Transformers: The Last Chance?

In 1999, I remember playing the Gerudo Hideout in Ocarina of Time on N64 (spoilers ahead!) and having an epiphany. There’s a part of that (awesome) section of the (awesome) game where Link is thrown into jail and has to hook-shot out. For some reason after escaping for the first time I spent the next ten minutes hook-shot-gliding around. At this late stage of the game, I had already spent about 15 hours in possession of said hook-shot and the novelty had worn off. As I darted about avoiding Gerudo guards a nugget of hope entered my brain; what if someone made a Batman game like this. Fast forward ten years and Rocksteady Games (cue Hallelujah music and bright lights fall on their name) did – to great success. The silent predator sections of the Arkham games’ origins can be followed back to Link’s adventures in Gerudo Valley. Anyway, to the point. Over the years, I’ve had this kind of feeling a few times about different games but with Transformers. The High Moon Studios games a few years ago were a glimmer of hope yet resulted in our darkest hour (Rise of the Dark Spark). Who would we like to see do our favourite robots from 1984 justice? What kind of games would we like to see? 

Transformers: A Telltale Game Series

Obviously developed by Telltale. One of the reasons recent games have failed to feel like ancient, gigantic robots battling has been the limitations of their usual style; 3rd person shooters. Think of the epic forest battle in Revenge of the Fallen or the battle of Autobot City in Transformers the Movie (1986)! That kind of action can only been fully realised if in set pieces and quick time events. Imagine as well, the kind of choices you could face in a Transformers adventure game. Who do you give the Matrix to; Ultra Magnus, Hot Rod or Grimlock? How do you plead; guilty or innocent? There’s plenty of scope for games like this and with acres of source material to draw from, an original or existing tale could be told effectively through Telltale’s extremely popular style of games. 

Transformers: Last Stand of the Wreckers

Arkham Asylum and its sequels were inspired – among many influences – by Grant Morrison’s Arkham Asylum graphic novel. Although the plot and tone is distanced from it, the spine of both stories is the same; the Joker sends Batman through the crucible of a night in Arkham. 

IDW’s recent, fantastic run of Transformers comics could be suitable inspiration for an Arkham-esque adventure. Recent storylines have seen Rodimus and half the transformers leaving their homeland in search of the Knights of Cybertron, Starscream ascending to leader of the planet after the Great War ends and even Deadpool-like breaking of the fourth wall as a certain Autobot experiments with suspect weapon technology. One day of the most revered IDW stories is Last Stand of the Wreckers. Similar to Arkham, a band of hardcore Autobot soldiers must infiltrate an overrun prison fortress with maximum security. 

Throughout the graphic novel, there are revelations which test the Decepticon’s loyalty to the cause, make the reader question how far the Autobots can legally go to eliminate their foes as well as what the notion of right and wrong is in a world where a species has been at civil war for millions of years. High Moon’s original game (War for Cybertron) dipped its toes into this – especially with some creative environmental storytelling – yet the later games (Fall of Cybertron and so on) lost their way. Platinum Games’ G1 inspired Devastation was another interesting false dawn. If a third person action/shooter is going to work, this would be the way to do it. 

Transformers: You Cannot Deny DESTINY

It was actually playing Halo 3 that a Bungie created Transformers game crossed my mind. Although decent games, the Halo lore and narrative has never grasped me. Enter Destiny. The mix of game modes would be an ideal fit for a franchise which has always struggled with an identity crisis. The story mode would be a standard run and gun adventure punctuated by sparrow/alt mode hopping in between. Expand to the meat of Destiny’s services and it gets a bit more interesting. 

Firstly, Patrol’s radiant quests would be an ideal fit for pop in/out gameplay taking out pockets of opposing Autobots/Decepticons. Imagine jointing two other comrades to take down Strike bosses (“it’s Starscream!”) or even a raid mode. I refer you back to the possibilities mentioned previously; Autobot City or Last Stand of the Wreckers. It would be an ideal opportunity to blend familiar Transformers settings like Earth and Cybertron with fan-favourites like Junk, Quintessa, Nebulos or Athena. That’s before we even get to PvP options – one of the more fondly remembered features of High Moon Studios’ series. 

Transformers: TITANmaster FALL

In the eighties the (quite quick actually) rise and fall of Transformers ended with an increasing number of ‘master’ gimmicks. One of these were ‘Headmasters’. The G1 cartoon’s fourth season – only 3 episodes long – introduced of smaller aliens/people controlling/working with larger Transformer avatars. Galvatron quite rightly chastised his Decepticons for allowing their bodies to be changed like this. 

