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Rotondi Blog

Fun Vs. Good

 I made a pretty rediculous claim the other day that Westerners, for the most part, wouldn't know what a fun game was if it smacked them right in the face.  Then this person who clearly disagreed (as he should have) said in response, Fun depends on the person.  Essentially, fun is subjective.  

I really don't agree with this.  I think it's an easy claim to make and easy to agree with because so many people like so many different types of things.  Saying that fun is subjective would only make sense next to this point.  But just because we like something doesn't make it fun.  For instance, I think professional sports players like and LOVE the sports they play, but I also think most of them are actually not having fun playing them (except maybe when they win a big game, but this would get me on another tangent about winning vs. fun).  Another example is my dad:   He likes to renovate houses, he likes to fix everything, huge hobby of his, but I don't think he's having fun doing it. 

Now wait a second buster...How do you know? How can you tell when someone is having fun or not?  While I'm not trying to write a new definition for the word "fun,"  I will say that the act of having fun can be observed.  It's something you can actually see.  So If I was having fun and you were sitting next to me, you could tell I was having fun by just looking at me.  This is why I feel professional sports players are not having fun.  The game is now a job and everybody takes it way too seriously because of it.  My favorite baseball player (and a lot of people my age) growing up was Ken Griffey Jr.  Not because of his skills (although those helped) but because he actually looked like he was having fun playing the game.

Many of the most lauded video games of all time, I feel, are not even close to the most fun games of all time.  I'm not saying one category is better or worse than the other.  But there is a clear difference.  World of Warcraft has already gone down in the record books as one of the greatest games ever made, for obvious reasons.  Now.  Have you ever seen somebody playing these game before?  I've seen plenty.  And there isn't much difference between the way they look and a someone who has a coma.

And it's not just WoW.  Many of the greatest games have your brain fully obsorsbed into the gaming experience and your bodied glued to the controller.  Exacerbating the situation is how serious games are taking themselves these days.  Even Yahtzee was talking about this in his latest zero punctuation review of that Far Cry DLC.  The more serious the game is the more serious we take them.  

The Wii sold so well because it was fun. Not because it had excellent hardware, or the best reviewed games of all time.  It sold because when you watched people playing it, you knew they were having fun.  What attracts people to MS and Sony was something different. And I have no problem saying that what attracted gamers to the Xbox 360 and PS3 were good games. 

A.I. is very far from good

A.I. in shooters, and pretty much all action games, is extrememly awful.  Come to think of it, it's always been awful.  Pick some of the best shooters ever made and I would still tell you that the A.I. amounts to nothing more than a lump of old cheesecake in a Christmas stocking.

It's a numbers thing.  The number of kills just piles up and life gets boring.  Enemies behave like one another.  Sure they do a couple of different things but after an hour of gameplay you figure those moves out too.  Sure new enemies are introduced but then we figure them out and before we know it all those new enemies are as boring as the enemies from the beginning.  Linear or sandbox, it doesn't matter.  

There's a lot of talk now since these new consoles are on the horizon that we'd like to see more games with more characters on the screen.   Like, Imagine GTA6 with ten times more people on the screen!  While this sounds cool and everything, I can't help but think it's just going to be more of the same stupid creations multiplied by ten.  Just more aimless, retarded A.I civilians shleping around the streets looking for the brain that fell out of their head before the game started.

But forget about that, my main issue is with the combat.  Enemy A.I. is horse manure.  It's like someone gave them all three pints of whisky and nothing to eat all day before entering the arena.  This goes for pretty much any game I can think of that features human to human combat in a third-person or first person shooter, and any action game really where other humans are the main target.  

One enemy is not a challange, the challange lies in the amount of enemies.  Changing difficulty settings alters things like your health, how much damage you do, how much damage enemies can take, maybe it doubles the amount of enemies in the game world.  You say tomatoes I say it's no fun.  At the end of a single player campaign you'll made enough corpses to stack to the Mars.  

Instead of pouring all this energy into creating massive worlds with endless amounts of enemies who couldn't hurt you unless thirteen of their buddies were around and they had a tank, a gattling gun, that dinasour thing from Power Rangers, why not try making a game where there's just a few dudes.  And make them use the environment like anyone would to survive.  Make them act like they dont want to die because they have two kids at home and a wife that loves them.  

I would love to play a game where i'm on some mission and I get into some epic battle like from the end of the First Matrix or like one of the fights from the Bourne movies or from Kill Bill.  A fight that lasts for like 15 minutes and if you dont survive.  Well.  Time to do it again.  And I'm not talking about a battle with some large, mythic creature.  Just another person.  

