Thursday, October 16, 2008

Article Response: OMG Bewbs!

The following is a response to an article written in The Escapist.

Let me preface this response by saying that, in case you haven't read the article, it's written in a fairly tongue-in-cheek manner. It gives a sparse history of breasts in video games, lauding them as units of measure for video game's technological progress, and ending with lamentations of their apparent doom. The article is missing a "/sarcasm" tag, but then again, The Escapist usually doesn't attract the type of mouth-breathing berks that would have trite sarcasm go over their heads, not their written articles anyways. Although, that's not to say that this article is anything high brow, quite frankly the quality of The Escapist has gone down from when I first started reading it, but I think that's another post altogether.

To get back on track, the article is more or less a fluff piece, but even still, I took two things away from it. First, it brings into question the industry's portrayal of female characters in game, and secondly, I generalize my first note and ponder what the industry's current state of "maturity" is.

I'm reminded by an article posted on 1Up. Top 5 Most Attractive, Non-sexualized Women in Games. It's somewhat of another fluff piece, if the title wasn't indicative of that, but it does half-confirm that the portrayal of women has indeed improved, if just by the simple virtue that the list was able to be created. Needless to say, it's certainly an improvement from the "Shake it baby!" era of gaming.

As for the question of the industry's maturity overall, the answer is more or less the same, it's improving. However, I lament the fact that there's a market for Gears of War-esque games, but at the same time, I also accept the fact that that's a side-effect of achieving mainstream appeal. Comparisons can be drawn to the movie industry, which get their fair share of bad apples that, for reasons seemingly unbeknownst to me, manage to achieve commercial success (*Cough* Beverly Hills Chihuahua *Cough*). But even with that, there are still "art house" films that release at the box office, and do fairly well.

That's not to say that the industry doesn't have it's fair share of "art house" games, there are a veritable ton of them. My problem is that not enough of them are achieving mainstream attention, I can count the few "art house" titles that have achieved this on my hands, the most prominent of the bunch obviously being Braid (which I will avoid discussing, for the sake of the length of this article). Other notables would be Echochrome, flOw, Pixel Junk: Eden, the upcoming Fez, among many others.

One could argue that there simply isn't the market for it, but as far as the enthusiast press is concerned, there is a market for "art house" games, the commercial success of Braid can attest. The average age of gamers is 29-36, not jockheads salivating over the latest iteration of Madden, or runty 12-year olds squealing to our mothers for chocolate milk while we play Halo 3, so it's high time that the industry at large quits pandering to us as if we are.

This coming GDC (Game Developers Conference) in March will show what's been cooking for the past year, and this goes without saying, but I'm excited to find out. I think the industry is ready for our "Watchmen", our "Shawshank Redemption", or what have you. A game that transcends the genre, but at the same time, resonates with a large portion of the populace. Yes I'm smoking crack, but I can still hope.

(Wow, talk about veering off course.)

Image stolen shamelessly from The Escapist.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Teaching Rock Band To Drunk People

Did I mention they were also mostly high as well? Yeah, well I figure I point that out early, and do it in a way that doesn't make the title ostensibly more long-winded, and in a manner that's not obtuse or instructive. I've at least accomplished the former...

If there was any question as to whether you could teach a person that's drunk or high to play Rock Band, one must simply answer the question of whether a mule can skate on ice. The answer? Yes, he'll probably just fall over a few times, and generally make himself look like an ass... or ass-er? (Get it? Because a mule is an ass... so... yeah...)

So yes, it is possible to get people who are fairly intoxicated to play Rock Band, not well (God no), but they can play. Some of them anyways, I only really got two people to play songs without failing on a regular basis, which is out of eight or so people. I've run the numbers, painstakingly mind you, and that's only a quarter of the people who tried, and succeeded. So trust me in saying, it's not a easy job to teach people to play Rock Band. Quite frankly, I'm surprised they haven't gotten vertigo from all the moving colors, and faceplanted the hardwood flooring.

Communication is key for teaching your unwitting subjects, it's best to keep your lessons short and concise. But it takes two to tango in this. If you yourself happen to be inebriated, learning how to play Rock Band, then you may be having trouble understanding some of the terminology. Here are a few simple translations that may come in handy:

Stop fucking touching shit!

Translation: "Stop touching the buttons and mashing the drums, instead, assume the fetal position while I navigate the menus and select a song."

Hit the colors dumbass!

Translation: "Using your drumsticks, hit the colored drumpads that correspond to color being shown on the screen."

Fucking hit the bass!

Translation: "Hit the bass pedal with your foot for the orange horizontal lines."

Ow, frakin' hell!

Translation: "No, don't hit the bass player, hit the bass pedal."

Starpower! Use your starpower!

Translation: "Tilt your guitar controller upwards, complete a drum fill, or shout into the mic when available, to activate your Overdrive."

