Friday, May 21, 2021
Backbone One Review
By: Patrick Morris
The fact that basically all flagship phones these days pack significantly more horse power than the Nintendo Switch and yet 99 times out of 100 the Switch is still a better device for gaming leaves me wondering why. Obviously there aren't major triple A games being developed for mobile platforms but I think one of the things preventing big third party publishers like EA, Activision, and Take Two from really diving deep into mobile is the controls…or lack there of. I am fully aware that I'm not the first person to recognize this as evidenced by the wealth of mobile game controller options but for the most part they can be really be described as awkward and half baked. There are several console gamepad imitations with a clip that holds the phone above it, and there are even clips sold separately to just attach your phone to an actual first party console gamepad. But what the switch has proven to us over the last four plus years is that the best way to develop a mobile controller is to cut it in half and attach the halves to each side of the device on which the game is being played. There have always been major hurdles to developing and manufacturing the perfect phone controller and some of those hurdles will probably never go away, but in the age of remote play and cloud based game streaming the backbone one has gotten closer than any product I've seen previously by developing more than just a controller.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak, a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. After getting my invitation to Xcloud and getting remote play working reliably well on my PS5 I've found myself gaming in a place that I never really have before, my phone. And so naturally I needed a reliable controller to go with that new experience so here are my thoughts on the things the Backbone One does well, the things it doesn’t do so well, and my thoughts on opportunities for improvement in a Backbone Two.
This being a controller review it would only be appropriate to start with the hardware. The Backbone has the distinct feeling of being a top tier third party controller. That is to say that while it doesn’t feel as premium and polished as a first party controller like the DualSense or the Xbox elites controllers it certainly feels intentional and several steps above the pelican and madcatz controllers of yesteryear and even a cut above most offerings from the likes of Hori and Hyperkin we see on store shelves today. If I were to liken the Backbone's quality to one other third party controller manufacturer it would be 8bitdo. Obviously not first party but in no way does it feel cheap. Build quality feels sturdy and substantial but regrettably just a tiny bit on the light side, face and menu buttons feel excellent offering a satisfying clickiness that has yet to leave me wondering if the phone should have registered a press, and the click in on the analog sticks is the one place where in a blindfolded test I feel certain the Backbone could stand up to a first party controller. And at the bottom of the left and right handles the Backbone sports a recessed headphone and lighting jack respectively offering audio and charging passthrough. Overall the design of the controller feels very intentional and the quality leaves little to be desired.
But nothing is perfect and that includes the Backbone One. Where the face buttons, menu buttons, and analog sticks offer excellent tactile feedback the bumpers and dpad are a much mushier and although serviceable they are a noticeable downgrade from those face and menu buttons. But at leas the bumpers and dpad aren't the worst feeling buttons on the controller, that honor goes to the triggers. Both left and right triggers feel light and almost hollow offering very little in the way of feedback and leave me wondering if the controller would be a better all around package had Backbone opted for clickier digital triggers with less travel more akin to the Nintendo Switch. I also know that this extremely nit picky but the edges around the analog sticks begin to concave further away from the actual stick stem than more traditional analog sticks like the ones seen on the Switch Lite which for whatever reason is a huge part of what separates the Backbone from first party controllers with regard to quality in my mind. And unfortunately the Backbone is made to hold an iPhone without a case and there is essentially zero negotiation on that front. I even tested the controller with the first party Apple leather case and in order to get the lightning connecter into the port I would have had to bend it to a degree with which I was uncomfortable.
But the hardware isn't all there is to review when it comes to the Backbone One, the way Backbone has really differentiated themselves is through software. Immediately upon opening the Backbone the user is met with nearly apple level simplistic instruction card teaching them how to place their phone in the controller then prompting them to download the Backbone app. The app feels as through the developers recognized that despite the wild popularity of mobile gaming in recent years there is yet to be a singly unifying hub for the mobile gaming experience. So naturally with the Backbone app an attempt has been made at filling that void by bringing all your games and game streaming services together into one launcher. Backbone has taken that Launcher and integrated key features that anyone familiar with Xbox Live or PSN have come to expect from a gaming platform. Features like friend lists, party chat, and gaming communities are all centralized and accessible in Backbone's app. The app also manages game capture utilizing iOS's baked in screen recording feature. Overall no matter how impressive the hardware is the real potential in Backbone lies in the software and the how they have poised themselves to become the defacto platform for mobile gaming.
Obviously there are opportunities with the hardware that can be addressed in the Backbone Two. Figure out how to improve upon the buttons under the bumpers and dpad, and just throw the analog triggers in the trash and switch us over to digital click triggers with less travel. I understand that those will have significantly less travel and are less luxurious but simple and good is better than complicated and bad. I know it will be extremely difficult to design and there is no way to possibly accommodate all iPhone cases but leaving more room in the phone cradle then including a variety of sizes of stick on rubber pads and some instructions on how to properly fit your phone in it's case into the Backbone and which pads to use would go a long way in making me use the controller more often. And I cant believe I'm having to say this in 2021 but if you're going to offer a headphone jack (which you should that was really cool) it absolutely must be flush with the surface on which it is mounted.
But the more interesting and I think the more fruitful opportunities for Backbone to capitalize on are in the software. As it is now anyone can download the Backbone app but they need an actual Backbone controller to license it the first time to get the software to work. Which means that in order to license this killer software people have to either borrow a Backbone controller from a friend who has one or spend $100 on one themselves. Granted they'll be getting a pretty good controller but the software alone offers so much potential that wont be reached if everyone is required to plug their phone into a Backbone controller to use. So here is what the Backbone Two needs to include: a download code or some sort of way to download the app for free in the box. Then sell the app for $5 or $10 and allow any third party controller to be compatible. This will allow for growth of the Backbone gaming network which will get the Backbone app on far more phones for gaming purposes inherently giving Backbone more leverage for integration partnerships with game developers. By prioritizing the app Backbone could potentially become that defacto mobile gaming platform and then monetize at a later date.
Also please develop a USB-C version of the Backbone Two and sell both for $80.
The Backbone controller is the first phone controller that I have ever thoroughly enjoyed. It solves the problem of weight distribution introduced by using a controller clip and offers high quality hardware for gaming on the go. Excellent software pushes the entire experience of using the Backbone over the top and makes it something that will absolutely live in my every day carry bag after the world gets back to normal. If you're really into gaming on your phone the Backbone One is an absolute must that definitely gets my recommendation. If you're not as into mobile gaming then it might be a bit to expensive for what it has to offer.
Which mobile game controller do you use and how do you like it? Let me know in the comments down below. Don’t forget you can see everything I do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I'll be back next time talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games!
Monday, May 17, 2021
PS5 Digital Edition Conspiracy Theory
By: Patrick Morris
Alright…You're about to think that I've gone off the deep end, and maybe I have. But stick with me on this one because I think I think I'm onto something. After the sixth generation of consoles Sony had firmly cemented themselves as the top dog in the console market with the unprecedented success of the PlayStation 2. The hubris that ensued resulted in Sony's Ken Kutaragi literally telling an interviewer when asked about the PlayStation 3 "for consumers to think to themselves 'I will work more hours to buy one'. We want people to feel that they want it, irrespective of anything else." And well, history tends to repeat itself; the PlayStation 4 has been and continues to be a huge success story having sold north of 115 million units at the time of writing, and as a result cocky Sony is back. Before the start of the ninth generation of consoles Sony had already found themselves in a difficult position offering less power for the same price as their main competitor, based off third party sales figures my theory is that the digital version of the PlayStation 5 was developed in the final hour as a marketing asset then under produced effectively allowing Sony to have their cake and eat it too.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLaw Morris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. This week we will be talking about the PlayStation 5 but more specifically the digital PlayStation 5 and my conspiracy theory as to why it exists. So put on your tin foil hat's and lets go down this rabbit hole that to be completely honest with you even I'm not sure I believe.
The ninth generation of consoles was different from previous generations in the sense that both companies launched with two substantially different versions of their product. Microsoft released the Xbox Series X and the Xbox Series S and Sony of course released the PlayStation 5 and the PlayStation 5 digital edition. We'lll be discussing the digital edition PS5 later on but before we do we have to take a closer look at not the Series S and X but more the lead up to the announcement of both the series S and X.
