Category Archives: Observations

Blaugust Complete

This is day 31 of Blaugust.

Well, I did it. 31 posts in 31 days. It was easier than I thought it would be, except for one point in week 4 when I never wanted to look at another blog again.

Let’s look at the positives fist. I learned that I can put out content much more frequently than I usually do. Of the 31 posts, there are only 5 that I really consider filler that I never would have posted if not for Blaugust. That’s not too shabby. This was a really good writing exercise. Another positive is that I found more blogs to read and tried to comment more often than usual. I also got more comments than usual here (at least at the beginning of the month).

Most of the negatives of Blaugust have to do with oversaturation. After a while, the challenge was not only putting out my own posts out but also reading other people’s posts. A post a day on 50-100 blogs is a lot of reading especially since I don’t tend to read on weekends, so they pile up. I read and commented less as the month went on, and I in turn received less comments. My post links on Twitter barely got shared at all, likely because there were so many of them. Likewise, I did very little retweeting myself.

Traffic-wise, this month I received less views than 10 of the 12 previous months. So posting daily didn’t really drive traffic. My post viewed post was Breaking News, Women Play Video Games, while a number of my posts got only a handful of views (especially the ones where I just embedded a video). There were a couple posts I really liked that didn’t get much attention, I’m sure at least partially because they got buried under everything else.

Overall, Blaugust was an interesting exercise and I’m glad I did it. I won’t be making an effort to continue to post this much though.

I’d ask you how Blaugust was for you but I’m sure everyone is writing this post today.

Show Don’t Tell

This is day 30 of Blaugust.

Yesterday I played Until Dawn for 6 hours. If you’re not familiar with the game, it’s a cinematic horror game that advertises how player choice matters. A group of teenagers has gone to an isolated mountain cabin (in Alberta!) on the anniversary of the disappearance of a couple of their other friends and a whole bunch of bad shit happens. Surprise. The characters in the game can survive or die based on player decisions.

I like the game. Obviously I like it, I played it all day. It’s fun, scary, and the animation is just amazing. However, it does something that really bugs me.

Until Dawn butterfly effect

When you make a decision that’s important the game tells you, loudly and obnoxiously. Bells are chiming, text is flashing. Butterfly effect! The game really wants you to know that this decision has an effect. That you’re awesome for changing the course of the game. That it’s awesome for letting you.

This for me, is completely ineffective. If anything, it destroys immersion. Yes, I’m playing a video game. I can tell by the controller in my hand, you don’t need to remind me on-screen every time I make a decision. Explicitly telling me I’ve altered the course of events by snooping and reading someone’s text message does nothing for me. Either I’ll play the game again, make new decisions and see their outcomes, or I’ll only play this game the once in which case it doesn’t matter.

Of course this isn’t the only game that does this. I got really fed up with Telltale games when I played The Wolf Among Us. Snow will remember that, the game would tell me, menacingly. So what? If you have to tell me something I’ve said or done has had an impact on another character via a text message on the screen, you’re not doing a very good job with writing (or animation, possibly).

Life is Strange - This action will have consequences

Life is Strange (which basically ripped off Telltale’s boring formula) does this too. This action will have consequences… Shut up, game. Show me consequences, don’t tell me. I think for most games this is just a way of making the player feel in control when they’re really not but for me, it backfires. After playing The Wolf Among Us, or even The Walking Dead  I saw I wasn’t really making that much of a difference. If a character was going to die, they were gonna die. I could save them at the beginning of chapter 3, but they’d still be dead by the end of it. So this control you have over the story is really a lie, and that’s a bit of a piss off. Had I not been bombarded with messages telling me how much impact I’m having, I wouldn’t be upset at all about my choices not really mattering. I like to play the games, I like to experience a story whether it gives me options or sets me along a particular path. What I don’t like is being constantly, obnoxiously told how important my choices are when they generally really aren’t.

What do you think about these kinds of games? Can you see any positives to constant on-screen messages telling you when you’ve (apparently) changed the course of the game?

Ranked

This is for day 22 of Blaugust.

Let’s talk about Heroes of the Storm. Again. I was happy for the season reset that just happened. I was experiencing a bit of a pattern in ranked games that was getting really annoying. I’d win my way up to Rank 20 or so, and then lose. And lose. And lose. I’d win maybe 1 in 8 games during my long plummet from rank 20 all the way down to rank 28-30. This happened twice. If rank 20 is my skill-cap right now, that’s fine. I can accept that. But I can think of less soul-sucking ways to keep me out of the 19+ bracket.

