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Triple-A Games: Not Necessarily the Future

Okay, misleading title, I’ll give you that. But at least I’m updating! It’s not as easy as it seems!

What do I mean by “Triple-A games?” I’m glad you asked, person-who-is-not-a-gamer! They’re the games you hear about. “You mean like Mario?” No, person-who-is-not-a-gamer, not quite. Good try, though.

They’re the games that you see ads for on TV. They’re the games that have life-size cutouts of their characters plastered in front of every GameStop or video game store in existence. They’re the large franchises of the big three consoles, and they’re the games that you pay 60 bucks for (unless you live in Australia… poor aussies…). Think BioShock, GTA, Mass Effect, Call of Duty, the Zelda games, the Final Fantasy games, Dead Space, StarCraft, etc.

They’re big titles with a huge amount of support and money behind them. Their credits are longer than some flash games I’ve played on Kongregate. They have language teams, they higher game testing firms, and they have multinational branches of operations. They’re the games that you hear about in that they’re pretty much the only games you know of if you aren’t a serious gamer.

Of course they’re “the future.” They have the most well-funded operations, they have the best technology and they’re the most widely publicized.

But what most people don’t realize is this this rather strange truth: people like Pong.

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Are video games worse than the NSA?

WASHINGTON, D.C. – “What do we want?!? PRIVACY!” The third-graders screamed and waved signs. “When do we want it?!? AFTER RECESS!”

Tensions are high in one Washington, D.C. elementary school after children were fed the totally objective and unbiased information that the data from their time spent playing video games was – *gasp* – being collected by the boogeyman, Satan, and perhaps some various video game companies that make the former two bad guys pale in comparison.

I know which one scares me most.

I know which one scares me most.

If you’re unsure of what I’m talking about, NPR recently released an article detailing how the scumbag video game companies collect your children’s data (never mind their souls). First, I’m going to rail on how poorly the article was written.

1. The picture spread across the top has a child playing MineCraft, made by the Good Guy Greg of indie game development: Mojang. Originally not multiplayer, MineCraft’s huge modding community and regular updates come at no extra cost to the player, and are inspired not by suspicious clandestine data collection, but by an actual grassroots support base that encourages development in a fantastic game that has had applications in every field from music to engineering. Saying it addicts kids to video games (while perhaps true…) and collects their data to make the game more addictive and convince children to spend extra money on it — although it was only implicitly mentioned by the article — is patently false, annoying, and ignores a huge third dimension of quality that exists in game development.

2. The next mention of video games comes with a parent who is unable to control their child’s video game intake. Sorry, your poor parenting skills aren’t newsworthy. If your child is 13 and playing 12 hours of Call of Duty every day on his Xbox, don’t blame the developer. Blame yourself. Blame yourself a lot, because I quite frankly dislike being called a faggot  by him over voice chat every time I snipe him from my intellectual (and virtual) pedestal.

3. It goes on to group CoD (while implying EVERY OTHER VIDEO GAME is in the same boat) with the people behind Zynga’s freemium disasters and Candy Crush. It’s like grouping every burger joint with that one seedy McDonald’s in the ghetto where people go to distribute methamphetamines. And I feel like I’m insulting the meth dealers here.

4. Not only have you totally lost control of how much your child plays video games, but that tween Belieber you gave a smart phone to is now spending your money on microtransactions?!? And it’s the fault of the game developers. No. See number 2, only accompany it with the sound of my head hitting my keyboard in mind-numbing acknowledgement of your absolute failure to regulate your child’s interaction with… well, EVERYTHING. If your solution isn’t to take the goddamn smart phone away, then I have no sympathy for you at all. Let them cry. Let them wheedle and whine, but those boundaries are better set late than never, and believe me, if your child is (without your permission) buying things for Farmville or Candy Crush, you are LATE in setting those boundaries.

These people. You're them.

These people. You’re them.

Okay, done with that nonsense. Journalists, let me make an unequivocal demand of you as clearly as I can: update your views of the video game industry. Talk to game designers. Talk to people who know a lot about games (as in not the people who play CoD for 12 hours). Talk to me. Do this before you write your article, and you will make much less of a fool of yourself than you currently are in this day and age. Stop being tonedeaf and learn a bit about the industry you purport to be reporting on.

The real purpose of this post wasn’t to pointedly point out the pointless points of this journalistic “epic fail,” however. The data collection of video game companies is an actual issue that needs to be discussed, and as a person with absolutely no credentials in marketing, formal debate or pretty much anything else, I feel qualified to deliver my opinion.

First of all: let’s take a brief step back from this whole “data collection” buzz-phrase. If you’re in the USA (or Germany… sorry, Germans) then you’re probably shockingly aware of the NSA’s breach of what many consider to be a fundamental human right: our right to privacy. I’m going to avoid using the word “Orwellian” (damn, just used it), because if you’ve read 1984, I’m sure the scenarios spring to your mind upon hearing this stuff. We get it. We’ve been violated as a nation, and as individuals. It’s in the forefront of our minds.

