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9:39 PM on 05.23.2012  

In Your Face: Why the UI is Super-Important and Needs to Stop Being Ignored

Oh my, it's been a while, hasn't it? I knew I'd falter on the every-week thing at some point, but since I did two articles a while ago I'll pretend nothing happend and move on. Also: By "UI," I'm talking about not just various kinds of menus but also HUDs and similar data displays; this may not be technically correct in game-speak but I need a general term and it's good enough for this article



One of the (hundreds of) great little touches in Max Payne 3 is its very beginning. After a couple of pages of lawyer speak and after press-starting through its main title, I was immediately thrust into a cutscene of Max arriving at a new apartment and promptly drowning himself in alcohol and self-pity. The music swells, the camera blurs and bleeds out, Max stumbles around in drunken agony - and only then does the main menu slide into view, sliding back out directly into the next cutscene as soon as I select my difficulty options.

It's easy to dismiss this seamless, loading-free stream of cutscene-to-gameplay as gimmickry, but the simple fact that it's so noteworthy (as far as I know, only Uncharted does likewise) seems to highlight just how important front-end presentation is to a game - and how depressingly often it appears to be completely neglected.

Sure, like just about everything in the medium, the main menu and the pause menu and the score and the lives and the ammo and so on were displayed with nothing but function in mind during gaming's early days, because why on earth would you lavish attention on a few meters when there are sprites and backgrounds (and then skyboxes and character models) who need that loving craftsmanship so much more? Of course there were fancy decorations on arcade cabinets and those one-game LCD handhelds like the Game & Watch series, but they were just that - decorations, supplying what could not be rendered by the Hamster-Wheel Age technology at work.


Gotta go fast

Skip forward to the '90s - we're still in the middle of bare digits, simple bars, and cumbersome themed menus; the most nuanced and thoughtful frontends I can think of are Doomguy and BJ's right-angled mugs scowling and - when health is low - going so far as to bleed and scowl at the same time.

Yet there is one game which seemed to actually give some significant thought toward the meters and numbers that would be on screen for 10 hours straight, and that is Half-Life - the title so famous for showing just how engaging and involving a game world can be when it's more than a loose string of made-to-order death-arenas and floating rocks. The HEV suit in which protagonist Gordon Freeman treks through hell-on-Earth doesn't only provide a plot-excuse for having abstract symbols and gauges plastered across his eyeballs - it reacts to the world around him, more effectively grounding and drawing the player into Black Mesa, like when it calmly states in its soothing GPS-voice "major fracture detected; morphine administered" after the player sustains an injury that (I would assume) causes Gordon's leg bone to shatter into bits and protrude itself half a meter above what was his kneecap. Great stuff.

Another four years leads to one of the best examples of UI-gameworld integration ever in Metroid Prime. If you have played this game on or near release, you probably remember looking upward, watching the raindrops splash across the TV, and sitting in place for over a minute going "oh SWEET." I do too! Everything from the subtle sway of the visor as the arm cannon sweeps to the left to the fog lingering on the screen after passing through a leaking pipe to Samus' faint reflection and raised arm when lit up by a nearby explosion further served Metroid's trademark sense of isolation - that this thin transparent window is the only thing protecting you from an entire planet bent on your destruction.


HHHHHHHNNNNGGGG

The fact that these kinds of things tend to pop up in first-person games is likely not a coincidence - not only is the "visor" method an easy way to explain away one of the most abstract necessities of gaming, but the tendency of the relevant genres to focus on the world around them lends itself quite naturally to making sure every aspect of the game makes thematic sense; even the relatively mediocre Syndicate reboot from earlier this year had a wonderful little touch where the player's cyber-vision would highlight and provide a small description on f*cking everything instead of just plot-essential objects. Still, it's not just about HUDs - Fallout 3 ties inventory and character management into the charmingly rugged Pip-Boy you can pull up on your wrist, Far Cry 2 (which I've waxed about before) coats its menus in the same African grit that pervades the rest of the game, and even panning the camera out uncomfortably close to the back of Dead Space shows us the real-time, in-universe holo-UI - an absolutely brilliant stroke, removing that abstractness I just mentioned and whatever safety you might find in your run-of-the-mill pause-menu, augmenting its intended focus on horror.

It is unfortunate that such titles are exceptions - paging through my memories and game library, I'm having an immensely difficult time thinking of anything else, much less anything from before the current generation. The recent push toward minimalistic and unobtrusive frontends is an improvement, certainly, but when even Gears of War - a series to which the word "subtlety" is treated with the same manner of semi-hostile confusion and bewilderment as the word "female" was at my high school's D&D club - is getting by with nothing but an ammo meter at the top-right, you know there's improvement to be had; only Metro 2033 comes to mind as taking full advantage of having no UI beyond the new-game load-game menus.

Yes, I hear you screaming "FABLE 3!" way over in the back there. While bold, magically teleporting your character (no matter where he/she is) to a connection of rooms staffed by an out-of-place John Cleese is not only more cumbersome and time-consuming than a good old-fashioned inventory menu, but ultimately just as senseless and arbitrary. And yet, it is an effort - and I'd love to see more developers try and tinker around with these age-old conventions.


Not only that, but it keeps trying to sell me things

Here's one: does a game even need traditional menus? Of course there has to be an array of technical options tucked away behind a Start or Select button, but imagine slotting in a fresh disc, sitting through the obligatory legal-speak, and then hopping straight into gameplay. A journal (which the player would be conveniently sat in front of) may take the place of a load or even a level-select menu, for example, and the inventory could be just that - a backpack or a briefcase which opens to show its genuine contents, to be rearranged, emptied, or enlarged by the character's own hand. The effective actions and "steps" the player has to take haven't changed - merely the manner in which they are presented.

As technology improves and designers get more creative, I have no doubt that that we'll eventually start seeing some real widespread effort placed into these kinds of things - while I dismissed Gears UI strengths as fairly pedestrian a couple of paragraphs ago, the fact that they are there and are now commonplace does indicate progress is being made. With another console generation on the horizon, another leap can't be far away.   read


1:30 PM on 05.02.2012  

Cblog Analytics - April 2012



If you were here at the beginning of the month, you probably don't even need to read the Analytics to guess what half the stats will be about. But do it anyway, because they're likely even bigger than you think! And, of course, make sure to check out last month's edition if you want to compare charts and other things.

I've added the Bloggers Wanted stat back in as a part of the Topics Covered category, but beyond that, there's not much changed since last time. With luck, I shouldn't have to count these by hand anymore in the near future, as a more convenient method is ostensibly on the way - but for now, apply a modest amount of salt to the ones-digits in comments, faps, and topics.

------

Remember: If there's something I haven't covered that you want to see next month, post it in the comments!



In total, precisely 500 blogs were posted this month!
-(That's 5 less than last month's count of 505!)
-neat

The most-blogged day was Monday the 2nd, with 42 blogs!
-(That's 18 more than last month's most-blogged day!)
-This was due to the illustrious bbain kicking off a "10-things-about-me" trend, which basically grabs all the awards this month despite happening at its very beginning - the most faps and the most comments were to be found this day

The least-blogged day was Sunday the 22nd, with 5 blogs!
-(That's 1 less than last month's least-blogged day!)
-Another Sunday! I wonder how long this streak will last. As you might expect, the fewest comments and faps happened on this day

On average, there were about 17 blogs a day!
-(That's 4 more than last month's average!)
-The front-loaded early days are what's skewing the average up despite the blog count being nearly identical to last month. It also provides a good bit of the following trendline's steepness; while the overall trend is still declining, the numbers are around the same as the last two months after all the dust settles





The flavor of the month was 10 things about me, which was written about 74 times!
-(That's 20 more blogs than last month!)
-W-O-W - that's about 15% of the month's blogs. Glad to see that thing took off as well as it did

This month's Bloggers Wanted topics prompted 44 blogs to be written!
-Specifically:
Disappointment - 2 (trailing from last month)
Dreaming - 32
Collaboration - 10

About 71% of blogs were varied enough to have less than 5 blogs per topic!
-Disregarding the Bloggers Wanted category (which was not included last month), that jumps up to 79%, or 1% more than last month. Either way, considering how many people were in the 10-things-a-palooza, the rest was light fare - PAX East covered some territory and Mass Effect is still stumbling around the building looking for the exit, but everything else was nicely diverse





A total of 3,586 comments were posted on the Cblogs this month!
-(That's 604 more than last month!)
-Daaaaaaaaa…

50 blogs received no comments! ;_;
-(That's the exact same number as last month!)
-huh

The most commented blog was Occam Thoughts: 10 Things About Me, by Occams electric toothbrush, with 44 comments!
-(That's 29 less than last month's most-commented blog!)

