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I don’t want to say I love being the contrary voice, but it does provide novelty for me to write about. If you read any 10 reviews of a Discovery episode, you will probably see some very snide jabs about how the show isn’t Trek enough, isn’t nerdy enough, blah blah. I’m going to disagree with that both in principle and in semantic details. Here we go.

 

Discovery’s Trek Pseudoscience is Perfect Within the Reboot Timeline

I noticed a few people bashing the rather “popular science” concept behind the new warp drive in Discovery and how it breaks Star Trek on a fundamental level. At first I agreed, but then it occurred to me that ‘spore-something-whatsit’ drive was the kind of name that probably changes over 15 years of development. All they did was update the pseudoscience of the Trans-warp drive to something that fits with an article people read a few years ago from a social media link. Since the whole “old Spock going back in time” thing has has messed up the timeline, it’s not at all hard to believe that the Federation deployed it in early stages to win the war, rather than testing it for another 15-20 years as in TOS timeline (where it first appears in the Excelsior prototype in the movie era).

Overall the TV science is a ton of fun in this show IMO. Anyone who cites TOS or even TNG as a paragon of accurate physics knowledge at that time, needs to go back and watch them again. Even in the 60s they knew better than a lot of the nonsense that Scotty spouts off every week. Before you flame my inbox, I love the hell out of those shows, but we have to be realistic. Discovery’s pseudoscience is in no way worse than any previous Trek show and fits in perfectly with the style of the reboot universe. Star Trek shows are about exploring social and political issues through a lens of science fiction. The social science has always been waaaaaaay better than the hard science. Anyone want to talk about all of the different retcons to explain why different humanoid species can breed?

 

No Star Trek Show has had Good Characters so Fast

We all love Captains Picard, Janeway and (Cmdr) Sisko right? Can you think back to how you felt in the first season of those shows though? Those characters were barely defined and the actors playing them were still struggling to adjust from “serious” acting to sharing a set with people in ridiculous outfits. It wasn’t until the second, or even the third season of those shows that they really settled in and became the characters we remember so fondly. Even the holy original series, which I hate to mention, took a good 10-12 episodes to really hit that awesome chemistry between the lead actors (as well as an almost complete shift change from the pilot).

By 6 or 7 episodes into Discovery I was pretty attached to most of the characters. Michael Burnham is a hard character not to like, because she’s the Ultimate Girl Scout trope. You can’t not like the character that never stops trying and always has a plan, even when they screw up. The rest of the cast grew incredibly quickly on me as well. Actually, in a strange (and I’m sure intentional) contrast, the captain is actually the most obtuse and hard to relate character in the show so far. He’s somewhat heroic and a little tragic, but it’s hard to really get a read on him and he seldom takes center stage. It was actually kind of a shock after the pilot to go from Michelle Yeoh’s very compassionate and personable Captain Georgiou, to Jason Isaacs’ very brusque and standoffish Captain Lorca. I think it’s very intentional though and for the moment, I’m intrigued. If anything it’s a fun nod to the captain switch between pilot and series in the original.

What I really love about this show, right off the bat though, is the supporting cast. Remember how spot f*cking on Whoopi Goldberg was as Guinan, right from the first scene she appeared in? That’s what every character is like in Discovery. They range from so cute you just have to love them, to relatable in a way that makes you feel like you know them. Many of them also struggle with personality quirks and mental illnesses that a lot of us can relate to as well. From the immediately impossible to hate Ensign Tilly to the Oh-My-God-Don’t-Be-a-Villain handsome Security Chief Tyler, I loved seeing all of them on screen from the very start.

 

SPOILER ALERT: Let’s Talk About Harry Mudd

I honestly have to say that I am nerd-offended by the critical hate at Rainn Wilson’s portrayal of fan favorite character Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Before I defend it, I want to just say that I accept all of the rational reasons to be offended. They are bringing in a beloved character earlier in the timeline, have cast an unexpected actor and are putting him in early episodes as if to use him as an authenticity trophy. All of that would be completely damning if Wilson didn’t walk away with the show in episode 7. If you are still complaining about his introduction with his bug friend, get caught up and then let’s talk. Mudd’s return a few episodes later has the humor, the maniacal violence and silly dialogue we expect from the classic trickster.

In fact, I think that episode was what really shook my fears that this wouldn’t really be Star Trek. I was already amused, but not convinced that it would be Trek enough. That episode was everything Star Trek is at its best. It turns a TV episode trope on its ear (the “Groundhog’s Day” episode), gives us even more juicy character bits and gives Wilson a chance to cement himself as the “new” Mudd, in the same way Zachary Quinto should never be ashamed to answer to “Spock” again.

