Hollow Knight Standouts

  • After almost a two years Hollow Knight has finally been let out of its cage.
  • Self-proclaimed Metroidvania
  • “Interesting” gameplay mechanics. Satisfying when you win but may cause extreme grief if you feel the death is due to the game’s mechanics rather than your mistakes
  • Occasional frame rate drops.
  • Very combat heavy. More bug smashing than platforming. 
  • Provides quick-respawn points when you seemingly need them the most. 
  • When you die your soul along with all your Geo, the game’s currency remains. Forcing you to return to the scene to fight your soul and get your currency back. It’s a Dark Souls-esc game implementation, makes you think before you jump into a fight because you know what’s at stake. But when you wander into a boss fight in which you don’t belong, the game sometimes forgets to gate you from them, you end up with your soul in an area you can’t fight your way out of. You have 2000 Geo trapped in a lion’s den, and you can go and get your gold…but if the lion kills you, you’re at the same place you started. You have to defeat the lion to get your gold back.
    • It isn’t until later in the game that you have access to the resurrection shrine that summons your specter from wherever it lays.
  • Amazing soundtrack and sound design, but sometimes the repetitive cries from characters make you wonder how long you can stay in their vicinity before you go insane.
  • Simultaneously dark and vibrant art style.
    • Has gorgeous lens flares that occasionally disrupt you at inopportune times.

     

    @WASDmeta

On My Radar

This week’s OMR:

  • Hive Jump
    • A game I’m more than slightly behind on is a “retro” shoot-em-up. It’s an end of the day, let off some steam, unload your stress and your ammo into some alien adversaries type game.
  • Oxygen Not Included
    • Became addicted to this one early last week. To the point that I’m following multiple YouTubers as they play through they game.
    • It’s a colony care game by the makers of Don’t Starve; people are calling it a mix between that and Rimworld (Neither games I’ve played, so I can’t confirm or deny these claims.)
  • Hollow Knight Releases February 24th
    • A dark, hand-drawn 2D platformer. RPG elements allow you to pick how you evolve as you level up and equip charms that add special attributes.  I have my fingers crossed on getting a copy of this one before release, but most signs are pointing to no. If for some chance I do, I will definitely be posting video gameplay. 

Hollow Knight is made by Team Cherry
ONI is made by Klei
Hive Jump is made by Graphite Lab

@WASDmeta

Should Microsoft Be Concerned with This Year’s Xbox Exclusive Line-Up?

Within the last few day’s GameSpot has released YouTube videos showcasing the year’s announced exclusives for each major platform. The PS4 showcase was the longest of the bunch at a length of 7:33. They followed it up with the PC list, which came out at 3:25, but keep in mind: there’s no way – with a multitude of online distributors and indie games that only made it to PC – that they could list them all. The video for Xbox One lasted an astounding 1:29. Incredulous that their lineup could be so thin, I compared it to the other videos. The announcer did cut them short, spending 10 seconds or less on each game but even if she had put in as much time into each title as the PS4 narrator did, she would only have ended up at 2:09. The top comment on the PS4’s video was “Now make a video for the Xbox. Oh, wait…” And the comment section for the Xbox One video was a bloodbath. To no-one’s surprise.

The problem here is not the war between the two factions, in the scheme of things, that doesn’t matter. The fact that one console is outselling the other might trouble Microsoft’s execs when they’re sitting in their boardroom, but it doesn’t affect us when we’re sitting down with our controllers in front of our televisions. But there is a part of this war that permeates into our lives, and it’s that buying a console is an investment in a company and their platform. When we drop $300-400 on a system, it comes with an expectation that there will be content for it that will drive us to the edge of our seats. That developers will rally around a system and it’s technology and put their time and dedication into making incredible games. AAA games, games that flip a switch in us and make us fall in love – whether it’s with the gameplay or the story. And although there will always be players that stick to one system or another, what’s more important is which system the developers stick with. Whether it’s about money or signed contracts, exclusivity not only sells consoles for Microsoft or Sony but it leads consumers to make decisions on which consoles we’re going to buy, which device we’re going to invest in. This generation, the scales seem to be embarrassingly unbalanced.

