Free-to-Play Titanfall: or the Utopia Ship Everyone Didn’t Know They Wanted

Free-to-Play Titanfall: or the Utopia Ship Everyone Didn’t Know They Wanted

I have no problem admitting that I enjoy Titanfall. But especially after playing it for, currently, 50 hours, I feel the game could have been (and still could morph into) an amazing free to play opportunity for everyone (though I also argue that some of the benefits have already sailed away). Why everyone wants this I feel that as a consumer, the idea of getting a product without spending money is obviously more attractive. But companies want this too. I’ll even go so far as to say that multiplayer games in general all want to be free to play in reality. Love for the companies involved Though EA was the publisher of Titanfall, Microsoft had a lot to do with it as well. And given they both were nominated for worst company in America for 2014, I would argue that, especially on the gaming front, they both really have some public image issues. So why not pony up a fun game to try to make people happier? The developers have a history of making successful games, so it wasn’t a huge risk about not making people happy with the quality. And beyond that, the marketing feels more like a public service announcement when all you have to do is download and play. Customers you didn’t know you had And this can drive sales of other things. With our hindsight glasses firmly in place, we can see that Titanfall was the best selling software yet the PS4 still sold more hardware. For reference, the PS4 has sold about 2 million more units as of March (when Titanfall released). There are also Xbox 360 players and PC players for Titanfall, but all of that means money for Microsoft. It’s a great idea to get more Xbox Ones in people’s hands and a game that is free is a great motivator. There were bundles to make it free, but we’ll talk about why that isn’t good enough. For EA, the PC market is more interesting. Steam is the powerhouse of digital distribution for the PC, but EA wants more people to use their Origin service. A great way to solve that is to give them a reason to install it. Yes, the On the House promotion is nice, but giving away a 5.5 year old game that has 2 sequels already lacks the punch of something shiny. But giving away Titanfall could drive all of this good will and other game sales. There could easily be unobtrusive ads for other games on loading screens or other places that doesn’t degrade the experience. And then there is the core of free to play: there are things to sell. We’re taking a pie-in-the-sky approach,...

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Nit: Value – Everything has a price

Nit is my series of posts that will nitpick minor or very specific details relating to one very scoped aspect of video games. Our purpose is to always come up with a series of rules or suggestions to guide developers to make even better games in the future. Today we start by looking at the value of a game and why an objective measurement system will always fail. How do others see value? There are a ton of varying opinions about what value is, but there are a couple categories that are repeated a lot. Content length I feel this is supposed to be the “objective” approach to value. In fact, Yahzee Crowshaw claimed this directly in his article talking about the value of Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeros: In my opinion, the objective worth of a game should be measured in hours of content, not hours of average playtime – how many hours go past before a game has nothing new to offer and starts repeating itself, because the number of additional hours of fun that can be extracted becomes much more subjective at that point. I fully admit that I tend to agree with a lot of Yahzee’s opinions, but this one seems like solving the wrong problem. Other than functionality, the idea of “objective” evaluations is pretty meaningless for an interactive medium. To put this point in perspective, this observation would mean that, objectively by Yahzee’s standard, Ride to Hell: Retribution...

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Titanfall is Fun or: How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Love the Game

Titanfall is Fun or: How I Learned to Stop Complaining and Love the Game

I like to nit pick things. I feel criticism is a good way to improve overall. In the end, though, there is frequently something more than a checklist or a simply distilled combination of factors that make something good or bad. Titanfall is like that for me. I can find plenty of fault with the game, but in the end I do really love playing it. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bring up where there could be improvement. In fact, I think that this is a good path to walk to muse about a more perfect game that could have existed and possibly why this example can rise beyond its limitations where others I feel fall into them. What is this Titanfall thing? In case you’ve been under a rock or just naturally tune out a lot of commercials or big name things, Titanfall is a recent game from Respawn Entertainment. It is an online multiplayer only First Person Shooter released for PC, Xbox 360 and Xbox One. It proudly boasts a ton of awards and did actually launch to positive reviews. In the game, players can choose from 5 different game modes and play on 15 different (and beautiful) maps including a two sided campaign. And, most importantly, players can play either on foot or in their large and extremely impressive mechs called Titans. Though this is a pretty short description, we’ll walk through a lot more details of what is or isn’t contained in the game below. Because I’d like to end on a high note and because I really do think that people should look favorably (but critically) at Titanfall, we will look at the negative before we get to the positive. What Titanfall isn’t What the hype said The hype for Titanfall was huge due to all the awards it got and all of the commercials and other advertising that was presented. And, as Jim Sterling’s review points out, it really had no chance to launch and be the sparkling gem of perfection and revolution that the hype was claimed. At some level that is unfortunate because there are then inevitably many people that would be let down by that fact. But at the same time, I can understand that a company wants to sell its games and needs to gain attention. And for a multiplayer only game, it is critical to have as many people as possible playing the game. The hype also implied that the game was somehow revolutionary. That isn’t true. At its core, it is a FPS with pretty standard guns and abilities that have come up one way or another in the past. Robots or mechs are not new in video...