Stupid mother fuck...

Translation: "Play better, assholes."

Bear in mind, even if you do manage to pound the bare basics of Rock Band into their heads, it's still up to the players themselves to come through in the end. The best you can really hope for is that your players don't pull a Townshend, don't use the mic as a make-shift +5 Morning Star of Sonic Death, don't rimshot the pads every other hit (Just plain annoying), and that you generally emerge from the whole experience, eardums and sanity intact.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Ceci N'est Pas Une Gamer: Response

Seminal video game journalist N'Gai Croal, of Newsweek's Level Up blog, brings to our attention an article one GameSetWatch, written by Douglas Wilson, a fairly scathing and critical op ed on the term "Gamer". Here's a snippet:

I can’t stand gamers.

No, that’s not quite true. I can’t stand the concept of gamers.

And no, I’m not some anti-gaming nutcase. Far from it, games have always been an important part of my life. As a child of the 80s, I grew up with the Nintendo Entertainment System. I watched my older brother play Sierra adventure game classics like Quest For Glory and King’s Quest.

When the Internet finally found its way to our house, I immersed myself in text MUDs and played real-time strategy games with my friends over TCP/IP. I’ve finished a hefty number of RPGs, including Final Fantasies I, IV, VI, VII, and IX (I gave up on V because, well, Squaresoft mailed it in on the storyline).In my heyday I could complete Paranoia Survivor Max on the highest difficulty. I was there at the first PAX, and I’ve attended E3 twice and GDC three times. Hell, I like videogames so much that I’m doing a friggin’ PhD in game studies.

The problem is, the “gaming community” has become a kind of cult. Organized around worship sites like Kotaku, 1UP, and Penny Arcade, the Church of Gamers congregates in Internet forums and online games, rallying against the Great Satan of Jack Thompson. Smitten with near-religious fervor over their hobby, these so-called gamers increasingly treat digital games as a devotional object, a thing morally good in itself.

It’s great to be a passionate about one’s hobbies. But when fans lose touch with reality, they also lose perspective on the more important parts of life. And in doing so, gamers ironically stifle innovation in the medium they so love.

The rest can be found here.

N'Gai chimes in shortly with his own assessment of the article stating:

The Reaction: Words have power, this is true. But is more widespread use of the term "interactive entertainment"--and with it, changing the term "gamers" to "avid players of digital games"--really enough to radically change the perception or reality of videogames and the people who play them. In our opinion, Wilson has confused his diagnosis of the symptom (the clannish, obsessive, unrestrained behavior of a vocal minority of, uh, gamers) with a variety of diseases (the youth of said vocal minority; the disinhibiting nature of the Internet; and the general ignorance about games in society at large). The fact is that there is no monolithic "gaming community." There's only an assortment of people with varying degrees of passion about their pastime, so pleading with them to reform its behavior is pointless. And what ails them is not the name they choose to go by.

The Verdict: Red light. There's nothing wrong with the concept of "gamers." But individual gamers could stand to check themselves.

I more or less agree with him, though I do it in a ham-fisted manner, as usual. My response:

This reminds me of the issue of the terms "comic books" vs. "graphic novels". Like with the term gamer, comic books seem to evoke the stereotype of nerdiness and adolescence, even when the medium has long since transcended those misconceptions (for comic books at least), the public perception hasn't followed suit. Therefore, some people have felt the need to shed the old label of "comic" to "graphic novel", a label that reflects the mediums maturity.

Naturally, some people have taken issue with this proposition. I among them, I think it cheapens the whole thing, to shed a large part of the medium's history seems nothing short of snooty. Take a copy of The Watchman and any comic off the $1 rack, both are still considered "comic books". Much like how Schindler's List and Meet the Spartans are both considered "movies". It's not the term that defines the quality, far from it.

Of course, this argument isn't directly applicable necessarily. Firstly, my argument references the medium itself, while this discussion seems relegated to the terminology of those who *consume* that said medium (and I'd like to point out, like how there's no "tuber" term, there's also no term for comic book reader). And secondly, modern gaming, sadly, hasn't transcended into something beyond, not in the way movies, comics, novels, or any other established artforms have. Though I think that's obviously a whole other discussion.

With all that said though, how do I feel about the term Gamer, surprisingly conflicted actually. I've come to embrace all things geeky, and I feel that "gaming" is a large part of my identity. However, I also feel that the term "gamer" is extraneous, and even alienating. The latter I sometimes prefer, given my elitism, but I know that the medium won't grow if the audience and pool of talent doesn't either.

With that in mind, I initially sided with Wilson's article, and felt it best if the term was abolished. But I realized that I just contradicted my "comic vs. graphic novel" argument. I've since had a change of heart, and I think it's best if we keep the term, and embrace it (more so?). That way, when Gamers *do* mature, and I hope they/we will, the public perception will change along with it.

