Independent Developers And The Opportunity They Have

This week, I will be explaining how small independent Developers are beginning to rise in the industry as the massive Triple-A Publishers start to decline. This will be a companion post to my piece from last week titled The Decline of Triple-A Publishers,which you can find on my site.

I would like to thank my friend Alex for suggesting I do this as a follow up piece. He runs his own site and YouTube Channel where he vlogs about his life in British Columbia. His latest video can be found here:

As Triple-A Publishers begin to decline and the gaming market begins to crash, this could and most likely will allow for smaller independent Developers to expand and take over the market. There are plenty of examples of indie Developers making it on their own but first, I’m going to talk about an independent Developer that is a favourite of mine, CD Projekt Red.

CD PROJEKT RED

CD Projekt Red is a Polish video game Developer and Publisher best known for the Witcher series of video games. It was founded in 1994 in Warsaw, Poland by Marcin Iwiñski and Michał Kiciñski who both worked as video game retailers before founding CD Projekt Red. Their first project was to translate major western video games, the Baldur’s Gate games, into Polish. When the project ultimately fell through they used the coding from it to begin their own original project, Witcher, based on the novels by Andrzej Sapkowski. Their first stab at the Witcher, universe didn’t prove as fruitful as they hoped it would and the company was nearly forced to declare bankruptcy; the 2007/2008 Financial crisis also had a lot to do with the threat of bankruptcy. Through their own perseverance they produced the second game in the series Witcher II: Assassin of Kings and the small studio began to increase their success. When the third installment was released, Witcher III: Wild Hunt the company received global praise for what they had done. They were named developer of the year with their game being named game of the year. They released several free DLC packs for the game along with two free full expansions, Hearts of Stone and Blood and Wine, the latter being widely considered one of the best DLC expansions ever made.

The company expanded opening a second office in Wrocław Poland in March of 2018, to assist in the development of their new IP, Cyberpunk 2077.

WHAT MAKES THEM DIFFERENT?

CD Projekt Red has long said that the players are their priority. The support and praise from the fan base helps to drive them forward and to encourage them to constantly develop new and expansive content. They also consider themselves to be “rebels” in the sense that they do not partner with any of the Triple-A Publishing companies. Instead they deal with all aspects of game development, publishing and distribution themselves. The studio follows the work philosophy which was made famous by Rockstar Games, rather than having a lot of small projects splitting your workforce, the entire studio focuses on one project to deliver the best possible content. They focus on quality over quantity and believe that by delivering a quality product the revenue will return due to the appreciation of the fans. Open communication is a large aspect of the company’s core values, this means that all financial details on project creation (development, marketing, distribution) are public knowledge.

” The moment we start becoming conservative [and] stop taking creative risks and business risks, and stop being true to what we’re doing, that’s when we should worry. And I am not worried. Our values and our care for what we are doing and – hopefully what gamers would agree with – care for gamers is what drives this company forward. It’s my personal horror to become a faceless behemoth of game development or publishing or whatnot. As long as I am here I will be fighting for this not to happen.

— CD Projekt Red founder Marcin Iwiński

EPIC GAMES

Epic Games was founded by Tim Sweeney in 1991. It was originally called Potomac Computer Systems but changed its name to Epic MegaGames in 1992. They focused primarily on computer games from their founding up until 2006. In 2006, the game industry was suffering due to copyright infringement cases from various parties and the bloom of video game piracy. The company decided to branch into console games and in 2006, the delivered Gears of War. The Gears series would go on to become one of Xbox’s biggest properties and earn the company dozens of awards and accolades for it’s content and style. Prior to their fame with Gears, Epic was known for the manufacturing of the Unreal Game Engine, and the Unreal game series. Mostly though, people know Epic Games for one singular property which has been plaguing the gaming community for almost 2 years now, that would be Fortnite Battle Royale.

Epic Games focuses on third person shooter games, which is prevalent given their library of releases. Recently, as in December 4, 2018, Epic launched their own digital game store in contention with Valve’s Steam which has been operating for many years already. Steam has long held the title of PC gaming store front, and is now having to compete with the new Epic Games store. Compete may be a strong word, tolerate is more accurate. For the most part Epic has tried to stay away from large Triple-A publishing companies instead choosing to focus on smaller more independent companies for publishing purposes. While they have partnered with the likes of Atari, Microsoft, and EA in the past, their two most successful properties have been developed and published in house.

WHAT MAKES THEM DIFFERENT?

