As you’ve probably figured out from the title of this post, there’s no podcast this week. But! The tireless machine of pop-culture entertainment chugs ever onward, and there are things that need to be complained about in a timely way. I’d hate to think that something would dare to disappoint me in some way and escape the justice of my overlong bitch-and-moan style of analysis.
So here is a collection of topics that we would have covered on the show, but didn’t because there wasn’t one…
I spotted GhostrunnerNot to be confused with Ghostwire:Tokyo or Ghost of Tsushima. on Steam and I really liked the look of the trailer. I love cyberpunk, I love games with a lot of mobility, and I love to surprise people with fatal stab wounds. I tried to buy it, but then I saw the release date: October 27.
I’ve only played two proper 2020 games so far this year: Doom Eternal in March and Flight Simulator 2020 in August. And to be fair, FS2020 is more like a tech demo than a proper game to me. There’s no real gameplaySure, flying a plane is the gameplay, but hopefully I don’t need to explain why this isn’t quite the same as a game with win states, lose states, reward loops, or system mastery. or narrative to analyze. So I kinda feel like I’ve only played one new AAA game this year.
So check out my end-of year lineup:
This is asinine. Every month has more games I’m interested in than the first 9 months of the year combined! I hope this is just an unfortunate side-effect of COVID-19 and not something deliberate on the part of the various publishers. I know the end-of-year is always a bit crowded, but this is ridiculous.
Also, it seems crazy that none of the big publishers bothered to release stuff during a summer where the whole world was trapped indoors.
Anyway, let’s do a quick run-down of these games:
- October 20: Amnesia: Rebirth – The first Amnesia game is probably the last good horror game I played. I favor psychological horror rather than survivalGames with a focus on resource management and fiddly combat, rather than mood manipulation. / jumpscareFive Nights at Freddy’s et al. / actionDead Space. based horror, and trends bias towards those last three. Moreover, I’m really picky about my horror. So even though the PC indie scene is drowning in horror games, there’s rarely anything that interests me. But this one definitely interests me.
- October 27: Ghostrunner – I just realized that if I could manage to play this, Watch Dogs Legion, and Cyberpunk 2077, then I’d have an end-of-year cyberpunk trifecta.
- October 29: Watch Dogs Legion – A game where any NPC can become a player character? I have to check this out. Also, one of my friends worked on this. Also, it looks unusually good for a Ubisoft title. I generally hate Ubisoft protagonists, so the lack of a central protagonist is actually a point in favor of this game for me.
- November 12: Godfall – I’m not 100% sold on this. It’s being marketed as a looter game along the lines of Borderlands, or perhaps something Diablo-ish. I’d have jumped on this if it came out in the four-month April – July drought, but now? It comes out exactly a week before Cyberpunk. It’s like, why bother releasing the game at allYes, I know not everyone cares about Cyberpunk. But a LOT of people do. So why are so many games crowding it??
- November 12: Spider-Man Miles Morales – I liked the first game I guess. I thought it was a good start for a franchise, although they had some gameplay and narrative issues they needed to work on. But hey, that’s true for a lot of franchise firsts, right? It usually takes two or three tries to make a classic. But then they released the preview for this game and my hopes fell. Everything I disliked about the original seems much worse here. Still, this game would make excellent fodder for columns and retrospectives. Again, this would have been a must-play if it came out ANYWHERE ELSE in the year.
- November 19: Cyberpunk 2020 – I’m sure everyone is sick to death of my fanboying about this thing. I want it, you know it, let’s just move on.
- December 1: Twin Mirror – I like the mood and style of Dontnod games, but episodic games do not mix well with my play schedule / review workflow. I don’t want to play a game a chunk at a time and then try to write about it, because the early episodes won’t be fresh in my mind. I don’t want to play it after all the episodes are out, because it feels like the audience has moved on and people have stopped caring.But! This game isn’t going to be episodic like Life is Strange. So this could work for me. Or it would, if it wasn’t coming out 12 days after Cyberpunk.
