Game Industry Quest, Part 01

One thing I love about the game industry is how everything flows.  Oftentimes, we (including yours truly) tend to look at things as if they exist in a static bubble: unchanging and rigid.  Truthfully, the more I think about it, things and people change all the time, and yet for some reason this progression of sorts is not always taken into account.

But I digress…(I probably should have titled this blog that.)

For this introductory post, where I need to talk about 4 game-related topics, I’ll stick to some 2011 news that I would have commented on when the news was initially released.

1.) The Nintendo Wii U

The Nintendo Wii U

A gaming tablet thingie combines with some 360-ish looking console to form...the Wii U! Form blazing sword!

My initial thoughts are how comfortable it will be to play with the Wii U’s tablet interface.  I see the analog sticks…the picture doesn’t show it, but there are triggers so traditional console controls for shooters can be played.  Furthermore, being comparable in power level to XBox 360 and PS3, it opens the door to multi-platform development, though I wonder if Nintendo will have requirements to have touchpad functionality.  For example, could Activision publish essentially the same Call of Duty game on all three consoles and not be required to have the game “take advantage” of the tablet interface?  As an aside, I know Batman: Arkham City will be coming out on the Wii U, and I assume the experience will basically be similar to XBox 360 / PS3, but again will there be exclusive Wii U controller functionality?  I can understand if Nintendo will have that requirement in place for third parties, but considering the lack of third party support on the Wii, I can’t help but think that it would be in Nintendo’s best interest to encourage and support third parties by not making it a requirement to support the Wii U’s controller functionality (like “Must use touch screen,” for example.)  If a multi-platform release doesn’t necessarily call for touch screen use, why must it be used?  To have it tacked on rather than be part of the project’s scope seems…unwise.  Then again, I’ve been wrong before…actually often as of late, but I digress.

Another couple of other thoughts that flow through my head is how Nintendo will respond if and when Microsoft and Sony release their new consoles.  Despite the talk of the cloud, if I had to make a prediction based on the state of the economy and how quickly people are adopting new technologies (blu-ray, 3d, cloud computing, etc.) I suspect that Microsoft and Sony will be releasing a next generation Playstation and XBox.  The only question for myself is when?  Conversely, how will Nintendo respond to their rivals?  Ultimately, what is the hardware life cycle of the Wii U?  Is a Wii U 2 already on the horizon?

I also find the cost of the console curious.  How much will the Wii U cost?  With absolutely no insider knowledge, if I had to guess…$299.99-$349.99 is the price range I would put the Wii U, with the former being the exact price would estimate if asked for a more specific guess.

I got away from the ergonomics of the tablet, but just looking at it, I’m not completely convinced that it’d be comfortable to play with that particular tablet controller for long periods of time.  There’s a reason the XBox 360 and PS3 controllers are designed as they are.  The following statement is a vast oversimplification, and intended with zero malice, but an iPad with analog sticks and triggers does not a controller make.

2.) The PSP Vita

The Sony PSP Vita

It only took Sony six+ years to add that second analog "nub" I've desired since the release of the original PSP.

Two contextual details before I go into my thoughts on the PSP Vita. Firstly, I do not own a smart phone at the moment, and thus have not experienced playing games on a phone.  Secondly, I am an early adopter of the Nintendo 3DS, which has not been great, but pretty good as far as handheld gaming is concern.  But I digress…

The PSP Vita looks impressive and yet I won’t be an early adopter for the device.  One thing that concerns me about the device is the battery life.  The battery life of the Nintendo 3DS isn’t all that great.  In fact, I intend to dedicate a future post to an imprecise experiment I’ll be running in the future.

The PSP-1000, which I was an early adopter of, had rather poor battery life.  Somewhere around the realm of 90+ minutes, which I would honestly grade as poor for a mobile device.  Also, the PSP-1000, with a single analog “nub,” forced developers to remap their controls for the Playstation ports that plagued the early days for the system.

On a side note, whoever thought Playstation ports would help sell the system early on may not have entirely thought things through.

