Posts Tagged ‘game design’

Ancient Tablet Image

Apple Announces New Tablet Designed to Improve Paperweight Functionality (Image by Ilovebutter, CC license)

It has become increasingly obvious over the last couple of years that some gamers are convinced that after Obama satisfies his deep-seated yearning to take away our guns he is going to send in the UN black helicopters and take away our hardcore videogames.  In the past I’ve written about how the irrational fear that casual games are “taking over” has produced pathological troglodyte behavior directed against women who have dared simply to voice an opinion about games.  Recently I came across an instance that has at its root the same pathology (oh no!  Games are being played by everyone!) but adopted a refreshingly different approach: denial.

Throw an Apple hard enough and it can really sting
In a recent opinion piece for Polygon, Shawn Foust, currently VP of Design at Quark Games argued that “In two years mobile and tablet games will be predominantly hardcore.”  Admittedly this pronouncement could be seen as a little self-serving given that Foust’s company is dedicated to producing hardcore games for mobile platforms.  But let’s give Foust the benefit of the doubt and assume that his work has followed his passions and beliefs.  What justifies the confidence behind his statement?  Simple.  “Every media platform optimized for games eventually ends up going hardcore. Mobile will not be different.”  The PC, the Internet, consoles, all started out as oriented toward casual games and moved inevitably toward hardcore.  The reason, he argues, lies in the desires of gamers themselves: “For all of our faults as customers (we’re very torch- and pitchfork-oriented), we gamers — and I’m speaking of the hardcore variety — are loyal and dedicated. . . .For us, games aren’t an idle pastime. They are a commitment. We can’t be distracted.”  Casual games, he makes clear, are all about simple distraction, passing the time.

Sadly, this piece simply confirms why people should not be in a rush to invest in Foust’s company.  In the first place he’s exhibiting the classic circular reasoning evident among so many game developers.  Notice the nifty little rhetorical sidestep?  I’m going to talk about all gamers. . .by which I mean hardcore gamers.  But this is typical of the industry more broadly (indeed, in a former age it virtually defined the industry): all we make are hardcore games which people are buying therefore all gamers are hardcore gamers which means that we need to keep making nothing but hardcore games.  It is a completely fallacious argument to believe that your intended audience thinks exactly like you do and in the game industry it has led to some of the most problematic industry practices: the widespread hypersexualism (we like big boobs so of course everyone does) and racism (we like plucky black sidekicks, doesn’t everyone?).

Yet that all pales before the major problem here which is simply that Foust is wrong.  He’s wrong about the past and he’s wrong about the future.  But it is the reason why he is wrong that interests me.

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This is just a quick announcement to let everyone know that you can now follow the Intelligently Artificial blog via Twitter.  Our Twitter handle, in a tip of the hat to McKenzie Wark’s influential book Gamer Theory, is @LucidlyLudic.  There may be some hiccuping and farting while we iron out any wrinkles with the WordPress posting mechanism but that probably won’t end up looking much different than most of the content on Twitter!

Given the impending shut down of Google Reader on July 1 blog aggregation is increasingly migrating into the Twittersphere so we hope that this will provide all of you with some additional convenience.

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…)

The Origin of it All

It was the fall of `92.  We had just arrived in the country and needed to buy a PC for my grad school work.  We opted for a mighty 386 computer (and sprang for the 40Mhz rather than the 33) and after considerable soul-searching had a ridiculously excessive 1Mb video card installed (how good was this machine?  When I discovered Doom a couple of years later, much of the game played as a blinking, growling, slideshow accompanied by the occasional delayed weapon blast).  I don’t even remember how we found the particular machine, probably through the newspaper (we were young and stupid).  At any rate, it began having some issues pretty quickly.  So I took it back to the rent-a-box place where we’d bought it, somewhere in the anonymous light industrial depths of the city of Orange.  The sales person wasn’t at all happy to see me but quickly established, as I’d suspected, that the motherboard was defective and offered to replace it for me while I waited.  Then he sat me down in front of another PC with an attached joystick and started up a game called Wing Commander.

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A short time ago I wrote about the avalanche of internet douchebaggery that descended on Jennifer Hepler, a writer for Bioware who had the temerity to. . .well, open her mouth and offer an opinion about games.  Then Reddit got hold of it, and the next thing you she is being subjected to a torrent of misogynist abuse.  The level of pure hate directed at her was as revealing of a new, desperation on the part of hardcore gamers concerning the changing trajectory of game development as it was entirely typical of the neanderthal attitudes toward women held by many players and assiduously cultivated by game designers.

Well, it seems the bottom feeders are at it again.  Recently, pop culture critic Anita Sarkeesian put up a proposal on Kickstarter.  Sarkeesian runs the videoblog Feminist Frequency, where she offers thoughtful analysis of specific pop culture artifacts (like the Hunger Games series) or more general media phenomena relevant to gender issues.  One series of videos, Tropes vs Women, looked at a some of the most common stereotypes governing depictions of women in popular culture.  For her Kickstarter project she proposed an ambitious series of videos that would apply the Tropes vs Women concept to the world of videogames.  Given the shockingly retrograde depictions of women in most videogames (if they make an appearance at all) there is obviously enough material for an extensive series.  Sarkeesian is seeking funding to undertake a lot of background research for the videos, since her intent is for the videos to be freely available and supplemented with materials that would allow them to be used as teaching resources (the original Tropes vs Women videos are being used in this capacity).  The problem was, Sarkeesian made the same mistake as Jennifer Hepler.

She opened her mouth.

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I spend a lot of my time trying, in print and in person, to work against the negative stereotypes that abound concerning videogames and gamers.  Sure, sometimes that effort involves pointing up some of the negative characteristics of gamers and game developers that a lot of people either don’t notice or tacitly accept as “just the way things are.”  Yet, on the whole I am usually trying to convince others that the world of gaming is interesting, complex, significant and, potentially, a hugely important force shaping our culture.  Every so often, however, I’m reminded how powerfully the gaming industry is not an ally in this effort.

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There are many mysteries in life to which we will never, ever find a satisfactory answer: why Wall Street continues to make money hand over fist in the middle of a recession, how baseball replaced watching paint dry as the US national past-time, why anyone takes Michele Bachman seriously.

One of those unsolvable mysteries is categorically not why the genre of online flight simulation remains a nerdy niche unheard-of, unheralded, and unvisited by the overwhelming majority of gamers. The reason is because flight simmers, especially the hardcore variety, really like the fact that their preferred gaming genre is deeply unpopular. In fact, they want it to be even less popular than it is and to that end willingly applaud flight simulation developers who insist on giving them shitty, unplayable dreck instead of actual functioning simulation games.
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