Thankfully the Japanese version of Season 4 retconned this so the Headmasters were smaller Cybertronians outcast on the planet Master. Anyhoo, the Headmasters – recently rebranded in a new toy line by Hasbro as ‘Titan Masters’ have got huge scope for a multi-scale adventure. It would be awesome to take on larger transformers in your titan-sized transector avatars before going in for smaller, different (possibly puzzle, stealth, exploration?) gameplay sections as a Titan Master. Why on Earth not? 

And finally…

Transformers: Dimensions of Infinity

I’ll admit it; sadly, toys to life is dead. Although profitable and well, fun, they do not seem to have earns the likes of LEGO and Disney enough £££. Sales of Skylanders are dropping off too. Hasbro has seen great growth with their resurgent Transformers brand over the last ten years however the recent movie Transformers: The Last Knight has shown signs the boom is too tailing off. A romantic view would be Transformers could swoop in an save toys to life though admittedly unlikely. A Marvel Heroes Omega style character collection game would be an ideal fit. There have been softer, mobile-centric Transformers/toys to life integration but nothing which could be described as a killer app. Surely there is some way of marrying the two.

Where would you like to see Transformers go? Any of these? Somewhere different? Or is it time for them to head to the scrapyard? 

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Out with the old…

2016-17 has seen an increasing number of ‘retro’ boxes released or announced; Atari’s mysterious machine, NES/SNES Classic and SEGA’s new Megadrive/Genesis. What this draws attention to – among other things – is how far the industry has travelled in a relatively short space of time. With this thought in mind, it has become apparent that much of our lexicon has become outdated. Similar to plastic guitar periphals, motion controls and Bubsy the Bobcat, certain words and phrases used everyday in gaming forums (literal and figurative) are archaic and in need of updating. 

Adventure – Once confined to 90’s PCs, ‘adventure’ games (inclusive of point and click) have enjoyed a recent resurgence. Grim Fandango along with several other Lucasarts titles have been pointed, clicked and dragged into the 21st Century. Obtuse gameplay with one linear yet baffling pathway usually defined these games – requiring the player to put together the random assortment of paraphernalia to trigger the next part of the adventure in question. The term ‘adventure’ encompasses more than these though. The spiritual successor to these games are surely the Telltale Games series which apes the point and click mechanic albeit with more choice over the story elements. Perhaps these games are more greatly defined by their slow-burning, intricate stories and the term ‘adventure’ is in lieu of saying so. Yet the label ‘adventure’ is not always indicative of this as exemplified by Sonic Adventure (cheap shot I know – love it really!). So what is an adventure game? What should we call games like Discworld, Minecraft Story Mode or Life is Strange? ‘Walking simulator’ doesn’t seem to cut it…

Arcade – This is a place we went to in our youths to pay money to play games. It is not – I repeat, not – a genre. A common tag line of certain games is it boasts ‘arcade’ style gameplay. Highly doubtful as the last game I played like this – Fast Racing RMX – didn’t create the urge to ram 50p into my Switch or make a rude username to appear in the lap time records. Perhaps this though is the spirit of the term: chasing high scores. Playing through bite size chunks of gameplay and repeating until one refined the experience. Should then, the term be ‘high-score-a-thon’? ‘Arcade’ covers too much to encompass all it consumes at present; racing, fighters, sports…the list goes on. 

dlc – The worst offender on the list. I’m not going to talk about horse armour but just think how silly this sounds. My PS4, Xbox One and Switch are crammed with fully fledged retail games which were downloaded. Fallout 4, Destiny and Mario Kart 8 all sit shackled to my consoles yet free from the constraints of physical media – safe in the knowledge they can never be traded in. They are all downloaded content. So why is an expansion referred to as ‘dlc’? Why have we not got a more elegant name for a term which – in addition – has got some quite negative connotations? Then there’s cloud based games like PlayStation Now which has games advertised with ‘all dlc included’ yet you never download the game or the additional material. Think about it. 

Indie – Taking root in the now defunct Xbox Live Arcade era and blossoming through last gen and now, smaller games (or downloadable content…) seem to be tagged with the term ‘indie’. This happens in music too. ‘Indie’ is an abbreviation of ‘independent’ meaning the band – or game – is being created sans a record label or publisher. An accurate example of an ‘indie’ game would be Thomas was Alone or Super Meat Boy. However, larger studios have got in on the act challenging the notion that all games must be £45 upon entry. These include Child of Light or Journey. They are not independent, rather the opposite. What they have in common with many ‘indies’ is the smaller game size. 

