Assassin’s Creed Unity, or Why I Can’t Pre-Order Games Anymore.

Arno UnityI love games. I probably love games too much; they’re a massive time sink sometimes. I can attribute a lot of my slow progress this NaNoWriMo to the arrival of Assassin’s Creed Unity. Unfortunately, while I love a lot of games, I love few as much as I love Assassin’s Creed. This blog isn’t really about games, but my obsession has peeped through a couple of times even here. Assassin’s Creed is a divisive series, for everyone that loves it for its historical settings, it sense of atmosphere, the size of the game world, there’s somebody who hates it for its occasionally awkward gameplay, bugs or odd story lines. Me? I’m usually there Day One.

The series has had its ups and downs, but despite publisher Ubisoft’s ever decreasing reputation, they have earned my loyalty in the past. I happily signed up in advance for the latest entry and, loaded up on caffeine, got ready to play at midnight on the dot. A new Creed arrived every year, and yet I enjoy those opening moments as much every time. This year Ubisoft takes us to Revolutionary Paris, promising beautiful graphics, giant crowds and a fully developed cooperative multiplayer element. And as the story begins, everything is going fine. We begin in a palace in Versailles, everything looks beautiful and the narrative carries the player to Paris, where it throws open the gates and says “The city is yours!”

Unfortunately, things start to fall apart soon after. In my first couple of hours with Unity, I encountered some very unpleasant things. A few were tolerable. The game performs badly, but is playable. A few were worse, the game has numerous bugs that will often send you falling to your death while walking along a rooftop or something remove people’s faces entirely. The worst bug I encountered involved a feature called Assassin Rank. The game tracks your progress using a simple experience point to ranking system. You are supposed to progress through ranks like Initiate, Apprentice, Soldier before topping out at Legend. Unless you check your ranking in the Assassin’s headquarters, at which point the game promptly sets the player to Legend and all the multiplayer features break.

The single player campaign in similarly hampered. A big part of the series is exploring cities, climbing rooftops in search of collectibles. Unfortunately, you cannot collect everything in Unity without signing up for three separate services. Uplay (Ubisoft’s own gaming network), Assassin’s Creed Initiates (a sort of Achievements website for the series), and the Companion App (a lousy side game that is time consuming and dull), and all three of these services were either broken or failing to communicate correctly at launch. Ubisoft have fixed some of these problems, and promised fixes for the rest, but for a £55 product to be in this condition at launch is unbelievable.

The extent to which this stops someone enjoying Unity depends on the individual. I still had a great time playing through the single player story, as a lot of others will. I found the setting enjoyable, and as the most egregious problems have been corrected, I find a game that might not be the best in the series, but still entertains. The question is not whether or not Unity is a good game (It is, when it works) but why this information was concealed from the consumer. For Ubisoft, the answer is obvious; pre-orders are a big win for the publishers these days. Getting committed buyers before the product has launched helps publishers to gauge interest and helps retailers organise their launches, but the system is open to abuse. And abuse the system Ubisoft has. By enforcing a strict review embargo, preventing the press from reviewing Unity until Noon release day, Ubisoft has turned reviewers into accomplices into an attempt to defraud.

Some will say I am being hyperbolic, but before the game’s US release, I had no idea this was a game containing micro transactions. I had no idea this was a game requiring signup to separate services to fully enjoy. I have no idea this game suffered from even minor performance issues, let alone seriously crippling bugs, and if I had known it, I wouldn’t have bought it. I would have waited until Ubisoft corrected their own mess, and in the meantime I would have enjoyed the other Assassin’s Creed that came out on the same day and doesn’t have these problems. Ubisoft knows I feel that way, and they’ve never even heard of me. I know they know it because they went to such lengths to hid information from the consumer. Unity is a game sold through misinformation and deceit. I can think of no better word than fraud.

And if it’s that easy, then everyone who plays games is screwed. That’s why I can’t buy pre-orders anymore; I’m not sure I can even buy games in the first week anymore. It’s why I no longer feel comfortable banking on any games in a post-Unity industry. Because we’re living in a world where the third largest video game publisher is happy to release a broken game. We’re living in a world where the third largest video game publisher wants to sell  their flagship game for £55, and charge you  extra to progress through the game faster. We’re living in a world where the third largest video game publisher in the world wants you to sign up for three separate services to get the most from your £55 game, but won’t pay to make those services work. And we’re living in a world where the third largest video game publisher in the world wants to do all that and hide it from you until after your bought the game.