When discussing what the next generation Xbox was going to be everyone expected a significantly more powerful console with a blu-ray drive that would retail for somewhere around $400 to $600. Essentially what we all expected is what would eventually be called the Xbox Series X. But in spring of 2019 the code names for the Xbox consoles in development were leaked, now this in itself isnt surprising as this happens all the time. The gamecube was codenamed Dolphin, the Wii was Revolution, the PS4 was Orbis, the PS4 pro was Neo, the PSVR was morpheus, you get the idea. What made the leaked Xbox codename's interesting was the fact that there were two of them, anaconda and lockhart. Now at the time of this leak the current generation Xbox One was actually split into two different price and power tiers, the Xbox One S and the Xbox One X. So when combined with the existence of two different codename's it wasn’t a huge leap to assume that Microsoft was actually developing two different next generation Xbox's.
The Series S was essentially the industry's worst kept secret for a long time as more and more frequently references to a second less powerful console were coming to light. When they finally detailed the spec's and price of the Xbox Series X Microsoft confirmed that it was essentially what we all thought it would be, a high powered premium console at a premium $500 price. But there was still no word on the rumored lower powered Xbox, we all knew it existed but Microsoft was choosing to not show it off until the last possible minute.
On June 11, 2020 Sony had their PlayStation 5 reveal event stream at the end of which they revealed not only the ugliest PlayStation of all time but also the second ugliest PlayStation of all time. Now keep in mind that at this point the existence of the Series S was yet to be confirmed by Microsoft but still well known to essentially anyone that paid even the slightest bit of attention to the news in the industry. And despite all the major announcement's and the big reveal Sony didn’t say anythign about price at this event. But this was also to be expected as they had the upper hand after winning the last generation in a landslide affording them the opportunity to wait for Microsoft to announce the Xbox price first and risk Sony undercutting them. Finally on September 8th Microsoft confirmed the existence of the Series S and then on the 9th they revealed that the Series X would launch at $499 and the Series S would cost $299.
Exactly as expected just seven days later Sony announced that the PlayStation 5 would launch on November 12, 2020 starting at $399. And that was and is the key phrase "starting at $399." It's the marketing slogan that has been seen at the end of nearly every PlayStation 5 advertisement since prices were announced. To the consumer that doesn’t take the time to educate themselves on the product (parents of kids asking for a PS5 for Christmas) hear or see "starting at $399" and immediately assume this is a quick and easy way for them to save $100 instead of buying and Xbox this holiday season. And to be extremely clear, if your immediate thought on this is that no consumer would fall for that then I want you to think about this: you are so into video games that you're here several minutes into a conspiracy theory video about PlayStation 5 pricing on a YouTube channel with less than 500 subscribers, you are not the person that would fall for that simple marketing tactic but those people do exist.
So far this has just been a statement of facts, so where does the conspiracy theory come in? Well here it is: the PS5 digital edition exists solely as a way of making it possible for Sony to advertise the PlayStation 5 as "starting at $399." influencer's, promoter's, and news outlets often are able to link to means of ordering products and as a part of that arrangement those influencer's, promoters, and news outlets are privy to sales data showing what product's were purchased or ordered using their affiliate link's. The reason they have to have access to this data is to demonstrate to advertisers that ad's on their sites can be converted into sales. Now in the case of the PlayStation 5 it wasn’t as much of the site itself doing the advertising work as it was the fact that everyone and their brother wanted to buy a PlayStation 5. And shortly after the disaster that was the PS5 preorder process the director of commerce at IGN Justin Davis stated on the long running podcast GameScoop that their internal data showed that the number of digital edition PS5 preorder's accounted for roughly 5% of total sales.
The reason that this IGN data is credible and a good sample to base a theory off of is three fold. First IGN is a giant in the industry of games journalism and therefore one can expect them to have a reasonable sample size that would result in a very small standard deviation from the actual mean. Second the sheer demand for the PS5 and the fact that it has been sold out everywhere since launch more than five months ago negates any theory that the IGN audience would have a preference for one console over the other that would differentiate them from the wider consumer base in any statistically significant way. And third IGN is a large company that has been operating for nearly three decades and since their own revenue depends on the accuracy of tracking this data one can assume the data collected is accurate.
So considering IGN's data as referenced by Justin Davis that would indicate that one out of every twenty PlayStation 5's being produced or at the very least produced prior to launch was a digital edition. And there were even people who had reportedly successfully placed an order for the digital edition and even received a digital edition box with a physical PS5 inside. All this leads me to believe that Sony has no interest in selling the digital edition at all. Which is understandable as new consoles are almost always sold at a loss then that loss is subsidized by selling games. So after seeing that the Series X was allegedly more powerful than the PS5 Sony had to do something that would make it possible for them to advertise a lower price than Microsoft while also selling the vast majority of PS5's at the higher tier price point. So they ripped the blu-ray drive out, cut the price by a hundred dollars then under produced the thing allowing them to put "starting at $399" at the end of every ad then sell 80-90% of their consoles at the $499 price point.
Alright, if youre still with me thank you for sticking it out. Do you think the PS5 digital edition exists solely as a marketing device for the standard PS5? Let me know in the comments down below. You can see everything I do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I'll be back next time talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games!
Resident Evil Village Review
By: Patrick Morris
Most people enjoy spicy food to some degree. I like my food to be hot but personally Carolina reaper peppers are so hot that they're just painful, and I don’t like painful. Everyone draws the line somewhere different when it comes to spicy food and in a very similar manner that same line is drawn when it comes to entertainment explicitly meant to scare. Resident Evil Village is a good game that feels distinctly different from the more recent Resident Evil 2, 3, and 7. Throughout the runtime of Village it becomes increasingly clear that the horror aspect of Village has been toned down significantly from what we experienced in Resident Evil 7. At it's core Resident Evil Village is an excellent continuation of the newly refocused direction for the franchise, but unfortunately the further it strays from the zombie plotlines and survival horror gameplay the less appealing Village feels making for a good game but one that is obviously the weakest of the modern era of Resident Evil.
Welcome, welcome, welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the game's I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. I'm still a fairly new Resident Evil fan having dabbled in the series from time to time since the original PlayStation but not really diving in until Resident Evil 7 in 2017. But since then I've played through 7, 2 remake, and 3 remake multiple times each and even gone back to play through 1, and 4. So despite my being a new fan I think I'm at least somewhat well credentialed to speak on Resident Evil 8, so let's talk about Village.
Quick spoiler warning: I am definitely going to be discussing some Village spoilers in this video so consider the entire game fair play and if you don’t want any spoilers then you should probably not watch this video or read any further.
From a story perspective Village is pretty interesting in that it is a direct continuation of the story of Resident Evil 7 following the same characters but also this works somewhat to the game's detriment as it further distance's itself from the pre RE7 era. Once again cast in the role of the playable character is Ethan Winters and driving the story forward is his wife Mia and their new baby girl Rosemary. In the opening minutes of the game Mia appears to die at the hand of Christ Redfield who then has Ethan knocked out and kidnaps the pair of them. After a short journey Ethan wakes up in the wreckage of a car accident just outside the titular village and begins his search for Rose. Along the way Ethan encounters residents of the Village who offer bits of exposition detailing residents who have come down with lycanthropy and reference a "mother Miranda" deity like figure to whom they all pray.
After a brief visit with some residents of the village ending in a house fire and several deaths Ethan is captured by Heisenberg and introduced to Mother Miranda and her "children." The cast of villains in the game is comprised of Lady Dimitrescu, whom moving forward will be referred to as Lady D, Donna Beneviento, Salvatore Moreau, Karl Heisenberg, and Mother Miranda herself. Creating such a large cast of very visually distinct villains is clearly Capcom's attempt at establishing several more iconic RE villains on par with the likes of Mr. X, Mr. Birkin, Nemesis, Wesker, and Mr. Baker. Unfortunately cramming so many antagonists into a game with what seems to be a shorter than normal runtime even for a Resident Evil game leads to there not really being any stand out. The cast feels bloated and while each villain is distinct in their appearance that’s where that easy distinction stops. Abilities, motives, and personalities are all lost in the shuffle as the specific area for each villain consists of maximum two hours of gameplay just a few minutes of which is spent with the actual villains. So while I listed the villains just a minute ago I honestly don’t think I could do it again from memory and if I was asked to name any of Lady D's three daughters that play a prominent role in her level I can guarantee you that I wouldn’t be able to. Despite looking fantastic the antagonist roles suffer from a lack of focus and prominence turning what could have been excellent into something that is somewhat forgettable.
