Part 3 of A Big-Budget Roguelike?

The concluding entry in Mr. Adequate’s ‘A Big-Budget Roguelike’ series. If you missed them, read Part 1 and Part 2!

This is the fact that roguelikes are traditionally turn-based. This is vastly more consequential that first blush suggests, so much so that I think addressing it one way or another would be among the most important parts of any effort to make a big-budget roguelike. The reason for this is that being turn-based is what dictates the pace of the game, and what makes all those other elements important in turn. You enter a room in a dungeon and see three monsters, two of which you recognize as tough enemies, the third you’ve never seen before. Now you have to stop and think; Can you guess what the third monster can do, and how strong it is? At this point the many options of a roguelike come into play, and being turn-based is at the heart of that. Out of all your skills, spells, and items, which ones will serve you best in this encounter? Wiping out some small-time idiot is simple, but when you come up against a challenge in a roguelike, it is a tense game of tactics, luck, and knowing what you have on hand and how to use it. The fondest memories of pretty much any roguelike player will come from these fights, where you overcome ridiculous odds through the clever use of your tools, and most roguelikes pride themselves on designing encounters which can go from unwinnable to trivial depending on the player’s use of their tools.

Also note that there are a million items as well.
The skills available to just one class.

Going real-time changes that equation. By definition if your players can’t stop and think, your game design has to accommodate that. Imagine trying to play Dark Souls with the number of skills, items, potions, etc., that are present in a game like ToME. It simply isn’t feasible. There are still solutions to this; you could have a turn-based first-person dungeon crawler nonetheless, a game like Legend of Grimrock or Etrian Odyssey, as there is certainly a healthy market. You could do as The Elder Scrolls does, and have real-time combat with the ability to pause, go through all your spells or items, and select them or use them instantly. That gets unwieldy, but may be a sufficient solution. And this all assumes a change from the top-down grid-based perspective anyway, and that may not actually be needed. Instead you could keep that but have very high quality graphics, properly animated sprites, and plentiful effects. I am not entirely convinced of how well that could sell, but it is certainly one angle that would be interesting to see attempted.

And in the end I might just be barking up the wrong tree here. As I said above this is a hobbyist’s genre. Modern indie stuff has hugely benefited from the possibilities opened up by crowdfunding, and more than one existing roguelike has used it in order to improve. Games like ToME, ADOM, and Cataclysm have expanded gameplay as well as made themselves more attractive, whilst a game like Dungeonmans has helped refine things so that it is more accessible. Games from FTL to Project Zomboid have taken aspects of the genre and made something new. Japanese devs have always taken some parts of Roguelikes and incorporated them into exciting games, with a particular focus on first person, Dragon Quest-inspired dungeon crawlers. All of this makes it hard to predict the future of the genre, as it may inspire a bigger effort from a bigger developer who thinks they see a niche, or it may simply continue being a smaller, constantly remixed genre for those who want to go and find it.

I'm definitely going to resist the siren song of Legion btw.
It wouldn’t be the first time a genre has had an unexpected breakout hit that changes everything!

Either way, though, Procedural Death Labyrinths are in rude health as a genre. There are a wealth of entries that range from the brutally hardcore NetHack to the much more approachable, yet still challenging, Dungeonmans. And as I have said there are also many games that take some aspects of the genre whilst leaving others behind to make new subgenres or gameplay experiences. Despite this I would still love to see a company with real resources take a shot at the genre. Any takers? From Software? Bethesda? Anyone?

Part 2 of a Big-Budget Roguelike?

Part 2 of a multi-part series by Mr. Adequate looking at the possibilities of making a roguelike with a generous budget. Read Part 1 here!

The modern trends in and around the genre imply that the apparent conflict between long roguelikes and short gamer attention spans is not insurmountable. A particular subgroup of the genre has come to be called “Coffeebreak roguelikes”, and they gained this name by being games you could fire up and play for ten or fifteen minutes while taking a coffee break. There are obvious contradictions with some of the points that define the genre, most especially as a coffeebreak roguelike is explicitly one that can be learned with great ease. The difficulty for developers arises in designing a game that distinguishes between difficulty of learning to play, and difficulty of mastering. Chess, for example, has rules that can be explained in a few minutes and can be picked up in a game or two, yet is a game of astonishing depth and ongoing tactical evolution. I would say that the accessible roguelike needs, as a top priority, to make itself approachable, so players can pick it up and know what they are doing and how to do what they want as quickly as possible. Coffeebreak roguelikes are certainly a step in that direction, and in particular games like DooMRL or Dungeonmans are vastly more approachable than some of the old games.

Similarly we have seen roguelikes which make a concerted effort to be more aesthetically appealing to players. Graphics remain basic and actual animations are rare, but it’s hard to think of modern roguelikes which do not have either inbuilt tilesets or easily modded ones. Roguelikes also run into an unusual problem in this regard because their sheer scope makes having a graphical representation for every possible item, monster, and piece of equipment, is difficult to achieve. This wasn’t a problem in the old days when a tyrannical, lordly dragon was represented simply by a ‘D’. Modern games even within the genre are more hesitant about doing that, and those who seek to branch out take pains to meet that challenge, but a complex roguelike with a large budget would have to devote considerable dev resources to the task.

Come on Bethesda, you made Daggerfall, make TES VI this big!
Dwarf Fortress is only part Roguelike but the scope of the map makes the point.

