YouTube Channel Update: More Coming Soon & A New All Together Now!

So yeah, not a whole lot has been happening over on the old YouTube channel lately. My plan over my Christmas break from work was to make a whole bunch of videos but forgetting that Christmas is kinda’ busy for a lot of people, we ran into some scheduling issues with All Together Now. During this time, Cory (Vector) was also moving back to Vancouver from Japan (sadly he didn’t bring any roof monkeys with him) and it wasn’t until he was available that I realised he was a part of basically every series we had ongoing. The good news is that he’s now back in the motherland and once he and his wife are setup in their swanky new pad (where they get 100Mbit/sec Internet plus full TV service for what I pay just for Internet, not bitter at all you son of a bitch), we’ll get back to recording our current batch of series again. I also realised during Christmas that I was really burnt out and just needed some complete downtime (see my last post) so I decided not to do any Retro Flashback episodes either.

All that’s changing starting this week!

I am presently doing some research on the next Retro Flashback game and in addition to that, Chris (P0ul3t) and I are starting a new two-player All Together Now series that we’ve been talking about doing for a long time now. I’ve got the Dawn of War II RTS series on my pile and while Chris has finished them all, he’s never tried them co-op so we’re endeavoring to go through all 3 games in the series for you guys. I played about half of the first Dawn of War II game back when it first came out and got distracted away from it but I quickly remembered how much fun it was and I’m stoked to go through them all with a more experienced player. So without further ado, here’s the first episode for your viewing pleasure!

A couple of things to note about this particular series. Firstly, there isn’t a lot of fancy editing being done. This series is a little less comedic than our other playthroughs and I feel it just doesn’t fit as well. Secondly, I’m going to be uploading the sessions in their full lengths without splitting the episodes up into smaller pieces. This is partially because Chris and I are doing this more for fun than views and also as an experiment. It’s been hammered into me by various YouTuber communities that if you want to get your channel audience built and improve the metrics to where you can more easily game YouTube’s broken promotion system, you have to cut your episodes up into no more than 15-20 minute chunks. I’m not convinced of the value of that to be honest and like I said in my last post, I’m less concerned at this point with trying to brute force audience growth. So this series is going to go up with the episodes just being as long as the recording sessions are (probably be between one and two hours on average) and we’ll see what happens. It’s a lot more work for me to split the videos up and if it turns out that’s not necessary, I’m happy to skip it. So let’s see.

We hope to get All Together Now back to Sanctum 2 and we’d also like to try out some Early Access titles like Contagion and Starbound in particular. Now that the last character wipe has theoretically been done, I think there’s no better a time for us to take a crack at that game so that will hopefully happen soon. Also, I’d really love to try to get the entire crew back together and do one final run of No More Room In Hell where we’ll play until we successfully complete one mission. We got pretty far before with only a partial crew and with all of us there, I’m sure we can pull it off. I’ll see if I can get the rest of the crew into it.

Beyond that, it’s just keeping on. I hope to be doing at least a couple of Retro Flashback episodes per month and I’m considering some longer form projects to do this year as well. In addition, I’ve decided I’ve finally had it with the audio setup I’m using. I’m not satisfied with the audio output of my Alesis MultiMix 4 and the Shure headset mics I’m using are incredibly uncomfortable. Truth be told, the gear was just a poorly researched purchase on my part. The mics are designed for stage use by musicians and the mixer’s also designed for musical use so it’s not really the fault of the products, I’m just not using them properly. I’ve found something that’s an ideal replacement for them but it’s expensive and I can’t justify the purchase without getting some money back for this stuff first. So I’ve listed them on eBay and my local Kijiji and once I move those, I’ll grab the new gear and hopefully that will make stuff sound even more awesome. I’m stoked to get the new mic and making myself wait until I sell the current gear will make that even sweeter.

So that’s what’s going on right now. Thank you guys as always for watching my stuff and I apologise for the drought lately but fear not, more is on the way! Keep your eyes open and please tell others if you like it. More to come!

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Building A Better 2014 and Beyond

I’m not normally big on New Year’s Resolutions. Partly because like most people, I don’t tend to follow through on them but also because I always found it odd that there was one specific time of year where we should focus on self-improvement. It should normally be something you just strive for all year, right? At the same time, the transition to a new year sort of gives an opportunity for a clean break, a time where you can draw a line and say “Everything else is behind me, time to move forward.” This post is late into January because frankly, I still hadn’t planned to do any resolutions this year. However, after a lot of internal reflection in recent weeks, I’ve changed my mind.

2013 ended up being a lot more mentally challenging for me than I thought. Some good things happened, chief among them my girlfriend and I bought a house, a great one that we love and got a bit of a deal on to boot. Unfortunately, most of that good stuff was overshadowed. Work was stressful and not in the every day kind of stressful. My employer had some serious problems that had me fearing for my job for a while (the staff were recently chastised for discussing too much inside baseball online which is bad juju when you’re a public company so I’ll leave it at that) and I really began to feel like I was stuck in neutral there and questioning whether it really had a future for me. Worse still, it was a year full of unexpected deaths. We suddenly lost Ryan Davis last Summer, something that hit me like a ton of bricks, despite having never had the pleasure of meeting him. We lost Hilden from DGRadio, a podcast I’d given up on some time ago but which still hurt a lot. Last but not least, we lost Nick Keiser from Gamers With Jobs to the monster that is cancer. Nick was a delightful person and a shining example of what a Goodjer can be and he exemplified everything that was and continues to be amazing about that community. I still miss them all dearly and just bringing them up here is hard.

Come Christmas time, I was a bit of a mental wreck. I’ve suffered from depression for years and though it finally felt like I was starting to get it under control in 2013, circumstances tried their damnedest to derail that. I hit mental rock bottom in 2010, to the point where I was really questioning if it was worth trying any more and though things had been improving since then, it was and continues to be a constant struggle. By Christmas, I was burned out which wasn’t helping. I hadn’t had any time off work since the Summer and was tired and cranky pretty much all the time. I seriously don’t know how my amazing girlfriend Sarah tolerated me and my misery as well as she did last year (and up to then for that matter) but it’s a testament to how wonderful a woman she is and why I love her so much. My Christmas break gave me a much needed chance to just relax and recharge and that alone was a big help. However, I also decided I needed to really close the door on that year and try my best to only look forward, trying not to let the sadder elements of that year drag me down, while also not forgetting them.

I thought on it a lot, I talked to my therapist about it, I talked to my friends and my girlfriend and decided that I needed to set some goals for the new year all with the aim of self-improvement not just in the immediate but building towards long-term, sustainable happiness. For the longest time, all I thought I needed was my girlfriend, financial security and enough money left over to keep myself in games. All those things are great and valuable beyond measure but I realised I need some other elements too. I always thought my brain demanded relatively simple things to be happy but I don’t think I’ve been feeding it enough and I intend to change that.

I don’t write personal posts on here very often but I figured this was the perfect venue to state my goals for 2014 and get them written down somewhere public. I can just state them to myself but I feel getting them out in the Internet ether someone makes me more accountable. Not a lot of people read this and fewer care what my goals are but if I tell them to you dear readers, I’ll feel like I’m letting people down if I don’t follow through. I can’t guarantee that all of these resolutions will see their end objectives met this year but I do intend to make a solid efforts towards attaining them all. These are wide ranging goals spanning multiple facets of my life and some are more serious and profound than others. Hell, I don’t even know if these will ultimately make me happier or more content but I need to do more than I am now so maybe a shotgun approach is the best option. So without further ado, here’s what I hope to accomplish this year:

I’ll get my weight management back under control
A little over 2 years ago, I just decided one day I wanted to stop being a 330lb fatass. My girlfriend and I started eating better and I started doing an hour of treadmill every single day. I kept it up and lost almost 80lbs of the 100lbs I aimed to lose. I felt great and was really proud of myself. Then we moved last year and that stress combined with everything else made me fall off the wagon. I started eating worse and stopped treadmilling and have put about half the weight back on. This is going to change. I’ve already made strides to eat better and while I’m not treadmilling yet, I am taking our dog for hour long walks every night which is helping. However, I need to make this routine and I need to start supplementing the dog walks with treadmill again. I’m not going to do an hour every night but I’m going to do enough to get my weight loss going again, at a slower pace this time so I won’t fall off the wagon so easily.

I’ll put a significant dent in my gaming backlog
I’ve been saying this for years but enough is enough. I’m not going to stop buying new games entirely but I’m going to focus far less on buying everything day one and I’m not touching next-gen consoles until there’s more out on them. I’ve already been going through my Games for Windows Live titles with that service potentially shutting down this year and I also intend to attack bigger backlog titles like Dragon Age and The Witcher series. I’m going to live stream a lot of this stuff. My pile is way too big to eliminate entirely this year but I’m going to kick it in the face.

I will not slack off on my YouTube efforts and will expand them
I’m not going to lie, it’s been harder to make content for my YouTube channel lately because my channel’s popularity is flat and almost non-existent and YouTube only promotes what’s already popular so it’s really hard to get noticed. But I’m not going to let that stop me any more. I’m going to keep producing content, at least one or two videos a month, I’m going to try to ramp All Together Now up again (this should happen in early February) and I’m going to either start a new series and/or do at least one longer form project for the channel this year. I’m already considering doing a Let’s Play of Chrono Trigger (which I’ve never played, a big backlog entry it is indeed) and trying my hand at a long form Retro Flashback on a lesser known computer platform. They may still get no traffic but maybe these are what the channel needs. I’m also going to be soliciting other YouTubers for advice and feedback, something I’ve been nervous about doing.

I’ve also deleted all the VLOGs I had on the channel. Not the Geek Bravado Rambles, just the actually channel update VLOGs. The reason for this is those videos were about 75% me bitching about my life at the time than providing anything useful about the channel itself. It diluted my other content and didn’t serve any purpose. When you’re a big channel, doing video updates makes more sense but not when your average video gets less than 50 views. I’ve deleted all of them both from the channel and my local storage and I won’t be doing them any more. Channel updates will come on here and on Twitter.

I will either significantly expand my IT knowledge set and/or start learning to program
One of my chief problems at work and for my career in general is stagnation. Nothing’s really moving forward and my knowledge isn’t growing. This isn’t good for me, my career or ultimately my employer. My review is coming up in a couple of weeks and I plan to heavily push the idea that I need more training and that the company should help me with that (subsidising training is a big part of the culture there.) I’ve been lucky enough to build my career up to this point almost entirely on experience, with no certifications under my belt. While I think a lot of certifications are bullshit, there is a lot of knowledge that comes with attaining them and I need some of that if I’m ever going to move forward.

My employer’s current situation may render them unable to assist this year and if that’s the case, I’m going to turn my attention to learning to program, likely through local or online college courses I’ll find the money for myself. The number of times in the last year I’ve wished “there was a program to do this thing” is substantial and many a time, I’ve thought I could make something cool if I just had the core knowledge. It’s time to stop thinking about it and actually do it. My priority will be expanding my IT knowledge but if that’s not possible, I will focus on getting myself a foundation in programming. Maybe I can make developing my own application a goal for next year?

I will get my finances restructured and start saving
A good portion of this is underway already. My finances weren’t in bad shape in 2013 and given that I was inches from bankruptcy and homelessness in late 2010, it’s frankly remarkable how much better they got in only 3 years. But they still weren’t good enough. I have a lot of debt I’m still paying off from my old, failed company and while it’s only about 40% of what it was 3 years ago, it’s still hangs around my neck and I have no savings whatsoever beyond my work RRSP. I’ve already restructured the debt again so that it’s much more manageable and with my Chartered Account girlfriend’s help, I’m planning to set things up so that I’ll put the same amount into it each month until it’s paid off on a set timeline. I won’t be stressing any more about whether I’ll get any freelance work in a given month to overpay debt.

Any freelance money I do bring in will be split between two savings pools: One a personal savings goal for something big I want to buy and another that will be a rainy day fund. It may take longer to pay off my debt this way but I know when it will be gone and I’m confident that getting to keep my freelance money and disposable income from my day job will make me feel much more satisfied as a result.

I will stop being jealous and frustrated that people I know are having families
I know this one sounds weird. I’m 34 years old as I write this. Most of my friends are at the time in their lives where they are either having kids or are actively trying to. My girlfriend and I don’t really like kids and we have absolutely no interest in having any of our own. We both understand that may change some day but it certainly won’t any time soon. We have 2 cats and a dog and are quite happy with them as our pseudo-family. Being some of the only people in your circle of friends who don’t want kids is tough and it’s really hard to not feel a certain measure of jealously when seemingly everyone you know is having them. After all, their amount of free time and what they’re doing with it is changing substantially and as a result, they don’t have as much time for you. That mini human is obstructing your fun! There’s nothing wrong with that, I know there’s isn’t, I know that feeling jealous and even to a certain degree, angry about it is irrational. But brain chemistry cares not for what’s rational.

