Categories
Critical Discussion Games

Thoughts on Destiny 2 Season 8

Tomorrow, Destiny 2’s Season 8 concludes, and Season 9 begins. 8 served as the opening season of Year Three, and marked a transition for the game from a “traditional” update method of small DLC packs spaced out within the year to one large DLC pack and small-purchase seasons to fill in content droughts.

I thought I’d jot down some thoughts on it from the last ten weeks, divided into some of the major aspects of the season. I’ll try to keep this about things particular to this season and not to things that were big sea changes from Shadowkeep.

What I’ll touch on:

  • Vex Offensive
  • Iron Banner
  • Eriana’s Vow
  • Eververse and the Season Pass
  • Ritual Weapons
  • Undying

Vex Offensive

The big “seasonal activity” going away tomorrow is Vex Offensive, and it’s an amazingly mixed bag. For the most part, the activity itself isn’t bad. It’s a progressive arena shooting bit, with a timer that doesn’t impact a whole bunch other than whether you get good drops or not? (I’m not really even sure about this because it’s very not obvious what it does. It’s not a fail state.)

Things warp in, shoot shoot, bang bang, run bounties, get a weekly challenge out of it or two, get a bunch of weapon drops, rinse, repeat.

Normally, a fairly inoffensive horde-style mode, which at this point is generally what we are getting out of seasonal stuff (cf. Menagerie, Forges, probably Sundial). It gives a rather generous number of random roll drops, which is good and gives you a chance to find a roll you like from grinding out the weeklies for drops. The mechanics of the encounters are fairly easy to grasp.

I think Vex Offensive is a very good start for the type of seasonal activities we’ll be seeing that come and then go after each block of time.

There are some problems here, and they are more issues with the current design philosophy of Destiny rather than the activity itself:

Almost every bounty and triumph connected to the mode requires you to be an active jerk to your teammates.

This is now a rather frequent problem Destiny as a whole. It forces you into matchmade team activities, and then gives you objectives to complete that push you into doing things that take away from your teammates’ ability to accomplish exactly those same things. Bounties and triumphs requiring “final blows” instead of participating in defeats of enemies with assists mean you’re competing with others in what’s ostensibly a cooperative mode.

The only real way to progress on these goals is to go Peak Titan and charge ahead of all of your teammates, grabbing the glory for yourself. It’s enormously frustrating, and for more friendly players who might otherwise enjoy the game and the cooperative nature of these activities, is a huge drain on enjoyment.

Because of Champions, a team can drop into Vex Offensive that doesn’t have a realistic chance of completing it well.

The Champion mechanic is a new one introduced with Shadowkeep. In Vex Offensive, the two enemy types requiring specific weapons or mods to defeat efficiently are Barrier and Overload “Champions.” You can outdamage or stagger these enemies and circumvent the weapon mechanic, but for a team of random players to have a reasonable chance at a good run, the team should have a distribution of both anti-Barrier and anti-Overload weapons equipped.

The simple problem is that many players just don’t pay attention to this. Whether it’s because they are trying to complete triumphs that require specific weapons, some classes of which can’t even equip the necessary mods, or because they are ignorant or unbothered by the mechanic itself, I know of many runs where only one or two of us were doing all of the work against the champions, which then slows down the activity entirely. The game doesn’t prevent you from loading in without equipping the tools necessary to have the best chance at a good completion.

The annoying thing here is that I believe Champions are an overall positive addition to the game, especially in things like the raid and the Nightfall strikes. They add a layer of tactical complication that makes previously rote sections of content more interesting in terms of the weapons you choose and how you construct a team, but they appear to be mystifying matchmade teammates in many activities.

Destiny 2 needs more prescriptive instructions to players that teach them how to play the game “properly.” Especially with the entrance fee to Destiny now being free-to-play, I believe there are many players in the game today that don’t understand many of its basic mechanics. More tutorial content—or better yet, less inscrutable information in-game—would go a long way to making activities less annoying to run.

