Cliffy Bomb!

The past couple of years have been quite a ride for Cliffy B, the bad boy of game design, with the launch of Lawbreakers and it’s lukewarm reception to the attempt to chase the Battle Royale trend with Radical Heights.

So, before we get into this… for people who don’t know lets talk for a moment about who Cliff Bleszinski is. He has a relatively long history in game design going back to one of his first games released in 1994 called Jazz Jackrabbit which at the time reminded me of an emotionally broken Bubsy who went full Rambo. The biggest claims to fame on his resume are his extensive work on the Unreal and Unreal Tournament Series games which can be credited with really kicking off the Arena Shooter genre. The other jewels in his crown are the Gears of War games which were, the first two anyway, massive hits for Microsoft and the Xbox consoles. Outside of the early Unreal games my personal favorite that he was responsible for was the title Bulletstorm and, that really is going to bring us to the point of why I’m even writing this. About a year ago they released a remastered version of the game and the difference in the launch trailers from the original to the new one I think illustrates something about the mentality of the developer.

Here is the original launch trailer from seven years ago.

Here is the Full Clip Edition launch trailer from last year.

If you look at those and then say, “Well, sure, they’re playing up all the new features of the game while the original trailer had to sell it as a new IP.” You would absolutely be correct. The funny thing about that original launch trailer was just how much it ignored the real selling point of the title which was the rough edged dirty humor and over the top violence codified in their Skillshot mechanic. I actually thought, unlike a lot of people apparently, that the narrative of the game was a decent selling point but looking at Cliffy B’s most recent development efforts it clearly wasn’t what he wanted to sell about Bulletstorm. Especially apparent by the fact that one of the earliest jokes in the game includes the phrase, “Murder boner” which is a pretty accurate setup for the tone of the overall game. The comedy was something of a minor sticking point for people as many rightly viewed it as juvenile attempts to see how many different words they could hyphenate with -dick. I certainly can’t argue against that but however you felt about it that was part of the core fun of the game, ridiculous, over the top and at times beautifully nonsensical. It was a pure expression of a game that was just there to entertain whatever audience it garnered to its fullest potential, which I think is as legitimate a goal in game design as any other. A  focus on the entertainment value of a game can often avoid the pitfalls with getting bogged down in the weight of your own narrative.

Anyways, fast forward to present day where Cliffy’s most recent offerings have been a bit puzzling and with the recent announcement that his current studio, Boss Key, was shutting down it had me thinking about what led them here. A couple of years ago we got to see an E3 trailer for a new game called Lawbreakers which appeared to be positioning itself as an edgier, more hardcore version of Overwatch. Certainly their subsequent gameplay trailers like the Between Our Guns started sporting that much more explicit edge and the Skilled AF which asked if you were even good enough to play in the first place. For anyone who was a big enough video game fan in the late 90’s or early 00’s this should sound eerily familiar to John Romero’s hilarious attempt at an edgy marketing campaign for Daikatana.

Daikatana

Just in case you’re not sure, yes, it does actually say “Suck It Down” on the bottom center there next to the EIDOS logo. Thanks John, I’ll never forget you.

These trailers are also coupled with the media tour that Cliff did for the game which had him hyping up core aspects which he felt would be important to potential consumers come launch time. Going back and comparing some of the interviews even for Bulletstorm to Lawbreakers was somewhat eyeopening because of the shift in their overall tone and intent.

In an interview with Games Radar you can listen to Cliffy talk about the fun and entertaining design behind Bulletstorm and how they were trying to get away from the gritty, dour military shooters which dominated the FPS market. He also appreciates a question from the interviewer about how even in games like Gears of War there were still softer emotional moments for the characters.

Well first off I appreciate you mentioning that because a lot of people assume Gears is this big testosterone fest but we try to pace the story so it actually has some slightly softer moments… …. But with regards to Bulletstorm it’s more over the top than Gears but it has it’s moments where the characters get to know each other and it does have these great emotional peaks and valleys which we haven’t really spoiled too much of what happens but you never know who is gonna die or live in a given game campaign.

Versus quotes from his Lawbreakers media tour when you got things like

There is blood in it and people explode and they curse. Y’know, I wanna be, I wanna be the rated R version for all these rated PG shooters.

