Bethesda’s Excuse

Eurogamer’s Robert Purchase spoke with Pete Hines about their decision to pursue legal action against people reselling games. Go read Purchase’s article and come back.

While I agree that it’s difficult to tell if a “sealed” copy of anything actually contains what it says, or is something that just weighs the same, I found this part of Hines’ argument particularly telling:

“He, specifically, was trying to list it as a new product as if he was GameStop or Best Buy… He’s not a company, he’s not a distributor…”

To Pete Hines you’re not allowed to sell something as new unless you’re part of an incorporated legal entity.

Last week I bought some electronics from a person off of Craigslist, they were selling it as “new” because it was still sealed. When I met the seller I had them open it up before buying it because you do need to be able to tell that it isn’t a box with a brick in it.

That is a legitimate concern, and I’m not sure how you resolve that question over an online purchase, but it isn’t really up to a the original software developer or publisher to police that. If they are going to do that,  you would hope that they have a very strong argument against the individual seller.

Hines is quoted as saying:

“…we don’t want our customers buying stuff from a vendor like Amazon where they think they’re buying a new product and suddenly finding out they got a disc that’s been played, somebody kicked across the floor and scratched and ‘oh they took out the insert that had the special items I was supposed to get for buying this’.”

Hines never makes any statement that the original seller, Hupp, was actually selling a resealed product as new, but he sure does love to speculate that this is what is happening. This is an incredibly flimsy excuse to approve the legal threats against Hupp, and it absolutely isn’t the same argument that his lawyers are using. Their argument is all about a bogus missing warranty.

Even if they’re successful in their pursuit of shutting the practice down, you don’t need to be a lawyer to smell the stench from Maryland. This is about locking out individuals from doing what they want with the things they purchase, not protecting anyone from buying a resealed game.

Surprise, Shadow of the Colossus is Still Great

Shadow of the Colossus is one of my favorite games. It is from a unique moment in time before independent developers had found the ability to publish their novel ideas widely. Instead, we had this deep series of boss fights from Team Ico that turns out to work just as well today as it did in 2005. At least, once Bluepoint did some serious technical work to make the game presentable to a new and returning audience.

Eurogamer’s Oli Welsh reviewing the new Shadow of the Colossus remake for the PlayStation 4 that comes out on February 6:

So this PlayStation 4 remake is a risky undertaking. The developer, Bluepoint Games of Austin, Texas, is the undisputed master of remasters and has even been here before, having made the Ico & Shadow of the Colossus Collection for PlayStation 3 in 2011. But this isn’t a remaster. This is a remake, rebuilding the game from scratch using new technology and all-new, much more detailed art. Ueda wasn’t involved and everything he and his team made for the original game has been redrawn and embellished to satisfy our hunger for fidelity. In a literal sense, this is an artist’s game remade without the original artist and containing none of the original art. Could its spirit survive such a process?

Yes. And how. Bluepoint has achieved an unprecedented feat in game preservation that creates the definitive version of Shadow of the Colossus and makes a generations-old game feel excitingly modern.

Nootropics Are Bullshit

Eurogamer’s Chris Bratt has a great investigative article and video on the bullshit around supplements. Specifically one that targets people playing games. It’s called GodMode and it is a “nootropic” from Scott Miller, yes the one that used to work for Apogee and 3D Realms.

Here’s part of Chris’ interview with Scott, where Scott goes off the deep end:

“If you read the books that doctors have to read,” said Miller, “they are so anti-supplement, because they’re funded by the pharmaceutical industry. And the pharmaceutical industry tells you things like avoid fish oil, avoid all this stuff. They don’t want you doctors to believe in any of that stuff. I hate to say it, but doctors are brainwashed from day one when they enter medical school that drugs work and anything outside of drugs isn’t going to work.”

In the article, Chris also tries the supplement for two weeks to no effect, because it doesn’t do anything.

Miller’s business model isn’t entirely original, there are similar products that share the same ingredients but target other people.

Alex Jones sells a few varieties of nootropics to his dumbass followers that he calls Brain Force Plus. Gwyneth Paltrow has similar crap in her GOOP store. There are ads on some gaming podcasts for other brands of nootropic garbage supplements. I unsubscribed from one podcast as soon as I heard that ad. These supplements have always been bullshit, don’t trust anyone that sells them.

Super NES Classic Edition Stuff

SNES Box image via Nintendo

The Super NES Classic Edition is out for $80, Chris Scullion has a review of the Brit version which looks a little different externally and in the menu, but is functionally identical, to the US version:

The only main problem I have with the SNES Mini is how important the Reset button on the console is. Any time you want to change a game, save your state, load a state or rewind you have press the physical Reset button on the SNES Mini.

