PIXEL BURN – Fallout 4, XCOM 2, Dark Souls 3 and Steam Refunds

In which Matt indulges his salty nautical desires.
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[TRANSCRIPT]

Hello my name’s Matt and this is Pixel Burn, where I take a sarcastic look at some of the more important, interesting or irritating things that happened in the week’s gaming news.

The biggest news this week of course being how the gaming world came together, in an atomic explosion of glee, for Bethesda’s 100% official, completely-legitimate announcement that Fallout 4 exists. Built-up to with this countdown on the official Bethesda website, ticking down the seconds until its exclusive reveal to the world at 3PM UK time.

Yet even though the countdown was also on a site called Fallout4.com, registered to Bethesda owners Zenimax, some people still had doubts that this was truly leading up to an announcement of a fourth Fallout game. And I can’t blame them really. Fallout fans have grown accustomed to disappointment year after year after year, and some were dreading a worst-case scenario with this announcement: like remastered versions of Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas for example, or some sort of Fallout iOS game.

Fortunately somebody at Bethesda jumped the gun just a little bit by bringing the official Fallout 4 site online before the countdown was finished. While this did reassure nervous fans it also ruined the entire surprise somewhat.

But I digress. Eventually 3PM came along and with it the trailer everybody had been waiting for. Which most people ended up watching on YouTube, since the official Fallout 4 website appeared to have collapsed under the rain of millions of F5 keys being hammered at once. If hype could be distilled into a source of energy, the Fallout 4 trailer reveal gave us enough to conquer the universe ten times over. People were legitimately excited, so much so you could’ve been in a concrete-lined bunker 10 miles under the ground and still heard their collective squeals of delight.

Needless to say the trailer did it’s job of building hype.

So now I come in to do MY job of pouring cold piss all over it.

The Fallout 4 trailer was…alright I guess? Maybe The Wicher 3 has spoiled me somewhat, like an Emperor’s favourite courtesan, but this trailer neither set my world on fire nor started a flame in my heart. It starts of well enough with a callback to the classic zoom-out-to-a-devastated-building-with-an-Inkspots-song-playing-in-the-background from Fallout 1, then mixes things up with some brief flashes to a more colourful time before the bombs fell.

Then this dog appeared, which had everyone gushing like it was some miraculous thing never before seen in a Fallout game. “OH MY GOD A DOG! THERE’S GOING TO BE A DOG COMPANION IN FALLOUT 4!”

Even though there were dog companions in Fallout 1, Fallout 2, Fallout 3 and Fallout New Vegas. There was even a playable one in Fallout Tactics!

People also lost their shit over this Brotherhood of Steel Power Armour like it was literally so far beyond their imaginations the very sight of it melted their brains, and not something that’s only been a hallmark of the bloody series since Fallout 1. Christ, what other tiny insignificant things will people latch on to as an excuse to hype-out?

“HE’S GOT A GUN! FALLOUT 4 WILL LITERALLY LET US SHOOT GUNS, LIKE ALL THE OTHER FALLOUT GAMES DIDN’T!”

“PRAISE JESUS! THE PROTAGONIST HAS FIRM, TONED BUTTOCKS! ARSES CONFIRMED FOR FALLOUT 4!”

“OH MY SPUNKING GOD! FALLOUT 4 EMITS SOUNDS THAT GO INTO MY EARS AND MY BRAIN CONVERTS INTO WORDS AND SENTENCES! GAME OF THE YEAAAAAAAAAAAAAR!”

Actually one legitimate reaction by fans was to how the protagonist appears to have a voice this time, rather than being a silent psychic mutant who telepathically shoots their words straight into NPCs brains.

It’s only one line sure, and to a dog at that, but it adds a smidgen of legitimacy to this Kotaku article from 2013, about Bethesda putting out a casting call for voice actors that also included player character dialogue.

