Weekend Recap for September 7th

It was a 3-day weekend which means I should’ve done 50% more things, right? Sadly that wasn’t the case and now we have to get through to the end of November before another break. I think. I know we all hate Columbus now but I miss having his day off. I promise I never spared a thought for him; I just enjoyed having a 3-day weekend when I was working for a place that gave us that one.

Anyway, onward!

Movie Night — This week we watched Cruella on Disney+. I honestly didn’t expect to like it. I wanted to see it because I was curious as to how they’d make a live action movie about such a despicable character (You’ll remember in 101 Dalmatians she wanted to skin puppies to make coats out of them…that’s about as low as you can go.) Turns out this was more an alternate timeline Cruella and this one likes dogs. And I liked the movie, quite a bit, though I think a solid 60% of my enjoyment came from the soundtrack. It was a really good homage to Dalmatians with a lot of the same characters but everyone was just a little different. Would watch again.

Family TV — This is mostly a “see last week” situation. Still on Clone Wars and ST: The Next Generation. We did catch up on Expedition Unknown, which a kind of adventure-documentary show on Discovery. Imagine a ‘Finding Bigfoot’ show only instead of Bigfoot they’re looking for something real. This week it was the wreck of the steamship Pulaski which sank in 1838. Interesting stuff.

Reading — Still on book 7 of The Saxon Stories…

Gaming — Everything went upside down with my gaming. I had intended to play No Man’s Sky, but instead found myself logging into Lord of the Rings Online for a bit. And then, totally out of the blue (I blame reading some 7 Days to Die posts) I started a new community in State of Decay 2 and got HOOKED in a way this game has never hooked me before, despite owning it since it came out in 2018.

I think I’ve made more progress than I ever had before, and things are getting really interesting. State of Decay 2 is a zombie apocalypse game where you have to both fight off the zombie hordes and oversee a base. The ‘base building’ is all menu-driven but you fight the zeds, as they call them, from a 3rd person action perspective. Clear out hordes, scavenge for materials, try to keep your survivors alive and healthy. You switch between the members of your band, so you’re always playing a character but no character is “you” per se. Characters need to rest and to heal so it’s a matter of who is fit enough to go out on the next scavenging run. I’m finding it really compelling.

And that’s about it. Long weekend, short recap. I did spend a good amount of time messing the caching solutions for the blog. I’m still not 100% happy with what I’ve got but it’s stable for now, until I get up the mental energy to have another go at it.

Moral Outrage and Collateral Damage

Here we go again. A few months ago (time flies) the gaming world was up in arms over Blizzard-Activision’s culture of “harassment and discrimination against women.” That controversy bubbled to the surface of our collective consciousness because of a lawsuit against the company. (If you missed this story, The Verge has a good write-up about it including a copy of the lawsuit, which I just quoted here.)

Yesterday another controversy erupted. This one concerns Tripwire Interactive and we learned about it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. Tripwire president John Gibson posted a tweet which said:

Proud of #USSupremeCourt affirming the Texas law banning abortion for babies with a heartbeat. As an entertainer I don’t get political often. Yet with so many vocal peers on the other side of this issue, I felt it was important to go on the record as a pro-life game developer.

First, if you don’t know what he is talking about, Jen over at Book of Jen has an excellent post about the situation. Jen sums the whole law up quite succinctly when they say: This is absolutely terrifying.

* * *
[Update]
Tripwire Interactive has published a statement on its site. The main take-away is that John Gibbons is stepping down as CEO. Important to note that it does NOT say he has left the company. Still, it seems like the gaming community made its voice heard.

This news renders the rest of this post somewhat hypothetical, at least until we learn more about what is going on (IF we learn more).
[/Update]
* * *

I sat out the Blizzard thing and I’m mostly sitting this one out in its particulars. Why? Because my voice isn’t as important as the voices of the people directly impacted. I feel like my job is to be supportive and to let those directly impacted share their thoughts on the particulars. (Hopefully it is obvious that I stand in support of these people.)

What I do want to talk about is the conundrum of what we, the gaming public, can do when things like this happen. It’s difficult because the only tool we have is a boycott. This is a thorny issue when it comes to games. If an author does something you disagree with, you can decide to stop purchasing that person’s books and for the most part they will be the only one impacted.

But when it is a game publisher, boycotting potentially hurts everyone working at that publisher, guilty or not. In the aftermath of the Blizzard situation I saw Tweets and posts from folks who said they’d heard from Blizzard’s devs (the actual devs, the people doing the labor of building a game) a desire that we please keep playing/buying their games. That seemed to be enough to dissuade some from boycotting.

