Friday, September 16, 2011

Books and Games: The Fatmakers

I'll admit it, I resent reading a little bit. Now, I do read constantly, but not as many actual books as I should, I suppose.

While shooting interviews for my upcoming libraries and gaming segment, something got me a little annoyed. Nobody complains about books making you fat. If you just sat down and read books all day and did nothing else, how is that any different (physically) from playing games all day? Unfortunately, your imagination doesn't burn calories. Even if you imagine that you are.

But come on! Reading is such a sacred cow. You can't say anything bad about it otherwise you look like an ignoramus. Clearly, reading is awesome. But the fact that I even need to qualify everything with that statement shows what I mean. I'm so nervous about saying anything bad about reading that I have to spell it out like that.

I suppose reading had to fight this battle at some point. It was one of the points of conversation with the people I talked to at the library. Even writing had to deal with the same kind of condescension that gaming is dealing with right now. I just hope that one day, gaming will be treated with the same respect reading has. But then, watching movies doesn't really. But I can dream.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Episode 7 Promo!

Episode 7 airs September 6th on LCC-TV! Tell your friends!

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Accidentally Iconic Images

I was having a conversation with my friend Luke Kane today, and we realized how iconic the first, or near-first images of old games are. This is especially true of games back "in the day" (that's what people who are as old as me refer to games around in the late 80's and early 90's). Since there wasn't a save system on most games back then, you ended up playing the first level dozens or maybe even hundreds of times.

I started thinking about this because of the emotional reaction I have whenever I see images from the first levels of some important, older games. These images have been seared into my memory and are instantly recognizable. You could probably remove everything but just a few aspects of each image, and people would still recognize it immediately. For example:

I bet if I were to leave a silhouette of just the bricks and blocks, most gamers would recognize it.

Let's look at some others.

Now, this doesn't really happen as often in newer games. Older games had such a limited perspective, what you saw in the first few seconds is about all there is to that vista. Entering the world of 3D games doesn't quite offer the same specificity. But there are some exceptions:

But for the most part, this doesn't happen quite so strongly anymore because of the ability to save your game and the flexibility in your perspective in 3D games. But it is something that is interesting to think about.

Anybody have their own examples?

Monday, August 1, 2011

3DS Price Chop

The 3DS wasn't cheap. $250 was the same price the PSP launched, and people thought that was pretty crazy for a handheld system. Then Nintendo launches a system and nobody really seemed to complain about the "Golden Child" of the console manufacturer. Admit it, they are. Nobody complains about Nintendo the same way they do about Sony or Microsoft. But that is beside the point.

A $70 price cut? That's not even a cut, that's a chop. That is massive, and so soon! It's nothing short of alarming. What does it mean? And why did Iwata, the CEO of Nintendo, take a 50% pay cut? What is happening to my beloved Nintendo?! Bringer of so much joy to my childhood!

Well, I think, as Penny Arcade already pointed out, it's all about smartphones. As I already mentioned, I find it difficult to find a truly compelling use case for a handheld console in the face of my iPhone. I don't want to carry a whole separate device around just for playing games.

But more important than that, smartphones, in particular the App Store, has completely transformed what we expect from mobile games. Not only in terms of price ($1 vs $40), but in terms of gameplay style. It never made that much sense, in most cases, to have a full, immersive experience on the go. I think a lot of it comes from the legacy of games development. Handheld systems' primary goals seemed to be to replicate, as closely as possible, the home console experience. Early on, with the Gameboy, that meant simple games like Mario. But because that philosophy still persists, it now means games like Uncharted 2.

This is totally wrong for a multitude of reasons, and that's why iPhone gaming has become the new way we play mobile games. Bite-sized games at bite-sized prices. You usually only have a few minutes at a time, so when games only last that long, you're much more likely to play them. This is mobile gaming now.

People's expectations have changed, and Nintendo and Sony still haven't quite caught on to that.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

A Big Step

The Supreme Court has affirmed something I've been trying to tell them for years. Videogames are just as legitimate as movies or TV! Granted, calling each justice up in the middle of the night and yelling that at the top of my lungs probably wasn't as effective as my tipsy self thought it was. It's nice to see some sort of official stance on this.

This was a big step, though. It's encouraging to see this kind of recognition from such a high institution. Along with their production, the experience of games has become much more complex through the years. They are no longer just a piece of software. So it makes sense to treat them like other forms of art when it comes to censorship.

It's a tale as old as time. Some new medium develops and people start to worry about its affects on people. It's a legitimate concern to have, I think. But the response is very important. You don't want to just label something new and potentially frightening as obscene. That argument is always the one popping back up. What is obscenity?

The whole argument of obscenity is that it offers only vulgarity and nothing else of value. But it's hard to see the value of something when you know very little about it. That's what I always seem to notice about the obscenity argument. When you don't know much about something, it's hard to see any value in it. Value is subjective anyway. Someone might see Postal 2 as nothing but a violence and murder simulator. Maybe I look at it as satire.

I just don't know why people always seem to think "Well this time it's different". It never is, no matter how much you try to ignore march of history. It's just the same, and The Supreme Court said so.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Red Dead Redemption's Missed Opportunity

Red Dead Redemption is pretty slow to start, but once it gets going, it is fun as hell. That's why I've had the game for months, but am just now starting to get into it.

So now I'm going to quasi-complain about it. It doesn't really count as criticism because I can't hold against the developers things they haven't done that I would really like.

