A Review of Reviews
- Dec 14, 2010 2:46 am GMT
- 55 Comments
Aberinkulas and I decided to write an editorial about game reviews. We kinda failed but hopefully the back and forth rambling will still be enjoyable enough, if ultimately pointless...much like a review.
We take it in turns, starting with Aberinkulas. If I interrupt him my text will be in bold.
A professional journalist.
Come See the Repression Inherent in the System
I can remember it quite fondly. It was back when the nSider forums were still alive and well, thriving even; there were so many people posting reviews and discussing Nintendo games in embarrassing, revealing ways that it was probably for the best that it died off. The reviews board was one of the watering holes for me: interesting, more intelligent than, say, the Animal Crossing forum, and there was always someone that would tell you that your review was pretty great, no matter how bad it really was.
My first review was a three paragraph bit on the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King for the Game Boy Advance. In the first paragraph, there was a header with the word "graphics" and below, I talked about the graphics. The second paragraph, "gameplay" and the third, "value."
Comment one told me my review was very good. That was certainly predictable. Comment two told me I had forgot to talk about the sound.
"The sound doesn't matter in a game like this," I said in response. "It's fairly boring and most people are going to turn it off."
"No," they responded back. "You have to talk about the sound. That's how reviews are done."
At the time, you had to have a high enough posting score to be able to edit your posts, so I couldn't just go back and edit the review again. So I decided to go write a new review, and that's when the cycle began.
Much of my time at nSider was spent reading posts written in mangled English about how my reviews were not really reviews, because of this or that or another thing. I read the guides they had, posted by well intentioned but otherwise clueless twelve year olds. Basically, if you didn't have headers over every section of the review labelling your subject, and you didn't include every section they wanted you to, it wasn't a review.
We got headers. 8)
Then some dude (I do not recall his name) posted a review of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney by recreating the sprites and placing text next to their picture, which in turn allowed him to create his own court case. The characters fooled around a bit and debated back and forth, in a fairly predictable way that probably wouldn't have surprised anyone that had read any fan fiction.
"That wasn't a review," I said. "That was cool, but that wasn't a review."
"Yeah it was a review!" he said.
"No it was not," I responded. "I am no closer to understanding this game than I was before I read it. I do not know if I should buy it or what it is about. All I know now is that the characters are funny and the back and forth between them is silly."
Hmm, funny characters? Silly back and forth? Sounds exactly like Phoenix Wright to me! But then what happened?! I'm dying here.
I'm glad you asked. It became one of the most popular reviews ever posted on nSider. Funnily enough, you needed to have a certain amount of post page views before you could "rank up" and that single discussion gave me thousands. It was glorious.
Oh lovely, always pimping the system I see!
A professional critic.
Objectively Speaking There is Only Subjectivity
And our poor old Aberinkulas' experience is not a rare one. I can scientifically prove this fact with anecdotal evidence by pointing out that I have been through similar things. I started writing my reviews without much direction or styIe but slowly I developed my theory of reality through reviews (patent pending) which means that in my reviews I attempt two things: the first is to express my personal feelings and observations (which consistent of complaining about the technical failures of games like Arkham Asylum and people hate me for it!), and secondly to create a tone or something contained in my review which for me is synonymous with my experience of the game. For example my Half-Life 2 review was long and boring, because Half-Life 2 was long and boring.
Alas it was criticised. It was called overly-long and boring. This criticism was obviously the highest praise I could receive, though from a marketing perspective perhaps not. The theory of reality through reviews may not be entirely suitable for commercial reviews as they are as much a product as the game they are reviewing. More recently I posted a review composed like a collection of messages from twitter. This review was deleted from GS's reviews. A user review deleted due to it being different! Is it any wonder that reviews have stagnated so much if there is so much pressure put on even user reviews? We shall not get into an argument of what constitute reviews because the definition is quite simple, and leaves the writer with a great deal of freedom of how to express their thoughts: "a critical article or report, as in a periodical, on a book, play, recital, or the like; critique; evaluation." And what is an article you ask? "A written composition in prose, usually nonfiction, on a specific topic, forming an independent part of a book or other publication, as a newspaper or magazine."
So with this amount of freedom why is it that we find the large majority of mainstream reviews to follow the simple formula of attempting to objectively (which is a fallacy in and of itself) describe the game broken down into several elements: gameplay, graphics, sound and presentation. All this comes to the final conclusion of the review which is not a numerical score as some might have you believe but a simple yes or no question: should you buy this game? The sum total of the review is one of two words. Yes or no.
It's false to assume that other media are just as bad. Certainly the majority of film, music and book reviews have a similar pretense: simple consumer recommendation, but even mainstream outlets such as Pitchfork Media do not review all music in this styIe nor are their over the top comical reviews reserved solely reserved for their lowest scoring albums.
There's also not this great desire to be seen as objective. When Roger Ebert talks about inherently subjective things such as the visual presentation of morality in a film nobody bats and eyelid. And that's not to say he doesn't back up his subjective ideas: this is obviously an important part of a review, and video game reviewers do it all the time except that they present their subjective analysis as objective. Now naturally there is a difference between representation of morality and technique, but the analogy still stands because:
It is an objective statement to say that Gears of Wars graphics supports high definition resolution. It is objective to state that Gears of Wars' graphics are technically of a high standard, but this technique we are talking about is inherently subjective. Why is it that we appreciate graphics of high technical quality (which is objectively quantifiable through things such as pixel counts and frame rates, resolutions etc.)? Because they are pretty and culturally appreciated. Now, what if it was culturally appreciated to use as few pixels as possible, and indeed to design effective graphics with fewer pixels? This would require technique and suddenly graphics with high pixel count would be of low technical quality. It's a terrible hypothetical, but helps (I hope) to show that, while objectively observable, the result and emotions that technique results in (and why we praise them as being objectively good) are entirely subjective.
Build it and…
I'll be honest, writing about reviews at this point feels like you're just trying to beat a dead horse but you really ran it over with your car twenty miles back. The conversation is so overdone it's overdone. I'm literally running out of bloody metaphors.
"Writing about music is like dancing about architecture," a good quote goes, and so we'll smash it on its head and make it confused so that it now says "writing about games is like writing about music."
Writing about games IS like dancing about architecture, more than we'd initially think. Architecture is a massive component to nearly every game out there; world design can make or break a blockbuster. Even if the ways in which we interact with world design aren't perfect, we can usually ignore or get around them for the sake of experiencing a world apart from our own. How do you write about architecture?
The problem with writing about games is that reading is linear, while games are generally not. Certainly, a game like Final Fantasy XIII would give the modern novel a run for its lack-of-substantial-interactivity money, but by and large you'll find the large majority of games that people like to think about and discuss in text are games that aren't linear, have little structure, or at the very least allow the player to experience its world with some
sort of freedom.
Text does not have that! If you really like the idea I've just presented for example, you can't just gaze around looking at the surrounding landscape considering the points and looking at things you may have missed! Unless you're skipping paragraphs (in which case: you're doing it wrong) then you're going to be given my text in a linear format and there's no exploration, and no set sort of way for you to experience it any other way.
The number of things that the current styIe of game review assumes is astronomical, but the main one is that the path that each player chooses throughout the course of their playtime will be identical, to the point where you can make some sort of claim as to rating your theoretical experience. Consider Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, a popular RPG made by Bioware. It was critically acclaimed for having choice and experimentation with both the light and the dark side. The assumption there is that the player themselves chose to accept that choice. The player could have been a very hardcore Jedi that refused options at the slightest hint of the Dark Side. That choice didn't exist for that person.
Interactivity is such a hard discussion because you have a massive realm of possibilities. Despite many games being carefully crafted and the players funnelled along by their programming overlords, many times you simply cannot translate the breadth of all the endless possibilities into text. Granting judgements with the sensibility of faux officialism and intelligence? It seems almost trite.
Kieron Gillen, famous ex-Rock Paper Shotgun Brit-funny man wrote the New Gaming Journalism Manifesto many moons ago discussing a solution to this very problem. Instead of assuming that a single gamer can experience and put a label upon every perspective and play-through, the review is treated like a travel diary, and as such the review stops assuming this grand point of view, narrowing into something smaller, more focused, and, yes, linear for the benefit of text. A travel diary can be subjective in the superior way that to make a claim about the experience, the perspective offering that subjectivity is not only well documented, but trivial to dissect. If above Jedi Knight gamer lambastes KOTOR for a lack of choice in the narrative, it's only a matter of a few scrolls of the mouse wheel to point out
the various (personal) is sues in coming to such a conclusion.