[…]

A button combo would’ve been a better way of doing this. It could be a complex one to avoid accidental restarts: most Game Boy games back in the day could be reset by pressing A + B + Start + Select, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t have been possible here.

That niggle aside, I’m happy with the way each game is handled here. They look great – even though it only outputs at 720p, on my 4K TV they still look crisp – they sound great, and they play great.

I think it is odd that in some places Nintendo have decided to straight out call it a “mini,” as Chris’ box shows:

Well at least we get our more hideous miniaturized console with buttons that lack colour.

Eurogamer’s John Linneman confirms that the tech inside is exactly the same as the NES Classic Edition:

The fact that the SNES mini runs on the same hardware as its predecessor has a number of implications. Among them, we can expect hackers to be looking to exploit the system in short order to add new games – exactly what happened with the NES mini. And secondly, the use of what is essentially the same technology makes it much easier for Nintendo to resume NES mini production.

The only game exclusive to the Super Nintendo Classic Edition is Star Fox 2, Christian Donlan has a review:

Star Fox 2 is an unusual game, an astonishingly inventive sequel that built on the combat and visual thrills of the first Star Fox but wasn’t afraid to experiment with the structure. Rather than starting you at one end of a space map and asking you to pick your route to the far side, choosing from missions that can eventually be all but committed to memory through sheer repetition, you’re suddenly protecting Corneria, your home world, from an ongoing attack from big villain Andross and the attack pretty much plays out in real time. Andross builds bases on nearby planets, and he has cruisers headed for you and IPBMs launching every few minutes. Your job is still to get across the map to take out Andross directly, but you have to respond to other things as they happen. Those cruisers! Those missiles! These are all problems that compete for your time and there’s a panicky thrill in knowing that if you head for a planet to take on an entrenched baddy, there will be missiles still snaking through space towards Corneria, launched from other points. Throughout this wonderfully breathless game, you are asked to think on the fly, and to dash headlong between danger zones, constantly prioritising threats.

The hackers are working on updating hakchi2 for the SNES Classic Edition so that you can load your own ROMs on to the system. Legally backed-up from your own cartridges or downloaded and deleted within 24 hours, of course.

I’m waiting for delivery of SNES Mini now, it will be delivered tomorrow. Seems like hakchi and hakchi2 will require some minor changes to work with SNES Mini. So please wait little more.

They might also be able to fix it so we don’t need to get off the couch to reset the console and access save states. Here’s hoping.

But if you’re going to go that far you almost might as well just listen to Seth Macy with his hilarious article titled “Why Spend $80 on an SNES Classic When You Can Install Emulators on a Raspberry Pi and Never Shut the Fuck Up About It?”:

Nintendo’s highly coveted SNES Classic Mini system comes out today and is certain to be a hot item. A word of advice to gamers who aren’t able to land an SNES Classic: did you know you can just buy a Raspberry Pi and remind people at every opportunity how much fucking better you are for it?

After the NES Classic Edition was announced and became immediately  impossible to find I attempted to do exactly what Macy is joking about by setting up a Raspberry Pi with emulators and it is indeed still a pain in the ass. It’s great that these classic NES and SNES consoles have embedded Linux at their core, but Nintendo have done so much work to obscure that core from their users and make things easy.

That hard work is exactly what has always been missing from any Linux distribution on a single board computer like the Raspberry Pi or desktops and laptops. I have the patience to use this software and fix it when it breaks but this is never as easy as using a Classic Edition. Hopefully Nintendo lives up to their promise and produces enough to go around.

What Would Make You Want to Upgrade Your Console?

Yours truly back in June writing during Microsoft’s E3 presentation for the Xbox One X:

…it feels like Microsoft is less interested in challenging Sony with this high-end console than harvesting their hardcore Xbox fans for yet another console purchase.

I don’t doubt that this console will live up to its technical promises, but it won’t offer much to anyone who already has an Xbox One, it’ll still play the same games. Unlike an iPhone upgrade, the smaller physical form-factor won’t make the Xbox One X any more pocketable. A more powerful desktop computer can also run many of the same exclusive games in Windows 10.

Eurogamer’s headline from Martin Robinson yesterday: Microsoft’s final sales pitch for Xbox One X falls flat:

Microsoft stepped up its commitment to PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, backing a proven winner and this year’s true phenomenon in what amounts to quite a coup for the Xbox brand, but the messaging was all over the place. This, it seems, is an exclusive in that very loose definition of the word, with all sorts of obfuscation being peddled out when it comes to future versions on other platforms. Maybe if Phil Spencer hadn’t skipped this week’s show he might have advised that, mindful of a Gamescom from the not-too-distant past and the muddied reveal of another Xbox ‘exclusive’, you can’t pull the wool over people’s eyes for too long.

