Star Wars Battlefront II - title

Dang, I was really hoping to get this one out before the end of the year...

Thanks to previews, journalists, and complaints from beta users, this is yet another game that I knew better than to buy on launch day at full retail price. Even before the game came out, beta players and gaming websites were already condemning Battlefront II for its pay-to-win multiplayer system. When the media finally got their hands on preview builds of the full game, they were quick to attack the online progression system. Once the game was released, public outcry forced EA to literally neuter the game's online economy.

Slot machines are legally required to disclose
their paytables -- and sometimes their RTP.

EA started damage control by slashing the prices of heroes so that they supposedly weren't as much of a grind to unlock. However, the sneaky bastards also reduced the rewards for various in-game activities (such as completing the campaign), so as to render the cost reduction virtually moot. Then, EA disabled micro-transactions altogether. So by the time I finally started playing the game (over a month after launch), it was a totally different experience than it was intended to be at launch.

Star Wars license-holder Disney was furious with EA for potentially tarnishing the Star Wars brand (especially with the pending release of The Last Jedi). EA's stock prices fell as a result.

Battlefront II has actually caused law-makers and regulatory agencies in the United States and Europe to consider whether loot boxes qualify as "gambling", and whether they should, therefore, be regulated as such, including banning their sale to minors. Corporations are also starting to hop onto the bandwagon of self-regulation. Apple announced that all iOS apps with randomized micro-transactions must disclose the odds associated with rewards. This is the same disclosure that is actually legally required for actual gambling, such as slot machines.

For the record, I do not object to gambling per se. I actually bet every week on college and NFL football. Don't worry, I live in Nevada; it's legal for me. I spent almost three years working as a game developer for a slot machine manufacturer, and the only reason that I'm not still at that job is because the entire department in which I worked got laid off in the wake of a corporate merger (I'm actually very bitter and opposed to corporate mergers, by the way, but that's a discussion for another time). So I don't have a problem with gambling. I just think that it has a time and a place, and I don't want that time or place to be in my video games that I'm already paying $60 just to play. This is why casinos don't generally charge a cover fee.

I personally feel that Shadow of War and Destiny 2 are much more egregious examples of corporate avarice.

Also, for the record, I think that Battlefront II's micro-transaction controversy is a bit overblown. It's an online multiplayer shooter in which there is no win condition or end state. Whether you want the extra hero characters, and whether you're willing to spend time or money to get them is entirely up to the player's own whim. The game is perfectly playable without those heroes, and you can play through the campaign completely without spending an extra penny. It's a bit sleazy that EA markets the game by advertising these characters, and then locks them behind a grind/pay wall, but fighting games have been hiding unlockable characters behind grind-walls for decades.

Battlefront II isn't even the worst micro-transaction / pay-to-win system to come from EA! EA Sports titles like Madden and FIFA have been getting away with much worse pay-to-win systems (via their respective Ultimate Team modes) for years. Personally, I also think that Shadow of War (review coming very soon) has a much more offensive micro-transaction model because Warner Bros actually tied it into that game's campaign. If you want to finish the story, you either have to sit through the grind, or pay to speed it up. Though all of these pale in comparison to Activision and Bungie locking formerly-accessible end-game content behind the pay-wall of a Destiny 2 expansion pack.

In any case, it's sad that a review of a video game has to turn into a political op-ed, but that's the sad state of things right now.

Controversy and public outrage forced EA to completely disable in-game purchases.

So, if I knew that the game was controversially terrible, why did I bother to play it? ...

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Battlefield 1 - title

Nobody can make a game about World War I. Trench warfare is too boring. Nothing really happens. There isn't a strong, identifiable villain or good versus evil struggle.

Those are among the many excuses that people made for why all the video games are about World War II, and never about World War I. And then the gaming public and journalists got a glimpse of this:

The teaser trailer for Battlefield 1 was a smash hit.

That teaser trailer was damn good. People were excited. I haven't played a first-person shooter since Call of Duty: World at War, I generally hate online shooters, but even I was excited to try out this game! And other people were hyped about it too.

Now, I never really bought into the idea that World War I was "not video game material". I've long advocated for games to look at all periods of history for inspiration, and World War I is a monumental moment in world history that certainly deserves to be examined by games. The indie market certainly realized this, with games like Valiant Hearts and Verdun. But the big publishers have completely shied away from "The War to End All Wars".

This is a shame. The rapid technological advancements and radically new military tactics that evolved leading up to (and during) the war could be great material to examine in the form of a game. The widescale industrialization of warfare, the complicated politics, and the general fuzziness of the morality of the war are also ripe source material for dramatic storytelling. So it's about time to see this war thrust into the mass market spotlight.

I'd prefer to have seen a strategy game along the lines of Total War; but whatever, I'll give DICE and Battlefield 1 a chance.

