Octopath Traveler Demo Thoughts

With Octopath Traveler I think Square Enix has a potential system-seller on their hands. It’s an old-school RPG coming out for the Nintendo Switch next year, but it uses the Unreal 4 engine to make everything fancier looking. It’s the most intriguing game coming out for the Switch in my opinion, because it demonstrates the hybrid console/handheld mentality that I hoped to see more of. The Switch is in a perfect position to deliver a tidal wave of SNES/PS1/DS reminiscent games that work on either the big screen or the little one, combining 3D graphics and pixels for a blast of nostalgia that doesn’t feel dated.

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Thoughts on P.T.

Before I discuss P.T. — the “playable teaser” for the upcoming “Silent Hills” game Kojima and Guillermo Del Toro are making — just know that Forbes says that “P.T. is one of the cleverest marketing gimmicks in the history of video games.”  Of course I agree.

Judging  by the footage I’ve seen of the game, it looks extremely tense and creepy.  And, obviously, accomplished its mission of confusing/terrifying many unsuspecting players.

But I’ve repeatedly criticized games that sacrifice interactivity for the sake of graphics and mood, and specifically complained about “scary” games that restrict you to a flashlight and throw jump scares at you.  It’s lazy game design.  But I’m not ready to criticize P.T. just yet.

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Kojima used my idea to promote “Silent Hills”

You’re welcome Kojima, I’m glad you pay attention!

The idea of releasing a demo/preview/promotional game which contains a big surprise reveal trailer after you beat it, is literally the exact strategy I suggested in my Ground Zeroes commentary back in March of this year:

A better strategy (and perhaps one KONAMI would never have indulged) might have been to keep The Phantom Pain a complete surprise until after you beat Ground Zeroes, at which point it unlocks a trailer that you can watch.

Judging by the delightful surprise that has spread across the internet, I feel pretty damn validated in my argument!  Because I also said this:

Forget the “Moby Dick Studios” bluff and the “Joakim Mogren” nonsense, and just let Metal Gear Solid V be an awesome surprise at the end of the seemingly straightforward extra epilogue mission to Peace Walker, designed for consoles and to show off the Fox Engine.  Hell, sell the thing for $10 so people can be blown away by how generous and appreciative Kojima Productions is.  Goodwill goes a long way.  Make sure every gamer worth his salt feels obligated to check out this amazing little game, with its amazing surprise ending, and its amazing new gameplay direction.  Get people on board, cast a wide net, and make your money with love from the community, not gouging those who try to support you most.

Could this “P.T.” game be any more similar to what I suggested?  If they had hyped up “Silent Hills” for a year ahead of time, and then released this “important story chapter” at retail for $20 with all sorts of little “extras” to drag out the playtime (like they did with Ground Zeroes,) nobody would be delighted about the game, because we’d be obsessing over crap like whether it’s a good value.  Instead, they took my advice and released an understated and generous little demonstration of what they can do, and included the big surprise trailer at the end.  “Brilliant”, as the British Twitch girl said.

If only they had done this with Ground Zeroes, people would be much less confused, much more intrigued by it, much more appreciative of their marketing, and nobody would be complaining about it being a “2 hour game”, or costing too much!  Bah…

Sean Eyestone walks through Ground Zeroes mission

Why do I continue to be fascinated by Ground Zeroes?

Kojima Productions keeps walking us through similar missions in the same Cuban black site that Ground Zeroes revolves around, and this time Sean Eyestone tries to rescue Chico from the POW section of the camp at night, in the rain.  It’s extremely dry, boring commentary from somebody on the Kojima Production staff.  But I still love what I’m seeing.  Try watching the video on “mute” and imagine taking your time with the mission while doing the typical Metal Gear habits of a) systematically eliminating all guards after interrogating them, b) stealing as much equipment and supplies as possible.  Then imagine turning off “Reflex Mode” and “Tagging” while playing on Hard, and trying to do it as quickly and efficiently as possible.