I will fully disclose that I am fortunate enough to own both an Xbox One and a Playstation – but I’m fully cognizant of the fact that not every person is in that position. Some are forced to decide, some-time following a console’s launch, which one of the system’s they’ll stand behind. This decision-making process is multifaceted. Brand loyalty, which system a player’s friends are going to be on, and game exclusives all factor in. All of your friends might be on Playstation, but if you’re a dedicated Halo player the choice is out of your hands – you’re going with Xbox. But looking at the video length for announced exclusives alone, Xbox seems to be on the “losing” side of this battle.

Larry Hyrb announces “new games available for Xbox” every day, but how many of those games launched across a dozen platforms simultaneously?

As an Xbox owner I can’t help but feel a little disappointed. When it’s launch was announced, I knew where I stood in regard to their current IP. If I was buying a console at launch I’d be buying a Halo box. And after that, Forza was the only thing I felt I had to look forward to. Later, I felt 2017 was going to be a fantastic gaming year for me, but only because I had Scalebound on the brain. I couldn’t imagine myself even glancing at my PlayStation for weeks following its release. Then Microsoft squashed it. I can’t say I’m pissed at Microsoft because I wasn’t promised anything, but when I placed the pre-order for my Xbox it was with anticipation of playing that game.

If you ask me why I decided to buy an Xbox, it was for the social superiority. PlayStation had been plagued with online service outages, sometimes multiple times a year, while Microsoft hadn’t had any. Considering the cost of online service was the same on both platforms, Microsoft’s online service was objectively better (more reliable), and the majority of my friends said they were going to buy it. They didn’t. They all boarded the PlayStation train, and I was “pressured” into getting one. Every multiplayer game I own, I own on PlayStation. The pride and joy of my Xbox is Ori and the Blind Forest, and I feel to say that is sad. My favorite exclusive on my $400 Xbox is a $20 game that was later released for PC. The PC that I owned before purchasing my Xbox and am currently using to type this right now.

Brand loyalty can be argued when it’s Apple vs. Android. But when it’s an investment of my hard earned money it’s about more than that. It’s about reliability of service and access to incredible games. Now, the majority of games I play are available on both consoles so that’s not a driving factor. But I cannot help but feel a little regret when I look over at my Xbox One; lamenting that this generation, Microsoft had done me wrong. I got behind them. I used my $424 to tell them that I trusted them to bring amazing games to market, ones that would make me proud to own an Xbox, a system that would be on every night running so hot it risked the red rings of death. But I haven’t had this system running long enough to cause last generation’s defect. Even if this generation did have it – my console would be safe, and I consider that an issue.

tl;dr
– When GameSpot made videos of this year’s announced exclusives Xbox’s video was 2:09 and Playstation’s was over 7 minutes.
– The console war stops when I sit down to play, I don’t care what you’re playing as long as I’m enjoying myself.
– It seems that this year Microsoft did not reach out to as many partners as I feel they should have. Their first party line-up is as strong as ever, but their third party exclusives are lacking.
– You can argue about brand loyalty, but when you’ve invested $400 in something you expect there to be games for you to play.

@WASDmeta

Does Zelda’s Paid DLC Betray Iwata’s Promise? [DRAFT]

One of the many staples of Nintendo, when compared to the other “big three” was its insistence on being a provider of offline systems. They never really suffered for this decision, because they knew their audience. With children and families being their primary market, at least in the West, parents didn’t mind that their kids didn’t have access to other people on the internet – and why becomes clear the second you get on voice chat with either a Playstation or an Xbox. With no need for online play, and in a time where post-release patches weren’t possible with the console’s current infrastructure, Nintendo had no pressure to be online. But as consoles became more broadly connected to the internet, and kids sought to play with their friends sans voice chat, Nintendo had to adapt.

