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Thoughts on Destiny

Many intelligent people have said lots of accurate things about Destiny over the past two weeks. I have little to add. I’ll mention that I’ve enjoyed it, though my primitive lizard brain is already wondering how Bungie will keep myself and many others entertained for the foreseeable future. This is not a game I will come home to for months.

Destiny is not an MMO. If Bungie had any aspirations of replacing World of Warcraft (or any other game with hundreds of hours of content), it has far to go. This is the crux of its weaknesses. At present, it has neither the content nor the deep engagement necessary to grab and hold the hardcore gamer.

It has other problems. Its PvP combat is frenetically fun, but unbalanced and poorly optimized. Netcode issues result in plenty of kill trading and unfair deaths. This poor multiplayer showing from the creators of the subliminal Halo multiplayer experience is surprising. Loot drops are often unsatisfying and non-diverse.

The call to “Become Legend” has quickly devolved into thousands of people shooting at the mouth of a cave. This is a damning start to a franchise that Bungie and Activision expect to last for a decade or more.

Though I just finished a two-hour session with the game, coming away from it does not make me want to tell stories about my night to my Destiny-playing friends at work. What can I really say to them? “I killed Sepiks Prime last night, guys! Have you gotten to him yet?” Bungie can’t seriously expect us to play the same six strikes (and twenty story missions) for three more months and thoroughly enjoy the experience every time.

It also can’t promise new modes that don’t live up to their descriptions. The “Combined Arms” mode promised an “all out war on a massive scale” and “vehicular combat” while really delivering two existing game modes with no new vehicles and increased heavy ammunition drops. Again, Bungie has done vehicular combat brilliantly in the past, but only offers three pilotable vehicles in the entire game, one of which is a weaponless personal transport.

The writing in the Grimoire and weapon blurbs is intriguing, but the writing of the actual main storyline of the game? Atrocious. How in the world do you prioritize content that is largely seen outside of the game?

There are so many unfulfilled hopes and underdelivered systems that it’s difficult to see how Bungie can pull themselves out of the hole they’ve dug. It reminds me of Assassin’s Creed, a game with much promise and little realization.

Destiny Alpha

So I just got into the very limited Alpha test for Bungie's upcoming Destiny, and here's the invite:

Destiny Alpha.jpg

As excited as I am to play this right away, I'm going to temper my impatience and head to my friend's house for a D&D session tonight. I'll be streaming the Destiny Alpha (assuming the game/PS4 allows me to) this weekend. As usual, you can watch on my Twitch stream. I'll also post on Twitter when I'm about to start playing.

Visit the Cosmos! See Strange Worlds! Meet New Species, and Kill Them!

FTL: Faster Than Light is a difficult game. No, make that a brutally unfair punishment. No, that's not right either. FTL is challenging. So challenging that you'll rarely complete it. But you'll love every moment, even as your crew asphyxiates, fires rage across your decks, and your starship blows apart, its fragments scattered among the stars.

FTL is a sci-fi space exploration game in the genre known as Roguelike: it's got an RPG-esque progression in which you fight enemy ships, gather rewards and resources from your conquests, and upgrade your ship and crew. Every time you play, the galaxy, its inhabitants, and the events you encounter are randomized. No two play-throughs are identical.

My crew of noble Rockmen take on a Mantis scout ship

My crew of noble Rockmen take on a Mantis scout ship

The game was one of the first Kickstarter success stories; FTL developers Subset Games raised more than $200,000 in their campaign. And they put it to good use, releasing an addictive, highly replayable game that was one of my favorite games of 2013. The team is tiny, composed of just five members. But they've crafted something I'll be playing for years to come. And they've just made it even better.

Released today, FTL now includes additional content, which Subset calls FTL: Advanced Edition. Free for anyone who bought or will buy the game, this expansion adds new weapons, ships, modules, systems, and features. It's a refinement and iteration of what makes FTL great, and I've really been enjoying it.

As if that weren't enough, FTL: Advanced Edition also released today for the iPad. I bought the game again so that I can take it with me anywhere. I won't soon regret that decision, but you may when you discover how much time slips away while you're playing. You've been warned. And you're welcome.

