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!

The Moomin Meta Game Failure of our Time

Moomin Amatin is what you get when you mix a dictionary with a kool-aid bottle

Disclaimer: Salivan Harddin is a member of Snuffed Out [B B C], a former member of Pandemic Legion [-10.0] and is acquainted with penifSMASH (we talked like, twice, omg bias!)

If you’ve played EVE Online for the last month and tried to keep up with any of the game’s news, the banning of Brisc Rubal would probably be something you’d be aware of. Not only did it make the rounds in the New Eden media circles, but even gotten coverage from the wider gaming press. To give you a short synopsis, Brisc Rubal is a member of The Initiative. [INIT.] which is part of the Imperium coalition that elected him to the Council of Stellar Management (CSM), a body that discusses and debates upcoming changes to the game with the developers as well as acting as a conduit for the woes of the playerbase. Since it gets privileged information, the players are bound by non disclosure agreements (NDAs). That said, the CSM had been embroiled with plenty of controversy since its establishment, with Brisc Rubal seemingly the latest in a long line of players to take advantage of their position to leak privileged information for personal gain. Of course, if you did follow the saga to its eventual conclusion, you would have learned that Brisc Rubal was actually innocent all along.

Of course, following the exoneration, people wanted to know who told on Brisc, and why? Theories cropped up and it all culminated in a confrontation between Killah Bee and Hy Wanto Destroyer on the Meta Show. I can’t comment on the regular quality of a show produced by the dregs of New Eden, also known as Imperium News Network (INN for short, flaming pile of trash for accuracy), but it was a bizarre episode. Killah Bee, himself a member of CSM, inadvertently confessed that he informed CCP Games on the possible breach following a conversation he had with penifSMASH on the upcoming changes to high angle weapons (HAW). As it turned out, penifSMASH had acquired Dark Shines’, one of The Initiative’s fleet commanders who got banned alongside Brisc Rubal, Molok titan and regretted it. The rest, as they say, is history. Killah Bee informed CCP Games, CCP Games banned Brisc Rubal and another two players, one of which is the aforementioned Dark Shines, and a whole rollercoaster of speculation and backpadeling ensued.

Of course, mentioning penifSMASH’s name to The Mittani, one of the two hosts of the show, was enough to to cause the latter a stroke. I admit, I have never seen a grown man so enraged and possibly coked out of his mind. He flew into a rage, grilling Hy Wanto Destroyer for details and just constantly shouting that he is The Mittani and he needs no evidence because he is The Mittani! I mean, it would be entertaining if it wasn’t so pathetic. This is the leader of the largest coalition in EVE Online, a man boy so out of touch with the game that he has to assert that he knows whats up while obviously being utterly lost and trying desperately to gather crumbs of information from Hy Wanto Destroyer’s mutterings.

https://clips.twitch.tv/DaintyBoldEagleYouDontSay (I tried embedding it half a dozen time but either I am retarded or WordPress is)
He is The Mittani, he knows everything! (except not)

So why The Mittani was so enraged? Well there is a lot of bad blood between penifSMASH and The Mittani harkoning back to the days of GoonSwarm [OHGOD] when The Mittani was treated with the seriousness he deserved: None. Its not really clear to me what happened during those times and in the few public conversation penifSMASH had which I witnessed, he only said that the anger was justified, which already shows that penifSMASH, unlike The Mittani, is healthy enough to recognize when he is in the wrong and like a decent human being, own it and move on. I know this seems petty but as we go down the Moomin rabbit hole it will all make sense.

Regardless The Mittani, still upset and coming down hard from his drug fueled craze (allegedly), sent his lackeys to write a hit piece blaming the entire event on penifSMASH because of reasons. Thus enters Moomin Amatin, a sad little man so desperate to get The Mittani’s approval that he’d go to any lengths to appease his master.

Now I haven’t really followed Moomin’s career in INN closely because I have much better things to do with my life but I am no stranger to his writings. He has the Sion Kumitomo problem of needing to sound intellectual. You know the type; uses big words, long sentences and a lot of hyperbole. I get it, anyone who writes has that phase when they try to show that they are really smart. However most good writers grow the fuck out of it. For Moomin, that style is his life. His self esteem hangs on it!

Moomin goes about investigating the same way inspector Clouseau goes about gathering evidence: Like a blithering idiot. Once he gets the expected responses from penifSMASH and Hy Wanto Destroyer (that is, fuck all) he goes on to write his spin piece how it was all a clever ploy by penifSMASH who hates The Initiative because of reasons and how Hy Wanto Destroyer is nursing a snake and should act before its too late or The Initiative will have no reason to trust him and so forth. To be frank I skimmed most of the article because it was the most amateurish, blatant propaganda and disinformation piece I’ve ever seen, worthy of Fox News. Fuck the evidence, he is The Mittani!