Some of the goals listed above tie into overcoming this. My girlfriend and I are very introverted people. We don’t have many friends and don’t make new ones easily and that probably plays into it. The thing is, I’m also happy being introverted. I draw energy from relaxing by myself and working on personal projects and though society still in many ways sees introverts as being “reclusive shut ins”, I don’t and I don’t see my introverted nature as unhealthy. So in the times when my friends aren’t as available because they’re tending to their families, I’m going to find things to fill that time with instead of being bitter about what is likely the happiest element of their lives. Whether it’s attacking the backlog some more, doing my training, learning to program, spending more time with my girlfriend or just taking the dog for longer walks, I’m going to find a way to fill the void, not be mad about it existing. In the end, I think not only myself but those around me will be happier for it.

I will stop being yet another asshole on the Internet
I saved this one for last (and it’s a long one) because I think it stands to have the biggest impact on my mental well being. If you’ve been following my Twitter feed (you can also see it to the right), you will notice that I’ve been posting a lot less in general the last week or so and that I’m trying to be a lot less negative. This is the beginnings of a strategy. Jeff Gerstmann said that all social media and Twitter in particular had become “a giant asshole factory” that is “ruining society.” Slightly hyperbolic perhaps but he’s also not wrong. These services have become a breeding ground for cynicism, snark, hatred and the worst elements of when humanity meets anonymity. It’s been the subject of many a discussion in the last year, particularly in the gaming space. Twitter even more so because it’s obsolete 140 character limit essentially forces snark in the name of brevity.

For the longest time, I held a similar view to TotalBiscuit, a YouTuber I respect and admire greatly but who is also legendary for being a massive asshole on social media. That being that Twitter shouldn’t be taken seriously and that nothing meaningful can be said in 140 characters. Like many other people, I essentially had another personality on Twitter, one that encompassed what I really thought but had less of a filter. Anyone who knows me personally knows I don’t conduct discourse in the way I often did there. I don’t mince words in real life but I’m also not as blunt or snarky as I was on Twitter. In fact, I often called out others for being snarky, seemingly unaware of the irony.

The snark was cathartic. It felt good to call out bullshit that I saw and state it as such in a venue where you knew people were seeing it. Just shouting what irks you into the wind simply doesn’t have the same impact as shouting it into the wind when you know it will echo into several people’s ears. The problem is that this kind of catharsis is like a drug. It feels good when you first do it but before long, you find yourself doing it more because each time doesn’t bring the same sense of relief. Eventually, you find yourself doing it not because it makes you feel better (it actually swings back and makes you feel worse) but because it’s just what you do. I’ve decided that needs to stop.

My approach to this is two pronged. Firstly, I’ve gone through the list of accounts I was following and cut about a third of them. I will probably do another pass soon and cut even more. Some of the accounts I cut were redundant (i.e. things like news sites that just report the same stories), some were people that just didn’t have anything meaningful to say and some of them were the biggest contributors to the snark echo chamber. The reason for this is simple: Out of sight, out of mind. The less of this crap I see, the less I’ll be tempted to feed back into it. It’s nothing personal against anyone I unfollowed, people should be able to post whatever they want but the reason Twitter is an asshole factory is because snark is like a virus or yawning, it’s contagious. I may replace some of these unfollowed accounts with others but any potential future follows will be heavily scrutinised first.

Secondly, I am now running anything I’m considering posting against multiple checks in my head before I do so. Previously, I just kind of blurted out a thought on Twitter whenever it occurred to me and didn’t think much of it beyond that. I never considered if what I was saying was in any way valuable. This is how all social media companies want you to be because the more stuff that’s fed into the system, the more for them to data mine but it’s not what I’m going to do any more. I think about what I want to post before I start typing and then I make myself evaluate it again before pressing Enter. This has caused me to hugely cut down how much I post and the quality of what I’m saying has gone up substantially as a result. In addition, if I see a post from someone that is either interesting or makes a good point, I just retweet it without adding my own, often snarky commentary as I inevitably did before.

I’ve decided that I should no longer have a “real life personality” and a “Twitter personality” but that both should represent who I really am. I don’t plan to start my account over or scroll back through my massive timeline and delete the stuff I think I shouldn’t have written. I plan to leave my history in place as a testament to who I used to be and what I’m endeavoring to get away from. Don’t get me wrong, I still plan to call out bullshit when I see it and this changes nothing for Geek Bravado. If I think someone should be called out for a good reason I can substantiate, I will still do it. The key thing is, it will no longer be off the cuff and without merit, it will only be done after careful consideration and when I’m confident I can back up what I’m saying. That’s how I write posts here and the time it takes me to do so gives me that added time to reflect. I’m just applying the same rules to social media.

My biggest inspiration for this is also TotalBiscuit. Earlier this month, he did a VLOG about his own New Year’s resolutions. He’s admitted that he’s “a real prick sometimes” but in the past, his commitment to curtail that never really stuck. He actually said he didn’t think it would change this year either but based on his Twitter feed since that video, he really seems to have taken that to heart. He’s posting a lot less, most of what he posts is informational and his replies to others are far fewer and much more civil. His feed is a Hell of a lot more popular than mine and he gets a ton more vitriol from it that he has to process. If he can manage it with an account that size, what excuse do I have not to be able to do the same? I think I will be a lot happier from doing this and ironically, by posting to Twitter a lot less and cutting out a lot of useless feeds, I’m not taking it as seriously as I used to, which is what I was preaching about it this whole time. We’ll see if it sticks but I’ll be honest with you, after the first day, it got real easy to just not pay attention to Twitter as much. Once I got over the hump, it really wasn’t a thing.

So there we have it, a bunch of New Year’s resolutions that I normally wouldn’t bother making at all. In the context of my life and my personality, some of these are very bold resolutions indeed but that’s kind of the point. Several elements of my life have felt stagnant for a while now and when you’re fighting depression, stagnation is one of your greatest enemies. Rather than just talking to a therapist once a month, it’s time for action. Instead of just shoving my depression to the side, it’s time to start curbstomping it in the throat. You can’t kill it but you can wound it severely enough that it has a Hell of a lot hard time standing up and getting in your face again. I plan to make it used to staring at the floor.

If you’ve been following Geek Bravado or any of my other efforts, thank you very much for doing so. It means more than I can possibly articulate and I hope you will continue to do so in the future. I have some big plans now! It remains to be seen if I can pull them all off but damn if it isn’t going to be engaging to try! I hope you have a fantastic 2014 full of prosperity and happiness and that I can maybe share in some of that too. Here’s to a great year for us all!

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My Bold Predictions for 2014

Another year, another set of Bold Predictions. I revisited and scored myself on last year’s predictions in my previous post and I did pretty much the same as last year, which is to say pretty good but not perfect. I’ve got another good batch lined up this year and though I have some safe ones as always, I’ve made a few that I think are a bit more risky and well, bold in the spirit of the event. I think this is going to be less a year of extremes and more of things normalising and shaking out but who knows, crazy stuff always seems to happen. As always, these are listed in the order I think of them and aren’t arranged any particular way beyond a couple of broad categories. Off we go!