Skip ahead a few years. Nintendo, with their first fully Internet-capable device in hand, was suddenly bombarded with questions as to whether they would conform to the new Paid DLC paradigm. Having to answer not only to inquiring customers and game journalists but, Nintendo’s shareholders, Nintendo President and CEO Satoru Iwata finally opened up.

In a Third Quarter Conference call (2012) Iwata explained “we cannot, and should not, ask our consumers to embrace the situation where they are required to make excessive payments. Doing such things might be good for short-term profit, but it will not serve our mid-term and long-term business developments.” He then went on to say, in an interview with Kotaku that they would not be a company that released an unfinished game to later add the completed content in DLC. That “when the player has exhausted what’s in an existing piece of software when there are no more challenges, and there is nothing more they can do…” then that is when Nintendo can offer up something, simply as further motivation to come back and enjoy the game world they loved so much. Satoru Iwata was clear that only AFTER a game was entirely complete, would they even consider adding something to their game. Adding, again, that they as a company would never “create a full game and then say, ‘let’s hold this back for DLC.'”

Almost a year after that 2012 conference call with investors Fire Emblem: Awakening was released, and six months after that it was the first Nintendo game to ever have Paid DLC. It was a move that Nintendo made tactfully and with full cognizance of what they were doing. Nintendo knows what they’re good at, and one of the leading things being their first party offerings. No one could claim that their first party franchises sold consoles as well as Nintendo’s did, and Nintendo knew their audience well enough to surmise that they could sell them nostalgia in a bottle. (Un)fortunately, nothing evoked those feelings and the memories that came with them like playing the character all over again as if for the first time.

By selling characters (along with other things) as DLC President Iwata was not going against his own words, and Nintendo continued with that legacy well after his passing. But some might say that that legacy ended yesterday; well this is what all of my pontificating has led up to.

Both the press release and the linked video, by Eiji Aonuma, have one central theme: them guaranteeing the DLC was created solely to add more activities to an incredibly expansive world. With players quickly engaging with and finishing, the central quests in this new playground, they wanted to give players more things to do. And they made sure to reiterate it to get the point across. The first paragraph of the press release reads:

While the main game offers players an engrossing quest that will keep them entertained for hours, as well as the freedom to explore the vast Hyrule at their own pace, the game world provides a rich canvas that offers the opportunity for additional adventures. As a result, the first-ever downloadable content for the main-line Legend of Zelda series is in development…

The second and consequential paragraph goes on to talk about the things that will be included in the DLC. They then finish off the press release by jumping back to the topic of the first paragraph: punctuating the claim “rich canvas + additional content” with Nintendo developer Eiji Aonuma saying:

The world of Hyrule, which we created for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, is so large and vibrant that we wanted to offer more for players to experience within it…With this new Expansion Pass, we hope that fans will play, explore and enjoy the game even more.

With two people vehemently telling us the same thing, its hard to ascertain if what they’re trying to communicate is sincere. Its as if this DLC was something they genuinely wanted to do, while also showing continued respect towards the late President and CEO Satoru Iwata. It just so happens that they did it in a way that seemed more awkward than a genuine assurance.

When reading the press release again, through the eyes of an excited Zelda fan, I finally saw what the true fans did. When you are excited about a new release, whether or not you have to spend money is – at the moment – besides the point, you are happy there is more of the game to be played, you want to know what’s so special about it and why it’s worth your $20. But as I read with that feeling of excitement it was instantly apparent that the tone of the press release did not match the level of energy I was experiencing. A game that I’ve always enjoyed playing, that I regret to see the credits roll – has just announced that their game will not only be bigger than any game before it, but they’re expanding it even further. But the two gentlemen making the announcement are speaking to me as if they’re reading the weather. There is no excitement in their voice; there is no flare in the presentation. THM (can I use your full name?) said it was as if they’d just come up with the idea, and were presenting it for their shareholders, and not their fans.

