22 November 2009

Possible explanation...?

So i've been lamenting people's apparent selfishness in the gaming community quite a lot in my more recent posts and it turns out that there may be something to it. It turns out that those who have more tend to make decisions that are more self-centred/serving. According to the researchers:

This paper demonstrates that mere exposure to luxury goods increases individuals’ propensity to prioritize self-interests over others’ interests, influencing the decisions they make. Experiment 1 found that participants primed with luxury goods were more likely than those primed with non-luxury goods to endorse business decisions that benefit themselves but could potentially harm others. Using a word recognition task, Experiment 2 further demonstrates that exposure to luxury is likely to activate self-interest but not necessarily the tendency to harm others.


This suggests that luxury does not necessarily induce one to be “nasty” toward others but simply causes one to be less concerned or considerate toward them.

Now, it's by no means concrete evidence - they focused on the super rich and the tests were basic at best but gaming is a luxury. Is it possible to say that people who have more luxury goods (or more access to them) will view certain directions/decisions by the industry different from those who have access to less.

I'd probably, from my own experience, say no. I think that a person's character and upbringing would have more impact on these sorts of responses to different issues but i can imagine that someone who has more will be less likely to want to dilute what they have. It's one reason why people say: The rich just get richer while the poor get poorer. As someone who is well-off but completely broke i've found that my outrage or discomfort on certain issues has been made more apparent, however it was still there originally - when i had money, for example. Regarding matters within the game industry my disgust/disdain for certain practices and opinions has not altered (as can be evidenced by this blog and in certain other places).....

12 November 2009

The way the wind blows...

Now, i love Gamerswithjobs.com but sometimes i find (as with elsewhere) that i am at odds with the site's wordsmiths. This article is a case in point.

My main problem is the thesis behind the reasoning. Elysium speaks about how not supporting DLC, microtransactions and other piecemeal efforts that the gaming industry has introduced over the last ten years is resulting in the companies being unprofitable. He's railing against "the haters" to use a common phrase these days. To which he leads us to this part:

I hate to be dire, but I’ve seen 3 years of the Bobby Kotick doctrine, and if that’s what the future for companies like EA and TakeTwo and THQ is going to be then we’re going to sit back in a few years and long for the day when we got to whine about Day-1 DLC in a game like Dragon Age. Let me describe the future I see. Subscription based services married with microtransactions. Hobbled initial releases where the DLC is not just an optional quest, but key game mechanics. One-time required online authentication that prevents multi-player for used games. A virtual death of games like Mirror’s Edge, Dead Space, Ghostbusters, Brutal Legend, Borderlands or Dragon Age.

Of course, he doesn't see the opposite side of the story. The people who don't support those methods saw this writing on the wall years ago. Seriously, he's so far behind the curve that it's unfunny. I never supported DRM, DLC, microtransactions etc because i saw that it would lead to a future where we were nickel-and-dimed and it's strange that we could come to the same end through different conclusions.

On his worry that we won't see those innovative games? I don't have the same fear. There will always be companies willing to innovate and therefore people who want innovative products and therefore people who will pay for those innovative products. Innovation will not die because the current way of making the high-end games is unprofitable.

Also, on that note, why the hell are they unprofitable? Games were profitable 10 years ago... they were profitable during the last console generation.... some of them are even profitable nowadays and the market for games has increased by a huge amount. So what the hell is going on? Well, it comes down to this: The game companies (developers, publishers) are making products that make no financial sense and i don't mean that in the risk/reward way. We're not talking about releasing a hardcore product on the Wii (primarily casual market system), we're talking about just making a game which doesn't cost so much that it requires 2 million sales at full price to break even when there's not a large enough market to support that sort of sell-through rate for very many games. I've made this point before, but developers and publishers have no one else to blame for making games that are so expensive. Consumers were pretty happy with the lower graphics available five years ago but instead of moving forward slowly and growing their audience, they really jumped the gun with the Xbox 360 and PS3 - pushing almost more-than-state-of-the-art hardware - and in the process increased the development costs of a game by an order of magnitude and are now complaining when they don't make a return on their investment. Worse still, they've managed to convince a portion of their userbase that it's all down to a failure on the consumer's part that these problems are now rearing their heads for gaming companies. The worst part of his spiel is that he acknowledges that the game industry have backed a model that doesn't work but haven't changed it. If this were a conversation about the music industry then he would be chastising them for making the same decision.... why the difference?

Moving on to the piracy issue.... piracy has pretty much stayed constant on consoles and PC over the last 10 years. I mean, even if it has only grown 10% since 2000, that's still an 80% piracy rate if you take the most recent developer studies to date, the small jump to 90% just doesn't make that big of a difference. Further adding credence to this line of thinking is the fact that a large proportion of developers in the UK do not view piracy as a real threat to a game.

Finally, the nail in the coffin of his argument (from my point of view) is this:

Gamers have waged their own zealot war against a changing marketplace, irresponsibly made unreasonable decisions about their entitlements and bent the rules as they see fit to get what they think they’ve got coming.


Let me put it this way, if having Day-one DLC in a game like Dragon Age means that Bioware gets to make the sequel, and not having it means they don’t, I will happily take the opportunity to make my informed purchasing choice and I will fold my arms and look sternly at those who gripe and complain.


If you want an industry that can take chances. If you want an industry that can be agile and adaptable to niche demands. If you want publishers that are willing to explore new IPs and put resources behind projects like Dragon Age, then you, my stubborn and well-intentioned comrades, need to turn down the righteous fury.

It's a classic mistake and one that many others have made before him. It's also another thing i've highlighted here in the past. I'll let you into the secret one more time:

The hardcore gamers - especially those on PC - are a small part of the market. Out of that small part of the market the people who find DRM, DLC etc offensive on whatever level are an even smaller part. We're talking about a noisy but financially inconsequential part of the gaming market. Any action we take, any stance we make.... any code we break, any line we stake..... we'll be inconsequential....

We don't affect the bottom line on very many games and it's incredibly egotistical to think that we do.

11 November 2009

The gaming class system....

There's been a lot of clashing between people who are complaining about increased prices or games, DLC on day one and other issues related to gaming where features have been removed for PC players and people who will literally take anything that is thrown their way by developers.

Honestly, i think there's a class system coming from society that is breaking into gaming now. Originally, and this is just my opinion, gaming was taken up by the upper and middle classes as games consoles, PCs and games were all very expensive. Gradually the prices came down and the mass market penetration that is allowed by that also followed. Now, however, you're seeing developers and publishers pushing the prices of games up again - whether that's an extra cost at purchase or if it's day one paid-DLC (downloadable content) for more of the game. There's also the issue of DRM, whether that's transparent DRM (like securom) or if it's obfuscated through "signing up" services like Impulse and Dragon Age's community site (which allow you to get updates and unlock certain content).

Accompanying this push is the aforementioned gamer arguments and i tend to find that once again the middle/upper classes with lots of disposable income are willing to let anything slide. They have money and can spend it any way they wish. On the other side of the argument are the poorer people and those who are philosophically opposed to the particular practices that the gaming industry is evolving.

The thing that's interesting (but also personally annoying) is that those "haves" who don't mind all the crap that's continually happening each have their own breaking points - decisions made by companies that they oppose on philosophical or monetary grounds - but until they reach that point they continually dismiss and deride those other people who take issue with other decisions.

"It's just another facet of society", you might say..... We have already experienced this sort of behaviour many times throughout history (perhaps even constantly) and it's just seeping into gaming. The annoying thing is that it really doesn't appear to exist in any other entertainment media. Books, films/TV and music - you can freely complain about the price of an album or how it's not good value for money, you don't have to pay for extra chapters of a book that the author might think it was cool to write but didn't get them ready in time for the original printing run. No one bats an eyelid and yet in the gaming community you are constantly labelled as complainers or angry internet men. Whatever happened to having an open mind? What ever happened to people realising that a company "making money" isn't bad but a company "making money in whatever way possible" is?

IMO, there is a large swathe of the gaming community that has gone from being interested in the rights of the consumer to being company focused. There can be no questioning company decisions, they read from the manual of the Ministry of Truth and never look up to question those words.

We'll see how it plays out but i'm not confident in the game industry surviving in the future other than minigames, MMOs and free indie stuff. There's just no reason for you to pay the amount we do for a game only to discover that on day one you don't own (sorry, license) the full game.

6 November 2009

Tabloid roulette and the demise of PC gaming...

I've come to a conclusion: Modern Warfare 2 is the tabloid of first person shooters. Not only that, but it's not the only game to be this way....

Shock! Horror! Teh boycotts!

Anyway, i think you might understand why i think this if you read my reasons.

First, tabloids thrive on appealing to the lowest common denominator. They keep their language and punctuation at a low level because there are a lot of poorly literate people out there and they don't want to alienate those people by making them feel stupid. Hence their stories and writing are geared towards those people and the media interests in their lives. They also prey on fear and ignorance by using sensationalist tactics which they defend as "thought-provoking" and "challenging/hard-hitting" journalism.

