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The Sandbox

June 28, 2016

The sandbox in and of itself is not entertaining. It is just a big pile of sand. What makes it fun is the quality of the sand and imagination you bring to it. I mention quality because if the box is full of pine cones, dead leaves, cat poop, and glass shards, one spends more time cleaning (and worrying) than playing. Several of the Gears games are such. It might even be argued that GoW:UE (MPvs by Splash Damage) is the only one that had clean sand.

Strictly speaking, GTA4 and RDR are the only representatives of that genre that have I purchased, and neither held my attention. Lately, however, I have come to think of all MPvs games as sandboxes because I am realizing that the developers are giving us a play area, and it is what we do there that makes it fun or not. In fact, some of the sandboxes indeed, have much more than just sand, but as long as there is no cat poop or glass shards, we can use the non-sand objects as stuff to play around, and have a good time (The Division). Other times, there is almost no sand in the box at all – just enough to make tracks, Rocket League, and the fun there is both universal and endless. It is what we bring to the game that makes it work or not.

One of my favorite gaming memories is playing PvZ:GW and us all deciding to go as Gingers. PvZ:GW is definitely not a sandbox game in the open world sense, but when the limitations started to become a little dry, we brought the fun.

Kenny mentioned the other day that Overwatch was “kind of generic”. While I am sure some fans would take exception to that, I think it was an insightful observation. When the developers made the game, like a bunch of elementary school kids in a treehouse, they came at development from three angles: character design (let’s make a robot ninja!), abilities (this guy will shoot spiraling dragons!), and story (Symmetra was an architect that could build cities with “hard light”).  It is everything and nothing at the same time.  And I didn’t fully understand the generic complaint, until I loaded up PvZ:GW2. PvZ has a cohesive universe where, once a person gets their head around anthropomorphic Plants at war with buttcrack popping Zombies, then everything immediately comes together.

Anyway, what I want to say is two things. First, specifically as regards Overwatch , it is definitely generic in the lacking-cohesion/narration sense (something that even TF2 had more of), though I continue to enjoy the gameplay. Second, PvZ:GW2 is brimming with personality and “story”, but it will be how we play that too, that will determine whether or not we are entertained. I just read today what seemed to me an appropriate comparison of GW and GW2. “GW1 was a true shooter (one of the best ever) while GW2 is more of a splasher.”

I am almost ready to make a pact with myself that I will no longer be fiercely competitive – or at least, I will try not to get worked up when I lose.

This last one is a must-watch, by the way.

  1. June 29, 2016 10:51 am

    Very interesting. I am excited to try out some GW2 soooon.

  2. Herandar permalink
    June 29, 2016 11:11 am

    Suns, I know you asked me for my opinion of GW2 a few weeks ago, and I didn’t respond, mainly because I haven’t actually delved into it enough to have an opinion. I’ve played it for less than two hours, and never left the hub area, (which is very sandbox-y.) The few people on my friends list that got it at launch were playing other things within a week.

  3. June 29, 2016 4:44 pm

    Herandar, I didn’t buy at launch because I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to select the server, which for Battlefront meant that Cornie and I could not (at all) find a match without someone from North America escorting us into one. It was heartbreaking. To this day, we have not played the game on our own. As soon as I discovered that there was a server browser for GW2, Cornie’s brothers bought it for him.

    Here is what I wrote on reddit just before I made this post.

    This is a timely thread for me because with the price drop (Xbox One) a bunch of my friends bought the game and I will be taking another look at it this weekend.

    GW1 ranks in my top ten for MPvs gaming. It launched with a lot of problems, and starting out with playing the Peashooter, it felt wonky. Popcap put a ton of support and new content in it, however, and by the time I tried it again 5 months later, it was fantastic.

