Archive for the ‘ Video Games ’ Category

Retro Review: Alpha Protocol (PS3)

Title: Alpha Protocol
System: Playstation 3

Alpha Protocol - Wikipedia
What appears to be a generic shooter secretly offers much more

Alpha Protocol from Obsidian Entertainment released in 2010 to offer a unique RPG experience blending third-person shooter gameplay, dialogue options, stealth, and mini game challenges that combine to create an equally unique espionage experience.

Although the character creator is somewhat limited in options, players create their own version of protagonist Michael Thorton to play through the story of a highly classified black ops agent burned and on the run trying to prevent World War III. RPG elements are at work as players can customize their agent’s skills with various fire arms, martial arts, computer skills, toughness, and more.

Combat is made up of stealth elements and hand to hand combat options while an arsenal of firearms offers somewhat unpolished but still competent third person shooting. As agent Thorton infiltrates enemy bases, sneaks through CIA safe houses, and unravels a war-for-profit plot, he’ll have to hack computers and pick locks. Both of these minigame-like activities take a little getting used to, but once accustomed to them, they offer a satisfying challenge that rarely leans towards frustrating.

Fans of television series Burn Notice or the Jason Bourne series will definitely enjoy stepping into a similar role for an adventure from the Middle East to Russia, Greece, and Hong Kong, often making allies with unsavory groups in pursuit of the greater good. Those who like a little moral gray in their story will likewise find a compelling story where patriotism doesn’t necessary equate to typical lines of loyalty.

A lot of gamers likely missed this one at release, but it’s worth picking up and still fairly cheap to find on either PS3 or XBox 360.

Retro Review: Contra (NES)

Title: Contra
System: Nintendo Entertainment System

Billy and Lance run and gun to save the world from totally-not-Xenomorphs

Contra was released by Konami for the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1988 after its arcade release the year before. While it’s considered a classic for the console, it is possibly more remembered for the famous Konami code that granted an extra 30 lives. The game, like many NES entries, is certainly a challenge with 3 lives and 3 continues, but the Konami code makes it far more approachable and fun to play through the whole game. With or without the code, the run and gun certainly earns its status as a classic.

A variety of weapon upgrades and the ability to shoot to the left, right, straight up and down, and even diagonally make a fun shooter while there are enough enemies and hails of bullets to avoid to keep the challenge present. Despite more than 30 years of new entries to the genre, Contra still feels fun today, even though the controls aren’t quite as sharp as they could be.

Graphically, the game still holds up well enough for an 8 bit contender and while the music may not be filled with memorable chiptunes, it doesn’t grate on the ears either.

Whether a familiar classic to be revisited or an 8 bit entry yet to be tackled, Contra is still worth a playthrough. Just remember Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start (or Select Start for 2 player) if you find the standard allotment of lives to be a bit tight.

Skyrim Grandma Shirley Curry Is The Role Model Content Creators Need

On May 2, 2020 Shirley Curry, also known as Skyrim Grandma or Gaming Grandma, posted a vlog to YouTube detailing that she would be scaling back her content output. The main reason was to manage stress, to get her blood pressure under control, and not let the pressures that come with being “under the microscope” of the public eye get to her. At 84 years old, she said her health is not great and she has to take control of it.

23 days later, VG247 reported that she was scaling back “for the sake of her health after receiving patronizing comments.” The article suggested that an “onslaught” of harassment and negative comments were the reason for her health concerns, painting yet another picture that gamers are toxic and driving Ms. Curry away from posting videos and streaming.

Shortly after, other sites such as Kotaku and Forbes published similar articles, though Forbes seemed more focused on reporting Shirley’s statements more directly with less interpretation. Ms. Curry herself responded to VG247 on Twitter, contradicting their depiction on “onslaught of patronizing comments.”

I think all of these publications missed the real story, though.

Shirley Curry’s vlog speaks to the challenges of being a gamer on YouTube, but many are missing the wisdom and brilliance in how she addresses it, setting the bar high for those to look up to when facing their own stress under the microscope of popularity.

The vlog starts off with Ms. Curry’s usual greeting to her grandkids, an affectionate moniker she’s long applied to her viewers, before detailing that her health isn’t good and her blood pressure is “going insane.” She does, as other sites reported, state her stress level is too high and she states she’s going to have to take control of it.

Already this is setting the bar for how YouTubers and Twitch streamers should be handling things. Recognizing the problem and resolving to address it.

What’s more, she states that some of the comments on her videos are stressing her out. Not that they’re harassing, abusive, or toxic. That they’re stressing her out. She also recognizes they shouldn’t stress her out, but she acknowledges that they do. “That’s just the way it is.” The gaming grandma seems to understand that emotions are not logical and often irrational. We cannot stop emotions from existing, but we can decide how we will respond to them. Ms. Curry goes on to detail how she will be doing that.

“From now on, I will respond to very, very few comments. I will be deleting a lot of comments. Here are some of the reasons why. I have played Skyrim for years, and I know about the HUD, I know about the different mechanics, how to play the game. And I don’t have to be reminded and told all the time. Any comments I see like that is going to be deleted.”

Now, giving some commenters the benefit of the doubt, some might post with a genuine intent to be helpful, but again we’re talking about comments that are acknowledge that should not stress Ms. Curry, but are acknowledge as having done so. She doesn’t say these are all posted with ill intent, but that they do bother her. If it was one or two a month, I’m sure she wouldn’t think twice about them, but when you reach over 800k subscribers, simple numbers increases the frequency of such comments from both people being jerks and those thinking they’re being helpful.

But a little bit later, she hits on the real subject here and she addresses it very much like I imagine my own grandmother would.

“If you don’t like the way I’m playing, I don’t know why you watch. So, you can go watch some other gamers because I’m tired of stressing over it. I’m not enjoying recording anymore at all. It’s no longer fun. I feel like I’m under a microscope all the time. I have much more fun and I play much better when I’m just playing by myself. It puts a lot of pressure on me, and any gamer when people are watching them play, especially when they nit-pick everything they do.”

It’s the simple reality of having such a large audience, though she does note in the video 800k subscribers only equates to about 3,000 to 5,000 views per video, causing her to ask what’s the point of chasing subscribers when most don’t watch the videos or skim through them anyway.

She talks about people telling her what weapon to use or what armor to get or quests to do, none of which are conducive to what she enjoys in Skyrim. “If you want to do those things, go on and play your game and let me play my game and if you don’t like that, go watch somebody else play their game.”

She’s 100% right. Social media and by extension in ways YouTube has bred this mentality of, for whatever reason, dwelling on the negative and trying to somehow pound that negativity into enjoyment. People put far too much energy into things they don’t enjoy and as Ms. Curry says, “I don’t know why [they] watch.” Her advice is absolutely correct – if the way she, or any content creator, plays isn’t entertaining or isn’t what one wants to see, viewers should go find another content creator who makes content they DO enjoy.

And at just under 6 minutes, she hits on another shining statement that sets her, in my mind, above many other YouTube gamers & Twitch streamers.

“I only started recording a few years ago because a handful of subscribers I had at the time asked me if I would and I just did it for a lark. And this is what all has happened. And I can’t deal with it. So many gamers are obsessed with numbers, and I guess because they’re trying to make a living out of it, so I understand that, but I’m not. So I have no interest in numbers. I don’t care how many people follow me. I don’t care how many people watch me. None of that makes any different to me. I play to have fun. And if I don’t have fun, I shouldn’t be playing.”

“Anyone who doesn’t enjoy watching me can go watch better players who run after quests and numbers and see how fast they can speed through everything without really seeing all that I love that’s in the game. If that’s what you want, go watch them.”

I can’t applaud Ms. Curry’s approach enough, it’s the view that everyone should be taking when they make YouTube videos or stream on Twitch. Yes, you want to entertain, but if you’re not enjoying yourself then you’re just punishing yourself. Video games are meant to be fun and you should be playing to have fun. If others enjoy that with you, it’s all the better, but you should never try to fit your fun to others’ tastes.