Anyways, the PSP-1000 sits in a desk in my parents home, collecting dust.  That’s not to say great games have not appeared on the system.  On the contrary, I submit that great games can be found on any system.  However, is it worth investing in a newer PSP to play these games, especially with the impending release of the PSP Vita?

There’s another point to consider that applies to both Nintendo and Sony; with the success of mobile gaming on smartphones, iPods (portable music players), and iPads (tablet PCs), how will this impact 3DS and Vita sales?  I’m sure there are many factors as to why the 3DS has not sold as well as Nintendo would have liked, and I’d like to think the success of their mobile counterparts is one of these factors.  When the Vita is released, how will it be impacted by this factor?

Also, it doesn’t help that Sony chose AT&T as their exclusive 3G partner for the Vita, not that there’s anything wrong with that.  However, I think the collective groan at Sony’s E3 press conference is telling to this point.

3.) Dragon Age II

Dragon Age II

Not as great as it's predecessor, but still worth playing in my opinion.

I have no aspirations to become a game reviewer / critic.  With that said, considering Dragon Age is a franchise I’ve come to love, it’s really no surprise that I have thoughts about their most recent game, as well as some phenomenon that impacts the franchise as a whole.  Also please keep in mind that these are ultimately personal opinions and observations; nothing more, nothing less.

I actually want to commend the Dragon Age 2 development team.  Considering the presumably short development cycle the game had, it’s actually impressive that the game was as good as it was when one keeps that in mind.  With that acknowledged, I’ll also say that in my opinion, combat was improved from Dragon Age: Origins.  It was more visceral, more engaging and yet managed to retain a strong tactical experience.  However, with that said, the removal of the isometric view camera from the PC version of the game was, in my opinion, a mistake.  I spent so much of Dragon Age: Origins playing from that viewpoint, and ultimately feel that the isometric view was tactically the most compelling.  You could more or less see the entire battlefield and tactically plan accordingly.  Considering the advantages it lent to the player, as well as the ad copy that was used months leading up to the release (off the top of my head: fight like a spartan, think like a general), again, its removal was…baffling.

However, despite the improved combat system, the actually seemingly endless battles became an exercise in monotony and frustration.  Why is that so, if the battle system is improved?  Simply put, care must be taken in planning your battle encounters.  People were quick to jump on the reused environments, but I’m more inclined to believe that’s just a single element of planning encounters and there are several other elements that should have been considered just as strongly.  To pull from tabletop roleplaying games like Dungeons & Dragons, care must be taken in planning your encounters, as one could view an adventure as a series of encounters.  Simply putting a dozen dragons into a dungeon is lazy planning, and is at least in part what separates a good dungeon master from a great dungeon master.  There are many elements that must be considered, from enemy placement, how will second and third waves enter the fray, enemy AI, types of enemies, environments used, etc.  Ultimately, the encounters just felt, for lack of a better word, lazily planned.  Again, I would say time was a factor in the planning, or lack thereof, with regards to the many battle encounters.  To put things in context, every single battle in Dragon Age: Origins felt different to me, from the minor skirmishes, to the large boss battles.  Sometime around the second act, virtually every battle felt the same with a few notable exceptions.

A final constructive criticism I have refers to an advertisement leading up to Dragon Age II.  I need to preface that Bioware is not the only company guilty of what I’m about to describe.  A beautiful trailer played advertising the game, called Destiny, portraying a male Hawke in combat with the Qunari Arishok (the menacing, horned guy).  There were tons of cool things going on in the trailer, such as a mage seemingly having combat skills close to a warrior and ending with a powerful spell that looked vicious and satisfying.  The problem is that none of that cool stuff was present in game.  Case in point, while a well built mage is certainly capable of defeating the Arishok in single combat, one could certainly not engage the Arishok in melee combat and hold his/her own.  The Arishok would tear a mage apart under those circumstances.  The exaggerated combat skills were disappointing.  To top that all off, the spell that was cast at the end of the trailer is not in game.  Ultimately, the point I’m trying to make (and failing miserably) is to not include cool looking stuff in a trailer/cut scene that the player cannot do in game.  It more or less guarantees disappointment for the player.  I’m not saying to not make a beautiful, stylized trailer to advertise a product, but I’d recommend keeping any such media grounded in the reality of the what the game allows players to do and not do.

