Listen Up, Fanboys

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E3 was supposed to be Christmas for gamers.  Sure, the conferences exist mostly to appease investors, but this should have been the one time of year internet hate mongers set their differences aside, treat each other like human beings, and rejoice in a weeklong celebration.  Instead, what I’ve seen is a resurgence of the console wars, and it looks even sillier than it did at the beginning of the generation.

Since when did ‘fan’ become synonymous with gnarling your face and spitting the most putrid bile imaginable?  Like, why is this even a thing?  From where I’m sitting, it seems like all it takes is a difference of opinion.  Forget context, forget reason.  Hell, a number of the attacks I’ve seen on the net are completely unsolicited.

Is this really where we’re at?  We’ve struggled for decades to show the world that gamers aren’t childish… and for what?  To ultimately prove that stereotype is true?

Bravo, ladies and gentlemen.  Bravo.

Now, I’m not blanketing my anger over the entirety of the gaming community, but for those of you that have engaged in pointless cock-measurement contests – and you know who you are – I feel a reminder is needed.

In case you’ve forgotten, we’re on the same team… all of us.  So much time is wasted in Sony vs. Microsoft debates, and there’s so much wrong with this I don’t even know where to begin.

How about the fact that this isn’t a two horse race?  Why do people tend to forget about Nintendo?  I know they haven’t done very well with the Wii-U, but it’s still a great platform to play great games on.  Some people even prefer it.  And let’s not forget about the PC, which plays pretty much all third party games and even has some exclusives that can’t be found on consoles.

I don’t think I’m being too idealistic here, either.  If you want to know how dumb it is to compare consoles, just remember that most of what we play are the third party games.  And you know what the conversation centers around when we talk about them?  The games themselves, right?  When you meet up with friends, you might say, “Have you played the new Doom?  It’s freaking awesome!”  They’ll probably nod their heads and say, “Yeah man.  SO much fun!”  Know what they’re NOT going to say?  “Yeah man, totally!  I’ve been playing it on my PS4, and guess what?!  MY DYNAMIC RESOLUTION BUFFER IS BETTER THAN IT IS ON THAT CRAPPY XBOX!”  These conversations don’t happen.  They just don’t.  And when performance IS discussed, it’s because there’s glaring issues that go wayyyyy beyond hardware capability.

See what I’m saying here?  It’s all about the GAMES.  But, since you console warring trolls – again, you know who you are – can’t help but feed your superiority complex, I have a message I want each ‘side’ to consider:

Xbots – You fools.  You damn fools.  Sony fans have been giving you the business for years.  I imagine you’ve been waiting for the perfect opportunity to show the world you’re classier, more mature… and yet, the moment you felt victory within reach, you lost your minds.  No, really.  You did.  I don’t think you understand just how stupid you’ve looked since the Scorprio was revealed at E3.  It’s been like watching William Wallace’s army in Braveheart when they mooned their enemies… except instead of the ‘freedom’ battle cry, you’ve been banging on about teraflops.  Who cares about freakin’ teraflops?  I don’t.  And you know what’s funny?  Most of you don’t even know what a teraflop is.  All you’ve been doing is parroting the latest buzzword.  And besides, your victory is imagined anyway.  You’re comparing two consoles that have yet to see the light of day.  If that doesn’t make you feel sheepish, then you have a severe lack of self-awareness, my friends.

Sony Ponies – Yeah, the Xbots are coming off like a bunch of delusional lunatics right now, but to be fair, this is how your fan base has looked throughout the entirety of this generation.  900p or 1080p, 30fps or 60fps… who gives a shit?  You act like hardware performance is the most important thing in the world, but if you really felt that way, you’d buy a PC.  It’s really that simple.  Why compare nickels to quarters when you can get those dolla dolla bills, y’all?  And, I know what you’re going to say, too.  “Not everyone can afford a PC!”  True.  Consoles are less expensive than a PC.  There’s no denying that.  But I see a ton of you excited to drop at least another $400 on the Neo… after having already spent $400 on the OG PS4.  That’s $800 in a single generation… just for hardware.  You could have spent that money up front to get a machine that was capable of Neo-like graphics a while ago.  “But Sony are for the players!”  Nope.  They’re not.  They’re the same as any other major corporation out there.  They’ll smile in your face while they reach for the wallet resting in your back pocket.  Don’t get me wrong, I’ve gotten a lot of use out of my PS4, but that doesn’t mean I’m comfortable with bowing at Yoshida’s feet.

