Saturday, August 25, 2012

Hate the Game, Not the Genre

Fist, this is advice to me as much as anyone that happens to be reading.  Second, I figured I'd post it here because maybe what I've got to say will prove useful to others. Third, and finally, it's a bad habit in the gaming community to hate things they don't get. Call it "tribalism" if you want. I some psychologists might refer to it as "insecurity" steaming from low self-esteem. Personally, I don't think it matters what you call it, being a jerk just because you can isn't cool.

Hate speech, bigotry, trolling are a few names for it, but the fact is I highly doubt a lot of the people making insulting remarks on the internet are all that prejudice against blacks, women, gays, Jews, and so on. Rather it's their best attempt to get a rise out of listeners. They know deep down that they're nobodies so they vent their frustrations by trying to bring everyone else down to their level. Hence the reason we got PC elitists/haters, fan boys for Microsoft/Sony/Nintendo and a whole mess of people who praise one genre and bash another.

I'll be the first to admit that I had some pretty big biases when I was a teenager, so it's not like I'm above all this. However there is something I'd really like to stress. Even though I'm burned out on shooters I don't hate the genre. In fact I don't hate any genre. Sure I'm not so big on sports games, but there are still some I like; Blades of Steel, Pigskin, as well as a select number of racing games. Here's the thing though, when I grew up I grew out of stereotyping stuff and so should everyone else.

On the other hand it's okay not to like a game, just make sure you have real reasons for feeling so. Saying it sucks amounts to nothing, and taking such overly simplistic trash talk online will probably get you a lot of well deserved flack. If you don't like a game judge it on the merits of that particular title and criticize it based on supportable evidence. Also, keep in mind that if it's not you cup of tea don't drink it. Let other people have their fun and you likewise. Trust me you'll save yourself and everyone else a lot of misery in the long run by taking a more mature stance.

Recently companies like Google have been taking a lot of heat for allowing abusive language, but I think there is a big danger in censoring speech. It's all too easy to start shutting down people just because they have an unpopular opinion, or simply disagree with the powers that be. The only real solution is to teach manners to those who have anti-social attitudes. More often than not pushing them down only serves to re-enforce their destructive behaviors. Hard as it might be, if you want results your going to have to pull them out of their hole and up to a level of more reasonable discourse.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Shoot the Mün

Kerbin's best and brightest - Bill, Jeb, and Bob
I'm not really sure what to make of Kerbal Space Program (from here on out abbreviated as KSP).  On one hand it feels like Lunar Lander (also known as Moonlander) on steroids, but on the other hand it could be the first step in a whole new kind of game genre.

On the surface KSP gives the impression of being an aerospace flight-sim with some cool customization options.  But thinking on the potential of this game, I find my mind conjuring up a number of unique possibilities.  All the cool mods people have made aside, there are a lot of ways the developers of this game could go.  Sure you could head down the well trodden path of flash game such as Toss the Turtle and Learn to Fly, in which you achieve certain milestones in exchange for additional funding.  That would be a welcome addition in that it would provide goals for gamers who like having more than a wide open sandbox.  Then you could add an obligatory tech tree to ward off the boredom that comes with familiarity.  However, lets run with the concept a little bit further.  How about some gameplay elements that lead to more than just planting a flag and bragging rights?  Say for example discovering primitive other world lifeforms, or salvaging mysterious artifacts from an extinct race of spacefarers, or even a multiplayer element complete with rival Kerbin nations engaged in a space race.

The inclusion of docking will undoubtedly be a welcome addition so that fans of KSP can finally build space stations and dedicated spacecraft.  Again though lets take the concept up a notch and including a randomized solar system for players to explore.  Balls of ice, rock and gas are great, but how about comets, or rogue planets? Asteroid mining perhaps?  If you want some action why not include an exosolar invasion similar to sieges in Dwarf Fortress complete with kinetic weapon toting xenophobic aliens?  Well...that might be taking things a bit too far from the designer's original vision, but the ideas I've suggested here are only scratching the surface of what could be.  At the very least I look forward to seeing what challenges lie ahead for our intrepid Kerbonauts.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Rogues of the Deep

I can remember back in the days of the IBM 8088 personal computer, playing an incredibly simple game entitled Rogue. It was basically a dungeon crawler in which all onscreen objects were represented by ASCII graphics (much like Dwarf Fortress). Now, granted if you looked at this game today you'd probably think it was crap, but rewind three decades and your looking at an all time great and one of the first games to embrace the concept of procedurally generated levels.

