Thursday, December 31, 2015

Video Games Pricing Matrix - Working or Not?

Setting the Stage

This is going to be the most controversial post so far, so it's good to get a few under the belt in case anyone is reading these.

So the basic pricing matrix is something like this:
  • AAA: $60
  • Download only: $40-50
  • Handheld (3DS, Vita): $40
  • Independent: < $40 (some times way less)
  • Titles a few years old don't normally leave retail below $30 but $20 is rock bottom for retail
  • Mobile (Phone) Games < $5
It has been this way a long time! See the 1994 flying recently posted on Kotaku with Donkey Kong Country 3 (SNES) selling for $69.99 and nothing under $35.

So part of what brought on this post was complaints about multiplayer only games also selling at the $60 mark and the big culprit: Battlefront!

Let's see you can guy the Ultimate Edition for $120 ($125 if you buy in parts, so props for not adding more to that price tag).

But let's look a this from a development stand point... games take longer with a MUCH larger team (roughly 10x), and multiplayer is so much harder to balance than single player that charging less for something that takes more time and has almost unlimited replay-ability for the target audience is a strange request. I do however see the arguments for paying $50 for unknown content and the allegations that the game was missing to much content to release as a "full game." But I'll save that for another time and focus on price points.

The Problem as I see it

So here is what I see as the actual problem... people pay $60 for a very short game: The Order 1886 was criticized heavily for it's length (didn't personally play it).

And paying $40 for Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate that I've sunk 100+ hours into. Other good examples are the Souls' games, Skyrim, etc.

Thoughts About the Solution

The easy part is pointing out problems, the hard part is fixing them. I game for enjoyment, so games I enjoy more I would pay more for... i.e. Monster Hunter is worth at least $60. Nintendo came up with an interesting solution with it's branch of into mobile of treating them like coin-up's and you buy "plays" This works to some extent as you pay more for games you play more, and little to nothing for games you don't. The problem with this is at some point I want to flat out own my games. I still buy disk copies as at some point Microsoft and Sony will stop supporting downloads and I want to be able to play my console games.

Another possibility is pricing games based on the estimated average playtime. While this is probably the most reasonable it will lead to padding content in games again (something that has been getting better), and very high prices and hence bared entry to things like RPGs. Then you also have the multiplayer games that require a large player base to function and technically could have unlimited playing hours.

I think the actual solution will be fore the gaming consumers to be more open to a range of prices. Maybe DLC packs are the answer, but with a more defined description of the content you are paying for. The Batman game as an example was rated very well while the DLC was not.

It will be interesting to see what happens!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Location in Video Games: inFAMOUS Second Son

Infamous is an interesting game for me it's the first game I remember buying just because of the location.

Currently I live in Seattle and Seattle is the most familiar I've been with a real world counter part to an in-game location. I've been through L.A., D.C., other major metropolitan areas, but not spend the time I have here in Seattle.

I've been to all the locations shown here and fighting in the Seattle Center, Pioneer Square, etc... is a lot of fun!

After playing for a bit I realized what was bothering me about the game. It is a compressed world of course so things aren't lined up like they are in the real city. The 520 bridge is located closer to the actual West Seattle Bridge location, but is by far the most hated bridge in the City. Not only does it congest with rush hour traffic, but it is also a tole bridge with a money sink of a replacement protruding out of the water next to it... so choosing this to be the bridge to blowing it up is a no brainer even though the location is wrong.

So I'm not a huge fan of the game... I received the first game from the infamous PlayStation Network outage of 2011 and picked up the 2nd in a bargain bin, playing both very minimally.  I'll probably put up a post on my thoughts about the game at some point, but this is for the environment art only that looks fantastic! If it wasn't for the slightly off locations I don't think I'd have anything to complain about and that is very minor indeed! I do wonder if Pike's Market is included or more of the waterfront, but I'm to low to venture into parts of the game at this point, so those are questions to be answered later. This is a very good job recreating Seattle in the confides of a game environment!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Genre Mashups in Video Games

I'm talking about genre mashups using Tomb Raider because I just finished the first one and am a few hours into the second so it is fresh on my mind, but this could be said about almost every game coming out. The Tomb Raider remakes are move of an answer to Uncharted than a throw back to the original, and this seems to dictate the genres they include.

