Friday, December 28, 2012

The Year In The Rearview: A Gallery

A commemoration to the New Games Journalism of 2012.
A juxtaposition of select quotes with visual complements.
All images are best seen at their full size. (750 x 500 px.)
Additional submissions welcome!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Everyone Loves You, Nobody Cares

DISCLAIMER: If you're already sick to death of games writers writing about gamers writers and games writing and getting all hyper-personal about it, go ahead skip this whole mess. I don't blame you, I generally can't stand it either. But to critique it, I have to go hypocritical and actually use it. Feel free to just ignore this whole mess and comment that you did so. I won't be offended in the least.

I'll probably manage one more Real Game Thoughts thing before year's end but this sure as heck isn't it. No edits, no running it by a friend; it's raw and kind of disjointed, but whatever. I had feelings and this happened, so, you know, sorry in advance. Happy Hanukkah, free Palestine.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

You Don't Want To Miss A Thing


Similar to the last time I did something this dumb, but no Incredible Bongo Band. The constraints of scrutiny. Probably helps that the game I'm framing with exists this time. Although I guess I basically described what the world would be like if people were heavily engrossed in the F-Zero universe and not Mass Effect.

Happy Thanksgiving, eat the rich!

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Rise From Your Grave

Yes! A new thing!

Yeah it borrows thematically from that old "Fun and Games" series (1) (2) (3) (4)  and also "Why Games Shouldn't Want To Be Art" a bit, but it's all fresh and new and there's a funny picture with a baby in it.

No the baby is not particularly funny and it's not doing anything. Sorry.

Okay. Well. Uh... see ya.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

My First Public Apology™

If you're reading this, chances are you know what this is about, and greater still you're one of the people I owe an actual apology. Not a tweet, not with any kind of qualifications or explanations or deflections through humor and irony. I did that already, and it was done in self-preservation and cowardice. This is nothing less than a total admission of fault.

The things I said were rude and spiteful, were motivated by nothing and came from nowhere. The words and names I used were secondary to the emotion behind them, which sought only to hurt and was childish in the extreme. I lost contact with several writers for whom I have a great deal of respect and whose writing I enjoy on a regular basis. Whatever infinitesimally small grievances I may have with their work from time to time were far outstripped by my senseless vitriol in a moment of weakness and idiocy.

I am truly and earnestly sorry for my actions, and any ill effects I caused to those I slandered. I am owed no forgiveness, and can only ask for it humbly and ashamed of what I have done.

Thank you.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

I Just Want Bang Bang Bang

Yada yada blah blah Medium Difficulty bleep bloop etc.

Remember those late 90's ads for the Marines where the cadet would scale a cliff face freehand then fight a malevolent Norse ghost with jujitsu before being swallowed by light and outfitted in full uniform? Yeah: military FPS games are the recruitment equivalent of that, except way less interesting.

Also Trent Reznor sucks and so did the ARG he made several albums ago. Why they all gotta be promoting something; make another ARG that exists for its own damn sake. I liked that; that was fun.


Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Hawk a Loogie

The drill: you know it. Just some Tony Hawk HD jazz.

At least it's not the worst thing I've read on the subject.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Hat Trick

Yep; another one over at Medium Difficulty.

You might recognize a good portion of it as a more artfully condensed version of a five-part series from a few months ago, but I figure that with a new Rock Band title just on the horizon and the future beyond that uncertain, now's a good time for it. Give it a spin! It's definitely a more brisk read.

Also this terrible thing happened, so it's not like the problems I cover have gone away or in any way improved.

P.S. Kill me.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012


Yeah and also it was almost two weeks ago. My bad; that heady E3 week took a lot of Hate Juice out of me.

That would be here.

I'm probably going into hibernation until the next hilariously terrible thing happens while working on rewrites of old things that maybe this time won't take a week's worth of article-text.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Whoa! What! Wow!

