Backlog Battle Report (16th Oct 2017)

Proving once more that I am fickle and need to work harder on maintaining a schedule, here is Monday’s post ahead of the late Right Click to Zoom article. It’s coming soon, really. Also proving my lack of attention span is another slew of newly started games and not a lot of continuation on previous stuff. Well, at least I’ve got some things to say.

Final Fantasy 14 (PC) — Patched up

As I said last week, the major 4.1 update for Final Fantasy 14 dropped a few days ago and I jumped right back into it. What surprises me the most about this, however, is that I actually haven’t played much of it all despite expectations.

This is nothing to do with the lack of content, or lack of options and new things to do. That’s all there, with a new bunch of side content, further expansion on the Stormblood plot, a new four man dungeon, a new high difficulty trial, and a new raid that heavily ties Final Fantasy 12 and Tactics together into an interesting worldbuilding exercise. What I’ve played of it is all very well done and genuinely pretty high quality. The precursor quests to that raid had me geeking out pretty hard, and it was a joy to go through.

Thing is, I’ve still only done the precursors. The actual raid? Haven’t jumped into yet. The new main quest? That jumps into the new dungeon fairly quickly, and that’s where I’ve stopped. At the moment, I’m in no particular hurry to jump into the group content without a group to play with, and I have no real desire to queue up with random people. And even if I did have that desire, I don’t have the item level required; I played so little after reaching the level cap on both my characters that I didn’t spend much time gearing them up, so I’d have to do that for a couple of runs before I could tackle the new stuff.

Continue reading “Backlog Battle Report (16th Oct 2017)”

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Backlog Battle Report (9th Oct 2017)

Last week’s Right Click to Zoom went up mere hours ago, which is a little less late than the previous but still not really acceptable to me. That said, it was a hell of a lot more difficult to get to a state that I considered good enough to post, and even once it was done I was given feedback that made me realise some missed opportunities I could have used. Alas. Hopefully this week’s article will come along more smoothly. If you’re reading this and didn’t know about that new post, do consider checking that one on the way out.

With that said, here’s this week’s status update.

The Elder Scrolls Online (PC) — Can’t see the forest for the trees

This was still the majority of my game time this week, though I suspect it’ll start to slow down now. The next content patch for Final Fantasy 14 is finally around the corner, so I’ll likely be focusing on that instead. Doubly so since most of my ESO playing friends will be busy with that, so there’ll be even less interaction and discussion on the subject with them.

Nonetheless, I’m still chipping away at the mountains of quest content at my disposal. My Templar is now in the early 40s and, surprise surprise, I’m still in Valenwood. There are so very many quests here, and while each of the zones within that region are different story and encounter wise, I’m honestly sick of forested area this, Green Pact that… my forays into the Thieves Guild quests and the desert city those take place in are welcome opportunities to break it up.

As always, I could go and do other stuff, but I like to be thorough and want to finish zones. It hasn’t reached levels of intolerable similarity, but the moment it does I’ll probably go and party Daggerfall somewhere.

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Right Click to Zoom — Addressing the Notion of Exclusion via Game Difficulty

Welcome to Friday’s late iteration of Right Click to Zoom, the more in-depth article side of this blog. Today’s topic is a follow up to the one that started this whole segment a month ago. Simply put, is video game difficulty excluding people? If so, is this a bad thing, and how should players and developers alike adjust?

Previously, I spoke about competency and professionalism in games journalism and touched on many of these concepts briefly, so it might be worth starting with that article if you’ve yet to read it. Regardless, the discussion has carried on in the month since, and it’s grown to the point that it’s time to address the newer parts.

Video games started their history by being fairly difficult, both by design and by technical limitations. Forget life bars or progress metres; it was usually you against the high score, with your progress being how much money you managed to save on coin-operated arcade machines. One hit was often all it took to end a run, and the backlog of extra lives usually wasn’t much leeway. That was how the games earned their money, after all.

