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Bioshock Infinite: A Future Without Boss Fights

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Spoiler Warning: Read no further if you haven't finished or plan on playing Bioshock Infinite in the future

I already examined the significance of Bioshock Infinite to the Bioshock franchise earlier in the week, wherein I discussed the advantages of letting Bioshock Infinite be the last entry in the series. 

Now, I want to talk about Bioshock Infinites potential impact on the video game industry as a whole. For a significant period of time in video gaming history, one overarching thread that connected most games was the Final Boss Fight against the main protagonist, or perhaps even someone revealed late in the plot to be pulling all the strings. Along the protagonists journey he would face a series of trials or bosses, culminating in the final showdown. The final test of your skill or the thrilling conclusion to the story, a final showdown was in everything from racing games and platformers to role-playing games and shooters. 

The concept of a game devoid of boss fights surely isnt new, and the game industry faces many of the same problems, the great entertainment industry faces as a whole: how to strike the balance between being innovative and feeling familiar. This of particular interest to those trying to advance the first person shooter genre by injecting meaningful and emotional stories into them with varying degrees of success.  One way to do this is to swap a traditional boss fight with waves of standard enemy during which a secondary character tries to complete a certain task or learn a vital truth. Typically though games that adopt this approach sacrifice a well developed villain all together in favor of shadow organized X. To invest the time in creating a fully fleshed out antagonist, and then for there to be no boss fight against them, preposterous!  

Bioshock Infinite not only attempts this but achieves in spectacular fashion. Perhaps it was a knee-jerk you can hardly say anything about a 5 year development is knee-jerkreaction to fan backlash to the rather disappointing boss fight against Atlas at the end of the first Bioshock. Regardless of how they came to the decision to eliminate boss fights, theyre choice to use the antagonist in a manner more critical to the narrative than to the players gunslinging skills serves to increase the impact of individual moments. 

As with Bioshock, each antagonist has a significant amount of information circulated about them before you meet them. Where the boss fights and the areas leading up to them served to lends clues to the evolution of Rapture, Bioshock Infinite is very much wrapped up in the development of people in the current time. The game uses its in a living world to its benefit. Propaganda and rumors are in abundance and by the time you meet Comstock, Fitzroy, Slate, Fink, or Songbird youve heard enough to formulate an opinion even if the information you were given was bias one way or the other. 

bioshock Infinite antagonist

While the foundations preceding each boss are the similar in Bioshock and Bioshock Infinite, the differences are abundant thereafter. When you engage in a one-on-one fight as Jack, the games narrative is temporarily put on hold, the state of Rapture a distant thought, and it purely becomes a skill test for the player. Jack doesnt gain anything from pumping 20 shotgun shells into one guy while avoiding his hack saw. It is purely an interaction between the player  and the game. In Bioshock Infinite the focus is shifted away from the player and you become a witness to the development and advancement Booker and Elizabeth as characters. These distilled moments are far more impactful in the latter scenario. 

No boss fight could ever encapsulate the amount of emotion generated when Elizabeth stabs Fitzroy in the back. That particular moment captures more narrative, and matures the character more than any boss fight imaginable could. You see the in-the-moment impact of what killing means to Elizabeth, and then the following attempt by Booker to comfort her. 

Again, just as Fitzroys death is a big moment in Elizabeths story, the scene in the Atrium where Booker and Elizabeth confront Comstock does more for Booker as a character than any player-inflicted in the game. The choice to substitute standard boss fights for these emotionally charged sequences allows the game to stay better connected to the narrative. Sure you had to fight through waves of enemies to get to that scene, but those moments are worth it

In addition to those two scene, the final or almost final depending on your choice confrontation with Slate shows an interesting mechanism built into the plot. He the guy who has been hounding you and sending hundred of men to their death, well knowing they couldnt stop Booker. And when you meet him, you are faced with not a daunting boss encounter but a wounded man asking for death by you hand. 

On all three count the game builds up to a crescendo and delivers not a 10 minute boss fight, but a singular distilled moment crucial to the characters and story. See it as you may, but I see this as, in a way, poking fun at the notion of killing hundreds of men to get to one more guy, and what is one more guy to countless others you killed through out the game. 

The very final anti-boss fight ends up becoming lost in the plethora of things beginning to unfold. That is of course the death of Songbird. The ever formidable Guardian of the Lamb, you learn form Elderly Elizabeth, ALWAYS stops you, just as Booker NEVER rows. But as the siphon is destroyed the creature who has haunted your journey and has had a clear impact of Elizabeths childhood, instantaneous becomes insignificant. As though swatting a fly out of the air Songbirds death marks Elizabeths birth. 

The use of the antagonist as means of developing and maturing characters instead of merely obstructing them or testing a players skill test marks a direction I hope we will see more of in the future. Let Bioshock Infinite be a template for any game trying to develop strong characters or construct an emotional narrative, people respond best to individual moments. A great moment can make 10 minutes fighting waves of nobodies infinitely better than a sub-par boss fight. There will definitely still be room in the industry for the classic boss fights, but Bioshock Infinite shows us they arent necessary. 

Image courtesy: [Bioshock Wiki

Bioshock Infinite: Now What?

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There is a trope in film and media known as Now What? It is a type of ending where a big reveal happens or everything comes to a head, but thenit just ends. Its different from a cliff hanger, not abrupt or leaving anything unresolved, but for the protagonist while the movie or game may be over life continues on. From here the audience can fill in the rest of the story with whatever they so choose, because the specifics dont matter; what matters is that the protagonist now has to live with the consequences of the new revelation or a life altering decision.

Stories that employ the Now What ending commonly end with a conclusive scene where they pull back the curtain to reveal the inner workings, or the couple gets together at the last moment. More broadly the protagonist has achieved the singular goal around which their prior existence revolved: A superhero with no more bad guys to thwart, a doctor whos cured an incurable disease. In video games this is commonly employed in a final scene where the protagonist walks away toward the sunset having defeated the Big Bad and there are no foreseeable threat in the future. There is no hint of another boss, no hidden calling card of the man who is really pulling the strings, just the protagonist walking away, with his singular purpose achieved.