If you ask me, the real meat and bones of the game looks incredibly compelling.  The most exciting feature I saw here?  The ability to force guards to call out to their friends!  This is actually a feature I’ve thought should be in the game since Metal Gear Solid 3, along with using the enemy’s radio to create false alarms and spread disinformation.  I’m extremely glad to see a step in that direction.  It’s the kind of depth that I want from the next-gen.

Ground Zeroes @ TGS 2013

Ground Zeroes was shown off at TGS this year, with a night and day demonstration.  Now we’re getting a much more clear idea of how the game will work, and even how its mission selection screen will look.

The amount of negative reaction is surprising to me, but I think it has a lot to do with the way Kojima has been showing us the game.  For some reason, Kojima must think we don’t understand the concept of an open-world MGS game, or he thinks the world will be stunned by the innovation happening, so he wants to play through scenarios and do commentary the whole time.  Unfortunately, this breaks the “story immersion” that makes Metal Gear games feel so damn intriguing, and thus it feels like just another stealth game.  Maybe that’s the real reason people are comparing it to Splinter Cell.

Confusion is another issue.  The Ground Zeroes demo is looking more and more like a standalone prologue that will be released independently from MGSV.  It’s frustrating that Kojima isn’t making it clear, and also doesn’t seem characteristic of his marketing style.  The gameplay is nice, but it would be a lot better if we knew we could pay $15 for it in two months, or $30 in five months, or something!  Maybe it’ll be free to play, who knows.

Anyway, equally interesting is the performance of Kiefer Sutherland, reading the same lines we saw in the original trailer.  I’ve always liked Kiefer Sutherland and I believe he should be an amazing fit for this role, but I don’t care for his performance here at all.  This is bad news.  I can only hope that its not indicative of what the rest of the game and The Phantom Pain will be like.  I have to wonder if Sutherland was uncomfortable with his working environment, and if the other “on-screen” actors will have similar issues: no doubt staring at a strange camera while wearing little dots on his face, self-conscious of his expression being captured and trying to match the timing demanded by the cutscenes, while delivering lines written as quick banter between old friends, but no doubt acting by himself.  Or maybe the doubters were right and he simply doesn’t care.  That would be a crying shame.

The gameplay itself looks very fast and responsive, with flexible options at every turn.  Diving to the dirt, swiveling, hopping, sprinting, climbing, it’s all very sharp and immediate.  Clearly this is not your slow, plodding, wait-for-animation-to-finish type of Metal Gear, which means that a skilled player should be able to deal with threats and get out of messy situations if they can prioritize and think on their feet.

The anti-air guns, armored personal vehicle, and rocket launchers all spoke to the need for this increased agility.  Big Boss is going to have to kick some serious ass in this game, as well as doing some serious running.  It makes me wonder about some things.  Like having a limited numbers of enemies in a base, and the option to kill all of them and run around freely.  The question of how different enemy groups in different parts of the world react to alarms, too.  Will the African rebels have a different strategy than the Russian mercenaries?  Variety is the spice of life.

Questions abound, and I’ll admit there’s a lot of key details missing, but I am optimistic.  No doubt the camp we’ve been shown is the most “basic” example of an enemy base in the game, with some of the most straightforward solutions for dealing with it too.  Who knows what kind of madness awaits in the full MGSV.  Let’s not forget who we’re dealing with here.

Bare Mettle’s “Sui Generis” game engine is both astounding and embarrassing

Sui Generis needs help being funded:

The question is, would you give it money?  As I listen to game creator Madoc Evans explain that the goal was to create a realistic, open world like he imagined when he was younger, I feel deeply awkward, because while he explains the genius of real-time muscle simulations and nuanced combat physics, I’m watching one of the silliest fights ever take place on the screen.

Characters flail their arms like children and stumble around without a shred of grace.  Every attack is aimless and uncoordinated, and when they hit they either seem to do nothing at all, or knock the character down.  As the victim slowly and mindlessly crawls back to his feet, the attacker stands there, aloof.  Where is the aggression?  Where is the martial training?  Where is the panic and bravery?  Where is the soul of the fight?

I wouldn’t criticize any of this, mind you, except that they’re bragging about it, which means that they don’t see any major problem.  They’re not working on making the combat more engaging or tactical.  They’re happy.  I wouldn’t be.

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