Now, this is all just anecdotal. I have no idea how MMR works. Maybe it’s meant to make reaching your skill cap a miserable experience, maybe it’s not. Maybe I’ve just been unlucky. The worst part about the huge losing streaks is that I didn’t feel I was losing because the opposing team was really good. It felt like I was losing because my team was terrible. Now, I’m not amazing. I sometimes chase a little too far and die, or think I need to finish of a merc camp instead of doing something more useful. But my teams were full of people so bad I often questioned whether they were trolls. It started right from the draft. No one thought about comp at all. Malf and Li Li? Sure! Double tank? Okay! All melee? Sounds like fun! Then once we were off to a limping start, it got even worse. There were the people who wanted to team fight at level 2 and collected no XP (plus yelled at the people who didn’t join the fights). There were tanks off doing their own thing, smacking away at towers while the rest of the team went 4-5 against the enemy. The people who ignored objectives. The people who exclaimed “gg” and went afk if we were 2 levels down. The people who gave me the impression they had never played their hero before. It was pretty disheartening to run into some variation of this in every single match.

I feel like this is kinda backwards. I should be facing the challenge of better players as I rank up, not the challenge of being grouped with a bunch of potatoes.

I’m wondering what other people’s ranked experiences have been like?

Good Stealth, Bad Stealth

This is day 19 of Blaugust.

This post was inspired by an article over at Midnight Resistance (this was going to be a comment, but there are no comments!) In the post, Andi complains about stealth sections in non-stealth games and asks readers to tell about their least favourite stealth sections.

I am usually not a fan of stealth in games. I’m too impatient to wait for enemy patrols to pass by or throw rocks as distractions. Here are some games that feature stealthy parts that I really didn’t enjoy.

The Last of Us

TLoU

I’m sure I’ve complained about this one before. I found the stealth sections, particularly in the first half of the game, extremely frustrating. Ammo and supplies were low, Joel only had a access to a couple different weapons. There were many areas with a good half dozen infected standing around and you had to stealth around, taking them out one by one. Usually one or two could be taken out fairly easily, but the others required you to throw bottles and things to distract them. I don’t mind stealth so much when sneaking by enemies allows me to avoid combat altogether, but in most of these sections combat was inevitable.

My biggest issue? I have a shotgun! I want to use it. Technically I could use it, but it alerts all the enemies in the area and taking on more than a couple at a time generally resulted in a horrible death. So I was forced to stealth around, stabbing zombies in the neck until there were only one or two left. These sections slowed the gameplay to a crawl and were the main reason I wasn’t overly impressed by my first few hours with the game.

Arkham… Anything

The first time you hang upside down from a gargoyle to make a surprise snare of an enemy and leave them dangling by their ankles it’s quite a rush. Same thing with dive bombing out of the shadows to take down a henchman with a gun. But the sixth? The tenth? The twentieth? It gets kinda old.

All of the Arkham games (at least the first 3, I haven’t played Knight yet) are filled with gargoyle rooms. Here the enemies are numerous and usually armed so you need to sneak around to take them out, lest Batman get overwhelmed. Honestly it gets old after a while, especially in the rooms that have a dozen enemies or more. Get to the face punching, Bats.

Dishonored

Maybe it’s unfair to put this in here since Dishonored is a stealth game. Or an action-adventure game. It’s up to the player. Sort of. You can choose to go around killing everything, or you can ostensibly get through the game without killing anyone (or at least very few people). How many people you kill can impact the ending of the game.

I tried to go the no-kill route when I played. That lasted about 12 minutes. Since the no-kill experience was ruined I had no choice but to turn into the most murderous bastard alive. The problem? The combat sucks. It’s clunky and not fun at all. So while the stealthy route is presented as a choice, it’s not much of one. You either go the mechanically solid but very slow stealth route, or you go through the game being subjected to the shitty shooting mechanics. In this case, the best choice to me was to quit.

But wait…

There is one game that, surprisingly, had stealth sections that I found very enjoyable.

Wolfenstein: The New Order

Wolfenstein the New Order stealth

Wolfenstein is one of the best games I’ve played this year. It has a good story, really solid shooting mechanics, and all the weapons feel unique. It also has stealth. What is it that makes stealth in Wolfenstein feel so rewarding, while most games make it feel like a chore?

