2008 Provides A Challenge; 2012 Looks Back Fondly

Monday, July 9, 2012 at 1:00 pm

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A challenge is always welcome when it comes to video games. Regardless of what I am playing, I like being tested, learning the mechanics, and perfecting my reactions to them. I like learning what I'm doing so I can be better at it. What I don't enjoy is a game that tests my patience, as opposed to one that encourages me to improve my skills. This was my problem with Spelunky, a recent addition to the XBox Live Arcade collection that has garnered a lot of praise. The game has its appeal, but unless you're a masochist, and have nothing else to do, I would have a hard time recommending that you play it.


I see message boards complaining about handholding in games, how difficulty is too easy, how developers are only reaching out to casual fans, not the hardcore elite gamer. I've seen enough complaints about how people don't want a real challenge in how they play, they just want to gun through to the next level. By making a game 'easy', players feel bored and unchallenged. A bored gamer is not a pretty sight for anybody.



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Appreciating the Flaws

Monday, July 2, 2012 at 1:00 pm

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Being able to find the flaws in something you appreciate is a difficult task. I've found errors in my favorite short stories and novels, and I am forced to take a drastically different look at the works. By looking critically at something, we can ease it into the acceptable, broad-termed realm of 'art'. Since video games constantly teeter on the line between 'art' and 'not art', they warrant the same amount of scrutiny offered to our other artsy works. Video game narratives deserve further critical viewings, just as film and television stories are critiqued and studied for what they do right, as well as what they do wrong.

 

Some studios have built their reputations on their ability to tell grand stories. However, the ability to tell consistently good stories across multiple games, not necessarily in a series, is not guaranteed. With inconsistency comes awareness of it; when people are aware of plot holes, they want to dig deeper into them. In any form of entertainment, be it television, movie, book, or video game, if there's a plot continuity error, I personally want to figure out how it got there.

 

Back in March, I wrote a reactionary response to a proposed 'new ending' for the controversial Mass Effect 3. With the extended ending's release this past week, I found that whatever initial irritations I had were unfounded, and I think the extended cut offers some closure that is otherwise absent from the original ending. It's also forced me to reassess how I feel about this game series as a whole.


I appreciated the original ending of Mass Effect 3. I thought it encouraged the gamer to use his or her imagination and creativity to fill in the gaps and leave it be. Giving it a tougher look, nearly three months later, it becomes apparent that Mass Effect's overall, consistent story is kind of a mess.

 

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E-Readers and Games, You Cannot Escape

Monday, June 25, 2012 at 10:00 am

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In the immortal words of the comedian Eddie Izzard, I have what is known as "technojoy, not technofear." I understand his statement as embracing technology, machinery, and the bizarre with the awesome, all in the name of furthering us humans into the cyber age. I'm all for it. I will embrace the tech. I have no fear of it.

I appreciate technology, I truly do. Working with my chosen medium of entertainment, books, puts me at odds with technology every day, but I still love books, and I adore tech. As a gamer, I admire technology more than some people, and as a reader, I think too much about gaming narratives and mechanics, and how they fit together. I can escape neither the printed word nor technology on a daily basis, and so I have simply chosen to embrace each with equal relish. I like old school books; I like new technology. I am in the prime place to find the happy medium between my "technojoy" and my love of books.

I came to terms with the fact that I can live blissfully in the techy world of games and hardware, bleeps and blips, controllers and cables, while still functioning in the world of ladders, shelving, paper and ink. I can also carry heavy boxes of books from one end of a building to the other without having to stop for a rest. So there's that bonus too. 

Until I was scoping out e-readers the other day, I'd thought that I had found my way to live peacefully in both worlds, the world of tech and the world of the printed word. I sell books by day; I game by night. These are two worlds and I live happily in both. Now, I'm suddenly not so sure I can have one without the other, and it's all the fault of an e-reader.


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Who Needs Protection

Monday, June 18, 2012 at 10:00 am

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This past week was supposed to be all about the post-E3 cool down, the assorted grumblings regarding what was and was not shown, and me, twiddling my thumbs, thinking about the upcoming release of Spec Ops: The Line. Instead, this past week unleashed the anger of the video gaming masses, aimed at one executive producer in particular, whose interview with Kotaku opened up a big old can of worms regarding gender politics, the struggles of female protagonists to merit the same respect as men, and a long-overdue conversation about what is and is not acceptable in character development, regardless of gender, in video games.

 

What tripped gaming triggers? Crystal Dynamics Executive Producer Ron Rosenberg gave an interview to Kotaku, during which he stated that players will want to 'protect' Lara Croft, and appeared to be suggesting that without a true threat to her physical person, Lara could not become the feisty adventurer whom we've come to know and love over the years. What's his idea of a threat? Attempted rape, and brutal violence that forces her to become 'like a cornered animal'.

 

In his casual discussion of an event in the upcoming Tomb Raider game, Rosenberg unleashed hell upon his company, in the form of angry gamers, commentators, bloggers, and journalists. Rosenberg might have been trying to sell his product to Kotaku and gamers of the world last week, but it seems like all he really succeeded in doing was wedging his foot deeper into his mouth. Crystal Dynamics reacted to the outcry by trying to backpedal on Rosenberg's statement, and they made the mistake of talking to the very people who had reported the initial interview.

 

There isn't a shovel big enough for this mess.


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2012 E3 Assessment: Yea or Meh?

Monday, June 11, 2012 at 10:00 am

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As we bid adieu to another Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3), it occurs to me that this year's offering was a bit on the boring side. There were a few shining moments, some nifty tech demonstrated, and a few pleasant surprises, but no one thing that really jumped out at me. I've seen some internet grumbling that this was the 'worst E3 ever' ('ever' in all caps, naturally), but it didn't strike me as that bad, just predictable, and ultimately, too safe.

