Coming off the Star Wars: Battlefront II beta just a few days back, I was pretty optimistic at the future of the Star Wars franchise over at EA. Well the first Battlefront game left me disappointingly cold, the beta seemed to indicate a sequel that vastly improved over its predecessor, fixing all the problems the original had and delivering the truly exemplary Star Wars multiplayer of our dreams. If EA could make something this potentially good, then surely Star Wars was in the right hands, no?
Yes…the answer is indeed no. Because the most promising thing about this EA/Star Wars acquisition, Amy Hennig’s Uncharted-style Star Wars adventure, is pretty much no more. And the reason why seems to be the worst part of it all.
But, first, some background. This untitled Star Wars game was first announced to be in development from Visceral Games (of the Dead Space series) quite a while ago, way back when EA first got the Star Wars video game license in 2013. The involvement of the Visceral Games team alone was enough to get me excited, but shortly after, another fantastic cherry was thrown on top: the hiring of Uncharted creator and series creative Amy Hennig, who was recently ousted from Naughty Dog following a rough development period for Uncharted 4. Hennig was writing the script for the game alongside Todd Stashwick, and the project was said to be a single player focused, story driven adventure in the vein of Hennig’s work on the Uncharted franchise. So, basically, it sounded GREAT.
But the emphasis is sadly on the past tense now, as some sad times have befallen this long in development project. After months of radio silence on the game, EA announced today on their official blog that the game is set to be completely retooled, taken away from Visceral Games and now given to EA Vancouver. Visceral Games would be shut down in the wake of the transfer, which is bad news enough. But adding insult to injury was the blog post attached to the news, which rather condescendingly paints this whole thing as JUST THE BEST, and exactly what everyone wants! But when you actually read what EA is saying, none of it sounds all that promising. Some snippets:
Our industry is evolving faster and more dramatically than ever before. The games we want to play and spend time with, the experiences we want to have in those games, and the way we play…all those things are continually changing. So is the way games are made. In this fast-moving space, we are always focused on creating experiences that our players want to play…and today, that means we’re making a significant change with one of our upcoming titles.
That’s the opening paragraph, which right away assumes what games you would like to play, since there’s no way there’s ANY interest in a single player, story based, campaign focused experience, right? It just gets worse as the post shifts to this Star Wars game in particular:
Our Visceral studio has been developing an action-adventure title set in the Star Wars universe. In its current form, it was shaping up to be a story-based, linear adventure game. Throughout the development process, we have been testing the game concept with players, listening to the feedback about what and how they want to play, and closely tracking fundamental shifts in the marketplace. It has become clear that to deliver an experience that players will want to come back to and enjoy for a long time to come, we needed to pivot the design.
Once again, EA is blaming the consumer, saying “Oh, you don’t really want this!” even though, yeah, a lot of players REALLY want this. In fact, those players feel increasingly left behind in this world of Destiny and The Division and all these other multiplayer focused experiences, feeling like there love of playing games alone and experiencing a fantastic story are being completely ignored. I know, for I am one of them. But sush!, let Daddy EA explain what’s best for you.
We will maintain the stunning visuals, authenticity in the Star Wars universe, and focus on bringing a Star Wars story to life. Importantly, we are shifting the game to be a broader experience that allows for more variety and player agency, leaning into the capabilities of our Frostbite engine and reimagining central elements of the game to give players a Star Wars adventure of greater depth and breadth to explore.
This is of course extremely vague, with EA refusing to actually say what this game will be other than throwing out buzzwords like “variety,” “player agency,” and “greater depth and breadth to explore.” But it’s telling that the first thing EA wants to assure fans is that, hey, the visuals will be pretty! That’s what you nerds want anyways, right?
The world of single player, story based campaigns have been hit extremely hard this generation, and I can’t help but read EA’s entire statement on this debacle as a way of saying that, yes, this game is shifting away from a focus on story and a compelling, single player experience. And if that’s truly the case, then I’m not afraid to say that this game as it was originally conceived is now dead. The pieces remain, or at least we assume: Amy Hennig has yet to officially leave the project, with EA just saying that “We’re in discussions with Amy about her next move.” But I wouldn’t be surprised to hear her departure from the company coming very soon. That will of course be followed by a blog post by EA, claiming that the industry is moving on from developers anyways, so this is actually a good thing!
