Monday, June 27, 2005

Do I Smell a Trend?

I like to try to avoid making any sort of predictions for the gaming industry.

But after spending more time on Boiling Point: Road to Hell (note: I've become addicted to this stupid game. The bugs and out-and-out poor design elements are glaring, heinous and immersion-killing. The things they got right are compelling and brilliant. Truly this game was conceived by a split-personality mad genius, half-incompetent, half-spectacular.) and then browsing around and finding this game, Pirates of the XXI century, and completely flashing back to my experiences in Far Cry, I'd like to go ahead and guess at the newest genre ripe for overuse.

And that genre is:

Tropical-themed shooters/hybrid-shooters that are big on the jungle-trekking and offer a slightly greater amount of strategy in their mindless mayhem.

Seriously, though,
that Pirates game looks very good - and apparently their engine is based on Open Scene Graph. Sweet deal.

If I'm wrong about the whole telling-the-future deal, then I wholeheartedly encourage people to write in proclaiming my shoddy scrying powers.

Just know that I'm actively trying to fulfill my own prophecy by developing Ultimate Feces Thrower, the game in which you are a monkey in the jungles of some tropical region (Borneo, maybe) and your goal is to tag tourists, wildlife marshals and, ultimately, poachers with your own excrement. Swing from tree to tree in a wide-open jungle of repeating foliage 8,000 km square! Do it with another monkey! Watch as the seasons change from all-the-way-sunny-time to not-so-sunny-time! Maybe see some weather! Uh, swim, monkey, swim!

Fuck. That's really a brilliant idea.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Eclipse: Follow-Up


Thanks goes
to Corvus for sending me the official site of Eclipse, the Half-Life 2 mod/conversion/whathaveyou.

I went back into Eclipse and managed to get by the error that had stalled me on my earlier playthrough.

Final verdict: Short but sweet.

It turned out that one of my earlier gripes concerning the control was, in fact, a feature. The designers purposefully wanted you to have to move around to gain a good position before letting your projectile of choice fly.

Turns out that part of my problem was ignorance. Hold down the right mouse button and you build up force behind your projectile. Releasing it imparts that amount of force, letting you charge up your throws - much more effective at defeating enemies.

I can't remember that control being made explicit in the journal entries you collect. If it was, then I apologize. If it wasn't, then, well, I would caution the creators to never underestimate a player's density. Sometimes, sure, I hit every button I can and fiddle with things. Other times, well . . . I don't.

I should mention that as you charge up your throws, the screen does this way-cool effect that I'm not entirely certain how to describe. The bloom disappears and everything starts to look as if you're running the game on an old TV. Highly stenciled and contrasted. It's just, uh, cool-looking.

My comments about the animation seem to be common criticism. From the Eclipse forums: "We all share this same criticism and if we had more time, fixing that would be at the top of the list."

Also: "
The Lead Engineer and I determined the jump mechanism in Half Life 2 is like the black hole--we don't know much about it and we really can't get close enough to fully understand it.

The jump was created for a first person game, which operates differently than we would have wanted for a third person game. In the end we decided that we focus on balancing and making the game look as beautiful as possible."

And the rest of that thread goes on with very good points that I can totally accept. The animation's 'eh' . . . I've seen worse.

The Hellstorm spell kicks ass. It takes lessons previously learned and kicks up the power a bit. Great implementation and it makes you feel like a badass.

The game's over way too soon. You could go through the whole thing in fifteen minutes.

Somebody needs to throw money at those guys.

Please, sirs. I want some more.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Seriously


On the fucking nose
.

Kieron Gillen's review of Boiling Point: Road to Hell.

My favorite part of the review:

"Put it like this: This is probably one of the most enjoyable piece of early-Beta code that I've ever played. You want to damn Atari for releasing it like this. However, you also want to hail them for spending money on something of Boiling Point's ambition rather than the safe option. After all, if this sells nothing, the lesson publishers will learn won't be "Don't release unfinished games" but "Don't invest in ambitious ones"."

I wish he weren't (more than likely) right about that last part.

The Mod Squad


I got curious.


I mean, I've had Half-Life 2 since it came out. Played through it, it was great. Outstanding.

But what of mods?

I realized I hadn't looked for any Half-Life 2 mods, not since whenever they released the first round of editing tools.

So I started looking for some. As I suspected, there aren't many.*

But why? Video games have so many more tools available today to the dedicated mod team.

That's the reason right there. Dedicated mod team. You have to be really fucking dedicated. And once you get to a certain point of dedication (a point that is usually a necessity), then you better put together a business plan and borrow lots of money, because otherwise you are in for heartache.

It's great when people can collaborate, and work on a something they love, and do it all for free. But the thing with having a bunch of scattered amateurs work on your dream is that they're amateurs. As soon as something more important comes up (significant others, family problems, health concerns, earning money to buy food) they fucking split.

I remember Aliens Total Conversion for Doom. That was a great mod. Impressive as hell. No doubt took a ton of work.

But try doing something similar using a modern engine. Need someone to 3-d model everything. Some expert skinners for those models. Gotta have talented level designers willing to pay attention to the details. Don't forget generating lots of new high-resolution textures. Re-coding all the AI.

Most of those actions had their equivalents in the Doom era. The difference as I see it is the level of sophistication to which gamers have grown accustomed. I could slap together a few open areas with variable floor heights connected by a couple doors in WadEd and impress people. Throw a few cubes into Hammer and nobody will give a shit. We're expecting at least a basic architectural sensibility, and that takes lots of time and experience to balance.

The point is that the increase in complexity of today's art assets requires a significant increase in the time it takes to make them. Man I can confound an issue.

I would like to draw your attention to an HL-2 mod called Eclipse. I can't find an official website. Go to Fileplanet or your preferred equivalent and look around for it. It's impressive because, well, I guess mostly because it was put together as a college project.

It really shows off a different side of the Source engine. We get a beautiful fantasy world, rendered with lots of light bloom. The main character uses a kind of telekinesis. Left-click on a rock and it spins and hovers mere feet above the ground. Right-click and the rock is pushed away with force. Much like the gravity gun, only inexact.

To be honest, I thought the control sucked. But maybe the point was for it to be awkward, in which case - eh, I still didn't like it. And the animation on the main character was crummy.

I was surprised, when I ran across the first enemies (grotesque troll-like creatures), that I had no obvious way to fight back. Hitting one with a rock only stunned it momentarily. So I guess I was supposed to run. Weird. Run from enemies.

The shitty part is that the mod froze up on me. And right when they showed me that I could distract the enemies by throwing little firefly nests at them. Cool.

Anyway, check it out if you're so inclined. Maybe you'll have a different experience. I'm gonna fire it up again and see if I can't wiggle past the glitch.

*I know that there are scores of multiplayer mods. I don't give a shit about these. Why? Because I could care less that you took the same 3d model of a Desert Eagle used in the last 30 commercial FPS mods and mashed it into the HL-2 file structure. I don't care that you made a Yugoslavian-themed variation of Capture the Flag. I don't care that you re-created a classic Deathmatch map. I definitely don't care that you altered the Gravity gun so that stuff can be rotated (actual mod - and I would care if they put it into a map where that kind of control was essential to some gameplay element, but really, it doesn't add shit to the game). Make something interesting, for god's sake. Give me a tense new map that presents another aspect of the war against the Combine. Restructure the antlions as those things from Tremors and make the town of Perfection.

