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gladiator_x Empty Abyss of the Internet, Hear Me Roar!

Posted: September 06, 2006 (09:27 PM)
Here's a meta-writing mind ripper. I'm going to start and article with a link that goes to another article that starts with a link. Go:

He (Burke, I assume) is talking about the absolute void of real game criticism, and he's right about that. There is a real lack of criticism of games in mainstream press. He (and I) isn't (aren't) just talking about the newspaper, or Entertainment weekly. Game magazines don't offer any real criticism. As Burke says: "In a game 'review', it pretty much amounts to a repetition of the press kit or prerelease hype and a few remarks on technical problems or issues, in a straightfoward consumerist mode (e.g., buy or no buy). More like a report on refrigerators than a cultural commentary."
Oh so sad and true. Games are a big business, but as Burke makes passing reference to, one that makes its money by targeting hard a small segment of the population. Hardcore gamers represent some ludicrous percentage of every dollar profitted from games, 30-60 or something to that effect. Consequently, the hardcore have evolved their own mechanism for dealing with the high pressure marketing situation, the printed gaming press. Hopefully, these guys will play through all the games out there and tell you all about it in a 250-word pill. And almost every word of that review is dedicated to describing the technical bits of game and if it is a smooth play. There is no room for such non-concrete elements such as interpretation or aesthetics, if indeed the game should include any. And why should a game include those elements if there is nobody who appreciates anything besides the bump-mapping, the collision detection, and the hoozawhatzits?

However, Burke puts his money where his mouth is and writes four short game reviews that ought to belong in EGM or any other magazine claiming to be interested in video gaming. He will tell you something significant about the sandbox style of San Andreas; he makes a startling and worthy comparison to a game belonging to the legion of forgotten games, Shenmue. Perhaps here is our champion of games long past? He mentions how Planescape: Torment not only offers the branching storyline and dialogue trees that are commonly crudely inserted into action-games desiring a veneer of depth, but remarks on how the plot is shaped to absorb a character who can be cruel to one NPC and kind to another. He describes the beauty of simply existing in the space that Shadow of the Colossus creates, the feeling of melancholy. He has the sensitivity the hardcore gaming press lacks and theorizes on the reasoning behind its setting: a "morally-evacuated land." And finally manages to describe Katamari Damacy as something other than "quirky" and notes that the game is not just a good video game, but transcends the genre to become a good game that is only possible in a "video space."

This is the kind of criticism that is needed from online gaming press. (I'm looking at you Honestgamers.) If I wanted to know how pretty the game looked I would have bought a magazine.

A toast to smart people who play games, may they someday get published.
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Title: Creating a Canon
Posted: September 01, 2006 (03:13 PM)
I'm currently reading this article, http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20060901/quantum_01.shtml
concerning the games that created "quantum leaps" forward for the FPS genre. As I, a younger gamer, read it down and find it making references to some old games that were before my time, I find that I want to play these games. And this is how a classical canon of a media is created.

The genre of video games continues to age; it is no longer possible that the bulk of gamers could have played all of the significant titles in video gaming history. However, I am a student of history and video games are no different; I want to learn about the games that came before me. The thousands of games that have already been created make playing and judging them all for myself difficult. I'm looking to my elders to point out what was significant for them and so I can painlessly sort through the dross and get a quick lesson in history. From this observation, there a few things that are significant.

One, that the people making these lists of great games have no special ability or insight that makes their list of top five more significant than yours or mine. They do currently have a position of authority, a writing collective of game designers. However, The "superiority" or, indeed, existence of their canon is irrelevant so long it is unread or unappreciated. The cannon will only have the ring of truth once the upcoming generation of gamers (myself) discovers this list they've created and gone back and played it. It is a rare occasion when someone such as I would go back and find another, non-canonized game to challenge their list with unless I was directed to a good non-canonized game by an older gamer or managed to sort get though the chaff myself.

