A game blog for grown ups (sorta).

Monday, June 27, 2011

Quick thoughts about the Supreme Court Decision

So in case you have been living under a rock the Supreme Court has heard and ruled on the California law equating violent video games to tobacco and firearms. Pretty scary stuff. Of course the Supreme court heard none of it and ruled the law unconstitutional.

Won't someone think of the children is, and has always been a low-brow argument. When I was a kid my parents did allow me to play violent videogames. They also allowed me to read Shakespeare. Let me ask you a question.... when was the last time you read MacBeth or even Romeo and Juliet? Pretty gruesome stuff. Sorry to get sidetracked, but the won't someone think of the children argument will get you political points in certain demographics. They won't stand up in court.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Sonic the Hedgehog

Way back when in the magical time of 1991, when America was invading Iraq for the first time and the Spin Doctors had not yet come to prominence, a game came out called Sonic the Hedgehog. The game, and character, were designed for the sole purpose of aping Nintendo's marketing of home videogame consoles. When it came out (and still today) the original game was amazing.

Now of course I carry a huge bias when it comes to the original 2d Sonic platformers. Growing up my house was a Genesis household. I did not aquire my SNES until about 1998 (which I still own by the way.... Super Bomber Man with multitap ftw!!!!), so the Genesis and it's mascot were the focus of my young budding fanboy praise.

20 years later Sonic should not be relevant. Towards the end of the Genesis era Sega made the poor-decision to take the franchise to 3d with the aptly titled "Sonic 3D blast". They continued with the release of the ill-fated Dreamcast (it sucked btw, more on that later in a future post) and Sonic Adventure. In the 2000's Sonic has developed a cast and many, many terrible games. Time after time Sega has continued to release terribly received titles bearing the Hedgehog's likeness, and time and time again people hope that the series would redeem itself. Of course the problem is Sega completely forgot what made the series fantastic in the first place.

Sonic the Hedgehog games could have been called anything and stared any protagonist. This is a game (I refer to the 2D Genesis releases) that had perfectly executed mecanics, a well balanced difficulty curve, fantastic art and level design, and the best music of the 16-bit era (with apologies to Final Fantasy 3/6). It was always the smooth flow of the 2d mechanics, the vertical-ness of the level design, and the varied art of the locations that made the games the really special journeys that they were. The real apex of the series for me was the combined cartridges of Sonic 3 and Sonic and Knuckles played together. It really was something special.

Like all good things it wasn't meant to last. Instead of pulling a Seinfeld with it (read go out on top) Sega decided that the draw to the series was Sonic's bad attitude and backstory, not the previous paragraph, and continued to dig a hole they now hope to dig themselves out of with the forthcoming downloadable release of Sonic Generations and a real return to the series's 2D roots. Problem is that the magic is gone. What was once a special moment in time has faded away and it really is time to move on (like most of us have).

I will always have a fond place in my heart for Sonic (and maybe Tails). I spent a lot of really amazing hours ensconced in his creative 2D worlds as a kid and the series has definitely shaped how I play games and spend my leisure time. It is a feeling I will always cherish and never look to recapture.

Here's to nostalgia. Now what else we got (time to download Trenched!!!!!).


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Not enough time for good and why Kaos studios closed

I have been doing this blog now since February (sorry for the recent infrequence of posting.... will resume 4 to 6 posts a week very soon as my schedule clears a bit) and in easily 66% of my posts I talk about the hard fact that the average gamer is not the 12 year old boy with negligent parents, or the college frat kid wasting $50k a year to get drunk and make bad decisions, but rather the average age of a gamer is 34. (Side Note: I link to that report so often but it is relevant in most every point I try and haphazardly make!)

Here is the thing though with people who are all grown up; they have outside obligations. Most of us have jobs, lives, etc and we don't have the 40 hours a week to game like many of us used Linkto. Problem is with the lack of free time, the leisure activities we do engage in need to be as worthwhile as possible. Getting to my point....

Publisher THQ recently shut down Kaos Studios. Despite decent sales, the poor precieved quality of recently released FPS Homefront ended up being the final release from the New York based studio.

How did everyone not see this coming?

Saying the FPS market is saturated right now is like saying there are a few polygons in the models for Crysis 2. Thing is that the core demographic for these games, the "34 year old's", don't have enough time to play every FPS that comes out. We are going to only get the best titles that all of our friends are getting. We want new ideas that make the interactive medium more enticing. You can't just say "well we have an awesome story!" That only works in books and movies; it takes more to carry a game (see this post).

Right now the FPS war is dominated by the Battlefields, the Call of Duties, and the Halo's. Unless you are willing to spend millions of dollars and throw as much top notch talent as you got, you can not compete with a standard FPS. If you are clever you can try something completely different (upcoming post on why Left 4 Dead is the best FPS series in the last 4 years), but ultimately AAA publishers are not willing to put enough eggs in one basket and really take a risk on a product.

