Polybius: A Study in Digital Mind Control

There have been countless examples throughout video game culture which have suggested that a good time was not the only intended result of a game’s programming. Strange bugs and glitches, unexplained occurrences and even specifically designed digital nightmares have been discovered or exploited in hundreds of games.

There are those which are relatively innocuous, such as the final screen in Pac-Man (known as the Map 256 glitch) that turns the final screen of the game into an unbeatable jumble of numbers and characters on one side. There are also more intense, and at times disturbing instances in some games.

Luigi’sMansion, for example, contains a “lighting glitch” in the attic of the mansion, where on a certain wall that is illuminated every so often by a flash of lightning, the player’s shadow appears to be hanging himself. Often times, these bugs are explained away by developers as simple texture errors. But in one instance, an entire game inspired not only interest and curiosity, but fear and paranoia.

The game is known as Polybius, and while it may just be an urban legend, it does raise some interesting questions about what sort of other applications video games might have in the real world.

The YouTube channel known as Ahoy has recently posted an hour-long documentary on Polybius, which can be seen here.

Ahoy goes into great detail about the game specifically in this video, and I highly recommend watching it in its entirety as well as his other content. He is by far one of the most organized and intelligent content creators on YouTube, and the sheer amount of research he put into this documentary is outstanding.

To give a brief background for the purposes of this article: Polybius was first whispered about in the media around the year 2000, but the game surfaced initially in 1981 in a suburb of Portland, Oregon during the rise of the coin-op arcade.

The story basically intimates that a handful of these machines were placed in various back alley arcade destinations, and visited regularly by men in black coats who never removed money from the machines, but rather appeared to be collecting data. People who played the game were said to have curious side effects afterwards, including physical illness, amnesia, night terrors, and behavioral changes.

After one month in circulation, the machines were all mysteriously pulled from their locations, and no further information was found regarding who had made them or why they had been removed.

At least that was the story.

There are some clues about the game which seem to suggest that the legend may have some merit: For instance, the name Polybius is taken from the name of a Greek historian whose name translates to “many lives” (who was also from a region of the Greek Empire called Megalopolis, in Arcadia). The company who supposedly created the game, Sinneslöschen, is almost proper German for “to erase senses,” or “to become senseless.”

However, given that the twenty-one year gap between the supposed introduction of these cabinets is followed by an initial mention on internet media in the year 2000, the popularization of the myth in 2003, and then a dead end, it’s relatively safe to assume that the game was no more than a myth.

Still, the existence of such a story alone makes one question how a video game could potentially affect a player’s senses and their ability to reason. Or, down a darker path, how they could be used to condition and control users.

Every video game in existence is based on some form of Pavlovian response mechanism; perform action “A,” receive reward “B.”

In the early days of the video game revolution, the reward was simple, usually amounting to nothing more than a high score which would be saved on the cabinet so long as it was not reset. Over the years, these rewards became more and more complex, as did the actions necessary to receive them. Games began offering “achievements” or “trophies” for performing specific actions within the game during the modern console era, creating an entirely new way to play many games and altering methods players might use during a standard playthrough.

In the case of Polybius, the gameplay was described as unconventional, with strange geometric shapes and patterns dancing around the interface. Since the game is almost assuredly a myth, it’s impossible to know exactly what sort of data the men in black coats could have been pulling from the cabinets. It is interesting to consider how something so subtle as what sounds to be an early version of GeometryWars could have such an impact on the human psyche.

The malevolence inherent in the Polybius legend, however, is likely enough to cause just about anyone to shy away from even hypothesizing about the game or its effects.

But what if the game in question was a tool specifically designed to teach real-world responses via a digital medium, effectively training the player to perform actions in their life or their job?

The Xbox title FullSpectrumWarrior (2004), was initially designed at the request of the United States Army’s Institute for Creative Technologies, or ICT, in conjunction with developer Pandemic and published by THQ. The ICT was tasked with making advancements in the field of virtual simulation technology, which included the proposed exploration of virtually training soldiers for combat operations.

FullSpectrumWarrior was just that: A virtual combat simulator, which limited the player’s input options to the issuance of commands to two different squads, simulating the role of a commanding officer in a live fire scenario.

An article from Popular Science on the subject contains this quote from Michael Macedonia, then-Chief Technology Officer for training and simulation in the US Army:

“We spend a lot of time and money training colonels and generals, but we’ve never had anything good like this for squad leaders.”

This sentiment seems to hold true more often than not as time passes. The modern battlefield is dominated by small squads of soldiers, and a massive array of technologically-based weaponry and surveillance devices. What better way to train the men and women of our military than a video game simulation?

UAV pilots in particular operate an interface that involves using a joystick and several buttons while monitoring a video feed from the craft, and while it may not be comfortably likened to playing a video game, training in a game world environment is an acceptable method of teaching these soldiers how to operate a drone effectively and accurately.

How can we suggest that video games are both responsible for providing valuable training for soldiers AND creating mass murderers? Doom was highly scrutinized by parents and commentators after the Columbine massacre in 1999, as both Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold played the game frequently before killing twelve of their classmates with automatic weapons.

