What Is Up With All These Girly Games?
- Aug 25, 2009 5:02 am GMT
- 346 Comments
Before I say anything else, I just need to point this out: I'M A GIRL!!!
So, a few days ago, I saw a commercial for a new PSP bundle: a lilac PSP with a Hannah Montana game. Now, as a girl, I'd personally like a lilac PSP (if I ever decided I wanted a PSP), but this concept confuses me. Honestly, can you picture a ten-year-old Hannah Montana fan playing on a Playstation Portable? What will she play after she exhausts her Hannah game? God of War? Now, granted, she could get Patapon, Jeanne de Arc, or Daxter, but I can't quite fathom a young girl wanting a PSP, and I'm not really sure why. I suppose it's due to the PSP's slight hardcore-gamer image, compared to the hardcore factor of the average Hannah Montana fan (I imagine that a Hannah fan's hardcore-ness is pretty low).
Now, after I had finished this train of thought, my mind naturally went to the recent glut of frilly, girly games on the market, most of them for the Nintendo DS. This does make sense: the DS is a friendly handheld console that can appeal to more casual gamers without alienating its more hardcore audience. But why? Why make so many silly games that are solely marketed to girls?
Well, that's easily answered: even though the number of female gamers is rising, there are still more male gamers. So, game companies see a market that has not yet been fully catered to – young girls, probably between nine and, say, thirteen (that's just a guess). How many girls of that age range do you know who play video games? Probably not many. Since they don't typically play normal games, it seems that companies often release games that reflect the life goals of many girls to attract them (babysitter, doctor, fashion designer, whatever). I bet these games are pretty boring, at least to our standards, but since the target audience doesn't play games on a regular basis, they can't tell, or they actually do enjoy the game. Of course, that's just the way I see it.
It seems to me that the developers simply think, "Hey, these girls don't play anything! Let's just whip up some girly game and put it on the DS! They'll love it! Plus, we'll get more money!" I doubt there's any effort to make a great game - decent is good enough.
Be honest - which would you rather play? ... I thought so.
Frankly, I'm somewhat offended by all this. There's no way on Earth that my local Wal-Mart will carry Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor, but I know for sure that if I walk in there, I'll see several Imagine games or whatever is currently being marketed to girls. I'm a female, and I want a copy of Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor! What's wrong with that? (Well, I know MegaTen is probably too mature and specialized for my local Wal-Mart to carry, but that's beside the point.)
Now, I suppose there is a good side to this: by making these games, the developers are introducing girls to video games. I feel that games are a fine thing to enjoy, like books, art, sports, or television, as long as you don't overdo it. Plus (and I think any fellow girl gamers out there can agree with me), it'd be nice to have more females around who share a harmless and healthy interest in video games and video game culture.
Still, I find myself wishing that, if developers are going to make games to market to young girls, that they'd attempt to make them actual games, instead of electronic toys! These games assume that all girls like babies and fashion design, and yet I see no games that assume that all boys like monster trucks and dirt! (No offense meant to boys.) Is it gender discrimination? I really can't tell you that. But, I can tell you that it's very annoying.
Musicology and Plastic Guitars
- Aug 20, 2009 9:19 pm GMT
- 70 Comments
My sister once asked me if she thought I played Guitar Hero better than I did the cello. I thought this was pretty amusing at the time; this was at the height of my Guitar Heroics, when my friends Al, Megu, Maurice and Sneezy would throw the little plastic fisher-price guitars behind their heads with me as we competed, playing through riffs on Expert without skipping a beat (until my arms tired out and I had to descend to earth once again). This was when Al and I were fresh off of participating in a forum-based impromptu league set up by another friend of mine, where we strived not only for that five-star ranking on each and every song but also attempted to close in on perfection: hitting every single note without over-strumming (i.e. strumming when there was no note to be played). This was when "Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock" was just around the corner, and I'd be soon mastering Living Colour's "Cult of Personality" and its newly-recorded (and deviously insane) solo without needing to use Star Power as a crutch to avoid failing out.
For reference, I played the cello for 13 years seriously and two more off and on. Though I was notoriously undisciplined, preferring to play by ear and without practicing technique as much as I should have, I'll go out on a limb and say that my playing was good enough to be pleasing to the human ear, if not the canine ear. I never quite reached the heights I would have needed to in order to play something like Dvorak's cello concerto in B minor, but hey, come on. It's the friggin' Dvorak we're talking about, and I was merely decent; I wasn't a prodigy.
To entertain myself, I took these two separate worlds and attempted to answer my sister's question. 15 years of playing cello, 75% by ear and 25% by discipline, versus hitting five buttons in rapid succession and odd combinations in order to rack up a high score at a videogame that just happened to be based on playing music--but didn't involve actually playing music. What was I better at? If I reached the conclusion that I was indeed better at Guitar Hero than I was at playing cello (the former of which I have spent--to date--four years playing as a form entertainment), would this be a "sad" thing? That all the time and effort (ahem) put into refining skills at creating music were trumped by a few leisurely years spent learning how to mimic the solo to a heavy metal song that was compressed to five buttons?
In truth, this is a question that can't really be answered properly--at least, not with regards to the context in which people ask it. Usually they make the understandable mistake of intending the question to be a musical one, implying or thinking that the musical skills required to be proficient at Guitar Hero are the same or similar to those required for a real instrument. This mistake, sadly, is at the root of why music games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band have been scoffed at (sometimes lightly, sometimes scornfully) by some in the music community. A few months ago, when asked if he'd like to contribute his songs to Guitar Hero, the artist formerly known as The Artist Formerly Known As Prince (now currently known as Prince, in case you forgot) politely declined, stating his desire that children learn to play the "real thing."