Perhaps that is an inherent contradiction. Perhaps the complexity expected from roguelikes as a genre makes the idea of a complex one in a 3D world and first person perspective simply unworkable. Is there actually a way that, say, the vast array of items and their interactions in NetHack could be done in a modern RPG UI? I’m sure it could. Could it be meaningfully better than the system that we have in NetHack today? That’s a less certain prospect. There is a lot of information to convey in most roguelikes, and the detail demanded the genre means shortcuts such as showing a sword does fire damage by having it be on fire isn’t enough. That would be good, sure, but players want and need the details. Does it do a flat +3 fire damage? Does it do 1d6 fire damage? Yet roguelikes also have a lot of hidden information, quite deliberately, because the process of learning is largely the point. In truth much of the appeal of roguelikes is in not starting with the kind of information players desire. You learn it over time, hard-won knowledge through repeated playthroughs. This weapon is good for this situation. This spell is good for this enemy. Combine X and Y items to make Z potion. True, this is part of most games to some extent, but it is taken to its logical conclusion with the roguelike genre.

In roguelikes as they stand this tension has been resolved mostly in favor of complexity and obscurity, and there is much to commend that approach. Whether it could be applied successfully to a game with more stereotypically large production values is another matter. A bigger budget means that a bigger audience, with higher sales, is needed to break even. There is something of an instinctive assumption that this just doesn’t comport with the kind of gameplay a roguelike has, but there is a shining example of a game that demonstrates quite conclusively that very difficult games can be very popular. That game, or rather series, is Dark Souls, notorious for unforgiving gameplay that takes effort and mastery, as well as learning about different weapons, timings, and what enemies can do. That is not to say the game is a roguelike, as it shares similarities only in that they are RPGs of a form and both are difficult, but rather to highlight that difficulty is not necessarily a bar to success – there is a potential customer base for difficult games of some considerable size.

dark souls dot gif

By the same token, roguelikes have had a surprisingly large effect outside their own genre in recent years, with many games taking inspiration in one way or another to create new experiences. These have been termed “roguelites”, as they typically adopt some aspects of the genre but not others, such as having randomly generated levels and loot but no permadeath. Some games also feature Ironman modes, which can be chosen by players who do seek the thrill of permadeath, but can be left off for those who want a more traditional progression through a game. There are many examples of elements of roguelikes being adopted by other genres or subgenres – perhaps most notable is the randomization of loot, areas, and to some extent enemies which the Diablo series took. From there a whole subgenre of ARPG was built, and that in turn influenced games of all kinds. When you pick up a really powerful purple gun in Borderlands? Ultimately that stems from roguelikes.

Roguelites now encompass games such as The Binding of Isaac, FTL, Rogue Legacy, and Risk of Rain, all of which draw some but not all elements of the genre in, and often mix them with others. It’s probably not fair to actually use the roguelite label as one of definition, in fact, because it’s more about games of other types that have adopted parts of roguelikes, rather than it being a subgenre of roguelikes. Still, things such as permadeath, randomly generated levels, random loot, and more are far from unknown to players who have never even heard of Rogue. It’s a different fact, and one which knits all those disparate mechanics together, that in my eyes really makes a roguelike.

Tune in next time to find out what this central element is in the third and final part of the series, now available right here!

Part 1 of A Big-Budget Roguelike?

In this multi-part series, Mr. Adequate takes a look at the roguelike genre and asks; what if someone with money made one?

Roguelikes. A genre steeped in misty and foreboding lore, a place where the truly hardcore dwell and where mastery of a single game can easily take years or even more. This is the genre of archaic acronyms like ToME and ADOM, inscrutable graphics that have until recently almost always been ASCII and nothing but, and most of all brutally unforgiving gameplay, which the fans of course love and relish. But why has the genre stayed in this niche? Where is the ‘big budget’ roguelike, or if not triple-A at least a medium level game with enough funding for animation and better UIs?

In order to explore this question, we need to know what we mean by the term roguelike, and my argument will also hinge on a look at the influences the genre has had on others, which is surprisingly varied. Roguelikes, as you may discern from the name, are games which are like Rogue. Released all the way back in 1980, before even Pike and I were born, Rogue wasn’t actually the first entry in the genre but was by far the most successful of the early contenders, and as this was an era when genre names were deeply unoriginal (remember “Doom-Clone”?) that was the name that stuck. Unlike the transition from Doom-clone to First Person Shooter, Roguelikes have never attained a more generic genre name, and so we still refer to a game that is now 36 years old to describe them. That said, note that the term “Procedural Death Labyrinths” or PDLs does exist even if it lacks much currency. For a good discussion of the genre’s name take a look at Tanya X. Short’s article on Gamasutra about the matter.

The monster actually looks like he's real sleepy tbh, not that scary.
Get ready to git gud.

Once Rogue arrived, the genre started to gain traction and staples of the genre such as NetHack, Angband, and Ancient Domains of Mystery (ADoM) would drop through the 80s and 90s. These games shared certain qualities that made them obvious descendants of Rogue and which codified the genre, among which were;

– Dungeon crawling as the primary thing you are doing

– Built on a core of RPG elements, which is to say stats, levels, etc.

– Turn-based combat

– A typically vast array of skills, items, equipment, monsters, and so on

– Procedurally or randomly generated levels

– Very basic aesthetically, with ASCII graphics and sometimes no sound or music at all

– Permadeath, so if you die, you’re dead and that character is gone forever; you often have to reroll the world as well

Still, the genre has always had some flux in it and that has colored efforts to pin down exactly what a roguelike is. Even the most well-meaning and intelligent efforts such as the Berlin Interpretation run into controversy, especially due to the influence the genre is now having outside of the core canon of games that are almost universally agreed to fit into the genre.

