Because I’m Writing So Many Posts For This Site

Looking through some gaming news today, I’m struck by the amount of hilarious negativity going on. There’s this tongue-in-cheek (or is it?) pessimistic preview of The Crew, along with a whole slew of articles like “The Suck of Destiny”, “Destiny’s Squads Are Too Small”, and “Destiny: It’s a small world after all”.

Some of this is just backlash, the pushback against the half-billion dollar hype machine that Destiny embodies. We knew this was coming; we should only be glad that the gaming press and public had the good grace to wait until the game came out to begin rebelling against it.

But I’m struck with a curious idea for a project, and maybe this is so obvious that it’s already been done to death and I just didn’t notice (wouldn’t be the first idea I’ve had after everyone else). How about an enthusiast game site about just absolutely hating the state of video games? I know there are guys out there like the Game Grumps, Curmudgeon Gamer, Yahtzee, maybe more. What I’m thinking is a character who is cynical and pessimistic right up front about everything about modern game marketing and marketing-driven design.

Continue reading Because I’m Writing So Many Posts For This Site

A Peek Into the Mind of Sonic Rob

Doop de doo, good morning, computer. Starting you up, dum de dum*. I’m going to go get some coffee while you do that.

Ah, that’s better. Hello, work chat client. Hello, personal chat client. Hello, Outlook; go away now. Hello, web browser. Hi there Google Reader.

Oh, Google Reader. Look at you. You look so healthy right now. Nobody would ever know.

Sonic Rob pours out some coffee for his RSS aggregator.

Penny Arcade, that’s nice. Questionable Content, you’re really more of a routine than something I “enjoy”. Oh Rude Pundit, you so rude. Rock, Paper, Shotgun, argh, I’m incredibly backed up with you. Let’s clear out some articles that I’m not going to get to.

Thing about Settlers: don’t need to read. Thing about graphics cards: don’t need to read. Thing about Battlefield 3 mods: don’t need to read. Thing about PC monitor tech plateauing: open in new tab. Indie game, AAA game, MMO Beta: mlehmpgh. Dead Island 2 review: hm. News that there may be news about another XCOM game: huzzah.

“Relic Foresees ‘Strong Possibility’ Of More Dawn Of War”

*Cough* I’m sorry, who what now?

Continue reading A Peek Into the Mind of Sonic Rob

What Does “Genre” Mean in Reference to Games?

In regard to this video from Extra Credits:

If someone asked you what “genre” of game Dawn of War is, what would you say? Would you call it a “Sci-fi game”? Or an “RTS”, or possibly a “strategy game”? The problematic disconnect here is that in non-participatory forms of entertainment, the metadata you have about the thing really just boil down to descriptions of the story’s structure, tropes, setting, and style. That’s where we get genre from.

In games you have often had only some or none of those traditional categories, so the data we’ve based “genre” upon have been information about how the game is played, whether in regard to perspective (FPS, third person), the sequence of play (turn-based, real-time), the type of thinking involved (strategy, tactical), the type of action that occurs (shooting, brawling, sports), and probably a dozen other axes of evaluation.

This is fine for Tetris, but has always made genre sort of a problem for games that have both stories and mechanics to describe under the rubric of “genre”, as illustrated in the example above. Admittedly, this isn’t a huge limitation in describing games over the last 25 years, since 95% of them have had stories that obviously fit into the sci-fi, action, or fantasy molds. But I have to wonder: if we had a better language than “genre” to encapsulate games, would it be easier to make high-profile games that embrace story idioms other than the big three? I’ve been enjoying LA Noire a great deal in spite of its dreadful shooting and driving, impossible interview mechanics, and psychopathically unlikable player character just because there’s no dragons and no spaceships in the story. There’s nothing inherently wrong with elves or space marines, but just to have a big-budget story without either is fantastically refreshing.


Sonic Hate: Game Previews Are Just Advertisements

Dark Void is out and – surprise surprise – receiving middling reviews from the online gaming press.

Gamespy: …”jetpack fans will have to settle for half-baked.”

Destructoid: “The best parts of the game are mediocre and the worst parts are abysmal.”

IGN UK: …”Every bit as disappointing as expected.”

Totally and utterly non-shocking, unless you happened to read the preview coverage of the game from these same online sources:

Gamespy: “Dark Void takes game mechanics that are very similar to what other shooters have done in years past but keeps things fresh with its unique focus on aerial combat and vertical level design.”

Destructoid: “Unless Dark Void completely jumps the shark with some sort of retarded plot twist or ridiculously out of place gameplay mode later in the game, I think that they have pretty solid win on their hands.”

IGN UK: “From what we’ve seen so far, these disparate game elements combine seamlessly, making for an incredibly fresh, genuinely exciting take on the shooter genre.”

I am sick to death of this. Every game gets hyped to the hills in preview coverage. Every MMO might have what it takes to knock WoW from its throne. Every third-person actioner is a gasp-a-minute thrill ride that will leave you breathless. Glaring problems are described as hiccups needing to be ironed out before the game ships. This bullshit pre-game carnival barking is universal in the gaming press, as predictible as it is omnipresent. Any gamer could probably write a passable game preview without even trying the game out; we’ve all read a few dozen stupid hyped up game previews before. We know all the lingo. Fresh. Promising. Puts a new spin on. Cover system.

I understand why it happens. Game sites don’t want to piss off the people who send them review copies and allow them into preview events. They want to be able to cover upcoming games that will nab them page views from interested readers. Maybe it would even be nice to get a pull quote in the game’s print advertising. If they want all these perks, they have to make nice about the game, at least until the first day’s sales are in the till.

