Saturday, January 25, 2020

Rage 2 - The Review



Rage 2 came out to a mixed bag of reviews, and I decided to hold off on getting it until it was on sale (which wasn't too much longer after its original release date). I snagged a copy around the same time I upgraded by laptop, and immediately ran in to some odd game-stopping bugs, odd ones in which the game would work fine then would simply stop loading. The fixes in the forums suggested digging in to the ini files to fix it, which could work....for a little while. So I gave up and waited a few months.

Recently for no reason I could discern other than "I was in the mood" I reloaded Rage 2 on my main rig and dived in. 25 odd hours later I finished the main campaign, which was basically about as satisfying as you might expect any id game ending to be; at the 27 hour mark I'd had enough time to decide the DLC missions weren't interesting enough for me to care.

Anyway....here's what I posted on Steam's review page for posterity:

PROS
--Open Sandbox world is fun to explore; good FPS controls and seamless vehicle controls make for a good time (Note: sandbox world is good for about 20 hours; starts to feel repetitive after that point)

--The core storyline is interesting (not earth shattering, just interesting) and lots of good voice acting (DLC less interesting though)

--The graphics are great, and the game feels very "ID" to me (it feels even more like a spiritual successor to Quake 4 to me than to Rage 1)

--Stuff that was good about the Rage universe from the first game influences and sharpens in this much expanded world

CONS
--The open sandbox world has a lot of "go here, find X objects" quests that are hard to escape if you get bored of them since its the fastest way to get the resources to level up; for my take, I'm fine with these but wish the game's assets were more diverse (why does everyone in the wasteland use pink cover containers to store their cash and feltrite, for example? Couldn't the devs have mixed it up a bit? There's like dozens of other container graphics in the game that are non-interactible! We won;t get confused, seriously...)

--There's a RMT shop filled with overpriced skins and the DLC. In a single player game, yeah. On the plus side the DLC missions are typical "ID DLC" type stuff, but the downside is they aren't very interesting and I just can't bring myself to care to care to complete them.

--Despite the overall storyline, not much beyond finding tablets and phones with story bits on them to flesh out the rest of the world (missing RPG style story elements, essentially); the game aims for a big, expansive world....but this kind of world needs the Fallout treatment, and it's really sorely absent here.

--The game has difficulty grades by location and mission; doesn't always advertise the difficulty of some missions until you're there; too easy and you roflstomp them, too hard and you get murderated endlessly.

NEUTRAL
--The DLC expansions are in the RMT shop and can set you back about $30, but they are the only things you will want to buy from there if you like the base game.

--The game had some weird bugs early on but it appears to be patched to a functional state now.

--You may get tired of "pink chalk color" while playing this game.

--The DLC is very optional, and best only if you desperately find yourself craving more after the main campaign ends (in other words, don't buy it like I did before finishing the main game).

OVERALL

--Solid A for fans of ID shooters and open world games, or fans of post-apoc settings to explore who enjoy the single player experience. DLC is a C- though.

--If you're missing one or more of those requisites then this may or may not appeal to you as much. For me, worth it. Especially if you can find it for $20 on sale.

Monday, January 20, 2020

OSR - Gateway Games?

Today I handed over a copy of Survive This!, For Coin & Blood and an extra copy of Savage Worlds Deluxe Edition along with a mess of spare dice to some local friends of my son. Most of the kids where we live are around 10-13 years old, and my son is only 8, but at least one of them likes reading (I handed him a bunch of comic books to help with his reading skills), likes games, and is trying hard to learn to draw....it's hard not to want to encourage this, especially in an area such as where we live (Albuquerque) where the baseline for education and the economy is so miserable.

Anyway, hopefully his mom doesn't object, but maybe it will give the whole gang something interesting to play soon! They were already hooked on Survive This! after a short time....


Monday, January 6, 2020

The Mandalorian Season 2 this Fall

Thank the Force, but The Mandalorian will be back this fall according to a recent announcement (news bit here).

Tiny post! That was all....just excited to know that the best Star Wars since the original trilogy is set for a return.


