Tuesday, 19 May 2015

CD Projekt Red - The Good Guys Of Game Development

It'll be no surprise to you that gaming is big business. In this current generation of gaming, development budgets are huge, marketing budgets are bigger and the incentive for financiers to recoup their investment has never been greater.

This has lead to an annoying disparity for gamers over the last few years. It started with DLC on the last console generation, downloadable chunks of a game that we were encouraged to pay over the odds for to slightly expand the time we spent with a game and allowed for publishers to milk a franchise further down the line.

Sometimes DLC worked well. The tremendous Artorias Of The Abyss for Dark Souls and Left Behind for The Last Of Us were two pieces of content that significantly fleshed out the experience of the main game with new areas, new story points and even new ways of playing. Most of the time, especially with single player DLC (map packs for the likes of Call Of Duty are par for the course), paying for extra story content either wasn't worth it or felt like a distinct rip off. For instance, the From Ashes DLC for Mass Effect 3 that was released on the same day as the game and was actually already on the game's disc received a huge backlash.

In this generation of gaming there has already been a lot of controversy about the value of downloadable content. Evolve has roughly £100 worth of content which most gamers see as largely irrelevant and Destiny's initial DLC The Dark Below cost £20 and was considered underwhelming.

But more than just DLC there is a new scourge on the wallets of gamers: pre-order bonuses. A relatively new phenomenon, different retailers are now securing exclusive bundles of content to encourage players to preorder with them. This can come down to special editions too, given that in the UK it was retailer GAME who had the exclusive rights to sell the Bloodborne Nightmare edition. Further from this, depending on who you preorder Batman: Arkham Knight from you can get up to 4 different digital add ons ranging from maps, to characters to a skin for the bloody Batmobile. It's getting insane as to a point this is removing the choice of the customer to buy a game where they want, depending on who is selling which version of the game.

However, in this day and age there is one developer who is bucking this trend: CD Projekt Red. Today, 19th of May, marks the release date of the much anticipated The Witcher III: Wild Hunt. The Polish developer has long been one of the last big independent developers and their ethos revolves around making the games they they themselves would want to play. To this end, The Witcher games have been huge, sprawling and challenging epics, full of fantasy wonderment, violence and sex.

CDPR have long stated that they were on the side of the gamers. This is why there is only two versions of The Witcher III up for sale, the standard edition and the collector's edition. No matter which edition you buy, you get the exact same game disc with the exact same content. The difference between the two is the huge statue you get with the collector's edition.

Even the standard edition dwarfs some special editions of games. In the box you get a manual (when was the last time you actually got a printed manual in a box?), a huge map of the game world, some stickers and even a soundtrack CD. Then there is the free DLC programme, which means everyone who buys the game, whether it's preorder, in store release, online, standard or collector's edition gets 16 pieces of DLC for free over a period of two months. SIXTEEN! FOR FREE! These range from extra missions, to cosmetic items to characters. Basically the kind of things most games of this generation have been offering as part of a season pass.

The Witcher III does have a season pass, however this is one of the few times I would say it's completely worth it. For your season pass you get two huge expansion packs released next year which add roughly 30 hours to the length of the game, all for the same price as the underwhelming Destiny expansion pass.

CDPR know how to look after their customers. They know exactly how to offer additional content and garner grace for their efforts. In a world where the likes of EA, Activision and Ubisoft can rampantly gouge players for everything they're worth, CDPR are a breath of fresh air. The big players could learn a lot from them.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Why You Should Play P.T. While You Can

So news came out over the weekend that the upcoming Silent Hill reboot, Silent Hills, has been cancelled. Co-director Guillermo Del Toro dropped the news at a conference and the game's IRL star, The Walking Dead's Norman Reedus, confirmed that the game wasn't going to be made. This, of course has caused a lot of upset for people around the world who were looking to a proper, scary as hell reboot of the now stagnant Silent Hill franchise.

Of course, Silent Hills' demise is part and parcel of Hideo Kojima's rather sudden exit from publisher Konami and the dissolution of Kojima Productions in a recent company reshuffle. Kojima was attached as a co-director and would have made his horror debut with the franchise reboot. However, now he is leaving the publisher, all branding related to him and Kojima productions has been stripped from Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain's web presence and the website for Silent Hills had the same treatment.

Worst of all though, is the fact that on Wednesday 29th of April, when the PlayStation store has its weekly refresh, P.T. will be taken down, likely forever.

If you're not familiar with it, P.T. (or Playable Teaser) was possibly the most interesting thing to come out of the Tokyo Game Show last year. It was released onto the PlayStation store for free, as a Demo of a game made by the unheard of 7780 Studios. The mysteries started immediately, with the odd and irrelevant image tile on the PS dashboard to the fact that no one had heard of this studio before.

