rant

What's Wrong With The Xbox One Dashboard NSFW

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What's Wrong With Xbox One Dashboar
Blackstar and Narcogen take a look at the latest version of the Xbox One dashboard and wonder what went wrong. Some NSFW language.

What's Wrong With Destiny's Story?

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What's Wrong With Destiny's Story?
How I think Bungie's development history may have led to that empty feeling where Destiny's story should be. In the past this would have been a blog post, but since we're doing mostly videos these days... why not?

Destiny: What's In A Name

We've had Destiny awhile now, and I've been playing it as much as I can. I've finished the story, and I'm enjoying leveling up my three Guardians quite a bit. I'm having fun and I feel I've gotten my money's worth, but there are still a lot of things about the game that I think are worth notice-- things that may challenge the expectations of gamers coming from shooters, those coming from MMOs and RPGs, and those coming to the game straight from Halo.

One of these is how Destiny throws so many names at you in such a short time it feels like we've been hit in the face with Bungie' little black book of aliens. In comparison, here are all of the times that the aliens that comprise the Covenant are mentioned within the transcripts of Halo 1, taken from HBO:

Truth and Reconciliation

CORTANA: Captain! Hunters!

Silent Cartographer

CORTANA: Chief, Bravo 22 was bringing us some heavy weapons. After I saw we were up against Hunters, I thought you could use them.

343 Guilty Spark

SARGE: Looks like a Covenant patrol. Badass elite units, all KIA.

That is it. All the mentions of Halo's iconic enemy types that occur within the game's official transcript. The player encounters Elites, Grunts, and Jackals all before any character ever names them, and it's arguable that Sniper Sergeant's reference to "elite" is as an adjective and not a proper noun-- after all, at this point even he doesn't have a name. Hunters, for some reason, get special attention from Cortana, as they are called out by name at the end of their first appearance in Truth and Reconciliation, and then namechecked again midway through the next level, Silent Cartographer.

If players knew the names of these units, it came from the manual, from Bungie's website or fan websites, from gaming press, or Bungie's own PR. The game itself is practically silent on the subject. And why shouldn't it be? The Master Chief has been at war with the Covenant for quite awhile. The UNSC has been at war with them for four decades. The player doesn't know either of those things, either, without reading external material like the novels, but the point is that no time is wasted telling the characters things they already know just for the benefit of the player, especially when it is relevant to the greater context but not immediately relevant to the action at hand.

Contrast that to Destiny, which tosses out both names of enemy factions (Fallen, Hive, Vex and Cabal) as well as subfactions (House of Winter, House of Devils, Hezen Corrective, Virgo Prohibition, Hidden Swarm, Dust Giants, Blind Legion) and the names of individual enemies (Sepiks Prime, Draksis, Riksis, Aksor, Bracus Tho'ourg, Bracus Tha'aurn, Valus Ta'Aurc, and many others. It's not so much assumed that we already know these (they are mentioned in briefings as well as in the Grimoire) as it is assumed that it means something. It's even harder to make these enemies and their defeats mean something when they can be repeated infinitely-- and not just the way Halo missions are repeated. Campaign levels in Halo are repeated by looping the same moment in time. Each time you choose a level, you're returning to a fixed point within a linear story and repeating the general events, while changing only the details.

This is not the case in Destiny. In Destiny, you can defeat a boss, pick up some loot he drops, like boots or a gun, and then put on those boots and use that gun to fight the same guy a second time. You're not repeating a fixed point within the story, the moment when that boss character was finally defeated, even though the intro and outro sequences of story missions try to treat it that way. You're performing similar actions at a different time, as evidenced by the fact that you still have the boots and the gun from the first fight when you start the second. Like it or not, Destiny's loot stream enforces continuity on the coop nature of the campaign. It makes we wonder why Bungie didn't stop naming things with types, instead of individual names. It invites heckling to hear the Vanguard talk about how Sepiks Prime cast a shadow over the city and now it's great he's gone when I know he'll be back in five minutes. If it was just a Prime Servitor, a thing the Fallen keep bringing back into position because it's important and necessary for them, then I could get behind it. Same for all the other leaders-- I'll buy that promotion from within means that for every target we take out, eventually someone else will take his place.

It wasn't until Halo 2 that we knew the name of any individual enemies in the Covenant, and that was when he became a playable character-- the Arbiter. Later, we grew familiar with two boss characters, Truth and Tartarus, and another NPC, Gravemind. Before that, the game was basically the Master Chief, Cortana, 343 Guilty Spark, Captain Keyes, and a crowd of semi-anonymous marines and targets. Individual enemies in Destiny have no role within the story except as targets, unlike the Arbiter, the Prophet of Truth, and Tartarus. Why do they have names? Why do we need to know what those names are, especially when the factional similiarities between individual names is so strong, as well as the nature of each name so arbitrary, that it becomes difficult to tell them apart even after several plays?

