[Tales of a Scorched Earth
Thursday February 15, 2007

Another Easy Sell For Apple

Written by gatmog at 11:03 PM
Categories: game culture, ipod, the cultural gutter

The extent of my gaming lately has been on my brand new, 5.5th generation 80 GB iPod. Despite its initial appearance as an unnecessary gimmick (as if Apple needs any help selling iPods), there are some surprisingly playable games available that aren't named Pac-Man. In this month's Cultural Gutter article, I take a look at a few.

Saturday December 23, 2006

But Will Your Parents Play?

Written by gatmog at 05:29 PM
Categories: game culture, the cultural gutter

Having been out of the gaming loop since say, October, I was fascinated by a conversation I had with my Aunt and Uncle at a recent holiday gathering, where they recounted their experiences with Nintendo's Wii. I just had to write about it. My latest article at The Cultural Gutter explains how Nintendo is changing the face of gaming.

Thursday November 23, 2006

Everybody Dies

Another extended absence, another post somewhere else. I've done next to no gaming in the last two months, but I made time for Introversion's DEFCON: Everybody Dies for nostalgia's sake. See, WarGames is probably the only movie that got computers right in making them incredibly cumbersome and boring. There are no 3D interfaces or flashy animations when you check your email. Well, unless you're using a Mac and have no attention span. I was suprised by DEFCON, but not because the game was actually good compared to Darwinia. It's a game that asks some important questions of the player, and does a chillingly effective job of simulating modern warfare compared with any low-level first person shooter. My article at The Cultural Gutter explains.

Monday October 09, 2006

GameSetWatch: Platforming on the PC: A Brief History

Written by gatmog at 09:14 PM
Categories: action, arcade, game culture, pc gaming

After an extended absence, I’m posting at GameSetWatch again. Writing about Abuse had me looking back to the early 1990s and the excessive number of platforming titles released by Apogee and Epic MegaGames, so I decided to put together a brief history of the trend. While I only touched upon Jazz Jackrabbit 2, I expect to be revisiting the game in its own column, as I still believe it is one of the finest 2D platformers ever made.

Saturday September 30, 2006

Keep Playing, It Might Get Better

Written by gatmog at 10:31 PM
Categories: fps, game culture, pc gaming, the cultural gutter

I often questioned my motivations for making my way through the entirety of Prey. I knew it was awful the moment I stepped through the asshole - so why did I keep playing? Was it to write a complete and fair review? Was it because I had been waiting along with everyone else for the last eleven years? Motivations for playing a game can vary from genuine interest to just wanting to kill some time. But what about playing a bad game? Is that reserved for the masochist, the same person who spends time reading bad weblogs? My latest article at the Cultural Gutter tries to explain.

Sunday August 27, 2006

GameSetWatch: Abuse: The Lost Shooter

Written by gatmog at 11:07 PM
Categories: action, game culture, pc gaming

Another retro feature at GameSetWatch, this time looking at cult classic Abuse and its place in PC gaming history.

Tuesday August 22, 2006

Inside Man: inserting social commentary on video games into film

Written by gatmog at 10:23 PM
Categories: game culture, gaming, gaming media, movies

[more games that copy movies that copy games?]Spike Lee's Inside Man got a bit of attention in the gaming community earlier this year for a scene that showed a computer generated sequence made to look like a violent video game. I just saw the DVD on the weekend, and I have to admit I'm a bit suprised at the clumsily inserted social commentary. I could understand using the wounds of the World Trade Centre as a point of reflection in 25th Hour, but Inside Man's approach to criticizing violent video games simply felt gratuitous, from multiple viewpoints. It seems that the bigger Lee's budget, the lesser his tact.

Continue reading "Inside Man: inserting social commentary on video games into film"
Saturday August 19, 2006

JPod: the review

Written by gatmog at 01:36 PM
Categories: books, game culture, reviews

[The obsession with Lego and geek culture continues]

"When you read a book, you're totally lost in your own private world, and society says that's a good and wonderful thing. But if you play a game by yourself, it's this weird, fucked-up, socially damaging activity. What sort of narrow-minded moron propagates this lie? When your grandfather plays solitaire, is he isolating himself? Get a grip, people." - Douglas Coupland, JPod

My first warning should have been the tagline inside the dust jacket: "Douglas Coupland updates Microserfs for the Google generation." Is there even a Google generation? I assume that the search engine is so ubiquitous that it makes capturing a particular demographic irrelevant. More accurately, JPod reads like Coupland was using Google to surf for every meme to circulate the Internet in the years since writing Microserfs, and tried to transcribe it to paper. Where Microserfs was comfortable to tell a story at the beginning of the "new economy" wave, JPod desperately tries to catch up with it.

Continue reading "JPod: the review"
Wednesday August 16, 2006

GameSetWatch: Remembering The Fate of Atlantis

Written by gatmog at 12:34 PM
Categories: adventure, game culture, indiana jones, pc gaming

Today my first column for "Keyboard Bashing" went live, which is a new regular feature at GameSetWatch. I decided to add to their existing collection of retro features by examining my favorite game of all time.

From this point forward I'll be contributing there every two weeks or so, covering topics related to PC games both old and new.

Thursday August 03, 2006

Click. Kill. Reward.

Written by gatmog at 12:14 PM
Categories: game culture, pc gaming, rpg, the cultural gutter

I love (love?) Titan Quest. I am still playing Titan Quest. While the quests are not randomized and the areas not re-constructed between playthroughs like Diablo II, I still gain enjoyment from the basest desire to collect a coordinated set of gear and a weapon that does massive amounts of damage. This bait to keep playing is also what drives every single MMORPG. It's a predictable, well-worn formula that has remained the same since the days of Rogue and Nethack. Why does it still work? This month's article at The Cultural Gutter assesses this unhealthy fascination with clicking a mouse.

Tuesday August 01, 2006

a televised sports video game mashup

Written by gatmog at 12:27 PM
Categories: arcade, game culture, television

An American Express commercial featuring tennis player Andy Roddick versus the blocky paddle from Pong has recently been airing more frequently in support of the upcoming Rogers Cup here in Toronto. I figured it was another sign of the commoditization of video games, but I found the Stop Pong URL tagged at the end of the commercial made it a lot more interesting. The game lets you play as Roddick using the simple Pong-style gameplay in either a 2D or 3D mode. For the purpose it serves it's actually a decent looking distraction.

I hate commercials, but I have to give American Express credit for tapping into the trendiest internet meme at the moment. The mashup mixes real life action and a piece of video game history, creating a pretty surreal display. The commercial is also mixing two different sports. However, the "Roddick vs. Pong" game that adds an extended "interactive" element to the commercial is probably the biggest accomplishment, because they could have left it at the commercial itself. Instead, they understand that structuring a passive advertisement around a video game is easily transferrable to the form that inspired it, while lengthening the exposure of their brand.

Monday July 24, 2006

Valve is the new Blizzard

Written by gatmog at 12:40 PM
Categories: fps, game culture, pc gaming

In a collective wank heard around the world, the new look for Team Fortress 2 and a trailer for Portal were fawned upon by the gaming masses. Never mind the impending release of Half Life 2: Episode Two that they are being packaged with. The visual style of Team Fortress 2 is certainly original - nobody wants another edgy, hardcore war simulator that seems to be all the rage lately. But what continues to astonish me is how selective the memory of the gaming press is when it comes to long promised, often delayed titles. Team Fortress 2 has been in development since 1999. Meanwhile, industry whipping boys like Duke Nukem Forever are dragged out at every possible opportunity.

My initial reaction to Portal was less cynical; in fact, I remember uttering "holy living fuck" at least once during the presentation. But then I realized that Portal is just an elaborate way of telling us that "noclip" is turned on by default. Nevertheless, the "portal gun" is the new gravity gun, which will no doubt bring its own assortment of followers in the years to come.

Monday July 10, 2006

Rebirth of the Arcade: a false alarm

Written by gatmog at 10:38 PM
Categories: arcade, game culture, gaming

After I wrote last week's post for The Cultural Gutter, I was given a link to an interview at Gamasutra that had been published a week prior. The interview was with Clint Manny, vice president of sales and marketing at GameWorks. The arcade chain was recently acquired by the Sega-Sammy Group, who has big plans to boost GameWorks' market share - and rebuild the U.S. arcade scene while they're at it.

Continue reading "Rebirth of the Arcade: a false alarm"
Thursday July 06, 2006

What Happened to the Arcade?