Red Dead Redemption (herein referred to as RDD) plays into just about everything I already thought about the old west. This is stuff I learned from movies and TV, so its accuracy is dubious at best. In terms of its portrayal of history, RDD has yet to subvert any of my expectations. Rather, it seems to cater to pretty much all of them. Now, I do understand the purpose of it. By doing so, it makes for one hell of an exciting game. What with all the gun fighting, robberies, prostitution and so on.

But if gaming is exploration and play, then we're missing out on a really cool opportunity to show a side of the Old West that we didn't really know or expect. Imagine playing an open world game about what it was REALLY like, rather than what you just hope it was like. Gaming is more exciting when it defies your expectations, rather than just playing into them.

Like I said, I understand why they designed the game the way they did. I also understand how difficult it would be to make it super fun if you removed a lot of the action. But I loved the missions where I was helping out with the ranch, wrangling cattle, or breaking horses. I don't think it would be too difficult if you just made the characters and story interesting enough.

It just makes me a little sad that I feel this way about an otherwise fantastic experience. It isn't really fair to be sad about what could have been, especially when it relates to my own hangups about gaming in general.

One last thing while we are on the subject of Old West stereotyping: They seriously have a drunken, skeevy Irishman? They didn't even draw attention to this obvious and somewhat offensive stereotype. They could have at least been winking at the player about it. Sheesh.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

E3 2011 or: Why I Hate The Kinect Now

I'm going to reference Mitch Hedberg on this one: Watching E3 conferences is like eating pancakes. All exciting at first, but by the end you're F#@$%& sick of 'em.

That's the way I felt when I started watching Microsoft's Presser, the first of three that I would ultimately view. What follows are my impressions---


I officially hate the Kinect. When it was first revealed two E3's ago, I was skeptical but optimistic. It was a strange and exciting new technology, but one I worried would result mostly in gimmicky experiences. The tech demos they displayed were very much "concept" videos, and I took them as such. But it looked really fun anyway, if this stuff was actually possible. The live demonstrations obviously real, because they were loaded with technical glitches.

If we leap ahead one year to E3 2010, the demos were oddly perfect. So they were most likely all staged. I can forgive that, though, for the sake of presentation, assuming that is all stuff the Kinect can actually do. But it doesn't speak much to the confidence of its performance. At any rate, it had been a year since the Kinect was revealed, so developers had at least a year to play with the new technology. The demos were, in my mind, awful. They were nothing but gimmicky new ways of controlling the same old games. The games themselves were all incredibly limited, on-rails experiences. I felt sad this was all they had to show.

Let's leap ahead an additional year to E3 2011. Surely after at least 2 years with the Kinect, we were to be bombarded with fascinating demonstrations and new games using the Kinect in ways we never anticipated...right?


It was the exact same bullshit we saw last year! I felt sad. Then I felt angry. Then I felt sad again. Then SUPER ANGRY! Then I completely gave up on trying to like the Kinect. If nothing interesting has happened after 2 years, what will?

Then Microsoft revealed Kinect Fun Labs! Oh my! An app store dedicated to small, experimental Kinect experiences? This sounds promising! It kind of is, if you bought a $150 camera just to screw around with little meaningless apps. It was almost like Microsoft was admitting this was about it. No meaningful experiences here. Just some insubstantial little tech demos, kind of like their E3 pressers.

For shame. But I will remain optimistic. Maybe Fun Labs will provide inspiration for some really cool experiences in games. Maybe.


This year's E3 was a lot like last year's in that Microsoft's event made me angry, while Sony's just kind of underwhelmed me.

They didn't focus too heavily on the PlayStation Move, which was nice of them. They did go into more detail about their Next Generation Portable, now known as the PlayStation Vita.

What I like about the Vita is that it's an all-purpose mobile gaming device. It has pretty much everything a current generation smartphone has (tilt-controls, multi-touch screen, etc) in addition to real physical controls, which is something that keeps smartphones from being able to easily play games like Megaman. In that regard, it's pretty cool. I can play pretty much any type of mobile game on this thing.

What I don't like about it has to do with its entire approach. They keep hammering home the point that this thing can play near-PS3 quality games on the go. I don't want that! Granted, the visuals on this thing are impressive, but I don't want to play Uncharted on a dinky screen. If I'm going to be playing a game as stunning and immersive as that, I want to be doing it at home, on my nice TV, nice sound system, and from the comfort of my recliner.

Now, there's nothing that says the Vita HAS to do that, but it's something Sony keeps talking about ad nauseum. I am glad, however, it has a bungle of mobile tech to make for other types of experiences. It could be a good device to play iPhone-style, quick mobile games. But then the issue becomes whether or not I want to carry around a completely separate device for that.

The Vita is a promising hardware platform, but like the PSP, it remains to be seen of the software will support that promise.


Where to even begin? This was kind of a crazy one. That controller is bonkers! Wii U? I guess we'll eventually also get over the silly name like we did with the Wii.

Nintendo was really channeling the first reveal of the Wii with this press conference. The difference is that the Wii's use case was a lot clearer than the Wii U. They showed the Wii U controller doing some wild stuff, but all of it was still kind of fuzzy.

So it's a controller with a screen, and the screen can be a extension of the TV, or replace the TV? It has motion controls? How does a screen utilize motion controls? This all seems kind of cool, but only vaguely cool.

It was immediately obvious what the original Wii was going to do, even as misleading as the first concept videos actually were. The Wii U? Not so much. I'm still kind of excited, though. It's all up to developers.

Wait a minute... the developers didn't really do much interesting stuff with the Wii's motion controls, or even Wii Motion Plus. Most of the best, recent Wii games haven't really been using motion controls.