On average, there were 120 comments a day!
-(That's 34 more than last month!)





In total, the Dtoid community fapped 2990 times!
-(That's 918 more than last month!)
-…aaaaaaaaamn

91 blogs went through the month fap-free! ;_;
-(That's 1 more than last time!)
-Interesting how both this and the no-comments counts are almost identical to last month. This'll be another one to watch in the coming future

The sluttiest blog was 10 things you didn't know about bbain, by bbain, with 54 faps!
-(That's 8 less than last month's sluttiest blog!)

On average, there were 100 faps a day!
-(That's 33 more than last month!)





This month, 56 new members posted their first Cblog! (That's 1 more than last month!) In order of appearance, they are:

Skyscraper - Ismoista - Keith Ballard - 1337 Sammich - Jacob Sigg - Cody Walker - Iris Repliforce - UrbanToledoGang - PixelsAmpersandBits - gutsack - Charles Cox - Lord of the Thunder - Sir Davies - Shifty1897 - KeithTheGeek - molamolacolacake - lordscar - TheOgGamer - onomatapedalo - jessalynzo - StrongStyleFiction - Burdmayn - Nick R P Green - jennyfish - ASaiyan - Jradrox - JR Stone - DougCL - RUSKULL - berto - eriyon - ninjapresident - r0b0t0 - David Nolan - sdgundum990 - Shinta - Anton Govorin - streetpassnj - exp0d - Probchild95 - Robert Cousineau - ShotStopper93 - TheEliteSpear - Stephen Beirne - Hottrod - ThisIsTheUltimate - Alpha Unit - sandwichassassin - Nebunez - nonetheartist - virtuaroid - jenrai - Juhwann - Prettyboy - My Enormous Hairy Downstairs Kitchen - EAPidgeon

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NOTES:

-Until a better method presents itself, statistics are counted by hand, per-day. Comments and Faps are recorded at the end of the next day, to give the community ample time to read and respond. I also do my best to disregard obvious spam-posts, but I can easily miss one or skip over what's actually just a really shoddy & self-aggrandizing but otherwise legit Cblog. This means that there are likely minor errors and inaccuracies present, but none of them should be significant enough to invalidate anything

-Cblog Recaps and last month's Analytics are not counted, but all other serials (like FNF) are, under the rationale that serials still exist for the purpose of "creating" content under a certain topic or theme, while the Recaps & Analytics merely seek to sort and organize the blogs

-For the flavor of the month, I do not count Bloggers Wanted topics - the statistic is instead recorded separately. A Bloggers Wanted topic that covers another popular, non-BW topic is only filed under the BW statistic

-There is still some inherent subjectivity in deciding what constitutes a "unique topic," so keep that in mind if there seems like there's some obvious category that I've ignored (although feel free to tell me)

-Statistics are not intended to impart any kind of judgment or opinion in and of themselves - If I have any personal thoughts, they are noted below the corresponding statistic   read


3:45 PM on 04.29.2012  

Mario Really Is Fantastic, and it's Not Just Nostalgia



I'm going to be breaking my usual once-a-week routine here to reply to this article by FrDougal9000, because, as the large comments thread would seem to indicate, it really needs one. For the purposes of this piece, I'm speaking about the platformers - comparing Mario Teaches Typing to Sonic '06 doesn't seem fair. FOR SONIC AHAHAHAAHAAHAA

If I were to pick one word to describe Mario - one word to encompass his style, his contributions to the medium, his very essence - it would have to be "creativity." Applying the description to a series that hasn't put out a non-sequel in nearly five years does seem odd, and let's be honest; we haven't moved away from the formula of jumping on, over, and around a sequence of obstacles since 1986.

Where Mario's genius lies, however - and where hundreds of other would-be imitators inevitably fall short - is in taking that incredibly simple concept, executing it to almost literal perfection, and applying it across a dizzyingly, dazzlingly diverse set of levels, environments, and secondary tools. Super Mario 64's very first three levels have you tossing a giant sentient bomb off a mountain, coaxing a killer eel out of a sunken ship to reach the treasure inside, launching yourself out of cannons, racing a huge turtle, and more. Super Mario Bros. 3 handed you powers of flight, and sent you across a hitherto-unseen array of moody forests, snowy peaks, labyrinthine castles, and scorching deserts where even the sun itself is after your head. Super Mario Galaxy sets itself into probably the softest science-fiction universe in existence, allowing it to completely throw out physical laws in its quest to provide the player new and interesting ways to leap over pits.



But their sequels? Super Mario World took the base concepts of "lots of powerups and a world map" and blew them to massive proportions, providing multiple paths and exits, f***ing Yoshi, and a huge amount of detail in the presentation thanks to the capabilities of the SNES. Super Mario Galaxy 2 contains more variety and ingenuity in a single world than you'll find in most full games, constantly flipping perspectives and gravity while introducing awesome things like the Bulb Berry to keep the variety constantly flowing. Even Super Mario Sunshine, probably the closest thing to a "mistake" the series has ever come close to (quite a few people actually find it their favorite), takes the Super Mario 64 formula and centers it around creative usage of a goddamn water-hose -and still manages to rarely repeat itself.

When you look at the pitiable floundering of, say, the Sonic franchise, whose first jump to 3D in Sonic Adventure practically sold itself on novelty before the series regressed into buggy, awkward, cumbersome mediocrity, the slick, superb polish and boundless originality of his Italian rival shines all the brighter. Castlevania lumbered along on life support for years, only finding reasonably firm footing after its umpteenth reinvention in Lords of Shadow; Crash Bandicoot and Spyro have all but disappeared; even Donkey Kong remains trapped in the second dimension and even Metroid has suffered painful blows in Prime: Hunters and Other M.



It's because that creativity - that earnest, expansive, almost child-like ability to conjure the fantastic out of the mundane - carries with it a kind of timeless magic and wonder that can reduce manly men to girlish giggling. Only Nintendo's own Legend of Zelda franchise comes close to possessing that kind of power, and even that series is far more guilty of retreading and rehashing, with its latest appearance in Skyward Sword frantically tossing in as many ancillary features and structural changes as it can muster to capture the same freshness that Mario seems to pull off so effortlessly.

To put it even more simply - Mario is fun. No; he's not just fun to play. He is fun. He represents that giddy delight, that enraptured smile, that reason video gaming as a medium appeals to so many different people in so many different places. I play Mario. My brother plays Mario. My 5-year-old cousin plays Mario. My parents play Mario. Nothing in gaming is as universally adored - very, very few things anywhere are as universally adored. As long as there's an audience for fun, there is an audience for Mario - because, in every meaning of the word, it's constantly, consistently, incredibly fantastic.   read


9:58 PM on 04.27.2012  

Hey, Who Remembers Hover?



I do! Packaged with shiny new copies of Windows 95 along with a Weezer music video, Hover is a shallow, ugly, bare-bones tech demo with three short levels, moronic AI, highly luck-based design, and a paltry selection of mechanics - most of which are irrelevant toward the central goal of running over flags.

Hover is also a game that I love.

85% of this is nostalgia. But it is nostalgia that - when I booted up the game a couple of days ago for the first time in years - sprayed out of every orifice, dripped down every limb, clogged my nose, blocked my ears, and forced me to change into a new pair of pants. Hover was my first 3-D game, and the first game in which I was able to reach up and scrape some flaky chips off my parents' high scores (remember those?).