Gaming

  • Both next-gen consoles will continue to sell well but PS4 will lead Xbox One by a healthy amount. Both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 have sold far better out of the gate than most expected. Given their continued tight supply, I’d say even Microsoft and Sony were surprised as they both promised pre-launch that there would be no shortages. There’s been a lot of press led doom and gloom over the console industry and many still question if these machines will continue to sell after their initial thrust but I think they will and shows that yes, people do want more than just crappy tablet games and are willing to pay for better experiences. I think they’ll both keep doing well (by which I mean, enough numbers for Microsoft and Sony to keep bragging about them) but by the end of the year, the PS4 will have outsold Xbox One worldwide by a decent amount, giving Sony a solid early lead.
  • The Oculus Rift won’t ship in its final consumer form this year. I’m still skeptical on the mainstream chances of this thing, despite the hype behind it, though I say that having never touched one. It’s definitely coming and with John Carmack behind it, you know it’s going to be a serious thing but given the continued technical challenges they’re having, I think 2015 is more likely.
  • Star Citizen won’t come out this year and will begin to have some serious development concerns. I am so incredibly stoked for Star Citizen. Seriously, you have no idea. I kicked in some money to their crowdfunding initiative and can’t wait to see it. That said, the amount of money Cloud Imperium Games has raised has gone well beyond the realm of sanity. Despite it’s hardcore AAA ambitions, I can’t possibly see how they aren’t going to run into serious issues with feature creep or something else. They can’t just do the minimum they promised because people will wonder where all the money went but they can’t overscope too much or they’ll end up where Double Fine is with Broken Age. I don’t believe a ship date has been promised yet but there’s no way it happens in 2014 and I think as the year goes on and their funding goes up even further, more people will start asking serious questions of Chris Roberts. I so hope he and his team can pull this off though.
  • This console generation reset will bring some new ideas but fewer than before. Everyone hopes that a new generation of hardware will bring fresh design ideas and perspectives to break AAA out of the creative rut it’s been in for the last few years. I’m confident that will happen (Titanfall looks like a step in that direction) but I think it will be to a lesser degree. AAA development has reached a ludicrous point where success is very uncertain but the stakes are huge and only getting bigger. Several publishers didn’t survive the last generation and things are only going to get tougher. The gaming public at large says they want new ideas but rarely steps up to support them and publishers are more risk averse than ever due to this. There will still be new ideas but less of them, at least initially.
  • PC ports will suffer a bit but be much more at parity than before. Both new consoles are essentially modified PCs, a far cry from the highly customised architecture of the last machines. This will make doing quality PC ports much easier but good ports also require investment and expertise on the software side. As new engines start being used, I think PC ports will take a dip in quality again but it won’t be nearly as pronounced or offensive as last generation and it they will reach parity with the new machines and beyond much faster.
  • The gaming press will continue to stoke the fires of controversy and fuel egos. Case in point, Polygon just hired Ben Kuchera, an expert in both stoking controversy and massive ego. I have another post ruminating in my head on this subject I may or may not complete, we’ll see. In the last couple of years, the “enthusiast” press in both gaming and tech has relied more and more on poking controversies with a stick and making new ones out of largely unimportant things to drive traffic. All the negative backlash they we saw against BioShock Infinite later in the year when it received glowing reviews at launch? The “enthustiast” press led that charge. In addition to that, we have a growing cadre of people in this field who think themselves the lord’s gift to the medium of writing about video games on the Internet, who author from a position of privilege and lord it over their readers, responding to any criticism the same way they’d respond to trolls. One only need look at almost any of Polygon’s editors since that site launched for proof of that (with exceptions of course, Charlie Hall being a big one of those.) Unfortunately, this method is having exactly the effect I believe it’s designed to and it will only get worse. Vox Media has expensive web sites to overdesign and that venture capital won’t last forever. Gotta’ get dem’ clicks.
  • We will see more restrictions placed on capture and streaming functions of the new consoles. Given the recent furor on YouTube about copyright and fair use for gaming content, the video functions put into both new machines seem like something that was done before anyone in the industry got their head around it. Microsoft and Sony have been coy when talking about their ability to restrict these functions but have said when pressed that they can indeed be locked off at publisher request. This whole phenomena is so new that no one’s fully grasped it yet but until they do, I think we’ll see more games restricting how you can use these functions with them, at least when they’re new.
  • Free-to-play on PC will have a reckoning and will continue to test people’s limits on mobile. I love free-to-play when it’s done right and many PC games are doing it right. Unfortunately, the market’s become so saturated with free-to-play titles, there’s just too much out there for everything to succeed. I personally have half a dozen or more such titles installed right now that I keep wanting to play but just don’t have time to, much less to put money into. Things are oversaturated and where free-to-play used to be a money press, it’s going to have a major correction, just like MMOs did. As for mobile, people are still willing to put up with some pretty gross, exploitative tactics on those platforms because the general public doesn’t know any better but they’re starting to wake up and the backlash against things like Angry Birds Go is showing that. These companies will test the limits until they go to far but I’m not sure if they’ll hit the threshold or not this year.
  • More indies will launch first on PC rather than mobile since they can charge money up front, creativity in the mobile space will suffer as a result. There’s potential for great creativity in the mobile space but it’s suffering because people have been beaten into believing that anything which costs more than $0.99 on an iPad they paid $500+ for is a rip off. This is to say nothing of the massive discoverability issue on all mobile platforms. It’s insane but it’s the way it is. On PC, people are happy to pay money up front for a quality, complete experience. As a result, more indie developers who used to launch on mobile first will start launching on PC because though competition is fierce, they know they can just make a complete game and charge a set price for it, rather than twist their visions into some free-to-play bastardization. As a result of this, we’re going to see less complete mobile experiences and more free-to-play junk.
  • Pricing variability will be tested further on consoles but won’t happen to the degree it does on PC. When you can get a AAA game for 50% off on Steam sometimes only a couple of months after launch but you still have to pay $60 to buy it on a digital console service a year later, something’s busted. Both Microsoft and Sony have said price flexibility and sales will be much more common on the new machines. I imagine so, it’s not something they can avoid if they don’t want to lose more hardcore gamers to PC. That said, we won’t see the frequency of sales or discounts on console we do on PC as Microsoft and Sony will foolishly believe that since they have fewer overall games, they need to keep the prices higher so they can keep taking the revenue cut they want.
  • The Wii U will find a small niche but it’s mainstream prospects are over. This breaks my heart. I really do love the Wii U and hate how little software there is for it. I think Nintendo will make a lot of big announcements this year and I think their games will save the platform and make it a small limping success for them but with the Wii U being both a year old and now having new machines to contend with, it has no chance for mainstream success any more.  Hopefully they can chug along for a bit and come up with a better idea next time. I think Nintendo should stay in the hardware game but this isn’t the way to do it.
  • At least one Android console maker will fold. Maybe not a stretch given how all these machines have landed with a thud, especially the OUYA. It’s a shame, I like the idea of Android microconsoles but it’s clear they weren’t ready for prime time yet. None of them are successful and there’s too many of them for that market to continue on. I’m not sure who is going to fail but one of them will.
  • SteamOS will release this year and not take off initially. This is another thing I like the idea of but I’m not convinced of its necessity. Windows is fine for gaming and contrary to the hypocritical stance Gabe Newell has taken on the matter, Windows 8′s closed portion is no threat to the entire closed system that is Steam. Do gamers want to switch to a Linux-based system with all the headaches that entails when there’s only a fraction of the Steam library available on it and everything’s going to come out on Windows anyway? I’m not sure but it’s definitely worth trying out and Valve has the means to do it. SteamOS is a long play from them so while I think it will come out and most people won’t use it full-time this year, that’s not to say it doesn’t have a shot going forward. This year however, it will not be a big deal.
  • The first Steam boxes will land with a thud but no one will give up on the idea. The concept of a Steam machines is cool if you’re an enthusiast. If you’re a mainstream consumer, the messaging is confusing, there are too many options and price points with no clarity on why you’d want one over the other and all the prototypes are high end and too expensive. So far, these look like boxes aimed at the hardcore and that audience already has a gaming rig, they don’t need these. The first ones will impress enthusiasts but won’t catch on with mainstream consumers and won’t sell a ton as a result. However, just like SteamOS, this is a long play and the idea will evolve as time goes on. 2014 will not be the Year of the Steam Machine though.
  • The next generation of cross-media gaming will still not resonate. I am already sick of the term “Second Screen Experience.” All these various companion apps for AAA titles this past year were all dumb and pointless. Some of what’s coming this year for games like Watch_Dogs and The Division look interesting but still generally appear to be pointless add-ons no one asked for that are designed to make sure you’re never not somehow involved with your game at all times because you must never not be playing! It’s taking up the time and resources that used to be dedicated to shoehorning pointless multiplayer modes no one played into otherwise single player games. I don’t think any of these new ideas for this coming in 2014 will be any more successful.
  • Valve will announce and ship Left 4 Dead 3 this year, we’ll still hear nothing about Half-Life 3.  Valve’s gone without a new game announcement for too long and if Half-Life 3 is even in development, it’s a long ways off. A lot of people have been craving a new Left 4 Dead and I think it’s a good move for Valve as it’s an easier series to iterate on than something like Portal.
  • A new breed of smaller publishers (i.e. the likes of Deep Silver and Nordic Games) with new ideas and models will start to come into their own. Deep Silver’s been around for a while but made some bold moves in 2013, buying up Volition, Saint’s Row and Metro from the ashes of THQ. Similarly, Nordic Games has been quietly amassing quite the stable of strong IP from both THQ and others and is just starting to talk about ramping up development. More publishers have failed in the last few years but several others who have new ideas of how to sell and price games as well as how to interact with customers are starting to appear and the all-digital age we’re heading into is their time to strike and make their mark on AAA gaming. We’ll see some big announcements from these companies this year.
  • At least one smaller PC digital distribution service will shut down this year. I’m not going to guess which one but there’s a lot of them out there and with Steam commanding near monopoly levels of market share, they can’t all survive indefinitely. More competition is important but the reality is, this is Steam’s market and everyone else is fighting for scraps. I don’t think there’s enough to go around.
  • Most AAA titles will continue to struggle. Despite the healthy sales of the next-gen machines, AAA games are still too expensive and not popular enough as a whole for most of them to succeed. Until this industry learns to adjust their expectations and as long as these games are still being sold for $60, I think we’ll still see this being a hit driven industry where most games are financial failures.
  • Rumours of a Kinect-free Xbox One SKU will persist but it won’t happen this year. People don’t really care for Kinect and they want Microsoft to offer an Xbox One without it to bring the price down. I’m one of those people. Microsoft is solidly behind this technology though and they know the only way to get people making games for it is to guarantee a large install base which is what including it with the Xbox One gets them. This may still happen but unless Xbox One sales go off a cliff, they’ll stick to it for this year.
  • Sony will unveil and launch Gaikai-based backwards compatibility this year but not with a subscription model. Sony has all but said without actually saying that a big part of their Gaikai streaming technology will be used to offer backwards compatibility of some sort on PS4. I believe we’ll see them announce and launch something to this effect in 2014 but the subscription library model everyone including me is salivating over won’t happen. There are just too many third-party licensing issues to make that a reality.
  • eSports will start to get some mainstream coverage from a “traditional” sports outlet. I’m not an eSports guy but the growth of this thing can’t be understated. It will still probably be relegated to ESPN12 or whatever their lowest-end channel is now but I think we’ll start to see it getting coverage beyond just the niche online outlets that cover it now. Hell, half of sports coverage is of bloody poker now. If that’s considered a sport, so can League of Legends and StarCraft.
  • More indie games will fail due to saturation and discoverability issues but the successes will be even bigger. The amount of indie games coming out is fantastic but there’s too many of them and it’s becoming damn hard to get noticed. This is going to continue and as a result, we’re going to see more indie games than ever fail financially. However, the audience for indie games is skyrocketing and as a result, the titles that do succeed will be even bigger successes, perhaps finally allowing their creators to profit significantly, rather than just make their investments back. This is a very good thing.
  • Social gaming will continue to struggle, Zynga will retract further. This sector’s cratering, partially because of mobile games and partially because it was a fad that’s worn off, more so as people use social media less on average. We’ll see more games close, more developers struggle and Don Mattrick’s not going to fix Zynga’s continuing issues due to Mark Pincus’ terrible leadership, especially since their attempt to get into gambling has stalled.
  • Call of Duty will continue to decline and Bobby Kotick’s Activision will start to be revealed as one-trick pony that it is. Beyond Call of Duty and Blizzard stuff, Actvision has little else. They have Skylanders which is doing well but not incredible and beyond that, pretty much all they release is licensed stuff, a business that is quickly evaporating. The rumour is that Call of Duty sales are down 20% over last year. Some think this is because Call of Duty Ghosts is bad even when stacked against other recent entries (I played it, it is) and others think it’s because people are finally getting sick of this regurgitated series that’s devoid of innovation. I think it’s probably both. Blizzard is big but they don’t make Call of Duty money, especially with World of Warcraft declining at the same time and nothing big on the horizon. Destiny could be big but it’s Bungie’s IP and they’re independent so even if it sells Call of Duty numbers, it won’t make Activision the same money. Kotick has systematically laid off all the best talent he had to make new ideas for that company because nothing they made sold as well as Call of Duty. When Call of Duty goes away, he has no one to make the next big thing for him and the long-con he’s been managing to sustain for the last several years will come crashing down. This isn’t all going to happen this year but 2014 will be the start of it. I suspect Kotick already has a plan to exit Activision well before the true reckoning starts.
  • Apple’s iOS controller support will go nowhere significant, as will Android’s. Despite what the fanboy press keep trumping as the biggest gaming news of last year, no one cares about this. People don’t want to buy expensive, bulky controllers for their phones just to play games differently and since Apple requires that all games still have touch screen functionality anyway, no one’s going to want to have to design their games around two vastly different control systems, one of which 90% of their users won’t have. Controller support on Android has been around for over a year and has gone nowhere. Similarly, this will be one of those “innovations” that like Siri and Maps, Apple will just quiet stop talking about, hoping no one realises that it was a flop. Mobile gaming’s succeeding on its own merits, it doesn’t need to be like console gaming.

