Friday Wrap-Up

This was something I said I wanted to do more regularly a while back and like comes naturally to people like me I promptly stopped doing it and immediately began hating myself. I knew it would happen almost the second I hit publish on that first Friday post and while I don’t regret stating the goal I do regret not following through. One because it sucks to make a promise and not come through and two because I actually legitimately enjoyed writing it.

So let’s give it another shot, shall we? I’ve missed a lot in the past month because of the aforementioned personality defect which I’ll wrestle with until I’m dead so I’m not going to bother recapping it all. We’re going to start fresh and cover a few interesting things that happened more recently.

In past posts I’ve been pretty harsh on companies like Ubisoft for their myriad failures and gaffes so I wanted to take this opportunity after reading an interesting article over at Kotaku to give them some kudos. We’ve had plenty of examples of companies who instead of fixing their mistakes simply abandon them and move on to a new project without so much of an admission of guilt. Unfortunately we don’t have a lot of great examples of game devs who are willing to stick around and fix what they broke. Bungie did so with the first Destiny and are in the process of voluntarily re-living that adventure with Destiny 2 for reasons that escape me and everyone else.

The Division was a good game that failed to deliver on its promises at launch, a story as old as time, song as old as… anyways, suffice it to say that it struggled along for quite a while. In a surprising move Ubisoft and Massive were unwilling to simply let the game languish and die so instead they persisted until with the final content update it felt like the game they’d promised from day one. This questionable financial move was validated with the return of scores of new and old players giving what should have been a dead title a new lease on life. Even more to their credit with the announcement of The Division 2 complete with extensive gameplay previews they still haven’t stopped giving people reasons to play the original game. New challenges and badges have been added in order to earn cosmetic items in Division 2. They’re being drip fed to the community as the release of the sequel gets closer. As someone who stopped playing a while back after finishing the game finally I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t considering going back to get these shields.

I have high hopes for The Division 2 and this only serves to bolster them as Ubisoft and Massive continue to prove that they stand by their promises while striving to learn from their mistakes.

On the opposite end of the spectrum lets rewind several years and remember the somewhat hilarious disaster that was Aliens: Colonial Marines. Recently it was revealed by an enterprising modder who was dead set on fixing the game that some of the more noticeable problems may have been caused by a typo. For anyone who has ever dabbled in any level of programming you can understand how much frustration a typo can cause you, only for most it isn’t to the tune of six figures and international ridicule.

If for nothing else it highlights just how delicate the development process can be and the kind of hell  these developers put themselves through with 80+ hour weeks in crunch time trying to get games finished. I can’t even imagine the amount of typos my code would be riddled with in that environment. In the case of this game it was one mistake among many but one of the few that was truly funny.

I came across this announcement about a game called Digimon Survive and 16-year old me has completely lost his shit especially since it was announced for the Switch which is exactly the right platform. I honestly don’t even remember much about Digimon in spite of watching the cartoon but I’m excited none the less to see how it turns out.

We. The Revolution is possibly one of the coolest game concepts I’ve seen in recent memory, either that or I have some kind of undocumented fetish for pixelated death after playing Domina for way too many hours. It doesn’t have a release date but I’ll be watching it closely.

I feel like this needs little or no explanation. It exists, yes I love it and if you don’t understand why, I can’t help you.

Young Justice Season 3 was announced which is fantastic! DC has had the market cornered on great animated content and its nice to see one of their best coming back.

Similarly the announcement that Clone Wars is finally going to get some closure has me once again anticipating a Star Wars release.

And Godzilla because, Godzilla.

Lastly I want to touch on the Shazaam! trailer that came out and say that I’m really happy to see that DC is attempting to loosen up a little bit and have some fun. It’s no secret that DC’s top superhero line-up is decidedly darker and more dour than their competition but playing into that has done them no favors so far. Their animated offerings have struck an impressive balance between being somber and funny but so far its eluded their DCEU outings except for brief moments here and there. And a somewhat ham-fisted attempt with the Flash in Justice League which was plagued with other issues. I’m not sure where the DCEU is going from here and if we’ll even see Shazaam team up with the rest of the Justice League but if for nothing else I hope this marks a new beginning for them. From here I’d definitely like to see them reintroduce Green Lantern who to date has been a conspicuously absent piece of the puzzle.

