Game Development Standards Need to Change | Starfield Delay

I’m going to come right out of the gate with my hands up and say that I have zero personal experience in game development. From the concept stages all the way out to shipping, there isn’t a single place where you could point out a spot where I’d know what to do beyond playing the actual product. That said, there’s a simple truth that any purveyor of passionate gaming can attest to, and that’s the consistently inconsistent nature of contemporary game development.

Now there’s a lot to be said on this topic, and while some of its more contentious facets can be, and will be, debated over the next decade, I’m going to lead with the obvious stuff first. Namely, that regarding studios’ insistence on setting time constraints that aren’t feasible. Starfield is the timely example here: Bethesda’s soon to be (presumably) released title that has been pushed back from November of 2022 all the way to sometime, anytime, in 2023.

Image via Bethesda

There’s absolutely no issue with a studio pushing a date back to make their product better. I’m all for it. What I’m not for is this being a standard that studios lean on to garner early hype for their release, and that’s exactly what AAA devs have begun doing. After Cyberpunk 2077’s abysmal release (which saw great commercial success), the powers at be noticed that you can create an almost artificial stream of hype trains by lying your ass off when it comes to how realistic the buyer’s time expectations could be. That is, when gamers are told a game is to be released in 2022, studios have an interest in breaking that promise to create free advertising through the click-bait sites who will jump at the opportunity to include some SEO titles in their diet.

Game delayed once again, click here in disappointment!”

And we do. We always click. And we do it because our brains are hardwired to see this news as something that is unexpected, dramatic, and might have some wild story behind it. Are the developers looking out for their clientele by making their product better, or is this delay a story of devs who are in over their heads and are desperate to make contact with some form of the game they promised? The reality today is that this is a false dichotomy: Bethesda Studios, with all of their experience, knows one year in advance whether or not they can have a finished Starfield that they’ve been planning for the last five, developing for three.

The pessimistic nature of this argument might look manufactured or at least tilted at a glance, but once you entertain the concept of a studio listing a release date that they are more than likely to beat then you see how silly it is that nearly every major release features a date that is almost assuredly going to be delayed. In what way would setting a release date that gives developers an extra 6 months to a year beyond “standard measurements” ruin the product? Some might say it would make the product better in most cases, but maybe you think that the devs will just work slower and eat into profits more.

Of course this isn’t an argument genuinely worth considering since studios (or, more accurately, the private holders of the studios) know in advance that they will be delaying their title. But pretending that isn’t the case, there isn’t a reason that these studios can’t set internal product dates to attempt to beat their aforementioned release ahead of time. A title slated to release in December of 2024 that announces a 6 month early release in January of 2024 isn’t one that isn’t worth picking up, its actually one that you can put the most money on as being a well made, completed product.

But again, money is what talks here, and gamers themselves are the ones pouring out extra cash for pre-orders and goodies before playing the fucking game. So I can’t really be too critical on the devs, their studio, or the studio’s shareholders because they are just following the statistics. I’m almost tempted to change the name of this article to “YOUR standards need to change” since it would probably be more accurate, more to the point, but alas, much like the studios referenced here, I realize that accuracy isn’t the best measure for success.

As for the more common talking points, there are the pre-orders, micro-transactions, 70 dollar price tags, and pay to win schemes. It may surprise you to know that I don’t actually have a problem with micro-transactions at all. Nor do I have an issue with 70 dollar price tags. The gaming industry has done a really good job of keeping the cost of owning a AAA title down to 60 dollars for a very, very long time and I see no problem with them trying to find ways of including in-game content to personalize a gamer’s experience if they are willing to pay for it or simply adding 10 dollars to huge releases as a means of keeping up with increasing costs of development. Games are expensive, and games can bomb on the market. When you have a good release, you need to make the most of it and I’m not a person who hates money, so go for it, I say.

As for pay-to-win, there are obviously issues with AAA titles releasing content that gives players advantages after they’ve already shelled out over 50 bucks to own the title, but in the majority of cases these schemes rely on “whales”, or people who are willing to shell out disgusting amounts of cash to get their hits of dopamine. And when I say disgusting, I don’t mean 50 bucks over the course of three years, I mean hundreds of dollars per month or more on a game that is only feasibly playable by spending money. This is a problem, but its more a problem of gambling addiction and a general loss of purpose in life than it is a problem of game development: and these are topics that are far more important and extend beyond the grasp of this article.

When it comes to the infamous pre-order, I am totally against them. Buy micro-transactions, spend 70 bucks on a game, but do not, ever, under any circumstance pre-order a game. In fact, don’t pre-order anything except for food by necessity. Buying a game before its been released, before its been tested, reviewed, and picked apart by casuals and experts alike, is not only a bad investment of time and money for you, but it sets a poor precedent for the studios behind the product.

Obviously this is a point that’s just about fifteen years too late, but the pre-order culture is such a strange phenomenon because we live in a time where you don’t need to stand in line to get the game you want. Your title awaits you via online purchases and downloads and is in infinite supply: you don’t need to save your slot, I promise! And yet, AAA studios manage to suck in the potential customers early by offering small care packages with the purchase. Like selling toys for a franchise you like, but you’d have to buy a ticket to see the movie before getting access to them, and the ticket costs 60 dollars to boot. Like, stop. Stop pre-ordering games. You have ZERO clue if the game will be good, if you will like it, or if you even have the time to play it before finishing the other five games sitting in your library that you bought on sale two months ago. Just stop it, please.

