Category: opinion


I like listening to podcasts in my car, when I’m riding my bike, and walking around campus. So I’m always looking for new ones to listen to. One of my favorite places to look has been a thread on the Idle Thumbs forums which is where I ran across a post about the Spawn on Me podcast. On it they talk about videogames and identity. It has quickly became one of my favorites (except when they talk about sportsball… šŸ˜› ) and often gives me something to think about.

The most last episode I listened to was no exception (I’m a little behind as they have released a new one since then). Titled “Blackademics 101,” the episode features guest co-host Tanya Depass, and guests Kishonna Gray and TreaAndrea Russworm talked a lot about not only race in games but also in academia.

On the episode they talked about getting pushback from students when they talk about race in the classroom and how they have gotten comments about it from students on their course evaluations. This resonated with me because I talk about race in my classes but I haven’t gotten much pushback from students and I haven’t had any mention of it on my course evals.

Now there could be a number of reasons for this:

  • I’m just an awesome teacher
  • I don’t talk about it as much as they do
  • I’ve just been lucky
  • I’m a white man.

Now, it should be noted that last year I did have a white female friend who did have a student mention how her talking about race made the white student feel uncomfortable, so it can’t be that white people are immune from getting such comments on student evals. Of course I also don’t know how much my friend talked about race or in what way. So, as people online love to write, “the plural of anecdote it not data.” So it must be that I’m just awesome…

However, when Gray and Russworm talked about some of the harassment they have gotten online it reminded me of the very minor incident I received a year or so ago and my reactions to it. It happened when someone started found the abstract to my dissertation and posted it in an online discussion thread I had been taking part in. They started trashing it and making assertions. I was worried they were going to start dogpiling me and hunting down personal information. Luckily, none of that happened and in a few hours the thread had died down and nothing has come of it. But in the moment I was worried. I contemplated deleting my accounts and posts or denying that it was me. But I didn’t want to do those because I was worried they would think it was a sign of weakness. Instead, I just closed the browser tab and went away for a few hours and it went away. No harm done.

What I experienced was minuscule and was over in a few hours. I can’t imagine what it is like to be the center of attention like that for days or weeks or months at a time. The urge to bury your head in the sand and never say anything ever again must be very strong. (Even as a write this I’m trying to be both vague as well as non-accusatory so that this very post doesn’t get any negative attention) But they and others who have been the subject of much harsher and sustained scrutiny haven’t buried their heads and that takes bravery.

Legendary Blandness

LegendaryLegendary is a pretty generic FPS game with some odd things in its design that really make it hard to enjoy. First of all, even for a game released in 2008 it looks really dated. Wikipedia claims it uses the Unreal 3 engine but it really doesn’t look like it.


For example, here’s a clip from Gears of War, released for PC in 2007:

Now compare this to Legendary:

Now Gears of War probably had a much bigger team and the difference isn’t all that large but it is noticeable.


I also post this video to point out a design choice the Legendary team made that is really hard to understand. That Legendary video is the second part of the walkthrough after you watch an obligatory intro movie that sets up the premise and the game is still telling you things like “hold left shift to sprint.” Now the thing is that the game isn’t just holding your hand for a long time and it tells you that all the time. Instead, you can’t run or jump until the game decides to introduce the mechanic to you. In the first couple minutes of the game there was something in the way that I wanted to jump over but hitting the space bar didn’t do anything. So I assumed that you couldn’t jump in the game. Then just a couple minutes later the game decides to allow you to start jumping. You can jump from then on but why in the world would you disable the ability to jump for the first few minutes of the game? It isn’t like there are any cliffs you can fall over or something. It is just ponderous.

Another weird design choice is that early in the game pretty much the only monsters are these lava creatures. It gets really monotonous. Then they switch to something else and they never use that monster again. ThatĀ  just seems weird. There’s no reason why they would confine the lava creatures to just one part of the game or that they wouldn’t mix it up more. They just don’t.

Gameplay-wise, the game reminded me a lot of old-school SiN and I’m not really sure why. Maybe it is because killing the lava creatures often requires turning on water to put their fire out and stuff like that. Even though SiN is ten years older I think I had more fun playing it. Of course I’m ten years older too so that might have something to do with it…

There are some boss battles which are pretty standard and a partner who is largely on the radio (like SiN and a million other games). Then the end is basically incredibly anticlimactic.

