My Bold Predictions for 2015

Here we are again for another year of predictions. I reviewed and scored last year’s in my previous post and scored I think the lowest I have since I started doing this, which was kind of a surprise as I didn’t think I was all that bold last year. It just goes to show how unpredictable things can get I guess. 2015 hasn’t started out great so far but I’m still hopeful this year will work out better for both myself and humanity as a whole than it has for the last couple. We can still do it people!

I don’t have as many predictions as I do for last year but I like to think a couple of these are bolder than before. That may not end up helping my score much this time next year but we shall see. As usual, I’ve kind of tried to put these in an order that groups similar things together but the position in the list doesn’t mean anything. Off we go!

Gaming

  • Console sales will stay strong but the Wii U will continue to limp along. The Xbox One and PS4 continue to surprise me with how well they’re selling and I think that bodes well for gaming as a whole (more on that later.) The Wii U can’t seem to get any kind of foothold, even if many of the best games of last year came out on it. Nintendo’s clearly going to keep it going until the next system but it’s a damn shame it’s done so poorly.
  • The Oculus Rift’s consumer version not only won’t ship, we won’t even get a date for it. Same with Sony’s Project Morpheus. If there’s one thing these companies taking the latest stab at VR are consistent with, it’s making it clear that they’ll let these things sit and brew as long as they need to so they ship solid. If they want VR to have any chance of success this time around, that’s absolutely necessary. Take your time and get it right.
  • Star Citizen won’t get a release date but will cross $100M raised. This thing is absolutely bonkers and like I said in my last post, it’ll either be the best thing ever or one of gaming history’s greatest disasters. With the scope they’re at now, there’s no way anything resembling the final version comes out this year but at the pace money keeps rolling in from the whackjobs funding this thing, it’s definitely on track to hit 9 figures.
  • There will be fewer games delayed and new announcements will start coming closer to release. This is probably a bolder prediction than you may think. Big publishers love to talk about AAA releases far out but between all of last year’s delays and the disastrous launch of others, I think they’re realising it’s better to wait until you’re sure of things before you talk about them publicly.
  • Fewer games will release completely broken than before but a couple of big releases will still have issues. The AAA industry got a massive kick in the nuts public opinion wise last year and they deserved it. Though humility is not the corporate world’s strong suit, I think they have learned that they can’t keep getting away with this. Personally, I think many of the games that were delayed into this year were specifically to avoid disastrous launches.
  • Assassin’s Creed Victory will undersell expectations. Ubisoft will at least hint at taking a year off that series. I haven’t played Unity yet but I’ve heard that tech issues aside, it’s not a great game. Victory is being made by another studio whose previous experience consists largely of DLC and shovelware games. If it’s not a stellar title, I think this plus the Unity fiasco will hurt sales in a big way and this will give the company the means to tell their investors that it needs to go back in the oven for a while. As a huge fan of this series, I sincerely hope that happens.
  • We will see more new IPs and new ideas talked about in the AAA space this year. I’ve read in a few places that apparently because many publishers were buying into the nonsense that tablets were taking over all gaming, a lot of them held off greenlighting many new projects for next-gen machines until they saw if they would sell. They have and many of those projects are supposedly now in production but because AAA games take a while to make, we won’t start to hear about them for a bit. I hope so, we desperately need new ideas.
  • Publishers that had previously gone near silent on AAA games (such as Capcom and Konami) will announce several new projects this year. See the last point. They’ve barely done anything on consoles lately but the market has shown there is still money to be made there. Both companies had huge (and nearly empty) booths at E3 last year because they didn’t want to lose the space by not booking it all. I don’t think they would have done that if they were planning to get out of console games.
  • Steam will announce a significant retooling of the policies of either Greenlight, Early Access or both. This goes beyond little rule clarifications like Valve put out earlier. Both of these systems are broken messes that are hurting consumers and there are too many smart people at Valve to not realise this. One or both of these systems is going to have a major change to how they work to try and clean up their reputations.
  • At least one major free-to-play game developer in the mobile space will significantly contract or restructure. Cracks in the facade of Rovio and King are already beginning to show. These are one hit wonder companies that rode single competent or bad ideas into the ground and tricked a bunch of gullible investors in the process. Now that those ideas are flickering out, they have to restructure themselves out of the bubble and grow like normal companies.
  • Zynga will continue to struggle and at the very least, rumours of a possible sale will start. Don Mattrick–the guy who rode in on the wave of Xbox’s success and in a few months, killed almost all it–hasn’t managed to turn around the fortunes of this other one hit wonder company. No one cares about social gaming any more and other people are already dominating the mobile space. Zynga can only continue to lose money for so long before their investors demand they sell.
  • Double Fine Productions will undergo a downsizing. Between Broken Age and Space Base DF-9, it’s painfully clear that this is a company that’s not well managed. They already had a small layoff because a publisher bailed on them and I think that with the path they’re on, they are going to have to downsize soon and lower their frankly arrogant ambitions in order to survive.
  • No gaming Kickstater with a goal of over $300,000 will successfully fund this year. This is not to say a project with a lower goal won’t surpass that amount though. I still like the idea of crowdfunding and have done plenty of it but the fad of it has worn off and there have been too many high profile failures of late that have eroded consumer trust. There’s still plenty of opportunity on Kickstarter but I think the idea of projects with humongous goals getting funded is over.
  • Valve with neither announce nor ship any new games. They just don’t seem to care about putting new stuff out right now while they’re riding the wave of DOTA 2, CS:GO and Steam money. I’ve no doubt they have a bunch of stuff being worked on but the one disadvantage of a company with no job titles and dump trucks of money is there isn’t really pressure to put much out quickly.
  • SteamOS and the first Steam Machines will ship and both will underperform expectations. The silence around these two things since they were first revealed has been deafening. People just don’t seem to care (I certainly don’t) and at least one of Valve’s hardware partners is saying this is a dead end, even as Valve is touting how much Steam Machines will be on display at GDC. I think they’ve come too far to abandon this now and it’s probably going to be one of those long haul projects they’ll run at a loss for a while but I don’t see these setting the world on fire when they come out, especially with Windows PCs being available for similar money, with similar capabilities and a much bigger library of games.
  • Sony’s PlayStation Now subscription service will initially not be popular but they will start expanding the catalogue. Tying this to a subscription was a smart move for Sony but all the service has right now is a bunch of old PS3 games that no one cares about. What’s going to get me and probably many more excited is more of those games but especially filling out the catalogue with PS2 stuff. I definitely see that happening and maybe then it’ll take off. I think this is something they expect to take a while for people to warm up to.
  • The Division will ship and finally divert from the “Ubisoft Open World Template.” This game is being pushed as basically multiplayer only, with no single player campaign. Yeah, they could figure out a way to put more damn radio towers in it but I don’t think they will, or at least it will be some different kind of mechanic. Ubisoft has to know that people are tired of their regular formula, right?
  • No Man’s Sky will not ship. I’m sure this is coming but they’re still so cagey at showing much of it and letting people play it for any length of time, I still think this needs a lot of time to bake yet.
  • At least one highly anticipated indie game will either fail to release or release and bomb. The indie space is more crowded and saturated than ever before. It used to be if your indie game was simply good and/or a press darling, you were guaranteed success. I think there’s just too many titles for that to be the case now and I think indies are going to start having to get used to being more like hit-driven AAA than ever before.
  • At least one gaming site that’s considered “major” will either shut down or announce a near total shift to video content. GameSpot sort of did this last year. Ad revenues are so bad that nearly everyone is resorting to sensationalist clickbait and the audience is getting sick of that. Something’s gotta’ give and I think someone’s going to buckle this year. I have my picks for who I’d like it to be but they’re not the likely ones, not this year anyway. For better or worse (I think some of both), YouTube is quickly rendering many of these sites irrelevant.
  • At least one well-known “games journalist” or gaming YouTube personality will announce they are leaving the profession. This doesn’t mean a writer going to YouTube or vice versa, this means getting out of covering games entirely. Yes, a few people already did this last year but personally, I didn’t consider any of them to be well-known, on the level of a Jeff Gerstmann or a TotalBiscuit. Covering video games is a brutal field for a number of reasons and I think someone of note is going to have had enough this year. Truth be told, I can’t blame them.
  • The heavy emphasis on social justice topics in games coverage will continue but the audience’s interest in it will start to wane. I think we’re already seeing evidence of this. Put down your pitch forks, I’m not saying that all social justice games coverage will go away, nor do I think it should. However, certain sites continuing to try to endlessly browbeat their audience with it (more because of the clicks it drives than any real cause) will start to see diminishing returns on it. People want to read about games, not be endlessly lectured to.
  • GamerGate will continue well into the new year but greatly reduced in numbers and mainstream coverage. I’ve said my stance on this before. Like it or not, this movement still exists and in no small part because of the press and personalities therein that continue to insist on talking about it and giving it attention because it drives lazy revenue. Based on what I’ve seen though, the movement’s momentum is slowing and people are burning out of it. There still are valid concerns among all the other garbage and there is a dedicated group of people pushing them and they’re not going away but their numbers will shrink and so will their voices. That’s not entirely good either.