With out spoiling anything, a notable game that employed this was Knights of the Old Republic 2.Not the retail version, but Cut Content version put together by a group of modders from files recovered in the game. The version that included an entire additional sequence on Telos where Bao-Dur sacrifices himself so that The Exile and HK-47 may reach the HK-50 Droid Factory and shut it down. More to the point, the modders uncovered a completely new sequence of events on the final planet. In the Cut Content version of the game it ends with the Exile and crew flying away from Malachor V in the Ebon Hawk. Atton then ask, So Where are we going now? After which it, fade to black. The ending that could have been is the quintessential Now What ending.

The mission that didn't make the cut.

*****************ENDING SPOILERS FOR BIOSHOCK INFINITE AHEAD*****************

Which brings us to the point of this foray into ending plot devices of games and movies. In my book Bioshock: Infinites ending is most definitely a Now What situation. To recap, the protagonist, after conquering Songbird and employing him to defend the Hand of the Prophet and destroy the siphon, is then thrust into 20 minutes of exquisite narrative culminating in several revelations. The revelation of particular interest to me is the revelation that the Bioshock Universe exist in a multiverse, wherein every possible of permutation of an infinite number of situations (the variables) are bound by three things: A man, a city and a lighthouse (the constants). Looking past what this revelation means for the game itself, this also serves a very meta-game purpose addressed, not to Booker, but directly to the player. It suggest Irrational can continue to make Bioshock games with that basic foundation for the next 100 years.

But does this mean they should? I believe that after giving gamers a glimpse behind the curtain any game to follow would inevitably fall short. I fear that if Irrational goes the way of Ubisoft and be see Bioshock: Underground and Bioshock: Over the Moon, within the next 3 years they risk losing the good faith they have garnered. Inevitably, you will begin to get those people claiming franchise fatigue and brand dilution. Eventually culminating in entire threads and articles devoted to Remember when Bioshock was good. This may be cynical, but given the current circumstances it is likely. This is not to knock the abilities of the people who devote the time to making Bioshock, but eventually the clock will run out and people get bored.

Why not save us all some angst in the future and put the Bioshock franchise on the shelf where it will be forever remembered with rosiest of glasses. A game that youll have your kids play. The infinite ends that gamers come up in there heads are ultimately the only way gamers can be satisfied. The only way to feed an infinite appetite is with infinite possibilities. Again Id like to emphasize that I think the creative minds behind the Bioshock franchise are incredible, but wouldnt we all like to see something new. I would personally much rather wait 4 years for Geoshock than wait 2 years for Bioshock Infinite 2. Weve already seen the result of a franchise relying heavily of a single framework with Ubisofts Assassins Creed franchise which many would argue is suffering all of the woes mentioned above: franchise fatigue, brand dilution, on the decline since Brotherhood. Even the announcement of a new Assassins Creed is more of a game for the internet of guessing a time and place, than genuine interest in the franchise direction. This is not to suggest that Bioshock will attempt to become an annual franchise, nor should it, but the trappings are there. And we should be wary.

We still have 3 bits of Story DLC in the future to give us a hint at the future of the franchise, but until then speculation is always enjoyable. Where do you want the Bioshock franchise to go? Would you want it to risk the disappointment of a new game or do you want it to end on a high note?

Can A Video Game Be Too Short?

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A simple question with a not so simple explanation. Recently, Crysis 3 ruffled feathers for what some consumers considered a campaign that was too short, clocking in around 5.5 hours even on the higher difficulties. This game did have a multiplayer component, which always fiddles with game time, but ultimately as multiplayer is added to more and more titles whether deservedly or not, the timeless constant is the single component. There are some exceptions, with franchise like Call of Duty and Battlefield among many other first-person shooter which heavily emphasize multiplayer. There are also the odd exception of video games like Mass Effect 3 which added multiplayer which was highly praised to the surprise of many, and still has a healthy player base a year later. But for all the other games that will likely be played through once and then dropped in favor of the next great thing should a multiplayer component really factor into a game's playtime.

After unexpected success it is still being played today.

For the sake of this article I will take the stance, it does not. To explore whether a game can be too short I will, however, explore the basic notion of how long should a game be. By comparing video games to the film industry we can better assess from a consumer and developer perspective what a game's ideal runtime is.

While video games might not have as much mass market appeal as a Summer blockbuster, video game can go toe-to-toe with even the biggest movies in most ways, be they good or bad. The entertainment industry as a whole has seen increasingly bloated budgets perpetuate at an alarming rate.

In the late 90s it was rare to see a movie budget breach $70 million and 1997 Final Fantasy VII became the most expensive video game ever made with a $45 million budget ($64 million when adjusted for inflation). Fast-forward a decade, thanks to a rapid development of new technology in both industries, it is impossible to find a summer blockbuster with a budget less than $200 million. Meanwhile, Grand Theft Auto IV establishes a new record, costing over $100 million to develop.

In the last five years budgets have relatively mellowed out. While there are video games that still push the envelope, Bioware Austin's Star Wars: The Old Republic notably cost $200 million to develop, these game are far and few between and typically in the MMO sub-sector which relys on slightly different funding models. Beyond the rare exception, AAA games have settled into a $40-$100 development range, which might go up as teams shift development toward next generation consoles. Movies have jumped the gun on video games on the high-end, but as mentioned prior this gap may be closed as the next generation of consoles release.

