Saturday, October 24, 2015

Square-Enix @ NYCC - Deus Ex Mankind Divided

[Originally published on Sub Cultured as Square-Enix @ NYCC - Deus Ex Mankind Divided]

Last week at New York Comic Con, Square-Enix was one of the major gaming presences in the city. Among the previews and demos they offered was the upcoming Deus Ex: Mankind DividedMankind Divided picks up where the story left off, with our favorite augmented human Adam Jensen rocking a few new upgrades from past titles in the series. I will say this - the game looks really good, and adds a new formula for gameplay that makes this the most attractive entry into the series yet.

Eidos Montreal has the player reprise the role of Jensen, following the Aug Incident of 2027, when a malicious signal broadcast by Hugh Darrow to all augmented humans caused them to glitch and go insane, forcing them to violently attack anyone around them. After the death of millions, augmented humans (Augs) are viewed worldwide as a threat to humanity, forcing Augs underground into slums and squalor, while Aug manufacturers shut down around them. This environment - that of repressed Augs in a Apartheid-style world of forced segregation - is where the game begins.

Jensen is still working as a covert operative, whose job it is to help find the people responsible for the events of Deus Ex: Human Revolution. While the series has been known to offer players some choice in gameplay, the options in the new title go beyond that, giving the player complete control over how they want Jensen to act, and thus augmenting how the story unfolds.With his various new upgrades, Jensen can be played a number of different ways. As this is a Deus Ex game, the combat option is there, allowing the player to progress through the game through running, gunning, and dispatching their foes with extreme prejudice. There's also a non-lethal option, giving players the opportunity to progress through levels without killing - for example choosing to knock someone out with a takedown after sneaking up on them instead of a ferocious aug-based attack. Also available is the ability to stealth through  the entire game, forgoing violence altogether and focusing instead on not being seen. This might be a great plus for gamers who love stealth games like Thief Assassin's Creed. 

Of course, then there's the tech! Jensen's new upgrades would make any IT department on earth jealous (mine included). New skills include the Icarus Dash and Icarus Ram, some of the skills that are helpful in a non-lethal play option. The coolest upgrade, in my opinion, is the Titan Shield. This baller-as-hell aug upgrade lets Jensen encase himself in a sweet shield, rendering him impervious to damage as he handles business. Also visually probably one of the most satisfying things from the demos.

Mankind Divided also provides an upgraded hacking system as well as smart vision, allowing Jensen to see loot that would normally not be seen by the player's naked eyes.

But there's a bit more to it than that. Even though this was a big demo at NYCC, I recall a conversation I had with St├ęphane Roy, Executive Producer on the project back at E3 this summer about some major themes in the game. I asked him about some of the details of this separatist society portrayed in the game evoking player emotions, and whether or not there was any social commentary involved in that aspect. His response:

"It's complex. It's complex because we work on that type of details for guys like you, you know? We want to make sure that if you play and pay attention you will notice all these small things and you're going to start really being in this universe. Nothing is black and white in real life so we want to make sure that the subtleties are around you and you truly believe in this. So it's a lot of work for us because if we decide to change something here there are ripple effects and it could mean that we have to change something in this mission by changing something here. So it's demanding for the team, but at the same time at the end when everything is like this, I really want to suck you into the story and you're trapped. And to be able to do that, we have to have this kind of details."

He went on with some more commentary on choice in games:

"We want to make sure that choices and consequences are really important. I want to make sure when you're faced with choice, it won't be easy. 'What should I do? Who am I? What are my values?' So like you just said because you saw this guy and think it's unfair, when it will be time to make a decision, I guarantee it's going to affect your judgement, and I think this is where the richness of the product will flourish. You can see it."

Mankind Divided so far looks like way more than than just a shooter or an action game. Eidos Montreal has really used the medium to try to deliver something that's more than pure basic fun. Want to see what we did at the last couple of shows? Check out the gameplay trailer below complete with commentary.

Look for Deus Ex: Mankind Divided to release on February 23, 2016.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Adult Swim @ NYCC: Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter

[Originally published at Sub Cultured as Adult Swim @ NYCC: Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter]

Imagine, if you will, a small peaceful town in Vermont, land of the Bed & Breakfast. Now mash it up with werewolves and a neon-clad savior intent on stopping them. Now envision that whole strange and twisted scenario in the hands of Adult Swim. That is Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter, and it's coming soon to a television near you.