The reason I say to step back from it is because the sensationalism of this article and the reality that our data IS being collected is based mostly on the fact that our privacy feels “violated.” The fact of the matter is game developers are not insidiously collecting incriminating data on play habits; they’re simply following a more effective version of the tried-and-true marketing that makes us as consumers want to buy a product. That they’re marketing to kids is irrelevant, as long as you still have some control as a parent on what your child purchases. Am I really saying this? Am I really suggesting there is a lack of parental control in what a TEN-YEAR-OLD buys?

The third graders write about how addicting video games are (I’m temporarily suspending my crusade against the word “addicting,” as I’ve resigned to the fact that the perfectly good word “addictive” has been chucked into the meat grinder of illiteracy). They are naturally offended that their data would be used to fuel that addiction! However, I’m going to be brutally honest and say that our world is full of temptation, and it has been for thousands of years. A rare Bible quote from the Lord’s prayer: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from Zynga.” It’s a problem that we have to deal with. If you, the parent, in your smart-phone-buying frenzy, have opened your child up to a world of temptation, then it is YOUR job to teach your child how to deal with it in a responsible manner. If you give your 14 or 15-year-old alcohol, it is not up to your child to decipher how to not become an alcoholic. We do not accuse food companies of foul play when they do flavor studies on how to make their food the tastiest (even if it involves drowning our children in a sea of fat, sugar, childhood obesity and diabetes). But somehow the accountability has been shifted from parents to game developers.

The other half of this issue comes again with the two-dimensionality that journalists, parents, and even some gamers tend to think of the game industry with. The majority of PC and console games available today (not counting Xbox Marketplace or whatever the PS version is) do not involve microtransactions (aka buying with real money powerups, new skins, new weapons, or extra lives). This means that your child is spending 12 hours a day playing a finished product. Many indie game studios like Mojang update their game FOR FREE. Any data collection that goes on by these companies is for the purpose of gauging how well their game went, what parts are good and what parts can be improved upon. They are taking opinion surveys that you don’t even have to fill out. They are doing what every game developer SHOULD do, that every gamedev has a RESPONSIBILITY to do, even: paying attention to how people play their game. If you fail to do that, you are like a car company failing to consider how the driver will feel inside their vehicle. The very nature of the artistic medium in which you’re creating something in forces you as a game developer to recognize how your game interacts with players and vice versa.

Even if you’re from Zynga. Even if you’re trying to get people to buy lives in Candy Crush. Even if you’re just a nice guy trying to make the sequel to your game better than its predecessor. That data is much more valuable to you from a development perspective than it is to the third-graders who don’t like being addicted to games. Gamedevs aren’t the NSA. They don’t single out people, they don’t assemble profiles to incriminate players they don’t like, and they don’t collect data simply for the sake of having it. It’s a business, it’s marketing, and if you don’t think it’s facilitated games being created at a higher level than they would otherwise, I’d suggest you take a page out of the American government’s book and start collecting some data of your own.

~AG

P.S. Don’t forget to visit this post I made about signing up to win a free game! The raffle ends just over a week from now, so get the maximum chance to win by visiting and sharing daily. Small price to pay (much smaller, in fact, than the price of a handy-dandy new game)!

The Indie Game Conundrum

So indie games are cool. It’s true! They’re easily distributed, they often pursue pretty lofty artistic goals, they’re fun to play and cheap to buy. And there are literally THOUSANDS of them. Hooray for the indie gaming world!

Now that I’ve effectively summed up my opinion on that particular subject (and there is ample evidence in previous posts of mine that this is really, really true), let’s talk about what makes them so problematic. Because there are problems. I think that indie games are a godsend for game developers everywhere, but boy, they have their downsides.

The main reason for this post is because Notch (the near-god-status creator of MineCraft) did an AMA (Ask Me Anything) on Reddit recently, and said some things that are very profound in terms of indie game development. Now, Mojang really only has ONE game. They may have some in the works, they may have put out a couple silly little projects before MineCraft, but MC is their big one. So, I guess we can’t call Notch “experienced” in the art of making indie games. But, actually we can! He’s had the chance to meet with, work with, fraternize with, play Halo and drink beer with every big name in the indie gaming industry, and some who are even bigger than indie games as a whole! He knows EVERYBODY, and thus knows a lot about the world of indie games and how they are made.

The big thing that totally struck me is the hype surrounding MineCraft and Mojang. EVERYONE who plays it loves it. There are a ton of people who are just completely apey over it, and I’m one of them. It’s a brilliant game, it keeps getting better, and every time I play it I look up and like 5 hours have gone by. (I’m not proud of that… okay, maybe a little, but in a very nerdy, self-loathing kind of way.) So what’s next for Mojang? What is going to capture our lives and our attention NEXT? It’s gotta be GREAT! It’s gotta be BETTER than MineCraft! WAY BETTER! CAPSLOCK! But the reality of the situation is that it won’t be. It can’t be.

