A franchise chilled

This and the two previous posts would’ve formed good ol’ fashioned Monthly Three I put into indefinite hiatus, though this time it’s more or less on an accident of sorts. All in all, these should’ve been one long post.

A franchise has to have quality that is expected of it or higher. A fluke here and there is expected, but overall speaking a title in a series has to deliver at least to its core fans. When it comes to games, each and every title seem to be important and a drop in sales will be taken seriously. Seeing how the game industry barely understands how to hit the Blue Ocean market (making games easy or dumbing them down for “accessibility” is laughably weak method,) it is understandable how a franchise can fail miserably when its quality is weakened by newly added elements that are supposedly aiming to expand some aspects of the franchise.

I’m not really sure how Mass Effect got where it is now. As a franchise it was hailed as one of the stronger new franchise introduced during the Seventh Console Generation. Overall, it had a good balance between hitting the census of the consumers of the era (economics have changed quite a bit during the last decade) to the extent of Mass Effect being considered as one of the bigger franchises in the industry on par of the likes of Metal Gear. These are of course up to contention, to my knowledge no Mass Effect game has not been perfect enough to be considered for pachislot conversion.

However, as things tend to be in the industry, game sequels seem to get more attention from those who put the money down on these things. Mass Effect 3‘s colour coded ending has become infamous, but if the rumours are to be believed, EA was the one that put their boot down with the deadlines and BioWare had to relocate the “real ending” to DLC. Whatever the case is, Mass Effect 3‘s ending (and some argue the whole game) is below the average quality the consumers expected from the franchise. The ending is just one of the examples why Mass Effect 3 was panned by the core fans, mostly regarding contradictions in the setting, and inconsistencies regarding BioWare’s statements during development and how the game ended up being.

And a franchise it really is. While here up North we barely get anything relating to the spin-offs or licensed products, Mass Effect 2 and 3 had a huge ad campaign in magazines, television and in stores. Comparatively speaking, game ads have all but dried out from the general media, telling more about how they’re marketed and what the targeted consumers are than about their success. However, pretty much all fans of the franchise I’ve known have talked me about the mobile games, books, comics and whatnot. Even a movie based on the franchise has been under works since 2010, but very little has come of it.

It’s no wonder Mass Effect would go to a small hiatus. The trilogy had come to its more or less natural conclusion and the final part didn’t exactly match up what was expected. At times like this companies tend to take a small break and return when there is renewed interest. However, it would seem the franchise has now been put in ice for the time being due to the lacklustre success of the latest game, Mass Effect: Andromeda. While we can debate the finer details why the game performed worse than expected, the first bit that sounded alarms bells with yours truly when with the announcement of the game running on a new engine, which means you will see, hear and feel Mass Effect like never before. That’s a direct quote too. Clearly they missed the part that games need to play better than any of these.

Andromeda took five years and forty million dollars to develop. That sort of money and time is expected to deliver higher profits and far better reception. Alas, they the developers couldn’t even put a gun the right way in. Then you have issues of gameplay being worse than its ten years older progenitor and animations being absolutely all over the place and the plot’s not all that good either. Effectively, pretty much everything that should make a game great is sub-par. Andromeda overall shows how lack of quality control and professionalism, opting for making whatever brew you think would work the best.

It’s no wonder after an abysmal entry, the games went under hiatus. Sadly, Andromeda is probably the best example of current Tripple A games in the industry. One has to wonder where did the money go during the development. It doesn’t show up in the final production. When a franchise’s fame has taken a hit two times in a row, with the second making pretty much everyone who was involved a laughingstock, it is a good idea to take a step back and put the things on hold.

To use an example with Godzilla, Toho has put the franchise into ice three times over. First one was after the second movie when they had no idea how to continue properly onwards, though I still want to see Bride of Godzilla? realised in some form. The second time was in the 1970’s when the movies stopped bringing in enough profits, though the quality had dropped a lot since then. 1995’s Godzilla VS Destoroyah was supposed to end the franchise in Japan and have Hollywood continue it, but alas that was not to be. Godzilla was brought back fast in 1999, after the American attempt failed, and then was put back into ice after Godzilla: Final Wars. 2014 saw a new American Godzilla, and 2016 showcased us what I’m going to call a the bets modern Godzilla made in form of Shin Godzilla.

When a notable franchise like Godzilla returns after a significant hiatus, it is usually with a new take that is intended to make an impact. If a new Mass Effect game would be done right now, it would carry the baggage of Andromeda for the worse. As much as fans would like to see a game made right away to remedy the situation, sometimes it’s better just to wait for things to settle down and let time give more perspective on things. Whatever was done, be it due to corporate or personal interests from the developers’, the game took a sledgehammer to the franchise and damaged it. A hiatus also allows the developers and publishers to look into other options and possibly put resources into new IPs, though my personal trust in EA or BioWare has never been worth mentioning.