The basic genres in Tomb Raider (broadly) are: Platformer/Collection, 3rd Person Shooter, and Quick-Time-Event. I haven't played the original Tomb Raider for many years, but I remember it being mostly an exploration/collection/platformer. The current Tomb Raider is fairly linear to be considered exploration and the puzzles are on the light side. As for collection, many of the collectibles are dropped in front of you and platforming is fairly light. I think you could say the game is trying primarily to be exploration and platforming, but it's linear enough you can't really miss much of the content and fail safes are put in for the platforming portions.

So where the game fails in my opinion is the other genres that are "forced" in. The first I will keep brief because I HATE quick-time events, so any inclusion is going to cause me grief and instantly be unhappy. The areas especially in the first game that included QTEs were the first road blocks I encountered. Luckily most of these were from the E3 Demo very early on and thinned out later in the game. Rise otTR did a better job, they are kinda there, but instead of true QTEs they are time slow downs requiring you to do normal gameplay operations... still annoying, but much better as knowing the controls are normally the worst part of QTEs.

The second mechanic kinda shoe-horned in is the forced 3rd person
shootouts. This won't be an issue for everyone, but I used the bow the rest of the game so when the sections they force you to do a shootout happens the bow isn't always viable and having no previous experience with the other weapons I got stuck on one of those sections for 2-3 play sessions trying to get past it. Forcing players to use one of your systems that has been optional for the majority of the game is okay, but then difficulty needs to be at a beginner level for it, not at a half way through the game expecting everyone to have been using it for hours of play.

Why this matters...
I don't have the time anymore to play games endlessly. Tomb Raider is a game I really like so I persisted, but any game that I'm borderline enjoying I won't pick back up if I hit a wall I can't complete in a few tries. Especially if it is because of a side game mechanic that I don't enjoy playing. I don't think I'm alone in my thinking at least in my demographic with a family and limited gaming time. I think meshing mechanics is possibly a good way to get people into a game, but if you use mechanics that don't mesh well together it was at least keep people from completing them.

Lastly I just want to reiterate that while I picked on Tomb Raider, it is a game I completed (though a little rushed at the end because Bloodborne was in the mail). That means a lot for me, I maybe only complete a dozen or so games a year, so holding my interest to the end is an accomplishment! And Rise of the Tomb Raider is my casual go-to-game right now when I don't want the difficulty of Bloodborne. So these are good games and the critique should in no way take away from that. With their faults they are still a worthy playthough!

Thanks for listening to my rambling.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Bloodborne Progressive System [mini-post]

I'm a long time 'Souls game fan! Bloodborne feels like their first "new" game though. Dark Souls felt like a more polished Demon Souls, Dark Souls 2 felt like small game tweaks and mostly phoned in sequel and lost part of it's soul. yuk yuk. But Bloodborne is different. It has the soul of Demon and Dark Souls that was missing from Dark Souls 2 and is set in a different environment and basically lacking shields and magic speeds up melee combat to a sweet spot!

So my point: You can explore much longer in Bloodborne than you could in Dark Souls. The Estus Flask system limits how far from a bond fire you can travel AND requires you to rest at bonfires you come across re-spawning enemies. Bloodborne uses 2 main consumables: Blood flasks and silver bullets. The blood flasks refill health or as I like the idea better your "will to continue fighting" and drop fairly regularly. Because of this as long as you don't take a significant amount of damage from trash you are clearing you can keep going almost indefinitely as long as you can loot more than you use. The silver bullets are a way to score a one-hit-kill on some of the tougher mobs in the game and you can trade some health for 5 of them if you run out as these are rarer drops.