6 months on SWTOR is now F2P

Another key distinction of the movie market is it still maintains a health middle where majority of movies fall around the center with significantly fewer movies pushing to the extreme high and low budgets. This is the exact opposite of the video game market, which has seen a falling out of the middle and a push toward the extremes. This bimodal market has seen budgets at the extremes thrive, while $10-$40 million budget games have all but disappeared. This distinction is important to the overall health of each market and as a result the video game market has become much more volatile than its entertainment counterpart, the film industry. Despite the divergent market video games have seen top end revenues keep pace with the film industry. Blockbusters movies and AAA games can frequently garner about $500 million, and there are the rare exception in each that break $1 billion.

Why does all this matter, you might think. Well lets examine the economics of movies and games to consumers. If a consumer sees a movie in theatre on or near opening weekend he will usually spend roughly $10 dollars. A person buying a video game in a similar situation can expect to pay either $15 or $60, depending on whether it's an indie or AAA title. Movie's standard run time fall between 90 minutes and 150 minutes. Alternatively, video games have a much more varied runtime. However, given the similar the development time and cost of movies are you might expect a similar yield on the consumer's behalf.

By this logic a $15 downloadable title should run the consumer roughly 2-4 hours. At the higher end a $60 release should be about a 9-15 hour experience. Now obviously there are plenty of video games that run well above those time constraints, there are even entire genres devoted to make games with 40+ hour experiences (see role playing games). If you factor in the multiplayer of the biggest blockbuster franchise they too, well exceed those time constraints. So again why does all this matter? This is important for two very important reasons. Consumers need to be aware that games frequently offer more bang for your buck than run of the mill movie. Consumers also need to be wary and reviewers should have an obligation to informer gamers if games don't hit that minimum. This isn't to suggest games which fail hit the 9 hour mark are inherently bad, but it is important that consumers realize that their dollar might be better spent elsewhere or wait till the price drops. The principle role of a reviewer is to inform consumers on a purchasing decision, and it is critical that the economics play a part. Below is a summary chart for your enjoyment.

Leave a comment if you think a game's playtime should or shouldn't factor into a games review score. Does a game's run time influence your purchasing decisions?

Game Reboots: The Christopher Nolan Effect

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Is nothing sacred anymore? Do our childhood memories mean nothing to those trying to make a quick buck? Have they no respect for the good old days? The answer is no on all counts. The games industry is an industry and first and foremost out to make money. In a market that has grown increasingly bipolar: we want new titles every year, but complain of franchise fatigue, we want new IPs, but only purchase titles from established franchises, we want everything to be like the past, but at the same time different. In a market as volatile as that how can one hope to navigate those perilous seas in a manner that appeases both publishers bottom line and consumer satisfaction.

One way which has been growing in prevalence are reboots. In my books, reboots can be thrown into two categories. The first being, you take a classic franchise that has overwhelming good will from the community and you update it with a modern take. This approach has the most to benefit both publishers and gamers, but has recently been replaced with the common method of HD re-releases. The second approach to a reboot is to take a franchise which has fallen out of grace with the community at large, and reset the counter to zero, banking on consumer's hopes and dreams that a franchise can be returned to former glory. This has a far more cynical application that I find borderline exploitive, but in a market that simultaneously bemoans more of the same, yet lines up year after year with money in hand, whats a developer to do.

I would much rather focus on the first use of a reboot and its ability to both keep the integrity of an existing franchise intact without compromising its history, but to keep it short and sweet. Gamers who are calling out for a Resident Evil reboot after the RE6 debacle, are part of the problem. Plain and simple, if you are no longer happy with the direction of Resident Evil you should first and foremost not spend you money on it and furthermore, let it die so that it may eventually be resurrected as the first type of reboot. If you want a franchise to stay the same and bemoan major changes, yet still buy it YOU are the reason that the game is tied to the franchise. A game with different fundamentals couldve been given a different story and characters and released as a new IP, but you wouldve have been less likely to buy it. If you buy something you are approving of the decisions made whether you approve of them or not. Publishers know that by reformatting games under a major franchise that would have otherwise been a new IP, they can target an extra group of consumers, you dont want to be the guy theyre targeting do you? Because if you look at it one way, you who buy every entry of a franchise and complain about the changes are the reason the object of you affection has been tainted. 

Getting back on track I would like to address the benefits of the first kind of reboot. Gamers are a nostalgic bunch. This likely stems from the fact that gaming is a past time many of us adopted as kids. We tend to look back on the games we played in our yesteryear with rose-tinted glasses firmly atop the bridge of our noses. But just as an adult walking the halls of their elementary school, not everything is always as we remember. Likewise, games dont always age as well as a fine wine. It is here where developers should look to reboot series that will be most successful at appeasing both gamers and publishers. 

From a business perspective, it is in these scenarios the unfortunate answer has become, make an HD re-releases, and not try to stir the pot. Gamers cant hate what they already love right? However, this is spoiled potential. As we have seen just this year modern takes on classic franchise can pull on the heart strings of nostalgia, revisit our favorite locations and mythos of the past and still deliver a new experience. The best reboots in any media are distinct enough to establish its own following without alienating fans of the original series.

By trying to build upon rather than copy the past everyone can come out winners. One trend which has encapsulated this mind set to great effect is what I have heard been called the Christopher Nolan effect. Taking a classic franchise, and changing the lens from which it is seen. Nolans Batman Trilogy took a darker approach to Batman and you didnt see too many people up in arms. The last three Daniel Craig James Bonds have done this as well, stripping the humor out of the series in favor of more mature themes. This isnt exclusive to movies. As mentioned earlier, Tomb Raider, seeks to tell the origin story of Lara Croft from a more mature lens to great effect. Arguably, the new Tomb Raider achieves in adapting Lara Croft to a modern sensibility. Publishers are happy because it sells; gamers are happy because is manages to be both refreshing and similar. 