Platformer – Sonic and Mario are different. You can almost see the design meeting SEGA had when establishing their mascot. Sonic is fast and Mario is slow in comparison. Mario is red with blue clothes so Sonic is blue with red clothes (sneakers). Mario is the anti-hero, the everyman thrust into danger to save the girl, whereas Sonic is bold with an attitude. It doesn’t matter who or what he’s saving he just does it – like a Nike advert. In fact, the original Sonic 1 instruction booklet translated the back story incorrectly. Japanese players thought the Green Hill Zone took place on Earth yet in the West we believed it to be the fictional world of Mobius. I digress. The thing they have in common, is jumping on platforms. Fast forward twenty years though and the worlds – whatever they are – they inhabit are hard pushed to be described as ‘platformers’. A term which has been coined to describe the 3D iterations of these games has been ‘collect-a-thon’. In Super Mario 64 you had to collect the stars to restore power to the castle which unlocked more doors so you could unlock more stars to find more doors which led to Bowser. In Banjo-Kazooie you found Jiggies which were the missing pieces in paintings which when complete allowed you to enter said world and find more Jiggies in order to…you get the idea. In 3D Sonic games you collect Sonic Emblems just because. Anyway, the platforming elements of these games have fallen by the wayside – especially in 3D Sonic which would be better classified as ‘rollercoaster’. 2D platformer sits fine but what do we call the 3D ones: adventure games? 

RPG – ‘Role Playing Game’ encompasses everything. When I picked up a Pong paddle, I was playing a role. When I play Virtua Tennis, I’m playing a role. To be more specific, the ‘role playing’ part is generally attributed to the development of skills and powers throughout the game. This is why many games are described as having ‘RPG elements’; open world stealth with RPG elements or sports simulation with RPG elements. So what then is an RPG if most games these days could be classified as having features of them? Skyrim: Elf simulation with RPG elements? The term has transitioned from a genre to a mechanic. What is it which defines a game with RPG mechanics – like Darksiders 2 – from a RPG like Final Fantasy 15? What is Zelda: Breath of the Wild? 
Which games-related terms would you like to see changed? What will we be describing, classifying and labelling games in 10 years time? Who decides them? Who watches the deciders? 

E3 Predictions Part 3: Microsoft

“I would love if we owned an IP as strong as Lara Croft and Tomb Raider, that we had a base in that genre, but we don’t have that right now” – Phil Spencer – then of Microsoft (Source: Kotaku.co.uk).

Back in 2014, Microsoft ‘bought’ Square-Enix’s Rise of the Tomb Raider as they did not have a game of that calibre to go toe to toe with Uncharted 4. With a seemingly barren release schedule of Xbox exclusives to battle with Playstation’s backlog of dream announcements from previous conferences and Switch, we speculate what Microsoft can do to gain ground on their rivals. Obviously Scorpio will take centre stage but what exactly will we see Microsoft do a la Rise of the Tomb Raider to attempt to match Sony and Nintendo’s lineups?

Not all of these games are expected to have a great presence at E3 but we know they are coming. Some of the predictions are a little far fetched…

  • Nintendo: Mario Odyssey 
  • Microsoft: Banjo-Kazooie 3

Nothing sours the memories of childhood quite like Rare’s fall from grace. Once the pillar which kept the N64 tent up, Rare is just a spectre of their former glory. Rare Replay came along and reminded us why they are special. This love note to their glory days showed us this studio is capable of something special. Banjo-Kazooie: Nutz and Boltz was Rare’s Mario Sunshine; an innovative spin on the genre albeit at the expensive of giving us a true expansive sequel. It is time – with Yooka-Laylee receiving lukewarm reviews- for Banjo to steal Mario’s thunder once again! With Kinect dead, Rare must surely be at a loose end…

  • Sony: Days Gone
  • Microsoft: L3ft for Dead or Half-life 3

Either of these would be a mike-drop moment for Microsoft. Half-life is perhaps the last of the long lost games. Sony has announced the rest! This one could blow anything either competitor has to offer. It would also take any negative press away from Scorpio’s price etc. It comes up in predictions every year but with Sony showing their hand, all of the surprises are there for the others to seize. Left for Dead 3 or even a current gen update would steal Sony’s zombie game’s limelight.

  • Nintendo: Zelda: Breath of the Wild dlc
  • Microsoft: Crackdown 3

Zelda’s true open world has already led to some calling it game of the year. However, Crackdown may muscle in on that argument. A bright light of the early 360 days, Crackdown was a great playground to drive, run, jump and blast around. Crackdown 2 disappointed but the third instalment – a reimagining- has been dark for a suspiciously long time. Clever money says it is a Scorpio launch title. If Crackdown matches Zelda’s freedom – which it could – the game of the year conversations might be a bit more difficult.

