Archive for the ‘Opinion Piece’ Category

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by Dave Thier via Forbes

Microsoft is on the back foot as far as E3 is concerned, or as far as console gaming, in general, is concerned. E3 is all about showing off new games, but the company has struggled with its exclusive library for a few years even as Sony has entered a kind of golden age and as Nintendo has come roaring back onto the scene with the Switch. Microsoft hasn’t had much to show off in recent years, and this year at E3 it’s expecting to bring some of its biggest names in an effort to pull attention and re-assert itself. And Microsoft has no bigger exclusive than Halo. Halo 6 is still unconfirmed, but there are rumors that we may be getting our first glimpse of the game at Microsoft’s showcase on Sunday, June 10.

Spoilers for Halo 5

Halo 6 is expected to be a direct sequel to Halo 5, and so we can expect it to pick up where the older game left off. Cortana has reasserted herself as the new villain of the series, leading an AI rebellion in an attempt to reclaim the galaxy from the clutches of unreliable biological life. Halo 6 can be expected to be the final game in a trilogy that began with Halo 4, so hopefully we’ll get something a little more satisfying then the cliffhanger ending from the last game. If we’re being honest, however, Halo hasn’t been doing great on story recently.

The Halo franchise isn’t in a great spot, overall. Neither Halo 4 nor Halo 5 were universally well-received, and the overall perception is that the series has struggled under 343 industries and it hasn’t commanded primacy in the shooter world for years. The current battle royale trend doesn’t really help that: there was a time when Halo was the game that dominated the online multiplayer conversation, but that was a long time ago. Halo 6 has its work cut out for it, but that doesn’t mean it won’t succeed. Microsoft needs a win on this one.

I wouldn’t expect to see Halo 6 this year, but 2019 isn’t out of the question. When it does arrive it will release on both PC and Game Pass, like all other Xbox exclusives going forward. This will mark the first mainline Halo game on PC since Halo 2. I’d also hope to see the return of split-screen multiplayer, the absence of which was heavily criticized with Halo 5.

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by Paul Tassi via Forbes

Microsoft does not have all that many Xbox One (and now PC) exclusives out in 2018, but so far, two of its most high-profile ones would seem to be failing to impress critics.

Sea of Thieves current sits at a 66 and 69 on Opencritic and Metacritic respectively, which Opencritic notes is in the bottom 30% of all releases on its site, given that games are rarely given below a 6/10 in our current industry climate.

State of Decay 2 is…not faring much better. It’s currently at a 68 and 72 on Open and Meta, the bottom 37.5% of game’s reviewed, though with less reviews in on embargo day here. The game itself will be out May 22nd, and unlike the $60 Sea of Thieves, is only $30. But it is also included in Microosft’s Game Pass as part of the subscription, as all new Xbox One exclusives are (though so far that hasn’t been terribly appealing).

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Like Sea of Thieves, perhaps State of Decay 2 will attract its own share of fans who don’t care at all what critics are saying. But, if you want to look at what critics are saying, here’s a sampling:

Metro (4/10):

The State of Decay concept still holds plenty of promise but this sequel is so broken that laughing at its bugs and glitches becomes its primary source of entertainment.

GamingBolt (6/10):

State of Decay 2 isn’t a bad game but it doubles down on too much of the first game’s failings. For newcomers, the repetitive combat and mission variety, glitches and lack of polish can be a turnoff but the base-building and survivor management manage to shine.

But some are more positive:

PC Gamer (8/10):

A solid survival game vastly improved by putting the focus on people, not zombies.

IGN (7.5/10):

State of Decay 2‘s zombie-infested maps are good places to scavenge, fight, and survive in. Combat is satisfyingly brutal and the special zombies inspire some real fear of permanent death, even though the Blood Plague turns out to be more of a sniffle. But the bugs are just as persistent as the zombies, and after a dozen or so hours the repetition of both eventually take their toll, making the appeal of replaying feel more limited than I’d expected for a sandbox RPG.

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And finally, Polygon’s score-less review headline: “State of Decay 2 made me sad, but mostly bored.”

While State of Decay 2 was never meant to be some sort of AAA blockbuster, I’m sure everyone at Microsoft was hoping for a clear win here after mixed reactions to Sea of Thieves, but that just does not seem to be the case.

This is also a tough situation because A) Sony has been drowning in praise for the seemingly inevitable GOTY, God of War, for the past month, its crown jewel exclusive. B) The next biggest Xbox One exclusive that (supposedly) releases this year is Crackdown 3, which has had an exceptionally troubled production and has yet to look terribly good in any previews.

