E3 2017 Thoughts and Reactions

Quick post today for my final E3 2017 thoughts. Firstly, Happy Father’s Day to the dads out there. I’ll be resuming a regular schedule now that E3 is over. Starting tomorrow I’ll give an update on the Makers from the last two weeks, and we’ll get back to Read From Memory: FFVII and some long plays, among other things.

If you need a refresher, I listed all of the games that got some time during the pressers:

“Winner” of E3 2017

Anway, my E3 2017 thoughts: Overall I found the pressers underwhelming this year. I know the game journos get obsessed with who “won” E3. In my view, as the media gets more democratized every year, the trade show has become less important. Can anybody actually “win” an event that’s becoming irrelevant? But we should respect tradition, right? And we have our pet companies or products we like to root for and see do well. So if I had to choose, I would give “Winner of E3 2017” to Ubisoft. They had a strong presentation: they didn’t pander with social media stars like EA and didn’t show off a collection of trailers for games we already knew about (Bethesda). They also get points for showing off original IP. Skull & Bones looked spectacular.

And come on, they announced Beyond Good & Evil 2. It may not be on the same tier as say Half-Life 3 as far as legendary whales still out there, but it was getting close. I have some reservations about Ancel’s opus, as do others, particularly about the tone and feel of the game.  But for now, let’s bask in the glow of the fact that the sleeper hit of 2003 is finally getting its long overdue sequel.

Console Makers at E3

I wasn’t particularly enthused by the Microsoft presser, though I admit they did much better this year overall in their presentation. The XBox One X (X.B.O.X.), formerly Project Scorpio, feels pricey at $500. This appears to be a new precedent with this generation: initial release of the platform; a slim-line revision of the hardware and price drop; a “1.5” hardware update half way through the cycle; followed by an ultra souped-up version to round it out. But something tells me that you whiffed when the most buzz you produce is from backward compatibility with your very old games and a controversy over an indie developer’s 3-year-old tweets.

Sony coasted this year, despite their very impressive stage theatrics. Ending the conference with a lengthy Spider-man demo says it all. But they may have earned it. Four years into this generation of consoles, it’s pretty safe to say that Sony has “won” the battle this round. I wonder about their commitment to VR. There are some impressive looking games, but the jury’s still out if it remains a fad. Practically speaking a $800+ buy-in for the tech is still a bit too rich for my blood for novelty. As for the rest, I just want to play the games at this point: God of War 4, a new Uncharted, etc.

As for Nintendo, well, they’ve cut down on their press conferences, which I still think was a wise move on their part. Metroid Prime 4 got a pretty announcement trailer and generated the associated buzz, though I’m still a little mystified that they chose not to give the Samus Returns remake any time during the presentation. Mario Odyssey looks fantastic, and the news about the core Pokemon RPG was somewhat exciting for a quite a few. Nintendo remains a unique creature. I would like to see more for the Switch regarding third party support, though with Rocket League, Minecraft cross platform with Xbox, and their own version of Skyrim, FIFA, etc., I grudgingly admit that they’ve got most of the bases covered.

Panels

I only managed to catch one panel with Hideo Kojima. It was what you would expect: a softball session mainly about the movies he enjoys and some of his philosophy on making games that we’ve all heard him talk about before. As promised, there was no news about Death Stranding at all. I wonder if the lingering conflict with Konami is having any effect on the game’s delivery? The best place to find out about the influence movies had on Kojima as a designer remains a series of essays he wrote over ten years ago for PlayStation UK magazine. They appear (in Japanese…) in the promotional book Metal Gear Solid Naked, but some translations are floating around on the net if you dig.

In closing, E3 2017 wasn’t a great show, and it reflects the declining importance of the big gala on the West Coast. The fact that it was open to the public this year speaks to that. Let’s look forward to GamesCon this summer and the Tokyo Game Show in September.

 

 

Who was the actor in Ocarina of Time?

Zelda University muses on the identity of the actor used as the base for Link’s model in Ocarina of Time. From the post:

The recently released Hyrule Arts and Artefacts book is primarily stuffed to the gills with artwork from the Zelda series’ 30 year history, but that artwork is occasionally adorned with a bit of commentary from Nintendo artists Yusuke Nakano, Satoru Takizawa, and Yoshiki Haruhana. One of the more interesting bits of commentary to emerge is that during development of Ocarina of Time, the design for Link was actually based off of a ‘famous Hollywood actor’.