Written by gatmog at 05:44 PM
Categories: arcade, game culture, gaming, the cultural gutter

After exploring the relationships formed by console gaming, I thought about the place of the arcade in the evolution of the bonds shared by gamers. The friendly competition established by beating a high score in Galaga or mastering the moves of Street Fighter II seem like such simple pursuits when compared to the complexity of multiplayer gaming today. The Internet, voice chat and anonymous challenges have supplanted the community building that took place inside the local arcade. While a form of this pastime may have made its way onto home consoles, it's hard not to lament the loss of these hallowed dens of gaming. This month's article at the Cultural Gutter tries to figure out what happened to the arcade.

Monday July 03, 2006

backward compatibility: is it really that important?

Written by gatmog at 04:07 PM
Categories: features, game culture, gaming, pc gaming

Back when the specs of the Playstation 3, the "Revolution" and the XBox360 were originally unveiled, the idea of backward compatibility was latched on to by many as a deciding factor between the three platforms. In the reactions that followed each company's announcement, it seemed that whichever platform would be stupid enough not to include the feature would immediately forfeit their position in the console war. Because the Playstation 2 has already set the precedent (with the GBA one year later allowing the use of both original Game Boy and Game Boy colour cartridges), there is now a demand for old games to work with new consoles. The cycle between generations has roughly stayed the same, but consumers want to be given more than an incremental graphics update for their dedication to a platform. In my haste to dismiss the next generation as merely imitating computers, I missed a crucial point: is backward compatibility even necessary for a console to succeed?

Continue reading "backward compatibility: is it really that important?"
Thursday June 15, 2006

Surprise! Vivendi wants Blizzard to make them money.

Written by gatmog at 09:15 PM
Categories: game culture, gaming media, mmorpgs

I see that the rumour mill is once again in full effect saying that Blizzard is going "all MMORPG on the games industry" based on a slide taken out of context from a presentation to some pack of clueless businessmen. Regardless of whether this might actually be true (just look at the amount of backpedaling Gamespot has done!), I find it hard to believe this is coming as a surprise to anyone. There have been talks about Blizzard turning their three franchises into MMORPGs since World of Warcraft was released. What's the big deal? It's not like Blizzard had plans to create anything new...they've been milking their trinity of IP for almost eight years! Even if their new game wasn't an MMORPG, what was it going to be? StarCraft 2?

The real surprise in all this is the lack of any snide commentary from Matt Gallant, who usually goes out of his way to slag off the gaming website community when they parrot frivolous rumours like this.

Tuesday June 13, 2006

Tales of a Scorched Earth: year three

Written by gatmog at 08:30 PM
Categories: game culture, shoegazing, weblogging

Indulge me as I embark on my yearly retrospective.

As most long time readers know, if there's anything I want out of this website it's thoughtful discussion on games. And I have to admit that requiring commenters to register has ensured that - for the most part. I've also learned that it's almost impossible for me to write short posts. They just feel...incomplete. I love the details. In some cases I'm sure I've bored someone to tears before they even get a chance to comment. But that's beside the point.

Allow me to share some observations and commentary after writing a gaming weblog over the past three years:

  • A question every weblogger, not just a games weblogger, has to ask themselves: Do you like to write, or do you like attention? This is kind of a rhetorical question. Everyone who has a website wants attention. Otherwise it wouldn't be there. The important thing to remember is that this need for approval is kept under control. Let the content speak for itself. Producing content for someone else to read can be a really gratifying experience. It can also be an extremely gratuitous one. If you're selling adspace, I'm pretty sure you're going with option #2. But don't expect anyone to take your opinion seriously once the steady commentary becomes incessant droning for clickthroughs. I'd like to think that this surge of interest in games writing over the past year has done well to promote sharing the love of the hobby, while taking it under serious consideration in intelligent discussion. But I don't think it's working - there's too much antagonism towards print media. It sucks, I get it. So do most high profile gaming sites. There's also some serious backlash for the games weblogging community. It's annoying. Let's move on and talk about games.

  • Never apologize for a lack of updates. Unless you're being paid for it. But then you should be apologizing to whoever hired you that is paying for you to produce content. Not your readers who are consuming it for free. I keep seeing this phenomenon. I'm pretty sure I've done it once or twice in the past. I have no idea why. There are hundreds of gaming weblogs out there. The news will be picked up somewhere else - it's not a big deal. If you have something interesting to say, sit on it. Make it better. Chances are some correction will be issued in the next couple of days anyway and you don't look like so many other twitch bloggers. There's really no need to post something if you have nothing to report. You have a life. It's ok. Posting something about not posting is insulting to the reader who expects real content.

  • The siren call of a new release. Everyone feels it. A new game is out and we all want to be the first ones to report on it. The big gaming websites already had a leg up – they've been playing a gold master copy for weeks. But weblogs are (theoretically) different because they have a unique opinion that doesn't necessarily follow a standard outline of the game's features. It's important to have your own opinion – it's what makes weblogs interesting to read. But I find that some of them get caught up in carrying the hype. They don't want to seem like the party crasher. They don't trust their own opinion of the game and seek validation by joining the crowd. I've seen it time and again. Then a month or two later the "real" reviews start pouring in, saying the game was overhyped or isn't nearly as good as everyone first thought. It's a vicious cycle. Allow your thoughts to congeal. Take some time to formulate a cohesive argument. Take advantage of the format. Maybe it is that good, and you want to explain what makes it great. I absolutely cannot stomach reading reviews that are unsubstantiated, or are clearly rushed to simply get something out there. It's not doing anyone any favours, and carelessly squanders the concept of having a weblog that answers to no one.

  • The Slashdot effect. Slashdot used to be a great place to get breaking tech news and decent commentary from the community. Not anymore, because it's competing with a hundred other sites doing the same thing. Similarly, the majority of game blogs seem to link to stuff with a quick opinion and let the comments section pick up the details. Which is fine, if the proprietors don't mind being interchangeable with each other.

  • MMORPGs will ruin your life. Obviously an exaggeration and nothing to do with weblogging, but there's some truth to it. I played World of Warcraft on and off for 10 months before quitting in Februrary. It's a good game for a while, as long as you understand that nothing else in your life will matter. The social aspect is great - if you don't mind spending all of your spare time in the game. Trying to level just so you can quest with friends or guildmates is a huge pain in the ass. I'd rather play at my own pace. Though at that point it's a lonely experience, and I might as well be playing Oblivion. Despite what people may think, this game model is not going to change. It makes money and satisfies most of the customers that aren't screaming on the official forums. And that's ok - I just won't be playing.

  • Fun fact: Most of what you read here starts out on actual paper. I keep a notebook accessible whenever possible, especially when playing a game. It makes it easier to remember points to visit in detail. The worst thing about coming up with a great topic to write about is having no place to record it.

  • I enjoy writing full length articles. So much that I've accumulated way too many of them that are still sitting in an unfinished state, most of them reviews. Golden Sun, Knights of the Old Republic, Spider Man 2, Tales of Symphonia, Fire Emblem, Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga, Astro Boy: Omega Factor, Castlevania: Harmony of Dissonance, Metroid Prime 2, Baten Kaitos, Brothers in Arms, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, F.E.A.R... the list goes on, unfortunately. But I don't have a problem with that. Some will see completion "when they're done" (to borrow from our beloved industry), and some will probably remain as collections of text from a time where my heart was in the right place but the writing just wasn't there.

So I continue to write when I feel like it, about games I have played, articles I have read or media I have consumed while trying to maintain a level of quality that doesn't make people feel like they're wasting their time. My only hope is that I can keep this up for three more years. Because it isn't getting any easier.

Thursday June 08, 2006

revisionist fantasy

Written by gatmog at 01:29 PM
Categories: game culture, gaming, the cultural gutter

With the success of Grand Theft Auto III and its many skins, or more recently the Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, you'd almost get the impression that more open-ended gameplay is a requirement to be worthy of critical acclaim. In a completely original setting, this is easily accomplished. But what about movie or book adaptations? Is a move towards player freedom a necessity in these games that are heavily dependent on narrative that has likely already been experienced by the player? How can a movie adaptation be made so that it isn't simply a passive experience hampered by the constraints of a story, and actually empowers the player? In this month's article at the Cultural Gutter, I delve into this matter with a certain game in mind.

Tuesday May 16, 2006

E3 2006: in which I try to hate the games industry

Written by gatmog at 10:44 PM
Categories: features, game culture, gaming, gaming media, pc gaming
[I'm always excited about brand new IP.]

The gaming mob is fickle.