Usually I’d just scoff at such blatant stupidity put on full display and leave a disparaging remark, insulting the intelligence and integrity of the writer, which I did. Of course my very respectful and totally innocent comment got deleted by the moderators who are obviously the enemies of free speech (when goons get banned, but weirdly not when others do), but I shrugged it off and made jokes about oppression to my fellow Snuffed Out pilots. However being linked excerpts of the article and reading them thoroughly as well as the comments of the imbeciles buying this blatant cow shit (equal opportunity insulter) made me quite mad. I admit it, I got angry.

firefox_2019-04-29_22-56-42
Very respectful!

I got angry because, in the end, I care for the truth. I care for the whole story to be told in the most neutral and impartial way. That is why I have kept off writing about the whole Brisc Rubal situation since things kept developing and I felt like I didn’t have a complete grasp of the entire affair, which as it turns out, I didn’t. Its why I write battle reports on the New Eden Report, tired of spin, hype and general inaccuracies and wanting to do justice by the pilots and fleet commanders who actually participate in those struggles. Because I’d like to think it all matters in the end.

You might think its a bit naive of me, and you may be right. Yet the fact Moomin blatantly misconstrued the truth and sought to create a vast conspiracy theory with penifSMASH at its center is something I feel shouldn’t be overlooked, but used to repeatedly bash him until his empty skull caves in, in-game of course.

The problem with Moomin’s article, besides the fact his reasoning skills are limited by the tiny oxygen intake his mouth breathing allows him, is that it undermines itself. Moomin has no evidence to work with so he keeps insinuating, using the pilot’s employment history as some sort of evidence. He has no ability to process the idea that people can, and often do, change their perspectives and relationships. He also can’t point to any “End Game” plan that penifSMASH supposedly has. I mean if you are accusing him of conspiring to take down The Initiative and failing, at least explain what purpose it would serve in the grand scheme of things.

Moomin can’t do that of course, because Moomin is a propagandist. He is the Joseph Goebbels of INN, only able to spout lies that convince the faithful, the converted, the indoctrinated. Buying into his own kool-aid, he had long thrown away any critical thinking skills he possessed, if ever. Thus, the uncreative hack fraud works to keep the line members happy by spooking them with the specter of penifSMASH. He is also trying to drive a wedge between The Initiative and Snuffed Out, to keep the former chained forever in service of the Imperium. After all, The Initiative is a much better organized, more experienced PvP group in the Imperium. Though the Imperium has a few gifted fleet commanders and special interest groups (SIGs) of its own, The Initiative is still a formidable power within the coalition and losing it will cripple the coalition somewhat.

Thus Moomin works to saw the seeds of doubt and fear. Snuffed Out is bad! It tried to take down your leadership! It tried to destroy you with the dreaded “meta game”, a term so frequently misused as to be devoid of any meaning it once had. Fear the outsider, trust in the coalition, after all when was the last time The Mittani had led you astray (2015 and 2016 called, wants to know why you never call them back). Snuffed Out doesn’t have your best interests in mind, and so forth and so forth. God, just writing this down makes me want to go and chug a bottle of bleach to kill the brain cells dedicated to his infantile writing.

Yet for all of Moomin’s ramblings, he can offer nothing, no insight. I kept wanting to shout time and again: WHY MOOMIN, WHY IS HE DOING ALL OF THAT!? No answer of course. To answer the question would simply raise more questions. The reality is penifSMASH finally bought a shiny Molok only to be disappointed by his purchase and complaining to his friend Killah Bee which was a lapse in judgement, nothing more. Twisting it to some nefarious plot is a skill Moomin doesn’t possess. You need actual brains to try and and concoct a good conspiracy out of it, and brains are sadly something Moomin wasn’t blessed with.

The most insulting bit is the fact that there is no artistry to these lies, no delicacy or some complexity. Its so blatant, so obvious that it infuriates me that such scumbags get away with it. That they are considered a legitimate news site while in reality being a third tier tabloid rag. When you make The Sun look respectable in comparison, you done fucked up. Just to take a page from their playbook, I am going to show you how their loaded questions work:

Is Moomin Amatin a pedophile? Does he molest little girls or boys? Is he a member of an EVE Online pedophile ring that includes Dirk MacGirk and Xenuria? Is The Mittani aware that there is a pedophile ring operating in Goonswarm Federation [CONDI] and what does he plan to do about it? After all he is the leader of the alliance and the coalition. I mean, I am only asking questions!

Jesus Dirk! https://www.reddit.com/r/Eve/comments/bihnq3/maximum_overdirk_reaching_new_levels_someone_call/

This is what he does. This is what INN does. They keep insinuating and planting seeds of doubt and division. They have no evidence, no real knowledge or facts. Yet they push relentlessly the most absurd theories and notions to insulate their captive audience. When you call out their bullshit and expose it as what it really is, they hide behind the “Just asking questions” tag, feigning shock horror that you’d go and trample on their sacred freedom to ask misleading, loaded and malicious questions to lead their gullible flock.

There is no good faith basis here, no equal valley where we can meet and discuss facts, they don’t care about facts! These people are so twisted and deranged that they have convinced themselves and others that the entire game is against them. Everything that happens in the game is some sort of ploy or scheme to hurt them. Nothing is their fault! World War Bee? You mean the Casino War which CCP Games endorsed! The developers themselves are against us! More whining, more crying and of course, always spin things.

