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.

Friday, April 30, 2010

What's happened to Tankspot?

So here I am, fresh off my account expiring making another WoW post.

The website used to be a decent (but never great, IMO) site for tanking tips and gear; somewhere you could go to chat with other tanks about tanky topics.

Then, about when Wrath came out, the site slowly started hosting strat videos. This trend continued until Tankspot was the new bosskillers. All they did was strat vids. And that Lore guy's insipid comments about everything...why people worship the guy so much I'll never understand. All he does is spout off some basic common sense ("If you want to avoud burnout don't raid old content!") and people fall over themselves.

And just when I thought they couldn't get any worse, now all they've been doing is panhandling for money for their pet projects and reporting the same cataclysm info that MMO champ presented a week ago.

I guess the blame isn't entirely on them. Currently, Warrior tanking is embroiled in nothing more than "Sure, tanking is mindless and easy, but other tanks have it even more mindless and easier than we do!" So yeah, tanking kinda sucks now, which is one of the bigger reasons I quit WoW.

So I guess I shouldn't care. But I guess I still look back on older days fondly, when tanking was serious business. Yeah, I was a fucking bad ass tank. I could tank any BC heroic in blues and make it look easy. I was the best. So yeah, it bothers me that tanking has been reduced to "stand there and get hit." And the Tankspot change is a good indicator of that.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Bad gaming journalism

I've talked about how horrible professional reviews are. Now it's time to turn an eye to mainstream journalism.

I read this on some Yahoo blogger's page. Why players don't finish games.

According to the lead in, "only 30% of players finish games they start." Apparently this statistic comes from a developer.

First of all, what the fuck does this even mean? If you're to take it at face value, 30% of gamers finish every game they play, and the other 70% never finish a single game. Another, more realistic meaning might be that only 30% of players regularly finish games. Third, and most realistically (but it's probably not meant this way) is that in the population of gamers, 30% of games that get started, get finished.

Second, what does it mean to "finish" a game? Nowadays this line is completely blurry. Beat the last boss on easy? Get every trophy or achievement? Depending on what you want to call "finishing" a game, you can make this statistic as low as you want! And speaking of definition, they don't even say what a GAME is! You might think it's completely obvious, but how these guys define "game" can have a huge impact on a statistic. Is Solitaire, for the purposes of this survey, considered a game, for instance? Is a game with no ending (Space Invaders) a game? Are arcade games games?

Third, who is the sample here? Joe, who closed out his solitaire game because his boss walked in the room? Timmy the 6 year old who picked up Halo and walked around the room? It's impossible to have any idea what this statistic means without knowing the demographic from which it came.

Soo....right off the bat, we have a mainstream, professionally produced piece of work that is based entirely off an ambiguous statistic.

So other comments.

1. Games are too long.

This quote caught my eye:

"A hidden secret of the industry is that a lot of games are that long in an attempt to prevent you from buying competitor’s titles. That means there’s often a bit of filler in those lengthy, beefy games."

This from some suit of some shitty yet powerful company. Really? Because last time I checked, many gamers play more than one game at a time. Aside from that, this is one of the stupidest business strategies I've ever seen. "Hey Dave, how can we ensure our game is #1?" "Make it 300 hours long so the player won't buy other games!" Gee, how about making your game BETTER?? Does this really suggest that game companies, instead of trying to make good games, are instead trying to make games that prevent you from buying other companies' games? While I played Warcraft, I only bought a few games. You know why? It wasn't because I was spending 6000 hours with WoW. It was because console games generally suck now.

2. Games are too hard.

Yeah, we've seen this one before. Another ridiculous quote:

Early levels are designed to be fairly easy, but because it’s considered normal for players to not finish a game, developers will ratchet up the difficultly so high on later levels that it discourages all but the narrowest of audiences
Um, sure. Whatever you say, boss. It also says "Players don't want to play levels over and over again, especially on easy." Yeah, sorry, if you're stuck on easy mode of God of War III, you need a new hobby. Again, I think people have a skewed notion of what a "hard" game is. It's getting to the point where it seems that if you die, the game is hard.

