Monday, February 10, 2014

THE TITANFALL CONTROVERSY


Titanfall is a Microsoft exclusive online-multiplayer first person shooter developed by Respawn Entertainment set to release on March 11th.

The game has been promoted as a system-seller, Microsoft's dark horse in the console wars. Forgoing a traditional campaign experience with a multiplayer component, Titanfall aims to innovate the console-shooter genre with a purely online multiplayer experience.

The game won numerous E3 awards, and IGN's Ryan McCaffrey called the game Microsoft's "killer app", stating, "You will buy an Xbox One for Titanfall, and you should."

The impression is that the much-touted "cloud technology" the game utilizes will permit gamers to engage in more intense, massive, and stable combat simulations the likes of which they've never experienced before.


The game certainly looks impressive. See for yourself:


Since the initial announcements and gameplay video releases, the game has consistently been marketed as the reason to own an Xbox One. I myself saw the game as an extra incentive to pick up the new big box whenever I had the chance.

Then, last week, I found out there will be an Xbox 360 version and that it has been delayed two weeks for "extra polish".

Now perhaps I was just a little behind on the times, but it came as a shock to me that there was going to be a 360 version when the game has been marketed as the primary reason to buy an Xbox One. Not only that, the game seemed like something that could only work on the Xbox One. Perhaps that's merely my misperception, but it's certainly the feeling I got when I watched Titanfall's and Microsoft's promotional videos and read their articles. This demonstrates the initial effectiveness of the marketing.


After subjecting myself to the awfulness of a message board, I discovered that I was not alone in my confusion, that the fact that there's been a 360 version in the works has seen very little exposure. Only recently as last week was it announced the studio behind the 360 port; Bluepoint.

Seemingly under-promoting the 360 version would help keep intact the notion that Titanfall is a system seller, and a game that works best on X1. The revelation of a 360 version, and an unexpectedly low player-cap has led to fan outcry.

The main issue, and perhaps the primary fault in Microsoft's marketing strategy, is confusion over the term "cloud technology".

From my own perspective, when I heard the term "cloud" and listened to and watched demos of the game, I got the sense that "the cloud" was a streamlined sort of internet technology that would permit massive amounts of data to be transmitted between systems with minimal lag. I got the sense that "the cloud" would let Xbox One do amazing, inconceivable things beyond the abilities of other systems, and that it meant games like Titanfall, games that were purely online and almost MMO-like in nature, could actually run smoothly. It turns out this isn't far from the truth, it's just that the truth is much less magical-sounding and not limited to Xbox One's capabilities.


Detractors, otherwise known as The Angry Internet, first cried fowl when the player-count was capped at twelve - meaning two teams of six facing off against each other on a map. In the age of "bigger means better", and increasingly massive-scale digital battlefields with sixty-four players, a game promoted as "the future of first person shooters" having such a low player-count is certainly surprising.

Add to this the fact that the almighty "cloud" was portrayed as something that would allow for massive multiplayer action and you've got a bunch of angry nerds attempting to change the world with user comments.

Still, a twelve-player cap doesn't mean the game is going to be bad. It just means there's been confusion as a result of mixed signals (something you think a bunch of nerds would be accustomed to by now).

While the game remains intriguing that pesky Internet is divided, and I wanted to figure out my own complicated feelings. There are apparently the "informed" who rail against Microsoft for misleading customers, and the "uninformed" who keep preaching "Cloud will save us all!" Curious, I wanted to know where people were getting better informed about this game; what their sources were, what articles they found that pointed toward Microsoft's deception. I wanted to discover the "smoking gun" bit of journalism that these commenters were using as a frame of reference.


The result was a mostly fruitless exchange with angry, opinionated gamers who were dead set against Microsoft and Titanfall. And I got the distinct impression that many of them were filled with so much anger because it was the pervasive, most-appealing attitude - a way to be the "smarter" and "cooler" person. Many seemed to relish attacking the "uninformed" or the defenders of "the cloud" for being out of touch.

It was a painfully ironic state of affairs where gamers measured their hypothetical genitals against each other via text, snarkily and pompously trying to make an "uninformed" gamer feel like The Captain of the Lame Kid's Club.


Don't worry. I responded and actually made him feel bad. He even apologized. But still...the internet is awful. If you value your self-worth, avoid message boards, particularly gaming ones. They bring out a sad, dark little piece of our souls.

After leaving that board, I turned to the Google-gods (now more interested in the story than the game, hoping to write this very blog), and I only found two useful articles.

It doesn't seem as though there is one specific breaking story that points toward Microsoft's deceptiveness. It's all much simpler and simultaneously subtler than that. And much more dissatisfying.

An article from Gamespot and another from The Escapist demonstrates how Microsoft has simply struggled to market the game properly (they don't even seem to know what kind of trailers they want to make). 

It seems the under-promotion and delay of the 360 version is certainly a strategy to generate greater interest in the Xbox One version and the next-gen system itself, but this is a safe assumption arrived at by consumers, not something that's been overtly expressed or blown wide open. 

While that's certainly a bit shady, it's not unheard of. It's a symptom of the current console environment. Cross-over games are now going to be more highly promoted on the newer systems. The Xbox 360 and PS3 game-cases are going to move to the back of the line in advertisements. I'm certainly not a corporate shill, but that doesn't seem like the epitome of all evil to me. But you'd think it was if you asked The Internet.