And while we’re talking about console fanboys being a little too mouthy for their own good, there’s a couple other camps that also need to be addressed:

Nintendo Fans – You are, undoubtedly, the nicest fan base of the bunch… but some of you take your affection for this brand wayyyyy too seriously.  Yes, Nintendo is a great place to play great games that can’t be found elsewhere.  But some of you straight-up pretend that games on other platforms aren’t any fun.  I totally get that we’re inundated with annual franchises and iterative formulas, but I still – and this is coming from someone who loves Nintendo – find plenty of great games to play.  Unfortunately, some of you believe it’s your job to hype the company up, and feed their bottom line by supporting every shitty business decision they’ll ever make.  Folks, on occasion, it’s OK to hold Nintendo’s feet to the fire.  You won’t lose your fan badge.  I promise.  Complaining is the only way to keep major corporations reasonably ‘honest’.  Do you really think having DLC in physical form is a good idea, especially in such short supply?  How about the short charge life on the Wii-U gamepad’s battery?  Have gimmicky controllers ever made any of their games better?  You don’t have to shy away from these issues.  I’ve made my feelings quite clear on Nintendo’s business practices (read here and here), and yet, I still enjoy their games.  I still consider myself a fan.  Crazy, right?

PC Master Race – With a name like ‘master race,’ you’d think some level of ACTUAL superiority would come into play… but oh, the hypocrisy.  You act like gaming on a PC puts you above the squabbles of console fans, yet you actively seek opportunities to fight with them, to let them know how much better your rig is, and likely has been for years.  But at the end of the day, you’re no better than those people, especially since you fight amongst yourselves over which brand of GPU is best.  I see hateful AMD vs. Nvidia arguments far too often, and I’ve only been actively looking in on those conversations since the beginning of 2016.  This year, PC has been my platform of choice, but your community is by far the most negative.  Outside of those pitiful GPU battles, you also come off as spoiled brats who won’t spend more than $5 per game.  Oh, and you try way too hard to justify piracy.  As gamers, we should all want to ensure devs get paid for the games we’re about to enjoy.  I get you want a better deal and all, but even without taking advantage of Ebay-like sites, pricing on PC games have been WAY better than anything I’ve seen in the console market.  There’s zero need to steal stuff.  So, when you cry a game isn’t within your insulting price range, I’ve got zero tears to shed.

Look, at the end of the day, we’re all gamers.  Is it really worth arguing over minor fluctuations in performance?  No.  Of course it isn’t.  For the most part, we’re still playing the same exact games.  There’s only two times off the top of my head where I felt a noticeable difference because of a change in platform:

Dragon Age Origins – Its battle system was designed around a keyboard and mouse, and unfortunately, that means the console iterations had to suffer.  Having played both PC and console versions of Origins, I can tell you that playing on a PC is almost like playing an entirely different game.  I’ll never play this on consoles again.

Diablo III – Oddly enough, Diablo III’s situation is precisely the opposite.  While the mouse and keyboard configuration worked well enough, hacking-and-slashing at a thousand clicks a minute wasn’t very comfortable.  In Blizzard’s quest for more money, however, Diablo III was eventually ported to consoles.  Not content with following in the steps of Dragon Age, Blizzard worked hard on ensuring the game felt nice to play on a controller.  Well, not only does it feel nice, it is, in my opinion, the definitive way to play the game.  Not sure they’ll ever convince me to play the PC version again… unless they patch in controller support at a later date.  Seriously Blizzard, why haven’t you done this yet?!

I’m sure you guys have some other examples where gameplay itself can change from one platform to the next, but point is, these are exceptions to the rule.  So, stop your squabbling.  You’re wasting your time on that ‘mine is better than yours’ crusade.  The cold, hard truth is that each platform comes with its own unique set of flaws.  So, when you make it a point to attack another ‘side’ of the equation… well, you know what they say: “Don’t throw stones in a house of glass.”

My goal today wasn’t to just sit here and sling a bunch of shit talk your way, so please, don’t take it like that.  Instead, I’ve merely attempted to show you all how foolish you look when you behave like children, a look which gamers simply do not need perpetuated by people who aren’t secure in the financial decisions they’ve made.  Game on, everyone… but please, let’s do it quietly, or at the very least, positively.

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Sales: A Matter Of Trust

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The internet has been on fire with post-E3 impressions and controversy, and while I’ve been watching and participating in those conversations, there was little worth discussing on my site. My duty has been, first and foremost, to keep consumers informed when an industry ‘wallet predator’ comes along. The sad reality is that the video game industry is built upon unfriendly business models (for the consumer), so I’ve kept my mouth shut, lest I risk repeating the DLC and microtransations Doomsday spiel once again.

But I’ve seen something during a recent Steam sale that needs to be addressed.

This is going to come across as common sense for most, but it’s worth talking about. Why? Because gamers have a tendency to get attached to their favorite devices, services and development teams. There’s plenty of reasons why, the most important being that they want to defend the stuff they have fun with… but there’s another, more personal element they struggle with: How much their favorite entertainment providers care.

“They care about their customers” is a common discussion thread, and is hardly ever as true as people would like to believe.

And no, I’m not trying to say the industry is evil. But facts are facts, business is business, and money is ALWAYS the bottom line. If a model is consumer friendly but proves to be unprofitable, it won’t continue for the sole purpose of putting a smile on your face. So, some models are inevitably dropped, but most get reworked into something else… and that ‘something else’ is typically a better attempt to exploit your psychology.

The good news is that you can prepare to defend yourself against this. How? By learning about the products you’re interested in. Research is VITAL for consumer protection, especially now that impulse buys are just a click or two away.

