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subrosian Blog

I am Tired of Hearing About the Economy

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Death star, black car, shoots up the ***** bar. Unapologetic gangsters, ranters; teenagers. Blame it on the government - case illegit, judge acquits, so back on the pavement. Money spent - popping pills, seeking thrills. They blame it on the white man, sun tan, the dead man with no plan. It's an economic wasteland - America, land of opportunity, lied to me. Who we are, what we be, what we should - trying to be a man, walking fast, can't do what we can.

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All around us sits an infinite opportunity for greatness - which we sacrifice daily for mundane victories. Socio-Capitalism is a system whereby our deepest wants are satisifed by our most base realities - the cost of all progress, therefore, is always our souls.

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Yesterday a good man hung himself, he worked for a bad bank, government's man breathing down his neck like the fires of Lucficer - and all of America blaming him for the world. We're all hopped up like jackals, little wind up bunnies with mallets ready to burst. Half-mad folks ready to start nailin' to walls. Don't tell me about the economy news-man, shut up your self-righteous rating humping. The whole dam feels like its going to burst - every day cryin' on the edge - give me my fellow man over your Wall Street tango and political yack-box... I'm tired of caring about the imaginary.

Conduit Box Art

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Impressive. It could easily be the best game of 1980. Photoshop "skillz" (the 'z' is intended to express youthful coolness... oh the youngsters). Represent.

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P.S. Happy belated April Fools Day :)

Leave the Numbers to the Math Teachers

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Math makes games possible, and those math-heavy Finance, Engineering, Computer Science and IT degrees can land you lucrative jobs - but there are some places where our "numerical wizardry" need to butt out. When it comes time to sit down and play games with friends, math should be left in the classroom and the textbooks.


TruSkill

The goal of TruSkill ranking is simple - better matchmaking through closer matches. The math behind the TruSkill ranking system is designed to "hone in" on your, well, "True Skill level" - after a few dozen matches, it should find a number that lets the computer pit you against players of similar ability. In theory it works great - in practice, too many game designers have tied achievements, ranks, and badges to TruSkill, and given incentives for boosting, cheating, and general poor sportsmanship.

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There's nothing wrong with TruSkill being used in the background to help match players of similar skill. I'm all for it - after all, there's no satisfaction in just steam-rolling the competition, or getting blown away. However, the ranking systems in games should be based on play-time, good sportsmanship (such as remaining in the match to the bitter end), and personal improvement. While rewarding a solid performance is okay - players shouldn't feel like they're "getting nowhere". Because the TruSkill rating is designed to only improve slowly, that's exactly what players of games like Gears of War have found.

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Luckily, game designers are listening - and learning. Halo 3's "playlist rank", Call of Duty's "level up" system, Halo Wars "score accumulation", and Gears of War 2's new revised ranking system all give players incentive to do well within the matches, stick it out to the bitter end (with exp penalties or "finishing the game" bonuses), and work with their teams. It's a step in the right direction. After all, it's the player who puts in 1000 matches with their friends who deserves a shiny medal, not the guy who boosts his TruSkill rating.


Review Scores

Review scores are another item in gaming that started with a good "in theory" notion. Place games along a numbered scale so that players can compare them and know which games to buy. In practice, this "math system" has become a nightmare, one that even aggregating sites like MetaCritic can't solve. The problem with numerical reviews is simple - they're too one dimensional. With a written or video review, players can hear the strengths and weakness of a game, and find out what's right for them. Is the game only five hours long? That might be a big "not buying it" for some players, but for others it might be a non-issue. Is the game too violent? Again, a personal judgement that can't be summed up with just a simple number.

When reviewers point out the faults, and perks, of a game, they're simply "reviewing" - they're doing their job, and providing helpful insights into a title. When a reviewer takes those comments and generates a review score, however, their opinions are now all melded together into something that's only useful to people who share that reviewer's exact perspective on gaming.