- December 10: The Medium – Another psychological horror game. I’m hungry for more of that, but I’m not usually hungry for horror during the Christmas season. Did this game miss their intended release window? Mid-October would make way more sense for this. It’s possible I might check this out, depending on reviews and how long it takes me to get through Cyberpunk.
Now I’m wondering: How many of these games will I be able to play before the end-of-year? Is next year going to be overflowing due to the number of 2020 titles that got bumped to 2021?
Maybe I’ll be able to catch up next summer. Most of this stuff will be on sale by then. Or maybe I’ll be too focused on 2021 games to revisit the dregs of 2020. I don’t know. This COVID stuff could drag on for a long time. So far it seems like the best plan is to not make too many plans.
You might remember a couple of weeks ago I was massively disappointed in the season finale of Raised by Wolves. Thankfully, I didn’t get a second dose of disappointment from The Boys. Season 2 wrapped up on Friday, and it was exactly what I’m looking for in a season finale.
The story wrapped up a lot of subplots, but also left the ongoing plot open-ended. If the show was canceled and we never got a third season then I’d be sad, but I’d be okay with this as an ending to the story. On the other hand, the writers gave themselves lots of things to work with in the future, so continuing the story wouldn’t require a bunch of contrivances or clumsy retcons to get the conflict going again.
Some characters died for sure. Some had a quick fake-out death. Some wound up in a state that suggested death, but could plausibly show up again later. Some are really, honestly, totally, super-duper dead. It was fun going through the ending sequence and never knowing who was going to make itOkay, there are a few characters that clearly have plot armor, but most don’t..
I really enjoy this show, and I appreciate how the show managed to stay true to the premise of the graphic novel while also dialing back the ultra-dark tone. The comic dove too deep into nihilism for my taste, but the show manages to present a bleak world without making it so distasteful that I stop caring.
Homelander is the main villain of the series. His character is basically, “What if Superman was a toxic, petty, controlling, damaged, emotionally needy narcissist asshole?” The answer is about as terrifying as you’d expect. I like how the show managed to maintain that without his character becoming one-note.
Let’s end with a mailbag:
Dear Shamus and Paul,
As far as I can tell, it was an internal email that leaked. While some of the staff are probably unhappy about it, it seems that CDPR handled things as professionally as they could, limiting the time and scope of the crunch, assuring employees they would be directly rewarded for it, and accepting responsibility. Given that the game was already delayed twice, and that they have to set a launch date, I’m not sure that delaying again at the last minute was feasible, and would like to hear your thoughts.
As a side aspect to this, I thought that some commentators, such as YongYea (whom I respect greatly), had a perhaps-unrealistic understanding of the business side of things. For CDPR, missing the Christmas release window could be devastating to sales and/or might include contractual penalties with Sony or Microsoft at this stage. Under those circumstances, well, it might be a case of crunch vs. layoffs.
I’m not sure how companies should handle this in the future. However, the reaction to CDPR’s management decision does not, in my view, spell the end of crunch. Rather if anything, it means companies will assess that good planning and management has few rewards, and double-down on secrecy and bad behavior. From their perspective, if they get punished anyway, they may as well get the extra labor for it.
Thank you, gentlemen.
I’m mostly fine with what CD Projekt RED is doing.I’m a little unclear on the exact details, but it sounds like a lot of people have been working voluntary crunch for months? I would generally disapprove of this, but there’s a lot of complexity in the idea of voluntary crunch and I think it’s a topic for another time. Maybe I’ll come back to this topic in a future column, but for now I’m ignoring the voluntary crunch and just sticking to the contents of the leaked memo. Back in 2016 I wrote a post about crunch, and my position hasn’t really changed since then. I feel a strong need to draw a clear line between these two things:
- Everyone must crunch all the time to “prove their loyalty” to the company.
