Last week, just in time for the announcement (and release) of a new expansion for Cities: Skylines, I posted a video analysis on YouTube discussing what I perceive as weaknesses in the modular design philosophy behind Skylines' myriad expansion packs. The full video is available on YouTube (and embedded below), but I've also transcribed the text in blog form for those who may prefer reading over watching/listening.

The video is up on YouTube.

I want to start out by saying that I love Cities: Skylines. Skylines is -- without a doubt in my mind -- the single best city-builder since SimCity 4, which released in 2003 (over 15 years ago, as of the time of this recording). When I watched the first trailer for the game, in which the player apparently custom-builds freeway ramps and interchanges from scratch (at about 40 seconds into the trailer), I was sold on this game! After years of having to use boring, pre-fabricated stock on-ramps and interchanges, the little civil engineer withing me practically jizzed in his pants at the idea of being able to build my own highway ramps and interchanges! And there was no looking back.

Cities: Skylines gloriously succeeds where games like SimCity (2013) and Cities XL miserably failed. It picks up the mantle of the great SimCity games of yester-decade, and brings it into the 21st century with deep simulation based on agents, a sleek and modern UI, extensive customizability and moddability, and an attractive 3-D graphics engine. It's made all the more impressive by the fact that the game's developer, Colossal Order, is a small, independent studio that had something like nine people working for it when the game initially launched. And a company with all the manpower and resources of Electronic Arts only managed to produce a flop like SimCity 2013.

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Ace Combat 7 - title

Ace Combat 4 would be on my short list for "favorite games ever". It's one of the few games that I've beaten multiple times. I rented the game from Blockbuster (back when Blockbuster was a thing), and beat it over a weekend. A few months later, I wanted to play it again, so I rented it another weekend, and beat it. I think I may have rented it (and beat it) one more time before finally just buying my own damn copy from a bargain bin, then played through it again.

When I was in high school, my parent's home was broken into, my PS2 and all my games were among the items stolen -- including Ace Combat 4. Despite having already beaten the game multiple times, when it came time to replace my PS2 collection, I bought the "Greatest Hits" version of the game, and played through it once more.

So in total, I rented Ace Combat 4 at least two or three times from Blockbuster, and have bought two new, retail copies of the game.

I always liked how this series hits a comfortable middle ground between an arcade shooter/dogfighter and a flight sim. You can configure the controls so that the planes fly like actual planes, but it also gives you access to 50-100 missiles on planes that only have 2 missiles strapped to their wings. If you get good enough, you can shoot down enemy planes with just machine gun, but it takes a lot of practice.

Ace Combat has found a comfortable middle ground between arcade shooter and flight sim.

I had gotten to the point that the mission briefing music has been permanently burned into my memory, and I was performing my own self-imposed challenge runs in those last few playthroughs of AC4. I would play through the entire game with machine guns only, trying to cut down on the number of times that I'd have to stop at the airstrip or carrier to resupply. I think the only other game that I've ever done self-imposed challenge runs on is Metal Gear Solid 2.

Challenge runs

The direct sequel, Ace Combat 5, sadly, didn't quite do it for me. I played the game once, and I'm not even sure if I finished it or not. A big part of that game's problem was that it was repetitive. A belligerent nation launches a surprise attack, cripples the Allies' military, and the Alliance has to fight back to reclaim occupied territory before finally beating the aggressor by capturing or destroying its secret super-weapon. I had been there, done that so many times that Ace Combat 5 just kind of dragged. It didn't help that many of Ace Combat 5's missions felt recycled straight from Ace Combat 4.

Ace Combat 6 was an XBox exclusive, which I never played on account of having never owned an XBox, and the other titles since have either been portable titles or spin-offs that just veered too far into "arcade" territory for my tastes. As such, it's been over a decade since I last played an Ace Combat game. Perhaps Ace Combat 7 is a prime opportunity to jump back on the bandwagon? Well, if you were getting tired of challenge runs in AC4, then 7 is loaded with its own little challenges for the player.