Eh, I guess I should just keep praying for Half-Life 3: Aliens Total Conversion.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Just A Warning

To my 20-or-so daily readers (most of whom are probably friends or lost . . . or both):

Updates will be much more sporadic.

Problems procuring employment/housing.

Thus difficulty establishing/rooting-out suitable internet connection.

Will write what I can, when I can. For those that might care.

Apologies for whatever inconvenience this could conceivably cause (shortage of daily fifth-tier blog intake? not enough videogame-related, profanity-ridden analysis in life? you live on the sweet, sweet juices of words which you suck out with your eyes, victim of a neverending hunger?).

Best of luck to all of you.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

The Cause of Endless Debate


Props once again
to Grand Text Auto, for providing some interesting links.

The one that I thoroughly enjoyed was Mary Flanagan's essay exploring that monster issue of gender and video games.

I encourage people to read the whole essay. Trust me, it's not very long and it makes some excellent points.

I found this, in particular, to be a good goal to steer toward:

"In gender research in the games industry, designers must be able to work towards gender equity without falling into stereotyping traps, realizing the inherent breadth and contradictions of categorization."

Because categorization is particularly troubling to me, a wannabe game designer. I have no fucking clue what a 'girl game' would look like, and to be honest, I don't want to know. How could I be so sexist?

Well, I don't know what a 'guy game' looks like, either (I know it doesn't look like The Guy Game, though, that's for damn sure).

Some days it seems I hardly know what a game looks like at all. The truth of it is that most designers probably work from gut initially, finding themes or mechanics they find interesting and then exploring them until something coherent begins to emerge.

Back to Mary's essay, what kind of games did the girls want?

"The design partners report that if they were to choose what they wanted in a computer game, they would like action, they want to be challenged, they want to judge or compete, and they want to be scared. Many participants think that some sort of action, violence, or fighting should be in any good computer game. Extreme situations and narratives win out in our research over more traditional kinds of play."

That, uh, would've been my response, too.

I think a major difficulty concerning sexism and gaming is that there seem to be several different issues that people lump together into one broad stroke. I'll see if I can break at least a few out of the chunk. And yes, they are interrelated, but that doesn't make them the same.

1. Disparity of sexes in the video game industry. Very few females in high-technology industries at all.
2. Sexism in video games themselves. Characters, narratives and interactions that reinforce stereotypical gender roles.
3. Sexism in the way video games are marketed. Over-reliance on the 'sex sells' school of advertising.
4. Examining female gaming preferences and making games more appealing to women.
5. Sexual content in games is not the same as sexist content. Much of the challenge comes from familiarity with its use.

Concerning the first: It could be that this is indicative of social conditioning at large, that it's a mirror of prejudices about what type of subjects we encourage for which sexes. This definitely needs to be examined in detail. The issue here is one of education and awareness of our attitudes, especially if we are teachers and/or parents.

And if we are slotting females into roles that turn them away from the sciences (typically into the arts), how do we turn that around?

To catch it on the back end, we can alter the image of science as a non-creative, non-artistic endeavor (which I find to be a sad stereotype itself). Yes, I'm suggesting that we try to make things more equitable by playing to current stereotypes. Devious. Some universities are already offering degrees that give a solid grounding in technical matters while leaving space for creative electives.

Which, to me, seems like a decent start.

As for the actual game industry . . .

Obviously by encouraging more women into game development there will be more applying to companies and (hopefully) more working in the industry. But companies should also make some concessions (and admit that, yeah, there's a disparity, it doesn't mean you're evil) and work to present a workplace free from sexism. Make it obvious that juvenile behavior isn't tolerated, that sexual harassment isn't tolerated and that you will try your best to squelch immature sexual attitudes/behavior. Show that you value the input of all your employees, which means when someone suggests the female barbarian have larger boobs, look around the room and see if it really seems necessary.

To really figure out what kind of changes to make, guess what we need? We need women already in the industry to get very vocal about what problems exist, what should be done to correct them and how to prevent them from cropping up in the future.

Tangent to the first: My wife has expressed the notion, were we to have a female child, that the clothes, room, toys, everything to which we would expose our daughter would be rendered in pink, a color that is repugnant to me. She claims it is because she herself has a fondness for pink; I often counter that she is a brainwashed tool of a patriarchal culture. So we can see the difficulty inherent in erasing cultural tendencies.

Concerning the Second: This one often bogs me down. There is so much grey area here. We are talking about creative output, which certainly reflects stereotypes and prejudices, but that doesn't mean a generalization is implied. And anybody that would try to say that artist intent can be ignored is, well, possibly a Dadaist, but more likely talking out their ass (often the same thing).

What I'm trying to get at is that sometimes stories are just stories. A character is just a character. A cigar is just a cigar.

And sometimes that unrealistic portrayal of a woman cavorting through caverns is, well, just an artist's design of a character. They aren't trying to say anything in particular about society, or what we expect of women, or even what we expect of caverns (I am particularly distraught that all caverns do not yield fascinating historical treasures).

Art often yields idealizations of form, not just of both genders but of all things. Artists often build up from past templates, adding things that interest them but leaving in images that may be universally poignant. We see this in comic book superheroes, in street signs, in film, in the structures of musical genres, all over the damn place.

Of course, the other side of this lesson is that, no matter how much an artist fucking hates being misinterpreted, people are going to use their own opinions to project certain things on the artist's vision. Smart artists will be aware of this, and smart game designers will take notice as well. Check for gut reactions - they're important. You might think they're stupid, but not when you find out you've alienated at least half your market.

If I were making a game (such a big if, I know), and I noticed that when I showed it to female gamers they instantly reacted with an aversion response because the main character had impossible knockers or an 8i waist, would it really kill me to alter the design? It might be a problem if I waited until the end of the design cycle to check something like that, but if I, y'know, put some thought into it in the beginning, not so tough to fix.

It may be that, yes, in fact, the development team happens to be a group of males with juvenile ideas of how women act and what roles they should serve, and they allow those attitudes to creep insidiously into their art design. Or maybe it's just one or two or a few members of the team and they exercise more influence over the design than others (who may not even notice, truthfully). Then, yeah, that game is making a sexist statement. I'd hate to think that such a thing could happen on purpose, but it is possible (Duke Nukem I am looking in your direction).

We just have to be careful not to equate ignorance of an issue with deliberate expression of an -ism.

Like I said, this isn't a cut-and-dry issue. It takes work to discover a balance, and it's very easy to fuck up.

Some questions, then. Shinobi, Solid Snake, Sam Fischer are well-proportioned, muscular, graceful and highly-skilled. They have gruff exteriors, are solitary, predominantly expressionless, nearly emotionless. They are certainly presenting males with unrealistic expectations concerning physical appearance, conditioning, competence and demeanor. So are they sexist images? If not, is there something in their characterization that makes them more 'realistic' than their female equivalents? Do guys just not care about, or notice, male stereotypes in gaming?

