Monthly Archive: October 2017

Snake Oil : Day One DLC

Way back in 2010 I was pretty upset with EA. I am embarrassed enough to say that I have linked to that post myself five times – six, if you include this one. Each of those links was for different reasons but it remains one of my most linked posts by myself. I think it shows a gamer broken with exasperation by a company and an industry that continues to do head shaking things to itself, it’s customers, and it’s employees. Not much has changed in the seven years either as companies do what companies are supposed to do – find ways to maximize revenues, minimize costs, and provide shareholder value. Often at the expense of the consumer. In many ways you could call it a digital, perverse version of Stockholm Syndrome since we continually feed the behaviors that are most often against our longer term goals for quick fixes and “happiness”.

Loot boxes are one component of this and Blognation and traditional media outlets are reporting on whether or not they resemble a form of gambling. I have stated here before, and other places in comments, that while they may not be gambling per se based off of corporate behaviors and their only function to return value to shareholders there is nothing requiring them to be honest in the odds or fair in the chances that those loot boxes will give you want you ultimately want. They do know what you want, the information is there. When I have played 80% of my competitive games as a certain character and there is a skin for that character only available in a certain loot box that I start buying they know exactly what I want. And at that point, they will try to sort out my willpower and extract every last penny they can in my quest to get that one thing.  They have, and they will again. I am not going to go deeper into Loot Boxes here as it has been covered better elsewhere and discussed to the small percentage of getting to near death for maximum revenue.

The other component which isn’t so much in your face is the release of as little content as possible to sell additional content as soon as possible. In my EA link at the top their Medal of Honor release waited two full weeks to launch a paid DLC – which was minor, at $10, but the game had so little content to start with it was a pretty bold move. I do believe it was a consumer test to see who would buy and who would backlash. I think it was a successful test because now companies wait a whole 90 days to launch their DLC after their content-light major launch.

Wait 90 days and I’ll give you the other half – for a price!

Yes, looking at Destiny 2.  They just released their first date for their DLC which is December. Of course it was completed before Destiny 2 launched their main game. It’s ready to go and much of it could have been in at launch but it’s better to get your player base bored fast with what you released, and charge them for more content later. It’s a good strategy that is working for them well. Hell, I pre-bought the version that gives me the first two expansion. Which, all three together, would probably make a complete game. I was fooled by the hopes and dreams of a better Destiny, but instead got a heavy does of Reality. Shame on me, of course. Lesson learned.

Voting with my wallet won’t work while there is a sea of people who are fine with it. And that’s okay too. I went through a great phase where I didn’t get caught up in hype and would wait for releases and Blognation reviews (over the paid marketers) and I was just happier then because at least I knew what I was in for and not nearly as disappointed. I don’t remember the last time I was so disappointed by a game or gaming company and I am actually embarrassed that I care so much, that I had such high expectations, and that I feel like I was… conned. Of course it is all on me – they were honest on much of it and if you look at their first development schedule they did the exact same thing – September release, December DLC launch (of content that was already done), then 6 months for the next DLC.  6 months for the third, and then a year for the fourth. It wouldn’t surprise me if they kept to the exact same schedule since it is Destiny 1.5 after all. 😉

Is there a real world equivalent to this digital commercial behavior or is this just part of the new-norm, digitized economy?

Confirmation Bias : Warframe, Destiny 2

Metacritic is one of those fun sites that gives a glimpse into the mood of the crowd. It also has some truth to it. Long ago I stopped trusting paid reviewers and review sites for much of the obvious – they are just a single view point of opinion without any backdrop to understand what kind of games / movies they like. The reason why I keep putting movies in with games is that I do have the Flixster App on my phone which I am constantly referring to to find showtimes and also get a glimpse of the mood of the crowd as well. It is rare to have a Critic score match a User score (much like Metacritic) and when those two numbers are very different then I am tend to trust the user score first and foremost. I have had my issues with Metacritic before when the user reviews were reviewing the “liberal agenda” of Bioware moreso than the game that was released.

This lead in is to show the difference between a hyped up, huge ‘AAA’ title, Destiny 2 which disappointed many a fan but was largely gushed on by critics:

Versus the little engine that could, small developer made title out of London (Ontario – yay Canada):

When it comes down to it most of the negative complaints on the Destiny 2 Metacritic surround the shallowness of the experience, the lack of improvement, many comments about how this is really a Destiny 1.5 not a Destiny 2 – you know, the same old, basic fodder I have been throwing at it since the PS4 release. Basically the low score represents the disappointment of the fan base – myself counted among them. I always make it clear how much I loved Destiny 1 and how for me Destiny 2 represented an opportunity to improve upon it. That same mood is where a lot of the low scores stem from. The  high scores, anecdotally, are from people who didn’t play Destiny 1 – and that is ALSO fair – because if you don’t have a reference you don’t understand you are largely playing the same game with a few instances of two steps forward and three steps back.

Warframe on the other hand – continues to give me hours of enjoyment, discovery, challenge and fun. I very much understand “to each his own” and even put the title of this post as such because I am acutely aware that there are other trains of thought on the game. I am now 30 hours in and finding deeper enjoyment in the systems as I discover and use them, and the endless combinations and customization that is available. I am going to wait to add my own scores to the above Metacritic ratings but you can already guess on which side of the spectrum they will be.

Wait, There’s More : Warframe

Warframe is a game of discovery. And grinding. Thankfully the discovery part fun far outweighs any negative part of the grinding. Also, the grinding is fluid and ALSO fun so it’s in a pretty big win / win spot.

My third Warframe finished building (took three days) and it is the often recommended and easy to get for a new player – Rhino. The Rhino is a tanky, in your face frame with abilities that are best used up close and personal. The first is charge which propels you forward sending enemies flying away. It is very satisfying to charge an enemy and ram him into a wall and view the inkblot style blood spatter left on the wall as the body slides down, crumpled. Is that a caterpillar? No, an angel? A can of food? It’s it’s own fun mini-game. Psychology with a Rhino! The fun part of that ability is that if you chain it – each successful hit does more damage and impact. You can really rag doll the hell out of groups of enemies and also does decent boss damage. His second ability  hardens his armor making him near invulnerable for a time period. His third increases damage by all friendly units within range for thirty seconds in a multiplicative way by 50%, and the fourth is a massive floor stomp that does a nice turn of damage as well as lowering damage by the baddies and other status effects. In short, he is like the hulk, just less green and more intelligent.