We’ve been conditioned to jump for joy at the mere mention of a sale. I mean, the flash of excitement that sparks in most is virtually Pavlovian. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, either. Rich or poor, people will ALWAYS chase after a better deal.

And it all comes down to how our brains are wired.

When someone walks into a store and sees ‘SALE!!!’ in monster-truck sized font, they feel compelled to gravitate towards the sign.

Desire is triggered.

Next, their brain weighs the value of sale against the initial price. If the savings are significant enough, they reach for their wallet/purse and make the purchase.

Pleasure is achieved.

Amazing, isn’t it? We feel a rush, gravitate towards our goal, take it, and feel a sense of reward. We then have positive association with sales events, and keep seeking them out or take advantage when they roll around. And why? Because businesses have learned they can exploit sales to trigger a release of dopamine in our brains.

Haven’t you ever wondered why you buy so much useless crap? Dopamine. This chemical is highly linked with desire and reward, so when we emerge victorious at the end of the ‘reward pathway’, we’re more likely to perform the action again, logic be damned.

Steam sales are a perfect example of this. If you game on the PC, chances are good you have more games than you’ll ever be able to play in your life. Why buy so much if you’ll never have the time to get to it all?

The answer is, obviously, that you thought those deals were too good to pass up. Even though you didn’t need those games, you bought them anyway. It felt GOOD, so you acted on impulse. And all in part to dopamine.

Of course, not every sale feels like a win. In fact, some seemingly go out of their way to take advantage of us.

A short while ago, Grand Theft Auto V appeared on a Steam sale for… wait for it… $59.99 (regular price). How could this be? It was advertised as 25% off…

It’s because the ‘normal’ price was hiked up to $80.

Valve says this was an unfortunate glitch, but it matters little in the public eye. ‘The damage has been done’, as they say. People took a ride down the ‘reward pathway’, felt they were being had, and reacted accordingly. Instead of being treated with the pleasure of a dopamine release, their brains registered the experience as painful instead.

But I’m going to assume that Valve were telling the truth, and that this truly was done in error.

Still…

This sort of thing happens all the time. Not to this degree, of course, but it happens, and intentionally at that. Pay attention to those PS Store prices. During a good number of sale events, the ‘original’ price goes up. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn Microsoft does the same thing. Either way, if consumers haven’t done their research, the subtle increase goes unnoticed, and they walk away feeling like they got a better deal than they actually did.

If the sales model sounds manipulative, that’s because it is. Again, not because it’s evil. That’s just how business works.

Every major business takes all aspects of human psychology into consideration, and I do mean ALL. Everything from store layout, to product placement, colors and even smell. It’s all diligently researched, tested, and (once fully optimized) implemented.

They’re essentially treating us like lab rats, with their stores as the maze. If the marketing department has done their job well enough, we’ll go through a majority of that maze to get what we want, impulsively grabbing things we didn’t intend for along the way. The end result, of course, is walking away and saying, “Wow! That place is great! I’ll have to go there again!”

You know, as if it were some sort of accident.

Of course, things play out a little differently on platforms like Steam (since there’s no physical property to walk through, nor any physical product to speak of), but it’s the same basic idea.

Soooo… where does this concept of trust come into play? Why do people feel the need to defend their favorite brands? Are the likes of Valve and Rockstar REALLY above doing this sort of thing? Of course not. EVERY company wants your money, and if they can implement changes to get more of it, they will. To believe otherwise is… is just silly. Especially in regards to this ‘console war’. Both Sony and Microsoft are willing to do whatever it takes to get your money… and people find it’s worthwhile to argue which one is ‘kind’ enough to fuck us the least?

The reality of the situation is that businesses only extend their hand far enough across the table to grab and pull you in. Forget about ‘trust’. It simply shouldn’t exist between company and consumer. The only things you should trust are research and your intuition. It’s a money hungry world out there, and everyone wants a piece of yours.

Consumers HAVE to be vigilant if they hope to come out on top, because this sort of thing isn’t exclusive to the video game industry. No, ANY business worth their salt knows the key to success is to keep customers happy, while not going as far as to ‘give the house away’. That’s why it’s so common to see things like the ‘original’ price go up during a sale event: It makes a larger psychological dent on the consumer. It doesn’t matter if it’s a local mom and pop, major retail chain, or even an internet giant like Amazon. They all do it.

The largest weapon in your arsenal is knowledge. With that in mind, remember that most sales are hardly worth the raise of an eyebrow. Some are certainly worth acting upon, but without your due diligence, you stand to lose more than you’ll gain.

Happy hunting!

GREATNESS DELAYED Podcast: Post E3 2015 Impressions Panels

That’s right, we finally have an official name for the podcast:  GREATNESS DELAYED.  And it stems from this very podcast, which was recorded late in the evening of June 20th, 2015.  Joined by Gabe, Garrett, Gus and Josh (the latter of which was front row for Microsoft’s conference)… it was something a small miracle, and everyone was well spoken, and we all had a blast talking about what matters most:  GAMES!  ENJOY!

