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Saying “No” to Dead Space 3


dead space 3

I’m a big horror and science fiction fan, particularly of the more intelligent strains of those genres, and I love survival horror video games. All of the above means that I should be practically spooning with EA’s Dead Space franchise in my wheelhouse. I thought the first game was decent but not great, too often relying on carnival funhouse shocks and Cannibal Corpse-caliber gore while underplaying the more compelling elements of the narrative. But I loved the second game and called it one of 2011’s best, everything from the action to the horror and SF elements were better managed and there was a great sense of world-building that the first game sorely lacked. And here we are on the eve of a new Dead Space game, and I will not be buying or playing it.

I was irritated enough by Dead Space 2’s crass reliance on transmedia marketing to tell its “complete” story- I shouldn’t have to buy a tie-in novel or something to get the full context of an element in a $60 video game’s story. I also was disappointed that a poor- and unasked for- multiplayer mode was added to the game, invariably weakening the complete package. But Visceral’s fine work shone through the marketing haze, and I could forgive their transgressions. Looking at what Dead Space 3 offers, the co-op mode has already raised eyebrows since the isolation, aloneness, and quiet are some of the key elements of Dead Space’s atmosphere. But I could have overlooked that. They cram bullshit co-op modes in everything these days, thinking that it’ll keep you from trading your game to Gamestop once you’re done with the 8 hour campaign. It’s nothing new.

But where Dead Space 3 crossed the line for me was in offering a full suite of freemium game-style microtransaction purchases that will enable players to purchase in-game Dead Space Necrobucks or whatever in exchange for your credit card number. These resource packs apparently will enable you to bypass doing things like playing the game to earn materials to upgrade weapons, they’ll increase the rate at which you gain these resources via the in-game collector bots, and of course they’ll skin you up all pretty. All told, there is already some $50 worth of first-day DLC including, of course, a $10 online pass if you dare to buy this marketing scheme of a game secondhand. Oh, and of course Visceral tweeted something or other “teasing” an upcoming DLC story that’s supposed to be “disturbing”. It can’t possibly be more disturbing than watching AAA development fuck itself in the ass like this.

Here’s the rub. It’s been stated that Visceral needs to sell 5 million copies of Dead Space 3. And we know what happens when developers get into bed with corporations and underperform, right? The best way to take off some of the sales pressure and to increase revenue is to treat the game like a $4.99 microtransaction whore, banking on both casual and hardcore gamers experiencing that undeniable urge for instant gratification that leads them to the “shop” menu. Visceral has defended the microtransactions with the usual “you don’t have to buy them” routine, as well as a bizarre argument to the effect that younger gamers raised on mobile games expect there to be microtransactions. They’re also arguing that microtransactions make the game more accessible. In other words, more casual gamers can pay their way through any kind of challenge or gameplay. Really, Visceral?

Don’t tell me in the forums, I already know. I don’t have to buy this stuff, it’s all optional. That’s exactly right, but also optional is my support of Visceral, EA, and other entities that support not only this kind of marketing, but also this kind of game development. We are already far down a slippery slope where games are designed around this bullshit “service model” concept, and that means that games have been and are being designed that are literally created to perpetually generate revenue. The thing is, in a freemium or 99 cent game this is what you should expect because that’s the a la carte business model and it makes sense for both the business and the consumer. In a $60 retail game, it is an insult to the consumer. Worse, it’s a sign of desperation.

So I’m saying “no” to Dead Space 3 and I hope that others do so as well. My protest won’t make any difference though, I’m realistic about it. For every person that says no to these hucksters, there’s five people that will buy this microtransaction garbage. For every person that complains about it on internet forums, there’s five people that will buy the DLC chapter. But what if a million people loudly said “no” to Dead Space 3 and its vulgar, exploitative marketing tactics? What if people like you and me said “I will not play this game” and actually meant it, instead of giving in because we’re “fans” or whatever and giving these companies permission to do this again in other games?

It is a personal choice to buy these things or not, but to choose to do so is to contribute toward leading video games as a profitable business into ruination as it alienates customers and cynically milks the willing with ephemeral, nonsensical nickle-and-dime purchases. I love video games, and I think the people and companies that make them should be rewarded with profit when they provide us, the consumers, with a quality product. But they should not be rewarded for putting microtransactions in a game that’s already $60 at retail.

It sucks, because I probably would have actually bought Dead Space 3. I want to see what happens to Issac, I want to see what Visceral has cooked up with this whole ice planet business. I was really excited about hearing the game again, the second one had some of the best sound design I’ve ever heard in a game. But not only am I not paying one bloody, red cent for this game, I’m also not going to play it at all. I’ll never know what it’s like to play Dead Space 3. And I’ll get by just fine without it.

