Leap of Faith

Sep 03
Posted by Ben at 13:50

When Uncharted 4 came out I wrote a piece about its disconnect between narrative and gameplay. Itís well-storied so I wonít retell the whole piece here, we all know it. Uncharted suffers from a form of Ludonarrative dissonance, itís practically the poster boy for it. Nathan Drake quipping his way through a blood bath. Joking as he murders countless people just because he wants to steal shit. Not for peace or to save the world, he just wants treasure, and for that heíll snap necks and kick people to their deaths. Really Uncharted should share more tone with Max Payne, but as I said, this is well covered, I should move on

Uncharted The Lost Legacy is kind of a spin-off from Uncharted 4. It started out as lengthy dlc that began to justify a retail release and a higher price, and it does. I finished it last week and itís good. Iím not going to write a full review for it because I donít have time, and itís not the sort of game we usually review, but itís is good. It feels less bloated than Uncharted 4 was, more gamey and light-hearted, but plays down the jokey tone. Actually itís the moments where it plays up to that tone that feel the most out of place, itís not something you associate with Chloe, she always felt more mercenary than Nathan. Teaming Chloe up with Uncharted 4ís Nadine, a hardened soldier, then having them bantz about, it feels like Naughty Dog still a bit afraid of making a Drake-free Uncharted game.

Before I move on, Iím not sure that Naughty Dog have retconned Chloeís nationality, possibly more that they just never dwelt on it before. It does, for those of us who arenít buried deep in Uncharted lore, feel like theyíve tweaked her a bit, but I like it. Iím not ordinarily too keen on characters being altered, just make a new character rather than have them not mention something that is now hugely important for years (like a brother youíre guilt-ridden over for example), but I do feel like theyíve done a decent job with Chloe. Itís also nice to play as someone who isnít another white guy. Iím not against playing as a white guy, I am a white guy, but Iíve been playing games for a very long time and playing something that stands out is a rarity. I want new experiences, new stories, not everyone cares I guess, but Iím bored and am not going to turn my nose up whatever novelty I can get.

Anyway, to the point, finally. Something Uncharted has always been guilty of, and itís far from the only game, Tomb Raider does it too, any number of games do. In Uncharted the characters throw themselves in to the unknown all the time. Iím not quite sure how to condense it in to a single word or phrase, but to explain: Thereís an obstacle, you could tentatively try to puzzle it out, inch your way through it, but instead the solution will be to climb to the top of it, past the point of no return and hope for the best. In Uncharted 4, particularly the Scotland sections, you climbed sheer rock, certain death below you, with no way of getting back if it turns out thereís no convenient footholds beyond a certain point. In Lost Legacy Chloe will swing across gaps with no way of getting back, she never gets stuck, thereís always a way up, over, or under.

I get it, itís a game, itís just jarring. Itís the Deus Ex Machina of platforming. As Iíve said, a lot of Unchartedís problems, the disconnect it suffers from, are due to it trying to make the characters grounded, likable, and human. Them also being bullet sponges, mass-murders, it shines a giant spotlight on it. Same with the climbing, Iím not sure if itís infinite luck or dumb action movie, but it doesnít sit right. The only way I can see to fix it would be to shrink down the environments, rather than climb a mountain you need to get over a fence. Not really that exciting is it?

My other gripe, and itís on a similar track, the people who built these giant elaborate puzzles, why didnít them make them simpler? I can understand the puzzles where youíre really just supposed to rotate something, but the arm has broken or a mirror has shattered, so you need to climb up and move the final piece yourself, thatís not too bad. Thereís a particular puzzle in Lost Legacy though where the solution is to climb up the giant structure, make leaps of faith, and turn some water on. Itís the only way of solving the puzzle. Why did the long dead civilisation make it so difficult? ďTo keep people out!Ē, yeah, sure, how do they get in though? They might know the solution, but they still have to go through all the leaping and climbing

I know both of these complaints are minor, itís just a game, excuse the gamey aspects of it. I know, and fair enough. Why do I need to single Uncharted out for it, Iím not sure, I think it might be the worst for it, or just itís the one that shines a spotlight on it. Maybe itís the series that feels the most like it could move past the gamey side of gaming, it has the budget, Naughty Dog have the talent. Who knows, I donít, but I do feel like, if we get another Uncharted it might be the game to move things on.
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Talking It
Apr 17
Posted by Ben at 14:09

Many years ago I wrote a God Mode On post called ĎGeneration Gameí, and now I regret it because I canít think beyond that title for this post. I mentioned in the last God Mode On that it was something of a 2 parter, that my conversation with the 20 year old had led me down a mind path that brought me to this topic. If the extended generations, both from the prolonged PS3 and 360 generation, and the topical mid-point refreshing of the generation weíre seeing this time around. I donít really have a problem of the 1.5 versions of the PS4 and the Xbox One, in fact I have a Playstation 4 Pro and am quite interested to see what the Scorpio can do, even if I canít see myself picking one up. I feel like 5 years ago Iíd be furious at the prospect of the console audience being split, the haves and the have-nots of gamers, the early adopters being punished with inevitably inferior versions of games. Honestly, typing this, I feel like thatís what this post should be about, but itís not, Iím not that angry

