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Om Nom On Souls's blog

8:11 PM on 01.13.2014

The Anthology Format

So here's the deal,

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.

~ Om nom nom nom...   read

2:23 AM on 06.22.2012

How Bioware Broke EA

So here's the deal,

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 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.

~ Om nom nom nom...   read

4:12 AM on 06.18.2012

Waaaay Back When: Splinter Cell Conviction and Series Evolution

So here's the deal,

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   read

3:05 PM on 09.23.2011

Deus Ex and the Importance of Caring

So here's the deal,

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.   read

4:52 PM on 08.02.2011

What's all this pay pass malarkey?

So here's the deal,

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.

~ Om nom nom nom...   read

4:28 AM on 05.12.2011

My Kid Can Bayonette Rush Whoever He Wants

So here's the deal,

I was thinking about how I'm gonna deal with my kids today, and aside from deciding to be the lightly teasing, gently cuff you upside the head and call you an idiot but in a way that magically makes you laugh kinda dad, I came to a decision on the kind of games I'll let them play, at least as long as I'm able to reasonably make those decisions for them.

This is actually a somewhat personal issue... actually "issue" is a little alarmist than I tend to enjoy, let's call it a subject. Anyway, anal correctness aside, my parents pretty much kept me away from anything even resembling graphic video game violence until and often past the recommended age limits, that is until I figured out I didn't have to actually tell them what I was buying. Parsed that one all by myself.

The point is, they kept me away from the guns and the punching and the baby-stomping, insane-going, non-face-showing anti-Christs for fear that I would myself become a murdering, raping, pillaging psychopath, but I think they went at it the wrong way.

4th Google Image result for raping pilllaging psychopath

I'll give you an example. If little Om Nom plays, let's use the example from before, Dead Space, he learns that shooting and punching and kicking and stomping people is not. a good. thing. Little Om Nom would see and hear lots of squirting and gushing blood, not to mention gut churning death wails. Now call me crazy, but I don't know a lot of kids who would see that kind of consequence as a good thing.

Let's contrast that with, oooh I don't know, the Monster's Inc game that little Om Nom was actually allowed to play. When he sees the big hulking blue fur monster put his entire weight behind blow after bone jarring blow as he beats the evil monsters to what would normally be a bloody pulp, little Om Nom is greeted not with a realistic or even exaggerated portrayal of violence, but a softened toned down version. The monsters that aren't trying to help you pop into little confetti addled puffs of smoke, accompanied by sickeningly adorable sound effects like an AWOOOOOGA.

Now, I may be perfectly insane here, but I would much rather my kids play games that have real representations of violence than softened ones. I don't want little Om Nom junior thinking that every time his sister even mildly pisses him off that he can take a swing at her and nothing will happen but a poof of confetti and the sound of a turn of the century car horn.

There is of course the issue of the glorification of violence, and that's something I will tend to avoid. I completely accept the ubiquity of violence in video games, but I think I'll keep the little critters away from games like Gears until they're old enough to not be super impressionable.

I'm actually interested in this little issue (for the sake of that sentence, I'd love it if you said it iss-yew), and because I'm a man of a mere 19 winters, and many years away from kids of my own, I'd like to know how some real bonified gaming parents have handled this issue, and why.

~Om nom nom nom...   read

1:11 AM on 04.26.2011

Somethin's Goin' On

So here's the deal,

It's vacation tiiiiiiiiiime, YAY! And we all know what that means, the return of an inconsequential Dtoid community blogger, EXCELSIOR!

But yeah, school's finished, and not having to expend my writing juices on that has left more than enough to reinvigorate the old destructoid fingers. Hopefully all the friendly faces I remember will still be here, and will also be attending PAX, which I hope to see all of you at; it'll be my first Dtoid meetup, and I couldn't be more pumped.

But you didn't come here to read nostalgic ramblings from some dapper skeleton, you came because that mildly suspenseful title caught you at an especially bored time, and you had a what the hell moment.