There were better signs elsewhere, and the list of 100-plus games that will be receiving updates to make the most of the Xbox One X hardware makes for impressive reading – the promise of an improved and definitive console version of The Witcher 3 is almost enough alone to justify the upgrade, and elsewhere there’s an appealing list of games that will benefit from a facelift. But at this point in the console lifecycle, Microsoft needs more than prettier versions of multiplatform games if it’s to make serious inroads into Sony’s considerable lead this generation.

At this point I’m pretty sure that in general people aren’t interested in more expensive mid-generation console upgrades to support 4K televisions unless they have a tremendous amount of disposable income.

The argument that people would buy a desktop computer as powerful also doesn’t seem to hold water. Are people really buying them in droves? Where are the boastful hardware companies filling press release pipelines with numbers? I haven’t seen them, but maybe I’m looking in the wrong places.

I get the sense that people are pretty displeased with the PlayStation 4 Pro, as well, but at least Sony has truly exclusive games like Uncharted and that won’t also be available on Windows 10.

What reason is left to buy the upgraded consoles? Here I am back in June again:

That could change later on. In the future this could be the baseline version of the Xbox One and some games could require the Xbox One X to run at all. The same is true of the Playstation 4 Pro, and I wouldn’t recommend buying either of the original Xbox One or the original Playstation 4 at this point.

So, the fear of being left behind when games might require the upgraded consoles, that’s basically all I’ve got for reasons to buy the Xbox One X or PlayStation 4 Pro today. Maybe Microsoft and Sony don’t want to tank sales of the the Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 Amateur. Is something going to change between now and November 7th?

Xbox Scorpio Tech Details

I’m Hank Scorpio

Eurogamer’s Richard Leadbetter has technical details of Microsoft’s goofy Project Scorpio. Unless Microsoft adds or changes something significant about the functionality of the console before it is launched, it just means a more expensive and more technically powerful Xbox console:

Combining smart design with sheer horsepower, Project Scorpio hits the six-teraflop target set for it as E3 last year, thanks to a custom GPU that has been designed from the ground up for optimal performance on today’s game engines – and that runs at an unprecedentedly high clock speed for a console. The GPU is paired with 12GB of fast GDDR5 memory and a custom eight-core CPU, and the whole thing is housed in a compact body with integrated power supply and, for a console, state-of-the-art cooling.

Performance is remarkable. We saw a Forza Motorsport demo running on the machine at native 4K and Xbox One equivalent settings, and it hit 60 frames per second with a substantial performance overhead – suggesting Scorpio will hit its native 4K target across a range of content, with power to spare to spend on other visual improvements. And while 4K is the target, Microsoft is paying attention to 1080p users, promising that all modes will be available to them.

It’s interesting to me that the upgraded hardware is so similar to the Playstation 4 Pro, although the Scorpio has bigger numbers and will perform well, this re-emphasizes a theme that Microsoft has gone with since the original Xbox of promoting the technical specifications of their hardware over the games that take advantage of that hardware.

Just like with the Playstation 4 Pro, nobody should buy an Xbox until more details of the Scorpio are available like a price, a launch date, and if a game they actually want is upgraded by this hardware revision. I bet there will be a lot of used Xbox One S’, and disappointed people who bought them last year, right before this thing launches.

What a bizarre time we are in where Microsoft pre-announced the Scorpio last year before launching their Xbox One S in order to remain competitive with Sony’s Playstation 4 Pro.

Eventually, if these upgraded consoles sell well enough, it could be that new games don’t support the original revisions of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.

One other point in the article I wanted to quote, talking about the upclocked CPUs of the Scorpio:

On the CPU side, there’s been much conjecture that Scorpio would feature AMD’s new Ryzen technology – something we thought unlikely, owing to manufacturing timelines, not to mention Microsoft telling us last year that the new console would feature eight CPU cores. All signs point to the upclocked Jaguar cores we find in Xbox One, and Scorpio’s CPU set-up is indeed an evolution of that tech, but subject to extensive customisation and the offloading of key tasks to dedicated hardware.

“So, eight cores, organised as two clusters with a total of 4MB of L2 cache. These are unique customised CPUs for Scorpio running at 2.3GHz. Alluding back to the goals, we wanted to maintain 100 per cent backwards compatibility with Xbox One and Xbox One S while also pushing the performance envelope,” says Nick Baker.

I don’t for a second believe that Microsoft couldn’t upgrade the architecture of the Xbox and retain backwards compatibility. Even if AMD’s new Ryzen platform introduced new CPU instruction, it would still have the old ones. This isn’t like going from a Power PC to x86 processor, or even as big as the 32bit to 64bit, change.