Technology

  • The current YouTube insanity will stabilise but at least one prominent channel or entire network will announce they’re moving elsewhere. The latest round of Content ID nonsense and the majority of partnered channels losing copyright protection in the middle of their contracts has woken the YouTube community up to what I always knew: Google doesn’t give a damn about any content creators that aren’t incredibly popular. The thing is though, many of the ones they’re screwing over still have large audiences and some of the biggest ones who are protected still don’t like the precedent this sets. Some have already grumbled about going elsewhere or possibly even starting their own sites. Make no mistake, some of the biggest channels and networks have the financial and social reach to make this happen and I think we’ll see at least one of them try it.
  • Apple’s meteoric growth will plateau, Android’s will continue and Windows Phone’s will accelerate. People are slowly realising that Apple products are overpriced and lag behind a lot of what the competition offers, beyond the fashion value. iOS devices will continue to do very well but the fact is the iPhone 5C flopped, Apple hasn’t been bragging about how well the iPad Air is doing (which means it’s not doing as well as they hoped) and Mac sales are trending downward faster than overall PC sales. They’re going to continue to grow but at a sane pace. Android has been steadily outpacing Apple’s growth because it offers variety and choice, including low cost options for emerging markets and now Windows Phone is doing the same. Both are heartily outpacing Apple’s market share growth on a year-on-year percentage basis and Windows Phone is starting to pick up speed. This is going to be an even stronger three-way race.
  • The Apple television is not coming. As long as the fanboy press keeps pulling this out every time they don’t have stellar sales numbers to gush over, I’m going to continue to say they’re full of it. This product is undoubtedly something Apple’s tested but I’ll say it again: People aren’t going to pay 50% more for a fashionable looking TV with the guts of a $99 Apple TV inside it and Apple is all about high margin products, something TVs are not if you look at the fortunes of Sony, Panasonic and Sharp. One line in the Steve Jobs biography about how he cracked the formula means exactly squat. This isn’t going to happen.
  • Apple’s stock price will continue to slide into normalcy. Their stock overall slid a considerable amount last year and with good reason: Apple was insanely overvalued. It was a trendy stock and like all trendy stocks, it went way too high and once their sales became more realistic, the market got bored and moved on. Their stock will still be very valuable and they’ll continue to be a very valuable company but the days of $1,000+ per share rumours are long gone.
  • BlackBerry will attempt to pull an IBM and reinvent itself as a software and services company. Another heartbreaker for me. BlackBerry had the world on a silver platter and a string of arrogant, inept leadership pissed it all away. They’ve handed off most of their hardware development to Foxconn and while they’ll keep a few devices around as long as the enterprise market lasts, they’re done making phones for the most part. They still have a valuable stable of software and services (QNX is still something very special) and I think they will try to do what IBM did which is minimise hardware and focus in the intangible stuff. IBM realised their need for this strategy much earlier than BlackBerry did though so it may be too late.
  • We will see more formerly retail software adopt subscription models than ever before. Like it or not (and I don’t), the idea of owning software is going away. Companies don’t want to sell you something once, they want to keep you on the line indefinitely. Adobe did it with all their stuff, Microsoft’s doing it with Office and we’re going to see more software makers do it this year because by all accounts, it’s working out nicely for them. There will be the usual transition period where both types of licensing are available but this is only a step towards a subscription only future.
  • PC sales will more or less remain stable. The PC industry has taken some major broadsides the last few years as the low margin but reliable low-end of the market realised they don’t need a full on PC to do e-mail and Facebook when a tablet does it more conveniently, even if they do cost significantly more for what you get. However, PC sales largely leveled off in the second half of 2013 and I think the bloodbath is over. This is an industry that’s still trying to reinvent itself but anyone who thinks the traditional PC is going away any time soon is just clueless or worse, an analyst looking for attention.
  • At least one newsworthy Mac and/or iOS security exploit will happen this year. I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again: Macs are no more secure than Windows PCs, just no one attacks them because even now, they’re still barely a 10th of the market. Viruses and security exploits are a business now and you don’t go after tiny targets, it’s an inefficient allocation of resources. That is of course, until they’re no longer so tiny. Apple has shown many times in the past that they don’t have the security response measures in place that Microsoft does and as a result, I think we’re going to see a major security exploit or malware occurrence on the Mac or even iOS platforms this year that will be big enough to make the news, if for no other reason that there hasn’t been a major outbreak on Windows in years. Funny that.
  • Windows 8 will claw its way to a half-decent market share, people will still hate it irrationally. There’s several things to dislike about Windows 8 but all of that can be pushed aside with no effort now and the good that comes with it outweighs that. Unfortunately, the press and FUD flingers have conditioned the mainstream public to believe otherwise. Nonetheless, as it gets harder and harder to get Windows 7 on new PCs, the result is that just like Vista, Windows 8 will end up with a decent market share just by default. People will still hate it and whine about the things they can easily step around but it will still sell OK in the end.
  • Windows 8.2 will bring back the Start Menu, people will be happy about that and still never use it. No one uses the Start Menu. Everyone thinks they do and was insulted when Microsoft removed it but no one actually uses it. They brought back boot to desktop in Windows 8.1 and rumour is the Start Menu will officially come back in 8.2 when it releases this year. Microsoft has empirical data showing no one uses it but they’ll bring it back anyway because they want Windows 8 to start selling better and if this makes people shut up, why not?
  • Twitter will still not turn a profit but their stock will not suffer for it. Facebook’s IPO flamed out because of a lot of half-truths and outright fraud being spewed about it beforehand. Twitter was straight up about their prospects when they went public: They don’t make money and still can’t figure out how to. Make no mistake, I guarantee you the founders and employees of Twitter didn’t want to go public, this was just because their impatient venture capital backers wanted a way to cash out. I still don’t think Twitter will make money this year but because everyone who bought the stock did so knowing they weren’t profitable, the stock price won’t suffer much.
  • There will be more stories this year about people scaling back their use of social media. There were already curious rumblings in 2013 about people as a whole using Facebook a lot less, partially because it’s a lot of work and partially because they were sick of the toxicity of it. I think that’s going to accelerate and involve not just Facebook but all social media. These services are supposed to connect people and instead of just become havens for snark, abuse and the worst elements of when people are allowed to spew whatever they want with no accountability. They’re sick of it and I think that’s going to become a big story in 2014.
  • Windows and Android tablets will sell more than even but still lag far behind iPad. I said before that iOS is plateauing but even a proud anti-fanboy like myself can’t deny that the iPad still claims the majority of the market. Android 4 has made tablets with that platform a real competitor and based on how hard it’s been to get the latest edition of Microsoft’s Surface, it appears Windows tablets are finding their feet too. I think we’re going to see a lot more people buying these, especially since there are many more choices and price points but I don’t think either will overtake the iPad for a long time yet.
  • Intel’s “Dual OS” strategy will be a colossal flop. I don’t understand this at all. Android and Windows on the same PC? Hunh? Android’s not even made for PCs! This sounds like a desperate ploy for Intel to come up with something off the wall to grab press attention away from the fact that a lot fewer people are buying PCs than before and that Intel really has no foot in the tablet CPU space yet. No one asked for this, there’s no mainstream benefit to it and it’s going to go nowhere. It’ll get some attention for a while though.
  • Technology will continue to get more dumbed down to appease the dumbest of us. When you buy a router now, it’s hard to find one with lights that indicate what it’s doing. A startling number of PCs don’t come with hard disk activity indicators any more. Why? Because Apple has taught stupid people that you don’t want to know what your equipment’s doing, have faith that “it just works.” Screw that. It’s become a nightmare to troubleshoot these devices now and given that they all had these lights and features for years before now, I think it’s safe to say people were fine with it. But nope, some dumb people might not know what they mean so let’s take them out and make everything a more frustrating experience when it has issues! Unfortunately, there are a lot of stupid people in the world and tech companies would prefer to have to deal with as little of their stupidity as possible. I suspect we’ll see more of this trend this year and it will continue to drive both enthusiast like myself and anyone with half a brain nuts.

And there we have it, another big old wordy batch of predictions for 2014. I hope you found these interesting a perhaps a little bolder than in years past. Some of these I’m hoping to be right about and some of them I would be very happy to get completely wrong but we’ll see what happens. 2013 wasn’t a great year for me overall but I have hope that 2014 will be a lot better in many ways. I hope it is for you too! If you have predictions of your own for the year, post them in the comments. I’d love to hear them and talk with you about them. Have a great year everyone!

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Revisiting My Bold Predictions for 2013

Happy New Year everyone! I had planned a longer blog post and Geek Bravado Ramble to talk about 2013 and some thoughts I had on the year ahead but every time I sat down to do them, it just didn’t feel right. Maybe I’ll do them a bit belated, maybe not, I’m not sure. I’m normally really open about my life and what’s on my mind but maybe it’s just not something my brain feels like verbalizing. Suffice it to say, 2013 was a year that had a couple of big highs for me and a lot of really deep lows. I’m not sad to see it end and I hope 2014 is much better for everyone. If people I care about could stop unexpectedly dying, that would be just fantastic.

What we’re here for now is the first of my two yearly Bold Predictions posts. This first one is where I revisit my predictions from last year to see how right (or not) I was. I apply a little scoring system to this because everyone loves numbers attached to things, right? It’s simple: If a prediction was right or mostly right, I get 1 point. If it was partially right, I get a half point. If it was wrong, I get zip. I made 36 predictions last year so that’s what I’ll be scored out of. Who determines how right a prediction is? Well, I do. Hey, this ain’t a peer reviewed paper or nothin’ but I try to be honest and if you check when I revisted by 2012 predictions, I think you’ll see that. Also, I’m only judging the base predictions (i.e. the bolded part of each) and not the additional notes where are just an elaboration of those base points. Alright, off we go!

Gaming

  • THQ’s new private equity owner will ensure all their games in the pipe come out but the company will be split up and sold off shortly after (0 points.) Shortly after I wrote this prediction, the private equity deal fell apart when some short-sighted THQ shareholders decided it would be better to have the company split up and sold off right away. Most of the games have come out and done quite well (the endlessly delayed South Park: The Stick of Truth being the exception) but all under different publishers as THQ is now dead and gone. Not the best outcome for gaming if you ask me but these are shareholders, what do the impact to customers and the industry matter to them?
  • Mobile gaming will continue to grow but the honeymoon is over (1 point.) I’m calling this a win. It is indeed still growing but there have been more and more conversations about how it’s getting harder to have any kind of success if you aren’t a known quantity or engaging in increasing scummy free-to-play business models. The mobile game space is already incredibly hit driven and terms like “premium games” have been used to describe things that cost as little as $0.99. People will buy $500 iPads and then balk at spending $1 on a good game with a fair business model. This is unsustainable and this market will have to wake up or only the Rovios and Kings of the world will be left in it.
  • The general public will start to tire of free-to-play Skinner Box mechanics (0 points.) More people seem to be complaining about how exploitative these types of games are getting, yet The Simpsons Tapped Out and Candy Crush, both prime examples of it, are some of the year’s biggest success stories. I still think this is going to happen but it didn’t in 2013.
  • The Wii U will be a modest success (0 points.) Dammit Nintendo, find a way to make this work! The Wii U has seen some amazing titles come out this year but even stellar releases like Super Mario 3D World haven’t been enough to make it sell any better. It’s bombing hard and the 3DS is the only thing keeping Nintendo above water right now. I really like the promise of this system but Nintendo better pull a rabbit out of their hat soon because this thing’s fading fast, especially with the next-gen machines now on the scene.
  • The Vita will go from limping to crawling (1 point.) Some may disagree on this but I think I was right enough. It’s still not selling great but the indie catalog on it has improved dramatically and the promise of Remote Play is making it a potentially great (if expensive) accessory for the PS4. It’s far from a hit but it’s starting to find its footing I think and at least Sony realises how its scope needs to change.
  • Console shovelware is dead (1 point.) And how! There was far less of it this year and most of it didn’t sell. I don’t like to see anyone out of work but I also don’t miss the studios that put out this garbage which soured the medium for everyone. There’s still plenty of this on mobile platforms but I’d say that in the console space, this is a basically dead concept walking.
  • The first major Kickstarter disaster will happen and will test people’s faith in the crowdfunding model (half point.) Between Double Fine’s mismanagement of Broken Age and the Code Hero implosion (technically this started in 2012 but it came to a head in 2013), there’s enough in the Kickstarter gaming space alone to say I was partially right on this and there’s more examples besides those. However, while there has been some press doom and gloom on the prospects of crowdfunding as a result, people don’t seem to be shaken. Millions and millions are still being pumped into Kickstarters and gaming is still their most popular category I believe. I’ve scaled back my Kickstarter pledges considerably but people are clearly still big on the idea for now.
  • The OUYA will come out and find niche success (half point.) It came out but all it’s found is controversy and hubris. There was great potential in this idea but OUYA blew its execution in so many ways and now the platform serves two purposes: An emulation box for hackers and the butt of jokes. I was super high on the whole Android console idea from the start and based on both this and other attempts at it, my enthusiasm was misplaced. There is no way the OUYA is profitable or successful and they’ve screwed the pooch so badly, I don’t think it will ever find either.
  • The Oculus Rift will come out late and underwhelm (half point.) The final version of the Oculus Rift isn’t out (with no date in sight) and the development versions did indeed come out late. However, this thing has attained a level of hype among the enthusiast press I’ve never seen before. I’m still very skeptical on its prospects for mainstream success and I admit that I haven’t yet used one but there’s an army of believers now and if John Carmack’s among them, people should be paying attention.
  • Layoffs, studios closures and the viability of AAA development will be a bigger story than ever (1 point.) Not much to say other than I wish I was wrong about this. AAA games are still too expensive, no one’s buying anything that isn’t a handful of safe franchises and I really don’t know where it goes from here. The new consoles are setting hardware launch records but does that mean we’ll see people buy more $60 games again? I don’t know if it does.
  • Valve’s Steam box will not release this year but will enter the promised beta phase (1 point.) They cut it close but yep.
  • Steam on Linux will remain niche at best (half point.) I’m calling this a halfsie because Steam OS only shipped in a very early beta stage this year so it’s too early to judge its success. I will say that the initial version has been fraught with all the usual Linux headaches and other than some buzz surrounding its release, no one’s talking about it. Does that ultimately matter? Probably not. We’ll see how this changes once the hype train gets rolling.
  • Cross-media gaming will be attempted multiple times and never take off (1 point.) I think this is a win because it has been attempted multiple times this year and from what I can tell, no one cares. Even the biggest franchise in the world (Grand Theft Auto) had a laughable mobile tie-in experience that was completely meaningless. It’s coming in an even bigger way in 2014 and it does seem some developers are trying to do bigger and actually interesting things with it but it remains to be seen if anyone will ultimately care enough.
  • There will be no new games announced or released from Valve this year (Dota 2 excepted, 1 point.) Nailed it! Dota 2 just recently went into wide release and they’ve otherwise been silent on anything that isn’t Steam related.
  • DayZ standalone will launch late and be a buggy, hacker ridden mess like all Bohemia Interactive launches (half point.) I’m calling this a half point because DayZ has launched super late but only in Early Access. It is a buggy mess but even though that’s par for the course for Bohemia, I can’t hold that against them when they’re selling it as a pre-release product and openly stated people shouldn’t buy it yet unless they want a messy experience.
  • SECTION SCORE: 9/15

