on writing for other people

1.  My living nightmare has come to an apparent end; my new PS Vita Slim arrived yesterday, and it actually appears to work.  I haven’t had a chance to do much of anything with it yet, though, as its download speeds are still as dreadfully slow as they were before – Borderlands 2 is maybe 30% downloaded and I’ve had the thing continually running since last night at 8pm – but I’ve held it in my hands and configured settings and such, and it feels… better, somehow.  My memories of my original Vita are dim, as you might imagine, being that in my 4 weeks of ownership I only actually had it working for 48 hours.  In any event, the new Slim feels nice in the hand; it’s a little light, but that’s probably OK over the long haul.  I look forward to the day when I can actually talk about playing games on it.

(Oh – I did manage to import my PS4 save of Fez over to the Vita, and that’s just a super-cool thing to be able to do.  I also tried using the Vita as the PS4’s second screen, and that kinda looked a little janky – it looked like a very poorly compressed YouTube video.  So I’m not sure how much mileage I’m going to get out of that feature.  But, still, hey.  Maybe I can use it as a BluRay remote for the time being.)

2.  I have a column due on Monday for Gamemoir; it’s a rebuttal to an opinion piece about “The Shame of Playing on Easy Mode” and it ought to be a slam dunk, and yet for some reason I’m having a much more difficult time than I anticipated in making it work.  The most important thing for me is that I don’t want to be mean; I mean, I’m writing a column, I don’t want it to read like it belongs in a comment thread.  But I have very strong feelings on that topic and I’m afraid that I’m going to screw it up somehow by either throwing too much into the post, or else not throwing in enough, or else dwelling on minutia and rushing through the points I actually want to make.

It’s strange, what writing for other sites is doing to my brain.  I mean, I’ve only written 2 pieces for Gamemoir so far (and in the meantime I’ve gone 0-for-2 for pitches to other, bigger sites), but those pieces have reached far bigger audiences than almost anything I’ve written here, and as such I’ve had to craft those pieces a bit differently than how I normally write.  I also get a week to write those pieces, so I have a bit more time to think about them and figure out how to say what I want to say.

The stuff I write here is generally pretty quick; I’ve gotten quite good at not self-censoring myself the way I used to (even on my personal LiveJournal account), but I’m also very informal here, and I have a tendency to fully indulge all the weird linguistic tics and tricks I’ve developed over the years as a writer without a formal editing process.  Like:  this piece is already over 500 words and it’s taken me only about 15 minutes to write.  But it’s also more than likely that this post will be forgotten by everyone (and me, too) about 15 minutes after they’re done with it.  I’m not necessarily crafting anything here; I’m just putting my thoughts up as quickly and as coherently as I can.

If I want to get better as a writer – indeed, if I ever hope to get some freelance work – I need to get better at the craft.  So it’s probably a good thing, then, that I’m struggling with this piece; it means I’m learning something.

3.  There’s not going to be much gaming this weekend; the wife and kid and dogs and I are going out of town for the weekend, to hang out with both of Henry’s grandmothers.  I keep thinking about maybe bringing the Vita along, but I also know that any free time I manage to wrangle will most likely have to be spent in front of my laptop, writing that post.

Weekend Recap: tying up loose ends

I am currently playing The Waiting Game, a dispiriting “race against the clock”-type deal wherein I hope to receive my fixed-up Vita before April 17, my last day in the office before I leave for vacation.  As I have not yet received the box they sent me to mail the Vita back, it’s not looking good.  (I have not yet received my snazzy Vita travelling case, either, but since there’s no working Vita to put it in, I’m not sweating it.)

I finished 3 games over the weekend that merit discussion, though.  Let’s start at the top and work our way down.

1.  Monument Valley is an iOS puzzler – imagine Fez with level designs by M.C. Escher – currently available for $3.99.  It is an absolutely gorgeous game, filled with very clever puzzle design and accented with lovely sound effects.  It is also only 10 levels long and I beat it in under an hour.  Normally I’m not the type of person who gets up in arms when it comes to high prices for short play experiences – I was very happy to pay $20 for Gone Home – and I’m not necessarily up in arms here, but I would certainly understand your frustration if you laid out 4 bucks for a game that you could finish during your evening commute, especially since there’s not a tremendous amount of replay value once you’ve figured out the solutions.  That being said, the game’s creator, when asked in a Touch Arcade Twitch stream if new levels were coming, said: “Looks like we will. People seem to want more levels.”  I know I do.

2.  I did end up finishing Bioshock Infinite: Burial At Sea Ep. 2, though the last few combat sections were brutally difficult and annoying and I nearly rage-quit a few times.  Even though I’ve played all the games (well, all the Irrational ones at least – I can’t recall if I finished Bioshock 2, and I only played the first 5 minutes of Minerva’s Den), I’m not necessarily sure that I’m as knowledgeable about the lore and the supporting cast of characters as I suppose I should’ve been, in order to better appreciate the finer intricacies of Episode 2’s plot points.  The final reveal is interesting, to be sure, though I’m not sure it enhanced anything for me.  I’m glad I played it, I guess, but I just wish I didn’t hate the gameplay as much as I do.

