Oppressive Greed

The Rubicon was crossed, in more ways than one

It took me a while to get to the Blizzard keffeful (certainly a word I don’t get to use often!). I have been going over it again and again, trying to understand it. Not Blizzard’s decision, mind you, that is easy to understand, painfully so. No, what I was trying to understand was the shock and surprise many expressed on YouTube and social media. If anything did surprise me was the amount of pushback Blizzard actually got.

If you’ve been living under a rock (and if you have, do you have a spare room?) the entire episode involved Blizzard banning a Hearthstone player for expressing support for the Hong Kong protests as well as the tournament commentators that allowed him to express said support. The ban was quite severe, stripping the player of his rank in the game, banning him for an entire year and denying him his rightfully won prize money. Effectively, they destroyed his career in response to supporting basic human rights. Similar fates befell the commentators. What a class act.

While Blizzard would soften some of the punishment due to public outrage and political pressure as politicians saw an opportunity to score some publicity out of the event, the underlying reality hadn’t really changed. Blizzard used its power to silence a protest against an authoritarian regime oppressing the people of Hong Kong. It signaled that human rights and freedoms are against their flimsily enforced EULA. In effect, it sided with the Chinese government against the very people struggling to protect their rights. How can I emphasize this enough!?

Some view this as crossing the Rubicon, the historical event where Julius Caesar led his legions south of the river to occupy Rome, destroying the Roman republic and installing what would become a tyrannical regime over the generations. I always squirm at historical analogies but if we really had to call attention to this pivotal moment, I am afraid that ship, as they say, already sailed long ago. Large publishers have crossed the Rubicon so many times by now that you might as well pave over it and install a toll booth to generate some revenue.

Try to understand that as reprehensible Blizzard’s actions are, they are merely the logical end point of a corporation obsessed with profit. For such a corporation, anything that aids in the creation and accumulation of money for its investors and shareholders is kosher. Selling out human rights for Chinese Yuan is just increasing the bottom line for the quarter one in the financial year. If anything, the suits in Blizzard did what was right for the company by banning Blitzchung, they protected their bottom line.

While you are shocked about Blitzchung’s banning, where were you when publishers gutted games to sell already produced content on the first day of the game’s launch, in effect shipping games with locked content on the disc! Where were you when publishers introduced loot boxes to videogames, bringing gambling mechanics into a space populated by children and teenagers that were actively targeted by the mechanic. Not to mention many addicts and psychologically vulnerable people who were preyed upon by loot boxes. Worse yet, these loot boxes often gutted long established content from games (such as cosmetics) in order to sell it for hard cash. Later on they also aided in the introduction of grind into more and more games as loot boxes started offering solutions like skill boosters and in-game currency to skip said grind. Do you see the psychological manipulation on full display yet?

How about online passes which attempted to curtail the used games market, basically penalizing people for purchasing them and trying to force them to buy new copies. How about all the special edition faff (another great word!) that is cheaply produced but steeply sold and in recent years turned into a tiered system of special editions which literally gate content and access according to price. What about the patents publishers filed for various matchmaking systems designed to psychologically pressure players into purchasing microtransactions?

I could go on as these are just a few examples I could remember from the top of my head. There are plenty more over the years in which publishers schemed to drain the public of their hard earned cash. After all, these corporations don’t produce anything. They are not game developers making art. They are financiers, investing in game development then packaging the final product and marketing it for profit. The amount the developers then get is dependent on contracts but the bigger publishers often buy development studios in order to control that as well. Blizzard is not an independent entity but joined in the hip to Activision, one of the worst publishers around whose CEO has often been compared to the devil himself, which is an insult to the devil who at least can disguise his lack of humanity.

Once you see it through that prism its not that hard to understand the rationale behind the bans. The upper echelons in Activision-Blizzard made a cost benefit assessment. They believed they’d lose x amount of players in the west while gain y amount of players in China and so they dropped the ban hammer because it would be more profitable for them. Trying to appeal to their moral or ethical side is as much a waste of time as shouting at the wall, with even less satisfaction, because morality and ethics don’t increase profits. Hbomberguy demonstrated this through his analysis of “Woke” brands.

Not to mention that the people making the decisions, those in upper management, are not part of the same social circles as the rest of us plebs are. The investors and CEOs are often extremely rich individuals who are insulated from the moral outcome of the practices they implement in their “content” thanks to that extreme wealth. Google any major publishing CEO’s net worth and you would not be disappointed. These people don’t view gamers as people but as wallets to be milked. Whatever they decide which negatively impacts our hobby they won’t suffer from. If anything their wealth and position makes them more sympathetic to the likes of the Chinese government than the people of Hong Kong fighting for their freedom. After all, they belong to the same class as the rulers of China and its top officials, not the grubby proletariat trying to escape the daily grind of life with some electronic entertainment.

This is the sad truth. Gamers are the real commodity for these companies, and investors are funneling money into them not on the back of strong game catalogues or artistic merit but on how well these companies monetize said gamers. This is what drives investment analysis and the wild share price swings. Its sickening, but it doesn’t make this any less true.

At this point, the few of you who actually read my column are probably feeling hopeless and it is understandable. The system is literally rigged against us. However it doesn’t have to be. Outside of moral outrage and making noise on social media, there is something gamers can do to fight the abuse and blatant corruption. We can start campaigns of conscience to bring light to these abuses. We can pressure politicians in western democracies to actually legislate and regulate these companies, We can vote to elect politicians whose platforms will include such reforms. We can keep the issue alive and in the minds of gamers and mainstream media and force such a reckoning. It is also useful to remind people large publishers avoid paying taxes, sometimes at all, thanks to tax loopholes that should be erased.

Only through strict regulation will these companies do what is right, because as we’ve seen before, they won’t otherwise. It was government action and threats of more regulation that has caused them recently to pivot away from loot boxes. They should all still pay for the people whose lives and savings they ruined with their addictive mechanics. They should pay for silencing the people of Hong Kong. They should pay. It is up to us to make them pay their fair share.

Get political, because Activision-Blizzard already proved that the large publishers are political, and their politics of greed puts them squarely on the side of tyrants and oppressors. Remember, they will sell you without a moment of remorse, so show them no mercy.

#FreeHongKong #RevolutionofourAge

Snuffed Out

No king rules forever

On the 21st of October 2019, Hy Wanto Destroyer announced on Discord that it was over. Snuffed Out [B B C], the king of low security space, was no more. The alliance wouldn’t outright disband but for all intents and purposes it had.

My first encounter with the alliance was on the battlefield of Villasen, defending WAFFLES. [N0MAD] towers as part of Pandemic Legion [-10.0]. I decided to write up the battle as I was a battle reporter for EVE News 24 at the time, and wanted to expand coverage of news to encompass low security and wormhole space (with partial success).