Gamers are irrational. Gamers are moody and change their minds. Gamers never vote with their wallets en masse, and as a cluster they're even more unpredictable. The ways in which they work are impenetrable behind the façade of the modern dissection of gaming because we don't get to see why they think what they do, or where they are drawing their conclusions from. Short, sentence long examples sometimes do the trick, but they can't really sum up complex, drawn out experiences that fundamentally change the way a gamer experiences a game. A reviewer who powered through the main campaign of Oblivion will have a very different experience from a person who explored the world so many times he's got the map memorized, yet you'd never get acknowledgement of the differences between the perspectives in an everyday review.
Writing about games is a silly, odd and difficult proposition. A travel diary with interesting and well documented considerations on the game's design, flaws and strengths is probably the best suggestion I've seen. But that's just me.
...They Will Come
Oh, so you skipped ahead and want a conclusion? Let me do it in the traditional 10 scale: stagnant, derivative reviews are not worth buying/10. But because I have some empathy here's a proper one for those of you gamers who are capable of reading more than just menus and scores:
"But that's just me." Case in point. Four words that sum it up perfectly. Personally I imagine that a video game travel journal might turn out like a real one, and by that I mean it would be a piece of trivial writing that is hardly even interesting if you are planning a journey to wherever the writer is showing off about. But by God it would be nice if there were a few more of those around so that poor old Aberinkulas doesn't have to write them all himself! Variety is the spice of life, they say, and while salt and sugar are both on the way out in cooking so that we are left with commercial food as vapid and soulless as reviews, could we not add a little pepper to what we say about games?
Oh, and those opinion pieces about games being art don't count. Even written by old fuddy-duds such as Ebert.
The Perfect World Scenario
- Dec 8, 2010 5:07 pm GMT
- 49 Comments
You know - gamers are now living in what can be best described as "The Perfect World". Gamers are getting more bang for their buck - are able to play games on a wide variety of gaming consoles, and even when game series cross platforms, or even cross genres - are getting a cohesive experience. The Perfect World scenario is evidently an important part of today's gaming - but it has its roots as far back as even the earliest MMO's.
The Perfect World Scenario is simple. It's the feedback we give the developers. It's the fan community's united voice. It's the contributions of the wiki community - hungering for the next information to stow away - to compare, contrast and eventually slot in it's place in the game's world and storyline. It's the gamers themselves - helping make their games better.
Developers have never had it easier. Of course - developing large budget titles is getting more and more financially risky. We're seeing amalgamations of once great teams. Australia has been particularly burdened by this - without financial support from the Government, we're seeing developers die - as they live project to project. A single bad game can be enough to kill a studio and hundreds of employees who depend on that studio. It's a mess - but it has also given rise to the great independents.
As little as a decade ago, the "Indie" community was largely ignored. Nintendo, Sega and Sony were all working to keep their loyal fanbases and build respectability for gaming, but the vocal indie community of basement dwelling coders was largely ignored. The Net Yaroze system from Sony was a step in the right direction, but it wasn't until the advent of selling downloadable games cheaply did this community finally find a voice and a platform. And oh boy - did the sales come in!
But it's these large titles - games that can require hundreds of employees and years of development that suggest, no, require, a level of community involvement beyond that of "when's it coming out?". Which is where the game's fiction organiser or "lorekeeper" comes in. It's his/her job to ensure that the games numerous employees keep the games vision the same - even when it diverges from it's original gameplay.
For instance - Assassin's Creed. Here is a title which screams multi-faceted, multi-media approach. So far we've seen 3 console games, each of which were on the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, 2 Nintendo DS games (since been ported to iPhone and Android), an upcoming 3DS game, a facebook game, a PSP game, several DLC packs, 2 short films, 2 graphic novels, a novel, a comic book series and an art book. Obviously it's gone far beyond the development studio who first began to produce the games - Assassin's Creed has become such a property, and such a monopoly (the series so far has sold over 20 million games) - that developer Ubisoft is actually illiciting gamer's opinions about where the series should head next.
The power is in our hands! No more do developers turn a blind eye to our ideas - our opinions matter more than ever! Developers and Publishers are listening hard to their fan bases - their communities, their forums and their surveys than ever before. Gaming has become a collaborative effort of hundreds of developers and behind the scenes people - and now gamers are contributing their part. What we say in this game affects the vision for what comes next.
Bioware fans were upset about the absence of Liara from Mass Effect 2. Bioware responded with the best DLC they have ever crafted. Epic fans were vocal about the absence of strong women in Gears of War. Gears of War 3 will see them fighting along side you. Fallout fans were spending hundreds of man-hours creating the most comprehensive database of information online on the series - and Bethesda took full advantage. These are just a few examples of how gamers are helping craft the games they play.
The future is bright for the gamer. They have a direct link to those that craft the games they play, and developers are taking full advantage of gaming console's ability to keep tabs on what gamers are enjoying in their games. More than heat maps, they are able to see just how long we spend checking out certain scenes. This kind of feedback is invaluable. We now have a platform to state what we like and dont like about games, and what we feel could make them better. This kind of power to help weild the games we play is only going to get stronger. The line between gamer and developer is fading - especially when we play games like LittleBigPlanet and The Sims 3.
We are becoming a society of gamers living in a Perfect World - a world of gaming that encourages us to help developers make their games the best they can be. It's an exciting time indeed.
What is fun? Why do we play?
- Dec 5, 2010 4:53 pm GMT
- 6 Comments
Lately I've been thinking. What is the way we perceive fun? In what ways do we indulge in it? What is its meaning, and why do we yearn for it? When does it turn into addiction or work? Video-games and gaming are ripe for this type of analyzing.
Art, or drug?
When we read books, watch movies or play games, our brain gets stimulated and the connections we make while thinking and virtually experiencing are rewarding. In gaming more than with former arts, since it is a direct consequence of our actions and is generally more frequent and condescending. Heck, games are even rewarding us when we don't deserve it. We stop being satisfied with the fulfilling revelations of our own contemplations and want more of the raw stimulation from the outside. Dumbed down games of today support this kind of mentality in gamers: inducing raw emotions while requiring no creative thinking and little or no reflexes. Games like Farmville (or World of Warcraft in some aspects) go further: people get caught in a cycle of repetitive tasks; upon completing those tasks nothing in the player changes. No involvement other than time was required. The game tells us we are better than some players and worse than others. Being treated like this, we get a false sense of superiority and accomplishment. We are greedy, and the game knows it: the inner hedonistic child gets what it wants, and there is always a new carrot behind the next corner.
This, from my point of view, is when a game stops being an art and becomes a drug. Those of you addicted to gaming, always one step behind the sought-out dose of pleasure you so desperately need, need to recognize what you are doing wrong. It's about attitude towards life itself. Your experience in gaming or any other art is, quite simply, what you make of it. It is highly subjective. So how to make the best of it? Start by comprehending what drives you in the first place.
Art, or sport?
Games started as sports. There is no denying it. In the begining of videogames, it was all about besting the AI or another player. No artistic expression/experience involved. With time though, they became more complex and deep. Games were starting to resemble art. Soon, some of them weren't about competition at all. Today, two main branches are existent in gaming: art games and sport games. Themes and franchises overlap, but these are THE two ways of experiencing interactive fun. Why do I say this? I'll explain.
My awesome MS Paint skills were put to use, and lo and behold, above is the masterful result. It shows the main point of what I'm getting at - games can be whatever we make of them.
Fun = thrill
If we game to PERFECT OURSELVES in more physical ways (often through competition), we game to win. This requires a combination of intelligent thinking and REFLEXES, and a great deal of automatizing various physical/mental processes through practice until they come naturally. Genres like RTS, FPS, platformer and racing come to mind.
If we game to PERFECT THE (ingame) CHARACTER, to hear stories and dream of adventures, we game to experience. This requires a combination of intelligent thinking and EMOTIONS, which is more true to the basic definition of art. Genres like RPG and adventure come to mind.
If we game for the intelligent thinking alone, we seek no improvement of our reflexes and no emotional impact; we game to think. Genres like turn-based strategy and pure logic games like chess come to mind.
