I’m Getting Too Old For This Sort Of Thing

I wanted to meet interesting and stimulating people of an ancient culture… and kill them.
– Full Metal Jacket

My gaming backlog remains intimidating, and ever since I started getting back into a music-making groove (i.e., since Monday) I’ve been less inclined to allow myself to waste time gaming, especially if it’s a game that I’m not particularly enjoying.  To that end, Far Cry 4 has taken over what remains of my gaming attention, and… it is what it is, I guess.

If Far Cry 3 had never existed, I suppose I might be less cynical about the FC4 experience.  And if I hadn’t played every other Ubisoft open-world game released last year, I suppose I might be a little more appreciative of how much there is to do.  But, alas, I did play a hell of a lot of Far Cry 3, and I also played as much Watch Dogs and Assassin’s Creed as I could stomach, and for all intents and purposes I’m starting to feel like I’m done with this sort of thing.

I don’t know.  I know I must sound like a broken record, considering how much I talk about shooter fatigue and virtual murder and everything; and I also probably sound like a hypocrite, given that I still continue playing these games even as I grow tired of what they ask me to do.  But I can’t help it; I’m tired of guns, I’m tired of shooting, I’m tired of killing as the only way to get from point A to point B.  I’m tired of open-world games that ostensibly want me to create my own fun, but constantly interrupt my own experience to remind me that there’s 500 other things I should be doing.   I’m tired of stories that don’t take any real risks; I’m tired of gaming’s casual, thoughtless sexism; I’m tired of doing the same damn thing over and over again.

I’m tired about feeling self-conscious about calling myself a “gamer” when this is what playing games boils down to.

Where did it go?
Can’t say that I know
Those times of revolution

Of burnin’, burnin’, burnin’
All so cool and gone
What was, just was

We tried, my brother
To hold on to our fate
Or was it late for revolution?

Too tired, too tired, sister
To hold my fist so high
Now that it’s gone

Too tired, brother, sister
To hold my fist so high
Now that it’s gone, gone away.

Where did it go?
Can we say we know
Those times of revolution
Our time of revolution

Revisiting the Exclusivity Argument

It was revealed today that Rise of the Tomb Raider is not only coming to the Xbox One first, but is in fact being published by Microsoft outright, which more than likely precludes it from ever coming to the PS4 (though PC is not out of the question).

I went on a big rant about this earlier this year, long before I decided to buy an Xbox One – though if I’m honest with myself, I have to admit that this forthcoming Tomb Raider game was definitely part of my decision to finally get one, even if it’s not coming out until next year.

Of course, Sony went ahead and made Street Fighter 5 a PS4 exclusive just this past weekend, thereby raising the ire of many Xbox One fans who were expecting to play it.

I’m not sure why this needs explaining, but I was misunderstood on Twitter, so I figure I might as well give it a shot:

Every console needs exclusives; otherwise there’s no point in having different machines.  I don’t own a Wii U, nor do I ever intend to (regardless of what others might say), but man – people keep talking about how amazing Bayonetta 2 is, and if I’m ever going to play it, that’s the only place to do it.

Still:  there’s a fundamental difference between first- and second-party exclusives, and third-party games which become exclusive.

Brianna Wu – who is much smarter than me – tweeted this:

The problem is that all the games she cited – GOW (whether you’re talking Gears of War or God of War), Titanfall, Forza or Halo – these are known quantities as console exclusives.  Uncharted has always been a Sony exclusive; Forza will always be a Microsoft exclusive.  I was pissed when Tomb Raider 2 was announced as an Xbox One timed exclusive because I didn’t own or plan on owning an Xbox One at the time, but more to the point – I was expecting it to appear on the PS4.  Tomb Raider HD came out on the PS4 earlier this year, and it was fantastic, and no less an authority than Digital Foundry proclaimed the PS4 version to be superior in terms of performance to the Xbox One version.

I don’t have a dog in the Street Fighter 5 fight; I’m not a big fighting game fan, and in any event I own both consoles now, so it doesn’t directly affect me.  But I can guarantee that if I were a big fighting game fan, and I only owned an Xbox One, I’d be just as pissed about this news as I was about Tomb Raider.

Imagine, if you will, that next year’s Batman Arkham Knight – possibly my most heavily anticipated game of 2015 – was suddenly announced as an Xbox One console exclusive.  Or if part of the delay in developing The Witcher 3 was because it was now coming out as a PS4 exclusive.

Your skin is crawling right now because if you only own one console, you were probably expecting to play at least one of those games next year.  And if it came out on the one you didn’t own, you’d feel cheated.

Third-party exclusives feel like a cheat because, well, they’re bought; they weren’t nurtured in-house, but rather procured to fill a competitive need.  Microsoft came out and said they went after Tomb Raider because they didn’t have a first-party response to Uncharted; so rather than taking the time to develop a response, they simply bought the only available competition.  I don’t see consumers winning in that equation.  If anything, consumers lose the possibility of brand-new IP.

