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.

 

 

Greatness Delayed Podcast 027 – Slick Mother Effers

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Mike and Gabe are joined by special guest Slcmof of Youtube, and discuss PSX 2016, and more about the upcoming Batman game.

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SLCMOF’s Youtube Channel

Greatness Delayed Podcast – Sony Helps This Cast Live Up To Its Name

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Mike and Gus discuss NYCC, some new vidyagames, and a whole bunch of Sony’s latest stumbles.

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Greatness Delayed Podcast – Mobile Mario and Sony Meeting 2016

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Mike and Gus discuss the Super Mario Run announcement, Playstation Meeting 2016, and a few pieces of news.

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Greatness Delayed Podcast – Youtube Drama and Sony Look Silly

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Mike and Gabe talk about the latest Youtube drama, a Sony PS4 Slim and how it’s not being acknowledged despite existence of a review, and more.

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Greatness Delayed Podcast – No Man’s Sky And Stuff

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Mike and Gus talk about Madden ’17, Uno, Absolute Drift, Metal Gear Survive, SFV vs CPU mode, FFXV delay, and of course No Man’s Sky.

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No Man’s Lie?

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Even prior to release, No Man’s Sky had seen its share of controversy.  Sky TV had engaged the developers in a three year legal battle over use of the word ‘Sky’… because fuck if I know.  Hello Games have settled that dispute, although no details have emerged as to how.

Also, less than a month before the game was to hit retail, Dutch company Genicap claimed they own the “Superformula” which No Man’s Sky uses for procedural generation.  According to The New Yorker’s Sean Murray interview/article from 2015:

The problem nagged at him, until he found an equation, published in 2003 by a Belgian plant geneticist named Johan Gielis.Excerpt from The New Yorker’s “World Without End”, 2015

Well, Johan Gielis is the Chief Research Officer at Genicap, allegedly holds the patent for the formula, and did not authorize Hello Games to use it.  That, um, doesn’t sound good for Sean Murray.

But then it happened.  No Man’s Sky was released to the masses, and everything should have been just ducky… but it was less than 24 hours before the internet exploded with rage.

A gamer on Reddit had found a star system that was previously discovered by another user, so he messaged this person to arrange a virtual meet-up.  After lots of searching and even more confusion, they couldn’t find each other.  Even though they were on the same exact spot on the same exact planet, they found themselves alone.

This news spread like wildfire because Mr. Murray had gone on record many times confirming players would be able to see each other in game.  However, Murray had warned that the chance of this happening was very, very slim.

“People keep saying to us, ‘Yeah, but what if I knew where they were?  Would I go there?’  And it’s like, yeah, but they are going to have to stay there for quite a while while you get over there.  And then once you get over there you might land on the same planet and then you will say, ‘I’m on a planet the size of Earth and I am on a mountain.  Where are you?’  Which is, I know, a weird thing and it’s a daunting thing.”

Is there any question in regards to what he’s saying?  He’s saying yes, people can cross paths, but when you take into consideration the size of the universe, as well as the size of any given planet, it’d be like finding a needle in… well, the universe.

And this wasn’t the only time he reinforced the existence of this feature:

Even in this video:

So, does this make Sean Murray a liar?  Some people certainly think so, and to be honest, the evidence IS pretty damning.

Despite the mounting evidence, however, apologists have been coming out in droves.  So, let’s analyze their positions of defense:

“It’s not a multiplayer game!”

I know that, and in fact, most others do, too.  Sean Murray has told us this time and time again.  However, he specifically likens multiplayer to the likes of FPS’s and MMO’s.  Sean and Hello Games have also clarified that even though players will be able to see each other, they won’t be able to pal around and play the game together.  The things you interact with in your world is for you and you alone.  Your paths will cross and that’s it.

So, the fact that this isn’t a traditional multiplayer experience doesn’t negate the idea that these two should have been able to see each other.

To make matters worse, Mr. Murray started to mislead people on Twitter, likely to stave off the sea of doubt beginning to flood his inbox:

“We want people to be aware they are in a shared universe.  We added online features, and some Easter Eggs to create cool moments.”

“Two players finding each other on a stream in the first day – that has blown my mind.”

“We added a ‘scan for other players’ in the Galactic Map to try and encourage this happening.  We wanted it to happen – but the first day?”

Well, no, they didn’t find each other… but these comments were meant to make people believe that they had.  This is not how Mr. Murray should have presented himself to hordes of potential customers who felt they had been lied to for nearly three years.

“The back of the case, as well as the Steam listing, show this as a single player game!”

