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Are Publishers Bad For Games?

If I say the word ‘Publisher’ in the context of gaming you’ll probably think of names like Ubisoft, Bethesda and even (angry murmuring) Electronic Arts. These are companies who, for a long time, I thought were the people who actually make the games. I was wrong, they are the publisher – they fund and market the games and often overshadow the developers. That doesn’t seem very fair to me, as the developer is the person who actually puts in most of the work. So why does the publisher get so much attention on the box cover and in the adverts? It’s because they are the ones producing the adverts and making the box covers. This is the kind of thing I’d assumed could be done by the developer, and they could be, but the publisher is the company which takes the game and gets it to the player. In modern times of the internet, developers can just stick their game on the internet and players can just download it. Marketing can also be done quite cheaply if it is just done on the internet as well. So what then, is the point of the publisher anymore?

Arkham Knight: A PC Port Gone Wrong

I’m going to need an example of a developer. I’ll take Rocksteady as Arkham Knight was released quite recently and that makes this quite relatable. A few years ago Rocksteady started work on their second game, Batman: Arkham Asylum. Because the game quite heavily involves the very much copyrighted character Batman, Rocksteady needed permission from the people who own the rights to video games about Batman. Those people were Warner Brothers. Warner Brothers would only allow Rocksteady to make this game if they could be the publishers of the game.

It is important to understand that at the time, this was not a highly anticipated title; it was not a sequel and was only their second game, following not a very widely known title, Urban Chaos: Riot Response (I had to Google it). For this reason, Warner Brothers didn’t put too much of a stranglehold on the development of the game, neither did they give the developers much of a budget. And thus the game was excellent, the best game in the series, and importantly the PC port was wonderful.

Fast forward to June the 29th, I was walking home after my final A2 level exam feeling pretty fine, and getting ready and excited to sit down and play the final instalment of Rocksteady’s Arkham series. I opened Reddit on my phone and am met with a wall of posts named in variations of, “DO NOT BUY ARKHAM KNIGHT ON PC.” You can imagine how something like that would make you feel a little uneasy, especially after anticipating the game’s release for a few years and having pre-ordered the game. I raced home and, sure enough, the PC port of Arkham Knight was awful. What happened?

Well, in the time I’ve waited to actually play the bloody game, I think I’ve worked out the answer to that question: the publisher. Let me explain. I did a little bit of research into what was going on and it seems like (by which I mean was officially confirmed) the PC port was not done by Rocksteady, but by a little company famous for screwing up various other PC ports called Iron Galaxy. I know this to be true because I have in my possession a boxed copy of the PC version of the game and the PlayStation version, the only logo that is not on the PS version is Iron Galaxy’s. They did the PC port of Arkham Origins, a game which I deny the existence of as much as I can. When that game came out there were a very large number of bugs which I had to deal with and became very annoying over time. This was a problem with the PC port of the game – console plays didn’t seem to have most of these problems. Consider this: Arkham Origins was not developed by Rocksteady, it was developed by Warner Brothers Montréal. This probably means that for both games, the decision to just hand the PC port over to Iron Galaxy to sort out was probably Warner Brothers. Why they decided to use them again I have no idea. It seems like Rocksteady didn’t have much say in that matter. Why not?

It comes down to the popularity of the game. The Arkham series is probably one of the most successful series Warner Brothers have published, so when work started on the final instalment of the series, Warner Brothers, like an overbearing parent, started really paying attention and interfering way too much. They needed to get money for the game to be as big and epic as possible, so Rocksteady would have no walls stopping them from making the best game they can. To do this, Warner Brothers struck up a deal with Sony (I should remind you at this point that this is all basically just my speculation and a succession of educated guesses), so that some content would be exclusive to the PS4 and all advertising would in some way involve a PS4. Look at all advertising for this game and you’ll see some reference to the PS4 in every advert. I don’t doubt that this probably helped in the development of the game, and probably contributed to the being able to hire Johnathan Banks, which served to distract me greatly while playing the game. What it probably did lead to, was Warner Brothers handing the job of porting the game to PC over to Iron Galaxy, in order to let Rocksteady worry about the actual game. For whatever reason, Iron Galaxy screwed it up and Warner Brothers and Rocksteady were unaware that the port was not in good shape. For me, this explains why Rocksteady seemed so surprised by the bad port and reacted so quickly. I’m sure if they were aware of the quality of the port before release, they would have delayed it. It would have been better than what they actually did.

