Activision

This and That

Destiny

Hot off the heels of me ranting about the ridiculousness of the base premise of Destiny – I am happy to report I spent most of my rainy, Canadian long weekend playing Destiny. It is not hypocritical to me because as a PVE shooter it is a wonder and a beauty to behold.  Which is why I think I get ever so frustrated with the invincible zombie premise. If you are in no danger of dying, as per the video last post, then you are in no danger of losing. Which means just keep dying and pushing through and eventually  you will win. There is not a good story premise – it takes out any sort of drama from it. It is a foregone conclusion, story wise. Just keep eating brains, immortal zombie.

My Warlock

Man, is it ever such a great game if you ignore that part though. I started the weekend at 320(ish) light level and got to 385. A lot of zen grind in there and I loved every minute. I just had to suspend the provided story and create my own. At 385 the gear grind gets very tight (as a non raider) as only purple engrams (the drops that loot-box into items) give upgrades. And each is giving a 386-387. Which means the going from here on out is just going to get tough and in tiny increments. With the Destiny 2 beta coming in the summer and the game itself in less than four months there isn’t a ton of desire to get to 400. We will lose everything anyway. Still, with being uninspired by other games right now – and not having a “go to” game – it is filling fun gaming time nicely.

I am now working on my Titan. Of which, I suspect will be my “main” again in Destiny 2. They redid the sub-classes for D2 and the Defender Titan will now have a Void shield (a la Captain America) which they can use not unlike the Captain – blocking things, chucking it to bounce in between enemies and the like. With the armor style above it is not hard to imagine an Iron Man / Captain America combo.  It looks like a blast. I hope it plays as fun as it looks.

Overwatch

I have never played this, up until last night. My son (now 12) plays it with his friends. I was never a big fan of Team Fortress 2 and other spammy shooters but watching him play a lot made me curious to check it out. I only played against AI to sort through the various characters available and it wasn’t bad shooting mechanics wise but there is so much going on and so little feedback I felt quite lost for some time. For example – I was playing a healer who had the ultimate skill to ressurect any dead team members in the vicinity – but I couldn’t find anywhere if team members were dead. You should have a team profile in a corner somewhere to show who is dead and/or alive, and where they are. At one point it DID tell me two were dead and I am not sure if I missed it the first time or whatnot – so I hit it and it worked, but I was very confused by it. I played bots on Easy and Medium and was fine, got some nice kill streaks and won rounds (as you should against AI, right?) As soon as I put the AI match to ‘hard’ we got destroyed. Utterly and completely. I felt very inadequate.

My son did tell me he struggles against those bots too, which was oddly comforting coming from a twelve year old.

I am not sure if I am going to continue much – I will try my hand with online play against ‘evenly matched’ humans and if the fact I am a year behind is grossly evident (even at same level) there isn’t much hope of me sticking with it. I know from other shooters high ranking players get bored and start new characters just to auto-faceroll noobs like me. Hopefully Blizzard has solved that problem (which would be VERY EASY to solve) but if not it’s fine – but whether I buy it on PC or not depends on my PS4 experience.

Green Lantern

Side stepping games – I love the Green Lantern. This is odd because I grew up a Marvel ‘guy’ and didn’t spend much time, effort or money in the DC universe. I do not know where I became interested in Green Lantern but I do remember being in a local hobby/gaming store and seeing “The Sinestro Corps” graphic novel – of which, I heard was quite well done. I bought it and read it – and it IS quite well done. Now I have the desire to learn more and become more deeply involved in the Green Lantern lore. This lead me to thinking of buying other, critically acclaimed graphic novels (Blackest Night) but also look at gaming options. First, and most obvious – is DCUO – a game I have never played. I have installed it but have not fired it up yet (on PC). I have googled tutorials on how to build a Green Lantern character but have also read that you have to buy an expansion first in able to do so. I had this same issue with the Warden class in Lord of The Rings Online – the one character type I was most interested in playing was gated behind an expansion of which, I wasn’t sure I wanted to buy because I wanted to play that character to BEGIN with to decide if I was going to invest in the game. It took me years (literally) to make that decision in LOTRO and I finally broke down and bought the expansion on a big sale to get the Warden. It still remains the only reason why I am considering playing LOTRO, and the biggest motivator for me to dip my toe into DCUO. I am not sure if that is a fair expectation on good old Hal Jordan.

The second option is Injustice 2 – the fighting game from the DC Universe which as been reviewed incredibly well – so much so that when I went to go buy it at Best Buy they were sold out of the PS4 version. I didn’t buy it online because I have a $70 GC from Best Buy and wanted to use it for that, so I have held off. I have not played Injustice 1 and I am still mildly hesitant to buy a game for a single character that may be a terrible experience as anyway.

That is where I find myself at odds – I am making great money and in a part of my life where I have the most disposable cash ever – but am less likely to part with it on odd grounds – on principle, rather than on reason. Perhaps that is a sign I am getting old. Maybe just unreasonable. Maybe a little from column A and column B.

In General

I still don’t have “that game” right now so remain in an uncomfortable position (like the back of a volkswagon? – bonus points if you know where that is from) of bouncing around half interested in various games, all loaded and ready for me to enjoy at my whim. In the past week I have logged into and/or played (in no particular order or reason) – GW2, LOTRO, EQ, Destiny, The Division and have loaded up many more in the background – Wildstar, DCUO, EQ2. I don’t do well playing the field and need to commit soon for maximum enjoyment. When is Secret World Legends out again?