Are game reboots necessary? No, Crystal Dynamic could have substituted Lara for any character and had a new IP on their hands. Most people are crying foul over Tomb Raiders similarities to Uncharted more than its predecessors. But, game reboots of classic franchise provide a path for companies to walk the ever thinning line between innovation and reproduction. These reboots have an additional financial benefit to companies. For someone who only slightly follows the industry seeing Killzone 3 on a shelf, immediately prompts the question, Do I need to play Killzone 1 and 2 to know whats going on? A reboot allows this counter to reset providing hesitant buyers a ground floor to enter on without feeling left out. This doesnt mean the game has to explain everything anew, but if they do they can easily provide easter eggs for franchise fans that enrich the experience. 

Reboots done right are great for all parties involved, but consumers need to embrace the power of their wallet and speak up. This applies to many industry trends, but in this instance, if your not careful with your wallet you can be inadvertently poisoning your favorite well. /end semi-coherent rant.

Microtransactions Done Right: 4 Ways EA Can Make Them Work

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EA recently announced their intention to incorporate microtransactions into all of their games. Microtransactions have been a dreaded topic for gamers since they were first introduced. The fear of pay-to-win shortly follows any mention of microtransactions. However, I would argue this fear is largely unfounded, and more the result of a healthy dose of slippery slope reasoning. Below Ill discuss four ways EA can implement microtransactions in a way that wont upset anyone or disrupt the competitive balance.

Make microtransactions random

EA has already implemented microtransactions in last January's Mass Effect 3. In a manner hearkening back to buying booster packs for trading card games. You could either spend in-game currency or real world currency to get a random pack of assorted weapons, characters, and power-ups. This microtransactions pill was much easier to swallow because of another item on this list: the cooperative nature. Had this system been in place for a competitive multiplayer it could very well turn into a pay-to-win.

Make microtransactions temporary

CoD microtransactions

Another form of microtransactions players have already seen, whether they realize or not, are temporary stat boost. Frequent in games like CoD and Halo, the notion of buying Mountain Dew for an hour or two of Double XP is commonplace. While this might also lead to the problem of pay-to-win, it has already been implemented without too much complaint from the gamer population at large. I could see a similar system in place for EAs shooter franchises in the future.

Make microtransactions cosmetic

Anyone who has played an MMO has already been introduced to this model of nickel-and-diming. As featured in EAs Star Wars: The Old Republic players can spend real world money to purchase non combat pets and snazzy looking speeders. Other MMOs have featured the ability for players to buy dyes for clothing, race changes, mounts, faction swaps, server transfers, and a plethora of other services that are all cosmetic or functional in nature, but none of which alter a players strength. This too, has the potential to get a little out of hand. Hal0 4 already stirred the pot, when 343 decided to gate emblems and emblem colors behind levels, where they had previously been available from the start. To address this try adding new cosmetic options before putting old ones behind a pay/level gate, gamers are a nostalgic bunch.

Make them only available for single player/coop

Lastly, and the most all-encompassing way to assure microtransactions dont upset gamers is by only applying them to single player or cooperative play modes. The recently released Dead Space 3, also from EA, incorporated microtransactions into the games workbench. The player could pay to improve the speed at which their bot retrieved materials, or the maximum load it can carry, butultimately wasnt isnt necessary. Which leads to a final point.

If EA truly intends to add microtransactions to all of their forthcoming games (see promise to require multiplayer in all upcoming games) then they must follow one rule. The player must never feel they have to spend the extra money. The minute a player feels their hand is forced, and that a microtransaction is required to stay competitive or beat a boss (what have you) EA has lost. EA must first and foremost implement microtransactions that arent in the way of players enjoyment, but rather enhance it should they choose to indulge without effecting other players. On both these counts EA has been successful, so looking toward the future I trust EA wont do anything to rash.

Will Playstation 4 Bring About Annual Final Fantasy Titles

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Toward the tail end of Wednesday's Sony press event, Final Fantasy brand director Shinji Hashimoto took to the stage to deliver possible Final Fantasy news pertinent to the Playstation 4. After a repeat showing of the Luminous tech demo the only tid bit of information revealed was 1) there would be a new Final Fantasy 2) it would be available on PS4 and 3) we will hear more at E3 2013.

This might not be much considering the other announcements featured at the event, but it got me thinking. With Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII set for a fall launch, possibly on next generation consoles, and Final Fantasy XIV: Realm Reborn currently in alpha and a tentative summer launch, will the PS4 introduce annual Final Fantasy titles?

When Square first brought the Final Fantasy franchise to a Sony console, development had been very sporadic. Since Final Fantasy VII's launch in 1997, for the original Playstation, it would be another two years before there would be another titular entry. Final Fantasy VIII hit Playstation a little over a year before the Playstation 2 would hit shelves. Coming ever closer to the annual development Final Fantasy IX released 18 months after the pervious entry. Unfortunately, Final Fantasy IX would release on Playstation four months after the Playstation 2 hit shelves.

Playstation 2 would result in an odd time for the Final Fantasy franchise. Square would release their first Playstation 2 title, Final Fantasy X, in 2001, a year after the console's debut. The Playstation 2 would introduce the first numbered sequel to a series, a feature we would see expanded in the current generation. Final Fantasy X-2 debuted 20 months after its predecessor. Then...radio silence. As the Playstation 2 would progress, we wouldn't see anything on console from the newly merged Square Enix. Final Fantasy XII would release 3 full years after Final Fantasy X-2, a mere 8 months before the Playstation 3 hit store shelves. This release cut it down to the wire, but they had clearly learned a lesson from Final Fantasy IX's release.

 At last we come to the current generation, the most divisive generations among fans and critics. As we now know, the Playstation 4 will launch this holiday season and the entire generation will have been consumed by a single Final Fantasy and its sequels. Final Fantasy XIII would debut 3 years into the PS3 life cycle, but began a sequence of releasing Final Fantasy titles every other year. Sure there was a disastrous PC  launch of FFXIV, but console development was focused on this singular series nonetheless.

