I guess I'm the typical, modern day nerd. I was raised right on Batman: TAS and old-school TMNT. I've been a core gamer since I was 2 years old (I was beating Mario before I could finish sentences) and haven't thought twice about it since. My favorite game genre is RPG for sure. I love the advent of channels like Nerdist and Geek and Sundry, and will never turn down an invitation to a Con. (Though I don't cosplay... yet.) I hate not owning the latest and greatest gadgets and aspire to find my place in the world of game journalism.
Favorite Games: The Mass Effect trilogy, Super Mario World, the BioShock series, the Ratchet and Clank series, anything featuring Nolan North.
Favorite shows: FireFly (Browncoats, unite!), Bones, Castle, Spectacular Spider-Man (RIP), Transformers Prime. Anything featuring the voice talents of Steve Blum, Gina Torres, Ashley Johnson, or Yuri Lowenthal.
Favorite Comics: Amazing Spider-Man (Thanks for the memories), most things featuring Batman, any one where Green Arrow makes an appearance.
I’ve been gaming for roughly 21 years now. That being said, it may surprise you to know that at the time of this blog I’m only 23 years old. (I’m certain you’re capable of doing the math.) My first game was Super Mario World, and I used to spend countless hours collecting every coin and repeatedly capturing that blue Yoshi I loved so much. I was more than capable of beating the game, and even needed to help my teenage uncle get past a few levels from time to time. This isn’t me throwing my gaming achievements in your face, I promise, the point is that I’m just about as familiar with video games as humanly possible. And in order to determine what makes me the gamer I am today, preferences and all, we need to take a hard look at my gaming timeline.
As far as consoles that I’ve owned, the list is as follows: Sega Genesis, Sega Dreamcast, GameCube, Xbox, and all three current-gen consoles. (I’m betting you can tell at which point in the timeline I started making money and taking gaming seriously.) I plan on owning a Wii U as soon as I see a release date for Smash Bros. As you can see, there are some pretty major gaps there. The reason for that is I had a best a friend who owned a Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, and PS2, on top of my uncle who owned an NES, SNES and Sega Master system. So, given how much time I spent with them, I had access to all the consoles and games I ever wanted. For the purposes of this piece, and to spare you from the 100 lb. tome this reflection would inevitably become, I’m going to focus on the consoles I owned and the games I’m most fond of.
From humble beginnings...
As a child, you don’t really care too much about what games are about. Words like “narrative” and “characterization” or even “plot twist” hadn’t yet entered into my vocabulary. Games were simpler back during the time of the SNES and Genesis era anyway, so honestly I was probably just about as mature as my games. My Genesis memories consist of three games primarily: Sonic the Hedgehog, Streets of Rage 2, and Vectorman. I had about a dozen more games, but these were the three I always went back to. If you look at them, they’re a pretty balanced mix of genres. We have the straight 2-D platformer in Sonic, the forever-classic beat ‘em up in Streets of Rage 2, and the “shooter”-platforming hybrid of Vectorman. It’s a toss-up whether I spent the most time with Steets of Rage 2 or Sonic. Either way, from this list of games we can see exactly where I was at, both as a person, and as a gamer. I loved the visceral, immediate response of pressing a button and beating down a baddie in Streets of Rage 2. It was the perfect combination of fun and challenging. (For reference, I’m between the ages of 3-7 at this point.) I loved the cool-looking enemies and bosses, the unique characters to choose from, the small bits of dialogue/screaming during special attacks or after being knocked down, and especially the variety of stage backdrops. The game had a certain flare to it, and I was totally mesmerized.
Then there was Sonic. The “Blue Dude with a ‘tude”. He hit the ground running and, if he had his way, wouldn’t stop for anything. I totally bought into Sonic’s personality and attitude, even though everything I knew about him came from the commercials and animated Saturday Morning cartoon series, not the actual game. I loved letting Sonic stand idle and watching him grow impatient. Again, this game also featured great character designs, interesting boss fights (albeit they were all Dr. Robotnik/Eggman, he at least had different weapons and vehicles) and a great variety in landscapes. From an early age, it seems I had a taste for variety and imaginative design.
Behind that smile, he’s really just wishing you’ll hurry up and bring him a chili cheese dog
Vectorman was probably the first time I remember paying attention and following along with the “story” of a game. It wasn’t more than a few pages of text at the beginning and end, but still, it was the first time in my gaming life that I understood that stakes were involved. The first time I started to see “the hero’s journey” instead of just “look at the screen, press these buttons to make the characters move, and just keep moving to the right.” All of a sudden I was making a difference in this story; my actions would either doom or save a planet. Or in Vectorman’s case, I guess I was just helping him get rid of some pollution monster. Captain Planet, much? Point is, I felt like my playing the game actually mattered, and that was a pretty big moment.