As absurd as this may sound Resident Evil is a story that has always been grounded in at least some semblance of reality. What I mean by that is that while yes there are mutated zombies and super human abilities they are all grounded in a fictious science. Throughout the series there has never been any magic or hint at the supernatural, everything can be connected back to some sort of scientific experimentation gone wrong. So when encountering Lycan's aka werewolves just minutes into the game with zero indication that these creatures are anything but supernatural I was a bit put off. And that's how I felt for so much of my first playthrough of Village, I was constantly encountering creatures and people with what appeared to be supernatural or magical abilities with no connection to the science of Umbrella. Obviously there was the Umbrella logo placed in prominent spots throughout the game but it wasn’t until the very end when in Mother Miranda's chambers reading notes that are extremely easy to walk past it's revealed that she discovered the mold hundreds of years ago and the creatures encountered are all failed test subjects as she was experimenting with the mold that would later go on the be genetically engineered into the serum's that resulted in the T-virus and the G-virus.
I know this is a bit nit picky but for whatever reason this move away from closely relating everything happening to being grounded in pseudo science made the game less enjoyable. I had the same complaint of Resident Evil 4. By keeping the player in the dark with respect to the root cause of everything going on around them, the game feels as though it is taking place in a fantasy world that absolutely cannot be the same as the world in which Resident Evil 2 and 3 take place.
One of my biggest complaints of Resident Evil 7 was in just how physically resilient Ethan Winters was. Early in the game Mia literally chainsaws his hand off but after pouring some of that first aid liquid on it and stapling his ENTIRE HAND back onto the stump of his arm everything seems to be back to normal. Village ramps up the grotesque violence even further and yet Ethan was still resilient. From being impaled, to ripping hooks through his hands, and once again having a hand completely severed then just shoving it back on Ethan's body seems to be indestructible. I'm capable of suspension of disbelief but I would be lying if I said that this didn’t feel stupid in 7 and for the majority of Village. But then towards the end after Chris is convinced that Ethan is dead and Mia insists that he's not and even says to Chris that Chris doesn’t know what Ethan is capable of it's all explained by Eveline, the main antagonist of 7, of all people. After "dying" at the hand of Mother Miranda, Ethan finds himself in a dream like state and is told by Eveline that Jack Baker killed him almost as soon as he made his way onto the farm and when Ethan awoke to that iconic scene at the dinner table in the Baker house his body was made entirely of mold that had absorbed and recreated not only his physical body but also his consciousness.
Ignoring the fact that it appears as though the mold that is the catalyst for all the events of Resident Evil is essentially capable of anything, this is actually a really cool development. Not only does it easily explain away how Ethan was able to perform all the physical feats he did in both 7 and Village but it also functions as a revelatory moment for the player. After spending six main line games and several spin offs fighting the resulting products of the mold and the viruses born of it the player realizes that they have now spent a majority of one game and the entirety of another playing as one of those monsters. In a way Ethan is to Mother Miranda as Mr. X, Mr. Birkin, and Nemesis are to Umbrella Corp and the player has been playing this character all along.
Just like the story the gameplay was full of good and bad elements. Village features some really good ideas that make for noticeable improvements over it's predecessor but makes a fatal mistake resulting in a feeling of having taken two steps forward and one step back. Overall a net positive but one that could have been significantly greater had the developers just made one decision differently.
Let's start with the good. The weapon variety is very similar if not a little expanded on what we have all come to expect out of a Resident Evil game. The usual suspects are all here, multiple pistols, shotguns, grenades, and the classic grenade launcher and magnum can all be fairly easily obtained in a casual play through of the game. With the exception of the standard pistol and the sniper rifle all the guns sound great while feeling weighty and offering excellent feedback. Ammo scarcity is nearly perfect making almost every encounter especially in the late game feel like a stressful situation with high stakes making overall combat and gunplay rewarding both in the moment to moment action as well as in the final result of an encounter.
One way that Village stands out from other Resident Evil games however is in an insane level of enemy variety. Not only does it feel as though there are more enemy types than basically any other RE game but also those enemies are clearly subspecies conceived of a shared ancestor and differing in how they’ve developed based on the circumstances of their environments. Grouping enemy types that share a common conceptual ancestor together in specific areas then designing those environments and creatures concurrently leads to a feeling of cohesion that brings the world of Village to life in a way that sets a new standard for the franchise. Enemy types and varity of environments keeps the game feeling fresh from beginning to end never leaving me feeling as though I'm repeating a process that I have done several times before.
The gameplay of Village is very enjoyable, but the single biggest mistake the game makes is in it's perspective. At E3 2015 after three years of silence since the less than stellar Resident Evil 6 for which Capcom was criticized for making Resident Evil too action focused and losing touch with the roots of what Resident Evil is, Capcom debuted a PSVR demo simply called Kitchen. The demo was said to be a proof of concept for a game that Capcom had in development and was so scary that it became one of the biggest stories of the show. Just one year later at E3 2016 on stage at Sony's press conference Capcom revealed that Kitchen was actually the first demo for the newly revitalized Resident Evil 7 for the first time ever to be played in VR. At the time of this announcement that change in perspective made perfect sense, if the game was going to be played in VR then of course it would need to be played in first person. RE7 was released in January 2017 and when played in VR it was an experience unlike any other I've ever had when playing a video game, firmly cementing it as not only my game of the year in a year in which it was competing against Horizon Zero Dawn and Breath of the Wild but also made it a strong contender for my game of the generation. RE7 and VR were made for each other and that was evident from the moment you put on the headset.
Then at E3 2018 again on Sony's stage Capcom had another surprise for the industry. In an well paced trailer with early teases throughout culminating in the reveal of Leon Kennedy Capcom announced a ground up remake of the fan favorite Resident Evil 2. Unlike the original RE2 the game didn’t feature static cam's and tank controls and unlike RE7 it wasn’t played in a first person perspective. Resident Evil 2 remake was an unapologetic third person survival horror game that immediately felt like what Resident Evil has always been supposed to be. The lack of VR was a bit disappointing after how thrilling 7 was but the third person perspective superb to the point that I found myself never wanting to play a Resident Evil game in any other way.
After demonstrating in just the last four years that Resident Evil can be fantastic in first person in VR or in third person on a TV, Capcom's decision to make Village a first person game without the option for VR is perplexing to me. Of the offerings of modern Resident Evil, Capcom has found two incredible ways of delivering the overall experience neither of which are utilized in Village, making for a good game that could have been great in two radically different ways but wasn’t.
And finally the fear. When evaluating a Resident Evil game one must take into account the fear elicited by the experience. The single best thing RE7 did was that it made Resident Evil truly scary again. By ratcheting up the fear and intensity of RE7 Capcom was able to reclaim Resident Evil's identity in the survival horror genre while implicitly acknowledging the criticisms of RE6 and embracing the fact that not every game needs to imitate Call of Duty. If on a fear scale of 1-10 Alien Isolation is a 10 then I would call RE7 a 9, and sadly on that scale Village is only a 5.5. While the game features an overall somewhat scary atmosphere, and Beneviento's house briefly takes that fear level up to an 8.5 the game never reaches the level of fear that RE7 did and even at it's scariest it abandons that intensity far too quickly. Village features plenty moment's in which I was truly scared but those moments are fleeting and before I knew it I was back to feeling far more confident than I should have when playing a brand new Resident Evil game. The fact that Village is, at times, very scary but the majority of the game feels bland by comparison leads me to believe that the developers at Capcom still have the ability to develop truly terrifying games but most likely have data showing that RE7 was too scary and led to significant portions of their audience never finishing that game resulting in Village being a less scary experience.
Overall Village is a good game that is proficient in all categories. That being said, it also leaves something to be desired in almost all categories. Village tells an interesting story despite it feeling out of place in the larger Resident Evil Universe. Gameplay is dynamic and engaging but would have been better had it been played from a third person perspective. Village strays quite far from the beaten path that is modern Resident Evil but in the end stands as a good an unique addition to the franchise.
