Where’s the feeling in the filling?

When I go to Chipotle and get a burrito I get excited. My mouth starts watering while I’m driving to the restaurant thinking about all the stuff I can pack in that tortilla, that poor tortilla tasked with holding in twice the amount of fillings it was ever meant to hold. You might be wondering why I’m talking about food here on a geek/games site. Chipotle is a good metaphor for how I want content to feel in games but right now it’s more like McDonalds. Sorry now I’m hungry and need to go eat some Chipotle. Okay. I’m back. Every time a game I am anticipating comes out I talk myself into buying the season pass, thinking to myself that surely the developers and publishers have learned that people want content for their money. Almost every time I do that I am disappointed. You can have a great single player experience (Batman I’m looking at you) and then turn around and every piece of downloadable content or DLC that comes out is uninspired and or plain bad. I want to discuss the things that I think are wrong with DLC and how I think they can fix it and the things I love and how they can build on it. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments, I know this is a subject almost all gamers have an opinion on. I remember the first time DLC started happening. On the original Xbox a new game came out in the Tom Clancy universe. Splinter Cell. It was very well received and they announced they would be releasing a single map as DLC for free. It was a well done map but no story.  I thought it was pretty cool. Soon after they started doing DLC for games on a regular schedule. The biggest on Xbox was Halo 2. They added a ton of MP maps and that was about it. Almost always DLC is MP focused. Its easier I assume to make static environments compared to dynamic content with story and cinematics. DLC has now become a common occurrence on almost every game. Season Passes have become a pre-purchase money making machine for publishers to fund the DLC before its even released. Games can sometimes claim to double what they have to offer on paper, but barely skim the surface of what we pay for. What’s wrong with DLC? When I play a game for tens to hundreds of hours working on building a character and/or world I become attached to that world or character. I don’t want to lose that progress or that person or abilities I have worked so long to get. One of the worst things DLC can do is wipe your progress by either making you play a brand new character or resetting your current character for the story the DLC is trying to tell. I was one of the few people that enjoyed Watchdogs. It had its problems and the main character was not that memorable but I did spend 40 plus hours unlocking his skills and gear only to have the season pass take him away completely along with all the skills I unlocked. I never finished it. Almost always when content comes out and takes away my progress I lose interest in it immediately. I spent too many hours working on my game to have it be reset because they didn’t know how to tell a continuation of the story with a powered up character. I recognize there are aspects of game design I don’t know or understand but c’mon you gotta respect the person playing the game and what they have accomplished, otherwise what’s the point of continuing the story anyway? The other thing that really grinds my gears is when a game releases content that uses areas from the original game but puts a new boss or characters in the existing areas. To me that’s just lazy. If I pay 40 dollars for a season pass and all you give me is AI placement in a map that is already in the game…..well you can put that where the sun don’t shine. DESTINY! I also don’t like when we get DLC and all of it is a horde mode. I like horde modes and I like tower defense modes but honestly they should be free additions just as all multiplayer, or mp, maps should be as well. I know that they have to pay the people for the work they provide that is how the world goes round but there is some content that should be considered the cost of doing business and I feel like mp map packs is one of those things. One thing is they are just maps that sit there. No AI issues. No exploration issues. Just a chunk of code that sits there. The other thing is when a map pack comes out there can be a huge divide in the community that plays the game and can impact the gameplay drastically. You can have a game, lets use Call Of Duty as an example here, that destroys itself with DLC. So say COD comes out with 20 maps. Everyone has access to those maps and having a good ole time. 3 months after release they release the “Divide the community map pack 1.” Lets say 30 percent of people purchase that pack. So now you have 70 percent still playing the base game but only 30 percent playing the DLC. So what you have done is make the people who are most loyal divide their own player base by 70 percent! Now usually after that happens a couple weeks goes by and everyone migrates back to the vanilla game. Now 6 months after release another chunk, even smaller than the first, buys the “Divide the community map pack 2”. Now you have a smaller section of the community playing on map pack 2 making the community playing on map pack 1 even smaller still and still taking people away from the vanilla game. You see where this is going. I am purely going from experience here but the loyal of the most loyal fans are the ones that get hurt from mp DLC. It should stop. I’ll talk about a trend that is turning this around in my “how to get better” part of this article, or rant however you view this, and its looking like companies are seeing the same issue. The longer you get people to play your mp the more