All we can realistically hope for, then, is that by focusing Rise of the Tomb Raider’s development specifically for the Xbox One’s architecture – and by Microsoft giving the developers anything and everything they could possibly need – that the best version of that game gets made.  Swap out Street Fighter 5 and Sony in that sentence and the same sentiment is shared.  I’m not happy about this development, but it seems it’s going to become a bigger issue as the console war continues to heat up.

Watch Dogs: the empty promise

If I’m feeling particularly cynical this morning – here, on the cusp of E3 2014 – it’s because I’m tired of feeling like a sucker.

Remember the deafening, jaw-dropping roar of hype that accompanied the reveal of Watch Dogs when it was first announced at E3 2012?   Of course you do; it’s all we talked about for the last 2 years, and it’s why Watch Dogs became Ubisoft’s highest-selling new IP of all time when it finally came out.

But what was it, exactly, that we were all excited about?

Is it possible that the trailer was just an amazingly slick, kick-ass bit of promo that made vague promises about what open-world games might look and play like on the new, not-yet-released PS4 and Xbox One?

Look:  I finished Watch Dogs over the weekend.  I did a fair amount of side stuff in addition to the campaign; there’s still plenty left to do if I wanted to 100% it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t know what that stuff will look like.  I’ve seen more or less everything that game has to offer.  I don’t know how many hours I spend with it – the “statistics” tab is comically bereft of useful information – but I definitely did my time.

And when all is said and done, and for all the game’s actual strengths – of which there are a few – Watch Dogs is, ultimately, one of the most poorly written AAA titles I’ve ever played in my life.  However many millions that Ubisoft spent on graphics and animation and gameplay systems are irrelevant in the face of a stupid story filled with stupid characters who say stupid, stupid things.

It’s not just that Aiden Pearce is grotesquely unlikable; it’s OK for a game’s lead character to be an anti-hero.  The problem is that Ubisoft clearly thought that Aiden was someone worth rooting for, someone worth getting emotionally invested in, someone whose fashion sense was “iconic”.   They misjudged him so spectacularly that it’s almost hilarious.

Aiden is an asshole to everyone; his enemies, his friends, his family. He consistently thinks he’s the smartest guy in the room – and each mission begins with an unskippable interior monologue that is meant to establish why Aiden is about to do whatever it is he’s about to do, and that whatever it is, he is in absolute control of the situation.  And yet he gets outsmarted at every turn, and gets gobsmacked by plot twists we can see coming from miles away.  (i.e., Clara.)

The script itself makes no sense, and can oftentimes feel as if it was written by many different people in many different rooms, none of whom were able to see the parts of the script they didn’t write.  Here are some examples which, obviously, contain SPOILERS, so just know that there are MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD:

When Aiden first meets T-Bone (also:  there is a character by the nickname of T-Bone; his given name is Raymond Kenney; the nickname is not explained), they engage in a drinking game.  The clearly aggravated bartender says it’ll be $100 up front, as a “damage deposit.”  T-Bone looks at Aiden, as if to say, hey man, you’re paying.  Aiden then literally says “I’m not a cash kind of guy.”  Let’s leave aside, for the moment, that Aiden is in somewhat of a desperate situation by this point and really, really needs to talk to this guy, and is not in the sort of position to be such a fucking dick about $100.  Let’s instead notice that by the hours of game-time I’d played at this point, when Aiden finally said that line, I’d stolen over $300,000 in cash by hacking into random people’s bank accounts.  This is not me being a dick, by the way – the game continually interrupts you to point out people with hackable ATM accounts.  Point being:  Aiden clearly had the money.  Indeed, I’d just hacked some rich people and walked away from an ATM right outside the bar with an extra TEN GRAND in my pocket, figuring, I’m going into a bar, why not make sure I can buy a round.  Why the fuck wouldn’t he just pay the $100, considering what was at stake at the time?  Does it just make him look tough?

After Aiden finally rescues his sister, and she’s able to process the ordeal she’s just been through, she slowly realizes that he is “the vigilante” that she’s heard about on the news.  One: she heard news reports while being kidnapped?  She barely got a chance to talk to Aiden on the phone.  Ok, but then Two: even if you turn off the in-car radio, which you should probably do anyway since the soundtrack is pretty shitty, you will be interrupted by news reports.  The news reports that continually interrupt you IDENTIFY AIDEN BY NAME EVERY 10 MINUTES.

There is also the issue of Bedbug and Iraq.  Well, there’s really a larger racism issue with the whole Black Viceroys gang, in that you can tell the people who wrote this sequence must’ve marathoned all 5 seasons of The Wire in a very short amount of time in an attempt to make sure that this hi-tech pack of black gangsters speak “realistically”.  Bedbug, a cousin of Iraq (who is the top man of the gang) is not technically seen getting thrown out of a top-story window, but it’s certainly implied that he did, and his sudden reappearance (only via cell phone voiceover) literally makes no sense whatsoever.