It's a very personal kind of feeling that's different from going back and playing, say, Pac-Man, because unlike the yellow ubiquity, I feel as if Hover was this amazing little secret I and only I had unearthed - none of the few acquaintances I had at the time ever thought about which part of the Windows 95 Install CD-ROM you're supposed to eat first, much less what lay within its digital contents. I was surprised to find that the trippy, quirky music and grainy, out-of-place sound effects had imprinted themselves so heavily that I was actually doing my utmost to hit every power-up and every tile, just to feel another wave of pleasant recognition.


Speaking of trippy, check out this level art

But the other 15%? This is one of the things I love about rediscovering old games I only played as a kid - now armed to the teeth with the knowledge and experience to analyze and break down even most joyful, delightful, and earnest titles into a dull, grey listing of component parts, I can pick out just what it was that enraptured my young mind so easily and completely.

In this case, it was the feeling of isolation in a hostile and indistinct world (which, probably not coincidentally, is something core to the Metroid series I devoutly worship). The nature of the game is as innocuous as it gets - drive around in bumper cars and capture three to six flags before the AI can do the same. But where are those flags? I don't know. So I search around - what's that powerup? It's too blurry - I can't make it out. Closer and closer - oh crap, I just got stuck in a sink tile! Even though I quickly memorized the layout of its few maps, the flag spawns were randomized just enough (and the level design was poor enough) that I could never just sail across a few set places and call it a level - there was always uncertainty, always exploration needing to be done; always the feeling that I was lost in a hazy, passive-aggressive labyrinth.

Key to all this was the AI, referred to quite ominously as "the Drones." There were three on each map - one to seek the flags, one to sail around and do nothing of importance, and one whose mission is simply to track you. Today, of course, I realize that the threat of being pushed slightly in a direction I didn't intend to go in is probably the least threatening thing in the game, what with tiles that vaporize flags you've captured, trap you for several precious seconds, or abruptly spin and launch you to the other side of the level; but at the time, hearing the soft, brief, airy tone that announced a Drone's intent to ram into me at full speed elicited the kind of startled gasp and frantic maneuvering that I wouldn't rediscover until Ocarina of Time's Shadow Temple.


I SEE YOU

All of this was surely unintentional, of course; the awesome feeling of being lost in a hostile maze was due to confusing and unintuitive level design, the tension of being in an indistinctly claustrophobic world was thanks to the blurry and poorly filtered visuals, and the sense of isolation was brought on by the lack of friendly AI or any multiplayer option. But did the fact that the crack team of Microsoft engineers probably never gave a single consideration toward making Hover anything but a short, mindless half-advertisement stop it from acting on me in such a significant manner?

Certainly not. Perhaps the pools of nostalgia I haven't yet managed to towel out of my eyes are coloring my viewpoint somewhat, but Hover, completely unintentionally, manages to hit a kind of atmosphere that many modern games can't do when they're trying their very best, and I can't help but find that to be incredibly neat. Now, if you'll allow me, I have to pop out the door for a second - there's still a six-year-old high score to beat.

(If you want to try Hover yourself, you can download it for free off of Microsoft's FTP server! Check out the "External Links" section at the bottom of the Wikipedia page I just linked)   read


9:54 PM on 04.18.2012  

The Rhythm, the Stick, and Serious Sam 3: BFE



A couple of days ago, Serious Sam 3 was on sale. So I bought it. The following piece I wrote about it may look and sound and feel and walk around and pick its nose a lot like a Review™ does, but I assure you, it isn't one! Nobody likes those! I simply found a few neat things about its general design which I thought would make for interesting reflection and analysis, but the words did end up sounding real important- and official-like, so I think I'm trying to say sorry about that if that is indeed the case

It is easy to look Serious Sam 3 as exactly what your mom envisions the first person shooter to be: A puerile and gratuitously gory rampage in which the player is tasked with annihilating as much as possible as quickly as possible, whose killing fields are strung together by thin wires of clichés, caricatures and nauseating one-liners.

It is easy because it is true.



There is something the game is not, though, and that is "mindless." When one thinks of more cerebral entries in the genre, their thoughts might turn toward the Far Cry or Crysis series, whose open-ended encounters and fiendish AI provide for and require thoughtful, out-of-the-box approaches; or perhaps something like SWAT or Rainbow Six, in which well-planned and well-executed tactics trump basic mechanics every time.

In a way, I found that the same concept applied to Serious Sam 3. The game did not "rely" on good aim and fast fingers, because it assumed I already had them. Its (admittedly lengthy) introductory levels dipped straight into parody - tiny smatterings of enemies, appearing in groups no greater than four or five, spawn in predictable nooks inside narrow, artificial corridors; the starting pistol comes with an utterly superfluous iron-sight feature; a military chopper crashes - but, crucially, served as a covert tutorial, slowly introducing what enemies do what and what weapons kill what best - the hammer can clear out groups of charging cyclops-things, the double shotgun works best against skeleton monsters, and so on.

In the "average" shooter, pointing and killing is the "end" - how speedily and efficiently the player can transport bullets into enemies' heads is what constitutes the measure of their performance. In Serious Sam 3, it is merely the means - of course I will be holding S and Mouse1, but the real challenge lies in figuring out how I'm going to take the tools I have and use them to carve my way through the hundred-strong wall of aliens standing between me and the other side of this arena.



Pull out the Assault Rifle. Pick off some of the kamikazes. Double shotgun - wait until the skeleton thing is right in front of me and fire. Another one - dodge to the side, turn around, repeat. Pull the Rifle back out, do a 180, and strafe to the right, mowing down more infantry. Hear the mechanical sound of a walker to my left - pull out the rocket launcher, hit it in the face. Do another 180 - another skeleton thing is coming right at me. Quick dodge, hit it with a rocket as it flies past. See a thin area in the horde. Quickly dash the crosshair between infantry, popping off two shotgunners here, three kamikazes there; I'm on the other side, and ready to shave off another sliver of extraterrestrial flesh.

The above is a transcription of a little less than 13 seconds of gameplay. Again, the "point" isn't the aiming and firing - doing that flawlessly is simply a fundamental requirement. Instead, the meat of the combat is an almost rhythmic dance of dodging and weapon-switching; it reminds me of a cross between Batman: Arkham Asylum's wide palette of counters and counter-counters, Geometry Wars' need for constant movement and the occasional mad charge into the thick of it, and what I like to call the "Bullet Hell Inversion," where the goal is not so much to dodge projectiles and hostiles as it is to occupy the tiny fraction of space where there aren't any.

After it finishes toying around and takes the training wheels off, Serious Sam 3 ends up requiring a level of mental agility and acuity that'd send Brain Age stumbling for some Advil. The 13 seconds I wrote about above are just that - a fraction of a fraction of one encounter, each requiring a rapid mix of assessments. How quiet is that kamikaze scream? Is that enough time to rocket a walker firing at me? I just killed a scorpion-thing with my double-shotgun; will the reload be finished quickly enough to take down the skeleton monster coming at me from behind?



Looking at the dozens of things that pass through my mind during a firefight highlights the intricate, brilliant design work that at first is masked by the horrendous animation, glitchy shadows, awful dialogue, and general roughness on the game's surface. The detail went into mechanical things - each enemy has a distinctive spawn and movement sound, from the trademark "AAAAAAAAAAAA" of the kamikaze to the thunderous stomping of the raging bull. Their AI and movement is straightforward and predictable out of necessity, not laziness - precise timings and rhythms are drilled into my head, to be called upon (along with each highly distinctive but equally useful weapon) as notes and flourishes in the destructive symphony that I must flawlessly improvise during each battle.

Where, say, Bulletstorm drives the player to pull off awesome stunts through the carrot of points and upgrades, Serious Sam 3 punishes doing anything else with the stick of swift death. Where nailing a sick riff in Guitar Hero rewards you with a sky-high score multiplier, stringing together flawless rocket hits and dodges rewards you with a precious two seconds to collect yourself and prepare to do it three more times. Survival isn't the minimum line - it's the only one.

