vrap

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  1. I just published my List of Games That No Longer Run on AMD Phenom a month ago, and then Bungie’s Destiny 2 launches on Oct 24th. The launch has raised the ire of tons of Phenom II users, as the game seems to be crashing mightily on those processors. In the developers’ known issues thread, the following SSSE requirement is mentioned: SSSE3 Required: Destiny 2 will not run on processors without Supplemental Streaming SIMD Extensions 3 (SSSE3). Wait, what? Usually, the common problem with games not running on Phenoms is their missing SSE 4.1+ support! This time around, the problem is SSSE3 (“Supplemental Streaming SIMD Extensions 3,” not to be confused with SSE3!), which is unfortunately supported in AMD processors only after the Bobcat architecture, released in early 2011. Destiny 2 is only the second game released with the SSSE3 incompatibility, with Resident Evil 7 (which was later patched for support) being the first. The system requirements for the game are as follows: Minimum Requirements Recommended Specifications Operating System Windows® 7 / Windows® 8 / Windows® 10 64-bit (latest Service Pack) Windows® 7 / Windows® 8 / Windows® 10 64-bit (latest Service Pack) Processor: Intel Intel® Core™ i3 3250 3.5 GHz or Intel Pentium G4560 3.5 GHz Intel® Core™ i5 2400 3.4 GHz or i5 7400 3.5 GHz Processor: AMD AMD FX-4350 4.2 GHz AMD Ryzen R5 1600X 3.6 GHz Video: NVidia NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 660 2GB or GTX 1050 2GB NVIDIA® GeForce® GTX 970 4GB or GTX 1060 6GB Video: AMD AMD Radeon HD 7850 2GB AMD R9 390 8GB Memory 6 GB RAM 8 GB RAM Destiny 2 is, honestly, the first game with minimum requirements that make me finally wonder whether it would actually run on my 3.8GHz Phenom II. All other incompatible games to date have had much lesser minimum requirements. Will investigate once the situation changes; other Phenom II users have reported that the game ran fine in beta, however. Crucially, Bungie have added the following modifier to the SSSE3 incompatibility: PLEASE NOTE: We’ve seen a number of reports of crashes on CPUs that fall below our stated minimum specs (E.G. AMD Phenom II series). We are investigating the issue and will attempt to fix the crash, but these CPUs are below minimum spec and are not officially supported. What do we know to date? Fixing the classic SSE4.1+ incompatibility has not been a major hurdle to developers at all. I am so far unsure of the seriousness of the SSSE3 incompatibility, but it was fixed in Resident Evil 7, and The Destiny 2 betas apparently did work for Phenom users. Given that the betas did work – which comes off a little bit as false advertising -, the chance of the issue being fixed is relatively high. Whatever changed since launch? All in all, though, I must advise Phenom II users to not purchase the game and wait while the team attempts to amend the situation.
  2. Warframe is huge right now – and for good reason – after their latest big update, Plains of Eidolon, has come out. It is indeed a fantastic update to a fantastic game. If you are thinking about jumping in, here are 12 important things about Warframe you absolutely need to know before starting out. 1. Warframe is really, truly free Warframe is free to play. Really! Make no mistake: If you want, you’ll never have to pay a single dime. It is common for the games press to make the mistake of thinking you have to pay in the game, because the marketplace is built that way – but apart from cosmetic items, you can truly get everything without paying – either by grinding for it, or trading for it. Let it be known, however, that Warframe is a “patient gamers” (shoutout to /r/patientgamers/), a “gamedeals” type game for non-paying customers: It is a long-term investment, and requires you to be patient, and wait for things to come to you in waves. Some items are available only periodically, others come and go. I repeat: You have to be willing to wait in Warframe – especially if you want to play for free. If you’re impatient, then Warframe is not the game for you. 2. Warframe runs on a potato Warframe is one of the best-optimized games available today. It can almost be run on the oldest, most garbage entry-level laptop that you can imagine. Plains of Eidolon’s Cetus hub is currently a bit stuttery for everybody, but the actual gameplay content runs on pretty much everything. 3. Early choices mean everything There are two newbie traps in the game: You absolutely need to pick “Excalibur” as your starter frame. It is a powerful, damage-oriented frame that can be taken from the beginning to the very endgame. The other two frames are hot garbage for beginners. You’ll be able to acquire them later. You absolutely need to spend all your starter “platinum” in-game currency on a few Warframe and weapon “slots” at the beginning – in fact, for the foreseeable future! Otherwise you are pretty much screwed without a real cash infusion (or some help from a well-off Warframe friend). If you want to play for free, you should only invest your platinum into things other than slots only after you have levelled up most of the game’s weapons and frames. If you want to progress faster, it may be sensible to buy a small amount (the smallest, for instance) to speed up the early portion – especially if you get an early platinum discount of 50 % of more as a login reward. Later, by accruing extra prime loot, rare mods, and trading them for platinum, you can become self-sustained, and even buy market-only cosmetic items. 4. Early part of the game is inventory management Unless you make a real-world purchase, the early portion of the game is entirely about fully ranking up available weapons, and frames, only to discard those that are bad, keeping those that are fit for later use. There is very little “balance” in Warframe: Some weapons and warframes are simply much, much more powerful than others, and although there are now end-game “Riven” mods that can be used to improve all weapons to an acceptable standard, not all weapons are made equal. Additionally, some weapons are used to craft other weapons. If you have friends that play Warframe, you should consistently badger them about what to keep and what to discard. The whole point of the game is to learn what is good and what isn’t. 5. You need three friends and/or a clan Warframe is a 4-player squad game. You can certainly solo everything, as difficulty is never a problem; gaining experience and loot is. Almost all of the harder-to-get loot is made easier to acquire simply by having friends. Additionally, the clan Dojo system provides access to half of the game’s items. There are no alternatives: Either you join a clan, or form one with your mates. Even today, it’s perfectly possible to play catch-up with almost every clan item in existence – provided you have a group of four or more to do the damn thing. Friends are key, because… 6. You do not level up without “levelling up” Simply playing Warframe content will never get you anywhere. Period. Many beginners wonder why their weapons and warframes do nothing. This is because Warframe is bad at explaining to you what “rank” and “level” mean. Progressing through the storyline content, by unlocking the planets, will never get you enough experience points or materials to do much in the game. The experience economy is completely out of whack: playing ordinary missions nets you such negligible amounts of experience that it might as well mean nothing. This is where your friends come in: They will help you grind for experience; they will teach you to take advantage of specific missions, squad compositions, events, double affinity and resources weekends, and boosters that drop from rare caches. Rinse and repeat! 7. Warframe tells you almost nothing The bad news is that Warframe is super bad about telling you what to do. The good news is that the learning curve is part of the charm! Learn to take advantage of the official Wiki; the /r/Warframe subreddit, and the official forums. You should also follow the game on Twitter, and install the Warframe Android app. The devs also host alternating weekly Twitch streams. Warframe is also big on Twitch, so you can pick up new skills there! 8. Warframe has a fantastic community Warframe’s developers are accessible, responsive, and all-around hip and fun people. That alone is a good reason to take part in the community. Tech support isn’t always great, but not consistently bad either. The game’s players, too, are extremely willing to help if you need any – just flat out ask if you don’t know how to proceed, if you feel stuck, or too powerless, or if you’re missing an important mod like Serration or Point Strike. Just don’t be the guy or girl that brings the wrong type of Nova build into a mission, or leaves Frost snow globes in the wrong place without knowing how to pop them! 9. Make logging in your hobby The daily login rewards are not very good, apart from platinum discounts, but there are veteran upgrades hidden behind the daily logins. These are all very good. Don’t make logging a stressful event for yourself – take it easy, if you don’t feel like playing, don’t. But do log in. 10. Percentage-based loot can be a cruel mistress You can always end up in the unlucky 1 % in Warframe: Sometimes Lady Luck just don’t shine on you. Don’t get easily disheartened. Almost everything waits for you in Warframe. If you can’t get what you want, forget about it and try to get something else. Maybe you can trade for it, or even straight up buy it eventually! 11. Warframe is in perpetual beta Warframe isn’t always a solid experience. It has an extremely polished gameplay loop, and the technology that powers it is fantastic, but there are always holes in games of its magnitude. Balancing can be off, way off sometimes. The game asks, even demands its players consistently look forwards rather than backwards. You have to be willing to adapt, to change, and to accept the fact that things are in a constant flux. Don’t get discouraged when something you like gets shuffled around. Don’t invest yourself too heavily in any one single thing. Almost always, things will eventually get better if you are willing to be patient. Warframe has never taken a big step backwards. Remember that and you won’t get burned out when something goes awry! 12. Forget Plains of Eidolon! Finally, if you are starting out, you should focus on the rest of the game first. Plains of Eidolon is a self-contained system within another system, together with its own progression, its own loot, and its own mechanics, none of which will help you proceed with the rest of the content on offer. Once you are through with all of the storyline missions, and have installed a few “potatoes” and “cheese” – and know what they are – you can start thinking about jumping into the Plains. Even then, keep your friends close!
