Understanding Why Malaysia Is Big Into Esports (Or Rather, Dota)

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Over the years of my time covering games with Gamer Malaya (and now with Gamer Matters), I always thought of the ordinary mainstream games coverage- reviews, previews and news of the new games coming to consoles and PC. Never did I expect I had to watch game tournaments, follow personalities, and be invited to various esports events in Malaysia. Yet here I am.

I know, there are many mainstream gamers- as in gamers who play the latest releases on consoles and PC- here in Malaysia. Look at the crowd at PSX SEA earlier this month, the first public event for upcoming mainstream (and indie) games. But most events here focus on esports. Or even worse, just Dota. Dota. And only Dota.

Which irks the heck of the rest of the gaming community here. I get it. I used to be one of them as well.

I want to argue more about how to bring more publisher interest here in the Southeast Asia market, but that’s a topic for another time. Here, I want to share what I see to be why esports has such a major appeal in Malaysia.

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Freedom In Open World Games

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I have lamented a few times already how “open world” games is now all just about size and run-of-the-mill content rather than a world full of possibilities. One strong argument I made in the past was to take a page out of 3D platformers where they make the locomotion of the characters you control as the key part of the experience and design the levels around it.

But with Legend Of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild amassing huge praise recently, I now have a more contemporary example to point out on how to make open world games more meaningful rather than just a patchwork of places to go do similar things over and over again.

So what made the new Zelda so great? It’s a huge departure from its long established formula by going open world. Yes, this made me worry a little, there’s even towers to climb- a red flag for a boring implementation of an open world in my book (though I admit this is a personal bias rather than a fact).

But the Quick Look video done by Giant Bomb on the game present what an open world, at least in my opinion, should be: it gives freedom and a sense of discovery to the players.

Throughout the video you see several instances of the group throwing in quirky ideas on the fly based on the systems and mechanics the game present. Magnetise the ball or find a controller to grab a hammer and whack that ball better? Can the guardian’s auto-targeting laser be tricked into attacking other enemies? What would happen if you set something on fire? What can happen if a skeleton enemy’s head was kick off far down the cliff? Can you drop down said cliff and climb the mountain not far from there?

It’s refreshing. You see many different mechanics and gameplay systems interact with each other and it works. Sure, the new Zelda suffers from framerate issues and sometimes muddy textures but the joy here is to see the many systems interacting, thus awarding player discovery should they mess around with stuff is what an open world game needs.

In Skyrim, you could put a bucket on an shopkeeper’s head to block line of sight and steal everything in the room. It’s stupid, it’s immersion-breaking but that’s just a happy little accident of different gameplay systems interacting with each other. It’s actually fun if you come across it by accident.

In Metal Gear Solid V, you can drop in supplies at a far distance. This is an odd choice at first glance, why not just drop it right on your feet? It’s a tool you can mess around with: distracting enemy patrols is one thing, but using in as a weapon in a boss fight? Now that’s something else!

Such things are missing in games that claimed to be open world. While Ghost Recon Wildlands is a well made game, as I tried in the open beta, it’s game design does not offer such freedom. You go to an outpost, do some recon (or not), and approach the objective silently, or guns blazing (with or without a vehicle). Repeat ad infinitum.

There are ways to spice up the situation, you can call in mortar support or rebel troops to distract the enemies, but that’s a baked in feature. You know what would be cool? Setting up fights by luring Unidad soldiers to the cartel or vice versa. These two factions will confront each other if they are within their sights, so what if we have abilities that can facilitate this? A cartel giving chase since we attacked a small checkpoint they were holding, then give chase where we lead them into Unidad territory.

Plus, Wildlands suffer in its side mission design. Most of them have one optimal way of approaching it, so that’s a bummer if you are looking for a true open world game. It is open world in the sense that you have freedom to make your way from point A to point B, where point B might as well be an instanced dungeon separated from the rest of the world when you’re doing the mission as it does not interact with other systems outside of it. All the outposts are self-contained, for good reason, but there’s not enough variety in its moment-to-moment action.

This is not me just bashing Wildlands just because it isn’t up to my taste (the game’s solid enough if you like what you see and hear), but it is used as an example of how a game can be open world but not utilising more dynamic systems to make the player feel more.. free.

(On another note: Ubisoft does give you the freedom to approach which of the many territories in the fictional Bolivia to clear first, the only thing gating you are tougher enemies. Breath Of The Wild also does this, so credit is where credit is due.)