There's a new article and it's not here! Because it's being run by the cool, fresh and cute people over at Medium Difficulty! What the heck, right? Yeah, I know!

Anyway the article is directly linked below, and also the terrible secret of my birth name is exposed.

[L@@K] (Warning: suggestive images of moe anime schoolgirls and fetish models and Krahulik tweets.)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Transmissions From Another World

Have you ever wondered what entries in the modern slate of AAA titles might look like if a different genre of game had been triumphant instead of first-person action-shooter-RPGs? No? Well, now you probably are.

Read along to the accompanying audio for enhanced effect. Multimedia!

review by Ryan "Bingo" Milliard (@GLRyanM)
[WARNING: Heavy spoilers to ensue.]
As I pressed Start and created my save profile for the conclusion to this highly lauded tetralogy, I could only anticipate what kind of staggering finale was in store and the closure it would bring. It had been less than a year since I last donned The Captain's regalia, but that only served to keep my memories crisp. As the intro cinematic played and that familiar orchestral refrain surged to the fore, I immediately felt at home. Still, for all my expectations, the rewards that lay in store for me could never truly be predicted.
The save-reading wasn't as blissfully perfect as I had envisioned, but the sense of continuity was more than well-preserved. My allegiances remained intact; while years had passed since The Captain's tragic accident, familiar faces rightfully brightened or glowered in response to my bittersweet homecoming. Hushed whispers of those in my crew who had passed away wafted quietly through the garages and watering holes which too had seen their share of changes. For instance, since my Captain had chosen the more violent response to the infamous "urinal confrontation" scene of the last game, the bathroom of the Boost Pad bar had been remodeled… save for the same blood-spattered ceramic tiles in the texture. Brilliant.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Let's Get Together

Oh yeah, that's right, I have this blog. Dang, huh? Been busy working on a potential something special with some older articles; we'll see. Anyway.

Competition is one of the fundamental elements of a game; the ability to win or lose or measure performance against another. It fosters investment in a game, and as more people do so, the greater a community can become for it. In the lead-up to the release of the reboot of the SSX series, I was enthralled at the idea of seeing what would come from a modernization of some of my all-time favorite games. Many people were initially frightened at the prospect of an overly serious adaptation from the very first promotional video, but fortunately the team behind the skate. series was in charge and was able to wrest the game's release free from... some of the Boilerplate Videogame In 2012 markers. I'm looking at you, "Pre-Order Bonuses", "Day 1 DLC", and "Facebook Integration".

A grim fate narrowly avoided.

It is, all in all, a commendable game, and the core mechanics manage to shine in spite of 2012 EA's Origin-shellacked trappings. One thing that seemed to trouble a fair number of people and still feels sorely missed, however, is real-time multiplayer. Leaderboards and ghost runs and the marvels of asynchronous competition are more than welcome, and the selling point of "taking down rivals on your own time" is by all means a worthy motivator. The upcoming restructuring of the ever-present time-sensitive "Global Events" and the constant presence of holographic visages riding alongside push that sense of being in a populated and active community right to its limit. And yet, despite the running data feeds and tiered rewards structures... you're always alone.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Another Goddamn PAX East Diary (But Different)

I figure I should probably get back into the swing of writing things before I lose any sense of personal momentum. For the sake of easing back in, I figure the best thing to do is cobble together my snatches of experience from Twitter posts and/or drunken photo ops and compose them into a singular overarching idea.

I didn't have a Media pass; I was at a Holiday Inn with three good friends. I didn't go to any of the major panels or booths; no Ken Levine, no Casey Hudson, no Bioware, no Assassin's Creed, no Max Payne 3. Patience is a virtue, but there's only so much any of those spectacles are worth. I generally drew the line at 30 minutes to an hour, and had a far better four days for it. So, what did I do, see, think, experience? Who did I meet at talk to? We'll get into that. But, as someone who's now a repeat visitor to this thing, consider this an alternative guide on what to do.

