video games

Halo Infinite: Death or Revival?

After taking a couple of weeks to allow the gameplay reveal of Halo Infinite to simmer in my thoughts, I confidentially can say I’m excited about what I have observed. However, not without a certain degree of reservations. Expectations are sky high, and the internet is ablaze with memes of Craig the Brute, but the real question is where does the flagship title for the next generation of Xbox go from here?

In truth, the next generation of Xbox is more GamePass than it is Series X. And Halo becoming a live service, or a platform that will be continually updated over a ten year period, fits in with a GamePass oriented future. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing either. The lore of Halo is rich and expansive, and the fact that Infinite begins on Zeta Halo delights my inner child to no end.

My main concern here is the rating: please let it be Mature as opposed to Teen. Considering this is the home of the palace of pain, Mendicant Bias, and the Primordial, not to mention a simultaneous war against the Banished and Cortana-led Prometheans (honestly, I think she’s been corrupted by the Flood). Will the precursors return? Will the flood invade from the far reaches of space? What of Atriox? So yeah, this is some rich soil for story to be grown over a prolonged period of time.

I adored the gameplay they showed off on July 23. I really did. It felt far more like Halo than Halo 4 or 5. I dig the grappling hook and the drop shield. I also thought the interaction between the pilot and Master Chief was well crafted. The AI appeared solid, and this Escharum figure got my blood pumping. Halo Infinite is hitting the right notes so far in regards to story and gameplay, two of my key ingredients in developing a good game. It’s a solid foundation to build on.

Also, the multiplayer going free-to-play doesn’t bother me. I’m hearing rumors of a Battle Royale mode being added, and as long as they include classic modes the series is famous for, this should fit in just fine. Going free should, in theory, create the largest player base in the history of Halo. Will there be Mircotransactions? Possibly. I saw a rumor of a Battle Pass and I’m not overly worried about it. I’ve also heard if you buy the physical copy of the game you won’t have to buy a battle pass. While this is unclear, a 120FPS multiplayer Halo packed with all the goodies the series is known for, plus a battle royale mode and the largest player base in history, leaves me satisfied for now.

Last bit of the good feels: knowing story expansions will be free also makes me happy. Not to mention this is a OPEN WORLD Halo game with RPG elements. Yes, please. New weapons? Check. Will there be new vehicles? Dual wielding? Assassinations? Space combat? Different worlds to explore? An entire ring to transverse? The musical score is already shaping up nicely. Honestly, I feel the negativity online towards this game thus far has been misplaced to a large degree. Plus, give me more Craig! And on a side note, I’ve heard rumblings that Forge is going to be epic.

Ok, now on to the negative. The graphics, while colorful and definitely a call back to CE, were still flat. There was no ray tracing (and apparently this will be an add-on? Needs to be day one). I did see some improvement between the gameplay reveal and the trailer they released right after. Still, a lot of work needs to be done. And the sound from the weapons also left me underwhelmed. My gut feeling is a lot of this will be fixed over time after the game is released. I think this is a mistake. This title should be a graphical powerhouse. It doesn’t have to wow in the “realism” factor, but it needs to be the best looking Halo ever, while keeping in line with the series art style. I feel like I’d be beating a dead horse if I continue on this line of thought, but seriously, 343, you have a $500 million budget. Improve the visuals.

Losing two legacy weapons, the magnum and shotgun, is unacceptable. I like the idea of customizing weapons and introducing new variants, but don’t remove legacy weapons. They are staples of the franchise. Include them.

The gameplay area they decided to present, underwhelmed. It felt lackluster when taken in the context of: here’s the next evolution of the biggest franchise on Xbox. The pop-ins were concerning. The fact that this was the most “stable” demo the game has thus far is concerning. Will it be released with bugs? Memories of the MCC launch come to the forefront of my mind. Will this launch be drenched with glitches and broken elements? Will the game be delayed?