The small amount of freedom here works fine for an open-ended linear game. Everything is confined to a certain room or small level, so even the choice of sneak or shoot makes a ton of difference and is enough to make interesting gameplay moments. But if you have an open world, why not think bigger?

If more open world games can reward the sense of discovery and wonder of exploring the open world, I would totally be enticed to play it. Great looking vistas and landscapes alone don’t cut it for me, it’s what you can do in the landscapes that matters to me.

Thankfully for Ubisoft, their recent open beta survey available for beta testers are asking the right questions. I of course asked them more freedom and room for creativity to kick in. Yes, it will be a nightmare to test and design- Skyrim and all Bethesda games at the moment are janky for a good reason, and Breath Of The Wild has some interesting dev stories about having certain parts of the game break due to a tweak in a dynamic system applied accross the world- one in particular is about the wind. But the extra effort should make it the talk about town even longer after launch.

I don’t want to remember them as just open world games, I want to share my unique encounters and experience the game provided to me. Because that’s a more awesome story to tell.

The Dream – What I Want To Contribute To The Malaysian Gaming Industry

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Dreams. Some say it’s a naive way to look at things, some say it’s the sort of vision we need in today’s grim world. I come from the latter camp, and I wish to see one come true.

Around 2013-2015 I had a mental breakdown of sorts which have spun my whole life trajectory into the ground.. if you compare it to the ideal life flow one should be having- graduate, get a decent job, get married, have a family, etc. But the circumstances I land in now have opened a new path- a path of realising one childhood dream:

Making Malaysia have a proper gaming scene and industry.

Step 1- Spreading The Word

While the rest of the world are questioning the need of video games journalism, I believe strongly we still need one in Malaysia, at least for the time being.

Our communities are scattered. We have people working in the games industry here but not many know of their existence and how to you get yourself into it. We have plenty of talented e-sports worthy players that lack the infrastructure to get them on another level, and the exposure that they should be receiving.

So when this blog garnered the attention of two up and coming games sites, I knew the right decision was to jump in and contribute.

So what do these sites can do? Having a local voice reporting on the games coming via news pieces and reviews have its significance. Is the game launching the same day as in Asia? What’s the price for the new console over here?  There is a need to report specific details that needs to be addressed for the local gamers.

And having proper exposure for gaming with dedicated gaming sites should be a better way to spread the word rather than the general tech sites that cover games occasionally. We can have proper writers capable of covering the news with better finesse and better understanding of the current gaming climate.

Step 2- Uniting The Communities

As mentioned earlier, we have a lot of gaming communities, but are all scattered. There are various clans and communities that wanted to get bigger but most exist in different pockets of Malaysia.

There are dedicated gamers here that are educated enough to actually discuss about games more than just “this game is best” and “this game tak best”. Some may have the same problem as me- living around with no one to talk about games. Facebook groups and online games being more mainstream nowadays are good solutions but not totally strong enough to build a community.

Why need a community? To make the presence of gamers larger. You know there’s plenty of gearheads when they do convoys- but how do you know gamers? Just hanging out in cyber cafes? Sitting in their mother’s home and play games all day?

Plus, for e-sports to really grow, we need more crowd that appreciates it. Don’t expect the mainstream audience to be there first, it’s us gamers who have to support the initiatives. Especially if you actually play that game. And to do that, we need to get these gamers band together- doesn’t matter if they’re supporting a rival site or whatnot, what matters is making our presence heard- which will also instill confidence to brands, sponsors and game publishers to cater more to our needs.

Twtupgamers is a pretty good initiative, but as I evangalised before, we need more. If we want the dream to have our own gaming convention, we need these gamers to talk more to each other and make them realise it’s possible. Maybe inspire a few volunteers to start more events. Not to say that we don’t have any, we have currently, but we need to make them something more significant.

We also need to ensure one more thing to get a gaming industry going:

Step 3- Bring Gaming The Positive Light It Needs

Gaming is still unacceptable in our society. I can’t blame them, I see with my eyes plenty of irresponsible practices that do ruin a person’s life. Game responsibly!

But that’s another issue altogether.

What I see that needs to be done currently is highlighting the good stuff we gamers gained from our hobby. It’s not entirely a waste of time!

We need role models, figures the mainstream can respect to. Not just a celeb who happens to game sometimes, but gaming celebs. I see a surge of popularity with certain local youtubers and streamers nowadays, and I hope these great people can press on be the figure of example we all need.