Paul Myth think a young Leonardo DiCaprio fits the bill.

I wasn’t aware how much Japanese game artists take inspiration from Hollywood until a few years ago when I saw this side-by-side:

Fantasy Baseball Update Week Two (and One)

I missed last week’s update for fantasy baseball. The Makers are in their textbook form with awful pitching and good offense. I took a bad loss Week One but managed to squeak out a win in Week Two. So I’m off to a 1-1 start in 2017. There was no shame in losing to last year’s league champion, who also had the first pick in the draft. He narrowly won in Week Two. Things tend to return to the happy mediums, and if my pitching manages to stabilize (I have three number 1 starters on my squad) I may be able to make a serious go at the playoffs. Anyway, here’s how the Makers did. Afterward, I’ll talk about my transactions and look ahead to Week 3.

Week One: Fantasy Futility

I was eager to see how my top tier pitcher Madison Bumgarner would do. It was a two start week for him as well, so I hoped he would put up enough points to put into striking distance for a Victory. His results? He went 0-2, with a rough loss in his first outing. To make matters worse, Quintana (White Sox) and Gray (Rockies) did poorly as well. In fact, my starters only managed to win three games with a reliever picking up another W. That’s pretty terrible. But special mention goes to Sam Dyson, closer for the Rangers. He put up negative thirty-nine points in Week One. You read that right. He blew up three times and coughed up a lot of homers. I was leery of him since he had turned in a strong performance in the World Baseball Classic. Guys who do well in that tournament don’t seem to keep doing well once they return to the MLB. I suspect he’s hiding an injury. Or the league adapted to him. Either way, it’s the Rangers’ problem in RL.

Points Breakdown for Week One

All told the Makers put up 301 points, which is far short of my goal of 70-80 points per day. Dyson’s “contribution” knocked my final tally down into the 280s. My best pitcher was Bumgarner as expected but he still only managed to earn 36 points. My top offensive player was Margot for the Padres with 28 points. I drafted him at pick 277 overall. Go figure. Miguel Cabrera, my first round pick, was a nonfactor with -2 points.

Week 2: Improvements and Injuries

The pitching did somewhat better this week. I booted Dyson after he blew up again. My new problem child is Quintana. More on that in a moment. The injury bug is coming around my roster. I lost my starting catcher and my starting shortstop to the DL before the week began, and starter followed them as a bookend. I had drafted Cervelli to be my “backup” catcher, and he’s done quite well in that role, but he’s still not a great long term option. Losing Jean Segura hurts more though he’s not a top-tier shortstop. My infield is quite thin after I decided to draft an additional outfielder. John Gray, a starter for the Rockies, left Saturday with an injury which turned out to be a stress fracture. So he’s done for a while.

For all that, I managed to pick up a win.

Points Breakdown for Week Two

This time the Makers put up 331 points, a 30 point improvement over last week and 48 overall. That was just enough to sneak past my opponent who ended with 326. As Wellington once said, it was a damn near-run thing. I’m thanking my lucky stars one of his closers got the Dyson Effect on the last day, blowing up spectacularly for -12 points. Such is life and baseball. Once more my late drafts managed to exceed all expectations. Inciarte was my top offensive player, tallying 46 points (really?). I picked him at spot 204. Cabrera did better with 30 points this week, but he’s now DTD thanks to fouling off a pitch. On the pitching side, Johny Cueto was my best thrower with 24 points. Bumgarner put up a measly 4 points. The same as Adam Warren.

Roster Changes

As I mentioned, I lost Sanchez and Segura to the DL, and I jettisoned Dyson. I elected to fill the open slots with pitching for the time being. I picked up Casilla (A’s), Devenski (Astros?) and Warren (Yankees) on the strength of their reps as relievers. They rewarded me with one point total. Not a great return for three transactions to say the least. But at least I limited the Dyson Factor and didn’t end up in the red thanks to them. I was about to get brave and pull the trigger on drafting Sabathia, who is in the midst of an alcohol-free contract year renaissance. Alas somebody else picked him up for a start spot just before I could get him. C’est la vie.

I’m still looking to fix my pitchers. It would be great if any my top starters could produce wins. Bumgarner took a loss this week, and Quintana may be the new Dyson. I wasn’t pleased with his previous start. Nor was I encouraged by his optimistic take on his loss this week (“you know, after I stunk up the joint, I was pretty good”). I’ll give him one more start before I seriously look to drop him. He may be feeling the pressure of being a trade piece for the White Sox or their new top guy. I don’t know what. But when you let the A’s and the Twins knock you around, your status as the front-of-the-rotation guy is questionable.