Two thumbs down

Legendary, huh?
Legendarily bad, right?
Or just kind of blaah…


A Call of Duty edition of Newsweek?

I was in the grocery store Monday and decided I would check out the magazine rack. I was surprised to see a magazine devoted to Call of Duty with the Newsweek logo on it:


While there have been special issues of magazines for specific videogames before and whenever someone famous dies it seems like there are special “tribute to X Collector’s Edition” magazines on the stands just days later, it seems weird that Newsweek would be the one to have their name attached to this. Of course, because I love gaming magazines I had to buy it, so I guess the combination worked.

blogroll pruned

I’ve deleted some of the links in the blogroll over in the sidebar.As someone who is having a hard time finding a job, I can’t blame some of the people if they have left academic game studies since I might have to be doing it myself (of course it seems more like academia leaving me than me leaving academia…) Regardless, it did hurt to delete some of those links but if they haven’t updated since 2012 I have to assume the site isn’t being updated any more. I’ll be adding some new links in the days ahead.


Analog keyboards and rumble mice

Back in December I got a PS3 for the first time and more recently Iā€™ve been working on a side project that involves looking at a bunch of gaming stuff from the 90s. Recently these two interests have combined in a way that made me think about the lack of progress in the way pc games are played. Ever since the Atari 5200 came out with a different controller than the Atari 2600 it has become common for console controllers to change with each new console. Most of the time the new controllers donā€™t just look different but they add in new/different features. Some of those features then go on to become more or less universally adopted.

This really isnā€™t the case with pc gaming. Aside from incremental improvements such as using a laser instead of a ball in a mouse, the mouse and keyboard for the earliest computers isnā€™t really all that different than modern ones. Sure, mechanical switches are the hot thing now but those are really just coming back. No matter how many leds and lcd screens they add to a keyboard or mouse it is still basically the same and doesnā€™t really change your gaming experience.

There was a time, however, when there was more experimentation on pc controllers. There were controllers that basically tried to make the keyboard more comfortable like The Claw, the Wolfking Warrior, the Z-board which offered replaceable keyboards for a specific game, or the Razer Orbweaver and similar products but all of these are just putting buttons in the different spots.

My research reminded me of one controller that tried to have analog movement: the Spaceorb 360.

Spaceorb 360

I remember when this came out and while it seemed like a cool idea, I never saw one in person. Unsurprisingly it failed because it was weird looking. (a somewhat similar looking controller was the Microsoft Sidewinder Dual Strike but it used the ball thing to look and not move like the Spaceorb). Apparently the Spaceorb has its fans since someone made an Arduino interface to make it work with modern versions of Windows. The thing that is appealing about the Spaceorb is something Iā€™ve wanted in pc games for a long time: variable speed. How nice would it be in a FPS to be able to easily be able to control how fast you move? Hereā€™s what I want: analog keys on a keyboard. Maybe just for WASD or whatever but imagine keys that would work like triggers on a controller where you could push them down a little to go slowly and all the way to run. I know it might make the clicky keys weird but surely they could just put in a potentiometer or something on the keys to measure how far down the keys were pressed without making them feel different.

Running across the Spaceorb reminded me of the other old control device that never took off but seemed really cool: the rumble mouse. Logitech released a couple different kinds of these over the years. The first was the Logitech Wingman Force Feedback Mouse. Check out the video of how this thing works:

Maybe it is just me but it seems like it would be pretty cool to have a mouse that could do that. Unfortunately, to make it work the mouse was apparently attached to the pad which meant you couldnā€™t really move it very far.

The other line of force feedback mice Logitech came out with was the iFeel mice which looked like regular mice. I never used either of these but I would imagine that the iFeel didnā€™t have as much movement as the Wingman because it wasnā€™t attached to a mouse pad. It was, however, apparently useful outside of gaming as it could be used to rumble when you moved the mouse over a link, a window border, or something else. That seems like it would be kind of neat and could come in handy when trying to move your mouse to just the right spot to resize a window or move a text box border. Unfortunately, like the Spaceorb, the rumble mouse also failed to catch on.