  3. To celebrate Fallout‘s 20th anniversary, I figured it would be fun to completely start from scratch and tool the Bethesda Fallout game series for new, fresh playthroughs. Since I have now spent an evening’s worth of catching up on, and customizing, each of the Fallouts, I figured I might as well put my lists out here. In fact, I have actually written an article on Planescape: Torment (hilariously obsolete today, with the new Enhanced Edition out) before, and it’s a ton of fun to share this type of info! I’m personally a fan of a “soft touch” style of modding, so the purpose here was to create a list of recently updated, light, and simple modifications that work to make Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas more playable. Modding Bethesda games is pretty fun, as there are so, so many options. If you get too trigger happy, however, it can also be quite frustrating – much like the games themselves! If you do want to follow this tutorial, either as your setup, or as a basis for adding on more modifications, for the purpose of playing and/or purchasing Fallout: New Vegas, I recommend the Steam Ultimate Edition version. Unlike Fallout 3, New Vegas works quite fine on Steam. This tutorial operates under the assumption that you are on Windows, have all the DLC, and are running Fallout: New Vegas Ultimate Edition version 1.4.0.525. Mod Organizer Every Bethesda game modding process starts with the selection of a suitable mod manager. Although there are several good alternatives, Mod Organizer is, in my experience, by far the best application for the purpose today. Mod Organizer is very powerful, reliable, and simple to use once you go through its built-in tutorial once. It has several key features: Most importantly, the program can be hooked to handle Nexus downloads. It also uses a virtual data structure that stores your mods in a separate folder from your actual game files, keeping your actual game installation pristine. This makes the installation (and uninstallation!) of mods very straightforward should you want to start from scratch. For both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, you will want to use the older Mod Organizer version 1.3.11 – more recent beta versions of the program (that support newer games, like Fallout 4 and Skyrim) unfortunately have some incompatibilities with the older games, and as such, I was unable to get them to work. You will want to make a separate Mod Organizer 1.3.11 program folder for every game you plan to organize. In my case, this meant making two folders – one for Fallout 3, and one for New Vegas. The mods will be downloaded from Fallout 3 Nexus, and you will need an account. Prerequisites Note: Before doing anything else after installing the game, make sure to run the Fallout: New Vegas launcher (FalloutNVLauncher.exe) once, setting your graphics to “ultra,” as well as configuring your monitor resolution and aspect ratio. Once you have saved your settings, the launcher builds the necessary profile directories and files for you, including fallout.ini and falloutprefs.ini, which can then be modified directly through ModOrganizer. For Fallout: New Vegas, the main patches are as follows: FNV 4GB Patcher It’s best to start here! The LAAE patch simply allows the Fallout: New Vegas .exe to use up to 4gb of memory instead of just 2gb on 64-bit systems, ensuring that there is memory available for mods. The patch is applied by running FalloutNVpatch.exe in your installation folder (i.e. \Fallout New Vegas\). The patched .exe also automatically loads NVSE if present. Next, we need to install the foundation that other mod functionality, as well as game stability, is built on: New Vegas Script Extender (NVSE) New Vegas Stutter Remover NVAC – New Vegas Anti Crash JIP LN NVSE Plugin The first three are all installed into the main folder of your Fallout: New Vegas installation (i.e. “\Fallout New Vegas\”), not through Mod Organizer. I use the stable version of NVSE, 5.0b3. The two NVSE plugins – stutter remover, and the anti-crash – are installed into the NVSE plugins folder in “\Data\” (i.e., “\Fallout New Vegas\Data\NVSE\Plugins”). Make sure to read the instructions to get the .dlls installed properly. The stutter remover comes with its own .ini file, sr_Fallout_Stutter_Remover.ini, that can be further configured if you run into problems. After the 4GB patch, NVSE, and its two plugins are installed, you can move on to Mod Organizer to install the JIP LN NVSE Plugin, which unlike the others should be installed there as well as be the first mod on your list. Install or extract the Mod Organizer 1.3.11 build into a folder separate from your Fallout: New Vegas folder, and give it a suitable name – “ModOrganizerNV” or something akin to it, so you know which of your Mod Organizer folders is meant for which game. Make sure you run the program as an administrator for write permissions! After that, the program should recognize your Fallout: New Vegas installation. If you have never used the program before, allow it to teach itself to you by going through the built-in tutorial once. Note: For Mod Organizer to launch Fallout: New Vegas properly, you need to make sure to do the following: First, under “Configure Profiles”, you need to check “Automatic Archive Invalidation.” This makes sure your mod content is actually applied in-game. You also need to make sure that in the right-hand “Archives” tab, all the main data files (Fallout – Textures.bsa, Fallout – Textures2.bsa etc.) are all ticked & selected so that the game does not crash at boot when these archives are missing. There are also some .ini tweaks to be made. These can be done entirely in Mod Organizer (with Tools – INI Editor) as long as you previously launched the Fallout: New Vegas launcher, so that the required files were created. In my case, I settled for a few necessary tweaks; you’ll find a ton of other changes should you wish to tinker with the configuration more: To fallout.ini: [Controls] ;Remove mouse acceleration fForegroundMouseAccelBase=0 fForegroundMouseAccelTop=0 fForegroundMouseBase=0 fForegroundMouseMult=0 [General] ;Allow facial morphs from mods to work correctly (needed in both INIs) bLoadFaceGenHeadEGTFiles=1 ;Remove startup splash screens SMainMenuMovieIntro=0 To falloutprefs.ini: [Grass] ;Increase Grass Render distance from 3 to 5 cells fGrassStartFadeDistance=18000 [General] ;Allow facial morphs from mods to work correctly (needed in both INIs) bLoadFaceGenHeadEGTFiles=1 [Launcher] ;Allow additional plugins to be loaded. bEnableFileSelection=1 Modifications The installation order for modifications is often quite important, as mods are loaded one after another, with mods loaded later potentially overwriting either data in the main game files, or changes made by mods earlier in the load chain. There is a good rule of thumb: More important mods are loaded first, and newer and smaller mods are loaded later. If there is a conflict, Mod Organizer will tell you (with + and – symbols), and you can work out from there which mod you want to be the overriding one. The first mods to install after JIP LN NVSE Plugin are a series of “unofficial” patches, in this order: Yukichigai Unofficial Patch – YUP Unofficial Patch Plus JSawyer Ultimate Edition Then, we shall add some finesse to the UI, and the game’s basic feature set: The Mod Configuration Menu UIO – User Interface Organizer Vanilla UI Plus Fallout 4 Quickloot New Vegas – Enhanced Camera Animation Project (download here), now included in Solid Project Each of these mods has a very specific purpose. The Mod Configuration Menu adds a new settings menu element to the game for configuring the settings of other mods, and UIO takes care of UI mods working together. Vanilla UI Plus is the most recent, up-to-date Fallout: New Vegas UI mod right now. It intends to improve and polish the existing UI rather than completely overhauling the interface. Fallout 4 Quickloot … well, it makes looting quick. Enhanced Camera enables a visible body and player shadows. Animation Project, though a fabulous mod, is a bit of a problem case. It introduces sprinting (and a few neat perks) into New Vegas. Unfortunately, it has been taken down from Nexus by its developer, and Solid Project, the mod that it has now been merged into, requires you to install the latest NVSE beta (5.1b2 instead of 5.0b3). Thus, Solid Project is incompatible both with a) the stable version of NVSE that we’re using and b) a mod we’re using (Fallout 4 Quickloot), which creates an unsolvable problem – unless, that is, we only install Animation Project. I also don’t think you need the Lazarus Project component of Solid Project for a mod setup of this type. Therefore, I simply recommend downloading Animation Project – it’ll work fine. Next, important graphical patches: Wasteland Flora Overhaul Our focus is on enhancing the game’s existing look rather than changing it. For this purpose, one would want to install the fantastic Flora Overhaul “Dead Version“. For better graphics effects, you’ll also want Impact, EVE, and EXE – loading in that order: IMPACT EVE – Essential Visual Enhancements (Make sure to grab the “Alternate” download for Mod Organizer) EXE – Effect teXtures Enhanced For lighting and LOD enhancements we want: Clarity – An Orange Tint Remover Interior Fog Remover Enhanced Terrain LOD Clarity takes care of the yellow tint, and Interior Fog Remover comes with a fix to work with Clarity, so keep in mind to grab that as well. For the Enhanced Terrain LOD, which makes a huge difference, you need the “Vanilla ETL” package. The downside to the ETL package is that it takes approx. 16GB of hard drive space unpacked, but the upside is that it makes New Vegas look much, much newer than it actually is. Finally, you’ll want to add some extra spice to the game’s graphics. The loading screens mod is especially worthy of a mention; the graphics have simply been upscaled with Waifu, with fantastic results: Vanilla Loading Screens HD Burning Campfire REDONE HQ Dust Storm FX We also want to take care of poorly defined collisions, and wonky physics in the game, with a series of mods in the following order, from oldest to newest: Precision Collision – Clutter NV Collision Meshes Unnecessary Physics Finally, if you’re feeling experimental, there exists a character overhaul package that improves character graphics while taking minor liberties: Fallout Character Overhaul Aaaand this is where we stop. Hands off! You can launch your game from Mod Organizer by selecting either NVSE or New Vegas from the program dropdown and pressing run. Obviously, there is so, so much more you can do; high definition texture packs, additional weapons, custom storyline content, new enemies and NPCs, nude models, and all kinds of wild ENB presets. Personally, this feels like the sweet spot between functionality and performance for New Vegas – not touching anything in the game’s lore, or the core mechanics, but with glaring issues, annoyances, and problems alleviated. The point is this: No matter how many mods you pile upon it, New Vegas is never going to be the perfect game. It’ll always be a little wonky, a little weird, and a little unstable. Once you begin to pile on the add-ons, you’ll have to face the need for more problem-solving tools and situations. For those that are either playing New Vegas for the very first time, or perhaps for the first time in a long while, these mods could, in my mind, be considered an appropriate cut-off point; after these, you’ll either start spending too much time modding and not playing the game, or beginning to change the core of the game so much that it no longer resembles the real thing. Check out the Fallout 3 GOTY 2017 Soft Touch Modification Guide here.