The main thing that make Epic Games different from other Developers and Publishers, is their new Epic Game store. The store itself is nothing spectacular, like at all. If anything, it’s a far cry from the Steam store which has fine tuned the necessities of an online digital game store. The main thing that the Epic games store has over the Steam store, is their profit sharing. If a Developer wishes to release a new product they’ve been working on for years on the Steam store, they must allow Steam to take a 30% cut of the sale profits of that product in order to sell it on their site/app/program. To most Developers, 30% is nothing. Some companies spend more than that just on advertising alone, but to smaller indie Developers, that can make or break their release. Epic has realized the gap and in order to provide a competitive market and a space for indie Developers to deliver their content to a large fan base, their store only takes a 12% cut on sale proceeds. This cut means a much larger return to the Developers to ensure they continue to produce quality output. This smaller cut has allowed them to obtain exclusive contracts with 4A Games and Ubisoft. The former putting their new release Metro: Exodus on the new store and the latter putting Division 2. While these games may eventually make their way to the Steam store, they won’t be permitted to arrive there until at least this time in 2020.

There are a lot of people who are not happy with the move by 4A to the Epic Games store. So much so, that there was a large portion of the player base willing to boycott the game simply because of the exclusivity deal with Epic Games. It wasn’t solely about the exclusivity, it was about the deal coming to light mere weeks before the game’s release date. Not to mention one employee tweeting about the “whiny gamers” and going further to say “If this is the kind of reaction we get from PC gamers then we just won’t make PC games anymore”.

THE OPPORTUNITY

I know I’ve been rambling a bit about these two companies but I swear it will tie together…

Okay, so as I said this post is a companion piece to the one from last week about the decline in Triple-A Publishers, which is becoming more and more prevalent as the months tick by. Activision Blizzard is facing a huge dip in their stock prices and only have two major properties due out this year, which means they’re going to double down on their predatory monetization schemes. Already, they’ve introduced gambling style pay to win loot crates in Black Ops 4. This is all coming after they laid off hundreds of employees, signing a new CFO as well as coming months after the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has launched an investigation into loot boxes in games. Here is an article by Kotaku regarding the subject:

https://kotaku.com/the-ftc-says-it-will-investigate-loot-boxes-1830714932

Black Ops 4 Loot Crate with Pay to Win mechanic

So, with these large companies now under a microscope and bleeding money on crumbling practices that gamers are no longer accepting, the opportunity comes for smaller independent companies to make an impact. Some of the greatest games in the last 20 years came from small independent companies that partnered with large Publishers to expand their product, Halo is a prime example. Bungie was a relatively unknown company before it partnered with Microsoft to make the first Halo game and it spawned one of the largest franchises in gaming history. But the likes of CD Projekt Red and Epic Games show that while things may be easier with having a massive Publisher to help push your game, it’s not necessary and you can make quality products with a commitment to the work and fans rather than the almighty dollar. Companies like Paradox Interactive, Mojang, Rovio, Paladin, HALFBRICK, MDHR and SpaceChem prove that you can make quality products that fans love, without the interference of large Publishing companies. If more studios follow the examples set out by CD Projekt Red and Epic Games we could be seeing a large influx of quality independently developed games in the coming years. This influx could gift us with some great new franchises that might last for years to come and help to show Triple-A companies that they need to stop using the gaming community like an ATM machine with no limit.

Any questions or comments leave them down below! See you next week!

Rocksteady’s Arkham Series – The Best Superhero Games Ever Made

It’s been just under three years since Arkham Knight, the final chapter in Rocksteady’s award winning series was released, and it has left me wanting. The series started with the amazing Arkham Asylum for the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360, which centered around Batman trying to re-take Arkham Asylum after Joker had taken control.  The second game Arkham City took place several years after the first one when the city of Gotham had walled off a large section of the waterfront and dubbed it Arkham City; this game also released for the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360 but near the end of their run. The final installment came with the releases of the Xbox One and the Playstation 4, Arkham Knight. This final installment centered around Batman as he attempts to foil the plans of Scarecrow who has rallied his enemies together to destroy Gotham and kill Batman once and for all.

Before we dive into why these games are so amazing let’s get a rundown of the plot for each one…

Arkham Series

*This post will contain massive spoilers for the Arkham series of games. Though they have been out for at least three years now, so I don’t feel guilty about the spoilers*

ARKHAM ASYLUM

The game begins with Batman capturing Joker after a very botched attempt at assaulting City Hall. When Batman drops Joker off on Arkham Island, he questions as to why the Joker allowed himself to be captured so easily. With the help of Harley Quinn and some corrupt guards, Joker breaks out of his restraints and begins his rampage through the prison with Batman hot on his tail. Joker calls in bomb threats at various locations across Gotham stating he will blow the bombs if anyone steps foot on the island, forcing Batman to bring the entire island to order by himself. Joker releases various members of Batman’s rogues gallery  including: Bane, Killer Croc, Scarecrow, Poison Ivy, and Mr. Zsasz before disappearing saying he was preparing his “party”. Batman defeats and captures each of these Rogues as his idea of Joker’s plan remains a mystery. After discovering a secret production facility for a drug called “Titan”, which was developed by a doctor on staff named Penelope Young; Batman discovers that Joker has secretly been funding her research to gain the formula in order to make an army of superpowered henchmen. When Young refused to turn the formula over to Mr. White (the alias Joker was using to fund her research), Joker was forced to return to Arkham to extract the formula from her himself.