Roguelikes developed in a unique situation that led to this rather uncommon combination of features. A large influence on their evolution was the university culture of the 80s, where the computer and still young Internet created a potent and hitherto unseen space for sharing ideas and information. The terminal computers of the day were not exactly powerhouses and this led to extremely compact programs when people started to make games. The genre can perhaps be thought of as a collection of preset rules which interact to create the procedural elements – those rules can be programmed far more efficiently than a comparable number of levels. This also explains the spartan aesthetic elements and ASCII graphics, as anything more was prohibitive in both computing demands and Internet capacity.

Now imagine learning what the symbols for 400+ monsters are.
So this is basically what it looked like as a genre.

This created a culture of hobbyists, who were making these games because they enjoyed tinkering, to improve their skills, or to experiment with gameplay mechanics. In turn this meant a very open culture developed where the games were almost all freeware, where source code was shared, and where forks were actively encouraged. Indeed most of the older extant roguelikes trace their lineage to a different version of themselves. For instance, Rogue was cloned as a game called Hack, and further development on Hack is what morphed it into the seminal NetHack.

The upshot of this was in turn to make a genre that was dedicated to its vision, with developers dedicated to their games, and players dedicated to mastery. Roguelikes are uncommon in that they are explicitly very, very hard games most of the time, and many can take years of play to even complete once, nevermind to actually master. This is a point of great pride for essentially everyone in the community. The level of complexity in a game is often held up as a virtue and, when you really get to grips with something and discover the tremendously improbable ways you can combine skills and items to achieve victory, it’s easy to see why. The downside is that accessibility has suffered and until recently has been a low priority for developers. Just getting to grips with the basics of playing the game, the equivalent of learning to jump, fire a gun, and throw a grenade in Halo, can be daunting. In my experience this is not something that engenders much elitism among roguelike players, rather the attitude is “Yes, it’s a pain to learn, but it’s so worth it!” but nonetheless for a new player approaching the genre can be deeply intimidating.

Yadda yadda Matrix joke.
This is the most thrilling zombie attack ever, I swear.

Here, perhaps, we see the first true obstacle to the creation of a big-budget roguelike, as most gamers today are thought to want fairly short adventures of something between, say, eight and twenty hours. Those who want longer games still have their genres and some do very well (Consider Pillars of Eternity’s success for a prime example), but aside from the occasional Skyrim it’s just not what players as a whole are looking for. There’s almost certainly truth to this view, as only a small subset of people who play games really have the time or inclination to invest dozens of hours into games with any regularity, even though we probably all have the rare one that sucks us in far beyond what we expected.

Next time, we’ll look at trends in modern roguelikes and roguelites for some ideas of how a big-budget roguelike might stumble, and what it might do to bring in the masses.
Read Part 2 here and Part 3 here!

The Tale of The Time I Found a Weird Arcade In Another Dimension

So a couple years back Mister Adequate and myself visited a little arcade that was in the back of a dinky bagel shop.  So far so normal, right?

As it turns out this arcade was anything but normal.  The room itself had a weird feeling to it, as if it wasn’t quite of this world but was trying its hardest to blend in.  The games themselves were proof that this wasn’t your average arcade.

For starters, there was a Pac-Man machine with a maze that wasn’t anything like a normal Pac-Man maze.  Also, when you won, it said “Linear Elect” instead of Game Over.  I actually took a picture of it because it was so weird.

???????????
???????????

There was also a game called “Kickman” which neither I nor Mister Adequate have ever heard of before in our entire lives.  Now not to brag or anything but we kind of know a lot about video games.  It’s why we’re writing this blog, after all.  But “Kickman”?  It was brand new to us.  Wikipedia says it exists, but I’m dubious.  I’m pretty sure the wikipedia page was spawned into existence by whatever otherworldly power is behind that strange arcade.

Finally, there was a Frogger machine that refused to accept regular quarters.  Presumably because it only accepts quarters from its own native dimension – wherever that is.

I think the only normal game in the building was Donkey Kong.  Probably because Nintendo hardware is impervious to things like damage and black holes and time continuums.

So there you have it.  The strange tale of the arcade from an alternate universe.  I wonder what other sorts of games await us beyond our own world?

Brexit Simulator 2016

By now you have almost certainly heard that, in an historic referendum, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Whilst markets and quite possibly nations crumble, an interesting idea occurred to me. Where is the game about this?

Well, of course, there’s unlikely to be a game about this issue specifically because it has only just happened, and it was not the outcome which was expected at that. No, what I am really getting at is where are the games about a topic like this. There are a lot of games, primarily in the simulation/strategy/management tent, which focus on some kind of aggressive acquisition of objectives. Be it land, money, resources, there’s plenty of games out there if you want to relive the campaigns of generals from Alexander to Napoleon. But what if you’d rather a game where you choose between playing Lloyd George, Clemenceau, Wilson, or Orlando, in an effort to get the best deal possible after the war is over?

When I found this file it was called "clemmie.jpg" and I ain't changing that.
Preorder bonus is early 20th century statesman’s facial hair.

In games, conflict is rarely boring. You are thrust into the action whether as a foot soldier or high-level commander, and charged with anything from assaulting Caen to stopping an armored breakthrough with limited resources to crossing the Rubicon. And these are often mightily enjoyable experiences when you’re in the safety of your own home. On occasion a game takes a look at the costs of war too, whether through the strikingly austere presentation of DEFCON or by directly putting you in the shoes of a civilian, as in This War Of Mine. Yet the end of war is never treated with the same kind of detail. In some games such as those from Paradox there is often a nod to the complexities thereof, for instance by making wars require explicit casus belli, but even this is not the norm. Generally peace is achieved through extracting resources, territory, or both, and nothing more is said on the matter.