Interviewing the combatants, I was granted access to the Snuffed Out teamspeak server. It soon became a second home for me. As Snuffed Out continued to generate fights and headlines, I was lucky enough to cover some of it. Major headlines included: Their valiant fights alongside ally Project.Mayhem. [16-13] against the Imperium, and poking at its low security underbelly, and causing no small amount of grief to those in charge. Their resistance to the viceroy program that would help kick off World War Bee (WWB). Their betrayal of Shadow Cartel [SHDWC], their long time arch nemesis, in Vaaralen. This subsequently caused a schism in the alliance resulting in the birth of Escalating Entropy [CHAOS] and the Placid Wars.

This constant contact allowed me to make friends with many Snuffed Out pilots, current and former, as well as fostering a deep appreciation for the alliance, even though I was a member of Pandemic Legion. People like: Tyler Burbon and his soundboard. Conaildo whose consumption of alcohol was second to none. Tau AD, one of the best fleet commanders I flew under whose anger and irritation were almost as famous as his thick Russian accent immortalized in countless dreadnought drops he led. Hy Wanto Destroyer who tolerated me even though I never delivered on the fanfiction he ordered me to write as punishment. Phantomite the snake who still did Harbingers even in 2019. Capitol One and his Harry Potter fanfiction. Emokidwithkantana and his My Little Pony discussions. Smarnca and his antics. PERUNGA, king of Tama and defender of the Nourvukaiken gate. Batschi, Donedy, Tyd Drakken, Meltur, Gugl, Amantus and many many others. So many I can’t list them all.

Snuffed Out, for all its setbacks, seemed to go from strength to strength even as my own fortunes seemed to decline. First was the ignominious death of Reikoku [RKK] due to internal strife, forcing me to join Hoover Inc. [DYS0N]. However, DYS0N itself moved, and morphed alongside Pandemic Legion, in directions I didn’t like leaving me once again homeless. I made one last gamble on House of Serenity. [H0S.], seemingly finding a home but it was not to be. Without a place, without a purpose, I spent most of my time on the Snuffed Out teamspeak server. Finally, as a joke, I applied to Lowlife. [LWLFE], doing what Snuffed Out members asked me to do for years. I was accepted. It turned out the joke was on me.

In Snuffed Out, for a brief moment, I felt that sense of belonging. I was enjoying EVE Online again, deploying, writing battle reports and just enjoying general banter. It felt like the heydays of Reikoku. It felt good. Sadly it was not to last. It wasn’t 2015 anymore. The game had fundamentally changed and the pressure of constant deployments wasn’t something I could keep up with as the alliance searched desperately for content. I burnt out again. What I didn’t know was that most of the alliance burnt out with me.

Perhaps it was inevitable. Low security space was never supposed to be the haunt of medium-sized alliances like Snuffed Out and Shadow Cartel. Maybe we were supposed to go big and settle in null security space and our refusal to do so had led to our content starvation. I still posit that the game itself had also changed for the worse. Citadels made content creation hard, if not downright impossible in the early days of their implementation. Rorquals unleashed untold mineral wealth into the game, allowing established power blocs to further entrench themselves with growing super capital fleets and imposing Keepstars and Fortizars in every system. Skill injectors sealed the deal, allowing individuals to create whole mining fleets and super capital squadrons out of thin air thanks to the application of skill points provided by ever increasing skill farms.

Snuffed Out tried to adapt to these changing times, making alliances where it could, coming up with schemes to better distribute moon goo to fund its operations and allow its members access to riches. It did what it could to eek out content but low security space was too small to sustain it while null security space had just too many people willing to pile in on any conflict. There was no longer a place for independent mid-sized alliances in EVE Online anymore.

Thus Snuffed Out leadership did what was best for the alliance, and frankly for them. Instead of burning out more of its pilots and allowing internal strife to rip it apart, they simply ended it. It was a hard but necessary decision.

Whether or not Snuffed Out will resurge is a question for anybody but I have a feeling that it won’t. Its disbanding is another chapter of EVE Online coming to a close, and I can’t help but feel sad for it. Snuffed Out had been an unofficial family for me for years, and official one for six months. Now it’s gone and I can’t help but grieve for its loss. Good luck to all my friends and comrades in their future endeavors.

So long, and thanks for all the memories.

Salivan Harddin is a member of Lowlife., Snuffed Out, and was an EVE Online battle reporter for the better part of five years.

Yet You Live in a Society

Social media exposes some of the deep issues in the gaming community

The day started well enough. I woke up early for a change, had a lovely cup of tea then left the house to take care of all my errands. By the time I came back and sat at my desk I had bought some freshly baked croissants from my favorite bakery alongside a can of cola, my only guilty pleasure. All in all, quite a good morning. Then checking Discord notifications I found out I was tagged in one of the servers I acted as a staffer on. Curious, I checked the message and kissed my pleasant morning goodbye.

The message was quite short; a simple taunt of “hey dumbass” and a link to a reddit thread concerning Apex Legends. I didn’t dig too deep but apparently there is a current controversy regarding the newest season, its monetization and the way its community team and lead developers had been addressing community dissent. I say these things because I really, really, and I don’t know how I can stress this enough, really don’t care. I don’t care because I’ve already been burnt out from the previous season and am currently not playing Apex Legends. Since the end of that season, I have been alternating between cRPGs (Pathfinder:Kingmaker) and grand strategy (Hearts of Iron IV, Europa Universalis IV and a bit of Stellaris) games and haven’t kept up with things.

I don’t hide the fact I love Apex Legends. It is my favorite game in the battle royale genre. I like the characters (especially Wraith), mechanics, feel and visual of the game. I enjoy playing it; alone or with friends and though I haven’t touched it in months, I may go back to it at some point in the future. That said, that doesn’t mean I agree with or have to defend the game and its creators, especially when they misstep or are just plainly wrong.

Like I stated above, I haven’t dug deep into this new controversy. I just read the titles of some of the videos I saw in my feed and listened to one or two of them briefly. Since I have no interest in the game at the moment, I have no interest in hearing about it either. From what I did gather, Apex Legends’ playerbase is up in arms after being squeezed for extra dollars during the current season since Electronic Arts is desperate for some cash and Respawn Entertainment is getting the much deserved backlash, prompting its lead developer to rant about entitled gamers. Am I right? Am I wrong? I don’t really care as I wrote before. It doesn’t really interest me at the moment and I don’t have much of a voice or influence to do anything about it. Sorry folks, I have other things on my mind.

So why was I tagged? Well, I’d assume part of it was because in that discord server (which is an EVE Online discord server mind you) I’m known both for loving Apex Legends and being a salty asshole who often calls out people for well-deserved reasons. I am not going to defend myself. I wish I was a nicer person but I am quite the unpleasant individual when it comes to EVE Online and its byzantine politics and tribalist mindset. I’m certain the individual saw an opportunity to piss me off and frankly succeeded. I did tag them back later on and wrote a litany of profanities just to clarify my stance on the subject. Setting that aside, this whole event made me think a little about the reasons behind tagging me to begin with. What was their grand design?.

I am guessing the person thought linking the reddit thread would act as a “Gotcha” moment, that rare proof that obliterates the opposition – the smoking gun, the vial of poison, the killer’s gloves. The reality though, is quite different. There was no “Gotcha”, since I didn’t read the story nor was in the loop. It did annoy me enough to illicit a response but not a constructive one and my stance regarding Apex Legends hasn’t really changed. I enjoyed the hours I put into the game so far. Whether or not the game developers are literally idiots who don’t understand how to foster good community relations is not going to change my mind about my past experiences. So why link it? Why try and antagonize me? The question kept bothering me.