Overall, Ms. Curry has recognized a problem and the impact it’s having on her. She’s taking steps to address the problem for her own mental and physical health. She’s recognized that she’s not having fun and is going to take steps to do what she enjoys. And she’s encouraging anyone who doesn’t enjoy her content to seek out content they do enjoy.

She made no accusations. She didn’t attack anyone, not even the commenters who have caused her stress (though she did express frustration with those who don’t accept her explanations and try to argue back when she’s stated her position). She simply laid out what’s going on, how it’s affecting her, what she’s going to do to address it, and encouraged those who don’t enjoy her content to find others whose content they will enjoy.

With age comes wisdom, and like the oracle or sage in so many of our favorite games, Ms. Curry has dispensed wisdom in Vlog #12 even without setting out to intentionally do so.

 

 *    *     *     *     *

While I doubt Ms. Curry will ever see or read this, I would like to make one statement directly to her, and by extension anyone else who may have a similar interest in their gaming videos.

Ms. Curry,
If you enjoy roleplaying and telling stories through your videos, even if nobody understands it, I hope you will continue to tell those stories. It may take a while. It may take years. It could even be long after you or I are still around to think about it before someone stumbles on a story that’s long been told and “lost” to the recesses of the Internet.

But it can still capture the imagination and someone might spend their day at school or work wondering what will happen next, knowing they’re going to start the next video the moment they get home. As you said, you’re having fun is really the purpose. And if you really do enjoy roleplaying and making those stories, if you really do enjoy it, that’s reason enough, regardless of who gets it and who doesn’t.

I have more than a dozen characters that mean so much to me because they had their own personalities, backgrounds, views, quirks, and attitudes that nobody but me will ever know, but I cherish them all. I have pages and pages of these stories written by hand and typed in a file through the years that nobody has ever read, nor likely ever will.

If you find joy in doing the same, don’t let those who don’t get it be the reason you stop. Tell the stories you want to tell, even if you’re just telling them to yourself.

Peace in Simplicity: Gaming & Social Media

“I feel shabby and inadequate,” says player Devon Gozjolko.

So read a quote in a recent Polygon article detailing one Animal Crossing: New Horizons player in regards to seeing elaborate designs from other players on social media. Another player is quoted as saying:

“Every time I get on Twitter I see posts from both friends and internet people I follow who have these either incredibly ornate or certifiably insane setups on their island, and it honestly feels terrible, like, who did I think I was buying this game?”

The author of the article states that seeing all these other highly detailed and creative designs, “the more it becomes impossible not to compare yourself to others.”

I’m writing this post for players like these. This isn’t a new phenomenon for those of us in MMORPGs where housing is available to design and decorate as you like. So I want people to really really take this to heart.

There is peace in simplicity. You can be content without being complex. And you absolutely do not need to pursue what others have created.

Or, as J.R.R. Tolkien said, “it is no bad thing celebrating a simple life.”

With this in mind, I wanted to share my own house from Final Fantasy XIV, but first I want to demonstrate the similarity described in the Polygon article to our own MMO housing comparisons.

Someone designed an entire village market within their house.

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This is my large house in the Shirogane residential area

You’ll find many houses have a lot of stuff put into their front yard, making some really impressive designs.

However, while I wanted to do something like this at first, I realized that looking at other players’ creations was leading me less down a path towards creating my own design and more towards copying what others had done. There’s nothing wrong with taking a bit of inspiration here and there, but it’s easy to just copy someone else’s complicated design and think it’s pretty. I decided to take a different approach.

Since my home is in Shirogane, based off Japanese architecture and styles, I decided to model my yard and home after actual Japanese designs. I googled “traditional Japanese yard” and “Japanese garden” to get some ideas and found images such as this:

EJYEM9

 

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A simple walkway to the door branches off to the meditative garden. If I had more slots available, I’d have another going to the other side as well.

ffxiv_04082020_182227_636I would like to have made a more intricate garden, but due to limitations on number of items, I had to keep it small. Still, I’ve managed to have different elements present. A small lantern offers light at night, a traditional rock garden with two large stones representing islands, a copse of bamboo, and a few plants with shishi-odoshi and a pot with water lillies at the side. There’s also a nice bench to sit in the shade and enjoy the tranquility.

ffxiv_04082020_182250_819The other side of the yard is a little empty from the stepping stones, but there’s a pond with a tree and a Doman style deck for sitting. I chose the plot because the area looks out towards the waterfall in the top right corner.

On the sides of the house, I have a clothesline, a training dummy, and some firewood.

Moving inside….

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Inside is where I took a very different approach in designing the house. I had been looking at other players houses and they looked nice, but also very busy. I stepped back and went a different direction by looking for photos and videos of traditional Japanese homes to blend fantasy and realistic design.

I kept the standard walls for the ground floor, along with wooden floors throughout the house to keep with the traditional Japanese style. Tatami mats are used in different rooms.

Japanese Kitchen

I found this image, among others, that I started from.

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I made sure to put a stool (somewhat hidden in the left) and plenty of utensils on the wall and filled in on the counter top.

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The table with the fruit is a place holder. I can’t craft the one I want just yet.

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Likewise, the living room was designed from an actual photo of an interior shot from a Japanese home. I modified the existing house in game to hide the standard windows and added more Japanese style ones to partitions along with a painting. Overall, the intention was to keep the ground floor very open.

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Upstairs, I made a side hallway into a little study using just a room divider.

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A bathing room has a shower, bath, partitions to differentiate the walls, and shelves with towels and flowers for deocration. A kimono hanger was added for the impression of having something to change into after a relaxing bath.

ffxiv_04082020_194323_777ffxiv_04082020_194336_694The bedroom is likewise kept fairly simple, with a bed, dresser, and a few tabletop items.

Downstairs, however, had a lot of effort put into it.

If you Google for “FFXIV dojo” you’ll find a lot of creative designs that people have put a lot of work into. Not only designing the idea, but the effort taken to glitch items into places they don’t go by default in game. Once again, I was trying to figure out how to do some of these, but ultimately went back to looking at actual photos of real places.

Traditional Japanese Dojo – Sakura Budokan

About – POWERKARATE

I found martial arts sites and schools that detailed some of the design concepts, with the front being a place of honor, usually with a photo of the school’s founder, a shrine, various items there. Some detailed different cardinal directions to different elements, which wasn’t really an option with the way the house is designed in game.

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On the left side, I have two mannequins that I plan to suit with ninja gear and either monk or samurai gear.

At the front, I put a shrine and an image of the Four Lords from the Stormblood quest series. There’s also a drawing of Gosetsu, the samurai, and Yugiri, the ninja. Scrolls fill out the area of the center. On the left I chose a chest with drawers mostly as decoration. The center also has an empty table with an incense burner and eventually I’d like to put a small shrine there (I’m not able to acquire it yet).

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On the right is a painting of the Sekiseigumi barracks (the samurai police of Kugane) and a katana beneath it. A sake set, drum, and vase round out this side.

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To the back of the dojo is a meditation room. Once again, I read on articles about designing a meditation room and designed this is a mix of nature – the potted plants and trees and water with an aquarium. I did use inspiration from another player’s design to overlap things and make the aquarium look somewhat like an outdoor window, but I may add fish in the long run.

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An indoor garden piece has the shishi-odoshi so the sound effect is there and I added a bonsai tree to it to add a little more plant life.

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There’s a small chest with incense burner as well.

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All in all, my house is not terribly complicated. There’s not a lot of tricks utilized to make things float, to combine multiple pieces of furniture to create a unique one. Most of it is put together just creating furniture and placing it with the default tools.

My focus as I kept reading about actual interior design advice and traditional Japanese design was to keep things simple. While other houses are well designed with very complicated and complex designs, there’s no shame in a simple design either.

While this post is about Final Fantasy XIV housing, it can be applied to Animal Crossing: New Horizons or any other game with similar aspects. Your goal isn’t to have designs that match or rival other people. The purpose of designing your in game home is to make something you like and that you enjoy.