I think that’s it for now! What cool things did you come across recently? What things should I know about?

I hope you have a great weekend full of whatever it is you like to do or just some good old relaxation and doing nothing at all.

See you next week!

  • Non-Washable

Not Just Strange For The Sake Of It

I don’t think there are many people who would look back on 1995 and refer to it as a landmark year. Things happened, certainly, as they do every year and there are definitely things that made and are still making impacts all this time later but alas thirteen year old me was focusing on other things. Namely, TV.

You wouldn’t be wrong in thinking back and not remembering any real classic TV that debuted in 1995 with the most notable ones being Star Trek: Voyager, The Drew Carey Show and, Baywatch Nights? Pinky and the Brain may have been out that year as well. My parents loved Star Trek and we watched it regularly as a family so that was an instant hit but for the most part everything else sort of fell flat for me. Like many freshly minted teens in ’95 I had a voracious TV appetite and no access to it in my room so that meant if I couldn’t sleep or I simply wanted to watch more the only option was to sneak out to the living room after everyone had gone to sleep to see what was on.

Infomercials mostly, much to my chagrin.

At some point though I got lucky and something magical happened when I realized that after a bunch of the crappy infomercials there was a run of shows on that included Hercules the Legendary Journeys, Xena: Warrior Princess and, The Outer Limits. While Hercules and Xena will always have a special place in my heart as some of my all-time favorite cheesy adventures and acting this article isn’t going to focus on them. Rather on the strange misfit in that trio, The Outer Limits and what had me thinking about it again recently.

For me the only version of this show that I knew was the one that aired between 1995-2002 however it did exist prior to that in a short run during 1963-65. It’s more popular kindred show The Twilight Zone was just coming to a close at that time as it had aired between 1959-64. The Twilight Zone generally held to a more Fantasy-Horror theme where The Outer Limits skewed more towards Science Fiction which meant for me it was a perfect match. They both certainly strayed into each others chosen flavors but they primarily stayed in their own playgrounds.

Speculative
adjective
1. pertaining to, of the nature of, or characterized by speculation, contemplation, conjecture, or abstract reasoning: a speculative approach.

Over the course of my life I don’t think I’ve ever been a bigger Fantasy fan than I have Science Fiction but for no other reason than I simply enjoy the expansive nature of Sci-Fi.

Make sense? It didn’t to me, either.

It’s hard to put into words why one similar passion might necessitate winning out over another and I’ve long been loathe to name my “favorite” of anything much to the frustration of my friends. The fact is that for me it really depends on my mood, no one thing ever ranks as my all-time favorite regardless of what else may come along. Even the incredible tent-pole passions of my life like Star Wars, Star Trek, Dragonriders of Pern, Lord of the Rings and numerous others spend their time at numbers other than one as much as they do occupying that top spot. Like some sort of primal atavism they’re what I revert to when there is nothing to currently be consumed in the fire of my passion for new and exciting content.

Watching Amazon Prime’s Electric Dreams over the weekend, and by extension considering what I loved so much about The Outer Limits, I think it gave me some clarity. As I mentioned above Sci-Fi has this expansive quality to it where it takes bedrock principles of our daily reality and nudges at the boundaries to push us into new and exciting places or ways of thinking. What made me really appreciate the style and execution of these shows is how they explored big ideas in very small, personal and, relateable ways. Even though the vast majority of episodes shared no story, characters or common threads it was nearly impossible to not understand their plight and ride that feeling willingly to whatever bizarre destination was in store. As a young man with a fairly active imagination it was like taking a seat on a familiar carnival ride instead of the usual blind leap needed to immerse myself in a concept.