 

They Remembered to Add Fun

One of the best things about watching a good Star Trek episode, is how much fun it is just to watch the plot unfold. The best ones usually involve a white-knuckle plan, an expertly timed science-fictiony button press or two and maybe even some romance. The problem is that this describes less and less episodes as the various series went on. Deep Space Nine and Voyager went way to all-in on the space politics and Enterprise was often more groan inducing than heart pumping.

I am quite pleased to say that most of the episodes of Discovery so far follow the winning formula. While it can get dark at times for Star Trek (they are at war after all), it’s not too out of place in the new universe. For the majority of screen time though, you will see Federation officers rigging crap to the warp drive to save the day, performing thrilling heroics, bonding with each other and sometimes even sharing some romance.

 

Social Progress

Speaking of the romance, I’m really, really pleased that Discovery’s version of TOS notorious “first interracial kiss” is much more tasteful. Two of the male officers on Discovery are a couple. If you have any sense of people, you will realize it the first time they share a scene and it’s 2 or 3 episodes before we see them in a private moment. When they do have a brief conversation in private, it isn’t some forced opportunity for them to make out. They brush their teeth and have a conversation like any of us about health and work stress. It reminds me of the quote from Gene Roddenberry about hiring Patrick Stewart to play Picard, he said something like “In 300 years, nobody will care if you’re bald.” It’s good to know that in 250 years 2 gay officers can serve on the most important ship in the Federation fleet, work together every day and it’s not even an awkward conversation in the first episode.

I also really like that the main character doesn’t have to be the captain to be the the lead. Sonequa Martin-Green is just mesmerizing to watch. She’s like Indiana Jones or Alice from the Resident Evil movies, where she just goes and goes until the problems are solved. She also has this strange vulnerability by not being vulnerable, as overdone as that is. It’s endearing to see how she works so hard that she struggles to find time to live, once again something a lot of people can identify with. I feel dirty honestly just mentioning that she’s a woman of color. Like it feels so low to even bring up that there could be any statement in her writing and casting, besides that Martin-Green plays a terrific Star Trek character and deserves the role over any other. So I’ll just leave it at that. It really doesn’t matter. You can see it as some sort of controlled image for the show (anybody remember the reaction to the multicultural cast of Voyager?), but I refuse to believe it. Whatever credibility CBS intended to gain by having a black female lead, the actress herself immediately brings credibility to it beyond what any writer or producer intended.

 

If you don’t think these elements make something Star Trek, we have fundamental differences about what that means. Star Trek to me is social topics, adventure, wonder, optimism and a good healthy dose of “this is how our society should be damn it.” Discovery is all of these things and more in my opinion.

 

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Anyone here ever have a Dreamcast? N64? Original Xbox? The thing all of these systems have in common, is that they were more powerful than the Sony console of the time and could do more tricks. They also have in common that most of the multiplatform games they hosted were barely modified Playstation ports. If you just bought an XB1X, get ready for a trip down memory lane or a novel experience of playing crap ports on your superior system if you never had any of those.

In an ideal world, game developers would have enough time and money to make sure that every version of a game was perfectly optimized for each system and used each unique feature it had to offer. In the real world though, most studios are just thankful to get the game released and hopefully playable at all across all platforms. How well optimized for each it is and how many unique features each version has, are often determined purely by how much of that is baked into the game engine they choose.

Some studios, like Ubisoft or 2K, will use very scalable engines like Unreal that do almost everything for them. In these cases, you can easily just crank up sliders and check more boxes to make a game look nicer on better hardware. The engine is designed to scale performance impact evenly, so the developers don’t have to do a ton of testing. Others, like EA or Bethesda, have in-house engines that they use across most of their titles. These are usually pretty good too, because the publisher has development teams working on every platform. Engines like idTech and Frostbite are very familiar to the devs, who have worked on them and contributed to their development for years. So games like Battlefield, Doom, Call of Duty and Madden can be expected to run well across all platforms and have graphics settings tuned to each platform.

Some studios on the other hand, insist on using a new engine for each product, using exclusive development tools that are not widely known (NINTENDO COUGH), or just making each new game basically from scratch. Most of these developers reside in Japan, but we have a few of them in North America and Europe as well. These guys are the ones wrecking everyone’s day and are why we can’t have nice cross-platform things. Unfortunately they also make up some of the most popular games.

Games that are originally developed for consoles are often made on an engine that was developed specifically for those consoles. For example, Demon’s and Dark Souls were made on an engine that was only intended for PS3 and Xbox 360. The same is true for Grand Theft Auto 5. These games had significant port issues and the versions for PCs and newer consoles were very poorly optimized. Grand Theft Auto 5 was especially notorious at the time for taking exponentially more VRAM as you turned up settings. The original Dark Souls’ PC port was literally the 720p console version, running poorly upscaled to your monitor resolution. This is pretty much what life is like, when you have the more powerful systems something is released for.