Moreover this is far from the only kind of non-conflict topic which could be examined in a game. As I said, what about a game where you have to negotiate a country’s exit from (or indeed accession to) the EU? Whatever one thinks of that decision nobody denies that leaving will be a vastly complicated and lengthy procedure, with an extraordinary number of issues that have to be settled before the exit can actually take place. Or what about a constituent part of the UK, where you play as for instance Scotland trying to negotiate independence from the UK and EU membership at the same time?

There were some historical inaccuracies, yes, but "English get tae fuck" remains a powerful rallying cry.
Every man dies. Not every man truly spergs.

These do have the potential to be dry topics. One of my classes in university was on the EU, and much of it was indeed quite a dry and thick topic. However, our final exam was not a written one but rather a role-playing exercise where we formed groups of delegates from EU member nations, and the EU itself, to try and resolve a policy issue that was put to us. This was stressful due to being an exam, but it was also a lively back-and-forth affair of trying to set out our position, suss out everyone else’s, and of giving and getting compromises until everyone went away annoyed but ultimately willing to commit to the deal.

There are a vast number of examples where peaceful negotiations, peace treaties, and so forth could be used as a model for such a game and I am just providing a couple of particularly salient examples to make my case. The next question, if that basic idea is accepted, is how could such a game be made? In truth I am quite a bit less certain about this than that it should be tried. It would not be a totally new genre – games such as Democracy 3 and Shadow President provide at least an outline to start from – but it would nonetheless be something that needs to be developed largely from scratch, without the convenient genre conventions (and occasional crutches) that typically provide the framework for both designers and players to rely on.

What about a city builder where you deal with a large army invading as the civil administrator?
It’s not like genres haven’t been invented before though.

We can draw some outlines though. First is to establish what constitutes win, and lose, conditions. I suspect it would be best to focus on a particular situation, such as Brexit or Versailles, rather than to have a one-size-fits-all approach with multiple scenarios. That sounds limiting, and I do believe some element of randomness should be present (e.g. a Versailles game should involve a possibility for the US to be absent, or Imperial Russia to still be present with no Brest-Litovsk having taken place, or so forth). How to define victories and losses in such a game would be the real problem, in no small part because such things were hotly contested in real life. My proposition would be that the country or interest you represent would have some semi-random objectives it wishes to achieve, and your job is to do that. Post-game, you would ideally be shown the longer-term consequences of these choices, but I’m not sure that it would be good to e.g. be France at Versailles, get everything Maréchal Foch wanted, and then see that twenty years later your success as a player led to WW2. Failure states, conversely, could encompass a whole array of things, from simply not getting everything you wanted to reigniting the war.

Gameplay itself could meanwhile take quite a variety of forms. The two which most immediately spring to mind are either dialog trees and responses, something like L.A. Noire perhaps, or by making some sort of card game in the style of Fate of the World or the diplomacy side of Star Ruler 2. These are obviously fairly at odds in how they approach matters and the former would seem to be much more difficult to implement well than the latter. Regardless it would be a venture into untested waters, and in the absence of glamor I expect such games would be exclusively the domain of indie devs. If any do want to give it a shot, you’ve certainly got one potential customer who would be deeply interested in taking a look!

I would love to hear what you think about this possibility. Have I missed any obvious ways it might be implemented? Any problems you can foresee? Are there in fact such games in existence, which I am unaware of? Please leave your comments!

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Dragon Age

Dragon Age is a series I didn’t get into until very recently, for several reasons.  One of the reasons was a simple lack of time to play every video game I want to play.  Another reason was “I dunno, I’m not really a Bioware person.”  And, finally, there was the “I know I’m going to get obsessed with it if I play it, so I’m not going to play it” reason.  Hey, at least I can say I know myself well, right?

So a few months back I gave in, due largely to Mister Adequate’s insistence as he’d recently played through the games and recommended them.  So I bought them, rubbed my hands together, and went on a marathon.  I played all three – Origins, 2, and Inquisition, as well as nearly all of the DLC – in order.  And I came out of the experience a broken creature, sniffling and teary-eyed because this stupid game series had put me through the wringer more than anything in recent memory.  (Except maybe Undertale, which had me sobbing because a couple of pixels told me I was their friend, but that’s a story for a different blog post.)

Anyways.  The tale of how Dragon Age ruined my life.

Before Dragon Age, this gigantic art print most certainly was not hanging on my wall.
Before Dragon Age, this gigantic art print was most certainly NOT hanging on my wall.

I figure most of you reading this have probably heard of this series, if not played it.  So I won’t go into huge detail about what it is.  A quick overview, though, just in case: it’s a party-based CRPG – a spiritual successor to games like Baldur’s Gate and Icewind Dale – but modernized for a new generation.  It’s made by Bioware, which means it’s full of choices and romance and a pretty thick story.  The lore is excellent and done in a way that it falls smack in the middle of Saturday Morning 80s Cartoon (Warcraft) and Complicated Ethereal Tangle Where Everything and Nothing is Canon (The Elder Scrolls).  But while all of these things were well done, where this series truly shines is the characters.

47810_screenshots_20160624181631_1Do you see all these losers?

They’re my best friends in the world and I love them dearly.

The Dragon Age Setting aka Thedas (yes Bioware we all see what you did there) is a dark fantasy world inspired by, among other things, George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire.  But whereas I eventually quit watching Game of Thrones because it was just so dark and dreary all the time– oh look, another one of your favorite characters bit the dust in a horrible fashion, hooray!– Dragon Age actually manages to shine a beam of hope through its dark world.  And that hope is largely generated by the companions you meet, who offer moments both humorous and tender.  So while death doesn’t discriminate between the sinners and the saints (and it takes and it takes and it takes)… well, we keep living anyway, and you’re not alone.  And let me tell you what, in today’s world, that’s an incredibly comforting reminder.