I don't particularly have an issue with Prince wanting children to really learn how to play music. Done correctly, encouraging kids--hell, anyone-- to play music can result in joy for the would-be musicians, as well as those around them. Playing music is simply fun, and there's a fantastic sense of achievement and satisfaction when you finally master a piece or write a song of your own (...and all of you narcissists would have something else to brag about, another reason to look in the mirror, or whatever).
What perturbs me slightly, though, is the inappropriate correlation between this segment of interactive entertainment and "the real thing." There certainly is a link between playing music games and playing music itself, but again, I feel that most people get the context wrong. Specifically: "Practicing Guitar Hero is going to stop you or your child from practicing a real musical instrument." Listen--let's look at Guitar Hero, Rock Band and other music games for what they are: videogames. A form of entertainment. A pastime. A leisurely activity. Theoretically, you could be arguing that you'd rather your kids learn how to play their instrument than playing videogames. From there, you could theoretically argue that you'd rather your kids learn how to play their instrument than watching television or movies; going to the mall with their friends; listening to music on the radio (now isn't that interesting?). Sure, I will concede to the view that mastering a song in Guitar Hero provides the instant gratification of "playing" a piece of music that can't be achieved from practicing a passage or a set of riffs, for hours on end (unless you're a virtuoso). However, most forms of leisurely, mainstream entertainment are designed to provide instant gratification.
Does this mean that Prince is entirely "wrong" to say what he did? Not necessarily. I'm not saying that he should amend his statement and lambaste all videogames instead of just Guitar Hero. In the grand scheme of things, though, I do think that music games don't warrant being singled out from any other form of entertainment. As with all entertainment, they should simply be a part of anyone's checklist on what to balance in one's life. For youths, do your chores; do your homework; study and practice what you're supposed to practice; reward yourself, have fun and enjoy life. For adults, do your job; run your errands; take care of the people in your life; reward yourself, have fun and enjoy life. Just like anything else we do for fun, something like Guitar Hero is a perfectly acceptable pastime for those who know how to balance their lives, and more importantly, understand the difference between playing music games and playing real music.
For all of us "grown-ups" (though I'm really 12 years old inside), let's put it this way: If someone came up to me and said, "You know, the time you spent playing Guitar Hero could have been spent revitalizing your cello-playing ability," my response would be, "Had I the desire to spend time revitalizing my cello-playing ability, I would have simply done so. Guitar Hero has nothing to do with it." The sad truth of the matter is that I played Guitar Hero--or read books, or played basketball, or did whatever else I did these past few years--over playing the cello simply because I didn't feel like playing the cello at those particular times. (Note: Kids, you're out of luck; when you asked your parents for that guitar and to spend money on lessons for you, you'd better damn well feel like playing it.)
Let's flip the script and look at this situation from another angle. For all of the negative things people can "learn" or become "desensitized to" thanks to videogames--or movies, or music, or books (are you listening, politicians?)--there are plenty of positive influences that can be gleaned from them. (The key for parents, of course, is knowing how to teach their kids right from wrong, and fantasy from reality, at the outset. I know--duh, right? You'd think.)
I serve only as anecdotal evidence, but I like to think that I'm a passable example. Until around 2005, I almost exclusively listened to hip hop and c|assical music. December of 2005 is when I brought home the original Guitar Hero. From there, my music library slowly increased to include music--both good and bad--from any number of rock genres. I entered, and am still in, an experimental phase with finding new music that I can appreciate. Why did Guitar Hero, Rock Band and their sequels spark this interest? If you think about it, I was being exposed to music I never really cared for before, contextualized in an environment that I did care for: videogames. The effect is not entirely different from what you'd get when, say, watching a biopic about a musician (e.g. "Ray" or "Walk The Line" might make you curious enough to check out the work of Ray Charles or Johnny Cash), but because these music games (a) were all music all the time, and (2) exposed me to some compressed, faux inkling of the technique required to play these songs, it was easier for me to appreciate the music contained in those games.
So, sure, playing music games got me to appreciate and enjoy "new" music. I'll tell you something else though: My desire to start practicing the cello again has increased noticeably. That's right. After saying that people shouldn't negatively correlate playing Guitar Hero and playing a real musical instrument, I'm turning on my heel and am now suggesting that playing Guitar Hero and its ilk were responsible for me wanting to play my real instrument again. The reason is simple. I want to be able to answer my sister's question, however apples-to-oranges the correlation between the two activities may be, by saying, "No--I believe I can play the cello far better than I can this guitar game." When seeing insane streams of colored notes on the screen and actually being able to play them, it reminded me ever so slightly of the breathtaking sensation I got from playing a run or crazy-ass chord passages using thumb position and other techniques on my cello. It was fun to score points in a videogame through the sheer speed of my fingers--but I wanted to play for real.
This is where the most important distinction between playing a music game, and playing real music, comes in. In a music game, you're not playing music; you're simply activating it. The music is pre-recorded and comes from cover bands or licensed master tracks. It's already in the game. At its core, all the game is doing is waiting for you to press the right buttons, and strum at the right time; with all that done, the notes will play. It'll be as in tune as it ever could be given the recording. The body--the feel--of the note will be exactly what it was when the original was recorded. You are not really making any music, and that's okay, because all you really need to do in order to get the most out of Guitar Hero is to have a good time. That's why you don't, and shouldn't, have to worry about bow or picking techniques or playing the notes at the right dynamics. You can fantasize about being a rock star with ease, just like how a fan of the football sim "Madden 10" can fantasize about being Randy Moss. Playing a music game, and most videogames for that matter, is about the fantasy and the entertainment.