When you opened up the game you were treated to a first person perspective in a dark room. The door unlocks and you walk out into a photo realistic hallway. This is far and away the most realistic looking game I've ever played. It looked superb. The basis of the game was to follow the endlessly looping hallway, solving logical puzzles (all relatively simple, all nearly impossible to work out quickly) and having the shit scared out of you.

P.T. was a master class in psychological horror. While it had a couple of utterly devastating jump scares, the game revelled in the fact that it was genuinely scary. The sound, the images, the concept, the subtle changes to the hallway every time you made progress, it was utterly captivating and completely terrifying.

Check out my playthrough of P.T. below if you haven't had the chance to play it (or can't because you don't have a PS4):

If you do own a PS4, download P.T. before Wednesday and enjoy what can only be described as the first genuine horror title on the PS4 that is legitimately scary. Even if you've seen the videos and seen the jump scare involving Lisa, you won't appreciate the subtle brilliance of the game unless you've played it yourself.


Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Are We Undermining The Quality Of Modern Games?

So the saying goes, opinions are like arseholes, everyone has one. Everyone is a critic to some degree and everyone wants to have their opinions heard. It's human nature and these opinions can create some of the best and most interesting debates, especially when you have two opinions that are opposed but equally passionate.

But if we focus primarily on gaming, you only need to have a cursory glance across the comments sections of Eurogamer or IGN to see how immediate people's opinions can be to a bit of gaming news. Look at forums like NeoGAF and you'll find huge arguments and debates raging about the largest and smallest facets of gaming.

But are these constant debates undermining what gaming is about?

At the time of writing, Bloodborne has been out for less than a month, yet already in the Fextralife forums there are threads discussing what people don't like in the game, what people would want changed in future patches and even what people would like to see in Bloodborne 2. Hidetaka Miyazaki and his A Team at From Software spent three years making the game, poring over every detail and making it as good as humanly possible and already people are tearing it to shreds over the tiny little things.

What issues have they got with the game? Nothing at all, but people want magic attacks, or a move back to medieval fantasy or even less bosses. LESS BOSSES?

Anyway, my point is that as soon as a game comes out we the gaming people seem completely unable to just enjoy the game for what it is. It's worse when there's actually nothing wrong with the game. I expect the internet to be full of fervour when broken games like Assassin's Creed: Unity or Halo: MCC come out and are actually genuine disappointments, or when the latest Call Of Duty comes out and everyone remains disappointed that nothing has actually changed for the better.

It's not just the AAA games that receive this kind of treatment either. I've seen Indie charmers like Shovel Knight, Spelunky, Never Alone and Binding Of Isaac all have their finer points taken apart by players when really, there's nothing wrong with them.

What people seem to forget is that games these days are the product of thousands of man hours worth of work, where teams of people push towards a common goal; making the best game possible. People like Miyazaki-san are becoming auteurs of the digital age. The effort that developers are putting into creating engaging worlds that suck players in is gargantuan, yet people are so concerned with the tiniest details that don't sit with their perfect view of gaming.

Here's s tip, just enjoy the damn game. Play it, breathe it, experience it. If it's bad, then make your voice heard, but if the game is great and all you care about is the specific damage per second on a weapon or just precisely how difficult a map is to navigate, do us all a favour and keep it to yourself. Games are supposed to be fun, so stop worrying so much about the minutiae and just enjoy yourself.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Are Social Features Ruining Gaming?

The internet is a wonderful thing. The world is getting smaller every day as it gets easier and easier to communicate across the world in an instant. This in itself has been such a wonderful thing for the human race as we're all now closer than ever. I myself have friends across the world from Canada to Australia who I talk to more than I do with the friends I have who live in the same town as me.

With the surge in popularity of social networks it's now the norm to have a Facebook profile. In fact, whereas back in 2007 having a Facebook account brought sneers of derision or looks of confusion, it's now the case where those few people who don't have accounts are looked at like they're insane. "You don't have a Facebook? But how do you talk to your friends?" is usually the question that comes next, such is the network's ubiquitous stature (the answer to that question is a rant for another day, however).

But one area that Social networking has failed to permeate properly is gaming, so as a result developers and publishers seem to be doing their best to get players together and talking. With this latest generation of consoles, the race is on to integrate people as much as possible. Both the Xbox One and the PS4 are heavily linked to Facebook and Twitter (in fact, both encourage you to sign into your accounts when they set are being set up).  From both consoles you can instantly share gameplay videos and screenshots to your network of choice to show off something you've done or seen in a game.