So moving on.  If you laugh in the face of the idea of falling in love with a bunch of polygons on your monitor, I’ve got news for you buddy: Alistair is adorkable, Zevran needs your help remembering his worth, Leliana wants to talk to you about shoes and Shale is a giant robot made of rocks.  Also you get a dog.

Thank you for the Snapchat, Bioware.
Thank you for the Snapchat, Bioware.

Ohhh and we’re not done yet.  Hold on to your hats because it’s time for Dragon Age 2 which is all about friendship with a bunch of losers who only ever exist to make your life a living hell, and yet you love them anyway because… why?

Oh. Got it!
Oh. Got it!

You’ve got Varric, the Ultimate Bro (using bro in a good way here – he’s your buddy, your wingman), Aveline, the Mom Friend, Merrill, who is as clueless as she is adorable, Isabela the sweet-talkin’ pirate, Fenris the broody (“I’m not brooding!”) anime elf featuring Gideon Emery’s smooth movie trailer voice, and Anders, the healer who likes cats and FREEDOM and more cats.

…granted, that doesn’t mention the parts where Merrill is really into blood magic and trying to fix a Very Evil Broken Mirror, Isabela conveniently being the reason why a bunch of Baddies won’t leave the city, Fenris’ penchant for drinking and ripping peoples’ hearts from their chests, and Anders sharing his mind with a demon and blowing things up.

But, I mean, they’re family, right?  And families are weird and dysfunctional.  And that’s not even getting started on your actual in-game family.

Thank you, Incorrect Dragon Age.
Thank you, Incorrect Dragon Age and Arrested Development.

Dragon Age: Inquisition is the newest and fanciest one, and features many new and wonderful friends such as a Spirit of Compassion who doesn’t want to hurt anyone but is mysteriously very good at stabbing people, and an unwashed apostate hobo elf whose head looks like an egg and who speaks in iambic pentameter half the time.  He also [redacted] and [DATA EXPUNGED] and romance him at your own peril because YOU WILL REGRET IT and end up buying plushies of him that you then sob over.

…not that I did that or anything.

I like my Egg. He's squishy.
I like my Egg. He’s squishy.

And I most definitely did not dedicate a Spotify playlist to him. Nnnnope.  Not me.

Ok, maybe I did.
Ok, maybe I did.

The point is that Dragon Age does for characters what The Elder Scrolls did for a world.  Morrowind throws you into a strange and alien land and over the course of the game you come to care about it, and that’s your motivation for beating the Big Bad.  With Dragon Age, you’re thrown into strange circumstances with a bunch of strange companions, and you care for them so much that they’re your motivation for beating the Big Bads.

Ultimately, this series is comfort food of the best kind: the kind we need right now.  2016 has not been particularly kind to us.  A lot of scary and tumultuous things are happening in the world right now.  It’s rough when every day you dread checking the latest news headlines or reading the trending topics on Twitter or Facebook.  It makes you wonder where the bright spots are.  What, in this strange, chaotic world, is worth it?

The world of Dragon Age is not kind to its inhabitants and yet its inhabitants are still plucky and still your friends.  They need you, and you need them.  And they’re not perfect, but they make you smile.  Or cry.  Or laugh.  Or all three.  And maybe, just maybe, it’s nice to have the reminder that there are people who are worth fighting for.  Both in a video game and in real life.

And frankly if there are video games that can remind you of that, then those are video games worth playing.

I highly recommend booping your Egg on the nose.
I highly recommend booping your Egg on the nose.

The PlayStation Neo and the Xbox Scorpio – Can the Console Cycle be Subverted?

Welcome to Every Video Games, our new blog that is about, well, each and every single video games that has ever been made! As you may be aware or have noticed, we had a previous blog about the same topic, which has become defunct. Those archives remain available for anyone who is interested, but we are looking to create a new and rejuvenated blog for your enjoyment so it may be wisest to consider them as two separate blogs, the archives simply happen to be here. We may well end up covering topics we have talked about previously, but hopefully the distance of time will offer new perspectives. Now, with that prelude out of the way, let us get right to business, the discussion of every video games!

And let’s start with a germane enough topic, the news from E3. Specifically, I’d like to talk about the console situation, because we’re in a rather unusual place and the only parallels I can draw don’t bode particularly well, though I’m not sure how strong those parallels are.

But let’s back up a little to talk about what exactly the E3 console news is. Before the show, rumors were flying around about console announcements from both Sony and Microsoft; rumors of particular interest because they did not just say that there would be the typical new mid-cycle upgrades in the vein of a smaller or slim model that has been popular since at least the PSOne. As the announcements bore out (especially on the Microsoft side) the rumors were largely correct.

First off is the Xbox One S, which does fit more into the mid-life upgrade model. There are modest hardware upgrades that revolve primarily around facilitating 4K and HDR Color, whilst being smaller and presumably somewhat lighter as well. There will also be a version with a 2TB hard drive, much larger than the existing 1TB largest drive for the Xone. So far this is all fairly typical and an unsurprising development in the console lifecycle.

Of more interest is the Xbox Scorpio, as well as the Playstation 4 Neo, though we have fewer details about the latter. It’s hardly a surprise that Microsoft would tout the raw power of the Scorpio and calling it “the most powerful console ever”, but simultaneously it is not a new console as such. Indeed, marketing head Alan Greenburg has said that Scorpio will not feature any exclusive titles (A claim questioned by his colleague Shannon Loftis in a later interview.)