Iron Banner

I mostly had fun in Iron Banner this season, but then again, I usually have fun in Iron Banner. Power Level matters, but it’s not insurmountable, grouping is advantageous so I enjoy running it with my friends and clanmates, and it provides an excuse to run around with dumb weapons in PvP and escape the PvE grinds for a while.

If I’m going to PvP, I generally prefer that PvP to be Iron Banner.

The armor was a new set that rolled pretty high stat packages most of the time, and reputation packages from Saladin had a decent chance at dropping Enhanced versions of armor mods, which gives a greater number of players access to these without having to play competitive PvP or high-level non-matchmade activities. This was good.

The weapons were the same ones we’ve been using for over a year, so not super-exciting. They could definitely use a refresh.

Even the bounties for pinnacle gear were halfway decent. One required final blows, one required assists, one required zone captures, and one required ability kills (more on this one in a second). Most players are capable of completing two of these given a decent amount of time in the mode, and a decent number of others probably capable of nabbing three each Iron Banner. Two to four pieces of 950-960 gear three times in 10 weeks is pretty great.

The ability kills bounty should have been rotated out early in the season.

This was even a known problem! It was admitted that they were aware the bounty was causing trouble because the number of kills was very high (200), and the bounty was quite difficult to complete, especially for some classes that have poor supers, poor neutral game, or both.

The API indicates there are three more bounties available to be rotated in, none of which made an appearance in any of the Iron Banner weeks of Season 8. It would have been a great solution to rotate those bounties in once the problem was known and admitted. (Perhaps this is actually quite difficult to change without a risk of breaking things, in which case, OK.)

The “kickoff quest” for Iron Banner was too much.

For the first time, there was a quest that had steps necessary both to earn the Iron Banner armor for the first time for the season, and even to unlock the ability to turn in tokens for reputation drops. If you hadn’t completed the quest, you could do nothing with the Iron Banner Tokens you’d had drop from either wins or losses.

This was unfortunate, and I think a mistake. Here were the steps:

  • 10 zones capped, 30 opponents defeated, 3 Super final blows
  • 6 matches completed, 20 zones captured, 25 pulse rifle final blows
  • 20 fusion rifle final blows, 30 zones captured, 100 opponents defeated
  • 15 SMG final blows, 15 Super final blows, 40 zones captured
  • 50 zones captured, 15 matches completed, 10 grenade launcher final blows

(The fifth step was altered after the first Iron Banner of the season to remove the grenade launcher step due to a bug.)

Here again, we see the ugly monster of “final blows” rearing its head. Bungie, I love you, and I love Iron Banner, but please stop with this. There are many players who will gladly hop into Iron Banner for a chance at some drops and to chip away at some progress in things like assists bounties or capping points, but if they weren’t able to nab final blows, and in some cases with fairly technical weapons like fusion rifles, they were unable to claim even a single drop from the vendor.

If you want players to be in PvP and be cannon fodder for other players, or—better yet!—to learn how to PvP over time and maybe begin enjoying the mode, you have to give them something for their time. Making this multi-step quest the barrier to entry, and making it character-bound on top of it, is too much to ask of infrequent PvP players.

It will not move them to improve. It will instead drive them away from the mode and potentially the game.

Eriana’s Vow

This gun is amazing. It steps outside the weapon class and archetype, has one of the new anti-Champion aspects baked in, and hits like a truck. Has a great risk/reward profile for bringing it with you. More like this, please.

The quest for the catalyst was not amazing. It required ludicrous numbers of “ritual” event completions to complete the quest to even get the catalyst to drop, and then required you to get a bunch of kills with it to finally slot the catalyst.

I played hundreds of hours of Destiny over the last ten weeks, and I still don’t have this done.

Eververse and the Season Pass

I could write several thousand words on how Eververse is missing the boat, but I’ll save that for another time. I’m sure many of you are aware of its problems.

The season pass track was actually mostly well-done.

This is also very much a part of Shadowkeep and not the individual season, but I think they hit this one at about 80%. The ranks felt like they moved along quite a bit, it rewarded me for engaging with various kinds of content and especially bounties, and it was very doable to get it to 100 within the season. (I hit 150-ish.)

