From Pajitnov, With Love

I quite like Tetris. I think it’s one of the few timeless games that has managed to find its way into the hands of people from about three or four generations – and do you know what? It’s still just as fun as it ever has been.

I was a little surprised to see in the past week that EA’s Tetris Blitz would be ending in April this year, and instead the product had been licensed out to a new company, N3TWORK.

Um, excuse me? Rude!

There’s not many games that have stood the test of time on my iPhone. Even The Simpsons Tapped Out was taken off there some time ago, and Gardenscapes is only hanging on there by a single nostalgic thread. Tetris Blitz, however, has stayed on my screen for a few years now. I wouldn’t say that it’s particularly religious-level of playing, but certainly once a week or a fortnight, I’d whip it out and see what kind of score I could get with the free boosts that I had collected, or, if the mood grabbed me, what kind of boosts I was willing to cash in on.

Do you know what I’m not willing to cash in on though? $8 of hard-earned money to be able to play Tetris on my phone without ads. GTFO, N3TWORK.

One of the benefits of having the large companies control gaming, is that they are less tied to marketing, or advertising, revenue. Sure, they still put ads in games, either as banner ads or as opportunities to recover a life or get some extra power – but they don’t put them up as a barrier between the player and getting into the game. They want you in their ecosystem to tempt you into micro transactions. Not to bombard you with cheap, crappy mobile ads.

N3TWORK, it seems, couldn’t give a toss what I think. Ads before a game, it is!

I have some other issues with the game, all of which are (allegedly) to be addressed in future updates, but I have to say, unless you don’t want iOS users switch over day-and-date you have your ‘full’ release, then be prepared for a multi-pronged onslaught between xCloud, Apple Arcade, Uplay Plus, and any one of a number of subscription services out to take consumer’s disposable income. You also need to try and deliver, at the very least, a like-for-like product.

Right now there is no Facebook Connect, no different game modes, and limited settings. I assume there is an Apple ID / iCloud connector somewhere working in the background … but I’m not convinced. I feel like this is something that could, and should, have been done prior to launch.

Perhaps I expect too much.

I’m going to keep the new Tetris on my phone for now – if only to hold out hope that it’ll get better. It’s a very thin, tenuous hope, but if Blitz is to be retired, well, it might be all I have.

Tetris has survived this long on my phone. There’s a very good chance that this’ll be the year it does not.

Electronic Arts (EA Play) Event 2018 Thoughts

Perhaps the closest thing to popularity on the internet is the degree by which you are hated. For Microsoft, that’s almost a given … but EA is certainly up there, perhaps no evidence more needed than its successive run as worst company of the year.

I don’t hold the same vitriol for EA, if anything I look on them with great fondness. EA brought me a decade-plus’ worth of titles – some of which I grew up with – notably Command and Conquer (which is coming back as a mobile game!) and Tiger Woods PGA Tour. I’m also much older and nuanced in my outlook these days, so I didn’t watch the press conference with exceptionally high expectations, but I also didn’t expect others’ – particularly those of my vintage – to have their expectations all that high either.

I actually hate to reference the man (he’s incredibly conservative, was a long-time Republican, and one bad day away from being a Trump Voter), but Colin Moriarty of former Kinda Funny fame, is right on the money with this Tweet:

My own thoughts? I got what I expected. I think the standouts for me are what gaming has increasingly become: the indies – either in spirit or in structure – continue to be the innovators, the heart and soul, and probably the only real point of difference between each of the press conferences. With that in mind, let’s have a look at the two standouts from my experience.

First was Unravel Two, which is a delightful little game which did a bit of a Bethesda moment and was announced as being available ‘right now.’ The first game was a tight little platform puzzler, and I can’t remember if I ever finished it or not, but I can absolutely see why it’s enjoying the success of a sequel. It’s focus on couch coop and being a game that doesn’t involve you blowing stuff up is – sadly/unsurprisingly – the point of difference here. That alone is worth the price of admission.

The second game that grabbed my attention was one of the titles from the new EA Originals program. Today’s was called Sea of Solitude,

It wasn’t visually stunning. It wasn’t touting itself as the next big thing (and it certainly didn’t push itself as having a Battle Royale mode), but it had heart. As the developer stood on stage and talked about the genesis of the game and her own experience of loneliness, worthlessness and despair, it was a much-needed shot of heart into the flashy style of a yearly gaming press conference.

I was less excited about watching the Anthem gameplay, because I have my heart (for now) in Destiny, so time will tell whether this appeals to me or not. Clearly, the introduction of a Special Edition might my mind!

For now, I’m happy with what I saw. I can’t wait to see what Microsoft deliver in the morning!

Anthem for the Year 2018

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There’s not much to love about a studio closure. As I talked about in my assessment of the Australian Gaming Industry, it’s an itinerant, project-driven industry, that means a closure is ending a collection of permanent jobs. The biggest closure in recent years locally has probably been 2K, of Borderlands fame, with the local development scene now preoccupied with a glut of mobile and free-to-play games that are as hit-and-miss on iTunes and Google Play as they compete with a market over-supply.

The reason for my lament is that I suspect a new closure is coming soon. Kotaku are reporting today on the general feeling among Bioware that their future hinges on the success or failure of their upcoming IP, Anthem. Whatever you think of the game – and I happen to think it looks pretty darn good – it is still being compared to the games as a service stalwarts such as Diablo III and Destiny. Neither of which have had seamless launches, and the latter of which still draws criticism after failing to learn from the mistakes of Christmas Past.

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And that is both a shame and a reality. The benchmarks set by the big players in the industry – Activision Blizzard and Electronic Arts (among others) means that lofty KPIs are often the death knell of once mid-tier studios. I spent a not-inconsiderable amount of time in Bioware’s worlds, Baldur’s Gate and Neverwinter Nights … and I know that Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Mass Effect still draw considerable affection from the internet at large. But now everyone is in pursuit of the next Overwatch or Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds. They want the attention of streamers, of gamers, of the mainstream media. They want to be able to exploit revenue streams, and not just the usual additions of DLC and micro transactions, but now we’re talking merchandise and advertising. Big Business has finally woken up to the opportunities presented by gaming.

Perhaps a telling sign of the times is that IP is now the main commodity of the gaming industry. The death of THQ didn’t stop the sale of its popular series, Darksiders, with the launch of the third instalment due out this year. Atari are using their subsidy to crowdfund investors for a Nintendo Switch launch of gaming classic, Rollercoaster Tycoon. Theme Hospital is still invoked as the precursor to new development, Two Point Hospital. The love of titles and characters far surpasses the love of studios and publishers.

Ironically, it seems that it was the love for the Mass Effect brand which signalled the beginning of the end for BioWare. Impossibly high standards set for Anthem are likely to make for a sad ending on what was undoubtedly one of the best developers of the past few decades.