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9:31 AM on 08.07.2014  

The Engaging Dead



For the past few months I've been working on the various parts of my video analysis for season one of Telltale's The Walking Dead. I always come away from these experiences with a number of lessons learned and things to look out for next time, but one of the lessons this time around was completely unexpected. I have resolved to never do a video review of a game I've played only once through.

There are many reasons I came to this conclusion, one of which being that I'm not merely seeking to do a consumer review. An in-depth analysis requires a much closer look and understanding of what ties a game together thematically and mechanically, and you typically won't have as good an understanding of that if you've only gone through the game a single time.

What I will be focusing on today, however, is a slightly different experience you get revisiting a previously played title. Upon playing a game a second time, with no surprises in store and an idea of what to expect, the game's highlights and flaws become notably stronger or weaker. In the case of The Walking Dead, a game that was only bested by Dishonored in my choice for Game of the Year in 2012, I realized that this "excellent" experience was nowhere near as good as I had once thought it was.



Before I explain why, I need to first explain what I consider the most crucial aspect not only in video games, but in all of entertainment; engagement. A lot of simple terms like "fun" are used to describe a good game, but such phrases are extremely limiting. Can you truly describe every game that you've ever enjoyed as "fun"? Are horror games, for example, "fun" even if the sheer feeling of terror and shock is anything but?

It is much more accurate to refer to these experiences as being engaging. A game doesn't need to be designed for fun, nor does it need to be designed for joy, in order to effectively engage the player. When you are solving a puzzle in The Legend of Zelda, you are engaged. When you're low on ammunition and outnumbered by Covenant forces in Halo, you are engaged. When you're hurrying to harvest all the tomatoes in time to go into town and see your preferred love interest in <em>Harvest Moon</em>, you are engaged.

The most important part of entertainment is to make sure the audience's brains are still operating. Even the most basic, simple piece of entertainment requires the audience's brains to be working in some fashion. From more conscious efforts as following the plot to subconscious ones that translate that quick cut into a scene change, the brain is always working. So a good video game is one that has the player engaged at all times.

Perhaps another day I'll go into how and why this can create a huge rift in more "gaming literate" players than new or "casual" players, but let's keep this on topic with The Walking Dead.



It's not easy to craft an interactive experience that keeps a player invested in its story. Most action-oriented games are broken up into long segments of combat arenas followed by brief, rushed moments of story. It's hard for a player to become invested in characters and the world in this manner because very little time is being spent with them, or at least outside of combat. Western role-playing games like Dragon Age and Mass Effect try to make up for this by allowing the player to speak with and get to know their comrades, but each character has a limited set of actions as they go on long monologues detailing the universe as much as their history. It becomes too easy to just tune out during this exposition because very little effort is made to pull the player into the moment.

The Walking Dead has these moments as well, but what Telltale excels at in this series is providing the player options and, most importantly, conflict during many of these sequences. Hershel pries deeply into Lee's business, and is frequently trying to catch him in a lie. Lee has to decide to be honest about the death of Clementine's parents or to try and hide the information from her. Every interaction with Kenny, no matter how civil, is like a battle to be for or against him.

Conversation becomes engaging in The Walking Dead because you have to manage your relationships with a variety of characters, all while under a time limit for each option. The more heated a discussion becomes, the more distractions present, and the more intense the experience becomes. This makes every interaction with the other characters of The Walking Dead more interesting than interacting with nearly any other character in a video game, all of which feel so, well, video gamey. Relationships aren't measured by some "likability" bar, but instead through notifications of what a character will remember and how they felt about it.

Even on a second playthrough, even when I knew what course the game's story would take, these moments had me on the edge of my seat, eyes darting from one corner of the monitor to the other, mulling over my choices. Equally thrilling were the brief moments of combat, where the game placed a gun in my hand and expected me to start shooting zombies. The less calm things became, the more interested in the game I was.

Then there were the moments of calm, and this is where The Walking Dead fails spectacularly. While many games have two states of being, action and cut-scene, The Walking Dead tries to provide a variety of different moments throughout. Intense action, dramatic dialog, calm discussion, and slow-paced puzzle solving. The problem is that the slow-paced puzzle solving isn't, well, very puzzling.



Most of the time spent "solving puzzles" in The Walking Dead will simply be steering Lee from one end of an environment to the other, then back and forth again. Telltale was no doubt trying to avoid another "Cat Hair Mustache" fiasco of poor puzzle design, but they ended up falling in the exact opposite hole. It's all way too easy, and when you're playing through the game a second time, walking from one end of a yard to another becomes boring and tiresome.

Yet every episode but the fifth is filled with such filler. The only time the game manages to break away are in the first and fourth episodes, where Lee is forced to try and manipulate the environment to avoid or kill zombies. These are, perhaps, the best puzzle solving moments in the entire game. Everything else is just making sure the episode doesn't end too quickly.

Oddly enough, many of these moments feel like they eat up the most time of the game, even if that's not quite true. Yet they are bad enough, especially when you already know what to do, that it drags the entire experience down. Episodes I used to speed through in a single night were now split into two because I would grow bored.

A well designed game doesn't need the player to be ignorant of its systems or solutions in order to have fun. Even a game like Harvest Moon or Phoenix Wright are entertaining throughout their repetition (though for the latter, much of that is simply due to how much evidence you must burn through in order to complete the game, much of it becoming jumbled in one's memory). Yet the puzzles in The Walking Dead require no skill or thought at all. They fail to effectively engage the player.

This has actually caused me to be hesitant about playing The Wolf Among Us, despite getting the entire season for free, and The Walking Dead season two. I'm afraid that I will not enjoy either now that I've realized how terrible much of the design in The Walking Dead season one is, that I'll be looking at both with the same critical eye.

I really enjoyed playing The Walking Dead and I feel it does a lot of great things that other games can learn from. However, it is no longer as beloved by me as it once was, and I am more sure than ever that the massive praise it and other Telltale games have received are in large part due to the widespread desire for games to "grow up".

Yet, for me, a game that fails to keep me engaged at all times is a heavily flawed experience. This process of making a video for The Walking Dead has forever tarnished my once wonderful view of it. Honestly, I prefer it that way, too.

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10:23 AM on 07.30.2014  

My Year as a Games Writer

Two major events in my life occurred since I last wrote on Destructoid. The first was that I had lost my job at the time, leaving me unemployed. The second, in an ironic twist of fate, was that I was invited to be a front page writer for GamersWithJobs.com. This came on the heels of my To Write, To Write, L'Chaim blog post, where I bemoaned the feeling that I was no closer to being a games writer than ever.

A lot has changed for me in that year, and I figured I'd share some of my experiences in that time period with you fine folks of the Destructoid community.

Note that I'm not really a professional writer, in that I'm not being paid to regularly write about games as a job. I'm back to working a crappy 9 to 5, this one paying less than my previous job whilst forcing me to use a mangled network of back-end systems and rusted, broken tools to perform essentially the same tasks as my previous gig. So, in essence, I'm still struggling to claw my way out of the mire and muck of cubicle work so that I might find a place in the world as a real boy... erm, I mean writer.



Even so, there's a lot that has been learned in this struggle, most importantly the knowledge that I am good at what I do. It feels conceited to say so, but I've spent enough time speaking with other writers and helping to provide feedback to know that I'm not just some hack trying to play against the big leagues. Sure, there's still plenty of room for refinement, and I'm always in search for how to write a better review, how to expand my vocabulary, and traveling that fine line between entertainment and insight. The fact that I'm still working on these skills, however, means I have developed enough to acknowledge strengths and weaknesses within not only myself, but others as well.