Joker eventually obtains batches of the completed Titan formula and kills Dr. Young in the process, forcing Batman to seek help from Poison Ivy to create an antidote. Ivy explains that the spore necessary to counteract the Titan agent is found solely in Killer Croc’s lair deep in the Asylum. After obtaining the spores and defeating Croc, Batman ventures to one of his satellite Bat caves, which is located on Arkham Island, to manufacture an antidote. Ivy attacks with her mutated plants and Batman is forced to fight her, eventually winning and destroying the plants responsible for manufacturing Titan.  Joker announces his party is ready to accept guests and when Batman arrives, he discovers the Joker has captured Jim Gordon and intends to inject him with Titan. Batman jumps in front of Gordon taking the dart filled with Titan and saving Jim. As Batman resists the change, Joker grows angry and overdoses on Titan turning into a giant monster. Batman defeats Joker and brings the asylum to order. In the post credit scene, Scarecrow is seen floating away on a container of Titan into the Gotham harbor.

ARKHAM CITY

This game picks up several years after the conclusion of Arkham Asylum, Bruce Wayne arrives at a press conference in front of the gates of Arkham City to protest its creation. He is ambushed by TYGER guards and the press conference is cut short as he, along with Jack Ryder, are imprisoned in Arkham City. Hugo Strange, the Warden of Arkham City, explains to Bruce that he knows he is Batman but will keep the information to himself for the time being. Bruce defeats the Penguin and some thugs before climbing to the top of the ACE Chemicals building and retrieving his Batsuit which was air dropped via the Batwing. As he dons the Batsuit, Strange comes over the PA system in Arkham City and says “Protocol 10 will commence in 10 hours”.

Bruce deduces that if anyone knows what’s going on in Arkham City it would be Catwoman, but he overheard some TYGER guards saying she has been captured by Two-Face. He saves Catwoman from the clutches of Two Face and then stops Joker from killing her with mechanical sniper rifle apparatus. He tracks Joker to the Sionis Steel Mill and infiltrates the mill to find him. In his pursuit of the Joker he saves several doctors that tell him the Joker is unwell and was forcing them to try and save his life. Batman discovers the Joker’s lair and is knocked unconscious by Harley Quinn. He wakes up to find Joker transfusing some of his blood into Batman afflicting him with the same degenerative disease Joker has. Joker is suffering from massive cellular degradation as a result of the Titan serum he took on the island to kill Batman. He also tells Batman that he has been shipping his blood to hospitals in the area for weeks infecting as many people as possible in hopes that this would force Batman to find a cure. Batman questions him asking if this is “Protocol 10” to which Joker replies that he has no idea what Batman is talking about.

Arkham-Games

As he exits the Mill, Batman seeks out Mr. Freeze who has been imprisoned in Arkham City as well. He tracks Freeze to the old GCPD building where Freeze has set up his own lab. As he infiltrates the building it has become apparent that Penguin has kidnapped Freeze for his own entertainment. Batman arrives at the old museum which Penguin is using as his hideout and discovers Freeze and his suit, but Freeze’s gun is missing. As Batman sets out to find Freeze’s gun, Freeze himself returns to his lab to begin work on a cure. Batman confronts Penguin who is using Freeze’s gun and defeats him but in his anger Penguin detonates the floor of his lounge causing Batman to fall into a chamber that houses Solomon Grundy. Batman defeats Grundy and returns Freeze’s tech to him at the old GCPD. Freeze tells Batman that he has managed to create a cure but due to its instability it is rendered useless. Batman hypothesizes that Ra’s Al Ghul’s restorative properties in his blood would render the cure stable and sets off to find him by tracking one of his operatives. He does battle with both Ra’s and his daughter Talia before obtaining the blood sample he needs to complete the cure. As Freeze finalizes the cure he battles Batman to find the location of his wife, believing Batman to know where she is. After Batman defeats him, they open the safe to find that Harley Quinn has stolen the cure. Batman returns to the Mill and finds a Joker that has been fully restored who tries to kill him.

As they fight, Strange activates Protocol 10 which is revealed to be the eradication of Arkham City to destroy the criminal element of Gotham. Talia arrives and offers Joker the use of the Lazarus pit in order to save Batman’s life, Joker accepts and leaves Batman in the wreckage of the steel mill. Batman wants to pursue Talia to save her from her eventual betrayal by the Joker, but Alfred and Oracle refuse, stating that Batman is needed to save the people of Arkham City. Batman scales Wonder Tower (the tower at the center of Arkham City that doubles as Strange’s headquarters) and confronts Strange. When Ra’s Al Ghul reveals himself to be the mastermind behind Arkham City, he kills Strange for his failure. Ra’s and Batman battle once again, with Ra’s being beaten again. To avoid the dishonour of being captured alive, Ra’s commits suicide and Batman is contacted by Joker to come alone to Monarch theater or he will kill Talia. When Batman arrives Talia confesses she stole the cure from Harley and stabs Joker through the chest. She is then shot by another Joker still dying from the disease. The impaled Joker is revealed to be Clayface who tries to kill Batman before being defeated using Freeze-tech. Batman drinks some of the cure leaving enough for someone else and destroys the Lazarus pit located beneath the theater before Joker is able to use it. Joker stabs Batman in the side causing Batman to drop the vial of cure, which smashes on the ground. As Joker slowly succumbs to the disease Batman admits that despite everything Joker has done and everyone he has killed and injured, he still would’ve saved him. Joker dies laughing at a joke that only he understands, leaving Batman alone in the destroyed theater. Batman carries Joker’s body out of Arkham City and places it on the hood of a police cruiser before disappearing into the night without a word.