The only way the consumer can punish the developer is with their money, and if you give up your cash early, the developer has zero impetus to release a finished, high quality product instead of just patching it into “reasonable” over time. Just look at the Battlefront remakes: tons of talent behind their production, and terrible quality control on release. EA Games, pre-order everything.

The development culture of today needs to be reminded that beta testing happens before release, not during. It also needs to stop leaning on false release dates and promises to generate artificial hype. And the only way that will happen is if enthusiasts learn to vote with their cash again. So, yeah, that shit is never gunna happen, thanks for reading.

GLHF,
-E

Some Thoughts on the GPU Market

It’s a bit strange to look around the NVIDIA market stalls and AMD hand-me-downs and see prices at MSRP or lower. It was only six months ago that I was writing about how these companies may very well try to keep the outrageous x2 / x3 pricing on their GPUs (I really should just call the relevant hardware “graphics cards”) around so long that they become the new norm but, thankfully, you can pickup an RTX 3070 for under 500 USD. Half a grand for some extra frames in Elden Ring is a dream come true, I know, you don’t need to tell me.

It’s a bit surreal to see normal pricing on what has been a market starved of reasonable price to performance ratios since the Covid pandemic. For some scale, the computer I’m writing this article on was an emergency upgrade after my last PC began to show its age (I was running an FX 8350 on that puppy). For 1,300 USD, I picked up a Ryzen 3600 paired with a GTX 1660 Super and 16GB of RAM. At the time, this was the best I could do, as the year was not 2022. Through and through, this PC rang true, and why I decided to throw in some poorly thought-out rhymes, I have no clue.

Suffice it to say that the performance I got for the price it was listed at makes me cringe today. For that same 1300 USD, I could pick up a Ryzen 5800X3D and at least an RTX 3060. My video editing would be miles smoother and my gaming experiences, well, smoother. The PC would be smoother. Smoothie-like.

The thing is, I don’t regret the purchase at all: it was much needed. All the same, I do stare at the market today and swallow my chagrin as I imagine all of the folks picking up quality builds for far less in price than I had experienced just a couple years ago. All of that is a besides the ultimate point of this article: I believe that GPU improvements are becoming obsolete to the average PC user.

The Improvement of Performance Doesn’t outweigh the Increased Cost of Power

This thing has a 450W TDP. GGWP, Earth.

Even if you have zero concern for the limited amount of power humanity has access to, or the effect on the environment that this power usage has, the improvements being made to the GPU today are both enthralling on a technical level but also worrying for those who don’t want their water cooling methods to consist of a full outdoor pool in the dead of winter. That is to say that the amount of power that the RTX 4090 is pulling for standard use is so high that the dissipated heat calls for increasingly powerful cooling solutions, which raises the overall power consumption to boot. If the 1,500 USD price for that GPU alone wasn’t enough to deter you, the electricity bill and extra costs associated with an expensive water cooling solution probably will be.

This is to say nothing of the actual use cases of these new and improved graphics cards. I mean, sure, the 3000 series cards were objectively great to have upon release, and every PC in existence benefited from having one. That said, since the 4000 series have released, I haven’t been able to think of any game, AAA or otherwise, where someone playing could stop and think “Damn it! I only have a 3080 GPU!”

I know this is the old-timer’s trap of believing that PC’s will never need more memory or performance beyond what they already have, but honestly I don’t see the need to have the performance to power improvements be as sharp as they are in today’s world. Most people think that the improvements of today allow developers to accomplish more tomorrow, but the evidence I have supports the idea that the improvements of today allow the developers to act a tad lazier, forever. Why optimize your game properly when your playerbases’ hardware pick up the slack for you, right? Looking at you, Elden Bling.

I realize that none of this matters to the science community or the crypto miners who don’t realize they are throwing away cash at electricity bills, as they do still benefit from being able to have more complicated problems solve faster and faster. But for gamers? For average users? The GPU improvements that we’ll see over the next decade are likely to be way, way more than the vast majority of the market requires. While today you see budget users using graphics solutions for one or two generations past, I predict a future where that gap increases to at least a few generations.

This means that new releases will start to be stricter on number of product, with a slower release of product into the public sphere to maintain a constant cash flow. In some sense, the new releases of GPUs will be like the server-based CPU releases in that they are meant for a niche audience that needs them for something other than personal use. This is all speculation, obviously, but speculation rooted in the likelihood that the energy costs and headache paired with building custom cooling solutions are too much for PC users to bother with once every couple of years.

Cheers and fears, may the earth burn so that my stream can obtain 4k resolutions and, no, I won’t be editing this article as I’m too busy enjoying League’s preseason (Gwen is sleeper OP).

GLHF,
-E

Why is OSRS Still the Best MMO in Gaming?

It’s clunky, it’s ugly, it has an ancient combat system, its plagued with bots, and it functions on a tick system that was probably made to allow 500 MHz CPUs to act as servers for its player-base way back in 2001. So why is Oldschool Runescape still the best Massively Multiplayer Online game to ever grace the world of gaming?

When compared to some of the more “contemporary” titles like New World and World of Warcraft, there isn’t really anything on paper that sets OSRS above its peers. The aforementioned problems with the game are decidedly worse forms of game design in terms of what players say they want, all the way down to the tick system. That said, I’d argue that giving players what they say they want is probably not in a studio’s best interest at all. In fact, all of these attributes that OSRS sports is something that I can, and will, argue for as a positive in OSRS’s favor. Additionally, these attributes can be weighed against the game’s peers’ alternate form of game design as a way to figure out what happens when developers opt for the modern approach to MMO creation.

