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5:58 PM on 01.22.2008

The most fun thing about fanboys...

...is also what makes them impervious to debate: blindness. While it was fun to watch this blowhard's peers slam this for lashing out at my Breath of Fire II review for no reason, it's sad to know that their words - and my overextended words, in turn - will be falling on deaf, solipsistic ears.

Cry the others:

"Dude, you're overreacting."

"The game isn't perfect."

"This is just one guy's opinion."

Cries he, in response:

"Anyone who playeded its is obvoiosly disagree know ur rwrong and disagree withy you and ignore you!"

Way to read the thread. Ah, the internet. I'm not sure why I spent so much time responding - maybe I'm just a complete asshole and had a lot of fun making the holes in his argument that much larger. Perhaps I need to stop that.

...naaaaaah.   read


11:03 AM on 01.22.2008

Foxy Setups: Cooper Lawrence and the Fantabulous Empty Brain

It should be no surprise that an outlet like Fox News would devise a clever setup in the name of making videogames look bad. The side effect is that it makes everyone involved, except for the videogame expert (that is, should s/he come out swinging and do us proud), look like ignorant blowhards. The most recent egregious example of this comes to us, courtesy of a GameTrailers user who posted this "interview" between Fox News correspondent Martha MacCallum, author and so-called "psychology specialist" Cooper Lawrence, and our familiar friend Geoff Keighley. Following the disastrous segment, a panel of - well, what exactly, I don't know - sit with MacCallum to discuss what they've just seen and to add to the satchel of ignorance currently being filled up with the segment's nonsense. (I could use a much more descriptive word than "nonsense," but I figured that I'd try to keep the level of fecality in this post to a minimum; there's already enough coming out of Fox as it is.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKzF173GqTU

The title of the segment in and of itself is insulting enough:

"Se"Xbox? New Video Game Shows Full Digital Nudity and Sex

Not having played Mass Effect myself, perhaps it's a bit hypocritical that I begin to pan this segment for its sheer ignorance and moronitude. But, I'd like to believe that, as a die-hard videogame consumer and one who pays as close attention to gaming news and details as possible without getting to play specific games (read: previews, reviews, peer impressions and critiques), "full digital nudity and sex" is a gross misrepresentation of the content in Mass Effect as constructed in the headline. If I'm told that there is full nudity and sex in any media, I'm going to assume that it's something on the level of Basic Instinct. Or hell, even The Terminator. As far as I've seen, and as far as it's been described to me by those who - you know - pay attention to their games, the sex and nudity in Mass Effect is on the level of Titanic...



...which was rated PG-13.

Oh, look at that. Apparently, your 13 year old is allowed to see Kate Winslet's nipples, yet there is an outrage over seeing sideboob and a derierre-crack and similar animation (hand slapping the headboard in the game versus Kate's hand slapping the car window on the backseat). As an aside, Fox's outrage over buttcracks is particularly ironic since you see plenty of them behind the newsdesk on a daily basis - non-Keighley company included. But I digress - let's take a look at what's actually said in the shamterview.

"Imagine!" exclaimed MacCallum to introduce the segment. "...the ability for the players to engage in graphic sex and the person who's playing the game gets to decide exactly what's going to happen between the two people, if you know what I mean... Basically, Pandora's Box is open... I mean kids have access to these things... How damaging is it really?"

PAUSE. So, we've got our first full fallacy. In Mass Effect, you cannot decide exactly what happens between the lovers, if you know what I mean. This much I know. Without getting too detailed, you surely can't determine what... "actions" you want to take in the bed. It's simply a non-interactive cutscene that implies intimate bonding, again, on the level of Titanic. Now, true, kids do have access to Mass Effect, since there are some retailers who do a piss-poor job of abiding by the ESRB ratings - but there is still a way for parents to circumvent this. More on that later. Let's continue.

"We know that all the research shows that violence has a desensitizing effect. Well, sexuality does too," said Lawrence.

