Storytelling in Video Games

Video Games allow a player to transport themselves to a different world and do things they wouldn’t be able to do themselves.  Unlike a movie, the player becomes part of the story, watching it play out and directly impacting the game world.  Technology is finally reaching a point where sometimes you can’t tell the difference between a game and a movie and when we reach that point, that will be the pinnacle of storytelling.

I like to make the analogy of the “choose your own path” books from back in the 90s.  You would start a story and then the page would give you options.  If you wanted to go down one path, go to page 9, otherwise, go to page 10.  Essentially, that is what you get in a video game.  Early games and even some games today have a very linear story.  What that means is, you are acting in a story and it is already predetermined and the things you do won’t change the overall story or the ending.  A popular storytelling method now is to go toward an open world or dynamic storytelling.  This allows for the player to dictate the story and to make up their own way through a game.

A great example of dynamic storytelling is Quantum Break.  On top of allowing the player to make choices that directly affect and change the game, they tied in a live action TV show into the game.  The game bounces you back and forth from in-game playing to watching like a TV show.  Another good example is the Game of Thrones Game from Telltale Games.  Again, the game allows you to make critical decisions (just like they have to make in the TV Show) that will have long lasting effects on the characters and the story.  

All of that being said, there is still a place for a Linear Story, as long as that story is done well.  Battlefield 1 is one of those.  The campaign in Battlefield 1 is very linear but it unfolds in a way that gets you invested in the characters and situations.  If you watch the Campaign Trailer for the game, if I didn’t already know it was a video game, I might think this trailer is for a movie.

As we continue into the future we’re going to be seeing more and more games that are like traditional forms of entertainment, movies and TV.  I for one cannot wait.

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Is it time to end Game Reviews?

Overwatch is broken… very broken, yet by reading the reviews you wouldn’t know it.  The game launched back in May to high acclaim and gamers were hungry to get their hands on it.  There was one gaping flaw though, the game released only half completed.  The entirety of the competitive mode was nowhere to be found.  For those people who are fine with a casual, light atmosphere this probably was not a huge issue but for those who hunger for competition and want a way to measure themselves against other people, the launch version of Overwatch hugely under performed.  One of the mind boggling things was the ratings the game received on review sites:

9.4 / 10 –

90% – Metacritic

Even giving the benefit of the doubt, if a game releases with basically half of the game not completed right off the bat that should lower the score by at least 10 if not 20 points.  It really gives pause when large review sites such as IGN are able to give a game a 9.4 without being able to even play a large chunk of the game.

One thing that is glaringly obvious is the fact that the outcry on games is directly related to the publisher.  If EA were to release Battlefield 1 with no planes and then told the gamers that they were tweaking it and planes would be released in a month, there would be riots in the streets.  However, Blizzard was able to tell the public that they were still working on competitive mode and still release the game to near perfect review scores.

The other problem is the subjective nature of reviews.  This is not a new problem and there is always going to be a level of subjectivity.  However, recently I watched an interview on IGN with the reviewer of The Division before the game was even released and before he had a chance to get his hands on the final release.  This guy destroyed the game based on what he saw in the beta and alpha builds of the game.  How did this affect the final review?  Who knows but you know at some level he went into that review with a sour taste in his mouth.  

There is also no accounting for personal taste.  There are some people who love shooters and hate MMORPGs but what happens when that MMO gamer is made to review a game like The Division or Destiny?  I personally like both genres and found that none of the reviews I read for either the Division or Destiny helped me decide if the game was good or not.  

So what should be done?  The first thing that needs to go is rating them with a number or even rating them at all.  To give something a score out of 100 or a percentage it usually means you can quantify it.  Giving a score of 9.0 based on your “gut” doesn’t help anyone.  The other problem is that my 9.0 may not mean to me what a 9.0 means to you.  You can even say Good, Bad, Worst but even that has a certain level of interpretation to it.  If you’re going to give a number score to anything, I want to see how that score breaks down with a graph of the factors you rated it on (ie. Graphics, Gameplay, etc…) but even then it’s still too subjective.