Some of you would wonder, well, why? Why do they do these things? The simple answer is fear. These are mentally ill people who invested their entire image and identity in the game. They built their thrones on lies and misappropriated credit and fear their exposure. People on the know how, people who had helped build those empires only to see themselves marginalized and thrown out are treated like the enemy. Endie, Darius JOHNSON, penifSMASH, all part of the founders of GoonSwarm, all treated like traitors and mentally ill. Because they know the truth, thus they must be discredited, persecuted and destroyed. Because they can see the emperor has no clothes and allegedly snorting cocaine.

Thus they have their useful idiots like Moomin spout off propaganda for the masses to consume and remain ignorant while suppressing any shred of the truth. Create narratives, build that “us” versus “them” mentality and always be vigilant of penifSMASH, for he may pop up behind you and snag your Vexor navy issue! The sad part this seems to work, but I’d be damned if I’d allow it to go on unchallenged.

Now when is The Mittani going to address the rampant pedophilia going on in his alliance? Just asking questions!

(I am in no way insinuating that The Mittani uses recreational drugs or that Moomin Amatin is a pedophile. Not so sure about Xenuria and Dirk McGirk though…)

Story Time

The real issue with lack of story in computer games

I have a habit of watching old reviews on YouTube. I either put them as background noise while playing strategy games, or watch them while eating. I enjoy listening over and over to the way different people analyze a game and present their opinions. The focus on certain aspects, the consistency or lack thereof in a series, the style of presentation, I find them all fascinating. I say this because I have recently watched several reviews of various Call of Duty and Battlefield titles.

In particular the Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 reviews had weighed down on my mind. The game, the latest installment in a… somewhat(?) venerated series had launched without a single player campaign, which rubbed certain reviewers the wrong way. Now, I myself had not played a Call of Duty game ever since the first Modern Warfare title whose story was good, not great. I also understand, by watching reviews and reading comments, that the series’ main campaigns had been getting sillier and sillier with each installment. With many people playing Call of Duty for its online portion only, axing the single player campaign seems quite fine. Like removing a vestigial tail. So why were people angry?

This question gnawed at me for a while and when I finally sat down to ponder it, it didn’t take long to reach a conclusion. There are several things wrong with removing a component of a long standing franchise. I may have found the Call of Duty series a pandering mess (just reading the synopsis of some of the titles is enough to induce a migraine) but many people do like these stories and buy the games for the single player aspect (those mad bastards!).

Another issue is the trend chasing. Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 has sacrificed its single player campaign for a few cooperative missions and a battle royale mod. With so many battle royale games saturating the market already, its no wonder some long standing fans were turned off from the franchise as they felt abandoned by it. After all, if there is one thing Call of Duty was known for was its fast pace, twitch reflex combat. Sidelining it for some battle royale mod, no matter how well implemented, feels like a betrayal of the very core foundation of the series. I know that feeling well considering Battlefield V had a battle royale mod announced for it close to release and as a lifelong Battlefield fan I voted with my wallet and said “no”.

However it wasn’t until Apex Legends that the full answer came to me. See, all the things I detailed above are important. They are core component of what makes Call of Duty basically Call of Duty. It is the reason people pay 60$ at least for the basic game, not to mention season passes, expansions and cosmetics. Angry Joe said it best when he stated that they basically removed a third of the title’s value. That is what at the heart of the removal of a single player campaign; expectations.

It is always about expectations. The computer games industry had conditioned us that certain titles, priced at certain values, will contain a set amount of content. In first person shooters, that content may vary by franchise, but most often its a single player campaign and a multiplayer component. When you purchased Call of Duty you bought a story and an online component. That is why you paid 60$. For a while, that was seen as a reasonable price but with the rise of free to play games and independent titles gaining more mainstream appeal, that pricing point has become tenuous at best.

Thus, when Call of Duty basically threw away one of its key selling points and added a mod that, while I understand functions well, is still anathema to the core experience of the series. So much so that it lost much of its identity and advantage over its competition. This forced fans to ask themselves if they are still willing to support such a title when there are alternatives elsewhere, much cheaper yet just as good. After all, you don’t see anyone going after Apex Legends or Counter Strike: Global Offensive for having no single player story or experience. In fact, both titles are enjoying huge popularity, with the latter being a staple of online first person shooters for decades and the former threatening to unseat Fortnie as most popular battle royale game with its monstrous growth in popularity.

Of course, there are other factors in play here as well, such as Activision-Blizzard’s nickel and diming of its player base, but up until now, that base was fine with some of it so long as the core experience remained the same. Get a new title, play an over the top, cliche laden campaign, have some online matches then move to the next release. Rinse, repeat. Messing with this formula by removing a key component had thrown the whole equation off. How can you justify buying the same title for the same price when it has less to offer you than before? A new battle royale mod is nice and all, but it is still part of the online experience. Merely a new multiplayer mod to add to the rest. It is no substitute for the single player experience.