Destiny 2 – Immortal Zombies Unite

Destiny is a game that I loved everything about except the story. I made a ton of fun of the story. It ate me apart from the inside just thinking about it. Trying to understand the story was equal to drinking a bottle of acid. Maybe it goes down okay in the first instant, but the longer it goes the worse it gets for you – and quickly. It breaks down all the systems and organs that make you live, until you are just a hollow, former shell of a human being.  Destiny is, without a doubt, the best PVE shooter out there right now. It does a lot right – pretty much everything! (except the story. Did I mention that?)

Hello, Destiny 2. You can get better! Guess how?! Re-read my first mini paragraph and take that wild guess.  I am not even going to dignify it by making it rhetorical. I have faith in you dear reader.

Let’s start with a really nice origin story for one of the lead NPC characters in the game. 

I made fun of the plot of Destiny because basically you are a zombie. I suspected that the true twist in the story is that we are the bad guys – the evil zombies and the rest of the galaxy is trying to rid us of our ways. I have a whole post about it here, complete and using grimoire entries to try and make sense of it all.

I never once suspected we were immortal zombies. Yes, immortal zombies. That is what Destiny 2 and the video above is showing.

Have you heard anything quite so stupid lately? (In before you say yes because you read my posts here. Touche.)

But really. Watch the video. Guy comes back to life. Gets killed. Left there. Brought back to life. Gets killed. Left there. Brought back to life…

Now, I know that the enemies are some sort of sentient life – they can fight, they stand upright, they communicate, they build and fly space ships, advanced technology, etc…. so we can agree there is some semblance of intelligence. They also know about the zombie (Guardian) outbreak because they have been fighting them for years. So here is a tip. If you know that walking away from a zombie without cutting it up into little pieces, destroying the brain, burning it into little ashes, etc. that it is just going to come back and kill you, then why walk away?

I know games try to build believable stories about how you die in games and come back. Instead of spelling out the immortal zombie theatrics in an expensive CGI narrative, just have the Guardian brought back to life once, chosen. That is a cool backstory about being selected.  If death happens then just rewind to where you were still alive (the save game state, waypoint, etc.) and try again. In game – story wise – you never did die. Game wise and player wise, you did, but how in the heck are you supposed to explain how you were blown to bits, and reappeared near the same spot at the same (or similar) moment in time? The Player is supposed to learn from their mistakes and take their redo, and just imagine that they didn’t die in the first place.

Or, I guess, you could just be an immortal zombie.

Take your pick.

Bahs and Humbugs

Ghost of Christmas Past (Tis The Season!)

I haven’t really been a holiday season type for much of my formative time here on earth.  It was a life made up of phases. Kid phase, awesome of course. The presents, the mystery, the joy. Young adult phase, awesome too. Parties with friends, travel, excitement. In my second year of University, disaster struck. I had three friends die over a 10 day period, and I spent my Christmas holidays going from funeral to funeral. One suicide, one accidental, one by sickness. The third was somewhat expected at some point but that didn’t make the pain any less – remember, at that time in our lives (low 20s) we felt absolutely invincible. This made the holidays not a fun time of year. Not based on cheer, but loss. Looking back of course it was silly to allow that to ruin the holiday season for my but youth, and lack of wisdom, and all of that.

It was hard.

Of course, when I had my own son  I got to relive the joy of the holiday season through his eyes and actions. Looking forward to seeing him party it up and travel with friends as he turns into a teen (few years left!) and then hopefully he skips the sad phase and goes straight into his own adult phase. It has made the holiday season much better.  I had a good holiday, but I have some gaming humbugs out there that I am in the mood to get off my chest. Call me Scrooge.

Ghost of Christmas Present (Destiny)

My son We got Destiny: Rise of Iron for Christmas. I had a great run with Destiny but held off on this expansion. My serial nature of gaming, and being waist deep in WoW leaves little extra gaming room. I was excited to play it, spent about 3 hours doing the main quest line only to realize this is probably the worst expansion I have played for any game – ever. While that is scathing (it is meant to be) the expansion didn’t improve on anything about the game. In fact, it just feels like a re-skin of old areas and a new mob type and exactly the same otherwise.  I know they are working on Destiny 2 but they should have put some resources into this. It’s terrible. Maybe it gets better (?) but not sure if I will be playing this long enough to find out. The Taken King felt like a whole new game in many ways. This feels like a new side mission. They didn’t even expand the classes.

The story, sucks as ever. It’s so frustrating. This could be a fantastic, amazing universe to be a part of. Instead it makes no sense, it’s confusing, and it is largely incoherent.  I know there are great writers out there that given the time and investment could fix all of that even in its current state.

The shooter elements are slick. The classes are unique and fun. The PVE nature of it is incredible. The game fails for the sole purpose that it doesn’t come close to realizing it’s potential and this expansion was a gross cash grab. I believe Titan was cancelled because it would have beat out Destiny because the shooting elements were there, but story as well. Activision was worried to lose / split such a huge pile of cash so turned it into the lobby competitive shooter it is. If another PVE shooter comes along I will ditch this game in a heartbeat. Oh, there isn’t anything? Oh, sure, I am still playing it. There is nothing on the market better than it in what it does. Yes, irony or some-such. I can hate it and play it at the same time, given the alternative. Plus three hours is not a ton to judge a whole expansion on. Those are just my first impressions.

Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come (Game Designers of My Generation)

With Smedley’s closure of Pixel Mage is there any doubt that game design is as much luck and timing as personal ingenuity? I grew up in awe of Lord British (UO: Revolutionary. Tabula Rasa: “fail”, Shroud of the Avatar: too early to tell), Mark Jacobs (DAOC: Amazing. Warhammer Online:”fail”. Camelot Unchained:behind schedule), Brad McQuaid (EQ:Best ever, Vanguard:”fail”, Pantheon:too early to tell). “Fail” is in quotes because some of those games were important to some gamers and had some success, but they did not have the same commercial and critical acclaim that their initial offerings and what was expected. Version three of all of their work may be the triumphant return as they have “learned their lessons”, or it may be final proof that lightning doesn’t strike twice. My generation (40’s) that grew up on those titles have held expectations.  It’s frustrating to see them fail, and I hope the best for them in their new titles. I just have little optimism. That may be unfair, but in my current mood I am not overly optimistic.

There, the lumps of coals are out. I will now return to my cheery, regularly scheduled programming. I hope you had an awesome holiday seasons sans Bahs and Humbugs!

WoW Doesn’t Need More Revenue Streams

Blizzard loves giving more value to people who have more time. I hate everything about this, from the perspective where I am at as a gamer right now. Yes, this is a bit of a selfish rant (to be up front out of the gate)

Introducing the WoW Token

Coming soon to an Azeroth near you: the WoW Token, a new in-game item that allows players to simply and securely exchange gold and game time between each other.

Players will be able to purchase a WoW Token through the in-game Shop for real money, and then sell it on the Auction House for gold at the current market price. When a player buys a WoW Token from the Auction House for gold, the Token becomes Soulbound, and the player can then redeem it for 30 days of game time.

This rewards players who have a lot of playing time and who can focus on raising gold. In essence, they get to play for free, while the time starved still pay a sub fee. When I call for action on subscription fees to give a fair relative valuation on player’s time, this is the exact opposite. I’ve given WoW thousands of dollars over two accounts and two sub fees for years – and they want to reward people with extra time to spare with free subscription fees.  And in this MMO welfare state it allows Blizzard to double dip. Sure, they are giving up a sub fee but they are gaining a lot of hits on money that goes otherwise to gold sellers (that is the black market to fix the broken WoW economy). Don’t solve the economy issues, profit from them! But all kidding aside, why do this now?

Q: Why are you introducing the WoW Token feature?
A: We’ve heard feedback from players that they’d be interested in a secure, legitimate way to acquire gold that doesn’t involve the use of unauthorized third-party gold-selling services—one of the primary sources of account compromises. We also know players who’ve amassed large amounts of gold through regular play would be interested in the ability to trade some to other players in exchange for game time, helping cover their subscription costs. The WoW Token feature gives players on both sides of the equation a secure and straightforward way to make that exchange. It opens up a new kind of payment option for World of Warcraft players, and we hope that it will also help lead to fewer account compromises and a better game experience overall.

Isn’t this just going to further inflate the economy, with easier access to more gold, and force/encourage more people to buy more tokens, to buy more gold? I’m sure they misread the feedback – it probably went more like “players want the WoW economy to stop getting crazy inflated due to gold sellers and bots”. It makes sense for them to drive more profits, but please don’t try to tell anyone this is from player demand. This is a smart, very profitable initiative. If you really want to give players more payment options and flexibility, try some of these:

  1. Charitable contribution for game time – this could be via humble bundle or any choice. Make a $10 donation to the Red Cross for 30 days game time
  2. Game time for new player mentoring or community lead initiatives – this strengthens the community and makes it more likely new players become long term (and subscribing) players
  3. Limited time / Limited access accounts – players can’t enjoy all WoW has to offer because of busy life and schedules? Here is a WoW-Lite account for half the price. No Mythic raids for you (or other minor access barriers), but still, you can quest, to LFR, talk to friends, etc. If you need access to the top game modes you will have to upgrade though.
  4. A new, rental server model that I talked about in 2008

There are others too if WoW truly wanted to support different payment types and support players with access to the game.

I always make these arguments and then feel silly in some ways because it’s definitely not about the money. It has a lot to do with principles and I know principles don’t pay bills. I just want MMO companies to recognize that their empires were built by people investing time and money into them, and consider rewarding loyal customers. The value / sub / time proposition has been debated to death but I have tried to stay consistent on how I view it. It needs to feel right to me to make a purchase. I haven’t even done my expansion tour of WoD yet (which I was planning on doing). We’ll see how it all pans out. Clearly they don’t care if I do or I don’t. Someone buying gold through Blizzard will replace what my sub fee and box purchase would have represented in the first place.

