PIXEL BURN – Pillars of Controversy, OnLive goes OffDead, Bloodborne for Charity

In which Matt betrays his deeply-rooted prejudice towards Elves.
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Hello my name’s Matt and this is Pixel Burn, where I take a sarcastic look at the week’s gaming news. This usually isn’t too much of a problem, but it was International Liar’s Day this week so I had to waste precious time sifting all the genuine news from a mountain lies and deceit.

I could start this week’s video with a cursory look at the best of this year’s crop of April Fools jokes. Like this one from the developers of War For the Overworld for War For the Overworld Australian Edition. Can you guess what the main joke was? Can you, huh? Can you? I’ll give you one guess.

That’s right! Everything was upside down! Oh ho ho ho ho! Can somebody fetch me some duct tape? My sides have split. Actually for such an old and obvious joke they did a pretty decent job of it, mostly because of how much swearing is in it. And they also slipped in a prison joke as well, which I always find amusing, so you get two Australia jokes for the price of one!

And that’s all the time I’m prepared to waste on covering jokes. It’s not like they’ve ever been news or anything, right?

Well, except when they offend someone that is. As was the case with Pillars of Eternity from RPG maestros Obsidian, comprised of some of the brilliant creative minds behind Fallout New Vegas, Icewind Dale, Knights of the Old Republic 2 and, of course, Planescape Motherfucking Torment! Among others.

Originally called Project Eternity, Pillars of Eternity was intended to be a spiritual successor to classic Infinity-engine CRPGs like Baldur’s Gate and, of course, Planescape Motherfucking Torment. Obsidian launched a Kickstarter campaign for it on September 14th 2012 with a target of $1.1 million dollars, which it smashed in just over 24 hours because Planescape Torment motherfuckers! The Kickstarter eventually made just shy of $4 million dollars, breaking the record set by Double Fine’s own Doublefine Adventure Kickstarter.

One of the drawbacks of Kickstarter of course is you need to entice people to back your project with rewards, and the campaign for Pillars of Eternity was no exception. There was a veritable trove of virtual and tangible rewards offered to backers like cloth maps, collector’s boxed versions of the game, free copies of Wasteland 2, in-game items and even an in-game memorial stone with a message of the backer’s choosing.

This virtual gravestone reward unfortunately wound up biting Obsidian in the arse this week, because one of the drawbacks of giving your game’s backers some creative input is that you’re giving other people creative input. And because we currently live in a Golden Age of Outrage, one person’s joke inevitably winds up being another person’s war crime.

This particular memorial stone, submitted by a Kickstarter backer, kicked-off some unfortunate drama this week. It was a crude limerick about a swaggering jack-of-all-cocks who gets drunk one night and sleeps with someone he believes at the time to be a woman, only to discover upon waking up the next morning that they are actually a man. Rather than just rolling with it, accepting his sexuality might not be as rigid as he had previously thought, our distraught fictional lothario instead flings himself off a cliff.

My keen senses immediately spotted what was wrong with this and frankly, I am disgusted. Tell me Obsidian, did you not think to check any of these submissions before putting them in the game?

What the hell is this “Ligthbringer” shit, Obsidian? LIGTHBRINGER?! How can you possibly think this standard of proofreading is acceptable here in 2015, when everybody has access to dictionaries and spell-checkers? This isn’t Vietnam, Obsidian! This is grammar: there are rules!

And as a self-identified Syntax Authoritarian I am so fucking triggered right now!

Alright, alright, that’s not really what caused all the drama. What actually happened is someone saw this joke in-game and then contacted Obsidian via twitter to tell them the joke was transphobic, specifically “Transmisogynistic.” A term coined by activist Julia Serano, in he r 2007 book “Whipping Girl,” to describe the specific discrimination faced by transgender women. What could’ve been a private matter between Obsidian, the complainant and the Kickstarter backer who wrote the offending limerick however, quickly blew up into a twitter drama shitstorm, as such things inevitably do in these joyless times of ours.