2020 Gaming Plans

My tabletop gaming plans for 2020 are very consistent: keep gaming, as much as possible, on the two nights I have free to do it. My strategy toward this end remains simple: keep focused on the game systems that let me maximize my prep to play time, and cater best to my GM style of gaming. So far that means I can safely expect to play more Pathdinder 2nd Edition and Cypher System; indeed, these two games alone encompass almost everything I need in gaming right now for my above outlined requisites. There are other games I would like to try out soon though! These include:

Forbidden Lands - this boxed set which is really just a box to hold two enormous leatherette bound Player and GM guidebooks is an amazing product. It has old school design and a strong focus on exploratory hexcrawl-styled gameplay, with plenty of tools to evolve the story as you go. It's a product so good that even if I can't get my players to try it as a system, I will appropriate its GM content for use in another game.

Alien RPG - this came out in December so I've had no time in 2019 to play it, but for 2020 I would like to run a short campaign at minimum to try it out. I am very much hoping it does what I've always wanted an Alien RPG to do.

Starfinder - I would like to get back to this at some point, especially now that I am looking at the system through "PF2E lenses" which allows Starfinder to make more sense to me.

Cyberpunk Red - I have to be honest....I am not aware of any new games coming out in 2020 that are tempting me right now, other than the hoped for release of the Cyberpunk Red full product. My attempt to secure a print copy of the Introductory Cyberpunk Red has met with continuous failure, but I am very much counting on securing a copy of the final product. 90% of my gaming in college was split between Cyberpunk 2020 and AD&D 2nd edition, so there's a compelling interest for me to get this.

Savage Worlds Adventure Edition - while still being the same game, the new "SWADE" edition of Savage Worlds manages to fix so many little bits and bobs that it's sort of impossible not to love. It fixes things you never knew were broken, but once the fix is seen it cannot be unseen, and I am really eager to play Savage Worlds again, and soon. My only worry is it will take a long time for new updated genre books to arrive.

Outside of the above I keep a small stash of "ready to play" RPGs handy for pick up games, filler sessions, or "we need a break" moments. This bundle includes Traveller (and Cepheus Light by proxy), Swords & Wizardry Complete, White Star and of course Savage Worlds. One game missing from my collection I keep kicking myself about (since I sold it on EBay) was Beyond the Wall, a game which did such a great job of making B/X D&D into something literary and mysterious that I must order new copies again soon, especially now that my son is getting old enough to grokk this stuff properly.

In the end....it is entirely possibly 99.5% of my game time this year is spent with Pathfinder 2nd edition, but I am the GM; my word is law! I just need to put the time and effort into one of these other games to make it happen.



Friday, January 3, 2020

Deathbat's 2020 Predictions!

Here we go: my predictions for 2020. I'll make a single list this time, on the top ten things I want to suggest will happen this year:

10. Wizards of the Coast will announce a "Player's Handbook 2"

It might not be called PH2, but I think we're due for one of these, especially now that Eberron is in the mix. If they don't produce a PH2, then I will fall to my backup pediction: a Spelljammer sourcebook.

9. Paizo will announce playtesting on a 2nd edition of Starfinder

Starfinder is a PF1.5 system, and it shows. It has more in common with the new Pathfinder 2E, but enough left overs from PF1E to make compatibility an issue. Now that they've refined their key design with PF2E, Starfinder could really benefit from such an update. I expect I'll be wrong on this, but my secondary prediction is: a more comprehensive PF2E to Starfinder conversion document will be released at some point.

8. Playstation 5 will be the early contender for Console Winner

This prediction is based on the fact that Xbox and Microsoft appear to be moving toward a focus on "any device will play our games," which dilutes their exlusive content, and their Xbox consoles seem to be focused on being more digital than ever, with a big push toward the Xbox Live services and games on demand. There's a market for this, but I think when it comes to consoles that exclusives can really count, ad Nintendo and Sony are well aware. If I can play Gears of Wars and Halo titles on PC, why do I need an Xbox? Answer: I don't.

