… just a series of problems.
Yes, the blog has been silent for far too long.
I must apologise. My health has, in recent weeks, deteriorated quite rapidly after a succession of illnesses. I am now awaiting the results from a battery of blood tests, all checking to rule out the typical causes of a low white blood cell count. It seems my body is becoming unable to fight off infection – as I found out when the lymph glands in my leg erupted into a hive of blisters. Of course, it’s left me rather exhausted and tired of late – which isn’t helpful when your whole schtick is to think straight for a while. I apologise for going silent through this; I thought a few days sleeping it off would be enough but nope, there’s some longer-term pain involved here.
So, whilst I’m here, what am I playing?
I have been playing the recently relaunched Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn. The improvement from the original design is stark, obvious and striking in every way; it’s main issues it would seem are bosses higher-up in Square-Enix trying to cut corners, and cutting them badly at that. Considering the investment that it took to make this relaunch happen, and a whole new server network, you’d think the server network they picked would be cutting-edge; maybe some in California, or Cardiff – places with a modern grid in place to serve the needs of each region. But instead, someone picked the telecommunications backwater that is Canada. I love Canada – I went there years ago and adored the scenery and the people, but truth is this is a region which the Wii Mini was designed for – it’s not quite as solid as other areas. And truth be told, it’s not as if it’s cheaper either; the amount of work and money needing to be spent on making this network able to handle both US and EU demands would just as easily been avoided had they bothered to assign them in the correct places to start with. As is always the case with such things; sometimes trying to save a few quid by going for second best can end up costing you a small fortune in the long run. It’s just one of many questionable financial decisions to have plagued Square-Enix in the last year or so, and it’s clear that in their drive to save they’ve dug themselves deeper holes than needed. Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn is a worthy contender and alternative to other MMOs on the market; it’s just a shame that Square-Enix didn’t believe in the product. They should. It’s well worth a month or two of play.
Anyhow, other games? I picked up a few games for my frequent runs around into hospital and the doctors surgery. One of those was Steamworld Dig.
It’s a game which wears its influences very proudly; there’s no mistaking its Spelunker roots, or its slightly Metroidvania tilt. But it does seem that immediate warmth and knowledge of what is expected of you largely negates the need for any serious lengthy tutorial, or any long-winded explanations. It’s a game that gets on with its narrative, characters and gameplay without padding it out too much. It’s not the most extensive game; but 8 hours for less than a tenner is still pretty impressive in my books, and it was a joy at every turn. It controls right, it looks right and the 3D on the background is some of the finest I’ve seen in one of these lower-priced titles. It’s catapulted up into being one of the best games of the year for me; a genuine gem. Almost worth spending a few hours in A&E for, really!
I am however saddened by the bad press the Ouya has been receiving; not that it surprises me, but it saddens me. You see, the Ouya dream was a fireball to burn out a hole in a cramped market, the anathema to an industry where costs had been spiralling out of control. But the road to hell, as always, is paved with good intentions. Ouya’s latest blunders with matching Kickstarter funding, and the secrecy and cloak-and-dagger approach to approvals and discussions when people are trying to work out if they’ll see any of this fund, do not surprise me. At the end of the day, many problems in the market come down to money; either too much money, or too little money. When people are pinning their hopes on a fund to assist them, they pin it on as firmly as they can.
And blaming the critics of it isn’t going to fix the problems; critics who are, largely, the very developers for whom this “Free The Games” fund was designed to target and assist. Like so many issues in the market, the more you talk down the people you need or want, the more you find them pull away. The same is true of Nintendo; third parties wonder why Nintendo is so reluctant to engage, and yet they somehow think it’s perfectly okay to express this concern to the press, and slam Nintendo for “not doing enough for us”. At some point, you have to accept that if you want to engage with this company, you have to put up or shut up. And I mean shut up; if you don’t want to engage with these small devs/Nintendo, then there’s a very simple solution; don’t! The smaller devs have iOS and Steam and a bunch of other places to go. Nintendo has a myriad of first-party studios and smaller third-parties it engages with regularly. We don’t need to hear it; we get it EA, UbiSoft, Capcom et al. You’re not happy with Nintendo. But guess what? Going to the mainstream gaming press to vent is a bit like dragging yourselves on The Jeremy Kyle Show; the solution is always the same – communication. Everything else just embarrasses all concerned in front of millions. And if you want out; get out. Move on. Constantly obsessing over a company you clearly wanted away from looks shady and stalker-like and really not very nice at all.
PR stunts and press releases don’t work; it’s too easy to be cynical in the modern era. People are more acutely aware of the stunts than ever before, and take more notice of the way they are worded than ever before as well. The words are broken down syllable by syllable in a painful deconstruction of corporate language, and the cold bolts and sharp edges are laid more bare than ever before. Ouya needs to remember first and foremost what it was designed to achieve; somehow, I think all the hype went to its head and it got it into its head it could take on the big boys head-on, yet it was never capable of that. It was a revolution from people who believed in the cause, and now it’s resorting to tactics and strategies that Microsoft and Sony both employ to ensnare and tie people down. The emulation thing made me sad – that should never have been allowed, ever. The Ouya management of such issues looks positively amateur in nature; almost oblivious of the consequences of their image problem. Considering some of the names behind it, you’d think they’d know better… guess not, eh?
