I found a bunch of old posts that I had begun prepping to put up on this here blog (last edit dating back to June '11), so I've chosen my favorite one to put up here because I still think it's relevant.
Maybe I'll start blogging again, but for now, enjoy:
I wish it were 1997
One of the lasting Internet arguments Iíve seen is on the subject of old games; are old games REALLY better, or are we just all sick with nestalgia and unable to judge a game based on how much time we obsessively spent with it? I generally tend to agree with Jim Sterling on most of his points on the subject, but thatís not exactly what Iím here to talk about. The mid/late 90s weren't just years that housed some of my favorite games of all time, but a fantasy of what I imagined making games was like- where the commercialism had its own avenue, and the guys making fun games had theirs.
Jim Sterling is right, commercialism has ALWAYS been around in games (itís a business after all). Some of the games that we all hold dear were movie licenses, and some of the most hated games in existence (Superman 64, ET) are all the product of trying to cash in on a product. That accurately describes the 4th generation, back when studios like Acclaim had creating tie-ins down to a science (or art depending on which you think is more important), this was the dawn of a new era of entertainment- a turning point where 3D was finally leaps and bounds above anything seen in the past; this was a time to experiment and create, where all the franchises and cashcows had to get a reboot, and it dammed well better be fun or else people will go off and buy the next game. This meant re-imaginings for all kinds of franchises (mostly Nintendo) like Zelda, Starfox, Mario- as well as the creation of new classics like Banjo, Diablo, HalfLife, and Crash (Ď96 but Iíll let it slide). Dare I say it was the Renaissance of game development.
Itís absolutely astonishing what people were doing with pixels back then. These systems were powerful enough for some complex 3D, but at the same time required talent and precision to display exactly what you wanted and get away with keeping the FPS up. Take a second to stop reading this (who am I kidding, nobody's gotten this far) and read all ten parts of the making of Crash Bandicoot if you havenít already. Seriously amazing stuff.
Now Iím not trying to say that new consoles donít have low cielings that sometimes get in the way, Iím fully aware at the limitations of hardware available and many of the nifty tricks developers get away with, but I still think a lot of modern developers take for granted and donít squeeze as much as they can. I will conceed however that theyíre justified in doing so- development time for games has taken a huge hike towards the ďOUT THE DOOR NAOĒ side of things, and teams are vastly larger now than they were then, but is that really for the best?
As I was growing up, I saw the game development world as a place where talent goes to get better- where teams constantly push boundries of hardware and try out things that could be fun. Making games was a means to the end of entertainment, but now it seems that making games has just become the end. Everyone is so tied up in shipping x number of games in a year, picking ďthe next big technologyĒ, and hopping on a bandwagon (F2P, Social, Mobile); that not too many studios are out there focusing on making the best games they can. Back then, it appeared as if the people making games were trying to make the most fun come out of whatever hardware they had to work with. Now it just seems like people are picking a hardware that they can make something just fun enough on and get away with ridiculous profits. The way I saw competition in Ď97 was ďmake a better game than your competitor and gain reputation for your company so that more people will play your future gamesĒ, but now it just seems like ďmake a lot of alright games quickly and put them in the right place to make your company seem more cutting edge so that you can sell it and move on with your lifeĒ.
To me, game development seems to be losing itís soul by turning into a series of ďget rich quickĒ schemes instead of the hard work of the good Ďol days- and I think we the customers are paying for that. The fun is fading, and I donít think Iím alone.
note- I didn't talk about kickstarter or Indie games because back in july of 2011 that was all new and foreign to me. I'm glad some games/companies have a means to answer to their audience, but I don't think it's enough.
(I need to stop writing things and then not putting them up)
One complaint that Iíve been hearing a lot from my friends/random internet sites is the complete and utter lack of new IP announced at E3 this year. You know what, thatís a valid criticism, I too would like to see some new IP; after all, if nobody risked releasing new games, we wouldnít have new games to fall in love with. And then I see the mountain of ďDear company, plz remake X game I loved as a childĒ posts and comments, and I start to lose my faith in the gaming community.
Portable fanboyism (aka personal preference)
This year (as I bullet pointed), Nintendo came out and said ďHere are a bunch of new versions of old games youíve already playedĒ, only in a much more awkward speech given by a man much more intimidating than me. To the people that wanted those games, this was the greatest announcement ever, spawning tears of joy as the wept in happiness that the 2nd brother was getting his 2nd game in the spotlight. To the people that are done with Smash Bros, Mario Kart, Mario platformers, and Star Fox games, it was another ďNintendo is for kidsĒ moment.
Similarly, the selling point for some of my friends on the PS Vita (whether they want to admit it or not) isnít necessarily the back touch screen the potential, it was that the PS Vita will be able to play the games they want to play- another Uncharted, Mod-nation, and Little Big Planet, potential future Kingdom Hearts, and the PSP Persona games; all of which are sequels and spinoffs.
Now Iím not saying any of those games are bad, theyíre all fun in their own right, but if youíre going to say that the 3DS lineup (price and functionality are a WHOLE different ballgame that deserve their own analysis) is a failure because it doesnít take any risks with a new IP, then Iím expecting you to say the same thing about the PS Vita. Letís face it, they both played the fan-card, and it will probably work out well for both of them because...
Everyone Likes their Comfort Zone
Due to a variety of occurrences including a recent global economic downturn, the videogame industry over the last few years was hit with quite a bit of layoffs. Sure, there is always studios closing and personnel getting shuffled around, but it seemed that more and more studios were facing extinction and this made the business side of the industry turn to a very tried and true method of selling a product- Milk it for all itís worth.
Instead of burning the time and money on trying out new IP, companies decided to play it safe and just keep giving out re-releases, remasters,Turbo HD remixes, and decades later sequels to games that were already proven to sell. And it worked wonderfully, so naturally, they kept doing it, and theyíre probably going to keep on doing it because itís cheap, itís easy, and we (the customers) still eat it up.