The entire GrandTheftAuto franchise (as well as pretty much anything else that Rockstar puts out besides that shitty table tennis game) has found itself the butt of extremely similar scrutiny. Then-Senator Hillary Clinton even advocated for new, stricter regulations on video game sales after the now-infamous Hot Coffee mod was released for GTA: SanAndreas.

Yet according to Peter Gray, PhD and research professor at Boston College, video games can actually increase cognitive function and perception levels. There are also a number of different studies which report similar results when testing cognitive ability in gamers:

“The best proof that video-gaming improves these abilities comes from experiments in which all of the participants are initially non-gamers, and then some, but not others, are asked to play a particular video game for a certain number of hours per day, for a certain number of days, for the sake of the experiment.  In these experiments, the typical finding is that those who play the video game improve on measures of basic perceptual and cognitive abilities while those in the control group do not.” psychologytoday.com

However, this doesn’t fully explain how it is even logical to correlate casual video game use to real-world violence. Unless you’re in the military, where your virtual combat training is specifically designed to facilitate survival and good decision making in live combat situations.

It’s precisely these assertions that make the Polybius legend so unnerving.

What if a game was implanted on modern gaming devices which was designed to manufacture a specific psychological response in the brain? Can we be sure that, even as human beings of sound mind, that we would not succumb to the whims of the programmers?

The primary speculation regarding the origins of Polybius are punctuated by references to the MKUltra program utilized by the CIA between 1953 and 1966, which was “concerned with the research and development of chemical, biological, and radiological materials capable of employment in clandestine operations to control human behavior.”

While this is unlikely, as the MKUltra program was officially halted in 1973 (and was primarily focused on the potential uses and applications of LSD as a form of mind control), it’s not so far-fetched to think that a similar program could still be in effect today. Especially considering how many of our day to day interactions are governed almost entirely by the internet, social media, and other technological means of interaction.

The trick is to make sure that our devices of all types, useful as they may be, remain ancillary to personal interactions with others and the world around us. That’s right, guy who just can’t seem to stop playing Candy Crush despite the fact that it’s a horrible, soul-sucking pit of a mobile game…I see you.

Just because the bell rings doesn’t mean you have to start drooling uncontrollably.

-b1nx

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Bethesda Creation Club: Who Cares?

*This article also available on Gonzo Today @ Bethesda Creation Club: Who Cares? – Gonzo Today.

There seems to be a big fuss over Bethesda’s Creation Club, the latest bit of content which has become available for Fallout titles and Skyrim, And I’d like to take a moment and explain why no one who plays these titles should give a shit. This article is the result of reading at least ten other articles which explain that Bethesda is evil for charging people for mods, and literally desiring to better acquaint my face with a brick wall. In a nutshell, Creation Club is an all-new, developer supported collection of mods and various add-ons for Fallout and Skyrim. Bethesda has partnered with community members for both titles who have designed the additional content, and given their creations the full backing of a developer support team. Additionally, they are charging consumers for said content based on the service that they are providing as administrators, and subsequently kicking down a portion of that revenue to the content creators themselves, not to mention creating new mods and content internally to offer through the same service.

“Well that doesn’t sound too bad,” you might be saying to yourself about now, “why wouldn’t they do that in the first place?” I couldn’t say for sure, but I’d be willing to bet that it has something to do with a company who is trying to make as much money as possible from their product not wanting to share that revenue with some nerd who made a ten hour extension mod for Morrowind. However, this is not the first time in the history of video games that something like Creation Club has come about.

In 2012, Bethesda began talks with Valve regarding the Steam Workshop, a similarly-themed portion of the Steam website which allowed for content creators to sell their mods to gamers via the Steam medium. During these talks, Bethesda was adamant that the content available on the Workshop remain free for all users:

“At every step along the way with mods, we have had many opportunities to step in and control things, and decided not to,” it wrote. “We wanted to let our players decide what is good, bad, right, and wrong. We will not pass judgment on what they do” (PC Gamer, 2015; http://www.pcgamer.com/bethesda-responds-to-outrage-over-paid-skyrim-mods/).

This suggests that Bethesda was opposed to the very insinuation that mods should ever cost players money, and further that they wanted no part in attempting to moderate a fan-created piece of content. And who could blame them? Content creators for video games in general range from advanced programming gods to junior script kiddie hacks who just thought it would be cool to make a mod for Grand Theft Auto where you can have your tits visibly flapping in the wind as you murder innocent bystanders. No self-respecting company would want any part of moderating that sort of mess. On a more product-based line of reasoning, however, this quote reflects that Bethesda, while not willing to directly moderate unlicensed add-one for their games, does have a sort of admiration for the modding community; one that says “we love the content you’re creating, just don’t ever say it came from us because we don’t want to be culpable if your shitty programming ruins little Johnny’s computer.”

Of course, there are also DRM (or digital resource management) issues to consider, especially with the ever-present issue of illegal downloading and copying of IPs. But considering that all Skyrim DLC was actually released completely DRM-free, as was the entirety of Oblivion, it’s difficult to fault Bethesda for attempting once again to further regulate additional content for their games. Especially in such a way that allows them more control over the entire process, and the moderating capacity to cut back on any liability that might fall on them as developers for faulty content.

