Ubisoft and Sony: Sorry For The Rideshare

Posted by on Jun 13, 2017 in Consoles, Editorial, Featured

I want to apologize for cramming Ubi and Sony into one post, but I wanted to strike while the iron was hot and not drag these thoughts out before I forget what I’m talking about (too late!)

Ubisoft

I actually missed a good portion of Ubi’s presentation because they started during my commute home, and no offense to the good work that the company does, but my getting the hell out of the office takes precedence over pretty much anything. I’ll catch up on the highlights later, but it looks like I missed out on the Nintendo/Rabbids crossover that many people are comparing to the recent treatments of XCom. I do not consider that to be a bad thing.

They also talked about — what else? — Assassin’s Creed. After yesterday’s dismissal of the franchise en toto I was linked a video by the Unstoppable PapaSnark regarding several new or revised features in the franchise assumed from the AC trailer. If the examination was correct, even in part, then I think several of my gripes about the series might be addressed. As stated, I’ve moved this game from a “hell no” to a “we’ll see”.

I came into the presentation during The Crew 2, which is about driving cars, boats, and planes.

Then stuff got weird. There was some Elijah Wood presentation for a VR title called Transference, but the video was too artsy to provide any real substance.

In keeping with the theme of E3 2017, there was a pirate-themed game called Skull & Bones. At first, it looked like a really cool PRPG (pirate aarrgh Pee Gee) but quickly devolved into a 5v5 PvP battle over booty. As stated on Twitter, it reminded me of a high-seas version of the spaceship battle game Dreadnaught, which is available now for those who can’t wait.

From the “no one saw that coming” department, Starlink: Battle for Atlas gave off a serious No Man’s Sky vibe, but with a twist: the trailer showed people playing the game with plastic spaceships attached awkwardly to their gamepads. These toys required them to swap out components like guns, missiles, or engines to have the change reflected within the game itself. Some people called it No Man’s Skylanders, while others attempted to smack Ubi in the head to let them know that unless you’re Nintendo, the era of toys-in-games is grinding to a halt.

And then there was FarCry 5. I have played a few FC games and I like ’em OK. There’s always something to do, but for me, having too much to do is a curse because I have trouble focusing on anything. In the wake of The Division and even Ghost Recon: Wildlands, and in the hopes that Assassin’s Creed Origins changes up its own game, I’d like to see some deviations from the traditional FC formula here. The trailer looked good.

Finally, Ubi surprised everyone by presenting a trailer for the long-awaited sequel to cult favorite Beyond Good & Evil that was teased several E3 ago. I have never completed the original because the controls are so gawdawful that I wanted to throw my PC across the room, but I’ve always enjoyed the unique world of BG&E in which humans and genetically engineered and sentient animals travel freely between the stars. It has a certain cyberpunk vibe but without the contrived magickal overhead of the equally off-kilter world of Shadowrun.

Sony

E3 always comes down to Microsoft versus Sony in a good natured “who won” discussion on the Internet, and while you might think that presenting second would give Sony time to one-up Microsoft’s event…well…They spent a lot of time talking up their own 4K abilities, which after the XBX announcement sounded like someone at the back of the crowd talking really loud in an effort to remind everyone that they were still present.

The first two presentations were for Knack II, a sequel to a game that I’ve only ever heard about from one person who has played it, and for — get this — a second screen initiative called PlayLink. The idea is that one person gets the gamepad and other people in the room get a smartphone/tablet app that allows them to interact with the game in a non-direct control scenario. The interesting game they demoed was called Hidden Agenda which looked like a story-based game where PlayLink users could “vote” on key decisions on behalf of the player. I blame the “Twitch Plays X” for this crowd-control focus. Other games showed that use this tech were more in the traditional “party game” vein because those games are traditional cash-cows, right? The second screen concept never really took off, so it’s kind of a head-scratcher as to why Sony decided to take this route. Still, it’s inconsequential, and doesn’t require any new hardware, so what’s the harm?

Speaking of buying new hardware, Sony devoted some time to VR games, and I can’t say that I’m overly excited. The big reveal for me was Skyrim VR. Bethesda announced a Doom and Fallout 4 VR, but didn’t say anything about Skyrim which seemed like an obvious oversight, but had apparently ceded that info to Sony. Do I want to play Skyrim all over again? Well… Do I want to play Skyrim VR? HELL YES I DO. Superhot made an appearance during this segment, but it’s already VR-enabled on the PC so it’s nice to see it coming to PS4. Final Fantasy XV made an appearance but as a…wait…what? A fishing game? Then came the head-tilted-sideways-with-eye-squint titles. Bravo Team is a military shooter (which I might write about on its own), Starchild is a platformer, and a cute game called Moss is about a small mouse with a magical gauntlet that can turn into a sword who makes her way through a diminutive world in search of something. Sadly, it looks like Sony is already sawing at the ropes that secures the VR bridge over the peripheral graveyard.

