Ubisoft distilling "Fun"?

I was watching the Quicklook for Assassin's Creed IV and was reminded of the very specific way Ubisoft creates games.

In Assassin's Creed IV you play an incredibly "meta" role as a play tester for Abstergo and you're able to rate every mission in the game with 1 to 5 stars, which obviously is feedback that goes directly to Ubisoft.

I think everyone's noticed by now, the way in which gameplay elements blend over between games like Assassin's Creed, Splinter Cell, Far Cry and Watch_Dogs, which all seems to be features that people generally preferred in those games. One of the most lauded additions to Assassin's Creed 3 was the sailboat missions and that Assassin's Creed IV suddenly is a game about pirates hardly feels coincidental.

I'm not saying that there's no creativity at Ubisoft, but doesn't it feel like they are trying to distill "fun" and create a "product", rather than creating "art"?

The leaked screenshot from a suspected Prince of Persia game, is virtually indistinguishable from Assassin's Creed.

In essence, I'm starting to feel that Ubisoft is the McDonald's of game development. There's not necessarily anything wrong with that, because despite all the hypocrisy, everyone has had McDonald's at one time or another followed with varying degrees of regret, but can their efforts every hope to aspire to something truly unique or will they end up just making the same game over and over again?

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The Wii U and the future

So, the Wii U was just released in America.

It's not out in my end of the world until the 30th, but I am looking forward to it.

It seems that there has been a lot of confusion surrounding the system. Jeff mentioned that he stood in line with people who weren't quite sure why they were getting it and probably just were following the consumer pattern of feeling the need to get the next gadget.

The big question on everyones mind is "Which direction will Nintendo take the Wii U?". I think the knee-jerk reaction for most people might be "Well, it's the next Wii so it's obviously the family console for casual gamers", but if you really think about it, the casual gamers have moved on to Facebook and Smartphone games. Also, I still think that the name "Wii U" doesn't have quite the same consumer-penetration as something like "Super Wii" which totally is the name they should have used.

The way for Nintendo to really get success with the Wii U is, in my opinion, to bank on niche games and "gamers games". Forget about broadening the appeal, it's all about standing out. I think Nintendo is aware of this as well. Just take a look at the most prolific, exclusive, 3rd party launch game ZombiU (which incidentally could have had the excellent name "Super Zombie" if Nintendo had gone for the Super Wii name). Looking past the fact that Zombies and difficult games are super popular right now, it really is a title that tries to do something new, rather than being a shooter where you aim with the tablet, like the early stage demos would lead you to believe. This is also game which have sparked polarizing reviews and really have made it apparent who wants diverse gameplay experiences and who is satisfied with bombastic roller coaster rides. Forbes have written an excellent article that explains this at length and you really should give that a read.

Upcoming games like Pikmin 3, The Wonderful 101 and Bayonetta 2 also looks to be promising games that might not have the mass appeal of Call of Duty, but this is good, because who really needs a 3rd console to play the same multi-plat game on?

Of course, people buy Nintendo consoles to play Nintendo games like the Marios and the Zeldas, but in my opinion the Wii U really needs more than that to be relevant. I don't think people buy a platform because of the way you control it. After the Wii, Playstation Move and Kinect, it's become apparent that it's actually about the games. I hope Nintendo realizes this as well and I hope the Wii U will be home for some of the most interesting 3rd party titles yet and revive the middle tier of niche games that aren't quite AAA titles and aren't quite Indie.

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Is F2P the death of gaming?

So, Free 2 Play, right?

It's kinda been this thing that for years have been synonymous with weird Korean MMORPGs and Facebook games meant to spam your wall with ads.

I've been giving some of them a go over the years, most notably was the game Granado Espada, which is a pretty standard Korean MMO that sets itself apart from having the player create a party of three characters to control at once, effectively creating your own party. The great thing about it is that the A.I. who controlled your party members and your chosen character if you were idle, did a pretty good job of attacking the closest target with your ranged character, tank it with your tank when it got in close and heal everyone up with the healer... oh, and did I mention that it was set in a sort of renaissance fantasy universe and had a Euro Trance soundtrack? It was quite possibly the best screensaver I ever had, while still being Korean, grindy and broken.

Now is the dawn of the pretty decent ones. I was just playing Iron Grip: Marauders today, which is an excellent turn based strategy/management type deal, yesterday I played Rusty Hearts, which is a loot driven brawler sorta game and I've also gotten started on D&D: Heroes of Neverwinter, which is a turn based social dungeon crawler where you don't really have to bother your friends for resources every two seconds.

These games are all well and fine, but I still feel a bit dirty paying for progression in these. I realize that it's a very feasible business model for these kinds of games, but it kinda feels like paying for cheat codes and morality tells me that you feel better about accomplishing something that you've put hard work into.

Quality is certainly going up though and the games I've mentioned earlier certainly points the way of what F2P should be. Question is if it's something that will hurt the industry in the long run? As it is right now, you never seem to hear about any professionals who really reviews these games and a lot of the reason for this is that these games are free... You can just pop it on and have a go for yourself if you think it looks interesting.

Problem with this is that if sites like Giant Bomb will start to fade away because no one is reviewing free games, the consumers wont know what to play and the market will be drown in titles and eat itself up, kinda like the video game crash of the 80's or the current iPhone market place.

Maybe then games will evolve into this thing where they are integrated into everything and you'll end up having XP bars on your TV and get bonuses for watching the same channel daily and sharing clips with your friends. It sorta already is like this. I got a message in my Twitter feed from Gabe over at Penny Arcade that told me the percentage of a book he had read on his Kindle and I started wondering if he got achievements on that thing as well.

No one can really presume to know the future of gaming, but it is interesting to see the Free 2 Play model evolving and I believe that as long as imagination is alive we will continue to get great stories told through that medium.

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