Monday, November 28, 2011

That's great and all, but what's it like?

Gaming journalism is dead. Whenever I read reviews, all I see is hyperbole and description. "But..." you might say, "...shouldn't a game review be descriptive? That's the point!"

No, stupid. I can get descriptions from any one of the 100 previews and movies that are out. Let me give you an example of a modern day review:

Here's what is essentially said:

Gears of War 3 is savage, wicked, brutal, thesaurus. One of the best games of the year. (Better than all those other best games of the year--this got a 9.5 compared to a solidly mediocre 9.) There's lots of neato dialog. The game looks really good too. There are enemy generators to shoot! WOW! You have to use cover, but you can't stay behind the cover if you want to win the game. So there's a lot of fucking strategy involved. Do you stay behind the wall, or emerge from the wall and shoot shit? Choices. There are lots of guns in this game. The sound of a bullet hitting an enemy sounds like a bullet hitting an enemy (if a bullet hitting an enemy sounds like stepping in a 4 foot deep mud puddle). The different difficulty levels have different difficulty. You can play with other people or against them. Killing is cool. Getting killed sucks. You can play against other people lots of different ways. The more you play the game, the better you get. There's a mode where you shoot aliens and pick up money, because games where you can shoot aliens AND pick up money are better than games where you can only do one of them. The game is pretty easy. Even if you suck you'll be able to finish it. This is a game that is fun.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Boring environments

Aside from the brown/gray problem, I've noticed that lots of current-gen games have really boring environments. I've been seeing more and more variations on the "urban" theme; 1940's, near future, distant future, most of which have a bunch of ruined buildings. The huge crop of FPS/3rd person shooters is just littered with this type of thing.

Why? Is this kind of environment easier to make look "real"? There are so many games now that have "real" environments as opposed to fantasy-type settings that really look weird and cool. Look at MDK 2 for instance. That game had so many goddam cool looking areas. Even Hawkins' ship had a unique "retro-future" look to it, with 60's decor coupled with futuristic things.

Of the top of my head, I'd think the Metroid series might have some potential to pull off things like this, but no. Most current Metroid environments are really generic. You've got your metallic spacy corridors, and then you go outside into a jungle, lava pit, snowy area, blah blah. I can't even tell which Metroid game is which by looking at screenshots.

Metroid Prime screenshots
Metroid Prime 2
Metroid Prime 3

If anything, the look has gotten worse over the series, which you can clearly see heading down the "same thing as the last game, but with more brown" road.

The modern gen games I've played:

God of War 3: Yeah, realistic Greek temples. Seen it.
DMC 4: A castle, a snow area, a forest, rather boring. (DMC 1's castle was really creepy. DMC 4's just looks dead.)
Demon's Souls: Another garden variety of mostly "real" environments.
Dante's Inferno: This probably has the most interesting environment to it, as it's someone's vision of Hell, with things like walls of coffins containing live (dead?) souls, people entrapped in climbable walls, and the golden area representing greed (why does Hell have an ice bridge though?). But the neat looking areas are more the exception to the norm, and they're still coupled by rocky hallways.

So why are developers so obsessed with "real" as opposed to more fantasy environments? Because you can look at a real environment and have a point of reference, something you can't nevessarily do with a fantasy environment? "Why yes, that does look exactly how a damaged skyscraper would look.") Because developers are copying each other and are no longer being creative?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Why I hate Greg Kasavin (Part 1--his reviews).

As most people who know me are well aware, I think Greg Kasavin is one of the worst things to ever happen to the videogame industry. He's been stinking up the industry for a good 15 years now, and shows no signs of slowing down. What's worse is that over the years he's moved from being a shitty reviewer and journalist to a shitty game developer. So yeah, the guy who has no fucking clue about anything important in videogames is designing them.

This entry will document my journey of Kasavin hate, which, as you will see, is much deeper than any of the typical "Greg gave my favorite game a 9.8 instead of a 10, he sucks" Kasavin hate.

Many years ago, I frequently read reviews at any site I could. One site I frequented, probably now the biggest Media spot in the industry, was While reading reviews at Gamespot, I'd often see some fucked up line, either in the sense that it was contradictory, irrelevant, or just fucking stupid. When I'd read such a line, I'd always subsequently notice that Greg wrote the review.

After awhile, I'd see a fucked up line and think "Sounds like a Kasavin-ism" and then see Greg did in fact write the review.

Here are a just a few examples (because otherwise this topic would take 4 hours to read):

From Ninja Gaiden: "The key to the dynamic nature of the action is that Ryu is so mobile. When in doubt, you can always make him leap away from a combat situation, or you can make him leap straight into one."

Wow. You mean that I not only can jump towards enemies, but away from them too? This is pretty typical of Kasavin--praising a game by citing some completely inane or basic mechanic.

From Castlevania, Lament of Innocence:

"The camera angle is rarely a detriment [then goes on for the rest of the paragraph complaining about the camera]"

"Overall, the game is challenging but not overly difficult. Save points are judiciously, but not too liberally, interspersed throughout the castle, as if to give the would-be damsel rescuer a tough-but-not-unfair time."