What is apparent that whatever happened during production of Mass Effect: Andromeda, it’s clear that the no research was done on what the consumers really wanted or needed, and that’s probably the worst offence a provider can do; not giving a jack shit about the consumer.

Bioware, we’re the gods to listen

Bioware has proudly again that the industry, and they themselves especially, need to change. According to them the fans want Day 1 DLC.

So. Bioware ignores what the whole possible customer base says and concentrates either on their own opinion, or towards their own small customer base. Do people want Day 1 DLC? No, people want content to be on the disc that the game should already have. In Mass Effect’s case I have to question who the hell was stupid enough to say Let’s put the real ending into DLC format? Why would have they wanted to remove this from their game? They were selling an incomplete game to a full price, because if the game doesn’t its ending, then it’s incomplete. Nobody buys a book, then buy an extra magazine that has the last chapter of the book.

“In our case, when we look at completion rates for our games, consistently less than half of our players actually finish even once.”

Why should it matter to Bioware if the players finish the game? When you’ve made a sale, you’ve got their money. There’s no reason to follow how your product is used afterwards. If players do not finish the game, then it’s their matter, not the company’s. Is the ego of Bioware so huge that every player has to finish their game on their watch?

What Bioware is essentially doing here is that they’re telling their customers’ what they want. Bioware, you’re the peasant. We, the customers, are the gods. If you want your fields to give food, then worship us. Otherwise we’re going to nothing by harsh sun and sandstorms, ravaging your wineyards and killing your stock. We’re the one’s that have the power to say what we want and what we do not want.

Day 1 DLC, or on-disc DLC, is clearly something that the gods do not want.

DLC has always been publisher and developer friendly, and hostile to customers. I have to ask this once more; what makes you get STEAM or Origin, where you have no power over your games? Why would you screw yourself?

Some time ago I got in a debate with a friend about whether or not it was right that STEAM was in complete control of its users’ games. Ultimately he said that he didn’t care. A PC gamer didn’t care. What have we come to when a PC gamer didn’t care whether or not he could access his games tomorrow?

When customer loses his will to care about the product, shit’s going down and in the good way. It’s a downhill road that moment onwards.

If Bioware fans want the DLC so hard, why not putting it in the game and make it complete? DLC nowadays is completely stupid anyway, they don’t add anything to games, the give parts that should already be there. It’s like a puzzle to which you need to buy the missing parts just because.

I’ve bought DLC once and I regret it.

Right now, the problem is multi-fold and extremely complex.

But, it isn’t. Why are used games sales so high? Because people want to get rid of their games. If they would make games that have higher value to the customer, they would stay on their shelves. And to be honest, the used games sales do not cut their revenues, as the product in question has been already sold. The best way to ensure that people buy your product new is to make it worth the purchase by making it a good damn game.

I ask you this; do you want the game industry to take the turn for the better, or for the worse. If you want it to get better, start voting with your wallet and stop purchasing their products until the industry manages to get their heads for their assess.




Continuity of sequels

Game sequels usually follow the same strict continuing structure as books and films. Sometimes they don’t have anything to do with each other except the names and general overall idea. The only continuity as such is just there, not really doing anything. In most cases plot is the thread that connects everything together, even in video games for better or worse. As games are a generally an interactive form of entertainment as opposed to more traditional mediums, they can, could and should convey continuing playing of one series from instalment to instalment.

How this continuing game then could be made? Before memory cards it was downright impossible to do on consoles and arcades machines. With the invention of memory cards the same method can be done on consoles, and to some extent with arcade machines as well; the save in one game carries some significance to the other. This is a balancing act, as putting too much emphasize on the saved data will always push out new players.

The Second Super Robot Wars Z; Chapter of Rebirth, or SRWZ2.2 Saisei Hen, puts it so that some already obtained skills carry over from the previous game, but nothing that truly makes a large difference. It mostly rewards returning players with continuity so that their effort in previous game does not go to waste. Similar thing was done in an earlier SRW game, Super Robot Wars F and F Final, where character levels and skills would directly jump from the previous game to other.

This is good kind of continuity. It rewards the player to start from the first one because it has impact on the later game. It’s not too overt that it would push new players away and keeps its doors open.

Mass Effect, while looks really good on paper with player selection carrying over, does things a bit wrong. The selections, player’s own character and all that carries over and that’s good. However, nothing else really does. The player still starts basically from naught. He might as well start a new game, because the ending in Mass Effect 3 doesn’t really fetch will to play the first two parts. Then again, the amount of game play and story in Mass Effect games is completely bonkers and some mechanics are more or less completely horrible and broken. Well, PC games and their emphasize on story…

Game saves could always play a bigger role. I’m not talking about story elements because those don’t matter. I’m speaking of affecting mechanics and gameplay. While truly either, the way Metal Gear Solid digs up save data and displays certain deviations according to that shows that this gimmick could be more. For example, imagine if you had all of the Mario Sports games saves on your memory card. Every game could read what saves you’ve got there and open some interesting hidden options etc and add player outfits or the like. Still not really gameplay effecting stuff, but it would show a link between the games.