For example, take music. We all know that Bach Beethoven and Mozart and supposed to represent the best of their age. But, if you are suspicious of their quality, what would you offer up as a challenge? Unless you are a scholar of Baroque musicology (and believe me, nobody who dislikes Bach studies Baroque musicology) you can't challenge the reason for being on the list.
An interesting phenomenon is that Bach did temporarily fall out of fashion in the last years of his life and through decades after his death, all of the Baroque period was being eschewed by contemporary listeners. Thankfully, a scholar of antique music, Mendelssohn, already a reputable composer at the time, performed Bach's Matthew's Passion and by the force of his reputation and popularity (and possibly, the power of Bach's music) added Bach to the developing list of classics.

From this we can say that authority, especially for the developing state that video games are in now, simply means a wide readership that is willing to try out your suggestions. Legitimacy and experience are options when it comes to gaining readership, but they aren't the only ones. Therefore, I believe that if one of you out there has a game or a few games that you believe should be saved from the avalanche of time and of new games, create your own list and make it known. Whispers of "I heard that game is good" promulgate much faster than knowledge of their source.

My closing thought is a hope. I hope that by understanding the way canons are created in modern media and by understanding the erring and human nature of their construction, we will be unafraid to challenge them and thereby have a canon of classics much more flexible and true than has developed in literature or music. Though this hope is surely hopeless, I hope that an understanding of the evolution and creation of canons, we will someday challenge and revise the current list of classics to be more consonant with modern expectations.

"Bach’s music was selected for inclusion on the Voyager Golden Records as an example of humanity's best achievements. Scientist and author Lewis Thomas once suggested how the people of Earth should communicate with the universe: "I would vote for Bach, all of Bach, streamed out into space, over and over again. We would be bragging of course, but it is surely excusable to put the best possible face on at the beginning of such an acquaintance. We can tell the harder truths later."

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Posted: August 20, 2006 (10:25 AM)
I'm back ladies and gents. Turkey is a wonderful country but the keyboards there have done interesting thing to my typing. However, I hope to write a review of one of the following games, Shadow of the Colossus, Super Smash Bros Melee, or that Riff game I'm in love with. Any thoughts, world?

And also, did I miss any major developments in the gaming world? How is that Prey game?
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Title: I'm temporarily disappeared
Posted: July 23, 2006 (12:41 AM)
I'm in Turkey until the 17th. Promise to return with great insight, wit and the gumption to do another review.

Keep me posted?

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Title: Can You Say Totally Vindicated?
Posted: July 18, 2006 (08:59 AM)
So who remembers how much I hate God of War? Who remembers what I hated about it?

That the plot is stupid and overblown?

That its an epic and epics are way overdone and stupid? And overblown?


"But as a guy who has DESIGNED one of these damn epic things, I can tell you that I no longer have any interest in making these kinds of games."

"I don’t want to tell stories with my games anymore."
Who could be saying these things? Why its David Jaffe, designer of God of War! But don't take my word for it, go check it out. http://davidjaffe.typepad.com/jaffes_game_design/2006/07/changes.html

He also included this really neat analogy which summarizes how I feel about God of War and alot of games of the type. Behold:

"To me, most (all?) story based games are like taking a trumpet and playing it a little, but also using the brass exterior of the trumpet to carve a story onto a wall. Sure you can do it, and you may even have a nice story scratched onto the wall when you are done. But it’s not really what the trumpet is for and there are a hell of a lot easier ways to write a story. Plus, you’ve got this nice, shiny trumpet- which is now all scratched up- just sitting there, begging to be played, begging to be used as it was intended."

It's true: games are not playing (no pun intended) to their strengths when they are telling stories. As long as games are imitating Hollywood, games will not use all their potential. Games will continue to be ho-hum bits of movie with games in between. The stories will never be able to match up to Hollywood stories because game companies can't hire Hollywood talent; their budget is directed to other expensive non-cinema places, artists, programmers, etc. If they were to do so, the game bits of the game would suffer. I suppose its possible that a movie studio could work cooperatively with a game studio, but such a gigantic venture doesn't seem likely to pay off.

So here's to designers coming to their senses and realizing that games are for playing, not for watching.
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Title: Art Game Alert!
Posted: July 12, 2006 (12:28 AM)
There are times when I wonder if games really deserve all that "games are art clamor. But I've been temporarily cured.