I pointed out before the tribalistic nature of EVE Online, but in reality the same can be said for gaming in general. Many people will have their favorite games, games they may not be good at, but still feel are part of their identity. They build communities around them and incorporate them into said identity. I read and often hear “I am an X or Y player”. This denotes their “allegiance”, their “loyalty”. This declaration will often precede a defense of a game or an attack on a competitor or some other game that perhaps encroaches on the territory of their chosen game. That identity is important to them after all, and they must protect it.

In a way it does seem silly. After all, a game is a game, not real life. Yet these people derive some of their self worth from those games. After all, they are key parts of their identity. They are gamers who in the gaming culture are part of a “tribe” be it first person shooters, grand strategy players, or your run of the mill fast clicking simulators also known as real time strategy games. Some of these games though can be quite bad. Some of them, especially due to the state of game development and publishing in our current time, can be downright broken. Fallout 76 and Anthem are just two recent examples and there are sadly more I could probably find if I tried looking at previous years. I don’t think it’s a crime to love these games. After all people like The Room and that is a terrible movie whose appeal I never understood. Some people can like bad art. It’s a matter of personal taste and if they can derive enjoyment from it. I don’t see a reason to look down on them for liking such games.

The problem starts when people attack others for highlighting the flaws in those games. Fallout 76 is a bad game on every conceivable level, and yet some people defend it so vehemently to a worrying degree. They dismiss any criticism as being biased or unprofessional. They refuse to reckon with reality because it doesn’t just threaten their enjoyment of the game, but their whole identity. They invested their self worth in the game, being fans of the series and accepting its awfulness would be tantamount to admitting their own diminished status. They can’t accept it so they attack the sources of criticisms. When you don’t have a defensible claim, attack the legitimacy of the critics. It’s laughable, for sure but sadly all too commonplace. I see it everywhere in the gaming space. Because in gaming, you must have a winner and a loser.

This is the other part of the equation. Identity and self worth are derived from the game, but that game is in competition with others in its genre and the general gaming landscape. It’s an artificial competition created by publishers who wish to sell more copies of a game. Seeing these nascent communities, publishers and their public relations firms recognized their potential and hijacked them. They turned them into marketing ploys, supercharging the player base by using the games themselves against them. Skinner boxes and achievement bars, collectables and collector’s editions, not to mention the foisted sense of competition with other big named franchises. They created rabid fans by rewarding the most loyal, the most determined, and released them to the wild.

It’s no wonder these fans now see attacking one another as acceptable. The woes of the fans of one game is the joy of the fans of its rival. Especially in oversaturated markets, often in popular genres like battle royale currently is, the rivalry is quite mean and destructive. I remember playing Playerunknown Battlegrounds and seeing many deride Fortnite players as being children or childish due to its flashy graphics and cartoony art style. Even though Playerunknown Battlegrounds is a grey buggy mess that for me at least, was a tedious and frustrating game to play. Not that Fortnite enticed me either. In fact, I wrote the whole genre off until Apex Legends arrived on stage.

This brings us full circle. Apex Legends, let’s be fair, combined the hero shooter genre with the battle royale one to make a unique game that had plenty of energy and style. Unlike some of its competition it was free to play and launched in a perfect technical state which had sadly become an outlier rather than the norm. It was fun for me to play and I even reviewed it favorably. Do I regret that review? No, I stand behind it. At the time it was exactly as I described it and the memories I have of it are filled with tense firefights and hard won victories. That said, I can love a game and critique it. I can enjoy it and acknowledge its developers’ abhorrent behavior.

This is the crux of the matter. After showing my love and devotion to the game, it became, at least for others, embedded in my identity. They never asked me if I defined myself by the game, instead they assumed so. The moment the opportunity presented itself they couldn’t stop themselves from trying to “humiliate” me for my preferences.They thought they were “showing” me how hypocritical I was for liking a game whose developers and monetization had gone out of control. In their mind, admitting to this, accepting this was tantamount to betrayal. It was conceding defeat and thus making them morally superior to me because their games, thus their identity, wasn’t tarnished by a recent controversy. It is as childish and infantile as it sounds. Which is what really infuriates me.

Because it is these people whose fanboy mentality helps maintain the status quo in gaming, one where publishers hold all the cards and us players are but cattle to be exploited for the real customers – the investors. It’s those people that engage in fanbase wars that help no one and only further entrench developers and publishers into certain niches to peddle the same game over and over year after year. It’s those people who tried to silence critique of their favorite games by claiming various things from media bias to reviewers not being “good” at the games. It’s this slavish devotion to franchises that helped normalize many a horrible practice in video games. From microtransactions that “support the developers” (citation needed motherfuckers), the explosion of useless tat in collectors’ editions that themselves became tiered, incomplete products that would be patched later but were forgotten because “road maps” (ask the Anthem fanbase how is that working out for them, the whole two that are left) and so forth. Any criticism, any dissent and you were labeled anti gamer. You had to accept these practices or else these frankly inferior products compared to previous generations would cease to exist (good!). If all else failed, if all the excuses were brushed away for the flimsy webs of deceit they were, they’d turn the responsibility back to you. How can you critique the industry if you take part in it, by either consuming its products or earning money from writing about it. How can you critique society if you are part of it?

This conjured in my mind the famous comic strip. It is infamous to say the least and often used to bash anyone whose defense against a critique of a system is the fact those who levy that criticism participate in it, either blinded or willfully ignoring the fact that there is often no alternative to that system. I’ve seen it plenty on social media, and sadly in real life as well. Time after time these people think themselves clever for pointing out that since we participate in broken systems just to survive or enjoy the few things in life that can actually give us joy, that any critique meant to improve them is meaningless because “You live in a society!” like the clever kids they are. It is a self-assuring nihilism. If you point out such things, then nothing can be better and thus doing nothing is justified. Why struggle when the result will be the same regardless? A sickening justification of doing nothing.

In the end though, the reality is that these people had surrendered from the start. They weren’t, and still aren’t willing to fight for what is right because that is troublesome, risky not to mention unpredictable. They either benefit from the system (their so called status and mediocre games) or learned to tolerate it like the sheep they are and any danger for this status quo threatens them as well (how will I be an elite gamer otherwise!?). They are the worst part of the community for telling the rest of us to stop struggling, stop complaining, critiquing and striving for better video games, better work conditions for developers and actual legal oversight on lootboxes.

To these people, sorry but I am part of society, which is why I fight to make it better, because I care about it since I participate in it. This is why I’ll keep critiquing, keep calling out things and obviously support any action that teaches Respawn Entertainment and Electronic Arts that they can’t abuse their community with shitty monetizations. If you aren’t going to help me then stay out of my way because I have no time for your cowardice. Why don’t you go and buy more lootboxes, maybe one of them will contain your balls/ovaries. Also next time explain WHY YOU TAGGED ME TO BEGIN WITH. Maybe then I won’t have to write 2000 word articles like this!

