Tuesday, August 19, 2014

On Ethics

It seems that a former RockPaperShotgun writer, Nathan Grayson - who recently made the switch to Kotaku - may have engaged in a personal relationship with the female developer of a game (Zoe Quinn, developer of Depression Quest) he wrote about professionally. It's not clear (a) whether this is true (although circumstantial evidence does seem to suggest that the dalliance took place - but that largely comes down to believing someone's word about it), (b) if it is true, that it happened before he started writing about the game or after, or (c) whether even if it took place, that the liaison influenced his coverage of the game in any way.

This is a story that you are not going to read on most mainstream gaming sites anytime soon because they do not seem to be interested in reporting it right now (you're certainly not going to be reading about it on Kotaku or RPS, and even parts of Reddit are censoring some links). Perhaps some of them are not reporting it because it's unconfirmed, or because it's too much like slut-shaming, or even that it perhaps shines a light on an aspect of the gaming press that they would much prefer you not to be talking about: that there can be some unhealthy relationships between writers and developers/publishers. I am also not going to post any links to the more salacious parts of the story; you can find that stuff by yourself if that's what you want to do.

What matters is this: ethically, something like this is a big problem. Even if the worst parts of the allegations are not true, and that perhaps these two people just fell into a personal relationship after the business relationship was concluded, it looks absolutely terrible from an ethical standpoint. It could taint any work Nathan Grayson has done in the past, as well as making it more difficult for people to trust his work in the future knowing that something like this has happened in the past. And that's all if it's untrue; if something more underhand did occur and it was proven that positive coverage was traded for, uh, "personal services", then his career as a gaming writer may well be over. Clearly, even if it is true then admittance of that fact would effectively be career suicide, and so that's something you are probably not going to see happen. The writer in question was listed in the credits of the game concerned under the "Special Thanks" section, that much is true and verifiable.

Ironically, if the sexes were reversed and it was a female writer and male developer, you would see this plastered all over sites such as Gawker's Jezebel. Given that something like this does not fit Jezebel's anti-men narrative though, Gawker sites will likely just try to let it blow over, and perhaps the writer in question will be quietly asked to seek employment elsewhere, or take a long break.

Ethics is not a small country in Eastern Europe, but something all of us should aspire to every day, whether we're a doctor, lawyer, writer, or a caretaker. In this case, even if the relationship took place under the most innocuous of circumstances, then Nathan Grayson still failed the ethical test that prevents the phrase "gaming journalism" from being something many people can take seriously.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Servers Gone Wild(Star)

Today marked the first day of Wildstar's pre-release name reservation system, whereby people that had pre-ordered the game (like myself) would be able to log in and reserve a name for use once the game launches later this month. Sounds cool, right? A guaranteed way to be able to get your chosen name ahead of time instead of having to race everyone else on launch day for it. Well...not so much.

Being merciful: it was poorly executed; to be less merciful: it was a shambles from beginning to end.

To begin with, the name reservation system was meant to go live at 1pm Central, but once 1pm Central rolled around with the system (a) nowhere in sight, and (b) the site running as fast as molasses uphill, Carbine pushed the time forward to 3pm Central. Oh well, these things happen. Cue 3pm Central, and the site is almost unusable still. Half the time it didn't show that you were logged in correctly, and then even when it did, the "Reserve" button did not actually do anything. After 90 minutes of constantly refreshing the page, hoping the "Reserve" button showed up and actually connected me to the system correctly, I finally seemed to get through and was able to reserve my chosen name. I was wanting to hit something by the end of it though, as the process was about as annoying as something gets without you being able to divorce it. Carbine repeated their mantra that their site was under heavy load and people should just continue to keep trying, all through the afternoon, before one of their devs posted on Reddit that there were some background issues affecting the site that they were trying to track down.

Then, a couple of hours ago when I went to double-check that the reservations were still there, I found that I had to again reserve them. What happened to the reservation from earlier? Did it vanish into the ether like some kind of electoral manifesto pledge? What would have happened if someone else had tried to reserve my names in those intervening few hours? Why am I asking you all these questions? Either way, I duly reserved them - again - and this time they seem to be sticking, for now at least.

I feel this whole situation was handled very poorly by Carbine, which is annoying because I genuinely like almost everything they have done with regards to Wildstar, both in terms of the game's development choices and the obvious good humour they have placed in the game and its promotion. As highly as I think of them though, I can't give them a pass for the sloppiness they dished out today. It needed to be a much simpler system, perhaps incorporating some kind of queue so that constant refreshing / prayer wasn't required in order to try and reserve your name of choice. Carbine knew exactly how many pre-orders they have sold up to this point, and should have been able to gauge extremely accurately the amount of load they would need to plan for in these first couple of days of the system going live. No one is looking for perfection (and if you are then you're going to be sorely disappointed, in all walks of life), but when mistakes are made based on information already known at the time, that's when my patience and good grace is tested, and judging by the Internet I am not the only one to think like this today.