Iraq, on the other hand… I don’t know where to begin with him, so for now I’ll just concentrate on his boss fight appearance at the end of Act 4, which was a bunch of fucking bullshit.  You chase him and emerge in this small enclosed rooftop space.  There are no obvious exits or entrances except for one door behind you, which is locked.  He talks all this bullshit at you and then sends in soldiers to fight his fight for him.  The soldiers, by the way, materialize out of thin air.  As does Iraq himself and his heavily-armored friend – I know this because I was trying to plant IEDs for their reappearance, and I actually watched them spawn out of nowhere.  Iraq also is a bit of a bullet sponge, and while I understand that bosses need to be challenging, Iraq is not a super-human bullet-proof monster; he is an unarmored human being, and when I shoot him in the face from 5 feet away, I expect him to die.  And because he is somewhat bulletproof, and because I died several times during this encounter, I had to listen to these goddamned extended monologues OVER AND OVER AND OVER again, and they never once sounded menacing or threatening or anything that was probably intended.

Oh, one more thing.  There are two instances where Aiden gets hacked; once by some douchebag hacker/DJ named Defalt (whose look is so clearly modeled after Deadmau5 that one wonders if Deadmau5 might have a claim to copyright infringement), and once by the main baddie, Damien.  The hacking is so complete that it actually affects the game’s camera, which glitches out and can cause minor problems (especially when driving, because the driving system still sucks, even after 12 hours or whatever).  At this point I was convinced that the whole game was taking place in the Assassin’s Creed Animus, because otherwise there is LITERALLY NO REASON WHY A THIRD-PERSON GAME’S CAMERA SHOULD BE GLITCHING OUT.

[END SPOILERS]

I said last week that Watch Dogs is the modern-day Assassin’s Creed that I’ve been wondering if I’d ever see, and there are levels and layers to that comparison that go far deeper than any superficial story elements.

The first AC game’s primary flaw was that there simply wasn’t enough to do; you had these beautiful open worlds but no real way of interacting with them.  The ensuing AC games made sure that you had more than enough to do; indeed, you’d run into a side activity every 20 seconds.

Clearly Ubisoft didn’t want to make that same mistake twice, and so Watch Dogs contains more side missions than actual story content.  I said this before; the game is so desperate to make sure you have something to do at all times that it can almost get confusing; multiple side missions will open up nearly at the same time, meaning that you have to press multiple buttons on the D-Pad to set up a waypoint.  At one point I was doing a side mission requiring me to eavesdrop on a conversation that would lead me to a briefcase that I’d need to scan.  While I was eavesdropping, another side mission popped up on my screen, asking me to press down on the d-pad to set a waypoint.  But then the eavesdropping part of the mission stopped, and the briefcase waypoint flashed on the screen, but only for a second; I missed which button I needed to press; and when I checked the map, I didn’t know what icon I was looking for.  I didn’t fail the mission, but I lost the opportunity to complete it, and so I assume that conversation will respawn somewhere else, later.

As much as the game drove me crazy – and I’m feeling angry just writing this down – there’s still a neat idea here.  The idea of using surveillance and stealth to carry out missions is still interesting, and to the game’s immense credit it’s actually executed quite well.  The gunplay is competent enough, too, so that when you run out of remote-controlled booby traps you can go in guns blazing and take care of business easily enough.  Or at least, if you die, the checkpoint system is fairly generous (IN MOST – BUT NOT ALL – CASES) and you can re-approach your task without having to do the whole thing over.  (That said, if you do re-spawn mid-mission, all the bad guys you took out come back, which can actually make things harder.)

But my god, this game made me angry.  I don’t want to think about it anymore.  Smarter people than me will tackle the game’s myriad issues with respect to its treatment of women and minorities, and I will link the hell out of those essays when they go up.  In the meantime, I need to switch off.

I’m not sure what I’m doing for E3.  I’ll do my best to livetweet reactions, although that’s wholly dependent on what I can get away with at my day job.  In any event – if you’re there, have a great time, and if you’re watching from afar like me, have… also, a great time?

My PS Vita debacle

A TIMELINE OF EVENTS:

I ordered my PS Vita through Amazon on Tuesday, March 25, along with a case and a 32GB memory card.

My Vita and its case arrived on Thursday, March 27, but the memory card did not arrive until the following Monday, March 31.

The Vita broke on Wednesday, April 2.  I immediately contacted Sony customer service and ended up speaking with 3 different people before it was confirmed that the Vita needed to be sent in for repairs.