Thou speaketh of unintelligible things
Obviously, games cannot be divided like this. 'I use my reflexes when I pop potions in a random role-playing game I like!', you squeak. 'I get emotionally involved when I score some headshots in a loosely realistic reenactment of world war 1.5 or when cops bust me in a prehistoric Need For Speed!', you howl. Well, of course you do. Life is not a formula where all the variables are unambiguous and easily distinguished. Gaming isn't either. It is an imitation of life, exaggerated and mendacious, giving us a glimpse of the truth.
My division of games (art/sport) wasn't an effort to define genres. It was a way of defining the primary motives for experiencing fun, for any kind of playing at all.
We seek in provoked experiences what we lack in everyday life. This is painfully obvious in one major gaming example.
WRPG versus JRPG
Yep, I'm going there. There are so many verbal internet conflicts regarding this topic, yet it mounts down to this: need for balance. Western RPG's are plot driven. This means the story needs to be complex and convoluted but at the same time meaningful and believable. Japanese RPG's are character driven. It's all about emotional connection with little regard for explaining motives or plot details. One is rational with focus on details. The other is an emotional rollercoaster. One comes from a culture with not enough rational/scientific thought. The other comes from a culture burdened by rationality, lacking real human contact and real emotions. Western culture is having fun when exercising rational thought spiced with emotions. Japanese culture is having fun when drowning in surges of various emotions. It may not have been like this 20 years ago, but it is now. Culture always tries to balance itself, as do the people it consists of. While needing an escape from reality, we find it in art.
If you need a conclusion after all I've said, you better read it again.
On Creation and Longevity
- Nov 26, 2010 2:35 pm GMT
- 88 Comments
There's a SimCity player out there who spent four years of his life creating the "perfect" city. Every stat in the city is maxed: traffic, smog and crime are non-existent. The only catch to his city is that the average life expectancy of a virtual citizen is only 50 years (by comparison every post-industrial nation in the modern world has a life expectancy of 75+ years). When asked about this problem, the city-crafter simply replied "Health of the Sims was not a priority, relative to the main objective".
Not actually great advice...
Sadly, that's not too far different from how modern publishers treat game design. The world of console gaming (and increasingly app stores) is fast-paced. Today's hot app is yesterday's forgotten relic. The popular FPS of this month will be replaced by the popular Action-RPG of next month. The cycle of game publication has become so accelerated that long-term support is relegated to a non-idea. The profit-leeching effect of the organized used game markets has only hastened the cycle.
Sure, your next Call of Duty game will come with three map packs, but the map packs are built alongside the game, planned content for planned profitability. The obsolescence of the original title is fixed from release, with the sequel in development before the prequel has gone gold. The eighteen month cycle of game development has met with a planned twelve month release cycle and created the absurd: the third in a trilogy being programmed before the first title is in stores. The back-catalogs of major publishers are choke full of unreleased titles, titles like Too Human 2 and Mirror's Edge 2 sit, nearly finished, put on indefinite hold after the financial shortfall of the original title.
I recently did the unthinkable: took up World of Warcraft. For those who haven't followed my writing since the early days, my experiences with WoW initially were horrible. Quest areas overfilled with new players, laggy servers, countless bugs, endless grind and a player experience that presented tedium and inconvenience as features... that was WoW. With the pending release of Cataclysm, and the upcoming (since past) "shattering" of Azeroth, I knew it was time to give the game another shot. Could six years of investment into a game polish what was already the best available MMO experience? Could a six year old game have more to offer than new, fresh MMOs like Final Fantasy XIV?
This game is actually fun... I know, I'm surprised too!
Not just yes, unbelievably yes. World of Warcraft isn't just the best MMO I've ever played, it is the only MMO I could ever recommend to anyone. Having hated World of Warcraft at launch, having hated the interfaces, the characters, the leveling system, the talents system, everything... of the original World of Warcraft, three expansion packs and the Cataclysm world-shattering later, Azeroth is reborn, and it's the best online multiplayer experience available.
Long-term gaming, not just for PC gamers!
Time, and long-term planning, make the difference. A game built for the long-term has community, not just from the company, but from fans. Websites, play groups, game days and tournaments: the structures that encourage gaming are what build a lifespan beyond the typical "year on the shelves". Games like Starcraft exist today because of the competitive scene. Games like World of Warcraft continue because people have friends and family engaged in daily activity. Mario remains popular because friends play together at social outings, and talk fondly of childhood memories. Even the worst series (*cough* Sonic) can survive mediocre release after mediocre release, as the fans continue to play their favorite older games and socialize about the experience.
The current WoW represents something that can only come about out of time. Much like Starcraft, Diablo II, Counterstrike, Team Fortress 2, or the old days of Battlefield, long-term support and continual revision have created a better game. This kind of long-term planning isn't exclusive to PC gaming. Titles like Halo have received loving revision and long-term support too. While the publishing house are always keen to have us buy the latest creation for the cool price of $60, keeping the old alive with profitable DLC or monthly fees has become a norm for some companies.
Other companies are looking to microtransactions, advertising dollars (i.e. Facebook / Farmville) or user-data to generate the wealth of revenue they hope for.
But how do we design for the long-term? How do we take a model of physical retail built upon constant stock rotation and phasing out older products and turn it into one that values the same game for years on end? How do we create a marketplace that places value on continually improving a five year old game over necessarily dumping it to reinvent the wheel on a new product?
The only game as old as this guy is Pong...
I'm not certain.
The digital marketplace provides one hope, online retailers (who can, by definition, indefinitely stock product) provide another. The removal of the "shelf space is value" mentality pushes that... but further? Smaller boxes? Digital cards for physical stores? A more profitable mix on the physical shelf? There's a possibility there, but one that requires existing retailers grasp.
What's important is for designers to realize the value. Azeroth, a world I could never love, has become something I can appreciate, even marvel at. Voice chat, fast dungeon queuing, easier leveling, better talent trees, mounts at lower levels, twice as many races, whole new c1asses, better content, better streamlining, smoother connection of leveling areas, more exciting diversity of terrain, a better story? What happened? Six years of love.
It's a long way down the money hole
Imagine what could be if every game was given that chance. More games than just Mario should be passed on to the next generation of gamers. Let's make it happen.
Black Ops Online and Perfection
A few days ago a friend of mine posted a Facebook update about Black Ops upcoming release. One of his friends commented saying, "What's Black Ops?" Another friend commented and asked this individual if he'd been living in a cave for the past year. He's right. Black Ops is possibly the most hyped game of all time-up there in the ranks of Brawl or Modern Warfare 2. And, as is the case with most hyped games, they don't usually live up to the great anticipation. It doesn't mean they're bad-usually superb, but with games like these, people usually expect perfection. And when you expect perfection, you're often let down. Because, I mean, let's face it. Perfection is a lofty goal. Us gamers usually learn from this, and try not to get so excited, but that's usually a futile struggle. So, as I finally got home from piano practice at 5:00 Tuesday, I ripped that disk from it's case, shoved it in to my PS3, connected to the PSN, and played a match. And another. And another. Something shocking had come about. I couldn't find barely anything wrong. My Dad walked into my bedroom and watched me play a round or two-as he often likes to do when I play online games. He noted that it looks like absolutely nothing has changed since MW2. Now, my Dad knows his CoD, being a seasoned CoD4 player himself, and I explained that things might not look vastly different. I noted that there's only so much you can change in an FPS. After all, what do you want? People flying around with jetpacks and shooting each other with laser guns? When it comes to an FPS, the core gameplay will remain the same. You run around a map, and you shoot people. It's surprising, though, how maddeningly fun and addicting or horrifyingly atrocious and experience it can be game to game. As much as I feel hypocritical doing it, I think it's best to use MW2 as a tool to explain much of the successes of Black Ops. Let's begin.
