Monday Musings 5/26/14 - Happy Memorial Day!

Monday Musings 5/26/14 - Happy Memorial Day!

Ben: Happy Memorial Day! After a brief pre-holiday hiatus last week, necessitated by my wife's business trip out of town, the Monday Musings are back with a fresh batch of industry observations. So kick back between rounds of beer and grilled hot dogs, and enjoy this week's slate of thoughts!

Congratulations, Harmonix!

Now go make Amplitude

I kid, I kid!  With roughly 20 hours to go, Harmonix's newly-Kickstarted Amplitude remake crossed the $775,000 threshold and became a future reality for the PS3/PS4.  The original Amplitude saw the light of day on the PlayStation 2, and went on to become a beloved precursor to Guitar Hero and Rock Band.  While I've never had the privilege of playing the original Amplitude, it's always been a critical darling — both commercially and in the media — and I've always wanted to give the game a spin myself.  I wasn't introduced to Harmonix, and their wonderful blend of gaming and music, until the venerable Guitar Hero came on the scene.  It will be awesome to finally have a chance to try out Amplitude — re-made and remastered in HD, no less —  for myself when the game hits Sony consoles next year.  The game is currently slated to release in March 2015.   

Amplitude is a futuristic, rhythm-action game that finds the player shooting down a psychadelic, techno-infused course, switching between music tracks to rack up high scores.  Watch the video below to get an idea of the gameplay:

With confirmed acts that include Anamanaguchi, Freezepop, Jim Guthrie, and Danny Baranowsky among others, the tracklist in Amplitude is shaping up quite nicely early on in the project.  Harmonix has always had a stellar line-up of musical artists lined up for their games, and this one looks to be no different.  As a backer of the project, I'm looking forward to getting my hands on the finished game, and finally experiencing Amplitude for myself after all of these years!

There is a new Batman: Arkham Knight trailer...

Commence hyperventilation. 

The Bizarre Marketing Strategy behind The Order: 1886

I want to make this clear: I'm genuinely excited for this game.  

An alternate history, Victorian-era London filled with anachronistic technology, a storyline wrought with secret sects and ancient monsters, and a stunningly rendered Steampunk aesthetic with a graphical fidelity heretofore unheard of on home consoles?  I couldn't pre-order the game quickly enough.  

Up to this point, however, the obligatory first-party hypetrain for this game has been off-course, punctuated by two puzzling gameplay showings that have left the press and gamers alike scratching that metaphorical spot on the back of their scalp that at once seems to simultaneously alleviate confusion and inspire Eureka!  

Let's go back to February 18th, 2014.  The press finally gets to see The Order: 1886 running in realtime before their very eyes.  Up until this point, we had only seen the gorgeous debut trailer from E3 2013, with the occasional secretive, behind-closed-doors showing sprinkled in for good measure. 

The memorable E3 2013 debut trailer

February 18th should have been the big, extravagant, "World Premiere Exclusive" reveal of the game to not only the journalistic cabal that had gathered to see the game for the first time, but the legions of PlayStation fans eagerly anticipating this third-person action game that looked to define "next-gen" here in the early stages of this new console cycle.  Instead of a finely crafted demo to get people excited about the progress the game was making, we were given "a sliver of the game [that] wasn't QA tested and optimized at all."  Furthermore, "there might be problems" with this demo.  Commence with the aforementioned metaphorical head-scratching.

Here's a game with a lot riding on it.  You have to assume the AAA budget for this title is somewhere north of astronomical.  Sony's Santa Monica Studios, the benevolent studio responsible for assisting a number of second-party developers, is assisting the excellent Ready at Dawn, who themselves are taking their first crack at triple-A console development following a phenomenal showing on handhelds with the PSP God of War titles.  This is a make or break game for Ready at Dawn as well; the ability of this smaller studio to recover from the costs of big-time PlayStation 4 development are sketchy at best, nigh-impossible at worst.  Should The Order: 1886 fail in any way, it could be an extinction level event for the studio.  I would hate to see that, especially as many think that Ready at Dawn could be a future member of the Worldwide Studios first-party family.