 

What it really comes down to in reality, is that the developers are overworked, underpaid and constantly rushed. In the real world where they barely have time to get the product out in fucntional condition, they have to pick their battles. The easiest way to at least release for all platforms, is to just have several tiers of performance and quality. That usually means that the PS4 version is held back to the level of the slightly weaker XB1. The XB1X and PS4 Pro versions will be another level and then the PC version will probably just be that plus the ability to tweak settings yourself. So nobody is really happy, besides the XB1 and PS4 Pro owners, who can be mildly satisfied that the competitor version is not significantly better.

The days of the PS1, N64 and Dreamcast are a great example of this. You could have say a football game, released on PS1 first. Then the N64 version would just be that with bilinear filtering on the textures, making it blurry, but still not too bad at the same screen resolution. Then you would have the PC and Dreamcast versions, which were still the same game made for the PS1, but running at double the resolution or more and now filtering the textures at a much higher level. This left you with games that looked absolutely awful on the best systems. You could have a game like Tomb Raider, that was all the rage on Playstation, but on PC or Dreamcast, it was like putting pins in your eyes.

Hopefully this will be much improved by modern development tools and middleware, but I’m not too hopeful. Big publishers especially have shown that they love this lazy ‘tiered’ method of multiplatform development. So I would not be surprised if for the first few years at least, we see a lot of very underwhelming XB1X and PC ports of games released across all platforms. Now that publishers have 3 platforms to lump in the ‘high’ tier, it’s actually likely to get worse. Up until now, PC ports and PS4 Pro patches were done as an afterthought and usually had their own time and budget allotment after the game was released. Now I think we’ll see a lot more day 1 multiplatform releases, but the PS4 Pro, XB1X and PC versions will all be sadly on par.

 

This is one of those things where I would love to be wrong. Unfortunately, most predictions I make that assume the industry is lazy and greedy come true.

 

After a mighty 11 year career, the Sony Playstation 3 is finally looking ready to officially die. Sony has stopped producing them and the only new games coming out are Fifa and Let’s Dance!(which tend to continue coming out long after a system is really dead). That’s as close as you can get to an indicator that a video game system is truly gone, no matter how many people still own one.

It’s not terribly likely that I’ll do an article like this for the Xbox 360, because Microsoft’s tendency to release their exclusives on PC as well means you will not have to work nearly so hard to play them again years down the road. The Wii went the way of the Dodo years ago, has been replaced by 2 systems already and I already did one of these about it way back in 2012. So really, this is the end of a generation. The PS3 is now moving out of the realm of things you can buy new, into the realm of things you can only buy at used game stores and eventually will move into the realm of stuff you have to hunt down on eBay. So here’s a few things to grab for the memories before they become rare and expensive.

 

Hardware

60 GB “Phat” launch edition console: This guy is going to be the crown jewel of collectors and nostalgia buffs’ PS3 collections 20 years down the line. These things literally have the guts of a PS2 inside them to allow perfect backwards compatibility. They also have 4 USB ports, 3 silly and useless card readers, chrome highlights and they weigh as much as a guitar amplifier. The main thing is the ability to play PS1, 2 and 3 games right off the disc, making this the only old Playstation you need to actually plug in to play your classics.

Here’s the big catch: The launch PS3 is the hottest running, most error prone PS3 ever released. Keeping one working for more than 2 years requires pretty much re-building the damn thing yourself with better solder and thermal paste. Even then, you will likely have to replace the disc drive lens every few years.

While the maintenance cost and effort is high, it also means there are very few of these still in working order. That number will only shrink as people get tired of fixing them and decide to just recycle the corpse. I finally managed to score one for myself and it took me a little over 2 years to find one in the condition I wanted.

Side note: The 20GB launch PS3 is also backwards compatible, but lacks wifi!!!  It’s not likely to ever be as valuable as its big brother and having to plug in a network cable is really annoying.

 

First Party Controllers: Something we’re going to start running into with newer systems that we didn’t with older ones, is a lack of first party controllers still in existence. The increased use of analog sticks, triggers and buttons makes controllers wear out much faster. Since the company stops making them at some point, this means we are going to run out. While many of the original NES controllers probably still work just fine, it is pretty much impossible to build an analog stick that is both sensitive and invincible. They just don’t work that way. PS3 controllers have the added issue of containing a battery that can wear out.

Although these things can be fixed with the right parts, most people don’t bother. They just recycle them or throw them away, forever removing them from the available supply. So definitely get first party dual shock pads for your PS3 collection while it’s still possible to get new ones at near original cost.