So what does the Scorpio purport to do? First is that aforementioned raw power and it is, admittedly, an impressive spec sheet. It has an eight-core APU with tremendous memory bandwidth and six teraflops of graphical performance. These specs are indeed vastly more powerful than the existing PS4 and Xone, and that is precisely the point which raises eyebrows when we are told that there is meant to be total compatibility, yet at the same time a boost in performance if playing the game on the new console as opposed to the older one.

When you go home tonight there's gonna be another core in your console!
“Don’t call me Xbox Scorpion. It’s Xbox ScorpiO! But don’t call me that either, call me Hank!”

Something here, it would seem, has the potential to go awry. I will not say something doesn’t add up, as that would be too strong a statement at this stage, but I definitely see the possibility for this to not all work out as we are being told it will. At the very least it means developers will have to do additional work in order to ensure a given game runs appropriately on both systems, though one hopes this will be a relatively small undertaking thanks to presumed architectural similarities, something Sony Interactive Entertainment CEO Andrew House asserts to be true. Nonetheless, there is a risk that smaller or indie devs will face difficulties or have to make a choice about which iteration to release on, and if so a fragmented marketplace could reduce their viability overall. More problematic is the possibility of games being advertised as compatible with both, but in reality only having functionality on the more powerful option. What redress would players have in such a case? And if, as Microsoft and Sony have both intimated, this kind of rolling upgrade is their intended new norm, what happens another console or two down the line, when all these issues will come to the fore even if they have been successfully answered in the short term?

The concern I have is that consoles are meant to offer ease of use and absolutely rigid compatibility, where a game for a system is always a game for that system. Yes, many consoles offer varying degrees of backwards compatibility, but as good of a feature as that is, it has always been understood as a bonus to some extent, and one which is readily thrown out by console makers if it cannot be done cheaply or easily enough. This is in contrast to the PC scene where researching, purchasing, and installing upgrades is commonplace and where many players build their gaming rigs from scratch. Turning consoles into more of a PC-style platform seems like it could be risky, given that these are the tradeoffs as they currently stand.

Moreover there is, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, scope to draw some parallels. Now, this is less a question of compatibility and more of customer understanding and awareness, but nonetheless the point should probably be made. In short the gaming public likes consoles to be clearly distinct from each other and has historically had little interest in upgrades. People want to buy a console and for that to last for several years, half a decade or more, before they buy the next one. For examples of this we can begin by turning our minds back to the mid-90s, when SEGA was still a major console player and Sony was only just entering the scene. SEGA’s downfall as a console manufacturer began here, and even the Dreamcast (which is for my money essentially the platonic ideal of a video game system) couldn’t save it. See, what SEGA did was, they saw the next generation was coming and intended to get on board. But rather than putting their resources solely into what would become the Saturn, they sought to extend the lifespan of the Mega Drive/Genesis. They did this with not one, but two, hardware addons, the SEGA-CD and the 32X. Both improved the console’s performance. Both allowed designers to implement impressive new graphics, sound, and gameplay. Both had games which were well-regarded, and at least the SEGA CD has a few which remain fondly remembered today. And both were, ultimately, failures to some extent, though the 32X moreso than the SEGA-CD.

Ready to form Voltron! Interlocks connected!
The Mega Drive, SEGA-CD, and 32X all at once!

The CD came out in 1991/2 in various regions, which was about three years into the Mega Drive’s life, and offered a pretty obvious benefit in terms of power that led to a spate of early-90s FMV games that have become so infamous. It also had the requisite games which were more about showing off power than gameplay, in games like Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side. Still, it also offered games like Sonic CD, Lunar: The Silver Star, and Lunar: Eternal Blue, as well as improved versions of existing games and arcade ports. However it also had a high price point and an ultimately underwhelming library of games. The price point made it hard to justify getting alongside the base console, whilst the kind of devoted player willing to shell out the money might well already have many games the system possessed, albeit in 16-bit form. Still, although not a success, the SEGA-CD was not a disastrous failure either.

The 32X was another matter. This was not a CD based upgrade but a cartridge based one, intended to extend the lifespan of the Mega Drive into the early 32-bit era that was approaching rapidly. Quite a bit more rapidly than SEGA seemed to anticipate, in fact – the 32X ended up releasing alongside their 32-bit Saturn console, which as then-producer of SEGA of America said later, “it made us look greedy and dumb to consumers.” Now, the 32X was not without its own merits. The price point was much lower than the CD had been or the Saturn and PlayStation would be and it had significant early demand, with retailers around the 1994 holiday season running out of stocks in North America, whilst releases in Japan and Europe both had similarly good results. At the time it was seen by many as a reasonable alternative to the more expensive CD-based systems that were arriving; less powerful, yes, but also more approachable for the less-hardcore gamer.

Sadly things did not pan out as SEGA hoped. High initial demand rapidly declined as the system’s small library grew only slowly, whilst players were rapidly wowed by the potential of the CD-based systems and games like WipeOut and Panzer Dragoon, whilst offering competetive ports of both arcade and PC games. The 32X did manage a couple of these, with a well-regarded version of Virtua Fighting being a particular highlight among its limited library, but it floundered and failed with a library that totalled only forty games, six of which required both the 32X and SEGA-CD to play.

Ultimately these served exactly the opposite purpose to their intentions. The 32X especially cannibalized SEGA Saturn sales and made the company look, as stated, either greedy or incompetent. Meanwhile it could not measure up to the dedicated CD systems. Devs poured time and money into what would be a pit, souring relations with SEGA, which was not something they could afford with the relative difficulty of working with the Saturn’s architecture as well as the more libertine, adult-oriented attitude Sony was adopting to tremendous success.

