Violence In The Face Of Dissent
- Oct 28, 2009 3:28 pm GMT
- 150 Comments
Recent gaming news sites have picked up the leaked footage of the first level of Modern Warfare 2, where the player takes the perspective of an agent inside of a squad of terrorists, and must join the group in a brutal attack where they fire on innocent civilians. Mainstream gaming press has picked up the story, and the scene has already ignited controversy. I'd link to a copy of the video, but it seems to be disappearing fairly quickly.
Thank god somebody looked at the scene and said, "That's disturbing." Because it is. That's the point.
A few points to consider:
-The scene is optional. If you do choose to play it, you do not need to fire a single bullet until enemies show up. Your "teammates" will fire upon the civilians and you can simply watch.
-There are warnings before and during the scene that the gameplay may disturb some viewers/players.
-The scene lasts less than five minutes which doesn't amount to much in the scope of an eight hour campaign.
-You are playing as an operative who is spying on the terrorist organization by being a part of them. You are not playing a terrorist yourself.
Much like other medias whom have experimented and attacked head-on the concept of displaying horrendous scenes for the purpose of, in the most broad sense, art, modern Warfare presents violence, not for the sake of violence, but to push the player in places they've never been before. Where the definition of "art" can be summarized by a form of media that evokes emotion in its themes, Modern Warfare 2 has already exceeded that capacity with images of Washington D.C. in ruins. These new developments push this designation even further along its path.
I found the Washington D.C. controversy interesting because of the focus games have brought themselves. Independence Day showed the aliens blowing up the White House, for goodness sakes! Why are games so special? The only issue presented here is that, first off, Modern Warfare purports itself to be realistic, and second, that games are interactive.
The first criticism of the scene, that it becomes more disturbing when it becomes interactive, is quite interesting to me, if not a few decades old. These people have been complaining all the way down Grand Theft Auto and Doom where murder was mandatory for most gameplay functions. While violence is certainly an easy conflict to portray in modern games today, that doesn't mean that it should be discarded because it mirrors a real life event. Games have so much potential because of their interactivity, not in spite of it - they can allow you to take on roles and situations that you could never imagine.
Now, do we find the scene in Modern Warfare 2 "fun?" Well, this is a hard one. Most games, up until this point, have attempted to be "fun." Even games that take moral complexities and astonishing turns of character, such as the seminal PC game Deus Ex (where you are ordered by your superior to kill a prisoner of war point blank) still refused to dwell on the subject matter for long or even place consequences on the decision. But Modern Warfare seems to be taking this level beyond "fun" entirely.
But look at other forms of media and the way they portray violence. Do we have fun reading the sequences of torture in 1984, or the horrible war violence in Slaughterhouse Five? No, but we read them. We read them and picked them apart and thought about them. That's what these forms of media can do - they can offer pretend worlds in which we isolate violence and other morally dispicable situations and consider their meaning, worth, and why they occur in the real world at all.
As most of us know on Gamespot and the rest of the gaming media circle know, games are rarely connected to real life. I can remember a discussion on this misconception when my mother was observing me play through Half-Life 1 on the PS2 a few weeks ago.
"That's so violent," she said. "I don't understand how you can play something like that and think it's fun."
She doesn't get what makes a game fun. It's certainly not the violence; that's just another way to portray a conflict for me to overcome. It's that conflict that must be solved in any way possible in this virtual, abstracted, un-realistic world. Even the new consoles and top of the line PC's, while beautiful, have graphics that can't even be suggested look like or even operate like real life in any capacity.
I asked her why she watches movies or TV shows with violence in them, because they operate in much of the same fashion. Her watching me play Half Life would be no different than her watching a Half-Life movie, if one were to exist, and I would be an actor for Gorden Freeman, taking on a role I will never have the chance to play in real life. So, rather than observe abstracted violence, you are allowed to partake in it, and consider how your mind would react in such a situation. I'm play-acting, as Author_Jerry puts it - acting for the sake of fun and entertainment.
While Modern Warfare 2 may look violent, it's not so much the violence that is supposed to strike the player. It's the moral difference between what the player is fighting against and what the player is fighting for - in essance, what the conflict means. The interactivity should make the reversal of roles several times more disturbing, which is laudable for an industry under fire for basic artistic concepts that other mediums get away with without blinking. What games need now is exploration of what interactivity actually means.
You think this scene is disturbing? Good. That means the scene did what it was supposed to. And that's the focal point of why the controversy of the scene is so off-center: the voices who are yelling the loudest assume that the scene comes with no emotional baggage, no tugging on the heart strings, no morality fairy on the shoulder saying, "This is wrong on so many levels."
That's as far from the truth as it comes.
Should Competitive Multiplayer be the Future?
- Oct 21, 2009 5:52 pm GMT
- 7 Comments
Competitive multiplayer seems to be the wave of the future. Most gamers feel that the rush from battling against a real opponent is far more satisfying than fighting a computer controlled one. Though I prefer single player games, I can't argue with this logic. However, multiplayer games appear to ultimately do less for video gaming in the long run.
