Thoughts on E3 2019


So, I know the E3 announcements were a week ago, but I wrote this and forgot to publish it. Whoops. It’s not too late, is it? Well it’s my blog so if you don’t like it you can… not read it I guess?

Ah, E3. While it’s not what it once was (PAX has stolen a lot of its thunder, and media-centric cons seem to be less necessary with the rise of social media), it’s still always an exciting time filled with lots of big surprise announcements. Here are a few of my highlights from this year.

Bethesda had a really strong showing last year, but this year was a bit of a letdown. There was no information about Elder Scrolls VI or Starfield, which seems like a mistake to me. Or, perhaps more accurately, the mistake was to reveal both last year if they weren’t going to be ready to say anything about either a year later (especially since they had plenty of other material to talk about last year). Maybe it would have been more impressive if I cared about doom or horror games.
Elder Scrolls Online’s DLC trailer was good (Kamira being epic! Sai Sahan! Even more dragons?), and I’m excited that TES Blades is coming to Switch (I think I’ll enjoy it a lot more there than mobile). I was really excited to see the revival of Commander Keen, even though it looks like mobile garbage. Commander Keen was one of my favorite games as a kid, so if mobile garbage is the first step to convincing Epic that there are people who want a reboot of the originals, I’ll play it. I’m really confused as to why Zenimax Online Studios is handling this, since it looks like something an indie studio could crank out in a year, but, as much as I would love for there to be another AAA MMO on the market, I’m secretly a little relieved that they won’t be pulling too much talent away from ESO for another MMO.

Quite honestly, I didn’t pay much attention to the Square Enix presentation. I’ve recently come to realize that I just don’t care about Final Fantasy. I’m even apathetic toward the Final Fantasy MMOs, which I probably should be excited about. I keep buying Final Fantasy games and then not playing them more than a few hours. I don’t know why, and even stranger is that I enjoy many of the spinoffs like Chrono Trigger and Bravely Default, but actual Final Fantasy games, not so much. And that’s ok; I can’t be into every franchise. So, while I’m happy that other people are hyped for all of the Final Fantasy goodness that Square released, I’m just… not.
I’m not sure how to feel about this Avengers game. Mainly because, like so many trailers and reveals, they told us absolutely nothing about the gameplay. Yes, the story is an important piece, but if the game is just a bland button masher that’s no fun to play, it doesn’t matter. Also, you know there are a lot more than just five avengers, right? It just feels kind of lame when it’s next to Ultimate Alliance 3. I guess they’ll come in DLC.
A lot of people seem to be hating on the Avengers’ character design. I guess people expected them to look like their MCU actors? Maybe it’s because I’ve seen enough non-MCU Marvel media to not feel too tied down to one specific look, but I thought it was fine. If anything, I thought it was too influenced by the movies.
Also, it’s sad that companies have to specify “no lootboxes or pay-to-win” now, to thunderous applause. Good job, you’re doing what used to just be expected?

Finally, the day arrived for Nintendo’s presentation. As a big Nintendo fan, this was my most anticipated presentation, and they did not disappoint. And, as a Super Smash Bros. fan, the new DLC fighter announcement was the part I was most excited for. The Hero(es) from Dragon Quest didn’t get me that excited. I haven’t played the Dragon Quest games, and “anime guy with a sword” is approaching a quarter of the roster now. Granted, my two main characters are among them, but it would be nice to have something with a new and different style. But hey, I’m sure a lot of fans, especially Japanese fans, were excited, and the more characters the merrier. Then, at the end, they surprised us with a second DLC fighter announcement: Banjo-Kazooie! Smash Bros. fans, including this one, have been asking for these guys to be added since the Nintendo 64, but it looked like it was never going to happen since Nintendo sold Rareware to Microsoft a while back. Somehow they worked out a deal, and they look perfect! I’m so excited to play them this Fall!
They crammed a surprising number of ports into this presentation, both from older consoles and contemporary ones. There wasn’t a whole lot that jumped out at me, but the sheer number of titles coming to Switch is impressive.
They brought the stream to a close with a teaser for an unnamed sequel to Breath of the Wild. This was surprising, because Nintendo doesn’t usually move that fast on sequels, especially given that there’s another Zelda game (the Link’s Awakening remake) releasing this year, but BotW is one of their most successful games ever and it’s a lot of what made the system so popular, so I guess they’re hoping to capitalize on it. I’m certainly not going to complain!