Playing a musical instrument is about discipline, technique and perseverance. You do have to worry about when your foot hits the pedal as you practice Chopin. You do have to make sure that your bow hand is appropriately light or heavy, and you sure as hell have to be cognizant of where your finger hits to make sure you're in tune if you're a string player. You can fantasize all you want, but the results of your playing are your own, and they're real. When the cat screeches and scratches at your foot; when the dog yelps and scampers away; when your sister comes into your room and laughs at you because you hit the harmonic the wrong way, it's your own fault. If you aren't willing--and will never be willing--to handle the reality of the dedication required to play a musical instrument, you're simply not going to partake in it--whether or not Guitar Hero ever existed.
So, to Prince I say this: There are young'uns who dutifully practice their instruments; who dip into Guitar Hero or Rock Band just for a bit when they need a 15-minute break; who would enjoy rocking out to your music with their plastic instruments. Accept the check and give them a taste of the fantasy of being you. You won't do a disservice to their talents by giving them some entertainment. And for the people who'd be inclined to play Guitar Hero over a real guitar, they were probably never going to pick up a guitar anyway. At the very least, by exposing your music to them through their pastime, maybe they'll buy more of your albums.
I'd really like to hear your thoughts on this, even though it's kind of becoming an "age-old" discussion. I just never had the time to verbalize my sentiments in text until last afternoon. I'll try to read the comments you leave on my next podcast, but for more guaranteed results, hit up mailbag AT trigames DOT net and leave us your thoughts.
Standing on those that came before.
- Aug 17, 2009 9:30 pm GMT
- 52 Comments
Here's a post I just put up on the story about Sony patenting "emotion sensing." There's a lot of younger gamers here on Gamestop, which is a good thing. The trick is sometimes they really don't have that much knowledge of the industry or their heritage as gamers. This isn't necessarily a bad thing - some of that stuff is really random trivia (hello Vetrex!) - but some of it really is relevant. A common mistake is to attribute too much to a particular company - usually a contemporary favorite. It happens in anything creative; be it technology, music, movies, art, etcetera.
As such, when someone claimed Sony has furthered gaming more than anyone else? I had to say something. Here it is, below, with the poster's name removed (no need to point that out). The top is mostly history/facts, but the kicker is below and is something I really do believe. Please, enjoy.
The Eyetoy itself is a copy of tech that Intel and other companies had long before the PS2 (hell, I almost bought Intel's webcam years before the eyetoy came out that came with games that are pretty much like the ones on the eyetoy). Sixaxis's tilt-sensing wasn't new - Microsoft, Logitec and others had that in PC gamepads a long time ago and it got dropped because developers and players thought it was gimmicky at the time. PSN should be on its 2.0 but Sony ignored PC online gaming, then ignored Sega's bringing it to consoles with the Dreamcast and SegaNet. Analog controls existed on the PC years before it was on the PS2, PS1 or N64. Motion sensing like we see in the Wii isn't new either - hell, I've played a katana arcade game that came out years before the Wii did that sensed where the katana was and duplicated your actions on-screen! 3d gaming? Don't thank Sony. Hell, Sega might have popularized it with Virtua Racer, but there were 3d/polygon games before that even!
Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo stand on the shoulders of others. None of them got the game industry where it is based on their ideas alone. Everything we see and enjoy today is because they're continuing on with someone else's ideas, refining and improving. Regardless of what system people like best, we all need to remember that.
A gamer who truly knows their roots knows they can't name all the companies they have to thank for gaming being where it is today!
Clarifications and Responses to E-sport article
- Aug 16, 2009 11:25 pm GMT
- 34 Comments
A lot of people came in and bashed my article about e-sports i wrote yesterday. Some people came in like gentleman(thanks shadowHYREN) and I respect them. But anyhow, here is my response to those people, summed up in here because I dont want to leave a million more comments that no one will read.
Let me start by saying that gaming IS in fact, a sport.
Sport: Noun - an athletic activity requiring skill or physical prowess and often of a competitive nature, as racing, baseball, tennis, golf, bowling, wrestling, boxing, hunting, fishing, etc. (taken from dictionary.com)
Notice that it says skill OR physical prowess. Meaning that something can be a sport without taking physical energy. If you doubt that competitive gaming takes skill, then you need to try harder, or play against people more challenging.
Now when I say e-sports, that is a completely different thing then watching your friend play final fantasy at his house. This is watching 2 of the best players or teams in the world duke it out on exciting games. I can understand how you think watching someone play the bioshock would get boring, no matter how good they are, but its the competition that is exciting.
shadowHYREN brought up the idea that most progamers are whiny kids. He brought up MLG as an example. I don't really watch MLG or any american leagues(most are poorly run, I will get to that in my next article), but that league may have whiny gamers. However, in Korea, since gaming is so big, they mostly have to have good manners. Part of it is Korean culture, which is different then american culture, however if a Korean pro has bad manners, it will cause a scandal and all that bad stuff. Only one player in Korea I have seen have bad manners, and I watch a lot of Starcraft.
Raizeen mentioned that they are already popular in America. He said "over 6k people where watching cs sk vs h2k on hltv not to mention the other 5k watching them at the lan so people saying its not popular dont know jack." Let me tell you, 11 thousand people is a very small audence. At the 2004 Proleague finals, there were 250,000 people watching in person, not to count the millions more watching on TV. While that type of viewership is far off in America and Europe, that is what I mean by a large audience.