  4. To celebrate Fallout‘s 20th anniversary, I figured it would be fun to completely start from scratch and tool the Bethesda Fallout game series for new, fresh playthroughs. Since I have now spent an evening’s worth of catching up on, and customizing, each of the Fallouts, I figured I might as well put my lists out here. In fact, I have actually written an article on Planescape: Torment (hilariously obsolete today, with the new Enhanced Edition out) before, and it’s a ton of fun to share this type of info! I’m personally a fan of a “soft touch” style of modding, so the purpose here was to create a list of recently updated, light, and simple modifications that work to make Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas more playable. Modding Bethesda games is pretty fun, as there are so, so many options. If you get too trigger happy, however, it can also be quite frustrating – much like the games themselves! If you do want to follow this tutorial, either as your setup, or as a basis for adding on more modifications, for the purpose of playing and/or purchasing Fallout 3, I recommend the Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition on GOG.com – simply because it doesn’t have any of the Steam or GFWL dependencies. This tutorial operates under the assumption that you are on Windows, have all DLC (i.e., the GOTY edition), and are running Fallout 3 version 1.7.0.1. Mod Organizer Every Bethesda game modding process starts with the selection of a suitable mod manager. Although there are several good alternatives, Mod Organizer is, in my experience, by far the best application for the purpose today. Mod Organizer is very powerful, reliable, and simple to use once you go through its built-in tutorial once. It has several key features: Most importantly, the program can be hooked to handle Nexus downloads. It also uses a virtual data structure that stores your mods in a separate folder from your actual game files, keeping your actual game installation pristine. This makes the installation (and uninstallation!) of mods very straightforward should you want to start from scratch. For both Fallout 3 and Fallout: New Vegas, you will want to use the older Mod Organizer version 1.3.11 – more recent beta versions of the program (that support newer games, like Fallout 4 and Skyrim) unfortunately have some incompatibilities with the older games, and as such, I was unable to get them to work on the earlier games. You will want to make a separate Mod Organizer 1.3.11 program folder for every game you plan to organize. In this case, this means two folders – one folder for Fallout 3, and one for New Vegas. The mods will be downloaded from Fallout 3 Nexus, and you will need an account. Prerequisites Note: Before doing anything else, make sure to run the Fallout 3 game launcher (FalloutLauncher.exe) once, setting your graphics to “ultra,” as well as configuring your monitor resolution and aspect ratio. Once you have saved your settings, the launcher builds the necessary profile directories and files for you, including fallout.ini and falloutprefs.ini, which can then be modified directly through ModOrganizer. For Fallout 3, the main patches are as follows: Large Address Aware Enabler for FO3 It’s best to start here! The LAAE patch simply allows the Fallout 3 .exe to use up to 4gb of memory instead of just 2gb on 64-bit systems, ensuring that there is memory available for mods. You apply the patch by moving your Fallout3.exe – after first making a backup, of course – to the LAAE folder you have extracted, and running the included batch script. After that, copy the modified file back to the main installation folder (i.e. “\Fallout 3\). If you do own the Steam version instead of the GOG one, you may need to run the following at this point: FalloutLauncher Replacer for Steam Games for Windows LIVE Disabler Next, we need to install the foundation that other mod functionality, as well as game stability, is built on: Fallout Script Extender (FOSE) Fallout Stutter Remover NVAC – New Vegas Anti Crash These are all installed into the main folder of your Fallout 3 installation (i.e. “\Fallout 3\Data\FOSE”), not through Mod Organizer. The two FOSE plugins, stutter remover, and the anti-crash (though made for New Vegas, also works with Fallout 3 as long as you install the plugin into the correct folder), are installed into the FOSE plugins folder in “\Data\” (i.e., “\Fallout 3\Data\FOSE\Plugins”). Make sure to read the instructions to get the .dlls installed right. The stutter remover comes with its own .ini file, sr_Fallout_Stutter_Remover.ini, that can be further configured if you run into problems. After the LAAE patch, FOSE, and its two plugins are installed, you can move on to Mod Organizer. Install or extract the 1.3.11 build into a folder separate from your Fallout 3 folder, and give it a suitable name – “ModOrganizerF3” or something akin to it, so you know which of your Mod Organizer folders is meant for which game. Make sure you run the program as an administrator for write permissions! Once you do, it should recognize your Fallout 3 installation. If you have never used the program before, allow it to teach itself to you by going through the built-in tutorial once. Note: For Mod Organizer to launch Fallout 3 properly, you need to make sure to do the following: First, under “Configure Profiles”, you need to check “Automatic Archive Invalidation.” This makes sure your mod content is actually applied in-game. You also need to make sure that in the right-hand “Archives” tab, all the main data files (Fallout – MenuVoices.bsa, Fallout – Meshes.bsa etc.) are all ticked & selected so that the game does not crash at boot when these archives are missing. There are also some .ini tweaks to be made. These can be done entirely in Mod Organizer as long as you previously launched the Fallout 3 launcher, so that the required files were created. In my case, I settled for a few tweaks; you’ll find a ton of other changes should you wish to tinker with the configuration more: To fallout.ini: [Controls] ;Remove mouse acceleration fForegroundMouseAccelBase=0 fForegroundMouseAccelTop=0 fForegroundMouseBase=0 fForegroundMouseMult=0 To falloutprefs.ini: [Grass] ;push back the distance for grasses to fade from 3 to 5 cells (minor performance hit) fGrassStartFadeDistance=18000 Modifications The installation order for modifications is often quite important, as mods are loaded one after another, with mods loaded later potentially overwriting either data in the main game files, or changes made by mods earlier in the load chain. There is a good rule of thumb: More important mods are loaded first, and newer and smaller mods are loaded later. If there is a conflict, Mod Organizer will tell you (with + and – symbols), and you can work out from there which mod you want to be the overriding one. The first mod to install is: UPDATED Unofficial Fallout 3 Patch Surprisingly enough, for Fallout 3, the “updated unofficial” patch is really the only “unofficial” patch that you need at this point. Then, we shall add some finesse to the UI, and the game’s basic feature set: UIO – User Interface Organizer Vanilla UI Plus SmoothLight Sprint Mod Fallout 3 – Enhanced Camera Each of these mods has a very specific purpose. While UIO is not actually needed for anything we are going to be installing, there are so many other mods out there that take use of it that you should apply it nevertheless. Vanilla UI Plus is the most recent, up-to-date Fallout 3 UI mod right now, and while many players enjoy DarNified UI, I believe it’s better to simply improve and polish rather than completely overhaul the interface during your first run. Talking about self-explanatory mods, SmoothLight tweaks PipBoy’s light, and Sprint Mod lets you sprint, two of the biggest things that you need in a game that is as dark and as tediously slow as F3. Do note that Sprint Mod adds itself as an inventory item for controlling settings. Enhanced Camera enables a visible body and player shadows. If you want F3 to behave more like a shooter, you could perhaps also add RH_IronSights – FOSE, or Dynamic Crosshair. I personally do not use either. Next, important graphical patches: FO3 Flora Overhaul Our focus is on enhancing the game’s existing look rather than changing it. For this purpose, one would want to install the fantastic Flora Overhaul “Dead Edition” together with its “Less grass for Dead Edition” patch, the latter coming after the former in load order. For better graphics effects, you’ll also want Impact, EVE, and EXE – loading in that order: IMPACT EVE – Energy Visuals Enhanced EXE – Effects teXtures Enhanced For lighting and LOD enhancements we want: Realistic Interior Lighting Interior Fog Remover Improved LOD Noise Texture Interior Fog Remover comes with a fix to work with Realistic Interior Lighting, so keep in mind to grab that as well. The LOD noise texture set, then, consists of three files to download: meshes, normal maps, and color maps. If you really can’t stand the greenish look of the game, you could also try the classic Fellout (which is loaded before the three other above mods). Finally, you’ll want to fix the lighting in Megaton, the first real town in the game, with some better lighting. It makes a big difference: Megaton Lighting Overhaul Aaaand this is where we stop. Hands off! ModOrganizer should select it for you automatically, but remember to launch your game through FOSE in by selecting it from the drop-down menu next to the Run button. Obviously, there is so, so much more you can do; high definition texture packs, additional weapons, custom storyline content, new enemies and NPCs, nude models, and all kinds of wild ENB presets. Personally, this feels like the sweet spot between functionality and performance for Fallout 3 – not touching anything in the game’s lore, or the core mechanics, but with glaring issues, annoyances, and problems mostly alleviated. The point is this: No matter how many mods you pile upon it, Fallout 3 is never going to be the perfect game. It’ll always be a little wonky, a little weird, and a little unstable. Once you begin to pile on the add-ons, you’ll have to face the need for more problem-solving tools, like LOOT, and Wrye Flash. For those that are either playing Fallout 3 for the very first time, or perhaps for the first time in a long while, these mods could, in my mind, be considered an appropriate cut-off point; you’ll either start spending too much time modding and not playing the game, or beginning to change the core of the game so much that it no longer resembles the real thing. Check out Fallout: New Vegas 2017 Soft Touch Modification Guide here soon!
  5. … considering the sheer number of games that are currently being released, I think the best strategy is to focus on unique experiences. You want to create the type of experience that is not only hard to get elsewhere, but also leaves a mark on those who play it. This is now a core philosophy here at Frictional. I guess we sort of always had it unconsciously, but we have now made it official. Our goal is to create games that are more than forgettable escapism. –Frictional Games
  6. We’re hopefully not going to be in the business of reporting news, but the Lord of the Rings: Shadow of War “Forthog Orc-Slayer” DLC has been effectively cancelled, with everyone getting refunds: “The DLC will be withdrawn from sale and will be a free download for owners of Middle-earth: Shadow of War. Anyone who has purchased the DLC will receive a full refund.” In an announcement, a WB Games community manager explains how the logistics of the project became insurmountable, and notes that We now recognize that tying our donation to sales of the DLC was not the best way to achieve our goal of offering financial support to the family and creating a lasting memorial to Michael Forgey. In case you are still interested in the overall topic of the ethics of immortalizing someone, in a DLC or otherwise, I wrote about it from a philosophical point of view in the article, “The Calculated Corporate Cynicism of Shadow of War’s Charity DLC.” Admittedly, I was quite miffed about the DLC, so I gave the article a feisty title. There are some nice things in the article, too.
  7. Note: I do have just enough self-awareness to file this story under our historical category, Time Machine. There is a tiny, though increasing, category of PC platform video game ports: Games that no longer run on AMD’s Phenom AM2/3 CPUs. There is a simple reason why, shared by all these games: They have been programmed to require CPU support for Intel’s SSE 4 (“Streaming SIMD Extensions 4”) instruction set, version 4.1 or higher. The Phenom CPUs, however, only support SSE up to 4.0. This is the simple reason why some games, older and newer, fail to start on Phenom processors. As a surprise to absolutely no-one, I am one of these last Phenom survivors affected by this issue. Phenomenal Legacy AMD produced Phenoms from 2007 to 2008, and Phenom II’s from 2008 to 2012. It’s now 2017, but to everyone’s surprise, these processors are still surprisingly feisty. The final Phenom II processors produced do not pale, much if at all, in comparison to AMD’s follow-up 2011 FX series – a fact that obviously has much to do with AMD’s failures at CPU development. After all, AMD is only finally beginning to catch up to Intel with the new Ryzen architecture released this year. Back in 2008, however, the Phenom was a competitively priced, powerful alternative to almost everything Intel was offering. Admittedly, it’s been seven years since the Sep 21, 2010 introduction date of my AMD Phenom II X4 970 BE, but I’ve managed to hold on to it just fine. You may be surprised to hear it still runs all most new games today. I won’t bore you with the details, given this is an article for the like-minded, but I just tried out three games on the Phenom-hating list: Dishonored 2, and Mafia 3, both which run easily around 60fps in high detail after being patched by developers, and Dead Rising 4, which doesn’t boot at all without SSE emulation (see below). Other new games, like Prey, work equally well. I know 60fps isn’t great, or even good, but it’s not bad, either. Heck, I played the original Half-Life 2 on an Nvidia GeForce 2 MX GPU. That’s bad. List of Games Not Supporting AMD Phenom at Launch Below, I have compiled a list of PC ports that did not outright run on AMD Phenom CPUs. I’ve compiled information of current with patch notes and developer responses. The current list includes the following games: Agents of Mayhem, Dead Rising 4, Dishonored 2, Mafia 3, Earth Defense