It could be said that this line of thinking is archaic, a relic of the days when video games were intended for nobody but children and neurotic obsessives - where even completing a game was a privilege to be enjoyed by the skillful few. I would have to agree with this, and concede that it's probably for the better that most games aren't designed with the same philosophy. But as the one-off throwback that it is, I can't help but be impressed at Serious Sam 3's big noggin, and how sneakily it hides it behind the gore and explosions - it's something I found myself missing dearly in the modern era of shooters. I can only hope it finds its way back.   read


12:36 PM on 04.04.2012  

Cblog Analytics - March 2012



Another month ends, another bunch of numbers reveal themselves! Since I knew what I'd be looking for at the start of the month, there are quite a few new statistics I've been able to record, and the organization has rearranged itself accordingly. I've removed the Bloggers Wanted statistics since that has recently been reverted to (apparently) a bi-weekly thing, and I've also removed the most prolific blogger and shortest (and therefore also longest) blog categories, as I believed them to be too meaningless and narrow in scope compared to the other things I'm looking at.

Other notes about what/how I record and do are listed at the bottom of the post. Don't forget to check last month's Cblog Analytics post if you want to compare charts and such in more detail than I'll be doing below.

------

Oh, and remember: If there's something I haven't covered that you want to see next month, post it in the comments!



A total of 434 blogs were posted this month!
-(That's 71 less than last month's count of 505!)

The most-blogged day was Monday the 19th, with 24 blogs!
-(That's 2 less than last month's most-blogged day!)
-Looking at the day itself, there doesn't appear to be any significant anomaly - it was simply the intersection of the first day of the rather popular BW topic "Disappointment" and the massive ME3-ending wave

The least-blogged day was Sunday the 4th, with 6 blogs!
-(That's also 2 less than last month's least-blogged day!)
-February's least-blogged day was also a Sunday - not much of a surprise, really; you'll see in the graph below that the number of blogs posted drops off sharply on the weekends

On average, there were about 14 blogs a day!
-(That's 3 less than last month's average!)
-Interestingly, the overall trend was the opposite of last month - the number of blogs per day increased steadily as March wore on. The release of Mass Effect 3 almost certainly helped to stimulate this, but there's another likely factor whose impact you'll see highlighted a little farther down





The flavor of the month was (once again) Mass Effect, which was written about 54 times!
-(That's 39 more blogs than last month!)
-Shock and amazement! I didn't even have to begin counting the numbers up to tell you it'd be this way, but there're still some pretty surprising figures. As illustrated in the pie chart, 37 of those are centered around either the game's ending or the controversy surrounding the game's ending - even the ones that avoided the ending have 7 up on the next most popular topic, DLC

About 78% of blogs were varied enough to have less than 5 blogs per topic!
-(That's 11% less than last month!)
-Of course, even something as huge as ME3 can't change the fact that nearly 4/5ths of the months blogs remain unique - it's amazing how many different things we can find to write about in this little hobby of ours





A total of 2,982 comments were posted on the Cblogs this month!
-come on you jerks you were only 18 away from 3,000

50 blogs received no comments! ;_;
-oh but when you're being dicks you hit the nice round figure

The most commented blog was The writing on the Destructoid front page sucks: A short complaint., by EternalDeathSlayer, with 69 comments!
-(That's 30 more than last month's most-commented blog!)
-See the next statsistic for why this is of particular note

On average, there were 86 comments a day!
-The fascinating part happens on the 13th, where the above blog kicks off a big hoopla about what was apparently a low point in the Dtoid community's existence - a decline which started right before I slid in here, and thus escaped my notice until then. After this - and you'll see an identical trend with the fapping - there seemed to be a huge surge in community activity. Borne of ill circumstances or not, it's great to see the healthy boom - I hope it continues to grow throughout the year!





In total, the Dtoid community fapped 2072 times!

90 blogs went through the month fap-free! ;_;
-oh look there's another nice number - hey at least neat, round assholes are better than

The sluttiest blog was The State of the Community Blogs, by Mr Andy Dixon, with 62 faps!
-(That's 22 more than last month's sluttiest blog!)

On average, there were 67 faps a day!
-And it comes full circle. What I said up there about the comments applies down here - it's great not only to see an awesome community get recognized by the website, but also to see that they do indeed listen to us when we think things need some reworking - and really want to push that along! Feel free to correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think there's a single other gaming outlet that has this kind of relationship going - it's a really, really neat thing for a new guy like me to walk into





We attracted 55 new members this month! In order of appearance, they are:

Wolf Girl - uuddlrlrbadick - Grey P Anderson - Olo Nexus - Rhysybaby - The White Rose - Stephiroth - Robby Mamonluk - amx70s - Gamegodtre - Wuyunk - Mokuu - uber bondy - KD Alpha - LightForceJedi - wenger56 - Vampknight 364 - ThatDocktorGirl - Captain Carrion - JeffreyMann - DocSeuss - Samson R Jinks - Rianq - Aruji Shinigami - Gaming Novice - Laraso - David Eby - MarcisHawkins - StormTrooperGuy - Bryan Carr - DrButler - Gamers Ballad - John Posey III - pcgamer09 - dredgman - kirrylord - disgaeniac - God Complex - Roberto Loya - Beatlespip122 - TaleSpun - TMillsap - TheChosen - warezIbanez - OHShuzBallz - LongDeth - SS53 - Levito - Hound Of Hades - Kristi78968 - Caliban - Zombie Orwell - TimOfTheNorth - Oculin - JPNags

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NOTES:

-Until a better method presents itself, statistics are counted by hand, per-day. Comments and Faps are recorded at the end of the next day, to give the community ample time to read and respond. This means that there are likely minor errors and inaccuracies present, but none of them should be significant enough to invalidate anything

-Cblog Recaps and last month's Analytics are not counted, but all other serials (like FNF) are, under the rationale that serials still exist for the purpose of "creating" content under a certain topic or theme, while the Recaps & Analytics merely seek to sort and organize the blogs

-For the flavor of the month, I do not count Bloggers Wanted topics, but the blogs themselves are factored in

-There is still some inherent subjectivity in deciding what constitutes a "unique topic," so keep that in mind if there seems like there's some obvious category that I've ignored (although feel free to tell me)

-Statistics are not intended to impart any kind of judgment or opinion in and of themselves - If I have any personal thoughts, they are noted below the corresponding statistic   read


12:04 PM on 04.02.2012  

10 Things You Didn't Know About Altum Videtur

So yesterday, bbain decided to try and start a super-neat list-off, reviving a 10-things-you-didn't-know-about-X trend that expired before my brief time here. The following is my attempt to blow a little harder on the rolling beach ball - I'd encourage you to pick it up and keep it going!

The following things are listed in no particular order; most of them are non-gaming related, chiefly because my habits and tastes are fairly pedestrian, so I hope that doesn't disqualify this from being interesting or anything



1. I learned an entire foreign language, and then forgot it.
When I was ~6 years old, my dad got a job offer way above his current pay grade. The catch? We were in the USA, and it was in Germany. So, he dragged us along to Deutschland for 2.5 years, and I had the distinct privilege of trying to integrate myself into a small-city German school, the inhabitants of which had no sympathy or patience for a kid that didn't understand a word anybody was saying. Despite what seemed like their best efforts to stop me, I managed to worm my way through a couple of grades, and shortly before we forced my father to find another job back in the States, I was able to speak the language as fluently as a native of my age. One German-free summer later, though, and I couldn't remember a thing. Even when I took German classes in high school as my foreign language, the only area in which I seemed to have an advantage was the accent - funny how that works.

2. Once upon a time, I was a die-hard, rabid Nintendo fanboy.
Even as early as the SNES, Nintendo was largely thought of as the one who made the "kiddie consoles;" my parents' consequent refusal to buy me anything else meant that while the other children were gawking at exploding zombie heads in Resident Evil and sniping each other's brains all over the walls in Halo, I was replaying Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario Sunshine again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and again and
Not that they're bad games, of course, but I had to stave off the jealousy and isolated despair somehow - and did so by convincing myself that everything anyone else has ever played is just bad, you know, and I've got the Nintendo console, which has all the real games and not your exploitative Grand Theft Autos and Devil May Crys. Soon, the acquisition of a gaming-capable PC introduced me to all the awesome I was missing, and an Xbox followed shortly afterwards - but those were some dark days.

