I am into hip-hop and video games... at the same time. Don't be scared. I am not here to steal your Walkman or whatever it was Jamall did to you that day that made you hate black people forever. If it helps, think of me as that one black dude that dies in the scary movie, but before doing so opens a door or something that the heroes eventually escape through. And at the end of the film when the police and emt's are milling about the crime scene and the heroes are sitting on the edge of an ambulance sipping warm coffee covered in a blanket, they look up to the heavens and they see me,Sidney Poitier,and Morgan Freeman, Nodding our heads in approval.
A medium time ago I lived in San Diego and worked for one of those places that make big posters and provide computers and copiers to people that don't have them or don't know how to use the ones they have. I didn't have a car at the time so I had to ride the trolley to work.
The trolley is a big red above ground bus on railroad tracks that shuttles poor people from places they can't afford to places they'd rather not be. Its route's are assigned colors, The blue line takes you from Old San Diego to Mexico. The orange line takes you from Petco Park to the Gillespie field. The green line takes you from Old San Diego to Santee. Most locals don't ride the trolley because it only stops at places we work hard to avoid.
My workplace was a block away from a stop on the green line called Hazard Center. I lived about five stops up the green line. So the trolley became my main mode of transportation to work. I had to get up pretty early to catch a ride that wouldn't make me late. I would usually get there about five minutes before the trolley at the same time as three other poor people.
One guy wore a suit with the name tag of one of those clothing stores that seemed to stock anything someone found on the street, and the isles looked like people would try shirts on and thrown them on the floor if they didn't like it. A girl wore the outfit from one of those places that serve hotdogs with no buns, instead they shove a stick up its butt. And one guy wore a chefs outfit with the name of one of those chain restaurants that serve almost passable imitations of Mexican food.
I had enough time between stops to get a few founds of Tetris Attack or Planet Puzzle League or Panel de Pon or whatever else you want to call it for the Nintendo DS. After about a month of Daily Play mode I began to feel pretty good about where I was with my skill. I had a good rhythm, I didn't get flustered when the garbage blocks started to pile, and was regularly pulling of five and six combos. Every once in a while when I looked up I saw people steeling peeks at me. I just assumed I was startling them because I tended to get vocal when I was having a band round.
One day I hopped on the trolley and sat down in the wheelchair access double wide because my legs like to breathe. I pulled the DS out of my purple apron and to my surprise the chef began waving his DS at me from a seat across the train. I gave him a respectful head nod and looked back down then did a double take when I saw his name pop up on my wifi local. I knew it was his name because it was written all over his back pack in old english style lettering.
Turns out he wanted to to do an audit of my skill. I looked up at him and said, "Really?" I was trying to warn the poor guy, he had no idea that this is what I do. I play games and he mistakenly assumed I was in it for funzies. He responded with a shoulder shrug, which let me know that he needed the lesson I was about to teach him. I never found out which game he wanted to challenge me in because I only carried Planet Puzzle League, and it supported online play with one card so that's what we played.
It took him about two stops to beat me. He made a jab at me with baby chains then would make a horizontal clear with a gap above the middle block. Before I knew what was going on he would drop one in the middle and I would be in the weeds until he put me out of my misery. After the match he smiled and said, "Something something payoso." I assumed he was telling me good game but I'm not sure because I can't speak Mexican. I tried to congratulate him on his crap win but it turned out he didn't speak American.
He mercilessly beat me every morning for the next three months. By this time the other poor people we share the train with had joined in and chosen sides. The department store guy went to camp chef and would sit over his shoulder commenting whenever the chef would complete a big chain which he did often. The bun less hot dog girl sat over my shoulder and messed up my focus by making dumb suggestions like clearing horizontally or bunching same color blocks on the same side.