Microsoft understands this problem. It’s been very vocal about the fact that it knows it needs to invest more in its own studios and creating quality exclusives, but the problem is that is going to be a very long process if they’ve just started recently. The first step in that direction could be the upcoming Fable 4 created by the Forza Horizon team, but again, we’ll be lucky if we see that game by what, 2020-2021? So it seems like next gen is where Microsoft has the potetial to start turning this narrative around, even if I and others have been deeply satisfied with their recent hardware (Xbox One X) and program (Game Pass) offerings.

I will probably be skipping State of Decay 2 for now with so much else to play, but if you think it’s your bag, don’t let pesky critics stop you from giving it a shot.

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by Rob Thubron via TechSpot

Could the PlayStation 5 be here sooner than expected? That’s what several reports are stating, including one from SemiAccurate, which also claims to have some details about Sony’s new console.

The publication’s article is behind a $1000 paywall, but a summary has appeared on ResetEra. The report says the PlayStation 5, which might not be its final name, will upgrade the Jaguar CPUs found in the PS4 and PS4 Pro in favor of a more powerful Zen-based CPU, previously reported as being an 8 core variety. As for the graphics, the machine is said to use a custom GPU based on AMD’s upcoming Navi architecture.

The new console is also said to come with VR features implemented at the silicon level, suggesting that Sony still believes in its PlayStation VR headsets, which recently received a permanent price decrease.

One thing missing from the report is any mention of backward compatibility with the PS4, which is a feature many are expecting.

The reported specs do sound convincing, especially the use of Zen and Navi—some of AMD’s Vega features appeared in the PlayStation 4 Pro long before they made their way onto the PC via the Radeon line.

The article adds that a large number of PlayStation 5 dev kits are already in the hands of developers, backing up a similar claim made by industry insider Marcus Sellars early last month. SemiAccurate believes this means a 2018 release for the console isn’t totally out of the question, though a 2019 launch seems much more likely. By then, technology such as GDDR6, which is rumored to appear in Nvidia’s next line of GPUs, should be widely available.

Marcus Sellars@Marcus_Sellars

PS5 dev kits went out early this year to third party developers.

SemiAccurate is confident that the “real info” in its report is accurate. The site points out that it correctly revealed the specs of the PS4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch ahead of their release, while it also predicted the console mid-cycle refresh machines: the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro.

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by Dave Thier via Forbes

Sea of Thieves, Microsoft and Rare’s long-teased, long-questioned pirate MMO, hasn’t made the sort of splash its creators were hoping it would. It’s working with a nasty 67 on Metacritic, and writers like Forbes’ Paul Tassi are almost mystified by how the game made it this far without so many of the basic structural elements that have guided gamers through MMOs and other games for decades. The consensus is that there’s just not enough to do — a vast empty ocean populated by repetitive islands and fetch quests. We had a feeling this would happen, and now we know.

Because this is 2018, release is merely one of many punctuation marks in the lifespan of any given game, whether you think that’s a good idea or not. And so we’ve got the standard apology/promise/hope when it comes to Sea of Thieves: this is a game intended to evolve over time, expect exciting things, we’re working on it, etc. It’s a frustrating thing to hear, mostly because of the way that it elides the fact that people pay $60 expecting a finished product, and because of the number of times we’ve heard it over the past year or two. No Man’s Sky may be a much better game now than it was at launch, but that doesn’t excuse the game it was at launch.

Sea of Thieves, however, is a little different than other games as service, mostly because an untold number of gamers didn’t pay the $60 purchase price. Sea of Thieves is included in Xbox Game Pass, and so those who already have Xbox Live Gold can pick it up for a free trial, for a $10 one-month subscription, or for free if they’re already Game Pass subscribers. And even those that pay the $10 to check it out aren’t just getting Sea of Thieves, they’re also getting a boatload of other games. It takes the pressure off, to a certain degree.

I hope that what this means is that the game can get a little room to breathe. The game has a million or so players, many of which might have signed up in a lower-pressure, Game Pass situation. Just as importantly, the game could have as many potential customers as there are game pass subscribers, and if Rare manages to fill things out down the road there are a ton of players that can just sort of sign in to see what it’s like. The lower barrier to entry means that it stands a better chance if — that’s a big if — the developer manages to deliver on its promises, even a year or so down the road.

Sea of Thieves is the first new release to debut on Game Pass, marking the beginning of an interesting new experiment from Redmond. And while I assume Microsoft would have preferred to have done this with a better-received game, Sea of Thieves is perfect for it in a strange sort of way. It’s a flawed game with some genuinely interesting parts, and I have a feeling it’s going to be interesting to watch. It seems pretty impossible to recommend it at a full freight of $60. But for $10 or free, it’s most certainly worth a look, whether that’s now or next year.