Pictured: idiots who are doing it all wrong.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

...Could Be Better I Guess

Last time we discussed the shocking revelation of what my favorite example of game design is. The infrastructure in place in Three Rings' long-running puzzle-centric MMO Puzzle Pirates might not reveal itself at first blush, what with the cutesy G-rated Playmobil-like visual design and general "kid-friendly" style. But, as one plays on, well-modeled systems for player-run affiliations ("flags" and "crews") in both naval and economic conflict get their chance to impress. So the question begs: with such a rich and capable world in which to play puzzle games and pretend to swashbuckle, why don't more people participate... and why don't I play all that much, for that matter? Well, the following are a few overarching hypotheses: some blame lies with the game, some with me, and some with the world at large.

It really is uncanny, to an extent.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

My Favorite Video Game...

Did you cringe at the title? Good, I would too. You can relax, though, thanks to the following facts.

  1. This is not about the video game that I personally enjoyed most as an experience.
  2. This is about the video game whose design ethos I hold the greatest admiration for.
  3. The game in the former description is not, nor was it ever, the game in the latter.

That's right, the video game I admire most as a work of design is nowhere near the one I "like best," nor was it at any time. I have of course played it now and again, and enjoyed most of my time spent on it to a reasonable degree. But, for a number of reasons I will address as well, I have stopped playing it and will likely not come back to it for months... or even years, should it exist that long! But, before I nitpick the things I find personally unlikable, let's go into what it does right.

If you guessed a game with any of these bozos in it, you lose!

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Fun & Games, Pt. 4

We've spent our fair share of this series considering games from a design perspective, and where games big and small, lauded and loathed, have betrayed their narrative-heavy stylizations. But what about "fun"? Can a game be judged on it as a criteria? What do people really mean when they talk about it? Are in we in need of some kind of system to categorize different "fun types" and determine how a particular video game delivers each?

Fun, in the most general sense, is enjoyment. When someone tells you a game is "fun", they are articulating their appreciation of the overall experience, even if they cannot particularly put their finger on or elucidate why. It could be they are engrossed by the plotline and cutscene; it could be the draw of visually and audially rendered splendor; it could even (perish the thought) be the mechanics and interactions of the game itself. What's certain is that the word, for all its value as a common term, is useless when trying to operate critically, analytically, or descriptively. The number of times I've seen "it's just fun" as the beginning and end of someone's defense of a game is just staggering, to the point where I have to assume that people who use it are, at least some of the time, avoiding having to admit they like a video game for its shiny colors and/or pulpy romance subplots.

You know... for kids!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Fun & Games, Pt. 3

Okay, okay, okay; one more case. Along with some other stuff.

Case #4
Name: Casey Hudson
Game: Mass Effect 3
Fault: Illusory player agency (among other things)

I'm not here to decry this game as the nadir of modern gaming; the game is... mostly well-crafted as far as what it intends to be. I'm not here to stoke any flames or dog-pile on the poor, beat-up, downtrodden multi-billion-dollar publisher; the business practices surrounding the game are a separate issue altogether.  I'm not going to get too deep into the lack of structural interplay of the dialogue trees from the FPS sections; I've done that before. This isn't even about the conclusion of the game/series; the fault in question here goes far beyond the specific bizarre endings that were chosen as the capstones of a major video game "trilogy". (Let's face it, they're probably halfway done with #4 and drafting storyboards on 5 and 6 right now.)

This Shepard is based on Bjork. I like Bjork.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Fun & Games, Pt. 2

As discussed in Part 1, an internally coherent formal system of analyzing video games as games is not some fanciful pipe dream. Neither is it a savage assault on the nebulous concept of "fun" or any other subjective appraisal value. With this skeletal but strong basis, we can finally tackle what proves so problematic about a swath of design elements and the games that utilize them improperly. And because controversy drives page hits, let's call out as many people as possible for poor game design!