The good news is that Sony still had a lot of big-ticket Sony games to show.

First, Uncharted: The Last Legacy featuring the incendiary duo of Chloe and Nadine from previous Uncharted games. This was not a surprise, but since it’s dropping this year it made sense for Sony to include it in the face of so many 2018 titles.

Destiny 2 got it’s Sony-money’s worth by being featured, complete with a rundown of what exclusives you get if you buy and play on PS4. I have it pre-ordered on PC, lag time be damned.

We got to see more on that zombie game Days Gone. Previously we’d been treated to technical showcases in which hundreds of procedurally generated undead canvassed a small farm while the protagonist raced across rooftops. This time we learn that humanity has formed enclaves (of course) and ventures forth amidst the zombie hoards for supplies and such. Not all enclaves are trying to bring humanity back; some are, of course, despotic and filled with assholes, and this demo saw the protagonist, Jeanjacket McMotorcycleStubble, using the environment (read: zombies) to overrun an enemy camp to rescue one of his friends. The game looked great and could be a really cool adventure style game. Except, zombies.

Horizon: Zero Dawn is getting DLC, and water is wet. I’m not ragging on this, only saying that they could have just said “Horizon: Zero Dawn!” on stage and people would have thrown money. I suppose I should get back to that and finish the game.

Skimming a few other things: Monster Hunter World is a thing that people like, and now they can like it on PS4. I know nothing of this franchise, except that you hunt monsters. Large, large monsters. Shadow of the Colossus is getting a remaster, Marvel vs Capcom is also a thing people like, and surprise! Call of Duty: World War II.

Now, what caught my eye: There’s a new God of War game which, as seems to be the Sony trend this year, looks to include some really great cinematic story and is not just room-to-room hack and slash. I might make this my first GoW game because it looked great. One of the wildcards from last year’s E3 (or maybe it was in between) was a game called Detroit: Become Human. This is from the people who made the games Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls, which are both narrative heavy, action light decision tree games. This one is set in a future Detroit where androids are created to do the dirty work, but then some “awaken” and get minds of their own. You are one of those androids and have to make moral decisions regarding the relationship between humans and your kind.

Finally, there was Spider-Man. Now, I am not a Spider-Man fan, really. I like the character the way I like yogurt; I would never seek it out, but if it’s around and I’m hungry, it’ll do…but barely. Visually, this game was amazing. The animations were mind-blowing, and the effects (especially the webbing) were top-shelf. In the heat of the moment, I mentioned that I could get behind this game because it seemed like there was just so much Spidering to do! In retrospect, while the visuals were great, the gameplay seemed to be less open-world and more QTE interrupted by occasional brawling action. Now, like all E3 presentations, this is really just a controlled event that we understand doesn’t necessarily represent the entire experience, but whereas a Spider-Man game might have immediately caused me amnesia upon announcement, I might keep an eye on this for more information.

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MIcrosoft @E3 2017

Posted by on Jun 12, 2017 in Consoles, Editorial

MIcrosoft @E3 2017

I’ll be brief because at my age I only remember a few key elements of Microsoft’s E3 2017 presentation.

The Big Deal was, of course, Project Scorpio, now officially called Xbox One X (as Belghast pointed out, X.B.O.X, the best Easter Egg since the naming of the 360). It’s apparently very powerful, sporting a new power management scheme invented by and named for an Xbox engineer, lots of RAMS and teraflops and other things that I think everyone expected. The release date is November 7th and it’ll retail for $499. Expect that eventually, the only versions you’ll find will be Gametop bundle-only packages well in excess of $1000.

The good news is that the presentation was wall-to-wall games. A Big Deal was that not only will you be able to play your XB1 and 360 games on the XBX, but they’re bringing Original Xbox games to the console through their backward compatibility service. The only reason anyone would care about this is for Crimson Skies. There was also the obligatory Forza announcement, which I admit looked pretty awesome, and was apprently important enough that Porsche used a video game expo to reveal a new car model for the first time.

I remember a few games shown, but I wanted to kind of blanket them by saying that there’s a real theme to the games coming to XBX: post-apocalyptic survival battle royale. That include Metro ExodusState of Decay 2 (which looked pretty cool, and I hate zombies), Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds are just three of the titles which fell into that crevasse. These are not in my wheelhouse, so I kind of blanked during these portions. So let’s talk about the Big Deals.

