Friday, January 10, 2014

Ryo Hazuki In Sega All-Stars Racing: Transformed: It's Not Pretty...

Alright, it's been a while since I talked about Sega racers so let's do this.

So we all know that Ryo Hazuki is in Sega All-Stars Racing: Transformed.  Sumo inserted pics of Ryo in the Yogscast DLC trailers like a parent that says, "Don't open your eyes, I got a present for you!" and you open your eyes anyway.  Here, he's driving OutRun, Hang-On, and Space Harrier cabinets which is really damn clever and also a great ode to the classics.  It's a million times better then that Yogscast Charity DLC dreck.  Who knows about Yogscast?  I don't but then again, I'm not from the UK.

Your stats suck.

Yep, this is the guy who got his own character in Sonic All-Stars Racing.  Good work, Sega.

So what's my initial response to seeing the Ryo character?  This:

Now, it's not that I dislike Ryo but come on guys, Sega All-Stars Racing: Transformed is OVER A YEAR OLD.  It's a great game, yeah, but the hype for this game has gone down drastically.  I let my Xbox Gold expire last month (and had to enter a chat room with a MS representative to disable it because MS is too lazy to put the button on their site, thankfully the rep was very polite to me) so I won't be playing online for a while now (assuming I do play again).  Had Ryo been introduced back in the game's heyday (while the fans were doing those stupid online petitions) then yeah, we'd be partying til the break of dawn.  But now it's sorta like, "Okay...thanks Sumo!  Glad someone there actually cares about the hardcorez fans and shiz."

Then things went from "meh" to "Oh Please God No" in a heartbeat:

In this situation, Ryo is vindictive of why we can't have nice things.  Simply cause Ryo is an iPhone-exclusive character.  You cannot play him on Xbox 360 and PS3.  You CAN play him on PC but not for a while now.  All I know is that Sumo/Sega saved Ryo for a year later just so they can convince us to buy the iPhone version.  In the ideal world, Sumo would put all the characters into one superior version (PC version) but now they're playing patty-cake with gamers to make another buck off the same damn game.

Sooooo...why complain?  The iPhone version can't be that bad!  Well, it's a mixed bag for a multitude of reasons.  They can be narrowed down to two:

1. Game's stripped of a load of content.  There's only 13 characters in this version and they are Sonic, Tails, Amy, Gum, Ulala, Amigo, BD Joe, Joe Musashi, Eggman, AGES (Thank You Lord Jesus!!), Ryo, Ralph, Metal Sonic, Knuckles, and Shadow.  That's right, they nixed Beat but kept Gum in.  Plus they didn't cut any of the Sonic characters at all, proving that Sumo is catering to the major Sonic fanbase out there and screwing the rest of us fans.  Gee whiz, I know this is an 1.0 GB iPhone game but it's really a downer.

As for tracks, well I don't have a clue.  There's no outright "pick a track and race," the game's sort of an amalgamation of Grand Prix and World Tour modes--not much flexibility in terms of single-player.  I'm guessing Ocean Hill (a track I'm really getting sick of), Skies of Arcadia, and Afterburner will get a shiatload of facetime so get ready for those.

2. Microtransactions.  Let me explain how this works.  You pay $5 for the game.  No big deal, sounds good.  But all of the characters (sans your one choice of Tails, Amy, Gum, Ulala, Amigo, BD Joe, or regular Joe) are locked from the start.  That's right, Sonic is locked from the very beginning of the game.  You unlock rings through races which allow you to unlock most things, just like any good iPhone game.  But with any race mode outside the Easy difficulty level (there's 4 levels), you have to pay rings to enter and restart the level.  That's also right, you can't just pick a Medium/Hard/Super Hard race and replay it over and over until you win.  If you run out of rings, you have to restock by doing the Easy races all over again.

So what does Sumo do?  Include a $10 DLC that removes this restart cost, allowing you replay the races without any entry fee.  It's pretty damn dirty to include extra costs on top of a game that's already not free to play.  I mean if you go into the game thinking $15 is a decent price for the game, sure that's not too bad.  But they just had to sneak that extra $10 in there.