Activision-Blizzard is not alone in basically gouging out core features that had been the standard in computer games only to sell them back later on or just ignore them completely. We as consumers already lost cosmetics, full game on release, demos, betas and the list goes on. Now we are losing story as well. Just read Electronic Arts’ line on the single player campaign being a mistake or the fact that their first Star Wars: Battlefront game launched without a single player campaign either and the second one included one only due to fan backlash. The reason for the backlash? The pricing.

I pointed to expectations previously and I’d like to repeat it. When we purchase a 60$ game, we expect a certain experience. In major published first person shooters, it is the campaign feature. Regardless of the overall quality and length (a discussion for a separate article), we expect a single player story. It is how first person shooters had slowly evolved. Heck, Call of Duty’s entire success as a franchise to eclipse Battlefield was thanks to the first Modern Warfare’s title blowing everyone’s minds. Having such a poignant story showed everyone that gaming can tackle mature, adult themes while having fun gameplay.

Taking it away is removing a third of the experience. A battle royale game in the Call of Duty series is not a bad thing altogether, and as I mentioned before it seems Blacklight (Black Ops 4’s name for its battle royale mod) is quite a fun experience. However I don’t think, and as comments and reviewers have demonstrated, its worth 60$. There is a reason why Fortnite and Apex Legends are thriving, and that is due to be a free to play experience. I enjoy playing Apex Legends immensely. If it was sold at 30$ I may have bought it. As a full priced release though, I’d hesitate immensely because my expectations of a 60$ title differ greatly from a 30$ or a free to play game.

That is the heart of the matter. As time went by, we as consumers have been getting diminishing returns for the same dollar price. While people argue about inflation and how games should cost more, the consumers have been getting less and less at a time where development costs have remained more or less stable as profits soared. Now they’ve gouged out a major component and sold us the same title, banking on previous installments’ reputation to purchase an inferior version. Its not just insolent, its downright depressing.

It is depressing because people continue to purchase these titles. It is depressing because for all the cost saving, corner cutting measures major publishers deploy, there are still good stories waiting to be told that never get the option or platform to do so. If it weren’t for the stories of the Call of Duty and Battlefield series, we wouldn’t have gotten an amazing title such as Spec Ops: The Line. Now with the story component erased, what is the point of a new installment? To re-do progression? To have a slightly more polished version even though current online connectivity allows patching and overhauls? What differentiates previous Call of Duty titles outside of a reskin? Well, the fact that they offer us less for the same exact price.

This is the ultimate problem with removing story experiences from major titles. It is the exposure of the underlying greed which turns us into cynics and nihilists. What else would publishers strip from their flagship titles? I don’t wish to speculate for fear I’d be giving these people ideas. What is for sure, is that the games we once cherished as complete packages have become a threadbare affair, not worth their asking price. Pour one out for Soap Mactavish.

Apex Legends

So I’ve decided to make a first impression rather than a full review of Apex Legends for several reasons which are: 1) The game only came out recently so I’d need a few weeks/months to play it before I could reach what I’d call a thorough conclusion. 2) I’ve been unable to write anything else. 3) I’ve been playing Apex Legends non stop since its release which might’ve been a contributing factor for second reason :thinking:.

In all honesty, I wasn’t going to play Apex Legends, let alone give my impressions of it, but after seeing a couple of reviewers giving it positive scores I thought I might as well try myself. God knows that I have been looking for a good shooter ever since Battlefield V decided it wanted to appeal to… I have no idea what crowd to be honest, and I’ve never been a huge fan of Call of Duty series. As for Playerunknown Battlegrounds, I have uninstalled it a year ago and have been quite happy with that decision.

Thus I did one of the most horrible things I could do to my computer and installed Origin… Eew. After downloading the game I booted it up and was hooked in from the start. For those still in the unclear, Apex Legends is a first person squad based battle royale game, courtesy of Respawn Entertainment, the studio behind the Titanfall series and luminaries of Infinity Ward, the developers of Call of Duty. Already there is quite a pedigree behind the title, ruined slightly by being published by Electronic Arts, the most evil major game publisher, except for all the rest.

Okay, another battle royale game, its not like we have a shortage of them these days, so what differentiate Apex Legends from the rest? Quite a lot to be frank. It feels to me like Respawn Entertainment played several battle royale games and went item by item on what frustrates players or slows down the gameplay and simply fixed them.

The first thing that defines Apex Legends is mobility. The game is built for free running, shoot on the move action. There is no fall damage, almost every surface can be climbed, there are zip lines strewn all over and certain characters can even make their own, you can even slide across the battlefield shooting from the hip before face planting into a boulder. Movement is key which makes gunfights all about maneuvering rather than sitting still behind cover, popping over to shoot a few rounds before ducking back in.