    I could hardly wait for GW2. I bought it shortly after release. It seemed to be very chaotic, and none of the hardcore strategies and teamwork we used in GW1 seemed to matter. At launch, GW2 was just all about playing the Rose. Some of the maps were fatally flawed with those initial pre-balance characters, and it felt like there was so much more game than the first one, but there was none of the fun. My son and I abandoned it after about 8 hours, compared to the hundreds we played of GW1.

    Since my friends just jumped in at half-price, I am going to give it another try this coming week. Popcap seems to have been hard at work on it and I am sure that at least some of the problems have been ironed out. I am worried about the “fun”, though.

    GW1 is a great class-based shooter by any standards and for any audience, imo.

    I’m hoping that GW2 turns out to be the same. It wasn’t anywhere in the vicinity last time I played.

  4. June 29, 2016 9:33 pm

    I follow the point you are trying to make but don’t think it applies to the concept of a sandbox.

    This reminds me of an episode of “Spaced” were Simon Pegg’s character drowned Lara Croft constantly because he felt sad.

    I mean sure we are replacing sad with fun in this instance, and obviously using a wider gameplay elements of a traditional genre of FPS, be it Overwatch or the Gingers in PvZ, in order to do something different.

    I mean in Call of Duty this has been around for a while, where you would make a class with just a knife and try to win the game like that.

    The reason to me why sandbox games are sanbox games is that it invites you to break away from traditional games.

    I mean if you play GTA 1 and 2, and then go play GTA 3. It just explodes.

    For me this is how I got hooked on consoles. I had the playstation 1, and had mostly pc ports games that were very very limited. Never really played it as much.

    Playstation 2 came out and it was right at the time my wife and I rented our first house. We were looking for a dvd player, and the playstation could play games, and it was crazy expensive. So we had budget for just two games. Twisted Metal and that mafia game GTA 3.

    Initially I did the missions was taken away by the cinematic witty dialogue and some of the missions altered the landscape permanently. So for the first time it felt like I was not only choosing what to do but it also felt like it altered this world.

    But that wasn’t the sandbox part. My wife got in on it first. She could care less about the story. She would just type in the cheat codes and just have at it with flamethrower. She worked customer service and it was just her therapy, lol.

    Then for me “the game” became how long could I sustain 5 stars without getting killed.

    We discovered the stunt jumps, so lots of time wasted trying to nail each and every one. Then the hidden packages. and the odd jobs!

    We re-enacted Taxi Driver while doing the taxi missions. 😂

    Of course all of this while listening to the radio stations, which was its own little world.

    After you unlock all the portions of the game, it just became something else. You could play it differently in so many ways that it just killed the need to buy anything else for a long time.

    Fast forward to now and it’s just insane the amount of stuff you can do. In fact I don’t doubt GTA V is the main reason why they took out the “Most played” list in the xbox store. You check it through the PC and it’s #1.

    On PC it’s even more insane. Theres superhero mods, etc.

    But anyways you can even take something like Ark, which is open ended for sure, but not quite sandbox (on official servers). Because people build very similar. Tame and follow almost the same path of taming. It becomes stupid after a while, because here you have a whole island full of dinos, yet people tame the same crap. The achievement sort of, is who gets there first or has the most.

    For me it’s like The Sims. I was bored initially because managing a sims life felt like work. Stupid dudes kept dying by burning themselves because they sucked at cooking. Then all of the sudden I realized that if I kept the tombstones they would comeback randomly as ghosts, so I kept killing them until it became a regular hunted house.

    Like Morrowind on the first xbox. Heck I am even afraid of buying Skyrim on PC with all the mods and stuff you can do in it.

    Bottom line is you get one good sandbox game and it is like buy a whole bunch of games in one package.

    Heck GTA San Andreas was like my need for speed, flight simulator, and third person shooter way before I got into any of those games.

  5. June 29, 2016 10:38 pm

    Great stories, Frank. First, I have heard nothing but greatness in reference to GTA3. It was apparently something special. I chalk up my own quick fizzle with GTA4 (and RDR) as a lack of imagination on my part, not a fault in the game.