Flash forward to the Sega Dreamcast. I bought the console at release that came bundled with Sonic Adventure, an extra controller, and a Dreamcast t-shirt that to this day I’m pretty sure my old man wears every time he mows the lawn. I have a ridiculous collection of Dreamcast games, at least for a small-town kid with no allowance at the time. (My collection is somewhere between the 40-50 mark.) The Dreamcast era was my golden age, and the time I most attribute to shaping me into the gamer I’ve become. I will defend this system as “the best ever” with my dying breathe, and not a day goes by I don’t shout out loud, “The Dreamcast 2 will happen.” It’s basically my mantra, and probably the most significant reason I get up in the morning. So what made the Dreamcast such an integral part of my gaming life? I’d say it’s based on two factors: Timing (as in when it released in relation to my maturity level) and the game catalogue. The Dreamcast was the first time I was introduced to every genre gaming had to offer. It was really my first experience with racing (Crazy Taxi), fighting (Soul Calibur), RPG (Skies of Arcadia, Grandia II), Online games (Phantasy Star Online), and more traditional shooters (Tomb Raider, Fur Fighters… shut up.) It was also when I was just developing a sense of narrative and began appreciating movies and shows that featured characters with strong emotional cores.
Of all the incredible games the Dreamcast had to offer, it’s still easy for me to point to one game in particular that literally changed my life. I’m talking about the one game that took gaming as a hobby, and turned it into a passion. The reason I get paid to tell you stories like this one right now on a gaming site because I got a degree in journalism specifically so I could help people feel the way I feel and understand the beauty of video games, that kind of life-changing experience. That game was Grandia II. Never heard of it? That’s okay. Don’t like it? Get the F*** out of my blogging space! Just kidding, to each their own. Before I got started writing this piece, I had to sit down and really think about what separated Grandia from the rest of the pack. It took some time, but I had to narrow down exactly what made this game resonate so strong and stay with me so long. The best I can tell is that it was simply a perfect storm: The game itself, as well as where I was at in life when I first played the game.
According to the Wikipedia page, Grandia II released in North America on December 6, 2000. That seems about right to me, because I was 11 when I got that and Skies of Arcadia for Christmas. (I know, best Christmas ever!) So here I was, not yet a teenager, and an avid consumer of video game media. I’d played all kinds of games at this point simply because they were fun. And then, out of nowhere, here comes this game with incredible characters, amazing graphics, and a story that literally made me experience every emotion my body was capable of. (Yes… even that one. If you must know, it was because of Millenia.) I was so captivated by the personalities and story of this game that I could not wait to get home from school and spend my entire weekend lost in this amazing world.(No gaming on weekdays. House rules.) The combat was/is technically turn-based, but back then I think it was called “active turn-based” solely because there was an action meter on top telling you when enemies were going to attack, and what move they were using;the strategy here being that you could “cancel” enemy attacks with certain special moves of your own. It was also the first game for me where characters would be fighting in the background of the battle arena while you were choosing your team’s actions. The game seemed so alive; even when I was just trying to decide which move to use, my party was out there clashing weapons with secondary enemies.
Then there was the story. I won’t spoil anything because I demand you find a way to play this game, but I was completely engrossed in Ryudo’s journey across the world while protecting his traveling companion, Elena. My favorite character though had to be Mareg, a beast-man who sports some sort of lion-mane. Mareg was voiced by Peter Lurie, whom many may know as the voice of Sabertooth in Wolverine and the X-Men/Ultimate Spider-Man or, in the gaming world, Vulcan Raven from Metal Gear Solid. He had the most amazing move set and you could equip him with some of the best gear in the game. But more than that, he was the classic “monster with a tender heart” character-type, and his caring for other-party-member Tio was so wonderfully displayed throughout the game. For those who’ve played the game, you can probably guess the exact story point at which I cried for the first time. In my defense, I only cried twice during the course of the game: Once at a specific plot point and then again when the credits started rolling because I didn’t want the game to end.
He ain’t handsome, but he’s a great guy. (Not shown: His giant war axe.)
So, great characters, solid story, varied locations, and beautiful graphics, sounds like most RPGs, right? I guess what separated Grandia II from the rest of the pack was that, for me, it was the first time I genuinely connected to a game. This story became about more than just Ryudo and his gang having an adventure. It became about how games can have an emotional impact on a person, and that these stories can engage and immerse us in their worlds in ways absolutely no other entertainment medium will ever come close. I felt like a part of the action in Grandia. My decisions were the ones that brought these people together, and we shared experiences simultaneously. Grandia II featured these “campfire” moments throughout various dungeon expeditions where you could either just go to sleep or stay up and make the characters talk to each other. I used to milk those conversations as long as possible, and they ended up being some of my favorite scenes in the game. Not because the battles were dull or anything, far from it, but because I simply began enjoying the company of these characters. These tender moments during down time from the action, when these people were just getting to know each other, those were the moments I felt most connected to them, and their fictional world.
