Player Too: Episode 1 – Her Story

 Click for the Her Story website.
Click for the Her Story website.

Welcome to the first instalment of Player Too, a new, semi-regular blog series about trying to make my girlfriend, Claire, a gamer too. If you’re a gamer and have a significant other, a brother, sister or best friend who isn’t, then this blog series may be for you.

Since this is the first episode, I just want to set the background before talking about Her Story (which I’ll keep spoiler free). I’m a big gamer, obviously. Claire, by her own declaration, isn’t. We share interests in travel, food, movies, TV shows, burlesque, etc but we never game together. I would like to share the magic of games with her and play some co-op or just spectator-friendly games. I don’t think we’ll ever be playing Command & Conquer or Half Life over a network, but there are all sorts of games out there designed to appeal to all sorts of people. I’m sure that if I can pick a few suitable titles, I might kick start her gaming engine. Claire is willing to try games I recommend in the interests of having new experiences, but doesn’t think she’ll ever call herself a gamer.

I’d like to define “gamer” for the purposes of this blog before continuing. Claire’s view and mine would be that the term ‘gamer’ as comparable to ‘hiker’, ‘jogger’, ‘cyclist’, or ‘reader’. If you have read a book, you’re not a reader. If you have climbed a mountain, you’re not a hiker. If you like Candy Crush and Sonic, you’re not a gamer. But if you regularly play games, purchase them, anticipate new releases, and consider them a hobby, then you’re a gamer.

My goal is to ultimately have Claire call herself a gamer. This blog will document our journey through different hand-picked titles, give a brief summary and review, and answer whether Claire would like to play more similar games or not. She’s up for the journey, and free to call it quits whenever she wants, so I’d better pick some decent titles. I’d appreciate any recommendations you fine readers may have.

“Was it 9pm or 10pm punk?! I swear I will gouge your eyes out with this pen!!” We found Cole a bit too intense..

I’ve tried to bring Claire into my gaming experiences before but without much success. A few years ago we tried playing LA Noire. Claire has quite acute detective skills, and I thought a game where you interviewed suspects and gauged their reactions might appeal to her. It sort of did but neither of us actually liked the game once we got into it. She’d get bored while I drove around the city and got into gun fights. Then I’d get bored “exploring” a crime scene by simply walking around waiting to press A when it told me to. Both of us were also a bit dissatisfied with the interrogation mechanic. If we would ‘doubt’ a statement, our character might explode and yell at the suspect, accusing them flat-out of murder.  Great poker face, dude. It wasn’t what we wanted and we stopped playing.

Claire’s willing to play my game in development, Sons of Sol: Crow’s Nest, but it’s a skill based game and she’s not a practised gamer. It’s not for her, really. And that’s fine. I’ve also tried Nidhogg and BroForce with her. They’re fun for a bit but she’s not interested enough to get used to the controls. We have a few laughs and that’s it. They don’t stick with her.

I’m not starting from scratch here though. As a kid, Claire was big into Revenge of the Mutant Camels, Puzzle Bobble, and later Mario Kart 64 and Mario 64. And others, just not much this millennium . Claire does play Candy Crush. She explains that it’s just because she’s into puzzles. Sudoku and crosswords are more to her tastes. She also liked Angry Birds as it’s a puzzle game at its core. 

She likes mysteries too, though, and she’s really sharp at connecting dots and making inferences in a TV show, book or movie. Better than me anyway. So when I saw a new mystery/detective game called Her Story, I thought this might finally be a game totally for Claire. I was interested as a game designer in the new type of gameplay. A bonus was that the controls are basically the same as using Windows so I could really involve Claire by letting her play instead of me “steering” like in LA Noire. If she’s not hands-on, I figure, she won’t ever feel like a gamer.

