Monday, December 31, 2018

Hopes and Predictions for the Gaming Industry in 2019

I've been struggling to come up with a topic for the last post of the year. While China has finally begun approving new games into their market, surprisingly none of them from Tencent (me thinks they are trying to send a message to the company), and Soulja Boy pulling his consoles due to a potential lawsuit, the gaming news today is pretty standard for end of the year content. Best games of 2018. Best games of 2019. Most anticipated games of 2019. You know the drill. I'm surprised those stories still gain clicks given how so many are copy, paste, repeats every year.

Instead, I thought I would make this a post of what I hope to see in video games in 2019. There is no ranking. There is no status of one point being more important than another. As gaming continues to grow, the medium needs to mature as well. Video games and growing up. So too must the community and the studios that make them. While I expect most of these changes to not happen immediately, if the catalyst begins, that will be a victory:

- Real action against online harassment. Here's the deal. No one's system for handling harassment in video games is working. So many of the reporting tools against griefing/harassing behavior are too basic and offer no consequences to the harasser. You click a button, type a few words, and hit send. Hopefully the report is reviewed. Most likely it's not. And the harasser continues to target others. We've been shouting for years to have more tools that allow gamers to feel safe from those who are harassing us. Developers need to have the balls to step up and say they have our backs. Otherwise they're going to lose large sections of the audience to other games; eventually other mediums.

- Developers enforce and support a video game union. 2018 was the year where people openly admitted that being in the gaming industry really sucked if you want to be a functional human being. Several Quantic Dreams, Rockstar, and Telltale Games employees all spoke about the working conditions they had to endure in order to keep their jobs, keep their names on the games, and "for the art." 60-80 hours a week of work is rough. Do it for 3 months and see how exhausted you feel, mentally and physically. While my work stress may not be on the level as a Rockstar employee, having been in "crunch" mode for 6 months, I can agree how much it 150% sucks to do it. And the repercussions for standing up against it, for saying no, for trying to get out are dire. It could spell the end of your career in the gaming industry. We need developers to start forming a union or work with Game Works Unite to create a solid foundation for conditions. The way developers work everywhere must improve. Jobs must be secure. Things have to change in the industry to make it better. It is impossible to sustain a model like this.

- A call to change loot boxes. 2018 was also the year of loot boxes. The ESRB added a new line to their label regarding loot boxes. Belgium is fining companies with games that break their new loot box law. Even the Federal Trade Commission will investigate the matter. The last one is very important as it could have far-reaching consequences in how much the government intervenes in video games and creates new regulatory practices. It could be bad. What developers need to do is stop passing the blame and claim that loot boxes are not a form of gambling. They are. We know it. Stand next to a poker machine in Las Vegas and watch the bright lights and sounds. It's no different then the joy of opening up a shiny loot box. Developers need to find a way to curb the problem now before governments take control of the industry, and we see darker days ahead.

- Stop giving retailers advance notice of games. If you don't want them to break news early, that is. WalMart Canada has been a problem child this year, twice naming and posting game content well before the developers were ready to release the news. This isn't a one time situation. This happens quite often. My time at GameStop showed that you can't trust retailers. So stop giving them free license to post info that you're not ready to share with the public. Keep your games to yourself until you are ready to go live. Or make retailers pay up if they break NDA.

- eSports needs rules of conduct. As of this writing, the Overwatch League still has a very vague overview of what is considered acceptable conduct as a member of a team or staff with the League. Everything is open to interpretation. If we want and expect eSports to be taken seriously by the rest of the world, we need rules of conduct. We need to show people that yes, we can be held to a higher standard and act as an example for other gamers and children. Yes, we're going to continue to kick out players like xQc (speaking of, hey Twitch, stop recommending his channel to me. He is not to be promoted for his homophobic views, okay?) from the League for not adhering to standard sportsmanship behavior. Or standard human behavior. It still baffles me that he was allowed to play in the world championship at all this year given how toxic he is. If every other sport in the world has strict codes of conduct that must be followed as a player and employee, so too eSports must do the same. The world does not need kids growing up to be like xQc.

- Stop making video game movies. Just, stop. Please. We do not want this Monster Hunter abomination that is being created. No more. Video game movies were bad this year. We're done. We're not going to flood the theaters to see these horrible things any more. We're ready to admit defeat. Hollywood tried. They failed. Let's move on to another genre/medium to deface. No movie will ever beat the glory of 'Ace Attorney.' We need to leave it at that.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Geek Spot 2019 Most Anticipated Games

With 2019 around the corner, there is a lot to look forward to with video games. Our hobby continues to churn out impressive titles that rival some of the best storytelling imaginable. Which means more games will go into the backlog, because as an adult it's difficult to find time to play every game out there. But! That doesn't make next year any less exciting. Here are a few games that I'm looking forward to:

- Anthem. The new BioWare IP has been building some impressive buzz over the past few years. With each teaser and gaming footage released, the content looks better and better. It's a sci-fi hodgepodge of...well I don't really know. I'm intrigued by the visuals, art, combat, and arching narrative. It looks like an elevated game that BioWare needed to make. I'm curious to see what comes from it. It also doesn't hurt that some of the lead team members, like Michael Darrah and Michael Gamble, have been vocal on Twitter with answering questions about the game; helping calm some of the concerns for BioWare's future. Let's hope this game works.

- Diablo: Immortal. I know this got a lot of backlash at Blizzcon when it was announced, but the Diablo series moving to a mobile platform is a big deal. Mobile gaming, whether you like it or not, is the biggest market. Blizzard taking another step into it with a classic title will help solidify their stake. From the footage, the game looks very much like a traditional Diablo game. I'm curious to see what additional content is added in, if it's going to be "pay to play" or "freemium" and what the money shop situation will end up being. As a fan of the series, I want to try it out. Give it a fair shot and then make a decision on how I feel about the quality of the product. Knee-jerk reactions are not my thing.

- Devil May Cry 5. With the recent missteps of Capcom regarding this game, they are sure trying their best to turn the tides. I've enjoyed DMC for years and to have another game bearing it's name coming out soon is exciting. It's not only something fans have wanted for a long time, but it appears it's going to be a game that is meant to appeal to a broader audience. The teasers and trailers make the game feel like it's not limited to the hard core fans. My one peeve with DMC is that it can be unfriendly to new-commers if you haven't played from the beginning. So this new turn would be welcomed...assuming that is the case! Regardless, I'm buying. I need to know what happens next.

- Luigi's Mansion 3. If there is a game that could be considered a "cult classic" with Nintendo, Luigi's Mansion would quality. This version will be the first console edition of the series since the GameCube. There is an undeniably quirky charm to the mansion that continues to enchant us. We needed more. Roaming around as Luigi with a big backpack, sucking up ghosts in a haunted house, well it's silly. And fun. And whimsical. And hilarious. And we're getting it again next year!