ARKHAM ORIGINS

While not produced by Rocksteady, Arkham Origins is still part of the Arkham story line taking place 5 years before the events of Arkham Asylum. It centers around Black Mask putting out a hit on Batman on Christmas Eve for 50 million dollars. This attracts several well known Rogues to Gotham in order to collect the bounty, the Rogues include: Deathstroke, Deadshot, Bane, Copperhead, Killer Croc, Firefly, Electrocutioner, and Lady Shiva. Throughout the night Batman confronts and defeats several of the Rogues until eventually it’s revealed that Joker was the mastermind behind the entire thing. Bane learns Batman’s secret identity and nearly kills Alfred by assaulting and wrecking the Batcave. This also marks the point in Batman’s career where he realized he was unable to do the work by himself. Though initially against him, Captain Gordon eventually comes around and helps Batman when Joker takes control of Blackgate prison. Batman and the police work together to bring the prison back to order with Batman being forced to stop Bane’s heart and then restart it again to save the Joker. Bane suffers amnesia after his near death experience securing Batman’s secret identity and infuriating Joker. Batman apprehends Joker rather than killing him and leaves him to be found by the Gotham Police Force and Captain Gordon. This marks the beginning of the professional relationship between Gordon and Batman as well as the rivalry between Joker and Batman. Gordon is promoted to Commissioner for his part in securing the prison, but he keeps Batman’s involvement a secret. During the credits there’s a radio interview with Gotham mayor, Quincy Sharp, where he states he intends to re-open Arkham Asylum to help with some of the more dangerous criminals.

Arkham Origins

ARKHAM KNIGHT

The third (technically fourth) and final entry in Rocksteady’s award winning series is Arkham Knight. The Halloween following the events in Arkham City, the Scarecrow enacts his plan to destroy Gotham City and kill the Bat for good. He has developed a new fear toxin that he tests on a diner full of innocent people and broadcasts it all over Gotham. He allows the people of Gotham 12 hours to evacuate the city before he will disperse the toxin. With the city deserted except for Batman and his allies along with a few remaining Police Officers, the criminals of the city run rampant. Batman tracks Scarecrow to Chinatown and finds an imprisoned Poison Ivy who refused to go along with Scarecrow and the other Rogues’ plot for Gotham. Batman frees Ivy who says that she will be taken in willingly to protect her from Scarecrow.After taking Ivy to the GCPD, Batman meets Oracle at the clock tower where, with her help, he pinpoints the location of Scarecrow’s toxin production facility as Ace Chemicals. When Batman assaults the plant he is confronted by the Arkham Knight and his well armed militia. Scarecrow converted Ace Chemicals into a toxin bomb, with a potential blast radius of the entire Eastern seaboard of the United States, and told Batman that he had captured Oracle from the Clock Tower before fleeing from the facility with the help of the Knight. Batman renders the bomb useless but not before being exposed to a large dose of the fear toxin. Due to the remaining Joker infused blood in his system and the massive dose of toxin, Batman begins hallucinating the Joker throughout the City and interacting with him. As explained before, during the events of Arkham City, Batman is infected by Joker’s poisoned blood. Along with Batman, who has hidden his infection form the others, 4 other patients were poisoned with the blood before all of the infected blood had been accounted for. The infected patients are slowly mutating and turning into the Joker with the eventual endgame being multiple Jokers running around Gotham.  It’s later shown that Robin has all the other victims in a containment ward underneath Panasa Studios where he’s working on a cure.

Arkham KNight

As Batman escapes the destroyed plant he speaks to Commissioner letting Gordon know that Oracle had been kidnapped by Scarecrow. Gordon is angered that Barbara stayed in Gotham to help Batman, and goes off on his own to hunt down Scarecrow. Batman discovers that Scarecrow had manipulated Simon Stagg, a wealthy businessman, to force him to create and deploy the Cloudburst. The Cloudburst, allowed for the Fear Toxin to be massively dispersed into the air which would coat the entire planet in a matter of weeks. Stagg owns and operates his company out of two docked Airships tethered in the Financial District of Gotham City. As Batman assaults these airships he is forced to battle the Knight’s private militia which have taken control of the tethered stations. Eventually Batman once again confronts Scarecrow only to be once again dosed with a massive amount of Fear Toxin. This new dose allows the Joker to temporarily assume control of Batman’s mind and body. As Batman fights to regain control of his body, the Arkham Knight and Scarecrow steal the Cloudburst right out from under his nose. Once he recovers, Batman tracks Scarecrow to his hideout in Chinatown and arrives to find Oracle trapped in a hermetically sealed chamber. Before he can rescue her the chamber is filled with fear toxin and Oracle seemingly commits suicide out of fear.