Technology

  • Smart watches will underperform almost universally, aside from an initial fanboy-driven sales bump for the Apple Watch. Smart watches are a distraction by phone manufacturers who don’t want to admit that they’ve run out of new ways to sell you a new device every year. The numerous ones that have already come out and landed with a thud show that people just don’t care and one with an Apple logo on it isn’t going to change that. Yeah, a bunch of iCultists will line up for it and Apple will milk that for press but it won’t last.
  • The Apple television is not coming. As long as the tech press continues to take one throwaway line from the Steve Jobs biography to mean more than it does, I’m going to keep making this prediction. The last place Apple wants to go is the ultra low margin TV business.
  • 4K TVs will gain no traction. There’s been a big push on these and while I think one day they will be a thing, for right now they’re just as big a fad as 3D was. TV makers are losing their shirts and they’re desperate to get people to buy something new, anything new. It was hard enough to get a lot of people to see the difference with HD and there’s almost no 4K content available. This is a non-starter in 2015.
  • Apple products will have more news making security issues this year than Windows. This is among the boldest predictions I ever made but I seriously believe it. I can’t think of any major Windows security vulnerabilities last year that made the news. In fact, Windows was the only major operating system that wasn’t susceptible to Heartbleed. Meanwhile, we had several major security flaws found in both iOS and OS X. Apple and their fanboys think that Apple products are more secure because it’s such a closed system but bigger install bases mean bigger targets and while Microsoft has had a massive dedicated security team for years, Apple has been lazy.
  • We will see a large number of stories or opinion pieces decrying Apple’s decline in software quality. I’ve already seen several of these. Many people (including some well known hardcore fanboys) have been complaining that Apple’s recent software releases have not only been poor on security but also buggy and poor performing. Again, the company is getting lazy and complacent and that’s the last thing they should be doing. Cracks in the reality distortion field are forming.
  • Windows 10 will ship and be hailed as what Windows 8 should have been. With $10 in free utilities, you can make Windows 8 work just like Windows 7 but with all the under the hood benefits. Yet, people still like to irrationally hate it because it’s easy and trendy. Everything I’ve seen of Windows 10 just makes it looks like Windows 8 but with all the stuff the third-party software normally does built-in instead. That’s great but people have been insisting on using the inferior Windows 7 for years already for no good reason.
  • Twitter will make money for at least one quarter and announce at least one change that will enrage users on a large scale. They appear to be getting close to profitability and while saying they’ll pull it off for a whole year is a bit too ambitious, I think they’ll manage for at least 3 months. They’ve already done some stupid crap that’s annoyed a decent number of people but nothing that infuriates everyone like Facebook has done multiple times in the past. I think they’re due for that. Maybe that change is what will finally get me to dump this cesspool of a communication tool.
  • Another major YouTube network will get acquired by “big media.” I really hope it isn’t my network. Maker Studios was bought for half a billion dollars by Disney in 2014 and there are several other major players in that space too. YouTube is trendy and if you get a network with big channels, appears to be very profitable and growing now too. I’m curious how long it’ll remain that way but there are several other ripe takeover targets out there right now.
  • Tablet sales will continue to decline to a normal level, smartphones less so. Both smartphones and tablets have been experiencing unrealistic growth over the last several years because they were new and trendy. But as tablet sales in 2014 have already shown, people are sick of shelling out hundreds for a new device every year that they really don’t need. They’re going to become more like PCs where you upgrade it every few years instead. By their nature, phones don’t last as long but those are starting to slow as well to a lesser degree.
  • There will be at least three major news making security breaches this year of either retailers or large corporate infrastructures. Think levels on the line of the Sony Pictures or Home Depot hacks. Big business doesn’t take IT security seriously enough and hackers are making them eat that. The only thing that’s going to make them learn is to see their competitors crushed by it. Sony and Home Depot were warnings but I think a few more are needed and will happen this year now that hackers know how vulnerable many of these targets are.
  • Yahoo! will announce either publicly or stealthily that they are up for sale. By all accounts, Marissa Mayer’s attempt to turn around this struggling company has been a disaster, with their substantial investment in Alibaba being the only thing that makes them valuable at all. Yahoo!’s current state is far from her sole responsibility. The company had missed the mark for years before she arrived but she certainly hasn’t mounted the 180 of fortune she promised and the employees seem to hate her. Yahoo! has managed to avoid going on the block for years now but I think that time is at an end.

There we go, another block of predictions for 2015. There are fewer this year but some of them are bolder than before so we’ll see what happens. I hope the negative ones don’t come true as always but either way, it could be an interesting year. I hope 2015 is better for everyone than the last couple of years. I think we all deserve it. Have a great year!

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Revisiting My Bold Predictions for 2014

I’m a bit late with my yearly dual Bold Predictions posts this year. I’ve been both busy and adjusting to some new meds that didn’t leave me in a great mental space for blogging but all that’s sorted and it’s time to catch up! 2014 was a year of a few highs and some pretty bad lows for me, not unlike 2013. I was hoping 2015 would start off better but well, that hasn’t been working out great so far. Humanity, can we please just get our shit together?

For those not familiar, the idea of Bold Predictions is something that originally started on the Gamers With Jobs forums. I always have so many, I decided to post them here. I do two posts every year. This first one is where I revisit last year’s predictions to see how good of a prophet I was. This year’s predictions will follow in another post later. To add some gamification cause everyone loves that, I also score myself. I get 1 point if a prediction was right, half a point if it was partially right and nothing if it was wrong. I determine what’s right because it’s my blog dammit! I do try to keep myself honest though. I also judge only the base prediction itself, not the little blurb I gave with each. I made a whopping 40 predictions last year so that’s what I’ll be scored out of. Let’s do this!

Gaming

  • Both next-gen consoles will continue to sell well but PS4 will lead Xbox One by a health amount (1 point.) Nailed it! I have to admit, even though I often felt like the only one saying people still wanted consoles, I didn’t expect they’d be doing as well as they are. The Xbox One had a bump over the PS4 when they put it on sale but PS4 is still enjoying a good lead. Boy does Sony need it too.
  • The Oculus Rift won’t ship in its final consumer form this year (1 point.) Got it again. Maybe not the boldest prediction in the world but it doesn’t look like this thing’s anywhere near done. I still think the Facebook buy wasn’t a great thing but they do seem to be giving it all the time it needs which is great. Make it good guys.
  • Star Citizen won’t come out this year and will begin to have some serious development concerns (1 point.) Star Citizen has just gotten ridiculous now. It’s crowdfunded more money than some AAA game budgets, has announced everything including quite possibly the kitchen sink, has like 7 studios working on it and despite being probably years from release, it’s still pulling in the dough. I didn’t put much money into this and have no emotional investment in it. It will be the best thing ever if it can meet its goals but a flop of historical proportions if it doesn’t. A lot of people think this has gone too far and I don’t disagree.
  • This console generation reset will bring some new ideas but fewer than before (0 points.) I honestly wish I’d made this prediction for 2015 but I’ll probably make a different version of it for then. The honest truth is that at in the AAA console space (and even the indie space), 2014 was full of the same ideas rehashed yet again. There were exceptions of course but not many. If that’s all we can expect this generation, we should all be very worried. So far at least, there ain’t much new here.
  • PC ports will suffer a bit but be much more at parity than before (half point.) In general, I think this is true but not because of difficulty meeting parity with new console hardware. There’s no doubt the good PC ports are absolutely stellar and the almost comically bad ones we’ve seen in the past are very uncommon now. Unless they’re from Ubisoft but that’s normal.
  • The gaming press will continue to stoke the fires of controversy and fuel egos (a billion points, OK just 1). Umm, yeah? No better has this point been shown than the last few months. Clickbait driven by outrage culture is rampant and the contempt so many of these so-called professionals have for their audience is beyond belief. This will probably get worse before it gets better but a lot of it can be squarely laid at the fault of the press, many of whom are about as much journalists as a blogger at TMZ. I was not on board with the idea of YouTube usurping all their influence but if what we’ve seen lately is the norm, I’m all for it.
  • We will see more restrictions placed on capture and streaming functions of the new consoles (0 points.) Nope, I was dead wrong on this. Beyond locking out cutscenes sometimes, this stuff is pretty much wide open. I think it’s great but I’m also really surprised as I thought big publishers were going to turn on streaming and Let’s Play culture as the next reason for why they can’t make money.
  • Free-to-play on PC will have a reckoning and will continue to test people’s limits on mobile (half point.) I don’t think the reckoning on PC happened. I’m kind of surprised it didn’t and still think it could but there wasn’t much news of free-to-play games there going under. Despite there still being notable successes on mobile this year, the tanking of King and Rovio are showing just how hit driven that business is and it’s becoming more concentrated than ever before. It’s simply not sustainable the way it’s going now and I think that’s been clearly shown in 2014.
  • 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 (1 point.) The only mobile games you hear about now are either free or scummy free-to-play games. The creative titles that charge money up front for a complete experience are few and far between but are thriving on PC and indeed, on consoles now too. The people who want to make quality games for gamers rather than a quick buck know where their home is and it’s not on phones and tablets.
  • Pricing variability will be tested further on consoles but won’t happen to the degree it does on PC (1 point.) We’ve seen a lot more sales on consoles this year (especially on PSN) but still not frequently enough and they still aren’t coming close to matching how places like Steam do it. Some of this is down to lack of competition, some of this is due to still not wanting to offend retail. They’re getting better but they’ve still got a long way to go.
  • The Wii U will find a small niche but it’s mainstream prospects are over (half point.) I’m giving myself a halfsie for this because while it’s mainstream prospects are dead and buried, I’m not sure the niche it’s found can even be described as small. People with Wii U’s love them (myself included) and more than a few have said all you really need as a hardcore gamer right now is a PC and a Wii U. The sales of the thing are still terrifying though, as good as the games are and there’s no way Nintendo is making back most of these development budgets. It’s such a good machine and thankfully, Nintendo can weather this storm but I hope they have a killer new idea in the chamber.
  • At least one Android console maker will fold (no points.) I’m really surprised about this one. Not only has no one gone under that I’m aware of but several more of these things were announced and/or came out, even from the likes of Mad Catz. I don’t know if this is because they haven’t run out venture capital yet or if these things are just so cheap, it doesn’t cost much to turn a profit but everything I’ve heard says they’re all junk. Maybe 2015 will be their reckoning.
  • SteamOS will release this year and not take off initially (no points.) Well, I was wrong about this too. SteamOS isn’t out and no one really knows what’s up with it. What I’ve heard about the beta releases is that it’s neat but offers nothing that warrants having to deal with the headaches of Linux and that you couldn’t just do with a cheap Windows machine and Big Picture mode. I’m sure it’ll still come out eventually.
  • The first Steam boxes will land with a thud but no one will give up on the idea (no points.) No actual Steam boxes released in 2014 so this is a dud. There are already rumblings that PC makers who partnered with Valve are losing faith in the program but that news came out in 2015 so it doesn’t count. Valve has said these things will be front a center at GDC so we’ll see what happens.
  • The next generation of cross-media gaming will still not resonate (1 point.) Ding! At E3 2013, everything was about the “second screen experience.” At E3 2014, it was barely mentioned and if it was, it was as a footnote. I got an Android phone this year and tried out some of these companion apps and they’re all as dumb and pointless as I thought they were. People don’t care about this and games are too expensive to make for publishers to waste money on this crap.
  • Valve will announce and ship Left 4 Dead 3 this year, we’ll still hear nothing about Half-Life 3 (no points.) I’m failing myself for this one because come on, the second part of that prediction was softball. I was dead wrong on the next Left 4 Dead. If Half-Life 3 happens at all, I don’t think we’ll hear about it until very close to its release.
  • 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 (half point.) I waffled between failing myself on this or not but I’ll go with a halfsie. Nordic Games had previously just keep buying up properties and doing nothing with them but this year, they’ve announced some projects are coming back and even helped found a development studio. Deep Silver has also continued to expand their internal development efforts after buying Homefront from Crytek. It remains to be seen whether these companies do something different than the other big publishers but I think they’ll have to if they want to be competitive. We need more smaller publishers so I think this is a good thing.
  • At least one smaller PC digital distribution service will shut down this year (no points.) As far as I know, everyone of note is still kicking. I’m kind of surprised, given that anyone who isn’t Steam is fighting for the scraps of their monopoly but they seem to be making it work so far.
  • Most AAA titles will continue to struggle (1 point.) There actually haven’t been many sales figures released this year but that publishers aren’t bragging about their sales speaks volumes. Given the disastrous state of many big games this year too, I think the entire business model of this type of game is being challenged. I hope they can figure it out cause I still love AAA games but not like this.
  • Rumours of a Kinect-free Xbox One SKU will persist but it won’t happen this year (no points.) Wrong, wrong wrong. The Xbox One was faring worse against the PS4 than even I thought it would so Microsoft had to respond. And it seemed to help. Hell, I bought an Xbox One when they took out Kinect.
  • Sony will unveil and launch Gaikai-based backwards compatibility this year but not with a subscription model (half point.) A halfsie but just barely. The service was unveiled but it only came out in beta and while it does offer backwards compatibility, it’s just PS3 games on PS4 so far. A subscription model was also announced but in 2015 by just a hair.
  • eSports will start to get some mainstream coverage from a “traditional” sports outlet (1 point.) Well, ESPN covered The International so I think that counts. Supposedly, they were pleased with the viewership too.
  • More indie games will fail due to saturation and discoverability issues but the successes will be even bigger (1 point.) Again, this is hard to tell as indies don’t usually talk numbers but there are definitely more indie games than ever and commentators have been harping all year about how bad discoverability has gotten on places like Steam. It’s generally accepted that if you’re an indie developer, your chances of success aren’t much better than being in AAA. It’s just the way of life if you want to make games. The successes this year have been big and prominent though.
  • Social gaming will continue to struggle, Zynga will retract further (1 point.) Even under the leadership of the guy who rode Xbox’s existing success, Zynga still can’t make money and when’s the last time you saw a story about a big Facebook game? That’s what I thought.
  • Call of Duty will continue to decline and Bobby Kotick’s Activision will start to be revealed as the one-trick pony that it is (half point.) Despite being notably better this year, Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is selling even worse than the abysmal Ghosts did. Activision is still doing well though, largely on the back of boring, derivative stuff like Hearthstone. I still think that company’s going to have its reckoning some day but not today.
  • Apple’s iOS controller support will go nowhere significant, as will Android’s (1 point.) Dead right. A bunch of companies announced iOS and Android controllers, a lot of them came out and just like I thought, no one cared. Since all the games have to support touch screens anyway, developers don’t care to shoehorn in controller support for a tiny niche market. People who take games seriously enough to buy dedicated hardware for it are going to buy a console or a controller for their PC, not something to bolt onto their phone or use with a tiny tablet screen. The most popular one of these I’m aware of is NVIDIA SHIELD, while is principally used to play PC games streamed to a tablet. People don’t care about this.