The second change are the heroes. The game currently has a roster of eight heroes, six unlocked from the start, which have unique abilities. Each hero has three abilities which I’ll demonstrate with my favorite one, the Wraith. You have a passive skill, which in the Wraith’s case allows her to know when she is being targeted by hostile players. There is the active ability, which allows her to become ethereal for a few seconds (basically a free get out of jail card) and an ultimate which creates a dimensional void that connects two points on the battlefield and is usable by her squad (or anyone who stumbles upon it to be frank).

This in effect means that every squad will synergize differently depending on the type of heroes chosen. To make sure there are no fights on who will be x character, the game makes a squad choose its heroes in a randomized order before each match, meaning no one can hog the same character if someone else wants to have a try.

Okay, so its Playerunknown Overwatch or Overwatch Battlegrounds? Yes and no. The heroes are just one part of the puzzle, you still have the loot. Looting itself is quite fast and convenient. You get fixed spots that can be increased via backpacks, you have your guns, your armor and your utility items. So far so good. That said, the game automates a lot, meaning you don’t have to spend time managing your inventory or dragging attachments to rifles. You want to change rifles but you have attachments? Simply swap the guns and the mods will be automatically transferred to your new weapon (if its possible, if not it just goes back to your inventory).

You have the usual range of weapons such as handguns, sub-machine guns, shotguns, assault rifles, snipers and so forth. All come in various shapes and sizes all slightly futuristic in one way or another. Thankfully ammo is color coded and the game will tell you if the ammo you pick is the right one.

Of course, what is loot without tiers? Here too, Apex Legends conforms to the mold while surpassing it. You have white, blue, purple and yellow loot. White is most common with basic stats, while yellow is legendary and is hard to find. But what happens if your nice purple body armor gets damaged in a fight? In other games, you’d need to replace it with another, in Apex Legends you simply use energy cells to repair it. This is a huge change in my view because it removes the problem of needing to loot new body armor after a firefight and being at a disadvantage compared to other squads.

Talking about squads, the game is set at three people per squad and 20 squads per match, meaning the servers cap at 60 players. You start the match on a dropship and each squad launches when it wants to. The major difference is that each squad gets a randomly assigned jumpmaster that decides when to launch and navigates the squad in the air. This means squads can’t disperse, that is unless players decide to willingly disengage and fly their own merry way, before landing near a full squad and getting butchered. Of course the role of jumpmaster can be relinquished and passed along like a hot potato in the squad.

The emphasis is on squad work. A lone player will rarely be able to fight off a full squad considering just how mobile it is. Firefights are not static in the least and players can find themselves easily flanked. To facilitate squad work, the developers created a wonderful ping system that helps player communicate even without talking. Spotted an enemy? Use the middle mouse button to report him. Found a good piece of body armor but already got one yourself? Use the middle mouse button to report and mark it for your squad. The game really helps people like me that are shy in online matches to still communicate efficiently without using the push to talk function. Oh I forgot, the game’s default is push to talk and has a dedicated key. Bethesda, take note!

Of course another innovation the game brings is respawning. I swear Respawn Entertainment just played a match of Playerunknown Battlegrounds and got frustrated when half its team got wiped out and had to sit out the rest of the match. Respawning goes like this, after a player is downed, if they bleed out or are killed, they leave a banner in their container. If a teammate picks it up within 90 seconds, they can then bring it to one of the respawn beacons strewn across the map. After a few seconds of inputting it in, a shuttle will come around and return the deceased player to the battlefield. A squad can respawn up to two members at the same time (I mean if all three died that is a wipeout). The only catch is that freshly spawned players have no equipment on them, which makes sense. There is no limit to the amount of times one can be respawn yet each respawn beacon is only usable once. This solves the problem of players dying then forced to sit out most of a match. It also gives them an incentive to remain at their desk and wait for a respawn.

Talking about core mechanics, gunplay is important in any first person shooter. Sadly, I am no expert in first person shooters so I can’t tell you objectively how good or bad it really is. What I can tell you is that I had fun with it. It feels closer in my opinion to Call of Duty’s style, with some recoil, bullet drop and satisfying sound.

The game does a good job of creating conflict zones. While all battle royale games rely on the shrinking map to force players into conflict, Apex Legends is a bit more active about it. The start of a match there is a random “Hot Zone” where you can find better quality loot but everyone will be gunning for it. The loot crates are replaced with supply ships which will drop randomly within a circle. They offer a lot of weapons, ammunition and some rarer items but can only be accessed via zip lines and are basically floating structures so firefights within them can be hectic and fun. Each match by the way starts with one of them already present and a few squads will always try to land on top of them.

Graphically the game looks good, it looks Titanfall and it feels in certain ways like Titanfall (though sadly no wall running or double jumping). There is currently only one map out but it has varied biomes, different structures and many barriers creating effectively “rooms” that are interconnected with many paths. There is never a feeling of being bottlenecked but at the same time there is a certain feeling of safety from your “neighbors”, at least if you landed far enough. Verticality also plays a part, with plenty of valleys and cliffs. Rivers are also present and wading through them is a great way to advertise your presence.

