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HarlanTV - In Words..

HarlanTV - In Words..

Entries in this Writers Block

Let's give Epic Games a break


HarlanTV

Hey guys.. give Epic Games a break yeah?

 

If there's one thing I don't like about internet culture it's their knee jerk reaction to most ideas/news/announcements. The majority of the time it's a flip of a coin when a new trailer or announcement is made, then the hive-mind just regurgitates what the initial reaction was. Case in point: Epic Games Store. Since its announcement it has been greeted with sighs and tuts, and a general consensus of 'Why are doing this'. This rhetoric is compounded when a major (or indie) title announces it will be launching on the platform. My thoughts are.. who gives a shit?

First to market doesn't mean best in market

First of all, let's take a look at the state of the current offering on PC: Steam. (Alright yeah Origin too but that's not even worth the effort). Honestly speaking, Steam is tired. Big, tired and clunky. I honestly can't remember the last time I thought 'Oh that's a neat new feature' when perusing Steam. The funny thing is I predicted this ages ago. The same goes for any business that is first to market with a game-changing product or service, I've worked IRL with several businesses like this. It's rapid expansion leading marketing dominance, but when you sit at the top unchallenged for a while, you go stale. Being challenged makes you innovate. I'm far from a capitalist but the mantra of competition drives innovation does ring true in some cases. This being one. So isn't it about time we had a challenger game publishing platform? Something that's going to shake things up, hopefully for the benefit of us?

I'm going to caveat the above point by saying Epic Game Store is far from 'parity' with steam. It's missing a lot of core functionality (i.e. cloud save). But its roadmap is ambitious.

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Better deal for developers?

Okay, so we might get better more streamlined gaming services, what about the developers? The arguably larger benefit of more choice, is improved revenue share for developers. Currently Steams revenue model is 70/30 whilst Epic is offering more to devs with a model of 88/12. Immediately the benefit to independent studios is massive. I've seen some arguments that Epic are buying their way into the market... well of course they are! That's the only way you would be able to compete with the behemoth that is Steam. And if it's more money in studios pockets well that's cool with me.

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Exclusive or divisive

The crux of the Epic Games Store hate I think can be traced to the issue of exclusive titles. To be fair, I can understand why there has been frustration here. Essentially Epic Games has been on a frenzy of securing exclusives for their store. That in itself I don't have an issue with, and if we are real, it's to be expected. The issue is when developers renege on their promises of delivering the game to steam, and secure an Epic Store exclusive. One example is Metro Exodus. Steam had already begun taking preorders on Metro Exodus which subsequently had to be refunded.

Okay, the above is a fair point, but I don’t think it warrants the amount of hate Epic Games has received.

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The China Connection

This is where the hive-mind paranoia came into its own. Users on Reddit crawled through the Epic Game Stores code and came up with some anomalies. Rather than ask Epic or consider sensible options, they ‘outed’ Epic on Reddit saying it’s Chinese Spyware tracking all your movements. It turns out the code was used to track revenue for UE4 game assets…

This outrage was compounded by the fact that Epic Games had received huge amounts of funding from Tencent, a pretty fucking huge Chinese omni-corporation. Okay yeah, Tencent themselves are pretty scary, but they also invest in EVERYTHING. Ubisoft and Riot have had funding from Tencent. Hell even SnapChat and Elite:Dangerous have had money off them. So it’s a bit odd to get outraged for this?

The Real Reason

Let’s face it. The real reason why people have a problem with Epic Game Store is this: Fortnite is one of the most successful companies of all times, and also the most ‘hated’ by ‘real’ gamers. Hating on stuff is a meme. So it’s easy to paint a target on the company that produced it, and try to taint anything else they try e.g. Epic Games Store. Create memes from it, and circlejerk behind its back.

Time to grow up. Give Epic Games Store a chance. It might suck, it might make Steam be better. Who knows. But it doesn’t deserve the hate.

 

 

 

HarlanTV

Woof woof Everyone!

Hope you're ready for some hard hitting gaming journalism!

I recently watched this Inside Gaming episode that did a feature on the best dogs in video games. Whilst I agreed with some, I disagreed with others! So here's the HarlanTV take on the Top 5 dogs in video games!

