Here are the rest of my thoughts on the Ubisoft show. As before, the whole 1 hour, 50 minute ordeal is in this video at the top, and my text synopsis is below.
What a strange experiment. It’s been 20 years since FMV games died an awkward, embarrassing, and very pixelated death.
Those games had a lot working against them. You can’t really give player direct control over a live-action actor, so those titles were always doomed to be more cutscene than game. Making things worse is that they were adventure games and saddled with all of the problems that genre was known for at the time: Bad puzzles built around inventory items and moon logic, which mixed abrupt “game over” states with trial-and-error gameplay, and offered no way for a frustrated player to know what they needed to do to advance the meandering story. I suppose it doesn’t help that almost nobody could afford real actors. Expensive to make and yet cheap looking by nature, FMV was a cursed genre from the outset.
And now it looks like the world wants to give FMV another try. But this time in VR.
I don’t know what to think of it. Technology has come far enough that our live actors can blend in with our 3D scenery. They’ve hired real actors this time aroundThis game features Elijah Wood, who also delivers this presentation.. The production values look solid and they’ve got a really wild concept for this story that revolves around mind transference.
This could be an interesting new frontier in videogames, or it could all dissolve into a David Cage style cringe-fest. I wouldn’t put money into this, but I would be delighted if it works out.
I haven’t heard a single other person complain about it, so I assume it’s just me that dislikes this art style. To me it looks a lot like Star Wars: The Old Republic. For me it falls into the void between cartoon and photorealism. It’s not detailed enough to give you the grit of photo-realism, but it’s not vibrant enough to create a sense of wonder. The faces are just a little too detailed. In the above screenshot, that guy in the middle looks like someone took a photorealistic model and put a cartoon texture on him. The result is… off. Everything looks like it’s made of the same dull plastic. (Which could be deliberate, since this game is all about toy integration.)
The trick with this game is that you buy toy spaceships and mount them on your controller, and these toys somehow communicate with the game. So as you swap out ship parts on your toy ship, those changes are reflected within the game. Here’s my hot take on that idea:
- I don’t want to use a controller that has a huge toy (about the same size as the controller itself) attached to the top of it.
- Swapping out toy parts sounds a lot less convenient than just, you know, going to a menu or pressing a hotkey to change weapons / loadout / reroute power to the shields / whatever.
- I imagine these toys are expensive. And being physical products, I can’t buy them digitally. I have to move my physical body to someplace on this planet where toys are sold. And the less I move this thing around the better.
- Great. Now I have all these toys cluttering up my apartment, getting stepped on, chewed by the dog, sucked up in the vacuum cleaner, and getting swiped by little children who can’t tell the difference between their kiddie toys and my allegedly “grown up” toys.
- If I lose access to the toy, does that mean I can’t use the ship anymore? If so, this creates the awful double jeopardy of the bad old days of DRM when we were transitioning from discs to bits. A game can insist that I have the physical media to play, OR the game can insist that I have a login to play, but it should never insist on BOTH.
But I dunno. Maybe these things will find a market. I imagine if you’re single and into collecting stuff then this could be really appealing?
Look Ubisoft: When I watch your show there are only two things I want to see:
1) A ridiculous trailer for Trials.
2) The real-life Viking dude that made For Honor.
Why would you talk about For Honor without bringing the Viking Dude? That’s like Christmas without a Santa Claus.
The Crew 2
I’m not much into online games. But when I do play them I’m usually looking for some ability to make the experience my own: Design my avatar, pick a name, and choose which bits of story I engage with.
The Crew has about the most ludicrous pitch for an Online Game I’ve ever heard: It’s a linear story-based online game. You play as Alex Taylor. So does everyone else. All the other players you race against are also playing through the non-branching, cutcene-driven “Alex Taylor gets revenge on the bad guys” story.