There are some things I’d definitely change about it:

Season pass engrams were rarely rewarding. They should have a very high chance or maybe even a guarantee of rolling with high stats or even specific high stats, to make them aspirational. Exotic engrams should never drop as a weapon, due to the new important of armor random rolls.

The mid-levels felt like they didn’t give me anything of note. There was a stretch from the mid-50s through around level 70 where the rewards were pretty much a wasteland. I wouldn’t take anything away from other levels, but if I’ve paid for the $10 season, I’d like to feel there are significant rewards along the way.

The seasonal armor drops were pointless. I was receiving drop after drop of these in the wild, usually with much better stats. Other than being a guarantee that I could check them off in my collections badge, dropping them from the season pass was not interesting.

The amount of Bright Dust given on the track was a complete joke, as were the BOYO 2 bright engrams. C’mon, Bungie. If you are going to reward me with in-game currency, the value should be at least what I have paid you for the season, to encourage me to grind at it and get my value back out of it. A few hundred Bright Dust is insulting. The Best of Year 2 engrams every five levels were probably much better for players new to the game, but I already owned everything in them, so there were very wasted on my account. I’m interested to see what next season’s bright engram is.

A bunch of this gets down to core problems with Eververse as it stands right now. Some brief thoughts on that for now:

The amount of design work going into Eververse while in-game sources of gear go untouched or “reprised” is a really bad look. I get that Bungie needs microtransaction income to pay their employees and grow at this point, and I don’t really have a problem with some cosmetic things being pay-only, but the disparity and the level of detail going into one versus the other is really bad.

The Bright Dust economy is now pathetic. In previous seasons, if we worked fairly hard, we could nab just about anything from the in-game store we wanted, whether with Bright Dust or with bright engrams. Now, you’d never be able to earn even a quarter of what’s available cosmetically in a given season, even if you did nothing but grind out bounties that provide the currency. Weekly bounties provide 200 each, and repeatable mini-bounties provide 10. Even bumping this to 500 and 50, or raising the chances of receiving Bright Dust in a bright engram, would go a long way.

Bungie touched on this in this past week’s blog update, and now more of the Eververse inventory will be making it out as Bright Dust purchases: 80% or so rather than 50%.

What if they took that extra 30% and channeled it into in-game accomplishments, rewarding you for doing grindy or challenging things with a cosmetic thing? I’d much rather see that.

Ritual Weapons

Bungie got tired of Pinnacle Weapons ruling pretty much every mode, which was absolutely happening due to the unique traits of those weapons, so now, we have Ritual Weapons instead. Each is still a unique weapon you can only get from a specific quest, but they’re no longer creating special perks that can only roll on those guns.

What I didn’t expect is that these weapons were—in at least one case—even harder to acquire than the Pinnacle Weapons they replaced.

I think it’s still kind of amazing that even with ditching the overpowered Pinnacle weapon system, the Crucible gun and quest were still the most ridiculous of them all, though this time, I don’t think the Crucible one was the best PvE weapon for a change, as that honor probably goes to Exit Strategy from Gambit.

All three weapons are pretty decent. Edgewise is another high ROF machine gun in an element we didn’t have for add clear, and Exit Strategy has a pretty great perk selection for any SMG not named “The Recluse.”

Holy cow, though, y’all – Randy’s Throwing Knife had a steep quest. And it’s one of the best weapons in its class. Again.

Randy’s Throwing Knife—if you can hit your critical hits with it—is a beast of a weapon that has no peer in its archetype. It also has one of the better flavor text selections of the past year.

BUT the Randy’s quest was just beyond what it needed to be or should have been. 450 final blows with a scout is something that we essentially needed Momentum Control as a game mode to complete in a lot of cases, and the medals/kills requirement was yet another “percentage-based” one where medals counted, but not all medals, and not all medals that did counted for the same amount

Exit Strategy had a lot of the same problems. I ground that one out this past week, and some post-match medals didn’t count at all. I had more than once match where I was certain I was done, but yet another match waited for me to complete it.

