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.

 

 

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More Exclusive Batman Details and Suicide Squad Put On Ice

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We have recently dropped additional details about the upcoming Batman game – currently under development by WB Montreal – on our podcast, but for those that haven’t listened in, I figured it’d be a good time to put those details into writing.  But first, here’s links to the previous information that was brought to you exclusively by Byte-Size Impressions:

New Batman Game May Be On The Horizon – May, 2016

New Batman Game Still In Development, New Villain Expected – September, 2016

Who IS Batman In The Next Open World Game? – September, 2016

First Podcast Discussion

Second Podcast Discussion

In our last couple of podcasts, Gabriel Galliani – journalist with the Official Playstation Magazine in Italy – decided to drop some new bits of information and even field questions from a comic book savvy audience (a big thank to Slcmof of Youtube and Twitter for that).  Here’s what Gabe had to say:

He’s seen a vertical slice of the game and also has evidence to support that claim.  The visual aesthetic is bleaker than that of previous Batman games.  The city gives off a ‘something happened here’ vibe, and there’s even a bit of fog to help push the darker atmosphere that much further.  There’s still neon lighting in Gotham, but doesn’t seem as prevalent as it did in Arkham Knight (of course, things can always change during the course of development).  Featured landmarks we can expect to see are the Monarch Theater, Goth Corp., and even a rundown version of Wayne Enterprises.

To add to the roster of characters that have already been leaked, Gabe was also able to add:

-Katana

-Talon

-The Dee Dee Twins

-Mr. Freeze

He also confirmed a rumor – which originally circulated on Neogaf – about the Black Mask being female this time around.  The villain’s identity should make sense and not seem ‘out of left field’, her costume will be extremely sexy yet maintain a dose of class, and seems to enjoy treating her victims with both syringe and hammer.

Jason Schreier of Kotaku has spilled a few beans about the game recently as well, up-to-and including an appearance by the Penguin.  What’s interesting about this is that Gabe, who has an extensive list of the characters that should appear in-game, knows nothing about that character appearing in this game.  That doesn’t mean The Penguin won’t be in it, just that this information hasn’t also come his way.

Another interesting bit of news from Mr. Schreier is that the long rumored Suicide Squad game is being canned, as WB Montreal have been shifting things internally for various reasons.  While this may have put a temporary hold on the Batman project while the dust settles, they’ll probably get back to it with an even bigger push until the game is ready to be revealed and eventually released.

For future updates on this game – as we’re able to reveal more once bits of information are verified by multiple sources within WB Montreal – make sure to keep an eye pressed against the site’s news feed, Twitter account, and an ear glued to the podcast, because you never know when or where the info will drop!

No Man’s Hype

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Everyone knew that at the very least – and the very least is what they gave us – that No Man’s Sky would have us gathering and managing resources so we could make our way to the center of the universe.  Why?  “Because!  That’s why!”  Its real appeal stemmed from a procedurally generated universe, as it promised each player would embark on a truly unique journey.  Nobody would ever share the same experience, and because of the size of said universe, you might not even encounter another player online.

Problem was, the game really didn’t deliver more than the whole ‘procedural generation’ thing.  You’d go from world to world, breaking things down with a tiny ray gun to collect resources, satisfy a multitude of needy ‘feed me’ meters (health, suit, ship shields, ship fuel, ray gun energy, etc.), and craft various other things that are necessary to finish the game.  That was it.  Blast, blast, blast.  Mine, mine, mine.  Occasionally you’d be harassed by drones that serve no purpose other than to slow your game down.  Maybe you’d see an animal or two, meet a trader in an outpost, scan the environment with your info gathering techno-goggles, and not much else… unless you left the planet, at which point you might have a few space pirates trying to take you down.  Rinse and repeat a gajillion times, and that’s No Man’s Sky in a nutshell.