Fantasy for as much as I love it requires you to stand at a precipice of disbelief and leap armed with only the faith that the author has provided you with a soft spot to land so that you can get up and start exploring. Suspension of disbelief is a vital part of how we connect with these stories and worlds on anything more than a superficial level. This isn’t to say that Sci-Fi requires none of this in order to work but the type of speculative fiction present in these shows, and genre as a whole, has an almost seductive way of drawing you in. By the time things get truly weird you’ve barely noticed the transition and now you’re simply along for the ride. It’s pretty close to the exact reason that I appreciate the writing of Stephen King so much because many of his stories begin as you imagine many normal, average days do around the world. It takes the mundane and stretches it like taffy to sometimes laughable lengths but each step along the way is cemented in plausibility.

Fantasy will never make me look at my reality any differently, even for brief amounts of time, in the same way that Sci-Fi does, especially when presented in the style of The Outer Limits and Electric Dreams. Fantasy is like a bath that you immerse yourself in to lose any concept of your daily existence, to be transported to another world, to become another person entirely. It is an experience wholly removed from our own except in the most allegorical sense, something that can be ignored or acknowledged to the extent any individual chooses. Sci-Fi to me always feels like a more direct extrapolation where instead of fantasizing about living in a place that cant possibly exist, you are bidden to consider what small things would need to happen to bring us to this future.

Like in the oft repeated quote of George Santayana, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” watching this type of Sci-Fi seems like an exercise in the inverse of that idea. Instead of dwelling on things already past and how to avoid them in the future we look to what might be if only we could collectively clear a hurdle or two. Or in some cases fail to avoid the clear pitfalls before us. In this era of our existence we seem to constantly be on the precipice of some new wonderful, bizarre future and while we have yet to truly realize any of them the prospect is tantalizingly close. What The Outer Limits and Electric Dreams do for me is take our present reality on a walk through a maze of fun-house mirrors. Stopping occasionally to marvel at the warped and twisted caricature that stares back while trying to imagine what might have led us there and indeed what may lead us there if we aren’t careful.

While not all cautionary tales presented may have a basis in any possible future there are more than a few which seem less crazy today than when they first appeared on TV decades ago. A trend I suspect that will continue and actually accelerate as humanity stumbles onward into an increasingly muddy future. For example in the past decade we’ve started to have serious conversations on the governmental level about the regulation of AI development. A discussion most people viewed as an inevitability but just not one we’d have to address within our lifetimes, yet here we are.

It makes laughing at things like this a little harder and instead raises some questions we don’t have any easy answers to. It is sure fun to ponder though.

Many of the ideas and thought experiments posed are more philosophical in nature but that level of ambiguity often begs more consideration instead of less. It starts to become more about what we might do when it arrives and less about if. That is the conversation that holds my attention and its the one I enjoy having almost above all others. When I read or watch science fiction everything there seems within our reach if not for a few mathematical equations that elude our understanding. As much as I may want it with every fiber of my being I know I’ll never be able to conjure fire by sheer force of will. But conceivably before I’m dead I might be able to travel into space or visit the moon as an ordinary citizen of Earth.

So, what does this all this mean?

Honestly, I have no idea.

What I can tell you is that you should take some time and watch Electric Dreams then let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading!

  • Non-Washable

Part 2: Paradise Is In The Details

Fallout-76-4-796x416

The details, like punctuation, are vitally important. Its how you get unfortunate things like this when what you really meant was this albeit the lack of a comma may not be the most unfortunate thing about that.

At any rate!

This criticism may seem slightly ironic given that I am a chronic mis-user of punctuation and oft misser of details but at least I am a self admitted hypocrite. A missing detail here or there in the age of 24-Hour news can inadvertently snowball into an actual problem before you have the chance to correct it and will often live on long after it has been proven false. This is why we hammer on the reality that first impressions are so important, you want to make sure that the only interpretation of your product that people start with is the correct one. Whether you want it to or not the conversation that takes place after will evolve on its own but that first step is crucial as a guide.