In the future, when quests have “percentage” completion bars, it’d be really nice to have a guide somewhere that tells us what counts for how much progress.

The guesswork necessary to complete these things efficiently is a huge part of the frustration with them.

Undying

Look: I ground out Undying this season, but I would not recommend it for most people. On the surface, the first time I looked at it early in the season, my reaction was “this isn’t that bad, and I think most people should be able to complete it.”

I am less than happy to admit that I was very wrong concerning this point.

The Vex Offensive portions of it weren’t horrible. I thought they’d be the worst, but other than what I mentioned above regarding having to step in front of teammates (and that’s a big “other than”), those bits were very doable with enough time spent in the mode.

The same thing applies to the Moon-related ones for just doing stuff using specific element-based classes. Grenade kills? Melee kills? Super kills? Can do.

In the end, the unreasonable bits for Undying came down to a single triumph:

The Collections badge.

To complete the Collections badge for the season, you needed:

  • the ship that drops from completing a 980-difficulty Ordeal Nightfall,
  • all three steps from all three ritual activity seasonal quests (Strikes, Crucible, and Gambit),
  • the exotic quest for the season,
  • all three ritual weapon quests completed (see above), and
  • every weapon and armor piece that can drop from Vex Offensive.

This was a lot of work, and worse yet, not completable as a solo player. (The 980 Nightfall and some aspects of the Strikes seasonal quest spoil it.)

I just looked up the badge on BrayTech, and was astounded to find that the lowest completion rate in their records is actually for the Strikes seasonal quest, which I can agree was a horrible slog. You can only receive strike scoring for Nightfalls, and the only way to get those done without having to get a group together—for most players—is to run the Ordeal version of the Nightfall, so this past week, my son and I ran Savathun’s Song something like seven or eight times in a row.

It was mind-numbing and the second worst part of getting the title. (The worst was getting the medals in Gambit for Exit Strategy, which took about double the time I wanted.)

This was the first “seasonal” title that required players to engage with all three “ritual” activities in large amounts.

I’m not sure what I think about this, especially given that each of those grinds required a certain amount of proficiency to complete. Personally, I prefer seals and accomplishments that are grinds proficient people can complete somewhat quickly, but determined or dedicated people can complete with a lot of effort.

In this case, Undying was only really completable by proficient people who also had a lot of time to grind at things, and that strikes me as the wrong way to go about it.

I’d like to see future seasonal seals focus more on that season’s unique activity, rather than forcing us into ritual activities that we may not wish to engage with.

That way, if the seasonal thing isn’t my bag, I can just nope out of it early and not bother with the seal. If I really enjoy it, or it’s significant to me, it gives me something long-tail to strive for before the season is over.

As it stands, this season, I spent more time in ritual activities grinding away at the same strikes, the same Crucible maps, and the same Gambit matches I’ve been running for over a year, instead of engaging with anything new or unique to the season.

This doesn’t feel like an effective use of the concept.

Closing Thoughts

I’m mostly looking forward to seeing what Season 9 has in store for us starting tomorrow. Season 8 was a decent first attempt: some solid core ideas, with portions of execution I found wanting.

I didn’t think it was a home run of a content slice, but I also didn’t think it was a complete disaster. It’s weird to have an activity in-game that’s completely ending forever, and not taking up space in the Director for the rest of the life of the game. There’s a lot of potential here if Bungie can change course rapidly enough to respond to feedback.

It’s notable that Season 9 is scheduled to be three weeks longer than Season 8. It’s my hope that spacing things out a bit more will give the activities room to breathe, and not that we’ll be looking at even steeper grinds for the next quarter.

I’m hoping to get back into the practice of writing some guides for Season 9, and I’ll likely focus first on some suggestions for grinding the seasonal title. I’ll know more tomorrow when I get a look, and plan on publishing a guide to the patch notes sometime tomorrow afternoon as well.

As always, thanks for reading. See you out there.

Categories
Critical Discussion Games

The Best Final Fantasy VI Translation

I’ve been following Legends of Localization’s run through Final Fantasy VI loosely throughout the process, as they examine three translations of the game and compare them to one another.