By the time the green line got close to our destination the car would be packed and we would get pretty rowdy during a close match bot nobody seemed to mind. The most anybody would do would be to walk up and ask department store guy or hot dog girl what was going on and they would give them a brief synopsis of my fail. Every once in a while after a close loss the commuters would all go "Ohhhh!" and give me shit even though they couldn't do any better against this freak bot.
I got fired about five months after I got the gig at the copy place for loading WOW on one of the work PC's so I could do dailies. My record against the chef ended at a respectable 52-0 considering he didn't know what he was doing. I still look for his tag on live every once in a while but not for revenge or anything, well a little, but its mostly because looking back the dream of beating him made me forget that I was going somewhere I didn't want to be surrounded by people I didn't know. And by the end I learned a lot about the people that I shared the trolley with without even having what some people would define as a real conversation. We plotted and commiserated and celebrated together by playing a silly little game for kids on the way to work, and that's gotta be worth something.
In a time that histronomers refer to as the "mid-ninteys" I would be forced to sit and listen to preacher's, teachers, and parents rant and rave in opposition to these rap artists that were corrupting our ever so impressionable youth. They would throw out names like Snoop Dog, then speak on his violent gang activities, or, Two Short, and his misogynistic behavior or his frequent use of the word, Biiiitch!
I listened to all they had to say, but walked away confused, because these people would always reference the same rap artists. I would think to myself, well that's odd, because if they really wanted to be horrified all they had to do was dig a little deeper.
You see, when I wanted to relax after a hard day of smoking weed, playing video games, skateboarding and generally doing nothing productive. I would light a few candles, draw a warm bubble bath, and drift away to the soothing sounds of one Brotha Lynch Hung.
Brotha Lynch Hung was a Semi famous rapper from my hometown of Sacramento, California, but instead of rapping about boring standards such as how cool it is to be in a gang, or repping your set to the fullest, or getting money and women, he preferred to testify his love of, as he puts it " eating baby's nuts and guts like bar-b-q ribs," having sex with womens private parts with his gun, and my personal favorite "shooting infants in the face for talking that shit."
Here is a little taste. this is an excerpt from his song "Rest in Piss," from his now classic album "Season of tha' Sick"
When I'm at your set betta pack you a tech/
cause I'm at your neck with a clip full of that shit/
ni*** don't trip when i put one in your dick that Ripgut Cannibal/
Hannibal shit ni*** nuts and guts all over my chest/
and stomach running to the Lac threw my strap in the back/
twist me up a sack and I'm back on the Garden block/
This guy was far and away rapping about the most psychotic shit ever. no taboo was safe from his eviscerating vocal styling. And when I listened to him I would feel like I was in turn committing some cardinal sin, as if I were intercepting transmittances from Satan. I would feverishly read the news or go to sermon just to hear if anyone of authority had yet gotten word of this demonic rapper that was speaking about violence and sex in a far more graphic manner than anything on Snoop's Doggystyle.
But to my surprise, to this day no one has ever spoken out against anything the guy has ever rapped. no one seems to care. I used to always wonder why this was so, but now I understand that for the general public to take umbrage against something, they first have to know about that something, as in that something has to be popular, and also that something has to offend a particular group, in a very specific way. and if this is not the case, then a person is almost literally able to get away with murder.
I am only reminiscing on this because I have recently finished playing SEGA's latest effort, The Club. During play I was noting the group of multicultural characters killing indiscriminately for points, and I almost instantly thought of the recent flack that certain games have caught over the race of the protagonist (not gonna name any names), or another for the use of shallow, stereotypical characters that kill for personal gain.
But the Club when released was greeted by crickets, even though the main characters, that kill waves and waves of enemies of varied backgrounds included...