The Little Guys
While the ďbiggerĒ industry was busy sticking to their guns, this allowed for a lot of small indie underdogs to really be the place to go for gamers (and companies) to find new IP. Instead of having an internal team do most of the heavy lifting, itís easier to let an indie team make a game, then buy them/the publishing rights, add some polish and tweaks, and ship it. When I think about some of the newest IP Iíve played, I think of Super Meat Boy, Shank, the Bit.Trip series, and Minecraft. Surprisingly all indie, all certainly fun, and all of them original.
But is this necessarily a good thing? Do we want an industry that is going to shut itself and stick with traditional names while leaving all the creativity and medium progression to the guys without the money to do it? Do we want the true evolution of videogames to come from people who are having to work themselves to the bones on what is nothing more than a CHANCE at success? Are we really happy with games that have nothing to do with the franchise theyíre names are attached to succeed (Prey 2 Iím looking at you), or do we want our game companies to take some risks to win us back?
E3 didnít bring up these questions to the people that matter. E3 told the major companies exactly what they expected, give us Sly Cooper, Halo, and Smash Bros and weíll run along. Weíll bitch the whole way about not wanting to buy the same game again, but weíll do it anyway. Now if only I had a job and could afford to buy a 3DS when I picked up Ocarina of Time, I wouldn't have written this.
So E3 is going on, and all the major press conferences have just wrapped up, and I felt like screaming my opinions out to the world because thatís what people do right? Awwwww, here it GOES!
I want to get this out of the way first- I, like many of you, think showing off Kinect was boring . I saw the Star wars fail, the rail...everything lag, and the fake enthusiasm from the paid actors made me cringe.
That being said, I hate to defend it, but from a business standpoint- Microsoft showing off Kinect makes perfect sense. They HAD to come out and justify the purchase of a system (letís face it, it has more in common with a console launch than a peripheral one) to the people who have it sans-kids and are already bored of Dance Central. They had to tell the hardcore of you that there is more to it than just cool tech that other people hack onto it and 1 game. They had to pound it into your head that Kinect is going to have games that are ďhardcoreĒ like Star Wars, Ghost Recon, and Fable. The choice was made for them from the getgo- talk about Kinect to justify the people who purchased it, and to try to get more people to pick it up.
Unfortunately, I was not pleased pretty much from the start.
-Iím in the strange boat of people who isnít big on realistic war shooters, so the first massive chunk dedicated to Modern Warfare bored me.
-Tomb Raider looked cool, and I was a fan of the sexy Lara moans while playing Uncharted except surrounded by pirates thing they had going on.
-Sports I donít really care about in virtual form.
-Mass Effect had the voice integration that Iím torn:
---On one hand, being able to yell commands to your AI squad-mates during combat is pretty awesome.
---On the other hand, reading dialogue in your voice and then hearing a similar line from a voice actor is probably going to be pretty jarring and awkward.
-Ghost Reconís gunsmith stuff was cool, but when he actually used Kinect to fire his weapon, you can see the lag and the awkwardness of it all and it was pretty boring and frustrating looking. I canít imagine being in a firefight and having the trigger pull at the wrong time, or trying to be stealthy and accidentally shooting.
-New Xbox Dash makes sense- theyíre trying to do the whole windows 8 thing look the same so I canít blame them for that.
-Youtube is cool, but I already have way too many ways to access it on other devices.
-Bing makes sense from their standpoint, but I canít see myself using it ever.
-UFC came on stage, and all I could think about was this
-Gears was nice, but some of the building breaking animations were awkward (as usual), but I feel like if youíre buying it, you already know you are and donít need another demo.
-Ryse got a meh from me, again because itís kinect, but also because itís probably going to try to be serious but fail at it.
-Iíve never been a big fan of Halo, I donít think itís a BAD game, just not a game I enjoy, so I guess the remakes are cool, but nobody can do fan-service like Nintendo.
-Forza actually perked my ears a bit. The models looked absolutely stunning, running at over a million polys a piece, and all having the doors/trunks open was a crazy nice touch. The kinect stuff....MEH, but the game itself looked neato.
-Fable on Rails....it looked unresponsive.
-Minecraft was a neat touch, but they really skimmed over it. Itís probably what got the internet most excited, and they glossed over it almost completely.
-The Disney park was a nice touch for the kids, but I also feel like just about everything they showed was for the kids.
-Star Wars looked broken. Heíd make movements and not have anything happen, and heíd flail around and almost auto-win. Not a strong showing, and movement looked...I donít know what movement looked like but there was a lot of dashing.
-Tim Schafer I like not necessarily because of the product he was pushing, but because he didnít try to make it seem like itís anything other than it is. Itís a kidís game through and through- no hyper bro fist bumps to try to make it seem cool.
-The tech stuff was pretty nifty, but I felt like a lot of the community/hax had already done cooler things with the tech. Although I will admit that itís nice to start seeing some of those toys make their way to consumers. Also, FACE TRACKING FINALLY.
-When I saw Kinect Sports 2, I actually yelled at my TV- ďTHIS is what you force the studio that made Donkey Kong Country, Banjo Kazooie, and Conkerís Bad Fur Day do!Ē I loved Rare, but they have fallen.
-Dance Central 2 simultaneous play was cool. A nice natural progression, but I donít think theyíll release 3 anytime soon.
-Halo 4- Meh. Iím sure a lot of you guys are upset that itís not Bungie, but Iím sure itíll be more of the same, only with less polish until the 2nd game of the new trilogy.
If you want a grade score (because that seems to be the cool thing to do) Iím gonna give them a C. It wasn't exactly terrible since it had a few things to interest me like Forza and the neato tech stuff, but it wasn't exactly great either. AVERAGE.