I have a sneaky suspicion that the open market value of these tokens will be close to a sub. At the very least they will control this tightly and keep aggregate prices higher than what they are giving away in sub fees.  I dislike that WoW is the most successful sub game but that they also add (and continue to add) cash shop elements. Good for them for maximizing the return for shareholder value though. So all of this is pretty funny – the introductory sentence is really misleading because clearly Blizzard values people with more money (than time), they just found another creative way to get more of it from more people, while giving good economy players some free game time.  I suspect this is going to screw up the economy even worse because of price fixing by Blizzard and in order to participate on the AH you’ll have to buy gold at some point. This feels like a Zynga-esque move.

I support giving players alternate methods to fund their subscription time but due to the fixed, Blizzard set cost and way this is setup it is really just a revenue bump for Blizzard – not a true alternate method for players. It should be marketed more honestly – that is what disappointed me. I could end up eating crow here at some point if it launches and even casual players can raise enough monthly gold to cover their subscriptions but do we really trust Blizzard to let anything happen that hurts their eroding revenue base? I don’ t think that is realistic. This is more likely proof that Blizzard needs to increase it’s declining revenues from its subscription base. What’s next, true, individual player housing that can only be bought and designed through a cash shop? Players have provided feedback for years that they want this. Don’t confuse player feedback with another excuse to layer a revenue stream on top of the subscription fee. Most player feedback would sensibly want fixes to the economy and enhancements to the game as PART of their subscription fee. If not, what are they paying that for?

The Tombstone Quandary

There is a quandary around movies that I noticed in the 90’s where movie studios are afraid to be left behind in the market. When one was making a movie about, say, Tombstone  the other major one would follow-up eerily close with Wyatt Earp. Big studio coming out with a disaster movie about Volcanos? Better not be left behind! I often wondered if this was a product of individuals afraid of losing their jobs (I hear X studio is doing this, and if we don’t and it does well, my job may be at stake) or more of a big wig ego thing – who could outdo one another in the same area. Regardless of why it happened(s) a lot the movie Tombstone  always comes to mind to me because I *loved* Tombstone but disliked its clone, Wyatt Earp. In fact, while researching this thought I found a whole Wikipedia page dedicated, by decade, to instances of this happening. And the list is monstrous!. Funny enough in many cases one is a complete flop while the other is successful and it’s always a curiosity on to who had the original idea and who is just trying to keep up with the Joneses. The movie making Joneses. Either way, it’s an interesting phenomenon to me.

Thankfully I don’t see the same trend in games and game making. Sure, some will emulate successful titles but in movies both race to release and compete at the same time – whereas in gaming it seems as though devs wait to see how a game does and then how to differentiate – it’s much more open with a lot less guessing but a lot of time passes by between releases.

I bring all of this up because with great interest I have started following “The Division” which has the basis for an amazing story (remember that basis?) and the third person shooter elements seem like it could be a big hit. Tom Clancy games are traditionally well done. And then, suddenly, I started reading scary things such as articles about Division trying to be like Destiny, the “Always playing, always improving”. Grinding out epic loot tiers on.. sub machine guns in a modern setting? Getting a -5 to recoil and such and at this thought process, I realize, they are probably doing it wrong.

Sure, I get it – they want Destiny sales numbers but don’t really know for sure why that is. I’m worried if they focus on the parts of Destiny that pushes people away and think that is the money-maker, they’ll make a dud. The last thing I would want as an upcoming game is a direct comparison to ANY title out there. Oh, it is just like Destiny. It’s just like World of Warcraft! It’s just like… doomed to fail because it’s like something else but won’t be exactly the same. In my humble opinion if you just build an amazing story with your other elements you will get longevity. Don’t just build a loot treadmill. These new FPS MMOs seem to be taking the worst parts of MMOs and applying it to the FPS genre. Take the best parts instead, or at bare minimum, as well.

 

Facepalm Design Decision: September Edition

[Author’s note – I wrote this one night after a long day. When I reread it in the morning it is far more “ranty” than I normally write. I thought about editing and taming it a bit, but in the end, decided to keep it intact. This is how I felt about it when I discovered it and the frustration I share here in the style recorded is the result of having a great day of playing the game, and then stumbling upon this design decision.]

Oh Destiny. Thank you for all the blog posts you have provided me (and the 20+ hours of gameplay). Unfortunately, we need to have a little talk. This talk is about levelling! And no, I am not going to complain about grinding the same 6 strike missions because hey, you actually give more to do than that. We need to talk about your subclass system. I know that you are known for FPS games and this trek down MMO lane is a new thing for you. It’s fresh after all those Halo games you made and hey, why not? MMOs can charge sub fees and while you haven’t been brave enough to try that yet, you still have levels and exciting things for players to do at and on their way to the level cap. One of them, is a class specialization. Here you need to take your FPS hat off and put on your MMO hat. Actually, I have a hat for you!

I know, that’s mean. That poor Halo designer looks sad. Here is the thing – when I hit level 15, which is technically 75% of the level cap (unless you count your light levels, which also changes things up) and I get my specialization here is the one tip I give to you as a gamer. Don’t make me start at level 1. It’s a specialization! If I wanted to start at level 1 I would make a new character. A specialization is a way for me to advance my character, not go backwards.

For those who aren’t playing, haven’t gotten there yet or are confused at my dripping sarcasm and condemnation here – once you click on your specialization you have to start levelling all the basic skills of it from scratch AND you lose your current skills. Somehow, at level 15, you forget how to throw a grenade, or even jump! So you have level 15 (19 in my case) armor and guns, blues, rares, high level items. You have done some shit and seen the evils of war. But you aren’t allowed to throw grenades anymore and you can’t even jump like you could in that epic battle on Venus.