- A Cop, shooting dudes
-A Spanish biker literally named "Killen," shooting dudes
-A schizophrenic man in a Gordons fisherman outfit, shooting dudes
-An African giant, shooting dudes
-A guy from Jet set radio, shooting dudes
- An Asian man, shooting dudes
- A Russian stereotype, shooting dudes
- A white guy that I am going to assume is an Irish stereotype with a gambling problem, shooting dudes
Sure, the game had a barely fleshed out storyline involving each of the guys being forced one way or another into the tournament. But the bulk of the game simply asks you to run laps as fast as you can through a level, shooting enemies that resemble your neighbor, or a DJ in a club, or your English teacher with an uzi in his hand, in the face or the nuts, if possible, with stylish kills yielding even more points.
I don't dislike this game, nor am I claiming that there is a double standard in society that puts things that are of higher order in the national zeitgeist to a unfair standard of political correctness above other, more underrepresented works of art that are far more riske. no, wait, I do dislike this game because of the horrible characters that move like they are underwater, bad level design, and woeful lack of depth. And Ditto on the second point.
Here is the thing. If I am a character in a video game, film, TV show, or in real life, stricken with amnesia, and at every juncture I am solving puzzles involving conveniently placed fuze's and circuit boards, I am going to just assume that my past involved this kind of work. This would also be the case if I was running from splicers in an underground post Utopian hell, but still had time to direct water across a board or whatever the fuck you were doing to open doors in Bioshock.
I am not an electrician. I want everyone(especially game developers) to know this. I want to scream it from the rooftops. Taking voltage from one side of an electrical panel and distributing it evenly through a circuit is about as fun to me as having my pubic hairs removed by tweezers. Just so you know. but recent games like Bioshock and Lost: Via Domus, seem to not have gotten the memo that I, and most gamers, in fact, have no Issac Newton aspirations.
In the case of Lost especially, this puzzle element drastically hinders the flow of the game. situations that call for immediate action, tense situations where you don't know what is coming next, are derailed at their apex by these antiquated, filler, Myst-esqe,puzzles that would make even Steven Hawking mutter under his breath "For fuck sake..."
Uh oh, the plane I think I may have been on just violently crashed and is leaking fuel. Something needs to be done! I better run around and collect fuzes, cause when I complete a Circuit on this electrical panel, that gas is getting shut the fuck off!
Damn, I lost my camera and laptop, because I am a Photojournalist, that does electricity work as a side gig, apparently, and they seem to be stowed in the compartment of the airplane that was ripped in half, but it can regain full power if I just put a fuze... there! Got it!
Aww shit, I'm in the hydra station and I am about to finally confront my captors, they are on the other side of this door, but how do I get to them? Fuck, man, I wish there was a... Oh there it is! A goddamn electrical box! Good thing all these random fuzes I have been picking up from the jungle floor are compatible with every circuit box on the island! good stuff.
The whole, "putting puzzles in adventure games to lengthen play time," thing, needs to go to hell if the puzzles themselves cannot even be properly put into context within the world of the game. I don't remember Locke ever having to collect fuzes to escape a hatch lock down. So why did this guy? The whole situation reeks of either laziness or a misplaced pretension on the developers part.
They were at best pandering to the Idea of viewers of Lost being "smarter" than the average television viewer, and in doing so created what they thought would "challenge" us. Or, they assumed that this smarter viewer was too busy reading Faust in braille while completing black belt level Sudoku puzzles blindfolded with their penises to play little "pew-pew games," and decided that having engaging game play was not necessary to rake in the moo-la.
[D-bag note:I figured that since I usually end up bitching about the business in all of my posts anyway, why don't I just make it a weekly blog. So here is this thing that I just did. Every week I will attempt to spotlight a practice or job in the video game industry, and attempt to make some sense of it by either giving a day in the life, or by breaking down what an industry practice effects. And if possible, at the end of my post I will throw in a website or link to the mentioned job, if a job was mentioned.]
Third party developers are a lot like restaurants in that the mortality rate is high, and that the prospect of your business crapping out in the first few months is often a better hope than the long bleed it could become.
