Category: opinion

Interesting week for reviewers

So there’s quite the controversy over the firing of a reviewer at gamespot.com with allegations that he was fired for giving a bad review to a game that was an advertiser for the site. This comes a couple weeks after pne of the Penny Arcade guys says that game reviewing is essentially broken. Overall, I think I kind of agree. Think about it, game reviewers are almost always under pressure to be the first one to review something so they have to rush through the game. Movie reviewers don’t have to watch a movie on fast forward nor do music critics. But most movies are 90 minutes and most albums are even shorter than that. But even short games are 10 hours and the Half-life episodes are something like 4-6 hours. So it really isn’t fair to review a game in the same way you review a film.

Game reviews need to stop being so focused on getting out first, and certainly need to stop worrying about pissing off the advertisers. Moreoever, reviews need to change their content. Most reviews are the same format: gameplay, graphics, multiplayer. Sure those are interesting but isn’t there more to it than that?

On a somewhat related note is the fact that at the heart of this is the competition to be the first and the pressure is double for gaming magazines. They have lag time between writing in publication of months compared to a websites potential to have mere minutes between writing and publishing. They can’t compete with websites for exclusives forever. They need to stop trying. They need to offer things that more websites don’t do. There’s the saying quality over quantity but I think in this case the phrase should be quality over quickness. Do something different and maybe your reviews won’t stink and maybe you won’t have to rush through a game and maybe just maybe you won’t be so dependent on preview access to games so you won’t have to worry about pissing off gaming companies.

What’s in (the lack of) a name?

So I’m doing what most videogame studies people do, reading Edge Magazine and I notice something. This is something that most people have probably noticed years ago but I’m a little slow sometimes. So what did I notice?

The articles in Edge Magazine are apparently created from the hive mind of the magazine’s staff because they don’t list the writer’s name on any of the articles. When I bought this issue of Edge I also bought Games™ Magazine which slavishly follows Edge’s style and layout and they don’t give their writers credit either. Well that isn’t entirely true, because Edge does qive their columnists credit.

So columnists are more important than the person who writes the cover story? Is this common practice in the UK or in certain types of periodicals? I can only assume that they are attempting to give the magazine a uniform style and don’t want to single out anyone. But what does it say about game journalism that the most respected videogame magazine doesn’t tell you who is writing what?

What’s in (the formating of) a name?

I’ve been reading some stuff lately and I’ve begun to wonder about the formatting of titles. In at least MLA citations the titles of books are italicized, and short stories are in quotation marks. There are also conventions for musical albums and songs and poems. So what exactly is the rational for games. Should it be Half-Life? I would say so. However, when we get to non-digital games it gets a bit trickier at least in my mind. What about Monopoly? probably. What about Chutes and Ladders? It is in the public domain, isn’t it? Chess certainly doesn’t seem right. Nor does baseball. But what about Madden 2008? There seems to be some sort of rule or guideline but I’m not sure what it is.
Interestingly, at least whoever last edited the Wikipedia enty for Snakes and Ladders makes some sort of distinction when it states

The most widely known edition of Chutes and Ladders in the USA is Chutes and Ladders

Of course it is wikipedia so it could just be some random formatting problem. If intentional, however, it seems to be making a distinction between a general version of the game and a maker’s specific version.
Is there a hard and fast rule or are we out there on our own?

Tokyo Trip DiGRA Final Thoughts

Funny how being away for a week means you are buried under a mountain of grading.

So Japan and DiGRA was really fun. After about three days I was ready to come home though.
There were lots of interesting papers at the conference.
Although I’m more of a qualitiative kind of guy it seems as if most of the ones I saw dealing with players were quantitative in nature — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Fact that they don’t tell you about Japan:
Although they have some really nice packaging, they love to put things in bags. No matter what or how little you buy they will put it in a plastic bag. I went to McDonalds one morning because I was hungry for American style breakfast. They put my order in the McDonalds paper bag and then put that bag into a clear plastic bag.

Although the conference was in Japan the majority of the panelists were still white people. I didn’t see anyone of African decent. So we have a lot of work to do in making games studies more multicultural.

This didn’t surprise me any but it was interesting to see that Scandanavia is still really the hotbed of games studies. Americans were few and far between. As such there were a lot of people who knew each other. I met a few people but overall the language barrier and not knowing anyone led to a kind of lonely trip.