(As a side note, notice he considers LoI to be "challenging." More on this later.)

This is a prime example of Greg being wishy washy. His reviews are full of this type of thing. At best, he just sounds indecisive or waffling.

At worst, he can just flat out contradict himself:

From King's Field:

"Fully polygonal graphics with minimal texture mapping make for King's Field's clean, unpretentious look, though an overzealous use of earth tones in the visuals proves dreary and unsettling. Since the game is based on a mid-1995 Japanese release, its graphics look dated by today's high standards. However, the unfaltering polygonal consistency of King's Field is mesmerizing after extended play. Indeed, few games are this visually absorbing."

OK, so the game has a brown, dreary, and dated look, yet it's one of the most visually absorbing games EVER. Yes, ever. Perfect example of a Kasavin contradiction.

"Few games are this visually absorbing." This is disguised hyperbole, another one of Greg's faults. (As his time at gamespot went on, he'd stop disguising his hyperbole altogether, never hesitating to use the term "best" or "of all time" in his reviews.

And let's look at one more fun line from this review: ""a forgettable synthesized music score detracts from the game's visual punch."

This is just flat out nonsense. How can a game's music detract from its visuals? I guess if the music is annoying enough you might throw a brick at the TV, preventing you from seeing the game. That's what I bet he meant.

Oh, and WTF is "unfaltering polygonal consistency"??? That the game never has polygon tearing? That the game never stops looking polygonal? It's not worth figuring out, I suppose, because it's just another Kasavism.

That's enough review examples, or I'd go on all day long.

Now, although I'd like to play off Greg as an idiot, I think it's more the case that he likes to a) pay attention to and dwell on irrelevant parts of a game, and b) has trouble expressing himself. Note this is still bad for a reviewer.

In summary, Greg's reviews border on pure description, often heaping bland praise on minor aspects of the games he reviews. He often contradicts himself, or just spouts plain nonsense.

Annnnddd I need to go now. So I've updated the title to indicate this is just one entry of a series on why Greg Kasavin sucks.

To come: Opinions on his editorials, blog, and interviews, and his concept of "challenge".

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

E3 2010

Dear Videogame Industry:

Please die already.

So yeah, E3, the biggest videogame tradeshow of the year, is going on. So far, everything I've seen just makes me want to hole up with an NES and never come out again.

So far, the big deal has been *dun dun dun*


Yeah, wasn't this "cool" and "hip" when the Wii came out? Didn't Sony and Microsoft basically rip on Nintendo for a year, ragging them about being "kiddie" and "gimmicky" and how motion control was a direction they'd never go? Then they saw Nintendo kick the shit out of them in sales. Now guess who's hopping on the motion control bandwagon?

So far, almost everything I've seen from E3 involves people flailing around like those air tube guys on the side of the road. Let's get something straight, videogame industry:


It's not fun. It's not accurate. It doesn't enhance the game. And worst of all, it encourages designing games BASED ON A CONTROLLER. Yeah, let's not base our design on a difficulty curve or an interplay of gameplay mechanics, or anything. Let's make sure you have to move your body 95 different ways.

Second, have you seen people using these things? I feel embarrassed just WATCHING them flail and hop around like imbeciles while a crowd of thousands watches them live.

Finally, the technology STILL doesn't work. If it did work, it would still suck. But it doesn't work, so it REALLY sucks. Again, I was embarrassed watching Shigeru Miyamoto, perhaps the most revered man in the gaming industry, flail around on stage demonstrating the new Zelda game. What was funny is that the first guy up there was supposed to act like he couldn't control the game properly, and that Miyamoto was going to BURST OUT ON STAGE and SAVE THE DAY by showing what an EXPERT can do with the system.

Here's how it went:

Dumbass guy: *flails around* "Shit" *flails some more and gets hit* "fuck" *gets tangled in wires and falls over* "SHITMOTHERFUCKINGWHORE"

Miyamoto: *bursts through screen* "You have problem. I show you." *raises arms to do a vertical sword slash*

Link: *turns in a circle and sits down*

Miyamoto "性交" (That's "FUCK" in Japanese.)

Yup. We all make fun of the Power Glove and Uforce as some of the worst game peripherals of all time. And now we are like "THIS IS THE DIRECTION OF THE INDUSTRY." Fuck you, motion control. You know what, game industry? I wish I had a motion control strap on dildo so I could MOTION CONTROL SKULFUCK YOU.

And if it's not motion control, it's another brown and gray, monochrome, why-do-I-have-a-color-TV, first person shooter or post apocalyptic space marine square dance.

Fuck you, game industry.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Modern Classic

Just a quick post today! I've updated Pac Man to appeal to today's videogamers, since gamers these days will accept nothing short of a gritty, mature, atmosphere.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Looking at challenge, part 1.