And in this whole mess, one other piece of sadness is getting the short shift: Visceral Games is dead, and that’s a massive lost. I LOVED the Dead Space series, warts and all, and clearly there was a very talented amount of people working at that studio. As I’ve said many times in the past, losing ANY AAA developer in this industry is always a sad thing, and Visceral is no exception. My sympathies go out to the people effected, and I can only hope their talents will be better utilized in the years to come.
As for this Star Wars project? I have lost all faith. I was more excited for this thing than pretty much anything else coming from this franchise (movies included,) and this “pivot” to me is the video game equivalent of the firing of Phil Lord and Chris Miller from Solo: A Star Wars Story (recently titled, btw.) It’s likely that the assets used to build this game will still be there in some form, with whoever picks up the pieces making the bland, corporate project that EA is asking for. And, who knows, that bland, corporate project may end up being okay, at the end of the day. But it won’t be the project Amy Hennig and Visceral promised us…and that alone is alone is one hell of a bummer.
Also published on Medium.
10 Bold Predictions For Video Games in 2018
Plus, some 2017 prediction results.
I made a bunch of predictions last year, in video form, and I really hate when people make such bold prognostications and then just not go back and check the tape. What are the results? How did you fare? Are you a fraud? Luckily, I am not a wimp, and I have a better batting average than most “analysts” and “commentators” who predict live sports. Flip a coin for each match and you’ll do better than professional betters in Vegas!
This year I do not have a working laptop and for the foreseeable future will not, so we are transitioning from longwinded videos to TL;DR columns. Hooray! I typed out what I said last year, and will just post my new visions of what I see in my crystal ball for 2018. I am clairvoyant, I will bat 1.000 this year, watch me do it. But, before that, let’s review what my predictions were for 2017.
1. “GOTY is a mystery game, yet to be announced”
Correct! Because I count PUBG as a worthy choice for game of the year and it came out of NOWHERE and became a decade defining phenomenon like Counter-Strike once was.
2. “Kingdom Hearts 3 and The Last of Us 2 get no release date and only teases”
Sure, an easy one to make in hindsight, but it wasn’t at the beginning of last year and I’ll make similar claims about this year with these two games and more soon. I expect delays as far as the eye can see, for anything and everything.
3. “E3 is good again”
Sure, why not? It wasn’t as bad as the last few years, but nowhere near as godlike as what we remember it being in our childhoods. Holy shit I am old.
4. “There will be an industry freak out over something money related.”
I’m going to count this one. With loot boxes, blind boxes, EA’s gross versus revenue, and the price tag / budget of Hellblade, I think the industry and #gamers really got blindsided by how sinister and conniving 21st century capitalism has corrupted every facet of life. We are more aware of money now than we’ve ever been as a country, and a society. And the fucking ESA still won’t reveal sales figures, what garbage.
5. “Reviews will die”
They did to me, and while it’s not quantifiable in any real capacity (websites will still review games), I think they are essentially as useless as user reviews. IGN gave Prey a 4.0, and then they didn’t. PUBG got both a 9.5 and 5.0 from IGN…and then didn’t. Fortnite came out in a box at full price, and hasn’t traditionally been released yet by old standards. Let’s just throw all of it out the window and start again. And not to pick on IGN, they’re just the most high profile examples, but it’s impossible to review games like we used to; on a scale, with a score or number or letter grade, in a release window as tight as possible, or like how we review monitors and televisions and keyboards. It’s impossible. Just review games like movies; the best stuff comes out decades afterward and doesn’t incorporate what it cost or anything nonsense like that.
6. Everything I said about the Nintendo Switch doing poorly.
Dead wrong. Let’s move on.
7. “It will be the Year of Delays”
Points for me, every year is a year of delays! Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha but I promise I won’t do that again this year. But it will happen. Watch.