money you will make, the more loyal your player base will become. ‘Tis the season to be ripped off. One of the benefits of going to eat at Chipotle is that I get to watch that puppy get built. I get to choose everything that goes into it and how much. McDonalds just gives it to me and sometimes not even what I ask for. Season passes tend to be the same toss up. I know games don’t have the same ability as Chipotle but I shouldn’t feel like I’m getting nothing when I pay for something. These are some of the issues I have with season passes. I would never buy a car sight unseen. I would never marry someone I have never met. Yet we’re expected to buy content not revealed sometimes from unproven studios. Even with a plan in place season pass content doesn’t always deliver on the promise when announced. I am one of the bad guys here. I buy season passes again and again hoping for a different result. Very few actually deliver that worth. I think studios, proven and unproven, should start laying out a detailed plan for release and content so consumers can be informed either way. To their credit they are getting better and better at revealing their plans. The other problem a few games have had is they don’t even deliver what they do promise. Destiny before release promised two expansions, with a emphasis on expansion they said. What we got was two very small content packs that barely even added more than new weapons and color packs. They reused areas already in the game and added a new room for a final boss fight connected to no story and horde mode encounter after horde mode encounter. I think Bungie needed to look up the word expansion in the dictionary. Then they turn around after the 40 dollar season pass ended to release another 40 dollar expansion that added a new adventure zone and a 3rd subclass with new loot and new expanded story that from what I have read actually has substance. I refuse to purchase this one because they screwed over their most loyal fans in the first place with the mediocre 40 dollar season pass that should have been as substantial as The Taken King 40 dollar content. That is an example of how not to do season passes. Then you have issues where most recently Assassins Creed Unity cancelled their season pass all together. The people who purchased the pass didn’t get refunded unless you wanted to get a free game from a list they provided, which most games were either not that great or popular enough most people already had them, and they shared the same content we already paid for with everyone else since they gave it away for free. Good and bad there. They tried to rectify their problems but it shows how risky a season pass can be for consumers. It’s a model that needs to change but they are learning as they go we just get to be the guinea pigs along the way. Made to order. Now for the good side of DLC. When I love a game it takes over my game time. Some games I’ll play for 10-20 hrs and be done with. I have had my fill. Sometimes I do crave a McDonald’s hamburger to my surprise when it happens. Others I love so much about the game it can be hundreds of hours before I have had my fill. I have not once ever been tired of Chipotle, one day I had to deny eating there though because I was still full from eating there at lunch. It was painful to hear those words coming out of my mouth and I hope to never have that happen again. Yes I’m a bean pole of a human being….Not. Okay back to why we are here. Different people find different reasons to play their games. Games I find engaging and spend hundreds of hours playing, a friend of mine may find boring after one night of playing. It happens. So this is purely my thoughts on my playstyle and what I look for in a game to add longevity and what makes it so great. You may be one of those people that are perfectly happy with map pack content for your games and that’s fine. Fallout 3 and Skyrim could be some of the best sandbox rpg’s from last generation. They also happen to have some of the best DLC in the business. I spent  300-400 hours on each of their vanilla content before they released any content for DLC. I probably added a couple hundred more hours after release between both. Here is what they did right and when I love DLC. First they let you continue playing with your character from the vanilla game you already spent so much time building. Second they added new areas, sometimes as large as the main game zones. They gave you a new playground to experience your new found abilities and weapons etc. More so with Fallout 3 than Skyrim. Third they added new mechanics to a game that added more depth than the main game already had. Perfect example of this would be the Hearthstone DLC for Skyrim. They added the ability to build your own homes from scratch with your custom layout from predesigned sections you could put together how you wanted if you had the material. I decided to build a home to show off my accomplishments in the game with trophy rooms and displays to show off rare armor sets and weapons. My second home I made for my wife and kids and had a functional value with a garden and crafting stations etc. It was pretty amazing. It made the game have something new enough that I added a hundred hours doing that alone before the last 2 DLC’s even came out which added a great vampire story line and new abilities. They also added new crafting options and factions. Skyrim is a game that is worth every penny. Especially on PC if you have the option. Fallout 3 did more of the land mass expansion. Almost every pack for them added new play space with new weapons and story. It was also very worth the money. I also love when a game adds content that I can play with my friends and doesn’t divide us. GTA V has done a wonderful job of showing how to do that right. First of all they created a great coop experience with their free mode. You can do pretty much anything you want with your friends from doing intricate planned heists to skydiving or even going on a mountain bike ride to the top of the nearest mountain. What they have done is give everything and I mean EVERYTHING away for free. They release a consistent schedule of cars or weapons and clothes for free to everyone. “Well how do they make money then good sir?” is what you’re probably asking yourself. Let me tell you. You can buy houses, cars, clothes and weapons. After you buy those things you can then customize them. You can even customize your in game avatar. The catch is it all costs money. You can choose to earn every cent from playing missions and doing activities with your friends or you can take the easy way out and buy “Shark cards” with real world money to buy the in game items. It’s a great way for them to keep the community together and still make the money they need. The last thing I want to bring up about DLC is kind of not about DLC but small arcade type releases within the universes we already love. A couple of years ago Ubisoft released Far Cry Blood Dragon. It was a small risky break off of the core Far Cry experience, survival on stranded islands or warzones. It was about a part cyborg super soldier avenging his dead friend, very much a nod to 80’s action movies and very very ridiculous but in a very good way, you had a mission riding a dragon with lasers strapped to his head. They said had it not been for the digital delivery and smaller bite of the established universe they would have never been able to release it. Same with this year when Ubisoft again released a game in the Assassins Creed universe but as a side scroller. The digital and DLC model does do good for games and creativity and give us experiences we would never have gotten otherwise. All the fixings. So we have talked about what I hate and what I love about DLC and season passes. So what are the things publishers and developers can do to make it a less painful process? How can they can keep people playing without feeling like they opened a tin foil burrito to only find a hamburger inside? We have seen a few announcements with a trend in MP games of releasing their map packs for free, both Halo 5 and  Rainbow 6 Siege have announced such programs, with a great reaction from the community. We are, as I pointed out earlier, the only ones hurt when they divide the community. It’s good to see them notice and make those changes. Now all MP games just have to do it. If they need to support the game with money, which who are we kidding if we don’t believe its expensive to build DLC even the easy small ones, release content that is based around vanity items that cost real world money if you want to unlock it faster. You don’t hurt anyone by running around with a pink bunny mask on, except your fathers pride. He weeps at night. Another problem we talked about is the season pass. I would say that there are people that really do want to help support the development of the games they love. Season passes do that in a smaller scale than say Kickstarter or Early Access on Steam. I would recommend that instead of season passes make them lifetime passes. How long do most games last in someones tray? I know a lot of people have digital libraries now but you get my meaning. I would say most games for me have about a 3 month lifespan. The really good ones or coop/MMO games tend to have a longer life. GTA for example I have been playing for 2 years now. ESO over a year. But that doesn’t happen too often for me. You may be different. But my point is that why have a season pass when we should get all DLC for that title if we pay for a season pass. I mean what is a season anyway? 3 months, 6 months? 3 content packs? I don’t know. They have never said what a season is and they differ for each title. So drop the season part of it and help our confidence in the purchase grow. Lastly, they need to have a detailed account for exactly what we are buying for the lifetime/season passes when they do release them. Batman is the worst at this for a few reasons. Batman, every single release since Arkham Asylum, has had no planned schedule for their season passes or DLC. They will say that they have content planned and maybe show the first one but otherwise no description. Then when they release content its with the easiest modes to make for the game, challenge rooms. The story content they do release is so small and lacking in story that its not even worth the time to play, I usually complete almost all their story content in an hour or so. Don’t buy season passes for Batman games. Trust me on this. I’m disappointed every single time. But that’s on me for always buying them. I understand that making games isn’t easy, and it isn’t cheap. Developers need to make money, and that’s fair. But very few things can lose the trust of gamers, their loyal customers, like the DLC bait-and-switch. If you’re a triple-A developer, you should be in a position where you don’t force your customers to gamble on what you might or might not release. More than any other medium immersion and character mean something to us. We interact with the worlds and people we meet through the characters we play/create. That needs to be respected and built upon more when DLC is created. We’re happy to pay as long as we can trust you to give us substantial content, to continue with the characters we have come to love after hard work, and allow us to continue playing with our friends. And that really doesn’t seem like too much to ask. Now, if only Chipotle would deliver…     ...

