Nintendo Switch Early Impressions

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Gus and I have already registered our opinions of the Switch on our podcast, but it’s time to break things down in print.

Now, obviously, Nintendo needed to reveal the Switch in a way that didn’t echo the unveiling of the Wii-U.  I mean, let’s be honest… they didn’t do anything to help that console.  They didn’t convey what it was, nor did they market the damn thing.  But the Switch reveal was quite different.  After all was said and done, we had a great understanding of what the console is, why it has the potential to benefit everyone, and most important of all, how it’s actually supposed to work.  It was the necessary ‘un-Nintendo like move’ they so desperately needed, but unfortunately, the company left their stink all over the rest of their presentation.

At least they started strong.  Right out of the gate, they told us what the Switch’s price point was and what its release date would be.  Everyone was surprised to learn the console would be out on March 3rd, sooner than expected – media outlets a plenty had reported March 17th – but the price point, $299.99, was a little confusing.  Without any context, I think $300 is reasonable, but that’s not the problem.  The problem is that Nintendo probably aren’t selling the Switch at a loss, and they really should be.

You see, Nintendo like to pretend they’re not competing with Sony and Microsoft, but that’s poppycock.  If you’re a gamer that has yet to enter this generation, and someone gives you $300 to spend on a new machine, you’re probably not buying a Switch.  As of right now, Target’s website offers the Uncharted 4 PS4 bundle and the Battlefield 1 Xbox One S bundle for only $299.  All of a sudden, the Switch’s ‘reasonable’ price point doesn’t seem so reasonable, especially since it doesn’t even come with a game.  So yes, Nintendo, you ARE competing with Sony and Microsoft.  To pretend otherwise is… well, pretty much what I expect out of you, you daft, clueless bastards.  And let’s not forget, this holiday, the Switch will also be going head-to-head with the Xbox Scorpio.

So, there’s two things Nintendo should have done for the Switch, and keep in mind these are minimal moves.

First, they really should have included a pack-in game.  2 + 1 Switch seems to be a simple a tech demo; a smattering of mini-games which show off the system’s distance measuring IR sensor as well as the HD rumble feature.  If this title was included with the Switch, people would have something fun to play with their friends right out of the box… which would have been a brilliant strategy if Nintendo had employed it.  People would have been compelled to call their friends over to try 2 +1 Switch on the hybrid machine.  This would have put the console in people’s hands in optimal settings, possibly causing these people to want a Switch of their own… but that’s a future not set to pass.  Instead, Nintendo are charging $50 for their slate of demo experiences… and NOBODY is going to buy it.  No, instead, everyone is going to buy Zelda and play the shit out of it for months… alone.  Now, if anyone wants to get hands on with the Switch, they’ll probably have to try it at a Gamestop, which is probably the LEAST optimal setting I can think of.

OR…

Nintendo could have reduced the Switch’s price to $249.99.  Would that put them at a loss per unit sold?  Maybe, but consoles are often sold at a loss.  Hardware distributors understand that selling at a loss usually leads to a faster growing install base.  One day, their console will be easier and cheaper to produce, and that’s when they’ll be able to turn a healthy profit.  In the meantime, they’ll make a little off software sales and accessories… or in Nintendo’s case, severely overpriced accessories.  Cover the ears on your wallet, because this rundown is going to make it cry:

A Pro controller is $70.  An additional dock – which is basically just a plastic case with HDMI passthrough – costs $80.  A single Joycon controller – that’s just one SIDE – is $50… or, you can get a ‘discount’ if you buy two for $80.  The Joycon straps are $8 a pop.  The controller cradle for the Joycons – that is, a hunk of plastic with a tiny USB charge port – is $30.

Worst of all, Nintendo have finally joined the multiplayer paywall club.  And that… that’s just terrible.  But damn it, if you want to play Splatoon or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe online, they’ve got you by the cajones, don’t they?  Now to be fair, I think everyone expected Nintendo would burrow down this rabbit hole one day… ‘because’, but that doesn’t make it any less of a disappointment.  I mean, this was the only consumer friendly thing Nintendo had left… yet they just cast it into the wind like they couldn’t give less of a shit.  And for those of you thinking there’s some other way they can justify their ‘service’, think again.  They’re going to give you either an NES or SNES rom each month, and some of the latter will have multiplayer enabled.

“A rom?  A bloody ROM?!”, you might ask.

Oh yes, a rom.

That’s what their ‘free game’ offerings will be… and at the end of each month, they’ll take them back… unless you want to buy them, of course.  Know what that means?  Nintendo doesn’t give a squatting shit how many times you’ve purchased games through their Virtual Consoles; they STILL want you to buy them again.  The only positive thing I can say about this, at least for the time being, is that we have no idea how much Nintendo are planning to charge for their ‘service’.  If they were smart, they’d make it way less than what Sony and Microsoft are charging… but nah.  Still, the price of this thing is a big question, and they left it hanging in the air.

There were other questions they neglected to answer too, such as, “What’s the launch line-up going to be?”  It wasn’t until the next day we had confirmation of five titles… and boy, did a lot of people express concern about that.  I’ve lived through numerous console launches that had been worse, so I’m not going to complain.  Besides, can you think of a better launch title than Zelda: Breath of the Wild?

“But it’s going to be on the Wii-U!”

So?  Nintendo have only sold between 13 and 14 million units, so for the many that never bought a Wii-U, they won’t care about Zelda being cross-platform.  The people who own a Wii-U won’t care either… you know, since they’re still getting the game.

Despite everything I’ve just shared, I know this may be hard to believe, but, Nintendo know EXACTLY what they’re doing.  We may not like their approach, but every decision they’ve made has been steeped in money.

