The Tragedy That is Sonic The Hedgehog – And How He Can Come Back

Sonic The Hedgehog TitleIt’s no secret that the Sonic: The Hedgehog games haven’t exactly been all-time classics in the last 10-15 years. On consoles, the last really good one probably was Sonic Adventure on the Dreamcast. I’ve been watching the current Retsupurae run-through of Sonic ’06 and it’s just startling how bad the series was at that point. It hurts a little because Sonic was at one point talked about in the same way that Mario is. And he still has some air of significance – see his appearance in Super Smash Bros. and the reaction to that. But have the days of good Sonic games passed us by? I actually don’t think so – SEGA just needs to step back and re-evaluate them.

The biggest issue with most, if not all, of the real bad console Sonic games was the sheer speed they had. It wasn’t a rare occurrence for Sonic or any other character to get moving so fast that the game just couldn’t keep up. That’s a pretty major issue. In some games, it was more camera related – Sonic moved along fine, but the camera just couldn’t keep up with his movements. In others, Sonic just moved too fast – I’ve noticed it a few times with slowbeef’s run in Sonic ’06. Whether that’s an issue with 3D Sonic games as a concept or not, remains to be seen. Now that we’ve gotten to the current console generation, maybe the power is there to make one that doesn’t breakdown and can actually present that sense of speed that Sonic needs.

Sonic 06 Boxart

That alone isn’t the only concern though. Around the time of Sonic Adventure SEGA started throwing all kinds of characters into the games – much like Mario games have. The problem is that, for the most part, Mario’s side characters don’t feature heavily in the “main Mario games.” They stick with a standard cast. SEGA shoehorned in as many characters as possible, and put them into the major Sonic games. That partially is because SEGA stopped making consoles, really limiting how much they could branch the franchise out, but still, I don’t know how many people needed to see Big the Cat appear in every Sonic game out there. It really starts to show in Sonic ’06 – three hedgehogs, with multiple support characters that are all playable, with limited stages to play in. It’s a development nightmare, making an engine that works with all the different playstyles, and ultimately doesn’t work with any.

I give SEGA credit for at least continuing to try to make it work – see last year’s Sonic Boom. But they keep focusing on issues that either don’t need to be addressed – Sonic’s design – and ignoring the major issues – actual gameplay concerns. And what kills me is that the answer is unbelievably simple. If we’ve learned anything in the current world of gaming from the rise of Indies, it’s that simple, retro styled games are back, and that they work perfectly. That’s what SEGA needs to do with Sonic – go the Indie route. Trim out all of the fat – go back to the roots, playing only as Sonic and maybe Tails; make it a 2D platformer; and go with retro graphics. The success of games like Shovel Knight, Spelunky and Guacamelee show that 2D games totally work today, just as well as 20 years ago. Plus retro or classic graphics work with those style games just as well as hand-drawn sprites do. And the best part here is that we know that Sonic games work like this – the best games in the series are those first three games after all.

Sonic The Hedgehog 3

What kills me here is the simplicity of the solution, combined with SEGA flirting with it over the years. I mainly have been talking about console Sonic games here because on handhelds – the Game Boy Advance and DS in particular – his games have generally been much, much more playable. Sonic Advance, which came out right around the same time as his 3D dark days, is a much more enjoyable game to play than any of the console games from the same era. SEGA has to know this. I would be curious to see the data on the classic titles that are on the digital marketplaces now – Xbox Live, PSN and Virtual Console. I want to know if the classic games – Sonic The Hedgehog, 2, and 3 – outsell the more modern games – Sonic Adventure 1 and 2. My gut tells me that’s probably the case – with the possible exception of Sonic Adventure, just because it’s probably the last good Sonic game.

In the end, SEGA really has no one but themselves to blame here. They took a much beloved franchise and their company mascot and ran him into the ground, and kept going. As a longtime fan of the Blue Blur I’d love to see them pull back, re-evaluate the series, and make something right by the fans. They were on the right track with Sonic Generations, but keep forcing in 3D parts. Just keep it simple, make something that hearkens back to the Genesis days and I think Sonic can live again.

What Really Excites Me the Most About Fallout 4

Fallout 4 Box Art

Continuing my pattern here of trying to shoehorn in a post on Fallout 4 every week, today I want to talk about the aspect of the game that excites me the most. The easy answer is player freedom. That’s not it. The buzzword answer is the customization and crafting. That’s not it either. And the PC-turned-Console answer is the prospect of mods later on. That’s partially true – it could be the case by this time next year.

What I’m really the most excited about is the world that Bethesda is crafting for us. Not just from a visual standpoint – although I am looking forward to playing a Fallout game that doesn’t look super dated. What I mean really relates to every aspect of the game. Bethesda has an incredible knack for making these super expansive worlds still feel real. It’s all the little details that they put into the game. From the writing of the dialogue, to the way it’s delivered by the actors, to the very foundation of the world itself; they’re all so well done.