- We’re up against a hard deadline and we need to crunch to meet it. We’re sorry and we realize this is really unfortunate. We’re going to do our best to limit this to just a few weeks, and you will of course be paid for the extra time.
Number one is ridiculous, idiotic, and self-defeating. As I’ve said in the past: The most talented and experienced people will leave for less toxic and stressful jobs. The remaining people will be bitter, unmotivated, and incredibly disloyal. They will suffer from burnout, their quality of life will go down, and they’ll stop caring about the quality of their work in direct proportion to how little you care about their personal life. You’ll suffer from brain drain, your staff will do worse work, and everyone will be eager to tell Jason Schreier what an unmitigated bastard you are. And after all that, you’re not going to get much (if any) extra productivity of your now-embittered staff. Stop doing this, you fucking morons.
The second option is a perfectly normal thing. All kinds of professions have this. It’s particularly prevalent in areas where art and engineering meet. Movies have insane work schedules because shooting a modern blockbuster is a logistical nightmare. Bad weather might delay your huge civil engineering project and everyone needs to work long hours to get the thing finished before winter sets in. Your toy company might have a supply chain problem and then need to work insane hours at the last minute to get the stuff shipped in time for Christmas. Your coders need to finish the new version of your business software before the next version of Windows, or your userbase will flee to the competition and never come back.
Companies can and do go out of business for missing ship dates. You can stamp your foot and demand that setbacks should never be allowed to happen, or that people should never have to work long hours due to problems beyond their control, but that’s not going to fix the fact that we live in a world of finite resources, the future is uncertain, and even intelligent good-hearted managers can make mistakes. If you insist that people should never work long hours, then you’re saying it would be better to let layoffs happen than have the employees work extra hours for a few weeks.
My personal policy would go something like this:
- You should always schedule with the intention of avoiding crunch. If you fail and people need to work long hours, own up to it and apologize like CDPR did. You’d be amazed at how far a heartfelt apology can go to protecting loyalty and morale, particularly if you don’t make a habit of it.
- The usefulness of crunch drops off sharply after ~6-8 weeks. If two months of crunch can’t get you there, then you’re probably too far behind to close the gap with crunch. It also means you’re too far behind to solve this problem by throwing more bodies at it. Just accept you’re going to miss the ship date. If that means you’ll go out of business, then you’re doomed either way. If you can’t get an infusion of cash, then it’s better to end here than to grind your people down with months of death-march crush and THEN go out of business. (CDPR was apparently only asking for 6 weeks.)
- Pay people for their time. This might be hard or impossible if you’re running out of cash. If that’s the case, then offer X% of the profits to the team after release. (CDPR apparently always gives 10% of the profits back to the team.)
There’s a huge moral difference between an exploitative manager sucking the life out of his workforce out of sheer bloody-mindedness / greed, and a manager that’s just trying to keep the company afloat in a tough situation.
Lots of jobs out there require uneven and unpredictable work hours. Gamedev is often one of them. That’s okay. Let’s do our best to avoid it, but let’s also not make villains out of everyone with a scheduling problem.
 Not to be confused with Ghostwire:Tokyo or Ghost of Tsushima.
 Sure, flying a plane is the gameplay, but hopefully I don’t need to explain why this isn’t quite the same as a game with win states, lose states, reward loops, or system mastery.
 Games with a focus on resource management and fiddly combat, rather than mood manipulation.
 Five Nights at Freddy’s et al.
 Dead Space.
 Yes, I know not everyone cares about Cyberpunk. But a LOT of people do. So why are so many games crowding it?
 Okay, there are a few characters that clearly have plot armor, but most don’t.
 I’m a little unclear on the exact details, but it sounds like a lot of people have been working voluntary crunch for months? I would generally disapprove of this, but there’s a lot of complexity in the idea of voluntary crunch and I think it’s a topic for another time. Maybe I’ll come back to this topic in a future column, but for now I’m ignoring the voluntary crunch and just sticking to the contents of the leaked memo.
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