Archive for the ‘reactions’ Category

I like what I like

Sunday, January 4th, 2015

Over the weekend, I had some more free time than usual, so I decided I’d try to take my own advice and actually try to pare down my backlog a bit. The problem I run into is that lots of the games I have are so long, and my time to play them has shrunk as I’ve gotten a career that doesn’t involve me playing video games all day. That means that I look at games just sitting there waiting for me to play them that take 30+ hours to play through once, and then I think about the time commitment, the opportunity cost of doing something else (like reading something or watching something on television), and the lazier option usually wins.

But I decided that I wanted to make an effort and actually get through some of these things that have been sitting in my library (in some cases, for years). Or, if not get through them, at least try them to see if they’re any good. So, to that end, I decided to play a couple of indie darlings that weren’t too long: Fez and Journey. Both looked interesting, and I more or less knew what I was in for (and I knew that I could do a playthrough of them over the course of a long evening or two). What I found surprised me: I didn’t really like them.

Fez, I didn’t like because the primary mechanic made the game clunky and tedious. Journey, I liked a little bit better, but it seemed like it was trying too hard. I’m clearly in the minority on both accounts.

It’s been suggested to me on occasion that my tastes in games is weird and I don’t like popular games just because they’re popular and if you tell me I have to like it, I won’t like it out of spite. That’s only partially true.

It’s true that I do like weird, off-the-wall games. Always have. I also liked some popular games like the Half-Life series, or the Final Fantasy series (through 8, I haven’t played anything past that except for the MMORPGs). But there are also hugely popular games that I didn’t like for one reason or another, such as the original Halo or Dragon Age: Origins.

I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow account of popular games that I did or didn’t like, but the point I’m trying to make is: I’m not wrong. If you like the games that I didn’t, you’re not wrong either. I know that this is going to sound corny and completely obvious, but different people like different things for lots of reasons. That’s a wonderful thing.

Your opinion is uniquely your own. And, no matter what critics or naysayers say, you owe it to yourself to form your own, and to not take the word of reviewers or experts as gospel. Consider their opinion, certainly, but never feel like you always have to agree with the herd. Just remember: if you’re honest, going up against popular opinion doesn’t necessarily make you a hipster or a troll. It just means that your opinion is not perfectly in line with everyone else’s.

That doesn’t make you weird. That makes you normal.

Don’t worry, I won’t tell anyone.

Know Your Onions

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

One of my English teachers in high school liked to say that at that level, we’re not actually learning history, we’re actually just learning History’s Greatest Hits. At the time I just laughed it off as a silly joke (he made lots of those), but, over time, I realized he was right. You go through school and get an overview of history (and just about every subject) by hitting the high points so you’re not completely ignorant of how the world and the US got where they are today. But the thing is, there’s so much history (and more of it all the time!) that it’s impossible to know it all. If you’re interested, though, you will go beyond the bare minimum required to pass your high school (and even college) classes. Most of us, though, probably don’t care about that kind of history enough to do more than watch the occasional documentary on PBS, or whatever Drunk History counts as. So, we know some history, but historians, people who love history, know lots more. That sounds obvious, but they do more than watch documentaries in order to feel smart. They do research: they read books (the horror!), they talk to other historians, they visit historic places, and so on. They know that there is more to history than everyone was required to learn in school, and they know that knowledge is out there, they just have to go get it. A lot of times they’ll specialize in one particular area and learn everything they can about it.

You probably think that being a hardcore historian is probably not for you, though. You may not care if Shakespeare actually wrote all his plays or not. You may think that Socrates is just some dead Greek dude who was the subject of a few jokes in the first Bill & Ted movie. Besides, you like video games (well, if you’re reading this site, there’s a pretty good chance that you like video games). Video games are way better than boring old history any day of the week.

But what about video game history?

Felipe Pepe wrote an intresting article on Gamasutra the other day lamenting that a lot of so-called ‘hardcore gamers’ don’t know much about the history of video games past five or ten years or so ago.

That is a disappointing realization.

Video games are becoming (or maybe have already become) a mainstream form of entertainment for everyone, but they’ve been around in one form another since at least the late 1940s. No, that’s not a typo.

Warning: From this point on, I’m going to probably sound like either a hipster or an old man yelling at a butt. You have been warned.