With the announcement of the Playstation 4, we come to an interesting time in the Final Fantasy brand. Many people have written it off, as something better left in the past, and the entire JRPG genre has become niche over the current generation. As mentioned earlier, there are already 2 Final Fantasy titles slated for a 2013 release. It is also likely Square Enix will unveil, or at the very least tease Final Fantasy XV, to take advantage of their Luminous Engine and the next generation of consoles at E3.

If the yet unannounced Final Fantasy XV can come out by holiday 2014, it is possible that Square can release a title every year. But just because Square Enix can release an annual title, should they? For a brand with such a fragile reputation outside of Japan I believe an annual release would do more harm to the brand and consumers than would help Square's pocketbook. If they were to switch to an 12-18 month launch schedule, it would hamper any innovation and likely lock the company into a series of sequels. Otherwise, creating new worlds every year or two could be difficult for development, but releasing consecutive titles in the same universe can be equally taxing on consumers. Ultimately even for the most ardent of Final Fantasy fans, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. If Square Enix wants to fully embrace the next generation, I would hope they take care to make every entry the best entry ever, otherwise, the people who argue Final Fantasy died with the Playstation, may very well be right.

Who Is Deep Silver?

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In the aftermath of the THQ auction there was a lot of interest in who bid for what and which franchises got bought up. All the big names showed up to the table: EA, ActiBlizzard, WB Games, Ubisoft. After the dust settled it appeared all but one of the big names were notably missing from the list of bidders. More peculiar, the biggest spender was Koch Media spending a combined $28.2 million on the publishing rights to Metro franchise and developer Volition, with the rights to the Saints Row franchise.

If you have watched the industry for a while or keen to google companies youve never heard of, you might have drawn the line from Koch Media to Deep Silver to Dead Island. Kudos to you, but Im going to look a bit further in the search of answering one simple question: Who is Deep Silver?

From that question a multitude of smaller ones pop-up: Where did they get $28 million? What else have they published? Are they going to ruin insert beloved THQ franchise? All great questions that a brief stroll through history might clear up.

The year is 1994, Franz Koch and Dr. Klemens Kundratitz form the Koch Media group, at the time, consisting of Koch Media Germany and Austria, and of Koch Media Ltd. England. They begin marketing, publishing, and distributing digital media across Europe. Fast forward to the early 2000s, Koch media has dipped it toes in to video game distribution and publishing, forming partnerships with the still independent Squaresoft, Capcom and Codemasters. They have even published a game that pushed 1 million units in the UK. This is enough for Koch to decide that their video game publishing department needs to expand, and henceforth, in 2002, Deep Silver is born.

Newly minted, Deep Silver continues to build distributing relationships with Japan, becoming the premier distributor for Nintendo games in 2006. Unfortunately someone forgot to tell Deep Silver that they are also a publisher. For the entire first decade of the 21st century they publish mostly casual DS and Wii titles. Their first attempt at publishing a major game comes in the form of Risen an action RPG for Xbox 360 and PC. It was ill received from critics, but Deep Silver is largely unswayed, the benefit of having a parent company that will cover any loses. As we approach 2010, Deep Silver has now accumulated a stable of franchises: Risen, Sacred, Secret Files, Naild and a series of Lets Play titles for the DS. None have yet to breach 70 on Metacritic, but all that would change with a new decade.

Deep Silver enters 2011 with a pretty quiet lineup. A new title from developer Techland, Dead Island, is finally ready for release, after having made its initial debut at E3 2006, and having been pushed back 3 years from its initial release date in 2008. The trailer had been overwhelmingly praised, but dangling a juicy steak in front of gamers, and then delaying three years resulted in a hesitant anticipation. Regardless, Dead Island finally shipped September 6, 2011, and it is met with mixed reviews, but far and away better than anything they had previously published. A particularly glitchy PS3 and Xbox 360 product resulted in those versions suffering a whole 9 points lose off the PC version which went on to get a 80 Metacritic score. The early September release also allowed it to steer clear of the November AAA mayhem, because of this Dead Island hit number 1 on the UK sales charts. A verifiable great game was enough to give Deep Silver a boost and open their options to developing bigger titles.

Ill admit the boost may be a bit delayed but toward the end of 2012 Deep Silver had added new entries to its Secret Files and Risen franchises and co-published Catherine with Atlus for the European release. We now know that they had also begun the bidding process for THQs assets following its bankruptcy. Entering the meetings with daddys checkbook Deep Silver won the bids for the development studio, Volition and Saints Row IP for $22.3 million. This includes the rights to Saints Row 4, which was revealed to be close to completion in court documents. As well as the Metro license, which includes Last Light, 2033 and 2034 for $5,877,551.

It is the culmination of the past 10 years of Deep Silver that lead me to believe they are definitely a publisher to watch. As the death of the AA game seems inevitable, Deep Silver is now primed to step into the void left by THQ, by publishing a variety of high end AAA titles and mid tier AA titles. Dont believe me look at the list of games Deep Silver is publishing just this year. Sacred 3, Metro: Last Light due in March, Dead Island Riptide a month later, Saints Row 4, and Sacred Citadel. While Metro: Last Light is still in development at independent studio 4A Games, Deep Silver will have Volition for the time being.

So who is Deep Silver? Deep Silver may very well be the next THQ, but with one important distinction. Deep Silver has Koch Media.

Ranking the new Starter Pokemon

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How does the new generation of Pokémon stand up against their peers? Dont fret Ill look back and examine where Fennekin, Froakie and Chespin join the ranks.

If you have any remote interest in Pokémon, probably even if you dont, you probably have heard Nintendo dedicated an entire Nintendo Direct to unveiling Pokémon X and Y. Along with the game announcement, the three starter Pokémon that will grace the 3DS this Fall were unveiled. We know very little about the generation 6 starter, but that doesnt mean we cant rank them among the past starters.

DISCLAIMER: This list is compiled on a completely aesthetic basis. Accounting for abilities and the overall games would be a much larger list.