That's all I have to say right now. I probably won't be able to answer anyone else's questions since I am leaving tomorrow for a week. In a month or so I'll probably have part 2 of my e-sports in America thing written up.
How e-sports will become big in America: Part 1: Become socially acceptable
- Aug 15, 2009 10:47 am GMT
- 41 Comments
I'm sure you have all wished that electronic sports become popular in America. Imagine how awesome it would be to have video games broadcasted on TV like they are in Korea. However, most people think that it can't happen, or is a long ways off. I to agree that there isn't much chance for e-sports to become as dominant a part of culture as they are in Korea. However, there are some things that must happen for progress to go along. This blog is the first of a series in which I will explain what must happen for professional gaming to become the next big thing, using Korea as a model.
Now obviously, there will be few sponsors outside of the gaming and computer world that will want to sponsor a gaming event, as competitive gaming is looked down upon in todays society. But how will we make e-sports more socially acceptable? Lets look at Korea. One of the reasons professional gaming is so big in Korea is that playing computer games is a very common leisure activity. After a hard day at school(Korean schools are extremely difficult compared to american schools), one of the most popular destinations for students is PC Bangs(pronounced bong), where they can spend 1000-2000 won(1-2 USD) an hour for access to a computer with high-speed internet and an assortment of popular games, such as Starcraft, Warcraft 3, Lineage, and World of Warcraft. And instead of getting sucked into their virtual world by themselves, they are with their friends. It is just a normal hang-out destination, such as a coffee shop or mall in America.
However, as we all know, the cybercafe(American equivalent of a PC Bang) business is not doing well in America. If current trends continue, they will be nonexistent within a few years. In my case, our entire county has one cybercafe with 16 computers, and I will be surprised if it is still around in 1 year. The reason? We figured we could save money by just playing unlimited gaming on our own internet for our monthly subscription, instead of paying the relatively high price(compared to korean PC bangs) of 4-5 USD to access a computer at a cybercafe. This in turn made gaming an antisocial activity, because you are just sitting alone at your computer for hours on end.
There is little we can do to stop the extinction of cybercafes. You can try to support them, but that is extremely hard on your own wallet, especially in these hard times. A great alternative to going to a cybercafe is to set up your own LANs with a few friends, and have frequent parties(or just have them bring a PC over for a few hours on Fridays). Sure, it's not nearly as easy as going to a cybercafe, with a PC already there for you to just go and play on, but its a lot cheaper, and if there is renewed interest in LAN gaming, it may just bring the cybercafes back, as well as show the world that we do not just sit in our basement all day, alone.
How to set up a LAN that can be frequently used(also works for consoles, just make sure they bring a TV):
1. Find someone in your circle of friends who has an area that is large enough to fit everybody, and has tables and chairs as well. Garages are great for this, or large basements. Living rooms, if large enough, can be used as well, or you can use a living room and dining room combo. During the summer you could even LAN outside!
2: Buy the necessary equipment. You will need a switch capable of meeting your needs. An ethernet switch basically is just a wireless LAN in a box. You connect your modem to the switch, and all the computers to the switch. Wireless may sound easier, but some people don't have laptops with wireless, and it can be less reliable and slower. Shop around for a switch that meets your needs, you shouldn't have to pay any more then $100, and you and your friends can pool together the money and only pay a few bucks each. You also need a long enough ethernet cable to connect your modem to where the LAN will be.
3. Throw an event. Stress-test your system with a 12-hour overnighter, and show your friends how much more fun it is. When throwing the event, make sure you keep everyone fed and caffeinated. My favorite energy drink is NOS, it has a lot of caffeine and tastes good. For food you can just order pizza, or start the party after dinnertime and just have everyone bring chips. It's best to have everyone chip in on this, because energy drinks are expensive, and you will probably need 2 per person to get through 12 hours. For more information on this part, go to http://www.wikihow.com/Host-a-LAN-Party.
NOTE: It may seem tedious to lug around a desktop computer, but its really not much harder then consoles. Just a few more peripherals. Also, make sure everyone brings headphones.
4. Keep using it, now that you and your friends are acquainted with the great joys of lanning. Get together on Saturdays for 6 hours, and occasionaly have over nighters. Tell your other friends about it, they may think your weird at first but will soon realize its no different then watching a movie with your friends. Keep inviting new people over, they will find it to be great fun as well.
With these simple steps, you can turn your gaming time from personal time to party time! Together we can change the image of competitive gaming to a much more positive one, and take the first step into bringing e-sports into America.
The Difference Between Franchise and Series
- Aug 11, 2009 1:05 pm GMT
- 12 Comments
We often hear the suits behind large video game publishing companies use the word "franchise" and we usually assume they are talking about a series of video games that have some characteristics in common. Is it a case of 'tom-ate-o' and 'tom-at-o' or are they really looking at things differently than we are?
For starters, the word franchise is a business term. In fact, franchising is a business model that consists in licensing trademarks or film (game etc) characters and settings, and then selling exclusive rights of distribution to one or several publishers. Sounds pretty dry huh? In contrast, a series is just a continuation of loosely connected items. Notice how franchise is defined only in terms of distributing licensed goods, while series is simply defined as a collection of things.
As a gamer, when I look at my library of collected games, I see collections of loosely connected items. I see a collection of games. I see a series of memories. I see a continuation of connected memories. I certainly don't see "licensed goods" or "trademarks"! Clearly, franchise and series are anything but synonymous.