A large part of the problem is that there is no conceivable way (I can think of) to determine exactly how much influence a game, or any media, is going to have on someone. Everyone will react differently. Some little girls might read fashion magazines and develop body dysmorphism; Others might read the same magazines and develop their own line of clothing. Likewise some women play Tomb Raider and are struck by how unrealistic an image Lara Croft presents; Others play and are struck by how competent she is, how athletic, how she is the hero of the game rather than victim. Determining where we cross the line from considering an image strong and beautiful to finding ourselves weak and ugly is not easy.

The caveat always seems to be, "Use your best judgment." It just sucks that our best judgment is often so poor.

Tangent to the second: As an avid writer-not-yet-author, I tend to write main characters that are male. When I do tackle writing as a female character, doubts start to creep in. Am I making her shallow? Am I missing some key component of the feminine experience? Will I be ranked as a misogynist for sloppy characterization? I don't worry so much about my male characters, but they're probably just as much at risk to be bad characters. It's just that nobody is going to claim I'm sexist if I have a guy fulfill traditional gender roles, because I am a guy (well, I'd say it's not likely to happen). But if I write about a woman who is meek and subservient, am I going to be accused of expecting that behavior from all women, of propagating that viewpoint? It may not happen. And I usually just decide, critics be damned, I'll write the story the best I can. That, unfortunately, doesn't make those issues irrelevant.

Concerning the third: This is the one that is the most clear to me. Everyone knows that advertisers are soulless hell-beasts that stoke their brimstone engines with paper money and human misery. They take note that, hey, guys like boobies (ooh, how clever) and butts (savvy!) so they slap those things all over stuff they think guys might buy.

Which means games get drenched with the flesh parade. It's a circular thing: The male gamer demographic is an established buyer segment so the advertising focuses on the male gamer demographic (skewed to heterosexuals, of course) so the male gamer demographic stays strong so the advertising focuses on the male gamer demographic.

As for guys like me, who claim that the advertising doesn't affect our purchases, that may be true. But we don't actively oppose the advertising. We don't vocally refuse to buy games that use sexually aggressive marketing. I shrug my shoulders and wonder at the gaming they might contain.

Unfortunately, the two easiest ways to engage the human brain are sex and violence. Once engaged, sure, you can spout whatever crap you want; It's that initial attention that's important to a marketer. Just about everything sold nowadays uses one or both of the "Big Two" in order to catch our interest.

If we want to reduce this tripe in video game marketing, I suggest getting organized. Point out the most offensive, demeaning shit that's shoved off on us, demand that advertisers wake up and realize that they don't need to try so hard. Show us some solid gameplay, interesting characters, maybe something to grab us emotionally just please, please, please . . . stop the coy, sexy females, the gritty, homicidal antiheroes, the if-it's-not-extreme-fuck-you attitudes, the "so good we're not stupid enough to believe they're real" graphical fake-outs, the endless, needless dick-waving and suck-it-bitch aggression-fests.

In summation, we know advertising is a lowest-common denominator ploy. The only way to raise its level is to put pressure on the source. Can we fix it (whatever that means - marketers would probably say it ain't broke)?

Doubtful, but I believe it is possible to demand, and get, a reduction in the crap that is driving away, not just women, but gamers in general. The ones that are turned off by advertising that presents very specific sexual stereotyping aimed at very specific sexual preferences that are held up as very specific sexual standards in our culture.

Whew. Now three times fast.

Tangent to the third: Most of what gets me about sexual advertising in the gaming world is what a narrow spectrum it represents. And this really does bear out in a lot of games. This is probably a whole 'nother essay, but I'll throw out a few musings. We are invariably presented with a one-man-one-woman totally-heterosexual world. Unless the developers slip in some wink-wink lesbian subtext - which is, still, for heterosexual men. This is more than just a cry of, "Oh, grow up!" A lot of changes are going to have to happen in-game first before we can get the advertisers to realize that, wow, there are other orientations?

Where are the, let's say, male characters confused about their own sexuality (other than Final Fantasy protagonists)? Where are Lara Croft's emotionally-broken ex-boyfriends? Where are the married couples/life partners (other than The Sims, and even then only if you make them that way)? Where are the fetishists that aren't painted as freaks? This is a call for more diversity in the love lives of virtual creations.

One thing I wonder about: Once we begin seeing homosexual protagonists in video games and advertising slated toward them, will we go the route of television and present them as just-another-stereotype? Something to ponder.

How about the next Madden cover shows a soft-focus shot of Peyton Manning patting Marcus Pollard on the ass, lovingly? I'd buy that for a dollar.

Concerning the fourth: This is the issue that's most interesting to me, aforementioned wannabe game designer. I'll admit to some confusion on my part about this one. Games are appealing to women. Check out this summary of a GDC panel focusing on female gamers.

The demographic information is incredibly hard to nail down, but near as I can figure the "casual games" market is dominated by woman. Older women, at that. The mobile games market typically reports a 50-50 split along gender lines. Numbers are not forthcoming about MMORPGs (that I can discover), but I'm going to hazard that women make up a good portion of players there, as well.

I think the key here is that what some would call the "mainstream" or "hardcore" market segment, i.e. the console/PC-shooter/rts/action/sports group (once again, categorization makes life difficult), is notably lacking in female gamers . And my big question is, "Who cares?"

Obviously there are people that care, and it would probably be a good idea to listen to them.

It's not a question of what do we have to do, what do we have to change about the industry, in order to get females to game. They're already gaming. In droves.

The questions, as I see them, are, "How do we make the core video game market more inclusive? How can we avoid getting shackled by formulaic concepts that only perpetuate the same tired stereotypes? What do we need to change about the content of our games, the way they are marketed and the way the industry operates in order to keep from alienating a huge segment of gamers?"

The answers to those questions would obviously be important from a marketer's perspective. But they should also be important to the developers. You want people to play your games. You want people to like them, so they'll continue to buy them, so you can continue to make them - because you fucking love it.

So I'm not interested in getting a bulleted list of "What do women gamers want?" Every time I see that question answered, it turns out they want the same damn things that all gamers want. We're knuckleheads for thinking otherwise.

I am interested in getting a list together of things to avoid. Nothing dogmatic, just some nice guidelines for maybe taking the slick sheen of testosterone off of a particularly masculinized design. Or displaying a lighter touch, maybe some sensitivity, in narrative instead of thickheaded, heavyhanded bravado. These qualities can be fine, if they serve the game, but they can be overdone and unnecessary, and some games add them out of habit.

All I can suggest is for game developers to really examine their games for patterns that might simply be oft-repeated cliches. Then, maybe, just tweak them a bit. In the next game, tweak them a little more. Re-arrange expectations. For male designers, try imagining your wife or girlfriend or mother in that female character's role, and see if it seems 'off' somehow. Think about every hackneyed plot you've complained about at the movies, every overused woman-in-peril hook - are you guilty of re-using them in your games?