Featured image taken from The Nib and is the property of Matt Bors

Hearts of Iron IV: Kaiserreich (v0.93)

For the Kaiser!

Deciding to review a mod is quite a bizarre decision. Just trying to write the opening paragraph for this article required a lot of rewrites. How exactly do you start such a review? What are you going to focus on exactly? After all, a mod, by its very name, is but a modification of an existing product. Yet, I wanted to write about Kaiserreich because I’ve been enjoying it immensely.

Let’s start from the beginning. Kaiserreich is a mod for Hearts of Iron IV, a Paradox Interactive grand strategy game. In Hearts of Iron IV the player can choose to play as any country in the world that existed in either 1936 or 1939 (depending on when the player chooses to start the game). Then, the player is thrust into the role of managing that nation, steering its politics, industry and most importantly – army and diplomacy. The main focus of the game is grand battle, with industry serving to produce the equipment needed to arm divisions which the player researches and designs. These armies can then be deployed against rival nations in wars of conquest or submission.

Of course, the mechanics are a bit more complex than that but that is the gist of it. Many nations in the base game have their interesting quirks and focus trees, which allow for a more historical playthrough or “what ifs” scenarios. From deposing Stalin and installing a Russian democracy to uniting China under fascism or even turning Germany or France into communist countries. The tools of Hearts of Iron IV allow players to have a lot of fun during that historical period, and Let’s Plays exist of things such as pacifist Germany or fascist USA.

Per for the course of every Paradox Interactive game, Hearts of Iron IV has its own lively modding scene. From cosmetic enhancements, soundtrack additions to complete revamps. Just to name a couple, Road to 56 lengthens the game time (from 1948 to 1956, duh) and adds more focuses and technological research. Old World Blues completely changes the game, recreating the map of the United States of the Fallout universe, with many of the factions and hallmarks of that world. Kaiserreich is quite similar to the latter, as it presents an alternate world where Germany won the Great War (or Weltkrieg).

Thus, the world of Kaiserreich is very different than the one we are used to in a regular game of Hearts of Iron IV. Germany is an authoritarian democracy with a large colonial empire in Africa, East Asia and parts of China as well as puppets in Eastern Europe. Russia is a democracy teetering on the brink of revolution, with many of its western and southern domains lost. Japan is also an authoritarian democracy with an uncertain future. The United Kingdom and France were taken over by communist regimes with their old governments having fled to the colonies (Canada and North Africa respectively). The Austrian empire still exists and Italy remains fragmented. The United States is facing a second civil war while the Qing empire is licking its wounds and planning its reunification of China as a reformed Mongolia under the leadership of a madman dreams of rebuilding the Khanate. Oh, and the Ottoman empire somehow still carries on, though some of its vassals have dangerous ideas of their own…

Truly, the world of Kaiserreich is far more fragmented and politically diverse than the base game, which is one of the great strengths of the mod. Nations in the mod are less predictable and many a great power could fall into internal strife and civil war, removing major nations from the world stage and allowing smaller ones to take their place. The second American civil war often rages for years with three, sometimes four(!), sides participating. In fact, smaller conflicts flare often in Kaiserreich with major nations unable or unwilling to do more than lend small volunteer forces.

The second strength of the mod are its focus trees. Focus trees were introduced to the base game to allow players (and the AI) to more efficiently steer their nations. They require time and political power (one of the resources in the game) to complete and can give bonuses, decisions or lead to future events. Focus trees can help beef up a faltering economy, lead to a fascist takeover of the nation or grant war goals which allow players to declare war on rival or neighboring nations without being constraint by diplomacy. In short, Focuses are the main (though not only) tool by which nations can be transformed in the course of the game.

The Kaiserreich focuses are quite detailed and balanced for the major nations. The Russian focus tree for example kicks into gear a year into the game and allows the player to transform Russia from a failing state to the powerhouse it once was, reclaiming its territory and prestige through either war, diplomacy or a bit of both. Likewise, Japan can take advantage of the fragmentation to build its empire and expel German and Western influence from the far east (sounds familiar…). The Ottoman empire can attempt to regain is former splendor while battling internal enemies. Communist France may try to retake the Alsace and Lorraine regions which Germany had occupied after winning the Great War and so forth.

Added to this are a slew of world events, some caused by focuses, others hard coded into the world. Economic crises, worker strikes and colonial implosions will all serve to cripple economies and make the early game a nightmare to navigate through, as many a major nation will see itself crippled by the events. Indeed, half the fun of the mod is simply surviving to the war.

Alternate history or not, Kaiserreich inadvertently leads to the second Weltkrieg. It seems no matter who wins the Great War, the second round is inescapable (though oftentimes prompted by Communist France which wants to retrieve its territory). After all, Hearts of Iron IV is all about war and Kaiserreich sure delivers on it. I have to admit, Kaiserreich has been much more fun in that aspect than the base game as the war is far more dynamic since there are a lot more power blocs around. Playing as Russia for example, you may once again commit to Communism and join the Third International with France and the United Kingdom to present a two front war for Germany. Germany might get Austro-Hungarian aid, or perhaps Austro-Hungary falls apart due to infighting, leaving southern Europe exposed. Perhaps Russia would re-join the Entente and fight a separate war with France and the United Kingdom to restore French Republicanism and British Parliamentary rule. Or perhaps it would be too busy defending from a Japanese invasion as Japan pushes its advantage in the east exploiting the disarray of the Russian army to conquer Siberia…

Indeed, these scenarios can and have happened to me on multiple playthroughs. Sometimes to my delight, sometimes to my dismay (goddamn Japanese >_< ). In fact, playing the mod with friends on multiplayer has led to some hilarious scenarios. From dividing Europe between the Triple alliance, the restoration of Russia while defending the status quo and defeating Communism to painting the world red with a Communist France, United Kingdom, Soviet Russia and the Combined Syndicates of America…

Besides that, the mod doesn’t change anything regarding geography, resources and technology. In fact, all the core mechanics of Hearts of Iron IV remain unchanged. That said, I do have a few criticisms of the mod.

Of course, criticizing a mod is quite problematic, especially one that is still considered in its alpha stage. This is why I put the version number in the title, and would write an update should these concerns/issues be resolved. Regardless, I think its important to point out the flaws and not just sing the praises of a work.

First and foremost, China had received a major nerf. Outside the Legation Cities (basically port cities in China that are few in number), most of the Chinese factions had their focuses stripped down to the very basics. The only addition is a small bare bones focus tree to allow Chinese unification but otherwise there is little to nothing there which is a shame as after the Soviet Union/Russia, China is my favorite nation to play in the base game (I like massive infantry armies, okay!?). In fact most of the far east has been neutered to some extent, with only Japan, its Chinese puppet and Mongolia given robust focus trees. It seems like the number of interesting nations in the whole game had somewhat declined.