The novelty of E3 continues to wear thin, for me at least. I'd rather selectively watch coverage on the internet than be stuck in line with a bunch of people who are probably not even supposed to be there. It's become an amusement park. A giant, throbbing, noisy commercial for games that might not even see release, but we're going to get super happy excited about anyway. How much can you really glean from a game's trailer or 5 minute playtest that's been built up after waiting for two hours? The software isn't even complete. Is it to say you've played it first? I'm having a hard time figuring out my former longstanding desire to attend an E3. The gaming mob is fickle.

Continue reading "E3 2006: in which I try to hate the games industry"
Thursday May 11, 2006

the not-so casual gamer

Written by gatmog at 12:12 PM
Categories: game culture, gaming, the cultural gutter

What is a casual gamer? It's a term that gets used a lot more lately, as a larger audience is introduced to the world of games. It's also become a very lucrative demographic, because console manufacturers and game publishers aren't interested in selling their product to existing customers. They are in the business of making money, after all. And that includes reaching a wider audience. As games become more accessible, the definition has been muddied somewhat. Is a casual gamer someone who is content to play solitaire on a Windows 95 desktop? Or Diner Dash for days on end? What about sports gamers, who ground themselves in some form of reality instead of the blood and guts escapism of first person shooters? What about players of flight simulators?

In this month's article at The Cultural Gutter, I examine that the casual player of flight simulators may not be so casual after all.

Monday May 01, 2006

exploring Coupland's views on gaming

Written by gatmog at 12:47 PM
Categories: books, features, game culture, gaming
[Myst was pretty but boring. I went back to playing Doom.]

I recently finished re-reading Douglas Coupland's Microserfs, a well-written tale about a group of Microsoft employees that leave the company to start up their own. I first read it back in 1999, partway through University. Though published in 1993, I had avoided the book due to the overwhelming praise heaped upon it by media that had become newly obsessed with the growing subculture of the tech savvy "geeks" that would be storming the business world with big ideas and half-baked business plans for the next seven years. I felt that it captured the sentiment of this period very well, despite having been written before this subculture went mainstream. I give Coupland credit for that. The first project for the start-up company in the book is a free-form "game", and through that he tackled the concept of "multimedia": the software industry's favorite buzzword at the time, and something most gamers were exposed to through games like Myst and the infamous Sewer Shark.

Besides the nuances of geek culture described within the book, what remains startlingly relevant is the main character's list of "The 8 Models of Interactivity", which were summarized after he attended a multimedia industry conference (see pages 139-143 for some very thoughtful remarks). I think these observations are entirely applicable today, and provide an effective touchstone in witnessing the evolution of the game industry.

Continue reading "exploring Coupland's views on gaming"
Thursday April 13, 2006

teaching the value of human life

Written by gatmog at 12:06 PM
Categories: fps, game culture, pc gaming, tactical fps, the cultural gutter

Once again I'm exploring SWAT 4, a game that is in need of more attention than it ever got in the year since its release. This time it's in the context of one of the most powerful choices the game offers players: do you take the life of a criminal or do you subdue them? Do you run the risk of killing your entire team because you assumed the last gunman would give himself up? It's an essential part of the strategy presented in SWAT 4 and its recent expansion, and this feature is unfortunately drowned out by the game's more marketable contemporaries. This month's article at The Cultural Gutter reveals why some games don't teach killing, but how it can be avoided.

Thursday March 16, 2006

The Time Machines

Games may be accepted by mainstream culture as a medium for entertainment, but as a learning tool for something besides killing your fellow man I think society at large would have words to quickly refute the possibility. I've considered myself a casual student of history for the past few years, and I can easily attribute my interest to a simple catalyst: games. Whether it was the rise of my German Empire in Civilization III or storming the beaches in Allied Assault, both games got me interested in the facts behind the gameplay. My latest article at The Cultural Gutter explores history and gaming, and why we still have a lot to learn.

Friday March 03, 2006

evolving virtual worlds

Written by gatmog at 09:04 PM
Categories: game culture, gaming, mmorpgs, pc gaming

In hindsight, David Sirlin's seemingly harsh remarks about what World of Warcraft offers the MMORPG scene could be considered flame bait - they certainly caused enough of a stir within the games community. I think the important point he brings to the discussion is the insistence of the current game model to reward players based on time spent in the game. Based on my own experiences in World of Warcraft, it was often infuriating to watch friends who had more time to spend gaming accelerate through the game, participating in high level instances that I could never hope to be a part of. As a result I was forced to play solo - definitely not a bad thing - but still feeling like I was missing out on something. While pure exploration is always a worthy pursuit, the game should be able to be experienced by all participants - not necessarily the ones willing to spend the most time staring blankly into their monitors.

Sirlin's article prompted a thoughtful list from Raph Koster, which in his words was more of a lament of the state of MMORPGs than a bona fide response. I think the most fascinating aspect of this list is that is speaks as much about the gamers than the games themselves (see: "Staring at someone who is talking the politest thing you can do. Because the only other option is to not look at them at all.")

There is an ongoing conversation at Terra Nova about this list. Ignoring the attack and defense of SOE and Koster, I think the antagonist in the discussion brings up an excellent point:

From this point on Talent will be one of the biggest determining factors in the success of any given MMORPG. When you see a screenshot from WoW you know it’s WoW. When you see a screenshot from Eve Online you know it’s Eve Online. When you see a screenshot from Chronicles of Spellborn you know it’s Chronicles of Spellborn. You can’t create the artistic talent reflected in those games with polygons, pixel count, or realism. You can’t replace the musical talent in those games with a movie soundtrack. You can’t substitute the depth and beauty of the lore created for these games with player created events. In order for a MMORPG to be a true success it has to have genuinely talented and inspiring artists working together to bring it to life – just like in any other artistic endeavor.

The first thing I noticed when I joined the beta of World of Warcraft were the incredibly unique environments. I was able to ignore the low poly character models and drawn-on shadows, because this game had style. The limited amount of background established by the Warcraft series had been fleshed out to make you feel like you were living amongst a contintent-spanning conflict. While I enjoyed Star Wars Galaxies immensely (before it was irreversibly changed into another Everquest), I tend to agree that it suffered from a lack of a definable style. To be given such a powerful license and still not manage to convey what made the movies so magical did irreperable damage to the game's reputation. And placing immediately accessible, famous NPCs into the revamped version is no substitute. There's nothing unique about World of Warcraft's gameplay - in fact, before I cancelled the gameplay had become mind-numbingly tedious. But that never stopped me from exploring, because there was no shortage of skillfully constructed atmosphere to take in.

I'm all for changing the current play model for modern MMORPGs; Star Wars Galaxies gave me a taste of what was possible. But first and foremost, I want to be entertained.

Thursday February 16, 2006

A Just War

What is the allure of the World War 2 shooter, exactly? As someone who's unapologetic about supporting this genre, it's a topic I enjoy exploring. You know, instead of just sitting around and complaining about how many were released last week (and by the way, that joke never gets old). Obviously there's something about them that resonates with gamer culture, though I'm sure with casual gamers to a greater degree as they are only exposed to the ones that get the most hype. And developers still manage to come up with new ideas for interactive war experiences, because they keep selling. An article I wrote over at The Cultural Gutter attempts to coalesce some of these thoughts.

Also, from this point on I'll be supplying material once a month for the video games section at the Gutter. Though I don't expect this to affect anything around here.

Monday February 13, 2006

forging relationships in console gaming

Written by gatmog at 09:16 PM
Categories: features, game culture, gaming

Lost Garden brought attention to a very thought provoking aspect of console gaming and online play. Does online console gaming cultivate the same type of relationships as PC gaming?

Technically speaking, multiplayer originated on the console with two player games like the venerable Pong. Some of the best memories I have of the NES involved going over to my friend's house around the corner and playing Contra after school. Years later Mortal Kombat and Super Mario Kart on the SNES further strengthened this notion: multiplayer gaming was to be enjoyed with people you know. They were right there to mock, strangle and laugh with as the situation applied.

During this time, the PC was playing host to a little multiplayer of its own - and not of the hot-seat turn-based variety, but through the phone line. With the advent of the Internet, this model would be adopted by PCs and consoles alike.

We are now at a point where a successful, PC-like multiplayer model has established itself in the console marketplace: Xbox Live. It has a ton of useful features, including "Friends lists" to manage friends that are universally implemented across all games. Even games that don't support online play can still be monitored through your profile, allowing friends to see exactly what you're playing. It allows easy coordination between players outside of the game, as it is clearly modelled after Microsoft's own Instant Messenger. Live also supports random encounters: if none of your friends are online you can just as easily join any game that supports online play. Voice chat further deepens this contact between players. However having this ability at hand does not guarantee meaningful communication.