(as a small aside, if you were looking for a sense of how out of my mind school and corectness is, I spelled that skeleton up there with a 'c' the first time around. Yeah, I know)

What I've kinda picked up on, and I could be months behind on this, is that actual consequences are starting to make there way into a couple games here and there, and it's something I'd love to see continue. Oh and don't think I haven't come prepared with my own suggestions for the thousands of industry buffs who read this blog with baited breat. WACHYOO NO 'BOUT INSIGHT?!?!?

The obvious example would be ME2. At the end of the game, if you didn't know your teams abilities and strengths well enough, chances are some of them were gonna die.

And now LA Noir claims that the players will have significantly different experiences based on the choices they make. If you don't go into an effective line of questioning, misread a subject, overlook clues, arrest the wrong person, your path will deviate. Essentially, you'll have to deal with your mistakes.

Now I am well aware of the fact that two games in no way constitutes a trend, and there are many other examples, but I chose those two because they're concrete, popular examples, and mentioning little known games and thinking I'm smart because of it is a little more hipster than I like in my iced mocha blog-uccino. Oh, and I don't really know of any little-known games. There's that too.

The reason I think this happened is because, for the entirety of games history, our generally accepted consequence isn't. The "game over" is an inconvenience, a time warp back and a cause of many shattered gamey things. (Par example, In a fit of CoD age, my roommate somehow managed to pop the rumble weight out of the 360 controller, have it return to its normal shape, and display little evidence of the preceding excretion . And that's a mild example, at least he's not this guy)

Permanent consequences for failure give a player's actions and choices weight, and force them to actually act rationally. To some degree it takes away the ability to say fuck it, it's a game, and forces though before choice. And if the consequences are serious enough, like in ME2, it can actually help to make a player care, and to me, that's a game's top priority. It could be about the protagonist's cause, it could be about a fucking annoying winged ball of blue light that won't shut the fuck up, but a game must make the player care. It also means that the "inconvenience" you get out of failure is more unique game time.

This could also be introduced to the achievement system as well. Maybe some achievements can only be attempted once, and if you don't get it, and here's the insane part, you can't ever get it. Then they would actually be a measure of a player's skill, in stead of the amount of time they're able to burn on any single game, and offline achievements could be more than milestones in the story.

Of course there's the issue of mediation; a player shouldn't be able to screw up their game to the point of unplayability. And I'm not reductive enough to say that this is the end all be all, and the only place that games can go, but it's definitely something I'd like to see more of, thoughts?

~ Om nom nom nom...   read

12:24 PM on 03.16.2011

Birthday Present: Destructoid Through the Ages

So here's the deal,

It being the five year anniversary of our fair website's emergence from the dark, scary womb of Niero's brain, and the 20 somthingth anniversary of Niero's emergence from the dark, scary womb of his mother, I thought I'd put something I learned in school, as well as internet arts both black and sinister, to actual use, and present you guys with something kinda cool. Check this shit out: - Age: 2 1/2 Weeks

The suckling babe, fresh out of the womb, takes its first steps into a big, scary, Rule 34 controlled internet world. - Age 1 Year

Sporting a picture of its handsome birth mother, little Destructoid (Destructy to its friends at school) has gained slight motor function, and remained ad free, at least up top. - Age 2 years, 1 month

Growth has certainly had an effect on little Destructy after 2 years, and it's gone through a visual change, many would say for the better. Now called Destructoidy by the other websites in its class. - Age 3 Years, 1 day

Now simply known to its classmates as Dtoid, the site has learned to walk, talk, and poop. All at once. It's also started to look much more like its current toddler form (Not a metaphor for quality, just the image of a three year old walking talking and pooping at the same time made me laugh) - Age 4 Years

Just a year ago today, ish, this is the site we all remember quite well. It wasn't as stand-uppy as its earlier incarnations and- you know what, I've completely run out of appropriate childhood metaphors. Think 'em up yourself. But yeah, the following year, possibly internet puberty, would see many changes to the layout of the site, some retracted for QA, some kept, blah blah blah

And here's how it looks now

So that's my little present to you and to anyone else curious about how the site evolved, hope it was enjoyed.