Possibly itís because I felt this generation was underpowered when it began. Rather than another lengthy generation like the last one, I was expecting a truncated one, that the consoles were too feeble to sustain themselves. So maybe thatís why, maybe I feel like itís taken until the past year for this generation to really begin, certainly Iím playing on my Playstation Pro more often that my PS4, which was very much 2nd fiddle to my PC, but then, weíve just come through one of the best 3-4 month periods in gaming I can recall, and Yakuza 0, Persona 5, Nier Automata, even games Iíve not got around to like Horizon, theyíre all games Iíd play on PS4 even if they were available on the PC. The other reason Iím not as angry I would have been, and this shouldnít be discounted despite how much of a nob it makes me sound, I have more disposable income now. Previously Iíd have been fuming on point of principle AND because Iíd feel like IíD been screwed. Iíd scraped and struggled to get myself a new console, then it gets usurped and thereís no way Iíd have been able to justify buying the replacement.

Not that Iím a rich man, nothing like, but Iíve enough money to hand that the reason I donít have a Nintendo Switch or a GTX 1080 is because I donít think itís worth it yet, for me, not that I canít possibly afford it. But this does bring me to the point. Weíve just entered a post-pre-Brexit world here in the UK. Weíve pulled the trigger and timeís slowed to a crawl, in 2 years time the bullet is going to rip through our skull and stain the walls and carpet with tragedy, and it absolutely has consequences for gaming.

The obvious ones are the developers, thereís a lot of talk of companies leaving the UK for EU Europe, I suspect a lot will stay, but itís a strong possibility that our various industries will shrink. Itís not here I want to focus though, instead itís on the micro scale, on us as individuals.

The leap from my conversation with the 20 year old and here is how many consoles I had as a kid. We werenít a rich family, 3 kids will do that to you. We were actually quite late getting a console, or a computer of any kind, getting an Amstrad CPC464 (green screen, keeping it real). Eventually we got an Atari 2600 with a bunch of (largely terrible) games, then a NES that got taken off us and given to someone else. None of these machines was new, they were all off people, I think my dad spend £100 on the Amstrad, somehow convincing himself it was going to be used for work, despite us not having a printer or a disc drive with it. The Atari was £20 off a some kid from schoolís mum to my mum, and we were delighted with it and its terrible games. Eventually I got a Megadrive 2 for christmas and my brother a Master System 2 the same year. Iím not sure what happened to the Master System, but I was forced to sell my Megadrive (and 32X) to my auntie, something Iíve never quite got over.

Iím sure hand-me-downs have never gone away, but it doesnít, currently, seem to be anything like as prevalent as it was. I know my relatives have bought their kids new DSí and new 3DSí over the years. Their own PS4s too. The one area where the hand me down does still seem to thrive is phones, probably because they cost a fortune, but I suspect itís where we might see ourselves going in the next few years.

As the economy shrinks and being outside the EU bubble starts to take hold, prices of electronics are going to jump. Hopefully game prices stay down, as much as I baulk at the cost of new console games, buying from online retail does make us one of the cheaper countries in Europe, but Iíve no idea if that will last. When the price in £ starts to equal that in $ and Ä all of a sudden those new consoles are going to seem incredibly expensive. I think weíll increasingly see people upgrading from the PS4 to the PS4 Pro, or from the Xbox One to the Scorpio, with their old console being passed on to a family member, child, or friend. I know this happens already, I just think itís going to become more common, more of a necessity. Iíve kept both my old 3DS and my old PS4, the latter is used as a Sky Go player for the front room, and occasional ďhow does this run on the standard Playstation 4Ē machine for review purposes.

Itís probably for the best this is looking like itís going to be another long generation, possibly the longest one yet, because Iím not sure Britain is going to be in a position to be buying consoles i 2 to 3 years time.
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War Never
Mar 22
Posted by Ben at 17:36

This post kind of leads on to a future post, but I need to write this one first. It's also inspired by a conversation with a 20 year old, so as Mark has already pointed out, it's basically just a man reacting to the encroachment of age.

The 20 year old, for whatever reason because I've never really spoken to him about games before, decided to tell me that he was going to buy a PS2. I asked him why, he said he's always had a soft spot for the PS2 because it was his first console, back when he was 4.

Fuck all 20 year olds.

That started a thought worm tunnelling through my brain, one that resurfaced a few days later on a completely different tangent. All of a sudden I remembered the start of this generation. I know fanboyism is never going away, I know the launch of a console brings out the worst of people, but it was like people had never seen a new console before. I remember the conversations around it, I may even have started (possibly even finished) a God Mode On post about it, that the reason it felt like people's first new console generation is because it was, for many people, their first new console generation. If at 11 years old, rather than the hand me down consoles you've been putting up with/grateful for in the past, you're finally able to pick your console of choice for christmas or your birthday. If you get a 360 at launch, you're then 20 years old before the PS4 launches.

it got me thinking about my console history, and the sheer number of consoles that have come and gone over the years, particularly in the 1990s.Without checking, and sporadically including handhelds to make my point look a bit better, off the top of my head; The Master System 2 (included because it was an important release here in the UK), the Mega Drive, Snes, Neo Geo, Amiga CD 32, Atari Jaguar, Atari Lynx, Game Gear, Mega CD, 32X, CDi, PS1, N64, Saturn, Neo Geo Pocket, and of course, the Sega Dreamcast. Iím missing some, loads probably, but Iím fairly sure all of those came out during the 1990s. If you compare that to the 12 years since the Xbox 360 released; The aforementioned Xbox 360, the PS3, the Wii, the 3DS, the Vita, the WiiU, the PS4, and the Xbox One. You can throw in a couple of forgettable Android machines like the Gamestick, there was also the Gizmondo, OnLive if that counts. Itís no comparison really.