The second paragraph of the press release lists the things in the Expansion Pass as if it’s the outline of a paper that you’ve yet to do the research for. The information is there, but it’s stripped bare bones, there is no emotion or not hint at what it might be. A company has decided to tell me that I should pay $20 extra before I can even get my hands on the initial game, but they have yet to say why I should spend that money, or why I should be interested. I am not saying that the ones announcing this Expansion Pass should be cheerleaders, but if one is going to persuade me to spend my money, they can at least try and convince me it’s going to be a worthwhile experience.

tl;dr
– Iwata said they would never be the company that chose not to complete a game upon shipping simply so they could later release the finished product as downloadable content ‘DLC.’ 
– Tuesday’s announcement had many fans upset that Nintendo had strayed far from one of their tenets and was suddenly reaching into EA’s textbook and borrowing a lesson or two on “milking your audience for max cash.”
– By selling the characters as DLC instead of narrative content, they’ve managed to keep their principles along the lines of Iwata’s promise.
– Said they were only adding additional content to an already huge game. “The world is so large and vibrant that we wanted to offer more for players to experience within it… we hope fans will play, explore, and enjoy even more.”
Audience’s response to the press release: The announcement lacked any and all emotion, interest in the announcement itself, or any pertinent information about the Expansion Pass other than the date and the dollar amount. “Were they trying to pitch it to their players, or their shareholders?”

screenshot_20170214-132043

Satoru Iwata on Paid DLC referenced Stephen Totilo @ Kotaku’s piece Nintendo Chief: Mario Is Part Of Gamers’ DNA

I also owe a thank you to hamptonthemonkey for aiding me with some fact checking and Rocky1138 for reminding me why I have a few more grammar classes to take before they hand me my degree.


UPDATE: On last week’s episode of IGN’s Nintendo Podcast Nintendo’s Senior Product Marketing Manager Bill Trinen weighed in on the public’s response to the announced Zelda DLC:

It was tough, because we actually had a lot of debate in terms of do we announce it, how do we announce it. I think one of the things that’s unique about the way Nintendo develops games is when we’re working on a game, and certainly just knowing the history of Nintendo games, you guys know that it’s essentially we use every last minute to make the game as good as we possibly can, and really what that means is that the dev team was working on the main game, finished the main game, and as they’re starting to get to the very end and wrap it up, really they said, ‘You know we’ve made this massive world of Hyrule, we’ve spent a long time building it. It would be a waste to just make one game and have that be it.’ We want people to be able to enjoy exploring this world, and so they started thinking about, ‘Well, if we were going to do DLC, what would we do, how would we do it?’ And you can see that in the fact that it’s not… the DLC is not launching the day after the game or the week after. It’s coming out several months later in the form of the first pack and then several months after that in the form of the second pack. And that’s because the content is in development.

And so I think from my perspective, obviously if we were able to share more details, that would have been easier, but I think if you look to the example of something like a Mario Kart-type of a DLC approach, really what the goal is is let’s give people the option to purchase it when they’re at the store buying the game and give them something to look forward to, and kind of let them know there’s more to come in this world. And if you’re a Zelda fan buying Nintendo Switch at launch and really you’re buying it for Zelda, I mean how happy are you to know that hey, I’m going to be able to play more Zelda in this world again later this year.

 

@WASDmeta

How Will “News” of a Nintendo Switch Hardware Update Affect Its Launch Day Sales?

When asked about the length of the Nintendo Switch’s life cycle when speaking to Time in an interview last week Shinya Takahashi, Nintendo’s General Manager of their Software Planning & Development Division said that they might “switch it up” with the Switch. Before expanding,

Certainly, we’ve designed Nintendo Switch in a way that it can be used by consumers in the way that best suits them. I think we may see that people who have bought a Nintendo home console in the past traditionally, they may treat Switch like a home console and buy it and use it for a long period of time.

Whereas people who have been traditionally Nintendo handheld gamers, they may buy Nintendo Switch and then for example, if a new version were to come out later, then maybe they would decide to upgrade to that. Or, for example, because you can take the Joy-Con off the system, then I guess that leaves open the possibility of something else that might get attached. There’s obviously a lot of different developments that we could look at from that perspective as well.