From Grandia II onward, RPGs have been my favorite game genre, bar none. I absolutely adore getting lost in these massive worlds teeming with exotic locales and endless wonders to explore. But, even crazier than that, the characters and personalities of Grandia made such a profound impact on me that I still carry the spirits of those characters with me today. I take a little of Ryudo’s courage every time I have to face a giant boss at the end of a dungeon. I can’t help but share Mareg’s compassion when deciding to either “rescue” or “harvest” the Little Sisters in BioShock. (I to this day can’t “harvest” even a single one just to know what it looks like.) I’m foolishly attracted to any red head who has a sassy remark in response to anything I say. (Millenia might not be the only reason for that, but that’s another story.) Bottom line: This is “the one game” that took the epiphany bat and beat me over the head with it. I haven’t just been a core gamer since Grandia, I’ve been absolutely enamored by the feats this industry is capable of accomplishing. This is the game that made me realize the sky’s (skye?) the limit, and that video games can be so much more than the children’s toys/killer-breeding machines mainstream media makes it out to be.
So, there’s my story, humble beginnings and all. If you stayed with me all this while, and I mean this, God bless you. You’ve either got way too much time to kill, or you’re as passionate about games as I am. Whatever the case, I thank you for taking the time to hear my story, and I encourage you to share a few of your own in the comments. Everybody has that “one game” that made an impact on them, what was yours? Did it affect you as profoundly as Grandia II did for me, or was it simply a realization that you loved video games? If you’d seriously like to share your whole story with the gaming community, check out HAWP star Ashly Burch’s How Games Saved My Life. It’s filled with testimonials from gamers just looking to share their passion and give thanks to the wonderful games that made a difference in their lives. Alright, that’s more than enough out of me. I hope you’ll tune into future stories, although they won’t all be as reflective as this. Until next time, keep gaming folks!
By this point, anyone with even a remote interest in the video game industry has heard about the tumultuous past few weeks for Microsoft’s next-gen console, the Xbox One. For the purposes of this piece, let’s do a quick recap. Microsoft announced a console that required DRM and needed a constant internet connection to keep tabs on player’s game libraries. So far as the general public knew, particularly after Jimmy Fallon’s misunderstanding of the situation, the Xbox One absolutely blocked the ability to play used games; effectively doing away with the sharing or reselling of games. After incredible fan backlash, ranging from folks who enjoy the ease of trading physical games and sharing titles amongst friends, to active service military personnel who were unhappy about the persistent online requirement and mandatory Kinect integration, Microsoft pulled a compete Xbox “one-eighty” yesterday.
As it now stands, the Xbox One will no longer require an internet connection to play offline games, nor will there be any authentication process when purchasing physical copies of games. Gone are the policies hurting used game sharing, so what remains is basically in line with today’s current standards upheld by the Xbox 360. Finally, the system will no longer be region-locked; thus allowing any console to play any game from any region. The drawback to this is that digital games can no longer be shared under the proposed “family plan,” which would’ve allowed up to ten close friends and family members access to an Xbox One profile’s personal library stored in the cloud. This also means that games require the physical disc to be inserted into the console to run; so even if players install games purchased as a physical copy to the hard drive, the disc will be needed to run the game, as it currently does on the Xbox 360.
I know this feels like a victory to everyone who yelled and complained about Microsoft’s unreasonably anti-consumer policies. I know gamers think things are going to get better now that policies are pretty much remaining the same as the current console generation. Unfortunately, that’s not entirely the case. There’s more at stake here than the average consumer realizes, and I’m here to tell you that, even though Microsoft did an absolutely horrible job conveying this message, their policies weren’t done simply to spite gamers and turn the Xbox One into an exclusive toy for privileged rich kids: There was, in fact, a method to their madness. We just didn’t know it. We couldn’t have known it. And that’s not our fault, it’s theirs.
Seriously, folks, put down the angry mob gear
Instead of just admitting that things got way out of hand, Microsoft would have you believe they had two plans all along: One that contained all of the previous policies such as always-on DRM, and a contingency plan that didn’t require any of the focus on a completely connected online experience. This is half true. In fact, it is exactly a half-truth. Because Microsoft didn’t have two plans, they had two half-plans. Now, for the folks who don’t have a background in management, let me hit you with a little business equation to keep in mind, should you ever own your own company. I know math is scary, but I promise this one’s not so bad. The equation is this: 1 half-plan + 1 half-plan = a PR sh*tstorm; resulting in misinformation and contradictory statements made from each different team member that is asked a question about policy.
That is exactly what happened to Microsoft. Different people were privy to different information, and neither side knew which one was right. That’s why we had Microsoft PR reps telling us that 24-hour check-ins and online activations of used games were “potential scenarios;” because, so far as anyone knew, they were exactly that. There’s no justification for this. The team at Xbox had one job: delivering a consistent message about Xbox. Not about Microsoft. Not about TV. Not about a freaking camera that can see my heart beating inside my chest and can tell me what I ate for dinner. All they had to do was come to a mutual understanding about what the Xbox One was going to do, and how it intended to do it. They… failed. They screwed up big time. “Epic fail” is one of the dumbest things the internet has ever invented; but dear, sweet Mary Margaret, team Xbox couldn’t have botched this surgery any worse if they accidentally used a chainsaw instead of a scalpel. Not since “New Coke” has a product been so out of touch with consumer interests, further compounded by mixed messaging that only made the world trust the new product even less, because we simply didn’t understand “why?”