7. We still won't see a BRP book or Mythic Iceland in 2020

I think Chaosium's current crew is just not interested in BRP as a brand in the way the older fans think of it, and as such I think they are shifting focus to new IPs such as Rivers of London and that RPG about kitsune. Will this work for them? Time will tell, but it's probably not a bad idea to branch out and experiment a bit in this era of RPGs.

6. D101 Games Will Produce OpenQuest 3rd Edition

OpenQuest 3rd Edition was in the works last year according to Newt Newport's posts, and while it didn't come out (that I am aware of), I have high hopes we will see the 10th anniversary edition show up this year. I sincerely hope it arrives; I consider OpenQuest and Mythras the "heart of BRP" now that Chaosium has realigned its focus with a more setting-specific style of game approach.

5. New Flying Buffalo product in 2020

With the tragic loss of Rick Loomis it looks like Steve Crompton and co. are stepping up to take over, and I am very hopeful they will carry the torch for FLying Buffalo. I expect (hope) to see some new stuff this year as a result, maybe even a Kickstarter or two. Fingers crossed!

4. A Real SF RPG Based on D20/5th Edition

The market is rife with experiments right now, but what we need is either WotC or a proper licensed 3rd party to step up to plate and dominate this sector with a fully functional, properly realized SF RPG powered by the 5th edition sytem. It can happen! Someone prove me right here.

3. A New (possibly Kickstarted) Edition of GURPS in some form

I don't actually believe this will happen; think of this more as wishful thinking. But hear me out: SJGames has seen that there's enough niche interest in GURPS to support Dungeon Fantasy RPG. They've gotten quite good at Kickstarters. Their site shows both Campaigns and Characters books for 4E going out of stock. Maybe its because they plan to do a Kickstarted revamp sometime soon? Hey, it could happen!

2. That Aliens video game will get announced for next gen consoles

I bet we will actually, finally hear about an actual Alien video game, pitched as a possible sequel of sorts to Isolation, for a 2020 or 2021 release date on the next gen consoles. Gotta happen this time!

1. Switch Pro Announced in 2020

Nintendo moves to its own beat, but I bet they will finally announce the hinted/teased existence of the planned Switch Pro edition next year, though it may only be an announcement with a 2021 release date. We shall see!

Bonus: FAR FETCHED PREDICTION: WotC announces a 5.5 rerelease of D&D core books, or announces plans for 6th edition to release in 2021.

I don't think it will happen, but with 5E now hitting 7 years its getting around the time these sorts of things happen. WotC could in theory release updated editions with minor revisions that remain fully backwards compatible; that would be smart and cool; but I think 2020 is the earliest we could start making these sorts of predictions and have any degree of potential success. We shall see!




Thursday, January 2, 2020

Games Actually Completed in 2019

2019 was an atrocious year for me. From the perspective of being a dad, and my business, it was incredibly busy; but for purposes of discreet entertainment in the form of video games it was filled with more games than I have bought in one year, hands down, but with my lowest volume of free time to actually play.

Still, I did finish a few games, specifically:

Resident Evil 7 

I was trapped on the sequence where the redneck patriarch chainsaws you to death for like a year or more before finally getting through it then blasting through the game over a weekend. I was most surprised when late in the game's chapters it suddenly turned into a more or less normal Resident Evil title.

Call of Cthulhu

The actual playtime I spent on this was only about 9 hours, but it as intermittent over months...as if I needed to savor the discreet chapters for overly long periods of time. My ultimate assessment was: fun and worth it for CoC fans, but the storyline got a bit nonsensical at the end and the mythos elements were uncharacteristically chatty as Cthulhu tropes go.

Destiny 2 (up through Forsaken)

Though arguably one is never done with Destiny, I did manage to finish all the specific story content up to and through Forsaken. I look forward to meaningfully exploring Shadowkeep at last now, though due to the weird way Destiny parses out scenarios I am still mopping up random stuff I missed.

