Session #9
November, 2015
Words to Warm You

Welcome back to Level Grinding, RPGamer's video game industry editorial column. Each month news stories are dissected in an attempt to expand on their overall implications and industry relevance. This isn't the work of an industry analyst though; I'm just an opinions writer with an axe to grind. Lately, that axe has been getting rusty.

Due to a mix of personal and professional conflicts there was no column last month. I don't like making people wait and I can't stand keeping items on to do lists, so I promise that this will not happen again. I'm sorry for dropping the ball.

This grinding session is a good one though, as far as I'm concerned. Before we get into it through, let's do that thing where I share some neat videos.

Before we begin, I'd like to highlight a few recent videos:

My future wife is the most adorable person I know. If any of you follow the RPGamer staff on Twitter or listen to the Active Topical Banter Podcast you'll know that #TeamKelsey is a very real thing. Even my longtime friends prefer her to me, mostly because of what she's like on our Let's Play YouTube channel Date Night Gaming. We've only been doing it for a while and are still learning, but it's a fun little thing we like to do biweekly. Please check us out!

EA's long-anticipated Star Wars: Battlefront was finally released this past week to middling reviews. This is a scathing breakdown of the gameplay trailer. Gaming Sins is pretty much the same as Cinema Sins, but with more British accent. If that's not a selling point, I don't know what is.

I'm kinda sorta into Destiny these days. The experience is much improved from where it had started. No video or review better explains why, and how the game can be made even better, than IHateEverything's thorough breakdown of The Taken King.

The internet is a wonderful and horrible place. Now that the flood of Fallout 4 reviews have been unleashed, I'm reminded of this fact. It's become apparent that if you give anything lower than a nine out of ten or its equivalent to a high-profile AAA release you are either outright wrong or just "click-baiting." What a world we live in.

Our own Michael Cunningham gave Fallout 4 a less-than-perfect 3.0/5, and although that looks like a 6.0/10 on paper it's more like an 7.0/10. Our scale is funny like that. Still, I have no doubt that Michael has received some flack over his fair review, namely because people don't read reviews for providing a fair or balanced perspective — they read them to validate their purchase.

There is a substantive group of people out there who believe that video game reviews should only consist of objective facts. No opinions. Just thorough details of how the game ticks and whether it is worth playing relative to similar games. Therein lies the issue with that mentality though. You can't just compare review scores as though they're objective fact. Just because RPGamer gave Final Fantasy XIII a 4.5/5 and Chrono Trigger a 4.0/5 doesn't mean that our site's official opinion is that Final Fantasy XIII is better than Chrono Trigger. Two different people with different preferences wrote those reviews and the scores reflect that.

Reviews are subjective content. They are nothing more than one gamer's written impression of an experience. That write up will differ depending on what kind of different aesthetics, gameplay styles, or mechanics they prefer. For instance, I tried reviewing Mugen Souls and the mix of moe, sexualized children in skimpy outfits, and hooky dialogue made me not want to touch my PS3 for weeks. Others, however, bought the game because they wanted to play something that had all of those things. As you can guess, our reviews and scores would differ.

Please stop writing off reviews with comparably lower scores as "click bait." Please stop only reading reviews with high scores so that you can prove that you preordered the right game. We were never meant to treat these writeups like that. Appreciate the reviews you read for what they are — written experiences. Otherwise, just play the games yourself and make up your own mind.

The latest update for Destiny has introduced a new in-game currency, Silver, that can be purchased on PSN or Xbox Live for real money. For a time, there was outrage in the Destiny community. Which, I'd like to say was an irregular thing, but anyone who has frequented the Destiny forums knows just how finicky the community can be. I digress.

The primary concern among players was that this new currency would introduce a play-to-win element to the game. Files data-mined from update 2.0.1 suggested that players would eventually be able to spend Silver on consumables that provide raid buffs. Two consumables, Valorous Light and Heuristic Light, were said to increase the chances of engram drops and additional Moldering Shards respectively. This certainly could have disrupted the flow of the game, but creative director Luke Smith has since assured the community that Bungie has no intentions of selling consumables of that nature:

"We're not doing that. The files in question were actually first uncovered some time ago, well before the launch of Eververse Trading Company. They weren't ever intended to be sold in exchange for Silver. What you're seeing are remnant files for Three of Coins or Moldering Shard like items that would have been available from Xur. Ultimately, the team decided that they didn't have a place in the game, and cut them from the experience. You're seeing some dust and echoes from the cutting room floor."

The second major concern amongst players cannot be dismissed so easily. Destiny is about collecting — collecting guns, amour, ships, blueprints, currency, marks, and reputation points. Everything is tied in some respect to loot. That's why so many people find the experience to be addictive. In a game where that degree of collection is so central to the core experience, is it fair to take sets of items (even if they are just emotes) and hide them behind a pay-wall that requires real money? I think the players have already provided an answer.

Destiny's Silver microtransactions have landed in the top five on the PlayStation Store's list of paid add-on content. This in-game currency is officially a hit. Not only does this highlight the success of Activision's digital strategy for Destiny, but it demonstrates that there is an audience of people who are so invested in collecting that they are willing to fork out real money to further support a game they play regularly. I have no doubt that a number of veteran Destiny players have not purchased Silver, but they also don't have to.

In an age where everyone has a problem with everything, the success of an unpopular microtransaction approach sends a clear message: the people who want it will buy it, and that's more than enough. While I, like many others, would prefer it if Destiny's focus didn't deviate from providing a rich, engrossing FPS experience, I can't fault anyone for further supporting a game they enjoy with optional transactions. Let them eat cake. Or in this case, let them dance like Carleton from Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

Sources: GameZone, VentureBeat

Open world games go hand-in-hand with glitches. This is a reality we all have to accept, but also one that many actively deny or resent. With the review embargo lifting for the highly anticipated release of Fallout 4, videos of flying animals, teleporting enemies, and awkward animations have populated the internet. It's hilarious. It's unfortunate. It's the way things are.