Believe it or not i think this sort of tacit reinforcement of low levels of fact and literacy makes people more ignorant and fearful. It also makes them more likely to keep on using these "resources" as they go forward in their lives as opposed to more challenging resources that they might find boring and difficult at first but which they would never give a chance because they immediately dismiss the resource and switch back to their comfortable media.

I view the continuing pre-release of Modern Warfare 2 in the same light. They're utilising sensationalism in their "play as a terrorist" aspect, for one thing (we'll have to wait for the rest of the game to be leaked or released to really find out if this theme is extended) and also in their F.A.G.S. grenade video. They, through the implementation of IW.net and the non-support of modders and dedicated servers, are dumbing the audience of the game down - appealing to only the lowest common denominator which reinforces the uneducatedness of the general gaming population.
I mean, if you look at the history of gaming and modding, the modding community has always been very small but (and perhaps this is just my opinion) has usually been spawned from the larger, more popular games like Unreal Tournament, Doom, Quake, Total Annihilation, Command and Conquer, Warcraft, X-wing, and Diablo. These modding communities become larger as time goes by because there is the support from PC developers there and their games are not walled gardens devoid of any content outside of those boundaries. From these pools of modders (aside from lengthening the game's lifespan) new blood and ideas flow into the development community, it's not just some sink of pirates and jackasses that alter "your game" and by stopping that and not supporting those people or new modders to get into gaming you're (whether intentionally or not) partially strangling the future of game development where one of the avenues to get into gaming is removed.

Perhaps it's just a coincidence then, when there are so many companies turning their back on the PC and PC development, that Epic have released their software development kit (SDK) for their engines as free for all modders and non-commercial releases in a similar vein to id's engine licensing. It's certainly strange when considering that Epic are practically a console-only development house these days and have certainly scaled back their presence on the PC. Maybe there's still hope for the future of traditional (not mini- or casual games) PC gaming if the gamers themselves will release free games as proof of concepts or just fun projects before moving on to be snatched up by the "real" game companies.

29 October 2009

Crysis Warhead....

Again, i know i'm late to the party but it seemed like a good idea to follow on from Crysis with its "offshoot"/expansion, Warhead. While i enjoyed Crysis overall (including the zero-G sections) i found that the disparity between what was shown in cutscenes and the actual powers of the nanosuits really bothered me. I also felt that the balance between the power of the normal Korean footsoldiers and the player was leaning towards the wrong side, however, after playing through the rest of the game i realised that the nanosuit and weapons seemed to mainly be balanced against the aliens.... which is great for the last third of the game but not ideal for the first two thirds.

Warhead continues on with this trend. The opening cutscenes vastly overstate the power of the nanosuit which is still very annoying and completely breaks the immersion for me. It seems that the balance between the Koreans and the player has been changed - it now takes significantly fewer shots to down a Korean soldier which is what i was annoyed about in the original game, however your "armour mode" has also been significantly reduced in power meaning that a few stray shots from 100 metres or more away can pretty much kill you. (This is as of patch 1.1) It's a shame because the suit powers still lack any real "punch", each draining in under a few seconds, which combined with the pause between switching modes leaves the dream of being able to run, jump and punch people to a pulp a remote possibility (or fluke).

Again, not far into the game the cutscenes belie the actual game mechanics, with "Psycho" jumping down a cliff after engaging the strength mode, which results in a direct loss of health "in game" as compared to armour mode which drains armour first. The cutscene is a logical extention of real-world physics which unfortunately does not translate to the game world.

I'm not particularly far into the game as yet but it appears to be as enjoyable as the original which is no bad thing. Shame about the DRM and limited activations though and i certainly would never have bought this game if they had been known about before the release date.


Seriously, this is a good game. At its most basic, the game is WoW crossed with Dungeon Siege and it works very well and i say that because it doesn't feel like Diablo or TitanQuest, it feels more "action-y".

I like the limited spells your characters can utilise as well as their own skills, i like the weapons and the pet... i like the interface and the characters (though i wish they had included a male and female option for each class but that's just personal prefernce).

What don't i like? Well, i've only played the demo but i won't be buying the full game. "Why not?", you may ask, "After all this praise...". The reality is that this game requires authentication and (although it's not clear if it applies to every download service) it also has activation/install limits.

I'm sorry but that just isn't what i'm willing to sacrifice in order to buy your product. Please try again.

27 October 2009

The importance of passion...

I went to see The Vampire's Assistant yesterday (it was actually quite good) but it got me thinking about emotions, and the lack thereof, in games. One thing in particular that seems to get left out is passion - and i mean the word in every sense.

Part of this is down to the voice acting, where it's particularly grating when a character sounds dull and lifeless, but another part is the story within the game. How many games have a theme of passion? Passion for a lover, passion for a friend, the passion of a parent/carer. We constantly have the old and terribly simple "passion for revenge" which is so well-worn that it seems every game with violence in it relies on this premise to drive the narrative.

Where is the oedipus conflict? Where is the conflict of taking someone under our wings and protecting and nurturing them? Where is the conflict of being friends with someone that you should hate/be at war with?

I think a really interesting game design would be for the player, who is a powerful entity within the game world, finding and then protecting/raising a youngster where you get to see the growth and development of the youngster as your character becomes older and frailer. Sure, it runs the risk of being one, game-long escort quest but if it's managed carefully then it wouldn't be so bad. You could start off with the child being pretty helpless and they'd stick to you like an AI buddy in any other game (you could give rudimentary orders like fight, run and defend etc) but as they grow and become more powerful they observe you and your actions: They learn from you, the learn to fight and you see that they protect you as much as you protect them.

As the game progresses, the enemies will become more powerful/plenty and as the child grows up and draws close to your character in abilities and power then it becomes an AI co-op game. Then at some point during the game the tables will turn between the character and his charge. The child will become more powerful than your character and the game would begin to change to a ability management system whereby you survive by ordering around your protector.

I think this is an interesting example of where the player starts off strong but becomes weak - without neutering the player's agency in the world. It evolves from being an escort mission (a la Ico) to a co-op game (parts of Fable 2 and other action games?) to being a squad management game (like many of the recent console FPS games). I think this has a lot of potential and hopefully we'll see a game like this at some point.

22 October 2009

Thoughts on Crysis...

Yes, i'm late to the party..... Yes, this will probably never be read by anyone but i'm going to write about my experience with the game so far.

The main problem i've got with the game is that your "super suit" really doesn't differentiate you from the enemies that much. It's just not that super.

What i mean by that is the number of bullets you can absorb when you're in "armour" mode is pathetically close to what any ordinary armoured-jacket wearing Korean soldier does. Why is this the case? I can take the submachine gun or the AK47 variant and unload half a clip into a guy's chest a close range and he's still standing but what feels like the equivalent from one of the enemies has me in the same state - severely wounded and almost dead. If two enemies are around, one with a shotgun then i'm lucky if i'm not dead. So basically, the super-armoured capacity of my suit is around the same level as a standard kevlar jacket. Why not just wear a kevlar jacket underneath my super suit and instead use the "strength" mode instead? It beats me.

Then there's the problem of the suit's power, or rather the lack of it. The suit just doesn't have much of a charge and so any ability you're using runs out in less than 3 seconds. 3 jumps for the strength mode, ~3 seconds for the speed mode and a few shots for the armour mode. The stealth is actually a little better and lasts longer but again it just isn't effective. Not to mention that it's completely out of kilter with how the game presents the supersuit's abilities. During several cut-scenes you and other suit-wearing characters wander around in the cloaked stealth mode without a care in the world and there's instant recharging after moving objects (which would otherwise deplete your energy in gameplay) and no worries about moving around. It's really annoying.

The AI is mostly poor. While it tends to retain the eagle-eyed and sharpshooting abilities often seen in Crytek's predecessor, FarCry, they have managed to make the enemies act confused from time to time, whereby you may fire at one of their number and they won't all immediately know where you are and make a beeline for your location. It doesn't take long, however, and even if you use a silencer they always seem to know where you're shooting from if one of the people you're killing sees your location before he dies - despite the fact that he would be unable to relay your location in a similar situation in real life. That really kills the point of stealth in this game.

The only redeeming feature of the game is the weapon mod system which i actually really quite like. Being able to kit out each weapon with an increasing number of modifications such as sniper scopes etc is really nice and makes each weapon far more versatile than it would initially appear.

So far i think i'm about a third to half-way through the game and it's not a bad romp.... but i think it lacks the character that made FarCry enjoyable and doesn't quite match up to its own aspirations enough for your character to really shine as a multi-million dollar weapon of war.

18 October 2009

Economies of scale in games....

