apologies and eulogies

I was going to start this post by apologizing to Dishonored, but before I do I must address this news item that just appeared on my Twitter feed – Kotaku is reporting that as a consequence of the EA layoffs, there is no Tiger Woods game in production for next year, and that the franchise’s future is in doubt:

I have learned, from persons with knowledge of the series’ development, that Tiger Woods PGA Tour 15 is not happening. On any platform. EA’s plan was to outsource that edition of the game, to give the in-house team two years to make Tiger Woods 16, taking advantage of all the PS4 and the next Xbox would have to offer. When CEO John Riccitiello gave his resignation last month, that plan was scrapped as a cost-saving move. The game hasn’t been reassigned to the Tiger Woods team, either. Some of its personnel already have been sent to other teams in the EA Tiburon studio for the time being.

I went to an EA Sports spokesman with that rumor and was told they wouldn’t comment on it, which is not surprising. The latest game came out only a month ago, and publicly traded video game companies have investor relations divisions that don’t want people chattering about unannounced products, especially ones that have been unofficially canceled.

Tiger Woods PGA Tour is a 16-year-old annual series, one that presumably pays royalties to two parties—Augusta National Golf Club and Tiger Woods himself. It’s admirable that the development team got a two-year window to put out a game that would be truly distinctive, rather than incrementally updating or porting over something after publishing three titles in 33 months. But if EA Sports really does put it the series on ice for a year, that is a remarkable decision.

On the one hand, I think the Tiger franchise could actually use a year off, especially so as to really impress when it finally debuts on next-gen systems.  I distinctly remember Tiger’s first appearance on the 360, which was, to put it incredibly mildly, a half-baked piece of shit.  And while I’m enjoying this year’s edition – to the extent I’ve actually had a chance to play it, which admittedly isn’t much – it does feel a little stale.  But on the other hand, HOLY SHIT.  This is unprecedented.  This isn’t like the NBA Live fiasco, where the games themselves were utterly broken and the franchise needed to be shut down to get its shit together; Tiger might be stale but the game still fundamentally works.   If the franchise is being put on hiatus as a cost-cutting move… man.  That doesn’t bode well.

*       *       *       *       *

Last October, I had to put Dishonored away.   In this blog post, I went off a little bit.   I’d gotten frustrated by a late-game mission, and that was right after I’d finished the previous mission in a hilariously stupid, inept fashion:

The mission required me to attend a masked ball being hosted by 3 sisters, one of whom I needed to kill/abduct.  The recon work in determining which sister to nab was enormously fun, and the mansion itself was a wonder to explore and examine.  But then I actually had to do the deed, and it must be noted that the manner in which I knocked out the sister and carried her to her waiting boatman/captor resulted in one of the most unintentionally hilarious chase sequences I’ve ever had the misfortune of participating in.  Here’s the point, ultimately: while the poor execution in the woman’s abduction was undoubtedly my fault, it was the game’s reaction to what I did that made me wonder why I’d bothered being so careful and stealthy in the first place.   It’s actually a bit difficult to describe just what happened, except to say that in a game that at that point had been remarkably graceful and poised, the game suddenly became very artless and charmless and basically just turned into very obvious AI routines that ultimately were defeated with comically swift decapitations of startled guards.  I’m doing a terrible job describing what happened, I know.  The result, though, is the important thing – all the grace and skill I performed in my stealthy preparation were rendered moot; once everything went to shit I bulldozed my way to the ending and achieved the exact same result, since my mark was never killed.  So why even bother being stealthy?  Why bother performing well?  Suddenly the rich, detailed world of Dunwall instantly transformed into a clunky collection of polygons and AI scripts.

I didn’t actually explain what I’d done, of course; I set up the mission for you and then tried to explain how clumsy I was and how stupidly the game reacted to me, but I never got into the clumsiness.  Now that I’ve finished the game – and specifically completed that particular mission in a much less ridiculous fashion – I don’t think the game was prepared for how stupid I was.  Indeed, I give the game credit for at least letting me finish it in the clumsiest way possible.

So, then, let me explain what I’d done wrong, and then what I did right.  Slight spoilers ahead, but only slight – it’s less about the plot and more about the actual mission.  Think of this as less of a spoiler and more of a walkthrough / what-not-to-do.

As noted above, the mission asks you to attend a masked ball that is being held in a very elegant mansion.  Your task is to find one of three sisters who has committed certain nefarious deeds; as you don’t know what the sister looks like, and since they’re all wearing masks anyway, it is up to you to figure out which sister is the guilty one, and then dispatch her without being caught.  As with all missions, there is also a non-lethal way to solve this puzzle – the sister in question has a secret admirer who is also at the party, and he asks you to knock her out and deliver her unconscious body to her in the basement, where he will ferry her out on a boat, never to be seen again.