Another issue is the faction system. In the base game, though players can change the rules, countries could influence each other’s political systems, pushing towards democracy/fascism/communism. Push long and hard enough and faction leaders of certain ideologies could invite said countries to factions. Better yet, faction leadership could be usurped by nations who managed to outpace the leaders in industry and army size. This allowed for a more dynamic game in the long run, as well as creating surprises to enemy factions. In contrast, Kaiserreich’s faction system is rigid and constrained. Faction leadership is locked in, and joining a faction requires an event or a focus. Ideologies can’t be changed either through political power, only through events and focuses again. This sacrifices some of the freedom of the base game for what I believe is narrative, which I ended up disliking.

The last major issue I have with the game is its lack of decisions. In the base game there is a mechanic of decisions which requires only political power to activate (and certain prerequisites depending). Though Kaiserreich has a few of them for each nation, there are far fewer than the base game. For example, in the base game, European nations had a decision available for them that if they managed to conquer France, Italy, Germany, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxembourg they can form the European Union, something which Kaiserreich lacks.

Outside of these issues the rest are nitpicks, mostly the lack of variety in advisors and the fact that unlike the base game, developing infrastructure does not increase resource gain, which I assume would be fixed in the future (and unofficial mods patching this already exist). Putting these aside, the mod is quite stable, with only a couple of hard crashes in the hundred hours (or more) I’ve played it both single and multiplayer. Both times I believe the crashes were due to other mods rather than Kaiserreich itself. Regardless, I can say that it has proven to be quite stable and runs without technical issues.

In summation, Kaiserreich is a fun mod, giving a different, alternate history start to the game with more wars, more power blocs and far more surprises than the base game. There is more action, more challenge even when playing major powers and interesting paths for nations to take. That said, the faction/ideology system is rigid, certain nations have lost their uniqueness and there is a lack of decisions that allow for more/different goals for major nations.

I’d recommend this for Hearts of Iron IV players who are looking for a new challenge or more flavor for the game, especially for multiplayer games. Considering this is a mod, thus free of charge and accessible (as well as updated) on Steam, what are you waiting for!?

Civilization Decline

The Sid Meier’s Civilization series is reaching its inevitable end

In previous drafts of this article I apologized for the clickbait headline but this time I decided not to. Partly because my childish mind finds it clever in a ‘13 year old’ kind of logic. Partly because I keep writing and deleting this article. What should have been a simple write up turned into a hellish week and a half of multiple drafts.

The difficulty comes from the subject matter. It took me several writing attempts to come to terms with what really bugged me with the Sid Meier’s Civilization series, and how that feeling came to be. In a way, it was shocking. The sort of revelation that had it occurred in a different field of my life would be life altering. However since it revolved around an aging and frankly, dying, computer game franchise had little importance.

The main problem the series always had was a lack of personality. I know that sounds a tad ludicrous. A turn based strategy game having “personality”? Sounds silly, I know. In reality though, games do have personality. It is born from a combination of factors such as graphics, art style (do not confuse the two!), dialogue, story, characters, voice acting, actual game mechanics and so forth. All of these come together to create the game’s “personality”. It is this personality that made me fall in love with Starcraft and Total Annihilation to name a few. It was the complete lack of it that made me drop long time series like Command and Conquer and its spin off Red Alert (why are the third installments always so horrendous?).

The Civilization series has always lacked a personality. In the past, that didn’t really matter since it had little to no competition. After all, the Civilization series was a trail blazer in its inception, putting turn based strategy on the map along with few other games. As time went on though, the Civilization series remained more or less the same while the landscape around it shifted and changed.

I am not going to sit here and claim the series itself hadn’t changed as well. It has certainly polished and further developed its mechanics, making leaps and bounds between certain entries. Graphics had certainly improved, so did the strategic depth to some degree. Tactical gameplay was even added with the removal of the dreaded “death stacks” (the ability to pile many units on the same tile and just demolish everything in their path) and unit upgrades. On the whole the series is far better mechanically and graphically than its previous iterations, but that is a given.

In a way, modern Civilization games remind me of an Ikea showroom or a trophy display case. Cold, alien and really boring. Sure it is well constructed and can be even impressive to watch when its all set in place like in the catalogue. Yet once you try to actually live in it or mess with it a bit, thats when things pretty much fall apart.

It wouldn’t have mattered much to me that current Civilization games are so mediocre, had it not been for Mandalore gaming’s review of Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri. Alpha Centauri is pretty much, hands down, the best game ever to come out of the Civilization series. A spin off published in 1999 which was revolutionary for its time. It is a game I still play from time to time to enjoy good story telling, characters and an imaginative world.

I am not going to review the whole game, instead I’ll add a link below to the original review by Mandalore. Of course, seeing an old review wasn’t really what brought me to re-evaluate the entire Civilization series. It was the tacked on review of Sid Meier’s Civilization: Beyond Earth. If you are an Alpha Centauri fan, you would understand the hype that surrounded the game. We had been starving for years for a continuation, or at least an overhaul, of the original Alpha Centauri game into the modern mechanics of Sid Meier’s Civilization V. Civilization: Beyond Earth looked just like that. In the end though, all that hype led to disillusionment and anger at that product we were sold. It was no Alpha Centauri, just a re-skin of Civilization V with the barbarians changed into aliens and everything else being generic to the point of maddening.

Mandalore’s review (highly recommend)

Remembering that colossal failure really brought home just how generic and bland the Civilization series had become, or perhaps had always been. That sort of crystallizing moment where everything falls into place and you finally grasp the bigger picture. Civilization games had always been soulless, mechanical creations devoid of personality. Whatever fun features they had (like the palace that morphed with player achievements) were sandblasted away to deliver the most generic, safe experience. I can’t find real fault with Civilization V or Civilization VI’s core gameplay, but nowadays I can’t find any reason to play them either.

Its a scary thing, to outgrow a series you loved as a kid and as a teen, but it seems like Civilization has nothing really to offer me or any of my friends. We’ve moved on to games that either have more personality or are more mechanically complex. I’ve spent more time playing Paradox Interactive games or re-visiting older iterations such as Alpha Centauri. It is a sign of the times that I couldn’t bring myself to play more than an hour of Civilization V for the purposes of this article. As for purchasing a copy of Civilization VI, I couldn’t justify that to myself. Thankfully I had played a bit on a friend’s copy but overall it just didn’t capture my attention the same way Stellaris or Hearts of Iron IV do these days.

So why the anger, I asked myself? Why am I angry that these games that I loved no longer measure up to present standards? Why am I attacking their character, exposing them as nothing but mechanical constructs lacking a soul? Why am I so bitter about all of this? Well the answer had been provided a few paragraphs before. Because Alpha Centauri exists.

If you watched Mandalore’s review, you’d have seen that Alpha Centauri has the thing Civilization games lacked – Personality. The game oozes it. From the design of the factions, the datalink monologues which are superbly voice acted, the secret project’s (wonder equivalent) videos and base buildings, all of it creates it. Add to it the monument view, an actual story and the alien lifeforms being more than just mere nuisances, and you get a game that earns its place in gaming’s hall of fame. That game came out 20 years ago and seemed to promise not just a new direction for the series, but revolutionary features (such as complex unit customization).