I think this is the wrong move. To quote Spock, “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

In this case, the ‘many’ refers to our society as a whole. We need to demonstrate that a company can’t get away with bad behavior. Yes, there will be collateral damage. When a company’s bottom line falls, execs are generally not the first to be impacted. It’s the workers that pay the price first, and that sucks, but they are the few in Spock’s equation.

The situation is even thornier with Tripwire. People who worked at Blizzard must have been aware of what the culture was like, plus what happened/is happening at Blizzard is illegal. At Tripwire, Gibbons is just voicing an opinion that many of us don’t agree with. It isn’t illegal to have a dissenting opinion (yet) and we don’t really know if everyone in the company was aware of the president’s opinion. I have no idea what the CEO of the company I work for thinks of Texas right now.

Add in the fact that Tripwire is a publisher. Their newest game (I believe) is Chivalry II, which was developed by Torn Banner Studios. Did TBS know about Gibbon’s opinions? Who knows? So then should we punish them for being published by Tripwire?

Unfortunately, yes we should. It isn’t fair, but again, not buying games published by Tripwire is the only tool we have. I wish we had another.

It’s hard. It’s hard to know we’re having to hurt innocent people, and let’s face it, it’s hard to take a pass on games we were looking forward to. (I was looking forward to Diablo 2 Resurrected!) But social change IS hard, that’s why it comes about so slowly.

I mean obviously we all have to do what we think is right; I’m just some loon with a blog so don’t listen to me. But maybe have a think on it.

Sad. It was kind of fun.

And honestly talk is cheap for me. I don’t really play Blizzard-Activision games anyway (though I was going to get D2 Resurrected) and I think the only Tripwire game I own is Maneater, and I got that for free via Playstation Plus. (I’m deleting it from my Playstation just in case somehow that is tracked by Sony). If we learn something horrible about Guerilla Games and I have to boycott Horizon: Forbidden West next year, now THAT would be hard for met to do. Please Guerilla, please don’t turn out to be an awful employer.

Back in the here and now, for me the boycott stands for both these publishers. Blizzard will hopefully improve and if they do, it is just as important that I reverse my boycott. For Tripwire, I don’t think anything will change. I don’t think it is a public company so it isn’t clear if there’s a board that can force Gibbons out. They’ll just go into the permanent “Do Not Support” column of my mental spreadsheet.

If anyone has ideas for a more nuanced way we can act against these companies without hurting the workers, I’d love to hear it.

A Change in Game Purchasing Habits

Not too many years ago, I was the guy there on Day 1 to buy the hot new game. Really, on Day -1, or Day -30 or something. I’d have the pre-order in well before launch date.

I noticed this summer that I don’t do that any more. It wasn’t really a deliberate decision, but a learned behavior. I think the last “OMG new shiny!” full game I bought was Assassin’s Creed:Valhalla last November.

These days I’m content to let a new game ripen for a few weeks or months before buying it. I’ve identified a few reasons why.

1) Cost — I don’t have the disposable income I once did, and you can save a lot of money by being a little patient. Games go on sale so quickly these days. This one is a no-brainer that we’re all aware of but for the sake of completeness I’m including it.

2) Game Pass/Novelty — I used to buy a lot of new games just because I was bored and wanted to try something new. Now there’s always something new on Game Pass. Even without Game Pass there are so many games coming out, and so many sales constantly running, that you can almost always scratch the ‘something new [to you]’ itch by grabbing a game on sale. Heck half of us have games in our Steam Library that we’ve already purchased but haven’t ever played.

3) Spoilers (or lack thereof) — I hate spoilers. I used to sometimes buy a game at launch because I wanted to experience the story before it was spoiled. Since I’ve become a console gamer, and primarily a single player gamer, I’m not really exposed to spoilers because no one I am in contact with plays the same games. It is VERY rare that I go to a gaming site (I just now realized I don’t do that anymore). Between these two factors, spoilers are no longer a concern.

4) Game Quality — Just about every game gets patched after launch. Bug fixes, quality of life changes, performance improvements… In almost all cases the launch-day version of the game is the worst version to play. Why not let a game improve before investing your time and money into it? One exception: if a game is coming out that I feel passionate about and that doesn’t seem to have the resources of a big AAA title, I might make a Day 1 purchase just to support the title and the team. That hasn’t happened in a while, though.