Other things about the trailer that left me thoroughly underwhelmed included the “triumphant” epic music score, which drowned out half of Ron Pearlman’s glorious gravelly voice and felt uncomfortably out of place in a Fallout trailer. Then there were the same stiff, canned character animations we moan about in other games yet fans conveniently ignore in Bethesda ones. Speaking of other Bethesda games, Fallout 4 also seems to be using the exact same Creation engine as Skyrim albeit with better lighting. Still all credit to Bethesda for actually using in-engine footage for this trailer, rather than some pre-rendered “cinematic” nonsense.

Don’t be too disheartened though. I was equally unthrilled by Skyrim at first but still enjoyed that in the end, so I might be more excited for Fallout 4 after Bethesda show some gameplay footage at E3.

At the moment however I’m just…not as stoked to the gills with enthusiasm as everybody else seems to be.

Sorry if that’s some sort of war crime now.

I was personally far more excited this week by the announcement for XCOM 2, Firaxis’ sequel to 2012’s XCOM: Enemy Unknown and its expansion Enemy Within. Whereas the sequel to the original XCOM/UFO took the series underwater in Terror from the Deep however, this one is more terror from the streets. It’s now twenty years after a successful alien conquest of Earth and XCOM have become a ragtag insurgency group, fighting back against Earth’s filthy bug-eyed occupiers.

Hang on, I beat the aliens in the first game!

My neon-haired psychic wonder took control of the alien temple ship, flew it out of the atmosphere before it could become a black hole and saved the entire planet from destruction.

Godspeed Colonel Yoon.

Ah but XCOM 2 is doing the old “alternate timeline” trick that so regularly pops up in sci-fi, changing the setting to one where the aliens completely steamrolled the Earth from day 1 and forced its unconditional surrender. Or as most XCOM fans know it, “playing on Impossible Ironman difficulty.”

As well as a new setting Firaxis promise XCOM 2 will now have procedural map generation, similar to that of the classic XCOM games. So instead of playing on the same 80 or so maps until you know them like the back of your hand, missions will be much more varied this time round. You’ll still see some of the same buildings and open areas popping up but they’ll be in different configurations that force you to adapt your tactics. There will also be different types of wilderness maps such as desert areas, snowy areas and jungle areas, instead of the same “generic forest” tileset from the first game. Which is great because it was always a bit weird dropping your squad off in somewhere like rural China, only to find yourself surrounded by Canadian redwoods.

Unfortunately for console fans of Enemy Unknown – a mere 114 thousand of you – XCOM 2 will be a PC exclusive with no gamepad support at launch. Which I think is a crying shame personally. The console versions of Enemy Unknown were critically praised and I know at least one person who preferred using a 360 controller over keyboard and mouse. Firaxis are however hinting at controller support coming to the game sometime after its release, and that could in theory mean an eventual console port isn’t entirely ruled out either.

In the meantime PC owners can look forward to XCOM 2: Alternate Timeline Boogaloo, when it’s released on Steam this November.

Continuing the theme of sequels, rumours abounded this week that a third game in FROM Software’s Dark Souls series is waiting in the wings for an unveiling at this year’s E3. Rumours that culminated in some details about the game making their internet debut on YouTube gaming news channel The Know.

Oh, it’s you guys again. How much did you say Microsoft were buying Silent Hills for?

[“BILLIONS!”]

Ah, that never stops being hilarious. So what did your other uncle at FROM Software tell you this week? Dark Souls 3 is an iOS exclusive? Hideo Kojima’s directing it? Hell, go hog wild. It’s not like you have any tangible evidence of-

[“DARK SOULS 3 SCREENSHOTS ACCOMPANIED BY STIRRING MUSIC”]

Oh my fucking Sun!

Alright, I’m willing to give the guys at The Know the benefit of the doubt this time. This isn’t the first case of dark, grubby-looking screenshots preceding the announcement of a new FROM Software souls-like game.