 

1) Lesser Dog - Undertale

First up is a dog from (IMO) one of the best video games of all time, Undertale. Lesser Dog is an NPC that crops up as the player progresses through Snowdin Forrest. This adorable pup is a member of the Royal Guard, and sports a sword and shield. But somehow that just makes the little fella look even cuter. What's great about Lesser dog is how you interact with it, if you choose to pet the dog, his neck grows. And if you keep petting it, his head grows off the screen in excitement. Lesser Dog is a good dog.

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2) K.K. Slider - Animal Crossing

I dare you to find me a cooler dog than K.K. Slider. A guitar playing, knowledge spitting groove hound who chills all day in Animal Crossing. More recently the dude has expanded is musical skills to DJ'ing in Club LOL in Animal Crossing New Leaf. Tunes aside, K.K.Slider has some pretty strong thoughts on capitalism: “Those industry fat cats try to put a price on my music, but it wants to be free.”. I'm already looking forward to see how K.K. will pop up in Animal Crossing New Horizons, he's certain to have some sweet new jams. K.K. Slider is a good dog.

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 3) All Dogs - Nintendogs

I like to think that at Nintendo so dude was like "you know what people like? Dogs. Petting them, playing with them. Just, dogs", and thus began development of Nintendogs. This adorable game series now has installments featuring Chihuahuas, Labradors, Dachshunds and even Shiba Inu's. Name me a more iconic video game series than that?? Okay maybe don't. Nintendogs offers the modern, time-poor gamer with a way of owning, training and petting their very own dog, and I'll be damned if you don't like the game. All Nintendogs are good dogs.

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 4) General Pepper - StarFox

Some dogs do tricks, some dogs look cute, some dogs run fast. This one commands the Cornerian Army and works with a mercenary squad of elite fighter pilots known as StarFox. Awww. Seriously though this badass has been through the mill, seen his forces overrun by the Androssian Army and fought during the Aparoid Invasion. All whilst being a cool ass dog. Seriously though if I was going to choose a dog to be my commander, it would be General Pepper all day long. General Pepper is a good dog.

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 5) Sam - Sam & Max

Sam & Max Hit The Road was a classic adventure game from when LucasArts was in its prime. A game I definitely recommend. And what's better, one the key characters is a damn dog detective. Sam, is a cool, level heading freelance police detective solving crimes with his hot headed partner Max. Sam loves his ice-cream and carries around a huge revolver. Ya know, like most dogs do. He also has a way with words leading to one of my favourite quotes: "Holy jumping mother o' god in a side-car with chocolate jimmies and a lobster bib! We're on our way!". Sam is a good dog.

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There you have it, my top 5 dogs in video games. Disagree with any of them? Well SCREW YOU THEY ARE GOOD DOGS. Nah, I'm joking, drop a comment below and let me know who I should have included!

Harlan x

 

Do genre's matter anymore?


HarlanTV

(NB: This is a weird write up/observation/train of thought, a random subject I was thinking about on the train the other day...)

 

Genres are a funny thing right? How many times has someone asked you what type of music do you like, expecting you to respond with an overall genre: "oh rock, indie, ya know". Personally I don't really like that question, or rather, I don't understand it. My Spotify playlists have everything from classical to rock to hard techno. So I normally just say "everything.. anything I like".

Looking at the music industry, it's safe to say that over the past 15 years, you have seem genre's merging, being mashed up and toyed with to create something new. Electronic artists coupling with rock guitarists and epic drums. Brass bands with drum and bass rhythms (see London Elektricity Big Band). It seems to be a natural progression for the music industry, as it strives to create a new sound, or even a new genre by splicing two together. It works too, look at Daft Punk and Nile Rodgers - Get Lucky.

You can see the same happening in gaming too. Most obvious and long standing example is Action RPG, very popular right now and a term associated with big AAA titles. It would always be a natural progression of games to head into genre busting teriotaty as systems get more powerful, and gamers want more creative content.

My question is: do we need genres?

As genres merge, evolve, and accelerate over time, what use is defining games by genres. I understand the need to classify games in a broad strokes fashion. Human's LOVE to categorise things. It's an actual neurological urge. It helps the brains organise data, and make associations. My problem with that is, does it stifle creativity? 