EA had a pretty solid showing. I was bored in some parts, excited for others, but I still get the nagging feeling that sometimes they donít know what theyíre doing for some games. For example, I like kooky racing games, but I donít know if letting you run around on foot in Need for Speed: The Run is a good idea. ďOpen WorldĒ games canít work when the main plot of the game is that youíre being very heavily hunted by underground crime syndicates. I like the idea of the plot though, and I hope the running is far outweighed by the driving. I also hope you canít GTA snatch someoneís car, because then every pedestrian is probably gonna have $50k+ vehicles which will make no sense (hey guy, Iím jacking youíre Audi R8. THANKS!)
As for Star Wars, although they have shown gameplay, they seem to be very shy about it and instead spend most of their time showing off their stunning cutscenes. Thatís cool and all, but cutscenes arenít gonna sell your game. It didnít work for Final Fantasy, it wonít work for Star Wars.
OverStrike I am excited for. One of my friends pointed out that the trailer was very ďTF2 Meet TheĒ-esq, but I donít mind that. I think they hit the humor right on, and Iím glad that more and more studios are willing to add flare to realism instead of trying to make everything super realistic or leaving the visual appeal to shaders and post processing. Of course, I was a bit reminded of Mass Effect, but thereís really nothing you can do to avoid comparisons when youíre making a squad shooter at this day and age. Besides, everything is just a Doom ripoff anyway.
SSX looks fun, Fifa appears to be doing the Modern Warfare pay-thing for free, Sims Social is Forever Alone, and Battlefield 3 looks phenomenal, but not my cup of tea so no-thank-you. Verdict- C+ For having some games Iím interested in, but confusing/boring me the rest of the time. At least they didnít over-promise anything.
Now I REALLY need to hand out some respect to Ubisoft. I donít think any other company spent as much time as they did actually playing the games. Their formula appeared to be ďshow trailer->play game for 10 min->repeatĒ, and even if you didnít like some of the games, at least you got your fill of the ones you did. They did a great job of showing off some variety, but I think that scared away more people than it brought in.
On a side-note- am I the only one who wants the ďold school versionĒ games they were showing? those were really badass.
-Rayman Origins looked great, really nice to see big publishers work on a very traditional 2D platformer.
-Driver San Fransisco was cool- it reminded me a lot of Midtown Madness in a good way.
-Far Cry 3 may have had some people excited, but it looked very ďgeneric action fpsĒ to me. The textures looked a bit sloppy, and the environment didnít seem up to par with some of the stuff weíve been seeing recently from heavy hitters like Battlefield and Uncharted.
-Iíve had enough discussions on this to last me a lifetime, but I donít like Tarantino, so Iím not a fan of Inglorious Basterds, so Brothers in Arms looked kind of dumb to me. If you guys really want (which you donít) Iíll write a Flixist post about my Tarantino hate, but for now- my opinions are my own.
-TinTin looked neat. Iím not even a little bit familiar with ANYTHING to do with TinTin, so just from a completely neutral perspective I was intrigued by the ďgolly gee misterĒ feel to it, as well as the fact that I am 100% behind any game that lets you control youíre cool pet quadruped.
-Ghost Recon as a game looked ok. I wasnít too sold on it, but the tactical part looked acceptable.The HUD however, was sextacular. I donít know what it is about the clean text floating in the middle of the level, but it looked really cool and I was totally a fan of having that kind of HUD/UI in any game I play.
Didnít Battlefield try the ďfree online gameĒ thing and that didnít work out so hot? Maybe Tom Clancy will fare better, but I doubt it.
-Trackmania looked pretty boss. Iím not a huge fan of Trackmania, but I do like to pick it up and play for a few seconds just to watch cars fly around doing crazy physics shit. All in all, Iím sure the fans of it will love this, but I still think the series will remain a cult classic.
-Rabbids....ugh. I mean I get that itís cool to have Kinect Party games, but itís not even remotely interesting to me. Thank them though for removing the little bastards from the Rayman series.
-Just Dance = cool story bro. Itíll probably still outsell Dance Central (just because of itís reach and previous install base) but much like games with plastic instruments, teenagers and above will prefer the Harmonix version.
-Rocksmith- people already tried this, and they had a lot of actual guitarists behind it, but it didnít sell or work. Playing a real guitar is a skill that you cannot directly replicate on a game- itís too complex, so stop trying.
-Assassinís Creed was an excellent choice for a closer. Nice CGI trailer, and a cool long demo sequence. Although I will admit, Iím getting a little disheartened at their willingness to very quickly pump out new games every year, and I hope they stop and slow up the pace before they burn out the franchise too quickly.
Overall, I give Ubisoft a B for showing a lot of stuff that looked cool, and for taking to the time to actually play most of their games instead of just teasing them.
Much like Microsoft, I have to defend Sonyís decision to push 3D HARD. I donít like it, I personally think 3D is not the way of the future, but Sony is so heavily invested in 3D (from the TVs they manufacture, to the projectors they convince theaters to use, and the cameras they give studios to film with), that they really have to put all their faith and money in forcing 3D to be the future. Itís too late for them to back-out and say ďJK guys, 3D really is bad and the consumers donít want itĒ this deep into the investment, especially after riding the high of their BluRay success over HD-DVD.
I donít like it, I donít think a lot of people think itís necessary, but itís sort of what they do now. The good news is, itís not completely forced. I imagine most of you just see it as a ďcool that itís there, maybe one day Iíll use it, but if not- no big dealĒ kind of thing, and thereís nothing wrong with that, but Sony seems really intent on changing that attitude to get people to actively use their 3D....and at least for me- itís not working.
