Thoughts

Quick, short, often niche posts about games. Sometimes they are brief looks at concepts in art, design, culture, and psychology. Other times they are reactions to specific news items or just something silly that came to mind.

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First Eleven's Free

Given that attention is more important than price on the Switch eShop, I’m impressed by the marketing-through-discounts done by QubicGames.

In addition to periodically putting their older games on sale, QubicGames often offers launch-window discounts on their new titles - if you already own a QubicGames-published game. This basically means they can send launch announcements for their new titles to people through the news channel for the game they own where it won’t get buried in the huge list of games coming out every week - but in a way that is less annoying, because it’s a coupon and not just an ad, and it’s positioned as a loyalty reward rather than just a devaluing of the game.

It’s a clever system, and it got me to purchase Space Pioneer during its launch window (and I’m really glad I did - but we’ll talk about that game later). But of course this only works once you own one of their games - so it is important that they still do regular sales as well. I didn’t know about it until I picked up One Strike on sale, and for all I know there are a bunch of other publishers doing the same thing whose ecosystems I just haven’t entered.

But now, QubicGames is doing a much more aggressive push to get people on board - over the second half of December, they are giving away ten games as long as you own a QubicGames game. The magnitude of this promotion has gotten a lot of attention, resulting in people online pointing out that one of their games is free-to-play, meaning you can get the games without spending any money at all.

The giveaway is structured such that as long as you pick up a given day’s free game, you are eligible to get the next game for free the next day - but all the games are also on sale, so if you miss a day you can cheaply get back on track. And the final game is not yet announced, so the mystery encourages people to do so even if they fall off near the end.

This is going to get a lot of people owning QubicGames games, feeling good about the publisher, and in a position to be marketed to for future titles. Clever stuff.

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Why am I still excited when a game has an arcade...

Why am I still excited when a game has an arcade with playable games in it? I find myself going “Ooooh, video games!” having completely forgotten that I am already playing a video game, one I chose to play instead of the many, many more arcade-like ones to which I have constant access.

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Persona 5 Action, not Persona 5 Musou

So like - I knew that Persona 5 Scramble was gonna be awesome. But that’s because I’ve played Hyrule Warriors and Dragon Quest Heroes and Fire Emblem Warriors and I know that when modern Omega Force makes a crossover Musou game, they are deeply respectful of the source material and they find interesting ways to incorporate it into the Musou formula, often in ways that improve both. They don’t just, like, reskin Dynasty Warriors and call it a day.

But not everybody knows that, and outside of its fan base Musou in general has a reputation as samey and shallow. Plus, back when “P5S” was being teased and nobody knew what it was yet, there were hints that it might be a Switch port of Persona 5 and a lot of people got excited for that possibility. So when the reveal was Persona 5 Scramble, a crossover Musou game by Omega Force, a lot of people were very disappointed.

Persona 5 Scramble thus had an uphill battle to fight. But it’s been doing a really good job managing expectations.

First, it was probably the right choice not to call it Persona 5 Warriors. As compelling as that title would have been to players like me, for other players it’s better to avoid baking the Dynasty Warriors expectations right into the name.

Second, Atlus and Omega Force have been aggressively marketing the game via many trailers. Early trailers focused on gameplay that is clearly not just Dynasty Warriors and is strongly influenced by Persona 5. This resulted in write-ups saying things like “Persona 5 Scramble: The Phantom Strikers – the upcoming action role-playing game from Koei Tecmo and Omega Force – isn’t just some Dynasty Warriors-style spin-off. As evidenced by the title’s most recent livestream blowout, Scramble is actually an in-depth sequel to Persona 5.” The trailers keep coming, showing off gameplay systems and the game’s cast of beloved characters, and the response is always something like “The game continues to look like much more than your typical Dynasty Warriors-like experience, meaning it’s one we’re hotly anticipating as we head into 2020.

The game is being seen as an action-based sequel instead of a lazy cash-in spin-off. And as much as I already knew what it was going to be, and as frustrated as I am that this sort of marketing push is necessary for people not to just say “DYNASTY WARRIORS BOO!” and shut down when they hear “Omega Force”, I recognize that this is really good marketing and expectation management. It gets past the unfair, inaccurate perception people have and paints a clearer image of what the game actually is - to the benefit of both the developer and the game’s potential players.

And I’m hoping it’ll help change Omega Force’s reputation, and future Musou crossovers won’t need as huge a marketing budget to get a fair shake.

