I'm from Brazil. A country from South America some of you might have heard about someday. Or not. It's a lovely place with many beautiful women and a lovely warmth. Actually, it's much like the U.S., there's a little less money, the women still like rich people and the heat is insufferable if you actually live here and is not spending 5 days on the shoreline. Whatever.
I study Social Sciences (A.k.a. Engineering dropout who gave up on financial success and instead went on to suck at life), and I really like it. My point of views usually differ from the capitalist moral value center, so bear with me if you're actually interested in anything I said, which you are if you've actually read this.
I'm 1.67 meters tall (that's 5'7", you moron!), white skinned, green eyes, blonde hair. Not that you actually care. I don't, that's why I don't post a picture.
We know Jim Sterling, don't we? We expected him to review Final Fantasy XIII the way he reviews all games: with a tad of enthusiasm and a lot of rocks ready in case of disturbance. In the end, the result was less than satisfying for a bunch of people, who immediately turn back on the writer of the article.
That was all well and good and in the regular standards of internets protocol number 665. Right beside the one where trolls are given their rights. What we didn't expect, At least I did not, was to see him somewhat dismayed when writing the article about the job he has and how he sometimes feels bad for giving bad review scores to games of people he might actually, personally, know.
After reading his article and noticing my comment was becoming WAAAY to long, I decided to answer to it here.
First, about the contribution of a review editor to society: Never underestimate the power and the responsibility a critic holds when reviewing a game Jim. NEVER. What happens when you slap a review on this website is that you are potentially swaying tens of thousands of people to spend their most important resource of their existences: time. Even if we ignore the consequences of spending money on a bad game, to me, most importantly, and to pretty much everyone who has a job and a family and has very scarce time to play, is the certainty that when I load that disc into my console or computer, I'm not wasting my fuckin' time on a worthless piece of shit. No, wait, check that. I'm not spending the little time I have on a less than phenomenal product. So Jim Sterling, take your job seriously, you're saving millions of hours for gamers worldwide when you say that Assassins Creed II sucks, when you say that Final Fantasy XIII isn't worth my time, or anyone's. Thank you for being honest about. It's somewhere in the headlines of this site. Honesty, brutal, if necessary.
This leads to the second point, the consequences of giving games bad review scores: if I just said that a critic determines, to some degree, how will people spend a part of their existences with videogames, think of how damaging can it be when a game is badly reviewed. The answer to the developers can be pretty drastic, but to the player? Not really. In the worst sense, you're losing a good chance, but with the amount of good games being launched per year, you're hardly missing that much. Sure, no one wants to be left out of the God of War bandwagon, or miss the Modern Warfare of each year, but if you DO miss it, pretending it was a review score that made you do it, you sure as hell will still play a lot of good games in their place. Some of them even similar to it.
Now take the opposite idea: Having a bad game be given a high review score. You know what that does? That kills the game's length in hours of your lifetime. When you finish it, you will have wasted a good portion of your existence into something not worth your time and money. You will be a little dead inside and possibly angry at the person who wrote that review. As a gamer, I'll take low scores in my most awaited franchises anyday over high scores who make me waste my gamertime, which, as you grow older, becomes scarcer each day.
With that said, I think Jim is too forgiving, I'm waiting for him to slap a 0 on a game. I mean, how the hell can I trust in someone's 10 scores if I've never seen him give a 0 to something. Give me my Subject Zero, Jim! I'm waiting.
My god, was that awkward. Maybe it was absurd and creepy too. I can't put the finger on the emotion right now, but it was NOT good. And man, it repeated itself. I almost couldn't bear to even think about it when I started it again, but it was like she was throwing herself into every male subject out there.
The first paragraph makes no sense, but it will, very soon.
When I started playing the first Mass Effect, I followed a fellow dtoider advice and start a female character, because he said the voice acting gave the game a lot more depth and character than the male version. Okay. But I make a habit of actually caring about a character and making my decisions based on the situations, rather than Paragon/Renegade focus. Roleplaying Shepard, if you will.
It's not the first time I did this, I do it in every rpg I play, I try and put myself in the characters place emotionally and rationally too, I try to think like he would and pursue his own interests, rather than mine. This leads to very curious behavior, with me trying to see how will a female Shepard interact with a big krogan Warlord when trying to Intimidate him.
Then it happened, I talked to Kaidan in the Ship the first time in the game, and I friggin' saw a giant-ass elephant standing right in front of me. Because from the first shot of their conversation, you know it's gonna happen eventually, you have to say that he's fine and not completely psychotic and troubled and you'll get it on with him. And boy it was awkward.
First, because the romance itself is never really presented, it's developed through dialog but not really felt happening, there are no events that lead to it, it's just you bothering to come and tell him how nice he is every 5 minutes, and by doing this trying to roleplay a female Shepard's sexual interest for a man I wouldn't be interested even if I was female myself just led to a horrendous gender-bending disaster. But being the curious asshole I am, I followed through.