Is there a way to actually define a good online game? The answers to this seem obvious at first. Well balanced; if the maps favor one team or another, players become frustrated. Plenty of game modes; players want choice, though most still play team deathmatch in every game. Rewards for playing well and ranking up; if players have nothing to look forward to and no goals to shoot for, why play? Each of these things are good points, but only explains how to prevent making a bad game, not how it can rise above others.
I have played a fair share of online games and had the same basic experience in each. A play session of GRAW felt relatively similar to Halo. While bells and whistles are nice, it's ultimately the players that make or break a game. After a while in any game, you will run into the group of players that are amazing and know it. Maybe I'm not a trash talker, so I don't get into these shouting matches that populate the higher ranked sessions in the rare event that I do well. The introduction of clans, unions, and guilds make it harder for player to get into a game. Imagine playing paintball against a S.W.A.T. team and you'll get the idea. Eventually, it breaks down to me getting destroyed, insulted, frustrated, then quitting.
I can see the comments coming now, "Just 'cause you suck at a game doesn't mean it isn't awesome." This basically sums up multiplayer gaming. The better player wins. I remember growing up in the days before online gaming where multiplayer meant a room full of friends crowding around the SNES. In the end, the same person won every time and they were the only ones that really enjoyed themselves, though eventually even the constant winning got old. Although online gaming has expanded the possible pool of players, the same basic rule applies. I don't really have much fun when I start playing a new game against people who have mastered the controls, memorized spawn points, and are simply far better at the game than I am.
Everyone will have differing opinions on what they enjoy, but the bottom line is what's good for the industry. Many developers have taken on the mentality that multiplayer is the only way to keep people playing their game forever. This is a great idea, but only for a big few. Load up Halo 3, Gears of War 2, Killzone 2, Resistance 2, Super Smash Brothers Brawl, or Mario Kart Wii (note that they are all sequels) and you will find them flooded with players. Unfortunately, play almost any other game a few months after release, especially a new series,and you will be hard-pressed to get enough people for a match. For example, I tried finding a game of Hawx online to get some of the achievements and there wasn't one person playing. This is basically the first jetfighter game in the genre since Ace Combat 6 two years ago, yet no one is playing it.
Take a look at the gamer scores on Xbox 360 of some of the players that destroy you in your next match of Halo 3. In my last match, there was a player that had owned an Xbox for two years and his gamer score was 635 (for the uninitiated, every retail Xbox 360 game has a possible 1000 gamer points possible). This is great for Halo, but bad for Microsoft in general. If a player is stuck on one game, they aren't buying others and the industry as a whole is hurting. There are rare games that are universally panned by the critics yet adamantly defended by hardcore fans that find them enjoyable, such as Shadowrun, but these are few and far between.
It is my hope that we lean away from deathmatch type games, and the rising popularity of co-op games gives me hope. A game that focuses on co-op can be just about equally enjoyed by an online and solo gamer. These games still require a decent plot and plenty of enemy variety, but keep the competition of doing better than your fellow gamers. Even if you aren't as good as your partners, you aren't forced to die constantly and still get the satisfaction of eventually winning. The simple fact that they eventually end will drive player to buy other similar titles instead of playing the same game for years on end. Borderlands is an excellent example of this. The PvP arenas are more of an after though and the main point of the game is to work together toward a common goal. Hell, at this rate, players might accidentally learn a thing or two about teamwork if they aren't careful.
The Wii had a price drop??? How is this suddenly reality?
- Sep 27, 2009 3:41 am GMT
- 143 Comments
So I got a letter from my friendly omnipresently local Amazon e-tailer informing me that the Nintendo Wii was now available at a new low low price of 199.99 . Gamespot has also commented this as well, since it was apparently announced at the Tokyo Game Show.
Now, this is excellent news and all, however I am a little curious about what this means, and how this is even happening.
Analysts all over it seems, including many that Gamespot have posted, have cited that the Wii will not be dropping in price any time soon. Signs point to Nintendo's continually high profit margins in the hardware sales sector and increasing profits from even lower than before hardware costs. Signs did not point to any huge slackening of Nintendo's sales, so the question again remains, with a veritable mountain of evidence towards why they didn't need nor want to drop the price, why do it now?
What does the decreasing of the Wii say about Nintendo and their current market confidence? I have felt for some time now that the Wii fever had been subsiding and Nintendo was indeed going to have trouble using that stout install-base of systems to sell as much software as the other two competitors could. Could this apparent unexpected price drop spell certain issues within Nintendo's longer term sales goals? With the current generation of consoles now well on their way to a more mature stage, Nintendo needs it's sales to continue strong more than ever (although I feel Software more than Hardware should now be the focus), so it does make sense that this price drop is indicative a long expected (but not yet seen) reduction in the Wii sales blitz that has gone on for so long.