This past week at New York Comic Con I got the chance to talk to some of the folks that are a part of this project to see more on what this show is all about. The show stars Jon Glaser (you know him from Parks and Recreation, Girls, and Delocated) as the titular Neon Joe, who makes it his life's work to battle lycanthropy in this tiny B&B-laden Vermont town. Also featured are Scott Adsit(30 Rock, Big Hero 6) as a colorful local who wants to be Joe's BFF and Stephanie March (Law & Order: SVU) who plays, in her words, the "randy lesbian mayor" of the town.

The show was recorded as "the craziest miniseries of all time," being chunked into five 30 minute episodes with a continuous storyline, which is a bit of a departure from the deliciously random 15 minute episodes on Adult Swim that we're used to enjoying. "It's just like Roots," Adsit joked about the miniseries format. "With werewolves, definitely no vampires, we can be very specific about that" March added.

But the real fun is how the show even came to be in the first place.

"I was on Jimmy Fallon's show I think it was 3 years ago maybe to promote the finale of Delocated, another show I made for Adult Swim," said star and creator Jon Glaser. "And I wanted to do something just dumb to amuse myself for the segment and not have a straight interview, so I took the two articles of clothing that I own and that I use for live comedy shows in New York, one of which was a neon yellow hoodie and a knit cap from American Apparel and another of which was a pair of Coors Light sweatpants. And I just paired them arbitrarily and went on the show and I just said 'I'm really sad Delocated is over but I'm really excited about my new project it's called Neon Joe,Werewolf Hunter and I'm dressed as the character right now. And that's really all we have right now but we're excited to kind of figure out the rest.' And that was 100% made up, it was a fake idea. It was not a real idea for a TV show I had, and I kinda thought at the time I could see Adult Swim knowing it's a joke and saying it still sounds funny, could that be a show? And I said sure, and that's what happened. So we had a meeting and they said why don't you write a pilot and see if it's something."

Yes kids. This show was born from an arbitrary joke Jon Glaser made to Jimmy Fallon. That joke became a meeting, that meeting led to a character, and now we'll be able to see the final product on Adult Swim.

"It's really treated like a super dramatic show - it's a stupid comedy" he said about Neon Joe.

That one joke and idea with a crazy set of characters was enough to draw a great cast of actors for the project, all of whom were trying pretty hard to tell us things without really telling us too much of the plot. Within a twenty minute timeframe, the show was described as being an epic miniseries with tones of Don Quixote and a little bit of Batman. "I would say it's about our hero's epic journey to himself. To return to himself as we follow his plights and his struggles" was what Stephanie March could tell us about the character of Neon Joe. As for the plot, "By the end you will know definitively whether there's werewolves in this universe or not" from Scott Adsit.

That comment later on sparked a bit of hilarious tension between Glaser and Adsit to the delight of everyone at the table.

"It's Glaser sensibilities," Adsit said about the show's humor, "and Glaser is a brilliant original voice in comedy as far as I can see. Everything filters through him and he's so incredibly funny in this role he's created for himself. It's really really a pleasure just to be on the set and watch him work through this script that's really funny, and he's really good at it."

I also got to speak with Steve Cirbus (DelocatedGotham) and Steve Little (The Heart She HollerAdventure Time, Eastbound and Down), who play the town's sheriff and janitor. The sheriff has almost a buddy cop relation with Neon Joe, with Cirbus agreeing with me (one sec while I praise my own ballerdom) that their relationship is akin to Commissioner Gordon and Batman. Steve Little had his own fun story on why he joined the cast:

"I had a good time on The Heart, She Holler, then I got an email about this and then I forwarded it to my manager because sometimes like you get something called Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter and you don't know how to even process that. And then my manager was like 'Oh! I love this!' - you know, a testament to her." He'd never worked with Glaser before so he wanted a second opinion, watched Delocated and jumped in.

