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I finished Horizon Forbidden West and it's just like [redacted] Spoilers inside.

Mass Effect 2. Holy shit was this game basically Mass Effect 2. From its focus on recruiting and preparing a team for a final rush against a big bad enemy, to the aesthetics of the Zeniths to its final reveal of an enemy that is more or less just the Reapers.

Now don't get me wrong, I like Mass Effect 2, so this is not entirely a criticism. I would also say that one major aspect of Mass Effect that is missing is its focus on dialog choice and morality, though Forbidden West does give you a couple important binary choices that influence the story. I don't really know why they do the "brain/heart/fist" dialog choice thing, which crops up like three times in the game, has zero impact outside those specific choices, and just makes me wish I had more control over Aloy's choices and personality, but to be fair Aloy is a better formed and more relatable character than Shepard so there are some advantages.

And of course Horizon's combat is way better than Mass Effect's and its crafting system is more refined etc... It's not a clone but it does seem heavily inspired.

But at its core this is basically the Mass Effect 2 story crossed with a little bit of Mass Effect 1. There are even more parallels in the cycles of the reapers and the fact that Gaia rebooted multiple times. The way that the different tribes line up with the Mass Effect species, The constant scanning of planets. Okay we've learned at least a few things in game design since the early 2010s.

I know I'm not the first person to draw this comparison but it seems pretty conscious to me. From the fact that spectres look like reapers in some ways to the fact that they're called spectres, which seems like a pretty obvious homage. It really came through strongly to me as the game came together. Modern Humanity is like the Protheans, having left ruins and facilities that future humanity relies on. The base is a lot like the Normandy except it doesn't move. Sylens compares to the illusive man, including both being played by famous actors, though obviously Sylens is a more active character with more give and take.

I don't know. This blog is a little all over the place but it really stood out strongly to me by the end of the game and none of my friends have played it yet (and the one friend I know who is planning on playing it never played Mass Effect.)

I guess what I'm saying is that just like Aloy I am lonely and misunderstood. Unlike Aloy AND Shepard I am not trying to recruit anyone for a suicide mission, I just want you to read my terrible blog.


I'm so very tired of games still limiting saves the way they do.

When it comes to video games I'm a frequent saver. I grew up in a time where autosaving was far from the norm, and playing my share of dastardly early PC games that were more than happy to kill you out of nowhere or drop you into an unwinnable situation meant that I got into the habit of saving frequently and keeping at least a few backups around in case surrendering an hour of progress was a more appealing prospect than bashing my head against a problem I didn't have the resources to solve.

Of course after the 7th generation, when hard drives became standard and games didn't have to take half a minute to save to a memory card on console, I got used to autosaves like everyone else, but I didn't stop manually saving in any game that would let me, nor leaving a trail of prior states I would likely never return to just in case. Get to an important inflection point in the story? Drop a save and check out one option, then switch to the other if you don't like the result. I remain a committed save scummer to this day, and I make no apologies for it. I played Bioshock 1 in 2021 without Vita Chambers but with plenty of save scumming and I cannot imagine a better way for me to enjoy that game.

The thing is that over time it seems more and more that developers want to control how players save their game along with everything else these days. Back in the console days when battery backups or passwords required saves to consist of tiny bits of data there were a lot of restrictions on saving made in order to accommodate that. If you restricted saves to in between levels or specific points you could very efficiently store a player's location in the game, allowing you to cram in additional info like inventory or EXP within the few bytes of data you had available. PC games generally didn't have such restrictions, at least not after the widespread adoption of hard drives (yes I am old enough to remember when not every PC had a hard drive.)

Of course the console restrictions did come with benefits, chief among them the risk/reward of spacing out save points, giving real tension to gamers as they fought to get to the next place to record their progress before running out of health or lives. Video games often struggle to create true stakes, and one of the ways they do this is by forcing the player to bet their time against the game, taking away chunks of progress if you aren't good enough and forcing you to replay segments multiple times to get them right. I'm not a fan of this mechanic and in some ways it has disappeared (think how few games actually have limited lives at this point) but there is value to it.

Over time as hard drives became standard in consoles saving became more liberal again, with many games allowing you to save whenever you wanted (at least out of combat) and others at least allowing frequent and unlimited saves. But it seems like in some ways this is being rolled back now.

The worst is when games offer absolutely no control over saves at all, not even multiple save slots. Not having multiple save slots is, frankly, inexcusable in 2023. Beyond the obvious fact that a parent might buy a game for their children to share (especially in the days of digital distribution when there might be no physical cartridge at all) or two spouses or roommates might share a game, even solo players might at least want a late game save and an early game save. Games without save slots are made by thoughtless or predatory developers (thinking this might somehow sell more copies.) To some degree they are offset because usually saves will be tied to one account, so you can have effective slots with multiple console accounts, but this practice sucks.