Whats funny to me about that quote is that it almost perfectly sums up the entirety of Bulletstorm and yet for the life of me I can’t remember it being sold that way during their pre-release press tours. He certainly spoke about the Skillshot mechanics and its overall irreverent take on violence that a lot of the more mainstream shooters treated with a more somber tone but the centerpiece of his talking points remained the entertainment. Lawbreakers and the consumer pitch seemed to be squarely aimed at the concept that it was only for the most hardcore of competitive shooter fans. A move which seems decidedly strange given what the competitive shooter scene looks like and has looked like for much of the last decade. Especially when you consider the place of Arena Shooters in that picture which have garnered little more than small nostalgia based communities around their current releases. Not exactly a market that is begging for a new IP branded as meant for the hardest of hardcore competitive players and of those only the ones interested in a specific game-type. This tactic seems to utterly ignore the fact that one of the largest hurdles for new IPs is appealing to a wide enough audience in order to build a sustainable community. Not to mention the additional hurdles of establishing a new multiplayer only IP that is being marketed to an already tiny sub-demographic of gamers. Additionally the poor decision was made to release the game on a date close to when their target demographic would be returning to school and within a few weeks of Destiny 2 launching. Whatever it was that led Cliff and the leaders at Boss Key to make those decisions they can’t really be ignored when discussing the eventual closing of the studio.

After a release that garnered less than 5,000 concurrent players on Steam for launch day Lawbreakers was at best a game that earned a DOA tag with flying colors. Although possibly the saddest aspect of the entire confusing road to its release was at the center the game wasn’t actually all that bad. It was a bit buggy, it wasn’t nearly as hardcore skill intensive as it was sold and it didn’t revolutionize the shooter genre upon arrival but at its base level it was a game worth the $30 asking price. That realization more than any other cemented for me just how ill advised this genre entry was and how detrimental the marketing campaign for it truly was.

A lot of the time when people write articles like this or break down decisions after the fact it always easy to undercut the arguments with sentiments like, “Hindsight is always 20/20.” which isn’t completely unfair. I think however its important to remember that while things are clearer in hindsight I do believe its pretty plain to see the very avoidable pitfalls Boss Key and Cliffy stumbled into on their way to releasing Lawbreakers. Personally looking back on Cliffy’s contributions to gaming overall I have a lot of respect for the work he has done but as it stands right now all that really does is make the current stumbles seem all the more painful from a fan perspective.

I’m going to cut this off here and pick it up tomorrow with Part 2 where I’ll discuss the second release from Boss Key, Radical Heights, the flaws with its conception and the continuing baffling decisions made by Cliff and his studio. In addition Cliff has begun releasing concept art for some other games he had been hoping to release with the now defunct studio and why I think it offers some important context in regards to the failure of Lawbreakers and Radical Heights.

For now, have a great rest of your day and happy gaming!

  • Non-Washable

 

 

A Busy Week But No Excuse

Hi, I’m Non-Washable and it has been days since my last post on this blog.

You may fairly raise your brow at me and think, “A confession doesn’t really count, man.” and you would be absolutely correct. Regardless of how much time it takes me to write this out and start feeling better about my aggravating lack of posts this week it doesn’t make up for it. So while I’m busy confessing that I have been absent I will take a moment to at least try and justify why I was pulled away if you’ll humor me for a paragraph or several.

The first up is the reason which is least absolving for me which is that I spent some time playing video games. For the last few weeks I have played the absolute bar minimum by which I mean almost none save for trying to knock out my daily quests in MTG:Arena. Fortunately you can have up to a maximum of three quests build up, one per day, so I only really need to play twice a week to keep up. Unfortunately this also means a lack of time to brew decks or play just for fun but, nature of the beast, right? What did happen was that I picked up Frostpunk and allowed that to eat up nearly a day and a half of time I should have been working on things for this blog. Whats worse was that I didn’t take the time to use any of that gameplay to prepare for a review on the game. Feeling utterly stupid about that I did start writing up my feelings on the game and should be posting it shortly to rectify that mistake.

Short answer: If you like city-builders that pull no punches and punish you for sloppy play by piling up the corpses of your citizens like cords of firewood then you should be all over this game. Not to mention it is beautifully realized, sleek and feature packed all for the very reasonable price of $29.99USD. 11 Bit Studios is also offering 10% off that on Steam if you own This War of Mine, until May 1st. Hard to say enough good things about it but more on that later.

Ultimately I forgot my own rule which I set at the beginning of this that whatever I do I should make sure I can extract something from it for this blog to continue the feedback loop so I am always producing something. A lesson learned and I will be better going forward.

