Counter Attack is a weekly feature on Quad Nine in which John Cal McCormick casts a bemused eye over the gaming news and the niggling issues plaguing the industry. This week he’s dealing with the latest delay for Mighty No. 9, and the proliferation of broken games making it to market in recent years.
Ever since I was a child I’ve had a tendency to eat my food in a very specific order. You give me a full Christmas dinner and I’ll eat the thing in exactly the same way every time. I’ve got to get the sprouts out of the way first. Even when my mum mixes bacon in with them they’ve still got a pungent flavor that seems like something that should be leaving your body rather than going into it. Next we move on to the other vegetables, maybe with the occasional fork full of mashed potato. The carrots, the peas, the green beans, the broccoli. All gone.
Now you’re left with the big dogs. You’ve got your roast parsnips, your roast potatoes, the remainder of your mash, a couple of Yorkshire puddings, some pigs in blankets, the turkey and stuffing, and if you’re lucky, a slab of ham too. At this point it seems prudent to see off the puddings and the roasted vegetables, leaving yourself with the holy trinity of meat, stuffing and mashed potato. That’s all you need. It’s everything any growing boy needs. Doing all the vegetables in at the beginning is just the admin. That’s the warm up round. It’s all good from here on out, baby.
See, my mantra was always to get the lesser stuff out of the way first so that I could have a big finish. Ease it in and build up to the sensational climax, if you will. But around the dinner table last month, my dad raised a valid point. “Why do you eat all the things you don’t like first? You should do it the other way around,” he said. “What if you die before you get to your ham?” While I’ve never considered shuffling off this mortal coil to be proper table conversation, the man raised an interesting point. What if I did die before I got to my ham? What if the last thing I ate on this Earth was a brussell sprout; the iron-y, farty taste lingering on my tongue as I convulsed on the floor? I mean, not everyone can go out in a blaze of glory, heroically saving a dozen orphans from a burning building. But I’d at least like to go out with a god damned parsnip in my mouth.
Anyway, I digress. The chances of dying during Christmas dinner are thankfully low. Choking is an obvious hazard. As is my mum drunkenly skewering me with a carving knife. Being savaged by the dog for teasing him with a Christmas cracker is actually pretty likely. But I’ve never gone into a Christmas dinner considering whether or not I’ll still be alive to tell the story as I’m swallowing my last mouthful. That’s why I’m fine with risking it all by leaving my ham till last. All good things come to those who wait, as the saying goes. I’m okay waiting. I’m a patient man. If the end result is glorious, then I can take all the time in the world.
Dinner isn’t a concern. I do wonder if I’ll live long enough to see cancer cured. Will I ever see peace in the Middle East? Will there ever be an end to those arse-achingly boring Transformers movies? And now, I’m wondering, will I live long enough to play Mighty No. 9 on my PS4? Or even whether the PS4 will still be a thing by the time the game comes out. Will we have Star Trek style holodecks that far into the future? Even if I do live long enough to play it, I’m not sure the retirement home my kids will dump me in once I’ve started “having accidents” will allow gaming consoles on site for fear of getting the residents excitable. You see, Mighty No. 9 is a game that just refuses to come out. Just when you think everything is okay they pull the rug out from under you. This week, to the surprise of literally nobody who knows anything about video games, the news hit that Mighty No. 9 has been delayed for the third time. This shit is getting ridiculous.
If you haven’t been following the story of Mighty No. 9 so far then allow me to spin you a yarn. Mighty No. 9 went up on Kickstarter in 2013 with the goal of securing a mere $900,000 to fund the game. The man behind all this? Keiji Inafune, the creative mastermind of the much loved Mega Man franchise. With Capcom doing precisely dick with Mega Man in recent years, Inafune went off on his own, started his own company called Comcept, and he wanted to make some video games. His most famous creations were unavailable to him since Capcom owns everything Mega Man related, and so he started working on a spiritual successor.