Which still makes me sound a bit like a prick, but hopefully you get me. As someone that has struggled with a low self-esteem their whole life, it is very valuable to be confident in one's abilities.

Valuable and important, because you'll always be misguided into believing that you're pretty much nothing. I don't even have the pleasure of being trolled, oddly enough, and Lord knows I've said things that might warrant trolling. I try to avoid it, but sometimes you cross into controversial topics and spit out an opinion that goes against the grain. I don't even have enough of a following for people to scream at me when I say controversial stuff that pisses them off.

Every week Twitter sends me an e-mail letting me know how many people see my tweets, respond, and click the link to go check out what I've written or shared. Facebook provides similar feedback on my page whenever I post something new. What I've learned from these analytics is that, even if I get retweeted by notable people, nobody seems to give a damn.


Somewhere in there is God's indecipherable equation for a Hot Pocket heated to a perfectly consistent internal temperature.


A lot of experts (at what?) will tell you about the importance of social media, but the reality is that social media does not build up a decent following. Or at least, it cannot be relied upon. If you pop up on someone's Twitter and they don't know you, they're more likely to skip on past. Why should they care what your thoughts on Way of the Samurai 3 are? They have important cat pictures to share!

If anything, social media has begun to take the form of randomized RSS feeds. A small, dedicated following will share what you've written, and if your headline is click-baity enough or already pertains to some hot topic of interest, then you'll get a bunch of people checking out that one page. But they will skim the article, close the tab, and move on back to Facebook or Twitter. Maybe you'll manage to obtain new followers, but, well, that leads to the next problem.

Obtaining followers willing to share your work is a whole other trial I haven't even figured out. Chances are when you're just starting to write, the only people that will be following you on social media will be friends and acquaintances. Now the question is, are they a part of your target demographic?

For me, the answer is, sadly, no, not many. As a result, very few people will share what I've written, and as such my works don't get spread very far beyond a limited network. As a result, it is very, very easy to get lost in analytics and numbers. Only a couple of my YouTube videos have surpassed 100 views, this article barely broke a dozen comments, so on and so forth.

This is where I've found myself struggling, wondering what the whole point was, if I should even bother.

Perhaps the most important lesson of all is that the numbers don't mean much. While my name hasn't exactly exploded across the games writing sphere, being on the front page of GamersWithJobs has certainly gotten me exposed to people that otherwise wouldn't have been reading a single word I've put online. I frequently get members of that community telling me that they make time to read every article I post on the front page there, and even looking out for when I update my blog or other projects with new content. They may be quiet, they may not always comment and they may not have the dedication to social media to share my work, but it is doing its job. It is entertaining and providing insight to people that are as enthused about games as I am.



That's the real lesson to anyone looking to write about games. It's not about instant gratification and it isn't about numbers. It's about satisfaction in your own work, followed by the sincere satisfaction of others that read it. What matters is getting it in front of people and letting them know who you are.

If you're writing a community blog here, you've already got a good start. Destructoid has a very diverse community not only in regards to what people play, but simply what sort of content they're looking to read. But it's also important not to become too comfortable in just one place. I myself am struggling with getting my work out to other locations, taking that all too intimidating step into freelancing.

But that is a topic for another time.

Until then, I hope you enjoyed reading this, I hope it was encouraging to a number of you out there, and I also hope you'll stick with me as I continue to post more thoughts on my blog here.

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9:53 PM on 05.28.2013  

Violence: Sky Hook to the Eye



Most good stories involve conflict. It presents an obstacle to the protagonists that is easy to understand, creates motivation for the characters, and provides a perfect physical manifestation of our hero's internal conflict. The easiest way to represent this conflict is through physical violence.

Why do we want our hero to defeat the villain? Well, the villain is out to harm the innocent for his own selfish gain. Oh, well, okay then. Bad guy is clearly a chungus and Hiro Protagonist is definitely our idealized savior we all strive to be. I'm on board with that!

Of course, there are other forms of conflict as well. In shitty ass romantic comedies, there will usually be some sort of misunderstanding between the Two Fucking Idiots[sup]TM[/sup] that results in conflict. Once that conflict resolves, they can resume being a pair of morons engaging in coitus together. Hurray!

In video games, however, it is rare for conflicts to manifest in a form other than violence. Conflict can be engaging for a player, and the easiest way to present the conflict is through violence. Combine this with how much easier it is to tell a story where the conflict is violence, and you have a medium built off of physically pummeling the opponent into submission.



It is a disturbing thought, especially when you begin to consider how many turtles and sentient fungi Mario manages to kill in a given adventure. Yet violence itself, as used in story-telling, is a mere tool. It is not inherently evil in a fictional setting. We're not drawn to the entertainment because we want to pretend to kill people, we're drawn to it because it is exciting. Having to duck and dodge fireballs, arrows, or bullets while knowing precisely when to toss the grenade, where to fire the hook shot, or when to jump gets the player's mind going. They're always thinking, always observing, and always looking for a new solution to the obstacle before them.

Tetris is a simplified version of all these ideas. What is the conflict? Pieces continue to fall from the sky, and you must get rid of them. How does one do this? By arranging the blocks in an uninterrupted line across the screen. The more rows you have stacked, the more will vanish. This conflict is only made more rich by providing the pavlovian temptation of a score system. How high in level can you get and how high of a score can you achieve? Now the player is striving to arrange those blocks in much more efficient patterns. All the while the blocks fall faster, making the obstacle more difficult to overcome. The player soon must sacrifice the high score chance for simple survival, a small reprieve from the pressure of blocks falling from the sky, buying at least one more additional row.

Tetris, however, has no narrative. While the "end" of the game results in a rocket taking off to the stars (or the White House), it was not the player's goal. The outcome is not representative of the mechanics.



Now let's examine Catherine, a puzzle game that throws a story into the mix. Each night protagonist Vincent has nightmares where he is forced to scale towers of blocks. As time progresses, row after row of blocks fall into the empty abyss below. Vincent must move the blocks so that he can continue to climb, but there are a variety of puzzles that threaten his life.

Vincent must climb the tower to survive, but he must also be careful to avoid all the deadly traps. Now we have a narrative explanation for the mechanics of failure. The inability to solve a puzzle results in a fail state, a fail state represented in the story as the death of our not-quite-plucky protagonist.

Characters can die in Catherine, yet when people say things like "violent video game" I highly doubt it is one of the titles that comes to mind. Why? Well, simple. There's a lot more going on than just the puzzles. Vincent is also going to the bar with his friends every night. He's interacting with fellow patrons. He is drinking more than he probably ought to be. He is also gripped by indecision. Does he want to stay with his girlfriend Katherine and get married? Or does he want to continue living a free, laid-back life with the much less ambitious Catherine?

The mechanics, the climbing of the tower, are meant to be representations of Vincent's internal struggles. The nightmares are forcing him to confront a lot of his inner fears and determine what course of action he should take. While the gameplay mechanics and story seem completely separated at first, the two are actually linked together in symbolic ways.

So while there is a good deal of violence in Catherine, it doesn't come off as violent.



The issue with violence is that a lot of games are gratuitously violent, even when trying to attach meaning. This is a lot of what Spec Ops: The Line was trying to tackle. These Call of Duty games cannot treat war as a serious subject when the violent scenarios they portray are depicted in such a ludicrous, glorified manner. In Spec Ops: The Line, the violence is used to drive the point home. In Call of Duty, the violence is the entire reason for being.

The recently released Bioshock: Infinite also happens to link violence with the narrative, but it seems to have been in a much more subtle manner. Many players and critics have been noting how the game almost feels like it should be an RPG instead, that the violent shooting and melee mechanics just clash with the tone.