So that's it, just highlighting what in my opinion is a great improvement on their gameplay system. A fairly small tweak that no longer forces you to stop progressing/exploring just because you are out of healing charges, and keeps you from having to re-kill trash if you don't want to. It fits well with the faster paced combat as well, and while it was a rocky start I'm enjoying Bloodborne so far!

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Strange case of Tomb Raider Definitive Edition

So I am late to the party on this one... but I had a very interesting thing happen with Tomb Raider. I purchased it shortly after release on the PC because I'm generally a PC gamer. It recently was one of the free games on Xbox Live, so I found myself sitting on the couch playing it and confused on if it looked better or not.

After some comparisons and playing both to the same point (my guess is roughly half way through), there are big pros and cons to both. At release PC was far superior to consoles, but something interesting happened... the game was enhanced for consoles and not PC... a game that had already been ported to PC didn't see a patch or Definitive Edition release. The new higher resolution Laura model did not show up, neither did the improved shaders or lighting from the DE (Definitive Edition). The PC version still has better post processing effects, higher texture quality, tessellation, ambient occlusion, hair physics, etc, but lacks the emotion possible in the new facial mesh and rig.

It's very disappointing to not see a PC release of an already ported game by Crystal Dynamics. So why wasn't the DE brought to PC? Well the changes were not mechanical, the DLC was mostly multi-player and most people don't play Tomb Raider for multi-player, at least not in the generic third-person-shooter low rated version that went into the game. The the question is would people pay for the DE release as either DLC or re-release? Metro pretty much did this, and while they were slammed by some for minimal updates, at least they gave the PC crowd the choice and anyone picking up the game late could take advantage of it.

So other than direct sales what other reasons could it be? Right after release (before an early patch) the PC version was plagued with slow down. I don't remember if it was the hair or rope physics, but it took an early patch to fix this. If we look at another example of Batman: Arkham Knight while it always ran fine on my system, it was pulled from the Steam store for months and offered no questions asked returns even after patching. So it's clear PC ports are still difficult at times especially on in-house or heavily modified engines. So maybe Crystal Dynamics thought it was to big of a risk?

So in conclusion the most interesting thing to me is I think I'll be finishing the game on the Xbox One. I'm a nut for lighting, sub-surface scattering, and beautiful shader work! The extra emotion you get from the new model isn't always in frame, but when it is it makes the difference! The post-processing effects on the PC do make in-game (at least without fire) look better over all, but foliage movement adds a nice touch in the DE and a lot of things like tessellation, AO, and higher texture resolution do get somewhat lost in motion. It's a strange day for me to prefer a console title over a PC, but either game is worth the money as a great game! I hope Crystal Dynamics will release the Definitive Edition on PC before it's 10th anniversary!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Difficult Video Games

So I'm stuck on Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate on the 9 star quest: Advanced: Whale of a Hammer. I've 3 carted at least a baker's dozen times. The interesting thing is I can (mostly) pinpoint something I did wrong to cause the carts. Because of this (I think) I keep trying the quest. I concluded melee range is very risky, so I crafted my first set of gunner armor and bow. I have the positioning and timing down of the fight, so now my only problems are terrain forcing me out of position at a bad time or a failed dung bomb attempt trapping me with both of them at the same time and something going wrong.

So it turns out Monster Hunter is actually much more difficult than Dark Souls after you get deep into the game. Like many things different monsters will be harder for different people, but you will find at least a few to give you a hard time. This is the third quest I can think of that's given me serious problems, but this one more so than the ones before. So the question is why keep playing, and why does it feel fair compared to many other games?

I've read up on this and been thinking about it a while. I think the most comprehensive insight I got was an article about speed running games. It talked about how games needed to be predictable to speed run. The controls had to be tight, and in the same situation everything had to work the same way. Then playing a Mario Maker level that you just stood there and all kinds of things happened around you for 2-3 minutes while you watched a Rube Goldberg machine type of level push you through to the end. The game functions so tightly that they can do that.