Gears of War 4

Yeah, believe it or not, I did not properly complete this game until earlier this year. I am trying (hopefully) to finish Gears 5 much sooner. As for Gears 4? It was fun, but not as engaging in the long run as the original trilogy. Gears 5 is already shaping up to be much better, though.

Mafia III

I didn't so much finish Mafia III as reach a point where the dark message of misery in the game became too overwhelming, and I suddenly realized I did not want to spend time with these characters in this grim depiction of New Orleans in the 1960s anymore. I think I was about halfway through the game at the point where I just suddenly hit this wall of unpleasantness.

Watchdogs 2

I played this game to death, and then kept playing. I finally more or less gave up this year, but only after completing the entire campaign in 2018, and as much bonus content as I could stomach before at last the virtual world of San Francisco started feeling a bit too familiar to me. All told, I got a lot of time out of this game, which I started in 2017 on the PS4. I have a copy on Steam....entertaining the idea of starting a new game all over again.

Fortnite

Fortnite can never be finished as such, merely stopped. Thankfully this year I stopped (well, until last night, when I logged in to claim all the free stuff for their Winter Event and then ended up playing through 9 more season ranks....so yeah grain of salt on this quitting thing!)

Games in Progress

Absent from this list are titles I am working on. Yes, even Resident Evil 2 Remake, which I love, I have yet to complete (in my defense I really wanted to finish RE7 first before diving in to it). So, these include:

Legrand Legacy - I love this retro style fantasy RPG on Switch; it's also on Steam. I bet I'm about 20% of the way through it.
Pillars of Eternity - plowing through on the Switch slowly.
Anthem - I play this one in 1-2 hour spurts every month or so. I'm at the grindy part of the game, not sure I can motivate myself to care, even though I like the core gameplay.
Resident Evil 2 Remake - this is really on my priority list; I started it on PS4, but now have a copy on Steam and want to restart it.
Ghost Recon: Breakpoint - working on it! This game will last me years.
Generation Zero - the tale of Swedes vs. giant robots is something I grabbed over Xmas and have been playing obsessively for the last couple days, but can tell by my progress it is designed to last a long time. More on this one later!
Deadly Premonition: Origins - played on Xbox 360 long ago, replaying on Switch, about 1/3 of the way through so far.
Horizon: Zero Dawn - still trying to finish this one! I put Days Gone on hold until I do. I think I'm about halfway through, hard to say. The game is easy to get distracted in, and so much fun. Don't know why I haven't focused on it more.

I'm leaving a few titles like Baldur's Gate series, Assassin's Creed III and AC IV on Switch off, because while I've spent some time with them, these are just to kill spots of time here or there and not serious playthroughs. I completed both of these titles years ago, just happen to enjoy the replay on the Switch in a moment of boredom.

Okay, there you go....the "state of play" for an obsessively finicky gamer with a short attention span and not enough time to get anything done (but too many games in the mix to settle on just one).

For 2020 I plan to commit firmly to buying no more than 12 games the whole year (one a month). I'm hoping that forces me to slow down a bit on the purchase to finish ratio of titles in my collection. If buying 12 games in a year sounds like a lot to you, then I salute you and your fantastic resolve (whether it be due to your own willpower or lack of cash!)

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Postmortem on 2019 Predictions - Video Game Edition

For 2019 I made a few notable predictions for the video game hobby as follows:

1. Epic Games Will Get some Legs (TRUE)

It's fair to say this came to pass. Through the use of lots of free games and a rapidly growing library of exclusives motivated by the smaller take on profit Epic charges, the storefront has grown enough to be difficult to ignore. If you want to play a lot of this year's big releases then Epic Games Store or console are your only choices. The real question will be: how long can they keep this up? And if Fortnite starts to dry up (and I predict it will in 2020), what will happen then?

2. Call of Duty gets its campaign back (TRUE)

Yep, it sure did. And I will admit: a pretty good campaign, too. Good thing I didn't predict it would move away from deep monetization schemes in multiplayer!