Do yourselves a favor and watch this amazing trailer from Adult Swim:

Neon Joe, Werewolf Hunter starts on December 7 and will play one episode per night through the 11th at midnight. Seeing a cast that has this much fun together with a plot as wonderfully twisted as this is, I can't wait to start watching.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Konami Sells Insurance For Your Metal Gear Solid Base

[Originally published on Sub Cultured as Konami Sells Insurance For Your Metal Gear Solid Base]

Yesterday I read about a... well we'll call it a questionable microstransaction opportunity from Metal Gear Solid V, specifically targeted towards multiplayer action. In multiplayer mode, players operate FOB's (short for forward operating bases). And much of the play relies on infiltrating other players' bases and causing as much havoc as possible through event FOB missions. Of course when a FOB gets raided, there's going to be some damage. There's going to be a loss to the player that got raided that has to be replaced. So what can a concerned FOB operator do to gain some peace of mind during these troubling raid events? They can spend real money for fake money to insure their precious bases.

In digital software, especially in gaming, we've all begun to grow accustomed to the now-standard revenue scheme called the microtransaction. For the sake of the uninitiated: A microtransaction is any kind of purchase a player makes for an in-game benefit, from cosmetic changes like costumes and skins to game-changing items like powerful weaponry or even an expansion pack.

Yes, it's a fancy word for DLC with less emphasis in the C.

Even on the surface it smells like bullshit, and we've all gone for it. I've paid for character unlocks and costumes and skins and a number of other things for the games in my collection, feeling both dirty and satisfied at some sort of perceived value simultaneously. See that's how they get you - they set the price low enough so that it doesn't seem so bad to pay it, and makes you forget that you probably already spent upwards of $50 on the game you're playing. And if the game is free to play up front, you're even more inclined to purchase DLC because "hey, I didn't actually pay for this game to begin with."

Microtransaction riddled freemium games... have a special place of scorn in my heart, but this post isn't about that particular scourge right now.
I'm not saying it's all bad. Anyone who paid for Burial at Sea for BioShock Infinite for example is not complaining about the money the spent for that particular nugget of DLC. It got rave reviews across the board. But then there are others that fall far short of that mark - hell, fall short of anything positive at all. Remember World of Tanks' custom paint job that you could buy as premium, content? And remember when that premium content expired?
So it's easy for us to traverse from the good to the bad. But then there's the outright strange. So where was I again? Right...

FOB Insurance.

I kid you not my friends, you can now sign up for an insurance policy with Konami to compensate you for any losses during a raid on your base. It insures your base from theft. The player doing the raiding still keeps all of their spoils, but you, the hapless victim, are entitled to compensation. See details right from the MGS:The Phantom Pain website.

It's actually a fairly original idea as far as player services in multiplayer games go, but here's the issue - insurance is paid for with MB coins, a resource that is sporadically given out for free as bonuses, but has a very real exchange rate with real world currency. I couldn't find anything on the US PSN Store, but the South African PSN Store charges R 14.00, which is a little over $1 US. Here's official word from Konami:

Your FOBs are always at risk of coming under attack. Now, you can rest easy with FOB insurance (paid service). If you sign up for insurance, then during the insurance period you will be compensated for any materials and staff lost due to rival infiltrations.
* Staff/materials stolen by the rival will in fact remain on your base, and an identical amount of staff/materials will be handed over to the rival instead.
* MB Coins are purchased with real money, but free MB Coins are also distributed periodically as login bonuses, etc.
* The following are not covered by FOB insurance:
Staff/items that are not fully your property, such as abducted staff being held in your Brig (FOB)
Wounded staff (staff lost due to death or extraction will be compensated)
Staff used by you to deploy in defense of the FOB (neither death nor extraction will be compensated)
Nuclear weapons

Well hell, my nuclear weapons aren't covered? Lame. So you kids take that in, and let us know what you think about this next level in microtransactions in the comments below. How would the pitch go when the insurance salesperson comes to your house? "Do you ever worry that all your base are not belong to you? I'm selling peace of mind."

But how important is that piece of mind? I'm not sure how many people would take part in this insurance program, especially at the cost of real money. Granted, it's only about a buck or so for 100 coins but there's no word on how many coins a insurance policy would be. The risk of any loss at the base is part of the multiplayer experience though, and I'm fairly certain that those playing Metal Gear Solid V already accept that as part of the mechanic. Whenever a base does get hit a player is still only feeling a... Phantom Pain. It's a weird safety net addition to the game, and as all safety nets do, in my opinion it'll result in slightly more reckless play. Maybe that was the plan to begin with?

In the meantime I will be contemplating using real money for virtual money to protect virtual things from thievery. Maybe my insurance company could bundle this with my house and car?