Her Story a new game by Sam Barlow, known for his work on Aisle and two Silent Hill Games. It’s about the player searching through archived police interview footage based on typing key words into a database search that can only display five results. You don’t know why you’re doing this but you start to piece together a story as you go along. If you’re worried about spoilers, I won’t say anything that the trailer doesn’t reveal already (which is nothing).

The game is remarkable in that it’s designed by one man, all of its content (except the search interface) is delivered through FMV (full motion video, which we haven’t seen much of since the 90s), and that there’s only a single actress for all of the scenes. Nobody else! Further, since the search results only display the first five results for a given search term (like “murder”), the designer had to be very careful with script writing so as not to overuse a word if he wanted it to be a key clue.

Claire sat down to play the game and I grabbed a pen and paper to take notes. We started by searching the term “murder” as in the trailer and watched the four results. These gave us clues as to other characters and places and we’d search them down too. The woman might say a name and we’d search for that name, finding the first five (as in, earliest chronological five) instances of the interviewee saying that name. The results might tell us that there’s 8 instances, however, and we’d have to be clever to try and find the remaining three, or even to prove to ourselves that the other three were new ones and not ones that we’d seen before while searching another term. It’s a narrative-driven game, but the real gameplay lies in using the search engine.

With each clue we’d hypothesize on what’s going on, then search new terms based on our theory, or hunch. It was quite enjoyable. Claire really got into it. We stayed up a little later than we should have for three nights together to get through the game, and if we’d talk on the phone during the day we’d each have a new theory we wanted to try out when we got back to it.

 The screen glare is an option you can turn off. The game does a good job of simulating a computer interface from the 90s, but the System Clock says it's 2015. I guess the South East Constabulary are still waiting on that budget increase..
The screen glare is an option you can turn off. The game does a good job of simulating a computer interface from the 90s, but the System Clock says it’s 2015. I guess the South East Constabulary are still waiting on that budget increase..

As it stands, we’ve found the majority of the videos, and pieced together the story to our satisfaction. You don’t have to get 100% completion to trigger the ending, and if you accept the end trigger you can still log back into the police database after the credits roll to search down the remaining videos. We’ve come back to it a few times with a new idea to find a few more videos, but no fruit yet.

Claire’s Score: 7/10. Very enjoyable but a little simplistic.

Player Too Result: Claire liked the game a lot. She’d be telling me to shut up so she could search down a term, and couldn’t wait to get home to play more. If that’s not symptomatic of a gamer, I don’t know what is.

So this was a good first attempt. The problem is that the game is fairly unique and there aren’t many similar experiences. We’d both definitely play more if Sam Barlow made a similar game, and there’s sure to be a few copycats coming out in the next few years as the game is doing quite well for itself, but there’s nothing similar that I know of currently. Its €6 price tag definitely helps get it into the hand of gamers. It’s a short game but I do think it’s worth more than that, and it’s not often I’d say that about a game at full price.

Next Time on Player Too: I’m not sure what to have Claire play next. I’m definitely up for suggestions. A Telltale Games series might be a good choice. Claire’s into Game of Thrones, though I’m not myself. I’ve already played the Walking Dead and would rather a different Telltale game instead of replaying that.
Maybe a point and click adventure game. I’m looking forward to Darkside Detective, an Irish game coming out later this year. It’s a humorous point and click detective game which arranges itself into separate ‘cases’, like an X-files monster of the week. This might be ideal but so far there’s only one short demo level. I do recommend it. 

Any suggestions for us to play? Please leave a comment. Thanks for reading. Until next time..

Never played DOOM

 Hang on! This guy's never played DOOM?? What the hell's wrong with him?!.. oh I'm so sorry, is he in a coma?
Hang on! This guy’s never played DOOM?? What the hell’s wrong with him?!.. oh I’m so sorry, is he in a coma?