8. “eSports creeps more into the mainstream”
Another one that can’t be scientifically proven, but I feel like that has been the case. When both of my parents call me up and tell me they saw a game on TBS, I think that has to count for something.
9. “Valve does something new, not DOTA related”
I WAS SO FUCKING CLOSE and then they had to make their new card game a DOTA 2 thing. Fuck you Valve. I’m giving myself half credit for that and their VR line-up, and that Portal bridge game thing. Collectively, they count!
10. “Borderlands 3 makes its debut”
Eh, you win some, you lose some.
By my skewed point of view, that’s 7.5 out of 10. Not bad! Let’s try and go for 10 out of 10 this year, which is the same score IGN gave Skyward Sword ROFL remember that shit? Reviews died at that exact moment, RIP review scores.
Now let’s get into the nitty-gritty of 2018. Here’s the 10 things that will almost definitely be happening in the world of games this year.
1. Indie games have a weird year
There’s not as many high profile ones as you’d think, and they continue the recent trend of not being a serious GOTY contender for some reason. There will be some flops, kickstarter fails, delays, and whatever the endless runner Super Meat Boy Forever turns out to be. I expect some smaller studios to go for VR, or make a double A type game ala Hellblade and itso facto you have a recipe for a very strange time for indie developers and publishers.
2. More and more trade shows really start to morph into something else we do not recognize, and we are all scratching our heads by the end of the year.
Outliers like Sony’s Playstation Experience a few weeks ago will become the norm as all expos become PAX-lite to get more people, and companies start to break away from the norm and just do their own thing for announcements. EA essentially pulled out of E3 already, Bethesda and Nintendo just hit play on a video, Rockstar doesn’t show up and they already have the biggest game of 2018, and fucking Tokyo Game Show has been on life support for years now. Have less expectations overall, and subscribe to more Twitch channels, that is the future.
3. We get an all-time blockbuster in sales this year
One that sells like crazy hot cakes, and yes I am hedging my bets because it is going to be Red Dead Redemption 2, let’s all be real here. 2K’s financial year is going to look like a supernova with no signs of slowing down. Red Dead 2 could hit some ridiculous number like GTA V, where it comes out of the gate strong, and just hit milestone after milestone: 10 to 20 to 30 to 50 to 80 million, something preposterous like that.
4. The industry will begin to self-regulate loot boxes
Worldwide governments (but mostly ours, let’s be honest) will fail to actively do what they SHOULD do and ban loot boxes as forms of gambling that seek to prey upon children and adults who are prone to addictive behavior…a.k.a everyone on planet earth except monks. But the industry slowly self-regulates based around the hot topic created by consumers that there needs to be a certain way to do things for microtransactions, mostly spurred by Apple’s decision to force games on iOS to show the odds on all blind boxes. When Microsoft inevitably unveils their new Avatar achievement reward system, they should be very weary of the consequences.
5. A significant number of high and low profile games will star women this year.
It will mirror the movie industry’s big 2017 (Wonder Woman, The Last Jedi, and Beauty and the Beast were all the highest grossing movies last year). I imagine a top selling game stars a woman as the playable protagonist and if that happens to be The Last of Us Part II then I really nailed this one. Maybe we get a Horizon sequel soon, but that would be asking too much, wouldn’t it?
6. The Nintendo Switch begins to stall
After a ridiculously strong start, Nintendo has less gas in the tank than we would like (Metroid Prime 4 and Bayonetta 3 are not coming any time soon, and I don’t count ports of Wii U games, that is just obvious and necessary). Microsoft has more gas in the tank than you would think (they fucking better for their sake), and Sony does nothing to try and fix their whole “we release nothing during the holidays” approach to their first party line-up (I expect a March through August gameplan for God of War, Spider-Man, Detroit: Being Human, and Days Gone, if that still exists).
7. Battle royale games are FUCKING EVERYWHERE
…With lots of fun twists, and a lot of copyright infringement. Maybe even, from franchises you don’t expect. I also predict an actual The Hunger Games announcement because people would be stupid not to license that out in some way.
8. The return of the Dark Souls clone
And they will make much bigger splashes this year. And please, for the love of all that is holy, make it Bloodborne 2, Miyazaki-san, — Jesus Christ already! Just announce it.