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Why you should care about Child of Light

Why you should care about Child of Light

Child of Light is an upcoming RPG game from Ubisoft about a princess who becomes a warrior and saves the land… or some such. Now as a very strong enthusiast for the narrative and such a thin grasp of the story, something else must make CoL interesting. I wish this statement wouldn’t be so political and emotional, but it can’t be helped: I feel the most interesting part of this project is that the protagonist is a young female. Now I want to be quick to establish that as an adult male, I do not see this fact as a point for identifying with the character. I feel the dozens of other characters that already lead games give me ample targets for that. But it is hard to argue that there are not demographics that games from major publishers ignore especially for the defined protagonist seat (I specify defined to separate a game that defines a female protagonist like Tomb Raider or Beyond Good & Evil from a game where one can choose to be female like Saint’s Row or Borderlands. I also would like to recognize that there are plenty of other neglected demographics, but must point out that progress is slow). So if I don’t want to make a political statement, why do I care so much about inclusive demographics and so on? To be perfectly honest, for rather selfish reasons: because I feel video games, a medium I love, will benefit greatly from it. In the end, diversity is what brings so much fun and flavor to video games. I do love narratives a great deal, so the possibility of having new stories to tell with female leads is downright exciting. It was The Stanley Parabol and Papers, Please that created some amazing narrative experiences that honestly probably topped what fun I had with Bioshock: Infinite (though I appreciated the full length experience of Bioshock: Infinite which is also harder). I say this as no insult to Ken Levine (from the Bioshock games; he has made amazing and fun games). I merely found the other two to give such a fun new experience that they had to rate for me. And CoL might be a way to introduce more of those experiences. Though The Stanley Parabol might have tugged at the definition of game and gone more to a world I like to call experience, Child of Light gets to sit firmly in the game camp. It was described early on as a JRPG taking after Final Fantasy VI with the visuals of Hayao Miyazaki (Kiki’s Delivery Service, My Neighbor Totoro, Princess Mononoke, etc.), Yoshitaka Amano (Final Fantasy), and John Bauer (Among Gnomes and Trolls). Then we...

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Libraries, exceptions, and debugging

In some work I was doing with a ruby extension, state_machine. I ended up running into a very frustrating but simple problem with an exception I was receiving. I think this is a good opportunity to talk about exceptions especially with regard to libraries. If you just want the answer, you may want to look toward the end for the solution or how to debug these type of problem. Exceptions Exceptions are a very common way in most programming languages to establish that something went wrong. They are unique in that they terminate the current context and move up a level. Depending on language, these may need to be dealt with at the level that receives the exception or it may simply raise the exception to the next higher level automatically. Exceptions are a bad thing to occur. I bring this up since most languages makes them extremely easy to handle in most cases. This can lead to bad practices of using exceptions to convey different statuses or otherwise something other than an error that is unrecoverable at the level at which it will be raised. In my experience, exceptions come up most (though not exclusively) in environments where there is an element of classes. This allows for the use of typed exceptions. One of the main advantages to this is the ability to handle different types of exceptions differently. This will become extremely important later. Making the demo app We’re going to actually show the problem now instead of discussing it more. We’re going to demonstrate it by setting up an extremely simple forum-esque piece of software. This is going to talk about using some rails features. If you want to work the examples, the easiest way would be to actually create a full rails app and just use script/console to play with the models. Our forum is pretty much the simplest forum you’ve ever heard of: it has topics and posts. I guess you can argue that’s the main part, but I stress that it’s the only part. A topic has a title and a creation date. We’ll also give it a state so you could, say, lock a topic or hide a topic. A post has some content, an author, and belongs to a topic. We’ll again give it a state, though I can only think to make it visible, invisible, or possibly flagged (for moderator review or something). So you can follow along, I’ll post pertinent code. Here’s a migration to create such a setup (I apologize now for poor formatting; I’m actually doing this all in the browser since I don’t have Rails set up on this computer): 1 2 3 4 5 6...