- Code Vein. Only recently stumbling upon this title, Code Vein is an action, role-playing game being developed by Bandai Namco Entertainment. Set in a dystopian future with vampires and everyone looks like an anime character. Cool. But it's pulling from games like Dark Souls and NiER for inspiration with it's battle mechanics. It was originally meant to be released this year but has been delayed for an unspecified 2019 date. It looks like a confusing anime game on the level of Persona, so of course I'm in.

- Final Fantasy XIV: Shadowbringers. I play a lot of FF14 and I'm excited for the next expansion. Releasing in the summer of 2019, Shadowbringers is taking the Warrior of Light (aka you) on a very different, dark path. So much of the franchise up to this point has focused on you and your fellow adventurers working as a team to bring down the evils in the world. After the teaser and artwork were released at Fan Fest last month, it's clear that things are going to change. I can't wait to see where SquareEnix takes us next with the story!

Honorable mentions:

- Ghosts of Tsushima. This game does not have a release date set, but if it's 2019, I will be buying it. The game play at E3 was phenomenal.

- A full-sized Commodore 64. Okay it's not a game, but a re-release of a vintage console with a working keyboard. It's silly. And it's freekin' cool.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

The Oddity of Soulja Boy Consoles - Why Are They Still Up For Sale?

Update 12/30/18: The consoles have been removed from Soulja Boy's website pending a potential lawsuit.

It is strangely fascinating that Nintendo has not publicly filed a lawsuit against the rapper Soulja Boy for selling knock-off consoles holding Nintendo games without their consent.

For some reason, the rapper decided to start selling gaming systems in time for the holidays. The consoles look like ripped off variations of the Game Boy, PS4, and DS for ridiculously high prices. The "SouljaGame" systems all come preinstalled with various games and are claimed to be able to play Switch and 3DS games, all the way back to Neo Geo.

There are so many legal issues with this I don't know where to begin. After his initial tweet of selling the consoles, many were quick to criticize that he was buying replica systems and selling them for way more than their value. For the "SouljaGame Handheld" even the color of the letters for the buttons is the same as the Abernic knock-off. And to make claims that the systems can play Nintendo and Sony products is bold. Unless he has made a deal with those companies directly to sell their games on his "consoles," what he is doing is incredibly illegal. Given how Nintendo is very protective of their brand and willing to sue anything with Mario's face on it, it's a shock that they haven't stepped in yet to tell the rapper to stop.

To make the situation even more ridiculous, Soulja Boy claimed in a now deleted tweet that over 5 million of "his" consoles have been purchased. It took Nintendo's Switch, a very popular console even now, 9-10 months to sell 4.8 million units in the U.S. It is not easy to make, brand, and market a new gaming system if you are not one of the big three (Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony). To make the bold claim that you "consoles" sold more than Nintendo in 1 month is absurd.

Making matters worse, the rapper began harassing gamers and those criticizing his console by using homophobic slurs. This man wants to start an eSports franchise in 2019. At this point, we can only hope Nintendo steps in and stops the madness. We do not need a man like him acting as a representative of gamers.

Monday, December 24, 2018

How to Make Your Video Game Gift Extra Special

Whatever holiday you celebrate, this seems like a good of a time as any to offer some quick tips to ensure you and your loved ones have an enjoyable festivus with video games. Because as we all know, getting a new game or a new console is not as easy as opening the package and running to the TV/PC to play. Nope. It's way more complicated these days. So what can you do to make your gift giving easier on your sanity?

- Pre-install the game. For Fallout:76 it took nearly 7 hours to install the game onto my PS4. It was maddening. And I still need the disc to play it. With virtually every console game these days, you have to do some form of system installation, new user account set-up with the game developer, run patches; it seems like games actively prevent you from playing them straight  out of the box. And when you're excited to play, the last thing you want to do is wait. So save your loved one those precious hours and install/update the game for them. It'll be a surprise they won't expect and make their holiday brighter.

- Set up the console so it's ready to play. This may spoil the surprise and requires a bit of diversion to keep your gift recipient at bay, but it's an extra step to the gift that they will adore. Especially if you gift them a Nintendo DS or Switch, which requires some downtime for the battery to charge up.

- You might need to get an online subscription too. Let's face it. "Always Online" is becoming a huge trend with games. Which means that if your recipient doesn't have PlayStation Plus or XBox Gold, that new game they received won't be playable. Nintendo soon will have a paid online service that will be required. If your gift requires an online connection, make sure the receiver has one. Or change your gift to a sub!

- Go digital to save time and space. While some companies still won't e-mail codes and content on specific holidays, giving the gift a few days early isn't a deal breaker like it use to be. Digital downloads are typically a little faster and easier to manage since no physical disc is required to play. And less boxes to clean up once the gift has been "unwrapped," so to speak.

- Ask which version they want before you buy. It'll ruin the surprise, but this is an important question for gamers. Not all games are created equal on all consoles. An MMO player may not want the XBox One copy of the game; and opt for PC. Or if their friends all play Rocket League on the Switch, they don't want the PS4 version since there is no cross-platform availability. Few games are "exclusive" these days. Gamers care about what system they can play their games on to be with their friends. Until Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo resolve their differences, you can't rely on picking up any version of a game and expect it'll be adaptable.

- When all else fails, gift card. Some people may see it as impersonal. I see it as free money to buy what I want for my gaming fix. And so many others would agree.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

It's the end of the week and time for another round up. Which means...well not as much as you'd like to think. This time of year the internet becomes flooded with "top games of the year" and "top games for next year." The actual gaming news can be difficult to locate. But search I did, and here is what I've found:

- Tencent saw their stock increase slightly after a Chinese regulator yesterday announced that some games have been approved for sale in China. This is surprising given that most were not expecting new games to be released in the country until next year, but the confirmation will help companies get back on track. While the first batch of approvals have been completed, the games may not be able to get to store shelves until 2019. It's still a more positive outcome then what many had predicted.

- Discord's finances have now surpassed the $2 billion mark, after another $150 million was raised in new funding, according to the business. The gamer chat app has exploded to become one of the go-to resources for communication. Artists, YouTubers, Twitch Streamers, everyone is getting in to Discord. What does this mean for the business? We're not quite sure. Discord has put it out there that it's looking to sell it's platform, but the $2 billion mark may scare away some potential buyers. And the new store format seems to be doing okay - it won't stop Steam but it'll do something.

- Games for Change: Padmini Ray Murray created a game two years ago called Darshan Diversion. In the game, your goal is to get women to the top of a temple while dodging Hindu priests. Why would the priests stop the women? If the woman is of child-bearing age and menstruating, it's believed that the women are impure, or are a temptation for a celibate god they worship. This is more than a game, though. This is a reality in India. A taboo that needs to be removed. In September, India's Supreme Court ruled that blocking women from entering a temple due to their age was discrimination. Some religious places have since eased up on their rules, but others continue to ban women. Murray hasn't publicized the game and doesn't plan to release any updates for it, but sees the impact of the game. We need more games like this to affect social change.