Audio Download

A POS Still Doesn’t Deserve DDoS

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Over the holidays, I had a pretty decent time with gaming. I plowed through The Witcher 2 (Xbox 360), and thanks to my acquisition of the Retron 5, I’ve also been able to get my fill of nostalgic retro goodness. That said, not everyone had such an enjoyable experience in the last week of December. No, both Xbox Live and PSN suffered from a bit of downtime, but one service took a much greater hit than the other.

Care to guess which?

I checked Twitter on Christmas Eve, only to be greeted by a massive text-wall of confusion. People were tweaking because they couldn’t log in to PSN, and it wasn’t long before Xbox Live subscribers echoed similar complaints. Of course, any time there’s so much as a hint of service interruption nowadays, the collective knee-jerk reaction is to assume it’s been caused by DDoS attacks.

While 2014 was undoubtedly the year such attacks have attained widespread awareness, I’ve been careful not to make assumptions based on internet rumblings. Don’t get me wrong: I know we’ve been directly affected by these attacks on multiple occasions, and there were probably numerous others we weren’t affected by… but I can’t help but question the pattern I’ve noticed on social media.

These attackers almost never make preemptive threats. No, instead, we see a network go down, and when a bunch of people on Twitter begin to question why, THAT’S when someone steps up and says, “Oh yeah, dawgz, that was us!!!11!!!!1!1!” At this point, a number of so-called hackers will attempt to take credit for the same attacks… you know, to prove who has the biggest wiener. So, you’ll have to excuse me for not believing every 12 year old on the net who claims to be the cause of a service outage.

And by the way, I said ‘so-called hackers’ because regardless of how much power they want us to THINK they have, it’s little more than a ruse. You see, nothing is actually hacked in a DDoS. In fact, the words behind the acronym tell us as much: Distributed Denial of Service. It’s an attack that’s designed to create a bottleneck which keeps legitimate traffic from getting through. It’s a major friggin’ annoyance, yes, but certainly not a hack.

Anyway, the ‘attack now, take credit later’ pattern I noted was actually broken in early December. Yes, weeks before the jolly fat man in red suede was set to violate our chimneys, a group – who I refuse to name, lest I give them the attention they crave – threatened to take Xbox Live down on Christmas… FOREVER. With this in mind, I remained vigilant in my skepticism. I mean, you don’t have to be Nostradamus to predict both Xbox Live and PSN would suffer outages on Christmas, do you?

Tons of new consoles would connect to their respective service for the first time. The millions who already own these machines would log in to play their new games. The end result was practically written on the wall.

So, when I noticed both PSN and Xbox Live were straight noping-out on Christmas Eve, I thought, “It’s a tad early for this to happen… but maybe not. A lot of people celebrate with one side of their family on the 24th.” Of course, it wasn’t long before ‘they who shall not be named’ hopped on Twitter to take credit for the down time. Still, I wanted to see how things played out before reaching any conclusions.

Well, Xbox Live came back in just under half a day, albeit with some restrictions… but PSN? Down for DAYS. After a good long while, Sony finally stated their network was suffering from a service disruption attack. With confirmation of DDoS attacks straight from the source, I could finally begin to assess the situation.

First and foremost, why disrupt these services in the first place?

One motive was to deter people from ignoring their families on Christmas… but, uh, that doesn’t really explain the various other attacks throughout the entirety of 2014.

No, their primary motivation was to expose the lack of security put forth by Microsoft and Sony. After all, these companies are charging $50+ a year for access to multiplayer. ‘They’ didn’t believe these companies were utilizing our money to enhance security. So, they’ve chosen to ‘enlighten’ consumers by crippling Xbox Live and PSN, the message being, “It was easy for us to take these services down, and that should concern you. You’re not getting what you think you’re paying for. Stop giving in to these greedy corporations!”

This line of reasoning sounds fine on paper, but is flat out STUPID in reality. The only surefire ‘cure’ against a DDoS is to have unlimited bandwidth, and needless to say, that’s just not possible. Money can be spent on better mitigation, yes, but that’s about it. The only real problem here are the idiots doing this from their basements for little more than shits and giggles…

…Or is it?

This fiasco DID expose one company as being far less prepared to mitigate attacks than the other: Sony.

It was difficult to bitch about down time on the PS3. After all the service was free, so you weren’t actually losing anything. But with the PS4, Sony decided to throw multiplayer behind the PS+ pay wall, with the promise they’d use that money to better the network.

In an interview with computerandvideogames.com:

Yoshida explained the move was necessary to maintain a high quality service and facilitate improvements and expansions.

“That’s (was) a big decision,” he said. “what we internally discussed and decided is that we will continue the free access to online play on PS3 and Vita, so that’s clear. But because on PS4 the online connectivity features such as second screen, auto downloads and share features – these are one big pillar of the PS4 experience and we will continue to invest in this area to expand and improve these online features and services.

“If we keep giving away online access for free, the natural pressure is that we have to cut down on the cost to provide this free service. But that’s conflicting with our goal of being able to provide very robust and great online services going forward. So we decided that on PS4, because we want to continue to invest and improve our new services, we’ve asked the most engaged consumers in the online activities to share the burden with us so that we can continue to invest.”