Look at other players’ designs for inspiration if you like, or think of a general design theme you want for yourself and look up photos of real or art images to inspire you and create from those.

In the end, these are your own little digital home, not someone else’s. It’s for you, not them. Take comfort in that, enjoy the simple things, and relax. Celebrate a simple life.

Opinion: Saving GameStop

Many are watching GameStop’s decline with anticipation of its demise, eager to see it go out of business once and for all. I personally don’t agree with that position and find it short sighted to do so. Most seem to want GameStop to collapse due to their own discontentment with the company’s policies and treatment of both customers and employees.

While this topic itself may see a lot disagreeing with me, rather than wanting to see GameStop burn to the ground, I’d prefer to see the company turn things around and be better. Better for the employees, better for customers, and better for the industry. The company’s new CEO, George Sherman, has reportedly set out a 3 point plan for the company’s turn around. Personally, I think there’s a lot more to do than just three steps, though some of my opinions might fall under Sherman’s three points of “GameStop Reboot”:

  • Address SG&A [Selling, General, and Administrative Expenses] that’s been allowed to deleverage
  • Execute on opportunities to optimize current business
  • Develop new revenues for future

A lot of this is well and good, and some of my suggestions will fall into these areas, but there are a lot of aspects missing that GameStop needs to work on.

Problem #1: Perception

GameStop’s biggest problem is their perception among gamers. In the past, one could argue that core gamers aren’t crucial compared to the casual gamers and family members that go to GameStop to pick up games as gifts or browse for something new. That is no longer the case. If GameStop wants to be the “local church” of gaming with E3 being the “Vatican”, they need to appeal to core gamers. They need YouTubers and social media talking about what they picked up at GameStop or what they did one afternoon at GameStop.

To accomplish that, GameStop has to do some soul searching because their current image is that of a soulless corporation that doesn’t care about their customers, their employees, or their product.

Proposed Solutions

Executive Level Company Image
Executive level management should take steps to gain back some goodwill with the gaming community, seek feedback, and gather input on what their core customer base is looking for. I would look for opportunities to have CEO Sherman himself be a guest and take face to face criticism from YouTubers and podcasts. During these appearances, there shouldn’t be a hard push to explain or defend policies so much as taking opportunities to take the public lashings and listen to feedback directly. Keep in mind Sherman is new to the position. He’s the top of the chain, so he’s the right guy to get first hand input from the community. Another opportunity for this would be to hold a Reddit “TMA” – Tell Me Anything rather than Ask Me Anything where users can simply vent to the top dog of GameStop.

After gathering feedback, executive management would need to genuinely evaluate the information and determine what actions can be taken to address the issues brought up. Compile a plan and present it in a Letter to the Gaming Community, published on GameStop’s website and in GameInformer (assuming it’s still being published).

Gamer (Consumer) Advocate
I would also create a new position within the executive team akin to what Howard Phillips was for Nintendo. This position would not be interested in the company’s assets and profits, stock performance, or shareholder concerns. This position’s entire purpose would be to advocate for gamers to the executive staff and help guide decisions on what games to pursue for in-store promotions.

This position would also be responsible for analyzing every promotional program at GameStop and competition to evaluate potential for abuse. Believe me, we gamers figure out how to abuse systems and go to multiple sources for our own benefit. To succeed, GameStop needs to have incentive to be a primary source for purchases and trades.

Policies in Action
All executive management should undergo “undercover boss” type training as an assistant manager in store every so often to understand how corporate policy translates to in-store application on a day to day basis.

2. Value Employees
Desperate times call for desperate measures and the first step that won’t make logical retail sense would be to abandon standard retail thinking. Drop the quotas for selling GameStop Pro cards, drop the pressure for reservations, drop the numeric requirements to push these things.

Instead, incentivize these things. Employees should have a bonus structure for selling Pro Memberships, not quota requirements. Don’t push reservations at all. They’re seen with a growing negativity and many describe it as dealing with a “used car salesman.” The only exceptions are Collector’s Editions that typically sell out – but make them cancellable/refundable/returnable with ease (when unopened) as others do.

Consolidate Stores
I know this seems counter intuitive when talking about doing right by employees, but it’s a necessary reality for GameStop’s position. They need to close more stores and consolidate into localized, larger, locations.

Staff these stores with employees from the closed stores who were Managers, Assistant Managers, and Team Leads and pay them all at the team lead or assistant manager level rather than decreasing their pay. Treat your store employees similar to office jobs with more hours and better vacation, offset by lower overall headcount across the company. Employees who feel valued are more productive.

This consolidation factors into a later detail in the “Store as an Experience.”

3. Value Customers

Pre Orders
Core gamers have developed a more negative view of pre-orders. They are seen as a cash grab for a product that may not be worth it. Employees shouldn’t be required to push pre-orders and the pre-orders themselves need to be revised in how they work.

There should be no down payment required for pre-ordering a game. Best Buy doesn’t require a down payment. Amazon doesn’t require a down payment. Gamestop.com does not require the $5 down payment. The stores should not be required to take one either. An exception could be made for Collector’s Editions, but the above sources don’t require one on those either. If a down payment is taken, a full refund should be available in store credit or by method of payment for cancellation at any time or for unopened pre-orders that are returned within a set time frame.

Truly, however, the pre-order process itself should be redesigned. The Kingdom Hearts III PS4 is an excellent example. Pre-orders should be announced with a set window as far in advance as the manufacturer can offer. Partners such as GameStop should then take pre orders within that window – say 90 days of pre-orders – and then report their numbers back to the manufacturer. The total quantity across all retail partners should then determine the manufacturer’s production run. This isn’t entirely on GameStop, obviously, but they and other retailers should be pushing for a redesign of the process with the manufacturers.

Trade Value
GameStop is perceived as having horrible trade value. Some of this is unwarranted, some of it is. Either way, GameStop should make an effort to improve customer perception of their trade values with more transparency on how those values are determined.

Customers should get better trade value for complete games – disc, manual, and case with art for disc games or box, manual, and cartridge for older games. Likewise, disc only or empty cases and manuals should be accepted for lower value and returned to the corporate warehouse to be paired with other loose parts for a complete game.

Improve value wherever possible. Small towns and entrepreneurs at conventions often offer 50% of sell value for trade in. However, many will only take select games. GameStop’s volume should at least allow them to offer more than they currently do outside of promotional deals. Arguably, a solid trade policy should make trade in promotions unnecessary.

Price Value
Current online selling trends should more quickly be reflected in GameStop’s prices. The database GameStop uses needs to become more agile to respond to shifting trends.

Condition should affect the price of games. Managers, and even some employees, should be authorized to adjust prices in their stores, offering discounts based on condition. This is big for retro games and would give an advantage over some retro-focused chain competition.

Price aggressively on retro games. Most collectors and even many core gamers, are now very aware they can check game price values on eBay with sites like Pricecharting and GameValueNow. GameStop should be targeting to undercut these averages by 10% off the shelf. From the buyer’s standpoint, this puts their price on even footing to eBay after sales tax and for GameStop is equal to what a seller would actually net through eBay.

Opened games should be treated as used, even if it was a display copy that never left the store. For every shipment of games, one copy should automatically be written down as a used copy and kept for in-store demos and allowing customers to try a game out and sold as the final copy at used price.

Offer more transparency on pricing and be more sensible about it. A game on clearance should not be $5 or $10 off the original full value price. Likewise, a used game should at least be $10 off even the week of release. Similarly, used prices should never be higher than new prices and if they are, the reason should be clearly understood, such as a publisher mandated reduction on new copies for a limited time.

4. Product Value
This is an area that GameStop is absolutely abhorrent and should not only take great strides to fix, but should also issue a statement and public apology for its undervaluing of its own product.

Retro games have been sorely undervalued by the company historically. Boxes and manuals should never be thrown away, but there are many former employees who report they regularly are for retro games, especially hand held games. This should change immediately. Some retro games have boxes and manuals that are worth more than the game itself and GameStop has thrown away profits in this regard.