At first, it wasn’t a horrible way to spend your time.  If you wanted a ‘chill’ game that provided something different than the usual loud action most modern games provide, No Man’s Sky could scratch that itch, at least for a little while.  It’s so easy to be fascinated by the one thing this game does that nothing else in the AAA scene has:  Planets are large and any place you see, you can go there without hitting that ‘sandbox wall’.  And hell, you can even look up to the sky, see a planet or two, and say, “Gee, I’d love to go there”, and then actually do it.  Between that and seeing the various styles of world the procedural generation formula could create, it was enough to keep players hooked for hours…

…Until you realize that it’s all basically the same.  All that ‘freedom’ came at the cost of actual gameplay.  Sure, one planet might be red and lush with plants, while another would be dark and rocky… but because the game has to be careful not to strand you on any given planet, you’re mining the same resources no matter where you go.  All the abandoned bases you come across look the same, as well as the space points spread across each planet.  There’s always a trader outpost, some sort of facility to break in to, and some alien monuments where you can learn bits of language.  Once you’ve had your fill, you leave one planet to hop to the next, only to find you’re doing the same shit over and over again, regardless of how each planet’s been ‘dressed’.

Coming to that realization is when I started to feel more and more disgust for the game… because for all the comments I’ve made about Destiny being an empty shell of a game, it’s No Man’s Sky that earns that ‘accolade’.  A lot of others felt the same way, too… and I’m talking about the people that actually tried the game without letting all the ‘Sean Murray lied’ stuff affect their objective opinions.

But that disappointment quickly ruptured into something else… hatred.  Sean Murray made a couple of passive-aggressive remarks at launch and then POOF, just disappeared.  A lot of people were upset that there was no more transparency.  Hell, they weren’t even sure if their $60 investment would amount to something greater, or if Hello Games had simply disbanded as a result of the shame their product had generated.  Couple their radio silence with Shuhei Yoshida throwing the studio under the bus, and it seemed like the future for No Man’s Sky was basically dust in the wind.

And now, out of nowhere, Hello Games have resurfaced to release No Man’s Sky version 1.1.  And to be clear, this was the best possible way to come back to the gaming community.  Sean Murray did enough talking prior to the game’s release.  Anything they said post-launch would have been met with more and more skepticism, so they only thing they COULD have done was shut up, and work on their game.  Now that they have something to offer, they’ve broken that silence.

Good.

So, version 1.1 allows you to claim a home planet, build new save points across planets, build self-owned outposts from uninhabited bases, transportation and even teleportation of materials you’ve collect to freighters in space, create tools which will actually auto-mine while you’re off doing more important things, additional aliens inhabiting trading posts (there’s now two where only one used to be), you can hire aliens to work in your home base, and they’ve even added new, challenging modes that cater to a variety of play styles.  I’m writing off the top of my head here, but I believe there’s a pure creative mode where you can do and build whatever you want, ‘normal’ No Man’s Sky but with the new gameplay features added, and a ‘Survival’ mode where it’s still No Man’s Sky, but with permadeath as a penalty.

So, does this resolve the issues the game had at launch?

This is one of those ‘the answer must come from within’ moments.  Because if mining and hopping around a planet is all you want out of No Man’s Sky, then sure, this patch is going to make for a substantially better experience.  The fact that you can actually do more with your resources than fix, fuel and fly is going to appease you, making this the ‘Sci-fi Minecraft’ you probably wanted from the get-go.  However, if you actually wanted a world that’s brimming with life and activity, then you’re going to dislike the experience just as much as before.

I’m in the latter camp, because what really sold No Man’s Sky to me was not just the chill playtime it offered, but a universe that actually looked… well, alive.  That’s what No Man’s Sky really needs.  Not this base building crap, but ships making space and the skies on any given planet look busy.  We need alien races that do more than sit or stand behind a counter waiting to sell you stuff, and more importantly, THEY need to have some sort of history.  There need to be factions that unite or rebel, and that needs to be seen and felt based on the solar system you’re visiting.  How about seeing some miners in some of those caves?  Or just some aliens in space suits hopping around a planet’s surface just for the hell of it?  How about seeing more wildlife?  Some of these ideas are a personal wish list, but others were blatantly shown in early advertisements and shown off in early footage.