Well, they’re not living up to their end of the bargain.

So how are Sony planning to make amends with their customers? What would their peace offering be? A five day extension for PS+ members, and a ‘10% off anything on PSN’ coupon.

I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough. PSN was down quite a bit last year. I know, I know. It seems like ancient history, right? But honestly, PSN’s lack of stability has been in question throughout most of 2014, especially after the significant DDoS attack in August. You’d think Sony would have said, “Woah, we need to figure this shit out, and pronto!” But, no. To be fair, both networks are still having issues, but the stark contrast between Xbox Live’s and PSN’s recovery time should be telling.

I won’t apologize if this sounds like hyperbole, but Sony clearly doesn’t care. They’ve suckered millions – including myself – into getting PS+… and then nothing. Just a bunch of blanket PR statements like, “Gee guys, sorry. We’re looking into it. Thank you for your patience and continued support.”

Clearly, all they care about is making money, because while PSN suffers, Sony have decided to invest in a new revenue generating service… and guess who’s footing the bill? Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the company that’s allegedly ‘for the players’ would rather spend our cash on a glorified rental service – a pricey one, at that – instead of improving the one we, the loyal players, have spent our money to support. Oh, and if that wasn’t a big enough kick in the teeth for our ‘loyalty’, guess what else? PS Now will also be available on NON-Sony devices in 2015.

For the players, indeed.

With each passing month, Sony manages to rank higher on my anti-consumer shit list. But let me be clear: While I believe they’re a terrible company, that in no way means I believe they ‘got what was coming to them’. It’s nice to FINALLY see a bit of awareness in regards to Sony’s terrible service, but the end doesn’t justify the means. Not one bit.

So what’s the answer? I just said it: Awareness. Hacker wannabes can pretend they’re doing right by us all day long, but their ultimate failure is taking away the most powerful tool that we, as consumers, have at our disposal: Choice. It’s as the old saying goes: You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink. Similarly, gamers need to be armed with knowledge that will allow them to make informed decisions… NOT shuffled around like pawns on a Chess board.

In the end, that’s what these DDoS attacks are all about; change via force, and that’s a major copout. Sony obviously have some MAJOR security issues to iron out – again, better DDoS mitigation is required, and it’s scary to think they’re STILL experiencing major security breaches (think of the month they had to shut PSN down a few years ago, as well as alleged retaliation from North Korea over ‘The Interview’) – but retaliation is NEVER the answer. Who does it help, really? Did it help the people who spent $50, or more, for their PS+ or Xbox Live memberships? Did it help the families who spent hundreds of dollars on a new console for their children? Did it help the families of Sony and Microsoft employees who were undoubtedly called back in to work? Of course not.

The attackers weren’t wise enough to know that forcing ideologies on people rarely works, and when it does, history is doomed to repeat itself. The only way to institute change is through knowledge, meaning we have to keep our eyes, ears, mouths, and minds OPEN. Read articles. Talk with friends. Participate in message board discussions. Every little bit helps, you know? It’s obviously easier to default to the ‘one person can’t make a change’ mentality, but if I believed that were true, Byte-Size Impressions wouldn’t exist. I challenge gamers to keep fighting the good fight. It’s an uphill battle, yes, but not impossible.

Not Quite A ‘Victory’ For Kotaku

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I’ve covered pretty much everything about Assassin’s Creed: Unity, including the parity controversy that happened in the pre-launch window. To be honest, I was relieved to be done with Unity coverage, but because Ubisoft can’t stop insulting our intelligence, I have to keep writing about it. So, what did they do now?

The other day, Kotaku reported a pretty substantial leak for the next Assassin’s Creed installment in 2015: The game is titled, or at least code-named ‘Victory’, and will be set in the Victorian era of London (19th century). The game is likely to launch in October or November of next year (not confirmed, but you don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out), so needless to say, it’s EXTREMELY early to have confirmation of where the Animus will take us next… which is why this leak is particularly puzzling.

At this juncture, at least with this particular franchise, we’d have to wait months before hearing any buzz, let alone such concrete information. Yet, what was provided in this so-called ‘leak’? A seven-minute ‘target gameplay footage’ video, which even takes the time to inform viewers the footage was produced entirely in Anvil (the game’s engine). And what do you know? The video shows off locations, trains, a new item (the grappling hook), and ends by panning the camera out and showing off the game logo.

What did Ubisoft have to say about it?

“It is always unfortunate when internal assets, not intended for public consumption, are leaked.”

Hold the God-danged phone. This wasn’t meant for public consumption? This has promo video written all over it. How stupid do they think we are?

“And, while we certainly welcome anticipation for all of our upcoming titles, we’re disappointed for our fans, and our development team, that this conceptual asset is now public.”

This isn’t a conceptual asset. The video went out of its way to let us know the footage wasn’t pre-rendered.

“The team in our Quebec studio has been hard at work on the particular game in question for the past few years, and we’re excited to officially unveil what the studio has been working on at a later date. In the meantime, our number one priority is enhancing the experience of Assassin’s Creed Unity for players.”