  • Sony: Death Stranding
  • Microsoft: Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes HD

Death Stranding, Kojima’s first independent game and a PlayStation exclusive, won’t be at E3 this year but we know it exists. Reigniting his much-covered-by-media spat with Konami could be Microsoft getting into bed with the lapsed Japanese powerhouse. Konami without Kojima don’t seem in any rush to make true, epic Metal Gear games (no, that zombie one doesn’t count) with money being the clear reason why. Could Microsoft’s coffers be the answer? When I say Twin Snakes HD, I mean a full remake with reimagined mechanics etc. Imagine Shadow Moses in the Fox Engine…

  • Sony: Shenmue 3
  • Microsoft: Panzer Dragoon Saga HD

Sony’s fantastical announcements of yesteryear have proved to be just that so far – with only Last Guardian actually being released so far. Shenmue 3 – delayed to next year and completely unseen – won’t be at E3. Therefore Microsoft can steal a march with the ever-shrinking ranks of SEGA-ites by delving further back than Shenmue. Panzer Dragoon Saga is a game few have played (played it!) and would excite the crowds at E3. Commercially it may not be the biggest hitter but neither was backwards compatibility!

  • Sony: Spider-Man 
  • Microsoft: Rocksteady’s rumoured new superhero game

Between 2013 and now, something has happened to WB Games’ Suicide Squad – teased at the end of Arkham Origins. The game has not been released. Since then Arkham Knight has come and gone so…what exactly have they been up to? No doubt the much acclaimed Arkham series was inspiration for this serious attempt to make a good superhero game. Arkham 5 would unlikely be exclusive but perhaps a dlc deal could be in the cards?

  • Nintendo: Smash Bros for Switch
  • Microsoft: Fusion Frenzy

Just because. 

Hoard Mode

The way we consume video games has changed immensely since the early 90s when I started. Writing this blog has forced me to reflect on my gaming habits or lack of as the case may seem…

Penniless Dads was created for many reasons but ultimately to look at the industry through the lens of a gamer who can no longer afford to keep up with new consoles and AAA releases. In the 90s, as a child it was a game for birthday or Xmas and that had to see you through unless you traded in. In the noughties – all grown up with a proper job and everything- I could afford a new full price game pretty much whenever I wanted. Now, supporting a family, my budget for me is £65 a month which has to cover clothes, social outings and, sometimes, video games. So, what does that get you?

Well quite a lot if you break down my spending habits in the last 10 weeks. Let’s explore what I’ve gained access to in this relatively short time frame. I subscribe to PlayStation Plus annually which is paid for with Xmas vouchers (12 games). In addition, I am signed up to a physical games rental service which gives me one rental a month for £3.99 (3 games). Xbox Live Gold has just had an offer for a month’s subscription for £1. That snagged me more (6 games). This also gave access to a 14 day trial of Xbox Games Pass (100 games). I actually bought some too! In the last 10 weeks, I’ve bought Snake Pass at £15.99, Resident Evil Bundle £11.99 (10 games) and Middle Earth: Shadow of Mordor Game of the Year for £11.99. That brings in a grand total of over 130 games (ignoring the backlog and EA Access) at my disposal for around the price of a AAA PS4/Xbox One release. That’s a lot of games. My usual playing time per week day is 30 mins which just about gives me time for 2 games of FIFA. I’ve got the week off so that gives me a bit more but I wonder: have we got too much? Would I had been better off simply buying a single game like Resident Evil 7 or Horizon: Zero Dawn? 

No one is ever going to play 130 games in 10 weeks nor would it be healthy to do so. As with most things, the cream rises to the top. The game I’d been waiting to go on sale – the critically acclaimed Shadow of Mordor – is what I’ve been playing most. I also managed a run through a few of the free games on Games Pass but most of the Resi collection remains in my download queue. Another way of looking at it is I’ve played through the games I’ve specifically paid for. Snake Pass being my main distraction prior to Mordor. Ultimately this is the price of being in this position in life. We play games after the iron is striking hot. Mordor is a bit extreme 3 years after release however the usual cost of being ‘penniless’ is playing the games a quarter after release. I wonder, if this approach of waiting for sales, scrambling at ‘free’ game subscription services like PS Plus or renting has contributed to the hoarding culture of digital content? 

With this pile up of content one wonders what our libraries will look like in another 20 years time. Will we have an unfathomable backlog? Is there a breaking point? This is before we even get started on Steam! 