So this is kind of a 40 year old virgin situation. It’s 2015, I’m a 28 year old gamer and now game designer, first person shooters are probably my favourite game genre, and I’ve never played DOOM. It’s been out for 22 years now and is a piece of gaming, nay, world history. I’m also even a history fan so no excuses there! Even with the 40 year old virgin you can’t say Steve Carrel’s character had 40 years to have sex, because you’d have to reach adolescence to even be capable of it, whereas I was playing games since I was 7. So let’s say that at twenty-odd years of missing out, your life is starting to turn into comedy movie material. I had to rectify this situation, fast!

I should say that I’ve seen it played a little at friends houses as a kid (but if you haven’t gotten your hands on it, you haven’t played it, in the same way as watching porn won’t pop your cherry for you). I’ve also played Star Wars Dark Forces which was a blatant DOOM copy cat, but I haven’t played the original.

I’ve also never played the Quake series, Hexen or Daikatana. You might think I had something against id Software, John Romero, or any affiliates, but that’s not true as I did always love Wolfenstein (1992) and Commander Keen. In fact I think Keen IV was the very first video game I ever played. Anyway, I’ve decided to rectify this situation and took to Steam and GOG two weeks ago to see which games I could pick up and work my way through (mental note: add Unreal 1 to that list).

 My mom would never have bought me this game anyway.
My mom would never have bought me this game anyway.

I bought “Doom Classic Complete” (because I’m a grown up and can do what I want, mom! I might just stay up all night playing it too!) and loaded up the Ultimate Doom version of the first game. I remember thinking the game was scary when I was younger, and I know that older games didn’t hold your hand at all when it came to difficulty, so even though I’d have no hesitation playing Call of Duty on the hardest setting, I loaded up the “I’m too young to die” difficulty (easiest) and hopped in. I do have to say that I never died unless crushed in a trap though, so I probably should have started higher, but it still got me for plenty of jump-scares, and I beat Alien Isolation on Hard mode. There might be something to this DOOM..

I knew how different the game was to modern, polished shooters, but marvelled immediately at how much they owed to this, the second ever FPS game (at least the second where it’s humans shooting guns, not tanks or wizards – I’m counting Wolfenstein 3D as the first). The weapon bobs as you move and recoils as you shoot. The sounds give the guns a real punchy weight. Barrels explode if shot (even chain reactions are possible and actively designed into the levels). The death animations, while already established in Wolf, are visceral, gorey and lively, with soldiers leaping and spinning, and generally surpass their predecessor. These are things that I’ve seen missing even from a small handful of games made nowadays (okay never the AAA titles but still). With twenty years to learn from the masters, none of these things should  be ignored with modern shooters, yet we can still find poor animations, static guns with lame shooting sounds, and otherwise very little attention to detail. DOOM was a benchmark game at the time, sure, but to place it alongside some shooters made today by teams larger than that of id software in 1993 DOOM could still beat them hands down. Why?

Well, all of those things I mentioned above make the game FUN to play, no matter what else you’ve played in your life. That, and the shotgun! Oh my God the shotgun is PERFECT!! I’ve never played with it before. It was like seeing the Light of God (albeit a violent, vengeful God… like the Old Testament one). I thought I’d seen a few good shotguns in games but nothing like this. I had as much fun playing with this shotgun as I did shooting clay pigeons with a real one! The game holds out on you for a few minutes, making you make do with the pistol to get you used to taking a few shots to put down an enemy, and then BAM! It grants superpowers worthy of Superman.. if Superman had a shotgun! It’s not even the best weapon in the game, but it’s one of the ones you’ll use the most.

It’s got a real weight to it, again through its sound, but also through its cocking animation, which is all it needs to be, and must have blown minds in 1993. The rate of fire is just fast enough not to be frustrating, but slow enough that you are really rewarded for lining your shot up perfectly before pulling the trigger, then seeing the weapon’s wide spread and heavy damage one-shot the game’s lower-difficulty enemies and send them spinning! It’s a perfectly tuned weapon for a game as fast paced as DOOM. You still have to check those corners and be wary of ambushes so as not to die, as the shotgun can only help you in the direction you’re facing, but it is just a thing of beauty. It made the game what it is, no doubt.