Most of the games and designers targeted in the following text are by no means the only guilty parties, but are certainly some of the most egregious offenders. Games from studios large and small with reputations illustrious to spotty have all in some way transgressed against the idea that power in games should belong to players, and rather than some fictional verdict and sentence, each will conclude with a separate medium in which the assumed aims of the designers could have been better met, and why. Just trying to be helpful, because that's that's just the kind of guy I am!

The best games always seemed to make for terrible movies...

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Fun & Games, Pt. 1

There have been quite a few spats of late over what is or is not a "video game", or "game". As video games and the software engines governing their behavior have grown ever more complex, the diversity of creations that have sought shelter under the "game" banner has ballooned, arguably to some kind of critical mass. Attempts have been made by many a theorist to detangle this mess and bring about some kind of descriptive classification, but strangely their efforts have been met with a fair amount of resistance.

Some choose to take exception to the choice of words given to specific concepts, becoming hung up on the baggage of some terms' more colloquial usages. Others refuse to listen to any critique in the fear that a critical or analytical approach might destroy a game's "fun" like tugging on the ends of a slipknot. What follows is an extremely basic and simplified illustration of a particular model of hierarchy, cobbled together from the ideas of more respected theorists.

Juul's Rules - For Your Health - Check It Out!

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Killing Time

I try to keep abreast of other writers who are trying to break from the old model of discussing video games. Every so often I will come across a piece that proves insightful, enjoyable, probing, or perhaps all three. Coverage of smaller titles and the burgeoning world of the greater "indie games scene" or detours into the worlds of board/card/physical games can prove to be at the very least refreshing once in a while. This all said, though, the majority of the time I am forced to cringe at the obvious growing pains of a young and anemic writing collective groping desperately at erudition.

This "mode" of analysis is something I have seen before in the past, which I now have the luxury of looking back on and shaking my head at in bemusement. Some of it is reflected in turn-of-the-millennium alternative music journalism; "deep" personal anecdotes framing a flimsily drawn parallel to namecheck some obscure bit of historical/cultural trivium, with some grand existential thesis and some sentence fragment beat poetics thrown in. Too many times have I visited a certain video game site in 2012, only to have memories of 2000 and Brent DiCrescenzo leading with "I had never seen a shooting star before…" echo from the recesses.

Shall I compare thee to an aquarium?

Monday, March 5, 2012

Three Girl Rhumba

Look I promise the whole "name articles after songs" thing is not going be a pattern. It's just… it's fitting okay get off my back.

Anyway: women in video games! They make them, they play them, they review them… and apparently lots of people seem to have a very hard time dealing with any of that. If you were to believe the rest of the Internet, behavior towards women primarily falls under two major categories. One is the "white knight", in which you cannot agree with a woman or enjoy anything a woman does unless you want to have sex with her and think expressing your praise will lead to it. The other doesn't seem to have a particular name, but it generally involves verbal sexual harassment from a position of perceived anonymity. So let's have a look at three instances where the latter group made its presence felt and then see if we can't hone in on a cause!

Some people believe that other people believe this.

Friday, March 2, 2012

In The Flesh

With these stories finally told, we can at last answer the primary question: so what?

Consider it a parable. The world of video games, as it stands today, is a very warped and bizarre place that is slowly but surely forming the black hole center of a cultural quasar. Rather than engage with the world around it on the terms of reality, it chooses instead to create an entire supporting psuedo-culture, either by bending existing media to its will or making new abominations to further extol its own virtues. "Hardcore" players of plastic instrument games are generally attracted to metal because of its difficulty as gem sequences, and clamor for video game-related novelty songs because their subject matter reinforces their lifestyle. It's why people remember "Jordan" by Buckethead from Guitar Hero II, "Through the Fire and the Flames" by DragonForce from III, and why when given the keys to a content pipeline in Rock Band there came a surge of Jonathan Coulton and Evile. To be fair, though, those are also some of the artists that sold the best, so they at least deserve credit for knowing their audience (themselves).