Oh puh-leaze. Decipher the PR babble, and their ‘response’ to this leak is basically, “It’s a shame that this had to be spoiled for fans so soon, but hype isn’t exactly a bad thing. It’s an exciting game and we can’t wait to unveil this title, along with its new innovations, at a later date. In the meantime, we’re going to fix Unity and we hope you continue to enjoy our most current release.”

It’s no secret that fans of the franchise are feeling burned by the glitch-heavy Unity. It’s also no secret that plenty of people on the net are saying, “Ubisoft just don’t care anymore, and everyone should skip buying whatever they release in 2015 until it’s confirmed to be working as it should.”

Wow. It’s one HELL of a coincidence that the very moment fans express disinterest in next year’s title, a video which could potentially regain consumer confidence leaks, and to a popular gaming media outlet, at that.

This wasn’t a leak. This was damage control. Ubisoft are likely feeling squeezed because of Unity. For example, Ubisoft recently announced they’d give the first Unity DLC pack away for free, while canceling the season pass altogether. Those who already spent their hard earned money on the season pass would receive a free Ubisoft game for their troubles. A good friend of mine theorized that the studio wasn’t making nearly enough money off the season pass to justify making additional content, so they decided to cut their losses instead. Makes sense, doesn’t it? Furthermore, Ubisoft were probably concerned that orders for their next installment – Victory – would probably suffer as a result of Unity’s blunders. So, what could Ubisoft do to keep the pissed-off masses at bay? By starting the hype train early, of course.

Hey, maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think it gets more transparent than this. I’m not buying this whole, ‘oh wow, this leaked and we’re sorry, but we hope you enjoy the game when it comes out anyway’ shtick. It’s a technique for distraction… and it seems to be working.

I urge my readers to keep Unity in mind next year. Do not pre-order Victory. Don’t pick it up blind on day one. Wait for user reports to come in so you can make an informed decision.

But, that’s not all. Kotaku – writer Jason Schreier, specifically – need to be taken to task for this. They lapped this video up and didn’t even bother to question the coincidental timing of its release. A commenter asked, “Jason, there’s no way this is a ‘leak’ right? Video explaining the engine plus a logo? This has to be a coordinated PR stunt. Do you think this is an actual leak, or not?”

By the way, can we give that person a cookie for questioning the obvious? Apparently, that’s above Mr. Schreier’s intellect, and he needed a reader to point this out. I mean, you’d think Mr. Schreier would have put two and two together, but what was his response?

“I know it’s an actual leak.” “The video was leaked to us. Nobody else outside of Ubisoft has seen it. We decided that there was news value to reporting on the new game, so we posted screenshots from it. Ubisoft isn’t pleased.”

Great job, Captain Dipshit.

Think about it: Why would ANYONE at Ubisoft send this video – with promo tactics employed and all – to a website like Kotaku? Ubisoft may not be a bright company overall, but they certainly would have expected a game media website to report on the ‘leaked video’. But Mr. Schreier continues to justify what he ‘knows’. That’s right, he doesn’t say, “Maybe I WAS duped, I’m not sure, but I honestly believe…” No. Just, “I know it’s an actual leak.” How does he ‘know’, exactly? “…I heard it was supposed to be revealed next spring, like most AC games.”

Well, gee. Now I’m convinced.

And you know what else is odd? He didn’t even post the video. He discussed it at length and posted plenty of screenshots… but the video is nowhere to be seen. Why? “We decided that posting Ubisoft’s internal target gameplay video wasn’t necessary to hit those beats, and that this story stands without that footage.”

This is just speculation, of course, but maybe the game runs like crap (it’s a year off, so that’s to be expected), and Ubisoft left strict instructions not to share the video? I can see such an agreement transpiring behind the scenes, how ‘bout you? The only question left, then, is why Mr. Schreier would stoop so low as to lie to his readers. That answer is obvious: Money can make people do a lot of things. Regardless, no matter the scenario, Mr. Schreier comes out of this looking bad. If he didn’t coordinate something with Ubisoft, he looks like a moron. If he DID collaborate with Ubisoft for what could possibly be a ‘controlled leak’, then he’s full of shit.

Again. That’s all speculation, but the fact that Mr. Schreier just took the video, believed whatever he was told and ran with it, is all I need to see. Kotaku had their name dragged through the mud this year for questionable… ‘business practices’. They’ve been doing whatever necessary to evolve and evoke good will with gamers, but my take is that they only ‘changed’ as much as they had to. Because of this story, they still smell like shit, so I’m going to stay far, far away from that smell so I don’t have to step in it. So I’ll ask MY readers one more thing: Question EVERYTHING you read. Please.

Well… At Least 2015 Is On The Horizon

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While some promising titles have seen the light of day in 2014, I have to be honest: It’s been a disappointing year. Not because there weren’t any games to play, mind you. In fact, I was overwhelmed with the number of titles to play across various platforms (PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Wii-U, 3DS). No, what really soured the year for me was that most games just didn’t live up to their potential. Nothing stood out enough to make me say, “Wow, this could be game of the year.” As it stands right now, my best of 2014 (so far) list would be dominated by remakes and remasters… but they don’t count. Francis Ford Coppola could re-release The Godfather, but that doesn’t mean it would be eligible for any current awards. If they COULD count, my conscience wouldn’t allow it. I’d much rather stick with my respectable ‘chosen by default’ list of originals.