The second thing that needs to happen is that a single person shouldn’t be able to review a game.  A way to remove some of the subjectivity is to have a group of people review a game separately and then come back together to write one combined review but again, I think our reliance on numbered scores needs to end.

A quality review in my opinion would just summarize the experience without the need to give it a number.  The biggest thing would be to not say anything is bad or good, just let the reader come to their own conclusion.  If we take Overwatch as an example the review would just let the reader know that the entirety of the competitive mode was not finished and in the game yet, then let the reader decide if that matters to them or not.

Bottom-line is that something needs to change.  The system that has been used for years is no longer working and holding up in a world where people need to know what to buy and spend money on.

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AC: Syndicate Thoughts

Last Friday Assassin’s Creed: Syndicate was released and being a hardcore fan of the franchise of course I picked it up.  I’ve played a good 6 hours of the game and my initial impression is very good.  After the botched launch of Unity, it felt good to just be able to turn on the game and get down to it without bugs or logon issues.  What was really interesting to me was the reviews for the game seem to be all over the place.  Typically with most releases the ratings tend to be fairly close but Syndicate is running the gamut.  I don’t really understand why either.


IGN – 8.2/10

Gamespot – 9/10

Forbes – 7.5/10

The Telegraph – 2/5


I’m going to preface this whole piece by saying I usually take reviews with a grain of salt.  Reviews are always prone to subjectivity and you can’t always base your buying habits on reviews.  However, it is very interesting to me that this game caused so much confusion and wildly different ratings considering most of the reviews I’ve read pretty much say the same thing.  

Syndicate is an AC game, the solid gameplay is still there and the combat feels much more visceral than in other games.  Punching someone in the face and then throwing a kukri in their face just feels so intense.  The combat also feels more fluid than in other games in the series.  I had played through the last hour or so of Unity before going into Syndicate and it definitely is true, combat is in fact smoother.  Combos are interesting and being able to use finishers is also a welcome change.  As well as the AI being a little bit more unpredictable.  Some reviews say that the gameplay is the same and list it as a con which baffles me.  Why would you change something that fundamentally works?  I also am not sure how else you could possibly do it.  I also really like that the lock-picking mini-game is gone, it felt like a chore in Unity.

The story so far seems to be good.  In my opinion, changing the story to have you as the player actually be the character seemed lazy to me.  Ever since Desmond died, the story has suffered in my opinion.  It does seem to have less interruptions in terms of jumping back to the real world, which always seemed to be annoying after Desmond died, the content of the jump backs were never substantial.  It’s back to where players want to be, in the open world of London.

Another gripe was that the game looks “dull”.  I don’t understand that myself since London during that time period would have looked like that, smoke stacks everywhere and a general drab look.  To list that as a con and potentially take points away for essentially being historically accurate is mind boggling to me.

Another plus that most reviews didn’t touch on were the now manageable side missions, quests, and collectables.  By the end of the game, my Unity Map was essentially a wall of stuff, actually seeing the map became a chore of filtering out things.  So far in Syndicate they seem to have gotten control of it.  In Unity eventually I stopped trying to do everything and collect everything because I just felt so overwhelmed.  The same is true about Black Flag.  The other good thing is now the Side Missions actually help you work toward the overall conquering of the map and are not just there as filler content.

There are still some inconsistency with the wall climbing, jumping, and combat.  Most of the issues are when you combine those.  There has been quite a few times when my character vaults across  a length no man would ever be able to when doing an air assassinate.  There are some walls and ledges that you could clearly jump on or jump to but the game is hesitant to let you actually do it.  I spent several times just rolling the control stick in circles mashing the jump button trying to get the character to continue jumping.  This is probably the biggest issue for me, you would think at this point they could polish that up.

Having not completed the game yet, I can’t speak to the overall story or plot but from what I’ve read the ending ruins it.  I can’t imagine what could possibly be so bad that it ruins the entire game’s story but I guess I’ll figure it out.

