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Brakketology is Keeping it in the Family

chardhunter

This week Brakketology is celebrating the mere possibility that Steam is making its Libraries sharable with family members (and a bit beyond). As Kyle and Ana begin to clamor for more and more PC time, my need to have my Steam library accessible to more than just myself will become crucial. I’m just not quite sold on the fine print yet. Also making the rounds this week, Bioware is getting interesting again, EA is very proud of all the new IP they’re working on, even if they’re not too sure what the words “new IP” are supposed to mean, there’s a Kickstarter project that you should be looking at, and Blizzard just keeps on being Blizzard. But first…

We’re Hunting Cards.  Last week Matt wrote about Card Hunter. I’ve been studiously ignoring this game because, well, that’s that I do with free-to-play games. But he got me interested, so I’ve been checking it out and it’ll be a big part of the discussion on next week’s podcast. Suffice it to say that, for a free-to-play game, it’s interesting and addictive. The tutorial sets the stage well. The sort of shameless spoofing they do of the old days of pen-and-paper role playing is well executed. It’s not insulting, nor is it particularly funny. It’s just goofy fun and I’m fine with that. Because of its F2P nature, however, I doubt it’s the kind of thing I stick with for very long. The formula, with the pizza and the resetting dungeon timers, etc. doesn’t feel punitive (yet) in terms of gouging you to pay, but it’s also very obviously designed to keep you playing just for the sake of continuing to play and pumping proverbial quarters into the slot. Had this been designed as a regular game, where I fork over $10-$15 and just get to play the best possible version of this design, beginning to end, I think it would’ve been much better than it actually is. This is what the free-to-play model does to interesting ideas — it doesn’t quite murder them in the crib, but it stunts their growth and potential beyond repair.

Defining Family in the World of Steam. With the announcement of the upcoming Family Sharing plan, Valve has apparently taken to heart the warning shot Microsoft fired across their bow with the initial plan for digital sharing on XBox One. On the surface it all sounds wonderful and simple. You can share your Steam account with up to 10 other “devices” who are family or “close friends.” And, you know, I’d love to be able to do this with my family. Kyle on my desktop playing a Steam game from my account. Me on Michelle’s laptop playing something else. Sounds awesome. But will it work this way? My Magic 8-ball, having devoured the very short FAQ says, “Outlook fuzzy, screw off and come back later.” It was grumpy, I think.

Here’s an example of what concerns me: Kyle is a wee lad who doesn’t have his own Steam account and he’s not getting one anytime soon (probably). So unless I can be logged in, as me, on more than one device (which, like, right now I can’t), then this doesn’t actually let me share access with my family now does it? Now, it’s Valve. They’ll figure this out because they’re very good at what they do. Maybe we’ll be able to create sub-accounts for our kids. Maybe it will just become about devices and what libraries they’re given access to such that they won’t care anymore if I’m logged in as the same user on each. This could all be perfect. I’m just not holding my breath quite yet.

On the unambiguously bright side, they’re adding the latter-gen Wizardry games (6-8) to the lineup, which would be a big deal if they weren’t already on GOG.

Dragon Age: Inquisition Getting More Interesting. If you care a lick about Bioware or Dragon Age you know Bioware has been engaging in an age-old game industry tradition — going on a massive promotion blitz as the game reaches one year out from being complete. It’s a dull, drab tradition, but every now and then it manages to take a title that I was only loosely interested in and turn it into something I’m genuinely looking forward to. Lead Designer Mike Laidlaw’s twopart interview with RPS does exactly that. In the first part he talks about the decision to not have health automatically restored after combat.

Laidlaw: I wouldn’t say survival is the key, but it’s certainly a factor as part of that. More than anything, what I want out of it is the sense that, as a player, I need to take the game seriously and consider my actions. If enemies are largely inconsequential in the course of a fight – I recover almost instantly! – then you could consider them to be bags of experience points that you want to tackle. But as soon as you introduce the idea that health is sustaining damage, you move closer to a pen and paper experience. You move closer to the more old-school, hardcore approach to role-playing.

I’ve seen much complaining about this, and I get where it’s coming from, but I hope Bioware doesn’t cave on this one. These days every game of this type has auto-heal after combat. On some level having that feature makes sense because it can be frustrating trying to horde health potions or  illogically rest for two straight days just to survive an adventure, but the auto-heal is much too far in the wrong direction. Laidlaw labels it perfectly when he says it turns monsters and encounters into experience bags. That’s all the combat in DA 2 was. Just walking five steps and collecting your experience for yet another boring level up. Just removing auto-heal doesn’t mean this’ll change, but Laidlaw’s answer is a nod in the direction they’ve recognized the problem and that’s crucial.