Shamus Young, over at the Escapist, has written about the general failings of game economies. It's a short and slightly tongue-in-cheek look at why economies fail: i.e. it's the loot generated through a player's actions. Reading over at his blog and through the comments on the article there are a few camps:


These people want to include aspects of reality such as stricter carry limits and smaller, less frequent combats. They also want to devalue products which are more numerous - which would lead them to become ridiculously cheap and would thus mean that blacksmiths etc are run out of business by the player.


These people want to reduce the impact of selling loot by reducing the amount that vendors are willing to pay and/or increasing the cost of new items sold by vendors.

My opinion lies with a (seemingly small) third camp who are technically ultra-realists in the economic sense. i.e. The games would work as they do currently, with unrealistically large encumbrance levels and item storage etc. However, what would happen is that the world would act in a realistic way. This is also something i've thought about before, specifically regarding to MMO gameplay.

First off, there's a limited number of people but new people can be born and thus grow into adults and populate areas. These people will be free to join whatever faction they wish, whether they be bandits, bad guy minions, traders, townspeople or guards etc. Though this would have to come with some limits such as "tendencies" to go into a particular profession/lifestyle (e.g. gentry would be more likely to remain gentry or become knights in a medieval setting). To compensate for unlimited population grow you could, upon birth assign a person fertility % (i.e. their chance to be able to procreate) and, on top of this, you would have a population vs food check with each area having an upper limit of food production. If the population rose above this limit food would have to either be bought in from another area (trade) or people would starve and die (you could choose whether children or old adults would be more likely to die first with people in their teens and twenties the least likely to suffer from starvation).
Fewer farmers/hunters in the area would mean less food and thus a smaller population and if the player or bandits rode into down and killed all the food-makers then the rest of the population would suffer unless some people switched roles to start producing food.

This style of thinking would also be reflected in the items of the world. Each item would require the base materials, the right profession (or professions) to be present and time to produce. A sword, for example, might require 8kg iron ore, 5kg ashes, 1kg leather, a blacksmith, a tanner and two days to make. A better sword might require multiple blacksmiths or more of one material or additional materials. This allows the player to be more involved in the game world because they can commission, bring materials or products to different places to enable the creation of items and help with the local economy. Of course, the initial number of each item in the world would be limited and, to stop items becoming limitless and thus devalued, they would degrade with use and time, depending on the item.
For example, a cloth tunic might cost 13 coins, would take 2 weeks to produce and degrade within a year of use. If it was not in use then it would last 5 years (damn those moths!) and to account for use and disuse some simple formula could be implemented to say 1 day use = x% of 1 day non-use (and then divide that by the item's total "lifespan"). This mechanic would also allow a repair trade/economy to flourish though you'd also have to limit the effectiveness of each time the item is repaired, depending on the item type. e.g. Repair 1 would refresh 50% of the item's lifespan, repair 2 would refresh 30% etc. Until the cost to benefit ratio decreased to the point where it would be more cost effective to buy a new item. Item effectiveness could also be tied into it's repair/lifespan stats so that an old rusty/heavily used sword would be less likely to do heavy cutting damage than a brand new shiny sword.

The end result of these mechanics is that the player is unlikely to completely destroy any economy because any influx of items into the market would require them to be removed from the market elsewhere first. Plus, no vendor would be likely to have that much money to buy them - or want to buy them. Why would a blacksmith want to buy a sword for very much money when they've already got 20 in the shop? He might pay for the raw materials but that's not likely to be a large sum.

Of course, i've got my own ideas for magic items and telling that here would just be giving all of my secrets away :p

9 September 2009

Steam is broken....

It's a broken system and it's starting to get ridiculous that there are still no solutions.

1. Groups are pointless because in order to get the most out of them you need to "friend-up" everyone in the group, which can be in the hundreds and thousands.

2. Notifications minimise some applications and non-steam games. Notifications also often spam themselves for one event when there's actually only one notification planned plus there's no way of turning them off whilst having your status as "online".

No. 2 isn't a problem for me but i know it is for other people. No. 1 is my main gripe..... and it's ridiculous that it hasn't been fixed. I don't want a thousand people on my friends list - that's completely unmanageable! What i want to be able to do is join a group and to have the steam game i'm playing automatically let me play with anyone in the group.

6 September 2009

Bang, bang.... is sensationalism dead?

On the one hand, i like Leigh Alexander because she's like a female version of me.... a complainer and a dissector (and who doesn't like themselves? ;)). To people on the outside it appears as if we're never happy, though in actual fact we, or at least I (since i'm projecting and i have no idea whether Leigh is actually like myself), am. On the other hand, i get a bit fed up with how she puts across her thoughts. She's confrontational and never offers anything back when she takes something away.

Case in point, her latest piece over at Kotaku. Sure, it's good for grabbing headlines and perhaps that's why she's in the business of journalism... but this sort of sensationalism doesn't help matters and it's exactly what we decry when watching and reading content from the mainstream news outlets.
"Is creativity dead?", she asks.... and then completely fails to deliver or comment on this very question, instead side-railing onto the topic of inspiration. My main problem with the whole thing is that neither she or her interviewees makes any differentiation between story and mechanics and it's quite clear from the article that different people are talking about one or the other and never both at the same time.

Industry veteran and Zoonami CEO Martin Hollis, most recently creator of quirky Wii Ware title Bonsai Barber, agrees that the thematic range of games isn't very broad. "Pauline Kael famously criticized films as being only about violence and romance: ‘Kiss Kiss, Bang Bang'," he says of the great film critic. "Games are virtually all about violence, or at least conquest and dominance. So we can say games are all ‘Bang Bang, Bang Bang.'"

In reality, the thematic range of games is very broad it's just that the majority of games made are similar in theme, tone, story or mechanics.... but not necessarily all of those! Just because 30 FPS were produced last year and only 15 major games were quirky non-violent affairs the majority does not negate the minority. The majority of books and films are action or love blockbusters.... they're thematically unchallenging but no one would accuse all authors or books of being devoid of creativity because the truly innovative and interesting ones are in the minority. It's misleading and a petty thing to do but it's this sort of sentiment that permeates the piece.

"There are some outliers, but we continuously make the same games about the same things," says Heir, who worked on this summer's Wolfenstein sequel. "The only things that change are our mechanics. We regularly have white male generic space marine characters as protagonists. Our NPCs are often cookie cutter and stereotypical. We use the same backdrops of post-nuclear apocalypse or colonizing Mars, or crazy fantasy worlds."

And yet these designers have learned nothing from all their years of work in the industry. How many times do we splurt out, "There are no new ideas, just rehashes." Or, looking at the more cerebral side of gaming, game theory and story writing you'll be confronted with people who say that the same stories, character archetypes and game interactions/fantasies permeate society at an almost subconscious level travelling from generation to generation from centuries, perhaps millennia, ago.

What are we expecting to happen? That just because we have invented a new medium we'll suddenly re-write these age-old staples that connect with us humans at the deepest of levels and in the most exciting way? Face it, it's not going to happen.... so where does that leave us? I'll tell you where it leaves us: right where we are and where we've always been. We're not in some dire uncreative rut, we're not about to become shallow morons who only play the same game over and over again because that's not who we've ever been. Humans don't sit down and stop socially evolving: we create, we iterate and we change.

Here's a fun fact: The majority of recreational books written in the 18th and 19th century are what we call period dramas. Can we distinguish one period drama from the next? Probably not.


Tim Schafer's and Marianne Krawczyk's comments only help to confuse the matter as they make allusions to an incestuous gaming industry that takes no input from outside itself, which results in the stagnation of the inspirational DNA of the people playing and creating games.... as if all people are identical, have the same world views and desire the exact same end-result - even if they do enjoy the same things. Guess what? I play football, i watch those footballers on TV. My idea of playing football is different to those who do play and those i play with.... and that's with a system that *I* can't change the rules for.

Of course, in the next few paragraphs they manage to save some face by stating the obvious that, yes, people do in fact take inspiration from their personal lives, from art from everywhere including within games and also without. It makes you wonder why they even said all that incestuous bullshit in the first place. Well done, the problem is solved a third of the way through the article! It's now a non-issue..... so why is there another two thirds to read through?

Risk-taking is a key element – Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello called Brütal Legend a "significant creative risk" — just before the publisher announced it'd be the one to rescue the title from its post Acti-Blizzard limbo. Fervent gamers now look forward to its breath of fresh air.

So.... it's about risk now? Ah, i see... being creative is about taking risks; though actually, it doesn't have to be as we see in the second half of Leigh's blurb surrounding John Riccitiello's quote on how risky Brutal Legend is. Anyone looking at Brutal Legend who says it's creatively new or different from what's been before needs to go and take a shower. It's a third-person brawler set to a violent and rock/heavy metal backdrop shoved together with common mythology.... with elements of Pikmin/Overlord to boot. Yeah, a real creative risk there..... really fresh.

