming culture’s worst impulses.” Considering it was Price who called a completely harmless, inoffensive streamer a “rando asshat” for daring to question her expertise – on top of specifically stating she does not have to pretend to like anyone – you’d be excused if you originally thought the article was defending Deroir.

Actually, you wouldn’t be excused, because the article is such poorly written garbage that any editor should be embarrassed for having it published:

[…] ArenaNet’s president, Mike O’Brien, issued a statement on Guild Wars 2’s forums stating that “two of our employees failed to uphold our standards of communicating with players.”

O’Brien’s statement is actively dangerous; it takes at face value bad-faith arguments made by aggrieved people online who may or may not be players. “Their attacks on the community were unacceptable,” O’Brien wrote of Fries and Price. “As a result, they’re no longer with the company.”

It’s not an accurate statement, and the precedent it sets is a bad one for gaming. Fans and developers bristling at each other on social media is a common fact of gaming, but what makes this situation so unique is O’Brien’s inability to act like an adult.

Ah, so it was O’Brien’s inability to act like an adult that is the real problem here? Next paragraph:

It might be a controversial thing to say right now, but Deroir’s original tweet wasn’t overtly offensive. Players who think they know more than they actually do about development are common, and the belief isn’t always rooted in sexism. But Deroir’s lack of empathy for what happened throughout this controversy is notable, as is his claim that he’s a feminist. For that to be more than a word in a tweet, he should have understood how his tweet came off, and where Price’s anger came from.

The root of Price’s anger is completely immaterial to anything. Again, check your own company’s Responsible Use of Social Media policy. Is there any provision in there for “long history of systemic oppression?” I doubt it. That’s not because there isn’t a long history of systemic oppression, mansplaining, or microaggressions. It’s because they don’t matter in context. An explanation of a behavior is not an excuse for it. Price berated a customer, and she was fired for doing so.

The fundamental error from the Polygon article though, is this buried sentence:

Price’s response makes perfect sense in that context, and is the sort of social media venting that is hardly seen as scandalous in 2018.

People lose their jobs for less all the goddamn time, especially in 2018.

I’m bringing this all up again because I legitimately believe nearly every other company would have done the same thing as ArenaNet in this scenario. In fact, I reached out to Polygon to get a copy of their own policies on the matter. If they respond, I will either update this post or write another one. In the meantime, you can look at their Community Guidelines, which includes:

Personal attacks: Don’t attack or insult another user. It’s not helpful and it doesn’t make Polygon a friendly place. This includes referring to other people as trolls, fanboys, sheep, white knights, etc. If you’re thinking of using a specific term such as a racial or derogatory insult, think again about why that’s a bad idea, and don’t do it

Maybe Polygon would be fine with one of their editors talking about “hurt manfeels” and “rando asshats” when responding to their readers, industry sources, or business partners. Perhaps they would have let it slide, or gave Price the opportunity to apologize or retract her statements (assuming she would).

I guess we will just have to wait and see, because this sort of thing is more a matter of when, not if.

Employees always represent the company they work for, 100% of the time. Right now, most of us skate through life just fine either because of anonymity or because companies lack the resources to constantly monitor our social media activity until and unless it shows up in the papers. Polygon can blame “toxic fandom” and GamerGate for increasing awareness of Jessica Price’s tweets, but none of that actually accounts for why the story caught fire in the first place: Price’s words being legitimately outrageous overreaction. That’s why the calls of concern over a scary future in which GamerGate can get anyone fired are so ridiculous. She wasn’t fired because of social justice or feminism, she was fired for publicly berating customers.

When your brand is dependent upon transactional relationships with dedicated fans, belittling one who has his own in-game NPC is probably not the best of ideas.

The Price is Wrong

It’s been a few days since the drama, but I wanted to reserve a piece of internet real estate to talk about the Jessica Price fiasco. It’s fine if you don’t know who that is, or what the drama is about. All you really need to know is the following sequence of events:

  1. Jessica Price talks about the challenges with narrative storytelling in MMOs.
  2. Popular streamer and GW2 content creator, Deroir, suggests that solutions can be found doing things a different way.
  3. Jessica Price responds with the following:

Today in being a female game dev:

“Allow me–a person who does not work with you–explain to you how you do your job.”

like, the next rando asshat who attempts to explain the concept of branching dialogue to me–as if, you know, having worked in game narrative for a fucking DECADE, I have never heard of it–is getting instablocked. PSA.