Oh, but don’t tell the ASA.  They have apparently made a ruling on whether or not No Man’s Sky’s ads were misleading or not, and they basically said, “Nope!  All’s good!”

Anyway, there’s an even larger problem with these improvements:  They completely go against the game’s core objective, which is to ‘get to the middle… you know, because, just do it’.  No, patch 1.1 basically wants you to settle on a single planet and whittle tens of hours away on building a home and research facility.

But the first argument that’s come up when I’ve discussed this with friends who are savvy about video games has been, “But, Minecraft doesn’t really have a real end game.  People just create or play the survival mode, and they’re more than content just staying in the same little world.  So, why should people get pissed at No Man’s Sky for doing the same thing?”

Well, the simple answer is, “No Man’s Sky is not Minecraft.”  It never was.  It never will be.  Minecraft is about surviving in a given area… period.  A world is generated, and it’s your job to create and adapt so that you can have food, shelter, and whatever weapons are required to fend off the dangers that come at night.  What you’re doing is playing a ‘stay put, and make this your home’ survival game.  There is no end goal.  Not even an arbitrary ‘get to the middle of the whatever’ sort of thing.  No Man’s Sky, on the other hand, is a completely different beast.  The point is to gather resources not only to survive the harsh conditions of any given planet, but so that you have what you need to keep moving.  How much different could the objectives possibly be?

And a lot of people fall into the trap of comparing No Man’s Sky to Minecraft, not just the friends I speak of.  And, not to offend them or anyone else, but why is there any compulsion to compare them at all?  Is it because they don’t fall into the typical mainstream classification system of third-person/first-person shooter, stealth, RPG, or racing game?  They’re survival games, and that’s where their similarities end.  Hell, Don’t Starve has more in common with Minecraft than No Man’s Sky does.

So what does this Foundation Update tell us about No Man’s Sky and the ‘vision’ that Sean Murray and Hello Games had for it?  Well, I think it tells us an awful lot… just not what people want to hear.  Honestly, I don’t think No Man’s Sky was ever going to realistically deliver everything they had shown us.  Sean Murray got a case of Peter Molyneux brain – wanting his ‘baby’ to be everything a standard development cycle could never provide – but at the end of the day, No Man’s Sky would be lacking that ultra-idealistic vision, and the game would disappoint.  No Man’s Sky probably could have been more at the time of release, but I think an unrealistic wishlist kept this team’s focus away from building an actual game.  So, once time and money was up… well, we saw what happened.  “Here’s our universe of nothing.  Get to the middle.”  And now that they’re trying to ‘fix’ the game… are they working towards finishing that original design they had showed off a couple of years back?  Nope.  They’re instead building whatever they feel they have the time and resources for, original intent of the game be damned.

I’ve seen people online actually recommend re-buying No Man’s Sky because update 1.1 is THAT different.

Guys…

You’ve been burned once already, OK?  Don’t be a sucker two times over.

Like most other games, people bought this thing sight unseen.  No Man’s Sky was pre-ordered so much, you’d think it was going to be the last video game ever released.  No reviews, no actual day 1 gameplay, no word of mouth… just people buying a game based on hype.  Hype that was created by Sean Murray, Sony, and of course the media.  Ain’t that a vicious circle?  Company wants to sell you something, the company catches the media’s ear, the media reports to you, you get excited, and because you’re excited and want more, the company continues to upsell, the media continues to act as a shitty marketing echo-chamber, and you eventually decide to buy shit without even knowing what it is.  If you were to temper your expectations and hold on to your money until a game is released, this cycle would break.  The major players in this industry would have to adapt.  And, if they can’t get you to bite on a game BEFORE it’s released, what would they have to do?  Make a game that’s actually worth your time and money in the first place, right?  Right.  Otherwise, their product would be dead in water.