Category Total: 14.5/26

Technology

  • The current YouTube insanity will stabilise but at least one prominent channel or entire network will announce they’re moving elsewhere (half point.) The Content ID fiasco did in fact normalise and no one seems upset about it any more. Google still doesn’t give a damn about anyone who isn’t a top 5% earner but the storm is over for now. No one big announced they’re moving elsewhere, though PewDiePie has hinted that he’s considering starting his own network. Oh yeah, Disney also bought Maker Studios.
  • Apple’s meteoric growth will plateau, Android’s will continue and Windows Phone’s will accelerate (no points.) I’m just calling this as wrong. The only category Apple’s seeing growth in is the iPhone but it’s so big that it’s erasing the declines in everything else. Android is still going strong but Samsung’s sales are tanking. Windows Phone is either doing better or way worse depending on who you ask. Sales are apparently up but it’s market share is also down which makes no sense at all. My sentiment about all three seems to be wrong in some way. It’s clear everyone sees the writing on the wall though, that’s why they’re all trying to distract us with watches.
  • The Apple television is not coming (1 point.) It still isn’t.
  • Apple’s stock price will continue to slide into normalcy (no points.) Noooooope. I swear, this company could have a 50% drop in all categories and analysts would still be stupid enough to recommend everyone buy it. This will happen some day but it certainly didn’t in 2014.
  • BlackBerry will attempt to pull an IBM and reinvent itself as a software and services company (1 point.) They’re still announcing phones for niche audiences but I think their new CEO has outright stated that software and services is the future for the company. It’s too bad, they had the potential to be the market leader and they let inept leadership ruin it.
  • We will see more formerly retail software adopt subscription models than ever before (half point.) This didn’t happen at the pace I expected which I why I am calling it a halfsie but I don’t think anyone can deny that this is what software developers want to see happen.
  • PC sales will more or less remain stable (1 point.) From everything I’ve read, this is exactly what happened. They aren’t growing but they still outsell everything else by a huge amount every year. I said long ago that those who claimed phones and tablets were rendering PCs were obsolete were idiots. They still are.
  • At least one newsworthy Mac and/or iOS security exploit will happen this year (1 point.) Google it, you’ll find plenty. Mac and iOS aren’t inherently more secure and Apple still places far too low a priority on security. People just don’t attack small targets. Mac still is a small target but it’s a growing one and iOS is a huge target. Make no mistake, the days of being able to say “Apple stuff is just more secure” are long gone.
  • Windows 8 will claw its way to a half-decent market share, people will still hate it irrationally (1 point.) Simply because it’s the only thing you can get on PCs now, Windows 8 is slowly getting there, though Windows 7 and I think even XP still trounce it globally. Windows 8 is great under the hood. I’ve been running it for a while now and I love it. Spend $10 on Start8 and ModernMix and it’s the best Windows experience you can get. Most people won’t do that though, they’ll just keep hating it cause it’s trendy to.
  • Windows 8.2 will bring back the Start Menu, people will be happy about that and still never use it (0 points.) I considered making this a halfsie but since it’s technically Windows 10 that’s doing this, I’ll call it a zip.
  • Twitter will still not turn a profit but their stock will not suffer for it (1 point.) Ding! They didn’t make money (though it looks like they might start to soon) but their stock has done quite well in spite of that. Some companies are just exempt from basic market rules I guess.
  • There will be more stories this year about people scaling back their use of social media (0 points.) The more I talk to people, the more it feels like people are getting sick of social media but everyone still uses it and those that use it a lot seem to be using it even more. I don’t know, the sentiment feels like I predicted but I’m just not seeing that reflected in reality.
  • Windows and Android tablets will sell more than ever but still lag far behind iPad (1 point.) Both of these are true and there’s some great offerings in both camps now. Android apparently has the global lead in market share for tablets now too but there’s certainly no one model driving it and honestly, I probably see one non-iPad for every 100 iPads I see in the wild. At least in my experience, iPad is still sadly dominating.
  • Intel’s “Dual OS” strategy will be a colossal flop (1 point.) Boy, that came and went with a blip didn’t it? I barely read anything about this after it was announced and the couple of Dual OS laptops that came out, no one cared about whatsoever. I still don’t know why they thought this was a good idea, especially given how cheap and surprisingly good full Windows 8.1 tablets have gotten.
  • Technology will continue to get more dumbed down to appease the dumbest of us (1 point.) It’s hard to find a router with lights on it now. My girlfriend and I bought new laptops from Lenovo and Dell respectively this year and I had to install third-party utilities on them to see when the hard drives were active. If you have an Xbox One, you have to dig to find information about the progress of downloads and even then, you just get a percentage meter and nothing else. Apple has taught people that not knowing what your expensive technology is doing is a good thing and I absolutely hate it. Stop emulating the worst parts of user culture that company espouses!

Category Total: 9/14

GRAND TOTAL: 23.5/40

Oof. As I was writing these up, I actually thought I was in for a bit of a blow out but it turns out I didn’t do so hot in 2014. I consider anything over a 50% success rate to be a victory but I didn’t squeak by with much margin this time. Ah well, all part of the game!

My bold predictions for 2015 are coming soon. They probably won’t be as numerous as 2014’s but I’ve got a few good ones in the pipe. Watch for them! I hope everyone has a great 2015.

Posted in Business, Business, Computers, Coverage, Culture, Mobile Phones, Predictions, Predictions, Tablets, Technology, Video Games | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Canadian Broadcasting Cowardice

By now, you are likely aware of the tragic and horrific massacre that took place at French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo this past week over some cartoons making fun of a religious figure. These cartoons. Needless to say, I think it’s a horrific attack against free speech and democracy by religion driven nutjobs, who think that gunning down a bunch of people is justified by the fact that they dared make fun of something. I think the two brothers who orchestrated it have gotten away far too easily and sadly, I fear this is not the last we see of things like this.

A bunch of different press outlets worldwide decided to show solidarity and their shared desire to not bow down in front of terrorists by reprinting a bunch of the cartoons which inspired the killers to do what they did. A bunch more didn’t. You may think I’m here to rail on all the ones that didn’t but I’m not. I understand it’s not a simple black and white decision to reprint something that divisive and in general, I respect any organisation that decides to not print them and can provide a solid justification as to why. I don’t agree with them but I respect their right as journalists to decide what they think is in the best interests of their readers. However, as you may have deduced from the title, I do take great exception with one particular news organisation’s reasons why, the taxpayer funded Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

The CBC has been a hot button topic in Canada. Many people (typically on the opposing political spectrum of the government currently in power) think the CBC is an inefficient waste of taxpayer money that spews on propaganda for the sitting government and produces other content that no one else will because people largely don’t want to watch it. There are parts of that sentiment I share but when it comes to the news, I’ve defended them for a long time as one of the last bastion’s of what can be at least partially be called journalism in this country. Watch or listen to most of what passes for news elsewhere in Canada and you’ll see why. I listen to CBC Radio 1 in my car almost exclusively and hear a chunk of the morning and afternoon shows every day.

After announcing that they would not be republishing the Charlie Hebdo concerns, the CBC went into immediate damage control mode, almost like they knew a lot of people would be upset with them for it. On both Radio 1’s afternoon show and the next day on The Current, segments were held in which a man named David Studer, Director of Journalism Standards and Practices was brought on with the task of defending the crown corporation’s decision. Certainly not an enviable position to be in and I can imagine it was not easy or pleasant for him. Nonetheless, I take great exception to his weak attempts at rationalising their refusal to reprint these cartoons and worse still, to go on the offensive towards organisations that did. The CBC may not have been the only news organisation to use the reasoning he did but it’s the only one I’m aware of and it’s this reasoning that makes me want to take them to task.

To the credit of the hosts of both segments, they weren’t softball with Mr. Studer and on The Current, two other guests were present who strongly opposed his opinion. This is good because it was only after a lot of prying that he finally admitted to the actual reason for the decision. Most of the rest of his time was spent trying to dodge around that using a level of intellectual dishonesty that was beyond belief.

Here are some of his more choice responses. I don’t have transcripts of the segments so I’m paraphrasing but the core answers are accurate:

“We wouldn’t have published the cartoons the day before the massacre so why would we publish them the day after?” It was a different world the day after. Given that the terrorists stated the shootings were motivated by these cartoons, it makes sense to show them so people understand just how moronic said motivations were. I don’t think most of the other places that published them would have done so the day before either so what makes the CBC special? The CBC is not a newspaper and age-gating content or putting it behind a simple click filter with a warning and leaving it in the user’s hands to decide whether to view it is trivially easy.