Since we’ve got a lot of hurt manfeels today, lemme make something clear: this is my feed. I’m not on the clock here. I’m not your emotional courtesan just because I’m a dev. Don’t expect me to pretend to like you here.

The attempts of fans to exert ownership over our personal lives and times are something I am hardcore about stopping. You don’t own me, and I don’t owe you.

Within the day, she was fired.

The reason I wanted to lay this all out is because the reality-distortion fields are being engaged and the entire debacle is being framed as a new Feminism vs GamerGate front. And that’s incredibly dumb, and sad, and arguably dangerous. Jessica Price was fired because she was behaving as a noxious asshole in an official capacity. Full stop. We don’t even have to examine whether it was “mansplaining” to interact with Jessica’s social media post, because there isn’t a scenario in which her response is ever appropriate.

And instead of talking about that, we’re talking about this:

Price is worried about the precedent the firings set. “The message is very clear, especially to women at the company: if Reddit wants you fired, we’ll fire you,” she said. “Get out there and make sure the players have a good time. And make sure you smile while they hit you.”

That’s a Kotaku link, but the framing of the debate is also being set by Polygon (emphasis mine):

Jessica Price, who was fired by ArenaNet last week for arguing with fans of the company’s Guild Wars 2 MMO, said she feels betrayed by how the company “folded like a cheap card table” when confronted by toxic fandom. In an interview with Polygon, she talked about the meeting in which she was fired, and castigated ArenaNet managers for their “highly unprofessional” reaction to a social media controversy.

That kinda makes it sound like Price was heroically standing up to the school bully, and unfortunately got caught in the Zero Tolerance policy for fighting back.

Instead of, you know, reading literally this:

Really interesting thread to read! 👌 However, allow me to disagree *slightly*. I dont believe the issue lies in the MMORPG genre itself (as your wording seemingly suggest). I believe the issue lies in the contraints of the Living Story’s narrative design; (1 of 3)

When you want the outcome to be the same across the board for all players’ experiences, then yes, by design you are extremely limited in how you can contruct the personality of the PC. (2 of 3)

But, if instead players were given the option to meaningfully express *their* character through branching dialogue options (which also aren’t just on the checklist for an achievement that forces you through all dialogue options), (3 of 4 cause I count seemingly…)

then perhaps players would be more invested in the roleplaying aspect of that particular MMORPG. Nonetheless, I appreciate the insightful thread! (End)

And responding with:

Jessica Price:

thanks for trying to tell me what we do internally, my dude 9_9

Deroir:

You getting mad at my obvious attempt at creating dialogue and discussion with you, instead of just replying that I am wrong or otherwise correct me in my false assumptions, is really just disheartening for me. You do you though. I’m sorry if it offended. I’ll leave you to it.

Jessica Price:

Today in being a female game dev:

“Allow me–a person who does not work with you–explain to you how you do your job.”

And yet this is somehow Reddit’s fault, as if the notoriety of the thread detailing Price’s behavior was spontaneously generated (or artificially manufactured), and not the natural result of her shockingly aggressive behavior. Suppose there were bots involved, perhaps unleashed by GamerGaters who are somehow huge GW2 fans and capable of mobilizing within hours. The most they could do is increase the thread’s visibility, after which it seems easy to imagine becoming self-perpetuating.

I don’t like anything about this entire scenario – it feels like a permanent loss to chaos and entropy. This unforced error gives those in GamerGate a free win, when their general philosophy is abhorrent nonsense. And here I am, also defending corporations and their ownership over the social media profiles of their employees, even when “off the clock.” Like when Price writes “make sure you smile while they hit you,” I want to ask if she has ever worked a goddamn day in customer service or retail in her entire life. Yeah, that’s the job. I’ve worked at places for years in which hanging up on a customer was a fireable offense the first time you did so.

I don’t know what the takeaway on all this is. I am not a culture warrior, but I do believe in social justice. I’m a bleeding-heart liberal, but I can’t muster any sympathy for Price. Maybe I’m not as good as I imagine myself to be. But if that person has to read what was actually said and come to the “Reddit got me fired” conclusion? Then I don’t want to be that guy. Price deserved the boot.