6. Generation 2

Starting off with a choice that may be controversial, from talking to fellow writers on the site. Totodile, Cyndaquil and Chikorita share some of the nostalgia of their GameBoy predecessors. But lets be real here, Chikorita is a seed with eyes, and Cyndaquil is a mouse with his back on fire. Totodile is the only one of the three with some distinct details. I chose Totodile, and as any Pokémon trainer knows, you only see the starter for several hours. Unfortunately Totodile doesnt age well, as he evolves he loses any semblance of cuteness it might have had and cashes it in to become a character out of the Flintstones. At least Feraligator has a semblance of difference from Totodile. Typhlosion is just the result of Cyndaquils body catching up to its head, and Chikorita just grows a slightly longer neck.

5. Generation 5

Tired and old are two words among a plethora of words that can be used to describe these three starters in a not so kindly fashion. You could tell that Ken Sugimori, the artist behind Pokémon, was running short on ideas, which is inevitable when creating hundreds on monsters over a ten year period. However, the starters at the very least should be unique. Tepig isnt so bad, but Emboar is literally just a Snorlax on fire. Oshawott is a mess, Dewott is actually a saving grace of all the starters evolutions, but then Samurott looks like a horned Lapras. Beside Dewott, Snivy is the only redeeming quality of this generation. Snivy unlike the other two actualy looks better when evolved. Serperior doesnt look half bad if you ignore the fact that the whole Regal theme is a rip off of Pinlups Emperor theme.

4. Generation 3

Moving forward in time, Ken Sugimori made some big leaps for the GameBoy Advance. For the first time the Grass starter, Treecko, is not a walking seed or flower, but rather an actual animal. Also a first and last (so far) the water starter, Mudkip, is a fish and not a reptile. This is also the first generation that the starters 1st and 2nd evolution began to establish a theme on top of just growing larger. This is also the first generation that some of the starters evolutions had a second type. For claritys sake I used all three starters this generation (thank you brother). Now for the reasons why this generation isnt higher: Treeckos evolution consist of just his tail turning into a fern. Regardless Sceptile still is a pretty solid addition to the Pokédex. Blaziken is the end all be all for this generation, a flaming fighting chicken, what more could you ask for? Next to Charizard, Blaziken was probably one of the biggest departures from the starter. Because of this Torchic single handedly puts this above gen 2, however for all the good Torchic does Mudkip is there to put out the fire. Mudkip is an axolotl, Swampert is a bigger axolotl; enough said.

3. Generation 4

Enter the Nintendo DS, and with that an even better generation. Admittedly it rips a lot of stuff the previous generation, but just because its a ripoff doesnt mean it cant be better. This is the first generation all the final evolutions are dual type. This is also the first time I genuinely had a hard time picking between two starters, Im looking at you Pinlup and Chimchar. Even though I never fancied Turtwig, he admittedly is way better looking than Treecko and Chikorita. Recalling that this list is purely aesthetic based, Gen 4 is the first time all three are cute, and as this is a Japanese game, (kawaii) is the end all be all. The other thing that makes this generation stand out in my mind are the second evolutions. Infernape, Torterra and Empoleon all look pretty badass, and strike the balance between just being a bigger version of the starter and maintaining a unique identity. Plus Water-Steel dual type for the win!

2. Generation 6

The moment of truth is nigh. We arrive with the newcomers. Hands down Fenneken and Chespin are the best looking in a long while. Even if Fennekin looks like a firey Eevee, so what Eevee was awesome. Chespin is the first time a mammal is the front man for the grass. Unfortunately as good as Chespin and Fenneken are Froakie out right sucks. So why then is this generation so high up on the list you might ask. That is for one reason: Potential. Froakie might suck now, but so what, youll only see him for a matter of hours. There are so many things that arent included in the starter pokémon. Are they going to evolve into dual types? Will they have a theme around their evolution (youd hardly guess Oshawotts samurai theme by looking at him)? Unfortunately If Froakie doesnt pan out to anything good we could be facing another generation 5, with the stale, boring, predictable evolutions. The suggestion that the dual types might be Fighting, Psychic and Dark have been tossed around, and subsequently denied by Nintendo, but I hope that if those are the case that fighting is not paired with fire again. Fourth time is not the charm.

1. Generation 1

One word nostalgia, but thats just the beginning. Bringing up the rear in the esteemed group Bulbasaur and subsequently Venusaur might just be a dinosaur-esque monster with a giant flower on his back. But Bulbasaur isthedinosaur with a flower on his back. Bulbasaur, even though retroactively done, is also the only dual-type starter pokémon. Moving on Squirtle may just look like an ordinary turtle who can blow bubbles, but so what. That little turtle is going to grow up to have shoulder mounted water cannons. Thats right while Samurott might have a sword-like horn, and Empoleon steel tipped wings, Blastoise has shoulder mounted cannons. Much in the same manner that Squirtle, the little turtle that was, could become a gun toting behemoth, the unassuming Charmander wraps up the greatest generation of starter pokémon. Charmander the first random animal to have fire appended to it in some fashion would stand as a template for hundreds of fire pokémon to follow. Charmander is just a fragile lizard who cant walk around in the rain, but he aspires to be more, and more is what he becomes. Much in the majestic manor of his companions Charmander doesnt just become a bigger lizard with more flames appended to him, he becomes a dragon. Charizard istheFlame pokémon, a dragon, who you can control, and in later editions of the game fly on his back.

Via: [Leviathyn]

Video Games and Gun Violence

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Why is it important for the games industry to take part in the National dialogue?

Throughout this week the games industry was pulled into the political sphere, courtesy of an invitation to the Commission on Gun Violence by the VP Joe Biden. This immediately curried a negative reaction from some members of the video gaming community, one going as far to suggest the Industry should pull a no-show. The idea being, that by not showing up they would be making a solid stand that violent video games had nothing to do with the recent rash of mass shootings that has plagued our nation. This idea is fundamentally flawed.