    You remind me, however, that this whole phenomenon of playing the game slightly (or largely) different from the way it was intended, started at the latest with RtCW or Doom, when people would see if they could Gandhi a level (run through it without killing anything).

    Stream of consciousness/

    Another thing I started thinking about last night was, How long do I need to play a game and enjoy it, for it to retain my high opinion of it when it first came out ? I really, really enjoyed Titanfall when it first came out. It was such a breath of fresh air. I have no interest in going back to it, or moving on to the sequel, but I can’t deny how much fun I had, even if the fun didn’t last.

    Yesterday, after another Overwatch session with Cornie, I felt like I was starting to hit that wall I worried about. Thinking about it, I realized that Overwatch, for all its variety in characters and abilities and almost infinite combinations and counters, is, like Team Fortress 2, incredibly inflexible/unwieldy in necessary victory conditions. When I get into a match of Overwatch, on occasion, it seems like the other players just have so much more knowledge about the game, or greater ability in playing it, that a loss is inevitable.

    I have almost never felt that way when playing Gears/BF:BC2 or BF3. Literally, it always feels like there is something I can do to turn things around. In Gears of War for example, there are only a few ways to kill or be killed and the maps are even smaller than in Overwatch. Yet, it seems like there is always a way to pull a victory out of a bad situation – you can always turn the tables. Similarly, for the BF games, even if a team goes down one or two players, the shorthanded team still has a chance. In BC2, with my smoke ‘nades, I was almost capable of winning a 12v12 match by myself, and in BF3, all it took was 3 or 4GN. Again, the times I have felt like I was up against a brick wall team (as opposed to the odd individual), I could darn near count on one hand. With Overwatch, it happens several times a session. If one player leaves half way through, or one player stupidly chooses Torbjorn on offense, your loss is almost a certainty.

    Is that a refection of the noob presence in those other games, and the competitive presence in Overwatch? Or is it simply the design of the game?

    Does the fact that I am getting “pushed out” of the game diminish the pleasure I got out of it up until now? No way. (I am not done with it yet by any means, but the cracks are starting to show.)

    It is like choosing a favorite movie. Jaws is my favorite. I am forced to make that choice because it is my most watched/ goto movie. There is almost never a time when I am not ready to have Jaws playing in the background, or when if I come across it, I don’t get sucked in, and set everything down to keep watching.

    10s of hours as opposed to 100s of hours, doesn’t mean a game isn’t good. It just means that it has a higher penny per minute cost.

    Hmm…. PPM Penny Per Minute. A new metric for measuring the value of a game.

    /Stream of consciousness

    • July 4, 2016 3:15 pm

      It’s the way the game is built. Like for example Black Ops 3 has a ton of depth in terms of weapon customization, Special abilities, Character classes, killstreaks, etc. But it is still essentially the same type of game where it’s skill and strategy centric.

      Heck Destiny was the same thing. We couldn’t win the 3v3 mode and go flawless without having a specific set of characters and abilities.

      That’s why I think Battleborn was different because of the Moba elements that are more meaningful than Titanfall’s AI.

      On Battleborn you can get the AI to fight for you. You can purchase defenses to protect your bases.

      Bottom line is you can truly go full on support giving shields and health, hiring mercs and setting up defenses without ever needing to be good or better than everyone else at shooting.

      I mean that’s something that BF started for me (and COD3). If you can’t shoot then at least you can revive someone who can. That makes it enjoyable enough to play it a lot, and learn the game enough that you can turn it when it’s looks like it’s impossible to win.

  6. Blankman permalink*
    June 30, 2016 6:32 pm

    Demolishing the opposition with our full team of Gingers in PvZ:GW was one of the highlights of my all-time gaming moments, especially since Grymmie ran it with us (we miss you, brutha). I’m hopeful that we can find some good times with PvZ: GW 2 now that the price of entry is (was) halved at $30.