Now, the first time I’d done this mission, I’d done some recon work in the upstairs of the house, and I’d been able to figure out which of the three sisters I needed to nab.  And I’d also decided to knock her out and give her to the admirer, rather than just killing her.  But I didn’t quite know how to get her alone, and so, in my haste and growing frustration, I simply put a choke-hold on her in the corner of a dark room and then – hilariously – ran through the house, carrying her, fellow party-goers shrieking in panic, guards chasing me and shooting at me, until I somehow escaped capture and made it to the basement.  It was completely absurd and stupid and I felt dumb when I somehow managed to get credit for finishing the mission.

So this second time, I still did my recon work in the upstairs of the house, but this time I also managed to find (and actually read) the chosen sister’s diary, wherein she revealed her growing paranoia that someone was after her.  And so when I approached her at the party, a dialogue option appeared that wasn’t there before, and I managed to convince her to go with me to the basement so as to avoid being assassinated.  This, as you might imagine, resulted in a much more elegant solution; there was no panic, there was no comedy of errors.  We simply walked downstairs, and when we were alone, I knocked her out and brought her to the boat.  Easy-peasy-lemon-squeezy.

The rest of the game, at that point, was uncharted territory, but I was able to see it with a fresher perspective and much better mastery of my skills.  (And, it should be noted, I didn’t care as much if I had to kill someone.  I still stopped/reloaded if I found myself in a situation where stealth was not an option; I always prefer sneaking around to out-and-out combat, as combat rarely stays one-on-one – inevitably a swarm of guards arrives, and there’s just not much you can do at that point.)  The plot twist wasn’t terribly surprising, though, and the end of the game was actually quite anticlimactic – I sort of assumed that there’d be a big boss fight or something, but in the end I simply snuck around a room, opened a door, and then the game was over.

All in all I enjoyed the game – the art style is impeccable and “Blink” remains one of my all-time favorite modes of videogame traversal.  The story wasn’t as good, and some of the voice acting felt a little dull, but it was never distracting.  Steam usually has it on sale every other month; if you haven’t picked it up yet, it’s an easy recommendation at 50% off.

I am now very excited to play the recently released DLC, “The Knife of Dunwall” – indeed, that was one of the primary reasons why I wanted to finally finish the main game in the first place.   And now that I know who this main character is… well, that’s all the more reason to give it a go.

a few words on intimidation, over-compensation, and apathy

This post might be a little rambly and random; last night the baby had, to put it kindly, an “uneven night’s sleep.”  I keep thinking I’m getting used to his sleeping patterns, but then every other day those patterns change into something totally different, and I get totally derailed.  It’s funny; I used to complain that I didn’t have enough hours in the day to do all the stuff I need to do; but now it feels like each 24-hour day actually lasts for, say, 72 hours, and yet I feel more and more incapacitated.

As always, Steve Martin says it a lot better:

*     *     *     *     *

A few nights ago I attended a small, informal meeting of the NYVCC.  It was a very pleasant evening and I met some super cool people and I might be getting involved in some interesting-sounding future projects, and so this is all wonderful… but to be honest I was just happy that I didn’t totally chicken out and not go.  Social anxiety is still a very real pain in my ass, and even though I’ve gone to great lengths to overcome it (thank you, Ativan!), it’s still a source of frustration and agitation.  Still:  I showed up, which counts as a victory of sorts.

Of course, I should also mention that among the attendees were people who write for sites and outlets that I actually read on a semi-regular basis, and so I found myself engaged in this weird sort of social anxiety dance in which I was  somewhat intimidated by the pedigree of my fellow peers and thus desperately over-compensating by spewing forth opinions that may or may not have been a little half-baked.  It is an exceedingly strange phenomenon to find oneself pontificating about certain issues in front of the very people who provided one with the information in the first place, and so I am glad that I was a little drunk so as to dull the vertigo a bit, even if it loosened my tongue a bit too much.  Maybe next time I’ll remember to eat something first.

 *     *     *     *     *

It came out yesterday that Microsoft will be revealing its new console in less than a month.  Why don’t I care?

I’m not necessarily an Xbox fanboy, but the truth is that at least 80% of my game time this generation was spent on the 360, primarily because that’s where the bulk of my friends were.  And so I figured I’d get a bit more excited about hearing what’s next… but I’m finding myself surprisingly apathetic about what the big reveal will be.

I’m not sure it’s Microsoft’s fault, actually, even if Sony’s made tremendous strides of late in terms of courting and supporting indie developers (which is the very thing that XboxLive used to pride itself on).