But don’t mistake my disappointment for surprise. Every time we move to a new console cycle, we, as gamers, have little choice but to clasp our hands together, breathe deep, and wait for developers to acclimate and produce. That takes time, of course, and I wasn’t expecting the PS4 and Xbox One to match the industry’s output in 2013… which, by the way, included the likes of Rayman Legends, Pikmin 3, The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, Assassin’s Creed IV, Super Mario 3D World, Bioshock Infinite, Tomb Raider, and The Last of Us.

Even so, it felt like something was amiss this year. I know there’s a number of gamers that want to enjoy their products without focusing a critical eye on the industry, but I think it’s important – if not imperative – that we try our best to do both. Of course, that’s a difficult proposition when you’re left to wonder where that game of the year is…

The first title to really make waves in 2014 was, without question, Titanfall. I mean, the hype was unprecedented. According to Wikipedia, it took over 60 awards at its E3 2013 reveal, ‘including a record-breaking six E3 Critics Awards: Best in Show, Best Original Game, Best Console Game, Best PC Game, Best Action Game, and Best Online Multiplayer.’ IGN’s Ryan McCaffrey contributed to the hype, saying, “You will buy an Xbox One for Titanfall, and you should.” Needless to say, the hype was unprecedented.

As a ‘consumer watch’ side note: Why did Ryan McCaffrey go on record with such high praise? I could understand if he said something like, “Wow, this game is really promising. It could really shape up to be something special.” But he didn’t do that. He told people they should buy an Xbox One for Titanfall… without having seen the final product. Is it any wonder why people tend to take everything IGN (or various other industry ‘news’ sites) says with a grain of salt? I mean, this guy is an Executive Editor, meaning he probably overseas the work of other writers, ensures articles hold up to IGN’s standards, and even produces some of his own content. Furthermore – and this is the kicker – he probably makes and maintains relationships with various partners (as is typical for his job title). So, what was this guy’s motive? To maintain a relationship with the publisher (EA)? To get quoted on the back of a case? Ah well. The guys at IGN believe they’re on the right side of integrity…

So, back to it: What was wrong with Titanfall? It certainly wasn’t the core gameplay. No, the mech battles and parkour inspired verticality were a breath of fresh air in a genre staled by Call of Duty. Unfortunately, there just wasn’t enough content to back the gameplay. The campaign was shallow, boiling down to 9 multiplayer maps (and only two game modes between them). Multiplayer – the crux of the game – was also thin. More maps entered the fray with DLC – surprise, surprise – but it wasn’t enough to keep me playing. Again, Titanfall isn’t a BAD game… just lacking, and in a pretty big way.

Later that month, Infamous: Second Son broke the scene, and after many had expressed disappointment with the PS4’s launch lineup, it was poised to be the system’s first killer app. Its predecessor was a real treat: Character development was spot on, the story always had that much needed sense of urgency, and the gameplay had a great balance between challenge and fun. Second Son, on the other hand, seemed to take a step backwards in most respects. It’s one of the best looking next-gen titles to date, but the campaign has little variation in story and side quests, and secondary character development was seemingly saved for – again, what a surprise – DLC. I understand the devs had the task of introducing us to a new lead in an oppressive political climate, but variety is the spice of life, is it not? Get the drones, spray paint walls and billboards, take out the enemy strongholds, rinse and repeat… that was it. It’s a fun game overall, but again, just didn’t reach its potential.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes… I know the typical response is to say that it was a glorified tech demo. I hate to jump on that bandwagon… but it was. A really fun tech demo, sure, but certainly not worth its asking price.

Watch Dogs was set to launch on virtually every platform in November, but was delayed until May. There was a bit of controversy about graphical downgrades, but I bought it anyway because it’s the GAMEPLAY that counts. As far as strolling through virtual Chicago goes, the devs really brought it to life. Citizens were walking, talking, jogging, you name it. I even came across a couple arguing at a hotel: The man stood in the parking lot, pleading for his significant other to forgive his infidelity. She, on the other hand, was tossing his belongings over the balcony. Small touches like this made all the difference, and I don’t think enough credit is given for the ‘world’ that’s been created. It. Was. ALIVE. And, because Chicago WAS so immersive, I spent a great deal of time snooping on people and doing the side quests. Then, I went back to the campaign, only to get bored. Why? Because there’s virtually no difference between the story and side content. Watch Dogs recycles the same few game modes over and over again. Say it with me now: Fun for a while, but didn’t reach its potential.