What was the biggest surprise? I thought it was more likely that one of these days we’d hear that Phantasy Star Online 2 was shutting down than to hear it was coming to America, but I’m happy to be wrong. I never played the original, but I like the original Phantasy Star games well enough (aside from the weird spelling), and it’s not every day that we get a sci-fi MMO, let alone one attached to a long standing IP.

What am I disappointed that we didn’t see? I already touched on TES6 and Starfield, so there’s that. We also didn’t get any Metroid info. I guess I was expecting that, since Nintendo recently announced that they had scrapped Prime 4 and started over with Metroid Prime’s original studio (which was the right move), but I was hoping for at least a little something. Also there were rumors that the original Prime trilogy was going to be remastered for Switch, but that hasn’t materialized either. We also know that there are some new Mega Man games in the works, but that was also absent. The rumor is that it’s for mobile only, so I’m prepared for disappointment there, but I’m still interested.

ESO: The Day I Became a Kaiju

This is the story of how I became a kaiju. I was playing Elder Scrolls Online the other day, doing the Orcrest instance on my new necro tank along with my wife’s healer. Everything was fine, until, at one point, I noticed that I wasn’t getting buffs correctly. Then I tried to use the Bone Goliath ultimate, which normally makes you turn into a giant armored skeleton. Except, because I wasn’t receiving buffs, I didn’t get the skeleton armor. I just got bigger.

At first it was one of those “Haha, I’m taller than this high elf” things. Surely I’ll go back to normal size after the normal time the buff lasts, right? But then I didn’t. And then, I used Bone Goliath again. And I grew even larger.

…and larger…

I was now approaching Godzilla-level proportions. At this point it was becoming hard to do combat.

So I switched to first person, where I rained down spells on the ants below me.

I became so big that, even zoomed all the way out, my head took up the whole screen.

I used it one last time. At this point it was impossible to do much of anything.

Again, this is zoomed all the way out.

Then I remembered that the inventory screen gives you a zoomed out view of your character (even with the UI turned off).

It turns out it zooms in slowly when you close the inventory screen, which gave me some of the best shots. Here’s the whole instance!

Here are a few screenshots from my wife’s perspective as well:

Here she is inside my foot.

My running animation was messed up too; it was like I was running in place.

So that’s the day I became a kaiju. This is, without a doubt, the best bug I have ever experienced in a video game. Has anyone else ever seen anything like this?

ESO: Necromancers are healers who refuse to give up


What is it about necromancy in games? Thematically, it’s pretty dark; reanimating recently dead bodies and skeletons to fight your enemies is not the kind of thing the guys in the white hats are supposed to do. But mechanically, it’s pretty much always my favorite class in any RPG that has it. It turns out The Elder Scrolls Online is no exception. Not even a week after launch, and I already have three Necros. I had planned for a stam DPS and a healer, but when I got into it I really wanted to make a tank as well (even though I’ve decided that I don’t really like tanking in ESO, but maybe this time will be different?).

I’m no min/maxer, but it seems like this class is legitimately built to be viable for any of the four main build types (stamina DPS, magicka DPS, healer, and tank). Sure, it’s always been possible to build any class any of those ways, but let’s be honest, templars make better healers than dragonknights, dragonknights make better tanks than nightblades, etc. I also like that the META builds I’m seeing for tanks actually use a fairly even split of magicka, health, and stamina, rather than “just dump everything into stam, maybe a little into health if you don’t have at least X” like many of them. The hybrid build idea is what initially attracted me to the Warden tank, and, while the Warden didn’t ultimately hold my interest, I’m hoping this will be more like what I thought Warden was going to be.

I’m liking the Necro’s healing style, which is even more positional/directional than the Warden before it. For instance, one of the heals is a line between the healer and a corpse. As long as this extra complexity is rewarded, this could be a really fun healing class. If there’s a lot more complexity involved and about the same healing as a templar, who basically can’t miss with a heal unless the target is just out of range, then it’ll be hard to justify. It’s hard to know intuitively at this point, and I haven’t sought out anyone who’s doing parses or anything, so we’ll see.