Survival Tropes

Tropes are a thing. A lot of people feel like tropes are the worst thing imaginable, and every new title should be breaking new ground every time, or what is the point? That’s a bit unrealistic, I think. To me, tropes can be comforting. Experience in one game does not often transfer to another, so when it does, it can help in understanding the mechanics that interact in new ways. Plus, sometimes the tropes make the genre what it is.

That said, I have been playing a lot of survival games lately, and some of these tropes have got to go.

Starting out naked with no items? That’s good, important even.

Crafting recipes that require a resource that should be abundant, but turns out to be super rare? That shit has got to go. I’m in Conan: Exiles and there are two early-game arrow recipes: one requires bones and the other requires feathers. Just guess how many bones exist in the average human or animal. If you guessed “a similar number to the amount of feathers that are contained in a clearly-feathered ostrich-like creature,” you would be correct. Zero, specifically, on average.

Although, arguably worse is how little bark you can harvest from trees.

Shit like that didn’t phase me much in the past, but I think I was spoiled by The Forest. In that survival game, you can just chuck dead bodies on your campfire, and 6-7 bones would pop out a few minutes later. Oh, and it has the best building mechanic in any survival game I have played: you set down a blueprint and then have to carry the materials to that location. That makes way better sense than putting 540 stones in your (loincloth) inventory, crafting a Furnace that mysteriously weighs 50% less, and then plopping it down wherever.

At the same time, having experienced the ability to climb anywhere in Conan, it will be tough to go back to other survival games in which a waist-high cliff is an insurmountable obstacle.

One step forward, two, three, sometimes forty steps back.

Steamy Summer

Just to contradict Bhagpuss, let’s talk about the Steam Summer sale.

Actually, Steam sales are kind of irrelevant these days, as most digital retailers either match or beat even the best discounts most of the time. For example, Steam currently has a bundle up for Prey + Dishonored 2 for $28.33. If you pick up Prey for $15 on Steam individually, then you can buy Dishonored 2 for $13 on DLGamer and save yourself… thirty-three cents.

An actual example would be something like Conan: Exiles. It’s $24 on Steam and several other retailers, like Amazon. Well, I have one of those Amazon credit cards which gives you 5% cash back on purchases. So, we’re back to the big bucks in saving… $1.20.

Hmm. Perhaps we are indeed way past the commodification stage of gaming.

On a somewhat related topic, you might have seen people talking about the new Steam tool which allows you to check your total money spent on the platform from the beginning. Some people have posted their numbers rather guiltily, or celebrating their “low” scores. My own personal spending was around $2100, but I was curious as to how long a time-span that covered.

So, I scrolled and scrolled till I reached bedrock:

SteamPurchases

That takes me back.

Across eleven years, that comes out to about $16/month in entertainment. Humble Bundles and the like are not counted, of course, but I still feel more thrifty than guilty. During my Magic: Online days, I would routinely drop $10 to enter a Draft tournament that could be over within 30 minutes, to say nothing about what I spent on paper cards over the years. And, of course, most of us have years-long histories of MMO subscriptions behind us instead of, or in addition to, these numbers.

Still, I get the guilt. I have a wishlist of games I’m tracking across various storefronts, despite the fact that my library is filled with unplayed titles. Part of it is “collect them all,” but a larger part is avoiding “I feel like playing X right now, but the game isn’t on sale anymore.” For example, I’m currently on a survival kick and have an insane urge to play State of Decay 2. It’s not on sale though, so I’m looking at all the other games I have and playing those in the (vain) hope that it will scratch the itch. But it doesn’t. Close, but not quite. But I feel rather lucky I already have The Forest, and Subnautica, and a handful of other titles to tide me over until either the target game goes on sale, or the craving subsides.

Anyway, this is the current list of games on my radar:

  • Conan: Exiles ($24)
  • Final Fantasy 15 ($25)
  • State of Decay 2 (no sale, $30)
  • Divinity: Original Sin 2 ($36)
  • Far Cry 5 ($45)
  • ARK DLC ($12)
  • Kingdom Come: Deliverance ($42)
  • Prey ($15)
  • Dishonored 2 ($13)
  • Metal Gear Survive ($25)

Of those, I’m heavily leaning towards picking up Prey & Dishonored 2. And Final Fantasy 15. And Conan: Exiles. Because reasons. Well, mainly because Subnautica and The Forest aren’t cutting it anymore and I don’t have the hard drive space for ARK and I need to purchase all the things all the time and hoard digital games like pieces of wood to craft a shack in a post-apocalyptic world.