Now I personally was not driven to screaming bloodthirsty outrage by this joke. It was crass, sure, but there was no specific malicious intent behind it. But then of course I’m going to see it differently because I am bound by the perspective of a biological male heterosexual. Albeit one that’s slightly gay for Oberyn Martell from Game of Thrones.

But people took offence nonetheless. Even though the only person dying in this story is the foolish insecure protagonist, whereas such incidents in the real world sadly tend towards the opposite. It’s worth noting however that the man our limerick’s protagonist slept with could’ve simply been a sexually uninhibited but otherwise bog-standard bloke, and that Firedorn was literally blind drunk. In which case the problem is entirely Firedorn’s, or at least would be if A) he wasn’t dead and B) he wasn’t an entirely fictional character.

But perhaps the man Firedorn the Ligthbringer slept with was a male elf, which are part of the setting. The pointy-eared tree-huggers all look the bloody same after all, whatever their gender. Maybe the man Firedorn slept with was a kinky wizard using an illusion spell? Or maybe they were a shapeshifting dragon, in which case Firedorn has more than just gender issues to deal with. Or perhaps it was any other scenario fitting with Pillars of Eternity’s magical fantasy setting, where this entirely fictional exchange took place.

Let’s assume for the time being however, in good faith, that the joke did cause genuine upset to transgender people. So how did Obsidian react? About as well as anybody could under such circumstances.

As I said in a previous video about a change made to a joke in The Stanley Parable, if an artist is happy to change their work to make it more inclusive, in a way that doesn’t compromise their artistic integrity, then that’s fine. It’s not censorship if the artist does so willingly, without undue coercion, and if it doesn’t have a knock-on effect on the rest of the piece. In this case however it wasn’t Obsidian’s joke to change, it was the Kickstarter backer’s. So Obsidian was immediately and publicly caught between placating an angry, idealistic online mob or chucking one of their Kickstarter backers under a bus.

Fortunately the Kickstarter backer in question, the elusive Firedorn the LIGTHbringer himself, was as sick of the tumultuous internet drama-storm as most sane people. So when Obsidian asked him if he could change it he did so gladly, although not without one final parting shot at precisely the kind of patronising people who get terminally offended on behalf of others. Which should’ve been the end of it. But this is the internet of course, where drama perpetuates eternally, so people are still moaning about this even now.

Personally I feel the whole thing could’ve been handled better if done discretely via email. I’m sure an arrangement could’ve been made behind the scenes that would’ve worked out to the satisfaction of all three parties involved: namely Obsidian, the complainant, and the Kickstarter backer respectively. But no, because we live in a joyless generation of outrage and hashtag activism, everything has to be played-out as a tedious public pantomime for the self-righteous indignation of various lynch mobs, whose members have fuck all better to do with their sad little lives.

Thus we’re left with one group of people condemning Obsidian for caving in to the “Social Justice Warriors”, a term that makes me roll my eyes like fucking snooker balls every time I read it, and another snapping at Obsidian like yappy dogs, for daring to allow their Kickstarter backer a final parting shot at the pointlessness of all this tedious fucking drama, upon which they base their entire self worth .

I was in two minds about whether or not to cover this topic, but I felt it was important given the amount of misinformation flying around.

Which means to some people I’m going to seem like I support censorship, and to others I’m going to seem like some anti-transgender hatemonger, neither of which could be further from the truth. But hey, when has the truth ever mattered on the internet? So with that done, let’s move on to some nice, safe boring news instead, shall we?

Like the announcement that after a mere six years, game streaming service OnLive is turning out the lights and shutting its doors. And by game streaming I mean it it streamed games to your home for you to play, and wasn’t something you used to stream yourself playing games for an audience like Twitch. For those of you who didn’t know, OnLive touted itself as a sort of gaming Netflix only instead of streaming movies you streamed games to either a special OnLive set-top box, PC, tablet or other compatible device.

Which was a great idea. In theory. The actual execution however was another matter entirely, because streaming games is whole different…erm, game, from streaming a movie.

For example the most interaction you’ll ever have with Netflix is when it occasionally forces you to get up from your comfy chair, bed or beanbag to click the continue button. Disturbing the cat lying on your lap, inconveniencing your significant other and generally being a pain in the arse. All just to let Netflix know that you haven’t died while binging on Battlestar Galactica.

Streaming games-on-demand is a two way street of course, what with games being an interactive medium and all that. Graphics, sound etc get piped into your home and data about what buttons your pressing gets piped out again. Which brings us to the main problem that affected OnLive, and still affects other Game on Demand services like Playstation Now and Nvidia Shield. Namely that the entire experience is wholly at the mercy of your internet connection.

When your internet plays up while you’re watching a streaming movie, the worst that might happen is your movie starts buffering more, or you get a slight downgrade in audiovisual fidelity. It’s annoying, but it’s nothing you can’t tolerate. With games however the slightest patch of lag or drop in your connection could, however brief, disrupt the whole experience.

For games like Puzzle Quest, one of the titles available on the OnLive service, this wasn’t too big of a deal. But if you were playing something like Darksiders, where reaction times are crucial, the slightest bit of lag could spoil your enjoyment faster than having Nigel Farage magically teleported into your living room.

In short, OnLive was a classic case of an idea slightly too far ahead of the curve. And while OnLive wasn’t the first service to try this – that honour goes to either StreamMyGame or InstantAction – it certainly got the ball rolling. And internet infrastructure has improved enough since OnLive’s launch in 2010 to make games-on-demand more feasible. Just look at the Nvidia Shield or Sony’s own Playstation Now. In fact speaking of Sony, guess who’s gone and bought up all of OnLive’s technology patents?

None of which is the most interesting part of all this however, at least not for me. No, what I find particularly interesting is the repurcussions of OnLive’s Service Shutdown FAQ, which tells subscribers exactly what they’re going to be left with when OnLive becomes OffDead.

According to this page, which really puts the “Fuck You” into FAQ, many OnLive subscribers are left with little more than a useless set-top box and OnLive controller. Meanwhile Mac owners who used the services to buy and play PC-only Steam games get to keep what they bought, but without the hardware to run them or the technical knowhow to get a Windows emulator working, they’re boned as well. All customer’s personal data such as profiles, achievements, and save games will also be wiped off the face of the internet when the service finally shuts down on April the 30th.

Which is, ultimately, a grim reminder that few of us really own many of the games we buy anymore, here in this glorious digital future of ours.

In OnLive’s case nobody ever owned the games they played anyway: it was a rental service after all. But consider how many games you buy digitally, or subscribe to on a service like Playstation Now. If you’re a PC gamer, take a look at all those games in your Steam or Origin library. Then think about how many suit-wearing corporate sharks in the gaming industry would just love you to move entirely to a subscription-based service, where all your games can be taken away at the press of a button.

Depressing isn’t it?

In other news, Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First sin was released this week to an almost Marmite-esque mix of praise and condemnation from hardcore Dark Souls fans. Praise for things like the new item and monster placement that makes the game even harder, and condemnation for the fact that FROM software and Namco Bandai are charging money for what is essentially glorified patch. One that does little more than move existing monster and item placement around, spruce up the graphics a bit and let you summon more players into your game.

On Xbox 360 and PS3 this is essentially a Game of the Year edition. You won’t get the increased multiplayer count, new enemy placement or upgraded graphics, but if you missed Dark Souls 2 the first time round and wanted to try it then this version is the most complete one you can get. This is also a decent deal for Xbox One and PS4 owners, particularly if you didn’t play vanilla Dark Souls 2 on the previous generation. You’ll get the graphical boost, more multiplayer and all the DLC in, again, a complete game package. And if you’re one of the many PS4 owners who’ve never played a Souls game, but are enjoying Bloodborne and want more of the same, Scholar of the First Sin is perfect for you.

For people like me however who bought, played and enjoyed the original, and especially if you also bought all the DLC for it, being asked to pay AGAIN for more of the same with some tiny changes is just a teensy weensy bit galling. All you get for your $30 dollar investment, or $20 if you also own all the DLC, is some graphical bells and whistles that still don’t match up to those shown in the early trailers, as well as different enemy and item placement and continued access to multiplayer.

Now I don’t have it as bad as some Dark Souls 2 fans since I never got round to buying the DLC, and in fact I get the better deal. For the same price as the vanilla version’s DLC season pass I can get all that extra content as standard, as well as the new monster and item placements, access to new multiplayer and pretty much everything else, in Scholar of the First Sin. So why am I so hesitant to buy it?

Well, the fact that I have to pay anything at all for one. Which I’m sure some snarky games journalist out there would love to use as proof of “PC Gamer entitlement” or some other self-righteous horseshit, to fulfill their weekly word quota. “Oh look at this PC gamer complaining about having to pay money! How very dare he! How gauche! I bet he demands a PC version of Bloodborne too.”

That would be nice, but I neither demand nor expect a PC version of Bloodborne. What I do expect is not having to pay twenty fucking quid for a glorified patch that doesn’t even add any new areas or assets to the game. And if that makes me entitled then by all means call me Entitled Mc-fucking-Greedypants. I’d rather be called that than a fucking sucker.

Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin could very well be the definitive version of Dark Souls 2. I don’t know. More hardcore Dark Souls fans than I are better qualified to answer that. Perhaps the From Software B-team, as Dark Souls 2’s developers are perhaps somewhat unfairly referred to as, learned many lessons making the game’s downloadable content and used that knowledge to improve the base game.

Or maybe things like chucking random dragons into early zones and making a unique enemy common as dirt has spoiled a lot of what I enjoyed about Dark Souls 2. I would love to see what it’s like for myself, and I still want to play the DLC, but I don’t want to support shitty industry practices with my hard-earned cash. I dunno. Maybe I’ll wait for it to go on a Steam sale, or just ignore it and look forward to future games like Witcher 3, Metal Gear Solid V and Batman: Arkham Knight instead. I could also wait for the unconfirmed but probably inevitable Dark Souls 3.

Or that PC version of Bloodborne I keep hearing wild, crazy rumours about.

Alternatively, and on a related note, I could experience Bloodborne vicariously through someone else on the internet. Specifically Dave Jewitt, aka IrregularDave on YouTube, who has started a Bloodborne Let’s Play series with a charitable twist t o it. The basic idea being that for everytime Dave dies in-game he will donate a shiny pound coin, out of his own pocket, to Leukemia and Lymphoma research. And since Bloodborne is cut from the same sadistic cloth and Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls and Dark Souls 2, that’s going to be a fair amount of money. Dave himself says he’s expecting to die “at least a hundred times.”

Only a hundred at least, eh? Oooooh, well aren’t you Mr Confidence. I’m being cheeky of course. Dave has a goodly amount of Dark Souls experience under his Sunbro t-shirt so I’m sure he’ll fine. Keh heh heh heh!

Ahem anyway, Bloodborne is a pretty tough game, but Dave has more than some Dark Souls experience under his belt so that should hold him in good stead. So long as he remembers that he doesn’t have a bloody shield! Because I swear that’s why he keeps firing bullets off at random, like he’s trying to hold up a shield but keeps pressing L2 instead of L1.

It’s rare I actually get to be positive on this show, and snark is a tough habit to break, but I genuinely think charitable efforts like this are a fantastic testament to the gaming community’s ability to do great stuff for good causes. So best of luck to you Dave, and I look forward to watching you die.

That…sounded better in the script.

That’s all for this episode of Pixel Burn. If you liked it then please do let me know, and let your friends, family and the Dark Souls community know as well. At the very least I hope you found it tolerable. If you didn’t like it however, feel free to summon your army of twitter followers to leave a message in the comments below. 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.