Obviously, the publisher is good for funding the game. Arkham Knight would be as big and as grand as it is without the funding from Warner Brothers. What I am saying is that it is fairly clear that Warner Brothers interfered too much with the development (again, this is all speculation – I don’t know any of this for sure).

EA – Money Grabbing Bastards

Electronic Arts used to be a very well respected organisation which was responsible for a lot of Maxis’ successes like Sim City and The Sims. They also have helped with DICE’s successes like the battlefield series. More recently they have been named the main reason Maxis has now collapsed in on itself, and the disaster of the latest Sim City. Sim City failed because of EA’s ridiculous DRM worries. EA can’t live if they feel like they are losing money, however little, through something even if they can’t prevent it. EA is perhaps most known for the many, many freemium games which you can find on your phone’s app store. Search for EA in your app store of choice and see how many games are there.

A freemium game is a game which you can play for free, but which has a load of micro-transactions, or in-app purchases, which the game (kind of) forces you to buy in order to progress. This is something which most gamers don’t partake in, but which affects a certain type of person who finds it addictive. If you want to know more, I’d recommend you watch the excellent South Park episode “Freemium Isn’t Free”. It’s in the eighteenth series. If you want an example of a freemium game and to listen to a rather angry man get angry about it (in a slightly over-the-top fashion) then go watch this:

I won’t go on about it, but I feel that EA is a very good example of a company which is poisoning the gaming world with its money grabbing ways. EA was recently voted the worst company in America, and I’m kind of inclined to agree; they’ve done a lot of things which have annoyed many, many people. I think it’s because EA has gotten so big, they are no longer looking to make great games, and they are looking to make money. A want to make money doesn’t make great games. Face it, if you’re looking to make a profit, you shouldn’t be in the gaming industry, where studios like Irrational Games produce games like Bioshock Infinite and then go bankrupt because they overspent and didn’t make that money back – despite being the bestselling game on Steam at the week of release, and having critically acclaimed status. Games are super expensive to make and you have to make a lot of sacrifices in your game to not overspend (speaking as someone who has never made a game and does not know anyone who has).

The Lighter Side

This has been a delightfully negative review. I was told once that it is much easier to be negative than it is to be positive. So perhaps I should leave a little note about the good side of publishers – after all, they’re not all bad. Publishers can be good for the developers of games. The publisher funds the game and gets it marketed – it’s what they’re for. If the publisher doesn’t over-interfere with the development of the game, they can be doing something great. They take talented independent studios and give them the resources to make the game they really want to make.

This is the philosophy of publishers like Bethesda. Bethesda is good at publishing games – a lot of the games they’ve published in recent memories have been successes and many which have been critically acclaimed, and I think I might know why. Bethesda doesn’t just publish games, they make their own; we’ve all at least heard of the Elder Scrolls series and the Fallout games. That tells me that they know how a game is made, they understand the process and so they know what developers need from a publisher. All they have to do is give that to the developers who are being published by them. This is what a publisher should be, they should care about the games they are publishing. They should not be in it for the money, they should want to get great games out there.

In Conclusion…

No. Publishers are not bad for games. But, as with everything in the world, there are good publishers and there are bad publishers. It all hinges on the attitude of the publisher – if they care about the game, they are a good publisher, if they are only concerned about how they can get more profit out of a game, and they are bad for the game.

Categories
Games Reviews

Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture

The Chinese Room is not new to this style of game. You may remember a few years ago when they produced Dear Esther. A game, I kid you not, I played for eleven minutes before getting bored and stopping. It wasn’t very interesting and I haven’t used to the style of game that it was. At the time, I was prone to immediately rejecting games which I wasn’t used to, and this was something completely new to me.