I can’t totally put my finger on it, but I have a few ideas. The first person perspective makes things more interesting. Whereas in The Last of Us I was watching Joel stab a zombie in the neck, in Wolfenstein I felt like I was stabbing things in the neck. Hmm… that sounds a bit psychotic now that I’ve typed it out. Anyway, the first person perspective was certainly more immersive.

Wolfenstein also made great use of sound to let you know when you were safe or not. From dogs softly snoring to Nazis in mech suits stomping around, you didn’t necessarily have to see your enemies to know they were there. I find relying on sound much more interesting than the magical ability to see through walls.

The biggest reason, I think, is that failing at stealth in Wolfenstein had a much different result than failing in other games. If you got spotted in The Last of Us, the ensuing scramble would likely bring every enemy running. And then you’d die. If you got spotted in Batman when you hadn’t taken out enough armed enemies, everyone would start shooting. And then you’d die. When you get spotted in Dishonored you have to take part in unenjoyable combat. Or die. In Wolfenstein, what happens after you’re discovered is still enjoyable. It might make things a bit harder, but it’s not a death sentence most of the time. Plus, the ensuing firefight is always a heck of a lot of fun.

What are your thoughts on stealth? Any particular examples stand out as good or bad uses of it in games?

The Witcher, Diversity, and those darn SJWs

So, this topic has been around for a while, but doesn’t seem to be going away. Damion Schubert at Zen of Design talks about it quite a bit, which is what keeps it on my radar. I’ve written about The Witcher 3 and how it treats women, but stayed fairly silent on the issue of racial diversity since I don’t think my voice in this matter is that important. But I feel like I have to respond to all the “Omg, you terrible SJWs are the real racists for complaining about too many white characters. And also you’re ruining the entertainment industry. And the world!!!”

Jesus fucking christ, I’ve never come across so many people who are so unable to contextualize information and are so incapable of critical thought.

First things first…

Critique is not condemnation.

This seems rather obvious to me, but apparently isn’t to a lot of people. The people pointing out “hey, everyone in this game is white except for one demon lady” are not following it up with “therefore, CDPR are a bunch of racists and you shouldn’t buy their game.” They’re not even insinuating it and I have no idea how people are extracting that from the articles and reviews that have been written. They’re pointing out a lack of diversity, then generally moving on to talk about all the things they love about the game and how great it is.

It’s funny (and when I say funny I mean pathetic and sad) that those complaining about how the game-ruining SJWs are offended by everything are themselves offended by everything. Someone said The Witcher needs more diversity? Someone said Doom was too violent? They get offended on behalf of the developers, the fans, and the game itself, and take to YouTube or blogs to spew bile at those who dare to not thoughtlessly consume the game in question. Many people think Anita Sarkeesian has made a career for herself by being a professional victim, so they then make themselves into minor YouTube celebrities by creating video after video ranting about her. Professional victim vs. professional whiner? Professional asshole? What’s worse? What value are you adding to the world?

No game is perfect, and it’s really no different to criticize a game for its lack of diversity than it is to criticize its graphics. Acknowledging and talking about problematic elements can lead to better creations or at least interesting conversations. Having a problem with one aspect of a game doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy it or don’t want others to but, to some, making a comment about diversity is ruining it for everyone.

Hmm, went on a bit of a tangent there.

So about The Witcher 3 and how white it is… I don’t have a problem with white characters (if I did what the hell would I play?), or a game that feels culturally Polish (I am Polish after all). What I have a problem with is the reactions people have to this particular piece of critique.

First, there’s the “historically accurate” response. It’s fantasy. Calling it historically accurate is an oxymoron (and moronic). Next.

Second, it’s based on pre-existing works of fiction. …So? The books do feature a place called Zerrikania, where the people are not white. It was a choice not to feature any Zerrikanian’s in Witcher 3. Also, as I talked about in my post on women in The Witcher, content doesn’t get directly translated from book to game. Developers make changes, choose what to include and what not to, add their own ideas. Source material is a guideline, not a rule.