So it looks good, has solid mechanics and interesting innovations, but how does it hold up on the technical side? Very good. It is a horrible indictment of the current state of gaming when I remark to a friend how stable and polished the launch feels. I didn’t experience any lag or rubberbanding throughout my countless hours of gameplay and the few stuttering I did get were sadly client side rather than server side due to my internet provider being an utter s#*t. There were no hard crashes, no missing textures or animation fails. It was polished to a frightening degree. This launch was basically the opposite of Fallout 76’s.

We get it, its great, but does it have flaws? Sadly yes. I mean, for starters its published by Electronic Arts and is on Origin, so that is a gigantic flaw right there. Secondly, the game has loot boxes. True, they are for cosmetics only but still, its loot boxes and I hate them for what they represent. Thirdly there is quite a bit of grind needed to unlock the two remaining heroes, but you can chuck it up as giving players goals for game progression.

Summing up, Apex Legends is a first person shooter battle royale with locked three person squads, an emphasis on mobility, hero characters and a few other innovations that make it a thoroughly enjoyable experience. Oh and its free but has loot boxes and forces you to install Origin.

If you like the battle royale genre, you’d like this game. However if you were never a fan in the first place this game isn’t going to convert you. Suffice to say I’d save my recommendation for battle royale fans only. Now if you’ll excuse me, I am going to play more Apex Legends.

Evolving the Review

Computer game reviews need to adapt to the new gaming reality

The one good thing that came out of the entire Fallout 76 (my god, I get tired just thinking about that game) debacle for me was the discovery of the Skill Up channel. For those of you who don’t know, Skill Up is a very talented game reviewer on YouTube. His reviews are more akin to long form essays that are well researched, brilliantly built, wonderfully presented and just tied up in a nice narrative ribbon. Just from a writing perspective I must give him mad props.

Now after sucking off Skill Up’s proverbial… thing, I wanted to address one of the points he made in his videos. In his review of Destiny 2, Skill Up dissented from the wider critic praise given to the game, instead calling it a more shallow copy of the first game. Of course, if anyone remembers the original launch of Destiny, it would make them scratch their heads. After all, Destiny 2 seemed to have launched with a lot more features and a lot more content than its predecessor.

Skill Up of course, had an answer for this seeming contradiction. While it was true the original launch of Destiny was a lackluster affair, the game had since been patched and iterated upon with downloadable content and expansions to the point that it quite surpassed its sequel in many areas. The sad fact though, was that many game critics didn’t play that final version of Destiny. Most of them played it around its launch window and after writing their reviews continued on to the next game launch. You can’t really fault them considering their job is to review games. Unlike consumers that often buy a handful of titles a year, game reviewers who wish to remain relevant must keep up with all the major releases in a year.

A good example is Zero Punctuation. Zero Punctuation is one of my favorite game reviewers partly due to his wit and partly because of the way he approaches game reviewing itself. The man posts a video a week, with only the end of the year video being a re-post. This means he reviews 53 titles a year. That said, not all of his reviews are of games themselves, as at times he may highlight important events in gaming history or just pull a sneaky retro review during a barren post major release season. Even so, around 80 percent of his videos would still feature games published in that current year.

Think about the amount of work each review entails as games continue to grow in size and complexity. To give a personal example, one of the early reviews I wrote was for Battletech. As a MechWarrior and MechWarrior Commander fan I was excited to see a new take on the franchise a la XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I must admit I wasn’t disappointed as the game was pretty much everything I wanted and more. Yet before sitting down to write the review I had sunk more than 50 hours into the game in order to finish the main storyline and explore many different options and other side content before I felt confident enough to give my final verdict.

Of course, game reviewers who make actual money reviewing games have the luxury of time compared to amateurs such as myself. Still, just looking at the amount of time I invested in a game such as Battletech, it is comparable to a working week, without taking into account the script writing, the filming, editing and other activities needed to produce good reviews. The amount of work is staggering, and the worst part is that launch seasons can pile the work unevenly. October is already referred by many as “Broketober” due to the amount of major game launches that hope to capitalize on the approaching holiday season. Being a major game reviewer during that time must be quite stressful.

Thus, game reviewers have very little time to invest in re-visiting old games. In another video, Skill Up re-visited No Man’s Sky and reported how the many features that the game was lambasted for missing had since been added, along with myriad of fixes and other improvements that made the game resemble its initial trailer rather than the blend, featureless mess we received at launch. However, most reviews of it still up will be of its launch build because game sites can scant afford to have staffers review old games when new ones are constantly published at a wallet strangling rate.

The problem is, with most major publishers moving towards a “games as service” format (I got plenty to say on that subject but will do so in a separate article) the old style of reviews becomes inadequate. As Destiny proved, whatever faults the game may possess at launch, as time goes by, more and more content is added on a yearly basis, enriching the game and often times fixing a lot of the initial complaints. By the time the game is more or less “complete” it may be radically different than what it was at the beginning and old reviews will not reflect that or give accurate information to prospective buyers, which is kind of the point of game reviews in general.