However, it has been more than a decade since the rumble mouse was released and nearly twenty years since the analog controller so I think it is time for someone to try these ideas again. Come on Razer or Das Keyboard and give me a keyboard with analog keys and a rumble mouse! (seriously, give me one because Iā€™m poor and couldnā€™t afford to buy them if they came out).

This is a man and he has a name: Edge gets bylines

A short followup on something I wrote way back in November of 2007 when I noticed that Edge magazine doesn’t give author credit on its articles.

Well, as a couple months ago that has changed because Edge now lists the authors of their articles:


The weird thing is that although the editorial for the first issue where they started listing authors they noted differences in some of the columns and layout but they didn’t mention giving authors credit.

Thoughts on the PS3 from a Windows computer gamer

Now that the PS4 is out, I finally bought a PS3. I know… I’m poor. Give me a job and I will be happy to spend my money on expensive consoles. I thought about buying either a PS3 or a 360 for a while but decided on the PS3 because I don’t want to pay to play online (I’m poor) and there are more exclusive PS3 games I haven’t played.

So on Black Friday I ordered the PS3 with Last of Us and Batman Arkham something or other and it arrived on Monday. Setting it up was interesting so I thought I would write up my impressions. (Spoiler: I’m not really impressed so far)

I plugged it into my tv and plugged an ethernet chord into it and started it up. The setup process was pretty easy but I thought it weird that I had to put in the date and time manually. Can’t it just get that from the internet?

It set its output to 1080p but my cheap Polaroid-brand tv is only 720p. I could still see the text so I just figured I would let it go and change it manually later. I went into the settings and ended up in bluray and dvd settings. I think I found the output settings but I didn’t change it because I figured if it ain’t broke I won’t try to fix it.

Getting it connected brought up one of my least favorite problems with non-computers: cryptic error messages and no way to fix them. I last experienced that when I had an ipod touch that wouldn’t download updates and I finally got it to work by running a vpn to my university. The PS3’s error was no less cryptic. It tried to get online and after a while it couldn’t. It threw up an error message with a strong of numbers. I look online to see what people say about it but as it usually the case there were a bunch of different errors. No way to get to ini files or anything like that. So I just restart it and it magically works…

Next I get to the dreaded updates. I had heard the PS3 is constantly updating and it was true. There are tons and tons of updates. People used to say that about Windows too but with computers you can at least do something else while it downloads updates. Not so with the PS3 (for example, while I’ve been writing this I’ve been downloading and installing an update on the ps3.)

I’m really surprised at how bad the PS3 is at running multiple apps at once. Some stuff can’t be downloaded in the background at all. Even when it can, you have to click the button but even then you still have for the system to do something before it will even let you download in the background! I tried to background download Uncharted 3 and it said I would have to wait 7 minutes before I could do that!

So I left it on and went to sleep. I got up in the morning and the game didn’t show up so I start the download again. I went to class and when got back the game has downloaded. But it hasn’t installed yet. There were all these files: Uncharted Multiplayer, Uncharted Single Player, Uncharted 2D movies, Uncharted French language pack. So I install the single player part. But it still doesn’t show up. So I install the multiplayer part and the 2D movies. Then the game finally shows up.

Alright, the game is installed so I can play it. I click on the game and the screen goes black. The screen goes black a lot. No indication that anything is going on. If that happens on a computer that’s a bad thing. But I guess it is just business as usual for the PS3. Now, once the game gets started I get a loading indicator. Of course, my computer has an SSD that my Steam games are installed on so it doesn’t take forever to start unlike the PS3. Now, to be fair I cold install an SSD on the PS3.

Satisfied that the download worked I go to download Ico and Shadow of the Colossus. The background downloading works better for this though. So I watch something on Netflix while it downloads. I go to check out the download status and somehow it is trying to download Uncharted 3 again… grrrr….

To wrap it up, the PS3 is no computer. I realize it is old technology. But I guess I’m still not a console guy. I’ll play the PS3 exclusives but I think I’ll stick with my gaming computer and my roku for most of my gaming and media watching needs.Ā  If nothing else I’ve got a bluray player!

Is G4TV a ghost town?

I was never a huge fan of G4tv but it did have good access to videogame events like E3 and occasionally good interviews and Ninja Warrior. Now it seems like a ghost town.

First, it was supposed to become the Esquire Network in April of 2013 and they fired all their on-air staff and recorded the final episodes of their shows. Then April came and they were all like, “no, no. We meant September!” Then September came and they made a last minute switcheroo and instead kept G4 and made Style the Esquire Network.

