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Ratchet & Clunky Adaptations

After seeing me play Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart, Allie was intrigued by the story and characters and suggested we could finally watch the Ratchet & Clank movie.

We didn’t like it.

As a quick reminder - in 2016, there was a Ratchet & Clank movie which rebooted the franchise’s story, changing at least as much as it kept from the plot of the original game. Alongside this was a game called simply Ratchet & Clank, which was sort of a remake of the original 2002 game, but also a direct adaptation of the film, which was itself loosely based on that original game.

I’d previously understood, thanks mainly to Super Bunnyhop’s analysis, that the 2016 game was technically solid but had its story and characters substantially worsened by needing to conform to story beats from the film, which itself was a mediocre and generic kids' movie. After seeing the film, I think this was a generous assessment or that I’d overestimated the quality I could expect from a mediocre kids' movie. The film’s storytelling and characterization is also quite weak (weaker than most of the games; Allie’d been intrigued by Rift Apart and was bored by the movie) and there are multiple out-of-place-feeling scenes that seem to only exist because of the tie-in game.

While I’d previously been frustrated by the negative impact the movie had on the game, I’d assumed this was due to Sony and others prioritizing the movie and so at least the movie had probably basically achieved its goal. This doesn’t seem to have been the case. The movie lost several million dollars, which resulted in the Sly Cooper movie getting shelved. So this was a purely destructive trade-off. The story reboot doesn’t even seem to have stuck; while Rift Apart doesn’t directly contradict anything from the 2016 film/game, it also doesn’t acknowledge any of its events or characters but does directly follow up events and plot threads of other previous games.

What a waste that movie was.

In looking into this, I found out there’s also an upcoming TV series. Based on the pilot, it’s not quite in line with the canon, tone, or characterization of the games but is at least better constructed than the film and more like what I had pictured as mediocre kid’s media. I don’t think it’ll do as poorly as the film, but I don’t think Allie or I will want to watch it.

(Also it’s weird to me how many references to the games are in both the film and the TV pilot. I feel like the people who catch them are also the people who would be upset at how much those adaptations change the canon and the characters.)

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Ratchet & Clank: Binge Apart

I did a slightly weird thing this last weekend. I played Ratchet & Clank.

I mean, that’s not the weird part. I’ve been a fan of R&C since the first game in 2002 and have played every game in the series (including re-releases) usually to 100% completion and usually multiple times (the multiplayer-focused All 4 One and Full Frontal Assault presented challenges in that area as none of my friends then were as into R&C as I was).

To get to the weird part, you have to know that I don’t have a PS5 and that the recent Ratchet & Clank: Rift Apart is so far the only PS5 exclusive that I care about. I want to play it, but I don’t want to pay several hundred dollars to play it (while supporting the casual erosion of privacy along the way). But one of Allie’s friends turns out to be as big of an R&C fan as I am, and he has a PS5 and the game. He offered to loan me both for a weekend so that I could play it.

I had several reactions to this. First, I was excited that I could get a chance to play the game without buying a PS5. Second, I was grateful that the friend was willing to be so generous. Third, I recognized that this couldn’t possibly be the best way to experience the game and I would probably enjoy it more if I just waited for an opportunity to play the game under less time pressure. And fourth, I found myself wondering if I could do it. In sort of the same way you might decide to try spending 24 hours in a Target - you know it’s going to be a bit rough, and it’s not like it’s a notable achievement or anything, but you kind of want to know what it’s like and whether you’re up to the challenge. So I thanked him, accepted his offer, and set out to complete Ratchet & Clank and get the platinum trophy within a weekend.

He showed up with the PS5 on Friday evening and I started Rift Apart at 7:00 PM. I proceeded to binge-play it in a way I haven’t done with any game since I was single, unemployed, depressed, and hooked on WoW. I played for a few hours, went to bed, woke up early Saturday morning, and went right back to playing. Apart from dog-walking, some quick bio breaks, and a brief trip to the carpet store with Allie, all I did on Saturday was play Rift Apart.

It was a bit disorienting. It started fun, but every time I reached a point where normally I’d want to put the game down and do something else, I forced myself to continue. By Saturday night, I was convinced the whole thing had been a mistake. I was clearly still at least an hour or two away from being done, but I was tired of the game and could no longer enjoy it. I had burned my entire Saturday for a rushed, sub-par experience of a game I’d rather savor. Probably the biggest issue is that while I usually get steps while I game, for some reason trying to do that here made me dizzy. So, I got very little exercise all day which left me feeling a bit lousy. I decided I didn’t want to throw good days after bad and I’d probably just give up on the game and have a normal Sunday at least.