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Quicklook at Songbird

So I’ve actually been interested in the Songbird project for a long time. I have installed various versions and have always turned away for different reasons. One of my large problems is I have an extremely large music collection and have found that WinAmp deals with it approximately the best for features that I want versus being free and not too cumbersome. I really just want good searching on a large library and nice smart playlists (dynamic playlists) that support a lot of conditions without too much trouble. Features past that are nice to have but not needed. The latest version (1.1.1) has a really nice interface and imported my library rather nicely. I was in the middle of listening to a podcast on iTunes on my Mac, so I didn’t play with it too much on my Windows install. So I installed Songbird on my Mac and asked it to grab my iTunes library (which is mostly podcasts I haven’t listened to and a little bit of music). It seemed ok with it though it didn’t grab my podcast subscriptions (which is annoying though not unexpected. So next step was to ask Songbird to subscribe to a podcast. It’s most definitively not the most intuitive thing in the world at this point as it only seems to support RSS or a single location (if I’m wrong, please correct me). It’s not that bad except it doesn’t seem to understand that a lot of podcasts are not something you want to keep. So podcast features could use to still improve. What really struck me was the resources. So Songbird was just sitting idle now on my Intel Macbook and iTunes was currently playing back an mp3 podcast (mono but reasonable bitrate). Songbird was taking ~100MB of RAM just sitting there while iTunes used ~23MB to play back. Ouch. Even more surprising was that Songbird was taking between 8 and 10 percent of my cpu (again, doing nothing) while iTunes was taking about 4 percent while playing back. Again, ouch. I don’t want to say Songbird is all bad by any means. It does seem to have a very nice installer and “assistant” for setting things up (like how Quicksilver does which I think is a very good system when done well). I’ll try to post a more detailed review after actually using it for music and maybe some music/web browsing after I do use it. It also is a good multiplatform mediaplayer. I just do believe at least the Mac client could use some more optimizations before I want it to take over for iTunes on my laptop that I like to try to optimize battery live anyway. If...

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Version Control Comments and Rant

Version control is any sort of system for dealing with different points in an edit cycle of something. To narrow this post, I’m only really looking at formal version control systems (meaning a strategy of hand made zip files and email might work for you but won’t be discussed here). I’m also not going to claim to be anything of an expert on this topic and have merely had some experience with a small number of systems, so I’ll try to keep it short. There are two major flavors of version control systems: the standard system with a single repository you check out and commit against (like Subversion) and distributed version control systems where a repository is copied, locally modified, and merged back to the original later (like Git). The former offers a simpler approach to the entire system. Though you can set up some very unique systems with further customization of subversion like taking advantage of externals, the general formula is to have people modify files from where they checked out (which can just be parts of the tree) and then check them back into the tree, resolving conflicts as they arise. In a lot of situations this works perfectly. It suffers from a large problem in my mind though: revisions on code that isn’t done. Because there is only a single repository in the traditional set up, you _should_ only commit code when it’s done and ready. This means that until that point, you should just keep your code on your machine. If it’s a personal repository, it doesn’t matter, but public projects should not have bad code in the public repository (knowingly). This is where something like git can make everything better. By having a local copy of the repository, you are able to commit your changes, revert back, and so on without modifying the public facing repository. When your modifications are done, you simply push your repository back to the origin (or alternatively have someone who maintains everything clone your branch and merge both yours and the master branch). The result should be that you get to keep revertable changes locally without messing up the public repository. There are also many other features to version control systems, but these are the most important for my rant. My rant is about WordPress. I’m not going to call their code good, but I will say that their product works rather well and is very feature rich. I also (generally) run the subversion build. I’m not right now because as of the last revision I got (10786), someone checked in code that was syntactically wrong (like would not parse). I admit, it was just for ajax stuff, but...

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