“People don’t need to see the cartoons to understand the situation.” That’s up to the reader, not you. The only way I’ve heard the cartoons described is some variation of “They make fun of the prophet Muhammed.” That’s not even remotely helpful in conveying just how mundane they are and the goofy style of their presentation. The job of the news isn’t to provide a vague description and let people draw a mental picture. In fact, that’s the opposite of what the news is supposed to do. I had an idea of what the cartoons were. Then I saw them and it turns out my mental picture was way off. You can say the content’s offensive and that people concerned about it shouldn’t look but it’s not up to you to say that we don’t need to see it. People died because of it. Yes, we do.

“This is driven by spur of the moment emotion and/or business motivations.” Wow, way to throw a whole bunch of journalists under the bus there. I’ll be the first to say that proper journalism is dying in this world of clickbait and trial by social media but there are still pockets of people out there trying to report the news well. With this sentiment, you’re essentially saying that anyone who chose to reprint the Charlie Hebdo cartoons (likely after the same fierce internal debate you claimed the CBC had) did so purely out of anger and a desire to throw up double birds to the terrorists. It couldn’t be because they believe the public should see what these religious scumbags thought was worth murdering for. No no, it was just a visceral emotional response. No doubt some of the usual suspects used this as an opportunity for easy traffic, just like they would have done with something else. However, I think it’s incredibly smug and arrogant to think that they only did it for that reason.

“You don’t need to show a graphic crime scene to explain a murder so we don’t need to show the cartoons to explain this.” The scale of this false equivalence is so massive, I’m amazed the studio didn’t collapse into a black hole. You aren’t showing a graphic crime scene, you’re showing cartoons making fun of a religious figure. Those are two things they aren’t within a continent’s reach of each other. This isn’t asking to show the bodies gunned down by the terrorists. This isn’t even asking to show graphic cartoons. The whole point is that the cartoons are not graphic in any way, yet they still drove some religious nutjobs to mass murder.

All of these various jukes were countered and Mr. Studer finally stated the real reason: The CBC didn’t want to offend Muslims. He didn’t say that they were worried about retaliation being taken against the 99.9% of Muslims that are not violent extremists (retaliation that is sadly happening anyway), he said that they didn’t want to offend them. That someone will be offended and you’ll hear from them about it is possibly the worst reason for a supposedly journalistic institution to not run content.

I’ll put this bluntly: I don’t give a damn if anyone gets offended by the cartoons and a journalist shouldn’t either. When it comes to comedy, there are nor should there be anything that can’t be satirised. People have a right to be offended about whatever they want but I’m sick of this growing belief that people have a guaranteed right to never be offended about anything. They don’t. I see things all the time that offend me. Some of them even offend me enough to need to write something here or send an e-mail. However, not once have I ever said that an organisation shouldn’t be able to produce what they want (especially in the interests of informing the public) because it offends me. If you see a piece of content that offends you, you are free to say something about it and you are also free to turn your damn head and not consume it. That should be the extent of your power as a consumer. I’m a proud Athiest but I have nothing against anyone else wanting to believe in whatever religion they want. Where that crosses the line is when you start saying that someone should not be allowed to produce something because rather than just turning it off, that no one should be able to see it because it offends you. I don’t care what belief system you subscribe to, you can fuck right off if that’s what you think.

Journalism isn’t about what’s offensive or what isn’t, it’s about what’s true. What’s true is that a bunch of evil people driven by their religion, gunned down a bunch of innocents over cartoons that offended them so much, they felt murder was justified. I think when telling that story to the public, giving them the means to see the cartoons is key to them being optimally informed about it. Again, I can respect an organisation’s decision to not run the cartoons for any number of reasons, even if I disagree with them. If the CBC has just straight up said “We don’t want to offend Muslims.”, I would have strongly disagreed but still respected that decision.

Where I take exception is when people like Mr. Studer make smarmy excuses for why they didn’t and then to actually have the gall to call out other organisations that did and question their journalistic motivations. Let us not forget that the CBC had no problem running multiple, intentionally one-sided hit pieces against gamer culture, likely to avoid even the appearance of siding with a movement ignorantly labelled as anti-women so soon after the Jian Ghomeshi scandal. Not wanting to offend easily offended religious people is a straight up cowardly reason for not showing the cartoons. However, all you had to do was state it, say that was your final decision and move on. To go on the air, get up on your high horse and use transparent, intellectually dishonest arguments to question the integrity of organisations that did reeks of hubris and I think did no help to sway anyone to your side.

It’s no secret that the CBC is fighting for its life under a government that would like nothing more than to see it crumble and redirect it’s funding to Sun News Network instead. I have and will continue to defend the CBC’s right to exist and flourish with my money. But dammit if situations like this and the responses of people like Mr. Studer aren’t making that harder by the day.

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Hopes for 2015

Last year for the first time in a while, I decided to make some New Year’s resolutions and post them publicly. I’m not normally big on the practice but I thought putting them out into the ether would in some way help me follow through on them. I actually did pretty well on all of them except one (more on that shortly) so I thought I’d so it again. The problem was when I sat down to think about it, I couldn’t come up with much beyond just continuing what I already started. Instead, I’m just going to kind of talk for a while about the year that’s past and what I hope to see in 2015 in a bit more of a general sense.

2013 was a year with a couple of highlights and a lot of downers for me. I had high hopes that 2014 would be better, if for no other reason than I didn’t think it could get a lot worse barring disaster. It was worse. I was laid off from my job in March, very close to my birthday. It was mostly because my employer was badly struggling financially (they still are) but I also found out later that it was potentially because I stated some unflattering things about them online while working there. They knew of this blog and my Twitter. I never named them and my statements were based off information that was publicly available but still, I ruffled the wrong feathers. I’ve long said that having an opinion on a social network account that’s supposed to be yours should be your own business as long as it doesn’t harm anyone (which I didn’t) but that’s just not the way the world works.

I was lucky to have some money keep coming in from freelance work during my unemployment so stuff never got serious. I landed another job in the Summer that’s interesting and pays much better (and I wasn’t badly paid before) but it’s only for a year and has little chance of becoming permanent. I’m happy where I am but I’m bracing for the fact that in a few months, I’ll have to move to something else I may very well not be happy at. There are great IT jobs out there but there are a lot of soul-crushing ones too. I had a resolution to get more training last year and advance my career skills but my unemployment made that not a viable option. I’m hoping I can save enough that if I do end up unemployed this year, maybe I can afford to take a course or two. My girlfriend had a better employment year but had a ton of her own stresses which I hate having to see her endure but it looks like maybe her situation is normalising which is a high point.

I also became a lot more introverted in the last year. A lot of things I’d hoped to do during the year that relied on others didn’t end up happening. Rather than get angry and frustrated about it, I’ve just decided to rely more and more on myself alone to accomplish things because well, I generally know I can count on myself. I’m not sure if this is healthy to be honest but it’s resulted in a lot less disappointment at least. I’ve talked to my therapist about it and her general opinion is that there’s nothing wrong with being introverted and the negativity associated with that is often a result of misguided societal pressures. She says if I don’t feel bad relying on others less, then it’s OK. I’m not certain I agree yet but I guess it’s worked out alright.

There was also a ton of bad shit that happened in the world in general. Ukraine, ISIS, an ISIS-inspired shooting in my home town, Ebola, Ferguson and countless others. I know that in general, the world is a better and safer place than it’s been in a while but one can’t deny that having the instant access to information that we have now can amplify how bad things seem. Honestly, I don’t have a lot of commentary on those subjects because though I try to stay informed, I just am not smart enough to discuss them on a deeper level. Humanity clearly still has a lot of shit to get together and some core problems that many thought were improving still are nowhere near where they need to be. It’s an immeasurable shame.

I also realised during my unemployment that I’ve probably been suffering from some form of chronic anxiety for most of my life. I could never figure out what it was. I just assumed I was jittery and prone to not thinking before I spoke and while both of those things are probably true, it’s become clear that there is something else at work that’s amplifying those issues. I was given some meds to calm me down when I was unemployed but when the issues continued even after finding work, my therapist and I agreed we should get a more regimented process in place. I’ve been off work for two weeks for Christmas and have spent most of that time getting used to new medication.

It’s a Hell of a weird thing to sit through your brain essentially being chemically rewired. The meds I’m taking are relatively light in their class but also one of those that can actually make things worse for a couple of weeks before making them better. I wouldn’t say anything’s been made worse (OK, the occasional headaches and nausea are) but things are definitely different. My girlfriend’s commented on how quiet I’ve gotten and a lot of that is because I just don’t feel the need to hastily respond to every little point someone makes, even when no response is actually needed. I’ve always been that way and it both looks and feels weird to not have that compulsion any more. I still often have a constant background hum of nervousness going on but I’ve been told by several people that this is normal and will eventually dissipate. I really hope so but at the same time, I wonder how I’m going to process not having a negative feeling there that has essentially just been the norm for most of my 35 years.

Then there’s what happened in video games. I talk a lot (i.e. most of the time) about them on this blog and the simple reason for that is that they’re my primary hobby and one of the only activities that allows my over-active brain to shift into a lower gear and relax. There’s plenty of other things I like to do but nothing gives me the mental escape of gaming. This year, I watched the already volatile community around my hobby fracture and shatter in a painful way by the events of GamerGate, a term that’s so rotten, it makes me wince just thinking about it. Most of what I wrote in the linked post still stands but what’s even worse is that GamerGate has accomplished nothing of real value to the medium or the community.

I don’t identify as part of GamerGate but I’ve had many of the same complaints regarding lack of journalistic ethics in gaming, cronyism, flamboyant egos and arrogance for years now, long before GamerGate was a twinkle in any B-list celebrity’s eye. Huge sections of the gaming press are rotten and no, I’m not a misogynist for saying that. If you think I am, close the browser because you’re not someone I care to talk to further. I think audience blowback was a long time coming and frankly deserved but it happened in the worst way possible, galvanising the egos further and making large sections of the audience and anyone who agrees with even some of their concerns look horrible. I haven’t dared even bring up a lot of real concerns I have for fear of getting associated with the petulant anarchist assholes who are using this as a means to harass and threaten others for laughs.

And what positive change has really come out of it? A few sites revamped their ethics policies sure but most of them weren’t violating even their updated ones to a large degree anyway. What else? Sites like Kotaku and Polygon are breaking traffic records. The writers who declared war on large sections of their audience and the clickbait articles they create are more popular than ever. Many of them are now making thousands a month on Patreon to crank out generic tripe. Brianna Wu’s shovelware grade, trope-ridden iOS game went from a failure to a success on the back of the attention she got from inserting herself into the debate with a lot of dubious claims. Zoe Quinn went from a largely unknown, untalented Twine developer to a name everyone knows, with a booming Patreon as well. Anita Sarkeesian has been on The Colbert Report, is also raking in money and has used the harassment she’s received from scumbags to shield herself against the many legitimate criticisms that can be labelled against her work and her statements. Jonathan McIntosh was unheard of before this and now has prominent members of the gaming press starring in videos for him.