Overall, I tend to lean more on the positive side of things. I am optimistic regarding Halo Infinite. I have faith that 343 is doing all in its power to do the series justice. Microsoft has essentially granted them a blank check, giving them all the financial backing they need to be a success. I would love to see destructible environments, the ability to create missions in Forge, and a more in-depth melee system. I’m also still waiting for the day I can take out an enemy base, jump into a starship, fly into orbit, engage in space combat, land on an enemy ship, blow up the enemy ship, and head back down to the enemy base where I get shot down and parachute onto an enemy tank in the middle of a massive ground conflict. Am I dreaming? Maybe. But isn’t that what next-gen console launches are supposed to do? To cause you to dream about the possibilities? To imagine the limits that will be pushed? Here’s hoping that Halo Infinite is everything it needs to be and should be.

Insightful Gaming: PS5 Reveal!

No e3? No problem. The Sony Reveal Event delivered one of the best “directs” to date, and led me to wonder if e3 will even be necessary in 2021.

First, the design. I hate it. I love the fact there are two skus, a disc and disc-less option, but the thing looks like Alienware made a router – futuristic and wacky. No price. No release date. And I’m still curious about how loud the thing is going to be. At least the controller is slick.

So, disappointing design aside, the games are where it’s at. And Sony delivered. Spiderman: Miles Morales. Horizon Zero Dawn 2. Resident Evil 8. Ratchet and Clank. Kena. Pragmatic. Twenty-five in all. Anything mind-blowing? No. But enough great games to elicit a genuine sense of glee in me. I enjoyed what I saw. The games looked fun. Partially because they actually showed gameplay. Partially because they showed a bunch of games exclusive to the PS5. And the rest because I’m finally excited about next generation gaming in the fall.

After being on the receiving end of a one-sided fist fight for the better part of a year, Sony has captured the momentum for the next generation. They got the games, while hinting we haven’t seen everything yet. Xbox has the bigger beast, the better online service, and a Game Pass with no equal. Their backwards compatibility is ahead of the curve, and they have an ace in their sleeve by the name of Phil Spencer. But can they answer with a gaming showpiece in July? Only time will tell. For now, consider this as Sony’s way of saying, “Rumors of our demise were greatly exaggerated.”

Insightful Gaming – How Xbox Wins NextGen

I’m pretty stoked about next gen. 60fps? True 4K? SSD? Unreal 5? Ray Tracing? Sign me up. I have a feeling RPGs, stealth games and platforming are going to be huge. We also might see some incredible PC style strategy games finally hit consoles. And maybe, just maybe, a good Superman game. We have three systems: Xbox Series X, PS5, and Switch Pro (come on, it’s a given). In this quickie post, how can Xbox win next gen?

This is nothing more than a wishlist. I am not using any “insider info.” Nope. Just thirty years of gaming, my skills as an analyst, and my thoughts on where the industry is and where it can go. With that mumbo, jumbo out of the way, let’s get down to business.

June Event:

All about the hardware. Xbox Series X. Maybe the cheaper version, Xbox Series S. Elite Controller 2.0. Talk about Game Pass and X-Cloud. Demonstrate how Xbox Live is bigger and better. Then do a full power presentation.

If I were in charge of marketing, I’d press the following: Most Powerful System. Best Online Experience. Best Controller. Full Backwards Compatible. No censorship. Then emphasize Smart Delivery. I’d also ensure the event was only a day or two after Sony’s June event.

Lastly, I’d show-off some 3rd party titles. New Batman from Montreal? Superman from Rocksteady? Cyberpunk 2077? Harry Potter RPG? New Splinter Cell? Talk about how Xbox is the premiere choice for all third party titles. Then announce a bunch of timed exclusives. Hardcore gamers hate them, but it makes a significant impact on the market in general. Also, make the Flight Simulator the showpiece. End the presentation blasting the theme song from the 1990s X-Men animated series – yeah, Sony has Spiderman. We have the X-Men.

July Event

This first one is a long shot, but it makes sense. EA makes most of their money from live services. Live services work well with sport titles and Dice war games. They do not like single player experiences. Xbox wanted BioWare before. Plus, Respawn and Visceral Games would be perfect fits. Lastly, EA has never been a big fan of the Star Wars license. So they can unload it.