The video game industry needs to realize that the business model of good makes more money than great will not propel them to profitability. What I am really trying to say is that if I can only play one new game every couple months it's not going to be good. It's not even going to be great. I, and the core demographic whom I represent, only have time for the best.

How many layoff's from Valve have we ever read about? Even Blizzard?

I don't have time tonight but I really want to expand on this idea with my thoughts on publisher Kalypso, with whom I am very torn.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Duke Nukem (and the videogame industry) is Sexist, and another Post About Marketing

I read this amazingly well written article on Kotaku scribed by Lydia Heitman. It was all about how terribly Duke Nukem was marketed, and it isn't a surprise because the project is a failure in every way. It really is the zenith of how the video game industry does not understand it's customer base at all.

Stay with me!

Bethesda is stupid because they are wasting money on marketing for the already hyped up sequel to The Elder Scrolls Oblivion, Skyrim. Like all good PC master race out there I can not wait until November when this game comes out and would get a second mortgage on my house for the privilege to play it. I'm already sold. The demographic that Skyrim appeals to is me. We know the game is coming, and we will pay full price on release day.

Seeing ad's for Skyrim on sites like The Escapist is like watching an advertisement for the Next Food Network Star during an airing of the show; I'm already watching. You don't need to waste time and money getting my attention.

When Valve spent millions of dollars to air a television commercial for Portal 2 what was in the video? Was it Glados? Was it Chell? Nope! It was two adorable robots hugging. Why you may ask? Because Valve knows that people like me are already going to purchase the game no matter what they do, so they want to get my wife to buy it. They wanted to advertise to another demographic who wasn't already predisposed to having a favorable view.

Advertising a game like Duke Nukem is tough. Most people old enough to remember the original (ME!) have long outgrown the mechanics and spirit of the game. People who are younger and into FPS's are curious. The people you want to market to are the people who wouldn't normally purchase your game, but might be interested. You don't need to market sex to young men because hey; it's what they (we) will flock to like flies on stink.

If Duke Nukem was really a good game they would go after the second largest demographic in our indusrty (women over 25!!!!! Its true!!!!). Let's not also forget that the largest group who consumes video games is men over 25 and the second largest is women of the same age range. We have careers, spouses, often kids (yikes!), we have mortgages, life insurance, and real world problems. We aren't college kids or teenagers. We don't care what our parents think about games. When Duke Nukem 3D came out we were 11 to 15. Now we are in our late 20's to 40's. We don't care about digital boobs, we care about a fun escape from our normal, mundane lives. We want a mature plot, a well realized world, and a story that can make sense. That doesn't mean it can't be full of dick and fart jokes, but that won't be enough to make a successful experience.

Problem is the game is crap, so they thought they could pull a fast one on "hardcore" gamers and throw a fastball by us. When a game is actively marketed towards me (the apex of the largest consumer demographics for video games, see previous paragraph) it makes me very wary, because I know what games I like. I know what sequels are good and which are crap, I know what new IP's look awesome. I'm too savvy for box art blurbs. If you aren't marketing towards a new demographic to whom you can expand your userbase, and instead are solely focused on who should be your bread and butter it is indicative of a big ol' desperate move.

That is clearly what the king has become.....

Epic Fail.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Silent Hill Book of Memories and Skyrim

Two completely different games I know.

Take a journey with me if you would please!

Joystiq reported that there will be an upcoming entry in the Silent Hill franchise entitled Book of Memories that will be predominantly a multiplayer experience. As I have mentioned before this will be an epic fail. Ultimately this move really encapsulates what is wrong with the AAA game industry.

A lot of publishers and developers see Intellectual Properties as brands to be
exploited rather than living, breathing universes that are specific works of art.

It is what I will refer to as the Guitar Hero effect. Something is popular, so lets push the shit out of it rather than take the time to develop the property into something that evolves and is continually exciting. Silent Hill 2 was so good that even 10 years later just the name will help a game sell well. It has brand recognition. Multiplayer games sell well too so if we combine a brand name with popular mechanics it should be a hit right?

This is indicative of what the AAA industry does wrong, but it must be doing something right? Right?!?!

Of course it does! I can't remember or find where I read it, but I saw that some lead on Skyrim said "we just want to make the most awesome, giant RPG" (paraphrasing). That attitude, right there, is how you make the big bucks. Take your time (within reason of course) to make the best product you can. It's how Blizzard did is, how Id did it, how Valve did it, and why all of those companies continue to be profitable when Activision and EA are laying people off and closing studios left and right.

AAA games will always be great if the people with the money, talent, and resources recognize the power they have to create brilliant art rather than analyze trends and imitate and not innovate. If you are going to spend $20 to $30 million on a game, why not commit those kind of resources to creating the best product you can? If you do there will always be plenty of "me's" to throw our disposable income at you (and we will be happy to do so).