And we also need to make more communal efforts to contribute to society. Look at the West and their various charity events (like AGDQ and Extra-Life streams) and sales (Humble Bundle). Sure, not everyone will agree on doing charity while indulging in entertainment is something worth calling charity work, but they are doing something.

We should contribute back. The Gamers Give Back initiative started from the man behind Jomm Main is a decent example. Though we could do other kinds of contribution in the future.

Other than that, I see the importance of how gaming isn’t just a waste of money, but a way to make one.

Step 4- Money

Video content makes money nowadays, and will probably phase out normal writeups in the far flung future.

I want to highlight that gaming endeavours can earn you a living- helping other gamers find the games they like. For that I have to make my own work worth a living. I barely get paid doing my current contributions, but I’m not complaining. I’ll take one for the team and bare the burden of a hard life to make doing this worth living.

Yes, I know that other avenues could have scored me more pay, but I’m here for the long run. Much of my reading on how games journalist in the West don’t have the best pay in the world has prepared me for the worst. I’m here to make Malaysian gamers happy, with a great scene and an industry for more talented people to contribute in the development side.

Closing Thoughts

Takahashi Ryosuke took a calculated plan to achieve his dreams. I might not have that yet set in stone, but all these steps are guiding what I am doing currently.

I help out at Gamer Malaya pumping out news stories, with the extra effort of offering local-related info. I reached out to the local FGC to try get them all chanting “WE E-SPORTS NOW” one day. I dabbled with YouTube and joined the loose coalition of Teamasam to get me in touch of the struggles of up and coming content creators (as well as practicing doing my own content). In the interviews I handled with content creators, I focused on how gaming helped them being who they are. I am also pushing to get in touch with more local dev studios to further promote their presence and contribution to the gaming scene.

One day, I’ll just do only one of these things, and many other, more talented people are capable of doing all of this. And at that point, at least in my own book, we have a proper gaming scene in Malaysia.

By that time, I should be living the dream, satisfied what I could do to help this nation.

And then worry about debts and money lol.

The Inaugural meckronos Game Awards Of A Certain Significance

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2016 is ending and talks of Game Of The Year and awards are cropping up. Rather than do another rant post of the problems with this year’s Game Awards (again, plenty of good highs and terrible lows) I am inspired to start my very own list of awards.

Basing the idea of TotalBiscuit’s Arbitary Game Awards, where the focus is giving proper reason why the award exist and why that particular game deserves it, and also taking a hint from the Steam Awards where the categories can be a bit silly, the meckronos Game Awards of A Certain Significance (mGACS) is entirely subjective by own opinion, with certain awards aim to celebrate, criticise and maybe a bit of both.

Some categories may have special mentions, some may not because I came up with that awards just for that game. Because why not.

With that out of the way, here are the list of awards:

  • The “Development Hell Survivor” Award
  • The “Needs To Be In Early Access” Award
  • The “Game With The Wrong Name” Award
  • The “Flash In The Pan” Of The Year Award
  • The “Marketing Disaster Of The Year” Award
  • The “Episodic Game Of The Year” Award
  • The “Criminally Underrated Game Of The Year” Award
  • The “meckronos Game Of The Year” Award

And the winners are..

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How Open World Games Can Be Improved?

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Open World. These two words have become the buzzword of mainstream gaming in the 2010s, with a promise of huge environments to gawk at and explore and a potential many gameplay moments.

Unfortunately, these gameplay moments are either repetitive and uninspired missions, or sloppily placed collectibles that serves no purpose than just another checkbox to tick, which is a chore to collect and the rewards for collecting them not something worth except for achievement/trophy hunters or the completionist people out there.

Which is a shame, because open world, like the term randomly-generated (or its latest variant: procedurally- generated) has become a warning sign for some to indicate that a game isn’t worth the time. It is as if developers slap it in just so in the name of content and hoping players found something neat with the gameplay systems to make it worthwhile..when that is not the case.

As such, why not game developers and designers take a look back in the past and see how open world games can live up to its potential.

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Learn from the past- 3D Platformers

3D platformers were the biggest genre back in the 90s. Super Mario 64 ushered in the use of 3D platformers and made a prime example on how these games can work in a 3D environment. The following major platformers then set the bar higher: from Rare’s output of Banjo Kazooie to Playstation’s Spyro The Dragon, 3D platformers were using 3D space to allow players to explore the world, and littered them with stuff to collect along the way. Hence, the term collect-a-thons being associated with the genre.