UPDATE: 12 MARCH 2018, Better than I gave it credit for:
After having played Activision's Call of Duty: WWII and (especially) EA's Star Wars: Battlefront II, and having talked about it with friends, I have gained a bit of respect for the successes that Battlefield 1 has been able to accomplish. I've started to like it more in retrospect. Not enough to go back and re-play it or try out any of the expansions (yet), but I do feel that I may have been a bit too harsh on the game in retrospect, especially with regard to its campaign vignettes.

I'm not going to change my original review score, but compared to CoD:WWII and Battlefront II, this game probably deserves a slightly higher grade. So keep that in mind as you read the following review. Of all the big-budget first person shooters that I've played in the past couple years, Battlefield 1 is probably the one that I most enjoyed, and it's the one that I would recommend.

The futile indifference of war

First impressions were actually pretty damned good. I was actually really impressed with Battlefield 1's campaign tutorial. It's basically a guided tour of the game's various core mechanics: shooting at enemy soldiers, capturing victory points, piloting vehicles, and so forth. It does a good job of introducing each of these mechanics and systems by jumping the player around between multiple characters in a large-scale battle.

But what really stuck out to me was how the tutorial transitioned between these different set pieces, and how it handled player death. This tutorial is actually surprisingly merciless and difficult. As you complete one set piece, the game gradually (and subtly) increases the threat until it becomes overwhelming and your character dies (or they just kill you after a timer expires), which allows the game to teleport you to the point of view of another character for the next set piece. The dying character's name and birth / death years are shown on screen during the transition, granting that character with a certain degree of humanization.

Battlefield 1: tutorial death
The excellent tutorial emphasizes the indifference and futility of "The War to End All Wars".

Depending on how good you are at the game, you'll go through between half a dozen to a dozen different characters, each with a name and an age. And they all die. The tutorial makes this war look brutal and futile. It even has an almost Dark Souls-like indifference to the player character, killing you without a second thought and forcing you to respawn as another poor, dumb bastard who's about to die for his country, rather than restarting you at a checkpoint until you get it right.

I even wish DICE had gone a bit further by also displaying the character's birth place and maybe even a snippet or two of other biographical trivia. Maybe listing some hobbies, or saying that he was on his high school's varsity football team, or some other little detail like that. DICE settled for just the name and birth / death year, but it's still effective and establishes a very strong running theme throughout the tutorial. The point is a bit undercut by the rapid pacing and by how conventional the actual running and shooting feels. But I still walked out of this tutorial excited by what the rest of the campaign had to offer.

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NCAA Football

I recently wrote about the ongoing lawsuit between Ed O'Bannon and the NCAA regarding player likenesses for college athletes (and compensation for college athletes in general). While it seems unlikely that any college football games will be made using the NCAA license while this lawsuit remains unresolved in appeal limbo, it does seem inevitable to me that EA will eventually start making these games again. Hopefully, it will come with the ability to include real player likenesses, but that is likely to depend on the outcome of any appeals and the willingness of the NCAA to include real player likenesses in games. Video game sales seems far too lucrative an exploit for the NCAA to pass up, so I highly doubt that they'd simply refuse to grant their license.

Operating under the assumption that EA will go back to making NCAA Football games within the next few years (hopefully as early as NCAA Football 18), I'd like to start talking about the kinds of things that I'd like to see in such games.

NCAA Football 14 -
It's been three years without a college football game. It doesn't look like we'll be getting one for 2016 either.
But hopefully a new entry in the series is only a year or two away...

Legacy features that must return!

I don't expect all the old features to return, and even the ones that do return might not be the same as in the older games. But here's the things that I think the game should absolutely have in some form or another (hopefully similar to previous games):

  • In-season recruiting in dynasty
  • Redshirt players
  • Export draft class to Madden
  • Conference re-alignments
  • EA Locker: Roster sharing & Team Builder
  • Custom stadium sounds
  • "Toughest places to play"

Roster-sharing might seem unnecessary if the result of the lawsuits means that EA can actually license the rights to player likenesses. But it's unclear how that would work. There is no college football labor union (equivalent of the NFL Players' Association) that I'm aware of, so either the NCAA would have the rights to license all of its players as a collective, or it would be the responsibility of the game-maker to individually license each and every player. Hopefully, it's the former. But if it's the latter, that leaves open the possibility of individual players refusing to grant rights to their likenesses, which means they won't be included in the game. Would EA simply remove them from the roster? Or replace them with some generic player? Or go back to using "QB #10" as that player's name? Worse yet, would the game-maker even bother to approach all the athletes, or would they just settle for the key players from elite schools?

In any case, college football rosters are often in flux right up to the start of the season, and many teams need a few games before they settle on a final depth chart. So the ability to share roster updates means that the user base can keep the rosters up to date if EA uses outdated rosters.

Hand-me-downs from Madden

Madden is now a few years ahead of NCAA Football, and the past few years have actually seen a decent improvement in the quality and depth of the game. Of course, I'd like to see a lot of features from recent Madden games also get imported into any future NCAA Football games:

  • Tackling / physics engine
  • Improved running, receiving, QB throw-placement, and defensive play
  • Player experience and confidence (needs to be much more volatile though)
  • Skills Trainer, augmented with college concepts such as the option
  • Stadium upgrades and renovation

Just please, for goodness sake, don't force another Ultimate Team gimmick down our throats!...