3. Bioware will announce a new Mass Effect or Dragon Age game (MIXED)

Technically Bioware has admitted to working on a new Dragon Age....eventually. But this was an announcement I felt tied in to damage control over Anthem, so I am not sure it counts?

4. Fortnite will be replaced by a new hotness...in 2020 (MIXED)

I still think this is working out as predicted. They wrapped their ten season arc and opened up with a Chapter 2 event not long ago, and I bet a lot of people bailed on this Chapter 2 Season 1 version of the game as I did. On the other hand, my kid is now 8 and still loves Fortnite; there's a strange thing going on here, though: average Fortnite players who are adults are aware that Epic introduced bots to regular play to fill out the ranks and make life easier for bad or middling gamers. Young gamers do not realize this, and my son is more dedicated to the game now that he thinks he is a Fortnite champion with several solo Victory Royales under his belt.

Here's the problem, though....does he have real victories under his belt? Are they victories against bots? Who knows? And when I played Chapter 2, I found the new version of the game simultaneously less interesting and also far too familiar; I quit a couple weeks in and gave up entirely. My son has thankfully been fine with playing other multiplayer games with old dad; but for me, it got to be entirely too much, and now getting back in to it feels like too much work. I bet I am not alone in that crowd.

Epic's success going forward will be an even mix of keeping streamers engaged and kids excited. If they keep it up, 2020 should be okay for them....we'll see.

5. New Alien Game (TRUE--technically)

Well, technically there was, just in the form of a tabletop print RPG which I did not predict! But as far as video games go there are vague tales of a shooter MMO set in the Alien universe under development (low expectations set), and a mobile app titled Aliens: Blackout was released. Honestly, for the fortieth anniversary of Alien as a franchise the best parts this year were the tabletop RPG and the series of six film shorts made on Youtube.

6. Assassin's Creed Gets a Break (TRUE)

They did! No new AC game was announced this year, and I bet the next one will be timed to release with the next generation of consoles next year.

7. Obscure Corner of Gaming Revived (FALSE)

There are so many games out there it's hard to keep up, but to tie myself down to specifics in the prediction I suggested some sort of horrifying Dark Souls meets Myst/Riven style game could emerge. If I had to identify an actual trend this year, it would be "porn games from Japan on Steam."

The Weird Predictions:

1. I'll catch up on Assassin's Creed at last. False. I did not finish any of the AC games still on my menu. In a twist on a twist, rather than play the three latest games, I started replaying AC III and AC IV on Switch once they released, instead.

2. I'll grow tied of The Division 2. True! Yes, this happened, though ironically my interest lately is renewed.

3. I will buy Call of Duty for the campaign, but it will fail to innovate. Half true; I bought it on sale, but the campaign innovated by being extremely interesting and frankly riveting...so kudos to them. I avoided feeling bad by choosing to avoid the multiplayer trap entirely. I bought the basic edition of the game on a nice discount instead.

4. I will grow sick of Fortnite but still play as a dad. False. Hah! I stopped playing two weeks in to Chapter 2 and have not looked back, though as a good dad I did buy skins my son really wanted for one of his Xmas presents.

5. I will finish Zelda: Breath of the Wild this year, possibly in December. False! Not even my wife has finished it, and she can be hardcore about Nintendo. I play this one in periodic 2-4 hour bursts once every month or two. At this rate, I'll finish it right when the Switch lifecycle comes to a close.

My actual record of completed games this year looks more like a blast from the past than a current games list. More on that in a future post...



Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Postmortem: The Predictions for 2019 - RPG Edition

Okay then! Here's what I predicted for 2019. First off, for tabletop RPGs:

1. A new D&D sourcebook based on a known property. (TRUE)

I may have been hoping for Spelljammer, but I mentioned it might be Eberron, and sure enough I was right. And a pretty good sourcebook, too!