Fallout New Vegas The Strip

The writing is probably the easiest to point to. Dialogue trees and conversations play an incredibly important role in playing through any Bethesda RPG. From getting extra rewards upon quest completion, to getting out of some sticky situations, using your Speech skill matters a whole bunch. And it’s in those conversations that you probably will see the strength in the writing first. It’s pretty difficult to go through a Bethesda game without talking with a bunch of people. But the writing extends a lot further than that. If you’ve played a Fallout game, especially the Bethesda ones, you know that there’s a massive amount of flavor text in the terminals scattered about the wasteland. Add in the bunches of holotape notes that also appear and you get a good sense about the sheer amount of writing that goes into these games.

The next step then is the voicing of that writing. All of those conversations that are integral in the Bethesda RPG experience are all voiced. Granted, the player character hasn’t every been voiced prior to this year’s game, but still. The variety in the different characters in the games is staggering, even if they do use a relatively small voice acting pool. What always strikes me though is the amount of big names they’re able to snag for a role or two. In Oblivion it was Patrick Stewart, Fallout 3 had Liam Neeson, Fallout: New Vegas has Matthew Perry – it goes on. For Fallout 4, we don’t know a ton about the cast, other than Ron Perlman reprising his role as narrator; along with the player character actor and actress – Brian T. Delaney and Courtenay Taylor. Regardless of the celebrity status of the actors, they always do a great job bringing each character to life.

Fallout 4 Concept Bomb

Which really all ties into what I think has always been Bethesda strength. That’s making these worlds all tie in together and feel real. It’s more than just making the characters feel real through good writing and voice acting. It’s more than just putting little details in the houses to make them feel real. It’s much deeper than that. The best way that I’ve really been able to dive into this is by looking at the timelines that they’ve created for Elder Scrolls and Fallout. Granted Fallout was initially created by Black Isle Studios, but still, Bethesda isn’t exactly bad at this either. Just look at the two timelines for the games – you’ll see details that impact the games, but that won’t show up in actual gameplay, possibly ever. The Elder Scrolls timeline details the creation myths for each race, along with helping set the stage for each game. Fallout‘s timeline details out exactly what happened in the timeline after it split from our own – from the end of WWII on to the Great War. Little details like that just make everything feel like is has history behind it. And that’s really what has me super pumped for Fallout 4 – not only do we get another chance to fill in some blanks in the timeline, but this is the first time we’ve headed to Boston. That means that we’re probably guaranteed to learn a whole bunch more about that region – which also means a whole lot more writing and creating on Bethesda’s part.

Weekly News Recap – Week of June 22, 2015

This week has been a pretty Destiny heavy news week, unfortunately for the wrong reasons. There has been a few other headlines though, so let’s look back at the week.

Destiny Taken King Collectors Edition

It’s been a rough week for Bungie PR. First was the Luke Smith Eurogamer interview. While I think the real takeaway from that was just that Luke needs to steer clear of the interviews on pricing, and stick with development talk; it still did plenty of damage within the fanbase. Combine that with terrible timing for the announcement of a partnership with Red Bull, and Bungie/Activision did a great job of taking all the good E3 vibes right away. It does look like some good will come  of this – Bungie and Activision look like their talking about the pricing and bundle options for The Taken King. The Red Bull thing honestly isn’t that big of a deal to me – it’s nothing new with Activision after all. Look at Call of Duty – they’ve been partnered with Mt. Dew for years now. Hopefully over the next few weeks Bungie can get back on the good side of the fans.

Pipboy Edition

Bethesda this week managed to scrounge up a few extra copies of the upcoming Pip Boy Edition for Fallout 4, but retailers sold out just as quickly. At this point, it looks like North America’s stock is totally sold out – which means if you didn’t snag one in the last couple weeks, you’ll probably be stuck waiting until Christmas. Today Bethesda also cleared up which phones will be able to fit inside the Pip Boy. In keeping the Pip Boy as accurate to the game as possible, larger phones like the iPhone 6+ won’t fit inside it, but the other iPhones will. Honestly, I plan on using the app for sure, but I don’t really intend to use the Pip Boy like that. For me, the Pip Boy is a display piece, showing off my love for Fallout.

Yesterday The Rock shared that he’s apparently working on bringing the classic arcade game Rampage to the big screen. For the younger folks out there, Rampage pit a giant werewolf, lizard and gorilla against each other to see who could cause the most damage and destruction on a city block. With monster movies starting to come back a little bit, I could see Rampage actually being pretty cool, especially with The Rock involved.

