Have Microtransactions ruined Star Wars: Battlefront?

After the controversial release of EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II in late 2017, the game has recently seen a revival thanks to the release of several free expansions. However, with EA being mired with complaints about the microtransaction system, the short campaign and the poorly designed level progression system, there are clearly still fans out there that are not happy with the newest installment in the Battlefront series. In fact, there is a significant portion of the Star Wars fan community that staunchly prefers the original Star Wars: Battlefront II that released in 2005 over the EA-branded remake. But are the two games in any way comparable?

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The original Battlefront II

When it was released in 2005, the sequel to 2003’s Star Wars: Battlefront aimed to improve on just about everything that had featured in the original by adding in space combat, more classes, a better rewards system and countless other gameplay, aesthetic and layout changes that helped to firmly establish Star Wars: Battlefront II as one of the most popular Star Wars video games out there. In the eyes of many fans, the game takes its place alongside other Star Wars classics like Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic as one of the best video games of its era, and thanks to a dedicated community that has seemingly only strengthened in the wake of the release of the EA Battlefront series the game continues to be one of the most popular Star Wars releases to date.

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EA’s new Battlefront II

Following the decision by EA to use the name ‘Battlefront’ for their new series of Star Wars first-person shooters, EA’s Star Wars Battlefront II had a lot to live up to. Fans were cautious of the game when it was first announced due to the disappointment many had felt following the release of EA’s first Star Wars Battlefront, which promised much and yet delivered little in terms of maps and content. Early signs for Battlefront II seemed more promising, with the inclusion of the prequel and sequel eras as well as more customization, heroes, space battles and the single player campaign mode. In many ways, EA’s Battlefront II did deliver on what was promised, at least in terms of content – but the controversy surrounding microtransactions coupled with the vast amounts of playtime needed to progress through the levelling system led to many players writing off the new Battlefront game early on, particularly since EA had already failed once.

One of the most glaring weaknesses in the new Battlefront games compared to the Battlefronts of the 2000s is the significant reduction in the number of maps and modes, and the lack of customization options compared to older releases. For many players these features helped define the Battlefront games and for some the use of the Battlefront name on EA’s new games is little more than brand association.

However, the biggest and most controversial issue surrounding EA’s Battlefront II was the inclusion of its microtransaction system. Having started as a means for free mobile games to generate revenue through in-app purchases, microtransactions have gradually seeped into the mainstream console gaming market and the increasing numbers of publishers that have turned to this system has been criticized by children and parents alike. Those against the system argue that it comes across as an attempt by publishers to squeeze as much money out of the consumer as possible, and when the system is paired with randomized loot-boxes that have also become popular in the first-person shooter genre of games the result is something akin to child gambling, as children can spend real money on a random selection of in-game content without knowing what content they will actually receive.

This was particularly controversial in the case of EA’s Battlefront II as it was proven that, without using real money to purchase randomized loot-boxes, it would take hours and hours of playtime to earn enough in-game currency to unlock heroes like Darth Vader despite the inclusion of the heroes being one of the game’s main selling points. Ultimately, the controversy surrounding microtransactions in EA’s Battlefront II contributed to a growing movement against the system led by activists and politicians that particularly target the randomized loot-box system. Progress has already been made in some parts of the world, most notably the Belgium Gambling Commission that has made the inclusion of randomized loot-boxes that can be bought with real money illegal.

Despite the assertion from many Star Wars fans that microtransactions ruined the new EA Battlefront, the game has seen a small rise in popularity following the suspension of the loot-box system and the release of several free sets of downloadable content. Whilst there is no way to know for certain exactly how many active players there are in the game, the release of content related to Disney’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the Clone Wars era has been met with positive response from what players the game has, so it could be that with the removal of the microtransaction system the game stands a chance of turning over a new leaf and winning back the disappointed fans that are flocking to Star Wars’ rival brands in their droves.

Comic Fans Split Over the Future of Comics after Death of Stan Lee

marvel vs dcIn light of the recent death of comic book legend Stan Lee, many comic fans are wondering what the future will bring for the industry in light of the loss of a major figurehead in the industry and changing times with the rise of the internet.

Stan Lee is best known for his work as creative leader of Marvel Comics, as he transformed the business from a small publisher to a multi-million-dollar corporation that created some of the most iconic comic book characters in history.

Although it is certain that sales figures for physical comics have fallen significantly in recent decades, what is less clear is the exact reason why this is the case.