An example I’ve seen was the NES game Metal Storm. During a B2G1 free sale, a customer purchased Metal Storm for around $100 and was elated to get it with the manual included. The manual averages $65 on Pricecharting at the time of this writing based on eBay sold auction averages. The box averages $100 by itself.

The website needs to be updated, along with the database, to reflect an improved value of the product. Stock should be identified into categories:

  • Disc/cartridge only
  • Disc with case/cart with box
  • Complete – Disc/cart with manual and box or case with artwork
  • Pricing adjustments should be made based on condition (damage to label/art/box/manual) and noted on the website’s listing.

Problem #2: Competition

Nintendo, Microsoft, and Sony are no longer simply suppliers, but are now direct competitors and GameStop has to pivot their thinking and perform a very careful dance. They cannot directly attack the big three, but they have to view them as competition that must be outperformed in order to draw customers back to the store for physical games as opposed to downloading from digital store fronts. In addition to these three, you’ve got standard retailers that have always been competition as well as the online behemoth of Amazon.

Value of Physical
GameStop’s lifeblood is physical games and the digital stores are competition. The market may continue to shrink and become more niche, but consolidated stores should offset that. As such, GameStop has to get better at emphasizing the value of physical media.

  • Physical games, even standard copies, will continue to be more likely to become collector’s items, such as has happened with Job Simulator on Playstation VR.
  • Physical discs allow more data to be installed to a console faster for those in areas with slower Internet.
  • Physical discs retain some value of being able to be sold or traded in while digital offers no such benefit (at least for now).

Retro Games
Retro games have an entire collectors market on their own, defying digital versions of old games despite being readily available. Retro gaming will likely maintain a market until approximately 5 years after a console generation goes fully digital as people will feel some nostalgia for the games they grew up with and the trend for retro collecting today will likely continue through console generations that had physical copies.

Physical Retro Games are sought after in local stores, retro focused chain stores, and pull in thousands of attendees at Retro Game Conventions. YouTube channels focus on retro games and content creators become small time YouTube celebrities by celebrating gaming history with these titles. Retro Gaming and physical media is a strong area for GameStop to shift focus as digital becomes bigger with new releases.

“New” Retro Games
In addition to this market of existing games, GameTrust offers GameStop an avenue of currently unexplored potential for “new” retro games. If GameStop can obtain a license for small print runs of games on NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis that were never released in the US, there may be a market for those. Thorough evaluation would be required to evaluate licensing costs, a localization department to translate the games, and the cost of manufacturing chips and cartridges to play on original hardware. However, it’s possible with GameStop’s size and the right spread of acquirements this could create a small, but profitable, market to get into.

Final Fantasy II, III, and V, for example, were never released in the US on their original systems. There are, however, fan translations that have been flashed onto carts and are sold at conventions. A legal, licensed, and official copy with Square Enix, especially with professional box, maps, and manuals, would likely have a market. If print-on-demand were possible, rather than large print runs, there may be more opportunities with lower risk here. Reproductions, basically bootleg versions, regularly sell for up to $60 for just a cartridge at conventions. Cartridges can be 3D printed, basic chip boards can be purchased online for around $4 whereas GameStop would likely be able to find a source for less in bulk and the same goes for chips themselves.

Limited Print Games
Companies such as Limited Run Games and Strictly Limited Games have sprung up in recent years and there are more out there now offering limited print runs of digital only games for PS4, PS Vita, and Nintendo Switch. It’s a major error that GameStop wasn’t the first to this market with GameTrust.

These limited print runs regularly sell out of 5000 copies within minutes. Utilizing the earlier proposed pre-order window resulting in determining a production run’s quantity removes much of the frustration and resentment gamers have towards these companies and the resulting eBay scalping that comes with them. GameStop could pursue their own division of partnering with smaller publishers to create physical runs on digital only releases or partner with existing companies similar to how Limited Run Games has done some limited partnerships with Best Buy.

Problem #3: Traffic to stores

Traffic to stores has decreased, largely attributable to the rise of digital gaming and online shopping. It’s easy to simply click a few buttons and download or order a game. GameStop has to look for ways to make it worthwhile to put in the effort to go to the local store.

Store Services
Hire staff that are capable of doing in-store refurbish and repairs on consoles, allowing customers to pay a down payment for the time to perform the analysis and diagnose the required repair. Once diagnosed, contact the customer with the quoted cost and let them decide to go ahead with the repair or pick up their console. If they choose to proceed, the down payment should go towards the cost of repair and they only owe the balance.

Invest is a high quality disc resurfacing machine and offer disc resurfacing for a reasonable price. 75 cents per disc would beat most other stores that offer the same.

Stores should be more focused on what they’re meant to be – Video Game Stores. Decrease emphasis on ThinkGeek products that aren’t related to video games. For example, Mario, God of War, Zelda t-shirts are a good fit for GameStop stores, as well as Overwatch statues or Sonic the Hedgehog figures. However, Chip & Dale Rescue Rangers are not a good fit (unless Capcom announces Rescue Rangers Remastered), nor are anime statues. Board games may be a reasonable avenue to expand to, however.

If ThinkGeek and GameStop must remain more entertwined, the proposed larger store footprint should be divided up so customers know where to go for video games, where to go for anime related merchandise, and where to go for general geek related merchandise.

All of this builds towards a retail store as an experience, but GameStop should go a step further in making the stores an experience that cannot be replicated with online purchases.

A few ideas:

  • Every game in the store should be playable in a demo area much like kiosks used to be available in FuncoLand stores to try out games.
  • Have a classic arcade cabinet in the store. If a customer beats the previous high score, they get a discount on one item
  • Employees should be encouraged to speak their mind about games, but trained to do so without creating a negative experience. If a game is bad, it’s in the company’s best interest to inform customers. If a game simply isn’t the type of game a particular employee enjoys, they should be able to voice that while recommending another employee to speak to about that type of game.
  • Ideally a store would have a team with a variety of genre preferences – the MMO expert, the FPS expert, etc.
  • Stores in rural areas with slower residential Internet should set up LAN areas where Internet can be rented by the hour and allow customers to play online games

The final point I would make about the experience is in regards to competition. GameStop should absolutely evaluate the area for small local shops that offer retro games. If the area has a number of them, do not push retro games in that area’s stores. Retro games are a finite resource and they do get harder and harder to find with time. Don’t compete with local stores and don’t be seen as driving them out of business. In fact, let employees in those areas encourage customers to check out local small businesses. Meanwhile, bring GameStop’s retro game focus to areas with no other alternatives. It’s another decision that seems counter-intuitive to stock investor thinking, but in the long run, it will be better for all parties in the retro market.

PowerUp Rewards
I would suggest some changes to the PowerUp Rewards membership as well. The purpose of the card, from GameStop’s perspective, is to encourage customers to shop at GameStop while the customer’s perspective is to get the best deal.

In May it was announced that the Pro Membership would be changing from a 10% discount on used games to a $5 off coupon once a month, which has to be used in that month along with an increase to $20/year cost. The first thing I would recommend is GameStop freeze all memberships from expiring and announce a new complete rework of the program.

First, with the earlier suggested equipment in place, offer 5 free disc refurbishes a month. That’s ~$5 value per month on its own and costs the company next to nothing.

Evaluate Best Buy’s rewards points system. PowerUp already earns points per dollar spent. Allow those to accumulate for a $5 gift card ever x number of points (Best Buy’s is every 250 points). Customers can bank their points to keep saving up or use them as they are acquired. This ultimately means a customer can spend and bank points for years until they have enough to buy a brand new console on release day completely with points.  Letting customers earn points on used games to build up gift certs to use on new games ultimately means higher profits for GameStop and “free” new releases for customers.

I would also suggest categorizing games for a progressive membership discount. This would let members get larger discounts on some games and potentially help the company clear out older inventory that doesn’t sell. For the right price, many gamers are willing to pick up a random game to give it a try and this could help move slow selling games without going fully to clearance.