Well, I guess he can be as green if you want.

On the advice of fellow blogger and all around nice-guy Jeromai I bought the limited time Hallowe’en color pack (basically free, 1 credit) since we are in that holiday time period. I used a nice, bright red to color my Rhino away from the black and whites I have been using for my other frames.

Then I saw the fun “random colors” button so I hit it. Several times. Here are the fun results only using the base color palette, Shadow, and Hallowe’en (Gallery opens when you click for easy viewing!)

That was fun. Of course, I ended up with the black on black on grey on grey one. Again. Ugh, I need more color in my life. Also note that the Syandana (which is Warframe for “cape”) doesn’t automatically change colors with the rest of your items.  It is easy enough to fix afterwards if you want it to match just by going to the Syandana (cape.. why make up a new name for this?) and clicking “copy main warframe colors”. You can also do this with your weapons, which I did here.

The Soma Prime is a gold weapon (as you see it in default form on the top left) and using ‘copy Warframe colors’ made it black and subtle red, with the nice green LED glows that match my frame. It’s an amazing system that you can play with for hours – or just hit random and not be as boring as I am. Colors are just the tip of the iceberg for customization for Warframe and after spending time with it I am already wondering how this is not the standard for many games – or at least the price of entry. It’s amazing.

With seemingly endless items to farm and build and a still hidden away story I am trying to discover – AND a full, new open world expansion (The Plains of Eidolon) to play at some point after I have visited and unlocked every planet I keep expecting to still hit that point where things become more repetitive and well, boring. Fortunately Warframe keeps giving me little surprises. I know the repetitive part is on the horizon somewhere but WF is doing a good job of pushing back that reality.

For example I thought I had explored all of the ‘types’ of missions but found another new one just the other night. A typical ‘rescue’ mission is to get to a prison area, hack jail cells, find the target, and extract them safely. I had commented in the past that I thought it was a nice feature that you can give up your secondary weapon to the prisoner and they will help you fight. I joined a mission on Europa which was to save squads of people, not just one. The twist was there were waypoints that required being kept powered up. When you started the squad moving they would go to the first waypoint and ‘rest’ there until you told them to move to the next one, and the next, until finally they would depart on the ship. Aside from keeping these gather areas powered up you had to escort the squad safely between them and to their final destination. Instinctively as a random group of 4 we all took a leg as our responsibility. Squad to C, C to B, B to A, and A to ship. As with most missions in Warframe that have ‘waves’ they start pretty easy and increase in difficulty. The game let’s you leave in set intervals (normally 5) but the longer you push and harder it gets – and the bigger the rewards. The group worked well for the first 10 squads we saved, at which point the far more experienced players in the group mentioned that we should push for 16. It was so hard. So fun. squad members (the NPCs) were getting picked off. It was getting impossible to solo the legs, so you had to have two move the group forward. The enemies became stronger and more numerous and we even had Warframes go down. This was a glimpse for me into a more meta-game – this mission would be easier with the right kind of Warframes with the right kind of build outs. I don’t have too many options there yet but it was a peek into a deeper and more nuanced and challenging option for end game players. The good part is that if the early going gets rough you can just end the round at the set intervals and everyone still gets their rewards and gets to go home.

The second pleasant surprise is that there are more and different kinds of Mods as you move planets. At the beginning I felt like I had seen them all and would get stacks of +40% health and +20% shields. (Mods are great because you can improve that +40% health to +240% health (for example) AND you can use that single mod in ALL of your Warframes. I love that they are not single use and are free to interchange anytime, anywhere.). On the newest planet I started getting more interesting mods, +STATUS, more specific to different situations and you could see how you could build very specific build outs with frames and mods – and then very specific team compositions – that will make farming and mission completion more efficient and enjoyable.

I do not know how much longer there will be new discoveries and newness – but I welcome and enjoy it. Especially after how shallow many games are these days (Destiny 2, Overwatch, etc.)

Where Have You Been : Warframe

As a continuation of my exploration of Warframe, the good AND the bad I made a bullet point list in my previous post. It was a pretty long list so not going to copy and paste it but use that as my step off for my “balanced and fair”,  “reporting”. Ahem.

First, a distracting, beautiful new skin that I received. (as with all of my blog post pictures – click on it to enlarge in a new window)

That is my same old, Frost Prime Warframe with the new skin, and using my Shade shader pack (which is basically black to white options, and greyscale in between). The art style is really growing on me. That guy me – looks absolutely amazing. I mean, horns! With dangly earrings!

As a comparison, here is the stock Frost Prime skin:

Which is also very cool, but at the end of the day isn’t robo-antler-guy.  The new skin is downright intimidatingly cool.  The sad part about how I got this skin is that it was from not watching Twitch streams.  Warframe gave me the Frost Prime skin for linking my Twitch account to my Warframe account after doing a free, Amazon Prime trial (still live right now, if you want a free Warframe). They also have a promotion going on right now that if you watch Twitch streams of Warframe you get a free in game item every time that streamer gets an in game achievement. There are streamers literally chain running new characters and getting 50+ achievements per hour, and then starting fresh again. The ‘feels like cheating’ part is that I just keep multiple Twitch streams open in the background while I work (or play) and the rewards roll in.

To be fair, 95% of the rewards are junk – fireworks, etc. And there is a limited reward set – I have received the same Rifle Blueprint over 100x already. On the good side, there is a whole bunch of cool things as well that I have received – from an in game Laser Beam Sential (Wyrm), to useful items to craft with, the Shade color back, and the Warframe Skin.  Obviously they have done the math but my logins look like this now:

Yup, 55 free items for not watching Twitch. I am sure they have done the math on it all. I also do not, for one bit, feel guilty or wrong about this. The truth is I am loving this game so much that I did give the company money. I got a 50% off Platinum (in game currency only available by spending real money) as a login reward so the $55 dollar CAD purchase I was going to make cost me half. It’s a good, Steam style system. I’ll probably spend more next time I get that perk. Supposedly there is a 75% off one too.