In conclusion, while I disdain at this point people trying to declare any kind of winner or loser to the console war, and find that the Wii's sales success not exactly a marker for a winning product, it is interesting to see these unexpected developments, and will be keeping a closer eye on Nintendo to see where else this may go.
What's more greedy, used games or digital distribution?
- Aug 31, 2009 2:33 pm GMT
- 11 Comments
Lately, I've been giving some serious thought to the warfare that is being conducted on the video game battleground between the developers (publishers) and the used games retailers such as GameStop or EB Games. In the top left corner, we have the used game retailers that are making nice profit margins on used games and in the bottom right corner of the fighting ring, the developers and publishers are trying to blackmail their adversaries with digital distribution. Who has the right of it? Why is nobody mentioning the customers? Tell me, mirror, who is the greediest one of all?
Let's begin by looking at a typical example of what kind of money is involved in this retail business. The example I will be using is entirely fictional, but will serve the purpose of demystifying the environment we are looking at.
Suppose a brand new game has just been released. We are not sure what the budget was, but we know that the wholesale value of one unit of this software is $50 flat. The wholesale value is the price that retailers pay the publisher for the game, so that they can sell it to you and me. The retailer will be charging the customers $60 for the new game right off the shelf. So, you see, the typical profit margin that retailers make on these games is $10, but very often it is even less than that. Suppose the game sells 500 000 copies in the first three months in store. The publisher effectively makes $25 million of gross profit (500 000 x 50). The combined retailers, on the other hand, only make $5 million of gross profit. So the game's budget would have to be $20 million for the publisher and all the combined retailers to make the same profit, and this is without taking into account the cost of inventory for the retailers.
And what if the game does not sell so well? What if the game remains on the shelves for weeks? For months? The store cannot return the game to the publisher, no matter how badly it sells, no matter how terrible the customer experience was. Best Buy does not make any money from low-budget crap-ware games that nobody wants to buy. However, the publisher still often manages to cover the budget and even make a penny off those titles. The stores make a net loss in such cases. Can you blame them for trying to protect themselves? If the publisher does not offer any form of price protection, the retailer finds a way to make ends meet. It is called "used games."
The Beauty Of Used Games…Embrace It!
Used games are a different animal when it comes to profit margins. The mantra is "buy low, sell high" and the word on the street is "volume". With used games, the retailer has an opportunity to make money on bad games! With used games, the retailer can cut his loses on new games, by selling old games for cheap while happily unburdening you of your bad games at very low cost to them. The catch is that they tend to buy your unwanted games at very low prices, and some people have been throwing around the words "greedy" and "jerks", but do you know anybody else that will gladly buy all your trash-ware? Selling your bad games to your friend's naive little brother will not work forever!
Quickly summarising what we have learnt so far: The raison d'Ítre of used games retailers is price protection. New markets arise from a need to protect revenue. You dig?
We Want Our Cut too, Ya Hear!?
The reason behind this article is that I've been reading about a lot of developers and publishers wanting a cut of the profits made by used games sales. Ideally, they would want a piece of every used game sold ever, every time, or else!
There is a theory going around, that developers and publishers are being robbed by used game sales. But, why are these games being sold, resold, and resold again and again in the first place? Simply because they are bad games that nobody wants to keep. Why should publishers be rewarded for making crappy games? As I have concluded above, used game sales exist to protect retailers from games that fall in value very quickly due to nobody wanting to buy or keep them. Who is protecting themselves from whom? You tell me!
Here comes the best part. The "or else" part I was talking about before…
The developers are threatening to go the digital distribution route, if the used games retailers do not comply with their demands! Black mail! There is rampant black mail being flung around on the battleground, reader! Did you ever think it would come to this?
Digital Distribution For Dummies
The problem with digital distribution is that you never truly own the games you download, no matter how much you pay for them. You never actually get a physical copy of the game that is protected against the distributor's potential bankruptcy, collapse, or just plain dismantling. If your hard drive dies on you and your baby sister throws your back-up HDD out the window…and Valve (for example) goes bankrupt, you can say goodbye to all those games. For consoles it is even worse! If my console, regardless which one, dies in ten years and is irreplaceable, all my digitally purchased games go bye-bye.
The bottom line, with respect to digital distribution, is simple…
You can't systematically ram digital distribution down the customer's throats!
We don't want it! It is the worst kind of DRM in existence and we won't stand for it.
The customer sees DRM (and digital distribution) and he responds with: "Why don't you digitally mind your own business?" It's my game, I bought it, I own it, and I can sell it. So get used to it.
So I ask you, readers: who is the greediest one of all? Is it the one who wants to control your rights of game ownership, the one blackmailing the retailers, or the one protecting himself from bad games that bomb on the store shelves? Think about it.
Other thoughts and a few interesting articles that prompted this article
One thing I did not mention was the effect of used game sales on servers for online play. Sean Malstrom has an interesting take on this, so here is a small sample of his http://seanmalstrom.wordpress.com/2009/08/20/eidos-president-on-used-game-sales/">post:
"A used game is still taxing the servers to play online. The company got no revenue from that used game to deal with that person.