C’mon Man! Bungie!

To be clear you can swap back and forth between the specializations but not simply midfight or anything. You don’t actually “lose” your skills you just can’t use ANY of them while you level up the “subclass”.  That includes jumping over three feet and throwing grenades.

The best way to put it for those who haven’t played Destiny is that if this was WoW, when you swapped into your healing spec in dual specialization, you would have to start at level one and earn all of your healing spells again. Grind 1-90 before you can heal. Swap back to your main spec and you are max level, swap to secondary and you are level 1. Does that sound like fun to you? How does this make sense?

Here is a tip – if you wanted 6 classes then have 6 classes. If you want 3 classes with sub-specs then have 3 classes with sub-specs. RIght now you have a bastardization of a class system that doesn’t really fit either. This is pretty good evidence (as anecdotal as it may be!) that you:

[List brought to you by the hot and cold game – remember that?]

  1. Want players to take a step back and not enjoy the game, because you want them to stop playing [cold]
  2. Have no clue how to design a levelling system [getting warmer]
  3. Knew that your content was so thin that you really had to reach for new and creative ways to grind out players [warmer still]
  4. Have something sinister up your sleeve like introducing pay to level packs, or monetary XP boosts [warning! hot!]
  5. Were drinking Mai-Tais in the Caribbean counting your cash while you had junior programmers put this together [colder. but fun to write]

To me this is a face palming design decision. Grinds are ok when done correctly. You don’t even have to hide them. This just completely makes no sense and is a real shock to me. I was ready to start levelling my sub-class but not ready to start over. If you don’t value my time – my personal entertainment time – then I won’t value your expansion packs and other things you want me to buy.

Bungie – Remember when you were the cool, hip Halo designers who made awesome FPS and story based games? You should go back there. You can still keep the money.

25 KM with Destiny

I have spent three solid nights playing Destiny on my X-Box 360 and elliptical. I have totalled around 25 kilometers on the athletic device and level 10 on my Titan, 5 on my Hunter, and 2 on my Warlock. I do one hour stints on the elliptical but continue to play a couple hours afterwards on the couch. Need to reward myself for all of that hard work! In the gym world we call those “sets”. I have unlocked Venus and completed my first Strike Mission (aka “instanced dungeon”) and am really improving with FPS gamepad use although it still feels a bit unnatural.

After this time in game it has really strengthened my initial thoughts on Destiny – definitely the way I am choosing to play it, anyway. First off, I am still having fun and believe it was a good buy. The advancement aspects of the game (abilities, weapons and armor, weapons and armor abilities) add flavor and are fun to level up. The earth and the moon are both fun backdrops to shoot things in the head. I have Venus and other planets to still explore. There is a lot to look forward to.

I still have three “big” gripes so far, which of course I’ll share! (thank you for asking)

  1. The lore: You can choose to be an Awoken, Exo, or Human as your character. There is zero explanation anywhere (that I could find) that explains how humans met and/or became aligned with these other races (and obviously, they are extra-terrestrial). They are simply cosmetic options. Perhaps it is the long time MMO or PC gamer in me, but I’d like to know what is compelling about either (besides their looks) in choosing them. Style is only one part in gaming – attitude is equally if not more important. I thought perhaps this would unfold as you play but halfway through the leveling process it doesn’t. There is such a huge opportunity to do this as well and it is completely wasted. Your character is brought back to life (dead for a LONG time) by a “ghost” so learning how the world has changed organically through story and game play would make perfect sense. It doesn’t do this. None of the race (or class) choices have any impact on how things play out.
  2. The story: tied to the above – there is no story – just a series of disjointed objectives for some grander unknown or unclear reason. There is no tie in so far. I am really shocked – weren’t the HALO games predicated around story? Wouldn’t this be the perfect medium to make story better, not worse? I see a huge missed opportunity here with the potential for what is going on in the universe. This is where the future of DLC would be for me – the grander story. Maybe because it’s console focused they don’t need to have one. It shouldn’t be called “Story Mode” it should be “Task Mode”
  3. The AI is some of the worst I have seen in modern day FPSs (to be fair, I am comparing PC FPS AI – I don’t have a console experience equivalent). At best it is the same as FPS games i have played in the last decade. This was an opportunity to really step up the genre not be the status quo. I was fighting through the final Moon “task” mode last night and there was a room that was hard to complete – I started retreating backwards and I hit an invisible line on the ground that soon as I passed, the mobs stopped attacking and turned around. I could still shoot them. Step forward, they turn around and charge. One step back, they turn their backs to me and walk away, I shoot them. Rinse repeat. I figure by now we’d have AI that could respond to visual and environmental cues – not invisible proximity lines. The AI is only challenging because of the quantity and kind of enemies they pile in at you. You are basically fighting piles of bricks with legs and guns. You can win every room by identifying where the enemies are going to spawn from, and go to the opposite side of the room. Besides thralls and certain sword Fallen Knights, the rest just hang back and shoot from afar – really easy to pick off. Worst case scenario if you get swarmed you just have to retreat far enough that they all reset.

