Category: rants


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… 😛 ) 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.

Assassinate DRM and ports…

I played the first Assassin’s Creed back when it came out and liked it well enough. I just never got around to buying the others. A couple months ago there was a sale on steam and I picked up Assassin’s Creed II, Brotherhood, and Revelations. I’m playing through 2 and I’m enjoying it but drm is still terrible and it is a bad port.

Although the game is on Steam, it still uses the crappy Uplay drm which requires it to launch the Uplay program thingy. Only it won’t launch on Windows 8 when you try to start it through Steam.

OK, fine. I can just launch it directly through the Uplay thing, right? Of course not. When you try to do that it says it is launching steam or something but that doesn’t work either.

So play the game I bought, I have to launch Steam, then launch the Uplay application which I had to enable running as administrator, then go back to Steam and start the game, which makes the Uplay thing flash in the taskbar so before the game starts I have to click on Uplay to give it focus and then the game will start.


So once I get the games started it runs fine. Only, instead of telling you to press the left mouse button or the E key or whatever, it shows you a picture of an open hand, or a closed hand, or a foot, or something else. assassinscreed2controlsAnd the background of the icons clearly have the Xbox button colors which probably indicate which controller button you need to press.

So to be able to tell the different between a picture of a head and a picture of a head with a tiny little up arrow in front of it, in addition to the process mentioned above, I also have to open up a picture of the controls to put on my second monitor to know what buttons I’m supposed to be pressing…

Thanks Ubisoft…



Analog keyboards and rumble mice

Back in December I got a PS3 for the first time and more recently I’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 don’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 isn’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 isn’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 doesn’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 I’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? Here’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 couldn’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 didn’t have as much movement as the Wingman because it wasn’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 I’m poor and couldn’t afford to buy them if they came out).

Last of Us Review

Last of Us box artThe last Last of Us review? I’m reviewing the actual Last of Us game itself and not the DLC that just came out. Yeah. I know I’m late. Maybe I’ll write about Flappy Bird some time in 2015…

Now, I’m not a console gamer. So part of my dislike of the terrible shooting in the game might be because I’m part of the Glorious PC Gaming Master Race. Regardless, I’m really surprised that Last of Us won basically every award ever made. That isn’t to say that I didn’t like it. I did like it. But the parts I really liked were the parts where you are just ransacking houses which probably makes up a total of 30 minutes of the whole game.

So why didn’t I like it? Well, the reasons for that can be split into two categories: gameplay and story. And since the actual gameplay itself isn’t really much of a surprise, I’ll start with that in case there are any people that a) haven’t played Last of Us and still might and b) read this. So for the two or three people on the planet that this applies to, I’ll start off trying to avoid any spoilers and then move on to the spoiler talk.

Tastes a Little Gamey.

The worst part of Last of Us’ gameplay is just how game-y it is.

I think the worst example of this is the dumpsters. Throughout the game there are sections where you have to get over a fence or a wall but it is too high to climb over. So you have to find something to push up next to the wall so you can climb up on it and then over the wall. Almost always that thing to push is a dumpster and even though it is years after the apocalypse the dumpsters still roll around and move more easily than any dumpster I’ve ever tried to move (not that I’ve tried to move a lot of dumpsters. Maybe there are some that are super easy to move even after years of neglect but I haven’t seen them.)

If there aren’t dumpsters nearby then there is sure to be a conveniently placed ladder or board around which gives the game an excuse to have a nice interaction with the girl, Ellie, who is often tasked with being boosted up to wherever the ladder is.

Now, these scenes with dumpster moving and ladder fetching do make for a nice diversion from the combat as it gives you a chance to flex other mental muscles than shooting. Unfortunately, I needed that break because I hated the combat in the game. Again, maybe it is because I’m not a console player, but the aiming and shooting of the game was just painful.

<minor spoilers>

….. The few times you play as Ellie, the shooting is better. I read someone mention that Ellie is a better shot than Joel but I didn’t interpret it that way. I interpreted it as the game making it easier because Ellie is a kid. When playing as Ellie it seemed like Clickers went down easier than they did when playing as Joel. But, I might be wrong…

<end of spoilers>

OK. Let’s talk about the crafting system. It is really just terrible. I hate games where you have to gather items to make something that will just break or wear out so that you have to find more stuff. I’m looking at you Dead Island… In Last of Us, all the zombies and crafting made me feel like I was back looking for the red herb in Resident Evil. Luckily, because I could make shivs to open doors I didn’t need to be the master of unlocking… (Ha! in searching for the famous RE clip I found out that Last of Us does have a “Master of Unlocking” trophy!)