Most people who know me well know that I consider challenge to be the most important part of the game. A good game has to be challenging. By definition, a game that is not challenging is not good. I don't care if it has the best story, graphics, characters, and whatever other garbage people considered to be hallmarks of a good game (e.g., fun...). If it's easy, the best it can be is mediocre.

As such, I've decided to write a little bit about challenge. First, let me jot off a few basic challenges that may be present in a game. I'm going to try to break them down into their most basic constituents.

Enemy pattern.

This challenge is to recognize what the enemy does, and use it to counter, avoid, damage, ect, it.

Reaction challenge.
You have to react quickly to something, or suffer the consequences.

Timing challenge.
You have to time your action properly to have maximum effect.

Platform challenge.
Have to make an accurate jump.

Hard hitter
Enemy hits so hard it behooves you to avoid blows altogether. Contrast with:

One hit death.
Different from "Hard Hitter", but is a pretty fine line. I'd say the former usually involves some sort of lifebar or HP (e.g., PunchOut!!), whereas the latter is just an instant kill (e.g., Contra).

Timed challenge.
You have a limited amount of time to do something.

Exploit weakness.
For massive damage.

Resource management.
You have a finite amount of resources to use with which to accomplish a task. The resource can be something like life or mana as well as a more traditional resource.

Strategic challenge.
Assign roles/units/etc properly.

Find the weakness.
Enemy seems invincible until you find out how to attack it correctly.

That's enough to work with for now.

A big part of making a game with a good challenge is how the designer combines these, both within and across the encounters of a game. Take Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! for instance; a game that I consider to have one of the best designed challenges of all time.

As you progress through the game, the designers combine several of these constituent parts to create uniquely challenging fights, each of which stand out in one way or another. The farther you get in the game, the more challenges you have to deal with at once.

Glass Joe: Well, here's a freebie.
Von Kaiser: Enemy Pattern
Piston Honda: Enemy Pattern + Reaction Challenge

By the time you get to the end of the World Circuit, you're being hit with a ton of these challenges at once, and the challenges that you started seeing early on start becoming less forgiving (e.g., reaction challenge requires much faster reactions)

Super Macho Man: Enemy pattern + Reaction Challenge + Timed Challenge + Hard Hitter
Mike Tyson: Enemy pattern + Reaction Challenge + Timed Challenge + Hard Hitter + One Hit Death

I think videogame designers had more of a knack for combining these types of challenges better a couple decades ago than today. Heck, I've seen a couple games that not only fail to combine types of challenge in a meaningful way, but that don't incorporate ANY of them in good chunks of a game (e.g., Bloodrayne.).

Another way these challenges can be misused is, instead of combining them in an optimal way, just shooting to have one (maybe two) types of challenge, but make them stiff. The most recently released game I've played, God of War III, tended to go this route. There were a few tough parts in this game, but unfortunately, they tended to be one dimensional (e.g., Cerberus hit hard, the stupid tube tunnels were simple reaction challenges).

I'm not sure why this is. Perhaps because the focus of modern games is more heavily focused on story, or visual art. Not that gamers these days care either way. I think lots of gamers say they like a challenge, but as I like to say, for most gamers, "I beat the boss on the first try, but just barely" is an acceptable level of challenge.

Some ideas for upcoming posts:

-The relationship between challenge, difficulty, and frustration.
-Difficulty settings.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Gamers have no standards

As much as the average videogamer would like to think that he or she has discriminating tastes, he or she will inevitably rave about a terrible game and go through great lengths to defend it.

A lot of the mechanic here probably goes back to my psychology post, but you can observe these twisted, mental workings manifest by going to any forum (gamefaqs is usually good, since the dirge of the videogamer population resides there) of a newly-released videogame, and watch the idiocy spew forth.

Videogamers will like anything that developers throw at them. Perhaps it's the "shiny and new" effect, or perhaps people feel stupid and get defensive when their first impression is positive and then someone points out just how shitty a game is.

What's even worse is when gamers will acknowledge that a game sucks, and will STILL like it! This is a verbatim copy-paste from a recent post made by a NIER fan: "This game is just plain bad in so many ways, yet somehow I love it."

That's some brilliant logic, junior. And in case you think this is just some isolated moment of idiocy, it's not. For YEARS now, I've been watching videogamers utter the phrase "This game is boring but fun." What the fuck does that mean? That yes, the game sucks, but you're dumb enough to be entertained by it? That your standards are so low, you don't care what the game does as long as it responds to your commands?

That leads me to my next point, fun. For years we've lamented the term "fun" being used to describe videogames, such as "This game is good because it's fun." That's tantamount to saying "I like this game because I like it." Most gamers, when you ask them why they like a game, will simply say "Because it's fun." This tells me that most gamers don't actually think about what makes a game good.

Is it any wonder that developers keep churning out shitty games like there's no tomorrow? They know that, as long as the play control isn't horribly broken, gamers will praise it like it's the 234th coming of videogame Jesus.

Man up, gamers. Acknowledging a game is bad doesn't make you a bad person. Stop mindlessly supporting drivel and don't be afraid to be critical or scrutinizing of videogames.