3. It's not worth the effort.

There are many ways you could spin this, but I think the way the author spins it is very archaic. He acts as if stories in games are something NEW that are used to engage the player. He also acts as if accomplishment is not enough reward; that, no matter how good the game, in order to really feel complete in the experience, the loose ends need to be tied up. This reminds me of the scene in Stand By Me where Gordy tells the story about the pie eating contest. When he finishes this entertaining, creative story, the other boys cheer, and then Teddy goes "And then what happened?" It's meant to convey Teddy's stupidity and shallowness, which is exactly what gamers exhibit when they say something like "Great game, but the ending sucked," implying that a great gaming experience was ruined by lack of a happy ending (so to speak).

The last two are kind of silly, "The definition of cool keeps changing." What does this have to do with gamers not finishing games? I really doubt gamers stop playing games because the main character is no longer the hot playground topic. And "too many other distractions." This Sternberg character says "Yeah, 5 years ago we had all the time in the world to waste away, and now we are BUSY." Is that even worth commenting on?

I shudder to think of the implications this has for the gaming industry. We have fucking top level executives, CEO's and directors spewing this shit. If you think writing an article based on some fucked up, useless statistic is lame, wait till you see the games these jokers are designing based on them.

I figure I'll mention some reasons why *I* don't finish a game:

1. The game fucking sucks. How's that for a reason to stop? Broken control, boring, too easy, all these reasons can fall under the heading of "THE GAME SUCKS." How about that, Mr. Chris Morris, writer at Is that a good enough reason to stop playing a game?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why I quit World of Warcraft

I'll try to make this accessible to non-WoW players :) Aside from the time thing, which is a large factor (the amount of time spent on this game was killing me), I cite three main factors, all of which stem from Blizzard's attempt to make WoW "more accessible" to anyone who wanted to play. I've grown to hate the phrase "more accessible" as it applies to gaming, because it generally means a game that's not designed to have any challenge. So how has Blizzard made wow "more accessible?"

1. Give everyone gear. In the first iteration of WoW, by and large you could only get the most powerful gear by doing the 40 person raids. In other words, it was really hard to get. Something like 4-5% of WoW players ever saw any of the end-game dungeons, so this super gear was very rare to see. In its current state, you can get damn good gear without even setting foot in a raid. One way this was accomplished was by giving the players tokens for completing the mundane dungeons in WoW. Of course, high end players did this too to get more gear faster, which made getting gear very grindy. Now you didn't HAVE to do this, but if you wanted gear fast, you did it. So you're forced to do bland, old content to get gear as fast as possible.

2. Badly tune the difficulty levels. In the original WoW and the first expansion, you had one difficulty setting. Most average players weren't even able to even see the earilest bosses in the mid-level dungeons. In order to get more people raiding, Blizzard introduced Normal and Hard modes. In its current form, 90% of players have beaten the easiest raid boss of the final dungeon in the game. This suggests how easy it is. The problem is Hard modes aren't currently released right away when a new dungeon comes out, so you're forced to play through "easy mode" for a few months. We were basically killing new bosses the first or second try, and that wasn't fun for me. Add to that there's nothing to do until the harder modes come out, so you're doing that for months. Of course, this isn't fun for the highest end guilds that compete for world firsts, so when hardmodes came out, they were RIDICULOUSLY overtuned so that the top 100 guilds in the world would have trouble killing them

For a guild like mine that's pretty hardcore but not world class (we were around the 95th percentile worldwide), that's just impossible to beat. So we were faced with killing EZmode, which was boring as fuck, then we'd do the hard version (in some cases they were actually two separate dungeons) and spend three hours a night getting the shit beaten out of us for a few weeks. This soon became apparent, and blizzard started losing players, so they introduced a monthly (or so) 5% stacking buff to HP, healing and damage done, which allows guilds to gradually work their way through hard modes. This is pretty stupid too, because essentially you're just waiting around for the game to make you strong enough to beat certain bosses.