- What is Will Wright doing these days? Well you probably wouldn't expect it to be online education. Wright has partnered with Master Class to teach 21 lessons on game design. The online startup has other professionals like Spike Lee and Annie Leibovitz. This is not like a traditional school. There are no degrees or certificates to earn. This is more of an extended education for people to learn additional tools for their trade, or to pick up a new interest. Each class is 10-20 minutes in length and you can view all of them for a $180 annual subscription

- Because no Weekly Round Up is complete without a WhatCulture list, here is their ranking of 2019's biggest video games based on hype. Because hype is a determining factor in how well a game truly is. If you thought most of the list is E3 2018 announcements, you would be correct. Rage 2, Crackdown 3, Gears of Wars 5, they're all on there. But for some reason there are smaller games that you probably haven't heard of at all: Dreams (Media Molecule) and Skull & Bones. Dreams was only recently announced by MM after their "what the heck is that" vignettes at the Sony E3 presentation. It's still not generating the type of buzz we're seeing with Kingdom Hearts III to be on a list. The same with Skull & Bones. I honestly have not heard of this game. At all. If it's meant to be a list based on hype, you need games that people are aware of, even if they don't have the internet. Nice try WhatCulture. Back to the drawing board with you.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Former EA Ireland Manager Attempts to Overturn Firing

The name Jean-Philippe Grenet will most likely not be noticeable by most gamers, but you will likely see it pop up on a lot of gaming news sites today. The former Global Service Delivery and EA Ireland Site Lead was recently fired for using sexually charged language with a female colleague. He instead appealed his firing to Ireland's High Court, in hopes of overturning it over a "clumsy" remark.

Grenet was in the position for only 6 months when the incident occurred. He was speaking with one of his female staff members, Tracy Simmons, based in Texas (Grenet held the position in Ireland, but also managed a Texas team) and made a remark about comparing dick sizes. The exact verbiage is unclear as both Grenet and Simmons are stating different content, however Grenet did say that he was talking about dick length in regards to his job. Grenet claims that Simmons applied to his job in order to "undermine my authority." He and Simmons apparently had an escalated conference call when the dick measuring comment was made.

While Grenet does think his words were brash and should not have been said, he does not believe he should have been fired. He attempted to get an injunction against EA to prevent them from filling the position. He claims that he was fired without probable cause and EA didn't have the authority to release him.

Unfortunately for Grenet, the High Court saw otherwise. They have recently upheld EA's decision and will dismiss Grenet's claim. His lawyer is looking to dispute this.

What does this all mean? Well for some out there you may think this was a dumb remark that didn't deserve any attention. Maybe Grenet didn't need to be fired.

As a woman who has been in situations similar to this, when men in positions of authority start talking about their body parts and act aggressively, it's unsettling. Sometimes it's scary because you don't know how the man is going to act. Are they going to lunge at me? Are they going to sit there quietly and make creepy faces? Are they going to pretend nothing happened? Are they going to expect me to do something about their dick size?

It creates a hostile environment, even if your boss is on another continent.

And yes, it's 2018 and people should be aware of what they are saying. We are evolving and part of the process includes a change in our language. What we say and how we say it can greatly impact others. This situation wasn't overblown until Grenet made it so.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Another Celebrity Sues Epic Games for 'Fortnite' Emote

Let the lawsuits commence!

Epic Games and Take Two Interactive are being sued by Alfonso Ribeiro, whom you may remember as Carlton from the show 'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,' for using a dance move that he made famous. Simply known as "The Carlton," the moves have been used for decades on other television shows, movies, and continually by Riberiro. Similar to the claims made by the rapper 2 Milly, Ribeiro believes that he should have been contacted or received some form of payment before the emotes were added to Fornite and NBA 2K.

Riberio states he's in the process of copyrighting the dance. However, as mentioned previously, that would be very difficult to achieve. Dance moves can not be trademarked nor copyrighted. The name of the dance or a dance sequence that contains multiple moves can be. "The Carlton" is one distinctive dance move and not a series.

David Hecht, Riberio and 2 Milly's attorney in these cases, issued a statement that "[i]t is widely recognized that Mr. Ribeiro’s likeness and intellectual property have been misappropriated by Epic Games in the most popular video game currently in the world, Fortnite."

Epic Games and Take Two have not commented on the pending lawsuits.

Again, it should be pointed out that both companies have the law on their side. Could they have reached out to the "creators" of the moves and sought their permission first? Of course. Are they legally required to do so? No. Dance moves are not intellectual property subjected to copyright laws. Without the laws being changed, the plaintiffs will have a difficult time defending their claims.

Monday, December 17, 2018

2018 Games You Should Play Before the Year Ends

It just occurred to me that we are midway through December and I haven't done any of the traditional The Geek Spot posts that cover the year that was 2018. Well, fudge. This has been the speediest year on record, and easily one of the worst for me personally. I'm glad that it's almost over. But there were some bright spots in the gaming world that are worth highlighting. Here are a few of 2018's best that you should play before the end of the year: (While I would love to spend every day playing video games, I don't have that kind of time available. This will only include titles that I have played, which means no Red Dead Redemption 2 or God of War.)

- Dragon Quest XI. Yes this game is over a year old, but it was only released recently in NA/EU. Localization of the game includes extensive voice acting, something that you will not get in the Japanese release. While I'm still working through this game, this has been the Dragon Quest experience I've been waiting for. It updates the formula for modern JRPG's while keeping the same tact that we adore with the series. The action and challenges have been great. The visuals are quite lovely and don't feel cartoon-y. The story can be predictable, but only if you've played Dragon Quest in the past. If you have 90 hours of freedom this upcoming holiday, this is a must-have game.

- A Way Out. It's hard to believe that A Way Out was released this year. I could have sworn it was at the tail end of 2017, but then I remembered it's enthusiastic developer at The Game Awards 2017. A Way Out is a co-op narrative puzzle that requires both players to be actively engaged in the story. The characters you play are convicts in a prison, there for one reason or another. You learn about their backstory as the two form a friendship over their mutual hatred of the man whom landed them in the slammer. The game quickly turns into a prison escape with the intent to find revenge, turned melodrama, turned emotional roller-coaster with a surprise ending you wouldn't have expected. It's story telling that's nicely executed with puzzles that are both simple and intriguing. The fact that only 1 person needs to own the game for 2 people to play, where it's locally or over the internet, is a nice touch.

- Octopath Traveller. Again, this game seems like it came out last year! 2018 has been a blur. This is a game that calls back to classic JRPG's without feeling dated. Fantastic story, some interesting characters, amusing challenges, and a world that you can get lost in. There are some misses with some characters acting more like archytypes and not as imaginative as they could have been, and the game can be short (depending on how you play your RPGs). Overall, this is a must have for the Nintendo Switch.