5) Single Player — As mentioned I primarily play single player games these days. A good reason to buy a new multi-player game is to get in on the fun while all your friends are playing it. That doesn’t really apply to solo games, but this is why my pre-order of New World exists. I pre-ordered that game in, I think 1885 or something. I’m still not 100% convinced it’ll launch this month!

6) Backlog — I have SO MANY games I haven’t played that it seems silly to buy new ones, frankly.

I could probably come up with more reasons, but those seem sufficient.

But it’s WEIRD, y’know? It’s such a change for me to show… restraint? 🙂 At least when it comes to gaming, I’ve always been fairly extravagant. It kind of feels good too. It feels responsible. Maybe at 60+ I’m finally becoming an adult, I don’t know. I also kind of feel like I have more respect for the games I do buy. That sounds strange to say. But when I buy a game it isn’t on a whim. It’s a game I’ve been interested in for a while, and a game that has been on the market for a while and so has proven itself. I miss a lot of clunkers this way, too. Games that were hyped but then kind of fizzled. Or games that are actually quite good objectively, but would not be good for me. Returnal, on the PS5, is a good example of this. I almost bought it Day 1 but am glad I didn’t because I now know it just isn’t the style of game I’d stick with.

So that’s it, that’s the post, as they say. Only they say it about Tweets. I don’t really get what it means. I think it’s what you say when you don’t really have a point!

[Header image is from LOTRO. It’s a view of Bree from the bluffs of the Barrow Downs.]

More About A Plague Tale: Innocence

I mentioned my issues with A Plague Tale: Innocence in my weekend recap but wanted to expand on them in this post.

So first a bit about the game. Plague Tale takes place in an alternate history France in the 1300s. You mostly play as Amicia, a teen-aged (I’m guessing 15 or 16?) girl who is suddenly tasked with protecting her 5 year old brother Hugo. A plague (called ‘The Bite’) is ravaging the land, and the Inquisition is out in full force hunting for Hugo for reasons unknown.

The plague takes the form of demonic rats. There are LOTS of rats and they’re so very, very hungry. Thousands of ’em and they have but one weakness: they are afraid of light. Amicia is armed with a sling and over the course of the game she learns how to make special ammo for it: shots that ignite smoldering fires, shots that douse lights, and so on. As she travels through the game world she has to guide Hugo along by holding his hand. If he is left alone for too long he’ll start to panic, making noise and drawing enemies to the pair. At least that’s what we’re told. I was too good a big sister to ever let him get to that point.

OK so that’s the as-spoiler-free-as-possible setup.

The game is strongly narrative-driven and is not open world. Stripped of story, you are generally tasked with going from Point A to Point B in a level, though the animations of the characters, the excellent voice acting and the world building hide that exquisitely. The first half of the game is just *chef’s kiss* amazing.

In terms of mechanics, a lot of the game is essentially puzzle-based. You see a swarm of rats…how will you get past them? Can you light a fire by using your special ammo? Can you distract them by offering them a meal of some kind. Can you just avoid them? The further in you go the more complex the puzzles get, but the more tools you have to solve them. I found this all really fun. Fun, but really dark. Sometimes the meal for the rats is an enemy soldier. Actually a lot of times that’s the case. The various sling ammo types reminded me of Thief: The Dark Project, if you remember that game.

Amicia is a 15 year old girl with a sling and the beginning of the game leans into that. She has no interest in killing people and she’s not skilled enough to do it reliably anyway. But the farther you go, the more combat there is, and in the last chunk of game Amicia is like some kind of sling-wielding super-hero taking out enemies left and right. Not only did this kind of ‘cheapen’ the character for me, but the game’s mechanics (at least on console) just don’t offer a great combat system. As you wind up a sling shot your targeting reticle will ‘lock on’ to an enemy’s head, or the lantern they are carrying, or some other hotspot. Let fly and you hit. But sometimes it won’t lock on. Sometimes it ‘loses’ the lock just as you release. Sometimes it locks onto the wrong thing. This all makes combat less than satisfying so the more the game relies on it, the less gratifying the overall experience becomes.

This weapon wheel is from early in the game. By the end game it has choices all the way around.