On the other hand, there are those who for one reason or another simply aren’t satisfied with the base games that Bethesda releases (most of which have campaigns and side quests which can take gamers hundreds of hours to complete). These voices are the ones which immediately scream bloody murder any time a company even suggests that they might charge them for something that was once free, and their perspective (albeit indicative of someone with far too much time on their hands), is somewhat valid in most cases.

This particular situation, however, seems to be less dire than some in the past. Many of the mods which are available through the Creation Club are user-created, and can still be obtained via sites such as FilePlanet for any hardware platform (though it may take a little more effort on consoles). The rest are developed and maintained by Bethesda directly, for which they have every right to charge money as the content’s creators. If you really want that armor set from Fallout 3 in your Fallout 4 wardrobe, there’s nothing stopping you from purchasing it directly from Bethesda and enjoying the benefits of developer-based regulation and maintenance. There’s also nothing stopping you from going to a modding website and finding someone else’s version of the exact same goddamn thing for your character, which you’ve probably spent far too much time building anyway.

Personally, I never got into mods for games. For ninety-nine percent of the games that I play and enjoy, the base game and paid DLC are more than enough to keep me entertained. Perhaps that’s why this particular issue seems pretty cut and dry to me. But if I ever got the urge to play through some of those older titles again, and wanted a fresh take on the game, I would go and download the JSawyer mod for Fallout: New Vegas (essentially a director’s cut), or I would look into the expansive upcoming Fallout: The Frontier mod, which looks to be one of the most extensive pieces of content ever created in the Fallout series.

The point I’m trying to make here is simple: Barring any explicitly illegal activities, you can still find and use whatever mods you damn well please for these games despite the existence of the Creation Club. Just because Bethesda is attempting to make a few more bucks off of the new content they created for your favorite games doesn’t make them monsters. It makes them a business, which like all other businesses, wants to make money on the sale of the goods and services they provide. You can choose to completely ignore these mods, or you can pay money to have them. The world is your goddamn oyster. One thing is for certain; bitching about it on the internet isn’t going to change anything.

-b1nx

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First Impressions: Destiny 2

*This article also available on Gonzo Today @ First Impressions: Destiny 2 – Gonzo Today

Despite issues surrounding the availability of my machine (namely its presence on a rock in the middle of the Pacific until earlier this week), and also a severe lack of time to even sit down and start working my way through the campaign, I’m currently a little over two hours into the Destiny 2 main story. Destiny 1 was an interesting journey to say the least, as players who were expecting a finished game at release were instead thrust somewhat unwillingly into what essentially equated to a three year long beta. We’ve thrown piles of money at the screen for at least that long, regardless of how much we bitched and complained about Bungie’s money-grubbing partnership with Activision, and how both parties were spectacularly ruining what could have been one of the greatest video games ever made. We’ve spent countless hours grinding away for armor, weapons and useless peripherals which have now all become obsolete. However, I think it’s safe to say that we have finally arrived, and all of our financial and temporal expenditures have led us all to this one glorious moment.

Destiny 2 is what I believe to be Bungie’s way of saying, “thanks for all of the time and energy you wasted on our extended and expensive beta, here’s the game we should have released in the first place.” While this is certainly as frustrating for you as it is for me, I don’t necessarily think that it’s overtly negative.

For starters, Destiny was always referred to as an MMO (massively multiplayer online) title, and wrongly so. While certain elements of an MMO-style experience were certainly present (the loot/equipment grind, the team-based PvE raids, etc), the game has always been a first person shooter at heart. The Crucible multiplayer aspect of the game seemed to always have more of a draw than the PvE activities, and the grind was mostly endured to ensure that your gear and weapons would give you an edge in competitive multiplayer.

One of the first things I noticed about Destiny 2 is that it feels much more like an MMO: There is a structure to the way in which you accomplish things in the game which is far more focused on actively playing with other people, and the multiplayer mode itself has been altered to feature only 4v4 matches with some new game types and a specifically labeled “competitive” mode, something that PvP players have been asking for since the first year of Destiny 1. The patrol missions and newly added activities have been restructured to make your in-game experience feel more similar to something like World of Warcraft or Elder Scrolls Online, where you must utilize every advantage you and your fireteam possess to complete tasks and obtain better gear. The game is trying to suggest in a not-so-subtle way that you’re free to play however you choose, but you’re going to have a much easier go of things if you play with friends.

This mindset is exactly what Destiny needed. The first game was nothing more than a test run to see what sort of environment the developers could cultivate, and towards the end there seemed to be a whole lot more people solo-queueing for PvP matches and lone-wolfing their way through parts of the story that they might not have finished, or that they needed to complete again to get a new piece of gear. Destiny 2 feels like a new coat of paint more than an entirely new game, but the shade is decidedly brighter than before.