The stam DPS Necro feels really good. I love the scythe slash that hits everything in a melee-ranged arc in front of you and heals you based on the number of targets you hit. Also, while I know some people find it annoying, I enjoy managing summons and DoTs, which is exactly what this playstyle is built around. It’s just about everything I wanted from this class.

As fun as the new class is, it’s also the new story that keeps me coming back. Khajiit have always made for some of the most unique and entertaining NPCs, so a whole zone filled with them, including the various less humanoid breeds we’ve never seen before, is pretty great. Dragons neither excite nor repulse me — they’ve overdone, but what fantasy creature or plot device isn’t? — but at least this game has a unique twist on them. They certainly make for interesting world bosses that amount to something more than just a pure zergfest. And it’s not just the main story that’s great; I’ve been enjoying many of the side quests just as much. For instance, I loved the Mizzik Thunderpaws sidequest line, which plays like a corny private eye novel, but with cat people.

Overall, this expansion feels a lot more whimsical than the previous ones, with less focus on backstabbing politics or apocalyptic daedric plots, which is a welcome change. It’s been a while since a game had me thinking all day about how I can’t wait to get home and play it, let alone one that’s been around for five years, but ESO’s Elsweyr expansion has done it.

Detective Pikachu vs. Sonic the Hedgehog

This year, two video game franchises that defined my childhood will be hitting the big screen as live action movies. My reaction to the two trailers is about the same as much of the Internet: Detective Pikachu looks surprisingly, strangely good, Sonic the Hedgehog… not so much. Just so we’re all on the same page, here are the most recent trailers for each:


Hollywood loves to milk us for nostalgia. A lot of people roll their eyes at that, but I’m really not bothered by that in and of itself. I’m happy to get more Star Wars and comic book movies… as long as they’re done well. That really is the key, isn’t it? It has to be done well or it just feels like a cheap cash-in.

A large part of the difference between these movies is that Detective Pikachu takes place in a different part of a much larger world than the games. It gives the writers the creative license to build a world that makes sense within the rest of the universe, but also works for a movie. It doesn’t have to connect itself too much to the rest of the franchise, but also doesn’t feel like it needs a big “this isn’t canon” disclaimer on it. It’s also adapting a game of the same name that was a lot more story driven to begin with, so there’s more material to adapt. Honestly, I haven’t played the game, so I’m not entirely sure how far the movie departs from it, but that doesn’t really matter much to me, as long as it’s a good movie with at least the same premise.

Classic Sonic the Hedgehog, on the other hand, is a game that barely had a story, because it didn’t really need one: Evil scientist shows up with bad robots. Jump on them. Then jump on the evil scientist. It’s an action platformer and that’s about all the setup you need. We’ve had a wide variety of Sonic media adaptations over the years — no less than three American cartoons in the 90s, an anime movie, an anime TV series, and recently a CGI TV series, not to mention the longest running video game-based comic book series ever, as well as its recent reboot — and they’ve all had to make up an awful lot in terms of Sonic’s world and backstory. As such, we’ve had a lot of different takes on the character, and, quite frankly, it’s starting to get old. It’s exhausting keeping up with which version of the same characters we’re dealing with here. The cognitive dissonance that it creates is exactly why you see so much in fighting among Sonic fans; everyone has a different idea of what Sonic “should be” because there has never really been a single, unified depiction of him. It’s like all the times they’ve rebooted Spider-Man, except that everyone knows Spider-Man’s backstory, so much so that they finally decided to just fast forward over it in the last couple of incarnations. With Sonic, they have to reinvent the wheel every time.

Detective Pikachu also takes place in a world where the weird looking CGI characters are just as prevalent as humans, if not more so. This makes the integration of the CGI protagonist with the live action protagonist feel a lot more natural than the human and hedgehog duo. It’s not even about CGI quality or budget, it’s about whether or not your CGI character feels out of place in the world. And Sonic feels out of place because he is literally out of place; Pokemon are just a part of life in City, but Sonic is an oddity that startles everyone. Those Sega Genesis sound effects are jarringly out of place as well. I really hope those are used sparingly… or just not at all.