Did you play Resident Evil Village? Let me know about your thoughts on the game in the comments down below. Don’t forget you can see everything I do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I'll be back next week talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games.
Critique of Frontlines Fuel of War
By: Patrick Morris
If you take a shot at the king, you best not miss. And miss is exactly what Frontlines: Fuel of War did. During a tumultuous time in which the genre was being dominated by the merely four month old jugernaut that was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare reshaping the landscape of what audiences would come to expect of a modern shooter, Frontlines: Fuel of War hit arrived on the scene with barely a whimper. Despite their bucking the trend of the corridor shooter mechanics utilized by their competitors and a unique story telling vehicle the deadweight of antiquated gameplay, subpar visuals, and controls that are generously described as being terrible proved to be to much for Kaos Studios' inaugural effort turning what could have been a cinderella story into just another cautionary tale for any future developer or publisher looking to take on Activision's monster.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak, a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLaw Morris and we are actually going to be changing things up quite a bit here on LegalSpeak. The show will now be split into three parts for your convienence. The first and shortest video will be a short form summary of both the history and my critique of the game or topic each week. Then the other two videos will be seperate longer form deep dives into the history the game and my critique and thoughts on the topic. Watch the videos in whatever order you want, if you're not super interested in a topic watch the short one to get a better idea then watch the other two for more detail. If youre like me and you know you enjoy longer form content then just jump straight into the two longer videos and have fun! This week's videos will be focused on the often forgotten Frontlines: Fuel of War, a game that was supposed to be the catalyst of a new Call of Duty and Battlefield contender but instead fell flat. So without further ado, lets get into it!
Frontlines has far more than it's fair share of bad and ugly to offer so lets just start with the good. The story in Frontlines, while not spectacular, is incredibly eerie and unsettling to play in 2021. Taking place in 2024 the world has been plunged into a global energy crisis creating famine and poverty that strikes indiscriminately. Two of the world's superpowers China and Russia have formed an alliance to both defend their own natural resources while also expanding their reach to co-opt the resources of those countries with lesser military might. To make matters worse during the early days of the energy crisis the world experienced an outbreak of the avian flue on pandemic proportions. After a coup d'etat in Turkmenistan the hand of both the Western Coalition and the Red Star Alliance are forced and world war 3 appears to be on the doorstep.
The player character is a nameless protagonist who is a member of an American fire team known as the Stray Dogs, known for their efficiency and brutality on the battlefield. Throughout the seven chapters that function as larger missions the Stray Dogs are accompanied by a reporter for the Affiliated Press through whom the bulk of the world building, story telling, and exposition is done. The wartime journalist aspect is the game's single biggest strength as it offers a perspective never before seen in a warfare shooter and one that allows the game's writers to more easily turn the script against their heroes and examine the atrocities of both sides of a conflict to acknowledge the travesty that is war. Unfortunately, while the perspective from which the story is told showed true potential the developers did a lackluster job utilizing their best idea and as a result we are left pining over what could have been.
The events of the story of Frontlines and the realism of the conflict and challenges that would be facing the world in the 2020's are nearly prophetic. Despite the improvements having been made since the start of 2021 and the majority of the world getting vaccinated within the next few months after the year we have all been through it's difficult to not see this game as some sort of cautionary tale. A global pandemic, trade relations weakening, and the east and west gearing up for what could possibly be a second cold war makes the failure in story telling and the absence of a Frontlines sequel more disappointing in 2021 than it was when the game launched in 2008. Call of Duty and Battlefield's biggest weaknesses appeared to be Kaos' strong suit and it's a shame that although they were jettisoned from DICE and the Battlefield franchise Activision didn’t recognize the strengths of Kaos Studios and scoop them up as a narrative team for future COD titles.
The bad consists mostly of the gameplay and controls. Shooting feels stilted and inaccurate, movement is slow and crude, and weapon balance leaves me unsure of what guns to use in any given instance as none of them behave in any previously understood way from other games. Call of Duty created and has been refining what has become the defacto first person shooter control scheme on a gamepad since 2004, Call of Duty 2 was released on the Xbox 360 in 2005, and nearly every shooter since has used the system of left trigger for iron sights for increased accuracy at the expense of maneuverability. A limit on number of weapons that can be carried at one time has been used in games to both balance gameplay by forcing players to make cost benefit choices in the heat of battle and allowed developers to streamline control systems since Halo Combat Evolved in 2001. And despite the two of these giants combined creating what is inarguably the foundation for any decent first person shooter control scheme Kaos Studios seems convinced that they can do better. For whatever reason scope in and out is by default mapped to the right stick and crouch is a three stage toggle on the left stick. These controls are reminiscent of Halo but without the accurate hip fire found in most arena shooters basic weapons like pistols, assault rifles, and LMG's become essentially useless. The game is understandably mechanically built to play like a Call of Duty game but then for whatever built to control like Halo, incorporating the drawbacks of both without the advantages of either making for a relentlessly frustrating experience. After playing for roughly three hours I was forced to go into the accessories app on my Xbox and remap the controls to more closely imitate Call of Duty.
Rather than pushing the player down a corridor of finely tuned hand crafted environments and allowing them to experience the almost roller coaster like experience of what audiences have come to expect from these sorts of games Kaos opted to make much larger resource intensive open environments for each level then scatter objectives across the map allowing players to choose in which order they want to tackle the mission. While the romanticized freedom of choice is obviously alluring in the case of Frontlines it is one that works to the game's detriment. Instead of a tailored experience involving surprises around every corner, and large action set pieces players are met with vast open flat battlefields making the game feel more reminiscent of playing with all of your action figures on your bedroom floor when you were a kid than a big budget Hollywood movie. The choose your own approach mechanic is an interesting one but ultimately didn’t do the game any favors in terms of keeping the audience engaged and eager for what would come next. It feels very much like a mechanic that should have and would have been left on the cutting room floor had the team had proper time and budgeting for QA testing every step of the way.
And the ugly, visually Frontlines is clearly trying to keep up with it's contemporaries with more up close character animations and interactions as well as environmental destruction but once again it falls short and instead of wowing the audience with it's visuals it ends up looking dated and less polished. Graphics look muddy and uninteresting, environments appear similar from one level to another without any opportunity for even the slightest bit of variation, and characters appear much more stilted and robotic. The culmination of all of these graphical shortcomings makes for a game that not only isn't on par with the Call of Duty and Battlefield games of the time but one that despite being released more than two years into the Xbox 360's life span looks as though with just a bit more RAM for the large open level design could have been rendered the original Xbox that was constructed of mostly laptop PC parts in 2001.
Frontlines: Fuel of War was an underdog story and one that after learning it I truly wish had been the upset the industry needed at the time. Competition drives innovation which inherently leads to better products so despite whatever preference you may have a new player on the scene would only make the game you choose to put your time into better. Upon it's release Frontlines was met with lukewarm yet somewhat positive reviews. But not enough to overcome the many drawbacks of the game. The game remains a perfect case study in overly ambitious yet great ideas but poor and under funded execution.
That’s all I've got for my critique this week, If you're wrapping up all three videos, thanks for sticking around. If not go check out my research and exploration on the history of the development of this game! You can see everything I do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I'll be back next week talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games!
History of Frontlines Fuel of War
By: Patrick Morris
Video game developers of all sizes are forced to compete for audiences attention and in no genre is that competition more stiff First-Person Shooters. Dominated by titans like Activision's Call of Duty and EA's Battlefield, THQ's sole objective of taking a portion of that market share was seen as a daunting, nearly impossible task. A project born of ambition, Kaos studios and their parent company THQ would soon discover that same ambition from which Frontlines: Fuel of War was conceived would be its undoing. This is the history of Frontlines: Fuel of War.
Throughout the early 2000's the first-person shooter genre was popularized by World War II shooters. Every year new Medal of Honor, Call of Duty, and Battlefield games were consumed by a fanbase with seemingly unending demand. In 2002 EA's Sweden based subsidiary DICE released Battlefield 1942 the first in a series that would go on to attain enormous popularity. While Battlefield was embraced by both audiences and critics alike one group of players liked the game so much they felt obligated to expand on it in their own unique way.
