Top 10 “Needs Improvement” Areas for Gran Turismo 6 (part 2 of 2)

I was ready to finish this post back in September, but a lot of other things came up. Another interesting thing happened before I finished it; I decided I’m not going to get in on the Gran Turismo 6 bandwagon. Still, I feel obligated to finish this, especially since the first post did pretty well with respect to site traffic.

6. Better Driving Tutorials

Back on the PS1, the great tutorials offered in the License Exam segments really made the GT series stand out against other rivals. The License Exam segments came back in GT5, but in the context of the content as a whole, they weren’t adequate.

But for a game that really, REALLY prides itself on being such a simulator, GT5 did a very poor job at offering guidance in a lot of key areas. Major aspects of the game, like Formula One were not part of the licensing tests at all. The “NASCAR” academy was equally unsatisfying given how different and challenging the NASCAR segments of the game were.

7. Kill B-Spec

B-Spec should actually be a lot higher on this list. It’s not only that a major aspect of the game is frankly terrible, it’s that you’re positively forced to do so very much of it if you want to unlock some really important cars.

B-Spec operates essentially as a counterpart to the driving part of GT5, which is called A-Spec. You’re required to pick a rookie driver from a set of personality types, and eventually build a team of drivers who will go out and use your cars to win the A-Spec races. B-Spec seems like a simple proposition, but the execution is completely flawed. What B-Spec requires you to do is issue a very limited set of instructions to a bot that must gain experience using your cars.

There’s a whole bunch of problems with this system of playing. First, you’re required to do pretty much nothing to win races. At lower levels, drivers don’t really respond to your commands as it is, and the computer may lose even if it has a car that completely outclasses the other computer bots. This makes the actual races less like a coaching exercise, which I think is what it was supposed to be, and more like just a passive watching exercise. It’s boring. And there’s no tutorial or guidance on how to be proficient at being a racing coach. Generally you can tell your driver to speed up, or be conservative, or do a pit stop. That’s pretty much it. I can’t say skill or actively trying to manage the drivers really does much to outcome. Second, the game doesn’t offer any sort of time compression, meaning you’re watching computer race versus itself in real time. Unlike sports games which shorten the length of passive play styles, there are usually MORE laps in certain B-Spec races. I think practically speaking I used these long B-Spec binges as a great opportunity to catch up on my ironing. The AI for your race team is usually terrible; I guess this is because GT has always had pretty lousy AI anyway. But perhaps the worst requirement of B-Spec is requiring the player to build and level an entire team of racers at the same slow pace as A-Spec. Leveling the drivers usually just requires you to win the races, which isn’t especially difficult given you probably have the overpowered car you used in A-Spec to win the same series. The catch is that your race team only has a limited amount of “endurance,” meaning longer races the AI will basically just give up on driving and blow a huge lead. The endurance state builds up very slowly though, making multiple losses in endurance races necessary to get better. Remember, this is a game with the real-time endurance race “24 Hours LeMans.”

It’s not hard to see that B-Spec isn’t fun in any sort of way. It’s a driving game that requires no skill to complete, just an insane amount of time. That’s why is maddening that the game offers a gigantic number of cars that can ONLY be unlocked by winning B-Spec races.

To mitigate the insane time requirements B-Spec, a novel “Remote Play” feature was added in a subsequent patch. What did this feature add? The ability to manage B-Spec races taking place on your PS3 remotely from a PC. This feature doesn’t fix the root problem that you shouldn’t have to watch 500 hours of racing just to earn a car to do something in A-Spec mode. The B-Spec achievements shouldn’t be tied to A-Spec at all. A racing game shouldn’t put some much emphasis on waiting around. It’s anathema to the actual draw the game is supposed to offer.

8. Fix Formula One

Formula One, despite recent controversies and shaky financial support, is and likely will be the king of auto racing for the foreseeable future. Despite being the pinnacle of the A-Spec mode of play, GT5 offers little support.