Obviously I haven’t seen either of these movies, given that neither one is out yet, so I can’t really say how good or bad either one is. But if trailers are any indication (and they aren’t always), Detective Pikachu does a lot better job adapting its nostalgic IP to live action than Sonic the Hedgehog. The two will inevitably be compared a lot to each other, and to the recent rash of live action Disney remakes. I’ve already seen it all over social media. I’m not sure either will be a cult classic or anything, or rake in Marvel-sized piles of cash, but Detective Pikachu looks like a movie that I will genuinely enjoy, whereas Sonic just looks like another movie to throw on the trash heap of terrible video game movies. Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally going to go see Sonic in the theater at least once because I’m a Sega fan and I have to, but I don’t expect to enjoy it as a movie.

Hey, at least it gives us new ammunition for the age old Mario vs. Sonic debate: Whose live action movie was worse?

Holiday Events: Diversions or Disruptions?

Holiday events in MMOs are fun little diversions. They give us an excuse to revisit older, usually low level zones, do something light and silly, and get some cool cosmetics. A lot of games use these as a way to get people back into their game, and it often works. For instance, every May the Fourth, I log back into SWTOR to pick up that year’s recolored astromech droid. If not for that event, I probably would have gone years at a time without logging in, and, of course, once I’ve gone to all of the trouble of patching, I usually poke around in the game to see what’s new.

But lately I’ve noticed a pattern of holiday events having the opposite effect on me. They disrupt the gameplay routine by taking me out of the zone I was working on, taking up a good chunk of my playtime, and making it urgent that I do my daily holiday quests, because if I don’t, they’ll be gone before I get all of the stuff I want. I think every time I’ve wandered away from LotRO has been right after a holiday event. I know I haven’t been back to SWTOR since I binged all of the content to get that XP boosting armor from the Dark vs Light event. And I’m sure I could think of many other examples.

I’m not alone, either. Just as I was thinking about this, Ben (aka Braxwolf) over at Massively OP wrote about ESO’s recent rash of events and its “more is better” attitudes toward festivals. Go read it now, because he describes the problem in that game really well. I especially like this part:

Many MMO players pride themselves on being completionists… They can’t pass up an opportunity to log in and try to accumulate whatever is available at the moment. This mentality is partially what attracts people to MMOs in the first place, but it’s not always compatible with ‘more is better.’ The accumulation has to be reasonably obtainable, else a feeling of hopelessness and burnout can soon follow. I’ve heard some of the biggest cheerleaders within the community complain about the sheer number of events we’ve seen recently. The ‘I can’t even’ is real.

It’s hard to complain about more things to do in your favorite MMO, but time limited events, combined with rewards dangled in front of players, make us feel not only forced into a certain activity, but also rushed through it. And, even if your main MMO isn’t overloading you with events as ESO is, if you bounce around to multiple MMOs like I do, it can be somewhat anxiety-inducing to try to get around to the festivities in all of the games you play, let alone grab all the cosmetics you want, before the season is over.

Games shouldn’t be an obligation. I have a job. They pay me. I shouldn’t feel like I’m paying a game company for the privilege of working a second job in the digital world. I am by no means advocating that games get rid of holiday events, but games like ESO need to be aware of the fact that, while they may bring some players back, they create an exit point for others.

Retro Reprise Episode 18: Obscure Genesis games

Fans of retro video game music have heard all of the same classics over and over again, which is why in today’s episode of Retro Reprise, ChaosConstant and Syp dip into the more unknown titles of the Sega Genesis library for tunes that you may have overlooked! From the tense atmosphere of Warsong to the futuristic music of Pulseman, this show might have your new favorite track waiting to be discovered.

Retro Reprise Episode 18: Obscure Genesis Games (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro
  • “Kingdom Knight” from Warsong
  • “Soltype” from Alien Soldier
  • “Wily Stage 1” from Mega Man: The Wily Wars
  • “An Old Sad Dance” from King Colossus
  • “Neo Tokyo” from Pulseman
  • “Stereo Protect” from Pulseman
  • “Splash Down!!” from Ristar
  • “Midnight Greenhouse” from Knuckles Chaotix
  • Outro

Thoughts on Google Stadia and Apple Arcade

Last week, first Google then Apple announced new subscription gaming services. With both services, players can pay a monthly subscription to access a library of games and play them on a variety of devices. This model isn’t a new idea; just look at EA’s Origin All Access pass, Discord Nitro, or any of the three major consoles’ online plans. What’s different here is that many of those games are exclusive to their respective subscriptions; there is no way to buy them outright. On the one hand, as an MMO player, sub-only games that may cease to exist the moment the whims of a corporate overlord change is old hat. On the other hand, as a consumer of games who likes going back and playing old things, this is somewhat disturbing.