2. No Far West this year (TRUE)

I was probably reading Erik Tenkar's blog this year, which I notice has far few entries these days (I guess he's on other media such as Facebook which I don't frequent?) and his Far West updates have been endlessly interesting. This was a very safe bet, though...and sure enough, so far as I can determine there was no motion forward on this ancient Kickstarter at all. I could make this prediction into perpetuity I suspect with little chance of inaccuracy. I didn't even back this one; it's just interesting to watch a metaphorical publishing train wreck in action for so long.

3. Modiphius Goes Critical This Year (FALSE)

I think my prediction here was that Modiphius will finally grow too large and have some trouble, experience some financial stress, or otherwise show signs of slowing down at some point; so far this appears to be entirely false....Modiphius has so much stuff going on I can't even keep track anymore.

4. Four Releases for D&D This Year (TRUE AND...)

Did this happen? Per Wizards' site, they actually had 8 key products out this year if you include the Tacical Maps pack, Acquisitions Incorporated, Rise of Tiamat reprint and all the other books. So yep, definitely. If we get another 8 books in 2020 I'll be quite happy, to be honest.

5. Pathfinder 2.0 will please the hardcore 1E fans, capture curious new interest, but fail to expand beyond the base (MIXED)

I'm going to suggest we don't yet have enough info to figure this one out, but it does seem that we have the following camps on Pathfinder 2nd edition so far:
1. The entirely new fan base who love this game, perhaps coming over from D&D 5E or coming back to Pathfinder after a long absence (like me);
2.  Fans of 1E seem not to be converting to the new game if their whole group doesn't (but I am really not seeing angry 1E fans complaining, either);

But Pathfinder 2E's key problem it turns out isn't with converting existing 1E fans; it's getting the attention of the vast swarm that plays D&D 5E almost exclusively to anything else. All I can hope for this coming year is that it continues to do well, as my entire group loves it and plays it exclusively now, and I love it's ease of access for GMs.

6. Palladium may go belly up (FALSE)

So I don't think this actually happened, but it also seems like Palladium is still in a downward spiral. I'll suggest that Palladium, in its current state, may inevitably perish within the next few years unless it can course correct.

7. The Fantasy Trip Gets a Serious Revival (TRUE)

I have a vast stack of Fantasy Trip books, sets, modules and fanzines that prove this true! The question is, will it continue for 2020? And will I ever find time to play it?

8. BRP Revised finally appears (FALSE)

Not only did BRP not appear in any form (not even a 32 page book or Mythic Iceland), but based on what seems to be going on at Chaosium I predict nothing of the sort will likely appear in 2020 either, with them now focused more on keeping Call of Cthulhu in the limelight, followed by a single new Runequest book released in PDF at the end of this year, and some obscure project based on an obscure IP I have never heard of (Rivers of London) planned for the future; this is either a brilliant efffort to market to a younger crowd that recognizes this IP, or a telling sign that it will be a niche prestige product which does not grow the BRP field beyond the highly focused interest of specific fans.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Year in Review: Movies in 2019

This was a grotesque, weird year for movies. I personally think it all boils down to the nine-foot tall purple gorilla in the room: Avengers: Endgame came out this year (remember that movie?!?!?) and it overshadowed everything else before and after it. The rest of the year was, at best, a middling to average year for movies, with a vast number of serious duds in the mix.

So here are the high (and low) moments I noticed for 2019:

The MCU's Grand Finale Couldn't Be Beat

Avengers: Endgame dominated, so maybe other films knew they couldn't compete and dished out their subpar content instead? This argument doesn't really hold up; lots of movies this year clearly thought they had the chops to contend. No movie this year (not even Star Wars Rise of Skywalker) could possibly hold up to the 20-film long conclusion to the MCU juggernaut.

I think it is more likely that, outside of the sharp contrast of a monumental conclusion to a united film series in the final Avengers film, every other film this year suffered from a dearth of new content ideas; even the really good movies suffered from this simply by comparison; Shazam was great, but really just the Superman film we didn't get with Man of Steel. Terminator Dark Fate was an impressive film to the few people who saw it, but really just the Terminator 3 we wanted but didn't get back in the day. Spider-Man: Far From Home was proof a Marvel movie could be fun post-Endgame, but also still very much a continuation of the "let's fix Sony's horrible mistakes from the past" kind of movie.