Battlefield Hardline: Criminal Activity Thoughts

Battlefield HardlineI recently went ahead and grabbed the Premium upgrade for Battlefield: Hardline – after returning to the game from a break. The main factor to pick up the upgrade was that Criminal Activity – the first DLC for the game – is live now for Premium members. The new pack includes a few new guns, a couple new weapon accessories and four new maps. The new guns are all for the Enforcer class, with the exception of the M1A1 Thompson Sub Machine Gun, which can be used on every class. So I thought it would be cool to take a look at the new maps and game mode quick as well as touch on the new guns and equipment.

Firstly, the four new maps all fit within a theme of small scale criminal capers. They tie in pretty closely to the single player – Black Friday takes place in the same mall as one of the missions. They do tend to play a little more on the small side – Enforcers, Professionals and Operators do really well in any mode on the new maps. But the new maps all are really quite strong. Black Friday plays super fun – the middle food court area is where the crazy action happens, and that’s perfectly fine. In Battlefield the middle really should be where the action should be. Backwoods is a lot less centralized, but has some crazy sightlines that good snipers can dominate with. The conquest points are spread around well enough where maintaining control all of them is kinda difficult. Code Blue is the opposite – close quarters combat dominates it, and on Conquest vehicles can make a pretty big swing. Holding the nightclub is super important, since it’s the middle point of the map. The Beat is similar to Code Blue – lots of tight quarters, corners to watch out for, but with a few sections that play longer range. It’s a great mix of maps honestly, that does a good job of mixing up the action. A lot of Battlefield maps in general tend to skew on the larger side of things. It fits with the way the gunplay works, along with the vehicle combat.

Battlefield Hardline Hotwire

Which brings me to my biggest issue with Criminal Activity. It’s not the maps, nor is it the new Enforcer weapons. It’s a very specific combination of the new Bounty Hunter game mode, along with the new maps. That’s currently the only way to play Bounty Hunter, and that’s where the issue arises. Bounty Hunter is Battlefield’s take on Kill Confirmed from Call of Duty. It really is pretty much exactly the same – it’s Team Deathmatch, with a pickup that needs to be grabbed for the point. The problem is that Team Deathmatch has always been a real mixed bag in Battlefield. EA and DICE have done a pretty good job being in front of Team Deathmatch issues, almost exclusively with spawning in the base game. Those maps have all had three months of fine-tuning. These new maps don’t have that luxury. Which means spawn issues galore – I had a pretty good number of times where I spawned last night literally three feet in front of an enemy. Bounty Hunter is a pretty cool mode – I’ve always thought it’s a better way to play Team Deathmatch. It helps dissuade camping, which is what you need to do. Give DICE and EA a few more weeks and I think they’ll address the spawn issues that need it.

In general Criminal Activity has re-energized my view on Battlefield: Hardline. The game is still a ton of fun to play, and the new maps and weapons fit really well. Premium is definitely worth it – getting all the DLC a few weeks early is great, plus add in a few Gold Battlepacks sweetens the deal.

Fallout 4 – The E3 Game of the Show For My Money

Fallout 4 Box Art

Every blog and gaming website out there always gives a game of the show. Mine was going to be Fallout 4 going in to the show – and after everything we saw about it during the show, it was cemented. I think it was probably the game that we learned the most about – especially of the games coming out this fall. Going in, all we knew was that it existed. After the Bethesda showcase, we knew so much more. Release date, confirmed setting, details of character creation, world building/customization and combat all got expanded on. Add in Fallout Shelter, the upcoming companion app along with the Pipboy Edition and I think it’s a really strong pick.

Personally, Fallout is one of two games that I will get this fall, no matter what (the other is Rock Band). Sure Halo, Call of Duty and Taken King all look good too, but they just didn’t grab me like Fallout 4 did. And that’s all just from a gameplay standpoint.  Then we get to two big details that really should be getting more attention then they are. First, for Xbox One gamers, there’s the added bonus of Fallout 3 along with it. For players that maybe missed the game almost 10 years ago, that’s a fantastic bonus. The details are still missing – is this a download on the Xbox One, or is it just a Xbox 360 download and it will be one of the new backward compatibility options. Will it allow people to double up on gamerscore? Will it include the five DLC packs for the game? All that needs to be answered before November, and I expect them to.

Pipboy Edition

The other great detail is the prospect of the Modding community being able to share their work on consoles. Some details here have been confirmed. The PC dev kit will be out early next year, and Xbox One will get access to the mods shortly thereafter through the service. This honestly could be the biggest game changer in Fallout 4‘s lifespan. Bringing mods to consoles has been a pipedream for players for years now – really ever since consoles went online. Bethesda being at the forefront on this also just feels right – their games always seem to benefit greatly from the modding community. Granted the mods will be a little curated for the consoles – probably looking for trademark breaches and mods that would impact the rating (ultra-violence/nudity mods) – but they definitely look like they’re going all in here. And that could make Fallout 4 the most flexible console RPG in years – the potential mods here are crazy.