Founded in 2003 Trauma Studios was comprised of a group of players sharing in a singular vision for modifying Battlefield to provide a new experience for like-minded fans. Thus the Battlefield 1942 Desert Combat mod was born. Trauma Studios utilized the tools and assets already existing in Battlefield 1942 along with some original creations of their own and shaped them into a new multiplayer experience that saw players colliding in a Gulf War setting rather than World War II. Fans of the original game loved and praised Traumas creation for its extraordinary levels of polish. But it wasn’t only Battlefield fans who had taken notice of Trauma; in September of 2004 Battlefield developer Dice acquired Trauma, who were quickly put to work on the upcoming sequel Battlefield 2.
After functioning as a support studio on Battlefield 2 working on concept and game development Trauma's Battlefield was nearing completion. But on June 7, 2005 just two weeks before Battlefield 2 would be released to overwhelming critical and commercial success Dice announced the closure of Trauma Studios. It was reported that Dice extended the offer to relocate Trauma to their Sweden office but Trauma declined.
Only months later in early 2006 Trauma was reborn as Kaos Studios, with a new parent company, publisher THQ. After their experience working on the Battlefield franchise the group formerly known as Trauma seemed to be the perfect fit for a publishing company looking to add a first-person shooter to their portfolio. THQ formed Kaos Studios with the intent of developing their own Battlefield and Call of Duty competitor, a game that would eventually be known as Frontlines: Fuel of War.
From their inception Kaos was determined to create something unique in a genre that was often criticized for lacking any distinguishable or defining features. As a result, the decision to tell their story not from the perspective of a soldier on the battlefield but instead a wartime correspondent, Wayne Andrews, was made relatively early in development. To Kaos Andrews was more storytelling device than character.
In an effort to make everything from weapons to global relations feel as grounded as possible the Kaos team employed what became known as "Kaos Theory" the active speculation of aging all elements in the game up twenty years. Kaos General Manager Frank DeLise described it as evaluating a weapon, alliance, or resource and imagining how that will develop over twenty years. And so the allied and enemy factions and resource driven conflict of the fictional world of Frontlines was born.
Conceptually Frontlines was extremely ambitious. While Kaos was focused on PC as their primary development platform they were able to utilize features unique to each console to tailor the experience. But despite their differences Kaos had plans to bring the most iconic and fundamental features to every version of the game. In an interview with GameSpot Senior Producer Joe Halper stressed the focus on dynamic gameplay creating unprecedented levels of replayability for the first person shooter genre. Halper emphasized the use of dynamically destructible environments to significantly change the battlefield as the player progressed throughout each level. By spreading objectives out across the levels then letting the player decide which order those objectives would be accomplished in and strategically placing weapons and drones near each objective, Kaos opened new avenues for player's to approach each situation.
With their sights set on a dynamic single player experience built for two consoles and needing to scale to a multitude of different PC hardware configurations Kaos was forced to make concessions. In the lead up to release Halper was forthcoming with media outlets about those concessions that had been made and why. When asked about terrain deformation Halper responded "we looked into it…but it's a bit more of an arcadey feel, and we decided to pass by that." Kaos also cited their chosen engine Unreal’s limited capability on the 360 and delayed development on the PS3 as a source of frustration. Executives at Kaos even went as far as to point to the limited RAM capacity of the PS3 having difficulty maintaining the sheer size and scope of the levels being developed stymieing their development team. Six months prior to the games release the signs of empty promises were beginning to surface.
With each passing day it became increasingly clear to THQ that the PS3 version of the game wasn’t coming along as quickly as its Xbox and PC counterparts. On January 18, 2008 just over a month before the game's scheduled release date Destructoid.com reported that the PS3 version of Frontlines had been cancelled. A leaked company wide email from popular retailer GameStop broke the news that PlayStation owners would not be on the Frontlines. Five days of silence passed and on January 23rd THQ confirmed the cancellation in a statement from CEO Brian Farrell. While no specific reason was given, many have speculated based on quotes from Frank DeLise and Design Director Dave Votypka it stemmed from difficulties with and a delayed development for Unreal Engine on Sony's seventh generation console. In the eleventh hour Frontlines: Fuel of War was facing major turmoil.
Ambition had gotten the better of Kaos on several different fronts but despite the PlayStation cancellation the studio pressed forward on the two platforms for which they were still developing. In the final month before release Votypka touted the game as "an evolution of the genre with a high level of intensity." And DeLise stated Kaos was in the process of "really pushing the envelope of the next-gen platforms." The team at Kaos was working hard toward delivering the best experience they could that would most closely represent what they had promised.
Frontlines: Fuel of War was finally released on the Xbox 360 and PC on February 25, 2008. While technically the first game from Kaos Studios the teams work on the Battlefield franchise during their time as Trauma Studios rightfully garnered respect from both players and critics alike. THQ had resurrected Trauma Studios to put their best foot forward in the war against EA and Activision. With a Frontlines sequel already conceptualized at Kaos it was only the awaiting of sales figures keeping THQ from giving the green light and turning Frontlines into a franchise. A new contender had entered the ring and the entire industry waited with bated breath to see if David could topple not one but two Goliath's.
Xbox Elite Series Controllers
By: Patrick Morris
I've never done a video that I would really consider a hardware review before but I suppose there first time thing for everything. Every moment we spend playing video games and even those moments that we aren't playing but simply interacting with our consoles we are using a controller, unless for some reason you're a ride or die kinect fan and still using that thing. But the controller is something that is constantly used but yet still somehow almost entirely overlooked. Until a few years ago when Microsoft decided to change that and last year…I think they perfected it.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLaw Morris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about that game's I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. Now this is gonna be a little bit different from my usual videos, instead of talking about a game or a larger topic we will be discussing my thoughts on the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller's. So lets get to it.
During their E3 (rest in peace) 2015 press conference Microsoft announced the Xbox Elite Wireless Controller. It would feature rubber grips on the back, swappable thumbsticks and dpads, and two different trigger stops. But the most important feature that the first generation of the Elite Wireless Controller brought to the table was rear facing remappable paddles. And with the new software made for the Elite Controller players had the freedom to remap any button to any other button or paddle they wanted. It was a conglomeration of features that while luxurious and tempting it was essentially just that, a luxury. I saw the original Elite Controller and its $150 price tag and initially decided to pass.
It wasn’t until the appalling control scheme of Red Dead Redemption 2 that I felt the Elite Controller would make a big enough difference in my gameplay experience that I decided to bite the bullet. After purchasing my original Elite Controller I was satisfied with it. It did what I needed it to do and it did it all better than any other controller I could have had for my Xbox at the time but there were still a few things left to be desired.
In my original Elite Controller I was using Microsoft's own charge and play kit as the controller that cost $150 still required a pair of double A's; and that charge and play kit would last about four hours per charge. I was legitimately to the point that whether it was right at the start of a gaming session or more toward the end or anywhere in-between I was having to charge my original Elite Controller every time I played. The paddles were the main selling point for me and while they definitely functioned properly and featured a sleek design they never seemed to feel as good as they looked. The feedback from the paddles wasn’t bad, it was just a bit mushy and didn’t give me the satisfying click I'm looking for when I spend more than $60 on a controller. The grip on my controller always stayed on but I know of several other people that had theirs peel off over time. And the bumpers are notorious for breaking or just not registering a press, which is something I was starting to experience on my original Elite Controller.
Overall the original Elite Controller was a really good first attempt. But that was really its biggest problem, even after playing with it for hundreds of hours it still felt like a first attempt. a really good first attempt but a first attempt none the less. The controller looked good, felt good, and functioned exactly as advertised but even prior to the Series 2 being announced there were still so many improvement's I was wanting to see. But now I've had the Series 2 in my hands for a while and I feel like all is right in the world.
The Elite Series 2 feels incredible. The rear facing paddles and dpad feel significantly clickier and more sure footed than their predecessor's. the frictionless sticks are just as smooth if not somehow smoother than the original. And the rubber grip wraps all the way around the handles of the controller, not only providing more grip but also leaving less chance for them to begin to peel off like they did on the original. The bumpers feel about the same but now the plastic body of the controller that shields the bumpers from any potential damage climbs much higher leaving less room for dust and debris to work its way inside. There's a third trigger stop this time around, stopping even shorter than the shortest option on the original turning a trigger pull into essentially a button press with almost no travel (not really my speed but it's always good to have options). And FINALLY an Xbox controller has a built in battery, and a battery that is no slouch either. I didn’t have to charge my Elite Series 2 until I had 35 hours logged on it! And that wasn’t even because it needed to be charged it was because I put it down on the charging dock when I wasn’t thinking about it.