Sony's strategy is a little more directionless, and is applied on a game-by-game basis. Final Fantasy XI and SOCOM, for example, are games that allow anonymous interaction, but only FFXI has managed to assist in maintaining these relationships as this is intrinsic to the game's design. I've never played SOCOM, but I would like to think that there is some kind of Favorites list on the server browser so as to provide an indication of who you're playing with. Though where this information is stored is another situation entirely.

Similarly, Nintendo's WiFi service launched last year on the Nintendo DS, which now has a few titles that are supported that are dependent on "Friend Codes". Speaking from my experience with Mario Kart DS, it's extremely difficult to set up matches with Nintendo's WiFi network. The reliance on Friend Codes that must be reciprocated to even be useful followed with the coordination of a play session through other means (e.g. phone, email, IM) implies you should already know the person you're trying to play with. There are of course options to play random opponents through Rivals, Regional and Worldwide groups, but there's no way to keep track of these people. These random battles are passively obtained by the user - you can't set criteria, and it's not like you can add their friend code after a race, because everything is hidden except the user's nickname, wins and losses. They become single serving opponents, if you will, because the probability is extremely low you will ever face them again once you quit the race. There is no interaction in or out of the game; they might as well be AI-controlled bots.

However, a service like Nintendo's Wi-Fi network significantly broadens the accessibility of multiplayer gaming to the casual gamer. There's no need to purchase additional hardware (such as an ethernet adapter for the Gamecube or PS2) or sign up for an account (such as with Live). All you need is a wireless access point to the internet, which most internet-using households are equipped with these days. Continuing with the Mario Kart example, the the game itself is extremely basic so as not to be intimidating to the newcomer, which makes the overall experience a little more palatable. This is something that Tetris DS will be taking advantage of as well.

Animal Crossing: Wild World allows in-game chat, and the upcoming Metroid Prime: Hunters will apparently include voice chat. As new features like these get added to the online experience on the DS, I'm wondering if it will be as viable as a relationship-strengthening platform. My guess is it is simply acting as a testing ground for features to be implemented with the Revolution. Most importantly, though, I'm still left wondering where Sony's strategy is at. There hasn't been much talk about unified online play service, and while I hardly think they need it to survive (unfortunately a stranglehold on market mindshare and better hardware is still enough to sell the platform to their target audience), I think they owe it to themselves to show they are willing to advance with the rest of the industry. Though I still think it's important to ask: do console gamers even want online play? Or are they satisfied with the companionship that an additional controller or two will provide?

Further to this discussion, Raph Koster declared the single-player experience abnormal - unnatural, even. This is clearly a sensationalist statement - similar to Greg Costikyan's rant last year about the state of the games industry - but they both end up making some good points that are worth discussing. Obviously Raph is interested in online-only gameplay, being a part of MMORPG development himself. I'll submit that online-only play has its place in certain genres, but should in no way be the norm. Speaking for myself, I hate having to depend on others just so I can enjoy a game. That's why the solo experience in MMORPGs should still be rewarding; there's nothing like feeling forced to be "friends" with people just to complete a quest or experience the game the way it was "meant" to be played. It's frustrating in the way it limits the control of the player, and is dependent on so many other factors: connectivity, bandwidth limitations, etc.

I always thought that online play was for the gamer elite; traditionally only the hardcore would be able to set it up in the first place, not to mention submit themselves to the twitch gameplay offered by FPS or RTS and the strange satisfaction in playing with complete strangers. And while MMORPGs changed the face of the online gamer, their increase in accessibility expands the user base to the point where the casual gamer may not want to play with strangers, and the idea of guilds and other such social networks are more appealing. Whether we want to admit it or not, this is how the future of the industry is being directed: those that typically pushed the technology forward are disregarded in place of making this frontier more comfortable for new recruits. Gaming has no need to make new headway with existing players; this market has been captured for some time.

Sunday February 12, 2006

goodbye to Azeroth

Written by gatmog at 03:11 PM
Categories: game culture, mmorpgs, pc gaming, world of warcraft

I wasn't kidding; the deed is done before my next billing cycle starts tomorrow. While it's terribly easy to cancel an account, I find it a bit unnerving to be told that by doing so I'm "making the Peon cry".

[But you're making the peon cry!]

Truth be told, I probably haven't touched my main (a night elf hunter) for about two months, and haven't been the worse for wear. I simply don't have the time to spend on what is essentially just something to occupy all of my game time, when I'd rather be enjoying something, well, newer. It certainly makes writing about games a lot easier.

Before making the final decision to cancel my account, I was then presented with an animated gif of a robed figure begging for forgiveness, and the following:

The peon is full-on weeping now. We hope you're happy. Are you positive you want to deactivate your subscription?

I never got this kind of guilt trip with Star Wars Galaxies, though navigating SOE's Station Subscription site was a bit of a headache. Everyone knows that MMORPGs have addictive qualities. Some people's lives are so upended by them they seek professional help - or do nothing and lose everything. Why is Blizzard trying to make this process harder for someone who's looking to turn their life around? Though these comments may be intended as a humerous send off, I don't think the guy who lost his wife and kids to a game is laughing.

a rose by any other name...

Written by gatmog at 11:01 AM
Categories: game culture, gaming

Geek On Stun asks a very important question: "Will the Next Generation Be Wankable?" (Part 1, Part 2), with references to the recently released Dead or Alive 4 and the upcoming Rumble Roses XX. Sophomoric commentary aside, I think they bring up a disconcerting trend. Especially when the industry is "doing its part" to curb the sleazy use of booth babes at E3.

Ever since I saw Mai Shiranui coyly jiggle her way to victory in Fatal Fury 2, I was certain there would be a market for this kind of stuff apart from obviously sexual Hentai games that contain a disturbing number of transgressions against what is considered natural human contact. But anyway.

Partially clothed female characters have always been a staple of fighting games, even before Lara Croft's hot pants made their way onto the screens of PC gamers. It's like any issue of Maxim; it's covert enough to be sold on any news stand, but it still may as well be porn.

The girls in Dead or Alive were obviously popular enough to get their own outing in Dead or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball, a game I'm convinced is as practical as a comic character swimsuit issue and did more to embarrass the games industry than anything else. Rumble Roses XX - a game that features all-female wrestlers - has taken it one step further to allow modification of character bodytypes. The title implies that there might actually be twenty of these games, but I think they're just missing the third "X". Though the opinion of a female gamer is probably much more useful; I'm a member of the group these games are supposed to appeal to.

Friday February 10, 2006

I'm O.K.!

Written by gatmog at 03:30 PM
Categories: action, arcade, game culture, gaming

[I'm Jack Offson. Care to hear my modest proposal?]Remember Splatterhouse?

I remember parents being up in arms over the game's presentation of ultra-violence, afraid that their children would don a hockey mask and run out into the street to whack people with 2x4s while praising the name of Satan. Except without the flying heads. Or shambling mounds of undead flesh. Of course, that was before Mortal Kombat made its way into the arcades, educating young children on the wonders of spine removal.

Now we have Jack Thompson, the self-proclaimed White Knight for parents against violent videogames everywhere, and a repeat offender when it comes to putting his foot in his mouth.

In a comment that was probably intended to be a joke, Thompson asked game developers to create a game about Osaki Kim, a man "swearing revenge upon the video game industry whom he is convinced contributed to his son's murder." In this statement would be a task that gamers would take to the bank.

Shortly after this proposal was handed over to the entire Internet, "Defamation of Character: A Jack Thompson Murder Simulator" was revealed. Even though it really had nothing to do with Thompson's idea, it was sure to mock publicly the sensationalist campaign he was waging upon the games industry. What's more, this game was a modification of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas - a game at the very centre of his crusade against the video game industry. How deliciously poetic.

Bodythumper, the first original game to be based on Thompson's "modest proposal" was released shortly after. Though I think it was made out of principle than to actually create something worth playing.

With Thompson's proposal having such a stunted viewpoint on violence in videogames, I didn't think anyone could create a game that was actually, well, a game that would still be worth spending some time with. Insert a few over-the-top conventions of violent video games, make a few jokes at Thompson's expense, and call it a day.

Last week, Thompsonsoft released "I'm O.K.", the latest game to adopt Jack Thompson's design proposal. I didn't think I'd end up actually enjoying it.