One clear problem with the Formula One racing was the inability of GT5 to actually allow you to buy the car you needed. In addition to needing over $4,000,000 of race money in the game (average race payout maybe is $100,000), the Formula One car had to purchased USED for some reason. Compounding this problem at launch was that the used car inventory was populated randomly over the course of the game. Effectively, it was impossible to advance in A-Spec because you could never buy the next car. Eventually Sony corrected this problem by creating an “Online Used Car Garage,” which was prepopulated with the bottle-neck race vehicles that couldn’t be purchased new. Still, it was a sloppy execution and not necessary.

I suspect the problems with Formula One dealt with licensing issues. It’s not technically a Formula One car you’re buying anyway, it’s a “Formula GT.” Whatever. The lack of support in teaching you how to drive these cars though is perplexing. Although GT5 makes you appreciate the difference between a family sedan and a true sports car, the leap of performance the Formula cars make over even the Le Mans class racers is significant. If Sony couldn’t get the licensing issues, this feature should have been scrapped altogether. After all, would it have been so bad to just get Indy sponsorship and use similar Indy cars?

9. Create a Tutorial System For Tuning

Although most of the tuning aspects of GT5 and its predecessors is straightforward (spend as much money as possible to make your car more power and lighter), other aspects of auto-tuning were never adequately explained. In particular, the intricacies of suspension tuning are incredible. Without the exact right setup for even individual legs of racing series, it’s not possible to win at the higher levels. If this is such an important feature of the game, why not have some sort of instruction available? I’ll confess, the best way to figure out how to make a perfect tuning setup seems to be typing your car and “Gran Turismo 5” into Google.

Other aspects of the tuning system are equally perplexing. For example, in the customization section of the garage (which is NOT where you purchase upgrade parts for some reason) there is an option for something called “racing modifications.” Despite the 1000 cars in GT5, only a literal handful can receive these modifications. What do they do? Well, they make the car really good, but it’s hard to say exactly how or why. Most importantly, it’s not possible to see which of the cars in the game can be subjected to these modifications. I guess you can use Google to figure this out too.

10. Introduce Horsepower Limitations Into Single-Player Mode

The critical flaw in any game that has RPG or leveling style elements in it is that those run counter to the aspects of the game that require skill. This has always been a problem with Gran Turismo; winning races is based on having more power than the other cars on the track. But this doesn’t really let you learn how to race any better. It’s a big loophole that this game doesn’t address in single-player mode (multiplayer has such limitations though). There isn’t an obvious explanation as to why limitations on tuning aren’t implemented, especially because GT5 is usually very specific about needing a very particular car or limited set of cars for each race challenge.

Closing Thoughts

I could easily criticize the fact that Polyphony is releasing GT6 for PS3 when it arguably should be a PS4 game, but if the last console generation has taught us anything, it will be a long time before any next-gen console makes it into 100 million households. But given the phoned-in nature of GT5, and the fact that a lot of obvious improvements or design flaws weren’t addressed, I’ve lost faith that this installment will really take things to the next level. Going back to all those lost weekends where I was doing laundry and having B-Spec run in the background, I have come to realize that this franchise needs to some time in the penalty box. I expect the initial reviews for GT6 to be good, but that’s only because there’s always a release bias. I learned my lesson though. If GT5 is any indication of the way GT6 will be, I’ll be able to drive the exact same cars when they’re imported over to whatever the PS4 version will be anyway.

Top 10 “Needs Improvement” Areas for Gran Turismo 6 (part 1 of 2)

I feel a little nostalgic talking about Gran Turismo again; my first posts dealt with that game (and it’s significant shortcomings) way back in 2011. I’ve played all the main Gran Turismo titles and I’ve already come to the conclusion that I will almost certainly be playing GT6 when it comes out in December. Maybe it’s some sort of battered-gamer syndrome I’ve developed, but I’ll keep coming back to this franchise. Rest assured though, come December 6, 2013 I won’t bullshit you if this falls short of what it should be.

And GT6 SHOULD be Sony’s hallmark game.  Polyphony Digital is Sony.  It’s a subsidiary. So this is what Mario is to Nintendo. It’s a flagship franchise. It’s also coming out on a console that’s mature. There’s no reason to have a chunk of coal here. With that said, here’s what I think are the top “needs improvement” areas for GT6 (the usual five items turned out to be woefully inadequate unfortunately).