While casual consumers may look at this thing now and say, “There’s not enough that interests me,” Nintendo doesn’t care.  They know there’s enough demand from fans to keep this thing selling throughout the entirety of 2017, and why?  Because Zelda, Mario Kart, Splatoon and Super Mario Odyssey.  You can argue nobody will care about a port (Mario Kart 8), nor a sequel that hasn’t differentiated itself enough from the original (Splatoon 2), but again, they have a large ‘didn’t previously own a Wii-U’ market to tap into as well.

But will the Switch sell as well as Nintendo and certain analysts believe?

Well, Nintendo apparently plan to have 10 million of these things produced by the end of 2017.  Considering where the Wii-U is sitting, that’s an ambitious goal.  However, there’s a lot of positivity buzzing around what this console can do, so I do expect this thing to outpace its predecessor every step of way.  Certain analysts have guessed that after all is said and done, the Switch will have sold 40 million units.

To that, I say, “Not so fast.”  I don’t think it’s impossible, but Nintendo need to stop being so wishy-washy.

What’s with all the ‘we’re going to continue to support the 3DS’ bullcrap?  They come up with the brilliant idea to market a console that’s suitable for home AND on-the-go usage, and they want to keep its primary competitor on the shelf?  I get that third parties love this machine because there’s 60 million units out there, but not putting the kibosh on the Nintendo 3DS in early 2017 is a mistake, and Nintendo will have to rectify that by this time next year if they hope to bring over the portable crowd.

And this ties directly into that whole ‘third party support’ thing.

Most Nintendo fans will say, “Nobody buys Nintendo hardware to play anything but Nintendo software!”  But a 3DS fan has to be pretty short-sighted to actually believe such baloney.  That system wouldn’t have moved 60 million units if not for third party support.  If you believe otherwise, think of all the people that would recommend Monster Hunter, Ace Attorney, Dragon Quest, Etrian Odyssey, Shin Megami Tensei, Bravely Default, and so-on and so-forth.  Beyond that, history shows there simply hasn’t been a successful console without a fair amount of third party support.

Thankfully, Nintendo has told us they’d like all third party games to appear on the Switch, but they shouldn’t hold their breath.  They’ll continue to see remasters of popular games, but that’s about it.  However, as long as the Switch keeps its momentum at retail, it shouldn’t be hard for Nintendo to convince third parties already on board with the 3DS to switch to… well, you know.  But again, Nintendo can’t wait years for this transition to happen.  It needs to be a year, tops, and then they have to commit to the Switch 100%.  No ifs, ands or buts.

I’ve let Nintendo have it pretty good in this article, but it’s so you, the consumer, will be aware of what the current value of the system is for the average consumer (not great), how the first year and beyond is likely to pan out (better than the Wii-U… slow at first, perhaps hot afterwards), and what things Nintendo could have done if they were truly ‘in it to win it’.  That said, I think the Switch is a pretty remarkable piece of hardware, and we could see a healthy balance of first party Nintendo games, as well as third party titles once those publishers are convinced to make their 3DS games for the Switch as well, or perhaps even exclusively, leaving the old portable behind.

Of course, success really is in the hands of Nintendo at this point.  They need to deliver on games.  No more of this ‘Metroid Space Ball Horseshit’.  Nintendo always say they listen to their fans, and now is the time for them to deliver.

Generation Without Definition

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In preparation for the 2016 in review conversation we’ll be having on the podcast in about a week, I decided to write down a list of all the games I’ve played.  Not just the games from this past year, mind you, but ALL of them.  Didn’t matter if it’s a game from 2002 I was playing for the first time, or if it was an old favorite I was revisiting for the 18th time.  Old games are just as much a part of our ‘gaming makeup’ each year as the new stuff we play, so here’s what I came up with:

Angry Video Game Nerd Adventures

Assassin’s Creed: Rogue

Far Cry 4

Absolute Drift

Batman: Akrham Knight

The Witness

The Division

Doom

Uncharted 4

No Man’s Sky

Final Fantasy XV

Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare

Battlefield 1

Dark Souls

Dying Light

Life Is Strange

The Witcher 3 (restarted)

Dark Souls 3

Forza Horizon 3

Gear of War 4

Dead Rising 4

Kirby: Planet Robobot

PvZ: Garden Warfare 2

Mafia III

Street Fighter V

Inside

Grim Dawn (official release date)

Pokken Tournament

Overwatch

Lego Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Pokemon Go

Super Mario Run

Skyrim Special Edition

Dragon Quest VII

Earth Defense Force 4.1

Super Mario 3D Land

Contra 4

Grand Theft Auto Online

Grand Theft Auto 4

Super Mario 64

Super Scribblenauts

Mega Man 2

Mega Man 3

I obviously didn’t play all of these games from start to finish.  Some I may have only played for a couple of hours.  But even so, that’s one hell of a list, isn’t it?  Great titles, alright ones, and even a few stinkers, but overall, I’d say 2016 was rather enjoyable.  Still, this list presents a bit of a problem, namely the inadequacies of the gaming industry as a whole.  Forty-three games, and you know what I noticed about them?  Thirty-two are either sequels or stem iteratively from existing IP’s.  Mmhmm.  Thirty.  Two.  That’s insane.  Even if we take older games off my list, we’re still talking close to 20.

Not that there’s anything inherently wrong with sequels or reboots.  Doom makes a compelling argument for being my favorite game of the year.  Hell, Dark Souls III is up there, too.  Oh, and surprisingly, Gears of War 4 has proven to be quite memorable, as well.  I also don’t care how many times Nintendo throws Mario at me, because he always amounts to a good time.  Point is, I don’t personally mind when studios lean on formulas that’s proven to work them.  No, it’s when they cross that line… when they insist on using that mindset as a crutch, that’s when I get worried.