Conclusion

While none of these things are a magic answer to GameStop’s problems, some require analysis that can only be done from within the company, and some may prove cost prohibitive to implement, I do think a lot of these would contribute towards turning the company around.

I know a lot of people just want to see GameStop go under, but I truly believe they would simply turn their distaste for GameStop towards other retail locations, including local stores that have no choice but to utilize some of the policies GameStop uses. Many consumers don’t understand the business side of these companies and the realities of their expenses and costs that have to be taken on to keep the stores operating.

However, I do also believe that if GameStop truly put in the effort from the top down to improve itself, make itself the modern store gamers fondly (if sometimes inaccurately) remember FuncoLand to be, and genuinely work to be a better company for its employees, customers, and the industry itself, they would be embraced once again…..eventually.

The question is whether or not they, and the stockholders, are willing to invest the time and effort and if they can reach that point of being accepted by the gaming community again before it’s too late.

First Big Garage Sale Find of 2019!

After a rough week at work, I kicked back on Friday night and enjoyed some Final Fantasy XIV with a friend. I just knocked out some roulettes for the Mog Tomestones and logged off to play some Star Wars: The Old Republic. My goal is to finish off the original class story for my first character before FFXIV launches Shadowbringers. As I was logging in, I took a look at Craigslist to check on garage sales for the weekend and lo and behold there was one listed!

I spotted NBA Street Vol 2 and Dance Dance Revolution Mario Remix with $1 stickers and thought it was worth checking out, so I logged off and hit the sack since I had to get up early to get to that garage sale.

I woke up at 4AM. That was way too early, so I decided to get a little more sleep. But as I was laying there, I started thinking I’d need to grab a shower and swing by an ATM before actually heading to the sale. I wanted to get there about half an hour early so I’d get first look as soon as they opened.

After the shower, I hit the ATM and found…. it was having technical issues. So I had to go to a different one to grab some cash. Finally on the way to the garage sale, Maps was estimating I’d get there early. Too early. An hour and a half early. Wow, did I misjudge timing!

I drove slow to get there later, but it didn’t seem to help at all. I was still tremendously close and due to arrive an hour and a half before it was scheduled to start. I decided I’d just get there and see what was in the area, maybe get breakfast. As I got closer, I realized there was a park across the street from the house so I could just take a walk and get some exercise before the garage sale.

As I pulled up, though, there were tables set up and people around them. ‘Are you kidding me?! An hour and a half early and people are already looking?!’ I thought. Turned out they were just setting up. I got out and they greeted me cheerfully. I apologized for being so early and explained how I misjudged time, but they didn’t mind at all and let me start looking around.

First thing I found were empty video game boxes!

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I was most excited about the Nights Into Dreams and StarFire Lightgun boxes, but StarFox 64 and Perfect Dark were cool to find as well.

Next up were some items that were complete in the box, even unopened!

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I’ve had some of the Cleaning Kits before, but these were in the original box, which I thought was really neat. The real treat here was the Dreamcast memory cards. I don’t know how many I need for the full library of Dreamcast I’ve put together, but I’m always up for more memory cards and brand new ones in the box were simply amazing to find!

Finally we got to the tub that had actual games in it. There weren’t quite as many as I first thought from the photos, but NBA Street Vol 2 and DDR Mario Remix were worth it alone. The rest at $1 each were just icing on the cake!

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Terraria is likely useless since it was just a cardboard “disc” with a download code, and being used it was surely already redeemed, but I felt bad leaving sports titles and things that wouldn’t move, so I went ahead and picked it up as well.

At this point, I was pretty happy with the haul, but decided to look around at the rest. There were a LOT of Star Wars vehicles for great deals, but I’m not knowledgeable enough about them anymore. A lot of Power of the Force figures in the box as well. The only final thing that intrigued me were a pair of board games.

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I’ll have to do some research to determine if they have everything with them, but for a few bucks each, they seemed like a neat pick up to add to the pile.

Overall a great first garage sale hit of 2019. I had gone out looking once earlier this year, but with rain coming in, I didn’t find anything at the garage sales and actually wound up finding some games at a Half Price Books and a retro game store in the area on the way home instead. This garage sale run was much more fruitful!

First Garage Sale Hunt of 2019

It’s been over a year since I went game hunting at garage sales and a few people in the area had reported resounding success in game collecting groups I’m in, so I had decided to finally get back to garage sale hunting.

There were no listings on Craigslist – other than one an hour and a half drive away that was ultimately cancelled – so I just headed to a cluster of them where a couple of neighborhoods were having HOA-wide garage sales.

Much to my disappointment, I found nothing but a single $2 copy of a Just Dance game for XBox 360.

It was nearing 10 o’clock when I stopped by a Half Price Books I often frequent, but only picked up Dead or Alive Ultimate on XBox. As it started to rain, I decided to head home, but would stop by a game store in the area.

Retro Madness is a cool store that buys & sells both video games and toys and is settled in Retro Plaza in Bedford, Texas right between The Quarter Lounge – an arcade that charges a modest entry fee to subsidize keeping their arcades at a quarter per play – and The Vintage Freak – a store that sells mostly vinyl records but also clothes, furniture, and oddities. It was still an hour before Retro Madness would open, so I decided to check out a few other places in the area.

First stop was a Cash America Pawn Shop, but they had almost no games whatsoever. A shame, as I’ve had some luck with good prices and surprise finds in there before. Next, I went to Thrifty Pirates, which has a booth owned by Miniboss Games & Collectibles. I spotted a copy of Ninja Warriors for SNES, which I’ve been looking for and really want to get my hands on for $90. A decent price, but the cartridge was discolored on the back shell and I let myself pass on an expensive purchase. It’s not unimaginable to find a copy for equal price in excellent condition at a convention.

I stopped by two antique malls in the area, one of which has a booth with games, but even they were getting scarce on inventory. Finally Retro Madness was open, so I headed back there.

At first, I was debating a few Genesis and Sega CD games – Dungeonkeep II, Chakan, and Vectorman 2 as well as a tempting Captain America & The Avengers (but no manual had me pass), but then I looked in their glass case and found some great titles. Titles I was looking for. The eye catcher was Ristar, which proved to be complete in box (only missing the fold out coloring poster), though the box was fairly rough. Quackshot caught my eye, but I couldn’t remember if I already owned that one.

Then I noticed Lufia & The Fortress of Doom complete in box. The box had only a small nick in the front and otherwise was in great shape. The map was in excellent condition and the manual was near pristine. I already had the game, but since I have Lufia II complete, I’ve wanted to have Lufia to match it. It was a smooth $100, which is a little over online prices, but reasonable for the condition.

Overall, I was looking at $265 or so with Quackshot and they said they’d do it all for $240. Removing Quackshot, as I was fairly certain I had it, came down to an even $200 offer. Now, Ristar and Lufia were worth that, so I decided it was an excellent deal to get Vectorman 2 and Chakan essentially for free. However, I didn’t want to spend that kind of money just now.

They put everything on hold and I headed home to pile up some things I was willing to trade in. I still had a lot of games I had accumulated along with a few things from the mega haul of 2017 I hadn’t been able to get rid of, so I piled it all together and took it in. All in all, they offered me $140 for everything, bringing my bill down to $60. I added in a fan cart of Secret of Mana 2 with a fan-made cart, box, manual, and map for another $30 and gladly paid up.

At this point, I decided to make one more stop to a place called Found It Electronics & Video Games in Watauga, Tx. This place has something of a love/hate reputation with game collectors in the area. When they first started, they frequently spammed the heck out of Craigslist, making it hard to see anything else listed. Over time, they’ve shifted their business to focus more on games and they claim to offer excellent trade in credit. They’ve definitely been doing something right as their inventory is quite often amazing with titles you rarely see in a game store. They always run a Buy 3, Get 1 free and a friend and I had recently been in to use that, but they were closing so I had to go back and double check a few titles.

Most of their prices are a little higher than eBay averages, anywhere from $1 over to $5 with a few higher value titles going up to $20 over. I mostly went back for one game – Final Fight 2.