I'd argue this is intentional. Booker DeWitt is an outsider. He does not belong in Columbia for many reasons, one of them involving the twist at the end. He is a foreign element in this wonderful, colorful, blissfully ignorant city in the clouds.

His mere presence results in a sky hook to the eye.



It is almost foreshadowing the events to come. Booker's first real interaction with the denizens of Columbia ends in blood and bodies littering the celebration. Over time, his presence gives fuel and fire to a revolution that tears the city apart.

This is all core to who Booker DeWitt is. He's a flawed human being with blood on his hands. It would not wash away in water, and try as he might he cannot find redemption with a gun in his hand. Yet fighting and dying is all he knows. He tries to fight for something righteous, but it all ends in death.

Then there's Elizabeth. Introduced as a Disney Princess (quite literally), this young, idealistic woman follows Booker as a form of savior...and is then appalled when she witnesses him fighting and killing other men. "Monster!" she cries.



Yes, Booker is a monster. Elizabeth, however, is not...yet. And this, I believe, is one of the core themes of Bioshock: Infinite. As the game progresses, Elizabeth becomes more and more accustomed to the violence surrounding her. The clothes on her person change with her, becoming less the young, innocent girl locked in a tower and more a powerful, decisive woman...capable of horrifying things.

The violence is shocking at first, yes. I, too, was stunned at seeing a man get a hook to his eye, or shoving the whirling blades into another man's jugular. It seemed out of place, like it was intended for a much more juvenile game.

Yet the shock and surprise, the discomfort, it's the point. Over time the player adjusts to it as well, just as Elizabeth does, as Booker already has. The shock and surprise is the entire point.

It's just one of many tricks Ken Levine pulls in Infinite. He's a man that likes to take gameplay mechanics and twist them around in a narrative manner. As a result, the violence is given purpose. It is a tool, and it is a tool well used.

We should not jump to the conclusion that violence in video games is inherently bad, or that we have too much of it. While it is true that there are far fewer creative types of game than need be, there are still plenty of games like Harvest Moon, or Animal Crossing, or Cooking Mama. Not all games are violent.


Video Games. They're violent.


Yet if a game does make use of violent mechanics and design, we should not automatically reduce its value. Otherwise games like Catherine, 9 Hours 9 Persons 9 Doors, Phoenix Wright, and yes, even Bioshock: Infinite would not be as valuable to our medium as they are.

Instead of seeing a man take a sky hook to the eye and thinking "That's horrifying, it shouldn't even be there", try considering why it was put there in the first place. The answer you find could be surprisingly enlightening.

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10:17 PM on 05.22.2013  

Demographics



I'm not really bothered by Microsoft's press conference. Sure, I've tossed my fair share of snark onto Twitter as anyone else has. That's what it's there for, right? That and retweeting everything George Takei says.

Thing is, I got exactly what I was expecting. In fact, I got more than I could have bargained for. Microsoft has been using the Xbox 360 as a testing ground for all of their upcoming projects, and in the end their new interface was just a beta for the Xbox One (which I shall simply refer to as the XOne, and imagine it capable of transforming into some sort of murderous death drone because that's what a name like XOne brings to mind). All that television talk? The logical next step. ESPN and Sports? Business as usual. Call of Duty DLC lands on Xbox first? Spoilers, Jesus dies.

I'd be lying if I said I didn't care about it, though. I'm an enthusiast. Of course I care. I want a gaming machine to be targeted my way first and foremost. I want Microsoft to care about me, and to cater to my wants and desires.

But I'd also be lying if I said I believed I'm their target demographic anymore. Hell, I'm surprised they're even bothering with E3. I really don't think the show has any sort of mainstream appeal, unless maybe the local news stations are trying to explain why the roads are more clogged than usual to the average commuter.

So who is Microsoft's primary target? I really don't know. I don't think it's mom and dad, because they aren't going to be watching the announcement. I don't think it's your typical tech-head, because they already have a Roku box for half the price (assuming they even use such a device at all instead of just ad-hocing their computer into a media server bursting with pirated media across their entire home). Maybe it's the typical eSport energy drink chugging Family Guy loving "bro-gamer" (even though there are a surprising number of females in this category, so that term isn't quite accurate), but I'm even skeptical of that.


Almost twenty years ago these guys were telling me Mortal Kombat was the bomb in Phantoms and that Final Fantasy VI was crap.


I think Microsoft's target demographic is a nebulous, undefined thing that they just imagine is "the consumer". This is why information on used games and always-on is so ill-defined at the moment. They are targeting everyone but the enthusiasts, because all of those other consumers don't ask questions like "If you have to connect to the Internet once a day, then is it really any different from always-on?" They just read the bullets on the box and say "sounds good!", without truly considering why those bulleted points are specifically written to seem better than the competition.

What really bothers me is that this is the typical attitude towards demographics in general in this industry. Big time business men are targeting the 18-35 white male demographic because they believe that to be the typical consumer.

Okay, the 13-35 white male, because no one is so naive as to believe companies aren't counting on little Timmy's parents buying him the latest Grand Theft Auto despite the M rating.

But let's assume 18-35 is still accurate. Have you ever really thought about that age gap? How absolutely huge it is?

To illustrate what I mean, I was kind of a jack ass when I was eighteen. Sure, there were some things about me that haven't changed. I loved Metroid, I was fascinated by games with great mechanics, and I was a greater fan of single-player and co-op experiences than competitive multiplayer. However, I was also convinced that Japan was a backwards country that was falling behind in the realm of good game design. I played very few Japanese made games at this point, was getting sick of anime, and even said a couple of harsh things that caused permanent harm to what could have been a really awesome friendship.

Ten years later, at the age of 28, I wish the Western gaming industry would learn something from Japan. I wish more Western RPG's would play like Dragon's Dogma instead of Skyrim or Dragon Age. I wish we could have the sheer variety of characters and settings that you see in Japanese games. Hell, playing 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors has me wondering what it would be like if a Japanese developer made a game like Telltale's The Walking Dead.


I'm pretty sure I prayed to God for this game when I was six years old. Meanwhile, Bethesda continues to recycle Morrowind's mocap and A.I.


In other words, what I want to play at the age of 28 is not necessarily the same as what I played at the age of 18.

So why is the gaming industry lumping me into a single demographic category as if I haven't changed at all?

This monday Jim Sterling lamented Namco Bandai trying the spray-and-pray approach to marketing that so many other AAA Developers take. With the Xbox One, I think we're seeing that same strategy on a marketing level.

It's astounding to me. The games industry continues to employ marketing teams that have absolutely no clue what they're doing. I mean, that's the only explanation, right? The games industry hasn't truly expanded to mainstream levels, and it probably never will. Games aren't a passive medium. You can't sit down and just enjoy a show of pictures go by like with television and film. It requires input, and it thus requires the user to learn a set of rules, guidelines, and instructions.

That's simply too much work for most mainstream audiences. Video games on their own will never be as popular as those other mediums, because the interactive nature many of us love will never catch on.


Pictured: Apparently, the 18-35 white male demographic


Thus Microsoft is trying to cater to a different audience, cast a net in a different part of the sea. The problem is, does that audience want to pay a minimum of $400 for a device that they have to literally tell to switch to television? Or are they fine with just their television?

If I were Microsoft, I'd be hoping I hired a really, really good marketing team to convince the masses that, yes, they do need to spend $400 on a pointless, bloated, consumer-hating piece of technology.

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10:39 AM on 05.16.2013  

To Write, To Write, L'Chaim

In the past I've mentioned some of my history as a wannabe games writer. Once upon a time I thought I was good at it, that I could easily beat out other games writers, and that I would surely be some big name writer by time I turn 30.