It reminds me of the time when I was still listening to Larry Hryb’s podcast where he and his guests were talking about HDMI and saying that it wasn’t an upgrade over component cables before the 360 had HDMI connections.

In this case it isn’t clear if the idea is a miscommunication of Leadbetter’s or that Baker actually was responding to a question about Ryzen and Leadbetter should have called it out, either way it is total bullshit and stymies an otherwise fine article.

Speaking of things that should have been called out, there is also this choice quote:

During his presentation, Del Castillo literally constructed a pre-production Project Scorpio unit in front of us. Bearing in mind the advanced manufacturing techniques on show here, there’s a very simple, elegant, modular design that makes the most of the space. We saw the hard drive fit into place on dampeners designed to absorb vibration, reducing error rates in and ensuring optimal data throughput.

You know what’s really elegant? Not using a spinning-disk hard drive with fragile platters in 2017. Nobody buys a computer with those anymore. They only continue to persist in consoles. Nothing is advanced or elegant about dampening the vibrations of an old hard drive. It will be a real upgrade when we can get to solid-state drives everywhere.

Metal Gear Solid 2’s False Hero

Richard Stanton has this great article on Metal Gear Solid 2 and how the game was itself an examination of expectations for what a sequel to Metal Gear Solid could be. Here’s a short part about the protagonist, Raiden:

Raiden was MGS2’s big secret, a character visually designed to appeal to people who didn’t play MGS – specifically women. The first game’s audience was largely male, and Kojima believed a good-looking young man would be a pleasant contrast to the gruff chain-smoking Snake.

But the true purpose was different. Before he was ever called Raiden, the character was known by the kanji (Ore) that literally translates as ‘I.’ Raiden was intended to represent the player, specifically the type of player who enjoys war-themed games like MGS. The events at the Big Shell closely parallel the events at Shadow Moses, with one big difference.

The first time you control Raiden, with his mask off and blonde locks flowing freely, the location is designed around a bespoke effect: lots of bird shit. Walk on it and Raiden pratfalls, an initially amusing animation that soon becomes a little tiresome as you search for the way forward.

It’s a little thing but, boy, do they pile up. MGS2 in ways big and small undermines Raiden at nearly every turn, constantly reinforcing to both him and the player that he is not Solid Snake. The Big Shell is Raiden’s first combat mission, and no-one misses the opportunity to remind him of it. When Snake meets Raiden he calls him “green” and “rookie.” Raiden’s first boss fight, against Fortune, cannot be won – and she taunts him for not being Snake. Where Snake stoically bore torture, Raiden ends up crying.

There’s so much more in the article. The upcoming Metal Gear Solid 5 is giving people a great excuse to write about the older games in the series and how awesomely unconventional they were.

Eurogamer Dropping Review Scores

Oli Welsh:

Starting today with our review of The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, Eurogamer is making the biggest change we’ve ever made to the way we review games. From now on, we will no longer be scoring games out of ten.

In place of scores, we’ll have one-line summaries for every review, and a new recommendation system whereby some, but not all games will be considered Recommended, Essential or Avoid. As a result of these changes, we will no longer be listed on the review-aggregation site Metacritic.

Review scores are important to four groups of people: People making purchasing decisions; people who want their purchasing decisions justified; those who write about games; and developers who want their games reviewed well and scored highly.

Unfortunately for journalists writing about games, review scores have been overvalued by people who play games, and they’ve had too much influence on the careers of the people who develop them.

I spoke with an anonymous game developer about this and he confirmed that there are still some situations where studios receive bonuses based on the review scores the games they work on receive. However, he also elaborated it would be unusual for a specific individual’s contract to include mention of review scores with the exception of an executive like a studio president.

Terrible games have scored poorly in critic reviews and still sell well based on marketing and other pre-release hype. Great games have scored well and not done well enough to warrant sequels, HD remakes, and marketing hype.

It’s good news that Eurogamer, like the dearly-departed joystiq, are trying new things but I still believe that review scores offer something valuable to people who are looking for recommendations. Joystiq attempted to solve that with a short summary at the bottom of the review and awards on an ongoing basis. Eurogamer is doing something similar with awards and other signage to indicate games to look into or avoid.

I think they’re onto something good, but just like everyone else I look at the score first and then go back and read the review. It’s a bad habit, but it’s one that isn’t going away with my generation. Younger people seem to be watching pre-recorded (youtube) and live streaming (twitch) videos instead of reading anything. I definitely watch and listen more these days than I read.

This is a shame for everyone who has lost the opportunity to express themselves with more nuance than you can get on a podcast or in a video. Some games, and some opinions, just don’t get represented well enough on either.