The next “good” thing on my bullet list is customization. There are literally hundreds of colors available (many for purchase, mind you) I only own the base colors and the Shade pack and here are a bunch more:

Customizers, eat your heart out. There are 5 shade available options on your Warframe (including power colors) as well as multiple options on your weapons, capes, Sentinel (fighting pet). Those aren’t even ALL the colors, that list above was from an old Reddit post I found from two years ago. There are actually 25 in total. Many people call Warframe “Fashionframe” and for good reason. You can customize everything, and the results can be stunning. I received a free Sentinel from Twitch called a Wyrm. I also received a free ‘mask’ for the Sentinel. IT was funny, because on it’s own it looks like a little machine that flies around and does things for you in game (looting items within range, attacking bad guys with whatever customized weapon you have given them, etc.) Here he is with his mask on:

Cute right? In a Voodoo, I am going to kill you kind of way. The green eyes, of course, are customizable. I also left up the fact that there are 7 tail options. Yup, you have the choice to add 7 tails to the little robot flying around your head looting and killing stuff for you. Tails. I find that a bit overkill on one breath, and in the other think the Para Sentinel Tail would look lovely on my Wyrm.

The true beauty if the game and customization is the Warframes themselves. Not only can you customize colors and dozens of options per frame (helmets, shoulder pads, leg pads, you name it – it is customizable) but the 34 current Warframes in game all offer different gameplay styles and abilities – and all form your core player. I have grown more and more in favor of this kind of progression. I am building my third Warframe currently (Rhino) and when it is ready, I just swap out Frost, and can keep using my high level weapons, addons, money – everything to move forward. It is a part of my character – not a new one – so no going back to square one everytime you get a new frame.

a small selection of available Warframes

There is something for everyone here, all wrapped up in a tight, beautiful gameplay package.  I have read people on Reddit learning new things about the game after putting in over 1000 hours already. I bet they don’t have everything in game yet either.

I mentioned I bought Platinum and my goal was to spend a little bit to get the automatic scanning Sentinel to fill out my Codex in the hopes that will give me backstory. It cost 75 to buy and I happily equipped him (it?), the mask, and went in game. Sure enough you could hear the scans going off every 3-4 seconds as I fought and after a few hundred scans I rushed back to my Codex (it’s available on the ship) to see what I had learned – and it was nothing that I had wanted. Sure, it had a cool model that rotated and showed what kind of damage it did, what kind of damage it was weak too, and also what loot it could drop – but no backstory or explanation. I was really looking forward to that part. The interest is still there to scan everything automatically now of course because hey, the completionist in me is happy. I am only on my 5th Planet (out of 17) so still holding out hope things get some clarity. The people building this game put in so many things that are very interesting but I still don’t know my purpose, or the purpose of the enemies that I am fighting.

What I do know, is that I can (and do, if I do say so myself) look good doing it.

“I’m pretty sure there’s a lot more to life than being really, really, ridiculously good looking. And I plan on finding out what that is.”  In space. Shooting things. Buying tails.

They Pull Me Back In : Destiny 2

My previous post about Destiny 2 was supposed to be my last one until the next expansion. If you love something set it free – if it comes back… blah blah blah. I had/have become too negative about a game I am no longer playing – but that frustration is born out of love! The game already became boring fast and they didn’t address most of the major issues of Destiny 1. In my opinion they even created new issues that now also need to be addressed.  For me, Destiny 1 was that child that I hoped would grow up to be an awesome community member but ended up living far short of  hope and expectation. Like a good parent I just need to accept that some kids get hooked on drugs – and love them anyway.

Destiny 2 developers recently had a panel to discuss how they were going to manage the game going forward and I was pretty disappointed to learn that it’s not by listening to feedback of their loyal/former customers.

Their main objective is to break the year into ‘Seasons’, which will last three months each (just like the real ones!). They will use these seasons for major balance changes (and the like) which I think is a smart way to do things – unless they leave horribly overpowered weapons or glitches for three months to fix. Still, that part is sensible – having a set phase for feedback and changes. What isn’t sensible is that they are going to reset your Clan XP (basically, your Guild) every season.

Seasons will reset your Clan progress, so everyone starts from zero. They said that was to make it so that new clans could keep pace with more established, high-level clans

This is confusing. No players asked for this. Not one. There is no competitive benefit to a Clan. You get a little extra glimmer (that you will hit the maximum on quickly, anyway). Some faction tokens (of gear you don’t need or want by the time your clan is high enough to get it) the odd, extra engram (of which you get 100s just by playing regularly. There is no benefit so great that needs resetting, no perk that being in a high level clan actually grants. What this does do, is screw with people who are in small clans with friends. When the perks are mostly fluff, why take away progression?

It’s a complete head scratcher. One thing players hate is to have things taken away that they have worked towards. This is yet another design decision showing that Bungie is completely disconnected from their community and it shows, too.

Destiny 2 went from a peak of 3.6 million players down to 1.9M in a month. Close to half. I am not sure how many huge launches lose almost half their playerbase in a month, but I am suspecting they were hoping that it would grow or sustain itself in the short to medium term. 2M players is still a great number, mind you, but it just doesn’t feel like it achieved everything a highly touted replayable sequel should have. I don’t even know if that kind of drop is normal for most games. For a game based on always having something to do and work towards it doesn’t make sense to me.

The answer to bringing players back isn’t by taking away their Clan XP, or making it so a gun that was Arc is now the exact same gun but now with Void damage – or even some pretty new armor. They need a path of true progression for casual players, through all of their content. That is what would bring me back – an LFG mechanic that has been the top wishlist item by the community since Destiny 1. I’ve given up on a coherent story but would love easy access to the content. I know Metacritic is not a great measuring tool but the average score has dropped from 5.9 to 5.6 since my September 20th post showing as people get to the end and realize how shallow the game is there is a growing frustration.

This design decision makes me feel that they are not hitting revenue targets with “silver” sales (basically buying in game currency with real money) and the players are not sticking around. They are not seeing their return on investment (500 million) – they signed a 10 year agreement in 2010, meaning there is just a scant three years left before Bungie is free to go publish with who they want. So they are pushing Bungie to monetize faster and harder while they can. The reskin. The novice story writing and telling. The same enemies. It is all adding up to maximizing profits for profit’s sake.