Then there are games that may or may not have multiple save slots but give the player no control over the saving, just autosaving whenever they feel like it. Sometimes this is acceptable, such as in a game that's intended to be hardcore and wants to discourage save scumming, though I actually think it's generally bad and anti-consumer. If a player wants to save scum...why not let them? They're having more fun that way and who, exactly, is getting hurt? Some developers love to micromanage how their players engage with their games, like whiny little authors standing over your shoulder telling you how to read. I really don't like this and I generally do not like punishing game design. But there is at least some thought put into it.

There are also games that limit your saves for what are likely reasons of developer resources. Garden Story only allows you to save between days despite being a light, simple, affair. I think this is probably because it's easier to limit the amount of data you have to track that way. I don't like it but I do understand it and I get that when you're a tiny indie you need to make careful resource allocation decisions and spending one or two weeks of developer time to implement a better save system might not be possible.

However games like Horizon: Forbidden West should let you save at virtually any point. This is a huge, sprawling, affair with a budget in the 9 figures. It is almost incomprehensively massive. Now this game makes the decision to autosave frequently and also let you manually save at specific points, of which there are many. This was probably done for technical reasons (again it's easier to save progress if you can just spawn a player at one of 100 fast travel points than save them literally anywhere on the map, especially in an open world game where they might save in the middle of an area full of enemies so you'd have to track what was dead when they saved) and also to create a bit of tension. Horizon isn't a hard game but it wants a tense atmosphere and limited saves do help with that.

What doesn't help with that is limiting me to five manual save slots. Why? This is a very long game. I think any limits are kind of shitty but a limit that low is just irritating. There are some minor choice points in the plot and missions someone might want to replay and I just don't see the reason for it. Even worse is AI: The Somnium Files, which limits you to 3. This game has a lot of very touchy trophies/achievements that require doing silly things, so save scumming them makes sense. Now you can chapter hop, so that ameliorates things somewhat, but why limit to 3?

I think 99% of the time where technically feasible games should let you save whenever you want, at least when you're not in danger. I think they should let you save whenever and wherever you want unless you are in mortal danger at the time (and sometimes even then, especially with an autosave backup at a safe location.) I think that not having manual saves is shitty for the most part, not having mid-game saves on lengthy Roguelites is very shitty, and having only one or a few slots is shitty. There's no reason for it 99% of the time.

Of course the shittiest of all are live services games. When it launched Marvel's Avengers not only didn't have any save slots but it didn't let you replay the single player game unless you deleted all your progress (including multiplayer) They did fix that, but it really shows how little developers cared about their players on that game. Save options are often a sign of how much developers considered their players' needs and wants when making a game. A game with crappy save options is often a game made by people who didn't care if you had a good time.

Now don't even get me started on pausing, which is even worse in some ways. There's NO excuse for not letting me pause when I'm playing single player. NONE!


I started 2023 with grand intentions of finishing up long backlog games. Instead I spent January playing smaller stuff.

At the end of 2022 I had a bunch of games that I wanted to either finish or play, from that year and before. I never got to Horizon Forbidden West or God of War Ragnarok (despite the 2019 GoW game being my second favorite game of all time) because I still had unfinished business in the first games of those series but couldn't find time to complete it. I had a bunch of big games from 2022 that I still needed to check off the endings to, including Signalis and A Plague Tale: Requiem (both of which I liked quite a bit.) And of course I have a long list of games that are either "important" or hugely appealing to me or just games I want to complete to "get ready" for the next game in their respective franchises. I had a list of "important" PSVR games I want to complete before PSVR2 (my birthday present to myself for 2022 was a pre-order) comes out.

Instead I've mostly played some smaller stuff that has been hanging around on my backlog for awhile.

It's not that I haven't tried. I started out pretty strong with PSVR and even platinumed a game (1976 - Back to Midway). I can honestly say that I have enjoyed a lot of those experiences but days where I had headaches or just felt tired did not lend themselves to that and I've fallen off, even though every time I've put the headset on to play another of GNOG's puzzle boxes I've come away having liked the experience. I dipped back into Horizon: Zero Dawn to start the DLC I never got to and that game looks great. I even got to grips with the controls again (mostly) after all this time, and I remember the world well enough that the DLC story makes sense. I can't say I didn't like it, but I didn't feel compelled to go back. I even tried to pick back up Tales of Graces F to get through the epilogue. That game is incomprehensible to me 2+ years after I put it down, and even though I remember the Vita-to-PS3 graphics being acceptable back in 2020 for some reason right now I find them eye bleeding. Other games have just sat on my hard drives, taunting me, while instead I've picked up and played through a bunch of small stuff.

I love these two miscreants.
I love these two miscreants.