Side note: PS3 controllers also charge with old Mini-A USB cables. These are becoming a thing of the past as well, so definitely grab at least one extra. It is NOT the same cable that PS4 controllers and almost everything else use today.

 

Adapters: I mentioned above that the controller takes an older USB cable, but you could also use an adaptor.

Another important thing to remember, is that the PS3 did not have a headphone jack in the controller, like the Xbox 360. You can use a USB PC headset, or a bluetooth earpiece, but they will only support chat audio. If you prefer to game with a headset for game audio, you will need adaptors or a PS3 specific one. Either that or you will have to rely on headphone out from your TV, which is often of poor quality (if it even still has one).

All PS3 models use standard power cables that can be found in any electronics store. Unlike the Xbox 360, there is nothing special about the PS3 power cables and they can be replaced with any consumer cable with the same plug. The older models use a standard desktop PC power cable, while the slim models use the “bowtie” cable you will find powering anything from your clothes iron to your pencil sharpener.

 

Replacement Hard Drives: It’s not very likely that SATA hard drives will become rare, even once that interface is replaced. They will probably still be around for decades, the same way you can still find IDE drives for sale today. That being said, SATA SSDs that are plenty large enough for a PS3 are really cheap these days, so it’s not a bad idea to throw in a brand new one before you put that old PS3 in storage. Not only are the stock drives small, but they’re not terribly high quality. Most of them are low-end Hitachi drives that would be found in $300 laptops. Might as well just slap something decent in before mothballing the system, just in case they are hard to find whenever you pull it out again. A PS3 will not even function without a hard drive (unlike an Xbox 360), so if yours fails, you have no system until you replace it.

 

 

Games

Exclusives: This one is tough, because re-releasing games in higher resolution is something that Sony does really well. Ico/SotC, The Last of Us, Ratchet and Clank and Uncharted have some of the best HD remakes around. That being said, there are still a few exclusives that are only or best on PS3.

Demon’s Souls is an absolute must. Sony published it, while the newer games were all published by Namco-Bandai, so it’s unlikely to ever come to other systems. Sony has been strangely hesitant to make it available on PS Now or as a PS4 re-release, so at the moment it’s a PS3 only game.

Deadly Premonition is also available on Xbox 360 and PC, but most would agree that the original PS3 version is the most playable and bug-free. Deadly Premonition is a retro-styled gem that relies on you being amused by gameplay that mimics older games with clunky gameplay. Adding actual clunkiness pushes it a bit, so the PS3 version is definitely the one to play.

Odin Sphere and Dragon’s Crown are both excellent side-scrolling games from Vanillaware. While the emphasis on scantily clad barbarian women may turn some off, these are two of the best games bridging the Metroidvania and Beat-em-up genres in years. Odin Sphere is single player and more RPG focused, but Dragon’s Crown is a co-op game that Golden Axe fans will feel right at home with.

Katamari Forever is debatable in its place among other Katamari games, but stands alone as the best HD way to play Katamari. Since it combines levels from past games, remixed levels and new levels, it’s the best way to get the “full Katamari” experience. It has a sister game on Xbox 360, but Forever has more levels, runs smoother and has more of Katamari’s legendary music tracks to choose from.

 

HD Collections: Although launch PS3s will play PS2 games and all PS3s will play PS1 games, there are some HD collections that can actually be defended as the best way to play the games. Especially if the games are rare and expensive to find in original versions.

As I mentioned above, Sony does HD remakes very well. Pretty much anything they do themselves is going to be the same game with better visual and audio quality. So Ico/Shadow of the Colossus, Ratchet and Clank and God of War HD re-releases of PS2 games are by far the best way to play them. They also support widescreen, which is a huge plus over playing the stretched and blurry originals on your modern tv.

Some of the other third party collections are equally excellent. The Devil May Cry collection runs very well and looks sharp and the Resident Evil HD versions are even scarier when you can see what the heck is going on (sorry gamecube and your crappy rca cables). In general though, always look up reviews, because anything not Sony can vary greatly in quality. Some HD remakes truly earn the bad reputation by being outsourced to companies that seem to have no clue what they are doing.

On that note, Silent Hill HD Collection. This one is super tough, because the PS3 version (and only the PS3 version) got a patch that fixed the very worst of the bugs. The games still have bugs and they even struggle at times to render effects the PS2 had no trouble with, but the fact is that it IS still Silent Hills 2 and 3, in HD and they can be played start to finish. With both of these games now being rare and hard to come by in good condition, I grudgingly have to put it out there as an option. I would stay far, far away from the Xbox 360 version, but the PS3 release is a deeply flawed, but fully playable way to experience Silent Hill 2 and 3 in HD and widescreen.