- Dead Cells. If you're a fan of the original Metroid or Castlevania, you need to play this game. An action-adventure platformer that is exciting, clean, and fast-paced in it's bit art. This is a game that could rival some of the AAA studios in quality. What this game does well is keeping the content simple. The story is stripped down with only portions of the narrative provided to the gamer. All you know is that you are The Prisoner trapped on an "organic" island. Every time you die, the island changes and your path for escape will alter. This game is difficult, with a Dark Souls-like element. Death can result in you losing items, progress, and throw you onto a new path that you weren't ready to explore. Enemies are challenging, but their patterns can be learned over time. It's a game that wants to press you to try harder, but also encourages you to kill your character to take other paths. It's a simple and effective title that can suck you in.

- Overcooked 2. I did not think one could improve upon the greatness of Overcooked, but they did! The second game is much like the first where you can solo cook or work with up to 4 people to prepare meals while crazy obstacles attempt to obstruct you. Not only is this version more polished, but the addition of new mechanics adds to the fun and difficulty. You can now throw ingredients, making it easier to cook items - but you can't throw finished dishes! Those still need to be hand delivered. The second game also includes an arcade mode, emotes, and a couple of kitchens inspired by Power Stone 2. This is a must-have co-op game.

- Spyro Reignited Trilogy. Everything old is new again. With the success of the Crash Bandicoot upgrade, we knew Spyro would be next. This was not at all what I expected. It looks like a brand new game! The trilogy contains all 3 of the original Spyro games remastered into fully-rendered glory. The characters are crisp and clean. The locations look vast and immersive. The grass...did you know you can burn the grass? It looks really good! I know one shouldn't be happy about burnt grass, but wow. Who knew it could look like that? Though the first Spyro is noticeably lacking in subtitles, this is a wonderful platforming trilogy that any gamer would enjoy this holiday. And you can get through all 3 in about 12 hours! Perfect for the weekend.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

Hello ladies and gents! It's that time again, where we pull together all of the weekly musings in video games and post the Weekly Link Round up!

- Game Workers Unite has announced it's official position as a branch of the The Independent Workers Union of Great Britain. This marks the first union in the world to represent video game employees. GWU will be open to all current and past employees while addressing issues of crunch time/unpaid overtime and diversity. Those in positions to "hire" or "fire" will not be allowed to apply for membership. What about the contract workers? They are able to register. This is a big step for the industry as a whole as more employees move to unionize for better working conditions.

- With 2018 nearly at an end, we're already seeing a slew of lists for "most anticipated games of 2019." has one of those lists, but the reason we're posting this is it has a good mix of AAA developers with mobile and indie games. Because we know that Harry Potter AR game by the makers of Pokémon Go will be big. And it's nice to see a site recognize how important mobile and indie games have impacted the market. You'll see some obvious call outs, such as Gears of War 5, but the others are refreshing.

- The Smithsonian is incorporating more mainstream technical coverage in their content by discussing the inception and impact of one of the first video games: Spacewar! Running off of the PDP-1, a machine that looks more like it fits in a 1960's sci-fi movie than a living room, Spacewar! pitted two players against each other with limited resources, and the goal was to outmaneuver your opponent. The RAM on the computer was almost non-existent. Enemies would have been impossible to create. A simple game became an amazing endeavor for MIT.

- The latest Smash Bros. is making a huge dent on the landscape that even the silly stories are making national headlines. Police officers were responding to a noise complaint at an apartment in Minnesota. And they ended up joining the party by playing Smash with the homeowners. The officers didn't think that the men were being loud, and were curious about Smash. While some may ostracize the officers for playing a game on the job, at least this ended up with a positive outcome.

- Your monthly reminder that being a pro eSports player is hard work. It can be fun, but it's also a job in a public setting where your focus is on one game, practicing 10-14 hours a day. There's no rest for the wicked, here.

- Finally, GameRevolution has a list of gaming cliches that need to end. Some of them make sense, such as escorting NPC missions. Honestly, I was done with that madness after Goldeneye. I intentionally avoid it with FF14 levequests. But other suggestions on the list are questionable. Like removing zombies. Some horror franchises like Resident Evil and Dead Rising depend on them, so we can't get rid of them all. What needs to be removed is "zombie mode" in games that don't need zombies. Like Call of Duty. It's a war game. There is no reason to have zombies here. And please developers, don't get rid of exploding barrels. We still find it amusing 30+ years later.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Game Approvals Still Quiet in China

China has not approved any new games for sale in their country in the last 9 months. It's likely that a new game won't be available until 2019.

One of the biggest gaming market potentials in the world is isolating itself once more. After decades of console and game bands, in more recent years the country has steadily lifted the restrictions to allow for more games to enter the country. There are still rules to follow, and a number of developers will adjust their content to ensure the game meets China's guidelines. It's almost a guarantee win on the investment if your game is approved.

After Monster Hunter: World was pulled from China's store shelves in August, gaming news outlets have been watching the country with perplexity. Tencent, China's largest gaming enterprise, is getting hit hard with the lack of movement in the country's government to approve games. With the re-organization of how China handles reviewing games, some games with monitization practices have been halted (even though previously approved). This is going to result in more lost jobs. South China Morning Post reported last week that the country has formed the Online Games Ethics Committee as the new review board for games. They have seen 20 so far; 9 were dismissed and 11 require edits before being resubmitted. There are rumors that the 9 games include Fortnite and PUBG, but no confirmation has been made by the government or the developers. If this changes, the blog will be updated.

This is a very tentative time for gamers in China. While they had access to edited games that the rest of the world was playing, at least they had the ability to play them. Now? China appears to be going back to it's isolationist stance. Maybe it's the intent to help cultivate more game developers in China and improve the home market, instead of the international one? We're likely to never know why China made this sudden reverse on their stance with video games. It's a long road ahead for developers and consumers.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

IOC Not Ready to Accept eSports at Olympics

It looks like video games are going to be delayed from a 2020/2024 debut at the Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) met over the weekend to continue discussions on eSports, as well as notating progress in the anti-doping scandal of the past few games and the allocation of international sports events. While eSports continues to grow in the public eye, the Olympics are not ready for it to be a featured event.

A few reasons were cited by the IOC, but of course there are some stand outs. Such as eSPorts being a "[sic] industry is commercially driven, while on the other hand the sports movement is values-based." For some reason the economic viability of eSports is a turn-off for the Olympics. Though they do have other sports like basketball, futball, and baseball that are incredibly popular and profitable. Look at any baseball field, and see how it's littered with advertisements. But sure; the sport is based off of values and not a commercial enterprise. You keep telling yourselves that, IOC. It may have started focused on sports values, but it has changed into commercialism, like everything eventually does (ex. 2020 Olympics; skateboarding will be introduced thanks to the popularity and economic viability of the XGames).

