Starting Screen is the USgamer staff's weekly column. Check back every Monday as we share our thoughts on the news as well as our favorite obscure RPGs, game music, and racing games.
Are you familiar with solar blankets? I actually had to look it up: they are specialized blankets developed for astronauts that are designed to prevent heat loss. One will be included in the Destiny 2 Collector's Edition, which will retail for $250 (and probably a lot more once the supply dries up).
If it seems weird that a collector's edition would include a solar blanket and a paracord (?), you haven't been paying attention. Over the years Collector's Editions have included everything from Night Vision Goggles (Call of Duty) to a Pip-Boy designed to hold your mobile phone (Fallout 4). Halo 3 famously had its cat helmet. These extras are often a ploy for publicity-another way to wring a little bit of extra juice out of the social media hype train. They also equal guaranteed preorders.
And they work! When you're especially hyped for a game, it's easy to go a little nuts on the swag. Games like Destiny, Fallout, and Call of Duty have legions of hardcore fans who are primed to drop serious cash on their favorite games. Small publishers like Atlus and Aksys Games have also made releasing outsized Collector's Editions into an art form, bolstering their bottom line at the expense of committed superfans. Whether it's a tiny Japanese RPG or a massive triple-A release, everyone is in on the Collector's Edition market.
Even I'm not immune. Tomorrow, I will have a Persona 5 Take Your Heart Edition waiting for me should I decide to pick it up over at GameStop (I probably won't, but I've thought about it). Several years ago, I was so wildly excited for StarCraft II that I purchased the version featuring the hardcover art book and special USB containing the original game. I've since donated the former and lost the latter. The fancy box was recycled long ago.
Not all of my Collector's Editions meet the same fate-I've still got my Fire Emblem Fates Special Edition box on my desk-but I try to avoid dumping cash into the super special releases these days. Most are big, tacky statues, rather boring art books, and flimsy collectibles that disappear into drawers and are never seen again. Either that, or they're novelty items like the 7" app-controlled robot from Watch Dogs 2-the sort of thing you'd avoid at an amusement park. Destiny 2 comes with an admittedly useful messenger bag that can be turned into a backpack, but that assumes you want to be seen in public with it. It's... kind of garish.
Whatever the swag, the real value of Collector's Edition for publishers is that it's basically a committed purchase. The gear is secondary to the fact that you are now locked into both an Expansion Pass and a launch copy of the game. Even if the game reviews poorly, there's a solid chance that you will suck it up and pick up your Collector's Edition; because who knows, maybe the reviews are wrong, and in any case you wouldn't want to miss out on your RC Nomad. As we speak, limited edition No Man's Sky boxes are collecting dust in closets around the country.
These packages aren't always boondoggles, but they definitely favor publishers, which is one reason they're so prevalent. At the cost of a bit of extra cardboard and a mass-produced collectible, publishers get a bunch of free publicity and a nice run of early preorders. Destiny 2's messenger bag may have even pushed a few people off the fence and gotten them to invest early.
It feels crazy that $250 Collector's Editions are the norm these days, but they clearly sell like hotcakes because they're pretty much everywhere. Indeed, they're likely to become even more elaborate as digital sales rise and publishers zero in on diehard collectors. Collector's Editions may well be the only thing that keeps GameStop in business.
Whatever the case, swag is cheap. Best case, publishers have a committed player who will be playing long after the free stuff they get loses its luster (and will invest again when a sequel comes around). Worst case, publishers have a guaranteed preorder and one more Expansion Pass sale. Either way, they win.
Kat's Obscure RPG of the Week
Long before Raven Software receded into the shadows to serve as support on Call of Duty, they were making RPGs. Their first game was called Black Crypt, a Dungeons & Dragons-like dungeon crawler with real-time 3D movement. Largely forgotten today, its large color palette made it a striking RPG that received very favorite reviews, and it ultimately helped vault its creators into the industry. Another RPG followed in 1993, but Raven Software ultimately became better-known for their shooters, specifically Heretic, Jedi Knight II, and Quake 4. They're long out of the roleplaying business, but Black Crypt is a reminder that more than a few shooter-centric developers have RPG-ish roots.
Nadia's Note Block Beat Box: Mother 3's Fate
A friend recently told me he's playing Mother 3 for the first time. A well-known fact about me: I need, like, zero excuse to talk about Mother / Earthbound games. So now's a great time for me to jaw a little bit about Mother 3's music.
Mother 3 was a latecomer to the Game Boy Advance, a handheld that's not remembered for having a glorious soundchip. Most GBA game soundtracks were indistinguishable from the bronchial rattling of sick old men, but a talented composer could still squeeze good things out of the chip.