Artwork

Image via Twitter (Jagex)

First, I’d like to look at the art style of OSRS. The graphics. The big ol’ ugly looking models. To be perfectly honest, I can see where people come from when they say the graphics are a huge turn off to even trying this game. Its not only simple, but to the untrained eye its entirely ugly as well. Simple little characters running around with simple little animations. Disgusting, right? Well, I’m going to ignore the argument that this art style is in any way “charming”. Not because it isn’t charming, because I do find that its grown on me since my childhood, but because you don’t need to argue in favor of something so subjective to make a strong case for this art style working as an asset of OSRS’s design.

When I look at a modern game, I see a product that’s fighting with itself. Often times, the graphics on display is the product of an art team that has to spend months creating what’s in front of the player, if not years. In OSRS’s case, this is time that’s instead spent mostly on the content of the gameplay itself. I don’t know how long it takes to model a new NPC for an OSRS update, but I can’t imagine its more than a month, at the most. But when I look at all of the different models and animations seen in a game like WoW, I can’t help but feel like the prettiness of it all comes at the cost of resources that could have been spent on making the game actually fun to play.

Don’t get me wrong, both OSRS and WoW can be extremely fun to play for different kinds of people. But I can’t help but feel that the differences between the two is that most people actually enjoying taking part in the content that OSRS has to offer, while WoW players are simply conditioned from a bygone era to grind out every expansion that comes out. That’s an opinion that will divide the room, I realize, but its mine all the same. OSRS has content that is its own goal, while WoW has rewards for completing content that usually can’t stand on its own two legs. This is true when looking at a game like New World as well. Great concept, great artwork, absolutely dreadful delivery that only appealed to those players who get satisfaction out of grinding out goals for their own sake instead of actually enjoying the game. I mean did you even try PvP in New World? Ever? Trashimus Maximus, it was.

Tick Rates and Responsive Design

OSRS functions on a tick system, just like any other online game. The tick rate is the rate at which the server of the game updates the state of the things. A game like CS:GO, for example, functions on a 64 tick rate server. This means that every second, the position of players, grenades, and shots fired are updated 64 times. This is essential in a game like CS:GO where things happen rapidly. OSRS, on the other hand, updates it server once every .6 seconds. So its less than a 2 tick rate server, and yet it has fully functional PvP and high skill ceiling PvE aspects. How so? Well, as it happens, the tick rate of OSRS has created an asset for the game in the form of being able to produce heavily controlled content. The developers are able to accurately assess when a portion of the game becomes too difficult for the allotted skill requirements to partake in it because they know down to every .6 seconds when a player will need to respond to a change in the content. 3-tick fishing, Tri-brid PvP, skilling in general, and high level PvE content are all things that benefit from a low tick rate strictly because the developers are smart enough to plan their content around it. With a game like WoW, I’m not going to argue that a higher tick-rate server is worse, because its clearly not. I just don’t think OSRS’s low tick rate is a negative, I think it’s strictly a positive that offers Jagex devs the opportunity to plan content out in a way that no other devs are able to.

The Combat System

On a surface level, even the most inexperienced gamer can understand OSRS’s combat design. Click the thing, you hit the thing, it hits back, repeat automatically. Simple. The thing is, OSRS also incorporates its prayer system into combat fairly quickly into a player’s journey, which means a player is now clicking on a thing and also a prayer book’s desired effect before letting the combat automate. Still simple.

But, you know, OSRS uses positioning fairly often in medium to high level bossing. So pretty soon, one finds themselves in need of clicking the proper prayers, repositioning, using utility items, and getting their hits in whenever they have .6 seconds, or one tick, to spare. The belabored point being that, despite OSRS’s combat looking rather simple at a glance, it has a huge amount of depth that would put many MMO players to task with becoming even half-decent at.

Look at that cursor fly in 240p Tri-brid perfection. Incredible.

It used to be the case that you didn’t play OSRS for the combat, but with the community’s ingenuity and the devs’ grand boss design, that’s all but changed as the combat is a huge draw for many players. This is to say nothing of the aforementioned tri-brid PvP aspect of the game you can see above, which has players making use of alternate prayer flicks, utility items, weapons, and armor against other players. This means that a player tri-bridding might be clicking 5 times accurately to swap 5 pieces of gear out, two times for prayer switches, and yet another to switch weapons to something that might be more effective against what they believe their opponent will be switching to, all in under .6 seconds, ideally. Then they do it again. When it comes to this PvP, it takes a special kind of talent to master the art. Its something I honestly believe tri-bridding is something that cannot come naturally to 99.99% of people, it takes hundreds, if not thousands of hours, just to become not terrible in.

The Game Itself

The game itself is unlike any MMO out there today. The quests you’d normally find in an MMO like New World, which are obnoxious fetch quests which blend together boringly, are outstanding experiences in OSRS. The writing is witty, the content in quests are unique, and the rewards aren’t just disgusting amounts of XP required to get your next level, but instead one of kind items or access to new methods of playing that completely alter how convenient it is to play a certain way.

The skilling can be click intensive and difficult, or relaxed and AFK, depending on your mood. And the game is built in such a way that, although you’re playing with thousands of other people, you don’t need to interact with them to make your account stronger. The game has the resources required to be completely self sufficient built right into it. This is why many players opt to play as ‘iron’ men and women, to show that they refuse to trade with other people or get help during bossing. Although you could take part in the thriving in-game economy if you wanted to.

