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Ottawa, Ontario
Canada

Just a little corner of the interwebz where I occasionally jot down a thought or two. Why do I do it? Partly to communicate in some way with you, the reader, and partly because it's some sad way of leaving a legacy of some kind I guess.

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Ramblings

green mountains

Jonathan Tom

They call it the Green Mountain state - a place I've been going to off and on for as long as I can remember. My family has a time share near Stowe and to say it's breath taking would be an understatement. In the mornings it's nice to get up, grab a coffee (or a tea) and head out to the porch which overlooks a valley which is usually filled with clouds until the sun crests and burns them off.

It's surprisingly quiet given the number of people spread across the grounds of the time share but even given that fact it almost feels, at times, as if it's just you and the mountain. If that's the ultimate goal though there are plenty of trails around that can take you anywhere from an hour or two to a day or two out into the woods. While I probably won't partake in any long hikes I am looking forward to having some time there this year - now that the family has grown it's not possible to have all of us there at the same time. There are two rooms and a pull out bed in the living room so, at most, the unit can accommodate six people and that is a definite stretch so when a year like this year comes around where it's just my parents and myself... well, let's just say it's hard to turn down.

Recently my parents got the opportunity to secure a week in the fall as well and I'm very interested in checking the same area out in autumn. It won't be on the agenda this year but maybe next year we can make that happen. All in all, it's nice to have a decompression week coming up soon in the green mountains.

Photo by Brad Fickeisen on Unsplash

E3: Ubisoft

Jonathan Tom

In our ongoing commentary of the pre-E3 studio press conferences… ok, ok, I know I only did one previous to this… just let me have this. Anyway, today we look at the Ubisoft Conference which took place today in Los Angeles. So let’s get into it:

An opening number with a horn section and a drum line is a win in my books.Graphics featuring Just Dance “coming this October”.

The first trailer is for “Beyond Good and Evil 2” and the cinematic is beautiful. I thought the first teaser for this game looked good but this has really come a long way. Described as a Space Opera, it’s a sci-fi game that seems very character driven. They showed some Pre-Alpha game play footage. Near the end of the 24th century you play the captain is an action adventure RPG open universe. The community will be able to weigh in on the creation of the game… Ubisoft is offering an open invitation to submit art which will be incorporated into the game via Hit Record (Joseph Gordon Levitt’s company). This is an interesting concept which, I hope, isn’t a way to get out of paying actual artists for some of these assets.

Next up, “Rainbow Six: Siege” - the community has grown to 35 million players strong over the last 2.5 years. Operation Parabellum is open right now, they’ve invited everyone to give it a shot. The community manager is pushing the esports side pretty hard - announcing a few tournaments from Brazil to Montreal. They also premiered a trailer for “Another Mindset” which is a documentary that follows eight community players and talks about how it changed / improved their lives. I think more studios should put a human face on games.

The game dev for “Trials Rising” just rode in on a motorcycle wearing a daredevil outfit and then mock smashed a podium. Crashing with style and getting up again is the motto for this game. The game seems to be as much about the spectacular crashes than it is about completing the course. Ride in iconic locations around the world, and crash in iconic locations.

Brad Hill, created a YouTube channel on mastering the game. He was a player that was approached to make the tutorial content for the new game. He’s plugging the closed beta which should open later this year and announcing the release date Feb 2019 on Xbox, PS4, PC, and Nintendo Switch.

Next up is what I’ve been waiting for, “The Division 2”. The Creative Director is taking the stage to talk about it - he opens with the story of The Division 1. The sequel starts seven months later in Washington DC where civilians are trying to rebuild. They’re showing a cinematic which looks pretty good… the little girl running seems awkward but maybe she is supposed to have an injury. It’s doing a good job of showing a post-apocalyptic city - setting the stage for the new game.The trailer ends with three division agents finding the little girl’s note which reads “Help” as they walk into the city.

Heavily story based campaign where player decisions affect the game play and the story. After the main progression campaign you choose a new progression style / specialization. This is interesting… a focus on the end game content so early on. I hope this doesn’t mean that the campaign is short. They are announcing that raids are coming to The Division 2 for teams of eight players - this gets a huge round of applause. The Creative Director announces that year one will have 3 DLCs with new stories, new activities, and new areas all completely free. It’s safe to say that I am very excited to play this game when it comes out March 15, 2019.

The next game has a scene change? The screen flies up and a band setup is rolled out… to celebrate the upcoming release of a new Donkey Kong adventure? Releasing June 26th, it looks neat but not really my type of game.