And I don't think I've said this myself yet, but happy birthday Destructoid, oh conveyor of vidja gaem competenece, and hapy birthday Niero, robot-headed omnipotent creat-o-tron.

~Om nom nom nom...   read

3:58 AM on 12.24.2010

Show Me Something Useless

So here's the deal,

Hi, my name is Om Nom, and I like to write blogs, though you probably don't remember that since it's been like three hundred and fifty billion years since I last did so. I know, long time.

But actually, the last month has been kinda hectic, what with exams and a busy work schedule. I regrettably haven't had the time to put out the blogs I used to, and that made me very sad. But now, oh yes, now I'm on vacay with the fams. I'm home in my glorious Vancouver, and the only responsibility I have over the next three-ish weeks is to ensure that I keep myself relatively un-laden with work of any kind. So pull up a chair, the next while will hopefully be very blog filled, and I'm glad to be draggin you guys through the dry, arid desert that is my writing again.

This latest tidbit of insight, and it always is a tidbit, was gained through playing through AC2, and ME2, which if possible is even better the second time through.

Anyway, the tidbit. It seems that if you give a player something concrete to show for their efforts, more concrete than an achievement, that can motivate them to action that has literally no consequence other than the reward.

You can see this in ME2 in the ship models and pets you can collect from across the galaxy. They did absolutely nothing except sit there and look badass, yet I found myself combing every store in the game searching for just one more. My first playthrough, I focused pretty closely on the story. That's not to say I rushed through the game, but I didn't spend a lot of time on sidequests, I think I did probably one or two before going through the Omega 4 relay, but I made damn sure I had every single ship model and little critter I could find.

Does anyone know what that mystery middle peg that goes forever unused is actually for?

It's the same story in AC2; the art collection was largely useless, yeah it contributed to Monteriggioni's value, but what it did give you was peanuts compared to everything else (fun sidenote: as a result of a fatal allergy to peanuts, I find it endlessly satisfying that the word stands metaphorically for 'shit'). I ended up running all over Italy just to complete something that had pretty much no bearing on the game as a whole.

So what does this mean? That we're shallow as gamers? Well, to some extent, yes. I mean, don't tell me you don't get more jazzed over seeing the fruits of your labour than actually just knowing you did it. Why do you think savages and Gary Busey scalp their victims? Well for one of those examples, it's because they've completely lost touch with reality, but for the savages, its because they like to have something to show for 'it.' Of course we non-savages and non-Buseys like it too, we like to have evidence of out accomplishment. But I think this covers something more complex than simply see = good.

I think the reason we seek out these purposeless little trinkets owes more to our sense of control than anything else, let me explain.

Choice in video games isn't really that much of a choice. You don't really have any authority over the story because at the end of the day, you're actually just choosing paths through a game that were laid out before you by the developer; essentially, you can't go anywhere they won't allow you to. But with these seemingly unimportant little statues, ships, pets, or paintings, the developer has put them into the game simply for the benefit of the player. They don't drive the story, they don't help with character development, they're just there for fun, and are completely benign.

First image result in a search for benign. Yeah, the creative juices weren't really flowing on this one

Because the developer has not given these objects significant meaning within the game, that void must then be filled by the player. We get to decide exactly how universe-shatteringly important it is to find every single ship model in ME2, and we get to decide exactly how completely useless it is to go around looking for every last painting in Italy.

I'm assuming of course, and here's where the possibility, nay, probability that I'm reading too much into this kicks in, that most of this happens on a subconscious level. Of course I didn't go into ME2 saying, okay, my Shepard is really freaking into model building and collecting. He has very dextrous fingers, and the shit is like crack to him. That didn't happen. What I believe did happen though was that my brain saw this as an opportunity to make a decision completely its own. It said, Om Nom, you want these ship models, I don't know why, and I don't care, but you're gonna drag your ass around the entire freaking galaxy until you find every last one.