They recently posted an overview conclusion, and I found the results somewhat surprising given the comparisons they ran earlier on Final Fantasy IV:

We’ve looked at four different translations of Final Fantasy VI in great detail and compared each one with the original Japanese script. Each version has its own pros and cons in terms of gameplay, presentation, content differences, and so on. But in terms of translation only:

I feel that the Game Boy Advance translation of Final Fantasy VI is unquestionably the best translation out of all of them, by far.

The post itself has a lot of well-written explanation as to why. After seeing this, I went looking to see if there was a translation patch that ported the GBA script over to the SNES ROM, as there is for Final Fantasy V, but I was unable to find one.

I’m currently running through EarthBound on stream, and after finishing that, I may turn my attention to some of the Final Fantasy series I have not yet completed. VI is in that list, so I have some thinking to do regarding which translation to use for my run.

Categories
Critical Discussion Games

Talkin’ TWAB: Bounties and Prismatic What Now?

This is something I’ve been thinking about doing for some time now: more discussion regarding what I like and what I don’t like in games. I think it’s only natural to start with Destiny 2, which is a game I have played (and continue to play) in rather obscene quantities with my son and other groups we’ve found out there.

In talking about games, I’m going to try very hard to follow the advice on game design feedback that I have digested from this Twitter thread, which is worth your attention:

I also thought it’d be a decent idea to start with talking through Bungie’s weekly updates and patch notes for Destiny 2, which are something on which pretty much everyone has an opinion, and affect a fairly large number of people who play a game over many hours. (My son and I have around 600 hours each in Destiny 2 to date.)

This week’s This Week at Bungie (or “TWAB”) can be found here, but read on for some snippets and commentary on the announcements therein. It should be noted that I’m only going to touch on game-specific announcements and not the links to external coverage or GuardianCon stuff.

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Critical Discussion Markel!

Goodbye to Comments

Well, this is less something I’m changing my mind on and more something I’ve been considering for a while and basically been doing in a somewhat roundabout fashion anyway. I’ll explain.

It’s been a few years since I switched my site over to fully moderated comments, and for the last year or so I have debated turning them off completely, which I’m now going to do. I’m doing this for two primary reasons:

  1. People generally don’t leave comments anymore. They are in reality much rarer than they used to be.
  2. Moderation of comments is seen sometimes as an affront, and though I don’t agree with that sentiment, I’d rather avoid the discussion entirely.

What brought this back into my mind was a pair of comments on my previous post referring to wundergeek’s blogging cessation and the fact that it is in my opinion a regrettable thing. I’ve had a rather busy couple of days here personally for various reasons, and haven’t had a chance to check anything related to the site or bother with checking for comments (also for the previously stated reason of how rare comments actually are now).

I checked stats a bit ago and noticed some referrers to that previous post, which has seen a decent amount of traffic. One of them was a post by the author of this comment, which I’m publishing right here in this post, verbatim and in full:

That toxic woman’s contention has always been that we need to chase the toxic elements out of the hobby. Sweet schedenfreude of St. Murgotroyd, let’s hope her petard is a comy one, because she done hoisted herself on up it.

How’s that for a unique viewpoint?

This was referenced in a later post on the comment author’s site in which he said this of me:

It will be interesting to see if the man who believes in, “the chilling effect that stops other people from raising their voices and bringing unique viewpoints to the table,” will moderate that unique viewpoint into oblivion.  I suspect Ryan “Five Lights” Markel’s policy is that some voices are more unique than others.  And in this time of rampant catering to the hobgoblins of the left, he has no room for diversity of opinion on his blog – not when said diversity might just include a viewpoint to which he does not agree.  He’s got his own private Hayes Code to enforce, don’t you know?

These words essentially accuse me of censorship, which is an impossibility because I am not a government nor am I an agent of a government in charge of suppressing anyone’s free speech.