It’s also worth noting that some gameplay mechanics have changed in frustrating ways; shoulder charge, for example (RIP Striker mains), is no longer a one shot kill in the Crucible, nor is sticking an enemy with a grenade. There is also the new “Arc Stripper” subclass for the Hunter, which finds them doing the exact same things as they would with Arcblade, but using an electrified staff that very closely resembles something that you might find in the living room of someone who pole dances for physical fitness.

The ammo economy has also drastically changed, and weapon slots now feature Kinetic, Energy, and Power classifications, which sets up more calculated confrontations in multiplayer and PvE alike. Aggravating as this may be for some (particularly those who spent the majority of Destiny 1 running around with shotguns and fusion grenades making everyone want to tear their tonsils out with a rat trap), it bodes extremely well for those players who are looking for an actual challenge in multiplayer.

Additionally, the gunplay in Destiny 2 feels so crispy in comparison to Destiny 1 that it might as well be a menu item at [insert reader’s favorite fried chicken restaurant here]. Every weapon type has been fine tuned for the new experience, and while the weapon classification changes move guns like sniper rifles and shotguns into the Power (formerly Heavy) weapon slot for which ammo is much more strictly regulated, the other weapons in your arsenal more than make up for the changes in their utility and improved control.

So far, I’m completely on board with the new changes and the overhaul of the beta that just wouldn’t end. Knowing myself and how I tend to cover this game series in particular, I’m sure I’ll find something that pisses me off enough to write about it sooner than later. For the time being, however, I’m going to gradually work my way through the base story missions and enjoy the feeling of not being irritated that I still play this game. At least for a little while.

-b1nx

*Twitch gameplay of the entire Destiny 2 campaign can be seen @GGT_Live every weekday afternoon at 4 PM PST.

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Destiny 2: Exactly Similar Boogaloo

Though many of us were not able to attend the Destiny 2 reveal event in Los Angeles a while back, I don’t know that there were many Destiny players who were not excited to get their hands on the Beta (save the venomous chuckleheads who tend to populate the Bungie message boards). And as one of those venomous chuckleheads, I can safely say that the Destiny 2 Beta is everything that Destiny players wanted…from the first game.

I’m certainly not suggesting that there aren’t some silver linings: As an example, I find the new PvP structure of strictly four-player squads to be quite refreshing, and a step in the right direction towards any sort of competitively viable ranked game mode. Coupled with the removal of the grind for weapons and armor with specific rolls, facilitated by making every piece of said equipment come with a fixed roll, Bungie has killed two birds with one stone; allowing for players with less free time than others to compete at every level of gameplay without feeling like they are at a disadvantage because they don’t grind for better gear rolls, and leveling the playing field in the Crucible. The question of whether there will be a large enough variety of gear to make this change seem like a smart move instead of a reduction of content has yet to be answered, but if the Beta is any solid indication of things to come, it would appear that drops have become a bit more reasonable, and the structure of the way the game rewards players with loot has changed (didn’t see much of the Cryptarch in that destroyed tower…).

The gameplay feels about the same as the first game, with only a new HUD and one new ability per class being added (which, again, would have been really nice to have the first time around); also the gunplay feels way better in both PvE and PvP. There’s also actually a story now, and I kind of feel like I might actually give a shit about more than just finding the next group of adds to mindlessly slaughter my way through in pursuit of a meaningless objective. And while it may seem initially that players are sluggish and seem to carry less power behind their attacks, it's important to remember that this is likely just a symptom of the storyline. The Traveler's light has been stolen by that massive Cabal shitbird, so it stands to reason that the overall gameplay would also be affected as a result of this, and moreover be increased gradually through progression (of which there is none in the Beta). But enough of this positive crap.

The first thing I would like to shout very loudly in the general direction of Bungie and their development team is ARE YOU FUCKING KIDDING ME WITH THIS 1.5 SHIT? Seriously, you guys couldn’t have come up with any of these very basic improvements the first time around? Destiny felt like the Beta that wouldn’t end, and the tweaks and fixes that were deployed would typically solve their targeted problem for about a week, until somebody found something new that was broken, or irritated them enough that they felt a need to whine on the message boards about it incessantly until someone from Bungle finally got around to passing it down to the dev team. This is not to say that D2: The Mighty Bucks is going to fix every issue from the first game; people are always going to find broken shit and exploits in video games. Whether that effort is successful is solely dependent on the way in which changes are addressed and implemented, and history is certainly not on Bungie’s side there.

Secondly, again shouted loudly and somewhat more angrily, WHAT THE FUCK HAVE YOU DONE TO THE HUNTER CLASS? I was never really that big of a fan of Bladedancer as a subclass in the first place (mostly because I’m truly awful at playing as one), but Nightstalker was a thing of beauty, with regard to both utility and lethality. Sure, the wombo combo was widely despised by all who encountered it in the Crucible, but it was never designed to be a PvP class…it was created for the purpose of add control in PvE, and it was perfect for it. Gunslinger, conversely, was perfectly designed for PvP, and was the most utilitarian subclass the Hunter had to offer in multiplayer. Now all I am seeing is a variation of Bladedancer which is not only shittier overall, but bound to have absolutely no use whatsoever in PvE, and a Gunslinger subclass which has been completely gutted and made incredibly useless in any game type. And don’t even get me started on the new abilities for both subclasses…a fucking dodge? Like the one we could get in Destiny simply by equipping a node in our subclass or buying a fucking helmet? You gave Titans a goddamn damage-eating wall to stand behind, Warlocks the ability to provide even more utility than they already did with healing and damage boosting auras, and the Hunters get a goddamn dodge?!?