When I say “retro gaming” or “old video games” what do you think of? I’m going to guess that it’s Super Mario Bros or The Legend of Zelda. Maybe just the NES, Super NES, and maybe even the Genesis. Possibly Pong. You may even know that Pong was a big deal in the 80’s. It was, but it was an even bigger deal when it came out in 1972.

You may have heard about the Commodore 64, but do you know anything about it? Can you name five games for it without looking them up? Have you ever heard of the VIC-20? The PET? The Commodore 16? The Commodore 128? The Amiga? Do you know who Jack Tramiel was? Do you know why Bill Cosby is an important figure in Commodore’s history?

You might have heard about the Atari 2600, but what about the reissued Atari 2600 Jr.? The Atari 7800? The Atari 8-bit line? Do you know who Nolan Bushnell is?

Did you know that Texas Instruments had a line of computers that played games? Did you know that the TI-99/4A is actually a revised model of the TI-99/4? Did you know it supported a voice module to enable real actual speech? Do you know who its spokesperson was and why that’s important?

Do you know why games like Diablo are called ‘rogue-like’?

More importantly, have you ever actually played these games that are more than 5 years old? How about 10? 20? Further back? I don’t mean ‘load them up in an emulator and fart around with one for five minutes’, I mean actually play them for a decent amount of time. Try to finish one or set a high score (without abusing savestates, natch). Did you play something outside of the games you’ve heard of (the ‘video games greatest hits’)?

The Problem

While doing some independent research on Ironsword, the game infamous for having Fabio on the label, Wikipedia cites a GameSpy article that says:

You wouldn’t know it from the cover, but IronSword is actually a sequel to Wizards & Warriors. But thanks to the presence of Fabio on the cover, gamers got confused and thought they had accidentally picked up one of their mom’s romance novels.

It also posts a cropped picture of the label (with Fabio’s Fabulous Hair) with the caption that “Anything Fabio is involved in becomes automatically bad.”

I suppose the author was trying to be funny, I get that. But it’s pretty clear that the image was cropped to make that joke, since the full image clearly has, “Ironsword: Wizards & Warriors II” at the top of the label. And, I guess I could mistake a video game for a book if I had never seen a book or a video game before. And the game itself is actually pretty good.

The problem is threefold:

  1. Old consoles are hard to find, take up room to store, and emulating games is questionably legal.
  2. A lot of writers for big sites are in their 20s. That’s not necessarily a problem, but a lot of these games came out before they were born, and since old consoles are tough to find, they probably won’t bother. They just rely on Wikipedia, cruddy Youtube videos, and other sources of second-hand (or even third-hand and fourth-hand) information.
  3. Since old consoles are hard to find, and a lot of people won’t bother trying to find or buy them anyway, the echo-chamber effect starts to take over. For instance, Phalanx for SNES usually gets lambasted as having a dumb box featuring a hillbilly playing a banjo. The game must be terrible, whatever it is, right? Wrong. It’s a passable shoot-em-up. Or, ET for the Atari 2600 is the worst game ever made, right? Nope. ET isn’t even the worst game on the Atari 2600 (Sneak ‘n’ Peek, for example). Custer’s Revenge gets a bad rap as one of the worst games ever made (and it is bad, don’t get me wrong), but it was one of those porno games, like Bubble Bath Babes on the NES (don’t Search for these games at work). It was never sitting on the shelf at your local Hills next to Kaboom and Chopper Command.

What all this means is that we have a lot of people writing authoritatively on things that they know very little about. It’s like if you were writing for a music website, but the only thing you knew about music older than 10 years is the songs from your local radio station’s 80’s dance mix, and you just assume that everything pre-1970 is either The Twist or the Foxtrot.

So, what’s the solution?

Unfortunately, I can’t demand that everyone writing about video games broaden their horizons in any meaningful way (if only). But what I can do is demand excellence, both from myself, and from the publications that I read. At the risk of being labeled a pedant and a hipster and a fogey, I can point out why your top whatever list is dumb and wrong, like this list of the 100 best games of all time that only has one game made before 1990 on it (which is Mega Man II. That’s not even the best Mega Man game on the NES).