Hmmm, I seem to have covered the title already. Maybe I should have added a subtitle!
Well, it isn't too late for that, so let us have one!
Why Do We Buy Franchise Games?
It is a sad state of affairs, but as unfortunate as it may be, we buy what we know. We buy what we have already enjoyed. We buy things that we recognize. Simply put, the franchise business method is successful precisely because it is human nature to buy things that we recognize and already appreciate.
So is it our fault that we get bombarded with the same games year after year? Is it our fault that movie tie-ins take up half the shelf at Gamestop? Yes and no.
Although it is our natural behaviour that makes the franchise model as successful as it is, there have been many occurrences where new and original games have been extremely successful.
Some video game publishers believe (believed?) that they are in the business of creating surprise and as such they would like noting more than to bring new ideas to the medium. These people are responsible for games like Super Mario Bros., Sonic the Hedgehog, Chrono Trigger, Crash Bandicoot, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater etc. But how many of these new original successful games have become franchise games? Almost every last one of them, and sure enough many of these franchises have lost their popularity and sales over time.
So What Is The Problem?
The problem is that publishers are greedy and risk averse. They are more likely to milk every last penny out of a franchise than they are to invest in something new and exciting. The sad thing is that without excitement, gamers become disinterested and drift away from the hobby altogether. So it is self-detrimental, in the long term, for a publisher to focus on franchises alone.
Well, maybe I should say "suggestions", since well...what do I know anyway?
I think publishers should focus on hiring many small development teams that will work on many small projects at the same time. Give those teams a small budget and a short deadline and if they are creative, they will make something fantastic. If they are not, then don't hire them the next time. This way, you will help many development teams grow, while creating new original games, all the while reducing the cost of making games.
Can We, As Humans, Determine the 'Best Game Ever'?
- Aug 11, 2009 4:59 am GMT
- 213 Comments
So, the question is 'Can we, as humans, determine the 'Best Game Ever'? No, I don't think we can. By taking a vote, we can decide 'The Game That the Majority of Gamers Choose as Their Favorite', but not necessarily the 'Best Game Ever'. Is there even a 'Best Game Ever'? There may always be a 'Current Best Game Ever', but the chances of any game being the best of all time are quite slim, considering the competition: every video game ever made!
To be among the best games around, any given game has to be perfect or nearly so in every single aspect. There is no slacking when you're striving for perfection. But, as time progresses, our standards get higher and higher. Games that were masterpieces back in the day sometimes lose a bit of their wondrous quality as newer and more impressive games come out. How can we make a perfect game, then? With the progression of time, I don't think we can. Let's consider for a moment how some basic aspects of games can both help and hurt in becoming 'Best Game Ever'.
Final Fantasy VII, a flat-out landmark game and past winner of GameFAQs 'Best Game Ever' Contest, has a story that, at the time of its release, shocked and amazed gamers around the world, dealing with good and evil, life and death, duty and want, and other deep themes. Tetris, perhaps the only game that every single gamer has played, has no story, unless you make up a plot about having to line up blocks to save the planet or something like that.
However, when it comes to making the perfect game, the story may be where the least concern should go. I don't mean that the story isn't important - on the contrary, it is very important - but that the writer's place in time doesn't affect a story all that much. We are still enthralled by masterpieces of books like Don Quixote or Dracula, but we are also amazed by contemporary books, like The Da Vinci Code or the Harry Potter series. Similarly, we are still moved by Final Fantasy VII, but newer games enchant us as well. Of course, this also works in the other extreme - Tetris has no plot that has to stand the ravages of time or the competition of bigger and newer storylines, so as long as its sole gameplay mechanic holds up, Tetris will stay with us for a long time.
Having never played Final Fantasy VII, I recently watched some gameplay footage from it on YouTube. The battle screen looked good, but when the game reverted to the world map where Cloud runs around, I actually laughed. The characters look like Lego people! I guess I've been spoiled by the impressive graphics I'm used to, like from Ratchet & Clank, later Final Fantasy games, and The Legend of Zelda.
Therein lies the problem. If, in the distant future, you show your children the games you use to play when you were their age, they'll probably giggle at the graphics, which will seem mediocre when compared to the virtual reality booth you've dragged them away from. Unless graphics reach a zenith and stop progressing (which I strongly doubt), even the most impressive games will be held back by the advancement of graphical technology. However, just as graphics may be the most indicative of time, they may ultimately matter the least. I still play Commander Keen, an old DOS game from 1995 (In case you don't know, DOS is an old PC operating system thing). My family has a thing for DOS games, and we've been playing them over and over for years.
Ah, the gameplay, the one aspect that may be completely immune to the effects of time. Either a game works or it doesn't - it's as simple as that. If methods of control got better and better as new consoles came, we would eventually abandon our old games in frustration.
Of course, the controls do sometimes get better. As technology improves and gets smaller, we can fit more buttons and do-dads into our controllers. The Wii, with its motion-control mechanics, would likely have been a crazy thought a few decades ago, and now we're completely used to it. Heck, it's even getting competition from Sony and Microsoft now!
But, a well-controlled game is still a well-controlled game, no matter when it came out. Commander Keen works great - all you need are the directional keys and Alt, Ctrl, and Spacebar, and you're good to go!