When it comes to the games themselves, things are different. Now games are being built with their own "social spaces" and efforts to bring players together in faux-meaningful ways. Do you remember the hoopla that Bungie made over Destiny? Promises of drop in drop out online gameplay, seamless social integration, blah blah blah. The technology was impressive but the game suffered as a result. You had The Tower, a space where you could interact with other Guardians, which eventually boiled down to people just standing and dancing together. For all the grand promises about how the game would bring players together, it really just provided an area to dick about in outside of the main game.

Then look at the concepts in the game itself. Much was made over the game's hardcore Raids, requiring six man teams to take on extreme challenges that dwarfed what you would find in the main campaign. Bungie set some rules in stone for the Raids though, that there was no matchmaking for raids, you had to go in with six players and you all had to be over a certain level before you could even access the area.

Now, I'm sorry, but the idea of rounding up five other players on a weekly basis to grind the same challenge over and over again does not appeal to me. Forcing people together like this does not a social experience make.

It's not just with Destiny, Evolve made a big fuss about it's 4v1 hunt concept where all the hunters had unique abilities and everyone needed to work together to win. Great idea. The problem is, when playing with matchmade team mates the game is simply no fun. It's great fun if you have people you can reliably get online with whenever you want, but without those bonds or the ability to communicate the game is an unbridled mess. When I'm playing as the Monster I can always tell when I'm playing against a party or not (mostly due to whether I win or lose).

Games like these end up alienating their audience because of the vast promises made on these "social features". Destiny proved to be dangerously shallow unless you had the will, want or desire to grind endlessly for heroic or legendary gear, whereas Evolve was disappointingly thin on features and suffered due to the unbalanced nature of it's multiplayer when matchmaking was involved.

That's not to say social features are a bad thing in general. You only have to look as far as Bloodborne, with its inherited online features from the Souls series of games. There is a unique social backend to the game which is very subtle, but can prove to be incredibly useful and helpful to players of all levels. From being able to summon other players to help you in your game at any point or the ability to leave notes and messages around the level to warn other players of traps or upcoming enemies, the system isn't new, but it works in context with the game you're playing.

But the best thing about Bloodborne's social features? Neither From Software nor Sony went on a platform bragging about it. They didn't go out and say "look how awesome it is that players can work together!" No, instead it's just a feature of the game that is explained in tutorials, nothing more and nothing less.

Then there's the weight of expectation on the social side of games these days. DriveClub was universally broken from the start because of such a poorly managed yet critically integrated "club" system. Or what about Sim City with it's disastrous always online DRM and the focus on people building competing cities? Both games failed because they focused so much on doing something clever rather than being actually good games.

And for one last point, a lot of these social based work on dedicated, proprietary servers beyond the PSN/XBL set ups. So what happens when the player base drops? EA has already proved that it's not willing to keep servers switched on for years at a time and as soon as the player base in their sports games drops below a certain threshold they sunset the game and turn off the online features. This wasn't so much of an issue for games like FIFA which are annualised and don't have a shelf life much beyond a year, but what happens when Bungie realise no one is playing Destiny any more? Are they going to turn off the servers and render the always online game entirely unplayable?  All of these social based games make grand promises but at the end of the day they have a limited lifespan. When people stop playing them, the publisher or developer will eventually just switch them off.

What's wrong with a good game with a solid multiplayer that makes sense? I don't want to play a game where I'm forced to interact beyond partying up with people and kicking some ass together. I don't want to be social with my gaming, I don't want to have to post to facebook to unlock achievements or trophies and I certainly don't want to spend £45 on a game only to find that I can't play it because the weight of the world is forcing the server to buckle. Give me a game with a solid multiplayer and a good story mode and please, just leave it at that.

Wednesday, 15 April 2015

The Gadget Addicts Blog: Some Thoughts

Hi there.

This site has been pretty inactive for nearly two years, in fact I believe the last post I made on here was coverage of the iPhone 5S release announcements. A lot has happened in that time.

Since then, I've largely abandoned the gadgety end of my output, focusing primarily on the gaming side of things and growing my YouTube channel. At this point I'm approaching 100,000 views and well on my way towards 1000 subscribers.

Some of you will be sat there saying "so why are you still The Gadget Addicts if you're not going on about gadgets?" Well, to answer that, there's two reasons:

  1. I'm lazy and by the time I'd decided to focus entirely on gaming I didn't feel like the effort of rebranding was worth it.
  2. I like the name, The Gadget Addicts. I don't want to be one of those YouTubers that would be "MikeFTW" or "MikeGames" or shit like that. My handle is unique and I don't want to lose it.
However, despite my focus on YouTube, one thing that making videos doesn't satisfy (much as I love it) is my love for writing. For a while I was able to flex my writing muscles by writing for WhatCulture, a click bait list site, but that's out the window now.