Some of their concerns are legitimate, such as some games are not appropriate for the Olympics due to their violent, combative nature. I wouldn't expect to see a speed run of Resident Evil anytime soon. But Overwatch? Viable. There's no blood. Players respawn. The graphics are consumer-friendly. The pace and action of the game is a good balance for pro, casual, and new gamers to follow. If the IOC took the time to whittle down the top eSports games, they would find there are games that meet their guidelines.

While the industry is evolving rapidly, many of the games in eSports have been staples for years, decades even! Quake, Counter-Strike, and Starcraft are games that will not go away next month. They have endured time and will continue to outlast many of us. Again, research by the IOC would help them realize this.

But eSports isn't off the list yet. They are still exploring possibilities to help bring in a younger audience to watch and participate in future games. Tony Estanguet, co-president of the Paris Olympic committee, has been leading the charge to bring video games into the Olympics. While no decision is final for 2024 until after Tokyo 2020, Estanguet will continue pressing on, along with supporters of eSports. One day, it will happen.

Monday, December 10, 2018

CBS Tries Their Own Game Awards with Mixed Messages!

Not to be outdone, CBS has started their own award show: Gamers' Choice Awards, which aired yesterday. This is the first network televised show for video games. Spike TV's variation was only available to those with a cable or satellite subscription. The show was developed by the creators of the Teen Choice Awards.

What's different about CBS' show? Well from the looks of things, it's a revival of the Spike TV version. KISS opened the show. If that doesn't scream "we are selling out to get your attention" then nothing will. The winners are based purely on fan votes. Starting in mid-November, gamers could vote on the show's website for categories like favorite eSports team, best gaming moment, and favorite celebrity gamers. There are way too many celebrity gamer categories. There are also some odd categories. Fan Favorite Retro Character? What? Nintendo has earned too many accolades for Super Mario Bros. It's in museums around the world. Why are we spending time at a current gaming award show to focus on retro content...and question has been answered. The categories for favorite eSports player were also broken down by specific games! So it's a very long laundry list of eSports professionals and questionable "celebrities."

If you'd like the full list of winners, check out the CNet article. A number of winners were announced on the show's Twitter feed and not live. Based on this review of the show by SVG, it's probably a good thing that I can't locate any videos of the event. It truly sounds like it's attempting to revive Spike TV's horrible edition of gaming awards. Cramming "celebrities" and gamers into one room isn't always the smartest ideas. And no developers were on hand to accept any of the awards being offered. Probably because they know better then to give this show any credibility.

But hey! Terry Crews was there, so that should make it cool. Right? Right.

This might be one event I'm glad I missed, and will not spend much time locating replays.

Friday, December 07, 2018

The Game Awards 2018 Wrap-Up

I know I said I wasn't planning on watching The Game Awards. But having the day off today to stay up late Thursday night, and needing the mental break on life for a handful of hours, I thought "why not." So, I settled in for the 5th year of The Game Awards with Geoff Keighley, brought to you by Canadians like Geoff Keighley, and hosted by Geoff Keighley.

For year 5, it wasn't any better or worse than year 4. Which seems to be the common theme for this event. Do just enough to spark interest, but not enough to maintain it. In their attempt in trying to not be like the defunct Spike TV's Game Awards, they're still pulling from that hat for segments and "jokes." Musicians and actors helped present the awards once again, and they may or may not actually be gamers. It's difficult to tell since everyone reads off a teleprompter. White male gaming directors and producers accepted awards while wearing blazers over t-shirts. Keighley was continually announced when he appeared on the stage, and praised by multiple people who had the microphone. He also loved to point out every time someone was Canadian, thus adding to my drinking game. Again some of the awards were rushed, with 3-4 of them being announced back to back with no breathing room; including during the pre-show (is it really a pre-show if you're giving away awards at this time?). There was the one guy in a mascot suit, and thankfully it wasn't a Schick Razor. Lot's of "world premieres" and not as much focus on the industry's accomplishments. It was all ho-hum.

There were a few areas where the event did improve. The Game Awards Orchestra was given more of a chance to shine, and played several times throughout the night. It gave a bit more credence to the show's attempt to be somewhat-seriously official. And to hear melodies from the games featured for Game of the Year was charming.

Most award winners were given a chance to speak. Last year if a team was part of that 1, 2, 3 rush of announcements, they couldn't say a word of thanks. That changed this year. While it did make the show a little longer, it did provide the winners a chance to express their gratitude. There were still some awards, particularly with the eSports categories that were rushed, but it was better than last time.

During commercial segments there was inclusion of various charities and non-profits that help bring the joy of gaming to others. That was very refreshing to see. All too often in the gaming community, outside of Extra Life or Child's Play, we rarely hear or see these stories. Gamers are incredibly diverse. This is a medium that permeates all cultures, races, religions, politics, to tell these incredible stories. We need to see this kind of representation more often - because gamers are not a specific stereotype. Everyone and anyone can be a gamer.

Now, if the show could bring some of those people onto the stage, and not continually shuffle out the a-typical straight, white, male, that would provide a realistic balance for the event. Let's celebrate how diverse gaming is; not hide it behind the stage.

The Game Awards still has potential to be something great, if they're willing to invest more into the content. The categories could use some fine-tuning. "Best Ongoing Game" not listing MMO's outside of Destiny 2 is a huge miss. There are more than battle royal games on the market that have been continuing for years, or over a decade in the case of World of Warcraft and Final Fantasy XI. By not including MMO's shows how out of touch the show is with most consumers.

"Best Content Creator" should be more than streamers. There are tens of thousands of bloggers and vloggers, game reviewers, machinima artists, etc. that are creating content centered around video games. "Content Creator" is an expansive phrase. The Game Awards needs to either refine it to Best Streamer or allow for all aspects of creative content to be included in the award.

The show should also reign it in on the hack-and-slap cameos. I adore Weezer and Panic at the Disco, but was there a reason to have them introduce other musicians? This isn't the Grammy's. This is The Game Awards. I thought it was cool to have the voice actors for Kratos and his son give out an award. Let's have more of that! And while we're at it, let's have more of the developers handing out awards to other developers. Get the community involved. Get gamers up there. This is our award show - not Hollywood's. Stop selling out to actors and musicians that don't have an effect on gaming.

I want The Game Awards to be better. It keeps trying, but I feel like every year it's only passable. We need more umph. More diversity. More community reach. More substance. And a whole lot less of guys in mascot suits trying to sell us stuff (referring to Crash Bandicoot, not the eSports award winner).

Best comment of the night goes to Gus Sorola of Rooster Teeth:

Most unexpected "world premiere"/teaser is Joker from Persona 5 joining Smash Bros. Ultimate:

Interesting moment that could have been cool, but missed an opportunity for something amazing: The CEO's of Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo opening the show. What would have made the segment better is if all of them made a pledge to provide cross-console play. Their intro centered on how gaming brings people together. Well, what better way to highlight this, than to allow people to play with their friends on any console?

