21 June 2008

And so it rears it's head again...

The resident evil issue of race has reared its ugly head again. Luckily, it's just someone who's misinformed about the subject and has come late to the debate... unfortunately i can see this happening more frequently as the due date of RE5 draws nearer.

The comments are a mess - primarily because Kotaku (and probably other blogs) linked to the site - but there are a few commenters who get the point across and don't cross the line to being rude. In particular there's a guy (Tubatic) who writes over on destructoid about the trailers and the issues involved in a more constructive manner.

Personally, i'm sad about this whole issue. I fear that when someone takes this much offence against an event that there's little you can do to change their opinion - and the amount of effort involved to do so is incredible. But along side this problem is the reaction of people on the other side of the opinion spectrum. You see the anger and the passion involved on both ends of the spectrum but i wonder if each time this happens if people in the middle, just on either side of the equatorial region don't become more polarised to their sides... and if those people who are further towards the extremes also become more firmly entrenched in their standpoint.

Ugh... that's a little difficult to understand. Basically i'm worried that people who aren't racist against black people will become more polarised against the more extreme 'anti-racism' black people and vice versa by these angry exchanges. However, is there any middle ground to be had on these issues?

Maybe one day in the far future when no one cares about the events in the last 200 or so years.

15 June 2008

The importance of humanising...

I was just thinking about technology - software and robots specifically (though it applies to all appliances) and why we, as a race, humanise the things we create a use. I came to the conclusion that we do it to make ourselves feel better. Let me explain.

Humans face a massive obstacle to being happy in life: life ends, we die. What happens after is a big source of distress or comfort to people depending on what they believe and what they do with that belief. If we believe that there is an afterlife (in whatever form) and that we have a soul then that belief can sustain us throughout life.

In parallel with this thinking we humanise robots in life and fiction. We give them the opportunity to be more than their programming and it is a recurring theme seen throughout science fiction. On a more mundane level we give names to our cars, believe that appliances could have hurt feelings if we upgrade to something else and throw them away. They are just machines or objects - they are without a feelings or desires. In the same way, we could just be described as 'meatbags' with no souls...

Trying to achieve something outside of operational parameters for things that we consider to be below ourselves allows us to achieve something similar for ourselves - immortality. Tending to want to find things that are more than what they seem could be just an artefact of our genetics... increasing the chance of survival for those genes.

It's a sad thought in some respects. On the other hand, it allows us to add this thinking into games. How many gamers end up placing inordinate priority or care into a very minor aspect of a game? The little things make a difference but perhaps designers could begin 'humanising' their games to allow that emotional attachment between gamer and game to form. It's important to remember that rewards are not always of the physical type in life and by primarily focusing on tangible in games we dilute the potential experience.

14 June 2008

The difficulty of being... in games.

There was a post recently on one of the forums that i frequent about one of the member's fathers. This person had been tempted by World of Warcraft. He tried out a demo of it and came to this conclusion:

There's too many damn buttons. Why do I have to bind any goddamn thing? And how come there's never any brothers in this stuff? I remember seeing Lord Of The Rings, not a damn milk chocolate elf. They coulda put in one, give us one high yellow brother, give us something.

Now, you may have noticed from other posts that i'm a white male so my perspective is different... but reading that comment i was worried. I was worried about all the opportunities that are being wasted currently in gaming.

First off, yes there are a load of buttons to memorise, get used to etc. It's a big and confusing step even for veteran gamers - let alone people who haven't played many control-complex games over many years - and all of this is alongside learning the game mechanics as well. Making a game that is open to both learners and advanced players is a difficult enough task in itself, but making it a deep experience while retaining a shallow angle to allow players who want to stay at that level is almost impossible.

But let's leave that topic alone for the time being. I'm not in any position to be going into the depths of difficulty curves... however i would like to address the person's second comment. I mentioned above that i'm white. I'm male. I'm also middle-class. I'd like to leave that all behind but if we're being realistic no one can get away from their upbringing and stratum of social history. I've never played a game and thought,

"Wow, where are the white people?" and my immediate response to this comment was,

"Elves are a different race. Maybe they never lived in an environment where darker skin became a predominant biological evolution. Kind of like how you don't get blond Asian people. It's just an imaginary game world so what does it matter how the creators imagined it?"

Then i thought again and it got me wondering, "Why have i never considered it before and what other parts of society does it apply to?"

Thinking about the reason he felt the way he felt - although i had never experienced it in game form before - i decided that it must come down to feeling excluded. We define our physical selves by what we look at in the mirror or down, from our heads, towards our feet. I realised that if every game i played or race i tried to play in a game excluded my physical being from being recognised that i'd probably start to feel maligned and excluded from existence. It's like being ignored on a mass scale. It's important to feel included in the activities you partake in and, through no fault of the creators of WoW (and Lord of the Rings) they had excluded a whole section of society.

From that point i began to explore what other parts of society have been 'included' or excluded from the archetypes and tropes of gaming. Women were the original excluded populace. There were little to no mainstream female protagonists and even when women were portrayed in gaming they tended to be one of two stereotypes: helpless and sexually prolific in their appearance or strong, Amazonian, man-hating, warriors - some of which would eventually fall into the former category during the progress of the game. All of that came to a climax when Lara Croft became the first mainstream, strong but sexy (overly so) woman to be a useful character. Thinking in this way i realise how Lara (who is fairly two dimensional in some respects) has become the icon that she has.
Moving on from there i thought about obesity. The rising levels of obesity in the world have brought this physical form into the general concious mind and as a result many games have included the option to be fat - or physically big-boned (see games like City of Heroes). Apart from having a laugh, i can't see the appeal of being obese - even in a game... but sticking to the theory that people define themselves through their physical presence that i came to above, it makes sense that this has been included. Indeed, many of these same games also include the ability to be Asian or black.