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Newer sites, such a GiantBomb, have gotten away from the "100 point review" (or 1 ~ 10 scale ) of the olden days. New commenters, such as Zero Punctuation and AVGN have ditched the scale entirely in favor of providing some simple entertainment and insight. Even GameSpot went from decimal reviewing to a " point five" scale. Still, any math can be "bad math", and arguments over the numerical value take away from what the reviewer has to actually say. Hopefully, in gaming's future, we can see more focus on the content, and less discussion of one-dimensional numbers.


Release Dates

Gamers in the UK and AU are most apt to agree with this one, but it's about time we saw an end to staggered releases. While this generation has seen a huge improvement in getting games out everywhere at the same time, we're still left waiting far too long on titles like Final Fantasy XIII, game systems like the DSi, and content updates. Let's face it, there's no unsolvable reason that a game can't come out everywhere at the same time.

If a game is going to be released in multiple languages anyway, why not have the translators working with the writers during game development? It would improve the translations, and ensure that gamers worldwide were enjoying the same meaningful experience. If a game has to be region-coded anyway, or adjustments made on certain content (for example - removing skeletons for the Chinese market, nuclear weapons for Japan,or covering breasts in America ) then why not do it on the design table?

When something gets changed in a game, due to the cultural norms of the market it is being released in, it would be best for the designers to be there to put in something equivalent (yet appropriate ) so that the scene is not lost. Fallout 3 in Japan does not feature the option to nuke Megaton - arguably the largest moral decision in the first half of the game - but could it have featured another moral choice? Replace the nuke with, say, a deadly virus, and you have acceptable content, yet still leave the moral decision.

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Ultimately, designers should realize they're making "global games" at this point. Our dated notion of releasing in one area first, then translating months later for different regions, needs to go. I play with gamers around the world - on LIVE, on STEAM, on PSN, on DS / Wii - I want to know that my friends across the Atlantic and Pacific are lined up for the newest release on the same day I am.


Is a world where TruSkill takes a backseat to friendly competition, review scores are replaced with intelligent discussion, and everyone can pick up the latest game on the same day possible? Maybe - but the nice thing is, we don't have to get there overnight. Even small improvements in release times, the reviews process, and matchmaking can bring us greater enjoyment.

Happy New Years!

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Happy New Years GameSpot!

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You know your fireworks show is awesome when the cops show up ;)

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We'll be seeing you - game on in 2009.

A Broken Ruler for a Broken Game

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Before we begin, it is be best to state my purpose - it's oft misunderstood. What is my goal? Destruction? Anarchy? To cackle madly while society burns? No. "I told you so" is bittersweet, no gamer wants to see a developer fail. Ultimately, I'm here to ask for integrity. As the battle between reviewer and fanboy unfolds, it's important that the bigger picture is not lost.

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The die is cast - 3.5. While I believe numerical scoring of games is a graduated, soulless rat race, the message sent by such a score is not far from the truth. Is GameSpot being inconsistent and harsh? Absolutely. So long as games like Kung-Fu panda are handed 6s and 7s, it's difficult to take a review score seriously. However, the reviews themselves are spot on. IGN, Destructoid, 1up, Gamespot - take your pick, the criticisms are the same, and, unfortunately, honest.

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Sonic fans are loath to see the words "subrosian" and "sonic" in the same sentence. Perhaps it's a bad omen, SEGA's guiding hand falters upon my voice, the wool is never pulled, and reality glares through. Or perhaps it is my intolerance, my refusal to forgive; my mind's inability to forget.

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But the details, the purpose - these are trivial things in the face of results. The facts, laid bare, show that SEGA once again printed mediocrity in hopes of Christmas cash. After apologizing publicly two years ago for rushing Sonic 2006, after swearing never again to allow production to compromise quality, after delaying the game in Japan to improve, SEGA released Sonic Unleashed for American and European audiences.

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My rage is dwarfed by the magnitude of their failure - the game may not be the worst Sonic game, but their betrayal sets a new standard for the industry. Sonic Unleashed isn't the game we were promised, it isn't the game we deserve. Children, unwrapping this game on Christmas morning, deserve better. Our childhood nostalgia deserved better. Our fellow gamer, the casual gamer, the loyal Sonic fan, and the SEGA followers, they deserved better.

