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6:02 PM on 04.04.2009

The Conduit Box Art

Impressive. It could easily be the best game of 1980. Photoshop "skillz" (the 'z' is intended to express youthful coolness... oh the youngsters). Represent.   read

11:57 AM on 03.14.2009

Leave the Numbers to Math Teachers

Leave the Numbers to the Math Teachers
Math makes games possible, and those math-heavy Finance, Engineering, Computer Science and IT degrees can land you lucrative jobs - but there are some places where our "numerical wizardry" need to butt out. When it comes time to sit down and play games with friends, math should be left in the classroom and the textbooks.



The goal of TruSkill ranking is simple - better matchmaking through closer matches. The math behind the TruSkill ranking system is designed to "hone in" on your, well, "True Skill level" - after a few dozen matches, it should find a number that lets the computer pit you against players of similar ability. In theory it works great - in practice, too many game designers have tied achievements, ranks, and badges to TruSkill, and given incentives for boosting, cheating, and general poor sportsmanship.


There's nothing wrong with TruSkill being used in the background to help match players of similar skill. I'm all for it - after all, there's no satisfaction in just steam-rolling the competition, or getting blown away. However, the ranking systems in games should be based on play-time, good sportsmanship (such as remaining in the match to the bitter end), and personal improvement. While rewarding a solid performance is okay - players shouldn't feel like they're "getting nowhere". Because the TruSkill rating is designed to only improve slowly, that's exactly what players of games like Gears of War have found.


Luckily, game designers are listening - and learning. Halo 3's "playlist rank", Call of Duty's "level up" system, Halo Wars "score accumulation", and Gears of War 2's new revised ranking system all give players incentive to do well within the matches, stick it out to the bitter end (with exp penalties or "finishing the game" bonuses), and work with their teams. It's a step in the right direction. After all, it's the player who puts in 1000 matches with their friends who deserves a shiny medal, not the guy who boosts his TruSkill rating.


Review Scores

Review scores are another item in gaming that started with a good "in theory" notion. Place games along a numbered scale so that players can compare them and know which games to buy. In practice, this "math system" has become a nightmare, one that even aggregating sites like MetaCritic can't solve. The problem with numerical reviews is simple - they're too one dimensional. With a written or video review, players can hear the strengths and weakness of a game, and find out what's right for them. Is the game only five hours long? That might be a big "not buying it" for some players, but for others it might be a non-issue. Is the game too violent? Again, a personal judgement that can't be summed up with just a simple number.

When reviewers point out the faults, and perks, of a game, they're simply "reviewing" - they're doing their job, and providing helpful insights into a title. When a reviewer takes those comments and generates a review score, however, their opinions are now all melded together into something that's only useful to people who share that reviewer's exact perspective on gaming.


Newer sites, such a GiantBomb, have gotten away from the "100 point review" (or 1 ~ 10 scale ) of the olden days. New commenters, such as Zero Punctuation and AVGN have ditched the scale entirely in favor of providing some simple entertainment and insight. Even GameSpot went from decimal reviewing to a " point five" scale. Still, any math can be "bad math", and arguments over the numerical value take away from what the reviewer has to actually say. Hopefully, in gaming's future, we can see more focus on the content, and less discussion of one-dimensional numbers.


Release Dates

Gamers in the UK and AU are most apt to agree with this one, but it's about time we saw an end to staggered releases. While this generation has seen a huge improvement in getting games out everywhere at the same time, we're still left waiting far too long on titles like Final Fantasy XIII, game systems like the DSi, and content updates. Let's face it, there's no unsolvable reason that a game can't come out everywhere at the same time.

If a game is going to be released in multiple languages anyway, why not have the translators working with the writers during game development? It would improve the translations, and ensure that gamers worldwide were enjoying the same meaningful experience. If a game has to be region-coded anyway, or adjustments made on certain content (for example - removing skeletons for the Chinese market, nuclear weapons for Japan,or covering breasts in America ) then why not do it on the design table?

When something gets changed in a game, due to the cultural norms of the market it is being released in, it would be best for the designers to be there to put in something equivalent (yet appropriate ) so that the scene is not lost. Fallout 3 in Japan does not feature the option to nuke Megaton - arguably the largest moral decision in the first half of the game - but could it have featured another moral choice? Replace the nuke with, say, a deadly virus, and you have acceptable content, yet still leave the moral decision.


Ultimately, designers should realize they're making "global games" at this point. Our dated notion of releasing in one area first, then translating months later for different regions, needs to go. I play with gamers around the world - on LIVE, on STEAM, on PSN, on DS / Wii - I want to know that my friends across the Atlantic and Pacific are lined up for the newest release on the same day I am.


