The Random One was born in the middle of the Brazilian (concrete) jungles, where it was foretold by a figment of his imagination that he would become a great writer. After waiting for decades for the world to recognize his genius, he gave up and decided to actually write things that people might want to read. This is one of the things he writes.
I have just turned twenty-seven years old. I am, as far as the internet is concerned, an old man, cynical and tired. As such, I tend to scoff when I hear game discussion centered about how games should first and foremost be 'fun'. Fun is not the thing I want the most in my games. My favourite game of 2012 probably was dys4ia, which is about as fun as reading a book about the Holocaust. Last year I also played Far Cry 2 (yes, 2) and Spec Ops: The Line, and I loved how both games resented the player for wanting to have fun. You want to be a gung-ho hero? WELL FUCK YOU, IT'S ACTUALLY BORING, NOW SHOOT SOME MORE IDENTICAL DUDES. Games don't need to be fun, they need to be engaging, and fun is only one of the myriad ways engagement can be achieved. I expect something interesting out of my games, so if a game tries to hook me only by trying to be fun, it needs to have an outstanding execution of fun for it to even blink in my radar.
I love Ace of Spades, because it is so much fun.
Ace of Spades is a class-based multiplayer shooter, which is a genre I'm hopelessly in love with, and that rarely is done well. Its main feature is that the terrain is entirely destructible, up to a (rather shallow) water level. This is not the first game to have claimed it, but the first to actually deliver, being technically possible to destroy every single block in a level until you're left with a large expanse of the lowest water layer. Likewise, you can build structures, block by block or by setting down ready-made structures like bunkers and platforms. I guess one way you could describe it is as Minecraft meets Team Fortress 2, though that simultaneously overhypes and undersells the actual game.
I don't like Minecraft, and don't really understand why so many people like it, since it appears most people play it as either a middling survival horror game or as absolutely awful 3D sculpting software. (I have my suspicions, though. Or have stolen the suspicions of smarter people; whichever.) The blurbs that declare Ace of Spades to be a "creative shooter" are lies: changes to the levels are not persistent and each game mode has a clear objective that does not involve gigantic phalluses, so there is little point in trying to recreate you favourite Super Mario 64 level in it, but it also adds a far more unique veneer to them. In Minecraft, every passageway you find is either a drab computer-generated cave or an attempt to build something - either way, something put there for you to look at. In Ace of Spades, finding a little cave or an abandoned bunker is a little bit of hyper-recent archeology - the tale of a guy who got lost or a bunch of people who couldn't hold their position that happened two minutes ago and of which you were part. A little tunnel can tell a better story than ten skyscrapers with redstone-powered elevators.
Comparing Ace of Spades to Team Fortress 2, on the other hand, betrays the former's simplicity, but, I feel, to its benefit. Team Fortress 2 is a great, well designed game, no matter how much you hate hats. But, for all the variety in its gameplay, all the classes exist for the same thing: combat. Some are simple and all you have to do is point at something and shoot; some are complex and may require you to understand the game mechanics, the level design, the opponents' psychology before you can strike effectively. But whether you are firing a minigun from the cart, deploying an ubercharge, holding an area with a sentry and a shotgun or backstabbing six people in a row, your ultimate tool is always killing a bunch of people. On Ace of Spades, combat isn't the only way to go. Your tools are combat, navigation and terrain alteration; three of the classes excels at one of these, to the detriment of the others. The odd man out is the marksman, jack of all trades but master of none. He can fight well, but not as good as the Commando; he's the fastest runner, but unlike the Rocketeer can't fly; and he's got great structures to place quickly, but can't dig quite as fast as the Miner. The classes on TF2 are built so that they each bring something to the game's objectives; the classes on AoS are abstractions of the game's very design, each representing a far more deliberate choice on how the player wishes to approach their challenges.
But, while all that certainly helps, it's not why Ace of Spades is so much fun.
What makes it so fun is that it's a videogame.