Tangent to the fourth: My wife is an avid gamer. Probably just as much as I am. We tend to favor different games, though there's plenty of overlap. She spends a lot of time at MSN Games, especially on Text Twist, which we sometimes work on together. She loves the hundreds of variations of Solitaire that she ordered. She actually plays games on her phone (I can't stand doing so). We play "You Don't Know Jack" - but who doesn't? We play board games and card games together - Munchkin, Carcassonne, Settlers of Catan, Hex Hex. She doesn't like "mainstream" games because they're so often in 3-d, and she gets vertigo from 3-d representations. Though at times she will watch as I play through Grand Theft Auto, cheering as I mow down pedestrians and chiding me when I miss. I don't disparage her game-playing just because she doesn't go for the latest FPS. She's just as hardcore as Stevie Case.

Concerning the fifth: I won't go far with this point, but I feel it definitely merits an acknowledgment. We're still learning the limits and uses of sexual content in video games. Hell, we're still learning the limits in movies and television.

That's what we get for being a nation of prudes.

If we're talking about a game meant to be arousing, it can be hard to decide exactly what type of gameplay elements can best bring about such a state, and whether what you get is fun and stimulating and still a game. Because if it's solely fun, you could've just removed all the sex and re-made Zuma. And if it's solely stimulating, well, it's porn. Might as well put on a movie and free up the extra hand.

If we're talking about a game meant to be shocking, it can be hard to decide how much is necessary, if any. Hints of sexual misdeeds can serve a game's plot (Code Veronica's incest), but it isn't necessary to gives us visuals belaboring the point. Sure, the Japanese have (somehow) successfully marketed hentai games, but I'm not sure choose-your-own-adventures that end in violent cartoon sex can be considered a reasonable (or sane) use of sexual content.

The confusion with sexism results when characters or situations crop up in a game that present a shallow view of sexuality. When games show us women in skimpy, useless armor, or tout their hyperviolent slut (stripper moves! schoolgirl outfits!), it's really hard not to feel like developers are taking pandering to a whole greater depth.

I don't mind having my sexual tastes indulged by media. I do know that oversaturating your game with sexual imagery dulls the whole experience for me.

So where is the line? I really don't fucking know.

How do we determine what is gratuitous? Again, people have wildly different standards. We shouldn't have to please everybody. But it's nice to try not to offend.

As a suggestion, dial things back a bit. Use subtlety now and then. Make things sexy and not overtly sexual.

Shaky conclusion: As I said in the beginning of this post, I don't know how to design a game for a particular gender. If I were tasked with doing such a ludicrous thing, I'd probably resort to stereotypes, which is, in my estimation, how treacle like Barbie Horse Adventures get made (which is not meant to disparage the developers, only the stereotypes).

Which doesn't mean that you can't try and target your game. You'll probably do this no matter what, even if its not apparent to you; Most artists cater to an unseen audience. There's nothing wrong with trying to skew a game for girls. It's just that such games tend to resemble an amalgamation of what a 40-year old ad exec would say that girls want from a video game. The preconceptions are thrown into a mediocre game and propagate through the industry.

For me, the game's the thing. Well-crafted gameplay can (and if you're lucky, will) make players forget about sexual stereotypes and other prejudices/foolish notions. It will draw you in, even if it's just to get you to manipulate a deck of cards.

I know my views are optimistic (In other words, "hopelessly naive").

I realize the game industry isn't primarily composed of playful, creative designers that throw some revolutionary ideas to their development teams and then ascend to the heavens on beams of light. Molyneux, Crawford, Wright, Kojima, Miyamoto - we know these names because they are exceptional, in that they enjoy a great degree of freedom to make their playful, creative designs.

Much of the industry makes decisions based on both artistic and commercial considerations. That's just the way things happen. Commercial considerations often dictate ridiculous design decisions because "those elements were gold in the past." They're told to "make it pink, for girls," so they focus on fluff and ignore the core.

It will take developers with intestinal fortitude to start dictating their own terms for the future of gaming. They're definitely out there. And it will take consumers demanding the changes they constantly talk about with other gamers. And it will take the strength to examine our own prejudices and discuss them openly.

Supplemental Links:
-Sarah Wichlacz's article "Grrrl Gamez"-
-Quotes on sexual objectification-
-Lisa Pickoff White's Washington Times article-
-Sexism in Video Games-
-BBC article-

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Patently Absurd


I wasn't aware
that our chums on the other side of the pond are facing their own problems with that whole software patent mess. Except that they're still trying to decide whether to even allow the durned things.

And it looks like they'll get their answer real soon (note: it's possible they may have an answer already). And, not to sound like a cynic, but I'm willing to bet that the politicians go with the corporations. So fight the power by reading the usual left-wing garbage about "rights" and "free expression" and that claptrap.

I went ahead and re-read that incendiary essay on Gamasutra attempting to defend software patents.

Here's what caught my eye:

"Ralph Baer is largely credited as the father of video games, having conceived of creating video games in 1966, and making millions for the game Pong. Baer was meticulous in his recordkeeping, and took advantage of the patent system to help develop his fledgling business. However, four years earlier, another individual named Steve Russell finished work on his own computer game: Spacewar. Unfortunately for him, Russell did not seek patent protection on his concept, and did not document his development efforts as well as Baer. We will never know how history may have been rewritten had Russell sought patent protection on Spacewar."

Okay, what I take from that paragraph is that Russell should've gotten the patent years earlier and then sued the shit out of Baer when that upstart tried to make money off Pong. Is that it?

Because I'm sure that would've been great for the video game industry.

I mean, wasn't it totally an enrichment of the industry when Magnavox took Atari for $700,000 over Pong?

Maybe they should've focused on bringing out more games.

Suing people sure made them a fuckton of money.

And, in the end, isn't that what it's all about?

Me Like Shaders *Grunt*


The title of this post
sums up most of what I'll be discussing, so if you don't like long-windedness 1) why are you at my blog? and 2) just read the title once or twice and be on your way.

I'm not ashamed to say that the concept of shaders took some time for me to understand. And I'm sure my knowledge of them is extremely sparse. Most of what I've found on the Internet assumes a solid background in programming and shader concepts.

I've read about two basic types of shaders: pixel and vertex. There may be more out there, I'm not sure. I've seen reference to surface shaders but can't tell if these just use techniques from the other two.

Here's a pretty good breakdown of concepts, but it's still kind of confusing. "Pixel shaders often have to be "driven" by the vertex shader." Hm?

My own concept of a shader (and forgive me if it's stupid, wrong, awkward or all three) is that it determines an object's final appearance in a game. It is essentially a method of image-processing, and it seems to me that the difference between a shader and simply rendering a scene is the idea of reactivity. That is, a shader contains properties that will be expressed visually under changing conditions.
And I fucking love shaders.

The thing I really love about them is that they make my games look great without substantially impacting system performance. I play most stuff in 800x600 and am completely happy with the results. World of Warcraft uses low-polygon models and relies on scene composition, evocative textures and simple-yet-effective shaders to present a gameworld that still makes me stop at times and mutter, "Damn, that's pretty."