Thereís probably multiple causes for this shrinking of the market, in terms of choice at least. Costs and budgets have risen, I think thatís probably the obvious one, but I think the biggest reason is that the divergent videogame market of the 1980s began to converge in the 1990s. Home computers died out in favour of the unified Windows PC platform, those companies choosing instead to enter the console race, which is fine, both Microsoft and Sony have shown late entrants can succeed, and itís probably worth remembering the PS1, Sonyís entrant in to the console market, prior to launch wasnít initially looked at much differently from the likes of the Atari Jaguar, so many consoles had we seen fall by the wayside.

So when it struck me, and many others, how odd peopleís reaction to the launch of this generation had been, how it seemed like theyíd never experienced a good old-fashioned console war before, itís because they probably hadnít. The 20 year old I mentioned, granted he apparently mainly plays on PC, will have played on his PS2 from the age of 4, then presumably got a 360 for Christmas, aged 10 or 11 (main present of course), then nothing. Heís a kid, or was at least, he was in no position to buy a 2nd or third console, whatever console he had he would have had to stick with.

Itís a phenomenon thatís going to get worse I think. The next few years doesnít seem like it will include a new handheld from Sony, it might, theyíve done stupider stuff, but not many. In fact we might not even see a 3DS successor from Nintendo, they seem to want to keep the 3DS plodding along for as long as they can, the Vita does still get the odd game too, Iím fine with that, I like both handhelds and am not itching for a new one, but I think we will need at least one sooner rather than later. The model for both Sony and Microsoft seems to be giving their current consoles a shot in the arm. Iím not against that model, I like my PS4 Pro, it sort of feels like the console the PS4 should have been in the first place, and I can see many baulking at the thought of buying another one of the same, but it does seem to suggest weíre in for a long generation. Itís feasible that this could be the longest generation yet, and weíll have another generation that doesnít know what theyíre doing when the console war starts again

Header Image: HERE
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Killing is
Posted by Ben at 02:23

I have written some pretentious and nobby stuff in my life, I try to reign in a lot of it, especially when talking about videogames, but here I am, about to write a think piece about Uncharted 4, Doom, and Spec Ops The Line, which came out years ago.

Spec Ops The Line wasnít a classic game, it was a bit dull, not actually all that much fun to play. It gets lauded, rightly, for what it does in terms of its narrative and the themes it examines. Set in Dubai, you play as Walker, leader of a special forces team sent it to Dubai to check for survivors after a biblical level sandstorm. What you find is that the 33rd, a US Army force sent to help, is in the midst of a civil war with a faction of Dubaiís residents for control of the city. Initially youíre drawn in to conflict with the insurgents, then the 33rd, then the CIA get involved, itís all very confusing. What the game is really about though is choice, Walker could walk away at any time, report back what heís found, instead he descends deeper and deeper in to Dubai, getting more and more blood on his hands as he does

I think Spec Ops The Line was a fascinating game, not so much the greater finger pointing theme of ďyou, player, you always had a choice too! Why didnít you turn the game off?!Ē It was bullshit when Bioshock did it, great twist that it was, and itís bullshit here. Itís thematically interesting, but the player can just shrug ďI carried on playing because itís a gameĒ. Anyway, itís not that I wanted to talk about, itís actually the smaller details, the examinations on the ingrained tropes of video games. You see Iíve been reading ĎKilling is Harmlessí, a long-form criticism of Spec Ops by Brendan Keogh, and it does a really good job of shining a spotlight on some of the nuance of Spec Ops and Walkerís capitulation. Some of it is small things like language and tone changing; rather than calm and clinical as in the early stages, eventually combat is soundtracked by swearing and ferocity. Itís a thought youíre going to have to hold on to because for this point to make sense I need to go back to Uncharted

The Uncharted series has long had its duality used as a criticism. While heís out on his adventures throwing out quips, Drake is also killing hundreds and hundreds of people. Rarely is he actually defending himself from harm, heís putting himself in harmís way, he could just walk away. Early on in Uncharted 2 Drake is handed a tranquiliser gun because of his reticence to kill people. 10 minutes later he pulls a guy off a roof to his death while Drakeís partner jokes about it. You never get the impression Drake, nor Uncharted itself, cares about these deaths, they donít stay with him. At least in Gears of War youíre at war with leathery monsters, in Uncharted youíre gunning down people hired to stop people like you from stealing shit.