But after sleeping, when I got up Sunday morning I decided to give it another shot. And the game was fun again! The same content that I’d found frustrating the previous night was now a blast. By 11:30 AM, I’d completed the game and most optional objectives and earned the platinum trophy. (I had gotten all the collectibles, including those for which there is no trophy, but did not complete a challenge mode playthrough because of the time constraints. Normally I don’t consider a R&C game completed until I’ve finished challenge mode, but under the circumstances compromises had to be made.) And then I had a half-normal Sunday and got some exercise before returning the PS5 that evening.

Overall, I’m glad I did this and grateful to Allie’s friend for the loan. I rose to the challenge and it was an interesting experience. I already knew that my mood, energy level, and burnout could strongly affect whether I enjoyed a game, but this was a really stark example of it - I was ready to write the game off Saturday night, but both before and after that I enjoyed the game a lot. (Definitely increases my empathy for game reviewers who have to rush through titles to get release-day reviews up.) And frankly - the fact that I enjoyed the game as much as I did (it’s easily the best R&C since 2009’s A Crack in Time) when I played it this way means the game is really good! Just imagine how much I’d have enjoyed it if I could have really savored it.

I had honestly been ready to write off R&C as an effectively dead franchise - I’m both relieved that Insomniac is making good R&C games again and annoyed that this probably means I will eventually get a PS5. Because when the next R&C game comes out, I’d like to have a bit longer of a span to enjoy it.

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Two news pieces today on games adding restrictions in response to government action.

First, Linden Lab is banning gacha mechanics in Second Life. I’m slightly embarrassed that my first reaction to this news was “There’s gacha in Second Life?” I’ve known for ages that people could make and sell content and services in that game, but I frankly haven’t thought about Second Life since before the lootbox controversies and so it simply never occurred to me that users would be using gacha mechanics there. Once mentioned, though, it’s totally obvious that it would happen.

But what’s interesting to me about this is that the announcement specifically says this move is because of “a changing regulatory climate”. I’m not aware of recent changes to regulations around gacha, so I’d love to know more about what prompted this action and what the discussions around the “difficult decision” were like.

It’s worth noting that we have gacha in real life and have for a long time. There are the physical capsule/gashapon machines from which the mechanic get its name, and also things like blind-boxes and CCGs. Why aren’t these seen as just as problematic and exploitative? Why isn’t there a “changing regulatory climate” around these?

I think that it’s mostly because the physicality of the product creates a secondary market. If you like buying a surprise, you can buy through gacha; if instead there’s a specific item you want (either because you only like some of the items in the set or because you’re looking to complete a collection) you can buy from someone who already found that specific one. And if you buy a bunch through gacha and decide you don’t want to keep everything, you can recoup your expenses by reselling your duplicates or undesirables to someone who does want those specific ones. Heck, you could plausibly buy a bunch of gacha, decide you don’t want any of them, and sell them all for a profit.

This flexibility makes the entire system less exploitative. Resalability both makes gacha-purchases more valuable and prevents anyone from being “forced” into gacha and potentially-bottomless spending to get the specific thing they want.

I would argue that what makes gacha a problem in video games (game design considerations aside) is lack of resalability. This is what makes it a money hole that takes more money from consumers while providing less value in return - other cheaper options are removed for users trying to get specific things and users have no way to get any portion of their money back after spending.

I have never played Second Life, but my understanding is that the in-game currency can be easily exchanged with real-world currency via an external market and that user-created goods are resalable - indeed, Linden Lab’s announcement refers to the ability to re-sell items that had been purchased through gacha and indicates this remains intact. So that means that gacha within Second Life does, in fact, have a secondary market and thus avoids the pitfalls and exploitations of non-resalable in-game gacha.

I previously wrote that “it’s very hard to write a law that prevents evil loot boxes while not preventing similar things that aren’t evil." If Second Life has to remove gacha mechanics because of regulations written to stop abuses by companies like EA, I think that counts as an example of this kind of failure mode.


The second news item that struck me today is that Chinese conglomerate Tencent will be curbing time and money spent in games by minors after Chinese state media called online games “spirital opium”.