/breathes in a paper bag

Or maybe I do nothing. Play the games I have, let the seasonal sales pass, and reevaluate my options during the next major holiday. Considering Alpha 17 for 7DTD will be coming out in a month or so, and the Fallout 76 Beta will (presumably) happen before November, I could wait it all out.

Or maybe I just buy the fucking game I want and play; get it out of my system and on with my life.

Another Bad Good Idea

It sometimes astonishes me how certain game design decisions make it off an office whiteboard and into real, live games played by people. Like, do the designers realize how bad the idea is at the time, but think it’s the least bad idea of their available options? Or do they simply not think it through?

Exhibit A:

In a video posted to the official Fallout Twitter account, Jeff Gardiner, project lead for Fallout 76, was asked: “How do sneak perks and detection work in Fallout 76?”

Gardiner responded:

“As soon as you crouch, which engages our stealth mode, the dot [AKA your character marker] will very quickly fade away, so other players won’t be able to find you.”

There is still some confusion about this mechanism on Reddit, considering that there are two “dots” to which this can refer: the pip on the compass ribbon, or your character’s dot on the map (which is currently set to display everyone’s position all the time). Regardless, I have seen some celebration going on from people who believe the above is “the answer” to what they were worried about occurring in Fallout 76, e.g. being hunted down by griefers.

Let me explain what will happen in practice: you will be hunted down by griefers while hindering your own gameplay the entire time.

If Fallout 76 launches with the ability to see everyone on the paper map (as it is currently), the people doing the player-hunting will have perfect information regarding your location and direction of travel. “But you’ll be able to see them too, and then know to hide.” Nope. The only time you’ll know they’re coming is if you are running around with the map out, obscuring your view of the game world and otherwise not engaging with it. Not to mention that knowing your target is in a certain area is more than enough to go on for hunting purposes, so the griefer can check that you’re exploring some ruins, and then sneak that direction to intercept.

Suppose you do happen to notice their dot moving towards you… what then? You crouch, they crouch, and the both of you perform a crabwalking game of cat and mouse. Sounds fun. Maybe you just hide in a bathroom, map out, and wait to either surprise them or hope that they go away. Meanwhile, mobs are going to be respawning and attacking you because, you know, you were in the middle of PvE before xXxDethClawz69xXx came to pay you a visit.

Suppose Bethesda removes the map markers for players upon release, and thus this dot is really the compass ribbon. For one thing, that’s a lot better, as it would prevent people from starting to hunt you from across the map. However, we are once again in a situation where you are encouraged – under the threat of player killing – to be Sneaking around 24/7. Except it won’t work as much for you because, again, you are trying to engage in normal PvE and your hypothetical opponent is not. Remember, VATS is real-time, so taking out a sprinting Feral Ghoul while crouched is not going to be easy without an alpha-strike; there are going to be moments when you are map visible.

That there are mechanisms in place to prevent one particular player from killing you over and over is nice, but irrelevant. I prefer to not be killed, even if it “only” costs me a bit of time. Thus, the optimal method of gameplay will be to Sneak all the time, crawling around the floor at 50% speed. That is kinda how I play most Fallout games anyway, but only when I’m actively trying to get Sneak Attack Criticals. I’m not looking forward to doing that as a matter of course, every minute of every play session, while checking the map every 5 seconds.

Like I mentioned before, I get it. There are some emergent stories lost when you become immune to the pointless aggression of other people. There will be the thrill of scavenging in a warehouse while crouched, and see an oblivious stranger appear down the hallway. Or perhaps the triumph of a griefer getting killed, as was shown in the Fallout 76 video. Hell, if there are Bottlecap Mines and other traps, maybe you look forward to seeing people try and fail to take you out.

But there are definitely gameplay costs involved, and I’m not sure how much consideration was given beyond “wouldn’t it be cool if Sneak worked on players?” Presumably people appear on the map because otherwise it would be difficult to find others in such a large game space, right? Well, the game space might be large, but the density likely isn’t, so key resources are likely to draw players to specific locations out of convenience. Then you have the fact that a dangerous (PvE) world is going to involve the firing of a lot of bullets, which other players could hear.