If we look past the game and into its development, we'll see major advances from yesteryear. Physics engines get better and better - now we can zap our virtual enemies and watch them fly like ragdolls. Years ago, we had to settle for zapping them and watching them overdramatically flail and collapse, always in the same way, even if only three pixels on their left foot were the only things keeping them on a ledge. (You know, when an enemy is nearly floating in midair because they're 'technically' standing on something?) Where we once wearily sighed and burst through a door, smashing everyone in sight, we now scramble and strategize as our virtual foes take cover and work together.
However, this may not be all that important. Some people probably rightfully think, "Who cares if the AI knows how to dodge and take cover? I'm just going to throw a nuke in there, anyway." Well, it's a valid point - as long as we can play, we're not going to concern ourselves too much with how the game enemies act or move.
What makes a 'Best Game Ever', then?
I think when people choose a game as the 'Best Game Ever', the aspect that matters is being moved by a combination of all of these things, and simultaneously none of these things. The 'Best Game Ever' makes us think, when we play it, "Wow. I am amazed/joyous/shocked/saddened. I did not know this medium could provoke this kind of feeling in the consumer." Then, when the player is later asked to name the 'Best Game Ever', their mind quickly goes back to that game they once played that they were so moved by. Of course, time plays a role in this: a game that moved people ten years ago may not provoke the same response nowadays. The human factor is important as well: no game is the 'Best' without the opinions of many people, who all played a game in its heyday and said, "Wow. This game is amazing." Plus, each person has different experiences, which influence their choice of 'Best Game Ever'. For example, Pokémon Gold was my introduction to real gaming, Kingdom Hearts was my first console game, and Ratchet & Clank made video gaming one of my major hobbies. Thus, if you asked me to vote for the 'Best Game Ever', I'd probably lean toward one of these, rather than Ocarina of Time or Final Fantasy VII.
So, due to the influence of time and people, there really is no 'perfect game' to rise above the others and claim the title of 'Best Game Ever'. When gamers pick one, it really just means that a majority of them got a strong positive mental reaction from playing said game. But, this is a very good indicator of the game's quality in every aspect; the game is perfect or nearly so, or at least was in its time. So, if there really is a 'Best Game Ever', there's a good chance that it's already been called that.
Edit: I'd just like to add something here, considering all the comments. Since we often have contests to decide 'Best Game Ever', it's completely possible that a game that has participated in one of them actually is the 'Best', but just as people vote to agree on that, many people will disagree. If every single person (or almost every person) came up and said, "(this game) is the best ever," then we probably could call it the 'Best Game Ever', considering how many people it won over. I do think that 'Best Game Ever' contests are a good indicator of how good and memorable a game is (as well as being quite a lot of fun), but no method is foolproof, at least not yet. Plus, I just decided one afternoon to write an editorial, and this is what I wrote; next week, I may look back at this and say, 'What was I thinking?' No opinion is air-tight, including mine. Thank you all for reading and commenting.
The Fall and Rise of Game Development Costs
- Aug 3, 2009 6:40 am GMT
- 75 Comments
We're looking at a chicken and egg problem here.
Games have become so pretty, so advanced and so complicated that they take thousands of man hours and millions of dollars to make. From the game engine and its detailed textures and fancy shaders, to the voice acting, writers and designers, games have become truly a work to behold. Games are starting to cost more than movies.
But, of course, with all this additional cost, we can safely (and sadly) assume that the games will start costing more, right?
Halo 3, the popular climax to the green-tinged franchise, was made in a budget of about $30 million (and with an advertising budget that would double that number). For Microsoft, the publisher, and Bungie, the developer, to break even with Halo 3, the game would have to be priced at $50 and make 600,000 sales. As we know, Halo 3 sold well more than that - within the first twenty four hours, even - but what about games where you cannot guarantee their success?
Take a look at the comments of an industry insider (and former Sony executive) Chris Deering:
"Before there can be as many successful blockbuster games as there were in the past, games have to be produced in a more efficient fashion. In order to price these games at a level where they would support an industry [as strongly as] they did ten years ago, they'd have to be sold at £70 [or about $117 USD]. But people just don't have that kind of money, there's a psychological glass ceiling.
"Consumers won't spend more, but to write the game, publishers are having to spend more than ever before. That's the key problem. MCV revealed that Activision had raised the trade price of Modern Warfare 2 by £10 to £55 [or about $90 USD] a fortnight ago. The story has featured heavily in the national press this week.
"The cost of development is ten times what it was for PS2, and more like 20 to 50 times more than on PSOne. Yet there are lots of things you can get for less than the relative value of paying 50p an hour for a very high end game."
This is where the chicken and egg problem might started to unfold.
Gamers want cheaper prices on their games. They've seen the games approach $60 to $70, and Deering suggests that games even go as high as $117. They do cost a lot to make, because expectations are so high now - games that don't have top-of-the-line graphics don't sell as well as their fancier, gee-whiz-bang visual-impact competitors. It's not the single factor, but it is part of the equation.
Look at it this way: say a theoretical new Civilization game on the consoles took $20 million to make, design and publish (which is pretty high, mind you). Now, the publisher cannot expect the game to sell that much - it's a port of a hardcore PC game after all - so they assume about 300,000 sales. Unfortunately, the game needs 400,000 sales to break even if the game would cost $50 on the shelves. But if they up the price to $60, the game only needs 333,333 sales to break even, and at $70, about 285,000. And at $70, you can't assume you'll get all those sales because the price is so high.
Plus, breaking even isn't desirable at all - no profit involved. At this point, the project would probably be axed.
This is why we see a very lower volume of games nowadays. If a modern game takes so much money to make, the game would have to sell a certain amount to be successful. Assumed victory can only be given to established franchises like Call of Duty and Halo, where development costs can go up the wazoo and no one will bat an eye. The game in that case will make so much profit it won't matter.