1. No Misleading Advertising

There’s a good chance you didn’t read about this in 2010, but the marketing with GT5 was incredibly misleading. Take a look at this commercial I managed to dig up on YouTube.  See that Subaru spinning out?  Super cool!

Here’s the problem though; that’s not in the game. At least it wasn’t when GT5 was released. The Subaru’s in the game, sure.  But that door coming off, the car spinning out like that? Not so much. There was basically no cognizable damage system in GT5 at launch. The fact that the commercial says there is “realistic damage” is a huge stretch. Here’s a video of some car crashes I found. You can be the judge as to how good the damage system works.

The problem is compounded by the fact that GT5 actually hides the damage features until relatively late in the game. Damage isn’t turned-on until level 20, a feat likely to take at least 50 to 60 hours to reach. It’s not fully turned on until level 40 apparently, an amount of time commitment likely to rival most part-time jobs given that the levels are usually exponentially apart from each other. Without the aid of Google, the conclusion for most players is that damage just isn’t in the single-player game until you’ve sunk in significant hours. Considering how long it takes to reach level 30, level 40 is just simply ridiculous.

Occasionally, and unpredictably, visible damage would pop up on a car after a bad hit. This is usually a hood dent or messed up lower spoiler. But GT5 doesn’t kick you out of races if you slam into the wall at 200mph. It arguably should; by not punishing huge mistakes the game doesn’t force the player to develop the driving skills you actually need to advance (regardless of whether you are “leveling”). I can remember an old Playstation 1 Need For Speed having both a comprehensive damage system for each car, and a cost of repairs deducted from each race winnings after every run. Although this was frustrating, it’s certainly doable.

I obviously understand why there is no comprehensive damage system in GT5, at least for non-standard cars (I’ll talk about that below).  Such a system would significantly increase the amount of work per car and would never be perfect. That Need for Speed game was able to get away with it because it had 10 or 15 cars and PS1 graphics. Certainly this falls short of Gran Turismo’s 1000 car standard. The cost of repairing the cars would be oppressive in a lot of instances too, especially during the Ferrari, Formula 1, or NASCAR events. I can remember having to an awful lot of farming in that Need for Speed too. These are legitimate design decisions here to leave these features out. What’s not a legitimate design decision is to put into advertisements a feature your product doesn’t have.

I think the gaming review industry really screwed up not calling out Sony on this back in 2010. It’s not like this was a feature in the game that everyone was excited about because of a press release or Q&A session at E3. It’s in the commercial! It’s not ambiguous as to what they’re showing. Polyphony put this issue front and center. I suspect that part of the reason the damage system is hidden is to cover up the fact that maybe it doesn’t work so well, and instead reflect the blame onto a player who hasn’t invested the time. It was obscured and basically unavailble at launch, and didn’t seem to work right after. The “you’re not ready for my game” attitude is paternalistic nonsense. This was both a bad design decision and a really bad marketing decision that the franchise managed to avoid being stained with. Honestly, I could care less if the door falls off my Subaru. Just don’t tell me that it might if it won’t.

2. No Imports

No, I don’t mean non-Chevy/Fords/Dodges, I mean imports from PS2. Part of the amazing roster of modeled cars in GT5 came from the fact that 3D assets were imported from prior Gran Turismo installments. Given that this was the first PS3 Gran Turismo (I think it’s fair to exclude the essentially incomplete version, Prologue), I can see that maybe the number of assets to be produced was burdensome. Would fans criticize GT5 if it had only 200 cars instead of the normal franchise setting 1000? To be honest, I think there’s a chance they might.

The solution that was developed was to recycle old body graphics, which clearly have lower resolutions and look out of place. What bothers me the most about this is not that Polyphony did this, but that they did it in a half-assed way. Key races needed to advance the main objectives in single-player mode restrict the player to the use of certain makes or models of cars. Take the “Tous France Championnat” for instance. At the early parts of the game there are only a few cars that are reasonably affordable that you can get to do this race. All are “non-premium” cars, meaning they have these terrible graphics. It’s jarring to buy this game which is supposed to be a quantum leap in graphics over the last installment, and be back to PS2 graphics that just look out of place. The pixels don’t look good and don’t respond to the lighting effects and other environmental image factors the way the premium cars do.  Simply put, GT5 delivers you GT4 graphics in instances you can’t avoid. These non-premium cars also have lame damage modeling (already a pretty low bar for GT5).

