My real name is Max and I'm a diehard Browncoat. I also have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Wars universe left over from a childhood obsession, as well as an actual Star Wars encyclopedia, but that's another matter.
I like to sleep, but keep odd hours, I like food A LOT, I like TV on occasion, I'm not a huge fan of any music except symphonic, and apparently I have bad music taste, even at 20 I can barely grow enough facial hair to justify shaving more than twice a week, I love to write, I kinda read, I hate a couple of the people in my J-school program, HBO is perfect, LOST is actually alright, I'm a total gearhead, Avatar was a terrible movie but an incredible experience, How to Train Your Dragon was very, VERY awesome, and all I want at this moment is a 1:1 stuffed Appa.
Guess what this last paragraph used to be for? My two cents on the games/art debate. Guess what's here now? NOTHING, and that's the way I likes it.
Games should succeed on their own merits, separate from those of other media. This is what I hear from most people who want to see games grow "as an industry." They tend to talk in grand terms about what games "should" do to be "legitimized." Lots of those pseudo-buzz words.
While those conversations have their place, making generalizations like that can cut us off from using genuinely effective concepts from other forms of entertainment. Games' growth is important, and stagnation wouldn't help anyone, but growing doesn't have to be an exclusionary process.
For example, the anthology format has been used well by a few TV shows recently, and I think a game that could adopt it would make a strong outing.
In television, the anthology format means creating a setting, a tone, and/or a style that continues through all seasons of a given show, but the characters and sources of conflict are different for each. The most important change being the sources of conflict. For example if a child's need for independence is a major conflict in the first season, they won't repeat it. American Horror story is one example, and HBO's True Detective is apparently going to do the same.
We're seeing a growing amount of games that make their point quickly. They focus on a tight experience, and replayability or length take a back seat to what is usually a strong statement or unified vision. These kinds of games are perfectly suited to the anthology format.
When conflict is framed this way, when the dev hones an entire experience around a specific emotion or payoff, direct sequels or prequels tend to feel out of place. You enjoyed what you played, but the arcs you cared about were completed, and usually you don't want more from them. Yet the game did something for you outside of that; the world or fiction made you curious, your brain liked the mechanics, something is drawing you back.
Because another narrative throughline with the same characters, conflict, etc. would be less enjoyable without its novelty, changing them makes the world feel fresh again, and allows you to enjoy what you did initially.
I would have preferred this from Walking Dead: Season 2. I was done with Clementine, and I liked that her fate was a little uncertain. It didn't matter at that point. You spent the game protecting her, but once you'd done literally all you could, you had your emotional payoff, so you didn't really need the answer to that cliffhanger.
So now to see Clem at a different age, all Anakin Skywalker like, feels unnecessary. It's like Telltale didn't think the game would have captured me without her, and it almost suggests a lack of confidence.
I would rather see how the apocalypse affected people in a different environment. How did it impact the very rich? The poor? Countries that weren't developed enough to prepare against it? These are questions I'm much more interested in than 'what is Clem doing as a teenager?'
Adopting the anthology format would keep the story from being shackled to elements that already got their due and don't need to be revisited. It would allow devs to continue making money off an IP they worked hard to create without over saturating their players.
If we intentionally distance ourselves from other media too much, we risk dismissing ideas like this one as a reflex, and missing opportunities on principal is not something that rings of growth or legitimacy.
Feminism and sexism are increasingly relevant topics in our industry; few discussions polarize faster, yet few are more important. Their recent prevalence is due in part to an increasing critical interest in the medium, and amazingly, growing interest from women.
I say amazingly because a woman who's interested in games is so rarely the target of advertising, and worse, so often low on the list of demographics that developers try to relate to narratively. This industry is, at least outwardly, almost completely uninterested in making women feel welcome.
The harm that creates is compounded by the fact that with fewer women in the audience, there's less reason to portray the gender in a balanced way, or even in a way women can feel comfortable with; it only really has to be agreeable to men. Men are ready and willing to accept very different representations of women than women are, and this problem only intensifies as the feedback loop gets fed by sales and a lack of criticism.
There are a lot of people braving a lot of online hate to make you aware of this trend. Anita Sarkeesian is the most well known and often burned. She gets some of the most disgusting responses around, and she's trying to bring values into the public eye that would benefit even the people who insult her.
But she's doing it wrong.