3. Until quite recently, the only things in my entire (voluntary) literary history that were written after the 19th century were Harry Potter and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
My dear mother, being an English major herself, was one of the most instrumental forces driving me towards my present word-based inclinations. The downside: her primary interest is in 18th & 19th century British literature, so as soon as I was capable, I was getting nothing but large doses of Dickens, Austen, Bronte (& Bronte), etc. - the observant reader can see how the era's crippling fear of periods has seeped its way into my own writing style. Only after the acquisition of my shiny new Android smartphone and its handy-dandy Kindle app did I have the means and the inclination to branch out into more modern works, discovering super-fun modern writers like Terry Pratchett and David Foster Wallace.

4. I was diagnosed from an early age with a social disorder.
Like, for-real professionals ushering me through a bunch of tests and speaking solemnly to my parents when they think I'm out of earshot diagnosis, not "well an online survey said" diagnosis. I admittedly feel a bit hesitant about including this, but it's been such a major influence on virtually every aspect of my life that I feel mentioning it is unavoidable. They call it PDD-NOS, which from what I understand is the medical term for "look, man, we got nothin'." What it essentially means is that I'm unable to grasp a number of "intuitive" social things that the neurotypical person finds second nature. Example: You know the "awkward" feeling? Where someone says or does something that makes you bite your lower lip, glance upwards, and go silent? I don't. I've had to "memorize" how each thing I or another person could possibly say or do provokes a certain response as if it were another page in my mathematics textbook, and either restrain myself or fake the appropriate reaction as is necessary. This becomes particularly troublesome with nonverbal language - a major reason why I've gravitated toward the written word as my preferred form of expression and communication.

5. My username is deriding a dead language about which I know almost nothing.
Speaking of languages: "Quidquid latine dictum sit, altum videtur" is a Latin phrase that roughly translates to "Anything said in Latin seems profound." When I was thinking about what to call myself, I wanted something that was 1. meaningful 2. not "tied" to any one product (i.e. not from a game or movie) 3. not too self-important and pretentious. The above fits #2 straight-on, contains meaning (as opposed to "[MLG] xXx_420SnYp3rTyL3R420_xXx"), and attacks its own self-important and pretentious connotation in a playfully ironic way. That, of course, is probably self-important and pretentious in and of itself, but since I literally don't know a single other thing in Latin (beyond a few English roots), I think it balances out.

6. I have an irrational discomfort toward providing information about myself.
Yeah, it's an odd thing to say in the middle of a blog post dedicated to doing precisely that - but due to #4, another two of the things I was unable to comprehend were bragging (I couldn't distinguish it from simply informing) and knowing when to stop giving and start taking in a conversation. To compensate, I ceased doing either; a countermeasure which prevented me from being ridiculed and derided, but made approaching and communicating meaningfully with others that much more difficult. It's why I passed on doing an introductory blog when I started posting here - I felt (and still feel) that things like my name, face, and so on are irrelevant toward my purpose of stringing words about games together at least once a week. Hell, unless I'm forgetting something, I don't even think I've mentioned my gender yet (the gentleman in my avatar is not me, clearly.) This kind of article is good practice toward overcoming that, though - and being careful with my personal information online has arguably done more good than harm.

7. I do some amateur music composition in my spare time.
And by amateur, I mean baby-level half-assed I-sure-hope-nobody-ever-sees-this amateur. Nothing I'm working on is finished and even less of it is good, but it's a fun little hobby - if I'm enjoying myself, it's worth it, right? Having been closely attached to an excellent band program throughout grade school, I please-oh-please-I-want-it-so-bad-please-please-d my parents into buying a composition program called Finale several years ago, and to this day, I still use it to dick around with things that I guess fall into the "classical" genre (orchestra, big band, woodwind quintet, piano, etc.), although in the crazy rules-and-standards-are-for-jerks modern sense. With virtually no knowledge of theory beyond basic basic chord structure, I'm unable to do anything but translate whatever pops into my head on paper (which happens about twice a season) - but maybe one day I'll finally wrap something up and post it on the Cblogs!

8. Despite this, I very rarely find myself listening to music.
Outside of using the radio for longer car-trips, I never really have the desire to listen to anything - one reason, I believe, is because I can "play back" any songs on my mind that I want in my own head; something I had initially assumed everyone could do, but later found out was apparently something of an acquired skill. More strongly and somewhat more interestingly, though, simply listening to music either bores me or distracts me - either the piece is too repetitive and simple to engage me, or (if it's not) I'm too busy trying to hear every individual note and color, identify every new incarnation of the melody, and so on; I have a very difficult time just putting music in the background. Unless I specifically plan and dedicate time to examine something closely, the vast majority of my days go by without me coming into contact with a single external source of music - not including whatever's going on with a game I might be playing, of course.

9. I don't use any kind of social media.
Seeing a pattern here? I signed up on Facebook several months ago under immense pressure from a couple of friends, and within a week, I'd completely forgotten about it. I already had other ways of keeping up with anybody who I felt was worth keeping up with, and every other aspect of the experience seemed to consist of people I've never spoken to trying to add me as a friend and lots of passive-aggressive drama I wanted no part in. I closed the account about a month after I'd opened it - again, the name and the face and the etc. lying about in the open internet caused me much more discomfort than the few paltry conveniences were worth. I have been thinking about hopping on Twitter some day in the future under this alias, but with precious few people to follow me, it doesn't seem like the right time.

10. I want to work for video games too !! !
There are a couple of reasons for me deciding to latch onto Dtoid as my next community, but quite honestly, this is the "real" one. The only thing I like more than words is video gaming, and the possibility of fusing the two into some manner of career, whether it's writing for or about the medium, is the very definition of "dream job." Will it happen? Who knows - but the Cblogs keep me writing and keep me reading, challenging me to not only find interesting sub-topics but present them in an entertaining fashion. That, and they provide a portal into a really-neat group of really-neat people - something which continues to become more valuable every day.   read


12:07 AM on 03.15.2012  

How About a Mass Effect 3 Article with No Ending Controversy (Spoiler-free!)



Quick panic-edit: I wouldn't consider anything below even approaching spoilers, hence the title; however, I cannot guarantee that you are not the kind of person who would consider "Rico kills some bugs" as a bite of information that completely ruins Starship Troopers, so if you don't want to take my word for it then read at your own risk and I cannot be considered liable for etc.

So, by now, you've probably seen the ending to Mass Effect 3.

Fortunately, I'll be doing my utmost to stay far, far away from that topic - instead, I want to go a bit more general and write about why the third installment of Bioware's space-epic whipped me me into its little space-bitch, and why I'm incredibly happy it managed to do so.

You see, this is actually my fifth pass at writing an article about my Mass Effect 3 experience. When I finished the game on Friday (having stayed up until 6 AM, of course), I was subsisting purely on the unstable vibrations of a two-hour adrenaline rush, brought on as much by fatigue as by what I'll be trying to describe below. My feelings were an appropriately twisted and contorted jumble of conflicting thoughts and emotions, so I stumbled into bed without changing clothes and hoped to sort it out over 10 hours of sleep and the mid-afternoon breakfast-lunch compensation to end all meals.

13 hours and 5 pounds later, I'm here at my computer, fingers poised over the keys, mind racing, tongue quivering, emotions storming, eyes blinking at wind velocities, staring at a blank word processor and writing absolutely nothing. For what I'm pretty convinced is the very first time in my entire life as a gamer, I'm unable to form any kind of conclusive opinion on a game. So I write "I don't know what to think." I erase it. I write "When playing Mass Effect 3 I..." and then erase it. Okay, screw this. More sleep, try again tomorrow.

Academically, there's not much ambiguity. In a typical review analysis, I'd remark how the combat and progression strikes the sweet spot between the first two games, providing plenty of excitement, depth, and challenge; I'd say how the writing continues to strike eight hits for every miss, compelling me to care about the game's many characters and their uncertain fates; I'd note that, except for a certain 10 minutes I've promised not to mention, the story successfully and satisfyingly ties up all three games' worth of dangling, variable plot threads in a neat little ribbon. Incredible game, would recommend, neat/10, generational landmark, monumental achievement, etc., etc.