HAL Labs' composer Shogo Sakai, for example, put together one heck of a fantastic soundtrack for Mother 3. Mother 3's battle system is closely tied to its music--you can combo-attack enemies if you hit the attack button to the rhythm of a song's "heartbeat"--so it's a good thing Mother 3 is coupled with music that makes thumping monsters a ton of fun.
I think "Fate" is worthy of a special mention because it has a barking rhythm that's incredibly striking, and it's also a great song to learn Mother 3's battle system to. It's hard to grasp the true form of Mother 3's battle-anthems (many of the boss characters have exclusive themes, so you can't always benefit from muscle memory), but my thumbs automatically twitch whenever I hear Fate.
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Caty's AltGame Corner
What's it like to walk within a piece of art? Seven Doorways, a game developed by Owlchemy Labs' Graeme Borland during the recent Slow Game Jam, may have a clue. Loosely based on Borland's own daily sketches of years past, in Seven Doorways, you direct a silhouetted figure as they walk across quiet desolate landscapes. Every scenario is differently entrancing, while your interactions with the environment are minimal (such as clicking on a glowing marker and thus instilling a mountain to rise).
"It's an exercise in slowing down and not worrying about goals or mechanics," writes Borland in the game's description. "There's nothing to do but hang out for a little while and enjoy your surroundings. Feel no pressure to stay, leave when you want and visit again another day for a new experience." Seven Doorways is ultimately a primarily passive experience, adhering to the purpose of all of the entries from the Slow Game Jam by running counter to the traditional action-oriented game loop. But if you're in need of a relaxing break from any of the other massive, action-heavy games around right now, Seven Doorways might provide a much needed solace (and hey, maybe even procure your next wallpaper). Seven Doorways is downloadable on itch.io for PC, Mac, and Linux.
Racing With Jaz
With Gran Turismo Sport going through its second round of closed Beta testing this last weekend, I'm beginning to wonder just how soon we might see the game. I played Polyphony's long-delayed racer a month or so ago on PS4 Pro, and it was an absolutely stunning experience. The demo featured a very broad roster of cars - far too many for me to be able to accurately count - and the six tracks that are currently highlighted on the official Gran Turismo website.
What particularly struck me was just how slick and polished the game feels. Its environments are beautifully rendered and lit, with organic-looking vegetation, highly convincing trackside objects, and very lifelike backdrops that have a tremendous feeling of depth. The cars are amazing too, with an astonishing attention to detail that made them look exceptionally realistic - especially when the sun glints off their paintwork. Together, they deliver an outstanding-looking game that really looks ready for primetime.
Of course, I have no idea how much additional work needs to be done on the rest of the game, but with an open Beta coming "soon", I'm hoping that maybe we'll see Gran Turismo Sport sometime over the summer. That would certainly be great news for racing fans.
- I didn't realize that Japan was into April Fools Day, but it's apparently a thing over there (we don't do April Fools Day because we hate fun over at USgamer). Caty has a round-up of a few of the gags making the rounds over there, including a faux 16-bit expansion for Final Fantasy XIV, which I would play in a heartbeat.
- Rumors are swirling that Microsoft will take the wraps off Project Scorpio soon. I never thought I would be interested; but now that I've invested in a 4K Television, I'm actually giving it some thought. If nothing else, the framerate improvements might be worth it. Regardless, it's never been more complicated (and expensive!) to be a console gamer. So much for the days when consoles were a refuge from the complexities of PC gaming.
- Persona 5 is out this week! Wondering what the fuss is about? Here's a primer for you.
- With everyone comparing Mass Effect: Andromeda to Dragon Age: Inquisition, here's a tweet for you.
- Overwatch is teasing... something. Maybe a new character?
- It's baseball season! Perhaps some of you reading this are even excited about this prospect. If so, you might be interested in my review of MLB 17 The Show, which launched last week. It's pretty good this year! As for the actual season, I'm afraid my team will be pretty bad, so it's tough to get too excited for Opening Day. But here's a random World Series prediction anyway: Red Sox in six over the St. Louis Cardinals. Take it from someone whose only prediction for 2016 was "The Cubs won't win the World Series." Oops.
- As you can see above, the weird alternative controller arms race of Dark Souls 3 continues. First it was DK Drums; then it was the Mario Kart Racing Wheels, now it's literally bananas. I mean...
- Jeremy Parish's series about Final Fantasy VII ended last week with this insightful look into how its politics will translate into a possible remake. Interestingly, a commenter highlighted the one angle we might have missed: Barrett's backstory and how it ties into the rise of Donald Trump. It's good stuff, so I highly recommend you check out the entire article (and the entire series for that matter).
- As always, we'd love to hear what you're playing this week. Picking up Persona 5? Ready for the upcoming Hearthstone expansion? Talk to us in the comments!
I feel an article coming on. It's titled, "Shut Your Damn Mouth, Dragon Age Inquisition Was Good"— Kat Bailey (@The_Katbot) March 31, 2017