Half-Life 2 actually made me say the phrase, "See how they make this tin roof look just like a rusty, corrugated tin roof?" Then I spent about five minutes moving back and forth and watching how light played across its surface. And said similar phrases throughout the whole game.

I'm not trying to suggest that every game needs them or that throwing them all over a game will somehow improve it. Just that, when used in a manner befitting their abilities, they make me feel like I could just leap into my monitor. The knots on my forehead attest to that.

Which, of course, brings us to the oft-linked "Graphics Don't Matter (and other assertions)" post by Andrew Phelps.

I agree with a lot in that post. I definitely don't think he's saying anything world-shaking, but maybe that he's saying some obvious things that often get denied by the "Gameplay trumps all" side of the fence. His conclusion, where he calls for balance is, while 'duh', presented well and reasonably. The Buddha would approve.

But, of course, there shouldn't really be any kind of Graphics/Gameplay split. Other than a few voices, I haven't heard many gamers taking the stance that graphics are completely irrelevant in this industry.

Where I get irked, however, is when a game presents itself as a vehicle for its graphics. I feel the same way when a movie presents itself as a special-effects demo. Visuals are not worthless, by any means, but unless your only goal is presenting a purely visual aesthetic experience, then there must be some other substantial element(s).

The phrase 'eye-candy' is often tossed out, and can be apt in certain situations. In games where the graphics are supposed to be the fundamental experience and the gameplay is so sparse as to be almost nonexistent, sure. A game like Dragon's Lair. I can't really think of any modern games where this would apply, however. I see many more examples of 'game-candy' (which sounds like a new line of deer-flavored Skittles) - short, sweet experiences based around simple concepts. Just roll over to MSN games or Popcap.

I propose the phrase 'eye-dessert' to refer to particularly awe-inspiring game graphics. This phrase attempts to illustrate that graphics, while sweet and rich, do not themselves make a meal. And, of course, that the best graphics are those that compliment the other courses.

Back to shaders for only a second.

Because I am a glutton for tools I can't possibly comprehend, I went ahead and downloaded a whole bunch of shader stuff off Nvidia's site. The stuff is free! As in beer!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Reviews Reviewed


All over
the gamer blogsphere recently was the story about how an editor changed a writer's review without informing said writer of said change. Not going to provide specific links or details, as that particular horse has been beaten postmortem and served raw in an Okinawa sushi bar long ago.

The result of that story, however, was pretty easy to predict. Some people were incensed by the idea that an editor would act in a manner that was, while not really unscrupulous, somewhat reprehensible. Of course, there arose accusations that the professional video game reviewing industry is wholly corrupt; That the promotional materials given by game companies amount to little more than bribes; That game reviewers can never be trusted to provide any kind of informed opinion because they are all mouthpieces of The Developer Industry.

This, naturally, prompted reactionary backlash from persons in the video game reviewing industry, defending their careers and integrity, explaining some of the simple behind-the-scenes facts that those not in the know wouldn't know and in some cases acting like total dicks by disparaging the role of bloggers.

Which, of course, led to lots of back-and-forths concerning how professionals are dishonest puppets or bloggers are know-nothing hacks or professionals are sell-out lickspittles or bloggers are uninformed ignorant blowhards.

I started thinking about the role of reviews in my own life.

It's definitely true that I'm influenced toward certain games by what I hear or read. I'm not going to pretend that I'm some sort of stoic individualist that isn't swayed by any kind of opinions. I'll leave that to Hot Topic clerks.

For me, sites like Gamespot and Gamespy are good sources of coming-soon information and preview screenshots. Using this information I try and judge which games are most likely to be interesting and fun to me. That's right, it's totally subjective and gut-feeling and is probably wrong at least half the time. But who cares? I get a taste of things to come.

When games do come out and those same sites give their final verdicts, well . . . who cares? I will read the actual reviews (you know, those word things that follow the score) in order to find out the things I find relevant: types of gameplay, story elements, characterization, soundtrack info and pretty much anything that describes how the game plays or what it is about. Which gives me a general idea of how a game presents itself, but that's it. Just a vague, fuzzy notion of whether or not I'll like it.

And that number in the corner? That number is a fucking lie.

So how do I figure out which games are worthy of my time?

Well, my first stop tends to be my friends. I ask them how much they played a certain game or what the story was like or how long it was and, if only rented, would they consider buying it? I might browse some blogs or forums (though doubtful) and read opinions, but I try to avoid that, since it doesn't take long before this gets old:

"Game X totally rockz! It is teh bomb!"
"No it doesnt, fag, game X is teh suck!"
"Your the suck, fag!"

Ultimately, then, I figure out which games I'll play by this method, which I call Johnny Pi's Commonsense Algorithm for Determining the Likelihood of Playing a Specific Video Game:

1. Do I have time to devote to Video Game?
2. Do I have money to rent/purchase Video Game? Barring that, is there a suitable way to get ahold of Video Game?
3. Do I have desire to play Video Game which overrides desire to do other activities within a designated span of time?
4. Do I want to get off ass long enough to obtain Video Game, if necessary?
5. Does Video Game contain elements that evoke at least mild interest?
6. Is Video Game not a product created or endorsed by Derek Smart?
7. Do I still have enough control over my body to interact with whatever type of equipment is required for Video Game?
8. Is there at least a slight statistical probability that this game won't turn me into a sociopathic killer?

Assuming that these questions can all be answered "True" then it's likely that I'll play the stupid game.

When I was a kid my father swore by Siskel and Ebert. Every Sunday we'd watch their show and see what the verdict was on all the movies coming out that week. Which could be a real drag if they blasted a movie I wanted to see. The best I could hope for was a split-vote, which would put a movie in the "maybe" category.

And I never really liked that method of choosing entertainment. Why not just go and fucking see if you like that movie? Why not read that book even if The New Yorker said it was rubbish? Why not check out that band even if Rolling Stone gave it one star? You can always walk out, put it down or turn it off.

Entertainment is expensive, though. You have to be picky. So it can be useful to look to other people to help make your choices.

I understand that some people trust certain reviewers more because over time they have found that they tend to enjoy similar things. Perfectly understandable. And if you're really lucky, you'll find a reviewer who has a knack for exploring the elements of a piece of media without letting their personal tastes infect too much of it. Though it's still quite common to see a reviewer with obvious prejudices reviewing something they really shouldn't.

I think part of the problem is that magazines have merged the idea of critical analysis and editorial. And, no, it's not possible to be completely objective, about anything. But that's hardly a good excuse for not making more of a distinction between examining the efficacy of a certain media to evoke an intended effect and stating whether or not you enjoyed it.

To help illustrate my point, I don't like Halo. Or Halo 2. I don't like playing them, I don't get into the story, I think they're overhyped and underwhelming.

But in a critical light, as games, they are completely successful. The story is presented well, the controls are responsive and intuitive, the art design is solid and the multiplayer is, by all accounts, wonderful.

An architect can look at a stadium and appreciate the design of it, the structure itself, how it's put together, how it achieves its particular function. And they can still hate it.