It wasn’t until home consoles arose from the arcade scene that we started to see games with the kind of progression that we’re more familiar with now. Technology advanced and games were now able to feature stories beyond barebones excuse plots. Rather than being the semi-infinitely repeatable levels of Pacman and its ilk, games had clear beginnings and endings that were quite different. Concepts like tabletop RPGs were ported to video games with titles such as Dragon Quest or Ultima, giving more consistent worlds.

Most importantly, they introduced means of progression and power development that was based on more than just player skill. Suddenly, it didn’t have to be how accurately you timed your jumps or how well you dodged, but it could instead be about which items you’d collected or what level your characters were. The differentiation between those two concepts of player progression is something that deserves its own article, but that’s not what I’m here to talk about.

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Right Click to Zoom — What’s in the Box? A Discussion of Loot Boxes in Games

Welcome to last week’s iteration of Right Click to Zoom, the more in-depth article side of this blog. Today, I’ll be looking at one of the more insidious trends that’s been creeping into video games of late, and explain why you should try to avoid them: loot boxes.

As the years have progressed, the cost of game development has increased dramatically for the top end companies. The quality of sound, music, animation and general graphical fidelity required for a game to keep up with modern technological trends is staggering when you compare what was ground breaking previously, and none of this comes cheap.

Each console generation sees the hardware release at a higher price than the last, and while there’s usually initial grumbling and outcry, it quiets down and is accepted by the time the next one rolls around. Individual new game releases started growing in price over time to match, and while that has since become more constant, publishers are starting to find new ways to get an extra dollar.

There’s a lot of ways this has gone about, and some are considerably less acceptable than others. I personally feel, however, that the loot boxes fad that has started to creep into numerous undeserving games since the success of Overwatch is quite possibly the worst for consumers to be subject to. But why is this? And how are other forms of this more acceptable?

The Internet, DLC and You

The year 2006 saw the release of a little game you might have heard about called The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion. As much as the game receives a fair bit of playful mockery for shaky dialogue and ugly character models nowadays, Oblivion was a massive success at the time. What was not as successful was the public reception to one particular system: DLC.

Let’s go back a bit earlier for context. The early years of the new millenium saw the Internet go from relatively niche, to widespread but not powerful, all the way to increasingly available and fast. Trying to download even a single megabyte on a 56k modem could take quite some time, so regular patches to games were once upon a time distributed on discs (if they existed at all). As such, making further additions to already released games was relegated to large content batches in the form of expansion packs and sold as separate pieces of software.

While Oblivion would ultimately get an expansion pack of its own before the end of its lifespan, that was not the first addition that was shown off. Instead, Bethesda produced one of the first noteworthy DLC offerings: Horse Armour. For a nominal fee, you would be able to… well, give your horse armour, as the name suggests.

This announcement was not reacted to well by the general populace. Bethesda was charging for cosmetic upgrades that added almost nothing to the game! Why was this addition not just part of the base game? Shouldn’t it be something you unlock through play, as most cosmetic appearances were at the time? This and many more arguments were made, and the discussion was bandied back and forth across the gaming community.

Whatever the general argument for Oblivion may have stood, history made its choice clear. Fast forward to modern days, where download speeds and sizes are much less of a limiting factor. A game not having some form of DLC is arguably more an exception than the norm in modern times. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a game that is well received to have DLC requested of its developers, just so that there’s more to play.

While a lot of this DLC is still cosmetic or fairly minor, it can also include a wide range of additions to the game’s content. Traditionally sized expansion packs have become increasingly rare, as the availability of smaller pieces of content generally supersedes the need for a larger addition unless the game calls for it.

As a whole, the system generally works. Those who wish to pay extra for more content in a game they like can do so, and while it’s always nicer if optional cosmetics are accessible in the game without payment, it’s up to the player to decide if they want it. There are certainly valid complaints to be made, such as when DLC is included in a game on launch day rather than being part of the package, or if the content has clearly been removed or left unfinished during development solely to resell for extra later.