Another factor to consider is the technological shift. In the past, you shifted a physical copy and that was that. Cartridges, floppy disks and CD-ROMs represented a final version of a game. The moment they were out, that was that, over. If developers wanted to iterate upon a game, they needed to make a new boxed product and have it shipped as well. This meant that reviews could also be final since there was no real way to change or add to the game.

Of course, nowadays games get shipped broken all the time and subjected to day one patches thanks to internet connectivity. Almost every gaming household has a stable internet connection and with game launchers and digital distribution platforms like Steam, applying patches has become an easy and automated process. With the elimination of the need for physical copies comes greater freedom for developers to iterate on their games. Prominent examples are the Paradox Interactive games, each the subject of numerous expansions and downloadable content packs.

Stellaris is my favorite all time Paradox Interactive game. It is the game I have sunk the most hours in other than perhaps EVE Online. The fact is, every year sees new content added to the game with expansions and free patches that fundamentally alter core mechanics. Just last year the Le Guinn free patch (paired with the release of the MegaCorp expansion) saw a complete revamp of the game’s economic systems, changing the way many players including myself play the game. Any review predating it is now factually incorrect, doubly so to reviews from the time of the game’s launch in 2015. Even my own review of the patch is guaranteed to be obsolete within a couple of years as new content and changes are made.

The last example are online games. I already mentioned EVE Online so allow me to elaborate further. EVE Online is a complex game filled with politics and espionage. It is the game that ignited my writing passion. I started by writing battle reports on major engagements where hundreds, even thousands of players fought each other in a myriad of wars and conflicts. It is a living massive multiplayer online game where player interactions drive the narrative. Stepping away from it for a few months and only recently returning both to the game and to writing, I was amazed at some of the major political upheavals that happened in my absence. To catch up to the current political landscape, fleet doctrines and other mechanical changes will take me weeks. Keeping tabs on it all is a full time job considering the amount of player contacts you need to make and maintain.

All of this pretty much proves that the old, set in stone, game review model just doesn’t fit the constantly changing, shifting reality of modern game development. Games have become to some extent living breathing things. Constantly changing and updating by their own nature or the vision of developers and publishers. Thus what was true yesterday no longer applies to today and even less for tomorrow. Navigating this constant change as a consumer can be a real nightmare, as you are deprived of reliable sources of information.

Some outlets have recognized this shift in the gaming landscape and have made strides in hiring staff to write either exclusively on certain games or have existing staff return to older titles to give them a second look. That said, I still think this is more of a stopgap than a real solution. Some reviewers online dedicate themselves to covering certain games or gaming genres and thus often give updates on the same game regularly, while others re-visit their old work to try and see what changed.

That said, I have no real solution to offer. Even Steam user reviews are not a good metric to use since some could have been left by players that have since abandoned the title. Consumers though, need guidance. They need reviews that they could trust and that would give a full picture that will enable them to make an informed choice. So far, some games are being passed over due to bad reviews that refer to earlier builds, while others coast on good reviews that have since become obsolete due to unwanted additions such as microtransactions (looking at you Call of Duty: Black Ops 4).

Whether its a constantly updating review page for a game or weekly re-review of older titles, some sort of system is badly needed. Unfortunately, like the rest of you all I can do is just to keep up to date with my favorite games and write a new review with every major patch or content release.

BioWorn Out

Anthem is shaping up to be the final nail in BioWare’s coffin

In the last week YouTube has been flooded with Anthem videos detailing the experiences of various players and outlets with the timed demonstration. Watching these, I couldn’t shake the feeling of apprehension. I felt as though I was watching a general rehearsal for Anthem’s, and BioWare’s funeral.

I am not going to lie, as intrigued as I am by Anthem, I am also acutely aware of the baggage it carries. A game published by Electronic Arts, one of the worst publishers in the industry and made by a developer that had more misses than hits in recent years. Add to it that it tries to enter a crowded niche that already has several prominent titles to compete with such as Warframe, Destiny 2, The Division and with The Division 2 just around the corner. All of these make for a difficult start.

The demonstration itself didn’t help things. The myriad of technical issues from logging into the servers and instances of lag, random disconnects and characters getting stuck on scenery marred an experience that frankly, as an observer, didn’t exactly wow me. In all fairness, as nice as Anthem looks and as interesting some of its mechanics are, the feeling I got was of a heavier Destiny with a tad more aerial maneuvering. Worse yet, from all reports, it lacks even the basics of social interaction required to give a bit more life to hub world. This is the point where a difficult start slides into very challenging, and sadly the hits aren’t stopping.

2018 was a terrible year for Electronic Arts, and like many gamers, I am not shedding tears about it. The company lost a great deal of its share value, caused legislators world wide to look into loot boxes and micro transactions and even had several European countries demand, and succeed in removing them from games. It managed to rile up large segments of the gaming public with its poor launch of Battlefield V, a game that also caused controversy in various ways which could populate an article of its own. This of course, coming on the heels of the horrible monetization and mangling of Star Wars: Battlefront II, a game that was supposed to be Electronic Art’s apology to those that purchased its predecessor and received a rushed, half baked product then.