After the initial announcement shenanigans that had everyone buzzing over what it would be and the ensuing teaser trailer the first bit of news that leaked about the game was that it was “Reportedly an Online Survival RPG”. This news of course was delivered by people speaking anonymously to game review sites which in the articles drew the immediate comparison to DayZ, Rust, Ark and other survival titles currently dominating the genre. The problem here is that those game titles come with a lot of baggage and for people who didn’t play the games a lot of it is instantly negative. From the reputations of toxic or unfun communities running the gamut all the way down to simply broken, incomplete cash grabs by devs who are poor stewards of their own IPs. While we can probably assume that a Fallout title by Bethesda will be toting at least a few pieces of this game design luggage based on previous games they’ve now inadvertently saddled themselves with some extra. In no small part because their multiplayer survival game comes years after the popularity of the genre hit its peak. They certainly aren’t dead or going away but Fallout 76 won’t have the benefit of riding a wave of hype based on the style of their game, only their developer reputation and brand name.

In the first installment of this I left you with a link to the NoClip documentary by Danny O’dwyer which I hope you watched, its worth it even as just a fan of games in general. I also mentioned that the documentary was largely responsible for my shift in attitude towards the potential for this game.

Lets jump into what really did it for me. From the outset the biggest hurdle to an enjoyable experience I felt was going to be griefing and I was pleasantly surprised to see that they addressed this in the documentary. Although left slightly baffled as to why this information wasn’t presented up front with the game announcement. For such a polished presentation that Todd Howard put on and acknowledging that he already knew why people would be wary of this direction they left out some key pieces of information.

At around 24:00 in the documentary Danny narrating mentions–

They have to do some work to make sure it’s not total chaos. Like giving wanted levels to aggressive players and having it so that the penalty for death is as light as making you respawn at a nearby location. 

Todd Howard elaborates on their approach a bit–

The other players are a system that we don’t control, in a great way. Let’s not shy away from it. Lets kind of solve it. Let them collide. And where there’s extra bad griefing or systems, we have a number of levers in place.

While he doesn’t say specifically what these “levers” are and I certainly can’t say that they are going to do any better than any other game dev untangling the rats nest that is multiplayer survival games this is still important to hear. That they have and are thinking ahead about the player experience and not assuming that they have it all correct from the get-go and the players will just figure it out.

But that for me is where a lot of the drama is. Like, let’s let them all collide. And it’ll be messy for a little bit, but we can solve it. I’d rather do that than like, play it safe. Boring.

Furthering his point I think we have to respect this attitude and acknowledgement that the challenges of this type of game system is not easy to get right and as of yet has not been “solved”. They know that going in and expect to have to adapt post release to problems as they come up. This is no guarantee for the quality of the game when it releases but for my money it makes the potential purchase easier knowing their mindset about undertaking this endeavor in the first place.

I’m okay with a game failing as long as the attempt for success was made in earnest. I bought and played games like The Division from release and quit when the problems became unbearable. When I came back a couple years after and tried it again I couldn’t help but applaud the work Ubisoft had done to get the game to a level they had wanted to deliver from day one. That effort alone will bring me back for the second, they earned that. I’ll happily give my money to any developer who stands by their mistakes as much as they do their successes.

You can sit in any design meeting and come up with a list of reasons not to do something. Its pretty easy. I’m worried about this and this and that. Well, I’m worried about it being boring.

I can’t help but agree here because in any creative endeavor, especially expensive ones like game development, anyone including fans can come up with lists of reasons to not do something. I’ve done it and I know every one of my gamer and non-gamer friends has done it, its natural and like Todd said, it’s easy. What’s hard is doing something in spite of that knowing the likely chance for failure. I don’t want to see any game fail, least of all my favorites, but I have a hard time begrudging them for trying to push themselves and their industry forward.