Speaking of in-game economy, the market in OSRS is directly tied to the progression of an account. In short, this means that when you go and level a skill like woodcutting, say, you can sell the logs you get from leveling directly into the in-game market. Using the wealth you’ve gained from that, you can buy fishing bait and a rod to train your fishing. Then, afterward, you can sell the fish and buy weapons to train combat skills and get valuable drops. And so the cycle continues. The in-game economy in most MMO’s, which throws early-game content right out the window, isn’t there to be seen in OSRS. Instead, OSRS’s economy is thriving for a level 3 player in just the same way it is for a maxed player because everyone needs all kinds of resources, and all the time.

In Summary

OSRS is a great game. Go and play it, even if casually. Other MMOs tend to suck and they bore me. Don’t play them, even if casually.

I Want Intel’s ARC GPUs to Succeed, But my Hopes Aren’t High

When I first got into PC gaming, AMD was basically the only company I really cared about. Before I even knew what a dedicated GPU was, I learned that, with AMD, all I needed was a single AM4 socket motherboard and one of their cheap APUs and I’d be set with an entry level gaming rig that would satisfy a newbie PC gamer like myself.

And it did. Hell, I don’t even think I was running AM4 at that time. Back then, I was using an A-10 series APU. And boy, did I use that fuckin’ thing till to its maximum. CS:GO? League? Sure. But what if I told you I would take that puppy and fire up ARMA 2’s DAYZ mod and happily play it at 25 FPS at 720p? Those were the days, I’ll tell you h-what.

These days, I can’t claim to be the most spoiled person in the word in regards to performance. Despite having a stronger knowledge of hardware, I haven’t actually cared to spend the money on any of the latest tech. I run a 1660 Super with a R5 3600 and, as far as I’m concerned, that’s all I need. 4k gaming? No thanks, not needed.

That said, I can stand to make note of the future of hardware’s direction even without direct experience with the stuffs, and I can stand taller yet in understanding that Intel’s ARC lineup of GPUs are, at best, going to act as a 2.5 billion dollar graceless buffer between the dedicated GPU market and Intel’s ironing out the seams of their new product.

Image via Intel

NVIDIA and AMD, who have both dug out respectable shares of the dedicated GPU market, have a new graphics card generation (supposedly) coming out in Q4 of this year. These newer cards are going to outdo the current circulation of cards by a considerable, unverified margin. NVIDIA’s 40 series GPUs are being produced on TSMC’s 4nm fabrication process and will retain a 300-400 dollar price point for the 4060 model. In today’s age, that performance is going to be more than enough for AAA gaming at 1080p (and likely 4k), and its going to do it at mid-range prices the likes of which we are only just starting to see again after the Covid-19 related silicon shortage. Meanwhile, we have yet to get a confirmed release date for the ARC graphics cards outside of a Korean laptop launch which played host to a plague of driver issues that have more or less dampened the hype surrounding the cards altogether.

When said cards do get a global release, they’re only just going to be able to compete with NVIDIA’s 30 generation, as demonstrated by a somewhat barebones test released by Intel. This means that NVIDIA will be a generation behind the competition with product that is only just strong enough to compete with a product that’s already been in circulation (and thus, discounted heavily) for more than a year.

Its a real shame, too, since having a third tried and true company to put the heat on AMD and NVIDIA in the graphics department would be a real win for consumers everywhere. Hell, it would probably be a huge win for the world as a whole when you consider the cementing of a stronger Intel fab process, cheaper market prices, alongside stronger consumer and server-based computing performance from all three companies to boot (assuming they can all keep pace).

The barrier between that distant, preferable reality and the one we may be in, which sees Intel eat their losses in full, is nothing short of a few tall cliffs that need climbing. In short, Intel’s ARC GPUs are something I desperately want to stick in the marketplace and pave the way for a consistent showing against NVIDIA and AMD. To do that, they’re going to need to be cheaper than the already discounted RTX and RX cards, strong enough to pass up on the new 40 and 7000 series cards, and also be void of any compatibility issues at global launch.

Basically, the odds are against Intel, but we’d all be better off if they could cause an upset.

GLHF,
-E

It’s Hard to Hate Riot Games | Star Guardian Taliyah Sessions

Riot Games uploaded the “Star Guardian Taliyah” Session to their music channel on the 11th of July. Essentially, its a collection of thematic songs created by independent artists that anyone can use in videos or streams without concern over copyright issues. The playlist was created as part of the Sessions project on behalf of Riot Games, which aims to provide creators with more ways to produce content using official music. This isn’t the first time they’ve done this, but it is the first time I’ve taken notice of it.

I’m no paid actor or apologist for Riot Games in any sense of those words, and would absolutely bite at the chance to criticize them over pretty much anything (and have done). But this sort of effort they put into their art, which seems to serve no other purpose than to help creators out and support independent artists, makes it extremely difficult to hold them in a bad light, generally speaking.

Image via Riot Games

The video itself is a series of animations that follow a bubbly-themed Taliyah through her day off at the mall. For each song, a new part of the story. The animations are simple, and aside from Easter eggs in the background, there isn’t anything that sets itself apart as “incredible”, except for the fact that the video exists at all. The notion that Riot Games would hire a team to animate a one and a half hour video, a group of musicians to create their own unique 8-bit themed pieces, and then release the two as one project for no reason other than to give their community free stuff is pretty incredible, at least to me.

This sort of behavior points to a recurring philosophy presented in Riot Games’ policy towards treating their community. That philosophy is a tad hard to put into words, but it can be seen in their Esports events, which continually set the bar for Esports tournaments everywhere. It can be seen in the extra content created for the game, which includes the incredible Arcane and the soon to be reviewed Ruined King. And, of course, it can be seen in these Session releases.

