Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Reputation for Violence

I’ve never understood why people find the need to complain about violence in video games. Especially when other forms of media hardly shy away from the subject of physical conflict. That said I do get board with the lack of variety when it comes to the primary form of gameplay most big budget titles offer. Don’t get me wrong, if killing dudes and blowing stuff up pushes your buttons then power to you. The “fight or flight” instinct is one of the most basic and intense of human impulses after all….but it need not be the predominate experience in video games. This is why I’m glad to see triple “A” titles such as L.A. Noir showcasing detective work over gunplay. It’s nice to see an open world game that has missions that can’t be boiled down to kill “X” number of enemies at location “Y”.

I’m not calling for the pacification of vide games here so much as asking gamers to push developers to keep stretching their creativity out beyond the countless variations on destruction and slaughter already widely available. “But games without violence are boring!” you might say. “All that other stuff I can do in real life. It’s my insatiable bloodlust that can only be (lawfully) satisfied in video games” you might also say. Well, yes…but variety is the spice of life and the reason digital carnage is such a refined art in video games is because a lot of very talented people have been making violent video games for a very long time. Besides you can have your cake of death and eat other things too.

Speaking of death, Demon’s Souls has a great deal of it, particularly when it comes to the player’s on screen character, but rather than simply giving out more of the same the development team has opted to place more emphasis on exploration in their spiritual sequel. Another good place to look is Bioware games which contain lots of fantasy and sci-fi action while still making a concerted effort to spend time on conversation and character relationships. Granted lots of games have done this kind of thing in the past, the point I’m trying to stress is that the nonviolent stuff is often times what I enjoy most. So, why bother padding a game out with pointless, unnecessary and in some cases downright dull bloodletting?

Next time you walk into your local game store check out the variety of titles on the shelves. Yes, most of the big titles in gaming revolve around guns, swords and super powers, but why not try something a little different for a change? Whether it be wanderlust in Dark Souls or wenching in the Witcher 2 there’s a lot of impulses in that brain of yours that lie untapped in the world of video games.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Price of Innovation

Costly, time consuming and risky are just some of the words one could assign to attempts at innovation in the game industry. Unsurprisingly most publisher would rather focus on remakes or sequels instead of rolling the dice on a new IP. and while games these days are far more refined than any other period in video game history stagnation is also at an all time high.

How many titles in the Resident Evil series now? Call of Duty? How about Final Fantasy? Don’t get me wrong I’ve enjoyed all three of these long running franchises, but familiarity breeds contempt eventually and fields no matter how fertile sometimes need to lie fallow.

There’s more to it than that though. Truly innovate games create something that can never be re-experienced. In fact just trying to recreate the key ingredients can prove to be fiendishly difficult. Take for example a video game horse. How many games have successfully captured the essence of the most noble of beasts? I guarantee the number of titles that come to mind are so few that you could count them on one hand. The reason being, as any professional game developer can probably tell you, making a four legged creature move realistically in a 3D environment isn’t easy. It takes a lot of man hours mixed with a humbling dose of trial and error plus that word that makes publishers uneasy – money.

On the plus side games that see the necessary investment in terms of time, talent and energy can boast features not soon to be repeated. I have seen many attempts to capture the thrill of climbing up the massive frame of a boss monster in titles such as Castlevania: Lords of Shadow and God of War 3, but these pale in comparison to the original PS2 game to bring forth this particular gameplay element over half a decade ago.

However not all innovation needs to be big and bold. It can happen in small almost magical ways too. Just as an experiment next time your playing a video game try running your character into a wall at full speed. Only in a small minority of titles does your character throw out a hand to stop his forward momentum. It sounds trivial, I know, but little details like innate reflexes can make a fantasy world seem real to the player. And that special somewhere is a place that few games reach without innovation.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sony's War

There are many kinds of wars; set piece battles where armies face off against one another, cold wars where two sides are on constant alert but neither attack out of fear of repercussions, drug wars, the war on terror, and most importantly (for the purposes if this blog post) guerrilla wars. Those costly conflicts in which a much more powerful force is slowly worn down by attrition caused by a much smaller and weaker but more cunning and determined foe. I think it's safe to say Sony is in just such a conflict. Not in the literal sense of course. Nobody is dying as the result of violence at Sony (I hope), but nevertheless the economic and ideological aspects of "Sony's War" are all too real.

So what was the spark that started this conflict? Well it's been smoldering on for a long time. A conflict of interest in which the guerrillas are the hacker community, an extremely loosely allied group of individuals who pride themselves on freedom of information backed by a talent for computer science. And Sony, a massive corporate conglomerate dominated by a long tradition of business culture. I could go into the history of how these two have been skirmishing for years. Usually it comes down to Sony wanting more money and the hackers wanting more freedom. Regardless I've never really sided with either group. Or rather I am sympathetic to both sides. After all Sony employees need to eat, but when their execs are writing themselves fat year end bonuses while at the same time complaining that they don't make enough money...well let's just say it's hard to feel sorry for rich people. Meanwhile one could think of hackers as being Robin Hood figures looking out for the poor and powerless. Then again it's also easy to find hackers who engage in activities that are nothing more than mean spirited thievery and vandalism. I think it's generally safe to say that there are moderates and extremists on both sides of this conflict with a mild tug-o-war over the boarder line of what's fair ideally based on common sense...until now.

It's just my opinion but I strongly believe that Sony really set things off in earnest when they decided to pull the other OS option retroactively from their PS3 systems (not a good idea when your slogan is "It Does Everything!"). Let me ask you this; Would you grab a green beret's hat off his head and throw it in his face? Because metaphorically speaking that's exactly what Sony did. They insulted one of the most elite group of tech-savvy people simply so they could make a little more profit...or so they though. As it turns out they might as well have dumped a bucket of gasoline on the sputtering flames of the conflict. Since then there's been a lot of back and forth with the hackers hacking and Sony going sue happy with it's small army of lawyers. For a while it looked like Sony was beating everyone into submission through shear ferocity. But then came the counter-attack. PSN, over 70 million user accounts world wide, had it's security compromised forcing Sony to shut it down. Needless to say this is going to cost the company a lot of money. One can't help but wonder if it would have been less costly to just leave the PS3 other OS option alone.

Sadly, it's too late now. Sony might as well be the USA in Vietnam, the USSR in Afghanistan, or the Roman Empire in Gaul. But wait those of you who know your history might say "Hey didn't the Romans eventually pacify Gaul?" to which I would answer "Yes...yes they did." However it wasn't done by dragging people out into the street for public execution (although they tried that) rather the way the Romans eventually achieved a degree of success was by winning the people over. And therein lies Sony's way out of this mess. Gamers are a fickle bunch but they've been burned enough times to appreciate it when someone gives them a fair shake. Maybe for the execs at Sony that sounds like the road to the defeat of lower revenue, but that would be a shortsighted view dominated by an obsession with quarterly profits. No, what is need is a sustainable situation - an arrangement where honest consumers of games don't suffer. Because let's face it the real losers in this conflict isn't really Sony or hackers, it's everyone who can't log in to PSN and play the games they paid for.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Old School Box Art

Too bad the game itself wasn't very good...

Thief not to scale. Hero count may vary. Some settling may occur. 

Doom guy is so screwed.

Ummm...Arthur quit posing for the camera and look over your shoulder. 

"I'm getting to old for this shit."

Yeah...I've been a few video arcades that felt about like this. 

McDonalds in SPAAAAAACE....