Force, METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN, No Man’s Sky If there are any other examples of this issue, please let me know in the comments section. If you do happen to bump into a new game that doesn’t run on your Phenom, you can test if SSE support is to blame by running it through Intel’s Software Development Emulator. Simply install the SDE package into a subfolder inside your game folder, and launch the game via the emulator in an administrative command prompt. Agents of Mayhem: Released 15 Aug, 2017. Volition responds that Phenom users will “not be able to run the game”: Are CPUs without SSE 4.1/4.2 supported? STATUS: RESOLVED AM2/AM3 socket CPUs like the AMD Phenom class (and lower) do not have SSE 4.1/4.2 support and are below minimum requirements. They will not be able run the game. Dead Rising 4: Released 14 Mar, 2017. No response, at all, from Capcom to date. Dishonored 2: Released 11 Nov, 2016. Fixed on 14 December, 2016, in Game Update 1: Game now runs on Phenom processor Earth Defense Force: Released 19 Jul, 2016, Fixed on 4 August, 2016: -Fixed an issue with AMD Phenom II (non-SSE4.1 CPUs) Mafia 3: Released 7 Oct, 2016. Developers confirm on 6 Jan 2017 that a hotfix has been released: have you tried recently? Our latest patch also hotfixed the SSE 4.1/4.2 issue for many users — Hangar 13 (@Hangar13Games) January 6, 2017 METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN: Released 1 Sep, 2015. Fixed day 1. No Man’s Sky: Released 12 Aug, 2016. Fixed on 20 August, 2016, in Patch 1.04: AMD Phenom Support Game is now confirmed working on Phenom CPUs. Thousands of lines of assembly have been rewritten to support AMD CPUs. The game code no longer relies on anything above SSE 2. Results of Survey Games that run, as of 25 Sept, 2017: Dishonored 2, Mafia 3, Earth Defense Force, METAL GEAR SOLID V: THE PHANTOM PAIN, No Man’s Sky Games that do not run, as of 25 Sept, 2017: Agents of Mayhem, Dead Rising 4 To me, this looks like a good situation. The Mafia 3 developers Hangar 13 took their time, and while the Mafia 3 demo seems to not have been updated, the main game is confirmed working. So far, only one developer – Capcom – has refused to discuss the issue at all. Dead Rising 4, by all accounts, is a terrible port, and there is little hope for Phenom users – I’d be surprised to see a future patch for the game period. Volition, then, is the first party to publicly refuse an update after being made aware of the incompatibility. While that is obviously their choice, I do find their argument of the CPU being “below minimum requirements” to be fairly disingenuous, given that their min specs demand an “Intel Core i3-3240 or above / or AMD equivalent.” I understand that this is semantic, and mostly a he-said she-said one at that, but my my quad-core Zosma (a hexa-core Thuban with two cores disabled) Phenom II X4 970 BE is factory-clocked at 3.5 GHz (I run it at 3.9), and has a 6Mb L3 cache. The Phenom has two (or four, if successfully unlocked) more cores, better clock speeds, and a larger cache to boot. If the Intel Core i3-3240 can run Agents of Mayhem, then so can the Phenom II. It probably won’t be pretty on either CPU, but that’s beside the point. Heck, I don’t even want to play Agents of Mayhem, so maybe this is all beside the point! Consoles Dictate PC Update Cycles With the key details out of the way, I want to touch upon the general issue at play here. First and foremost, almost all of the developers that came face to face with the issue responded admirably to it – all but two games on the list have been patched to work so far, and all but one has received an official response from the developers. The uncomfortable fact is that the Phenom, as ancient as it is in temporal terms, remains a relevant processor today due to slow console cycles bogging down PC development. Almost all major games are multiplatform titles today. This means everything. Ever since the first XBOX and the PS2, consoles have almost entirely dictated PC system requirements. Discounting some PC players’ slow inch towards 4K, 1440p, 144Hz, VR, whatever the newest thing is today – in the case of ordinary bottom-end play at 1920x60fps, almost nothing has changed in terms of spec reqs over the past five years. This is precisely why developers should still consider this 10-year old processor. There are still enough of AMD Phenom users that user forums get absolutely inundated with users asking for help when their new purchase fails to start up at all – just take a look at the Dead Rising 4 forums! It does not look good at all to the casual observer. I completely understand the need for cut-off points with hardware, but so far, this is not yet it. Barriers to Entry Finally, I can’t also not mention the fact that current-gen video gaming, unfortunately, is a hobby for well-off people in well-off places. Gaming is always going to have barriers to entry. Sometimes these barriers are temporal, sometimes monetary, sometimes societal. Sometimes they can be just decision-making! We end up weighing our budgetary options every day. Are computer parts really so different that they should be excluded from that discussion entirely? In this particular case, updating for the sake of updating is, in my mind, a luxury. I know the word “luxury” has a bad rap, but I simply mean that it’s something you do because you can – not something you do because you must. Shouldn’t those that would rather try to hang on, or save money, be respected instead of mocked? How can it possibly be offensive that someone gets good mileage out of their investment? Luckily, a dedicated community exists for players who want to get the most out of their old rigs. I’m not at that point yet, but who knows what the future will bring. I don’t think it serves our society well to cajole – or even force – everybody to invest into new systems as often as this terrible marketplace of planned obsolescence demands. The fact of the matter is, if we discount the “Your system is old and you should feel bad” argument, all of the above games could have easily been patched to support the Phenom. All of the projects that did receive patches do run excellently on the CPU. The only thing preventing support is developer insistence and/or indifference.
  8. The Cuphead Runneth Over Dean

    GamesBeat writer Dean Takahashi, @deantak, recently had some trouble playing Cuphead: This new video has, in many ways, brought back the game journalist competency debate that last reared its ugly head when Polygon’s Arthur Gies played Doom and didn’t do it very well. The emergent arguments and accusations levied at the person in question have been as various as they are dubious: That Mr. Takahashi’s specific position, as a video game journalist, requires him to be good at all games, or flatly refuse to touch anything and everything that he is not “good enough” at; and that his incompetence at one game now renders him entirely incompetent on the whole, furthermore throwing his entire review history under question. In addition, his performance has not only at once “embarrassed” him, but also the entity he works for. Finally, it was to be noted, Takahashi’s flub had once again illustrated – nay, revealed – the review charade, calling into question the entire premise of not only games journalism, games journalists, but also journalism and the media on the whole! This is to say nothing of the dismaying meanness directed at Takahashi, which quite obviously relates, in large part, to a collective psychosis, an osmosis into social media -based outrage culture, wherein any and all faces protruding from the otherwise ubiquitous and oblique mass media diet are instantly bandwagoned upon, to be smitten with holy anger for daring to err, in public, or in private. There were also those that simply tried throwing further fuel on the fire, like @stillgray, who chose to abandon professional courtesy in favour of blatant populism. In this post – which is, by the way, not a defense of Takahashi, or in favour of any other specific person – I discuss the idea of whether we can have, at all, a shared criterion of competence that can be applied uniformly, and fairly, to video game criticism. I also discuss the unique – and very, very difficult position – that games journalism, and especially reviewing as one of its sub-sections, occupies amidst different types, or forms, of the objects of aesthetic analysis. If you, in your heart of hearts, think that Mr. Dean Takahashi is a bad, or a flawed, person because he’s bad at Cuphead, and that as a journalist, this would then imply that he essentially fakes his his way through reviews (also discussing game endings), then I guess that’s fine, too. Takahashi makes for an easy target for criticism, after all: One can easily bring up some of the more indefensible things that he’s written, even discounting all the PR release talk, like his claim that a Warhammer 40 000 game ripped off Gears of War. That being said, I think it might be pertinent, for this article, to read and attempt to understand his personal response to the debacle, which unfortunately ran with the same clichéd headline I had prepared for my own article. The essential point of this article is simply this: If you at all believe that occasions such as these are clear-cut, open-and-shut cases in favour of the idea that “games journalists are all bad and should feel bad,” then I want to present an argument to the opposite. I also detest the idea of intentionally avoiding the complexities, difficulties, and ambiguities of the topic and believe that does a great, great disservice to all of us: To those writing reviews, and to those reading them. There is nothing simple at all about the constant negotiation and balancing act that a games journalist does, between the three terrible pillars of competence, objectivity, and public servitude. The Illegitimate Criticism of Criticism First and foremost, the primary thing to keep in mind is, appraising someone’s competence without first establishing a set of rules decreeing such competence is almost always a fraudulent, illegitimate enterprise. By this I simply mean that I do not believe we yet have a shared, common standard installed for the performative competence of video game reviewers. Yes, some of us are actually trained, and schooled, in journalism, in tech, or in writing, etc.; some are ex-developers, some simply good at writing, and/or at games. Many, of course, are none of these things. In other words, to make an analogy to other spheres of society, the professionalization of this particular type of job has yet to develop true academic and/or practical requirements that would render the profession inaccessible to those without the decreed qualifications. To some parties engaged in this topic, this very fact may even form the very basis of their critique – i.e., “who watches the watchmen!” Shockingly, however, there are plenty of enterprises and areas of human life in which no such firm qualification or basis is necessary, as we do many things without ever defining the qualifications or necessities in the philosophical sense. The downside of this fact, of the lack of this strong scientific basis, is the fact that it also leads to the prevalence of three trendy expressions: gatekeeping, moving the goalposts, and the no true scotsman fallacy. Thanks to this lack of a firm standard, we all unfortunately have to make do with an uncertainty of ideas, a multiplicity of competing standards, and a general lack of clarity. This puts both the topic at hand as well as its critiques into question. The Importance of a Hobby I fully understand that hobbies are extremely important, perhaps even increasingly so, to people; the way people enter and graduate into hobbies, either by accident, grooming, or via self-research, always forms a deeply personal connection not only to hobby itself, but also to your personal history of it, to the way you were first introduced into it. This personal interrelationship between the hobby as an idea, and your experience of the hobby as an idea makes your whole person extremely embedded into it, making it seem like a personal issue. I do not agree outright with the sentiment that all gatekeeping is bad, like some folks do. But the moment our intuition, embedded in our personal history, takes hold – that we become alarmed, jealous, or annoyed, of those that aren’t as well-bred, well-educated, or well-schooled, we need to wonder whether it’s our embeddedness, our selfishness speaking, or whether we should give the others some slack. What’s so truly offensive about Takahashi’s play that it throws everything related to his position in your hobby into question? There also exists, by the way, a true philosophical reason for “giving slack”; first, recall the fact that we don’t yet have a shared standard of competence for games journalists. Second, imagine @deantak’s case, and try to think a standard of judgement for his performance yourself – a rule that is as reliable, as simple, and as fair as possible. Even if you could hit on a solid divider, a solid cut-off, something like “The tutorial should take him only X seconds” or “He should be able to clear the first level in X minutes” – even if these lines existed, would you be willing to draw them for every game? Do we consider a historical perspective, or simply a performative one? Where in the hell do we set the cut-off point? Do we only accept the “highest”, the “best” standard in everything? Whose standard is it going to be – yours, or defined by developers, gamers, or some other third party? To some, this may sound like “semantics” (in the derogatory sense), but without semantics, there are no definitions. The Common Standard of Excellence I believe at this point of the conversation someone will want to introduce a concept like “the common standard of excellence,” which is a way of seemingly rooting the demand for skill level. It is a concept that always develops historically, and lineally, on the basis of requirements set by the actions of your predecessors – i.e. by the skill level exhibited by players in a league, for instance. This standard can be utilized to say, for instance, that someone deserves to fight for the UFC because he fights better than fighter X; to play in NHL, or in the NBA; person Y does not, according to this standard, for he or she compares unfavourably to others already playing. In our particular example case, the “common standard” would then be applied as follows: By failing to perform at Cuphead, Takahashi is putting himself in danger of being pushed out by another person who is better at