RPGs are the biggest genre that would benefit from save continuity. For example, player’s characters would carry their experience, weapons and so on from a game to another. At least Legend of Heroes; Trails in the Sky is known to do this. This would affect how the game is played initially, as well as giving a complete continuity between the games rather than doing Metroid’s way and making the player start from the scratch, even if this doesn’t make sense in the story’s narrative or setting. It’s keeps the continuation cohesive from game to game, and adds some content and credibility.

I’ve been talking a lot of story continuity and all that even thou they do not matter in the end. However, it has to be taken into account, as even the simplest stories have to have credible cohesion. Mega Man Zero and Zero 2 have nice cohesion and neat tricks linking the two games. Initially the in-game menu screen resembles the first game’s screen, but battered and broken with unfunctioning weapons. After the intro stage the game updates the menu screen with a new sleek look and the doctor fixes the weapons, as well as modifies one. Neat and done without save transferring. It wouldn’t be hard to do this in any sequel, but it’s never made. It adds to the game world those little things you notice and like.

Another game series that uses extensive save unlocking is Xenosaga. It mostly unlocks swimsuits to the characters or the like, but it adds to the game. Sometimes the swimsuits are actual items that can be worn in-game and have decent stats for a new game, or are just for fanservice. Most likely for both.

Perfect reason to post gynoids in their swimsuits

Now the question is why to do this kind of thing at all? First of all, it adds to the game’s world and content, even if little. Players with completed save data are rewarded of their loyalty and efforts for the game, and new players most likely will get interested in the previous game as well, thus gaining a new, perhaps even loyal customer to the company. A customer is more important to a company than anything else, at least it should be. While the method how the game recognizes a previous save is easy, but what it does and balancing the effects is always a bit harder, but that’s what the game designers and programmers are paid for to do. To deliver us a good game that we, the customers, want.

Get rid of story, replace it with gameplay

People are talking about stories within video games thanks to Skyrim and Mass Effect 3. Some people I’m communing with praise Skyrim for its storytelling and options the game gives the player. They’re mainly computer game players, so let’s give them a little bit of credit.

But video games are games. In their inherent nature they do not need a story. In Mass Effect the first three hours I spent more time trying to skip through the story because I wanted to play the game, and then I ended up with horrible driving sequences. Sure, Mass Effect gives immersion and player is the main character and all that, but why does this come into gameplay’s way?

Video games have their own way of storytelling. It’s a combination of show-do-not-tell and interactivity. What most games use is traditional narration via walls of text and videos, which is sad. It’s easier to use traditional narrative as you have books upon books how to write a story and make a film. How to tell a story through games’ own methods is still an undiscovered country. I can’t really think any good examples, and tells something particular.

However, I’ll give you an example of three games that do not have a story, but then showcase certain level of video game storytelling outside traditional narrative. These three games are Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Sonic the Hedgehog 3. But Aalto, Sonic does have story! Just take a look at the manual! you tell me now. Now, take a look at Sonic 1 again. In what portion of the game you see a story being told? No story seen.

Sonic 1 is an incredible game even now. It’s balanced, gives the player multiple options to choose from and storytelling doesn’t get into the way. Most likely you’ve played the game without knowing anything of the story, either through your siblings or via an emulator the cheeky bastard you are, where manuals usually are non-existant. When you play the game, you notice the simple and intuitive controls, and animals popping out from defeated enemies. In the end of Act 3 you see this fat Roosevelt-esque man with his own theme trying to maul your with a wrecking ball. After that, you pop a capsule open and release bunch of animals to the wilderness for wolfs to hunt. You don’t need any text or videos to tell what’s going on; the Roosevelt knock-off seems to be trapping animals into robots and Sonic’s there to stop him. It’s all how the game shows it to you.

Similarly Sonic 2 just goes with it. However, there’s more cinematic of sorts to showcase clone-Roosevelt’s mighty array of weaponry in the later levels. Sonic 3 then adds more traditional cutscenes where the player is unable to control Sonic, and we can safely say that from that moment on Sonic series took a dive. However, Sonic 3 keep the story progression extremely coherent, stringing every Act and Zone together in a logical manner. And yes; every stage in the game is part of the story.

I’ve hammered this point before; in games where there is a story, every second on-screen is part of the story. The gameplay is an integral part of the story, if there’s a story given within the game itself.