And I’m worried now.

Gamers routinely say this is the best generation of gaming to date.  Sure, they’ve conveniently overlooked the unnecessary iterative consoles and the sea of unfinished games that’s been released… but vidyagames, right?!

But seriously, I can’t deny there’s been some titles genuinely worth swooning over, but that’s not unique to the here and now.  There have always been great video games, and there always will be.

But from a first party perspective, Sony and Microsoft have been playing things far too safe.  They’ve relied once again on the likes of Killzone, Infamous, Gears of War, God of War, Forza, Halo, Ratchet and Clank, Little Big Planet, Uncharted, The Last of Us, and a handful of others.  These are franchises that also defined the LAST generation of gaming, and while I understand the desire for studios to milk a cow’s supple teats until they’re coughing up powder, they’re leaving the PS4 and Xbox One without identities of their own.

The Xbox 360 was defined by Forza, Fable, and Gears of War.  But what does the Xbox One have?  Sunset Overdrive was largely overlooked, and Quantum Break was disappointing.

The Playstation 3 had Infamous, Uncharted and The Last of Us.  But PS4?  Well, it has Bloodborne… but that’s about it.  Nobody cared about Knack, and while Until Dawn is great, it isn’t a title that’s going to sell systems.  Driveclub has its fans, but still hasn’t managed to evade the stink left behind by its troubled launch.  And it’s not even worth mentioning The Order: 1886 (I didn’t think it was terrible, but it’s certainly frowned upon by most of the gaming community).

So, if video games aren’t giving this generation a definitive voice, what is?

Well, the struggle over resolution and frame-rate, for one.  But outside of that, this generation will likely be remembered for the releases of the PS4 Pro and Xbox Scorpio.  I mean, their very existence could very well change the way consoles are developed and sold from here on out.  I don’t have a crystal ball or anything, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we never saw a Playstation 5.  If each console is only somewhat better than the version before it, a new naming convention could take over:  Playstation Nitro, Playstation Beyond, Playstation Zen, etc.  All only somewhat better than the previous iteration, and yet still years behind what PC hardware brings to the table.

And if I were Sony and Microsoft, I’d start thinking about how big a problem that might be.

This isn’t rocket science.  GAMES should define how we feel about any given generation.  Sure, we’ll also develop an attachment to hardware designs, but games are what matter most.  Unfortunately, the gaming industry has lost sight of that, and that could very well bite console developers in the end.  If Microsoft and Sony want to continue down the path of pushing consoles more than first party exclusives, they’ll eventually be perceived as third-party machines.  If that happens, it leaves the door WIDE open for Steam machines to make another push, and with Steam having almost any third party title you can dream of, and for less money, that platform could finally become a contender in the living room.

And speaking of third-party, it’s pretty clear the AAA heavies have gotten lazy, too.  They’re just too afraid to let go of moneymaking franchises.  People often complain about being bored of the same old crap, but how do these companies respond?

“We’ll make our games look better.  Cool?”

But people aren’t complaining about graphics anymore.  That narrative just isn’t driving the industry as much as it used to… at least from the perspective of consumers.  Gamers want better writing, character depth, enemy AI, etc.  But nooooo… all anyone has done is say, “Better volumetric fog, god rays, and particle effects!  That’ll revolutionize everything!”

Ugh.

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Shadow of Mordor had the right idea with the Nemesis System.  It was basic, yes, but I was convinced it was the first baby-step in this industry’s journey to develop better AI… and yet nobody has tried to emulate, let alone best that system since.  Nope, every other game still features enemies that either stand against a single guard post, or walk in the same L-shaped pattern over and over.

So let me ask:  Is this truly the best that AAA developers could pull off in 2016?  Is this REALLY the best generation of gaming ever?  I don’t think so, and furthermore, I think the industry CAN do better.  Not only CAN it do better, but there’s nothing wrong with EXPECTING better, either.  But with so many people literally buying products before they’re finalized, what incentive does this industry have to change its unfriendly business tactics?

Well, consumers have to realize that more powerful hardware isn’t going to solve a damn thing.  If you want better quality products, you have to stop pre-ordering games.  Stop telling studios you’re willing to buy their crap sight unseen.  Also, if you’re not having much fun playing the games being released on the PS4 or Xbox One, playing them on a PS4 Pro or Xbox One S (or even the Xbox Scorpio) isn’t going to change that.  Your gameplay will be enhanced, but enhancement of non-enjoyment is still just that… non-enjoyment.

If you want newer, better IP’s, and advancement in storytelling and AI, then all you need to do is keep those conversations in the public eye.  Keep those narratives strong so AAA publishers and developers can see that they’re no longer going to get away with repackaging the same two or three gameplay formats time and time again.  Make damn sure they know you want more than just:  FPS – The Game / Blasting From Behind Cover – The Game / Stealthily Wipe-Out Poor Enemy AI – The Game / Detective Mode – The Game.

Not that AAA games should be villainized, though.  Again, I still find them to be quite enjoyable.  I’m just disappointed that the industry refuses to broaden its horizons in the ways that are most needed.

The good news?  As long as you’re willing to wander outside the AAA scene, there’s plenty of great games being released by smaller and/or independent studios.  Ori and the Blind Forest, The Witness, Inside, Limbo, Absolute Drift, Stardew Valley, Shovel Knight, Axiom Verge, Grow Home, Child of Light, Never Alone, Outlast, Trine, Braid, Undertale, Owlboy, Soma… and these are only some of the most notable choices.  And hey, if none of these pique your curiosity, there’s still decades worth of games for you to go back and enjoy.