 While the shiny effect is permanently on that shotgun, not due to dynamic lighting, you have to admit that it's a beautiful looking gun for a pixel-art game from 1993.
While the shiny effect is permanently on that shotgun, not due to dynamic lighting, you have to admit that it’s a beautiful looking gun for a pixel-art game from 1993.

In terms of level design, my praise has to slow down just a fraction. The levels get very clever, don’t get me wrong, and they develop a language of their own with the player as to what they might be able to expect from a given area, but let’s just say games have come a long way in this area. DOOM actually has a sliver of a story to it. Supposedly I’m on a moon base, then in hell later on, but you can barely tell the difference, and the moon base does not feel like a place where anybody could actually set up a research or military installation. There’s some computer screens around, sure, but this place is a maze, has no railings over its mandatory acid pits, is full of secret rooms, and it has no windows! Must be a moon with a Southern Californian climate, then. I spent most of the game following my personal rule for if I ever get lost in a maze. Follow the left well all around, with no breaks, and you’ll get everywhere within the maze eventually, including to the exit. It works, though teleporters, key coded doors and ledge-drops kind of mess with my rule a bit. This meant that I never finished a single level in any less than x3 the recommended ‘par time’ for the level, often more, and I’d still usually have found 0% of the secret rooms. This is an old skool game based on replayability and high-scores, for sure!

The movement speed of the game is immense also. I played with the WASD keys and the mouse. It was strange not to be able to look up, but instead moving the mouse forwards actually moved the character. Holding W, moving the mouse up, and then (when I discovered it) the Sprint key, made for some laughably fast corridor traversals. The W key on its own makes you move faster than any human possibly could run. It’s interesting though. That’s just how shooters were back then. In an upcoming blog (or series of blogs) I’ll be talking about how various limitations led to the creation of a lot of the game mechanics we’re familiar with. I posit that the lack of a cover system or other good way to get out of the way of bullets made boosting the player’s speed a necessity. It would be interesting to hear an original developer’s comments on this. There must be an interview somewhere.. The speed could also be to reduce frustration while backtracking through the impossibly labyrinthine levels, though.

Anyway, I did beat the game’s original chapters on my low difficulty (though there’s a wealth of extra levels and modded levels to play also) in just a few days of playing one or two levels per day. So I’ve popped my cherry. And it was good! I have to say I really enjoyed the game. So much so that I loaded up Doom 2 straight away (on a higher difficulty) and, upon discovering the Super Shotgun, got over-excited and… well, I’ll drop the dangerous metaphor there and just go literal, saying that I played way past my bed time (well I’m an adult, I can do what I want, but still) and I think I beat half of the game in a single sitting. It’s harder to tell because Doom 2 doesn’t give you a map of completion after each level. But that Super Shotgun… with the newer high-res pixel graphics (of 1994) are just so sweet, dude!

How crazy is it to play a new game that’s 21 years old and still get excited about its graphical improvements?!?! That’s got to be the magic of DOOM right there, or at least it’s evidence of it. Pixel art is a timeless style, I think, and I’ve chosen to use it for my own game. Incidentally, you can play the latest build of Sons of Sol (still in very early development) here.

 Awww! Just! Yes! If you don't get it I won't be able to convince you unless you play it, but, phwoar! Yeah my mom would NEVER have let me buy this when I was a kid. She's probably not too happy that I've played it now, either :P
Awww! Just! Yes! If you don’t get it I won’t be able to convince you unless you play it, but, phwoar! Yeah my mom would NEVER have let me buy this when I was a kid. She’s probably not too happy that I’ve played it now, either 😛

If you’ve never played the game and you’re a shooter fan, I have to recommend DOOM. It’s nowhere near as difficult to go back to as other games I’ve tried (like Command and Conquer (1995)) and it’s a piece of gaming history! Deservedly so! Find out for yourself. After Doom 2 I think I’ll move on to Quake. I hear NIN (Nine Inch Nails, the band) did the whole soundtrack! *smiles manically*

Until next time..