Cuphead. You can already see how silly this begins to sound, but let’s remain facetious for a moment still: Let’s say that Takahashi sucks. Let’s say he sucks not only at Cuphead, but a host of other games – given the data available. Let’s even admit that there might be an actual explanation for his poor performance – playing the game on a show floor, under the watchful eyes of the devs, or those of onlookers’, in an unfamiliar place, on an unfamiliar system. Should we always aim for the perfect setting, or the perfect situation? Is our mind and body always clear when we play a video game? Are you always at your best at work? Aren’t there always details in our lives that can exacerbate circumstance? I’m willing to wager that despite being weak at Cuphead (and Warhammer, sigh) Takahashi is probably a pretty good games business journalist, even if his job description has him parroting effectively inane press releases more often than not. But that’s not the point; the point is that one does not simply walk into Mordor when it comes to forming rules for keeping people in and out – just observe, for a moment, the particular instance of society about you. You know full well that some people are unfortunately going to fall into the gaps of this system, because our systems aren’t rudimentary enough, and certainly aren’t designed to take everyone into account. Indeed, my point is this: Mr. Takahashi has fallen into such a gap. Just because this gap is very public, and very humiliating, doesn’t mean that our response to it isn’t similarly built on the basis of our own position in the portion of society you are in. There may certainly be a degree of deviation, and differentiation, both between a) your own personal standard of play, and b) your ideal standard of play, and c) Takahashi’s. But again, how do you define this deviation, an acceptable level of deviation, or, is it going to just be “you know when you see it”? Because I firmly believe most of Takahashi’s critics were simply saying as much. “I know what good gameplay is when I see it.” Which is saying almost nothing. It’s simply saying that you saw Mr. Takahashi fall into a gap. I am not saying all this to intuit some loose relativist position that claims there is no way to define an acceptable standard; I am stating this from a phenomenological perspective. Gatekeeping Is Kinda Bullshit and Deep Down We Know It “A 5-year old would play better,” “He looks like a slow child,” “He’s just stupid,” “I’m good at any game in 5 minutes I try, how come he isn’t,” “He lacks the extremely basic competence for playing video games.” Discounting the ageism, ableism, and general viciousness of the commentary towards Takahashi – I’m not really interested in that portion of the debacle in the first place – almost all of it nevertheless assumed that common shared conception of competence, which the criticisms were then levied from. That undefined, uncertain, undefinable, unfoundable, position. This is the crux of my argument: The biggest problem we have on our hands is not simply the pure hostility of the response, but the scientific, philosophical, and societal untenability of these critiques. If the name-calling was rooted in some sensible premise, I might almost tolerate it. But the arguments are devolving at such an alarming rate that soon those defending Takahashi are taken to be defending shoddy journalism! Journalistic Competence That’s the thing. On the one hand, we hold our press up to a very rigid journalistic standard, and on the other, expect them to fill many important informational roles in our lives. In addition to being subject to outside scrutiny, media houses ordinarily also employ in-house fact-checking, self-policing, and self-censorship (so that state apparatuses do not, which is seen to be the worse alternative), and have strict standards for their hiring process. There may be additional internal house rules about politics, social issues etc. etc. The ordinary journalist – working for your standard news-station or newspaper – inhabits a fascinating position between actual competence and total pretension. S/he will behave like an expert up until s/he can’t, at which point they have the luxury of choosing to utilize access to other professionals, or academics, or officials, for further clarification. In the case of video games journalism, however, this is simply not possible. I will make the case that not only does the deeply experiential and personal nature of playing video games make the use of outside help almost impossible, but in addition, all the potential so-called professionals available are uniquely unsuited to giving such help. Developers are biased, and our academic @raphkoster & @ibogost types – as well as non-gaming academics interested in video games as a medium among others – are often unequipped to handle the super-specific complexities (and simplicities!) of modern video games. We can’t turn to professional gamers for help, either: Firstly, out of necessity, their play style takes any and all advantages. This is not normal. Secondly, to them, mechanics are everything, and the rest means absolutely nothing. This is also not normal. Thirdly, their eyes are trained to always and forever rest upon the most miniature of things, like matters of balance. Even if a potential interviewee did exist, interviews in the games media can almost never be about tangible data, for if data is being spoken of, it is about release dates, or feature sets; more often than not, they are specifically about opinions and viewpoints, not about getting us all better reviews. You might as well do the review all by yourself! The Profound Uniqueness of Games Journalism The immersive nature of the medium simply forces us to accept data that is experiential, personal, and yes – subjective. That games journalism inhibits a curious space between public service announcement, and aesthetic analysis, is a position only barely shared by the criticism of other semi-artistic mediums, like that of the movies, or of music. Even technological reviews, while experiential and personal to a large degree, can incorporate some “objective data.” Is the reviewer supposed to be speaking on behalf of the players, or the developers, or the publishers – or is s/he trying to create more sales? For the game, for the magazine, for advertisements? The position of the games reviewer also cannot be compared successfully to other types of reviewers; a film critic, for instance, is seldom required to have quick reflexes. A hockey analyst has to know the rules, but does not need to shoot the puck well. It is common for mixed martial arts fighters to demand that their referees and judges also fight, to gain the necessary insight into the profession. In the case of the video game reviewer, the whole question is obviously rendered preposterous. Journalistic Objectivity Video game reviewers face a challenge almost no other type of journalist does: How to make their personal, subjective experience relevant to all? This is coupled by the fact that all reviewing, including the reviewing of the standard of games journalists, is by default a fraudulent enterprise – whether you believe in the existence of an objective standard or not. In the world of video games, the unique position of the reviewer, who has to rely on his or her own inputs, his own sensory aesthetics, and his or her unique experience, by default renders any chance at shared “objectivity” by default impossible. The same applies, of course, in varying degrees, to all members of the media, and in the press, but so far in my experience, the aforementioned happens in the most pronounced way in video games. It is one thing to strive towards maximal neutrality, disinteredness, apoliticism, and impartiality, and perhaps even a lack of prejudice. This, however, is not in any sense the same thing as an “objectivity.” Even then, I hope we should ask whether we want to promote any or all of these standards in video game reviews in the first place. Personal history, familial connections, peers, cultural norms, mores, education, and a multitude of other societal dimensions of existence all form bonds, biases, prejudices, and preconceptions that can sometimes be noted, but never entirely bypassed. Even the simplest of opinions, or thoughts, is always embedded deep in a sludge of historical opinion. We use the words that formed the thoughts of our forefathers. No word is ever free of a connection to another word. The closest we can come to a shared understanding is by way of those sciences that poll data by asking people what they think or feel. This is how aggregates like Metacritic work in effect. These all work on the basis of the idea that by collating data, the margin of “error” in judgment shrinks. The adherence to this ideal, however, also renders it vulnerable to a host of other criticisms known to us all. Video Gaming Competence Whether we believe in the search for an objective review or not, or in a shared standard of excellence, I think we can all agree: We are only, barely at the stage of “I know it when I see it.” If nothing else, it’s worthwhile to stop and think whether this kind of intuitive, responsive ideal can be used as a standard for lambasting someone, when this standard is entirely built on the basis of someone feeling of right and wrong. Whether we want to talk about core “competence,” “fundamentals,” or “skills,” none of them are criteria formed on the basis of an established system. These concepts exist simply to give a name to phenomena that are yet to be carefully defined. Certainly, no definition of these would ever stop or start at a particular button combination in Cuphead. The topic of “competence” as it relates to video games is so complicated, so multidimensional, that I almost don’t even want to start with it: It has everything to do with age, sex, culture, personal history etc. Do we assume, for such a standard, for instance the control of hands and feet? What about seeing, hearing, or speaking? Do we even start with other types of technological access and competence – all with their own clauses and modifiers – to barely get started. Installing Steam and buying a game off their store is probably like drinking water to you – you only stop to think about it when you’re dehydrated, or need to take a piss, and even those come to you mostly automatically. For others, installing and using the required OS to access Steam is difficult. You need to make accounts, add payment methods, have a hard drive with space prepared for installation. What if the game doesn’t run? It’s one thing to internalize the connections between the use of a simple interface, and the signals it produces on the screen. What this whole debacle proves to me is that many believe they have internalized a system by only scratching the surface. Gaining access to and knowledge of the system is not so intuitive. Knee-jerking oneself into anger at a games journalist is much easier than gaining access to the systems that lie beneath Takahashi’s mistakes. What Takahashi’s failure to bridge two paradigms of movement together does, however, is to make the liquidity of video game competence suddenly concrete, smashing spectators in the face with an icy, slippery slab. To me, this simply means that some things are harder to internalize, and some things easier. For Takahashi, it was a dash jump. For his critics, it was the foundations of aesthetic criticism. The Cuphead Tutorial Is Just Not Very Good Although my point has now been made, I want to add, finally, that those lambasting @deantak very conveniently “forgot” about a crucial aspect, which makes me wonder if we are suddenly to pretend that we all love tutorials? Hey man, can you sell me some more of that sweet tutorial you got there? The Cuphead tutorial simply is not very good. At all. A tutorial is not the place to put up walls or borders. The moment a player has started your tutorial, s/he has already invested something into your game as product: thought, time, bandwidth and/or money. If we expect video game journalists to perform a public service evaluation of goods, then we also must uphold developers to the same public service standard. At this point in time, in Cuphead, a mistake has no doubt been made; either marketing has failed, the target audience has been misunderstood, or the tutorial is poorly designed. I saw absolutely no-one mention this fact. I repeat: A tutorial is not supposed to be a gate. As I have tried to illustrate above, there are gates everywhere in video games; some of them are guarded by others, some of them are naturally formed. Some of these gates exist for a good reason, some do not. Tutorials are not the place for emergent epiphanies, or revelations of great nature; they are the place for rudimentary necessity, and for firm hand-holding to ensure that no player is left behind either by omission or by mistake. More often than not, tutorials fail the player in some way: Either they are too quick, or too slow, to explain. Too rigid, or too loose. Too verbose, or too tight-lipped; too expository, or too minimalistic. Too disconnected from the main game, or too embedded in it. What does this tell us? That there in fact are different standards; different players; different preferences. The video game company can only take into account so many of these – and yet they need to be able to consider all of them in order to be successful. To pose a question of generalities in a specific way, let me just ask; in the case of Cuphead, why did not the jump-dash tell to use both buttons instead of just one? Why did it not tell Dean to jump off the platform? Why was the dash not introduced separately earlier? Why is there just one icon illustrating a dash jump, for A, instead of the required A + Y. How did this not come up in testing? Or is the answer “aesthetics”? This whole debacle reminds me of how frustrating and annoying video game tutorials can be. I am almost never left feeling welcomed after their completion. It’s hard to think of one single tutorial I would not have amended or changed somehow. Closing Words All this leads to the following question: Do we want people to enjoy video games, or to be good at them? Do you? Some might argue that no controversy exists in Takahashi’s Cuphead play at all. I remain of the opinion that this competency discussion is worth having. I also, however, remain of the opinion that this discussion can be engaged earnestly, or it can be engaged with malice. The earnest part of this discussion can only begin once all of us agree exactly what competence is and how it should be measured.