The Nail in the Coffin: Part 3 – Rest in Peace

  Needless to say, I was upset that I had failed for a fifth time in getting that elusive achievement. Who could blame me for wanting to take a break from the game? A lot had happened in those six years between my fifth and my sixth Transmissionary achievement run in Capcom’s 2006 best selling XBox 360 game, Dead Rising. I became a faux-guitar god in Red Octane’s Guitar Hero II, I had slaughtered the Locust Horde’s general in Epic Games’ first Gears of War, I had returned to Liberty City in Rockstar’s GTA IV, and I had fallen in love with a lighthouse which led me to Rapture in Irrational Game’s worldwide best seller, Bioshock. I had bought, played, and completed multiple XBOX Live Arcade games, ordered combo meals just to play those awful Burger King sponsored games such as Sneak King, PocketBike Racer, and Big Bumpin’  and had pwned all the those noobs, & even those MLG’s from Halo 3 to Team Fortress 2 on online multiplayer. But, in May of 2008 I suddenly just stopped playing video games. I felt that I needed break from games so I deleted all of my game saves and called it quits. As Arrested Development would put it, this was the “Great Dark Period.” …And then in September of 2010 I picked up Bioshock 2. My first achievement called, “Daddy’s Home” catapulted me back into video gaming. It was a slow process getting back into gaming, but it steadily picked up speed and before I knew it I was taking down Big Sisters, solving murders on the gloomy streets in Los Angeles circa 1945, reestablishing that the planet Sera would not be taken over, and so on. With all those games came all those achievements. But, when those first few achievement unlocked from my two year hiatus my mind & body was flushed with that familiar feeling of dopamine. I became excited, arguably joyous over playing games again. There was no doubt that I hadn’t experienced that profound of a dopamine rush since my two year hiatus from gaming. I started blasting through all the games I could get my hands on. And one of those games was Dead Rising 2. It was bittersweet playing through Dead Rising 2. As I was progressing through the main story line, which mimicked the same main scoop & side mission style of the first game, I was once again immersed into the small city of Fortune City, Nevada with Chuck Greene, our protagonist earning cash in a brutal sport of zombie slaughter called, Terror is Reality by antagonist, Tyrone King to buy Zombrex, a zombie supressive drug for Chuck’s infected daughter, Katey. The sequel really upped it’s playability & replayability with more unlockables, even more interesting psychopaths, smarter AI, and a new duct tape system where you could combine weapons into one powerful weapon. Even a multiplayer element was introduced where you actually played the Terror is Reality games. In took me over six runs to complete the game. But, unfortunately as I steadily earned every achievement in the game, the only one I really wanted to pop up never would. Just the thought of my gross oversight in waiting for the maintenance tunnel until Case 7.2 in the first Dead Rising still made me upset. I couldn’t. I wouldn’t. So, I put it out of my mind until I felt the time was right again. I feel it’s important to point out that this achievement, which was a mental and emotional burden, hadn’t only been a struggle for me as a gamer, but for the gaming community as a whole who’ve played Dead Rising too. TrueAcievements.com, a website that has “decided that an achievement’s difficulty can be accurately approximated by using a formula based on how many people have that achievement compared to how many people own the game,” has approximated that out of the 115,000 tracked gamers on the site who have played the Dead Rising less than 6,000 of them have rightfully earned the Transmissionary achievement, upping the game’s original achievement score of 20 points up to TrueAchievement’s score of 90 points. My friends list informs me that only two people have this achievement and I used to play with some hardcore gamers, some of those gamers are contributors and moderators on this site. But, they don’t even have it. Earning this achievement is not only difficult due to the ridiculous meticulous step-by-step guideline in attaining said achievement, which at this point you are all aware of, but also due to the notorious XBOX 360 achievement bug(s) that creep into the gamers saved data files. If you were to look up this achievement into a well-known search engine you would find multiple guides in earning this achievement, all