There are other games that have tried to do the "everything can be destroyed' approach, and they have, in one way or another, failed. Both Red Faction Guerilla and the recent Battlefield games have been plagued by destructible buildings that stay up for much longer than they should, three floors hinging on a single surprisingly strong load-bearing column. The obvious solution to this game is to perfect the tech until it can run things like distributed weight and material deformation. Ace of Spades does the non-obvious solution: realize that this is a freakin' videogame and make everything out of blocks. Like a cubist painting, everything is blocks: mountains and trees and houses and cars and bridges and buildings and monsters are no different from your shovel's perspective. A building supported by a single block that's actually part of the foliage of a nearby tree, doesn't look strange, because we are looking at the guts of the system and it's not a building or a tree any more, just a bunch of blocks.
And that's why Ace of Spades is so fun. It doesn't attempt to reconcile its limitations with its setting, it embraces them instead. Its levels are abstract, insane, a direct sucessor to the most far-fetched Atari representation of a game world within a 192x160 screen. One of the levels, Block Ness (ha!) is dominated by a giant blocky monster. The monster does nothing; it's a statuette, serving the same purpose of the mountains and igloos that also dot the level, and you can dig through its insides and come out of its mouth if you feel so inclined. You won't feel so inclined. The game is a multiplayer shooter and so you are always shooting someone or being shot at by someone or trying to complete some oddball objective. There will be no Minecraft megaprojects made in a round here, but those megaprojects are simply for show, blocks put together with no life; the haphazard tunnels and clustered bunkers you'll sometime run into in Ace of Spades are always deliberate constructions, with purpose and a history.
The game is intensely aware of this, as you can tell by its fun multiplayer modes. (You can tell the fun multiplayer modes from the others in two ways: they are the ones which have exclamation marks at the end of their names, and they are the ones the empty servers are running.) Zombie! has the infected zombies, able to use only melee attacks, against the dwindling survivors, and is not a new idea by itself (just from personal experience, I can tell it's identical to the Infection mode in TimeSplitters 2) by it's the only game I've seen capable of reproduce a zombie outbreak in its entirety within a five-minute round, with the survivors first hunkering down in any tall, large pre-existing structure then barring down doors and windows with clashing debris. Multi-Hill!, a take on King of the Hill that actually makes it fun, consists on rushing to several scoring areas then holding it until it's bombed, eventually dotting the maps on the remains of hastily-built defense structures that are often appropriated by savvy opposing players.
But Diamond Mine!, I think, is the nadir of Ace of Spades' concept. The goal is to find a diamond, which can spawn randomly every time a block is destroyed, and take it to a scoring area. This simple premise manages to bring up all the gameplay elements into focus: use terrain alteration to find the diamond, movement to get it to the scoring zone, combat to stop the enemy from doing so. But, more importantly, it displays the intense disregard the game has for any semblance of setting. The diamond can spawn randomly from any block destroyed, and if you destroy multiple blocks at the same time, as you can by destroying a block that's supporting others, you compound your chances of finding one. Trees are made of over ten blocks and a single one at the trunk.
Remember the old noob who asks "how you mine for fish?" If he had asked how you mine for diamonds, the best answer is that you cut down trees.
Why not? Why should you expect diamonds to be found underground? There is no difference. They are just blocks. Some blocks are brown and some are green and some are lower and some are higher and look, these blocks are in the shape of a London double decker bus, but it isn't one, it doesn't move or explode or honk or make anything that a bus does, it's just a decoration, or maybe a place you can dig up to without your opponents noticing. Every other war game is struggling to make a level that looks like people lived in it maybe but is also fun to shoot people in, while Ace of Spades succeeds with gross caricatures. We all know this isn't an Arctic village, or a lost Mayan temple, or London, it's just a level in a game, so why pretend it isn't one? The starting level is just a suggestion, now go dig a tunnel right under your opponents' base to steal their intel and watch as they now have to defend it from above and below, for the rest of the game. These amazing design sensibilities pour through and fill every game mode, each one adding a brand new thing to the formula and reverberating with greatness.
Except for Team Deathmatch, of course. Which is what everyone plays.
The problem with multiplayer games, as always, is other people.
The worst part is that I had been clamoring for years for a truly mature title, with characters that are actually well thought out and a story that actually amounts to something, and when it actually came out I had to say that I hated it and that I liked a game about spraying shit on buildings better.
I've realized that if GTAIV had been the first game on a new franchise I'd have been much more lenient to it, and might have actually become a grudging fan despite its slow-as-molasses combat, stupid checkpoint placement (or lack thereof), tendency to stop its actually good story to make sure Niko went through a checklist of pointless drab questgivers until every stereotypical New York criminal was ticked off, and completely insane controls (Tap A to run, Rockstar? We have something called analog sticks nowadays. They have been around for a while - you might want to look into them.)
