Saturday, December 9, 2017
As fun as shows like Dexter and CSI are to watch, having everything take place in modern day USA has always felt like a missed opportunity to me. I'm sure it saves them a small fortune on their production budget, but there's something to be said for taking the classic detective formula and changing it simply by transporting the setting to an unusual time and place. One great example is the long running Sano Ichiro series set in Edo-period Japan. Eighteen books in total, I must confess that I've only read the first fourteen. Another example is "In the Name of the Rose." Set in a 14th-century european abbey, the novel/film were adapted into an unofficial 8-bit computer game entitled La abadía del crimen. There's also a whole slew of authors who have written crime fiction set during classical antiquity, but I have yet to hear of any such stories that take place during the Viking Age.
Subsurface Circular is neat little indie game that was released on Steam August 18th, 2017 (with deliberate lack of preceding hype or fanfare). It has players take on the role of a detective robot assigned the subway system beneath a major city. From this rather confined place the player has to solve a mysterious disappearance by interviewing other robots that happen to be riding the train at various times over the course of the game. Part of what makes it a compelling experience is learning about the world above and what it's like having AI controlled machines doing all of humanity's dirty work. It's all very minimalist by necessity, but I kind of wish a larger developer would try tackling a similarly themed game concept.
While I like LA Noire, I can't help thinking it would have been so much more awesome had the game been set in the Blade Runner universe. Rather than using the clumsy "good cop," "bad cop," and "accuse" options during interviews, I think it would have been a lot more well suited to the medium of video games to perform Voight-Kampff tests on suspects. Something that the 1997 video game adaptation of Blade Runner did rather well was at the start of a new game a random algorithm would secretly decide which characters are replicants and which weren't. That, combined with multiple endings gave the game replayability as well as a degree of personal investment in the story. A recreation of 1950s Los Angeles is cool and all...just not as cool as it would have been in the far flung future of 2019...errr...maybe the sequel's 2049 would be a better timeframe...
Saturday, December 2, 2017
There's still a little ways to go before 2017 is over. That said, I already find myself looking forward to the coming year and what it will bring. A bunch of interesting games have been announced so I thought I'd share a list of a half-dozen titles that have my attention. Here they are in no particular order...
Friday, November 24, 2017
In case it's unfamiliar, Mouse Guard is a series of comics by David Petersen. Described by the author himself as "mice with swords," the setting is very medieval and european in flavor. Akin to novels like A Secret of NIMH, Watership Down and the Redwall series, the world is grounded in our own except that some of the animals exhibit characteristics and a level of intelligence typically associated with humans. Normally, I'm not a big fan of stories about anthropomorphized animals, but Mouse Guard is an exception in that it takes the ordinary and turns it into the fantastical simply by changing the perspective from from a human one to that of a society of fully sentient mice. The backdrop is essentially a bunch of independently governed mouse settlements that have entered into a compact by forming an chivalric order known as the "Guard" that is charged with protecting the "Territories" (as they are collectively called) from potential threats. Keep in mind that mice are at the bottom rung of the animal hierarchy. Pretty much any creature in nature that isn't a herbivore sees mice as a potential repast.
Thursday, November 16, 2017
Rumor has it that some of EA's past games were marked on budgets equal to the amount actually spent making the game. In other words, they could have reduced the development costs of certain games by nearly 50 percent simply by dumping all the thirty second advertisements in lieu of sending some free copies out to Youtubers and Twitch streamers. It seems silly to do otherwise considering word of mouth has, for a long time, carried more weight than simple product placement. Visceral Studio, the now defunct makers of the Dead Space series, was based out of San Francisco...one of the most expensive cities in the world. When you look at companies like IBM, they have all but deserted their corporate offices in large part because it's no longer necessary to have everyone under the same roof. A variety of video games, including Kerbal Space Program as well as Ori and the Blind Forest, were made by a team scattered across the globe that coordinated their development efforts via the internet. This sort of dispersed workforce brings up the question of executive supervision. Former EA employees have gone on record saying that the company has a nontrivial number of people who get paid a lot to do very little. Reducing wasteful administrative spending though is only one part of the problem when it comes to leadership.
This brings me to my final point which is trend chasing. As far as I know nobody has gotten rich making Minecraft clones or Clash of Clans copycats. Worse still are flash-in-the-pan hits like Angry Birds and Farmville. Real success comes from franchises like the Soulsborne series...which, I should stress, wasn't an instant hit; Before Demon's Souls there was King's Field and before Command and Conquer there was Dune II: Battle for Arrakis. It takes time, money, effort and a few iterations on an idea to cultivate something that is both innovative and entertaining. Hitting paydirt straight out of the gate is exceedingly rare and in most cases fleeting.
Of course most businesses only see the future in terms of next quarter profits, and as such often screw themselves when it comes to sustainable profits. They can scoop whales and dolphins out of the water for awhile, but how long until that well runs dry? More importantly, where's the respect for the craft? I'm not going to climb on my high horse and claim video games are art, but at the very least they are supposed to be for the express purposes of entertaining the people who buy them...not to abuse and exploit. This is rapidly degrading into a rant so I'll wrap it up by simply saying developer harassment and death threats are not acceptable, but publishers and shareholders that push this kind of garbage need to engage in some serious introspection rather than dumping their problems on enthusiasts of the hobby.