Gotta have priorities.
What I find more troubling is that Microsoft can't seem to make up their mind about the game (their indecisiveness is a growing trend, and somewhat sad). If they really want Titanfall to be a system-seller, they should just make it for Xbox One and PC exclusively.

They would never do this because they want to turn a profit, however, and neglecting their massive established 360 user-base for a significantly lower number of early Xbox One adopters increases the chances of their new marquee title failing. And they cannot afford for this game to fail.

But they still want people to buy the Xbox One console and they still want people to buy Titanfall on the Xbox One, so they under-promote the existence of a 360 version - despite the fact that the 360 version is likeliest to make the most money. Are you confused yet? Irritated even?


So now the game exists in this muddied limbo of mixed messaging and noncommittal, greedy strategy, a strategy that negates the very purpose of the game. In not making the game purely a next-gen title, Microsoft may have guaranteed themselves more money through 360 units, but they've undermined the importance and technological power of their new system. Why pay $600 dollars for something when you can get it for $60, even if it's a subpar version? 

Also, it turns out that "the cloud" is simply synonymous with "server". John Shiring of Respawn explains:
"Cloud doesn't seem to actually mean anything anymore, or it has so many meanings that it's useless as a marketing word...let me explain this simply: when companies talk about their cloud, all they are saying is that they have a huge amount of servers ready to run whatever you need them to run. That's all."
As I've come to understand it, current gen systems mostly use what is called "peer-to-peer" matchmaking or "client-server" matchmaking, which means a player's console/internet connection acts as a server or host for the game being played. This is problematic in that it often results in lag or cheating, because a gamer's connection might not be good or the gamer knows how to manipulate the connection.

Games with "dedicated servers" don't have these problems because it means they have an infrastructure specifically designed to take care of all the technological mumbo-jumbo, and let gamers' consoles just play the game itself. Companies use peer-to-peer matchmaking because it's cheaper than dedicated servers. Now with "the cloud", however, Microsoft has offered Respawn and future developers a more cost-effective form of dedicated servers.

Shiring continues:
"Microsoft realized that player-hosted servers are actually holding back online gaming and that this is something that they could help solve, and ran full-speed with this idea...the Xbox group came back to us with a way for us to run all of these Titanfall dedicated servers and that lets us push games with more server CPU and higher bandwidth, which lets us have a bigger world, more physics, lots of AI, and potentially a lot more than that!"
Just how Microsoft has created this cost-effective server-system they call "the cloud" is not something I've been able to figure out, and isn't mentioned in the quoted article.

Still, after all of this net-scouring, I've come away with a fairly simple realization:

the game still looks good.

All the vitriol I discovered on the internet over the fact that the game has a twelve-player limit and that Microsoft has undersold the existence of a 360 version inevitably amounts to nothing, as almost all of the hateful commenters are going to buy the game. Many of them already have bought it, complete with collector's edition statues.


The immediate nerd-rage reaction to the player-cap is particularly obnoxious, and indicative of the maturity, or lack thereof, of the gaming community at large.

Complaining about a creative choice like this before experiencing it is like complaining that Picasso has decided to use a lot of blue in his work. We must reserve judgment until experiencing the game for ourselves, not allowing Microsoft propaganda nor gamer group-think to sway us. 

Obviously many are specifically upset about being misled by "the cloud" promotions, believing that such promised Titanfall would have a massive player-count. I sympathize, but it also doesn't mean I would refuse to buy the game if I could, because it still looks good. I'm more irritated by those who act like they're now disinterested simply because they want a multiplayer game to have more players per match. Not every game thrives with Battlefield 4-like proportions. Battlefield 4 doesn't even thrive. It's buckled under the weight of its own massiveness.


In the past all we could go by were advertisements and trailers. And then, for better or worse, we'd buy the game and love it or hate it, and then talk about it with friends and family. I'm starting to wonder if that was not a better time.

The current environment certainly has its benefits, but there are far too many pitfalls where our neediness, anger, and judgmental natures are encouraged to thrive. Commenters, gamers, and users all badger and berate on a daily basis, but then they're first in line with the latest Halo, Call of Duty, of Batman game. Hypocrisy is normalized, even unknowingly celebrated, and the truth gets lost along the way.


Before passing judgment one way or the other on this game, consider this:
  • Titanfall was originally built for the Xbox One and is being ported to the 360 by Bluepoint, not Respawn. So it's meant for the Xbox One or PC.
  • "The Cloud" is a term that just means dedicated server, but represents a shift in online gaming toward a more cost-effective and potentially user-friendly matchmaking experience.
  • Microsoft continues to struggle in effectively marketing and promoting their new system and their new games, and even seems a bit shady in how they go about it. They are obviously committed to innovation, but are also interested in turning a profit. They have demonstrated an inability to reconcile their two passions.
So the issues with this game are nuanced, not effectively represented in quick emotional responses. In the end we can only go by what we experience and what interests us. If we discover that we don't like a game, we shouldn't support it in the future. It's that simple.

And, lastly, remember that The Internet is pretty evil.


But not The Future Machine. So "stay a while and listen". Come here where people are nice and think for themselves.

Thanks for reading and live long and prosper.
  

Remember to come back tomorrow or Wednesday for a new RAW REVIEW. And be sure to follow The Gladiator Maximus on Twitter.

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