This game is what it is like to play a jazz solo. I don't mean it reminds of it or there is a loose connection, its a interactive graphical representation of a jazz solo, specifically in the style of John Coltrane.

You have to find connections by way of color or shape, creating a "line," which can be jazz lingo to describe a string of notes a soloist creates. Finding the common colors or shapes as you move about represents how one must find common and passing tones between chord changes. The way the shapes recede up out of the screen represents how the soloist must play these notes and make these lines all in consideration of time.

If you start making alot of short patterns or not playing at all, your meter runs out, like in a jam session you sit down if you don't play well. And if your rocking out, the meter fills, you keep playing. The way you flirt with the edge of the screen chasing down a pattern is like how you try to play notes that don't quite fit in the beat.

The pairing of this games structure with Coltrane's "Impressions" is flawless. The quick tempo and scroll rate of shapes encourages abstract playing and melodies on Coltrane's part and strange zigzags on the part of the gamer.

As a struggling jazzer, I feel that this thing encapsulates the process and perfomance of jazz.

This game needs to be reviewed.

This post was nigh-incomprehensible, I had to get these thoughts down before I went to bed. Sorry, world.

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Title: And lo, the old females will show you the way
Posted: July 06, 2006 (11:19 AM)

^How Complexity Killed the Audience^

Man, how true it is. The other day I was arguing with some friends about where videogames are going and how its a pity. I encountered something I didn't expect. Staunch resistance. My game conversationalists, at least one wannabe game designer, were giganticly in love with the things I rail against. The 16-button controller as a enigmatic stumbling block to neogamers, the fetish for realism and realistic graphics as obstacles to growth. Basically, videogames so caught up in themselves, that only those of that magic age of around 25 and younger can enjoy them because they grew up with games. People who were 5 or 8 eight at around the time of the Nintendo kept pace with the increasing complexity in games, more buttons, functions, systems, because they started with two buttons and a d-pad and received more buttons and complexity every couple of years. Of course we think that Halo or God of War isn't all that complicated. Its like starting with peppers when you're a toddler, eating jalapenos when you're 8, habeneros as a teenager and downing the entire nation of Thailand in your twenties. Acclimated, accustomed, etc. These young, male firebreathers with which I was speaking insisted that games today were not too complex and that they didn't care about designing games about designers for neogamers. When I asked about God of War and alienating women, they said that women didn't have to play all games and kind of chuckled. Lame.

My mother, the apogee of the non-gamer being a 50 year old female, plays three-ish different games: Donkey Konga, DDR, and Eye Toy Play plus a variety of yahoo games like backgammon and chess. The linking thing about these first three games is how simple the controls are. The interface is nearly devoid of buttons. To beat a drum, you hit a drum, to dance a step, you step on something, to make the 50-year-old lady on the screen move around...

The games online are just digital version of board games or "real games" if you prefer and so hardly count as videogames. But it goes to show you that a 50 year old is not opposed to playing a game competitively, intensely and for long hours (my mom at backgammon is a irritable demon) if you just give her the ability to play it. She missed the boat on the NES learning curve but she can still play the guts out of any game she knows how to play.

* * *
In semi-related news, I've decided to put up my first review concerning God of War, a game which I love to hate. In summary its not really a bad game, in fact the gameplay is excellent. Its just in every other facet of the game it pisses me off.
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Title: New Plan and Women
Posted: June 09, 2006 (05:23 PM)
Okay, my promise of a full blown paper was beyond my capabilities. Bummer. I now offer the same in more manageable bits and pieces.

How did hardcore gamers affect the development of games?

I. Women in games.

Games used to be dominated by geeky, white males. It's not a stereotype, it's mostly true. And I don't mean to say that everybody was a pale, pimply dork but it was towards that end of things. The early adapters of new technology are hardly a hunky bunch. But, looking at the characters that populate their game-worlds, it seems that everyone is beautiful. The male figures are big and strong and the women are big-boobed and bare-bellied.