I suppose it’s really just me and how my life has changed in the last few weeks.  Having a baby – and the financial repercussions that follow from such an event – means that I’m not sure I’m going to be acquiring both a PS4 and a new Xbox, and if I can only pick one, then I need to pick the one that will offer the most bang for the buck.  (And if we’re being brutally honest here, my choice between the Xbox and the PS4 becomes more or less null and void if the much-rumored Steam Box is actually a real thing and is sold at a reasonable price point.)

And I’m not even sure I know how to define “the most bang for the buck”, either.  I presume that both devices will continue to offer streaming video services, and that the new Xbox will come with a Blu-ray drive.  I also presume that both devices will have some sort of cloud-based storage system, and also that each will have a digital storefront that would allow me to download new games instead of buying discs.

Once again, it comes down to content.  And Sony’s been terrific lately in terms of offering exclusive, high-quality content.  And if the rumors are true and the PS4 is as easy to program for as the PS3 was difficult, then maybe the PS4 version of a multi-console release won’t be the “shitty” one.

But – again – if we’re talking about content, then what’s better than Steam right now?

If I look at my play habits over the last 6 months, I think it’s safe to say I’ve turned into a PC gamer almost exclusively; I’ve barely touched either of my consoles.  The living room of my apartment is too busy a place these days for me to effectively kick everybody out; whereas my PC is in the office, where I don’t bother anyone and nobody bothers me.  My aging PC still runs AAA games quite nicely, and Steam sales make acquiring those AAA games rather affordable.

And you know what else?  I don’t quite care about Xbox Achievements the way I used to, which is a huge psychological burden that I don’t have to worry about anymore.  It’s stupid, right?  And yet I always felt obligated to get big Achievement scores so as to be able to prove (to whom?!) that I was hardcore, or something.  Even if Steam has achievements, I don’t really care – there’s no “score”, and they don’t get all up in my face about it.  I still appreciate how Achievements fundamentally changed the way I play games – in terms of really diving in and exploring certain facets of a game that I might have otherwise overlooked – but I’m not hyper-competitive about the actual number anymore.

I suppose I reserve the right to completely change my opinion once the new Xbox is revealed, and then after E3 rolls around and the actual list of upcoming games comes out – because by the time the new consoles are actually released, I expect my son to have established some more regular sleeping habits, and so I won’t feel so guilty about claiming the living room again.

a to-do list of sorts

It should sort of go without saying that posting here is going to be pretty light for the next few weeks.  Taking care of my newborn son takes up a fair amount of time, and the time I have that’s left over is generally spent trying to get back to sleep as quickly as possible.   There’s just not a whole hell of a lot of gaming going on.

But I think that would be the case even if I weren’t changing diapers and trying to stay awake.  The release calendar is light, and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future.  The only real must-have on my schedule for the rest of the year is GTA5, which doesn’t come out until September.  Certainly I’m intrigued by Metro Last Light, and that Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon or whatever the hell it’s called looks pretty amazing, and I guess there’s some neat-looking 3DS stuff coming out over the next few months, but the pickings for fresh content are slim.

So I’m thinking that this is a marvelous opportunity – when I can carve out a few hours – to get back into games that I never finished.  As there’s no real grand critical conversation that I feel that I’m missing out on, and since there’s no rush to finish something new before it gets spoiled, I feel like I could take my time and finish the games that, for whatever reason, I needed to put down.

Tops on this to-do list is Dishonored, especially as the new DLC that came out this week looks pretty great.    I’d gotten pretty close to the end on the 360, but I think I’d gotten turned off by how rote the violence was getting.  And yet my memories of it now are quite fond, actually, especially in light of all the things about Bioshock Infinite that turned me off.  I’d already picked it up on the PC during a holiday Steam sale, so that’s as good a reason as any to give it another ago.

Also, for some reason, I’ve been thinking more and more about getting back into my PC save of Skyrim.  A friend of mine has been playing it pretty continuously since it came out – he’s level 81 or something by now – and I’d asked him if, after all that time, there was still stuff he hadn’t yet done.  Turns out there was plenty he hadn’t done, and in the meantime he was still enjoying doing the non-mission stuff, too.  Now, I’d put that game down on the 360 in a fit of disgust, after sinking over 80 hours into it; too many quests were bugged, too many glitches broke my immersion, and I just stopped giving a shit about the stuff I hadn’t yet done.  I’d given my 360 copy to a friend and to be honest I don’t really care if I ever get it back.  But now, having been away from it for so long, and figuring that at least some of the bugs ought to have been squashed by now, and knowing that it looks pretty goddamned spectacular on my PC… well, I’m curious to give it another ago.   And maybe I’ll make a conscious effort to stay away from the critical path and try doing some of the stuff I know I’d been putting off on the 360.