Is a world where TruSkill takes a backseat to friendly competition, review scores are replaced with intelligent discussion, and everyone can pick up the latest game on the same day possible? Maybe - but the nice thing is, we don't have to get there overnight. Even small improvements in release times, the reviews process, and matchmaking can bring us greater enjoyment.   read

5:20 PM on 09.19.2008

Our Quickly Tilting World

The world's a screwy place where, at times, nothing feels certain, and hope itself can be extinguished by the grim realities of necessity. Even in countries where we should feel blessed with wealth, something as trivial as a parking ticket can take us down a notch, and big scary things loom in the distance - illness, financial peril, unemployment. Perhaps that's why gaming, now, more than ever, brings us comfort.

Publishers have taken to calling gaming "recession proof" - but for us, it's more than that, it's bleak proof. When Wall Street took a tumble yesterday, it was not a hard fall for me. The realities of the global credit situation have been carved in the numbers crammed down the throat of every business student for some time - few digested them for anything more than spewing out good grades on tests, but I, as a confessed poor student, was forced to chew them for quite a bit longer. Failures are carved more prominently than successes in the frown lines of memory - so in many ways I am best at what I do worst. In that way, I have been forced to see a great deal of sadness in life.

A significant person to me, a woman (though that in anything other than a physical sense is meaningless) if you must know, recently left the hospital after spending a summer in surgeries. Spending three months visiting intensive care, seeing the mechanization of human suffering, changes how you view the world. I lost fear - both of death, and of loneliness. I began to realize the pleasanter meaning of "do not resuscitate" - and in time the selfishness of such a gesture. Death is an inherently selfish act - perhaps even to this day this is why the permanent death of a player controlled character remains such a rarity.

In all of those months, I never stopped gaming. I would give up an hour or two of sleep, and of course time with her came before electronic past times, as did work and school, but gaming was the glue that helped hold together a tilted world. Even now, if game sales are any indication, families continue to buy games, gamers are going online to visit their friends, and the trips to a virtual fantasy world have not stopped.

But why? Are we all addicts? Do we plug in to a cheap crack, one we can buy a few times a year and ingest obsessively? Perhaps a small margin are - but for the rest of us, what is the appeal? Why do we keep playing Mario? Why are we logged on LIVE? Why does the World of Warcraft offer more comfort that the real world?

They are simpler worlds, smaller worlds, where much is familiar, we have more control, our friends are there, and our access is controlled. The idea has been suggested that the world is changing faster than ever. For me, I think, the reality is simply that information is spreading faster than ever. And there is a difference. Are our worries any different than those of a world hundreds of years ago? War, hunger, illness, employment, morality, love? No - they were same - simply the scope of troubles we have encountered has grown. If a tree falls in Denmark, it make a sound heard 'round the world, and yet our sense of agitation and fear remains the same as always - one not built to handle the rigors of bearing the hardship of a world.

We have been asked by reality to become gods - to accept a near omnipotence in terms of global awareness, in exchange for nothing. In the world of gaming, however, we gain the ability to solve those problems. We are given tools to communicate with our friends. We are given world populated with people who want to help us, problems can be solved, doors open, and answers remain. In the real world where we are given filled in maps, books of known species, and an ever-shifting Wikipedia answer to every question, the gaming world hands us a galaxy and says "explore and enjoy".

We live in strange times, a time when higher education no longer means "study free from the consequences of practicality" but instead "study under the guidance of standards and practices". We are no longer free to learn in the institutions designed for the task - instead we must grind for grades, accumulating the "As" or "1s" or "5.0s" (whatever your institution may be) that mean promotion and (so we are taught) eventual employment. We spend the ages of 5 to 22 under the thumb of educators more concerned about our well-scoring than our well-being, and life after that lost in some fog where we are supposed to be the saviours of the old generation - the scientists, doctors, and engineers who will apply band-aids to their mistakes.

Is it any wonder that Mario is so successful? Not simply for the simplicity, but for the simple joy. Mario is an everyman, a plumber, who joyfully takes to his task of exploring a strange world to rescue his beloved. His optimism towards his lot in life, and his joy at exploring the unknownhearken back to a time when there were woods left to explore, and when we felt like it was worthwhile doing so.


At heart, I speculate this is the joy of child bearing, to see the world through the eyes of someone who has not grown jaded towards it. A child lets us once again experience the wonder of an unexplored field.