- Nov 14, 2010 3:45 pm GMT
- 290 Comments
Let's start with the basics. Just like in previous games, Black Ops shoves you straight into the action with a choice of three preset classes to use. These guns are admittedly not the best, but after just a few kills you soon work your way to level four where a whole new world awaits you. In previous games, every weapon, perk, equipment, etc. was unlocked level by level. But as many already know, that's not quite so in Black Ops. This game employs a currency system-CoD Points, or CP. You earn this currency by leveling up, playing matches, and gambling your money in Wager Matches, which we'll get to in a moment. Here comes one minor complaint. When the game was being advertised, Treyarch really stressed how great this system was, and how there was no more waiting for the things you wanted. And they're right to a certain degree. Every perk, equipment item, and gun attachment is unlocked for your purchase from the start. But oddly enough, guns aren't. One still has to get to a certain level to unlock the gun, and even after he's unlocked, he still has to buy it! It seems odd, and unfitting with the system. But CoD fans are used to this. It's not a bad way of going about it, it just seems out of place. But to get down to it, CP is the one of the best things that ever happened to CoD. You can buy so many things to customize your loadouts it's insane. There are about ten attachments for each gun, a slew of camo designs to put on your gun, clan tag gun engraving, the option to put your emblem on your weapon, sight customization, face paint. Yeah. There's a lot here to make your loadout truly your own. There's even a new emblem maker in which you can buy shapes and pictures and use the in-game tools to establish your identity further. You have to unlock each page of these pieces by level, then buy them at a cheap price-a concept which, once again, I find odd. But designing an emblem is still fun, especially if you're creative, unlike me. The customization is so diverse, you'll never again see a player just like you. It makes the game even more addiciting-and yes. Just like Chris Watters said, gaining CP is just as satisfying as earning EXP. The battlefield is the true test, and here, Treyarch has done a brilliant work. It's truly a pretty much perfect Call of Duty experience. Everything just feels balanced. Everything. There's no more Stopping Power, so it takes just a tad more to kill. This is a good thing, as now, no guns are overpowered-you never feel like you were killed instantly anymore. And since there's no more stopping power, you can actually use other perks. The perks are all varied and fun, and none of them are must haves-again giving you a feeling that your play style is truly your own. Perks contribute to the balance of this game as well. Everything has a counter it seems. Noob tubes are now not only toned down in power, with no Danger Close to rely on to boot, but the effects can be almost nulled with the perk Flac Jacket. It has been tested, and it's been found it takes two direct explosions with the tube to kill a flac jack user. Commando is out, eliminating the Knife Runners. Even non-noobish things have counters, so as not to make anything over-powered. Ghost makes you undetectable by Spy Planes, Hacker lets you see explosives, and flac jacket also functions as a flamethrower repellant to name a few examples. Customizable killstreak rewards also return, but no longer count toward other killstreaks. For example, you can't call in a Mortar Team at five kills, gain two kills from the strike, and then immediately gain a chopper. The exceptions of course, are that kills that you gain while using Spy Planes (UAVs) and Blackbirds (a new, eight killstreak real-time UAV) count toward your streak. This makes the high caliber killstreaks quite balanced, and also makes you think about whether you want to take the offensive route with your streaks, or a more supportive one. There's a great variety of guns to choose from; all heavily customizable of course, and none feeling all-powerful. On a side note, shotguns return as primaries once again-a feature that I know a good many are excited about. The maps are definitely impressive, with ones such as Firing Range and Nuketown really shining. Unfortunately, sometimes these maps are abused with the new feature to vote for the previous map. Many times you'll get stuck in a lobby where people will vote for the same map over and over, which can be annoying, and I'd like to see this get fixed at some point. Most of the classic game modes return, along with a new type of mode called Wager Match. In these matches, you gamble your CP away in a variety of battle royal game modes. If you're in the top three, you get a profit; if you're below that, you lose all that you gambled. These matches, which I won't take the time to explain since all of you know them already, are great fun and keep your heart constantly racing. Sticks and Stones is the exception, as it feels haphazard, and being able to be bankrupted by tomahawk kills is cheap and unbalanced. Playing with friends is a snap in Black Ops, a feature that many will love-especially those who played MW2 and know how much of a pain it was. Triangle in a menu brings up an in-game list (not XMB) of all your friends and what they're doing. You can join their current match with the press of square, and if they've set their lobby to open, you can pop in their lobby at anytime as well. Invites can be sent with the touch of Select. It's a much better matchmaking system, and as long as Treyarch can fix the disconnect and lag issues that have been affecting many matches, this could be quite the epic setup. The great ideas continue with Theater Mode, which lets you replay and/or save recent matches. It's a novel idea, but unfortunately it's rather broken and needs work. Firstly, the editing tools are very flawed. You can add special effects such as camera changes, pauses, and slow motion, but you actually have to perform these in real time, making it very difficult. After record, you have to work the sticks and buttons carefully as the clip plays, which often results in a very cheesy looking result. Want to save the match and put it on Youtube for all to see? Forget it. You can only save clips up to thirty seconds long as tangible files. You can save them on the game itself, but there are only six measly slots for this. Theater is a novel idea but needs much work to meet its full potential. I've been playing the online for days, and I'm having an absolute blast with Black Ops. The customization is simply staggering, the weapons, perks, and equipment are balanced; maps and games modes are impressive, and wager matches and CP alike are excellent additions to the series. Prestige returns: fifty levels, fifteen prestiges. With small rewards such as more custom slots for prestiging, the game will only improve with age. I'd like to see things such as previous map abuse and the broken theater mode fixed in the future, and then of course the connection issues which I'm sure will come with time. The multiplayer experience of Black Ops is not only the best yet, but is almost flawless. Treyarch has simply outdone themselves. Peace.-Naut
Top 10 relationships in video games
- Nov 14, 2010 2:43 am GMT
- 403 Comments
PLEASE READ: As I have had to explain this repeatedly in the comments section, this list most certainly did take into account video games from all corners of the world; it just happens that the top 10 are from Japanese games. I evidently find that Japanese games portray, in my opinion, better relationships than other games. If you disagree, that's fine; this list is necessarily subjective. Offer your own if you disagree. Please don't assume that the fact that I left off a relationship means that I didn't play the game it appears in and that I'm an ignoramus who should play better games. Chances are I probably did play the game in question.
WARNING: spoilers abound, such that it would not be feasible to hide them all away and still be left with a readable article. Read at your own risk.
Every video game has characters, and every character has a purpose - but every once in a while, there are certain characters that really stand out from the crowd. However, just as much as individual characters can be affecting, the dynamic between characters in games is just as important. With the holiday season fast approaching - always a time to get back together with friends and loved ones - and since we're on GameSpot, I figure, what better way to celebrate the season than by looking at those relationships in video games that moved us, that broke or warmed our hearts, or brought a tear to our eyes?
Certainly, not all relationships are created equal. Before I jump into this, I'd first like to list the criteria by which I'll be evaluating relationships in video games. You might disagree and offer your own criteria, in which case your list might be entirely different - and I highly encourage people to post their own lists if so. The criteria I'm using are as follows:
Reality - Does the relationship seem to basically exist solely as a plot device or as an audience-manipulator, or does the relationship feel genuine? A relationship must feel real if it's to resonate with its audience.
Chemistry - Genuine relationships don't necessarily imply good relationships, though. A relationship between an abusive father and his child is certainly genuine, but it's not one that one would consider a terribly good relationship. Is there real chemistry between the people, such that they share an authentic bond?
Emotion - Even if a relationship is genuine and even if the participants get along fine, the relationship can still be boring, though. Is the relationship as such, or does it generate bona fide emotion, be it wrenching heartache or an undying smile on the audience's face?
Note that this does not only include romantic relationships. Any relationship between people is fair game as long as it feels real, as long as it contains real chemistry, and as long as it spurs real emotion.
So with that out of the way, let's get started with...
Top 10 relationships in video games
Mewt & Babus
Prince & servant, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance
"Even if you do forget me, Prince Mewt... I will remember and remain your faithful servant, always."
Mewt doesn't have the nicest life in the real world. His mother's dead. His father is a loser. And he's always picked on at school. His life takes a sudden change for the better, however, when he's sucked into the magical world of Ivalice, a fantasy world modelled after his desires and his wishes. His mother is not only alive, but queen of the land, and loves him very much. His father is an upstanding man who is in charge of the maintenance of law and order in the world. He's a prince, who always gets what he wants. And nobody picks on him.
Babus Swain is his court mage, who is as loyal a servant as anyone could ever ask for. Babus trusts Mewt absolutely, and defends him indomitably. This is especially so when another young boy named Marche comes along and makes the patently absurd claim that the world in which they live is not real, and that Mewt is simply running away from reality.
That is, of course, until Babus, along with Mewt's father, is presented with incontrovertible evidence that that is exactly the case.