My opinion about this style of game changed radically when I played Fullbright’s Gone Home. If you have not played this masterpiece, stop reading this and play it now. It really is fantastic and it managed to completely change my opinion about this kind of games.

It was because of Gone Home that when I found out about Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (ridiculously long title – I’ll just refer to it using the acronym EGTTR from here on out), I decided I wanted to give it a go. I wasn’t really aware that the game was by The Chinese Room when I started it, but when I found out I was willing to give them a second chance. I was ready to experience a story involving a bunch of Welsh(?) people who have all mysteriously disappeared.

What a lovely apocalypse.
What a lovely apocalypse.

The game starts off with you waking up in the middle of a road by a gate. From there you just start walking down a road. Along the way, the game teaches you the controls. Make sure you learn them; after showing them to you once, the UI clears itself from the screen and you just have to remember what buttons to press. Luckily, there’s not much to remember and you’ll probably get the hang of it quickly. It wasn’t entirely obvious to me that the game would stop prompting me so suddenly. In the game, there are some radios that are constantly emitting the sound of a woman reading out a random sequence of numbers. The first one you come across prompts you to press the X button to activate a BioShock style log entry recording. When I found the second one, I didn’t know to press X because it didn’t prompt me to do so, and I assumed that I couldn’t. It was only after about an hour did I work this out, which means I’ve missed a whole bunch of story. I may have missed some important things which would have helped me understand what was going on.

This wasn’t too bad a problem. The radios are simply an extra thing you can listen to which adds to the story. The main, important parts of the story are told by these strange, floating blobs of light which guide you around this village. At points they stop, and using some controller tilting, you activate some narrative. When this happens the world goes dark as if it were nighttime, and the light takes human form to represent a number of people and various objects they interact within the narrative. These narratives are meant to tell you about various people who live in the village and about what happened to them on one mysterious night, where everyone disappeared mysteriously.

The game is beautiful. It uses the CryEngine which is known for being good at making beautiful looking games with many lights and particle effects. What the most beautiful aspect of this game is not the visuals, but the enchanting soundtrack. It is relaxing and peaceful. It’s the kind of music which you can’t help but feel some kind of emotion for. It is great at relaxing you so you can simply sit back and enjoy the game. Frankly, it would be pretty boring without it.

On my list of things which really put me off games is slow walking speed and a lack of a sprint button. This game ticks both boxes in that criteria. You walk incredibly slowly in this game, it’s like your legs can’t move more than half a footsteps. You’re supposed to be following the strange balls of light but it’s quite irritating when they move so much faster than you. At times, I wanted to explore some of the houses and perhaps have a look at the vast open fields. Sometimes I got lost and needed to turn back. It’s quite annoying when you have to walk a long distance in a game very slowly. Perhaps the sprint button was not put in because it would ruin the mood of the game if people were just running around everywhere and rushing the game. I would hasten to disagree. Why? It took me three hours to complete the game and I’d wager that about half of that was walking and being lost. Let’s face it, walking around and getting lost does not make enjoyable gameplay. I wanted to get on with the story, not wander slowly through a village wondering where I’m going. I could do that in real life.

The big problem with being lost in EGTTR is that sometimes you don’t realize it. I had, on several occasions, lost my ball of light as I was walking, so I followed the path, trusting that the world design would guide me to where I was meant to go. You know, like a good game would. This did lead me somewhere else, but not where I was meant to be. The game is separated into following around different people (or blobs of light). You follow one person until you find out how they died, then move on to someone else. I had, twice, gotten myself so lost that I accidentally found the starting location of another story line which I can only assume I was supposed to find after I had completed my current story line. So without knowing it I had started another part of the game without completing the part I was on. I didn’t know this until much later in the game, so I had to go back and find the previous ball of light to complete their story line. I just went with it followed their story until I got lost again. This was very annoying. Not only because it meant walking back and having to find where the ball of light had gotten to, but it also completely muddled up the story in my mind. Everything I experienced was out of the order the game was supposed to happen in. The effect being that I was completely lost and couldn’t tell you what happen in the game at all. I still can’t.