Clouds will ice your plane, limiting maneuverability, stalling the plane, and covering the canopy in frost.

Much moreso than the previous games that I've played, Ace Combat 7 uses environmental phenomena and genuine level design to throw a little wrench into the gears. Most missions will have some extra little circumstantial element of its design that can knock a player out of your comfort zone and force you to get creative and/or bold.

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Ace Combat 7

Some number of PC players may have booted up Namco/Bandai's recently-released Ace Combat 7 on PC, only to be disappointed to find that their preferred flight stick doesn't work with the game. Un-supported controllers apparently includes the very popular (and very expensive) Thrustmaster Warthog. This isn't a technical issue; it's a hardware-exclusivity deal that Namco/Bandai apparently signed with Thrustmaster and Hori. Only two flight sticks are supported by the game: the Thrustmaster T. Flight and HORI AC7 flight stick. Apparently, the same restrictions apply to the PS4 and XBox One versions of the game

If you're like me, and don't play a lot of flight sims, any flight stick that you have is likely old and obsolete. But you probably still hoped it would work with the game. It's PC, after all, and controllers are mostly plug-and-play. Worst case scenario, you'd have to custom configure the control mapping. Right?

Not so. If the game detects a flight stick that isn't on its approved list, it apparently refuses to recognize it.

I'm not exactly a huge Ace Combat fan, but Ace Combat 4 (which I played on PS2 back in the day) is on my short list for "favorite games ever". Perhaps I'll put up a retro-review of it at some point. Needless to say, AC4 was a near perfect hybrid of acrade dogfighting and realistic flight sim, and it's nuanced depiction of war might make it my single favorite video game about war -- except for maybe This War of Mine.

So I was excited that a new game was coming out. I had bought a Logitech Attack 3 flight stick some years ago for another game, and I was also excited to see how Ace Combat would feel with a flight stick instead of a game controller. So I bought the game on PC expecting the flight stick would work. It didn't, and I was pretty bummed. I bought the game on the weekend of its PC release, and when I found that my flight stick didn't work, I shelved the game and went back to Resident Evil 2 and Civilization VI: Gathering Storm. I figured I'd come back to AC7 in a few weeks, at which point, the flight stick situation would hopefully be resolved, or modders would maybe add unofficial support for un-supported flight sticks.

You can configure an un-supported flight stick via Steam's built-in Controller Settings.

After a little bit of research, I discovered Steam's built-in "General Controller Settings" gamepad mapping, and that it can be used to "trick" Ace Combat 7 into thinking you're playing with a third-party gamepad. I tested it last night, and was pleased to discover that it works!

To see if your flight stick will work (and it's no guarantee), perform the following steps:

  1. Open Steam and select "Steam -> Settings" in the top menu.
  2. In the Settings panel, click "Controller".
  3. In the Controller Config panel, click the button that says "GENERAL CONTROLLER SETTINGS". A big, blue menu with several check boxes should appear in a new window.
  4. In the Controller Settings window, check the "Generic Gamepad Configuration Support" box.
  5. If your flight stick is plugged in, and the PC is registering it, you should see it in a list of "Detected Controllers". Click it.
  6. This should take you to a key binding screen. Set up your key bindings as you see fit. You do not necessarily have to map every single button, as most flight sticks may not have enough buttons.
  7. Click "Save" and a dialogue should appear asking you if you want to "Share this controller definition?". You can name the controller anything you like. The important part here is that there is a drop down labeled: "Select the type of controller:". You must select "Generic Gamepad" from the drop down! You can then click "No, Thank You" if you do not wish to share the settings.

You should now be able to boot up Ace Combat 7, and the game should now believe your flight stick is a third-party gamepad (rather than a forbidden flight stick), and it should function based on the bindings that you specified.

You can configure your flight stick as a "Generic Gamepad" in Steam's Controller Settings.