Mario Kart 8 – much like Titanfall and Infamous – was also poised to be a system seller… and to be fair, it was. Still, it felt a little light on content. Sure, there’s always been four new cups and four old, but that’s precisely the problem: Half of the core game is remakes of old tracks. Nintendo fans have more or less told me “That’s just the way it is.” But that’s not really a good justification, is it? Furthermore, why does the roster feature so many duplicates? Doesn’t Nintendo have a wide enough array of characters that they shouldn’t have to resort to this sort of thing? The lack of unique tracks and roster slots are going to be addressed… but – surpriiiiiise! – as paid DLC.

In September, Bungie finally got to launch their new franchise: Destiny. From the get go, I absolutely adored this game. See, I’m the kind of guy that HAS to play through the campaign first and tackle multiplayer after, and Destiny broke me of that habit. It didn’t matter how I bounced between strikes, patrols, campaign missions, PvP and even other fire teams… everything was integrated well enough, that I never felt like I was leaving the core game. That said, I recognized and even acknowledged the game’s numerous flaws… but I was having so much fun, that I didn’t care. Once I hit the soft level cap of 20 though, my opinion began to change, and it was only a short while before I lost the will to justify the lack of content, plot, character development, etc. Yes, the veil had been lifted, and I finally accepted Destiny for what it was: A DLC platform. An empty shell of a game.

I don’t really want to take a lot of time to comment on Shadow of Mordor since I haven’t completed the campaign, but there’s something missing from that game, too. Yes, the Nemesis system is amazing and is precisely the sort of thing I want to see from this generation of gaming, but it’s not the 8 or 9 out of 10 most of the early reviews made it out to be. And, if you’ve been following the news as of late, it seems that those reviews were compromised by WB Games… sort of a ‘don’t talk negative about our game and we’ll give you a digital code’ sort of deal.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity was supposed to wow everyone with a highly detailed recreation of Paris. The city is certainly gorgeous, but the rest of the game has been criticised for a slew of immersion breaking bugs. The game allegedly has 25GB of lighting data, but shadows come and go as they please. Characters will pop in from 30 yards away. The main character fell through level geometry. The frame rate regularly dipped below 30fps and, at times, looked like a slideshow. Technical issues aside, is Unity a fun game for Assassin’s Creed fans? Yes, but hold on to your money and wait for Ubisoft to confirm the game has been fixed. Also, you should ask yourself if you’re tired of the franchise at this point or not. While Unity is certainly fun, it isn’t ‘Black Flag’ fun.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection was supposed to make people want to buy an Xbox One, but a key component – multiplayer matchmaking – didn’t work at launch, nor two weeks after the fact. But, if you don’t care for multiplayer, that’s all well and good. After all, there’s four stellar campaigns that have received performance upgrades. Oh, and Halo 2 has been given a COMPLETE overhaul. But, for people like me who have more games than they know what to do with, these campaigns may not have been the primary selling point. I’ve played Halo 1-4 a bunch over the years, and while I have no doubt I’ll revisit them again in the future, all I wanted was to relive some of the best multiplayer console gaming has to offer… and 343i botched it.

There’s other games, of course, but I haven’t been able to get hands on with some of the notables as of yet. Sunset Overdrive is on my Christmas wish list, as is Little Big Planet 3. I have Far Cry 4, but Dragon Age: Inquisition is also waiting for me on my game rack…

“Woah, Mr. Zupan. You’re forgetting some important releases!”

Well, I can’t talk about EVERY game.

I guess I glossed over South Park: The Stick of Truth. Honestly, it was an excellent RPG and I enjoyed every minute of the 16 hours it took to slay the campaign. Keep in mind, those hours INCLUDED the side quests. That said, 16 hours is nothing to scoff at… but once you beat the game, there was nothing left to do but start over. Dark Souls II was amazing, but in many ways failed to live up to its predecessor. Don’t get me wrong: These are really good games… but not ‘great’.

Not that there weren’t games that took me be surprise. Wolfenstein actually EXCEEDED expectation (which, granted, was pretty low to begin with). But the most refreshing game this year, at least for me, was Bayonetta 2. Yep, Microsoft and Sony are going to have to pound sand this time around. The Wii-U exclusive is absolutely smashing, both literally AND figuratively. It has INSANE over-the-top action coupled with breathtaking set-pieces, and the combat offers enough variety that it remains fresh and satisfying throughout. The only downside is that it’s an incredibly linear experience, but I was having so much fun watching Bayonetta unleash her ballet of pain, I just didn’t care. Oh, and they ported the original Bayonetta on its own Wii-U for this release, at least in the United States. THAT’S how you support a release.

Just for fun, I’ll talk about those remasters now:

I had never played the new Tomb Raider, so my time with it on the PS4 was pure bliss. The Last of Us made its way to the PS4, and I didn’t regret the upgrade for a single second. Diablo III (Xbox One / PS4) wasn’t only an improvement over the original PC edition, but I found it to be the definitive version overall. Rockstar seemingly did a bang-up job with Grand Theft Auto V, too.

But, like everything else in this article, while there’s a positive take on all these remasters, it only makes the rest of 2014’s line-up look all the weaker. When some of the best games of any given year are titles we’ve already played… well, isn’t it obvious that something isn’t right?

Here’s hoping 2015 rounds out to be better in every perceivable way.