You know who else has had huge surges in popularity? MundaneMatt, Sargon of Akkad, TotalBiscuit, Adam Baldwin, Brietbart, Thunderf00t, RogueStar, Internet Aristocrat (before he took his ball and went home) and many others who were considered blood enemies of those who believed in what they deemed to be social justice.

To be fair, I think TotalBiscuit is the only one from that list of GamerGate proponents who has contributed anything of value to the discussions and I think he’s being vilified unfairly but still, every single person I’ve mentioned here on both sides of the dispute is now substantially more popular than they would have been had GamerGate never happened. Most of them are profiting from this popularity as well. Meanwhile, no major reforms of note have happened and no one is satisfied. From my view, it looks like this has enriched a handful of previously mostly unimportant online personalities and little else. People are more entrenched than ever, the community is divided and game journalism is still a mess. What’s the phrase about how the only people that really win in big lawsuits are the lawyers? Kind of feels like that doesn’t it? The worst part is that this is approaching half a year on and there’s no end in sight.

So yeah, a lot of shittiness last year. I had hoped to finally find stability and found anything but. I had hoped the world would calm down some and it didn’t. Even the medium and communities I looked at to get away from that became toxic and hard to handle. It didn’t make for the best mental landscape. 2015 is already looking to have its share of challenges but a new year also brings with it the chance for a fresh start and the potential for change and improvement. What I’d really like to see are larger changes, ones which go way beyond just myself. I can try my best to help them along but they’re bigger than me.

If there’s one thing all of the tragic events of GamerGate and indeed in the world have taught me, it’s that outrage culture has become an epidemic. People love, need to be angry and social media has given us all a dead easy way to be so about anything and everything, even if it has nothing to do with us. This is not to say people can’t be offended about whatever they want but it’s gone from being something you feel and maybe discuss with someone to something you need to scream about in a public venue and rally people behind. The true impacts of issues are multiplied to many levels beyond what they are in reality because of the tools that are supposed to bring us closer together. Being offended has become a hobby, a passion and even a career path for some people. It’s sick and it’s sad and I’ve been as much a part of it as anyone else.

I cut back how much I use Twitter and substantially reduced the number of people I follow. I became ruthless with the unfollow and mute buttons. I started to use Twitter only on my phone, where I’ve added over a dozen user and hashtag filters. I removed myself from Gamers With Jobs for going on 3 months now because I didn’t like how a certain group were exerting tone influence over the community to suit their personal comforts. I stopped reading any comments sections that weren’t my own. In spite of all this, I still can’t stop getting outrage over something or other appearing in front of my eyes almost daily. Snark on top of anger on top of snark on top of derision on top of snark on top or dismissal on top of snark on top of argument on top of more damn snark. It’s so frustrating to have tried to remove my exposure to it to such a large degree and have seemingly little change.

I fully admit I was a significant contributor to this for many years. Anyone who has followed my personal Twitter feed for the last year but especially the last several weeks knows I’ve tried to cut that down a lot. Every few days, I seriously ask myself if I want to even keep using it at all. The service and it’s outdated limitations really have become the enemies of reasonable discourse. I haven’t quit it yet but who knows, I may still. What I have decided is that going forward, I’m going to consciously try not to post snap judgements and inform myself of things before I say anything about them. I also intend to state my opinions rationally but also to stop being afraid of who I’m going to offend. People have a right to be offended but no one has a right to never be offended. Anyone who knows me should know that posting an opinion different from yours doesn’t mean I see you as my enemy. If they don’t, then they can unfollow me. I’ve been ruthless with unfollowing people, I can expect no less from anyone else. Those who will say, consider me an enemy of women because I think there are legitimate gripes buried in the cesspool of GamerGate is not a rational person I want to talk to anyway. My opinions are my own and I’m tired of being scared of them but I also know I have to be 100% sure I believe in what I’m saying and that I can back it up in some way.

That is what I really hope comes from more people in general in 2015. I hope more will choose to really inform themselves of things they see happening before they weigh in with an opinion or adopt it as a call to war. So much conflict could be avoided if people just knew the facts first. A while back, Patrick Klepek coined the term FOMO, an acronym for Fear of Missing Out. It’s essentially a term for those who jump on things right away because they feel they’re missing important parts of something if they don’t get in immediately. The way social media is structured makes it an intrinsic environment for FOMO but it also leads to countless knee-jerk reactions, formed around lacking or dubious information. People also don’t like to admit when they’re wrong and this causes many to double-down on bad opinions, even when they’ve been proven as such.

People are tried, judged and convicted in trials by social media where the presumption of innocence doesn’t exist and defending one’s self is seen as an admission of guilt, all by people for whom most of these things are none of their damn business to begin with. Tribes are formed, trenches are dug and people are made out to be the enemy so that others can justify attacking them mercilessly while still being convinced they have the moral high ground. Most of the time, this is done in blissful ignorance by people who are convinced that because “The Internet” is saying it, the research into its validity must already have been done by someone somewhere.

This has got to stop if we don’t want our progress as a society to grind to a halt. There are so many bigger, critical problems in the world than whatever is outraging people on Twitter and Facebook today or what the clickbaiting press is fanning the flames of. I don’t know how to solve it beyond leading by tiny example so that’s what I’m going to do. I’m convinced outrage culture has to eventually reach some apex where it’s just going to burn itself out and people just aren’t going to care to listen any more. I don’t know if that’s going to be in 2015 but I hope it is and I hope it leads to better information and better discussion around it. Social media can be the most valuable tool we as a society have. We’ve turned it into a weapon instead and it doesn’t have to be.

So yeah, not much on the resolution front this year aside from just trying to contribute to less of the noise I guess. It doesn’t feel like much but given how I’ve personally used social media over the years, maybe doing that is a big step up for me. Beyond that, I just largely want to keep on keeping on with the resolutions I made last year. Hopefully I can end up with a steady job I like this year. Hopefully I can keep losing weight. Hopefully my YouTube channel will continue to grow and maybe this is the year I can finally have the viral hit that makes it viable. Hopefully I can try some more collaborative projects and have them actually happen reliably. Hopefully all the extremist sides of GamerGate burn themselves out so the sane ones emerge from behind our blast shields and actually try to have real discussions about this medium we all claim to love. Hopefully I can get my depression and anxiety under control in a sustainable way for the first time ever. Hopefully people start seeking out information first and attention later. That last one might be a bit of a pipe dream but I think the rest are doable. I hope so. I’d really like a year that’s more good than bad.

I hope everyone has a fantastic and prosperous 2015. Even if you’re someone I didn’t speak of fondly in this post, I wish you no ill will and I hope the world is better for all of us this year. There’s a lot that needs to be done but humanity’s accomplished far more and I still think we’re up for it. Let’s get to work.

Posted in Culture, Personal, Video Games | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

My Top 10 Video Games of 2014 (Plus Honourable Mentions & Disappointments)

Man, another year has blinked by. It doesn’t feel like it’s been 12 months since I last did one of these lists but it’s time to put my brain to work again. I actually look forward to doing this now as I’ve found it’s a great exercise for my critical thinking skills. It took me quite a few hours of thought to figure out this year’s list. Like last year, I had hoped to do a video companion to go along with this but alas, I’m getting used to some new medication that’s caused me a lot of unexpected down time and has put a kink in a lot of my holiday content creation plans. Figures. I’m still gonna’ get this done dammit! On the plus side, I’ve taken to reviewing games on this blog sometimes and some of the games I covered are in my list so at least there’s those to check out if you’re so inclined.

2014 has been kind of a rough year for me personally (for the world as a whole too) and it certainly was for video games. Numerous broken game launches, even more broken promises, new consoles that are selling well despite a disturbing lack of promised new ideas, outrage culture roaring into gaming in a big way, propped up by a crooked, arrogant “enthusiast” press that refuses to be accountable and profits from controversies they stoke with one hand and decry with the other and people who have turned being offended into a hobby and in some cases, a career. That’s not even to mention the anarchist scumbags who have gone out of their way to get all gamers painted as hateful harassers. The games industry has a long and turbulent year coming in 2015 but despite everything I just mentioned, I’m hopeful things are going to right themselves again. I’ll save a lot of that speculation for my Bold Predictions post later. That said, there were still a bunch of amazing games this year and anyone who says this was a bad year for people who like good games just plain isn’t looking hard enough (and you don’t even have to look that hard.) Narrowing my list down to 10 was harder than I expected and I still have tons of Honourable Mentions this year. In short, I found no shortage of stuff to enjoy this year and yes, much of it was in fact available on or exclusive to consoles.

Alright, let’s get down to it! This isn’t an in-depth critical analysis of the titles. That can be found in any number of places, though there are convenient links to my reviews and videos on titles I’ve covered personally. Each game comes with a little blurb just casually explaining why I think the way I do about them.

Disappointments
As per tradition, let’s get the negative out of the way first. This is exactly what the title implies, games that disappointed me. Some of these games and concepts are bad, some I actually liked but still fell well short of what they were promised to be.

Destiny – As someone who has been at best, ho hum on the stuff Bungie has put out, Destiny’s grand promises looked like something that could finally get me on bored with them. Instead, we got a massively hyped product with a pretentious, impenetrable story, spoon shallow characters, an embarrassing lack of content that was padded out with grinding, dull multiplayer (normally Bungie’s strong suit) and the best content gated off for only the most hardcore players. An epic disappointment all around. I’m done with Destiny unless it gets a major overhaul and truthfully, I think I’m largely done with Bungie in general.

CounterSpy – I like stealth games and the idea of a 2D stealth concept with a ton of style was very appealing to me. CounterSpy is a good idea drowning in bad execution. Poor control response, pseudo randomly generated levels that often aren’t conducive to stealth, a lousy combat system and short length make this feel like it was a crappy mobile game blown up to full size. Given that this has mobile versions, I think that’s likely the case.

Halo: The Master Chief Collection – I don’t even like Halo that much but I bought this at launch to co-op with my friends and get in some multiplayer. It was completely broken then and despite numerous patches and promises later, it still doesn’t really work right. An outsourced nightmare of a product, Microsoft should be ashamed of themselves for letting this ship when it did.

Broken Age & Double Fine – I was among the many who defended Double Fine tooth and nail for years. They seemed to be a virtuous independent developer succeeding in spite of the industry trying to beat them down. This year, they showed themselves to just plain be badly run. Despite earning 10 times it’s required budget, Broken Age was split up, the first part shipped late, the second part is still nowhere to be seen and though I appear to be in the minority, I thought the first part was underwhelming to say the least. It looks nice but it’s boring, slow and has story cohesion issues, despite a great cliffhanger ending. Maybe they should have constrained their budget a bit more instead of paying Elijah Wood who knows how much to completely phone in a lead role. Then there was launching Space Base DF-9, funding it with Early Access and abandoning it, dumping a bunch of customers with half a game while still leaving it up for purchase. Despite all this, they have multiple projects in the pipe and have decided to get into publishing as well. This is a company that needs to restrain itself. I’ve pre-ordered several Double Fine games in the past and backed Broken Age at the $100 tier. I won’t make those mistakes again.