Final tally on spoken "World Premieres": 13 during the show, 18 including the pre-show. Actual premiers was well over 30. I missed my prediction, but glad they didn't over-state the phrase this time.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

EA Removing Former NFL Player After Assault

If there is one thing EA Sports seems to do well, it knowing when to remove athletes from their games who commit real world crimes.

Kareem Hunt was released from the U.S. football team the Kansas City Chiefs after a video of him assaulting a 19-year-old woman came to light. He's now a free agent and looking for another team, though it's unlikely that he'll be picked up. Confirmed by TMZ, EA issued a statement that they are removing Hunt from Madden '19. Players who have Hunt on their team will instead see a "default" character take his place, with the same stats. So you don't need to worry about swapping around your roster. It's the not-Hunt NPC.

EA has done this before with Ray Rice in Madden '15 and Aaron Hernandez from both Madden and their former NCAA series when he charged with murder.

EA may not always do the right thing, but sometimes they get it. Even something as small as this helps enforce the concept that we should not idolize people who do crappy things.

Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Did WalMart Unveil Death Stranding Release Date?

If you want to talk about breaking NDA's and releasing info too soon, the game industry should stop giving content to WalMart Canada. They can't seem to help themselves when it comes to posting content they shouldn't.

Once again the big retailer accidentally published a release date for a game on their website. This time it's Death Stranding, the much anticipated, and very confusing, new game from Hideo Kojima. No official date has been announced by Kojima, his company, or Sony. We only know that it'll be released when it's ready. However, WalMart Canada has a listing for the product on their website for June 30, 2019 (which is a Sunday). Twitter user Yinob asked the retailer if the date was correct, and they confirmed that it was. A day later, they retracted the comment and state that it's a placeholder.

Sure, WalMart. We believe you.

Their last debacle happened before E3 this year, when the website posted information for Rage 2, Just Cause 4, Gears of War 5, Borderlands 3, and Lego DC Super-Villains. A number of these were games that we had anticipated but were not yet announced by the developers. Since then, all but Borderlands 3 were confirmed to be coming soon. GearBox has unofficially commented that they want to make a Borderlands 3 but has not made the grand statement that it is in development. Still, it did mute some of the developer and console presentations to be spoiled so early on big titles.

Of course we don't know if this will be the final release date for Death Stranding. Kojima is expected to appear at The Game Awards this week. Maybe we'll learn more about the game and have a hint of a release schedule. Assuming WalMart didn't spoil it all for us.

Monday, December 03, 2018

Fallout Problems Continue with Power Armor Pre-Orders

The latest Fallout: 76 debacle has nothing to do with the in-game content. Rather, it's the expensive "Power Armor" edition of the game that does not include advertised content.

When the $200 "Power Armor" version was first announced, it was touted to include a wearable helmet, in-game items, collectable figurines, and a steelbook case for the game. It also included a canvas bag to store your helmet. Not the best material for the helmet, but it's better than nothing. Renders of the final package included a canvas bag, that was even labeled as such. None of the images or the pre-sale info contained a disclaimer that the images were not final and may change at the time of release.

So of course when people began receiving their $200 box, the canvas bag ended up being a dud. A smaller, nylon version was swapped in. Nothing on the website or any of the pre-order stats indicated that the item changed. Up until Bethesda began receiving e-mails from unhappy customers, the website still listed the item as canvas. In fact, if you check the order page for this edition of the game, the image STILL contains the canvas bag, spelled out.

Bethesda's initial response was laughable, but are now issuing 500 Atoms to customers that contact support. Atoms are the in-game currency of the game for the digital storefront. You can earn them through daily/weekly challenges, by completing certain game tasks (missions, quests, leveling up, etc.), or buy them with IRL money. However 500 Atoms is roughly $5. That's not enough to buy anything on the store. Maybe a vase or a door, but nothing of weight. The canvas bag that was advertised would have been worth more than $5.

This is a reminder to all companies that you need to be careful with your advertising. If you can't commit to the items that a customer purchased, you need to inform them immediately and provide a reasonable solution. Also, it helps to have a disclaimer that "images of items are not final" should something change. It helps cover you from legal issues.

Update 12/4/18: Bethesda is now offering the canvas bags after the massive response from customers and gaming sites. If you purchased the Power Armor edition, you'll need to submit a support ticket to Bethesda by January 31, 2019. A replacement will be arranged once the bags are ready. There is no date on listed on estimated shipping.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Weekly Link Round Up

It's time for another Weekly Link Round Up! Which means I dig through the internet to find some of the best, and weirdest gaming articles on the internet. It takes me to places I never knew, nor ever wanted to know existed, so you don't have to. You're welcome.

- The PlayStation Classic will be out soon, and reviewers already have their hands on it. Business Insider's take on the unit is pretty much what I expected from the system. A faithful reproduction of the original system, but a questionable game line up for NA/EU audiences that don't hold up to the test of time. I understand why the system is missing Crash Bandicoot, given the reboot was recently released. But no Gran Turismo? Missed opportunity!

Also the AV Club would like to remind you to mind your wallet with the flashy ads on this one.

- Cryptocurrency is steadily declining, but it's not stopping some loyal to the cause from sinking more money in it. Justin Sun, the founder of Tron (not that one), whom bought Bit Torrent earlier this year, will be spending another $100 million to build video games on a blockchain. These type of games are in their infancy. Honestly the system for Tron's blockchain is a bit confusing, and requires people to be heavily invested in it to work. Gizmodo does a decent job of attempting to spell it out. While companies continue to play with blockchain for future games, this quick cash infusion is not likely to produce immediate results.

- Best of 2018 video game lists are already flooding the internet. I don't want to rehash a number of them because you're going to get a lot of copy, paste, repeat. But, I do want to show off the ones that catch my attention. Such as The New Yorker. They not only included games released at the beginning of the year (for some reason most of these lists enjoy excluding content that came out January - June/July), but mobile and indie games. Shocking! While I can't comment on a number of titles, the fact that the games are quite diverse, and most of the content easily accessible for consumers to try, this is a balanced list that's worth reading!

- A limited TV series on the great console debate between Nintendo and Sega has been announced. Directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts ('Kong: Skull Island'), the series will be based on the Blake J. Harris non-fiction novel 'Console Wars: Sega, Nintendo and the Battle that Defined a Generation.' The book centers around Tom Kalinske, who was the CEO for SEGA's American division in the 1990's. He's lauded as the man who saved SEGA with the Genesis. This is one of the few non-fiction books about video games I can recommend. It is weird to call a business story "action packed" but that's exactly what this is! It'll be interesting to see how Hollywood spins the tale.