There’s some sort of tension with the Gran Turismo series as a whole as to whether it wants to be a complete car encyclopedia, or whether it wants to deliver a stock experience. It’s cool having the car you drove in high school in this racing game, even if its not very good. But at the same time, does it really add anything? Is driving a souped-up 1991 Accord or 1986 Corolla anybody’s fantasy? I don’t know. My only point here is that if you want to be known for doing a great job, you can’t do a great job half the time. Again, Gran Turismo got a pass on this. Those non-premium cars look terrible though.

3. Better Menus

A cardinal sin here. Thou shalt not have terrible menus! There are two huge problems with the menus in GT5: 1. They’re too slow, 2. They’re poorly organized.

In typical Japanese fashion, GT5 with all its statistics, custom-tuning options, and general philosophy of any-way-you-like it, means that Gran Turismo must be stuffed to the brim with menus. The load time on these menus takes forever though. It’s not so bad individually, if it wasn’t that you’re required to change so much at the higher levels in between races. Most importantly though, it doesn’t seem to make much sense as to why the response time is so slow. The graphics in the menus aren’t why people are clamoring to play Gran Turismo, and they’re not that impressive anyway. The slow speed makes the tedious process of buying each racing part option on a new car in the tuning menu excruciating (why can’t I just buy the car with the race parts on it to save me 15 minutes?).

A problem that is compounded by the slow load times on the menus is the fact that they’re poorly organized. Granted a home button has been added so you can get back to your digital garage if you’re trying to enter a race with the wrong car, but it’s a tedious process to have to go back to the start and then have to drill down all over again. Please, if you really can’t make these things faster, at least let me switch cars without having to go all the way out of the menu first. The menus become oppressive in late game where settings need to be adjusted with every different leg of a series of races. I honestly wouldn’t be so bothered by this if there was some sort of obvious reason why these menus are so slow. But they’re just menus. They should do their job well.

4. Improve Collision Physics

Gran Turismo has always really tried to pride itself on being a great simulator for all things driving. But one key area that this racing series has always consistently under-delivered on is car crashes.  GT5 is no exception.

You will know something is wrong the first time. Do these car crashes look right? There’s no way you can say yes to that. What that means is that GT5 is a great simulator, provided you don’t hit anything. The real problem I have with collision system is the lack of penalty imposed by making mistakes. Mistakes aren’t tolerable in the license test portions of the game, they probably shouldn’t be in the Formula 1 races or NASCAR races either. There’s no real downside to being super-reckless in these races. Moreover, multiplayer updates after the initial launch actually had to be aimed at introducing driver penalties because the administrators felt that players were using barriers in order to actually increase their lap speeds in some instances. In other words, the pinball physics were being used to cheat.

If there is any indication that the modeling isn’t right, it’s when causing an accident can be used to create an advantage. If Polyphony Digital wants players to earn the right to have damage and real consequences, it needs to impose at least some sort of penalty early on to prevent bad habits from forming. The lack of cars flipping over, catching fire, or otherwise being disabled is a gigantic blind spot for this series.

5. Dull Environments

I wish I could find a blog post I read back in 2010 on the Circuit de la Sarthe. Pausing the game during the very long straight-away on the track, a blogger took some images of the bushes on the side of the track. Now this is a real track in France. Sarthe is where they hold 24 Hours of Le Mans. The photos clearly show the same bush has been copied and pasted over and over again along the side of the straight. This is straight-NES BS. Granted, this a portion of the track you’re likely to be topping out at +200mph, but the poor attention to detail was right there in the photos.

It’s not just that bushes look bad, it’s that stands look empty, that crowds don’t come out for Grand Prix races, and that the environments look soulless.  There’s no activity going on in the background. Pit stops to change tires and refuel are uneventful. The AI doesn’t get desperate. There’s no sense of drama or urgency being conveyed to the player outside the ever-ticking clock.