Ultimately, we’ll see how it shakes out in the Beta. And perhaps that is what Bethesda is looking forward to as well. But I remain surprised how often incredibly flawed ideas persist almost all the way until release. Then again, working at my IRL job, I can sometimes see how it happens too.

Kojima Stranding

Know anything about Death Stranding? New Kojima game? It’s has some of the most trippyexistential horror-inducing trailers I’ve ever seen.

So, I’m browsing Reddit and I come across a GIF from the latest one, and decide to read the post before actually watching the new E3 video. And the comments… dear god, the comments…

What?

Can someone plz tell us what’s happening?

Japanese people are weird and tell weird stories
Source: I have played some videogames before

Wait, the babys head went downwards like a somersault, but then the butt shows up in traditional “mooning” orientation, how did he do that?

Watch it in slowmo, as his head disappears you can see him start to rotate.

Dude. I’m not watching this in slowmo. I don’t even want to see it at regular speed.

They’ve released plenty of trailers by now and gameplay, and I still have no idea what the fuck this game is about or what is it you’re really doing in the game.

Probably survival game with a bit of rpg elements. You are like a courier who delivers some stuff in that big box. Then you are recruited by that woman to probably get know know what is that stuff in the box. The game theme is about the damaged enviroments where the ‘timefall’ rain has some toxicated substance that causes living organism to age rapidly fast (notice the grass/flower when norman reedus walks under the rain) For now we know there are invisible creatures in the rain and if they eat/kill you, there is some lore-related mechanics that governs respawn system (create a crater area as in the trailer says). Some also speculates that the fetus that he carries is actually a clone of himself, and can turn into his adult self rapidly fast incase he/the player dies.

Ohh, so he carries a clone of himself so that when he gets accelerated there’s another one of him to take his place? That makes sense now.

I mean, I guess.

The phrasing I have heard is that Kojima’s goal is “to do for horror games, what Metal Gear Solid did for stealth games.” Based on his stated goals with the Metal Gear series and the E3 trailer for this game (which I did end up watching), that may be “run away from the monsters instead of shooting them.” That said, it’s 2018, and there have been many, many of those sort of games for years. Hell, I remember playing Clock Tower and running away from a dude with giant scissors back in 1996.

Or maybe the game is a big meta-commentary on the wastefulness and drudgery we generate from ordering everything on Amazon Prime. I once used the Prime Now feature to have someone deliver milk to my front door within 2 hours because I didn’t feel like putting on pants. Maybe we’re the invisible time monsters that leave craters everywhere! /thinking

Regardless, I’m all for these weird-ass games that push the envelope. Bring it on, Kojima!

 

Fall(ing)out

First up, everything that Jason Schreier from Kotaku reported was true: Fallout 76 is an online survival RPG. Second, my Concern Meter has been dialed to 11 since the E3 presentation.

As I said before, I am all onboard with a Fallout survival game. Exploring the wasteland and looting all the things consists of about 80% of my gameplay in this series, and I am currently on an extreme survival game kick the likes of which I have not experienced since my high school JRPG days. All of that sounds fantastic to me.

What was considerably less fantastic was this bit:

Bethesda Game Studios, the award-winning creators of Skyrim and Fallout 4, welcome you to Fallout 76, the online prequel where every surviving human is a real person. Work together – or not – to survive. Under the threat of nuclear annihilation, you’ll experience the largest, most dynamic world ever created in the legendary Fallout universe.

That is direct from Bethesda marketing material, and you can hear Todd Howard say it several times during the E3 presentation. Oh, and here is Todd with the final nails to finish that RPG coffin:

“You cannot [play offline]. Even if you are playing by yourself doing quests, you will see other players.”

There are no NPCs. […] There are still robots and terminals and holotapes.”

“We want a little drama there [with PvP/griefers] without it ruining your game.”

Sometimes I wonder whether any of these people have ever played a videogame before.

So there it is. Apparently there will be private servers at some point in the future, complete with modding capabilities. Considering that would likely compete with their own (presumed) microtransactions, I won’t be holding my breath. I haven’t actually heard anything about microtransactions, for the record, so maybe they will surprise us by keeping things honest. Howard did admit that the modding scene is always where their games end up in the long term.