Jumping the Shark #150

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Another week, another milestone for your friendly neighborhood podcasting crew as Jumping the Shark reaches its 150th episode! We mark the occasion by getting together and recording our thoughts on random stuff tangentially related to gaming. Why break with precedent? To that end, Bill breaks out his most favoritist cardboard playthings and talks in depth about what makes Mice and Mystics such good old fashioned family fun, I play around with Windows 8 and come to the startling revelation that it’s all much ado about nothing, and Brandon takes a walk on the Darkside with the new Darksiders II DLC: Abyssal Forge. Also, more television commentary than you can shake a stick at. Thanks as always to all of you for devoting approximately 225 hours of your life listening to us prattle on about electronic toys art!

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Jumping the Shark Podcast #148

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With Bill spending a few days getting back to nature, it’s the Brandon and Todd show once more and we spend it talking about the things of largest concern to gamers everywhere: The Tigers in the World Series and my nightmares of demonic possession. There’s some game talk thrown in for good flavor, I guess. Brandon goes back to Borderlands 2 and it’s initial go-round of DLC: Captain Scarlett’s Pirate Booty. I get in deeper with XCOM, including an ill-fated experiment with the game’s Classic difficulty. We also talk a bit about game modding and DLC in general. (I was wrong, by the way, that the modding scene hasn’t broken out yet for XCOM. There’s already some interesting options out in the field. You can find and read all about them at XCOM Nexus.)

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Darksiders II: Argul’s Tomb in Review

B. B. King famously wrote that he was paying the cost to be the boss and while his sentiment was aimed at a woman who was less than thrilled with how King spent his time, the phrase kept sticking in my head when thinking about Argul’s Tomb, the first piece of Darksiders II DLC. In my game, Death is the Boss, capital B: level 30, almost the entire Harbinger skill tree maxed out, a pair of scythes that steal health faster than I can lose it. Like I said, Boss, capital B. In this case, the cost of being such a high level boss is that dungeons like Argul’s Tomb hold very little challenge and even less reward.

Is this going to be an issue with other people who were less dedicated to making Death the very best horseman he can be, or those still playing the game? Certainly not, but I can’t be the only one with a high level character and while Argul’s Tomb may have some clever puzzles and an explosively entertaining rail gun section, I think it’s still better suited to those just starting out Death’s adventure, an unfortunate situation given that the game came out a month ago.

One of my biggest problems with Argul’s Tomb is the way that it’s integrated into the rest of Darksiders II, specifically that it isn’t. One of the best parts of the main game was the ability to explore hidden ruins and dungeons as you moved through the main quest. Sure, you may stumble across a puzzle you can’t solve yet, or enemies that were too tough for you, but the feeling of exploration was worth it, made all the more satisfying when you gained some levels or got a new toy and went back to tie up loose ends.

Argul’s Tomb is not a part of the main game, so you won’t come to it while riding around as Death. I accessed it by selecting it from the downloadable content menu in the main menu, so it’s possible that you get a message in a serpent tome or some portal opens up in the main game (something I doubt given the tools you use to navigate Argul’s Tomb), but even if it does, the fact that you can’t see the tomb, or have it show up on your map makes it feel disconnected from the main experience. Granted, Argul’s Tomb exists in an icy world of exile, but still, much of Darksiders II is spent moving from world to world, completing quests, finding items and defeating monsters, so to have this one exist outside the reach of the main game is odd.

Adding to the disconnect is the lack of collectibles. Yes, loot is still available and the plot of the DLC, namely an exploration of what happened to Argul, the boss at the end of the Lair of the Deposed King and the ruler of the Land of the Dead before the Dead King took over, ties in to the main game, but there are no relics or stones or other collectibles to find while looking around. Maybe if you were lower level or still on the lookout for a particular weapon to feed your possessed scythes, the draw of more loot would be enough to set you off and exploring, but for me, more loot just meant more stuff to have to sell or toss out, so looking around wasn’t nearly as interesting without new collectibles to hunt.

The DLC consists of two dungeons and spelunking section made all the more interesting with an explosive firearm. While the cave is nothing but running and gunning, and I mean that in the best way possible, ending in a massive showdown with an army of ice covered skeletons and bone giants, the two dungeons feature the usual mix of combat and puzzle solving found in the main game. Death is given nothing but the portal gun and the death grip, no soul splitting for you, and using these tools in combination is essential to getting to the end of the two dungeons. Portal puzzles is one area that I felt got the short shrift in the main game, so I was glad to see some dungeons requiring you to think about where to place your portals, as well as revisit past portals in order to gain deeper entry into the dungeon.

The DLC won’t take very long, maybe an hour and a half, and is capped off with the usual Darksiders II boss battle against yet another embodiment of epic evil but honestly, even this boss was somewhat of a pushover. I played the entire DLC on Apocalyptic in an effort to balance out whatever bonuses my superpowered build afforded, but I barely broke a sweat during the DLC, boss battle included. Granted, this boss battle wasn’t as easy as the final two battles in the main game, but I was hoping that Vigil would use the DLC as an opportunity to challenge players and that wasn’t the case.