It is currently April 8.  The box that Sony sent me, which contains the box I’m sending back, is on a FedEx truck, somewhere.  At this point, the soonest I can send my Vita back is tomorrow, April 9 – assuming the box is delivered either later today, after I’ve left the office (20 minutes from now), or tomorrow (at some point).

My last day in the office, before I leave for vacation, is next Thursday, April 17.  It is highly unlikely that the Vita – which will either be my old unit, all fixed up, or a different, refurbished unit – will arrive before then, and considering my experience so far it’s entirely possible that it wouldn’t arrive until after I return from vacation, which is April 28.

And now, per this Gamespot article, the PS Vita Slim comes out on May 6, which is kinda what I wanted all along.

Look, it’s nobody’s fault – things break, my original purchase was a totally random impulse buy, and my impatience at getting this thing fixed in a timely fashion is compounded by my impending vacation and my desire to have the thing that I paid for working the way it’s supposed to.

The timing just SUCKS.

What also sucks is the ratio of days I’ve had the Vita in my possession (13) to the days I’ve had it actually working (2).

At this point, there’s a part of me that kinda wants to tell Sony – look, keep my Vita, I’ll go buy a Slim and you can give me the equivalent value in PSN credit.

Either that, or let me just set $200 on fire, and then I’ll at least keep warm for a little while.

 

On Walkthroughs

It’s been a weird week.  That’s a vague statement, and I’m not really in a position to elaborate, so just trust me when I say it’s been a weird week, and we’ll leave it at that.  And on that note:

Let’s talk about walkthroughs.

I am weird when it comes to walkthroughs.  I mean, I’m weird about a lot of things game-related, as I’m discovering, but I’ve got very weird and specific and deep shame issues when it comes to using them – even if I’m looking at it simply to see how far along I am.

And yet I’m also not shy about using them compulsively, depending on the game.  Like, for example, L.A. Noire.  While I had no problem with the crime scenes or the combat, every interrogation scene was played with a walkthrough.  I was fanatically obsessive about acing every single question; and because the game’s interrogation system was kinda broken, I kinda felt justified in cheating.  Perhaps it ruined the spirit of the game, but I didn’t care.

[TANGENT:  Funny that L.A. Noire comes up, as I’ve been wanting to go back and play it again lately, for some reason, and maybe writing about it.  If I do, I promise to do it without a walkthrough.  (Well, I’ll try, at any rate.  It’s been long enough at this point that I can’t necessarily remember all the right answers.)]

Similarly, I’ve not been shy about using walkthroughs for the Professor Layton games, and I’m very much aware that using a walkthrough for a puzzle game specifically defeats the purpose of playing the game in the first place.  Honestly, though?  Some of the puzzles aren’t clear in their design or their purpose (or, alternately, the graphical fidelity of the DS/3DS screen obscures the illustrations).

Point is, I use them.  I don’t like it when I do (because I’d rather solve the damned thing on my own) but I do (because I’d rather finish the game, if I’m enjoying it).  I’m too old and socially withdrawn at this point to care what the outside world thinks of me, but it doesn’t matter – I beat myself up about it plenty.

(And since I’ve already gone on record about my feelings regarding god mode, this shouldn’t necessarily come as much of a surprise.)

Anyway, I’m bringing this up because over the last 2 days I’ve been very happily grinding along in Bravely Default.

(And can I just say, again, how much I appreciate the game’s willingness to let me “break” it if I want to power-level for an hour or two?  For example: yesterday I decided to go on a sidequest tear.  So I unlocked every available job, and then I went to the highest-level dungeon I could find, set the random encounter rate to 100%, set battle speed to 4x, hit “Auto”, and just went nuts bringing every job up to level 8 or 9 or so.  I’ve got tons of gold, my party is near level 60, and I felt like I actually accomplished something.)

(But on that same note, it also raises one of the game’s weird gameplay peculiarities; the regular battles are over in two turns at the absolute worst, but the boss battles are often 10-15 minute slog fests that require completely different kinds of strategy.  It’s almost like I’m playing two different games.) 

ANYWAY.  I happened to look at a walkthrough for Bravely Default a little while ago – really just to see how far along I was – and then, because I saw how much more was left (I’m apparently at the end of Chapter 3), I was curious, and so I took a peek at what happens next, and I suddenly got really, really bummed out.

****SPOILER ALERT*****

It appears that once you awaken the fourth crystal, which is what I’m about to do, [something] happens, and then you have to re-awaken all 4 crystals again.  And then, after you do that, you have to do it a third time.

*****END SPOILER ALERT****

I’ve spent almost 25 hours playing this game, and I’ve had a good time with it so far, but that. fucking. sucks.  That is lazy game design.  That’s bullshit, and in a weird way I’m kinda glad I know already so that I don’t have to experience being disappointed when it finally happens.

