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

 

 

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