Although not explicitly saying anything, the Deputy GM of their Planning department is insinuating something. Nintendo has never been one to go for the latest and greatest tech, and with this newest announcement it was clear that they wanted to get it out of the door with the current generation chip it rather than wait for something like a customized Tegra X1, projected to come out within the next quarter. With what some people may see as the Nintendo Switch’s “modularity,” it is not beyond imagination that the screen itself could be replaced with one containing a more powerful chipset. Or, although it would tie them down as a home console, they could turn their dock into an eGPU with a desktop sized graphics card powerful enough to push their tech up to modern gaming standards.


For a company that holds things so close to the vest, I was astonished that someone in such a high position would ‘leak’ something of this magnitude. It might not seem like a big deal initially, but once you consider that companies usually stay silent following a console release and don’t utter a word about a “slim” variant until at least a year and a half has passed – this interview seems groundbreaking. 

This announcement is comparable to Sony telling their customers, before they release the Playstation 5, that they’re going to shrink it down 16 months later and sell it to them again for $100 less. Yes, this is a beneficial snafu for the consumer, and people knowledgeable about its project cycle might have seen it coming even without this remark, but with so many seemingly harmless questions customers want to be answered, why decide to respond to this one? What was gained out of revealing potential development plans; conceivably putting the sales of its initial release at risk?  Now anyone on the fence about purchasing it on release date might roll the dice and wait – albeit for a day that might never come – for this “upgraded version.” potentially costing Nintendo in the long run. 

How Valve Saved Steam From Its Crisis of Confidence

Valve created Steam Greenlight as a way for developers to present their product to the world in the easiest way possible. Indie (independent) developers, with usually low budgets, would pay a $100 “hosting” fee and then can share screenshots, videos, and snippets of their game for people to vote on. Valve’s algorithms along with the gaming public’s voting choices allowed some great studios to come to prominence and some excellent games were produced.  But at the same time Valve realized their system was under manipulation, and the outcry of defunct backings burned brighter on shopper’s minds than the praises of the good ones.  If a game met Valve’s application requirements the developer would post their game on the site, players would vote for it, or not, and eventually, it would be seen by one of Valve’s ten curators.  If the project was “Greenlit” the game would show up on Valve’s store, Steam, and players would be able to buy it.

With Steam Direct Valve is hoping to streamline this process. Steam Greenlight was Valve’s way of publishing through democracy, but with over 12 million concurrent players a day, it is impossible for Valve’s ten person team to vet all the games that have been voted on. With Steam Direct Valve would collect a litany of information:

We will ask new developers to complete a set of digital paperwork, personal or company verification, and tax documents similar to the process of applying for a bank account.

in order to verify they’re a real business before proceeding any further. Then devs or studios would pay a fee, which has yet to be decided upon, for each game they wanted to post to Steam. With that fee being recoupable once sales were made.

Valve wants to make sure Steam’s shoppers are not only happy with the products they’re offered but are secure about their purchase decision before they hit that “Purchase” button, and I think Steam Direct is the best way to do this.

Steam Direct’s initial screening process, requiring tax and business documentation would make it more difficult for anyone with nefarious plans to steal the backer’s money or promote a product that does not deliver what it promises. The cash up front / fee is just another layer of consumer protection. Yes, it would be harder for game developers to enter the pipeline, but that’s the point. Genuine developers and studios, with the knowledge that their game is real and will be completed, are assured they will get their money back when the game sells – and the store is not inundated with scam artists or people that never intend to finish their game as promised.

It puts both parties at ease by creating a place in which customers and producers feel confident that the store will publish only quality products and people’s time and money will not be taken. Devs will no longer be worried that no one will invest in them because they or the dev next door might be illegitimate. Or be concerned about having to fight past half-finished and poorly made games so people can easily find them. Customers will no longer have to go through the tedium of looking through thousands of games on Greenlight to vote on, wondering which games will ever see the light of day and which ones carry malware.