The recoil from this decision was so immense that Steve Lycett AKA DarthS0L had to play Sumo PR Agent and take to the message boards explaining his decision.  Yeah, he's been scooting around the official Sega forums, Sonic Stadium, and NeoGAF which is kind of ridiculous cause if you need someone to actually explain a controversial decision to your face, odds are you f**ked up somehow.  He says it's entirely possible to unlock everything in the game without paying any more than the initial $5.  Which is reasonable because I've played a couple of the Nimblebit iPhone games and haven't spent a dime on 'em--Tiny Tower, Tiny Death Star, Pocket Planes, Pocket Trains.  Grinding works on these games.

But as we all know, these microtransactions are a HUGE shortcut.  For instance, I could unlock AGES by playing the game for 10-15 hours and saving up my in-game currency.  OR I can just pay $5 and unlock him right now.  $5 to skip 10-15 hours of grinding.  I honestly don't know how long it takes to unlock AGES but the point is by making Ryo an iPhone exclusive, it boosts the number of sales this game gets and Sumo can make an average of $15 for each person that invests in this game.  That can be huge considering how this game is a straight port with little gameplay changes.

Aside from these two things, the game looks okay.  You level up your characters' stats rather than unlock these stupid Speed/Accel/Boost/Console mods like in previous versions which is a nice touch.  It runs at a constant 30 FPS and the iPhone controls, while they look manageable, still look difficult and imprecise like playing Mario Kart Wii with the Wiimote.  Online play only includes 4 players max.   I just can't imagine playing any action-heavy game on an iPhone--I'd rather save that for consoles/PC, and even throwing Ryo into the mix doesn't change my mind much.

Also to unlock Ryo, you have to beat a bunch of Weekly Challenges.  He's this game's AGES--just a pain in the ass to unlock.  And I also know that Ryo has the words "Shen 3" written on his license plate.  Everyone knows that.  But think of the possibilities--perhaps Sumo/Sega introduced Ryo as a character to gauge the interest in a Shenmue HD port.  The likelihood of getting a Shenmue 3 from the iOS Sega All-Stars Racing: Transformed is nil and odds are the Internet-savvy DarthS0L threw that on the license plate just to tease the Shenmue petitioners out there.  But Sega is just weird like that so I don't discount the possibility of a Shenmue 3 someday.  After all, if Yu Suzuki wanted to conclude the storyline, he could release a manga, satiate the fans, and call it a day.  But he hasn't spoiled it yet which leads me to believe he's still trying to persuade Sega to make that Shenmue 3 game.  I just hope he doesn't take it to the grave with him.

UPDATE: Ryo Hazuki has since then been added as DLC for the PC Steam version of Sega All-Stars Racing: Transformed.  It costs $1.59.  This was a couple of days after this entry was posted.  While this is certainly good news, it leaves the console versions hanging (Xbox 360/PS3 are the plague and not worth touching), plus Sega/Sumo did play some of us into buying the iPhone version.  Take this news what you will.

I don't plan on buying Sega All-Stars Racing: Transformed on the iPhone.  Does that make me a bad Sega fan?  Well, that's your opinion.  I just don't think it's worth the money.  I'll play the crap out of the the console & PC versions but the iPhone version needs to be better for me to consider it.  BTW, putting characters aside, it sure would be hella nice to get some track DLC too.  But no, we're stuck playing Ocean Hill, After Burner, and Hagia Sophia--I mean Panzer Dragoon for eternity.

One more interesting thing.  I do check the Sumo website occasionally for job openings.  Nothing that I can get, sadly.  But here's something interesting--"Vehicle Handling and Performance Specialist."  Yep, they're looking for people who know how to make race cars in video games!

We require a gas-guzzling, do-nutting Petrol-head for an exciting design opportunity!

Are you a car freak? Do you have at least three years of design experience on high profile console driving games?

Sumo is looking for someone with great experience and a passion for tweaking the physics and performance characteristics of a wide range of vehicles in a successful driving franchise to join our team of Stig Fantasists in Sheffield. A background of successful game design experience is important, as is an understanding of (and passion for) car handling, set-up and the console racing genre.