Now, that sex scene was stupid and ugly and thank god it lasted 2 seconds, because it scarred me enough. It felt both forced and idiotic in the way and timing it happened and it was like my roleplaying persona was being raped by a stranger. A digital one, at that.
Trauma overcome, let's plug in for Mass Effect 2, now all that female shepard awkardness should be gone, right? Let's talk to Jacob and tell him that I don't really mind that's he's cerberus, he should be a fine addition to my squa... WHAT THE FUCK is she throwing herself at him like a complete whore?
Now, in all fairness, aside from Jacob's obviousness the other relationships were a little more contextualized. I ended up pursuing one with Garrus because he was one of the more interesting characters from the first game and in this second one he was even more likable. Of course I felt the same twisted unpleasantness when it finally happened, but this time it was little more bearable. I guess I'm just not ready to try gender-bending with someone that's GRAPHICALLY having sex with another virtual dick.
When it comes to roleplaying games (tabletop ones) it was never an issue, but actually seeing it makes it very, very stupid, especially considering you can't actually choose stuff, you're locked in the Iron cage of branching choices.
What about you? Does this ever bother you? I have to say, between some random ass shots of miranda, that was a pretty good thing you can play. Mass effect 2 really impressed me with some quality stuff.
As I opened the newspaper this morning and started rolling through the world news, I wasn't shocked, I wasn't even surprised at the things I was seeing. It's just numb these days. "Earthquake in Chile kills 300 hundred." "Nope, now it's 400 hundred!". "Storms in Europe kill 51". "Tsunami in Japan kills a bunch a people". "Bomb in Iraq kills 11 from the same family", "Bomb in Baghdad kills 4".
It's normal right? People live and die everyday, but this year started pretty bad with one of the strongest earthquake seasons of all time, with the huge tremor in Haiti, killiong tens of thousands and many more around the pacific/american rift. When you run the numbers, you're not really impressed, because you've seen the so many times, even the pictures lose their effect with prolonged exposure. But if you stop for one second about the multiplying factor of grief, think about the people behind the deaths, like, 5 people crying for the one that died. Sad picture. Really now.
So what do we do? Personally, I finish reading the news, eat my breakfast, turn on my newly acquired gaming rig and start playing Mass Effect to create even more digital death and destruction, to add to the virtual bodycount of the daily slaughter we make every day in games like Bad Company 2, Modern warfare 2, and pretty much every game with a weapon in it, and The Ship adds a lot of "objects" to the concept.
At least we're making the coffin makers happy. Their picture will be fun. Death too, lot's of work for her these days.
As the continuing fallout of the "Indie games are Art and Fun games are Crap" Jim Sterling article, I wanted to discuss something related. What is the problem with having a big studio who makes multi-million dollar games? Sure we all like to complain about how microsoft f*s you up with their cheap strategies to print money off of you, and sure we've seen a dozen movies per year with a stereotipically smug corporate villain who "only wants to make money", but the fact is that when you turn up things in scale and start making things for a million customers, you have to find a way to manage it, and since this IS capitalist ground, a company who makes and publishes games can only do it FOR PROFIT. Genius right?
Of course you don't have to take crap for it all the time, you can start by not buying what they sell, but what I really wanna know is: why are they so antagonized? Even when they deliver in good and sound quality. Mass Effect 2 was awesome. Dragon Age was fun. Modern Warfare 2 has it's downturns (I'm a PC guy), but it was pretty damn good on the console versions. Sure none of these titles bear the mark of intangible art form that causes "oohs" and "aahs" from the awed crowd, but these days, what does? We've had nukes going off, we've had epic scale space marinin'- three times - we've had control over time, we've traveled through it, we've killed dragons, dogs, men - living or otherwise. We did it in many ways too: in a board, in a planet, holding a weapon up close, we've been drawing at the screen and playing music with controls or fake plastic guitars. We've done fake and true in all forms and ways.
Admit it, we're hard to impress these days. But that doesn't mean we can just throw the hot potatoe in the hands of someone and just call them out for it when it drops. The fact that Bioware, Activision, Valve, Remedy and all the names we like to blame for the "generic cookie-cutter" fps games, achieved success at some point must be a statement to some form of quality. Sure it's not all roses, with it come the needs of the "market" and the bullshit DLC that already comes inside a disc and the overpriced crap at $60.