At this point, Microsoft had no other choice but to reverse their decision. They backpedaled due to fear the console wouldn’t sell; a fear totally justified by the legions of gamers swearing off Microsoft for good. Was that a bit of an overreaction on the part of gamers? Totally. These consoles aren’t coming out until the end of the year, which means Microsoft had plenty of time to justify why these policies were in place. All they had to do was show us the benefits of an always-on experience, and when it came time to put up or shut up, Xbox told us to “deal with it.” They told us that, “if you’re backwards compatible, you’re really backwards.” They even had the nerve, the absolute nerve, to say that “we have a product available for people who aren’t able to get some form of connectivity. It’s called Xbox 360.” That is the closest thing a company can get to looking a consumer right in the eye and telling them, to quote a lovely artist by the name of Pink, “it’s just you and your hand tonight.” This near-fictionally comical level of arrogance on display only serves to reinforce how frightened Microsoft was of losing customers. For them to go back now is the equivalent of Hidalgo apologizing to European-born Spaniards before the firing squad put him in the dirt. So, of course they changed things. The problem now is, does it matter?
If he treats his wife the way he treats his customers, I imagine showing off the Xbox One isn’t the only thing Mr. Mattrick needs that hand for…
The truth is, whether or not Microsoft keeps their policies concerning DRM and always-on in effect, the future is already headed in that direction. The idea of always-on isn’t going to go away, but what needs to happen is that consumers need to be eased into it and educated as to the specifics of why it’s necessary and how it benefits them. Think of the majority of new games that were shown at E3 this year. Do you know what titles like Need for Speed Rivals, Tom Clancy’s The Division, Titanfall, Destiny, Watch_Dogs, and Sunset Overdrive all have in common? They’re all connected worlds, seamlessly blending single-player and multiplayer into a solidified universe. The divide has totally been erased. That’s the technological leap next-gen consoles are making. Not graphics, not 60 frames per second; but a solidified universe. We’re no longer buying a single-player game with a multiplayer component, or vice versa. We’re buying a persistent world. But what that means is that these AAA titles everyone will want to play won’t function as intended without being always online. Without the power of the cloud to help process these massive, dynamic environments, they simply aren’t possible; a crucial fact that neither Microsoft nor Sony properly conveyed to the community.
Developers built these big budget “next-gen” games around the idea of a persistent always-on experience, so policy changes or not, there’s no going back at this point. Relinquishing the need for DRM and daily check-ins will only help the offline-only titles being developed, and how many of those do you think exist out in the world? Not a heck of a lot. So truthfully, in the long run, we are actually going to need the systems Microsoft originally put in place, which is why they still reserve the right to flip everything back on a couple years down the road when people have a better understanding of what being a “next-gen” game actually means. Because in order for these consoles to function as they are intended, and this is true for both the Xbox One and the PS4 whether Sony admits it or sheepishly shifts the blame to Microsoft, they will require a constant internet connection. To provide the best possible gaming experience, they will require a constant internet connection. Whether or not we all agree this is where gaming should go is obviously debatable, and more obviously not the issue. The fact is, that’s the plan, and Microsoft and Sony have to stick with it now that every major developer and publisher is pouring millions of dollars into the idea of persistent worlds that both console makers agreed to.
To the people who were speaking on behalf of those in rural areas or dead zones without internet connections, and especially those who came to the defense of service members fighting on behalf of their countries the world over, I get it. I totally understand the frustration, and I was right there championing the cause alongside of everyone else. But taking these features out wasn’t the solution here, because now everybody loses. Now everyone loses the “family share plan” and physical disc installations that can then be played off the hard drive; a feature perfect for collectors who adore seeing a full shelf of games but want that easy access to their entire digital catalog from any Xbox One console. Microsoft will site piracy as the reason we can’t have these features back, and since no one has a better anti-piracy system in place, it’s hard to fault them. It’s hard to say “give us the family sharing plan but without DRM” when pirates would just start selling “offline only” Xbox One consoles with 20-30 preloaded games on them borrowed from a central hub unit. Ten degrees of separation goes a long way, and without DRM or a similar yet-to-be-invented system to moderate it, an entire community could have access to hundreds of games having only purchased a fraction of them.
And that’s only six degrees of separation…
Instead of simply reverting back to current policies, the real answer was to make exceptions for folks in specific situations who couldn’t abide by the Xbox One’s demanding restrictions. Soldiers on deployment should absolutely have been granted some sort of “voucher” that allows them access to all of their games without the need for a DRM check or a steady internet connection. Folks in noted areas where internet is simply not available to them, or otherwise incapable of meeting the download speed requirements, should have had similar exceptions made. If Microsoft and Sony want the future to be always online or require DRM, then it’s unquestionably up to Microsoft and Sony to figure out how to make that work for every single consumer interested in their product. If family sharing isn’t possible without DRM, then it’s on them to figure out another way to get that already-announced feature to us; because it is not the consumers fault for being uncomfortable with such unreasonable demands, especially when those demands were not carefully laid out and explained properly so we could see both the positives and negatives.