I can remember the game Pole Position for Atari having a little blimp fly over head announcing race updates. And the Nintendo series Cruis’n’ USA game having scantily clad bikini girls wave the starting flag. This is the playboy lifestyle that’s obviously part of what we think about when when think about auto racing. Professional racing is a brutal meritocracy; a high-stakes game the well-off play that’s akin to professional football for the less physically inclined. The dangerous celebrity lifestyle of a dare-devil race car driver is drilled into our consciousnesses by mass-media. We think of superstars like Senna or Michael Schumacher. It’s inescapable when we see a $250K sports car drive by.

Gran Turismo has always eschewed from having any sort of excitement other than what happens on the track. I can remember the same kind of blandness from the Microsoft flight-simulator, or alternative from Jane’s F/A 18. There’s just no sexy in GT5, other than the beautiful cars. Gran Turismo doesn’t make you feel like a race car driver, it makes you feel like you’re grinding away in a basement playing an MMORPG hoping to get some magic sword. It’s all just stat tracking and leveling. Maybe the concern is that fans or funny pit crews would be distracting, or alternatively would sap precious processing power from the actual driving. These are fair points, but Gran Turismo is supposed to be fun and it often makes simulating a race feel like a desk job.

Capcom is Dead

July 14, 2013 marked the release of the most anticipated Mega Man since the 2010 release of Mega Man 10. There’s just one problem; the game, MegaMan Unlimited, is a fan project wholly unaffiliated with Capcom. The link to the Mega Man Unlimited developer’s page is here.

I played through this fan project and wrote a companion review on it. MegaMan Unlimited is pretty good, but it’s release marks the exact reason a developer should never allow a fan project to be made; it’s surrendering your legal property.

The fact that Capcom allowed MegaMan Unlimited to continue in relatively public development over a five year period and then actually be completed and released shows weakness. This is literally the largest franchise management blunder I’ve ever seen, and it’s indicative of just how poorly managed Capcom is right now. This project, and it’s development, have dominated Google searches on the Mega Man franchise over the past three years at least.  Either they didn’t know it was being done, or alternatively, they could have given consent to the developers (note there is some indication Capcom is aware of other fan projects and is allowing those ones to continue, but I’m not sure that is the case with this particular game).

In addition to seeing all these unaffiliated posts dominating Google searches, I learned on July 14th because I received an email alerting me to a YouTube ScrewAttack review. When the mainstream press is giving credit to these projects, it’s a bad sign for for the actual copyright owners.

Playable fan projects, although they can produce fun content, are pretty obvious copyright infringements, despite a screen stating that the developer doesn’t own the copyright. If you’re making a sequel to a game using content you don’t own, that’s as core an infringement as possible; you’re literally trying to give people the same experience as the original when you don’t own the content. When consumers can’t tell the difference, you’re in trouble. There’s no chance it could be fair use in this instance (fair use coming into play in the event of a critical blog post perhaps…). Generally, a responsive company will shut these projects down as soon as the legal department finds out.  A quick Google search will show that Square Enix has repeatedly quashed Chrono Trigger fan projects over the past 10 years.

The reason I mention Chrono Trigger is that I see a parallel here between that franchise and Capcom’s handling of the Mega Man franchise. Namely, that fan projects might just be a response to the lack of supply from the owners of the copyrights. Not that there is any legal principle to validate this, but it certainly offers an explanation as to why fans keep trying to add more content. But in both instances there is an acknowledgement that there is a good project from consumers, and their need for more of it isn’t being met. I think Square Enix has the better response to the attempts by others to co-opt their rights though.

In the past three years, a highly-recognizable game franchise that has endured for over 25 years has seen no major releases and only high-profile cancellations. This includes a new installation in the Mega Man Legends franchise (which was also abandoned over the entire run of the PS2 era), Mega Man Online (a Korean MMORPG) and the cancellation of Mega Man Universe (which was a 2010 E3 debut). These failures are in part also compounded by the very public departure of the man credited with creating the franchise, Keiji Inafune. The only other major news regarding Mega Man from Capcom has been it’s release of footage of another cancelled game that the press didn’t know about, which for some reason they thought would help celebrate the Mega Man franchises’ 25th anniversary. Other bloggers have picked up that Capcom seems to be content abandoning its other storied franchises.