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I would rather have understanding than purpose. Academics never stop running - the race to read it all before they die... my own foil. I have read, and it is sameness. My jaded eye takes only two joys - those ideas so great they cannot be reconstituted, and those so ephemeral that they must.

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The good moments in Sonic are one such ephemeral joy. Sonic's greatness was always fleeting, but in the past, and in the current handheld iterations, the flame burned truer. Sonic Unleashed snuffs the candle and knocks over the stick, leaving sputtering embers and melted wax at the player's feet. Sonic is a caricature of himself, five seconds from anthrocon, ten minutes from a t-shirt. The veil between art and commercialism is pierced, and into the divide plunges the soul of a once-great franchise. The gamer pays to pick through a garbage can, longing for discarded french fries; finding them to be covered in flies.

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Sonic Unleashed is an extreme, the videos, the voicework, the characters - it reaches a level of shoddiness not unlike a found-film art show on the indie circuit. A polite reviewer would simply state that the propriety of Sonic is lost in the folds of the inter-level and the banal of the lycanthropic sidequest.

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An honest reviewer might say that SEGA has made a delicious sundae, upon which it has taken a gigantic crap.

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What is most painful about Sonic Unleashed are its strengths. High production values and technically sound audio set the stage for what could have been. SEGA had the potential for an excellent Sonic game. The Sonic stages are some of the best we've seen (in 3D anway) in years, and the controls, while broken, are at least manageable.

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Unfortunately the goodness of the game is spread too thin, tedious hub towns, annoying "werehog" sequences, and teeth-grating storytelling fill far too much of the game. Even SEGA seems to recognize the failure of the day / night mechanic, if only after the fact. The XBOX LIVE demo released on December 8 includes none of the werehog segments, despite their prominence in the retail game. The squandered potential feels somehow worse than when they simply released an unfinished game in 2006 - it lends hopes in the same moment that it dashes them.

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If only I could borrow the TARDIS, and flit back in time to the moment SEGA lost sight of what made the Sonic series appealing. In my world, Sonic is an over-caffeinated rodent covered in razorblades. When we're talking about a game where your prime objective is to hold right on the D-Pad, a story is a liability. SEGA's attempts at pseudo-realism, storytelling and new mechanics break flow and believability.

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I'm willing to accept that Sonic is a chili-dog delivery boy waging a war against a mad scientist. That doesn't mean I'm willing to accept a world where people spill their life story to a humanoid hedgehog.

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The path to improving Sonic Unleashed is obvious. Remove the city-hub sections, make the brawl sections far shorter, simplify the punishing nighttime platforming, and swap out dialogue for animated sequences. Place this all within a seamless progression, with a few more Sonic levels, and trim everything else. You'd be left with a game similar to Sonic CD - a few animated sequences, a mechanic that's useful but not overused, and plenty of creative levels and bosses.

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Instead we're given a blended Sonic, one where the good bits are folded into a rancid gravy of mediocrity.

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So what is sonic Unleashed? A reminder - a testament to how far SEGA has fallen - another gravestone on the promised "return to canon Sonic glory". What remains are our memories, the fleeting joy of what once was, and peeking out from the ashes - the future. Can Sonic return? Can a dark knight offer Sonic a worthy adventure? When Pandora's box was opened what remained was hope - is ours misplaced?

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I cannot say with certainty that Sonic will never return to his former glory - each game is an opportunity, after all, but it's becoming unlikely. Through it all though, I cannot escape the feeling that the Sonic fan is simply being too forgiving. We excuse the mess that comprises the majority of the game, with an outcry of "but it has its moments!".

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The same could be said of Kung-Fu Panda, Phantasy Star Universe or Barbie's Adventure. Every game has its moments, but those moments don't excuse the whole of the game. We approach Sonic with a tolerance and patience we wouldn't give any other game.

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I cannot recommend Sonic Unleashed to anyone, even the most diehard of Sonic fans. Playing this game does the series a disservice, Sonic deserves to be cast in a better light. Is a 3.5 fair? Perhaps not, but SEGA has failed with an intensity and focus usually reserved for successes. The review score doesn't matter, at the end of the day we deserved better.