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by Paul Tassi via Forbes

It’s starting to seem like Call of Duty’s next installment being Black Ops 4 is one of the worst kept secrets in gaming. The game has been whispered about for weeks now, still without any official confirmation from Activision or Treyarch, but this latest leak is probably the funniest one to date.

Houston Rockets star James Harden was spotted en route to a game yesterday wearing a full camo outfit and…a hat with what very much appears to be a Black Ops 4 logo.

The hat is a variation of the Black Ops 3 logo, the “III” symbol, but it appears that instead of going the actual Roman numeral route “IV,” they’re going with a tally mark system instead, as logo is one more notch, “IIII.”

After Harden was spotted wearing the hat, Kotaku checked with its sources who told them that yes, that really was the Black Ops 4 logo. It’s unclear why Harden has the hat, whether he’s part of the promotional campaign for the game or perhaps just a big Call of Duty fan wearing some swag a bit too early.

Kotaku also says that its sources say that Black Ops 4 will continue to be a “near-future” setting. That’s the first time I’ve heard that, and perhaps slightly worrisome to fans who were hoping the next game would continue the tradition of WWII and stay away from “future war.” That said, even if the setting is in the near future, it’s possible that the game will do away with high-speed movement like jetpacks and wallrunning, which fans seem to have grown sick of.

It definitely seems like it’s time for Activision to start talking. These rumors are turning into full-blown leaks, and this seems like the proper time to reveal this officially before even more details pour out of sources they shouldn’t.

Black Ops 4 would be set to square off against another military shooter that is now springing leaks, Battlefield V, which is a sequel to Battlefield 1, reportedly taking the game to World War II, where Call of Duty went last year. And both games will be up against Red Dead Redemption 2, Rockstar’s monster in the making that might end up eclipsing them both, if it can channel a bit of Grand Theft Auto 5 magic.

We are probably still a few months away from seeing a ton of info about Black Ops 4, which seems likely to be a large part of Sony’s E3 show in June, given the company’s ongoing relationship with Activision, who it stole away from Xbox in the last few years. Black Ops is the one remaining sub-series of Call of Duty that has survived and thrived into the modern era, and one that should put up significant sales, more so than usual, if Treyarch delivers. I’m guessing they will.

Just…start talking before Harden starts wearing a full Black Ops 4 tracksuit to games.

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People try to blame the Florida high school shooting on violent video games and other forms of media

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by Christopher J. Ferguson, Professor of Psychology, Stetson University via The Conversation

In the wake of the Valentine’s Day shooting at a Broward County, Florida high school, a familiar trope has reemerged: Often, when a young man is the shooter, people try to blame the tragedy on violent video games and other forms of media. Florida lawmaker Jared Moskowitz made the connection the day after the shooting, saying the gunman “was prepared to pick off students like it’s a video game.”

In January, after two students were killed and many others wounded by a 15-year-old shooter in Benton, Kentucky, the state’s governor criticized popular culture, telling reporters, “We can’t celebrate death in video games, celebrate death in TV shows, celebrate death in movies, celebrate death in musical lyrics and remove any sense of morality and sense of higher authority and then expect that things like this are not going to happen.”

But, speaking as a researcher who has studied violent video games for almost 15 years, I can state that there is no evidence to support these claims that violent media and real-world violence are connected. As far back as 2011, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that research did not find a clear connection between violent video games and aggressive behavior. Criminologists who study mass shootings specifically refer to those sorts of connections as a “myth.” And in 2017, the Media Psychology and Technology division of the American Psychological Association released a statement I helped craft, suggesting reporters and policymakers cease linking mass shootings to violent media, given the lack of evidence for a link.

A history of a moral panic

So why are so many policymakers inclined to blame violent video games for violence? There are two main reasons.

The first is the psychological research community’s efforts to market itself as strictly scientific. This led to a replication crisis instead, with researchers often unable to repeat the results of their studies. Now, psychology researchers are reassessing their analyses of a wide range of issues — not just violent video games, but implicit racismpower poses and more.

The other part of the answer lies in the troubled history of violent video game research specifically. Beginning in the early 2000s, some scholars, anti-media advocates and professional groups like the APA began working to connect a methodologically messyand often contradictory set of results to public health concerns about violence. This echoed historical patterns of moral panic, such as 1950s concerns about comic booksand Tipper Gore’s efforts to blame pop and rock music in the 1980s for violence, sex and satanism.