Uncharted is what Uncharted is, and with Uncharted 4 it feels like Naughty Dog have tried to address it. For the first couple of hours gunplay is fairly minimal, and when it does occur itís not Nate behind the trigger, initially at least. Smart, especially how they pitch Nate once we get up to present day. Even when it does kick off youíre encouraged to be stealthy, thereís tall grass to hide in and take people down, and a lengthy section where youíre in combat but trying to remain unseen. Apart from a guy I pulled from a roof to his death, I think without any sort of joke this time, I just chose not to kill people. That doesnít last long though, eventually youíre back to killing people for trying to stop you from stealing stuff. The juxtaposition of the gunplay and tone of Uncharted is kind of redundant, as I said, Uncharted is what Uncharted is, what actually gave me pause for thought was a little more hands on.

Thereís a point in Spec Ops: The Line, something that Killing is Harmless focused on, where Walkerís melee takedowns have gone from knocking people out to beating a man so hard and so often he caves in his skull. Itís brutal and unnecessary. Thereís a point in Uncharted 4 where Drake lands one or two punches too many during his own melee takedown that reminded me of that scene. Similarly, after a while, it dawned on me that all those stealth attacks, the ones where Iíd been choking people out to put them to sleep, were accompanied by a Ďsnappingí sound. Now, maybe thatís just their eyes shutting so fast that you can actually hear it, but I think, think, that Drake might be snapping their necks for no reason other than brevity. That realisation struck me, in amongst this gun fight, when people are clearing away the corpses, it turns out someone, rather than cleanly shoot his enemies, was lurking in the grass to snap their necks. Itís terrifying and ferocious

There were points, and this is where I get a bit nobby, early on in Uncharted 4 where I started to wonder if I was done with games like this. Not with video game levels of killing, I played through Space Marine again the other week, more the violence without consequence. I wondered if my brain had been engaged too much to just turn it off again, if Uncharted was doomed because in every other way it feels more human than most other popcorn blockbusters. That the grounding put it place to make Drake feel human, a likable everyman surrounded by likable people like you, a man who can return home to a normal job with a studious wife, a happy, normal life, whether that extra connection to reality compared to something like Space Marine, means that it doesnít have as much room to just be a video game.

Fortunately it seems not, but I think we may be reaching the point where games like Uncharted have to solve their contradiction of violence and personality. I want to stress, itís not the violence itself thatís the issue. Iíve been playing Doom alongside Uncharted 4 and I love it, it may well end up being my game of the year. I love it for the absolute nonsense of it. Thereís a moment early on where the narrative is being set and Doom guy literally tosses it away, he, and you, donít need it. I donít want every game to be like Doom, Doomís refreshing because of what itís not, but it does highlight why the (I got this far without using it) ludonarrative dissonance caused by chatty nice drake ruthlessly breaking the necks of people who donít know heís there is a problem but Stevie Space Marine (actually called Titus) and Doom Guy killing monsters, orcs and the corrupted isnít. To borrow a term from Killing is Harmless, those enemies are never anything more than Ďothersí, theyíre never anything more than targets, the very thing that makes Uncharted stand out adds a dimension to the world that raises an eyebrow. Not everyone will care, but I think weíre starting to see this problem get addressed, either weíll have better justifications for the violence, ways around it, or weíll have more things like Doom
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Posted by Ben at 17:51

I've just started Stella Glow for review, and so far so good. Actually that was true to a point, then it killed the pace by throwing a bunch of story in with the occasional Ďyou can't winí/íyou can't loseí story progressing fight. Hopefully I'm past that now and back in to the routine of killing monsters. While playing, and we're talking about the very early stages, something struck me, something about the tone of the game that made it stand out.

I'm reluctant to call Stella Glow sexist because that's a more damning statement than it deserves, especially as I've only seen a couple of hours of it. Undeniably there's moments in the script that are sexist, the question being if it's merely a reflection of a specific character or the game itself. There's a point early on where Alto, the main character (ish), says something along the lines of ďyou're going to fight, but you're a girl?!Ē, his parental figure even says that he's allowed in to the woods while her daughter isn't because he's a boy. Now, I'm willing to accept that it's consistent with the narrative of the game world, something that gets forgotten sometimes. Why couldn't a girl be a hunter? Sure of course, but in this thing aping a small village in the dark ages, it's more likely that would be seen as a man's job.

So that was striking, but given how quickly Alto is put back in his box nothing really worth dwelling on. It's actually Hilda, the game's antagonist, and her outfit that first caught my "that seems topical" eye. Hilda, a fairly young looking girl, is dressed in an outfit that's split down her torso revealing her skimpy underwear. Later in the game youíre introduced to Nonoka, the shinobi guard of the fire Witch Sakuya. Nonoka is straight away remarked on for how she's dressed. Her huge breasts are only barely covered, and even then only by a bra and a fishnet top. Also, I'd like to take a moment to note that I'm writing this in a coffee shop and anyone who can see my screen is making all sorts of judgements about me.

I want to be clear here, I'm no prude. I've no issue with 'Carry On' humour being in games, nor have I got a problem with titillation being in games. In fact were it ever removed completely I think it would be a huge shame, I'm an adult, I shouldn't be dictated to as to what I can and can't play. People have different tastes, some sit uneasy with me, I'm not really in the market for waifu games, but if that's what you're in to, cool. I wish those games were better, and I probably will judge you a little bit, but I'm not going to add you to a watch list or anything. I'm also not writing this to slate Stella Glow for what it is, I'm not writing a think piece about how it's some insidious danger, I'm sure someone else probably will if the game gets any sort of traction.