In conclusion, I don’t agree with the majority of what various reviewers are saying about the game and cannot really understand the wildly different ratings.  The only thing I can say about it is the subjectivity of the reviews in general, depending on who you are, you’re going to have a different take on the game.  Which is why I think more review sites should take multiple reviewers and truly come up with a fair review.  Doesn’t that just make more sense?


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Starwars Battlefront Beta (PC) Thoughts

The hype surrounding Star Wars Battlefront has been crazy over the past year.  With everything ramping up to the public beta that started yesterday.  The question is: does the game match the hype?  So far I am pleased to say that it does.

My main concern was that the game was going to end up being a re-skinned Battlefield 4 so my expectations going into the beta was pretty low.  I had tried to avoid watching too many gameplay videos as to go into it with a clear mind.  I am happy to report the game is definitely not a reskin.  In fact, to my surprise, it plays almost nothing like Battlefield.


Before we start, the specs of the computer I was playing on:

Geforce GTX 780 Ti

Intel Core i7 – 4770k @ 3.50 GHz


ASUS ROG Swift PG278Q @ 2560×1440, 144Hz

Windows 10 Pro


In the video below, I captured my first round playing Drop Zone.  Immediately, the game looks visually stunning.  The space / air battle going on above the play area is a beautiful touch and it also comes with it’s own sound effects.  I actually sometimes found myself almost confused as to what sound was enemy fire and what sounds were just ambient noise (which may just be that I don’t have a firm enough grasp on the nuances of blaster fire).

I definitely went into it with the Battlefield mindset.  I was using my iron sight / scope all the time and I assumed that crouching would make me more accurate.  Both of these assumptions were wrong.  There is no benefit to crouching other than to make you a smaller target and the accuracy between the scope and hip fire is not changed at all.  This changes the way you play the game.  Close range is hip fire 100% and mid to long range is scoped but even then, you don’t really have to.  In the video you can tell I didn’t realize this at first and probably had a lot more deaths than I should have.  The other little gameplay thing is that the laser beams actually take a bit of time to reach the target which really changes how you have to aim but on the upside you can really see exactly where you’re hitting.

The audio design is amazing, it sounds like it’s real (if blaster rifle’s were a real thing and wars were fought between the Imperials and the Rebel Alliance).  Even the transition between screens fades out like the transitions between scenes in the movies.  It’s little touches like these that make the game a pleasure to play.

The unlock system is really good.  Guns and Items unlock based on player level (you gain experience for playing and finishing games).  Once unlocked, you can use credits to buy them and use them.  Credits are accumulated at the end of games.  When you finish a match, the game divides your total experience earned in that match by 10 and that’s how many credits you get.  I’m not sure if that is the math that will be used in the final release but it seems to be pretty fair.

All of the items are referred to as cards and you can hold a max of 2 cards and one upgrade card (ie. Ion Shot for your blaster).  It looks like you’re going to be able to preset a few “hands” and be able to swap them back and forth depending on what you feel like doing (like a loadout in Battlefield games).  The guns are not classified as cards and you simply buy them when they unlock.  It looks like there are really no secondary weapons in Battlefront (ie. Pistols).  So far there is only a card that will give you a sniper rifle that acts like a second weapon.  I’m sure in full release there will be a ton of cards to unlock and play around with.


A few gripes:

  • You obviously don’t have to reload a blaster rifle but I constantly found myself hitting “R” to reload.  Muscle Memory is a hard thing  to break.  I just hope it doesn’t affect my Counter Strike.
  • On Drop Zone, there is no visual queue when the enemy is capping a pod, HUD or emote by the player.  This I found vaguely annoying because then everyone that even comes close to the pod needs to be shot and tactically that makes it hard to protect the pod.  They need to add a countdown HUD display or actually have the character look likes he’s punching buttons or something.  
  • The position of the radar is in the bottom left corner and almost all other shooters i’ve played the radar is in the top right corner.  Not sure why that design choice was made.
  • I hate third person view, but if you play competitively (not sure how much of that there will be) you will have to either turn it off or just use it all the time.  The problem with third person is that is gives you a much wider range of vision and even allows you to peer over cover and around corners, so a person playing in 1st person view is almost at a disadvantage.
  • No prone.  I don’t know why they chose to not include it.