"Note Shuffle", i.e. "Just Put The Gems Wherever"

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 3

The Rock Band Network, or RBN for short, was an extremely bold move with great potential at redefining the kind of music that could be made available for band rhythm games. As of this moment, any act with master recordings and legal reproduction/sales rights to their songs can, with time and effort, make their music into a playable file, or "chart", of for-profit downloadable content for the Rock Band series. The entry cost is relatively low, even with hiring outside parties to do the charting and the added cost of piggybacking onto Microsoft's XNA indie development distribution program; most songs are capable of at least breaking even financially under the right circumstances. Acts from well-respected independent labels from Sub Pop to Fat Possum to Polyvinyl to Barsuk have all released material at some point or another, and even Matador and EMI made attempts to release music through this alternative pipeline. This was a major opportunity at expanding the song selection exponentially, and hopefully appealing to a wider swath of people and realizing the promises of series-as-platform on a new level.


Suffice to say, this did not happen.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 2

In Part 1, we explored an abridged history of plastic-instrument games and their surge and ebb in the general market. In this installment, we will examine how specifically the two major primary-developer/publisher pairs (Neversoft/Activision of later Guitar Hero titles and EA/Harmonix of Rock Band) approached their products, and the shortcomings of the principles guiding each. Since hardware was by and large interchangeable and affected each series equally, the differences in tactics boil down almost entirely to software and available content libraries. Let the case study begin!

This is what the thunderclap at the end of a Slayer song looks like...

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Another Brick In The Wall, Pt. 1

Western audiences were by no means unschooled in games with action synced to music thanks to the contributions of Bemani (Dance Dance Revolution, Beatmania)  in arcades, while the likes of NanaOn-Sha (Parappa the Rapper, Vib-Ribbon) and iNiS (Gitaroo Man, Ouendan) made ventures on consumers' home and portable systems. Their appeal, however, was often limited by song selections and/or original compositions that did little if anything to line up with American popular musical taste, as well as often highly abstracted translations of input. It was the synthesis of Western music selection, home console availability, and the tactile sensation of simulating playing a guitar (borrowed from Bemani's GuitarFreaks arcade cabinets) that became the core of the first Guitar Hero game.

Notice: only 3 colors... and mandatory guitar tilting.

Monday, February 27, 2012

In The Flesh?

I realize that my first two pieces, while topical, were just slightly behind the zeitgeist. In response to this, I will now go as far as possible from what is current in games to what seems to be nearing an end, or at the very least is well out of the honeymoon phase. And I will take three parts, an introduction post and a conclusion post to do so.

So: plastic-instrument rhythm games!

Wait, don't go, I promise I will do my best to keep this interesting.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Hepling Hand

Jenny, Jenny. Who can I turn to?

It seems we are once again in the midst of another Bioware writer kick-up thanks to the joys of instant communication. Given that I threw in a couple of jabs at the developers in the first article I wrote, I figure there's no harm in a small follow-up in the wake of this non-event slapfight in which everyone came off poorly. Which is totally different from every other time something similar has happened between two or more jilted nerds.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why Games Shouldn't Want To Be Art

There are currently a lot of phrases you should avoid when discussing video games in 2012. "Ludology" might be well on the way to being one: in a time where the upcoming slate of well-hyped AAA games include Mass Effect 3, Bioshock: Infinite, Halo 4, Max Payne 3, and Grand Theft Auto V, the "narratological" approach to games as easy and direct parallels to better-established forms of media (primarily film and theater) is enjoying a notable vogue. It speaks volumes that phrases like "the 'Citizen Kane' of video games" have been bandied about seriously in recent years with little to no humiliation on the speakers' behalves. This is turn points to the persistent hand-wringing over whether games are "art" or not; some still prickle at Ebert's original take from nigh on six years ago that they never can be.

But what does all this fervor point to? Where does the necessity to proclaim games as an high art-form, as a "legitimate" medium, stem from? And is it possible that he is not only right… but that it shouldn't matter?