Overall though, many of the vocal criticisms of DLC have at least quietened down. It’s here to stay, in some form or another. But unfortunately, the gradual acceptance of what was originally seen as a horrible addition to the industry has set a precedent that other devs and publishers are attempting to capitalise on. I can’t completely fault them for this — it’s a business’ job to make money, after all — but the methods in which they are doing so come at the expense of the consumer.

Continue reading “Right Click to Zoom — What’s in the Box? A Discussion of Loot Boxes in Games”

Backlog Battle Report (2nd Oct 2017)

Astute observers may notice a lack of Right Click to Zoom from this Friday. I’m hoping to have that up tomorrow, but I was in no state to be writing on Friday or during the weekend thanks to work related drama that I had to resolve. If all goes well I’ll be back on schedule this week. In the meantime, here’s the list of games I tackled this week.

Elder Scrolls Online (PC) — Keep Scroll-ing

Another week has passed but I’m still firmly entrenched in the universe of the Elder Scrolls. In fact, I don’t think I played anything but it and Heroes of the Storm until halfway through the week. That in itself is probably telling of how much the hooks are in, given how quick I am to jump between games at the drop of a hat.

Nonetheless, I’m still playing through. This week has seen me still playing my Templar, reaching the mid-30s in level. I’ve spent a lot of that time working on different skill trees and varying my action setup as much as possible, both to create variety and facilitate later progress. Since the aim is to eventually be a healer on this character, quite a few healing skills have been picked up and kept on hand just to make the transition as painless as possible when the time comes.

Beyond that, it’s mostly just been questing through the world of ESO. Since I’m sticking to the primary Dominion faction’s questlines, this sees me almost permanently locked in some variety of forested areas as I plumb the depths of the Valenwood, home of the Wood Elves.

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Backlog Battle Report (25th Sept 2017)

I was a little less diverse in my gameplay time this week and instead was more focused on just a couple of titles. Some decent progress made in what I did play, but nothing to cross off the list since Samus Returns last weekend. With my new job and potentially a second one in the wings, game time might be slightly reduced, but that shouldn’t stop me from still having some opinions to share as I go. So here’s what I’ve been up to.

Elder Scrolls Online (PC) — The current MMORPG of choice

As stated last week, I ended up attempting this one again and getting far more invested than I had previously. Couple a number of friends playing alongside me, and it has remained compelling enough throughout the week to quickly become the game I gravitate towards most when I have a few spare minutes. Again, that will probably change once the next Final Fantasy 14 patch drops in about a fortnight, but the subscription-free system of ESO means I can comfortably drop in and out without issue.

Regardless, I’m fully wrapped up in this one now. The game has continued to provide me with a good mix of content and variety, with even the more basic and genre-standard stuff still proving entertaining to keep me focused. I’ve healed dungeons with friends, gone exploring solo in the public dungeons, tried out the opening zones of all three factions (the Dominion still seems my best fit), and otherwise just gone wandering and questing through the world. My internet and general game lag makes me disinclined to try PvP, but I might end up doing that eventually.

I wasn’t here for the launch of the game, but what I initially saw following ESO’s announcement and from beta footage left me completely disinterested. It’s really impressive to hear and see how much it’s turned itself around. With the removal of level and faction restrictions on so much of the content, it really does provide a huge world to go exploring in, with all sorts of compelling and interesting quest chains that I literally just stumble into.

There’s also a lot of versatility in how one builds a character. Effectively, every character has a variety of skill lines that they can choose to invest points in, ranging from armour and weapon types to guild or faction specific abilities to class skills. You gain skill points every time you level up, by completing certain quest chains, or finding collectables in the world. The actual skill lines level up through use as they do in regular Elder Scrolls games, which unlocks more of their abilities and passive bonuses.