Not to be a negative Isey I must say that the whole game changed in the Strike Team mode – it was exhilarating, awesome, and fresh! As a 5 man junkie in MMOs, the 3 man Strike Team adds a big layer of play-ability and fun. Who needs a story when you have bosses to kill? I ran Devil’s Lair twice last night and it was am amazing experience. I read there are 6 currently and hoping they add more as 6 could get stale pretty quick. The Story/task mode I did solo so the commentary I have read that suggests this game is best played with people does seem to be true. I need a wireless headset so I can work the elliptical and group at the same time.

Due to the nature of the release, and the investment in the IP, I can’t help but think – is this ONLY happening because I am using the XBox 360 and it has limitations compared to X1 and PS4? Or are current gen owners seeing the same thing? Its hard to overlook these things due to the kind of gamer I tend to be and with a 500MM investment you think they could have put some more obvious effort into those things. I’d love to hear from current gen system owners if that alone solves these problems.

500 Million Dollar Baby

It seems a pretty fair and common thought that people equate the cost of an item with how good it is. A 5 million dollar home is probably better than a 1 million dollar home, which is better than a $100,000 trailer. A FERRARI is better than a BMW which in turn is better than a FIAT. While the term “better” in those instances would probably need a bit of debating let’s not get into nit picking here. I think we can all agree that in the most basic sense that the greater the monetary cost of something the higher the expectation of that item is (on whatever metric that item is measured on.)

By that logic, Destiny should be the best game ever. The $500+ million invested in it by Activision is the most I have ever heard of spent on a game. I spent five hours playing Destiny last night, and its good. It’s not 500 million good though. Not even close.

Before I give it some minor criticism here I do want to be clear that I had fun in my 5 hours. This is not a “bash the game” post and I feel the game is worth buying. However, this is more of a strong curiosity of how that game cost 500 million – that is a shocking number. I felt Diablo 3 had better flow and production value. People who read this site know that I don’t do “reviews” – I do share my thoughts on games though. Some random thoughts and observations about Destiny (good and bad):

  • I was playing the Xbox 360 version and the graphics were on par with my expectations for Xbox 360. I have said here before that I don’t do FPS on controllers and immediately as I played I thought of how much better this would be with a mouse and keyboard.
  • How can a 500 million dollar title not include a PC release?
  • The story – one of the things that made me excited for the title – is really weak. There are some cool things going on and a cool back story but playing through the first 5 story missions there are a lot that isn’t clear on things. Maybe that gets better the further along but currently it is just a disjointed set of softly related cut scenes and text. While I would rate the back story something that is incredibly intriguing and interesting to me, the way it is playing out in game feels non consequential. Mass Effect has a way better story. Most FPS’s story modes do as well. It’s not blending (so far).
  • The characters look cool. The gear looks cool. The guns and items are varied and fun to try out. They did well here.
  • The environments are also very cool. I have just been to Old Russia and the Tower, but it is a compelling backdrop (just needs a better story to act it out in!)
  • The single player story campaign isn’t really single player. Random other players will be in the same staging areas until you reach a boss fight or key, non-spawning area at which point it becomes instanced to you and your group. This is a bit frustrating at times as I like to setup long range snipes or stealth kills. While setting up, someone is going “Rambo” all over the place and taking those away. I think the story mode should be single player – would feel more realistic.
  • Further to the above a better solution would be to be able to group on the fly. I did 2 steps in a quest chain only to have another player invite me – and that sounded good to try. It reset me back to my ship to start the whole thing all over. Now, I am not sure if that is just because he chose to reset it – that is the only player I played with. The rest was solo.
  • The AI is pretty bad. I know maybe it is supposed to be at the lower levels but most levels can be beat by hanging back and sniping away. Some of the Hive enemies do rush you but for the most part, its a shooting gallery. Hopefully this improves in levels.
  • While the AI is bad, the game itself is very challenging. There are normal and hard levels but no “easy”. As a controller FPS newb I am chalking that up to me just being bad right now. It felt less difficult (just a bit) as I became more comfortable with the controls, got some gear and levels and new skills.

Five hours isn’t a lot and I am going to spend tonight with a different class (I rolled a Titan, figuring I’d need the armor to help me acclimatize to the controller side) and I am enjoying myself. It will be neat to see how (if) my views change on anything the more comfortable I get and the higher level I get.

Back to the 500M tag – I read that that includes marketing as well. So if you look at it the way this article does there are some other reasons to consider. I, with my cynical marketing spend outlook will break it down like this with the production value I have experienced through play and videos and experiences on the web and other websites.

  • Xbox 360 version: 25 million
  • PS3 version: 25 million
  • Xbox ONE version: 50 million
  • PS4 version: 50 Million
  • Marketing: 350 Million

Yes, I overdid the Marketing angle (on purpose) but between the Live Action Trailer, backgrounds on major retailer websites, TV commercials and all the rest of the hype – I bet this is Activision’s top spend EVER in promoting a game. It makes sense too – this is an unknown IP, there is no subscription model and all the money is made up front. Hook as many as you can, as fast as you can, roll in money. It’s a fair strategy. I’d love to see the real breakdown someday. At the end of my own brush with Destiny and comparing it with my other gaming experiences across platforms, the 500 million dollar investment doesn’t shine through.