On the contrary, I strongly believe in and defend the right to free speech. I have spent the last seven years of my professional life working on and for the very platform that has given both wundergeek and Mr. Wright (the author of the comment) a method and platform by which they may express themselves. And I have spent even longer than that evangelizing for and contributing to open source software that has as a foundational principle the democratization of publishing and is the engine that powers WordPress.com.

All voices are unique, but this does not mean that I will agree with a given voice or even with everything any voice has to say. Nor does it mean that I should be expected to provide a platform for voices I disagree with on my own blog or site without reservation or selection—and in fact, the author of the comment republished the comment on his own WordPress.com blog, which is exactly what I would suggest and encourage in any case.

In a follow-up post, he said:

Moving on, as expected, the prize pig Ryan Merkin lamented the silencing of unique voices by silencing my voice, one of the most unique in tabletop gaming.

Again, the truth is far from it. The single site on which I write my words does not need to stand as a platform for anyone else’s opinion, as he even admits later in the same post:

Yeah, yeah, yeah: his blog, his rules.  He is well within his rights to refuse to publish one of my precious bon mots.

I would much rather encourage others to be writing their opinions on their own blogs, as he did and has done. Giving people their own platform and by doing so furthering the democratization of publishing is a better outcome than having comments on my own blog in just about every conceivable way.

Relatedly, discourse has become a strange thing in 2016, with “censorship” having lost pretty much all accurate meaning at this point and instead being thrown around by almost anyone whenever they feel someone is not listening to them or validating their opinion.

It’s because of these things that I’m finally following through on my decision to eliminate comments from this site, though in years past they have served a very good purpose. I’ve edited or moderated out comments for many things in the past, from having opinions I did not think needed fostering on my site, to having extremely poor grammar and spelling, to being on posts that are just too old to continue the discussion.

Increasingly, though, the correct move seems to be just shutting off comments entirely, as the process and weight of moderating comments and choosing what to let through is less desirable than encouraging others to use their own space. It’s much less of an echo chamber of self-reinforcement. (It also removes having to deal with comment spam at all, though Akismet is pretty darn good at removing that from the equation in the first place.)

In the interest of transparency and completeness, this was the other comment on my previous post:

No.

The central premise was wrong.

It was tried in the fire of reality, and found wanting.

I’m raising my voice to you right now, bringing a traditional viewpoint to the table. Typically this would get be banned, deleted, shadowbanned, de-platformed, de-jobbed, and probably doxxed, etc.

Those are the steps people like wundergeek take.

That’s why this is an act of bravery. I accept your criticism.

These are the last two comments to be published in any way on my blog, at least for the foreseeable future. Part of me is sad to see comments go, but I think the decision is best in the long run. If you read this, and you’ve ever thought about expressing yourself in the comments on my blog, please head over here and sign up for a new WordPress.com blog of your own. It’s easy to use and free, and you can start publishing your own thoughts and ideas today.

Categories
Critical Discussion Fails

Accessibility Microtransactions?

Mortal Kombat X came out late last night, and I took some time to mess with it. I was having a good time, minding my own business with the story mode and enjoying myself. You know what? This is a pretty good-looking game, I must say:

It looks great, plays well, and has a fairly interesting character selection.

During a match, I paused the game to get a look at the movelist for my character, and I saw this:

I like a lot about this. I like the quick reference to the special moves. My eye moves down, sees “Easy Fatalities.” I remember hearing them talk about this on one of their pre-release streams – simplified button inputs for the series’ trademark ultra-violent finishing moves.

You know what? That sounds pretty cool. Not everyone has the ability to put in those commands within the timing window available. I think to myself, “That’s a pretty cool feature.”

There’s a red skull icon next to the commands; I think nothing of this as there’s also an icon that’s to the left of some of the special moves because they are limited to a specific character variation. No biggie. Later in the night, I’m wrapping up and I’m sitting at the main menu.

I figure I’ll take a look at the Store and see what’s in there; I already have the DLC pass as I bought the special edition at discount. Wonder what else is in there?

Oh, OK. So they are going to take lazy people’s money. That’s fine; I’m not lazy so I won’t bite, but sure – go ahead and take what you can. I’m sure some people will throw down an additional $20. (BTW, this would make the game cost $110 at this point if you also bought the season pass.)