There have been several audio problems in the broadcast (possibly in the venue as well) where the presenters miss haven’t been muted properly when going off stage and conversations were heard for several seconds (one such started with: “I’m sorry they changed your entrance…”). Someone is going to hear about that…

Next up “Skull & Bones”, the opening caption of “Piracy is Dead, Long Live Piracy”. The cinematic is very well done - details are crystal clear and the action is engaging. This seems to be another shared world game which could lead to some interesting PVP, I’ll be interested to hear more about this game as it becomes available.

Another trailer starts… for Elijah Wood’s entrance? The game is called “Transference”. A first person exploration game in VR and traditional platforms, it’s billed as a psychological thriller. Complete puzzles solved through multiple characters… the premise seems interesting. I’m not usually a fan of scary-ish games like this but I’m interested in the story, or at least what I’ve seen in the trailer. We’ll see in the fall what it turns out to be.

The next trailer is for “Starlink” - a sci-fi game with a real world miniature component? I’m not sure I’m a fan of that idea. It looks like you attach real pieces to a model to upgrade your in-game ship; I hope that’s not a monetization scheme. A blast from my childhood though, this game is incorporating StarFox into the game… I guess this means it’ll be available on Nintendo Switch. And there it is, they even have Mr. Miyamoto (renowned game designer for Nintendo) in the audience. The game will be available on October 16th but the StarFox portion will only be on Nintendo Switch… oh well.

For Honor” is a game that I never played but here is the Creative Director for “For Honor” on stage announcing a weeklong giveaway of “For Honor” on the UPlay Store for PC and thanking the players for their passion. The real meat of this portion of the presentation is an expansion to the “For Honor” world - moving into the orient with “For Honor: Marching Fire”. A new faction and four new fighters is an update come along with a new mode called Breach which is a castle siege 4v4 mode.

The Brand Director for “The Crew 2” takes the stage will be available on June 29th. The cinematic looks stunning and fast paced - maybe a mix of Forza and Steep. There’s not been much emphasis on story but that can be seen in the open beta starting June 21st I suppose.

Here’s the other announcement I’ve been waiting for, “Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey”. Set in Greece it looks like you play a Spartan! The trailer doesn’t seem to mention anything about the Assassins or the Templar, could this be a deviation from the previous games? Described by its Creative Director as a role playing fantasy, the Peloponnesian war is the setting for this game that’s been under development over the last 3 years. References are made to choices… you get to choose your character that you play for the entire game. You are part of the bloodline of Leonidas and you have his weapon, a spear, which is a key part of the combat for the game. The clip they show to feature the combat starts with a nice easter egg to the famous “This. Is. Sparta.” kick… very nice. Interactions with famous historic people such as Socrates seem pretty interesting though. This section ends with (rendered) game play footage and it looks pretty amazing taking place on the island of Mykonos. Combat seems similar to previous games in the series which is nice as it’ll be familiar. I’ll definitely be playing this when it arrives in the fall.

E3: Bethesda

Jonathan Tom

I’m going to let wikipedia do the talking to explain what E3 is: “The Electronic Entertainment Expo, commonly referred to as E3, is a premier trade event for the video game industry. Presented by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), it is used by many developers, publishers, and hardware and accessory manufacturers to introduce and advertise upcoming games and game-related merchandise to retailers and members of the press.” This evening’s conference was from Bethesda and I happen to be sitting on my couch watching it so I decided to jot down my thoughts here… feel free to read or pass over this post. If you do read on please be aware that this is pretty unedited stream of consciousness style writing; you’ve been warned.

Bethesda

I really like the introduction video that they played showcasing a lot of the behind the scenes people - I think there should be more of that. Not only does it show the people involved but it’s interesting.

Rage 2: the intro with @AndrewWK and Band seemed to be not quite what the audience wanted but that could have been the audience shots that the director decided to use. The game itself looks beautiful for another dystopian world game - it looks to be fast paced enough to be interesting, just not sure if it’s going to be worth whatever-AAA-titles-go-for-these-days interesting. It reminds me vaguely of Doom which I haven’t played in years. I’m interested in seeing what the storyline is for this game.

Elder Scrolls: Legends (Card Game): They announced upgrades to the game… Not really my type of game but the fact that it looks to be inter-platform will probably make it popular. It looks to be a Free-to-Play style game which could quickly (de)evolve into pay-to-win.

Elder Scrolls Online: Wolf Hunter DLC: Clearly a lot of people like this style of game - this particular one has 11 million players, was named MMO of the Year.

Doom Eternal: The intro trailer looked pretty cool and the music was a nice throwback to the previous Dooms (metal-ish). Twice as many demons is a lot of new demons… there were quite a few in the previous game.