What most people I've spoken with hate about her message is that it involves heavy criticism of games they like. More, she's criticizing elements of those games they don't normally look at critically. What possible effect could the portrayal of female characters and problems have on the enjoyment a game?
On the one hand, there's reason there. In an otherwise excellent game, sexist portrayals of women would have a hard time ruining the experience for many gamers, except in the extreme.
On the other, this is precisely the point, to her and enough other people that we should pay attention. Many gamers don't care or even notice when they see these things, and it's when we allow them to pass unrecognized that we reinforce that unwelcoming reputation.
But Anita Sarkeesian and many others are still doing it wrong.
Anita is trying to convince the vast majority. She is trying to tell you that your view is wrong, that it needs to be fixed to stand on the side of morality, and she's doing it by criticizing the things you like.
Doesn't matter how inclusive or morally important that value is, or how deserved and constantly justified the tone of the pitch is. You're not really buying at that point, are you?
That's because the message is an inherently negative assertion; negative in that we literally need to subtract sexism from the equation. Things get even more challenging when you consider that the success of those speaking out in favour of these ideals is measured only by the number of people they can convince.
In the case of Anita Sarkeesian, my expectation is that if she were to balance the negative assertion of criticizing sexism with the positive assertion of celebrating feminism in her videos, her results would improve. There's usually more of the first.
And exact balance is what's needed. Gamers resistant to this message aren't usually defending their sexism, not directly. To them they're defending their favourite games. So if you're gonna tell them those games are broken in an important way, you have to praise the ones that aren't just as much, or you'll lose them. A proportional approach or anything close to it won't work.
And in respect to actual numbers, Anita's ratio of around 4 games with sexist tropes to 1 with healthy representations of women is optimistic to say the least.
If you can't agree with her and those of a like mind though, at least respect them; they're passionately advocating for something they believe in their core is right, despite being constantly shat upon by legions who actually care for what the shat-upon are trying improve.
That's not easy to do, and it'll be similarly difficult for all the other demographics who want equal, hell, even unoffensive representation in the medium. What's important to remember is that despite the methods used, the value behind them is pretty damn hard to disagree with.
~ Om nom nom nom...
In the interest of not warping any perspectives myself, Else wrote a really well informed rebuttal to this in the comments, and it's worth your time to read the whole thing.
PS: I did my best to keep this stuff from making it into the article as you read it, but they're important notes for the reader, because they affect my bias as the writer:
- I believe games as a whole benefit from a broad range of characters, protagonists, and narrative conflict.
- I believe games as a whole benefit from attracting a diverse audience.
- I'm a man, which is relevant here in this discussion.
PPS: I'm excited to discuss this, so I'll be floating around the comments today as much as I can.
I saw a particularly shocking piece of industry news today, so shocking in fact that it jolted me into writing for the second time in a week. Truly groundbreaking stuff. There also appears to be a blog being featured right now with a very similar title to this one, and I thought I might just take advantage of some of its fame and ride this perfect blog storm to more analytical shores. Confused? Me too. Let's rock this shit out.
I won't dilly dally like I normally do with this kind of thing; EA stock value has dropped 40% since January. Let's not just ride past that figure; one of the biggest publishers of games of the past decade is now 40 cents to the dollar cheaper than it was a mere six months ago.
Even more shocking is the fact that it seems that this is pretty much the singular fault of one of the more beloved development houses out there: Bio-we make fucking awesome games- ware. Yeah, holy shit.
It turns out that the massive failure of Bioware's The Old Republic compared to how well it was supposed to do for the company is responsible - in conjunction with the leadership of John Riccitello - for the titan's fall, at least according to gameindustry.biz. As that article aptly puts, this is hard to fathom when you combine the storytelling ability of Bioware with an IP as established and widely known as Star Wars and, if the article can be believed, one of the industry's biggest all-time budgets.
But if I'm honest, this isn't as surprising as all that, and in my eyes the fault lies not with Bioware, but with whoever chose them to develop a WoW rival for EA.
Bioware is known primarily for its strong, likable characters and enthralling stories. They brought these two elements out in force when making TOR. Never in an MMO have I cared so much about what was going to happen next; WoW was never able to string together quests so deftly as to make me genuinely curious as to what lie beyond my retrieval of many pelts.
Bioware told compelling stories with TOR, something rarely achieved to such a degree in the countless MMOs that preceeded it, something that, to be fair many, have asked for. And I played the Jedi Sage's tale with a wide grin from end to end. Bioware were somehow able to maintain good pacing in their plots alongside the ability to choose the rate at which those plots progressed, which is a staggering achievement in and of itself.
The problem is - and this is a biggie - that next to none of these elements executed with great skill by Bioware are at all conducive to a strong MMO. Stories by their very nature have an end; at some point you will be able to look back on what you've accomplished and say "yes, here is where I plant my flag, for I have completed my conquest." By focusing TOR on story and characters, Bioware gave every person who dedicated any significant amount of time to that game a very clear and obvious point at which they could stop dedicating that time.
Now at this point, you're probably saying that EA's recent strife is indeed all Bioware's fault, but the point I'm trying to make here is that it was the selection of Bioware in the first place that was a bad move, and that's coming... well, now.
See Bioware has indeed been good at creating exceptional stories and characters since, well, Baldur's Gate, but something they've been lacking recently, at least in comparison to their narrative strengths, is gameplay puzzazz. As good as KoToR was, the combat was pretty much just okay, it took them three games to really lock down ME's gameplay, and we all know what happened with DA2.
If you're going to create a "new approach to online entertainment" as the Bioware site claims, you can't really leave your gameplay in the same realm of mediocre that your genre rivals have been in since the earls 2000's when you're setting up expectations using words like "groundbreaking" and "revolutionary" when referring to the rest of your game. It's just going to disappoint people.
My point here is that EA had a lot of evidence to suggest that this kind of thing was at least a possibility when selecting the developer that was going to bring them up against one of the industry's biggest cash cows. If you're going to go up against WoW, you better be fucking sure whoever made your gun gave you a freakin crate of ammo; six immaculately crafted bullets just aren't going to cut the Blizztard.
It's been a full nine months since I last posted here, and a solid year and a half since I wrote with anything resembling regularity, and you know what? I've had just about enough. Yes, the lethargy ends here, and to cap off this momentus occasion of action and writing mediocrity, I'm going to talk about a two-year-old game and an issue that's already been widely discussed. Riveting shit, no?
But fear not, now-turned-off legions, there will be humour, most of it self deprocating, and shiny, evenly spaced pictures to lull you into a false sense of genuine enjoyment. Let's crank the diction.
So I recently picked up Splinter Cell: Conviction at an entirely reasonable $10 at my local FutureBuy Stop, and for a game that I spent about 1500 words tearing to pieces based solely on that 5 min gameplay preview that preceded its launch by about 4 months, I had a surprisingly amazing time.
The controls were shit-hot, the writing was sharp, the pacing was bang-on, and it lasted just long enough to make me feel like I'd gotten my money's worth without being laboured for the sake of length. It also has one of the coolest examples of characterization through gameplay I've ever seen, not to mention the way the co-op campaign ended, that was just... well, this \/
But aside from being a thoroughly entertaining experience, Conviction did something for the Splinter Cell series that many other modern franchises struggle with; it updated without alienating.
But before I get to that, let me completely ruin my narrative flow and take you back to that incredible characterization I mentioned earlier, it'll be worth it, I promise. Oh, and spoiler alert. So about 3/4 of the way through the game, Grim tells Sam that Lambert had been lying to him about Sarah's (his daughter's) death. He did this so he could continue to use Sam for Third Echelon's ends, and discover a mole within the organization, a plan which eventually failed. Spoilers are done with
When Sam finds this out, he destroys most of the room he's in, then flees. This is where the mechanic comes in. For the entire game, Sam's thoughts have been projected into the environment as text on walls, doors etc. At this point, the mark and execute system goes on autopilot, as Sam turns his barely contained rage into concentration, and every single enemy is automatically marked, regardless of whether you've killed an enemy hand to hand, the usual requirement to execute. Knowing that Sam deals with rage, betrayal, and sorrow this way isn't really a shock, but to have that conveyed through gameplay was a completely unique experience for me, and something that the sadly lacking techniques of characterization in games could definitely benefit from.
Anyway, the reason you're here, right. What Conviction did for the Splinter Cell series was keep it modern without losing or significantly altering its core elements. Let's be honest, the gameplay climate we're in right now is a lot different than it was even five years ago. A looooot of gamers want action, visceral combat, instant gratification, and not a lot of hard work, which, let's be honest, weren't exactly key focuses of the series' previous entries. They were about patience, planning, less-than-lethal force, and stealth.
Conviction does well because it acknowledges that we live in a post-Modern Warfare world and opens up its mechanics to new players, while giving old fans of the series nearly all the tools they need to play the way they're used to. It's still just as satisfying to stealthily stalk a room and plan how you're going to take out each hapless peon without alerting any of the others as it ever was, hell, they even found a way to make it faster and smoother without taking away the suspense.
The trimming was done skillfully, and happened mostly in areas you wouldn't necessarily notice. The speed Sam moves across ledges and pipes was jacked up, there's much less use of contextual buttons, fewer options when grappling enemies, and fewer bullet types, just to name a few examples. That last one is a bit of a downer though, I do miss the sticky shocker and airfoil round, but I understand why they had to go. Now, players who normally would pass on a Splinter Cell game because it's too plodding or not exciting enough can blow their way through almost as easily.
"Almost" is the cornerstone of this entire point. It is still more effective to play Conviction like an old-school Splinter Cell game, but if you don't want to, you can still have a good time blowing these relentlessly insulting assholes to bits. This is also done subtly through the P.E.C. challenges, which give you reward points to spend on upgrades. Ubi Montréal has spread their preference right into the diction as well; the "Splinter Cell" challenges are all goals that require you to complete certain levels or requirements while remaining undetected.
At the end of the day, all of this was done to increase sales of the game in a market that's significantly different than the one the original was born in. And if the result of these changes is that we see more Splinter Cell, then they were made for the right reasons. That said, Blacklist looks to have taken these slight alterations to the extreme, but let's reserve judgement until we're closer to release.
To all of the high level indstry execs and creatively groundbreaking devs who of course read every entry in the blog with baited breath: this is how you update and trim a series, with a small scalpel, in places people won't notice, not by grafting rocket launchers to the arms and jet booster to the back.
~ Om nom nom nom...
PS: Let me know if you were one of lucky 80 ish thousand to get a ticket to PAX before they sold out on day one and we'll chill at the show, I'm going without my partner in crime this year, and in light of how much fun I had with DToiders last year, I'm endlessly pumped to meet more of you
I was recently fortunate enough to stumble upon a failing Rogers Video that was selling its used and rented games at three for one. Ever the opportunist, I dashed in to get my grubby meat hooks on whatever scraps they had left. Seriously, I would have been happy with Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games.
But to my great surprise, I did not find Masatog on the used shelf or indeed any shelf in the store. I instead found three games that were actually worth some form of currency. For the incredible price of $40 Canadian, which for you plebes in America is about $40.40, I picked up Deus Ex basically new, as well as Bayonetta and Enslaved.
After almost literally skipping home, I slipped into the world of augments and magic sunglasses. (small sidenote, couldn't you just aug sun protection into his eyes? Anyway...) I played Deus Ex for about a week and was delighted by not only the gameplay, but the plagiarism contained within. Yes, that's the Mass Effect soundtrack you hear, which is actually the Bladerunner soundtrack. Funny how that works. Oh and in yet another effort to completely ruin the flow of this article, there's a riff in the Bastion soundtrack - which is awesome - that is 95% identical to one in Firefly, brownie points to anyone who can name the scene or at least episode it's in.
Anyway, where was I? Yes, Deus Ex. The game kept me playing for about a week and a half before I stopped coming back. This wasn't because it wasn't fun, it was, immensely. And it wasn't because it was ugly or hard to play, neither are true. I stopped coming back because the story got dull.
Now realizing that kinda shocked me. I've always waffled on the gameplay/story issue, but I never thought a lack-lustre story could keep me from coming back to a game that was genuinely entertaining to play.
Here's the catch though, this wasn't a affirmative act on the part of the game. It's not like this story actively disappointed me and I stopped playing out of spite or something, the story just completely lost its ability to intrigue me. I had stopped caring - which, if you're Om Nom initiated, is a thing that is important - so I stopped playing.
I've written and scrapped many a thousand word blog on this subject, but the long and short of it is, to be good, a game has to make you care. Doesn't matter if you care about the story, the competition between you and your friends, the characters, the challenge, whatever, if you care, you will come back.
And this is why I think people (at one time myself included) get all up in arms when the importance of story in games is attacked. A good story is not in any sense of the word necessary, or even comparatively important. Making the player care is what counts, and a good story just happens to one of the most effective, and therefore common ways to achieve that.