[I have more to say on this topic, but I must cut this post short.]

on Lester Bangs and the ethics of game journalism

There were a bunch of things I had intended to write about today – the Tiger Woods / EA split, the generally, startlingly positive reviews for Assassins Creed IV and if that was enough to push me back into a franchise that I’d all but sworn off, etc. – but in light of Lou Reed’s death*, and the subsequent discussions of his life and, specifically, his notoriously hostile relationships with music critics, especially with Lester Bangs (Exhibit A), I started thinking about the current state of game journalism.

Everyone (including me) talks about “the Citizen Kane of video games”, but back in 2006 Chuck Klosterman wrote, rather infamously, about the lack of a corresponding “Lester Bangs of Video Games“, and how the gaming press desperately needed one.  Some people suggested that Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw and his Zero Punctuation series fit the bill; I’d argue, rather inevitably, that Tom Bissell, Leigh Alexander and maybe even Jim Sterling should be in the discussion, too, if we’re assuming that this particular discussion is “necessary”.

In this 2008 response, Kirk Battle (writing as L.B. Jeffries) broke down Klosterman’s agrument and wondered if Lester Bangs was the right person for game journalists to emulate.  There are pros and cons, but he ends the piece with this bit of insight:

What can the video game critic draw from the lessons of the critic of another medium? Stand up for the games that are critically panned for not fitting the mold. Criticize games that are stuck in boring molds and doing nothing but repeat what has already been done. Don’t get frustrated when things don’t change, because that isn’t your function. Like Johnson’s critic predicting the weather, talking about the games that are challenging and moving the medium forward is all one needs to do. These are all essential elements and represent what Bangs contributed to rock ‘n’ roll. Yet at the core of that is the idea of having an image about what that artistic medium should be doing and talking about the moments where that is happening. For every article or blog post about the failings of game criticism, there is an implicit idea about what video games should be doing and this defending or panning of a video game is what defines that vision.

This is all well and good, but there’s something larger at issue here, and that’s what I’m actually here to talk about.

Monday’s Scoops & the Wolf podcast talked in very vague terms about some sort of inside-baseball controversy that cropped up over the weekend; they succeeded in keeping it vague, so I’m not 100% sure I know what happened, but my impression is that certain high-profile journalists at certain high-profile outlets made certain vague tweets concerning… something that may or may not be related to the new console launches, and the console manufacturers being somewhat withholding, and the subsequent difficulty of those sites’ planned coverage for their launch events.  More to the point, Klepek mentioned something about how there’s a “tiered” system – certain outlets have “favored” status among publishers and therefore are afforded better and earlier access than others, and this strikes me, as an outsider, as deeply fucked up.

Here’s the relevant transcript snippet, edited for clarity – they start talking about this thing at 6:27, and the snippet below starts at 7:14:

PK: …Several members of the media over the weekend were tweeting vaguely about stuff (AN: “cryptic things”)… one of the things that people should keep in mind when we talk about console launches is that media outlets are bracketed, there is a tiered system, different outlets are treated differently; that turns into access, that turns into what they get ahead of time or how much they get of something ahead of time… the reasoning[ ] behind that, from what I understand, vary wildly; depends on – maybe they want to target a certain audience that they think that site is better suited for, maybe they’re targeting a more mainstream audience… and every outlet has different things that they use to cover or how they cover or why they cover; some outlets are very specific about wanting to have reviews of every game… The only [concern] that I will throw water on is this idea that publishers somehow have control over final review text… There is no way that is true, I’ve heard nothing to that, that is never something I have heard to be a legitimate or realistic [demand]…

I’d like to think that I’m not naive, and that I understand that the business of game journalism is first and foremost a business, and that there is, inevitably, some necessary degree of symbiosis between journalists and publishers, and that both sides do their best to sidestep whatever ethical weirdness such a relationship may entail.  But how can a professional game critic truly be objective if they’re writing for an outlet that has this sort of “preferred” status?

I understand that as objective as any professional game critic tries to be, they can’t truly be an independent voice.  I’m not suggesting that they can’t pan a tremendously hyped game if that game is deserving of a shitty review; but I am suggesting that tremendously hyped games might not get as objectively reviewed as they otherwise could, especially if the reviewer has had prior access.

This is why “preview events” seem so fucked up to me.  I understand why they exist – game companies want consumers to know about their upcoming games, and game outlets need things to write about – but the tremendous leverage that the game companies have over the outlets (i.e., embargoes) means that it’s very, very difficult for those previews to be truly objective – even if those writing the previews are desperately trying to remain objective.  There’s a very big difference between privately interviewing a game creator and going to a preview event where a publisher only shows a very tightly controlled “vertical gameplay slice”.

Rhetorical questions:  Do movies studios fly New York Times film critic Manohla Dargis to visit film sets and see dailies?  Did Lester Bangs get to watch Lou Reed write, rehearse and record his albums?  The music industry (and the outlets who cover it) is so tremendously fucked up these days that I’m not sure Lester Bangs could even exist anymore; I mean, Pitchfork used to be the vanguard of independent music criticism, and yet now they have an annual music festival featuring the same bands they claim to objectively review.