Also, I’d like to have a moment of silence for the short-lived utility of the sidearm, as from what I’ve seen throughout this Beta, they no longer have any use at all, except perhaps trying to confuse and infuriate enemies by making them think they are being bitten by a shit load of tiny bugs. And while SMGs are an interesting addition to the arsenal, they are essentially just less stable and less effective auto rifles; kind of like what I would expect from a Doctrine of Passing with a really shitty roll. Granted, grenade launchers are amazing, and I had a lot of fun with them…but now a shotgun or sniper rifle requires the same type of ammunition? I have a feeling that one or both of those might just be switched back to the secondary slot by the time of the release, because that type of ammo economy is going to drive people up the fucking walls. Perhaps in the Crucible it makes sense, but unless the drop rates are increased substantially for “Power Ammo” in PvE, you’re going to have more than just a horde of angry Raid kids on your hands.

I know what you’re thinking…”why is he bitching so much about a Beta?” And I’m more than happy to tell you…BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN PLAYING A BETA FOR THE LAST THREE GODDAMN YEARS. Furthermore, the additions to this “new” game are already showing symptoms of the last Destiny, and no consumer who paid the ungodly amounts of money that most of us did during the first game should ever have to deal with that particular brand of fuckery ever again. To say nothing of the fact that this Beta is little more than a stress test to ensure that Bungie’s new servers (which aren’t dedicated servers and DON’T YOU DARE EVEN THINK OF CALLING THEM THAT) can handle the projected number of players who will be playing this potential piece of shit at one time. Which means that at least for the first few months after release, we will be, once again, forced into the position of paying for the privilege of being guinea pigs for one of the most unreliable game makers on the face of the fucking planet, in a game environment which is incredibly similar to the last offering, but with new and shittier problems.

All that being said, I’m still trying to figure out whether I haven’t cancelled my preorder because I’m what P.T. Barnum would call a cash cow, or because I just want an excuse to make easy content for the next three years. Tune in to GGT_Live on Twitch after release to find out!

–b1nx

P.S.–This will be the last article from GGT posted until likely the end of August…Not like I haven’t already been on a hiatus lately, but I’m going to be too busy in the next few weeks to even think about ignoring my article count. This also applies to the Twitch streams, which will resume around the same time hopefully. If you actually still read/watch this shit, I salute you; thank you for even halfheartedly supporting my shitty efforts to generate content. You’re my favorite kind of person 🙂

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E3 2017: Wait, It’s Over Already? Fuk…………….

    So another E3 has come and gone, and once again, I’m glad I didn’t spend the money to fly to L.A. (As if I needed another reason to avoid that vapid shithole). There were many announcements made of new titles coming to consoles and PC alike, but in all honesty, I have never been more lackadaisical about an E3 as I am about this latest conference. It’s not so much that the games look bad, or that I am uninterested in many of the new titles with a few key exceptions; I just really don’t give a fuck. With that in mind, here are some high and lowlights from last week’s E3 conference:
    

     BETHESDA: Oh, Bethesda…how your conference has changed in magnitude since your announcement of Fallout 4 way back in 2015. The entire room was electrified by the utterly boring sods you stick up on that stage as they announced not only a new Doom title, but the game that everyone had been waiting for nearly a decade to get their hands on, Fallout 4. I came at least once during that conference, and I’m sure that I wasn’t alone. But now we’ve come full circle, back to the infamous Bethesda dry spells of old which reek of paid DLC content and shame. 
    

     Sure, you announced not only a new Wolfenstein title, but a sequel to the horror-filled The Evil Within as well; to say nothing of the new Dishonored game, barely a year after the release of Dishonored 2: Corvo Boogaloo. But literally everything else was so boring, I could hear the yawns from the middle of the Pacific Ocean. ESO Morrowind? The Elder Scrolls: Legends (a fucking fantasy card game)? Doom and Fallout 4 VR editions? C’mon…don’t bullshit me. Is that really all you’ve got? Perhaps, (if we’re very, very lucky), the next Fallout announcement will come from Obsidian, but until then your conference left me wanting nothing more than to sit on my thumbs until that day arrives.
    

     XBOX ONE X: Alright Microsquash, allow me to explain some of the finer points of properly naming a new console: Number one, calling your new super 4K box the exact same thing as your last system with an “X” instead of an “S” is just fucking lazy; numero dos, when you have a cool-sounding code name for the console (something like, I dunno…Scorpio, maybe?), you had better make damn sure that the actual name of the new console is way cooler than that.
   

     Now that we’ve got that out of the way, how about we start trying to answer this question: Why in the actual fuck would you boast about releasing a true 4K console, then suggest that framerate and performance issues don’t matter to everyone who is going to shell out $500 bucks for the fucking thing? Phil Spencer was actually quoted as saying that it matters to some people, but that “Some people just want to have fun playing Lego Batman.” 
    