Outlook

The Makers are currently sitting in 9th place overall in the league. My team leads in no categories. That’s cause for concern. But for Week 3 I’m looking to continue the steady pace of 45 points per days. Looking at how the other teams are doing I think that’s reasonable. 70-80 points per day may not be an attainable goal in this league. I’m going to be looking for a new starter, potentially two if Quintana continues to struggle. I think Jean Segara will be returning from the DL, so that’s a plus.

On the whole, I have a weird week. The baseball schedule is weird in April eh? Bumgarner goes again on Wednesday, and then I have the rest of the rotation going on Friday. I’m not comfortable without having a starter going at least every day, but such is the price you pay for drafting guys in similar positions on the depth chart. The team I’m up against nearly defeated the league champion last week. So it looks to be a tough slog.

Overall, it’s an OK start to the season given my unfavorable position in the draft this year and the nature of the game itself.

Essays on Adventure Modules

Ever wonder what game designers think of their favorite modules? Then you should read Our Favorite Adventure Modules And What We Learned From Them. These essays were Kickstarter updates for How to Write Adventures that Don’t Suck. Several contributors to that book wrote about their favorite modules. Goodman Games collected them into an ebook as a stretch goal reward. The essays celebrate old favorites while demonstrating sources of inspiration for game designers. I’ve read all the essays over and noted a few that resonated with me. I’ll talk about that below. As an added bonus I’ve provided links to the selected modules and author profiles.

The Adventure Modules

There are sixteen essays total, most no longer than two pages. I appreciate the brevity considering the heft of HTWADMTDS. It ends up being a good primer on a lot of the classic modules of D&D and AD&D. I’ve never heard of some of these before. Here’s a list of a few discussed. Click the titles if you’re interested in poking through these modules.

There were some other shout outs to non-D&D sources as well.

The Essays

Two essays stood out to me. First, “The Solitaire Adventure That Changed My Life” by Lester Smith. I had the experience that Smith describes but in reverse. I was the DM who had to “wing it” with a bare bones adventure. It led to one of the more memorable adventures I ran with my old group. An issue of Dungeon had come in. I remember the cover art showed a man dying because a woman poisoned him. It was probably more fleshed out in the magazine (it was). But before I could read it, most of my group stopped by after school. We decided we wanted to play D&D. Since I was the regular DM of the group… So I skimmed the issue and put something together while the guys rolled out characters. We had a lot of fun as they investigated a manor haunted by this musician’s vengeful ghost.

The second essay relevant to me was “The First Campaign” by Kevin Melka. D&D like many other “hardcore” hobbies has a bit of an on-boarding problem for new players. Old D&D, in the days before the ubiquitous Internet, in particular, was confusing for people new to it all. I’m not talking about the rules per se; I mean what adventures to play and buy.

Product Confusion

What was the difference between D&D and AD&D and AD&D2e? What about different role playing systems altogether? Could you buy a box set, like say Rod of Seven Parts, and play a game of D&D with your buddies like you could a board game? Or did you have to buy all those $20+ companion books to go along with it?

Not a lot of information was available in those days. If you were like me and you had no local gaming store, who could we go to? (We had plenty of comic book stores and plenty of toy model stores around. But those owners always made it quite clear they were not interested in D&D. Or kids asking about it.). So my friends and I figured it out as best we could, and we still had a lot of fun with what we did come up with. When I got to college and meet some gamers, I noted how much more they knew about the game. Heck, they knew more about and the ecosystems of RPGs in general. I had no idea how to run real campaigns for instance. So Melka’s piece hit home for me.

The links to the essays are below. They were project updates on Kickstarter so scroll past the blather to get to the good stuff.

