Brakketology Confronts the Dragon… Despairs

Excalibur_Merlin

Look upon the eyes of the dragon and despair. Merlin was, of course, talking to Morgana when he said that, but he could easily have been speaking of game designer and “monetization design consultant” Ethan Levy, who wrote a piece on F2P success at Games Industry Biz. It is insightful, based on sound data, and wholly abhorrent to anyone who actually cares about games. A snippet, cherry-picked to set you against him:

When I compare Arkham Origins to Gods Among Us [ed: the F2P releases, not the “real” games], my sense as a player and a game designer is that NetherRealms has made an undoubtedly better game, but a worse free-to-play product. They have made fundamental changes that will earn them brownie points with gamers wary of free-to-play, but have a negative impact on P&L. Even more damaging is the effect of diverting resources from a top grossing, live game to build a new product. I know from firsthand experience how difficult hiring talented team members can be in a competitive space like mobile game development. But by shifting resources instead of growing the overall mobile team to support multiple games (which I assume is the case solely based on the credits) Warner Bros. has not only delivered a lower performing product, they have missed months’ worth of opportunity to add new features to Injustice that would grow player base and profitability.

I bang my anti-F2P drum on, very nearly, a weekly basis. This kind of stuff is why. These games aren’t games. Games are creative expressions and therefor are art forms. They may often be very low art, but they are creative endeavors and while there is money to be made (nor can they be made without it), you are not making great games if your primary design axiom is built on how you get players to stop in the middle of what they’re doing and fork over more money, and then do so again a session or two later (and again, and again). And that, of course, is F2P’s problem. When games are designed and built to get you coming back to the feeder bar as much as possible, without getting too pissed off to abandon the title outright, then they are no longer games of any substance or worth. If you eat, sleep, and breathe that business, then you’re not Satan exactly, but you are the guy who goes into the corner store to buy Satan a pack of cigarettes. (Points for you if you know where I’ve stolen that line from.)

Make us a good game, rather than a nickel and dime delivery system, and we’ll pay you for it. Speaking of real games…

Captain’s log, long-range scanners reveal Teh Awesumz! For months after FTL’s release I dropped by the FTL site/forums to see if there’s news about what it’s creators are up to. I eventually stopped. So it figures that now they pop up with not only a new, free mega-update for the PC version, but also news that an iOS version is coming (both in January). The new additions include:

Mind Control System: Temporarily turn enemies into allies. Force a boarder to repair the damage they just did, or have the enemy pilot sabotage their own helm.

Hacking System: Lockdown and disrupt enemy systems. Unique effects for each system, ranging from forcing a teleporter remove boarders to making the medbay damage instead of heal.

New Sector and Events: Our writer Tom Jubert (http://tom-jubert.blogspot.co.uk/) has returned along with special guest writer Chris Avellone (of Planescape fame), who managed to find some time for us between his work onProject Eternity and Wasteland 2. They’ve been helping us add a new sector and scatter new events throughout the rest of the game.

New Weapons and Effects: Many new weapons that take advantage of new mechanics: overcharging to increase the number of volleys, stun effects to freeze crew, and area effect targeting, to name a few.

And more systemsdronesaugmentsenemy shipsenemy layouts, and hostile environments. All of which we’ll be sure to talk about more in the coming weeks!

Picture the free-to-play version of this game and think about how awful it would be. I can see it now; in the middle of a pitched battle, FTL sticks out its hand to ask you for real world money if you want to upgrade your ship’s armor or put out that fire in the med-bay. Sounds like a winner, doesn’t it?

Well crap. I have Enemy Within loaded up on my PC, but haven’t gotten into it yet. I’ve been concern-trolling for months, however, that the whole national panic level versus satellites versus adequate funds balance was at risk of tipping straight over because of all the extra stuff in the expansion; if, that is, Firaxis didn’t go through and thoroughly re-balance the thing. Based on Alec Meer’s review of the expansion it doesn’t sound like they did:

I’ve said this before, but I think the need for rapid, expensive and slow satellite coverage is the weakest part of XCOM. It requires too much, and obtaining those things is too convoluted

It’s deeply illogical, it involves dependency upon dependency upon dependency, and it means that not prioritising satellites over everything else early in the game can lead to an inescapable early game-over later on. This is due to the still-aggravating fact you’re not allowed to carry out all Terror missions when they come up, but instead must choose one of three, and thus have no choice but to increase panic in not just the nations whose missions you couldn’t do, but every nation in the same continent. Too much panic means a nation drops out of funding you, and as well as this limiting your teching up, if enough nations drop out it’s game over. A mess, and not a hot one at that.

So yes, the new upgrades do complicate that fudged system further, but not dramatically – just be mindful that your resources will be stretched more thinly, and try to concentrate on getting more satellites up before you succumb to the temptation of super-soldiers.

Now, to provide full context, Meer clearly doesn’t think it’s a deal-breaker for the expansion, which he’s largely positive on. (This is understatement, it’s a very positive review.) To me, this isn’t a killer, but it remains very worrisome. The satellite/terror level stuff is the weakest part of the game from a conception/implementation standpoint and if there’s nothing there to make it work better and smarter, that’s not a game-killer, necessarily, but it is disappointing.

New recipe, same ingredients. Also, as long as I’m pimping Mr. Meer’s work so slovenly, be sure to check out his review of Burial at Sea Part 1 (of 2), the Bioshock Ininite DLC. Well worth the read. I’ll get to that at some point, but I already wish it didn’t feature more of this:

But as with Columbia, the problem is the attempt to have the monsters co-exist with the men and women of a supposedly functioning city. Infinite’s approach was to simply clear the stage of non-violent life whenever weapons were wielded – a clean switch for sure, and some have defended it as an open admission that the place was consciously a theme park rather than a community, but for me it meant great dissonance. Where is everyone going to? How can the people in this part of the city be so content and unworried when two minutes away there are crazy bastards and open conflict everywhere?