Virtually Over

Whilst perusing the PlayStation store – like a lost lamb – I’ve found myself scrolling, sorting and just staring at the PlayStation VR section. When announced, I remember saying it looked promising but I wouldn’t commit until there was a Batman game…Well after E3 2016, I made my commitment. Having played Arkham VR as well as a handful of other experiences (Battlefront, Rise of the Tomb Raider among them) I now find myself desperately seeking the next game to justify my expensive new purchase. 

Full disclosure; Resident Evil 7 was too scary in VR. The Killer Croc bit in Arkham VR led to a rapid removal of the headset and hiding behind the settee. Playing the Kitchen demo and the cat jumping on me was the last straw. The off screen benefits of PlayStation VR can not be ignored but what outweighs the minority of essential experiences and this facility is the growing noises  – or lack of – from Sony.

Now 6 months in, PlayStation VR – and VR in general – has already started to mimic the slow, undignified deaths of Wii U and PlayStation Vita. An initial sense of optimism, coupled with a smattering of launch curios has led to a worrying roadmap for my sleek, beautiful visor. Where are the first party offerings? Why aren’t lesser VR apps etc ported up to the PlayStation headset? There’s only so many Minecraft 360 degree videos one can watch on YouTube. 

Desperately trying to justify the purchase, the lack of anything of interest now or on the horizon, signifies what this ultimately always was; a tech experiment. Splintering user bases has never worked in the console space (32x, N64 expansion pak, Kinect etc). Nor, has sharing of development resources. Microsoft, Sony and now Nintendo have all had more optimal output with just one clear focal point. All of which has led me to a sad conclusion. PlayStation VR is done. The slapped on Move controllers already outdated with the lack of a z axis and chugging on the now 3 year old PS4 hardware. Couple this with shoddy Pro support, this was never going to be the next big thing. Just Sony not wanting to miss a trick. I backed the wrong horse so PlayStation VR, say hello to eBay…hashtag sad face

Off-Screen Play

Whilst our younger selves would no doubt be glued to our 4K 3D 1080p HDR 60fps pro S set ups (back then widescreen, composite, 60hz, 56k internet), an arguably higher priority is the increasing presence of off-screen play.

Since child number one was born – coinciding with the launch window of Wii U – the time share of television has become a much smaller fraction. And so began the birth of the idea of console quality gameplay without the need to dominate the living room. Daily fixes of FIFA career mode were in danger of reducing severely without the facility to play off screen. And this is how the story of off-screen play unfolded…

Confused messaging regarding off screen functionality for Wii U (it was later added as a symbol on the back of boxes) – in my eyes – was one of many missed opportunities for the console. What about all those who now had to fight for the TV? What about those whose playing time was at a premium?

The confused messaging was also mirrored in the PS4 Vita Remote Play ‘compatibility’ as despite a universal approach, the two did not make good bed fellows. The – at this point – pipe dream of FIFA off screen (I’ll keep returning to this FYI) remained that. PS Vita’s lack of second shoulder buttons and inconsistent lag led to the novelty of remote play remaining a novelty.

Fast forward a bit.

With the death of the Wii U and PS Vita, new ways to play off screen were born. The Remote Play functionality with PS4 was transferred to PC via a free app. This remains a great way to play PS4 away from TV and home. However another contender ushered forwards from Sony – PS VR.

Virtual reality aside, a great asset to the Playstation’s VR expansion is the ability to play games in a variety of modes off screen. Forget 4K 3D 1080p HDR etc etc for a moment. Stylized games like Disney Infinity look great on the headset and it is by no means a lesser experience. I played Rise of the Tomb Raider and the PS2 port of Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer Revenge on the headset and they were both enjoyable experience. The recent update to 3D Blu Ray compatibility is also a major plus. But…what about FIFA? Although passable, something does seem ‘off’ about playing FIFA this way. It gives the player models a chunkiness akin to ISS 64. Which leads to the obvious question and the latest contender in off-screen console games – Nintendo Switch.

It is with regret – as a penniless dad – getting a one is not in the cards at the moment. The last great purchase before becoming a single income household was the PS VR. However, the ability to take the exact console experience anywhere, on screen or off screen is a major selling point. Dads will surely be interested but perhaps mums (or vice versa???) may be more interested to keep the off-screen ball rolling. The recent phenomenon of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (dusted off the Wii U for it) proved that the market for this is there and may be expansive than Nintendo first anticipated. The blue ocean strategy Nintendo had shot for with the Wii could have been there for all perhaps with a clearer message. Now, the opportunity is out there for someone to join the dots together, for the stars to align and erm..the Matrix to sync so this – in my opinion- untapped potential market is explored to its fullest. And hopefully…finally, perhaps the Switch version of FIFA might be the one to finally nail that true console experience without the need for a TV.