I recently did a training at work, and part of it looked at 'Rivers of thinking'. Basically if you work in a certain way, or think in a repeated fashion, you form deep rivers of thinking. Meaning that you form strong associations between topics and data. However if you want to change those rivers of thinking (aka think outside the box), the deeper they are the harder it is to do.  What am I telling you this? I think that defining genres for games from the outset formulates deep rivers of thinking, and stifles creativity.

Now, if I had done research for this piece, I would have spoken to a dev or two, and get their opinions or even coping mechanisms, to see how they approach this. But following some game developments in the past I commonly see 'we wanted to created a space sim so that's what we did'. Is that really the best approach? Why confine yourself to rules from the off? Why not have a story, a  concept, a piece of art, and progress from there? I understand the technical implications would be more difficult, but if devs want to be truly creative, it wouldn't be a bad idea. Let the genre develop over time.

 

Waffle over, I'll leave you with this: I want a Warhammer 40k RTS (like dawn of war) but you can switch to an on field commander to control FPS style. Devs.. GO

Harlan.

 

 

EA's Last Chance - A Star Wars Story


HarlanTV

Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order is EA's last chance at keeping the Star Wars license. Here's why I think so:

 

A Lucrative Licence

Imagine having exclusive rights to one of the largest franchises in entertainment history. Now imagine everyone hating you for this fact. This is EA. They have their hands on a multi-billion dollar monster of a franchise, and one that is growing year on year. Since Disney's $4 billion purchase of LucasFilm back in 2012, they have laid out a grand plan from a cinematic perspective. This includes the new Skywalker story arc, the stand alone Star Wars stories (which IMO are brilliant) and the upcoming series The Mandalorian. A very punchy production schedule, and one that is delivering a medium to high standard of content. But what about the games? 

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George being George

EA has held the license for Star Wars since 2013, and since then has produced a sorry 2 "full" star wars games: Battlefront 1 and 2. Oh and a heap of mobile cash-grab garbage that aren't even worth commenting on. Whilst Battlefront 1 was average at best, we all know Battlefront 2 was a complete mess. A game some fundamentally intertwined in monetisation that 2 years later they are still trying to untangle the mess they created with updates and additional content (which apparently are not bad, more on that in the future).

So where does this leave EA and the Star Wars franchise? The conditions of the Star Wars license sets out and expiration date of 2023, so with less that 4 years to go, EA have really yet to prove themselves as a worthy developer to produce an experience fans can truly enjoy. Experiences such as Tie Fighter, Rogue Squadron or Jedi Knight 2. The clock is ticking, and EA need to act.

Graveyard of Games

EA could have been in a better position, but for reasons that still aren't clear, they have cancelled a number of Star Wars projects which from the little information we have, sounded promising. For example Star Wars 1313 was slated as a gritty bounty hunter title set on Coruscant. It had some impressive concept art and even had an E3 demo that sent the Star Wars fanbase in bit of a spin. 

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"It's as if a million fanboys cried out when 1313 got cancelled"

Another example was 'Project RagTag' which had the talented Amy Hennig (Uncharted) attached to it, and was planned to be produced by Visceral Studios. That was however, until EA decided to put a bullet in Visceral's head, and the game was dusted.

Lessons Learned?

Pressure is certainly mounting on EA to produce a Star Wars game that does the franchise justice and appeals to actual fans. And with the 2023 deadline looming on the horizon, rumors have already started spreading that Disney will not be renewing their contract. To me, it no longer makes much sense to a behemoth like Disney to outsource work like this. Not when they can whip up a game studio in no time with the seemingly endless resources they have.

So enter stage left Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. Produced by Respawn (Apex Legends), and slated for release in November (to captialise on the movie hype at the time). Jedi Fallen Order is seemingly EA's last and largest chance at retaining the license, and also producing a worthy Star Wars game. The marketing to date has been amusingly informative. Developers have repeatedly stressed that it is a single player game, with no loot boxes and no micro-transactions. They are obviously eager to regain trust in fans who were heavily burnt by the Battlefront 2 debacle. In fact Respawn have been eager to point out that EA's involvement has been minimal. It's a hilarious state of affairs when studios are distancing themselves from their own publisher to ensure players stay interested.

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A last hope?

So have EA learned their lesson from Battlefront 2? Only time will tell when Jedi Fallen Order releases later this year. The signs are promising, and EA might even get to keep the franchise should it be a success. But I'm sure you and many others will agree with me when I say, that is not a good thing. Which leaves us in a predicament, we want a good game, but we also don't want EA to keep the license. We shall just have to wait and see what Disney decides.