Many long-time comic fans, like Rob who was interviewed at Worlds Apart, have blamed the internet for the decline in sales – particularly since online comics are proving far more popular with millennials than the physical copies.

However, others argue that the online section of the comic book market is an excellent way of getting young people into comics, particularly since physical comics are more expensive and intangible online versions of comics are better suited for younger readers. In the video Jon discusses the plethora of comics he’s bought online.

As local comic shops begin to evolve with the times, focusing as on merchandise and collectables as much as actual comics themselves, the clear shift in climate in the comic industry presents a worrying change for stalwart fans – but also a promising development for younger readers.

How the 2019 Picard TV Show could change how we look at Star Trek

The Star Trek franchise is perhaps best known for its optimistic depiction of a diverse, harmonious and utopian socialist human society in the future, and the series was founded on creator Gene Roddenberry’s vision of a peaceful and enlightened future. However, in recent decades the long-lived series has seen a dramatic shift in the tone and feel of its releases to the point where modern interpretations of the iconic brand have lost many of the fundamental themes and morals that defined Star Trek for the first thirty years of its existence.

Fans of the show need not despair, as there is a shining beacon of hope on the horizon – the Picard TV show, set to release in late 2019, has many Trekkies hoping that Star Trek may finally return to the more philosophical and plot-driven stories of The Next Generation as opposed to the action-orientated nature of the newer Star Trek films and TV shows. The fact that Patrick Stewart is returning to the role of Captain Jean-Luc Picard after so long suggests that there has been some serious decision-making going on behind the scenes as to what the direction of the newer Star Treks should be, and the kind of messages that the franchise should send to younger audiences.

First seen as the captain of the USS Enterprise-D in the first episode of The Next Generation, Picard soon became a dynamic figurehead of responsibility, reason and ethics in the Star Trek community, even rivalling fan-favourite Spock for best character in the history of the series. Played masterfully by Patrick Stewart for all seven seasons of TNG’s run, Picard embodied the most honest and desirable traits in mankind – passion, mercy, intellect and willpower. Often acting as a mediator and always able to see the bigger picture, Picard became legendary for his ability to uphold his values and principles in the face of adversity and always seemed to take the moral high ground.

In the current political and social climate, it seems there is no better character to return to the front and centre of the Star Trek brand than Jean-Luc Picard. Whilst TNG will always be the keystone Star Trek series and perhaps even the essential Star Trek experience, bringing Picard back for a new show aimed at modern audiences certainly seems like the logical thing to do – provided it is done right. Many fans have criticised newer Star Trek for changing not only the feel but the look of the show, suggesting that the producers have little respect for the show’s history, which has many more fans worried that the new Picard show will be mishandled. It is no secret that the character of Jean-Luc Picard has been mishandled before – the infamous TNG movies from the late 90s and early 2000s depicted Picard as more like an action hero than a morally upstanding life coach, and the state of the Star Trek universe catapulted the once peaceful Federation into several bloody wars before the ‘post-TNG’ plotlines were unceremoniously abandoned by the end of the 2000s in favour of prequels like Star Trek: Enterprise and Star Trek: Discovery.

Hopefully with a renewed sense of purpose and with some proper science fiction stories to tell, the new Picard show will stay true to the roots of the character and the franchise to deliver less action thrillers and more thought-provoking stories. Ideally the show will find the effective middle-ground between the two and will deliver something more akin to TNG and less like Star Trek: Discovery. Whatever the direction the producers choose to take it in, there is no doubt that the Picard show will change how we look at Star Trek.


Halo MCC – January 2019 Winter Update Adds New Skulls to Halo: CE

Halo: The Master Chief Collection just got a new update for the winter of 2019, and it pays clear homage to the past whilst also looking forward to an exciting future for this under-appreciated title.

Despite having been out since 2014, Halo: The Master Chief Collection has seen a recent revival thanks to renewed efforts by development team 343 Industries to ‘fix’ the game after the fan backlash to the game’s broken state at launch. By altering their perspective on the game from a failed release title to a killer app in dire need of maintenance, the development team are making fast progress on winning fans back over with the new features that have been added to Halo MCC in recent months, including the updated social multiplayer system and an updated UI. Whilst this recent update is not nearly as glamorous, The first and most obvious change to the game is the new menu, new sporting a nostalgic winter theme depicting a Warthog on the Halo 3 multiplayer map Snowbound, surrounded by animated snow, a welcome addition to the app.

