mass effect

e3 2014 Review

Conferences

Micosoft
Grade: C+
xbox one
Review: I was thrilled that Microsoft dedicated an entire e3 conference to games. And they managed to deliver a solid showing. As a big Halo fan, the Master Chief Collection should keep me satisfied until next fall’s Halo 5: Guardians arrives. However, it’s everything else that remains suspect. Scalebound looks promising, but Fable Legends appears to have lost all the magic that made the original so good (in my eyes, the series has been in serious decline since Lost Chapters). Crackdown 3…well, I am still aching from the mediocrity that was Crackdown 2, so that title has a lot to make up for. Project Spark looks like fun, but I have a bad feeling it will not live up to expectations. Sunset Overdrive looks funny, but I am still not sure what to think especially after hearing from numerous sources the game felt “floaty.” It hurts knowing that all the third party titles shown, given previous history, will look and run better on a PS4. Yea, they finally did the right thing by getting rid of the Kinect, but where does that leave the Xbox One? The entire system was built around the Kinect. Microsoft left this dilemma untouched for folks like me who have yet to purchase an Xbox One to ponder. And it is worrisome. The biggest highlight of the conference was Ori and the Blind Forest, which looked beautiful, but it’s not enough to justify a $400 purchase.
Next Time: The original Xbox had Halo and Knights of the Old Republic to convince me it was worth a purchase. The Xbox 360 had Halo 3 and Mass Effect. The Xbox One is in sore need of another AAA franchise. They really need a WOW moment. What about the Samaritan demo Epic showed off a couple years ago? A huge selling point for me would also be to make backwards compatibility a reality.

Sony
ps4
Grade: B
Review: Another solid showing even if the conference lost some steam with the awkwardness in the middle. Bloodborne, The Order 1886, Driveclub, and Little Big Planet 3 all look to be fine exclusives. I am not sure what to think of the exclusive title Let It Die, but at least it shows Sony is not afraid to take risks. The highlight of the show for me was definitely No Man’s Sky. And after confirming that the trailer showed for Uncharted 4 was running on the in-game engine, yea, that is a must buy title for next year. But that’s next year. What about this year? I am still left wondering what all the other Sony in-house studios are working on. And really, nothing shown made me think I need to run out and purchase a PS4 right this instant. The most exciting titles announced were multiplatform.
Next Time: Where was Last Guardian? How about that open world RPG Guerilla Games is working on? Games, games, games. That is what this system sorely needs. The potential is there and I know the games are coming. Offering up more teasers, surprises, and wow moments will knock the next conference out of the ballpark.

Nintendo
wii u
Grade: B-
Review: Welcome back, Big N. Legend of Zelda certainly offered up the WOW moment Nintendo needed to make the Wii U pop up on my radar. And with the success of Mario Kart 8 and another Smash Bros game due this fall, things are finally starting to look up for them as well. However, 3 major things give me caution: 1. The void that was third party support is deafening. It makes me wonder if this system will go the way of Gamecube. I would hate to purchase the system this year and next year have Nintendo release a new system. I can’t shake the feeling that this is a major possibility. 2. Hearing from a few sources that the Star Fox that was announced may be nothing more than a glorified tech demo disappointed me for sure. 3. Where was Metroid? Yea, as the conference came to a close we were left with a little tidbit that an announcement may be made in the near future. But here is the problem: delays. Everything on the Wii U feels like it is being delayed. Xenoblade. Smash Bros. The system is on life support as it is. It needs games, not delays. And see, this is where third party support would come in handy in keeping the system afloat.
Next Time: I need assurance that Nintendo doesn’t plan to abandon ship with the Wii U. This conference was a start in the right direction. But its baby steps when really Nintendo needs to be running. Unveil the games. Open the wallet for third party support. Oh, and how about allowing more than a single gamepad to work per Wii U?

Top 5

the-witcher-3-screenshot-2
1. Witcher 3-It’s beautiful. The cities are thriving. The environments are so colorful. The combat looks fluid. This game continues to wow me with every showing.
batman
2. Batman Arkham Knight-Batman done right. Everything I have seen from this final chapter of Rocksteady’s epic trilogy screams awesome. My only worry is story. Arkham Origins has had the best story of any of the Arkham games and that was even done by Rocksteady.
dragon
3. Dragon Age Inquisition-Bioware appears to have a megaton hit on their hands. I have loved everything I have seen and greatly appreciate that Bioware’s pledge to listen to fan feedback wasn’t lip service. My only gripe? The cities. Or lack thereof. Will there be cities to explore? And will they be as thriving as they are in Witcher 3 or will all the NPC’s be stuck in mud?
No-Mans-Sky-concept-a
4. No Man’s Sky-The idea of exploring an infinite galaxy sounds incredible. The atmosphere looked beautiful. And every player starts the game on a different planet? How cool! But will this game live up to the ambitions of its creators?
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5. Evolve-I came into this e3 without a concern or care in the world for this game. After watching it in action, I can safely say I was so wrong for ignoring it. Fun is the word that best describes it. An incredible amount of fun.