The huge haul of 2017 had netted me a Final Fight 2 box and manual, so this game priced right at $50 gave me a $100+ complete in box value.

Overall, not a bad day of game hunting, even if they weren’t mind blowing finds of those mythical “high value for nothing” garage sale stories. However, with just 2 months ahead until Retropalooza Houston, I need to focus on selling off things I’ve accumulated around the house and store up some cash for that convention. It will be my first year attending and I’ve been told there are usually a lot of vendors willing to work great deals down there. Hopefully it proves true!

4-6-19 Finds

 

Ending A Long Hiatus

It’s been six months since I’ve updated here, which has most certainly not been my intention. Life, as they say, happened. I got a new job, which kept me busy for a while and away from doing too much with games and distracted enough that I wasn’t putting time in to write about them.

Over the six months, a friend and I took a road trip to game hunt from Texas to Arkansas to Tennessee and then back through Louisiana to come home. I’ll admit for all its flaws, Final Fantasy XV gave me the travel bug to want to pursue that road trip finally. It’s something I’ve been wanting to do more often; taking road trips or weekend trips to game hunt and meet folks I know from online.  As part of the FFXV inspiration, we didn’t book any hotel rooms. Our intention was to chat with store employees and go where tips took us to pawn shops, game stores, thrift markets, flea markets, whatever sounded good.

As a result, we went from Texas to Little Rock, Arkansas. Amidst our various stops there, we were rerouted west instead of east and wound up going through Arkansas to Oklahoma instead.

Over the course of the trip, I got a huge haul of games knocked off my list. After that, there were more Half Price Books finds and Retropalooza at home. I managed to complete my hunting list for Playstation 2 and GameCube, my Atari and NES lists are tremendously small now, leaving the bulk of my collecting to be SNES and Sega Genesis.

The biggest finds of the past six months was a copy of Rule of Rose on PS2 for just $125 and Demon’s Crest for SNES for $100 with the manual included.

With things settled, I’m hoping to resume regular posts in 2019, though I expect my game hunting is going to be much less frequent in finds for my collection. I’m planning to go back to basics, in a sense, and go garage sale hunting with just $100 and start trying to buy and flip to build up money for conventions or ebay, which may be requirements to finish my collection goals.

I’m also hoping to start a podcast, streaming, and possibly YouTube channel in the new year.

Here’s to a new year of great finds and more talk about video games, movies, comics, and all sorts of geekery!

E3 Reaction Day 4

Nintendo

Nintendo did their usual E3 Nintendo Direct presentation online rather than the on stage presentation other companies go for. They kicked off their presentation with a rather stylistic looking mech game that, of course, reminded me of a Gundam influence called Daemon x Machina due out in 2019.

Next up, they had a trailer for a Xenoblade Chronicles 2 addition – Torna – The Golden Country. I assume it’s a DLC expansion and still haven’t played the Xeno series. One day…. One day.

Reggie Fils-Aime talked a little about Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Pokemon Let’s Go Evee. The Pokeball Plus was shown and announced that Mew would be included with each controller. Available November this year.

The next new reveal was a Mario Party for the Nintendo Switch called Super Mario Party. Two Switch systems can be set next to each other to create maps at different angles depending on how they touch. Available October of this year.

The next Fire Emblem game was presented, Fire Emblem Three Houses, which will be available Spring of 2019.

Fortnite was given a short trailer and available the same day on the Switch.

They moved to looking at some indie games being spotlighted for the Switch with Overcooked! 2. Fil-Aimes gave an overview as footage played. Killer Queen Black got the same style presentation. Hollow Knight was the third indie game spotlighted in this segment, available same day in the eshop.

Octopath Traveler, a Switch exclusive from Square Enix, got a brief mention with a new demo being available later in the month.

Starlink, Arena of Valor, Minecraft, Mario Rabbids Donkey Kong, Just Dance 2019, Splatoon 2, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, Crash N Sane Trilogy, Ninjala, FIFA, Ark, Wasteland 2, Paladins, Fallout Shelter, Dark Souls Remastered, Sing Heroines, Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate, Wolfenstein II, Mega Man 11, Mario Tennis Aces and a few more were presented in a montage trailer.

The centerpiece of Nintendo’s presentation was the full reveal of the Nintendo Switch’s Super Smash Bros. entry. The big reveal for the presentation was that every single character that has appeared in all the Smash Bros games of the past, from N64 to Wii U, would be included in the new installment. They did a video of all the characters, showing when they were introduced. Link was shown in his Breath of the Wild tunic and Mario’s Odyssey pal Cappy appears with Mario as well. They also spent some time looking at how some characters who haven’t been in the series in a while have changed or been updated. A GameCube style controller with Amiibo support was announced with Switch compatibility for the game’s release. A final reveal was that Ridley (not Ripley as I initially wrote. Watch your typos when you’re trying to get something out quick, though she’d be cool to see teamed up with Samus) from the Metroid series would be making his Super Smash Bros. debut. Rumor is there may be a few more new characters to reveal before launch. It definitely looks like a good entry in the series.

Overall, Nintendo didn’t do what I normally expect in showing me something I didn’t know I wanted, but they did give a decent line up. Xenoblade Chronicles 2, a Pokemon gap-fill, Super Mario Party, and Super Smash Bros. all by end of this year maintains the momentum for Nintendo’s first party titles on Switch and their much more solid line up of third party games coming to the system suggest they’ll maintain their strong sales going forward.

Grade: B, but some might argue it’s a solid A with that Smash Bros. line up (and others might give if an F for lack of Waluigi).

Games I’m interested in: Starlink, Mega Man 11 (I’m planning to get the Mega Man and X Legacy collections along with this on Switch), Super Smash Bros.

E3 Day 3 Reaction

Square Enix

Square Enix didn’t have a large presentation, lasting only 30 minutes and mostly just showing some videos of games coming out.

Starting off with their closest release, they kicked off with Shadow of the Tomb Raider, the third game in the rebooted Lara Croft’s origin trilogy. I was happy to see Jonah brought back for the third adventure, though I hope he pulls through the plane crash shown in the trailer. The gameplay footage looks great and Lara looks like she’s become seriously dangerous. No longer fighting for survival, she seems more like a predator in the jungle more than ever. I also really dig the muscular definition they’ve given her. The mud camoflage is a cool thing that gives me a Predator Schwarzenegger vibe. I still wish we’d get the dual pistols, though, and releasing right after Spider-Man is really painful.

The Final Fantasy XIV: Stormblood patch trailer didn’t do much for me since I’m already playing Final Fantasy XIV and love it already! However, a Palico in FFXIV with a Monster Hunter World crossover? Heck yeah! I definitely want a Palico buddy in FFXIV! I still need to give Monster Hunter World a try as well.

Another look at The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit didn’t tell me much more than was previously shown, but I do like the idea of them treating the Life Is Strange world as an anthology setting allowing them to tell stories of completely different characters unrelated to one another’s stories. Kind of surprising that the game will be free.

Dragon Quest XI is another series I never got into (but will someday, right?). The trailer doesn’t look too bad, though the graphics style makes it feel a little dated. I think that’s just a matter of maintaining the aesthetic of the series, though, and I’m sure playing the game would settle into them not feeling off at all. Nothing particularly commanding interest, though.

The trailer for Babylon’s Fall told me absolutely nothing, but I want to know absolutely everything about the world’s lore based solely from the trailer. It looks really cool.

Nier Automata Definitive Edition on XBox One was already announced at Microsoft.

Octopath Traveler interests me, but I’m interested in the RPGs Square is developing for Switch as they feel very retro SNES era RPG. It was an extremely brief trailer.

Just Cause 4 isn’t a series I’ve played, but the fourth entry looks as over the top and crazy as the others. I’d love to try it someday.

I have no idea what The Quiet Man is from the teaser trailer.

Kingdom Hearts III, of course, got a little more shown, but mostly I felt like I’d already seen it from the previous trailer. I’m a little disappointed there is not one single glimpse of anything remotely Final Fantasy. Kingdom Hearts has become pretty much entirely a Disney property game and though the series has always been Disney worlds with Disney party members, I would have liked to see a few cameo teases from Final Fantasy cast members.