 

Every PS1/2 Classic on PSN: Another thing to keep in mind, is that Sony may not keep the PS3 store up forever. The PS4 is not showing any signs of getting backwards compatibility and very few games have been ported as downloads, so the PS3 may remain the only way to play them. If you already own digital classics, or would just rather pay less to play these classics instead of buying physical copies, you might want to load up while they are on sale.

The PS3 doesn’t have a by any means complete selection of digital ps1 and 2 games, but there are quite a few available. Games like Suikoden II, Xenogears and Grandia are quite pricey to pick up physically, so buying them for 6-10 US dollars is very reasonable.

Sony would draw a lot of ire if they took these purchases away from people any time soon, but there will come a day when nobody is logging in anymore and Sony just has to free up the server space. So don’t expect them to be maintaining an ancient server full of old PS3 downloads 20 years from now.

 

 

I will probably add to this article later as I flesh out my own collection and move my PS3 stuff from the “current systems” mess to the “collection” mess.

Extremely Off-Topic: The NFL just changed last night.

Posted: October 30, 2017 by ryanlecocq in Off-topic

Even if you have been reading this blog for the past 7 years, or even know me personally, you may have no idea I’m an NFL fan. I don’t consider myself an expert, don’t play fantasy leagues and only follow the Seahawks of my native Washington state on a weekly basis. So I was naturally watching the Houston Texans’ better-than-The-Wrath-of-Khan defeat to the Seahawks on 10/29/2017.

While the dust is still currently settling and everyone is debating the final play calls, I just want to use my dedicated soapbox to air an opinion before it becomes the media line:

Last night’s game changed the NFL for at least the next decade.

That may seem like a bold statement, but it’s actually pretty plain when the shock of the game wears off. The Houston Texans just put up 38 points and over 500 yards against the Legion of Boom. Whether you’re a 12 or not, you’ve probably heard that this just doesn’t happen very often. Scoring 2 touchdowns on the LoB in the final quarter is almost unheard of.

Now there may be some debate about how well Seattle’s defense actually played and whether or not Deshaun Watson will play that well again this season. I’m not arguing that for a moment. What’s pretty obvious though is that in a year or two, Houston is going to do this any given Sunday. On every week that isn’t their worst week, the Texans are going to put 35+ points on the board, even against the best defenses the league has to offer.

Russell Wilson had to play the best game of his career to beat them and he was already a legend with his old stats! If you are any team but Philadelphia, New England, New Orleans or Green Bay (talking about Rodgers when healthy), you have to seriously ask yourself if your QB even has that to pull out of his hat, on the best day of his life. If they don’t, you can look at this season as the last time you have much chance of beating Houston.

 

It may seem like I’m jumping on the Deshaun Watson bandwagon and becoming a Texans fan, but that is not the case at all. I love my ‘Hawks and you better believe that I’m kissing my lucky hats that my QB is the 5th on that list. Seattle may have a lot of work to do in other areas, but we do have a captain who will be able to play in the NFL of the next decade.

Realistically though, I have to accept that this is not a fluke. Quarterbacks like Watson, Wilson and Wentz are what every single football team is going to need in the very near future, or viewer numbers are going to get even uglier in a hurry. It’s no secret that the Patriots, Saints and Packers are going to need someone who can continue to execute at this level once their legendary QBs retire. Once again, this is the new normal. Every great rookie QB is going to be coming out of the Deshaun Watson mold now and every single one of them is going to be dropping laser-guided strikes from across the field. If you’re a team like Carolina that has a QB playing the way the NFL did 20 years ago, you should be seriously considering your playbook and options.

Because really, there is no other answer to these new paradigm young quarterbacks. Sports press used to talk about Russell Wilson like he was some kind of mutant back in 2012, but I think we’re starting to see that QBs with a new set of skills are becoming the norm. Sure they have good arms, sure they’re tough and can take a hit. What really makes them different though, is that they are showing up out of college with the poise and execution of an older player. To be able to field a QB who has the arm of a 25 year old, with the mind of a 35 year old, gives a team a ridiculous advantage over teams in the old mold. They can do things you never expect them to do, because they’re doing things nobody their age has ever done before.

So that leaves you with very few answers, besides an equally impressive QB, until the rest of the positions are similarly reinvented to compensate. For the next few seasons, I think we’re going to see more and more young quarterbacks making good defenses look bad, because they’re going to keep doing the impossible. If a rookie can make a ball do gymnastics around Richard Sherman’s body, who the hell else is going to do anything about it? You’re definitely not going to stop him with a few sacks, he’s too young and healthy for that. We saw Russell Wilson play to the very end of the season last year with both ankles wrapped and some sort of erector set around his knee, you definitely aren’t going to wear these young QBs out. It may not seem like it if you only watched the videos of Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas picking Watson off, but it wasn’t exactly easy to bamboozle him either. The LoB pretty much had to come up with a few plays, to make him look like anything less than the human form of Apollo.

