Are FPSes the enemy?

A man of many talents, Hideo Kojima is best known for his pioneering work in the stealth-action genre with the Metal Gear franchise. In a recent interview with Official PlayStation Magazine he expressed his concern with the state of the video game industry and how first-person shooters are the dominating force, making it harder for original ideas to blossom. Kojima told the mag that there are only about ten big name games that can grab the public’s attention and that Japan-centric games will find it hard to compete with them.

“I think it’s more consumer demand – right now, consumers are happy with what they have. First-person shooters sell like crazy, so there’s not really a strong demand for anything else, and that’s why [original ideas] stop being made. People are satisfied with making minor upgrades and tweaking things here and there – as long as that’s the landscape, it will keep on happening. I don’t see a problem necessarily, but at the same time it is nice to see new things come.”

While I agree that the FPS genre is a hard one to beat it’s also hard to master and the number of titles that can get away with incremental updates gets less every year. Take the most famous shooter series, Call of Duty. The third Modern Warfare release sold very well and floats nicely near the top of the charts but the excitement for the franchise is definitely wearing thin. I’ve hardly seen it appear in my Friends’ Lists of games on Xbox Live and the general buzz about it felt less enthusiastic than last year. Partly due to the other big military shooter and partly because gamers do look as if they want something more than an FPS. The relatively poor sales for id’s Rage eludes to this as does the fact that Skyrim took the Christmas number one spot in the UK’s all format Chart not to mention the almost universal praise of Portal 2 throughout the year.

But it’s fair to say that publishers who are keen to make a quick sale will often go down the FPS route whether the game calls for it or not. And shooting in general is a mechanic that is found in the vast majority of titles. Though I would say that just because the wider audience gobble up a first-person-shooter, that doesn’t mean developers should exclusively cater for them. Yes it makes far better business sense in the short term but a great original game will resonate with the masses regardless of genre. The aforementioned Skyrim shows this as does the Assassin’s Creed series. The latter may be experiencing its own stagnation but has been very profitable and playable for both publisher and consumer.

Kojima added how that a digital distribution method or even off-shoot could be a good way of getting new ideas out with less risk than traditional releases.

“Maybe for new ideas, the way to do it is [by] releasing things via online services first and then seeing how people react to that. Or even if you’re making something from a game-design perspective that’s completely different, you could tie it to an existing franchise – like even if it had the Metal Gear Solid title, it could be completely different. Maybe you can make a Batman game that has the Batman title, but you can still be free with what you make the game into. Making something that’s completely new – where the gameplay, the characters, the world, everything is completely from scratch – that’s very hard to realise in this day and age.”

Batman is an interesting example used because Rocksteady’s Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are two huge successes. I may not have been as wowed by Asylum, City has been a joy to play and the franchise took very big risks with the potentially repetitive combat and lack of stereotypical content. Like how there is now Batmobile in either games. If asked what a Batman game would feature before 2010, I would have expected there to be a driving level complete with a poorly handled Batmobile. For all intense purposes, you could view the Arkham series as an off-shoot to the typical Batman or indeed action-adventure-brawler game. Kojima mentioned a Metal Gear Solid title that was completely different and while Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance isn’t part of the ‘Solid’ collective, it’s still very a Metal Gear game that, from what we’ve seen, will play quite differently.

I do very much enjoy a good first-person shooter and understand Kojima’s frustrations, equally wanting to experience some new and interesting ideas in gaming. Luckily, BioShock Infinite is set for to come out this year and from what Ken Levine’s team have done in the past, it should be a good combination of FPS ideas with new ways to play them. Perhaps a better way of combating the languishing genre is to take a similar approach rather than admitting defeat.

Hooray! Overpriced DLC goes on sale…

Need for Speed World is part of EA’s mission to try and conquer Free-to-Play gaming. It’s a part of the video game market which can be very profitable for a publisher even though a good chunk of it is, as its title suggests, free to play. The best way of clawing back development and maintenance costs; vanity items. Like pieces of armor, weaponry or in Need for Speed World‘s case, a ridiculously expensive virtual car. Released last Wednesday for the year plus PC racer, the Koenigsegg CCX Elite Edition will set you back $100 unless of course you grab it now because the kind old folks at EA are selling it for just $75 (via Gamespot). Baffling when you think Free-to-Play items are also know as micro-transactions. There’s nothing micro about that price.

