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December 18, 2014

2014: The Best Year Ever

No, really.

No, really.

No, really.

I’m not even joking here.  This was a great year for video games -- like, the best year. 

Now, look.  I know what you’re expecting here, because if you’ve been on this blog long enough, then you know I’ve done the exact same thing before.  You know that last time I wasn’t exactly in a chipper mood.  2013 saw the release of some really good games, but it also saw some truly awful titles (DmC is not what I’d call a good game -- and let’s just leave it at that).  But in the end, I was optimistic.  I figured that things would get better.  I thought we’d get better games on average, instead of as an exception to the norm. 

As it turns out, I was half-right.  The Wii U has given me one awesome game after another, to the point where I genuinely can’t decide which one of its releases is my personal Game of the Year.  I’ve dabbled with a couple of smaller games like Shovel Knight, Fez, and Tokyo Jungle, and walked away impressed; likewise, a slew of fighters have given me finger muscles that would make Hulk Hogan in his entirety look feeble.  And even though I’ve expressed my distaste for “next-gen” games, I’ll gladly admit I can see the potential.  P.T. showed me that.  As did Wolfenstein, of all things.  It’s about using your toolset effectively, not just having the best tools.

On the other hand, there was some real garbage this year. 

For the life of me, I can’t tell if people like Titanfall or hate it -- or more importantly, even care that it exists anymore.  It’s more than a little troubling to hear that a game hyped higher than Olympus Mons could just drop out of the public consciousness so thoroughly, but from what I can gather, the shooter primed to outdo Call of Duty (as made by some of the guys behind Call of Duty, while trying to do what Call of Duty already does…only with parkour and robots) has been outdone by Call of Duty.  I can’t heap hate on a game I haven’t played before, but methinks something has gone awry.  We’ll see how it goes.

The same could be said for Destiny.  I don’t think highly of the game, and even if I spent more time writing a post on it than actually playing it, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.  Again, from what I can gather I don’t see a reason to; the game has its fans, sure, but be it from players or reviewers/critics I’m seeing a lot of negativity.  A lot of backlash.  Disappointment, apathy, coldness, and even outright anger.  That’s not a good place for any game to be in, let alone one with (possibly?) half a billion dollars poured into it. 

And then there’s Watch Dogs.

I don’t know what my Game of the Year is, but I don’t need a second to name what’s at the bottom of my list.  Watch Dogs is one of the worst games I’ve ever played.  At its best, it’s as bland as a pile of month-old gruel.  At its worst, it manages to get wrong even the basics, be it gameplay-wise or story-wise.  It’s not often that a game infuriates me to such a level, to the point where it’s even surpassed DmC in terms of rage-inducing.  I don’t necessarily hate the people behind it with a passion, but I do hate their product.  I hate the misguided -- if not short-sighted -- mindset that brought such a terrible, terrible game into being.

Am I being melodramatic?  Probably.  I’ll gladly recognize that there are worse games out there, even if I haven’t played them.  I still haven’t forgotten how much anger Thief 4 drew out of Zero Punctuation’s Yahtzee, to the point where I expect him to name it as one of his bottom five games of 2014.  Beyond that, Ubisoft -- not content with just one failure a year -- put out the nigh-broken Assassin’s Creed: Unity, which could probably work its way up to mediocre even if it didn’t have any bugs. 

Reviewers across the board aren’t even trying to mask their disdain for CoD anymore, especially since this is its second entry on eighth-gen consoles.  Konami sold gamers a forty-dollar demo with a straight face with Ground Zeroes.  I don’t know what the hell’s going on with The Master Chief Collection, but it doesn’t sound good.  You can’t look anywhere without someone, somewhere, being unhappy with the latest games.

But that’s a good thing.  Maybe even the best thing.

Take Watch Dogs as an example.  Apparently it’s gone on to sell more than four million copies since its release -- probably more by this point.  That point alone is enough to make my blood hotter than lava, but there’s an upside.  If we pretend for a moment that those four million sales directly equal four million players, then there’s a question that remains: of those four million people, how many of them are satisfied customers?  How many of them are willing to go “Yep!  That was an amazing experience.  I would definitely play more”?  How many of them aren’t ready to sing praises?  There’s probably a higher count of the former than I care to acknowledge, but the same could be just as true for the other camp.

Watch Dogs has seen huge sales.  So has Destiny, even if Activision refuses to reveal the exact number (which probably doesn’t mean good things, but we’ll just wait for now).  So has Titanfall, since EA has apparently greenlit a sequel.  Plus, people will probably still line up for the next CoD, or the next AssCreed, or whatever -- if they haven’t already -- for the chance to play the latest and “greatest”.  But here’s the thing: more sales means more exposure -- of a product, as well as its faults.  The number of people that know The Wonderful 101 is bad at explaining some of its mechanics is a smaller sample size than the number of people that know you can fall through the ground in AC: Unity.  And with the internet still alive and well, that sample size -- and the negative press that follows -- travels pretty freakin’ fast.