Some really smart A.I. would go a long way in video games and right now we are very far from seeing it.  

The Times

The drive for making a game for the family or for a bunch of friends isn't in the minds of the majority of people involved in Western gaming. And to be honest, I don't know if it ever was. We dont really care about this.

I think if you talk to most gamers these days and ask them if they could design a game, or if they could try to picture in their mind the ideal game they want to play that doesn't exist yet, this game would probably not involve a way to play with 15 people sitting next to you like the original Halo did.

Sure there are divisions of Sony and Microsoft putting funds towards making below-average to average motion control games, games that typically wouldnt be fun without a few friends next to you (or a lot of beer), but the smartest and most creative designers in the industry are focusing their minds elsewhere.

Believe it or not, it's hard to talk about something you do all the time. Take gaming: When we game, we typically do it alone and we do it for long periods of time. We put ourselves in a room, get the headset on, glue our eyes to the monitor and zone out from reality.

I don't think Aristotle would have exactly claimed this as one of the better human habits of society in any era. But who cares right? I mean, reading Aristotle is like watching paint dry. Plus, this is just inextricable to the medium. Shadow of the Collosus is absolutely brilliant. And there's other way to play this game then by yourself, eyes glued to a big TV with the music blasted.

So many people will go through their whole lives and not see the years of work it took to create masterpieces like Half-Life 2, Dark Souls, Silent Hill 2 and whatever else. But what they will see or hear about is people like you, people who sit in a room with all the lights off, with a gaming headset on, eyes glued to the monitor or TV showing no emotion except an occasional fart of frustration and anger. And again, you probably dont care. And why should you? Not everyone should understand and love each others hobbies, right?

Well. Whether you want to believe it or not, the act of gaming, especially when done alone like this for hours upon hours, is kind of a scary thing from an objective standpoint. It looks strange to people who don't play games. I remember when my parents saw me playing games as a kid they would always try to pull me away from it, not for the content of the game but the nature of the activity itself.

It brings up an interesting question: Why do we like playing video games so much? Ok. The answers are going to vary upon who you ask. I know this. But one reason that maybe shared is the opportunity to completely zone out and get lost into some new, completely exciting world. For me at least, there was something awesome about dimming the lights, strapping on my headset and getting lost in whatever game it was that I was playing at the time. The biggest budgeted games of today, the games of the year for the past I dont know how many years, have all catered to this type of experience.

Even when it comes to a lot of the analysts on gaming websites, it seems all their viewpoints of where gaming should go and what it takes to make an amazing game all flow in the same direction. And even if that claim is wrong, Ill at least say that none of them talk more multiplayer possibilities beyond online and 2-player co-op. I also think a lot of these analysts think that the Oculus Rift is taking the right step. Like if we could all zoom 20 or 30 years in the future, and see the gaming world has made a complete transition into a full-immersive virtual gaming; this would be like a dream-come true.

Ive heard Yahtzee over at Escapist magazine say he hates people and the whole experience of gaming side-by-side with a friend. I have friends who game more than you can imagine and are the most socially inept people Ive ever met in my life. Whatever. Im not trying to criticize anybody.

Games like anything else are products of the time. Right now most everybody thinks Nintendo sucks. They think they suck because theyre not making new IP. Theyre not releasing these massive games like The Last of Us, Gran Turismo, Metro Last Light, Grand Theft Auto, Far Cry, Diablo, Skyrim. Games that are considered the greatest of the times right now. Instead theyre releasing games that are trying to encourage you to stop shutting the door to your room and call over four other friends to game with you.

Welcome to Sunset

Really thought I'd be back gaming by now but reality is still biting me in the butt. Just relocated to San Francisco. My job and getting settled in this new city are the top priorities at the moment. Hopefully sooner rather than later I can put some money towards a gaming PC or something.

Flubbed And Dubbed

My biggest problem with the general criticism hitting Nintendo these days is that it all seems to stem from this latent desire to "Westernize" the company, or at least in terms of the decisions they make. I don't think anyone is doing it intentionally, actually I don't even think these people know they're doing it. I even happen to believe the things they have to say are true, to the extent that I know the perspective that the ideas are originating from.

I really believe there are a lot of people out there that want Nintendo to do the exact same thing as Sony and Microsoft do with their consoles.  Maybe you've never thought about it in this way before, but if you are one of those people that do want to see a big change from Nintendo just what exactly do you want them to do differently?

We think pretty linear.  Me included.  It really is hard to understand why Nintendo does the things the way they do, especially when we see those brothers, Microsoft and Sony, going about their next systems completely differently.   We want to make sense of Nintendo.  Why not release more games for the Wii U?  Why is there that outdated hardware?  What's with that controller?  And the way we try to make sense of them is to Westernize them.