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Resident Evil 2 - title

Getting started with this game was rough. First of all, streaming the game initially seemed to be blocked by Capcom, which sent me down an internet rabbit hole of trying to find a work-around. If I couldn't stream or capture gameplay, then it would be awfully hard for me to get decent screenshots -- let alone any video for possible YouTube content. I even Tweeted @AskPlaystation whether I could get a refund, so that I could instead purchase the game on Steam (where I knew I'd be able to record footage). @AskPlaystation never responded.

It was moot anyway, since the next day, I found that the problem was only associated with having High Dynamic Range (HDR) enabled in the PS4's settings. After disabling HDR, I was able to stream the game and capture video footage as normal. Of course, the game's colors didn't look so good -- but whatever, I could live with it. I guess this is a glitch. Maybe Capcom will fix the HDR streaming issue at some point in the future? I can't imagine that they deliberately disabled streaming with HDR, but left it enabled when HDR isn't being used.

You'll need to disable High Dynamic Range (HDR) on the PS4 if you want to stream REmake 2.

But even when I got the streaming and capture functionality working, I lost another night having to troubleshoot my PS4's network connectivity. I kept getting a DNS error. My PS4 has had internet connectivity issues off and on for years, so it might just have a bad network card. Or maybe my ISP is throttling it? It's hard to tell. The console regularly connects to the router and obtains an IP, but then fails to connect to the internet. Or it can connect to the internet, but fails to connect to PSN.

After several hours of troubleshooting, I had to manually enter the DNS addresses of my router's second and third DNS as the PS4's primary and secondary DNS, then sign out of the PSN, then boot up the PS4 in safe mode, then run a database rebuild (which took a few minutes), then reconnect to the PSN. That seems to have worked ... for now. We'll see how long the fix lasts...

In any case, these streaming and network issues cost me the first full weekend with the game. I'd have to play it on weeknights after work instead. Hopefully the game's quality would make up for these early frustrations...

I have adapted much of this review into a video critique on YouTube, if you'd prefer to watch a video.

The failure of REmake2's "hardcore" save system

Years ago, in the early years of this blog, I wrote an opinion piece called "The Genius of Resident Evil's classic save system". In that blog post, I wrote about how the way in which classic survival horror games (and Resident Evil in particular) limited the player's ability to save actually helped to amplify the horror atmosphere, while simultaneously facilitating open-ended exploration and creating the genre's trademark resource-management gameplay. I love the old Ink Ribbon method of saving, and I was thrilled that the brilliant REmake maintained these old systems to excellent effect. Other games like RE7 and Alien: Isolation also brought back more traditional survival horror save systems, but without the added complexity tying it to a consumable item (at least not by default).

Unfortunately, REmake 2's save system doesn't fare so well. By default, the game apparently uses autosaves and checkpoints, and you can manually save at typewriters without an Ink Ribbon. It all works similar to RE7. However, you can play on "hardcore" mode (which is available by default) to get an experience more similar to the original save system. Except, it doesn't work as well. In fact, it seems to be fundamentally broken.

It would be nice if the game would use Ink Ribbons from the item box,
rather than having to put it in your inventory, then put it back in the item box after you save.

Part of the reason for this is that the "hardcore" mode also doubles as the game's "hard" difficulty. On the "hardcore" mode, there are no autosaves or checkpoints, and you must consume an Ink Ribbon to save at the typewriters (just as in the original release). However, enemies also have more health and deal more damage, and resources are more scarce (Ink Ribbons apparently replace ammo pickups in certain places). This screws with the balance of the game such that the manual save system becomes less viable for a first-time playthrough.

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UPDATE 28 JANUARY, 2019, 6:44 PM (PST)
Twitter user @HillardHouseDan referred me to a gamefaqs post at gamefaqs.gamespot.com/boards/179835-resident-evil-2/77419853 that has a work-around for this issue. That post claims that disabling HDR (High Dynamic Range) in the PS4's video settings will allow you to stream and capture Resident Evil 2 footage. Commentor Jon had also posted the same work-around just as I was loading up RE2 to test it. So thanks readers!