While the presence of so something like the crafting system is an obvious feature, one thing that I found equally annoying but less obvious was the ever-present waist-high wall. A big part of the combat is also crouching behind things. Conveniently, everything in the world is just the right height to hide behind. Even in sections where you aren’t fighting, the presence of these waist-high obstacles makes it feel like you are going to be fighting in that space eventually.

Last of the Plot

OK, now I am going to start talking about the plot.

Big Spoilers ahoy ….

The place where the waist-high walls was most irritating was also the point where the writing was the worst: the power plant. When Joel’s brother says something like, “We’ve been getting some bandits attacking us lately,” is there any doubt that as soon as you get done arguing with the brother that the power plant is going to be attacked?

And that predictability is one of the main problems with Last of Us. With a few exceptions, everything about the story is cliched and predictable.

Another example is the cannibals. Now, it wasn’t entirely predictable that the cannibals would turn out to be cannibals but it was obvious that they were Bad Guys™. Similarly, there’s a scene near the end where they are trying to build tension by not showing if Ellie is alive or not. But of course she is because she is the main character and they have already killed off one girl so they aren’t going to kill off another one. But they hold the camera on Joel for a really long time before panning over to Ellie to try to build tension and for me it was just tedious.

(Spoilers in this clip for the end of the game)

Tedious also describes how I felt about all the billions of cut scenes. I really don’t understand why developers so often feel the need to put in little cut scenes when it would be more dramatic to allow the player to actually do things. Maybe it is limitations in the game engine and it seems like Naughty Dog is pushing the PS3 pretty hard. But it is still frustrating to me because in too many instances it is hard to tell when the cut scene ends and I’m allowed to start playing again.

I think a lot of this comes from trying to be “cinematic” (whatever that means) but one scene early on shows that despite all their aspirations not everyone at Naughty Dog understands how cameras and editing really work. It can be seen in this clip about 10:55 in:

In that clip we have Joel’s brother save Joel from a zombie and blood splatters on the camera lens. Then the cut scene switches to an angle from inside the overturned truck and the blood splatter is still on the camera lens. That isn’t how it works. That would be a different camera and it wouldn’t have any blood to be splattered on it in that exact same way. Now, it could be argued that because the blood fades quickly that this was not a misunderstanding of how camera angles work but it was distracting enough that I remembered this scene from early on in the game and I even took the time to find a clip of this scene to make sure I wasn’t misremembering it.

Regarding cut scenes, I think the choice of what to cut out in the cut scene was also frustrating for me because I found the cut scenes tended to cut from combat to combat (or puzzles where Ellie has to get onto a floating platform again) and I would much rather have had more of the moments where they were just driving or walking down the road. I guess I wanted more of a The Road feel (even though I really hated a lot of the movie so much and I’ve resisted reading the book). One of the parts I liked the best was the part where you play as Ellie hunting down a deer. It was such a nice quiet and methodical scene that I wished that there was more things like it in the game. Now, I don’t want to turn the game into Big Buck Hunter but, like the parts where you are going through drawers in abandoned houses, I wanted more exploration and self-paced scenes.

The last thing I want to write about is the end.

“Apparently, there’s no way to extricate the parasite without eliminating the host. Fancy way of saying we gotta kill the fucking kid.

Oh noes! They want to kill Ellie!! Who could have ever predicted that? Except for anyone that really thought about it, I mean.

So the scientists wanting to kill Ellie was really cliched. It would have been more interesting if, like the college, there wasn’t anyone there. But that isn’t the worst part.

The worst part is that the reason they want to kill Ellie makes no sense. Because people turn when they get bit, they have established that the fungus that causes people to turn is in body fluids. So whatever prevents Ellie from turning has to be in her blood too. So they could just look at her blood. Even if it is in her brain why do they have to kill her? Can’t they do a biopsy? When someone has brain cancer they don’t just kill them (and there is also the fact that the fungus is not a parasite.). While you could argue that this is an extreme situation and they don;t have the facilities to operate, the very least Naughty Dog could have done is put in a line like that.

OK, so trying to kill Ellie doesn’t make any sense. Fine. I also really hated that I didn’t have any choice as to how I reacted to the news that they were going to kill her. I really didn’t like the fact that the game didn’t allow me to choose whether or not I would allow Ellie to die. That would have been a much braver game design choice.

