E3 Press Conferences and Devolver Digital: Cringefest or Genius Parody?

This article is something I wanted to discuss because it’s a common topic always brought up when it comes to E3 and company showcases: Cringe. Cringe takes a variety of forms when it comes to a press conference; sometimes it’s an off-color joke that dies on-stage. Sometimes it’s a painfully scripted event that makes everyone wince with how forced it is. There’s one common thing that connects it all back however: Cringe is a clear disconnect from the audience.

That said, there is a fine line. A line where audience disconnect loops back around to full-blown parody. That’s where Devolver Digital comes into play. I’ve seen various levels of criticism and talking points about it but one thing is clear; the jury is divided on if it was the most cringe-inducing press conference ever or if Devolver created the most snarky, pessimistic parody of a press conference ever.

If you haven’t already, I recommend checking out Devolver’s conference. Personally, I found it kinda funny in a zany out-there sort of way. They hit all the notes one expects of a press conference: Corporate shilling, announcing things nobody wants and over-the-top editing. This followed with an incredibly long post-show of people just playing games and making jokes until the next conference…but why is it so divisive?

When it comes to the E3, there’s a fine line of how sarcastic you can go before killing a joke. For many, Devolver hit this point at minute two. Very little games shown, very little in the way of actual news, and overall it was nothing but half-an-hour or so of making fun of every single press conference. The problem is that for many, the jokes wore themselves out. You can only point out how cynical the press conferences are before the audience groans and says “We get it”. If you’re not funny and if you’re not showing gameplay, you’re just wasting time.

That said, for others, this was the perfect amount of snark and reveals. You had to read between the lines but there were plenty of silly moments and reveals to be had. They just didn’t get a two minute “World Premier” trailer associated with them. Devolver went the route of making a joke more than anything else. Nothing really tops them bringing in Suda51, a famous and wacky developer, just to say he’s not doing anything with Devolver.

The importance of Devolver’s conference is that it highlights a point that blurs the line between audiences. Some say it’s hysterical, some say it was a tired joke before the camera even started rolling. Will a conference like Devolver ever happen again? Who is to say. In terms of what cringe is, Devolver found the most wonderful grey area to toy with fans, viewers and E3 goers all in the wee hours of the morning.

Overwatch Uprising: Intended Design vs. Fan Favoritism

There is an interesting phenomenon going on with Overwatch. Largely designed to be a player-versus-player competitive experience, a pattern is beginning to emerge: People like the player-versus-everything types of experiences far more than the originally designed core experience.

Uprising, Junkinstein and PvE

What is most fascinating about these events is that they do a lot of what players should dislike; These events limit your character choice, create difficult scenarios and force you to be on your toes against far-stronger enemy waves. That said, people have come to latch onto these events. Along with this there is a clear feeling that people enjoy these events far more than any esport-centric or competitive experience. Why could this be?

For starters, Overwatch falls prey to the common problem of online games. That being the factor of playing with someone else. “Toxicity” is what companies call it but I prefer an old school phrase known as “being a jerk”. In competitive games, like League of Legends and DOTA2, these people are synonymous with the game in quite negative ways. Its taken a good chunk of the reputation these two games have as well, despite how players and creators are quick to try and silence those criticisms. Overwatch is no exception, with youtube compilations of people spouting out racist or aggressive comments because you picked a hero they didn’t like. It sours an experience others enjoy.

Uprising and, by extent, all PvE modes doesn’t succumb to this to any meaningful degree. There’s a sense of comradery that grows between four players fighting against hoards of computer-controlled robots. In my many hours of playing, I only recall a few instances where someone was being a jerk to the point of annoyance. Beyond that? This experience is largely more enjoyable on a purely personal level.

One can also not neglect the essence of skill required; While there are harder versions, the overall PvE experience is much easier than a PvP one. Robots stand still, can be gamed by simple AI tricks and dying is usually because they’re FAR stronger than you are individually, not being outplayed or outmaneuvered. PvP is a breeding ground for the skill frustration, no real solution other than to “git gud” and not fail. With these in mind, it seems like the PvE experience is the way to go, right?

PvP vs. PvE

Except Overwatch was primarily designed to be a player-against-player experience.

From the establishment of the Overwatch Pro League coming later this year to Blizzard doing everything in their power to push for esports success, such as hiring MonteCristo and DoA to be the leading stars of the NA OPL, Blizzard wants Overwatch to become a long-standing esports game. Blizzard isn’t truly looking to make this a game like World of Warcraft with equal PvP and PvE content. This is a game designed to focus on the interaction between living players of equal skill.

With the comparison between Uprising and the normal experience, what can be done? This is not an easy question to ask, of course, but it’s a profound one that should be investigated. There are two obvious paths to take: On one hand, Blizzard could always make the PvE events second fiddle to the PvP ones. This might annoy many casual players (who are arguably the biggest audience) but it will preserve the main identity. The alternative is to develop PvE alongside PvP, creating maps and scenarios specifically for the playerbase which enjoys it. If it gets big enough, one might even be able to host time-attack tournaments to see who can clear scenarios the fastest or with the most points.

One option you might notice I omitted was the idea of removing focus on PvP. To be blunt, I don’t forsee that as an acceptable solution. Blizzard has committed too many resources already to go back on the PvP aspect of Overwatch. Even if the majority played PvE instead of PvP, the design of the game has just put too much energy and effort into crafting a specifically PvP experience. “Too big to fail” if you will.

Design Intention vs. Design Endpoint

A good example of this scenario stretches back all the way to Warcraft 3 and the modding community. Designed to be a multi-unit RTS, Warcraft 3 ended up taking off with the MOBA-style/DOTA-like game. Blizzard didn’t really support this to any meaningful extent, the game and community springing off despite Blizzard’s focus on making the core RTS the experience they wanted to enforce. This, of course, lead to the MOBA genre taking off and games like League and DOTA dethroning the RTS.

Can a similar scenario happen here? While Overwatch’s custom tools aren’t on-par with Warcraft 3’s, it could one day come to a point where the PvE experience overtakes the PvP. A game similar to Left 4 Dead being born from Overwatch’s framework that leads to a new experience that trounces the intended design. Perhaps I’m misjudging the desire for PvE. It’s entirely possible my focus on this could be overestimated and what many loved was just a fun, side diversion. After all, the OPL hasn’t started yet and the pro-scene of Overwatch could very well explode, snuffing out the PvE lovers.

All I can truly do is bide my time and see where this goes. Uprising or not, I highly doubt the PvE aspect of Overwatch is going to stay muted.

Video Game Journalism: Lacking the First Step

Chances are, you might have heard about the immense backlash at Brash Games. It goes to show that the entry level of video game writing and journalism really isn’t friendly. It is a system that exploits people who wish to be writers and does all manner of horrible things. While Brash is not the first, there seems to be a constant question of why people get exploited, as well as a plea from others to make sure up-and-coming-writers aren’t tricked into working for free.

The problem is that these people have no first step.

Personal Experience

This is not the first website I’ve written for, nor will it be the last. Before this, I had written for two small-time websites: Splitpush.net and Fortis Core. Let me be clear that Fortis hasn’t paid me but I do it because I know those who run it and I have high hopes for it. Splitpush, conversely, paid me for my work albeit it wasn’t all that much money in hindsight.

Perhaps what frustrates me most about others who insist on finding a place that will accept me and pay me a fair wage is that those places don’t truly exist. Paying writing jobs are often contract work or throwing your resume into a giant pile in hopes that someone will pick it up. I would love to get paid for the articles I write here but I doubt that is going to happen. They need editing and I’m not the best when it comes to editing. I could use eyes on my work but beyond posting on twitter and sharing with other sites, I can’t get that “exposure” that I need.

In the grand design, people often ask how anyone could write for exposure. The answer is simple: It’s all you can get. I was shocked when I was being offered about ten dollars for what I wrote at Splitpush because I had never been paid for my writing before barring some commissions. Often, new writers will take anything they can get because we don’t have that much available to us. So we either start our own websites and hope to garner a following or we go where they’ll take us.

Stairs Without a Step

This comes back to the problem that there is a lack of a clear, first step. Most writers will have a cavalcade of stories with how they got noticed: Some went to college, got a degree and worked at small time places for cheap. Others wrote a lot on the net and eventually got noticed. Some might be able to even leverage the horror story they had into job offers and being a spokesperson about the industry. Yet in terms of an actionable start to a career in video game journalism, there isn’t much.

This, in turn, leads to the abuse situations one can see on the net. Yes, exposure isn’t great and exposure can’t pay bills…but in terms of a first step, sometimes that is the best you can get. It feels dreadful because now you’re working for free but with the hopes that this can transition into something that will pay bills and let you work. It also doesn’t help that the pool of people who wish to write about games is enormous. Competition will shut out a majority of these people, which will lead them into taking less fair work and more painful jobs.