The video game industry is a relatively new industry when compared to the others that have been dragged into the media spotlight over gun violence. There in lies the first disadvantage, and the first reason industry leaders need to have their meeting with the commission. If there is one thing that rings true in all of American culture, it is that seniority reigns supreme, and tradition is nigh impossible to change. For an example of this look at the marijuana debate next to the alcohol and tobacco industries. Studies prove that consumption of alcohol can lead to liver cancer, and in the immediate can impair judgment. There were 13,846 fatal alcohol related crashes in 2008 (anyone with an ear on the news can recall gun related deaths are around 11,000), and yet because the founding fathers drank, its okay to do it today. Similarly with cigarettes modern studies have proven their harmful effects, but America as a society has an overwhelming nostalgia for the past, always looking back to the good ol days. When marijuana enters the scene, regardless of the countless studies their lobbyist show Washington, it faces an uphill battle with the American people and their representatives in Washington; largely because marijuana is new, and new is scary.

This whole debate can easily be transposed on the the entire gun violence debate; Video games are the new kid on the block. Regardless of how many studies the industry commissions, if video games could be attributed to 1/20 the number of deaths as guns, there would be a witch hunt for all video games. The founding fathers didnt have Tetris, but they did have muskets. Therefore we instantly come into the debate cut off at the knees, going forward, the behavior of the industry as a whole is crucial. We must be patient, and we will have to provide mountains of evidence more than the other players in this debate, but we should be grateful we even have a voice in the debate. Games are new, and new is scary.

I applaud the manner in which the video game industry has conducted itself this week. From the letter sent by the International Game Developer Associate to the insight into Thursdays meeting between the commission and industry CEOs. We will see on Tuesday, but it appears as though the worst is over. There is still a bill on the House floor which will launch an inquiry into the effects of violence in video games that will likely be revived. We need to welcome such studies. Fear of information is for those who have something to hide. If the video game industry wants to be accepted, there are two things that need to happen. Firstly, we need to be open to studies and not just fall back on, The first Amendment says... otherwise well be in the same place as the NRA. Secondly, we just need to be patient and wait, I would be curious to see the number of legislators who have even played video games. In this country you need to be 25 to be a congressman and 30 to be a senator, with more and more people being exposed to video games, it is inevitable that eventually we will have a congress that have at least played the very thing they blame.

Now, both of those suggestion largely come down to waiting, but Im okay with waiting, I think its fine that the industry has something to prove. Im not sure about you, but as the conversation unfolds I for one would want the opportunity to be apart it. Rejecting Washingtons invitations and touting, First Amendment this... First Amendment that... is not the way to conduct ourselves.

Via: [Leviathyn]

Biggest Surprises of 2012

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As 2012 comes to a close I look back at 6 things that happened this year, that we never saw coming. From a reemergence of genres from the 90s, to big players leaving the industry, 2012 was filled with twist and turns. Several events occurred, which we may not know the impact well into the future, like a RPG developer altering the end of its game because of fan outcry or Disney acquiring a company near and dear to every gamers heart. Buckle up, before we drive off into the sunset that is 2013, lets first take a look back at where weve been. Let me know in the comments below what you would add to the list.

6. Crowd Funding Favored Nostalgia

Starting off the list is Kickstarter. Not the website itself or what it does, but instead some of the games that have proved popular with crowd funding. Ultimately Kickstarter proved that gamers have a strong sense of nostalgia. What they want is what they already had and big names were there to deliver. Genres which have fallen by the wayside of late have flourished via crowd funding.

In February 2012 developer Double Fine Productions started a Kickstarter for a classic point-and-click adventure, which will take input from the fans throughout the development process. Closing on March 13, the project broke Kickstarter records garnering $3.3 million from roughly 87,000 backers.

Flash-forward to September, developer Obsidian threw their hat in the ring announcing Project Eternity. An isometric, party-based computer RPG set in a new fantasy world, Project Eternity is attempting to resurrect a genre that saw the spotlight in the late 90s. Closing October 16, Obsidian Entertainment collected $4.16 million from 77,667 backers shattering the record made earlier by Double Fine Adventure.

Lastly, Chris Roberts Star Citizen kicked off in October with the goal of developing ahigh-end PC space simulation that will combine elements of two of his earlier works from the 90s, Wing Commander and Freelancer. The project attracted $2.1 million from 34,397 backers on Kickstarter, but when added to the fund donated to his web site he collected $6,238,563 from 89,667 backers.

So what does all this mean? People really liked games from the 90s, or at least they think they do, enough to pay pay out of pocket for their development.

5. Next Generation Still Under Wraps

Next up is news about impending next generation of consoles from Microsoft and Sony, or rather lack there of. 2012 was filled with leaked documents and anonymous sources detailing hardware specs, launch windows and launch titles for the next generation, thought to be operating under the code names of Durango for Xbox 720 and Orbis for PS4. Sony and Microsoft remained utterly silent on the matter even though the consoles are due out within the next 12-18 months.

However, just because Microsoft and Sony refused to show their hands, it didnt mean 2012 was absence of anything from the next generation. E3 2012 debuted several games which will be likely launch titles for the next generation, much to the pleasure of the gaming community.

Star Wars 1313 made a big splash, with only a non-interactive movie of in game footage circulating around E3. Star Wars 1313 is a third-person action-adventure game developed by LucasArts. It places the player in the role of a bounty hunter, navigating Coruscant's subterranean level 1313, trying to uncover the truth surrounding a criminal conspiracy. The game promises to take a more mature and gritty perspective on the Star Wars universe and emphasizes fast-paced, gadget and weapon based combat rather than Force and lightsaber based combat. Running on a high end PC and a very distant, ambiguous release date all lend itself to the idea we will be seeing this on the next generation.

