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Undeed's blog

9:08 PM on 07.06.2010

An Open Letter to Game Developers:

I have become increasingly aware of the lack of local multiplayer in games. It's becoming more and more rare, and it has come to the point where even when it is included it's severely limited or poorly implemented, becoming especially evident in shooters. It's not like this is a new idea, this has been around forever. I'm certain you know what you are doing, and you are simply choosing not to do it, and this is the source of my complaint. Maybe I'm wrong, as this is an open letter I shall leave it to the DToid community to weigh in and inform me how amazingly insightful or woefully incorrect I am.

Let me first say this: I get it. It's good business to have everyone who's going to play a game buy a copy, it means that every game that is played earns you a profit. This is obvious and desirable, though it seems to me a rather limited view. I propose instead that the free advertising gained from some first hand experience with a title and an endorsement of the game from one or more of your friends will more than likely help to boost sales, and if every person that owns it shares it with a friend then you may have a better time if selling copies. However, I am not a statistician or market analyst, and as such will freely admit that I may be sorely mistaken on the topic. I understand the basic rationale behind such a move, I just don't see how the benefits outweigh the losses of such a plan.

Back to the point: Many recent hits have not had any form of multiplayer, but some of these cannot be counted because they were single player games: There was no place in the story of the game for a second player. That's fine. Some have had multiplayer, with split-screen local. Occasionally time this is limited to two players. It's called Left 4 Dead, the number of players is in the title, why cut us off at two? Occasionally this is poorly implemented. I don't know how many people were able to play Fable 2 with a henchman after it was discovered you were required to share a screen. I know I had a hard time of it. Sometimes it will even be omitted entirely. Examples of this include Bioshock 2 and, amazingly to me, the recent Transformers game. The campaign is meant to be played by three people. I live with eight. Surely I shouldn't need to invest upwards of five hundred dollars to play a game with two of these people? Multiplayer has been around almost as long as games have, excising it now seems like a desperate grasp at a fistful of dollars.

That was the long form. The short form uses a number of words I'd rather not; as a wise man once said: "Profanity is the crutch of the inarticulate bastard."   read

10:50 AM on 11.23.2009

A couple of questions:

Stuff I've been wondering and figure someone may be able to help me with.

1) Is there any way to tell between a backwards compatible PS3 and one that isn't just off the specs? I've been running about auction websites, but I don't have the currency to buy and test every PS3 I find.

2)There is a download on the PS Store that says it gives backwards compatibility to PS3s with more than 40G memory. I have been told this is not the case. What does this do, and is there any way to get backwards compatibility on a newer PS3?

3) How do I change the publish date of an article? I did a monthly musings piece this month but it took forever to write, and it was published ten days before I finished it. I looked at the FAQs and such, but they all say to go to the edit post page, and I can't find the button or switch or knob or whatever it is.

4) Which are the superior christmas/holiday(circle your favorite) releases? I know it's largely a matter of opinion, but I'm curious.

Answer at your leisure.   read

11:47 PM on 11.07.2009

Do the Wrong Thing: Subjective Evil

"How many men have you killed? How many, just today?"

This, not from a cop or a judge, but from a genocidal maniac at the end of a recent game. It may be cliché but he's right. Where is the difference between hero and villain, good and evil? They use the exact same weapons and tools (often literally), they both kill anyone who gets in their way. The only difference is their motivation: One wants to destroy/control the world while the other wants to, at the very least, stop the first. In games the ends must justify the means because the means are generally murdering a bunch of dudes so you can kill a specific dude or break some irreplaceable thing.

The thing that bothered me most about this month's musing was that evil is a vague term, one of the most difficult to pin down, and having so many exceptions. Any given action can be evil depending on it's intent: Killing in self-defense is different than murder, just as shoving someone to the ground is different than pushing them from the path of danger. The protagonist of a story often has to recover some plot item, usually one that belonged to an uninvolved party at the start of the story. They also get to trespass, kill, and steal from the enemy and supposed bad guy to further their cause. Recently it seems that you are able to do this to anyone with impunity. Some games have a karma meter or some such, but even if you are as bad as you can be you are still the designated hero of the tale.