The stunning London of The Order: 1886

The stunning London of The Order: 1886

At this time in February, the one thought racing through my head is, "Why?"  Why show a high-profile game to the assembled gaming press and run the risk of harming the image or excitement level for the game because you are showing a demo that wasn't optimized?  Why demo your game to a group of blood-thirsty journalistic sharks who will assuredly crucify your title should it underperform in any way (and rightfully so, as it's their job)?  Perhaps you've heard the expression, "First impressions are everything?"

I get that the Sony of 2014 doesn't have the disposable funds to provide a Hollywood-style marketing blitz behind their gaming products — even the triple-A ones like The Order.  I know that making a finely curated demo that runs like the eventual finished product takes manpower, work hours, and money that maybe Sony and Ready at Dawn just can't afford to spend right now.  I totally understand the need to keep the game in the spotlight and at the forefront of the collective gaming mind as we lead up to the anticipated year-end launch of the game — a launch I could honestly see slipping into Spring of 2015.  But this cannot come at the cost of the game's perception and reputation.  You just can't rush an un-optimized demo out to the gaming media because it's on the schedule of things to do.  Sony, you've just got to find a way — be it time, money, or both — to demo The Order correctly.  The failure to properly represent the title, and/or rush out the final product, would do more pecuniary damage than any properly tuned demo would.

Fast-forwarding to the present, last week saw puzzling gameplay demo number two for The Order: 1886.  Claiming "The Revolution will be televised," Sony hyped up the newest The Order gameplay reveal beforehand as "a sneak peak at new gameplay from an upcoming PS4 title.  Blink and you'll miss it!"  And they weren't kidding; at just over 3 minutes in length, this gameplay reveal embraced its brevity.

This is the best version of the recent gameplay footage I could find

The length of the demo is not something I took issue with, however.  Honestly, a three-minute gameplay reveal on a Friday afternoon a fortnight away from E3 would have been more than enough to get the trade show excitement rushing through my veins as I anticipated a more in-depth reveal at the Sony conference on June 9th.  No, the issue here is that this gameplay demo was let loose upon the gaming world over what could quite possibly be the worst gaming stream I have ever seen.  Unable to see it live, it took me several tries to find any archived video that was at least watchable for more than five seconds at a time.  Overflowing with video hitches and choppy transitions, the quality of this video of course led to more questions.  Was the quality of the gameplay in the demo the result of technical issues with the stream?  Or — on the back of The Order's previous, un-optimized demo reveal back in February — is this the game not being up to snuff?  Is The Order behind schedule?  Are Ready at Dawn and Sony trying to rush this product to market in the hopes of filling the first-party, triple-A void in their line-up sooner rather than later?

Enter Andrea Pessino, Founder/CTO of Ready at Dawn Studios, and soon to be professional fire-putter-outter.  He took to Twitter shortly after Friday's stream to address the masses and combat any perceived issues with The Order: 1886.  Chalking up the technical hiccups to "streaming issues," Pessino went on to confirm that "the frame rate is actually VERY nice," and that a "steady, sturdy 30fps is what we aim for."

I'm inclined to give Ready at Dawn the benefit of the doubt, and Pessino seems confident in how his game is currently shaping up.  They are obviously a supremely talented studio, as their pedigree with the PSP God of War titles speaks for itself.  I find it hard to believe they would ship a game that did not have a rock solid frame rate and conformed to the vision they had for the title.  I just wish they, along with publisher Sony, would think a little more analytically about how they demo this title.  For a game already notorious for amazing, never-before-seen visuals, why is the gameplay being demoed over a sub-par Twitch stream?  Why are we not seeing direct-feed, 1080p gameplay trailers that truly evoke the look and spirit of the title?  Play to the game's current perceived strength — its visual prowess — and build momentum off of that. Personally, I'm floored every time I get a look at The Order, regardless of how poorly executed the demo may be.  I can see the unlimited potential in the title, and the visuals are so stunning I want to see more — but of the aforementioned direct-feed, 1080p, 30fps variety!