Well, next month I turn 28 and, while that still leaves two years for one of my many dreams to come true, it's still no closer to being a reality than when I was 21. The only real change is that now I'm spending most of my day sitting in a cubicle, copy-and-pasting predetermined content into a bunch of text fields and calling it "web development".

Okay, that's a lie. I don't even have a cubicle. I have a shelf.



One day upon my Twitter feed I see [s]VentureBeat [/s]GamesBeat link to this little community article. Trevor Osz reflects on how he started gaming, how he got his job at GameStop, and how he was the font of gaming facts and knowledge amongst his friends. Now, he has chosen to venture forth on that narrow yet crowded path. He yearns to be a games writer.

All I could think while reading was, "Why?"

No, really, why? Why do you want to write about games?

This was a realization that I forced myself to confront four years ago, after I graduated from College and was confronted with unemployment. I tried to join a number of game journalism social networks, all populated by wannabes and hopefuls while very few in the industry contributed. In fact, I'd say the top reason I know the name Ben Kuchera is because he was one of the few that would participate. He was brutally honest, and I appreciated that from him.

Yet when I looked upon all of these other wannabe writers, I noticed that a lot of them weren't...well, good. In addition, whenever asked why they wanted to write, they justified their desire with how long they have played games for, or how often.

Just because you like games doesn't mean you should be writing about them. More so, just because "anyone can write", doesn't mean you can write well. It's like the end of that film Ratatouille, where the critic Anton Ego realizes what Gusteau really meant by the title of his book "Anyone Can Cook". It's not necessarily saying that anyone can cook well, but a great, exceptional cook can come from anywhere.

The same is true of writing. It is something everyone is capable of at a base level, but to be an exceptional writer...that is something different.



Though the cold reality is that a lot of professional writers out there aren't necessarily very talented, either. Or perhaps they are intentionally edited down to be very factual and simple, just as most newspapers are written at a low comprehension level so they can appeal to as wide an audience as possible. That's also where games writing becomes even more complicated.

Okay, so let's say you actually do love writing. You've reflected back on your life and realized that you've always been writing, and if video games did not exist you'd just be finding something else to write about. This is the conclusion I came to, as the first thing I ever did with a computer was open Microsoft Word and try writing my own books. This habit still hasn't died, as on occasion I'll try my hand at writing a story. So yes, I want to write.

Now let's focus on video games. How do I want to write about video games? Well, that's the tricky part. In truth, I think the state of games writing is in a flux. I spoke with the late Bill Kunkel once about the industry, and one of the things he had lamented was that game reviews were an entry-level angle of writing. This seemed strange to me, but in some ways it makes sense. Give the new guy the terrible shovel-ware so the top writers can have the "quality" content. Yet you still have the same people writing reviews as you have churning out press releases. Is this right? Is the ability to find a story relevant when it comes to discussing the merits and flaws of a game? Do we want critics, or do we want consumer advice?

Then there are the increasing amounts of op/ed pieces on the Internet, focusing on a writer's thoughts on a subject. Who should be allowed to write these? What authority do these opinions come from?

It is a reality I've had to face. I've come to the realization that there are certain aspects of games writing that I don't want to do. I'm not interested in the "journalism" aspect. I don't care to find out about what sort of DLC packs this game will have, or shmoozing up to a PR representative in hopes for an exclusive set of screenshots. I don't want to write previews, which are not supposed to be critiques but feature and expectation lists. I want to critique a game, and if it is incomplete I want to give my honest feedback.


Oh look, an image that has something to do with video games


I want to be a games critic. I want to build a career akin to Roger Ebert's in film. I want to analyze and dissect what makes these games work.

The problem is, does anyone want this sort of thing? Sure, a few people managed to build a real career out of it. Yahtzee Croshaw is probably our first real recognizable games writer known for nothing more than his critiques, though he had to package them up with a crude sense of humor. Jim Sterling can also be viewed as a critic at this point as well.

Yet what I end up looking to are the many critics on YouTube. Long-form analysis such as Tasteful, Understated Nerd Rage, Errant Signal, or Matthew Matosis. Just as there was a New Wave of British Heavy Metal, perhaps there's a new wave of games criticism coming. I would truly like to be a part of that wave.

But in the end, I'm going to do it by doing what I'd be doing anyway. I'm going to continue writing about games, and I'm going to do my own video series. I've updated it here a few times, but in truth I'm only doing Ramble Pak 64 because I enjoy it. I like writing it, I like capturing the video footage, and I like editing the video together.

I don't like the audio portion of it, but what can you do. At least 3/4ths of the process is enjoyable.



That, my friends, is the secret, though. It's not about getting into an industry or making a career of it. It's about doing what you're doing. Even if you have some shitty 9 to 5 job pummeling the soul out of you day after day, draining you of the energy, making you lethargic to all things, try and find some time to do what you love.

Writing about games should have no greater goal for you than to have fun doing it. While there may always be that dream, and while it's good to at least put forth an effort such as pitching article ideas to various sites, you should not start writing because you decide to be a games journalist or writer. You should become a games journalist or writer because you love writing.

Which brings me back to Trevor Osz and his article on GamesBeat. I cannot help but sigh, both wistfully and exasperatingly.

Yes, he knows about games. Yes, he loves games.

But does he love writing?

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1:44 PM on 05.13.2013  

Aliens, Mandarins, Ghosts, Oh My

Man, a lot and yet nothing at all has happened since I last posted here in April. Let me see if I can summarize.

Personal life stuff happened that got me a bit down in the dumps. I discovered some amazing all-female Japanese symphonic metal bands, which kick-started what I like to call "Total Weaboo Mode" in which I started to watch a crap-ton of live-action Japanese film and television. If your interest in Japan extends beyond anime and Japanese role-playing games, then I would recommend checking out the films Shall We Dance? and Departures on Netflix Instant. Note that I specifically mean the original Japanese Shall We Dance? from 1996 or so. In terms of television, you can't go wrong with Densha Otoko, Akihabara@Deep, or Dekichatta Kekkon. Maybe I'll discuss these films/shows in future blogs in greater detail.


Akihabara@Deep is a seriously fun show. Check it out.


On the gaming front, things have been moving slowly. Despite a huge pile of unplayed or incomplete games, I went back and pumped several more hours into Castle Crashers. Ended up leveling an all-melee Peasant character into bad assery and completed all the game's arenas with him. While I recall wondering how that game spent so long in development when I first played, the fact that I could have such an incredible time replaying really stands as a testament to all the effort they put in. At some point, I'll be grabbing a copy of Battleblock Theater.

Other than that, slowly progressing through Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon on the 3DS. It's a great game, but it fails to really have any hooks in me. It's more a game that I really enjoy when I get to playing it, but for some reason I'm never really drawn back to it. This doesn't happen as often as when I was younger, truth told. Now, however, I've started Bioshock Infinite, and I sit here at work typing this up thinking "Man, if only I was back home playing Infinite".


Behold, bad assery is happening


I'll have more to say on that game in the future as well. Short summary: liking it a lot, but there are some ways you can just tell they focus tested the game a little too much with the assumed mainstream crowd. I'll discuss it in more depth on my series RamblePak 64.

Which is where I'll end this brief update. See, one of the other things keeping me busy was my huge and, for me at least, disappointing analysis of Aliens: Colonial Marines. I was so excited for it, but the sheer length and the many flaws with the show's script just has me feeling like it was all a bunch of wasted effort.

Fortunately I also made a much shorter one about Iron Man 3's use of The Mandarin.