River City Girls was one of the first games I decided to play on a whim this year. I zipped through it in a few days and... I loved it. The music was incredible, the graphics were pleasant, I loved the two high school delinquents you play as and chuckled at the surprise ending even though I kind of saw it coming. What a fun time. Then I played inFamous First Light because my friend was raving about it. That's one I'd meant to get to for a long time and when I finally was great! A bite sized inFamous experience where the collection tasks weren't overwhelming and with by far my favorite protagonist from that series. Fantastic stuff. 9/10 please make another. Then for some reason I decided to dip into Far Cry with Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, and, well, I think it's one of the best written games I've ever played and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, even if mechanically and level design wise it is pretty mediocre.

Right now I'm getting into The Pathless, which I bought just before it went on PS+ of course, and so far I'm enjoying that quite a bit. It's not a revelation or anything but it seems fun and I'll probably finish it in a couple days, which seems to be where my head is at right now.

Sometimes you just want to wipe grime off an eagle. It's not a sex thing! It's mostly not a sex thing!
Sometimes you just want to wipe grime off an eagle. It's not a sex thing! It's mostly not a sex thing!

So do I feel bad about not accomplishing my ambitions? Not really. I still have time to get to those games, and I've been enjoying what I've been playing. Gaming is a hobby and sometimes you just find yourself headed in some direction for reasons you can't articulate. At times that can feel like a rut and be kind of oppressive in its own way, or stick you playing something you're not really enjoying much, but I've played through 3 games I've really enjoyed already this year, and spent time with others that were either pretty good or I've only played a little of yet. I'm not in a "gaming isn't fun right now" phase I'm in a "gaming is fun as long as I keep to light, short, experiences" phase and that seems...fine. I played a lot of long, heavy, games towards the end of the year and maybe my mind just needs a break and to spend some time blasting soldiers with neon or buying all the food at the mall in River City. That seems okay for now.

When it comes to a hobby having a list of "shoulds" or "want to accomplish" can help when you're directionless but can also make what should be fun and relaxing feel like an obligation. That's especially true when it comes to games, and I think getting through a month where I can say that I mostly enjoyed what I played is better than saying I forced myself to check a few boxes off a list and didn't really like doing it.


Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is like an NES game crossed with Time Cop in an FPS form. Glorious.

Far Cry 3 Blood Dragon was a game I always knew I would love but never got around to. I don’t know if other people have games like this, that they are confident they will enjoy but never find the time to play, but it’s pretty common for me. For Blood Dragon the reason was that both it and the base Far Cry 3 had a reputation of being awful on console. They launched during that awkward period right before the PS4/Xbox One when the aging 360 and PS3 just weren’t able to keep up with the games being shoved on to them (with the exception of GTA V, which must have created through some bizarre voodoo.) I figured they’d get a port to 8th gen machines eventually or I’d end up with a PC that could run them well and I had enough to play at the time so I waited. And waited. A decade passed. Time did prove me right and both Far Cry 3 and Blood Dragon made their way to 8th gen…but by the time I played them they were on 9th gen machines. Far Cry 3 didn’t do much for me, with its cliché setting and often replicated gameplay, but Blood Dragon is an entirely different story.

Gonna add this to all my blogs to keep the spam bots from commenting
Gonna add this to all my blogs to keep the spam bots from commenting

The thing about Blood Dragon is that as a game it’s pretty mediocre. It’s a competent shooter because it’s more or less Far Cry 3 but the level design and enemy units are very underwhelming. Enemy behavior is rudimentary, especially for the Blood Dragons themselves. While the neon art style holds up well, the rudimentary nature of the encounters is where this game shows its age. The thing is, Blood Dragon was never about the gameplay. Its about the experience. Blood Dragon is what you’d get if you took the sensibilities of a 1986 10-year-old’s sleepover birthday party with NES and action movies and made a “modern” (for 2013) game with them. It feels like someone fell asleep after watching Time Cop and playing Shatterhand and this was their dream.

Blood Dragon is intentionally dumb in all the best ways. You play Rex Power Colt, a Mark IV cybersoldier working as a commando for a postapocalyptic United States. The game introduces itself with cut scenes that intentionally copy the style of games like Ninja Gaiden except that they’re voiced and full of all the cursing, sex, and violence that Nintendo would never allow. The plot is not important except that in the very first mission you end up stopping the launch of a deadly missile by punching it. It’s that type of game. It won’t be the last time you save the world by punching a machine either.

Rex is the sensitive type, with a glowing bow and arrow.
Rex is the sensitive type, with a glowing bow and arrow.

From there the game drops you into its neon covered island where the bad guys live in bases hiding from the giant blood dragons who roam the land as the apex predator. Your mentor Sloan has gone rogue and you are the only man left who can stop him. You free a beautiful woman scientist who doesn’t want to participate in Sloan’s evil scheme and together you set out to take back the island and stop the madman and his henchmen. Along the way you will do Far Cry things like take over bases (called garrisons) and free hostages, all nerdy scientists who talk down to you when you rescue them. If you try to melee a corpse you’ll flip it off. You tear the hearts out of your enemies and use them to lure the Blood Dragons into their bases to destroy them. You blow off heads and spout one liners. It’s that kind of game.