The ironic point is that the middle-ground between endlessly unmet demand by players for more content, but not necessarily more revenue, can be met by offering a level builder where players can design their scenarios using sanctioned tools. This lets the community develop content in a controlled environment, one subject to a end-user license agreement. Modding is always big with PC games, and it has extended into the console platforming arena with Sony’s Little Big Planet. This is exactly the project that Mega Man Universe was supposed to be though. Capcom lost its chance at crowdsourcing a renaissance here.

Lack of strong brand management and consistent development hurts the bottom line.  If fan projects that aren’t sanctioned, or are sanctioned but aren’t controlled by the developers are dominating this franchise, it effectively means the future of Mega Man itself is cancelled.  Capcom’s business model has been to go from money off bad sequels to making no money off sequels it has no control over. Without the strength of its strongest copyrights to rely on, Capcom might as well be dead.

GTA 5: Returning to San Andreas With High Expectations

I’m really impressed by these three mini-trailers that were just released this past week.  No doubt that there is a strong correlation here between the impending release of GTA 5 and Rockstar parent, Take-Two Entertainment’s, stock price in the past nine months.

Majestic beauty featured likely in order to contrast inevitable GTA-style carnage

Majestic beauty featured likely in order to contrast inevitable GTA-style carnage

What’s most impressive about the three character approach is that it’s obviously meant to remedy deficiencies in the story-telling of GTA’s San Andreas.  San Andreas is a great game, but the narrative struggled with developing an identity for the main character, CJ.

This problem is partly due to the RPG and customization elements in the game that give the player the choices to make CJ look like a gang-banger, a CEO, or a construction worker (also there is that weird S&M outfit…).  San Andreas is such a big place, that after the first act, CJ just sort of feels out of place.  The entire San Fierro (San Francisco) and Las Venturas (Las Vegas) portions of GTA: San Andreas feel aimless.  CJ’s story starts and ends in the same place, his hood.  That’s the point.  After a very long detour at the end of the first act, the final mission takes you back there to confront characters you haven’t seen 100 hours of play time.  It’s incoherent.  Fortunately, the meat and potatoes in between are a lot of fun.

If San Andreas is 3 times bigger than it needs to be, why did Rockstar bother making all that extra stuff?  The answer appears to be an obsession with attention to detail.  San Andreas is LA, San Francisco, and Las Vegas because it’s trying as hard as possible to capture and satirize the Southern California 90’s zeitgeist, even if CJ’s world is naturally a little bit smaller.

I remember seeing GTA3 and just being completely amazed by the size of the game.  In the past 10 years there have been a lot of knock-offs of the GTA style of creating huge worlds, but all seem to suffer from the same flaw of confusing physical space with scale.  What you won’t really appreciate until you’ve run down every alley looking for hidden packages is that a gigantic portion of every GTA game is hand-made.  There is not a lot of 3D modeling copying and pasting.  There are no identical city blocks.  GTA4 even features a huge fake-internet.  It’s the attention to detail that separates GTA from every other massive game world.  Other developers just don’t do this, not even Bethesda.

Venice Beach?

Venice Beach?

GTA4 marks a big evolution over San Andreas, even if it isn’t as large and vast as its predecessor.  The major difference in GTA4 is the emphasis on social perspective, and I don’t mean multiplayer or or Twitter.  GTA4 lets Liberty City be defined through the eyes of its characters.  Activities open up depending on who you’re hanging out with and what you’re planning on doing.  And engaging with the people you’re working with is part of the experience as opposed to just getting a cell phone call and showing up.

And GTA5 promises to be somehow significantly larger yet again.  The obvious approach to reconciling South Central gang warfare, with pot growing up in the red woods, and the glitz of Beverly Hills is to tell the stories of those places through the eyes of separate characters.  GTA4 maximizes the story of Liberty City the same way, through different characters, albeit only through downloadable content, but the premise is the same.  The world of Luis Lopez, and the club scene of Liberty City is very different from Niko’s darker struggle to get revenge.  To tell the story of a heavily satirized California it is necessary to have many different perspectives, in the same way the DLC tells a broader story about Liberty City through its three characters.