The Koenigsegg CCX Elite Edition is said to be the first premium elite car which would mean that more offensively priced DLC will be coming to the 5 million users of NfSW. Of course no one is forcing players to buy the cars but it certainly adds to EA’s reputation of being rapacious.  Just the other week they announced a subscription-based version of Tetris. Never mind that Tetris can be found on every platform known to man, in the iOS version you can now sign up to paying $3 a month or $30 a year for exclusive discounts, challenges and a booster to speed up level progression. Because levelling up is what Tetris is all about…

Stories like these are the kind of thing usually saved for April Fool’s day when companies can announced insane ideas and promotions with consumers chuckling at the stupidity and forgetting it the very next day. But this time the stories are true and it’s EA who look like the fools to me.

Miyamoto ISN’T retiring

The big news last night was that Shigeru Miyamoto, the saviour of home consoles, was to retire from Nintendo. An announcement like that unsurprisingly sent shockwaves throughout the gaming community ranging from those saddened by such news and others (ignorantly) cheerful that Miyamoto would be leaving games. But as with so many things on the internet, the facts have become somewhat misunderstood. The original story was from Wired.com who stated that in an interview with Miyamoto (59), the legendary creator said he wanted to retire from his current position and take on a smaller role still within Nintendo, allowing younger designers to be in charge. His plan was not to ever really leave the company but focus on less demanding games and was excited to show off his first mini project next year.

Shortly after the news spread online, Nintendo was quick to clear up the potential PR nightmare by issuing a statement (via Reuters) saying this was not true and that what he has said all along is that he want to train the younger generation.

“He has no intention of stepping down. Please do not be concerned.”

And why should we be concerned? Firstly, it’s not ‘we’ as such but investors in Nintendo whose market stock has been rather turbulent ever since the launch of the 3DS which didn’t go exactly to plan. But in the last couple of months, after the price drop and release of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7, things have started really kicking off for Nintendo’s handheld. So when the man responsible and who has very direct links to all of the company’s main IPs – the games that people buy Nintendo hardware for – confidence will naturally begin to falter.

However it does indeed have an effect on the everyday gamer as Miyamoto’s influence is pretty much everywhere. Most if not all platform games look to the Mario franchise for inspiration and the Mario games themselves are nearly always superb in their execution. And even further a field, game designers are applying ideas from Miyamoto’s games in titles that you’d never expect. Cliff Bleszinski of Epic games was famously quoted in saying that Gear of War was like Mario without the jumping. And of course, there’s the Z-targeting. Pioneered in Ocarina of Time, Z-targeting has become such a staple of third-person action games that it’s hard to think of a time when it didn’t exist. Lastly, we have motion controls. Love them or hate them, they’re now a huge focus for all the main platform holders and if it wasn’t for Nintendo and Miyamoto’s desire to push the boundaries of video game interaction, we wouldn’t be where we are today in the industry. The neigh-sayers may argue that motion controls and casual games are ruining the hardcore but in reality, that’s not exactly true so their importance is very much valid.

The idea that a visionary like Miyamoto could be working on smaller games that may not feature any of the usual characters is quite an exciting one indeed. The 3DS has the space and delivery method for these smaller games to exist and the chance that new IPs may spring up with of the same quality of Mario and Zelda is reason itself for at least some of the original story of Miyamoto’s stepping down to be true. But whether it’s PR tidying or delaying the truth, the fact is that one day Miyamoto will have to retire and even sooner, younger designers should be allowed to take control of Nintendo’s top franchises though for now, I’m quite happy to see Miyamoto on stage at each E3 to reveal the next big thing from Nintendo. Apart from Wii Music.