    It’s no surprise that Overwatch isn’t necessarily “my thing” because I’ve never really enjoyed arena shooters. I wasn’t trying to disparage Overwatch when I commented that it was “generic,” but Suns did a great job supporting my thoughts about it. Thanks for that, Mikey. Even though there is a myriad of characters to choose from, I always roll as a support class in every arena shooter (TF2, Battlefield franchise, OW). So in a sense, I’ve pigeon-holed myself due to my playstyle. I feel that the time needed to learn another character detracts from time getting better loot to min/max my TD builds. Why slog at something that isn’t in my wheelhouse when the game that I’m loving is just a button press away? Embarrassment of riches, right?

    I feel guilty that The Division has taken me away from participating in our community gaming of Rocket League & Overwatch, but the addiction to loot-based RPG games like The Division & Diablo 2/3 is too strong. I know; I’m weak when it comes to military post-pandemic games. I do miss the camaraderie & overall good times in party chat. With the new expansion (Underground) & 1.3 update, I’ve been only averaging 4 hours of sleep. Thank goodness that I’m on summer vacation right now. LOL I’m disheartened that games like Evolve & The Division fizzled out with our community. That’s why I won’t post anything about those two games because I’d just be writing for an audience that’s comprised of me, myself, & I. 😦

    BTW: No more purchasing of games without first letting me know, Zos. I have the next 2.5 purchases even if one of them is Battlefield 1. Even though I absolutely hate pirates, I’d even be willing to get Sea of Thieves to even out the disparity of Zos & my double dip. Arrr, matey. Haha!

    • Herandar permalink
      June 30, 2016 11:43 pm

      I’ve played both Evolve and The Division in the last two weeks, Blank. Of course, I’ve played Rocket League a lot more in that span.

    • July 1, 2016 1:22 pm

      Blank, lets call it the next 2 games. PVz GW2 was strictly a gift, no need to count toward the DD regardless of if you play or not.

      Sounds good regarding next games, PS:

      I have been itching to roll a new character/class in Diablo 3. If this is a new big expansion (with new classes), that might be enough to bring back in. Diablo 3 is still one of the best gaming experiences I think you can get on console with friends (although again, not the same without Grymm).

    • July 1, 2016 1:44 pm

      Also, still surprised there has been no attempt at creating a console version of WoW. There were a lot more skill casts than Diablo, but you would think they could implement some method to work around this.

      We are approaching the 12 year release anniversary and new expansions are still coming out, but it is probably too late. No other MMO seems to have been able to “get it right” since, or present a successor relevant to today’s game mechanics.

  7. July 1, 2016 6:52 pm

    Last night, playing Overwatch, we went on the longest losing streak I have ever been on (in a group for sure) in any game. It would seem that contrary to every other game we have played, the larger our group, the greater our chances of losing. This is undoubtedly because there are “teams” out there, groups lovin’ the game, practicing, studying, and rolling as a crew. They know their positions, characters, and the maps well. Also, if we are experimenting with/learning new classes, it is as if we were short-handed, and again, this game requires each of the six on your team to win.

    Kenny jumped in with Disco Inferno, to help turn things around. For Cornie, Zender, and I, it cheered us up. I think for Joey and the other metal lovers, it gave them an angry edge. We won decisively.

    It is funny listening to cheerful Kenny. I don’t think his effervescence of late can be attributed to the Underground expansion for The Division (much as he is pleased with it). That kind of easy-go-lucky Kenny can only be explained by a freedom from the responsibility of teaching poorly behaved children.

    Working Saturday with tests to mark. I will be late today, if I am able to get on at all. And tomorrow I probably won’t be on until evening our time. Cheers!

    Oh, and I came across a fascinating review of the HoloLens. Really, I cannot wait until this becomes a regular, reasonably priced consumer product – and it will change work and life, far more so than the current iteration of VR.

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