After I had completed all the story lines (with great effort and determination on my part) I was catapulted back to the place I started but on the other side of the fence this time. I had one road to follow and had to walk into a big room where the final, revealing moment would happen. The moment where all of would suddenly make sense and I would finally understand what the game was trying to tell me. Alas, no. The conclusion made sense, I understood it, and I was completely underwhelmed. None of the previous three hours of gameplay mattered to the conclusion whatsoever. The ending was simply not very interesting and I felt cheated. My time had been wasted, and so had my £15.

This is what people look like.
This is what people look like.

So, in conclusion, I can’t recommend this game to you. You can get it for £15 on the PlayStation Store and I thoroughly recommend you spend your money on something more worthwhile. Like a really good toothbrush.

Categories
Games Reviews

Batman: Arkham Knight

Note – I’m going to try to avoid putting any spoilers in this review. unfortunately, that means glossing over some big parts of the game. So… sorry about that…

Also, I’m not going to talk too much about the absolutely appalling PC port. I don’t really have enough information about what happened there for me to give any good and useful opinions about that. But yes – it’s terrible that a port that bad was released by such a well-respected and liked studio. I only hope this doesn’t come back to haunt them in later years.


I was excited about this game. I Preordered it over a year before it eventually was released, and was so quick to defend it when I heard complaints, and so quick to turn off any doubts I had in my mind that this game may not be as good as I had hoped. If you’d asked me what games I was excited about back in January, I’d have told you GTA V, The Witcher 3 and most of all Batman: Arkham Knight. That order has changed somewhat after having played all three of these games.

Before I begin, let me cast your mind back to 2009. Seems so long ago. I would have been about twelve years old at the time. It was only the year before when Christopher Nolan’s ‘The Dark Knight’ had been released and we were all feeling a bit Batman-ey. That year my brother got Batman: Arkham Asylum for his Christmas present. That was the first game I remember really, genuinely loving. I’ve since played that game a billion and three times and can get through the main story in about five and a half hours (which is impressive for me).

Jump forward to 2011, when Batman: Arkham City was released. My brother and I had been following this game for years – ever since it was announced. We were lucky enough to actually receive our copy a day early. My brother enjoyed it so much he actually completed the game that day and I’ve also played that game a billion and three times.

My nostalgia about the previous games in this post is to express how much this series means to me, how excited I was about Arkham Knight – and how disappointed I was with what it turned out to be.

To understand the failures of Arkham Knight, we must explore the successes of the other games. The best game in the series was Arkham Asylum. That’s not opinion, that’s a scientific fact. The world is very small, but it was still somehow big and complicated, with quite an impressive amount of detail. Around every corner was something to find with some reference to the Batman universe. A lot of what I know about Batman has come from that game. This made exploring the Asylum quite a bit of fun. The world was small but the Asylum felt vast because there was so much to explore in every building and around the gardens – you simply had to stop in every room to have a look around. There was also something very cool about exploring an island where you’ve completely lost control and things are getting progressively worse at every step. It seems the more you progressed in that game, the direr the situation became. The story simple and very easy to understand, which meant that you completely cared about what happened, enough to get through even the most irritating of battles.

Arkham Knight, on the other hand, has quite a large world, which can be explored, but the player doesn’t really have much of an incentive. Gotham is not a very interesting or detailed world. I certainly didn’t care to wander into the buildings and have a look around, mainly because you can’t enter most buildings. The buildings you can enter aren’t very complicated, mostly consisting of one or two rooms, and a fight to do. Gone are the many subtle references in the main campaign to various characters in the Batman universe. Arkham Asylum had a nice little fact file section which popped up when you discovered a new character. It was fun to read and learn more about the characters in the Batman world. It would seem that most of the extra features of the previous two games have been trashed to make this one more serious and epic. It feels a lot less like a game made by people who are big fans of Batman, and more like a game made by fans of The Dark Knight. There’s a big difference.

