Today I would like to start a discussion on the artistic integrity of games with 3 topics in particular in mind: revised endings, HD upconverts, and extended editions. When I say revised endings, I’m talking about the Bioware idea of trying to revise the ending after having already released the game. HD upconverts and reboots refers things such as Age of Empires II’s new HD edition that was recently released on steam. Extended Editions I find to be something of a misnomer because in this case my example is the extended edition of Anna which I would argue is not so much an extended edition as the developer releasing an entirely new version of their game and saying “Wait! Wait! Give us a second chance!” I have very mixed feelings on each of these. They have merits, but there is a question of whether the change is too much and thus irrevocably and sometimes even negatively affects the game. Let’s go through each of these and then see what kind of discussion we can generate. (more…)
Tags: Bioware, game design, media, videogames
Tags: DRM, SimCity
Oh, DRM…Why has God forsaken you? DRM has been a woeful failure for years now. It has inconvenienced far more players than pirates it has stopped. Now, of course, I’m not advocating piracy and all of this has been said before and all of it will be said again. However, I am dismayed because I thought we had seen all of the worst DRM possible. I never wanted to believe that a worse DRM could even exist and yet here we are with captain of industry, EA Games, bringing us a DRM that makes no sense and makes a beloved franchise brought back from the dead unplayable.
At midnight on Tuesday, March 5, EA Games released via their Origin digital distribution service a new incarnation of SimCity. There has not been a new version of SimCity since SimCity 4 in 2003 (plus or minus 2007′s SimCity: Societies), but regardless the Origin download unlocks at midnight and almost immediately problems started. So what could cause such problems so fast? Three little words: Always Online DRM. You see EA in all their infinite wisdom decided that “Always Online DRM” was the smartest and most effective DRM method. Always on DRM means exactly what it sounds like: You must be online to play their game even if you are building a private city. They did attempt to make it worthwhile for you to be online by allowing you to view other player cities and create regional economies where your city is affected by cities around it, but still at its core each player is building an individual city so why is there no Singleplayer mode? There is private mode, but those players have been suffering the same issues as public players so let’s examine that now.
Always Online DRM should have been an annoyance or an inconvenience not unlike Diablo III’s Always Online DRM so Where did EA fail? EA launched with only 5 Servers for THE ENTIRE WORLD. There were two US servers (US East and US West) as well as two European servers and an Oceania server. The US servers were constantly full giving players messages that they should try again in 20-30 minutes. The servers were not even equipped to run a server queue. They expected you to manually keep trying until you get in. The European servers were region locked, but experiencing similar issues. These issues have been occurring for almost 48 hours now to the chagrin of numerous players and ultimately requiring EA to shut down the servers and update them while bringing new ones online.
Hopefully this colossal failure will cause EA and other Always Online DRM minded companies to rethink the launch requirements that entails. Polygon initially rated SimCity at 9.5, but actually downgraded to an 8.0 as a result of the rocky launch and connectivity issues. In closing I would like to point to two salient thoughts on the subject. Chris Kluwe tweeted “As a publisher/developer, if you’re going to push “always on” onto the consumer, then it’s YOUR responsibility to make sure it always works”. It is EA’s responsibility to handle this kind of thing and it is mind boggling that they could have been unprepared for the server traffic. Lastly I’d like to point Tycho of Penny Arcade who wrote:
Gabriel wasn’t able to get into SimCity last night to play, because the server wasn’t working and single player games don’t exist anymore, even if you are playing a private city and nobody can come in anyway. So I would remember it, because it was important, I said here in the post a long time ago that “EA games come with free misery.” This is why I stopped being an annual purchaser of Tiger Woods games: because this company has a serious, serious problem with execution at launch. You would only fix it if it meant more sales. But it doesn’t, because everybody already bought it. Well, except me.
EA will only see a desire to fix their launch failures if they see more sales in it, but because we buy things so instantaneously all the more so now with digital downloads they only fix things after the fact. So I guess the moral of the story is know what you need for launch, but for us players: be careful what games you choose to buy on launch day because buying a game on launch day is an implicit acceptance of whatever insane DRM you have to deal with.