You choose your ammo type from a weapon wheel (again, this is the UI on consoles). This feels sloppy, and you can’t re-arrange the ammo. So (again trying to stay as spoiler free as possible) there are times when I frequently wanted to use the item at 3 o’clock on the weapon wheel followed quickly by the item at 7 o’clock. I would have really liked to have been able to re-arrange these items so they were next to each other, but there was no way to do that. When the wheel is open (and obscuring your view) the game slows down a tiny bit, but not nearly enough. There isn’t an indication of what ammo type you have selected until you start your wind up to throw. I frequently died because I thought I had selected the right thing, but when I’d start Amicia’s wind up I’d realize my selection was wrong. By that time the enemy has closed the gap and boom! Dead. No time to change to the correct item, and you can’t effectively run/dodge while using the wheel (at least, I couldn’t). Amicia doesn’t have hit points. If an enemy strikes her, she dies.

Anyway, you get the idea. Putting so much emphasis on fighting at the end of a game where combat isn’t super polished or really the focus just totally busted the pacing for me. There was also a too-long pure stealth mission, and a mission where no matter what you did you would fail to some extent. Of course you, the player, doesn’t KNOW you’re expected to fail so I restarted that section so many times and got so frustrated trying to take out what I guess is an endless number of enemies.

Just in case I was missing something I checked around on places like Reddit and yeah, I wasn’t the only one cursing about the combat at the end. It may be that none of this is an issue on PC and that’s why it hasn’t been mentioned much. I just thought so much of the enjoyment of the game rested on the story, but the devs ruined the story by making the gameplay at the end of the game so cumbersome and frustrating that the pacing of the narrative was destroyed. I don’t know why they would do that.

There’s a sequel, A Plague Tail: Requiem, coming in 2022 and I hope they can keep the amazing storytelling of Innocence while addressing the flow of the end game. I’m willing to give them a second chance.

Microsoft Rewards Points

Today I want to talk about the meta-game I’ve been playing the longest: Microsoft Rewards Points (MRP). MRP are Microsoft’s way to try to incentivize you to use their products like Bing and Game Pass. You can learn about the program here.

I have three primary ways to earn MRP. The first is by visiting https://rewards.microsoft.com/ every morning while I have coffee. There I do the “Daily Set” which is some mix of clicking links and taking quizzes. A lot of these are ‘no-fail’ situations where you get points just by trying, but if you want to be sure you get max points you can check the MicrosoftRewards reddit. I find doing these Daily Sets kind of amusing just from the point of view of learning trivia-level facts and stuff.

The second way I earn MRP is via the Microsoft Rewards app on the Xbox. This is somewhat similar to the above system, and often asks you to “Check out this featured game” or something equally trivial. (Selecting these tasks takes you to the store, but you don’t have to buy the featured game in order to earn points. Just visiting the store page is enough.) Other times you’ll be tasked to do something like earn an Achievement in a specific game or selection of games. In fact there is a daily task for earning an Achievement that grants you 50 points. Overall this is another fairly mindless way to earn points.

The third and most interesting way I earn MRP is via Game Pass Quests. This is where things get fun. There are daily, weekly and monthly quests. The daily quests are boring and always that same: 1) log into the Game Pass app, and 2) play a Game Pass game. The weekly and monthly quests are more interesting. They task you with doing specific things in specific Game Pass games (at least some of them do). So “Drive 1 KM in Game X” or “Kill 10 enemies in Game Y” or “Play an online match in Game Z.” These are usually fairly quick to complete (though there are exceptions). What I enjoy about them is they prompt me to play games I usually wouldn’t play, and sometimes I find games I really enjoy. For instance this week one of the quests involved A Plague Tale: Innocence. I accomplished the quest objectives pretty quickly but by then I was hooked on the game. Now I’m going to finish it!

The point of all of this is to amass MRP so you can exchange them for various goodies. My preferred goodie is store credit. A $100 Xbox gift card can be redeemed for 91,000 MRP, which sounds like a huge number given some of the tasks reward 5 or 10 points, but they add up more quickly than you might expect (accumulation is helped by various “double points” events and other promotions). I’ve earned over 400,000 MRP since starting with the program. I don’t really track things but at least once a year I cash in for a $100 gift card.

It wouldn’t be worth it if earning the points was bothersome, but for me it has become a game in and of itself. I look forward to Tuesdays, which is when the weekly quests come out. What has made this even better/easier is Xcloud since a lot of the games can be played via streaming, meaning you don’t have to install them to complete the quest. The daily sets on the web are either inoffensive and quick, or they’re quizzes which are kind of fun for me to do because I enjoy trivia.

Anyone with a Microsoft account can sign up and start earning points, but it is when you’re a Game Pass member that the system gets really interesting. If you have Game Pass you might want to check it out!

