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.
Posted: September 07, 2006 (08:02 PM)
The first thing I did was read the linked articles. While reading those short bits about GTA:SA, Shadow of the Colossus, etc, I noticed that -- although interesting -- the thoughts expressed in those snippets aren't particularly novel. They're not surprising. Heck, I'd even say they're obvious.
I puzzled for a moment on that. Sure, his paragraphs were more useful (and interesting) than a technical breakdown of the game, but why was he making such a big deal out of it? Ask anyone on an intelligent gaming messageboard -- they'll tell you all about GTA's sandbox play. It's hardly an original observation. I know people who played Oblivion for 40 hours and barely touched the main quest.
But then something occurred to me. His point isn't really about the originality of the writer's thoughts. His point is that magazines are missing easy opportunities to say something meaningful about the games they review. They're missing a boat that dozens (if not hundreds) of people are already riding.
Sometimes, it's hard to make those kinds of observations. Sometimes, the technical side appears to be the natural focus. That's fine. But we have to be careful to think about everything we write. Some people put a lot of care into their writing. People need to also put care into their thinking. This should be obvious, but there's a lot more to a game than the canned categories of graphics, sound, gameplay, replay value, and tilt. (haha, "tilt") If we only talk about the technical aspects, it should be because we've consciously decided that that's the most important thing we can say about the game.
I'd now like to talk about a review by Honestgamer himself. Maybe it relates, or maybe it's a useless tangent. But I think it's interesting.
This review is interesting because it approaches graphics as the most important aspect of the game. It's clear that HG actually spent some time thinking about what makes Flatout 2 work. And the answer is the graphics. What's interesting is that this review implicitly makes people reconsider what they really mean by "graphics".
In a nutshell, he spends most of the review talking about interaction between player and environment, and then basically says at the end "I was talking about the graphics". He even claims that alternate routes fall into the realm of "graphics".
But... but... shouldn't those things be classified as gameplay?
NO! It's like he's trying to make people realize that there's more to visual design than appealing technical prowess. Heck, I didn't get it at first until Jerec spelled it out for me. The graphics in Flatout 2 are important because of how they involve the interaction between your vehicle and the environments. The graphics are what make each track's alternate routes feel so natural. Instead of just making the world look fancy, the graphics build the world. And that's a more meaningful observation than robotically describing high polygon counts and snazzy textures.
Posted: September 08, 2006 (04:56 PM)
That's what I was getting at, what he has to say isn't particularly startling (well, actually it is, see next paragraph) but it would probably be unfortunately filed under alternative game review instead of fundamental game review because it spends little text on the mechanical parts of the game.
I agree completely with what you and honestgamer are saying about Flatout2. The quality of the graphics works toward something there; it's not just a processer-power pissing contest. The graphics there enhance the actual gameplay with their total-ness. I remember with mixed emotions "Cruisin' USA" that would let me knock into construction signs and barrels and yet stop me cold in my tracks with its notorious indestructable palm trees.
Details like honestgamer mentioned, glass that behaves as glass, reflecting and breaking, help make it more real. I think there is an analog in my favorite game of all time (maybe) Metroid: Prime. There, a change in temperature will fog Samus's visor, or a large explosion will reflect the interior of the helmet, revealing Samus's face.
HG mentioned how it is more satisfying to "crash into some Spanish hottie" rather than to destroy the blue car. Similarly, the atomosphere is enhanced by reading the computer screens of your opponents forces to learn about their activities. It also communicates the plot without the use of irritating, stoptheaction cutscenes.
I feel like this is related to, Mario never speaks in Super Mario RPG; consequently, I never felt like I was driving around this character who had his own separate life going on. The makers never put words in my/Mario's mouth.
I agree that one can evaluate the graphics of a game if that's what the game is about. Sometimes, technical prowess is so immense that it is a thing to be admired on its own. However, that is a charecteristic that does not age particularly well; music that was considered impossible to play in the time it was written (something written by Mendelohssen, I forget) can now be accomplished by advanced high school violinists or indeed professional tuba players. Though, some technique based on human rather than technological power is so great it has impressed for more than 300 years. I'm thinking of my beloved, baby Bach.
My, that was long and rambling. Sorry. :-D