Now, what does a developer do in times like these, where games cost so much to make, but if you don't spend the money the gamers won't care? Cut costs at every turn, sure, like using an existing engine rather than your own (such as Unreal 3 or idTech5), moving game data into microtransactions, and releasing the game on every console to maximize possibile sources of profit. But eventually, the games will probably have to get more expensive if the current trends continue.
Now look at a success story in the underdog ring. Sins of a Solar Empire, a 4X RTS game on PC, was developed with about $1 million in development budget. With the combination of a popular publisher, Stardock, a minimal advertising campaign, and a cheap but well reviewed game on shelves, Sins went on to sell 500,000 as of September 2008.
Now think about this for a minute. The game cost $1 million. If the game cost only $40 on the shelves at launch, the game only needs 25,000 sales to break even. Hell, they could have sold it at $20 (the current price point, mind you) and that still would have only needed 50,000 sales. The game went on to sell ten times that number!
How could a game like Sins get away with such a low development cost?
It's in the technology. In an example in the above source, Brad Wardell, the CEO of Stardock, says that in Sins the turrets on the ships don't move. This lowers development costs (the engine doesn't have to support physics, extra animation and fancier details) and allows the game to run on older computers fairly easily, which adds potential audience. The game is full of these technical shortcuts that you don't notice until someone points it out to you. The game still looks nice thanks to a great art design, however.
Is this the way to turn? Do we sacrifice game detail and graphical polish (and possibly hiding it with better art design) for a cheaper game and happier developers?
I'm not an idealist. I know that gamers won't collectively agree that this is the way to change - besides, if you bought your 360 or PS3, you'd probably be a bit angry if games started to reduce the graphical fidelity to cut costs. But the reality is that technology has become complicated, and a burden for the developers to handle in terms of their budget. And while the games look nicer, the return on such an investment is usually rather low. Few games, especially on the console, can sell on graphical quality alone.
But I would at least propose that game developers embrace Sins' successes. Try new genres and gameplay mechanics, but use the last generation of consoles to do it. Go dust off that PlayStation 2 development kit or open up the Xbox Live Arcade options and try something cheap and new. Make an indie PC game and sell it on Steam. Make a game in $1 million.
As a gamer, that sort of arrangement for publishers sounds fantastic. Just think of the possibilities, and just think how cheap it would all be!
Online and Offline Shopping Both Have Pros and Cons
- Aug 2, 2009 9:58 am GMT
- 36 Comments
Many people nowadays prefer to shop online rather than in a brick-and-mortar store. I, too, like the convenience of the Internet, and I often use it. However, when I shop for a new game, or anything really, I like to browse while I'm at it. I scan the aisles, checking out the fancy new consoles I can't afford, trying the demos, planning my future purchases, and generally having a good time. As such, I often prefer to shop at brick-and-mortar stores, rather than shopping on the Internet. I enjoy the tangible experience, as opposed to the virtual experience that one gets by shopping online. The web just can't replace the enjoyment provided by stepping out the door, entering the store, and holding the games myself. But, I'm not completely for one method over the other - I feel that they both have their pros and cons, and they definetely work best together.
Let's pretend for a moment that you have Internet access, but no game, electronics, or department store nearby. When you have an idea of a game purchase, you might go to Amazon or a similar website. This is extremely helpful in making your decision: you can read reviews from other buyers and read descriptions of the game in question. Also, you're already online - you can go to a review aggregator and read professional reviews, look the game up on Wikipedia, or watch some gameplay on YouTube. Then, if you're satisfied, you can click and buy it. The only problem is that you'll have to wait for it to arrive...and wait...and wait. The wait can drive you mad, especially if you have a low level of patience. Plus, you've often paid extra for shipping and handling. Oh, well. However, the Internet has a practically infinite selection of items to choose from, which makes up for the wait.
Now, let's say you have a game, electronics, or department store, but no Internet. You can, whenever you feel like, run down to your store and buy your game. Then you can head back home and play it right away. There are two problems here. First, you can't go to the store at 2:00 in the morning in your pajamas, unlike online shopping. Also, without Internet, you could not check reviews and info on your purchase, and so you may have just bought Ninjabread Man or something of it's ilk. Poor you.
If you're fortunate enough to have Internet and live near a store that sells games, you are a very lucky person; you can research your game online, then just go to the store and buy it, then go home and play it, all in one day! I envy you. So, the Internet is more informative, while brick-and-mortar is faster, but having both is definitely the best option.
Now, you don't have to buy games - you can rent them, instead. Renting is always good; it's a great way to test-drive a game. But should we rent online or at a store? Once again, I shall consider both options. First, one can head to the nearest movie rental place and rent a game. Unfortunately for the physical store supporters, this does not work well in a lot of places. All the rental stores I've seen have strange inventories. One hasn't updated in several years, except for adding Wii games, and the other is full of weird games I've never heard of. I went in the latter store once when I was younger; I saw some game about a handcuffed weasel and rabbit escaping from an animal testing facility - I can't recall the name of the game, but something about it, along with several other games, frankly creeped me out, and I haven't been in that store since. You have to be careful around video rental stores.
(Now, I haven't entered that store in a while, but it's not because I hate it - my family uses Netflix and we were just curious what was inside.)
