Since the companies that make our biggest, loudest games are now in full corporate whore mode, and are pursuing business practices which would have been thought of as satire even a short ten years ago, there has been some confusion over the matter of downloadable content and the expansion pack. The common misconception is that these two distribution models are the same thing, and that their nomenclature is merely defined by the size of the offering. Expansion packs are identified with a boxed, retail model that operated within a retail ecosystem filled with fully-functional video games. On the other end, downloadable content comes in small packages, and is often the home of armor sets, characters, cheat codes, and things which should be in the damn game to begin with. So if you asked someone what the difference is, they would tell you that it’s a proposition of both size and bang for the buck. Well, that ain’t how it works, so let’s explain how it works. And as long as we’re here, I’ll go ahead and tell you why the expansion pack is ultimately superior to what we commonly think of as downloadable content.
November 22, 2013 – The Xbox One shatters all expectations and sells ten million units on launch day. Riots occur in cities around the United States (where the Xbox One is expected to perform the strongest) as tens of millions of Americans are left cold by the “short supply”. While Microsoft promises to resolve the issue, people take out their anger on the heavily outnumbered PlayStation 4 and Wii U fans. Hardcore video game web sites such as GameFAQs, which were staunchly opposed to the Xbox One, come to terms with how casual they actually are.
Pom Gets Wi-Fi is a master class on how to tell a personal, affecting story in a video game.
Framed as a satire on the tumblr fanbase, and requiring the player to care about its characters’ personal lives, Pom Gets Wi-Fi takes some big risks in a medium that famously struggles with this kind of nuanced story. It succeeds, thanks to superb writing and a smart, story-driven approach to RPG Maker and game design.
Synopsis: Caught between a corporate notion of intellectual property rights and a moronic fan base, the StarCraft II design team decided that Wings of Liberty would be conceptually identical to the 1998 classic. To achieve this, the design team jammed all of the old game concepts into a new game engine. In taking little consideration for the ramifications, the result is the most absurd level of unit lethality in any popular real-time strategy series which does not bear the Command and Conquer name, and the issue is compounded by the absence of the powerful and fun weapons that were present for crowd control in the original game. The end result is a small-scale strategy game which entirely encourages massed formations at the expense of other tactics, a game that plays much like Command and Conquer: Red Alert 2, another Dustin Browder project. It’s a competent foray into real-time strategy as played between two individuals, but offers little value beyond that format.
“My crappy teammates are holding me back!” Nope, you are, dummy. But this was to be expected from the first generation of Western players who never lived a day where the arcades mattered, never lived a day where skillful single-player games (arena shooters, real-time strategy, fighting games, shoot ‘em ups) commanded more than secondary interest. The end result is a legion of idiots large enough to drive game development towards team games that focus entirely on team play, but insist the only thing holding back their pro gaming career are their “noob allies”.
Borderlands 2 is an outright upgrade from its predecessor, and this would normally be a very good thing. But when you’re anathema to first-person shooter design, a slow, aesthetically messy, and meme-sputtering Diablo-caliber progress quest, that doesn’t mean much. Combat is still slow and one-dimensional, the guns still sound and feel like the latest in paper-clip-shooting technology, success is defined largely by the quality of your gear and character level, and the ability system is easy to break. In spite of this, weapons are still fairly distinct, leaving some fun choices to be made in adapting the random loot table to the character development process. The whole circus is wrapped in a frenzy of voice acting, designed for those long walks where you aren’t shooting things, and is largely hit or miss. In essence, it’s the Wal-Mart of video games: Everything may be flimsy and cheap, but look at all the choices! And that’s enough to win the modern video game audience. Try it on extreme caution.
Developed by Raven Software
Published by Activision
Released in 2010 for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC
Singularity threatens to be a clever interpretation of the modern shooter experience, an historical “What if?” where the Soviets get access to a radioactive, time-warping super-element. And in the pursuit of correcting the mess of a timeline that you help to create, you’re introduced to standard military armaments, supernatural weapons, and some limited control of the time spectrum. But while posing as a hybrid of punishing combat sequences and cool puzzle concepts, the realization will eventually dawn that your character is so slow, the pacing so carefully controlled, the engagements so basic. In reality, Singularity is a suffocating single-player experience that sucks all the agency out of the flexible first-person shooter template. In other words, “do things exactly this way”, “fight things exactly this way”, or die. The mere novelty of the experience, a well-defined hybrid of action and puzzle mechanics with some very cool abilities, gives the game some limited appeal. But if your first impression is a cynical gag reflex to an Activision shooter with no marketing and little press time, you ain’t wrong.
This interview was conducted with site reader Southern Cross and formed the basis of a publication in the Polish-language game magazine LAG.* While the answers have been checked for grammar, spelling, and other errors, they are otherwise unedited. In-text links and citations have been added for reference. The interview was conducted in February of 2013 and withheld until publication of the subsequent article was finalized.
Synopsis: In a culture of popular game criticism which ranks and compares everything, there are people who take the position of “apples and oranges”, the idea that you cannot compare different games and genres because they are fundamentally and philosophically different. In video games, “apples and oranges” is most often a defense mechanism against complex arguments that do not support a person’s worldview. When, in reality, game criticism is apples and oranges, and is the process for explaining how divergent game concepts compare favorably or unfavorably to each other. Some of these comparisons are extremely complex, and will require a foundation and backing which we have not established yet. But quite simply, if a comparison is a bad one, you should be able to explain why.