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Backward compatibility would make moving to the PS5 much easier

PlayStation wants to move its established community from PS4 to PS5 quickly. Here’s PlayStation CEO Jim Ryan, as quoted by gamesindustry.biz:

These are gamers who are networked and sticky and engaged and passionate about PlayStation to an extent that we’ve not seen in previous generations. As we move towards the next-generation in 2020, one of our tasks – probably our main task – is to take that community and transition it from PlayStation 4 to PlayStation 5, and at a scale and pace that we’ve never delivered on before.

He goes on to talk about how impressive the PS5 is, and how easy it is to develop for, and how great its games will be, as well as how PlayStation itself is improving its internal organization. But I was really hoping he’d talk a bit about how the transition will be made appealing to the existing community. To me, the obvious thing is to make the PS5 not be a hard break from the existing PS4 ecosystem.

When the PS4 came out, I was very disappointed to learn it wouldn’t have any backward compatibility. I’m sure this saved money during development, and of course it meant that old games could be sold to us again as “classics” or via PlayStation Now or whatever, but it still seemed like a mistake. It meant that the PS4 wasn’t just an upgrade to the PS3, the way the PS3 had (originally) been to the PS2 and the way the PS2 had been to the PS1. For the first time, a new PlayStation console came with an entire separate ecosystem. Its value wasn’t enhanced by your existing investment in games and the community. It wouldn’t replace your existing console. It was more analogous to buying a Nintendo or Xbox console to supplement your existing console. And in that case, suddenly it’s a lot less obvious that you shouldn’t just buy one of those instead.

It was a while before I bought a PS4, and longer before I was confident I’d been correct to do so (and my PS3 is still hooked up next to it). If the PS5 wants me to be more confident that I should move over to it quickly, it should at least play every PS4 game, disc and download alike. Similar compatibility for games for older PlayStation consoles would be even better, and while I personally don’t do much online play, cross-play with gamers on at least PS4 seems like it would help too. There are rumors (supported by a patent) that the PS5 will in fact be backward-compatible (though perhaps not for the unusually-architected PS3) but it’s unclear yet whether this is true and whether it would mean we could reuse our old discs and downloads. Guess we’ll still just have to wait and see.

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Bubsy: Twisted Dreams

Bubsy: Paws on Fire! was my first Bubsy game and I loved it and thought it set a new standard for rhythm platformers. After 100%ing it on Steam, I’m playing it again on Switch and it’s still great. And I guess Bubsy must have gotten into my head, because I decided I wanted MORE BUBSY and went ahead and tried the only other Bubsy game made more recently than the 1990s: Bubsy: The Woolies Strike Back. And… it’s decent!

I wasn’t expecting to like it. The game was not well received and got a metascore in the mid-40s on both PS4 and PC. But honestly, I don’t think the game got a fair shot. It was the first Bubsy game in over two decades and even the announcement that the series was getting revived was met with hostility. With expectations like these, the game would have had to be fantastic to overcome reviewers’ predispositions to dislike it, and… it isn’t that. The core gameplay is solid and I enjoyed playing through the levels, but the menus and other connective tissue feel a bit unpolished (including bizarre omissions like not being able to see your current high score per level), the boss fights are tedious, and perhaps worst of all - the game is very short. I fully completed it in something like five hours (about one-third of the time it took me to do the same with Paws on Fire!).

To me, these flaws don’t destroy the game’s strengths and I think a fair rating would land in the “mixed” range rather than the “negative” one. But with the baggage carried by the Bubsy IP, this game was never going to get a “mixed” score. Either it would be good enough to smash preconceptions and rate “positive” or it wouldn’t and it’d be dismissed out of hand. A mediocre Bubsy game is not, in most people’s eyes, a sufficient reason to revive the franchise.

Or maybe I’m just biased because of how much I liked Paws on Fire!. Or both. Who knows.

Anyway, the people I feel sorry for are the long-time Bubsy fans who saw their beloved series was returning. They had to watch the internet mock the very idea of a new Bubsy game. Then when the resulting game was middling and quite short but had promise and could easily have had an excellent sequel, the fans had to watch the internet call it pure trash. Then when another Bubsy game followed, it turned out to be by a different developer in a different genre. The result might be a game that I love, but when I imagine one of my favorite dormant franchises getting this kind of treatment - oof.

So, I’m definitely keeping an eye on Bubsy. I’m quite interested to see what happens next here, and I really hope something does. And for the record, I would be excited to see a follow-up to Paws on Fire! but I would also be excited to see a follow-up to The Woolies Strike Back.

