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.

Battlefield 3(60)

The mediocre single player campaign in Battlefield 3 didn’t put off a number of gamers over the weekend who picked up a copy of the game. I’d imagine the reason for this was because very few of those early adopters give two hoots about solo play and were keen to kick some arse online. With marginally more robust service and arguably greater number of shooter fans, the Xbox 360 version dominated UK retail sales gobbling 53 per cent of the delicious money pie. But those players weren’t too pleased when the servers crapped out forcing them to experience the weakest part of Battlefield 3, the single player mode. That is if they felt like sticking with it at all. Not the best start for EA and their desperate (and a little one-sided) battle with Activision to be publisher of the greatest FPS. Still, the sales were positive and from what I hear, all is well when trying to get online so give it a few days and all will be forgotten. Though it does make the online pass packed with nearly all games seem a little ironic.

Interestingly enough, one of the biggest games this year may have sold the best on the Xbox 360 but it’s Sony that is selling more consoles in the European territory. So far, the PS3 has sold around 3.5 million units whereas both Xbox 360 and Wii are hovering at the 2 million mark. Does that mean these kinds of games are more profitable on the Xbox 360? The figures to suggest that’s where publishers should maybe focus their attention when doing timed exclusive DLC – a practice becoming more and more common. Microsoft were smart enough to snatch up all of the Call of Duty DLC packs first until 2012 but Sony are offering patrons the chance to download all the Battlefield 3 DLC a week earlier than the Xbox 360 and PC. In contrast, the fact that Battlefield 3 sold better on Microsoft’s format may also suggest gamers are getting tired of such exclusivity deals and will buy a game for whatever they feel most comfortable on.

Battlefield, dull? You’re just not playing the right bits…

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I haven’t been one of the lucky few who have got their hands on an almost complete version of Battlefield 3 but have read a number of posts from those who have over the weekend. So how’s it looking as a usurper to the Call of Duty thrown? Well opinions will always be divided on which is the better game but B3 to me has lost foothold in their climb to the top by having what a lot of people are calling a dull single player campaign.

But how can this be when the multiplayer looks and plays so very promising? As did the gameplay videos EA have touted in various trade shows and conferences this year. Kotaku asked executive producer Patrick Bach the same thing and was told

“To be honest, a big part of what single-player in Battlefield is is a tutorial for multiplayer, quickly adding “It’s not a training mission, it’s not a shooting range—it’s an emotional roller-coaster at the same time as it shows you all the bits and pieces of the game. It’s a great introduction for the multiplayer. Because when you go into multiplayer for the first time, it’s very dry, it’s very ‘Here I am, with my gun, what do I do?’ While single-player brings you more on a journey.”

The Call of Duty franchise is equally guilty of this and despite the added narrative and Easter eggs in Black Ops, it felt the most like a free-flowing shooting gallery. However, according to the previews, so does Battlefield 3 only it sounds as if there’s even less personality to it. But does that even matter? The vast majority of gamers who will buy either of thins year’s big military shooters won’t touch the single player component and dive head first into multiplayer. They don’t need or want a tutorial for online play and will most probably find both games to be the most fun they’ve had since the previous title so a weak campaign isn’t really a big deal. Plus Battlefield has always been a multiplayer-focused game and it was the Bad Company series that introduced a grand storyline to follow. Personally I fall into the minority with shooters as I tend not to play a lot online preferring to fight on my own. So a good campaign is more important to me and it sounds as if, once again, I’m going to be a little disappointed.

That’s fine, these games aren’t made for me, they’re made for the millions of competitive multiplayer fans charging across Xbox Live, PSN and PCs every day. I had hoped that the direction which EA appeared to be taking the series in was to be an all-encompassing FPS, combining a Bad Company campaign with traditional Battlefield online battles but the latest buzz from The Guardian paper is that Bad Company may make a comeback after all. I also hoped that all the trash talking from Jeff Brown towards Activision would actually mean something and EA would release a game superior to Modern Warfare 3 in every way. I get the impression that in reality we’ll be getting something that fall short in all the same ways Call of Duty does.