That wasn't the devs telling me that they were important, that wasn't the game telling me I needed them, I made the choice to say okay, this is something I want. The importance of these little acoutrements was assigned completely by me, and the developers served simply to provide me with a means to fulfilling that want, they made no effort to me recollection to push the significance of them on me.

Funny story, that bronzed Adonis you see there is actually me

Now I don't want to be too reductive and say that every time a developer leaves something alone that the player will instantly gravitate toward it like flies to shit, but it's interesting to me that, as a gamer who heavily favours plot driven and mostly linear storytelling, I get a lot of thrill out of an element of a game that was entirely created in my own head and untouched by developer influence.   read

3:20 AM on 11.14.2010

But Seroiusly...

So here's the deal,

I'm just gonna come out and say it, this blog contains some mention of games. As well as some mention of art. And it may combine those ideas. I know, I hate me too. But I think this is a little tidbit of insight I've gained that I'd like to share. Now, if you're like every other rational person who keeps up with gaming news or is part of a community in any capacity, you are sick to your very soul of hearing pompous analytical assholes talking about "the state of the industry" and how it's reached a state of art, or the Ebert haters, or the people who think games should be "more than just fun," I will warn you that this post does contain some of the aforementioned heinous and forbade topics, and I won't at all blame you if you turn now and run. Fast.

Now it's not that I particularly disagree with these people, because I don't really. It's just that I'm really tired of hearing people talk of something we can't really affect, as well as the amount of self-righteousness that more than normally accompanies such discussions (of which, for the record, I was once very much a part).

So yes, this delicious little tidbit of insight.

What I want for the industry (I really hate that word), and what I think all the pro art people actually want, is not what intrinsically comes with "art" status. It's the extrinsic value, we want games taken seriously. The whole art status is something I could frankly care less about. Basically, I want games to be conceived of and analyzed in the same way as movies (no, not film. That is also an insipid word) and books.

Now don't read too much into this. I don't want games too lose their individuality or their nature, I don't want them to become movies or books, I simply want them to be considered as valuable as those other forms of media. The art shit doesn't really matter at that point.

This really isn't news. Though I haven't witnessed it myself, I'm sure this sentiment has been expressed countless times, indeed as many as the games/art debate has flared up, but what I believe I can provide that's new is an example is how this is an attainable goal.

Around the mid-late nineties, with the birth of the internet, a form of writing emerged called hypertext narrative. This is basically an arted-up form of old text adventures, though I'm not sure which was the chicken and which was the egg, or if they're even so related. The point is that hypertext narratives shared - and although less popular, still share - many characteristics with games.

In hypertext, readers navigate paragraphs of text, "lexia," with hyperlinks. The lexia are often very disjointed, and it is intended that the reader create much if not most of the story themselves, creating their own intervening events which lead from paragraph to paragraph. There is also a good deal of choice, with usually more than one link leading out of a given lexia.

Obviously there is a lot here that one could find in a game. The lexia are the scripted events that define the story that the author, or in our case developer, wants to tell. The different links represent the same thing as in hypertext, choice, and the parts in between that the reader fills in are clearly the parts between the scripted events of a game in which the player is given control of how they conduct themselves.

The reason I make this comparison is that when hypertext narrative was in its prime, many considered it to be basically the second coming. People predicted the end of books, and heralded hypertext as the up and coming standard for narrative and text presentation on the whole. Of course there were critics, and the flame eventually died out, as it does in all things. But the point is that for some time at least, a media extremely comparable to our own was considered the absolute new standard for presentation.

The advantage is that where hypertext failed, games can thrive. Hypertext, in and of itself, isn't really that... well, entertaining. One of the strongest examples of the media is barely comprehensible, let alone what anyone might call fun. I spent an hour and a half finding every single freaking lexia in Michael Joyce's "Twelve Blue" and I would, like many you may read about, have a hard time telling you exactly who the main character is.