Back in 2010 an analyst forecasted this on the partnership:

“It’s reasonable to expect that Bungie will put out a game every two or three years, so probably four games under this deal,” he said. “If we think that the games will do 8 million units each (very conservative, my bias is much higher), then we’re talking about 32 million units sold at an average of $45 wholesale (again, very conservative). That’s $1.44 billion in sales.”

Instead of four titles, guess two. The other numbers might line up still though, as charts list sales across all platforms of Destiny 1 (and expansions) of over 17M units globally. Doubt they are hitting the $45 average on that with the expansion units in the mix. As commercially successful as it has been the clock is ticking on maximizing potential return.

I feel really bad for a lot of my PC friends who will be playing Destiny 2 for the first time soon who held off from the console version. I am really curious if the boost of PC players gives the game life or just a larger chorus of detractors from what should have / could have been.

As long as they don’t release information saying that the next expansion they are resetting all characters back to zero again so new players can keep pace with older, established players – I will hopefully be done caring now. Good luck to you Destiny 2.

Anything You Can Do : Warframe

If you haven’t played Warframe (at all or recently) here is a two minute non-commentated clip of an assassination mission I completed this morning to give you an idea of the gameplay. I am using the Frost Prime warframe (free with Twitch Prime! Even better is that it is free with a Twitch Prime *trial account! Which is how I got it. I am using the starter bow as my primary weapon (I like it because it’s silent, which allows for stealthy play around the map) a giant Axe as my melee, and a sidearm as my secondary.

That is the base model (colors and everything) but the only addition is that kickass cape, which I colored myself when I put it on. You’ll notice a few fun things:

  • Enemies try to run to set the alarms a few times, which I am able to stop them from doing (you can do a hack minigame to turn them off. The alarms increase number and frequency of enemies)
  • The beautiful of two bow moves which makes the gunplay incredible – one when I am running away and shooting over my shoulder, and the second when I zoom in, floating down, Legolas style and kill a baddie.
  • I used two of my four abilities in here (and both not well) – first is “freezing” an enemy, and second is sending frozen spikes in a straight line that kills anything it hits (I hit nothing).
  • You can jump, climb, slide, etc – just move over any part of the map. It’s parkour all the way.
  • The little guy (Taxon I think?) is my companion who loots for me (all items within X range), and I have outfitted him with a gun which freezes enemies. He also steals shields from enemies and transfers them to me.
  • Maps are randomly generated, and are varied and well put together. It’s impressive.

There is a taste of the gameplay, of which I wasn’t doing particularly great, but should give you an idea of the style of the game. I was sliding too much. (Bullet jump – the forward moving barrel roll –  is jump+slide buttons together.)

I wanted to show you that before describing the game to give you some background and flavor of style and game substance. Steam says I have put in 25 hours into the game but Warframe says I am at ten and a half – assuming WF is correct here.

It does so much, so much better than Destiny 2 and outside of the FPS vs TPS difference (a biggie, granted) I can now see why people wish Destiny 2 had adopted much of what is good in Warframe. Which is most of it. Caution here is the first 10 hours “new car smell” of it all but I can’t stop playing right now.

The Good:

  • More unique content than I can imagine consuming at this point
  • Playstyle for everyone – over 30 Warframes with different skills and powersets, and hundreds of weapons
  • No barriers to progression in early game – haven’t seen the need to spend money outside of wanting to reward the developers (but, not sure of a good way to do that either!) Feels like F2P done well
  • Personaliztion to the nth degree – colors, addons, weapons, frames, ships, companions – you name it
  • Co-Op Matchmaking for all gameplay and game styles
  • Deep and interesting systems
  • Tight shooting and fighting gameplay
  • Movement. Wow, The Movement.
  • Codex in game
  • You get your  home home base, your ship (which can also be fully personalized)
  • Helpful community in game and on Reddit.
  • Fun, Interesting and varied mission types

The Bad:

  • Story campaign is drip fed. I am still confused on what is going on
  • Codex is gated behind in game scanning. Which is cumbersome and challenging.
  • Third Person only
  • Systems do not interlink effectively or efficiently, and are confusing at first (and persistently so sometimes)
  • Co-Op “rush” mentality
  • New Player Experience needs fixing / updating
  • Biggest new update does not apply/ not effective for new players
  • Art style is love / hate

Unique Content: Good

I am not going to write a paragraph about each thing (today) but going to touch them over a series of posts. First off the universe is gated by jumpgates and repeatable missions. In Destiny 2 they gave you a handful of planets but took away the original handful from Destiny 1. Here is the solar system map in Warframe, through my ship’s Navigation system (pictures taken with my starter Warframe, the Volt, which I personalized to be blue).

When you zoom in a bit it shows how they are connected and gives you an idea of the number of missions available on that planet.

And of course, further zooming in shows how the missions on each planet are connected.

You aren’t going to run out of anything to do in the short term. Each of those planets and missions are very different, and procedurally generated so if you are running them for the second, tenth, or twentieth time at least there is some variation.  You can see with the blue lights the missions I haven’t completed yet. The mission types I have participated in so far include (and I don’t know if I have done them all yet):

  • Assassinate: Kill a high priority target
  • Terminate: kill X number of bad guys
  • Defend: Protect an item at a specific spot for X waves of enemies
  • Mobile Defence: Carry a hack terminal to three different spots in the map, and defend it while it downloads information
  • Spy: Steal data – if you get seen near the hack terminals and alarms get set, the data will get destroyed so have to be stealthy
  • Rescue: Save a hostage(s). Fun part is after you release them from their cell, you can give them your secondary weapon to help fight. You have to be stealthy in the first part (setting them free, or they could be exterminated) and then escort them out of the area safely in the second part
  • Sabotage: Destroy strategic objectives within a map
  • Interception: Capture and hold control points on a map
  • Survival: Be a distraction so a fellow Warframe can run a mission. Set off the alarm and survive for X minutes.

And I think there are more, but those are the ones I have tried.  There are also there “bad guys” at this point – the Grineer, the Corpus, and the Infested, so each of them have their own style and substance to those missions.