I had actually come across this post last night, but had dismissed it because it was specifically about "Share Play" and not about streaming. I have been streaming Red Dead Redemption II for two months with HDR enabled without any problem, so it didn't even occur to me to test that setting.

Besides, the message was telling me that the scene was "blocked", so I had assumed that Capcom had blocked it as a "spoiler" section. Games in the past have done this for screens in which players enter email accounts, passwords, credit card numbers, or other sensitive information (which is the only acceptable use of blocking share functionality!). But Atlus had also recently blocked streaming of Persona 5 in order to prevent spoilers from leaking onto the internet. I was assuming that Capcom was doing the same thing. Atlus had patched Persona 5 to remove the streaming block for after about a week.

So, long story short: If you disable HDR on the PS4's video settings, you should be able to stream Resident Evil 2. You'll be playing at lower resolution, and with less color range, but it'll be playable and streamable. I guess I'll have to chalk this one up to a bug for now? Maybe Capcom will fix it with a patch. I can't imagine that they had deliberately blocked HDR or 4k streaming, but left non-HDR and regular HD enabled.

So pending any other setbacks, I do expect to play Resident Evil 2 this week, and will hopefully have a review out in a couple weeks. I'm leaving the rest of this post intact for posterity. Some of the points about fair use and blocking functionality of the console are still valid for situations like Persona 5, so maybe this blog will serve as a cautionary tale for any publishers or developers who do try to pull something like this deliberately.

UPDATE 26 February, 2019:
I have a full review up for the game now. I have also adapted that review into a video critique on YouTube:

I have adapted my review into a video critique on YouTube.
I was really looking forward to this remake of RE2.

After having to wait all of Saturday night for Resident Evil 2 remake to download and install on my PS4 (and playing Red Dead Redemption 2 to pass the time), I tried booting up the game on Sunday and played 15 minutes, only to find that the entire game is blocked from streaming. Even the built-in "capture" functionality (of the last 15 minutes of gameplay) of the PS4 console is disabled! I didn't even know games on the console could disable the built-in capture.

This realization sent me into a rabbit-hole of digging through the internet to find out if there was a work-around. I couldn't find one. Apparently, only the PS4 version of the game suffers from this problem. Players on Steam and XBox One do not seem to have any issues streaming.

I was very exciting to play this game. I really loved the REmake that was released on PSN a couple years ago, and I've been looking forward to an "RE2make" ever since. Resident Evil VII was also pretty damned good, and a return to form that made me optimistic about the series moving forward. But the game being blocked from streaming and capture put a damper on the experience that makes me not want to play the game. Basically, my night -- and my weekend -- were ruined by this petty decision from Capcom (and the fact that Sony even allows this bullshit on their platform).

This makes blogging about the game much harder

Why is this such a big deal? Why can't I just play the game and not stream it to Twitch? Well, the reason is that I use the streaming and capture functionality to get screenshots (and occasionally video) for use on this blog. After playing the game, I go through the archived footage to get relevant screenshots for blogs, strategy guides, analyses, or whatever I happen to be writing about the game -- all of which is legally protected under fair use!

It isn't just streaming that's disabled; even the capture function built into the PS4 is disabled!

I could maybe have lived without the Twitch broadcast, as I usually prefer to save important footage using the PS4's built-in capture function. The captured footage is much higher quality than what is saved by Twitch, and so it's essential for getting good screenshots of action segments. But the PS4 only saves the last 15 minutes of footage, so I have to make sure to remember to capture any video that I feel I'll need. I use the Twitch stream as a backup in case I forget.

The principle of the thing

More importantly, however, is the principle of the thing...

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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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Yes, you can MAYBE play Ace Combat 7 with an un-supported flight stick!Yes, you can MAYBE play Ace Combat 7 with an un-supported flight stick!03/14/2019 Some number of PC players may have booted up Namco/Bandai's recently-released Ace Combat 7 on PC, only to be disappointed to find that their preferred flight stick doesn't work with the game. Un-supported controllers apparently includes the very popular (and very expensive) Thrustmaster Warthog. This isn't a technical issue;...

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