4.) Star Wars: The Old Republic

Star Wars: The Old Republic

I honestly cannot wait for this game to be released!

I’m not into MMO’s.  That’s not to say I’ve never been tempted.  In fact, since I’m more or less a comic book nerd with a love of superheroes, I’m shocked that I never got into DC Universe Online, much less Champions Online or City of Heroes.  I managed to exercise just enough willpower to stay away, as the paranoid side of me feared that I would become hopelessly addicted.

So what makes Star Wars: The Old Republic so special?  To be honest, I used to love Star Wars as much as anyone else, but it’s honestly been reduced to a high liking due to the prequel movies.  With that said, I’m taking a risk with Star Wars: The Old Republic, and it’s all due to my faith in Bioware to develop a great game.  I’m also thinking of performing a Let’s Play of my experience with the MMO.  I’d like to think it might make for amusing entertainment, as I completely mess everything up.

Extra Points

Due to the lateness of the post, relevant (I use the term objectively) game industry news seems to crop up.  Since I want to improve my blogging by minimizing being late to the party, it would be smart to mention some of the goings on this past week.

Extra Point 1: Steve Jobs Resigning as CEO of Apple.

Is this really game industry news?  Does Apple even view themselves as being in the game industry?  I personally would argue that this not only qualifies as gaming news, but that Apple is absolutely a part of the game industry.  I’ve already mentioned in this massive post that it’s reasonable to assume that their portable devices have taken some of Nintendo’s (and presumably Sony’s) mobile gaming market share. With regards to his successor and whether Apple can thrive without Jobs at the helm, I personally would take a wait and see approach.  I would be shocked if Apple falls far from their perch, but then again, before Jobs came and rejuvenated the company, Apple was not exactly setting the world on fire like they are now.

Incidentally, I’m hoping Tim Cook strongly considers releasing the iPotato.

I honestly know about as much about Steve Jobs as what is written, and thus it makes it hard to judge him except by how the press judges him.  With that said, he always struck me as an extremely intelligent, driven and creative individual.  He also struck me as a man who personally is not into gaming.  I honestly don’t know if the latter is true, but hopefully in his retirement he can perhaps be turned around on that point, and play a few games.  Who knows, perhaps playing games will improve his health.  A little fun never hurt anyone.

Extra Point 2: GameStop Pulling OnLive Coupons From PC Copies of Deux Ex: Human Revolution

Apparently, GameStop began to do what the title says.  Their reasoning is that Square Enix did not tell them about this coupon and they are not interested in helping their competition.  It’s hard to know where the communication breakdown occurred between GameStop and Square Enix without being privy to all the details, but for GameStop to open packages, remove a coupon, then sell the product as brand new is not the most ethical business practice I’ve ever heard, in my opinion.  At this point, my understanding is that they’ve stopped selling the product altogether, which is a move I much more approve.

With all that said, mistakes happen; we’re only human.  However, GameStop’s decisions regarding these mistakes are…mildly disturbing.  I’m no businessman, but I can’t see how difficult it would be to request Square Enix to humbly stop packaging these coupons with the game, and simply sell the stock that has made it to stores as is.  The idea that they don’t want to support a competitor to their own online game services is valid, but other stores that sell the exact same game with the exact same coupon can use that point to do the same.  So the question is, why aren’t Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart, etc. opening Deus Ex: Human Revolution packages, removing coupons, and selling them as new?

Personally, if I could address GameStop’s “leadership”, I would ask them a simple question:

Optimus Prime, Leader of the Autobots

Only the greatest leader in the history of all fictional leaders!

What would Optimus Prime do?

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