Story Clarity: Bad

Remember those factions I mentioned just a couple lines ago? I don’t quite understand why I am killing them all. In fact, I don’t even understand why I exist at all. I know my ‘handler’ The Lotus, who gives me my missions calls me a Tenno. I know she somehow rescued me from Vor and the Grineer who were trying to capture me. I don;t even know what I am! Am I a person inside the suit? Human? Or am I a robot? When I change suits (are they suits?) do I leave one and jump in the other, or is my programming sent over, OR am I some sort of ghost /soul that floats between constructs to do the bidding of the mysterious Lotus? Who am I fighting for?

By paying attention to what I have found IN game I know the Grineer (who freed me to try and use me for their own desires) are dying out because so much cloning has made their DNA fragile and unintelligent, and that they had planned to use me to rebuild themselves. Or something like that. But I don’t know what year it is, (IS THIS TRUMPS AMERICA IN 2025?) or what/who I am, or how I got here. The Corpus, the second enemies I ran into use more robots and look different but I still don’t know why I am killing them either, or what their society looks like, and how they got to where they are.

The infested, on the other hand, I have sorted out through in game means that they were a weapon that the Corpus were testing on and of course they got out. There were some in game mentions that the infested lived long ago but were thought to have been defeated – eliminated, but these mentions and findings in missions are often during periods of hectic fighting and survival and I don’t always absorb all the information fully.

The Codex: Good AND Bad

Big points for having a Codex in game. Big negatives for not having story elements in baseline. All the questions I have about the Story Clarity in my previous paragraph should be solved through the Codex. It still might be. There is a lot of base information available immediately – all the weapons and Warframes – but the things in the world have to be scanned by you.

You can buy a limited charged scanner from the marketplace for in game dollars (and cheaply) but this isn’t explicitly instructed and I had to sort that out on my own. Add to that, how difficult it is to scan in game (you can’t be interrupted, and its hard to be in a non-combat state) so things are not fleshed out. In 2 of 20 possible scans of a single Grineer Fronteir Lancer (They have more than a dozen Grineer enemy types that I have seen so far – maybe far more) I get little information. I want background info, not stats. 18 more scans to find out!

In the first bit of P2WL (Pay to Win – Lore) I saw in the Codex for companions that instead of my companion that steals shields and loots for me, there is one that automatically scans codex entries. You have to pay real money for it (sadly) or find the Prime blueprints (very rare) via in game activities. I have luckily found 1 of 4 components for that particular companion but also have 1 of 4 components for a dozen other items too. It’s not looking good from a lore / story Codex particulars. And I think when you are trying to build context in a world and game that this part should be especially accessible. I am hoping the story becomes more clear and obvious as I unlock new planets – long time readers here know how much I appreciate stories in games. I have really trashed Destiny 2 for this, but that was because they doubled down on a terrible story/premise. I liked it better when there was benefit of the doubt, of which, the story of Warframe still has.

From a pure game perspective it is incredibly fun to navigate through a map, shoot bad guys, find items, and complete objectives – all the while leveling up your items and frames, customizing skills and abilities, and exploring new planets. All items that I will discuss in future articles.

Go the Way of the Dodo : Single Player

Andromeda has been my favorite game this year. I love long, single player rpgs in expansive universes where my decisions impact the gameplay.  While I understand some of the arguments against Andromeda and the ambitions it tried to live up to – as a standalone product it probably would have been better received. Either way – it is sadly mothballed, we will never learned what happened to the Quarians (or any species in that universe) and a huge chunk of alternate gaming realities (the Mass Effect universe) is now, quintessentially, extinct.

And now the Star Wars RPG project is also as EA shuts it down.

Electronic Arts announced yesterday that it is refocusing the Star Wars project that had been in development at Visceral Games, an unannounced action-adventure title with a linear story campaign. EA Vancouver is taking over with a new direction, assisted by other EA studios, while EA is shuttering Visceral Games entirely and looking to shift the studio’s developers elsewhere inside the company.

It’s a sad day for single player game fans who have had a slew of Star Wars titles to enjoy in this manner. Heck, the original Knights of the Old Republic is what put Bioware on the map to begin with.  Of course, I am not really surprised.

Patrick Söderlund described the industry as “evolving faster and more dramatically than ever before,” and pointed to market trends as part of EA’s reasoning.

That is executive speak for we can’t sell loot boxes in single player games“.  

This breaks my heart. We are abandoning narrative for repetitive. Choice for chance. Immersion for twitch streaming capability. Destiny 2, Battlefront 2, Anthem, Overwatch… Its all about the crates. It’s far easier to create repeatable content than meaningful content and more profitable to heavily monetize a small world than to abandon a large piece of one when you move past the narrative. I do get that.

I am just hoping that this is just the new trend, and there will be future market demands for expansive RPGs – hoping Dragon Age, Red Dead Redemption 2 or some other game can hit it out of the park and get other studios back interested in the single player narrative. My worst fear is that they will somehow add a loot crate mechanic to those games. I was very much looking forward to exploring the Star Wars Universe through a personal story lens, as it remains one of my favorite worlds to fantasize about being a part of since childhood.  Very disappointed but not entirely surprised.

No Satisfaction : Destiny 2

Media is reporting that Destiny 2 physical sales are down 50% during this period over the 2014 Destiny 1 release. While not a big surprise as consumers shift away from boxes, analysts hit Activision pretty hard.

“The launch month of Destiny 2 was well short of the original iteration by a material amount,” Piper Jaffray analyst Michael Olson wrote in a note to clients Friday, citing the NPD data.

Wedbush analyst Michael Pachter also called the “Destiny 2” sales “underwhelming” in a Friday report.

Pachter added the September NPD “Destiny 2” sales data missed his forecast for the game by 37 percent.

I take no joy in this, but am also somewhat okay with the fact that (if reported correctly) the market is voting with their wallets.

I still believe that Destiny 2 is what happens when you try to launch a big game with as small of a budget as possible. I do believe, since the game is really just a reskin of the first, that it will be Activision’s most profitable game – maybe ever. So little work went into Destiny 2 as a sequel that an expansion team probably built it. So, while the market and analysts may be giving Destiny 2 a hard time I am sure Kotick and company are laughing in the background because they are still going to make billions off of a game they put little effort into improving.

Activision didn’t even really help matters by not gushing over the sales volume of Destiny 2, back like it did for Destiny 1.