Fact they don’t tell you about Japan:
They drive on the left. Now I knew that, but it didn’t really sink in until the second day when I was trying to cross the street and looked the wrong way and almost got ran over by oncoming traffic.
The corollary of this is that they also tend to walk on the left side of the sidewalk. That’s something I’ve always wondered about with countries that drive on the left. I constantly found myself walking against the flow of pedestrian traffic only to realize what was wrong after a few minutes. This really mattered on escalators. On most of them it is courteous in Japan to stand on the left side so that people in a hurry can run up (or down) the right side. Of course I always found myself stepping on the escalator and standing on the right side out of force of habit.

At the conference it was fun to put faces to names that I’ve read and in some cases communicated with for years. There were a couple cases were I have been trying to connect with some IU people but had to go all the way to Japan to finally meet them or I hadn’t seen them since the Vancouver conference two years ago. My panel also happened to have an IU graduate on it. Funny how you have to travel almost literally half way around the world to meet people that are at the same school as you!

Over all the conference was nice. It was quite good to be around people who had read (most of) the same things and know the subject matter. I didn’t even have to explain what I meant in my paper when I was throwing around the US and Japanese names for the Nintendo or what 2600 meant! Although there are people here at IU that study games, the department has been very supportive of my project and we are hiring someone for a “digital media” position, it can get a bit frustrating not to have anyone around to talk to about such questions as, “Why makes Final Fantasy a “role-playing” game?” I probably know more about film theory and film history than the average guy on the street but my dvd collection looks a lot different from the collection of most of my colleagues and whenever I have to talk about film in one of my classes there is always one student who knows a lot more of the nitty gritty details than I do.

So my trip was a good one. Even if it did leave me broke and in debt (click those ads!). I look forward to the next one. (Of course I have to finish my paper for the conference in Vancouver I’m going to next weekend first…)

busy busy busy

been busy. School started so I’m teaching but because going to Japan is expensive I’m picking up some additional teaching at the community college. So technically I’m teaching 6 classes. But 3 of them are online so that isn’t too bad. Of course it has only been 2 weeks so what do I know?

Starting to hear about some of the web2.0 game journalist people mentioning going to the Tokyo Game Show. I hope I’m not so totally jetlagged out that I can’t make it. And I hope that they will be there on the last day of the show. I’m just going to go hunting down non-Asian people there and ask them if they are American and/or internet famous.

If I do happen to run into anyone in the gaming press I will encourage them to stick around and check out DiGRA so maybe it can get some coverage. That would be swell.

learning what not to do while playing is important too…

The semester is over. I’ve got my grades all done. I just have to turn them into the university and then the summer will officially start

Last week I was playing Halo with someone who wasn’t familiar with playing first-person shooters. I explained to her the controls and started playing. While playing she had a hard time moving around. This is to be expected, but the reasons for this weren’t immediately obvious. She didn’t have much trouble actually moving the character. Instead, she had a hard time controlling where the character was looking. She would frequently end up looking at the ceiling or the floor, unable to see where she was supposed to be going. This is not the first time I’ve seen people who are new to FPS games on consols have this difficulty. This got me thinking.

In the past I have thought about the ways in which players have to learn what to do in order to be good at games. They have to acquire skills which are not obvious to those who think that games are mindless entertainment or killing machines. However, in this case it wasn’t so much a matter of learning what to do, but learning what not to do.

Of course we can argue that not doing something is actually doing something, but the point is that I at least had not thought that one has to learn restraint. In Halo you have to use the right stick to look left and right, but you also use it to look up and down. However, you look up and down much less than you look left and right. So you have to learn how to move the stick in one direction without accidentally moving it in another. (or move it on one axis but not the other).

Broadening it out I can see how learning when not to do something is a skill that I myself have yet to master. In online games like Counter-Strike it isn’t that I don’t know how to do something, but that I’m too impatient to learn how not to run around that corner or whatever. And by failing to learn when not to do that is at least one reason why I stink at the game. This is not an Earth shattering insight by any means, but I at least found it interesting.

Reviews, Reviewing, and Reviewers…

What seems to be the biggest story in the gaming industry lately is the large number of people leaving Ritual, the makers of Sin Episodes. Natuarlly, this has people wondering, “Does this mean the end of Sin Episodes?” Although the newly appointed head of Ritual says they are still making the next installment.

Now, I’m not writing this because I particularly care if the next Sin Episode gets made. After all, I found the first one to be, shall we say, “excessive. No, I’m writing this because somehow the rumors of the fate of Sin got so out of control that Slashdot reported the story as saying that on the podcast for the Games for Windows Magazine, (aka Computer Gaming World) “ employees from Ritual Entertainment confirm that SiN Episodes is finished. I was curious, so I listened to the podcast in question (direct link to the mp3) and of course, the podcast contains nothing like that whatsoever. Basically, it is just the editors of GWM just sitting around gossiping about what they think might happen because of the departures.