After an extremely humorous cutscene that borrows heavily from the poor art direction in intros from the NES titles of yesteryear, you're given a bat and the violence begins. This is what made me think of Splatterhouse. The endless, almost nonsenical beatings that erupted into blood and gore. Enemies would drop coins that could be used to purchase bigger and better weapons between levels. But I didn't bother. I liked the bat. All of the elements of Thompson's proposal are in there: the detailed opening cutscene, the bloody trail blazed across a map of the U.S. and a visit to the fictional Paula Eibel's house.

Just when I thought it couldn't get any more gratuitous, I was asked to pee on the dancing brains of people I'd just bludgeoned to death. At this point I was speechless.

With "I'm O.K.", Thompson's sarcastic remarks have been given right back.

Tuesday January 31, 2006

there is an end, and I don't like it.

Written by gatmog at 10:47 PM
Categories: game culture, mmorpgs, pc gaming, world of warcraft

And this is why I'm cancelling before it's too late.

In the context of the article I'm definitely a "casual" player of World of Warcraft - I just don't have the time or the patience to get involved in a guild, only to serve as a single-function entity in some 30 person raid for possible drops of elite gear. Which is really only useful for more raids. Where's the adventure? Forget that, where's the roleplaying?

I like soloing. I only have to worry about myself and I can have fun for as long as I want. I also don't mind grouping with friends for a few quests here and there. There's less of an investment required in these activities. It's this point in the game where high level characters perpetuate the need for high level group raids or PvP combat that turns me away. As Jennings points out, this isn't the game I started playing, and certainly isn't the one I plan on finishing.

and it corrodes my soul

Thursday January 19, 2006

welcome to Azeroth

I consider myself off the skag that is World of Warcraft; I have had enough of a break from the game that I can view my experiences with it objectively. I've got an article over at The Cultural Gutter that is an attempt to capture the essence of what is arguably the most popular MMORPG in existence right now. With an expansion looming in the distance that tears my heart in two, and holding on hope for the last three patches that something might actually be done to deepen the experience, I consider the article a purging of that other life.

in my new pattern shirt

Tuesday January 10, 2006

still waiting for a revolution

Written by gatmog at 10:50 PM
Categories: game culture, gaming, revolution

He may have taken six pages to say it, nevertheless Eric-Jon Waugh points out that Nintendo more than anyone is in need of something new and exciting to captivate the minds of gamers. Ever since the announcement last fall that revealed the Revolution controller, debate continues about the viability of the platform as a destination for some original - and practical - titles. He accurately points out that merely developing around the control scheme is not a solution; rather, the game's concept should be the governing factor. Five pages of game controller history may have benefited the point somewhat, but I focused on the underlying theme - Nintendo is too comfortable in its strategy.

Of course, this isn't entirely their fault, as third-party developers have become deathly afraid of their platforms since the moderate successes of the N64 and the Gamecube, and so Nintendo have had little to rely on except their existing franchises. We're seeing this again with the Nintendo DS, where new and improved versions of guaranteed sellers (Super Mario 64, Mario Kart, Animal Crossing and the recently announced Tetris) are overshadowing the unique releases (Meteos, Nintendogs) that explicitly take advantage of the platform's features. Not that there's anything wrong with releasing a better Mario Kart, but...it's still Mario Kart. Is that really the limit of their vision?

As always, it's impossible to predict where these things are going to end up. I'm as excited as anyone to see what the console has to offer beyond the tech demos and the resultant gameplay scenarios conjured by overactive imaginations and the radical redesign of what we've come to accept as a controller.

these clothes don't fit us right

Friday January 06, 2006

online gaming addiction: a new disorder?

Written by gatmog at 12:34 PM
Categories: game culture, gaming, mmorpgs, net culture, pc gaming

A great article by Nick Yee explores the foundations of "Internet Addiction Disorder" (IAD) and whether it actually applies to habitual online gaming. His conclusion is that it does not, and in fact attempts to disassemble the criteria established by Kimberly Young in a 1996 study to diagnose "internet addiction" in general. I really like how he compared gaming to what our society deems as acceptable timesinks: watching TV (annoyingly passive for a gamer), playing golf every weekend or working long hours. While he makes his own share of generalizations, the crux of his argument is that this "disorder" is not new, and actually stems from underlying problems the person usually possesses like low self esteem or depression - the same approach taken to address addiction to drugs, alcohol and gambling.

By calling it "online gaming addiction", the media encourages us to think that we're dealing with a very new problem…If people can develop behavioral dependencies on any activity, then why are we surprised that some people develop dependencies on online games? Why is it news? I contend it is mostly because we've always used the word "addiction" to mark out deviant social activities in a way that treats them as unique predators, as emergent problems which we've never seen before. But once we shift our framework to one of general behavioral dependencies, then we have to abandon this view. What we're seeing is actually a very old problem.

After enjoying World of Warcraft for just under a year, I contend that I drifted dangerously close to the point of what may be considered "addiction", where I actually questioned my level of involvement with the game. I never played for more than 4 hours at a time, but it was the routine of it all - nothing else seemed to matter. I needed to log in every day to check my mail to see if I won auctions, or to journey to a new area so I can get some quests off of my list. In-game social activity was minimal, which was even more disturbing. On days where there was server maintenance or I couldn't log in, I occasionally felt listless and didn't want to do anything else - not even play other games.

I can appreciate the allure of MMORPGs, because they are dynamic in the sense that there is real-time interaction between actual humans. Whether it's trading goods or joining a pickup group, even if no actual words are exchanged, it's easy to get the feeling that maybe there is more to the game than originally thought. Sadly, there isn't, and it's no replacement for real life. One of my favorite mental checks for any game is to think about what was actually accomplished after each session. What did I really have to show for the past two hours? Though don't be alarmed - this is no different than sitting in front of the TV for hours on end. I would much rather engage in a series of inconsequential quests than passively subject myself to someone else's idea of what is entertaining or exciting.

All of this also makes me wonder about the term "addiction": should we really be using it as a favorable descriptor for games? Many reviewers like to fall back on calling a game "addictive" because there really is no other way to describe an immediately absorbing brand of gameplay. But we have to be reminded that society at large views this term in a wholly negative light, and as Yee points out in his article, is associated with "deviant social activities". With gaming enthusiasts eager to have their passion recognized as an art form, perhaps it's time to start viewing the games on their individual merits instead of wedging interchangeable words into a game's qualities, which only serve to perpetuate the negative reputation of the medium in the long run.

no sinister plague will poison us

Wednesday December 28, 2005

of course it's not dead you idiots

Written by gatmog at 05:18 PM
Categories: game culture, gaming, gaming media, pc gaming

Without fail, the question "Is PC gaming dead?" is dredged up by self-proclaimed video game industry pundits every fucking year without fail. This time it's Daniel Morris, the former Editor-in-Chief of PC Gamer. And I'm tired.

I'm tired of reading the articles that ramble on about the successful sales of certain titles for whatever platform, while paying little attention to what's really happening in the industry. At least Morris rightly points out that both Valve and Electronic Arts are pushing their download service. With XBox Live and the XBox 360 moving towards more downloadable content and online play, and more multiports of traditionally PC-only titles, we are beginning to see the convergence of platforms. I have stressed this point before. PC gaming will never disappear because console gaming is destined to become PC gaming.

Of course industry mainstays like Nintendo will continue to advance the concepts of gaming, as September's announcement about the Revolution's controller sparked the most passionate debate about the future of gaming I have ever witnessed. They also unexpectedly made their mark with the Nintendo DS, convincing everyone - even pessimists like myself - that they can still innovate while providing accessible entertainment.

The Playstation 2 failed to provide an equivalent to XBox Live over its lifespan, and there is little promise being shown for the Playstation 3. Even Nintendo plans on offering a download service that would give gamers access to their classic titles of yesteryear. The thrust of this argument is that the console manufacturers are thinking about games online, because they all know that's what the market wants. Nintendo launched their WiFi service for the DS this year, and this is likely how they will provide online functionality with the Revolution. Aside from securing big-name publishers, what is Sony's plan for the Playstation 3? I am convinced that the average gamer is going to wake up any second and realize what is happening. Fancy new graphics can only carry a game so far. After playing Dawn of Sorrow I was enraged to the point of blindness that a third dimension had ever been invented.

Be reminded of the 3D engine wars from the late 90s. It's 2005 and Unreal is all but declared the winner. Then what? Does that mean we will begin to see an increase in creativity or a sudden interest in PC games? It does not. It means that PC gaming will continue to do what it has been doing forever, and that is releasing a variety of genre titles of varying quality. Just like every other platform.