The exact same thing happened with Project Beast shortly before that was unveiled as Bloodborne at E3 2014. So while there’s the possibility these screenshots were made up by a very talented fan with WAAAAAY too much time on their hands, taken with the other rumours we can probably call this one a reasonably safe bet.

I particularly like this screenshot, in which it looks like the Sun is melting.

While there are some obvious comparisons to Bloodborne that can be made, this still looks very much a Dark Souls game. Your character’s wearing heavy armour, there’s the interface from Dark Souls 1 and the classic souls series bonfires are also on display. According to The Know’s somewhat-more-reliable-this-time source, Dark Souls 3 is being directed by Hidetaka Miyazaki himself and will be about as large as Dark Souls 1 was.

There will also be new gameplay mechanics like the so-called Sacrifice Ceremony, in which you drag bodies around and…well, sacrifice them. Supposedly this is now how you invade other players’ worlds to ruin their fun. You’ll also apparently be able to alter your own game world, likes World Tendency in Demons Souls, by changing the positions of bonfires and enemies. Bosses too will also change depending on what you do. A 2016 release on Xbox One and PS4 is said to be fixed with a PC version apparently “negotiable.”

To which I say “negotiable my arse!” Unless maybe us PC owners will get a Game of the Year edition with all the DLC, and where every character is voiced by Peter Serafinowicz.

We will of course learn more come E3, assuming this isn’t another fairytale.

And to cap off the week’s news, Steam this week finally instituted a basic consumer right in the form of an official refunds policy. From now on if you buy a game on Steam and then decide you don’t want it for whatever reason, you can get a refund. Simple!

There are conditions of course. You need to have played it for less than two hours and request your refund within 14 days of purchase, though Valve will still consider your request even if you fall outside this criteria.

Which sounds great, right? Well to most people it is. It’s only a basic customer right after all. But some people don’t think Valve’s new policy is all sunshine and roses.

Like Nathan Grayson of Kotaku, who in this article expresses concern that indies games like Proteus, Gone Home or Papo & Yo, as well as triple-A titles like Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes and Portal, can be finished in less than two hours. The argument being “what’s there to stop people buying the games, finishing them and then getting a refund?”

The same thing that stops them just pirating it in the first place. Nothing.

Nathan also quotes his friend and indie developer Nina Freeman, creator of Freshman Year and How Do You Do It, who says:

“What I find most insulting is just how little respect Steam seems to have for smaller games….They basically just keep doing things that say they don’t care about small games succeeding on their platform, which is bad because they’re one of the biggest and most important platforms for releasing games.”

You know what else is one of the biggest and most important platforms for releasing games? The Apple App Store. Which also has a refund policy.

Meanwhile over at Rock Paper Shotgun, John Walker’s chief concern is how the system might be exploited by people to get free games AND Steam trading cards. Since most games drop cards within the first two hours, John argues, there’s nothing to stop people abusing the system to get trading cards that they can then sell. Meaning the developer gets nothing while the abuser gets to make a miniscule profit.

Again, a point worthy of consideration, But developers aren’t forced to make Steam trading cards and they don’t get any cut of the revenue from them. The trading card system is entirely Valve’s thing so if anyone is being swindled here, it’s them.

As for the piracy angle, sure. You could buy a game, download it and copy it to somewhere else on your hard drive, then request a refund and wait seven days to get your money back. In the time it takes to do that though you could’ve downloaded and played several games from a random torrent site, without having spent a single penny. In his closing paragraph John Walker asks: “Might this feel a more legitimate method of getting a free game than turning to the naughty world of torrents?”

No, because it’s still stealing!

And the majority of videogame pirates couldn’t give two yo-ho-ho’s about legitimacy anyway. They want free stuff as conveniently as possible, and I fail to see how abusing Steam’s refund policy is in anyway less of a hassle than a trip to the Pirate Bay. Origin and GOG.com’s refund policies are more open to abuse than Steam’s new system, and they still make a profit. As do the developers who put their games on those services.