No, what spurred me to write this is how out of place and time Stella Glow seems. When you've got any and all possible hints at sexualisation or offence being pulled from games, with outfits being modified in Bravely Second, gameplay being removed from the new Fire Emblem, and even Street Fighter coming under fire, seeing Stella Glow's more risquť moments stands out. They aren't even that bad, light sexism aside, they just feel at odds for the culture around games at the minute.

Then I took a look at the release lists, the PS4 port of Witch and the Hundred Knight is out this week. I reviewed the PS3 version of Witch and the Hundred Knight, it's alright, I also found myself sticking up for it when it was criticised for the dress sense of its characters. Even the bit where one of the characters is tied up, it's all actually fairly good humoured. It's in bad taste, sure, if that's not a contradiction, but it's not malicious, it's not trying to take advantage of anyone, it's simply telling a story where you play as the bad guy.

Stella Glow isn't doing that, or at least as far as I know, which is I think part of why it stands out. It's a game that shifts in tone, people are being taken advantage of, the horrors of war, of betrayal, are looked at, even a bit about drug barrons and being addicted to something resembling meth. Then, in the next scene, a hyper positive 'kawai' young witch will make you mud tea. There's a line at one point, while talking about the horrors of war, that I'll paraphrase; "Hard to take without a drink huh?" "I can't imagine it's any easier with one" Having moments like that paired off against activating a Witch power by holding her in your arms, smiling gently as she squirms nervously, then slowly pushing your dagger into the jewel of her heart... I dunno man, it's not that I think it's wrong or dangerous, it's just odd and out of place. Whether that's both in the game and in the greater context of gaming at the minute I can't say. And who knows, if Stella Glow had come out 2 years ago it maybe would barely even register with me, but as things stand it's something that's stayed with me as I'm playing through the game
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Angels on the
Posted by Ben at 16:58

There's something that's been bugging me for a while, years probably. It's something that comes up when I'm talking to friends but I don't think I've ever put in a review. It's also something I'm not sure I can explain, so bear with me as I stumble around it.

I don't think I like choices

I finished Shin Megami Tensei 4 today, it's a fantastic game with a slow middle. I also started Until Dawn, Sony's slasher movie homage designed around the premise of the butterfly effect. Until Dawn really lays it on thick too, the game opens with an explanation of the term, has butterfly symbols in the UI, then even has a couple of characters talk about it, it's a game about choice. When it came to the first meaningful choice, or at least consequence, I, well, I didn't like it. Iíve scratched around for words to end that sentence, I didn't resent the choice or having to make the choice, I didn't Ďhateí it, it just stirred an Ďoffí feeling in me that I can't place.

I donít want to spoil too much, but Iíd seen a warning of what was going to happen and based my decision around that. It didnít go well, and immediately I wondered about the other choice, should I have taken it, what would have happened if I had, would it have been worse for the character, worse for me?

I think a big part of it is that the rules of a videogame donít reflect the rules of life. We make an immeasurable number of choices every day, whether to just sack off work is usually the big one, but before Iíve even clocked in Iíve made hundreds of decisions, trivial things about breakfast, what to wear, which order to get ready in, which route to take, what to listen to, when to cross the road etc etc. Granted, I could have picked a different route yesterday morning and stumbled on to a gang war, altering the course of my life immeasurably, but I didnít. I didnít because thereís a consistency to life that isnít reflected in games. I generally know the consequence of my choices because I generally make the same ones every day. Even when it comes to interactions, Iím an adult human, Iím experienced at social interaction, I more or less know what to say to someone, and even if Iím trying to antagonise them how far to go

Thereís grey areas in life that canít possibly be covered in a game. Think about that vague moment in Until Dawn I mentioned earlier. Before that life and death decision how many decisions didnít I get to make? We ran when maybe I wanted to face down whatever Ďthatí noise was, and we ran in a direction maybe I wouldnít have done. I think a big part of my problem, and the problem with choices in games, is that itís a forced hand. Iím left with either, effectively, no choice, or a consequence I couldnít have foreseen, and the game shrugs at me and says ďdunno what youíre complaining about, you chose it mateĒ

Itís why I mentioned Shin Megami Tensei 4 before. I donít really want to spoil the end of that game, but while thereís lots of choices along the way, ultimately it comes down to an all or nothing choice. Thereís a character I agreed with, but his methods were essentially ďkill everyoneĒ, I canít get behind that, but nor can I talk to him and suggest some sort of middle ground. The choices are binary in a way life's choices are only if you're trying to win an argument. It's frustrating as a player who's invested so much into the game (Shin Megami not life), I was making choices based on ďfuck itĒ rather than picking what reflected my feelings and thoughts. I think even if your character had muttered a word of protest it would have gone a long way.