The Elite Controller Series 2 delivers on and damn near perfects every feature I felt the original had fallen short on. And it does it all while somehow looking even better than the original! Gone are the silver accents replaced instead with matte black and gunmetal. And I might sound crazy saying this but one of my biggest problems with the Xbox controllers in general last generation is that it always felt just a bit to big, especially when compared to the DualShock 4. But the Series 2 feels just ever so slightly smaller which at least for me goes a really long way in making it a more enjoyable experience. Really the only way the Series 2 is outdone by the original is the thumbstick selection, on my original Elite I use the standard stick on the left and the long convex stick on the right to imitate the original Xbox's duke controller. I was sad to see that for whatever reason the old sticks don’t fit on the new controller.
So I know this is gonna sound hyperbolic and I'm sure I'll eat my words when Microsoft announces the Series 3 in a couple years, but with the insane feature set, some of which I didn’t even mention like the adjustable thumbstick tension and the packed in charging dock that fits in and can be removed from the hardshell case, I think Microsoft made the perfect controller. Aside from more first party thumbstick options and a gyro sensor there is genuinely nothing I would change or add to this controller and when Sony finally steps up and makes the DualSense Pro or whatever they're going to call it they're going to have to really knock it out of the park to beat out the Elite Series 2.
What do you guys think of the Xbox Elite Controllers? Are they premium products worth the money or just a hunk of plastic made to milk suckers like me for all they're worth? Let me know in the comments down below. And while you're down there if you liked this more relaxed style of video let me know. You can see everything we do including both of our podcasts all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I'll be back next week talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games!
Mortal Kombat Movie Review
By: Patrick Morris
For almost a decade now armchair analysts have been proselytizing that video game movie are going to be the next big break through in the movie industry akin to comic book movies. It clearly still hasn’t happened yet but with the release of each new video game movie the same armchair analysts are out in droves saying that this is going to be the big break through movie that demonstrates the power of the genre. Well Mortal Kombat came out last week and it doesn’t seem to be setting the world on fire. History is bound to repeat itself and once again Mortal Kombat is a movie that is violent, fun, and honors the source material all while being incredibly dumb but it fails to break away from the stigma of being a video game movie and stand out as above average even when evaluated as simply a popcorn action flick.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone, welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing (or in this case the movie's I've been watching) and what I think of the industry as a whole. I know I haven't done a movie review before and I know that this is a gaming channel but Mortal Kombat is a new movie based on a bunch of different games so lets discuss the new Mortal Kombat movie.
Being a fighting game story has always taken a backseat to gameplay in Mortal Kombat and as a result it naturally leaves a daunting task for the movies writer's. While the game's story is centered around a tournament of super natural fighters that essentially functions as an excuse for the players to fight a movie needs something a bit more substantial than that and unfortunately Mortal Kombat 2021 doesn’t do much to create that substance. Instead of focusing on the tournament of Mortal Kombat the movie tells a story of a pre-tournament invasion of the earth realm by the outworld realm led by Shang Tsung. The relative positioning and proximity of the story to the upcoming Mortal Kombat tournament actually works to serve the movies narrative extremely well. By setting the story ahead of the tournament the filmmakers were allowed the opportunity to exposit the premise of the outworld realm being on the cusp of their 10th win in Mortal Kombat and inherently being allowed by tradition to conquer earth realm without resistance. The pre-tournament invasion plot both allowed the movie to get straight to the action and spread out the exposition of the tournament system across the entire runtime rather than having to explain it all inside the first 15-20 minutes.
As with all movies with even the slightest bit of franchise potential these days it comes as no surprise that this movie appears to have been written as a platform on which to build a larger world with explicit references to events that are yet to come. Undoubtedly the sequel will center around the assembly of earth realm's newest heroes and the events of the 10th tournament. While the story of this movie was fairly hum drum I believe it was still the right one to tell as it created a way for the writers to establish characters and future events as well as escalate everything to a new level in the sequel.
Despite the story being nothing to write home about the characters were really the life blood of the movie. The decision to focus on characters from the earlier games played well on the nostalgia of the older audience while also hooking a wider audience to bring them back for subsequent entries in the series. Liu Kang, Kung Lao, Raiden, Jax, Sonya Blade, Goro, Milena, Tshang Tsung and more all provide the nostalgia hit that was needed to get this movie and potentially franchise off the ground after which the focus was placed on film's only original character Cole Young, Sub-Zero, and Scorpion with Kano doing the bulk of the heavy lifting.
Cole Young being the only original character featured in the movie was also the weakest. Despite his place as the main character his costume design and abilities felt unfinished and generic. In a sea of characters with look's and abilities that we have been familiar with for decades Cole feels uninteresting and weak and would have been better had he, being a descendent of Scorpion, somehow inherited Scorpion's abilities and become a new Scorpion. In fact throughout the entire sequence in which Cole finds his arkana as Goro was closing in on Cole's wife and daughter I was waiting for him to yell "Get over here" and the movie to reveal that he is the new Scorpion.
The real standout character and performance however was Josh Lawson as Kano. As is tradition since Paul W.S. Anderson's 1995 Mortal Kombat movie Lawson portrayed Kano as the wise cracking world renowned criminal and he did so nearly flawlessly. In what seems to be a bit of a role reversal Kano is initially cast as a protagonist on the journey with Cole and Sonya and even moves through large parts of their character progression by their side. His quick wit and over the top performance cements him as the single most enjoyable part of the movie and when given the opportunity to wreck havoc on our heroes I found myself hoping he would as it would be so in line with not only the character but also Lawson's performance. The only regrettable thing about Kano in the movie is that he didn’t live bring the audience more joy in the sequel.
Despite the usage of so many iconic Mortal Kombat characters the films central conflict isnt between outworld and earth realm but instead is a more personal one between Scorpion and Sub-Zero. Establishing a blood feud early in the prologue of the movie Sub-Zero then continues throughout the remainder of the movie to hunt down Scorpions remaining bloodline to finally achieve the extermination of his nemesis. As fan favorites the feud between the two iconic ninja assassin's was an obvious well to go to and it is one that served the movie well as a skeletal structure to move the plot forward. And that structure allowed for two really amazing fights between the two to bookend all the action in the movie. But again just like Kano, the elimination both Scorpion and Sub-Zero after just one entry feels like it was a bit short sighted but I am sure will be undone in subsequent entries.
So overall Mortal Kombat 2021 was fun, kicked some ass, and took some names but ultimately failed to blow me away to the degree it needed to in order to push the video game movie genre into the stratosphere. The acting, directing, and cinematography make for a competent movie that is made good through familiarity with the games and excellent action sequences. While only time can tell if it will make enough money to warrant a sequel in the event that it does you can expect me to be there as this was just fun enough that I am happy to sign up for more.
By: Patrick Morris
Short game, short video. One thing a lot of indie games have in common is their length. Without the massive resources and blockbuster budgets of their triple A counterparts often times it's in their own best interest for indie games to know when to say when. And while every now and then a small indie game like goose game, superhot, or Owlboy makes huge waves the ones that don’t are often good but even in a best case scenario are relegated to a small cult audience. So while Ape Out doesn’t come with the pedigree of some other indie games that manage to break through into the mainstream, it offers a short and sweet experience that is decidedly more indie and forced to stand out in unique ways because of that.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. This week I played through another indie game, a game that I would definitely call good and one that I've already recommended to plenty of people but one that is absolutely worth its price of entry for someone looking for a quick and unique game to play. Lets talk about Ape Out.
Consider this your weekly spoiler warning: if you're super concerned with the story of a game that is clearly not super concerned with its own story then I guess stop watching now.