Epoch-olypse

I have often expressed my disinterest in Smartphone and tablet games that try and replicate traditional buttons virtually. Very few have worked and even less have had any kind of lasting appeal for me. Simple finger swipes and taps are what work best and with the App Store crammed with awkward on-screen controllers, it’s always nice when a game comes along that promises something different. Uppercut Games are doing just that with their upcoming shooter, Epoch, which will be available from November 10th.

Epoch has been developed on the ever popular Unreal Engine and if one mechanic is synonymous with that engine it’s a cover system and Epoch is all about taking cover and taking out enemies when it’s tactical to do so. The post-apocalyptic setting may not be the most original and the Gears style combat is often mimicked but from what I’ve seen of Epoch, the fun comes from the aerobatic manoeuvres of the robot you control as it works its way through various arenas battling the hordes of approaching enemies (check out the pre-launch trailer here). I do like a good horde mode in any game so one that is boasting the ability to do this on the go with simple and intuitive controls has got me interested. The story? the press release states Epoch definitely has one but “Uncovering the mystery is part of the fun, so the best way to find out more is to play the game.” Uppercut Games aren’t discussing whether Epoch is to have in-app purchases or multiplayer but the fact they’re not giving an outright ‘no’ would suggest that both will be coming at some point.

The ultimate non-gamers’ game

Video game awards tend to feature the triple A titles that get a mainstream crowd foaming at the mouth and beating their chest in excitement. Television channels like Spike TV have hyped up the medium and what’s expected from the ceremonies to be a glamorous affair mostly filled with traditional gamers and the odd B list celebrity who “remembers playing that Mario thing” with a relative. But this year saw the start of something very interesting by the people who organise Nottingham’s annual GameCity festival. The aptly named GameCity Prize 2011 gathered not the hardcore but the extremely casual and even non-gamers to award what they felt was the best game of the year.

The group included actors, comedians and politicians and were given the Summer to play through seven unique titles that GameCity hoped would start conversations about where video games are today and what they mean to the players. As you would expect, the nominees are all cult classics in their own rights and included: Child of Eden, ilomilo, Limbo, Minecraft, Pokemon Black, Portal 2 and Superbrothers Sword & Sworcery EP. A formidable list if ever I saw one and to me, there are two titles that stand out because of what they’ve done for the industry. They are Portal 2 and Minecraft. Now, for full disclosure, I haven’t played Minecraft but am fully aware of its impact and the unfaltering love of its players. Personally, I wouldn’t call it a video game in the traditional sense and instead would say it’s more if a fantasy toy box, a modern day Lego if you will. And while I would have preferred to see Portal 2 crowned king, it was Minecraft that picked up the award.

So does the fact that Minecraft isn’t as much of a game as the others (there are very strong arguments for and against and to play devil’s advocate, I’m going against it) mean that the awards are a bit of a farce? No. The fact that GameCity got a group on non-gamers talking and playing games is already a huge leap in the right direction and all the games in the list are the perfect examples of what makes the industry great. Minecraft may not be a ‘game’ in my eyes compared to, say, Limbo, doesn’t mean that’s not to say its influences will be felt in more traditional games in the future. And like it or not, the folks that nominated it the best game of the past year are the kinds of people publishers are desperately trying to figure out how to attract. From Minecraft you can jump to Angry Birds and from there onto the slightly dubious world of Facebook gaming. All three areas are huge and have companies like EA altering long term strategies for. They’ve even favoured such areas over the 3DS in the past.

Back to the point, the awards are an interesting if not altered view of video games and one that should arguably be taken a little more seriously than the aforementioned glitzy shindigs normally promoted. What would be even better is if there were two parts, one with non-gamers and one with a mix of hardcore enthusiasts. Two winners would be announced and how close they were to each other would be an even more interesting conversation.

PSVita is a little more expensive than you thought

The PSVita now has an official UK price tag, set last week when Sony announced what us folk here in Blighty are expected to pay. And as with pretty much everything video game related, we’re getting screwed. You’ve seen the numbers by now, the Wifi only model has an RRP of £229.99 and the all singing all dancing Wifi plus 3G will set you back £279.99. Converting those figures into American dollars will only add insult to injury but needless to say, it ain’t pretty.