Gay people have also been pretty maligned in society and i would also pose that female gay people tend to have it harder than male gay people due to the heterosexual masculine affinity for objectifying women. There have been certain games that have capitalised on this mentality with Fear Effect 2: Double Helix being a prominent example. The protagonists fell easily into the strong amazonian archetype which also has the possibility of being 'turned' by the right man.

The two remaining questions for me are:

When will there be a positive character for other parts of society to latch onto? Has there already been one? I can't think of a single game where i played a black or Asian character - in fact i'm really looking forward to Mirror's Edge, partly because of this interesting aspect of the game.

The second is more of a research type of question. Would white gamers feel maligned in the same way as other parts of society if there was a hugely popular game were you could play every different skin colour but not white. Does our social history preclude us from feeling this way or is it just down to individual personalities?

If anyone reads this, i'd love to hear what you think about this subject.

3 June 2008

On Diablo...

I’ve been listening to loads of podcasts while I’ve been doing work. Today I was perusing the back catalogue of the Retronauts podcast on 1UP.com – specifically the one on Diablo.

Which, of course got me thinking about both Diablo 1&2 and also Titan Quest – the three action RPGs that I’ve played. Although I admit that Diablo 2 is better than the first (I usually think of Titan Quest being in between the two in terms of features character building) there are some elements that I really liked from Diablo.

1. Being able to learn magic spells from books.
  • - I thought that (although I’ve not played D&D outside of CRPGs) it felt like multiclassing. There was a cool element to being a fighter who had managed to scrape a decent nova spell for helping to finish off tough enemies or to help during a swarm of enemies.
2. Dropped loot remained.
  • - To be fair, the world was much smaller than Diablo 2 but I loved how you could leave extra money and items on the ground and return to pick them up later on. What can I say? I’m a hoarder!
3. Music
  • - Although there was some cool music in Diablo 2 (my favourite was in Lut Golhein’s palace Harem), Diablo had really atmospheric music from the minute you loaded into the menu screen till the minute you left the game.

4. Randomised side quests and the ability to restart the game
  • - I loved the Book of the Blind side quest and Tancred’s armour one. Sure, Diablo 2 had more of these side quests but they were static in the world – they were always present. I liked how if you played through Diablo you would get some and not all of these side quests allowing you to restart the game and run through the levels to try and get new side quests.

Moving on to a comparison of Titan Quest and the Diablo series I have found that I prefer the ‘masteries’ (class building system) in Titan Quest but the more randomised nature of Diablo levels – even though the overall level structure is fixed – is miles better. I also found that the exposition throughout the story in TQ tended to be a bit flat and the voice overs left much to be desired in comparison with the production quality of the Diablo series voice acting and writing.

1 June 2008

The next gen musings...

After analysts, DFC Intelligence, released an overview of their estimates of the positions of the consoles at the end of this generation i got to thinking about one of their lines of thought:

How soon will Nintendo want to launch a new system with the Wii being so successful? Will Microsoft still want to stay in the game business given their losses? Is Sony really serious about pushing the PS3 to a ten year plus life cycle? Will new game systems just be an extension of the current game systems with some enhanced features and services?

I'm in agreement with the thought on Nintendo's reluctance to release a new console while it's still selling like hotcakes and there still hasn't been a price cut for the Wii. My concern lies in the fact that i'm not sure where Nintendo can go from the Wii except adding better graphics and internet/networking capabilities through online services. Unfortunately, due to Nintendo's network phobia i doubt that they could create an enticing online experience at the moment - though this would be relatively easy to resolve as both Microsoft and Sony have shown what to do/not to do.

The Microsoft musing really caught my eye. I doubt that MS would leave the console space after carving out such a decent slice of the pie for themselves, however, if DFC's prediction that the Xbox 360 would finish last by the end of the console generation then we might only see one more console iteration from Microsoft - unless the next generation Xbox becomes very popular.
Also, there have been rumblings about the development and release of the 360's successor for a few months now and i doubt that MS would just pull out half-way through seeing a probably successful product to market.

I do believe that we won't see a PlayStation 4 within the same time frame that we will see the next Xbox and so, although i doubt that the PS3 will be around for 10+ years without a new installment i think that we'll see a larger gap between Microsoft's launch and Sony's. If MS launches in 2011-12 then i'd expect to see the PS4 at around 2013-14 - maybe at the earliest a 2012 Christmas release. One aspect that i think the PS3 has going for it is the Cell processor. Graphically the 360 and PS3 are on pretty much on par with one another, and, while the Power PC processor in the Xbox is easier to programme for, the Cell has a higher theoretical throughput of hard calculations which i think will start to shine through for games that utilise large amounts of physics and possibly AI... though i don't really believe that any in-order chips are particularly good for advanced AI simulations. Of course, AI is dependent on the state of the software/technological development on intelligent systems in the first place and this is one area that has lagged behind development of graphics and physics processing.

The last line of the quote has me intrigued. While i would hope for much more 'powerful' (and i don't necessarily mean more MHz or processing units and shader units etc.) systems next generation, perhaps neither Microsoft or Sony would be willing to let the expenditure of the current generation's systems to go without due return or investment. Already Microsoft has been linked to their own version of a motion controller (similar in style to the Wiimote) and one has to wonder if they would rather produce the equivalent of the 32X (for Sega's MegaDrive) than push out a whole new system and virtually sideline the current one (problems and all) like they have done to the original Xbox.
Sony is particularly vulnerable to this line or thinking due to the heavy losses they had and continue to have on each console sold and is the reason behind them stating that the console will have a 10+ year lifespan.

Though i guess that in the end all this soothsaying gives us nothing but cud to chew on while not playing the games and systems that are already on the market. :)