Oddly enough, after they finish talking about Ritual, they start talking about Left Behind: Eternal Forces (at about the 23:35 point). In particular, they start to talk about why they weren’t planning on reviewing it. This led to a discussion on which games they decide to review and what they are looking at when they review a game. This is of interest because I just got finished playing Call of Duty 2 and was thinking about the experience of playing it.

One of the main reasons that they said they weren’t planning on reviewing the Left Behind game was simply that they didn’t think their target audience would be interested. They said something to the effect that, “That’s why we don’t review hunting games.” I think that’s a perfectly valid (or cromulent) reason not to review a game.
After all, they don’t review a lot of those Barbie or Nancy Drew games.

Another reason that I didn’t find quite as valid was that they were concerned about the subject matter. At about 25:15 in one of them says, “We basically said, ‘No we don’t want to review it’ because of the controversy that goes along with it and no matter how we presented it, someone was going to take offense.” Another of the editors challenged that opinion asking what they were afraid of and what if it was a really good RTS game? The response was, “I think the challenge there that we’re avoiding there I suspect is not being confident that we can address the intersection of content and you know between actual gameplay and the way things are executed and then the thematic — err everything else that is going on that makes the game what the game is. […] if the unit balance is awesome and the tactics are cool, does it matter that the theme of the game is that you gotta kill or convert non-Christians?”
“And that’s a big challenge because we always — and we, I’ll just speak for critics at large — are very capable of going in with a Consumer Reports angle and saying ‘this works’ or ‘this doesn’t,– –these little Satanists that I’m fighting get stuck in buildings and don’t come out when I fight them’ but when you get to the point where what we don’t do so well or very often — at least at large — is say, ‘What does this all mean? How does this come together? What is it saying? What do we think about this thing other than just the mechanics of it was fun to shoot that or that AI worked well or this environment was shady?’ That’s where I think the real criticism is at and this could have been a model game [to do that]’ They then go on to say that you don’t go to a Mel Gibson movie and just ignore any possible themes or messages in it. The reviews editor said that they didn’t review it because they thought that people that didn’t believe in the themes of the game would be offended, but another editor pointed out that conservative Christians might be offended by the themes of Doom. After discussing it a bit more, they decide that maybe they should review it.

While I’m glad at least one of the editors decided that it is worth talking about the themes of the games, it is a bit disheartening that it wasn’t the reviews editor who thought that it was a good idea to do that.

All of this brings me to Call of Duty 2. The game doesn’t have as obvious themes as the Left Behind game, however, unlike many other games, Call of Duty 2, like a whole slew of WWII games is based on an actual event and attempts to recreate situations that could at least have plausibly happened. That is more or less what made me a bit uncomfortable in playing the game. There is a world of difference between shooting the Strogg or Combine and shooting Germans.

Now maybe I’m the only one that feels this was since the WWII genre is eternally popular in videogames, but I think it is more than just my own hangups or German ancestry (They left Germany in the 1860’s so it isn’t as if they had anything to do with the atrocities that happened in WWII).

As I was writing this, I was also playing Postal 2 and apparently one of the patches adds a secret mission (hunt around behind your house and there is a sewer tunnel that takes you to it). This secret mission is populated entirely by characters who look like Osama Bin Laden (and later in the actual game Osama Bin Laden characters show up). So the strange thing is that I didn’t feel weird about shooting Billions of Bin Ladens.

The question, then, is why do I feel weird killing Germans but not Bin Ladens? Is it because Bin Laden is an individual while Germans are a nationality? Who knows? I think that the moral of this long and winding post is that it is important to look at the ideologies and messages of the games we play and review.

Games for Windows???

One of thestories that has been going around the gaming magazines and news sites is Mircorosft’s new “Games for Windows” initiative. In addition to some stuff that will be in Vista, it basically ammounts to that magical word, “advertising,” and that other magical word, “branding.”

The Holiday 2006 issue of PCGamer has a coverstory about “Windows Vista and the Future of Gaming” that discusses the Games for Windows initiative with some industry people. Scott Miller of 3D Realms has some surprisingly candid things to say. In response to the question whether or not this initiative will do any good he quite wisely says that the best thing to do would be to make Windows suck less. On the other hand, when asked if he was excited by the prospect of Microsoft buying shelf space at stores for games, Miller has an odd response:

“All of this is frivolous. If Microsoft really wanted to help the game industry, [it would] lobby to instate a legal window whereby retailers cannot resell games within two months or so. (31)

So Miller thinks that more laws and not selling used games would be the solution??? Call me crazy, but I think his first quote makes a lot more sense than his second.

