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.