That’s a lot of map packs…

Nowadays I often get the feeling that the words Call of Duty are likened to a particularly nasty phrase or that one swearword that everyone feels ashamed to say in public. Most comments and chatter among hardcore enthusiasts is that Battlefield 3 will be superior and the overpriced DLC and exploitation of a franchise has made Call of Duty a place where few wish to tread. However, the fault doesn’t squarely lie at the feet of Activision because it appears no matter how much they charge, people are willing to pay.

At an investors event yesterday, Activision ceo Eric Hirshberg made a lot of attendees smile manically as he revealed a whopping 18 million map packs have been sold for Black Ops making the company a teeny bit richer. The packs sell for around $15 each so times that by 18 million and your calculator just may melt in the process. Compare that to the previous Call of Duty games and it shows how popular Black Ops has become. Treyarch’s World at War sold nine million map packs in the same amount of time as Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 sold eleven million. The former went for $10 a pop whereas from MW2 onwards, packs have become the now standard $15.

Critically, Black Ops wasn’t as loved as Modern Warfare 2 and the fact that Treyarch, thought of as the ‘B-team’ studio, worked on meant those who cared where slightly dubious of its quality. I may not have enjoyed Black Ops as much as MW2 but it was still an enjoyable game and clearly more favoured by the larger mainstream audience. Hirshberg added to his earlier claim saying how consumer engagement is at an all time high, making people think twice about brandishing the franchise as one that is on its way out:

“There are over 30 million unique players of Black Ops who collectively have amassed, incredibly, more than 2.3 billion hours of play. To put that number in perspective, that’s more than a quarter of a million years of play and that means our millions of fans spend more time per day on Black Ops multiplayer than they do on Facebook.”

So where does that leave Call of Duty? With figure like this it certainly isn’t going anywhere soon. The paid-for stat-tracking service, Call of Duty Elite, surpassing two million Beta registrations not to mention pre-orders of Modern Warfare 3 looking to best those of Black Ops, the fall of the FPS may be a little while yet. Not that I’d want it to. Say what you will, there’s still room in the industry for games like Call of Duty and the more choice we have of what to play the better. And if we’re pissed at high prices for DLC map packs unfortunately we only have ourselves to blame. Well, maybe not directly…

GoldenEye 007 Reloaded is real, people

UPDATE: Activision put out a press release today confirming the existence of the game and how it’ll be running on a brand new engine. But the graphics won’t be the only new aspect. Here’s the most interesting chunk of the press release: GoldenEye 007: Reloaded is a contemporary James Bond experience featuring HD visuals and realistic environments running at 60-frames per second, akin to today’s elite action games. Additional to the legendary story campaign, the game introduces the brand new ‘Mi6 Ops Missions’ – new, distinct levels separate from the campaign that span the varied environments from the story and challenge players to complete different Assault, Elimination, Stealth and Defence objectives. GoldenEye 007: Reloaded also takes multiplayer to new heights, maintaining and improving its renowned four-player split-screen action and adding full, adrenaline-pumping 16-player online matches with more maps, weapons, characters and game modes than ever before.”

ORIGINAL STORY: A good few weeks ago there was some stirring online about something called GoldenEye 007: Reloaded which slipped out from Activision. Suffixing and name with Reloaded generally means some form of upgrade when it comes to video games and in this case, it looks like last year’s neat remake of an N64 classic is to be remade all over again.

GoldenEye 007 for the Wii was a fun FPS that took the original ideas from the iconic N64 launch game and amended them to fit within the contemporary Bond timeline. As always, there was grumbling from ‘hardcore’ fans who were desperate for the ill-fated HD port of Rare’s GoldenEye to become a reality but since that simply will never happen (too many companies hold separate chunks of the IP for it to ever come out) GoldenEye 007 was considered a suitable alternative. I enjoyed it and like the glory days of my youth, its multiplayer component was hugely entertaining. From the screenshots bagged by Videogamer.com, Reloaded appears to hoik up the graphics for a release of the remake onto PS3 and Xbox 360. But little more is known of the project just yet with more details said to be coming in the next few days at the San Diego Comic Con so there could be more additions other than sparkly new visuals (interestingly enough, the Wii game used the same heavily altered IW Engine which ran the SD Call of Duty games. This could mean the HD GoldenEye 007 would use the original IW Engine).