(By the way, there will be GTAIV spoilers in this post. It's ending week - what did you expect?)
The first time I finished the game, I chose the revenge ending and was treated to some disappointment. If at least the game had had the decency to end after Niko kills Dimitri, it wouldn't be so bad - unfulfilling revenge is one of the game's main themes, after all, and it ending on the same boat that brought Niko to America in the first place would make for a nice symmetry. But no, the game dragged on. A character that had been previously shown as a bumbling fool was promoted to Big Bad, and failed to fill those pants so terribly that I thought he was sitting on a deflated boat. A character is murdered - a character that, due to a tragic Faggio accident, I had had almost no interaction with in my gameplay. Then I had to sit through another of those amazing chase sequences in which my target car is equipped with special magnets that make it always remain at a certain distance from my own car, and then the game that had stripped away all my fun throughout the entire gameplay in the name of a realistic gritty story told me to jump a boat to a helicopter. And then I killed a guy I had no real beef with and I was informed that I'd won. And so I'd never have to play that damned game again.
At least I wouldn't if I could find a YouTube video of the ending that didn't think I would be more interested in some preteen twat's innermost thoughts than in the dialogue of the game that titled the video I was watching. Or at least one who didn't skip the cutscenes on the assumption that I was really interested in hot pointless driving action. So I grit my teeth and go through To Live and Die in Alderney, one of the most annoying missions in an annoying game, again. I listen to stupid characters say stupid things again. I follow a car through scripted traffic. I charge a bunch of cops with a shotgun because the only place to take cover is a low wall behind a column and if I try to take cover there Niko will merrily fire round after round at the wall and the two hardcore mafiosi I'm babysitting have hugged the unglitched spots. I die and do all that again, because the concept of checkpoints is as alien to Rockstar as analog sticks.
Eventually, I do it. I get to the ending, again. I make the other choice. I start to watch, and - there's suddenly something different. This isn't the same scene with different characters. Niko's reaction is much greater this time, and yet it feels much more fitting. Everybody hates Roman, but he's been there from the beginning. You couldn't lose him in a stupid Faggio accident. Like him or not, you had saved him from danger, and he had tried to save you from damnation, in a meaningless choice that was clearly meaningful for him, even if he couldn't express it. And he had been killed by the guy who had been a thorn in your side since you set foot in town.
I suddenly understood everything.
The concept of a 'good ending' and a 'bad ending' has existed in videogames for decades. Simply getting to the end is not enough; you need to do everything right, or your characters will be fucked up. The problem, of course, is that, conversely, (this sentence sure has a lot of commas,) if you do everything right, it follows that everything will end up nicely for the characters, even if that's at odds with the game's themes up to that point - Silent Hill is guilty of this, with some of the 'best' ending being as out of tune with the grim hopelessness of the game as the wacky ones with the aliens.
That's not the case with GTAIV, though. It has a good ending and a bad one - not for the characters, though, for the player. The Revenge ending is unsatisfying, haphazard and unstructured - the bad ending. The Deal ending brings up the stakes to the maximum, always hits the emotions it was gunning for and gives Niko's actions the weight that they should have - a good ending. Both of them are bad for the characters, because that's the kind of story GTAIV is trying to tell, but only in one of them that story actually amounts to something.
There are many people, myself included, who want their games to tell better stories, but there are also many people, myself included, who thinks those stories will be pointless if they are just cutscenes shoehorned between pieces of gameplay. They need to be woven into the mechanics; they need to work alongside each other, not against. There are plenty of people who are thinking of ways the story can be the gameplay by itself; perhaps this is such a way.
You still have to jump to a helicopter, only with a dirtbike instead of a boat. Can't win them all I guess.
So have you heard about how the latest Mass Effect novel apparently has a ton of errors, almost as if it was written by someone whose only previous interest in the franchise has been a list of place and race names that was being used to package a wad of cash? Oh, of course you have. That was, what, yesterday. In Internet years, that is like three hundred thousand light years. You probably don't even remember what Mass Effect is any more. You need more recent news - news from the future!