Next page:

whhhhhaaaaaaaaatttttttt

This causes me to double-take. And I look at the pause screen yet again:

It’s not just an icon. It’s a consumable. OK, I guess, sure, I’m not going to use this, but that’s a bit dodgy that you put the command inputs that make people spend bits of money on the pause screen and hide the real deal behind another button press, but sure, whatever—I’m starting to expect this out of AAA games.

This morning it hits me—they are putting a microtransaction price on accessibility. The simplified button inputs, combined with other system and button-level changes on the PS4, would definitely help people who need accessibility options play this game, but this is a pay-to-play lock on content for people who might need the command assistance.

You (and everyone else) should be angry about this. Games already have enough of a problem with being accessible to everyone. Now we need to put something that would be honestly helpful behind a paywall?

WB Games/NetherRealm Studios, I urge you to do the right thing and make Easy Fatalities a non-consumable feature. Charge for other things. I know I and probably a lot of other people would buy some skins for the fighters that have some nostalgia or other hook to them. I’m willing to bet there will be purchasable characters beyond the season pass, just like you did with Injustice. And I’m perfectly OK with that; it’s part of the business now.

Accessibility shouldn’t be something that goes behind a microtransaction paywall.

Categories
Critical Discussion

The Billionaire’s Typewriter

Matthew Butterick with probably the most astute and complete takedown of Medium as a platform for your writing I have read:

In truth, Medium’s main prod­uct is not a pub­lish­ing plat­form, but the pro­mo­tion of a pub­lish­ing plat­form. This pro­mo­tion brings read­ers and writ­ers onto the site. This, in turn, gen­er­ates the us­age data that’s valu­able to ad­ver­tis­ers. Boiled down, Medium is sim­ply mar­ket­ing in the ser­vice of more mar­ket­ing. It is not a “place for ideas.” It is a place for ad­ver­tis­ers. It is, there­fore, ut­terly superfluous.

“But what about all the writ­ing on Medium?” The mea­sure of su­per­fluity is not the writ­ing on Medium. Rather, it’s what Medium adds to the writ­ing. Re­call the ques­tion from above: how does Medium im­prove the In­ter­net? I haven’t seen a sin­gle story on Medium that couldn’t ex­ist equally well else­where. Nor ev­i­dence that Medium’s edit­ing and pub­lish­ing tools are a man­i­fest im­prove­ment over what you can do with other tools.

If you use it, I would personally urge you to leave Medium and take control of your writing. WordPress is easy-to-use, easy to set up, and you can put together a basic site on a host for around $100 a year or so. (If you want to give this a shot, for most beginners I usually recommend DreamHost.)

Or if you don’t want to worry about hosting and all that stuff, come host your site on WordPress.com. You own your content, you can take it with you if you leave for a self-hosted WordPress installation, and it’s backed by world-class support. (I work there; I know these people and they are the finest.)

(h/t to Matt for the link)

Categories
Critical Discussion

The Future of Media Is Broader

Matt just retweeted a link on Twitter to this post on Engadget, referring to the fact that at least to date in 2014, no album will have gone platinum in the United States:

The decline in album sales is certainly nothing new, thanks to the smattering of streaming options now available to eager listeners. However, 2014 looks to be particularly awful.Forbes reports that nearly 10 months into the year, no release since January has yet to reach platinum status — a release that sells 1 million copies (in the US). What’s more, only one has sold a million copies: the Frozen soundtrack that hit shelves last year.

I’ve been pondering this recently. Album sales are down across the board. Single sales are also down, at least as far as they are tracked. Usually, what’s blamed for this is the rise of the streaming model, where you pay a single subscription and get access to as much as you want.

But in a world where scarcity is no longer a thing, what if it’s rather that our consumption is changing?

I first started thinking about this when I changed my method for purchasing games to a digital one, both in terms of using console services and with my switching back to using the PC and Steam as the primary source of my game purchasing.