But again, this is more crying over spilled milk. When I walk into a used game store, I can point to each and every used game and say: "All these games have LOST a customer!" Most of the time, the used games are games no one wants.
So if a million games were sold, and used games were bought and those people played online, the ratio of games sold to online customers is still the same. What are these guys complaining about? It isn't like pirated versions which DO tax the online servers more and the company never got any money for it."
Another individual got into an argument, on twitter, with a game developer named David Jaffe. Here is his http://stupidevilbastard.com/index/seb/comments/in_which_i_get_into_a_twitter_fight_with_game_developer_david_jaffe/">blog. It was quite interesting.
Here is an example of a retailer that left the video game business because of the lack of price protection and bad games that stink up the inventory. Small quote from http://kotaku.com/233081/online-retailer-ends-game-sales-calls-industry-dumb-greedy">post:
"The game industry releases many bad games, and word of mouth spreads fast to the consumer. All of those bunk games sit on our shelves. If we do end up selling them, we lose more money, due to the lack of price protection. They won't let us return the bombs. Of course, if the video game industry produced quality games, we wouldn't have this issue."
See? Absence of price protection works in tandem with price drops on junk-ware to put retailers out of business.
Here are the URL addresses of my inspirational sources:
What Is Up With All These Girly Games?
- Aug 25, 2009 5:02 am GMT
- 346 Comments
Before I say anything else, I just need to point this out: I'M A GIRL!!!
So, a few days ago, I saw a commercial for a new PSP bundle: a lilac PSP with a Hannah Montana game. Now, as a girl, I'd personally like a lilac PSP (if I ever decided I wanted a PSP), but this concept confuses me. Honestly, can you picture a ten-year-old Hannah Montana fan playing on a Playstation Portable? What will she play after she exhausts her Hannah game? God of War? Now, granted, she could get Patapon, Jeanne de Arc, or Daxter, but I can't quite fathom a young girl wanting a PSP, and I'm not really sure why. I suppose it's due to the PSP's slight hardcore-gamer image, compared to the hardcore factor of the average Hannah Montana fan (I imagine that a Hannah fan's hardcore-ness is pretty low).
Now, after I had finished this train of thought, my mind naturally went to the recent glut of frilly, girly games on the market, most of them for the Nintendo DS. This does make sense: the DS is a friendly handheld console that can appeal to more casual gamers without alienating its more hardcore audience. But why? Why make so many silly games that are solely marketed to girls?
Well, that's easily answered: even though the number of female gamers is rising, there are still more male gamers. So, game companies see a market that has not yet been fully catered to – young girls, probably between nine and, say, thirteen (that's just a guess). How many girls of that age range do you know who play video games? Probably not many. Since they don't typically play normal games, it seems that companies often release games that reflect the life goals of many girls to attract them (babysitter, doctor, fashion designer, whatever). I bet these games are pretty boring, at least to our standards, but since the target audience doesn't play games on a regular basis, they can't tell, or they actually do enjoy the game. Of course, that's just the way I see it.
It seems to me that the developers simply think, "Hey, these girls don't play anything! Let's just whip up some girly game and put it on the DS! They'll love it! Plus, we'll get more money!" I doubt there's any effort to make a great game - decent is good enough.
Be honest - which would you rather play? ... I thought so.
Frankly, I'm somewhat offended by all this. There's no way on Earth that my local Wal-Mart will carry Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, but I know for sure that if I walk in there, I'll see several Imagine games or whatever is currently being marketed to girls. I'm a female, and I want a copy of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor! What's wrong with that? (Well, I know MegaTen is probably too mature and specialized for my local Wal-Mart to carry, but that's beside the point.)
Now, I suppose there is a good side to this: by making these games, the developers are introducing girls to video games. I feel that games are a fine thing to enjoy, like books, art, sports, or television, as long as you don't overdo it. Plus (and I think any fellow girl gamers out there can agree with me), it'd be nice to have more females around who share a harmless and healthy interest in video games and video game culture.
Still, I find myself wishing that, if developers are going to make games to market to young girls, that they'd attempt to make them actual games, instead of electronic toys! These games assume that all girls like babies and fashion design, and yet I see no games that assume that all boys like monster trucks and dirt! (No offense meant to boys.) Is it gender discrimination? I really can't tell you that. But, I can tell you that it's very annoying.
Musicology and Plastic Guitars
- Aug 20, 2009 9:19 pm GMT
- 70 Comments
My sister once asked me if she thought I played Guitar Hero better than I did the cello. I thought this was pretty amusing at the time; this was at the height of my Guitar Heroics, when my friends Al, Megu, Maurice and Sneezy would throw the little plastic fisher-price guitars behind their heads with me as we competed, playing through riffs on Expert without skipping a beat (until my arms tired out and I had to descend to earth once again). This was when Al and I were fresh off of participating in a forum-based impromptu league set up by another friend of mine, where we strived not only for that five-star ranking on each and every song but also attempted to close in on perfection: hitting every single note without over-strumming (i.e. strumming when there was no note to be played). This was when "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" was just around the corner, and I'd be soon mastering Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" and its newly-recorded (and deviously insane) solo without needing to use Star Power as a crutch to avoid failing out.