There are also precious few strong female lead roles. The only one that comes to my mind is Samus but even then the reward for beating the game speedily is to see Samus more and more undressed. One can speculate wildly about the deep psychocelestial reasons that early games are populated so. I prefer to think that early gamers were living out their fantasies in their games. Or that is the sort of thing that happens when males create something for other males that will probably never be seen by a female, the digital equivalent of a get back in the kitchen joke.

But the time when games were made by the hardcore for the hardcore is passing. Bulky boys and gonzo girls only appeals to one side of the species. This archaic treatment of women is on the way out and can be seen in several venues. Removing such sexist and offensive imagery from games in the future is a frequently discussed way to attract women to gaming. Another sign of the times, video gamings most famous leading lady, Lara Croft got a breast reduction for her latest outing. Indeed, a place no geekier than E3 itself has recently upped the dress code slightly for its booth babes. The reasoning for doing is that "ESA is acknowledging that they see Booth Babes as a vestige of an old world in a new world order, where more than 40% of gamers are women." http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20060609/kafai_01.shtml

The new world order is one where the videogame market is expanding beyond the young, lonely male and is learning new tricks to do so. Video games will benefit from the input of the other half of the species. We will see women characters in roles besides the damsel and the bitch. We will also see games that are the product of another kind of mind, the female mind. I'm excited for what the future may hold.

Food for thought: How would early videogames be different if the user base was mostly female instead of mostly male?
Pure fun: "That means the next generation of games will likely play just like this generation. Only shiny."

I'm terrified of that and fairly certain that it will happen and hereby make MMORPGs more and more popular.

And also: When 3D games were new the only question was, "how can we make the controls as responsive and fluid as 2D?" Now it's, "how can we show off these really cool-looking trees? That's what the little sons of bitches care about!"

Some people can write sentences that could be paragraphs in some fluffed up dissertation.
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Title: Sorry!
Posted: May 23, 2006 (10:43 AM)
Alright, my excuse is that I've been out of town for a week or so. I promise to post something worthwhile forthwith.

So there you are. I'm not dead.
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Title: Victory over Thief Deadly Shadows
Posted: May 04, 2006 (09:55 PM)
I finally got a free thirty minutes and beat that last level. Brief impressions: let down in terms of plot. Given that all video game plots range from sub-average to ridiculous, this fairly typical plot was not terribly well-executed; the plot kept building and building but there was never any ultimate moment of climax. It was like taking that chain ride up a roller coaster and then realizing it was never a roller coaster, it was just a very flashy escalator.

The gameplay was enjoyable to a tee. Running around as a magically equipped medieval thief has been a great experience in the last thief game I played. Here it was enhanced by the pseudo-GTA layout, there is an entire city and my gloved fingertips. It would have been nicer if the city were more filled out, more people, accessible buildings. It wasn't that big, it could have been done.

Cutscenes were done in an odd style, more on that later perhaps. A review at some point would be good.

I move on to civIV. I may never leave my computer if rumors concerning the quality of that game are true.

Next post will be about why the displacement of the hardcore gamer from the industry's marketing crosshairs is a good thing. Bear with me, I have good reasons, I promise.
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Title: Non-Optional Wii Joke
Posted: May 02, 2006 (07:20 PM)
Primer: http://www.honestgamers.com/news.php?console_id=0&article_id=969

I just want to check in and say that yes, I've heard about the Revolution name, which is kinda stupid. Truly it doesn't bother me as much as the sophomoric crap that people have written about it. So I, feeling need for something different will say the obligatory joke and will be offering some creative explanations of the name and a link to an article that says its a brilliant advertising move, which it is.

I can't wait to play with my Wii.

Ok. Step one, done.

I think we all know that the system is called the same thing in Japan and in the USA. So the gamers across the pond have no problem with the name.

English is really popular and also a mandatory class in school, hence the "we" connection is plausible for the Japanese and likely that they had never heard of the second grade penis interpretation of "Wee."

Sound-wise, maybe its possible that they associate it with the "weeeeeeeeeeee" noise people make when going down slides or jumping off of swing sets. Having been to Japan, I assure you such an event is possible, they absorb the most random parts of English into their language. Also, ii, (pronounced ee)in the Japanese language means good. Perhaps its subliminal advertising, or just trying to be cute.