The Duds Were Many And Prolific

Hollywood flooded the theaters this year with movies which couldn't hold a candle to the major blockbusters. If your movie wasn't a Disney film, then as a director, producer or distributor you were probably sweating in your boots this year. The list of distinct duds....movies which fell flat or failed to stand out in the crowd in a meaningful was way was shocking. In prior decades these were called "normal films," but today, anything lacking the clever polish of an MCU film when it comes to action blockbusters seems doomed to fail.

Examples I was subjected to (some I enjoyed, some not so much) were prolific: X-Men Dark Phoenix, Zombieland Double Tap, Hellboy, Men in Black International, Godzilla: King of the Monsters....all of these movies came out this year, and I ended up seeing them. Of these movies, each had something good, but some were grimly bad in weird ways. It could just be me; as I get older and more curmudgeonly (it's a horrible thing to feel your mind and body aging into something less pleasant, something which disdains fun in the conventional sense) but honestly....none of these films really "had it" regardless.

Streaming Got Complicated and Expensive

You can't just subscribe to Netflix anymore. Now you need to consider at minimum four or five streaming apps for your entertainment if you're serious about watching TV or have a family to entertain. It's annoying; we thought we were moving away from the cable companies, but in a sense we're right back where we started; too much money, spread too thin for the entertainment value.

I've personally continued to maintain my subscriptions to Netlix, DC Universe, Disney+, Shudder and Curiosity Stream....but five services is honestly too much for the actual amount of time spent watching TV in my "mostly gamer" house. 2-3 stations almost feels like too much! But such is the era we now live in.

Star Wars IX Ended an Era and The Mandalorian Started an Era

I've worked through my antipathy for Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker; I may post more (like I haven't enough already) but I've decided it was totally fine, even if it's plot and pacing sucked, in terms of a Star Wars film. I recalled having similar feelinsg of antipathy for Return of the Jedi when it came out; in 1983 the RotJ movie felt like something for my younger self from age 7-10, not my 12-13 year old self; I had moved on from Star Wars (at the time). Now, decades later, I realize I was prepared to go in expecting the movie to be bad; actively looking for it. That Abrams accomodated with lots of obnoxious plot and pacing issues was a coincidence; I could have overlooked many of those, as I had in all the other movies. Honestly....I suspect that, except for Revenge of the Sith (which I loved), I think I just experience burnout with Star Wars periodically and it just so happens the release of this movie coincides with that period of burnout.

But what about The Mandalorian, which itself kicks off an era of streaming films for Star Wars? I totally love it....but also probably because it feels so different from the latest movies; Mandalorian is a thing unto itself; something which manages to get back to an old version and style of Star Wars I had forgotten I loved so much.

Crap! Writing about Star Wars again. Okay....enough of this for now....will dig up my predictions from the beginning of the year next to analyze for accuracy (or lack therof).



Sunday, December 29, 2019

Year in Review: Video Gaming in 2019

Video Games in 2019 had a metric ton of stories, almost all of which boil down to the following key points:

1. A game franchise spits out a new entry which is too much like (or not enough like) prior iterations and fans don't like it

2. A Triple A publisher comes up with or evolves an insidious monetization scheme which gets people mad (even though they seem to mostly continue buying the product --cough cough Call of Duty cough cough--). Bonus points if a country in Europe is suing the publisher for predatory monetization practices!

3. An indie developer is torn with strife after some inappropriate twitch comment, remark or Who Knows What and mayhem ensues in certain online sites.

4. Very occasionally a new game or a new iteration pops up that gets great reviews....but most gamers can feel it in the air; we're just a bit over a year away from two new console releases, and the big dogs are pulling back most of their special projects for this new console release to maximize their press. Anything coming out between now and new Fall season should be looked at as the "final release cycle" for this generation (for big dog triple A publishers, anyway).