This obsessive attention to making everything perfect is exactly why concerns about juggling three separate characters are likely to be unfounded.  Three times the characters makes three times the amount of narrative scope, and three times the opportunity to force interaction with a gigantic world.  It’s a very deliberate choice that is clearly a response to maximizing the incredible amount of content GTA5 will offer just because, well, it’s Rockstar.  I can’t think of any other series that is virtually guaranteed to get better with each installment, other than GTA.  Given the additional PS3 and XBox console penetration compared to 2009, GTA is again going to be breaking its own sales record come later this year.

 

NOTE:  I’ve fallen behind on a few posts here.  Sometime in mid-April I anticipate catching up.

Now to content.  I was really surprised to see this earlier in the week.

Considering that Assassin’s Creed 3 was just released approximately four months ago, it seems a little early to be announcing a new installment to a game that is arguably Ubisoft’s crown jewel IP.  A November or late October launch seems a little ambitious.  My initial reactions were the sound of a cash register opening, but not in a good way.

My initial thoughts playing Assassin’s Creed in 2008 was that it was a brilliant endeavor.  A brilliant endeavor that was also clearly unfinished.  The first installment of the game offered a rich, detailed, open world environment with virtually nothing to do in it.  Although the core programming was there to make a great action game, combat was incredibly bland and repetitive.  For a game about assassinations, there was surprisingly little thought put into how the mechanics of the assassination system were implemented.  It’s especially irksome that there was no real penalty for being seen or spotted.  Aside from lush visuals, the real contribution this game made to the artform was demonstrating that a moving and climbing system could be both intuitive and dynamic in a complex 3D environment.

Assassin’s Creed II solved the core problem that resulted from lack of additional interactivity with the environment, but only superficially.  The side-missions and hidden finds in Assassin’s Creed II is unfulfilling and generally pointless.  For such mouth-watering environments and graphics, the story telling, directing, and voice acting appear amateurish.  Assassin’s Creed & Co. thus fell to the bottom of the queue; a “maybe I’d pay $20 for this” game.  Without the benefit of snowdays, summer breaks, or the blessings of the bachelor’s life, this is not a pile of games I’m likely to appreciate anytime soon.

I lost a more interest in this franchise when two additional Assassin’s Creed games based around the second installment were released; Brotherhood and Revelations.  The story seems to center around filling in chronological gaps that exist in the first game.  Developers, I have no problem with downloadable content or expansions.  But don’t sell me a story that skips around incoherently and expect me to pay three times as much for a bunch of lame half-sequels.  Exactly how engaged am I supposed to be in a story that tells itself out of order over a three year period?

So, my thoughts on Assassin’s Creed IV are based on those prior observations.  I applaud aggressive release deadlines a developer can impose on itself.  It’s a mark of discipline, and I guess that’s one of the things Steve Jobs was known for.  But given the incomplete and at times incoherent fit and finish of the Assassin’s Creed franchise, I really wonder if it’s a good idea to skip to the fourth installment in such a short time frame.  The world of Assassins’ Creed offers such amazing potential.  The core movement mechanics are there, and are better than any game I’ve ever seen.  But you can only make so many sequels to a parkour game.  When they are able to make an Assassin’s Creed that can make the actual sneaking and killing aspects have some sort of emotional stakes, instead of a one lame one-button press, I will jump on board.  Granted, I haven’t played Assassin’s Creed III and am more than a bit behind on what Ubisoft has been experimenting with here, but right now I see such an ambitious development schedule as being a serious impediment to the real kind of innovation this franchise needs to grow from good to great.

 

 

Ultima: Synchronicity

Is the future of the Ultima franchise becoming less murky?

I don’t know how I missed this, because I’ve been Googling all sorts of Ultima stuff lately (I have a series of posts planned on Ultima 7 that I should be rolling out pretty soon).  But, wow, a BioWare Ultima game.  This might be what the Ultima series needs to get a reboot.  A good thing considering behind all the dated, clunky games there are really some conceptual gems.

Other research (happily) confirms it’s both free and also not an MMO.

Sign up for the beta.