Thursday, March 6, 2014

Conversation on Conversation, a Love Letter

I play games for a lot of reasons but one of the main things that really gets me about videogames is the conversations. Not the ones in games, although I have an appreciation for those too, but the ones that people have about videogames. Videogames get to be new and novel in a way that some other mediums can't anymore because of how well distributed and appreciated they are. This isn't to knock film, literature, or theater, all things that I love, but instead I mean to say that they've been around so long the don't always have the "newness" that videogames can have.

A few weeks ago I was sitting on the subway and I overheard a conversation that made me smile. A group of middle-aged people all looking in at one iPhone while their friend played Threes. It's not entirely accurate to call it a "childlike fascination" but it was a smile inducing conversation that was full of joy. They wanted to know so much about the game, which I think their friend had only recently acquired, they wanted to get the game and then talk about the game.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Reboots need to do more than surface level assessment

The new Thief game isn't particularly fantastic. In fact, it seems to have a learned very little from it's predecessors other than "thieves steal things" and "supernatural stuff happens". I can see how that might be useful in a sales pitch but when making game, it's pretty important to learn the right lessons from your processors and competitors.

I'm a big defender of IPs, I was a huge fan of Command and Conquer back in the day and I know what can happen when someone buys up an IP and then wrecks it. But an IP, canon, or series cannot stay the same forever. New processors, controllers, sensibilities, and technological advances force games to get better, innovate, or die. So what even are the right lessons to look for?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Irrational over Irrational's (somewhat) Irrational shutdown

Some people have asked me about what I think about Irrational Game's closing it's doors, which is a bad phrase that I won't be using in the future. Initially, I gave people some pretty bad answers because I hadn't really thought about it.

Now that I've thought, and read, more about it I have some pretty decent feelings I'll be sharing here. I am happy that Ken Levine will be pursuing his creative and narrative interests in the way he feels best suits him. I have a lot of respect for creative types and the occasional distaste for massive, large companies which produce good, but derivative, work. That might be a very unfair post-mortem of Bioshock: Infinite but in same ways it's very true.

Anyway, I am happy that Ken Levine will get to work with a small handpicked team under the umbrella of Take-Two, who I have an unreasonable respect for.

There is also a very human factor to what is happening to Irrational. Brendan Keogh articulated this point a lot better than I might be able to (you can find that here). As much as I dislike large companies, Infinite was a great game that afforded many people the luxury of having jobs and being able to live in the great city of Boston, not cheap propositions. At least 185 people will be out of a job now that Ken Levine gets the privilege of working with a smaller studio.

A similar thing happened with the NFL not too long ago. Many smaller and relatively unknown players from yesterday got screwed over because EA did not want to pay them for their likeness and their talents despite desperately wanting the names, likenesses, and talents of some of their teammates. Because those big name players took separate contracts this left a great many players who supported them and made their careers possible out in the cold. Not a nice thing to do to the people who basically took the licks for you for years on end.

I hope that Ken Levine continues to make good games and innovates or at least finds creative solutions. But really, I hope the best for the 185+ people who will be put out by this and I hope that they'll be hired by game firms who know the value of their work. Also, take the time to watch the credits on a game, those people deserve the recognition for the hard work their put in and the time and life commitment it really takes.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I'm stuck in "Bullet Hell"

I don't like to write about games before I've finished them unless something really strikes me and I feel like it won't be changed by anything that could happen in the ending. So unless Tomb Raider (2013) ends with some kind of like survivalist brawl where I am foraging for food I think I'll be okay.

Maybe it started with the first Tomb Raider back in 1996 but there is a major problem of scarcity in videogames. I don't mean that games are scare, they just have a problem with the scarity of perhaps one of the most important resources in videogames, bullets. There are too many bullets in too many games. There's just too much ammo in general in too many games. Scarcity is definitely a problem but it's an interesting problem that puts players in interesting situations.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Theorizing the Game: Arkham Origins

When I watch bad movies, which is often, I like to think of ways that I could have made the movie better. Usually the mental exercise starts with only editing and re-cutting, absolutely no re-shooting. The nice movie theater is kind of far from my house so I generally have a lot of time to be thinking about this. When I get stuck in traffic, which is actually fairly rare, I try to see what I could have added to see what kind of super movie I could have made.

Anyway, it's time to turn that lens onto video games and the very first one I want to take to task is Batman: Arkham Origins, a game I liked but desperately wanted to love. To be totally honest its not a bad game, in fact, I think it improves upon Arkham Asylum in a lot of ways. However, it also improves upon Arkham City in pretty much zero ways, which is a shame.

In brief, Arkham Origins is the story of how, in one night, Batman is introduced to a massive amount of his rogues gallery. The previous Arkham games are also guilty of this, they have brilliantly written stories that force Batman into a situation where he has to fight a pretty sizable portion of his rogues gallery. It's a conceit but it works in the first two games, to a certain extent.

This is the problem with Arkham Origins, it's trying too hard. The game tries so hard to do so many things and then the inevitable happens, it doesn't succeed.

So now to theorize what I'd do to improve Arkham Origins.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Click Bait "Game of the Year" Post

So it's about time that I did this. In truth, I don't really like the idea of "Game of the Year" for the same reasons that I don't like "Best Picture". The winner will always come down to the sensibilities of voters (voter in my case).

It's not hard to imagine how easily this happens, certain types of people like certain types of games and there are generally standouts in each category. Then there is a kind of ebb and flow of genres. Fighting games used to be much more popular than they are now. Fifteen years ago the MMO didn't really exist and 10 years ago we were still calling them MMORPGs before realizing they were all basically RPGs. Things come and go out of vogue like that fairly easily.

My long winded point is that there is an inherent bias that you can't really deal with. So, to deal with it I asked myself, "what does it really mean to be 'Game of the year?'" And came up with this, Game of the Year is the one game that I would save if all of the 2013 videogames were about to fall into a chasm of space and time.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

PAX's "Diversity Lounges" need to be more

Penny Arcade has a problem. They have a problem that involves race, gender, and sexuality. Instead of engaging with those issues and trying to discover what things have been done in order marginalize several groups of people they've decided to round them up into a corner at every PAX.

Now I realize that I am being somewhat cynical. They haven't even implemented this yet and some people are saying that it's a positive step forward for an organization that has never before demonstrated any sort of support for the groups they would like to round up.

I agree that this is definitely something positive coming from Penny Arcade. Their past can best be described as troubling or problematic and at worst simply flagrantly offensive. The idea of "diversity lounges" and their stated goals makes sense in light of that. However, it's a bandage attempting to stop a raging hemorrhage.

Yes, videogames have an inclusiveness problem, that few will deny (and those that will are wrong). But that's for another day. Right now I want to look at why this is the wrong solution for what I think is the problem.