There’s a post over at where they try to argue that it is a good and powerful storytelling choice to not allow the player to have a say in how Joel reacts because the player is not Joel. In the post Chris Plante wrote:

I like to think of the player as the driver on a road trip and the hero as the person riding shotgun. The player can steer the action, but ultimately the hero thinks and behaves on his own. And the player and hero are having a conversation, reacting and responding to one another, over the course of the journey.

I believe that if the player has complete control of the story — and I’m talking exclusively about big, cinematic games — then the writer has no control. Forcing the player to shoot the doctor is an elegant way of explaining this via action. You’re a participant in the story, but it is not your story to tell.

Personally, I disagree. For me the character is me and I am the character. I play a game because I want to control things. If I want to experience a person whose thought and behaviors I can’t control then I’ll read a book or watch a movie or tv show. I don’t want to ride shotgun. I hate rail shooters and this line of reasoning makes all games into rail shooters. If I can’t make the big decisions about how to behave in a certain situation then why should I make the small ones about who to shoot (and to write that who to shoot is a smaller decision than anything else in games is, of course, a commentary on what games do and don’t value. Not to mention that Joel has killed literally hundreds of people but balks at killing one more to save everyone… (and why does the game give you stats on the number of people killed at the end? Is it trying to make a statement or is it just some stat that we are meant to try to improve in the future?)).

Then there is the very end which I don’t really know what it means. I don’t mean Joel lying to Ellie. For me that was overshadowed by the choice to have Ellie be the playable character at the end. In the beginning of the game Joel’s daughter is the first playable character. Then when Joel is sick, Ellie is the playable character. Then at the end the player controls Ellie as they walk to the town where Joel’s brother is. Why? What does it mean that we are controlling Ellie and not Joel? Is it to make some kind of symmetry between the beginning and the end? Is it a symbolic handing over of the reigns to Ellie? Was it just a design derision so that the game could more easily show Joel lying? In an interview the designers talk about it a bit but it still seems like an odd choice to me.

The End.

Despite all these criticisms I liked the game a lot. I like it despite these criticisms because I think if these things had been addressed more satisfactorily for my tastes then the game would have been so much better. Maybe it would have won three hundred game of the year awards instead of just 200 or something…

Six thumbs up.

I usually
love zombies. I hate them here.
That’s award worthy…

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.  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.  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?


even at just a Penny, the Arcade’s price is too high…

I’ve been reading Penny Arcade since it started on loonygames. I don’t read them any more. And I won’t go to PAX as long as Mike Krahulik aka Gabe is involved no matter how many people say it is an inclusive and welcoming place.

I first stopped reading Penny Arcade back in 2010 or 2011 during the Dickwolves debacle. What I found most frustrating about that whole thing wasn’t the original comic strip. I didn’t find it that bad. I can see why people would though. It was Gabe’s inability to show a similar understanding of why people might be upset about a rape joke that made me stop reading Penny Arcade. As the timeline I linked to shows, Gabe and Tycho didn’t just disagree with people who didn’t think it was funny, they ridiculed them and were jerks.

So I stopped reading their comic.

But after a while, I started occasionally reading the comic again.

Then in 2012, Gabe threw his support behind a card game about tentacle rape that eventually got pulled from Kickstarter. When someone questioned his support of the game, Gabe replied to the criticism with snarky and mocking tweets.

Another offense, although quite minor in the overall pattern of what I view as terrible behavior, was the Penny Arcade Kickstarter. I saw it as kind of sleazy and taking advantage of the good will of their fans. But, that isn’t that big of an issue.

Then in June of 2013 Gabe initiated two separate twitter flame wars about transgendered people. The first, which didn’t get much publicity started on June 7th (it might be hard to follow these because Gabe tweeted so many times and because of how twitter does their timeline but I’ll start with the screengrab of the oldest tweets first and then move to the more recent ones):





Then, on June 20th, some people noticed that a panel at PAX Australia had a description that some people found disturbing.


Somewhere along the line, the issue of transgendered people came up again and Gabe showed that he had learned nothing from the tweets that happened on June 6th.



This resulted in posting an apology of sorts on Penny Arcade and Gabe promising to donate $20,000 to charity.

The makers of Gone Home, The Fullbright Company, decided not to attend PAX because of this. And other people debated it as well.