This is exactly what the 1980s were like.
This is exactly what the 1980s were like.

The thing is that it all works. Magnificently. Michael Biehn does an incredible job as Rex “Power” Colt, managing to sound sincere, ironic, and kind of bored in a perfect homage to the 80s B-movies he once made (though of course he is most famous for playing Kyle Reese and Corporal Hicks in two decidedly A movies.) The other actors, mostly unknown, match him perfectly. The script is legitimately one of the funniest I have ever seen in a video game. It is supremely stupid in all the right ways. My favorite line is when Colt is impressed by an automatic door and remarks that he loves 2007 (the far flung future that this 2013 game took place in.) This is hilarious not just because the game’s 2007 is a hellscape that nobody could love, but because automatic doors have been popular since the 1970s and were in no way impressive even in the actual 1980s. The straight-faced commitment to moronic retro futurism is layered absurdity and I loved it. The game is packed with this kind of stuff from its tool tips to the dumb one liners that Colt spews as you mow down enemies to the fact that you can upgrade your sniper rifle to be silent AND have exploding rounds. This is a game that lets you carry 9 grenades because it knows what you’re there to do.

What, you thought there woudn't be cyber sharks?
What, you thought there woudn't be cyber sharks?

It's a short game and eventually I got tired of exploring the slapped together island picking up VHS tapes and rescuing “nerds” as the game put it, but the last couple missions have some nice set pieces and enough story that it’s an easy run to the end and I left satisfied.

Does the game get a bit boring after you’ve gotten enough upgrades that all the challenge is gone? Yes. Would it have been cool to get a bit more variety and even more outrageousness in the weapons? Yes. Is there a long homage to Mortal Kombat/Quake III: Arena towards the end for no reason? Hell yes!

Surprisingly this conflict gets solved through Open Dialog and Mutual Understanding. Those are what I nicknamed my Robocop gun and glowing sword.
Surprisingly this conflict gets solved through Open Dialog and Mutual Understanding. Those are what I nicknamed my Robocop gun and glowing sword.

Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon is a game that knows what it’s there to do and focuses on executing that. There’s some open world Ubibloat because it’s built on Far Cry 3, but for the most part it’s all about injecting a loving satire of 80s action right into your veins. It takes the base of a game I found kind of boring and gives it enough flash and pizzaz that it’s one of the best games I’ve played this year (after InFamous: First Light, another short game based on a longer one, and maybe River City Girls (the first one) which is just a delight.) It accomplishes what High on Life only sort of managed; turning a mediocre shooter into a great experience just through humor and personality. If you, like me, always wanted to play this one but wasn’t sure if it stands up, it’s still worth the brief playthrough, especially cheap or free (I got it through one of the PS+ tiers.). It helps if you remember the 80s but the only thing you really need is an appreciation for some inappropriate humor (it probably couldn’t get made today) and a love of the red white and blue (Sorry, Canada. We had to do it.)

Legitimately in my top 10 video game lines ever.
Legitimately in my top 10 video game lines ever.
And that something is a satchel with 99 cyborg ninja hearts.
And that something is a satchel with 99 cyborg ninja hearts.
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Farcry Primal was such a missed opportunity

I just finished Farcry Primal. That's notable because I actually started the game in February 2016, when it launched. Based on my achievements I seem to have dipped back in during 2017 and 2018 before putting it down for about 5 years (I may have picked it up very briefly in the intervening years but not played enough to get an achievement) and then finishing it in 2023. Why did I bother? Well I was on the last mission (putting games down during the last mission is pretty common for me because I hate final boss fights) and I saw it in my library and just thought "why not just complete it?" I loaded it up, looked up a guide to find out why the last mission had frustrated me (you're supposed to destroy the big bad's cover but the game doesn't make it clear you can actually damage that cover so I was trying to pot shot her when she came out to shoot instead, which doesn't really work) and knocked it out quickly. Then I finally saw the final cut scene was extremely underwhelming.

Like every single cut scene in the game.

Farcry Primal is a great idea executed about 80% well, but that last, missing, 20% is a real doozy. Even 7 years after release there's no other game that looks or feels like it. To some degree it's just a reskin of the Farcry formula, but that skin still feels fresh. There are so few games set in prehistory that Primal's setting really does feel like stepping into another world. Ubisoft's artists did an incredible job, even if they reused a bunch of Farcry 4's map. The land feels raw and untouched, teeming with wildlife and resources. I did an early game escort side mission marked as an easy escort and while I was off making quick work of the enemy tribe with my saber tooth sidekick a bear just ran up and mauled the villagers I was protecting, and I cursed and chuckled at the randomness of it. Primal feels like this much of the time. The settlements are primitive, the world itself hostile, and the combat looks brutal and ugly. Your animal companion will sometimes just pick up enemy bodies, arrows still sticking out of their flesh, and ragdoll them around for the fun of it. Life feels unbelievably cheap and the game reveals humans as the savage animals we really are beneath our trappings of civilization and culture.