That successor is Mighty No. 9, a game that looks very similar to Mega Man aesthetically, but appears to be quite different mechanically. With a hardcore cult following voting with their wallets, Inafune’s new project was funded a mere two days later, and well surpassed the original Kickstarter goal. By the time the Kickstarter campaign wrapped up, Mighty No. 9 had racked up an impressive $4,000,000 from backers eager to get their hands on the next best thing to a new Mega Man game. The stretch goals allowed Comcept to move beyond developing the game solely for Windows, and to aim to release it on everything from iOS to Vita to Wii U.
Mighty No. 9 was due to release in April of 2015, but on the 28th of that month without any prior warning Comcept announced that they would be delaying the game until Septermber 2015. The reasoning behind the delay was to add some more polish to the game and add a couple of new languages. That’s fine. I’m not against a delay. Like I said, I’m fine waiting for things. I’d rather they delayed the game to get it right than release an unfinished or broken version of the title just to get it out the door on time. Better late than never, as they say. But in August 2015 Comcept announced that the game would have to be delayed again until the first quarter of 2016, citing bugs and issues with online portions of the game as the reason. And then on the 25th of January 2016, Inafune himself apologized profusely and announced that the game would be delayed once again, and once again because of issues with the online aspects of the game. Now that I can’t abide.
As a big fan of the old school Mega Man games I was very excited to see the announcement for Mighty No. 9. The tight gameplay. The steep learning curve. The open ended approach the player can take to defeating the bosses. Mega Man is something that we just don’t really get any more, and the opportunity for another game of that ilk by the very man responsible for the original series? That’s the sort of announcement that makes my underpants twitch. But while I was sat thinking all those months ago about how much I’d like to see a spiritual successor to Mega Man on my current-gen console, do you know what I wasn’t thinking? I wasn’t thinking, “Gee, I can’t wait for them to bring Mega Man up do date with some exciting new online modes! Give me leader boards so I can compare my score with my friends, Inafune!”
Let’s get one thing straight; Mega Man players I know couldn’t give a flying fruit about online modes in their Mega Man games. If we want to compare scores with our friends we’ll do it in the playground like we used to. Well, not the playground. A group of thirty-somethings hanging around the school grounds is likely to draw more than a disapproving eye in 2016. But you know, the water cooler or whatever. We don’t need everything to be connected, and liked, and commented upon by all and sundry. We don’t need everything we do to be a public display. Just give us a game with kick ass gameplay and we’ll give you our hard earned money. We’ll sit and play the game to death, and we’ll tell our friends, and they’ll do the same. And at no point will anybody throw their toys out of the cot and decree, “I shall be returning this game to Best Buy immediately! It doesn’t even have online!”
The whole thing screams of mismanagement. Comcept bit off more than they could chew by trying to release Mighty No. 9 for basically every console going, and the decision to include almost certainly superfluous online features has well and truly scuppered the game. It’s like if Telltale announced that they were going to have to delay The Walking Dead because they couldn’t get the “what other players did” bit at the end of the episodes to work. That’s a nice feature but it’s not the main crux of the game. A fun single player title shouldn’t be held back by unnecessary online features, but that is unfortunately the way the industry works these days.
In 2014, Ubisoft released Tetris Ultimate on PS4. The game was to be a new spin on a familiar game, but as it happened, the only thing that was new about it was that it contained crippling bugs that could render the game utterly unplayable. What was the problem? It was to do with the PS4 friends list. If you had 2,000 friends in your friends list then the game would stutter as the name Ubisoft popped up on screen, leaving the publisher’s logo hanging there ominously like the proverbial sword of Damocles. Not even being able to load the spiel at the beginning of game correctly was just an hors d’oeuvre though, as the real meat and potatoes of the almighty balls up that was Tetris Ultimate came when you tried to play the game and discovered that you couldn’t even drop the blocks where you wanted to because the controller input lag was so laugh-out-loud ridiculous. Honestly, in 2014, how do you fuck up Tetris?