It can be done through gameplay just as easily, with games like Geo Wars standing as perfect examples. There's not a whiff of story or plot to be found in that game, yet people care because it's fun as shit, and because they can compete with their friends. I say "they" because I'm completely noncompetitive, never broken 250k. Knutaf's done something inhuman like 4 million or somewhere in that area, and he can do that because the gameplay and leaderboards made him care about his performance.
So the next time you're getting served by some rube in a flame war over why story is more important than gameplay is more important than characters, realize you're all arguing the same point, you just the game to give you something you can care about.
~Om nom nom nom...
PS I know this is literally a month late at this point, but I had an incredible time with you all at PAX. I met more awesome people than I could count, and it was largely because of you that that weekend was absolutely everything I wanted it to be. Next year's mission: bring camera to capture love-in.
There was a story today on the blog roll that talked about how BF3 (the release of which will not be a happy time for the pair of pants I happen to be wearing that day) will most likely contain a pay pass a la Cerberus Network that basically makes you pay for access to a bunch of content if you bought the game used that you'd get for free if you bought it new. Now I'm used to the normal Dtoid haters who unflinching in their defense of the financially less endowed gamer, but this in particular was a little shocking. Dtoider Jamie Christian even takes this as an indication that all hope is lost for the gaming industry. Of course (s)he's being hyperbolic, but the sentiment's there.
I personally have no problem with pay passes such as this, and I can't understand why everyone seems to. It's actually a pretty spoiled attitude in my opinion; sure, if CoD introduced a monthly subscription fee or something like that for access to online play, that would be bullshit, but asking for like five bucks to recover the total loss of sales revenue from a giant portion of games retail doesn't seem that unreasonable to me.
This poor soul was the first google image result for unshowered rube
Now I know what you're saying, "Om Nom, you unshowered rube, no other sales industry in the world capitalizes on unofficial second-hand exchanges." And that's true, but here's why this is such a reasonable request to me: 99% of aaaaaall other retail items depreciate with time, and their function almost certainly has become impaired if you got a given product at any significant cut rate. A video game, as long as its previous owner had the distinct pleasure of not being a razor-handed ass hat, won't really have its function impaired by age; when you buy Vieutiful Joe used for $5, you're getting the exact same experience as the "sucker" who bought it at full price like eight years ago.
Now if we're partaking in an industry that can provide that kind of longevity in its products, what exactly is the disadvantage to them charging an, let's be real here, insignificant amount to ensure that the ridiculous sustainability of their products shows some marginal return for them?
I totally understand that a lot of people can't afford to buy new games, hell, I'm one of them, but to expect to receive everything a company's product has to offer without that company receiving compensation for it is completely unreasonable. No, you're not stealing from EA by buying BF3 used, but that's a sale they would have gotten if you had bought it new that they're now missing out on.
And let's be realistic, it's not like John Riccitiello is gonna take the $5 to $10 you'll pay him for that pass and fuck off to Cabo for an extra long holiday, he's gonna reinvest a good chunk of it so that EA can continue to develop and publish games that you'll want to play eight years from now. And unless we've all forgotten the massive elephant in the room, giving developers and publishers more money for excellent content is definitely not on a list of things I hate when it's far more efficient for them to produce facebook or mobile games at a fraction of the cost.
Now here's what really gets me: it's not like you're getting some withered shell of a game when you buy one used; you're getting a game, in BF3's case, that will already provide you with what is likely to be a stellar single player experience, all you need to do to enjoy the online play is pay, let's be really pessimistic, let's say 10 bucks. Now if you're like the average shooter nut and are gonna devote a good 30+ hours online, you're getting that enjoyment for 30-ish cents an hour, that's a penny every two minutes, and if you don't think your online time is worth thirty cents a minute -here's the good part - you don't have to buy the pass. If you truly don't believe that pay passes should exist, have some integrity, vote with your wallet, and don't buy it. But then don't go bitching around the comment sections and threads of the internet wining about how EA is ruining gaming by charging you less than two quarters an hour for some killer online gameplay, and you chose not to be a part of it when you could have skipped the McDonald's lunch break, made food for yourself at home, and had enough or just less than enough money for your pass depending on how many double cheeseburgers you can drive into your face hole.