Unfortunately, the very thing that allows us to conquer hypertext in both fun and longevity is the very thing that keeps us from being taken seriously. Most mainstream games seek primarily to deliver an emotional response, with a message or stand taking the back seat. They seek mainly fun, and so we are seen as little more than emotional pornography.

The ultimate problem though is that we shouldn't need to change. I truly believe that there is value in what games already provide, and it's no more superficial than what hypertext provided. We are almost identical in form, and it's only function where we differ. The ability to give someone a genuine emotional experience that would normally be completely foreign and inaccessible is a power that I find simply astounding, same with the ability to transport them seamlessly to another world with nothing more than a pound and a half of plastic and silicon in hand.

This is our dilemma. We have been shown that with what we have, with what we are, we can be taken seriously. People like Anthony Burch prove time and again that there are worthwhile gains to treating games intelligently and analytically, but for some reason, the masses see fit to see us as nothing more than child's play. Then again, as hypertext proves, it's possible for what we are, the form that makes games what they are, has been seen as the future iron standard for record and reading, and that's certainly a start.

~Om nom nom nom...

PS This was not meant to become as sappy inspirationally lovey-dovey wishy-washy "we" this and "can be" that, but there you go.   read

2:36 AM on 09.26.2010

Why I Love Cheevos, and Why that Sucks

So here's the deal,

I love cheevos. Achievements, I love achievements. And I hate that I love them.

Achievements are a goal. They're something to accomplish, to strive for. They're a milestone that proves you've been where you've been, a way to log you're history. Achievements are something you can show off, something you can track, and something you can be proud of.

They're also a huge crutch. I've pushed through parts of a game just for some achievements. Mind you there not a big push; I don't think a game has ever said, well, we don't need to make it all interesting, we'll just put some big achievements in there and we'll be fine, but they've given me motivation that otherwise wouldn't be there

The thing is, achievements are not intrinsically evil. In and of themselves they're actually quite useful. They're a great at-a-glance tool to compare yourself to your xbl friends.

But they spoil me. They are the ultimate iteration of games' task/reward system. You do something, and you're handed down a sense of accomplishment from on high. And without them, for some reason, I feel slightly unfulfilled. Not unfulfilled enough to ruin an experience, mind you, but certainly enough to notice.

I think the reason I feel this way is because I've come to associate Achievements with, well, achievement. It's like Facebook; if it didn't happen in pictures on facebook, it didn't really happen. If I don't have an achievement for it, I didn't really do it. And this sucks because of course i did it. I was there, I did beat the fucking water temple, I did kill Krauser, and I did (Grim Fandango spoilers) find Meche and get her on the Number 9.

I was playing Twilight Princess the other day and it felt a little bit hollow. I missed the little *do* *doo* when I transformed into badass Link for the first time, it should have been there, but it wasn't. And this disappointment based on expectation shouldn't really be there, because at the end of the day, it's just a number.

And if you really think about that, the number's not really for you, is it? How valuable would your gamer score be if it weren't displayed to all your friends? Nothing. It would just be another stat. And the worst thing about this is that it's turned gaming into a performative act. I'm no longer proud to get a second gold star in Bad Company 2 because I got it, I'm proud because others can see it.

I realize that I could be completely alone on this, and it's an argument based completely on principal, but I honestly wish that I could get rid of cheevos, simply so that I could enjoy my in-game achievements (accomplishments) intrinsically, and not as a number. I want to feel proud for myself, not because the game told me I'd reached a point where it would allow me to.