This might not be Valve’s final iteration of their indie digital distribution platform, but each step they take provides developers better opportunities to shine and gets us closer to that final platform. With VR on the horizon, Valve has a massive opportunity to disrupt the digital media space. And by keeping consumer confidence high and continuing to aid the growth of up-and-coming developers, they’re only positioning themselves to succeed.

tl;dr
– After a couple of missteps and five years of rollercoaster success, Steam Greenlight has been put to rest.
– Pointed to the nearly unregulated volume of submissions, a sub-optimized submission process, and customer dissatisfaction as key factors.
– Wanted to create a more secure connection between the two parties, making it easier for studios to publish directly, and a streamlined shopping experience for gamers.
– In Spring 2017 Steam Direct will replace Greenlight, implement a quicker but more thorough screening process for devs, and provide the gamers with a shopping environment that is easier to navigate.
– With these new changes, Steam is cutting dead weight and cleaning up the process of self-publishing. Let’s see how it turns out. 

Why Nintendo’s New Marketing Tactic Works 

The YouTube comment section on any video that mentions the Nintendo Wii U is filled with confusion and a litany of questions, but it wasn’t until I got a job at GameStop that I realized how badly Nintendo communicated the function of their new device to their customers. Kids knew they wanted it, but didn’t know how to explain to their parents what is was; only die-hard Nintendo fans that watched their “Nintendo Direct” press conferences understood the concept. The question I was greeted with the most was “How much does the Wii U cost?” with parent’s hands outstretched as if they were holding an invisible Etch A Sketch. Parents wanted the new tablet that synced with their Wii at home so their kids could play their games on the go. The most informed question I had was if they could buy an additional Wii U tablet [for the Wii U they already owned] because they knew their kids would end up fighting over who got to use the tablet and who was stuck with a regular controller.

The 2014-2015 release of the New Nintendo 3DS was evidence that Nintendo had not learned from their previous mistakes. Why anyone in Nintendo America’s marketing department thought adding the qualifier “new” to the name of ANY item is beyond me. “New” signifies nothing aside from the recent introduction or creation of something, it does not communicate to the buyer that it is a console upgrade – an entirely different system with additional processing power and access to a wider variety of games. People had no idea that the games made for this system would not work with the “Nintendo 3DS” and that the two were not interchangeable.

Kids asking for the “New Nintendo 3DS” would return to GameStop after Christmas with disappointment and disbelief strewn across their faces; all ultimately expressing the same thing: they’d asked for the New Nintendo 3DS, and as they unwrapped their present they were greeted with the old one. Because, when walking into a store parents didn’t know that “New” was part of the device’s title, so they left it off – returning home with a device that was released over 4 years prior. Even looking up the two devices on Google gives you the same results unless “Nintendo” is inserted between New and 3DS. If the world’s most prominent search engine can’t tell the difference unless you use the exact wording, how should they expect parents to?

With the Switch, it seems like Nintendo learned their lesson. Before it was even announced, Nintendo’s new device codenamed “NX”  was widely rumored as a console that could be used both at home on your couch and standalone away from a television. Speculated as a hybrid between the 3DS and the Wii U, news outlets and gamers had more than an implication of what the system would be. And this time, when Nintendo was ready to unveil their project, they used no words. Their initial trailer showed adults playing their system at home on their couches before picking it up and going outside. It showed them using the device on the train and in a park, even one woman toting it to a rooftop party before returning home, docking the device and continuing gameplay on her television. Without uttering a word, their cleared up any confusion and instantly provided their consumer base with the information they needed to understand that the Nintendo Switch was a brand new device with before unseen capabilities.

Who they hired to make this change, I don’t know – but it was worth the risk. Nintendo might be slipping into a niche market, but that should come as a result of the market, not due to their own missteps. Hopefully, this will keep them in the mainstream for a bit longer.

tldr; After Nintendo’s history of using confusing nomenclature to market their devices, they may have finally learned from their mistakes – welcome: the Nintendo Switch.