Another subtler but no less significant addition is the new ‘Modern Aiming’ feature for the classic Halo games. As Halo MCC features 5 Halo titles from across 2 previous consoles and over 15 years of video game engine development, several of the classic games felt sluggish and slow compared to their more modern counterparts. With the addition of the Modern Aiming setting, the aiming is smoother and auto-aim is tweaked, so  players can choose to use either the original aiming system or the revised version that is more suited to what many younger players will be used to from a shooter game.

Perhaps the most exciting feature for classic Halo fans is the inclusion of more Skulls to Halo: Combat Evolved. Since the release of Halo 2, Skulls have been hidden in levels throughout various Halo games and, when activated, they change how the game plays. With the release of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary in 2011, ten years after the release of the original Halo: Combat Evolved, 343 industries took the opportunity to add skulls into the game, but were limited in how many they were able to test and implement before the game was released. Fans have already discovered evidence within the code of Halo: Combat Evolved Anniversary that more Skulls were going to be implemented into the game, but were cut. In 343 industries’ recent blog post on the Halo MCC January update, Sean “Scoops” Cooper, a programmer who currently works on Halo MCC, said:

“There are of course more skulls in Halo 2 which have not made their way over to Halo: CE yet, but some of them with good reason. Some have no equivalent features to change (eg, there’s no vehicle boarding in the first game so Jacked is off the table). Others require data or code which did not exist originally and would risk breaking the baseline game trying to make them work. Then a few others haven’t been brought over yet as they require more time and testing.”

Sean also mentions in the blog that he eventually plans to add more of Halo 2 Anniversary’s diverse range of Skulls to other Halo titles in Halo MCC, an exciting prospect for players who now find replaying older Halo campaign levels to be a bit stale. The new update also features, among several other bug fixes, a fix for the Bandana (Infinite Ammo) Skull on Halo: CE and Halo 2, so energy weapons now have infinite ammo as originally intended.

The last of the major additions included with this update is the ‘Super Duper Fiesta’ mode, a compilation of many of Halo’s popular Fiesta multiplayer modes into one easily accessible playlist. This addition is only for social matchmaking, not competitive, and replaces the usual Team Action Sack setting for the match composer, though the announcement blog post does reassure Team Action Sack fans that this is only a temporary change.

Having recently entered its fourth year, many Halo fans might have given up on Halo MCC following its shabby launch and proceeding spat of abandonment. However, 343 industries have proven before that they are listening to fans via social media, their blog posts, game reviews and their occasional live events. As such, much of the fan feedback that was received about MCC is now being implemented, and future features that are either announced or all but confirmed range from a Custom Games Browser that allows players to search for games created and hosted by other players to a fix for the infamous duel-wielding glitch in Halo 2’s campaign. 343 industries have even stated that the team has been discussing adding Halo: Reach to the MCC, as it is now the only Halo title to not be re-released for the Xbox One in some form, although it has been made backwards-compatible. Halo fans should hold back from getting their hopes up about Reach just yet, however, as the team did stress that it is at this point little more than a remote possibility for the future. Still, the January 2019 Update gives Halo fans lots of hope for the future of not just Halo MCC but the future of Halo as a franchise.

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No Doctor Who Christmas Special This Year, Chibnall Confirms

After thirteen Doctor Who Christmas Specials, it would seem that the cornucopia of Christmas plots has finally run dry, as Chris Chibnall has moved the modern-day Christmas tradition to New Years day instead. With every Christmas Day since 2005 playing host to a festive-themed episode, even in years that did not see a regular series, it comes as no surprise that the show’s writers are running out of ways to link Doctor Who to Christmas.

Former showrunner Steven Moffat has already commented on how difficult it was to come up with Christmas-related episodes, with some of Capaldi’s later specials seemingly ignoring the Christmas theme entirely – the last Christmas Special, 2017’s Twice Upon a Time, briefly featured the 1914 Christmas Truce but was otherwise devoid of festive cheer. Moffat, the head writer for Doctor Who between 2010 and 2018, said: “I sort of think we might have mined, and possibly over mined, every single thing we could about Christmas in Doctor Who and the last time we more or less ignored it.” (Quote from the Mirror)

This may come as somewhat of a shock to newer fans of the show, many of whom have grown up with the tradition of having a new Doctor Who at Christmas, but older fans will recognise that the Specials are hardly a longstanding tradition – the Classic Series only ever aired one episode on Christmas Day, Part 7 of 1965’s The Dalek’s Master Plan, which was only aired that day because Christmas happened to land that Saturday.