Next time why Nintendo is stupid (short answer Wii U) .

Monday, June 6, 2011

My quick thoughts on E3 Day 1

Another summer is upon us and in Los Angeles another Electronic Entertainment Expo is in progress, highlighting many of the industry giants and their products.

We certainly have a lot of sequels and clones that look to have cost millions upon millions of dollars. The sad fact is that most of these games will lose money, people will subsequently lose their jobs, and publishers will be more risk adverse than they already are. The mainstream of our industry continue to overlook what makes our medium special, and thus are doomed to keep trying to ape WoW or continue to churn out brown shooters.

I am always a little disappointed while watching the coverage every year because it proves to me that the American video game industry of today is a lot like the American car industry of the 70's and early 80's...

Our industry seems to think it can tell us what we want while studios fold, profits plummet, and there are record layoff's everywhere.

Of course I don't really worry because most of my favorite studios make plenty of money, have solid economic models, and make games that real people will continue to pay for because they have earned our money, but lets take a quick look at some of what day 1 has brought to us.

Microsoft seems to be convinced that the Kinect is the way of the future and why not? They seem to have hit their American and European sales goals, and hardware has done reasonably well. The biggest problem is, however, is the sustainability of the Kinect market. The reason the Wii has done so well is not the motion control gimick, it's the strong 1st party support. I am certainly not a fan of pretty much anything Nintendo has done in the last 12 or so years, but they give the masses the sequels, mini-game collections, and rehashes that the drooling masses seem to want. Microsoft does not have that acumen (read Mario, Zelda, etc) to fall back on. They are putting a lot of egg's in one basket and when the snakes are no longer charmed by the motion controller tune (and people get sick of Dance Central like they've gotten sick of Guitar Hero) we will see the ugly bite of market drop-off.

Sony has done nothing but apologize, but words mean very little. What are you going to do Sony? Give people Infamous when most people who want to play it A: already have it and B: there is a sequel due to release soon? Super lame. Give people some of their money back and hope they will give you the opportunity to earn more of it. Show us what you got. So far, despite being a "hardcore" gamer and having plenty of disposable income for such devices, I do not own a Playstation because you haven't given me a reason to own it along side my PC and Xbox. Here's your chance.

BioWare proves again that they have the best cinematics department in all the world with another trailer for their upcoming MMO The Old Republic. Seriously take the next 6ish minutes of your life to watch this. If you already did watch it again:

Seriously, how amazing does that look? If there was 2 hours of that I would see it over and over in the theater. That, as a movie, looks amazing. My fear is the same as that for Dead Island; will the gameplay live up to the cinematic? Only time will tell but BioWare has recently left a bad taste in my mouth.

The Skyrim gameplay trailer looks amazing as well, but for a different reason. This is the actual game. The graphics, the mechanics, and the world all look amazing. Bethesda may not release the most polished games, but they are big, beautiful, and just damn fun. Lets watch!

300 hours? Really? I believe it as I believe that they will be 300 quality hours that are all lots of fun. Bethesda has a habit of making more game then they need to; they always not only meet the minimum requirements for demanding $60 of our money but continue to always provide new experiences, rich lore, new worlds, and spend the time and money to create a product that is truly special. Something that isn't rushed, mimiced, or reactionary to trends pencil pushers think are profitable. They don't see whats popular, they decide it through hard work and artisan like craft.

Bethesda always strive to make the biggest, most amazing RPG's they possibly can and that's why they sell millions of copies.

Side note, have you ever noticed how all great western RPG's have flower picking mechanics? Think about it...... =D

There is a lot more complaining to do, but I have will have plenty of time and plenty of fodder as the expo progresses. More will come in the following days! Certainly a lot to talk about!!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dungeon Keeper and the PC Golden Age

Have I ever mentioned how much I plain ol' adore GoG.com. It reminds me of the PC golden age of the 90's where developers could make weird games about mustering armies of humans vs. orcs, or a young visionary named Peter Molyneux could make a real commercial success about being a dick in high fantasy.

There is so much to love about the game Dungeon Keeper. Despite the dated graphics the game is very playable and the mechanics are so good that the game feels it has aged incredibly well. Nostalgia aside there is something inherently fantastic about strategy games with perfect mechanics (well great mechanics at least. Perfect may be a stretch) where it achieves a zen no other genre can hope to attain.

The intro cinematic also will forever be hugely nostalgic for me (despite having aged considerably worse than the game).

What I really loved and continue to love about this game and the 90's on the PC in general is that true innovation was possible. Development costs were in line enough where developers and artists could really experiment and make whatever they want and chances are they would even break even.

It's also nice to play something that isn't The Witcher 2 or Minecraft. Why did Notch have to put Nether in SMP. Dammit.