May the force be with us

Harlan

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zero to Hero - The Journey of No Man's Sky


HarlanTV

It doesn't seem too long ago since Hello Games was being burned at the stake by an incensed online mob following the initial of release of No Man's Sky, and I have to admit I was pretty disappointed myself. But fast forward two and half years and the sentiment has changed: The NMS community is positive, the developers are sincere and the outlook is promising.

What caused this change? How did NMS go from hot garbage to hawt shit? Here's my thoughts:

 

The Hype Machine

I think one of the core issues with the NMS launch was a combination of insatiable online hype along with a pressured development studio wanting to maximise that opportunity. Rewind to before the games launch and Hello Games had been subtly introducing themselves into the gaming arena through events, particularly their announcement at the VGX awards back in 2013. Soon after they had caught the attention of Sony, who's keen eyes saw the gaming market was craving a new-gen space sim. Sony ultimately funded and help market NMS in preparation for it's launch, and as an indie studio Hello Games couldn't be happier.

This is where I believe things went awry: News and features for NMS began to roll our frequently throughout 2015, culminating in a released date being announced at Paris Game Week during a Sony press conference. From that time things went shaky. NMS dropped from further expos and event with Sean Murray (Lead Director for NMS) stating he wants to devote more time to polish.: "we get one shot to make this game and we can't mess it up." - The weight of the sentence even more visible now. It was clear from that, and other interviews and tweets that NMS wasn't quite ready. My opinion is that Sony wanted to get first-to-market with a new space sim and ride the hype that was palpable at the time. Hype is great tool for marketing, and just being on reddit and twitter it was clear how excited some people were for this game (especially since preorders had exceeded expectations)

Then the game launched, and quickly people realised large portions of what had been promised were not in the game. Including a fundamental component: multiplayer. The following weeks of the launch NMS was slated and review bombed across the board. Many angry that they had been misled, missold and lied too. On a lot of components these people were correct. To make matters worse, Sean Murray and Hello Games went silent. They stopped tweeting, declined interviews and were non-existent as the hate poured out.

 

Update, Update, Update

Faced with one of the largest backlashes in the gaming community, Hello Games had a mountain to climb to bring back players and bring back integrity to them and the game. In November 2016 (a couple months after release) they broke their silence and released the Foundations update. This update fixed many of the bugs, fundamental features and components of the game. Received well by many, they managed to claw back a lot of the gamer base that had initially left (steam numbers going from hundreds to thousands).

This seemed to be the new strategy for Hello Games: Full, comprehensive updates, with little to no details announced before they are ready. The subsequent updates started to add a lot of what was promised. 'Pathfinder' added planetary vehicles, 'Atlas Rises' added a new story arc, 'NEXT' (arguably the most important update) added full multiplayer, feighters, enhanced graphics and heaps more. 'Abyss' and 'Visions' added underwater and a wide variety of biomes and environments.

This update schedule seemed to work, with average player base across platforms steadily rising after each update, and all the while Hello Games were cautious with their communication of such updates.

 

Humbled Devs

The interesting thing to note is how Hello Games have conducted themselves throughout. Let's face it, they screwed up big time at launch and released half a game. But their subsequent attitude has brought NMS to a great place. Other studios and their parent companies may have just moved on (ahem EA), some may have lashed back at the community (ahem Blizzard) but Hello Games listened, they listened to the hate, the feedback and abuse (I mean who sends death/bomb threats to a game studio?).

Since then they have been quiet and confident with what they have been working on, showing only fully built features and communicating honestly and openly

 

What's Next

The future looks promising for No Man's Sky. Sean has promised heaps of updates to fully deliver on the vision that was promised, and the upcoming update shows this with support for VR. Further updates are promised, and the player base has been increasing over time. The response from the community has also been positive, online sentiment has shifted. Old players are returning, and things are on the up.

I think this is a tale a lot of studios and publishers should learn from. Whether the lesson is not rushing to market, or managing your game post-launch, Hello Games set an example in delivering what is promised.

Harlan

NB This post probably sounds like I'm a Hello Games shill, but honestly I'm impressed with what they have done

 

 

 

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