3. Dumb down the game. When I first started raiding, I found it exciting and challenging to be the best player I could by mastering my character. As WoW progressed, this changed. Without getting too WoW-technical, certain things you had to do became automatic. As the game grew, players got more abilities that trivialized certain duties, and the gear became more homoginized. The latter point was a big issue for me. I used to enjoy tailoring special sets of gear for different bosses based on the type of challenge the boss presented. Kinda like in Vagrant Story where you could re-gem gear or make new weapons to handle specific enemy attributes. Now the gear is all "one size fits all" for most bosses. To make a ridiculous, exaggerated analogy, let's say that when Pac Man was released, you had to do the following basic things:

-Eat the dots
-Avoid the monsters
-Manage power pellets so you didn't run out of this resource too early

But after a few years, the developers thought this was too much for your average person, so they made Pac Man invincible. How much fun would it be if all you had to do in Pac Man was eat all the dots?? It's the same thing with my WoW character. All I am now is just a damage sponge. It's boring.

There are a ton of smaller things as well, but I don't think they'd be interesting to a non WoW player as they're rather WoW specific.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Psyche out

As a psychologist, I often like to apply my trade to perceptions of videogames, to understand why gamers react the way they do to certain things. I'm going to talk about a few principles of social psychology, and how they might apply to gaming.

1. Expectations influence perceptions. This one is pretty simple. People tend to see what they expect. To give an example of an actual study, people were told they would either be watching a video of "soccer fans" or "soccer hooligans" at a soccer game. Both groups were shown the same footage of people celebrating at an international soccer game, and asked to rate several aspects of their behavior. Not surprisingly, the group expecting to see "soccer hooligans" rated the behavior as much more aggressive.

So what about videogamers? The buildup to a game release is a big factor. Take Joe Halo, who loves, well, you know. He knows Halo 4 is gonna be coming out soon, and he just knows it's going to be fabulous. so he expects the game to be great. So naturally when it's released, he thinks it's the best game ever.

Why does this happen? For one, we have a tendency to seek information that confirms our expectancies. This is called confirmation bias. We notice things that confirm our expectations, and ignore or undervalue things that don't. Thus, we really pay attention to when something good or exciting is happening (e.g., a plot twist, a tough boss) but don't when something bad or annoying is happening (e.g., long, boring hallways, mindless, easy combat).

Second, our expectations drive our perceptions of ambiguous events or behavior. For example, a shoulder bump as you walk past someone can be hostile or accidental. Which is it? If you expect the person who bumped you to be aggressive, you're going to interpret the bump as hostile. Likewise, if you expect a game to be incredible, you're going to interpret ambiguous things (e.g., the average puzzle) as being great.

You might find yourself thinking, "Well, if a gamer builds his expectations too much, they will be unrealistically high, and he's setting himself up for disappointment, and would actually make him see the game falling short on expectations, and thus bad."

No, not really, which brings me to point two.

2. Cognitive dissonance. Cognitive dissonance is a fancy bit of jargon for "When you feel one thing and do another, it makes you feel bad." So if you think you need to lose weight and you eat two bacon double cheeseburgers, chili fries, and a 64 oz. coke for lunch, you'll feel bad. Likewise, if you spend 4 months convincing yourself a game is awesome, claiming it will be awesome on message boards, and telling your mom how awesome it will be, you're going to feel like an idiot when it sucks.

When it comes to removing dissonance, you can do one of three things. Change your attitude, change your behavior, or rationalize. Without going to deeply into this, the easiest thing to do is change your attitude. So if you can maintain that this average game is really great, you maintain a consistency between attitude and behavior, and you feel fine.

This also applies in making decisions. If you have a choice between two consoles, for instance, you're going to play up the positives and downplay the negatives of the one you pick, and do the reverse for the one you didn't pick. What this does is make you feel more consistent in your actions.

I'm out of time now, but I haven't really gotten to explain as much as I wanted to. But I think this will work as is. On a final note, all of this stuff happens without our awareness or intent, so it's not like you can turn this on and off at will, or realize that it happens. But at least you now know that it happens, which is the first step to being a more discriminating gamer.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

My favorite games

I realized that I haven't given much of an introduction to myself for readers of this blog, and since a "favorite games" list says a lot about a gamer, what better introduction than such a list?