I even give some credit to Primal's combat. Yes the primative weapons like bows and spears feel a little bit too much like Farcry's modern guns in their range and reliability. Yes the melee combat kind of sucks and there just isn't a lot of weapon variety. Yes once you get a strong animal companion the fighting can feel like it's on autopilot. It's not objectively great and it's not different enough to really stand out, but at times it really does feel like a brutal, primal struggle, and the sight of angry cave men rushing at you with clubs can be jarring. You can also forgive the lack of enemy AI and tactics when you're dealing with literal neanderthals. Farcry's patented fire works well here, it's always fun to drop a bee or berserk bomb on enemies and watch them react, and even though there's not much gameplay to it I will never tire of seeing a giant cat take a hapless enemy down. It's not great stuff but it's good enough.

So with a great world to explore and basic gameplay that is at least functional, all Farcry Primal needed was one more hook to make it a really good, if not necessarily classic, game. doesn't have one. Primal puts you in an awesome savage world, gives you that Farcry formula of bases to unlock and tons of Ubisoft side content, and...that's basically it. The main storyline sucks. It starts out very well with a mission that introduces you to the game's bloody, brutal, world and then it peters out to a series of boring missions with characters who it's impossible to care about, Everyone speaks in subtitled primitive grunts and basically has nothing to say. There's some great animation on the insane shaman character but he lacks personality. The pair of big bad bosses are cartoonish caricatures of evil, motivated only by cruelty and fanatic devotion to their tribes and primitive fates. Your tribe, the Wenja, are called softbloods (a term that doesn't make any sense) and comes off as a group of bland, hapless, losers elevated only by your character's strength. It all falls flat because the writers seem to believe that cavemen didn't have personalities or relationships or culture. They just hunted and gathered.

But a game doesn't need to have a great story. Primal could have focused on survival elements or base building and character progression. These elements also feel flat. There's some basic resource gathering for upgrades and to craft your ammo but it all feels perfunctory. The base building and upgrades feel shallow enough that they might exist solely to be listed on the back of the case. The skill tree seems robust but a lot of it is just very basic upgrades that don't really make the game play differently. Now I can craft more arrows at once, further downplaying the resource gathering stuff? Thanks...I guess.

That missing 20% is some kind of structure to drive the game. Without it the whole thing feels kind of formless. It's an easy game to dip into and out of because there's nothing compelling beyond the basic gameplay. It's kind of built like a sandbox game but the sandbox is ludicrously shallow. Ubisoft generally structure its games around some central storyline or villain. Heck the last 3 Farcry games have all had the villain on the cover, demonstrating how central they are to those games' appeal. Farcry Primal has flat villains, a seemingly intentionally simplified story and as a replacement offers...basically nothing. It's just an open Farcry world with not much to do. You can argue that this is a spinoff game, but unlike something like Blood Dragon or New Dawn it was not a budget release. And those games each had their own hooks, whether it was Blood Dragon's Michael Biehn performance or New Dawn's RPG elements. Far Cry Primal needed something on that level and it just doesn't have it.

So what you end up with is an incredible setting, a functional if unspectacular gameplay system, some really cool window dressing like the beast taming stuff, and no hook to keep you playing. It's a recipe for a game that took me 7 years to finish even though there are aspects of it that I love. And when I think about this game that I apparently put 20 hours into it's all the in between moments that come to mind. Sun breaking over an untouched landscape as I head towards a bonfire. The first time I went swimming and picked up blue flowers. Riding my animal companion across a field. Being ambushed by a bear while trying to take an outpost. All cool moments that would have added up to something special if the game had a reason to keep playing other than just to be a virtual tourist in a primitive world.

As I said at the outset Farcry Primal was a great idea. Almost every setting in video games has been done to death and this is a realistic one not based in science fiction or fantasy that hasn't. They came very close to getting it right, but in the end the game's weak structure lets it down. I'd love it if Ubisoft took another crack at it again, this time maybe deepening the survival and crafting elements while also putting in a story strong enough to make you care about what's happening. It doesn't seem likely. Oh well. I guess we're getting like a dozen battle royale games I'll never play instead, so we have that to look forward to.


Google Stadia is dead because it was too ambitious and also not ambitious enough.

Well it has happened. Google Stadia is officially a dead platform. For the vast majority of gamers this is pretty meaningless because most of us never even tried Stadia, or quickly abandoned it if we did. For a few people it means they have lost their main way of interacting with games, and I feel bad for them though at least they got their money back and in some cases were able to export their saves.

The fascinating thing about Google Stadia is that by all rights it should have been at least a modest success. It had everything you need to do well in the gaming space. Tech that most people agree was impressive and worked well. Brand awareness. A massive corporation with the deepest imaginable pockets backing it. It even had a pitch; play anywhere any time with no installations or patches. A perfect way to fit gaming into your life the same way that video now fits into our lives, where you have services you use across multiple devices on demand and it all just works.