I don't remember those guns in the European history books...

I don't remember those guns in the European history books...

There are also murmurings about how the game may not be as inventive as it was first thought to be, looking like something of a Gears of War, cover-based shooter that may not be doing anything new and different with the genre.  To this I say, "RELAX!!  Relax internet townspeople and put away your shovels, pitchforks, and flaming torches for the afternoon."  We've literally seen, at most, ten minutes of this game.  TEN MINUTES!  Somehow, in these ten minutes, you, oh fair townsfolk of the interwebs, have deduced that The Order: 1886 is a run-of-the-mill, Gears of War knockoff with typical gameplay, typical weapons, and typical mechanics.  Can we just calm down for four minutes and try to, I don't know, actually play the game before we hand down the gaming iron fist of judgment on the title?  Whatever is "literally next-to-nothing," that's how much we know about this game at this point.  We know ten minutes of this game.  We know Victorian-era, alternate history, and sci-fi weapons.  Oh, and we saw some kind of monster one time in one of the trailers.  And that's pretty much it.  We don't know what we don't know about this game.  And here's one more newsflash: Just because a game is a third-person, cover-based shooter, doesn't mean it's a Gears of War clone.  It's called modern game design.  Would you prefer a third-person, open-field shooter where you run around a barren tundra and shoot each other in plain sight?  I'm not understanding the grief over the whole "third-person, cover-based shooter" thing.  This is 2014 people; this is how we play games in these times-of-future-now. Mass Effect?  Yeah, you take cover in that one.  Uncharted?  Yep, there's cover.  The Last of Us? You guessed it, there's cover available in that one, too.  

I really can't wait to see this game at E3.  I'm anxious to see a more extended look at the game, and it's no secret that everyone expects The Order: 1886 to have a huge stage presence during Sony's E3 press conference.  Let's start the show off with a bang, and trot out a spectacular, finely tuned stage demo for The Order and really show what this game is all about.  Come on, Sony!  Let's get this hypetrain moving in the right direction.  With further reports of the story being a possible strong point for the game, this may just be my most anticipated title heading into E3 — well, outside of Batman: Arkham Knight, of course (go watch that trailer above again!). We'll continue following The Order: 1886 over the weeks and months leading up to the game's eventual launch, so stay locked to Short Pause for all of our future coverage of Ready at Dawn's blockbuster title!

The Hunger Game

Tarsier Studios, the developer behind the critically lauded PlayStation Vita opus, LittleBigPlanet Vita, has secured funding for their next game project, and it's headed to the PS4.  Courtesy of the Nordic Game Program, 500,000 Danish Kroner will be awarded to CEO Ola Holmdahl and his comrades at Tarsier Studios for development of this really intriguing looking title.  Quick aside: am I the only one that pictures a dump truck full of delectable pastries backing up to the Tarsier offices when I hear 500,000 Danish Kroner?  At any rate, check this description of the game straight from Tarsier's website:

"‘Hunger’ is a third-person 3D action adventure game with stealth and exploration elements. A nine-year old girl named Six is kidnapped from her home and taken to work in The Maw – a surreal underwater resort catering to the whims of the powerful elite. When an unexpected twist of fate offers her a chance at freedom, Six takes a journey through the bizarre and unpredictable world of The Maw, and catches a glimpse at the corrupt heart of modern happiness."

And the concept art looks stunning.  This one is definitely on the permanent radar, and I look forward to hearing more about it in the months to come!

Some totally rad Hunger concept art!

Some totally rad Hunger concept art!

HungerConceptArt2.jpg

Countdown to Destiny...

Destiny - PlayStation 4
$59.96
Activision
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