Unstable Night

Those of you who follow Magic are probably aware that a new Un set is on our tables; Unstable. I admit I wasn’t paying a lot of attention to it (and Magic in general). But when spoilers started coming out, revealing that the set might actually be fun to draft and play, I decided, why not? I was able to get a good deal on boxes, so I took advantage that. You can grab a box from Amazon (or a similar shop) for a bit over $100 at the time of this writing. That price is a testament to the popularity of the set. Considering how much Wizards is said to be overprinting product these days. You’ll probably want to hold off though once the rush is over, with a rumored second printing next year, the price will probably go down.

Anyhow, tonight, the gaming group is getting together to draft Unstable. I’m crossing my fingers that I get a kitten, while our resident spikes will be going hard for the squirrels. I’ll update this post when I have impressions to share.

Fantasy Flight Interactive’s First Game

Fantasy Flight Interactive, the new developer under Fantasy Flight Games, announced its first game: The Lord of the Rings Living Card Game. This will be a digitization of the 2011 card game produced by its parent company. There’s a lengthy post about the title, along with some thoughts from designer Caleb Grace.

Teaser trailer is below.

 

Short Games of 2017

Game Informer notes that many excellent but long games were out in 2017, and there are shorter options out there. It’s funny how the value perception of game time has changed over the years. For some, anyway. Here are the “10 Under 10” according Joe Juba:

  • What Remains of Edith Finch
  • SteamWorld Dig 2
  • Night in the Woods
  • Tacoma
  • Uncharted: The Lost Legacy
  • Battle Chef Brigade
  • Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
  • Observer
  • Little Nightmares
  • Everything

There was a time when games (like, say, Metal Gear Solid) got dinged for short campaigns. Maybe it still is that way in the community. Let’s take a look at User Scores on Metacritic, shall we?

  • What Remains of Edith Finch (XONE) – 7.1 based on 64 Ratings
  • SteamWorld Dig 2 (Switch) – 8.8 based on 140 Ratings
  • Night in the Woods (PS4) – 7.1 based on 120 Ratings
  • Tacoma (PC) – 5.9 based on 62 Ratings
  • Uncharted: The Lost Legacy (PS4) – 8.0 based on 670 Ratings
  • Battle Chef Brigade (Switch) – 8.6 based on 25 Ratings
  • Hellblade (PS4) – 8.2 based on 761 Ratings
  • Observer (PC) – 7.8 based on 131 Ratings
  • Little Nightmares (PS4) – 8.0 based on 123 Ratings
  • Everything (PS4) – 6.9 based on 38 Ratings

Just taking a quick glance at the Negative reviews, I see a common complaint about “walking simulators” but nothing overwhelming. It’s interesting to note that indie darlings like Tacoma and Night in the Woods seem to fair worse with users than with critics. That growing divide in opinion is noticeable everywhere these days.

That being said, it is nice to know we have some options these days with regard to commitment to a game. Some of you may recall that I spent a considerable amount of time sojourning on Gaea with Cloud and friends this past year. So short games in general can be a nice break. As long as they’re actually games. I’ll have some more to say about this trend in a coming post.

 

Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally Long Play

As played by arronmunroe, Road Runner’s Death Valley Rally (SNES). This was actually one of my first SNES games. I wasn’t good at it back then, and it’s probably just a passable platformer today (with the Looney Tunes license). But what was astonishing back in 1992 (1993?) was how good the game got the art style and animation. Great run by arronmunroe.

There was a slew of licensed Disney games that were quite prominent as I recall (Aladdin in particular). So this game is probably just par for the course.

Death Stranding Game Awards 2017 Trailer

A new Death Stranding trailer was released last night at The Game Awards. It’s as bizarre as you can imagine.  Here it is in full.

We’re starting to see some hints of gameplay elements in there. Looks like some sort of stealth horror survival game? With hefty amounts of surrealism. Perhaps Kojima is finally going to come up with a concept that surpasses Metal Gear Solid 2 in terms of weirdness. I welcome this.

I assume there will be analysis to go over in the coming days (YongYea is good for that). I have high hopes for the inaugural title for Kojima Productions in its standalone era. Let’s cross our fingers that it delivers.

Bitcoin payments discontinued on Steam

Bitcoin, the rising cryptocurrency, will no longer be accepted on Steam, according to Valve. From Coindesk:

Now, as of Dec. 6, the company will no longer accept payments in the cryptocurrency due to a mixture of high fees and volatility in the price of bitcoin. Specifically, the company pointed to elevated payment costs in recent months for its customers, who can use the Steam platform to purchase and play a variety of games.

Valve goes onto to say that bitcoin transaction fees are currently somewhere around $20, vs. $0.20 when the company originally started accepted bitcoin. If you’ve been following the developments in the cryptocurrency world, as I write this bitcoin is about $15,240 per coin. The price was $12,475 when Coindesk published its article.