Tetris is a game that I was playing on long car journeys in the ’80s on a handheld console with less computing power than my George Foreman grill, and the only trouble I had playing the game back then was when the sun shined on the screen in the wrong way and I had to tilt my Gameboy slightly. Here we are over twenty years later and thanks to an inane attempt to slip online features into a game that definitely doesn’t need them, the game ships with bugs that bring it to a screeching halt if the player happens to be really popular. Not every game needs to be online. Some games simply don’t need it. Tetris didn’t need it in the late ’80s and it doesn’t need it now.
Of course, that wasn’t the only game that Ubisoft released in 2014 that was a steaming pile of cow dung. Enter Assassin’s Creed Unity, a game that was so fundamentally broken on basically every conceivable level that it could function as a satirical artistic commentary on the state of the triple AAA gaming industry without changing a single thing. So comical was the level to which Unity was broken that for a lot of people pressing “Continue Game” on the main menu would cause the game to crash. Now, that’s irony. Still, they managed to get another game in the series out in time for the following Christmas so they’re okay.The atrocities continue.
Driveclub and Halo: The Master Chief Collection were two exclusives for PS4 and Xbox One respectively that were inundated with problems. Driveclub suffered an enormous delay to get the product ready for prime time and then when it shipped it was still an unmitigated shambles. Problems persisted while months fell off the calendar and the originally promised PS Plus version of the game looked less and less likely. Ultimately the game landed on PS Plus as advertised, but the damage to Evolution and Sony’s reputation was already done. On the Microsoft side, Master Chief Collection arrived as the much heralded debut of the franchise on Xbox One, but the game landed with all the grace of a diseased badger when the multiplayer portion of the game was dead on arrival. 343 managed to get Halo sorted out a lot more quickly than Evolution did with Driveclub, but since nobody gave a fig about Driveclub anyway it’s hard to say which one was the bigger cock up.
Today, it’s rare to see a game ship without a day one patch. The culture of just shipping broken games and sorting them out later (or just not bothering at all if you’re WB) is becoming more and more normal, and as long as we don’t complain about it, publishers will keep on doing it. We shouldn’t stand for this, and we shouldn’t allow it to become normal. At least in the case of Mighty No. 9, Comcept saw that the game was broken thanks to unnecessary online features and held it back from release, but that’s just one good decision in a festering cesspool of bad ones. Kickstarter backers might have been furious about the broken promises Inafune made, but at least he didn’t ship a broken game like so many other publishers would have.
The reliance on often unnecessary online features is a constant common denominator when looking at the games that are hitting the streets in an unplayable or buggy fashion. This shoe-horning of irrelevant connectivity options into games that often don’t need them is a trend that needs to die until developers can get it right without harming their overall product. But it’s not all online issues. Sometimes developers just don’t give a shit, as is the case with last year’s Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 5. Legend has it that the only reason that the game was released was because Activision needed to release a Tony Hawk game or they’d lose the license, so they coiled out a turd and left it on our doorsteps just to meet the deadline. The game that shipped was such a disaster that the patch to fix the thing was a bigger download size than the game itself, and it was welcomed with the kind of critical reception usually reserved for Adam Sandler movies and Nazi war criminals. Another classic franchise left tarred and feathered by an industry that all too frequently simply couldn’t care less.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. It’s not all bad news. While most of us look at our Wii U’s with the same level of fondness we might usually afford a door to door salesman, we haven’t talked about Nintendo today, have we? That’s because Nintendo generally get it right. Perhaps it’s the fact that they’re so far behind the times in terms of online gaming or perhaps it’s just because they have far superior quality control, but it’s a very rare occasion that a Nintendo game ships coughing and spluttering it’s way to a day one patch like some of the games I’ve spoken about today. Maybe other publishers should take note and cast an eye at what Nintendo are doing with their titles next time testers come back with a laundry list of problems about the upcoming game, and they just decide to release it anyway.
These broken games need to stop, and if you need to break a few promises to make sure that happens, then that’s the way to go. Not every game needs to be online. Not every game needs tacked on multiplayer. And a day one patch is cock all use to anyone who buys a broken game but doesn’t have an Internet connection. This needs nipping in the bud, and games to need to ship in full working order. Let’s get this shit sorted out, shall we?