The second thing has been regarding my other decision to branch out and try to do things outside of my previous limited comfort zone and be a larger part of the D&D community. I really do love the game and for all my failures as a player and DM I do hope to use those experiences to help inspire others to join in or avoid the pitfalls I myself have fallen into. The last post I wrote was D&D related and got a good response which I felt really happy about! A conversation I had with some folks on Twitter this week reminded me, while I was telling them, that even the most basic of information re-iterated can help. A subject that has been expounded on thousands of times can still escape newcomers to our hobbie so it helps to have it done again, tweaked and put in different terms. You never know who you might reach that others have missed. Smaller creators and commentators communicate regularly with those who the larger personalities may miss. Not through any fault of their own but they have simply grown to play in new arenas, they have new concerns and demands on their time. So it is up to us to take up the banners in their place and be new conduits for advice and help in their stead. Ultimately we too may eventually find ourselves too busy to answer all the questions we may get but hopefully by that time we have helped to inspire new people to offer their unique perspectives and experiences on the game.

Aside from this I have found myself with a couple of other opportunities to become more involved and while at the moment I can’t really talk about them (I don’t think? Better safe than sorry.) I am incredibly excited/nervous for them. If for no other reason than I expect to embarrass myself in new and unexpected ways. Forcing yourself outside of your comfort zone is often stressful and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel it but I’m determined to get past that and embrace the experience. In response to that I buried myself in some prep work to the exclusion of keeping to my posting schedule which was certainly unwise but for my own sanity I think I needed it. Balancing this stuff is certainly going to be tough but that is just one more thing in a sea of them that I need to put in some work on improving.

So what positive things happened this week?

We recorded another episode of the Ourcast which was a lot of fun! It wont be up for a couple weeks as we still have a one week buffer between releases but I think it’s one of our best so far. I’ve become a little more proficient with editing which is shortening the time it takes to produce episodes. The downside to that is that now that its going quicker I’m experimenting more with different techniques and musical additions so really its taking me more time to do them now. Insert sad-face here. It’s good though, shows me I’m improving and its hard to feel bad about that. Prior to this last episode I also adjusted my desk and audio setup a little as I work on improving the audio quality on my side. Since I’m using a broadcast mic to record instead of my gaming headset there are a lot of factors I was previously unaware of that are messing with the quality of my output. For instance I was unaware of the part the vibration of my case fans would play in the audio quality though a 3.5mm jack. Hopefully the adjustments will show in upcoming episodes. Also because I have listened to way too much of myself speaking on the podcast I have realized that in an effort to hold a more conversational tone as though my co-host and I are sitting across from each other at a table I have inadvertently caused myself to sound somewhat boring and mono-tone. This past episode I was particularly annoyed at myself during the editing as it oftentimes felt like I was utterly lifeless while talking. I have a few more criticisms of my performance but suffice it to say going into our recording session this past Thursday I made a concerted effort to adjust my approach and be a bit livelier. Hopefully it’s a welcome change and going forward I’m going to try and embrace my “radio voice” and bring the enthusiasm out a little more.

On the D&D front my group finally was able to get together again after a couple week hiatus. The “Band of Others”, as they have chosen to call themselves, got their first taste of the Dungeon Trials beneath the beautiful city of Orskr. In a competition with adventurers from all over for wealth and rewards beyond imagining they’re going to face the toughest challenges of their lives over the next few sessions. First room of whirling blades caused a few cuts and dings but they got through it largely unscathed.

Tougher challenges to come however and I’m excited to see how they deal with them.

We’re also just a couple weeks shy of restarting our Dark Heresy Warhammer 40k campaign which I get to be a player in and we were all assigned a little homework prior to getting back in. Working on that has been really fun as a way to get reacquainted with my character and the setting.

Basically there a lot of things that are “coming soon” that I of course wish could get here maybe just a little faster. Until then though there are plenty of things to keep me busy so It’s time to refocus on those and first up I think is going to be starting on the project I set for myself with my Games on the Silver Screen post from when I was on vacation. Mortal Kombat is currently on Netflix and I can’t think of a better way to to start things off.

For now thanks for reading! Hopefully this offered a little insight to where I am right now and as an adequate apology for not keeping up through this week. Just know that no one will ever feel more irritation or disappointment from these failures than I do. The important thing is finding motivation in them instead of defeat.

In the interim thank you if you read this far and I’ll be back soon.

Happy gaming, folks!