Basically only the world’s most inefficient video game pirate would consider this a viable alternative to clicking on a magnet link.

[INTRODUCING CAP’N SCREED, THE WORLD’S MOST INEFFICIENT VIDEOGAME PIRATE!]

Ahoy brethren of the coast! I be Cap’n Screed, and today I be sharin’ with ye me ultimate plan fer filling yer holds with prime internet booty! So grab yerself some rum and pull up a chair, cos I’m only sober enough to tell ye this once.

Any greenhorn can navigate the Strait of Torrents to the Pirate Bay and pick up a vidyagame completely fer free. Along with other fine booty like films, books and high definition movie clips of saucy wenches doin’ filthy things with sea cucumbers.

But that be too easy fer Cap’n Screed! No! Cap’n Screed has his one good eye on richer plunder than that, thanks to that scurvy landlubber Governer Valve.

First all ye has to do is sail to the safe harbour of Port Steam and buy one of them there games they have there. Any game will do but fer best results, get the ones that also give ye them shiny tradin’ cards.

Now I know what ye be thinkin’ ye sea dogs. “Paying for stuff? What kind of pirate pays for stuff he be wantin’ to steal?” Well ye’ve got to spend some booty to make bigger booty of course!

Once ye’ve got your meek little game tied up in yer hold, ye then play it fer a wee while until it coughs up some tradin’ cards. Ye then make a copy of the game to yer…hard drive, then ye sell them tradin’ cards for a possible 25 English pennies per card! Or yer regional equivalent.

Ye then march right back up to the Port Steam harbourmaster and say “Yarrr! I’ve spent less than two hours playin’ this game that I purchased fewer than two weeks ago! I be wantin’ me money back!”

And they’ll be givin’ it right back to ye. Within seven days.

If the game ye made a copy of has that there DRM stuck to it, like the barnacles on yer hull ye use to keelhaul a bilge rat, then ye can sail back to the Pirate Bay and pick up one of them cracked executable files to scrape it off with. But where be the fun in that boys and girls? Better to sail to the uncharted Reef of Warez instead, then poke around at random until ye find what ye need. Sure ye might wreck yer ship, or pick up one of them diseases that makes yer knob fall off, but that’s all part of the adventure!

And YARRR, ye’ve got yerself a free game and some shiny doubloons to show fer yer troubles. Then ye do it all over again!

Until Governer Valve finds out and bans yer Steam account, but apart from that it’s a perfect plan!

[CAP’N SCREED DEPARTS! YARRRR!]

So yeah, articles like the two I’ve mentioned are really just anti-consumer bibble dressed-up in scraps of an absolute worst case scenario. Do I expect teething problems with Steam’s new refund policy? Of course! It’s Valve. They’re the undisputed Kings of taking a good idea on paper and cocking-it up royally. A refund policy isn’t some gimmicky frippery like user reviews or trading cards however. It’s a basic consumer right, and one that Steam has taken far too long to implement.

And if anything a firm refund policy will make people MORE likely to buy games they otherwise wouldn’t consider, as it removes the element of risk. Yes someone might buy your game, not like it and return it for a refund, but someone else is now more likely to take a risk on trying your game. And they might like it, a lot! At least enough to be glad they supported the developer who made it.

In short, I think Valve’s new refund policy is long overdue and a good thing for customers and developers alike. At least, the developers who DON’T see their audience as lobotomized coin shitters .

In the meantime, whether you’re a Steam customer, a developer or…a frog alien from venus let me know what you think about Steam’s new policy in the comments below.

That’s all for this episode of Pixel Burn. If you liked it then please let me know by clicking the button down below, and let your friends, family and Vault-Tec know as well. At the very least I hope you found it tolerable. Until next week, as always, you can go now.

 

 

Matt

About Matt

Matt is the irresponsible degenerate behind bitscreed.com and the sarcastic writer, editor, director, presenter and tea boy of Pixel Burn.