Throughout all of this, I had posted some comments on blogs and tweeted about this but what made me take the time to document the reasons why I won’t read Penny Arcade or attend PAX is the news that during an interview at PAX, Penny Arcade’s business manager, Robert Khoo, asked if there was anything that he had done that Gabe and Tycho resented. Gabe responded:

I think that pulling the dickwolves merchandise was a mistake.”

To which several people in the crowd cheered.

Other people have probably written about this and done it better than I have but that was the straw that broke the camel’s back and forced me to write about it.

By using the cliche “straw the broke the camel’s back,” I want to emphasize that it wasn’t just one thing that made me stop having anything to do with Penny Arcade or anything Mike Krahulik aka Gabe is involved with because it wasn’t just one thing. I’m sure lots of people will still support Penny Arcade and still attend PAX. They are free to do so but I won’t be one of them.

Hopefully, by posting all these links and screen captures I’ve shown that Gabe has a pattern of saying, writing, and doing things that that are insulting and infuriating and I’m not willing to give him the benefit of the doubt any more. For me, the price of doing so it too high.


Since I posted this Mike Krahulik has posted a clarification. I don’t really find his explanation of why he said what he said to be entirely satisfying. Actions speak louder than words. I hope he means it but I will need to see him do a lot of good things before I give him the benefit of the doubt again.





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:


Although it may have been a really warm winter, it is still winter. School starts again. Teaching again. Grading again. Not blog posting again!

In between trying to finish this dissertation, trying to find a job, teaching, and all that stuff I’ve neglected the blog.

In Defense of the WTF-ness of Games

A few years ago I ran across a Korean FPS called Nitro Family which at the time declared “the weirdest FPS ever” in part because part of the premise is that you play a man who is carrying around his wife on his back and when you fill up your meter you can shoot your wife into the air and she will rain down destruction on the enemies.

Well, since that time, however, I’ve played a few other games that certainly give Nitro Family a run for its money. For example there’s ZPC which uses the Marathon 2 engine and has graphics seemingly designed to cause seizures and make you ask, “WTF?”:

Then there’s You Are Empty which reminded me of Half-Life 2 but with zombie nurses. Then you get to one of the art-film-like cut scenes and once again “WTF?” comes to mind:

You Are Empty seems positively normal compared to the premise of Operation Matriarchy which looks like it uses the Quake 1 engine and has the following WTF backstory:

A planet-wide epidemic caused by an extraterrestrial virus totally changed all women of the planet of Velian. Their bodies transformed to become parts of collective intelligence, presumably controlled by some non-humanoid creatures. The Velian men proved to be resistant to the virus, but they lost their status of free intelligent beings and only existed as suppliers of biomaterial for further gene experimentation and as parts of complex biomechanical systems. The society became now a kind of matriarchal hive.
The Galactic Federation lost several dozens of transports due to enemy attacks in the second half of the 24th century. A deep analysis of the situation made it clear that the aggressor comes from the Velian star system. It is there that the Federation is sending an expeditionary corps to destroy the hostile civilization that threatens the very existence of the human race and to investigate the fate of the missing colonists.
You are a trooper of the government army sent with the expeditionary force to attack Velian. As you accomplish missions given to you at the headquarters, you get new opportunities in selection of weapons and military equipment. Each mission will also get you closer to the secret of the origin of the Velian anomaly of the human race.

The most recent game that made me exclaim, “WTF?” is Venus Hostage. Venus Hostage starts with you playing a man who meets a blind date who you promptly have R-rated sex complete with polygonal bare breasts. You get knocked out and then spend the rest of the game trying to escape from a bunch of leather clad guys who look like they were modeled after The Gimp in Pulp Fiction and solving like one of the Penumbra games.

Playing these games got me to thinking about the kinds of games that the gaming community tends to heap praise on and how these games certainly aren’t among them. They are weird, buggy, bizarre, and frequently not even that much fun. And yet they were created by people who were trying to do something different, something unique.

Especially when it comes to First-Person Shooters, we often complain about how so many games seem copying each other. With all the Modern Battle of Honor games out there it is easy to have that mentality. So when a game like Nitro Family or Operation Matriarchy comes along I think it should get a bit more attention than it deserves — the kind of attention that some of the more obviously arty games get.

The notion of “affect” is one that is gets used by a lot of academics these days. I’m not an expert in affect. I’ve had long conversations with colleagues about what exactly affect is and I’m still not entirely sure. I don’t know why I play these games. Maybe it is some kind of affect, I don’t know.

What I do know is that these games do have something that makes me say, “WTF?” and I, for one, am going to embrace that.