The Opiate of the Masses - Now in Widescreen

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Over the years I've been emailed a fair share of both compliments and complaints. The one that has always made me smirk is the suggestion that I should "write about something that matters", stuff like "politics". The idea that politics (which makes me miserable) is more important than gaming (which makes me happy) is laughable. But hey, maybe as a writer it's my job to make you happy, and with Carlin dead I suppose someone has to comment on the bull. So, consider this an early Christmas present (sorry, sorry, "non-denominational holiday gift") for those who want me to "be series (sic)".

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The political state in America can best be described as one of frustration. McCain and Obama empty the time they speak, rather than fill it, the Fed continues to bail out the wealthy with the tax dollars of the working class, and our trade regulations and tax system destroy the very jobs they were meant to preserve. It's a world of stay-cations, double taxation, outsourcing, down-sizing, growing waistlines, shrinking credit and troubling subsidies. In short we have an inept, bumbling federal government that masks itself behind a swirl of party politics, media controversy and ineffectual outrage.

The average American is just upset enough to vote, an action that has become largely meaningless. Vanilla or chocolate? Doesn't matter, either way you're getting ice cream. In a country filled with illness, homelessness and joblessness the election has provided a tasty All-American distraction. So eat up, but just remember: the plastic spoon you're using was made in China.

Our Quickly Tilting World

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The world's a screwy place where, at times, nothing feels certain, and hope itself can be extinguished by the grim realities of necessity. Even in countries where we should feel blessed with wealth, something as trivial as a parking ticket can take us down a notch, and big scary things loom in the distance - illness, financial peril, unemployment. Perhaps that's why gaming, now, more than ever, brings us comfort.

Publishers have taken to calling gaming "recession proof" - but for us, it's more than that, it's bleak proof. When Wall Street took a tumble yesterday, it was not a hard fall for me. The realities of the global credit situation have been carved in the numbers crammed down the throat of every business student for some time - few digested them for anything more than spewing out good grades on tests, but I, as a confessed poor student, was forced to chew them for quite a bit longer. Failures are carved more prominently than successes in the frown lines of memory - so in many ways I am best at what I do worst. In that way, I have been forced to see a great deal of sadness in life.

A significant person to me, a woman (though that in anything other than a physical sense is meaningless) if you must know, recently left the hospital after spending a summer in surgeries. Spending three months visiting intensive care, seeing the mechanization of human suffering, changes how you view the world. I lost fear - both of death, and of loneliness. I began to realize the pleasanter meaning of "do not resuscitate" - and in time the selfishness of such a gesture. Death is an inherently selfish act - perhaps even to this day this is why the permanent death of a player controlled character remains such a rarity.

In all of those months, I never stopped gaming. I would give up an hour or two of sleep, and of course time with her came before electronic past times, as did work and school, but gaming was the glue that helped hold together a tilted world. Even now, if game sales are any indication, families continue to buy games, gamers are going online to visit their friends, and the trips to a virtual fantasy world have not stopped.

But why? Are we all addicts? Do we plug in to a cheap crack, one we can buy a few times a year and ingest obsessively? Perhaps a small margin are - but for the rest of us, what is the appeal? Why do we keep playing Mario? Why are we logged on LIVE? Why does the World of Warcraft offer more comfort that the real world?

They are simpler worlds, smaller worlds, where much is familiar, we have more control, our friends are there, and our access is controlled. The idea has been suggested that the world is changing faster than ever. For me, I think, the reality is simply that information is spreading faster than ever. And there is a difference. Are our worries any different than those of a world hundreds of years ago? War, hunger, illness, employment, morality, love? No - they were same - simply the scope of troubles we have encountered has grown. If a tree falls in Denmark, it make a sound heard 'round the world, and yet our sense of agitation and fear remains the same as always - one not built to handle the rigors of bearing the hardship of a world.

We have been asked by reality to become gods - to accept a near omnipotence in terms of global awareness, in exchange for nothing. In the world of gaming, however, we gain the ability to solve those problems. We are given tools to communicate with our friends. We are given world populated with people who want to help us, problems can be solved, doors open, and answers remain. In the real world where we are given filled in maps, books of known species, and an ever-shifting Wikipedia answer to every question, the gaming world hands us a galaxy and says "explore and enjoy".