So, thought I, once again meeting the blank, indifferent glow of my monitor with an equally vapid stare, why the tits do I keep impulsively backspacing every time I try to say so? I tried to think about the moments I remembered most. A picture of me lifting bad guys out of cover and flinging them cartwheeling into the skybox as I danced my squishy Adept between and around hostile projectiles emerged, and then sunk just as quickly. It was replaced by moments. Story moments. These moments triggered emotions. "Bad" emotions. This scared me.

I've experienced the "OH YEAH MAN WE'RE GONNA F**K SOME SHIT UP" feeling before. This is not of note. I've bro-fisted the screen before. This is not of note. What I haven't done - and I mean this quite literally, as in "have never ever" - is been pissed at a fictional character for their fictional actions. I've been mad at writers for being jerks to their characters, sure, but (to try and avoid spoilers), when given the option to punch a supposed ally in the gut and order him/her/it/etc. the hell off my ship when he/she/it/etc. does something not very nice, I did so, in complete and total violation of my character's (and, as I like to play and would like to think, my) better judgment and usual manner.

I didn't do it because I wanted evil points, or because I'd thought I'd divined what'd happen shortly down the plotline, or because I'm one of those people who hits all the interrupts (you know the type). I did it because I wanted to. Once again, this has not happened in a game (or a book or an etc.) before, but the significance did not strike me until after I had spent several days distancing and detaching myself from Mass Effect 3's universe. Similar occasions - feelings of immense frustration, loss, hopelessness - began to pop into my memory as I half-consciously began to make words appear on the page. That adrenaline rush I mentioned earlier? That kicked up and into full swing as the game's final mission kicked off, triggering an imperfect but powerful marbling of complex and conflicting emotions which spiraled across my mind, filling the deep void left by the fact that I had no f***king idea what was about to happen..

I could die. Everyone I'd met could die. Things could go well, and we're better off than we were, but I can clearly and distinctly see all of my efforts marching the galaxy straight down the proverbial U-bend. And - this is the kicker - I cared. I've felt the rush of excitement as Luke runs the Death Star's trenches; I've held my breath in anxious anticipation as Frodo tumbles around the narrow precipice of Mt. Doom; but never in my life has a work of fiction not only compelled me to feel tense about "how it could go wrong," but also made me purely, genuinely, 100% afraid that I would lose people. Liara's immense information-based power is no longer applicable. Joker's prodigious plot armor could finally snap. Thousands of guns (along with my Shepard's vagina) may never see another Garrus-certified calibration.



Asking myself why this only happened now and not during Mass Effect 2's caps-requiring Suicide Mission, I guessed it was some combination of the stronger central narrative, the extra 20 hours of character development, and the fact that this really, really is the end, and continue to believe so; but the point stands that I felt things - real, tangible, complex emotions - which no creative work on the planet or beyond has ever been able to coax out of me. Dig further, and the reasons are not unclear - were I to break each Mass Effect entry down and scrutinize every aspect of its making, of course I'll spot cracks and bumps and a good few big gaping holes; but panning the camera back to the cohesive whole, all I notice is the incredible and colossal scale and ambition on display - and, perhaps more importantly, its variability.

I'm not going to tell you what my Shepard was like, or what she did and chose. You don't care. I don't care about yours, either, and, along with old-fashioned good writing and character development, that's the better half of why my for-real hands were for-real shaking over the potential fates of these not-for-real individuals. I am far from the first to note how the 1,000+ variables that Mass Effect 3 takes into account, whether as massive as a character who could've been dead for 2.5 games or as subtle as a single word in a single line of dialogue, amplified across what is now almost 70 hours and 3 complete narrative arcs, shape and color my playthrough in a way that's unprecedented in gaming and irreplicable in any other kind of media. But I will be far from the last.

During the next two days in which I tried and failed to put my thoughts into words, I didn't feel happy. The game dominated my mind - I was constantly distracted, trying to process my feelings. It wasn't dissatisfaction; it wasn't anger. I had no clue what I felt, except that I was convinced I could never go back and play Mass Effect 3 again. Doing another playthrough but picking different choices would amount to little more than an academic exercise, in which I play against my "true self" for the sake of measuring differences.

As the new week opened, I began to recognize the emotions as sadness and melancholy - my personal journey is over, and I can never experience it like that again. When I read a book, or watch a movie, or even play the average game, I am getting the "same" thing as everybody else who did likewise. Interpretations may differ, but the world and story remains there, like a photograph I can revisit. While, from a technical standpoint, Mass Effect is no different, my mind treats it as if I'd lived it; as if it is not merely a record, but an organic memory. However illusionary such an effect may be, it is still profound and unique - no work of fiction has affected me as deeply in as many ways, and even with decades of potential in video gaming, I'm not entirely convinced anything ever will again.

And yet, at this moment, I am currently 16 hours into my second run of Mass Effect 3. I didn't punch that person in the gut this time.   read


10:12 PM on 03.09.2012  

Holy f**k-tits, why did I take so long to get around to playing Cave Story

Since I'm still trying to figure out just what the hell these feelings I've walked away from Mass Effect 3 with are, it'll be a short blog this week. I bought the last Humble Indie Bundle some time ago, but somehow just noticed the little entry called "Cave Story+" sitting on my Steam list a short couple of days ago. I'd always meant to play it, having read glowing reviews of the WiiWare version upon its release, but it always slid back into that huge indie-game-pool of "oh I'll get around to it some time." Oh, man, do I regret putting it there.

The "story" half of Cave Story had an intriguing way of sneaking up on me. I begin in a room called "Start Point," which leads me into another room called "First Cave." Proceeding a short distance downward, I pass a few obstacles, obtain a weapon and then go back up. I interpret this as a conventional but well-executed "natural" tutorial, familiarizing and acclimating me with game's rules and structure; I thus expect the game's draw and progression to be Metroidvania-like, with stages labeled and ordered as "caves," and some light, harmless plot sprinkled across the surface. Oh, cute bunny-people - yeah, that seems about right. I assume the increasing volume of words is merely some oddly-paced exposition.

Then somebody drops the word "killed," and things start to get dark.

Being a huge sucker for games with good stories and presentation, I can't say I'm surprised at how quickly and easily Cave Story drew me in, as I booted it up having read about how I'd receive just that - but there's something about a game that eschews those "surprises" and radical genre shake-ups for rock-solid design and a compelling yarn that flips on all kinds of otherwise rusty happy-switches in my mind. There's a comforting feeling about slotting into this kind of title; one that has its unique little moments but whose greatest strengths lie in taking familiar concepts and executing them to perfection.



Sure, its world isn't nearly as sprawling and labyrinthine as a Metroid map, being separated into a handful of discrete segments with only a few booster power-ups to complement the prescribed sequence of new weapons and abilities, but exploration isn't its focus - Cave Story is a much more driven game, carried along by the constant forward momentum supplied by its focused plot. It nails both the moment-to-moment gameplay bites and the all the various curves and flowing shapes that comprise the big-picture pacing - soaring over a long gap by using the recoil of my own machine gun is a thing of beauty, and only once (when I had to collect a bunch of dogs) did I find myself edging towards disengagement.

It's a game which doesn't need to do something big and flashy to prove itself - unlike many titles, my memory of it is more constant and fluid, built off feelings and generalizations rather than specific moments. The wow-factor that is ordinarily triggered by a huge set piece or head-bending plot twist is instead diffused across the entire experience - sure, it had its "oh crap" moments, but for the most part, my pleasure and satisfaction came almost by-the-minute. Nearly every area was filled with little instances which caused me to think, "neat;" here's a character! Here's a new weapon! Here's what that weapon does when you level it up! Here's a new plot development! Here's a new area! Check out this awesome music! Look at Balrog's adorable toaster-buttcrack!

Since it's 1. freeware and 2. dirt-cheap when it's not, I doubt anybody who clicked on this blog hasn't already played Cave Story, so it's probably time for me to stop preaching to the chiptune-choir; but, in the unlikely event you've yet to discover this little modern classic, go. Play it. It defies criticism - the only one I could possibly throw at it would be a lack of depth in its mechanics, but I'm more convinced that such simplicity is the point. In this age of blockbuster, multi-million dollar extravaganzas, a retro-infused masterwork like Cave Story is the best kind of antidote - worth every minute of its five-year development.

  read


3:58 PM on 03.04.2012  

Cblog Analytics - February 2012

As someone who likes to think they could be classified as a "writer" (if only under the broad definition of "somebody who writes,") I honestly believe that the only situation worse than not being able to write is not being able to write anything good - but even still, four weeks of blog-abstinence is a little much for me, so I'll try and sidestep the issue by addressing a little question I had mid-month: daily recaps are super-handy, but what does the Destructoid Cblog community's output really look like over a long period of time?

