‘Early Access’ is the idea of releasing an incomplete game to the public in alpha or beta form and allowing them to effectively test the game and feed back any issues, bugs or ideas to the developers. When the idea works it’s a great way for developer and consumer to communicate, and can be a great way for gamers to shape the direction an early access game is going in. A good example of an early access title done correctly is Prison Architect, a game that has been in development for some time but the team constantly release monthly updates and continually listen to feedback the fans have given them. As a result the game has gathered a lot of momentum and made a fair amount of money for Introvision Software as each update provides either new gameplay features or important ‘bug bashes’ but along the way incorporates fan feedback both positive and negative. Eventually a full game will be available that’ll be a unique collaboration between fans and developers, and for me personally it’s been quite the thrill ride along the way, I’ve been watching the game grow since Alpha 8 and we’re now approaching Alpha 36.
Prison Architect is how early access should be done
On the other hand early access can go horribly wrong. Towns is one of the most high profile examples of this, it was one of the first ten games released under the Steam Greenlight banner and also the first to be released as an early access title. Despite a lot of hype and more than 200,000 copies sold – a reasonable amount for an indie game – the man behind Towns suddenly abandoned the game citing lack of money made as the main reason. He then almost immediately moved on to other projects and even had the audacity to openly talk about ideas for Towns 2, and as a result those who bought the first Towns game have vowed to boycott anything the guy is involved in for the foreseeable future.
The point is games like Towns and numerous others have dented the reputation of the early access model, to the point where only about 25% of games actually make it to a final release, or at least what the developers consider to be that. Gamers are understandably a lot more cautious when it comes to parting with their money, but at least with Steam updating their policy or early access games it’s now easier to discover how early access games are progressing simply by looking at the information page about the game. If there has been no news from the delopers for a while avoid it, whereas if there are continual updates available it might be worth investing your time and money into it. Another example of this is with Ark: Survival Evolved (a game that Alan and I actually play quite regularly), updates are released almost every other day so it’s easy to see e developers are still serious about releasing a finished title. Of course there is still the risk that it could be abandoned like so many others, but with the amount of support that game has they’d be foolish to do that, and of course further dent the early access model for future games.
I used the love the thrill of reading through a magazine as a child to find out all the latest news on an upcoming game. How it was being developed, what features were being included, when it was being released. I’d hang on every word about how it would revolutionize a console or become the start of a next big franchise, and then a few months later read an in-depth review in the weeks leading up to the big day, with a final score rating of 9/10. I’d ingested enough information by that point to know that I had to have this particular game, so I took my pocket money and slapped a pre-order on that bad boy and come release day I was never disappointed. Super Mario 64, Civilization II, Gran Turismo, all favourites of my childhood for one reason – I’d done my homework on all of them, because I had my trusty gaming magazines to conduct my research.
I miss that thrill. It doesn’t exist anymore and not because commercial Internet all but wiped out gaming magazines as a few still exist, but because the information simply isn’t there anymore. Gone are the days of extensive previews, new pieces of news filtering out of the developers office every week in the buildup to a release, now everything is all hush-hush to the point where at times I know very little about a game until I actually play it.
The Assassins Creed series is one that divides anyone who has ever played them. They divide Alan and I in fact, he buys the collectors edition of every new title the day of release whereas I’m… Not so keen on them. Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t as simple as Alan loving Assassins Creed and I hating it, even the individual games divide me as I wasn’t keen on the first Assassins Creed nor Unity overall, but I thoroughly enjoyed Black Flag, the fourth main game in the series. As it happens I recently bought Assassins Creed II, so I’m giving the whole thing a fair shot by now owning four of the main titles.
What I think divides fans of the series so much, particularly recently, is the mess surrounding the release of Unity. In the buildup to its release a lot of emphasis was placed on its four player co-op mode, and at first we must have missed something as we thought that feature was available throughout the entire game, it wasn’t until later we realised it wasn’t and then when we both played it realised further still that there were only a handful of co-op missions available altogether. However that was more of a personal gripe we had (not to mention the only reason why I personally bought it), the major problems were with bugs. And my goodness were they plentiful, just watch this video for proof of that:
I like to think I have a broad and varied interest in various computer game genres. There are very few I won’t play, perhaps the most obvious being fighting games as I haven’t played anything since Tekken Tag Tournament back in the Playstation 2 days. One genre I do enjoy on a casual basis is vehicle simulation (something which Alan berates me over whenever the subject is mentioned), ever since I first played a game called Aviator on the BBC Micro computer in the late 1980’s – you can see it was primitive, but I loved it. From there followed space simulators and eventually came Microsoft Train Simulator in the late 1990’s, and Flight Simulator at around the same time.
I adored them all, and in today’s market where simulators’ popularity is still enjoyed but somewhat over-saturated with crap like Street Cleaning Simulator available there are still a few gems out there, most of all perhaps is Euro Truck Simulator 2. This is a game I can’t describe to anyone who doesn’t already have at least a passing interest in the genre, but for me it’s a relaxing way to unwind and just get lost behind the wheel of a truck, selling goods and making money for my fledgling haulage company. I can picture a few people reading this with one eyebrow raised but that’s how it is for a lot of people who play these games, and as someone who doesn’t drive in the real world it’s as close as I’m going to get to doing that too.
Speaking of driving, that’s another genre I’ve always enjoyed to an extent, particularly arcade racers like GRID, the Burnout series and the Need For Speed franchise. I’ve never truly appreciated the simulation racers like Gran Turismo, Forza and Project Cars, and until this week I couldn’t quite work out why. Aside from being utterly useless at them.