The cost of programmers, artists,testers,hardware, and the random ins and outs of running a business in a technology driven industry makes the non "in-house" development team an endangered species. And if EA's attempted hostile takeover of Take-two was any indication, the big sharks can smell any devs blood in the water from a mile away.
And here is where the big problems, the problems that lead to the shutting of doors, the firing of employees, and the general fuckery of the whole situation occurs. Imagine you are a Producer in a moderately respected third party and you gained notice from Company X for your creative use of the Jumanji engine in your latest title, "Shane and Grinch."
So Company(Publisher) X sits you down and tells you that the grappling hook mechanic and usage of massive gibbs would be perfect for their new Video game adaptation of the film "Knar-Gar, the Groin ripper." They want the title to be multi platform and want it to coincide with the movies release July after next. you explain to them that this is the first simultaneous multi release your company has ever done, and that your version of the engine was tweaked for a specific console.
But they shoot down this logic with reassurances that they have worked closely with third parties in the past that voiced the same problem, and the outcome was simply David Blane magic.But with doubt in your heart and dollar signs in your eyes you get on-board, and out pops the Contract. Its nothing serious, and only a little binding, they say, just a way to keep things honest, and to keep both sides informed and on the path to success.
And stuck somewhere in-between the part about security badges and the section detailing parking privileges, is a little thing called a Milestone clause. This little gem of a business practice makes it legally clear that if you do not hit a (usually publisher defined) set of goals by a certain date, then you and your people are not getting paid. No one gets paid. The Programmer doesn't get paid, the testers don't get paid, the producers don't get paid. The Mocap dudes, don't get paid. And that is not good.
Say it is November now. The Launch date is about about nine months out and everything is looking good. The emails from the Publisher are positive. You as a smaller third party cannot afford a marketing juggernaut, but thanks to the fat pockets of Company X you see early teasers for you game on the Internet, and in magazines. They love how it is coming along, they sent you dev kits, manpower for test, even the programmers learned to code for all platforms by going to Naughty Dog's website. Every thing is looking great for a July launch, and everyone is getting paid.
So December rolls along, and the problems with it. You get an e-mail from The publishing manager about how the Gibbs that they loved so much are not going to get any play now because "Large Rob Cycle," and "Emohunt" have trusted video game violence into the spotlight during an election year, gotta tone down the violence, bud. So you run down to tell the programmers that they are going to have to go back and clean up the code they already finished.But its too late, they now have their own problems.
They tell you that the testers are sending them way too many bugs about the goddamn grappling hooks, and that trying to fix all of them would take them well into the next lifetime, and that it would be easier for everyone involved to just tone the mechanic down to isolated...quicktime events... No.
So you run back to the office to stab you balls with chopsticks when you glance at an open magazine page flapping in the wind.And there on the page is none other than an old screen cap of Knar-gar in all his glory, Ascending a mountain with grappling hook in one hand, and an enemies throbbing nutsac in another, looking as if he just took a big bite out of it like it was a Georgia peach. Fuck.
Next thing you know you are a talking head on TV, shilling the hell out of a project that you don't even recognize anymore, while every journalist on the planet wants to crawl deep into you ass about the "uber Violnce" your new title touted when they played it at the HAXORZ game show. They want to give you both barrels concerning the voice acting, collision, the hard to open shrink wrap, and ask if these issues will be addressed by launch. Fuck.
So you go back to the office and call a meeting. You tell everyone in the room what is riding on the project, and that the expectations have reached a fevered pitch because it is running parallel to the film. They all got to get on the ball and fix this, no matter how long it takes. Not so fast.
You get a call from the publisher and they are mad, well not really mad, just disappointed. You missed four of six milestones and unfortunately they cannot pay you the full royalty for that particular six week cycle. They hope you get back on the ball, they wish you luck, and remind you to tone it down,bud.
Usually no money from the Publisher would not be so crippling, but you took on the extra manpower from them and now you have to pay them. Everyone on staff has been working Eighty to ninety hour weeks and have been waiting on the "Big Check." So to not have that money during crunch time will just about be the worst thing that could happen. But hey, payday is about a week and a half away, so there is time to figure something out, right?