The question is, how did all of this happen? How did Xbox get so off course? We’ll likely never know the full story, unless someone writes it in their dying memoirs anyway, so for now I have a temporary hypothesis: Microsoft thought about the possibilities of how these features would benefit their consumers in the long term, but never once stopped to consider the practicality of such severe changes. For example, I’m betting Microsoft thought to themselves, “wouldn’t it be cool Kinect was always in sleep mode so you could turn the console on at a moment’s notice?” As a designer, that sounds like an excellent and convenient feature that any consumer would appreciate, until the folks at home realize that Kinect is a high-quality camera that Microsoft just programmed to watch, record, and listen to our every action. Perhaps blinded by arrogance, Microsoft thought we would just trust their vision of the future and allow these features into our homes without concrete details concerning why these big changes were necessary for next-gen consoles and how, specifically, they would benefit us as gamers. The result: A lack of transparency on their part led to a lack of trust on our part. The public rightfully reacted poorly because Microsoft couldn’t properly relay the benefits and reasoning behind their decisions; an error they will now spend the next five months paying for as they attempt to earn back consumer confidence.
But there is one final thing to consider before writing Microsoft off. Simply turning our back on the company and giving up on the Xbox One is not the ideal response to all of this. As an industry, we need competition, and no reasonable person should wish for Microsoft to crumble and Sony to command a monopoly over the industry. (Relax Nintendonites, and understand that Nintendo fans buy Nintendo consoles to play Nintendo games. The Big N has no interest in competing against Sony or Microsoft. They simply do their own thing and are all the better for it.) A scenario like that would only ensure a future where consumers don’t have the ability to reverse policy decisions like what we’ve just seen.
“That’s just how we do”
I’m not saying we should support awful business practices for the sake of competition, I’m just saying gamers need to believe that Sony is still a business just like Microsoft. If anything, they’ve been coy if not entirely sneaky about their decisions moving forward. Just look at how they snuck in that single slide about the PS4 requiring a PS+ subscription to play online. The PS4 doesn’t “require DRM,” but it’s also completely up to the publishers. The PS4 has the ability to block used game sales, should publishers decide to enforce the function. The truth is that the PS4 is every bit as capable of enacting the exact same policies as the Xbox One did; the difference is they planned to do it slowly over time and bill it as the evolution of a great service that is for the benefit of the gaming community. Sony impressed everyone at E3 this year because they told us exactly what we wanted to hear, and left out the stuff they knew we wouldn’t like. They might look a lot better than Microsoft right now, but I can promise that Sony isn’t a white knight in all of this. Both parties lobbied to push gaming into the always-on, cloud-based space; unfortunately for Microsoft, they were just the ones who got caught holding the knife and covered in blood stains. What’s more, their arrogance about the whole situation won’t help garner any sympathy, not that they deserve it.
So, here’s where we’re at. The future is clear: Gaming is going in a direction that requires an always-on connection. The next stage in advanced graphics, AI improvements, architectural design, and resource management is based on cloud gaming and constant, high-speed internet access. That’s still not changing, whether these policies are instated now or three years from now when they legitimately must be enforced in order to access full game content. Always-on is the new “detective mode,” and every game will want to take advantage of it and the power of the cloud once people understand the benefits. There’s a small chance this whole thing was blown way out of proportion. If that’s the case, it’s partially our fault for fearing change and not trying to look deeper into the “how” and “why,” but it’s mostly Microsoft’s fault for not conveying the true gamer-centric benefits of always-on, or respecting our intelligence enough to lay all of their cards on the table.
If we take anything away from this disaster, this war (consumers vs. big business) leading to casualties on both sides (less restrictions but also less features,) let it be this: Publishers and console makers need to respect the educated consumer, and educated consumers need to know the right questions to ask. Better information would’ve led to a clearer understanding of why Microsoft felt the way they did, and perhaps that would’ve led to a mutual agreement, or at the very least a discussion, of which policies needed to stay in order for consumers to benefit the most. Where the Xbox One is right now is stuck somewhere in the middle, and while that is definitely Microsoft’s fault, consumers are the ones who will ultimately suffer. The unfortunate truth is that the Xbox One needs the original policies to function the way it was intended and maximize the truly “next-gen” experiences the industry sees as the future of gaming; but because of this nightmarish PR cyclone of misinformation and inconsistency, the console is caught out in no-man’s land. I sincerely hope Microsoft can figure out a way to salvage their next-gen system while maintaining at least a piece of their vision for the future. If not, the Xbox One will be a subpar successor to the Xbox 360; complete with half-baked ideas and unrealized potential. I don’t know about anyone else, but loyalties aside, I’d call that a damn shame.