     That’s right, Phil. Some people do want to just have fun playing casual games. But those mother fuckers aren’t going to spend $500 simoleans on a brand spanking new 4K console to do that. They’re going to keep their Xbox Ones (and 360s even) and let Junior play Minecraft for an hour or two after school. When marketing a new console, who are you really more concerned with pleasing: The soccer moms who just need a break from their kids for a couple hours a day, or the streamers and content creators who will be relying on your new, shiny, and expensive console to facilitate their cash flow? It’s fucking amateur hour down there, for shit’s sake.
   

     BIOWARE: There’s a new BIOWARE game coming out. It’s called Anthem. The length of this section is directly correlated to how much I fucking care about that.
    

     NINTENDO: New Metroid(s)=good; Skyrim on the Switch makes me yawn and count the days until the new Mario game.
    

     UBISOFT: As much as I hate Ubisoft as a company for trying to fuck over anyone and everyone that tries to keep their chosen few from all the tea in China, I gotta give them the win this year for best E3 announcements. Not only do we finally get a Beyond Good and Evil sequel, but the new Assassin’s Creed: Origins footage looks fucking amazing, and has the potential to inspire me to play my first full AC game since…well, since they started making the fuckers. (No, I have seriously never finished an AC game; no, I don’t give a shit that that disgusts you). Chalk it up to the manner in which Patrice Desilets was treated by Ubisoft after his employment with the company ended. 
    

     All this, and there’s a new Far Cry on the horizon that looks like it might just be an all-new experience. Gone are the days of the FC 3/4 copy pasta nightmare (we hope), and there is finally a unilaterally polarizing enemy faction to fight against: The Westboro Baptist Cult, Montana Division. Add in those sexy new game mechanics, the ability to command more than just your character model in combat, and pixel fidelity rendered to perfection in glorious 4K, and that’s gonna be six months of my life, at the very least. Here’s hoping that the multiplayer is just as badass as the campaign looks, though I’m still not really holding my breath on that one. Far Cry multiplayer has never really been the gritty FPS multiplayer experience I have always hoped it would be.
    

     Also: Does anyone else find it funny that there are so many Destiny comparisons floating around these days in reference to newer titles on the market which may or may not be as similar as some might like to think that they are? That cracks me up. Bungie is already on thin ice with a fair amount of the original Destiny community, and if Destiny 2 is in possession of any of the faults of the first game, there will be a larger number of angry fans who are so busy hating on forums and saying “I told you it was gonna be the same old shit” to all of the optimists out there, they might actually forget that the sun is a thing (at least, more so than they already have).

——-

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Far Cry 5: Controversial? Thought-Provoking? Boobs?!?

    Once again, we find ourselves in an awkward position as gaming journalists and fans of electronic modes of entertainment: Should we follow along with the politically correct shouting about controversial game design and plot, or should we defend the rights of game developers to create freely as was so intended by the crafters of the First Amendment to the Constitution? I know that immediately, I’ve likely lost a few of you…”Here goes b1nx again, rattling on about political horseshit when all I wanna read about is titties and blowing shit up, or maybe how pissed off he got at the last shitty indie game he forced himself to play.” I get it. As Americans, our culture dictates that we succumb to our baser needs in daily life; genitals, sleep, more genitals, explosions, tacos, and the like. We also have this crazy fetish for instant gratification, to the point where we will literally smash worlds if we are not instantly satisfied by our every whim, no matter how asinine. But I think it’s especially prudent to discuss our rights as citizens of this country with specific regard to the incendiary new trailer for Far Cry 5, which for all intents and purposes appears to be indicative of a free-roaming game world in which the enemies will be Caucasian-American, right wing, doomsday-prepping religious zealots. And everybody thought that making a game like Hatred (essentially a top-down digital recreation of every mass shooting in history) was controversial.
     

     The trailer starts out innocuously enough; some dirt roads, a small country town in rural Bum Fuck Nowhere, USA, some polite church-going locals. But then it becomes clear quite abruptly that these are not your character’s allies, and what follows is a flood of religious imagery, cult-like behaviors and body markings (even in a video game, the concept of self-flagellation makes me fucking cringe), and other radical behaviors which I can only describe as the wet dream of about fifty percent of the American people that actually voted for our current President. Of course, this is certainly not the first time that the evil characters in a game have been American, or even religious nut jobs; just last month, Outlast 2 released with a strikingly similar group of fanatics residing in a compound somewhere in Arizona as their primary antagonists. While it is typically not normal to portray Americans as villains, the trend is slowly picking up steam, especially with international developers not based in the US. 
     