This is it. This is the worst possible blend of single-player and multiplayer. It has the disadvantages of both and the advantages of neither. A relentlessly generic protagonist with a cliche plot told entirely through cutscenes that you must be online to experience, in a shared world where you have no means of self-expression. And just to make it as intolerable as possible, the linear story is atrocious. I just watched about ten minutes of it on YouTube. Here’s a single frame of it:
We could turn this into a game: “Who can find the single worst frame of this sophomoric disaster?” That would probably be more fun than actually playing The Crew.
Is The Crew 2 going to fix any of this? No idea. The trailer was all sizzle and no substance as cars and bikes and planes swooped around in front of the camera. The trailer promised YOUR STORY, but we’ve heard that promise before. In fact, we hear that promise about a dozen times every year, and I can’t remember the last time it was true.
Assassin’s Creed Odyssey
- You can play as either Alexios or Kassandra.
- Ancient Greece is pretty cool.
- It’s an Assassin’s Creed game.
Snark aside, The Assassin’s Creed games are an interesting formula. From my perspective they take 3 solid hours of gameplay and smear them out over ~20 hours of repetition. But it’s obvious that for millions of gamers, this is exactly what they want.
I know a lot of different folks who are into gaming, but by dumb luck I don’t actually know anyone who’s really into AC and excited about each new release. So I can only see this series through the lens of distant third-hand accounts. The stereotype is of someone who wants something they can play for an hour or two a day. They want a game that lasts a long time, but they want to feel like they’re making a little bit of progress with each game session.
Let’s call this hypothetical AC player “Brandon”.
Brandon’s needs are obviously radically different from mine. I don’t need a game to help me wind down when I get home from work. I’m going to power through a game in under a week, and then play it a second time. And maybe even a third, if I’m having fun. I want a story that engages me and surprises me. Brandon just needs the story to pop up once a game session to keep the mood alive and remind him what’s going on. I want either a deep combat system that rewards mastery, or a gratifying combat system that makes me feel powerful. Brandon doesn’t mind if the combat is a little same-y because he only plays for an hour or so.
The story of Assassin’s Creed drives me bonkers. I liked the anarchic idealism vs pragmatic authoritarianism vibe the game injected into the Assassins vs. Templars struggle in the first game, but they dropped it in the second to tell the story of stupid boring Desmond Miles. Then they threw that away and did this goofy meta-thing about game development. I keep trying to make sense of this mess but it’s just a meaningless chain of ad-hoc cliches and pointless twists that have nothing to say. I keep insisting that all these hours of cutscenes need to mean SOMETHING. Just… anything. Say something with it. Meanwhile, Brandon isn’t really engaged with the story and doesn’t really notice if it doesn’t all match up because he just wants to shank some dudes and see some cool scenery.
Again, Brandon is an extrapolation on my part. I don’t know any Brandons. I’m just trying to figure out how this bundle of missed opportunities became an industry juggernaut.
Given how diverse their stories are, Ubisoft must be a very hands-off company when it comes to narrative. While their games all hold to a pretty obvious formula when it comes to gameplay, their narrative designers are all over the place. The infantile stupidity of The Crew. The careful, almost obsessive worldbuilding of Beyond Good and Evil 2Seriously. If you go to the HitRecord page for the game you can read some dev notes on the various areas in the game, and it’s pretty clear that worldbuilding is something they take very seriously.. The half-assed mess of Assassin’s Creed. And then there’s The Division, which is the result of either provocation or incompetence. I still can’t tell.
Since Ubisoft doesn’t seem to care one way or the other, I often wish that AC would’ve wound up with a narrative director with a passion for worldbuilding and plot construction. There’s nothing keeping this series from smartening itself up a bit, except it’s just a not a creative priority for the people in charge of it.
That’s the Ubisoft show. I’ll have one more post this week to wrap up this E3.
 This game features Elijah Wood, who also delivers this presentation.
 Seriously. If you go to the HitRecord page for the game you can read some dev notes on the various areas in the game, and it’s pretty clear that worldbuilding is something they take very seriously.
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