You see, Microsoft, this is why we can’t have nice things
Alright, so that’s my long-winded pseudo-rant about the state of the gaming industry. I imagine a lot of gamers are feeling a variety of emotions, so feel free to drop a comment down below. This is obviously a topic that demands discussion, so as long as you can maintain some semblance of civility, I encourage you to share your thoughts and engage in what’s likely going to be the most important issue concerning the future of video games. I read every comment I get folks so I can promise you, your voice will be heard. Just try not to yell in my ear, I have sensitive hearing.
[i]TL;DR is a whenever-the-mood-strikes soapbox, often weekly, where the industry’s latest issues are discussed at length. Commentary and a bit of lighthearted humor are often provided. If you like what you see, feel free to share the article with friends.
(This post was taken directly from my employer at IGXPro, where I am a contributor. TL;DR is my original series, reproduced here because I think it's an issue worth discussing as much as possible. But, if you like what you read, be sure to like IGXPro on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or give us the ‘ol +1 on Google+. [font=Calibri','sans-serif]If you can’t get enough of my shenanigans, (who could blame you?) you can check me out @GamingsNirvana, or add +VinnyParisi to your circles.)[/font]
Welcome back to another installment of my colorblind-awareness series. Since last time I covered the basics of the issue at hand, this time around will be all about showing off some of the games that bring colorblindness into the spotlight, for both better and worse. The examples that follow either found a suitable way to allow colorblind gamers to enjoy everything the game had to offer, or were downright unplayable because of their unthinkable ignorance from development through QA testing. I flipped a coin to determine which group I’d write about first, but I’m just going to go with the unplayable ones anyway.
For the games deserving of a wag of our fingers, I’m going to break this down into three categories to make it easier to digest: Stealth games, Puzzle games and everything else. (Don’t worry, the last section will be a brief list.) Doing things this way seems to make the most sense both because these genres tend to have the most difficulty in providing balanced, equal experiences for everyone; and because each section will then shed a uniquely specific light on a development issue from a colorblind perspective. Ready? And here. We. Go.
You thought there was going to be a Joker pic after that, didn’t you? Yeah, so did I. Oh well. Okay, back on track. Stealth games, a genre based on subtlety and subterfuge. These are worlds where color should matter little to those who hide amongst the shadows and strike with quiet precision. These games understandably rely on patience, visual cues, and often times, pattern memorization. This past year brought us Dishonored, a wonderful steampunk stealth-action fantasy that gave me all the tools I needed to complete a no-kill ghost playthrough. It is a wonderful example of how to provide distinguishable visual cues no matter what your color-deficiency is. You want to know a couple games that are wonderful examples of how NOT to provide visual cues? Splinter Cell: Double Agent and Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater. Here’s why: Whereas the original Splinter Cell provided a meter on the screen to let you know how visible you were to enemies, DA decided a fun way to improve upon that would be a light that I’m told changes hue depending on how visible you are. Snake Eater cries “realism” as it’s excuse to drape everything in camouflage, including those one-hit-kill death traps littering the forest, but if that were actually true everyone who was red-green colorblind would think the game was a cakewalk. (See: My military sniping link from last week.) I say it’s just a miserable experience.
I assume they also decided to put a bicycle bell on his zip line and some chattering teeth in his backpack (Photo Courtesy: Ubisoft)
Speaking of miserable experiences, I mentioned last week how every puzzle game should have to include a colorblind mode. I don’t see how a game that hinges on a singular gameplay element could exist without it. The fact that only some puzzle games include something like shapes or symbols to differentiate from whatever you're matching/stacking/shooting balls at is just ludicrous. While it’s true there have been efforts made and great strides taken, we still live in a world where some puzzle games are needlessly unplayable. I’m looking at you, Puzzle Fighter. If you’re going to use different shapes, why still include duplicate shapes of similar colors? Then there’s always PC game The Void, a game that uses color to represent everything from health and ammo to collectible resources. I don’t think I need to explain any further. Last, but certainly not least on the list of puzzle games deserving a good finger wagging, is the “classic” Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine. They say time heals all wounds; well I’m here to tell you that’s a load, because not even eternity is long enough to forget this abomination.
Roboticizing cute, innocent woodland creatures, I’ll forgive. But for this, you rotund bastard, you’ll pay (Photo Courtesy: Wikipedia Entry (originally from theghz.com))
Ugh, I hate that game. So now we’ve come to the proverbial rest of the crap. (Seanbaby is awesome if you’ve never read his stuff from either EGM or Cracked.) We’ll call this the rapid fire round, and how it works is I’m going to list a bunch of games and what they did wrong. Some of these grievances are specific to only one game mode (for instance, multiplayer) while others have flaws that render the game wholly unplayable to roughly 9% of the male population and .5% of all ladies. As a side note, I find this section becomes more enjoyable if you add the phrase, “Come on, Man!” to the end of every entry a la Monday Night Football.
1) Dirt Showdown 2: Uses red and green markers as waypoints during events. I’m also told the game goes on to taunt you using colorblind as an insult for poor performance. (Thanks to D’toid user Ian Hamilton for the heads up.)