Even though I already own the Wii version, I may have to pick this one up too. Like I said, I really enjoyed playing it on the Wii but it came at a cost; the controller. Choosing not to re-learn how to play an FPS using the Wii remote and nunchuck, I bought a Classic Controller which did work well but still not as comfortable as an Xbox 360 pad and subsequently shortened my playtime. My fingers are crossed that the transition to HD consoles brings with it a tightening of controls on the relevant pads. And anyone grumbling how GoldenEye 007 Reloaded still won’t be close enough to the N64 version, this is probably the closest you’re ever going to get.

The retailers’ battlefield

For better or worse, there are gamers and publishers who want Call of Duty to fail. They want to see the smugness disappear from Activision, they want the ‘dude bro’ gamer to find some other hobby and most definitely want to see some significant change to first person shooters. John Riccitiello and his merry band of EA would love to usurp the FPS thrown from Activision and haven’t been shy about saying so with Battlefield 3 being the best chance they have. It’s coming out before Modern Warfare 3, has a gritty real-world setting that we can relate to but feel equally heroic and features a stat-tracking service, similar to Call of Duty Elite but is free instead of paid-for.

All in all, it’s looking good and EA can’t put a foot wrong with marketing and hype – except for the unnecessarily lengthy tank level shown at their E3 press conference which quickly lost its appeal. But if there’s one thing that pisses off gamers it’s pre-order bonus that give unfair advantages to those who stump up the cash early and Battlefield 3 will be no different (via Kotaku). Customers in the UK who pre-order from either GAME or Gamestation will receive the Physical Warfare pack which includes additional weapons and ammo that are normally reserved for unlocks. This means getting them early could shift the balance from a level playing field to downright unfair for anyone not willing to pre-order.

For the UK, it’s not about money because you can freely pre-order titles without paying a penny until release and even then you’re not always obliged to buy them. But it does get a bit crappy when you think of everyone who would rather pick up the game from another retailer, not the two EA have partnered up with. They won’t be entitled to having a suped-up shotgun or flechette ammo on day one but will likely be pitted against someone who does in multiplayer. And there’s nothing that breaks a decent online mode more than feeling like you’re gimped against the opposition.

So for all the belly aching towards companies like Activision for trying to monetize features, it’s become frightfully clear that there are few companies who wouldn’t. But hey, they’re exactly that, a company so while it sucks for us, it’s now just the unfortunate reality of video games and in the grand scheme of things, will it effect whether you buy the game or not? Or rather, should it?

Mass Effect Wii U. Confirmed?

As we all come to terms with the name of Nintendo’s new console, developers and publishers are expressing their interests in creating games for it and especially its tablet controller. Kojima Productions, Activision and THQ are all talking about the Wii U and now the head of EA, Frank Gibeau, hinted at the possibility of a Mass Effect game coming to the system. In a recent interview (via My Nintendo News), Gibeau was asked about bringing Mass Effect 3 to the Wii U and practically confirmed something was coming but not necessarily Shepard’s third outing.

“I can’t say we are going to do it on the Wii U, but you can imagine what we could do with that controller in the Mass Effect universe. It feels like a really nice fit, but we’ll announce that when the time is right.” See what I mean? The time may not be right for an official announcement but that sounds to me like something relating to Mass Effect is headed for the Wii U.

Since the second game, BioWare and EA have both spoken about delving deeper into the rich universe of Mass Effect, making new titles following other story lines, not just the troubles of Commander Shepard. But if it were to be Mass Effect 3, I’d be interested to see how the tablet controller is used after Microsoft revealed its version is to have Kinect support. In a similar train of thought, would that force Sony to add Move controls too? And in answer to Gibeau’s question, yes I can totally imagine what they’d do with the tablet. A touchscreen menu and inventory, safe-cracking mini-games, the 6 inch screen acting like an overhead map for strategic combat scenarios. That kind of thing.