It’s easy to forget that gaming isn’t a ‘box’, but an art form that we can enjoy… well, pretty much whenever.  Games take a bit longer to digest than music albums, movies, and even a number of books, and as a result, people always feel like they have to play the newest stuff and never look back on the old… and that’s just simply not true.  If you find yourself in a rut, just look at your back catalog or start working on games that you may have missed.  Sure, there are some titles that may not have aged as gracefully as others, but I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised to find that most hold their own quite well.

 

 

CD Projekt Red May Be Preparing To Protect Against Hostile Takeover


Earlier this year, video game media made everyone aware that this industry isn’t just about selling games. No, there’s backroom deals, corruption, and of course major moves that may be construed as hostile. This information had come as a result of Vivendi’s continual attempt to take over Ubisoft, and that tug-of-war still wages today. 

A lot of people assumed Vivendi taking over Ubisoft would be a good thing. Gamers began to fantasize about a world where in-game protagonists would no longer have to climb towers in order to reveal more pieces of map, but the reality of the situation is that if the company taking things over isn’t competent, the game developer could eventually cease to exist. Vivendi has a track record of soaking up game industry assets, mismanaging their funds, and then allowing those assets to go belly up. That’s not a good thing for anyone. Even if you loathe a company like Ubisoft, we need more competition in this industry, not less.

And one such contender has been rising over the years: CD Projekt RED. They gained a bit of notoriety with The Witcher and especially its sequel, but The Witcher 3 has propelled them to the next level. They’ve proven they can make games just as large and intricately detailed as anybody in the business – including Rockstar – and that they can do so with a fraction of the budget and staff members on hand. This has not only made the company financially successful, but their consumer friendly practices have also generated a lot of good will… and the industry as a whole has taken notice, with multiple offers having been made to acquire the company. They’ve all been turned down, of course, but CDPR are no longer a private company. They’re public, meaning there’s ways for companies to wedge themselves in if they play their cards right.

Well, it seems that CDPR have called for an emergency meeting. The gist is that they’re exploring the possibility of buying back around 60 million dollars’ worth of their own shares. I’m not an expert, so maybe this is just a case of the studio wanting to go back to their independent status. However, the urgency of this meeting and what it entails more than likely means they’re preparing to protect themselves against threat of a hostile takeover.  

I’ll keep you posted as more information becomes available.

EDIT:

Other reports are now flooding online. Since the early details we broke on Byte-Size Impressions, Neogaf member ‘boskee’ has posted some additional details about the meeting, being held November 29th:

One – Vote on whether or not to allow the company to buy back part of its own shares for 250 million PLN ($64 million)

Two – Vote on whether to merge CD Projekt Brand (fully owned subsidiary that holds trademarks to the Witcher and Cyberpunk games) into the holding company

Three – Vote on the change of the company’s statute.

“Now, the 1st and the 3rd point seem to be the most interesting, particularly the last one. The proposed change will put restrictions on the voting ability of shareholders who exceed 20% of the ownership in the company. It will only be lifted if said shareholder makes a call to buy all the remaining shares for a set price and exceeds 50% of the total vote.

According to the company’s board, this is designed to protect the interest of all shareholders in case of a major investor who would try to acquire remaining shares without offering a ‘decent price’.”

Again, more details will be reported as they become available. 

 

The Illusion of Choice

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Unless I’m misreading how people feel about the gaming industry’s economic climate, they’re sick to death of microtransactions and DLC. However, instead of rallying against these business models, folks are opening their wallets, and I can’t for the life of me understand why they’re not seeing the forest through the trees. The average consumer should be ashamed of how often they’ve fallen for the carrot-on-a-stick routine… but I guess from their perspective, ignorance is bliss. While that’s okay for some, I’m the kind of guy that would rather be bummed by knowledge than be oblivious to what’s going on. But unfortunately, consumer complacency reigns supreme, and some recent headlines have brought to light a new business model which hopes to further exploit that. And what is it? The illusion of choice.

First, let’s talk about Sony.

They’re taking a proactive approach to consumer grumblings. Instead of allowing minor complaints to fester into nasty headlines, they’re finding creative ways to appease their audience. That said, Sony’s peace offerings have been rather inadequate.

PS+ has changed a great deal since the initial launch, but much of the good will it’s garnered comes from a single perk: ‘Free’ AAA games. We’re talking Infamous 2, Bioshock Infinite, Demon’s Souls, Uncharted 3, Shadow of the Colossus, Batman: Arkham Asylum, Dead Space 3, and the list goes on.

Have gamers been spoiled? Perhaps, but Sony implemented this strategy to combat the multiplayer paywall known as Xbox Live. But that’s lost on them nowadays. They, too, have shackled multiplayer behind the bars of subscription fees, and those ‘free’ titles have devolved into an eighth generation indie-thon. Not that indie titles are bad, but it’s not what PS+ subscribers have been conditioned to expect.

I don’t think anybody expected Sony to give us retail games in the PS4’s first year. If they did, they were naive and just looking for a reason to bitch. Why would they cannibalize sales just to satisfy a few loose-lipped idiots on the net? But now after two years in this generation, we have yet to see so much as a launch title on the program. Are Killzone and Knack REALLY still selling enough copies to warrant their exclusion from PS+? I doubt it. Hell, even Microsoft – who, by the way, are still losing money per console sold (once taking research, development, and marketing into consideration) – have given Gold subscribers Tomb Raider and Rayman Legends. So, what gives?

This means the value of PS+ is plummeting, regardless of whether consumers care to perceive it that way or not. The promise behind this program, specifically in regards to the Playstation 4, was to strengthen both their servers and quality of ‘free’ content, while enhancing their community-based features.