One of the other things revealed in the documentary was the matter of the in game map and what information was displayed on it. One of the developers reveals that an idea Todd had pushed for throughout was that every player, for good or ill, should be visible on the map at all times. I can see this as an interesting way to level the playing field when it comes to griefing as its sort of by default a loaded gun pointed at every player. You are free to engage in PVP but remember that everyone in that game instance knows who you are and where you are at all times. Going too far could result in making a lot of enemies very quickly. I can’t say for sure that no other multiplayer game does this but its certainly the first time I’ve seen it. I don’t feel like it’s a catch-all solution to potential problems but I’m curious to see how it affects the overall social dynamic.

In addition to this its mentioned that the team is also working on a Team Deathmatch game type which would also serve to give people who really want a challenging PVP experience a place to get that. Like Todd mentioned earlier it seems they’re prepared to offer numerous solutions to multiplayer problems instead of trying to find one to cover everything.

Last but not least one of the surprise announcements for the game was the inclusion of active nuclear missile silos that the players can take control of and even use to strike anywhere on the game map. Immediately this struck me as one of the worst design choices they could have made in a genre that already  encourages some of the worst behavior in multiplayer games. In the E3 presentation Todd didn’t elaborate much on how this would function only that there were lengthy and challenging quests to assemble the launch codes for these so it wouldn’t be a constant thing you’d have to deal with.

Even so just the prospect of having portions of the map turned into a nuclear firestorm even semi-regularly was an instant turn-off for me. Again the NoClip documentary provided some much needed clarification how exactly this was going to work. They explain first that one of the challenges they meant to tackle was the endgame and ensuring that high level players had enough difficult content to keep them busy and that some of it was repeatable.

Seems like Bethesda had something in common with my grandmother about keeping us out of trouble, idle hands and all that.

A good start but this still leaves the problem of players having control of actual nuclear missiles, if this isn’t a tool for just blowing up unsuspecting players and their bases then what was it? When the launch codes are finally assembled, a target chosen and the big red button pushed the explosion will irradiate an area changing the weather, flora and, fauna for a time making it much more dangerous and higher level. It’ll make gear or other rewards drop their a higher rarity, better crafting materials and legendary items not available anywhere else. Where you drop the nukes also matters because not every site will be the same so in order to reap the best benefits players will have to drop them in different areas to see what they get.

To me what this says is that Bethesda has made sure that while the nukes can be used to grief other players the real incentive is elsewhere. Why waste all that time jumping through hoops only to drop the nuke on some random player you don’t even know when you have yet to see what happens when you drop it on a little town in the middle of nowhere. If there is one thing gamers in a multiplayer setting like more than killing each other its grinding for loot. If the biggest weapon they have at their disposal is better used for finding the best loot than it is killing players you may have yourself something of a solution. Coupled with the fact that death is a minor inconvenience there is even further dis-incentive to waste your missiles on some hapless newbie than it is for your own material gain.

Like most of the things I’ve included here they are not perfect solutions and I doubt all of them will succeed but I am heartened by the fact that Todd Howard and Bethesda have never let player enjoyment out of their sight while exploring Fallout 76. Not enjoyment of just those folks who enjoy this genre of game but also longtime fans of their previous entries. There are a lot of unknowns yet about the game and how many of these mechanics will function but at this point I’m more than willing to be one of the first players to hop in a and try them out.

What I wish was that all of this information was available up front at or before the E3 presentation as I think it would have avoided many of the incorrect assumptions people had from the moment the news dropped about what kind of game this was. I’m sure in the time between E3 and the games launch this information will filter out to even the casual fans but missing out on that proper first impression is never good. My own interest as a Fallout fan from the very beginning of the series was nil until corrected by the NoClip video which should have never happened.

I do think now that given the proper context of their design choices and goals that I am looking forward to playing Fallout 76 but it could just as easily had gone the other way which means I can only assume it did for many others. They’re putting real effort into changing the stigma associated with these multiplayer games and I desperately hope they succeed.

I just feel more people would have been on-board from the start had we been given all the information.

Thanks for reading and I apologize for being gone so long but hopefully that’ll be different going forward. All we can do is try, right? I’ll be back soon with…. something else!

Until then happy gaming!

  • Non-Washable