  9. Note: For the purpose of this post, I have created a new category of post called “Contemporary Cynicism”. In this series, we are going to offer opinions that discuss the question of right and wrong in video games without adherence to common constraints set upon such public discourse. Since the video game companies of today often seem to be so beyond what we consider ethical behaviour, then maybe we should be, too. Several outlets are now reporting that Monolith is releasing a charity DLC, for Middle-earth: Shadow of War, in memory of their late executive producer Michael David Forgey (1973-2016). Here is a promotional video for the “Forthog Orcslayer” DLC: This stirring, even touching advertisement, which stands in direct opposition to an earlier trailer released for the game, contains music written and performed by the late Michael Forgey himself, advertises the DLC as available for pre-order now, for $4.99. The product is described as follows: A legend among the Orcs of Mordor, Forthog Orcslayer is an unstoppable warrior who saves Mordor’s mightiest heroes at their moment of greatest need. Mike “”Forthog”” Forgey was our Executive Producer and great friend here at Monolith. He was always ready to leap into the fray and save the game whenever and wherever he was most needed. We lost Mike to cancer during the development of Shadow of War, and we want to remember and honor him with a little bit of immortality in Mordor. The legendary Forthog Orcslayer is our way to continue having Mike leap into battle and save us when we’re down. We hope that you will share in the experience of being saved by the legendary Forthog Orcslayer as you enter the land of shadow. According to the announcement, “WB Games will donate $3.50 of every Forthog Orc-Slayer purchase to the Forgey family through 31st December 2019.” Aestheticized Death There is something to this act, of giving “eternal life,” or “immortality,” to someone through an artistic, communicative medium, that touches an elementary part in all of us. After all, we all struggle, in some ways, with the limits and boundaries of our lives. These borders are part of what makes us human, forming a constant tension, whether in the permanent inability to move beyond the physical outer boundaries of our bodies, and our minds, or in being doomed to understand other people only indirectly, through the mediation of thought and language – not to mention the very firm constraints set upon our lives by the moments of our birth and our death. It goes without saying that even sans this act of remembrance, Michael Forgey’s legacy goes on – he has enriched countless lives, working as producer on games as renown and popular as Gears of War. But this is exactly the kind of legacy that is harder to pin-point, harder to think of as “legacy,” if you’re not a man or woman of especially great stature, because it is all his own private making. It’s not his life’s work being remembered here; it’s an image of the man himself. An act of remembrance seems logically active, performative, something done in the memory of another, something specifically given, dedicated, afforded. This is perhaps why we have so many works of art dedicated to others. Being aestheticized, finalized in some way, whether in your life, or in death, is always a beautiful thing: In that act, or the end product of that act, a moment in time is at once not only frozen (perhaps captured in a photograph, which never changes, only fades), but also finalized and delineated, giving a clear beginning and end to something that cannot otherwise achieve them in life. Simultaneously, it also actually gives us hope that such boundaries can be crossed – through art, through memory, or through a lasting deed. This act can also be a selfish act, made on behalf of those still living, coping with the enormity, the difficulty of a loved one’s passing. These two things are absolutely intertwined, as should be – life is for the living, after all. We can’t fault Monolith staff for wanting to remember their colleague, and friend. Video Games as Memorial The interesting point of intersection here, of course, is that life is only ever “forever” after death; if Forgey were still alive, we wouldn’t be considering WB Games’ DLC as a “tribute,” or a “memorial” at all. It would have a completely different meaning, and we may even ask whether it would exist in the first place. Examples of living people aestheticized in video games for some purpose – players from hockey leagues, contestants from reality TV series, and so forth – of course exist, but they exist for reasons and purposes that are very different. Many of these motives share a common concern for money. It is only in his death that Michael Forgey can be transformed into an aestheticized object in a video game without us thinking of licenses, trademarks, and copyrights – and making money. Wait, but this DLC is being sold, isn’t it? The essential point of contention with this release is its function as a transmitter, as a reward, of charity between the target of charity and those that are paying for it. In being transformed into not only a vessel of charity, but also into memorial, the object at hand becomes nigh-impervious to criticism – even, as we all have to unfortunately admit, the DLC is in fact pay to win! As Eurogamer notes, Forthog will on occasion appear to one-hit kill whichever enemy the player character is up against. Think the Mysterious Stranger from the Fallout series. There is, of course, a logical explanation for the DLC being this way. Such a memorial, for all intents and purposes, is supposed to elevate rather than desecrate the object of memorialization: What could be possibly more elevating than being immortalized as a saving angel, the deciding factor between a player’s life and death? The intention here is obvious, as are the connotations – that Forgey was a reliable, charitable person that could be trusted in times of need. I do not think this sentiment is at all lost even upon the most cynical observer! The problem, if there is one, exists in the execution, the form of the reward object: An AAA video game makes for an uncertain, suspect memorial. Shadow of War was not built as a tribute to Forgey from the ground up. The idea of permanent multimedia, the idea of immortalizing something in this increasingly, rapidly uncontrollable digital age is a question worth posing. I can’t be the only one to think that while the is earnest, claiming that “Forthog Orcslayer Forever / Nothing Will Be Forgotten” rings a little bit hollow given that on the other side of the fence, Ubisoft is taking away paid-for maps from Rainbow 6: Siege. This realization brings out the cynics, even as we have to absolutely concede that normally, we aren’t in the least bit picky about the archival quality of, say, a painting done in the memory of a deceased person. Permanence or archival quality are not the problem here. In the case of the painting, after all, we never have to worry about WB Games – or Steam, for that matter – shutting the servers or patching (or god forbid, nerfing) Forthog out. The Parameters of the Charitable Act The fact that the vessel of this charitable act comes in the form of a P2W microtransaction does make painfully visible to us the parameters of the charitable act. I am fairly certain this DLC is responsible for several world-firsts. Of course, the vessel does not automatically make the act of charity suspect, but its features bring with it so many implications – ethical, social, corporate – that it does by my estimation cast the act itself under scrutiny. In the vessel becoming so visible, and by attracting questions of context, the vessel by extension starts to erode the act itself. It is not simply the questionable features of the charitable act, laid out later, that allow in criticism. I think it is worthwhile to remember – and this DLC is a great reminder – that the act of remembrance is always a slippery slope (as we noted above, it is for the living, not for the dead), as is charity – in equal measures. We might perhaps remind ourselves of the historical effigies being torn down in the United States right now. One stance to take, of course, is that no act of charity can be by default under suspicion. It is a commonly shared conception not to doubt the motives of charity, for this can dissuade those acting charitably for reasons that can be uncovered as dubious. In other words, charity is seen as a value in itself, no matter the intention or the motive. For the sake of this article, we cannot possibly hold this point of view. We also cannot hold the view that asking questions of legitimacy casts those asking questions illegitimate in itself. These views would simply render this discussion impossible. Neither is the point of this article to ask, say: what kind of matching contribution, or percentage, should Monolith move to make? What is the suitable range of percentage, or a dollar projection, that we should demand from WB Games? What makes for a suitable charity, or a good cause? If we were to reach this point of discussion – trying to define a “right” against a perceived “wrong,” or vice versa, or to “better” a cause that is already good (in this case, the specification of a “proper” type of charity, or memorial, or remembrance) there are always going to be ways in that will mark certain checkboxes, and fail to satisfy each and every party involved. Deliberate misunderstandings and strawmen begin to enter the fray. In pursuing that discussion, there exists a much more, dangerous slippery slope of questions still: Who, or what position, is worthy of such a public remembrance? An animator? An intern? Or only leaders and rulers? What if Forgey were still but a tester, like he originally was during the years 2003-2007? Are you allowed to profit off of a good gesture, or is true good only allowed to be non-profit? These questions are almost impossible to answer. But it doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking them; legitimate inquiry that produces legitimate results sometimes relies on an uncertain, i.e. illegitimate basis. The Dimensions of Charity In addition to the vessel of charity itself, the second most obvious suspicion to talk about are the spatiotemporal extensions of the act of charity. Shadow of War unlocks on the 10th of October 2017, leaving a period of just 82 days for players to make their mark – should they not pre-order the game, that is. Furthermore, given the obvious legal ramifications of charity in today’s bureaucratic world, one can laud Monolith merely for making this charity happen, end results notwithstanding. But to say that these ramifications do not diminish from the effectiveness of the campaign would be foolish; after all, according to the smallest print on the video, “Donations will be made on purchases from any 1 of the 50 U.S. or D.C. (but excluding purchases made from AL, HI, IL, MA, MS and SC). Void where prohibited by law. Your purchase is not tax deductible.” This means – as confirmed on Twitter by Monolith – that only United States citizens of 50 specified states can take part. We must also look at the target of charity: In this case, the proceeds go to the “Forgey family” – the family of just one developer, giving the whole ordeal a classic GoFundMe vibe. It would be one thing to trust WB Games to kick forward a certain percentage to a cancer charity, or a non-profit, which assures and has safekeeping mechanisms and is beholden to certain failsafes. If you can’t trust a video game company to pay their taxes, how can we possibly trust them to be charitable? In this iteration of charity, we are once again reminded, above all, of the imperfect state of the US healthcare system, which can put enormous weight on families should their primary breadwinner happen to pass away. The Orcish Parade This DLC is jumping on so many bandwagons at the same time, that it creates a full parade of its own. Here are a few of them: P2W microtransactions pre-ordering rewards for charity regional restrictions The first three trends are familiar to us all; the fourth is similarly so, but perhaps registers less often. The mention of tax deductibles above allows us to permeate that point of note. We have become increasingly accustomed to being rewarded somehow for our charity. In this case, the DLC is not only the vessel of charity, but also its reward. You’re essentially paying for a product, and the charity aspect is a plus. The most obvious, and perhaps the biggest reason for this trend, is the great prominence of Humble Bundle. Their way of doing business has in very certain terms twisted our conception of charity and patronage. Some of us have become accustomed to receiving something in exchange for their charity. I do not believe this to be charity in the ordinary sense, for as soon as charity is traded for a reward, we begin to ask for our rights in regards to the reward being received. I do not believe this to be a mistaken demand. Worth and Worthlessness In fact, let’s ask a question that is even more to the point: Did Forgey’s illness put so much pressure on his family, that even as an executive producer, he was put in a financially compromised position? Are the profits from this charity in addition to the percentage paid as license fees for allowing the use of his likeness, or is such a percentage – such a right – forfeited on the premise of the word “charity”? Or did Forgey simply sign off his looks to WB Games for perpetuity, allowing Monolith to use his face for profit as long as they wish? If I were to guess, Mikey and Monolith don’t see things this way. If we were to ask them, I wager the response would probably be incredulous; we would probably get answers ranging from, “Mikey wanted this,” “We didn’t talk about money.” You didn’t, but we do. Perhaps the most damaging point of all is the implication of this DLC that Mikey is not already immortalized by his above contributions to video games, that it it is the act of others that legitimises his legacy? What do we make of the moment, then, when players are no longer “saved by the legendary Forthog Orcslayer”? When Shadow of War is finally longer available for purchase, when we no longer have a computer to play it on? Or when no-one simply plays the game? Is this when the legend of Forthog also ends? To add insult to injury, WB Games has chosen not to proactively ensure the success of this charity, i.e., by redirecting a percentage of their profits. Instead, the company leaves the act of charity completely up to the potential customer. Business Ethics and PR All of the above functions, for me, to underline the broad, Mordor-wide gulf between business ethics and actual good. The release of this DLC is palatable to WB Games only because it has no active effect on the company’s bottom line. If it did, it would be at once at odds with stakeholders, stockholders, owners, etc. Against this backdrop, a charitable DLC (that would not have existed in the first place, if not for the death of a real person) begins more and more to look like cynical opportunism aimed at generating a diversion and a modicum of goodwill. When this fact is positioned against the marketing reality of this game, things begin to unravel. Shadow of War has been on the receiving end of a prolonged whipping in the media. Would this DLC have existed, if not for the negative press? Would Forgoth exist without autocratic pedophile moderators; microtransactions for a single-player game that transform into p2w online; ridiculously cynical corporate marketing tie-ins? It seems to me the first task of today’s PR (as we have increasingly witnessed in the political discourse of today) is not to repent, or repair, but to redirect. This encapsulates the way business, as ethics-free zone as there exists in our society, operates only and purely on the basis of the limits and the extents of bureaucracy and common law, and only when compelled to adhere to them from the outside. In such an environment, PR works to make the sociopathological behaviour of the company simply seem as palatable as possible to the customer. As palatable as possible. Which is not very tasty, in this case. Believing that this DLC is not an attempt at redefining and reframing the discussion surrounding Shadow of War’s public perception seems altogether futile. It is not “just” a memorial, or “just” a charitable act. It is so, so much more. And even if it was “just” that, we’d still need to look at what good it does, for whom, for what reason, and in what way. We cannot be embedded only in one part of the discussion, leaving other crucial ethical elements out of the equation. The Legacy DLC I do have, fortunately, a positive note to leave on: One person wins no matter what. That person is Michael Forgey. We now all share in the knowledge of a person who was helpful, artistic, and creative, a man that played in a band that opened for Testament and Death Angel. In that respect, despite all its flaws, Monolith’s move has served its purpose, and introduced the man to potentially millions of people. Those responsible for this had an incredibly powerful platform to dedicate to Mr. Forgey; not nearly all remembrances are this powerful, and with such potent outreach. The intention of this article has not been to vilify that aspect of this particular act, which was almost certainly done out of good will, but terrifically hampered by the constraints set by the lack of corporate ethics, and the game’s woeful position in the marketplaces of ideas and games. Instead, this article sought to underline how all acts, both of remembrance, and of charity, are by default suspicious, because they are acts done by someone in the name of someone. In this case, there are more than enough variables to make sure that the “Middle-earth: Shadow of War – Forthog Orcslayer” DLC is going to have a long-lasting legacy as the world’s first pre-order charity microtransaction memorial released as a calculated – though failed – attempt at trying to redirect bad PR.