The appeal of gaming has been dissected before, and to be honest, perhaps it is intentional. Perhaps Cliff creates a game to capture the rugged manhood he can never act out in the modern world. Pokemon is known to be a replacement for the bug-filled forests the creators enjoyed in their childhoods - now replaced with sprawling Japanese cities filled with more dangers than wonders. The critics may say "there are too many of them" - but that to is the appeal. No matter how many years go by, there will always be Pokemon, there will always be Pikachu.


But what does it all mean? Nothing, perhaps, or maybe everything. Is gaming the glue that can reconstruct our shattered world? Can videogames be enough to bring us together, to build the new standard? I would like that to be so, but they are just glue - we must choose what we build with it. But... what remains is hope. No matter how bad things are, no matter how scary the world becomes - there is a constant, there is a chance, and so long as imagination is alive, we can build something new.

The storytellers of the electronic age have become the bards of the Middle Age, providing not escape, but wonder. And that it why gaming is a recession proof industry. Not because we consume, but because we dream.   read

2:47 AM on 08.07.2008

Subrosian - a Primer

By popular request, an introduction blog seems to be in order, and thus, it appears. Shameless really...

What is a videogame?

Ouch, self, you're merciless - that's a cruel question to start an introduction with because there is no simple answer. Videogames started as a box connected to a CRT monitor for the purpose of playing Pong - since then they've evolved to challenge any limiting definition one can muster.

A videogame, simply put, is an interactive sensory experience which does not necessarily have to be visual in nature, or a game. The creation of videogames is an art form, worked in a medium capable of storytelling, entertainment, and education.

"What is a videogame" is also simply a wicked question to ask the detractors of gaming, the Jack Thompsons and Fox News anchors of the world - as it so plainly showcases their ignorance.

Who the hell are you?

I'm Paul, aka Subrosian, and I am a gamer. I started gaming at just a few years old, in an era of experimental arcade gaming, a shift in PC gaming, the rise of the Gameboy, and the end of the 8-bit console era. Since then I've been a "player of games" - gaming on every platform and game I can get my hands on.

I've been a gamer long enough to know which way the wind blows, get fed up with pandering, biased gaming magazines, and gain a genuine appreciation for creative titles like Okami, Psychonauts, Eternal Darkness, Deus Ex, and Little Big Planet.

Put simply, I'm an art gamer, I love the gaming medium, and I believe strongly in a future where more powerful technology, and greater public access to creation tools will allow each of us to put our fingerprints on an ever-shifting gaming culture.

What's your favorite game?

That's an impossible question to answer, because I like so many different games for so many different reasons. My favorite game of the generation, thus far, has been Mass Effect. A third of the way into my first play-through, I found myself genuinely upset that character's in the game were angry at my actions. For a game to reach that level of emotional engagement is an impressive feat.

For all time? I'm tempted to give in to the cardinal sin of rattling off a list.

What games are you looking forward to?

Too Human, Mirror's Edge, and Little Big Planet.

Too Human is simply a fun game to play with friends that offers up storytelling to fill the void during the single-player experience. It has gotten undo hatred as a 360 exclusive, and the expectation level has been set impossibly high - however if you simply sit down to play this game as you would Phantasy Star Online or Diablo II, you really won't be disappointed.

Mirror's Edge looks to be a blast - I live in Orlando, so looking out across the downtown rooftops, I've fantasized about jumping from rooftop-to-rooftop dodging the "bad guys" and saving the day (Yes, I'm a bad enough dude to save the president). Mirror's Edge offers up that excitement in a less suicidal fashion (broken bones hurt way more than broken pixels).

Little Bit Planet will likely take home GOTY. Combining social networking with player-created platforming experiences is brilliant - doing so against a visually stunning backdrop while offering up a cooperative gaming experience? Incredible. Little Big Planet takes that next step - it takes a gaming revolution that you would expect to be forced into a low-budget PC or Wii title, and instead turns into into a technical and artistic masterpiece.

What's your favorite system?

I don't have one. I was never really a fanboy, even in youth, and as I grew older it just made even less sense. It strikes me as odd that thirty and forty year olds will sit around and shove their biases down kid's throats, and it's not something I'll ever do as a gamer.

Of course I do understand why some people get upset, you go on the internet, having just spend $250+ on a new system, and some anonymous jerk says "oh, that system is crap, it doesn't have a single good game" - well of course you're going to be upset, that's not fanboyism, that's just being human.

That said, I'm not a fan of the Wii - what Nintendo has done with their development focus (as showcased in E3 2007 and E3 2008) simply saddens me. While Super Mario Galaxy is an excellent game, and the Wii plays home to interesting titles like No More Heroes, I haven't been able to justify having my own, as it has too few games I like.