In answer, I present to you this experimental and (hopefully) inaugural edition of "Cblog Analytics," in which I comb carefully and lovingly through the month's expressions, exclamations, examinations, expoundings, and excretions for precious numerical data to compile, calculate, and serve hot & fresh in a simple and straightforward format.

For this month, I'm relying on the tried and tested method of scrolling down the blog index and counting things by hand, so it is entirely possible there are inaccuracies present in this data; I have also omitted a couple of planned stats, which include but are not limited to "new bloggers" and "longest blog." Going forward (and assuming this is a thing you guys would want to see more of), I'll be noting and tracking data on a day-to-day basis so that, come month's end, I'll be able to include some deeper things, along with more visual supplements - and, of course, if there's any other information you'd like to see for March, post it in the comments!

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But that's enough introduction. Let's go:



A total of 505 blogs were posted this month!

The most-blogged day was Tuesday the 14th, with 26 blogs!
-Which happened to be Valentine's Day! Guess love (or lack thereof) really does perk up the collective muse

The least-blogged day was Sunday the 18th, with 8 blogs!

On average, there were about 17 blogs a day!
-A simple trend-line on the graph below indicates a fairly minute drop across the month, and a quick glance at the per-day data does confirm that more days were hitting the 20-blog count earlier in the month than later - perhaps the "freshness" of the month prompts Dtoiders to lay their pens to the digital paper, as it were?





The most popular Bloggers Wanted topics were Improvement and Endings, both prompting 24 blogs each!
-I would say "everyone's a critic," but that'd be a cliché, so, instead, I'll cleverly avoid that trap by noting that saying "everyone's a critic" would be a cliché. Rhetoric! However, most of the people speaking of game endings talked about their favorites, so perhaps negativity isn't the easiest fuel for writing after all

The least popular Bloggers Wanted topic was Beginnings, prompting 12 blogs!
-A personal note: I literally cannot recall a moment in my life where I was not immersed in gaming, nor a moment where, after subsisting with mild and casual play, I suddenly realized, " VIDEO GAMES," and then invested myself fully into the medium. Were I to guess, I'd say this phenomenon contributed toward the topic's lack of attention

In total, 77 blogs were written under a Bloggers Wanted prompt! That's about 15.25% of the month's blogs, or a little over 3 out of every 20!

The flavor of the month was Mass Effect, which was written about 15 times!
-When you look above at there being 505 blogs, having 15 be the largest number centered around a relatively narrow topic seems a bit odd - but I guess it just highlights the staggering diversity both in video gaming as a medium and in the thoughts, interests, and experiences of the Destructoid community. Runner-ups were the Resident Evil, the PS Vita's release, and the eternal back-and-forth on used games, piracy, and DRM


*Less than 5 blogs per unique topic



The sluttiest blog (most faps) was A Compulsive Collector's Haul - JAP & PAL Edition! (I HATH RETURNED!), by Funktastic, with 40 faps!

It was also the most commented blog, with 39 comments!

The shortest blog was Delete, by nabokovfan87, which consisted of the following text:
"Seriously DToid... I can't delete a blog?"
-Another blog (0gaddsaf, by Justin Annett) consists merely of the text "0," but, judging by the comments, there used to be words there, so I'm discounting it

The most prolific blogger was StealthMaster, who pumped out 12 blogs (that's an average of 3 per week!)

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NOTES:

-Cblog Recaps are not counted, but all other serials (like FNF) are, under the rationale that serials still exist for the purpose of "creating" content under a certain topic or theme, while the Recaps merely seek to sort and organize the day's blogs

-For the Bloggers Wanted stats, I begin with the first week in which a day of the month appears and end with the last full week of the month, assuming the week begins on Monday and ends on Sunday

-For the flavor of the month, I do not count Bloggers Wanted topics, but the blogs themselves are factored in

-There is still some inherent subjectivity in deciding what constitutes a "unique topic," so keep that in mind if there seems like there's some obvious category that I've ignored (although feel free to tell me)

-For shortest blog, entries whose primary content consists of 1. pictures or 2. links are not considered

-Statistics are not intended to impart any kind of judgment or opinion in and of themselves - If I have any personal thoughts, they are noted below each statistic   read


12:53 AM on 01.28.2012  

Location: Darkest Africa

Well, now that I've done a bunch of soapbox-y, preach-y three-pagers, how about a nice, short, soapbox-y preach-y segment with lots of pictures? I was tempted do do this entry on Deus Ex: Human Revolution, but having already spent my biomechanical energy on the Sarif piece, I figured it'd be better to revisit a game that's not quite as recent.



Oh, how many words I could extract out of Far Cry 2. I never seem to hear it spoken of kindly; people (rightfully) tend to recall the sparse narrative that, like a horrible boyfriend, opens up with a bang, but shows up again only once or twice, stumbling around drunkenly for a bit before rushing through the obligatory motions and hastily bowing out the door; they can only seem to remember the bloodthirsty roaming guards, who would DROP EVERYTHING to chase you to the ends of the earth, even especially when you were working for them; they always mention its painfully repetitive missions, which only break up the identical go-here-kill-this jobs by inserting identical go-here-get-pills tasks in between.

And yet, Missed Potential: The Game remains one of my favorite games of 2008, second only to Fallout 3 and the incredible Grand Theft Auto IV, thanks to the very thing in this blog's title: Location. Far Cry 2 positively nails it when it comes to setting, from the mosquito buzzing across the main menu to the torrid sunlight dancing across the lush savannah grass to the half-naked mercenary rolling on the ground, crying in Afrikaans for somebody to put out the wild flames that have engulfed him and the fifteen square meters around him. Nothing in the game - neither the increasingly-grimy weapons and vehicles that require continued maintenance, nor the fiddle and drum-laced soundtrack, nor the rough map and fuzzy GPS, nor the minimalistic UI - escapes without being run through its blood-and-coffee-colored filter.


Oh and fire, don't forget fire

I hate to drop the word "immersion," since it makes me sound like a lesser order of hipster trying to convince you why my preferences are so superior in ways you just can't understand, man, but there's simply no better term to use. It's rare enough that we see games with the kind of pervasive thematic consistency that courses through every micron of their presentation, but Far Cry 2 coats it all in a slick, tight layer of AAA polish that elevates it above something like, say, S.T.A.L.K.E.R., whose rough frays and edges continually poke outside the suspension of disbelief, popping the fragile bubble in which the game tries so hard to encapsulate me. Far Cry 2's repetition definitely is tiresome and its hyper-aggressive inhabitants are indeed infuriating, but - crucially - my frustration with them rarely pulls me out of the dark and twisted world its designers have crafted.

I could drone on and on and on about this, but my insistence on providing due reverence would stifle any entertaining witticisms I could provide just as much as it would bore you to death; so, instead, I'll go and take a few in-game shots and annotate them - somewhat in the spirit of an expedition to a foreign land, you could say.



While the grand vistas are certainly impressive...



The details are even more important. Little things like the player's arm stretching out to grab some ammo...



...and the visceral intimacy of plunging your machete into a wounded enemy stack up, enhancing the player's sense of physical place in the world despite not being immediately apparent.



This is a zebra. Gameplay-wise, its contributions are insignificant - it will run when I approach it and fall over when I shoot it or hit it with my car, and nothing else. From an aesthetic standpoint, though, it's another out of the dozens of elements that serve to make Far Cry 2's Africa so singularly believable and (here I go again) immersive.



Look and sound isn't everything. The brutal and satisfying gunplay is an element that does not so much add to Far Cry 2's locational coherence as it prevents a subtraction - were the shooting anything but great, any clunkiness, floatiness, or other failing would instantly tear me "out of the game."



Similarly, the sense of freedom provided by the open-ended nature of the missions furthers the impression that the game's environment is a living, reactive place, rather than a static, artificial gallery.