Does that point up the difference at all? It's not always easy to separate those two types of thought, I recognize that. Sometimes the medium is the message. Sometimes content and form merge. Bad design can make a good idea unpleasant. A bad idea slapped over good design doesn't always sell.

Shit. I suppose I should founder for a conclusion.

I don't put much stock in the arbitrary number system used by a lot of reviews. Except, uh, for that magazine Perfect 10. They're always right.

And it is kinda shitty when an editor tinkers with a writer's work without informing said writer. But it hardly reveals any kind of mass corruption or even an evil streak from that editor - just bad judgment. Next time get permission to make the change or pull the piece.

And, uh, be good to each other.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Where Is Your Darwin Now?




Actual conversation had in World of Warcraft:


[Rendum]: crikey, the lashtail raptah
[Clayhorn]: orange and neon green, evolution fucked these guys
[Rendum]: they're ornery buggahs
[Rendum]: maybe they blend into 80s nightclubs
[Clayhorn]: could be a funny APB on a police cruiser
[Clayhorn]: lashtail spotted at the Go bar
[Clayhorn]: talking to some freshman girl who's drinking long island iced tea
[Rendum]: scythelike claws, snout horn, cocky swagger

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Halo: Epiphany


So wait a minute.


In the far future, humanity is engaged in a ferocious battle with a group of aliens known as the Covenant. I get that.

At some point I get to take over a vehicle known as a Banshee. This vehicle is advanced enough to hover, fly like a plane and very rapidly change direction/elevation. This is a serious piece of machinery.

Except I have to aim its fucking guns.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

Fire And Forget: An Experiment


While browsing
a blog I came across this link, which sends you off to a game called September 12th, which bills itself as a simulator.

And, really, it's definitely not a game. Or is it?

If anything, I would call it a statement.

It opens with a screen telling you something that I had touched upon in my post on violence. It says:

"The rules are deadly simple.
You can shoot.
Or not."

They show you that terrorists are carrying guns and that civilians are not.

And then you are presented with an isometric view of a bustling city and a large gun sight.

Clicking somewhere, on a terrorist for example, launches a missile.

There are two major catches, of course: One is that there is a time delay, so it is difficult to judge whether you will hit your constantly-moving target. Two is that missiles cause splash damage, so even if you do hit where you aim you are going to kill civilians and destroy buildings.

Well that's no fun.

So here's the experiment. Shoot off a few missiles. Do you feel remorse? I know, I know they're only virtual, but just assume they're not. Let's postulate an Ender's Game scenario, where your actions in a computer simulation are really killing people on the other side of the world. Is it amusing to watch them wail at the destruction happening around them? Are you enjoying yourself?

Remember. You don't have to shoot.

But, well, there's a button.

What if the longer you let the simulation run, the more terrorists were created? Would you feel justified in pushing that button over and over again?

Come on, they aren't real people.

Bonus Questions:
Do you find it strange that a society so concerned with the impact of media violence should still comport its international affairs using the imperalist stylings of a hundred years ago? Or use cowboy colloquialisms like "smoke 'em outta their holes" or "let's roll" when discussing the very real prospect of killing people?

Would it have been cooler if Harry Truman had said "let 'em all burn" to the nation prior to giving the go-ahead to drop the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? I mean, what kind of diplomat was he?

Would you be a little disturbed if a friend of yours, after being assaulted, glibly and gleefully took revenge upon their aggressor by destroying said aggressor's apartment building with a bomb and writing off the other deaths as "acceptable losses"? Would it make sense to treat that friend as a very dangerous sociopath?

Is it possible to honestly believe that human beings, as a whole, will ever be anything other than completely awful to each other in every possible way? Is that the definition of "naive"?

Friday, June 10, 2005

So Much For Hyperbole


Holy Shit!


I was totally trying to exaggerate the notion of patenting different aspects of video games. But looking into the issue a little deeper, I've discovered that I was, at the very least, on the nose (and possibly even not heavyhanded enough in my estimation of the sheer stupidity of already-existing patents).

"Thus, assuming it has perfect information, the Patent Office will not issue a patent for an invention whose purported advancements are already found in, or are obvious from, the prior art." [My reference]

Here's the phrase that jumps out at me: "assuming it has perfect information."

The problem is that they don't even have decent information concerning video games.

I know, I come off as one of those ultra-liberal "information wants to be free" assholes. And, well, I am. So fuck you.

But really I just find software patents to be (like most patents), for the most part, unnecessary. Software is already covered under copyright. They effectively place restrictions on a method rather than an invention. You aren't placing a patent on a specific configuration, but rather a broad process, meaning that even if your program bears no resemblance to the one used to make the patent, it can still be considered a violation if it does something similar. Am I wrong in thinking this idea is absurd?

Shit, I'm going through an existential crisis. Soon all available virtual and real-world processes will be patented. Whoo, time for some hyperbole!

Patent #505068108374
Method for the scrubbing of teeth utilizing a brush and performing said brushing in both side-to-side and up-and-down motions, repeatedly, and in conjunction with a manufactured cleaning paste. Ostensibly for both whitening and brightening said teeth, but not necessarily in fact. Please note that circular motions will be considered a mixture of side-to-side and up-and-down motions for the purposes of this patent.

Maybe I'm just being unreasonable.

So be it.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

A Dose Of Top Five


Top Five Gaming-Related Patents I'd Like to Possess
*

5. An electronic means of allowing "gamers" to "score points" in reaction to in-game tasks, with different tasks doling out a pre-configured amount of said points. Points will be number-based, utilizing any possible number systems, including imaginary and hypothetical maths.

4. The use of any type of anthropomorphized animal "mascot" in a video game and subsequent related media works, including literature, advertising and television shows.

3. The use of a splash screen; The words "splash screen" refer to any initial screen displayed by interactive software, usually containing a logo, version information, author credits and/or a copyright notice.

2. A method in which the environment representation within a video game is projected as though through the eyes of an avatar, sometimes known as a "first-person perspective".

And the number one patent is . . .

1. A system whereby the user (aka "Player") presses a button on some kind of input device [Including, for the purposes of this patent, controllers, joysticks, computer mice, keyboards, touch screens and any derived system which might present a button or buttons to a user. See pgs 34-129 for the definition of button(s)] in order to enact some sort of reaction from programmed software of any type.


*These patents, so far as I know, do not currently exist. But just you wait. And, please, nobody write in claiming that some of these would better fall under copyright law.

Please Stop This, Whoever You Are


Post seen in just about every bulletin board on the Internet:


Hey guyz!

I am making a MMORPG with me and my friends and we need some help with making a MMORPG. Where would you start and what kind of knowledge do you need? I have no experience making games or playing games or thinking rationally.

People/things I need:
C++ Programmers
Internet Programmers
Artists
3d modelers
Level designers
Sound fx guys
Musicians
Producer
Project Manager
Several million dollars in startup costs
A clue

So what do you think? Possible? Please don't bother responding, as I'll just ignore anything you say and in fact won't even mention an MMORPG ever again, not because I realize how completely daft my idea is, but because I've gone after some other loony notion like a puppy bounding after a butterfly.