Out of all the big 3, Sony imo had the best shot to come out and ďwowĒ everyone. After the huge PSN fiasco, they had an opportunity to come out and say ďlook, we goofíd, but we love you and need you to move on, and hereís what weíre gonna do for you to bring you backĒ. Unfortunately, I felt like the tone of their presentation was more along the lines of ďyeah we messed up, but oh well whatíre you gonna do? Anyway, hereís how awesome WE are with all this cool neato 3D you donít want, and hereís a game coming out tomorrowĒ. I honestly donít think Sony knows itís audience, I feel there is a huge disconnect between what they think people want, and what people actually want. Luckily, theyíve done such a good job in the past, that people are willing to let them get away with murder, but I guess you have to be doing something right to get that many people completely convinced youíre doing it right.
As for the Vita, I really like the hardware, and unlike the 3DS, I feel like $250 is a great price for it, but I donít want any of the games except for Uncharted. Even digging into the old PSP library- Iíd get Locoroco, Patapon, and Kenka Banchou: Badass Rumble. So thatís 1 new and 3 old games + 250 for entry. Iíll pass for now. And no donít try to recommend Little Big Planet or ModNation racers- Iím not big on creating content, Modnation is too loose for me to like, and Little Big Planet is shitty as a platformer (which happens to be my favorite genre).
-I kind of agree with Jim Sterling- the apology was kind of weak, but I at least respect that they started with it very frankly.
-Cinemanow? donít care.
-The Uncharted stuff was really sharp. I liked the waves, and Iím almost 100% sure that the boat is actually moving at those wave angles in engine, no camera/environment tricks- Naughty Dog likes to keep it real. I do like this game, and thatís not a bad way to hook people.
-Resistance 3 doesnít speak to me so much. I forget who I heard say it, but nobody is going to want to come into the Resistance franchise this late. But, (my friend Harry brought up an excellent point), Resistance is Sonyís Gears of War. Sure the people want it already know theyíre going to get it, but Sony still has to show it at a huge event like this.
-HD Remakes are always a plus, points for fanservice for doing God of War and the team ICO games.
-The $500 TV thing was dumb. Theoretically- any 3D TV should be able to do that. Also- itís half a grand for 24 inches? Itís almost as if theyíre demanding rich fratboys to take it out of their trust fund. I donít want to sit that close to someone wearing goofy 3D glasses, sure itís a neat concept, but you canít pretend itís affordable and tell me 5 hundo is worth it for some glasses, 24 inches, and an HDMI cable.
-NBA 2K12 Move control was a joke. The guy treated Kobe like an asshole, Kobe had no idea what he was doing, and the whole ďitís so easy anyone can do itĒ thing doesnít work when nobody actually manages to do anything.
-Dead Manís Quest was cool, but was he only using the pointer? Was it on rails or free roam? Either way, a neat game.
-Iím with the public on this- Why show Imfamous 2 when it comes out the next day? youíre here to win your fans back and gain new ones in the future, not sell them something theyíve seen enough of and can get tomorrow.
-Starhawk looked...meh. It all felt really confusing and too much ďYOU CAN FIGHT WITH ANYTHANG!Ē. Spoiler alert- I like focus in my games.
-Sly Cooper was a good move. 3D platformers are few and far between nowadays, itís nice to see one come back.
-Dust 514 is dumb for 1 reason- it means you have to play with people who like EVE online. If you like flying around galaxies crunching numbers and pretending to live in the space age, then good for you, but I donít want to be in a situation where those people are trying to ďhire meĒ to fight their wars.
-Bioshock Infinite is cool, but itís not gonna sell me on a PS3. Also, as much as I respect Ken Levine, and LOVE him for coming out and not doing the bullshit prepared hype speeches, I donít think you can convince me to use move to play a game when you say ďwe donít know how to use it yet fullyĒ. I truly appreciate the honesty, and I will not be looking to play that game with Move, but am excited to see a game you design around Move.
-The next part was ďgames have PS3 exclusive content lolĒ but Iím seriously not buying that bullshit. Within a month or two, all of the major games will probably have the content on all sites, and playing it ďfirstĒ isnít going to influence me to get it on PS3. I want to play the game to enjoy all of it, and if the same content goes everywhere, you have to convince me to play it on PS3 by other ways than saying ďFIRST!!!1!Ē
-Vita on AT&T? Iíll let the audible groans do the talking on that one.
-Uncharted was neat, and the pricing is fair, but did anyone catch the Rune guy not actually continue on the PS3 where he left off? They were totally like ďCheck out this cool featureĒ and then the feature didnít work even a little.
-Cole on StreetFighter X Tekken was cool fighting game fans love that stuff.
-And a ton of games none of which I personally care about.
So unlike the other conferences, Sony didnít exactly go out with 1 huge bang. I give them a C+, sure you showed off some cool stuff, and the Vita is neat, but Iím not into any of your games, and I personally sensed an air of smugness that I did not like.
If thereís one thing Nintendo is good at year after year, itís fanservice. They ALWAYS will show you at least 1 or 2 things youíve seen before, but with a shiny new coat. This isnít nessecarly a bad thing, but that opinion is up to you. Iím personally getting a little tired of it, but I can understand why people hoop and holler everytime they say ďLuigiís Mansion, Super Mario 3D, Star Fox, Ocarina of Time, Linkís Awakening, Smash BrothersĒ. They came out full force with the fanservice, and they did it better than any other major player.
Nintendo was in a neutral position from last year. They did messed up a bit with the 3DS (itís kind of being considered a failure at the moment because it doesn't have good games) but they did push out a very well done Donkey Kong Country Returns and a Pokemon game that way too many people over 20 years of age played. They couldíve come out and done nothing and people would have been disappointed, but not upset. They also couldíve come out and said ďwe have all of the games from PS360 on the next Wii for cheaper and betterĒ, and money would be flying at them, but they seem to have taken an awkward middle line.
