2014 New Year’s Gaming Wish List, Part 2

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Latest posts by Sam Parish (see all)

Well, as I threatened last time, here is Part 2 of my 2014 Gaming Wish list, enjoy!

8. A good Alien/Aliens game.

Since starting this article a whole batch of information has been revealed about Alien: Isolation SEGA’s latest attempt to catch lightning in a bottle with this beloved franchise. Of course, more importantly this newest entry is also an attempt by them to address some of the damage done by Gearbox’s steaming-pile-in-birthday-wrapping Aliens: Colonial Marines.

Poorly written, absurdly broken and sold on out and out lies Colonial Marines did a massive disservice to SEGA, to Alien fans and to the property itself, so much so that many wondered if SEGA would even want to continue pulling from what was rapidly being called a poisoned well. It seems that there is still some hope for the franchise though with the first information seemingly been released purely to say “Relax; we know what we’re doing! This is NOT Colonial Marines!”

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Bringing back the “survival horror” nature of the original film (note the title is ALIEN) Isolation features Amanda Ripley, daughter of classic protagonist and feminist icon Ellen Ripley, in the player’s role. Light on combat, heavy on atmosphere with a hulking and intelligent Xenomorph that is always hunting you, Isolation seems to be trying to fuse the dread of the original film with the spirit of recent horror darlings Amnesia: the Dark Descent and Outlast. Now I’m not saying that fans should start congregating en masse to the nearest likely-looking cave but as resurrections go this one seems to be facing the right direction.

9. Steamboxes being worth the effort.

Everybody’s favourite digital gaming retailer and annual destroyer of wallets Steam has fired the first shots toward the console market with the reveal of the first line of pre-built SteamOS-powered gaming PCs, dubbed “Steamboxes” by fans and pundits alike.

The idea it seems was simple: a line of pre-made, easy-to-use machines that are powerful enough to play the entirety of Steam’s gargantuan catalogue that would be priced competitively with consoles thus finally ending the problem faced by those who wanted PC gaming but were flustered by the confusing amount of models, parts, specs and prices.

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What we have received has been…a confusing amount of models, specs and prices. Now, it was always clear that there would be tiered devices, starting cheap before gradually getting more expensive and powerful. However with the reveal of over a dozen different machines, produced by various manufacturers without any thought to standardisation beyond sharing an operating system seems to have firmly put an end to the initial “one simple machine for all” idea.

This, combined with a price structure that starts off at around $500 that reaches $6000 makes the promised “Steamboxes” not really worth the effort at the moment. Not when consoles, other machines and do-it-yourself jobs can all be had for much cheaper. Of course, this is still early days so hopefully Valve can pull something out of the bag to show us that they’re not just wading haphazardly into a market already saturated with over-priced hardware and very confused customers.

10. Digital console markets actually competing with Steam.

Speaking of Steam, let’s talk about their most attractive feature: the near-mythic Steam Sales. Every year worldwide millions of gamers pooh-pooh buying at launch, instead echoing that familiar mantra “I’ll wait until it’s on sale”, knowing in their hearts (and wallets) that their monk-like abstinence will eventually be rewarded with deep, deep discounts on every title they chose to pass up. A concentrated barrage of discounts, daily deals and flash sales can easily see the savvy consumer get a year’s worth of gaming for a week’s grocery shopping. All of this of course helps net Valve a heck of a lot of money.

I want 2014 to be the year that consoles start to open up to this possibility. Imagine, powering up your Xbox, or signing into the Playstation Store and being met with discounts of up to 90% on hundreds and hundreds of games, without the worry of “will my machine even play this?”

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Platform uniformity has always been one of the console’s strengths-if it’s on the machine, it’ll play at max settings. Now, why can’t they learn the lesson of PC that flexible pricing more than makes up for any potential problems with hardware? Who cares if thick black smog belches from a rig that struggles to run Windows 98 if you can still buy Skyrim or Battlefield 4 for pennies a pop? Consoles need to get this into their heads. They have a huge install base that wants in on a world of instant-access digital content, yet drags their feet due to incredibly restrictive pricing. Even on games years old rarely if ever will consumers see a price-drop or a concession to the fact that publishers are being undercut massively by pricing in brick-and-mortar stores.

Obviously I’m not calling for the utter destruction of high-street gaming retail but at the very least console publishers need to acknowledge that unless they do something their digital offerings will always be a poor second to the PC market.

11. Consoles fully embracing the indie scene.

Likewise, PCs benefit massively from having an open and accessible platform for budding developers to launch their games, free from the restrictions and costly problems caused by publishing on consoles. Thanks to this there is a constant deluge of fresh and exciting indie games arriving on PC daily. And consoles need to get all up in this. True, Sony have made great strides by opening their platform up to independent developers and giving them a chance to publish on the PS4. Last year their E3 announcement was basically a role call of great indie announcements, but even then they are woefully short when it comes to the PC.