From that point forward, Babus begins to feel doubt for the first time. Not doubt in his fidelity towards Mewt, but doubt about what is best for Mewt, and how he ought to serve Mewt. Should he stay faithful to Mewt by abiding by that which Mewt believes will make him happy, or should he stay faithful to Mewt by attempting to guide him away from his path, and to the path that he now believes Mewt ought to take if he is to truly be happy? In the end, Babus feels that his true duty is to the true happiness of Mewt, not to Mewt's wish and command - but even as he begins to side with Marche against Mewt's goals, and even if he begins to recognize that he himself is not "real", his love for his master stays as real and as genuine as it could ever be.
Rei & Teepo
Childhood friends, Breath of Fire III
"I didn't ask for this power... I... just wanted to be with you."
Rei and Teepo are what some might call "good-for-nothings". They're both orphans, and they live in a world where orphans don't exactly have many options other than stealing to survive. But while they don't have much, they do have one thing: each other. They steal together, they eat together, they laugh together. They're as close as a pair of boys could hope to be.
All that changes, however, when he gets onto the bad side of a criminal organization, which murders both of his friends (or so he thinks). Distresssed and enraged over the loss of his friends, Rei begins to hunt this organization mercilessly, thinking irrationally that if only he can destroy it, Teepo will come back. He meets up with Ryu - whom he long since thought dead - and together they do manage to bring down the head of the organization... but Teepo is nowhere to be found. Over the course of the remaining game, Rei slowly comes to terms with the fact that Teepo is in all likelihood dead.
Just when he's about gotten over it, however, there they find Teepo - brainwashed by the main villain, and the last road block between them and the villain. Teepo tries to get them to see things his way, but fails, and resorts to trying to kill the friends he once had. Once defeated, in a heartbreaker of a scene, he laments with his dying breaths the way things had to be, and wishes in vain that he might turn the clock back and reunite with the friends he left behind so long ago.
Amaterasu & Issun
Sun Goddess & Celestial Envoy, Okami
"What's with you, furball?"
Evil is afoot in the world, and it's up to the sun goddess Amaterasu - incarnated in the mortal realm as a white wolf - to cleanse the world that has become almost fatally ravaged. She almost immediately comes across Issun, a tiny little man who purports to be a wandering artist. He sticks around "Ammy", as he calls her, once he realizes that she's mastered the "Celestial Brush", a technique to turn brush strokes into real-world effects. Over time, he more or less becomes an advocate for the silent Amaterasu - to humorous effect, considering that he is obviously less dignified and more crass than the goddess.
Issun, it turns out, is not just a wandering artist, though - he's trying to escape his destined position, which is the next Celestial Envoy - the artist whose job is to evangelize the message of the gods throughout the land to keep faith alive. He resists this calling to the bitter end, but finally, when the sun goes out and all seems lost, he comes around and restores faith to the people, thereby restoring Amaterasu's power. Still, he stays bouncy and funny to the very end, making this a very effective - if unlikely - duo.
Ico & Yorda
Outcast & princess, ICO
If there's one game that proves that affection and emotion transcends language, ICO is that game. Its two main characters, Ico and Yorda, both share certain similarities - they both have rather poor lots in life - but they do not share what would seem on the surface to be a rather important item: a common language. Undaunted, however, Ico understands by seeing Yorda locked in a cage that, whatever's happening, he needs to get her out of there and away from there.
Throughout much of the game, the more nimble Ico leads Yorda and makes paths for her, all the while silently holding her hand to guide her along the way. Not much is said in the game, but not much needs to be said in the game - the characters' body language does all the talking.
Eventually, however, the wicked queen who had imprisoned Yorda catches up to her, and seals her away in stone in the castle. This leads to a final confrontation between Ico and the queen, leading to the defeat of the queen - but also the destruction of the castle, with Ico in it. Yorda is freed from the stone - but as a shadow being, the sort that pursued Ico and Yorda the whole game through. With her last effort (or maybe not; the ending is ambiguous), she carries Ico to a boat and pushes him to safety, saying only one word as he sails away: "Goodbye."
Neku & Shiki
Teenaged sweethearts, The World Ends With You
"Once you see the real me... will we still be friends?"
Neku and Shiki are unlikely partners, to say the least. Neku is as antisocial as they come, and predictably spurns Shiki when they first meet. However, what he doesn't know at that time is that they're actually both dead, and that they're going to need each other if they are to survive the coming week, as they're right in the middle of a fight for their lives. During the time that the spend together, Neku slowly (very slowly) warms up to Shiki, in a cIassically awkward teenaged fashion.
However, his feelings are more or less subdued, until at last, in one of the sweetest scenes I've ever seen in any medium, Neku's real feelings for Shiki are made evident. The requirement to enter this game once a person dies is to put on the table that which is most important to the person. In the third week, Shiki is mysteriously back after having left after the first week. This fact is a mystery... until we learn that the reason is that, at this point in time, Shiki is Neku's entry fee - because she has become the most important thing in his life. Awwww.
Diego & Mia
Partners in law, Phoenix Wright: Trials and Tribulations
"Don't you get it? You can't cry yet. The only time a lawyer can cry is when it's all over."
Diego is partners with Mia in a law firm, and is a bit of a mentor for Mia, whom he affectionately calls "kitten". His relationship comes to an abrupt end, however, when he is poisoned by a murderer whom he fails to expose, and very nearly dies. When he comes to, he is overcome with anguish to discover that Mia had since been murdered, and vows revenge. He sets his sights on Phoenix Wright, whom he blames for failing to protect Mia, his protégé and his friend, in her time of need.
In the end, however, he makes peace with both himself and Mia in a most unusual fashion: by protecting Mia's little sister, Maya. In the final case of the game, the facts of the matter are slowly revealed: Godot is the real killer in the case, but everything he did, he did because the life was in danger of the only connection left to Mia. Though he must now pay for his crimes, he is at last at peace, and apologizes to Phoenix for the selfish way in which he tried to take out Mia's death on him.
Marta & Emil
Teenaged sweethearts, Tales of Symphonia: Dawn of the New World
"Emil, don't be stupid! There won't ever be anyone else for me."
Many of the relationships on this list are quite complex in nature. This is not one of them. However, what it lacks in complexity, it more than makes up in pure, condensed heartwarming. Emil is a terribly shy and reserved kid, who finds the much more outgoing and enthusiastic Marta a little annoying as a result. Marta is nothing if not persistant, however, and their relationship slowly grows over the entire course of the game.
Though they slowly grow closer with each passing moment, everything finally comes to a head one night when they become concerned that they might not see each other again. Marta remarks as such, and Emil's only response is bashful agreement, causing Marta to sadly wonder if she means nothing to him after all. Emil protests, but before he can even finish his sentence, Marta throws herself into his arms, break down and start crying, and proclaim that she loves him and wants to stay with him forever. At this point, I officially didn't care that their relationship was sappy - I was crying right along with them and wanting them to be happy too.
The Boss & Naked Snake
Mentor & disciple, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
"There's only room for one Boss... and one Snake."
"The Boss", as she is called, is a legendary American soldier. Naked Snake, or "Jack" as insists on calling him, was her greatest disciple, to whom she taught everything she knows and every technique she has. One can only imagine, then, what was going through Snake's mind when he learned that part of his mission was to kill The Boss.
In their final encounter, The Boss lays out the way she sees things: she has given Snake everything she has, and, in her own words, the only thing left for Snake to take is her life. Sadistically, with her lying on the ground and Snake holding his finger on the trigger of a gun pointed at her head, there is no cutscene to be found - the game will wait until the player actually pulls the trigger of the gun to finally end her life.
Snake is promoted to "Big Boss" after coming home, having succeeded in his mission - but he's clearly sufficiently jaded that he's probably not sure he wants the honor.
Harry & Cheryl
Father & daughter, Silent Hill: Shattered Memories
"I love my daddy!"
Cheryl proclaims innocently in the start of the game that she loves her daddy, in a home video recording. When a car accident occurs, however, Cheryl is nowhere to be found, and it's up to Harry to navigate the streets of Silent Hill to find her. Through most of the game, one believes that one is learning more and more about Harry's mind and Harry's relationship with Cheryl - but that all comes crashing down at the startling, heartbreaking revelation at the end of the game.
There was a car accident - but it occurred eighteen years ago, and Harry was killed in it. The entire world in the game is nothing more than a creation in Cheryl's mind, who quite simply could not cope with her father's death. For eighteen years, we learn, she has fantasized about her father, dreaming that one day, he will come to find her, and then everything will be OK.
When we first hear Cheryl say that she loves her daddy, we think it's simply the innocent love of a child. When we last hear Cheryl say this, however, we see this for what it really means: she really does love her daddy - so much so that she can't accept that he's gone forever.