I wrote before that Alpha Centauri was revolutionary for its time, and it certainly was. Sadly though,it didn’t prove to be the series’ French revolution, but rather the 1848 revolution (high brow history joke). In all seriousness, Alpha Centauri’s features never seemed to translate back to the rest of the series, which quickly abandoned it to focus on sandblasting every unique feature so it would all be smooth and easy to learn and generic.

In a conversation with my brother he highlighted that fact to me. Playing a civilization in Civilization V or Civilization VI is meaningless because outside of a couple of unique units, a unique building and a bonus or two, they are all interchangeable. What separates say Russia from Egypt? Egypt can build wonders faster while Russia gets more strategic resources. Compare that to the difference between the Spartans and the University in Alpha Centauri. Each faction had an ideology behind it which could be felt through the datalinks entries and secret projects. You knew what each stood for and how these ideologies came to be. You knew their leaders. Compare that to Civilization where there is no real difference between George Washington and Rahmsas II.

In my eyes, Civilization games became safe and homogeneous so as to appeal to everyone. As pointed out by friends and family, Civilization V was an easy jump in point for newcomers and veterans alike. It had new mechanics and enough changes in the formula to entice old players while proving very friendly to new players who had little to no experience in the turn based strategy genre. Couple it with the graphics and comfortable user interface and you got a very appealing game, for a while. Yet in terms of complexity or feeling, there really is nothing there. Completely soulless.

I pointed before that the series had been a trial blazer. That said, once a path had been established, others would come following through to stake their own claims. In the last decade, crowdfunding and medium sized publishers had been helping to nurse back turn based strategy games. After a long drought, we’ve seen a large boom in the genre with no signs of slowing down. Sure, not every game is a hit, and the Civilization series still dominates the market, but there is more competition which is willing to do what Civilization is too afraid to do: Take big risks.

Endless Legends is one of those competitors. I have my gripes with the game but I have to admit it has many of the strengths Alpha Centauri possesses. It has a narrative, unique factions, style and heaps of personality. Of course it is let down by its awful combat mechanics and laughable unit customization but it still tried. Yes, it faltered in some areas but it still made up for it in many others. On the whole I find it a much more memorable, much more replayable game than Civilization V is.

This was just one example of many, not to mention hybrid games which have taken advantage of advances in computer technology to bring new experiences to life. In this whirlwind of innovation and experimentation, the Civilization series is being rapidly left behind.

The worst part though, is that I know it could do better. 20 years ago the studio behind Civilization released a gem into the market in the form of Alpha Centauri. 9 years ago it overhauled many of the series’ core features. It has the people, the funds and ability. Yet when it tried to re-do Alpha Centauri, it failed spectacularly to the dismay of us all. I think that is the point that sticks with me the most. How could the minds behind Alpha Centauri be so unimaginative and boring 15 years later.

In the show “Misty”, the protagonist Go Hye-ran berates a co-worker that tried to steal her spot as the news anchor. The colleague bemoans Go Hye-ran’s iron grip on the anchor’s chair, saying she doesn’t have that much time in it either way due to her age. Go Hye-ran replies that she will keep that seat because unlike her competitor, she has known real hunger. Not that of the physical kind, but the hunger for the next scoop, the next scandal. Her competition may be younger, but it doesn’t possess the same hunger as her which is why she lost. As I wrote this article, that exchange popped back into my head. How fitting I thought to myself.

Civilization had cemented its spot at the top, but in doing so had become fat and lazy. It became corporate and safe, making that reliable cash but in return, forgot the very hunger that won it that spot. Now younger, hungrier studios are seeking to take its spot and considering the reception for Civilization VI, it may be losing that grip already.

I think that is the greatest tragedy of the Civilization series, its wasted potential. Maybe that is what angers me most. Or maybe I just want Alpha Centauri II

Pathologic 2

Elevating a classic

I had tried several times in the past to play Pathologic. The game intrigued me ever since I saw a live stream of it being played by one of the YouTube personalities I follow. Finding a digital copy for the bargain price of 5$, I dove right in… Then ran straight out.

I really tried! Not once or twice but several times! I went so far as to resort to cheating and yet the game was so obtuse and clunky that I was forced to give up. After playing Pathologic 2 though, I can finally appreciate the story and ideas that the original attempted to convey.

Lets not mince words. Pathologic 2 is a remake of Pathologic. While the graphics had been greatly improved, the mechanics polished and the dialogues actually translated into English instead of being fed to a woodchipper this time around, it still follows the original game’s story.

Pathologic 2 doesn’t try to hide it either. The game revels in it! The game starts in a theater where you meet with the director who tells you just how much of a disaster the first show was. Yet against common sense he decides the play should have a second run in the hope things would go better this time. This is how the game drops you into the heart of things.

So what is Pathologic 2? On the surface its a survival horror game in which the player is thrust into the shoes of the Haruspex, a man looking to find his father’s killer. However, things quickly go awry when a mysterious and deadly disease grips the town, complicating his quest for revenge. Are the plague and his father’s death connected? What is the plague itself; just a terrible malady, the work of an ancient steppe deity or perhaps a being in its own right?

Well none of this matters because the entire game is a play, or perhaps it is real? Is the player character merely an actor fulfilling a role or a real person going through this hell? The game doesn’t give simple answers, instead constantly blurring the lines between the real and the surreal, and I love it all the more for that.

By now you, the reader, are utterly confused so let me set a few things straight. First and foremost, the game is a first person survival horror game as stated before. The player character is a local man sent to the capital city to study surgery before returning home on behest of his father only to find him murdered. The era and location are nebulous but seems to be turn of the 20th century Russian steppe.

Secondly, the game is truly horrifying in a good sense. The horror itself comes not from jump scares or hideous monsters but from the excellent atmosphere and the human condition. From the start the town feels wrong on several levels and as the plague ravages it, it only distorts further. Seeing cold streets turn moldy red and strewn with corpses where bandaged figures roam around begging for mercy amid clouds of disease carrying flies is enough to cause the bravest of persons to leg it.

The horror only deepens as the death toll rises and all modern medicine seem ineffective in the face of it all. It is this existential horror which the game conveys so well, the powerlessness when confronted by something so monstrous yet so mundane as a simple disease. Worst yet, seeing the town itself descend into bloodshed and chaos as services break down and the desperate survivors fight for what few crumbs of food can be found. Truly chilling.

Of course, the disease itself might not be so straightforward as a germ, but possibly has a mind, not to mention a voice, of its own! As the player tries to unravel the mystery of the plague while pursuing revenge, they may unravel the reality surrounding this strange town as well. I was drawn into the strangeness that is the world of Pathologic 2 in a way that very few horror games managed before (Dead Space and Silent Hill are the only comparisons that come to mind).

The second part of survival horror is well, survival. The player has certain stats they must maintain which affect various aspects of their character. Thirst, fatigue, stamina, hunger, health and immunity/infection. Most of this is pretty straightforward. You need to eat in intervals, sleep when too tired and drink to replenish thirst. Health is a given, if you are too sick or in combat you may lose health and need medical supplies and sleep to regain it. Stamina can be depleted in combat or by running and if your thirst is too high you will have less of it. Of course there are plenty of items that can affect one or several stats both positively and negatively so experimenting is always nice.