The gaming community is often cast in a bad light as vagrants, underachievers, basement-dwelling hobgoblins, or even, on occasion, gun wielding psychopaths. But this is not really who gamers are. This is not what we stand for. This is not our community. The gaming community can be one of the friendliest communities you’ll ever meet and there are a few events throughout the year where we gather together in our mutual love of games as entertainment and an art-form. Today, I would like to highlight MAGfest: The Music and Gaming Festival, an event of gamers, by gamers, and for gamers. (more…)
Games are meant to be played as the saying goes. But where does play come from? How do we know how to play? This could be an entire post on its own, but for now I’m going to make two suppositions to answer that: “common sense” (or logic if you prefer) and experience. Developers have to rely on these because players will defer to them unless given other information. Some genres rely on this more than others, but even the simplest games will often have at least an instruction page first if not a full tutorial. If you as a developer feel your game does not need such instruction then you are putting a lot of faith in the player’s knowledge and the intuitiveness of your game. This can be a leap for adventure games. (more…)
A few months ago, I wrote about the popular mod turned indie game, Dear Esther, which I believed took many good steps toward reviving the interactive story experience as a genre, but was somewhat disjointed or perhaps misguided in its methods. Dear Esther was a game with several great elements. It had a good story premise. It had beautiful visuals with a very loosely defined aesthetic to go with the ambiguous plot line. It had good mechanics, though I don’t think the game took full advantage of them. Today, I want to talk about To the Moon which in my opinion is pretty close to what an interactive story should be. (more…)
Dear Esther is, in short, complicated. It’s hard to describe. In my brief research, the best description I have been able to find is “graphical masterpiece”, which was the description given by Joe Martin in his review for bit-tech. Graphical masterpiece, however, does not really account for the music or the feelings it evokes, so maybe something more along the lines of sensuous masterpiece or a beautiful invocation of the senses, but neither of those quite sound right and that is not what I’m here to talk about. I am here to talk about what Dear Esther is. It is very complicated and certainly up for discussion so here goes. (more…)
I recently read an article entitled “Game Over for Gamestop“ on a website called SeekingAlpha.com which suggested that Gamestop as a business will collapse at some vaguely defined point in the near future if their business model does not change. Now I see several flaws in the theory and logic that they are using to make this claim, but let’s begin at the beginning. Who is Seeking Alpha?
Seeking Alpha is, first and foremost, a blog. It is not news. It’s not market research. It is a financial blog that attempts to guide stock market investors with tips, analysis, and sometimes the support of news. They are making an argument and drawing a conclusion. According to their About Seeking Alpha page “Seeking Alpha is the premier website for actionable stock market opinion and analysis, and vibrant, intelligent finance discussion.” And yes they really did boldface their font just like that to jump out at you so you won’t have any delusions about who they are or what their business mission is. Now as with every business in the modern competitive world, they have to justify who they are and why we should be reading this blog as opposed to say the online Wall Street Journal. In answer to this quandary, they respond “Seeking Alpha differs from other finance sites because it focuses on opinion and analysis rather than news, and is primarily written by investors who describe their personal approach to stock picking and portfolio management, rather than by journalists.” And once again they did feel the need to bold those specific phrases so there would be no confusion. So putting this all together, Seeking Alpha is a blog written by investors seeking to provide financial advice with regard to the stock market. They are not journalists, which I believe is a two-fold point. They are not writing news so if you are looking for stock market news, turn around and run the other way. Secondly, they are investors not journalists, but specifically not stock market (Wall Street Journal?) journalists. They are not judging companies based on the news of that company. Well really they are, but that’s not why they are here. They are here to take the news and take the history and take the products and take the numbers and take their own investment experience and coalesce all of that information into a coherent opinion of the company specifically with an eye toward consumer advice. Really this just makes them bad editorial journalists and product reviewers, but I digress as that’s an argument for another time. Now I apologize for having spent my first 500 words on this website and I’m sure you’re wondering what any of this has to do with games and gaming, but don’t worry I’m getting there.