Making this more confusing still is the increasing popularity of anti-heroes and anti-villains. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept of anti-heroes, think Max Payne: A man seeking the truth behind the murder of his family and justice for drug-peddling criminals. To do this he will take on the mob, killing any follish enough to get in his way. A prime example of an anti-villain is Wander, from Shadow of the Colossus: He seeks to bring his love back to life, but to do so he knowingly makes a pact with a dark god and slays sixteen creatures who had lived in peace until his arrival. Both have the same core concept: A noble goal by questionable means. Where is the difference in these two characters? It is only in who they choose to harm. But is Payne a hero simply because his victims are bad guys? Is Wander a villain because of the lengths he's willing to go to?

What it comes down to is this: Games almost require a villain protagonist. RPGs have you breaking pots and barrels to claim the loot with in. That belonged to someone. Someone put that there. Action/adventure games have you slay scores of foes in the grounds that they're evil and in your way. Any game putting you in the service of good has you slaying evil, rather than trying to redeem it. I don't remember where this quote is from, but:
"No man chooses evil because it is evil; he only mistakes it for happiness, the good he seeks."
"Even when you think you're doing the right thing, you may be going about it the wrong way."

That's all for now, I suppose.   read

4:56 PM on 10.27.2009

Nothing is Sacred: Violence is not the Answer

Violence is the question. The answer is always "yes."

Most games require you to face enemies to advance the plot, and give you a set of tools to do this with. Most of the tools are weapons, only on rare occasions stunners or tranquilizers. Few games give you a non-violent alternative, and those that do seldom give you any reason to use these alternatives. Even those with non-lethal options tend to give the more permanent solutions a leg up by having ko'd opponents recover after a short time.

You are Sergeant Awesome, on a mission to rescue Senator Kidnapped from a terrorist group that needs him to provide codes for some nuclear-biological-giant robots powered by the sheer improbability of their existence or something. It's probably not too important. You come across a small group of terrorists away from the main force. Sneakily, you sneak up on their leader and hurl him off a cliff. Little did you know:

And now the men he was preparing to lead against their leader are attacking you, and others are rushing up from places unseen. Maybe, just maybe you could have joined them, weakening the resolve and ability of enemy forces.

The MGS series is far better about this than most games, theoretically allowing you to complete the game without killing a single enemy or even being detected. Better still, in Portable Ops you could recruit enemy soldiers by knocking them out and dragging them back to your base. And to hammer the point home, your ranking at the end is influenced by how many times you were seen and how many enemies you killed. Hell, in MGS3 there is a level forcing you to revisit every person you have killed in the game, making it beneficial for you to not kill wherever possible.

Even so, knocking out enemies is still violence. The games where you can deal with enemies in any non-violent manner aside from running away are few and far between and, while I love me some shooties, I think we can do better. An excellent example is Portal, and that was an almost universally loved game. It proved that it is possible to have a game where you don't kill anything, don't even hurt anything (almost), be just as entertaining and compelling as any FPS. This was promptly ignored. Still, it's an increasingly uncommon thing.

It's not that violence is morally apprehensible or wrong, but rather that it's limiting. Designers and audiences and the industry as a whole are attached to the idea of an adversary, an opponent who must be overcome. This weakens video games in general, limiting us to problems that can be solved with dakka and boom, giving us heroes more about destruction than salvation, and shallowing the pool of ideas until we are left with gray and brown space marines defending humanity again.   read

4:01 PM on 10.25.2009

Nothing is Sacred: Formula of Foul Play

I wasn't particularly motivated to do a image search on murder or it's synonyms, so this'll be pretty straight forward.

As people who play video games, we kill a lot of things. An amazing number of things. Ridiculous, outlandish, made up numbers of things. There's always a reason, someone has to be a bad enough dude to save the president, but the number of things we destroy is inordinate. Corollary: We never kill, incapacitate, or otherwise harm children. Technically that's wrong, because I used the word 'never' and I'm sure there are a few exceptions, but the exceptions prove the rule. There's a list of things it's okay to hurt and that it's not, and that's almost silly.