And as it turns out, I have news from the future, delivered to my by a future version of myself. I know it's a future version of myself because he was wearing a hat, and people in the future wear hats. Sure, some people in the present also wear hats, myself included, as you can see by the excellently drawn pixel 'art' up in the blog banner, but in the future everyone wears hats, including my future self. Taking that into evidence, I have no reason to doubt that this document is a similar pile of errors from a future, upcoming Mass Effect novel, to be titled Mass Effect: Correction. To release such a document to the present public is my honor and duty.
[Error: Character] One of the main characters was, in a previous book, an autistic homosexual atheist flatfooted communist. None of these traits are present in the Correction narrative, and are explained away as he having 'grown out of his troublesome behaviour'. It's impossible to grow out of flat feet.
[Error: Lore] All canon representations of the Illusive Man show him to spare no money or efforts in keeping his identity concealed. It's therefore highly unlikely that he has three hitherto unknown brothers, especially who are in such high profile positions as a famous advertiser with a strong personality, a man currently undergoing trial for domestic violence and a literature professor whose work is a reference for all in the field. It's even more unlikely that they would be known as Effusive Man, Abusive Man and Allusive Man.
[Error: Lore] A female character express regret over having had a relationship with a Drell. That could never happen; chicks dig Drell. Haters gonna hate.
[Error: Lore] Sound does not travel through the vaccum of space. The exploding Turian dreadnought would make no noise at all, and definitively no noise that can only be conveyed by three pages of PSHOOOOOOOOOMMMMMMPFFFFFF.
[Error: Lore] The Krogan assault squads are often referred to as 'a fuckload of Krogan'. The proper collective noun should be 'a clusterfuck of Krogan'.
[Oddity: Lore] It is true that each Geth mobile platform is composed of thousands of individual subroutines, each considering itself an individual and who must all reach consensus before any action is taken by the platform. However, nothing in canon suggests that they vote by depositing either a tiny one or a tiny zero on a ballot, or that geth subroutines that vote one are bleeding heart liberals while those that vote zero are hard-headed traditionalists.
[Error: Lore] Turian religion does not have saints, so the sancticity of the artifact auctioned, the Turian Shroud, is... wait, Turian Shroud? Oh, now I get it! That's- that's sort of funny, actually. Heh. Turian shroud.
[Oddity: Character] The two last lines of dialogue between the Illusive Man and the protagonist, at the end of the first chapter, clash with their depictions in the rest of the dialogue, and indeed in the rest of the novel. Despite both being portrayed as intelligent and well-spoken people, at the end the Illusive Man says "Dude even the fucking game is fucking Tolstoy, I ain't reading all that" to which the protagonist replies "Don't worry, nerds will buy it anyway".
[Error: Lore] Mass effect fields were left behind for sentient races to discover. Nowhere in the lore is suggested that mankind might have developed it independently, or named it after the city of Effect Fields, Massachusetts.
[Error: Lore] It's impossible for a Hanar to have "ample and supple breasts" because they are fucking jellyfish.
[Oddity: Character] The Salarian assassin that accompanies the group does not show any of his combat abilities or tactical knowledge that he displayed on previous novels, and in fact is only mentioned in passing when at the midpoint of the book it's stated that "the lizard dude that I forgot was supposed to be in this book was also there, and in fact was with them all along".
[Error: Lore] When the group arrives in the Volus homeworld they find all stores are closed due to 'Volus Chistmas'. That scenario is erroneous to the point that it cannot possibly be reconciled with the canon, as Volus are Jewish. Everyone else also thinks that, right? It's not just me?
[Error: Lore] The Ferengi are normally shorter than other races and all evidence points to them having always been so; no references exist to them "being cursed to remain diminutive by the furious Earth deity known only as Gary Coleman". Furthermore, the Ferengi are from Star Trek and not Mass Effect.
[Error: Character] The group encounters a human couple who are in a healthy, open relationship based on mutual love and respect. However, all canon everywhere suggest human females are incapable of true love, even when a really nice guy is totally into them, maybe he's just a bit shy, but they prefer that stupid jock Chad anyway.
[Error: Lore] Before having sex, the Quarian is said to take immunity boosters so she can stay out of her suit. However, it is stated elsewhere that Quarians are dextro-proteic and thus cannot be contaminated by most viruses in the galaxy; what seem to be diseases are actually super-strong allergies triggered by viruses merely as foreign agents. Allergies grow stronger under immunity boosters; she should have taken immunosupressants instead.