9. We finally see get teases for…
Cyberpunk 2077, Borderlands 3, Division 2, a new Diablo, a new Bioshock project, Halo 6, Ghost Story and Ken Levine’s new game, and the return of a very classic franchise. I think Splinter Cell or Crimson Skies or Perfect Dark, but maybe Left 4 Dead? Who is to say, honestly, I don’t know. It won’t be Half-Life 3, though — sorry everybody, that ship has sailed. We also finally hear more about The Last of Us: Part 2, and Kingdom Hearts 3, and the Final Fantasy VII remake, and Shenmue 3, and they are all 2019 or later. Not one of those things is close to this calendar year.
10. Sony finally announces PSN name changes
…Then they suffer a major data breach because of the changed coding. Later on in the year, we hear juicy rumors and leaked details of the PS5 and it fuels the fire of a wild year for Playstation. Sony refuses to acknowledge anything. Andrew House is not there anymore, after all…it’s going to be an interesting 2018 for them, that’s for sure.
And for the gaming industry overall, well we’re at it. Let’s just hope it’s also a good one.
Jared’s Top Ten Games of This Horrible, Godforsaken Year
As I’ve gotten older, I have less free time (stop me if you’ve heard that one before, right). I’m one of millions of Gen X and Millennial children who grew up with games as a daily part of their lives, a main hobby, ageing and maturing alongside with the rest of the industry. And with less time for anything to do, and exponentially more content and media and art to consume than any time in the history of civilization, everyone has to make sacrifices and decisions. Okay, maybe that sounds more dramatic than it really is, but it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that everyone I know cannot have a conversation about anything they experience or like or want to recommend because we are all too fractured as a society to embrace the same things. With the exception of sports and Game of Thrones, I don’t watch the same shows as my friends, or see the same movies, or read the same books, or listen to the same music, or really do the same things. The games we play barely crossover, and if everyone isn’t up to drop $60 on the same title at the same time for co-op, it’s a total waste. Especially since now there is a division between discs and digital, which plants a flag in the ground on whether you keep or return the game you intend on playing. It’s maddening, and I know why so many people want to go back to a simpler time; and that isn’t even getting into the quality of old versus new, don’t even get me started on how this console generation compares to the previous ones.
And now I sort of despise the way I play video games, because I try to cram in as many podcasts and YouTube videos in as I can possibly fit into my head and my schedule. And that means turning down, or off, the audio completely on games to double dip and multi-task. It’s my version of listening to the radio during the gym, or the drive to work, or whatever you normal people in the world do with your time. For me, it’s intentionally playing games in a way that fit my lifestyle, for the worse, out of convenience, and I hate it but I can’t stop doing it.
Instead of taking on different titles, I’m mostly now just looking for idle side quests to complete as I fly through my back catalog of pods, that help me catch up on everything else I’m missing that I deem critical, like politics or the NBA. And out of all the open world games that I grinded through, the second best one was Horizon: Zero Dawn (the first is further down on the list, you already can tell what it is). And it ended up right outside my top ten, which shows you how good this year was (for the first 8 months at least).
If you watched that video I did (above this) about satisfying gameplay loops, then you’ll know why I dig Horizon so much. And if you don’t have the time or can’t be bothered to, basically the main hook of games like this and Far Cry 3 is enjoying the constant running around and exploring and finding things to do, things to kill, animals to skin, items and abilities to upgrade, quests to complete, which help the former which feeds back into the cycle to complete the latter, and so on and so forth. If you can make a pretty game that is somewhat interesting with tight controls and a unique spin, then you’re pretty much set, but Horizon took things a bit further when it came to the art direction and story and world, and mostly the fact you fight giant robot dinosaurs. With bow and arrows and traps and shit. It cannot be simply stated how fucking awesome that is, but also how fresh is it considering you’d think someone should have already done this concept. But oh well, Horizon ended up being the Turok reboot I always secretly wanted, and I didn’t have to play on an N64 controller to get it. But I did have to endure the PS4 controller, which I really don’t love playing with, so onto the other honorable mentions!