And I’d like to see if I could finish Antichamber.  I can’t remember where I left off with it, so I might as well start over and try to brute-force my way back to where I’d gotten stuck.

I’m also pretty curious about Starseed Pilgrim, even though it’s brand new.  I suppose I’m curious about it also because I’m thinking about getting Fez again once it comes out on Steam in a few weeks, and for some reason the two games remind me of each other.  I’d gotten over 100% in Fez on the 360, but apparently I hadn’t truly finished it, and I was afraid to go back and dive in once Polytron decided to not patch certain game-breaking bugs.

On the 3DS side, I’ve put Etrian Odyssey 4 to the side – I’m in this weird limbo where I don’t have any quests but I’ve clearly got a long ways to go before the game ends, so I’m kinda just grinding, which isn’t all that interesting – and have fully invested myself in Super Mario 3D Land.  I’m in the last level of World 8, which, as I understand it, means that I’m only 50% of the way through.  That game is pretty goddamned terrific, even if it’s occasionally frustrating.

I’m sure there’s other titles that should go on this list, but I can’t remember what they are.  I can’t remember much of anything these days, to be honest; it’s a wonder I can put matching socks on my feet before I walk out the door.  In any event, I’m too annoyed with Bioshock Infinite right now to give it a proper second run-through, anyway, so I might as well try to have some fun.

the last two weeks

So I’m just going to say this up front:  this is going to be a weird post to write.  I’ll do my best to keep it easy for you, but even getting these first few sentences out has been a lot more difficult than I’d anticipated.

My last post here was written on Friday, March 29th; I had intended to write a more critical, spoiler-laden post about Bioshock Infinite but wasn’t quite ready to do it, and so I half-assed a post about iOS games and Tiger Woods 14 instead.  Still, Bioshock Infinite was running around in my brain, and I figured I’d maybe play the opening again over the weekend and see if I could start putting my thoughts into some order.

My wife went into labor Saturday evening, and my son was born on Sunday morning, March 31st.

Since then, I’ve been in this delirious, sleep-deprived haze of feedings, diaper changes and naps.  Taking care of a newborn is not unlike maintaining a very delicate plant; or, to put it another way, it’s a lot like some sort of free-to-play resource management sim where everything is on a timer – 3 hours until next feeding; prepare a 2 oz bottle; press A repeatedly to burp; change diaper; very slowly put baby back in crib for nap; race back to bed, set alarm, sleep.  Lather, rinse, repeat.

I don’t mean to diminish the experience of having a baby by comparing it to Farmville, of course; there is no happier sensation in the world for me right now than in those post-feeding, post-diaper-change moments where I get to hang out with him, have him sit on my lap and hold my fingers with his tiny hands and watch him take in the world around him.  It is bliss.

Anyway, that’s where I’ve been.

As you might imagine, there’s been very little gaming in my life over the last few weeks.  I’ve played a few more rounds of Tiger Woods 14 during naptimes – the game is still very good, and even though I’ve already run into some paywall issues the game lets me get around it relatively unscathed.  I’ve also gotten back into Super Mario 3D Land, which I’d put down when I’d gotten into Etrian Odyssey 4 a few weeks back.

I’ve also started replaying Bioshock Infinite in an attempt to see if the revelations of the ending change the way I approach the beginning.  You know what?  It has changed – it’s kinda dumb, now.  Let’s just take the very beginning as an example.  That amazingly creepy lighthouse that you ascend at the beginning?  It doesn’t make any sense anymore.  The first time you do it, after seeing that blood-stained note on the door and then the dead body on the 2nd floor – you get creeped out, you want to know what’s going to happen next.  But the second time?  After you know what you know?  It doesn’t make any sense.  Why is that note on the lighthouse door so threatening?  Who is that dead body – why was he killed, and who killed him, and since there’s a still-lit cigarette next to his corpse, where is the killer, anyway?

The world of Columbia is still the best thing about the game, but I’m finding myself very disappointed in almost everything else about it.  The action still feels obligatory, lazy, and not really all that fun; the fact that nobody else uses vigors besides you feels downright nonsensical; and the fiction – the reason we get excited about the Bioshock brand in the first place – simply doesn’t hold up for me the second time around.  These games really just ought to be subtitled: HUBRIS IS BAD.

At some point I’ll get around to writing this in greater detail, but it’ll have to wait until I’m a bit less sleep-deprived and a bit more level-headed and coherent.  In the meantime, there’s been some outstanding writing about the game by people who do it much better than I do, and I’ll link to them below: