N00basaurus Inspects E3 2015 Part 1: “The Bethesda-ing”

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Most years past, E3 had been a large flash in the pan in the video game world but nothing more substantial than large console companies flexing their muscles at one another.  “Here’s the games you can look forward to in the next few years” was the general message, but nothing really more than that.  This year was a little different.  We got a ton of information from all over the gaming spectrum.  New companies, large heavyweights to small indies, got stages to talk about their games, PC got a trade show, and the most interesting part of the ordeal was that consoles seemed to just “be” there this year rather than being the end all/be all of the whole shebang.

So let us begin at the event’s beginning, which is technically the day (or rather, evening) before the expo actually started.  E3 days and events are usually numbered as “Day Zero” then “Day One” all the way through to the end, very apocalyptic for sure.  Bethesda Studios got to present the evening before the event, a day that has been dubbed “Day -1”.  This was Bethesda’s first ever E3, and the company came out swinging.

Doom

Caution: The video below contains very graphic content because it’s Doom.

 

So let’s talk Doom.  Doom is one of those games that have been suffering from an issue where hype and nostalgia override the player’s actual experience of the game itself.   Specifically, Doom 3 along with several previous titles, have taken a bit of creative liberty and transformed the franchise into more of a spaceship survival horror genre.  While the premise of the aforementioned game is fine on it’s own, it’s just simply not Doom.

So here comes Bethesda with the surprise acquisition of id Software, the original studio behind the first ever Doom, and gives us a sort of “return to form” with this new Doom.  The new Doom from Bethesda is touting a few specific features that piqued my interest quite a bit.  For one, it is a return to a long forgotten 1980’s genre of Ultra-Violence (films such as A Clockwork Orange and games such as, well, Doom are examples of the over the top “ultra-violence” genre).  The gameplay trailer that they showed during their conference had so much rampant gore and amazing death finishers within it that it sparked a child like glee in me that I haven’t felt since playing old 1990’s first person shooter games like Quake, Wolfenstein 3D, and of course, Doom.

They showed us a plethora of weapons, including old and new.  But the thing that caught my eye, were the finishers.  It appears to happen when you get an enemy’s health low enough, then depending on what body part you selected and what weapon you have equipped, the game dynamically plays out a nasty bit of death dealing.  Not only that, but enemies can do the same back to you, and it’s horrifying.  So you have to juggle killing along with not getting your health too low.

And here is where I hit my first disagreement with Doom fans.  Many of them were complaining that the footage from the trailer was not the “Speed-run paced gameplay” that the original Doom had, which was one of the selling promises that the Bethesda devs continuously touted during their conference.  The speed that players remember from the 1990’s Doom, I’m pretty sure, was a technological limit in the character controller mechanic (the code that moves the player characters around the video game’s world based on player button presses and other inputs) and not a specific “feature”.  Players have to remember that it was one of the very first 3D first person controllers, so the systems and code that got the controller to work had to have been “clunky” at best. Modern first person controllers are much smoother, built on all the information that we have learned from the past, and the levels/worlds are built around them with more precision and understanding of how to utilize the space and scale players find themselves in.

I do want to say that I have a slight reservation when it comes to the artwork in the game.  The new Doom’s success seems like it will hinge on three things: the visual aesthetic of the worlds, the number and differentiation between enemy types and encounters, and the straight up technical level design and how each level “flows” along with how long/short each one is.  The one major complaint that I had from the gameplay trailer was in the art category.  The color scheme of everything was very “Disney’s John Carter-esque”, by which I mean that everything in the world is bland and the color of rusts, mud, reds and browns with some orange splashed here and there for fun.  I’ve talked about this before, but in art it’s called camouflaging.  Not to be confused with camo print, camouflaging is the overuse of the same colors so much so that everything blends into each other in an art piece.  It makes a subject in an art piece indistinguishable from anything else.  It’s something that should be avoided at all costs.

Another, although minor, qualm I have, is how much of Doom’s original creators are involved? One of the more well known names that comes to mind is John Romero, but, to be honest, I’m not entirely sure how much that is or isn’t necessary for id Software to function under Bethesda’s leadership. Although, seeing at least some tip of the hat to the original designers would be quite lovely in the actual game, especially with Bethesda constantly talking about how it’s going back to the original feel of the franchise.

Moving on from there, let’s talk Doom SnapMap.  There are lots of level editors for many different types of games and all of them come with their own levels of difficulty to use.  There are some that are pretty spectacular and easy to use, such as a Sony property: Little Big Planet.  And then there are those that are absolutely horrid at letting you do anything with it (here’s looking at you Dragon Age.  Keeping your entire code library inside your studio. Sure you released an editor, but you kept the key to unlock your castle locked away deep inside your developer studio).

Doom SnapMap, from the short little preview we glimpsed, was stunning.  Bethesda promoted the fact that it might be the most in-depth and easiest to use game editor on the market, allowing players to not only mod maps and missions but the vary core code of the game itself.  It’s a very Little Big Planet approach to Doom.  Build a solid game, and then give the community the tools to develop more and more detailed and in-depth content for it. It is a really great way to build a fan base, and a strategy that Unreal Tournament has enjoyed for a long time.

So to boil all that down:

If Doom can keep up the feel of the original, have long satisfying and challenging demon slaughtering levels, keep the eye moving with a good variety of enemy types, maps, levels, objectives, and weapons, as well as have a very deep a rabbit hole of a level editor as they have promised, the new Doom looks absolutely phenomenal, and I so look forward to getting my grubby little paws on it.

Moving on:

Dishonored 2.  I don’t really have much to say about the new Dishonored.  I just recently started the first one, thanks to the Steam summer sale (which we talked about here), but I have just put my big toe into the water and don’t have much of an opinion on it yet.  They didn’t really show anything much in the trailer, other than some teasers about the story here and there… but I expect to have a review of the first Dishonored before the summer’s out.

 

And the Big Enchilada:

FALLOUT 4.  Now, to be honest, I am not much of a Fallout fan.  I’m much more into Bethesda’s other property, the Elder Scrolls series, where I can play as a big angry magic slinging lizard people, but I do enjoy the Fallout series.  I like the premise of post-apocalyptic future 1960’s.  There’s just something quite charming about zapping zombies and robots with lasers while “I don’t want to set the world on fire” is playing in the background.

 

Fallout 3 was groundbreaking.  An absolute treat.  It was the first game of its type to attempt to utilize such size and scope.  Its map is enormous and it uses the same “go find something to do” approach that is classic to Bethesda’s Elder Scroll‘s games.

Fallout 4 looks amazing.  Just simply amazing.  Time will tell, however, as it always does, but if it even if the game is only half as big as what the trailers have shown, it would still be a rather decent game.  Everything is incredibly deep.  From the set pieces, to character creation, to combat, to everything.  Crafting alone could be a game all in of itself.  Following the path of Doom’s level editor, they put in a system inside of Fallout 4 where you can basically destroy and create levels and buildings in game.  That is, you can demolish a building and build a new building however you’d like using a UI that snaps pieces together. Everything in the world can be used for crafting, and what you use to create objects changes the look, feel, and function of your weapons, armor, and even power armor.  On top of all of this, there is even a scripting language you can learn in game, and in doing so, you can attach a computer to objects in game to give them functionality, like switches, booby traps, lights, and turrets as well as who knows what is and isn’t possible yet.

And then, there’s dog.  Dogmeat is… well, just that, a dog.  I’m kind of torn about the idea of having a permanent companion.  Mainly because I’ve always found that the companion feature in these kinds of games, a feature that tags an NPC to you to hold your hand through the game, rather useless… only because my mini nuke launcher or, in their other games, giant soul-sucking sword of death seems to hit the companions more than my target and the companion usually dies in the first few seconds of a fight.  Apparently death dealing objects are equivalent to candy to a companion; I’ll never know.

However, this fear was shot down by Bethesda game designer Todd Howard: Quote “Dogmeat cannot die.”  That is fantastic news. Onto my other concern, usage.  How is a dog in the world going to be used?  It’s an interesting question that is generally answered with a “shrug” as we have seen in games like Call of Duty: Ghost and Fable 2.  Those in game companions, the K9’s felt a little bit clunky and poorly designed.

Dogmeat, your faithful German Shepherd — because no other canine species exists in video games for some odd reason — can do a surprising number of tasks.  One of the ones I was taken aback by, was that you can point to an object in the game and the dog will go get it.  Need that spanner off the shelf? Done. That laser pistol from where the now dead raider dropped it? Got it right here.  A lone missile for your out-of-ammo-all-of-a-sudden heat guided surface to surface missile launcher? Here you go, pal!  Also, from the trailer, you can see that the dog acts quite naturally within the environment, which is absolutely fantastic and I can’t wait to play around with the technology.

And Now:

Let’s talk marketing and apps.  Bethesda also announced a Fallout mobile game and released it that night.  The announcement of the game’s existence and the game’s release happened in the same evening, barely hours apart from the Bethesda E3 presentation.  Not only that, but Fallout Shelter is not a micro-payment based game.  There are micro-transactions within the game, but they are far from a “necessary to play” feature.  No pay walls, no wait walls, nothing.  Play the game, enjoy it.  And if you want some extra spices, weapons, or characters here and there, pay a small amount and you can get some weapons, outfits, and resources.  Hurrah! Though, you can unlock all of those things for free by just completing in-game objectives just as easily.

I’ve been playing the game since launch night, and it’s actually pretty well made.  It’s a little repetitive after a certain point, and the scope of the game is fairly small.  But for what it is, it’s probably one of the better mobile games that I’ve played in a long while.  On top of that, it doesn’t even make me feel sick playing it because the game isn’t reaching out and trying to feed on people’s gambling addictions like a greasy vampire (Here’s looking at you mobile industry that  make up 90% of the mobile market).

If you got a chance and some free time, I highly suggest you give it a try.  The game is called: Fallout Shelter.  It’s so rare at a mobile game isn’t designed by an accountant these days.  Mobile games don’t have to be evil.  It’s fantastic.

Now, back to Fallout 4.  They are developing an app that will connect to your gameplay via a wifi connection.  The app connects to your game via wi-fi, it will be your pip-boy along side your in game pip boy.  So when you take damage, you can view it on your smart phone as well as your game’s screen.  There is little else known about it, so we don’t really know a lot of all the functions the app will be able to do and how it will interact with the actual game.

What we do know is this: They made a plastic wearable pip-boy that you can stick your phone in.  That’s right.  You heard me.  You can get a special edition copy of Fallout 4 that comes with a plastic full sized replica of the pip-boy you wear in game.  Now, with your own personal pip-boy replica on your arm, you can turn your smart phone to the in-game pip-boy app and boosh! You and your in-game character are pip-buddies!  I desperately want one and I hope to get mine ordered before the pre-orders are all sold out.

Yes, this is a game that I’m going to pre-order… Even though I’m generally and very vocally against the idea of pre-orders these days.  But how cool is it to actually wear a functioning app driven pip-boy?  Very cool, that’s how cool.

The last thing I want to discuss is subject of the graphics.  Many people viewing the trailer for Fallout 4 lamented the fact that the graphics seem to be scaled down compared to other games of this age.  And you know what? That’s a good thing.  Yes, a GOOD thing.  Graphics are not the end-all metric that decides on whether or not a game is worth playing.  But somehow, now more than ever, that sorta thing seems to be the sole judgement players are basing their opinion on these days.  Don’t get me wrong, having decent graphics is OK.  It’s good to have in a game, sure.  But really, it’s just icing on the cake.  Time and time again, we gamers are spurned by games that have stunning visual graphics but terrible mechanics, awful stories, and are overall bad games.  A game can have face melting looks but the substance comes up lacking.

I’m glad that Fallout 4 is going the opposite direction with this.  Make the game work.  Make the game good.  Then get it to look good.  What a novel concept.  Sacrifice how it looks to make sure it works and plays well.  Brilliant.  So people worried about the graphics quality, take a step back, and judge it at launch.  I’m hoping that when the game does launch, it will be much more of a smooth launch than Bethesda titles previous (here’s looking at you, backwards flying dragons of Skyrim).

My final thoughts are that for Bethesda Studio’s first ever Electronic Entertainment Expo, it was a beauty to behold.  Absolutely spectacular, and there isn’t a title from them that I’m not excited for.

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