Its a philosophy that implores the League fan base to learn more about the game, its lore, and its history, while also inversely including the fan’s creations as a platform to grow the community further. Its a self-perpetuating system where fan’s are given strong foundations to create off of, which further builds up the game’s player base, which further draws more fan participation.

Its genius, and its something I don’t think any studio has managed to do as well as Riot Games. Even a company like Valve, which is known for encouraging and rewarding player interaction outside of simple gameplay, couldn’t hold a candle to Riot Games’ efficacy in building strong relationships with its player base and creators. Even if those relationships sometimes start and end with “rito plz nerf…”

GLHF,
-E

Dead by Daylight Has Serious Competition Now

Evil Dead: The Game. Who’d a thunk it?

Image via Saber Interactive

It isn’t at all surprising to me that another title has come along that is trying to nail the asymmetrical horror gameplay that Dead by Daylight has so mysteriously held onto like the plague that just wont quit. Among the many, many smaller titles that have attempted such a feat, Friday the 13th and Last Year are the only two I can actually remember. One of them was defeated by a lawsuit while the other was so insignificant in quality that I never really heard anything about it other than “Meh.”

Enter Evil Dead. Ash is a character that’s become nearly synonymous with the asymmetrical horror genre almost entirely thanks to his inclusion into Dead by Daylight (DBD) a few years ago. Naturally (or not so naturally), he’s appearing in his own game that attempts to do DBD, but in a far more interesting way. And when I say interesting, I mean it.

Evil Dead: The Game pits one “killer” against four “survivors”. And it is there that the similarities between DBD and the ED stop. The games are completely different, both in tone and in mechanics. Players fond of DBD might feel like they are little too “hands off” in ED as the killer, while survivors might feel like they aren’t taking part in any enthralling mechanics. On the other hand, fans of ED will be able to enjoy gameplay that’s far more varied and action packed than the average DBD match.

The two are extremely difficult to compare, but in short, you could say that DBD is to a classic game of golf where ED is basketball but with trampolines. Both fun for different people and, in this industry, both competing for the same share of playerbase. And its about time.

Dead by Daylight, since its inception, has been one of a kind. There’s no denying it. No other game in the industry, in the history of gaming, has been able to replicate the kind of elusive quality that DBD brings to the table. This is both a blessing and a curse for Behaviour Interactive, the game’s developing studio.

Image via Behaviour Interactive

DBD is one of a kind, which means there’s no where else to go but it if you want the kind of gameplay that it offers. DBD is also the only of its kind, which means Behaviour has no where else to go for inspiration towards new gameplay mechanics, content, or in-game events. It all has to come from within. I credit the original artist as much as the next guy, but when it comes to DBD, Behaviour, who we’ll refer to as BHVR from now on, has a long history of showing up empty handed.

Decisive strike, Moris, Vacuum pallets, infinite loops, keys, the hatch system as a whole, the absolutely terrible bloodweb design, their MMR system, their ranking system, the inability for solo queuers to communicate to one another, the absolutely broken nature of 4 stacking, the disgusting map imbalance, the cheaters, that one time they made flashlight and pallet saves guaranteed, Brand new parts, triple blink Nurse, on-release Legion, Iridescent Heads, and oh boy, could I go on! I really could go on!

DBD, if it were any other game without that special lighting in a bottle kind of core gameplay, would have died ages ago in the hands that it is currently in. There is no other development team in charge of a reasonably large title I can think of that has made more blunders more consistently than BHVR. And now, with ED, there is a real contender to keep them worried about their performance. If DBD falls into another low point due to developer performance, ED will be there to cradle up the frustrated player base with warm arms. With fun arms. With arms made for trampoline basketball, what joy!

I love Dead by Daylight, and given the incredible reception Evil Dead has entered into the fray to, I imagine I’ll love it, too. Hopefully the pair will share enough competition that they’re simply forced into perfecting their craft. Or maybe ED will die, leaving DBD alone in the genre once again. What joy.

GLHF,
-E

How to Make a Boring Game | Transparency

I’d like to talk about a phenomena in gaming that anyone who grew up with a controller in their hands can relate to: sucking. Sucking isn’t actually the negative thing its made out to be in gaming, despite the inherent negative connotations made with the term. Sucking, or being bad, is a by product of being a newbie. Its the seed from which being passable and then talented comes from.

In modern game development, there has been a loss of artistic grit in the form of transparency. And by that I mean that the art of lacking transparency in just the right way is a practice modern game developers are leaving in the dust.

New World
Image via Amazon Games

Artistic Grit

To “lack transparency” in just the right way is to obfuscate, hide, or outright lie about information presented in a game to purposefully keep the player out of the know. For me, I think about Dark Souls 1 and its ability to have a complicated combat system that players can learn the basics of without spilling any of the deeper mechanics in an obvious way. Spell casting, for example, isn’t something that’s listed as having anything to do with dexterity, but absolutely does work in tandem with the attribute. Dexterity speeds up spell casting, and this is only something someone could know through self made trials (or data mining).

This is a very specific example, and a very bizarre one at that, given the mathematics behind the mechanics of the casting speed in DS1, but ultimately the specifics aren’t important for this discussion. What is important is the key takeaway: FromSoftware decided to hide specific information about the game from the player and let the studious among their fans find out the info for themselves.