 

So where does that leave you as any team but the Eagles or the Seahawks? In the market for a young QB that already plays like a hall of famer at his peak, I would hope.

How Not to End Your Videogame

Posted: October 19, 2017 by ryanlecocq in Off-topic

 

I recently played The Evil Within 2 and it followed an unfortunate trend that’s been bothering me a lot recently. The majority of the game was pretty enjoyable, but the last couple hours of the game were basically a rehash of all the earlier mechanics with increasing challenge. This is something we were used to in the days of the original Mega Man games, but doesn’t fly so well today. Recent games like Prey (2017) and Mass Effect Andromeda were just as guilty. In a post The Last of Us and Tomb Raider (2013) world of gaming, an ending to an action game that is anything less than mind-blowing just doesn’t cut it anymore.

Recently I’ve been calling this the “Colonial Marines” fallacy. Many will remember Aliens: Colonial Marines as the game that dramatically under-delivered on years of hype and fan expectations. Objectively, the first 3/4 of the game is just a mediocre shooter that isn’t even the worst among Alien games. It’s the excruciating final 2 hours that leave such an awful taste in your mouth after playing it. That game is probably one of the worst examples of developers just throwing waves of enemies at you, mixed with mini-bosses and cheap deaths, just to add length to the game. It isn’t fun and it’s obviously not something they intended in the planning stage. It’s just a clear cop-out when developers can’t come up with a fun way to ratchet up the challenge, so they just reuse all the work they’ve already done until it’s hard enough.

The Evil Within 2 and Prey are serious offenders in my opinion, because they start out so good. Prey made me feel like I was playing a Bioshock game, right up until the end where it suddenly felt like one of the bad Call of Duty games (or Colonial Marines, ouch). The Evil Within 2 starts out with open environments that encourage creative play, not unlike The Last of Us. Right when you’re feeling like this is the Silent Hill/Resident Evil game you’ve been missing for years, a really cheap and Mega Man like boss battle is the first sign the fun is about to end. After that point, the end of the game is just the developers forcing you to do the same things you’ve been doing, just in extremely narrow and arbitrary circumstances, removing all of the freedom that made it fun before.

Seriously guys, do not do this.

It would be better to put a good ol’ endless tower full of boss battles in the game than this. Hell, even turning the parts of the game you couldn’t finish into low-budget cinematics ala Xenogears is better than this. There is nothing that ruins a game that would be good (or even average) more quickly than taking everything that made it fun and ruining it. There’s no quicker way to do that than by making the player endlessly reuse their cool upgrades and powers in a series of repetitive rooms, with no options for creative play.

It’s especially bad if this is the last few hours of the game. You see, there’s this funny effect on review scores I like to call the glow. People usually sit down to put the conclusion in their review right after finishing the game. So the bottom line opinions about it, from both players and critics, is going to be heavily influenced by how they felt right after finishing it. If the end of your game makes people hate the things they liked about it, the word of mouth is not going to be good. It doesn’t even matter if the first 35 hours of your game were excellent (here’s looking at you Mass Effect 3), if your ending sucks you will get blasted critically.

 

My hope is that the negative response to these endings will give developers ammunition when negotiating more time and money from publishers. It’s not hard to imagine that a lot of these “cookie-cutter” endings are the result of men in suits saying “just ship it”. As we’ve seen with these games though, it can make a big difference in how the game is perceived. The early press for Prey was all very good. I myself was ready to call it the spiritual successor to Bioshock. Then we all got to the super lame ending and badly paced plot twist and the metacritic plunged below 90. Not enough to make it considered a bad game by any means, but immediately removing it from any comparison to better games like Bioshock. That’s the sort of difference that can make or break a franchise. Bioshock was a good game, but it was the dramatic ending that made it so legendary.

Sombrero_john

I think I stand with pretty much everyone when I say there is really only one XB360/PS3 era Rockstar game that we want on current consoles. If you aren’t thinking Red Dead Redemption, you must not have played it (go fix that). I could join the chorus of people asking why, but I would rather try to answer why RDR was so much better than L.A. Noire. Both were period games, built with the Rage engine and each was based on a currently unpopular genre of movies. Besides preferences for the characters, soundtrack or specific gameplay mechanics, Red Dead Redemption was just a magical game in a way that L.A. Noire never achieved. What was it that made them feel so different?