First up: Minecraft 4k. This is a big deal because it reminds us that apparently people still play Minecraft. It’s also a big deal because I doubt anyone was foaming at the mouth for a 4k Minecraft.

Next, Shadow Of War. This game looked very obtuse to me; I haven’t played Shadow of Mordor, but I’m not really into brawlers of this type. It looks super complex, though, as you have to take your little anti-hero and subdue orc tribes to fight for you as you bring your war to Sauron’s doorstep. Although it seemed rather anachronistic, the orc featured in the demo named Bruz the Chopper was actually really well voiced and made me laugh out loud a few times…probably not the kind of reaction one might demand from a Lord of the Rings game, but there you have it.

It wouldn’t be an Xbox reveal without an Assassin’s Creed game, set this time in Egypt. Someone needs to put a bullet in the head of this franchise. Seriously. Moving on.

I traded in my XB1 in order to upgrade to the PS4 Pro, a move which I don’t regret save for one reason and one reason only: Crackdown 3. I loved the original but didn’t take to Numero Dos. Crackdown is kind of like GTA meets Robocop: lots of wanton destruction in an open world city. C3‘s biggest selling point is the distributed computing model which will supposedly allow you to literally level the city block by block (in multiplayer). And now, Terry Crews.

And of course, there were the two biggies.

Sea of Thieves presented a really well done scripted scenario which saw the participants sailing their ship to an island where they fought through a skeleton army in search of a buried treasure, and ended in a ship-to-ship battle. During the segment, we saw underwater exploration, use of clues, maps, and the compass, cannon, sword and gun fighting, ship boarding, and some jaw-dropping ocean visuals. If SoT can extrapolate that kind of rudderless exploration in a shared multiplayer world, it’s going to blow the doors off. I’m hopeful, but not holding my breath.

And of course, the presentation closed out with the reveal of the teaser we had seen the day before during the EA presentation. Sandwiched in between sports games during the EA presser, we got a 30-second clip of a new BioWare game called Anthem. It looked like maybe Titanfall. Maybe Blade Runner. During the MS presentation, we saw what appears to be another Big Name studio wanting to get a piece of that open world, squad-based exploration-and-explosion pie currently occupied by Destiny and The Division. The presentation started us out in a kind of futuristic desert bazaar where we’re told that we need to go out and fix someone’s screw-up. We jump into one of three (that we could see) suits of power armor and then leap from a ledge into an absolutely massive and lush jungle world below. We don’t just fall but jetpack through ruins and foliage until we land on the ground where we meet up with another player in a much heavier mech suit. The duo proceeds to push their way through the jungle, taking out mobs which seemingly have some kind of a purpose in their presence. Eventually, the scene cuts to a different point in time where they are confronted by something called a shaper storm — complete with high-speed winds, scenery destruction, and a vague glowing epicenter that the team (now four strong) bravely fly into.

Damn. I don’t know why but I’m really into the ideas of the squad-based games these days. MMOs are great, and other multiplayer games are OK, but these kinds of games feel like the sense of teamwork is as much a reward as whatever loot and XP we gain from the operation. That Anthem was stupidly gorgeous helped a lot. Of course, as presented we were told that we were a “bastion of civilization” living in a “walled enclave” in the middle of a “ruined world” — a la Destiny, a la The Division. In that regard, no points for originality, but I don’t really care.

Of course, this was a very managed demo. My initial reaction was to run around the room screaming with tears running down my face at how awesome I thought it was, but in the afterglow, I realize that this is the “wait and see” period. It’s using the Frostbite engine so we know it’s going to be visually stunning. The wildcard is actually the fact that it’s made by BioWare. They aren’t known for their pure action games. I don’t know how many conversation wheels we’re going to get with Anthem, but the free-space on my Anthem bingo card says “people who want to be able to have sex with NPCs just because it’s a BioWare game, and complain about it if they can’t”. Most importantly: Did they dissect Destiny and The Division to see what worked, what didn’t, and what people would have rather had? Or did they just develop this knowing that these squad-based games are hot right now, and that’s all they needed to know?

A lot of the titles on offer were noted as being available for both Xbox and PC, although it wasn’t universal, or else I missed it. I know Sea of Thieves is going to be multi-spectrum, but not sure about others. If Anthem is, then I don’t think I’ll jump on the XBX. If not, I’m going to have to get back into the Xbox ecosystem. I had anticipated maybe deciding to do that — my sale of the XB1 was purely mercenary, and I bear the platform no degree of ill will — but I’d rather save my $500 for the eventual release of the low-cost, higher-performance VR headsets.