So what about G4 then? Well, apparently nothing.Ā  Their website hasn’t been updated in months:


Their last tweet says that their twitter is moving to Esquire TV’s account:



The links on their website to their forums don’t go anywhere. As far as their programming is concerned, they just keep airing the old episodes of Attack of the Show and X-Play and other random stuff like reruns of Lost and Airwolf.

So why is NBCUniversal keeping the channel around? Is having that channel on cable so valuable that they might possible one day maybe want to put something on it? (Probably). It just seems odd and a waste.

…But I don’t even have cable so what do I know?


Roll on Blogroll, Roll on!

I’m still updating the blogroll. It is taking so long because for each link I’m adding, I’m also trying to look at the blogs they link to. Of course that means I have to look at their links and so on and so on.

Of course I’m not putting every link in the blogroll. I’m trying to be generous but I am also trying to make some (fairly arbitrary) limits on what I’ll link to. Obviously, if someone’s racist, sexist, homophobic, or something like that I’m not going to link to that person’s site. Luckily, I haven’t ran into any blogs that have content like that so far.

Other, perhaps more subtle, criteria include freshness. If someone hasn’t updated in over a year I’m not going to add that person’s blog. I think I’ve written about this before but it does sometimes hurt to cut the blog of a person who has written some really great stuff but seems to have abandoned blogging.

Another criteria: game design. I’m not really into making games so blogs that seem to be overly or exclusively devoted to designing games are proably not blogs I, personally, would enjoy reading. So I’m not linking to them.

The final major category is probably the mostĀ controversial: Nintendo. If a blog seems to be too Nintendo-centric, I’m more likely to skip it. While lots of people love Mario and Link, I’m not particularlyĀ enamoredĀ with them. I haven’t owned a Nintendo console since the NES and while I’ve got a Gameboy Advance SP somewhere, I never really played it. I don’t have anything against Nintendo, I just don’t really have much interest in reading or writing about them or their games. Which is, of course, highly ironic considering my contributions to the upcoming Encyclopedia of Video Games…!

Valve Software is a Worker’s Paradise? Maybe for the Bourgeoisie…

A few weeks ago there was a lot of talk about Valve Software’s New Employee Handbook and some other things like a blog post by Michael Abrash, a podcast with Gabe Newell, and a story on Bloomberg Business Week. All of them paint a picture of Valve as being a Worker’s Paradise where there are no bosses and everyone can do what they want and everyone rides around on magical giant puppy dogs.

Somehow I have a hard time swallowing that pill. It tastes kind of bitter.

Now don’t get me wrong, I like Valve games as much as anyone. I like Steam. Portal 2 is the only game I’ve paid full price for in years. The New Employee Handbook paints a picture that is awesome. I would love to work there.

Well, let me modify that statement: I would love to work there as someone involved in making games. That’s a key requirement and the reason why I don’t really believe Valve is the Worker’s Paradise everyone seems to eager to want to believe it is. Even with statements from Portal co-creator Kim Swift claiming there actually are bosses at Valve, I think there is still a lot of work that isn’t taken into account in this idealistic story.

I’m a terrible grad student and so before I went all Marxist I wanted to make sure I was correct on who were the Proletariat and who were the Bourgeoisie. When I did I found out that according to Wikipedia, Bourgeoisie is derived from the Old French word for walled city which I think makes sense since I think the creative class at Valve are living a live largely walled off from the Proletariats who make it possible for the games to be made.

Pyramid of Capitalist System
Pyramid of Capitalist System

I’m sure that the designers and people coding the games probably find the situation described in the handbook and elsewhere to be largely accurate but what about the other people who work at Valve? What about the people responsible for keeping the Valve website up? Or playtesters? Or the people responsible for keeping Steam working? Or heck, what about the janitors or the people responsible for keeping the refrigerator stocked and clean? I really doubt that those people really have the freedom to do whatever they want or can just go off on their own and start making Half-Life 3 or something. I would love to be proven wrong, though.

I don’t want to trash Valve too much here. I really do enjoy their products. I just think that when we hear about something that just sounds too good to be true, we need to step back and look at what is left unsaid and ask some questions.

In other words… Don’t Believe the Hype: