Today, the pendulum swings back from holiday to a year-end review. If you were whining about us holding back on Friday, here is the storm after the calm. Red on, if you dare, for here there be dragons. Or Silicon Knights. Frankly, that's much worse.
1. Wii U Still in Trouble
The Wii U has been out for a year now and successor to the Wii is still selling poorly. To date the console has only sold 3.9 million units worldwide. In comparison its predecessor sold almost 5.8 million units within the first year and 18.6 million units in the second full year. If the Wii U was doing half as well as the Wii, the console would be in a good position. We could blame low sales on the Wii U not coming out sooner, the hardware only being on par with 360/PS3, Nintendo’s stunning lack of advertising and a serious dearth of games to play, even if the console is fully backwards compatible with the Wii. Personally, I’m going to put most of the blame on Nintendo not doing enough to differentiate the Wii U from the Wii and not advertising the damned thing enough. If there’s a slight silver lining it’s the slow but steady uptick in must-have games for the Wii U.
2. Kickstarter Fail
Kickstarter may have been a major success for a variety of game developers but the crowd-funding site is littered with quite a few notable failures and some shady business. Three of my favorite controversial stories include Gridiron Thunder, Elementary, My Dear Holmes and Dark Matter. Let’s see... Gridiron Thunder was a subpar Android game on Ouya that somehow raised $171,000 from only 183 backers and Elementary, My Dear Holmes was pulled from Kickstarter for allegedly fake pledges. Both games were tied to the badly implemented but later changed Ouya “Free the Games Fund.” Dark Matter was hilariously controversial because the developers failed to raise the funds needed and released a half-finished game on Steam before it was removed from the store. Those who purchased the game (thinking it was complete) were not amused.
3. Year of the Controversial Consoles
As nice as the release of three new consoles were this year they were also naughty. First up, Ouya. The miroconsole made a number of interesting missteps since it was released in March. First, backers ended up getting their consoles after the retail release. The reviews for the console were mediocre at best. Then there was the debacle about the edgy advertising that did more to offend gamers than to excite them. Last we have “Free the Games Fund,” and unscrupulous developers abusing Ouya’s promise to match funds for successful Kickstarters. On the Xbox One side Microsoft has backpedaled with console features so much that the moniker “Xbox 180” is well deserved. Then came the banning of folks who legitimately received their systems early, the disc drive errors, the delaying of certain features and banning foul-mouthed Upload Studio users. On the PS4 side we have hardware errors, mediocre launch titles, PSN downtime and lewd user behavior on the Playroom app, leading to its removal from Twitch altogether. Naughty indeed.
1. Year of the Consoles
Ouya, PS4, Xbox One: This year has been a fantastic year for console gamers. Nintendo may have started the new generation of console gaming last year with the Wii U but this year consumers had lots of interesting options. First up was the Ouya. Sure, the microconsole wasn’t the flashiest thing to hit the gaming scene but it provided a cheap way to play Android games on the big screen. Additionally, I can’t mention the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One enough as their arrival means the next generation is finally here. The slow countdown toward shelving our PS3s, 360s and Wiis has begun.
2. 3DS Owns All
The 3DS may have gotten a slow start when it was released in 2011. Since then the handheld has really turned things around and proved there is still a market for the system in the world of mobile gaming. 2013 has been an amazing year to be a 3DS owner. Between niche games such as Shin Megami Tensei IV, Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney 5: Dual Destinies and larger games like Pokemon X/Y and Fire Emblem: Awakening there’s always something to play nearly each and every month. Furthermore, a bevy of special edition 3DS XLs (especially the Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds 3DS) came out in November, giving Nintendo fans fewer and fewer reasons to avoid purchasing one. 2014 is just around the corner and it’s looking like another stellar year for Nintendo’s latest handheld.
3. Kickstarter Gives Creativity a Kick
The crowd-funding craze Kickstarter launched will probably be with us for quite some time. The biggest success story was the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter. This project from Keiji Inafune raised more than four times more than its $900,000 funding goal. The game can be thought of as a spiritual successor to Mega Man (since Capcom won’t do much of anything with the franchise) and proof crowd-funding can be awesome. Other notable Kickstarters include River City Ransom: Underground (the PC-only follow up to River City Ransom), Shantae: Half-Genie Hero, Video Games Live: Level 3 and the Keep Skull Girls Growing! project on Indiegogo which helped provide DLC for the PSN/Xbox Live fighting game. 2014 will be a noteworthy year as some of these promised projects come to fruition.
1. Wii U and Vita Still Struggling
It’s never fun to see the gaming systems struggle, and that’s still the narrative with Wii U and Vita. The efforts from both Nintendo and Sony to turn the fortunes of the systems around have been in vain thus far, and time is running out. The Vita is at least doing barely OK in Japan, but Wii U’s performance has been pitiful everywhere. Hopefully they both have something clever up their sleeve.
2. The Rise of Paymium
Free-to-play games built around sucking a plethora of cash from the player’s wallet through in-game microtransactions are bad enough, but they’re exponentially worse in games that cost $20-$60 on top of that. These were prevalent it titles released at the Xbox One’s launch, with Crimson Dragon and Forza 5, despite them not being free. Every option from publishers of “AAA” games to combat rising development costs has been awful for consumers, and it probably won’t get better anytime soon.
3. Big Japanese Companies Not Listening to Fans
Konami, Capcom, and Square Enix are all good at ignoring the desires of their fans. Apparently they don’t think they need them, as they perpetually focus their efforts more on mobile gaming. The choices in some of the games they develop for dedicated systems is also suspect. Not many asked for a western-developed Lost Planet 3 or Lighting Returns: Final Fantasy XIII, and the market responded predictably. This isn’t likely to improve in the next year either.
Regardless of what progress is made each year in removing the stigmas surrounding those who like video games, we can always count on SpikeTV’s VGAs (rebranded as VGX this year) to set us back. This year was no exception, even though it was only streamed online instead of being televised. We should have known what to expect when a transgender joke was made within the first five minutes, and it all went downhill from there. No one expected greatness, but at least try not to insult the intelligence of anyone who isn’t an adolescent male.
5. Microsoft Doesn’t Get It
While Sony was busy learning from their errors, Microsoft was becoming more arrogant throughout the 360’s life. This hit its highest point when the company originally announced their plans for the Xbox One earlier in the year, which dared to remove rights and options consumers originally took for granted. They went back on many of them, but it’s a move some of us won’t soon forget.
1. The Next Generation is Upon Us
This has been a long console generation, but many are finally leaving it behind for a new one that could offer far more potential. Said potential may not come from the “AAA” games that need to draw the biggest audience possible to recoup their massive budgets, but in the form of low budget and mid-tier digital titles released through self-publishing efforts…at least on PS4 and PC. And maybe Wii U. New consoles are a good place for creative new IPs to thrive, and with the combined efforts of indie developers and their larger brethren, we can have as many as in previous generations — if not more.
2. The Continued Rise of Independent Developers
Speaking of indie developers, anyone beyond tired of the tropes that infest the bulk of “AAA” games these days is receiving plenty of options through our smaller developers. And their efforts are getting bigger, as shown in titles like Everybody Goes to the Rapture and the recently-revealed No Man’s Sky. Those titles also prove that not every indie game has to be a sprite-based 2D platformer, though there’s nothing wrong with that concept.
3. Atlus Goes Down and Up
Fans of Atlus’s games had a scare this year when their parent company, Index Corporation, filed for bankruptcy. We had an even bigger scare upon hearing Sega picked them up. But their new owner currently plans on leaving things as they were, and Atlus is now owned by a competently-run company. It’s possible Sega might even let them use some of their dormant IPs, but whether something comes from that remains to be seen.
4. Sony Gets It
The PS3 was all Sony needed to knock them off their throne, a textbook example of what happens when a company is consumed by hubris. The later years in the PS3’s life showed that Sony was beginning to learn how they should act and what they needed to do in order to survive in the future, and the PS4 represents that. Not only are they pushing a number of heavy-hitting “AAA” games, but also the aforementioned indie titles and lower budget efforts. And hopefully they market the Vita TV well in the west, as it could be a viable low cost alternative for anyone not willing to purchase any new, expensive home console hardware.
5. Mighty No. 9
Mega Man? Yup, still dead, and Capcom’s handling of the character proves it. But former Capcom director and producer Keiji Inafune doesn’t need them to make a new game in the franchise. Kind of. Mighty No. 9 isn’t Mega Man, but it’s the closest we’ll get to having a new 2D installment in the series. The Kickstarter was one of the most successful video game-related ones thus far, and hopefully more small Japanese developers can use it as a viable funding source…unless they ignore it.
1. Let’s All Laugh At Silicon Knights Some More
In last year’s Naughty/Nice column, I mentioned Silicon Knights and discussed what has now turned out to be the final nail in their coffin. After my experience playing Too Human, I can’t help but think, good riddance to bad rubbish. Well, they’re back in the news again this year, sort of. The successor to Silicon Knights, named Precursor Games, received some less than desirable attention when Ken McCulloch, a man who has worked on most of Silicon Knights’ games, was arrested for possession and distribution of child pornography. Almost immediately, Precursor distanced themselves from McCulloch, despite that they were only allegations at the time and nothing had been proven in court.
Precursor didn’t have a very good year anyway. Most notably, Shadow of the Eternals — their “spiritual successor” to Eternal Darkness — failed to be crowd-funded. Twice. And then finally, they seemed to see the writing on the wall and put the game on hold.To me, it sounds less like a game put on pause and more like the kind of hiatus that a boy band announces to mollify fans while they quietly break up, then a couple years later they start to admit in interviews that they’ve broken up and aren’t making music any more. I get the feeling that this is the last we’ll ever hear of Shadow of the Eternals. I wonder if there’ll be enough room on the shelf for it, next to Too Human 2 and everything else that has been cancelled by both Precursor and Silicon Knights.
2. Ashes To Ashes
But releasing a finished game isn’t a guarantee any more that it won’t be cancelled. Just when you think you’ve heard it all, along came Ashes Cricket 2013 to claim the dubious distinction of being one of the few, possibly the only game, to be voluntarily pulled from the market after release, never to return again. (In comparison, The War Z was returned to market after some issues with the game were cleared up, Final Fantasy XIV was remade while the original version was allowed to live on for a while and E.T. wasn’t recalled by the publisher, it was sent back to the publisher, but numerous copies still exist today and can be found for cheap on eBay.)
Although I haven’t played it, Ashes Cricket 2013 reportedly contained gameplay issues so bad that 505 Games, the publisher of the horrendous title, chose to remove the game from Steam and cancel the console versions in order to protect the Ashes name. Cricket is apparently a big deal in England and Australia and so I guess now people will be able to play cricket without feeling the sting of knowing this software is available? I don’t know. Paintball enthusiasts don’t seem bothered by the existence of Extreme Paintbrawl.
3. Final Fantasy? Ax This Bastard
Challenging the definition of “game” this year was Square Enix. Final Fantasy: All The Bravest was deceptive from the very beginning. It was given a $3.99 price tag and used this low figure to trick people into purchasing the game, only for them to find out that premium characters cost extra and must be purchased at random. If someone wanted to unlock Cloud, that was potentially a $35 transaction because let’s face it: he’s the only character anyone would want. Square Enix has a $35 interest in making sure his random number generates last. (Well, $34.65, if you want to be exact.) On top of that, three extra environments are available at $3.99 each, making the total price of this game, with everything unlocked, $50.61. Square Enix seems to have figured out that they can milk even more money out of gamers if they release their games for iOS than if they had made this a DS game. Plus, they save money on packaging costs.
Gameplay isn’t much better, as it consists of frantically tapping at and swiping across the screen of your Apple device with your finger until the enemies are dead. It’s like a less fun version of The World Ends With You, with all the strategy taken out. It resembles a Final Fantasy demo in that there is no potential to customize your experience if you don’t buy the DLC. It’s basically just going from point A to points B, C, D and E to see what the game is like, except that’s the whole game. This game would definitely not appeal to anyone who thought that Final Fantasy XIII was linear.
4. Three Strikes Against YouTube
Without an Apple device of my own, I have thankfully not experienced Final Fantasy: All The Bravest except in videos on YouTube. In fact, YouTube has proven invaluable to me when it comes to researching articles like this. If I want to make a claim about a game I haven’t played yet, or I’ve forgotten the exact wording of something I want to quote, I just hit up a Let’s Play and find what I want quickly.
