Gamescom, PAX, and now COD XP. Yes, game convention season is in full swing, and we’ve got our hunting rifles. We stalk news, shoot it, and devour its heart to gain its powers. Here’s what it all means.
What happened: Call of Duty XP descended upon Los Angeles and promptly exploded in slow-mo from 37 different camera angles with information. Multiplayer sounds like its been given its annual dust-off, but Elite’s the real story here. For $49.95 per year, you’re looking at 20 discounted pieces of DLC, early access to select content, oodles of video upload space, and probably, like, a unicorn pinata filled with candy and your wildest dreams.
What it means: Call me old-fashioned, but this all sounds like a needlessly proprietary idea jumble – not to mention a perfect way to ensure that, when new audiences try sinking their teeth into the game, they only get bitten back. I mean, temporary DLC exclusivity on Xbox Live was bad enough to begin with. Now Elite adds further audience stratification to that formula – on top of a big, bad boogie man level up system that was scaring players back into other shooters’ armed arms before it was cool. (Also, mostly related: what’s the point of an Elite sub on PSN or PC when Xbox players still get to bunny hop right to the front of the line a month earlier?)
Call of Duty’s always drawn such small-country-sized mass because, well, it’s generally a pretty straightforward game. Just about anyone can jump in and have – at the very least – a marginally decent time. From where I’m standing, however, Activision’s no longer putting its best foot forward, instead opting to aim right down the sights and shoot it.
Call of Duty’s hardly the only franchise to do this, though. While it may be the most egregious current example, game and publisher-specific “services” are coming out of the woodwork like particularly attention-hungry termites – each with their own incentives. So, who gets to crack open your piggy bank and feast on the delicious nectars within? That’s your call – after you’ve sifted through options as numerous as grains of sand on a beach or stupidity worms in Glenn Beck’s brain.
Put simply, it’s pretty freaking intimidating to me, and I write about this stuff for a living. From the outside looking in, it’s got to seem like some kind of sharkodactyl-surrounded sky fortress. At the end of the day, core gaming’s really not all that complex – certainly not prohibitively so. But the industry’s doing a damn good job of making it seem that way.
What happened: Pat went to Stockholm! Pics co-starring VG247′s very own cardboard-box-from-the-background-of-Bulletcast or it didn’t happen? Sorry, all we’ve got is this massive Battlefield 3 interview. I know, right? Lame.
What it means: Initially, Battlefield 3′s single-player took more than a little flack for bearing an eerie resemblance to a certain other 800 lb silverback gorilla/£19492039485829305 cash cow. Lead designer Dave Goldfarb, though, seems to be taking extreme care to ensure that this is a DICE game first and foremost – not some haphazard high school cover band rendition of another game. Relative believability (as opposed to MW3′s frankly silly Evil Russian Invasion Plot) and pacing that actually knows when to slow down and take a breather seem like the main focuses here. This bit, especially, sounds absolutely wonderful:
“For example, that sniper section on the roof from the Faultline stuff earlier this year? That shit took forever to get right. Just the first six minutes where you don’t fire a shot took a long time to make it be good. People were like, ‘That’s awesome. I didn’t do anything for six minutes.’”
Alright, Goldfarb, you’ve got me. I will now hit myself in the head with a hammer until I forget Bad Company 2′s miserable single-player campaign. But this is your last chance, do you hear me?
What happened: I spoke with David Jaffe during PAX, and he went on an absolute rampage through the industry’s holy grails section, leaving metal bits (perhaps of the twisted variety) scattered in his wake. Topics discussed included the weakness of story in gaming, social games, outspoken game developers, and everything else ever.
What it means: Love him or hate him, Jaffe made some good points. While I love a good story as much as the next guy/gal, handing over too much of the spotlight has resulted in a glut of same-y linear shooters. Most interesting, though – at least, to me – was his comparison between pay-to-unlock freemium content and rank-based unlockables in games like Call of Duty. Do you spend money or time? Regardless of how you win, someone else loses – arguably in an unfair and frustrating fashion. Neither system is ideal. “Horizontal” approaches as seen in games like Twisted Metal and Tribes, then, sound like just what the anger management counselor ordered, but that seems like a balancing nightmare just waiting to happen. Fingers crossed, obviously, but uphill battles aren’t won overnight. And this hill looks more like a mountain.
What happened: Flying Wild Hog CEO Michal Szustak opened fire on modern shooters, declaring them “boring” and claiming that “players will grow tired and will crave something different.” Well gee, that sounds reasonable. Why am I even including this story if–
What it means: “I believe many players around world miss those old days and old games.” Damn it, Szustak. I mean, I understand that most of this brazen anti-Modern-Warfare chest-thumping is just meant to drum up interest in Hard Reset, but the fact that it’s working so well is what gets me. This mentality is one step forward, two steps back – plain and simple. Certainly, Flying Wild Hog’s blazing a couple interesting sort-of-new trails – eschewing multiplayer and streamlining the dev process, foremost – but gazing fondly back is a crappy way to move forward. I know; I’m highly experienced in the fine art of running into poles. There’s a ton of talent at Flying Wild Hog, too. Hopefully, for its next trick, it’ll stop pulling the same old rabbit out of its hat.
What happened: Valve continues to remind everyone why we all love it so much. While folks like Activision charge headlong into the monetization game without any regard for consequences its consumers will no doubt suffer, Gabe Newell says excellent things like “Our focus is really much on building something that’s cool, and then we’ll worry about monetization… Premature monetization is the root of all evil.”
What it means: DoTA 2 may be pulling some pretty divisive opinions, but Valve’s almost scientific dissection of what its community does and doesn’t want is damn impressive. Today’s gaming market is sink-or-swim, yet it’s flooded with companies that just want to tread water. Valve, though, continues to push forward – urged on by the rapid advances of ultra-competitors like Apple. Granted, the recent EA-Steam kerfuffle’s a bit of a biggie size black mark on its record, but both companies seem to be moving toward a resolution. Time will tell, anyway. Until then, though, I can’t quite sing the Church of Newell’s praises.