Package art had actually said otherwise, until they decided to sticker over it:

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So they intended to advertise online play.  Of course, they’ve tried to assure us the printing of the online icon was a mistake, but that reeks of PR nonsense.  Sean Murray advertised being able to see others in the game… and just prior to release, he changes his tune to ‘no multiplayer’, and just out of sheer coincidence a piece of information on the case had to be stickered over?  Come on.  We’re not fucking stupid.

And besides, this argument is missing the point entirely.  This isn’t about whether or not the game is technically multiplayer, or whatever.  It’s about a developer who may have been lying to people for the sake of inflating sales.

Keep in mind that Sony, as their publisher, has a lot of control over what the product messaging should be.  Why is this important?  Well, No Man’s Sky had been cherry picked for hype because Sony’s release schedule – as far as AAA exclusives were concerned – was thin.  I imagine Sony spent a bunch of their money to get this game completed as fast as possible.  But even so, it took three years since its initial reveal to bring it to retail.  This game was also never intended to be sold at full price ($60).  To me, it seems like Sony, who was desperate to get additional exclusives under their belt in 2016, is responsible for driving up the price.

That’s right.  You’re getting a game that was probably meant to be $40, for $60.  Ain’t that great?  So, at the end of the day, Mr. Murray may not have lied just to inflate sales, but to keep Sony happy, too.

“Maybe they were having server issues.”

This could be a valid response.  Players have been experiencing numerous crashes since launch, and some have linked this directly to server issues (turning the internet off seemed to resolve things).  One could also speculate that when push came to shove, explorative discoveries (systems, planets, etc) would prioritize higher than player-to-player ones.  But again, instead of clarifying what may have happened, Sean once again muddied the waters with mixed messaging:

“There are way too many people playing right now.  Maybe some of you can just log out?  Decide amongst yourselves plz.”

“It is a testament to how amazing our network coders are that Discoveries are still working at all.”

But then…

“For instance over night we hit 10 million species discovered in NMS… that’s more than has been discovered on earth.  WHAT IS GOING ON!!!”

So are your problems severe enough to hinder Discoveries, Mr. Murray, or not?

“Well, Mr. Murray did say some pvp stuff might make its way into the game later on…”

And?

They MIGHT incorporate a planet that’s designed after Jurassic Park.  They MIGHT incorporate a planet loaded to the brim with zombies.  They might, they could, they would, they should, blah blah blah.

When you decide to spend $60 on a game, you don’t do it because of what MIGHT appear in the game.  You do it based on what’s going to be there on day 1.  A number of people bought this game because they were led to believe there would be sparks of magic, not unlike Journey, where you’d find another player and have a ‘moment’.  Not because of hype, and not because they were delusional.  No, because SEAN MURRAY told them so.

My Message To The Apologists?  Stand Up For Yourselves!!!

Guys, don’t apologize this away.  You can still appreciate a game while being realistic about the shitty things that come with it.  In this case, when it comes to buying games, consumers have little-to-no protection.  Nobody’s going to bat for us after we’ve been had, so we have to look out for ourselves.

As it is, companies show us very little of their products prior to release, and that’s misleading enough.  But when a developer actually does interviews and sells you on a feature that’s not actually in the game, guess what?  The store isn’t giving you your money back… unless you settle for half in trade at Gamestop.  And that’s only store credit.

You have to decide what’s most important to YOU.  If the game entices you enough despite the controversy, then buy it.  If it doesn’t look to deliver what you wanted, don’t buy it.  If you don’t want to support an alleged liar… don’t buy it.

And I’d like to make one last thing clear before signing off.  I’m not out for blood.  I don’t hate No Man’s Sky.  As a matter of fact, the concept intrigues me enough to pick it up on PC.  I personally don’t care about the reality of this feature.  I never expected I’d run into another person anyway.

But that doesn’t mean Sean Murray’s feet shouldn’t be held to the fire.  They absolutely should be.

I’m going to go into total speculation mode here, and guess that the No Man’s Sky team very much wanted this feature to be a part of the game on day 1.  However, Sony worrying about their lack of exclusives this generation, likely told them to get the core game out of the way and worry about the rest later.  If true, that means Sony’s actually pulling the strings.  Even so, Sean signed the contract.  That makes him liable.  Furthermore, he could be giving straight answers instead of being vague on Twitter (and, at the time of this writing, he’s been offline for about two days).

However, I hope this is all just a misunderstanding.  I hope it really was just a matter of the servers being overloaded… but only time will tell.