- The Round Up is not complete without a WhatCulture list. This time focusing on the 10 most overrated games of the past decade. On the plus, they did include Halo 5 and for that I am grateful (as a former fan of Halo, they really should have stopped at 3). However, fan favorites like Skyrim, Mass Effect 2, and Assassin's Creed Black Flag (one of the few AssCreed titles that is widely lauded by gamers) are on here too. For reasons that are mostly superficial (oh no, an action game where you have to have action?). A number of people still boot up their EA Origin accounts for Mass Effect. Or still run around in Skyrim with a few mods. News flash to writers: today's technology doesn't mean games from yesterday are "overrated." You might want to refresh

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Nintendo Ending Creators Program with Much Fanfare!

Nintendo's much controversial, and outdated, Creators Program will be shutting down at the end of December! Announced late yesterday and updated on their website this morning, Nintendo is putting out new guidelines for streamers and content creators that monetize videos utilizing Nintendo products.

The Nintendo Creators Program has been a questionable mess since it's inception. People who wanted to share "Let's Play" or quirky review videos had to register with Nintendo and be accepted into the program to have it monetized. Nintendo would take a portion of the ad revenue. In 2017, Nintendo clarified that the program did not include streamed games. Anyone streaming live off of YouTube, Twitch, or Mixer couldn't make any ad revenue from the event. It was a silly notion that many content creator's didn't agree with. But some signed up in order to maintain their audience and channel.

The new rules are more in line with Microsoft and Sony's policies. People are able to more freely share their videos of Nintendo games to be monetized. Unreleased products, videos that contain images of Nintendo items without commentary, or if the video does not meet Nintendo's "standards" are still subject to take down notices. Since we know Nintendo tends to be copyright happy and will throw down strikes at a moment's notice, how they will react to the updated guidelines will be the true test.

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Loot Boxes Under Review by FTC

The big story on the U.S. gaming interwebs is the announcement from the FTC Chairman that they will begin to investigate loot boxes in video games.

The implications behind this are far-reaching. It could be as benign as a report and nothing comes from it, or sweeping regulations to the sale of video games.

The original issue was brought up by Senator Maggie Hassan (New Hampshire) earlier this year. Chairman Joseph Simons requested that the issue be investigated during a Congressional oversight committee on consumer protection and product safety. After Hassan addressed the concern, she reached out to the ESRB asking for their assistance/stance on the matter. As a result, the ESRB added an in-game purchase label to their system.

Suffice to say, as gamers, we know it's not enough. Many of us might agree that this issue is more than "looking out for the children." Loot boxes are a concern affecting all gamers. The questionable practices from Star Wars: Battlefront II (before they opted to drop a number of the microtransaction concerns this year), Middle-Earth: Shadow of War (they too eventually phased out some microtranscations after years of complaints), and whatever Assassin's Creed: Unity was trying to accomplish, gamers are being taken advantage of. We're buying unfinished products with the promise for additional items, level gains, and "perks" if we're willing to pay for microtransactions. Loot boxes help us advance further in a game or receive shiny coats of paint for our avatar. They can alter how we play a game, and make it easier for some to win without really using the product. Having that type of power by spending money can be addicting. Why bother with spending 40 hours to level up, when I can spend $20 to do it right now? Not to mention, the animations, sounds, colors, and effects behind loot boxes can be nice to watch. Have you seen how much fun it is to open card packs in Hearthstone? The increasing pressure from multiple government bodies globally is putting loot boxes at the forefront of every gamers mind.

The ESA is continuing to stand behind it's position that loot boxes are not gambling. Responding to a request from Polygon, they state that "Loot boxes are one way that players can enhance the experience that video games offer. Contrary to assertions, loot boxes are not gambling. They have no real-world value, players always receive something that enhances their experience, and they are entirely optional to purchase. They can enhance the experience for those who choose to use them, but have no impact on those who do not."

Variety reached out to Senator Hassan for her response to the news: "While I have appreciated working with the ESRB on this issue, I have also said that the Federal Trade Commission has a responsibility to look at this issue," she said. "The need for FTC action becomes more apparent given the recent report from the Gambling Commission of Great Britain and the steps other countries have taken to regulate loot boxes. I hope the FTC will move quickly to begin their investigation and look forward to working with all parties on this issue."

This won't result in an overnight change to video games. It'll take months to investigate and years before any action is implemented. As mentioned at the beginning of this post, it's likely that nothing will come from it. The ESRB and ESA have done what they can to keep the government away from having full control of video games; less we experience a repeat of the 1920's Hays Code. But the rise of loot boxes, their addictive nature, and games forcing the content onto consumers is an issue that needs to be addressed. The ESA is not likely to come out as the winner in this match.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

GameStop Finally Selling Questionable Mobile Business

GameStop has decided to sell it's mobile business venture to Prime Communications, L.P., according to a press release. Prime will be inheriting Spring Mobile, which operates over 1,200 AT&T wireless stores. The deal will net GameStop $700 million, and it's expected to close by early next year. The hope is that the offer will infuse cash back into GameStop's expanding debt, and possibly re-invest into video game and collectable sales.

I remember when the company first announced that they would start accepting cell phones and Zune's as trade in items for cash towards games. I thought it was a horrible concept (and it quickly fell apart with the Zune). Only for the business to decide to invest in mobile retailers.

The one thing GameStop has always been good at is trying to bring new content into the stores that had little, or no, affiliation with games. "Hey, this is cool so let's do this." In doing so, it soured the brand name. No longer was it GameStop, but "here are a bunch of random things squished together that we think are neat" store. The company lost it's way a while ago. With the constant changes of the board of directors and management, investors have been pushing the company to offload secondary businesses, like Spring Mobile, to get the company back on track. And this latest sale helped their stocks grow. Maybe this is a sign to the powers that be at GameStop that they need to stop trying to be "everything nerdy" and go back to the basics: be good at selling video games. With no update on their potential sale, GameStop is on it's own to dig itself out.

Does this mean that they will drop ThinkGeek and I can finally shop for their nerdy wares again? Not likely. GameStop has received a decent chunk of their earnings from ThinkGeek. But one can hope.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Fallout:76 Has Potential

Well after the release of the game, and having it sit in it's package until I was available for a few hours, I was finally able to open up the box and pop in Fallout: 76 for the first time and see what it was about. The reaction from game critics and gamers has been mixed. This is the first Fallout game to go online and prompt you to play with friends or make new ones - create a team and set out on an adventure across the wilderness of West Virginia, after nuclear bombs have laid waste to the world.

Like any Bethesda game, it comes with it's own quirks and bugs. Bethesda has always been at the fore-front of selling us buggy games at full price, that we are willing to pay for. Because, content? I never understood this phenomenon. Yet it seems to work for the developer.

The biggest quirk, aka headache, is the install for the game. I opted for the PS4 version as I knew it was going to take up a lot of space and my PC, even with 3 hard drives and 2 externals, was lacking. I co-host and manage a podcast with a large video archive. I can't delete those files. But I have nearly half of my PS4 empty, and I enjoy Fallout more with a controller so, why not?