Last but not least, the Foundation Update has been poised not as a ‘hey look, our game is better’ patch, but an ‘our game is going to GET better’ patch.  That’s right.  They’ve dropped this as sort of the new ‘foundation’ for the game, and they’re going to build off of this.  This is, somehow, supposed to make us excited.  Maybe it would if this were an early access game we paid $20 for, but it isn’t.  It’s a game that was shown off on Sony’s E3 stage, had appeared on Colbert’s late night program, and was subsequently sent to factories so discs could be pressed, placed inside plastic cases, and shipped to your local retailers.  For $60.  Sean Murray had been told by Geoff Keighley – who’s an epic douche for not telling everyone how problematic this game seemed mere months prior to launch, by the way – that he should probably pursue an early access route, but nope.  Murray said, “LET THERE BE A $60 PRICE TAG!”

And so it was.

And so it was hyped.

And so.

You.

BOUGHT.

And now, because they delivered a modicum of substance in a single update, people are getting excited that No Man’s Sky is going to be some great game again?  Have you learned nothing?  And what good does rebuying the damn game do, anyway?  Let’s say you spent $60 at launch for this.  It was only a matter of weeks – IF THAT – before Gamestop was offering something like $12 for a trade-in copy.  So, let’s say you traded this game in for $12 in store credit.  You essentially paid $48 to rent the game for a little while.  It’s now $28 at the time of writing on Amazon.  So, Foundation Update and all, if you rebought the game today, your total investment in No Man’s Sky would be $76 plus tax.  If it wasn’t worth the $60 before, do you really think it’s going to be worth $76?

A little reason here, folks.  A little reason.

Who IS Batman In The Next Open World Game?

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In the wake of our confirmation that one of the numerous villains you’d be facing in the next open world Batman game is The Judge, there’s still one VERY big question about this game which people have been dying to get confirmation of (you already know if you’ve been listening to the podcast, though).

Originally, I had reported the protagonist under the cowl this time would be ‘Batman’s son’.  As I, myself, am Batman illiterate, I wasn’t aware that this information would have been perceived as controversial.  The outlets which ran my story had decided to slap Damian Wayne’s name on this, but they were jumping the gun, and I spent a good amount of energy attempting to set the record straight.

Honestly, Batman’s son could have been anyone.  Depending on how many ‘universes’ you’re willing to take into consideration:  Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Clark Wayne, Terry McGinnis, Tallant Wayne, Ibn al Xu’ffasch (yeah, I’ve been doing a little research)… and I don’t even know if that exhausts all the possibilities.  You can argue alternate timelines, people he loved LIKE sons, or anyone that’s been ‘developed’ rather than naturally created isn’t a connection that shouldn’t be considered.  But, fact of the matter is, if the game’s development studio is willing to change the face of Batman in gaming from Bruce to… well, someone else… then theoretically, they could go in any direction they please.  As long as the player spends most, if not all of the game as a dude dressed as Batman, will game sales ultimately be affected?  Doubtful.

In light of the recent information that’s come along, however, I made sure to inquire about the true identity of Batman in the new game.

And Damian Wayne it is. 

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To my understanding, Damian is the only TRUE son of Batman in the main continuity, so I guess the devs ARE trying to stay within that particular universe.

With people guessing Damian would be in the new game, I’ve seen opinions split down the middle.  Some just don’t want to lose Kevin Conroy behind the mic, others are too used to seeing Bruce Wayne as the Bat, and some just flat out dislike Damian’s reckless behavior… or at least, reckless when compared to Bruce’s vigilante-in-hiding styling.  On the other hand, there are plenty of others who genuinely prefer the fresh take that Damian has provided to a character that had been established for decades without TOO much change.

For additional news on this game – and there WILL be more – make sure to add bytesizeimpressions.com to your favorites list in your browser, and check out the podcast, which is available to stream or download on this site, or through iTunes Podcasts if you live in North America.  After all, we did break the true identity of this Batman on the podcast first…

 

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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