Sadly, Burial At Sea’s long-awaited demonstration of Rapture at its opulent peak pulls the same trick; whether it’s one of technological necessity or deliberate design I of course do not know.

 

Banners raised. Banner Saga is coming out January 14th. Funded at 7x it’s target goal, it’s not like the game suffered for my having failed to back it, but I always meant to. It looks phenomenal. From the release date announcement:

What’s left to do? We’ll be spending an appropriate amount of time on playtesting, polish and balance. We’ve been getting help from a QA house to help us find and write bugs because the game has become both long and complex at this point. What we originally envisioned as a 6 hour game is probably closer to 15+ hours on the first playthrough, and all the branching variables and additional systems are time-consuming to test. We’ll also be playing through the game a lot to get combat balance in as good a state as we can. Lastly, you may have heard this before, but polish is the difference between a good game and a great game in our minds. Personal touches, transitions and making sure that everything is finely polished is really important to us. For example, we’ve added procedural snow, random events in travel, items in combat, an interactive world map, every godstone in the game and tons of new characters and classes.

Is this cool? It seems like it should be cool. There’s a fresh Kickstarter project, Eon Altar, that I bring up here precisely because I can’t decide if it’s the next neato idea for lovers of pen and paper RPGing or if it’s just kinda lame. Flying Helmet games is looking to sell you on the idea that in-person RPGing can be fun if we all gather ’round a tablet for a little vintagy RPG action and then use our phones to manage our characters.

Among the problems I see from watching this video: That’s not a tablet they’re on, well not in the traditional sense. That looks like a small TV/laptop screen. I could see this being cool with that and everyone else on their personal tablet sized screen. But my 10″ iPad surrounded by a bunch of dudes on their smartphones? That’s a tougher sell in my mind. Also, isn’t part of the boon of getting your buddies together around a table is that it doesn’t involve a screen? Call me a Luddite, but I don’t see my Pathfinder group going to this. Also, the DM is really, really central to this experience and that appears to be wholly missing here. Also, also, pre-generated characters, even if you can customize to your heart’s content, strikes me as counter to whole pen & paper experience.

Trust in Guido? I’ll forgive you for not knowing the name of Guido Henkel, but if you were ever a fan of the Realms of Arkania games, or if you thought Planescape: Torment was a jolly good piece of design, make a point of checking out his new project Deathfire: Ruins of Nethermore.

Looks like a bit like Legends of Grimrock, only more involved, which I’m not writing off, but doesn’t make me want to jump in line with my wallet open. (I liked Grimrock as a fun notalgia trip, but it wasn’t long-lived on my PC.) Like Shroud of the Avatar, it’s not something I’ll fund, but it’s a project worth watching.

RPS 1,372, Microsoft 0. This evisceration of Microsoft’s latest, “No, we love PC gamers, we really do,” is a thing of beauty.

XB1 launch apps. There are lists everywhere. Here’s the one from Joystiq, broken down by region. Wasn’t there supposed to be an Xfinity app? What gives?

Holy shit, you guys! Marvel is creating, and delivering via Netflix, four new live-action superhero series. Those series will feature Daredevil, Jessica Jones, Iron Fist, and Luke Cage. Then they’ll all come together for a Defenders series. Among the many things out there in the universe that are awesome, this so totally ranks.

Speaking of Marvel, Thor 2 is a super-happy-fun-good-time. It’s not without its darker moments, and you can poke holes in it if you must, but it’s like Avengers in that it brings the joy of superheroes to the screen without resorting to god-awful, screen-winking camp. Also, Loki.

Sports journalism lives! Or at least when it comes from the pen of Grantland’s Andrew Sharp, who’s story, The Miami Dolphins and Everything That Will Never Make Sense, is well worth your reading time.

On a note only tangentially related to bullying, but wholly related to football, I’m finding it harder and harder to enjoy watching the sport. I’ve been a fan of football for over 35 years. My dad starting taking me to Michigan games at four years old (dear god is that Michigan offense awful), but the volume of data coming out about CTE and its potential to destroy the very identity of the players who participate is beyond alarming. I know these guys, at the pro level, are not forced to play and they are generally well paid, but just knowing what these guys are doing to each other out there makes enjoying the sport difficult and, in the end, that’s what will kill it.

My son doesn’t have the size or temperament for organized football, but even if he did, not in a million years would I allow him to play. With the NFL the undisputed king of American sports, it’s hard to envision a day when it’s as irrelevant to the sports landscape as boxing, but it will be. Eventually fewer and fewer parents will let their kids participate and the game’s feeder pipe will run dry, as the most gifted and talented athletes of their generations instead lend their abilities to other sports. The NFL knows this, which is why they are in tobacco-company levels of denial and cover-up.

*Originally published at NoHighScores.com, 11/12/2013
*Updated 2/23/2016 (minor text updates)

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Todd Brakke

Todd was born in Ann Arbor, with a Michigan helmet in one hand and a mouse in the other. (Never you mind the logistics of this.) He grew, vertically anyway, and is a 20-year publishing veteran as an editor of books on consumer tech and professional development for educators. Because that wasn't enough of a challenge, Todd was a 20-year part-time snob about video games, writing reviews, features, and more for multiple outlets from 1997-2015. Follow him on Twitter @toddsfoolery.

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