Lucas & Claus
Brothers, Mother 3
"I'm sorry it turned out like this. I'm really happy you could be with me just before the end..."
Lucas and Claus have one of the most perfect lives a pair of brothers could have: their parents love them very much, their community is healthy - everything is good. Until, that is, the goons under the control of Porky, the main antagonist, come along and more or less ruin everything. Slowly but surely, a delightful commune where everyone treats everyone else as equals is transformed into a place that resembles the modern world more and more. In the confusion, not only is Lucas and Claus' mother killed, but the twins are also separated, and Claus is presumed dead.
Throughout the course of the game, Lucas and his friends do battle against the minions serving Porky, and find that he has a particularly strong individual - known only as "The Masked Man" - leading his troops. Over the course of the game, however, it becomes more and more clear that this "man" in question is, in fact, Claus. Once Porky is finally defeated, Lucas finally confronts Claus, and an epic final battle is waged.
This battle, however, is not exactly won in a terribly orthodox fashion. Lucas can't defeat Claus, because he doesn't want to defeat Claus - he wants his brother back. Both he and his mother's spirit continuously try to break through Claus' mental armor and reach the brother and son they once knew. Eventually, a very faint glimmer of Claus returns, and begins to grow, until Claus finally recognizes Lucas and removes his helmet. The reunion is short-lived, however, as he only regains control long enough to commit suicide. As he lays dying in Lucas' arms, he uses his last few moments to thank Lucas and his father for being there, and to apologize for being unable to stop the way things had turned out.
Manly tears right here. Manly tears.
And that's it! Those are my top relationships in video games. What are yours? Sound off below!
Dumbed Down FPSs
- Nov 8, 2010 1:10 pm GMT
- 303 Comments
Dumbed Down FPSs
The first person shooter has long been one of the most popular and, arguably, the most controversial genre in the gaming industry. It all started from a humble beginning on the University of Illinois' computer network with the game Spasim. This was the first documented game which was played from the first person perspective. FPSs took another twenty years to really take off with the release of Wolfenstein 3D in 1992 which was followed by the c|assic, Doom. These two titles moved away from the wireframe 3D graphics of old and transformed the world into vivid color. Technically, it was hardly 3D at all as almost every object was a sprite pasted onto a specific place and scaled to create the illusion of 3D. It wasn't until the explosion of Quake in 1996 that 3D graphics began to flex its muscles. From here on we can simply name c|assicc after c|assic:
1997- Golden Eye
1998- Half-Life, Rainbow Six, Tribes, Unreal
1999- Medal of Honor, Unreal Tournament, Quake III, Counter Strike
2000- Deus Ex
First FPS: Spasim: 32 players online and chat!
We fly through hundreds of great FPS games to come to where we are today. On the precipice of the most anticipated FPS launch of the year, Call of Duty: Black Ops. This FPS should be the culmination of all those past titles, the very best of the best with all the lessons learned from the past plus a bit of extra added to the top. It should destroy the bar set by last year and place its own ever higher.
However, I feel it won't do any of those things. I believe FPSs have become a blueprint for a cash machine which the producers churn out year after year. Let me explain my reasoning…
In the c|assic FPS games of the 1990's a player had to not only clear countless baddies, but they could also scavenge, search, and explore their world to find extra power-ups, collect story items, find secret stashes, or simply to enjoy exploration for what it is. The levels were designed over enormous areas with many secret chambers, mini-bosses, and various ways to progress the story. The fun was had through rewarding exploration and because the levels were so sprawling the player felt they truly were in a real-world location without bounds.
Follow me down the tight, well defined mountain pass while we slowly fight endless enemies until we get to the waypoint. By the way, you may slip and fall in which case I will quickly grab you, expertly pose for a second as to create suspense, and then pull you back up into the action.
Today the fights are larger than ever and the battles scenes more epic than even some movies, but there is a constant feeling of disconnect. Although there is an enormous battlefield in front of me, I can only follow this trench or there just happens to be a minefield 10ft to each side of me all the time. Although the world looks large, the player's world is tiny. I constantly want to set out to explore and try to fight the battle my own way, but the game boxes me into a predefined path with fixed win conditions. The developers know players love to see new things and explore, so they try a bit of misdirection with cut-scenes or scripted events to keep the player's mind on something other than the boxed in dimensions of their corridor. Find that cheese little mousy.
Nothing sums this up better than the following image:
To the left we have Doom, to the right we have a modern FPS game.
Some games break away from that formula, but not usually. Some recent games that let the player explore are STALKER and Far Cry.
Puzzles are for Sissies
I remember first playing the original Half-Life. The most memorable parts of that game are not the fighting but the puzzle solving and interesting situations the developer put the player into. Having to figure out how to get the train running again or trying to get the reactor back online were some of the problems the player had to solve. It was much more than simply shooting some dudes and flipping a switch. Today, we are lucky if we get even one level where any logical thought is needed at all. The rest of the time it is simply duck, pop up and shoot, duck to reload/recover hp, pop up, repeat. I'm not saying it isn't fun, but some puzzle solving is a great way to break up the action.
Hmmm, should I run and gun, stealth kill, or simply by-pass this base? It is up to you.
With the today's extremely powerful physics and graphics engines, one would think the developers could come up with some amazing puzzles but it seems the only developer doing that anymore is Valve and HL2 was almost 6 years ago!
Another issue is letting the player choose the path to victory. Should I shoot every bad guy or try to cleverly sneak around? Deus Ex always gave the player the choice, Far Cry as well. Not in the typical FPS though, not anymore.
With most big budget FPS games these days it seems the single player campaign is slowly being killed off. Each year they get 30min-1hour shorter and the story is practically nonexistent. There is not a well crafted tale of the struggle to survive, no deep meaning layered between a twisting plot line, and there are certainly not any memorable characters to cherish.
What is left today is the husk of the former giant. Below the high intensity cut-scenes, the highly scripted Hollywood events, and the beautiful graphics is a 4 hour corridor shooter.
I hope CoD:BO breaks this cycle, but I highly doubt it.
This is not about MP and please note there are the few FPS games that come out that are like the ones in the past, but sadly they are mostly over looked by the general public.
Editorial: There's Something About Zombies
- Nov 1, 2010 1:33 am GMT
- 45 Comments
Vampires may lurk in the shadows, conjuring up blood soaked images that prey on our most primal fears, but zombies are an altogether different creature. There's something about zombies. Zombies arent overly complex. They dont grow extra pubic hair when the full moon shines. They dont turn into bats, or baseballs. They arent wrapped in bandages like an escaped mental patient with an unhealthy knife fixation. They are simply walking corpses. Puss filled, organ dripping, missing limbs and eyes, corpses that walk. Sexy, huh? If you've seen horror flicks or played any kind of survival/horror game, you know that there are primarily two flavors of zombie. (Besides Boo-berry and Shock-a-lot. =P)
There's the slow moving zombie. These guys are actually kinda cool. Like grandma with a bad hip, the slow moving zombies sort of wanders towards you, a dazed look on their faces. Not in any great hurry, they'd happily eat your brains, if only they'd move faster than a Pinto. There's probably a higher risk of you getting hit by lightning than getting eaten by a slow moving zombie. This whole slow moving thing, actually makes them kind of cute, in a sick way. You might see one shambling your way, and think, hey, he's not so bad. Aside from the flesh peeling and brain eating, you two might have been friends. He already knows the Texas Two Step, hell, and he's probably lonely, etc. But before inviting a slow moving zombie to your junior prom, just remember, he would definitely take the opportunity to turn you and your friends into cherry snowcones.
The fast moving zombie has two things going against him right away. First, well...he's a zombie. Second, he has a nonstop urge to constantly run the New York Marathon. I dont know what kind of disease it is that both turns you into a disease ridden, brain eating corpse, and gives you an uncontrollable urge to work on your cardio, but I dont want it. These guys are majorly annoying, because they want to eat you and they have the energy to pull it off. Anyone else think that's odd? In movies, you see fat, out of shape guys getting gnawed on in one scene, and in the next, they're still fat and out of shape, but now they run like Secretariat. If zombification is the only surefire cure for obesity, then we're in a lot of trouble. Though its at least comical when these guys are running towards you and get hit by an object of some kind. Good times.