  1. A Bit About Tsojcanth: My Favorite Module, With A Caveat
  2. Markessa and the Madman: the Secret of the Slaver’s Stockade
  3. Castlemania
  4. Falling in love in the Desert
  5. Me against Nosnra
  6. My Favorite Published Adventure: The Sample Dungeon
  7. We Did the Mash
  8. The Caverns of Thracia
  9. The First Campaign
  10. The Solitaire Adventure that Changed My Life
  11. Playtesting a Legend
  12. The Random Dungeon Generator
  13. My Favorite Adventures
  14. My All Timey Favoritest Adventure Ever
  15. The Sinister Secret of Saltmarsh
  16. A blast from the past

Use for a Game Designer

I’ve dabbled in game design for over a decade now and have run a few campaigns via email over the last few years. Reading this book has been useful for getting others’ perspectives on game design. We all know our strengths and weaknesses as GMs. It’s good practice to play to strengths rather than compensate for weaknesses. In my case I’m pretty terrible at traps and puzzles. But still, I like to see what’s out there. I’m already interested in picking up The Caverns of Thracia to get a taste of the level design. And I do tend to make funhouse dungeons like Castle Amber. There’s a lot for me to learn and grow as a designer. I’ll talk about that more next week when I go over HTWAMTDS in more detail.

You can get a copy of How To Write Adventure Modules That Don’t Suck herefor $7.

Kojima on Ghost in the Shell

Since his split from Konami, Hideo Kojima has branded himself as an artistic Wiseman. I use this term for creators who love to talk about other mediums and know what they’re talking about. Not that Kojima never did this before, but now that he’s free of his old company it feels like he’s been indulging this habit more often (how many game designers have a LEGO figure?). He’s written several essays about films at Glixel, most recently about Ghost in the Shell. It’s an interesting read. Read the whole thing there.

Kojima in the Shell

Kojima’s thesis is that the “ghost” of a work is the theme of the original idea, and “the shell” is the medium of the idea. He states that the original story was printed as a weekly serial in a popular magazine. That was the way it worked in those days. I know next to nothing about magna, so I take his word for it. The serials were collected into a book so you could read the full story “over and over.” A book was a better shell since you could digest the story’s philosophical musings. In this sense, Kojima says the later Direct-to-Video anime also got the “shell” right. You can watch it as many times as you want and appreciate its “ghost.” So how does the 2017 live action movie do?

“As a Hollywood movie, it finds a certain degree of success by interpreting the ‘ghost’ of the story – the fundamental theme – through its visual presentation, and it’s actually extremely successful at fitting into the shell of a Hollywood blockbuster.”

But…

“As a real fan of the original works, though, I can’t help but feel that the production was trapped in the shell of the original, and as a result, it fails to come into its own.”

Critiquing the Shells

Essentially his critique boils down to: the movie is an unimaginative remake of the anime. In other words, it’s a “safe” adaptation. Zack Snyder’s Watchmen also suffered from the same problem.

The philosophy of dualism is beyond the scope of this plain, simple gaming blog. But consider Kojima’s insight in the context of translated experiences. He explains that the original work poses the question “what does it mean to be human?” Contrast this with the Scarlett Johansson movie which asks “who am I?”. To put it in gaming terms, this is the difference between a strategy game and a mere riddle. Think of any strategy game you know and consider how much a session engages your mind. A riddle is only good one time: once you know the answer, the riddle is no longer a game you can enjoy. In this case, it’s the riddle of identity.

I’m going to skip the Hollywood version and watch the anime. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen it anyway.

Atari 2600 Retrospective

I’ve been reading, off and on, Steven Kent’s 2004 tome The Ultimate History of Video Games. It has a lot of space dedicated to Atari and the Atari 2600 in general. It’s a good book but probably needed to be written as a series to really be an “ultimate” history. Technically the Atari 2600 was the first console I ever played along side the Colecovision but I was all of two years old at the time. I couldn’t appreciate it and it doesn’t hold the same place in my heart as the NES does. Still we can’t deny the place it holds in history. It’s instructive to us to see where it fit into the overall picture of the industry, and the hobby.

Chronicling the Atari 2600

Here’s a video by DaveControl about the Atari 2600. It’s 13 minutes long and gives you a good background on the system. Notice he has Steven Kent’s book listed as a source, so you can probably spare yourself reading it if you just watch this video:

Note the discussion about the infamous ET game at the 10:45 mark. Imagine having 5 weeks to bang out an entire game on your own without the benefit of any sort of IDE. Or even having an artist to produce art for the project.

Atari’s Legacy

Anyhow, Atari’s legacy is multifacted to be sure. Ever wondered about Activision’s rise to prominence in the industry? It was founded by ex Atari employees with axes to grind. Suffered through a birthday party at a Chuck E Cheese recently? Thank Atari founder Nolan Bushnell for that. How about the razor and blade business model that drives the pricing of “cheap” console hardware and expensive game software? Atari gave that to us with the 2600.