I, like many others, have become increasingly frustrated with the state of streaming services. Netflix sounded like a great deal when it first came on the scene — all of the shows and movies you like on demand for a reasonable subscription fee — but the longer time goes on, the more streaming services pop up, and the more the owners of the content bounce things around from service to service. Recently, I started rewatching Star Wars: The Clone Wars (wow, I forgot how bad the first season was), and half way through the first season I found out that Disney will soon be removing the series from Netflix in favor of its own upcoming service. I’m not really excited about the same happening to my game library. It’s mildly annoying that we’ve seen fracturing of digital PC stores, with games getting pulled from Steam at the last minute in favor of the Epic Store. It will be much worse if those stores become Netflix-style walled gardens.

I also have some issues with the delivery methods. Apple Arcade’s issues are more personal preference based. Given that they’ve promised that you can download and play these games offline on iPhone, iPad, and Apple TV, we are clearly talking about mobile games here. I don’t really like most mobile games as it is, so it’s going to be really hard to sell me on a subscription to play mobile games, even with the promise of better mobile games. Google Stadia, however, just doesn’t seem to me like it’s going to work at all. It works by rendering the game on a powerful server somewhere, then streaming the video to your PC or smart device, then takes your inputs and passes them back to the server. I’ve streamed games over my own network from my PC to my Steam Link, and it’s certainly playable, but it’s not a great experience. There is noticable latency, and from time to time, the picture drops out or the sound freezes. Games keep getting more and more twitchy, and there’s no way you’re going to play Fortnite on this service and do as well as you would playing locally. This is only going to get worse over the public Internet. Supposedly Google has invented some kind of magic to fix this, but I’ll believe it when I see it. Plus, many people don’t have access to blazing fast fiber optic Internet, or worse, have a strict bandwidth cap that this will chew through in a matter of hours.

It’s also a little disturbing that developers for both of these services are being paid based on the amount of time players play. Maybe it’s because I’m primarily an MMO player, but it seems obvious to me that this is only going to encourage developers to make games with huge time sinks and/or to be exploitative of those with addictive tendencies. It’s the whole sub MMO vs F2P MMO debate all over again, except this time it’s broken out of our niche and into the wider gaming market. It’s not good for gamers, and it’s not good for the creative freedom of developers. Additionally, this is suspiciously similar to the Spotify model, where artists now make a fraction of what they did on the sales of CDs and MP3s, even if it’s getting their songs in the earbuds of a much wider audience.

Finally, I’m wondering who these services are even for. Maybe there’s a big sector of the population that’s outside of my circles that’s excited by this, but I don’t know anyone who is. At best they’ve begrudgingly accepted that megacorps like Apple and Google are going to get their way once again and this is what our future is going to hold for a while. If gamers aren’t really on board for these things, I don’t see how they’re going to succeed. At best they’re going to be dominated by casual gamers, especially Apple’s mobile-focused sub, but that’s a notoriously fickle audience that hates paying money.

Some will, and do, argue that this really isn’t that different from digital download games. If, in some bizarre future, Valve decides that Steam is no longer worth keeping online, the hundreds of dollars’ worth of games I’ve bought from them over the years is suddenly gone, and most of the millions of games they host will blink completely out of existence. Even if they were nice and decided to disable the DRM on their way out, there’s no way I could even download every game in my embarrassingly large Steam library to my hard drive at once. This argument is not completely wrong, to be honest, but if Steam makes me mad and I vow to never pay them another dime, I can still play all of my old games. Also, I don’t see Steam just disappearing in my lifetime. At worst, they would get absorbed by another company, and your library would get ported over into that service. They’ve got too many customers invested too heavily in their service to just throw away.

Ultimately, I think both of these services will fail. They just don’t have enough going for them. But, hey, I didn’t think tablets would have a market in the long run either. The only thing predicable about technology is its unpredictability.