I have access to one, and all of the big titles, of course, but it's one of those rare consoles that likely won't see a spot in my living room until late in the generation.

I have more questions!

I know - I didn't give anything too juicy out here. If you have any more questions, feel free to ask them in the comments or in PM, and I'll post answers.   read

5:13 PM on 08.06.2008

Playing Video Games Makes You Cool

What is coolness? Okay before everyone does their best impression of "the Fonz" (think about how that image comes to mind - it'll prove my point later) let's take a break and look at it scientifically. I know - yawn - but this is social science, so there are no beakers involved.

"Coolness" is really the combined nonverbal and verbal appearance of a person, created by combining personality with social awareness. It's a two part equation - the first part is personality - you can be as aware of all the popular trends as you want, but if you're completely anti-social, you're not going to be very cool.

The other part of the equation is social awareness - that is, how in tune you are to the memes (units of cultural exchange) aka the events, memories, trends, beliefs, values, icons, and language of a culture. You can have the greatest personality in the world, but when you step off the boat into a new country, chances are you look like a dweeby tourist. There are a few exceptions - a British accent being considered tre' chic in the states - but those are societally constructed (mostly by James Bond movies) so they prove the rule.


So we've established what "cool" is - an outgoing personality mixed with a high social awareness. How does that translate into being cool? These two traits allow a person to give off an aura of confidence, appear "in their element", chat with new people, say just the right things at the right time, and share discussion of common events.

So how on earth could playing videogames make someone cool? Well - because we're all playing them.

omg wtf gaming meme
Let's face it, gaming is its own culture - it has come a long way from the days of reading Nintendo power in your parent's basement. Games are everywhere, nearly everyone is playing them, and the latest games, consoles, and handhelds are hot topics that take front page even in mainstream media. The tweens, the teens, the twenties, the thirties, and now even the baby-boomers are targeted audiences for the gaming craze.

Games themselves are going two steps further by becoming self-referencing culture, as well as cross-culturally connected. Games like GTA IV contain dozens upon dozens of well-known songs - not only does GTA IV ingrain itself in the existing musical culture it pens from, and the New York culture it copies, but it also spreads those memes to an audience that isn't aware of them

GTA IV teaches the urban audience about gaming, and the gaming audience about urban culture, stirring the cultural melting pot, and creating a mutual understanding.

Games like Rock Band and Guitar Hero make the music of an older generation cool to a younger generation, while making gaming accessible to an older generation. The inter-cultural mix makes that "old dude who plays guitar" into "that cool guitar guy at the coffee shop" and turns what would have been "some dweeb" into "that awesome Guitar Hero player on YouTube".

It's not just that gaming has become cooler, it's that gaming itself has reshaped culture, integrated into existing cultures, redefined what our culture, both as gamers and the new generation, thinks - all while overtaking movies as the new hip industry.


But playing a videogame doesn't make you cool... or does it? Videogames are part of our culture, being ignorant of them - like Jack Thompson, most of the US congress, and MADD (with their latest GTA "drunk driving" comments) - conveys to our generation that they are uncool, unhip, and behind the times.

Playing games is part of life now - and playing the games of our times - Mario Galaxy, Halo, The Sims, GTA IV, Orange Box, Call of Duty 4, et cetera has become an important part of being involved in the ever growing gamer-culture.

Games alone won't make you cool - if you've got a bad personality, or simply aren't interested in social interaction, a few rounds of Mario Kart aren't going to change that, but the reality has become that it's the kid who *doesn't* own some kind of Gameboy these days who is the odd duck out. Of course culture is a complex thing, clothing, language, appearance, voice, personality, awareness, social ability - these things are all going to shape just how much of a "with it" kind of person you're capable of being. At the end of the day though, videogames are becoming a shared experience that gives us something to talk about, argue over, debate, share, and party - they're an invaluable medium for building friendships, culture, and communication - and a channel through which memes are flowing full force.

And what about all those people fighting over which console or game is "the coolest"? Just the jocks arguing with the band kids - at the end of the day they both play on the football field. So game on trendy hipsters and - as "the Fonz" would say - "Live fast, love hard, and don't let anybody else use your comb!"

-Subrosian   read

4:46 PM on 08.06.2008

What's Wrong With a Big Beautiful Princess?

Everything... apparently. Sony's titular Fat Princess has the internet up in arms, as the knee-jerk blogosphere once again demonstrates that it has absolutely no sense of humor. The internet is serious business! Curious if I had somehow missed the sinister agenda behind this game, I dug deep into Kotaku and Joystiq's coverage of the outcry, and came back more confused than ever. Just to be clear, at this point, we're talking about this game shown below:

This "wicked" game revolves around players working as a team to rescue a chunky princess, while the opposing team may stuff her with more tasty treats to weigh her down, and make it harder on the rescuers. The positively adorable animations belay inquiry into its dark agenda - as this title (apparently) promotes homophobia, negative stereotypes of obesity, and sexism! Oh my! I took another look, having previously overlooked the dastardly agenda of evil that is Fat Princess.