Since 2005, however, Doctor Who writers have found themselves trapped by the restrictive festive-themed episodes, which has been reflected in their quality. Many of the Christmas Specials are considered to be among the worst episodes of the series – episodes like Voyage of the Damned and The Doctor, The Widow and the Wardrobe being particularly notorious examples. Although early Christmas Specials like The Christmas Invasion are looked back on fondly by fans, many will agree that as a general rule the Christmas Specials are neither scary or engaging enough to be anything more than sub-par episodes.

So what does this mean for the future? The loss of the ‘Christmas Doctor Who’ may seem like the end of an era for the series, and many Brits may lament the fact that the tradition of the festive episode is a thing of the past. However, there are many benefits for the show that could come from this decision. As Doctor Who has moved towards a more cinematic style, with the Christmas Special sometimes being viewed as the true finale of the series, a morbid issue arose in recent years in that the last few Doctors have died and regenerated on Christmas Day. By moving the special to New Years, this creates some great opportunities for future Doctors as having the regeneration take place on New Years Day is far more appropriate.

But what kind of episodes could we see in the New Year’s Day time slot? The last New Year’s Special to air was the divisive The End of Time, Part 2, which brought the reign of the Tenth Doctor to a climactic end but was considered by fans to be over-indulgent and melodramatic. Under Chibnall’s reign, the fact that the New Years Special can branch out to tell stories without being bogged down by the obligatory Christmas theme can only be a good thing, and it lends itself to some fresh new ideas that can move the yearly Doctor Who special away from a tired tradition and towards an optimistic new era as Series 11 draws to a close. With recent rumours that the Daleks are returning in the New Years Day Special, titled Resolution, 2019’s New Years Special could set an exciting precedent for future specials in the years to come.

New Series Dalek Customs Collection Tour – Savage Dalek Asylum Customs

Welcome to the next instalment in this series of Dalek customs showcases, a tour through my collection of custom-made New Series Daleks that have been altered and painted to appear destroyed, with some marked with stamps for the Dalek Asylum. In the previous feature we looked at several destroyed Dalek inmates, including some who had fallen victim to the Savage Daleks, which will be the focus of this feature. All of these customs are made by me unless stated otherwise in the description.

Cannibal Dalek REVISITED

This custom previously appeared in one of the earliest Custom Collection Tours, the New Series Dalek Asylum Inmates Collection Tour. However, it has since been updated to feature as a Savage Dalek. As described in the previous appearance of this Dalek, the custom represents a Dalek that has survived by harvesting parts from other inmates, essentially cannibalising other Dalek casings to keep itself alive. With a new paint job and new claw arms, this custom was created mainly using Citadel paints, hot glue and pieces of Warhammer weapons to create the savage tools that this Dalek uses to cut up its victims.

Savage Claw Dalek

Since many Savage Daleks have to create makeshift weapons using reprogrammed repair nanobots, they usually opt for subtle but precise weapons capable of dealing deadly accurate cuts to Dalek casings. However, this Dalek has opted for an oversized claw arm to complement a short-range machine gun stolen from an Exxilon survivor. Like most Savage Daleks, this specimen resides in some of the deepest caverns in the Asylum, and has formed a loose alliance with other Savages to survive. This custom was made using silver Citadel paint as a base that was drybrushed over with black. The claw and gun are both re-purposed Warhammer pieces put together using hot glue.

Savage Laser Cutter Dalek

This Dalek has a high status among the Savages it has banded together with as its laser cutter attachment allows it to bypass many Asylum security systems, cut through doors, and make short work of any Dalek at close range. As this Dalek was admitted to the Asylum for numerous attacks against its fellow Daleks, it is clear that this Dalek suffers from some kind of defect that renders it unable to find any form of life tolerable, even that of other Daleks. This custom was made using grey and silver Citadel paints, some plastic pieces and the stem and nib of a ballpoint pen painted silver.

Savage Dalek Inmate

Of the many Savage Daleks in the Asylum, some are more lucid and adhere more to Dalek principles than others. This particular Dalek is an example of one of the few Savage Daleks that have not opted for personalised weaponry, instead opting for the standard Dalek loadout of gunstick and sucker arm. However, this Dalek’s conformity should not be confused for leniency, as it is just as deadly as any other Savage Dalek – just less willing to opt for crude replacements for the already effective Dalek standard armament. The base for this custom was originally a Dalek Sec, although it has been heavily drybrushed with silver, black and grey Citadel paint and fitting with a new eyestalk that was constructed using parts of a phone charger. As with all the Dalek inmates, this custom is also sporting an Asylum stamp that was applied using a red Promarker pen.