Ape Out is a game that has its entire premise explained in its title. It's a game about being an ape and trying to get out. You begin the game in captivity in some sort of animal testing facility. With the press of one button you’ve broken through the glass with one goal: kill every single human in sight. The story of Ape Out while extremely straight forward is actually pretty interesting. It's not its content that makes it interesting that’s all pretty simplistic and for lack of a better word uneventful. It's the way in which the story is told that makes it fun and engaging. As an ape whose soul objective is freedom from his captors the player moves through different settings on their journey to escape. With new levels come new color schemes portraying how that level is to be interpreted. And as the colors change and invert significant story beats are brought to the players attention. From testing facility, to office building (for some reason), to a ship, and eventually a zoo the player accompanies the ape to his final destination of…out.
The real meat and potatoes of Ape Out is in the gameplay. Nearly everything the game has to offer is seen within the first few minutes of gameplay only really changing things with new enemy varieties later in the game. But despite there not being any significant mechanics added the way Gabe Cuzzillo utilizes the mechanics available is very well done. By adding increasingly complex mazes to navigate and more powerful enemies in greater numbers the game becomes very difficult without ever getting frustrating. And what stands out as just such an incredible touch is the way that after every death the game shows the player the maze and their path through it all the up to the point at which they died.
But where Ape Out really stands out and the only element of the game that I would say exceeds good and places itself firmly into greatness territory is in it's presentation. The art style of the game is stunning, I really don’t think I'm being hyperbolic when I say that Ape Out LOOKS like nothing I've ever seen before. Characters are animated beautifully and the entire game looks stunning. What drives that look is the colors utilized to perfection throughout. During the roughly 2 hour plus duration of Ape Out every character and the ape are silhouetted in various colors against the ground as the game is played from a top down perspective. And those color schemes change from level to level and sometimes even in the middle of levels. The game is an absolute joy to look at and with it's incredible jazz sound track its almost just as fun to listen to.
When I first saw Ape Out in a Nintendo direct I was intrigued enough that it stayed on my radar long enough for the game to come out and go on sale. So having paid a measly $7 I can say that even if I had paid $20 I would have considered it money well spent. Don’t expect anything life changing from Ape Out but if you're just in the market for a quick fun game that doesn’t take much brain power Ape Out is a really good choice.
Did you play Ape Out or have I convinced you to? Let me know in the comments down below. And while you're down there don’t forget to hit that subscribe button for a new video and two new podcasts every week! You can see everything we do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I'll be back next week talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games.
Why Series X?
By: Patrick Morris
I know I keep talking about the next generation of consoles, I talk about them on our podcast HardReset every week, I talked about them on LegalSpeak last week, I wont shutup about the new consoles but get used to it because this week isnt going to be any different.
A recent poll has show that an overwhelming majority of current generation players are planning on purchasing a PlayStation 5 as opposed to an Xbox Series X. Personally I plan on buying both because I don’t really care what plastic box full of silicon is powering my games I just wanna play the games, but if I were forcing myself to choose I think Microsoft has convinced me that this coming generation I will primarily be playing Xbox. And more importantly they are making what seems to be a much more concerted effort to transform what the term "Xbox" actually means and inherently how we think about video games and what we expect from our consoles moving forward.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. This week isnt going to be a PS5 vs. Xbiox Series X type video its just going to be an exploration of what Microsoft has done to convince me that Xbox is the place to play and why I think that decision will last longer than just this coming generation.
Quick disclaimer before we get started: like I mentioned at the top, I'm planning on buying both the Xbox and the PS5 on day one. I've already put away roughly $500 for each console so when they go up for preorder I'll put my money down in both camps and play games indiscriminately. This video is in no way meant to stoke the flames of the console wars it's just my observing things that Microsoft is doing that Sony isn't that are important to ME. Can we all please agree to not spit venom at each other defending the billion dollar companies that don’t give two shits about us as individuals? Xbox isn't a part of my identity and neither is PlayStation. Okay now that that’s out of the way, lets talk about the Xbox.
For every single generational console launch that I can remember almost all consoles have utilized the same standard strategy, and that’s for good reason, it works. The simple straightforward formula involves three ingredients. First, you gotta come to market with significantly more powerful hardware than the previous generations offerings. Second, you’ve gotta have games. Whether they're first party or third party you gotta make there's something great to play because if the PSvita taught us anything it's that the best hardware in the world cant ever make up for not having great software to go with it. And third, and this one is a more recent development you've gotta have great online services. Sony struggled throughout the entirety of the PlayStation 3 because while Xbox Live was a teenager starting to build some muscle mass PlayStation Network was just a baby shit pissin in their diaper. And just to be especially clear when I say the formula is simple I mean conceptually. It's not difficult to identify what makes a great console but even the simplest formula in the world can still be difficult to execute on.
Now both Microsoft and Sony are utilizing this approach. Both the Series X and the PS5 are significantly more powerful than even their half step predecessors the One X and the PS4 Pro. They're both doing their best to come with big games that will draw people to their consoles (Sony is doing a much better job with this one in my opinion). And they are both undoubtedly working to evolve their online services. But while Sony looks to be perfecting a tried and true comfort dish Microsoft is bringing in new ingredients that will truly change what the Xbox platform is.
"The Netflix of gaming" is a term that has been tossed around for several years now and even before Game Pass it was seen as a holy grail of sorts for video games. Well Microsoft finally made it happen and it's basically as good as we all thought it would be. Honestly Microsoft has done a better job making the "Netflix of gaming" than Netflix has done making the Netflix of movies. Game Pass is constantly adding major third party titles like GTA 5, Red Dead Redemption 2, Soul Calibur 6, and Devil May Cry 5 and those are just the ones I could pull of the top of my head. And in addition to that every single Microsoft first party game is added to Game Pass on day one! By offering a monthly subscription service Microsoft has created something that is a great deal for people like you and I because we end up spending significantly less money on games every year and in turn we evangelize the service and Microsoft gets more money from those people who are buying one or two games on sale by just paying a low monthly price. It kind of relates back to last weeks video and the idea of everyone paying a little more for things to be better overall. At the end of the day Game Pass is a service that, while yes, Sony does have a competing service in PSnow (which I am also a big fan of by the way) the insane value offered makes it so casual gamers don’t really have to buy games if they don’t want to.
The second and in my opinion more exciting way Microsoft is transforming the Xbox platform is in preservation. Microsoft has been very forthcoming with their intention for every game that works on the Xbox One X to work on the Series X on day one. That means that I can take a disc that was originally purchased in 2001 and put it in my Series X and it will work without missing a beat, and I don’t know about you guys but to me that’s a really big deal. While Microsoft may not have explicitly said it they have hinted at the idea that Xbox games moving forward will all be forward compatible with whatever Xboxes come in the future. Video games are a medium that are in their relative infancy and as a result of the dangerous combination of both being a new medium and an extremely profitable one there really aren't many companies that are focused on preserving what has come before., they're all focused on that next big pay day. As a society we preserve all kinds of art. We have made organized government funded efforts to preserve books, film, painting, really basically any kind of art you can think of. For a myriad of good reasons almost all art is worth preserving and at this point video games are undoubtedly art. Microsoft's focus on the preservation of video game or at least the video games that have come to the Xbox platform is a commitment to backwards compatibility that collectors like myself have been waiting for basically all our lives.
With regards to the PlayStation 5 though it's not like it looks like it's going to be a bad console by any stretch of the imagination. Sony has experimented with backwards compatibility in the past, the PS2 was backwards compatible with all PlayStation 1 games. Early on in the PlayStation 3 every console had PS2 hardware built into the console but that was cut just a few years in as a cost savings measure. The PS4 has kind of faked backwards compatibility with PlayStation 3 games by streaming them through PlayStation now but it didn’t feature any real backwards compatibility. And the PlayStation 5 is said to be backwards compatible with "most" of the most popular PS4 games. Now recently I've accepted that the PlayStation 4 has the best library of games of all time and to see that library left behind forever stranded on the PlayStation 4 would be tragic. And of course this wont be the case as the vast majority of them will be playable on the PS5 but what about after that? Will they still work on the PS6? Or the PlayStation 7? Sure we might not be playing games that are one or two or three generations old regularly but the importance of preserving those games cannot be overstated. Sony is making another PlayStation, at the end of the day that’s all the PlayStation 5 looks to be is just another PlayStation. Now don’t get me wrong I'm really excited about that, if Sony can manage to just keep the good times of the PS4 rolling with the PS5 I'll be thrilled, but without that commitment to preservation that Microsoft is showing I'll be playing PlayStation exclusively for its exclusives.