Ignoring the Zelda intro which was clearly as a celebration for themselves, and the 3DS section which was about trying to convince people that the system has games worth playing (imo it doesnít...especially not at that price), the big centerpiece of big Nís talk was the WiiU. Ignoring the gimmicky gameplay, and the possible cool designs that can come from this, I feel that the success of this system with the ďhardcoreĒ crowd lies in 1 very simple question- ďwhat games is it gettingĒ. I donít mean ďwhat franchisesĒ, I saw the very impressive list of Batman, Assassinís Creed, DiRT, Darksiders, etc, and thatís really cool, but are they the SAME GAMES that the 360 and PS3 are getting. The videos you showed were certainly the same , but are the final games that the system will get the same available on the competitors, but with added functionality, or are they just gonna be Wii U ports ďdesigned to take advantage of the innovative controllerĒ like all the ports the Wii got of AAA titles?
IF the Wii U gives me the same Assassinís Creed the same time the other systems get it, and it has some super cool functionality that helps instead of hinders gameplay, then I think Nintendo will have succeeded immensely; but if theyíre just pulling the wool over our eyes and pulling the ďbuilt from the ground up for WiiUĒ bullshit for their 3rd party games, then me and a lot of other people are going to be very disappointed.
-Zelda Montage means Nintendo is clearly out to please itís fans instead of bringing in new ones. Interesting considering the entire purpose of the Wii was to bring in new fans.
-The Orchestra is a baller touch, Iím just sayiní.
-Zelda games were a nice touch, Ocarina out soon is cool, and golden wiimote reminds me of old Bond 64 controller. Not necessarily a bad thing, but we want our gold cartridges back!
-Concert series? Neat, didnít expect that announcement, or the CD drops.
-Nice to pay respects to your development team, but I donít think I can stress enough how bored I imagine people who donít like Zelda are right now.
-For the sake of ďIíve already burned enough bullet-pointsĒ, Iím just gonna say that all the 3DS games feel like too little too late. Not enough ďinnovationĒ, (some fresh IP would have been nice) but if you drop the price for the holiday season when all those games allegedly come out, you might have a chance to compete with the PSVita.
-I also want to save bullet points for the Wii U because...well I donít know how I feel about the controls yet. Iím still a tad confused about the whole thing, but Nintendo has a lot of big promises that I think they will have a hard time trying to keep, but if they do- then Iím excite.
Hereís the part where you guys label me a fanboy and say Iím biased, but Iím gonna give Nintendo a solid B. They did spend the first 1/3 patting themselves on the back and giving content to existing fans, and middle section was just rehashes which you may or may not find boring, and the last half was tons of promises. They certainly convinced the old fans theyíre worth sticking with, and the huge promises of the still confusing Wii U are...well...lofty. Iím giving them a B now assuming they hit ~90% of those promises, but Iím adding a warning that they better not be biting off more than they can chew or people will remember this E3 presentation as the big lie.
In the end
Sony loves 3D, Nintendo loves introducing shit to make people talk, and Microsoft loves Kinect. EA and Ubisoft had solid showings, and there is a lot of interesting news coming in for games not announced at major presentations. Itís not like a ďSUPER DUPER AMAZINGĒ E3, but itís not a bad one. Overall, I rate the presentations a B-. Itís just above average with some strong hitters detracted by a lot of face-palming and boredom.
I wanted to sit down and write a feature about a type of people I remember being able to prove existed- pretentious videogame theorists. In my mind, these were people whose sole intent was to study, research, and claim as fact whatever convoluted design ideologies they had observed. Guys and girls who traveled the world getting paid to give lectures to highschoolers, telling them that after years of researching how people make and play games, that they knew the secrets to what made games fun- despite having never put any of their theories into practice by actually making one.
Unfortunately for me and my argument, I canít actually prove these people exist. The closest I could get is Jesper Juul, but he makes games. Even so, I then realized that this makes him happy and heís not hurting anyone- so Iím not gonna even try to rain on his parade. I personally prefer to learn about game design and development from people who do it professionally, but if you want to learn from people like him who primarily consider themselves researchers instead of a developers, then by all means go for it. Sure it probably means youíre gonna keep bandwagon hopping trying to catch the ďnext big thingĒ (waggle party, portable flash game ripoff, 3d better than real life HD, etc.) instead of sitting down and just trying to make something fun, but if that gives you your jollies then we consumers can always use more companies flooding those markets.
P.S. Next time Iíll have something more worthy of my self created TLDR moniker, and more on par with my past 2 offerings- so look forward to an argument youíve probably already heard ďI wish it was 1997Ē.
Videogames have greatly evolved (to say the least) since their inception (BERRRRRRMMM), but some things have always stayed the same- they can be played alone, with people, against people, or kooky ways of interaction regarding a Ďyouí and one or more Ďpeopleí. This is great; itís wonderful to be have so many options to how you want to play, but Iím afraid to say that one particular method seems to be be losing the attention of a lot of developers, and itís really disheartening to me. Iím starting to feel that companies are convinced that single player games are taking a backseat to their better selling multiplayer counterparts, so follow me as I examine the relationships of single and multiplayer games in the past, present, and future.
Disclaimer- Iím not really all that old. Iím in my early 20s, so that means that (like Max Scoville so kindly pointed out) I grew up in the GeniSNES era. Videogames were around long before my day, so all I know about the old Arcade scene (or if you want to be really pretentious- Oscilloscope scene) I read in history books and learned from my professors.
The Past Multiplayer is INGRAINED in the veins of videogames. Starting with basic 1-on-1 Pong matches, leading into the constant yearning for the local high-score in the arcade days of Pacman, Defender, and Space Invaders. Cooperative followed with games like Mario Bros and the later beat-em-ups like Double Dragon, but (as far as I know) there was still no TRULY single player game, whose goal was to walk the player from a beginning to an end- and then there was The Legend of Zelda.