I’m being facetious of course. At a time when the home market was very much in play Atari paved the way for every console since and much of the characteristics we come to expect from them: including decent controllers and top notch software. For that Atari and the Atari 2600 will always have an honored place in the pantheon.

Breath of the Wild sales

Came across this clickbait when looking for sales data on Breath of the Wild:

The Nintendo Switch has been given a new update, which means users can now check out the latest eShop charts.

But fans expecting Zelda: Breath of the Wild to be sitting pretty at the top of the charts will be surprised to find out that it doesn’t even make the top 5.

I admit to a little surprise that Breath of the Wild is currently number 7 in Nintendo’s eShop. Now, we don’t know how Nintendo calculates and populates that chart. I don’t believe that any concrete sales data would be available to the general public. However, we can make some good guesses as to how a game is relatively doing.  Really, considering Breath of the Wild was the launch title and Nintendo reportedly moved historic numbers of Switches, I assume it’s the overall best selling game in the library. For the moment.

Also, Amazon lists Breath of the Wild at Number 9 overall in all of Video Games categories.

Read From Memory: FFVII part 3

I had a chance to play for about an hour today. Where we last left off Cloud had just escorted Aeris from the church to her home in the slums of sector 5.

Sector 5 slums is really a small area, and a dump as the name implies. Interesting tidbit is meeting a sick man with a number 2 tattoo. He says gibberish and I thought you could get some items in a small side quest to cure him. That was my memories of the upcoming sidequest blending in. I also never knew that you could interact with one of the NPC’s television sets. If you do you’ll get a breaking news broadcast that updates you about your recent bombing mission in Sector 4. Once again painting AVALANCHE as terrorists.

Anyhow, you meet Aeris’ mother, Elmyra Gainsborough, once you reach their house. It’s quite nice for a poor area with a big yard. Aeris has promised to escort Cloud to the Sector 7 gate, past Sector 6, and her mother, apparently not into strong parenting at all, gives her ascent. However, as Aeris goes to prepare the spare bed for Cloud, Elmyra asks Cloud to leave in the dead of night. Mentioning something about him being in SOLDIER and her not wanting Aeris’ heart broken again.

Ut oh.

When Cloud goes to bed, he has a brief conversation with the disembodied voice. It’s not clear if its him or somebody else. The voice mentions that the bed was nice, “like last time” or something, and then Cloud has a flashback to a similar scene. A woman is expressing her worries about him, and then suggests he needs to date somebody older. “To take care of him.” Cloud replies: “Not interested.” When I was younger I always assumed this woman was Cloud’s mom. If that’s the case, this conversation got a whole lot creepier…

Cloud manages to leave unnoticed but Aeris has already teleported to the exit to Sector 6. After deliberating and acting tough, Cloud agrees to bring her with him to Sector 7. The market place in Sector 6 and the road to get to it gets talked up like it’s an epic adventure. The road ends up being one screen with an obnoxious path and bizarre enemies. You reach a playground with huge cat playscapes and Aeris takes out a minute to reminiscence, Cloud dutifully playing the listening party. The sector 7 gate is visible, and it actually opens. A stage coach pulled by a chocobo exits and as it turns to your right, you see Tifa on the back. She’s wearing a dress of some sort. Puzzled by this Cloud and Aeris go to investigate.

Sector 6 Wall Market

The Wall Market is a cool looking area. There are five screens total and lots of NPCs to talk to. You’re not given any clue as to where Tifa might be, nor is it obvious where that stagecoach managed to squeeze through the narrow alleys between shops, or where it parked. You have to investigate the area and talk to people. As others have noted, it’s pretty comical when Aeris tells you that you have to find Tifa soon because a place like the Wall Market is “pretty scary for a girl.” As if neither of them can handle themselves after living in the slums for a while.

After you explore the starting area if you head east you’ll come to the Honey Bee Inn. This was one of the scenes I mentioned in my overview that feels like a subtle jab at Nintendo; both its history and its censorship of “edgy” themes. (Though I have to say the whole game feels like a middle finger to the Big N.) There’s a crowd of socially retarded guys trying to get in. But the doorman will tell you to scram if you don’t have a Membership card (quest item). The chubby middle aged man right in front of him will tell you about Tifa, after he insults you of course. He explains that she’s the newest girl but she’s being “interviewed” by local strong man Don Corneo. The Don apparently “interviews” all new arrivals since he “wants to settle down.” Seems to me that if this is true then he’s not serious about it, as aspiring prostitutes aren’t marriage material. But it does help cement Don Corneo as a buffoon. And it’s just a game, right?