It would actually be nice to get a mod to Mass Effect where it removes every portion of the story so that it’d string all the proper gameplay portions together. Of course they wouldn’t do that, as it would cut 2/3 from the game. Most people who grew up solely on computer games will always want to see more traditional narrative in their game, as the most revered computer games are text heavy, like Monkey Island and Ultima series. Arcade players value more direct gameplay, whereas console players can really got the bets of both worlds.

Angry Birds is a rare example of a computer game, which doesn’t hold story in its game. This is partially the reason why it has sold so well.

Story is also intimidating. It’s far more difficult to get into a video game when you have Lord of the Rings or Sinuhe level amount of text in there to read from the get-go. When you got simple gameplay as the main dish, it’s much easier to attract customers. Vast majority of customers do not get into games to read and experience vast and complex stories; they get into games they can play. The people who are into games for the stories are small minority, a loud minority to boot.

This is one key for a successful game, a part of the silver bullet into making a hit video game; less traditional narrative, let the players play through the story… or don’t include a story at all. It’ll probably suck anyway. Put more gameplay there, it’s much easier and more rewarding to everybody.

The saying “If I want a story, I’d read a book” hits the mark. Video games are not there to give you a story or drama. It’s films’ and books’ job. Games are not there to make you experience wonders or the like. Games are there to be played and to be enjoyed through that. This is what all players really want from their games, even if there are bunch of them wanting a good story; ultimately these people will also skip the scenes they find boring.

If you look through the video game history, you’ll see that the best games, the most valued, have little to do with stories within them, like such a small game called Super Mario Brothers.

The Unfolding Story

To continue my theme of the weekend I’ll discuss a bit about plot’s role in both films and video games.
As discussed previously the visuals have been taking a lot place in both medium. HD graphics do not convey the story, but the actors do. In films’ case it’s the literal actors, may it be either robotic dinosaurs or humans. In games the actor is the player. If the actor in a film can’t convey the story with his acting, the story suffers. However, if the control in a game prevent the player from “acting” the game’s story (ie. game’s play) suffers. What I’m saying that even if films need a story, the reason why it exists, games do not. Video Games do not need a story to be good games, but they do need to answer the most core question on ‘why.’ Pac-man’s reason is the pills it eats, in Galaga the player has to defeat the enemies and in Mario the player has to save the princess. These are not stories. They are reasons. A film can’t become a proper film without a story that act’s as the answer, because the viewer has to invest his own feelings to the actor. In video games the actor is already there and investment has been made the moment player starts to play.

Usually games that are heralded as great examples of video game storytelling are decent at best. Mass Effect might have a vast and complex story, but I couldn’t care less how and why because the gameplay was boring and unintuitive. All the vehicles felt like floating balloons with no mass or effect to their surroundings. In all, the game didn’t fair well as a game. Because I wasn’t invested in the game enough I stopped playing rather early on. But it gets better later on, yells somebody in the distance. I’d ask how, but I know the answer; the story gets better. Why would I give a rat’s ass about the story of a game if the gameplay doesn’t convey it?
Super Mario Bros. has only one or two points of story told in the manual. The rest of the “story” is told my the actions of the player.
But Aalt, the player can change the storyline in Mass Effect as well! Oh shut up you, the player has illusion of affecting the story. You can save people in places only after you’ve killed all the Geths. You can run most of Super Mario levels without killing a simple Goomba. Things like this matter more than developers think.

How would a film fare if the viewer has no investment to the characters? It wouldn’t fare at all. However, nowadays film studios seem to invest more on the big name actor and visuals than the core. If a viewer is already invested in a particular actor, then he has no reason to get invested to the character. The answer already is there. The second way is to get the viewer invested whatever happens on the screen rather than what is beneath it. People who enjoy films simply due to the pretty visuals are increasing, similarly how people who enjoy dull gameplay have grown in numbers. These two crowds usually go hand in hand.
I’m not putting off these people who enjoy visuals. I too enjoy the visuals but they should not be the main aspect.

It all boils to the simple point that games are not films. Using the exact same way storytelling doesn’t work. Games are a young medium that was not allowed to have a healthy growth. Because of prejudice and outright fear of games people demanded them to convey intellectual content. They should have a story, they should be more realistic, they should have more moral values, they should teach and so on. Films got a lot of same flak when the invention of motion picture was young, but it grew and became one of the biggest entertainment industries. Electronic games have grown in a different kind of environment which basically suffocated their growth. When people in the game industry finally realize that they need to something that is inherently unique to games rather than just taking from elsewhere.

I’m afraid that this will never come to fruition because of the industry refuses to do so. Films ultimately have found their own way of telling a story. To endorse unhealthy growth of games even further will only result in unhealthy games like Mass Effect, games that people will regard as masterpieces because the effects given by the other industries.