No. Its June now, the title is not close to shippable, a couple of programmers have quit, and you are now two milestones in the hole. It is looking bad, it is looking really bad. A "false launch"(A title that doesn't ship on its specified date) looks inevitable, and you getting shitcanned is both assured and looked forward to by yourself.
And then it comes. Company X has taken notice of your repeated missed deadlines, they notice your company unable to attain the standard of quality that the Company X brand requires. But it is ok, They have an option. If you sell your company to them, then they will eat the cost of the false launch, eat the cost of the missed milestones, and put a pretty penny into the coffers of you and your shareholders. And all they ask is that you work exclusively for them, under relaxed conditions, retaining most of the autonomy that you previously had.With the small exception that most of the money will go to them obviously, and the benefit of stock perks will be theirs also, and they choose and redline all the games you make.Besides that though, good times.
So you and your Dev house go with the only option available, and you spend the rest of your careers pandering to whatever Company X asks of you, Never getting to create original or innovative games because the company bottom line demands at least one hit from every company every fiscal year.
This cycle of Milestone manipulation occurs constantly in the game industry, and almost always serves to benefit to Larger company. And while it is true that former third parties like Neversoft and Vicarious visions still operate much like they did independently while under a large publisher( in this case Activision), far too many companies fold nowadays due to the intense pressure for every title to be a triple A success.
I prefer the Valve method of "it will be done when it is done." A situation like this serves to allow employees to produce great work in an relaxed environment. And while I understand that it would be financially irresponsible for all companies to do this, I would like to see publishers allow some of the more respected and proven companies to have more time in producing their titles and to not be held under the thumb of unfair Milestone achievement practices.
As promised, a couple links[Big shout to Creativeheads.net]
Rock, paper, scissors. Anyone that has ever played a strategy or role playing game knows in the back of a hearts that this is what it all boils down to. My archers versus their infantry. My big gun versus their little knife. But even with truth evident, a game may still rise above this limitation to do something truly unique if the immediacy and importance of these simplistic match ups are exploited to their fullest.
Advance Wars accomplishes this task by spacing out the battles, and in doing so forces the user to constantly flex his/her strategic inclinations by positioning units four or five steps ahead of the current situation. If an anti-air tank is in the area, I cannot move my plane within four or five squares of it, because Anti-air beats plane and so forth.
I submit that Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings should voluntarily distance itself from any "Strategy," or "Tactics" monikers. I would have them do this only to limit the confusion of anyone that will pick up this title in the future expecting strategy to be involved in troop movement and combat.
Any stage in the game will have you placed at starting point X with your base party all concentrated in one area. The old friends are all here. Cut off shirt kid, his "girlfriend," Pirate guy, and Fran. I say her full name with proper respect because I am in love with her, and we will get married, and you need to respect that, Lyly.
Anyway... npc's that played minor roles in the former game have now been upgraded to full time annoyances. One of which,interestingly enough, has stole Marty's pink hoverboard. Which proves beyond a doubt that the Final Fantasy Cannon is set in the (future)? And doc Brown was the mastermind of the Janus project. Which has been believed for years as truth by FF scholars such as me, for instance.
So you are in level X, you have arranged you battle party according to Melee fighters, Flying fighters, healers, and ranged attackers. The various enemies roam the plains in clumps of the same type, so you ever so carefully drag the stylus across the length of the battlefield to get the lay of the land, which is almost impossible to do without somehow selecting all combatants to full on attack, thanks to the horrible stylus centric control scheme.
nevertheless, you select a target close to your current location that is ripe. With a battleplan set, all spells upgraded, support summons for backup monsters called out, and all characters in the party equipped with the most powerful armor and weapons possible, you release your troops to as Sun Tsu said, "Strike like Lightning."