 

Watch your Tone

One thing that everyone can agree about RDR, was that it was like an endless snapshot of the cover of a Western novel. No matter where you looked or what you did, every moment kept the tone of a slightly romantic version of the American West. Every character was a clearly fictional version of a Western trope, but with just enough real personality to make the world feel alive.

L.A. Noire fails at this on a fundamental level. It’s like they wanted to pay homage to both the cheeseball dime novels like Dick Tracy, but also the proud heritage of gritty noir that drew influences from classics like Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot. This results in a very disjointed experience that sometimes feels like Serpico and sometimes feels like Rush Hour.

A big part of this is the characters. Cole Phelps, his superiors and most of the suspects are these larger-than-life cartoon detective characters. Jack Kelso, most of Cole’s partners and many of the supporting cast on the other hand, belong in the latter category of gritty noir stories. While Cole’s backstory is like a scene from Full Metal Jacket and his police career is like a Brian DePalma movie, playing as Kelso is almost too down to Earth by comparison. Jack Kelso actually cares about other human beings, so he wouldn’t do something like beating up a suspect in front of their family. This suddenly grounds the game in a real world that had been largely ignored up until that point and is a little jarring to the player. Am I playing The Untouchables or Road to Perdition? Make up your mind L.A. Noire.

 

The Journey vs. the Destination

The biggest gameplay difference between the two games has to be how enjoyable the open world is. In RDR, wandering the Wild West is at least as exciting as doing story missions. Sometimes just going on a hunting trip with your horse is the best gameplay experience you have all day. Part of it is definitely the authenticity I already mentioned, but it also comes down to how much fun stuff there is to do. RDR is a game where you can barely walk 50 paces without encountering something fun and Western-y to do.

In L.A. Noire I would be kind to say that the open world is just a chore between the much more exciting interrogations and chases. If I were to be fully honest I would have to say that the open world of L.A. Noire is lifeless and boring, more fitting of a “me too” game like True Crime or Watch Dogs than a game published by Rockstar. Most of the side quests are just less interesting iterations of the things you do on story missions, just without the amazing facial capturing that makes the plot so compelling.

Even the detail of the world is pretty marginal outside of areas where missions take place. While RDR makes sure that every single canyon is epic enough looking that you aren’t taken out of your John Wayne fantasy, you will often find yourself tackling perps in L.A. Noire in front of cut-and-paste 1940s buildings.

 

Balance in Everything

The part about just wanting to get to each interrogation is a good way to describe the whole experience of playing L.A. Noire. I’m not sure if the rest of the game is actually boring, or if the fully motion captured interrogation scenes captured from real actors are just so compelling by comparison. Whatever it is, you will spend most of your time in L.A. Noire doing everything you can to advance to the next conversation, just so you can see the amazing performances.

This really hurts the game overall. In RDR, the cutscenes were cinematic and exciting and all that, but the most memorable moments were created by emergent gameplay. The moments that felt the most out of a Western movie were often just the result of me attacking a bandit town under the right lighting and weather conditions. This meant that at any time I could experience one of the best parts of the game. This constant stream of fun surprises was what really made the game great, not the scripted moments in the main story.

The best moments in L.A. Noire were scripted by the writers, performed by actors and carefully tested over and over. The only unscripted moment I can recall as truly amazing was when I was driving with my partner and suddenly drove off a bridge, landing the car perfectly on a pair of power lines and riding them across a river and landed on the other side. He interrupted his story to scream “COOOOOOOOOOOOLE!” before resuming as if nothing had happened when we ended up safely on the other side. It was magic, but unfortunately it was a rare moment.

 

These are the same things you will find in most reviews of these two games, I just wanted to put them side by side. When you really compare how RDR did some of the things best that L.A. Noire did worst, it shows how two games that are solidly constructed can be so different to play.

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A casual observer might look at someone playing Elite Dangerous and mistake it for a more action-y space game like No Man’s Sky or Starlancer. While Elite puts you right in the cockpit and is more up-close and personal than games like Eve Online, at its core the Elite series has always been a deep simulation of galactic life and politics. Frontier Developments have spent over 30 years putting sci fi situations out in an open galaxy and seeing what players do with it. Elite Dangerous finally realizes the possibility of uniting the worldwide player base online and truly allowing a simulation of how humans would behave with a bigger sandbox.

If you aren’t aware, the title of this article is referencing the 1938 live broadcast of H.G. Wells’ “The War of the Worlds.” At the time, the book was new and not widely known and the broadcast was designed to sound like news reports in parts, so some people really believed aliens were attacking. In Elite Dangerous, we know it’s a video game, because we are sitting in front of our PCs and game consoles, so the structure of the experiment is quite different. We have encountered the hostile Thargoids in the past Elite games, so we know they are a real threat. What’s interesting though, is how the playerbase is responding and how it gives me hope for humanity so far.