Recalling that ii means good, look at Wii as romanized Japanese. "W" and then "ii.". W isn't really a letter in Japanese, unless it is attached to a, or, rarely, an o. So maybe to the Japanese it seems like \/\/ii. In English, \/\/Good.

Now that I've covered the something as stupid and superficial as a name, I will compensate by pontificating and speculating about the demographics of it all.

Basically, the fact that games have jumped to the penis connotation proves to me the bulk of the gamers out there are hardcore sophomores with a dick joke where the cerebrum is supposed to be. And the press is far worse. Making this much stink over a name is as poor a choice of coverage as putting the Bush sisters on the front page when there is a war on. But, it as mike at gamegirladvance.com points out, plays right into Nintendo's advertising hands.

For a much more interesting and well-written article about how the "Wii" is the most brilliant advertising move in the history of videogames, check this out.


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Title: Too Human
Posted: April 21, 2006 (08:18 PM)
I've been checking out the hype surrounding this game and I'm really excited. If you haven't heard anything about it, this is a hyper-brief rundown.

It has been in the works for 10 years.

It is a futuristic past sort of thing with Norse themes.

Its an RPGesque brawler vaguely related to God of War.

Anyway, the exciting bit is about the developer, Silicon Knights. It seems, as reported in the latest Electronic Gaming Monthly, that the developer has worked extensively with Shigeru Miyamoto and Hideo Kojima, creators of Mario and of the Metal Gear series. And Silicon Knights has fused some of their styles into the game. From Miyamoto, they have taken a highly accessible approach to controls and content (even though its a futuristic Norse opera/epic) and from Kojima, the guts to do something thoughty. In the Big Picture, this is exciting to me because it represents a pattern of learning in video games. In other healthy media, there is a history of young masters studying with old masters: Miles Davis played with Dizzy Gillespie. Beethoven studied with Haydn. This process, or connection between great talents, has produced incredible work. And now it seems someone is trying the same thing with video games.

Point two of excitement, the miyamoto approach to content. According to an interview with Silicon Knights, there are three levels of meaning to the plot, which, I emphasize, is colossal. The first is the standard Save the Universe bullshit. If one understands the symbolism, then the third level has to do with Norse Mythology. Silicion Knights says the intent was that the game took place 10,000 years ago and over time what was truth became Norse myth. The third, which requires knowledge of the mythology, is a discussion on Nieztchean philosophy. Silicon knights hopes that the game may spark interest in both topics. They are also worried that getting too into Norse Mythology will spoil the plot of the other two thirds of the trilogy. They say that if they are only appeal to the hardcore, they have failed.

Sweet. Paradigm shift.
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Title: Episodic Games
Posted: April 18, 2006 (09:13 PM)
"The psychological impact of this potential covenant with the game can be Sisyphean."

I love any press which has the guts to print such a vocabulary challenging sentence.

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Title: Thief Deadly Shadows: Impressions
Posted: April 10, 2006 (10:01 PM)
Being only a little into that game, I'm highly impressed. Yes, the gameplay and graphics are good and yadda yadda, but the ambience the game creates its greatest selling point.

The real appeal of the game is the idea and feeling of fooling others and taking from them. I could totally relate to the slow smirk on Garrett's face when his faction, the Keepers, forbade him from entering a certain part of their stronghold.

Stealing from these AI constructs could very potentially be no fun at all, but the game avoids this by making them care. My heart races when I hear some bumbling guard hears my footsteps and rumbles "Who's there!" and I chuckle to myself when he says "Must have been my imagination" and I positively cackle when I club him over the head as he returns to his post.

Also overhearing the conversations of townspeople is another thing that draws me into the world. They don't simply bleat out information for me to use, they tell a story to their listeners, it has their style and personality in it. It makes me listen to conversations I would otherwise burn by and hope it would add the relevant notes to my log. It even makes me consider the possible biases of the storytellers.

It is a shame that these conversations go on indifferent to Garret's being there. Though the storytellers looks around at members of his audience, he never looks at Garret. It ruins the mood its created by making me feel so auxillary.

So there is a nice thing about Thief. Woohoo!
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