  10. Devolver will sell games on G2A but can't guarantee the keys we provide them will work unless G2A purchases the $500,000 Devolver Shield. — Devolver Digital (@devolverdigital) April 21, 2017
  11. The recent Gearbox-G2A-TotalBiscuit debacle (reported on excellently at Vice’s Waypoint by Patrick Klepek over a series of news articles here, here and here) that was the result of a deal struck to officially distribute Bulletstorm via G2A, was in the offing for the longest time. It had to happen, because the legitimate online price-race (one that has now cooled, to be frank, after several online retailers have, or are in the process of, shutting down shop) drives a portion of consumers to find the best available price every time, and every time they are caught unawares by the illegitimate practices of various services such as Cdkeys, Kinguin and the titular G2A, it is principally because of the way we are being sold games, and because of a lack of consumer education. Therefore, such a burst of activity around this topic has been a good refresher and reminder to gamers that not all is above the board with these cd-key shops. Of course, by now it should be so very clear to all of us that anything that has the word “keys” plastered to it is morally bankrupt in the general view of the retail establishment. But it isn’t, and won’t be, not until the system changes – and that change will probably be to the worse. The thing is, the framing of Gearbox’s brush with the Bad Guys was largely from the point of view of the scorned developer, as with the help of TotalBiscuit, Gearbox navigated the situation deftly and swiftly, which had the unfortunate side effect of distorting the crux of the issue, and perhaps side-stepping other relevant questions of digital distribution that absolutely led into the intended (or unintended) result of blending questions of legitimacy with illegitimacy, and proper practice with improper practice. Again, this is not to discount all the egregious instances of the morally bankrupt enterprise of G2A sabotaging developers – Natural Selection 2 developers Unknown Worlds suffered from such offenses as early as 2013 – especially by allowing credit card fraud to blossom. But it seems that in their willingness to jump in to avow their support of Gearbox (discounting Jim Sterling, of course), a company that has a long-running consumer-unfriendly corporate policy (remember when CEO Randy Pitchford called refunds “mafia style extortion tactics”), the video games media has done us consumers something of a disservice. Gearbox is the perfect example for this topic, because of their historical position in the video games industry. To us here at The Slowdown, the company has taken the significance, and the chief position as the very symbol of the industry-wide practices of anti-consumerism, false advertising, and corporate lies – perhaps to a larger degree than any other major video game developer in the world. Because of this fact, every move that Gearbox makes seems deeply embedded in a lineage of mistakes, a constant comedy of errors; their moves and plays beg to be called out, with past mistakes always invoked together with future ones not yet made. Who, if not the caricaturish Randy Pitchford, would have greenlit the coincidental release of a Bulletstorm remaster, at three times the price, with that of Bayonetta‘s? Ars Technica’s Sam Machkovech brings up several salient points regarding the pros and cons of the way the remaster was ultimately sold, but the chief one remains that at the time of writing, the latter has successfully sold over 3x more copies than the former. That Bayonetta should be published by SEGA, again, seems to fit into a framework of karmic justice, slotting right in as a historical response to Gearbox’s abuse of their contracted funds for Aliens: Colonial Marines being allegedly spent on Borderlands. Only a company so fumbling and bumbling as Gearbox can gain goodwill from this G2A debacle, finally scoring some much-needed PR Points ™ (not yet available as a micro-transfer or as an in-game currency.) In fact, only Gearbox seems to have adept enough publicity relations staff to afford a CEO so intent on sabotaging their business, year in and year out. While Gearbox’s history of flubs may seem tangential at first, it is the company’s complete public disdain for their consumer base that serves to underline the fact that this kind of unified perception in favour of publisher conduct is ultimately untenable; instead, we must always give ourselves the chance of heaping legitimate criticism together with defense or praise. A discussion on the basis of the cult of a brand never does anyone good. Remember when Google was to not be evil? Well, they “should” be doing “the right thing” now, by dabbling here and there with military robots. Therefore, no matter how corrupt G2A’s practice in practice is, we must not allow ourselves to lump those practices together in theory with other grey-area industry practice. We must be wary of the philosophical framing of the entirety of the discussion, which seems to currently slant in the media in a way that blurs the lines of our rights as buyers and owners of video games. No matter what harm G2A have ultimately caused to the industry, these aspects of the retail of video games remain philosophically and societally problematic in today’s inter-connected world: Video game keys and retail games as “licenses,” “services,” or “subscriptions” Purchasers as “licensees” or “subscribers” Viewing the resale of legitimate purchases as “illegal” or “against the TOS” Regional restrictions on purchases Regional pricing of goods The chief problems with G2A are undeniable; indeed, they have visibly and tangibly strong-armed publishers by first birthing a problem and then offering a solution to that problem in a way that only further benefits them, and them alone. The closest analogy is the external destabilization of a region to gain access to oil. But we, as a collective, should not be lulled into accepting the aforementioned untenable consumer positions only because the current winds of PR and news paints them in a certain light, lumping them together with other issues as a pre-digested and pre-mediated package. Instead, we must be alarmed by how extremely easy it seems to muddle the lines between a) fraudulent resale and b) legitimate resale of keys. I understand that it is a terrifically grey area in practice, but in theory none of us should have any problems with it. I paid for it, it’s mine to sell or resell, right? It is a similarly slippery a slope to accidentally defend the industry practice of video game licensing simply because it is our primary platform of delivery and we are accustomed to the ease of use of Steam, Origin and uPlay. But in no way are any of these platforms ultimately philosophically acceptable practices of delivery of goods in this capitalist trade society of ours. These services are the reason this problem exists in the first place; they are the reason we have been deprived of proper ownership of our goods, of material and immaterial rights, behind the veil of words such as “service” and “subscription”. To reiterate: We must not allow ourselves to be blinded into accepting or taking a position as a “whole” or a “sum” of positions of good and evil; that way, we will lose our rights and access to the valid resale of legitimately purchased keys, and we will lose our (intellectual) legitimate position of ownership of goods. I understand fully that some of these are already lost. But there’s more still to lose: It’s perfectly clear to me that in today’s partisan world, societal, political and technological ideas are clumped together in bunches of ideas, they come in political colours, and become defensible or indefensible on the mere basis of the lines that are drawn. Whether this has been the aim of the media that contributed to this recent spur of publicity on the topic, whether it has simply been the side-effect of having to paint the stories in a certain light for clicks and views, or whether it makes the most sense to frame the discussion intellectually between only good and evil, we need remind ourselves constantly, consistently, and vigilantly, of our positions, to retain the proper accuracy of our views, and to de-bundle and de-package our viewpoints, and ultimately take ownership of what we feel is right and wrong.
  12. Stranded Review

    Note: This review was written entirely sans PR materials and research; ordinarily, we pride ourselves on diligence and copious amounts of background research, but due to the game’s clear intentions and sensibilities, chose to approach this review differently. The single worst thing about adventure games – the one aspect that is also almost wholly unique to them – is being stuck. (Worse still, in fact, is knowing when you’re badly stuck.) For players, after all, adventure games are all about progression; for developers, they are all about managing it. The genre on the whole is a curious balancing act of controlling tempo, pacing, difficulty, balance, and the flow of information. Peter Moorhead’s Stranded, then, is supposed to be “[…] a minimalist adventure game that foregoes dialogue and puzzles to focus on atmosphere, mystery, and exploration; it is both a love letter to classic point & click adventures, and an experiment with the fundamentals of the genre.“ To read the store page like the Devil does the Bible, then, according to the quote the fundamentals of adventure games are 1) dialogue, and 2) puzzles. From what I could gather, Stranded has neither of these things. Hence, it would be perfectly fair to state that Stranded is either a piss-poor adventure, or it isn’t one at all. Love letter? More like breaking up with emoji. Perhaps more intriguingly, however, one could rather say that Stranded’s chief problem – despite its admirable wishes to subvert and experiment with genre – is that it actually encapsulates the very worst features of adventure games: Poor controls; awful interface; slow speed; and a huge focus on the player fulfilling the designer’s wishes instead of their own. Stranded is “fundamental” in the sense of ‘basic’ and “experimental” if that means ‘tentative.’ Though Stranded’s Steam description cites dialogue and puzzles as integral to adventures, in fact, they are much more are about the dissemination and delivery of these two things, of controlling information flow in the form of storytelling (narration), as well as different types of building: 1) character-, 2) world-, and 3) event-building. Every adventure game, after all, is about being ‘stranded,’ if you will – just think of classic games like Monkey Island, King’s Quest, et cetera. Almost all games and game concepts, both good and bad, are introduced to us in medias res; the difference between good and bad here is often how well the introduction is done, really. So much of the very point in video games is for players to learn the ropes, their surroundings, characters, events, and so forth. In the adventure game genre, this becomes a series of gated events and actions. That’s how adventure games work: Exposition as reward for player actions (as in, solving puzzles, talking, etc.). Where does this leave Stranded, then? It is a shipwreck, an aircrash, a disaster. It is the antithesis of everything I want from an adventure game. The slow, unrelenting crawl of its protagonist; the clunky movement confined entirely to the x/y-axes; its no-interface approach, its poorly designed hotspots, its forced extra clicks of the mouse. The sins of this experiment are far too vast and numerous to even list. Stranded is opaque, oblique, meandering, and extremely limited. Lost Transmissions – Stranded OST by Stux Undoubtedly, it is also beautiful, very beautiful, and sounds fantastic (the OST, by Joe “Stux” Edwards, is available on Bandcamp, and is highly recommended listening). Every time you play Stranded, its landscape changes – that much I could gather. But even when something moderately interesting – that is, new – happened, whatever little agency I had in this little game amounted to absolutely nothing. The game has no sense of urgency, danger, or interest, nothing like The Dig, an obvious parallel, which feels like you were constantly fighting for your lives, and your survival. But perhaps this is the point. Perhaps Stranded is all about being stuck. That something so clearly ambitious, and artistic, should also be so infuriating, bland, and all-around awful, is a real head-scratcher to me. How do you even approach it? Some reviews end up investigative, focusing on finding out the ‘truth’ of a game. Some are interpretative; some are more descriptive, and some are prescriptive. Reviewing Stranded? There was nothing to be done here. No mode of review – other than simply not reviewing it – that I can think of works on this game. Discussing the game amounts to nothing, as I can not in any sense claim to have understood it. There’s nothing to interpret, and as such, nothing to say. I have only experienced Stranded, and my time with it was of irritation, annoyance, and boredom. From this experience, I have gained nothing. I’m stuck – a few Steam trading cards richer, that’s all – and I know it. Stranded is available on Steam, and from the developer’s website. Access to the game was provided for the purpose of this review.