If games influenced us we'd all be sitting in dark rooms listening to techno and eating pills.
Video games so good they induce nosebleeds! JUST LIKE DRUGS!

Moving on from that SEGA history piece, more recently there has been a somewhat mundane yet nonetheless consequential issue with the Wii and Wii U. Nintendo’s Wii was, of course, a titanic success, proving popular with many demographics and selling over one hundred million units globally. The Wii U has in turn floundered. There are a multitude of factors which may explain this, but among them are the twin issues of confusion over naming and of confusion over why one should bother with what looks like a modest upgrade. See, those same demographics who made the Wii so successful are often not the kind of person who pays very close attention to the gaming scene. Not being involved in the cycle of console generations and upgrades it is hard to explain why they would want to get a new console when their existing one does what they want. Moreover, the similarity in names combined with the absence of a clear ‘killer app’ for the non-gaming crowd made it extremely difficult for Nintendo to drive sales. Name confusion has been cited by industry figures as a major bar for the Wii U, and though that might be overstating the point or ascribing a number of factors to that single issue, it seems eminently possible that the same problem could be repeated with the Neo and S/Scorpio versions of the PS4 and XBox One. Will Sony and Microsoft have to do as Nintendo did, and explain that these are distinct systems, not simply addons to their existing consoles? In part that will depend on the nature of the upgrades of course, but in part it will depend on factors like available games and marketing.

Is there, therefore, a risk that customers will think the Neo is simply an expensive addon for their existing PlayStation 4, which allows them to play in 4K? That the Scorpio is an accessory needing a Xone and primarily for use with VR games? (Speaking of which if things are meant to be compatible both ways, but the Scorpio is especially made to be VR compatible, one wonders whether the Xone will remain as current as MS are insisting.) It’s entirely possible the issues will be overcome and these mid-cycle consoles will prove to be successful, even enough to herald a new way of iterating that replaces console generations as we know them. But I wouldn’t put too much money on that, as the history of the industry suggests there are big pitfalls which would need to be navigated, and if the examples of SEGA in the 90s and Nintendo more recently are not studied carefully, I suspect we’ll be seeing disappointed console manufacturers within a couple of years.

What do you all think about this issue? Are the parallels I identified legitimate, or am I overstating the case? Are these upgrades unnecessary, or do they perhaps offer a lot of potential for devs to take advantage of new possibilities without leaving existing systems behind too rapidly? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

Guess Who’s Coming Back?

Is it us? It might be us.

Firstly, if you happen to follow us via twitter or an RSS feed, you’ve probably noticed that the blog’s name has changed. It’s true!

The Android’s Closet is now Every Video Games.

Primarily so we are no longer mistaken for a blog about smartphone apps.  Our robot mascot is staying, although he, too, got a fancy new revamp.  And we still do like robots and androids and other mechanical things.  We also like elves, because we are trash.

But anyways, enough about that!

We have a plan.

Sort of.  Pike wants to play every single game on her Steam list.  Of which there are over 400, last she checked.  And she figured she may as well blog about it.  Because who knows, some people may want to read about it.

As for Mister Adequate, well, believe me, he has PLENTY to talk about as well.  Between the two of us, we hope to provide a decent amount of quality (or not-so-quality) posts for a little while to come.

So buckle up and get ready for a future filled with EVERY VIDEO GAMES.  Terrible grammar intended.

Guest Post: On Being a ‘Girl Gamer’

Today’s guest post is a bit of an introspective one. I feel fortunate because the gaming community has been 99% wonderful to me in the many years I have spent in it, but it’s very important to see other perspectives as well, so here are some thoughts from someone with different experiences.

On Being a ‘Girl Gamer’

That’s right, you caught me; I’m a gamer, and I’m also a girl. The world of a ‘girl gamer’ is one fraught with stereotypes and misconceptions, but I’m here to assure you that I don’t just play games to impress the boys, and my game collection (totalling over two hundred titles across eight gaming platforms) contains a lot more variety than just some kids’ games and The Sims.

When I tell people I’m a gamer, I’m almost always met with doubt. When I went into my local game store to buy Grand Theft Auto V last year, the male cashier asked me if I would be more comfortable playing Mario Kart instead. He was serious.

Don’t get me wrong – I love a night of Mario Kart with my mates – but you don’t have to be a woman to get a kick out of using a mushroom power-up to speed over the finish line, just as you don’t have to be a man to enjoy speeding away from the cops or shooting up the streets in GTA.

On countless occasions I have been directed away from ‘manly’ games to more casual, ‘girly’ gaming experiences like Mario Kart, Crash Bandicoot, Spyro or Just Dance. The problem doesn’t lie in these games, each of which I enjoy in their own right; the problem lies in the idea that I am not allowed to also enjoy GTA, Call of Duty or Gears of War.

Why are some games considered ‘not suitable’ for a female audience by many of the males who play them? Is it the realistic graphics of blood and gore? The multi-faceted narratives? The course language, sexual references and drug use? All I know is that I am considered less welcome in FPS multiplayer than the twelve-year-old boys once the other players realise they’re being taken down by a girl with a gun.

Somehow this attitude seems to only exist to this extent within the gaming community. Society has had a lot more time to get used to mediums like novels and movies, and I can only assume that this is the reason nobody has ever told me to put down a Stephen King novel because its content is too horrific for my simple female mind.

