Greatness Delayed Podcast 030 – 2017 Has Been Nuts So Far

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Mike and Gus discuss everything 2017!  Resident Evil 7, Yakuza 0, Ni-Oh, For Honor, Berserk and the Band of the Hawk, Horizon: Zero Dawn, and of course the Nintendo Switch and Zelda: Breath of the Wild!

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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!

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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.

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.