Maybe you think that specific plan is a good thing and maybe you don’t, but what’s interesting to me about this is that I’ve been watching Tencent somewhat nervously as they gobble up ownership stakes in a number of international game companies, many of which have huge audiences. It’s hard to tell yet what the effects of this will be, but I can’t help but read it as a bit of a harbinger. It seems likely that Chinese state views on gaming and the Chinese “regulatory environment” are going to have an effect on a lot of popular games developed outside China and played worldwide, for better or worse.

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Jetpack Joyride Minus

It’s the ones you love that can hurt you the most.

On September 1, 2011, Halfbrick Studios released Jetpack Joyride on the iOS App Store. I was already a fan of Halfbrick thanks to games like Fruit Ninja, Monster Dash, and especially Age of Zombies. But Jetpack Joyride was on a whole other level, immediately becoming my favorite mobile game, my favorite one-button game, and my favorite auto-runner. It might, in some senses, still be all those things.

I bought Jetpack Joyride on iOS when it came out. I loved it so much that I then bought it again for my PlayStation Portable in 2012 and a third time for my PlayStation Vita in 2013. And now, I’m… pretty glad I did that. Because after revisiting the phone version in 2017 in order to finally review it, I found it had changed a lot. The game started as a paid purchase with some microtransactions, but now it was F2P with a lot more microtransactions and a daily reward system. It started adding even more engagement rewards in the form of limited-time events, and then Apple’s rules changed and in order to keep playing it I would have had to explicitly consent to Halfbrick harvesting my data. So I stopped playing it. But the PlayStation versions had been left behind by the updates and still had arguably the superior version of the game. Certainly the less-obnoxious, less-greedy version.

It’s one of the standout examples to me of the failures of the app store model. I bought Jetpack Joyride in 2011. I paid for it. Then it went free to play and made a bunch of changes and became a product I no longer wanted. And on my modern iDevices, I had no recourse. The old version of the app was no longer compatible. (I do still have a first-generation iPad laying around, which does play the old, better version of the game. It also has other quality iOS games that you can’t download anymore, like Mirror’s Edge and Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty.)

So I was - perhaps naively - quite excited when I saw that Jetpack Joyride+ was coming to Apple Arcade. It felt like a poetic example of what I’d hoped Apple Arcade could do for mobile gaming - change the incentives to reduce sleaze. Uncoupled from the need to push microtransactions and prevented from harvesting user data, Jetpack Joyride+ could be a much less obnoxious and more enjoyable experience again.

And, like… it is? Basically? But not how I expected it to be.

On Apple Arcade, a game makes money if people keep playing it - and the relationship is direct through getting a share of those players' subscriptions, not indirect through the IAP to which those players have increased exposure. There’s no way to apply concepts of “fun pain” and “whales,” so you aren’t putting content and quality-of-life improvements behind paywalls. Instead, those are now valuable as more things to earn through play over a longer period of time. They’re ways to keep people playing.

But that’s not the approach that Halfbrick have taken with Jetpack Joyride+. Instead, everything that was tied to IAP or the daily rewards or timed events in the non-Arcade version is just… missing. This is a stripped down version of the already-free game. It’s not Jetpack Joyride+. It’s Jetpack Joyride-.

That’s already sad, but what makes it rude is that it wasn’t even a clean cut. You can still do the daily reward task, and the first time you do it you clearly get the first-day reward, and then it tells you you’ve completed day one of five. The second time you do it… no reward, and you’ve completed day one of five. The third time… no reward, and you’ve completed day one of five. It’s just broken.

It’s still a very good auto-runner and I’m still playing it for now. It’s, what, the fifth time I’ve started the game from zero in the past ten years? But it’s disappointing, and I mourn the loss of the Halfbrick I once loved.

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Pixel Poppers is dead, long live Pixel Poppers

I used to be an actor.

Back in high school, I loved drama club. I tried out for plays and had a blast becoming Wolf Ames (the beatnik equivalent of George McFly from a Back to the Future riff called Time and Time Again) and Simon Gascoyne (from the better-known The Real Inspector Hound) on stage for friends and family. I was never a lead - those roles always went to the same small handful of very dedicated, very skilled folks - but there were plenty of other parts to go around and even a small one like Paramedic #2 in Fahrenheit 451 was a good time.

When I got to college, I tried out for a play and found that the experience was very different. It seemed like everyone I was auditioning with was one of those dedicated-and-skilled folks who’d consistently landed lead roles at their old schools. Now, even they had to fight for a chance. There was no room left for hobbyists like me.

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