Concerning Controllers

Yesterday I got into a spirited conversation on Twitter about game controllers. Apparently people have opinions.

This honestly came as a surprise to me. I use game controllers all the time. I use Xbox controllers and Playstation controllers and Stadia controllers and Switch controllers and… I don’t really think about them very much. If you don’t use game controllers, a lot of the spirit of this post (that people have very different reactions to peripherals) could also apply to keyboards. There are people who are PASSIONATE about keyboards and spending $300 on a keyboard makes complete sense. Then there are people who’re completely fine with using the $10 keyboard that shipped with their PC. (I’m somewhere in the middle on that debate.)

But today is about controllers. The folks I was talking to HATE the Xbox controller. Like, it seemed as though their feelings were strong on this topic. It took a while to get them past generic gamer responses like “it sucks” to start to understand what they hated. One thing that came up was that the d-pad on the Xbox controller is too loud. That surprised me so much that I went and grabbed an Xbox controller and pushed the d-pad around. “Huh, what do you know, it does make a clicking sound.” I muttered. I had never noticed it. Of course now I’ll never not notice it so my friend owes me a beer or something.

The other issue that both friends had was that the sticks on the Xbox controller are too “loose.” I tried to understand this. I grabbed a Dual Sense and an Xbox Series X|S controller and wobbled the sticks on both and they felt the same to me. If anything, the Dual Sense felt looser but it was a really subtle difference. Then I was told that you only notice it while in-game and that FPS are hard to play on the Xbox. As someone who plays FPS on the Xbox this left me really confused.

Talking more, one friend who loved the Xbox 360 controller hated the Xbox One controller, and that same friend hated the PS3 controller but loves the PS4 controller. If only he could’ve seen my blank stare because I was like “Wait, they feel different?” Now remember, I play console games every damned day, and I switch between consoles frequently, sometimes several times a night. I just don’t notice these changes.

I don’t have any great revelation to share, I just thought it was really interesting. Maybe I’m just not a good enough gamer to care?

But as long as I’m on the topic, here is MY comparison of the PS5 Dual Sense controller and the Xbox Series X controller. These are the aspects that do matter to me:

Batteries:
The Xbox has removable batteries. I spent $20 to buy a charger and 8 batteries, which gave me enough batteries for both the controller and various TV remotes. I only need one controller and I always have a fresh pair of batteries sitting in the charger.

The PS5 controllers are rechargeable. My past experience with the PS4 is that over time they hold a charge for shorter and shorter periods. Because of this I felt I needed to purchase a second controller and a charging station for the PS5, total cost around $95. I make a point to rotate the controllers to try to ‘wear’ the batteries evenly. It’s a pain in the ass, but over the course of the PS4 generation I think I bought 4 controllers as batteries kept essentially failing (going from full charge to dead in 30-40 minutes).

Physical Comfort:
First, this category is SUPER personal. What is comfortable for me might not be comfortable for you.

The PS5 Dual Sense feels ‘harder’ to me. Like I feel like I’m holding a very rigid piece of plastic, and towards the end of a long gaming session the outer edge of the grips start to cause pain in my hands in the area between the base of the pinky and my wrist.

I find the Xbox controller very comfortable and I can hold it for more time than I ever have available to play games, and not have any pain.

Features:
The Dual Sense controller is kind of a marvel. The haptics can be almost startling. There are times when it feels like there’s a little creature inside the controller scratching to get out. I love the added immersion of (as an example) different guns having different trigger tensions. Another example is being able to feel the terrain your traversing via the slight vibration in the controller changing.

Now I don’t think haptics are for everyone. In a lot of cases they make games harder. Sometimes my trigger finger actually gets tired from having to work to pull the trigger due to increased tension. Fortunately you can turn all of this off, but I LOVE the added immersion.

The Dual Sense also has a speaker and a microphone. Some games make great use of the speaker to enhance your experience. I’m not sure I’ve seen the speaker used. I guess in a pinch you could use it for voice chat but I’m guessing the quality wouldn’t be great. Honestly haven’t tested it though.

The Xbox controller has none of these bells and whistles. With the Series X we finally got a share button. The Xbox controller (including last gen) has some “advanced” rumble features but honestly I’m not sure I’ve ever really noticed them, or I’ve been using the controller for so long that it’s become so normal that I just accept them. Remember the Xbox Series X supports Xbox One controllers so effectively this is a last gen controller, with the one addition of the Share button (which Playstation has, and had last gen).