The other area where choice in games falls down is consequence. While I finished it, and did enjoy it to a point, one of the reasons The Walking Dead lost me was the schizophrenic reactions to your actions. Suggest that someone might want to calm down so as not to give away our position and 3 people get shot in the face. LA Noire suffered from it massively. The text to set up what you are about to say would imply a gentle prodding against a statement, what actually happens is Cole screaming at a 5 year old accusing them of murder. Mass Effect and Fallout suffered from it too, it's a disconnect between the rules of the game and what the player experienced in the real world expects

Maybe this is part of a bigger topic, but I think the nature of gaming and of being a gamer is the introduction of competition. Even when you're told there's no wrong answer, that it's about your experience, but there's usually a 'better' outcome. And that's all it takes, a difference, and all of a sudden you've failed. Add to that your ideal scenario not being available, the setup not matching the conclusion, and options not being available to you, and maybe choice isn't always a good thing
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The Shadow of the
Shadow of Mordor
Posted by Ben at 18:42

I donít think itís an exaggeration to say that literally every game released in the past 12 months has been an open world game, literally every single one. In some ways I don't really mind it, I get the appeal. Take something like Gears of War, we've all done it before, that linear cover based shooter, there's very little you can do with it. I played The Order 1886 recently, it's not bad, it doesn't deserve its reputation, and had it launched last generation I think it would have been received more warmly. As it is it's the most linear of linear games, at times entirely focused on narrative. Which has its place, but it's so easy to tear apart for what it is and what it isn't. I do wonder if Ready at Dawn regret not opening the game up a bit, assuming they had the time.

The problem is that an open world for open worlds sake isn't a good thing. I regularly claim that I'm not a big fan of open world games, certainly I'm not a fan of the GTA games, nothing against them in particular they just don't click with me. The truth is though that I really enjoyed Sleeping Dogs, Skyrim, Infamous Second Son, Witcher 3, and, despite myself, Shadow of Mordor. So why am I bringing all this up, because I've been playing Mad Max and it's a boring game.

I'm not sure I hate Mad Mad, that's too strong a word for my ambivalence towards the gameplay, but there's a level of cynicism that grates me. The truth is that with the not terrible (though not great) car combat, and Batmanís fighting system I should like it more than I do. Where Mad Max falls over is with its world, beautifully desolate as it is. Mad Max shares the same structure as Shadow of Mordor, something different from your standard open world game.

Take Assassin's Creed, there's tons of periphery bullshit in that series, but your play is also very directed. Climbing the towers has a benefit,and there's reasons to do the side missions, but often they'll be done on your way to the next story mission. Same with Skyrim, you don't decide to abandon the story quests, you just tumble endlessly down the rabbit hole because you're near that cave, because that dragon isn't all that far away. You're like Sam Beckett, always striving to get back to the right thread. If Skyrim clicks with you it's compulsive, same with Infamous,same with any open world game, you'll stop after you've done one more thing.

What Shadow of Mordor did that's different from most games was just drop you into the world and tell you to fuck off and leave it alone for a bit. It's something GTA does, but then your phone will ring and you'll start a new story mission. In Shadow of Mordor the side quests are the game. That's what it's telling you to do. It's undirected and aimless, and it very nearly ruins the game. The reason it doesn't is the Nemesis system. It adds a compulsion, that Ďone more thingí feeling, you're never far from a General to kill. It keeps you playing when samey missions and locales would have already out stayed their welcome, and more importantly, spreading your influence is a benefit to the campaign, it's not wasted time.

Mad Max on the other hand is too loose, too open. Fairly early on there's a story mission that involves scoping out a gate, a gate you aren't ready to break through. You're then tasked with going out in to the open world to find the car parts you need to take on the gate mission. There's nothing special about the locations of these car parts other than them having the car parts, they're the exact same scraps or earth and huddle of bandits that house water, parts to equip the safe houses, and memories of the old world. It reduces the story missions to busy work, there's literally nothing different about them from the scores of filler that litter the game

And that's my worry with this trend of genres setting their games in open worlds. It works with some, being a Witcher and taking contracts makes sense, giving a superhero civilians to save makes sense, and amazingly even the stealth of Metal Gear works. These experiences need to be directed, there's very little difference in locations between story and side quests in Fallout and Skyrim, but you can tell the difference from the tone and the setup. Just dumping your mechanics in to an open world isn't enough. Mad Max feels like a game built on telemetry, like someone saw how people played open world games and decided they didn't need the core experience, it's design by maths, it's cynical, and it feels it
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The Capped
Posted by Ben at 02:14

Batman Arkham Knight is out, many months late, and launching with a day 1 patch on consoles, it's maybe unsurprising that the PC version has suffered some issues too. However, no one could have predicted quite what a mess the PC version was going to be. As I type I'm writing this article having not played the game for myself. I'm having internet problems you see, it sporadically will start working, and once I managed to get Steam online I left my PC on for many days and finally managed to download the game. Great. I can't play it yet however because the game comes bundled with some DRM that, despite the game being on my Steam account and Steam being set to offline, still wants me online to launch the game. It suggests it's a one time thing, first installation, we'll probably never find out, as with any luck my net will be back up and running before I get around to trying the game again.