Harley Quinn seizes control of the Panasa Studios cave, and releases the Jokerized patients into the studio in an attempt to free them. Batman and Robin must work together along with one of the remaining patients Henry Adams, who assists them from the containment ward. As Batman and Robin capture all the patients and Quinn herself, they return to the ward to find that Henry has killed all the other patients. Henry then kills himself stating that Batman will become the perfect Joker. As Robin turns to see Batman’s eyes glowing green, he attempts to subdue and imprison Batman in one of the research chambers in the ward. Batman easily counters Robin and imprisons him in the ward stating that he will not stop until the Scarecrow has been apprehended.  Elsewhere in Gotham, the Knight activates the Cloudburst and blankets the entire City of Gotham in Fear Toxin. Batman manages to destroy the Cloudburst and convinces the captured Ivy to utilize a giant tree hidden beneath Gotham to filter out the Toxin from the air to save the City. Ivy manages to save the City, but the strain of the effort causes her death. Batman manages to track the Knight to a construction site in the Financial District where the Knight has taken the captured Commissioner Gordon. Batman arrives to rescue Gordon and confronts the Knight who reveals himself to be Jason Todd. Jason Todd was the second Robin who was seemingly murdered by the Joker many years ago in an attempt to break the Bat. It’s later revealed that the Joker didn’t murder Todd right away, but actually tortured him for months effectively shattering Todd’s psyche and deeply traumatizing him. Todd, blaming Batman for his torture and subsequent near death experience, allied with Scarecrow in an effort to make Bruce feel the pain and helplessness he felt at the hands of the Joker all those years ago. As Batman attempts to reason with Todd and even offer to help him recover from what happened to him Todd refuses and escapes. Batman frees the Commissioner and the both of them head up to the roof to confront Scarecrow. Scarecrow is revealed to have Oracle alive and well, her previous suicide being a hallucination produced by the Fear toxin and Joker control, which allows Batman and the Commissioner the ability to save her. As Batman saves Oracle, Scarecrow captures Commissioner Gordon and escapes. Batman and Oracle return to the GCPD which is then assaulted by the militia forces of the Arkham Knight. Batman fends off the attack on the GCPD but in the fray, Scarecrow uses the distraction to overwhelm and kidnap Robin as well.

Arkham City Combat

Scarecrow offers to release Gordon and Robin unharmed if Batman surrenders to him without a fight. Believing that his surrender is the only way to ensure everyone’s safety, Batman surrenders. He is knocked out and taken to the ruins of Arkham Asylum, where it all began, and is strapped to a table before having his identity revealed on live television. Scarecrow then injects Batman with another massive dose of Fear Toxin which allows the Joker to fight for control over Batman’s mind and body. As the two battle inside Batman’s mind, Joker recounts all the horrible things he did in an effort to knock Batman off balance allowing the Joker to take control. Bruce not only resists, but manages to find the one thing Joker is afraid of most in the world, being forgotten. He battles the Joker in his mind, eventually winning and locking him away in his deep psyche to be forgotten for the rest of time. As Scarecrow watches Bruce fight through the Toxin he grows enraged that Batman keeps finding a way to win and attempts to inject him again. Jason Todd, now going by his alias of Red Hood, arrives at the broken down asylum and frees Batman who then injects Scarecrow with his own Fear Toxin.

Batman then finishes cleaning up the City and ensuring it’s safe for the citizens to return. Once he has cleaned up the City and captured all his Rogues, he activates the “Knightfall Protocol”. As he arrives back at Wayne Manor, the paparazzi are all around the property and shouting questions at him from beyond the fence line. Batman walks inside the manor and as the door shuts, the house explodes and is engulfed in flames, presumably killing Bruce and Alfred. In the epilogue, James Gordon, now Mayor of Gotham, is rushing over to the church so he can attend the wedding of his daughter, Barbara/Oracle to Robin/Tim Drake. Elsewhere in the City a young couple and their son cut through a back alley to avoid the rain and are accosted by some muggers. Before the muggers can get away with any goods, they’re assaulted by a silhouette that resembles a nightmarish Batman.

WHAT MAKES THEM AMAZING

I will be the first to say, most superhero games are shit. Seriously, just garbage. Every now and then you will get some good nuggets like Marvel Ultimate Alliance or Spider-Man: Web of Shadows; but for the most part, they tend to be lackluster. The main problem with superhero games is that they always tend to be tied to some other  film or television property which severely inhibits the stories that can be told. The tie in games for various movies work well enough to bolster sales and ride the coat tail of the movie’s success, but they lack all substance themselves. Rocksteady changed that formula.