Watching the footage this week, 2012's E3 looks like it was a fair to decent show. That isn't to say that nothing piqued my interest, but this year's offerings were far from knocking out of the park. While some the new technology coming our way was interesting, as I followed this week's coverage of the event I did not notice many video games that grabbed my attention. If I could sum it up, this year's E3 seemed more about where video games are at right now in the current generation, and the uncertainty of the future of the industry.


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'Difficulty Settings' and Marketing

Monday, June 4, 2012 at 11:00 am


A few weeks ago, the science fiction writer John Scalzi wrote up a rather interesting perspective piece entitled 'Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is'. Scalzi's article is about straight white male privilege, and how the only way for men to grasp this concept is to think of life like an MMO or a video game. He goes on to explain that harder levels of difficulty belong to other groups, like women and minorities, and that straight white men get off easy. Life is handed to you guys on a platter. You'll never have to hunt for spare ammo, never run low on health, and you'll never be fighting for the best spot in the multiplayer queue, because, lo, you are straight white men. You've already got the world by the tail.

I'm oversimplifying Scalzi's point, but you get it. Congratulations, straight white men. You get to live life easy, and you can't reset your difficulty rating.

Now, direct your attention Exhibit B, at top: The Hitman: Absolution 'Attack of the Saints' trailer. This, my straight white male gamer friends, is what video game marketers think you like. Scantily clad women, guns a-blazing, mindless slaughter, and a snazzily-dressed bald man with a barcode on the back of his head, dishing out bloodshed and violence, and leaving all those lovely ladies in varying states of blood-drenched death.

Straight white male gamers, allow this female gamer to say: I'm so sorry, guys. I am so, so sorry that this what they think about you.


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It's A Rough World Out There

Tuesday, May 29, 2012 at 1:00 pm

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It's a dangerous world out there for video games. For once, we're not talking about the controversies surrounding game content, nor are we discussing the conflict between studios and gamers when it comes to the sales of used games. We're talking about the fragile nature of this very industry, and how certain elements can change on a dime.

As of Thursday, May 24, 2012, 38 Studios and Big Huge Games are no more. It's a disappointing end to a barely begun enterprise that released its only game this past February, and was prepared to tease us with glimpses of a future project at this year's E3. Sadly, the tale of 38 Studios comes to a discouraging end, during a week with another already discouraging piece of news.

If you're an Xbox 360 player, and you've been considering updating your gear, you might want to do it soon, because come August, Xbox 360 sales may be banned. They already did in Germany, so who's to say it can't happen here? It comes down to possible patent infringements on Microsoft's part, and while using someone else's product to enhance your own is not an honest or fair way to market, it's not exactly a surprise, either.


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Building Character

Monday, May 21, 2012 at 10:00 am

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Video games have reached what I like to think of as a renaissance, writing wise. Writers are getting smarter, narratives are becoming more finely structured. Games are becoming smarter, and they're becoming smarter because the writing in the general entertainment world has been rising on the intelligence curve for the past decade. The audience is smarter, and so the writers compensate, creating better experiences for all.

 

Characters have rich, fleshed out back stories that some professional book writers would envy. Villains are no longer one-dimensional. Heroes are no longer straight-and-narrow good buys. Stories are no longer simple go-here-do-that quest adventures.

 

Characters are becoming a driving force behind certain games; the player character is drawing a gamer into the story, into the world, into the game itself. This person, this creation of a team of writers, is becoming the face, the presence, the representation of a game. Characters are pushing games forward, and it's truly a joy to behold and play.

 

Then again, there are elements of this excellent writing and characterization that are starting to wear thin.


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It's Not Just A Game Anymore

Monday, May 14, 2012 at 10:00 am

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When it comes to video games, the real world is usually cast to the side, ignored, and left in the corner as if it were in trouble. Usually, in-game, the real world (or some variation thereupon) is in trouble, but as gamers, we like to be able to escape, and pretend that the real world doesn't exist for a short time. It's partly why I like games so much. Games keep me from going mad every single time I step outside.

 

When real world elements pop up in video games, it can be jarring, but it can also be a pleasant shift into something new and interesting. It can bring an assurance to a certain type of gamer that using your brain when you game is not at all discouraged. Bringing your interests and hobbies outside of gaming to your personal experience is one of the best ways to get more out of your games.

 

Consider your interests. Are you science person? A philosophy enthusiast? Perhaps you love poetry and literature. Are you a history buff? Trust me, there are elements of your non-gaming interests littered throughout this current console generation. You might have to dig a bit, but you will find them, and you'll gain so much more.


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Your MMO Is In My Console

Monday, May 7, 2012 at 2:00 pm

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The influence of MMOs on the console system might not seem apparent at first. We seem to be two different breeds of gamers, MMO and console people, as MMOs seem best suited to PCs, and the occasional Mac that won't explode if you try to feed it a video game, and console gamers seem more focused on single-player experiences.

Every gamer has their comfortable gaming niche, the happy place where they can do as they wish to do within the confines of a console or a PC. For some, it's the first person shooter genre. For others, it's multiplayer. A few people I know really love MMORPGs.

Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, words that send me into a state of shuddering denial. I admit that I am not a fan of them. I have attempted World of Warcraft, and I've been told that that was my first mistake. My experience with that particular game taught me that only creeps tend to play MMORPGs, and that it is in my best interest as a gamer to stay away from them. Stick to the console; it is less likely to attempt to engage in conversation of the unnecessary variety.


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