Surprises

lego
1. Lego Batman 3. Ok, don’t laugh. I loved Marvel Superheroes. And this comes from someone who is not the biggest fan of Lego games. So color me surprised when I saw this and thought, “Wow, that looks like a blast.” I’m keeping this on my radar although I am not guaranteeing a purchase. Not just yet.
shadow
2. Shadow of Mordor. I’m sold. The Nemesis system is one of the best things to happen to this new generation of consoles. The game looks and feels great. If the story can be on par from the gameplay that was shown than this will end up being the LOTR game I have always wanted.
rainbow six
3. Rainbow Six Siege. I’m a little sad that Patriots was canceled after showing so much promise. However, the hostage situation multiplayer matches looked fantastic. It made you think. It made you sweat. If this game can continue down this path it will not only distinguish itself from COD and Battlefield, it will also be a blockbuster hit.

Honorable Mention

far-cry-4-3
Far Cry 4-The game looked beautiful. I have major concerns with story. I also question Ubisoft’s ability to create a living world. And does there need to be so much profanity? It may be an attempt to come across as cool, but to me it is just lazy writing.
Assassins-Creed-E3-Unity
Assassin’s Creed: Unity-Perfect time period selected what with it taking place during the French Revolution. Four player co-op? Yes. I was particularly intrigued by the murder scene investigation the player stumbled across. However, I am a bit turned off but what I feel is too much hand-holding in Ubisoft’s games. Also, after Assassin’s Creed 3, I am still fatigued with the series. So much so that I never bothered played Black Flag. This game has my attention, but it is surely divided at this point.

Disappointments
1. Mass Effect Trilogy-So maybe I got my hopes up. But seriously, this would have been awesome to have on the next gen consoles. 1080p/60 fps, all dlc included, and the combat in ME 1 tweaked to perfection. But the conference came and went without even a whisper of its existence.
2. Mass Effect 4-Concept art? Really? The game is playable, but all we get is concept art? Listen, I know you don’t want take the attention away from DAI, but still. A teaser trailer would have been significantly better than a few pieces of concept art.
3. Bioware’s New IP-Ok…what did I just see? A building. Day and night cycle. Right. What’s the point? Give me a name. A teaser trailer. Something to latch my excitement upon. This felt absolutely pointless.
4. Star Wars Battlefront-I get it. You went to some locations. You’re staying true to the Star Wars brand. But this feels like a theme that was pretty consistent with the entire EA conference. We have lots of cookies in the oven, but nothing to show right now. Like, nothing. No teasers. No game footage. Nothing. I don’t know whether to be excited or stumped. Therefore, I am left disappointed.
5. Last Guardian –You vehemently defend the notion the title is not canceled, but can’t so much as show a building with a day and night cycle. Man, we got that from Bioware’s IP. And what, Last Guardian has only been in development since the rise of the Grecian Empire under Alexander the Great. If it’s canceled, admit it. If it’s in development, then show it. At this point, you need make a decision and stick with it.

Overall, e3 2014 was a “Play It Safe” event. I understand the reasons. However, the lack of WOW moments has made what was a solid show mostly forgettable.

Pushing Limits

Part 2 of 2

Immersion and Structure…

 

Immersion is crucial and so few game titles get this right.  The moment my companions in Modern Warfare 3 were oblivious to the hundreds of slain innocent people that littered the streets we walked on; immersion was broken.  I cannot connect with characters that are void of human traits.  That connection to characters is vital.  It’s why the Harry Potter series sold 440 million plus copies.  Give me characters I can relate to and make a connection with and I will go with them wherever you want to go.  Break that connection and I won’t care what happens to them.

Interactive storytellers must come to the realization that the setting of a game is on the same level as any other character.  Just as much time and effort needs to go into creating its personality as any other person I might meet.  Bioshock did a fantastic job of nailing down this concept.  I am immersed within the rich story in Bioshock partly because of the world that the underwater city ofRapture gives me to explore.