Overall, the biggest disappointment was not one single glimpse, tease, or hint about the progress on Final Fantasy 7 remake, which I’m starting to think will be shifted to Playstation 5 since there’s no way for 3 episodic entries to release prior to that console. It would, however, be interesting to see the game release on the exact day of the 25th Anniversary. I’m also personally disappointed we’ll never likely see a sequel to Sleeping Dogs.

Mostly, I didn’t feel like Square showed anything we hadn’t already seen, making for an unimpressive presentation, even if there are a few games I’m interested in.

Grade: D+

Games I’m interested in: Shadow of the Tomb Raider, Octopath Traveler, Kingdom Hearts III, more info for Babylon’s Fall.


Ubisoft

I liked kicking off with a slight jab at GameStop employee leaking Assassin’s Creed Odyssey with the keychain joke.

A lot of people likely didn’t care for the start of the presentation beginning with the dance routine outside, but I thought it was amusing. It was, up to that point, by far the most entertaining performance of all the presentations. With a mascot panda leading a marching band parade and dancers in colorful and weird costumes making their way from outside into the building and then down through the crowd to the stage, I couldn’t stop watching, all while thinking “wtf is even going on right now” before I finally realized it was their annual Just Dance performance. Major credit to the dancers, who apparently put the whole thing together last minute and are on the E3 floor dancing damn near nonstop all weekend. Sure, it wasn’t showing a game, but it was certainly more entertaining than Andrew WK’s performance for Bethesda. It also got much more of a positive crowd reaction as an opening act than Bethesda’s look of confusion from their crowd.

They went straight into one of their heavily anticipated titles with a long trailer for Beyond Good and Evil 2. No game play presented, but the trailer did give a look at the setting and first glimpse of the characters. A friend of mine who knows absolutely nothing about Beyond Good and Evil was intrigued and interested in the game just from half of the trailer, so they certainly accomplished their goal in that regard. I was rather surprised by the ending reveal of Jade. It definitely feels like an HD facelift for the original PS2/GameCube release would be nice to accompany the sequel (actually prequel). After a few words from the developers, they showed a look at pre-alpha footage with the two explaining a few details, such as solo and co-op play. The game looks to be massive.

An interesting addition is the Space Monkey program where fans can create ideas, music, artwork, and original content to be added to the game. Murals, street art, music, radio content, and more can be submitted to be used in the game through a partnership with Hit Record, founded by Joseph Gordan-Levitt. It’s really cool to see celebrities brought into E3 because their projects or companies are actually partnering with the developers rather than just being brought on stage as a celebrity for some stilted pre-scripted dialogue. The cynical will see it as a way to crowd source free assets, but it’s a cool collaborative project for fans to have their creations in game.

After they went off stage, their mics were still hot, and the excited “we nailed it!” back stage was the cutest part of the presentation. That’s genuine excitement.

Rainbow Six Siege holds no interest for me, but it clearly does for 35 million players. They talked about upcoming esports competition tournaments, but didn’t go too long. They gave a first look at a documentary titled “Another Mindset” about Rainbow Six Siege esports gamers. Normally I’d complain about this being a detraction from showing games, but I understand why they showed it when they did. It allowed them to set up the stage for their next presentation.

Coming into the theater in an Evel Knievel suit on a motorcycle sporting the game title for Trials, we had Antti Il Vessuo, creative director of Ubisoft Redlynx, come on stage to “accidentally” trip and crash through a podium with a TV on it, breaking the whole thing to pieces. Getting up with a simple “oops,” he explained: “Trials is all about crashing with style and getting up again.” He also claimed to be the Prime Minister of Finland before presenting the video for Trials Rising. It was brief, but it scored with the crowd. A camera pan showed people laughing at the crash and “oops” and the applause was there for it. I hadn’t heard of Trials, but it looks like an absolute insane and infinitely more hilarious version of a childhood favorite in Excitebike. This is absolutely not my type of game and I still think it looks like it would be fun to play. After the video, the crew was already on stage cleaning up the set up “crashed podium” and he gave a little aside “sorry about that” which scored another noticeable laugh with the audience before talking more about the game.

By this point I had noticed that Ubisoft was doing something the other presentations had not done – it was connecting with their audience in the theater. Jokes were landing, the little performances and shows were entertaining, and they weren’t overly long before showing and talking about the games they had to present.

I wasn’t impressed with The Division 2 footage from Microsoft, but Ubisoft’s presentation sold me on the plot for the sequel. As it gets closer to release, I’ll see what the gameplay additions are like and make a decision on it. I played the first one with friends and might be happy to do so again with a sequel. Ubisoft has a proven track record with Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs of the sequels having vast improvements over the first game, so I hope that’s the case for The Divison 2 and I just haven’t seen it yet with the first release of gameplay footage. The crowd certainly liked the idea of 8 man raids in the game. Frequent, major content updates were promised with 3 DLC episodes with new story, areas, and activities all free in the first year.

I still haven’t found time to play Mario + Rabbids, but the Donkey Kong + Rabbids was fun with live music played over the video.

Skull & Bones looks like Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag without the Assassin’s Creed backdrop and polished and refined with better graphics. The gameplay looks like it was taken right out of Black Flag with ship combat and base captures. They’ve added a multiplayer component with other players joining together to take down ships and then potentially fighting each other over the loot as well. I loved Black Flag, one of my favorite in the series, so I’d be interested to see more details on this in the future.

Elijah Wood was brought out for Transference VR as his company is involved in working with Ubisoft on the game. I’m not too clear on the game, but it seems creepy as hell.

The next game, Starlink, did a complete 360 for me. The initial trailer interested me with its sci-fi setting and the ship combat looked interesting, though I wasn’t crazy about the character designs and art style. Then I saw it was a toys to life game and I quickly lost interest. I do think these are the best “toys to life” iteration to date, though. Where Skylanders and Amiibo were mostly just little statue figurines that had a chip in them, Starlink toys actually are space ships that can be changed with different pieces to alter them in game. That also makes them genuine toys for kids to play with after turning off the game. They can run around the house with their toys shooting down imaginary enemies and narrowly dodging enemy fire, recreating epic space battles in their imaginations.

After a brief bit of information on the game, however, it was revealed that the good guys in Starlink would need all the help they can get and the video started again. Pursued by five enemies and taking fire, the pilot says “could use a little help here” and the video cut to a ship console. Then I heard it….

At first, I thought “Tell me I didn’t just hear that.” Then I thought “Did Ubisoft leave placeholder sounds in their trailer!?” Then I saw the green eye, clearly surrounded by fur, and covered by a green lens and I thought “HOLY CRAP WTF WTF WTF!?”

Ubisoft had strengthened their partnership with Nintendo and Star Fox, or at least Fox McCloud, would be in Starlink Battle for Atlas. Multiple arwings were seen as Fox took off, so I’m assuming the full team may be present.

Just like that, they sold me on buying a copy. I’ve wanted a model Arwing to put on the shelf for years, but the only one I’ve ever seen is about $500, so a $75 bundle of a toy version with game included is close enough for me. Shigeru Miyamoto was even on hand and seated in the front row of the audience to see. They gave him a first prototype of the Arwing and Fox McCloud figure for the game. It looked pretty cool on the display stand they had mounted it on.

I was surprised to see the next game, For Honor Marching Fire, as from my understanding the first game hadn’t done that well. Apparently, however, it was enough to warrant a new addition. However, this goes to Ubisoft’s credit of maintaining majority control of their company and the benefit of games like Rainbow Six Siege and Assassin’s Creed being tentpole games that help finance smaller projects throughout the company. They’re not exclusively bound to focus purely on profit, profit, profit.

The Crew 2 got a presentation and open beta announcement before showing the video. I’m not too interested here either. Give me a Smokey and the Bandit game, instead, Ubi (I’m kidding….. or am I?).