3.  Also finished Infamous: Second Son.  I’m kinda still playing it, too – once I finished the story (and received the fourth of four powers), I then started going back and doing all the side stuff that I couldn’t be bothered with during the regular story.  (Also:  I didn’t realize the campaign was going to be as short as it was, so I ended up finishing the game long before I thought I would.)  It’s certainly the prettiest PS4 game I’ve seen, and it sets a very high graphical standard for open-world adventure games to follow; but it’s also an Infamous game, and I always seem to forget that Infamous games start out kinda fun and then become somewhat forgettable.  The good/bad karma thing is, as always, kinda dumb, and unfortunately the story just isn’t interesting enough to warrant a second playthrough to see how things would change.  This very well might be one of the easiest open-world games to get to 100% completion – there’s not a whole hell of a lot to do, side-mission wise, and all the “hidden” stuff is actually placed on your map once you clear out an enemy base.  I will probably continue tooling around and trying to get to 100%, if only because it really is that gorgeous to look at.

This coming week:  not really sure what it’s looking like, gaming-wise.  I’m kinda still playing through Strider and Rayman Legends on the PS4, and I may give some of the side-missions in MGS: Ground Zeroes a shot.  And depending on what happens with my Vita, I may or may not end up buying FTL for my iPad.

 

scatterbrained

I might’ve mentioned this already, but I suppose I might as well bring it up again; having a kid has completely changed my gaming habits. Granted, it’s also completely changed nearly every other aspect of my life, too, so the gaming slice of my life pie* was bound to get caught up in the sweeping change that having a kid inevitably brings.

Still, it’s something that I haven’t quite adjusted to yet. I’m finding it harder to get into new games, for one thing; I’m also finding it harder to stay engaged in the games I’m already playing.  And in any event, long gone are the days when I could just plug in to a game and stay there for 8 hours; now I’m lucky if I can stay focused for more than 30 minutes.

I think it’s been at least 2 months since I turned on my 360.  Well, I suppose that’s not entirely true – my kid was a bit restless a few weeks ago so I put in Rayman Origins because I figured it was colorful and musical and would maybe focus his attention for a little bit.  Alas – no such luck; he stuck with it for about 5 minutes before deciding he’d had enough.

This is all to say that I’m not necessarily doing a whole lot of gaming these days, and when I do, it’s very much in short bursts; I’ll get up to a checkpoint, save, quit, try something else; get to a checkpoint, save, quit, try something else.

Case in point: Shadowrun Returns.  I never played the original, and don’t know anything about its history.  Didn’t even follow its Kickstarter, beyond knowing that it had one.  I bought it because it seemed like something right up my alley – a cyberpunk/fantasy/sci-fi setting, a turn-based RPG with a battle system straight out of XCOM, lots of well-written text.  And for the most part, I’m really enjoying it – except for the lack of a quick-save, which means I can’t experiment, and if I die, I have to replay the previous 20 minutes all over again.  And while the text is fun, and the dialogue is sharp and witty, there’s also quite a lot of it, and I find myself scanning it quickly as opposed to taking it in.  And the game doesn’t necessarily explain its mechanics all that well – took me 3-4 battles before figuring out how to throw a grenade.  So, basically, I’m playing it one room at a time; once I finish an area, the game quicksaves, and then I log out.

I’ve been also sorta dabbling in the PC port of Fez, in a sort-of meaningless loyalty gesture to Phil Fish.  When I first played it on the 360, I got very, very deep into the hidden language and went out of my way to scour newsgroup discussions about some of the more obscure puzzles; this time, though, I’m really just out to enjoy the scenery and find some cubes if I see anyway.  It’s a very peaceful world to be in, which is a feeling I don’t often experience in games.

What else, what else… oh, I accidentally-on-purpose picked up XCOM on the iPad last week, when it was on “sale”.  And you know what?  It is perfect on the iPad.  Not that it wasn’t highly enjoyable (if a bit stressful) on the PC/console, but having it on the iPad makes idle moments on the go a lot more interesting.  The touch controls make perfect sense, and the in-between-mission ant-farm view was basically built to be used on an iPad.

Beyond that, I’m kinda just twiddling my thumbs, waiting for GTAV and trying to figure out how to play it without alienating my wife and child.  The next Mario & Luigi RPG comes out on the 3DS next week, which should be fun… Gone Home should be out on Steam next week, too, which I’m very much looking forward to… I’m still skeptical about Saints Row 4, the new Splinter Cell, and that other XCOMThe Bureau thing… and in the meantime, I still have my Steam Summer Sale to go through.

It’s going to be a weird next few weeks, is all I’ll say.  Not at all sure how updated this blog is going to be, though it won’t be for lack of trying.

 

 

* I was going to cut this out, but you know what? It’s not often you come across the worst metaphor in the entire history of written communication. So, really, you ought to be thanking me for leaving it in.  I very nearly changed the name of this site to better serve its honor.

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.