This may be coming to an end: 2013 marked a severe upswing in abuse of the copyright report system on YouTube. It started late last year, right before we started compiling our 2012 Naughty/Nice lists here on the blog. Sega didn’t want trailers for their new Shining game competing for attention on YouTube among all the videos discussing older titles in the series, so they decided that the best course of action was to issue copyright takedown notices for anything that could possibly come up in a search for Shining games on YouTube, even videos that contained no footage from the game. This year, they blamed this on issues that they have managed to resolve, as if they were doing gamers a favour by potentially damaging their YouTube reputations, since each video removed equaled one strike for “copyright infringement” and three strikes meant an entire account was suspended. In one fell swoop, many users lost everything due to Sega’s misguided attempt at marketing.
Just when you thought that Sega did what Nintendidn’t, Nintendid. Nintendo decided that they owned Let’s Play videos of Nintendo games on YouTube, whether that was actually true or not. On the one hand, Nintendo does own the content being displayed, but on the other hand, the appeal of a Let’s Play is in part due to the people presenting it. Football commentators still get paid, so why not video game commentators? It can be just as much fun to watch someone like PewDiePie react to a game as it is to watch the game itself. Nintendo does not own YouTube personalities, so it doesn’t seem fair that the company can demand the ad revenue whenever one of them uploads themselves MSTing Super Mario Galaxy.
In fact, as I’m writing this article, there are rumours floating around that Nintendo is attempting a second round of copyright claims, despite eventually backing down the first time.
5. TotalBiscuit’s Incident
But it’s not just Let’s Plays that are suffering the ax of unjust copyright claims. Game reviewer TotalBiscuit received a strike on his YouTube account for his review of Day One: Garry’s Incident, despite having been given a review copy by the developers, Wild Games Studio. Unfortunately, the developers probably weren’t too happy when he gave it a less than flattering review and so it is theorized by TotalBiscuit that this is why they flagged the video for copyright infringement. On the surface, stifling negative opinions of their game does seem the most likely reason, but Wild Games claimed that they didn’t know TotalBiscuit would monetize his review and that they didn’t want him to. TotalBiscuit pointed out that he had mentioned he would in his E-mail to Wild Games and they obviously hadn’t read it. After intense pressure, the developers relented, let YouTube remove the strike from TotalBiscuit’s account, and (no doubt reluctantly) had the video restored.
This wasn’t the only thing to come out of the Garry’s Incident incident. Independent software developer Sean Lindskog penned an article claiming that TotalBiscuit experienced the fear of an indie developer when he briefly had that strike against his YouTube account. I’ve already ranted to great length about how developers can avoid that fear.
Gamers were quick to respond and soon Sean had to switch from attack mode to defence and then finally conceded a lot of his original, foolishly-made points. It turns out that there is no comparison between getting a strike on YouTube and getting a scathing review for a game. Three scathing reviews don’t delete a company’s entire product line. Nah, to get your products deleted, you have to sue the wrong people and lose epicly. Isn’t that right, Silicon Knights?
1. Kicking It Up A Notch
This is the third year of the Naughty/Nice columns. In the past two years, I’ve mentioned the good that charities like Penny Arcade’s Child’s Play have done. At the risk of sounding like a stuck record, they’re continuing their good work for children’s hospitals this year. Notch, the man behind Minecraft, is a semi-regular donor to the Desert Bus For Hope event, which benefits Child’s Play. Two years ago, he donated $10,000 after winning a live action for an uncut sheet of foil Magic: The Gathering cards and this year, he did it again, albeit for a more frivolous, silly auction.
What does a man do when he has enough money sitting around that he can donate large chunks of it like that? Well, he indulges in the new generation of video game consoles, of course. After he tweeted that he was off to purchase a PlayStation 4, I guess Sony saw an opportunity to bribe their way into his good graces, because they offered him a bunch of free video games to go with his new console. He declined because he knew he could more than afford to pick up the games he was after. I suppose it makes little sense to offer free stuff to someone who has the money to pay for it when there are lots of gamers who can’t afford to keep up with everything.
2. Sony Came Home
It is good to see Sony following different policies this generation than they did in the previous one. This is a brand new Sony we’re talking about, a Sony that was humbled after the PlayStation 3 became their first console to break its ankle at launch and then continue running with a noticeable limp for pretty much the entire generation. At E3 this year, Sony showed the world that they learned their lesson by delivering their best conference in years, culminating with a price announcement that undercut the Xbox One. They also announced that their policies regarding used games were not going to change, even though Microsoft embraced a less consumer friendly attitude at the time. Basically, Sony promised not to do anything anti-consumer and the audience loved it.