With over 200 gigabytes free, it was still not enough for Fallout: 76. I needed to dump more games and media to make more space magically appear before it would install. 250 gigs, and 7 hours of installing and patching later, plus a night of sleep since it took so long, I was finally able to go into the wasteland. This barrier to reach game play was insane. A standard MMO does not take this long for a person to start up. World of Warcraft allows you to play while it installs updates - areas that are being upgraded or altered quests are inaccessible until patching is complete. 76 could easily integrate a similar patching system.

Once I got into the game, 76 filled all of the Fallout requirements one needed. You wake up after your vault had a killer party the night before, as you are booted out of your safety net to start a new life after the apocalypse. The character creator is quite robust for an online game. There are pre-set character designs, but you have a lot of freedom with adjusting your toons' facial features. I was happy to see that Bethesda put thought into this feature without it feeling gimmicky. You could alter a character's upper and lower eye lid, the multiple layers of the jaw bone, 3 sections of your forehead, the works. While the hair styles and ability to manipulate scar locations was lacking, the bulk of the tool was refreshing to play with. I unintentionally made my character look like Cassandra from the Dragon Age series. Honestly I wouldn't want anyone else to roam with me in the wasteland, kicking ass and taking names.

There is a main story for the player to partake in, starting with the real plans that the Overseer of Vault 76 was expected to carry out. Truthfully I've spent little time with the main story, so I can't speak much to the narrative of the game. But the little bit I have seen has been interesting. It requires you to explore a large portion of the map within the early levels, and read computers for loads of flavor text. It's probably best to take a screenshot of the text and read it at a later time when you're in a safe spot.

To help with the XP grind, instances called Events will take place at various locations on the map. Tasks will vary from the obvious (survive all waves of enemies) to the absurd (set up a table for robot butlers). All provide you with rewards for your services. These can be done alone or with a group (team in Fallout terms). Teams tend to garner you more xp and ability perks that can be shared.

Much of the charm of 76 will come from the landscape and playing with others. There is an innate beauty with West Virginia that the developers tried to capture. The vibrant colors of the fall leaves. The rickety texture of hilltops and mines. I made my C.A.M.P. in a remote spot, but I chose a rocky cliff that overlooked much of the scenery. Even with the various green clouds of post-nuke waste, it's a lovely area to take photos. The landscape was designed to be inviting, and it is difficult to resist the urge to roam around. (By the way, if you're worried about someone messing up your home, don't worry! When you log out, your home goes with you.) Exploring is a big part of what makes Fallout interesting. With content being instanced, you have the ability to pick up everything without worry that someone else is going to take the item before you reach it. In a team, everyone gets loot from a box/chest/corpse. As long as you do some damage on an enemy, you can earn XP and loot from it.

When 76 was first announced, the online element became the most appealing feature to me. I was curious to see how Bethesda would handle it, and ready to play with friends. I've enjoyed the concept of Fallout. But have had a difficult time making it through to the end of the game because of the solo, grindy experience.

Friends have made 76 enjoyable.

We joke around. We hunt through abandoned towns for crafting materials. We take dumb photos. We play in a band. We go on suicidal workshop reclamation hunts and try our best to not freak out. I feel more engaged and invested in this game thanks to my online gaming family. I want to go home after work today and play more so I can play with them in an experience that only Fallout can provide.

By no means is 76 a great game. There are bugs and features that are in need of a major improvement.

Server stability is questionable. I've "blue screened" once, but some of my friends have had it happen multiple times. I've hit multiple lag spikes that have resulted in me timing out, my character loading with only a floating head, or my friends appearing on the screen as the default male avatar.

Item storage is short and weight limits are high. In a game that wants you to explore and gather items, as you have to factor eating and drinking into your game play, being able to carry your basic necessities without it killing your inventory space is a huge problem. And like other Fallout games, the weight of what you carry matters. 10 packs of iron can encumber your character more than 50 bottles of Nuka Cola. The 400 personal locker storage is also not enough. A quick fix for Bethesda is for craft materials to not count as personal storage, or hold no weight.

Schematics for weapons and armor are incredibly rare. A better drop rate for low level content would help improve the viability of surviving in the wasteland.

To fast travel you need to use caps, the game's currency. Which isn't too bad. The most I've spent so far is 22 for quite a distance. But if you travel a lot, it eats up your money quickly. Either the cap rate needs to be reduced, or cap drops increased to balance it out.

VATS are worthless in 76. The targeting system that made Fallout a standout for first person shooters, is now a pile of garbage. Targeting in general is difficult in 76, and it's near impossible to utilize VATS in online mode. Enemies do not slow down when you try to target their weak points for bonus damage. Everything still runs at full speed. There's no benefit in putting your skill points into VATS. Better to run and gun, and hope you hit the right spot.

There are almost no NPC's in the game, with the exception of a couple of rare robot vendors. If there is a human-like NPC, I have yet to run into one. It makes the world feel empty. I understand that this is the first vault to open right a nuke went off, but there's got to be other 76 settlers out there we can communicate with. Aside from enemies wanting to kill and/or eat you, the world feels lifeless. You can have all the buildings and Events in the world. But we need other NPC's to interact with. The charm of the characters enticed us to keep playing Fallout.

There are additional small grievances with the game, like your character's food and water bars depleting while you idle (that's silly). Or that PvP requires both parties to attack each other to accept combat (personally I love this system, but some people want "true" PvP). Or that C.A.M.P. building sets are limited in scale and item availability. But these can be adjusted over time as Bethesda reviews how people are responding to the game. This is not No Man's Sky bad. 76 has a stable base with potential to grow.

Is it as good as New Vegas? No. It'll be difficult to have another Fallout title beat the quality of Vegas. But 76 has potential, with viable fixes that can improve the quality of the game. Having 3-5 people you can play with to do dumb things in the wasteland helps the experience.

Friday, November 23, 2018

SquareEnix to Pull Several Mobile Games in Belgium

The government crackdown on loot boxes has begun.

Belgium has passed a new law that could fine a person or business up to €800,000 ($910,000 USD) and 5 years of prison time for selling a product that includes a "game of chance." SquareEnix has decided to pull 3 of it's games to help curb the pressure of fines and future litigation. Mobius Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts Union X and Dissidia Final Fantasy Opera Omnia will be removed starting November 30th.

Earlier this year Belgium conducted a study to look further into the concern with loot boxes, and singled out several titles that fell into their "game of chance" rules. Since the ruling, several developers have already removed monetary items or store purchases from games released in Belgium, such as Guild Wars 2. This allows the game to still be bought and played, but no after-market additional costs.

In the case of SquareEnix, the three mobile games are not worth the time investment to alter them to fit with Belgium's law. It's better to cut their losses and focus on promoting the titles in other markets.