Next-Gen Consoles

  • Both the next Microsoft and Sony systems will be announced and shipped this year (1 point.) Yep.
  • Both platforms will use far fewer specialised parts and be more like PCs than ever (1 point.) Yep. They’re based on AMD architectures with little customisation and forget PCs, they’re not even that dissimilar from each other. And none of that’s bad either.
  • Both platforms will offer every title in every tier for sale digitally on day one (1 point.) Yep. As far as I know, there are no exceptions to this rule on either Xbox One or PS4.
  • Free-to-play will become a big deal on consoles (1 point.) It’s still very early but I’m calling this a win. There are several free-to-play titles on PS4 and World of Tanks came out on the 360. Microsoft’s not embracing this quite as much but they certainly aren’t ignoring it.
  • Console certification processes will continue to exist but will significantly lighten and be sped up (half point.) Debated whether making this a halfsie or a loss but I’m going with a halfsie. The certification processes definitely still exist but there’s really been no discussion on how they’ve improved or not as yet.
  • SmartGlass will be a big deal for Xbox and Vita integration will be big for PlayStation (1 point.) How big a point they ultimately are for consumers remains to be seen but both companies are pushing these respective technologies in a big way. They clearly see them as important.
  • Motion gaming is over (0 points.) Well, there’s a Kinect in every Xbox One box and though many people still question if it needs to be there, Microsoft still believes it’s a thing, as Sony does with the PlayStation Camera which was rumoured to be cut as a PS4 pack-in at the last minute to undercut Microsoft’s pricing. I still don’t think anyone cares but it ain’t dead yet.
  • Like on PC, AAA games will be only a single segment of the gaming experiences available on consoles (1 point.) Sony has doubled down hard on indie development this year and Microsoft has too, though only as part of their epic reversal of strategy once they realised they were completely ignoring their customers. They both clearly understand that a wider variety of experiences are required to keep their platforms moving and that AAA alone isn’t enough any more.
  • Sony will offer backwards compatibility via their Gaikai acquisition at some point but likely not at launch (half point.) Truthfully, I think this could be called a win but they’ve never directly stated Gaikai will be used for backwards compatibility, though they’ve certainly hinted at that strongly. It definitely didn’t happen at launch either.
  • Microsoft will not offer retail game backwards compatibility but will offer it for certain XBLA titles like the 360 does with original Xbox games (half point.) Unfortunately I was right about retail backwards compatibility but I was wrong about XBLA. Just like PS4, there is no backwards compatibility whatsoever and there appears to be none planned in any form. Maybe this will change but if it does, it won’t be any time soon.
  • PC gaming will keep getting bigger and challenge the notion of whether many hardcore gamers even need a console (half point.) The PC is definitely killing it right now so why only a half point? Because both consoles had record setting launches that have appeared to greatly exceed both manufacturer’s expectations. Given that the hard core are the primarily early adopters, it seems pretty clear to me that a lot of serious gamers still want consoles and what they specifically bring to the table.
  • SECTION SCORE: 8/11

Technology

  • The Apple fashion trend will finally begin to normalise but the press will ignore it (1 point.) Fight it all you want fanboys but I’m right. Mac sales are down (funny how Mac is always talked about separately from PC except when there’s bad news), the iPhone 5C has been a flop (these are both easy to tell because Apple’s not patting themselves on the back about them) and while the iPhone 5S is selling very well, many question how many of those buyers are new customers, given that both Android and Windows Phone are significantly outpacing its growth on a percentage basis. The new Mac Pro’s design impresses even me but even the hardcore faithful are questioning its frankly obscene price point. Also as expected, the Apple fanboy press (which is still sadly most of the press) is largely either ignoring it or just casually mentioning it. You have to go to sites dedicated to the competition to get the real story.
  • The Apple television is not coming (1 point.) Still no word because it’s still not a real thing. Spoilers, I’m going to predict this once again this year because if the fanboy press wants to keep talking about it, I’m going to keep pointing out that they’re wrong.
  • The iPhone 5S will be the next model but in the Fall, not the Spring (1 point.) Bang on.
  • BlackBerry 10 will sustain RIM, not catapult them forward (0 points.) Couldn’t have been more wrong. I’ve used BlackBerry 10 and it’s great but as usual, they screwed up the launch and marketing and no one cared. The company’s in a death spiral right now and trying to pull an IBM and refocus on software and services is their last hope. It’s a damn shame, this was a great company with great stuff that rode its own arrogance to irrelevancy.
  • PC sales will slide a bit as the industry normalises but the slide will not be huge and it will settle (half point.) Depending who you ask, this year’s decline was either mild or severe but based on what I’ve read, it was bigger than expected. However, it seems to have leveled off in the last quarter of this year and it looks like the major declines are over, at least for now.
  • Windows 8 will sell well below expectations (1 point.) Oh boy yes. To try and counter this, Microsoft released Windows 8.1 which allows you to boot to the desktop but still left out the Start Menu that everyone says they want but never actually uses. Windows 8 is a fine OS and it’s way better under the hood than Windows 7. I’m recommending it to clients now. Install Classic Shell to correct the UI shortcomings and quit whining, seriously. That said, you’re still getting too much tablet in my desktop Microsoft.
  • Windows Phone 8 will rise to a respectable market share (1 point.) Windows Phone is still in a very distant third place but it’s year-on-year growth has been very strong, especially in Europe and developing countries. It deserves to be as well, it’s a great platform. It’s not going anywhere and if this continues, people will have to start taking it seriously soon.
  • The TV industry will make a new push from 3D TVs to 2K or 4K TVs (half point.) This is a halfsie because while there has been more talk and hype about 4K and models do exist from all the usual suspects, there hasn’t been a huge push for it yet like there was for 3D. The price is still too high for it to attain mainstream adoption yet.
  • Sharp will go bankrupt and Panasonic will have a massive restructuring (0 points.) Neither of these happened. As I understand it, both companies are still hurting real bad (Sharp is basically keeping alive because of investments made in it by Foxconn and Samsung) but neither had failed or had a major upheaval yet.
  • We will start to see more mainstream PCs come standard with SSDs or a combination of SSD and hard drives (half point.) I can’t say that I’ve seen a lot of mid- to low-end desktops and laptops coming with SSDs now but there are definitely more Windows 8 tablets that are relying either on those or flash storage.
  • SECTION SCORE: 6.5/10

TOTAL SCORE: 23.5/35

My accuracy’s pretty similar to last year, meaning I’m still way better at this that most so-called professional analysts but as usual, I’m certainly no Nostradamus. This is always a fun mental exercise and I’m glad the obsessive amounts of information I consume on these sectors seems to generally be getting put to good use I guess. The Bold Predictions for this year are coming soon!

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My Top 10 Video Games of 2013 (Plus Honourable Mentions & Disappointments)

Well here we are, the end of another year is rapidly approaching and it’s time for top 10 lists again. I did this for the first time last year and have actually been looking forward to doing it again. I wish I could say I made that awesome video above but alas no. I unfortunately intended to have a Geek Bravado Ramble with title footage to go along with this but between the new YouTube Content ID nonsense and my inability to avoid well, rambling, which would make the video way too long, I decided not to bother. I really enjoy the mental exercise that comes with determining my list every year. Gaming’s my primary hobby by a mile and thus, I play a lot of stuff and having to both recall my experiences and rank them requires a lot of thought. Last year’s list wasn’t easy but this year was frankly brutal for me.

2013 was a Hell of a year for video games. A ton of super high quality stuff came out in both the indie and AAA spaces and there were great experiences to be had for just about every genre and palate. The so-called “enthusiast” press has been latching onto industry doom and gloom stories for easy clicks wherever they can but given the record setting launches for both next-gen consoles, I’d say there’s still a good chunk of people who like this stuff.

The two trends I’ve noticed this year in particular are the amazing resurgence of quality platformers, both in the indie space where the genre’s been thriving for a while but also on consoles. Platformers are what I cut my gaming teeth on and I still love them. It seemed like a dying genre for a while but maybe this is the start of a long-term comeback? The second is that this has really been the year of stellar voice acting. So many of the titles you’re going to see in my list are ones where I specifically call out the incredible talent voicing the in-game characters, give them a life and identity you don’t see in many games. People can make fun about how much Nolan North, Troy Baker and Jennifer Hale we’re seeing in games right now but there’s a reason for that, they are absolutely top of their craft in a clearly still limited and maturing field of acting. I only hope we get a greater variety of actors in games with the immense talent these three demonstrate.

So, let’s get to the lists shall we? I’ve mixed up the order a bit from last year. Let’s get the “bad stuff” out of the way first. Disappointments lists out exactly that, stuff that disappointed me. This section isn’t just about me just naming a bunch of stuff I think is bad, it’s listing out games (and also a couple of broader concepts) that I had high hopes and expectations for that unfortunately fell well short of them. A couple of these are likely to be controversial but these are just my own preferences, not a broad declaration.

Gone HomeI wrote about this in a more spoilery fashion earlier in the year. Surely due to be the most controversial item on this list. I think this is not only the most overrated title of the year but possibly of the last several years. It’s not even that it’s bad (it isn’t) but there’s nothing special or innovative about it or how it conveys its story beyond the social issue it tackles, one it should be commended for highlighting as it’s criminal that it hasn’t yet been tackled by a game. There’s virtually no game play here, it’s simply a (mostly) linear progression between audio logs (a concept many who loved this game deride others for using because it’s supposedly a lazy, overused design trope) telling a story that’s well acted and touching but also utterly cliche. There’s no subtlety to the narrative and you don’t discover events in the natural, organic fashion the game means you to. Instead, the twist is revealed early on in a way that will be obvious to anyone who isn’t an idiot and you’re given repeated, blunt, often nonsensical reminders of the repercussions of the character’s situation. By the end, you know exactly what’s going to happen and it feels like it’s been force fed to you in case you missed anything. If I wanted to watch a story, I’d look at a movie or a book but games are supposed to be about the player’s experience and there are two other titles in this list that do far superior jobs of telling great, emotional stories and have the game play to back it up. Both of those games didn’t receive nearly the critical of commercial success of Gone Home (despite both being cheaper as well as far better) and I think that’s a shame. I had high hopes for The Fullbright Company but they’re going to have to do a lot better than this for me to care about their next game.

Call of Duty Series – This sounds like an easy one but after playing Call of Duty: Ghosts this year, it needs to be said: Activision, please let this series rest and recover for a while. I play the campaigns of this series every year, partially because they’re short and partially because I want to see how insane they’ve gotten. Ghosts is so ridiculous that (spoilers I guess), by the end, you’re fighting dudes in space with guns while dressed in space suits to take over an orbital superweapon. I wish I was kidding. Call of Duty has been about lowest common denominator, shoot-everyone-because-warfare-is-cool-somehow action for years now but the series has become so devoid of new ideas, it’s embarrassing at this point. It hasn’t jumped the shark, it’s in orbit above it now. Given the lackluster reviews (especially for the multiplayer) and the rumoured 20% year-on-year sales drop, it appears critics and gamers alike also agree. There’s potential for Call of Duty 4 level of greatness here again but Activision needs to start remembering that it works in a fundamentally creative medium. Give this a break and let it get good again before it collapses like Guitar Hero.

Killzone: Mercenary – I’m one of the seeming minority who thinks Killzone’s a good series. I like the universe they created, I think the weighty, meaty, visceral controls that people often knock for being laggy and slow and I love what a technical showpiece it is. I was excited to play a Killzone on my Vita based around the idea of a mercenary with short missions suited to a portable system. Instead, what we got was a hot mess of a game that controls badly (actually as bad as the haters say), missions that rely on stealth but which have the entire level instantly alerted to you when one guy sees you, bullet sponge enemies and a cover system that just plain doesn’t work. This isn’t as bad as the attempts at Resistance and Call of Duty Vita games but it ain’t far behind. This could have been great but it was just terrible.

Battlefield 4 – Call of Duty multiplayer was never really my jam but I love me some Battlefield. Unfortunately, even before being acquired by EA, DICE has never been able to launch a game in a reliable, polished state since their Pinball Fantasies days. It usually takes a few patches before their games aren’t hot messes. Battlefield 4 takes the mess to a whole new level though. Even after multiple patches, there are still performance and reliability issues on PC. That version’s usually the hardest hit by technical issues but this time out, the next-gen console versions are getting it the worst. Most Xbox One and PlayStation 4 players still can’t reliably even join sessions, much like finish them without lag, matchmaking issues or just plain crashes. Isn’t this what consoles are supposed to avoid? It’s inexcusable and EA’s promise that DICE has put all other projects and DLC on hold until this is fixed is cold comfort for those who have what’s basically a $60 coaster at this point. As far as I’m concerned, both parties are accountable here, DICE for making this mess and EA for not letting it wait until it was ready. Get your acts together because the one thing you have to compete with Call of Duty won’t be much longer if you keep this up.