PAUSE again. I won't argue this. Hell, I'll go out on a limb and say that I'm certainly less squeamish when it comes to gore, thanks to having grown up on movies like RoboCop. I'm also not shocked when I see women on the street dressed in a - shall we say - unabashed way, or when I see sexual encounters in your average PG-13 or R-rated movie. I've grown accustomed to this. That's not to say I believe that engaging in violence and having rampant sex are necessarily portrayed as the correct way to handle situations.

That's not my beef, though. Lawrence says, "Here's how they're seeing women. They're seeing them as these objects of desire, as these hot bodies. They don't show women as being valued for anything other than their sexuality. And it's a man in this game deciding how many women he wants to be with." Keighley, of course, handles this quite nicely in the video. Pointing out that you can in fact play as both a man and a woman in the game, he goes on and attempts to describe the complexity of the choice ("Cooper, it's not a simple choice. You don't turn on the game and it says, 'would you like to have sex or not?'" he says). My other beef, though is the double-standard we keep placing on games because people incorrectly continue to perceive them as toys. I've stated this much before; and in this case, if Mass Effect is a product that so terribly demeans women, then I challenge Fox to cancel Battle of the Bods.

This is perhaps the most questionable bit from Lawrence, solely because I haven't heard about this, nor do I trust it: "...research says there's a new study out of the University of Maryland right now that says that boys that play video games cannot tell the difference between what they're seeing in the video game and the real world..."

There's nothing I can say from a research perspective to discount this. I haven't done or seen this research. Anecdotally, I can tell you that neither me nor my gaming compatriots have ever suffered from this delusion. I can also say that yes, there are those who are deluded enough to believe that life is a game, and games are life. These are the same young men who live The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars and Star Trek. These are the same young men who would find something else removed from reality to latch onto. Novels. Comic books. Music. Chris Rock said it best: "Everybody is wanting to know what music were the kids listening to, or what movies were they watching. Who gives a fuck what they was watching! Whatever happened to crazy? What, you can't be crazy no more??"

Unfortunately, the interview portion of the segment was way too short for Keighley to get any last factual words in. It cuts to a panel of four more blowhards who mostly don't know what they're talking about, but MacCallum kicks it off with perhaps the most salient point that could be made: "You know when you buy video games... you have to pick up the box and look at the back for the rating and you have to be involved in what your kids are looking at..."

Precisely. It should have simply ended there - because I completely agree with this. But then, we've got our first candidate for forehead-slap of the year:

"Who can argue," stutters one of the panelists, "that Luke Skywalker meets Debbie Does Dallas is a good thing? It's not."

PAUSE!!! Ok, no, it's not a good thing. But then, "Luke and Debbie" isn't what Mass Effect is. Keighley already explained it better than it needed to be explained, and the screenshot that represented the worst of what you see in the game can't possibly be a tenth as explicit as Debbie Does Dallas. I believe if you look up "sensationalist" in the dictionary, a picture of this guy would be staring at you. Another female panelist ponders why "it didn't get an Adults Only rating." This, again, goes back to the double standard that we place on games as "toys". The reality is that they're simply not anymore. Just as comics range from Peanuts to The Watchmen, games cover the scale from Super Princess Peach to Manhunt. Deal with it.

More idiocy follows when a female panelist acts shocked and chagrined at the prospect of the game entering the home. "Once it's in the house, it's in the house." She claims that even though stores can prevent children from purchasing M-rated games, if daddy dearest purchases Mass Effect, Little Johnson can sneak in and play it when he's alone in the house - without any means of prevention. I think Microsoft's statement - typed out word-for-word in the opening - was completely lost on this lady. There's a little thing called Parental Controls that will completely block games of a certain ESRB rating when you or your hubby aren't in the house. Or didn't you get the memo?

Thankfully, the second male panelist reiterates MacCallum's opening point with a slight notion of reason, stating that keeping watch over videogame content is the job of parents, not the government. The trailing words are saddening, though, as MacCallum quips about how "hard" it's becoming to parent children. Here's a little bit of perspective: penguins parenting their chicks in the Antarctic have it rougher than we do. And for all of the horrified reaction from Cooper Lawrence about how Mass Effect portrays women as sexual objects, have a look at the cover of her book titled The Cult of Perfection. What a "hip" way to sell a book. (And don't try the "she's trying to be ironic" bit on me - ironic or not, it's still on the cover.)