So as well as all the universal skill lines based on quests and weapon types, each of the four classes has three unique trees that you can go into. You also gain a single stat point when you level up which you can drop into Health, Magicka or Stamina and upgrade relevant abilities that way. What’s really interesting is that there’s no set ways to build these classes; a Dragonknight might typically be a heavy armour wearing tank, but I’m building mine as a full magic damage type.

At the moment, I’m juggling three characters but primarily sticking with my Wood Elf Templar tank. Currently I’m in the late 20s for level with them (level cap is 50 but with further progression afterwards) and looking to push ahead, but there’s no real rush. Absolutely everything in the game gives experience, so I’m just exploring, crafting, doing quests or faction objectives as I see fit and having a good time.

It’s been a while since I’ve just been able to completely lose myself in a world like this. Plus, for all its pros and strengths, Final Fantasy 14 doesn’t really make much use of its actual world after you finish the main questlines. There’s less to discover and accomplish just by wandering as this game incentivises, and it’s wonderful. Definitely will be chipping away at this for some time to come.

Continue reading “Backlog Battle Report (25th Sept 2017)”

Right Click to Zoom — Fans vs. Funds; A Comparison of Project AM2R and Metroid: Samus Returns

So I missed my Friday deadline by all of a few minutes, as this is being posted just a few minutes after midnight local time. Since I abruptly got a new job just yesterday and started today, however, I consider this perfectly justifiable. I’ll endeavour to get my writing done with a bit more of a buffer in the future, and in exchange for today’s tiny delay, you get the longest article I’ve written for this blog by far to read. So with that out of the way…

Welcome to this week’s iteration of Right Click to Zoom, the more in-depth article side of this blog. Today, I’ll be looking into both Project AM2R and the newly released Metroid: Samus Returns, and comparing their different game design choices.

As far as I can tell, this is quite possibly a unique situation to have occurred in video game history. The original Metroid 2 was released on the Game Boy in 1991, and now decades later it has received two full remakes within a year of each other. It’s a rare opportunity to study how different developers and game design decisions can impact the delivery of what is effectively the same game, not to mention what elements of the original source material they keep or discard. Let’s give a brief synopsis of the two first for those not familiar.

Project AM2R (short for Another Metroid 2 Remake) was first begun in 2007 and released in August 2016, coinciding with the 30th anniversary of the Metroid franchise. The game was largely the work of Milton “DoctorM64” Guasti, who maintained the AM2R site with a blog of his development updates and design choices. Over the years, he was very thorough in explaining his decisions, ambition, and scope of the game, showing a remarkable amount of professionalism. The process was understandably ongoing, but the end result was an incredibly high quality fan-game incorporating features and updates from the entire Metroid series to that point.

You can still read this development blog on the AM2R website. Sadly, a DMCA claim by Nintendo means the game is no longer officially supported or available for download on the site, but is nonetheless on the internet and easy to find. In fact, just this month an update was released by a dedicated team of fans using the game’s source code, implementing both a New Game+ and Randomizer modes that I will likely try out in the near future.

Metroid: Samus Returns, on the other hand, is the first official “true” Metroid game in the series since Other M in 2010 (the exception being Federation Force, which takes place in the same universe but is a Metroid game in name only). Back in 2015, developers MercurySteam pitched a remake of 2002’s Metroid Fusion to Nintendo for the Wii U/3DS. While the pitch failed, the prototype impressed series creator Yoshio Sakamoto enough to see the team hired to develop their own official Metroid 2 remake instead, and Samus Returns for the 3DS is the result.

Having just played through Samus Returns and completing it the weekend it came out, I believe that MercurySteam did a fantastic job in delivering their vision of the series. At the same time, so did AM2R, so now it’s time to look at what they both did.

Continue reading “Right Click to Zoom — Fans vs. Funds; A Comparison of Project AM2R and Metroid: Samus Returns”