So, I played the game for awhile. Had my fun, eventually got board with it and moved on. Much to my surprise I discovered many years later that this kind of "Rogue-Like" game (yes, that is a widely used term) still has a small but dedicated group of followers. Except now they're playing the aforementioned Dwarf Fortress or even titles like Brogue, which is also sometimes spelled "Brgue"...not sure why though. Anyway, the game is surprisingly addicting if you were a fan of the original Rogue. And even if your not Diablo fans might get a kick out of it. Remember that the Diablo series, particularly the first entry, was basically a rogue-like with an isometric view and beefed up graphics. Oddly enough I didn't enjoy Blizzard's attempt nearly as much as Rogue or Brogue. I'm not entirely sure of the reason, possibly because it's hard to beat free, but I think it also has to do with imagination.

You see...part of the appeal of 8-bit games and their predecessors (even in this day and age) is the open invitation to the player to fill in the gaps. Similar to when your reading a book you have to imagine the characters and places, so do you with these graphically simple games. Imagination can be (and often is) a powerful thing. It can lead to a kind of personal investment that is hard to obtain in more Hollywood style video games. Because, in a movie very little is left to the viewer to picture in his or her mind, but in a game like Rogue you are the painter and the game is just a canvas with a simple outline.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Unwelcome to GameStop
As a kind of social experiment awhile back I actually hung out in a Gamespot one weekend, just to see the types of customers that frequented it.  One of the employees was a college buddy of mine so he didn't mind me sitting off to the side of counter area chatting it up with the staff when they weren't busy.  Ironically he looked a lot like the person in the image to the left.  Something that surprised me while eavesdropping was just how stereotypical the customers were; the spoiled kid and his mom, the clueless grandma, the sports game jock, the token girl gamer (who loved Katamari), the anti-social snob and just about every other generic template of gamer came through that door during the hour or so I was there.  What surprised me more than the customers though was the amount of info dumping, sales pitching, and general transaction talk that Gamespot employees were required to do.   So much so a significant amount people were getting mildly annoyed with the whole process.

From GameSpot's perspective this is just a way for them to increase revenue, but I can't help thinking that their choice of tactics is loosing more money than it's gaining.  For ever person who makes additional purchases how many are turned off by the aggressive sales strategy and decides to take their business elsewhere?  I have a feeling for a lot of people, one of the main advantages of buying games at other retail outlets is the benefit of not having to deal with GameStop's video game equivalent of used car salesmen.  I'm not really blaming the employees themselves.  They're practically forced to do the whole complement the customer on his purchase - ask if he wants a magazine subscription - used game trade ins - members reward program - insurance thing.  That said it still gets old really fast for everyone.  Just to bring up a quick comparison, Japanese used game stores tend to make it a much quicker and smoother transaction with the most your likely to hear being if you have a members card (and if whether you would like to sign up for one or not).  That's it.  Personally, I think this a much better system.  It doesn't hurt either that they give you about 60% of the value of your original game purchase on trade ins as opposed to GameStop's 30% ripoff.  The truth is though this doesn't matter so much to me since I prefer to swap games with friends or simply give them away.

Another thing that strikes me as odd is the constant crusade developers and publishers wage against used game sales.  Especially since only about 5% of total video game profits are made up of reselling used titles.  The amount of resources put into trying to capture that small piece of pie is pretty ridiculous.  Especially when all that effort could be better spent on the actual game.  Then again these are the same guys that will waste huge amounts of energy just to slightly inconvenience pirates at the expense of their honest customers.  Remember just because they stole your games doesn't mean they would have paid you for it otherwise.  But I'm getting off topic.  So to conclude I don't think GameStop deserves the flack it gets from the guys who make games.  At the same time though I really wish customers would get treated with more respect.