Postscript: If you want to see some more "research" pwnage, check out this IGN user's blog. At some point in the video, Lawrence claims that it isn't older teens and adults who are playing games, but kids. Obviously, we know how wrong she is; this guy just makes sure people can visualize it.   read


5:19 PM on 12.21.2007

Mmm... New York Times Crosswords...

...who woulda thought that this would be the better game out of the 2-for-1 Manhunt 2 / NYT Crosswords order that I got off of Amazon?   read


2:40 PM on 12.21.2007

Overheard in a Gamestop

location: Herald Square, 33rd Street, New York City

1: "I have this." *points to Forza Motorsport 2* "Ain't that good."

2: "Oh yea? What's wrong with it?"

1: "So like. Let's say you goin' 80, right. You come to a turn, if you want to turn, you gotta go to 15. Or you'll spin like, wreeerreerrr!!"

2: "What. That's wack."

-_- sigh...   read


10:18 AM on 12.19.2007

Urge to Rock, Waning

I am a lazy bastage. There was one point in early 2007 where I was good at Guitar Hero. Not great - just good. I could beat Expert just fine, and that's about it.

Then my buddy Slunks ran an impromptu Guitar Hero II tournament. I came in second, only to get slaughtered by another buddy of mine, ShenlongBo. This tourney was the first time I had ever full-combo'd a song (i.e. hit 100% notes without over-strumming) - the victim being John the Fisherman.

Then my buddy Zaps started a Guitar Hero *league* (yeah, on Scorehero he holds the #1 score in Less Talk More Rokk for the PS2 version of GH2), and in the Expert bracket only the kick-assinest players competed. I was consistently in the middle or bottom of the pack. People were talking about full-comboing all sorts of crazy songs, "squeezing", and other such ridiculous pro nonsense. This league probably the one reason why I developed the tenacity to finally beat Jordan on Expert, and later five-star it. Not a huge feat for Guitar Hero pros, but it was ginormous for my loser self.

Thing is, the Guitar Hero league was held as a Gamespot Union. Lotta guys left Gamespot over the Gerstmann dealie, and with league "support" being built into guitarhero.com and most of the interest flowing to Rock Band anyway, there's little talk of a new season of the League for Guitar Hero III. Without direct and organized competition, and no - simple leader boards aren't enough, I haven't felt the urge to study star paths or how to FC any songs - even simple ones. (I 100%'ed When You Were Young, which is really easy, but I didn't care to FC it nor do I have the motivation to anymore.) As a result, I'm just not as good as I once was, and Guitar Hero for me got really, really fun when I was insanely good (relative to my real life friends of course - so maybe "insanely decent" is a better term).

I could join another league or look for tournaments, but honestly, the lack of competition also leaves me with a lack of pressure, and in turn a lack of unnecessary stress. So... it ain't yer fault, Guitar Hero. I'm just heading down a spiral of indifference, and I don't ever think I'll care if I never beat Through The Fire And Flames. I guess maybe now it's time to start catching up on my goddamn backlog, which is 32148967932842934879 games long. (Final Fantasy X, is that you calling my name?)

Postscript: I just remembered that some of the smarter, extra-special folks out there will likely point out - potentially with, heaven forbid, a smattering of cynicism or sarcasm - the astonishing fact that playing rhythm games doesn't, in any way, make you musicians (even when the people who play these games never once claimed that they were musicians because of it. ZOMG - you learn something valuable every day!) But in case anyone was wondering, Guitar Hero and Rock Band do not make me a musician. The fact that I practiced and played the cello for 16 years, though, does.

Post-postcript: The King has impeccable timing.   read


4:23 PM on 12.11.2007

Golden Axe III is sad.

If ever I could define a videogame with a sad puppy face, I'd do it for Golden Axe III. I don't know how many of you actually had a subscription to the Sega Channel download service. I know I didn't, and I was completely unaware that a third Golden Axe even came out until after Sega Channel died. Lo and behold, it pops up on Virtual Console, and I figure - hey - I can review this. Golden Axe ain't that great, but it's mindless fun. Right?