Activision Blizzard on September 15 announced Destiny 2 sales “surpassed the original’s records for engagement and digital sales in launch week.” However the company did not reveal a total sales number for “Destiny 2” inclusive of physical retail store sales in contrast to the “more than $325 million” first week press release for original title in 2014.

When you stop bragging about things it’s normally because you have nothing to brag about (cue World of Warcraft subscription numbers). Then again, they may be waiting for the PC release. This too will be skewed information since you can buy Destiny 2 with WoW tokens now. Either way the game has earned it’s negative press. I am nearing max light and I haven’t seen a raid or a nightfall strike. I wait until Tuesday (reset), get my 3 powerful engrams – one of which by doing an activity I hate (Crucible) get a few light levels and abandon the game for the rest of the week. There is nothing there for the 84% of the player base (on PS4) that hasn’t completed the raid.

Outside of the terrible story and the recycled enemies, weapons,and classes the ‘true emperor has no clothes’ moment for me came this week when I was playing and I realized that they didn’t fix the AI. Destiny (1 and 2) had two quirks with it’s AI that I always thought was completely lazy (noticing a theme here?). First, let’s revisit when I called them out on crappy AI in 2014:

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 had not experienced this in Destiny 2 but I found it once again while questing for my Midi Multi tool. Swarms of thralls start rushing me and I think I am going to die. I am backpedaling, pull out my shotgun, grenade is on cooldown, Super is not charged – this is going to be a tense moment and I am probably going to bite it but maybe, just maybe I can pull it off! Continue backpedaling while shooting, health is at 5%, 10-15 enemies are on me AND – they stop and run away. I crossed a line on the ground that made them disengage. Step forward, they stop running away and charge again! Step back one step and they run away again. You can trivialize encounters this way. I did.

It’s the exact same game, kids.

Add to the bad AI is that when you die enemies continue to shoot at your “ghost” / body.  You are dead. Enemies keep shooting you. There is no AI trigger to stop shooting the dead guy and focus on the other, live players in the room.

There re many other games to play and Destiny 2 will be out of the spotlight until the next DLC which I (now regrettably) pre-bought  with high expectations they would improve the game. I will probably complain at that time (rightly so) that the DLC content should have been in at launch since there is so little content to do currently. My guess is that the DLC is already done and they are just waiting for the right lull in interest to fire it up to get back to media sites and good press about the amazing “new” content they have provided.

And yet I play my hour or two each week waiting and hoping the game will somehow just get better. That makes me almost as – or just as – bad as them.

W(TF)arframe

When googling “games like Destiny” one game pops up frequently. I google that phrase quite a bit as I hope and fantasize about another gaming company building a game like Destiny but addressing the shortfalls and applying a bit more effort. The game that pops up frequently is Warframe. Warframe is a free to play third person loot-shooter. It is very different from Destiny in terms of the third person part, and that from what I understand the missions have a tileset, random map function to keep things interesting. Their tagline is also “Ninjas play free”. I am not a Ninja but still was able to play free! When googling and reading about Warframe I kept coming back to one, consistent thought.

“What the F*ck?”

So of course, to all the better answer that, I logged in.

I think the best way to describe Warframe from a Destiny 1 or 2 perspective is that it would be just like it if you only played using your super ability the whole time. It actually works okay (although I wish there was a first person mode). The story is very confusing at first. You are awoken as a “Tenno” by a bad dude (VOR) who is trying to use you for his / his team’s power, of uniting the universe under a single rule. Some emperor or Queen.  The Lotus is a person/group that wants to free you to do what you do best – going against tyranny and oppressive rule. Or something like that. The introductory mission does a good job of teaching you your abilities, and the focus the game has on movement, but not so good and explaining the bigger lore and story of the universe.

The art style is very unique, futuristic and interesting. After the first mission I googled the Warframe story and what I did find was that it is actually reviewed as pretty good, and spoiler warnings were that the story style of the game is meant to be confusing – you were just awoken, and as you play through the game things will be explained to you more. I didn’t read past the spoilers since I am a big sucker for a good story and will explore it in game. I ran three or four missions and it acts as a tutorial of sorts. The fighting is slick, the weapon options are varied, and I’m sorting things out. Although, to be honest, I am still very much confused at this early stage but definitely intrigued enough to keep going. Free to play, after all.

The game makes you make three choices early on. First is your base Warframe – the name of the game. There are three options and it explains each a bit in game which I will let you discover for yourself. I chose Volt, pictured above, which has a caster like electric shock ability. Through out the first mission you also have to choose a melee weapon (Bo staff or Sword, I chose Bo staff) a secondary weapon (throwing knives or pistol, I chose pistol) and a main weapon (bow and arrow or machine gun, I chose the bow). When you finish the first  mission you get your own space ship, which is your base. I like having a cool home base. Of course the various parts aren’t working or are missing so the next few missions you are upgrading core components. The first is the module to upgrade and outfit your gear. The second is the galactic marketplace. I didn’t spend much time at either. Each of these core component discoveries continues the tutorial aspect of what you can do and how you can do it, while also keeping an underlying story going (Vor attached some things to us, that we can’t get off, that gives him access to our mind a bit.. so assuming we have to sort out how to free ourselves from that at some point.)

Then, I find the holy grail in my ship. A Codex. The Codex has a listing of all the available Warframes as well as details about factions, the universe, weapons (Etc.). I spent an hour exploring and reading here. Delicious background information.

There are a TON of frames. How to get them I have no clue yet and I don;t even know what they are – suits I go in? Am I a person?  These things have not yet been revealed to me and I am playing and learning in this game with a lot of enthusiastic confusion.  The Codex, however, has mission recaps (the first picture in this post was from that) and tons of information. Most exciting for me was that there are stories sprinkled throughout. Check out the Codex on the Mag Prime Warframe that I aptly nicknamed “The Geth”:

Warframe Archive – Debrief excerpt

We sat strapped in, safeties off, waiting for the punch. Waiting for death. Through my filthy porthole I saw stars among the outlines of the other Splinter ships queuing for the Solar Rail. It would soon grip us with an incomprehensible power and cast us through the void into the mouth of our enemy.

I watched the ships one-by-one bending and gone. Each crammed with zero-tech soldiers sucking stale air, white knuckling their percussion rifles. Each filled with a desperation that comes from extinction. Our ship would be the last to cross the gap. Our ship had special cargo.