Anyway, if you head back to the start and then north, you’ll get to the mansion of Don Corneo. The door man here will tell you to beat it, since the Don is not into men. Foreshadowing! As you go to leave, Aeris tells the man that she’ll come back with a cute friend. Yes, it’s time for the Cloud crossdressing experience.

Cloud in Drag

All you really need to advance the quest is a dress and a wig. There are multitudes of FAQs and guides that will explain how to proceed and get the necessary items if you happen to come across this page looking for a walkthrough. There are two possible paths: either dress up so well that the Don picks you for the “interview” session, which I believe is the canonical story, or do the bare minimum and he picks Aeris. A few points of this quest that I thought were interesting, or I missed/forgot about.

Honey Bee Inn

If you explore the Honey Bee Inn, there are two occupied rooms and two empty rooms to enter. You get some inner thoughts of the madam(?) as she’s guiding you through the process. None of them are flattering to Cloud, as you can imagine. I never explored the occupied rooms before. You’re given the choice of listening or peeking through each room’s keyhole. If you peep, you’ll see in one of them (the Queen Room) that there’s a satanic ritual going on (yes really). Apparently this is what Shinra executives like to do on their down time. It also provides some plot foreshadowing. The other room (Lover’s Room) has two old people in it who call each other grandma and grandpa. Apparently their son rented them this room in an attempt for each other to spice up their relationship. I don’t know about you guys, but I wouldn’t rent a room at a brothel for my folks. Ever.

Anyway, if you follow the madam to one of the two unoccupied rooms, you advance the quest. The Group room and the “&$#%” room. If you choose the “&$#%” room you’ll have a bizarre out of body experience and meet Mukki. If you go to the Group room, you’ll get a homoerotic “bath” with Mukki and a group of his pals. Having always chosen the “&$#%” room in the past, I went with the Group room for fun this time. Cloud doesn’t go psychotically haywire like the other room but he does get very…uncomfortable. Either way you’re not getting out of it without meeting Mukki. For your troubles you’ll either get some lingerie or bikini briefs, and if you go to the staff room you can ask one of the “honey-bees” to give you make up.

Once you exit, all of the dudes outside are fawning over Aeris. She’s managed to rebuff their advances and collect some gil from them in exchange for flowers. I wonder if that gil goes to the party fund…doubtful.  A bizarre sequence, in any case. You can read more about the Honey Bee Inn and what didn’t make the cut in the English version here.

Rescuing Tifa

Gathering the rest of Cloud’s outfit involves getting a drunk tailor out of his stupor long enough to fashion you a dress and convincing “big bro” to give you a wig.  You can also obtain a tiara from a lazy shop owner if you’re willing to spend the money. The encounter with big bro is a mini game at the gym that involves Cloud doing as many squats as he can against one of big bro’s disciples. Getting pretty involves pain, I think is the game’s message here.  Big bro will say something to that effect. If you win you’ll receive a blonde wig, making Cloud more desirable over a fairer haired maiden, I suppose. After you pick up the dress from the tailor, Aeris will also select a dress and doll herself up for the occasion.

Heading back to Don Corneo’s mansion, the doorman will now be very complimentary of you both and allow you in. The receptionist inside will instruct you to wait while he notifies the Don that you have arrived. I take it that Corneo practices formidable OPSec by not permitting phones in his home. You’re free to look for Tifa.

FF7 screenshot - Don Corneo's dungeon
Finding Tifa in the Don’s waiting room

This will lead you down some long, candle lit stairs to a temple where human sacrifices are performed. Or a sex dungeon, depending on how you look at it. Either way it’s a weird room, but Tifa is here. After her initial shock at your get up, she’ll firmly cement you into the BFF-zone for Aeris’ benefit. They share in common amusement at your discomfort and beta male status. Tifa then reveals why she’s at the mansion: the Don has been sniffing around the bar, looking for evidence of AVALANCHE. Barret roughed up the PIs and considered the matter closed. But Tifa was uneasy with it all so she decided to come meet the Don herself to see what he had found out about their terror cell. In order to do that she has to get “interviewed” by the man. Aeris then proposes that since they are three of them, and the Don views three ladies at a time, they can get the information no matter what. Tifa readily agrees to this plan, and the assistant finally returns, bemoaning “women nowadays” “who don’t listen.”