I share both with you guys in hopes that you'll find redeeming qualities. Putting these videos together is a lot of hard work, and has only reinforced the knowledge that it takes a lot of effort even to make a shitty product. I hope you'll indulge me and watch at least the Mandarin one (seeing as the Aliens one is so friggin' long), and next time I come around blogging, I'll have something more substantial and exclusive to Destructoid.

Hope you've all been well!




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12:09 PM on 04.03.2013  

The PAXperience


I fought Destructoid, but Destructoid won


When I first came home from PAX East 2011, I described it as a taste of what Heaven must be like. If that was a mere taste, then this year was an entire spoon full.

The previous two years I tried to do and see as much as possible, darting between panels and the Expo Floor trying to miss as little as I could. This year I tried a different approach. I instead chose to focus on the Expo Hall, concerts, board games and social gatherings while ignoring the panels and some other activities.

As a result, I had the best PAX ever. I did not have a chance to meet with any members of the Destructoid community outside of a quick run-in with Hamza and whoever was wearing The Helmet(TM), but I did manage to spend much time with my friends over at GamersWithJobs (I'm sorry, Destructoid, you know I love you, but no one shall have my heart like GamersWithJobs).

Between games of The Wonderful 101, Mercenary Kings, The Last of Us, Remember Me and more, the Curse party where I discovered I like dance music as long as I'm shit-faced enough, and a variety of board and card games I got to try with friends, I also got to experience the concerts. Seeing Those Who Fight and The Protomen with old friends from College and new allies in meat space, head banging together, jumping and throwing the horns, it's a wonderful experience. Some might describe it as spiritual, as a collective group experiences the same chemical-flooded brain haze at the same time, bonding in a hot and sweaty chamber of hard rock and metal.

It is epic.


The GamersWithJobs 3DS Advocates at PAX East


I thought I was fortunate that The Protomen would be playing near my town a week later. Sadly, none of my friends were able to go that night, but I figured "what the Hell, it'll be like reliving PAX all over again". My Post-PAX Depression would be soothed ever so slightly while others continued to wallow in the reality that is the non-PAX world.

What a fool I was to believe that atmosphere would carry over. Throughout the night I approached people that looked fun, interesting, those who felt like they'd know the secret knock, a sort of password that could take the form of Live Long and Prosper, or the Wilhelm Scream, or some other small piece of nerd culture.

"Hey, have you heard the opening act before?" "You get to check out The Protomen at PAX?" "You get to see them play with Powerglove last year?"

I asked all of these questions to a variety of folks, hoping to get some sort of reaction. Some sort of response that would start a friendly conversation. The advantage here was that everyone would be reasonably local! Our friendship, our bond, didn't have to end after the concert, but could continue for weekends after. Theoretically.

In actuality, I was met with short, curt, "no" responses before they physically shifted their bodies in an effort to shut me out. A complete disinterest in speaking with me. After an hour of trying to speak to people, I finally settled onto the main floor, waiting the concert to begin. Alone.



Instantly my mind went to the week before, standing beside friends new and old, banging my head, throwing the horns, singing along (as best as I could hear myself) with the music. Now, I would be left to bang my head and throw the horns alone.

I left the concert and hung out with my other friends. Thirteen dollars spent be damned, I was not going to tarnish my more recent, joyful, exuberant memory of the concert with a lonely one.

PAX isn't about the games. It isn't about the panels. It isn't about the industry members you get to briefly shake hands with. It's about the conversations you get to have.

True, there are some total ass maggots at the Expo, too. As hard as we try we shall never recreate Eden on Earth. I overheard a guy discussing the first two Bioshock games, trying to recall who developed the second. "2K Marin," I pipe up. "A number of previous Irrational developers split off and formed a new studio." The guy shrugs, "Yeah whatevers", and continues to ignore me. Asshole. Other folks were willing to shove people in the Expo Hall, or to stand around obliviously blocking the path of others, or potentially even cut in line.

Yet these folks are not the majority. The majority of folks are willing to take part in a communal joke, tossing about beach balls while waiting for the expo to open up, willing to step up and ask "Hey, what board game is that?", willing to hold your camera to take a random photo, to get into an hour-long conversation about the entire Halo franchise.

Or perhaps the highlight, a discussion with a nineteen year old boy in line for a copy of Luigi's Mansion. Now, my recent interactions with this demographic have left me jaded. I have debated with those that would call Activision a good company, who expect more games to be like Call of Duty, who feel Treyarch did a much better job than Infinity Ward because of minute changes to the multiplayer. Those who dismissed innovative titles because they weren't familiar enough, and could care less for story or single-player campaigns. The sort of demographic that feels like it is ruining this industry, all aged sixteen to twenty-one.



Yet this nineteen year old heard I had a physical cartridge of Earthbound still and his enthusiastic jealousy made me smile. He missed Earthbound when it was new, and only heard of it when playing Super Smash Bros. at the age of six. Yet here he was, wishing they'd release Mother 3 in America, just like an old twenty-seven year old fogey like me.

It really hit home for me what PAX was about. It wasn't just about the games, the panels, or the "community". It's the celebration and passion. All the people that are there not only for the games, but to experience it with others. Willing to say hello to a stranger and strike up a conversation because, hey, why the Hell not?

It is this little slice of Heaven that I don't think I'll be able to recapture outside of an Expo.

Fortunately, TooManyGames and Escapist Expo are just around the corner. Who knows? Maybe I'll finally get a chance to meet some DToiders at those events.

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10:34 AM on 03.16.2013  

Corporate Downfall



(Sorry for the shoddy quality of this blog. I didn't get a chance to clean it up and just wanted to put something up here. Been feeling a bit of lack-of-contributing-guilt. Hopefully it makes for a decent read anyway).

Amongst the many problems both Aliens: Colonial Marines and Resident Evil 6 run into, remaining tied to some nebulous and evil corporation is the shared crime that I am so sick of being committed.

In terms of Colonial Marines, part of it is because I'm just not as much a fan of Aliens. As in, the second film. Don't get me wrong, I love all three. I watched James Cameron's influential take first like most my age, and I bought the trilogy on Blu-Ray even though I already owned them all on DVD. In truth, I only did as much for the uncensored Wreckage and Rage Alien 3 documentary.

For some reason they kept putting in this crappy fan film written by Joss Whedon, too.

Don't get me wrong, Aliens is good. But James Cameron is no David Fincher or Ridley Scott, who made films that are, to me at least, infinitely more interesting to watch. James Cameron is good when you want an action film that goes above and beyond the call of duty. James is actually trying to say something with how conceited the marines behave, how inept the armchair lieutenant is, and how easily they all get their asses kicked by the xenomorph threat. It's inspired by Vietnam and how we didn't know what we were getting into when we dropped our soldiers into that territory. There's the whole maternal instinct thing going on as well, but that's been analyzed to Hell and back. The thing is, this stuff is only so interesting each time you see it.

Contrast this to the original Alien, or for me, Alien 3. I know, I know, everyone hates Alien 3 because it was ORIGINALLY supposed to have Hicks fighting the xenomorphs on Earth, and instead they killed Hicks AND Newt which made the end of Aliens pointless! Alien 3 as a whole totally sucks now!

...only it doesn't. In fact, I'd argue that an Aliens flick that tries to be bigger and badder than James Cameron's Aliens is bound to be worse and less interesting, or at the very least not as fulfilling. People have these large expectations of these huge epics, but something is always going to have to give. Either you won't have interesting characters, or you won't have as many big, satisfying conflicts as you'd want to see. If you go back and rewatch Aliens, the xenomorphs themselves are hardly in the film at all. The movie is much more interested in Ripley, and the story that is told, while interesting, is only as deep as James Cameron is capable of.