The DRM isn't the whole problem though, in fact it's not even the worst of it. Batman Arkham Knight has a locked framerate, a 30fps one at that. For a PC port, released at the same time rather than years later than with some bodged together code, that is unacceptable, although the neogaf post referring to Batman as the 'capped crusader' is almost worth it. You can change the fps cap by editing the ini files, but that brings up new problems, like the game being unable to stream the textures and game world quickly enough off a standard harddrive causing the framerate to plummet and textures to be ďlowĒ. In fact even without .ini file editing there seems to be a problem with textures. Warner Brothers have implied that this is normal, that your PC that is many times more powerful than your PS4 is only capable of running the game on 'Normal' settings rather than the console's 'High'

There's reportedly missing elements to the PC version, things like trees and bushes, although that seems to vary from user to user. Ambient Occlusion is missing, it's there in the console versions, just missing from the PC version, so hopefully it's something that can be fixed. There's been people complaining about alaising, the Batmobile causes the framerate to drop further, and weirdly rain textures are absent for Batman and the Batmobile. Again hopefully this is all patchable, and there's some indications to be hopeful, or maybe some to be cynical.

Nvidea, as is their want, were heavily involved in previewing the game, showing off the features only available to their cards. The game looked great, there were rain textures and another 30+ frames! They stopped showing that version though, likely because Sony paid a lot of money for the game to be associated with the PS4, or if you're cynical, because it became apparent that the PC version wasn't going to match their previews. Rocksteady didn't do the PC version themselves, perhaps they started one, perhaps that's the version Nvidea were showing off, but the PC version was passed on to Iron Galaxy. Iron Galaxy are infamous for 2 things; being friends with Giant Bomb, and not being very good at making games. Maybe that's harsh, but I've certainly never greeted the news Iron Galaxy are handling a port with anything other than a wince. Still, they're probably cheap.

Whatever, I haven't played the game myself so I can't really comment, nor do I know enough about the ins and outs of the game's development to know who to blame. It's not why I started this post, what inspired this piece was the consumer reaction. People are furious, rightly so, and it's the first time we've seen that with a AAA game since Valve launched their Steam refund policy. Batman Arkham Knight is taking a panning from user reviews, anecdotally a huge number of people are requesting refunds. Good for them. In fact so many people are demanding refunds that GreenmanGaming have had to come out and change their refund policy from ďnawĒ to ďif the game is still broken after the first patch then yesĒ.

It may seem a small thing, but Valve have removed Batman from their featured games banner on Steam. James and I have both tested this and it seems to depend on if you're signed in. If you are then the recommendations knock Batman out of the features banner, if not it's there but at the back. This is a game that launched yesterday and should have been one of the 10 biggest games of the year, now it's the sort of game Jim Sterling does videos about. For their part Warner Brothers have posted an update saying they're working on fixing the game. GreenmanGaming have already said they're talking to Warner Brothers, no doubt Valve aren't too delighted either. It can't been good for WB either, seeing their sales reverse as refund after refund goes out of their account.

Addendum: As I woke this morning, ready to post this article, I was greeted with the news that Batman Arkham Knight is no longer for sale on Steam, it's been pulled/suspended by Warner Brothers due to the number of complaints, and presumably the number of refunds. It's not the first game to get pulled from sale, it's not the first game to get pulled from Steam, but it may well be the biggest, and it's certainly huge news.

All I can say is good, good for PC gamers. Valve deserve credit for sorting their refund policy, but gamers deserve praise for standing up to their own desire to play and requesting a refund. People should be pissed about this, the game was misrepresented (either deliberately or through ineptitude), Warner Brothers clearly skimped on the port, although perhaps they were simply loathed to delay the PC version while this was fixed. Either way it lays a marker down, if the next Assassin's Creed launches as broken as the last one it's done. Hopefully this is the tonic to 'day one' patches and broken games that have looked like a curse of the modern age in recent years.
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Money For
Posted by Ben at 15:47

For most of us the news that Steam had changed their refund policy from "no" to "yes" is welcome news. Granted living in the EU as we do, until a combination of the Conservatives, UKIP, and the Daily Mail ruin it for all of us, we should in theory have had some protection anyway. Anyone who's ever tried getting a refund from Steam will tell you that despite that, it was like pulling teeth. So it was a pleasant surprise that Valve have provided a fairly no-quibble policy, although not everyone is pleased.

Essentially Steam's refund policy is this; if you bought a game and want a refund within 2 weeks, so long as you've played it for less than 2 hours, you're almost certainly going to get it. In fact even if you don't meet those requirements you can still ask and Valve will have a look at it. If you're a developer that isn't quite such good news. It's one thing for the likes of Activision, Warner Brothers, or Ubisoft who will sell tens of thousands of games on Steam, it's another for smaller developers who might just sell tens. That's not to say they should get a free pass, only that you can see why just handing the money back no matter the reason might feel a little unjust.

There's also the issue of game length. An increasing number of games on Steam that could be completed in the 2 hour refund window, theoretically turning Steam in to a deposit down gaming library. It's a concern shared by a number of developers including David Szymanski. It's worth noting at this point that Valve have stated that if they think you're gaming the system then they will stop giving you refunds.

Again another important point of clarification, the developers in the Twitter reactions don't seem to be against refunds in principle, no doubt they're also customers and gamers themselves,only the way it's been implemented. One suggestion was to cut the gameplay time allowed to 15 minutes. While I sympathise, 15 minutes is far too short a window. I've talked before about my issues with Rage, a game I really enjoyed, but had huge troubles getting to run. Starting the game, struggling with it, editing ini files, booting it again to test it. I quite quickly got to 2 hours before I'd got close to getting it running correctly.