...right?

Apparently, Frank (Provo) didn't like Golden Axe II (if you are still boycotting CNET sites, don't click that). It had no charm. No personality. It was exactly the same otherwise, but since charm, personality, nostalgia - whatever you want to call it - usually serves to cover up aging gameplay, Frank deemed Golden Axe II mediocre (FIVE POINT OH).

Golden Axe III is ... well. If you play it, you'll find that they threw all kinds of new moves and tricks into the gameplay. So it's gotta at least be better than Golden Axe II, right? Well, what the hell good do new moves and stuff do if you shove it into completely stiff controls? I don't know how many of you remember how smooth the original Golden Axe felt, but as far as I recall, it was pretty smooth. Your guys moved at a brisk rate, the animation was solid enough for you to know that you swung that fat axe and hit someone in the gut. It was a little floaty, sure, but it worked for the time and it's still "okay" today, I guess. Golden Axe III took away all of that crap and replaced it with herky-jerky animation that looks like it all was pasted together by a seven year-old. The combat has been completely changed from a smooth, if overly simple, slicing and dicing affair to some chunky "Oh look, watch this same stiff-looking combo over and over again!" mess.

And you know how easy it is to throw someone in other games? In Double Dragon, all you need to do is to make them double over and you can grab them. It's clear to see. In Final Fight, just walk up to them. In Golden Axe it was just a canned animation, but here - even though it lets you determine when to throw an enemy - it might as well be canned too. That stuff happens so uber-randomly that you don't ever know if you're doing it correctly.

Oh, and remember how awesome it was to realize you were battling on the back of a ginormous hawk flying through the air? Remember how creepy it was to realize that skeletons were erupting from said back? What about the humongoid knights and dudes with the big stone hammers that stood there with their arms crossed and laughed at you? And - oh - Death Adder was actually a bunch of nasty, slimy snakes that slithered into a suit of armor?

Remember that??? Huh?? Huh?

...and then what do we get in Golden Axe III? Oh. We fight atop a giant (enemy) crab that's colored with some weird gray green goopy color. I know it's a crab because I can see the pincers in the background, but it took me a long while to realize it. In contrast, in the first Golden Axe, you saw the turtle's head and its eyes poking around. Same for the hawk. The realization hit you like a ton of bricklayers each carrying a bag of bricks. Holy crap - look at its eyes. This time? Oh. Pincers. And they aren't even pincing at anything. It's dead. The entire game just feels so lifeless from the backgrounds. The enemy bosses? There's none of that hubris, that menacing laughter. Even though it was a simple two-frame animation in Golden Axe, it conveyed such arrogance. Here, what do you get?



How about, "Ha, ha, ha, you are very good, but you will have to do better than that the next time we will fight against each other."

Or maybe, "Oh, very good old chap, if I do say so myself! But you shan't advance any further the next time our illustrious paths should cross, you see?"

Or better yet: "You have got a lot to learn before you beat me, try again kiddo."

Golden Axe lost its charm with Golden Axe II. Now, it's lost its soul. Pour out a little liquor for our fallen homey.   read


11:03 PM on 12.06.2007

I do so lower the seat!

When it's time for deuce, of course.

Random tidbit: some user on Gamespot wrote a response-review to Volleyball. Apparently I'm too harsh on it, judging it against Super Mario Galaxy, judging it by today's standards, and judging it without having been familiar with how games worked in the past.

Newsflash:

1) I still haven't played Super Mario Galaxy in any capacity, way, shape, or form, and I don't get paid to write reviews for retro games because I'm a complete moron. (Though, in other ways, I am a complete moron. Just watch me drive!)

2) Volleyball for NES controls so poorly that it doesn't bode well by ANY goddamn standards. It was dismal back in the day, and it's even worse today. You want to see a great game from back in the day, that's from the same exact era as Volleyball, that's still fun today? Pick up Ice Hockey. See? Stuff didn't HAVE to be abysmal in those days.

3) So let's see... I started gaming on the Commodore 64 in 1986, when I was effin' five. 'Kay, thanks. And, I gave Wrecking Crew a goddamn 7.0. I'm appreciative of the old stuff.