Particularly in the early 2000s, dubious evidence regarding violent video games was uncritically promoted. But over the years, confidence among scholars that violent video games influence aggression or violence has crumbled.

Reviewing all the scholarly literature

My own research has examined the degree to which violent video games can — or can’t — predict youth aggression and violence. In a 2015 meta-analysis, I examined 101 studies on the subject and found that violent video games had little impact on kids’ aggression, mood, helping behavior or grades.

Two years later, I found evidence that scholarly journals’ editorial biases had distorted the scientific record on violent video games. Experimental studies that found effects were more likely to be published than studies that had found none. This was consistent with others’ findings. As the Supreme Court noted, any impacts due to video games are nearly impossible to distinguish from the effects of other media, like cartoons and movies.

Any claims that there is consistent evidence that violent video games encourage aggression are simply false.

Spikes in violent video games’ popularity are well-known to correlate with substantial declines in youth violence — not increases. These correlations are very strong, stronger than most seen in behavioral research. More recent research suggests that the releases of highly popular violent video games are associated with immediate declinesin violent crime, hinting that the releases may cause the drop-off.

The role of professional groups

With so little evidence, why are people like Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin still trying to blame violent video games for mass shootings by young men? Can groups like the National Rifle Association seriously blame imaginary guns for gun violence?

A key element of that problem is the willingness of professional guild organizations such as the APA to promote false beliefs about violent video games. (I’m a fellow of the APA.) These groups mainly exist to promote a profession among news media, the public and policymakers, influencing licensing and insurance laws. They also make it easier to get grants and newspaper headlines. Psychologists and psychology researchers like myself pay them yearly dues to increase the public profile of psychology. But there is a risk the general public may mistake promotional positions for objective science.

In 2005 the APA released its first policy statement linking violent video games to aggression. However, my recent analysis of internal APA documents with criminologist Allen Copenhaver found that the APA ignored inconsistencies and methodological problems in the research data.

The APA updated its statement in 2015, but that sparked controversy immediately: More than 230 scholars wrote to the group asking it to stop releasing policy statements altogether. I and others objected to perceived conflicts of interest and lack of transparency tainting the process.

It’s bad enough that these statements misrepresent the actual scholarly research and misinform the public. But it’s worse when those falsehoods give advocacy groups like the NRA cover to shift blame for violence onto nonissues like video games. The resulting misunderstandings delay efforts to address mental illness and other issues that are actually related to gun violence.

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Like an old pair of your favorite blood-stained shoes

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by Charlie Hall via Polygon

I had deep reservations about the port of Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds for Xbox One, but after a long night on the couch I’m a believer. Battlegrounds feels great on a console. There’s clearly an awful lot of work left to do, but I can’t wait to see where things go from here.

The secret to Battlegrounds’ success on Xbox One is its controller support.

The team at PUBG Corporation were uncompromising in their implementation. The movement and inventory systems have been carried over in their entirety to the Xbox controller. It take a little bit of practice to get the hang of it, but after two or three solid rounds of play it’s no big deal.

But it’s in the subtleties that Xbox One controller support really shines. The turn rates, both in third- and first-person, are smooth. In the menus, players have the ability to fiddle with controller’s sensitivity at each of the different zoom lengths. Tracking where your shots fall is easy, even at 1080p, and it feels as though there’s just the slightest bit of aim assist at ranges over 200 meters.

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Aiming with the Xbox controller was the hardest thing to figure out for me. You tap the left trigger to aim down the sights, and hold the left bumper to hold your breath. Changing from first to third-person also changes the functions of other buttons slightly. It takes some practice, but it’s dynamic and authentic to the PC experience. – PUBG Corp./Microsoft

Not only does it feel natural to move and fight, but all of the nuance of the PC game is there. Players still have the freedom to make tactical decisions, to move from third-person to first-person, to aim down sights, to free-look while parachuting or running around.

Perhaps the biggest improvement is in the game’s driving. No more pecking at the WASD keys to get your nose pointed in the right direction, as the analog sticks on the Xbox controller were literally made for this.

All that being said, there’s clearly some technical issues. Once, while I was in the top 20, I experienced a crash to a black screen that kicked me out of the game entirely. Texture pop is awful, especially in the opening few minutes of each round. I’ve also heard that there are serious issues with frame rate on the Xbox One X and at 4K.

But this is an early access game. These things should be expected.

All I know is that I can get a solid 30 minutes of highly technical, thrilling, PC-style shooter action from my living room couch. Battlegrounds’ port is an achievement. For their next trick, PUBG Corp. just needs to follow through and finish the game.

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