The first relevant single player game- the Columbus of sailing solo. Sure other games may have come before it, but (as far as I know) The Legend of Zelda brought all the goodies of diseased blanket adventure and gold inventory to get you hooked. A game where you played alone, in a world alone, not competing for a score against the kid down the street, but against a giant pig mage whose sole purpose is to troll you with 9 enemy and trap infested dungeons.
Skipping forward, the GeniSNES era had tons of single player games- from a huge range of RPGs and a plethora of platformers to tons of other tactics and a rare racing game whose sole purpose was to entertain one person at a time. At this point I think itís important to opinion that the Mario and Sonic series were just single player adventures with an cheap ability to have another person play. Sure it added a bit of depth to have a Tails partner, or some longevity if you and a partner were tackling the vast Super Mario World, but in reality the games were meant to be played alone, and the extra controller was to make the other person in the room feel less awkward.
The PS/N64 era (my favorite, but Iíll save that for another day) had some of the BEST single player experiences I can remember: Brilliant platformers like Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie, Crash Bandicoot, and Spyro, PC masterpieces like Half-life and The Sims, and new experiences like Tomb Raider, and PaRappa the Rapper. This was a time where, much like the early Sonics and Marios, multiplayer gameplay was based on what the single player can do. Counter Strike came from Half-Life, Mario Kart came from Famicom Grand Prix II, and Street Fighter II from a game nobody cares to remember. Sure, tons of other games had multiplayer available (Starcraft, Goldeneye, Pokemon), but everyone I know remembered chasing the Zerg off of Char, sneaking around in bathrooms looking for ammo, and mindlessly slaughtering Zubat and Geodude trying to get out of dark caves. Single player in the past reigned supreme.
The Present Now the line starts to get a little blurred between the chicken and the egg. Some of the most popular games of this era include both solid single player and fun multiplayer experiences- games like the Halo/Call of Duty series, Guitar Hero/RockBand franchises, the Fifa/Madden run-ons. There are also games in this era that shine on their own with only 1 true way of play: Solo shots like the Metal Gear Solid series, the Final Fantasies, and the Mass Effects as well as all-or-nothing games like WoW, Team Fortress 2, and Farmville (I dislike it too, but itís a game, itís popular, and it helps my point).
I firmly believe that there are a lot of quality games that focus solely on single player- games like Okami, NoMoreHeroes, and the continuing Half-Life, Metal Gear, and Paper Mario series. This field has competitors from almost all genres, fantastic games that sadly aren't selling nearly as much as their combo competitors.
Multiplayer only games are a little harder to pinpoint since a lot of them have a facade of single playability- games like Left 4 Dead, Magicka, and Team Fortress 2. Sure, you can play those alone, but thatís not the point of them, the point is to play with other people for full effect. A lot of social games fall under this category since one of their main ďget more stuffĒ designs involve bugging your friends. These games are selling exceptionallywell.
The most popular of them all though are undoubtedly games that offer both exerpiences. The popular shooters with 6 hour campaigns and endless multiplayer matches, the rhythm games that you only play alone to practice so that you impress when youíre at a party, and youíre favorite sports title that you grind until you learn tactics to give you an edge online. These games are the ones that are selling the best, games that are fun to play alone and more fun to play with friends.
As a result, it seems like every major release offers some kind of multiplayer, even if itís just tacked on. Companies are putting their focus in how they develop games in a few ways including- making a really fun single player first then add ways to play with more people (Saints Row 2), making a fun and balanced multiplayer then tack on a campaign (Just about every RTS or Fighting Game), spending time caring for both single and multi together (Gears of War), and even using 2 separate teams to make each type and mashing them together (Quantum of Solace). Take a guess which sells more?
Iím not saying that any singleplayer only, multiplayer only, or combination games are inherently more or less fun than the others, Iím saying that all of three have wonderful games that are worth paying for and playing. However, it seems that games that the games that offer both single and multiplayer options are winning in sales, and that leads companies to try to release more of those titles- even if it means sacrificing the fun of the one mode to focus on developing the other, and that is why I think the future is dim.
The Future Almost everyone wants to make a best seller. Itís in our DNA to want to be the best (hell, when I write these pieces, I hope that a ton of people read them), and in doing so sometimes we sacrifice what is fun in favor of what is profitable (I really need to stop hinting at future pieces). But whatís going to happen in the future is a different affair, and in order to properly talk about it, I think itís important to look at situations of the past and (more importantly) the present.
Blur is a game that I really wanted to love, and not just because it matches my handle. They came out and basically pitched ďMario Kart with real carsĒ and I was sold. When they released the Multiplayer Beta, we hooked up7 temporary gold accounts for a huge overnight event so that people who had never even heard of the game could give it a whirl. We even made a damn playlist of music that we thought was appropriate to listen to while we tore each other up. I paid $60 the day it came out instead of waiting a week for the price to drop to ~$30 because I wanted that game to succeed. What happened was a different story. The single player was weak to say the least, and the multiplayer was so unbalanced that about 2 months after launch the only servers I could find to play on were half empty and European. It was so utterly depressing that the studio eventually shut down and any dreams of a sequel were shattered.
Itís easy for us as fans to just point fingers and blame ďTeh HacktivisionzĒ for having unrealistic expectations, but I honestly think that the main problem was that Blur tried to be took the wrong approach in regards to itís single and multiplayer. Some of the best racing games Iíve played were strong because they had such surprisingly awesome single player modes- games like Diddy Kong Racing and Need for Speed Underground 2. These games focused on what one person could do, and in the many ways they could do it. The game space was already fun for 1 person before they moved on to more. The multiplayer came out of the single player, not just in the ďitís the same racetracksĒ sense, but in the ďitís the same fun gameĒ sense. Blurís single player is shoddy at best. A series of half decent ideas given near impossible win conditions that in turn prevent you from unlocking anything to show off your work. I will give them that their base driving was fun, and some of the power ups were really fucking cool (reverse Nitro for airbrake is the most brilliant power up design Iíve seen since the blue shell), but the single player missions just werenít fun. I honestly believe that if they had spent time making the single player something more interactive and immersive (even if it involves a half-assed story like the Need for Speed series) that they would have found more people playing their game longer for the single player, and then hopping online keeping the multiplayer community alive.