Total tangent: how deliciously meta!   read


9:55 PM on 12.02.2007

Trigames.NET Podcast #73 - Jeff Gerstmann

The podcast title speaks for itself. That's right - it's all about Jeff Gerstmann, all 2 hours of it. There's no intro music. There's no Bag of Shit segment (though it manifests itself briefly in the beginning with a very choice selection from all of us). There's no "what we've been playing". There are no musical interludes. Just a discussion about Jeff Gerstmann and his unjust termination from Gamespot, and of whatever integrity's left in game journalism and game criticism. And, of course, your questions and comments. Thanks, all, for that.

As such, there's no breakdown. Just discussion of the Gerst-uation. Enjoy the episode.

Download here.
File size: 58.8 MB
Running time: 2:02:27

Dragonball is dumb
But not as dumb as all the
People that like it.

- Haiku, Jeff Gerstmann   read


12:32 AM on 12.02.2007

Touching Gerstmann Gesture / Send in Podcast Questions re: Gerstmann debacle

I know I'm a n00b here, but if I even get one new listener to hear out what we have to say on the subject, it'll be a success. Posted the following on my Gamespot blog, so I'm repeating it below.
----

This was touching.

Remember, leave comments and/or questions about this week's CNET debacle for our podcast. I imagine this will take up the entire 90 minutes (or 2 hours, depending).

mailbag AT trigames DOT net

UPDATE: Comments on my Gamespot blog asked me when I can expect to post the cast. I'm going to try to get the cast up by Monday night. It's been tough the past two weeks - episode 71 saw my sound file not being saved (though that actually resulted in the episode going up earlier), and episode 72 saw Al's sound file being slightly corrupt. I'm studying for my GMATs and I'm working 12-hour days this week so it'll be insanely, insanely tough to get this thing uploaded when I want it to but I'll try.

In the meantime I invite you all to listen to episode 47 where Alex Navarro was a guest for us. We talk about games journalism, a topic that has been completely turned upside-down this past week.   read


11:28 AM on 12.01.2007

On Jeff Gerstmann: The New Math

Note: The following was first posted on my Gamespot user blog, then re-posted with more details as an editorial on Trigames. Below is the Trigames version.

If you haven't been following the podcasts, I'd begun writing reviews for Gamespot on a freelance basis starting at the end of October. I'm still a regular member on the Gamespot website, though, and am not part of the official staff. On my blog, I wrote this editorial in response to the big news that's hitting the gaming webs with regards to gaming journalism and criticism: Jeff Gerstmann, editorial director at Gamespot.com, has been fired.

The "why" varies depending on who you ask.

The blogosphere maintains that Eidos, furious over the "tone" of Jeff's review of Kane and Lynch: Dead Men, a game that by all rights looks like complete compost, pressured Gamespot and parent company CNET to change the review or it would pull the huge advertising deal that saw CNET getting insanely rich.

Jeff himself can't speak on the subject, so he hasn't.

An anonymous Gamespot insider has claimed that while there was a backlash from Eidos about the game review, it was really director Josh Larson - who replaced ex-site director Greg Kasavin with regards to site business duties - who instigated the actual firing, claiming that Mr. Larson knows nothing about how to run a gaming website and was treating this like a marketing opportunity and effectively breaking the line between editorial and marketing.

Me? Regardless of who did the actual firing, you know that it was rooted in Eidos crying foul. No self-respecting gaming publication would deem it proper to not stand behind its editors; no self-respecting gaming publication would forget that there is a church-and-state separation between editorial and marketing. No self-respecting gaming publication would ever bend over backwards for an advertising relationship; that's for the business end to decide, and hence that goes back to square one: Mr. Larson and Eidos together decided to cross that line, and Gerstmann was sacrificed for it.

Below, finally, is the editorial I posted in response to this news. It bears a little more relevance to me now that it would have before, seeing as I am now getting paid to write for Gamespot - and ultimately CNET. Article: begin.

Annual Subscriber Revenue = A

Good Faith = G

Projected Click-through Advertisement Revenue from Publishers = R

Jeff Gerstmann's Salary = J

Given (A + G) less than (R + J), take the appropriate action.