Sony is already a Western company as far as I'm concerned.  And the way the PS4 looks already, it might as well come with an American flag stamped on the top and a free cheeseburger in the box.  Let's be honest, no American would have ever developed that Gamepad for the Wii U.  We think it's stupid and a gimmick.  State of the art graphics are something we drool over.  Demanding games every week is something that we've come to define as the standard for the gaming industry.  But in the end we are just trying to make a shape for something that has no shape.  We assume the best graphics available is the way to go because technology advances every six months.  We assume more games are better because we've come to believ a vast variety of something is always better.      

We complain about Nintendo being Nostalgic.  Yet we could have a debate how Mario Galaxy and Mario Sunshine have more differences between them than every single different titled first person shooter ever created.     



Work in progress (I'm still alive)

My biggest problem with the general criticism hitting Nintendo these days is that it all seems to stem from this latent desire to "Westernize" the company, or at least in terms of the decisions they make. I don't think anyone is doing it intentionally, actually I don't even think these people know they're doing it. I even happen to believe the things they have to say are true, to the extent that I know the perspective that the ideas are originating from.

What the heck am I talking about?

Look at Sony. Why do many gamers think they are moving in the right direction? Indie developer support (an awesome scene that has been blowing up these last few years), heavy integration into social media and hardware wise is pretty much exactly a PC. We like the sound of this. Better graphics, cooler apps, bigger game library. Sony is truly bringing us into the next-generation.

LA Diapers

So two and a half weeks after coming to California I'm still without a job.  Dropped the ball on one interview already, but luckily I've had plenty more since.  I'm thinkin' this coming week is my week and by the end of it I should have found a company thats willing to give me money for my services.  That is, if I don't screw things up again. 

As soon as success happens I'll be back gaming and writing about gaming.  So look forward to a lot more stuff from me in the near future.



Caught in Space

After 18 months of living in China, I called it quits.  Packed my bags and came to LA.  If you had to ask me why I had to go I would have to tell you, "Because I had to."  Any longer and it would have been too long if you know what I mean.  Too easy to get addicted to the life over there.  Not that I have any disrespect to those who choose to stay longer, but I got a life back here in America.  Well, almost.  Still need a job.

And thats exactly where I'm at right now.  Job hunting.  I'm living with a buddy of mine from back East, my luggage is half-open and spilling out and wedged in the corner and I've been sleeping on the floor.  Don't think of this as any Down and Out in London situation, I got a few bucks.  Have enough to eat.  Have enough to drink. 

How in the world would you review God of War 15?

It has got to be tough to review a sequel, not to mention the 3rd, 4th, 5th or even 60th installment of a series. Like, I know Resident Evil 4 is a good game but who am to be someone to review it? I've never played the ones that came before it. While I could go into a lot of detail about 4, I really don't know anything about the Resident Evil series as a whole.

Me and a lot of other people are just really lucky I guess. We're lucky the sequels of movies, video games, books and everything else have all, for the most part, been made in a way that we don't need to have experienced the original to still enjoy it.  All while unknown to us newbies, still being self-aware that they are an inextricable part of their series.  

So obviously in the video game industry developers must not only create a sequel that builds off of what came before it but also have the difficult task of creating an experience that can be enjoyed by those who are playing it for the first time.  What we forget to figure in sometimes is that the same trickles down to those few who are given the professional responsibility to review those sequels.

A review of the new God of War for instance, wouldn't be complete without (a) ranking it up against the previous one--show how the story ties in, gameplay tweaks and additions, graphics improvements, etc--and (b) also reviewing it as a general stand-alone gaming experience--essentially, the point of view of someone who has never played a God of War.

If it were only that easy...

Since I'm not a professional game reviewer (and to be honest a very bad amateur one), I guess the rest is just speculation.  And forgive me if the rest sounds a little too much like thinking out loud.  For that is essentially what I'm doing.

I feel that sequel review scores are often inevitably flawed, so there's no point to bicker about what it should or shouldn't have been.  And it's no fault of the reviewer. The reason I feel lies within the nature of the sequel itself. Specifically how it's impossible to deliver a fair review to the gamer who knows the series like the back of his hand, and at the same time to the person who has just come across the series for the first time.  This shouldn't come as a big shock to anyone.  Gamers who know the Gears of War series have a expectation for the upcoming GOW:Judgement--things that it needs to live up to and areas where they'd like to see it improve--while new players go in without any.  