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Look, the games industry is in trouble. Triple-A games are becoming more and more expensive to make and consoles are rapidly becoming riskier and riskier for companies to develop for due to the need for every title to be THE big title. It’s headed for a crash, hard. However, the independent side is-if not the outright saviour-then definitely something that is in the best shape to resist the incoming problems. Console publishers! Realise that there is a demand for fresh and invigorating new ideas, and that right now the indie scene is the place to find them. Low risk, inexpensive IPs that get people talking; if that sounds like a confusing prospect then you really need to get out of the kitchen.

12. The end of mobile gaming being seen as a “fad”.

Seriously, it isn’t. With companies such as Apple posting huge profits and everyone and their mother now familiar with 4 Pics 1 Cup 1 Word, not to mention the endless war of attrition fought between billions of Plants and Zombies or, of course, the media juggernaut that is Angry Birds, it’s safe to say that mobile gaming in all it’s shapes and colours is here to stay.

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But beyond the ability to make amounts of money that verge on the religious there are legitimately engaging experiences to be found within its milieu. Take for example last year’s Rayman Jungle Run and Ridiculous Fishing. Both brilliantly simple and engaging games that accrued critical acclaim from respected gaming news outlets, not to mention awards and accolades galore.

The sigma that the entirety of mobile gaming begins and ends with Facebook-style time-wasters designed purely to sucker in the small children and “casuals” with short attention spans and long credit card numbers needs to end. Not only are we doing a disservice to the genuine hard work that goes into some of the gems hidden beneath the (admittedly large amounts) of shovelware, but we are also denying gaming the opportunity to expand and develop beyond the ever-more rigid confines it finds itself in these days.

13. The death of Free-To-Play money-grubbing.

Related to the above is the need for gaming to stop being used purely as a vector for publishers to line their pockets.

For the uninitiated Free-To-Play refers to the business model in gaming whereby the game itself is free and can be played without any upfront cost, to make up for the lose of revenue many of these games feature either in-game adverts or the option to purchase additional content, cheats etc. from an in-game shop.

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Now, let’s get the record straight. I am not opposed to the idea of this model if done well. It allows for a much wider audience for your game and can lead to companies producing fun and interesting experiences that can be as deep or shallow as they wish. Take for example games such as the excellent Path of Exile, or Lord of the Rings Online. These are games that offer hundreds of hours of engaging content, completely free of charge. These are games that understand the value and importance of putting good game-play ahead of forcing players to spend money to continue playing.

Unfortunately, games like that are very much in the minority; instead (as with most ideas in the games industry) the concept has been taken, bent and beaten into a far more insidious shape.

Sadly I admit that this whole “Free-To-Play” problem is rife within the world of mobile gaming, where publishers say that younger generations of gamers are now used to, if not expecting, games to give them opportunity to spend more money. Indeed, probably the most unpleasant and sickening example of this micro-transactions-sorry “In App Purchase” culture can be seen in Square Enix’s Final Fantasy: All the Bravest. A gross and greedy exercise in milking a popular property for all of it’s worth it acts purely as a means of making money from fans. It is everything wrong with how the “Free-To-Play” model has been hijacked and abused; demeaning to customers and damaging to a franchise the incessant nickel and diming that so many games are now designed purely around showcases some of the utter worst parts of the games industry.

But it isn’t just on your phone that you can be bilked for coins! Oh no, fully-priced retail games now want in on the action! Be it ads for in-game “helpers” and multiplayer perks splashing across the main menu for Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag to what I see as the absolute nadir of the practice: Dead Space 3. Wherein the entire in-game economy and core systems were gutted and replaced with a system designed around forcing the player to either waste real time waiting for resources or pony up money instantly (not to mention completely breaking the difficulty curve of the game by allowing players to spend money to have immediate access to powerful weapons and upgrades). The “Free-To-Play” microtransaction culture has now begun to infect every aspect of gaming top to bottom and frankly enough is enough. Games should be about challenge and rewarding the player for their time and effort not simply seeing how much money a company can squeeze from those who have already paid dearly for the privilege.

Yes, you could argue that these are “optional” and that they are not forcing you to pay. Yet I argue that to take that stance is to ignore the heart of the problem, which is not that such things exist, but rather that such things existing is becoming the sole reason for a game’s design and creation. It is a creeping weed, slowly strangling the creativity and artistry found in the medium in favour of shaking down some extra pocket change from loyal customers. It is gross and damn it, it needs to stop.

14. Half-Life 3.

Lol.