The tension in the cease-fire zones is palpable - everybody has a gun and nobody likes you.



The sense that a firefight could erupt at any second is made even stronger by little taunts thrown your way - "We both know you ain't gonna do shit" when you point your pistol at somebody, for instance.



The fire propagation system possesses an interesting duality - it serves to both show how fragile Far Cry 2's natural world is, highlighting the wanton barbarism of its warring factions...



...while, thanks to its tendency to also engulf you, serves to emphasize the cruel, unforgiving themes at the heart of the game's design. Oh, and if you'll let me take off my elitism hat for a second - it's also f*cking awesome.

And really, that's what makes Far Cry 2's setting so impressive to me - it can at any time (and sometimes simultaneously) be beautiful, detailed, and alluring; expansive, indifferent, and living; cruel, merciless, and overpowering; and, most of all, absorbing, captivating, and - one last time - immersive. Location doesn't get much better than that.   read


12:25 AM on 01.20.2012  

Bigger, Longer, also Harder - A Counter-Case for Longer Games

Oh my, those last two bits I've written were awfully dry, weren't they? I mean, this is still going to be a totally srs blog about totally srs things - I'm completely starved for good topics and then a blog gets written and I don't agree with some parts and that's totally not how it works and my god I can't just let this sit here and THESE WRONGS MUST BE RIGHTED - but I'll try my best. A dick joke in the title's a good a start as any, right? (As this post is a direct response to the blog linked below, I'll assume you've glanced over that article's finer points, or maybe even read the whole thing if you're a super cool person)

I'm honestly a bit hesitant to strap on my high-brow argue-boots and stomp around the well-worn "what game length is best length" Astroturf, making only a few more insignificant marks among the hundreds of much more comprehensive and well-stated opinion-prints, but as much as I may want to issue a bunch of half-hearted excuse-mes and I-know-you've-heard-this-before acknowledgements in what is no way a means to try and not write a proper intro paragraph, I can't help but lay down the wholly subjective law on something as crucially fundamental to game design as the amount of time a player is intended to be enraptured in front of the glowing screen. Fortunately, kona, in his nice little essay on this very subject, has given me a wonderful set of points to counter and work off of, making the part where I organize my thoughts much simpler and straightforward. Thanks, man!

As noted, games these days do seem to be a lot shorter than in the past. As noted, a significant contributor to this trend is how much useless, redundant, cumbersome, and/or repetitive ass-poo is being excised as our standards rise and our technology advances. As noted, game designer's continuing insistence on aping Hollywood narrative structure necessitates more truncated campaigns in order to better serve the story's pace. This is fine. "Length" in and of itself means little when that extra time is spent trudging through identical corridors and hobbling back and forth across the same barren, static landscape - "filler," as it is often referred to in modern parlance.

What grabbed my attention, though, was this little sentence - "Quite simply, if games are to truly make the next step and finally offer up our 'Citizen Kane,' there needs to be more care put into storytelling." I could write a whole article on this notion - I probably will on another slow week - but the next assertion, detailing how shorter games would more easily accomplish this, I just can't accept. The thing about Citizen Kane - why film critics adore it as frequently and vigorously as young viewers (like myself) wonder what the hoopla is for - is that it's not simply a good story, but that it's a brilliant film, taking advantage of the medium's unique qualities to craft a means of portraying Kane's meteoric rise and decaying soul that you simply can't do any other way.


Pictured: Another timeless, evocative masterpiece of film, for what are many of the same reasons, I assure you

If a video game is going to achieve that same significance, it can't be content with plucking out and flash-cloning the same kind of storytelling methods; it has to present its narrative - if the best way of doing what it wants to do even falls under the category of narrative in the first place - in a way unique to its own qualities of interactivity. Restricting itself to a shorter structure simply because that's what movies do, and movies are, you know, pretty good sometimes, can only stifle, if not completely prevent, that kind of achievement.

The fact that movies are (or perhaps were, depending on your perspective) the primary form of entertainment for gobbling up all our hard-earned free time, on top of being the second most advanced form of visual media, is likely the reason why we can't stop getting away from the need to do what they do, but there's a little something else I'd like to divert your (probably already-wavering I'm sorry man I'm trying) attention to, and that's the humble "book" - feel free to look it up on Wikipedia if the term's unfamiliar. There are some that you can boldly charge through in a couple of hours' time, but for the most part, if you're one of the six or seven people left on the planet who reads with regularity, you're going to eat up a few chapters, put it down, come back later, consume some more, etc. Sound familiar? Just as a novel's length does not preclude it from "hav[ing] some decent character arcs," the same applies to the video game.

Perhaps what seems like a growing impatience for lots of words on a page has some relevance; the CNN article kona cited indicates that gamer attention spans are horrid at best and shamefully abysmal at worst, informing us that that only 10% of ~23 million players finished 2010's quite lengthy (and quite excellent) Red Dead Redemption. And yet, while he attributes the blame to developers who don't know how to focus their storylines, I can't help but feel a good bit of it simply falls to people's inability to stick with and finish something that's not movie-length, be it a video game or something completely different. Should, then, developers chop off the ends and move toward shorter narratives simply because that's what 80-90% of gamers don't have the time or patience to become so absorbed? I can't think for a moment that such a thing is a good idea; it'd be an arbitrary limit borne solely out of monetary and market concerns, which are two things that (for a pretentiously elitist snob like me) need to stay far, far away from developers' creative direction unless absolutely necessary.


Two of Metroid Prime's biggest strengths are how its world slowly opens and expands as you grow and evolve and the sense of personal presence and consequence - something its relative length actually augments

Then there's this little bit - it's mentioned that older games used to be harder, and were thus "lengthier" not because they were filled with more content (however repetitive and bland) but because when you played one of those games, you died. A lot. In many ways. Then you ran out of lives, and then you had to start the whole level -if not the whole game - over from the beginning. Difficulty is an equally important and fundamental limb of a game's anatomy that I'll try not to lovingly caress and dissect in this piece, but the go-miss-restart-go-miss-restart-go-miss-restart-oh-suck-it-game mentality has faded away because it's an incredibly frustrating way to play a game; a tenacious little leech of a hold-over from the arcade days where the objective of the designer was to prevent you from finishing it so you'd feed the machine more coins and allow the greasy pizza shop owner to buy himself a prostitute and a new bottle of shampoo. In a time where challenge was quite literally the only incentive to continually play a game, that was okay; but in this modern era, when developers actually want a person to experience everything their game has to offer, intense difficulty (primarily as a means of extending a game's length, that is) is a design choice equally as lazy and artificial as tossing in four context-less fetch quests in a game's second act.

Kona concedes in the last paragraph that the Skyrims and Mass Effects are fine and deserve their place, and likewise, there are plenty of people who take the very things I've lamented above and make shining gems out of them, from Uncharted's captivating nods to adventure films to Super Meat Boy's gleeful delight in making the player hate everyone and everything around them, but thing about each of these games is that they don't really seem to think about length. They know what they're doing, and they do just that, adding as much as they need - no more, certainly, but also no less. VVVVVV, agonizingly frustrating as it may be, remains engrossing not because it makes me want to punch several holes through my monitor, take a sledgehammer to my computer, burn all the little pieces in molten lava, and then buy another so I can do the same thing all over again, but because it's varied and creative level design means I'm constantly encountering new surprises and twists on its simple base mechanics. Portal kicks butt despite its short length because it chooses to feature only two (okay, three and a half) characters and deliver them over a focused arc, while Red Dead Redemption, mentioned above, includes loads and loads of colorful individuals, painting a narrative tapestry that's necessarily longer but all the more detailed and captivating for it. Neither is wrong, and neither is right; neither is the "way" to do it, and neither is the "way" not to do it.

And yet, writing off these longer games either because the majority of people don't have the time or patience or because of some rose-tinted longing for the past is, I say again, a painfully arbitrary and stifling limit on the creative potential of the medium. Imagine what'd happen if they tried cutting out more from the film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings because movies aren't "supposed" to be two and a half hours long. Madness.

(Okay, yeah, you could've gotten rid of Aragon's elf lady; seriously what was that all about)   read







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