For reference, I played the cello for 13 years seriously and two more off and on. Though I was notoriously undisciplined, preferring to play by ear and without practicing technique as much as I should have, I'll go out on a limb and say that my playing was good enough to be pleasing to the human ear, if not the canine ear. I never quite reached the heights I would have needed to in order to play something like Dvorak's cello concerto in B minor, but hey, come on. It's the friggin' Dvorak we're talking about, and I was merely decent; I wasn't a prodigy.
To entertain myself, I took these two separate worlds and attempted to answer my sister's question. 15 years of playing cello, 75% by ear and 25% by discipline, versus hitting five buttons in rapid succession and odd combinations in order to rack up a high score at a videogame that just happened to be based on playing music--but didn't involve actually playing music. What was I better at? If I reached the conclusion that I was indeed better at Guitar Hero than I was at playing cello (the former of which I have spent--to date--four years playing as a form entertainment), would this be a "sad" thing? That all the time and effort (ahem) put into refining skills at creating music were trumped by a few leisurely years spent learning how to mimic the solo to a heavy metal song that was compressed to five buttons?
In truth, this is a question that can't really be answered properly--at least, not with regards to the context in which people ask it. Usually they make the understandable mistake of intending the question to be a musical one, implying or thinking that the musical skills required to be proficient at Guitar Hero are the same or similar to those required for a real instrument. This mistake, sadly, is at the root of why music games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band have been scoffed at (sometimes lightly, sometimes scornfully) by some in the music community. A few months ago, when asked if he'd like to contribute his songs to Guitar Hero, the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince (now currently known as Prince, in case you forgot) politely declined, stating his desire that children learn to play the "real thing."
I don't particularly have an issue with Prince wanting children to really learn how to play music. Done correctly, encouraging kids--hell, anyone-- to play music can result in joy for the would-be musicians, as well as those around them. Playing music is simply fun, and there's a fantastic sense of achievement and satisfaction when you finally master a piece or write a song of your own (...and all of you narcissists would have something else to brag about, another reason to look in the mirror, or whatever).
What perturbs me slightly, though, is the inappropriate correlation between this segment of interactive entertainment and "the real thing." There certainly is a link between playing music games and playing music itself, but again, I feel that most people get the context wrong. Specifically: "Practicing Guitar Hero is going to stop you or your child from practicing a real musical instrument." Listen--let's look at Guitar Hero, Rock Band and other music games for what they are: videogames. A form of entertainment. A pastime. A leisurely activity. Theoretically, you could be arguing that you'd rather your kids learn how to play their instrument than playing videogames. From there, you could theoretically argue that you'd rather your kids learn how to play their instrument than watching television or movies; going to the mall with their friends; listening to music on the radio (now isn't that interesting?). Sure, I will concede to the view that mastering a song in Guitar Hero provides the instant gratification of "playing" a piece of music that can't be achieved from practicing a passage or a set of riffs, for hours on end (unless you're a virtuoso). However, most forms of leisurely, mainstream entertainment are designed to provide instant gratification.
Does this mean that Prince is entirely "wrong" to say what he did? Not necessarily. I'm not saying that he should amend his statement and lambaste all videogames instead of just Guitar Hero. In the grand scheme of things, though, I do think that music games don't warrant being singled out from any other form of entertainment. As with all entertainment, they should simply be a part of anyone's checklist on what to balance in one's life. For youths, do your chores; do your homework; study and practice what you're supposed to practice; reward yourself, have fun and enjoy life. For adults, do your job; run your errands; take care of the people in your life; reward yourself, have fun and enjoy life. Just like anything else we do for fun, something like Guitar Hero is a perfectly acceptable pastime for those who know how to balance their lives, and more importantly, understand the difference between playing music games and playing real music.
For all of us "grown-ups" (though I'm really 12 years old inside), let's put it this way: If someone came up to me and said, "You know, the time you spent playing Guitar Hero could have been spent revitalizing your cello-playing ability," my response would be, "Had I the desire to spend time revitalizing my cello-playing ability, I would have simply done so. Guitar Hero has nothing to do with it." The sad truth of the matter is that I played Guitar Hero--or read books, or played basketball, or did whatever else I did these past few years--over playing the cello simply because I didn't feel like playing the cello at those particular times. (Note: Kids, you're out of luck; when you asked your parents for that guitar and to spend money on lessons for you, you'd better damn well feel like playing it.)
Let's flip the script and look at this situation from another angle. For all of the negative things people can "learn" or become "desensitized to" thanks to videogames--or movies, or music, or books (are you listening, politicians?)--there are plenty of positive influences that can be gleaned from them. (The key for parents, of course, is knowing how to teach their kids right from wrong, and fantasy from reality, at the outset. I know--duh, right? You'd think.)