Cut-scenes and quick-time events can easily break immersion.  As can any scripted event.  Every story needs structure.  And the structure for an interactive story is far different than the story written for a novel.  However, the trick is to make staying within that frame as seamless as possible.  Herein is the first of the three major balances in interactive storytelling: immersion versus structure.

Story and Gameplay…

 

Story should never be an after thought.  Nor should gameplay be forgotten.  Graphic novels are a marriage between artwork and writing.  When the marriage works, you get something that is beautiful, pure, and wonderful.  Get it wrong and it ends up rather ugly.  The same can be true in games if the balances of story and gameplay are not adjusted properly.

Games can consist of voice acting, musical scores, sound effects, gorgeous visuals, and present ample opportunity for incredible tales to be weaved.  But games are also games.  They are not read like novels nor watched like movies.  People play them.  Broken gameplay can sink a fantastic story.  A terrible story can mar outstanding gameplay.

Player Choice and Theme…    

 

Games are interactive because they allow the player to make choices that can affect the story and game world.  Giving the player choices without any real consequences is akin to treating your audience as if they are stupid.  Player choice creates a tremendous challenge to the writers and this is understandable.  The key is to allow for player choice but ensure the theme of your tale is left intact.

Theme is the real takeaway value of the game.  If a game has no real takeaway value, then it cannot be considered art.  Nor can it really be considered a story.  The quality of any story is judged by the impact it has on its audience.  This doesn’t mean every story needs to be teaching a lesson.  This does mean that every story should leave me touched in some way.

Business and Creativity…

 

In order for interactive storytelling to get through its growing pangs it must learn to properly balance these three measures.  The final balancing act is one that is seldom discussed but is perhaps most paramount.  Of course, that is the business versus creativity.  In the end, gaming is a business.  Publishers and developers need to make money to stay afloat.  The trick is to not let that need to survive drain you dry of your creative juices.

The novelist writes that book because the story is begging to be written.  To deny that creative drive would lead to insanity.  Light that kind of fire into the hearts and imaginations of interactive storytellers, and the industry will be well on its way to pushing past the limits of infancy.

 

 by D.L. Timmerman

writerofthings1@gmail.com

 

Pushing Limits

Part 1 of 2

A Game of Balances…

 

Are video games an art form?  The question is sure to stir up debate and needless strife.  I wish to avoid such banter and get right down to the real issue that is often overlooked: interactive storytelling is our generation’s new medium of writing.  And like films were in the 1920’s, storytelling in games is still very much in its infancy.

Novels may forever be the greatest medium for telling stories.  It not only narrows the cooks allowed in the kitchen to one, but gives something no other medium can: a look into the minds of the characters.  Film, television, and plays can be flashier, absolutely.  They consist of moving pictures and sound.  However, what you cast on a screen or place on a stage will never equal a person’s imagination.  Nor is there a way to film a character’s thoughts.

Graphic novels and comic strips are a hybrid of sorts.  They present still pictures and thought bubbles; bridging the gap between novel and film.  Albeit, a bridge with flimsy construction.  The art form also dates back to Egyptian hieroglyphics and the superhero tales told today (i.e. Batman, Superman, etc) can be rightly labeled modern day mythology.

Interactive storytelling can be described as a hybrid to a degree.  It has the potential to present thought-provoking stories that engage your mind and capture your imagination.  It consists of moving pictures and sound, but can go far beyond what graphic novels and films are capable of.  It offers a key advantage over any other medium: the ability for the reader (player) to interact directly with the story.    This becomes both its blessing and curse.  Indeed, interactive storytelling is really a game of balances.

Stuck in Neutral

 

Most games that are published today are suffering from an identity crisis.  Games like Uncharted 3 and Modern Warfare 3 can’t decide whether they are a game or a movie.  Some take being a game too far, like Saints Row The Third, and sacrifice story altogether.  Others, like Alan Wake, go in the opposite direction.  Games like Infamous mix in comic book elements.  Many more are simply made as gimmicks to make money off licensing.  Very few games today are doing much to advance the actual medium.

The quicker developers and publishers come to the realization that games are not movies, comics, or novels, the better.  Writing for television and writing for games are two entirely different things.  Rather than attempting to copycat what other mediums are doing, interactive storytelling needs to put on pampers and grow up.

This doesn’t mean that every game needs to be Shakespeare.  Just as each novel carries with it the individual voice of its authors, so game writers must learn to find their voice in the stories they write.  I believe the sooner that can be accomplished, the better.  And it really begins with learning how to balance.

 

by D.L. Timmerman

writerofthings1@gmail.com