Ubisoft – This once fantastic AAA publisher went full on anti-consumer this year. Multiple big projects shipped broken and some of them are still broken. Watch_Dogs (which I did enjoy) ended up being far less both visually and game play wise than was actually demonstrated to people prior to its release. They continue to show complete disrespect to the PC audience. And let’s not forget the damn Ubisoft open-world formula that is as tired as it has become boring. For Pete’s sake, they figured out how to put world revealing towers in The Crew, a racing game! Enough already! This is a company who is letting the scope of its projects run away with themselves in directions nobody asked for while still trying to keep some of them a yearly affair. They continue to do this despite making it abundantly clear this year that it’s not possible. Slow down and get your heads before you have no customer good will left!

The “Because Random” Genre – What the Hell is this? “Because Random” is a genre term I invented to apply to games that seem to think endless non-sequiturs or just throwing darts to come up with their subject matter is somehow equivalent to clever humour. Games that fit this genre based on what I’ve seen are things like Jazz Punk, Frog Fractions, I Am Bread and Goat Simulator. The two latter ones are also often called “YouTube fodder” because they’re designed to sell copies because lazy YouTubers can use them for cheap laughs. Maybe it’s just my personal tastes but I find this kind of humour to be very lazy and just not funny. It’s Seth MacFarlane, Anthony Burch type humour in that all it involves is pointing at random things and going “Funny rite LOLZ?!” instead of actually formulating and tuning original jokes. You have to make me laugh, not just expect me to because you say so.

Consumers for Failing to Support New Ideas – I’m pretty sure I’ve complained about this before. One of the things you’re going to notice in my top 10 is that there’s at least a couple of games in it that despite being great, were commercial failures. Gamers constantly bitch and moan that there’s no new ideas, everything’s the same and that the new consoles are seeing more safe bets than ever. You know why? Because when new ideas do come out, no one buys them, instead running back to Assassin’s Creed again, even when it’s not only a weak game but completely broken to boot! We as consumers don’t get to demand new things when we don’t step up and support them. Stop buying the same old crap again and again and support something new if you want to see more of it!

Exclusions
These are games that I think had potential to make either my top 10 or my honourable mentions but which I just couldn’t play enough of this year to judge.

Dragon Age: Inquisition – I haven’t played Dragon Age: Origins yet but I intend to and will get to this after.

Assassin’s Creed: Unity – I got this for free with a video card. I’m a big enough Assassin’s Creed fan that despite this being a mess, I will still give it a chance.

South Park: The Stick of Truth – I’m not a huge South Park fan but heard this was great. I just bought it in the Steam sale but I won’t get to it this year.

Wasteland 2 – I actually backed this and have it waiting for me but just haven’t had time.

Divinity: Original Sin – I bought this at launch to co-op with someone and it hasn’t so much as been run once yet. I really do want to play it with another person so I hope I can do so soon.

Far Cry 4 – I’ve just started this so I haven’t played enough to form an opinion. Based on what I’ve seen, I’m sure I’ll love this but because it’s basically Far Cry 3 II, it would probably get an Honourable Mention. You get this one Ubisoft but the next one better change things up.

Honourable Mentions
These are games that weren’t quite good enough to make my top 10 but which I still really enjoyed and wanted to shout out. I’m not ranking any of these and the order they are listed in is just the order I thought of them.

Transistor – The second game by Bastion makers Supergiant Games, this isn’t quite as good as its predecessor title but it’s still very cool in its own right. Gorgeous visuals and music, unique combat system and a good setting, despite the story not making much sense in the end. It also has a rather weird mechanic where doing badly in battle actually made the game harder, a lofty idea but one that also caused a lot of frustration. It’s still a wonderful experience though. Supergiant is a talented bunch.

D4: Dark Dreams Don’t Die (Xbox One Exclusive) – I’ve always meant to play Deadly Premonition but haven’t gotten around to it so I’ve only heard of the insanity that is SWERY games from others. After playing D4, I get it now. This game is batshit crazy and doesn’t make much sense, yet it kind of does and it’s really endearing somehow. I can’t explain it but I still really had fun. It’s supposed to be episodic and was apparently a flop so I really hope more comes soon. If you have an Xbox One, this isn’t very expensive and I highly recommend giving it a go to see if you also get it.

Murdered: Soul Suspect – There’s so much that’s wrong with Murdered and yet you can just feel this is a game that’s full of heart and good intentions. It’s one of the rare titles I was able to see and enjoy the good in beneath the layers and layers of problems. This can be found for a song in many places right now. I can’t in good conscience recommend it at full price but for a steep discount, there’s…something here.

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U Exclusive) – Double Dash!! is still the best Mario Kart (yes, it is) but man, this plays wonderfully and looks so good in 1080p/60. Nintendo also brilliantly allowed two people to play online from the same console (which my girlfriend and I love) and they packed an incredible amount of content into the game’s two DLC packs. This is an incredible Mario Kart experience and a good reason to buy a Wii U on its own.

Art of BalanceShin’en Multimedia is this weird little team from Germany who mostly only makes stuff for Nintendo platforms, usually shmups. Their stuff is always solid and Art of Balance is an interesting shift for them into the physics puzzle genre. This little game is a ton of fun, challenging, packed with content and has a great audio-visual presentation. It’s also very simple. There’s no leaderboards, no scoring, no social hooks. you just get a pile of levels and beat them, that’s it. It’s fantastic in its simplicity and even though I’m not a big puzzle guy, I’ve had a lot of fun with it so far.

Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes – Yeah, there’s controversy because Kojima dared to offend the perpetually offended. That doesn’t make this bad. Called a paid demo by many (who aren’t necessarily wrong), this is a preview of some of what we’re apparently to see in the next Metal Gear Solid. If so, colour me impressed. It’s gorgeous, runs like a top and completely revamps the mechanics of Metal Gear Solid into something modern that doesn’t require yoga certification to play effectively. And I say that as a long time fan of the series. If you do all the challenge missions, there is more than enough content in this package to justify the price. Just seriously Kojima, bring back David Hayter. Kiefer Sutherland is a bad Solid Snake.

Strider – An old arcade game based on some anime got a new entry on modern systems. This sounds like it should have been a mess but it was anything but. The new Strider rode the middle-ground between the fast, fluid game play of the arcade game and the progression of the most story-heavy NES version and did it very well. It looks great, plays with fluidity and is challenging without being overwhelming and was a small, inexpensive downloadable to boot. I doubt we’ll see another of these but I hope we do. This was the perfect way to revisit Strider.

Threes! – My opinion on mobile games is well documented but Threes! is a simple to learn, brutal to master game about combining numbers to make bigger numbers. They even gave every card its own personality which just keeps you smiling as you play. It’s a shame this got so badly ripped off and crushed in revenue by 2048. This is the original and it’s so much better.

Luftrausers – I’d had my eye on this one for a while and it didn’t disappoint. This game will kick your ass over and over again but you’ll always enjoy it until the moment it does. It’s a shmup that’s free-flowing with physics and is somehow beautiful, despite only using a few colours. It’s not on mobile platforms but can be played so quickly, you almost think it should be. And dat soundtrack! If you like shmups even a little bit, you owe it to yourself to give this a shot in one of the many places you can get it.

Smash Hit– Two mobile games?! I know! I found this on some Best Android Games list and I’ve played it every day since. It’s really just an endless runner but it’s combined with constantly smashing glass objects in your way, something we all wanted to do as kids and couldn’t. That wasn’t just me, right? It’s free but I paid for the pro version just to throw the developer some money. It’s the kind of mobile game I like, one that’s fast with a cool idea and isn’t packed with scummy mechanics.

One Finger Death Punch – The developers who made this were famous for cranking out nothing but crap on Xbox Live Indie Games. They claim they bet the farm on this game and I hope it went well for them because it’s some of the best raw fun I’ve had in a while. A two button reflex game where you’re a stick man ninja brutally slaying hundreds of other stick men ninjas. It sounds stupid and in concept it is but it’s crazy fast and so satisfying. It’s packed with levels and I’m still working on it to this day. Get it on Steam, you won’t regret it.

My Top 10 Games of 2014
Here it is, the meat of this tasty, tasty gaming sandwich. As usual, this is the ordered list. I think any of these games are well worth your time but I order the list in the order of how I would buy them if I didn’t have the money to buy them all, from least likely to most likely. I still consider myself very fortunate to have the means to buy any games I want right now but if I wasn’t, this is how I’d do it.

10. InFamous: Second Son (PS4 Exclusive) – InFamous will never win any awards for its story or characters but I’ve always loved them because they’re open world games with superpowers and play fast and fluid. Second Son is no exception and it shows off the power of the new consoles on top of that. You get to fly around blowing up an evil military in a representation of Seattle that’s bright, colourful and full of stuff to do without being too sprawling for its own good. This is one of those open world games where an afternoon will pass by without you noticing.

9. Wolfenstein: The New Order – Based on pre-release coverage of this, it was sounding like a cheap cash-in on a beloved retro property by a publisher that was squandering great potential. Everyone was wrong. Made by Starbreeze veterans, they actually took a series with a flimsy premise and characters with literally no depth and made something dark and compelling while still managing to bring all the whackiness and visceral fun of the original idea of Wolfenstein. They didn’t waste resources on a multiplayer mode that no one would play, they just made a long single player experience that was packed with content, gore, spectacle and even a few laughs here and there. Easily my most pleasant surprise this year. I can’t wait to see what MachineGames does next.

8. Dark Souls II – I always respected Dark Souls but even after playing it for Extra Life in 2012, it was just too nuts for me. With Dark Souls II, what’s awesome about this series finally clicked. Many say this doesn’t hold a handle to the first game but I still found it a great time, though I did a lot of it in co-op like a wimp. Unlike the first game, the PC port wasn’t a hot mess and was in fact pretty good. I don’t know if I have it in me to do a New Game Plus run on my own but I still intend to finish all the DLC. I really don’t understand the story of these games but it’s not the point. The worlds are amazing, the combat is complex and strategic, the depth of character customisation is mind boggling and if you’re willing to, you can put hundreds of hours into these games and still not experience everything they have to offer. I not only respect Dark Souls now, I can’t wait to dive into Bloodborne when it comes out.

7. Shovel Knight – A Kickstarter success story that I somehow completely missed prior to its release, a bunch of ex-WayForward developers decided to make their own version of a Mega Man game but with their own ideas borrowed from some other notable titles of the past. Then they wraped it up in an audio-visual package mostly based around the NES but with just enough of the SNES thrown in to make it pop, combined with one of the best chiptune soundtracks ever. I finished this tough but not crazy tough platformer and immediately started a New Game Plus. Yacht Club Games hit all the retro game points they needed to while still making something that didn’t feel dated, even though it was made to look it. I hope this isn’t the last of these games we see.