What does a word like trust mean in an industry where this is possible? Unity isn’t even a bad game (when it works), but where Assassin’s Creed III made me lose a little faith in the franchise, Unity destroys any trust I had in the industry to be honest and accountable. A pre-order is, in a way, a promise. A promise is meaningless in a world without trust.

Paris looked pretty though. It’ll make a nice advert, I’m sure.

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 20

This update is hosted by Hanif Kureishi wearing a scarf indoors.
This update is hosted by Hanif Kureishi wearing a scarf indoors.

Oh dear, a third of the way through and things might not be going how you planned.

I’m still behind, but I’m closing the gap. I’ve written above the daily average ever day since my last update but I’ve only just crossed the halfway mark.

Things have picked up in the novel itself though, I’ve fallen into a nice routine of approaching each chapter like an individually crafted story. The results are mixed, but it leaves me with chapters that I feel hold up better and will be easier to rewrite later. My current average is predicting I’ll finish on December 10, but each day I bring that prediction a little bit closer. If I can get it down to only a day or two late, then I’m still confident I can cross that finish line in time.

How are you all doing? Crossed the 1/3 mark or lagging behind with me?

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 14

Today's update is hosted by a photo of Herman Melville, folding his arms as if someone has asked him to eat Rice Pudding for dessert.
Today’s update is hosted by a photo of Herman Melville, folding his arms as if someone has asked him to eat Rice Pudding for dessert.

We’re almost at the halfway point.

It’s a scary time. Particularly if you’ve only just hit the 1/34 mark like some of us. *shame*

This year has been a very different NaNoWriMo for me. I usually make a really good start, drop off a bit in the middle when life gets in the way, then make a mad dash for the finish line in Week 4. This year I started behind and I’ve stayed behind. I’m not falling any further back, and if I keep this pace then I can probably still make my sudden sprint to the end, but I can’t figure out why I’m working so slowly. Part of it is the rest of my life, I work more hours than I did this time last year, Christmas is coming and I’m trying to get more of that stuff done in advance. I understand all that, but I think overconfidence is a factor too. Finishing on time two years in a row has made me cocky, and I’m not sure I’ll really get on top of things until the situation gets desperate.

This year’s novel is really reminding me that there’s a big difference between a plot and a premise. (Perhaps a subject for a blog post in the future.) I started this book with an idea I loved, but in practice, I’m writing what currently seems like quite a boring book. Of course, you never judge a story by a first draft, but come revision time it is going to be a lot more work than I was planning. On the plus side, I feel I have matured a lot as a writer since last year. The work I’m producing feels immediately better. Less rambling, less awkward. When it comes time to return to it, I’ll be spending a lot less time just rephrasing sentences that no longer sound right.

What I may do is approach the book aggressively in January. Cut like an angry dressmaker until every wrinkle is discarded and then give it a quick rewrite. The word count will drop, but I should have a shorter, tighter story left over. Still, I’m getting ahead of myself.

How are you guys doing?

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 10 – Oh Dear God What Happened?

Today's NaNoWriMo update is presented by Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, in front of a dinosaur skull trying to eat shadows.
Today’s NaNoWriMo update is presented by Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, in front of a dinosaur skull trying to eat shadows.

Day 10 is upon us!

Panic, Panic, Panic. Day 10! 1/3 of the way through? Have you all written your 16,666 words?

I certainly haven’t. I am ashamed to say that I am way behind this year. I only have myself to blame. A big part of why I’m so behind is that I normally panic during November. This year, I had a lot on and I didn’t want to get too stressed out so I told myself to take it easy. After all, I’ve finished two years in a row now. Surely a third would be a doddle? I was working a little bit behind par most days, with a few days hitting 2k to compensate, but I work weekends and this last one really knocked me for six. I wrote nothing on Saturday or Sunday. Nothing! I don’t know what kind of a mad fool novelist I thought I was to try and get away with it, but now my graph looks like this:

Dark times for us all!
Dark times for us all!

As you can see, I have done a little bit today. I have a day off, so I’m working to close the gap a little. I’ve broken down everything I want to write today into 500 word blocks, and I’m going to attack the problem head on until I’ve written 3k. I won’t catch up with that fiendish dotted line, but I should close the gap enough to keep me going. I have some more time off coming up next week, so I’m going try and leave Mr Line coughing in my dust.

As for the novel itself, things are interesting. Plot developments are happening without my control again, and I’m being forced to confront more problems with my initial idea, but I’m still pretty happy with the results. My usual weaknesses are peeping through. Too much emphasis on dialogue, not enough establishment of clear characters and settings, but I’m going to really try and clean that up in the rewrite.