Exciting times in the alternate finance world. Most likely Valve will accept some form of crypto-payments in the future when the use models solidify.

Against the Loot Boxes

Chris Cobb posted a thoughtful entry about game monetization strategies, and in particular loot boxes. From his blog:

Regarding microtransactions, content can either be purchased directly or through randomized content packs known as loot boxes. When content can be purchased directly, it is much easier to evaluate the value of the transaction. Randomized content is more difficult to assess because the player must purchase the content before knowing what she will get. Loot boxes frequently contain content of different rarities, such that highly sought after content is very unlikely to appear. In addition, even within the same rarity tier, some content is considered more valuable based on its popularity or strength in the context of the game. Some regions such as China requires developers to publish the probability distribution of their loot boxes, which significantly increases transparency. It doesn’t however address the difference in desirability for content of equal rarity, but is clearly a step in the right direction.

He covers the basics of monetization strategies that have become commonplace for developers. That’s worth a read if you’re not familiar with the topic. He goes on to compare Hearthstone and Battlefront II; the latter in a far less favorable light. As you can imagine.

Cobb uses behavioral psychology as a framework for evaluating the impact of these different models. I’m not overly familiar with this approach, but on the surface, it seems to make sense. An intriguing topic, one I will revisit in the future when I have more time to review.

VR Adoption Continues Apace

Manufacturers shipped a million VR headsets in the third quarter, according to news outlets. From a Canalys report:

Virtual reality headset shipments are showing no signs of slowing, as the quarterly total exceeded 1 million units for the first time in Q3 2017. Sony took the lead, shipping more than 490,000 PlayStation VR (PS VR) sets in Q3. It was followed by Oculus, which shipped 210,000 of its Rift headsets. HTC took third place, shipping 160,000 Vive VR units. Collectively, Sony, Oculus and HTC made up 86% of the total market in Q3 2017

The hardware is still too expensive in my opinion, but it’s hard to deny that VR peripherals are gaining considerable traction. It looks like Sony is reigning supreme at the moment, and that’s not surprising. Compared to the Vive and Oculus Rift, it has strong brand recognition, cheaper to get into, and only has one configuration to choose from. Buy a PS4 Pro and a PS VR headset and you’re good to go. The other brands, on the other hand, not so much.

Still waiting for that killer app that makes VR indispensable. I have a hunch it’s not going to come from the game world. There have been interesting games to be sure, but nothing that smashes the large-scale adoption barrier.

Marvel Heroes ends, Gazillion Shutters

Last week, Kotaku and Gamasutra had the story that Disney had severed ties with Gazillion, ending Marvel Heroes support. The company then abruptly closed, laying off most (if not all) employees right before Thanksgiving. From a few embedded tweets in the Gamasutra piece, it appeared that the now ex-employees weren’t receiving any severance. So, hoping for the best for all those affected, right during the holiday season. In the meantime, I’m archiving links to the site. For posterity and all.

  • Main site: http://archive.is/Vf24I
  • Management Team: http://archive.is/pLMYA
  • Board: http://archive.is/tWq1m

There’s a familiar face on the board of directors page. So this what Tom Kalinske has been doing.

NPC Dialog and the NPC World

Natalie Mikkelson penned an informative blog over at Gamasutra about how to craft NPC dialog when world building. From her post:

Three years ago, I became Lo-Fi Games’ dialogue writer for our huge 355 square mile open world RPG, Kenshi. Being a sandbox, there exists no linear narrative to tell Kenshi’s story, which poses a problem: how do you breathe life into a world that has no preset path to take the player’s hand through it? Without narration or cutscene visuals, we’re left with little context for the world and it’s dialogue. Contextless writing in videogames is a subject I’ve found rarely discussed, but fortunately I learned a few things along the way of Kenshi’s development from good old research and simple trial and error… and this guide is the result

Her break down of the different types of dialog is particular insightful.

I’ve been spending more time in Phantom Pain again, which is of course a huge open world adventure game. The maps feel alive, thanks to the many NPCs. Enemy NPCs, for the most part. Creating believable NPCs that are also functional in the game world is a huge topic, and one I’ve been investigating for a while now.

Some of the games listed in the article (and the insightful comments):

  • Witcher 3
  • Dragon Age
  • Skyrim
  • Oblivion
  • Wolf Among Us
  • Walking Dead
  • Wolfenstein: New Order
  • Trails in the Sky

And of course, the game she’s written dialog for, Kenshi. This looks like an interesting game, not that I have room on my back catalog for yet another RPG. This is a substantive topic, one I’ll have to let churn for a while longer before I can give analysis. But this guide is a good starting point.