In the Reddit thread where I found the interview clip above, there was this amusing exchange:

So what do you do then?

Do quests and build stuff with friends.

Quests from who? Doing what? With no NPC’s who’s going to give a quest, or at least one that’s meaningful. How am I supposed to give a fuck about the quests if theres no reason in behind them

It’s a fair question, especially if someone has never played a survival game before. The answer: it doesn’t matter. ARK has no NPCs or quests and I racked up 136 hours playing by myself on a local server. For reference, my /played time on Fallout: New Vegas and Fallout 4 are 128 and 96 hours, respectfully. Granted, the quality of those gameplay hours differs significantly – I can recall specific quests and epic moments from the Fallout games in a way I couldn’t describe cutting down the thousandth tree for wood in ARK – but the point is that entertainment can occur without there being a reason for it.

Plus, you know… Minecraft. That is a thing that people do.

Based just what we know today and random musings, here’s what I’m thinking:

  • Basically Fallout ARK minus the taming
    • Ghouls/robots/etc = dinosaurs
    • No human NPCs
  • Overseer quest is extended tutorial to get you to visit all six maps
    • Each zone unlocks specific progression crafting stations/items
    • Overseer is a robot/AI and possibly the Navi to your Link
  • All quests are passive, e.g. go here, find this, activate X, defend Y
    • No direct quest giver NPC, no factions
    • World boss spawns, and public group quests are frequent
    • Radiant-esque quests via Note Board or similar
    • Might find magazines/notes that lead to mini-dungeons
  • The six zones are not contiguous; fast travel at the edges/specific locations
  • Looting/scavenging is a big deal for building supplies, main motivator for exploring
  • CAMP system will reduce base griefing a little bit
    • Pack up your base before logging off; crops (etc) probably won’t grow though
    • Unable to spam buildings across the map to block locations
    • A ton of people setting up hostile turret bases near newbie areas though
  • XP and levels and Perks and Skills, like normal Fallout
  • “Jobs” in the trailer correspond to group-based roles (scout, tank, etc)
  • Always “dozens” of players per map, per server
  • Expect a lot of activity near best resource spawn locations
  • Nukes aren’t necessarily for griefing – they create endgame locations
    • Getting codes to unlock nukes is its own mini-progression
    • Extra hard enemies/bosses spawn in nuked area
    • Some kind of endgame resource spawns only there
    • Radiation requires loot/crafting grind just to survive brief trips inside
  • No private servers at launch
    • “Progression follows you” means getting OP on private, then griefing public
    • Or farming Power Armor quickly, then handing it to your friends
    • Alternatively, allow private servers but character cannot migrate

Most of that is idle speculation, but we can come back to it once more details have been released.

[Edit: Updated Youtube link, since first interview was taken down]

Steam, Unleashed

As many people are writing about, Steam recently revised their policy on policing the content of games sold on their platform. The new policy? Anything goes… unless it’s illegal or “trolling.”

So we ended up going back to one of the principles in the forefront of our minds when we started Steam, and more recently as we worked on Steam Direct to open up the Store to many more developers: Valve shouldn’t be the ones deciding this. If you’re a player, we shouldn’t be choosing for you what content you can or can’t buy. If you’re a developer, we shouldn’t be choosing what content you’re allowed to create. Those choices should be yours to make. Our role should be to provide systems and tools to support your efforts to make these choices for yourself, and to help you do it in a way that makes you feel comfortable.

I agree with pretty much everyone that this change will not go well for Valve.

What I don’t think is appreciated as much though, is the quandary Valve was/is in. Although there has been movements to erode it, most of the internet is still protected by Safe Harbor rules, meaning that you cannot be held responsible for content that other people post. This has led to a weird dichotomy in which Valve gets blamed for letting school shooting games slip through the cracks – and how this must reflect on Valve’s values as a company – whereas no one holds any such standards on Google, through which you can readily find the most vilest of content imaginable. “Steam is offering it for sale though!” Okay… how about Amazon and eBay and Craigslist and any ISP that allows whatever store/forum to be hosted on their bandwidth?

Do we even want these tech entities to be the arbiters of morality on our behalf?