Then there’s your suddenly-obligatory tithe to the greatness of Torment:

From Torment specifically? Huh. Well, I think the big thing Torment brought to the table was offering a lot of different solutions and really cool solutions to the problems you faced. Not everything was fighting. Often just being persuasive or certain stats and stuff would come across like, “Whoa! I have a wisdom of 25, so let’s just shortcut the entire ending.” I really like that kind of stuff.

We’re going to look at some more non-combat solutions, but at this point… My general rule for Inquisition is that if I don’t have it locked down, I don’t really want to talk about it. I’d rather underpromise and overdeliver. It’s a direction we’re heading in, but I don’t want to go into details on it.

I’ve been whining about the lack of non-combat skills and abilities for a long time. I complained about it in Origins (which I loved), where it was barely there, and I complained about it a whole lot more in Dragon Age 2 (not so much) in which the notion of a non-combat skill was entirely absent. Again, the first step in solving a problem is recognizing that there is one. Who knows what the end result will be, but Laidlaw actually sounds bored with the track DA and ME have collectively been taking. For the first time in a long while I’m hopeful that Bioware is once again interested in crafting the sorts of gaming experiences I want to play rather than getting stuck trying to be everything to everybody.

Kickstart The Fall. It’s been awhile since I looked at backing any Kickstarter projects, but The Fall is worth mentioning. It’s about a Dude in a suit. Except you’re not the Dude. The Dude is unconscious. You’re the suit’s AI and it’s your job to get the Dude to safety, at which point you go kaplooey. It looks simple, yet atmospheric and with a fair range of gameplay mechanics for a side-scroller. Not a bad first impression, though I’m lukewarm to the notion of it being episodic (of which three episodes are planned). On the other hand you can back the first episode for a mere $10 or all three for $20, so we’re not talking a huge investment and the goal ($17k) is wholly reasonable.

Blizzard Being Blizzard. Which is to say, totally dickish. Players of the console version don’t have to be online to play Diablo III. PC players do. Is that going to change? Of course not. Why? Because on the PC Blizzard really, really wants you to have that awesome social experience! Courtesy of Eurogamer game director Josh Mosqueira:

“Something Kevin says all the time is: Diablo plays best when you’re playing with other people. Because not a lot of people connect their consoles to the internet, that’s where the whole idea of having to get four people on the same couch playing together. That’s how we get that social aspect.

“But on PC, we really want players to feel they’re part of the bigger Blizzard and Diablo community.

I can only say that if I still cared about Diablo III (I don’t), I would be tempted to throw something heavy at Josh. Josh, can I tell you something? Just between you and me? ‘Cause I feel like we’re close. Are you listening? SOME OF US DON’T GIVE TWO F***s ABOUT YOUR COMMUNITY OR HOW YOU THINK WE SHOULD PLAY YOUR GAME!  Also, you’re full of crap. We all know why the company cutting your checks wants the PC game online only. Hint: It rhymes with… okay, it turns out nothing actually rhymes with DRM.

Ahhhh. I feel better. I’m also tempted to go buy Torchlight 2 just for spite.

I’m Not Sure New IP Means What You Think it Means. In a September 6th interview, EA’s Games Chief, Patrick Soderlund, told The Market for Computer & Video Games (MCV) something that anyone tired of boring sequel after boring sequel something that should sound like music to their ears:

“We have six to eight completely new IPs in the works. The day we stop making new IP is when we go onto life support. We need to incubate new ideas and push creative boundaries.”

That’s fantastic news, right? A company that size should be trying some new things and I’m all aflutter just hearing the examples he gave of these new efforts, like having new Mirror’s Edge and Star Wars: Battlefront games… wait. Wut?

The thing is, I believe him when he says there are genuinely new IPs at some stage of development within EA. I mean, of course there are. But if you’re not prepared to name names that genuinely qualify as new IP, then don’t just start throwing out names like you’ve got franchise Tourette’s. There’s absolutely nothing to be gained from stuffing the ballot box. Just say, “Getting the most from our existing franchises is obviously very important to us, but so is generating new IP that can sustain us and entertain gamers long into the future. I can’t announce anything today, but at any given time we typically have upwards three to six new IP projects in the works.” Boring? You betcha. But at least you don’t come out sounding utterly ridiculous.

Inspired to Create Kerbals. If you haven’t read the story of how Kerbal Space Program came to be. Get thee hence to Joystiq and read this. I very much want this game to be done so I can play the intended experience and not just mess around in a context-free sandbox.


Things That Are Awesome. See above.

Tuesday Mourning – The Downer Edition

calendar man 4-2 kinect star wars 2

Michigan lost. I’m in mourning. Except not really, because it was an amazing, wonderful season and that team did the school and its fans proud. Also, subs. Craziness. You know the drill. Mostly I’m just hungover. Off of three beers. I’m not sure how that happens. I’m a lightweight. Anyway. This week’s ramblings consist of a large bag of half empty as Disney realizes what we all already knew, EA demonstrates itself to be as tone deaf as ever, and an MS employee gets in trouble for being honest about the wrong things. But first, something wholly awesome.