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Grab Bag for the Week of 6/9/2017

Posted by on Jun 9, 2017 in Editorial, Featured, Scopique Plays, Video

Normally when I don’t post anything it’s because of a general blogging malaise (bloglaise?) but this week it’s because I’ve been both forgetful and super busy.

Battletech Backer Beta

I haven’t played Battletech proper in maybe 20 years or so but it’s a franchise that’s always been at the top of my lists of Franchises I Love. I owned the original box set, read the Technical Manual until it literally fell apart (I rebound it with string), read all the Stackpole books, and even drew a game board on my parent’s concrete basement floor so my brother and I could play with our Transformers. As Time does, I found myself with less time to play, and fewer people to play with during the Dark Ages between when I was in high school and when the Internet became a viable way to meet up with folks. I played the Mechwarrior games on PC, and tried Mechwarrior Online a few times but the random nature of other people’s play styles didn’t do it for me. I wanted the old-school Battletech lance-vs-lance tactical gameplay again, so while I bought the Anniversary Edition box set a few years ago (never played), I was all over the new Battletech game from Harebrained Schemes, helmed by the originator of the BT franchise, Jordan Weiss.

The KS backer beta arrived last weekend (when I was stricken with the plague), but I’ve only played two rounds so far of the single player game. If you have been waiting for an honest BT implementation, this is your candidate. Even though there’s obviously work to be done in several places, the game is playable. I have yet to win a game, having lost my second round to an armless enemy who headbutted my center torso to death. Still, it instantly brought back long-ago memories of all of the variations of Battletech that I had played, which means that it’s the real deal as far as I am concerned.

Motion Graphics Update

I have no fewer than two consecutive posts about my motion graphics learning, prior to this post. Since that last update, I’ve done almost nothing with it. Looking back on the initial attempts I realize that I have a long way to go in being able to create something to be proud of, but even attempting to use the things that I have made, I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not sure I have an actual need for this.

Originally I thought “hey, I could make animated splash screens for streamers!” or even “now’s the chance to get that animated intro for my In The Car video series that I’m kinda not really doing anymore!”. As far as the splash screen goes, I figured that there aren’t too many designs that would work without being annoying. Maybe the most animated thing we could use would be a countdown timer (which I went and made using Javascript), but otherwise…meh. Upon further reflection, I can’t think of any kind of decent composition to fit in with the motif of the In The Car.

I might keep it around for a while, but I haven’t continued with the video lectures since last week. I might need some of the other software that comes with my Adobe CC subscription, but $50 a month is a real headache just for eventualities.

Wombatical! The Wombats Get Serious About Streaming

The Big News, then, is that since Imzy closed down and a few of us moved over to the Combat Wombat Discord server, we’ve been a lot more active as a community. The real-time nature of Discord is great for communication, but not so great for other productivity, and is part of what’s kept me from updating this site.

See, in the wake of the migration, several folks have decided that they would really like to get into streaming. We had evaluated Mixer (formerly known as Beam) for its low-latency and co-streaming functionality, but several folks weren’t convinced that Mixer was set up to accomplish all of the same things that Twitch could in terms of features and moderation. While it might be easier for smaller streamers to get noticed on Mixer due to the lower population there, it might also suffer from a lower population because people are so mentally invested in the idea that Twitch is where people need to be if they want to take the hobby of streaming seriously (at least as seriously as far as getting viewers goes). Several people outside our circle have even been heard remarking that they would refuse to watch a live stream unless it was on Twitch.

Needless to say, several of the Wombats have now been testing the streaming waters on Twitch. So far Stargrace has been attempting to stick to a schedule when the real-world isn’t making demands, and Girl_vs_MMO has been working around her own real-life schedule to get some streaming time in, and Arislyn has popped in from time to time as reality allows.

I have yet to get online, myself. Instead, I’ve been preparing. Lots of preparing. Like…a shitload of preparing. I considered whether my preparations were really just delaying tactics or whether they were actual steps that would help me make a smooth yet entry-level attempt…whenever I got around to pushing the button. I upgraded by webcam to the c922, which has the background removal (sans green-screen) built in. The verdict: works OK, but it all depends on — wait for it — lighting. Not sure if I’ll use that feature or not. I also have the Stream Deck, whose Twitch integration isn’t really all that great when you get down to it. The weapons of choice for enhancing the streams have been narrowed down to two: Ankhbot, which is a desktop app which allows for all kinds of stream management options, and Streamlabs, which handles certain remote notifications (followers, subs, hosts, etc) and handles donations for Extra Life, which we do. In addition, I’ve found a “theme” for my channel that I think I’m happy with, reflecting my love of space, sims, and space-sims.

Now, to find the time to actually get out and stream…

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