As another example, think of your typical AAA game. From the moment you boot the game how long does it take to actually start the game properly. You've got the developer logo, probably a couple of them, the publisher logo, the video codec logo, Speedtree, then the start screen, then the menu screen. Great, now you've got a load, then a cut scene. Now you're in to the game, but it's the tutorial so it's hard to judge, and after that you've got another cutscene and a load. Now you're in to the game and you've been playing 30 minutes. You need time with the game.

That's not to say there isn't issues with the system. put it to the test by purchasing the soundtrack to The Moon Sliver, then simply requesting a refund. Soundtracks from Steam are drm free, so he made a copy and requested, and was given a refund. This is where the warning that Valve give regarding abusing the system should come in, but how many times could you get away with before Valve call foul.

Again the counter for this is that, would you really go to that trouble for a soundtrack you could just Google and find. Same with the games, why risk the wrath of Valve on your Steam account when you could just search the net for a pirate version of the game. I'd also argue that we're at the point where people kind of know what they're getting on Steam. Dear Esther might have been in trouble, as might Gone Home, but now 'walking simulators' are a known concept, same with visual novels and any number of indie genres. They cater to a subset of gamers, the kind who probably don't begrudge handing over money for an experience, and aren't likely to claim an unjust refund.

Of course that's all speculation, and it seems that the refund system might have had the unexpected result of encouraging sales now there's less risk. And I'm not about to start lecturing developers, I've never made a game but I do know from experience that customers are arseholes. It also seems to be the case that there's a huge surge of people taking Valve up on their offer of refunds. Hopefully this is something that will die down, and judging from forum chatter there's a lot of people claiming legacy refunds

Still, I do think it's right that Valve have addressed this, and I'm pleased it's erred more to the consumer side than not, hopefully that sets a precedent.
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Posted by Ben at 10:36

I'm a week late with this really, if we want hits it should be about how Witcher 3 is terrible (it's not), or I should invite people to view its 10 best sex scenes. Instead I'm writing about Kickstarter a week or so after it was news again.

There was a prevailing logic that Kickstarter had... not run its course as such, more levelled out. The days of games receiving millions, capturing the zeitgeist had gone, now it was going to be for smaller scale stuff. It's easy to say now but that was never true, we'd just started to run out of franchises and developers with enough nostalgia built up. Off the top of my head I can only think of Yu Suzuki, Yuji Naka, and a handful of others who have the recognition and fondness to garner the attention that gets your game funded big. I maintain that Shenmue 3 would attract millions, whether that would be enough to get it made is another matter.

The two recent Kickstarter successes; Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night and Yooka-Laylee, both pull on that same nostalgia. The Banjo-Kazooie games might have passed me by, but a game by core Rare staff is going to get a lot of people excited. Personally I loved the DS 2d Castlevania games, I'm pretty sure I gave Order of Ecclesia our game of the year one year. A new one of those by Koji Igarashi, yes please.

Both Bloodstained and Yooka-Laylee have something else in common. They've got to capture their legacy without their legacy. Microsoft aren't about to hand over the Banjo rights, and Konami are more likely to fire the rights to Castlevania in to space than give customers what they want at the minute. It shouldn't be a problem, not really, but you can't help but have doubts. Maybe it's all the talk of a spiritual successor to Silent Hill, after all the nominative town is a huge part of that series, something that might be lost if your game isn't tied to the series. But then that shouldn't be a problem for Bloodstained, sure you lose the lore of the Belmonts, but that's something Igarashi had moved away from already with Order of Ecclesia.

It doesn't have to be a problem though. There's a very famous game series that had to cut ties with its past, with its name. The corpse of its old franchise still shambles along to this day, now taking the form of a mobile phone game. That game, Football Manager.

It must be 15 years since Sports Interactive abandoned the Championship Manager name, a hugely loved franchise at the time, striking out on their own (well, with Sega), and going from strength to strength. Their audience followed them, they were savvy enough, spread the word, and knew what they wanted. There's actually been some good Championship Manager games since, I feel a bit bad for the zombie comparison, but considering what the franchise was, to now being a raised eyebrow when you scroll past it on your phone's store is a sad state of affairs.

It's a state of affairs Konami, and to a lesser extent Microsoft, who I don't think have any intention of reviving Banjo, would do well to brace themselves for. I liked Lords of Shadow, framey as it was it was also a good 3d Castlevania game once it got going. The 3ds one less so, and while I liked Lords of Shadow 2, it was a mess and didn't leave people wanting more. You can't help but fear for the fates of some of these franchises. The sheer level of scorn that's going to greet the next Castlevania, and even without spiritual successors Silent Hill and Metal Gear, people will be falling over themselves to pull them apart.

All this being said however, I can't help feel some trepidation about these Kickstarter successors. With a sequel, for better or worse, developers are locked in to certain things, there's expectations about what the game will be. Who's to say the developers will see the same things as important as their fans, the small changes might be enough to alter the feel of the game.

Still it's better than nothing, and might even be better than what's gone before. It's at this point when writing about Kickstarter you usually clarify that you've backed something or other. I haven't, tempted as I was for Bloodstained, the far off release date was enough to remind me of my trepidations for the platform, but I'm glad other people are willing to spend money on Kickstarter, there's been a few decent games from it the past couple of years
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