  • Non-Washable

 

 

 

Friday Update and Housekeeping

Hello everyone! I hope you’ve had a good Friday and are excited for the weekend to begin! I know not everyones week works the same and if you aren’t starting yours right now rest assured this message is meant for you as well, I hope your weekend arrives quickly and lasts for what feels like a lifetime.

So what is going on this week? Not a whole lot, I’ve been on vacation in Florida which means a lot of sun, socializing and eating out. I didn’t set aside quite as much time to write as I would have liked but I think I did okay with a couple of posts, I don’t think I’m really counting this housekeeping posts though as this is mostly going to be akin to my visit to a non-denominational confessional. A personal way to be accountable for the things I’ve said I would do and  for whatever reason have yet to get to, I was always taught the value of redundancy so theres no reason to quit now.

First thing thats up is the podcast which was supposed to go up yesterday, unfortunately where I am staying has surprisingly awful internet that seems to seize up midway through trying to upload almost anything. Even something as simple as getting pictures off my phone and onto my Google drive has me staring at progress bars with a level of skepticism I haven’t felt since the early 90s. So I’ve resolved to just stop fighting it and I’ll upload episode four when I’m safe back at home on Saturday evening, apologies for that but I swear to god it’ll be up on time next Thursday come hell or Floridian internet.

I am excited to sit down and watch my first video game movie to start off my retrospective on the industries history with the silver screen which requires me to choose what I’m watching first. Fortunately as always the Hollywood rumor mill is there for me and after reading this I’d say the decision has been made so I’ll be starting with Dwayne Johnson’s 2005 masterpiece, DOOM. It sort of makes sense since I was a huge fan of the most recent entry in the DOOM series from 2016 and am anxious to hear about the inevitable sequel which will hopefully be announced in some fashion at E3 this year.

Naturally being out of state meant that I wasn’t able to do even a little bit of painting this week so I’m also really antsy to get back to that, I should have an update or two to post by Tuesday or Wednesday after I get back. On the subject of minis and painting I also came across something called Fallout: Wasteland Warfare which I think is based on a mildly popular video game IP. I’m not sure I could have envisioned of a worse thing that could have released so close to Star Wars: Legion if I had tried. I have no clue about the system the game operates on or anything beyond the fact that the minis themselves look fucking awesome. I’m doing my best but I’d be lying if I didn’t say you could probably be fairly sure those will show up mixed in with my Star Wars minis at some point in the future.

Moving on!

You know whats better than one of my favorite genres and getting stuff for free? When you can get something in the Cyberpunk vein for absolutely free via the fantastic folks over at Humble Bundle. I haven’t played it yet so I can’t give it any level of a recommendation beyond the most important: FREE. Satellite Reign is a Cyberpunk themed RTS that if for nothing else has at least piqued my interest, if it does the same for you then go grab it and while you’re there maybe look around and spend a few bucks… for charity. If you’re human and despise cancer, especially the kind children have, you may also want to check out a game called I, Hope the proceeds from which Kenny Roy the developer is donating to Game Changer Charity. Something I think we can all agree is a worthy cause especially when we also get a fun little game out of it for our ever expanding backlog. Lastly if managing a cemetery or at least the very least simulating that experience has ever been on your list of life goals have I got just the thing for you, Graveyard Keeper. Lazy Bear Games has seen fit to devote their time to filling this until now under-served demographic of gamers and while it isn’t out yet I think it’s definitely something to keep an eye on, it’s due out sometime in 2018.

I also ran across a story about an Ohio College who is offering an e-sports scholarship for Fortnite players. Weird as it seems I think that is kind of cool and assuming it doesn’t tumble into the same shady exploitation schemes of other collegiate leagues, which I’m sure it will, I can see this being yet another avenue for more kids to get into college to make sure that they have a background they can draw on after their time in e-sports. Either way it goes one of the most interesting things in gaming for the last decade or more has been the evolution and general acceptance of e-sports. Seeing ESPN report on it and this most recent partnership between Kotaku and Deadspin to report on the various e-sport leagues still blows my mind.

I think thats all I’ve really got for this Friday wrap up and I can see the general format of these posts changing a bit from week to week as I sort of figure out how exactly I want them to be. I hadn’t intended to do anything like this at the beginning but I’m starting to think it would be helpful as a way to clear out stories and tidbits that don’t really require their own posts but that I still have sitting in my bookmarks.

What say you? Yay or Nay to this being a regular thing?

Till next time, happy gaming!

  • Non-Washable