Note: This document is for the novel only; leave anything from the games out of it!
The best way to describe gamification is to paraphrase Steve Butts and say it’s a concept as interesting and exciting as its name is stupid, and its name is very stupid. It’s the idea that the same stuff that game designers use to make sure people playing their games get what they’re supposed to do to make people in real life have both a better idea and a reward for doing the things they should do. I always wanted to try doing something like that, personally, with my life - if Jane McGonigal can use a super hero game to help her recover from a malady that left her literally unable to think, why shouldn’t I, while totally in possession of my mental faculties (even if they’re nothing compared to McGonigal’s) also be able to change my life for the better?
The problem for me has always been that I’m not as willing to put as much effort into games as other gamers seem to. When I read an article about how Generation II pokémon were on average much more powerful than Generation I and had much higher stats, I was befuddled, because I had been playing Pokémon like a highly elaborate game of rock-paper-scissors and assumed attack power was as important as a pokémon’s height. Stuff like Learn Japanese RPG starts from the assumption that since you can learn that sort of boring repetitive stuff for Final Fantasy you could learn that from the same framework stuff that you could actually use in real life, but I could never bother with that stuff even in Final Fantasy. What hope is there for me?
Then I thought... achievements. Now, I’m not an achievement whore, the number of games that I have gotten 100% achievements is a proud zero, and if you want to plot the best way to get 100% achievements with minimal playthroughs more power to you, but I’m not about to spend twenty hours in the Drab Caves to kill 200 Dire Rats for the Adolph Ratler achievement. But... if I calculate I already killed like 14 rats to get past the Drab Caves in story mode, I just might go back and spend an hour or so to kill six more to get the Joseph Sratlin achievement. And there is a chance I’m spending this very weekend trying to get all the Christmas achievements for Steam’s thing, so I’m clearly not above it. Why not use it to my benefit?
So instead of New Year resolutions, which never work anyway, I’m setting forth my achievements for 2012. They focus on the things I’m the most unhappy with in my life - I haven’t taken any serious steps towards becoming a serious writer even though that’s my stated goal, and my social life is seriously lacking. (Notice: Reading that previous sentence means you are automatically my bro.) On the other hand, there’s nothing to help me (say) become better at work, because seriously, fuck work. And, in the same way I deal with game achievements, I’m not going to 100% completion - just trying to get as much as I can. If I fail, well - there’s always next year.
(This is the final part of a four-part series. It begins here, then continues here and here.)
Ebenezer had given up on trying to sleep, and was just sitting on the edge of his bed, thinking and waiting for the next internet celebrity to come admonish him. It didn’t take long for a floating specter to make its way through his balcony doors. It was draped in a dark cloak, and its features could not be discerned.
“So, who are you? That guy... with... the glasses?” Ebenezer venture. He didn’t exactly had a finger on pop culture’s pulse, he paid others to do that for him, and had no way of knowing whether or not they were doing a good job (they weren’t). It didn’t help that this latest ghost didn’t look anything like an internet reviewer, and resembled much more, well, a ghost.
“Aren’t you going to insult me? Admonish me? Complain about my business strategies? Reveal what a rotten human being I am?”
The specter didn’t reply, merely stared from the dark depths of its dark hood, or didn’t. It might not even have a face.
“Won’t you tell me what I have to do? Tell me what I shouldn’t have done? Put everything in perspective?”
There was no reply.
“Come on already! Tell me what all my friends think about me! Show me my stock portfolio! Show me what my first grade teacher thinks about me! Tell me a review of my latest game! Anything!”
Two yellow lights shone up from deep inside the specter’s body, and in a robotic voice it spoke, “BATTLE OF DUTY 3: HOMEFRONTLINE OF WAR IS AN EXCELLENT ENTRY IN THE BATTLE OF DUTY SERIES. ALTHOUGH ONE MIGHT EXPECT THE SERIES TO REINVENT SOME OF ITS MECHANICS, THE CORE GAMEPLAY REMAINS SOLID AND THE GRAPHICS ARE EVEN MORE POLISHED. TEN OUT OF TEN.”
Ebenezer was taken aback, because this was the first ghost that not only hadn’t insulted him, but had actually been kind to his efforts. Also, the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Be shouldn’t speak. “Who are you, anyway?”