Feminist gamer writes that Fat Princess will "reinforce nasty stereotypes about women and the obese", while Melissa McEwan writes on blogspot that Fat Princess will create a "new generation of fat-hating, heteronormative assholes" Wow! The detractors of this game have all guns blazing based on a few minutes of promo footage! I suppose then, that I'm forced to retort, with a simple question:

"Do you think people are so stupid that they get their views on life from videogames?”

No, really, let's answer that. Melissa, darling your weight doesn't make you ugly to me - holding up your middle finger at a *cartoon* is what makes you unattractive. It's what's inside that counts, after all, right? And what's at the root of this debate is the troubling implication that gamers are somehow stupid, easily influenced, hate-filled human beings who, upon seeing a game with a big beautiful princess, start chucking rocks at the nearest buxom lady.

Gamers aren't stupid, immoral jerks - we're a mixed bag, just like the rest of society. Straight, gay fat, thin, tall, short, male, female, and everything in between. Now, that's not to say that there aren't closed-minded gamers, just as there are closed-minded people who aren't gamers - but let's not blame the games. After all, I spent most of my childhood playing Sonic and Mario, and I've yet to have any desire to become a plumber, take up marathon running, or force my girlfriend to put on pink dresses and hide in castles. What's at the heart of this debate is the idea that society sends a negative image of the obese, and I'm not one to contest that - what I do contest is that this game is to blame.

A few years ago, a study was undertaken in which men were asked to select the most attractive woman out of a variety of pictures. The photos covered women of all shapes and sizes, from anorexic-thin to heavyset. Then, a group of women were shown the same pictures, and asked to select the one they felt would be most attractive to men. The women, on average, selected thinner women than the men did. In fact, the men largely selected women on the upper-normal end of a "normal weight" BMI. What does this tell us?

Well - society is sending a negative body image to women, but men seem to largely find all shapes and sizes attractive. Interesting, it shows we have a problem, but who is to blame?
A quick Google search for "Fat Princess" lead me to all sorts of interesting sites (turn on Safe Search for your own safety here!) and to finding that plenty of men wanted a princess with more meat on her bones. Hmm, well, Princess Peach *was* always a little too willowy. What's the harm, and where's the blame? Well, apparently, Fat Princess. Forget books, magazines, over-pushy soccer moms telling their daughters that the must fit in a size 4 dress or little boys being told they mustn’t date that "fat Suzy Jenkins", no, clearly an unpublished videogame is at fault!

The concern here seems to be yet another bad case of "let's blame games for everything", and it has backfired on a genuinely cute, playful, fun little title. After all, what's wrong with the princess being fat? Would it be better if she were skinny? Would it be less offensive if you tied rocks to her to weight her down? The implication here is that there's something wrong with a portly princess, that she should somehow be ashamed. Should the knights not be rescuing her? They seem eager and dedicated to the task of rescuing their fair lady - why would a game that supposedly encourages me to hate fat people make rescuing the heavyset princess such a joyous occasion?

Perhaps, in reality, the blogosphere simply looks to react negatively to anything in gaming - hoping to place blame for greater social ills on a harmless amusement. But, at a certain point, it's simple ridiculous. It's utterly nonsensical to throw out terms like "heteronormative" in regard to a simplistic cartoon game - would a prince rescuing his life partner make for a more edifying game? Wouldn't that then leave out female relationships altogether? In a world without common sense, that would be a tragedy, but really, I doubt the class sic "prince charming" fairy tale rescue is to blame for homophobia, and it's a bit silly to turn to a *videogame* to teach a new generation of children about sexuality.

And that's simply the point of it all - who’s really to blame for social ills? Parents? Teachers? Traditional Media? Generations of stereotypes and sexism? Maybe all of the above - but the hunt to point fingers has seemingly led us off the deep end, when we start pointing fingers at a cutesy bubbling princess as the source of all ills. Now really, having dug deep, scoured the argument of all meat, and starred at the bright-eyed royal rescue that is Fat Princess, there's really nothing left to say but "give me a break!"

I don't know about you, but I look forward to hauling a hefty princess home to my PS3 as soon as possible. I guess I'll just have to live with the terrible implications if Fat Princess should convince me big women are just more fun to be around.

-Subrosian   read

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