I serve only as anecdotal evidence, but I like to think that I'm a passable example. Until around 2005, I almost exclusively listened to hip hop and c|assical music. December of 2005 is when I brought home the original Guitar Hero. From there, my music library slowly increased to include music--both good and bad--from any number of rock genres. I entered, and am still in, an experimental phase with finding new music that I can appreciate. Why did Guitar Hero, Rock Band and their sequels spark this interest? If you think about it, I was being exposed to music I never really cared for before, contextualized in an environment that I did care for: videogames. The effect is not entirely different from what you'd get when, say, watching a biopic about a musician (e.g. "Ray" or "Walk The Line" might make you curious enough to check out the work of Ray Charles or Johnny Cash), but because these music games (a) were all music all the time, and (2) exposed me to some compressed, faux inkling of the technique required to play these songs, it was easier for me to appreciate the music contained in those games.
So, sure, playing music games got me to appreciate and enjoy "new" music. I'll tell you something else though: My desire to start practicing the cello again has increased noticeably. That's right. After saying that people shouldn't negatively correlate playing Guitar Hero and playing a real musical instrument, I'm turning on my heel and am now suggesting that playing Guitar Hero and its ilk were responsible for me wanting to play my real instrument again. The reason is simple. I want to be able to answer my sister's question, however apples-to-oranges the correlation between the two activities may be, by saying, "No--I believe I can play the cello far better than I can this guitar game." When seeing insane streams of colored notes on the screen and actually being able to play them, it reminded me ever so slightly of the breathtaking sensation I got from playing a run or crazy-ass chord passages using thumb position and other techniques on my cello. It was fun to score points in a videogame through the sheer speed of my fingers--but I wanted to play for real.
This is where the most important distinction between playing a music game, and playing real music, comes in. In a music game, you're not playing music; you're simply activating it. The music is pre-recorded and comes from cover bands or licensed master tracks. It's already in the game. At its core, all the game is doing is waiting for you to press the right buttons, and strum at the right time; with all that done, the notes will play. It'll be as in tune as it ever could be given the recording. The body--the feel--of the note will be exactly what it was when the original was recorded. You are not really making any music, and that's okay, because all you really need to do in order to get the most out of Guitar Hero is to have a good time. That's why you don't, and shouldn't, have to worry about bow or picking techniques or playing the notes at the right dynamics. You can fantasize about being a rock star with ease, just like how a fan of the football sim "Madden 10" can fantasize about being Randy Moss. Playing a music game, and most videogames for that matter, is about the fantasy and the entertainment.
Playing a musical instrument is about discipline, technique and perseverance. You do have to worry about when your foot hits the pedal as you practice Chopin. You do have to make sure that your bow hand is appropriately light or heavy, and you sure as hell have to be cognizant of where your finger hits to make sure you're in tune if you're a string player. You can fantasize all you want, but the results of your playing are your own, and they're real. When the cat screeches and scratches at your foot; when the dog yelps and scampers away; when your sister comes into your room and laughs at you because you hit the harmonic the wrong way, it's your own fault. If you aren't willing--and will never be willing--to handle the reality of the dedication required to play a musical instrument, you're simply not going to partake in it--whether or not Guitar Hero ever existed.
So, to Prince I say this: There are young'uns who dutifully practice their instruments; who dip into Guitar Hero or Rock Band just for a bit when they need a 15-minute break; who would enjoy rocking out to your music with their plastic instruments. Accept the check and give them a taste of the fantasy of being you. You won't do a disservice to their talents by giving them some entertainment. And for the people who'd be inclined to play Guitar Hero over a real guitar, they were probably never going to pick up a guitar anyway. At the very least, by exposing your music to them through their pastime, maybe they'll buy more of your albums.
I'd really like to hear your thoughts on this, even though it's kind of becoming an "age-old" discussion. I just never had the time to verbalize my sentiments in text until last afternoon. I'll try to read the comments you leave on my next podcast, but for more guaranteed results, hit up mailbag AT trigames DOT net and leave us your thoughts.
Standing on those that came before.
- Aug 17, 2009 9:30 pm GMT
- 52 Comments
Here's a post I just put up on the story about Sony patenting "emotion sensing." There's a lot of younger gamers here on Gamestop, which is a good thing. The trick is sometimes they really don't have that much knowledge of the industry or their heritage as gamers. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - some of that stuff is really random trivia (hello Vetrex!) - but some of it really is relevant. A common mistake is to attribute too much to a particular company - usually a contemporary favorite. It happens in anything creative; be it technology, music, movies, art, etcetera.
As such, when someone claimed Sony has furthered gaming more than anyone else? I had to say something. Here it is, below, with the poster's name removed (no need to point that out). The top is mostly history/facts, but the kicker is below and is something I really do believe. Please, enjoy.
