Category Archives: Commentary

Ton Ten Ways a Sekiro Easy Mode Would Ruin the Game for You

FromSoftware has another hit on their hands with Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice and, as is often the case with From games, a lot of the public discourse centers on its difficulty.  Specifically, in this case, the lack of an easy mode or other difficulty modifiers.  On the one hand, adding a lower difficulty option would make the game accessible to a lot more gamers, including those with various disabilities or conditions that exacerbate the game’s notorious challenge.  On the other hand, From’s games are designed to be difficult and making them easier, many argue, would ruin the experience; gamers who can’t hack it should either “git gud” or get lost.

So which is it?  What would happen if From added some lower difficulty options to their latest game?  If you’re a big FromSoftware fan who loves biting into their games’ meaty challenges, how would your personal experience be affected by the inclusion of an easier mode?  Let’s take a look.  Here are the top ten ways the addition of an easy mode would ruin Sekiro for you: Continue reading Ton Ten Ways a Sekiro Easy Mode Would Ruin the Game for You

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Not Everything EA Does is the Worst

Last week, in the midst of Anthem pre-release hubbub, EA shared a handy chart outlining the ways different people could play the multiplayer shooter before release.  It was… confusing.  I mean, not actually confusing.  It’s five rows and four columns; understanding it is easier than understanding when you have gym class in high school.  But it’s more confusing than just saying the game is out on February 22.

Anthem chart

In a landscape where so many publishers needlessly complicate their game launches, offering private betas and early access to people who preorder this version or that, EA’s somewhat staggered Anthem release was bound to provoke a negative fan reaction.  And right on cue, the angry comments and tweets followed the image around the Internet, with aggrieved gamers vowing to cancel their preorders and never play the game and light themselves on fire and move to the moon.

But is this fair?  Is this a reasonable reaction?  As with all things Internet, it’s probably an overreaction.  It’s easy to poke fun at the chart, and there’s nothing gamers love more than bagging on EA, but what does the chart really tell us?  It tells us there are ways to play Anthem before it releases.

The first column represents a public demo for the game.  If the chart had been released a week earlier, it would have had another column for the VIP demo the previous week, available to EA/Origin Access subscribers and people with preorders.  Another column represents the ten hours EA/Origin Access subscribers get to play the game without buying it.  EA calls this a “trial.”  That’s another word for a demo.

Demos.  Demos are good, right?  They let us try games before we buy them.  This is good.  Why are we criticizing EA for giving us demos?  Because those demos make for a confusing chart?  Would we rather have to wait until February 22 and pay for the game to find out if we like it?  But not have to look at a chart?  These are rhetorical questions?

If people want to nitpick and complain that Origin Access Premier members get the game a week early, that’s fine, I suppose, though it doesn’t seem worth getting upset about.  But otherwise, this confusing chart is a good thing.  It just means there are various ways to try the game without buying it.  Every game should do this.  Give me bigger charts.  Give me more confusing charts.  Make me download a spreadsheet to figure out how I can try a game.  Just give me more demos.

We Don’t Not Want Single-Player Games

When it releases later this year, the improbably titled Call of Duty: Black Ops IIII will test a long-held hypothesis: single-player campaigns don’t matter, at least not in games like Call of Duty.  It will spawn yet another round of think pieces on the death of single-player games.  And, if history is any indication, it will lead a lot of people to draw a lot of wrong-headed conclusions.

For years, this conversation has chugged along, with fork after rhetorical fork being stuck in the single-player campaign.  The popularity of online multiplayer games, the growth of social platforms like Twitch that thrive off of these infinitely-replayable anecdote factories, and investors’ insatiable thirst for the games-as-service model’s revenue stream all seem to point to a simple conclusion: nobody plays single-player campaigns, nobody wants them, and developing them is a waste of money.

codblops4 trailer - 001.png

There’s certainly some truth to this.  Obviously, some people are happy to spend all their time in multiplayer and have little-to-no interest in single-player.  And when viewed from a spreadsheet, these pay once, play once games aren’t as lucrative as their play forever, pay forever brethren, and are therefore sub-optimal investments of capital.  But this type of analysis seems to oversimplify and obfuscate the matter. Continue reading We Don’t Not Want Single-Player Games

It Doesn’t Matter If Loot Chests Are Gambling

Are loot chests gambling?

This is the question that’s been ricocheting around the Internet for months now, ever since EA announced (and then aborted) a rather pernicious microtransaction model for Star Wars Battlefront II.  Gaming sites, comments sections, podcasts, and forums abound with think pieces and hot takes on the subject.  Legislators have even jumped into the fray, with bills regulating randomized rewards being introduced in Hawaii and the Dutch gambling authority taking aim at the practice.

For as long as there have been microtransactions in games, there have been controversies about said transactions.  But recent events – such as loot chests in the single-player Shadow of War and the aforementioned EA debacle – along with the general growth of the practice have brought the issue to the fore.  In addition to predictable comments about canceled preorders and lamentations for The Way Games Used To Be, the conversation has centered on the question of whether or not loot chests constitute gambling.  Everyone seems to agree that this is the key issue; the only debate is whether we should call them chests, crates, or boxes.