     To be perfectly honest, I had heard initially that Far Cry 5 was slated to be set in the Old West, and would not only be in almost direct competition with the release of Red Dead Redemption 2 for most engaging Wild West shoot-em-up, but also could potentially involve a mechanic similar to the Malaria effect in Far Cry 2 (easily my favorite installment of the entire Far Cry series). I was so excited to fight gangrene and have shootouts at the OK Corral, that when I heard that the game was to be set in a modern Montana and the enemies were cultist religious freaks, I was slightly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I love the Far Cry series, and I will play whatever they come out with, even if it’s another boring, lazy copy/paste of another game map with some new skins and texture models (yeah, I’m looking at you, Far Cry 4). But there is still a big part of me that is particularly unenthusiastic that this game is not set in the 1800s somewhere in Texas, though I do understand the sentiment of not desiring to be in direct competition with the most anticipated Rockstar release since GTA 5. 
     

     Which brings us in a roundabout sort of way to the politically-charged side of this discussion, which finds actual religious groups (shockingly) appalled and offended that their ilk are being, for lack of a less ironic term, demonized in such a fashion. I’ve seen numerous social media posts from which I have inferred that religious folks still, after all this time, have no fucking clue how others who are perhaps even only a bit more skeptical could possibly see some of them as such horrific individuals, or at the very least, disagree with their principles and strict moral code based on the writings of an invisible man in the sky. The First Amendment to the Constitution is relatively clear on the rights intended for American citizens when it comes to freedom of religion; but it also contains the parameters to allow for the freedoms of speech and expression, which in a modern context, can easily be applied to any form of art or creation, and, unfortunately, those fucktards from the Westboro Baptist Church who protest at military funerals and scream “FAGGOTS GONNA BURN IN HELL” at anyone who happens to be within earshot (which seems to extend well beyond the length of a fucking football field) as well. It’s also important to remember that religious zealotry and discriminatory practices are not uncommon to our country’s past, or even our present; just the other day, our Secretary of Education almost gleefully announced that any school, anywhere could discriminate against people based on race, gender, sexuality, or any other distinguishing quality that demographic X in state Y didn’t want around their children, and she would do nothing to stop it. That is pre-1960s/Civil Rights Movement-level discrimination, folks, right here in the year 2017.
     

     Now typically I reserve my political ranting for my other blog, because it is specifically designed to house such texts. However, I think that when discussing these social media outbursts regarding something like Far Cry 5’s unfavorable portrayal of such individuals or groups, it’s important to remember a few key facts about our modern world:
     

     -For starters, hate groups are still very much a thing in this country…the KKK, Neo-Nazi groups, and other brands of religious, white supremacist groups are still alive and well in this country, as well as elsewhere in the world. Two days ago, two men lost their lives to one such extremist Nazi shithead in Portland, Oregon at a fucking train station; the prick was yelling racial epithets at two Muslim women on the platform, and when three men intervened to help them, two got their throats slit and died. A 23 year-old black man was stabbed to death by a white male whose accolades include being a member of a Facebook group call the “Alt Reich.” Racism is real, alive and well in the United States, and we simply cannot afford to try and convince ourselves that it was laid to rest in the 60s.

     -The election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency, whose platform as a candidate and as the Commander in Chief has been firmly rooted in at the very least casual racism and ranges all the way up into full-on discriminatory practices and unabashed hatred for certain groups, has become a catalyst for these fucktards to come out of the woodwork in support of the “superior” white race. Remember the days when we didn’t have to hear about cocksnots like Richard Spencer getting punched in the face for saying something overtly racist or hateful in public? Me neither, honestly…we’re at day 150-something of this administration, and it already feels like it has been two full terms and then some.

     -Finally, it’s worth noting that while we are currently engaged in an unfortunately one-sided discussion about all of these horrible things going on in our country and throughout the world, we don’t talk about this shit nearly as much as we bloody well ought to be. People get so sucked into their day-to-day routines that they forget that we must remain vigilant in the face of radical bullshit, whether that involves standing up to racist assholes at a train station, or simply writing a diatribe about the presence of people in this world who refuse to admit that while they might just be good Christian folk, there are some psychotic pieces of shit out there who will stop at nothing to achieve their goal of an all-white, all-Christian, all the time kind of world. It’s not enough to simply be aware of such things and then move on with your day; all of us sane individuals need to take a stand and be firm in our outright rejection of hate, fear, and oppression in all forms.

     Dang…this went on a bit longer than I expected it to. I’ll wrap up by simply saying this: We all have a right to free speech, free expression, and freedom of religion in this country. These rights are inalienable, and intended for ALL citizens of the United States, not just the reasonable ones among us. But I am also reminded of a quote by the Greek philosopher Aristotle–”It is the mark of an intelligent man to be able to entertain an idea without accepting it.” It is in this spirit that those who question the creation of a goddamn video game because it depicts people who actually fucking exist (but may share some semblance of similar religious views) in a negative context desperately need to chill the fuck out and remember that they don’t have to fucking buy it if they don’t like it. And I, for one, will continue to personally look forward to a new Far Cry game, even if I don’t get to have Cholera the entire game.