The big change that Rocksteady had was they brought in renowned comic book writer Paul Dini to craft a 100% original tale that would take place in their universe. Drawing heavy inspiration from several of his other works, Dini delivered a dark and gritty story that focused on the Batman himself and how close he is to teetering on the edge. It wasn’t until the final game Arkham Knight, that we really got to see what a Batman looks like as he slowly loses control of everything around him. There are several quotes from DC Comics that detail Bruce Wayne/Batman’s obsessive need to control everything he can. Dini took this obsessive trait and showed us exactly what it would look like to watch a man who the rest of the world thinks has all the answers, struggle to maintain his grip on a reality that is slowly slipping through his grasp. It was a stark contrast to the invincible superhero most people know. He doubts himself, he makes mistakes, he questions his crusade, and he even loses in the end; all these things happen over the span of three games and really show just how human Batman really is.

Arkham Counter

The story isn’t the only part of the series that really drove it home for most fans, it was the gameplay. You can make a game with an amazing story, that really captures everything you need it to, but if the gameplay can’t hold up to the demands the story needs, you’ll end up with a product that doesn’t sell. Rocksteady wanted to focus on the aspects of Batman’s character that make him so terrifying like his combat skills, detective work, and stealth. They derived to show the game from Batman’s point of view while still making the NPC’s react to your actions and not feel like you were some all powerful invincible being.  Entering a room with 10 enemies is a challenge because, as I said before, they react to your actions. Take one out and let another see you? They’ll group together and operate as a team making it harder to catch them off guard. They will also work to remove your advantages like destroying vents with grenades or destroying gargoyles making you stay on the ground. This coupled with the amazing combat mechanic gave us a series which delivered two games noted as Game of the Year. The combat mechanic utilizes counter attacks along with gadgets to string together combos that allow for easier taking down of enemies. As the difficulties increase for the story the combat becomes harder and you lose the visible notifier to hit the counter button. One of the best aspects to the games though, is the Detective vision. This is a vision mode which you can toggle at any point which highlights enemies and interactive objects in the environment. It adds a whole new level to planning out your moves to remove a group of enemies from a room or trying to figure your way out of some tough spots. It also is used during the moments of the game where to progress the story you must use your detective skills to follow the evidence and draw conclusions.

 

Rocksteady’s Arkham series delivered a full and immersive story that has really only been seen from AAA game studios. They brought us a full cohesive narrative with accompanying gameplay that helped to restore faith in the superhero game genre. Batman has been one of the easiest heroes to make games for based on his style and skills. There have been many attempts to make a great Batman game but none of them have been able to compare to Rocksteady’s series. I personally loved the entire series and own all the games on both the Xbox 360 and the redux versions for the Xbox One. I have logged more hours into this series than I have probably logged into Skyrim which puts into perspective the replayability of the series. There have been rumours that Rocksteady has been working on another superhero game but so far it has been kept under a tight lock as to who it will feature, but the most popular theory is either Superman or Green Arrow. There was also another rumour that a further game would be added to the Arkham series taking place before Arkham City but after Arkham Asylum. It was to feature the dynamic duo with Robin being a 100% playable character. Nothing much has been said on this front and the rumour mill has recently dies down on anything remotely related to this “new Arkham Game”. I know that while I don’t think this series needs another installment, if they did release another game, I would FOR SURE be one of the first people to pick it up. I would highly recommend that anyone who enjoys adventure games with a great story checkout this series; you don’t even have to be a Batman fan to like the game, Rocksteady does a great job of explaining everything so that even someone who has no knowledge of Batman or his history can follow the story. That being said, they do jam pack the game full of Easter eggs and little nods so that even a seasoned fan of the Bat, like myself, still finds awesome little nods to several other characters throughout the series. I would give this game series a rating of 9.0/10 for all the reasons listed above and for the amount of fun you will have while playing, as I said before, I highly recommend this series!

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Ready Player One – A Commentary On The Path of Modern Gaming

This past weekend along with the purchase of my Infinity War tickets, I bought tickets for a Friday night showing of Ready Player One. I had seen trailers of the movie for several months and just the premise of the film (the adventure of finding the coveted Easter Eggs) put it on my ‘to see list’. Prior to heading to the theater I checked the ratings on Rotten Tomatoes (just like everyone) and was pleased to see the 74% critic rating and the 80% audience rating. I briefly perused some of the negative critic reviews listed and noted they all said the same thing, “It’s a CGI slugfest with no plot”. What? You don’t go to a movie like Ready Player One expecting the intricacy of Inception or the character development of the Godfather series, you go to see CG characters duking it out in a video game style death match! I didn’t let these few negative reviews, that likened it to the recent Pacific Rim: Uprising for it gratuitous CGI usage and minimal plot, discolour my anticipation for the movie. I can honestly say, that while there are obvious plot holes and plot armour for some parts, it is a fun and exciting movie to kick back and watch with some popcorn.