However in truth Pathologic 2 is not just a survival horror game, but a survival barter horror game. Yes, the major mechanic in the game is trade with non player characters. In fact, trading items is a whole complex economy of its own with various characters having unique items found on them. Each character will require different items in return and values differ between them. The entire system hinges on reputation and “favor” which is the “worth” of items being traded between a player and a non player character. A street urchin may have an egg that will cost you four favors but will only assign value to needles or beetles. While money does exist in the Pathologic 2 universe and there are official shops, not all items can be easily bought and cash is hard to come by. As the plague spreads through the town, shortages also occur, not to mention price increases. Thus bartering is the heart and soul of Pathologic 2 and you’ll be doing an awful lot of it in order to survive.

Reputation is important in Pathologic 2. There are plenty of ways to earn and lose it. The importance of reputation is for the barter system and ease of movement. Trade things more favorably with characters, heal or at least treat the sick and fix water pumps will all gain you reputation which means people will trade with you more readily. Kill the sick, commit burglary or go too far in combat and you lose reputation which will cause people to flee from you or attack you outright. Reputation is often localized and you can see how good (or bad) it is on the map. Its quite easy to believe you’d play a benevolent role until plague infected victims rush you or you are out of food and money and that house down the road probably has both…

There is combat in Pathologic 2, which is not surprising considering it was a feature in its predecessor. This time though, it feels a lot better and less frustrating than in the original. Its still a basic system of click to punch, hold for stronger punch/guard break, right click to guard yourself and regenerate stamina which is needed for attacks. Hit detection is far better than the original and I can say that its functional and easy to master. Of course you may be tempted to just sod it and use firearms. That said, guns require aiming, are slow to reload and may jam as their condition deteriorates with usage. Switching from guns to melee isn’t the smoothest either and most enemies in the game are melee focused.

The real enemy in the game though, is time. The player has only 12 in-game days, 11 considering the last day serves as an epilogue. Many events are specific to certain dates and hours and if missed will affect the overall story. Worse yet, as the game progresses, time seems to speed up, meaning you have even less of it than before to complete certain tasks. This makes managing your time an important factor of gameplay. In fact you’d often be presented with a choice since you can’t be at all places at once and navigating the town takes more time. What do you prioritizeL Finding your father’s killer? Devoting time to the hospital? Working on the cure? Each choice carries its own rewards and pitfalls, yet all further the story along.

Speaking of the story, the player will be locked in a struggle with the plague in order to complete it. Major characters can contract the plague and die of it, meaning you can fail the game if the disease kills important characters. That said if you save enough characters, or certain characters, the story can proceed. As before, time management and choice are everything in Pathologic 2, including who to save.

I want to talk more about the setting. As stated before, the game takes place in what looks like turn of the 20th century Russian town in the steppe. The town itself is a mix of modernity and tradition. The major export of the town is meat, in particular beef which also plays a part in the beliefs and traditions of the locals. The town itself is divided between the more modern, forward looking city folk and the steppe people who favor tradition. All of this has significant meaning in the game.

The game doesn’t just copy pastes buildings for no reason. While there are a few landmarks with unique appearances, much of the town looks the same. In most games its just to give a sense of scale for the player. Pathologic 2 actually gives an in-universe reason for it. This is a game of meta narratives, and the town’s size and shape is another part in the puzzle. After all, the town and its inhabitants are intrinsically (a word I always wanted to use) connected.

Without trying to sound pretentious, a major theme of the game is a clash between ideas. Between the modern town folk and the traditional steppe people. Between superstition and reason, belief and logic and so forth. The player character exemplifies this as well by being a person of two cultures. Born in the town but educated in the ways of the steppe people. Sent to the capital city to study surgery but still learned in the ways of herbal medicine and steppe faith.

This is of course, a huge lie. You are not the Haruspex, you are an actor and you are playing a part in a play. Because the second, and I’d say major, theme of the game is agency and choice. Is the Haruspex really choosing or are you the one making the choices? Is the Haruspex a master of his own fate or just a puppet, a mask worn by a performer and the entire game a play put for the benefit of an audience of one?

This is hardly a spoiler since as written before, the game boldfacedly tells you at the start that this is a theatrical production… Or perhaps not? What is true, what is false, who can say!? Indeed Pathologic 2 constantly makes you question the reality it presents to you, again in a good way. In fact, the theatrical motifs are present throughout the game. The theater lies at the center of town and every in-game night performs a piece that foreshadows future events or presents current ones in a different light. Mask wearing individuals can be seen and interacted with throughout the town, and all major characters seem to have one or more representing their inner selfs. Once the plague hits, the theater becomes a hospital and a morgue, the player encouraged to spend time there to earn rewards. The less said about the scary beak masked orderlies, the better…

Indeed, I could talk for days about the merits of Pathologic 2 and I wouldn’t get bored of it. That said, am certain the reader would by now so all you need to know is that Pathologic 2 is really really good and I recommend it even to people who are not that into horror.

The only complaint I heard and thought was somewhat justified was the fact this is basically just one of the three original stories from the previous game. That said it was long enough (took me nearly 40 hours to finish, though a more competent player would probably be done in around 20 hours) and the developers did state they will bring the other two stories perhaps in the form of downloadable content.

For players of the original, a few minor things worth mentioning. A fast travel system has been added, but it does cost time and items. The Haruspex can upgrade his wardrobe with items to increase carrying capacity, not to mention the ability to fix weapons and instruments by yourself. A whole system of diagnosing and treating the sick had been added. Sound design has been improved but still retains much of the original. As for the soundtrack, it is different but similar enough to the first game that it took me a while to realize the change. It is still pretty good.

Regardless, I came into the game with high expectations and was not disappointed. My game of the year. Its done, can’t be topped. 10/10.

Quantum State of Stupid

David Cage seems to have never played a computer game in his life

I am going to be honest with you this isn’t the article I had planned for today. In fact, I already had another article thought up which I only needed to put to paper. However, as usual in our current gaming news cycle, things came up and forced me to re-schedule. What caused me to push back my article was a tweet by David Cage about how Detroit: Become Human was a great game that changed his life and showed how games can be about more than just senseless violence.

I mean, for God’s sake David, not in public!

Now, you might think that is the most pretentious thing a game producer can say about a game they made, and you would be absolutely right. You’d also wonder though, why a game producer would engage in an act of self fellatio in public. One commentator put up the theory that David Cage had simply meant to use a disposable twitter account to post this ego boosting tweet and just messed up, which is even more sad. Regardless, it allowed the internet writ large to make more fun of David Cage, gaming’s Uwe Boll.

The comparison to Uwe Boll, the German movie director, is a tad unwarranted. Uwe Boll makes horrible video game movie adaptations, but they are meant to flop. David Cage makes horrible video games because he can’t make movies. Yes, David Cage wants to make movies, no matter what he says in interviews, because all of his games are pretentious attempts at making a Hollywood blockbuster in game form.