I noticed rather quickly due to that the fluidity of pricing, the types of recommendations I was receiving from friends, and the ease of publishing in a post-physical-media games economy, I was purchasing more things that years ago I would not have considered—or in most cases, would never have been made.

You can see this happening in terms of availability and ease-of-publishing. Just take a look at services like Loudr or Bandcamp. More people are able to publish more types of music or movies than ever before in the history of either medium. Digital makes things cheap and accessible. It democratizes them. (Look at what you are reading now. Fifteen years ago this was barely possible.)

So what’s the longer tail on sales of things like games, music, and movies? What if the future isn’t in huge sales numbers for a very few projects or products, but in smaller sales numbers spread across a far greater number of creators and artists? The removal of scarcity and the (relative) ease of production means that if I have a singular focus or preference as a consumer, I can focus in just those things.

If I like a specific flavor of jazz, I can listen to just that as long as I’m able to find artists that play it. If I like a specific genre of game, often now I can live just within that genre and play those things to my heart’s content.

And even further, the creators of the things I consume are closer to me than ever before due to the rise of blogging and social media. I can interact with them. They can engage with me, increasing my interest and the depth of my support for what they are doing. Everyone is a potential artist. Everyone is a potential curator, sharing their likes and dislikes as I often do here. Everyone can find others that share their unique interests, which further stokes the fire.

The future is less a handful of blockbusters, and more a broad swath of interests that engage a relative few, but more strongly than ever before. It’s already happening in games. It is starting to happen in music. Movies will be the last to change.

It’ll be fascinating to see how the entrenched industries keep up with this shift.

Categories
Critical Discussion Games

The Anatomy of Super Metroid

Jeremy Parish is continuing his rather interesting Anatomy of a Game series with a look at Super Metroid:

Sometimes it seems a little hard to believe that Nintendo created Super Metroid. It’s such an un-Nintendo-like game — so somber and moody, so straight-faced, so rich with narrative innovation that feels nothing at all like what we’ve come to expect from Nintendo. And yet, it’s quintessentially classic Nintendo in many ways: It leads you along with unspoken hints, gives you many tools without over-complicating things, rewards you both for being focused and for being curious, and like A Link to the Past represents such a perfect expression of a game concept that no one has managed to truly best it without building on its foundation.

There probably hasn’t been a better time to add his RSS feed to your reader. Super Metroid is perhaps the finest 2D game ever made and if you have never stopped to think about how it’s put together, you’ll likely enjoy reading along.

If you stop and think about it, on one system, in the space of a handful of years, Nintendo was arguably at its peak, with Super Mario WorldThe Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, and Super Metroid all appearing on the SNES. All three games are masterworks, and if you have never experienced them, I would urge you to get your emulator on and see what the fuss is all about.

Categories
Critical Discussion

Deception and Dehumanization in Far Cry 3

Having taken longer than most people probably have to finish Far Cry 3, I find that I had expected more to have been written about it and interpreting it. Perhaps too many words have already been expended upon Spec Ops: The Line, which shares some characteristics with Far Cry 3 to be sure, but is in my view a wholly different experience.

Where The Line was itself a critique and condemnation of the contemporary shooter genre and the acts that constitute such a game (and something about which I still need to write), Far Cry 3 is something more. It serves not so much as a direct critique of the first-person shooter, but more as a framework for the player to start thinking critically.

I find that much I have read regarding Far Cry 3 is mired in direct conversation regarding the whats and the hows of the game and its systems, and less about the whys. Indeed, as I started playing the game, I too found myself dwelling on questions of design and mechanics and less about what those things did to inform the story—and more importantly, the message—of the game.

I know now this is the wrong way to approach Far Cry 3. Indeed, now that I have reached the end and applied some critical thinking to what I witnessed and did, I find that I second-guess any such criticisms I had as I’m no longer sure what of those are honest mistakes and what are things that were done intentionally in order to provoke such a response.

N.B.: Here be spoilers. What follows will also more than likely be extremely pretentious, as I can’t stop talking about it. If you have reactions or discussion points, I invite you to leave a comment, or more so to write about it on your own blog.