Not surprising, the gaming community at large is carrying a grudge against Electronic Arts, quite justified considering the long list of crimes it committed against gaming as a whole. However it does mean that anything associated with it, even remotely, will be under a cloud of suspicion and outright hostility. This is already putting Anthem in such a disadvantage that I scarcely believe it could overcome, not even with an 80’s montage. So damaged is the image of Electronic Arts, and to a lesser extent, BioWare’s.

People seem to forget thanks to the relative success of Dragon Age: Inquisition just how damaged BioWare truly is. The studio that brought us classics such as Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Dragon Age: Origins and Mass Effect also produced some of the greatest duds in those same franchises. Dragon Age II pretty much single handedly killed my interest in the entire series after being nothing but a poorly written, lazy, repetitive and obvious cash grab of a game. People may rightfully pillar Mass Effect: Andromeda, at best a mediocre game with atrocious writing that was further dragged down by a plethora of bugs that served to immortalize it but it wasn’t a true BioWare game. That said Mass Effect 2 was, and it also served to alienate me from another franchise by the same developers. The stripping out of many role playing elements, the plot holes and obvious retcons, not to mention the transition into a mediocre squad based third person shooter all contributed to create a disappointing sequel. Had it not been for the characters themselves and some of the side stories, I would have written off the entire game.

Which is why I was surprised when people were shocked at the original ending of Mass Effect 3 and some of the other issues that cropped up with the horrible downloadable content carve outs Electronic Arts had experimented with in the series. The seeds had already been sown in the previous title and were finally blooming into a great big flower of disappointment and crushed expectations. I have to admit I did enjoy sitting on the sideline watching the entire fiasco go down. That said BioWare at least addressed some of the issues, but the fact remained that the overall trend had not been reversed. In some ways it was accelerated.

Departures of prominent staff members are not uncommon in large companies, doubly so in the computer game industry which is relatively young yet extremely profitable (if you hit it big). Yet when the people that were considered the heart and soul of the company call it quits, you should take notice. Add to it the constant pressure from Electronic Arts that had been riding the loot boxes and microtransaction high from its sports games and slowly polluting the rest of its products with that toxic garbage, and you have a recipe for disaster.

First and foremost, Anthem is a departure from BioWare’s usual style. BioWare is known for creating universes from whole cloth with deep character writing and in the past, interesting and complex stories. These experiences were always delivered in a single player game. Now Electronic Arts is making the studio create an online experience, where players cooperate together to grind missions for equipment and loot in what is known as the looter shooter genre. Basically a style of gaming that can be considered anathema to the studio. Though it does have some experience in the massive multiplayer online field thanks to the Star Wars: The Old Republic title, in reality that game still played more like a regular BioWare role playing game.

BioWare only has to look at Bungie and the mess that is the Destiny franchise to realize just how dangerous this leap of faith is. Unlike BioWare, Bungie had a lot more experience with compelling shooters. After all, its Halo trilogy is still held as some of the best first person shooters in gaming history. Yet even with all that experience, Destiny had a lame start and an okay finish, with a sequel that was somehow even worse than its predecessor. Bungie also had a 10 year contract for the game. Does this ring any alarm bells yet?

This would have been bad enough if it weren’t for one last horrible fact; Electronic Arts needs Anthem to succeed. It had burned so many bridges, lost so many sales that the company is desperate to have one huge financial success. That means it will put impossible expectations on the game that will ultimately disappoint. We saw how shareholders react when a game fails to make 10% more profit than its predecessor a la Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. What will happen when a game falls far wider off the mark? I shudder to imagine.

At this point some of you will be certain that I want Anthem to fail. I’ve been ragging on and on about BioWare’s many failings, the hurdles it must jump over and other difficulties. You couldn’t be more wrong. The reality is I want Anthem to succeed because I don’t want to see a developer that created some of the best games that I truly enjoyed and was even were inspired by go under. I don’t hate what I saw from the demonstrations. I don’t think that the hard work of hundreds of developers should go down the drain, considering their passion and abilities. That said, looking at all things objectively, I just can’t see Anthem succeeding. The deck is stacked against it to such a degree that its just plain tragic.

I wish circumstances were different. I wish Anthem had been given more time to be polished and had a much better demonstration. I wish I could care about a BioWare game like I did when I was a teenager. I wish Electronic Arts didn’t own and control BioWare. I wish and I wish and I wish. But as Gurney Halleck said, if wishes were fishes, we’d all cast nets into the sea. Reality is, there is nothing I, or anyone else outside of Electronic Arts and BioWare, can do to make Anthem not just successful, but worthy of that success.

Thus, after seeing all of this, I can’t help but reach the conclusion that BioWare is doomed. Anthem will not be a smash hit. Electronic Arts will once again fail to meet shareholders’ expectations and the consequences will be dire. Sadly, a lot of good people will lose their jobs due to the greed of a few who refused to see the damage they were inflicting up to the very end. Now if you’ll excuse me, I feel the urge to open a bottle of whiskey and down it.