So, sarcasm aside, is the real question that Leigh should have been asking for this article, "What do you consider fresh?". More often than not it would appear that remixing or iteration is the name of the day and i have no problem with that. You can't improve on 'perfection'. If something works you don't change it but iterate it instead because those people who like that specific thing will probably like it in its new form.... and because it resonates in the deepest levels of our psyche/brain there will likely always be people who want to consume that thing.

And yet the pattern of the video game industry tells us otherwise. Derivative games sell, sequels are the watchword for the holidays, and the audience's appetite for war campaigns and space marines seems never to wane. What's wrong with more of the same, if that's what people seem to want?

And yet this is directly at odds with what her interviewees are saying.... this conclusion is Leigh's own placed over a carefully constructed article so that it doesn't sound idiotic. If this were the 70's and we're watching all those movies with that iconic style and form, Leigh would be saying the same thing... but here we are, 40 years later, watching movies with radically different forms.

The same games keep getting made largely because that's all the core audience is interested in. So maybe it's gamers, not game developers, who need to get a life.

The problem with any sort of analysis of gaming and gamers is that we are a minority of the market. No one looks at rap or hip hop and says that's all people buy because music is ubiquitous.... gaming, specifically video/computer gaming is not there yet. Leigh brings out the 11 million units of the Gears of War franchise sold as an illustrative point that gamers only buy one type of game (male power fantasies) whilst crying out for more meaningful things like Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. What this fails to take into account is that 11 million is nothing. 11 million? The population of the US is somewhere around 300 million alone... assuming those 11m units sold are all in the US that's a penetration of 3.6%. It's nothing, negligible - a statistical blip on one data point. Now, when we have the same penetration that music, movies/TV and books do come back and make some meaningful interpretations on the likes of people as a whole. At the moment the core audience are driving the expansion of gaming (and it is expanding) so of course we are going to get the games we want.... but that's not to say that there isn't a market for more arty games or non-violent, male fantasy games.... there just aren't the people in the games market to support as many of them at the moment.

The take-home message of the article for any readers is probably that if you look at something on such a small scale and with such a narrow view then you will undoubtedly make the wrong assumptions and get the wrong answers.

Now, maybe it's just that all of these interviewee's comments have been taken out of context and placed in an article that's solely trying to push it's sensationalist agenda or maybe none of these industry veterans are seeing the bigger picture.... and that to me is far more worrying than any fear of stagnation.

4 September 2009

Predictions come true!

Also acceptable as a possible title for this post is: I am a god!

In 2008 i wrote up a prediction of what i thought the next Xbox console would look like. I have to admit that i was wrong on the timescale but i think that's because both Microsoft and Sony have gone the 'mid-cycle upgrade' route through firmware and new peripheral hardware rather than bringing out a new fully-fledged console.

So what did i predict that i got right?

- Not sure about a motion controller but you'd need at least 2 hi-res cameras with something to focus on (like motion capture reflective spots) to get accurate enough 3-D information without accelerometers - kinda like the sensor bar with a standard ratio between the two cameras.

- If they do include motion control it will be a side-project and not the main focus of the console like it is for the Wii. There will still be a main controller like the one we're used to but perhaps the motion controller will be something you can buy like the Eye-toy or a dance pad for specific (read: Family oriented) games.

I think i pretty much just nailed Project Natal:

- "-DVR, media center, cable set top box functionality" is a given.

- The console won't ship for more than around £299 and they will try and keep that cost as low as possible (including the manufacturing cost/selling price ratio)

I'm pretty happy with these predictions as well though they are more "safe" than the camera style controller prediction.

Anyway, i'm off to play a game :)

Perhaps it's just me?

I regularly visit a site called "gamerswithjobs" and while it's still a great site filled and visited by really nice (and generally intelligent) people i'm finding myself growing more and more distant to it. Maybe it's just me and where i am in my life at the moment that's making it worse but there's always been a large gap there and for most other gaming sites out there which are primarily US-orientated so there's that aspect that drives a stake between my interaction with the members there.

However, for a few months now i'm feeling a larger disconnect with the actual site itself. The content and podcast content. It's as if they've somehow transitioned from being a site run by geeks and nerds (of which cloth i am also cut) with content to match to slowly becoming a "lifestyle" site which tends to those who want to be included rather than those who are already practising 'the lifestyle'.

I know it's not a very good way of saying it and i'm still a bit confused over the whole thing but i don't get the same excitement from the podcast anymore and the front page articles are just.... well, bland. It's as if the site is slowly becoming a more broad version of gamerdad - and certainly some of the old contributors to their front page content were also cross-pollinating that site in its original form (gaming with children? When did that happen?). It doesn't speak to me in the same way and perhaps that's part of the site's growth...... but i'm beginning to find myself without a home on the internet once again as i did when i moved from the Anime Community Boards (before the pay per use) on IGN and then the boards over at 3D Realms.

Each place has a special hold on my heart and as Jim Rossignol states that special experience can never be rekindled no matter how hard you yearn for it. It's purely a product of who and where you are in life combined with who visits the site and where it is in its growth. I miss the ACB and the 3DR people and community i knew (and a certain other blog circle/support group i stumbled upon during the period between my activity on those two boards that i've since forgotten the name of)... some of them are still about but there's no ties between us. They don't know who i have become and vice versa.

My problem now is that i've reached a zenith in my board participation on gamerswithjobs and while i am thankful i was able to do so, where do i go from here? There, quite frankly, is no better place i've ever encountered and certainly no better and generally civil and intelligent people..... but i need something closer to home. Something British or European.... it doesn't exist. RockPaperShotgun? Good site but lousy forums (and unruly users too!). Eurogamer? Decent site but more aimed at the mass market review side of things and quite crappy forums/comments threads.

I tried to create my own little side universe in the Eggmen.co.uk (European Gaming Group) but we don't have any exposure and i need more third party involvement to get my ass in gear.... i'm pretty much resigned to the fact that it's a dead end for now - we don't have any big names or interviews and what-not. I'd love to continue to do a podcast but organising it and keeping the audio and subject quality high is a tough order.

So my search continues..... where will i settle next?

1 September 2009

So no updates?

Well, not true! I've been busy working on (and actually) submitting my doctoral thesis so that's why there's been so little on here and Eggmen.co.uk. One of the problems i've found with being unemployed over a long period of time is that you really struggle to motivate yourself as well as keeping your thoughts going. Conversely, when you're busy, you want to do more and you also think more and thus can have more ideas.

Hopefully, i'll get a job soon, if not, then hopefully i'll manage to keep my brain ticking over to bring you more insightful thoughts on the industry, games and game design.

Speak soon :)

8 August 2009

The essence of thought and interaction....

There's an interesting piece over here at The Atlantic (a site i've never visited before today, though thanks to Bill Harris for pointing it out).

It's basically some thoughts on how the net and connected world is affecting our reasoning, knowledge and social interactions. I don't massively agree with some of the things he talks about and i feel like the whole thing is a bit over-wrought and (ironically for me) wordy when it could be more concise.

I think the two things that stick out for me in what he writes about are attention spans vs interest and social interaction vs interaction with machines. Starting off with the latter (since i think it's easier to talk about): he brings up 2001 as an allegory to how we might evolve due to our 'skimming' nature of interaction with knowledge and society through the internet and new media.

In the world of 2001, people have become so machinelike that the most human character turns out to be a machine. That’s the essence of Kubrick’s dark prophecy: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.

This may be a valid interpretation of the film's underlying tones.... but this example struck a completely different chord with me. Dealing with machines instead of people tends to lead you to emotional detachment. I don't think that Dave and his co-pilot act like machines because they have become socially mechanical, rather they act like machines because they are dealing with machines and while you can still get angry and mad at a machine, ultimately it does no good. Your choices are, deal with the problem.... or "Smash, Hulk! Smash!". I think i know which one seems more cultured and socially advanced.

For intelligent machines, as with HAL, the process is mirrored. We are beings of emotion and thus any intelligent machine will try to appeal to our emotions, to better understand and also to manipulate us as any baby would do. It's a natural process and while they may never achieve true emotional connection and understanding, any intelligent machine would be at odds with its own intelligence if it didn't try to interact with us on an emotional level. In my opinion, HAL's apparent emotional pleas are just another manifestation of manipulation and engagement with his human co-habitants.

On a bit of a tangent:
I can't imagine the amount of good that text conversations have done for discussing hot-button topics... certainly for myself, i find it's infinitely easier to approach a difficult situation or topic on the internet than it is in real life conversations because, even though emotions can still become high and people can get riled, you have the time to compose yourself and also your arguments. With a little patience you can be more verbose, coherent and persuasive than you could ever be in the middle of a conversation. Of course, there's certainly the argument to be had that you should be working towards being able to behave like this in verbal arguments - the age-old heritage of debating is the spirit of this notion incarnate - but not everyone can do this. A small amount of detachment is good for the soul, it appears. Too much, and yes we are in danger of becoming his worst fears - unable to socially interact without a 'mediator' medium. I don't think we'll ever get to that stage though.... there are too many checks and balances brought about by our continued reproduction cycles. If we ever stop reproducing and become immortal then all bets are off.....