The spectre removed his cloak, revealing himself to be a robot dressed in what a future archeologist might think people dressed like in the 90’s, as well as that the cloak was a Dante’s Inferno 25th Anniversary Edition promotional item. “I AM THE REVIEWER OF THE FUTURE. I GRADE GAMES BY EXAMINING THE SCORE PLAYERS BELIEVE IT SHOULD RECEIVE, THEN CALCULATING THE WEIGHTED AVERAGE WEIGHTING BY HOW STRONGLY PLAYERS FEEL ABOUT THE GAME IN QUESTION.”
“But the players won’t even have played the game by that time.”
“IRRELEVANT. ECONOMICALLY SPEAKING, THE ONLY SALES THAT MATTER ARE THE ONES THAT HAPPEN ON THE FIRST WEEK AFTER A GAME’S RELEASE. REVIEWS IN YOUR PRESENT ARE DIRECTED TOWARDS PEOPLE WHO MIGHT THINK BEFORE BUYING A GAME. PEOPLE WHO THINK BEFORE DOING THINGS WILL NOT BUY GAMES AT FULL PRICE, FOR IT IS ECONOMICALLY STUPID. THEREFORE, A REVIEW’S MAIN PURPOSE IS TO ELIMINATE COGNITIVE DISSONANCE IN BUYERS WHO ARE ALREADY COMMITED TO BUY THE GAME.”
“If that’s the case, then why not just give every game a high grade?”
“A STATISCALLY SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF PLAYERS HAVE PREEMPTIVELY DECIDED CERTAIN GAMES ARE BAD, AND REMOVAL OF COGNITIVE DISSONANCE IN THEIR CASE MUST ASSURE THEM SUCH GAMES ARE INDEED BAD, IN ORDER TO PRESERVE THE REVIEWER’S INTEGRITY IN THE FUTURE. FOR INSTANCE, I DETECT THAT IN YOUR PRESENT TIME, HUMAN REVIEWER “TINY” TIM STERLING SCORED CALL OF DUTY MODERN WARFARE 3 WITH A NINE POINT FIVE. THAT SCORE FAILED TO PLEASE THOSE WHO EXPECTED THE GAME TO FAIL, A SMALL BUT HEAVILY INVESTED GROUP THAT WANTED A VERY SMALL SCORE, AS WELL AS THE FANS, A MUCH LARGER GROUP WITH VARYING LEVELS OF INVESTMENT.”
“So what score does it deserve?”
“NINE POINT FIVE.”
“But you just said that’s a bad score to give it!”
“NEGATIVE. MY NINE POINT FIVE IS COMPLETELY DIFFERENT FROM HUMAN TIM’S. MINE IS GROUNDED ON SCIENCE. AT LEAST UNTIL STATISTICS CEASE TO BE CONSIDERED A SCIENCE IN 2019.”
“Huh. That will suck for economists.”
“2014. NOW BE QUIET AS I TRANSPORT YOU INTO THE FUTURE YEAR OF 20XX.” The robot smashed a beer can on its forehead, and the two were gone.
Statistically speaking, some funerals must not happen on cloudy, grey afternoons, but statistics were no longer a science, and this one was. The closed coffin slid along slowly across the graveyard, being veiled by people who seemed sad to see someone they knew pass, but even sadder that they had to waste a afternoon like this. There were no bouts of desperate crying or helpless sobs, just a general sense of mild ennui, which might have as well been for the shortness of men’s stay on this world instead of the unfortunate soul who had checked out.
Ebenezer got himself lost from the roboghost and was following the dire businesspeople who followed the procession with a lack of enthusiasm apparent even for funeral standards. It’s not that they were happy, it’s that they were not unhappy enough. Ebenezer stayed with them until the burial, and mused on how, after his passing, he would not be remembered as a friend, or as a family man, but just as a business partner. Marley’s funeral had been just the same, and he had seen his would be as well. He decided that if no one else would, he would give himself an eulogy.
“This isn’t my grave”, it ended up being.
“Lucky be you, then” said a gravedigger who was just done topping out the hole. “Well, maybe not. Guy was rich as well, a video game industry exec. But of course, he switched to movies when the whole thing came crushing down. Then movies also went down, but he was already rich enough that it was easy to remain rich, as long as he sat on a director’s board every once in a while.”