And…that’s really where my comparison of the two controllers ends. As far as functionality I really don’t notice much difference between them. The Dual Sense haptics is huge, but if I’m playing a PS4 game that doesn’t support the new haptics…it’s just a controller. Like every other controller.

Am I broken? Does everyone else have strong feels of this vs that controller?

Game Trailers and Other Terminology

After almost every big gaming press event there’s some discussion of the trailers that are shown. Among other topics, we question how much we actually learned about the game from the trailer. Scopique and I touched on this topic very briefly in the comments to yesterday’s post but I thought it might be fun to unpack things a bit.

In ye olden tymes, game trailers were, well, short videos that showed a game being played. Everyone understood what a game trailer was. Over time though, as graphics improved and budgets swelled, a lot of games started having elaborate CGI intros or cut-scenes. From there it was a short skip to showing CGI as the trailer. I get why devs did that; the CGI could be finished way before gameplay was complete and ready to show.

I get why they did it, but I (and other gamers) weren’t so thrilled. We watched trailers to see how a game played, and these CGI trailers told us nothing. I did (and do) find them enjoyable just as little micro-stories but they do absolutely nothing to inform me as to whether or not this is a game I’d like to play.

Rather than walk back from showing CGI trailers, the marketing teams just made up a new name. “Today we have the world reveal trailer for Game X!” the announcement will say. World reveal can mean anything. Sometimes they say “Tonight is the cinematic trailer for Game X!” This tells us that a CGI movie is coming up but no gameplay. At least with this term we know what to expect. But what we gamers are really listening for is “We have the GAMEPLAY trailer for Game X!” Ah, OK that’s the good stuff. That’s what I need to actually inform me about a game.

Thinking about this led me to chuckle to myself about another loaded word: Exclusive. Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo used to throw ‘exclusive’ around willy-nilly. Sometimes it meant actually exclusive to the platform making the announcement, but usually not. Eventually to protect themselves (consumers started calling them out), the marketing teams forked this one too.

So now when S/M/N says a game is Exclusive to P/X/S (Playstation/Xbox/Switch) it generally actually means it will only be out on that platform. True exclusives are pretty rare these days and mostly come from 1st part studios from S/M/N.

The first forked exclusive term is Timed Exclusive. This means a game is coming out on one console first, then it’ll follow on others and on PC after 6 months or a year (or some other period of time). I don’t think marketers love this term. I feel like if you were talking to them IRL they’d kind of say “Timed” under their breath and then shout the “Exclusive!” part.

A lot of games will come out both on PC and a console. These curiously get tagged as “Console Exclusives.” Microsoft has a lot of these because Microsoft is more interested in selling games than hardware, but Console Exclusives are fairly common on all three platforms. I realize this terms sounds like the opposite of what it means. Console Exclusives come out on PC? It sounds better when you stick the console name in front: Xbox Console Exclusive. The intent is to say “This game is exclusive to the Xbox Console and won’t be out on other consoles and we’re just going to ignore that the PC exists, OK?”

You could combine those too. Maybe you have a Timed Console Exclusive. This means the game comes out on one console and PC on Day 1, then on other consoles at some later date. But again, that “Timed” word is in there and we do not want!

Thus was born “Console Launch Exclusive” which really means pretty much the same thing as Timed Console Exclusive. It means a game will launch on one console before it launches on other consoles. And again, we’ll pretend PC gaming isn’t a thing.

Those are the terms I can think of, but if you have others drop them in the comments.

It all just seems so silly. Did I really have to spend 5 paragraphs defining ‘exclusive’? Also, maybe I’m projecting but do gamers really want exclusive games? I guess maybe some do. I see stories about fans getting all pissed off when Sony games launch on PC, for example. I don’t get it. I want every game to take full advantage of a platform’s abilities but beyond that, put your game out everywhere so everyone can enjoy it.

Xbox at Gamescom 2021

Gamescom 2021 starts today but Microsoft got a jump on the show by having their event yesterday. I watched it and thought it was pretty good, though not at that “you gotta watch this!” level of hype-ometer-busting excitement.

If you missed the show and don’t need some sorry old man recapping it for you, here is the full presentation:

Too busy to devote an hour+ to watching? Great, that’s my cue!

OK Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. If you tuned in for game announcements, you had to be disappointed. The only non-indie (?) title they showed that I’d not heard of was Stray Blade, a 3rd person action-rpg featuring melee combat in a fantasy world. It’s coming in 2022. Here’s the presentation, snipped from the above video.