Players in Destiny spend as much time with their Ghost as the Master Chief does with Cortana, but while the part got big-name casting, the character itself doesn't have a name, unlike many of the enemies he helps us fight. This is another area where the coop nature of the Destiny experience collides with the needs of a traditional linear narrative. Is the Ghost voiced by Peter Dinklage "our" Ghost or everybody's Ghost? NPCs in the Tower also have their own Ghosts, but we never hear them speak. Would they also sound like Peter Dinklage? This is complicated by the fact that Destiny cutscenes, even when playing story mode with a fireteam of four, only show the avatar of the current player. So each guardian appears to be interacting with their own Ghost and NPCs alone during cutscenes-- fireteam members disappear and reappear magically for reasons I don't think can be justified technically or narratively. This is a big step backwards from Halo 3 and Halo 3: ODST, where squadmates function together both as part of the story and as part of the action.

Reflections On The Destiny Beta

Dumping on Story
I've seen this for Destiny as well as Halo before it... accusations of being silly, derivative, and obscure, and I don't really understand it. Some of it seems to come from those who either don't want any story in their shooters and so don't pay attention to it, or those who are used to the kind of depth you get in an RPG and are put off by things drawn with a broad brush. The Halo series supplemented its backstory with the novelizations, whereas Marathon and Myth used the in-game terminals and journal entries, respectively. I have high hopes that the Grimoire cards you get in-game and then view on Bungie.net will be the best of both worlds here, allowing those who want to explore the world in-depth a chance to do so without overburdening the game with backstory during gameplay or through traditional cutscenes.

Science, Not Shooting

Craig Hardgrove, who is a planetary scientist working for JPL and also a Bungie fan from quite aways back, has written an article for Guardians of Destiny, talking about why he loves Halo, why he hates Call of Duty, and what he hopes to see in Destiny. (Hardgrove is also a fan of Bungie's Marathon series and even did some remakes of the game's music.)

What Halo's Ancient History Can Tell Us About Destiny

You can never truly know a game until you play it.
Seraph, from Matrix Reloaded

Okay, so I'm paraphrasing, but the point stands. Right now we don't know much about Destiny, but it might be pretty difficult to say we know anything at all. I'm starting to get a sort of pleasant feeling of deja vu, and wondering what it was we thought we knew about Halo when it was first revealed. Our first glance at the game back then was more substantial back in the summer of 1999, when Steve Jobs welcomed Jason Jones on stage to show Halo running live, in real time, using OpenGL, on a Macintosh. He then said it was coming out on PCs and Macs next year.

The rest is history.

Perhaps Bungie showed more of Halo back then than of Destiny now because they honestly thought they were closer to releasing Halo than they really were. Possibly they felt they had to generate some hype for the game. Despite being an award-winning cross-platform developer, it's hard to say that Bungie commanded the kind of attention before that game's release in the Macintosh gaming market that they have occupied in the console world ever since. Now, independent from Microsoft, without the need to serve the well being of the Xbox platform over and above all else, the players on Sony's platform may now be their thrall as well, and after that, who knows, perhaps those on Macs, Windows, and even Linux, iOS and Android. Bungie would appear to have big plans for Destiny.

It's not the first time Bungie's had big plans, though, and things have a way of taking on a life of their own. In particular, some of Bungie's plans for Destiny remind me of what I always guessed were Bungie's original plans for Halo...

Building A Bulwark Against The Bungie Backlash

Bungie logo

Over at Gamasutra, Shay Pierce wrote a piece entitled Game Designers and the Four Tribes of Artists, and then Sara Gross (also at Gamasutra) wrote a piece called Indie Elitism, partially in response. Response to what? Well, apparently Pierce had read some conversations on Twitter in response to Bungie's Destiny reveal that were a bit less than positive:

A few days ago when Bungie did their first reveal of "Destiny", my friend and former co-worker Josh (who is working on Destiny) was expressing some frustration on Twitter. Josh is a big fan of indie games, and was frustrated because many of the indie game developers he respects were seemed to be expressing immediate disdain for the game.

Josh in this case is Bungie's Josh Hamrick, of course. Pierce started in on how the indie game community has a bunch of snobs in it, but Gross apparently thought Pierce took it too far, or perhaps not far enough, or not quite in the right direction, and anyway ended up here:

I see no reason to vehemently snub the things that shaped gaming as we see them today. Why not embrace them - appreciate what they did for us? Some were pioneers once too. Before they made AAA titles, they made games in their parents’ basements, lived on pre-packaged garbage foods, and suffered obscene deadlines to help their creations see the light of day. They started somewhere too. AAA developers aren’t so different from us, indies.

... and linked to this.

Pathways Out Of A Dark Hole

Dark Jedi from Dark Hole Games has put up a breakdown of the Destiny ViDoc. I've added it to the Destiny section of the movies page.