Here's the bottom line: Wildstar looks like a great game, and based on what I've played of the beta, it delivers as a cutting-edge MMO experience. I like the game, and I like Carbine, but they are fast going to lose people's good wishes if they have many repeats of today's nonsense. Some people have already tried to draw parallels between the name reservation debacle and how the launch of the game will be; I for one think it's far too early to draw those sorts of conclusions. Even the best of us has a bad day on occasion, and Carbine have done too many good things for me to write them off over one incident. At the same time, if things like this happen again in the future then it becomes a pattern, not a one-off. Right now it is a one-off - and let's hope that's where it stays.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Wildstar vs. The Elder Scrolls Online

Thanks to both of the NDAs being lifted on each of these games (Wildstar's first, to no one's surprise) I wanted to give a run-down of what you can expect from these if you choose to pick one or both up.

I played a few beta weekends for Wildstar, and a couple for TESO. Wildstar is very fun and innovative, with fresh twists on established MMO mechanics, and TESO, well, isn't.

I half-considered ending this piece there, but I suspect most of you will want more details, so here goes...

Wildstar is just plain fun. I've been following its development for a couple of years, (and watching the dev team's awesome Devspeak videos) so was familiar with the tone and setting of the game, and whilst there's not a great deal terribly original (other than Paths, which I'll touch on), the game is extremely polished, looks and runs amazing, and is just generally very fun to play. It's your usual MMO fare, so pick a faction, pick a race, pick a class, and uniquely for Wildstar you also have to pick a Path. Paths essentially let you play the game the way you want, and tailor to different playstyles; there are four available: Soldier, Explorer, Scientist, and Settler. The Soldier receives special combat quests, the Explorer receives jumping and cartography quests, the Scientist gets quests to find and identify new objects and species, and finally the Settler constructs new outposts and waystations that give anyone that uses them various buffs and protections. This is one of Wildstar's best features, and really sets it apart from any other MMO. I personally played an Explorer, and some of the jumping puzzles were quite devious in their own way.

Wildstar's "telegraph" system is something that's been seen in other MMOs, but not quite to this quality or scale. Essentially, every mob (and even your own abilities) will place down patterns on the ground to show where they are about to strike, and it's up to you to move out of the way before the attack completes and hits you. Different mobs have different telegraphs, and if you let some of them connect they can outright kill you in one hit, so it's best to try and avoid them when possible. This adds a bit more interactivity to MMO combat than I've seen before, and puts the onus firmly on the player to survive, instead of being able to blame the RNG for an unlucky hit. Essentially, if you die it's because you suck at avoiding being hit.

Questing is fun, if not terribly original. In addition to receiving quests from the zone you will also receive quests based on whichever Path you selected. There are group quests, which often require needing to kill a large raid-type boss with a group, or several groups if they're strong. Housing becomes available at level 14, and PvP is also something you can do, although I haven't yet. Carbine also have a lot planned for endgame (for max level characters), including 40-man raids (as well as easier 20-man raids), instanced areas, dungeons, and open PvP. Hamidon, this is not. Ok, I've talked up Wildstar enough, and it's time to turn to the elephant in the room.

So...The Elder Scrolls Online...well, it's not enjoyable, or at least it wasn't for me, nor for around five people I know who all tried it, none of whom particularly liked it. Essentially, when I was playing TESO (admittedly this was about 2 - 3 months ago; I'm sure some things have likely changed since then) it felt like I was playing an early alpha of a game that was being made five years ago. The graphics were...functional, I guess, but nothing amazing to look at. Combat was again, functional, but really not memorable in any special way. The devs have commented that their AI is "groundbreaking", but I can't say that I personally noticed much in that direction.

Beginning at the start though, the warning bells for TESO were ringing even in the tutorial. First off, the game is fully-voiced (unlike Wildstar) and the voice actors themselves are pretty stellar, including Michael Gambon (Albertus Dumbledore from most of the Harry Potter films), John Cleese (Monty Python, A Fish Called Wanda), Jennifer Hale (Femshep from the Mass Effect series) and Kate Beckinsale (from most of the Underworld films), amongst others. So yes, the voice acting is great. Sadly, it's downhill from there. Half way through the tutorial I found a rack where you could see various weapons, and needed to choose one for your character to start with. I clicked one, tried it out, and then tried to click another, only to find that you get to choose one and that's it. In pretty much every tutorial I've played you get to mess around with whatever weapons and abilities you want before making a final selection; not so in TESO, and this put a bad taste in my mouth right from the get-go. You can switch between first and third-person at will, which is a nice touch, but finding interesting things to do is a laborious exercise. Unfortunately, much of the game world is simply empty, marked by rocks, or trees, but not much else, not even random mobs on which to grind experience. TESO's world doesn't actually feel like one, but instead feels like a group of staging areas set one after the other.