Certainly no one still thinks D&D players are Satanists right?...

Feel free to add chime in here, or over at the Level Up comments section.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Dear EA...

We've had good times in the past, the Need For Speed series is probably one of the most ingrained racing franchises in the industry, if not the racing franchise. There was Populous, and Dungeon Keeper 2, arguably Peter Molyneux's finest games. Command & Conquer, Simcity, Medal of Honor, the list goes on.

Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Need For Speed, with Underground being a great recharging the series needed, featuring the tightest controls for an arcade style racer, has more recently been relegated to shovelware. Medal of Honor is still fighting the same war, with the headlining feature for the game being, "Look at the Military Correspondent we have this time! He's a higher rank than our last one!" Don't even get me started with their sports games.

But your games aren't the only thing you've ruined, I remember Bullfrog in their heyday, Dungeon Keeper 2 is a personal favorite of mine. They were one of the most promising studios in the industry, but now you have them making games like Catwoman, and the Harry Potter Games.

I remember Westwood, when they were the prime contenders for King of the RTS, going head to head against the likes of Blizzard, and holding ground. Which is to be expected, seeing as how they were one of the pioneers for the RTS genre.
But your usage of the studio can be described as nothing but outright idiotic, with their swan songs being C&C:Renegade, and Earth & Beyond. No developer deserves to go out on such a low note, let a lone Westwood.

And last, but certainly not least, Origin. While, at the time, I was more interested in RPG's of the Eastern variety (forgive me), so I can't honestly speak regarding the Ultima series, I'm sure it was a fine franchise. I was however, a huge, huge, Wing Commander fan. It's certainly a shame the studio and the Wing Commander franchise are now defunct (No, do not bring up Wing Commander Arena to me...), but I think it was fair to say that the franchise went out on a high note with Prophecy... at least in contrast. Hey! I liked Wing Commander Prophecy.

But you know all of that already, no real point in bringing it up. You have, afterall, already copped to that, and I respect you for that. However, talk is cheap, and it's going to take a lot of action to sway the minds of the people. And let me tell you, the people hate you. Don't act so surprised though, you brought it on yourself, but let's forget about the past, we've started over fresh, right?

You were already off to a good start too! The Burnout series was stale, and poorly executed, before you came along and lit a fire under Critereon, resulting in the stellar Burnout 3. While Paradise could have been better, full judgment will be reserved till I see your supposedly big DLC plans take fruition.

The Command & Conquer series is as strong as ever, with C&C3 being a solid game all-round, and Red Alert 3 looking amazing. Tiberium I am a little concerned about though, conceptually, it looks like nothing out of the C&C universe, but I've been pining for a good squad-based shooter since SW:Republic Commando, and Tiberium looks very similar. If my biggest problem with the game is aesthetics, then bring it on.

And what about Rock Band! While a brilliant game in and of itself, your model for DLC is a license to print money. Brava.

Oh, and Spore, how can we forget about Spore. One of the most conceptually interesting games to come out in recent time, if not all time. You're taking a big risk in a game that features a persistent service (Sporepedia) with no apparent subscription model, a move that almost seems altruistic.

However, not everything is fine and dandy, quite frankly, when you pull things like this, I worry if this is simply another cycle of bad business decisions happening all over again.

Naturally, the blogosphere imploded, like it usually does. But while I would have defended you when being bashed unreasonably, I did nothing to defend you this time, simply because I couldn't, wouldn't. I did not agree with the idea of purchasable weapons, and quite frankly, it confused me how you could have gotten DLC so right with Rock Band, but got it so absolutely wrong with Bad Company. Perish the thought of that being actual irony.

Oh, we've chided, but I'm concerned if this is a trend that will continue, and I fear that if it does, the jokes will be more like gallows humor.

But as it turns out, maybe you really have turned over a new leaf. While it did take the internet starting a whole kerfuffle, you least know better than to ignore your customers. But what they don't seem to realize, if only because the idea seems silly (especially for such a big company such as yourself), you're still learning.

Yes, I know, people find it hard to believe, but it's true. DLC is a hard thing to do right, in fact, Rock Band is the only one to do it right. However, not all games are like Rock Band, understandable. It's also understandable that you were simply trying out a new business model for DLC, I just wish you could have thought it out a little more for BF:BC before setting it in stone.

Just a little word of advice for the future though, I know you're looking to Korea for ideas into DLC, but understand that the Korean market and the Western market are two very different beasts, as evidenced by the public outcry. Foreign ideas are just that, and you know how xenophobic people can be, regardless of how good that foreign idea may or may not be. But I can't really blame you for trying.

It would be best to think things through a little more though, get some public opinion, do some polls, just something to test the waters for a new business model before you set it in concrete. Other wise, the internet is going to be drawing dicks on it before it gets a chance to dry. (Whatever, like 8% of people do it.)

Yours Truly,

Some Guy