It’s a nice ride and I plan on driving it for a while – but I was expecting a Ferrari – simply by the price tag.

Shooters, Consoles and Destiny – Oh My!

2 lions on the savana

I have a long love of First Person Shooters and much like the MMO genre it has pretty much left me behind. The FPS experience wanted today and how they are programmed are very much not the kind of FPS I enjoy. I cut my teeth on shooters with Rainbow Six multi-player ladder. Rainbow Six was a crazy concept in shooters – bullets hurt! So if you got shot, you died. This made you play a certain way that had a lot of sense to it – be careful, check your corners, rely on teammates. There wasn’t even bunny hopping. The cool thing about that time in gaming is that there was no matchmaking so you had to go to a forum to set up your matches, and after both sides would report back the score, and the ladder would move. It was awesome.

From there I did the Battlefield series and spent a LOT of time with Battlefield 2142. The vehicular components and 64 v 64 was just epic and while there were some elements I didn’t enjoy (radar, revive) I spent years playing that game in a clan with our own servers. FLOT (Forward Line of Own Troops) is still on my gamer tag in steam. Near the end of my run with BF2142 I discovered Project Reality and that is the perfect FPS experience for my taste. Strategy, building, one shot deaths – no bunny hopping commandos. No squad? good luck living. Medics were limited (dead you are dead) and they could sometimes stop bleeding, but only in limited amounts. The key in this game was that you never wanted to get shot and you played that way. I still consider it the best First Person Shooter experience on the market – as long as you have the patience to learn the ropes. They are working on a standalone product (it is currently a mod) and I have a few posts tagged with them if you want to read more.

I still enjoyed some parts of the Call of Duty series but it was just the solo experience. The stories were okay to play through. The multi-player I just couldn’t get into – too twitchy and I was really looking for the thrill and experience of surviving a gunfight. It became far too arcade-y for my preference.  Much like my patience for the future MMO that immerses, I am waiting for the day the FPS does as well. They just aren’t my style anymore.

I haven’t jumped into the new console era yet. My X-Box 360 plays all the new titles just fine and besides, I have a PC for “serious” gaming. Consoles are for “social” gaming on premise – to have a bunch of friends over playing Madden, or other games with 2+ people. Of course that is a great way to play on a console. My kid and his friends are not going near my PC, but their grimy little paws can manhandle an X-Box controller all day without  my worry. And have you ever played a FPS on a console? It pales in comparison to PC gaming. I think my principled stance on the new consoles (and much to the failure of the way X-Box One is trending) is the lack of backward compatibility. Surely on a $500 rig based on computer technology they could sort that out. I guarantee I would have bought an X-Box ONE if they could – now I am toying with a PS4. Either way, now I have to have two units hooked up to enjoy my back catalog – something the PC completely avoids. I just don’t see the point of upgrading for better graphics when my computer already outperforms both.

The new way I started using my console this year is for exercise. I have a nice 60″ LED in the basement that the X-Box is hooked up to, and my elliptical just happens to be facing that TV (albeit pretty far back). I have a personal commitment to health and do 3 or 4 nights a week (I said commitment – not crazy passion!) in one hour chunks. Diablo 3 has been a blast to play that way and I think Skyrim is next (I bought it but barely played it).  The controller is a huge help here as mouse and keyboard would be impossible while on the machine and the multitasking is awesome. The X-Eliptical 360 is a great way for combining gaming and health. Anyone out there get current gen with the X-Box ONE or PS4? Was it worth the pickup?

All the above being said I would be lying if I didn’t say I was interested in Destiny, the hot and upcoming shooter from Activision and of course you already know of this. There are some compelling elements – The setting itself looks fantastic and the opportunity for a story play through with MMO elements and persistent character growth is hard to turn down. My main concern when researching the title is the shooter on console experience. I know a ton of people do it and I am sure with practice it is something I can get used to – but that is a big departure from any way I have played FPS’s. Go check out some of their media (if you haven’t) and the character development assets looks like the meld of an FPS with the single player MMO experience of today. And because it is a meld, and not either/or, that seems really attractive to me.

Are you going to Destiny? And if you are, and on the X-Box 360, want to run with me? Literally (elliptical gaming) and figuratively (saving the universe).

My Influential 15

One of my favorite blogs to visit is The Ancient Gaming Noob (TAGN) and he recently posted an Influential 15  list – started by another blogger and other sites are also playing along. The parts I read indicated not too many rules, but just do not overthink it – only take 15 minutes, and list them out.

This sounds like fun. I am going in chronological order!

Mario Bros (arcade) (1985)

I spent most of my allowance money playing this game with two of my best friends at the local bowling alley. It was close enough to our school that we could run there at lunch breaks, and always went right after school as well – but just for 20 minutes before racing home. This introduced me to the side scrolling platform [honorable mentions: Ghost and Goblins, Castlevania, Bionic Commando]

Hardball (c64) (1987)

Two teams – the red, power hitting team and the blue, speedy team. That was it in this baseball game. My brother and I played for hours at home – nice to not have to be at the arcade. (I always got stuck with the blue team). [Honorable mention: Madden (I still buy it every few years]

Police Quest (PC) (1987)

My first foray into the Sierra games series (King’s quest, Space Quest, etc.) and it was always a weekend event at one of my friend’s houses who had it. I think it took us 6 months to complete, since we only had limited weekend time (we mostly played outside – kids those days!)[honorable mention – Maniac Mansion]

Street Fighter (Arcade, SNES) (1987)

Another arcade favorite the one on one bragging rights was a blast. Learning the combos, fighting friends (and arcade enemies) for the right to stay on the machine for the next challenger… flipping a coin for the left or right hand side. All sorts of home field advantages. [Honorable mention: Mortal Combat]

Star control 2 (PC) (1992)

Exploration, adventure, discovery. Space. Has anyone come close since? I am avoiding throwing my money at Star Citizen yet watching it closely. That is a completely separate blog post. [Honorable Mention: Wing Commander. If only for the space.]