Overwatch-loot-001

But debating whether or not loot chests are gambling misses the point.  Ultimately, answering the question will tell us far more about gambling laws than it will about loot chests. Continue reading It Doesn’t Matter If Loot Chests Are Gambling

Money

Activision’s Patent is Our Worst Microtransaction Fears Coming True

Just don’t buy them.

This has been the standard line on microtransactions for years now.  Whenever a game announces that it’s employing some microtransaction scheme to nickel and dime its user base for some of that sweet, sweet secondary revenue, and whenever fans upset by such an announcement have worked themselves into a froth, cooler heads have always chimed in with the clearheaded advice that we should simply not buy the micro-priced digital doodads.  Problem solved.  Play your game, ignore the in-game marketplace, and get on with your day.

In fact, mitigating this reaction and encouraging players to not buy their product seems to be part of publishers’ marketing strategy in these situations.  They’re always quick to point out that the digital gewgaws on offer are purely cosmetic and don’t affect gameplay; that buying them is, in other words, entirely unnecessary.  And when this isn’t the case, when things like weapons, abilities, and XP boosts are available for purchase, the publisher will adamantly remind us that all of these items can be unlocked through “normal gameplay,” no purchase necessary.

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If you don’t want to buy it, don’t buy it, in other words.  Vote with your wallet.  Stop buying these things and publishers will stop selling them.  It all sounds so simple.

Continue reading Activision’s Patent is Our Worst Microtransaction Fears Coming True

The Violent Catharsis of Mafia 3

When games give me a choice, I tend to behave morally.  Sure, I’ll steal some precious currency now and then, and kill the odd NPC who gets on my nerves, but generally I try to be a good guy.  I help people, I spare people, I give second chances and the benefit of the doubt.  I played through BioShock twice and never harvested a Little Sister.

But Mafia III is different.  In Mafia III, I’m killing everyone.  Not innocent bystanders, at least not on purpose, but every enemy.  Everyone who looks at me sideways.  Even when the mission objective is fulfilled and I could just as easily hop back in my car and drive away, I kill everyone.  Brutally, if possible.  I’ll spend five minutes crisscrossing a shipyard to track down that one errant red dot on my minimap.  When a phalanx of cops shows up and compels me to flee before I’ve killed every last enemy, I feel a tinge of regret: I didn’t get to kill everyone. Continue reading The Violent Catharsis of Mafia 3

The Switch: What We Know, What We Don’t

The Nintendo Switch era is almost upon us.  In just a week, the Switch will be released to the masses, or at least those of us lucky enough to have a preorder, and thanks to Nintendo’s January presentation, we finally know what we’ll be getting for our $300.  Mostly.  So while we wait for the new console’s release, let’s take a look at what we know and what we don’t.  We’ll start with the questions we had going into the presentation.  We were wondering about…

The Price

 This one’s easy.  It’s $299.99, at least in the U.S.  This is a touch higher than I expected, and might be dangerously high from a consumer standpoint.  Nintendo is selling their decidedly less powerful system for the same price as an Xbox One or PS4, and unlike those consoles, the Switch doesn’t come with a bundled game.  Or a library of cheap used games to pad out the collection.  This price point will really test the Switch’s core concept – its console-handheld hybridization – because that’s pretty much the only thing it has going for it when compared to its competitors.

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Going into the big Switch reveal in January, I was expecting it to be around $250, but the price was always a double-edged sword: too high and no one will buy it, too low and it might not be very powerful.  So when Nintendo announced a $300 price tag, I was briefly optimistic that the system might be more powerful than I anticipated.  It would seem, though, that the “extra” $50 is going towards tech in the controllers rather than the GPU, so this optimism was short-lived.

Continue reading The Switch: What We Know, What We Don’t

Switch Incoming

A few months ago, Nintendo gave us our first look at the Switch – née NX – the company’s latest piece of gaming hardware.  The reveal came in the form of a wordless three-and-a-half-minute video, showing people playing the console/handheld hybrid in a variety of improbable locations – basketball court, rooftop party – and with a variety of controller configurations.  The video shows off the Switch’s ability to seamlessly transition from home to portable use, offers our first look at the detachable controllers, and confirms that the system will use cartridges, as has previously been rumored.  Ostensible gameplay footage offers some hints as to what might be coming down the pike, but otherwise the video is light on specifics.  Mostly it just puts a face to the name, confirming the rumors and the actual look of the hybrid console we’ve been imagining (and hilariously drawing) for months now.

switch-logo

When rumors that the NX was going to be a handheld-home console hybrid started swirling, I was unenthused, and a bit skeptical.  But after watching the reveal trailer (a bunch of times), I’m sold on the concept.  I don’t know what did the trick.  Maybe it was the glorious return of asymmetrical analog sticks to a Nintendo controller; maybe it was thought of replaying Skyrim (which I’ll never do, because who has 800 hours to spare?) on a Nintendo platform; or maybe it’s just my heart catching up to the inevitability that I will buy whatever Nintendo puts out.  But whatever the reason, I’m excited to get my hands on a Switch. Continue reading Switch Incoming

Nine Days of Mario Maker: Day Nine, Conclusion

[This is the last post in a nine-part journey through Super Mario Maker.  Be sure to check out parts onetwothree,  fourfivesixseven, and eight.]