Stray Blade looks in my wheelhouse with lots of exploration and the kind of combat I enjoy but it’s early days. I’ll keep an eye on it though. Oh, the image at the top of this post is from Stray Blade, courtesy of Microsoft.

The other new game announced was Into The Pit, an indie rogue-like. I’m kind of over rogue-likes right now so I almost forgot about it, but here’s the trailer for that one.

Everything else that was showed was stuff we knew was coming (though some titles, like The Gunk, we haven’t heard much about). The show started with Dying Light 2 (out this December) and ended with Forza Horizon 5 (out in November). Both are looking great so far. Halo Infinite was nowhere to be seen, which seemed odd.

Some news items that caught my interest:

Xcloud, Microsoft’s game streaming service, is coming to Xbox consoles this holiday for Game Pass Ultimate members. This seems like a no-brainer and I wonder why it has taken so long, but now Xbox One owners will be able to play Xbox Series X|S games on their console (at 1080P) via Xcloud. Also, given the limited drive space on the Series X|S I can certainly envision uninstalling some games and just playing them via Xcloud inorder to save space, or ‘sampling’ GamePass titles via Xcloud before deciding to download them. What I’m really curious about is whether I can hook up a mouse and keyboard to my Series X and play PC Xcloud titles on the console.

And speaking of PC games on console, Crusader King 3 is coming to console. What?! They are calling it an “adaptation” rather than a port, so it’ll be interesting to see how much they have to simplify things to make the game playable with a controller. I mean I assume that’s the challenge. I’ve never gotten very far in CK3 on PC because it makes my brain hurt.

Really, that’s all the big news. A bunch of Humble Games are coming to Game Pass, and MS Flight Simulator, Wastelands 3, Sea of Thieves and State of Decay 2 all have expansions coming soon. (I don’t mean to sound dismissive about these expansions. Learning about them had me hankering to play both Wasteland 3 and State of Decay 2.) There was a segment on Age of Empires IV (out this fall for PC) and Psychonauts 2 (out today!).

As for me personally, I’m excited for Forza Horizon 5 and Dying Light 2, but I was excited for them anyway. And I haven’t played an Age of Empires game in forever so I’ll give Age IV a go, I’m sure.

There’s another event today, “Opening Night at Gamescom” or something like that. Its being hosted by Geoff Keighley of The Game Awards fame, so it’s not sponsored by any one company. Hopefully we’ll see some new games revealed at that event.

FOMO and Pressuring Ourselves to Like Something

Over the past few days I’ve seen two people take to Twitter to talk about how they were struggling to find the fun in games that are widely popular. I won’t out the people, but the games were Hades and Final Fantasy XIV. It’s really hard to tease nuance from a Tweet and it is super easy to mentally add a tone that isn’t there, but to me both people seemed to feel a little sheepish (or maybe frustrated?) about their reactions to these games.

Maybe that’s just me projecting because, OMG do I ever feel sheepish when I share feelings like this. And for me it happens a lot. I just don’t get what others see in some games (or even genres) and it makes me feel like an outsider. Everyone is happily chatting about Game X and I want to be a part of that conversation but then I play Game X and it’s just not fun for me. If I push through, then I just get annoyed with the game and myself.

I give great advice to others who feel this way (I don’t listen to it myself): “Games are for your enjoyment. Play what makes you happy. No one cares what you like or don’t like.” That last one always sounds way more harsh than I mean it to be. But it is mostly true, right? Unless you are an “influencer” who has enough followers to sway the chances of a game’s success or failure, your liking or not liking a game doesn’t really impact others in any significant way.

None of that advice really helps with that feeling of missing out and being outside of a conversation, though. I have no good advice to help with the FOMO, at least not in terms of wide-ranging social media “conversations.” If you have some quiet time with a small group of individuals you can ask them what they like about the game. Not in a “convince me” way but in a “share what you enjoy” way. There are times when you can draw great happiness just from other peoples’ enjoyment of a thing, even if that thing isn’t for you. For example @partpurple LOVES Animal Crossing in all its forms. I don’t care for it in terms of playing it, but it makes me so happy listening to her talk about all the fun she gets from the game. Her excitement and enthusiasm are infectious. So I second-hand love Animal Crossing even if I feel pretty “meh” about it first-hand.