When I saw this announcement, my first thought was “Yikes,” followed by “This is probably less bad than simply saying ‘We now allow (cartoon) porn.'” Because that is really what’s going on here, IMO. Remember the game Hatred? That was pulled from Steam for violence/controversy back in 2014… and personally reinstated the next day by Gabe Newell, who said:

Hi Jaroslaw. Yesterday I heard that we were taking Hatred down from Greenlight. Since I wasn’t up to speed, I asked around internally to find out why we had done that. It turns out that it wasn’t a good decision, and we’ll be putting Hatred back up. My apologies to you and your team. Steam is about creating tools for content creators and customers. Good luck with your game.

Conversely, the number of uncensored hentai games on Steam can be counted with, ahem, one hand.

You can make all the “Artistic!” arguments you want, but the bottom line is that Valve had to constantly argue that Geralt having sex on a stuffed unicorn (etc) in Witcher 3 was fine, but anime boobs was going too far. Worse than literal Hitler, in fact, or outrageous violence and gore. Visual Novel studios had to censor their products, and then offer instructions on the Steam forums on how to uncensor it via patches. Until Valve cracked down on that… which then led to developers giving instructions on their own webpages and dedicated fans then relaying that info via Steam forums.

To be clear, this policy shift will unleash all sorts of actual disgusting, offensive garbage on the platform, a few clicks away from anyone. Steam will still have a long way to go to get as bad as this site, but they are certainly heading down that road.

But at some point, I have to ask… why shouldn’t Steam be a simple (DRM) platform? The argument that Steam used to be a curation of the best games is a canard from yesteryear. In 2013, there were 565 new games released on Steam. The following years, that number increased to 1772 in 2014, 2964 in 2015, 4207 in 2016 (40% of all games on the platform), and 7672 in 2017. Any sort of active curation has not been occurring for at least four years, and certainly stopped by 2016.

Amusingly, we seem to be on the pendulum backswing when it comes to videogame punditry. Back in the day, you had to rely on gaming magazines like Nintendo Power and Game Players (ah, my youth) to find out any useful information about the gaming world. Then gaming went mainstream, and for a while there you were able to consume the information available on your own. Now there are so many games and information vying for your limited attention that it’s better to just find a few websites or bloggers with similar tastes and just follow them. That’s your curation now.

Anyway, like I said before, I fully anticipate Valve being raked over the coals for this move (which they have arguably been doing for 4+ years now). It’s already happening, actually, but it will get much worse for them once (more) outright racist and sexually violent games are released and then broadcast on cable news channels. I don’t want those games to exist either… but someone apparently felt that way about uncensored Visual Novels for many years, and I didn’t think that was particularly reasonable. Those two things are not equivalent… and that’s kinda the point.

Is it that we are supposed to trust Valve’s corporate values to arbitrate the correct morality, or is it more that Valve’s (nebulous) policy provided us a lever by which we could enforce our own? With Valve throwing up their hands, we have (for now) lost that leverage, and must rely instead on the much more difficult, and potentially futile, endeavor to change hearts and minds directly.

Bleach is a much better disinfectant than sunlight, but at some point we should address the issue of why shit is getting so dirty in the first place.

The Internet is Forever… Wrong

For the time being, I continue to play and enjoy Stellaris. After spending some 40+ hours in my first sort of easy-mode tutorial, I decided to start a new Ironman game on medium difficulty with a custom-made race in a Large galaxy.

One thing I have learned since starting this journey though, is that Paradox actually updates the game a lot. Like, a lot a lot. I came in at the tail-end of a big overhaul of the game mechanics via 2.0. Some of the changes have been controversial, but since I never saw the original way the game was played, I don’t have any strong feelings about them.

Well, other than the fact that it’s near impossible to actually divine any currently-correct information about Stellaris on the internet.

Which Traditions are the best to take first? Are there any must-have Ascension perks? What’s the general idea with custom ships? How fast is too fast when it comes to expanding your empire? These are all questions that were solved and optimized at some point in the past, but have quickly turned into historical canards. For example, about half of the old forum posts I’ve combed through have referenced Food like it was a big deal. And it was… until Food was made an empire-wide resource, allowing you to dedicate entire worlds to mining or energy with ease while farming elsewhere.