But this is what open world games nowadays didn’t get it. There’s a reason collectabiles in 3D platformers work. Reason 1: it acts as trails. Unfamiliar players use it as a guideline to follow along while experienced ones will just pick them up as they go.

Reason 2: it requires skill and thought to it. Some items are not just plopped in without a challenge or gimmick to face off. Some requires finesse and good button presses to nail tricky jumps. Some are tied to its own mini-game (like Spyro 2’s hockey and Spyro 3’s skateboarding). Some require understanding of mechanics. Jak & Daxter has some of its collectible only be reached if you can manage the eco meter well. Some harder collectibles are placed with care and thoughtfully planned out on how the sequence to reach it works and, again, not just something being plopped into the world to fill it with content.

And reason number 3: It is rewarding. Daxter pulls some sick moves or a silly animation each time you grab a the thing. More worlds can be opened up in Spyro if you collect most of the gems and  orbs. You can afford the RYNO quicker in Ratchet & Clank. This leads to reason number 4: the collectibles are tied to the world exploration. You are encouraged to explore every inch of the world and the levels are all designed to have the collectible be collected without feeling like it’s halting progress. You don’t stop from following a waypoint to a story mission just to collect something since it’s pinging, you’re going to another path that leads to interesting gameplay and once done, leads you back to the main path.

In a nutshell, open world games nowadays have diluted the well-crafted collect-a-thons cherished by many years ago. What supposed to be an opportunity to new gameplay moments or challenges are just throwaway stuff to fluff up a game without any care being put in. Open world games should take a page or two on making collectibles fun again as done by 3D platformers years ago.

Interestingly, Saints Row IV sort of adhere to these tenets. As they introduced superpowers, there’s collectibles scattered all over the place, but its fun to jump on buildings, takes some skill to collect them all efficiently in one go and those clusters you are collecting most of the time leads to skill upgrades, making it worth once in a while to go on a collecting spree.

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Quality, Not Quantity

There’s been an arms race of comparing which game has the biggest open world. Map size comparisons are being made. X map is Y bigger than game Z is a selling point. But remember, quantity is not everything. If you have such an open space but struggle to put anything meaningful to the gameplay, will it be a good direction for a game? Maybe not so. No Man’s Sky 18 quintillion planets sure are a huge sum, but people bounced off the game really quick because the fundamental mechanics surrounding the game isn’t engaging enough. Plus, players were quick to discover repeat patterns.

Anyway, an interesting approach that still leads success in my opinion is the new Deus Ex series now spearheaded by Eidos Montreal. They don’t have an open world, per se, but the hub worlds are detailed enough to feel like a living world and the interactions that can be found is enough to keep you engaged with all the side quests you may encounter. The side quests here are interesting enough to make you see to completion just so that you can.

You could walk from one end of a hub world map to the other in a few minutes, but what it lacks in breadth, it makes up with depth, figuratively and literally. There’s plenty of NPC conversations, e-mail flavour texts, and other stuff to pick up to fill you in the lore of the world currently. Alternative paths and multiple storeys of building, including underground sewers area, makes the world just a 2D map splayed out, but has some depth to it.

If you can make your open world interesting and engaging to make players feel like exploring it more, you’re doing it right.

What Else?

So what else can be implemented to stop people from feeling jaded with repetitive tasks in open world games? the gist of the two points here is make the world worth exploring, either by making the world interesting not just in aesthetics but in gameplay terms too or make everything attached to collectibles not only worthwhile, but requires some challenge rather than just effort.

But what other things that can be suggested? Would love to see some comments down here and get a conversation going around.

AAA Games Are Getting Too Expensive To Make

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AAA. An odd term to be associated as the gaming equivalent to big blockbusters movies. But the term has now stuck, and used to describe the biggest releases that demand the attention of all mainstream gamers.

These are the games to get to show off the power of gaming consoles or PCs. These are the pinnacle of what our current tech for gaming can be pushed. These are what the smartest and brightest talent of the industry can muster out, a game that has massive appeal.

But it all comes at a cost. These days a AAA game has to be good. Gamers hyped up about AAA games want them to be GOTY contenders. Publishers want them to be selling in big numbers to make the finance sheet for the quarter up to snuff. And game developers want to make something they are proud of. But all the increase demands and hype have led to huge budgets for AAA games, reaching millions.

So, that means the games industry is doing fine with a lot of money being poured in development?

Not exactly.

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