For game developers, specifically, this is something I want to see more of. Patch notes, official game guides, in-game books and descriptions, and all of the information you can get in-game should function this way. They should be minor, incomplete, or non-existent altogether, at least in some regards.

A player shouldn’t be mapping out their game route before they’ve begun playing a game. And when developers show every little number and change in the game as they’re released, it feels like the game itself is becoming detached from the world its trying to pull its players into. Its no longer a separate entity to escape in, it’s a piece of art that’s not only stuck in the real world, but requires real world study to get the most out of before its even been played.

This philosophy I’m advocating for, which is a philosophy in favor of partially or completely hidden mechanics in-game, isn’t a philosophy that’s going to work for all games. And I completely understand that point. If tomorrow, Riot Games began releasing “secret” updates every week that changes the numbers of specific champs in League of Legends, I’d wager the uproar from the casual and competitive gaming community would be loud enough to force Riot to revert any and all changes immediately.

But for game developers who are creating pieces of art that are meant to be learned about in-game and in real-time, I’d like to offer a piece of advice, if I can be so bold: Act as if you’re developing an RPG / MMO that’s going to be played by millions of people every day, concurrently. Ask yourself, “Would I want to tell players that this is the META at this stage of the game? Would I want to disclose this mechanic? Would it be far more enjoyable for players to discover this on their own?” I hope the answers to these question outside of a competitive PvP game, is “No, No, and Yes, of course it would.

Transparency and the 2000’s

Image via “A Friend”

I remember playing OSRS back when it was just RS in 2007 and just walking around, having zero clue what I was doing. That not knowing made every little thing worth doing because I didn’t know if what I was doing was effective or not. “Is this fishing method the best XP/HR? Who knows? No one knows, so I don’t care.” That’s the mentality of a player who’s having fun, and that mentality only exists in ignorance.

There’s a reason people still talk about the 2000’s as the golden age for gaming, and I reckon it isn’t because developers have gotten worse at their jobs or because games are objectively less fun. I think its because gamers as a whole are able to cipher information about what they’re playing a lot easier, and when developers display that information and leave zero room for experimentation on the part of the player, the game in question becomes solved faster than developers can possibly keep up with.

The solution? Lose the transparency. Create games that obfuscate information. But provide players with the necessary tools to experiment with the mechanics of the game themselves: leave clues via NPC’s, dialogue, or other means to teach players about your game without handing them the keys to victory for little to no work. And if you as a developer can manage it, release updates that are either partially or completely secret. If you buff, nerf, or otherwise change something in game, let players know that something has been changed and watch them scurry about trying to find out what it is and how it effects the way they play. That, right there, is half the fun.

Games are fun. Games are especially fun when you’re bad at them. Stop giving me the tools to be decent at every game before I’ve had my fun with them and let me just be terrible for a while.

GLHF,
-E

Happy 20th Birthday to Morrowind | Near Perfection

I was a little late to the Morrowind party having only played it for the first time roughly three years ago, and I’m a little late to its birthday. The role playing game was released on the first of May, 2002, and made up what was the third title in the Elder Scrolls series. Its a game that’s not widely played in the gaming community, but it is certainly a game that’s widely praised. People who don’t really care for the game’s outdated mechanics, textbook levels of reading, or punishing (and tedious) combat system often refer to appeals of “It’s just not my type of game” arguments when explaining why they don’t like it. The number of people who would outright say its just not a good game are small in number, and that should tell you a lot about the weight the game holds in terms of respect out of the gaming community: Its just about beyond major criticism, culturally speaking.

Image via Reddit (u/danae123)

This doesn’t mean that the game is actually without its flaws to criticize, but it does mean that, generally speaking, the pros inside of the game’s inherent design are stronger than the cons. In fact, many people point towards a game like Morrowind when making arguments for why the early 2000’s were the “golden days of gaming.” It was a time when you couldn’t google a solution to every single problem you ran into when playing through a game, you had to just be bad at the game, can you believe it?

What this meant was that the tedious, confusing combat, the breakable mechanics, the quest lines with confusing directions, and all of the reading that came with that set of design choices were essential to the experience. In my first personal playthrough, for example, I found myself not only reading every single instruction given to me by quest givers, but also writing notes down: Cardinal directions, odd comments that may or may not have special meaning, maps, and dungeons I find along the way during my travels. I still have the notebook with all of that in there. And I wrote all that down despite there being an in-game notebook, not because I was going out of my way to role play, but because a game like Morrowind, of which there are few, if any, benefits greatly from the player acting as his or her own detective.

The in-game books, which a game like Skyrim. Morrowind’s younger brother, is so well known for, aren’t just extra flavor on an already completed game in Morrowind. There are textbooks detailing the inner workings of alchemy, which act as an in-game guide to the most broken skill in the game. There are journals of mages, alchemists, and warriors and their lives which give either nothing at all, or hints to the player regarding combat and the like. There are whole documentations in-game of all the gods and their cultures that the player can delve into. For lore? Sure. But also for in-game knowledge that translates into a stronger character.

I’m just spitballing some thoughts about the game out here, so this article isn’t going to be very coherent or streamlined, as you can see, but its probably the most prominent quality about the game: everything you need to know, you can find, research, and learn about in the actual game itself. No googling, no looking up guides, and no special addition developer notes required. Have a question? Look for a book seller in-game and find a book on the topic, read the whole fuckin’ thing and apply your new knowledge.

Stuck on a quest? Go back to the quest giver, ask ’em what to do, and write all of that down. Do everything they say to a T and, if you’re still stuck, its entirely possible they just gave you bad directions (seriously, they can do that.)