Dead Space 3 – I can’t stand horror in just about any form, yet I dug Dead Space for some reason. Maybe because it’s sci-fi, maybe because I just liked it’s atmosphere, I’m not really sure. What I do know is that Dead Space became yet another victim of EA corporate meddling, trying to turn it from a great niche series that was making money into a sludge of “broader appeal” that ended up being a commercial flop. They took what was a great horror action series and turned it into yet another cover shooter. I love co-op games but it had no place in a series ostensibly about scares and there were far too many repeated sequences of just raw action and nothing scary, plus all the microtransaction garbage. Also, I won’t spoil it but to say the story goes completely off the rails is way too small an understatement. Seriously, go watch the last quarter of the game somewhere if you don’t play it because it’s just bonkers. Dead Space was great and it could be great again but EA needs to let the creators do what they do best because this isn’t Dead Space.

Next-Gen Console Launches – I had pre-orders for both the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 but had to cancel them due to car nonsense. I was bummed about being left out of yet another launch conversation but I don’t feel so bad now. Despite having 8 years to prep their new machines, both of these have an air of being unfinished about them. Hardware failures, inexplicable software design choices and bugs aplenty have dominated large sections of the conversation. Beyond that, the two big differentiators of the Xbox One over the PS4 which were meant to justify it’s higher price (better Kinect and TV) seem to have largely been met with shrugs. I’ve no doubt Microsoft and Sony will get these machines where they need to be but it does make you wonder what they’ve been doing all this time. These machines need to sell well at launch to convince publishers to invest in them but I definitely couldn’t recommend anyone buy one right now.

Mobile Games As A Whole (Again) – I’m listing them again this year because well, the problem’s gotten worse in my opinion. There’s potential for truly great, unique interactive experiences on mobile devices. The reason I continue to rail against the platform is well, there aren’t many. The mobile audience has been conditioned to believe that even though they probably spent $500+ on the device to play the stuff on, that any mobile game which costs money up front is too expensive. When $0.99 mobile games are being called “premium games”, something’s very wrong. The vast majority of mobile games fail and the ones that are succeeding are the exploitative, free-to-play, cow clicker garbage like Candy Crush and The Simpson’s Tapped Out. This is causing massive creative damage to the medium as a whole and it’s stifling the innovation that can be had in the mobile games space. Like I said last year, that it’s popular doesn’t excuse the fact that it’s bad. I’m hoping the mainstream public gets tired of free-to-play titles that barely qualify as games and creativity gets to reign sooner rather than later.

Gamers As A Whole – This is a weird one and of course I don’t mean everyone here but I feel safe to say this represents the majority. I’m also not referring to the disgusting group of sub-human scum that’s perpetuating the harassment, hatred and bigotry we’ve seen in the gaming field on social networks this year. I’m speaking more from an industry impact perspective. Many of the games you’ll see mentioned in this article were commercial flops and gamers have none to blame but ourselves for that. I am so sick of seeing people screaming that there’s nothing new, creative and innovative in video games any more, how everything is just yet another brown military shooter. Yet, we got tons of counter examples to that argument this year and no one bought any of them! We as consumers of this medium don’t get to have it both ways. We don’t get to complain that everything’s like Call of Duty, yet largely ignore everything that isn’t yet another Call of Duty. It’s ultimately up to us to drive the change we want to see and if all we’re going to do is keep rewarding the same, old, tired, boring stuff, that’s all we’re going to get in the future. Wake up people! Start supporting better things and when you do, tell others why they should do the same.

Quickly just before I hand out the bigger honours are my list of Exclusions. These are games that I think could have been contenders for the list but which I either haven’t gotten to play yet or haven’t played enough of due to time constraints.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies
The Wonderful 101 – I’ve had this sitting in the shrink wrap since launch. I’m convinced I will like it but I just kept getting distracted.
Assassin’s Creed IV – I have this sitting on my hard drive right now but because these always come out so late and are such big games, I never get a chance to play them before the year ends.
The Wolf Among Us – I loved the first episode but I don’t like to judge these until the seasons complete. Same goes for The Walking Dead Season 2.
Shadow Warrior – This looks like the kind of over the top ridiculous fun I expected it to be but I just haven’t had time yet.
Rayman Legends – My girlfriend and I have been co-opping this on the Wii U (the platform you should play it on) but just haven’t gotten that far yet. We got distracted by Super Mario 3D World.
All Next-Gen Console Exclusives – I had to cancel both my next-gen pre-orders for money reasons (thanks old car!) so I won’t get to play any.

Next up are the Honourable Mentions. Some may consider this a cop out because it allows me to name a ton more games than just my top 10. I don’t consider it so and here’s why: I think everything in this section is a great game I would heartily recommend but there are ones I liked more than others, some of which just barely missed the top 10. However, I’m keep that information to myself and after typing this list out, I purposefully scrambled it so that it is literally in no particular order. I think that gets me off the hook but you decide.

ZombiU (From 2012′s Exclusions) – I wanted to throw this in since I’ve had a chance to play most of the games on my Exclusions list from last year. The only reason the absolutely stallar and ridiculous Far Cry 3 didn’t take this spot instead is because this game’s just so cool and innovative. I hate horror games and though this one repeatedly stepped on that button, I still loved it. Don’t listen to the hater reviews, they’re wrong. This game better than any other on the Wii U (including Nintendo’s own games) makes the case for that system and the GamePad tablet controller. What would otherwise be a pretty bland and generic survival horror game (already a rarity these days) is catapulted into a whole other level of that experience with the addition of mapping and inventory management on the GamePad, management that I might add doesn’t pause the game while you’re doing it, creating incredible tension and panic. I played this all the way to the end, even when some of the scenarios wanted to have me shut it off in terror. It’s a crime that this game bombed as badly as it did. It’s like $20 brand new right now so if you have a Wii U or are getting one soon, grab this and try it out. Trust me, there’s nothing else like it.

Call of Juarez: Gunslinger – Techland is such a weird studio. Their games run the gamut from amazing to horrendous (including the Call of Juarez series itself) but when they bring their best, it really shows. Gunslinger is a standalone downloadable game that kind of appeared out of nowhere and surprised me. It’s got a neat story with great voice acting but it’s actually a score based arcade first-person shooter. The controls are tight, the gunplay is frantic and fun and it’s just the right length, even it it is a bit constrained at times. The PC port was well done too.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon – It’s the engine and base mechanics that made Far Cry 3 amazing, covered in a thick layer of the dumbest, most endearing parts of 80s action movies. I’m amazed that a big publisher like Ubisoft took a chance on this idea but I’m so glad they did because it’s hilarious fun. There’s a button that makes your character flip the bird? Why? Because why not?! I had an absolute nostalgic blast from starts to finish with this game and it would have been a steal at twice it’s $15 asking price. It apparently did better than Ubisoft expected (much like Far Cry 3 before it) so I hope more stuff like this gets made.

Metro: Last Light – 4A Games are amazing. Despite being a small studio in a corrupt country and having to deal with THQ as they went off a cliff, they managed to not only put out one of the most technologically gorgeous games ever, it’s covered in the unique storytelling and game play you rarely get outside of Eastern Europe. The universe of Metro is dark, depressing and largely lacking hope and that’s a fiction they own wholeheartedly. I really enjoyed Metro 2033 and Last Light is an improvement in almost every way. It’s a great mix of action and fear, dripping in atmosphere and with unique mechanics such as being able to use quality bullets as money. This shows what first-person shooters are capable of when you think outside the box. It’s a shame that it was still a bit janky and that virtually all of the DLC was garbage.

Dragon’s Crown – Yes some of the art decisions are gross etc. etc. but the game is still great overall. Many consider the brawler genre outdated and a relic of the long gone arcade era. Dragon’s Crown shows how you can take it into the 21st century with style, substance and depth. It’s not perfect, there’s way too much grinding and the online can be a little odd but this is nonetheless a brawler that kept me coming back and reminded me how much fun this genre still is while having enough other systems to keep it from getting boring.

Beyond: Two Souls – David Cage and his games are far from faultless but I think they’re important and should continue to get made, if only to show different things you can do with the medium. Beyond: Two Souls and Heavy Rain before it are interesting experiments in interactive storytelling that also push the bleeding edge of graphical technology. The story told in this game is weird and doesn’t entirely make sense in places but it’s a cool mix of drama and near-future sci-fi that was compelling, played decently and which indeed did connect with me in an emotional way. The acting was far superior to Heavy Rain and it frankly astonished me that what I saw was coming out of a PS3 and not a next-gen machine. Beyond: Two Souls dares to be different and Sony took a chance on it and that alone deserved some respect in my opinion. And it still had more game play backing up its pretentiousness than Gone Home did.

Warframe – In a year of free-to-play PC games that were largely competitive shooters, Warframe did something totally different and did it really well. It’s a third-person sci-fi game with shooting, melee and a bit of platforming and it’s focused exclusively around co-op. Digital Extremes has their fair share of crap to their name and despite being amazing, The Darkness II was a commercial flop. Their change in direction to free-to-play resulted in something that was still a big risk and which I find to be a ton of fun. There’s nothing out there like Warframe and the best part is, it’s not pay-to-win because it’s a co-op game so any enhancements you buy are a benefit to everyone. I don’t know how well this game is doing but it’s continuing to get updates so I’m going to assume it’s performing well enough at least. It’s free on PC and soon PS4, you’ve got no excuse to not try it if it sounds even remotely interesting.

Tomb Raider – I actually never cared for most of the Tomb Raider games but I had a ton of fun with this one. The pretentious “ludonarrative dissonance” types can shut up because this was a blast and combined great combat, great platforming and exploration perfectly, with a jaw-droppingly gorgeous destroyed island environment. Great voice acting really conveyed the sense of desperation and urgency to the story and if you chose to pursue all the collectibles, there was a ton of replayability to the game as well, almost feeling like a smaller open-world. It’s unfortunate that they tacked on a multiplayer mode no one played and fewer asked for which bloated the sales expectations to unrealistic levels but hopefully Square Enix has learned for next time.

Gunpoint – Created by Tom Francis, a games reporter who never made a game in this life before this, it’s a testament to what you can do with some determination and elbow grease. Gunpoint is really neat because though it’s very short and easy if you play it by the path of least resistance, that’s only one way to play it and the levels are so flexible that you can best them in some truly devilish and creative ways if you’re willing to put in the time. It’s also got a funny story and a level editor to boot! This game did so well that it gave Francis the ability to start creating them full-time. I can’t wait to see what he does next.

Rogue Legacy – I’m not even remotely close to finishing this yet but I already know it’s fantastic. Made in Canada by a developer who was apparently on the ropes and hadn’t had success up to now, it’s a great take on the roguelike genre I normally don’t really care for that has a great progression curve backed up by a unique game play system. This gives me the “just one more run” feeling in a way I haven’t experienced in years. Some of the random level generation is just outright unfair at times and some of the enemies are pretty cheap but that’s all part of the point. I’ll be buying this again when it hits PlayStation Vita next year.

Remember Me – One of several great games this year that didn’t have a publisher with the balls to put marketing power behind it because it wasn’t the same old tired ideas. This game is the first effort from independent studio Dontnod Entertainment (a sad rarity in AAA these days) and they came up with something really unique and cool that just needed a little more time in the oven. I absolutely love the techno-dystopian future setting and the art direction is stunning. This is also one of the few AAA titles to feature a strong, driven female lead character which is very refreshing to see. The combo lab and memory remix sequences are both fantastic ideas that broke up what is otherwise a fairly standard action platformer with weaker than standard combat. I do wish they were used more often and had a chance to be fleshed out better but there’s every chance that if this series gets a second chance, it could be something really special. Give it that chance Capcom, you owe it that.

DmC: Devil May Cry – Screw the “New Dante” haters, this game is the best Devil May Cry and I’ve played them all. I was as skeptical as anyone about this. I like Ninja Theory but their games don’t tend to be super fast and precise and I wondered if they could do the trademark combat of this series the the way fans deserved but they totally pulled it off. The world was gritty and dark yet the script was also goofy and humourous, even in that context. The writers understood that the Devil May Cry universe is kinda’ dumb and rolled with that. The levels were brilliantly designed, abstract, vertical gauntlets and yet always managed to feel fluid and never maze like. The combat was super fast and visceral and all the boss fights were unique and very memorable without being too punishing. Combine it with the amazing metal soundtrack and I felt energised going into every fight. They were also smart enough to hand the PC version off to QLOC who did a phenomenal job. This is another game that had unrealistic sales goals which were not met but I hope Capcom has learned from that and gives Ninja Theory another kick as this can. This is Devil May Cry the way it should be from now on.