In the meantime - folks like me who enjoyed Woolies and aren’t sated after its short runtime are best advised to move on to its developer’s previous work: Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams. The gameplay is actually quite similar. That might also have been a knock against the reviews for Woolies (some felt it showed the game was a rushed cash-in that reused most of an existing game design) but it’s definitely a bonus if you’re looking for more Woolies-like game to play.

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Assist Mode is great; I’d like a Forgive Mode too.

I applaud the intent behind Celeste’s Assist Mode that allows for tweaking aspects of the game and lets players of varying skill level and physical capability enjoy overcoming an appropriate challenge. And I hate to come across as complaining about it. But the fact is that Celeste is a game that I found very frustrating and I wasn’t able to fix that with Assist Mode - because Assist Mode doesn’t let you tune punishment.

Celeste is a precision platformer. You have a set of abilities: running, jumping, wall-jumping, wall-climbing, and an air dash. Some abilities are limited and get refreshed by standing on solid ground. You must use these tools to get through a series of platforming challenges in varied environments with their own varied mechanics, such as platforms that move when you air dash or midair gems that replenish your abilities without you needing to land.

Most challenges in Celeste really have two parts: the puzzle of figuring out how to use your limited abilities and the particular environment to navigate each obstacle course, and then actually executing your solution with precise timing and positioning. To use my own terminology, this is a tactical challenge (figuring out what to do) followed by an action challenge (doing it). They are difficult in different ways and can separately be interesting/dull or hard/easy to individual players.

This is risky, because it means a player has to enjoy and be sufficiently competent at both the tactical and the action challenges in order to enjoy and progress through the game. Someone who likes charting a path through each screen but then lacks the reflexes to actually follow that path is not going to have a good time.

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Climbing the Mountain Because It's... Wait, Where Is It Again?

For me, a lot of Celeste’s difficulty felt unintentional.

First, some background about me: I have a terrible sense of direction. It’s hard for me to build mental maps of areas and to visualize where locations and landmarks are in relation to each other - and thus to figure out how to get from one place to another.

In the neighborhood where I grew up, I was once asked for directions to a building that was literally next door to where we were standing. I pointed in the wrong direction. This is not an atypical example.

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3DS Stress

After six years, the circle pad finally broke off my 3DS XL. It happened while I was playing Tri Force Heroes with two friends and quickly put an end to our game (though I suspect most of the damage had actually been done playing Smash over previous years).

If this had happened a couple of years earlier, I would have taken it as an excuse to upgrade to a New 3DS model. But now - this Tri Force Heroes session was the first action my 3DS had seen since I bought a Switch (and the first non-Picross action it had seen in longer). Could I justify the expense of a new device (Nintendo no longer offers repairs for 3DS models as old as mine) that I didn’t have any expectation I’d actually use?

Yesterday I saw a good deal on a refurbished New 2DS XL and was tempted, but decided to pass. And apparently I felt so bad about this that last night I had a dream that I was back in school and my teacher was yelling at me for not having a 3DS because we were studying Tri Force Heroes in class and I needed to follow along.

#gaming #video games #nintendo #3ds

Tags: Thought

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Black Hole Stunt

So. Like. I’ve never played Fortnite. I’m not really their target market. And if I had any doubt of that, the events of the past few days confirmed it.

Because if I did play Fortnite
If it was how I blew off steam and connected with my friends…
If I’d spent money on in-game currency and gear…
If I were a streamer who relied on the game to make content, and in turn provided free marketing for it…

I would be pissed that they took the game down for multiple days as a marketing stunt.

And it would not exactly instill me with confidence that this was an ecosystem in which I should invest time, money, or effort, and certainly not one I should rely on being around and available.

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Look How Far You’ve Come

One of my favorite game tropes is what I call the “Look How Far You’ve Come” sequence that shows up shortly before the ending.

It can be done a variety of ways, but in some manner it reintroduces areas, characters, enemies, or other story elements that you haven’t seen in a while, emphasizing what’s changed and what hasn’t, reminding you where your journey began and how far it’s taken you. It’s a great way for games to add weight, consequence, and meaning to your adventure and actions while making the ending that much more climactic.

One of my favorite examples actually comes from Dragon Quest Heroes II. (Minor spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph.) In the lead-in to the final battle, you essentially go through a nostalgia gauntlet - fighting groups of monsters from each area of the game, in the order you explored them. The fights are easy and clearly more of a reminder than a skill test, and over the course of them every single one of your accumulated party members speaks up about your travels together.

It’s more common for this sort of reflection to be presented in cinematics after beating the game. But I find it more impactful when you can actually play through it. Which of course is why EarthBound has the best ending of any video game, ever.