This doesn't represent their popularity in games, but rather how compelling the reason is. 'Self-Defense' ranks fairly weakly, 'Save the world' ranks fairly highly. The reason the designers give you to kill reflects how motivated they feel you should be to do the killing. The less motivation you require the more acceptable the victim, and vice-versa.The list I have in my head, from top to bottom most acceptable to least, runs like this:

Non-Humanoids: Demons, aliens, what have you- stuff with an obviously not-human shape to them.
Zombies: Used less often now because of realistic gore, but human shaped and unfeeling.
Robots: The only reason they rank lower than zombies is because most everyone can think of a sympathetic robot character. Plus, it's my list.
UnHumans: Human at some point but no longer, augmented by tech or magic or mutation. Usually some manner of boss.
Nazis, terrorists: Any enemy human really, becoming much more common than in ages past. Almost exclusively men, unless it's not.
Woomen: Get their own category simply due to their infrequency of appearance. More common in fantasy settings.
Children: Almost never a target.

You are the Wanderer, one of the few human survivors of a nuclear attack. What little humanity remains have mostly settled down, but here and there packs of bandits roam trying to profit from those foolish or desperate enough to wander the wastes. You are able to hold your own against these bandits and even free some prisoners, But wait! You come across a group of child bandits, far tougher than any adult because they're kids and you're not allowed to shoot them.

Wait, what?

I understand the external logic: It's not a very good idea to make the killing of children in any capacity a feature of your game. But internally it makes no sense: If those kids are out being raiders, you ought to be able to treat them as raiders. If they are neither friend nor foe, and not stage decoration in a town, why include them? And if they are random NPCs in a game world where I can shoot and kill damn near any person why exclude this particular group? Do I have a reason, some baby I lost and now have no idea what he looks like? Or is this to avoid recrimination? I'd rather the game exclude children entirely rather than make them a special case.

I'm not asking to be able to kill a baby, and I don't think many people would. I just think it's silly to create a situation where the only tool you're given is violence and then set restrictions on where you can use that tool. To mangle a quote: When the only tool you have is a gun every problem looks like a target. To set arbitrary restrictions on what is or isn't a target gets to be frustrating after a time. Make up an excuse: The children are kept safe in a special location until they are old enough to help with important tasks. We send our children away to a special school. Every child is taken away by the God-King so that he may find a suitable heir, the rest are trained from childhood to be citizens or soldiers. The children all ran off, and we don't know where they went. But they're not here, and you can't kill them.   read

7:36 PM on 10.22.2009

Nothing is Sacred: Old School

Hi, I'm new here, and I figured for my first post I'd tear down your childhood.

You might call me an oldschool gamer in the same way you might call this metaphor complete. I grew up with the NES. My first RPG was the original Final Fantasy, and I used to take shifts with my brothers to beat games with no save points like Ninja Gaiden or Super Mario. I keep this site in my bookmarks, and recommend it regularly. I have purchased and maintained consoles from every generation, and keep them at the onset of the next. But I love my new games, the ones that innovate, the ones with new stories and ideas.

It seems lately there is a rallying cry, that remakes and re-releases are the way to go, that sequels are superior to new ideas. Older games are more popular than ever, some seeing their first sequel in years to cash in on this trend. These games, games based on those in arcades, games no one even remembers are being remade. 'Retro style' is now a selling point. Why do we keep trying to go back? Why aren't we trying to move forward?

The first game I ever played on my NES was Dr. Mario. PS2 was Gauntlet. Sega was Aladdin. Gameboy was Pokemon Yellow. Nostalgia is a powerful force, and we'll never forget the games of our childhood. And it's nice to have that reminder, a game you can play that's attached to a person or place, to a time free of responsibility. But these games don't always, and in fact often don't, age well. We expect more of graphics, of game play, hell, even of the music in our games, than was capable when I was a child. Is this wrong? No, no it isn't. The way things were is not the way things will be or should be, and to think otherwise is silly indeed.

Companies need to stop relying on franchises and mascots. Mario, Link, and Samus are staples of any Nintendo console. Sega keeps churning out Sonic games even as their quality becomes a joke. Halo is as old school as the Xbox gets, and they've got five games out of the series so far with plans for more in the works. Sony has Ratchet and Clank quickly developing into a legacy IP. At some point it stops being expansion and tribute and becomes redundant and stupid.

I'm not saying we abandon the old school. They were good games for their time, and letting them fall by the wayside would be a horrible error. But using nostalgia as a crutch to foist games no one would play on us is dirty, and we can't let that happen. We need to keep moving forward, and not be held back by our memories of what was. Bigger things await.   read

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