Category Archives: Games and Culture

Oh, Bother – RPS Interviews Molyneux

John Walker of RockPaperShotgun fame/infamy, depending on who you ask interviewed Peter Molyneux of game industry fame/infamy, depending on who you ask. Likely you’ve heard about the interview by this point. It is a write up of a 75 minute phone conversation that has a whole lot of emotion, but not much useful information for the reader.

Allow me to distill for you the things to be learned from this very large column of text:

  • The reports about the team size of Godus being decreased in favor of other games is inaccurate, the people working on other projects have a skill set that is more suited to early and pre-development.
  • Actually that is about it.

I’m mildly thankful for that information, I’ve not followed Godus much. I did read the Eurogamer piece on the guy who won the God of Gods contest, as it seemed an interesting side story to the meta aspect of games, their developers, and how they interact with the world. But this wasn’t a particularly informative interview. It didn’t illuminate anything, other than perhaps providing yet another data set on how emotional inquiries can make people react emotionally, even if they are desiring to be calm. Continue reading

e3m6

Gaming is the Highest Art Form

If the reason for your game is to tell a story you have to tell, consider writing a novel. If the reason for your game is to depict a vision, consider making a film. If the reason for your game is to articulate a political point, consider a blog where you can define your terms.

None of these things preclude a game as a choice, and a great game may have all of them. But the operative aspect of a game is in mechanics which respond to user input. If you do not feel you are ready for that aspect, your great story will be mired in poor scenarios, your grand vision will be worn thin by repetitious experiences, and your political point will be nullified by the dominant strategy gamers naturally discover in playing.

You must first love gaming as an action, a venue, a notion, and a lens through which to view the world. If you love your story, vision, or point more, the game itself will suffer for it. The game will be streamlined to keep player choice inside of these non-game aspects.

Regardless of which suffers intrinsically, the player will have a lesser experience, and all will be undermined. Make solid mechanics and user input the cornerstone of your game, and build upon that cornerstone that which fits on it. This is part of the art form of gaming. It is not in impersonating other art forms, in impressing critics of other fields, or seeking legitimacy by being covered by non-gaming media venues.

Gaming is the highest art form, because it doesn’t tell us strictly about the times in which it was made, or the people who made it, or even how it makes us feel. It can tell us who we are, by allowing us to explore the scope of our moral agency in a controlled fashion. Gaming is the art form which is a moral expression of all who partake.

The ceiling has never been higher for art, let’s not hunch our backs to endear the leading art forms of previous times.

I Am a Gamer

I told myself I wouldn’t write about this. My concern with this blog is video games. Mechanics, designs, trends, culture, as well as the errors in covering such. I try to keep my politics rather separate, and have recently taken steps to keep politics out of my life per a doctor’s advice. Politics came to my gaming, and I’ve been flabbergasted by much of what I have seen.

I’m not going to talk about individuals, or even the hot topics. I am going to address some mental patterns I have observed among us writing class. This was spurred by the sudden appearance of “gamers are dead” themed articles. I don’t care if they appeared as part of a concerted effort, because grassroots or not, the idea itself is a bizarre attitude to take and should be addressed.

I recently wrote an article titled “What Is a Gamer” which explored how the term can be empty, as it is so broad an umbrella that it encompasses almost too many things. Like a stadium with a roof that could be mistaken for the sky. I stand by that article, particularly regarding the scope of my own life, but at the same time I must acknowledge that no matter how broad an umbrella, it still casts a shadow. I am much more than a gamer, all gamers are, but I remain a gamer.

The idea of “gamers” being dead is laughable, but the volume at which it is being touted by those who hold the megaphones on the internet is alarming. How many times have we seen a declaration of PC gaming being dead in the past decade? That was hyperbolic and inaccurate, and was regarded as such by any serious thinkers when it was said. Now we get a proclamation for not just a platform, but a category of people by the editors and writers of the most prominent sites. Is it any less hyperbolic or inaccurate? No. It is inflammatory writing, and frankly diving so deep in to such strong and divisive language is unprofessional. I’m not talking ethics here, I’m talking simply knowing your craft. This is shock authoring with a veneer of critique to claim a transcendence over an audience you don’t like. Continue reading

This is Not How You Review Games

Two popular tweets going around are pictures of Steve Hogarty’s reviews of expansions for The Sims 2. Retweeted by a variety of people, including of course illustrious RPS folk, the reviews are considered raw, gritty, accurate, and the fact that EA execs wanted him fired from PC Zone just validates those claims.

