Backlog Battle Report (30th Oct 2017)

This week’s update brought to you by the DOOM 2016 soundtrack, which I am very much feeling the urge to play some more of after I’m done writing this. It doesn’t feature on the list this week, but don’t expect that to remain true for much longer. In addition to this post, I’ve done enough gaming to provide all the material I need for at least two or more reviews plus a Right Click to Zoom (at last), so I’m hoping to have some or all of that up soon. We’ll see!

Borderlands 2 (PC) — Co-op Siren song

Wasn’t planning on playing more of this due to scheduling, but one of the Discord chats I frequent has started having a game or two of this going fairly regularly. It doesn’t take long to put out feelers and then get a couple of people teaming up to go shoot some things, and that’s basically what happened to me this week. Unplanned, just decided to jump in with a couple of friends offering.

Since I’m still saving my Psycho save for the planned four man group, I picked up the next best thing I had, which turned out to be a level 14-ish Siren that I hadn’t played since 2013 or thereabouts. I had no idea what weapons I’d picked up or what skill points I’d invested, but it didn’t matter; just jumped in, figured it out on the fly, and shot some bad guys. We played that for a couple of hours and had a grand old time, during which I managed to be useful despite the level disparity just for the Siren’s ability to take a dangerous enemy out of the fight for a few seconds.

Of course, a stupid amount of poison and fire damage over time certainly helped matters, but the crowd control was the real selling point I’d wager.

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Backlog Battle Report (23rd Oct 2017)

As said in the scheduling update, these weekly reports won’t be going anywhere, but Right Click to Zoom is going to be unscheduled for a while and just be posted as I write them. I’ll have things to talk about soon, but in the meantime here’s my gaming for the week.

Elder Scrolls Online (PC) — Morrowind!

There was a lot of playtime in ESO this week. Most notably, I pushed ahead with my Templar all the way to the level cap of 50, unlocking the Champion Point system that allows me to keep gaining in power with experience past the maximum. It’s an interesting system; I continue earning experience for everything and it just goes into this pool instead, which upon reaching thresholds lets me apply points into different trees for incremental bonuses. The bonuses aren’t massive, but they also aren’t clearly better than each other, so they let me focus each character in more specific ways.

What’s really nice about the system is that the points are unlocked for every character in my account and can be spent for them as I wish also. As such, I’m not forced to stick with just the one character, meaning I’ll probably play around with the other classes and level those up now that the mad dash to the end is completed.

Nonetheless, my Templar will still probably get a lot of attention and playtime with all the content I still have to do. I’ve finished the Fighters and Mages Guild questlines, completed all the major plot threads for the Aldmeri Dominion, and am on the final step of the main quest (that being invading the realm of Coldharbor). I’ve also gone and picked up a lot of the additional content with the game, meaning I’ve started playing the Dark Brotherhood stuff in addition to the Thieves Guild dalliances I had previously.

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Scheduling Updates

tl;dr: Right Click to Zoom is no longer being scheduled to Fridays but will now be released as I write them, hopefully with one every fortnight or so. Backlog Battle Reports shall continue on Mondays as always. Reviews should be coming soon, assuming I can finish a game to write about.

As you may have noticed if you check up on this blog for updates, I’ve not managed to put up a Right Click to Zoom for some time. This isn’t for lack of trying, as I’ve had two drafts that ended up scrapped, but it’s been getting to the point where the lack of progress on my part has been a source of frustration and even despair and anxiety. So it’s time to reevaluate.

Historically, I’ve never been good at maintaining schedules, yet I pushed this blog project ahead with that system anyway. Problem is, I hold myself to excruciatingly high standards that I simply cannot maintain, which in turn leads to a very self-destructive backlash. Furthermore, I didn’t have a job when I started this, and now that I do that added drain of time and energy is definitely affecting my ability to write when I go to do so. So once the schedule starts to slip, it keeps slipping, and I keep beating myself up over it, which just makes it worse… you get the picture.

A lot of this might not have happened if I didn’t reach the two scrapped drafts wall of Right Click to Zoom, but I did. As well as all of the above reasons, a big part of that stumbling was because I was continuing with topics that were either not personally interesting or else focused on video game publishers, developers, and the industry as a whole. I’ve set that precedent from day one, but honestly, that was a mistake. While I’ve certainly had things to say there, none of that has ever mattered to me as much as the actual video games do.

My favourite Right Click to Zoom so far has been the comparison between two Metroid titles, because they’re games I really enjoyed and I get to dive into them in depth. By contrast, getting frustrated at increasingly exploitative publishers (which has only gotten significantly worse in the weeks since I wrote those articles) is important to address but far less personally satisfying. Even worse, that Metroid article was the largest article I’d written at the time, but every RC2Z since has been about that length or word count, if not larger. The scope just got bigger despite my best efforts.

Anyway, rambling on the whys and hows aside, I need to look at rescheduling these articles. I’d like to keep making them consistently, but having that deadline just ends up feeling like a Sword of Damocles over my head, so I’m electing to remove it entirely. I’m going to aim to get a Right Click to Zoom article out every week or two, but until I get back into the groove it’ll probably just be a “when it’s done” situation. Feel free to harass me and ask when the next one will be though, as it’s a huge boost just to know that this project is being followed and read (and to this day there’s been not a single comment on this blog about them).

However, all that said, this is largely affecting just Right Click to Zoom articles as they take up significantly more time, effort and research to get right. Backlog Battle Reports are far more conversational and, really, are just snapshots of the games that I’m playing as I play them. They’re not especially time consuming or difficult to do and I like writing them, so they will remain a Monday night feature.

Finally, the third section of this blog project has been waiting in the wings for a while: game reviews. I’ve more or less decided on titles and formats and approaches to writing them for a while now, but so far I just haven’t written any because I haven’t actually finished a game since doing so. The only exception to this is Metroid: Samus Returns, and I didn’t feel the need to review that since I dove so heavily into it for Right Click to Zoom. So rest assured, reviews will be happening… I just need to stop being fickle and jumping from game to game. Expect to see reviews for Elder Scrolls Online and Grim Dawn: Ashes of Malmouth soon, at least.

I think that about wraps it up. If you’re still with me, thanks again for reading and being a part of this little writing project of mine. I’d still like to make it into proper games journalism one of these days, so every little bit of support and following I can get is a huge help. Do feel free to comment or message me however you want, and I’ll always try to get back to you. I’m verbose, but I don’t bite, really.

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.

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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.

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