In fact, I suppose I could make a joke about him searching for depth under water or something. He does love water.

You know what you get when you focus on things being bigger and badder? Resident Evil 6. In fact, you get the Resident Evil series as a whole. My favorite two games in the series are REmake and Resident Evil 4, and mostly because they have nothing to do with the rest of the series (aside from Leon S. Kennedy).



I don't know how much REmake added, but it was my very first experience with the franchise. I absolutely loved it. I loved the feel of the mansion. I loved the story behind it. I loved Umbrella's isolated, secret facility dedicated to developing a biological weapon that inevitably goes wrong. It also makes sense that a company doing dirty dealings would try to hide their activities, and it makes sense that an employee might decided to sabotage it and then sell all the materials they could muster on the black market.

On its own, REmake works as well as such a story could work. Unfortunately, things had to keep getting bigger... and bigger... and bigger.

It turns out Umbrella owned half of Raccoon City, or close enough. They have even MORE laboratories under the city and are making strains of a virus that they hadn't even perfected yet. I mean, think about it. This company didn't even sell any of these biological weapons before paying big bucks to stick a lab under a city to make more. What's the payoff? What sort of company would pay so much into something that evidently had incidents when they first built the lab, and ran into another one later?

Then it turns out there was some secret base located in what, Antarctica? I never got to play Code Veronica, but I remember it was yet another location. Then there was evidently research going on in Africa. That's an awful lot of bioweapons to be making for...who? Who exactly was buying all of these bioweapons? They never even showed up until 1998 in Raccoon City.



Now there's a whole Neo-Umbrella, and they're...what? A terrorist group? Wasn't Umbrella supposed to be a pharmaceutical company that also expanded into military technology and a variety of other markets? Weren't they supposed to be one giant company that screwed up big and was dismantled after Raccoon City?

By Resident Evil 2, Umbrella was a stupid company. By Resident Evil 6, they were impossibly moronic and it is amazing they even remained in business as long as they did. Capcom forgot they were creating a company that got into some nefarious business and instead made them some nebulously evil thing without any purpose but to create monsters with no return on investments. Talk about a money sink. I'm sure the board of shareholders would have had a lot of faith in that.

The same could easily happen to Weyland-Yutani, and in terms of the video game universe it already has. In the films, the Alien is a curiosity to the company. It seems like something that could be researched and weaponized. It also seems like this is a future where no one has ever encountered alien life, meaning their goals may not be to weaponize the creature. In the first film Ash expresses fascination with it, stating he "admires its purity". However, they didn't spend a lot of money in terms of trying to get it. Crew was expendable, and I'm certain the plan was for Ash to kill the crew and bring the creature back to the Company. It was a minor footnote in the story as a whole to emphasize the "space truckers" concept. These people were expendable. Their only purpose was to carry materials from one location to the next.


"You have my sympathies."


In Aliens, Weyland-Yutani happened to be Terraforming this world. Was the terraforming intentional? Did they know LV-426 was the planet Ripley and company had explored and intentionally set up a colony there? Perhaps, but a colony could work in terms of long-term profit and could have personnel much more fitting for researching xenomorphs than a crew of space truckers. If a colony on LV-426 was just coincidental, then Burke going down with the Colonial Marines could make sense. He's there to assess whether the terraforming facility can be recovered and to make sure it can. As he states, it has a substantial dollar value attached.

We can still believe Weyland Yutani would have Burke ferry the aliens any way he could. The facehuggers were there. He could have two people impregnated and carried home. Then Weyland Yutani could research the creatures.

This theme is still carried through in Alien 3, where they want to get that damn Alien. "Ripley, think of all we can learn from it!" Evil Bishop exclaims. The assumption is that Weyland Yutani is an evil corporation, but it is more that the ends justify the means. Especially since LV-426 was destroyed. For all they know, this is their last chance at studying this creature, learning about its physiology, its evolution. They're desperate to keep this thing alive, which is why Ripley becomes such a high priority.

Weyland Yutani is a sort of evil you can believe. They clearly have operations beyond just trying to get this Alien, and their efforts to retrieve it are rather minor in comparison.

Until Aliens: Colonial Marines. All of a sudden Weyland Yutani has their own army to send down in addition to scientists, all of which have no problem killing other humans in order to study these dangerous creatures. If Ripley and Newt had been impregnated, or the crew of the Nostromo had been killed by an android, then there would be a handful of people with knowledge of the truth. Only a handful, and you could keep everything else a secret.

This? This is an operation bound to result in conflict. There's no way Weyland-Yutani has that many loyal employees, especially when the Colonial Marines are shooting them up and Xenomorphs are loose all over the place. It makes absolutely no sense.

Weyland Yutani has become Umbrella.

Now, there are a lot more issues with both games than just the stupidity of these corporations, but they both could be improved if writers could just learn to give up certain iconic elements. You don't need Weyland-Yutani to make an Aliens story, and they shouldn't be as largely emphasized as they continue to be. Umbrella should have been done with after Resident Evil 3. Abandon these elements, and create something new with the base necessary elements. Xenomorphs, monsters, and isolation.

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2:31 PM on 02.28.2013  

Video: Silent Tutorials (and other ramblings)



So I made another video for your enjoyment. At least, I hope for your enjoyment. It is a thing I would like for you to enjoy.

I didn't come around here just to spam and run, though. Life has been a busy thing, and the time to come around and check out blogs has been...well, there has been no such time. I've finally moved and am living on my own. I'm a Pennsylvania resident, and naturally on the day I signed my lease I got into an accident. Fortunately it wasn't severe. For me at least. No one injured, no ticket or court summons issued, and the damage is superficial to my bumper. Still, I look at this as a sign from God that it is Pennsylvania drivers that suck, seeing as I've been driving in and out of the state everyday for over a year now as a New Jersey resident, but once I switch over BAM! First accident of my life.

A lot of spare time is being used for developing these videos, though. I was worried once I got into the nitty gritty I wouldn't enjoy putting them together, but this is not true at all. I really like making these, and when I finished this one I immediately wanted to dive into the next. Unfortunately, writing a script takes time.

Especially when you're busy.

The next one will be focused on Aliens: Colonial Marines, and while I know everyone is sick of hearing about that game by now, I can hopefully approach it from a different angle than most of the complaints being leveled against it.

As for Destructoid, I have a blog in mind and just need the time to sit down and put it together. Rambling is one thing. Rambling is easy. Trying to write something that's supposed to be interesting and including pictures? Very different.

To speed this up and provide something a bit more substantial, some quick impressions of various things.

- I was expecting to want Monster Hunter 3 for 3DS and to wait on Fire Emblem, but after playing both demos I've come to realize Monster Hunter won't be my style of game. Fire Emblem, on the other hand, tempts me.

- It will have to wait, as I just got 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors for the DS. That will also have to wait, though, as I'm playing Crimson Shroud. It makes me want to play D&D again. Also, I want to see ladies cosplay as Frea, because damn.

- Assassin's Creed 4? I haven't even unwrapped Assassin's Creed 3. I think I'm done with this series for a while. I'm just so burnt out on it by this point. Too much of a good thing...

- I'll inevitably get a Playstation 4. The backwards compatibility is upsetting, but not surprising. I'd just like to hear more info on the Cloud Gaming. However, there's nothing special being shown off. We're literally getting prettier versions of games that can already exist on current hardware. Even so, I'll get a PS4 for a new inFamous game.

- I want to be excited for Destiny. I saw them march out four guys from Bungie and was like "Oh man, they're going to show four player co-op gameplay!" But no. They walked on, stood around awkwardly, and walked off. Fucking lame ass shit muddah fuggah.