Dark Hole Games has a series of walkthroughs and let's play videos on their YouTube channel.

Successful Troll Is Successful

An obvious troll slings some mud at Bungie and manages to provoke a thoughtful resopnse from Achronos about Bungie's plans for deep social integration between Bungie.net and Destiny:

This web site is designed for a game you know little about. It is designed for both familiar and unfamiliar social interactions. It our platform for the future - not a marketing site, but a place to grow the community of our new universe from. It has some holes, some rough edges, sure. Your irrational fear of the words "social media" is just that: irrational. You've been part of a social media site for a while - bungie.net has always been one.

Check out the thread, but don't feed the troll.

Previews Aren't The Problem

While he specifically mentions Aliens: Colonial Marines and not the press coverage of Bungie's Destiny reveal, Ben Kuchera's latest piece at Penny Arcade Report is about the shortcomings of game journalism, and makes a nice bookend to Matt Soell's piece about transparency.

The Destiny Letters

Ex-Bungie Community Guy Matt Soell, who was with the company during the early Halo days, has penned a response to some of the complaints about Destiny's reveal being more "hype" than "substance". It's well worth a read, so please go take a look (Warning: little bit of NSFW language. No images, but some imagery.)

If you ask me, though, the crux of the issue is right here:

For years now, even before Destiny was a rumor, people have been calling for more transparency and less hype from Bungie. If a few pieces of concept art and a YouTube video are "hype," it's only because Bungie's process has made less feel like more. They do not deluge the press or their fans in an antiseptic wash of tedious data. Anyone can do that. Bungie wants your entry into this world to be an experience unto itself.

Soell makes a good point; the Destiny reveal was not a planned press event watered down; it was an extension of the Cortana Letters-type experience to the mainstream gaming press. Looks like not all of them had as much fun as some of the fans (myself included) did.

What I've Learned About Blogs

By looking at the amount of reads on blogs posted before Narcogen's most recent blogs versus the amount of reads on those authored after, one can see that if you wish one's blog to be read, one should release it following one of Narcogen's.(Wow, that was a long sentence.)

Hoping to get the word out about this: http://rampancy.net/blog/LEGO_Allied_Forces/17/09/2011/Request_Deliver_Hope_Piano

Googlefight: Halo Reach Is Canon

Googlefight: Halo Reach Is Canon

According to Googlefight, Halo Reach IS Canon.

How to Still Care About Halo

HaloLocationRetcon.jpg

The following is a crosspost from the HBO forum, in a discussion started by Cody Miller about retcons of Halo's continuity by the latest game in the series, Reach. Some fans (namely Hawaiian Pig) take exception to David "Evil Otto" Candland, Bungie UI Designer, saying canon arguments aren't important. The image is from another post of Cody's, seemingly showing that Installation 04 isn't located in the Milky Way galaxy any more.

After reading part of this thread at HBO and finding myself in agreement simultaneously with HP and Evil Otto, I had another series of thoughts about how works are viewed by their creators, as opposed to their fans.

A work like Halo is not the creation of a single person, even if some people contribute more to some aspects of it than others. It is also not a static thing. While certain key concepts may endure from the start of brainstorming until the declaration of a Golden Master, many of the details may be in flux for months or years. Listening to the commentary by Jones, Staten and O'Donnell for the cutscenes of the first two games, it becomes apparent how different the series might have been if Bungie had made different decisions.

Child Neglect Is Not Gaming News

I would like to propose that the gaming press stop posting stories like this one:

Man Let Son Suffocate Because He Was Playing WoW

Before I go on, I'd like to say that I do not now, nor have I ever, worked in the gaming industry in any capacity.

Any number of children lose their lives each year to causes relating to parental neglect or abuse. Each one is a personal tragedy, and indeed, many may have been entirely preventable if the parents behaved differently. In many cases, there may have been circumstances relating to some other activity that led a parent to believe, temporarily, that their unjustifiable actions were justifiable, or that some other activity they were engaged in was more important than attending to the child.

However there is also no justification for the peculiar attention paid to gaming when the other activity is somehow gaming-related. I'd wager that any number of infants smother, suffocate or strangle on pillows or bedclothes all over the world each year while an inattentive parent is performing some other activity: watching television, speaking on the telephone, working out, gambling, drinking, perhaps even reading a good book. When the parent was watching TV, I'm not going to read about this tragedy in TV Guide. When the parent was watching a film, I'm not going to end up reading about it in Premiere magazine. When the parent was eating or drinking, I'm not going to read about it in Gourmet. If they were reading a book, I'm not going to read about this death in the New York Times Review of Books, along with a sidebar about whether or not reading is addictive or leads to child abuse. If an inattentive parent leaves a child locked in a hot car on a summer day, I'm not going to read about it in Road & Track.

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