The story of a game is normally what holds it together. As I have previously written, the stories of both the previous games have been very interesting, fun and compelling. This is because of one main factor: simplicity. Neither story was complicated. They were a bit convoluted, certainly, but that was to keep you guessing and wanting to progress. I can honestly say that at every moment in both previous games I knew what was going on, and could explain it to a five-year-old – which is actually a very good test. In Arkham Knight, I still couldn’t tell you what was actually happening in the game. The story lacked any kind of logic or sense, to the point where I found that I was doing what the game was telling me to do, but I wasn’t entirely sure why it wanted me to do it. All I knew was that it was getting a little bit serious and a little bit dark for it to hold my interest for very long. Stuff was going on, and I wasn’t sure if the story had properly started or was just about to begin. I didn’t feel that Batman was in any danger, or that he didn’t have control of the situation he was in. I was waiting for things to really start, but they never seem to. He seemed to be handling the situation pretty well. Some stuff happened which sort of felt like it could have been a problem, but then never really amounted to anything. The story lacked a lot of much-needed substance.

Rocksteady were very excited to be introducing their own character to the Batman universe: the Arkham Knight. The whole game featured characters asking each other “Who is the Arkham Knight?”, as if their curiosity would rub off on me or something. Truth be told, I didn’t really care who he was, I was mildly surprised when it was eventually revealed, but I never really cared. He was a boring villain. Here is a run down of his profile:

  • He hates Batman (like every other villain in the world)
  • He has a lot of cash and military training
  • He knows stuff about Batman that some other people don’t know
  • He’s very angry (like I was when the PC port turned out to be terrible)

That would be about it. That is all the character development we got for him. It meant that I really didn’t care who he was, all I knew was that I was wishing the villain was Joker; he’d bring a bit of life into the game.

Scarecrow
Whoever did his face-lift didn’t realize that his mouth was not an open wound…

The other Main villain of the game is Scarecrow. “Oh! That really fun and interesting guy who was in Arkham Asylum!” You ask . No. He’s grown up and become boring. In this game he is all serious and deep, but not in a good way. He spends the entire time being all sensible and calm, and the game desperately tried to make him come across as scary or super intelligent or something like that. Not the Scarecrow we all loved the first game, who was just completely metal and was going after Batman just for a bit of a laugh. They’ve taken Scarecrow and made him even less interesting than the Arkham Knight – and I can’t imagine that was an easy thing to do.

This means that all the villans in this game just weren’t very interesting. I mean, there was this whole introduction about how all the villans had joined forces to take down Batman, but that’s something I forgot about until someone in the game mentioned it. This really didn’t feel like it really had much to do with anything. The other villans are much more interesting than the main ones, but there was next to no interaction between them and Batman. Think back to City, the main story was written in such a way that you had to go past every other villain in the City to eventually get to Joker. That was a thing about City which I really liked. It provided a bit of separation in the story between who you were dealing with, and added interesting breaks. It ultimately made the game longer. This was also prominent in Asylum, but almost non-existent in Knight. There was simply not enough of the cool, interesting villans for me to really care about their evil plan – or even remember it.

The game heavily hints that you should get on with some side missions in-between bits of the main story, and I would suggest that you do that – even if you just want to get on with the story and find out what happens next. This is because I feel that some of these side missions should have been slotted into the main story somehow, in order to make it more of a satisfying ending when you eventually do get to the end and defeat Scarecrow and the Arkham Knight. I completed the main story and felt a bit empty and dissatisfied with the outcome. This prompted me to just go on. To do loads of the side missions to completion. Let me tell you, they are boring as hell when you are just doing it all together in a big chunk. Take the fireman mission as an example. At the start of the game Batman is informed that the fire crew of Station 17 have gone missing and that he needs to go and rescue them. This basically means predator mode in various places in the city. You go in and sneak around, knock everyone out and rescue a fireman. Sounds fun, right? Not after the sixth fireman, and especially not when you realise that there are ten more to find, sneak around, knock everyone out and rescue the firemen. The game simply stops being fun and becomes repetitive. I don’t feel like I finished the game. I feel like I got bored and left it, because the ending to the main story was so vague and unsatisfying I was left feeling like the game hadn’t actually ended. Nothing changed when I completed the main story, everything kept on going as if I had done nothing.