The game asks a lot of your time, but still respects it, which is an extraordinarily hard balancing act and one that a modern game, like Elden Ring (review coming soonish), simply cannot follow despite being nearly 20 years newer. All of the studying, walking, training, and reading is an investment in a game that rewards you by giving you greater and greater power. Not just power, but ways to break the game. The secret sauce being that the most powerful ways to become strong in the game is not by training your character, but by learning more and more about the game itself. That is to say, a newbie with maxed stats is infinitely weaker than a veteran starting at level 1 simply because, in Morrowind, mind beats matter. All the same, I’m sure many veterans would take being bad at the game for a chance at being able to play it all over again without prior knowledge of its inner workings.

So happy 20th, Morrowind. There may be many role playing games to come that try new things and advance the medium, but I doubt there will be any that are as nearly perfect, as special, as you. If we get something as half as good in the next decade, I’d say the gaming industry is doing alright.

GLHF,
-E

Escape From Tarkov | How to Hide the Grind

The “grind” is a term that’s used pretty much everywhere these days to describe hard work over a long period of time. The word is thrown around by meat heads who just finished their three-sets-of-ten and 20-something college girls who just got their 500 dollar paycheck and need Instagram to know about the hustle.

In gaming, the term is used mostly in the same way, but with an emphasis on a sometimes (I’d personally say all the times) arbitrary design by the developers of a game to keep players engaged. For example, an MMO might have a ton of content in the end game, but requires a player to grind out roughly 50 hours of quests to level up enough to get there. This grind to the end game is arbitrarily designed, long, and therefor qualifies as a ‘grind’ in the gaming community. Simple.

If all of the same quests in this theoretical MMO existed without blocking the player from accessing end game content, it wouldn’t be a grind to play the game, now would it? It would just be more content in a game, no grind required, see?

This is probably a bit confusing to a non-gaming person, as it seems like the better design would be to get rid of the grind altogether. The problem here is that “the grind” is something of a boon for a lot of players. A sense of accomplishment is created from having a journey be arduous instead of easy, and this is the soul gameplay model for many MMOs, not least of which being WoW, OSRS, RS, and pretty much any other game in the genre that’s ever existed ever. The grind makes doing X an actual accomplishment instead of just something everyone else has done.

That said, there is still a great deal of problems that come with this design. Namely, the fact that the grind can’t be too long without losing player interest, and it can’t be too short so that the accomplishments gained from a grind become meaningless. Walking this line properly has generated certain companies hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars, while failing to hit the mark has made other games, and their respective companies, dead on arrival. It isn’t easy to understand how one developer concocts their formula for success compared to another, but it is easy to understand what the developer ultimately ends up creating. Enter Escape from Tarkov.

Escape from Tarkov and the Illusion of a Grindless System

Escape from Tarkov, or just “Tarkov”, is a first person shooter that mainly revolves around resource management, and it revolves around this kind of gameplay exceptionally well. Players are pitted against each other in a variety of maps with gear they choose to enter the match with: Armor, weapons, tactical gear, grenades, the list goes on. There’s a lot of items that are mediocre and common while others are exceptional and rare. And when a player dies in one of these matches, they lose all of the items they brought or found during the match.

Image via Battlestate Games

As one might imagine, this makes the nature of failure in the game extremely punishing. As a counter to this, succeeding in a match, or a “raid”, is just as rewarding as losing is punitive. Players can accept daily tasks from the AI traders in-game that act as objective creators and help to speed the player’s advancement along. This advancement is used as advantages in the form of acquired levels and resources to gain a better hideout, which provides passive bonuses, as well as better items which, of course, can be used to go and earn more items. Rinse and repeat.

And it’s at this point that a veteran of the MMO genre would have no problem identifying the fact that Tarkov is actually an MMO dressed up as an FPS Battle Royal. I mean, it is a BR, but its managed to sneak in the various aspects of MMO gameplay that keep players coming back for their hits of dopamine: Daily tasks / quests, a ‘get gear to get more gear’ gameplay loop, heavy PvE environments with PvP sprinkled in (this part can be the other way around, depending on the type of player you are,) and an ungodly grind that requires daily attention and resets every six months or so when the game completely wipes its player progress for a full restart from level 1 (for everyone.)

And that’s the great formula for long term success that Tarkov has created. This grind that eventually hooks players doesn’t present itself until weeks of gameplay, at the earliest, for many players. For most players, the gameplay loop isn’t even a second thought yet. The complex mechanics, confusing map layouts, and punishing resource management systems are all they care about. And make no mistake, this isn’t an article knocking against Tarkov, those systems are very, very well done in the game. Brilliant design, no doubt about it. But it’s a fact that those same systems are the bait which reel players in for years and years at a time. The hook, as it were, is the grind. The “Tarkov Grind”.

This grind is just like any other in any game you’d like. As we’ve established, it takes a lot of its design from established MMO titles, and demands constant attention from the player. However, this hook, despite bringing the player back like an addict, is hiding behind the interesting gameplay to mask itself as genuine fun instead of addiction. The player would have already decided to ditch the game under any other pretenses, but since Tarkov’s grind is dressed up in such a way that’s pretty much in a league of its own, that decision doesn’t come until much later when said player is probably already hooked on the game, despite potentially being the kind of person who doesn’t enjoy a grindy game.