There were a few obvious issues with Stadia from the outset. The first was the lack of a killer app. There have been a few Stadia exclusive games but nothing that people were like "you need to find a way to play this." The conventional wisdom is that you need some special game to get people to invest in a platform. However Stadia didn't really require an investment at all, so this doesn't seem like a deal breaker for me. The Epic Store and Good Old Games don't have killer apps, and while Steam launched with Half Life 2 it was never really driven by exclusives after that. You may need a killer app to get someone to buy a $500 console to put under their TV but not to play games on devices they already own. Stadia did have a controller you were supposed to use with the service but it offered those for free to many people at various times.

The second issue with Stadia was the lack of universal compatibility. This is a bigger issue because it undercut Stadia's whole appeal. If Netflix only worked on IOS and Linux it would not be Netflix today. Of course Stadia's compatibility issues weren't nearly that bad, but the fact that Google had trouble making Stadia work with its own Chromecast devices was a serious issue. I don't think that this was a total platform killer but I do think it was a major dent in Stadia's armor.

But the real thing that sank Stadia was not the lack of games (there were a LOT of games on the service) or the lack of compatibility. It was the business model. Asking people to buy games that they couldn't download and use locally but could only use with a service that 'lived in the cloud' and could only play at high quality with a monthly subscription doomed the thing before it launched. All the other major problems stemmed from that.

For example one issue a lot of people bring up regarding Stadia is that a lot of people have bad Internet connections. Stadia was developed by a team of Google employees often living in major cities and having expensive connections they needed for work and that the company might even be subsidizing. By all accounts it did a decent job of streaming games even with more representative connections but people were understandably worried about this, and while you definitely could test your connection for free with various FTP games and trials the fact is that you wouldn’t really know how input delay will impact a given game until you try it, and asking people to plunk down $60 for a game that might not work well was never going to work well. Especially given that Google has a reputation for pulling the plugs on even big well-funded projects pretty regularly. People didn’t want to spend a bunch of money for games they might not be able to play and wouldn’t own in any meaningful way even if they did. Of course Google DID pull the plug on Stadia early, though it refunded all purchases, which meant concerns about losing your ‘investment’ were actually overblown (though the fact that Google could happily hand back all the money Stadia pulled in probably shows just how poorly it performed, especially because they weren’t able to recoup the portion they paid out to developers.)

Stadia was overly ambitious in that it tried to get people to embrace an all streaming model instead of going with some kind of hybrid model like Xbox has, where you can download games or stream them. Just allowing downloads would have done a lot to make Stadia more appealing, but it wanted to jump headlong into the all streaming future even I customers were not ready. But it was not ambitious enough in that it didn’t try to disrupt the basic retail model of video games. If Stadia had been a subscription service people would have been more willing to try it and it could have offered something that people might check out multiple times as their internet connection improved and streaming games became more generally popular. Or if Stadia had offered downloads along with streaming it would have been just another PC game store but with a unique additional feature that could have made it appealing. There is an argument that either method would have been more expensive for Google, but I’m not sure that’s true given that they were already spending tens of millions to get ports of pre-existing games. I can’t imagine they couldn’t have worked out a deal for games to be added to a subscription or to permit the download of pre-existing PC versions.

Of course there were lots of other problems in Stadia’s execution too. Google’s game development program never really got off the ground and while some additional services and options were added after the initial launch the messaging remained murky and confusing. Stadia’s compatibility issues with Google’s own hardware made it look half-assed and like the company wasn’t fully behind it. These things acted like ballast on what was already an uphill battle.

Still I can’t help but see Stadia as a missed opportunity. Game streaming will be mainstream one day soon. It’s basically inevitable. More and more games essentially live in the cloud anyway, with local versions being paperweights once the servers come down. Gamers have mostly moved from physical media to downloads and gaming will follow the same route that film and music have. Physical to downloads to streaming. It’s just a matter of the tech being there and customers getting used to it but it will happen. Stadia could have been a leader in this. Instead it’s like any number of start ups that tried to get into an industry before that industry was ready for its ideas. Except this startup was backed by Google so it didn’t have to die. At least if it had been more ambitious from the outset (Music and movies are consumed by streaming but people aren’t buying streaming rights, they’re renting them.) Or maybe a little less in its desire to force an immature technology on an unwilling market.

Oh well. It’s gone now. At least they unlocked the controllers for use with other games.


Memory lane: The ONE area where the PS5's physical design is better than the PS4's

Under my TV right now I have a PS5 and a PS4 Pro, which I keep hooked up mostly for PSVR purposes and because the PS5's hard drive is so small I've been playing indie games and other less taxing titles on PS4 just to keep from having to constantly swap. I also have a launch PS4, which has been sitting in a closet for the last 6 years since I got the pro, but that I want to pull out of retirement so that I can play PS4 RPGs on the small TV hooked up to my treadmill.