~Om nom nom nom   read

2:15 AM on 09.12.2010

More Than Just Noise: Silence

So here's the deal,

I'm sorry. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry. It's been two long weeks since I last posted here, hope no one thought I was gone. I was, in fact, moving across the country; just last week my second year of journalism school uprooted my life for the second time from a little BC town called Vancouver and moved to the hustle and bustle of the pretty-much-hated-by-everyone-that-doesn't-live-there Toronto, and my very first apartment. Let me tell you, being completely responsible for one's self is pretty god-damn terrifying. Anyway the point is that the delay was caused in the first week by househunting, followed by a mountainous pile of recycling brought upon by a certain Swedish budget furniture/everything you could possibly need store, and the second week by a complete lack of internet in said newly furnished home. Needless to say alan keys are abundant. Oh yeah, and that entire week without internet? Don't try that. Ever.

So if you've read any of my previous blogs, you'll know that I always kinda feel the need to be a bit of a shit disturber. Not in a flame bait kind of way, but if there's ever a monthly musing, I tend to make sure that my two cents are not made of copper, but lead, or unumquadium (no, that's not a made up word. I know, holy shit)

Behold, ununquadium, in all its electrony splendor

What that basically means is that usually I'm not really creative enough to work within the confines of the given topic, so I take the opposite of it, spin that around a couple thousand times, and then manhandle the discordant beast of a post back to the original monthly musing subject matter in a contrived and rather ham-fisted way. Today will be no exception.

So we all know that sound and music play a huge part in creating emotion or atmosphere in games; Dead Space's deftly composed sound was responsible for basically 50% of the horror in that game. Oblivion and Morrowind had breathtaking scores that accompanied their scenery and made it that much more sensational. Just like movies, music and sound are some of the easiest ways to grip a viewer emotionally and lead them exactly where they're wanted. And just like in movies, the absence of sound or music is similarly jarring.

The strongest example of such an absence is undoubtedly in GTA IV, right after the Darko Brevic choice. Let's start with the choice, because it really sets up the haunting atmosphere of the following silence. Nico finally tracks down Darko Brevic, one of the men who Nico came to America to kill. Nico has Darko completely at his mercy; the man who needlessly slaughtered many of Nico's closest friends for a paltry sum of money. The man has been broken, his life is nothing, and he has nothing left to live for. And in your hand you hold the means to choose whether to kill him or not.

Like all good choices, both sides present clear positives and negatives. Kill Darko, and Nico has his catharsis. He has an end to his months of searching and he can give closure to one of the darker chapters of his life. He has avenged his friends and killed a man who truly deserved it. The negatives here are that in killing Darko, Nico goes against the morally higher man he's become over the course of the game. He's letting his more primal instincts overwhelm him, and he's killing a man who's life isn't worth anything anyway. Roman even says it himself, it would be more torture to let him live.

If you do let him live, you continue on your lighter path. Nico lets go of his anger and hate and puts the past in the past. He lets this man keep his worthless life and is morally better for it. On the other hand, his journey's end result is then forfeit. He gets no vengeance for his dead friends and this slime of the Earth gets to go free.

By any definition a truly impossible choice. I personally sat for a solid fifteen minutes weighing my options. The best part of this choice is that in the scope of the entire game, it's really benign; it's just your morals and Nico's, and the player must somehow reconcile those and come to a decision that, no matter which way it goes, will leave them feeling dissatisfied.

But yes, the eponymous (fancy pants word for titular) silence. Let me preface this with the fact that up until the moments following your decision, Liberty City is quite literally alive. There is always hustle and bustle, always sound, always music by way of the radio, and always something going on. You grow accustomed to the sounds of the city and the people who inhabit her. So after you've made this choice that's actually more reflective of you then Nico, you're accordingly left with a silence that is truly deafening, more so than any gunshot or explosion you've heard thus far. Liberty City seems as empty as you feel. Gone are the noises of the crowds, the honks and sirens usually heard from a distance, and the constant companionship provided by the radio.

The player is left in complete silence to reflect on their choice. What was gained, what was lost. They chose wrong. No matter what you chose, you chose wrong. And more so than any music possibly could, the silence that follows that choice perfectly conveys the emotion of the scene. Absence. Arrested development. Emptiness.

~ Om nom nom nom...   read

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