The third argument is the only one that carries any weight at all with me. Poland, where the developers are, is overwhelmingly white. If all you see is white people around you, it’s not totally unreasonable to think that you would create something that reflects that (if a game was made or set in Toronto and was mostly white I’d definitely have some words to say about that). It’s not a wholly solid argument as you are creating for a global audience, but whether adding more diversity to the game was just something that wasn’t considered or something that was avoided due to a lack of frame of reference, it’s the only argument I’ve heard that I don’t dismiss outright. However, even assuming the best possible intentions in this scenario, the lack of people of colour is still worth pointing out. Maybe the developers will think of it next time. Maybe they won’t care. Either way, it’s worth having the discussion.

It’s rather scary how a whole subset of gamers are so vocally opposed to thinking critically about the media we consume. Sure, 90% of the time I play a game my main goal is entertainment, but just as I’d comment on awkward controls or bad voice acting, you can bet I’m going to comment on things like a lack diversity, and seek out those kind of critiques to read.

Hope, Hype, Disappointment – The Last Guardian and FF7

Shadow of the Colossus is one of my favourite games of all time. It’s a beautiful, haunting game with a story, atmosphere, and heartbreaking battles that have lingered with me for years. When The Last Guardian, a spiritual successor, was shown at E3 2009 I was stoked. It had a similar feel, the same beautiful lighting and magnificent architecture. Where SotC featured a man and his horse, TLG showed a relationship between a boy and his giant griffin. It looked lovely, and I was more than ready for another great experience from Team Ico.

Then, nothing. Year after year, The Last Guardian was notably absent from Sony’s press conferences and release schedules. Each year I hoped to get a brief tidbit, a hint it was still happening, but for 5 years I was disappointed. Then, last night it was back. But it was too late. Prior to this year’s E3 I had decided I didn’t care about this game anymore, and declared it vapourware. I had been strung along for far too long, disappointed too many times.

There was a brief glimmer of surprise and delight during the conference when I first realized they would actually be showing something this year, but it quickly faded. As I watched the gameplay footage I felt very little. I think annoyance at the voice of a young boy calling the birddog repeatedly was the main thing I felt, and it didn’t seem that I was seeing anything really new. Certainly not 6 years worth of new.

The Last Guardian

The constant vocalizations for the griffin in order to overcome platforming puzzles seemed to draw much more from Ico (which I was never a fan of) than Shadow of the Colossus. Worst of all, the gameplay just didn’t look very engaging. Maybe after 6 years they counted on people being so desperate for scraps of information that they’d take anything, but I was disappointed by the showing. Dull footage, barely any actual talk about the game, and a vague 2016 release date.

I think this may be a case of excitement and constant disappointment slowly turning into resentment, and I though the presentation was too little, far too late. Hopefully the game will surprise me when it’s further along in development (if it ever gets to that point).

Sony made another huge announcement last night, and that’s Final Fantasy 7 finally getting a remaster. Though this is something I’ve been hoping for for even longer than TLG, my reaction to this was one of elation. I’m so excited to be able to play one of the games that meant the most to me and really got me back into consoles back in the late 90s, and have it look nice. Those polygons just don’t age very well. Though Sony and Square Enix have made some dick moves regarding this in the past – showing a FF7 tech demo for the PS3 release, announcing a port of the original to PS4, announcing some teeny tiny FF world thing last night right before the remake reveal – they never really entertained the idea of a remake. So for the past 10 years of so I’ve felt a low key kind of hope that they’d remake it eventually, while understanding that it might never happen. But now it’s happening. I may have cried during the trailer.

The Sony presser was quite a roller coaster of emotions.

What do you think about Sony’s big announcements? Excited?

The Witcher 3: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (part 2)

Creating a game with a huge open world like The Witcher leaves a lot of room for error. When the world is so big, the systems are numerous and complex, and there is so much to do and see, it’s not easy to capture every issue in QA nor please everyone with the decisions made. Unsurprisingly, there are a lot of issues.

The Bad

Saves

Let’s start with the big one. I’m playing on XBox One and there’s an issue where the game will just stop saving your progress. Autosave won’t trigger, trying to manually save will return a message saying you can’t save at this time. If you die during this time, the game hangs indefinitely on the load screen. I’ve run into this 3 times and each time ended up losing a couple hours of gameplay. The cause seems to be allowing your game to get suspended, either by leaving it running with no activity or using another game/application without quitting the game. A hard reset is required to fix it. Now that I know the cause I can avoid it, and the developers have said they’re working on a patch, but still – this is really bad.