–b1nx 

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Old is the New New (Again): The Regression of the Modern Military Shooter

As someone who was a huge fan of games like Men of Honor and Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (i.e. good military shooters), it is especially difficult to stomach the direction that most modern military shooters are taking with their design. Between war in outer space with conventional weaponry, zombies with exo suits, and David “Cheeseburger” Hasselhoff helping you kill exploding clowns in an environment which can only be described as jackin’ it to the 80s, it’s hard to not stop and wonder what the hell happened. Perhaps there was a decision made at some point to “modernize” the modern shooter beyond simply updating the available weapons, and someone just took the idea and ran clear off the rails into the abyss of shitty cliches and bad jokes. Or there could have just been a drunken evening at Activision where board members decided that they needed more 80s television actors in their games to cultivate some modicum of interest from their dwindling fan bases. In any case, the past eight years or so of military shooters has seen the good, bad and ugly, but the future looks particularly bleak for the genre.

Enter Battlefield 1, which falls into the “good” category for a number of reasons: First and foremost, the campaign/story missions are rooted in actual events which occurred during World War I, and as a result carry a considerably more weight than your average, run-of-the-mill military shooter. I didn’t feel like there were quite enough of them to be perfectly honest, and whenever a game’s campaign leaves me wanting more, it’s usually because it’s been overtly enjoyable; though there are cases like Destiny where wanting more was directly correlated to the utter lack of any sort of discernible story. Second, the multiplayer is phenomenal as per usual for the Battlefield franchise (with the exception of that Hardline clusterfuck, a game that I likely could have had more fun playing if it was Keystone Capers on an Atari 2600), with a heavy emphasis on period-specific armaments and equally accurate behaviors of said weapons. Finally, while it is a “modern military shooter” in a technical sense, the game feels a bit older than it looks; the graphical integrity doesn’t in any way compromise the feeling that you are actually playing in environments from WWI, which is tough to accomplish given that the appearance of the game is so sharp and well-defined, especially on HD settings.

On the opposite end of that spectrum, we have the latest installment into the floundering Call of Duty series, WW2. I can only assume that this title is Activision’s halfhearted attempt to rekindle their players’ love of one of their previous titles, CoD: World At War, which was incredibly popular and also introduced the Zombies game type, which has waxed and waned between innovative and complete shit since then. Much like WAW, WW2 looks to be attempting to capitalize on the recent surge of popularity for World War shooters (but it can’t be a copy pasta because, you know, different war), and while it has yet to be seen whether the game will be successful in that regard, odds are that CoD players are just pissed off enough about Infinite Warfare that WW2 will come as a welcome reprieve. There hasn’t been any gameplay released as of yet, so really we can only speculate as to how the game will actually look and feel, but from the look of the cinematic trailer released a few days ago, it seems that the story designers have a similar mentality to the guys who were responsible for that Pearl Harbor flick; “well, this is a dramatic reenactment of historical events, so I’m pretty sure we can do whatever the hell we want.” And while we may not have to suffer through another clown jerking off into a tube sock in a Haitian back alley-caliber performance from Ben Affleck, the trailer looked to me like Michael Bay anally raped Saving Private Ryan, then shoved the bastard offspring into a time machine and set the controls for “Hitler/concentration camps (whichever comes first).” To give you a more accurate frame of reference, however, it’s only logical to consider the source, Sledgehammer Games.

The founders of Sledgehammer, Glen Schofield and Michael Condrey, initially worked together at Visceral Games, and are responsible for the creation of Dead Space, which doesn’t at all explain the direction their own company took after its creation. Basically, Sledgehammer is responsible for three titles, only two of which have been released: The first was CoD: Modern Warfare 3, for which they are only half responsible. While working on a third-person spinoff on the CoD series (which presumably would have been set in Vietnam), legal snags with Infinity Ward, the primary development company for the Modern Warfare series led to the departure of Schofield and Condrey, as well as several Infinity Ward employees along with them; this left Infinity Ward shorthanded, and facing a 20 month deadline for the completion of MW3, which Activision then subsequently asked the pair to assist Infinity Ward with MW3, and abandon their work on the third person title entirely. After MW3 was completed, the studio began work on their only other title ever to go into production, CoD: Advanced Warfare, which I don’t think I’m alone in saying was one of the worst titles the franchise has seen in recent memory outside of the absolute clusterfuck that was Black Ops III. So in a nutshell, these guys made a really great game a long time ago that was wildly successful, but they have followed that success with nothing but an abandoned title and a really shitty game, so I feel completely justified in being skeptical about this latest venture.

And let’s not even get started talking about Infinite Warfare and the ridiculous spectacle of a shooter it became; to say nothing of the fact that in order to put lipstick on that particular hog, they locked a Modern Warfare remake behind it, further indicating that they were well aware that they were releasing a massive turd onto the gaming community, but just didn’t care. If that is the future of this genre, I think it’s entirely likely that we will see a shift towards other shooters that don’t suck out loud. Of course, I say all of this from atop my ivory tower made of receipts from purchasing loot boxes in Overwatch, so I’m perhaps not the most objective voice on the subject. Only time (and gameplay footage) will determine the fate of Activision’s latest potential flop, but one thing is certain: A Cabal raid in Destiny 2 might make up for a small percentage of the lack of story in the first game, and that’s unfortunately good enough for me to not cancel my preorder and continue to feed Activision dollars to make more shit sandwiches. I am appropriately upset about it though, so there’s that.

–b1nx

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