Saturday, March 23, 2019
Within the indie scene it's not a particularly new phenomenon. FTL had it with regards to the final boss. Both Banner Saga and its sequel had absurd last boss battles as well. Bad North (before the developer patched in an easy mode) had a smattering of islands that were essentially deathtraps in which the reward for completing them didn't measure up to the amount of foes the player had to face off against. SOMA had a particularly ruthless hunter enemy toward the end of the game that (for some) ruined the overall experience. This eventually resulted in the addition of a "safe-mode," which much to my surprise, bumped sales of the game up significantly. Other indie titles like Rain World and Wargroove have a problem where the early part of each game is reasonable enough, but quickly turns into grewling slog as the challenge ramps up to become more frustrating than fun...again...patches eventually addressed these problems. So, all this begs the question, why do indie developers do this sort of thing to their games?
When it comes to the free-to-play model there is a manipulative logic to it. Difficulty spikes are deliberately inserted at key points in the game in order to incentivise real-money purchases of in-game power boosts. It sucks, but these games are technically free so I'm not sure how much one can justifiably complain about it - better to not play anymore than resentfully fork money over.
Indie games (like old-school games) can't do the self-perpetuating grind that is live services (unless they're a rogue-like), but they have a sodded bag of tricks at their disposal if the goal is to retain engagement by any means possible. Regardless of budget, genre or studio though, I'm convinced that it's always better to end a game with the player wanting a little bit more than a heck of a lot less.
Friday, March 15, 2019
Front Mission is made up of five mainline games and seven standalone titles. The side games vary from middling to downright bad, but the five sequential titles are all solid. That said, each iteration isn't especially different from its predecessors. When comparing the original SNES Front Mission to Front Mission 4 on the PS2 the differences mostly come down to visuals and a new subsystem or two. Because the fundamental mechanics don't change all that much, it's the story and setting that make each entry unique. The first game takes place on a fictional island in the pacific, the second in the middle-east, the third in asia, and so on. Generally, the stories told are international technothrillers with the primary distinction being the "wanzers." These mechs-by-another-name are every gearhead's dream in that they can be customized in all sorts of interesting ways. Since the Front Mission series never really gained a sizable audience outside of Japan, it might be a good idea to reboot it...not necessarily a hard reset, but perhaps by advancing the timeline past some sort of global disaster. Advanced Wars did exactly that with Days of Ruin, a post-apocalyptic take on the series. In this way, it's possible to retain the mechanics while ditching the convoluted background fluff. Given the world of Front Mission is made up of superpowers jockeying for dominance, it's not a big jump to envision a scenario in which it all goes horribly wrong. Not only are old nations erased, but new ones could be allowed to form based on player input. The wanzers themselves could also get a bit of a redesign, making them more grimy (rather than the ultra-slick look that has dominated the franchise since its inception).
It's not the most original idea, I know. However, the circumstances would allow the series to have a much needed fresh start. Now, before anyone says this is starting to sound a lot like Battletech, let me just say, better a good clone of that than the crappy Metal Gear knockoff we ended up with.
Friday, March 8, 2019
Now, I know looking at just the title of this blogpost might cause some to think that it's about an obscure crossover fighting game. Alas, no...this is actually about a pair of semi-realistic space flight sims. The first is Kerbal Space Program (or KSP for short) while the second is SimpleRockets 2 (abbreviated SR2, and the upgraded PC sequel to a much more basic 2D smartphone game). Comparing the two might seem obvious to some (both are games wherein players design, build and fly rockets into the great void), but others may feel it's a stretch (apples and oranges). Regardless, I think there is some insight to be gained by facing these games off against each other. So, let's dig in.
Of course many of the merits of SR2 are present in KSP provided one is willing to install fan-made mods. In fact KSP has a huge number of these available, allowing each and every player to customize the game to their heart's content. The problem is said mods tend to exacerbate the fundamental issues KSP has; more bugs, longer load times, and poorer performance. SR2 represents a clean start on the concepts that KSP pioneered. Whether or not it will ever surpass its predecessor though remains to be seen. Perhaps one could say (in so many acronyms) SR2 is the SpaceX to KSP's NASA.
Friday, March 1, 2019
|Want to go on another ride?|
You won't have to wait in line,
but you will have to sit through loading screens.
...many, many loading screens.
When you look back at games like the Worms series, Red Faction 2 (and Gorilla), or even Minecraft there were genuine attempts to allow the player to make a mark on the world; specifically environmental deformation. More recently, games like From Dust, Metal Gear Rising and Astroneer have taken small steps toward improving on the concept, but when it comes to live service games (with the possible exception of Fortnite) the design is noticeably regressive. Every object and surface in the world is indestructible and enemies themselves are just bags of hit points that burst into non-existence once their damage numbers reach a predetermined threshold, only to later reform out of the ether much like a Disneyland ride that has just been reset in preparation for the next visitor. There's no persistency, no such thing as injuries, crippling battle damage, or scaring; there are no thoughts of retreat or escape. Things exist or they don't exist, and on top of all that the AI only seems to have two settings idle about or attack...basically everything has a switch with two setting: off or on.
The expression "wide as the sea, shallow as a puddle," is usually applied to content in video games, but in Anthem that can literally be applied to everything including the Javelin that the player controls. I'm not talking about a lack of character development (although that is an issue), rather I mean where is the power plant, actuators, shield generator, sensors, communications equipment or weapons systems? None of these components are represented in the mechanics of the game aside from flight thrusters which can sometimes be disabled temporarily (usually for mission scripting reasons). The pilot, for all intents and purposes, is impervious to harm. Even cosmetic damage like scorch marks, slagged armor, leaking coolant and sparking wires are completely absent from the visual presentation. Sure, there's pyrotechnics and a cacophony whenever a fight breaks out, but that's it. It's like if a motocross bike did a couple of laps on a race track yet didn't get a single drop of mud on it.
To some degree these sort of things are limitations any video game must wrestle with. I don't need to explain why "personalized story" and "multiplayer adventure" are mutually exclusive, right?..and yet live service games will claim that it's possible to have your cake and eat it too. It can be frustrating to hear complaints like "I wish I could grapple enemies," or "my melee attacks contect like a bar of wet soap." I want to tell such individuals that this is the inevitable result of games that depend on netcode...at least for companies that want to minimize bandwidth usage. Would games like Anthem (or Destiny, for that matter) have been better had they gone the single-player offline route? I don't know (it depends on how much you enjoy playing with friends online), but the potential for a more substantive experience would have certainly been there. On the other hand if it's a live service, you are pretty much guaranteed to get something shallow, half-baked, and filled with microtransactions.