Meeting Don Corneo

At last, your group is brought before the Don. The Don Coreno character model looks a little like the President Shinra model, but with a cigarette, monocle, and Mohawk. Despite his girth he gleefully hops onto and over his desk to evaluate you. If you got all the correct quest items, he’ll choose Cloud as his interviewee for the evening. The other two are given to his minions.

In his bedroom you get several amusing dialog trees to choose from. Eventually Cloud will reveal his true self, and Tifa and Aeris will bust in. Threatening the Don with castration several times, he will reveal that Shinra is planning to destroy Sector 7 entirely in order to eliminate AVALANCHE and send a message to any other lower city dissident groups. The plan is to bomb the pillar holding up a “plate” above the slums. That way the incident can be blamed on AVALANCHE. Devious, right?

Well as you go to leave, you get one last dialog choice with Corneo. He asks why you think he was willing to tell you about the Plan. The distraction gives him enough time to activate a trapdoor to send you to your doom. Not unlike Jabba the Hutt, really. You fall down  to somewhere even lower than the slums, and the game fades to black.

Shinra Executive Meeting

The game goes into exposition mode in which President Shinra meets with  his henchmen, Heidegger and Reeve. I’ll have more to say about the villains of Final Fantasy VII in a later post. It’s unclear at this point if Heidegger is related to existentialist and Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger. In any case they simply reiterate what Don Corneo told you: they play to destroy Sector 7 entirely with a bomb, which will be blamed on AVALANCHE, and Shinra will come in and handle the clean up, getting a PR boost presumably. Reeve is adamantly opposed to this plan, but is shut down by the president, who suggests he take a few days off.  It’s an unexpected level of depth from what could otherwise be cardboard cutouts, and perhaps because I’m paying more attention this time, I appreciated it more.

Boss Fight: Abs

Back to our heroes, Cloud checks on Tifa and Aeris, who have survived the drop. You are now in the sewers, and are soon attacked by a creature named Abs. It has some relatively powerful attacks but I was able to defeat it without too much trouble. Tifa despairs a bit, saying they have no time to stop the bombing, but Aeris cheers her up. Heading two screens up and beating off a few random encounters, you eventually make it to the Train Graveyard, where I stopped for the moment.

Mass Effect Andromeda First Weekend

So how did Bioware’s ballyhooed follow up to the Mass Effect trilogy do in the early going? A tale in two screenshots:

Mass Effect Andromeda page on Amazon, as of March 25 2017
Mass Effect Andromeda page on Amazon, as of March 25 2017

Amazon shows 3 stars for the PS4 version, with 152 reviews. 3.5 stars for the XOne version, with 65 reviews. If there’s any silver lining for EA, only 9 of the 41 One star reviews are verified purchases, with 8 of 23 of the Two star reviews the same. 20 of 51 of the Five stars are verified. On the Xbox One version, 9 of 10 One stars are verified, 2 of 8 of the Two stars are verified, and  20 of 32 Five stars are verified. I doubt many of the verified purchases are shills or paid reviews. So on PS4, negative and positive consumer reaction has been more or less equal, whereas on XONE it’s skewed toward more positive. For now.

This is of course, not scientifically valid, small sample size, all the usual caveats about biases apply, etc etc.

One last tidbit: while it’s currently sitting at number 20 on the best sellers list for PS4 games, it’s nowhere to be found in the Movers & Shakers list.

Meanwhile, at Metacritic:

Mass Effect Andromeda Metacritic page 3/25/2017
Mass Effect Andromeda PS4 Metacritic page as of March 25, 2017

Mixed critical reaction, Generally Unfavorable user reviews. Skewing slightly more positive on the Critical side for XONE (7.7), slightly more negative on the User side (4.2).

Looks like Bioware and EA managed to polarize the fan base and get merely tepid critical response. I have to wonder what they were thinking going for a release during the Switch’s launch window. Not that they could easily alter plans once Zelda’s release date was announced. But as the saying goes, don’t get into land wars in Asia, or go up against a Sicilian when death is on the line. Also don’t release a massive RPG anywhere near to a new Legend of Zelda.

I have found no reliable estimates as to how much it cost to develop this game, but given the rumored 40 million dollar price tag, I’m guessing they need to sell a figure north of 2 million copies to break even on that. Should be easily obtainable for a AAA game with brand recognition. Right?