I've held onto this blogger page because I was quite happy with the writing I'd done before and I don't ever like the idea of wiping the slate clean and losing work that I've done in the past. That was part of the reason I didn't rebrand my YouTube channel as I would have had to delete my channel and I've put far, FAR too much work into that to just click a button and throw it all away.

So in an effort to rebuild my writing, I'm going to start using this blog to talk about what's on my mind, what I've been living through, experiencing and more importantly, cover the kinds of things I don't normally do on my YouTube channel.

If you've seen my channel, you'll see that I have a weekly series called Crucible Chat where I do get to talk about whatever is on my mind, however because this is a weekly thing I often miss important topics I want to talk about because by time the weekend comes around a lot of topics are out of people's conciousness or have been discussed to death already, so whatever point I can make would be moot. Using this blog I can talk about the things that wouldn't get into a Crucible chat either by my own standards of what I'll talk about on video or because by time the video would be made the subject will have passed.

Beyond that, I'll also be talking about games, the industry and everyting in between. I hope you enjoy what I've got to say.

For now, I'll sign off and look out for blog posts coming soon.


Tuesday, 22 October 2013

Apple Announces New iPad Air and A Host Of New Updates

Well, that was a busy conference wasn't it? An hour and a half of nothing but updates to Apple's non-iPhone ranges. We've got a lot to cover, so let's get going:

iPad Air:

Firstly, updates to the iPad range. The new iPad air is the first major redesign of the iPad since the iPad 2:

The iPad Air is thinner, lighter and more powerful than any previous model. At just over 7mm thick it's only marginally thicker than the iPad mini, but the big statistic is the weight; less than 1lb. That's right, less than 1lb.

Internally, it features an A7X chip, the M7 motion processor seen on the iPhone 5S and a 9.7inch retina display. Capacity wise, nothing has changed, it's available in 16, 32 and 64gb flavours. 

The prices for the iPad Air remain the same as the previous iPad, starting at £399 for the 16gb Wifi model.

The iPad Mini is now available with a retina display too. The iPad Mini Retina will cost £319 for the 16gb Wifi model whereas the original iPad Mini gets a price cut to £249.

Both the iPad Air and the iPad Mini Retina will be available from 1st of November.

MacBook Pro

In line with the update to the Air range in the summer, the retina MacBook Pro notebooks are being upgraded to the new Intel Haswell processors. These provide a performance boost as well as significant improvements to battery life. The 13" model now boasts an impressive 9 hour battery life while the 15" model can rack up 8 hours of use.

There has been no update to the non-retina MBP line which says to me that they will be phased out in the next year or so. Further evidence for this can be gained from the price cut to the 13" retina MBP; there is now only £100 difference between the two, the retina MBP now costs only £1099.

Mac Pro

The wonderfully redesigned Mac Pro will finally be available this December.

A radical redesign of the desktop computer, it boasts the capacity for 12 cores, huge amounts of memory and storage and the ability to run 3 of Apple's Cinema Display monitors via Thunderbolt. 

I actually cannot wait to see one of these in the flesh, it is such a unique design and typical of what Apple does best.

OSX Mavericks

Lastly, the newest update to OSX, Mavericks, is available now on the Mac App Store...

For free

That's right, for the first time Apple has released a major OS iteration for free. Providing you're running OSX Lion or above, just pop into the App Store and you can download the new OS for free. 

And that's it. It's a lot to take in, I know. What are you most excited for? Let me know in the comments below

Apple Media Event Tonight

At 10am PST (6pm UK time) Apple CEO Tim Cook will once again take to the strage at Cupertino and provide us Apple geeks with more to salivate over.

What can we expect though?

Rumours are abound that the iPad 5 and iPad Mini 2 will be formally revealed today. Since the iPhone 5S was released, the rumour mill has been going ballistic about thinner, lighter iPads and more powerful Minis.

It's also widely expected that the redesigned Mac Pro will get a release date, as will OSX Mavericks. Given the processor and battery update to the MacBook Air range in June, the smart money would be on the MacBook Pro range getting a bump up to the new Intel Haswell processors.

There's quite a few rumours relating to Apple announcing their long wanted HDTV as well as the supposed iWatch to compete with the Galaxy Gear. I think these are less likely, but you never know, Apple may surprise us.

Check back later and I'll post up the news as I hear it.