Update: It appears the editing gremlins at Next Gen changed the title from "PC Gaming 2005: Not dead yet" to "PC Gaming: 2005" since the time I was first linked to the article and started writing this. Why, I wonder? Perhaps it was the "yet" that rankled a few PC gamers, or maybe the fact that there was no basis in the entire article for a solid argument against this point. A list of successful releases is not a defense!

Monday October 24, 2005

cover my eyes, please

Written by gatmog at 09:55 PM
Categories: game culture, movies
[what the fuck are we doing in this movie. seriously, I need to kill my agent.]

I saw the trailer for Doom a couple weeks ago and I cringed. This wasn't going to be pretty. I read the reviews as they rolled in after its release on Friday, which were more or less a bloodbath.

When I first heard that a movie was being made based on Doom, I thought it was some kind of industry joke. I figured that Hollywood would tack on the subtitle "Knee Deep in the Dead" and call it a day, letting fans wait a decade before the project fell into the overflowing pit of development hell. Then I saw that The Rock would be starring, which brought the movie into the realm of frightening possibility - it's not like the guy has a reputable career to maintain. You can look forward to him starring in John Woo's rendition of Spy Hunter in 2006.

Doom is a first person shooter that has no real story; the player is simply asked to single-handedly dispatch a horde of Hell-spawned demons that have overrun a base on Mars. This provides very little framework for a film in the traditional sense; naturally, the filmmakers have to fill in 95% of the movie with a manufactured plot to push the action forward. Which is why many were afraid this movie would have about as much to do with the original game as Super Mario Brothers did with its source material.

Unfortunately, when a producer sees a culturally resonant property like Doom they get all excited and want to shoehorn in as many references as possible that end up alienating the casual viewers as much as they annoy the ones that actually "get it" in the first place.

Getting back to creative liberties with the plot. There is talk of mapping the human genome on a distant science facility. A very timely bit of research, considering this was actually done last year. There are the expected character archetypes and accompanying clever nicknames for the soldiers in the team that are to take on the evil demons. There is a 15 minute "FPS" sequence that lets audiences experience the video game...without playing it. I think there is a scientist named "Dr. Carmack". Was Doom simply intended to be pieces of fan service strung together as proof that they can create a film based on our beloved PC game?

The most important part of a "nod" to fans is subtlety. It's key if you want to maintain credibility. You want the hardcore to feel special, because they'll appreciate the effort you put into hiding it for them. Some of my favorite examples of this include the scene in X-Men 2 where Mystique is on a computer that shows references a few X-Men that aren't in the films, and hints at some storylines from the comics. Or in Spider Man, where one of Peter Parker's professors, missing an arm, is identifiable as the Lizard (and we learn he is in fact Curt Connors in Spider Man 2). Nobody makes the viewer process these kinds of things to get to the next part of the film - they're in there to establish substance in the film's world, not define it.

All the makers of Doom had to do was watch Aliens and they would get a pretty good idea about how to do it right. Why not copy this proven formula instead of falling back on a poorly written screenplay full of well-worn cliches that obviously discredit the entire film? Doom should have been the next great science fiction action movie. All the elements were there - no one said it had to be deep or harbor some overcomplicated storyline.

I'm not against movies being made based on games - I just want to see them done right. There's always potential for great storytelling, as long as the game provides a solid foundation for a capable screenwriter to build upon. Take Alone in the Dark, for example. While its cartoonish graphics would never achieve the intended effect compared with modern entries in the horror genre, it provided a suitably creepy atmosphere for an adventure game at the time. It could have been a good movie had it been handled properly. Instead Uwe Boll - a man insistent on cashing in on video games as Hollywood's great untapped resource - completely decimated this opportunity, and is contributing to the stigma of video game movies being instant failures.

Video games as a cultural force are still being absorbed by modern day society, so to see that movies based on popular games are being made at all is a good indication of its acceptance as a worthwhile undertaking. As the game industry matures, perhaps we'll start to see them being taken more seriously as they are translated into other forms. Then maybe we'll be given something worth our time, instead of the hastily constructed, throwaway films that simply act as a painful reminder of the big-budget development process for the games these movies are based on.

throw the walls into the fireplace

Saturday July 30, 2005

the new relics

Written by gatmog at 01:06 PM
Categories: game culture, gaming, technology
[A Genesis that was beaten to death was found outside my house.]
"Technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we do not experience it." - Max Frisch (1911-1991)

As we move into the future, we love to reminisce about how we got by with merely 512 KB of RAM or toted around king-sized cell phones before this era of hyper efficiency. But no one ever seems to think about where this stuff goes once labeled "obsolete", while the usefulness period of modern electronics continues to shorten at an alarming rate. Sure there are eccentric collectors out there that are content to fill their garages with arcade cabinets, Apple IIs and the occasional 8-track player, but that's not everyone. After many attempts at getting some return at the neighborhood yard sale, this stuff invariably ends up in a city dump, buried amongst the wastage.

I was out walking the dog on the weekend and I noticed a large, weather-worn piece of black plastic from a distance in the dusty wasteland that is our neighborhood. A familiar looking shape glinted in the sunlight, and as I got closer I made out the "Sega Genesis" logo. The case was cracked open, and it was clear the elements had not been kind. A knockoff six-button controller missing its wire was found nearby. While thrilled with the possibility that this was uncovered in an archaeological dig of modern times, a more likely explanation is that the wayward console was simply dumped here as part of someone's garbage.

Electronics are deeply entrenched in our culture, and will naturally make their way into our waste stream. However game-related hardware can be considered fairly recent - the Genesis that I found was originally released in 1989. That our consumer cycle has already spit out this timeworn machine into my desert of a backyard amazes me.

What will future civilizations think of the byproducts of our wired society? Useless without power, how will they determine what these devices were originally intended for? Finding a clay jar or stone tools buried underneath layers of dirt and rock tells a simple story, but as our culture complicates itself with new ways to distract ourselves from reality, our purpose here is similarly clouded.

with rusted metal heart

Tuesday June 07, 2005

carnival or bust

Written by gatmog at 10:16 PM
Categories: game culture, gaming, gaming media, weblogging

I have been invited to the Carnival of Gamers. Twice.

Flattered to be considered part of the "heavy hitters of the gaming blogosphere" that were so noted on the invitation, I still didn't bother responding. What was the point of asking someone to link to one of my old posts? I'm happy to write for myself. I went about my business.

The first ever Carnival of Gamers has come and gone, and left a few people's egos in its wake. Some have been inflated, and others put in check, but I was mostly interested in the flame war sparked by one man's rage against the gaming media machine.

It all started with a post over at Tea Leaves, which cried foul over the news that Gamespy modified the review score for Donkey Konga 2. According to Tea Leaves, this was evidently another strike against the current state of video game writing, though the post was styled as a typical rant common to most blogs and should not have even been dignified with a reply, let alone a post on the Computer Games website. This poorly formulated response to a haphazard collection of links caused an avalanche of commentary, most of them located at Buttonmashing's follow up post. I was a little disturbed watching Computer Games' Matthew Gallant try to defend himself, having no real position since he never bothered to slog through all the links.

While I agree with the spirit of the Carnival, the way in which it was carried out does the entire "gaming blogosphere" a disservice. There was no evident method for selecting the posts. It was even said that the only reason the Tea Leaves post was listed first was because it was submitted first. The Carnival itself is simply a collection of links with a few choice words wrapped around them. If I was someone interested in a particular topic, for example, the lampooning of online game journalism, how would I know where to look? Categories or headers for common blog posts would have done well in this regard. The organizer and proprietor of Buttonmashing also noted that he didn't like some of the posts. So why were they listed? To be fair to those who submitted links? How is it, then, that you can call the Carnival "the best and brightest video game bloggers from around the world!" I don't care if it's sarcasm: this is unfair to the readers that have been lured in from other websites that might actually take this statement, and the following collection of video game writing, seriously.

I think Matthew Gallant's complaint about the lack of editorial control is an excellent one. The Carnival may be providing links to some unknown weblogs, but if it's bad writing (or as we saw, provides a sensationalist negative opinion) it will reflect badly on the organizer, and the Carnival itself. Slashdot Games may have ripped into the Carnival as well, but why dismiss them? Instead of hearing what the commenters had to say, despite its negative slant, it was blocked out as an insult to the whole affair. It's one thing to link to a bunch of articles you enjoyed. If they're read by similar-minded people like the ones on the typical game blogger's links page I doubt you'll get any arguments. But when word gets out, you're likely to draw in those people that don't agree with you. Either learn to put up with criticism, or stop doing this. It's that simple.