Much like the 3DS which may not have had an official UK RRP, the price was initially £229.99 and soon dropped once online retailers and supermarkets found ways of subsidising costs. I would like to think the PSVita will experience the same fury of price competition close to the February 22nd 2012 release date but Sony have made it quite clear in the past that they’re not budging when it comes to RRP. That’s fine, the PSVita is a beastly piece of kit with a gorgeous OLED screen and has oodles of potential to right the wrongs of the original PSP but one thing that’s not been at the forefront of press releases is how not all games can be saved directly onto the game card (via Kotaku). Some, like the poster boy for PSVita, Uncharted: Golden Abyss, requires a memory card to save progress. Proprietary memory cards that is meaning we’ll be paying overly inflated prices for standard hardware. Exactly how much isn’t known but if the Japanese figures are anything to go by, a 4GB card will cost ¥2,200 or £19 whereas a 32GB card is ¥9,500 or £78 (roughly).

To make the most out of your PSVita, it looks like a proprietary memory card is essential, a concept not seen in gaming since the last generation now that most systems and devices come packed with a hefty hard drive or indeed capabilities to save to humble SD cards. Will this hurt day one sales of the PSVita? Probably not. Those lucky enough to be early adopters will most likely find it to be an annoyance rather than a deterrent but it’s not all that welcoming to future consumers. When many are touting this to be the last generation of dedicated handheld devices, I would have thought the PSVita wouldn’t come with little surprises like this because the more people they can get on board, the better for Sony.

I want the PSVita to be a hit. I want it and the 3DS to re-ignite the glory days or handheld gaming but I’ve been slightly burned by picking up a 3DS so early and can’t quite get the bitter taste of the PSP – or its lack of attention from publishers – out of my mouth so am somewhat apprehensive about getting a PSVita. Who knows, come February I may have the cash for one. As long as these scratch cards deliver something…

UPDATE: It turns out that the choice whether or not to save directly to a PSVita game card or memory card has been left up to the publishers not Sony. The reason? Because saving to the memory card means that game can have post-launch DLC. But those which save directly onto the game card can only save in that way so from the get go we’re to have a minor fragmentation in software. Lets hope it stays minor too.

Co-op effect

Mass Effect 3

So it’s finally official, Mass Effect 3 is to include a multiplayer mode. When the news first broke yesterday, no one quite knew what the details of this mode and naturally the fears of a compromised single player campaign floated to the top of the internet. After all, it has been said that ME3 will be the most accessible for newcomers or a wider gaming audience and tacking on a multiplayer mode would certainly help this. But before things got out of hand, BioWare forum aficionado Chris Priestly posted on the official site that the multiplayer component will actually be a co-operative mode, mostly separate from the campaign. I say mostly because, as Priestly stresses, the new addition is designed to compliment the campaign not withhold content to solo only players. The better you do in co-op, the higher Commander Shepard’s ‘galactic readiness’ stats go up but you can just as easily do this on your own in the campaign.

Good news then. If you want Mass Effect 3 to be a one player only game then you can have just that. And the development hasn’t been affected either. A new studio was formed in Montreal to take care of all things multiplayer while the folks at Edmonton got on with the main game. Remember that infamous job posting from June last year? This is the result.

The co-op mode will allow up to four players to, well, all that’s been said so far is fight in what’s being called the Galaxy at War System, influencing Shepard’s stats as they do so. Sounds like it could very well be a horde equivalent which would fit within the concept of Mass Effect. And if it is to be as minimally intrusive to single player as BioWare promises, a horde mode that doesn’t necessarily need much narrative feels right. What the co-op will also do is introduce a brand new set of characters to develop because Shepard is exclusive to the campaign and his story ends with Mass Effect 3. But the franchise will not. Bringing in new characters that players can directly interact with is a great way of bridging future Shepard-less titles. And why no deathmatch or usual multiplayer modes? Because that would be stupid.

More details will be coming soon but at least the will they won’t they saga of Mass Effect‘s multiplayer has come to an end that shouldn’t be offensive to anyone. Well, here’s hoping.