One thing I did notice as I was watching it was that, as a gamer myself, the world of the Oasis is becoming an ever increasing possibility. Let me explain…

SOCIAL SPACES

It’s no secret that the majority of Ready Player One takes place in a virtual game called The Oasis. This game is the main setting for all of the events that really move the plot forward. It’s explained as a massive social space with various worlds that each tailor to different experiences. As they explain in the movie, the PvP area (Player vs. Player arena) is called Planet Doom, while there is a casino world, a racing world, a virtual vacation world and even a world where you can climb Mount Everest with Batman. This concept of social paces is nothing new to gaming. If you look at any online multiplayer game they all have a social space where you can interact with other players before venturing into the game world. Destiny has the Tower, Call of Duty WWII has the camp, and The Division has the HQ. Each of these spaces allow you to interact with other players by inviting them to join a party or challenging them to 1v1 matches.  In addition to social spaces, each game with an online multiplayer component also has a lobby that allows you to speak to other players either on your team for that match, or against you for that match.

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In Ready Player One, the entire Oasis is in itself a social space. While there are certain areas where you can kill other players freely, like Planet Doom, the nightclubs and cities tend to be safer. Social gaming is the next step in the online gaming path, gone are the days of having 4 friends crowding around one screen while playing Halo or Goldeneye. While you can still play socially with your friends in almost every game, each individual person now needs their own console and copy of the game (unless you game share). This step was taken to ensure maximum revenue by gaming companies for their product. While most people are not happy with this, it’s becoming more commonplace in today’s gaming market.

As games move more and more into social multiplayer territory, the size of these spaces is going to become much larger to accommodate the number of players in the game at any one time. For example, In Destiny when you venture to the Tower ( the social space), you are put into one of millions of tower models that each support 36 players. Depending on the number of people playing the game at any one time, there can be anywhere from several thousand to millions of identical towers each with a maximum of 36 players per tower. The game can only support so many different players at once and thus the developers needed to create multiple copies of each space to accommodate the load of the players and the rendering of the world.

As I said before, as social spaces become more and more common in games, they will grow larger and larger until it turns into a massive Oasis style world with everyone logged in and able to see each other at once.

ZEROING OUT/PERMA-DEATH

In Ready Player One, there is one major consequence to dying in the Oasis, that consequence is referred to as “zeroing out”. When a player zeroes out in the game, they lose all their credits and progression, forcing them to start from the beginning. This aspect of the Oasis is what makes the PvP battles on Planet Doom so nerve-wracking. I know I for one die extensively while playing an online multiplayer game. Normally, my kills outweigh my deaths giving me a positive K/D (kill death ratio) at the end of the game, but the deaths number is also quite large. If I had to zero out and lose all my progress every time I died… I doubt I would play games like that anymore. That being said, there are games that incorporate this consequence into modern gaming, they refer to it as perma-death.

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Perma-death is exactly how it sounds, permanent death; some of the more recent games to incorporate this aspect are: Day Z, FTL, X-COM, and Fire Emblem. In each of these games dying/losing all your lives means an instant game restart, which in turn loses all progress and gear accumulated throughout your session.  This brings an extra level of intensity to these games as you know that you can’t just revert to the last save a la Call of Duty, Halo or Assassin’s Creed.  The only difference with these games that feature perma-death, is that most of them, are not multiplayer. While you can have friends join and assist you in the game, the consequences are the same for them, death = instant restart. While there are some great gamers who can make it through the standard fps game levels on hardest difficulty without dying, they are few and far between. There is a game that basically melds the two aspects of respawn and perma-death together and that game is The Division.

In The Division, you play as an agent of the Division tasked with establishing an HQ in New York City following an bio-terror attack. As you progress through the game you accumulate gear which can be found throughout the world or purchased from in-game vendors. Once you have completed the main story and attained a high enough level you can take on “The Dark Zone”. The Dark Zone is a walled off area in the middle of the city with high level enemies and a free for all mentality. Players can roam around pillaging the high level gear in the Dark Zone and assist each other in taking down high level bosses, or engage in PvP firefights to steal each other’s gear. If you die in the Dark Zone, you lose all the gear you accumulated while there and you respawn back at the staging area. Each person can only carry so much gear while rampaging through the Dark Zone and eventually must call in a helicopter to extract it. Calling in the helicopter lets EVERYONE in the Dark Zone know where you are and what you’re doing, whether it’s other players or NPC enemies. There’s a time frame that you must hold the extraction zone before the helicopter arrives to extract the gear, which give malicious players and NPCs the time they need to kill you and steal your gear. I personally have lost many high level gear pieces to other players while trying to defend the extraction zone. It did not bode well with me.

While this isn’t an exact copy of the “zeroing out” mechanic from Ready Player One, permadeath and the Dark Zone are as close as we have right now.