PS In researching for today’s blog post, I came across a nice short documentary with id Software co-founder John Romero about id’s early games, which heavily featured DOOM. Give it a look below.

PPS [written at a later date] Less than a month later, I’d play my first ever multiplayer game of Doom… AGAINST JOHN ROMERO!! Read how that went here.

Arkham Knight: The good, the Bat and the ugly

 Click for launch trailer.
Click for launch trailer.

Firstly, I won’t be apologising for that pun, so moving on..

I intended for my blog this week to be a simple review of the game, as I haven’t done a review on this blog yet and I’d had a lot of negative topics recently so that I wanted to start balancing them out. However, there’s far too much to talk about here that doing a simple review would be missing the opportunity to take this game as a case study on a whole load of issues.

I do want to separate the discussion though because basically there’s Arkham Knight as a game, a piece of art, and secondly as a product and its associated business decisions, and I definitely think that they deserve to be separated.

The Review Stuff

I wasn’t going to buy the game because of its pricing (more on that later) but found it at a hefty discount and so picked it up. I played it on PC with an nVidia GTX 970 graphics card, 16GB of RAM, an AMD 6300 3.5GHz processor and normal HDD hard drive. A good PC, but not top of the line either. I also did have the latest nVidia driver released the night before the game and tailored specifically to fixing a lot of issues with Arkham Knight. The game ran fine for me and didn’t affect my enjoyment, so I won’t discuss that aspect in the review part.

This may be controversial, but I liked the Batmobile! Let’s start with that. Many reviewers say that it’s a huge flaw, crowbarred-in as an extra selling point, that the drone combat and puzzles that get you to use it seem forced and aren’t that much fun, and that you’re faster navigating the city without it. I disagree, mostly..
Let’s be clear; the Batmobile wasn’t an afterthought and wasn’t done cheaply. It’s fully developed, has its own upgrade  tree, feels good to drive (maybe TOO good for something that weighty) and results in a lot of fun high-explosive gameplay that is the kind of thing we play games for in the first place, and Rocksteady fully committed to making it a part of the game. I can’t fault them for doing that. They could have gone half-assed but didn’t. The Batmobile plays as much a part in the game as the Predator levels or big-room fist fights do, which basically adds a fully-developed pillar to the game.
The question is; “did the game need it”?
Most are saying no, but I say yes. We’ve had Asylum, City, and Origins which have largely been the same game with new story each time (even if City opened the game into a more open-world style) and this formula was definitely getting tired by Origins. I’m glad they risked going for something new, and I’m glad it was the Batmobile. I’ve wanted to drive it ever since the first time you see it in Asylum. If they didn’t try it we’d all be slating them for going ‘Assassin’s Creed’ on the series, now wouldn’t we? For not taking risks!

 Avoid the lines to win drone fights. This turned me off the first time I saw a video, but when it comes to playing it you'll be glad that the batcomputer predicts firing lines. You'll still take a lot of hits and would be totally screwed without this and the Batmobile's other abilities.
Avoid the lines to win drone fights. This turned me off the first time I saw a video, but when it comes to playing it you’ll be glad that the batcomputer predicts firing lines. You’ll still take a lot of hits and would be totally screwed without this and the Batmobile’s other abilities.

The drone fights can get repetitive, yes, but so can the Predator or combat sections, especially if you’re trying for 100% completion. Most of the drone combat I did was in optional side-missions, but the main story paces all the gameplay pillars pretty well and making things go boom-crash is fun now and again!

Also, city traversal isn’t slower in the Batmobile unless you’ve to reach a bridge to cross a river, so there!  It just depends where you’re going.
The Riddler challenges are tedious, and often involve the Batmobile, but they were tedious in all 4 games if you ask me so I can’t fault the car for that. I will fault the game for including over 250 trophies to collect though. And collection them is required to put the Riddler in jail and get the ‘full’ ending. 250 is too many when not a single one of them is fun to do! They’re the biggest chore and the biggest flaw in all 4 games, but they’re optional.

My one Batmobile-gripe is that despite all efforts by the team to show the Batmobile as a non-lethal weapon (because Batman don’t kill) there were tonnes of situations where I said “there’s no way that guy survived that” and I just had to get over it and enjoy the game.

So that’s the car, the big new selling point, and I liked it.

Story-wise, I think the game’s fantastic, and through all the Arkham Games (except maybe Origins) it’s been the primary thing driving me on. This is a dramatic and well-written conclusion to Rocksteady’s Arkham trilogy (i say ‘trilogy’ because Origins wasn’t a Rocksteady game, though Knight does give it the nod several times throughout, making it is canon). I won’t give spoilers but there’s plenty of drama going on, and it’s not all driven by discovering who the Arkham Knight must be. There’s lots of nods to and borrowings from the comics alongside new content. There are several set-pieces that I enjoyed. Rather than take me out of the game they enhanced the drama and I ate them up! The story also results in a number of sections where the entire game gets one major shift in how you have to approach it for a while, before returning to normal so you can continue your normal sandbox experience. More so than any of the other Arkham titles (possible exception of the first, Asylum) this game understands pacing and variety, and again, people may not realise that the Batmobile helps out in spades with this.

 I couldn't stop playing until I learned the Arkham Knight's true identity! I had my short list, but was never sure.
I couldn’t stop playing until I learned the Arkham Knight’s true identity! I had my short list, but was never sure.

The drama leads me to talk about boss fights. They’re still present, and varied, and I played several where I thought they must be the last fight of the game, because the stakes were getting so high. When the game didn’t end it drove me straight onto the next one. I couldn’t stop! This is huge praise for a story-driven game.

I loved how the Joker’s legacy/ghost affects Batman and the world in this game, too. Spoiler here until end of paragraph: And no, he’s not the Arkham Knight. That would be stupid. So Rocksteady didn’t do it. Because Rocksteady are smarter than Splash Damage.

I do have to say that the other games had more memorable boss fights, though. Too many of these were glorified drone or Predator sections, but all the same, none were bad. Just none were as good as the Copperhead or Deathstroke fights from Origins or the famous Mr.Freeze fight from City. There are also slightly less of the supervillains in this game because the Arkham Knight and militia take up a large chunk of the missions, but this isn’t to the game’s detriment I felt.

Graphically (assuming here that you’re on console or it’s worked on your PC) this game is gorgeous with so many wind, rain, paper, rubbish, and environmental destruction effects going on. I can understand plainly why performance has suffered slightly in places for how beautiful the game is, and the trade off is well-worth it. I never suffered enough of a slowdown to affect my experience and the visuals stunned me repeatedly. Add to this the musical score, the idle conversations between and about all the various gangs and militia members, and the top class voice acting from Kevin Conroy, Mark Hamill, Jonathan Banks and John Noble, you have a game dripping with atmosphere. The complete removal of loading screens is a major help here too, and Origin’s fast-travel system has been removed, forcing you to traverse enemy-occupied streets to get where you’re going. The only downside to that is there’s no Batcave any more, but I didn’t even realise that until half way through the game as GCPD and a couple of other locations stand in for the Batcave’s functionality. The police station fills up with all the people you’ve captured or rescued too, which is a great touch!

 Gotham city is gigantic, beautiful, alive, and full of enemy aerial drones (which are fun to land on and explode) and watchtowers set up on skyscrapers.
Gotham city is gigantic, beautiful, alive, and full of enemy aerial drones (which are fun to land on and explode) and watchtowers set up on skyscrapers.

Lastly the combat. In each game Rocksteady expanded on their excellent combat system and improved it without losing the balance. With Origins, Splash Damage were so afraid to change Rocksteady’s formula, to their discredit, and the only memorable change they attempted was shock gloves, which were overpowered and unbalanced the combat.

Knight removes the shock gloves (you can find them in GCPD’s evidence room with a tongue-in-cheek explanation as to why Batman didn’t keep them) and adds a number of new enemy types, enemy actions, and a few new player skills to counter them. Also, the upgrade tree is vast, and even after finishing the game I don’t have all combat abilities and gadgets, so more so than the other games this is one where you really choose and develop your own fighting style.

The Predator sections have been touched up as well with enemies now able to learn your tactics (better than before), flush you out of vents with incendiary grenades, pair off into teams to thwart your ambushes, place mines and gun turrets, and control UAV drones which can also attack you. Don’t worry though, you have the tools the handle the new behaviours if you use your brain and “be the Batman”. This has really made the section of the game that most bored me previously into a fresh experience.

All round, I think this game is a great sequel (a rare thing), a great end to Rocksteady’s trilogy, a well-paced and very-well balanced game, and a great example of what AAA publishers can do when they set their minds to it.

 The other games may have had some snow, but the rain effects on top of everything else make it readily apparent that you're playing a next-gen game. PC owners may not appreciate that statement as they don't like sharing space with console owners but they still have to understand that there's a common performance bar that has to be aimed for when making million dollar games.
The other games may have had some snow, but the rain effects on top of everything else make it readily apparent that you’re playing a next-gen game. PC owners may not appreciate that statement as they don’t like sharing space with console owners but they still have to understand that there’s a common performance bar that has to be aimed for when making million dollar games.

I don’t really have a personal scoring system in place but Metacritic, if I average-out the PS4 and XB1 scores, comes to 85% and I think that’s fair.

I just think that a lot of people, myself included, were far too ready to hate this game for other reasons. I’ll now explore those reasons without having tarnished the game itself as a piece of art that hundreds of honest developers poured their hearts and souls into.

All the other stuff

Warner Brothers published this game, and have made a lot of enemies with their policies in the last few years. Arkham Origins (the most recent Batman release in 2013) came out the gate with a host of bugs and issues, and Warner Bros. basically said they wouldn’t be fixing them because they were working on DLC for the game. Which is ludicrous! They expect people to pay more when what they’ve already paid for isn’t working!

Then, short on good will, they are charging €40 for the Season Pass (six months of DLC content) for Arkham Knight. This is 2/3 of the price of the main game, and brings it up to €100 all-in. Granted there were discounts for getting them together at €80, but still it’s a very high price for the Batgirl mini-story and a few racetracks and skins. Further, I don’t want to be drip fed my €40 back in six monthly instalments. I’d like to play the whole game this week please, and move on. I wasn’t going to buy the game myself in protest, but I did find it (with Season Pass) for €30 on and relented.

The practice of working on DLC and charging more for the content before the game is even out and/or working properly is hugely unpopular with consumers, and, paradoxically, hugely widespread with developers. It takes developer time out of making a working product, so that they can ask for more money for 1.2 or 1.5 inferior products, instead of one good one. They carve up one game’s content into the game, plus pre-order bonus content, plus later DLC content. Consumers lose nearly every time and they had no recourse.
Even with the ‘Premium Edition pre-order’ that I picked up, I somehow didn’t get the Harley Quinn pre-order story DLC bonus thing, which apparently wasn’t included in the more expensive version, only in the normal version. Just wtf?! Paying more up front in this case gets you less of a game on release than if you paid less!

 No I don't want to pay extra for this, thanks.
No I don’t want to pay extra for this, thanks.

In walks Steam’s brand new refund policy, the hero we deserved. This deserves its own blog post as there are many angles on it. I’m not praising Steam for finally giving users a basic consumer right, but I’m glad they have.

