Right Click to Zoom — Morrowind, and why it Will Never be Replicated

Welcome back (finally) to Right Click to Zoom, the more in-depth article side of this blog. For today’s topic, we’ll be looking at Morrowind; primarily the original release, but also the more recent visit to it in Elder Scrolls Online, alongside a number of attempts to mod it into more recent game engines.

It’s said about the Elder Scrolls series that the first entry you play is likely to be your favourite. This seems to hold true of most people I’ve spoken to, with people rising to sing the praises of many games in the series but rarely able to overcome their original. Whether it’s Skyrim, Oblivion, or even Daggerfall and Arena, the series is well loved and it’s rare to find someone who doesn’t have that favourite.

In my case, my first Elder Scrolls game was Morrowind, and my favourite is Morrowind. I’ve spoken about it at length on this blog, mostly before these article types were defined, but in the time since my respect for the game and its design continues to grow. I’ve continued to discuss and debate this with multiple people, and it’s come up enough that I decided it was high time to use this article structure and space to look at aspects of the game with more focus.

So what makes Morrowind so great? It boils down to a key word: design. Allow me to elaborate.

Bigger Isn’t Always Better

The scope of the Elder Scrolls series — and the scope of video games as a whole — has continued to expand over time, with each new entry proving bigger and more content packed than the last. While few would say that this is a bad thing, there has had to be some sacrifices to achieve this with each new iteration. Corners are cut on some aspects, and liberties are taken on others in order to achieve this vision, with mixed results.

A large focus for Bethesda on Oblivion and Skyrim was trying to achieve the sense of a living, breathing world. Rather than having limited paths and patterns for what they would do, many NPCs in the game will attempt to go about their lives regardless of the player’s intervention. They’ll discuss matters with one another, eat food that’s around, interact with objects and react to various stimuli around them. Granted, it’s not always well implemented, with Oblivion’s systems being the source of quite a bit of humour in retrospect, but a living world was always the intention.

Continue reading “Right Click to Zoom — Morrowind, and why it Will Never be Replicated”

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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.

Continue reading “Right Click to Zoom — Addressing the Notion of Exclusion via Game Difficulty”

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”

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

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”

Right Click to Zoom — The Value Proposition Issue of ARPGs

Welcome to this week’s iteration of Right Click to Zoom, the more in-depth article side of this blog. Today I’m going to be talking about the growing concept and issues of the value proposition of games, particularly how they relate to hack-and-slash action RPGs (referred to as ARPGs for the remainder of the article).

The idea of a value proposition is simple: it’s the idea that a product, in this case a video game, presents itself in its entirety and then asks the consumer for the purchase price. A user deciding that the game is too expensive or doesn’t offer enough gameplay, longevity, or some other criteria is saying that the proposition fails; it’s not worth the value they’re asking.

A number of these concepts can be applied to video games as a whole, but I’m going to relate them back to this one genre for the sake of the article today. This is largely because they are a kind of game that can fall into this discussion fairly quickly by the very nature of how they play. To demonstrate what I mean, let’s start with the poster child of the hack-and-slash ARPG genre: the Diablo series.

The original Diablo is one of the more iconic games of its time, releasing nearly a year before the first Fallout game and simplifying the oft convoluted RPG genre down to a more accessible format. The huge, complex and intricate worlds with fiddly systems of the Ultima series and its ilk were instead reduced to a single town. From this town, you would descend into the catacombs beneath the cathedral, diving deeper until you reached Hell itself to defeat titular demon Diablo.

While still gaining power through traditional level ups, much of your character’s strength came from the randomised loot that would drop as you explored. Some drops were guaranteed from quests that would appear within the dungeon, but they too were randomly assigned; not everyone would find the quest to kill the Butcher or the Skeleton King in their run. You could play through it multiple times and still discover something new, and the same character could become wildly skewed in power. This became the core of the hack-and-slash ARPG: the loot.

If Diablo popularised the concept and genre, Diablo 2 refined and polished it. More character classes, more intricate and variable skill trees, more in-depth storytelling and world building, a bigger world to explore and play with… but most importantly, more loot. Winning a whole slew of awards and quickly becoming the fastest selling video game in history at the time, Diablo 2 opened up the genre to more people than ever before.

The inclusion of additional difficulty levels encouraged repeat playthroughs with the one character. Combine this with a strong multiplayer aspect and options, and the game saw continual play for years afterwards. Arguably, that is where the problems inherent in the modern day perception of the genre began, and few points can highlight this better than the launch of the next game in the Diablo chain.

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Right Click to Zoom — Competency and Professionalism in Games Journalism

I had intended for the first iteration of this segment to be on an entirely different topic, but after this recent controversy arose within the games journalism community, I felt it prudent to start here. It’s current news, it’s better to talk about it now, and it will hopefully segue into a good mission statement about what I’m trying to accomplish with these write-ups.

With that said, welcome to Right Click to Zoom, the more in-depth article side of this blog. Today’s topic is “competency and professionalism in video game journalism”.

Allow me to begin by asking a question: if you go out to eat at a restaurant, you want the chef to know what they’re doing, yes? They don’t necessarily have to be world-class gourmet chefs, but if your food comes out uncooked and smelling foul as if the kitchen didn’t know what a stove was, you’d have issues with it. You would complain, take it back, or perhaps leave. When you go out to eat, that is the desire you would have of your chef: competency.

This can be applied to just about anything we do in our lives. We don’t want people unskilled and untrained to be repairing our cars, doing our taxes or running our stores.

Why, then, is it so hard for people to apply this to video game journalism? Continue reading “Right Click to Zoom — Competency and Professionalism in Games Journalism”