I can’t quite remember why, but a few weeks back I developed a burning desire to own a steering wheel for the PC. I think it was while reading a review for Project Cars, as it looked like a game I’d enjoy – great graphics, a progressive career mode… Oh but wait, it’s a simulation racer, I’m terrible at those, never mind. I couldn’t shake the thought that I’d probably otherwise enjoy the game as you can tinker with the cars themselves and race in true-to-life events at real circuits, but I’d spend more time bouncing off safety barriers and rear-ending my opponents than screaming down back straights at 200mph in something vaguely considered to be a straight line. I decided to read up on some player opinions rather than those of professional reviewers, and one verdict was pretty much unanimous – to get the most out of Project Cars it’s damn near essential to own a steering wheel.
It’ll be almost exactly five years to the day since we saw a Rock Band game before the release of Harmonix’s next offering in the music game genre. In fact it’ll be five years since we’ve seen anything in the music game genre, as the two titans Rock Band and Guitar Hero haven’t given us any new games whatsoever since 2010, and both are making a comeback this October with Rock Band 4 and Guitar Hero Live respectively. Is now the time for a comeback?
The reason why we’ve not seen a music game in so long is a direct result of the developers’ own doing. Over an initial period of five years between 2005 and 2010 we saw a ridiculous number of Rock Band and particularly Guitar Hero games – eight main titles (six Guitar Hero, two DJ Hero and Band Hero), five expansions and several more spinoffs for the PC and Nintendo DS such as Guitar Hero: On Tour. Add to that the three main Rock Band titles and their spinoffs including Beatles, Green Day and even Lego Rock Band and what we had was a hugely oversaturated market, contributing to the swift downfall of the genre starting in 2009.
We love pirate themed games. I’ve put a lot of time into Sid Meier’s Pirates, and Alan and I between us have put nearly 100 hours into Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag. Hell, I shamefully played Puzzle Pirates for more hours than I’d ever admit. Blackwake is a new multiplayer FPS game based around controlling every aspect of a pirate ship from captain to gunners, so teamwork is essential. It’s currently on Kickstarter where it has comfortably made its target total for a release on PC and Mac, so hopefully the fact that there’s a lot of interest in this game will mean it sails through the Kickstarter phase along its way to a full release. Get it? Sails? I’m wasted here.
What makes this game appealing to me is how hilarious it looks. If you’ve ever seen an Alan & Pete Play video you’ll know we like to laugh a lot, and this game looks like it’ll make us do exactly that. Take a look at the following trailer:
This is exactly the sort of game we thrive on playing, hence why most of our videos consist mainly of chaos, no idea what we’re doing and generally getting everything wrong – exactly what this game promotes itself as. Here are some of the features you can expect when the game is out of pre-alpha, according to Kotaku:
This week at Gamescom Square-Enix showed us another new and frankly strange trailer for their upcoming title Final Fantasy XV (15), which you can view below. Entitled ‘Dawn’ it’s more like a hugathon for nearly half of its duration than anything worthwhile:
The idea here is to give a little back story to the game, 15 years before we’re introduced to it, but little was given away in terms of… Anything really. There’s nothing in the way of general story progression and most importantly a release date, which at this stage wasn’t expected but most definitely hoped for. Instead we got main character Noctis hugging it out with his old man King Regis for nearly two minutes of a 3:14 video and little else that could be considered relevant.
Square also put together a presentation teasing a few story details and showing a little more gameplay footage, but there wasn’t even a hint of a release date for Final Fantasy XV – only that they were still ‘on schedule’ to finish the game by a set date. That date could be damn near anything they please as now the game had been in development for more than a decade, anything from three months to another three years probably wouldn’t raise too many eyebrows. The original plan was for Square to kickstart a marketing campaign starting with Gamescom and presumably building from there, fans were hoping they would at least start with a release window and gradually share more information throughout the PAX Event in three weeks time and then end with a solid release date with a ton of new info/gameplay at the Tokyo Game Show in September, aiming for a release sometime between winter this year and summer 2016. As it stands it looks like Square-Enix has the intention of doing nothing more than showing that trailer again at PAX. Then again at TGS. And that’ll most likely be it for this year, so it looks certain we won’t be playing the game this year, and even next year is looking doubtful if the rate of new information that has been made available this year is anything to go by.
Let’s start with the latter. Square Enix CEO Yoichi Wada went on record about three years ago to say that a Final Fantasy VII remake would never happen until the company had made a Final Fantasy title – or possibly even any title – that surpassed VII in terms of sales and quality, which made sense in a way, despite gamers’ frustration at the decision. Around that time the company had just released Final Fantasy XIII-2, the sequel nobody wanted for the game very few people liked, and were about the release Sleeping Dogs which they were very confident of being a big seller; despite good reviews it’s only sold around 2 million copies, way below the expectations of Square Enix. Hitman: Absolution and the Tomb Raider reboot followed the same formula, so it looked like while they were developing games that maybe matched Final Fantasy VII in terms of quality (certainly regarding review scores, all three games have aggregates of 80+) they were not matching the sales. Final Fantasy VII has sold more than 10 million copies since 1997 across a variety of platforms, and no game they’ve made since has come close to matching that figure.
What were Square Enix to do? By that point they’d released the relatively unpopular Final Fantasy XIII and ultimately two unnecessary sequels, two top quality games that few (by their lofty standards) wanted to play and a game that has until recently been in development hell for nearly ten years, and the company were struggling. It seemed like their was no way Square Enix would please their fans by making a Final Fantasy VII remake, and the fans in turn generally weren’t interested in anything the company were throwing at them.