“The game industry crashed?”
“‘Course it did. Amazing no one saw it coming. I worked at a game company, myself, and, well, you know what they say about hindsight. We were treating games like gadgets - millions on development, waiting to make millions back on a few weeks - but people were treating us like cheap entertainment. The only thing that kept was going was a generation so entitled they couldn’t bear to wait for the price to drop.”
“And what happened?”
“Oh, lots of things. Digital distribution shot up. The economy went south - further south. Even politics changed - that kind of entitlement went away in the post-occupy world. We thought we couldn’t afford to change, but what we couldn’t afford to do was continue doing the same things. Eventually my company went under. Thousands fired.”
“What company did you work for again?”
“One of the greatest. VisionActive. We had the most assets, so we survived the longest, or rather, we took the longest to sink. And now I’m digging holes for a living.”
Or rather, he was filling a hole, and as he was done topping it off, he went away. “What a curious man”, Ebenezer said. “He must work for me on the present. I should try to find him. He kind of looks like my father.”
He thought about that for a while, then said, “Shit.”
After that he was back in his bedroom, and he knew exactly what to do.
Merry Christmas, boys and girls, and get ready for a veritable Christmas miracle, the likes of which we’ve never had before. Remember Ebenezer Roberts, the evil CEO of VisonActive? The cackling madmen who had never known joy?
Well, he just did the most awesome thing he could have ever done for video games as an industry, a medium, and an artform. For years and years to come, we shall look back on this day and reflect on just how much he did for us.
What did he do? Well, he resigned from his CEO position, of course! In fact, he pulled a Gates on us and announced that he will be working with an NGO to provide computational infrastructure to impoverished areas all around the world - no word yet if it will be set up so poor people will need to pay separatedly for additional infrastructure, unless they buy a season pass.
This just goes to show that deep down everyone has a good man's heart, which in Ebenezer's case was in a large jar behind his bed. But the important thing is that he's left games behind. Let us all rejoice, for he can do us no more harm!
(This is part 3 of a 4-part thing. Part one is here and part two is here.)
Ebenezer tried to convince himself that what had just happened couldn’t have just happened, and probably would have succeeded if it wasn’t for the fudge stain, that was slowly making the transition from ‘delicious food’ to ‘stuff that fell on the floor’. Althought he tended to act like a supervillain on occasion, he didn’t have a lot of servants ready to serve his every whim hidden away under trapdoors, and he certainly didn’t have anyone on Christmas night. So he just rolled up the rug and pushed it into the living room. Then he went to lie down again, because rugs are heavy.
He was in the drunken state of half-sleep when he became aware of a fast-speaking voice. It started out far away, but quickly grew in intensity; it was a fast, wordy lithany, like a profane prayer, without any pauses for breath, and he had the feeling that it was criticizing him. Considering the nature of the last visitor, it probably wasn’t too far off.
He got up on his bed and was punched by yellow. He hadn’t closed his balcony curtains, and now beyond the glass there was just yellow, a bright yellow like the world was burning. Not even burning - like the world was fire. And a... creature had slithered in and on top of his bed. At least, it seemed animate, but barely so; it was just a shape moving in jerky motions, like a skipping DVD player, had no features, and its limbs weren’t quite connected.
He reflexively kicked it away from under his blankets, but it was quickly replaced by two more. The entire room, he realized, was covered by these twitching critters, and in front of his balcony yellow a hovering white shape seemed to control their flow. It was talking. It talked feverishly, without pause, mocking everything he had ever done or decided to do, making outlandish metaphors that he could hardly process, let alone confront.
It had a British accent.
“In the same way that farmers realized that letting chickens on a rickety wooden floor on top of of the pigs will let them save a lot of money on pig food, Ebenezer Roberts realized that people would keep giving him money even though he was selling them not only shit but recycled shit. He keeps justifying everything he does to himself as if he was some business genius, saying, Oh ho ho! I’ll fire two hundred people today! But it’s not me, it’s the market forces! And the market forces look at each other in confusion, shrug, and go away to bother Occupy Wall Street protesters., while Ebenezer whistles innocently and wipes his dick in the curtains.”