I do understand that some time-honed business practices that involve extortion of money out of the unaware customer make us all weary of the corporate background of large developing/publishing companies and that some of is handiwork failed to impress, to say the least, however, it must be taken into account some of the "producing" in the field of art is not only necessary, because it makes the games possible in terms of finance, but also beneficial. Take the most avowed artists of all time and think about it: the great painters and writers of the renaissance would never have had a chance were it not for the sponsoring that rich houses provided, and, make no mistake, this money was not free of balances and checks to the artist work. In fact, many of the paintings were actually customized to match the sponsor's request. Think about movies too, a good producer is not only necessary for the movie funding, it's also a good way to have a practical mind put to weigh in against the more loose and ambitious mind writers and artists tend to have. I'm gonna take a personal guess here: I think if you give someone too creative an unlimited amount of time and money to create the most beautiful and grand project it can craft, he will never finish it. There must be someone with has his feet on the ground about creating something, it can be no different with videogames.
There's also the issue of marketing. A good number of games I know have been ruined by lack of good corporate smart-assing. How do I know? Beyond Good and Evil? The producer to that game was awesome, it turned out great with all the visuals and the characters and the gameplay was fun as hell. Great game? Did you play it? Chances are, you never even HEARD about it. I didn't. Then someone on Dtoid told me about it. Too late now, it could have made a dev team really stand out. Think how good it would be if there was some marketing behind some of the indie games we've played. Braid would take the cake any day, it's a wonderful experience, and yet, without a publisher to market and send nasty stuff into your mailbox for a year before it's release, it's in the closet yet. The second kind of good corporate bullshit that is absolutely necessary to your game is the people who cut corners. They chop off the artists wings all the time. They're probably really annoying people too, always saying that it can't be done, that's theres not much time left and that it won't look good at the stockholders meeting. F**k them. No, please don't. I absolutely believe that there are people like those behind the production of every game that has ever got a 9-10 here. Please God, let there be someone who will come around Peter Molyneux and say: "shut up about changing the world, finish the story and the level design on the new fable game before october, or a dog will chew your balls." I'm also sure these people are not random lowlifes made to the torment and misery of the people who create the games itself, I'm sure they all understand the process at some level, their douchebaggery comes from a necessary evil: you can't play the perfect game, because it will never be made, you can play the absolutely most perfected product to be delivered in able time that can not only be played by you, but also be sold to another hundred thousand people, in order to cover the costs of producing it AND funding the next project.
Considering the difficulty of an industry who is just starting and settling in, with very few standards defined and a lot to be tried and many mistakes to be made, making games today is quite a challenge. Very few people realize how big it is. Of course I sound like I'm defending the Evil Monster here, but I really hate when people bring uninformed claims and make villains out of nowhere to justify a measly point. I'm sure you all, like me, hate all the bad business practices that make EA look really bad, they don't support their games post release, they make DLC that's already in the game, they shutdown their online support for games still on sale, Ubisoft does that a lot too with it's titles. Of course we want to blame them for making us suck it up. They're not all that bad though, at least this current structure was able to give us a lot to play, entertaining and, in some cases, really clever, humorous, creative stuff. Too bad I have to deal with an even harsher reality where I live, because the price of games is something unbelievably prohibitive, with a game costing as much as half a minimum wager. It's not easy, but we get by with all the steam sales. And some piracy if you don't care. (A game here can cost as much as 150 USD if you go to a retail store. You can get it cheaper if you directly buy as a digital copy, but nonetheless, it's still a lot of money)
I guess I could sum it by this: I defend the motto: "Artists on a leash" as the current way of producing games. I don't think it's perfect but it definitely works. They have to think inside a box and produce some work that isn't the most proudly presented and, often, we have to deal with Dark Void esque titles, things truly forged in the flames of hell. But the leash is generally a good thing because it can keep the machine running, and hopefully in the future we will get a better way of handling this. Until then, I'd rather be stuck with the creatively bankrupt than with watching television. God I hate television. You can't even choose what you're gonna watch. Hooray internets.
Well, I guess I went on for too long and am starting to ramble, thank you for the patience of reading through this, I know it's quite long. Also forgive me for any mistranslations, I have some trouble figuring a few idioms here and there. Portuguese is quite a different language.
Other than that, tell me what you think. Do you think artists should have a free reign over their designs? If so, tell me more. Hopefully, I'd like to hear someone from the inside, because I never really went into a game industry to accompany the whole process, my experience comes from a different segment.
Let's tell a story: Everyone seems to be pretty angry about the evil morons of videogame industry who create the big titles. Apparently they're really cruel bastards who slay puppies in their dreams. It seems that Bioware, Activision, Blizzard, 2K all developed a well-oiled machine to destroy the promises of innovation and creativity and to kill art and shame it's doers. Therefore, everything that is spanned by them is obviously a heave of previously overused crap. Who the hell wants to play like a modern day soldier who shoots arabs? That's cliché, and therefore bad. It's "bankrupt". The new and fashionable adjective.
Conversely, whatever is created by garage-based backwater developing must be some intangible form of art, who is forever pushing the boundaries of videogame existence, with inspiration and spirit never seen before in this form of entertainment. Right?