of them exclaiming a full-proof/best way of earning it, blogs, rants, and comments all about how much gamers hated earning this or attempting this achievement. Most of them, as well as me, were just confused by the guidelines of earning the achievement. Why? Where? Who? What? When? Were the most common questions when first learning about the perimeters of earning that achievement. But, that was not going to be me this time. And that time to earn that forsaken achievement was now. Flash forward to April 2013. Three years after I first played Dead Rising 2, now five years after my hiatus, and now seven years after my fifth failed attempt in earning that elusive achievement in the first Dead Rising. So, I picked up my favorite XBOX 360 controller out of my collection, printed out the same damn guide as I did before, and set out to finally earn the Transmissionary achievement on this my sixth run in Dead Rising. But, let me spare you a longer story than it already is. I failed. Again. I failed, for a sixth time. And do you want to know why? Because I forgot yet again that Otis does not call about the maintenance tunnel info after Case 7.2 has started! It had been seven years since I did that the first time! It had been seven years until I finally was over the sting of disappointment from failing the fifth time! At this current point I was more frustrated with myself and my impressive ability to literally forget why I had messed it up all those other times. How could I not leave a note for my future self? “Oh and by the way, go to the maintenance tunnel, like, right away so you don’t eff it up again.” So, after earning the Frank the Pimp & Tour Guide achievements in Dead Rising, which was only my second attempt and which I thought were fun to play because… women, I just had one last achievement to earn in the main story line, but I put the game back on the shelf so I could cool down until I was finally ready two years later. But, not before my XBOX 360 hard drive (HDD) decided to bug out during a transfer from a standard 20 GB HDD to a 120 GB HDD. I had lost so much work. So many game saves and so many partially completed achievements that ranged from impossible to complex from time consuming to unbelievably time consuming. Cue the Arrested Development gag again. Yet, I pressed on still. So, here it was: June 2015. Nine years later. Nine damn years. The time equivalent of two Olympic ceremonies, two presidential terms, and three serious relationships. My own business had been up & running for four years during this time. I earned my Bachelor’s degree in those five years. I had six different jobs between eight different apartments during those nine years. I had played fifty one games after initially playing Dead Rising and one thousand seven hundred and ninety six achievements later I set out to make the next achievement earned the Transmissionary. But, I had no idea that at the end of all this it would be the last achievement I would ever earn. Or possibly even the last game I may ever play. Needless to say, it was finally time. I pulled the game of the shelf, opened the case, and placed Dead Rising on the disc tray and launched the game. I was greeted with the familiar eerie sound of the title screen, but it had no affect on me. My hunger for the achievement was greater than the entire zombified town of Willamette had for Frank West. I’m not going to lie though. In those first few moments when I controlled Frank, I couldn’t control him the way I wanted to. It seemed I forgot how to play despite I had played it two years earlier. From the beginning, the game felt different, almost a bit more challenging because my avatar didn’t move, fight, aim, or act like I knew he could. Then I remembered that my saves from previous runs of Dead Rising were wiped including the Real Mega Buster and my level 50 upgrades, skills, and boosts. So, I made a decision to take the extra time & extra runs to upgrade Frank West back up to level 50 and to earn back the Real Mega Buster which would make difficult situations easier to get out of. This took runs seven and eight to reacquire these levels, upgrades and items. Once I had returned Frank West to his highest level in the game and had earned the powerful Real Mega Buster I set out to earn the Transmissionary achievement on my ninth, and final (yes, I mean it this time) run. I skipped the opening cinematic where you photograph the town being attacked by crazed citizens because I didn’t want to waste anymore time. I retrieved Jeff & Natalie, ran around the Entrance Plaza, Colby’s Movieland, the