After two weeks with Super Mario Maker – the time I needed to get through the game’s nine-day content rollout and also deal with the few extra days of waiting the game threw at me, maybe to punish me for playing past my bedtime – I finally have access to the complete game.  And if the previous eight posts don’t make it clear, I love this game.  On the creation side, Nintendo has made the act of designing a level feel like a game.  The tools allow you to be really creative while keeping the interface intuitive and simple, with pop-in pop-out playtesting.  And every step of building a level is a lot of fun: throwing a bunch of random elements into a stage and then playing through it, just to see what happens; testing, tweaking, and refining your creations until they function the way you want them to; dotting the i’s, crossing the t’s, and getting to where your level finally feels complete.  All of this is fun.

On the play side, the game offers you, in effect, infinite Mario.  And because levels can be built in one of four themes, complete with their own mechanics and some unique items, it actually offers you quadruple infinite Mario, infinity times four.  The pool of community-created levels is a mixed bag, but abandoning one level and jumping into another is pretty quick and simple, and the pool is so deep that you’re bound to find some great stuff if you spend a little time looking.  The Internet is also stepping in to fill the curation void, with a lot of “The Ten Most [adjective] Levels in Super Mario Maker” lists out there.  In the first week of the game’s release, more than a million levels were uploaded, a feat made all the more impressive by the fact that the game limits users to ten uploads until they accumulate some stars from the community.  And the levels already range from brutally hard to auto-playing to musical to Kafka-esque exploration of Waluigi’s existential dread.  So obviously this community’s potential is huge.

And that’s one of the things that most excites me about this game: its potential.  With most games, good or bad, two weeks of playing for several hours a day is usually enough time to give you a pretty good impression of what the next ten or hundred or thousand hours of play will be like.  Games can always surprise you with plot twists, new settings, upgrades, and changes to the mechanics.  But few games can surprise you the way Super Mario Maker seems all but guaranteed to.  The community is already doing things I didn’t anticipate.  For almost all of us, it’s just been two weeks.  The level pool right now represents just what people have come up with off the top of their heads.  What will people come up with when they’ve had time to really digest the game and internalize its mechanics?  I can’t wait to find out.

Continue reading Nine Days of Mario Maker: Day Nine, Conclusion

Wii Hardly Knew U, Part 4

[Note: This is the fourth and final part of a multi-part post.  In the first part I looked at the ways the Wii ultimately was a failure, and in the second part I looked at the ways Nintendo failed to capitalize on the Wii, helping to create the situation they find themselves in now with the Wii U.  In the third part I looked at some of the mistakes Nintendo has made with the Wii U.]

Nintendo is not in a great spot.  Their current home console, the Wii U, is an unqualified failure, and the 3DS, while selling reasonably well, is so far Nintendo’s worst selling handheld system, serving perhaps as a harbinger of handheld gaming’s inexorable decline.  Obviously, Nintendo needs their upcoming console, codenamed NX, to be a hit.  If the NX puts up Wii U or GameCube numbers, the company may have to seriously consider getting out of the hardware business.  So what should Nintendo do with the NX?

With history as our guide, we can safely assume that Nintendo is going to try to do something big, bold, innovative, and unusual with the NX, leaving us all simultaneously scratching our heads in confusion and fantasizing about the new types of games Nintendo’s system will (perhaps) make possible.  That’s what’s so exciting about Nintendo, their willingness to take unfathomable risks in an industry built around predictable iteration.  As I write this, the gaming world is mourning the unexpected and untimely death of Nintendo president Satoru Iwata, perhaps the biggest champion of risk-taking in Nintendo’s history.  Under Iwata’s leadership, Nintendo introduced the idea of a touch-enabled, dual-screen handheld – a concept that has sold more than 200 million units across its various incarnations – and the Wii, that runaway success that even your grandparents played.  Sure, Nintendo has also had their flops – that’s the “risk” part – but they’ve had tremendous successes and have shaped the modern gaming industry more than any other company.

So what should they do going forward?  What should their NX strategy be?  The path back to success isn’t clear for Nintendo.  Having lost both the traditional, core audience and the Wii’s massive casual audience, Nintendo will have an uphill climb trying to sell the NX to anyone outside the dwindling base of Nintendo loyalists.  It might already be too late for Nintendo to reverse their decline.  But there are some things they can do that will give them a fighting chance, and at least help them avoid some of the problems they’ve had in the recent past.

Continue reading Wii Hardly Knew U, Part 4