While Blur is an example of how ignoring your single player before making multiplayer can blow up in your face, Assassinís Creed is a great example of how nursing your single player can help you start with a very solid multiplayer. The first Assassinís Creed to me was great, the 2nd phenomenal, and Brotherhood was off-the-wall fan-fucking-tastic. I wasnít only in it for the story, but for the gently crafted worlds, the crazy stealth feeling of doing something sneaky and not getting caught, and the hectic ďcheese itĒ feeling when you do. Iíve played 2 rounds of the multiplayer total. It was fun, but to me I found more fun in exploring the massive world where i could run around climbing walls freely without fear of someone seeing me and instantly knowing ďThatís definitely a player right there because AI doesnít know how to climb around rooftopsĒ. Iím not saying itís not fun, but itís not my cup of tea. Other people however, are saying itís brilliant. My friends are loving the multiplayer a lot, and it seems to me that one of the reasons their multiplayer is so fun is because they spent time making their single player work. Can you imagine multiplayer using the engine from 1? No bench or haystack stealth kills, pickpocket mode where everything is super weird and awkward to control- it would be a nightmare.
Speaking of awkward controls, how about the shooting sections of Mirrorís Edge? I really did enjoy that game, but I absolutely loathed anytime you picked up a gun. A lot of people seem to agree with me that it was the only major problem with the game, except I guess EA. Frank Gibeau of EA games said this past November to Develop Magazine that ďWhat I learned from Mirrorís Edge is that you have to execute, you have to spend more time on a game to ensure itís polished, and you need to have the depth and persistence of an online game,Ē later adding, ďThere were issues with the learning curve, the difficulty, the narrative, and then there was no multiplayer either. The key learning from us was that if you're going to be bold with that kind of concept, you need to take it as far as it can go in development." Itís a wonderful lesson to learn that youíre difficulty and narrative need some polish, but to go out and say to the face of all the people that liked your game for what it was that the issue was a lack of multiplayer is just ignoring your true problems.
The game was fun. Could it have used new cut-scenes, some polish, and either tweaked or removed gun-play? Absolutely. Did it need a tacked on multiplayer just so that you can tick off a check mark on the back of the box? NO. This is the point that Iím trying to get across- some games are just meant to be single player, and they will forever be fun and be remembered as great if you work on making the single player experience the best you can. If that buys you a few sequels and you treat it right, you can release a multiplayer that people adore, but DO NOT tack on multiplayer to a game because you think thatís going to make it auto-sell. It didnít work for Mario Kart with real cars, and it wonít work for you. Take your time making games- the fans will appreciate it because we love single player games and the multi player games that come from them. Just look at Minecraft- get the single player working right, then let everyone do that at once. It works.
As I look to the future, I hope more companies realize that fans like me, although a minority, do care about a carefully crafted single player experience. If anyone who makes games has managed to read this far, donít do it. Donít add multiplayer to your game because you think itíll make you the next Halo or CoD. Donít make a multiplayer only game thinking youíre gonna dethrone WoW or Farmville. I donít want my only options for single player escapism to be RPGs or pretentious indie games. Make the most fun game you can for the 1 person playing your game, and we will appreciate it for all itís worth (and then maybe you can add multiplayer when you think it fits). It may not sell as much if you start crunching numbers, but it will guarantee similar numbers of your next game, and the one after that, until eventually youíve made the same amount of money over 15 years that Guitar Hero made over5, only your studio is still as together as it was when you shipped your first title.
P.S Before I could finish editing my post, Satoru Iwata held a keynote where he spent some time talking about evolution and importance of multiplayer and (eventually) passionate game development. You should watch it
P.P. S Sorry it's late, turns out writing and editing this much takes a while. Expect the next one in 3 days- Game Theorists are Jerks!
GDC is upon us once again, and that means that just about every major video game developer is in San Fran sharing thrilling tales of late nights, voodoo code, and new tools for artists and designers to argue over. Usually with those stories and talks some companies or individuals will show off a new trailer for what their working on, or have a first time hands on with their new project. Naturally, this is something to get excited for, but Iím starting to get the feeling that much of the game admiring public (and that is a LARGE audience) is starting to believe that GDC is an event for them to go to and chat up their favorite developer and play their game. I donít know how else to put this other than- No, not really.
Then what is it? GDC, in my experience, is a place thatís function exists in its name: Itís a GAME DEVELOPERS CONFERENCE. What that means is- if you develop games or if youíre interested in the development of games, then this is the place for you. At GDC, what I saw most were old friends meeting up again, having some beers, talking about tactics, and drinking to their good (or bad) fortune. This is not a place where I saw companies putting out their new titles to the adoring public, or demo-ing their tech to try to sell it to consumers- thatís what E3, GamesCon, and Tokyo Game Show are for. This is a place for friends to show off to each other, for people who share a passion for game creation to meet up, where booths with ritzy demos are trying to get major developers to drop a couple Gís on a license for their product, and for booths full of HR to chat it up with candidates about what it takes to get your foot in the door. What Iím getting at, to be fairly blunt and repetitive, is that this is not a show for average consumers, itís a conference for people who have made games, and who want to make them.
A Short ďNo duhĒ Defense for Journalism I donít want to sound like Iím implying that GDC isnít for journalists/bloggers, because they absolutely should be present. The gameís press has a vested interest in how games are made because (obviously) who/what/where/when/why/how games are getting made is in their job description. That and I have a feeling that in no other industry is the press as big a part of the big picture as in the game dev one. Itís a mutual friendship. You donít see gum manufacturers boosting interest by showing off at the yearly GumCon (if that even really exists), and you donít see national newspapers trying to get a preview hands on with an unreleased pie at the local pizza joint. I canít think of any other press that is involved so thoroughly in what they report on, and thatís a great thing.