It is at the moment that your party meets the enemy that you realize none of your preparations truly mattered because the whole of your party will commence to doing whatever the fuck they want to do anyway. The Gambits that you selected for your characters will execute at mostly inappropriate times, the characters themselves will clump together to the point that any attempt at a functioning in battle micro strategy is an act in futility.
You would do well at this moment to just get up and make yourself a sandwich, or talk to your significant other about his or her day, because your party, If they do not meet a wall or any other collision that halts forward progress completely, giving the enemy a chance to pick them off one by one(which happens frequently), will take care of everything themselves.
Any given stage in this game is like passively watching a living deer being squeezed and consumed by a large(depending on your current level) Boa constrictor. Its slow. The deer is kicking and fighting in the first part, but towards the end has given up completely against an overwhelming aggressor. The outcome inevitable, you just watch this brutal play unfold helplessly, and walk away feeling rather sorry for the food.
When comedians or middle school kids find themselves at a disadvantage against an audiance or a bully, with the bully or audience having an overabundance of ammunition against them, there is only one truly affective thing they can do. Draw attention to that flaw and make it work for them.
Phyllis Diller is old, wrinkled and worked on. Carlos Mencia is a thief and also the worst comedian alive. My friend Joe has one testicle. We all know these things. So these aforementioned people make quite a good living bringing them up in their sets or among their group of friends in order to take away that advantage and to force the audience to look for something else to judge them on. And they hope that new thing they will be judged on will take the focus away from what they cannot change.
And so it is that when EA was tasked with creating a new Simpson's title that they understood the limitations of video games and knew the climate that they were sending this game out to. After all, just one play through of a few levels of the game will show that the devs understood the game making process(check the QA level. Spot on.) Or check any of the mini games that serve as homages to a game players childhood(Missie Commander, anyone?)
But the problem in the title arises in the Cliches that they provide as in game collectibles. Sure they are funny. I know that being able to hang from a ledge indefinitely is impossible unless you last name is Norris. I understand that it is funny when AI pathing is so bad that npc's are constantly running into walls. And pointing these things out in a game is a great way to show that you know it too and understand the frustrations associated in it.
But here is the thing. If you are going to go that route, pointing out flaws in games in general, and satarising the creations of others and such, you better make damn sure that your game is polished enough that its own problems do not overshadow the ones that you have pointed out in other titles.
Here is a short list of cliches that the Simpson's game may have missed if only because they were in the game itself. It is cliche when a character gets a power up and is unable to deactivate that power up on their own, especially when it is necessary for that character to be in their normal state to interact with objects in the game world. This is evidenced when Lisa is in her "Super Lisa" mode but it is unable to activate her "Bhudda Hand" special ability while still powered up.
Another. While in a Sandbox style game, it is cliche to have the WORST FUCKING CAMERA EVER. A camera that forces you to go left when next to buildings.A camera that battles you harder than a boss in Contra. It wants you dead. And it also wants you to not enjoy this game. I did not see that collectible on the list, guys.
How about another? Co-op mode as an afterthought in a game that features multiple protagonists. The Simpson's game only offers a vertical splitscreen, only allows the second user to enter play in the town and in story mode. No time trial for two. Sorry.
Ok, I could go on, but as exhibit D I would like to present the overlapping of button uses for multiple action functions. Am I shooting a slingshot? Am I putting it away? Why is my auto target on now? Crap, this is very confusing.
Listen, because this is the part where I tell you that the Simpson's game, for all of its flaws is by far and away the funniest and most entertaining title I have played in a long time. The story is well thought out and extremely well written, to the point where even the ancillary characters feel like normal extensions of the show itself. And the whole package is well worth the price of admission. But if you are a franchise that makes its bread and butter on making fun of the flaws in something, and then you decide to create that something, you will automatically be held to a higher standard if only because it has been established that you know better( I am looking at you, Gabe and Tyco).