If you’re auto-obsessed and want to contribute to one of the most successful driving franchises of all time, get in touch ASAP – we want to talk to you.

Do I have a chance?  An infinitesimal one.  Here's why.  One, I'm a programmer and not a producer.  Two, I don't have three years of experience in ANY professional studio, much less racing game studios.  Sure, the yearly requirements can be stretched a little (i.e. you have two years instead of three and they accept you anyway) but three years is out of my reach.  Three, what am I going to cite--this blog???  Hell, if Sumo read this blog, they might recoil in disgust and not hire me.  Yeah, I'm a big fan of theirs but I'm too much of a hipster and am critical of everything and that might not bode well with 90% of the game industry.

It sucks but look at it this way--Sumo is still making racing games.  That's awesome and that includes the potential for a new Daytona game.  I just hope I can get on-board soon enough...

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Not Buying The Hype On Next-Gen Gaming

Happy New Year.  As you may have guessed, video games in 2014 are off to a great start.  Here's what I have to say about all the new titles.

It's time for the anti-video game circlejerk!  Now I'm pretty sure everyone's seen this PS4 commercial before but here it is anyway:

This commercial is beyond cheesy and pisses me off.  Two dudebros playing their mainstream games together.  But after a while, I noticed there is more to this commercial than meets the eye.  Two things:

1. These are the same kind of games we've seen a thousand times.  Hack-and-slash medieval/fantasy game.  Racing sim.  Gritty futuristic FPS.  Originality at its finest.
2. They all involve killing people and/or destroying things.  Think about that for a sec.  Two games involve outright killing people.  The third isn't really about violence but you're encouraged to smash things to bits.  Hence for no reason at all, one dudebro rams the other into the wall, sending him into a slow-mo Burnout/Split-Second wreck.  Games thrive off of destruction/death way too much these days.

Neither of these consoles impress me.  Sure, the Xbone was one massive skidmark that MS went back and corrected but I still have disdain for because MS tried to take us for fools and I don't forget that easily.  There's also the PS4, but I'm only marginally interested it compared to the Xbone.  Sony is still trying to smuggle DRM policies into their console like Microsoft did, just a lot more covert.  Both of these consoles are vanity goods that you really don't need.  Need top-end graphics?  Get a gaming PC.  Need a wealth of new titles?  Errrm, we already had seven years of Xbox 360/PS3 games.  If you've played all of those, then you need to go outside.  Need a console that changes the channel when you tell it to?  Well, that's not a need, that's just stupid.  Come back in 2030 when everything is made out of chrome and holograms.  You know what I'm getting at here cause I already talked about it before.  I think a year or two down the road, when they fix all the bricked consoles, the price goes down, and the library grows (including a new Sega racer, fat chance...) I might invest in one but until then, screw you both.

Anyhoo, you may be surprised to find out that my family is in possession of TWO Xbox Ones.  Yes, one Xbone, two Xbones.  They were Christmas presents for two of my brothers.  It's a load of crap, I know.  We own one game at the moment--Dead Rising 3.  I watched my brother play it for about an hour.  All I have to say is I just don't really care.   The game takes place in a fictional Los Angeles, a zombie outbreak happens, and you play as some mechanic dude who turns into a macho badass.  I didn't need a plot or anything, just as long as I get to kill zombies and rescue survivors.  Off the bat, I recognize the improvement in graphics.  Great, but it wasn't as shocking of a transition as, say, Super Nintendo to Nintendo 64.  It's just the same games as before but with a slight layer of polish.

Maps of Dead Rising 1 (upper-left), Dead Rising 2 (lower-left), and Dead Rising 3 (right)

The map is bigger this time around with huge streets for driving cars.  But the problem is the environment looks so piss bland I find nothing recognizable about it whatsoever.  Sure, they put a huge emphasis on cars now but it's hard to drive anywhere without plowing over zombies and getting stuck on debris.  If I wanted to free drive around, I'd probably play Grand Theft Auto.  If I wanted to kill zombies in cool locations, I'd probably play Dead Rising 1 or 2.  Just my two cents, you enjoy the game, great for you.  If you were a Dead Rising/zombie aficionado then yeah, you'll like this just cause it gives you more stuff to kill.  Otherwise, it's really a placebo game designed to sell the Xbone, as you can tell cause the game is exlusive to that console.  It's crap cause Dead Rising 2 was available for PS3 but whatever man...Capcom and Microsoft can fudge up the game however they like so I'm not losing sleep over it.  