Accessibility

There are a number of easily fixable accessibility issues. For such a big world, a lot of things are really small.  The font size for text is tiny. It’s likely okay on PC, but as someone who plays on console and sitting 8 feet away from the TV, I really have to strain to read things. The subtitles for speech aren’t so bad, but it’s very difficult to read anything in the menus. Thankfully, this is something that will be patched soon. There’s also a bit of an issue with the symbols on the map. Areas you haven’t completed are indicated by a white symbol, while places you’ve finished are indicated by a slightly darker kind of grey, but really still looks white, because it’s so small symbol.

The Witcher 3 - map

I’m also a bit annoyed that the zone maps are so large that there are (many) times when you can’t zoom out far enough to see both your current location and your objective at the same time. The above image shows the zone map fully zoomed out, and it only shows about a quarter of the zone. Plus, if you zoom out any further, you end up on the world map and annoyingly have to reselect the zone to go back.

Combat

Combat is clunky. I know this isn’t necessarily an opinion shared by all, but I find the animations for each sword swing overly long and you need to wait until they’re completed before you can do anything else. This results in me furiously spamming my Sign button as I’m fighting, trying to finish off a sword strike with some fire to the face, and the game just not responding. It gets worse when you fight multiple enemies as they often come up and hit from behind while you’re still finishing your swing on another opponent and there’s nothing you can do about it. When things are going smoothly it’s not so noticeable but when you’re surrounded or against a tougher enemy, it seems like there’s a frustrating delay between each action.

One thing they did in this game is have Geralt automatically draw the correct sword for the opponent he’s fighting, which is great. When it works. About 5% of the time I find Geralt won’t draw any sword (especially if combat starts after a cutscene) and he’ll just start punching things. The clunky combat is really noticeable here, as if you instinctively do an attack when combat starts, you need to wait for the animation to complete before the game will respond to your command to draw a sword.

UI

The Witcher 3 - inventory screen

Most games, but huge open world RPGs in particular, really need better UI design. The Witcher 3 is no exception. Let’s start with the inventory screen. What a mess. First, there are just way too many items. I just counted and I have 183 items in my Alchemy and Crafting tab. There’s no custom sorting. There’s no search. It’s just a page full of stuff I know very little about.The huge amount of items in The Witcher doesn’t benefit the game in any way. I don’t need to pick up broken rakes or empty vials to be immersed in the world, they really just add clutter. Likewise, it would be easy enough to have fewer herbs and magical ingredients and just use the remaining in more recipes. At the moment I have 16 green mutagens in my inventory. Why? And why aren’t they all at least grouped together in my inventory? Do we really need both leather scraps and leather straps? You can craft or disassemble one into the other, so it makes me question why the need for that extra step.

When it comes to vendors one of my biggest complaints, that I’ve have for the whole series, is that the game gives you no indication if you already have a recipe or a book when you see it for sale. Reading books will often add entries to your bestiary or markers to the map, but only the first time you read it. Since there are dozens (maybe hundreds) of books in the game, it’s hard to keep track of what you’ve already read and what is worth buying. I probably waste a lot of money because of this.

A few other things

It’s nice to have an equine companion in game, but Roach sure is fussy. He listens to your commands when he feels like it, but bridges or changes in terrain will often make him come to a standstill. Also, Geralt’s verbal commands (slower, faster) often don’t even remotely correspond to my inputs.

Repairs. What a chore and a gold sink, especially at the start of the game when gold is hard to come by. Give me convenience over realism any day.

The Witcher 3 - lighting candles

And then there are the candles. So many candles and you can light, or extinguish, all of them! Sometimes the candles are right beside an object you’d like to pick up, or a person you’d like to talk to. It’s no fun having to re-position your camera until you can finally interact with the right thing, rather than playing with a stupid candle over and over again. In the above picture, the candle is laying across a book. Why would I want to light that?! Unless there’s a ‘burn the house down’ objective, don’t let me interact with this. This is going to be patched soon – “Geralt will not longer interact with candles near chests and other interactive elements.” Really, I don’t see a need to be able to interact with candles at all. Light a brazier or torch in a dark dungeon – sure. Candles in houses? No thanks.


Most of these issues aren’t huge, but put together they result in a lot of frustration. Hopefully upcoming patches will resolve a few of these but I have to say, when I buy a game on release day I expect a finished product.

All is not lost, next time I’ll talk about all the things I love about The Witcher 3.