6. This War of Mine – I may yet do a video series on this incredible title. The previous two games by its developer were reverse tower defense titles that I actually liked a lot but this is miles away from that. You play the survivors caught up in a fictionalised version of the siege of Sarajevo, trying to do what you can to wait out the war. It’s a strategy and resource management game combined with The Sims, mixed with war-time horror. It constantly demands brutal choices from you where there is no right answer but one has to be given nonetheless. I’ve only played this game once and I knew how good it was because I felt genuinely bad with what I was having to put these characters through. Much like Papers, Please did, this is a game that conveys emotion and meaning through proper game play mechanics, rather than just leading you around by the nose through cliché like Gone Home does. It’s not for those who are easily upset, or maybe it is. It’s a unique game and one everyone should try but it’s not “fun” in the way many think of games.

5. Forza Horizon 2 – I like racing games and I finish most games I play but I always burn out on racing games before beating them, usually because they either get too hard or too repetitive. What I love about Forza Horizon 2 is that because it’s takes place in a fictional festival environment that’s wide open, you aren’t just racing on the same tracks with the same progression of cars over and over. Nearly every event is different and some are really varied because this isn’t a game concerned with simulating anything, only with having a great driving experience like you can really only get in your dreams. Playing this game is actually relaxing to me because it’s challenging but never feels tense during races and the world is just so pleasant to hang out in. I haven’t finished this yet but I have every intention to because I can just zen out to it and that’s rare.

4. Elite: Dangerous – This came out in mid-December so none of the major places got to talk about it which is a shame. I love space games to death and have been so happy to see this genre make a comeback. However, I didn’t back the Elite: Dangerous Kickstarter because it didn’t look like Frontier Developments was in good health at the time and I decided to wait until release. I never touched it until it came out and well, I have a brand new flight stick that I bought just for this. In reality, this is a game that has a lot of customisation but due to its instanced nature, is very shallow. There’s a huge galaxy but there really isn’t a lot to do in it, there’s no story and no end game. The goal is just to keep playing in this somewhat sparse galaxy and advancing yourself until you decide to stop. The thing is, that’s perfectly fine. This is another game I can lose hours in and walk away from completely relaxed and chilled out. Just cruising around space, running missions with some ambient music on in the background is a great experience and if you want to get down and fight, there’s definitely ways to do that too. This is a great way to kick off the revolution of the space genre and even though I was maybe hoping for a bit more, this is another way to me to just shut off my brain and cruise and the $100 I spent on the game and the flight stick was well worth it for that.

3. Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor – A licensed game that was apparently originally supposed to be a Batman title from a company that had never made an open world game before. How could it be good? I don’t know but man, Monolith landed something amazing with this one. It’s an open world game but they didn’t bloat it out to ridiculous proportions like Assassin’s Creed or Grand Theft Auto. They kept it big enough to merit exploration but small enough to be focused and not take a decade to make. They also introduced the incredible Nemesis System, which gave you a huge army of enemies, each of which had their own personalities, memory, all apparently ran in real-time and which could be manipulated behind the scenes to do your bidding either directly or indirectly. It was about causing internal strife as it was about it’s brutal, graphic, satisfying combat and this system could only have been done on the new hardware. Monolith has been a company that’s made incredible games that don’t sell. They deserve a hit and I hope this gives it to them.

2. Bayonetta 2 (Wii U Exclusive) – Bayonetta is an absolutely insane, fast, insane, intense, insane, tight and insane character action game that’s still widely regarded but which didn’t sell enough to warrant a sequel from the creative cowards at Sega. It’s a testament to how incredible games can be when you don’t care about realism at all. Everyone was stunned when Nintendo announced that not only was a sequel coming, not only was it Wii U exclusive but that they were also funding it. They clearly let PlatinumGames have the freedom they needed because Bayonetta 2 improves on the original in basically every way. It looks better, plays better, they’ve given multiple difficulty options to make it more accessible, added a weird online co-op mode and they used the Wii U’s bit of extra juice over the 360 and PS3 to amp up the insanity to 11 and beyond. Seriously, go watch some videos of this game, it has to be seen to be believed. The story is barely understandable and it’s too heavy on the cutscenes (well staged as they are) but this is one of the best action series I’ve ever played and I intend to beat this one at least once more. And if you never played the original Bayonetta (shame on you!), you get a Wii U port packed in for free! This is seriously worth buying a Wii U for and if you already have one, just go buy this so we get another one!

1. Sunset Overdrive (Xbox One Exclusive) – This was honestly a neck and neck fight with Bayonetta 2 but the open world, replayability and unique online mode in Sunset Overdrive pushed it over the top for me. I can honestly say I’ve not had more fun with any single game this year. Yeah, the game tries too hard to have an attitude and takes too long to click because of how it doles out new mechanics but when that does eventually click, this is a fast zombie shooter mixed with Tony Hawk and it doesn’t give a shit about realism, just about being as fun as possible. I love Insomniac’s work and am a huge Ratchet & Clank fan. I liked Resistance a lot too but Fuse was a horrible misstep for them. This takes something more realistic than Ratchet & Clank but retains all the mechanics and design elements of that series that makes it so fun. Like Bayonetta 2, this game isn’t selling well either and that’s a crime. We’ll never see this on another console but I do dearly hope it comes to PC like other former Xbox One exclusives Ryse: Son of Rome and Dead Rising 3 did. More people need to play this. It’s just so much damn fun!

Well, there we are. I think when you look at the whole picture, I’ve got a fairly varied list this year. I tried to condense things a bit so I’m only at 4,600 words as opposed to last year’s 7,000. Yay for compression I guess? Like I said above, gaming had its troubles this year but there was still a ton of incredible stuff to play and there’s more than enough fun in this list alone to occupy anyone for months. I hope 2015 is better for everyone and that we get even more cool stuff. Nothing would make me happier than this list being even harder to figure out next year.

I hope you all had a great holiday and I wish everyone a fantastic 2015! I would absolutely love to hear what your favourite games were thus year. Feel free to let me know in the comments. Stay tuned for my Bold Predictions post and as always, my YouTube efforts soldier on. Have a great year everyone!

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Late Review: Destiny

Compelling Disappointment

Back when I reviewed the Destiny Beta, I spoke at length about the arrogance of Bungie as a studio. I’m not going to reiterate that here but this review is best consumed with the context of that one in mind. I said that the beta showed a lot of potential but little of what was contained within it was very compelling and hopefully the final game would flesh out the supposedly epic 10 year vision Bungie was promising. What we got in the end was just more of what was in the beta, including all the problems, only multiplied, plus some perplexing new ones thrown in to boot. In so many ways, this is not a good game and it really makes you wonder how much of it’s supposedly $500 million budget actually went into development.

Yet in spite of this, I put at least 30 hours into Destiny, as did many of my friends who also agreed it was full of problems. For the life of me, I can’t really tell you why.

Destiny is broken down into several different game types: Story missions, patrols, strikes, the multiplayer suite and raids, which are considered the big deal of the game but more on that later. The non-multiplayer stuff takes place on several planets within our solar system, all of which consist of one large map that has different start points you’ll be dropped at depending on the mission. Despite this being hundreds, if not thousands of years in the future, humanity has apparently never ventured into deep space. Everything revolves around the standard first-person shooter and light MMO ideas: Shoot various generic alien enemies in the face, get experience, occasionally get loot. Bungie knows how to make a solid, engaging core game play loop and they definitely do that with Destiny. The combat is solid and seeing numbers go up as you get more and more kills is as satisfying as ever. Everything looks real pretty while you do it too, even on the old consoles. That’s really where most of my compliments end though.

The rest of Destiny is a mess and in many ways, it feels as though this game that is technically very polished and was in development for 5+ years was rushed out the door to hit a deadline. In my beta review, I called out the total lack of any context or meat to the story and that hasn’t improved one bit in the final release. Humanity is on the brink again and your job is to save it but you’re given no real back story or motivation for your actions and by the end, it doesn’t feel like you’ve accomplished anything or even learned more about what you were fighting for. As you play, you’ll earn Grimoire Cards which are supposed to explain more but they can only be accessed through Bungie’s web site or the game’s mobile app and only contain a small paragraph of further nebulous text that explains nothing.

Despite pitching itself as an MMO of sorts (right down to the pointless dance emotes), there is no sense of massive scale in Destiny. In the starting areas of missions, you can see a bunch of other random players running around that will help you kill mobs but don’t interact with you in any other meaningful way. When you get near your objective, you enter a never-explained “darkness zone” where things restrict to yourself and the up to 3 friends you can have in your Fire Team. At this point, it’s just another co-op shooter. There’s also a hub area on Earth that you have to go to frequently for various reasons and it’s also full of players but again, it serves no purpose as people only go here to interact with various kinds of vendors and leave again. This would be fine if the missions themselves were in any way interesting but that’s not the case.

Here’s how the majority of story missions in Destiny play out:

  • Pick a mission, get a confusing briefing during the agonisingly long load that explains nothing of value.
  • Spawn on map you’ve likely seen several times before. Receive additional details from your pointless and hyper phoned in Peter Dinklage voiced robotic companion (henceforth known as RoboDinklage).
  • Head to objective as fast as possible as most of the mobs on the map are well below your level and won’t get any experience for killing them.
  • Objective almost always consists of having RoboDinklage hack something while you fend off waves of enemies. It always takes him exactly until the end of the last wave to complete his task.
  • Do this a couple more times. Sometimes, the end of the mission will have a boss fight.
  • Receive another pointless bit of exposition from RoboDinklage while you look over the spoils of your efforts, most of which consists of gear too low level for you to use or nicer gear that’s probably not for your class (even though the classes you can pick from have largely superficial differences.)

You do variants of this for 10 hours or so and you’ve finished the story, likely as confused as when you started. You will level up your character as you go but all of the upgrades are simply tiers, some of which have multiple choices. The amount of actual customisation you can do to your character’s skills, abilities and gear is wafer thin, even compared to a lot of free-to-play MMOs.

Beyond the story, you have strikes which are specialised missions that are co-op focused and very challenging but in theory, more rewarding and patrols which just drop you onto a map to tackle a series of small missions you pick up from beacons lying around, usually involving killing a certain number of things or exploring somewhere. These are little more than padding and aren’t interesting or particularly fun.

Where Bungie has historically shined is in multiplayer, especially with the number of kooky and different modes they come up with. Destiny’s multiplayer is as bog standard as they come with only the usual Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Domination types available. More modes are supposed to come later but there is nothing interesting to be found here and it’s made worse by the fact that most modes allow people to bring in their gear from the campaign which often sends any sense of balance off a cliff.

All of this however, is supposed to lead up to raids. The base game of Destiny has only one raid and more are supposed to come in DLC (one of which is out at time of writing but which I haven’t played and won’t be.) This is a classic example of the kind of bad design where the best part of the game is the part that requires hours and hours of slogging through lesser content to get to it. You have to be fairly high level for the raid to even unlock and you have to have a nearly maxed out party of 6 people you know and at least several hours to even have a chance of completing it.