...and on and on. The video game news cycle seems trapped in a feedback loop of epic proportions. When the news that sounds amazing is something like, "Hey, EA made a Star Wars game that did not maximize monetization and focused on a single player experience!" then you know your hobby has issues.

Generalizing the trend toward click-bait/negativity aside in this hobby, here's four trends and stories which kept my attention this year:

Resident Evil 2 Remake Revived the Series a Second Time

Resident Evil 7 was a great game in its own right, but it was only nominally a RE game in the sense that it pretended to be a new-style survival horror game at first, then bait-and-switched to a regular RE game toward the end. Resident Evil 2 Remake did a brilliant job of showing that that classic style of survival horror can stand on its own two feet, and that it is possible to do exactly that style of game with modern graphics and controls just fine. Easily the best game of the year for me!

Epic Games Gives Steam Some Competition (For Better and Worse)

For most of this year Epic Games has grown its storefront, tempted players with free games, and learned the hard way about how to handle a sales event. Their storefront is missing so many features. On the one hand, I recall 2004 when the Steam Store was a crappy prereq to get Half Life 2, but this isn't 2004; Epic, if you want to know what a good storefront looks like, check Steam out now.

In Epic's defense, their store functions about as well as Origin, Uplay or the travesty that is Bethesda's platform. It pales in comparison to the monster that Steam has become, and do not forget about GOG, which is easily the best overall storefront for the discerning DRM-free content we all want.

Games as Service is a Horrible, Horrible Thing (and it won't go away)

This year we watched the following things happen:

Anthem appeared and subsequently tanked; EA/Bioware dragged out its survival rate as they clearly planned to have a ton of post-launch plans for it, but then it turns out the contemporary consumerist culture of gamers who don't value games which can't hold their interest for 1,000 hours got pissed off and left. Given that Anthem probably couldn't reliably offer more than 50 hours of fun for anyone, I think there were identified issues well before release.

Destiny 2 broke free of Activision and went free to play with premium expansion content in Forsaken and Shadowkeep. On the plus side Destiny 2 is an awesome game to play; on the downside, it's now riddled (more than ever, it feels like to me) with freemium games-as-service content in the form of the item shop and the seasonal passes, all driven to keep a person playing content well beyond the sparse but entertaining story missions which are the only thing I really care about in Destiny 2. I miss the good old days of discrete single-player campaign content, or even the format of the original Destiny, which was a mellow blend of the two with less forced monetization.

Ghost Recon: Breakpoint tried to do this, and Ubisoft had a "come to Money Jebus" moment apparently when they realized that releasing this game and The Division 2 in the same year may have been "too much similar content, not enough distinguishing features" for the general audience. While I have been enjoying Breakpoint quite a bit, none of these issues are incorrect; they had big plans to make this game a Games as Service experience, and still plan to, apparently....unlike EA, Ubisoft doesn't just give up on a game until they've tried their hardest. I'll stick around for the ride, I think...but I will not spend any real money in their in-game store; that would be idiotic.

Countless other games continue to toy with this formula, even as other old classic MMOs try to remain relevant or update their process for the game. It's pretty horrible, overall.....thankfully there are still plenty of great single player experiences to be found; but finding good multiplayer games that aren't deeply and intrusively monetized is getting harder and harder.

Year of the Switch

The Switch had an enormously stand-out year in 2019. It released the Switch Lite while flooding the market with interesting new games and a metric ton of classic and old school titles upgraded for handheld consumption. This was an amazing year for gamers who care more about gaming then whether the console can pump out 4K resolution or not; and also for gamers looking to maximize their local co-op experiences. Family gaming on the Switch is the easiest option for gamers looking to play locally with kids and wives and such. For myself this is the console all members of my household each have one of, and the system we commiserate the most on (even if our tastes0 vary wildly, with the kid playing Fortnite and Pokemon, mom playing Luigi's Mansion 3 and the other Pokemon and dad playing Deadly Premonition and Legrand Legacy or something).

So those are the interesting trends this year in video games I noticed....sure, there are plenty of other stories floating around, but I have to say I think these were the ones which kept me most excited!