Fanboys doing what they do best The reason Iím writing on this subject is because a pair of stories I heard at GDC last year made me head-desk through the floor, and Iím hoping to pass these on so that you wonít make the same mistakes these people did (I went with ~10 of my peers/friends so even though I couldnít make all the talks I wanted to, I heard about what happened at most of them).
One of my friends happens to be a huge Final Fantasy fangirl (as are most female geeks, but donít quote me on that). As such, she made it a point to go to a talk given by Toriyama, Motomu of Square Enix titledThe Crystal Mythos and Final Fantasy XIII. So here we have a Japanese Game Director/Scenario Writer speaking to the crowd about how he designs a certain mythology across all his games, an interesting talk to attend for sure. As per usual with (most of) the talks, there was a Q&A session afterwards. Sure there were tons of questions a fangirl would want to ask someone with such status at a company she adores, but luckily for her she has intelligence and tact- and since most of her questions didnít pertain to the subject matter at hand, she knew it was inappropriate to ask them and kept to herself.
This guy in the crowd however, seemed to have a different opinion on the matter. His entire purpose for being at that talk was to complain as vocally as possible about how much he disliked FFXIII. He was first in line for the Q&A session (getting up halfway through the talk just to queue up for it) and proceeded to tell Mr. Toriyama a long winded story about how much of a huge fan of Final Fantasy he was- so much of a fan that he had paid over $130 to import the newest game (FFXIII wasnít out in the states at that time) but was so vastly disappointed with it that he demanded a refund.
I find that showing a massive amount of ignorance and disrespect- this is a foreign game developer with a high standing at a very popular company sharing some of his insight, tactics, and knowledge about a subject he knows thoroughly to a crowd of people he (justifiably) assumes are interested in learning from him, and you stand up there and say ďyour new game sucks. I wasted my money importing it and demand a refundĒ. First off, there is a time and a place to air your grievances- and that was not the place to do it. Second, nobody ASKED you to import it- donít act high and mighty because you went out of your way to get a game that you werenít even sure you were going to enjoy (when you buy a game you take a ďfunĒ risk, youíre going to have to live with that). And last but not least- GDC tickets to even get INTO a talk of that caliber cost (depending on the pass) anywhere from $750-$2.5 k! This guy had enough money to decide that thatís a small price to pay to demand his perverted justiceÖ.I hope Iím not the only person who sees a problem with this kidís priorities.
More Like Ass (Creed) Effect Next up is a shorty but a goodie. Ubisoftís Lead Designer Plourde, Patrick gave a pretty wide topic covering super-speech titled Designing Assassinís Creed 2. According to my friend, one of the overarching points he made throughout the talk was a thorough explanation of why the 2nd game in the series didnít have a ďdifficultyĒ option. He justified his point several times throughout the talk and why it made sense from the design standpoint of the game to not have it there- and thatís fair. Enter fanboy at the Q&A who walks up and (no joke) asks Mr. Plourde ďI didnít like that there was no difficulty setting, why didnít you include one?Ē Patrick took it like a champ after a small quip and summarized his point to the questioner- whose sole response was to stare back and essentially reply ďBut I like when games have difficulty optionsĒ. Unfortunately for you, youíre not the designer of Assassinís Creed, and the guy who is just explained to you point by point why he made the calls he made so deal with it. Also an important note- this isnít highschool. If youíre interested in a subject- take notes because the teachers here move fast and shouldnít be obligated to reiterate their points to you because you have a personal opinion about something you rightfully have no say in (a different post for a different day). I will concede though that I give this guy credit for staying on topic, but damn dude really?
What you CAN do I guess I want to end on a slightly positive note- if you are at all interested in making videogames, want to learn tips and tricks from the pros, and have a few hundred (or 2.5 stacks if you want all access) then by all means go! Take a notebook, plan the talks you go to, and go sponge some information and meet some truly fantastic people.
As for my experience at GDC last year, I went to talks and learned way more than I bargained for. Just sitting at the Uncharted 2 Postmortem was well worth the price of admission. Then when I took some time out I went to visit the Nintendo Booth, where I ran into and had a great chat with Danny Johnson of Gaijin Games (while trying out Bit.Trip.Runner for the first time). Afterwards I headed over to the Monster Hunter Tri section where I chilled with a Capcom promo guy (and found out that Capcomís promo teams travel the US to show off product). The important part wasnít trying the games, it was meeting the people, and learning how the game industryís wheels turn.
Then there was the Destructoid party. Man was that a blast. I met tons of people from all kinds of companies, got to chat it up with Dale North, Nick Chester, Neiro, Rey Gutierez (before he went to Sony), and even pre-Dtoid show Tara Long (which I didnít realize was the girl I had talked to briefly at that party until 5 episodes into the show). Iím not trying to show off- Iím trying to hammer the point home that GDC is about meeting awesome people, and learning awesome things (I learned that the party doesnít start until the hosts realize they donít have enough beer and promptly rectify the situation).
(I'm the douche with the tie painted on his shirt. Guy closest to the cam is my pal Phil- Octodad Coder)
I guess the last words I want to drill in your mind are- Be respectful but donít be shy, go out to parties, hang out in busy hotel bar/lobbies, visit booths of small developers and chat them up, just donít treat it like an event for you as a person who plays games, and treat it like it is- a conference for people who make the games you love.
P.S. You can go to The Vault and get TONS of the powerpoints/notes (and a few videos) from just about every past GDC and spinoff. GET LEARN'D!
P.P.S. The next topic is Single Player is Dead, Long Live Single Player