I’m not sure I know what the answer is.  (Or, at this point, what the question I’m asking is.)  I mean, I’m an aspiring journalist; I’m actively trying to become a cog in this same machine that I’m tearing down.  I’ve heard about “mock reviews” and how ethically horrible they are, but I’m not 100% sure I know the difference between a mock review and a prominently-featured preview article beyond where the paycheck came from.

And so I remain very much on the outside looking in, wondering just what the hell it is I’m looking at.

___________________________________

* I haven’t really talked about Lou Reed’s death yet, as it turns out.  Obviously, he is a mythic, titanic figure of rock and roll, a singular legendary figure on par with Dylan or Lennon or Bowie.  But I must confess I came to him too late for me to feel his loss personally.  It’s a failing on my part, to be sure; in my formative years, I was never introduced to those 4 VU albums, or Transformer, or any of the other many classics in his catalog.  I’m not sure I would’ve gotten into him, though, if I had; I was a prog-rock kid, who valued technical proficiency over all else, and so I probably would’ve heard 5 seconds of his singing and cringed and turned it off.  (Similarly, the primary reason why I got into The Smiths as heavily as I did in my high school years is in spite of Morrissey’s voice – it’s because of Johnny Marr’s guitar playing.  I wasn’t until much later that I appreciated Morrissey on his own terms.)  In recent years I’ve grown to appreciate the Velvets a great deal, and certainly in the last few days I’ve dived deep into Reed’s catalog on Spotify, but I’m not sure I’m ever going to be able to soak him in, the way that I used to, back when I had endless time and no distractions.

pretty much says it all

polygon_comment

This is a comment to Polygon’s review of Dragon’s Crown, an RPG that I must admit I’ve only known about because of the controversy surrounding its rather gratuitous art style.

And this comment is pretty much why I tend to feel curmudgeonly these days, and very much like the solipsistic misanthrope I call myself in the site’s subheader.  It’s why I can feel myself starting to pull away from games in general.  Even though that Polygon thread is, for the most part, remarkably well-spelled for a review thread, and even though there’s lots of thoughtful and well-spoken pushback, it’s still kind of jaw-dropping.

Between the Phil Fish thing, and then these death threats because of a numerical tweak in the statistics of an imaginary gun in Call of Duty, and now this latest example of willful blindness to and spiteful ignorance of rampant sexist attitudes in games development, I can’t help but wonder what the hell I’m doing anymore.  And this is all just in the last few days!

Thankfully, the game’s PR people managed to chime in with some goddamned common sense:

the sound and the fury

Phil Fish finally snapped on Saturday, after an[other] epic argument with an asshole on Twitter.   He announced that he was cancelling Fez II and getting out of the games business entirely before rage-quitting his Twitter account.

“im getting out of games because i choose not to put up with this abuse anymore.”

*     *     *

It can be difficult to separate the art from the artist – sometimes.  As an example, I can’t even enjoy Chicken Run anymore, such is my loathing of any and all things related to Mel Gibson; similarly, I can’t read anything by Orson Scott Card without feeling a bit sick; but I’m still as big a fan of Woody Allen now as I was when I was 13 (even if his films aren’t quite as good now as they were then).  Indeed, Woody raised this very same question about separating the art from the artist in Bullets Over Broadway, and it was seen at the time as some sort of mea culpa:  “An artist creates his own moral universe.”

This is all to say that my intense love of Fez  – a love I’ve had ever since that first GDC trailer way back in, what, 2008? – makes me more sympathetic towards Fish, even if he is the sort of person, as Ben Kuchera writes, who “never met a hornet’s nest he couldn’t improve by giving it a good kick.” 

*     *     *

On Saturday night – a few hours after this all went down – I decided to finally get around to watching Indie Game: The Movie, which had been on my to-do list ever since it came out.  I knew that Fish had a reputation for being combative and controversial, and I was curious to see if that was borne out in the film.  Sure enough, within 5 minutes of his introduction, you see a whole bunch of hateful internet comments directed squarely at him; and you also see him acting like a bit of an asshole.

The movie didn’t necessarily clear things up for me.  On the one hand, Fez is very much a personal artistic statement; it might’ve released earlier and have been a bit more polished with a larger team, but having other input would make the experience feel diluted, somehow.  Everything you experience in that game is what Phil specifically wants you to feel; the charming beauty of the pixelated world, the obscure abstraction of encoded language, the freedom of exploration without consequence.  The game itself is nothing but charm and whimsy and pure intellectual joy.

On the other hand, Phil himself is restless, intensely passionate, and quick to fly into rages; in dealings with his ex-business partner, he says – multiple times – that he wants to “murder” him; and while I doubt that he would have literally murdered this person, I wouldn’t be surprised if, at that moment, if this ex-business partner happened to walk into the room, he wouldn’t have tried to punch that man repeatedly.