It was essentially empty. Just ten men, like me, strapped in with the best zero-tech suits and weapons the empire could build… and “it”. “It” stood in the aisle, a slender and eyeless metal form. A Tenno inside its Warframe. Vaguely human, vaguely feminine. Was this armor or some ornate carapace for the monster that lived inside? I strained against the harness as the ship yawed for final approach. I could see the Tenno standing there freely. Solemn and gold-gleaming, oblivious to the inertial force.

I had been, until then, a Tenno denier. They were ghosts, propaganda, twisted casualties of the void era. Not possibly real. Yet here it was in the flesh. The Empire, in their desperation, was going to turn the demons loose and hope for the best. Who did we fear more, the enemy or this monster? We had our safeties off, could we trust it? Then it didn’t matter anymore. The punch came – and our windows became blinding. When we could see again our ship was somewhere else, shattered and dead in an instant.

My lungs were flattened, eyes full of death. Ship debris glittered like a night snow. The alien blue star was dark and blinding beyond us. The countless articulating worm-ships of our enemy, ringed in glowing discs, undulating and heat-bursting the surviving soldiers like me. This is where I died. I was in R-disc, sweeping over my right and setting my blood on fire. My vision flattened, the hearing muffled and buzzed. I could feel the side of my face going slack and wet.

I was in a dying dream. I saw a bright spot blurring and weaving toward me. I felt a tug toward it from the metal clasps on my suit. It reached me, rising up – a gleaming beast, a plume of golden wings rising and unfolding behind it. An angel. It snatched me from my death. I could feel my lungs fill as it wrapped me in its wings. Its Void Shield shimmered blue, strained under the enemy beams. I felt a suddenly tug of acceleration. I closed my eyes and held on it like a child.

I awoke on the floor, the sting of crisping flesh on my face and side. It was standing over me, the wings gone. I heard the cracking of weapons echoing down the corridor. Maybe the mission would be saved, but I was dying and so I waved my hand to send it away. I felt a pistol thrust in my hand as I was heaved to my feet. The angel had saved me, pulled me from hell, but it would not pity me. I was to die on my feet, by its side. I turned my good side toward the gunfire and raised the gun. It nodded, its outstretched metal hand surging and pulsing in ancient shapes as blue shimmered around me. It turned, drawing its blade and together we surged headlong into the hailstorm of death and fire that awaited us.

Ok. Still very confused, but also very hooked, lined, and sinker-ed. I do find it interesting that the suits themselves have male/female forms and I am assuming at some point I will be able to jump in between them as I want.

What is Warframe? So far it is fun and I have barely scratched the surface. Whether or not it has staying power for me as a standalone game, or Destiny 2 replacement, remains to be seen. Definitely worth exploring more. The game has been around since 2013, has a ton of contents and updates (all free), and has a huge new open world expansion dropping very soon. I’ll report more back as I play and hopefully there is a lot of war-splaining to come during that exploration.

Blade Runner 2049 – Commentary

Heads up, there will be some spoilers here, so I am going to insert a nice big graphic about Blade Runner that I stole from the internet, and then discuss openly. You have been warned. I don’t typically review movies – I leave that to the experts – because my general expertise and thoughts after I see a movie are two things. First, Did I like it? And secondly, How did it make me feel? I have trouble judging what a good acting performance looks like, progressive cinematic directorial erm.. shindigs? Shenanigans? See, I can’t even make up the right jargon! It’s like how I review wine on Vivino. I can never discern or discover the hints of jasmine undertones and juicy aromatics in a glass of wine. It’s red. It tastes good. It’s affordable. Although when I am really inspired I can explain that glass of wine on how I feel – recent reviews of Ports that I have enjoyed include:

“I went back to this one to see if my tastes have matured. Nope, still a 4. Could have guessed the maturity angle by realizing I still love superhero movies”

and

“Remember your first kiss? It was probably awkward and sweet. Remember your first French kiss? Yeah this Port is like that. More complex and exciting.”

OK. Time for spoiler territory and low-set expectations movie discussions.

First off – if you haven’t seen the original Blade Runner you will not understand most of what is good about this movie. This is not a reboot, or a vehicle to introduce new people to the world of Blade Runner. If you go without the prior knowledge you will be treated to a visual treat and three hours of what the f*ck is going on? I am in camp one. Blade Runner is one of my favorite movies. I have watched it too many times. I have not watched it in 10 years, however, and coming into BR:2049 I was pulled back into that place of wonder – so mission accomplished. I think. I enjoyed every minute of the movie.

The picture above I chose very much on purpose. BR:2049 has a lot of social commentary that can apply to what is going on in the world right now but none so interesting and engaging (to me) as the relationship between Joi – a purchasable video AI companion and Officer K – our replicant Blade Runner.  This relationship is introduced early on when K returns home, wading through hundreds of human beings, to lock himself into his apartment. The AI quickly establishes that it has memory (“I am getting cabin fever”) and a sense of understanding that she loves K and is an important part of his life. Throughout the movie that relationship is deepened, challenged, and eventually, destroyed. This made me think deeply about if Joi ever did exist and if capable of thought – is she alive?

This is all thrown for a loop near the end when K interacts with the giant Joi billboard above – where pieces of what she used very personally to K presents itself in an advertisement to buy the AI that “tells you what you want to hear”. Was Joi capable of thought and connection with K, or was she just following a script as programmed? Throughout the movie the former was explored and seemed a sure thing but this moment cast that doubt. Which makes sense in a movie that was designed from front to back to question what it is to be human anyway. This made me think of our current social media and the interactions we share with people there. Are they true interactions? Are they meaningful? Is that possible through a digital lens?

Adding to my struggle with Joi and what she represented in the movie is that she looks like a woman I have had a crush on since high school, and who I only interact with via social media now (as friends). So it has a real world theme to me. (Defining crush here – we are both married and completely happy – but high school nostalgia is a thing, you know?) Seeing her reminded me of the young her and of course with my beer-goggle Ryan status (Reynolds, not Gosling – but hey, stretching! On both.) The scenes where they interacted had an emotional impact on me. It was very strange, uncomfortable and unnatural. Much like the K’s journey of changing from a robotic bounty hunter to unique being (replicant born, not created) to conceded pawn grasping at what it means to be human (via sacrifice).