-Teh l33t newbtard

Just Something to Ponder


It's clear to me
at this point in time that humans like to imagine dystopic futures, and this is borne out in many of our video games - SHODAN's total control in System Shock, the Running Man ultraviolent game show of Unreal Tournament, the wacky police state in Jet Grind Radio. Hell, it's all over our media - movies with killer robots or corrupted AIs, books with mind control and fascist dictators - essentially a near-fetishization of struggling against a preternaturally oppressive Other.

These make for great, uplifting stories. Plenty of room for heroes when everybody's hurting.

And that's all cool. But I started wondering about the other themes that run through our games. Can games like Cesar, Civilization and The Sims be considered utopian games, since they strive for an overwhelming state of peace, whether in a city, the whole world or social dynamics?

I know that, thematically, games don't just exist in one or the other idiom. I'm not that naive.

But I do find myself wondering why we don't see games in which many of the past and present ills of the world have been effectively neutralized. Much of the draw of this is that the world can serve as a meditation on how we might change things for the better and what effects this might have on society. An adventure game that guides a player through BF Skinner's Walden II (if only to explore exactly how eerie such a place could be, in my opinion). Or a jaunt through an arcology, with tasks concerned with solving the technical and human problems that would surely plague such a construct.

Which is not to say that there can't be conflict. We can be reasonably certain that the ugliness of humanity will be around for awhile.

What I'm getting at is that video games can be great ways to explore more efficient ways of living. Simulations of future-living that Sir Thomas More certainly never believed possible.

And I think we are seeing some of whatever my nebulous thoughts may be referring to in such grand experiments as Second Life, There and A Tale In the Desert, though that last one is more a meditation on an alternate-universe peaceful past.

Of course, in our imaginings we may find that we already know the type of utopia we'll eventually discover: Erehwon.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Remember Jimmy Hoffa


The video game industry
wants to unionize. Or, more specifically, some of the people in the industry.

That's not an issue I really want to discuss. Not yet, at least.

What I'd like to do is offer up my services to become president of any future videogame union.

I know, I know, I'm not "technically" a member of the industry, but that's just a matter of opinion. I consider myself on the "consumer side" of things, still a perfectly valid link in the business chain.

Once president of the union, I plan to implement a policy of racketeering. And maybe negotiate for a health care plan, I haven't decided yet.

I'll hire burly geeks to offer up protection to game companies. We'll make sure their code isn't "accidentally" pirated so long as they keep up payments. I'll threaten companies with strikes, force them to pay outrageous fees and then spend all the money on old Saturn and Dreamcast games.

I'll divert treasury funds to politicians in order to loosen up those damned restrictive video gaming laws. With the necessary legislative action I'll build a giant arcade in the middle of the desert. My Pac-Man palaces will run through the night, bringing in billions in quarters.

I'll embezzle retirement funds and divert them to developing stricter digital copyrighting methods, then force developers to pay for the mandatory copyrights. I'll work closely with the Mafia to keep a tight rein on my business dealings. My squads of lethal enforcers will seek out the open-sourcers and eliminate them.

I'll keep a stranglehold on the industry and play both sides, the union members and the companies, against each other.

First the video game industry, then the nation.

Oh, and on the serious side:

Video game voice actors currently make a minimum of $556.20 for a four-hour session. Which is about $140 an hour. They want it to be raised to $750 for a four-hour session. And they want profit-sharing on the back end.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Sounds Nice


I haven't heard
any buzz concerning the game Metronome, set to be released on the XBox 360. The website intrigues me - they have a simple yet compelling basic story, a clear art design and a cool mechanic of recording in-game sounds that will then have different effects when replayed. I'm sure that once they ramp up their advertising that the term Tim Burton-esque will be thrown around concerning the look and feel of the game, so I'll just get it out of the way now. It looks very Tim Burton-esque.

Would be great, then, if they got a Danny Elfman soundtrack.

I found this mention of the game around the blogosphere.

Cool.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Those Who Can't Do, Teach Violence


Terra Nova
wrote about learning stuff from video games and Games*Design*Art*Culture added some thoughts. It looked to me like the general line of reasoning was this: Gamers like to claim that violent games don't teach violent behaviors, yet we say that we can make games to teach people nonviolent subjects; How can we live with the contradiction? Do games teach or not?

I thought I'd throw in my ever-decreasing-in-value two cents.

So I guess here's my 1.43 cents.

I think the answer to this lies in the distinction between exactly what games are teaching, can teach and do teach.

My most important assertion: There is not necessarily a one-to-one relationship between the actions a person makes in a game and the thought patterns they are extrapolating from that manipulation.

As an example: when I make Mario jump, I'm not learning how to jump better. Nothing in that action prepares me to slam-dunk. I'm certainly not making it more likely that I will increase jumping in my daily life, or that I'll run around trying to smash turtles. What I may be doing is increasing my reaction time to projected sequences in a virtual space. What's commonly called twitch-behavior. I'm also formulating an analysis of how long it takes for Mario to jump in response to my button-press and therefore calculating a general plan of how to react to future threats.

Of course, I've already talked in this blog about how firing a gun in real life is just not at all like firing one in a video game. This still doesn't mean that a kid won't build a conceptual model of firearms that is strikingly flawed, with lethal results.

But if your child shoots someone because they claim to be unsure of the lethality of a gun because in a game it takes several shots to kill someone, then your child is an idiot. Plain fucking truth. Because what's at issue there is that the child was willing to do violence. The fact that they 'didn't know' the gun would kill is irrelevant. Someone, some real-life human being, failed to teach basic socialization to that child.

So we're really talking about different issues.

The first thing we should investigate is: What types of attitudes are games suggesting as valid, what effect does this have on different ages of gamers and what types of behaviors are they adopting in response to those attitudes?

The second thing we should investigate is: What types of general thought processes are utilized/formulated while playing video games and to what degree are they applicable to different real-world tasks?

The third thing we should investigate is: What are the best formats for maximizing retention of information in educational games, and what kind of interactions produce that retention?

The fourth thing we should investigate is: Why the fuck can't such seemingly educated people as politicians tell the goddamn difference between correlation and causation, still?

Games don't so much teach as suggest. I would argue that they aren't necessarily as suggestive as non-interactive media because a gamer has the ability to modify the media. In a first-person-shooter the player always has the option to not shoot back. It's highly unlikely to be a course of action, but the choice is there. An Arnold Schwarznegger movie, where he blasts Arabs while spouting cheesy jokes, offers no choices at all - which, to me at least, makes it more pedantic than any videogame.

Children are impressionable. This is clear. The problem with any kind of media is that without a mature figure to guide children, they are going to learn all sorts of really shitty, backward, awful behaviors. That's because a good portion (most? all?) of art/media rely on the expression of emotions that are strong and important and aren't necessarily fluffy and cuddly. Sometimes the media has room to comment on itself, to help provide a reasonable framework, but often this isn't the case. Which is where educated, socially-aware individuals come into play.