Like most games these days, there is a Stellaris Wiki out there, but it suffers from the same issue as all game Wikis – 99% of it is simple, in-game information with zero analysis. Yeah, Option X gives me 5% more Y. But is extra Y even useful considering you can get Z instead? Sometimes it is flat out wrong. For example, there are some “Prophet’s Retreat” utopia-esque planets out there that are guarded by otherwise end-game Fallen Empires, who get really mad if you try to colonize the planet. But could I build a Habitat (e.g. colony space station) orbiting the Prophet’s Retreat without angering the Fallen Empire? According to the wiki:

[Habitats] cannot be built on habitable planets, asteroids, moons or planets with an anomaly.

I gambled with 10,000 minerals and several in-game years and it turns out you absolutely can build a habitat in orbit around the Prophet’s Retreat world without angering the Fallen Empire protecting it. So that wiki entry is either flat wrong, or incredibly misleading (perhaps the author meant anomalies would block all attempts?).

I am also beginning to understand that a lot of the Stellaris community is perfectly fine with inefficient/bad options for purely role-playing purposes. Which is fine, whatever, you do you. It’s one thing to pick an option because you want that to embody your virtual empire, and something else entirely when you pick an option that sounds good but is really just a newbie trap.

Stellaris is by no means the only game that suffers such (unintentional) misinformation. But the whole situation does give me pause. The internet is forever… but that also means it will accumulate more and more shit over time, in a perfectly entropic metaphor kind of way. Search Engine Optimization can force the cream of useful information to float to the top of Google results, but that is reliant on an engaged audience still producing currently-useful information. Over time, there will be less and less engagement, and the actual answers will be lost in a soup of nonproductive energy.

…well then, as a fan of Sisyphus, let’s get this rock rollin’: as of the date of this post, in Stellaris 2.0, you can create a habitat around a Fallen Empire-protected, habitable planet with no issues.

Battlefield V

All my… what?

I am facepalming over here a little bit, but not necessarily for the reasons you might expect.

First, that trailer is just bad. Not in the “they got a British female amputee in my authentic WW2 sim!!1!” way, but in the very standard “this is an incoherent mishmash of themes” way. There’s a part halfway through when you see a squad of soldiers running away, and I was trying to figure out if they were on my (the viewer’s) team or not. And what the hell was with that “fire twice, then immediately reload” crap? Some people have complained about the Michael Bay-ness of the whole thing, but Battlefield has always had that element. If you don’t believe me, here is 21 minutes worth of Battlefield trailers.

Second, though… ugh, WW2? Why? What’s the point?

To be clear, I have zero issues with DICE introducing female soldiers, amputee soldiers, or any combination thereof. I have no issues with Braveheart-esque dudes in kilts, or people running around with katanas. BFV won’t be selling map packs anymore, so having a wide variety of wacky cosmetics is the trade-off we can expect. I don’t even have any issues with this laundry list of GamerGate-style criticisms. It’s completely fine, for example, that the developers wanted a more “authentic” experience with BF1 and have since changed their mind with BFV.

The one criticism in that thread that rings true, though?

Why didnt they just said right away its WW2 Dieselpunk Alt History something. Alot of people wanna have this anyway but claiming it just as an WW2 game was a fail.

I want that dieselpunk game now. And it makes me question why that wasn’t the direction they wanted to take BFV. I don’t feel that Battlefield should be beholden to “historical authenticity” at the expense of gameplay, but… why WW2 then? Why these specific fronts, with these specific armies, and aiming to tell the “untold stories” of WW2? Like seriously, I’m pretty sure the History Channel has told every damn WW2 story possible, else they would not have had to resort to broadcasting Ancient Aliens and Pawn Stars.

What also annoys me is how this trailer and the controversy it generates obscures all the cool shit they are implementing into the game. I have never been more excited to play a Medic/Support in a Battlefield game than I am right now. Towing around gun emplacements is whatever, digging foxholes in specified locations is kinda cool, and the hyper-focus on squad tactics fantastic. I can also see how all of it could be annoying nonsense, especially when the Medic starts dragging your body around and teabags you because you happened to have picked a female soldier.

Not looking forward to that.

In any case, my one hope for Battlefield V, regardless of anything else, is that it returns to the cool stories of BF2/3/4. The series is at it’s best when it generates videos like this one, with a dude ejecting out of a burning plane, sniping the enemy pilot, and then scrambling aboard the now-pilotless plane and continuing on. Battlefield 1 was a very pretty game, but it was also oppressive as shit in a very authentic WWI kind of way. I’m not looking for more of the that.