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey was the closing presentation and it definitely looks good. Based on the trailer and presentation, the game looks good and they’re moving even more in an RPG direction. I was surprised, perhaps a little disappointed, to see Assassin’s Creed return to an annual release as I was hoping Assassin’s Creed and Watch Dogs would start taking turns leapfrogging each other in every-other-year releases.

I have the Ezio statue from the Brotherhood Collector’s Edition and have thought the others were cool since then, even sometimes thinking they would have definitely looked cool with every one of them together on a shelf, but with multiple statues in the new one, I’m glad I didn’t go down that path (though they do look awesome). I’m still hoping Ubisoft goes back on their word and ventures to Japan with the series (as they did with Egypt), as well as back to China and into India, at some point.

I also liked their show conclusion bringing the entire team, both presenters and so many who were back stage, back on stage for a final curtain call. The final note of working more with you, the gamers which makes everything better was a great note to conclude Ubisoft’s E3 presentation.

Grade: A

Games I’m interested in: Beyond Good and Evil 2, Starlink, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, possibly The Division 2 and Skull & Bones once I read up on more information.


Sony

Sony had announced ahead of time that this year would not be announcing new games at E3, but focusing on four pillar games with deeper looks and more information.

They started off their presentation in a room that had been built to look like a church to resemble the one they had not yet seen in the upcoming trailer. I saw a number of people didn’t like the banjo performance to start the presentation, but I liked it. I immediately knew it was kicking off the show with The Last of Us 2 just based on the early bit of that performance, though I’m in agreement that the church replica was rather silly and completely unnecessary. It caused a weird intermission right at the start of their presentation and broke the flow of their games being shown.

The Last of Us 2, however, looked absolutely fantastic. The detail in the character models and motion capture, the footage shown for gameplay looked very smooth and even more cinematic than the first game did. The focus of the trailer was on the greater danger in any zombie post-apocalypse: other humans. That always seemed like the more dangerous part of the first game, so I like seeing that aspect as the spotlight in the sequel. Ellie laying down in foliage and sliding under cars adds expanded ways to use the environment than just ducking behind things as well. I also found it interesting that the enemies seem to be calling her “wolf” as if she’s earned a title, possibly from hunting their group in the past? I’m a little disappointed we don’t see Joel at all, only getting a hint of him mentioned.

During the intermission while the crowd moved from the first room to the main theater. It took 13 minutes while they talked about Last of Us part 2, Horizon, God of War, and Detroit: Become Human with Worldwide Studios. New Game + coming to God of War was brought up and confirmed as happening. Black Ops remastered maps were announced for Black Ops IIII. Black Ops III was also announced as a free game for PS+ members.

Tetris Effect for PSVR was shown. A short video for Days Gone. Twin Mirror. Ghost Giant for PSVR, Beat Saber for PSVR. Basically a compilation sizzle reel.

Destiny 2‘s new expansion got a featured trailer.

Finally going back to the main stage, Sony presented another musical performance with Cornelius Boots playing the shakuhachi (a Japanese flute instrument) in front of a screen showing hills of grass while dressed in Japanese clothing. Much like the Andrew WK performance, this would have been more interesting if they had some slow paced game footage to show behind him rather than just the grassy hills. Once he was done, we got our first look at Ghost of Tsushima.

This is one of my most anticipated games that was teased at E3 in 2017 and the new trailer did not disappoint me at all. I’m a sucker for samurai and ninja films, so a game set in this time period grabs my attention and an open world style game in this time period is a must have. I’m hoping, really hoping, the final game is playable with Japanese voice acting and English subtitles, though. I even saw a later comment imagining a black & white mode, which would be ridiculously hard to imagine them pulling off, but would definitely be interesting.

The combat looks interesting. It’s definitely not fast paced hack and slash. There are some very Akira Kurosawa moments with the face off and the sudden draw-strike of the katana killing the opponent before regular combat starts. It looks like it’s focused on reaction, blocks and dodges and counter attacks rather than mindless button mashing.

Between games, there would occasionally be weird things like a CG banana playing electric guitar. It was for Dreams, but that game was never really shown.

I have no idea what the game is about based on the trailer, but Control looks like you basically get to play as Jean Gray/Phoenix (but also with a gun), so that looks pretty cool.

Next up was the surprise trailer that almost managed to steal the show: Resident Evil 2 remake was presented from a rat’s eye view. I liked the added touch of an original Playstation controller next to the pizza near the beginning. As the camera moves around, a struggle is heard, the two people fighting knocking things over and eventually falling on our rodent for the camera to shift to a different view to show the killed rat before moving to a zombie biting the sheriff he was fighting before we get our first look at Leon Kennedy.

Expected to have been a remake much like the Resident Evil REmake on GameCube, the footage is above and beyond that in terms of what I expected graphically. The detail is amazing and the crowd loved it, especially when a Jan 2019 release was revealed.

Squanch Games presented Trover Save the Universe from the creator of Rick and Morty. I’ve never watched the show, but if the humor is like this trailer, I do not remotely see the appeal.

Another look at Kingdom Hearts III showed more gameplay and focused on the Pirates of the Caribbean world before showing a lot of what was seen in the previous presentations. The big addition was the reveal of a Kingdom Hearts III PS4 Pro Limited Edition as well as a 1.5/2.5/2.8/3 all-in-one package for PS4.

Death Stranding gave us a long look at the game and its gameplay while still managing to show almost nothing. We know Redus’ character is essentially a delivery courier, seeing a wide number of terrains being traversed while wearing ridiculously large backpacks. There appears to be acid rain causing burns, hence needing the suits they wear. One of the “packages” appears to be a dead body wrapped up or in a body bag. Others are large crates, sometimes with robots coming with them, other times just carrying everything. Scaling a mountain seemed reminiscent of Breath of the Wild. Though towards the end, we see a village and he pulls out a rifle, so there does seem like there will be combat. It seems like whatever the creatures we’ve seen hinted at have human hand shaped feet, leaving hand prints where they walk. Breathing seems to attract their attention. The woman that meets up with Redus’ character has a suit with FRAGILE on the back (possibly the company they work for). The time fold fast forwards whatever it touches, but the past can never let go. If one of the things eats Redus character, he’ll come back, but the area will be a crater. There are humanoid shapes floating in the air as black smoky clouds, tethered into the sky. They catch Reducs and pull him down into an oil puddle to end the trailer. Ultimately still no clue what the game is about… We probably won’t entirely have an idea when it releases.

Give me your hand in death
Give me your hand in flesh
Give me your hand in spirit

Nioh 2 got an announce trailer, marking the third samurai game for E3 this year!

Finally, Sony wrapped up with an extended look at Spider-Man. The game still looks fantastic visually. Previously, it seemed Mr. Negative was the primary focus of the game, but this kicks off with Electro breaking prisoners out of the Raft and webhead chasing him through fighting low tier super powered criminals in the prison while running into more notable Spider-Man villains Rhino, Scorpion, and Vulture. It’s clear the Sinister Six are featured villains here. The sixth, who masterminded the break out and brought the above five together confronts Spidey at the end, but we’re not shown who it is. Norman Osborn is known to be mayor in this setting, so it could definitely be Green Goblin leading the Sinister Six, but Doc Ock is just as possible. Of course, it could be a surprise rather than an obvious choice.

The game definitely looks amazing. Spectacular even. It even looks Web of. Wait, that last one doesn’t work.

Grade: Absolute A++ on the games themselves, but…. B- for the presentation. I’d even hear out arguments for a grade of C.

However, I feel Sony did what they said they were going to do: showed a closer look at the four big games they wanted to showcase with no muss or fuss. The long intermission was the only real problem I had with their conference. If they had kept everything in the main theater, the shakuhachi before Ghost of Tsushima would have been more of a palette cleanser between the two games rather than feeling like we were stretching on far too long without game footage at a game presentation.

Games I’m looking forward to: Last of Us 2, Ghost of Tsushima, Spider-Man, Resident Evil 2, Death Stranding, Ghost Giant, Beat Saber, possibly Control once I know more about it.