Guacamelee – Canadian team DrinkBox Studios are damn good at what they do and this is no exception. I played it on the Vita but it’s now out on PC too. Yet another brawler that uses modern mechanics to make the experience fresh and fluid. The story’s basic but pretty neat, the art and animations are gorgeous and just abstract enough to make them stand out, the soundtrack is a near perfect complement to the setting and while it definitely gets challenging, it never feels punitive or cheap and you can overcome even the hardest moments with practice. DrinkBox has become one of those teams who automatically has my attention when they announce something new. I can’t wait to see what their next thing is.

Splinter Cell: Blacklist – I hated Splinter Cell: Conviction and thought it was a big step backwards for the series. Trying to turn one of the best stealth series into a Gears of War clone with idiotic enemy barks? Screw that. Ubisoft Toronto remembered what a Splinter Cell game is supposed to be with Blacklist. The game allows you to play either proper stealth or guns blazing, rarely forcing you into either and having a smart cross-mode scoring system that has reward tiers for each method and actually encourages you to play the levels both ways. The levels themselves are brilliantly designed with numerous ways to approach every encounter and always changing environments so things never get stale. The scoring and challenge system is also brilliant design as it seamlessly integrates into all the game modes but does it in a way that’s not obnoxious or intrusive and never are you promoted to accelerate progression by spending real money, something they could have easily done. The story is real dumb (even by Tom Clancy game standards), the enemy AI could still be better (though it’s vastly improved over Conviction) and the PC version had several issues (seriously, screw UPlay) but this is what a next-generation Splinter Cell should be.

I seriously thought this post would be shorter than last year’s but it’s already about 85% as long as that was and I’m only now getting to the list. Let’s waste no time! Here are my Top 10 Video Games of 2013, ranked in the order I would recommend people buy them if they only had time or money for a certain number of games, the top one obviously being the first recommendation.

10. Puppeteer (PS3 Exclusive) – This title came out of nowhere and was criminally neglected by Sony. It’s just one of the many great platformers this year. The entire thing is portrayed as if you’re playing a puppet show and has some of the most gorgeous art design I’ve seen in years. The levels are constantly changing and always layering on new mechanics, yet never getting overly difficult. There’s a ton of great voice acting backed up by great writing (though it does tend to get too verbose at times) and the fairy tale story is well told and actually has a touching ending. This is a great platformer and you can often find it for cheap. It’s a no brainer buy if you like the genre and have a PS3. Seriously Sony, why did you not promote this?

9. Grand Theft Auto V – This will undoubtedly be many people’s Game of the Year and I can’t blame them for that. This is the kind of open world that only Rockstar Games can make. It is nothing less than breathtaking with so many different things to do that I seriously don’t know how they made last-generation hardware not just implode trying to run it. The story is long and brilliantly acted with a ton of twists in both the narrative and it has an interesting dark sense of humour to it. Where that falls down for me however is that I’m getting really tired of Rockstar’s trope of not making a single likable character in their stories and their lazy reliance on bashing western culture with the subtlety of a brick to the face and hiding behind the shield of “It’s just parody!” Some of the most disturbing scenes in the game were also there just for the shock value and free PR that comes with it, rather than for any meaningful character development. GTA Online while ambitious is also a mess of clumsy systems and implementations and just isn’t that fun, even when you can get it to work.

8. Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS Exclusive) – Damn right it’s the Year of Luigi! The original Luigi’s Mansion on the GameCube is one of the most underrated games of the last 15 years and Canadian team Next Level Games did a masterful job on creating a proper sequel for the 3DS. This game oozes charm from every pore (the only thing you use the d-pad more is making Luigi call out “Hello?” in different nervous ways!) and layers that on top of unique game play mechanics with tight controls and using virtually all the the 3DS functions in smart ways, plus the 3D effect is actually really good and enhances the experience! It’s a super long game that has a ton of collectibles and reasons to go back to previous levels if you desire as well, making it great value for money. The only problems are that some of the levels are far too long to be conducive with a handheld exdperience and there are still far too many instances where you’ll find yourself getting stuck and needing a FAQ to proceed since you can’t just save mid-level. Seriously Nintendo, just buy up Next Level Games and keep them making great experiences for your hardware. They’re as good at it as any of your best in-house teams.

7. The Last of Us (PS3 Exclusive) – A zombie fiction game that was different and unique. The world of The Last of Us is jet black dark and free of any nuance that there’s a happy ending right around the corner. This game makes you live in constant tension and fear and does it masterfully, if with a bit of clunkiness here and there. Once again, brilliantly acted with characters that are created in such a way that you’re always straddling the line between sympathizing with and despising who you’re playing and forced to work with. The story’s very good and has a great game play twist about two thirds through that I never say coming. Many disagree about the ending but I thought it was perfect, though the last chapter leading up to it was a little much. I also thought there were too many forced combat scenarios put there just for the sake of having them and while unique, the multiplayer mdoe was also unnecessary and I don’t think added much of value. I have no idea where the series can go after this first outing but bring it on Naughty Dog!

6. Saint’s Row IV – I love the Saint’s Row series because it’s insane and owns that wholly but Saint’s Row IV is so incredibly ridiculous, it shouldn’t even work from a systemic perspective. This game is so mad and lets you do so much, it should be completely broken, yet the brilliant minds at Volition managed to make it all work and did so while their publisher was crumbling around them to boot. Saint’s Row The Third turned the crazy up to 11, this broke the dial and then spun it a few more times. It’s also full of references that only long-time hardcore gamers would even understand, much less appreciate. This is a series that knows exactly who it’s targeting and writes gushy love letters to that audience every chance it gets. I adore it for that but at the same time, the amount of stuff they give you also makes the game very easy and I really don’t know where the series can go from this point. Grand Theft Auto V has a great world that’s semi-set in realism and it does that brilliantly but Saint’s Row IV goes in a completely different direction, eschewing reality entirely and just goes “Here’s a sandbox where you can do basically anything, just have fun.” There’s a wonderful purity to that.

5. Papers, Please (PC Exclusive) - One of three games on this list that unlike Gone Home, tells a deep, emotional story while still remembering they’re video games, not an interactive art installation. There is literally nothing else like Papers, Please. A low-resolution pixel art game, you never see or hear your character orhis family that you’re trying to support throughout the game, yet I felt incredibly driven to always do my best for them. The story is that of a downtrodden worked trapped in a dictatorial bureaucratic machine that is devoid of hope, yet is determined to do the best he can for his loved ones while being pulled at from all sides and directions. You are given constant choices to make and all of them have vastly different consequences that can lead to vastly different and numerous game endings. You are always under time pressure but as you progress, new mechanics and requirements are layered on to you but never with so much as a second of extra time given. The game stresses me in a way few others do as I started to fumble and panic my way through my work days at the border booth. This is a story few who will play this game can even remotely relate to, yet it makes you feel for everyone involved, though they almost always remain unseen.

4. BioShock Infinite – I don’t know why it’s become trendy to hate on this game in the second half of this year but all you people who are doing so are wrong. I love the entire BioShock series but this is without question the best BioShock game. This is another victim of the pretentious “ludonarrative dissonance” crowd, plus a group of people that slammed its combat because apparently they don’t know what good combat is. Seriously, you’re playing in a floating balloon city and you’re going to claim dissonance is at work? The world of Columbia is fantastical, colourful, vibrant and violent for a well-established reason and the story told within it is deep, beautiful, tragic and emotional in a way few AAA stories are. Elizabeth and Booker are both great and once again, wonderfully acted characters with rich histories that are well fleshed out and makes you root for them both, even when Booker tries to make you hate him. The main twist in this game I never saw coming in a million years and it’s presented in a way that made my jaw drop both from the twist itself and the technical wizardry behind how it was presented to me. The combat was also fast, fluid and super satisfying and I had a blast with it. I don’t understand why people thought it was clunky versus something like Gears of War (which I also love) and those saying the violence had no place in the world just have a poor understanding of what the story was about.

3. Super Mario 3D World (Wii U Exclusive) - Unquestionably one of the best Mario games in years, this extension on the great formula introduced on the 3DS shows just what Nintendo’s in-house talent can do when you give them horsepower to play with. The cartoony Mario art style is nothing short of stunning in HD. The levels are master strokes in design as they are often as vertical as they are horizontal and they’re free-flowing and three dimensional without being confusing. They will undoubtedly be taught in game design schools for years to come. The new powerups added to Mario games are often hit-and-miss but everything they added to 3D World is smart and works really well. They also managed to take the four player competitive co-op mechanics of the New Super Mario Bros. series and add them in a way that works and if you’re really hard core, they still have the insanely difficult additional levels that most people will never see but that they put the effort into anyway. This is the Wii U’s killer app, it’s just such a shame it may have come too late.

2. Tearaway (Vita Exclusive) – If you have a Vita, buy this game. If you don’t have a Vita, buy a Vita and buy this game, it’s seriously that good. This is another game that Sony idiotically dumped onto the market with no promotion, releasing the same day as Super Mario 3D World and the Xbox One console. Media Molecule is one of the most talented teams in Sony’s fold and it shows. Tearaway places you in an incredible papercraft world that you can create huge swaths of in the real world using their web site if you want. You’re often asked to make items in the game that become part of the world. Oh, a snowstorm is starting? Draw the snowflakes and they become the storm! The game uses every single unique feature of the Vita and none of them are gimmicky and they all add to the game play in meaningful, often adorable ways. Combine that with a cute story that’s moving by the end and great platforming that plays well (unlike Media Molecule’s previous effort LittleBigPlanet) and you have the best game on the Vita by a mile. I wish some miracle could have happened that would have made this a Vita launch game because this would have moved a lot of hardware. Sony’s neglect of this game is an absolute crime and they should be ashamed for that.

1. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – I’m not someone who cries basically ever, at anything. This game not only made me cry, it had me openly sobbing at the end. That alone should tell you how amazing this game is. I still can’t believe that this was made by Starbreeze Studios, whose previous works are almost all gory first-person shooters. Like Papers, Please, Brothers puts Gone Home to shame  by showing how you can have a deep, moving, emotional story with unique and solid game play backing it up. Often referred to as single player co-op, the game is played with triggers and the analog sticks as you are controlling two characters at once, each of whom have abilities the other doesn’t. Not a single English word is spoken in this bright, yet grim and disturbing fairy tale, yet you will feel very attached to these characters and feel their sadness and desperation, of which there is plenty. This is a dark story that has its highs but never lets off and doesn’t wimp out at the end. It’s a small, short game but it’s a master case for how video games can be a medium for emotional storytelling without also being pretentious and relying on tired tropes and cliches. Gone Home has nothing on this and I think it’s a shame that Brothers has had less critical and commercial success. If you’re only able to play one game this year for whatever reason, spend the $15 on this, it’s an experience like no other I’ve had in almost 30 years of playing video games.

Wow, almost 7,000 words this year! I was certainly verbose but I think it also shows just what an incredible year for gaming this was. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did and I can’t wait to see what 2014 brings. There’s some pretty amazing stuff on the horizon and that’s only what we know about. Bring it on I say, it’s always time to play!

I hope you and yours have a safe and happy holiday season and a great 2014. I’m largely staying home over my Christmas break from work and I hope to get a bunch of content put up on here (I still have Bold Predictions after all) and on the YouTube channel, with some live streaming for good measure. Agree with my list, disagree or have your own? Post a comment, let’s chat about it!

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My DOOM Story

In news that’s sure to make a lot of us who aren’t really that old feel really old (I know I sure did), iconic id Software classic DOOM turned 20 years old yesterday. For as much time as I spend around games and technology in general, it still amazes me how far things have come in what is in reality, a very short time for any creative medium. Could any of the id Software guys have predicted that their little demon shooter would spawn an entirely new genre, one of the most popular by far and that it would go from looking like this to this? I highly doubt even a technological grand master like John Carmack would have said yes. Few games throughout the history of the medium can claim the level of historical importance and relevance that DOOM can. It can proudly hold a place beside the likes of Pong, Pac-Man and Super Mario Bros. as one of the titles whose influence you can see in almost everything that’s come since. I won’t go into a lot more detail about why DOOM is amazing as many other articles have done it better. Suffice it to say, it’s one of history’s most important games.