But it needs to end. Continue reading Sonic Hate: Game Previews Are Just Advertisements

Chat Box

Sonic Rob:
Sonic Rob: this guy is an asshole
Sonic Rob: the monk he talks to says something that actually seems profound to me
Sonic Rob: and the writer takes it in an entirely different and shallower direction
Fyrehaar: wow, what a douchey interpretation
Fyrehaar: he’s a monk, dude; he’s talking about enlightenment
Fyrehaar: spirtual understanding
Fyrehaar: inner peace
Fyrehaar: faith
Fyrehaar: what an asshole
Sonic Rob: I guess the author is like “Well, that’s what a monk levels up in. I level up in ignorance!”
Sonic Rob: do you level in an absolute sense, using the same scale and criteria as everyone? Or is it an internal growth?
Sonic Rob: I think gaining a level is when you reach a real milestone in personal development
Sonic Rob: not when you complete some arbitrary amount of collected units
Fyrehaar: Gaining a level is when you notice that you are a better person
Fyrehaar: when you say “hey, last year I would have blown my top over that, but this year I can take it with equanimity”
Fyrehaar: it’s easier with fitness
Fyrehaar: but levelling doesn’t take daily variations into account
Fyrehaar: and your level can go down in some things but not in others
Sonic Rob: gained skill “cope with asshole”

Peter Moore Tells You Something You Already Knew, Eats A Kitten

For reasons that frankly escape me, last week’s gaming sites devoted more than a few digital column inches to the “news” that Peter Moore had abruptly caught on that maybe we wouldn’t all be buying games on disc forever. At last week’s PLAY Digital Media Conference, Mr. “Y’know, things break” was giving a talk on microtransactions when he uttered what was apparently a dark incantation to nether deities:

“I’d say the core business model of video games is a burning platform. Absolutely. We all recognize that, and we’ll recognize it 10 years from now when we tell our grand kids,” he said. “We’ll tell them we used to drive to the store to get shiny discs that have bits and bites on them and we’d place them in this thing called a ‘disc tray,’ and it’d whirl around…and they’ll go ‘What?'”

“So, the concept of physical packaged discs and the core business model that is video games as it currently stands is a burning platform.”

[redacted to make the man look bad]

“As an industry, I still think we may be as many as a decade away from saying goodbye to physical discs,” Moore added. “The important question is, what does the next console look like? Does it actually have a disc drive?”

A snarky man would insert a picture of a PSP Go here.

I don’t understand why absolutely everyone had to cover this non-statement. Because Peter Moore said it out loud during a panel about subscriptions and microtransactions? For God’s sake, he’s a professional hype man; all he was really doing was hyping the thesis of the panel he was speaking on. He’d have been an idiot to say “disc-based media will be around forever, and digital distribution will remain, at best, a supplement to it” during a panel on digital distribution, and a liar to boot. There are successful products and entire companies built around this same essential understanding of the direction in which gaming, if not computing as an entire technology, is heading.

Jeez. Moore busts out one half-decent metaphor and everyone’s on his knob. Meanwhile, Fyre and I are slaving away here in the (metaphorical!) trenches, and nobody gives a toss. No justice, I tell ya.


Is Kevin Martens Being Foolish, Or Just Bragging?

Gamasutra has an interview up with this Martens fellow from Blizzard, and they’ve pulled out one of the passages from it to entice us to read further. Let’s see what insight he has to offer:

Blizzard lead content designer Kevin Martens has told Gamasutra that the key to Blizzard games like Diablo III is simple enough: “endless iteration”.

Talking in an in-depth new Gamasutra interview, conducted as the Diablo III team begin public showcases of the long-awaited PC title, over 9 years after Diablo II‘s debut.

When asked whether “the development time has been extended to a surprising degree”, Martens made it clear that he thought this was an advantage, not a disadvantage:

“Here’s the secret to Blizzard games, and this is a secret that won’t help any of our competitors: endless iteration. We’ll take something, we’ll put it in the game.

Maybe we’ll like it when we put it in, maybe we won’t. We’ll leave it in there for a while, we’ll let it percolate. We’ll play it and play it and play it, and then we’ll come back. We might throw it all out, or we’ll throw half of that out and redo it.”

Martens believes in this constant iteration as a way to actually keep things fresh when making a game:

“It can be a long time, but it is fun to work on as well. That’s the thing that keeps you going. Multiplayer always works, and the builds are always playable. We’ve played them constantly, and it’s fun. You actually look forward to the weekly play session even though the game is still in progress. That’s what keeps us going, and that’s also why it takes so long. We’ll do it over and over again until it’s just right.”

That’s not a secret – everyone would do that if they could. Valve has said basically the same thing, for instance. I’ve worked on dozens of games by now, and they all change constantly in the course of development. Nobody I’ve worked with stopped iterating their design, trying to get closer to the ideal. They all just got too close to the set-in-stone ship date and had to lock the design down in a stable state. Iteration isn’t special; what’s special is actually having the luxury of doing it for a decade and having fans who willing to wait on you.

Even so, Blizz (and Relic, for another example) don’t try to iterate forever out of the public eye. Half the point of public betas is to put the game in front of the people who will eventually buy it and keep the hype and excitement going. Ideally the excitement will continue to percolate until it reaches a boil at public release.

If Kevin Martens honestly believes that Blizzard has stumbled onto some novel design methodology in “keep working on it until it is good”, he’s kidding himself. Given his little aside about the “secret” not helping any one else, it seems more likely that he’s just sort of swinging his dick around in print: “The secret to being as good as us? Have all the money in the world and never let anyone tell you when you have to go gold master. Suckas! Bwahahahahaha!”

This is the sort of fluff that I expect to read in a press release; it’s the gaming equivalent of a quarterback telling ESPN “We’re just going to take it one game at a time.” I don’t really want to read something this puerile in a Gamasutra interview, and I sure as hell don’t expect to see it pulled out as a featured passage in its own article.