Quake Champions: First released in 1996 (I remember this from High School) - community manager seems to be leading into esports. Calling Quake the original esport… is this leading to major competitions? I can’t say I was terribly impressed with the graphical quality of the trailer they showed. They are offering a free play trial this week with an offer to stay free continuing on after this week for those that get in early. Sort of tells me they’re struggling to get players…

Prey: New modes starting today Story, New Game Plus, Survival. Announcing a new DLC called Mooncrash. Prey fans are going to drop a lot of time into this DLC - it’s different every time it’s played. Personally, I like the music choice for the trailer score (Dead or Alive’s You Spin Me Right Round). Later this summer they are releasing another game type similar to hide and seek 1v5 style.

Wolfenstein: Coming to Nintendo Switch?! Whoa… Next project: Wolfenstein: Young Blood is set in the 1980s in Paris and features the main characters twin daughters. It’ll be a coop experience (crowd seemed really happy about that). Trailer looked alright, VO was engaging but there wasn’t much since it’s not slated for release until 2019.

VR

Prey Typhin (sic) Hunter will be in VR and Wolfenstein: Cyber Pilot which will be a separate title where you’ll be a hacker who takes over Nazi bots and turns them on their masters.

Fallout 76

Todd Howard, Game Director for Bethesda Studios - somewhat of a rock start in the developer community from what I’m told. In 25 years at Bethesda Todd’s been around a while - having been to the very first E3 in LA. And the crowd gets meme’d hard announcing Skyrim on the Amazon Alexa. Very well done! Very. Well. Done.

Prequel to all other Fallouts (4x the size of Fallout 4). Set in West Virginia, player is the first to emerge into an untamed wasteland. Using Country Roads was a nice touch on the trailer given that the song specifically talks about West Virginia. The graphics in the trailer (yes, I know it’s not gameplay) is stunning - Todd is touting 16x the detail of previous versions. Apparently there are going to be some pretty cool new creatures - this looks kind of neat. One big difference with this game: “each of the characters is a real person” so this is entirely online which means you’ll be able to interact with actual players. Emphasis on the fact that you can play solo… that’s good. It’s not “Hardcore Survival” - death doesn’t mean loss of experience or anything.

More videos “Training Videos from Vaultec”. These videos are showing off more of the game play and it looks pretty great - visually stunning. Open world building with the option to move your buildings - this is pretty cool. I like the building aspect of the game. I wonder how that building will all work with the multi-player action. They’re adding in nuclear weapons sites - players will need to collect launch keys and, once they have one, they can launch nuke at anywhere on the map. WHAT?!

Announcing a b.e.t.a. (break-it early test application… haha very funny).

Special collector’s edition includes a map of the world that glows in the dark, figures you can put on the map, and a replica of the power armour helmet. Not something I’m going to be buying but some people certainly will.

Releasing: Nov 14, 2018 - this year and in time for Christmas. I may not be buying the collector’s edition but I might spring for the regular one.

Elder Scrolls: Blades - something else?! A first person RPG on mobile devices… again, not for me (I’m not a big mobile gamer) but I know there will be people waiting to play it in droves.

A new single player game… all new franchise… their first original franchise in 25 years. Starfield is the name, it seems sci-fi. And beyond THAT… Elder Scrolls VI. The teaser was literally just a quick shot and the title but, as Todd said, this is WAY in the future.

how far is too far

Jonathan Tom

Yesterday during the Google I/O keynote their CEO, Sundar Pichai, made several announcements but the one I would like to talk about is Google Duplex - an evolution (?) of Google Assistant whereby it can, or will be able to, make phone calls for you to make restaurant reservations, hair appointments, and finding out holiday hours of operation. It was announced with a recording which Pichai said was a recording of an interaction between Google’s AI and a hair salon. I have to concede that the voice sounded very natural and I’m not sure, if I had been in the receiving side of that call, if I would have been able to tell the difference between it and a real person; the person in the example clearly did not.

While I’m clearly in entrenched in the technology camp; the question has been asked often and more-so now after Google Duplex’s announcement, “how far is too far?”. I think there are valid arguments on both sides of the proverbial fence but for me, I think we’re still quite a ways away from some sort of skynet). Notably, about a month ago, Elon Musk posted a “warning” against AI, saying that AI needn’t necessarily be malicious but that it could still pose a significant threat to humanity.

”If AI has a goal and humanity just happens to be in the way, it will destroy humanity as a matter of course without even thinking about it. No hard feelings”. Elon Musk

What do you think about the advancement in technology? Is there a point at which humanity goes too far? If so, how far away is that day?