And just for kicks, let's say the God of War series was to continue to...I don't know. God of War 15. This whole idea of how to tackle reviewing the 15th game fairly would be ridiculous. I mean, some games are already that deep into their franchises, and if not will be getting their soon. In these cases it's pretty safe to say their stories have been dragged to out the extent that major continuity issues, holes and forgotten moments are everywhere, the plots themselves are hard to take seriously anymore.  It seems the further a sequel gets from the original 1st game of the series, the more pressed a reviewer is to treat that sequel like the other ones didn't exist (obviously not going that far).

And let's not foget how many games there will be by the time God of War 15 is released.  Can we really expect reviewers to know all of these titles, all of the influences and all of the allusions?  Maybe, I guess it depends on what your standards are.

Now what about the other side? If the story breaks down and instead it's the gameplay that is actually what's bringing those longtime fans back for more and more, then on what level does gameplay in the sequels need continuity?  Should reviewers dock points away from sequels that don't resemble their formers? 

Sure no one has any problem with adding things to the gameplay, like Torchlight 2--skill trees got bigger and more complex--but what about a case like Dead Space 3? A lot of gamers suggest it's gameplay does a complete 180 from its original--abandoning its roots in horror and turning it into full-on-action.  But what if the gameplay, regardless of straying from its roots, was good?  Say a person who plays Dead Space 3 without having played 1 or 2 loves 3, what then?  What does he/she know about Dead Space and it's horror roots?

Which leads me back to the people reviewing the game. How the heck do you give a sequel a fair review score?

On the new Tomb Raider and the "Final" version of Lara

I've been sitting here for too long now thinking about how I want to express what I want to express about the recent Tomb Raider reboot and this is what I came up with:

It seems that the developers changed the gameplay and the image of Lara enough from the old games that they should have just kept on going and made an entirely new female character and titled the game something else. 

I guess the more you think the less sense your thoughts make...Because I'm pretty sure the original plan was to make a Tomb Raider reboot and then build from there.  So regardless of what they came up with, no matter how far it strayed from the previous titles, the name Tomb Raider wasn't going anywhere.  

However my brain just can't stop seeing this whole thing as a weird topic.  As cool as I think the new Tomb Raider looks, I just feel like something odd has occured.  It's made me think about how far a reboot can actually go before we should call it something different?  Especially when the developers who make the reboot have nothing to do with, or need any approval from, the development team(s) that made the originals.  I don't know.  I'm not a genius on the subject of reboots.

And maybe that's not what makes it the most weird.  Maybe what makes it wierd in this case is that now we're left with two completely different images of Lara Croft.  Maybe I'm thinking too far into this, but I'm wondering about what this says about the Tomb Raider series as a whole.

It's obvious the image of Lara Croft was reimagined for the 21st century.  I mean, come on.  You don't need glasses to notice she's not as top-heavy as before.  But even more then that, I feel the developers really wanted to make sure their new image of Lara was going to be accepted by women, and not just written off as some eye-candy for young male gamers.   It's even possible to suggest the developers hoped their new Lara would serve as inspiration and encouragment to other developers to create other action games that also have a female protoganist.  

Which brings me to one point I'm trying to get at.  In retrospect, what does the new Lara say about the old Lara?  What does this say about all the people who created the original Lara?  Maybe nothing.  Maybe you can write it off as, "Those were just the times, man."  Well, probably.  But then does this reboot suggest that a new Tomb Raider game, with Lara created in the likeness of the previous Lara, wouldn't sell?  And moreso, also criticized by women and the "grown-up" gaming industry for perpetuating the old Lara?  

Keeping reboots in mind, who's to even say we've finally found the "final" version of Lara?  Maybe ten to fifteen years to now, long after 3 new Tomb Raiders have been released and the series has gone stale once again, some new developers will come along and want to reboot the series again.  And when they do they decide to change the image of Lara to better suit the "times."  

But isn't this just silly?  This just goes back to what I was originally thinking about.  Why not just make a new character? Borrow some ideas from the old Tomb Raider series, borrow ideas from Uncharted, and just make a new female character and just make an ENTIRE new game.  Then you don't have to worry about  continuity (for example explaining why Lara eventually decided on getting implants) and breaking the hearts of Tomb Raider fans that feel the new version tarnishes the Tomb Raider legacy.  Heck, You'll be lauded for creating a sweet new female protagonist and some new IP at the same time.  

Instead we have Lara again.  Maybe she's changed for the better.  But maybe, just maybe this will have the opposite effect of encouraging more game developers to create more action games with women as the lead.  The game industry will just be like, "Well, sure they'll be more action games with a lead female character. Just wait for the new Tomb Raider 2 and 3...duuuuh."