I’ve followed Phil on Twitter for a while, now, and when he was active he was constantly getting into crazy arguments with crazy people, and in doing so he made himself look like a crazy person – regardless of whatever moral high ground he felt that he was standing on.

*     *     *

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with Twitter.  Hell, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with social media in general; in fact, just two weekends ago, I publicly declared that I was going on a Facebook hiatus, and that ended up lasting less than 48 hours.

For small independent gaming companies that can’t afford big PR budgets – much like any small artist, be they musician, writer, etc. – Twitter is a necessary device.  It’s free public interaction with your audience, and your reach becomes wider as you yourself grow louder.  How you get louder, though, is where it gets tricky.  Because the bigger you get, the more terrible people you attract, and at some point that shit will get under your skin.  Do you hide?  Do you answer back?  Do you ignore?

I have a good friend who writes for Gamespot.  She’s a great writer, and has an insightful critical mind, and when she writes a review it is clear that she carefully considers every word.  But the only thing that matters to the commenters on her articles is that she’s transgender, and they say the most vile, awful things that have absolutely nothing to do with the words she’s written, and they come out in full force without any provocation whatsoever.  (They might argue that her mere existence writing for the site is the provocation, to which I say to them:  go fuck yourselves.)  I don’t know how she puts up with it.  These people are foaming at the mouth with rage just because she exists.

I also follow a number of prominent games writers on Twitter, some of whom happen to be female.  And they are constantly bombarded with hateful, misogynistic bile and straight-up rape threats for no other reason than that they have opinions about games and that they also have breasts.   And if they dare to suggest that there is a serious sexism problem in the games industry – not just from gamers but from the games themselves – well, just follow @femfreq for a little while and see how that goes.

What the hell is wrong with us?  Why do we allow this sort of shit to continue?  Why do trolls get the last laugh, even if nobody’s laughing?

I sincerely hope Phil takes advantage of this internet hiatus and continues to work on Fez 2.  Maybe it’s for the best.  Maybe it’s better that he puts his focus squarely on the thing that actually makes the world a better place.  Fez made the world a better place for me; he did succeed in that.

I just hope he understands that this isn’t about “winning.”  Nobody wins on the internet.  That’s the whole point; it doesn’t matter how eloquent you are; you can Oscar Wilde someone to death and some anonymous asshole is always going to come back 30 seconds later and call you a fag, simply because they can.  That doesn’t mean you give up; it just means you change the conversation.  Make the thing you have to make.

E3 2013: Nintendo and the morning after

As per usual, I missed most of the Nintendo briefing due to the day job.  The little I saw, though, didn’t interest me all that much – which shouldn’t come as a surprise, as I am not, nor have I ever been, a Nintendo fanboy.  I suppose I was hoping to see some new, exciting stuff for the 3DS, but from my vantage point Nintendo isn’t all that worried about the 3DS – it’s the WiiU that needs all the TLC it can get, and that’s what was mostly talked about this morning.  But, again, since I don’t particularly care about first-party Nintendo titles, and since I can realistically only afford one of the new consoles, I would’ve needed something tremendous and undeniably exciting in order to turn my head away from Sony.

Speaking of which.

The question for every E3, for the last however many years, has always ultimately boiled down to this:  “Who won?”  And for the most part, every console’s fans could make reasonable sounding arguments that their console won that particular year, and flame wars and impolite discourse would ensue, as per usual.  So it strikes me as highly unusual to see a clear, unambiguous, unanimously decided winner crowned even before E3 officially starts.  

What Sony managed to pull off last night was unprecedented.  They fired their shots with grace, tact and humility – and they did not miss.  And as much as I get confused by cheering audiences during what are supposed to be press-only events, the excitement in the room seemed genuine and sincere.  It’s not just that Sony delivered good news; it’s that they delivered the right news, at the right time, and completely owned the moment.  Twitter was exploding once those announcements started rolling out.   We all gasped as the former champion-turned-underdog delivered one knock-out punch after another.  And then, when they announced the $399 price, pretty much everybody wrote “Game Over” in their notebooks.

I did, in fact, go to sleep last night without pre-ordering a PS4, though I must admit I was dangerously close to doing so.  (I  even got as far as putting it in my Amazon cart and trying to figure out where I wanted it shipped.)   There’s still a lot (well, all) of E3 left, and I’d like to think there are some surprises left as far as console-exclusives are concerned.  So even if Sony has “won”, I’ve still not seen any games that I need to put on my must-play list.