Nasty Bug:

  • After the first match, I kept playing (see the video below) and my game started to stutter and skip around, almost like I was dropping frame rate.  It got so bad the game became unplayable.  I thought it was due to Shadowplay so I stopped recording but the stutter wouldn’t go away.  It was so bad I couldn’t navigate around the menus and I had to just open the task manager to close it.  I left the task manager open to troubleshoot and went back into the game and now it was just stuttering from the very moment I opened the game.  I noticed that my processor usage was at 100% and holding steady.  So I closed the game and the processor went back to normal.  Opened the game again and it spiked back up to 100%.  Frustrated, I closed Origin and opened it back up then went into the game and there was no stuttering.  Then I thought the Origin Overlay was causing it so I turned off the in-game overlay and continued to play.  I finished and then went to go play some Starcraft 2 and Starcraft 2 started to stutter and my processor again was at 100%.  I closed Origin and it went back to working normally.  I can’t say for certain what the issue is, but it’s got something to do with Origin and Battlefront.  I just hope they fix it in the final release.


Overall I am very pleased with the state of the game and am looking forward to playing the final release.  Until then, may the force be with you!



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World of Warcraft Launch Day Woes

After so many years of World of Warcraft, you would think Blizzard would know how to launch a game flawlessly… you’d be dead wrong.

The first interesting choice Blizzard made was in the selection of doing a pre-order bonus – A way to automatically level a character to level 90 (a new one or an already existing character.  What they failed to do was offer a way for people to physically order WoW and get that same bonus early.  For people that ordered the expansion online, they received the bonuses immediately (Mount, Pet, and the 90 boost).  For people like me, who ordered the Collector’s Edition, I didn’t receive anything until launch day.  I couldn’t even pick the game up at midnight since my Gamestop didn’t have enough pre-orders.  When I asked the Gamestop Manager why this was, he speculated it was due to the online orders of people who wanted the bonuses before the expansion released.

If you were lucky (or unlucky) enough to have the game at 3AM EST, you were able to log in and start exploring the new zones.  However, 2 crippling bugs became apparent and got worse as the day went on.  The first was a bug with a very early opening quest.  You have to interact with an Architect’s scope to build your Garrison and apparently that bugged out, essentially preventing anyone from getting past the quest.  Blizzard quickly hotfixed the quest and by the time I logged on at 10:30AM , the problem had gone away.  The new issue was the Gormaul Tower Quest.  The quest relies  on the Blizzard technology of Phasing (Phasing allows for live changing of the actual environment per player based on quest status or time).  When you would phase into the area, all of the enemies would also disappear.  After awhile, a lot of people were trying to get the quest done and essentially causing the server to become crippled due to the thousands of players that were getting stuck in the zone, unable to continue leveling and just grinding on enemies or exploring.  So even when they hotfixed the issue hours later, the area was still laggy, almost to the point of being unplayable.

While all of that was going on, a new fun bug came up.  Since the Garrisons effectively are on their own server, when that server goes down, the entire area becomes locked out.  So when I got on a flight path to fly somewhere, as I flew over my Garrison the mount just stopped in mid-air.  I was unable to do literally anything.  I relogged, reloaded the UI, when I tried to exit in game it wouldn’t let me so I had to ALT-F4, I couldn’t even queue for a dungeon.  Here’s a fun little clip of the issue:

I’ve been playing WoW since it released and I have played my fair share of other MMOs over the years.  This may be the worst launch of an MMO I have ever seen.  It’s surprising since Blizzard has had years of experience with just this type of launch and are having so many issues.


I just hope after the maintenance today, everything goes back to working correctly.  I need to get to 100!

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