Perhaps this sounds like whining from someone who can’t find work, which is fair, but I’d hardly say my experience is unique. Outlets like Reddit aren’t well-suited to article sharing because of the format of content that shines while people will chastise you for spamming and posting your own work as opposed to reading about it.

Paving the Cracks

I think the best question to ask is if this is a problem that can’t be fixed. Honestly, it’s probably not something you can fix. Game journalism is just like any other media and breaking in is the hardest part. Sure, we can advertise and work with companies who treat up-and-comers right but those are limited jobs and there are a lot more questionable groups than admirable groups.

The earnest, best thing we can do to help those who wish to get ahead is to try and get more of those companies who can treat writers well. The more helpful groups there are who seek to nurture writers, the better the talent pool grows and the overall industry improves. It also means shady situations are avoided and left to rot. So long as there is more positive construction than negative exploitation, there will always be a net gain.

Overall, the worst thing I see being done is the posturing that “you’re worth money” and “find a place that will pay you for your work”. If that were as easy as it was said, situations like Brash Games wouldn’t happen. There are struggling writers who don’t have a place that will pay them, making them resort to working at other places for the great reward of exposure. There is so much talk about it yet very little in the way of offers of places to go.

Everyone wants to pay writers fair wages but it seems that when that young upstart comes knocking, the wallet is empty and they’re told to get to the back of the line.

“Simple Champions Needed”: Debunking the Argument

One of the most common complaints on the boards is that every single champion Riot makes is now hard-to-understand, super complex and overall just too difficult to grasp for casual players. Rather, I’d like to propose this:

Riot still makes simple champions, the problem players face is that the disparity between skilled and unskilled has gone up.

I’m going to go over this but I’ll be using both recent and non-recent examples of how complexity isn’t primarily about the kit itself but the aspects of the champion. With that said, let’s begin.

The Shaco Effect

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“The Shaco effect” refers to something that really took off in seasons one and two. Essentially, this effect refers to the disparity of a Shaco on your team (an actual clown) versus a Shaco on the enemy’s team (The Joker with the powers of Pennywise and the Violator). Overall, I think we can all agree Shaco has a pretty simple kit: A very short stealth and crit, backstab damage, a clone that doubles his attacks and a point-and-click nuke and slow. The thing is that despite Shaco’s simplicity, he’s incredibly hard to play.

Despite how one might feel about Shaco himself, Shaco is the prime example of a simple kit done well: He has a very basic kit that doesn’t have much in the way of difficulty understanding but the requirements to be a good shaco versus a great shaco are immensely steep. He requires planning, finesse and sometimes a little stroke of luck. That is not to say Shaco is a difficult champion TO PLAY. He is just a difficult champion TO PLAY WELL.

Camille’s Release and Difficulty

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Again, using a controversial topic but let me stress my point: Camille is not a difficult champion nor complex champion to understand. She has a very straight-forward, simple kit: A passive shield. Auto-attack bonus that you have to time. Arc sweep where you want to hit the edge. Gap-closer against champs and a lockdown ult. Despite what people complain about, Camille is straight-forward and simple to play. It’s also why she was strong and overtuned: With such a simple kit, it was easy for people to simply overpower others through sheer power output rather than mechanics.

That said, let me show you what a godlike Camille looks like.

Watching that video, you can obviously see some disparity. Yes, on paper she is simple, but a skilled player is taking her to the edge and turning Camille into a venerable titan of mechanics. A great player has taken the simple parts of this champion and weaved them into combos and maneuvers that look like the hand of god coming down to play a champion. Perhaps most importantly, these moves require practice and aren’t something any old player can pick up without some time put into mastering the champion.

Difficulty, Simplicity and the Floor/Ceiling

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The most common, simple misunderstanding I’m seeing is that people are mixing skill floor up with skill ceiling. For the (likely few) who are unaware, skill floor is known as the minimum amount of skill required to play a champion. We’re talking “How much time does it take to play a champion and not go 0/12/0”. Ceiling, on the other hand, is just how complex a champion can get and how amazing a champion can be when you put time and talent into them. Garen has a low skill floor and skill ceiling. Azir, comparatively, has a high skill floor and skill ceiling. Some champions could be argued as having a low skill ceiling but a high skill floor, although most commonly it’s a low skill floor but a high ceiling.

We have to separate these two better when we’re discussing difficulty because it has become muddy. Yes, a great Camille will awe you and make you feel inadequate…but that doesn’t mean she’s insanely difficult to play when you first pick her up. Conversely, Shaco is hard to play well and you’re likely going to do poorly, despite his kit appearing “simple” on paper.

In the future, people must try to phrase arguments from all perspectives. Do not simply assume “THIS CHAMP IS SUPER HARD TO PLAY UGH RIOT MAKING ANOTHER COMPLEX CHAMPION” because their skill ability has more than a single line of text describing what it does.

Review Culture and How It Hampers Video Games

This is a seven out of ten game.

What image does that conjure in your mind?

Unfortunately, it probably doesn’t give you a great view. An OK game, likely plagued with bland segments and problems, that never really goes anywhere and isn’t worth your time. Movies and television suffer from similar problems but I feel that it is much worse in the game sphere…why is this?

To understand this, we have to go back to the advent of video game journalism. We have to look at reviews and how people consumed media. Video games appeared right when written media began to become a little less important. People wanted to know about how good or bad a game was but they didn’t want to really sit down and read an entire article about whatever the game was. People wanted a quick, concise measure about what to expect from a game. Writers saw this and knew the best way to capture an audience was to cut down the entire review into something that could fit into a single sentence. Thus, we moved to a system of numerical basis. We would rate out of five stars or ten points. Sometimes more, sometimes less.

Yet most video games cost more money (at least the console or PC versions) than your standard book or movie ticket. They’re pricey purchases by comparison. The counterpoint might be that video games offer longer experiences by default than a movie or book but a game is still a hard purchase for someone whose entertainment budget might just be a hundred dollars a month, for example. We’ve slightly moved away from this with things like Steam, the indie market and free-to-play games but your standard AAA title will still set you back a pretty penny.

This had the unintended side-effect of skewing the game’s review weight. When we think about games, our views on what a ten-out-of-ten game is versus a seven-out-of-ten game are further apart than the T-rex and the stegosaurus. A perfect game that cannot be missed versus a meh experience that might be worth a rental at best. In truth, this is a growing problem with metacritic sites as well.

Take, for example, Rotten Tomatoes. An aggregation of all reviews might sound good on paper but the line gets blurred when you consider not all movies fall under “flawless masterpiece” or “garbage we filmed for two hours”. Media that lands in the middle suffers the most because of this; a five-out-of-ten film or game can have redeeming qualities about it but we are too quick to dismiss it as not worth the time. Likewise, we praise things that hit the higher echelon of gaming too highly. That eight-star game might be decent but those glaring flaws ARE glaring flaws.

But how we respond to reviews also dictates an immense amount of what we consider a good or bad score. Jim Sterling recently gave the new Legend of Zelda the score you see at the top. By all means, not a terrible score, but the fact that it was not a perfect was seen as a besmirching of the series. People thought he was viciously attacking the franchise and spitting on what they thought a perfect game was…for an “It’s pretty good” review. It goes back to the point that we’ve skewed the review system too much.

So what can be done about this review system? Using my own experiences, Fortis Core uses a different brand of scoring; rather than stars or numbers, its recommended in the form of a “yes/no/maybe” system. It’s not perfect but it does encourage reading deeper when you get to the “recommend with exception” rule. The flaw there is that you might be pigeonholing games even deeper. I’d rather recommend/not recommend a game though. Giving it an arbitrary score might actually hurt a game I genuinely enjoyed.

Review culture has become too caught up in TL;DRs. We focus too much on the end result and not on the nuances. While it is understandable due to how reviewers often have to try a lot of games over a year with only a few hours for each, this style of reviewing has polluted the idea of the review. Good games are slipping through the cracks into the trash because the crack has widened. While I wish that we could take a step back and earnestly give each game the time and review it deserved, we live in a world that is increasingly concerned about the “now”, not the “later”. If you take one thing away from this; Don’t let flaws dissuade you. That seven-out-of-ten game might be perfect for you.

Orisa: Setting a Dangerous Precedence

In terms of new characters, Overwatch has so far made some really interesting unique additions to the game. Both Sombra and Ana brought new things to the game and, whether they were viable or not, both brought things that weren’t originally in the game. I was quite excited for the next one.

Unfortunately, Orisa has not piqued my interest. In fact, she makes me worry for the future of Overwatch’s hero design if she becomes a standard among the cast. To understand my frustration, we have to go back to League of Legends and the earliest days of Riot’s design. It’s only in understanding their missteps that we can move forward.

Perhaps Riot’s biggest blunder in my mind was the bloat of characters in seasons one and two. During these seasons, Riot pumped out a new character almost every other week. It was impressive that only a handful came out so pathetically bad that there wasn’t any real problem with them existing, save for the space they took up.

But this problem was compounded by these additions not bringing new things to the game. They didn’t reinvent or introduce new concepts. They didn’t bring many new skills or ways to play. In many ways, the design of Riot was an incredibly safe cookie-cutter that was only changed by what you put into the mold rather than the mold itself. To go with the analogy, Darius might be an oatmeal cookie to Garen’s chocolate chip…but they’re both still cookies.

This is also partially why Riot has to make large-scale class reworks: The similarity problem has gotten so bad that those who are on top outshine those who aren’t in almost every category. The sins of the past have caught up to Riot and now they’re scrambling to fix this. Moving back to Overwatch, there are some similarities and differences to how they operate.

For one thing, Overwatch is taking their time with character releases compared to old Riot. Riot moved to this format as well, which means you don’t have to worry about roster bloat as much. However, this also means that a bad release will sit on the player’s mind for a while, much like what Orisa is doing to me right now. It’s not flawless but I see it as better than the alternative. The more important issue is Orisa’s kit and why I’m so disinterested in her as a playable hero.

Lore-wise, it makes sense for Orisa to have the kit she does. She’s the invention of an eleven-year-old genius who looked to the heroes she worships and copied much of their skills. I was guilty of this as a child as well, making carbon copies of Power Rangers because young me only knew what worked, not how to innovate the concept. The problem comes when you consider Orisa as an introduction to the game as a whole and not as something that exists in the universe as a living, breathing addition.

Orisa does not innovate.

Yes, she does things in different ways comparative to others, but she does not have any truly “new” mechanic to her. Perhaps the most interesting thing about her is the damage reduction/CC immunity spell but even that is quite similar to Zarya’s bubble or Torbjorn’s molten core. More importantly, when you compare Ana and Sombra, both brought tons of new things to the game. Sombra was an invisible, hacking offense hero who could disable heroes with strong abilities. Ana was a healing sniper who could boost up the power of her allies while also negating healing.

If you ask me, Orisa does not bring enough new to the table to justify her inclusion. No matter how interesting as a character she might be, she doesn’t really bring a fresh look to the table. What strikes me more than anything is that Orisa’s kit can be described in a pretty quick, singular word: Rushed.

Designated as an “anchor tank” (A tank that leads the charge and holds the line.), Orisa is meant to be a replacement for Reinhardt in certain situations. When you consider that, the situation with Orisa’s kit feels even more compounded; Was Orisa a character that was lovingly handcrafted to bring fresh life to Overwatch and to expand the roster with a new, fascinating hero or was she a character quickly rushed out the door to create someone who could stand toe-to-toe with Reinhardt so that he’s not the go-to tank in every situation?

My main fear when it comes to these situations is that this won’t be an isolated incident. Sure, Orisa isn’t a stellar release comparative to the two we had before in terms of gameplay, but overall we can chalk her up to just a meh release. What’s more concerning is if Blizzard is going to take her as a model of what a character should be. Blizzard could very well use Orisa as the model for solving problems of over-picking a hero; instead of buffing, nerfing or finding a work around for that hero, Blizzard could opt to make a similar hero of a similar role with just enough differences to warrant another inclusion.

Of course, not everything about Orisa is bad. I’ll likely play her a bit if I want a ranged Reinhardt or if I get some cosmetics for her. I like her character and while I don’t like the kit, I dig the lore reason surrounding it. There’s always the idea that maybe I’m just worrying about nothing. Maybe this article is simply the fears of someone who saw a similar thing happen in another game and doesn’t want to see Overwatch go down the same path. Consider this doomsaying or criticizing if you will, I merely wish to air my concerns with Blizzard when it comes to a new hero.

The beginning to a disappointing trend or just one not-that-interesting kit? Hopefully Blizzard proves me wrong in the future.

A Word Moving Forward

When I started writing this website, I wanted to make a ton of good articles and write a bunch of really great, thought-provoking/discussion-producing stuff. I also wanted a fairly often standard of writing articles. Something like one-to-two articles a week. As it turns out, I was waaaaaay too boastful of my own skills.

While I like writing articles, I’m not producing the quality I’d like on a two-a-week basis. With that in mind, I’m going to be reducing my article output by around one every two weeks. However, I hope to make these articles overall better written with a more concise point.

For anyone who really enjoyed my writing, sorry I couldn’t keep up the pace. Please be patient with me and I hope to write better, longer and overall more interesting pieces of work in the future.

Thank you.