Case in point, Call of Duty 2. Sunday I went to the store to buy a game and because it was on sake, I deceded on Call of Duty 2. I got it home and opened the box only to see that the game came on 6 cds. SIX! What??? That is just insane. A DVD drive can be bought for something like $20. I think it is time to get rid of multi-cd games.

So I start to install it and I get some random error that it can’t find msvhs30.dll or something. I search around online and find that people are saying that Windows Defender is the cause. So I’m going to have to uninstall itbefore I casn even play the game. I imagine that most people would have just given up without even looking the error up on Google, but having to uninstall a program to get a game to install? That is just plain crap.

Because I figured that Windows would want to restart after uninstalling Defender, I was hesitant to uninstall it. On a whim I right clicked on the cd and started the installer instead of the crapy “autorun” program and guess what? It installed without a hitch. So the problem wasn’t the game, but the stupid autorun splash screen thing. Even more lame.

Of course, as any PC gamer knows, the lameness wasn’t over yet, because the stupid game insists on having the cd in the drive in order to play the game. Sure, because I love th sound of my drive spinning up when I start a game… So I have to go online and download some hack to get rid of the cd check.

And some people think selling used games is the problem with PC gaming???

It seems like ever PC game I’ve bought lately has been screwed up by everything that goes along with the game and the hoops one has to jump through before you even get to the game. No wonder people pirate games.

I’ve had to download a pirate copy of a game that I bought couldn’t get to run because of all this crap and I’ll admit I’ve downloaded a couple of older games that I wanted to play for my research. You know how much trouble I’ve had getting those pirated games to run? Absolutely none.

Maybe there’s a message in there soemwhere…

Where’s the hype???

So now the Wii, the PS3 and the XBox360 are all out. Where’s the hype? Is there anyone else who seems like there really isn’t any rason to buy any of these? Only the Wii with it’s remote controller seems to be worthwhile at all. Gears of War looks cool, but I don’t know why it would take a 360 to play it.
I’ve mentioned before that I haven’t seen any games coming out lately that I’m really interested in, so perhaps I’m just getting jaded?
I’m intersted in HL2 Episode 2, and ummm…. that’s about it. If Dead Rising would come out for PC, I’d be all over that.

So what AM I playing?
I am playing a bit of HL2 on the XBox, and I’m playing a lot of Weird Worlds.

So the question is, “Is the lack of games I find interesting my problem or the industry’s problem?”
I would imagine both. I’m poor and I’m busy, so the few things out there that do look interesting I don’t have money or time to hunt out. Hopefully after the new year I’ll have more time. Untill then, come on gaming industry! Give me some spectacle!

So Many Consoles, So LIttle Money……

So we’ve now seen the launch of the PS3 and the Nintendo Wii (worst name evar…) and the good old 360. And me? I got nothing.

I was going to go out and do some coverage of the local game launches, but none of the local stores did any midnight sales or even seemed to have people camping out and waiting in line. So no coverage for you!

Personally, I bought Half-Life 2 for X-Box for $9.99 just to see how it compared to the XP version. It looks the same, but the controls blow. The right stick is used to aiming and if you click it, you zoom in, but you can’t shoot. Therefore, inevitably, whenever I get into a tense fight, I inadvertently click the stick, zoom in, can’t shoot, and die. The D-Pad is used to switch the weapons. In a fairly clever approximation of the PC version’s menus where multiple weapons would be under each number, the X-Box D-pad has four categories with multiple weapons under each one and pressing in the same direction multiple times will cycle through the weapons in that category. The problem is, however, to switch you have to take your thumb off the left stick which is used to control the direction you are going. So when you switch weapons, you have to stop moving, which is frustrating. I’ve started to stretch my right thumb over to the D-pad to switch.

I’ve played Halo, I’ve played Goldeneye, and now I’ve played Half-Life 2 — all on consoles. And guess what? They all sucked. So is the appeal of games like Goldeneye and Halo simply people that have never played FPS games on a PC? Or is there something I’m actually not getting about these games? On some level, I suppose it is similar to EA who keeps releasing Madden for PCs. Who buys those? If you are going to play Madden, buy a console. If you are going to play a FPS buy or build a gaming computer.