The ability for a buyer to return a product for any reason (within limits, as laid out here) means that if a game is released in a sorry state, the buyer can simply return it. This at last pushes developers to stop releasing games in a sorry state, and here Arkham Knight is hugely important.

After less than two days, the PC version of Arkham Knight was voluntarily removed from sale on Steam by Warner Brothers. Why? Because the game wasn’t fit to be released on PC in the first place. Not yet. As I said, I had no problems, but users with AMD graphics cards or just more average PCs found the game literally unplayable in many cases, or severely disappointing performance-wise. PC gamers tend to have an elitist, snobbish reputation, and having a game run less well than on a console rubbed a lot of them up the wrong way. The Steam user reviews for the game are “Mostly Negative” (I challenge you to find a positive one) and refunds were being demanded in droves.

 Testament to the botching of its release this header box on the game's Steam page says both that the game was released on June 23rd, and that it will be available in Fall 2015. 11,000 users are not happy.
Testament to the botching of its release this header box on the game’s Steam page says both that the game was released on June 23rd, and that it will be available in Fall 2015. 11,000 users are not happy.

With my finely-functioning game I’m actually in the minority on this one, and I still experienced a few bugs and body textures that never rendered properly when I got in-close. You always find some bugs in big games. There’s a certain leeway granted, which I granted, but the game has to actually work! Hours before it went on sale, Warner Brothers ramped up the recommended minimum settings for the game, which is a huge deal if you bought it expecting that you could run it, and then were told that you couldn’t. It’s unacceptable, frankly, and until Steam refunds came along, I’m sure Warner Bros. would have taken a “tough shit” approach to customer care.

But they didn’t. Instead they removed the game from sale. You can read their press release on why here but essentially it’s been removed until it works, with no clue as to how long that will take beyond “Fall 2015”.

 I have literally never seen this, and I don't think anyone else has either. That's PC gaming history right there, no exaggeration.
I have literally never seen this, and I don’t think anyone else has either. That’s PC gaming history right there, no exaggeration.

I’d like to mention that Rocksteady didn’t handle the PC port, and don’t deserve all the ire here. Iron Galaxy Studios did the port (or were still in the middle of it, it sounds like) and Warner Bros chose to publish it rather than push the PC release date back. The game had already suffered lengthy delays in production, but unfinished is unfinished! 

Okay, so bad decision there, obviously. It was a farce and will go down in gaming history as one of the most catastrophic releases of all time. I can’t actually think of another game that’s been removed from sale after release for performance reasons, and examples of games that should have been are in no short supply. Assassin’s Creed Unity, Sim City and Battlefield 4 all leap readily to mind.
But Warner Bros. are owning up to it. They removed their own game from sale and even linked readers to the Steam refund page directly in the press release. Would they be so eager to appease if not for Steam refunds? Hell no, would be my guess. But they are, and deserve a modicum of credit for that, at least.

Consumer faith in the industry, particularly in the bigger publishers, is at an all-time low. Delays, DLC, and broken releases are now expected and it’s hard to look at big upcoming releases like Battlefront with anything better than very cautious optimism, never mind fanatical hype. Publishers were incentivised, through the unavailability of any refund policies, to release unfinished games and move onto the next one, letting the game’s problems get fixed in a later patch, or by the modding community, or just never. This feels like the first time in recent memory that we can put a point on the consumer’s side of the scoreboard. Hopefully this will force publishing houses to cop on already! We need more faith in the industry because if consumer good will keeps being abused the way it has been, people will not be pre-ordering big games, will buy them less often, and expensive AAA games like Arkham Knight would simply not get made any more.

“Cut the crap, Publisher. This is my city”.

I, for one, am glad that Arkham Knight exists, glad that it had a botched PC release, glad that it was taken off sale, and am hopeful that this marks a turning point in publisher behaviour and consumer confidence.

If it does, who better to have saved us than Batman?