Your character in Destiny maxes out at level 20 which you’ll hit in no time but can go up to level 30 by wearing specialised gear that contains “light points.” Obtaining the gear you need for this involves hours and hours of grinding the same strike missions or multiplayer matches in the hopes that high-level gear will either drop randomly (which happens very rarely) or earning enough of one of the games 5 different currencies to buy the gear you need. I had intended to do a run of the base game’s raid for Extra Life and after at least 15-20 hours of grinding, I hadn’t earned enough to buy one of at least 3 pieces of gear I would have needed to not be a burden to my team. From what I’ve been told of the raid, it’s far and away the most interesting content of the game, yet it’s been locked away behind barriers so daunting that only the most hardcore players are going to bother trying to reach it. In an era where AAA games have to sell millions to make a profit, gating off the good parts in such a way seems like a recipe for failure. There is no scenario in which you can convince me that “It takes X hours but then the real content opens up.” is good design.

Once I realised I wasn’t going to be able to make the Extra Life raid, I’d had enough and never touched Destiny again, nor do I plan to. The thing is though, much of that 20 hours didn’t entirely feel like the kind of grind I despise and that’s what I’ve heard from a lot of people. So much of Destiny isn’t just not great, it’s out and out bad, yet the core of the game play felt so good that I tolerated a lot more of what was bad than I would have from most other games. So many people agree that Destiny is at best, an extremely flawed product, yet many of those same people but way more time into it than they would almost any other game with similar problems. This is something only a handful of developers could pull off. It’s a weird perversion of the idea of flow and engagement, yet it’s really quite an accomplishment when you think about it.

The problem is, once I got free of that core loop, I realised just how thin everything else in this pretty looking package was and I’m now soured on Destiny pretty bad. Unless the inevitable Destiny II is a massive improvement, Bungie has lost me on this one and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that, especially now that people have seen how little content is in the $20 first DLC…I’m sorry, “expansion” because of course, it’s different when Bungie does it.

Destiny is a pretentious game from a pretentious studio. I can’t see it as anything else when it was hyped up as such a massive thing and the response to most of the criticism hasn’t been “We’ll do better.” but “Just wait for this other stuff we have coming, though you’ll have to pay for it.” It’s nothing less than hubris to think that what they put out is even complete, much less cohesive. Yet, Destiny was still a lot of fun in many ways and it’s really perplexing how they managed to do both at the same time. Fool me once, shame on me but I won’t get fooled again by Bungie and I bet a lot of others won’t either. There’s a good framework for something cool here, now they just need to finish it before asking for more of my money. If you can get Destiny cheap at some point, I think you’ll have fun with it but $60 plus $40 more in “expansions” for a game that leaves you with more questions than answer is a bad deal in my opinion.

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Sunset Overdrive Review: Because It’s A Damn Video Game!

Insomniac Games is one of my favourite developers. Even when they were making pretty much nothing but Ratchet & Clank games, I still loved them because all the games were so polished, funny and mechanically amazing. They were famous for their sense of humour, tight platforming and wacky weapons. Overstrike looked like it was going to be an evolution of that, until EA gutted its soul and turned it into Fuse, yet another bland shooter devoid of anything interesting or memorable. When Sunset Overdrive was announced back at E3 2013, it looked like more of a return to form with colourful visuals, a wacky plot and something that looked akin to a Tony Hawk game meeting a zombie shooter.

I beat Sunset Overdrive and straight away, wanted to go back in for more but not before I immediately bought the DLC season pass. If that doesn’t give you a preview of my opinion, I’ll make it plain: This is among the most fun I’ve had with a game this year.

The plot of Sunset Overdrive is suitably nonsensical. It’s 2027 and an energy drink company called FizzCo has become the dominant corporate force over a world that seems pulled straight out of Idiocracy. A new drink gets its initial release in Sunset City. The problem is, FizzCo bribed their way out of health regulations and testing and unbeknownst to them, the drink turns anyone who consumes it into murderous, addicted mutants. The protagonist is one of your own making, created using the frankly incredible levels of customisation available. He or she works basically as a janitor for FizzCo but after all Hell breaks loose, ends up inheriting the task of saving the city from destruction by a company trying to cover up its epic mistake. You do this with a variety of wacky weapons, power ups known as amps and overdrives and by zipping around the open world by bouncing off cars and air vents, grinding on rails, hydroplaning and more. You’ll have to deal with the mutants but also squatters and eventually, FizzCo’s robotic army, with some other special encounters thrown in for good measure.

How are you able to do all this? What’s the crazy back story of your character that makes him or her knowledgeable of such things? How does a janitor end up saving the city by being Tony Hawk with guns? It’s never really explained. Realistic this ain’t but neither is anything else in Sunset Overdrive and that’s only to its benefit.

So many games try to be realistic and so many of the ones that aren’t still have an inherent need to explain the plausibility of everything they let you do. Sunset Overdrive has no such pretensions. It’s a save the world story but it doesn’t take itself remotely seriously. It doesn’t care whether it’s realistic or whether anything is relatable. Every time it introduced something new, I felt like it was silently proclaiming “Go with it because it’s a damn video game!” Why do you get around by grinding on rails and bouncing 50 feet in the air off cars and A/C vents? Because it’s a damn video game! Why are you using guns that do things like shoot explosive teddy bears or spray acid from dolls? Because it’s a damn video game! What exactly are amps and how are you “equipping” them to yourself? Because shut up, it’s a damn video game! I grew up on games that didn’t need to justify themselves, they just had good ideas of what was fun, made a platform for them and told you to enjoy. That’s exactly what Sunset Overdrive is about and in this era where even goofy games try to play things serious for fear people might actually–gasp–not take them seriously, this is so refreshing. It doesn’t care to explain itself to you, it’s just going to show you why it’s fun.

Much like Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor (another highlight for me this year), Sunset Overdrive’s open world is big but not so big that you need to pack a lunch to get from one end to the other. Sticking to the ground will get you killed in a hurry and you’re expected to move around the way the game wants you to. Figuring this system out is tricky at first and I think a better job could have been done at getting you used to it. I know I’m not the only one who ended up pretty frustrated for the first hour or so. Stick it out though because once it clicks, you’ll be moving super fast and wreaking havoc while you do it. Few games in recent years have so expertly made use of flow engagement theory. This is one of those games that you’ll sit down to play for half an hour and not realise when you get up that you’ve spent the day with it.

The campaign is a good dozen or more hours, especially if you do the side quests. Beyond that, there are a bunch of challenge missions (with online leaderboards of course) and a frankly insane number of different collectibles, many of which require mastery of the traversal systems to get. I can’t imagine how many hours it took to place all these in the world. These are all optional and if you choose to partake, I could see that easily tripling the length of time you’ll spend with it. Most of the missions have a decent variety of objectives and come attached to some hilariously different factions. Some are more interesting than others but aside from one really tedious series of side quests in the last act, I enjoyed basically every mission. There are only a handful of boss fights but without spoiling anything, they are all very memorable not just in terms of characters but in sheer scope.

Your character can be customised well beyond their appearance, with an huge, Insomniac-esque arsenal of weapons available, all of which are crazy in their own ways and play uniquely. Everything can be leveled up with use and you’re encouraged to experiment and there’s such a variety that it’s easy to ignore the ones you don’t like. You can purchase and equip amps and overdrives which are modifiers that boost the effect of certain types of weapons or traversal moves. It’s a deep system but the amps especially don’t provide significant benefits (it’s usually +1-3% to each statistic modified) and while I kept them up, I think you could easily beat the whole game while ignoring them altogether, especially since buying more requires grinding collectibles. Money is pretty common but some of the stuff you can buy is pricey so if you want some of the bigger ticket items, you’ll have to do some free roaming.

There’s also an online mode which I plan to spend more time with that pairs you up to an eight player party and throws various missions at you that are co-op in nature but can also have a friendly competitive element through the scoring system. These missions build up various team statistics that are used to determine how a night defense mission in the end plays out. The defense missions are absolute bedlam and a ton of fun. At the end of it all, your score is tallied and various bonuses are applied based on secondary objectives in the missions from your session. You get to spin for customisation loot and get more spins for hitting certain score milestones. Multiplayer can be jumped into at any time from the story mode and your same character with all their stats and weapons carries into multiplayer and anything you earn comes back out with you. This is an awesome design trend I hope we see more of.

The writing, humour and attitude of Sunset Overdrive has been divisive and I can see how it’s not for everyone. Everything’s presented with a very “punk” aesthetic from the art which has a very bright, graffiti-like colour palette to the hard punk soundtrack, which features several songs custom written for the game. I’m not normally big on punk music but I loved the energy this brought to things, even if there were far too few songs that resulted in a lot of repetition. If you don’t like rock music at all though, you’ll probably find it aggravating. Every character is unique and has their own distinct personality, making them all memorable, even if it’s for being annoying in some cases.

Many fourth wall breaking jokes are made, including making fun of video games themselves (there’s even a NeoGAF reference) and some even poke fun at what you’re doing in the game itself. There’s a school of thought I normally subscribe to which is that if you’re making fun of bad game design while making someone play it, you’ve missed the point. I get that but this game never really does that and often, it’s making fun of something by giving you the means to subvert it.

I’m also not normally a fan of referential humour, I find it lazy and unoriginal. Where Sunset Overdrive succeeds over say, Borderlands 2 is that it largely uses references to real life pop culture as a basis for original jokes of its own. Borderlands 2 doesn’t, it just points at pop culture references and Internet memes and goes “Remember this? Funny, amirite?” Sunset Overdrive may make a NeoGAF reference but it’s one part of a broader joke, not the entirety of it. This has been a staple of Insomniac Games for many years and they haven’t lost their touch. Anthony Burch should play this game and take notes, maybe one day he’ll learn how to actually write original jokes rather than just being the Ebaum’s World of video games.

This is a world that definitely needed the power of the new consoles to pull off. The draw distance is massive and some battles can have dozens or more enemies on screen at once and I never saw a dip below its locked 30 per second frame rate. Could this have been done on old hardware? Probably but it wouldn’t have been as fun. The load times are also quite short, something notable on the Xbox One which has become famous for making you wait. I never had any technical problems or even any real glitches. Given that this is Insomniac’s first open world game, that’s pretty impressive.

Sunset Overdrive is a breath of fresh air in a Fall release season that has largely seen rehashes of the same old ideas, many of which launched broken as well. This game is polished, runs like a top and is chalk full of original ideas and a personality that any gaming veteran can tell has Insonmiac Games written all over it. The rumour is now that publishers have been shown that tablets and phones aren’t taking over gaming and that people do still want AAA experiences, we’re going to start seeing more original ideas in the next couple of years. I certainly hope that’s true and that Sunset Overdrive is only one example of what’s to come. This is one of the best games I’ve played this year and honestly, I think it’s worth buying an Xbox One for on its own. It’s not getting the attention it deserves but if you’re someone who still plays games for raw fun first and realism second, you need to try this. Why? Because it’s a damn video game!

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