Bullshit. It's not production values that determine the quality or freedom of games. It's the product itself. Any game, indie or not, must be tried and burned in the fires of it's own merits. We can have simple, cheap to make games that never pushed any boundaries or created something "truly artistic and inspired", play Cave Story. There's nothing new there, but it's such a well executed title in so many ways, that it stands out. Because its GOOD. And it deserves praise.
Stop this madness, there is this constant drive for new and inspired stuff. I recently finished Braid, everyone who has played it felt it, it's good to meet a new idea and feel the rush it causes, to discover, to embrace the ever changing universe around you, to urge for the realization of something you never expected. Why is it so inexplicably good? Because it's rare. Truly new and unique ideas don't come often. And when they do, they often come wrapped around layers of misconception and flawed execution.
So I beg of you: embrace the 7. It's the new 10. You know what I want today? I want to have a lot of 7 grade titles around me. Good, solid games, with solid fun and lots of tried and tested gameplay mechanics and good stories. The 3 and a half star movies, that make us remember that, while there's not much new in the business, we can still sit through a good 10 hour shooter with lots of learned lessons. Enjoy the adequate games. The 5th metal gear solid, the 7th call of duty, the 4th halo, it may not be a jaw-dropping experience, but you're sure to have a good time.
And then, one day, you will get the pleasure of sitting in front of your screen and seeing a true masterpiece unfold, one that defies all your notions of fun and exciting gaming, and it will rest on its laurels, truly knowing that it has earned your 8, your 9, because it took the extra mile that turns a solid game into a masterpiece.
Maybe it is 2030 and we're looking at the trailer and release date for the new and groundbreaking God Of War 19: How Kratos Fought his way out of his mothers womb. Ok. So it's not new, it's probably not groundbreaking. It's just another 3rd persion action game. Is it good? Well, it's certainly gory. And it has its high points, like when you rip through her placenta and smash her intestines outwards. Awesome.
It also makes me wonder how much of good and new each game we see needs. You see, I believe that in the future we will look at gaming with a more forgiving hand in terms of innovation. Sure you can pat someone in the back for bringing something new, but it won't be this whole fuss we see today. Not that it's unfounded fuss, but fuss nonetheless.
"Beware of this piece of metal, it can process your brain!" they said. With now about 30 years of videogame, we have come from simplistic squares on a tube to 3d technology, and boy, did it shake the land. It made us hungry for more, for new games who could harvest the full power of the new hardware, better looking games, greater zones to explore, more stuff to do.
But at some point, the new, the new game mode, the new genre, the newest and most exciting news of the planet gets old, and a second struggle begins: the search for the good. Sure we could live in a place of proverbial perfection where game developers would constantly innovate while making the best out of everything they create, but we don't. Sucks right?
A little look back? MMOs, Ultima was fun, but had some problems, Everquest 2 was awesome but had too much grinding, then came WoW, with not so astounding graphics and bringing not so new stuff to the table, but it was done right in so many ways that we didn't really care about the new, as long as it was good. Much like the "retro fad" these days. Mega Man 10 is there, with is 8-bit goodness. It is a testament to the true quality behind games, and I think that, in the future, we will cherish the good stuff a lot more than the new one, because invention is something that cannot be relied upon.
So, when we imagine the future and we wonder what will we expect from the games of 2030, I think we won't really bother playing Modern Warfare 9, which is a slightly tweaked and fine tuned version of the shooter game we see today. And we will congratulate activision for bringing us a new installment of a good ol' franchise, with a new and better developed story and a more balanced, with a few new guns here and there just to keep things fresh. We won't bother wading through waves of enemies in the new god of war game, as long it maintains the kind of attention to detail and quality, mindless fun we know and love.
Of course, at times, gaming will reach a stagnant pool of more-of-the-same, where it craves for new ideas and new technology to blow it out of there and throw it into a new cycle of creativity, but to me, the moments where the videogame industry truly shines, are those where it has estabilished itself both in terms of the hardware it works on, but also in terms of the style of the games it produces. It has been so in the past, Metal Gear Solid 3 and Shadow of Colossus both date from the apex of Playstation 2 success, the Mario Games basked in the power of the brightest days of the nintendo empire of old.
Will God Of War 4 suck and we will forget about it? (It's obvious the third game will be awesome...) Will we hate the next Starcraft and wish it was never made, therefore killing the franchise and maybe the genre forever? Your guess is as good as mine.
What I do believe, however, is that we will see our titles become a lot less groundbreaking as the years come and there's few left to improve in terms of graphical technology, processing power, styles of play. Once we get our gaming needs covered, we will enter a new time when instead of waiting for the next alien space battle with blue monkeys who surf the internet with a ponytail, we will just enjoy a lot when Liam Neeson's daughter gets kidnapped, and we all know what we must do.