2) Alpha Squad: The color of nametags and icons used to differentiate friendlies and hostiles in multiplayer is indistinguishable.
3) Shadow Complex: Color coordination is used to specify types of locked doors/breakable walls Metroid style. Red for missiles, green for grenades, blue for foam, etc. At least ammo isn’t too scarce.
4) Mirror’s Edge: Just follow the red line…
5) Red Dead Redemption/Grand Theft Auto: Choosing a point of interest shows a direct route to that location on the map, except it’s impossible to see from the mini-map. Trying to get anywhere becomes a classic road trip movie stereotype of having to “unfold” the full-screen map every few seconds.
6) Rockstar Games Present’s Table Tennis: The spin of the ball is displayed as colored streaks, so it is impossible to play with any sort of strategy or finesse.
7) The Fifa Series: Multiplayer differentiates players with small, colored triangles. Good luck keeping track of who is who when teaming up against other players.
8) X-Men Origins: Wolverine: “Feral senses” mode tells you how to progress. It does so by making everything a blurry glow of light and then marks points of interest with red and green.
Now these aren’t of course the only offenders, but this list offers a good range of possible issues colorblind gamers run into when playing a typical new release that doesn’t feature a colorblind mode of any kind.
Just follow the red line… Come on, Man! (Photo Courtesy: ESPN)
Now that we’ve seen how NOT to make a video game, we can get on to the main event; praising those developers that not only “add in” a colorblind mode after the fact, but more often than not simply develop games from the ground up with colorblind folks in mind. Here are, according to my own experiences, the top three developers that are great at making colorblind-inclusive games: Valve, BioWare and PopCap games.
It should come as little surprise to see Valve in any list that praises the gaming industry, and why not? They’re an excellent, devoted team who knows exactly who their audience is, and how to best interact with them. They have developed games across multiple genres; from the beloved Half Life series, to the multiplayer chaos that is Team Fortress 2, and most recently a couple small games you may have heard about featuring a perfectly sane robot named GlaDOS. But you want to know what’s crazy? (Besides GlaDOS, I mean.) I’ve been able to enjoy every single game they’ve ever put out without ever feeling like being colorblind was a hindrance. Sure, there is a petition going around because people feel the “colorblind mode” in TF2 is insufficient, and that’s fine. I take the fact that people are asking that this game be playable by folks suffering from monochromatic colorblindness as a sign that they’re doing things right. Most developers can’t even make a game without relying on red and green, let alone using no colors at all. I tip my hat to you, Valve.
As if you needed another reason to love Valve (Photo Courtesy: Valve)
BioWare is always very vocal about their stance on being all-inclusive. They come under a lot of fire for their Mass Effect and Dragon Age series’ openness to same-sex relationships/romance options, but that’s another issue. So, simply focusing on the playability aspect of BioWare developed games from a colorblind standpoint, they deliver. A shining example here is the original DA, Dragon Age: Origins. The options menu in Origins allows just about any type of configuration you can imagine; including everything a colorblind gamer needs to enjoy the entirety of the game. In fact, the game did such a great job, it won the AbleGamers Foundation’s 2009 Accessible Game of the Year. Hard to argue with that.
Both Valve and BioWare are pretty big dogs in the yard of PC/console gaming, but considering the popularity of the ever-growing casual market, it’s also necessary for developers of mobile-focused games to do their part. Now PopCap Games is by no means just some casual developer, but their games do manage to reach a wide audience regardless of “core” status within the gaming community. As such, it’s their responsibility to make their games as accessible as possible, and boy do they deliver. Just look at their list of games. From Plants vs. Zombies, to Feeding Frenzy and all the various incarnations of Bejeweled, PopCap can take any genre and develop a game that anyone can play. Perhaps the most obvious way to show what makes them great is a simple screenshot of the colorblind mode featured in Peggle. Mixing more vibrant colors with added symbols within shapes, this mode takes an otherwise unplayable game, and makes it totally accessible. Kudos, PopCap, you are certainly worthy of a tip of my hat.
An easy, effective way for puzzle games to add a colorblind mode (Photo Courtesy: PopCap Games)
And with that, lads and lasses, we reach the end of another segment. Next week will feature the things developers can do to build a colorblind-inclusive game from the ground up. In the meantime, I encourage anyone looking to learn more about colorblind-gaming awareness, or those just curious to read more about the issue or connect with fellow gamers and share experiences, to join my new Google+ community: Colorblind Gamers Unite! The best way to encourage change is to simply get people talking, so let’s talk! Thanks for tuning in.
Hi, I’m Vince. Here’s a few things you might need to know, or maybe you just forgot… (Oh and yeah, NERD ALERT! You’ve been warned.)
Awesome opening intros aside, the purpose of this piece is to bring something to the attention of gamers and developers alike. One simple message I’d like the entire video game industry as a whole to hear. That message? I exist. I know it’s hard for you to hear and apparently impossible to accept, but I promise you, I exist. And I’m not alone.