Seriously, this is a guy who talks about emotions and the industry’s need to grow up, and yet every game he produced looks like it was written by a 13 year old boy. I say boy, because David Cage’s sex scenes seem like they were ripped from a 13 year old’s understanding of what sex is like.

Jim Sterling in an almost accurate portrayal of David Cage

Worst yet, David Cage is a coward. I know he is a coward because when people started drawing political comparisons to racism in Detroit: Become Human, David Cage quickly put an end to speculations by saying that they were not connected. This infuriates me because not only did he heavily, and I do mean heavily, steal examples of racism from history and exploited them in his game, he then tried to pretend he did so without any political meaning… I mean, just wow!

When people attacked him over allegations of rampant racism and homophobia in his studio, David Cage was quick to parade Jesse Jackson and Ellen Page as a shield from criticism in the tone of “I am not racist/homophobic, I know a black/lesbian person”. It was exasperating to say the least.

I think this is the place to put a little disclaimer saying that I didn’t actually play any of his last three games. Instead, I watched them on YouTube and saved myself a whole bunch of money. In fact, I had more fun watching different Let’s Plays of the absurdity that is a David Cage game, then I would have playing the actual games. Why? Because they are not real games.

David Cage games are just based on “press X to advance plot” and quick time events mechanics; essentially walking simulators with too many cutscenes, too little plot or character and worst yet, laughable dialogues. They aren’t even that great in the genre as I found Until Dawn a much better, more suspenseful game than Heavy Rain which many consider to be David Cage’s magnum opus, and ain’t that pathetic.

What irked me the most from his comment wasn’t just the nerve to masturbate in public, but the sheer ignorance on display. He touted his game as some digital messiah, showing the masses that gaming can be more than violence when there is already a plethora of games that did just that, much better and long before David Cage crawled into the video game industry to try and be the king of the pond.

So instead of just pouring more vitriol on poor David Cage, I’ll take the opportunity to educate him, and the readers, on the many games that have little to no violence or use said violence to tell compelling games and even cleverly subvert player’s expectations. Perhaps David Cage will learn something, perhaps he’ll even grow as a person. Honestly though, I doubt it.

Subnautica – The beautiful oceanic world of Subnautica is a gorgeous and mysterious place to explore. It takes the elements of survival games, a well crafted world and gives the player a goal: Escape. Though there is some violence, the player is often discouraged from engaging in it and the weaponry and gadgetry is more aimed at evading hostiles than actually murdering them. If you want to watch a good Let’s Play of it, I suggest Neebs Gaming’s series which is quite hilarious (link below)

Neebs Gaming’s excellent Subnautica series.

Papers Please – There never was a game that did so much with so little. A game in which you play a border crossing station worker in an authoritarian state trying to survive and feed your family. As the game progresses, the amount of regulations and documents to check becomes ever more oppressive. Every day brings new dilemmas. Will you let a mother reunite with her child even though she doesn’t have the right paperwork and get a citation, or will you go by the book and deny her entry because you’ve already got two warnings and another one will mean no paycheck to buy food, medicine or heating for your sick and starving family.

Fez – A beautiful game about exploring using 2d graphics on a 3d axis which allows for some clever puzzles. The game is just gorgeous and fun and I enjoyed every moment in it.

Stardew Valley – My all time favorite game. This nicely pixelated game allows the player to build their own farm, explore mines and just enjoy a nice country life while revitalizing the local village and getting to know its inhabitants. Its fun, relaxing and can be 100% violence free. It also invoked more emotions in me than whatever polygon count Ellen Page has in Beyond: Two Souls.

The SimsThe Sims series has four entries already and is all about managing the life of a simulated person in a simulated neighborhood. Whatever you personally feel about the franchise, you can’t dispute that its hardly violent and allows people to live out their all controlling fantasies of a perfect life. Also the Sims themselves emote better than any David Cage character ever did.

SimCity – Before the franchise was murdered by Electronic Arts’ greed, the game series allowed you to build and manage a city. That is all. You just built a city according to your wishes and tried to manage it as it changed and evolved. The only violence possible was enacted by natural, and sometimes unnatural, disasters which you’d have to contend with.

Any game with Tycoon in its title – Seriously. Pick one from a hundred. None of them are about violence.

Any racing game – See the above.

Farming Simulator – I don’t like Farming Simulator. I hate Farming Simulator for being such a boring game. Guess what David Cage? It isn’t violent.

Euro Truck Simulator 2 – Its a game about hauling goods across Europe and growing a business. It has 0 violence and allows for a relaxed, peaceful gameplay.

Of course there are more non violent games but you catch my drift. Now let’s proceed to games that are violent but use that violence to make a point:

Shadow of the Colossus – In Shadow of the Colossus you play an adventurer trying to resurrect a woman by making a pact with a demon to slay the colossi who roam the forgotten realm. Some of the colossi are so huge as to technically qualify as skyscrapers and the game does a great job of pacing encounters by long riding segments, exposing you to the world. It also has a touching story about love and sacrifice that is carried with almost no dialogue. Unlike a David Cage game that has a lot of dialogue but hardly any emotion.

Max Payne 1+2 – I love the first two Max Payne games. They are masterpieces in writing and execution. The first game is a film noir style, third person shooter following the exploits of undercover cop Max Payne, who is looking for the people who pushed a dangerous narcotic that caused the murder of his family. He gets caught in a whirlwind of violence and corruption that leads to a brutal killing spree that is both satisfying and emotionally damaging. By the end of the first game I was emotionally drained as I released my finger from the trigger. The second game deals in the aftermath of such tragedy and how empty and broken Max really is from his experience. Its a sad tale of a man who went over the edge and can never return. Two true cult classics which I still replay from time to time to remind myself there is such thing as good stories in video games.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – The granddaddy of the first person military shooter, for better and worse. While it did sire a terrible gaming legacy of derivative, copy pasted games, it did also reinvigorate the first person shooter genre that had gotten stale by that point. However its greatest strength is still its story that shows the limits, and cost, of military intervention. There is a reason why the scene of a city getting nuked is still shocking and well remembered to this day.

Spec Ops: The Line – I both love, and hate Spec Ops: The Line. It is a game that takes all the tropes and cliches of first person military shooters and turns them on their head. It is a game that lets you revel in the violence before pulling the rug under your feet and planting you face first in the mess that you just created. It is a game that leaves you an empty husk by the end. A game that I could only play once and yet almost every scene and level is etched in my memory. A game that has a lot to say about the relationship between player and player controlled character. It is more mature than any game David Cage has ever and will ever produce. It is, simply put, art.

Of course, these are but a few of the games I know and care to remember on such a short notice but its more than enough to drive in the point that David Cage is full of it. In reality, gaming is already choke full of good games that tell adult stories much better than anything David Cage’s 13 year old brain could comprehend. The fact he is so ignorant of the industry he works in is more an indictment of his lack of awareness and ability than anything else. So perhaps David, you can start playing actual video games instead of those elongated cutscenes you try and sell us as games. Also how is Detroit: Become Human non violent when a character uses a rocket launcher to blow shit up!? Tell me David… TELL ME!