Despite Microsoft saying they were sticking with their guns and promising to explain to gamers why their policies were not terrible, they eventually had a change of heart and decided to follow Sony’s example instead. It would be reaching to say that Sony saved the games industry because let’s be honest, the industry would’ve survived if Sony and Microsoft had both shot themselves in the foot. However, things would’ve most certainly been very different today had the opposite happened and Sony were the ones to follow Microsoft’s example.
3. Alien Resurrection
The hubris of companies like Microsoft are why some people are calling for another video game crash. Looking back on the crash of 1983, it’s clear to see that if gaming did fall apart again, things would be bad for the entire industry. I can’t imagine being Howard Scott Warshaw, the guy who developed the video game based on Stephen Spielberg’s movie E.T., because that game is widely blamed for the crash thirty years ago. It hardly seems believable that you can work on something for five weeks, have it released to the public, and then find out your project is so bad that it completely destroys the entire industry you work for almost single-handedly.
Despite E.T. being nearly universally considered the worst game ever among those who have obviously not played Too Human and Lunar: Dragon Song, there are still those who like the game and so this year, a fix was released by one of the game’s fans, detailing how to improve the game to the point of playability. It’s quite an interesting undertaking to go back and fix a game that has remained badly broken for thirty years, but if gamers can fix shoddy PC ports of modern games, why not an old game like E.T.? The fix addresses issues like the game’s poor collision detection. As it turns out, the collision detection wasn’t broken, it was instead working too well. While E.T. was still standing on solid ground, if his head overlapped the graphical representation of a well, he would fall into it as easily as if he had stepped into the well on purpose. The fix manages to address this issue so that his feet must be positioned directly over the well before he will fall in.
Additionally, the fix also manages to quash some bugs in the original software. This begs the question: where was neocomputer.org back in 1982 when this information could’ve really helped Atari?
4. A Company Reborn?
Fortunately, this is 2013 and if something is wrong with a game, it can be and often is fixed. Ideally, games shouldn’t be released in such a state that they need improving after the fact, but this is a discussion for another time.
When it came to games that desperately needed to be improved, Final Fantasy XIV was one of the worst offenders. Perhaps the perfect representation of what’s wrong with Square Enix this days, the game was terrible when it was first released. I guess they wanted to avoid making fans wait a long time for it like they had to wait for Final Fantasy XIII, but the best way to avoid making fans wait a long time would probably be to not announce so many overly ambitious projects. It was clear from the start that the fourteenth installment in the core Final Fantasy series could’ve benefited from another year or two of development, so that’s what they ended up doing. They rebuilt the game from scratch over the next couple years and then released the new version, dubbed A Realm Reborn for beta testing.
This year, the new version of the game has been officially released to the general public and has received much more positive reviews than the original version. It’s hoped that the fiasco taught Square Enix something, but whether they learn from their mistakes is something we shall need to wait and see, since they still think they can get away with making games like All The Bravest.
5. We Have Done The Impossible, And That Makes Us Mighty
Waiting seems to be the only thing that Mega Man fans can do any more. Mostly, fans wait for Capcom to grow a couple brain cells and realize that they can’t treat the franchise or its fans like crap. More and more it seems like Keiji Inafune was the only one at Capcom who gave a toss about the Blue Bomber. Looking at the success of the Mighty No. 9 Kickstarter campaign, it definitely seems like the only person interested in doing anything with the Mega Man concept is Mr. Inafune himself, even if he isn’t officially allowed to say it’s Mega Man.
Mighty No. 9 isn’t due out until April of 2015, but enough people believed in the project right from the start to pledge a total of $4 million dollars to fund the production of this game. The game itself looks designed to be a Bland Name Product version of Mega Man with just enough differences that Capcom can’t legally do anything about it except sit in their lair of evil machinations and watch angrily as Mr. Inafune takes back the Mega Man concept in all but name.
Stretch goals like a boss rush mode, extra stages, a making-of documentary and versions on all the current major consoles were reached, potentially making Mighty No. 9 an even more epic game than was originally intended, and fans seem to think that Mr. Inafune can do no wrong. Anticipation is high for this game, so I’m sure that this blog will continue following it through its development and release. I don’t really think we have anything to worry about, though. I’m sure that, to Mr. Inafune, developing games like this is child’s play.