My brother was playing Spiderman 2 on the Gamecube, got DR3 on Christmas, beat the game in a week, and went back to Spiderman 2.  Don't think he's touched his Xbone yet since.  True story bro.

Another thing I should mention, going back to the paragraph before the previous one, is that these games don't really do anything "new" for me.  Sure, the graphics are better, there's more zombies, and they ditched the load times (sorta, you still get them when fighting psychopaths), but other than that, the gameplay STILL feels the same as games from 5-10 years ago.  Your special weapon attacks still kill zombies in that canned animation sequence.  Quick-time events.  Predictable trigger-based   Psychopaths run back and forth trading blows with you until you smack them enough times and they die.  Friendly AI is not very smart.  The thing that surprised me the most was seeing your character climb out the windshield of the wrecked car.  With new consoles bragging about "new ways to play the game," it certainly doesn't feel like it.  But as long as they keep the games running at constant 60 FPS, then I'll give them a modicum of credit for that.

As for other launch titles, all fifteen of them, you got Zoo Tycoon.  Yes, Zoo Tycoon is a launch title.  Killer Instinct is lacking in the content department.  Ryse looks pretty but it's a redundant hack & slash that'll go the way of King Kong and Eragon--such pretty launch titles but with bland gameplay.  Call of Duty, Madden, FIFA are what you expect--same game but prettier.  NBA Live 14, which was EA's response to the shit-canned NBA Elite, is a total embarassment.  Forza is a mess because the game is loaded with microtransactions like a Facebook game.  And Need for Speed's frivolous online gameplay has up to six players (that's right...SIX PLAYERS MAX, an abysmal number for an online racing game) zipping across the map far away from each other as everyone does their own thing to progress their respective campaign/story modes.  In other words, crap, crap, mega crap.

Give the consoles a few years to gel and the games should get better.  After all, the first Xbox 360 games looked like Xbox titles.  That's all well and good much bigger can these games get before they collapse under the weight of their own production costs?  Models and worlds get more detailed, stories expand, gameplay branches rapidly, advertising money and review payola, etc.  Sure, we have tools to accelerate these things but the point is we're spending more and more money to make these games.  Remember that GTA5 required over a thousand people to make it.  Tools can't speed up the creative process much--you still need producers to sit down and think these things up.  We're outsourcing our art overseas now which I guess helps with the overhead but sucks for my art friends out there.  So expect less risk taking more and more DLC/microtransactions to milk the consumer's wallet for what it's worth.  The corporations need their money!

EDIT: A little aside, basically Kotaku posts an article about the worthless piece of crap that is the Kinect and how they are "a little it worried about it," citing how much it sucks that you're forced to buy a lackluster piece of hardware with your Xbone.  Nope, no one saw that coming, complaints about the Kinect 2.0, why who would say such a thing???  Also, I saw Madden 25 up-close and aside from the beatdown my friend put on my brother, I wasn't impressed by what I saw.

As for PS4 games, there's Gran Turismo 6.  Which is basically GT so nothing surprising like that.  Except for one feature--you can drive on the moon.  At 19 miles per hour.  I honestly don't know whether to think this is the most awesome or most useless thing in racing game history.

Compare to this gem of a racing game:

I think gaming isn't going to crash because it's so insanely popular, like today's terrible pop music.  But I've never been this jaded before about gaming in my life that I think SOMETHING has to blow up before I can get excited about these games again.  I'm done here, enjoy the hot air I'm emitted into the atmosphere.

P.S. There's no Ridge Racer launch title.  Whoops, someone tell Namco they planned their release one year late.  AWWWWWW.....