As you can see from the header, it certainly isn’t worried about being “edgy.” So yes the article is very gruff, and gruffness has a place. Being blunt, sometimes even foul, can go a long ways for your message. But is this a well written review? Well no, it isn’t. I would say it doesn’t even qualify as a review, but rather merely slander upon some strawman at EA. The review, as you can see, is a hypothetical story about EA executives sharing a moment where they dream up a way to bilk people of their cash. Shortly after one of the executives returns home, strikes his wife, and commits suicide. All over being part of such a horrible thing as Sims 2 expansions. The final line is just an insult. Continue reading

quake3 2014-06-24 21-08-27-60

RPS Doesn’t Know What CTF Is

Rainbow Six Siege is a game in the Rainbow Six series. This much is obvious. So you could look to previous Rainbow Six games to get an idea as to what the new one will be like. This much is apparently not obvious to Rock Paper Shotgun. You know what also isn’t obvious to RPS? What Capture the Flag (CTF) is.

Siege’s E3 demo did leave a bit of a weird taste in some mouths, though, mainly because shoving around a lady in the team-based Hostage Mode like she’s the flag in capture the flag is kind of odd, even if you’re rescuing her.

In the Hostage mode, you play a law enforcement unit of some form breaching a location that has been secured by criminals, who have taken a hostage. Why did they take a hostage? Because they know it will slow down the law enforcement, it will make them hesitate a moment longer before taking a shot, it will decrease the odds of them blind firing into a scenario. The hostage has this effect on law enforcement because of their directive to preserve innocent life. The game mechanic involves a penalty of a loss if the hostage dies, and said hostage must be extracted from danger and secured, as the criminals can recapture that hostage. Continue reading

Bastion 2014-06-08 17-53-52-08

What Is a Gamer?

I hear a lot of self-identification as a gamer. I encounter it often, usually as either a badge of pride, or a signal of commonality with another. This seems a little nonsensical to me. Games are everywhere, they are constantly being made and released. They are as ubiquitous as they are common. They represent dozens and dozens of countries in the world, for development alone, they depict dozens of cultures, hundreds of ideas and concepts, across numerous genres and sub-genres, and even sub-sub-genres.

I may call myself a gamer, and have nothing in common as far as gaming goes with the next one hundred people I meet who also call themselves a gamer. When I say video games, I don’t think of Secret of Mana, Peggle, Battlefield, or Gears of War. I also don’t think of Dirt, Street Fighter, Tetris, Full Throttle, or World of Warcraft. The term gamer is so broad it is useless. Do we identify as film watchers and announce it? Continue reading

gzdoom 2014-06-04 22-01-21-91

When Journalism is a Game

The June issue of Men’s Health has a Special Report by Tom McGrath titled “When Killing is a Game”. We’ve seen reports like this before, though they’re usually a bit more blunt in their style (no cuts to a van exploding for example), but I wanted to address this one in particular because it is a bit more insidious. There is a facade of moderation, but the benefit of the doubt is given to those asserting a specific claim on reality.

I’m not sure why magazines continue to accept articles on this subject when they are written by people with such little experience playing video games. Note that I did not say a gamer, I’m not asking for someone who agrees with me, just someone who has a solid idea of what I do when I say I am gaming. According to the article, McGrath has played 55 minutes of Modern Warfare 3 on the Wii. No other experience with games is indicated. This is akin to examining the issue regarding violent film, based upon having watched 10 minutes of any given movie. The author has, as far as he has communicated, arrived upon the issue with a pre-elementary level of knowledge regarding the subject. This is indicated later on with his shock about multiplayer FPSes scoring players by their ability to kill the enemy, failing to call out the asinine concept that the differences between Wolfenstein 3d and Myst is simply the presence of violence, and the conflation of World of Warcraft and Grand Theft Auto.

“Does virtual violence turn some boys into real killers?” Let’s presume that this is the case. I went to Wikipedia’s List of Best Selling Video Games and tallied up the sales figures on only the most heinous looking games to those who write articles such as this, using the All Platforms top 40. I then checked out Wikipedia’s List of Rampage Killers (what is Bing going to think of me? That’s right, I Chandler). They have a total of 1336 Rampage Killing incidents, around the globe, with no methods or setting filtered out. If video games spawned every one of these, we are looking at a rate of 0.00047578%. Hardly statistically significant. This isn’t particularly scientific, but fight fire with fire, right? (I’m sorry was that violent rhetoric?) In general, just taking their claim on its face, video games still seem more safe than cars, water heaters, or national parks. Continue reading

One-shotting a guy, aiming several feet behind him.