“What” Ebenezer said. He didn’t manage to lend the word an inflexion, bedazzled as he was by the machine gun indictments. As the sermon approached a crescendo, the little creatures leapt up and down on his bed, or rather, teleported from touching his legs to midair. The bizarre composition of everything drove him to tears.
“Stop that! You don’t know anything! Go away!”
The thing stopped, and it suddenly was a normal young man, wearing an elegant vest and a rather nice fedora.
“I know everything, Ebenezer.”
“You are that reviewer that hates our games! Ben, right?”
“I am not Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw. I am the Spirit of Gaming Present. I have simply borrowed his image to tell you some truths.”
“Those were not truths!” he cried. Literally, tearfully. “They were just mean slander!”
“Mean? Maybe. Slander? Doubt it. Come with me, Ebenezer, as I use this magical tool to show you the Christmas that is today.”
“A purple vibrator?”
The ghost that was not Yahtzee paused and stared at the vibrator in his hand. “I’m sorry. This thing keeps popping up in my inventory.”
“Ah, there we go. Now this is the purple vibrator that can teleport us.” He twisted the device’s bottom and with a soft droning noise the surroundings suddenly changed, and Ebenezer found himself in the VisionActive offices where he worked, though he rarely came down to the cubicle level where he was.
“Behold, Ebenezer! Those people work for you. It is the day before Christmas and they are here, instead of celebrating with their families.”
“Oh, my! Even my hard and embittered heart grows cold at this sight...”
“Stop being sarcastic.”
“...when I think of the overtime I’ll have to pay them for working late, at a date no one told them to, because they want to polish the game they’re working on soon. It is indeed most tragic.”
One of the employees had noticed him, and news of his presence had spread through the cubicles. Contrary to popular belief, inside of VisionActive he was not seen as an evil dictator, but as an aerial executive whose immediate attention meant, yes, sometimes doom, but more often, incoming great success, or at least expectation thereof. Soon enough everyone was swarming around him.
“I thought the people in these trips weren’t able to see us”, he whispered to the Spirit in the middle of being explained some complex collision engine tech.
“I never said anything about that. Must’ve been the other guy.” replied Non-Yahtzee. “You should pay more attention to the EULA in the future.”
The employees used his presence as an excuse to take a break, and requested he make a short speech, which he did, praising the industriousness and fastidiousness of the people around, for willingly staying at work even though they hadn’t been ordered to - and he shot sly looks to the Spirit as he delivered it. There was a small round of applause and someone opened a warm bottle of champagne.
“By the way” said Ebenezer, “I don’t even know what game you are working on.”
“Football Game 2012.”
Ebenezer suddenly became serious. “Oh God. Oh God. I’m sorry. I didn’t know.”
“Well, it’s not a very unique game, but...”
“But it’s our main cash cow, isn’t it? What would you be working with, if you could? If I told you to create a project right now?”
The programmer hesitated a bit, then replied “I thought it’d be fun to have an asymetric war game of humans versus space alien insects, in which the humans played as an FPS but the bugs played as an RTS, because they had a hivemind.”
“That sounds like it’d be hell to balance.”
“It’d be a new thing, at least.”
He nodded, then turned to another one. “How about you?” He heard stories of a turn based gangster crime romp, and a Quantum Leap-inspired action adventure, a puzzle game about zero gravity, a single player sandbox in which the player was a comic book supervillain.”
At last, he returned to the Spirit. “I think I see it.”
“What? Don’t you praise their industriousness any more? Those people are working as hard as they can so that a bunch of pampered Europeans can prance around in virtual lawns, just like they have been doing for decades now.”
“Why can’t any of them work on the ideas they have?”
“Because... we don’t know if they’ll sell. We’ll publish one or two games like those in a year. If they sell, great, if not... well, we have things like the Football Game franchise which are guaranteed to sell and give us the liquidity we need to go through with more experimental franchises.”
“So you say, but when was the last time you published a game that really experimented?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. That supervillain game was great. We could publish that.”
“That was mine.”
“I think there’s room for- excuse me?”
“That was my idea. Well, Yahtzee’s I mean. He described a game like that called Mankind Has Yet to Recognize my Genius in his Saints’ Row 2 review.”
Ebenezer thought on that for a while, and realized the man that had described him that idea was an unimaginative asshole. When he reached this conclusion, he was already back in his room, and there was nothing more he could do about it.