Archive for the ‘Game Genres’ Category

St Cuthbert

Saint Cuthbert? Or a modern videogame designer?

It shouldn’t by this point be any surprise that the mainstream media does a lousy job commenting intelligently on videogames.  When they aren’t talking about videogames as a business (in which case they are always awesome) the standard narrative remains that playing games is bad for you.  Games either actively damage you in some way or prevent you from engaging in activities which are supposedly a lot better for you.  Sure, the mainstream media does occasionally flirt with the idea that games may be beneficial on the individual and social level.  But this is really the equivalent of the fake compliment, something they know they have to say to keep the wheels of conversation moving, when what they really want to say is that those jeans do make you look fat.  When something new and game-related appears, however, the media reach for their default frameworks. It took all of two days after the release of Pokemon Go, for example, for the Washington Post to come up with a story built around the stock “games are dangerous!” frame.  Like all such stories, it takes a few anecdotes and while it never explicitly argues that this is a trend, strongly implies it, and relies upon readers’ familiarity with the broader frame to come to the necessary conclusion for themselves.  (The Pokemon Go phenomenon is obnoxious but for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the supposed potential to make people so self-absorbed that they walk into lamp posts or in front of cars; in terms of massive levels of screen-based self-absorption society has left orbit on that one already).

But there’s at least some evidence to suggest that it may be making videogames that is hazardous to your health.


This post continues the discussion I began in “Chillin’ at the OK Corral;” In that post I re-evaluated both Guild Wars 2 and Star Wars: The Old Republic based on their pre-launch claims concerning the revolutionary transformation they were about to unleash upon a helpless planet earth.  Since their release, the Massively Multiplayer Game environment has seen some interesting changes over the last year or so.  What might these changes indicate about the fate of existing MMORPGs and ones still in development?


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…)

Along with the predictable cavalcade of Viagra ads and missives from prominent Nigerian businessman asking me to help them take care of an unexpected financial windfall, my e-mail today included the following piece of news from Sony Online Entertainment:

Dear Star Wars Galaxies™ Community Member,
We write to you today to inform you that on December 15, 2011, Sony Online Entertainment (SOE) and LucasArts will end all services (MMO and Trading Card Game) for Star Wars Galaxies (SWG). The shutdown of SWG is a very difficult decision, but SOE and LucasArts have mutually agreed that the end of 2011 is the appropriate time to end the game.
We are extremely grateful to all of the SWG fans. We have had the rare opportunity to host one of the most dedicated and passionate online gaming communities and we truly appreciate the support we’ve received from each and every one of you over the course of the past eight years.
In recognition of your incredible loyalty, we are extending special Fan Appreciation offers to the current SWG community. We also plan to go out with a bang with a galaxy-ending in-game event in December and hope to see you all there. The details relating to these offers and events as well as the timeline and specifics regarding the discontinuation of the service, are provided below.
Again, we want to extend our heartfelt thanks to our player community for making SWG one of the best online communities in gaming history.
Sincerely,Sony Online Entertainment & LucasArts

Now in some ways I’m not surprised.  I haven’t played Star Wars Galaxies (which first launched in June of 2003) since 2006.  I’ve written in some detail about how much I loved the early version of the game, a love only surpassed by my dislike of the so-called “New Game Enhancements and my disappointment at watching the game turn into a shadow of its former glory.


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.