Memento Review of Mean Streets
I know this will come as a shock but I’m a fan of arguing.
In fact, I’m such a fan of it that I’ve cultivated that truly endearing quality all your favorite debaters exhibit — the ability to fervently argue a position I in no way actually support. That’s right, I’m not happy just arguing with people who don’t agree with me. I want everyone in there.
Some of this is work-related. I only truly get comfortable about some design decisions by attacking them myself, so I pick fights about these and take various stances and see what develops.
Some of this, according to my wife, is that I’m a jerk.
Who’s to say which of us is correct (P.S., I am) but, whatever the reason, I argue a lot and I tend to gravitate toward people who can hold their own in a verbal scuffle. But, while I love a spirited discussion, I am not a fan of several trends in modern arguing, chief among them “the Google argument”.
I gave Dusty a hard time for his recent assertion that the death of PC gaming wasn’t due to MMOs but rather five years of shit games. I probably should have beat him up for suggesting that there has been any “death” at all….
I’m not overly averse to reality and I can read NPD’s data as well as the next guy, so I’m not trying to suggest that the PC games market hasn’t been suffering based on that metric.
But that isn’t “death”.
Death is when something goes away and doesn’t come back.
Whale oil? That’s a dead business. You probably don’t want to go looking for VC for an 8 track cassette factory either. Rotary phones? Butter churns? Traditional retail stores for games? Elvis, Elvis, and Elvis. (Ha ha, just kidding about that last one, GameStop, everything is going to be fine.)
“Death” happens when the demand for a product shrinks, generally because something comes along and satisfies the need it served better (and / or cheaper). Why don’t you ride a buggy to work anymore? Because your horseless carriage has AC and it doesn’t eat the begonias when you park it out front.
So, if PC games are “dead” what is it that’s replacing them?
In 1997, Ensemble had yet to release a game and we were not well known. Despite this, we received a considerable amount of mail (both actual paper and email) from fans. Most was “can I has job” but every now and then there was something special in the inbox.
I started to keep an “X File” shortly after I came across a couple of the more awesome ones and I’ve lugged it around ever since. The crown jewels of this collection are a series of notes that we continued to receive for several years from a fan (?) who had very detailed suggestions for a game.
I got into a discussion about this yesterday and was trying to accurately communicate the glory of these letters. I’ve scanned one in so it can speak for itself.
(Caveat: I do not have the sanity points to read this start to finish. If there’s anything offensive in here, apologies in advance.)
(Via GamesIndustry.Biz; here.)
Pants size influences obesity three times more than fudge
Research by EEDAR has shown that buying really big pants increases the wearer’s weight three times more than eating dozens of Ho Hos.
The perception that stuffing your face with cake cylinders leads to obesity is a myth, said EEDAR’s Jesse Divnich speaking at the Montreal International Games Summit today, and developers should realize the cold fact that a person who buys enormous pants will weigh far more than a person who can’t say no to another Ring Ding.
“You can eat fistfuls of Doritos and it won’t even matter. I know that’s discouraging to developers at first but it’s very true,” Divnich told the audience.
“Outlandishly large pants influence the wearer’s weight three times more than pints of Haagen- Dazs eaten in the middle of the night. There’s a giant myth out there that eating sticks of butter is crucial to gaining weight. The reason why that is is the information is readily available – we can go to Arby’s – and we see people like that guy over there eating five sandwiches by himself and we make that correlation. But the truth is, huge pants actually have much more of an influence to weight than the Arby’s Five for Five promotion.”
(Continued from here.)
6 – Minigames
There are times when I’m less than excited about snapping 20 lockpicks in a row or struggling to spot the difference between the “like” and “dislike” expressions for the cat people. But Oblivion’s minigames serve an important purpose — they lend tangability to elements of the world.
The core mechanical principle of almost all RPGs is abstraction. Distill “capabilities” to a set of values, then use these values to determine probability. How do we know if you can pick the lock? Well, if your skill is 8 and the lock difficulty is 4, then there’s a 75% chance.
Abstraction works against immersion when it makes players feel like more like they’re manipulating a math problem than participating in a world. Minigames can counterbalance this by providing more of a “tactile” feel in places — it’s not a roll of the dice to see if I open the lock, it’s me trying to line up the tumblers with a pick. If I gain actual skill over time, I get the hang for picking locks, this starts to feel like a “real world” thing.
That’s powerful stuff for immersion and achieving it doesn’t require complex or overly entertaining games. Oblivion’s alchemy model isn’t really a game but the fact that I see the plants in the world, pick them, learn their qualities over time, and experiement with them to make potions adds depth to their world. Similarly, the book UI certainly isn’t a game at all but its implementation — picking up books, seeing the print, turning pages — produces a very different feel than what would be achieved if the exact same information were relayed to the player via entries in an “information” tab hung off of the character sheet.
When too much time passes between the release of good RPGs, terrible things happen to me. I get this sense that there has to be something out there that I missed. There are thousands of games, there must be a RPG I didn’t play or didn’t play enough or haven’t played in a long time. Something. I become the addict who has flushed all his junk trying to quit, who then tears his house apart looking for a stash he prays to have missed.
I’m in the closet, digging through stacks of old games, cursing the missing CD in the Neverwinter Nights box. I black out. When I come to I’m on Steam with a copy of Two Worlds in my cart. It’s been a long time, right? They patched it. Right? I black out again.
I wake up at an intersection, lost in thought at the change to green, furious beeping behind me. It’s 6:30 on a Saturday morning and I’m driving to the office…to get the copy of Ultima IX from the games library. It’s the only Ultima I didn’t finish. I have to finish it. I want to finish it. Don’t I? (No.)
I know how this will end. There I am, at my desk, surrounded by empty Starbucks cups and wasabi peas, trying to find someone on the Underdogs forums to help me get a Gold Box game running on DOSBox.
Sweet, sweet DOSBox.
Oh, God. What am I doing?
During the upcycle of a trend, it’s rare to see a quote from someone at the COO level that isn’t blue-sky / this-is-the-future / one-billionty-percent-growth-forecasted balloon juice. Which is why Dean Takahashi’s VentureBeat piece last Wednesday, in which John Schappert is quoted as opining that the current “social gaming bubble” resembles the “mobile games hype” of yesteryear, warms my heart.
(Even if, as Dean points out, Schappert’s comments could be designed to help EA achieve a better price for any companies they might want to acquire. A little late for that to be useful if rumors like the Playfish deal turn out to be true….)
“Are games art?” has always seemed like a silly question to even ask. I’ve been to exhibits featuring an old toaster someone fired an arrow at — if that qualifies I’m comfortable suggesting that the definition is fairly broad.
But therein lies what is probably the best litmus test for art of any sort: Do you think it’s art?
Or, better yet: Did the person making it think it was art?
On any game I’ve worked on, I’ve thought it was art. Not art-art. Not I-dress-in-black-and-wear-a-beret art. Not frame-hanging-on-the-gallery-wall art. But “art”. I had something I wanted to get across, something I wanted you to experience.