And, again – even if Sony has won, I still can’t see myself committing to a purchase until I see how the multi-console development shakes out for third-party developers.   The biggest reason why Microsoft won this last generation, in my opinion, is because, by and large, 360 versions of multi-platform games looked and played better than their PS3 counterparts.  This is why Sony’s announcement of their new partnership with Bethesda took me utterly by surprise – PS3 owners got shafted with a piss-poor port of Skyrim, and I seem to recall Fallout 3 being somewhat inferior as well, and wasn’t there a lengthy delay between the 360 version of Oblivion and the PS3?  I probably spent over 250 hours in those 3 games alone on the 360.  So for the PS4 to be getting a console version of the Elder Scrolls MMO – as well as a console exclusive beta – well, that’s huge.  That’s Sony saying to Bethesda that they’ll do whatever it takes to make sure that PS4 owners get the experience they’re pay for and expect to receive.

Now, on the other hand, it will be very interesting indeed to see how Microsoft answers, if at all.  Their messaging ever since the console reveal has been inconsistent, wishy-washy, and wildly tone-deaf to the consumer; the only thing that has been clear is that they are aiming to please publishers.  Nobody wants Kinect; even people who have Kinect (like me) don’t want it or use it.  The Xbox One will continue to be the primary home for multiplayer FPS games, and, so, good for those people.  They are a large audience, they will eat that shit up.  But there’s so much more that games are capable of, and Sony seemed hell-bent on letting us know that they are intent on courting developers of all sizes in an effort to make their library as diverse as possible.

Very much looking forward to the rest of the show – my RSS feed is exploding and I must get caught up!

shame

I wasn’t sure if I was going to comment on this #1reasonwhy thing.   Still not sure, frankly; I might very well not publish this post.  To be honest, I’m just not sure what to say about it.  This should not be confused with me being apathetic or disinterested or complacent or anything of the sort, however.  I’ve got very strong feelings about it, actually, the strongest one being that it’s incredibly disheartening that this sort of protest needs to exist in the first place.

The behavior of “gamers” – not all of them, but the loudest of them – is one that’s incredibly tough to swallow.  The racist, sexist, misogynist crap that spews forth from Xbox Live multiplayer sessions and Youtube videos and website comment threads – for better or worse, this is how gamers are being defined by society.  This is why Fox News can continue to talk about violent videogames and the downfall of culture and still get away with it, while the good stuff like Child’s Play and other charitable and well-intended works get largely ignored in the mainstream media.

I don’t want to be identified with these assholes; I don’t want anything to do with them.  I don’t play multiplayer with randoms, I very rarely read comment threads.   What I love about videogames has absolutely nothing to do with what these idiots bring to the table.   I mean, I’m a gamer, one week away from turning 37, and you know what?  It’s still a little embarrassing to admit it out loud, for fear that I’ll be branded as one of these scumbags.  When my wife says that she’s done with the DVR and that I can have the living room to play games, there’s still a part of me that cringes a little, as if I’m about to do something infantile.   (This isn’t my wife’s fault – this is me just reflexively being embarrassed.)

I have this blog, I’m a member of some private forums, and I email a few friends to discuss what we’re playing.  The farther I wade into the cesspool that is general games discussion, the faster I want to back out.

That women have been treated like shit in and around the gaming community is not news; it’s always been this way.  Let’s leave aside the gratuitous character designs of female characters in games themselves and talk about real, actual women.  Remember when the dominant story in a lot of the legitimate gaming press around the first Assassin’s Creed game was, for the most part, how hot Jade Raymond was – not that she was the creative lead on a major new intellectual property?  Do we need to discuss Booth Babes?

Hell, it’s not just women – it’s anybody who isn’t a straight white male.  My friend Caro is a senior critic for Gamespot, who also happens to be transgender.  She loves and knows more about games than pretty much anybody I know, and she’s also a marvelous writer with a tremendous mind for analysis and critical thinking; she’s largely the reason why I want to get into this business, to be honest.  But any time she posts a review for her site, my heart breaks every time I see the comments – comments that have nothing to do with her words, or her insight, but about the sound of her voice.

I’m very tired of this shit, and I don’t know what to do about it.  I am neither a professional critic, nor a programmer, nor anything other than an avid consumer and enthusiast; I am a straight white male with a blog that is about to have its biggest month ever – at slightly over 400 hits.  While my reach is limited, my aim is true.  I very much look forward to a time when being a “gamer” isn’t something to be embarrassed about.  In the meantime, I guess, all I can do is support the people I respect, and try to drown out the idiots.

EDIT:  Here’s a fantastic post from Rock Paper Shotgun.  http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2012/11/29/1reasonwhy-we-are-all-responsible/

And here’s Patrick Klepek at Giant Bomb.  http://www.giantbomb.com/news/from-1reasonwhy-to-1reasontobe-and-1600-comments-in-between/4462/

And here’s Leigh Alexander, who’s been all over this for a long time:  http://www.gamasutra.com/view/news/174145/Opinion_In_the_sexism_discussion_lets_look_at_game_culture.php#.ULehR-RWxI5