And in reality, we live in a world of shitheads and bad parents and worse role models and violent, insane assholes.

There will always be people claiming that the video game made them do it, or the television, or their abusive daddy, or the talking dog, or twinkies, or any other stupid thing they can throw up like a magical ward.

The riddle of our actions is that nothing makes you do anything, but everything makes you act. The best solution may be fostering culpability, and indeed much of maturity could lay in being able to claim your mistakes and failures, no matter how terrible or idiotic.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Why I Can't Play The Sims


I really love
The Sims. I love watching them go about their business. I love watching them say 'hello' to each other and gab and then watch television or fix breakfast. Their independence, their interactions, their shifting needs and wants -- all fascinate me.

The Sims 2 blows me away when I'm wearing my wannabe game designer's hat.

But when I put on my game player's hat, I get bored. And frustrated. Easily.

I discovered that the main culprit is how The Sims divides up how much time it takes to accomplish certain tasks. I hated this dynamic in the first game and realized it wasn't improved at all in the second game. Basic tasks like using the bathroom, taking a shower or eating a meal take forever. Fucking hours.

Guesstimating, I'd say that having a Sim eat three meals a day plus a snack, take one shower, recycle their newspaper, trim the bushes, use the bathroom three times and do all the necessary cleaning will use up their entire day. That's without going to work.

There's just this unacceptable disconnect from my conception of the tasks in question. It makes it unplayable for me, because I really want to explore the more interesting aspects of their interactions, like having a party. The free will option helps with managing the tedium, but it doesn't alter the tedium. I'm still stuck yelling at my Sim to hurry the fuck up because why should it take fifteen minutes to pick up your mail and your ride is here for work and why won't you move you piece of shit you know they're waiting for you and awww now they pulled away you suck.

This just illustrates that the conception of time in video games can be of the utmost importance. It's not always a simple matter of throwing a timer on to regulate the game space.

What I'd like to see from future Sims development is the adjustment of their task-time allotment.

And also, as a bonus, a scheduler that would allow me to plan out key parts of my Sim's day.

Friday, June 03, 2005

Good Ol' Language


It's been bandied about
quite a bit that video games need a critical language.

Common terms need to be well-defined and easily-understood so they can be used in examining the art & science of making games.

A body of work gets built up that provides a foundation. This is important for two reasons: to help new game-makers branch out with creative forms of gameplay and to prevent the continual re-formulation of the basic methods of creating games.

By clarifying terms, we allow game designers to communicate with each other on level ground. And by evaluating past failures and successes we create an important history.

All of that being said
(and it's all my own opinion), some words of warning.

Creating a critical language for video games is going to lead to some pretty devastating arguments. People will get upset. Theories will be put forward and derided. Many dissenting voices will be heard. There may never be a true consensus. Some people (and I could probably do this if I tried) may argue that it isn't even necessary.

That's what we have to look forward to.

The usual way of things, actually.

I Realize This

It would be entirely unnecessary to send me this link to point out the similarity to the previous post. I did read that article when it was published months ago, and am aware I probably inadvertently cribbed from it.

Their version is, of course, superior.

I'm so ashamed.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Stop Uwe Now


This is not
a post on video games but a post related to video games.

I subjected myself to Alone in the Dark. I will post my thoughts at random, in the same manner that the film presented plot and images at random.

Tara Reid used to be merely a cinematic nuisance to me, someone to gloss over - I've never found her attractive in the slightest, or interesting, or competent, but when she inhabits a throwaway role she does all right. This movie makes her glaring shoddiness absolutely visible. She's playing a scientist, but couldn't even convince me that she's acting like a stripper pretending to be a scientist.

Christian Slater's soooo dreamy, but it looks like he can no longer discern between good roles and a paycheck. Talk hard!

I wasn't upset by House of the Dead, because that game was pretty much plotless zombie-shooting, which the movie version captured.

The Alone in the Dark game, however, was slow and atmospheric. It ushered in the era of survival-horror (for good or ill) and experimented with cinematic camera angles (not always successfully). It did a very good job of making the player feel weak and powerless against the bad things coming to get them. It made people feel, yes, alone in the dark, at least at times.

The movie does a good job of being the stupidest thing I've ever seen, while somehow making every scene with Tara Reid stupider than the entire movie, which if quantified would lead to a paradox that would, god willing, cause the film to devour itself Poltergeist-house-style.

I've seen this stupid movie before, when it was called The Relic. The female lead in that movie was much, much better. Shit, now I'm remembering The Relic fondly.

What the fuck is this movie about? Is there a narrative here? Who am I supposed to care about? When did it become Starship Troopers? Shit, now I wish I were watching Starship Troopers.

Haha, that chick is screaming on the ground, so they watch as a snake-thing pops up from the dirt and even though they have a clear shot they just fucking watch as it attacks the chick on the ground. These guys are professional.

I totally get it now. Uwe Boll's movies are the gygaxian dungeons of film. He presents scene after scene with only the barest thread between them. The characters undergo random, nonsensical challenges. Here's a monster! Now there's a bad scientist! Now you fell down a hole! Roll 1d6 to see if you can turn off the movie before you die of disgust!

There's like fifteen minutes with no dialogue. That's ballsy. But I have no idea what happened. There was a guy who saw a dead woman. There was a building. Ugly demon things. A helicopter. A tribe of apes learn how to use tools to defeat their enemies -- no, wait, wrong movie (infinitely better fucking movie!).

Stephen Dorff kicks ass. God I wish this were S.F.W instead.

Boll can't even end a fucking movie. He always has to do those damn 'the evil remains' type of endings. Please, please, please don't try to make a sequel.

We have to stop Uwe Boll. The man is absolute shit. He vomits onto celluloid and throws a hip-sounding techno-metal soundtrack over it and gets paid money to do this. How can this be tolerated?

What I don't understand is why he feels the need to make these video game tie-ins. I don't see either brand benefiting from his hatred of moviegoers, moviewatchers, sentient beings, what have you. With Alone in the Dark, those of us that remember the game can't help but be disappointed by Boll's warm-shit-in-your-mouth style of directing, sense of narrative flow and knowledge of any subject matter. Those that don't remember the game are being led to believe that playing it was akin to stabbing porcupine quills into your corneas.

Why can't he just make shitty movies without jacking titles from video games, like with his first few shitty movies?

He plans to keep spreading his filth in a grotesque moving-picture slime trail. He's already got Bloodrayne in post-production and has Hunter: The Reckoning and Far Cry lined up. Can the video game industry please stop being so goddamned desperate for cross-marketing that it hops into any car that pulls over and gives a handjob before seeing any money? Is there any gamer out there that isn't made at least slightly ill at the thought that the 'based on the popular video game' line is sure to be on every preview of his films?

I can't even derive any kind of joy from his movies, the way I did with Super Mario Brothers, wherein I postulated it as a Sitchin-related meditation on devolution with overtones of David Icke's crazy-ass theories.

If I had any power? Bloodrayne directed by Paul Verhoeven. Hunter: The Reckoning directed by John Carpenter. Far Cry directed by Jerry Bruckheimer.