I don’t want the industry, the consumers, or the media to forget what got us here. I don’t want the past 50+ years of games distilled down to Pong, Pac-Man, some NES stuff, and then everything else. I want to be able to discuss Pix the Cat as being a cross between Pac-Man Championship Edition and Flicky without someone not knowing what I’m talking about. We need to have one eye on the past and another on the future. And a video camera on the present, I guess? I’m not good with metaphors. Video games have a vibrant history, and a lot of that history directly shapes what we have today. Several of those experiences have not been duplicated. They may have been refined or cast off as the medium evolves, but when we study them, it helps us to know why things are now the way they are.

Video Game Awards 2010 Reactions Entry

Saturday, December 11th, 2010

The Spike TV Video Game Awards are just hours away. Stay tuned to this space for my up-to-the-minute commentary on the proceedings.

7:07 PM CST Whew! a few minutes late to the show, so I missed the opening number. Shame. But I do see Neil Patrick Harris bombing in front on the audience and announcing one of the GOTY nominees, COD:BLOPS

REMINDER: Refresh this page frequently to get updates.

7:08 PM CST Another Arkham Asylum promo

7:09 PM CST This looks like Sam Fisher infiltrating the Batman universe

7:11 PM CST I have to admit the set looks pretty rad this year

7:12 PM CST Bioware gets the nod for Studio of the Year, kind of going for the big awards early, eh?

7:13 PM CST Dane Cook? Seriously? Were they looking for someone less funny than NPH?

7:14 PM CST Oh dear Lord, Dane Cook is absolutely bombing out there. No laughs at all.

7:15 PM CST Who is Chris Hemsworth?

7:18 PM CST this seems like a long commercial break with no real video game commercials. Do they not realize who is watching this thing?

7:20 PM CST Lots of robed folks entering the stage. Looks like an Undertaker intro. Oh, it’s Tom Howard.

7:21 PM CST Bethesda’s new game is… A new Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim. Very nice trailer

7:22 PM CST NPH trying some puns on some game titles. They’re all pretty awful.

7:23 PM CST Mortal Kombat isn’t dead yet?

7:25 PM CST Kratos in Mortal Kombat? No.

7:26 PM CST 90210, eh? People watch that show?

7:27 PM CST A game about a guy with a hammer? Are we getting a Hammerin’ Harry remake? No? Thor? Psh, whatever.

7:28 PM CST Thor looks a lot like that Castlevania game from earlier this year.

7:29 PM CST These jokes are falling flat for everyone

7:29 PM CST Best action game? Looks like the Wii finally getting some notification. Too bad they won’t win anything unless it’s “Best Wii game”

7:30 PM CST Assassin’s Creed wins. Shocker. These Ubisoft guys are French, which is why they sound like they’re tired and drunk.

7:31 PM CST Strongest character, Master Chief, Samus (pronounced “Same Iss” for some reason), and then Mario. Not sure how that worked out.

7:31 PM CST Army rangers, eh? Guess they’re big sponsors for this year’s event.

7:34 PM CST Denise Richards? Sounds like she’s haltingly reading from cue cards. Yuck.

7:35 PM CST My Chemical Romance with the first bathroom break musical number.

7:39 PM CST Nick Swardson. Yeah. No.

7:40 PM CST Mass Effect 2? Yeah, I bought that, need to start it, and then finish it.

7:42 PM CST Mass Effect was expensive? I think he meant ‘expansive’

7:43 PM CST Sounds like Alistair from Dragon Age, but this isn’t Dragon Age.

7:44 PM CST Mass Effect 3? Already? Even Holiday 2011 seems soon.

7:45 PM CST You know, I like video games and everything, but I’m not buying a car that’s a ‘special video game’ edition, no matter what the game is.

7:48 PM CST The “It’s Always Sunny” cast. Whooppee. I’m guessing that this is some kind of schtick. Not the funny kind.

7:50 PM CST COD:BlOpS getting the shout for best shooter. Props to my buddies at Treyarch.

7:51 PM CST Olivia Munn is not NPH.

7:51 PM CST Does this show have writers, or are they getting these jokes from Laffy Taffy wrappers?

7:52 PM CST Yay, boners!

7:52 PM CST Is it normal to want to punch NPH in the mouth at all times?

7:53 PM CST Resistance 3, probably another game I’ll never play. Sorry, guys.

7:54 PM CST Nearly halfway home and we’ve seen what, one title that’s not PS3/XBox 360?

7:55 PM CST I really don’t want to see any more Dane Cook Photoshopped into pictures with video game characters.

8:01 PM CST Nick Swardson sucks. I know I’m not the first to say that.