- That reminds me, Jonathon Blow certainly earns his last name. I don't know what the quality of his games are as I didn't play Braid and have no clue what else to expect, but for someone so "imaginative, original, and better than AAA", he did a great job developing Myst: Aperture Science Edition. I mean, sure, The Witness will probably be fun, but I want to hate it because the creator is clearly a dick.

- March is going to be Indie Month for me. Once I'm done replaying Catherine I'm going to finally get around to stuff like Penny Arcade Ep. 3, Vandal Hearts: Flames of Judgment, Outland, and possibly grabbing Dishwasher Vampire Smile and a couple others. This is all in preparation for PAX East, where it's all about discovering new interesting titles. That's how I heard about, and became excited for, Mark of the Ninja.

- Speaking of PAX East, what's the news on Destructoid gatherings?

- I do hope Capcom has Remember Me in playable format at PAX East. I'll line up first thing Friday for that. Or Saturday. Or even Sunday. Diablo 3 can choke on cock.

- Ok, this is the end of the post now.

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10:01 AM on 01.25.2013  

Sex: That Time I Designed a Hentai Game


Why do you all start out this way? And Jesus Christ, is that girl even in High School yet?


Dreams are weird, man. They're supposed to communicate all of these ideas of the subconscious, our deepest desires and fears visualized into some crazy experience. There are books on how to interpret your dreams, hyperbolic references to Sigmund Freud translating your dream as a desire to have intercourse with your mother, and people that believe they are communications from God.

Which makes it all the more curious that the only dreams I can remember for the past ten or fifteen years are all tied to video games. A couple months after the E3 demonstration of Halo 2's single player, I had a dream I had played it. Freshman year of College I had a dream I got to playtest a new 2-D Zelda game where Link wore chain mail and a kilt, and the sprite set resembled the original Wild Arms but with larger and more detailed characters.


So, this, only with bigger and better sprites.


Recently I found myself having a dream where it was a bunch of my friends in a real life Capture-the-Flag game on a theme-park style pirate ship against a group of cosplay girls I met at Escapist Expo. The next day I had a dream where I was in an Assault (from Unreal Tournament) game, again in real life, taking place at the bank near my house.

All I dare to interpret from these dreams is that I really, really love video games. What everything else means in my most recent dreams I don't care to interpret, because it doesn't matter to me. I just know that even in my sleep, my mind is on my favorite artistic medium.

Yet there is one dream that still lingers in my mind as a curiosity. Towards the end of my Freshman year in College I had dreamt that I was tasked with leading the design and development of a dating and hentai game. I don't recall who had tasked me with this project. All I know is that, at the time, I was an active member of the College's gaming club and I was sure (in that stupid, naive sense that all Freshman are sure) that I wanted to be a game designer. So when I was given this task in my dream, I took it as a test of my abilities. Anyone can say "I want to make a shooter" or "I want to make an epic RPG like Final Fantasy".

Do you have the mettle to design a dating/hentai game that doesn't suck, though?

Now, my only exposure to this genre was a playthrough in High School of a game called True Love. I found it laughably bad and tedious at first, though after using a FAQ I discovered there was a surprising amount going on behind the scenes of the game. There had been perfect strategies developed in order to romance every girl in the game, and that focusing on building certain statistics early on pays off later. I imagine most players discovered this sort of thing after replaying the game multiple times, kind of like learning the correct pattern to fight the Robot Masters of a Mega Man game in.


There's no way the artist sketched this, said "yeah, that looks good" and started inking. They just don't care anymore.


Even so, the story was still poorly written with unbelievable fantasy archetypes. Not only that, but the sex scenes were rather ridiculous looking. At times it made me cringe, other times it made me laugh, and on occasion it made me raise an eyebrow.

Aside from True Love, the only exposure I had to hentai games was a series of reviews on SomethingAwful.com. Y'know, back when people thought the writing on Something Awful was good. Oh, high school and freshman year at College. What blissfully stupid times.

In any event, this was all the knowledge I had to go off of when I was tasked with making a dating/hentai game. There were two major requirements, though. The first was that, yes, there had to be sex in the game. The second was that it had to take place at the College. In fact, now that I think on it, I believe I was assigned this game design duty by the College itself, which made it all the more confusing.


I always found Final Oxymoron VII to be a tad over-rated in the story department. Final Oxymoron IX is where that franchise really hit its stride in oxidizing morons.


Now, because of the nature of dreams, I remember segments of a false reality, but not a continuous story. Nonetheless, I am surprised at how many ideas I not only had while in the dream, but was able to retain when I had woken up. The first priority on my mind was who the female characters would be (because I was young and couldn't fathom a woman wanting to play a dating/hentai game at the time to provide love interests for). I wanted them to have personality. Sure, I wanted to build off of an archetype, such as what you'd expect a female film major to act like, or a girl in your programming class, or one of the girls that worked for the school magazine. Yet I wanted them to have believable aspirations. I wanted you to believe that you could actually meet that girl on campus.

I also thought of having girls that weren't actual romantic interests. I know I considered having more than one girl that would lead to sexual encounters, potentially multiple, because College is a place where people express their sexuality more freely. I also wanted to make sure more than one girl was willing to have no strings attached sex because I didn't want any of the characters to be viewed as a slut.


TITS


I also wanted the possibility of sex with all the characters to be present multiple times depending on personality. It seemed weird to me in True Love that sex was often a pay-off, and interactions with that character reduced once you completed that encounter. I still have this problem with the Bioware method of interactive dating, where it seems like sex is treated as a virtual reward to the player. I don't remember why I felt this way when I was designing a game in my dreams, however. At the time my thoughts on sex were a lot more immature than they are now. It could have been as simple as "hey, why not reward the player multiple times?" as opposed to "in a relationship, sex is not a 'one-and-done' thing".

Whatever my motivations, that was certainly a goal. That meant the game would also have to be long if I was going to give the options that other dating and hentai games provided. For some reason I felt like the player should be given a way to date as many characters as they want, just like in True Love. Looking back, I feel it would have been better to design the game so that, as time progressed, your interactions early on began to lock you out of later options, and if you tried to be a player with the wrong girls then you'd get nothing at all. If you interacted with the girls with a more sexually open personality, on the other hand, you'd remain rewarded. It all depends on what you want, and thus who you approach and how.


What every 30 year old Professor fucking her student aspires to be.


Of course, this is aside from the point. The most interesting thing about this dream is that I remember very little of the actual gameplay. I know I wanted to include a lot of mini-games in there, such as representing certain competitions in clubs or exams with a small little video game challenge. I wanted the player to have more to do than read and click, and those results would have a real effect on the outcome of the game. I wanted to take influence from Harvest Moon, a franchise that works as either a farming simulation with dating gameplay or vice versa.

Yet in the end, I do not recall if there was ever a finalized product. I awoke, I wrote the dream down, and I pondered it curiously for a time. Then, I stopped thinking about it altogether.

Now that I am older and have learned a lot more about sex and sexuality, more than my eighteen year old conservatively raised brain could handle at the time, I find myself pondering the challenges of making a game about dating and sex. I know there are independent games out there designed to explore things like love, but is there anything that is designed to fulfill some level of eroticism without being cheap virtual porn? Even in Japan these dating games don't have much of a budget, suggesting that even in their society there is something degrading about working on a sex oriented product.


Okay, seriously, there cannot be so many busty bosoms in such a small population of characters. This is Japan. People there are tiny, tiny things.


I know games represent sex in an immature manner. This is true of all media. Yet I do ponder what it would mean to create a game focused on dating and sex, allowing for a level of eroticism while still bringing with it a quality of writing and design. Can a game be fun and have meaningful characters while allowing you to get your rocks off, too? Why not have an option to turn such eroticism off, or have a separate version that takes those scenes out? Allow the game to stand on its own, so that people could have fun even if sex wasn't a part of it.