If this road had some street lights, we wouldn’t need these torches (Photo Courtesy: FOX)
Let me explain. This isn’t a rant about not being appreciated or being “taken seriously,” my problem is a legitimate issue that needs to be addressed; a problem that, if I’m lucky, may even be dealt with. You see, I’m left handed and, even worse than that, colorblind. Not monochromic (black-and-white color blind), mind you, although sometimes I think that would make things easier. I’m affected by what is called deuteranopia, the much more common red-green colorblindness. Now before you write me off as part of a minority that isn’t worth catering to, you should know that as many as 1 in 12 men and 1 in 200 women have some form of colorblindness.
Why does this matter? Well, any gamer worth their salt should be able to answer that, but since most developers themselves don’t seem to notice/care there’s a problem, bear with me while I answer that question with a few of my own. Have you ever seen a character’s health bar in, umm, any game ever? Do you have fun with hacking/side-puzzle mini-games? Have you ever played a cel-shaded game with an unimaginative color palette? Are you a fan of puzzle games? How about dungeon-crawlers? Do you enjoy picking up color-tiered loot off the floor? I think you get the point. This industry is dominated by three main colors: Red, blue, and green. I’ll give you just one guess (because you smarties won’t need a second) as to which EXACT three colors folks like me have a hard time distinguishing between… Did you guess red, blue, and green? Booyaka… erm, Cowabunga dudes and dudettes, you rock!
They’re making me say WHAT!? (Photo Courtesy: Nickelodeon)
For those curious, allow me to provide a few specific examples that offer a brief glimpse inside the mind of someone who’s colorblind so that you can better understand my frustration. (Because let’s be honest, you’ve all forced someone else to play the “what color is this?” game at some point. Jerks.) A prime example is BioShock. I love BioShock. I love everything about it. When it came time for the sequel, I was just as excited as the rest of the world. And while some felt let down because the second game failed to match the storytelling of the original, I have a different problem with BioShock 2: I can’t partake in the hacking mini-game. For some reason, the developers (2K, not Irrational) not only decided to replace the previous puzzle system, they went ahead and focused the new hacking game on an entirely red/green/blue color system. A pretty big deal considering I prefer to play games on the hardest difficulty setting and hacking is a key strategic component of battle.
It’s like playing Reverse Russian Roulette. You know, with five in the chamber (Photo Courtesy: 2K Games)
Another game that plays havoc with my eyes is Borderlands. I’ll start by saying Borderlands 2 did appear to take an active interest in addressing this issue by diversifying the terrain, but that’s more likely due to the fact that many reviewers harped on the first game’s muted color palette. As far as the original Borderlands is concerned, the best parallel I can draw is that the majority of the game is like staring at a stereogram. You know, like those Magic Eye illusions? It’s basically that.
While it’s true that many games, at worst, force an inconvenience on me, there are some that prove positively unplayable. These games primarily belong to the Kart-racing and Puzzle genres. I won’t go into details because there are so many, but I will say this: All puzzle games should have a colorblind mode. Not many, not most, all of them. If you are designing a puzzle game, do so with colorblind folks in mind. As for kart-racers, I can understand and appreciate how colorful and whimsical they are. Specifically, I’m a huge fan of both the Mario Kart and Sonic All Stars series. But there’s at least one stage in every game that is downright joyless. (The Coconut Mall and Samba De Amigo stages come to mind.)
So, how can we fix this? A good start would be to change our color combinations. Instead of what we have now, it would make things much easier if we switched to a yellow-blue color system to represent things like health, points of interest, and gameplay dynamics. For those who don’t like yellow, even switching to a red-blue combination would be much easier in most cases. I know, I know, change is scary and it could spell doom for all of gaming. First it’s color changes, then there’s no such thing as RPG’s anymore because they’re too time consuming… But don’t panic, I promise it won’t be so bad. I’m not asking every game from now on to be a black-and-white Film Noir. What I am saying is we need to drop this notion that “green means good, red means bad.” I hear ya folks, “that’s just the way we’ve always done things,” and I get it. But tradition for the sake of tradition is both stupid and literally unreasonable, and when it becomes a problem, it’s time to make a change. Statistically, given that colorblindness is hereditary, it’s only going to affect more people as time goes on; and also given the fact that more people are become gamers, if even only casually at first, this will soon become a (more) serious issue.
Concept art for every game from now on… I’m kidding please don’t hit m- (Photo Courtesy: DeviantART user Makkon)
At long last, we’ve reached the end of this little tale of mine. If you stayed with me, hats off to you, I hope you found yourself both entertained and informed. If not, at least you killed a few minutes before the next Death Battle gets released… (Apologies, I had to.) As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m also left handed; but whereas being colorblind is exclusively a disadvantage, (aside from being a military sniper/spotter) my left-handedness offers me a unique gaming perspective that’s actually changed who I am as a gamer, but I’ll save that for another blog. Tune in next time true believers- same Bat-time, same Bat-channel! Excelsior… or something.