Ever since I was a kid I've always loved the idea of an old record collection. Dozens or hundreds of records amassed over years of collecting lined up next to each other on a shelf stand as a physical manifestation of their owners journey through a hobby that clearly means the world to them. I've been collecting physical copies of video games for several years now some of the games in my collection date as far back as my day one copy of Luigi's Mansion, or the copy of Majora's Mask that my sister got for her 12th birthday just days after its release. I've been collecting with the idea that one day my collection of games will be more akin to those old record collections, a snapshot of me and my journey with video games over the years. But unlike records we end up locked out of those games by hardware because finding a working record player is much easier than finding a working console from 30 years ago. Microsoft's commitment to Xbox games working on all future iterations of Xbox means that some day my kid will be able to pull a game two or three times his age off the shelf, ask me about, and then be able to experience in whatever the modern Xbox is at the time, and that’s the kind of future I want to live in.
So until Sony steps up their preservation effort I will be buying and playing as many Xbox games as possible and only playing team blue when there is no green version available.
Which console are you planning on buying and what made you choose that one? Let me know in the comments down below. And while you're down there don’t forget to subscribe for a new video every week. You can see everything we do including both our podcast's all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com. I'll be back next week talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games.
A $70 Future
By: Patrick Morris
With the ninth generation of consoles right around the corner and the console wars starting to heat back up the fidelity and shear scope of video games is at an all time high. There seems to be a new bar being set for both quality and breadth with every new triple A release. Naturally as the fidelity of games increases so does the cost of production for said games. Recent leaks have shown the price of Take Two's NBA 2k21 to be $60 for the current gen and $70 for the next gen version of the game. And like clockwork the discussion, speculation, and bellyaching amongst the gaming community has begun to spin up. But the standard price moving from $60 to $70 could turn out to be a good thing for players, developers, publishers…really the industry as a whole. The only potential limiting factor to this potentially elusive win win win scenario is how publishers allocate the increased revenue generated by higher prices.
Welcome welceome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production! I'm the Law Morris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. I know we have been gone a while and at first it was because of quarantine then it was because I was moving and things were going to change for this show pretty dramatically but believe me you do NOT want to see me not reading from a teleprompter! So this week we will be talking about the $70 price point and why it could be exactly what we have all wanted for so long.
Prior to getting started though I do want to establish my credentials, if youre a long time watcher of this show you probably know that I have a degree in economics so when it comes to speculating and theorizing on this sort of thing its not entirely baseless. Now that that’s out of the way lets get to it!
Price inflation is something that is commonly known and widely discussed and accepted in almost all industries. It doesn’t take an economist to understand that as more money is printed every dollar is worth less. But what's talked about far more infrequently is purchasing power and the impact inflation has on it. To put it extremely simply the term purchasing power refers to the portion of a standardized basket of goods that one dollar can purchase. For example: if in the year 2000 a gallon of milk cost one dollar then in 2020 that same gallon of milk (not the exact same gallon of course) now costs two dollars. Over the course of twenty years the purchasing power of a dollar has been cut in half. Thus leading to people needing to spend more dollars to buy the same things.
Prior to the sixth generation of consoles the price of video games varied dramatically. For the most part PlayStation games cost around $40 with some of the more complex games costing $50 or $60 while Nintendo 64 games generally cost $50 but fluctuated quite a bit more (I remember my dad paying $80 for my copy of Star Wars Episode 1 Racer at Shopko). The video game industry is still a very new one but back then it was the wild west era of what would soon become the largest entertainment industry in the world. With the introduction of the fifth generation of consoles (GameCube, PS2, and Xbox) the price of games became pretty well standardized at $50 across all platforms and almost never varied from that price point. For four years video games cost $50 new and that was all there was to be said about it. Then in 2005 with the introduction of the Xbox 360 game prices went up and the new standard price of games was $60. And that’s the way things have been ever since.
But when accounting for how the purchasing power of a dollar varies year to year while the price tag on almost all new games has been $60 since 2005 the actual price of games has been steadily decreasing to the point they are at now which happens to be an all time low. Modern video games cost more to develop than ever and are being sold for an all time low price. The purchasing power that $60 that was spent on Perfect Dark Zero or Call of Duty 2 at the launch of the Xbox 360 now has the purchasing power of $79.20 in 2020 dollars. When the GameCube and original Xbox launched in 2001 and their games cost $50 that $50 held the same purchasing power of $72.82 in todays money. To expect to continue to pay $60 for a new game in 2020 would be like expecting new games to cost $45.45 in 2005!
And that’s only analyzing the price of the product. Games are bigger than they ever have been and are taking far longer to develop. Development teams have gotten bigger and new jobs have been born from the advancements in technologies. The Elder Scrolls 4: Oblivion was released in March of 2006 and was at the time one of if not the biggest game of all time. It featured an expansive open world with dialogue from almost every character one of which was even voiced by Sir Patrick Stewart. Not to diminish the role Stewart played in Oblivion but it undoubtedly consisted of what was probably a couple days in a recording booth getting his lines down on a track. And at the time that was what being a major actor in a video game consisted of. Voice acting is legitimate and difficult work but it has never fetched as high a price as physical acting. In 2019 Death Stranding featured fully acted both voice and motion captured roles from several big budget Hollywood actors. Point being that jobs have been born of technology and with more jobs comes increased cost of development for that $60 (actually $45.45) game we are all buying.
The obvious counter argument to this would be that the audience has grown tremendously and with that more copies of each game are being sold. But that argument can really only be used to counter one of the two major points supporting a need for more expensive games at a time. At the end of the day if games cost the same to develop as they did in 2005 but more copies were being sold then yes the price could remain the same. Or if the purchasing power of the dollar had remained the same and the audience had grown, then yes the price of games could remain the same. But the cost of development has increased and the purchasing power of a dollar has decreased and the increase in audience has not been proportional to counter both simultaneously.
For years the gaming community has been complaining about monetization methods being used by publishers to recoup the massive costs of development. New anti-consumer revenue strategies like paid DLC, cosmetic items, games as a service type games, and loot boxes have been implemented in an effort to subsidize the insanely low price of video games. I am in no way trying to defend the usage of loot boxes but revenue models that are clearly anti-consumer have been introduced into the industry as a result of a consumer base that is unwilling to accept a price increase proportional with inflation rates. Gamers are happy to accept rising costs of almost everything else in the world, groceries, gas, movie tickets, McDonalds, etc. but unwilling to accept a standard edition game priced higher than $60. Many publishers have been overly aggressive and predatory in recent years but the blame does rest entirely on their shoulders. A stubborn consumer base has to be willing to accept their share of the blame if the problems facing the industry are going to be overcome.
So ultimately what could a $70 price point change? In a perfect world it would lead to less aggressive monetization. That would mean fewer loot boxes, fewer microtransactions, and less paid DLC. It would also mean more types of games that we are almost all saying we want. Multiplayer games are big money makers, which is a huge reason what has led to multiplayer and single player experiences being almost entirely separated. Do you remember when Titanfall came out and it was an entirely multiplayer game and a huge part of the discussion around that game was how egregious it was for EA to put out a multiplayer only game for $60? That practice has been normalized over the course of this generation and that’s totally fine because a lot of multiplayer games are worth the full $60 but there isn't as much money to be made in single player experiences so those have almost entirely died out. Well if we start paying more for single player games then theoretically publishers will be more inclined to start pushing out more single player story focused experiences.
And finally and most importantly if we are willing to pay more for games then there wont be as much financial stress on publishers to have a product in the market and developers will inherently be given more time to develop effectively reducing the need for crunch in development and leading to better games. We are currently in the midst of a mental health pandemic and everyone paying an extra $10 for video games means less financial stress on a publisher leading to less mental stress on a their employee's that’s something I'm happy to pay an extra $10 for, hell if I could be guaranteed that the increased revenue from higher priced games would be used to better the working conditions for everyone involved in development I would happily pay $80 for new games.
So what do you think about the $70 price point? Am I a complete idiot for being so willing to pay more or are you of the opinion that it could end up being a good thing? Let me know in the comments down below. And while you're down there don’t forget to subscribe for new content every week! You can see everything we do including both of our podcasts all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com, I will be back next week talking about something else entirely so until then just go play some games!