And, if you haven’t seen the movie and still read this post anyway, not worried about spoilers, you are probably as confused as someone who didn’t see the first movie and walked into this one. And congratulations – what I just explained covers less than 10 minutes of screen time of the whopping 2 hours, 45 minutes. So plenty more to discover and be curious about. There are so many themes to explore and so much homage to the first all wrapped up in incredible visuals (with slight peaty undertones). Sorry about those last four words, confusing my next whiskey review with this one. They all feel the same.

I label this movie a must watch for fans of the first, and a must watch for science fiction fans who are willing to watch the first movie before seeing this one. It is time well spent.

Property Rights and Wrongs :

Longtime reader(s) of this blog will know that I have referenced the British based but globally inspired news magazine The Economist several times. I read it weekly. I enjoy it’s very neutral and open views on the world as a “liberal newspaper”. Quotations there because while they consider themselves liberal, I find them liberal on social issues yet conservative on fiscal issues (for the most part). The word liberal definitely means different things depending on what country you are in (in Canada, my home country, for example, the Liberal Party leader is a handsome, rich, spoiled kid – the very definitely of privilege (father was a former Prime Minister) –  who says the right things and takes amazing selfies yet isn’t so great at running a country – and the world adores him! Personally I think they should make him a mascot. He excels in the outward facing, ineffective role.). But those thoughts and terms and politicizing are for another day. I hope I didn’t make my fellow Canucks angry with the honesty.

The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms does not protect property rights in Canada (Constitutionally). There has been some debate on whether there is anything to be worried about there and that property rights protections may be covered elsewhere. I know – it’s hard to be tough on a document written and adopted by old people who had zero thought or idea on how the world would look today. Just look at our US neighbors and the battles they have over modern day constitutional rights compared to historical context on execution of such rights. IE: No person needs 40+ guns in a hotel room in the USA unless they plan on killing 50+ people and injuring 10x that amount in quick succession. BUT, the 1800’s law protects that guy who might be able to afford a single shot musket. Those are the same things, right?

Still off track. Let’s see, offended Canada for their PM-darlingism, and offended the 29% or so of hardcore Republican Americans for their guns above lives mindset (at least one, of which, reads this blog. Hi Mehlan! I still love you. And your country).. can I pick on the EU or the Middle East? North Korea? Wait – SO off track. That’s right. Property Rights.

The Economist had a nice article about Digital property rights. It’s a nice read. It basically covers the thought of how manufacturers are now licencing everything as services now instead of actual products so the buyer has less rights in the end. The good old days if I bought something I could do what I wanted with it, including reselling it. That of course has gone the way of the dodo bird in favor of paying for access, terms of service, and the like. This is moving from strict software platforms to even actual, hard goods. For example – did you know that if you own a Tesla you cannot use it to be employed by Uber? They explicitly restrict that specifically.  Could you imagine if every other car company said that? (Why haven’t they yet? It’s coming, soon. So then they can sell more taxi fleet vehicles..).

I’m tired today and uncharacteristically snarky about some things in the world, which we are supposed to just accept now as the way things are. They weren’t always that way, and don’t have to be.  Property rights in general are starting to give me concern and while it is very early in the changes to hard goods it doesn’t seem unrealistic that the world of business is moving further in the wrong direction there. A direction our beloved video games have lead the charge in and continue to constrict for their users and markets.

I might start reading more, and do a book blog instead. As long as it’s not a digital book, of which I would only own access to.

Third Party Markets – Destiny 2

In 2008 I argued that the best way to solve WoW’s third party gold selling problem was to sell gold themselves. They had lost the ability to control their own in game economy and the best way to fix that would be to crowd out the third party markets making it not worthwhile for the hackers and bots.  At that time, I didn’t even suggest to exchange that purchase for more in game time but I did suggest you support the buyer with a lower subscription fee. That would balance out the developer greed of inflating the in game economy further. While I did not envision the WoW token it was a problem that needed to be solved back then. And here we are, with it solved in WoW.

Destiny 2 is now also facing this problem. I have two of my character classes in the mid 270s and at this stage I can only improve my character by grinding super hard for the fraction of a chance for a fraction of an increase, join a clan and tackle very challenging end game content, or stop playing. I instead moved to my third character slot and have my Warlock in the mid 200s meaning I have another week of playing before parking my characters and waiting for DLC to arrive.  I have (and keep) mentioning how frustrating that is considering the way the market is and how a game like WoW realized how to engage the casual core by making content accessible. Destiny 2 opted against that for the weakest of reasons, that they were worried it would create ‘toxic’ behavior. Clearly, if WoW can have Mythic+10 PUGS not go toxic so could Destiny with a little bit of effort.

I keep making that argument because I am still not buying it. And instead of an average game with amazing mechanics I believe D2 could be an amazing game with amazing mechanics. A little bit of investment and effort would help that.

Of course, what Destiny 2 takes away from the casual player base is now being monetized by third parties.

Whether or not this marketplace would exist with accessible content is anyone’s guess s- but the truth is WoW gold selling websites now sell gold for more than Blizzard does – meaning the market shouldn’t exist, isn’t profitable, and has been successfully neutered. I don’t care enough about the game to invest on third party sites to see the content, but I do care enough about the game to wish they would do the right thing and provide that content to their customers. Only 11% of the player base has been in a raid. Their “guided games” feature will not improve that. It should be 80% – which they will never hit.

In my WoW RMT article linked at the top I admitted I bought gold. I was raiding hard and didn’t have the time to grind the gold to get the mats to build the things I needed to raid effectively. That is a work/play balance WoW had wrong back then.

Good games learn from mistakes (theirs and others) and it is not too late for Destiny 2 to add matchmaking to their more challenging content. The base content has ZERO challenge and I think they would be surprised at both the quality of their player base and their ability to play the game as intended with matchmaking.  They have specifically stated this will not happen but I hope with all the negative feedback they are getting on this issue they will reconsider – even if legacy content is added with new DLC or some way to get the players playing the game they paid for. There is not a reasonable argument to not have your game’s content easily accessible in a walk in the park game like Destiny 2, and it may even encourage and support in game RMT purchases.