Art by Irishhips at DeviantArt
Art by Irishhips at DeviantArt

I feel like we are perhaps on the cusp of a similar shift in the gaming community. Two of the most incredible game releases last year—Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us—have taken wonderfully three-dimensional, strong female characters and placed them inside FPS games. These characters are not without their faults, with Elizabeth sometimes acting like she is merely Booker’s assistant and with the AI in The Last of Us making female characters seem rather useless at times, but these attempts to show women surviving and thriving in shoot-‘em-up environments are definitely a step in the right direction. Perhaps if we get to see virtual women holding their own in-game, the wider gaming community will realise that real women are a little bit tougher than everyone seems to think.

However, recent events, such as the Assassin’s Creed Unity debacle during E3 2014, didn’t make gamers feel particularly united. With comments that it would have taken too much work to include female multiplayer characters, it was easy to feel like an unimportant member of the franchise’s fan base. Ubisoft’s follow-up comments about striving to incorporate diversity in Assassin’s Creed games felt somewhat hollow considering their only playable female character so far has been in Assassin’s Creed: Liberation, a game originally released exclusively on the PlayStation Vita. I had hoped the game’s success, and subsequent re-release on the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade and Steam, would have encouraged further inclusion of female characters in future instalments, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

This situation demonstrated an obvious step backwards by a developer regarding the ongoing endeavour to represent women as capable, strong characters in action games, but there was comfort in the consequential uproar from gamers of all genders. The reaction suggested that diverse representation—not just of gender, but of all facets of human varience—is something that at least some members of the gaming community are striving for and will fight for.

Today’s post was brought to you by writer Alayna Cole, who can also be found on twitter at @AlaynaMCole.

Guest Post: One Way Heroics

We haven’t updated in forever! We apologize and bring you a lovely guest post!

One-Way-Heroics_960-1320

One Way Heroics doesn’t try to bog you down with the kind of grandiose plot commonly associated with JRPGs. The Demon Lord is wreaking havoc and “The Darkness” is sweeping across the land, killing everything it touches. With such a weak context, JRPG fans expecting a quirky narrative will be disappointed. But those looking for a unique side-scrolling experience are in luck.

Thirty seconds after heroic Swordmaster Max is given his quest, he forgets to move right and dies. The tutorial character pops up and ridicules him—or rather, ridicules me—and explains that One Way Heroics is about moving right. Every action causes the screen to move to the right, and if you don’t keep up, the left side of the screen—The Darkness—will instantly and remorselessly murder you. Dead. Game Over.

At first, this forced scrolling mechanic seems punishingly unfair. The first few dungeons are impossible to explore before the screen catches up with you. The good treasure chests take too long to bash open. If you’re impatient or quick to anger, it might only take a single botched run before you wish it were a physical game you could hurl across the room. But One Way Heroics is not a game you win on the first attempt. Or even the second attempt.

If you want to succeed at One Way Heroics, you need to accept one universal truth: the RNG gods are fickle. Max II died in his very first battle. His attack missed, and the enemy wolf double critical hit him for instant death. But quitting is not the answer. In fact, one of the best strategies comes straight from master tactician Zapp Brannigan: simply sending wave after wave of heroes at the enemy will yield progress. Each run awards Hero Points based on stats like distance travelled and number of treasure chests opened. Those points can then unlock new classes, gain new perks, and expand the Dimensional Vault—a persistent, cross-character treasure chest that can be accessed at the start of each run.

Suicide runs are a good way to get familiar with other aspects of the game. Knowing which merchants to speak to and which enemies are tougher than others can save precious time. But it can feel like a tough, lengthy grind before the game actually gets fun. The first two classes—Swordmaster and Knight—are infuriatingly average. Swordmaster draws inspiration from the Fire Emblem class of the same name: hit first, hit often, and do criticals for massive damage. Unfortunately, enemies tend to surround you and simply mosh you to death—assuming the RNG doesn’t screw you first.

maxresdefault

If you can stomach the initial difficulty, One Way Heroics is insanely entertaining. But it can feel somewhat like Dark Souls; until you master it, the game is relentless and crushing. Minor errors can leave you trapped behind a wall, without enough time to smash a hole in it. Being economical with actions is the most important skill to learn. Mastering diagonal movement will also save your life more times than a big sword will.

While there are eight classes to choose from, they are somehow simultaneously completely imbalanced and startling samey. My first run with Roger the Pirate was infinitely more successful than every run with a Max. He smashed his way through enemies, walls, and chests like an angry, eye-patched, out of control steam train. He hit more frequently with his giant axe—which carries an accuracy penalty of 15%—than other classes did with swords and other supposedly more accurate weapons. And yet, One Way Heroics can still find ways to screw you over. Roger axed his way through everything, and the Demon Lord still wiped the floor with him because Roger hadn’t channelled his inner Jack Sparrow enough to recruit party members.

The ability to assign five perks—including stat boosts and special skills—helps mitigate some drawbacks to each class, but ultimately some of the classes are more useful than the others. While the classes are designed to be unique, perks whitewash the differences until they all seem about the same. And when you’re out in the field using scavenged equipment, there’s very little difference between the classes anyway. The largest variation in play style comes from equipment choice, which undermines the point of including classes in the first place.

One Way Heroics isn’t a masterpiece but it is really fun—assuming you aren’t put off by the high difficulty curve and frustrating RNG screwballs. The forced scroll mechanic is novel and provides a lot of challenge and strategy to what might otherwise be a walk in the park. Playing with conventions can sometimes result in something unexpected and enjoyable, and One Way Heroics is proof of that.

Now it’s time to see if Max III can succeed where his ancestors have failed.

Today’s post was brought to you by gaming journalist Dakota “Jiro” Barker, who can also be seen at his own gaming news blog Press Start News.

[disgusted noise]