Left4Dead introduced gamers to a graveyard full of new kinds of zombies to deal with. There's The Boomer, a sort of pseudo zombie/Dimetradon hybrid that wants to eat your brains and spits acid at you. That's major bad breath right there. I'm not sure how many Prevacid you'd need to soothe that things tummy problems, but I'm guessing a lot. Straight out of your favorite MMO, there's the Tank, a massively hulk like zombie. (Think Kimbo Slice on steroids). My favorite is probably The Witch. She's like those mourners at the cemetary, sobbing for loved ones that have passed on like 300 years ago. "Oh, Washington, you died so young!" The best part about her is you don't have to fight her at all. I do, of course, cause creepy dames who sob at other peoples' funerals are just that. Creepy.
While the vampire seemed to dominate many horror films of the 1990s, the zombie has become the go-to creature of the last few years, with recent remakes of the Romero franchise and films like 28 Days Later, in which zombies attack London following the accidental release of a deadly virus.
Peter Dendle, associate professor of English, at Penn State, suggests this is because the zombie character stands so clearly opposite our multi-tasking culture. "The zombie is slow, mechanically inept, it can barely use tools, it's a Luddite, it's technologically challenged," he explains. "I think that's exactly part of the point, that this technology-saturated generation has fixated on this creature specifically because there's fascination as well as repulsion. There must be something viscerally satisfying about the simplicity of the zombie's cravings and impulses. And we also must find something unacceptable about it, about its general demeanor, how slow it is and how old it looks."
Perhaps what is most frightening about zombies is that unlike most creatures in horror films, the zombie is us.
"There is something about the fact that, unlike space aliens or demons, zombies look like sick people," Dendle acknowledges. "They look like diseased, unhealthy, contagious outsiders. And yet human. So it does hit home in that sense."
My Thoughts And Recommendations On The R18+ Issue.
- Oct 28, 2010 2:06 am GMT
- 69 Comments
So, I thought I'd tip my hat and my opinion to the R18+ issue. After reading how the Greens are backstepping away from the issue (of course - they waited until after they had the balance of power and promised much before the election) I decided to look into the issue a bit. After reading and learning what I have, I have come to the conclusion that this is a system that doesn't need renovating, it needs to be rebuilt or dismantled altogether. It is a fundamentally flawed system that is only now showing it's age and showing it's bias agains the gaming industry. But more on that later. Here's some facts:
- Australia is the only developed country worldwide without a video game rating for Adults. Even Germany, which has strict ****fication laws, has a rating for Adults. Even New Zealand does.
- Australia does have a ****fication system or policy for Music, Television, Cinema (Films), Live Theatre, Books and other ****fiable material. All of these have a rating for Adults. Video Games are the only industry singled out in this system without a suitable rating for adults.
- The average Australian gamer is a 30 year old male. Over 68% of Australians play videogames.
- Almost 60,000 submissions were received in the recent Government open discussion on the issue. An incredible 98.2% of submissions said YES to the introduction of an R18+ rating for videogames.
- Considering size of population and costs per capita, to get a videogame ****fied in Australia is quite often more costly than the developer requires. Australia has some of the highest rates for getting a videogame ****fied in the world.
- All videogame consoles now employ parental locks or rating settings. In fact, the Xbox 360 console even has Family Timers and will update within the month to have a system that allows some games to bypass the Parental Locks. Handy if you think they can play something like Street Fighter, but don't want the children playing Dead Rising.
- There isn't enough studies to show conclusive data that videogames have causal links to violent behaviour.
- Research cites that approximately 80% of parents play videogames with their children.
The hypocrisy of the system hasn't been more plain in the past few months than ever before. Australia in the past two years have had either banned or resubmitted the following:
- Sexy Poker
- Left 4 Dead 2
- Aliens vs. Predator
- Fallout 3
- Enzai: Falsely Accused
- Silent Hill: Homecoming
- Shellshock 2: Blood Trails
- Dark Sector
- Fear 2: Project Origin
This is in the past 2 years alone. This has led to an industry which is now so scared it is actually pre-censoring it's titles before it even reaches our shores, in the case of Grand Theft Auto 4.
And it's not as if the system is working well either. For instance, games which are relagated to higher ratings in Europe and America are passing the ****fications Board and are more accessible to children without the rating for Adults available. For instance:
One of the biggest games ever released. Australia rated it M - the equivalent of a age 12 in USA, and 13 in the UK. What did the USA and UK give it? 17 for the USA, 15 for the UK.
Dead or Alive Xtreme 2
Easily one of the most provocative games of today, it features many long shots of scantily clothed females, most with large breasts and enough time to lounge around, giving you all the opportunity to ogle them at every angle. This lust-fest was rated just PG in Australia, and stated to be mild in impact. The same game was given a 17 ****fication in the USA, and an 18 rating in Japan.
Not only a violent game, it features full female nudity as well. Yet it passed with an MA15+ rating in Australia (safe for 15s and over) yet the nudity was cut in the USA version, and it still received a 17 rating. Additional cuts were given for the Japan release, with some of the sex themes removed. And yet it got an 18 rating there.
This is just 3 of the many controversies surrounding the broken system. So how did this system come to be? Well - that requires us to look back in time...
To the early 90's.
The games industry was very different then. Both Sony and Microsoft hadn't entered the console race, and the level of graphical detail in even the most advanced games could be trumped by a decent smartphone today. Yet, in this time, some of the most vile and adult games were released. Titles like Mortal Kombat, Phantasmagoria and Night Trap were showing an adult side to the industry. And thus, gaming ****fication was born out of a necessity to keep an eye on the industry as a whole. At the time, very little was known about the industry and as a result, it was seen as an extension of children's playtime, and thus was only given ratings up to the MA15+ rating. The high level of parental guidance required at the time was considered to much a burden on the average parent and without a ****fication system built into gaming consoles or computers, it was decided that MA15+ rating was as high as it needed to go.
But they also saw this as a pure winfall for Australia as well. To release a game in Australia, publishers must go through many rigorous chores in order to see their games on store shelves. Jumping through hoops indeed. First, there's the cost. Regardless of how many systems it's on or what your budget is - the cost is the same - $2,040AUD. This is the same if the game was coming out only on PC, or was coming to PC, PS3, Xbox 360 and Wii. This is equivalent to $2,000USD. On top of this, the publisher must make in their application a full copy of the game in question, pictures, trailers and other related information.
For sequels and low rated games, the process is generally simple. If the first puppy training game got a G rating, than there's a very good chance the sequel will without too much concern or cursory examination. And this is a dangerous slope. The ****fication board cannot play everything it gets.
If a game contains anything contentious (which is usually the case for M and MA15+ titles) than the assessor's report is expected to come with detailed assessments on why they feel it's worth that particular rating. This is usually shown with a video of the gameplay of why it deserves such a rating.
Oh, here's some news. You know how to become a ratings ****fier? It sounds great, right? You get paid over $100k a year and watch movies and play games before they come out. It takes just two days of training. There's no other requirements - and video game ****fiers come from all corners of society - young, old, married, single, Uni-educated and otherwise. Its up to them to decide what the individual video game rating is worth and then putting that as an assessment before the ****fication panel. That panel than makes the final assessment.
What the problem is with this system is that every single game needs to be played and assessed. And that in itself is fine, but sometimes the costs outweigh the risks. Every single game needs to be assessed, even those from limited budgets. If a game is released on DSi Ware and makes just $2000 - they still need to pay that $2040 fee. The same can be said if a game is released on WiiWare, or PC, or even on PS3. Regardless of the budget behind the title, if a game is released in Australia, it needs to be ****fied.
But not all games are released in Australia. And not all games released in Australia even get ****fied.
For instance - all smartphone games do not currently get ****fied. Any mobile game, Iphone app or web-based title gets ****fied in Australia - even if it depends upon servers in Australia to be played. The ****fication system was designed just when the NES and Sega Master System were hitting their stride and thus were not designed to be compatible to the idea of streamed gaming, or digital downloading.
Even World of Warcraft didn't get rated until 5 years (and millions of sales) after it was released!
And finally, here's the kicker. To even change this system, every one of the State and Territory Censorship Ministers must unaminously agree on the issue. If even one Minister votes against the issue, the bill cannot be passed and nothing can be changed. Yes - in a diplomatic country, in Australia, one person can actually stop a bill that 98.2% of the country wants. How's that right?
So - this broken system doesn't require an R18+ rating. It needs to be abandoned and rebuilt. And here's my ideas for doing it.