If you purchased Darksiders II new, the DLC is free of charge, so there’s no cost to play it other than an hour or so of your time. If you’re still playing the main game, it’s worth it to go and grab some more loot and gain some more experience. If, on the other hand, you either rented the game, or have already reached level 30, the dungeon itself has some interesting puzzles, but nothing so spectacular that the DLC should be purchased or put at the top of your Must Play list. Heck, there aren’t even any new achievements or trophies. Knowing that Vigil has a season’s pass worth of DLC in the pipeline, I’m hoping that future content either introduces new weapons, or a raise to the level cap, or some reason to play other than killing and exploring for the sake of killing and exploring. If not, I fear that Vigil will have a hard time convincing people to set about on a pale horse yet again.

Too Much Junkie Business

Reading through Todd’s great piece last week on his apathy toward video games, I found myself thinking over and over again “I could have written this”. I feel almost exactly the same way he does down the line about where the industry is heading, how it abuses its customers, and how spending time with your kids simply blows away anything you will ever do in a video game. What really struck a chord with me more than anything else though was this- “why on Earth should I make time for the hundred-hour slot-machine slog that is Diablo III?”

Paired with some forums discussion here a couple of weeks ago about freemium games operating on the same business principles as dealing heroin, it struck me that this entire business is based on, thrives on, and encourages addiction- perhaps not clinical addiction, but that kind of nasty consumerist addiction that tends to affect the young and weak-willed more than anyone else. It’s practically predatory, except for the fact that entertainment is voluntary. Video games are a junkie racket, from annual releases of the top franchises to the DLC sales model to buying funny money to speed up building in a freemium game. Gotta catch ‘em all.

You sell- or give- people a product. They use it up. They come back. You sell them something else, but you promise them more. Advantage. Special abilities. Improvement. Power. And everybody’s doing it, do you really want to be the kid at the party that doesn’t have the NEW Call of Duty map pack? Cut out the middlemen like the used sellers, buy direct from the dealers, and keep those marks on the mill.

We’ve always talked about getting “hooked” on games and there’s nothing wrong with digging in and enjoying a great game. I don’t know any game player my age that wasn’t hooked on Civ 2. Everybody’s gotten hooked on Tetris at some point. And yeah, Diablo really is based on the same addictive press a button, get a prize impulse that works on everything from Vegas slots to the claw machine down at Pizza Planet. But the difference in getting hooked in 1997 and getting hooked in 2012 is that you’re not getting hooked on great gameplay in a great product, you’re getting hooked on marketing, sales, and purchases. That new game smell. This year’s is better than last year’s, we promise. You like this game? Well, for $10, we’ll sell you more of it. You want to be better than your friends or some random Joe on the Internet? Well, if you preorder we’ll give you this special gun so you can kill him better.

Buy into this patter and you’re a junkie. Buy into the peer pressure to buy a map pack and you’re a junkie. Preorder a game based on screenshots and “previews” (read: auxillary marketing) and you’re a junkie. Buy in-game currency to unlock widgets and gewgaws and you’re a junkie. Play an MMORPG until you literally die in an Internet café and you’re a junkie. Neglect your children and abuse them when they interrupt your game and you’re a junkie. There’ s a lot of money to be made off junkies.

They even sling their shit to children. They call it Smurfberries.

Thinking back to Todd’s comment about the Diablo III slot machine, why should I give any time- or money- to games and an industry that are based on this junkie-exploiting racket? The answer is that I shouldn’t, and the resolution is that I won’t. It’s why I would rather play a four year old JRPG like Tales of Vesperia right now over the AAA releases or something like Diablo III this week. It won’t treat me like it expects me to be a crack whore.

When you get older and things like family, career, and Real Life start to chip away at your game time, it becomes more precious. But more than that, you start to realize that you don’t HAVE to play games, you don’t have to be constantly worried about what the new release is and what the new screenshots are and what’s going to be in the DLC. You don’t have to be obsessed with the next level or next pieces of loot Because you come to realize that you have so many great things in life to choose from on which to spend your time and money. Games are a luxury pastime. But when you’re a junkie- whether it’s on drugs or video games- you get that addict tunnelvision and all that matters is the accommodating soma of play. You either tranquilize yourself and act like anything you do in or around a video game matters in the scope of your life. Or video games are your cocaine power-trip, complete with paranoid delusions that Activision is out to get you.

The scary thing is, that when you’re hooked on what they’re selling, they are because they need you. It’s codependent. They’re as hooked on you as you are on them. Yeah, you can buy whatever you want and make whatever choices you want, but junkies need enablers. Preorder that $60 game that you know full well will be $20 in three months and you’re enabling them.

This business is dependent on the junkie “must play games” mentality to stay afloat, and as we head into a console generation that will be defined by freemium, pay-as-you-go games and business models that favor repeated purchases over selling quality, lasting products, it’s going to get worse. So tap the needle and tourniquet up your arm for an injection of DLC, come back next week and buy some more. You absolutely NEED to see these gameplay trailers, don’t you? Peddle your ass to these companies so that you can build that field faster. Set the precendent. Be their whore. As for me, I ain’t waiting for the man anymore. I love video games too much to participate in the junkie business that’s destroying its joy.