Online, I believe, wins this round, at least in certain areas. I've never used Gamefly, but my family's had Netflix, and Gamefly is pretty much Netflix for games. Netflix's rental system is like this: you put rentals in a queue, and they come to your house one or more at a time. You keep it for as long as you want, and when you finish, you send the rental back and get the next item in your queue. It's quite fun to receive your movie in the mail: either you remember what it is and get excited, or you don't remember what you asked for. If you can't recall, there are two further possibilities:
- You open the envelope and are happy to see that Live Free or Die Hard has finally arrived.
- You open the envelope and are dissapointed to see that your siblings decided to rent Pokemon: Destiny Deoxys... again.
Of course, this sounds simliar to buying online, doesn't it? You still have to wait. However, your rentals come quite fast. Sadly, I believe Netflix is mainly a U.S-based service, so Gamefly likely is, as well.
And then, what if you don't want to make any purchases today? Maybe you just want to browse and see what's out there. As I implied when I began, I feel brick-and-mortar stores win this easily.
When you shop online, first you have to have an idea of a game to look up; otherwise you'll just end up staring at the home page. When you finally think of something, the website will likely show you games that are similar to what you've just looked up. You could go to a list of video games on a review aggregator or Wikipedia, which is often useful, but it's hard to casually browse a list of game titles and have fun doing it - words don't jump to the eye quite as well as pictures and tangible objects do.
When you go to the store, you can simply sweep though the aisles, briefly glancing at every box until one catches your eye. You can check it out, perhaps make a mental note, and then continue having a lovely yet pointless time. You can play the demos that are set up around the store. Or, you may actually see something you want to buy! Go ahead; you're having a wonderful time!
So, I've considered the possibilities of each shopping method for each shopping context. What have I decided here? Honestly, I have no clue. Let me see...
For buying games: Internet has a lead, but brick-and-mortar is good, but having both is by far the best option.
For renting games: Both have flaws, and I can't really make a decision.
For browsing games: Brick-and-mortar wins here: you just can't really browse online.
So, I guess we really need both. Each method of shopping has pros and cons, and having both makes choosing games wisely far easier.
When I Was Your Age...
- Jul 26, 2009 3:03 am GMT
- 206 Comments
I am, as of this year, thirty years old. To a lot of you out there, that may seem ancient. All I can say to you is this: wait until you get here. I can honestly say that I've forgotten more than I currently know. Periodic tables? Gone. Hiragana? Bye-bye. I suppose the mind is just like a muscle in the sense that whatever you don't use quickly turns to fat. And if that's the case, my brain is well into the "obese" end of the spectrum.
Don't be scared: I'm not going to bore you with stories about how in my day I used to walk backwards uphill through the snow to get to school or anything like that. We don't really get snow here anyway. What I do want to discuss, however, is this:
About three hours ago, I posted a blog that I thought might be funny. It was the cover of a game called "Cabal," and in it I attempted to make fun of the box art. I say "attempted" because the joke turned out to be just like most everything else about this day so far: bad. Needless to say, I wasn't expecting much of a response. I figured the blog would stay up there, hanging like some forgotten tapestry until I replaced it a few days later. Much to my surprise, I was wrong.
The plan was to pick some obscure game, thinking no one would remember it, and make fun of the cover. As it turns out, it was not only remembered, but remembered with no small amount of fondness by a couple of the good folks I "hang out" with. That's fairly impressive to me. Why? Because "Cabal" is twenty years old.
So this whole experience has me thinking. It's got me running through a list in my mind of games that have stuck with me despite all of the things I've forgotten. The first game I can remember playing was a Star Wars game on the Atari. It was pretty simple. You flew along a horizontal plane in a tiny ship, and from the right side of the screen Imperial Walkers would pop up. The goal was to shoot them in the single colored square that popped up on their otherwise gray bodies. If you hit the square, they died. That was it. That was the whole game (at least as far as I can recall). Despite being simple, it has stuck with me.
And there have been others that have stuck with me as well. The original Ghostbusters game from the C64. Archon from the same. Shadowrun for the Genesis is burned into my brain. No matter how far along I get in years, it seems I can always remember those games, and remember them fondly.
Now, I suppose you're probably rolling your eyes at this point, wondering when I'll get to the point. Well here it is; the meat of the thing.
Is it going to be the same for gamers today? Will they be able to look back on what they've played in twenty years and say "Oh yeah! That was a freakin' great game! I played that when you were knee-high to a grasshopper, sonny"?
Please don't misunderstand: by posing this question, I don't mean to imply that the old-timers have a monopoly on game-based nostalgia. I'm simply curious as to whether or not the gaming world has changed so much that it doesn't leave gamers time to savor and remember what they play, and that applies to all of us.
Think about it: we are constantly, constantly, moving now. Moving up, moving out, moving on. There's always some big new thrill to be had, some new title that everybody simply must get a hold of. Games keep coming down the pipe, and it seems that the more that come out the less we hold onto the ones we own. We trade them in, sell them on e-bay, play them and then move on almost immediately. When we're blowing through six games a month, will we remember any of them later in life?
And we are so much more critical than we used to be. Every gamer is also an amateur reviewer, and we're constantly dissecting what we play, thinking about what we'll say in the review we'll inevitably put up on Gamespot. Rather than just play the game, we're thinking about clipping and draw-distance and bloom and jaggies. Do we ever just play to play anymore? And can a fond memory be formed when we're constantly nit-picking everything we do in a game?
I don't have any answers. I really can't tell you what will or won't stand out to you over the next twenty years.I'm simply curious. The whole situation leads me to wonder whether or not these games we love-and-leave, these games we pick apart in our minds and in our blogs, will survive in our minds long enough to bring us smiles when we're older. Only time will tell.
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