EASTER EGG HUNTING

The entire premise of the film is to find three “Easter Eggs” left in the Oasis by the creator. When one person finds all 3, they will inherit controlling stock in the company and a fortune numbering in the hundreds of trillions of dollars. The concept of Easter Eggs has been around in the gaming world for decades. An “Easter Egg” for those unfamiliar with the term, is a special construct or nod the creators put in as a reference to either themselves or other projects.

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A notable example is in the 2016 release of Doom, when the creators put a portion of the original Doom game from 1993 in during the main story allowing exploratory players to enjoy a small portion of the original classic. Another example is in the game Halo: Reach, wherein if you complete the final mission on Heroic or Legendary; at the right moment in one of the cut-scenes, if you push both sticks to the right the camera will pan and show a shot of the Master Chief in his cryo tube. As I said before, these little nods to other games are what the meaning of an Easter Egg is.

Even though Easter Egg hunting has been around for a long time in gaming, and has now jumped into the film medium with the explosion of the MCU. While yes, there were Easter Eggs in film before the MCU, Marvel studios used them to the point of such success that a lot of other studios have started adding them to link their works together.

DECEIVING AVATARS

This in’t anything new, but they do make a point during the film to explain that while someone’s avatar may look like a young attractive female, doesn’t mean they aren’t really a 300lb dude that lives in his mom’s basement. This is something that is prevalent in not only gaming but society as a whole. With the anonymity of the internet you can appear as anybody you want, regardless of being in a game or not. It’s something that people need to watch out for while perusing the web or the gaming lobbies. Aech, pronounced “H” (one of the characters in the film), makes a joke out of it, but it’s an issue that can have serious real world consequences. The “Nigerian Prince” that emails you promising to share their fortune with you if you send them $500 right now is 100% a scam, but some people fall for it and end up getting burned for thousands of dollars because the “prince” stole their identity.

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In the film, the players in the Oasis are able to model their avatars after anything they wish. Some choose other gaming characters such as Halo Spartans and Overwatch characters, some choose movie characters like Freddy Kreuger or Robocop, and some go for a mix of everything. The concept of making your avatar as far from what you really look like is nothing new, but some of the players in the movie do take it to the extreme. Not only does your avatar mask what you really look like, but it also masks your actual age. With most multiplayer games, you can ball park someone’s age when they speak in the game chat, but that’s not always the case. Ready Player One uses this as an interesting concept for a few characters and it helps to hammer home to anonymity of the gaming world.

CHARACTER PROGRESSION/POWERFUL WEAPONS/IN GAME PURCHASES (PAY TO WIN)

Character progression is the cornerstone of many RPG and Shared World shooter games, and this is something the Oasis takes into account during the film. While if you die you zero out and lose all your gear, if you’re good enough as with some of the characters in the movie, you can get over 10+ years of experience and gear which helps you out immensely.  The opening of the movie focuses on one particular battle on Planet Doom. The prize for winning this battle is a gauntlet that allows the wearer to assume the identity of any mechanical being they wish. This prize plays a big part later on in the film and when the character uses it, I will admit… I did get a little giddy in my seat and throw my hands in the air in excitement. This character progression and power weapon concept is very aptly exemplified by the Elder Scrolls series.

The Elder Scrolls is probably one of the most successful RPG franchises the world over. The game is made by Bethesda studios, and in it, the player controls a character of their own design in the fantastical world of Tamriel. As you progress through the main story your character levels up until you can unlock certain quests. Some of these quests, gift you with weapons based on the powers of the literal Gods from the lore in the game. I won’t get to into the explanation because if you’re not a fan it won’t make any sense and can get quite boring; however, the weapons you can get on these quests can vastly improve your combat effectiveness in the game to the point of walking through boss battles.

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Ready Player One utilizes this concept with the gauntlet as I previously explained; but, they also allow for players to utilize the currency they obtain in the game to purchase weapons and various other nick knacks that can be used in game and in the real world. One such device a player can purchase, is the Holy Hand Grenade on Antioch from Monty Python fame, which is a very powerful weapon in game, or they can purchase a VR suit for use in the real world to augment their Oasis experience. Pay to Win is something that is plaguing current gaming. It allows for people who don’t want to spend the hours developing skills and unlocking weapons and perks the traditional way, to purchase the upgrades they want for real world money. This makes for very unbalanced first few months of a game’s release and is the cause of some very vocal outcry by fans, Star Wars Battlefront II from 2017 is a prime example.

Ready Player One is based off the book by Ernest Cline from 2011, which was released fairly recently for a movie to be adapted from it. At the time the book was written, some of the trends he explores in the novel and that get explored in the movie, were already becoming very prevalent in the gaming world. Loot boxes, pay to win, level progression and perma death were all making their introduction into the gaming market when the book was written. The film does a great job of showing how these concepts are being taken and ran with and how in the future, this could become the norm for gaming. While each individual company, Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo, would never agree to produce a game together, eventually one of them may win out the dreaded “console war” and then the concept of Ready Player One could really take shape.

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