8:02 PM CST Hades and Kratos? I guess they’re “live via satellite”?

8:04 PM CST God of War 3 looks pretty good, but since I don’t have a Playstation, I probably won’t be playing it.

8:06 PM CST Best performance by a human male? “That’s what she said!” Yep, that fell as flat as… something funny that’s flat.

8:07 PM CST My problem with this category is that they pretty much only recognize established movie/television actors and not professional voice-over guys.

8:09 PM CST Whoops, first missed bleep of the night. But that accurately describes this skit.

8:10 PM CST Tony Hawk? He looks tired and stoned.

8:11 PM CST Prototype 2, eh? Could be good.

8:12 PM CST A look at the hottest mobile games? Uh a tiny video in the middle of the screen for two seconds. Yeah, good use of that airtime, Verizon.

8:17 PM CST Angry Birds Live? Ugh, this could be funny, but it’s pretty stupid.

8:18 PM CST Yeah, all video games are about violence and child abuse, right?

8:19 PM CST Another missed bleep, or “sh*t” is an acceptable word on Spike.

8:20 PM CST Best Indie game? And no clips from them? Lame.

8:20 PM CST Limbo wins. I guess that’s good, but I don’t see anything about the game, so I dunno.

8:21 PM CST Deadliest Warrior the game? This looks pretty awful. Kind of like the show.

8:22 PM CST “Jengis Khan?” The board game guy?

8:23 PM CST Portal was pretty good, but Portal 2 is the most anticipated game of the year? Yeah, Okay

8:24 PM CST Yeah, that promo tells me absolutely nothing.

8:25 PM CST Ah, yeah, a terrible song about characters that died in games. With fictional causes of death. Blech.

8:25 PM CST And now for the awards that weren’t important enough to make it to television

Best driving game: Need For Speed Hot Pursuit
Best Adapted Video Game: Scott Pilgrim vs. The World
Most Anticipated Game: Portal 2 (Duh, we just saw that)
Best RPG: Mass Effect 2
Best Music Game: Rock Band 3
Best Soundtrack: DJ Hero 2

I’d hate to interrupt these ridiculously unfunny sketches at an awards show by giving out awards during it.

8:31 PM CST Red Dead Redemption won Best Original Score and Something else (the Michael Chickless mumbled it). Good thing we’re wasting time with another song instead of giving out awards. We have a lot to go (including another My Chemical Romance song), and only 29 minutes to go.

8:36 PM CST Ooh, a Top Gear America promo. This show is taking a nose dive. Oh, it’s tangentially related to Forza 4. Still dumb.

8:37 PM CST It looks like we’ve seen the same previews for the same games a few years in a row.

8:42 PM CST A TMZ crossover. And mentioning Kratos again, and Assassin’s Creed and Halo. There were more than three games released this year, right?

8:44 PM CST And more Halo stuff.

8:45 PM CST Why are we waxing about Halo: Reach?

8:46 PM CST Does this violinist have a name? She did a pretty good job.

8:47 PM CST These backstage interviews really serve no purpose.

8:48 PM CST More porn titles? No.

8:48 PM CST Another World Premiere of… SSX? What does a helicopter have to do with SSX again?

8:49 PM CST What the…? Are they trying to make SSX look like some kind of snowboarding / extreme climbing / Medal of Honor hybrid?

8:54 PM CST More Dane Cook. This is last appearance. Thankfully.

8:55 PM CST More love for COD:BlOps. Good for them

8:55 PM CST We’re running out of time. This is going to get real quick.

8:56 PM CST I can honestly say I haven’t really been anticipating Uncharted 3, since I haven’t played 1 or 2.

8:58 PM CST Red Dead Redemption got Game of the Year? Really? And a few more awards (best original score, best DLC, and something else that the announcer mumbled)

9:00 PM CST Lots of awards going to get lost due to time constraints, I’ll have to check out the site later. And no second musical number. Yep, good thing we wasted all that time on the pointless piano songs and idiotic sketches. The show ends rather abruptly. The crowd looks utterly baffled.

Best dressed assassin, Assassin’s Creed
Biggest Badass: Kratos

And the rest get cut off because of time constraints.

This show is in some ways better and worse than last year. It’s like the industry is trying to put on heirs of being a serious industry, but sneaking in bathroom humor, poop jokes and sexual innuendo, just brings the show down to a ridiculously lowbrow level.