The problem is that when I pulled the old PS4 out and hooked up it wouldn't turn on. Or rather, to be more precise, I couldn't figure out how to turn it on. I needed to look it up on the Internet.

This PS4 was one of my primary gaming devices for three years and I've been using the Pro for six years beyond that, so I had a vague idea of where the power button was, but to my aging eyes it was completely invisible. I'd forgotten that the power button was vertically oriented on the base model and then moved to horizontal on the Pro and even though I knew the vague area to look in it was totally invisible to me. I can blame this on being an old man who hasn't used the system in a while, and that's definitely accurate, but this is not the first time I have had to look up how to turn on the PS4, and I was a much younger man when I was using this unit. Those tiny invisible power buttons have always been awful. I do understand why Sony used them, because they make the unit look sleek and sexy like this weird black monolith, but I wish Sony had just put them on the side or made them bigger or something. I cannot recall any other console where the buttons were so hidden.

I think the PS4 is a decent looking system and I think the PS5's visual design was a massive blunder, creating a massive and ugly device that only fits in to a very specific modernist aesthetic, but at least the PS5's power and eject buttons are prominent and easy to see if you need them, while still blending into the console from a distance. They got that right.

Here's hoping the eventual PS5 pro manages to have a design that's not ugly but that doesn't sacrifice functionality for appearance.

You can do it, Sony. I believe in you!


Gaming New Years Resolutions 2023

I like to make gaming resolutions every year. I don't have a great history of actually keeping them but they at least give me something to aspire to regarding gaming for the following year so I don't just aimlessly wander between games I don't really like. It's also fun to look back and see how I did and how my priorities held up.

This year I want to keep things pretty simple. Here are my goals.

1) Maintain the Unsanctioned Unofficial Game Pass Game Club as long as there remains interest.

This one is simple. I am enjoying doing the game club so I want to keep it going if I can. It's been a great way for me to get use out of Game Pass and to play games I might not otherwise play.

2) Keep playing co-op with real life friends.

Playing co-op has been great this last year. I have a friend who has gotten more into gaming and we've had a lot of fun. We finished It Takes Two and just finished the base game of Human Fall Flat tonight. I want to keep this up. I often bemoaned the fact that I never played multi-player in the past because I was missing a lot of cool experiences. Now that I'm pretty regularly playing some I want to keep it going.

3) Don't spend so much.

I make this every year and never keep it but this year I'm going to try harder. It's important. No full price games unless I plan to play them IMMEDIATELY and try to avoid buying anything unless it's actually something I want to play, preferably soon. As few games as possible without at least a 50% discount.

4) This will be the year I get into VR

I have had a PSVR since launch. I have barely used it. I haven't not used it at all; I liked Moss Book 1 quite a bit and I played some other games like Hotel R'N'R and Psychonauts Rhombus of Ruin that I enjoyed but it has mostly been a dust collector since my initial purchase and all the fun I had with Eagle's Flight. Well now I've ordered a PSVR2 and this time I want to take it more seriously since it will be less of a proof of concept. I am also going to try to get through some of my PSVR1 backlog. I hope to blog about this.

5) Finish the half finished games in my library (at least the ones I actually want to play.)

Another one I make every year and break but I really wnat to finish some of these games.

6) Keep playing RPGs on the treadmill.

This has been one of my "white whales" of gaming for a while because it both opens up a lot more gaming time in the week and it makes the exercise go quicker. This year I got into a really good rhythm and I want to keep that up!

7) Play more new games and more AAA games.

2022 is a year marked in part by the games I really wanted to play but never got to. I like playing new games and I like playing big high production games. I just need to make it a priority and spend less time playing smaller games that I may like some but don't love nearly as much. Fewer random indies (though I definitely want to keep playing the best of those too because they are just as good as even good AAA stuff.)

Those are my resolutions for the year in gaming in 2023. Mock me if you want to or make your own. Here's to a great year of gaming!


For the first time I'm starting to worry that the Intellivision Amico won't dominate 2022

Towards the beginning of this year I made the bold prediction that 2022 would be the year of the Intellivision Amico. And I have held to that belief through the various ups and downs the console has gone through. I believe in the Amico and its potential to revolutionize gaming. Its biggest challenges as a product are that it doesn't exist and nobody would want it if it did, but I think it can overcome those things. Look at the success of the KFC Double Down sandwich.

The Amico will dominate the market when it's released, and we've been told that it was entering production in various ways almost half a dozen times over the past couple years. So I was sure it would come out this year. Why would they be producing all those consoles if they weren't going to sell them? But now, on the morning of New Years' Eve, I'm worried that they're not going to do it this year. We all know the real marketing hasn't started yet so they'd have to do a blitz campaign over the next few hours to raise awareness and drive demand (Fortunately few products launch between Christmas and New Years so it's probably a cheap time to buy advertising; smart!)