- A tiered system approach to fees. A game that has a production budget of $100k shouldn't be on the same level as one that has a budget of $20M. So a tiered service where games with lower budgets and lower sales should be levied. This can be based on first month sales or on total production costs, but if you're not making a lot of money on the game or you have low production costs you shouldn't be in the same league with guaranteed sellers. Having a tiered system will allow more games into the country, and thus the lowered costs would be off-set by more titles. This will allow more experimental titles a chance. Anyone know just how many WiiWare and DSiWare titles Australia has missed out on? The number may surprise you.
- An R18+ rating for games. If this rating is introduced, the game cannot be advertised in stores. It cannot be seen on store shelves (or can only be at an adult height, say, 1.5M and above). The game could be put in a non-descript sleeve or other such disguise to mask it's nature.
- Ratings for streamed games, Iphone and Smartphone apps and anything interactive. Web games should not be censored and it should be up to the website to censor or age-gap such a title.
- A ****fication process which allows the games to be played to their fullest or at least to the best of the games possibility. Allowing the assessor to see all facets of the games ****fiable material.
- And finally, a process that allows any changes to the process be able to be made by the elected officials in a majority vote rather than a complete agreement.
- Full parity with New Zealand. Australia and New Zealand already depend upon each other for many policies and government strategies, and the ****fication process shouldn't be any different. This will cut costs for the Governments and also for the publishers. It would save a lot of work.
Thats not to say that I think the entire process is broken. The Review Board is something I agree with. A board independent of the Official Board which has no agreements or communications with each other and can over-rule the decision of the lower board if the assessment is questioned. This is about the only thing about the current scheme which I can absolutely identify and agree with.
The current scheme is broken. It was designed in different times, with different game technology. Now that Australia has progressed, we are building the NBN and we are gettign technologically more savvy, our outdated ****fications system needs to fall in line. Without an update to such a dated system, we'll see more head-scratching instances like the Left 4 Dead 2/ Dead Rising controversy.
The moon is disappointing when we expect the stars
- Oct 1, 2010 4:47 am GMT
- 201 Comments
Or: Do we gamers expect too much?
I'm gonna be honest here: I'm not usually one for impulse buys. I almost always enter a store with purpose and leave only with what I came for. A couple weeks ago, however, I broke with tradition when I picked up Alan Wake for the Xbox 360 on a whim when it caught my eye at a store. It wasn't a completely spur-of-the-moment decision; I had heard good things about it. But I didn't know much about it beyond its being a survival horror game about a writer.
In the end, this gamble paid off: I liked the game a great deal, and found it to be very enjoyable. I did find something quite odd, however, when I went to see how other people were liking the game. Most liked it, and it's been received quite well, but I couldn't help but notice that there were those who were disappointed with it because it wasn't an open-world, sandbox-styIe game. This complaint I found quite strange at first glance. The game wasn't a sandbox game, so why would people criticize it on these grounds? I looked it up, and suddenly the light turned on: the game had, of course, been initially promised as a sandbox game, and then its developers later decided against that design direction. People heard the original proposal and liked the sound of it, so of course they were let down by its failure to be that sandbox game people were promised. These gamers' disappointment makes perfect sense in this light.
Still, a nagging thought persisted. The eventually released game wasn't designed to be a sandbox game. It was exactly what its developers intended it to be. So why complain about what it isn't?
In a way, I actually considered myself quite fortunate. I hadn't heard hardly anything about this game before it was released. I didn't know exactly what it was about. I didn't know what sorts of game mechanics it contained. I certainly didn't know what its developers had promised the public. When I put it into my Xbox 360 and sat down on the couch, I had literally no expectations of any kind. I wasn't gearing myself up for an experience that I had mentally prepared for. I was just ready to play a game and receive what it had to offer, whatever that might be.
Lead me, road. Lead me.
This isn't an isolated incident, either. Rather, this is symptomatic of what I believe to be a problem that pervades almost all of gamer-dom. Namely, we form expectations. For everything. Often, this is almost completely subconscious - we hear about the idea behind a game, and we instinctively picture what we personally would consider the perfect implementation of such an idea, perhaps without even realizing we did this. Sometimes this can be completely explicit, too: when a game is announced, people will often rush to their favorite forum and post a thread in which they talk all about what they want the game to be like. Others then chime in with what they want the game to be like. Usually, these users' different desires will end up being mutually exclusive. And that's a problem, given that they're all centered around one single game that can't fulfill all of these desires at the same time.
Indeed, expectations are such a big deal that, by my count, a full ten out of GameSpot's forty cIassifications that readers can give games in a review are explicit comparisons between the actual game and the expectations that preceded its release. High-profile games routinely receive an "official hype thread" in System Wars, where everyone comes together and explicitly makes known what they expect the game to be like. I saw at one point a game that received a review of 9.5 - that's a nine-point-five, with a nine - get called a "flop", simply because it was "expected" to receive a 10. And that struck me as being partially odd, but mostly just sad. Why? Simple: because these people were like the ones who wanted Alan Wake to be an open-world sandbox game. They weren't seeing the game for what it was. They were seeing the game for what they wanted it to be, and for what it never will be. They had a dream, created in their own minds, that will be forever unfulfilled, and for this they cursed a game that was never going to be anything else.
I'm certainly not immune to this, either. One of the most hyped games for me this generation was Super Smash Brothers Brawl for the Wii. I can't even remember what it was that I expected from that game. What I can remember, however, is that site. This site, in particular: the Smash Bros. Dojo. Prior to the game's release, this site was regularly updated daily with new information about the game by its developers, and I visited it Every. Single. Day. ...Religiously. I had huge dreams about what the game might contain, and big plans for it in my mind. Then came release day. The game was good. But was it as good as I had expected? No. Not even close.
Is this the game's fault? My conclusion: absolutely not. In retrospect, there was never any chance whatsoever of the game being all I expected it to be. I got sucked into the hype and into my own personal dreams about it, and to what end? All of this had one and only one effect: to ruin the game for me. I still enjoyed it. But I would never enjoy it as much as I had hoped I would. Because of my big hopes and dreams - my expectations, that is to say - this game hit the big, dreaded "D": disappointment. The game was what it was. It was never going to be anything else. It didn't ruin itself. I did that - all by myself.
Compare this, then, with games where the opposite was true. Beyond Alan Wake, another game for which I had absolutely no expectations was Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon, for the Wii. This game received rather lukewarm reviews, and I would say most of the criticism it received was indeed accurate. Compared to a game like Zelda, Fragile Dreams did certainly have a clunky combat system. But that's the thing. This game isn't Zelda. So why would I wish it were? I was far too busy enjoying its atmosphere and its story to think about what it could have been "if only...". It was far too beautiful a game for me to worry about such things.
The list of games like this for me goes on and on, really. I love the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games. I love the Mega Man Star Force games, and the Mega Man Battle Network games. Heck, I even liked the massively panned Shadow the Hedgehog game. For each of these games, I felt their critics had, in retrospect, perfectly valid points. But on the other hand, I didn't even think about these points while I was playing. I was too busy enjoying the games. I didn't enter into these games with a set outline in my head about the way they're supposed to go; I just sat back and let the game lead me where it felt I ought to go. And I liked them, on their own terms. Sure, they were childish. Sure, the stories were a bit saccharine. Sure, the gameplay was a bit primitive. But they were charming, and endearing, and fun. At least, I thought they were.
Don't get me wrong here. I'm not telling you that you should like a game that you dislike. If you don't like a game, my saying otherwise obviously isn't going to have any effect. Rather, I'm simply offering some cautionary words about hype and expectations. It's natural to want more than one already has; that's how every advancement in the world was made possible, after all. But, at the same time, one's happiness is ultimately the most important point - and if your expectations begin making it difficult for you to be consistently happy, that's when things start to become a problem.
So, I suppose all I'm really saying is this: the next time you hear about a game, watch in your mind for that instinctive drive to imagine the perfect implementation of this game, and calm it down a bit. When you feel the urge to post all about how you think a game should be, just stop and think for a second. When a game is finally released, don't reflect for too long on what you hope it's like. And if a game starts pulling you in a direction you weren't expecting to go, or in which you don't want to go, just try humoring it a little. Go along with it. See where it takes you. You might find that your inner voice was right all along, and that the game isn't enjoyable, even on its own merits. But on the other hand, you might find it leads you to a place you never knew you liked.
And just think - you'd have never gotten there if you hadn't gone along for the ride.
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