We live in strange times, a time when higher education no longer means "study free from the consequences of practicality" but instead "study under the guidance of standards and practices". We are no longer free to learn in the institutions designed for the task - instead we must grind for grades, accumulating the "As" or "1s" or "5.0s" (whatever your institution may be) that mean promotion and (so we are taught) eventual employment. We spend the ages of 5 to 22 under the thumb of educators more concerned about our well-scoring than our well-being, and life after that lost in some fog where we are supposed to be the saviours of the old generation - the scientists, doctors, and engineers who will apply band-aids to their mistakes.

Is it any wonder that Mario is so successful? Not simply for the simplicity, but for the simple joy. Mario is an everyman, a plumber, who joyfully takes to his task of exploring a strange world to rescue his beloved. His optimism towards his lot in life, and his joy at exploring the unknown hearken back to a time when there were woods left to explore, and when we felt like it was worthwhile doing so.

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At heart, I speculate this is the joy of child bearing, to see the world through the eyes of someone who has not grown jaded towards it. A child lets us once again experience the wonder of an unexplored field.

The appeal of gaming has been dissected before, and to be honest, perhaps it is intentional. Perhaps Cliff creates a game to capture the rugged manhood he can never act out in the modern world. Pokemon is known to be a replacement for the bug-filled forests the creators enjoyed in their childhoods - now replaced with sprawling Japanese cities filled with more dangers than wonders. The critics may say "there are too many of them" - but that to is the appeal. No matter how many years go by, there will always be Pokemon, there will always be Pikachu.

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But what does it all mean? Nothing, perhaps, or maybe everything. Is gaming the glue that can reconstruct our shattered world? Can videogames be enough to bring us together, to build the new standard? I would like that to be so, but they are just glue - we must choose what we build with it. But... what remains is hope. No matter how bad things are, no matter how scary the world becomes - there is a constant, there is a chance, and so long as imagination is alive, we can build something new.

The storytellers of the electronic age have become the bards of the Middle Age, providing not escape, but wonder. And that it why gaming is a recession proof industry. Not because we consume, but because we dream.

The Downside of Being a Beer Snob

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I'm a beer snob - I have been for years, since I started proper drinking, and as time has gone on, the symptoms have become worse. I've found myself having hour long discussions on the trappist beers, the merits of lambics, and the use of fruit adjuncts in fermentation.

I've long accepted that it's simply a pity that for most places "100 beers on tap" really means "which re-branding of Bud Light would you like?" - a damn shame we've accepted that reality in the USA, and I'm glad to be beyond it. I'm thankful, grateful, that I understand what Belgium and Germany are so excited about - why the Japanese praise this "beer" thing, what a real beverage tastes like - but really - my beer needs to tone it down.

Today, getting off work, I opened my fridge, grabbed the first beer I saw, and poured it into the nearest pint glass - an amber ale into a pub glass - just a lucky grab really, it could have just as easily wound up in a narrow flute, and wouldn't that have been a damn shame (beer advocate says yes). I sat down at my computer to quaff the drink and rather than sit there and be drunk, like a lifeless pale lager, it fought back. The beer balked at the prospect of being forgetable - a wreath of lace head burst on my lips as a silky beverage exploding with hoppy bitter high-notes and a semi-sweet malt undertone played across my palette.

"God damnit", I explaimed, "don't I have any crappy beer?"

Apparently not - Chateau Jihau, Lindeman's Kriek Lambic, a genuine doppleback, and a Russian imperial stout starred back. From the crisper drawer, a handful of IPAs varying from excellent to incredible in quality burst forth, hidden for weeks from any hop-destroying ultraviolet lights.

And there and then I had it - every beer in my house demands appreciation, each one is a fine example of its variety, the standard to which one could judge. Even the lone macrobrew - a Guiness Extra Stout - was a fine beer - certainly nothing to scoff at. And yet - none of them could just shut up and be a beverage - all of them, all of them have to be ****ing amazing, show-stopping, memorable and exciting life moments.

Ah well, screw it... I think I'll have a soda.