Bethesda has a very good reputation as far as video game development studios go. Many of their titles offer a degree of freedom that other open-world titles just can't hold a candle to. You can do pretty ,uch anything you'd like, with very few exceptions — exceptions that usually go out the window as soon as modders figure out how to break the game. Still, that degree of freedom complicates an already massive experience and I'm not sure many people take the time to acknowledge how much work must go into conceiving, creating, and eventually testing this world.

Consider size of the landscape alone. Rough estimates suggest that Fallout 4's map is over twice the size of Skyrim's at a whopping 29,160,000 square feet. It takes elevin minutes to sprint from one side of the map to the other, not to mention the great amount of explorable buildings and underground areas along the way. That's a big sandbox to play in, and the game's been in development for years with dozens, if not hundreds, of people working on it to ensure that you can explore as much as you want, make your own decisions, and ignore the quests if you're so inclined.

Obviously, such an experience is going to lend itself to bugs and glitches. It would be impossible for any QA team, no matter how massive, to identify every single one in a world with that many possibilities. Thankfully though, the bugs that haven't been quashed before launch will likely be shortly.

Some of you might take issue with my empathetic approach towards bugs and glitches, given the things I've said in the past about certain open-world games. I've made numerous references to the brokenness of Alpha Protocol in the past, saying that its lack of functionality spoiled an otherwise promising game. The key difference between Alpha Protocol and Fallout 4, however, is that Fallout 4's technical issues are a result of unpredictable player possibility whereas Alpha Protocol's brokenness was due to poor pre-production planning by the game's developer.

By most accounts Fallout 4 has pedigree in its code, as Skyrim and New Vegas did before it. This is a game that has real value in spite of its technical hiccups, and it's harder to be hung up over the flying animals and teleporting bad guys because we know those issues are — for the most part — temporary.

Fallout is too big of a franchise for Bethesda to ignore a major release post-launch. So please, for the time being, please enjoy the messed up things you see on screen that were clearly never supposed to be there. Wait for a hefty patch that is sure to come. Enjoy the game for all it really has to offer.

With the battle for your living room television beginning to heat up, the most recognized citizen in the PC Master Race has stood up to proclaim that Valve's new Steam Machines outperform home consoles at the same price-point. It's a bold claim that might have some merit on a purely technical level, but it doesn't hold water when you breakdown the overall value proposition.

In a recent interview with Develop, Gabe Newell stated that, "At console price-points, we're going to have machines like Alienware's, which are faster than today's consoles. So the same price-point as today, except you get better performance and you're connected to everything you like about the PC and Internet." It should be noted that the final specs for Alienware's systems have not been broken down, so we can't actually confirm the capabilities of these boxes. Let's assume he is correct and that weakest Alienware model, priced at $449 (US), is more powerful than a PS4 or Xbox One priced at $399 (often including a game). Does that really give Steam Machines a competitive advantage? I'm not sure it does.

I'd like to think of myself as a fairly forward-thinking gamer. I'm an early adopter of new technologies, and I've personally taken a great interest in the development of living room PC rigs. In fact, I've already looked into buying Steam Machines as there are a number of different games that I'd love to play in the living room that have only ever been available on PC or were just better on PC. I even had a pre-order for the Steam Controller in preparation for the future. It's because I've been so invested in the platform that I can comfortably tell you that it just isn't where it needs to be yet.

The problem has never been the tech specs on these devices. It's amazing that you can upgrade the graphics card if you want more power — something no current console manufacturer does — and I like the varying prices and qualities offered by so many hardware vendors. Really, on the hardware side the system hasn't done anything wrong. I even like the way they look.

The problem is Steam OS. Not just because the current iteration is clunky from a user perspective or that it's far more complex in terms of set-up than a console. The problem is game library. No, you can't play any PC game that is available on Steam. Maybe if you use your Steam Machine to stream games from a Steam-compatible PC, but if that's what you wanted why wouldn't you just buy the $50 set-top box for that instead? Why instead would you spend $450 on a system that can only play games that run on SteamOS and Linux? That's about 3000 games (although only 1,500 have been optimized for SteamOS) out of the total 14,000 products Valve has on Steam. So no, you will not be able to access every Steam game or even most Steam games from your living room.

Why is no one talking about this? Sure, it's impressive that a system is launching with 1,500 games, but under the promise of "having a PC in your living room" the Steam Machine does not deliver. Until Valve steps up and makes at least 50% of its library available on SteamOS, I can't recommend anyone invest the time, money, and energy in playing PC games from your living room television. Don't buy them yet. They are only half-baked.

Source: Polygon, Develop

At this point, I'd like to thank my Editor-in-Chief, Michael Cunningham, for his continual support, our beloved readers for taking the time to indulge my abrasive opinions, and of course all of the commenters in RPGamer's forums for engaging in the conversation. I'll now ask that you do the same.

If I could ask you readers some questions this week, they would be:

  • Are reviews supposed to be subjective? Objective?

  • Should we be upset over Destiny's new Silver currency?

  • Are Fallout 4's glitches acceptable in some respect?

  • Have you thought about buying a Steam Machine?

I'll see you next month. In the meantime, stay tuned to RPGamer for all of the latest RPG news, reviews, previews, and interviews.

Your dork from the Great North,

Trent Seely

Stalk me on Twitter: @InstaTrent

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