A lot of people have been sharing their stories about playing DOOM and what it meant to them so I thought it would be fun to do that too. I can go on about all the hours I spent playing 1-on-1 deathmatches with friends over direct dial-up, installing mods to change the sprites, add levels or replace the sounds effects with ones from Terminator 2, The Simpsons or Die Hard (no seriously, that was a popular thing to do) or starting games on Nightmare mode and switching off with friends, seeing who could survive the longest. All great memories that still make me smile. But I thought I’d share something a little different and kind of funny in its own way.

Back in the early 90s, there was a short-lived chain in Canada called A-Plus Software (who despite my best efforts, I can find no info about online.) They were kind of like what EB Games is now, only focused on computer software of all kinds, though games were their biggest business. They were a pretty awesome place but grew too fast and flamed out after a few years. My Dad’s company at the time had a product on the shelves of some of their stores so we frequently visited the west end Ottawa location that was in a strip mall in the Centrepointe area. We didn’t have a ton of money (my Dad’s company was one of several he owned, all of which failed) so buying new games and frequent PC upgrades were something of a luxury. I had a PC at home that could run most things decently but few new titles very well. I was 13 or 14 at the time.

I actually hadn’t heard of DOOM prior to its release but on one visit to this store, I heard some weird demonic noises coming from the corner where the demo PCs lived. Turns out one of the clerks had downloaded the shareware episode and set it up on a roaring 486-33 they had setup with a dedicated sound card and the whole bit. My Dad was going to be chatting them up for a while so I sat down to give it a shot, playing with the keyboard only as was common at the time. I was instantly hooked and having a blast, even though this was actually a pre-v1.0 release of the game and it was a bit buggy. I had played Wolfenstein 3D before but the movement and mechanics of DOOM were a very different experience. This was the first game I’d seen with exploding barrels, enemies on multiple planes and environmental hazards. A lot of the tropes you see in every first-person shooter today were brand new to me at this moment and I was learning as I went.

Eventually, other customers in the store heard the noise and came over to see what was going on. I had a handful of people surrounding me, watching me play. Despite clearly being a kid who didn’t work there, some of them started asking me questions about the game and what I thought of it. This was super exciting for me and I was selling it pretty hard, even though I’d only spent maybe 20 minutes with it. Eventually, one of the clerks walked over. I expected he was going to kick me off the PC so other people could play and so I’d stop hogging the attention of customers who might otherwise be browsing the shelves. I kept my hands on the keyboard until the last possible minute. Instead, all he did was grin at me, turn the speakers up and go back to the counter, continuing to watch from a distance. I perked up even more and kept plugging away at Knee Deep in the Dead. The crowd kept growing until at one point, I had probably 20 people standing there, my own little cheering section.

I was a shy kid who had been bullied through his early life like a lot of nerds. I was very introverted and didn’t like the spotlight but thanks to this game and this smart, forward-thinking clerk, I felt like a rock star. I was playing a brand new, state-of-the-art game I fell in love with instantly and a bunch of other people were enthralled just watching me play it. It was like doing a Let’s Play before there was even the faintest glimmer of such a thing in existence. It’s a moment in my computing and gaming life I remember as vividly as the first time I touched a computer in 1984 or when we got our first computer at home in 1985. And it’s something intrinsically tied to DOOM.

I’d probably been playing for close to an hour when my Dad emerged from his meeting and was ready to go. Some of the crowd behind me had been there the whole time and some were audibly disappointed that I had to stop. To my Dad’s credit (and I won’t credit that man with much), he probably would have let me keep going for a while longer but we had somewhere else we had to be. On our way past the counter, the clerk from before stopped us. The version of DOOM I had been playing was just the first episode, released for free as shareware as was common in those days. The retail release of the full game with all the episodes wasn’t out yet but he thanked me, saying “At least half the crowd who was watching you asked us when we’re getting it in because they want to buy it.” Playing DOOM not only had made my day but his as well. Many other store clerks would have made me stop playing but this guy saw it as the best kind of salesmanship and let me keep having fun because it helped him too. I’ll never forget that.

Even though my PC at home couldn’t run it super well, I went and downloaded Knee Deep In the Dead as soon as we got home. It would be a while before I could afford the full DOOM experience but the hours I put into that one episode alone were immense and I loved every minute of it. Getting access to the full game was like being given a whole other universe to explore. I’ve played literally hundreds, if not thousands of games since, many of which are first-person shooters. But to this day, nothing brings an instant smile to me face and a flood of nostalgia back to my mind than DOOM does. And given that you can play it on basically anything with a screen now, I’m clearly not the only one. id Software’s future path seems uncertain right now but their place in history and how they’ve influences the first-person shooter as we know it cannot be denied or understated. It’s truly one of history’s greatest and most important games and one I’ll remember always.

Cheers to DOOM on its 20th and may its legacy live on forever!

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New Media’s Vicious Cycle (With Video)

For once, being too busy to write a blog post when I originally planned to has paid off as over the weekend, YouTube rolled out their new comments system. I don’t have a ton to say on the subject beyond what others have already said better but it’s a bloody disaster. Aside from forcing people to sign up for Google’s Facebook knockoff that no one wants to use, they’ve taken everything that was already horrible about YouTube comments and made it substantially worse. Now people have unlimited space to spew their garbage and links are now permitted so comments are already getting clogged with spam and viruses. Seriously Google, fire whoever thought this was a good idea, the hire them again just so you can fire them a second time. It’s so bad that a number of prominent YouTubers include TotalBiscuit and PewDiePie (PewDiePie for crying out loud!) have disabled comments and several others are already talking about moving their content elsewhere. This is a disastrous scenario, it’s not like when everyone gets upset for a while over a Facebook UI change. This is a massive, systemic failure on Google’s part and they ignore the complaints of their biggest partners at their own peril. This kind of fits into the theme of my overall post which is why I bring it up but that’s pretty much all I have to say on that particular issue.

YouTube, Twitch and other new media sources are extremely crowded places and becoming more so every day. Generally, this is a good thing. These are supposed to be “democratized” media outlets where anyone with the know how and drive can put content out there for anyone to see. Indeed, that’s happening more than ever now as it’s becoming very easy with a lot of different hardware and software options to put up half decent looking content with minimal effort.

The problem I’m seeing is that discoverability (which is quickly becoming the watchword of many industries these days, including much of gaming) is becoming a massive concern as things get more crowded. A good chunk of this post will probably come across at bitterness and sour grapes as a lot of my opinions have been formed here by my own struggles to get my YouTube content noticed. Honestly, I am a little bitter about it.  There’s only so much viewership to go around and between the established players and new entrants , it’s already tough to get noticed. Then you throw in everyone from the games press like Jeff Green and Jim Sterling jumping on the wagon with frankly, pretty lousy, generic content but using their built-in audiences and means of promotion the rest of us don’t have access to and getting to “cut the line”, sucking up even more potential viewership. I like both of those guys and their writing but when I look at the quality of Green’s live content or see Sterling posting blatant trolling top 10 videos for easy hits and getting 20,000 subscribers and a Polaris partnership in less than two weeks, yeah it’s frustrating and I don’t think unfairly so. Seeing content that’s objectively inferior in quality to your own (and mine’s far from stellar) leapfrogging you in popularity is disheartening when you’re putting a lot of time and money into making stuff you think want people to watch. I have no desire to become “YouTube famous” or to make a living off my video content but I would like at least some people to be able to find and consume my stuff so I’m not just shouting into the abyss.

I honestly the biggest problem facing a new YouTuber or Twitcher is that these services aren’t giving new stuff a chance to get noticed or find its niche. Much like the big “old media” industries (Hollywood, television, music, AAA gaming) that the likes of YouTube and Twitch seek to replace, they are succumbing to the same blockbuster mentalities of only focusing on and promoting what’s already popular at the expense of anything new. I know my content (especially Retro Flashback) is a niche and doesn’t appeal to everyone but I also know there’s a not small group of people out there who like retro games and want to hear about them. The problem is if you search for the name of the show along with any game I’ve covered, my videos often won’t even show on the first page of search results and much of what comes before it won’t even have any of those words present in the title. You will notice however that all that promoted stuff already has a lot of hits and that’s because something in YouTube’s secret algorithm thinks that content which has no relation to anything I cover in my videos is more important for people to see. When you look at the sidebar of related videos when watching something on YouTube, you’ll often find stuff that’s related but usually only from popular channels. I’ve watched other videos of games I’ve also covered on Retro Flashback and not a single time has one of my videos appeared as a related one, even though it is by definition exactly that.

Similarly, if you go on Twitch and look at their “Promoted Games” or “Related Channels”, you’ll inevitably find the same handful of blockbuster games that everyone already knows about or the same handful of channels that already have massive subscriber bases. None of these need the promotion, they have their audiences and they are massive. Yet, those are what you will always see promoted. No indie games, no older games, no new channels struggling to find viewers. So if you’re a new Twitch streamer who wants to find an audience, you’d best be prepared to spend weeks or months playing Dota 2, League of Legends, Minecraft, StarCraft II, Hearthstone or something similar to get noticed, even if those games aren’t what you care for or want to show people. If you aren’t playing those, expect to get a tiny handful of viewers at best.

If you ask a prominent new media content creator about how to start out, one of the first things they will always say is “don’t bandwagon.” That is, don’t just start covering the same trendy thing that everyone else is because you’re just adding another voice to a massive chorus and will never get noticed. But what’s the alternative when that chorus is the only thing these services are giving any attention? If you aren’t bandwagoning, you aren’t getting promoted and if you aren’t getting promoted, no one can find you. Yet, if you do bandwagon to something you don’t really like to get viewers and then switch into what you want, you may lose a lot of those viewers because you’re no longer covering what they want to see. This is the vicious cycle.

It’s a blockbuster mentality, focusing on only big bets and safe bets. It’s the same mentality that makes Activision pump out Call of Duty games every year and not give anything else they release any real effort or attention. It’s why companies like EA send innovative titles like Syndicate out to die but spend sometimes two to three times a Battlefield game’s development budget on marketing. It’s why Capcom made Resident Evil 6 an indistinct sludge of “broader appeal” and betrayed its legacy. It’s why Hollywood is focused on nothing but remakes, reboots and comic book movies right now. It’s why Justin Bieber gets a disproportionately large amount of his label’s promotion, even though one of his albums will sell gangbusters just by having his name on it.

An industry focused on just churning what’s already popular over and over again can’t survive in the long-term. It’s short-term, short-sighted, public company thinking and it’s based on fear. Fear that they’ll lose their big, stable audience base to something else because if they lose the big fish, whatever will they do? They just want to get as much as they can out of what they have right now and they’ll worry about replacing it later. That’s both wrong and frankly bad business because whether they like it or not, their big cash cows will dry up. Call of Duty will decline, people will get sick of comic book movies, people will (hopefully soon) realise that Justin Bieber sucks. And most importantly, the TotalBiscuits, PewDiePies and Day9s of YouTube and Twitch will move on some day. They’ll either decide they’ve made enough money and retire, they’ll get bored or with things like YouTube’s new comments system, maybe they’ll just get pushed away. Someone has to pick up the ball when these guys go away and right now, these new media companies aren’t giving anyone a chance to shine. That’s bad for us and it’s ultimately bad for them.

Is my content the best stuff on YouTube? Not even close. Is what I make better than a lot of what’s on there (including some of what’s popular) and creating a niche that a decent number probably want to watch? I honestly think so, even if I do still have a lot of room to improve. But how many people like me (and many others who are probably better than me) are giving up before they even get started because they see a new media environment that isn’t willing to help them foster their creativity and find an audience? Contrary to popular belief, just making good stuff isn’t enough of a selling point on its own. You need help to get noticed and people have to be able to find you to realise they like what you make. If YouTube and Twitch just give us a little help, just a bit to get started, I think the best content creators can take things from there. But as it stands right now, a lot of potential talent and big new sensations for these services are shouting at people who can’t hear them because they’re too busy being told to go watch stuff that found its audience a long time ago.

YouTube, Twitch and other forms of new media were supposed to usher in a new era, one that was going to supplant the old, increasingly broken ways of getting content to hungry consumers. It looked that way for a while but now, short-sighted businessmen are quickly adopting the worst traits of the industries they were supposed to render obsolete. We already have Hollywood, it’s time to try something different, not retread old ground that is proving less and less stable by the day. I really hope these companies wake up soon. This is so easy to fix with just a few simple changes, massively easier to fix than the problems of Hollywood, television or AAA gaming. In the mean time, could you do me a solid and go watch some of my videos? Maybe subscribe and like or if you dare, comment too? Thanks.

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