That is the way Monster Hunter works. Fighting in this case two frenzied Black Gravios' you want to stay to the left of center because centered his beam will hit you and on the right side his downward beam will hit you on the way back up at the end. 90% of the time after any beam some kind of AOE attack will come from home so you have to be out of melee range, etc... Because mostly everything happens the same you can see your mistakes and what you could have done to avoid it. So you always feel like if you'd been just a little bit better you would have won!

I think this is the key... making sure the player can see how they could have prevented the death or penalty of whatever kind happens in your game. Games that don't get this have you dying and questioning why, did the AI get a lucky roll, was there anything in my control that could have let me win? Dangling the carrot at the end of the stick and realizing if you're just a bit better you'll be able to reach it is the sweet spot.

Closing Notes: Monster Hunter does have advantages here as by 9 star quests you have sunk a lot of time into the game and understand it. The variants of the monsters means you have fought an easier version of the same monster before, preparing you for this tougher version, and before you fight multiple monsters you've fought them solo and killed them, so nothing is new except the complexity of taking on multiple at the same time. But still the game is setup to make all this happen.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Destiny's Death Loop

Contrary to the title this is not really a negative thread, it's a look at the mechanic. First off I'm late to the Destiny party, I've only played off and on for the last month or so and am around level 12. I know it's a polarizing game, but I'm mostly on the it's pretty good side, but not crazy about it.

So my experience so far is that you can go through the content quicker than you level up. So you get to the point that you are a level under the recommended level for the content and you end up dying on one of the harder waves, this restarts the set of waves, I die again around the same spot and this is the death loop.

The interesting thing about how they do it is you keep all the experience and gear you get on the attempt and so keep your progress and eventually you level up to the level the content was designed for, this boost in level, plus practice from seeing the waves a few times eventually allows you to push past. While going through 4 or 5 waves again is daunting, those kills are what allows you to level up after a hand full of attempts, so the progression is still there.

This does have pros and cons, if you want to play this keeps the game moving and you progressing fairly quickly. However, I have also quit playing and not picked up the game for a couple days knowing I was stuck in one of these death loops and would need a few more rounds before I broke out of it.

I do like Destiny's speed, it feels like you are playing old school Doom with fairly fast paced combat. It is in waves with less mobility, but it's in that spirit. I doubt I'll like it well enough to go through the grind I hear is waiting, but it's a huge hit and I just don't play console shooters, so it's something I can't be ignore and had to try. So far the ride has been fun!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Timed Progression

Ah Nintendo, you do everything a little bit different! Some times better, most of the time just stranger... Anyway, why am I blogging about Super Mario Maker and not playing it? Timed progression!

So I have only a few small problems with the game:

The first is the price point, I know it's Mario and a console release, but this is a development tool they already had laying around they decided to release as a full title. And yes I know it takes a lot of work to polish dev tools to a public release state, but still.

Second it requires the Wii U gamepad, the huge, screen one that never feels right when you're playing on it, and only for the touch screen. What you see on the tv is EXACTLY the same as what you see on the gamepad. I've never liked the controller and use a pro controller whenever I'm able, this won't matter for some people.

Those two are both minor complaints, now to the big one... The "building blocks" you use to make the level unlock over DAYS! 9 DAYS! (according to reviews) that's insane! And the controls you get out of the box don't even allow you to make world 1-1 from the original game! I feel like I should probably embrace a minimalist approach and make levels as fun as possible with the limited controls, but there was so much fun I wanted to have that I'm just disappointed... I'm hoping I don't have to play every day for the 9 days, but the tutorial kinda sounded like it. I'll pick this up in a week and two days and hope everything is working I guess... This strategy sounds okay to someone that's never played a Mario game or pretty much any other platformer, but selling this as the end all to make awesome Mario levels and then locking it down for the first 9 days is just messed up... this is the wrong kind of different. Even a tutorial progression that took an hour might be alright, but not timed with no way to bypass. /sad

Maybe I'll post an update 9 days from now about how good the game is... I really look forward to playing it!