We’re in the eighth generation of video games now.  What worked in the past isn’t enough anymore -- or at the very least, it won’t be soon.  Likewise, at this stage we expect more from our games.  Even the stuff released in the last few years -- Skyrim, for example -- has shown us what games can be, so the expectation is that the new stuff can reach that level fairly easily.  Barring all that, I don’t think it’s too much to ask for a game to at least be competent, especially if it’s from a company with enough money to buy New Hampshire.  But we haven’t gotten that recently.  We’ve had to talk about how The Evil Within isn’t scary, or Far Cry 4 is just Far Cry 3 with a worse story, or how DriveClub doesn’t do what it’s supposed to.  We can’t talk about the good stuff in games, because we have to talk about the bad stuff.  Constantly.

But when you think about it, that’s got to be the best possible situation for us.  Well, granted the truly best possible situation would be one in which all games on all consoles immediately came out as TENOUTTATEN-worthy, but the point still stands.  Maybe you can’t say as much for everyone, but you can say it for enough people: there’s some real dissatisfaction among gamers. 

They’re voicing their opinions.  They’re articulating the problems.  They’re not as eager to blindly accept whatever gets thrown their way…even though they have to buy what gets thrown their way to judge for themselves, but you get the idea.  People across the board are becoming more critical of the games they play.  And when that happens on a big enough scale -- when we have droves of gamers demanding more from the men and women behind those walls of code -- then we stand a chance of setting something in motion.

How can we get better games if we don’t ask of them from our providers?  The answer is -- unless we start making games ourselves -- we can’t.  And the point has long since passed for us to start demanding higher standards of others.  Good thing we’re taking a giant step forward, yes?

Well, relatively speaking.

There’s still a lot of work to be done, of course (given how AC: Victory was apparently being worked on instead of making sure AC: Unity wasn’t terrible).  Setting aside what’s going on in the game industry, there’s still the matter of sorting out what’s going on with gamers.  All of the recent controversies -- and I don’t think I don’t need to say which ones -- have opened up a lot of eyes to the issues woven into and around games, and the people that play them.  There’s no quick fix for that.  There just isn’t.  Frankly, there might not even be a fix at all.  But I want to believe that there is -- for gamers, for games, and for everything in between.  I’d think, or maybe hope, that it’s all about changing the mindset.

And I want to be a part of that change.

I’m not even going to try and pretend like what I write here and elsewhere have some far-reaching impact on the world.  It’d be cool if it did, but I haven’t reached that stage yet.  I want it to, but that’s a ways away.  So for now?  I’m more than willing to make my presence a bit more widespread, but until then?  I just have to keep doing what I can.  Sometimes it’s not always about having the biggest audience; even if there’s just one person enjoying what you make, you should make things for that one person.  That’s where it all starts.

I can’t begin to explain how much writing blog stuff like this has helped me.  It’s made me into a better writer, both in terms of these posts and in the storytelling craft.  And likewise, you don’t know how much I appreciate comments and opinions, whether they agree with me or not.  I want to be able to facilitate that, and maybe even do that on a wider scale someday.  But until that day comes?  Right now, I’ll say thank you.  And I’ll keep pushing forward for as long as I can.

So, what does that mean for Cross-Up?  Well, the holidays are right around the corner, so -- despite my above claim -- I think it’d be best if I put the blog on another soft hiatus.  Things will get back in full swing sometime in January (ideally), because even now I can think of a few topics I’d like to talk about.  But I’ll save that for later.  I can tell you right now that I’m not planning on doing another visual overhaul; that was a pain in the ass last time, and I can’t think of anything I desperately need to change right now.  At most, I’ll just be going in and making sure that everything works as intended.

Beyond that, though?  I don’t know when it’ll happen exactly, but I absolutely want to get back to working on I Hraet You -- up to and including the implementation of some much-needed edits.  I’ve been thinking about it consistently for weeks now, and it’s only served to remind me how much I want to get back to Lloyd’s adventures in Porbeagle.  This is a pretty hard swerve against my earlier plans to do a crossover with Dead on Prime (which I’m guessing some of you don’t even know exists…in a sense), but yeah.  IHY takes priority now.  The crossover comes later.  So expect new chapters of the former someday.  Hopefully sooner rather than later.

Until then, though?  Don’t worry; you won’t be starved for content. 

I’ve talked about Kamen Rider off and on (and on, and on, and on) in my posts, but I haven’t done anything direct on it since last fall.  It’s time I fixed that.  So, my plan is to have one post per week on a series that’s taken up space in my mind for ages: the fifteenth Heisei-era installment, Kamen Rider Gaim.  What does it do right?  What does it do wrong?  How much can I nerd out?  You’ll just have to wait and see for

Micchy, Kaito, and to an exponential degree.  In that order.

So that’s about all I’ve got for now.  Thanks for reading, both this post and the posts before it.  Hope to see you guys soon.  Until next time, then. 

Happy holidays.

…All right, once more for the road.


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