So the conference opens up with the announcement BioWare is now an Xbox studio. The Original Mass Effect trilogy, the Dragon Age trilogy, KOTOR I & II and Jade Empire are all being remastered alongside Saber Interactive. 4K resolution. 60fps. New content. Better gameplay mechanics. They show teasers for a new Mass Effect, Dragon Age, Anthem 2.0, and Jade Empire 2. But no rush. They then announce they are making KOTOR III alongside Obsidian.

Obsidian shows off dlc for The Outer Worlds, Grounded, and Pillars of Eternity 3. They also tease The Outer Worlds 2 and Alpha Protocol 2. Sega makes a statement that all of their new games are coming to Xbox: Persona, Yakuza, Sonic, Virtual Fighter, Phantasy Star, Atlas, and Total War. Then Total War announces they are working on a Halo RTS. This is followed by a string of 3rd party exclusives: Alan Wake 2 (Remedy), Marvel vs DC (Capcom), Dying Light 2 (Techland), Scalebound (Platinum), and Elden Ring (FromSoftware). This leads then to showing off a host of JRPGs that are finally coming to Xbox.

The Coalition show dlc for Gears Tactics, and then tease Mech Assault, Gears 6, and Jedi Academy. Ninja Theory show updates for Bleeding Edge, and then show Hellblade 2. They finish with teases for Project Mara and Odyssey 2. Trailers for Age of Empire 4 (Relic), Forza Motorsport 8 (with teaser for a new Forza New Horizons), Killer Instinct (no longer made by Rare), and then a bombshell: Bungie is once again an Xbox Studio. They drop trailers for Destiny 3 and a new IP and they tease they will be tackling Battlefront.

Rare shows off Sea of Thieves 2.0 with NPC crews and a host of improvements and additions. They show trailers for Everwild and Banjo and hint that they are not finished with Conker or the Battletoads.

The Initiative blasts onto the stage with a futuristic spy thriller reboot of Perfect Dark. They also tease they are working on X-Men and Deadspace. Then the trailer for Fable 4 is dropped by Playground Games. This segment is finished off by ReSpawn showing off Titan Fall 3, Apex Legends 2.0, and Jedi Fallen Order 2.

People Can Fly announces they are now an Xbox Studio. They show off a new IP and then tease they are tackling a reboot of TimeSplitters. Cause why not? Xbox then drops teasers for what multiple in-house studios are working on. A nice ten minute showcase of multiple games spread across multiple genres.

We then get teasers for Starfield, a new Witcher game, and that all dlc for LA Noire 2 is time exclusive for Xbox. Larian Studios comes out to say they are now an Xbox studio and Baulders Gate 3 and Divinity 3 are coming to Xbox. And then a partnership is announced: Xbox will be working with Bandai to create a Full Metal Alchemist game. They show off improvements to MineCraft and Fortnite before ending on a full reveal of Halo Infinite.

New weapons, new vehicles, improved melee, dual wielding, more assassinations, bigger environments, better stealth mechanics, and your armor takes on battle damage. You can also smash throw walls and drop a building on enemies – options are almost limitless to how you want to tackle missions. Hundreds of npcs make for huge set pieces. More WOW moments. The banished, the flood, new alien species, massive boss battles, space combat, and awesome Halo music. They reveal the biggest campaign ever with improved multiplayer and even a battle royal mode. 343 Studios then ends with a teaser for ODST 2.

August Event:

Obviously, this is where they should announce the price – $400 for Xbox Series X and $300 for Xbox Series S. They then announce a September release for Series X and a November release for Series S. They wrap it up with a showcase of the return of Summer Indies. A host of indie games will release every summer, starting with a ton of exclusives in August. Lastly, they mention that Game Pass, at least a limited version, will be coming to the Nintendo Switch in addition to Xbox Live for Switch. It’s a rad partnership and gives Xbox some serious momentum.

Summary:

Ok, so 90% of this is fantasy for sure. There could be curveballs, like ZeniMax or CD Projeket Red becoming an Xbox studio. Or maybe nothing happens and we get all hyped for nothing. But this is my wishlist, and I’m sticking to it until my dreams are dashed to pieces.

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