The referrer log gazing on the Carnival's wrap up post was amusing. Calling it a great success based on some heavy linkage is hardly a comprehensive measurement. Of particular note are the links on Kotaku and Instapundit. Did they even read all the posts in the Carnival? I really doubt it, because they probably would have had more to say. Outsiders are lured into this realm expecting greatness, or at least a level of quality reflective of the linking website.

What's so bad about writing and nobody reading it, anyway? This is a classic symptom of blogger narcissism. I've been happily writing about games on this site since 2003, and whether I get visitors or not makes no difference on how I do things. Half the time commenters were trying to sell me vicadin or horse pills anyway. I write what I want, when I want, and I'm not trying to apply myself to some unwritten agenda that game blogging must be seen to be validated. Besides, once your gaming weblog gets attention, then what? Are you going to use it as a portfolio to get a job somewhere else? At a gaming website? At a gaming magazine? Railing against established media isn't exactly the best way to network with future employers.

I blame Penny Arcade for this obsession with internet fame. I have nothing against the guys, but the cult of personality that has sprung up around them is absolutely mind-boggling. They can say a bad thing about a game and influence thousands of people. Tycho can praise a game using his verbal gymnastics and people will be lining up at EB the next day. These are just the opinions of two guys, but that doesn't matter. Disagree with the mob and you've got a flame war on your hands. And isn't that what's happening here?

There's nothing special about game blogs, yet the Carnival's supporters seem to think so. Some of the posts at the Carnival were actually well- written, even if they weren't talking about something I was particularly excited about. Part of the problem is that sentiments are simply echoed throughout these sites' collective blogrolls. What's the point of reading at all if I'm not going to get a difference in opinion, or a new viewpoint on an old subject? What makes this different from weblogging in general?

Frankly, I'm a little embarrassed for those on both sides of this perceived battle. Making light of the negative comments from Slashdot Games is one thing, but when your own comments section erupts into the same type of defensive, ranty posts found there it undermines the purpose of the discussion in the first place. Furthermore, making a point of lambasting a professional game writer as if he were responsible for the mess that is games journalism seems kind of shortsighted. It's usually wise to assume that the mainstream media understands very little about weblogging. So is outright hostility how new readers should be introduced to this subculture of game writers? I wouldn't be surprised if visitors directed to the Carnival from elsewhere saw these immature displays and opted to never return again.

I have never made any claims to expertise or credibility. It's safer that way, and I'm a lot happier doing my own thing than trying to champion some cause that I don't believe is necessary. There's just something about self-aggrandizing self-publishing that smacks of inexperience. I'd hardly call Kotaku the pinnacle of game blogging. Do you enjoy sifting through advertisements to get to your information? Yet for some reason the underlying theme here is bringing attention to the gamebloggers, these unsung heroes of game journalism that might one day rise up against the firmly established gaming media empire. But for what? Ad revenue? Respect? A piece of virtual infamy? There's no way attention would be this important if something wasn't wanted in return.

The next Carnival is this week. Here's hoping the host exercises a bit more editorial control, before the Carnival is buried under the unfortunate stigma of its predecessor.

fools like us

Saturday May 28, 2005

there is still humour in game writing

Written by gatmog at 09:49 AM
Categories: game culture, gaming

Not since the halcyon days of Old Man Murray have I read such a scathing, yet wholly humerous diatribe on the bullshit currently drowning the industry. How fitting that it comes after the screenshot contest and orgy of empty promises that is E3!

Of note is the return of the crate commentary (#14): honestly, is there nothing more innovative to fill up a level's floorspace with? At least in Half Life 2 you could build things out of them with the Gravity Gun.

I also like what the writers insinuate about the online capabilities of the new consoles: as much as I love having the PC as my home platform, there is nothing more infuriating than installing a patch that doesn't work with your existing saved games, resets game settings, or is explicitly required to play the god damned game. The only genre that has an excuse is the MMORPG, which should be adding more content and not fixing the game like so many do. It's an unfortunate side effect of the development process, where in a rush to ship a product programmers rely on a future patch. While in most games this could be considered optimization, some are virtually unplayable until they are patched. Console gamers have been safe in their realm of uniform hardware specs and relatively bug-free games. I consider this a turning point where developers can use this technology to provide more functionality in games, or adopt the "release now, patch later" philosophy, a path that is often rife with frustration and disappointment.

Tuesday May 24, 2005

E3: full of sound and fury, signifying nothing

Written by gatmog at 10:53 PM
Categories: game culture, gaming

An article at Corpnews put words to something I had been thinking about E3 the past week as I read about each day's events.

As a gamer, I've always wanted to attend an E3. It's the place where you go to be assaulted by the sights and sounds of gaming, possibly meet the people behind your favorite games, and get the chance to play something months before it sees store shelves - if at all. It's an idealistic view, and probably a lot further from the truth than I realize.

E3 2005 was earmarked by Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo as being the media event that would culminate in the revelation of their next generation consoles and first wave of releases. I would have loved to have been there. But as the time approached, and quickly passed, I realized that I learned more about the new consoles and games in the weeks leading up to the event. In a PR department's rush to secure mindshare, "leaks" are orchestrated to ensure that this information isn't lost amongst the onslaught of E3-releated articles. This may also provide a shopping list of sorts for E3 attendees, but aside from an actual hands-on playtest that might last five minutes, it didn't sound like there was much else to learn. There were no suprises; I knew what would be there. And at the end of it all I'm as excited about Age of Empires III as I was before.

The writer's complaints about The Corporation, a "medium-large gaming website", not having privileged access to games and their developers smacked of too much bitterness. I'll overlook those comments and delve to the larger issue: the gaming media itself. The advent of online publications and self-publishing has changed the face of gaming media, to the point where the line is blurred between someone who is genuinely a media representative, and someone who simply operates a gaming website or has a few articles online. I'm not about to get into the "blogger vs. big journalism" discussion, mind you - this is about E3's media screening process. Ten years ago it was almost impossible for the general public to get in. You had to either know someone in the industry, or sign up the day of the event to weasel your way onto the show floor. Now that you're able to register online, who's checking the credentials of those signing up as media? Then there's the general attendance: all you have to do to get onto the exhibit floor is pay for admission. No direct connection to the industry is required. I know there are gaming webloggers and site operators that were able to attend this year, and probably provided a valuable resource to the people that read their sites. A prime example: Penny Arcade goes every year. But what do they do? They create comics based on games that may influence someone to purchase (or stay away from) a particular title. But how much of the game-buying public actually visits the site instead of say, Gamespot or the latest copy of Gamepro? Better still, what about the major TV networks or newspapers? It's all about viewership: as gaming makes its way more into mainstream culture, publishers and developers have less time to spend with fan sites or the hardcore that are going to buy the game anyway, and elect to get their piece out to the largest audience possible. This shouldn't be a surprise - it happened two weeks ago with the XBox360.

Some people will tell you that E3 has been going downhill for a long time, and the real action happens at the Game Developer's Conference, or at private press events before the trade show. These are places where the developers themselves are allowed to make some noise about their game - not have booth attendants rattle off feature lists or half baked concepts to get the product into a display at Best Buy or satiate the general attendees. Instead of celebrating games, E3 seems to iterate everything that's wrong with games - flashy booths, pre-rendered "gameplay videos", strippers earning some extra cash as a gaming personality, and publishers trying to sell their latest sequel. When the number of people in attendance makes it all but impossible to walk around, let alone see the games, how much fun can it be? The hostility towards attendees sporting "media" badges that the writer complains about tells me that it's simply getting out of control. Either we let the gaming media and industry professionals do their jobs, or overrun the exposition to the point where it becomes nothing more than an amusement park. Indeed, I would have loved to have gone this year, but when streaming video is a web browser away, does being there actually make a difference anymore? I enjoy the thought of sitting comfortably at my desk than standing amidst a massive, sweaty mound of flesh clad in free t-shirts. Last year NCSoft gave us E3 for everyone; I'd like to see more developers take that chance.

no brakes this time

Friday May 13, 2005

the XBox 360 is not the point

Written by gatmog at 01:08 PM
Categories: game culture, gaming, xbox 360

I think it's time to put aside the heckling and realize what that "special" (read: commercial) for the XBox 360 really means, because we're only going to get this chance once. Indeed, the Spike TV awards were collectively acknowledged as a huge waste of time - but at least it was 3 hours long (or whatever, I never actually got through it). This XBox 360 commercial was hyped even on Canadian television, all for what I gather was equivalent to a short segment on the home shopping network. Screenshots and specifications and superficial interviews by pop stars mean nothing to me right now. What I'm concerned about is gaming's new image. Quite frankly, it's embarassing.