Park, the maintenance tunnel, the food court, Wonderland Plaza, and Al Fresca Plaza info transmissions right away. I stayed vigilant with keeping up on the main, as well as the side mission scoops. I saved Burt, Aaron, Leah, and Greg while I slaughtered Yuu, Shinji, and David all on September 19th, the first day. I did this so I wouldn’t have to worry about the number of survivors restricting Otis’s calls because there are more than eight survivors out in the Willamette Mall. As I started the Dead Rising’s September 20th morning , it became even more tricky around 8 AM in the game, nevertheless with slaughtering seven people and saving thirteen survivors, including Isabella. I was hauling through the game, accepting no prisoners, and visiting the restroom regularly, which is how one saves the game. As September 21st started, I ran to Colby Movieland where you face the True Eye’s cult leader, Sean Keanan where I then slaughtered four out of the five survivors. I saved the psychopath, now reformed introvert, Paul and his two victims, Mindy and Debbie. I was close, so close to ending all of this. The anticipation was steadily getting worse like a fever it was consuming me. This had to be finished once and for all and today was going to be the day. Refusing to put down the controller for anything other than work or food, I set up to end this charade. In the next two hours of playing I had only need to save Paul, the reformed psychopath, Floyd, and Simone, who you can only save if you complete all the main story cases up to this point. And then, the final call came in. Realizing that I had answered every single one of Otis’s survivor request transmissions, every single one of Otis’s scoop & cases reference transmissions, and every single one of Otis’s the location transmission left me leaving Frank West idle, wearing only his Capcom wrestling shorts & boots with Adam, the psychopathic clown miniature chainsaw (my second weapon of choice), gripped in his right hand as I gripped the controller in my own right hand. Seconds felt like hours. Was this achievement going to pop? Was this all again for nothing? Was this achievement going to pop on September 22nd at noon when the helicopter was supposed to pick me up in the game? And then, it popped. And I felt… nothing. I felt nothing. There was no surge of excitement. No sigh of anticipated relief. No rush of lovely dopamine. The void that I had created over those nine years remained empty. The “badoink!” of the achievement popping and the text that scrolled across the screen it left me feeling unfulfilled. But, then it hit me all at once: I no longer cared. Years ago I was very much into video games, in fact, besides school, games were pretty much the only constant I had in my life. Having been through multiple relationships, careers, and hardships in those nine years, my priorities, without a doubt had shifted, as well as my goals and my dreams. Honestly, even what I previously thought was fun, no longer seemed that fun to me anymore and playing games, achievement hunting, and completing an entire game used to be just that. Such glorious and fun and violent and puzzling and destructive, and hilarious, and exciting, and thrilling, and creative, and memorable and beautiful games. I loved my time playing all of them, yet my eyes were still fixed disc in and disc out on finishing up Capcom’s Dead Rising and answering every single one of Otis Washington’s transmissions. Why? Maybe because I felt that it was a story left untold. Maybe I needed to end that chapter to finish the book. Maybe I just had to move onto something better. And that’s what I did, and that is still what I am doing. I’ll always loved my time playing video games, but that’s not who I am anymore. It’s a hard pill to swallow for me. My childhood was enveloped by games, in front of & away from the television. Whenever we were on car trips, I always had my Gameboy or if I was with my friend on his car trips we would play on his SEGA GameGear. I’d come home from school to play Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Punch-Out!, and so on & so forth. Day after day after day, video games was alI I played. My friends would go home over work at Wendy’s and attempt to finish Sonic the Hedgehog 2 in a speed run before the last day of senior year began. In college my friend hosted Halo: Combat Evolved LAN parties in his house. But, that was then and this is now. And this now, doesn’t involve games. That part of who I was is gone and you know what? I’m fine with that. ...

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