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EA Sports logo

There hasn't been a legitimate college football video game since EA Sports stopped making the games after the 2013 season. NCAA Football 2014 was the last game in the series (and I didn't even review it!).

The reason for the disappearance of this game series was a class-action lawsuit filed by former UCLA basketball player Ed O'Bannon against the NCAA regarding compensation for player likenesses in college sports video games. O'Bannon sued in order to get the NCAA to pay players some compensation for the likenesses that were used in such video games. The NCAA refused, since they consider college athletes "amateurs" who should not be paid. Over the past few years, there has been mounting controversy over the lack of compensation for college athletes, especially as sports like college football and basketball surge in popularity and profitability. Currently, schools can earn millions of dollars from their college sport programs (from ticket sales to TV deals to advertising and endorsements), but the athletes who play the games don't see a penny of the money. Instead, they get scholarships.

While I'm personally in favor of paying college athletes, I'm not going into that debate right now. Instead, I want to discuss the settlement that occurred, EA paying out the settlements to players, and what it might mean for the future of college football games.

I'll admit that I'm confused by this whole affair. There was initially a settlement, and EA is currently paying out likeness reimbursements to players. However, the case is still ongoing, as the NCAA has challenged the original ruling. This appeal resulted in an upholding of the NCAA's violation of anti-trust laws, but it also (as I understand) struck down part of the original ruling that required money to be set aside to pay players compensation for their likenesses. I'm not sure if these are two separate cases, or if EA independently agreed to a settlement. If anyone could explain the course of event, I'd greatly appreciate it.

In any case, EA Sports excited players earlier this year by posting the first Facebook post in almost two years on NCAA Football's official Facebook page. The post wasn't much - just a heartbeat monitor. Fans quickly started anticipating that this meant that EA was resurrecting the college football video game franchise.

EA quickly responded that the post was not meant to imply that any future NCAA Football games were in development...

[More]

Years ago, back when I was much more into playing Madden NFL games than I am now (read: back when I was too young and naive to realize how much they sucked), I had proposed on the EA Forums that they should add the ability to create female player and / or coach models. I'd post a link to the forum topic(s), but I don't remember my login info to look them up. It's something that I'd still like to see as an option in future games, and with the recent news that the NFL may be hiring its first full-time female official, I thought now might be the time to bring up the topic again.

Sarah Thomas to become full-time NFL official
Sarah Thomas has reportedly been hired as the NFL's first female full-time official.

Sports games like Madden should have options to create female characters and (especially) coaches. Women play these games, and women do have an interest in football and other sports. But when they play Madden, they can't create themselves as a player or as a coach because the game doesn't allow them to. And when creating an avatar of yourself to play these games is one of the main selling points of features like Franchise, Superstar, and so on, then it seems unfair to prevent a large chunk of your audience from being able to play that feature as intended.

Madden 13 - J Grade on the sideline
I get to create myself as a coach.

After all, EA has a Game Face feature that allows you to scan your own face into various games. I was able to use this feature to create myself as a coach for my past Madden franchises. But my girlfriend or sister can't use this feature because there aren't any character models for female coaches (or players) in most major sports games. Unless she wants her head on a man's body...

As far as I know, the NFL doesn't have any rules actually prohibiting women from playing or coaching in the league. Yeah, sure, that's "Air Bud logic", but women are people, not dogs. So the fact that games like Madden don't even allow female characters to be created is actually not even representative of the actual rules. And from a more socially-progressive standpoint, having such a feature could help to make the game more accessible to female players, and possibly even encourage women to pursue playing or coaching the sport and breaking that respective glass ceiling. After all, seeing a digital version of herself competing with the male players might inspire young girls to pursue careers in football outside of sideline correspondents, cheerleaders, athletic trainers, analysts, or the other "off-field" jobs that they are currently restricted to.

Lingerie Football League all-star game
Perhaps my difficulty taking the Lingerie Football League seriously is an example of prejudice on my part,
but it is a thing, women do play it, and they supposedly take it very seriously.

I've heard people say that there just aren't any women who are interested in playing football. While it definitely seems to be true that there haven't been any women who have been ambitious enough to seriously try, I don't think it's necessarily true or fair to say that there isn't interest. Women do play football! There are, in fact, entire professional football leagues for women. I'm not sure how serious the Lingerie Football League is (I'm sorry, "Legends of Football League"). I don't know much about the league, so my assumption that it's mostly just sexual exploitation may be an example of the very prejudice that I'm hoping to confront. But the LFL is a thing that actually exists, and women do play in it. And from what I've heard, they take it very seriously...

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A gamer's thoughts

Welcome to Mega Bears Fan's blog, and thanks for visiting! This blog is mostly dedicated to game reviews, strategies, and analysis of my favorite games. I also talk about my other interests, like football, science and technology, movies, and so on. Feel free to read more about the blog.

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