Archive for the ‘Games and Writing’ Category

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…)

Witchcraft Image by Kelly Garbato

Image taken at the St. Joseph, MO museum by Kelly Garbato. Available via Flikr in accordance with Creative Commons license.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun is a blog that I like to check in with from time to time.  Written by four experienced UK game journalists, it focuses exclusively on PC Gaming (the fact that this still exists will certainly be news to major game retailers here in the US), the sense of humor resonates with me, and the focus tends to be thoughtfully eclectic.

Recently, one of the team, John Walker, posted an extended discussion of sexism in the gaming world in particular (that is both the world of players and the world of developers) and the tech world in general.  (It is a lengthy article, but if you are a reader of this site you’ll be used to that by now!)  Anyone involved with games who hasn’t been living under a rock (sadly, that actually excludes a lot of gamers, it seems, as will be seen in a moment) is aware of several general issues facing the gaming industry when it comes to gender.  There is the persistent problem of the underrepresentation–scratch that, the massive underrepresentation–of women at every level of game development.  While women make up a significant percentage of players in most casual gaming genres, they are still a distinct minority in many “traditional” hardcore gaming genres.  There is a pervasive culture of harassment of women players in many gaming genres which ranges from downgrading women’s participation by treating that participation as unusual, to the outright abuse that comes from feeling women have no place at all in gaming.  I’ve written several pieces for this blog that have looked at the hate-filled campaigns directed at women who have spoken out about misogyny in the world of gaming, or even at those women who have dared simply to offer an opinion on game design.

Walker’s article–“Misogyny, Sexism and why RPS isn’t Shutting Up”–makes no bones about its intentions.  But the real interest of this article is that for a lot of people outside the game industry the most obvious question would be why the article was even necessary.  So, you are going to continue to call out sexism and misogyny where you see it.  Awesome.  But, er, is there a problem with doing that in the world of gaming?

Oh yes.  A big problem.

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Game Developers and Game Reviewers in Ancient India. Not much has changed. Creative Commons copyright by Nagarjun.

If you take a casual glance around the media landscape you would be quite justified in thinking that the world of game reviewing is thriving.  There are lots of videogame publications in print, online and (tenuously) on TV, with lots of opinionating being directed at a lot of pixels across a wide variety of platforms.

In reality, video game reviewing is a disaster zone that is helping to ensure a steady supply of mediocre games that are enthusiastically embraced by a player population with frighteningly low expectations and a shallow fixation on gaming technology.

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In the month or so since L.A. Noire has come out, I have read review after review proclaiming it to be a revolutionary game.  I have heard this before.  Reviewers call games genre-changers or “like nothing I’ve ever seen before” or innovative or even, if you’ll excuse the terrible pun, “game-changers”.  I hear this yet again and I am once again disappointed in its usage and game reviewing as a whole.  Let me be clear, L.A. Noire is not a bad game.  They accomplished what they set out to do, but having completed the game (+/- a few somewhat repetitive side missions) I have seen very little to justify such accolades as mentioned above.

L.A. Noire is a detective game.  The game is set in 1947 Los Angeles. The player starts as a patrol officer and progresses through several different crime desks and police stations.  The 40s have become an overused setting of late, but I find this forgivable because of their lesser used character choice.

The gameplay is befitting of the game though again not necessarily revolutionary.  The game employs an evidence system somewhat reminiscent of The Curse of Monkey Island in its simplicity.  Basically, music cues the player that he is near evidence.  Once selected, the player “examines” (rotates…) the evidence until the game informs him that this is relevant in some way.  The player then questions people of interest at the given location. These interrogations are new for Rockstar because, while this studio has been one of the principle proponents of open-world gameplay, they have a tendency to not have a karmic aspect and/or not allow speech decisions.  The player watches short cutscene introductions and must listen closely.  At the end of the cutscene, the player must decide whether he believes the last statement to be truth, doubtful, or a lie which the player must support with evidence collected throughout the case.  What results is a combination of Rockstar’s typical cinematic narrative style with a clue-based lie-detector minigame.  If anything, this is revolutionary for Rockstar.  I also do not consider a lie detector system to constitute real speech by itself.

I have heard one realistic claim to innovation that Rockstar could boast in this game.  I read a review explain Rockstar’s new methods of voice and facial expression capturing. I will admit that the detail in faces and facial expressions was very skillful and with such a star-studded cast including John Noble of Lord of the Rings and more recently Fringe, it was nice to look at in-game characters and see detailed representations of their real-life counterparts.  Character detail is nice.  It adds to immersion, but detail alone does not make a game.  I enjoyed L.A. Noire and I recommend trying it, but I ask that we all just take a moment to think about the real meanings of some of the words we use to describe games.

Game reviewing doesn’t really understand what it is or what it is supposed to be yet.  Reviews have a tendency to focus on consumer advice.  Pressure is added to this whenever the game is particularly hyped or coming out of certain studios. The problem with throwing around words like “revolutionary” and “innovative” is that they spread like wildfire.  If one review uses them, all the others have to or their reviews will be buried under the oncoming tidal wave of hype.  It is what it is, but, at the same time, it is bad policy especially for gamers that are on the fence looking for a real idea of what they would be buying into.  In any case, this has been a refreshing comeback from a long absence of game-related writing and I invite any and all to comment as you will.  I could use a good game discussion.

The Critic versus the Consumer

Posted: March 25, 2011 by Twitchdoctor in Games and Life, Games and Writing

When everything seems to be going pretty well in my research, writing, and teaching worlds it is usually a sure sign that the bottom is about to fall out of something.  Or maybe everything.  Sometimes, however, it produces a productive overlap where my teaching helps shape my writing and research agenda which in turn helps shape my teaching.

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