I’d argue they haven’t done that.

Their servers are weaker than their (direct) competition. The quality of ‘free’ games have gone downhill. Their community-based features are nearly non-existent… unless you count clicking the ‘thumbs up’ button on a game or app a ‘community feature’.

And little by little, people have taken notice. So, Sony have invited PS+ subscribers to collectively vote for one of three indie titles… which is smart. VERY smart. When you give your customers the power of choice, they feel appreciated and shower you with good will. But in the business world, very few – if any – decisions are made with our best interest in mind. This vote was manufactured to extract good will, and more importantly, make people forget the ‘where’s our AAA’ discussion. And unfortunately, if the comments I’ve seen can act as a decent barometer, it worked. People don’t get that this was a diversionary tactic. They’d rather believe Sony are gracious and altruistic.

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The next headline that fits in with this ‘illusion of choice’ theme, is the recently unveiled Deus Ex: Mankind Divided ‘Augment Your Pre-Order’ program.

Pre-order exclusives have plagued this industry for a long time. Publishers have held content for ransom unless you’ve promised to buy their products sight unseen, and when you do, you’re STILL missing out because of retailer specific pre-order exclusives. “Buy it in advance, FROM US, or fuck you.” That’s the gist.

How much worse could it possibly get?

How about Kickstarter-inspired reward tiers based on pre-order numbers? The more people that pre-order, the more content they’ll get! Isn’t that GREAT?!

So, let’s break down why this sucks major donkey dick:

Kickstarter is meant to fund projects that wouldn’t exist without some financial help. But Square Enix and Eidos Montreal aren’t doing this to bring a passion project to life, but to sucker people into a ‘buy before you try’ agreement.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a loyal fan of the franchise, either. If enough people don’t pre-order, these companies are basically going to punish you and say, “Too bad, so sad. You should have told all your friends to pre-order, too.”

Now, pre-order DLC usually consists of cosmetic items, but the third tier for Mankind Divided features an in-game mission.

Last but certainly not least, three of the five tiers force you to choose between one piece of content over another. That means there’s no possible way to acquire all the extra goodies in the ‘Augment Your Pre-Order’ program… unless you feel like buying multiple copies..

Of course, the whole idea of ‘Augment Your Pre-Order’ isn’t meant to make you feel like you’re being raped by the anal splitting cock of a minotaur. No, it’s supposed to make you feel like you’re in control of your own destiny.

Well, whoopy-fuckin’-doo.

All gamers really want is to get a complete game at the complete price. But is there an option for that? Of course there isn’t. And why? Because ‘fuck you’. That’s why.

The ‘choose your own rewards’ mantra, much like ‘vote for your next PS+ game’, is little more than marketing bullshit to make you forget how hard you’re being screwed. I sincerely hope consumers are wise enough to tell Square Enix and Eidos Montreal to shove it up their ass. If that message isn’t delivered loud-and-clear, make no doubt about it: We WILL see more of this. A LOT more.

Metal Gear Solid: Phantom Pitchforks

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve seen Konami and Kojima saturating headlines for weeks. We’ve gone from the publisher removing Kojima’s name from Phantom Pain promo material, to rumors of Silent Hill – another project Kojima was invested in – being canceled. In the last week or so, the internet has discovered some striking similarities between Italian Doctor Sergio Canavero – who has, himself, made waves in the news with plans to perform a head transplant – and a doctor we’ve seen in early Phantom Pain footage. Everyone wanted to know: What’s fiction, and what’s reality? Well, thanks to journalist Gabriel Galliani (Official Playstation Magazine of Italy, and Byte-Size Impressions Editing Advisor and Podcast Co-Host), we finally have an answer.

Meet the Head Transplant Doctor at the Center of a Metal Gear Conspiracy

Could The Metal Gear Solid Lookalike Doctor Really Sue Konami?

People weren’t sure if the similarities were mere coincidence, or the best marketing ploy by Kojima to date. In a statement to goodgame.hr, Doctor Canavero stated, “No link, thanks for the heads up, I will notify my attorney.” The knee-jerk response from the gaming community has been, “Isn’t that precisely what he would say if he was in on it?” Well, maybe… but journalists have to run off facts, not assumptions. So, Gabriel Galliani decided he wasn’t satisfied with that response and did some old-fashioned sleuthing. And we’re talking the whole nine, here. He called anyone and everyone and obtained official documentation.

In the end, he got answers straight from the horse’s mouth: Not only had Doctor Canavero contacted his attorney, but he’s also filed charges with local authorities. He was also able to confirm that Canavero is looking to sue Konami for using his likeness, although the doc’s attorney needs to do a lot of legwork to see how plausible their case would actually be.

Hear that toilet flushing? That’s the sound of a ‘wink-wink, nod-nod’ marketing conspiracy going down the drain… maybe. But hey, at least we can finally speculate as to what might have happened between Kojima and Konami.

I know a bunch of skeptics still want to believe Kojima is trolling, and because things still don’t make much sense, they could be right. But, on the surface, it appears that Kojima was SO fascinated by his research on phantom pain, that he couldn’t help but interject Canavero, and his work, into Phantom Pain. His likeness was used BLATANTLY, and not just his look. No, we’re talking mannerisms, accent, the whole shebang. Maybe he wanted to use this specific doctor to push a message? After all, in 2010, Kojima told us:

“The next project will challenge a certain type of taboo, if I mess up, I’ll probably have to leave the industry. However, I don’t want to pass by avoiding that. I turn 47 this year. It’s been 24 years since I started making games. Today I got an ally who would happily support me in that risk. Although it’s just one person. For a start, it’s good.”

So, despite knowing he was going to enter dangerous territory, he’d rather stand up for his beliefs than avoid controversy, no matter how damning it might be. He calculated the risk, and took the plunge anyway.

But who was the ally he spoke of? That seems like a key piece of evidence, doesn’t it? For all we know, that person could have been the neurosurgeon in question, but that makes the prospect of a lawsuit seem kind of… awkward.

Another strike against the ‘marketing ploy’ idea is that while most people believe Canavero only ‘appeared’ in 2013 (mere months after Phantom Pain’s reveal), that’s simply not true. He has writing that’s been published prior to that. Also, in 2008, various Italian news outlets reported the neurosurgeon had successfully pulled a girl out of a coma. According to the news source linked, “she was able to swallow food and obey simple commands.” Wouldn’t this all have predated anything Kojima would have done for Phantom Pain? At least in terms of stealth marketing preparation?

So that’s why I believe this might be a case of Kojima having art imitate life, and to a dangerous degree at that. In early MGSV footage, for example, we see Big Boss awaken from a coma. One of the first faces he sees is that of Doctor Canavero.

“But they didn’t use Canavero’s likeness. They used an actor.” True enough, but does that make the connections and similarities any less real?

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Also, remember Quiet? Of course you do. The scantily clad female character had everyone screaming ‘sexist portrayal of women!’ from the rooftops. But the interesting thing to note is that, like the patient in the story mentioned above… she can’t talk. What if she’s another in-game representation of Doctor Canavero’s work? What if she went under the knife, had her brain tinkered with, and has to obey commands from evil men (including dressing like a fishnet hooker)? Kojima is on record defending Quiet’s attire:

“I know there’s people concerning about “Quiet” but don’t worry. I created her character as an antithesis to the women characters appeared in the past fighting game who are excessively exposed. “Quiet” who doesn’t have a word will be teased in the story as well. But once you recognize the secret reason for her exposure, you will feel ashamed of your words and deeds.”

Anyway, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure all of this spells trouble… and what troubles me, is that nobody seems to be questioning any of this. Instead, everyone’s content with laying the blame at Konami’s feet. They’ve been labeled the bad guy, and people are marching on their castle with torches and pitchforks… but, why? All we really have at the moment is speculation. Has nobody entertained the idea that maybe, just MAYBE… Konami is innocent? I know there’s a ‘publishers are bad’ mentality at play, but come on…

Put yourself in their shoes:

Let’s say YOU had Kojima and his talented team working for you. You owned the MGS franchise, but Kojima had complete creative control. Then, really late in the development process – in which a considerable amount of time and resources had already been spent – you find out Kojima was playing with fire, leaving YOU to (likely) get burned because your company name is all over the product. So, perhaps a dialogue opens at this point. You say, “Hey, Kojima, you can’t do this. There might be legal repercussions, and the themes you’re tackling are going to attract all the wrong kind of attention.” Maybe Kojima says, “Tough noogies, brah, but this is what I want to do. I’m not running from controversial ideas just because a ‘suit’ tells me to.” So, in order to protect yourself, you distance yourself from Kojima as much as possible. This includes ripping Kojima’s name off the product, ‘firing’ him after development on Phantom Pain concludes, and canceling whatever other projects Kojima had in the pipeline.

I’m not saying that’s what happened… but it’s a plausible theory, don’t you think? I mean, what the hell was Kojima thinking? Using ideas and theories is one thing, but to essentially replicate a real person with a controversial career in your game without their consent? Another thing entirely. Such a thing could jeopardize that person’s image, and that’s precisely what’s happening with Canavero. He’s been labeled a real life Frankenstein. He could have ignored the criticisms now, sure… but what happens if his planned head transplant procedure fails? He’ll likely be branded a monster and a hack, and who knows, he might have to step away from his career in total. And who would he set his sights on for compensation? Konami, of course.

Again, I don’t want to say Konami is innocent… just that it’s possible. Regardless of the type of relationship they might have had with Kojima, with the theory put forth above, the publisher would have little choice but to put their best foot forward. Distancing themselves from Kojima would have been the only way to do that, at least for the time being (that is, without straight-up canceling MGSV). Maybe this is why there’s so much confusion on whether Kojima was actually fired. Maybe he wasn’t… maybe he was ‘let go’. Maybe Kojima WANTED to go, and Konami let him. Who knows?

And those are the key words: Who knows? Nobody right now, really, except for those directly involved. So, put down your pitch forks and stop threatening to boycott the company in the future. We have no idea what happened.

But, I will say this: There’s still a slight chance this was a marketing ploy, and we’re all the fools for buying into it. Or, maybe Canavero is helping Kojima retaliate against Konami. Maybe Kojima planned the whole thing to help fund Canavero’s research. All I know for sure is that regardless of what the answer is, it can’t be good. I mean, at best, what do we have? Kojima is leaving Konami, one way or the other… and if this DOES happen to be some sort of ploy, well, reporting a false incident to the Italian police is illegal.

Let’s just wait and see… Because nobody has enough information to take sides.

As for Gabe: Despite all the evidence pointing towards Canavero and Kojima not being in cahoots with one another, a healthy dose of skepticism remains with him, as there’s some minor inconsistencies he’s not ready to talk or write about just yet.

Why Do You Play Video Games? A PBS Game Show Response

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Why do you play video games?

That question seems a bit absurd, I know, but I ask because every once in a while, I find myself in the thick of a quantity vs. quality debate. It’s an important conversation to have, for sure, as countless games have been padded to manipulate our perception of value. However, these discussions often take such a disheartening turn, that I can’t help but feel like I’ve wandered into an alternate dimension, one that could only befit an episode of The Twilight Zone. Expectations of gaming are going to vary from person to person, sure, but there are certain arguments I’ll just never be able to wrap my head around. Jamin Warren, host of the PBS Game Show, is my latest source of bewilderment, because he’s making the case that video games are too long.

I was intrigued to see if Mr. Warren could produce a reasonable argument in his video segment, but it took less than a minute before my eyes had rolled to the back of my skull.

To showcase the extreme amount of time we, as gamers, have to invest if we’re to play through today’s hottest games, he begins by pointing a finger at Forza Horizon 2, which takes about 10 to 15 hours to complete. Personally, I wouldn’t classify that as a long game, but to each their own.

Next, he brings up the considerably longer Grand Theft Auto V remaster, which boasts at least 30-35 hours of gameplay. Acknowledging he’s already played through the last-gen iteration, he’s still willing to tackle the lengthy heist drama once more.

Now, this is where my head begins to spin. Not because he’s willing to invest up to 70 hours on a single title, but because he’s already invalidated his opening argument. A 15 hour game is, apparently, too much to handle… yet he’s justifying a 35 hour game – twice, no less – merely because he likes it.

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Of course, in the same breath, he has to go that extra sensationalist mile with Dragon Age: Inquisition, as he says the prospect of its 40 to 80 hour campaign made him ‘weep inside’.

So, one 70 hour investment is fine, yet the other is not?

But then things get interesting:

“Games are, far and away, on average, longer than any other medium on the planet. For example, during the 276 hours that this Tumblr user spent playing Call of Duty, I could watch every movie on the AFI 100, finish the works of Tolstoy, and listen to most of the major works of 20th century pop music.”

He goes on to explain that while video games are a wonderful way to spend our time, it’s hard for a responsible adult to squeeze in such drastic minimum completion times, as we still have to juggle family, friends, work, etc. As a result, at least according to him, this is why only 10 to 20 percent of people ever complete their games. I’d like to respect the correlation he’s making, because there’s undoubtedly a link between completion rate and the amount of time people have in their day-to-day lives, but I have to wonder how sincere his ‘games are fine’ asterisk is when he follows up his train of thought with:

“So I can’t help but notice when I feel like games are wasting my time.”

He immediately goes into some explanation about how other forms of entertainment don’t require your undivided attention. You can simultaneously listen to music and read a book, for example.

Subjective.

I’ll agree that music can be more liberating than other media, but it depends on the person. There are plenty of people who don’t just use music as background noise, but as something to become immersed by. As far as books go, some can deal with distractions, while others can’t. Also, the pace at which each individual reads should be taken into consideration. According to my Kindle, I still have 13 hours left on a Stephen King novel I’m reading, but I’m sure there’s people who could probably knock it out in half the time. Film and television are also ingested in a variety of ways. Point is, no one person is alike, so blanket statements need to be left out of the equation, here.

He then states that the medium is experiencing a ‘crisis of audience’. Games now appeal to most age groups, and naturally, they all carry a different set of expectations based on their lifestyle. They all want different things.

That’s a crisis? We’ve reached a point in time where games aren’t seen by most as children’s toys… and that’s a crisis?

Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.

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There has ALWAYS been a great deal of diversity amongst video games. You could seek what lurks in the dungeons of The Legend of Zelda, or collect fruit in the preciously adorable Bubble Bobble. Enter a castle dripping with atmosphere in Castlevania, or hop on a pogo stick as ‘Unca Scrooge’ in Ducktales. Get your face hacked off by Jason in Friday the 13th, or roam around in Disney’s Magic Kingdom. Regardless of what someone sees through their rose colored glasses, there was a variety of gameplay at the ready, and not a single game was beloved by everyone. But, because video games have only become more diversified over time, there is something for everyone.

But, you know, that’s apparently a BAD thing.

Mr. Willen even goes as far to suggest that games come equipped with a story slider – very much like the ones we use for graphics and difficulty – to reduce or extend a game’s narrative. This would allow for any given game to adapt to what WE require, and not the other way around. For example, those who are turned off by the beefy Dragon Age campaign would now have reason to play it.

Now THAT’S a slippery slope if I ever heard one.

Let’s say they did this. Let’s say Dragon Age: Inquisition offered a ‘story slider’. If you abridged the story, you’d have to alter the game mechanics too, wouldn’t you? I mean, how could that even be done? The entire game would have to be re-invented multiple times to suit multiple types of gamers. Keep in mind the devs spent at LEAST three years to bring this game, as is, to retail. To ask that they retool EVERYTHING to appeal to whatever YOUR schedule dictates, would seemingly add a lot of unnecessary time – not to mention cost – to the development cycle. That means MONEY, Mr. Willen. Where would the cost of extra time and resources get passed down to? You guessed it. The consumer. Do we really need to give publishers another reason to inflate the overall cost of games?

Now, as far as game length is concerned… well, that’s nothing new, either. Many classic platformers can be beaten within a couple of hours, and there wasn’t much accommodation. Many of these games had no saves, no passwords, nothing. Just you, the controller, and whatever the game had in store. But we also had Final Fantasy VI (Final Fantasy III on the SNES), in which the primary quest could take 35 hours. Including side quests, you could easily have a 40 to 50 hour game on your hands.

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And besides, even the SHORT games could chew up lots of time. I mean, you can technically beat Super Ghouls ‘N Ghosts in less than 2 hours, but personally, I’ve NEVER been able to beat that game legit. I still play it to this day though, and I’ve probably invested well over 100 hours of my life to it.

So, who cares if Dragon Age takes 40 or even 80 hours?