Then they'd have to manufacture the consoles between, say, noon and 3PM, which is not a lot of time to make 25 million units, and then ship them to stores by 5 PM so that people can pick one up on their way to their New Years Eve Party and become the hit of the gathering by bringing a device that lets you play cellphone quality games in your living room on a big TV.

Marketing, manufacturing, and distributing a game console over the next 12 hours is a tall order for any company but if anyone can pull it off it's Amico's blue-sky rangers.

Oh I'm an idiot for losing faith. OF COURSE It's going to happen. Can't wait to play my Amico tonight. What game are you most looking forward to? For me it's the Hot Wheels licensed one. Can never have enough Hot Wheels games even though we had a whole dedicated title and two Forza Horizon expansions in the last few years!


The Xbox Series consoles are 2 years old. My Series X is perhaps the least distinctive console I have ever owned.

I was one of the lucky ones who got an Xbox Series X on launch day, from Microsoft at MSRP. It arrived on November 10 and I was enamored both of the box and the shape of the console itself. After the Xbox one had been a boxy, boring, thing that was nicknamed "the VCR," the Series X has a cool obelisk shape, reminiscent of a PC mini-tower from the 90s but with only a disc drive and that glowing power gem on the top, and a cool vent up top. It's a handsome console that looks unobtrusive when horizontal and bold when kept vertically.

If I had a little disappointment before plugging the Xbox Series X in it was with the controller. Though it adds a capture button, a textured back, that funky geometric D-pad, and a few other minor details it is essentially the same as the Xbox One X controller. There's nothing wrong with that controller, and certainly this is not the first console to ship with a controller similar to its predecessor (Sony essentially kept the Dual Shock design for 3 consoles straight) it made the Series X feel a bit like an Xbox One X-2. Not a new generation but a stepwise upgrade to what came before. I plugged it in, set it up, and launched it to that old familiar Xbox One UI, and that feeling was only magnified. This wasn't trying to be an exciting new experience, it was just trying to be an Xbox One, but better.

And that's really what the Xbox Series X has been for me. 2 years later and I still use my old One X somewhat regularly in another room, and swapping between the two of them it's hard to tell them apart, at least when I'm not running some fancy new game that takes advantage of the extra horsepower or the SSD. The Xbox Series X feels comfortable but not distinctive. It has never had that "new console" smell like the Switch or the PS5, where a brand new UI and control set up promises you a whole new set of experiences. Instead it's more like upgrading your PC. You plug your stuff in, turn it on, and everything runs the same but better.

The Xbox Series X has also not done much to distinguish itself on the software front. That's not to say it doesn't have games; it has literally thousands of games from 4 generations of Xbox consoles. It has some of the greatest games of all time. Every Halo, every Gears, a selection of old XBLA games, cult classics like Otogi and Armed and Dangerous, just all kinds of crazy stuff. You can pop in your old Forza Horizon on Xbox 360 disc from 2012 and play your old save from that if you uploaded it to the cloud or you can play Elden Ring and the latest Call of Duty.

And it has a killer app in Game Pass. I have been running a Game Pass game club on these message boards this year and it's been great. I have played a ton of really fun games on that service, from Psychonauts 2, my game of the year last year, to Vampire Survivors, one of this year's biggest indie hits. Game Pass is awesome and a great reason to won an Xbox. My Xbox One was my most played Gen 8 console and the Series X is looking like it will be that for Gen 9, though I have been spending more time with PlayStation since a couple real life friends have taken to playing co-op with me on that platform.

What the Series X lacks is an identity. I've talked about all the great things on the platform, but almost all of that is true for the Xbox One X too. PlayStation 5 arguably has a similar problem, but it at least has a few exclusive games (I guess you can sort of count a few games like Scorn as consoles exclusives at least.) It also has a unique UI and controller. The PlayStation 5 feels distinct from the PS4, and the Xbox Series just...doesn't. It's like Microsoft finally fixed Xbox One and then decided to just go with what works after that.

And it does work. It's a good platform. Microsoft in general needs a lot more exclusives (last year was very strong with Forza Horizon and Halo but there's been basically nothing this year except a few timed indies) and it's unclear what their studios are doing, but even setting that aside there's more than enough to play. As a game machine it performs well, the UI is fine, everything works, there has never been a software drought if you include multiplats, it's a fine machine.

But for me every console I've owned to this point conjures unique and distinct memories of its UI and games, and the Xbox Series X feels exactly like my Xbox One X. It's like buying a new car of the same model as your old ones. There may be some new bells and whistles but driving it feels essentially familiar.

So I don't have that much to say about the Xbox Series X on its second anniversary. It's a good console. I use it a lot. I like how it looks. It needs some more exclusive software. That's about it.

The Xbox Series S is a bit more different being digital only and there being some concerns that its weakness is holding the generation back, but I don't think PS5 games look or play particularly better than the Xbox Series X games (including PS5 exclusives) so I don't really notice that if it's true. But I don't have one of those and can't comment on it.