 

The Faceless Enemy

The Thargoids were originally the generic evil space aliens. They are insect-like, with a hive mind, much like the generic bads of movies like Aliens or Starship Troopers. They would show up and immediately attack us, so there was no question what we were supposed to do. While it was interesting in a sense, it provided no depth to the simulation. The Thargoids were basically like the ghosts in Pac-Man, where they exist to create a threat, so you can’t just screw around all day.

At our current state in Elite Dangerous (a few days before patch 2.4 and presumably the start of an interstellar war), the Thargoids are still basically a faceless enemy. We know very little about them and they still appear to be universally hostile. Over the past several games though, Frontier has dropped hints that there may be more to the Thargoids and their culture and our conflict may have even been initiated by one of the human governments. I’ll go into this a bit more below, but whether or not this turns into “another bug hunt” or not may have a lot to do with the scientific relevance of this video game event.

 

Childhood’s End

I am starting to have a sinking suspicion that Frontier is trying to Arthur C. Clarke us. In the novel this section is named after, humans are invaded by aliens with a sinister appearance, that are actually wise and benevolent. Some of the hints dropped in the lore are making me question if Elite Dangerous is taking advantage of our exposure to the Alien franchise and trying to trick us.

There have been hints that there are at least two factions of Thargoids. There have also been rumors that one faction has been fighting a losing battle against another, possibly aided by a debilitating virus engineered and deployed against them by humans when we feared they would invade us. If this is the case, it’s quite possible that the fleeing Thargoid faction is hoping to use us as a shield against their pursuers. In that case, it could have been the first faction that attacked our ships, counting on us to counterattack their imminent pursuit, not realizing the two were different.

This is even held up by the footage from the 2.4 trailer. When the human ships approach the Thargoid cruiser to test their new weapons, the Thargoids do not initially attack as they had when they previously encountered military ships. They only attack once the human ships have inflicted damage on them. It also seems relevant that the Thargoids have interdicted and scanned multiple player ships without attacking, but have attacked numerous military targets.

This could all just be part of the slow tension build-up for the invasion, but Frontier has been pretty into using the game as a social simulation in the past.

 

The Sound of Inevitability, Mr. Anderson

Our species guilt has been prominent in the past 3 decades of pop culture. Starting with the late 80s and early 90s movies about how we were killing every beautiful and endangered thing. At this point, movies and television have pretty much convinced us that we are awful, destructive savages who can’t be trusted to encounter peaceful aliens, because we’ve ruined our own world. I imagine then, that Frontier Developments expected us to react to the return of the Thargoids by forming one big torch mob.

Except we didn’t. Now I want to be clear right off the bat, we were not able to damage Thargoid ships with our weapons previously, or even scan them properly. They were even able to disable our ships if we got close to them. So it’s not like there was really anything we could do before next week’s patch.

But the interesting thing was that players did not foolishly rage and gnash our teeth, like a bear in a trap. We did our best to gather information, we put in thousands of player hours into researching their technology and we debated on the forums if it was possible to make peace. Overall a very unexpected response for humans, especially trigger-happy gamers.

Don’t get me wrong, there has also been much discussion about new weapons and potential tactics if things go sideways. We aren’t fools and we haven’t forgotten that the Thargs were just evil bugs in the past 3 Elite games. The fact that the overwhelming desire of the community seems to be to have aliens to talk to, rather than shoot at, is very encouraging for the human race.

 

A Brighter Tomorrow

All of my common sense is telling me that Frontier is just giving us bugs to hunt. There is a lot of evidence in the game already that there are other species besides the Thargoids out there. Since the Thargoids have always been hostile in Elite lore, chances are pretty good that all we can do is fight them and benevolent races will appear in future patches.

My deeply held hope though, is that Frontier sees that we don’t just want to shoot up the galaxy. The development of Elite Dangerous has been largely driven by player desires. The things we show the most interest in tend to get patched in sooner. So here’s hoping that if we continue to seek understanding and communication with the Thargoids, Frontier will allow us some path to diplomacy.

Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t mind fighting some aliens. I was a big fan of Wing Commander though and I loved how in later games, the Kilrathi became your allies, much like the Klingons and the Federation in Star Trek. A lot of us grew up on the Star Trek concept of turning enemies into friends and seeking common ground to pursue a greater good.

 

Here’s hoping that Elite’s massive simulation of humans in space allows us to show our better nature. The broadcast of The War of the Worlds in 1938 nearly caused a national panic in the United States. I personally believe that we’ve come a long way in a relatively short time. In no small part thanks to shows like Star Trek. I guess we find out next week.