The Eyetoy itself is a copy of tech that Intel and other companies had long before the PS2 (hell, I almost bought Intel's webcam years before the eyetoy came out that came with games that are pretty much like the ones on the eyetoy). Sixaxis's tilt-sensing wasn't new - Microsoft, Logitec and others had that in PC gamepads a long time ago and it got dropped because developers and players thought it was gimmicky at the time. PSN should be on its 2.0 but Sony ignored PC online gaming, then ignored Sega's bringing it to consoles with the Dreamcast and SegaNet. Analog controls existed on the PC years before it was on the PS2, PS1 or N64. Motion sensing like we see in the Wii isn't new either - hell, I've played a katana arcade game that came out years before the Wii did that sensed where the katana was and duplicated your actions on-screen! 3d gaming? Don't thank Sony. Hell, Sega might have popularized it with Virtua Racer, but there were 3d/polygon games before that even!
Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo stand on the shoulders of others. None of them got the game industry where it is based on their ideas alone. Everything we see and enjoy today is because they're continuing on with someone else's ideas, refining and improving. Regardless of what system people like best, we all need to remember that.
A gamer who truly knows their roots knows they can't name all the companies they have to thank for gaming being where it is today!
Clarifications and Responses to E-sport article
- Aug 16, 2009 11:25 pm GMT
- 34 Comments
A lot of people came in and bashed my article about e-sports i wrote yesterday. Some people came in like gentleman(thanks shadowHYREN) and I respect them. But anyhow, here is my response to those people, summed up in here because I dont want to leave a million more comments that no one will read.
Let me start by saying that gaming IS in fact, a sport.
Sport: Noun - an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc. (taken from dictionary.com)
Notice that it says skill OR physical prowess. Meaning that something can be a sport without taking physical energy. If you doubt that competitive gaming takes skill, then you need to try harder, or play against people more challenging.
Now when I say e-sports, that is a completely different thing then watching your friend play final fantasy at his house. This is watching 2 of the best players or teams in the world duke it out on exciting games. I can understand how you think watching someone play the bioshock would get boring, no matter how good they are, but its the competition that is exciting.
shadowHYREN brought up the idea that most progamers are whiny kids. He brought up MLG as an example. I don't really watch MLG or any american leagues(most are poorly run, I will get to that in my next article), but that league may have whiny gamers. However, in Korea, since gaming is so big, they mostly have to have good manners. Part of it is Korean culture, which is different then american culture, however if a Korean pro has bad manners, it will cause a scandal and all that bad stuff. Only one player in Korea I have seen have bad manners, and I watch a lot of Starcraft.
Raizeen mentioned that they are already popular in America. He said "over 6k people where watching cs sk vs h2k on hltv not to mention the other 5k watching them at the lan so people saying its not popular dont know jack." Let me tell you, 11 thousand people is a very small audence. At the 2004 Proleague finals, there were 250,000 people watching in person, not to count the millions more watching on TV. While that type of viewership is far off in America and Europe, that is what I mean by a large audience.
That's all I have to say right now. I probably won't be able to answer anyone else's questions since I am leaving tomorrow for a week. In a month or so I'll probably have part 2 of my e-sports in America thing written up.
How e-sports will become big in America: Part 1: Become socially acceptable
- Aug 15, 2009 10:47 am GMT
- 41 Comments
I'm sure you have all wished that electronic sports become popular in America. Imagine how awesome it would be to have video games broadcasted on TV like they are in Korea. However, most people think that it can't happen, or is a long ways off. I to agree that there isn't much chance for e-sports to become as dominant a part of culture as they are in Korea. However, there are some things that must happen for progress to go along. This blog is the first of a series in which I will explain what must happen for professional gaming to become the next big thing, using Korea as a model.
Now obviously, there will be few sponsors outside of the gaming and computer world that will want to sponsor a gaming event, as competitive gaming is looked down upon in todays society. But how will we make e-sports more socially acceptable? Lets look at Korea. One of the reasons professional gaming is so big in Korea is that playing computer games is a very common leisure activity. After a hard day at school(Korean schools are extremely difficult compared to american schools), one of the most popular destinations for students is PC Bangs(pronounced bong), where they can spend 1000-2000 won(1-2 USD) an hour for access to a computer with high-speed internet and an assortment of popular games, such as Starcraft, Warcraft 3, Lineage, and World of Warcraft. And instead of getting sucked into their virtual world by themselves, they are with their friends. It is just a normal hang-out destination, such as a coffee shop or mall in America.
However, as we all know, the cybercafe(American equivalent of a PC Bang) business is not doing well in America. If current trends continue, they will be nonexistent within a few years. In my case, our entire county has one cybercafe with 16 computers, and I will be surprised if it is still around in 1 year. The reason? We figured we could save money by just playing unlimited gaming on our own internet for our monthly subscription, instead of paying the relatively high price(compared to korean PC bangs) of 4-5 USD to access a computer at a cybercafe. This in turn made gaming an antisocial activity, because you are just sitting alone at your computer for hours on end.