The Epistemology of Multiplayer

There is a lot of faith in the gaming internet community, faith in persons, companies, and technologies. A lot of faith in the technology, such that any explanation as to why an outcome was arrived at is handled with a zealous response.

If you lost a gunfight, to explain what happened is to be a whiner. A response of qq would be had, no matter how reasoned, or accurate your explanation was. If you won it, to explain it beyond a claim of supremacy is to get muddled and take the game too seriously. In both cases, you are supposed to simply accept what has happened. The game has spoken, and that is the way things are, and any suppositions that the networking could have been structured differently, or the gameplay balanced in a way to overcome the flaws of a particular structure, are heretical. Continue reading

Spoiler Warning – Game Journalism is Really Terrible

Recently there has been much ado about a Doom mod called Total Chaos – Overgrowth, thanks largely to the teaser video, which you can watch below:

It is a pretty good teaser, and the mod looks like it has potential. I enjoy the mood, the visuals, and the cited inspiration of STALKER.

What concerns me is the coverage of it. Kotaku titled it as such:

Doom “Mod” Makes The Game Look Very 21st Century

Rock Paper Shotgun titled it:

Astoundingly, Total Chaos Is A Doom II Mod

There seems to be doubt as to the term mod or the fact that it is Doom 2. The visuals, the result of artwork and post-processing, are incompatible in the minds of major game writers. Doom is a specific resolution and a specific setting. Surely this isn’t Doom. Yet it is. Yes it is using GZDoom for true mouselook (an actually major change considering how Doom fills a frame of data by not caring about vertical spaces beyond the current view) and many other features. But the project is still using WAD files (“Where’s All the Data”), the world is still composed of linedefs, sidedefs, and sectors. It is still a two-dimensional scene displayed with perspective and data tracked with a third dimension. Despite this, Kotaku doubted the use of the term mod (a Total Conversion is a more appropriate term, at least once they remove the player fall grunt) and Rock Paper Shotgun remarked on it as being astounding.

It looks great, it does. But it is a mod, and it isn’t astounding. It is a well scoped project playing to its strengths. Now if these were random internet comments, I could get past it a little. But these people are gatekeepers of information in gaming, and they might even call themselves journalist. Yet they haven’t the foggiest as to the basics of game development, or game technology. They don’t even understand what makes for game technology. They see pretty pictures and blurring, and suddenly it is advanced. Heaven forbid these people write for a car magazine, or they would give top ratings to everything with a flame paint job and a spoiler. Before you write about something, try to take five minutes to make sure you have some basic grasp of it. Read the wiki article on the Doom engine, it doesn’t take long and provides a great overview. Understand the differences between higher resolution textures, different rendering methods for that texture, and different types of world construction. If you don’t know even the basic fundamentals of how a game works beyond clicking PLAY in Steam or on your favorite console, if you aren’t comfortable with installing mods (not even making them) without using a self-unpacking installer, then perhaps you aren’t the best person to be writing about technical achievements in a release. Continue reading

You’ll Never Guess What’s In RPS’ CoD Coverage

Oversimplifications.

Things the genre has but only this franchise gets criticized for.

Reverse xenophobia.

Hoplophobia.

Franchise ignorance.

Genre ignorance.

Platform ignorance.

Individual release ignorance.

Misunderstandings of marketing schedules.

Double-standards for advertising.

Okay, I guess that is enough. It isn’t that Call of Duty isn’t worthy of critique or even lampooning, it has plenty of issues, its mechanics are far from perfect, its community leaves much to be desired, and it can be samey. But what of this separates it from similar games which get treated much more considerately? Dog puns and fish AI jokes? This is akin to reviewing Full Throttle on the basis of five o’clock shadow rather than the story. Ghosts has a rather different perk system, it has a strike package system, it has contextual leaning and smoother object traversal to keep the player flowing in a fight rather than going through clunky state changes. It has been stated the PC version is receiving higher quality assets than any of the console releases. Your character classes persist as AI while you are offline, earning XP which reduces the grind of the game. The single player abandons all safely established characters from the franchise, and yet none of this ever gets brought up. Instead people point and laugh at the action game having explosions and showing the most cinematic events in the trailer. Continue reading