New Series Dalek Customs Collection Tour – Even More Destroyed Daleks

Welcome to the next instalment in this series of Dalek customs showcases, a tour through my collection of custom-made New Series Daleks that have been altered and painted to appear destroyed, with some marked with stamps for the Dalek Asylum. In the previous two-part feature we delved back into the Dalek Asylum to look at more customs. These are more destroyed Daleks that are doomed to rot in the Dalek Asylum for all eternity. All of these customs are made by me unless stated otherwise in the description.

Abandoned Dalek Casing

Due to the centuries spent languishing in the Asylum, many of the insane Dalek inmates are crazy enough to try and escape from their casings, particularly the ones with cybernetic enhancements that allow them to slowly adapt to living for longer and longer periods outside of their shells. The mutant that formerly resided inside this Dalek casing has reach a point where it can abandon its metal prison altogether, leaving the damaged remains to gather dust in some dark corner of the Asylum. To create this custom a mutant reveal Dalek was used with the mutant itself removed, and the front panel cut in half and attached to the casing with plastic pieces. The wires came from an old TV cable and all the paint was done with Citadel applied using a dry brush.

Destroyed Time War Commander

During the Time War the Asylum saw an unprecedented increase in inmates – sometimes dozens would arrive in a single day. Due to a huge overload of the Asylum systems many of the automated drones were assigned to repair duties, leaving many of the more aggressive inmates unguarded. As a result, heavy infighting is now a common occurrence in the Asylum, which the central computer allows in order to keep numbers down. This Dalek Commander was a particularly unfortunate casualty of a conflict between various factions, and the blasted casing now sits as a grim relic of the Time War, that for some Daleks in the Asylum still rages to this day. This custom used a yellow and black Dalek Commander figure as a base and plastic pieces for the insides of the casing. The dead mutant is a combination of tissue paper, hot glue and Citadel paints and hot glue was used to attach a sucker arm and gun socket to the middle of the casing.

Spider Eggs Dalek

Cobwebs were a recurring feature in the episode Asylum of the Daleks, with many of the Daleks in the Asylum (particularly the Classic Daleks) being covered with spider webs. However, this creates an interesting implication, in that it means the Asylum is also home to a population of spiders. Logically, these creatures must eat and reproduce, and so this custom represents what the local spider population might do in order to eat and lay eggs – with an unfortunate Dalek as the host. It stands to reason that the spiders would adapt to use the Daleks as a means of reproduction, and perhaps even food, as the spiders themselves may have been converted into another extension of the on-site defence system thanks to the tenacious nano-cloud that surrounds the Asylum. This custom uses a black Dalek as a base that was cut up using a hacksaw and heavy duty wire cutters. The inside was created using plastic, wires and small blobs of hot glue to represent spider eggs, with the end result spray painted silver to add to the spider aesthetic.

Destroyed Asylum Inmate

In-fighting in the Asylum has brought several factions to complete extinction – and their remains are salvaged by Dalek Splicers that scavenge for spare parts among the wreckage. This Dalek was a Commander in a pre-Time War Dalek Assault Squad. Thanks to heavy Dalek casualties in the Dalek War, it was not long before the survivors admitted to the Asylum were wiped out. This custom was created using pieces from various New Series Daleks that had been cut up for other customs, and as such a new paint job was needed to make all the pieces seem like part of the same Dalek. The inside computer parts were taken from a few old electronic devices and the whole thing was assembled using hot glue and tissue paper held together with wires.

Dead Asylum Inmate

The battles that take place within the Asylum are not always firefights – in order to conserve power, many Daleks have resorted to close-quarters combat using makeshift weapons that have been cobbled together. Though these Savage Daleks form only a loose alliance rather than an ideological faction, they are among the most deranged and deadly of the Asylum inmates. This particular inmate was a victim of a Savage Dalek attack during which they cut out many of the front plates as well as both weapons, causing the casing to shut down and the mutant inside to drown in its life support fluids. This custom was made using a hacksaw and heavy duty wire cutters, and the internal frame was constructed from plastic and painted with Citadel paints.

Next – New Series Dalek Customs Collection Tour – Savage Dalek Asylum Customs