I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

It's funny, i thought i felt something familiar a few years ago.... but then it went away. Intelligence-wise i felt the most smart and sharp at the age of 16, i felt like i could do anything then and certainly my grades felt from my perspective to be easier to achieve than anything since. I've also felt what i thought was a shortening of my attention span and have even commented on it here in this blog.... but i still feel that what i said then still stands - we have more choice and so utilise it. Certainly, i am no less capable of sitting through a long stretch of education or entertainment..... but i what i often find is that knowledge-based articles - whether they be on the web or in print - do not always have the information i want as deeply as i want it. This sometimes leads to tangents in my reading which, yes do not always lead back to the original article, but then you have to ask the question: Why was i reading the article in the first place? I don't think that there are many times that i've been interested in the bulk of the article and flicked away to some other site or pastime for no reason..... most of the time small jumps to reference media (for further clarification of a word, phrase, object or notion) tend to be the norm - i just can't know everything all the time and many articles assume a certain level of competence or base knowledge on their particular subject. It's only fair. I don't expect a paper on the electron migration through a piezo electric material to cover all the fundamentals in the same way a textbook on the basics of semiconductor types would.... but then i still need to fill the gaps in my knowledge (or reaffirm them) to be able to truly understand the paper in question. The internet has enabled both the acquisition and understanding of knowledge much easier and at the same time made it more difficult to discern what we hold to be true and what is, to all intents and purposes, a joke or 'grief' (i.e. false or 'bad' information).

If we truly wish to know something then we will sit on hot coals to do so.... if we have nothing but a passing interest or we really want to know something else that we know is in easy reach then we will, more often than not, want to reach for that instead.

28 July 2009

Rant - Lost Planet

Well, for a while there i thought LP was an okay game.... if a bit quirky in its control scheme due to the separate movement and aiming thing which, IMO, affected the game in a negative way. Because you were free to move around independently of your reticule/aiming target you often would not shoot when you wanted to because your in game body was facing slightly the wrong way.... most of the time this wasn't important but the whole reason for this rant really threw that into contention.

I played through a few missions without much mishap though i died twice in the introduction sequence which i found very confusing and it also seemed to have ridiculous amounts of drain on your heat units which i never found to be much a problem in the main game. Then i hit "the wall".

"The wall" is usually in every game: sometimes there are multiple walls, ones that are big and small, ones with multiple steps to get past. Some people call them difficulty spikes because their location is either incompatible with the player's and game's skill and difficulty ramp. Either way, we all reach a wall in every game we play. Most walls are surmountable but every so often we reach a wall that we just cannot climb over unless we dedicate hours upon hours of playing that same section through.... some people turn to walk-throughs but they aren't always helpful when you discover that you've been doing the right thing.

My wall in Lost Planet was meeting the woman in the pink mech (Vital Suit). I watched a cutscene in which these two face off for a moment before being dropped into the middle of it.... and boy, was i ever dropped into it! The battle is ridiculous.... i replayed it 10-12 times before deciding that even if i ever beat it (which i was close to doing on two occasions) would i want to play through several more hours before hitting the next wall? The game, up until that point, had been pretty easy and i wasn't really looking forward to dropping the difficulty just because of one unbalanced encounter.

"How was it unbalanced?", you might ask.

Well, the two most frustrating things should have been addressed during development. First-off.... when she hits you or your mech (you can fight in or out of the mechs) with a rocket blast or the laser you are effectively stunned as well as damaged which immediately stopped any action you were performing. The recovery animation for getting unstunned lasts as long (if not very slightly longer) as it does for her to fire off another rocket.... which she often did. What this led to was what some people affectionately call, "rocket juggling".... where i was taking disproportionate damage to the mistake i made. Oh, and she could kill my mech in about 2 rockets and two laser hits.... which isn't very much at all.
Add to this the fact that, even when i hit her, she was never stunned meaning that she could carry out her attack freely while i was crippled. For example, if we hit each other simultaneously, i would sit there, unable to do anything while i recovered from my stun and she would sit there and fire another rocket at me, lengthening the stun period and allowing her to fire another round at me. The only saving grace of the AI seemed to be that she was required to occasionally switch between rockets and laser which gave me some breathing room to manoeuvre around and recover a little.

The second frustrating thing was that i couldn't always fire.... which is probably related to the aiming/movement scheme i mentioned above. Because the mechs are so slow and unwieldly in tight places my main tactic was to pull out my rocket launcher whilst on foot and try to kill her as much as possible before getting into my mech and running away/whittling her life down. The problem with this was that sometimes when i fully depressed the trigger the damn launcher would not fire - though i would stand still..... and when i did fire i was stuck to the spot for some inexplicable reason for around a second afterward - which led me to be vulnerable to attack by rocket and laser.

Of minor irritation during the encounter was the fact that when her rockets exploded they would exude this thick, admittedly cool-looking, cloud of black, bilious smoke which obscured my view of everything behind it. I could not see her but she could still accurately fire at me..... just another example of the bullshit AI 'super sight' we're all used to in many games.

Oh, did i mention that she could move around really fast as well? Some sort of rocket skates that i didn't have access to.

I really thought that game designers were learning this console generation? Cheap tricks and unbalanced/unfair feeling encounters are just not fun. I don't need to feel like a god of gaming - i know i'm not that good. I just want to be on the same or similar footing as the enemies i'm expected to kill. Don't give them special exemptions from the game's rules that apply to me and me alone. Don't make it so they have bullshit moves that i don't have when utilising the same technology or powers.

The game is being sent back as we speak. I have no time for this sort of thing.

27 July 2009

Rant - Game logic: Lost Planet edition

Okay, so i get that it's a gameplay mechanic but let me get this straight..... The humans return to the planet that is extremely cold and basically uninhabitable due to this cold because they encountered some giant insects that produce (well, have inside of them) heat energy which gets dropped when they are killed. Now, when you're in the game you pick up this energy and it gets used up by your suit and the mechs that you pilot to keep you alive in the cold.

The rate at which you run through this energy is around 2 units per second at idle but when in a VS suit it increases to somewhere between 5-15 per second if you're doing anything other than walking.... you can effectively run through 1000 units easily in a combat situation that lasts less than two minutes.

Oh, did i mention that the amount of heat energy you pick up from the deceased insects is pretty negligible most of the time, like 50-100 units or so? The larger units like mechs and huge things usually have 200-500 units but they're far fewer in numbers.

It makes no logical sense... i'm burning through this stuff while killing these things. It's not cost effective or an energy efficient process. In one mission that took me 42 minutes I collected 32,000 heat units but ended the mission with only 8000.... That's 24000 units completely lost. Why are we on this planet again?

Despite running down so quickly you get a lot from the beacons which inexplicably contain 1000 or so units which kind of makes the whole mechanic pointless since you're always able to keep your heat units topped up by these frequent reservoirs. The game would have been better served by just having regenerating health (as it already does) and none of this heat unit collecting stuff.

1 July 2009

If you don't agree with this you must be a corporate ass-kisser...

And while i'm on a non-game specific bent i may as well get my feelings about another phrase:

Angry Internet Men.

Whoever invented this phrase (i have a feeling it was someone over at RockPaperShotgun!) needs to go and hide away from humankind forever. Originally it was supposed to be a term for the most extreme people who overreacted and could not be logically reasoned with in any way, shape or form.... these people are just stereotypically angry and there's nothing anyone can do about it to shut them up or for them to really make much sense.

The phrase has evolved into a sort of derision or dismissal of any argument that goes against 'the establishment'. Complain about LAN functionality being removed from Starcraft 2? You're an AIM. Be annoyed by erroding consumer rights in the games industry? You're an AIM. Complain about Diablo 3's lightness and wow-gayness? You actually are an AIM - that's a legitimate use of the phrase ;)
Like the terms "ad hominem" (often AIM is an ad hominem) and "straw man" it's begining to get carted out during any discussion that has an argument against those in authority or control - regardless of whether the situation warrants the use of those terms. People use them to try and blindly discredit and undermine the arguments of their opponents by sowing seeds of doubt in third parties on the legitimacy of the arguments.

It seems like anyone who rails against a decision these days is a "whiner" or an "angry internet man" in the eyes of fans or the general public.... from the eyes of the publishers and developers they are "pirates". In response to the questions of 'Why no LAN option?' in StarCraft 2 the posted message just reads as a literal - if you want LAN then you must be a pirate - so stop leeching off of society and buy our game, no questions asked.

We would not take out LAN if we did not feel we could offer players something better.