X-COM versus XCOM. Adam Sessler of Rev3Games did a sit down with the co-creator of the original X-COM, Julian Gollop, and XCOM lead designer Jake Solomon. As a fan of both games, it’s just neat to see two of the principles behind them congratulate each other on being so awesome. And I’m not even being sarcastic. They are awesome for doing this:

LucasArts Is Gone. LucasArts Has Been Gone. A lot of people felt sad, angry, etc. when Disney announced they were shutting down LucasArts. Beyond feeling bad for the people losing their jobs, I’m not sure why. LucasArts hasn’t been the LucasArts we all fell in love with for a very long time. Here’s a list of their projects. First of all, they’ve barely published anything developed in-house for the better part of a decade and the titles they did have a hand in were largely dogs. Knights of the Old Republic? Bioware. The latter-day Jedi Knight games? Raven. Even X-Wing: Alliance was developed out of house. Yeah, 1313 looked cool in a hands-off demo. Lots of bad games look cool in a hands-off demo. There was a time, and this is going way back, when Colonial Marines looked promising. We know how that went. That Disney is going to license out their game properties to other developers isn’t a new development. It’s a continuation of the status quo. There just won’t be a LucasArts logo on the box anymore.

EA Opens Mouth. Announces Business As Usual. There was a time, when they were busy destroying Origin Systems from the outside in, that I absolutely loathed EA. Then there was a time they seemed to be doing interesting things, letting Bioware make awesome games, trying new stuff like Mirror’s Edge and Dead Space, etc. And then… well, you know. I pretty much loath them again, to the point where I’m not even sure I’m all that interested in Dragon Age 3, let alone anything else they might put out. So when the company once again became a finalist for Consumerist’s Worst Company in America award, I wasn’t exactly surprised. I was even less surprised when COO Peter Moore stepped up to the mic and promptly made an ass of himself. I could spend the next 2,000 words telling why the company can’t fix what ails them because they don’t even understand the problems they face, but Ben Kuchera already went and did it for me:

EA has become a company that releases mediocre products created by faceless teams. There is no real vision at work, no grand design. Just the idea that free-to-play games and microtransactions are the wave of the future, or at least they better be, because none of the company’s $60 boxed releases are finding much success with either critics or gamers. Lord knows that the latest Madden game will do well, but that’s only because gamers don’t have a choice if they want an official NFL title. FIFA will also likely remain a hit in the global market. So they have that going for them. Which is nice.

Until EA stops sucking the blood out of games in order to make uninspiring sequels, or at least until they begin caring about how much gamers hate their lack of respect for our money and intelligence, this is going to continue. We don’t hate them because we’re homophobes, we hate them because they destroy companies we love. We hate them because they release poor games. We hate them because they claim our hate doesn’t matter as long as we give them our money.

I’m not sure it’s possible to say it any better than that.

Microsoft to Gamers: Let teh Noobz Eat Cakeses! Microsoft has a Creative Director named Adam Orth. Orth uses Twitter. Microsoft would probably like it if he didn’t. Not because he says things the company doesn’t already think, but because he said exactly what they do think. Via The Verge:

“Sorry, I don’t get the drama over having an “always on” console,” he said, before adding a #dealwithit hashtag. “Every device now is ‘always-on.’ That’s the world we live in.” When pressed on the point, Orth compared the situation to buying a vacuum cleaner knowing the electricity in your house might go out, or using a mobile phone in an area with poor reception.

Microsoft put the muzzle on the guy and disavowed his statements, because… well, they pretty much had to. What Orth tapped into was, in my mind, something of a refreshing vein of honesty and not because I agree with him (obviously). I think his sentiments reflect exactly the sort of dickish tone-deaf, consumer-hostile thinking that goes on at these places. I can’t bother to be outraged because, at this point, it’s expected. It’s the norm. The console will come out. If it has enough of the features I want at a price I’m willing to pay, I’ll buy it. If it doesn’t, I won’t. It’s not worth any more thought than that. As for Orth, if MS shows him the door, I’m sure he’ll still have a promising future at EA.

Random Tuesday Thoughts – Post Cruise Edition

St. Thomas Harbor

Beautiful St. Thomas. Photo Credit: Me!

So, first thing’s first. Cruises are aces. My Special Lady –she hates that descriptor, by the way, so no one tell her I wrote that– and I hit up Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas (6k passengers, 2k crew) for a trip through the East Caribbean and could not possibly have had a better time. And that despite a 10 hour layover in an overcrowded terminal in Ft. Lauderdale when coming home. (Seriously, fix your f***ing airport.)