Anyway, one final thing before I head off to de-gunk my leg wounds; the Oculus Rift. No, I’m not getting into the Nolan Bushnell thing because frankly what he said was the most hypocritical and disgusting show of pandering I’ve seen in a while, something to rival EA even. But that people are getting very worked up over any criticism of the technology.
So here’s the thing; the 3D tech is on its way out. The Rift is clearly a fun and interesting device aimed at a niche audience; that much is perfectly okay. Niche devices have their place. Visors are nothing new; we’ve had them for years, the 3D tech we’re using has been around for decades and the omnitread-thing is odd but again, I remember a VR show in the 90’s using a similar set-up (hosted by Craig Charles). The irony is that nothing in the Oculus Rift world is new; it’s repackaged and made more fashionable. And if it didn’t take off then, what on earth makes people think it’s going to take off now?
The Rift will have a select audience; not everyone can see in 3D, as we know. The Omnitread is a fun idea but then, you need to be a certain height, a certain weight and it completely misses out those of us who lack the use of our legs. The more ideas that people hail as a revolution, the more I stand back and am amazed at the sheer nerve of it all. Don’t get me wrong; it’s one hell of a spectacle, and it’s really rather interesting to see how they sell products that historically have already failed. But a lot of this I suspect has to do with brand loyalty, and the fanboys and fangirls who simply have been blindsided. They do not care about the historical origins, the previous uses and they sure as hell don’t give a rats backside about the large proportion of people who simply can’t use these products; we’re simply just “critics”.
Yes, we’re critics. But a future has to be inclusive; I could make some references to rather nasty historical people but I won’t. The Internet succeeded because it became more open to more people. Mobile phones got easier to use and smaller, not to mention cheaper, so more people could own them. For innovations like this to take root, the first thing they must address is the elephant in the room – what of those unable to use them? Nintendo asked this question not too long ago and the answer was the 2DS; the future was flat, and they knew it, and had to recant. That’s fine. Nintendo are using Sharp’s 3D technology, so maybe in the future Sharp can engineer a better 3D people can see more. The Rift, on the other hand, isn’t mass-market enough yet and whilst rampant sycophantic worship can certainly make it seem more magical than it is, the sad truth is that the reality for those unable to utilise it will be more damaging to its reputation in the long-run.
Make no mistake, the Rift is a bit of a niche toy. And that is FINE. I mean, do you really, seriously need mass-market approval to enjoy the things you buy? Really? I buy little quirky games all the time and am always delighted and impressed what you can find off the beaten track. I also like games such as Project Zero 2: Crimson Butterfly, Haunting Ground and Deadly Premonition; games which hardly set the world on fire sales-wise, but are damned fine games in their own right. Hell, I will pin my tag here; I also don’t mind the Dynasty Warriors series, or its myriad spin-offs. I am perfectly okay with that. Heck, even if people disagree – I actually in the end fell a little in love with the clunky The Walking Dead: Survival Instinct. I don’t need the market to tell me what to enjoy; I can enjoy it regardless.
And it’s never, ever the fault of the disabled. Ever. Disability is something that just happens; it’s not like we’re prepared for it really. Some are born that way, others in a cruel twist of fate. If someone is saying it’s not for them because of their disability – that’s not their problem, nor should it be made out to be their problem. You are not some kind of god-like superhuman species that is going to rid the world of the peasants who aren’t nearly as perfect as you are; because that immediately shows how imperfect you are. You lack compassion, humility and humanity. You become a soulless corporate husk, for which there is little recourse but to laugh at you. And make no mistake, we will laugh at you. As you run on those omnitreads wearing those visors, we’re all thinking it; “what a bunch of twats.” And go back to our cheaper versions of things that have worked perfectly fine for years.
The future has to be inclusive. For everyone. You shun people like us away, you reduce your market. And it gets smaller and smaller as time goes on, because people we know won’t buy into it. Like 3D Movies, a friend of mine can’t see 3D. At all. For her, it never merges into one image. Guess what we all did on group-movie nights? We picked the 2D option. That’s the power of shirking a market; for every one you ignore, they have the power to take six or seven people away from you. I think 3D can work if they invest in new technologies for it. The current means is decades old and really, it’s time for a proper revolution of the technology. Repackaging it and selling it to us has resulted in fads every few years that disappear without trace once the realities sink in. You can’t sell a future that keeps failing; so maybe it’s time to look into WHY it keeps failing, eh? We all know the answer there; it’s up to the technology leaders to brave new worlds for us.
But all that said; there’s nothing wrong with a niche device like the Rift. Just as long as you know it is a niche, and enjoy it, then go ahead. I am perfectly okay with you enjoying it.
Just don’t act as though you’re special. We’ll think you’re special too. Just perhaps not in the way you’d want us to think it…