I understand that life doesn’t leave much time for gaming. Most nights I only play for an hour or two, and sometimes not at all. Does that mean developers should compromise their vision to appease me? Absolutely not. It’s no secret that Dragon Age, or many of the other lengthy games out there, require a substantial investment. If you don’t want to invest the time, then don’t. Don’t buy a game if you think it’s too demanding for your lifestyle. That’s the beauty of having so many diverse experiences available in the marketplace. If one game doesn’t meet your needs, there’s plenty that will.

As a side note, despite my lack of time, I still play really long games. If I want to play it, I see no reason to skip it. Sure, it’ll take an extremely long time to beat them, but I’m fine with that. I mean, what’s the rush anyway? To get it out of the way so I can move on to the next? Personally, if a game is fun enough, I’ll see it through to the end. Know when I will step away? When it stops being fun. Otherwise, I’ll be content knowing my $60 investment could last for MONTHS.

Anyway, Mr. Willen argues that even if you DO have a lot of time on your hands, it’s still a precious commodity that shouldn’t be wasted on side quests.

Again, subjective.

Who’s to say what should constitute a waste of time for ANY of us? Some people really like the side stuff, and for a variety of reasons, at that.

One person cannot judge how valuable a game’s content is, or isn’t, for anyone else. Same goes for our tastes in books, music, and film. Some think The Lord of the Rings – as written by JRR Tolkien – is a literary masterpiece. Others believe it’s needlessly padded with an overwhelming amount of detail. Some people prefer listening to single songs, while others prefer the experience of a complete album. You can’t please everyone, right? Right. So, let the artists bring their vision to the table, and let the consumer decide what’s right for them. There doesn’t need to be a ‘one size fits all’ approach. Choice is the spice of life, after all. But, hey, if that’s what you want, guess what? There’s plenty of games that already do that, and more are on the way.

Which reminds me that Mr. Willen conveniently ignores something else, though. If quick satisfaction is what you need, there’s already an entire market dedicated to you: Mobile gaming. If you own a tablet, phablet or cell phone, the options at your disposal are almost limitless. There are games that cater to those with only mere minutes to play. If you like the episodic style of Telltale Games, their titles are compatible with virtually every modern device. If you want truncated versions of major AAA console titles, mobile has that, too. Dead Space, Mass Effect, Battlefield, Hitman, Madden, Call of Duty, and Batman have all made the jump to smaller screens.

So, let’s address the elephant in the room: Is Mr. Willen even all that interested in gaming anymore?

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying he needs his ‘gamer card’ revoked, or anything like that. But, what’s the most important part of any game? The gameplay… which is ironic, because this PBS Game Show host no longer seems to care about that aspect of the experience. No, he just wants to get in, get out, and walk away with a satisfying narrative… which is fine.

What’s NOT fine, however, is that he’s asking for a complete overhaul of the industry mold, and he’s doing so without considering the repercussions. I mean, let’s say developers around the world began catering to the ‘short and sweet’ crowd en masse. Polygon’s Ben Kuchera – who tends to agree with most of Mr. Willen’s argument – implies this could lead to consumer savings:

“A shorter game can be made for less money which leads to lower prices which means more people buy it… and so on.”

But does that even remotely echo reality? Mr. Willen’s specifically addressing AAA console games, but would publishers like Ubisoft, Activision and Electronic Arts REALLY reduce the price of their games if they cost less to produce? Of course not. One needs to look no further than Call of Duty, an annual franchise featuring 5 hour campaigns and a minimal multiplayer experience out of the box… unless you buy a season pass, of course. And yet, this game has the same MSRP as the time-consuming behemoth that is Dragon Age. If anything, I think these companies will stick with the $60 price tag regardless, and bank their savings from development to improve profit margins.

And since we’re talking about money, EA’s fiscal 2015 third quarter earnings call held some intriguing info about Dragon Age: Inquisition… You know, the game allegedly too daunting for the masses:

“Dragon Age: Inquisition captivated fans and critics worldwide as it launched in November, and it quickly became the most successful launch in BioWare history. More than 113 million hours have already been spent exploring the depth and detail of the single-player experience in Dragon Age: Inquisition, and more players are joining each day. Named “Game of the Year” by 32 media outlets around the world, including IGN, Game Informer and the Associated Press, Dragon Age: Inquisition is a true masterpiece from the team at BioWare and a game that is sure to be played for a long time to come.”

“In particular, Dragon Age: Inquisition had by far the most successful launch in BioWare’s history, exceeding our expectations. In addition, game sales for last-generation consoles were also much stronger than we had anticipated.”

“Outperformance versus our outlook was driven by the record-breaking Dragon Age: Inquisition performance.”

Not that there’s a strong correlation between game sales and game quality, as hype can go a long, long way… but Dragon Age is a well-established franchise. The devs themselves even more so, thanks to their success with the Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Baldur’s Gate, and Mass Effect series. People knew what they were getting into.

More than anything, I think this shows that Mr. Willen doesn’t truly understand what gamers want… just what HE wants.

So, in retrospect, maybe the question isn’t why do YOU play video games – since we see the kind of a response that elicits – but why do WE play video games? As I’ve gone through painstaking detail to point out, there isn’t a simple answer for that. Never has been, never will be. We ALL have our preferences, and as we grow and mature, those preferences are likely to change. As a result, self-inventory should take a large role in our internal conversation, especially if you’re echoing the sentiment that games are too long, wasting your time, and find yourself rushing through them ‘just because’. Games should not be, as Mr. Willen puts it, a chore. Yes, some games are needlessly padded, but this happens across all mediums.

At the end of the day, it’s up to the INDIVIDUAL to decide what’s best for THEM.