November may only be a few months away, but we still have the slow months of the summer to get through. There are definitely a few games worth looking into this summer for sure, but damn, the fall can’t get here fast enough.

What the Destiny Interview Really Amounts To

DestinyThe big news floating around the web this week – especially in the Destiny community – is an interview that Eurogamer conducted with Luke Smith from Bungie. The interview is definitely worth reading, not just for the reasons the web is talking about. The focal point for the interview here is talking about the pricing for the upcoming expansion for DestinyThe Taken King. The meat here though isn’t so much what Luke had to say about that, it’s much more about how he said it.

Let’s start with some context. The interview took place either at E3, or right after E3. That’s a crazy busy time already, and add in the fact that he was apparently feeling under the weather, that’s a bad combination for a hard hitting interview. The writer over at Eurogamer did a really great job of trying to get an actual answer about the pricing situation – mainly as it amounts to the Collector’s Edition for The Taken King. For the most part, his questioning revolved around paying for content a second time – the Collector’s Editions include the base game, as well the previous expansions, and are also the only way to get certain in-game bonuses. In particular, the interview focuses on the new emotes included, and that this is currently the only way to obtain them.

That, at least initially, was the real issue here. As it currently stands, it doesn’t look like there’s any real plan to change the pricing or bundles for The Taken King. There’s still a few months to go, but it might already be too late to make those changes. After the interview though, the focus has changed around a little. The tone that Luke took really came across as confrontational at best, and really arrogant and entitled at worst. Regardless of whether or not that was his intention – that’s not important at this point – Bungie faces a pretty serious issue now. The initial reaction from the fanbase – especially over on Reddit – has been a call for boycotts/and cancelled pre-orders. Now, I don’t know that the right answer here is. I do think that Bungie has to do something here – and quickly. Personally, I’d love for Deej this week in the update to mention that they’re looking into the pricing/bundling for the Collector’s Edition; and also they should probably keep Luke out of the PR/interview spotlight for a while. He’s fine to have in ViDocs – that makes sense after all with him being a developer.

Destiny Taken King Collectors Edition

This is a weird story to talk about – the fanbase is pretty vocal on both sides of the issue. I do understand that some of Luke’s comments kind of allude to microtransactions making their way into Destiny – and that’s great, but there are way better ways to say that. Even if they aren’t ready to talk about that, there is a better way to say “well…maybe we’ve got some stuff in the future” rather than talking about putting a video on the screen and that making us throw money at it. But to me the biggest victim here is Destiny. And that’s because of the timing of this. E3 is when the good vibes tend to be flowing pretty high – Bungie had those going after the show. The Taken King looked really good at the Sony show, and the info coming out of the show floor seemed to have a pretty good feeling for the new content. Hopefully Bungie can get this sorted out quickly and get back on track here.

E3 2015 – Final Thoughts and Wrap-Up

E3 LogoNow that the insanity of E3 week has come to a close, I want to take a quick look back at the show as a whole. After a week of long posts, today’s is going to be a bit quicker.

E3 last year was pretty strong – there was a strong focus on games, from all the developers and publishers. Going into this year’s show I think we had a feeling there might be a bit more tech shown. VR is picking up now, with Microsoft and Sony both embracing it in different ways. And while both publishers did devote a little time in their press conferences to VR, it wasn’t a focus for either one. Instead we got a second year running where games took the spotlight. And really, that’s how E3 should be.

E3 is the one week of the year where developers know that the entire industry is transfixed on their games. They’ve spent a ton of time and effort on these games, and this should be a showcase of them. The show has evolved over the years for sure, and I think that we’ve gotten to a format now that not only makes sense for the exhibitors, but also helps legitimize the industry. And this year in particular was awesome. This year might have had the strongest lineup of games ever. It certainly had the strongest in any recent memory.

It’s a really popular thing to grade the show and declare winners and losers when it’s all said and done. I think that’s only partially worthwhile. Grading the show makes sense – two years ago was weak, this year was much stronger. That helps the developers and publishers know more of what we’re looking for with E3. In that regard, this year’s show was easily an A. There were huge announcements – both games and news – and the games shown looked incredibly strong. With winners and losers though, I hate doing that. The answer to that question is always the gamers. We’re the winners, and there really isn’t a loser of E3.

Fallout 4 Box Art

I do like picking a game of the show though. Really it isn’t any question for me. It was probably going to be Fallout 4 going into the show, and after Bethesda’s and Microsoft’s conferences that decision was cemented. There were a ton of awesome games this year – Horizon, Halo 5, Kingdom Hearts III the list goes on. But for me, Fallout 4 is just the game that I am far and away the most excited about. It comes out this year, so the wait is much less; the game looks like a major step forward for the series, and on top of that just look amazing.