Presented in no particular order.

Metroid (NES). This was the first game I really fell in love with. I had seen the commercials and read about it in a gaming mag or two, and the idea that you could explore a giant maze while fighting your way through it action-game style really appealed to me. In my first experience with it, I was relegated to "mapper" as my friend Richard, who had just gotten the game at my urging, played it through the night and into the morning. It wasn't until years later that I got my own copy, bought brand new near the end of the game's original (silver box) production run.

Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! (NES). I fell in love with the arcade Punch-Out as a 10 year old, and pumped quarters into it just as fast as Bald Bull could lay me out. When I learned a version of the game for the NES came out, I wanted it. Badly. Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! is the epitome of everything I love in a videogame. A perfectly designed difficulty curve, pattern recognition, an epic final "boss," and a small moveset that you had to use better, faster, and more fluidly in order to beat the game.

Goldeneye 007 (N64). I'm not an FPS fan by any means, but Goldeneye grabbed me. It had great control, a good challenge even on normal mode, and plain had a cool atmosphere. The thing that kept me coming back was the higher difficulty levels (which had new objectives) and the cheats ("Facility 00 agent in 2:05? Are you kidding me?" I had to do it. Had to).

Vagrant Story (Ps1). One of the few videogame stories I ever really got into. But that's just icing. RPGs are very hit or miss with me, and Vagrant Story was a hit. If you didn't invest in the combat system, the game became borderline impossible about midway through. If you did invest in it, it was still a stiff challenge. I loved the straight up dungeon crawl, with no open fields to fill content or sink time. Great level design and engaging combat, and one of the nicest looking PS1 games to boot.

R-Type series (Delta and R-Types), PS1. I'm a huge shooter fan, and often lament the death of the genre. The Playstation R-Type games were among my favorites, featuring crazy level design (Stage 7 of R-Type 1, anyone?) and requiring twitch reflexes on top of pattern learning. Even after you knew the enemy patterns, you were by no means guaranteed a free ride. A no-force, no item R-Type Delta run was my crowning achievement of this series. Hell, just finishing R-Type with unlimited continues gives you bragging rights. That's how tough they come.

MDK2 (Dreamcast). Great platforming, fast, challenging combat, and incredible boss fights (OMG, Zizzy with Max!), all topped off with a big dose of humor. Level 8-C, climbing the nuclear reactor, is one of my favorite levels of all time. Almost perfect difficulty balance (stage 9 was a little on the easy side, but hey), you were pushed to the limit surviving even in the early stages. I had hopes of a 3-D Metroid being like this. And please ignore the dumbed down Ps2 version.

Mars Matrix (Dreamcast). Although I love shooters, the more extreme of the "bullet hell" types emerged, the less I liked them. Mars Matrix has a nice balance of bullet barrages and maneuverability. I still haven't finished the game on three credits. I sunk hours into the Elite Modes, racking up scores that cracked every top 10 of the (now defunct) official Mars Matrix score tracking site.

Shinobi (Ps2). A contender for my favorite game. Great, old-school flavor platforming with a modern touch (wall running) paired with great combat and tough bosses. Shinobi has a perfect difficulty curve, culminating in one of the best(of not the best) final boss fights I've seen. And that's just normal mode. Games are all about the challenge, and Shinobi delivers in spades.

Devil May Cry 3 (Ps2). I really enjoyed the first DMC, and the third took that, polished it up, and dropped you right into the fray the second the game started. Normal mode hooked me, and the harder ones kept me returning. Nice, classic-style boss fights (both in challenge and pattern-based flavor) and the normal enemies weren't simply cannon-fodder filler. Outstanding, responsive controls really pulled everything together.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Professional reviews part II

I have a little bit more time to finish off some comments about why professional reviews are not credible.

In my last post, I mentioned how professional media outlets are scared to give big name games a bad score for fear of fan and game company backlash. Combining this thought with my dislike of the rating scale with lots of gradations, I've come to the conclusion that a large scale (say, 100 points) allows reviewers to be a little bit more negative with their text, yet still give the game a good overall score (which is what people look at anyway).