There is little we can do to stop the extinction of cybercafes. You can try to support them, but that is extremely hard on your own wallet, especially in these hard times. A great alternative to going to a cybercafe is to set up your own LANs with a few friends, and have frequent parties(or just have them bring a PC over for a few hours on Fridays). Sure, it's not nearly as easy as going to a cybercafe, with a PC already there for you to just go and play on, but its a lot cheaper, and if there is renewed interest in LAN gaming, it may just bring the cybercafes back, as well as show the world that we do not just sit in our basement all day, alone.
How to set up a LAN that can be frequently used(also works for consoles, just make sure they bring a TV):
1. Find someone in your circle of friends who has an area that is large enough to fit everybody, and has tables and chairs as well. Garages are great for this, or large basements. Living rooms, if large enough, can be used as well, or you can use a living room and dining room combo. During the summer you could even LAN outside!
2: Buy the necessary equipment. You will need a switch capable of meeting your needs. An ethernet switch basically is just a wireless LAN in a box. You connect your modem to the switch, and all the computers to the switch. Wireless may sound easier, but some people don't have laptops with wireless, and it can be less reliable and slower. Shop around for a switch that meets your needs, you shouldn't have to pay any more then $100, and you and your friends can pool together the money and only pay a few bucks each. You also need a long enough ethernet cable to connect your modem to where the LAN will be.
3. Throw an event. Stress-test your system with a 12-hour overnighter, and show your friends how much more fun it is. When throwing the event, make sure you keep everyone fed and caffeinated. My favorite energy drink is NOS, it has a lot of caffeine and tastes good. For food you can just order pizza, or start the party after dinnertime and just have everyone bring chips. It's best to have everyone chip in on this, because energy drinks are expensive, and you will probably need 2 per person to get through 12 hours. For more information on this part, go to http://www.wikihow.com/Host-a-LAN-Party.
NOTE: It may seem tedious to lug around a desktop computer, but its really not much harder then consoles. Just a few more peripherals. Also, make sure everyone brings headphones.
4. Keep using it, now that you and your friends are acquainted with the great joys of lanning. Get together on Saturdays for 6 hours, and occasionaly have over nighters. Tell your other friends about it, they may think your weird at first but will soon realize its no different then watching a movie with your friends. Keep inviting new people over, they will find it to be great fun as well.
With these simple steps, you can turn your gaming time from personal time to party time! Together we can change the image of competitive gaming to a much more positive one, and take the first step into bringing e-sports into America.
The Difference Between Franchise and Series
- Aug 11, 2009 1:05 pm GMT
- 12 Comments
We often hear the suits behind large video game publishing companies use the word "franchise" and we usually assume they are talking about a series of video games that have some characteristics in common. Is it a case of 'tom-ate-o' and 'tom-at-o' or are they really looking at things differently than we are?
For starters, the word franchise is a business term. In fact, franchising is a business model that consists in licensing trademarks or film (game etc) characters and settings, and then selling exclusive rights of distribution to one or several publishers. Sounds pretty dry huh? In contrast, a series is just a continuation of loosely connected items. Notice how franchise is defined only in terms of distributing licensed goods, while series is simply defined as a collection of things.
As a gamer, when I look at my library of collected games, I see collections of loosely connected items. I see a collection of games. I see a series of memories. I see a continuation of connected memories. I certainly don't see "licensed goods" or "trademarks"! Clearly, franchise and series are anything but synonymous.
Hmmm, I seem to have covered the title already. Maybe I should have added a subtitle!
Well, it isn't too late for that, so let us have one!
Why Do We Buy Franchise Games?
It is a sad state of affairs, but as unfortunate as it may be, we buy what we know. We buy what we have already enjoyed. We buy things that we recognize. Simply put, the franchise business method is successful precisely because it is human nature to buy things that we recognize and already appreciate.
So is it our fault that we get bombarded with the same games year after year? Is it our fault that movie tie-ins take up half the shelf at Gamestop? Yes and no.
Although it is our natural behaviour that makes the franchise model as successful as it is, there have been many occurrences where new and original games have been extremely successful.
Some video game publishers believe (believed?) that they are in the business of creating surprise and as such they would like noting more than to bring new ideas to the medium. These people are responsible for games like Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, Chrono Trigger, Crash Bandicoot, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater etc. But how many of these new original successful games have become franchise games? Almost every last one of them, and sure enough many of these franchises have lost their popularity and sales over time.
So What Is The Problem?
The problem is that publishers are greedy and risk averse. They are more likely to milk every last penny out of a franchise than they are to invest in something new and exciting. The sad thing is that without excitement, gamers become disinterested and drift away from the hobby altogether. So it is self-detrimental, in the long term, for a publisher to focus on franchises alone.
Well, maybe I should say "suggestions", since well...what do I know anyway?
I think publishers should focus on hiring many small development teams that will work on many small projects at the same time. Give those teams a small budget and a short deadline and if they are creative, they will make something fantastic. If they are not, then don't hire them the next time. This way, you will help many development teams grow, while creating new original games, all the while reducing the cost of making games.
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