Honorable Mentions: Gorogoa, Uncharted: Lost Legacy, Tacoma, Yooka Laylee, A Hat in Time, Hand of Fate 2, Prey, Hellblade, Absolver, Hollow Knight, AC: Origins, and a ton of other little small indies I liked a lot but didn’t love
Also: The SNES Classic does not count
Considering my time with the greatest console maybe ever, and the greatest game maybe ever, there is just nothing like holding a SNES controller and flying through Super Mario World. There is literally nothing else like it, and since it’s my favorite game of all time and takes me back to my glory days of the ‘90s I refuse to not include it on my end of year list. I won’t put it above actual new games that came out, but still, I’ve never gone all the way through Super Metroid before and now I have, and I’m better off for it, that shit is lit as fuck (as the kids nowadays say). You will be too if you can find one. I don’t have much else to say, it’s pretty much what you’d expect it to be, the classic edition mini SNES, and worth every penny. Now only if it had Super Mario All-Stars, TMNT IV Turtles in Time, and Mario Paint, then it would be number 1 on this list. But it doesn’t count. Not even going to use the Star Fox 2 argument, that game is not good.
Nintendo Switch Sales Have Reached A New Milestone, But Just How Successful Is The Console So Far?
Compared to Nintendo’s last console, at the very least, the answer is…very.
At this point in time, I have yet to purchase a Nintendo Switch…but, to be honest, I kind of want to. I’m having some major FOMO with Nintendo’s newest console, especially considering the rapturous response that both Super Mario Odyssey and The Legend of Zelda: The Breath of the Wild received in the past year. I just feel incomplete as a gamer by not playing both games, what with Game of the Year Awards coming around, and both games seemingly taking every prize. There’s no other way to say it — not having a Nintendo Switch makes me feel like I am missing out on a big part of video games…which is the first time I can say that about something released by Nintendo in quite a while. And looking at these newly released Nintendo Switch sales numbers, I am far from the only one who probably has that opinion.
As revealed by Nintendo themselves, the Switch recently pushed over ten million total units in worldwide sales. That number was likely achieved through very strong Black Friday sales, which I can personally bear witness to — during my Black Friday shopping, I witnessed a whole lot of carts with Nintendo Switches (Switchii?) in them, with giant displays set up simply to supply for what seemed to be a heavy demand for the handheld/console combo. But even putting Black Friday aside, the Nintendo Switch has sold pretty well since its release in March…though it’s important to contextualize those numbers just a little bit.
Passing ten million units sold in 10 months is pretty good, but it’s not quite a record-breaking number or anything. In fact, the Nintendo Switch is only slightly ahead of where Microsoft was in sales of its Xbox One after a year of release, and those numbers were widely seen as a disappointment at the time. And both were outpaced by the initial sales of the Playstation 4, which passed the 10 million mark nine months into its release.
Still though, a lot of the conclusions made by the number crunching can mostly be viewed through the prism of expectation: the Playstation 4 was seen as a huge seller not just because it sold a bunch, but because it outpaced its predecessor by a substantial amount (don’t forget that, in the final days of the Playstation 3, it was dead last in terms of sales.) The Xbox One, comparatively, was seen as a sales disappointment, even though it still pushed an impressive amount of consoles…just not as many as the powerhouse that was the Xbox 360 did. And, returning to the Nintendo Switch, ANYTHING would have looked amazing to Nintendo coming off the complete failure of the Wii U, which only sold a staggeringly poor 13.5 million units TOTAL by the time it was discontinued in 2016. So the narrative becomes thus: the Playstation 4 is a massive success, the Nintendo Switch is a noteworthy success, and the Xbox One is a disappointing failure.
The reality? All of them are doing pretty damn good, really. Between the three none are really failures, and as consoles evolve to be more “iteration” based (with the likes of the Playstation 4 Pro and Xbox One X mudding up the works), the competition between them is probably going to became far less noteworthy as things go on. But, still, all three systems are healthy sellers which, for the sake of the industry, is probably for the best. After all, a little competition never killed anyone, right?
Also published on Medium.
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