How are you guys doing?

NaNoWriMo 2014 – Day 7

A special double-whammy of novelists today. One of my favourite novelists, and the author of my favourite novel. Stephen King and Audrey Niefenegger.
A special double-whammy of novelists today. One of my favourite novelists, and the author of my favourite novel. Stephen King and Audrey Niefenegger.

Holy Rapid Progress, Batman!

So, that was the first week of NaNoWriMo 2014. How is everybody doing?

Confession time. I’m still behind. I’m going to try and squeeze in another 500 words before midnight, but I just wrote a bit 1200 word session and I’m feeling very burnt out. This is one of my better years, however. I’m behind in the word count, but I’m not way behind, and I’m closing the gap already. Progress would probably be going a little bit smoother if I wasn’t being distracted by a very jealous kitten who insists on sitting on the keyboard every time I sit down to write. She hasn’t deleted anything yet, but she’s a very strict editor so it’s only a matter of time.

The second week is always a tough time for me in NaNoWriMo, it’s when you start to really get a shape of your novel and you can see if the structure and pacing you had in mind is going to pan out. Mine almost never does. This is usually when it becomes clear that the novel is nowhere near as exciting as I had in mind, and I panic and start throwing crazy stuff in there. I’m not going to do that this year, I’m determined to stay the course and fix problems in the edit, but it’s hard work and I hope I can stay strong!

I’m still in love with my idea, which is good, but I really hope I can do it justice. Let me know how you guys are getting on.

NaNoWriMo – Day 6

Ernest Hemingway, snuggling up to his ghost writer.
Ernest Hemingway, snuggling up to his ghost writer.

Oh dear, the first week is almost over!

How is everybody doing?

I’m having quite a different experience this year. Last year I had a loose plan and a lot of time off, this year I’m insanely busy and my plan isn’t much more than a couple of suggestions. The story is developing well, though, lacking somewhat in suspense in its current form. One of the most interesting things about starting a novel is the way the biggest weaknesses in your plot aren’t visible until you start hitting the keys. I’m currently weighing up if I should try to fix them as I go, or plow on and hope for the best. Either way, the book is still keeping my interest, and should carry through well to the end of the month.

In other news, my big November freebie ends today. The books aren’t all ending on the same day, so it’s still worth having a look, but you might be too late. It was a pretty successful promotion, lots of copies given away, so it’s nice to know the stories are getting into people’s hands.

As usual, let me know how you’re getting on in the comments!

NaNoWriMo – Day 3

For this year's NaNoWriMo pics, I have interesting pictures of interesting novelists. Here's a portrait of Emily Brontë painted by her brother.
For this year’s NaNoWriMo pics, I have interesting pictures of interesting novelists. Here’s a portrait of Emily Brontë painted by her brother.

November is here again!

Are you all working hard on your novels? I was unlucky enough to be working for the first two days this year; if you check my stats so far you’ll see I haven’t even hit 1.6k yet. Terrible, I know, but everything else is done today so I’ll be making some good progress this evening. My hope is to get a good 2k down every day until I’m back to work on Saturday. That should push my averages ahead.

If you want to follow my progress, feel free to add me on the NaNoWriMo site here:

While it has been a slow start this year, I’m finally working on an idea I’ve been kicking around since last year. It’s a sci-fi / horror yarn, that I’m hoping will have a little bit of a B-Movie vibe without being too corny. It stars a certain literary mad-scientist often mixed up with his creation, but I’m hoping to put my own spin on it. I’m having a lot of fun with it, which helps when you’re working on such a high pressure project.

I’m also celebrating NaNoWriMo with another big book freebie, so you can grab some free reads for your kindle for the next couple of days.

Meanwhile, my new book launched yesterday and I’m eagerly waiting for the first reviews. Check it out, and let me know what you think.

That’s all for now, I’ll have more updates later in the month.

The Big NaNoWriMo Book Sale!

Custom-Balloon-design-toolNovember is here again and you know what that means! Thirty days (*cough* Twenty-Nine now) of manic scribbling with the desperate hope of reaching 50,000 words before December arrives. It’s a slow start for me this year because I’m working like crazy until Monday, but I’m hoping to get ahead in the week. If you want to follow my progress, you can look me up here:

Once again I’m kicking off NaNoWriMo with my Big Book Sale. For the next few days, Christmas Past, Time Trial and The Octopus of Suspense will all be free on kindle. Grab them now from the link below, but don’t let them come between you and your novel!

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