Its the incredible design shown by the developers over at Battlestate Games that created such an interesting title, and its their ruthless ingenuity that coupled said title with a gameplay loop that can drain literal infinite hours away from its playerbase. At the time of writing this article, its been about two weeks since I picked up Tarkov, and I’ve thrown roughly 50 hours into the game as though it were nothing. Its taken me a while to pickup on the fact that I was just getting hooked on the loop without actually enjoying the gameplay, but this article topic serves to acknowledge the fact that I’ve managed to escape it, no pun intended.

How to Avoid these Grind Systems as a Player

When trying out a new title, your first question should always be: “What am I playing this for?” You can ask this question on multiple levels, but for the sake of this topic, you should be asking the game itself. The Dark Souls Trilogy has a myriad of boss fights that are well designed, an intricate and deep story, and hidden philosophy on the nature of life itself. A player might ask him or herself why they play Dark Souls, and one or all of those things may be the answer. The key aspect of the game being that it does, indeed, have an end, and isn’t designed as an endless loop (despite being about life as an endless loop).

Image via FromSoftware

Now, you can grind in Dark Souls, and you can play endlessly, but that’s a decision that’s left up to the player. People have beaten the first game in less than an hour, and the other games don’t have completion times much different than that. That is to say, the grind in Dark Souls is one you choose, not one that’s required, and it isn’t endless or pointless, at least from a gameplay perspective. Some might call it genius, but the game is meant to satisfy you on completion, not leave you feeling like you have to play everyday for the next six months just to maintain progress on your character.

Try that same thought experiment out with any other game. “Why am I playing this game?” Story? Well designed mechanics? Incredible writing, acting, or art direction? Maybe its just fun? Really test yourself on that question, because in the modern age, its not unlikely that you find yourself playing a game as a means to progress to the next part in the game as apposed to enjoying the part you’re currently at.

Progress should happen naturally as long as you enjoy where you’re at. If you don’t enjoy where you’re at, get out. Don’t lie in wait, for those hopes of things changing for the better without your influence shall let the rust of a dull gear creep into your mind. By that point, you’ll be accustomed to your setting, and leaving will be far too difficult a task. You’re an addict, you’re unable to move, and no one is able to help you rekindle the first flame.

What were we talking about? Right, Tarkov. Fun game, innovative game, too much of a grind. 6/10.

My Favorite Games of 2021

Before moving onto the next year, we gotta look back at the stuff that defined the high points of gaming in 2021. You know the drill with these “best games of 2021” articles, so I’ll keep this one short.

Inscryption

Inscryption
Image via Daniel Mullens Games

I dunno if I’m harping on this game too much, but I gotta say: Inscryption remapped my brain’s understanding of how to define an “original” piece of art. I mean, the nature of something original is that it’s something I wouldn’t have seen before or expected to see, and yet I still feel like my previous encounters with original art just weren’t as awe-inspiring as my play through of this game.

Am I lame for being so in love with this game? Maybe. Am I wrong in saying it was one of the, if not the, best game of 2021? No, my subjective opinion on the matter is objectively right, fact, and unquestionable. If you haven’t played this game because you don’t think you’ll enjoy its card-game mechanics, just play it. Please play it. Play it.

Play. Inscryption. Please.

RE: Village

I know you’re probably going to be upset with my over this, but Village was my first ever Resident Evil game. Yes, I can see your face, it spells U P S E T, and I completely understand.

RE: Village
Gorgeous Image via Capcom

Despite what the memes might suggest, Village is not a game about a sexy vampire lady. In fact, if you pay close attention, you’ll find that she’s actually one of many characters in the game. (I didn’t find this out until my third playthrough.)

The story, as I was told to expect from Resident Evil games, is cunning in its originality and clean structure. I wasn’t ever at a point in the game where I was like “Okay, let’s hurry it up.” The game has a solid beginning, middle, and end, and does a good job at making me want to learn more about the universe and its past, and future, story lines.

The gameplay was super smooth, and was complimented wonderfully by the excellent horror themes exhibited by the narrative and visual structure of the game. The subtlety with which these horror elements were employed were so masterful that I actually had to use them as a subject in an entire article about the topic. There have been many points in history where prolific game direction and masterful programming / design have met hand in hand, and RE: Village marks one of those points with a ton of ink (and a little obscurity.)

Village was a masterpiece, and I look forward to absorbing more Resident Evil content because of it.

Disco Elysium: The Final Cut

Disco Elysium: The Final Cut
Image via ZA/UM

Disco Elysium was released back in 2019, and even then it wasn’t anything short of incredible. The intensely complicated RPG elements and top-tier writing are complimented by a collection of gritty, charming, and realistic voice acting performances that pull everything together in what is, unarguably, one of the best narrative-driven RPGs of all time.

Its release of “The Final Cut” in 2021 version gave me an excuse to add the game to this very barren best games of 2021 list and to tip my hat to it, if only for a moment. I know this game already has enough love as it is by those who understand solid game design, but it still feels odd that, in a world that’s having a love affair with RPG gaming, Disco Elysium doesn’t see more commercial success.

In any case, Disco Elysium: The Final Cut is a prime example of how passionate world building and professional, talented writing can carry an otherwise decent game into instant classic territory.

That’s it.

No, really. That’s it. I didn’t really care for too many games in any meaningful way this year. This could be due to the fact that I’m currently limited to PC gaming: I’d figure The Last of Us 2 or some Nintendo game would have made it onto this “best games of 2021” list, otherwise. Or it could just be that the gaming industry is giving up and can’t, or doesn’t want to, produce quality content as much as it used to anymore. Its probably the former, eh?

GLHF,
-E