When the Titans Fall

I played a lot of Titanfall this weekend. I mean, I binged. Hard. I don't do this often anymore, but I wanted to see what heights of mad skill I could still achieve as a wizened gamer past the peak of his twitchiness. The answer may be the video below, but that was recorded Sunday, the day after the epic 12-hour marathon. Was I honing my synapses and tendons on Saturday to unleash my true potential on Sunday? Maybe. The clip in question was from my best round thus far.

But I'm inconsistent as hell. I have my highs and lows, my epic killstreaks and my abjectly stupid failures. Maybe it's better this way. In the past, and especially in my Counter-Strike days, I would find myself bored for lack of challenge. I was even accused of cheating when particularly dominating. But there were never any aimbots for me. I wanted to know the game so completely that I felt it in my blood.

I don't know if I will ever reach that level in Titanfall. I just have too many other games to play, and I don't obsess over one game for months at a time. I will come back, though. Repeatedly. This game scratches an itch that sometimes comes to me. The tickle makes me feel like destroying something. Brutally, efficiently, and yes, thoughtfully.

Improving the PS4 Interface

I'm very much enjoying my PS4. It's a sleek, elegant box that cranks out graphics not terribly worse than those produced by my massive gaming PC. The controller fits my hands like it was molded to them, and I'll never get tired of the way those triggers stack as you pull them harder. The interface is spartan, but it's functional; I can start games and apps, tweak settings, and download apps easily enough. It also annoys the hell out of me.

I'll give Sony the benefit of the doubt. They needed a user interface that was simple, no-frills, and stable. They wanted to make sure that the early adopters would be able to use their shiny new consoles with minimal flailing. And they knew that the interface would likely be overhauled within a year of the PS4's release. There's an update coming in the next few weeks that will add new features: brightness settings for the DualShock 4 LEDs, the ability to save videos and screenshots to USB drives, and the removal of HDCP copy protection from gameplay video signals.

This is a promising move from Sony, but they have a long way to go. A next generation console should write new rules instead of embracing convention. There are plenty of features that could be tweaked and added. Here are my suggestions:

1. Guide functionality from the PS button.

Right now, reading messages or notifications requires pressing the PS button to reveal the main PS4 menu, then navigating through multiple menus. Just to reply to an incoming message, you must use the sticks and buttons to advance through more than 5 steps. Why not add a context-sensitive quick menu that pops up with a quick press of the PS4 button? The Xbox 360 has had guide functionality for years. I'd love to see the PS4 brought to parity in this respect.

2. Full text message popovers and quick party joining.

Don't make me navigate menus to read messages, Sony. Just give us the option to see message popovers with full text. And let me use one button press to quickly reply. Also, if someone sends me a party invite, let me accept or decline it with one press (or touchpad gesture).

3. Hitting Share should not pull you out of the game.

Give us more options for the Share button. Yes, there are two different settings for Share button behavior, which is better than nothing. But I don't always want the streaming or instant sharing options to appear whenever I simply want to save a video for later use. Perhaps pressing and holding the Share button could display an action wheel with sharing and streaming settings, while a simple press or two would share screenshots and videos without stopping the action.

4. Don't require a sign-in when waking the controller, especially when media is playing.

The PS4 Netflix app is great. It's the best interface I've seen for browsing and watching the huge catalog of movies and TV. But when I wake the controller to pause or rewind, whatever I'm viewing comes to a screeching halt as my PS4 asks me who's using the controller. Really? Why don't you just assume that it's still me using that controller? If it's just media being played back, why do you even care?

For that matter, Sony, why can't I use my Playstation camera to play and pause video with voice commands?

5. Main list of games and apps should be easily filterable and sortable.

I don't have many PS4 games. Most of the launch titles do not interest me, and there hasn't exactly been a plethora of must-play titles. The main timeline of games and apps on my PS4 is not heavily populated, but it will be within a year. What's minimalist and easy to understand today will be inconvenient and time-consuming in less than 12 months. Give us the ability to hide items, create lists of favorites, and filter apps and games easily.

6. Use the touchpad for gestures and other controls.

You've built an amazing piece of technology into all of your controllers, Sony. Please use it to its full potential. I want to be able to accept or decline a party invite with a simple swipe up or down. Let me reply to a message with a swipe to the left. Let me swap between open apps with a double tap. In short, give us more options. You don't need to have them on by default, but many of us shortcut addicts would greatly appreciate some streamlining.

I probably have enough other items to write another list of this size, but these are my main bullet points for the moment. Let me know in the comments what interface improvements you would like to see.