The question is, would our society and culture be ready to accept such a thing as an artistic endeavor? My guess is no, and as a result we probably won't know what it is like to play a dating/hentai game with good writing, design and structure, and as a result won't know what more can be learned from the experience.

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11:46 PM on 01.23.2013  

A Great Loss

Today started out so well. The Nintendo Direct video actually had me feeling eager for the Wii U's upcoming year and has secured my interest in purchasing one. Nintendo is making games! And as usual, the games they are making look tempting and delightful.

Then the THQ fire sale happened. Everything must go! Only, it didn't. One studio was left abandoned, ignored, deserted.

The fact that Vigil Games was not purchased has just...it has made me hate this industry for the time being. Everything. Everything about video games that does not involve playing them. I hate the people that play video games. I hate the people that write about them. Most of all, I hate the men who control the money and decide what is "best" for video games.

See, funny thing. When the Oscars roll around you typically hear from film buffs or Internet film critics about how the Academy really is a bunch of old white guys (hence why the only person to get an acting nomination in Django Unchained was a white guy (I mean, did no one else see Samuel L. Jackson? He reminded everyone that, yes, he can play more than just the Bad Ass Mother Fucker!)). However, even Hollywood seems to understand talent.

Take Christopher Nolan for example. Before he made his mark with Batman Begins he made smaller movies like Memento, Insomnia and Following, which hardly sold a ton of tickets (I'm not even sure when/where Following was released, as I never heard of it until Netflix (by the way, if you dug Memento, check it out). None of his movies suggested he'd be good at your typical Blockbuster shlock.

Yet they allowed him reigns with Batman Begins, and he did so well that he was basically given free reign to make a film like Inception. A film that made summer blockbuster dollars even though it is a "smart" movie.

Or let's take a director like Edgar Wright. He made cult films like Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz, but again, no big splash. Scott Pilgrim vs. The World failed to meet expectations. In the video game world, that one failure would cause your studio to collapse. In film, it gets you another movie and then you can direct Marvel's Ant Man. Oh, and writing credits on The Adventures of Tintin as directed by Steven fucking Spielberg.

Then there is Neil Blomkamp, chosen to direct the Halo film even though he had done nothing more than short films before that (and even though Halo fell apart, he was still given a good budget and marketing push for District 9). Same could possibly be said for Guillermo del Toro, where Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth never lit any fires and yet now he's been given free reign and a big budget to put out Pacific Rim, a movie about giant monsters fighting giant robots. That's as risky as risky gets, and in the summer at that.



For as much as people hate on film, good talent is at least acknowledged and given a chance. It's true that Guillermo del Toro hasn't built up enough good will to get At the Mountains of Madness greenlit, but it is still amazing to see him making a live action Kaiju film, especially after films like Skyline failed (and, quite frankly, were crap). It shows that talent means a lot, even if what you create doesn't generate a lot of money.

So now we go to the games industry, and today Vigil Games was passed over. No one bought them. No one. At all.

Don't get me wrong, this isn't merely about Darksiders. I'm used to seeing good games fail to get sequels, such as Star Wars: Republic Commando and Metal Arms: Glitch in the System. But those studios managed to keep their jobs. I could accept the Darksiders IP dying today. It would make me sad, but I can accept it. The problem is that Vigil was clearly a good studio.

Think about it. Darksiders managed to blend excellent ideas from a variety of games into a great package. The first Darksiders was like Zelda, but it also had too great an emphasis on combat. Yet the combat wasn't too much like God of War. Then you had the Prince of Persia explorations, which only became stronger in the sequel. While all of this gameplay was familiar, putting it all together made Darksiders a wholly unique and fresh experience.



More than that, however, the game was incredibly polished. Both of them, in fact. Darksiders 2 wasn't quite as polished as the first, but for as large as the games were there was very little in the way of bugs or glitches. Compare this to the broken state Bethesda and Rockstar get away with and I'd say Vigil has a near perfect record.

Yet Darksiders isn't a high-selling IP. As such, no one is interested. Warhammer 40K, Saint's Row, Metro: Last Light, even Homefront 2. We know these games all have a market, or at least a potential market. That is what sets them apart, and that is also why those studios were sold. After all, it would just cost more to try and teach the code to a new team (you'd end up repeating Starcraft: Ghost all over again). No one was after the studios, though. If they were, Vigil would have been purchased.

No, they were merely looking for IP, and the studios came along as necessity.

Our industry cannot acknowledge when a group of people do a job well done. The people that make the game are meaningless, in fact. In the eyes of the money holders, at least. Now we have Vigil saying goodbye while the head of Platinum Games Executive Director Inaba mentions being interested in the IP "if it's cheap enough". A studio meant for scrotum crushing difficult action games is considering taking Darksiders, a franchise that is not that kind of action game.

I had to drink tonight. I had to get some whiskey in me so I could be less depressed. It didn't work, as I never got drunk and I remain depressed. But I am just so upset to see so many good, talented people lose their jobs.

It is the implication of it all. Good games didn't sell well, and as a result a bunch of talented people that worked well together are now separate and out of a job. That, friends, is a tragedy.

Good-bye, Vigil. I can only hope you all come together some day, somehow.

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1:44 PM on 01.21.2013  

Introducing RamblePak64 and What I've Learned

It's been two months in the making, but I finally got it. Ladies and gentlemen, my very own web series, RamblePak64.



Creating this video has been an interesting experience. I didn't expect it to take as long as it has, and actually has me a bit intimidated for my future projects. It has also opened my eyes to just how many shortcuts I took in this project, and yet it still took me two months to put together. Capturing the game footage, writing the script, recording it, editing the audio and then cutting it all together into a sixteen minute video.

The most amazing aspect of it all is just how flawed it is despite all of that hard work. I had already learned this lesson long ago, but it seems to be a good idea to remind yourself just how much effort it takes to make something, even if it is terrible. It's so easy to look at less-than-perfect games and call the developers lazy, or speak as if they half-assed the project, but the truth of the matter is the people working on those games, or even movies, could have been working their asses off.

Fortunately, all of my flaws can be solved "easily". The technical side especially. I should have had my headset around my head instead of my neck while recording, for example. Or the footage looks sped up because I captured it at 24 FPS and yet rendered it at 30. While Windows Movie Maker has a lot of options, I'll probably create the title cards in Photoshop since the customization for that in Movie Maker is severely lacking.

What bugs me aren't the technical issues, though. It's the fact that you can tell I only wrote one draft of the script. As a result the "RamblePak64" title is appropriate. I have a thesis, but the structure of my argument is cluttered and all over the place. I try to be funny when, more often than not, the jokes fall flat or are poorly executed.

Most of all, however, I just can't stand the conclusion. I can't believe I allowed myself to finish with "those are some delightful feeling hooks". Gah! What the Hell? Was I just sick of recording by then? Did I not think "Man, that sounds awful, let's think of something different"?

Yet worst of all is the statement that "games aren't supposed to be immersive". This is the sort of quote that can easily destroy any credibility. However, it also allowed me to add a new episode idea to the list of ideas I have.

I already have several other episodes I plan on working on. The second one will likely be Silent Tutorials, but I also have Resident Evil 6, a Halo Retrospective, Resident Evil: Operation Raccoon City and, well, Immersion vs. Engagement coming down the pipes.

This was a good experience. A lot of hard work, and because I cut a few corners I've opened myself up to the criticisms of the Internet even more than usual, but I still can't help but feel proud of the final product.

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