What happened in the last couple of years? I mean, besides game culture going mainstream and Franz Ferdinand playing in the background of PSP commercials. This is a very dangerous direction for the industry to be heading. Focus grouping is not the answer to good games! This whole scenario absolutely reeks of market research and target demographics. How a blatant product placement on a channel full of product placements can be seen as otherwise is a testament to our culture. I don't want to hear about Halo sequels and polygons for the rest of my life as a gamer, which to be honest is being tested at this very moment. As I said in an earlier post PC gaming has taken a hit because of this newfound interest in catering to an entertainment-driven market. It's not as easy to market the type of games that thrive on the PC to people who want third person action or can actually stomach playing a FPS with a gamepad. The XBox 360 can play DVDs! Fantastic! I finally have an excuse throw my DVD player off my balcony.

I can't help but feel bitter at these developments. Gaming has always been a big part of my life, even if it meant getting my ass kicked in the locker room after gym glass. Now the ass kickers are playing video games. Will the hardcore be remembered after these turbulent times? Will the opinions of gamers who actually played Doom matter next to Halo's star on the walk of fame? It's extremely scary to think my hobby is being driven into the ground by gamers who care little for gaming history or its acceptance as more than a diversion. Do you want to be playing commercials in the next five years? Go ahead and pick up that copy of Madden. It won't hurt you...yet.

Oh, and The Killers? Give me a fucking break.

makes me want to give mankind a beating

Tuesday May 03, 2005

platform agnosticism: in defense of PC gaming

Written by gatmog at 10:06 PM
Categories: features, game culture, gaming media, pc gaming
[Age of Empires III is one of those games.]

I picked up the May issue of Computer Games magazine last week. I switched to this publication after dumping PC Gamer last year. Having been through five issues the content feels more refined, and there was a hell of a reduction in ads - but there's something missing. It's still focused on previews and reviews. I love Tom Chick's column, and the in-depth study of games and game culture that usually takes place in the last few pages of the magazine. But why aren't these cover stories instead of the trumpeting of typical exclusives? These exploratory articles are reserved for the back, which in most game magazines is where the cheat codes or letters pages go. Is it so unfashionable to take gaming seriously? Computer Games' recent turn to fumbling, awkward attempts at humour seems to point in this direction.

Computer Games have also changed their format in the last couple of issues. The addition of the "Online" section last month was created to address the growing community of online-only gamers trying to juggle multiple subscriptions. In May's issue I flipped through this section and came across something entirely shocking: console game reviews. In a computer gaming magazine! What in the fuck was going on here?

Continue reading "platform agnosticism: in defense of PC gaming"
Thursday April 07, 2005

assault on eastdale ave.

Written by gatmog at 11:30 PM
Categories: game culture, shoegazing

On my way home today I reflected on the fact that I had missed the release of SWAT 4 this week, blaming it entirely on my preoccupation with all things World of Warcraft. As I made my way down the street to our apartment, I noticed an extremely long lineup of police cruisers parked at the side of the street, complete with an EMS truck on standby. As I got closer, I saw an eight-man SWAT team standing on the grass in front of a townhouse complex across the street from our building.

My first reaction was that this was some kind of sign, a portent to remind me that I should be playing what will probably be the tactical shooter of the year. Amidst thoughts like, "that body armour looks awesome," and "check out those helmets and headsets," I was completely lost in the moment. I was lucky I didn't hit any of the gawkers lining the curbs that were trying to see what was going on.

This confusion of gaming and reality disturbed me, because when the thoughts had passed I came to the stunning realization that I live here.

Monday February 21, 2005

sim city

Written by gatmog at 10:50 PM
Categories: game culture, pc gaming, shoegazing

Another friend entered the inescapable vortex of World of Warcraft on the weekend, and I've been doing everything in my power to resist for reasons unknown even to me at this point. To that end I reinstalled Sim City 4, which in my mind is just as addictive, though not exactly an experience that can be shared by all.

Our new apartment has a great view of the city, and during a short break in play I took a look out of the window and felt like I was gazing into a thousand mirrors reflecting back on each other. Indeed, the burgeoning metropolis sprawled out on my monitor was not entirely different from the houses and buildings around me, and for an instant I had one of those episodes where reality and gamespace were indistinguishable.

Monday February 16, 2004

there's always a way out

Written by gatmog at 10:02 PM
Categories: game culture, gaming

A personal mantra whenever playing an installment in the Metroid series or one of the recent Castlevania GBA titles is, “there's always a way out”. I trust in the game designers so completely, that if I found myself wandering into unauthorized territory there will always be an exit, no matter how lowly my skills or power suit upgrades are. This has come into play many times while playing Zero Mission, which gives the impression that the game is more free form than it actually is by simply pointing you towards your destination instead of locking you inside a prescribed sector. Coupled with the new automap – a luxury only dreamt about in 1986 - the game is very easy to traverse.

This past weekend, however, my pet theory was put to rest, because sometimes there isn't a way out. I obtained my very own copy of The Sands of Time a couple of weeks ago, and was happily approaching the 50% completion mark on Saturday when I decided to take a break, pleased with my progress. When I sat down to play again, I restored the savegame only to find myself back at the reload screen with the Prince's familiar words, “No, that's not quite how it happened”. That's strange, I thought to myself. Thinking it was some sort of misload of the game, I turned off the 'cube, yanked out the memory card and did an NES-style cleaning, then started it up again. This time I managed to wander around for a few seconds before hearing the Prince's mocking “No, no, no. That's not what happened. Let me begin again.” Alright, this isn't funny. I was talking to the Gamecube now. Was my savegame corrupted? Did someone fiddle with the memory card while turning the power on and off? After a few times of trying to reload my game with no success, I trolled the message boards. It was hard for me to accept that I was possibly face to face with a bug in the game, but that was indeed the case. Farah, your companion for the better part of the adventure, can apparently get stuck between areas if the pathfinding screws up. And even worse she can die en route - by falling off a cliff or into a spike-filled chasm. Trudging through many heart-wrenching tales of woe by gamers that had to restart the adventure because of a similar bug, I quickly resigned to the fact that I, too, would have to start over.

“Save early, save often” is another mantra, mostly for PC RPGs or absurd missions like Sniper Town. However when dealing with console games and limited save slots, sometimes you don't have that flexibility. In the case of The Sands of Time, three save slots is more than enough to alternate safely without trapping myself in one of the game's bugs again, something that even the Dagger of Time cannot reverse.

Monday July 07, 2003

i demand retribution

Written by gatmog at 06:49 PM
Categories: game culture, gaming
David McNulty, a 19-year-old computer science major at the University of Maine, started playing video games, such as Nintendo's wildly popular Mario Brothers, at age 5. He now hosts game-playing parties and joins online games with people who live across the world.

Holy living fuck. Are you serious? You can play games with people that live across the world?

I fucking hate CNN. It's everything that's wrong with Western mass media. I can't even believe I'm linking to this article. But I saw it at PA and it struck a chord. Well, maybe it hit a nerve. Because I'm a bit upset.

Firstly, when this ass says "game-playing parties" I'm going to assume he means a LAN party, or perhaps even the lesser Halo-party or Soul Calibur-party. In any case this "phenomenon" is so old its not even funny. It makes me Adamantium Rage when I read mainstream journalists' impressions of gamer culture. It's so god damned naive. No, we are not hermits that spend all night in front of the computer. Thanks for clearing that up. Yes, it is a lifestyle, I'll be the first to admit it. But there are other components of said lifestyle. For example, the planning of LAN parties and the attending of LAN parties. It is an extremely social activity indeed, where fragging and smack-talking can be enjoyed by all. This "golly gee, look at what these kids are playing these days" bullshit is a bit tired. Either report the full story or fuck off. And get a gamer to write this stuff! Not some "technology" writer who found out two weeks ago there is a completely free and open office suite. ("Wow! Imagine that! A free office suite!" A CNN article ensues.)

Anyone who is not a gamer does not understand the lifestyle and fluff pieces like this one and the so-called "study" behind it are doing gamers a disservice. I mean shit, any article that references DOOM like it was still current loses all credibility. If these assclowns at CNN don't get it, you can hardly expect your co-workers or family to get it.

So who's hosting the next LAN party?