Can we teach ourselves to like something? Certainly there will be times in our life when we encounter something that is an ‘acquired taste’ which — once you have acquired that taste — we may come to love, but I’m not sure it happens very often in video games. For sure I have ‘bounced off’ a game once or twice then come back later and loved it, that seems more about the particular headspace I’m in at a particular time, or even about a game that’s been improved via patches and upgrades. I don’t think that’s the same as making a deliberate attempt to ‘find the fun’ and convince yourself you love a game right here, right now. If someone has a trick to doing this, please share. To me, the video game heart wants what the video game heart wants.

So no huge revelations from me today. Just have fun when you’re playing games. If you’re not having fun, stop playing that game. If all your friends are talking about it, try to listen to their stories as stories, not as an enticement to go do what they are doing. Find your joy where it lives.

Weekend Recap for August 23rd

Another weekend come and gone. This one was a weird one for us. We lost power Thursday night, though it was restored by midnight. Somehow that still threw our Friday out of whack. I’m amused at how ‘delicate’ we are. I can remember going weeks without power due to hurricanes when I was younger and while it was certainly inconvenient, we just kind of rolled with it. These days, 6 hours without power made us crazy. Of course back in the old days not every activity I did required a screen, so there’s that.

Anyway, let’s get started.

Movie Night — This week we watched The Suicide Squad which we’d heard a lot of good things about. It didn’t resonate as well with us. @partpurple almost called it but she started enjoying it more after the half-way mark. I liked it more than she did, but it certainly wasn’t a favorite. I can chuckle at over-the-top gore for a while, but two hours of it got old. My favorite character was Sebastian, and for those who haven’t seen it, he is a rat. Like, a literal rat. I think that says enough about my feelings towards the movie.

Family TV — The highpoint of our whole week, in TV terms, was Friday night watching episode two of What If…? on Disney+, and episode 2 of The Lower Decks on Paramount+. Both were really good. We’re really impressed by the voice casts (as well as the stories) on What If…? and this episode of The Lower Decks had us howling with laughter. Both are animated shows. What If…? is a series of stand-alone alternate history shows for the Marvel Universe, and The Lower Decks is a comedic Star Trek spin-off about the lives of lower ranking crew on board a star ship. When The Lower Decks was announced I was sure I would HATE it since I’m pretty serious about Star Trek, but I’ve been pleasantly surprised.

Reading — Copy/paste from last week. Still on book 6 of The Saxon Stories series from Bernard Cornwell.

Gaming — I had a dumb gaming weekend. Thursday I finally re-subscribed to Final Fantasy XIV, but about 10 minutes after I did that the power went out. Friday I spent getting clients upgraded/installed on both PC and PS5, and tried to figure out where to roll a new character to get my feet wet. There is really no need for alts in FFXIV but the last time I came back I was so intimidated by the jobs and systems I’d forgotten about that I just bounced off completely. This time I decided I needed a new character so the game could re-teach me things and let me ease back in more gently.

Then I noticed that thanks to QuakeCon, the Elder Scrolls Online Blackwood expansion was on sale. I already own the expansion on Xbox but don’t know anyone else who plays there. I did have a friend playing on Playstation though, so even though I’m not nearly as advanced on that platform, I sprung for the expansion and a month of ESO Plus.

So now all of a sudden I have TWO MMO subscriptions. I spent a bunch of time researching a build for my ESO Dragonknight, and getting all the settings tweaked, plus doing the quest to get one of the Companions that Blackwood added.

And I started a new character on the Zalera server for FFXIV and got him rolling along, but now I’m kind of more interested in ESO. Typical me. I hate the forced grouping in FFXIV for dungeons. Social anxiety really spikes. ESO has grouping for dungeons too, of course, but they are optional and nothing is gated behind them (plus once you get powerful enough you can solo a lot of dungeons in Normal mode). What makes things worse for FFXIV is that if I play on the console (which is where I prefer to play) I run into the problem of no communication since, y’know, no keyboard.

I guess my next step is to get a cheap wireless USB keyboard for the PS5. It’d be useful for both FFXIV and ESO.

And because I guess I was operating under the delusion that we have plenty of disposable income these days, I ALSO bought the update/upgrade for Ghosts of Tsushima on the PS5, but thus far I haven’t even touched it. Clearly I need more gaming hours in my day!

So that was the weekend. Now we have another super hot week to get through, but September is ALMOST here. Also Gamescom is this week so there should be some gaming news to talk about to get us over the finish line of Blaugust.

Hope you’re all doing well!