For example, if I make 7 or 8 negative comments in a review but still give the game a 9, it looks bad on me. But if I use a 100 point scale, I can use a loophole and make it seem like I'm taking off one notch per complaint. And boom, 92/100.

Speaking of bashing a game in the review and giving it a high score, it's very rampant in the gaming media. Example:

From IGN's review of GTA: Liberty City Stories:

By now, you may be wondering why a game that we've basically talked about negatively for half the review deserves a rating of 9.0. Regardless of how bad the story is or how little innovation is in the game, it's still a Grand Theft Auto title through and through.

How blatant can you get? They're essentially acknowledging the game is lousy, but because it's a GTA game, it gets a 9.0! How credible is this?

And here's a flat out ridiculous statement--graphical clipping errors make a game fun. What kind of outlet would make a statement like that? in their review of God Hand, that's who.

It may look like I'm just citing a few isolated moments of silliness here, but believe me, this kind of thing is rampant. I still post in a forum thread where we quote lines like this in professional media reviews. We started a new thread because the old one was 34 pages long.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Professional reviews

The state of professional reviews is currently in a bad spot.

Are reviews from media outlets like IGN, Gamespot, 1up, etc. credible anymore? Were they ever? I’m going to muse about some thoughts regarding professional reviews, and why I think they are essentially useless.

First off, these outlets simply do not know how to use a rating scale. Take the typical 1-10 scale used by most outlets. Generally, the stated breakdown will be something like this:

10-Some hyperbolic adjective






4-really bad

3-really really bad, etc.

The first problem with ranking games like this is it places all the variation on the low end of the scale. As a gamer, I want to know what separates a great game from a good one, not what separates a bad one from a really bad one. What are the qualities of a game that can elevate it from a 9 to a 10? Who cares what sets apart a 3 from a 2? I think this problem stems from people (consciously or un) applying the American education system to game scores. An A is 90-100, B is 80, C is 70, and anything below that is pretty much a failure. That’s not inherently bad; it just means that a 10-point scale has too many gradations.

Let’s think about knocking down the amount of gradations. This is pretty much now the media rates games anyway though, no? A 9-10 is Outstanding, 8 (maybe 7) is good, and anything 7 or below is seen as pure shit. This leads to outlets largely rating games on a 7-9 scale. The average review is about a 7, and this is justified by outlets saying “The average game on the shelf is good, so a good game gets the average review score. Um, no. That’s not what average means.

Second, media outlets are scared to give games a bad score, period. When a media outlet gives a bad review to a hyped game, it has two negative effects. One, gamers will see the outlet as losing credibility. Giving a 7 (or an 8, or a 9.6, or anything short of a 10 for that matter) to Joe Gamer’s new, favorite game leads to Joe using the following logic:

[Game] is awesome.

[Outlet] didn’t like game.

Therefore, [Outlet] has no idea what they are talking about, and are therefore not credible.

So the media outlets know that if you give a bad review, the unwashed masses (which is another blog entry) will hate you. Two, and the bigger problem, is you run the risk of offending the company who made the game, and having them pull their advertising, costing you money, and possibly not letting you review any more of their games. Case in point, the Kane and Lynch controversy. After that happened, individual reviewers are fearing for their jobs. Give a game a bad review, get fired.

There are many other issues that I don’t have time to discuss today, but let me give some short term solutions:

-Make narrower scales. You don’t need 10 points of gradations. I personally use three: Two thumbs up means one of my all time favorites. One thumb up means I mostly enjoyed the game. Thumbs down means I mostly didn’t enjoy the game.

-Skip major media reviews. They’re not going to be honest about games, so why bother putting much stock onto them? If you really need to see people’s impressions of games or want to see what the game is like, read independent reviews or look at the trillions of previews/movies out there.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Hello World

Welcome to my new blog. I've been away from thinking and writing about games for quite awhile, so this is an effort to get that back on track. I'm a 30-something gamer that has been playing videogames since I was 4 years old. Over the three decades that I've been gaming, there's been quite a shift in gaming and everything associated with it. This blog will be a general musing (complaining about) the state of videogames today.