If I were to buy StarCraft II or any other title, I know the money I spent would be going to supporting that title. Personally, I would be upset that others were freeloading while others are legitimately supporting a title that has great potential and goals of making this title have 'long legs.'

If you like a song a lot, buy it, and that artist will only come out with more awesome songs for you. If you like a game, buy it, and we will promise to constantly work to make the player experience better at every corner we can.

Support the causes you believe in (This is applicable to all things, not just gaming).
Don't be a leech to society, innovation, and further awesome creations.

Similar intonations have been made by various figureheads throughout the gaming industry whenever DRM schemes have been questioned. Frequently it's a case of, "The people who care about DRM must be pirates and the rest who don't, don't care because they don't know about it."

Don't you just love arguments that rely on cultural division between 'them' and 'us'?

30 June 2009

Get. Over. It.

Three little words and yet i find them so offensively callous and childish in their nature and use. Someone typing or spitting these little mouth bullets thinks they're being cool and tough..... like disdaining someone's choice or reason for upset and confusion is a reason to be proud.

"You hurt your knee when you fell over? Well, get over it."

"Gamers may suffer some kind of identity crisis as the familiar markers of their beloved niche evolve – or disappear entirely. The solution to that one's easy: Get over it."

"You are finding it hard to deal with an ex dating one of your long-term friends? Get over it..."

These three little words speak to me on one level and tell me everything that is wrong with society on an empathic level. 'Getting over something' isn't a solution nor is it something you can choose to do. It's not a switch or a mechanism or a mindset or an ideology. You have a problem? You work it out, you try and understand why you have a problem or you analyse what you're feeling or thinking. The solution might be that you come to terms with that thing in your own way - you assign values to items, people and possessions and you can equally easily redefine those values thus changing their significance and thus impact on your life. However, the solution might not be to do that - it might be to keep being the way you are, to keep thinking the way you do or to keep feeling the things you feel.... even if that means that you do not like the 'new thing'.

It's okay to dislike things, you know? You don't have to agree with everyone or everything. You don't have to adhere to every rule, spoken or unspoken..... to sit back and watch the night draw in. Some people get up and turn the light on - not because they are afraid of the dark but because they do not want to sit in darkness.

'Get over it' is the phrase uttered by those who don't care, who don't want to know and frankly couldn't care less about it as long as they never had to hear about it again. They don't want to deal with it and thus, in an ironic turn, they will never 'get over it'.

2 June 2009

E3: The Startening...

So E3 has kicked off and it's already more exciting, more disappointing and overall just more than last year's smaller conference - at least in the online reporting department.

Things that i think are of note:

  • Splinter Cell Conviction - more action but looks like good fun, less frustrating stealth.
  • Crackdown 2 - AWESOME!! Though i wish they'd have stuck with the original style of cell shaded graphics than go for 'full, gritty realism'.
  • Alan Wake - release - 2010. Looks more actiony than previous coverage would have hinted at. Resi-frame (because the light seems to be a mechanic of weakening the enemies) or maybe more accurately "Silent Frame" because i think you can still move when you're firing. I think it'll be a solid rental but i'm not sure about its moodiness quality.
  • Shadow Complex - Looks awesome... a 'free roaming' metroid style 2D platformer.
  • Left 4 Dead 2 - seriously?! WTF?!! Released on Nov 17th for 360 and PC.
It's this last item that i'll spend the rest of the post ranting about. First off, it seems like a ridiculously short time period for a sequel from the meticulous Valve for one of their games. Secondly, it's only been a year since the first game was released - without a large portion of the promised content which has been rectified but the few maps available and the survival mode don't necessarily add up to the full price i paid for entry.
The most annoying information to come out of the event (actually over at the rock, paper, shotgun site) is that the Left 4 Dead campaigns will work in L4D2. Why not vice versa? Why isn't this new content (which really isn't much more of an upgrade to the game any more than the Half Life Episodes are to Half Life) compatible with Left 4 Dead?

The engine doesn't have a huge upgrade, in fact the only upgrades are to the AI director and the randomisation of mesh entities (map elements) since melee coding is already in the Source engine and could easily be applied to Left 4 Dead in a content update or via a paid download. In fact that's what i believe this content should be.... The options on release should be cut price for the content for people who already own Left 4 Dead and a download to include it within Left 4 Dead. The second option would be to buy L4D2 on its own at full retail price which already includes the content of Left 4 Dead (and this is the one that's been announced) - one executable, one menu. It should be a content platform like Rock Band, not a sequel.

Update: I've added more thoughts here about the Left 4 Dead situation

30 May 2009


Is it just me or should remuneration really be renumeration.

Numerate: Origin:
1400–50; late ME: counted, numbered <>numerātus (ptp. of numerāre to number )

It just seems like a better fit.

But i digress....

Games... games.... g- I've actually very little to say at the moment. I'm having a bit of a mental block - something that i'm attributing to my out-of-workedness. Now, if only they'd come up with a word for that!

E3 is just around the corner though so no doubt i'll have plenty to say next week. As it is though i've not really been into playing games.... i've wanted to but nothing i have seems to be what i want.

I recently got Pokemon Diamond (it's only just been released here) and i'm about 20 hours into that - more through boredom than anything else - but it's still the same old game as it ever was. To be fair, it's the first game i've actually paid for since i originally played the game boy version on the PC through an emulator, so i can't complain too much about it not changing. One thing i'm liking is the berry system... it's like free items you can grow and multiply and effectively (along with the vs re-battle system) allows you to better manage your funds. I'm a bit stuck though. I got to the psychic pokemon dojo trainer leader (i forgot the actual title) and i can't beat her.... none of my pokemon seem to have any resistance to the psychic attacks and they don't seem to be vulnerable to any of my attacks.
I have electric, rock/ground, fire, water psychic, normal, flying, grass and grass/poison pokemon as my main 20-26 lvl squad but i can only kill one of her lvl 26 psychic pokemon before i end up getting my ass handed to me.

Anyway, what else have i been playing?

Through the rental queue i got Just Cause. I didn't like it. I played through about 5 hours and sent it back. Why? Well, there's a really poor lack of variety to the missions.... the vehicle handling is appalling as well as the ability to be able to get up in the air via the parachute. I feel like sometimes it takes a mere nudge/jump for that green button to come up, allowing me to open the chute.... other times i need to dive off a precipice before it'll even think about letting me get airborne. It seems to me that this is the 'fun feature' of the game and yet it's quite difficult to be able to achieve that feat. Just Cause 2 seems to be fixing this though if the trailer is to be believed.

Once i get a bit of money i'm tempted to buy Evochron (the latest version) and do some sort of 'space diary' that details my multiple lives as i start out in the game, explore and get lost with no fuel. We'll see how that goes!

9 May 2009

Mass Effect? In brief:

I just finished the game this morning - i manged to get through most of the side quests so i was pretty leveled up before taking on the baddies at the end of the game, which i assume made it much easier than if i hadn't. So, my thoughts?

  • The story was good, i liked it.
  • Fighting was serviceable though a bit broken:
  1. If the enemies can run around at 50 miles per hour right past me and i can only turn at a rate of 0.5 of a degree a minute then please give me a lock-on feature. It's not an issue when dealing with enemies at range but frequently you're stuck in narrow corridors and other confined spaces where the enemies (and your allies) all run around you making it pretty difficult to deal with them.
  2. Don't give the enemies one or two hit kill, super fast rocket launchers when indoors. This isn't Far Cry and at least i could generally dodge those in that game due to the distance (indeed, even when i was outside on the planets in Mass Effect).
  3. Cover feature. WHAT?! Are you mad? This isn't really a tactical game. If i want to take cover behind something i don't want to switch position making it so that i can't shoot or move as fast as i normally can, I just want to be behind it. The cover feature is irrelevant in the game and only adds to the combat frustration.
  4. Untrained weapons. Depending on the class you take you are 'untrained' in certain weapons. This doesn't mean you can't use them, it just means that your cone of fire is larger and that you can't 'zoom aim' with them equipped. This is another feature which makes little sense to me. Why allow characters to equip weapons they will never use? Especially if there's no way to train your character to be able to use them. It's superfluous, especially when considering that if your character is very good with a pistol and you have the right mods you can deal more (or the same) damage as another character trained with a weapon that you can't use.
  • Don't cut to a video of something that's happening elsewhere during the middle of a boss fight when i'm about to beat the boss and then, when my control is regained, give the boss back all his shields (and then allow him to spam rockets)! WTF? Seriously, it makes no logical sense in relation to how the game works - it wasn't my fault i stopped fighting, his shields shouldn't have recharged! Don't punish the player because you feel like being jerks.
  • Item lists.... tut, tut. I don't mind the single list during selling/buying/equipment screen... but it's ordered in the most difficult way. It's ordered by 'level' of item rather than item type which is very annoying because it has a very slow scroll speed and to see if you have cryo rounds 5 (so you can delete/sell all your cryo rounds 4) you must go through every thing that's level 4 before you get to the level 5 stuff and then to where the cryo rounds are located rather than having all the cryo rounds together by level. I don't know who designed that part of the game but they either needed more time on it or they need a better concept of how people would be wanting to compare/use the items. (I know this issue is 'fixed' in the PC release, though i'm not sure if it still sorts things by level or not).
Overall, it was an enjoyable game. The sci-fi universe they constructed is pretty interesting though i'd like less 'douchey' people in positions of power in the next game. It seemed like the requisite of being a leader was to be an asshole or perhaps the person who wrote it has some sort of problem with authority [/psychoanalysis]. I'm looking forward to the next one which i think is out towards the end of the year or possibly early next year.

30 April 2009

The evolution of interaction…

I used to read a lot when i was younger (well, relatively anyway) and while i still enjoy a good read i’ve found that i’m beginning to encounter some problems when doing so. It’s happening with film and TV, to a lesser extent, as well so i’m pretty sure that it’s not that i’m just going through a patch where i’m not too bothered to read.

During recent years i’ve had to put a few books down. I had to stop reading them for a day or two because i couldn’t stand what was happening in the story, not because it was stupid or annoying but because the story happened to visit places that i’d prefer to not travel to…. rape, forced marriage and lovers missing each other’s intentions and what-not (i’m not into romance novels though these examples clearly seem to indicate that they’re what i’m reading!).

At first i thought that this was because i’m adverse to these practices or perhaps emotionally tied to the characters who are missing each other’s interests but i’ve noticed a similar trend in my visual media consumption too. I turn off TV shows if the plot isn’t going where i like it to or if i feel that the plot devices are just too silly or stupid to make any kind of sense. This led me to believe that perhaps my attention span has been reduced by the constant “quick media” influx over the last two decades as is so often portrayed in the news media.

However, today i had a revelation. I don’t have a short attention span - i can play games or read books/watch movies for many hours at a time… i can have stimulating conversations or play complicated board games at length. My attention span isn’t short, it’s just that i have been taught to use my freedom to better choose what i consume or do. At the same time i think that playing games has also influenced my (and probably others’) perceptions of how i am allowed to consume various media. In games, *I* am the protagonist, i don’t always have a choice in what i do but at least i’m the one driving the interaction and progression. In games that give me a choice, i play a role (and since i’m the unimaginative sort i usually play the ideal role i’d like to live up to in real life) and that affects how i experience the game and it plays out. In films/TV and books i don’t have this interaction, i’m passive to the ongoings of the characters and i don’t know where the story is going or at what pace. At the same time, these strengths to the traditional media are making me balk at interacting with them in the same way because i’m used to acting on the knowledge given to me in a way that is impossible in pre-determined media. I want to step in and stop that rape, create a character to do so perhaps since i have no agency in that world. I want to play matchmaker between two forlorn lovebirds, befriend them and make them happy. I’m sure that some people would prefer the opposite or different results from these scenarios but they are equally as unable to affect the world.

In playing games i have spoiled myself i have created a god-like complex that makes me think i’m entitled to edit, change and manipulate the worlds in my media…. i pick out ‘flaws’ that clash with my perceptions of what is right and wrong or what just doesn’t make sense and i want to change them to fit my beliefs and desires.

*I* am player character…. do as i wish.

While i’m now aware of this and i can perhaps temper my feeling when entering these situations a little, is this leading to something bigger?

At the moment the web is all ado about web 2.0: user-created content and involvement. In the past it was all about what was fed to us by outlets… but even then (and even more so now) the news industry has always had a symbiosis with the consumers. We supply news, we create it and we devour it from the carefully crafted reports given to us by the news companies. Is this a hint of what’s to come? We’ve all heard of ghost writers - people who help out or completely write a novel or story in the name of another person. David Perry (and Acclaim) started a game design for a project that was/is a collaboration between users and developers - they have a say in what happens and contribute to the development process as well.

Is the next big ‘media’ evolution co-existing with the current generation? In thirty years time will we be talking to authors, giving feedback and helping to write our own collaborative stories? Will our visual media be the same? It’s an intersting concept and a nightmare in the making (as i’m sure Perry found out during the early parts of making the Top Secret project) but it seems like a logical extension of where we are and what we desire in our media.

So, what do you think?

9 April 2009

Just to let you know...

Just in case anyone reads here (including the elemental Wordsmythe) i've been trying to concentrate more on the Eggmen project for the time being. If anyone wants to join in on a podcast then let me know and we can knock around some ideas and see if we can get together and record it.

I'll keep posting here and perhaps duplicate some posts across the two sites but i've only got so many ideas in me and only so many words to write them in.


4 April 2009

Enough is enough.....

Let's face it, if you've read this blog for any length of time you'll know how fed up i am with the games industry... it's my main pasttime so of course i'm going to get irate when things make that pasttime less valuable or less attractive. You might, however, join me in an incredulous sigh when you read what i'm about to quote:

But game companies say there is a bigger force at work: the proliferation of consumer choice in the game industry prevents them from raising prices on console games. Games for iPhones are considerably cheaper; indeed, many are free. Crash Bandicoot Nitro Kart 3D, a racing game that has been a longtime favorite on the iTunes App Store, costs $5.99. Zombieville USA, another top seller, is only $1.99. Games made for downloading onto the Xbox 360, PS3 or Wii cost $10.

“Video games used to be the type of entertainment that sucked dollars from TV, music and the box office,” said Evan Wilson, an analyst with Pacific Crest Securities. “Now, inside the video game industry, it’s having its own internal distraction issues. There are lots of options.”

So, when companies aren't making enough money in the games industry they first blamed the pirates, citing the huge numbers of pirated copies of games and *thus* sales they should be expecting if there were no piracy and they moved to stop that with copy protection and more recently DRM schemes.... then they blamed used games, citing the huge numbers of resold games which was draining the industry of their rightful profits and they moved to stop that by making the DRM schemes applicable to one person only...... now they're blaming CHEAP GAMES?!! Are you serious? Are you fucking with me? MY GOD!

The industry is basically telling the consumers that everything we believe is true in a free and consumer-driven market is just false. Consumer demand shouldn't drive price points, oh no.... companies should be able to set their price points and consumers should be forced to buy those items at the same rate as the cheaper ones they did before. Voting with your wallet to not buy a shoddy, half-finished and/or sloppy port shouldn't count when the industry is hurting - you should be forced to buy them anyway AND buy the DLC (that is actually on the disc) when it is released less than *two weeks after launch.... i mean, who do they think they are?

Companies in the games industry always go on about how whiney their customers are and how they can never please the "hardcore" segment.... well, maybe it's because we're used to the industry being such fucking babies about everything that makes us react in this way. Seriously, grow up! I have to admit that i don't read as much blurbs from other industries so maybe they're all like this but i've never heard so many ludicrously idiotic soundbites from industry executives as i have from the games industry..... When they're not blaming lack of performance on some nebulous thing, they're sticking their feet in their mouths and out the other end so they can carry on walking by making offensive comments about their customers.

*Judging from previous experience with knowing how releasing patches/updates and downloadable arcade games (i.e. Spacegiraffe) goes i know it takes a LOT longer than a couple of weeks to get something onto the online services of the consoles (though obviously the Fallout 3 DLC was just shunted through this process with a pass from some executive somewhere)

25 March 2009

Zelda's ill and i don't know if she'll make it.....

You know what the worst part of Nintendo's continued lack of hardcore focus is? For me, it's seeing the games you grew up with getting trodden on.

Take The Legend of Zelda series for example. I was happy with the direction they took up until Twilight Princess.... now i feel that Zelda has become a gimmicky horse, trotted out at every opportunity when Nintendo are trying to 'prove' that they still care about the hardcore gaming crowd. I played Phantom Hourglass but i didn't like it. I felt the game was heartless with no joy or irreverence that was present in the more cartoony entries in the series but it also lacked the grandeur of the more serious entries as well. The difficulty was also severely removed and i hated the touchscreen game mechanic which i had a really hard time being able to utilize effectively.... plus i hated travelling around in the boat.

I'll ignore Link's Crossbow Training as, well, I consider that to be a Zelda game in the same vein as the CDi games. Moving on to today's announcement The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks, the sinking feeling that i had with Phatom Hourglass has returned. They've essentially kept the same game engine and mechanics, replacing the 'freedom' of the boat travel with trains..... on a track - as if the metaphor really needed to be underlined so acutely.

Where is the Zelda i like? Where is the grand adventure, the great story or the decent action? It's almost on par with the move from Star Wars eps 1-3 from 4-6 or Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull from the original three.... They take an established franchise and essentially throw out what it was that made it so great.

Initially when Aonuma took over from Miyamoto in the main development of the Zelda series i was quite excited as he stated he wanted to bring the stories together - to make sense of the timeline thus set out and integrate new stories into that..... well, i'm just not seeing this at all. Instead we're getting The Legend of Zelda: Wild, Wild, West.

At least i still have my beloved Prince of Persia... though, the DLC for that was so linear i fear that the open world might be removed in the second game which would be a travesty and reduce the game to exactly what its detractors said it was: a lengthy Quick Time Event (QTE).

21 March 2009

The problem with Star Wars...

Well, one problem at least. There is no change... actually that's incorrect: in fact there is negative change in the Star Wars universe. The original movies provided the fiction that had a certain style which reflected then-current thoughts on futuristic technology and cuture and the games that these movies inspired, from X-Wing to Jedi Knight, incorporated these design elements and continued them forward.
Then the new movies came along and royally fucked up the franchise - not just by being pretty poor in every respect (turns out Zebedee played the part of Yoda) but also because they re-wrote the styles and technologies of a universe that was set 20 or so years before the original films. Unfortunately this creep of what i want to call 'futurising' (though Futurition is the only word that comes close) has spread to the games as well... Kotor (1&2) and now the Old Republic MMO all feature pretty high-tech stuff.

I suppose that it's more a facet of having a franchise that spans almost 4 four decades than any particularly narrow-sighted vision of the Star Wars universe but i hate it so much. Now, i'm not greatly entrenched in the Star Wars universe but i'm pretty sure there was no galactic equivalent of the Dark Ages so there was no major loss of technology and culture, so why the hell are robots as good 4000 years before as they are in the 'present' of the movies? Unless there's some sort of technological limit that's been reached it makes no sense that there's all this cool stuff even one thousand years before the present let alone 4,000...

What this results in, for me, is an uninteresting universe where little is different at any point in time that the owners are likely to exploit in game, comic or movie form. They are too afraid to try something new in the franchise because then people might not recognise the fact that it's Tatooine or the bounty hunter class etc. I mean, mandalorian armour? Yeah, for the mandalorians that's fine but apparently Boba Fett was wearing pretty ancient armour because the Mandalorians were almost wiped out as a race in the Old Republic.

Just for once i'd like to see some innovation in the setting. For example, off the top of my head
  • Tatooine isn't colonised yet - no Settlements, it's just a desert planet... OR it's actually a lush, jungle planet and its sun is pretty weak but is showing signs that its intensity is increased OR there's an evil plot to throw a huge asteroid around the solar system which makes Tatooine's orbit adjust so that it's closer to the sun(s) and thus results in its desertification.
  • Light Sabres are unreliable (vibroblades are better) and usually only work for a limited time before they overheat or overload or something.... which adds a tactical element to their use by jedi to offset their powerfulness.
  • Ships are more awkward and slower.... they do not have hyperspace yet, or at least not the version of the drives we are familiar with in the 'modern' setting (maybe no streaks of light)
  • Blasters do not exist - there are only projectile weapons.... similarly with energy forcefields (or they have a similar feature to light sabres in that they're unreliable)
  • Droids do not exist in the sense that we know them - they are boxes with tracks or wheels and their appendages are stiff. Their personalities are undeveloped and unhuman-like. Protocol/translator droids are used but there are no complex combat droids and only very simple, possibly mostly remote controlled combat/repair droids.... which could be a character class (i.e. like being a pokemon trainer or whatever anime floats your boat)
That's just me and in the space of 1o minutes... what could a dev house full of dreamers, writers and creators come up with? Oh, that's right... i forgot that the 'house that Lucas built' is committed to running the franchise into an unimaginative grave.

12 March 2009

Wading through the crap...

I wrote a while ago about my belief that fewer, (and preferably higher quality) games on the Wii would result in better sales and performance for the third parties involved. Now, i'm beginning to take what i wrote even more seriously following a post from an iPhone game developer about how he'd made $535 on an investment (including his time) of $32,000 for his game, Dapple.

The iPhone has only been out since the end of June in 2007 and already there are 6000 games available on the App Store. That's essentially an 'infinite' number of games to trawl through (though only 17% are in the same genre as Dapple) unless you specifically know what you're looking for. Now, it's not like this is new to the gaming industry and in fact this problem is well known in the hotel/B&B industry (books, film etc), but there are three ways to get around this aspect of proliferation:

1) Produce fewer games (or only allow a limited amount each week).
2) Learn to effectively market your product.
3) Learn to 'monetise' your games effectively.

Number 1 just isn't going to happen. Apple are as greedy as any other company and won't want to halt the headline generating number of games available on their store.

Number 2 is difficult. You need to create a critical mass of reviews and public advertising for your product just before it is released and then capitalise on that pent up interest and curiosity. Further along you need to remind the populace that your game exists and this can be accomplished through re-advertising campaigns, sequels (and thus the link to the original game) and word of mouth which can only really help if your game is a runaway success - such as is the case with the DS and Wii. Keeping the game on lists (as the developer mentions) can be key to remaining in the public eye. It sounds like the guy at Streaming Colour Studios has learned this lesson and will be improving his marketing accordingly.

Number 3 is an interesting exercise and can pretty much come in any form. The best i've heard was on the recent podcast from GamersWithJobs where it was suggested to the resident iPhile that a subscription service which offered a random (not repeating) game per week for a fee (like a recurring rental service) would be an excellent way to sift the wheat from the chaff. This would not necessarily bring in the megabucks to the developer on its own but when that game is featured i'd bet there would be a related surge in sales numbers.... though i would not like to bet on by how much.

Ultimately the game companies (Apple, Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony) need to sort this thing out otherwise they're going to end up with an indeciferable mess on each of their respective platforms. The only thing that currently saves the market is the console refresh every 5 or so years, meaning a blank slate can be slapped on top of the mess. Also, for previous generations there wasn't this proliferation of DLC or downloadable games which meant that there was no need or cost associated with keeping that content available for all users, even after the console has been discontinued (which i think will be a big disincentive to transfer to the next console generation aside from the monetary loss incurred from the horsepower battle that ensued between MS and Sony).

We've seen Microsoft come forward and say that they'd start removing games from Live! Arcade but so far i don't think this has happened in any meaningful way and this is probably down to an outcry from publishers/developers and users when it was first touted as a way to clean up the lists for sale. Since then there have been no other suggestions as to a solution to this problem and it's fast becoming the white elephant in the room. At least with physical copies there is a shelf life and limited number of copies in existance... for a digital copy there are unlimited 'items' available and, because of DRM, the 'original' needs to be kept for the customers to be able to redownload or reference if their copy is lost or corrupted.

DRM discussions aside, this is one of the reasons why i try not to support downloading games. At some point there is going to be a planned critical loss of information as we move from one platform to another and i do not want to be a part of that.

11 March 2009

Would you like some lube with that purchase...?

Nintendo, in all their wondrous and omnipotent glory, have decided to INCREASE the price of the Wii and upcoming games for both the Wii and DS/DSi in the UK. This is due to the weakened state of the pound in the international market and blub, blub blub.....

Wait, what the hell was that? Oh, right, that was the sound of Nintendo's UK sales figures sinking after this takes effect. Well, maybe not entirely but either way it's not a good idea. Basically, we here in the UK can't afford to be spending lots of money on games and game consoles and the prices of these items in relation to general income is usually higher than in the US but lower than some EU countries and significantly lower than Australia/New Zealand. So, in a time of economic 'crisis' where there are loads of people tightening their belts and/or being laid off.... how do you drum up more business? Oh, that's right! Increase the price of your items which were already making a profit on a per-unit basis anyway. Great strategy!

Of course, Nintendo don't actually set the retail price of their products in the UK and retailers are welcome to eat the ~£20 increase in order to keep sales going strong. Of course, this means that retailers, which are already doing badly in the current economic climate would struggle even more for a smaller cut of the item sold.... it's unlikely to happen. What i do see happening is retailers claiming that they're 'not receiving stock' or whatever excuse might apply so they can effectively stop selling the Wii in such quantities.

On the game side of the equation, a price hike is a ridiculous suggestion. DS games are so overpriced when taking into account gameplay hours and general quality (more complex games [i.e. not scrabble] usually sell between £20-30 though retailers tend to cut them down to sub £20 after a period on the shelves) and also, most importantly, cost to make vs install base of the platform. Wii games, again, are generally a sorry affair with respect to the quality of their build and i believe they are already at their sweet spot for selling to the mass market audience that Nintendo now calls their customer base.

Now, if the Wii had been targeted more towards a traditional or hardcore consumer base of game enthusiasts perhaps this would be a 'good' move for the company... while we complain about price hikes, game quality/whatever and can be pretty vocal about it all we still buy games. The lesson that Nintendo might be about to learn (just as other entertainment industries have in the past) the general consumer and mass market can be a fickle mistress... there's always something else.