Another piece of eye candy that circulated E3, was Watchdogs. Shown off at the Ubisoft Press Conferencethe highlight of the whole convention largely due to this gameWatchdogs showed all the signs of a next gen game. The stage demo was played on a very high end PC, and as such had graphics that could in no way work on the current generation of consoles. Additionally, the lack of release date. An open world action adventure game, developed by Ubisoft Montreal, Watchdogs with follow antihero Aiden Pearce as he hacks into various electronic systems, either to obtain and control information or to destroy those devices completely at specific times. There is still a chance that the game will come out of Xbox 360 and PS3, but thatd be a surprise in my book.

4. A Developer Alters the Ending of its Game

Of course this can only be about Mass Effect 3. One of the early controversies of 2012 was the final minutes of Mass Effect 3, a game that met critical acclaim, and overall pleased fans, for everything except the last 10 minutes. Fans were so outraged at the lack of choice, and the how little impact player decisions up until then had had, so much so entire theories sprung up around the ending being a dream sequence. The most popular of these theories being the Indoctrination Theory, which claimed the end was merely a test for Shepard whether he would bend to the Reaper indoctrination or not. This split the community between those who believed the game should be left as is, and those who demanded change, or at very least further clarification.

Surprisingly, Bioware succumbed to fan pressure and delayed their DLC line up, in order to work on an Extended Cut, which promised to add to, but not change, the ending. The Extended Cut added a 4th choice to the end of the game, but was ultimately a slideshow of pictures narrated differently depending on players choice. The Extended Cut mostly painted a clearer picture of the post-reaper universe, but still left some things unclear. Most significantly, it put to rest any notion that the end of the game might be a hallucination or dream. So in the end they answered their fans, but still held to the ending they wanted to make. Perhaps if Mass Effect 4 occurs after the events of the first Mass Effect trilogy, it might take account of a few large decisions and reference back to them. More likely though, Mass Effect 4 will be a prequel, or so far in the future that the events of Mass Effect 3 are irrelevant, like a Galactic cycle or two in the future.

3. Gaming Magazines Closed by the Handful

Magazine publisher Future went on a spree shutting downNintendo Power, Xbox World, PSM3 and PlayStation: The Official Magazine, all of which are releasing their final issues this month. This comes as the company prepares to deepen its investment in digital endeavors. Future also emphasized that it is hoping to redeploy affected employees into different areas of its business.

The most notable of the closures was that of Nintendo Power, which had been in circulation since 1988. Confirmed on on August 21 by Senior Editor Chris Hoffman, it was revealed that Nintendo ceased it licensing agreement with Future US. In its final months the magazine was circulating 475,000 issues per month, a number that Nintendo sees no benefit in maintaining.

PSM3 launched its first issue in 2000, while Xbox World debuted in 2003. Playstation: The Official Magazine released its first issue September 1997.

2. Significant Departures From The Industry

Two significant departures from the industry occurred in 2012. Namely the Doctors leaving Bioware in September and Cliff Bleszinski leaving Epic in October.

On September 18, BioWare founders Greg Zeschuk and Ray Muzyka announced their retirement from the role-playing game studio they founded together in 1995. On the Bioware Blog there were post from Ray Muzkya, Greg Zeschuk, and Aaryn Flynn, BioWare Edmonton and BioWare Montreal general manager.

Muzyka explained that he made the "incredibly difficult decision" to leave BioWare in April, at which time he gave parent company Electronic Arts six months' notice so as to facilitate a smooth transition. Muzyka said he is leaving the industry entirely, and is planning to involve himself with social impact endeavors, like getting involved with charities in education, health care, and animal rights. While he may be leaving the industry, he said he remains passionate about the entertainment medium, and is excited to play new BioWare games "purely as a fan."

Zeschuk explained that his decision to leave BioWare and the industry as a whole, was made with "significant pain and regret." Ultimately, though, he said he needed to leave BioWare for himself and his family. Zeschuk hinted that he will not be working in the industry for a long time, and that there is a "strong possibility" that he may never return. He said he is planning to spend time with his family and friends, and will also pursue projects related to craft beer.

Then on October 3, Cliff Bleszinski, the creative mind behind the Gears of War franchise, announced his departure from Epic Games. After a brief twitter post called attention to a larger article on Epics site, it was confirmed that after 20 years Cliff Bleszinski, aka Cliffy B, had left Epic with no announcement of future endeavors.

Cliffs personal statement highlighted that hed been working with Epic non-stop since he was a teenager and he will miss it all. At the current it is unknown whether Cliff is just leaving Epic or the industry as a whole. It is unlikely he is leaving the industry as he has been teasing his twitter followers with messages hinting to meetings with various industry heads.

1. Disney Purchasing LucasFilm

Disneys acquisition of Lucasfilm, Ltd. definitely takes the prize for most surprising event of 2012. On October 30, the two companies announced in a joint press release the $4.05 billion acquisition.

The announcement was not without its fair share of surprises, including the reveal that Star Wars: Episode 7 is in production, and slated for a tentative 2015 release. The purchase also net Disney all of the production company's subsidiaries, including ILM, Skywalker Sound, Lucasfilm Animation and long-running video game developer and publisher LucasArts.

As related to gaming, Disney Interactive had been scaling back its own video game offerings over the past year opting to license as opposed to develop. Disney CEO Robert Iger briefly discussed Disney's plans for game development using the intellectual properties acquired in the acquisition, saying:

"We're likely to focus more on social and mobile than we are on console. We'll look opportunistically at console, most likely in licensing rather than publishing, but we think that given the nature of these characters and how well known they are, and the storytelling, that they lend themselves quite nicely, as they've already demonstrated to the other platforms."

Disney has already employed Lucass Industrial Light & Magic in the making of their upcoming movie, Lone Ranger. Ultimately, time will tell whether we as gamers look back at this moment with fondness or loathing, but one thing is for sure, most of us never saw itcoming.

Via: [Leviathyn]

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