TESO's UI's is also clunky, and was clearly designed for fans of the Elder Scrolls series. You don't get a minimap, just a compass at the top of your screen which gives you the general heading for certain quest locations. I am very anti-compass and pro-minimap, so this was particularly aggravating for me, needing to open the full map constantly to properly see where I was actually going. Some quests were interesting, but the totality of the problems were just making me not particularly enjoy the experience, and after a few hours I quit and did not look back. So, full disclosure: maybe the game gets tons better down the line (I think I was 5 - 6 when I stopped), but I kinda doubt it. It's my belief that Wildstar is going to blow TESO out of the water for sheer enjoyment. The only saving grace for TESO may be the number of Elder Scrolls fans out there, because if you loved Morrowind and Skyrim then you're probably going to like TESO a lot more than the average person, such as myself. Still though, I don't think there are enough Elder Scrolls fans in the universe to be able to keep this subscription-only game going; at this point I think Zenimax are attempting to recoup as much of their development expenses through box sales and subscriptions as they can, before converting the game to free-to-play down the line. I will be stunned if there has been no free-to-play announcement for TESO within a year of its release.

This will be the World of Warcraft vs. EverQuest Star Trek Online vs. Star Wars: The Old Republic Guild Wars 2 vs. The Secret World of our time. Two big MMOs enter, but who will be left standing at the end? It's my sincere belief that Wildstar is the superior game, and the one worthy of spending your hard-earned money on. The release dates are right around the corner (4th April for TESO, 3rd June for Wildstar) so it won't be a guessing game for much longer. Go Wildstar!

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Upcoming Games Of 2014 - Part 2

Getting back into it, we begin with...


Developer: Respawn Entertainment
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Expected: 11th March 2014 (NA), 13th March 2014 (EU)

This may be Respawn's first game but don't be fooled, this was the studio formed by Jason West and Vince Zampella following their firing from Infinity Ward by Activision in 2010. They formerly masterminded the Call of Duty series, including Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2, before the unceremonious break-up which resulted in them taking legal action against Activision (the suit was later settled, reportedly very much in West and Zampella's favour).

At first glance Titanfall might seem like your average sci-fi space mech combat fare, but dig a little deeper and there's more going on here. It may not be exactly re-inventing the wheel, but Titanfall looks to combine the best elements of the most popular shooters in recent history, incorporating elements of Tribes (wall-running), Mechwarrior (the, er, mechs, aka Titans) and utilising Valve's Source engine (that powers games such as Portal, Portal 2, and Team Fortress 2) to boot. March is only a couple of months away, so it won't be a long wait to see whether their Call of Duty success was a flash in the pan or an indicator of grander things to come.

The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

Developer: CD Projekt RED
Publisher: CD Projekt / Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Expected: Q2 2014

The latest title in The Witcher series, Wild Hunt continues the story of Geralt, protagonist of the first two games. Sporting the all-new REDEngine 3, the game looks phenomenal in the screenshots and videos released so far by CD Projekt RED, and certainly seems to rival The Division for best-looking engine of this new generation of games.

The Witcher 3 is said to sport the largest world of any open-world game released to date, with the developers boasting that its environment is "20% bigger than Skyrim", which is certainly noteworthy. Hopefully the title will have the gameplay to back that up. Wild Hunt is also said to be 64-bit only due to the new game engine; given that most PC gamers worth their sodium are already using 64-bit CPUs and OS' then this shouldn't be a problem, and is likely one of the big reasons why the visual fidelity of the game looks so exquisite.

Expect to see a release date announced for this very shortly.

Watch Dogs

Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Expected: Q2 2014

The game that took 2013's E3 by storm, Watch Dogs looks to combine an open world (in this case: a near-future Chicago) together with open-ended gameplay, with an emphasis on technology. Hacking traffic lights, cell phones, reading people's emails and obtaining personal information, this is what Watch Dogs is about. Essentially it seems like a slightly lower-tech Deus Ex: Human Revolution, although not linear.

I'll come right out with it: the game looks amazing.

We were already meant to have our hands on it, but the original release date of November 2013 was delayed by Ubisoft, with a spring 2014 now promised, and the extra time being used for "additional polish". I have a hard getting angry with developers and publishers when they are going to use the time to improve the game, especially when it's something like Watch Dogs which from everything I have seen and read looks like it could be something truly spectacular.

Hopefully we'll see a concrete release date going up for this in the very near future.


Developer: Eidos Montreal
Publisher: Square Enix
Expected: 25th February 2014 (NA), 28th February 2014 (EU)

Last but not least we have the reboot of Thief, the stealth series popular in the late 90s and early 2000s. The protagonist from the original games, Garrett, returns in this new title, and he must again satisfy his Robin Hood-esque compulsion to steal from the rich whilst remaining undetected, and using shadows, stealth, and subtlety to his advantage.

Following the success of Dishonored, Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and even indie games such as Mark of the Ninja, stealth seems to be back in fashion, and Thief was one of the genre's original progenitors. Hopefully it can make a welcome return after a decade's absence, as I know many people think of it rather fondly.

And that's about it. No doubt there will be surprises from left-field in gaming this year, but hopefully there will be more than a couple on this list which actually turn out to be worth the wait.