Actually, it's old math - but when things seem to be going right, people tend to forget what it is.

Substitute J for P, where P = Payment due to a Gamespot staffer or freelancer, and you can see that whatever writer you come up with, perhaps P is not such a sure thing if the writer's honest hard work doesn't appease certain entities such that R is not a sure thing.

So then, what's expected of me?

As a reader and consumer who cares about how the industries of video games and video game coverage conducts itself: I am expected to understand the tenuous relationship between editorial and marketing of a publishing entity, and rather than taking the editorial staff's word for it, dine on each critique with a grain - no, several packets - of iodized salt. I am expected to understand that even niche gaming publications - that is, online or print entities that are geared towards videogame journalism and criticism (do note that the two are different) - are not immune to the pressures from advertising partners that are commonly associated with the mainstream press, i.e. Maxim. I am expected to be an uneducated consumer, but believe that I am educated simply because I read the work of a publication that is being coerced into saying something that could influence my purchase decision.

(Funny tangent: A note on Chris Kohler's blog at Wired, Game|Life, reminded me that just a month ago, CNET had just hired Dennis Publishing ex-president Stephen Colvin to oversee its entertainment stuff. What's Dennis Publishing? Why, it's responsible for Maxim and Stuff of course. Funny I mentioned Maxim - I didn't even realize it, and I had totally forgotten about this little fact. Now I'm quite a bit more certain that there's nowhere to go but down, but I'll remain naively optimistic.)

As a reviewer, specifically a Gamespot freelancer: I am expected to do... what? I don't know. Does the above formula affect me, given that I am really just a gnat; a peon; a speck of dust on the editorial totem pole that is constructed from Alex Navarro, Ryan Davis, Brian Ekberg, Ricardo Torres, Brad Shoemaker, Kevin Van Ord, Jason Ocampo, Andrew Park, Frank Provo, and Brett Todd (the latter being fellow freelancers, but longtime Gamespot veterans as well as industry veterans - and please forgive me if I've forgotten anyone else)? But, let's assume that even as a peon, I'm being scrutinized to the same degree as these aforementioned souls. What happens when Nintendo could have approached CNET Networks with a lucrative advertising deal, but sees that I've been poo-pooing Volleyball?

This, of course, is an exaggeration. I don't think anyone would give a hoot that Volleyball got a 2, especially since Nintendo is probably 100% sure that there are plenty of people out there would download it anyway, it's not a high profile game, and it's not a new game that saps any more than 0.00001% of their revenue in operating costs. But yeah, sure, maybe I'm still expected to neuter my "tone" such that whenever I get whatever Alex throws my way, I treat it like a gentle pet - like a delicate flower to be nurtured, watered and tended to. No, your framerate isn't at all solid and I have trouble playing you, but let's just say that you require just a little more work and that some people might not be able to look past these somewhat noticeable ... "issues." Because the "f" word - that's "flaws", buddy - is too harsh. Because players interested in the genre may still have a "blast" with you.

You know what would be some really awesome math?

I > all

Where I = integrity. Interchangeable with trust, credibility, honesty, truth.

But here's another problematic question. What is the unit of value for I? Dollars? Unique daily hits? Subscribers? The inverse of the delta between actual review scores versus publisher-expected scores - or, how about a fabricated index created to measure the textual, "tonal" expectations of a review by a publisher against the actual result of the review? Because when it comes to cold, hard business, variable I has to have some kind of tangible value that helps them make "the correct decision" but based solely on a quantifiable value.

Because by this point, no one truly knows how variable I should really be measured anymore. No one who matters, anyway.

I guess we don't matter. And selfishly... I guess I don't matter.

You know, sometimes, I love having graduated with a degree in Marketing. It's a fascinating field and an engaging look into how people think, and I had nothing but the utmost pleasure studying the subjects in school.

Suffice it to say, this ain't one of those times.

And you can bet your sweet ass that you know what we'll be discussing on this week's podcast, so please - send your questions to our mailbag (mailbag at trigames dot net). This is something I won't let go away without a heated verbal commentary.   read


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