The Batmobile
Not the most aerodynamic design in the world.

I can’t belive I’ve come this far without at all mentioning the Batmobile. This was hyped though hell and back by the Rocksteady and Warner Brothers marketing teams. It seems like it was all they were talking about. I wanted to know more about the other aspects of the gameplay. After playing the game, I now know that the Batmobile is in fact the only aspect of the gameplay in Arkham Knight. You spend more time in the Batmobile than out of it in Arkham knight, whether you want to or not. Quite a lot of the missions either involve or entirely take place within the Batmobile. And while the Batmobile is quite fun (I mean, not the best thing ever or anything like that) it does get a little stale a little bit too quickly into the game. The car doesn’t handle very well and is quite difficult to drive, the controls aren’t the standard controls for driving, and this is irritating to get used to, especially with no custom button mapping. The battles in the tank involve shooting and dodging. That’s it. It requires a bit of skill and a good reaction time. At first my thoughts were, “This is quite a cool thing in this game, I quite enjoy this.” My thoughts changed quite a lot by the tenth time I was doing it. It just became boring. The variation in the fights is simply controlled by the number of drones you are attacking. It became very repetitive very quickly. And for the final boos battle to be a tank fight was just disappointing. I wanted to fight some people with my bat-fists, not sit in a car and shoot a cannon at things. That’s not what being Batman is about.

Dual Play
The super-group are in!

Okay, I think I’ve bashed this game enough. Let’s discuss some of the things I like about it. Belive it or not, I think there are some really cool aspects to the game. I’ll start with Dual Play. People have been asking for CO-OP in these games since the beginning. This is not it. This is something I think is really cool, and better than CO-OP. Batman has quite a few allies, at points in this game one of them will come along and help him out a bit. The player (you and I) has the ability to play as either Batman, or his ally. You can actually switch between them during a fight, and this something which can be used strategically. Picture this: you’re Batman and you’ve just started beating up a brute – this takes a while and you can only knock them out if you complete the beat-down – when in the background, oh no! Some other guy is breaking into a weapons box. They’ll get a gun and ruin everything. Don’t worry; Nightwing is here and with a tap of a button you can switch to him and take down that pesky man who is trying to obtain weapons, while Batman completes the beat-down at the same time. The day is saved. It can also be used as a special combo take down. It’s not the most game-changing feature in the world, but I enjoyed it.

Another great new feature is the improvements made to predator mode (I know that doesn’t count as a feature but just roll with it). Remember those floor grates in the previous games which you never bothered using unless you were forced to? Well in Arkham Knight, you can very easily access them from up high. With a button press, Batman with getting from his high vantage point to under the ground without alerting anyone at all. When I was playing the game, I spent a significant amount of time under the floor and leaping out at people unexpectedly. In fact, it changed the whole way I treated predator mode. I used to rely on inverted take downs, but in Arkham Knight, I used silent take downs from inside the floor vents for ninety percent of the time. They’ve also added a new kind of takedown, useful for dealing with a room of three or four armed thugs. It’s called the Multi-Fear Takedown. Basically, you sneak up on a group of people and press a button, then the game goes into slow motion and you take down each of the thugs using surprise fear tactics. These two things combined have changed predator mode quite a lot and made it much more varied – which is what it needed to be.

For my honor, I should also mention the general improvements made to general combat. Combat is largely the same, but Batman can use many more of his gadgets to deal with some of the most annoying enemies, like the stun-stick people. You can use the bat claw to grab them and they’ll drop their sticks. This is different and in some cases I’ve appreciated it. Although it’s not world-changing or anything.

Arkham Knight
He’s got a lot of remote controls…

So, I think that’s about all I had to say on Batman: Arkham Knight. I want to stress that the game was fun. I did enjoy myself while playing the game, it was just not nearly as good as the previous games. I would recommend it once they have finished the PC port fixes, and when the game is a little cheaper. In the mean time, go play Asylum and City. Both are excellent games.