Doom (PC) (1993)

We had huge contests at university with Doom – inter dorm rivalries. My philosophy class suffered fiercely. I made a philosophical argument about augmented reality to the prof and he BFG’d me. University was so cool. [Honorable mention: Half Life]

NHL 94 (SEGA) (1993)

Oh Sega hockey, with the one move that would score 100% of the time.. that was up to you do defend properly. Both ends of the rink, there was that ONE move. Yet it was still awesome. Plus bleeding heads.

X com (PC) (1994)

Turn based mastery. This is on many ‘best of ever” lists, so not going to explain its full awesome-ness. Many have explained it better than I ever could. Xcom is the perfect example of a game you loved but refuse to play it again. I have it through steam. It sucked to relive it – but awesome the first time around. We are not conditioned to accept failing the first X missions before we have a chance. (see what I did there?) [Honorable mention – Civ 1 – bit of a stretch, but very turn based]

Baldur’s Gate (PC) (1998)

I had played a lot of Pen and Paper games and this one reminded me the most of them. I hadn’t played a lot of D&D at the time  and this was my first real foray and experience into that. I don’t even remember if I won or what happened in the game – I just remember the hours spent hunched in the darkness… in amazement. Just one more encounter. One more.

Rainbow Six (PC) (1998)

The AI could be buggy as hell when you were planning your rescues, but this was an AMAZING shooter – one shot and you are dead, get caught/spotted and the hostages are dead. Great premise and superbly executed at the time. You could do many missions in many different ways and had the choice of your own path. The planning and thinking part was as exciting for me as the executions. And oh yes, permadeath! [Honorable mention: Counter Strike]

Everquest (PC) (1999)

The MMO game changer that has spawned 100 clones, for better or for worse (often better, jaded vets may argue worse. It doesn’t even matter anymore. It was awesome and really kickstarted the genre.) It has ruined MMOs for me since, but that is also because of the testserver play environment (hint: community). The rose colored glasses often adorned!

Sims (PC) (2000)

Sims the original was the first game that I could get my girlfriends to play. And my non-gaming roommates. It was the first time I realized games could be for everyone. Then I invented the Wii. (or should have, at least). All that being said, I am pretty sure the things my girlfriend at the time did to the Sims (or tried to do) made me realize that maybe she wasn’t the one. Sicko. May have saved my life.

Dark Age of Camelot (PC) (2001)

My second MMO I played the heck out of and my first real PVP experience was also amazing. I also played on the testserver (Pendragon) and the strength of the community there really improved the overall experience. Sadly, game developers have learned that test servers make bad for the quick hitting types of testing they want with enough sample size, and they don’t really exist anymore. The lesson they should have learned is that smaller, more dedicated communities make for stronger ties. Another post. DAOC taught me to embrace PVP and how humans always beat AI on experience – always.

World of Warcraft (PC) (2004)

What to say? The most successful MMO ever made took an inaccessible genre and made it easy for everyone to participate. While I have spent my fair share of time arguing WoW has hurt the MMO space in many ways, you cannot argue against its influence. I still go back every expansion, do the theme park rides, /hug and /hi to my friends still playing, and then out again.  I think the next MMO Blizzard makes is going to say a lot about what they have learned from WoW. I’m intrigued.

Battlefield 2142 (PC) (2006)

The multiplayer FPS I judge all other FPSs against. It was great. It was better than great – it was awesome. The kits, the vehicles, everything. COD always felt too twitchy and gamey in comparison (even the DICE successors did) and I started playing more strategic, slower paced shooters afterwards. BF2142 was just the perfect balance for *me*. [Honorable Mention: Project Reality]

That’s It!

There is my list! Crazy, and a *bit* sad that the most recent game launch on my list is 8 years old already, but influence is influence. As I re-read this there were a few I wanted to add (RTS such as Warcraft -or- Command & Conquer) but I decided to keep it pure – the ones that spoke to me first. I’m sure as I read through other’s lists I’ll have many an “aha!” moment. I hope mine brought along some positive smiles and memories!

More Proof of the Decline of Western Civilization

Stolen directly from Gregg Easterbrook of Tuesday Morning Quarterback (TMQ). The Zubon of the football world (meant as a compliment). And yes, it is game related.

Not only did huge numbers of people buy the latest “Call of Duty” video game — which allows you to play the role of Richard Nixon killing zombies — but Jeep announced a Call of Duty edition of its Wrangler model, to be released next month. Jeep is owned by Chrysler, which received a $8 billion federal bailout. Please don’t tell me tax money is being forcibly removed from our pockets to subsidize a car themed for a video game.

Ha.