If you’re the type that likes quick hitters and a more guided experience over going off on your own to explore every nook and cranny of a destination, then getting on a big floating hotel is where it’s at. It also helps if you can happily lose hours of your life just standing on a deck, drink in your hand and wind in your face, overlooking the water. Also, important safety tip, plan an alcohol budget and, if the price fits, pre-purchase a package. We were gifted a 5-bottle wine package that we used just for dinners and, even had we paid it ourselves, it would have been well worth the money. We did not, on the other hand, drink nearly enough for the premium alcoholic package to have been worth it.

So – gaming. Since there’s been so little (read: nothing) that I’ve been interested in taking deep dives into for quite some time, I’ve decided to just collect some random notes throughout the week that I can then group up, comment on, and post on what’s traditionally been our quietest posting day of the week. This edition is helped out by the fact that there’s actually been happenings this past week…

1. Did you hear that GAME INFORMER! has release details on Thief? Yes, that GAME INFORMER! The one that publishes words with a cover that reads GAME INFORMER!

GAME INFORMER!!!!

Hey, I’m excited by the prospect of a new Thief game, and this looks promising given that Square and Eidos Interactive did a credible job putting out Deus Ex, but the way the news proliferated from the gaming media was nothing short of a giant circle jerk that probably did just as much to fluff Game Informer as promote Square’s project. They did successfully make themselves part of the story, so bravo… I guess. Doesn’t mean I’m particularly impressed that they can solicit a promo video from Square and then slather their logo all over it as if it was anything more than joint advertising.

Tomb Raider - Lara on Radio

2. I’m playing Tomb Raider. I dig it so far. The usual caveats apply as I’ve only got about four hours or so with it, but in terms of telling a new Lara Croft origin story, it’s delivering on what it promised. Regardless of that, though, what I really like is that it cost me a scant $35. The cost of a game has nothing to do with how good it is, of course. We’ve covered this ground before. But, for me, I’m happy to take a flyer on a AAA game, one with a glowing critical reception, when I’m not paying through the nose to do so. I’ll grant you, I only got that price because Gamefly offered a pre-order deal at the same time there was a 10% off discount code available, but as a general note to publishers everywhere, if you want to incentivize me to pre-order, give up on the useless in-game items (crap) and tell me you appreciate my faith in your project by knocking $10 off the price. Sure, you’re getting less for my wallet, but it’s not nothing, which is what EA got from me last week. Which brings us to…

3. Tomb Raider stands in stark contrast to EA’s release of SimCity. I blame EA for this. They took a project that looks extraordinarily promising and forced it into box (virtually-speaking) that is in no way appropriate for it. Forcing players to have constantly active Internet connections? Players, days after release, encountering wait queues up to 30 minutes or more to play a SimCity game? (It doesn’t matter if it’s a temporary issue. That it can be an issue at all for a game that forces you online is enough.) Features being disabled to try and get people online when I don’t want to play online to begin with (and never wanted to)? Charging $60 for the privilege of doing so? Without even talking about what’s right or wrong about the game itself, I am completely and totally disincentivized from playing a game I was genuinely excited to play. EA, the problem with SimCity isn’t the servers, it’s that I have to be on your servers at all to play it. That’s what you should be learning from this experience and that’s what you should be apologizing to consumers about.

4. As I type this, Richard Garriott is in the midst of announcing his new Kickstarter-backed project, Shroud of the Avatar. He’s billing it as this weird MMO meets single-player RPG hybrid that I admit I don’t fully understand, even claiming at one point that it’s not an MMO. I’ve watched the Kickstarter video and it sure has hell walks and quacks like an MMO to me, despite all the talk of great single-player experience and story and some mention of being able to play offline. I’ve seen these claims before. Many times. It’s long been the Holy Grail of online RPG-dom and I no longer believe it actually exists. Maybe, maybe, maybe as we see more about it, my interest will grow (and I will keep tabs on it), but right now there aren’t nearly enough details for me to believe in this project, let along throw money at.

It doesn’t help that the interview format they used to announce the game is 80% Lord British fluff fest. Now, Garriott influenced me more, as a gamer, than any other name in the industry, but it’s been over 20 years since he last released a product that genuinely meant something to me (Serpent Isle). You’re not selling me on your ideas for the future when you spend far more time patting yourself on the back for what you’ve done in the past. Maybe he’ll finally recapture the magic he used to have. I hope that he does. But he’s officially in Show Me territory now, which is a much lesser tier of anticipation than I have for projects like Wasteland 2, Torment, and Project Eternity.

5. This weekend I travel to Columbus for AbnerCon(tm). I am looking forward to an entire weekend of boardgames in which Bill does not win a thing. It’s tradition.

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.