  13. Don’t Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

    United Front Games, best known for their atmospheric Hong Kong city brawler Sleeping Dogs (2012), is rumoured to be closing down. The weight of this rumour is not slight, and deserves all the extra attention we can bring to it – true or not, at this point in time we don’t yet know for sure – because, once again, the string of events that led us here reads like yet another example of Konami-like profound executive failure. But, to start from a beginning. According to United Front producer Dan Sochan, Sleeping Dogs – which never quite lived down its reputation as a True Crime game – actually started out as the original game Black Lotus, which was then subsequently bought and slated by Activision to be the next part of their True Crime game series as True Crime: Hong Kong. After the publisher lost faith in the game’s market prospects, with Activision’s Eric Hirshberg noting in 2011 that “The finished product was not going to be at the top of that genre,” it was ultimately poached (sans the True Crime moniker) from Activision by Square Enix, who would then release the game as Sleeping Dogs in 2012. After purchasing the studio, the western branch of Square Enix, US and UK both, seemed equally enamoured with the project. Mike Fischer, US president of Square Enix, exclaimed in 2012, Obviously the game was originally True Crime: Hong Kong from Activision. I can’t speak to why they let that go. I’m not going to speculate on their behalf. All I know is, they’ve gotta be crazy. Because this game is just fantastic. Square Enix UK London general manager, Lee Singleton had also told Gamasutra that “When we first saw and got our hands on the game we fell in love with it,” describing the game as a “great big bucket of fun.” At some point – possibly when Tomb Raider, Hitman and Sleeping Dogs all three “failed” to “effectively” (Square Enix lingo, not mine) perform up to internal sales projections (classically the moment when @JimSterling noted “Mainstream videogames have officially gone wrong“) – things turned sour. It doesn’t take much of a conspiracy theorist to imagine a power struggle between Square Enix Japan and the ROW offices, so I don’t doubt corporate cultures had a clash of it. But let’s be real, projections aside: What was a once-canned game had already sold a total of 1.75 million copies in 2013, and has only added further millions to it since via Steam sales and re-releases on the newer consoles. Even disregarding these millions of sales, let’s take the game once and for all for what it was and still is: A thrilling success. After prolonged development hell, several publishers, studio migrations, and brand changes, getting a game out is a nice surprise; getting a good game out is nothing short of a miracle. Where were the Square Enix bonuses to United Front staff? The raises? The doubled budget to go all-in on a sequel that would have undoubtedly performed better than the first game in the series? Well, what United Front Games came to receive from Square Enix was a fuck you. That’s why the news of their closure stings so very much. First, they were punished with Triad Wars, an asset flip Facebook version of Sleeping Dogs (trust me on this one – I was part of the beta), and later the Early Access game SMASH+GRAB, no longer purchasable on Steam at the time of writing. Today, on the 19th of October, United Front actually announced refunds were going to be retroactively available to all purchasers. And then they were gone. Truthfully, Activision’s decision was nothing sensational at the time. They were not wrong in their prognosis – just the manner it was conducted in. They were absolutely right to assess that a new True Crime game would have meant little to the gaming world pre-launch, as the series had only just spiralled out of control with the high-stakes sequel, True Crime: New York City, flopping enormously despite its Hollywood cast and grand plans for subsequent parts. It must have been a bitter pill to swallow. The brand was tarnished, and could have easily doomed True Crime: Hong Kong to mediocre reviews from the get-go. They couldn’t have known the game was actually good, right? When the game did come out, players and critics were quickly taken in by an engagingly violent torrent of story, one that borrowed artistic direction and a touch of the absolute fearlessness of Kane & Lynch (another series that both Eidos and later Square Enix could not have misunderstood much worse) and exciting, fast-paced gameplay that displayed great understanding of how to work around the lulls and pacing problems of the Grand Theft Auto series. Despite being a mature game for a mature audience, it performed admirably in a sales space that doesn’t much care for that. After many rounds of successful, well-crafted DLC, and a console remastered “Definitive Edition” of the game, what other sensible avenue was there other than a big-budget multi-platform sequel? What could have been, if not for Square Enix’s awful decision to go with Triad Wars instead? They knew the game was good – and ultimately failed to act upon it. In the words of my partner, @nabeelburney, one just has to wonder whether the game “[…] was a mistake, or a stipulation, or an inevitability.” With Team Bondi’s Whore of the Orient cancelled, Mafia III having been in development for the longest time, and with Watch_Dogs 2 carrying only modest expectations, Sleeping Dogs II could have easily occupied, even dominated the marketplace for a good while right now. At this very juncture. I think we all expected it – especially after Triad Wars. The fact itself, that United Front Games is being closed down, is no surprise. United Front being treated with both executive malice and incompetence at two different major publishers? No surprise. The neverending depths of terrible misjudgement in the video game industry? No surprise there. The surprise is the game. For Sleeping Dogs to have beaten so many odds along the way to become a beloved game – one that deserved to become a franchise of its own, and finally shed that ugly association to True Crime – is a testament to the development team. In the eyes of history, unfortunately, Sleeping Dogs may at some point in time begin to look like a happy accident. Big players. The little engine that could. Etc etc. The elements are there. But for United Front Games, it was nothing of the sort: It was pure perseverance, dogged vision, and constant – consistent – battle. If this is truly goodbye to United Front… then I need to share this final thought: It’s entirely possible for a competent, all-new team at Square Enix to push an excellent if thoroughly corporate Sleeping Dogs II out on the basis of the first game. We, then, should never forget the very real cost at which it came to be.
  14. We’re all huge fans of the BioShock franchise here on The Slowdown, but we’ve also had our fair share of the game series. We awaited each game, lathering ourselves with collector’s editions (remember the original Big Daddy statue that would crack in half?), with nightly chats about lore and story, and even with articles written on the game here in the archives. They are some really good games. Some guy named John Lanchester once said somewhere that Bioshock “was the first game he played that had the ambitions of a novel” and I find that very damn agreeable. It’s just that no-one in particular was looking forward to The Bioshock Collection in the traditional sense. We’re not console gamers, so they just weren’t in the view, or on the horizon. The games are bygones for Ken Levine, too, who had claimed the games took such a toll on him that he thought sequels would make him “[…] lose my mind, and my marriage.” We too were arguably done with these anomalously nihilistic, brutal, and taxing video games, perhaps even with additional future games in the series, the idea of which has soured somewhat with Levine’s surprise dissolution of Irrational Games as it were in 2014. With the joint release of the remastered versions of BioShock 1 and 2 on the PC, however, I have been made a fool. I’ve been roped to care for something that was supposed to be both free and carefree. You see, when the remasters were announced, it was revealed that existing owners of BioShock 1 and 2 would receive the PC remasters for free. I was pleased to find myself among this lucky crowd. Being the sucker that I am (for free, as in free beer) I downloaded the games on Steam and then proceeded to spend two days figuring and configuring out how to make them work, tirelessly jabbing at the game’s .ini files and Nvidia’s driver panel with various concoctions and conflagrations to come to some sort of workable conclusion. Monitor out of range, resolution issues, wrong aspect ratios, popping textures and models, lighting problems, abject stuttering, poor performance and terrible configuration options – I had all that and more. Tiny FOV. Mouse acceleration. It’s amore. Suddenly, however, there was light at the end of the tunnel: An announcement of incoming fixes, promising to address almost all the major issues with the two games: General Mouse Fixes, including better Mouse Smoothing, Sensitivity and Acceleration Options in BioShock; Additional Speaker Mode Options in Audio Settings in BioShock; Improved FoV Slider Options in BioShock, BioShock 2 and Minerva’s Den; Support for 21:9 display ratios in BioShock, BioShock 2 and Minerva’s Den; General stability improvement to reduce instances of game crashes. This announcement, of course, was posted on the 20th of September. It’s now the 6th of October, with 2½ weeks of radio silence since the announcement. The BioShock Steam forums – solely dedicated to the airing of feelings of despair, anguish, and anger – are a mountain of misery caked with complaint. Had I not, uh, experienced these remasters myself, reading the forums would make me have a modicum of sympathy for the developers, Blind Squirrel. But alas, I keep saying to myself, angrily, and as if I knew it all, and so much better to boot, “These problems were already present in the original games.” I’ve muttered to myself, as well as more than one acquaintance, “Mouse acceleration is the worst feature ever implemented.” And for that I blame Blind Squirrel, 2K Games, and like whoever. Like every developer in the world. And the consoles. With a capital C. To be made to care for what you don’t care for is a terrible thing. I don’t know that I can properly enunciate just how demeaning it is to be taken hostage so, with these mounds of offense, furore, and complaint being imposed upon yourself. Why have I been subjected to all this outrage culture? Just how bad (as in evil) are these remasters?!? “No wonder they gave them out for free!,” someone cries out, imbued subsequently with that supremely particular sensation only sharp wit can bring that will almost certainly last for the rest of the person’s evening. It is such a fool’s errand and such a losing battle. Should I play now, in this half-live half-dead state the two games are in, or wait longer still for fixes that might never materialize? It makes me more than a tiny bit ill to find myself complaining about mouse acceleration out loud – it’s something that you truly want to keep to yourself in civil society, but can’t, because it just is that bad. Placing the true weight of the matters at hand on a scale – the cost (negligible, years ago), the effort (quite a bit), the potential reward (a functional game) is a joke. The only thing that is serious here is that nothing is going to give me back that little but very important portion of dignity that was stolen by these shitty remasters. It’s easy to invoke here the sunk-cost fallacy, or the escalation of commitment, but I feel this only gives a name to the problem, not the explanation: Why should I care now, given that I didn’t before? This feeling is impossible to explain away intellectually, because it is a primal response. Airing all this feels just right but a little bit sad. Perhaps I don’t even want to play the game any more – out of spite, maybe, or not. I don’t know. As the wise man once said, “Why don’t you play the original game?” I don’t know.
  15. Quote of the Day: Satoru Iwata

    So Reggie… I have a question for you. Who’s your daddy? – Satoru Iwata, Nintendo E3 2005 Conference