And why not? Well, because it’s MineCraft, Notch says. He explained that MineCraft’s popularity was a fluke, a one in a million chance that he happened to get lucky on. It wasn’t intentional. And certainly, if we play MC ourselves, we can understand how this can be said to be true. The limits of the game are not imposed upon the player, they are imposed BY the player. Therefore, if players find it too difficult to embrace their creative desire, or an elite few hadn’t decided to make scale models of the Arc De Triomph, Neuschwanstein castle, and the FRICKIN’ U.S.S. ENTERPRISE, then perhaps others wouldn’t have picked it up and tried their hands at it. It really WAS a fluke. And the next game they put out won’t be. The reputation of Mojang is not enough to make a game that isn’t %100 awesome succeed.

Also, we must consider some other things. A different artistic goal must be in mind for their next game. To make a game quite a bit like MineCraft would make their fans jaded and let them down. In the indie game industry, novelty is a strongly attractive attribute for a game to have. The reason people like Haydn or Mozart were able to write so many symphonies and concertos is because they had a formulaic approach to composition. The same cannot be said for indie games. So, while Mojang may do sandbox games really well, they have no choice but to abandon that genre if they wish to make another game.

Finally, we must consider the people themselves. The gamedevs for indie games almost never number more than 12 or 15. There might be some indie studios with more than 20 people, but it’s very rare. When you have a close group of people like that, creativity is very hard to come by in large amounts. To produce awesome (and different) games consecutively is a very challenging thing for all game developers, but when you have such a small group of people, it becomes nearly impossible. Not every game can be utter genius. Not every game can be the most brilliant child a game company brings into the world. That’s not how it works.

To be an indie game company presents a very interesting set of challenges, and they’re ones that big game companies don’t have to face. They have the ability to create franchises out of their games that allow for a somewhat formulaic approach to how they do business, even if the artistic aspect is changed a bit (Final Fantasy or Tekken, anyone?). They have a lot more manpower, which, while it doesn’t create something completely mindblowingly brilliant very often, there is a base level of artistry in every aspect of the game (writing, 3d modeling, gameplay, programming, environments, music, etc.) that provides a quality product a lot more often than any indie company can hope for. And there’s the advertising. Big game companies throw around a lot more money, and can expect to make a lot more money from their investment. It’s the nature of the beast.

It’s a wonderful path in life to take if you love creating games. I would get up every morning and love my job if I could make indie games or write their music. But… everything that makes it so wonderful can also give these creative individuals a lot of problems and obstacles to their success. How does one continue being successful after one STARTS being successful? Notch says it’s not possible. Perhaps he’s right? Well, given the profits of MineCraft, he can AFFORD to be right! Frickin’ millionaire. For the rest of us, however, let’s hope he isn’t!

~Another Gamer

Miss me yet?

Well, I’m back from vacation. I missed Monday! I’m sure you’re all quietly boo-hooing into the plate of processed food you usually ingest while reading this blog. It was awfully quiet out in rural Florida, and I had a lot of time to think about video games.

It really is too bad, however, that I didn’t spend that time thinking about video games. All is not lost, though! I have some divinely-inspired ruminations about the nature of video games, and life in general, to bestow upon you. I know. I’m grand.

Moving on! Glad to have that one off my chest. Next: I have discovered that the world of MineCraft is a lot nerdier than meets the eye. I was turned on to some pretty hefty mods by a commenter on one of my other posts, and I realized quickly that I was in over my head. Had I not retraced my steps, I would have needed a member of the Geek Squad with a PhD in computer science to come untangle the mess I made. That might be a slight overstatement, but to someone who mainly PLAYS games without really delving into how they work, it was a catastrophe of magnificent proportions. Good god.

On a different subject: Poke’mon is good. I love games that keep getting better with each new release. Generally I pirate them anyway, but I actually shelled out the money for Poke’mon White. It’s really turning into an RPG. It’s less about “you must defeat your Professor’s annoying grandson and become the Champion,” and much more in-depth. With greater data storage and computing abilities (occasionally) comes greater games! It’s not just flashier, it’s more difficult, more deep, more personalized. Trainers you fight against have their own playing styles, versus the old-fashioned, “Hey, pick a random move, go!” that made the early games so easy. The world seems bigger, more diverse, and more interesting. There’s more dialogue, more puzzles, more challenges, more things to do. Red and Blue will always have a special place in my heart, but I think it’s time we step off our soapbox and accept the fact that there are, in fact, more than 151 Poke’mon.

You racists.

And, last but not least in my series of unconnected thought: “Amnesia: The Dark Descent” is a thoroughly horrifying game. I don’t even want to play it anymore. It mentions at the beginning that the game is best experienced “in a dark room while wearing headphones.”  Coincidentally, I hear that BEING KILLED VIOLENTLY by zombies and other terrifying creatures is also best experienced in a dark room with headphones on. Way to go.

Other than that, I have a game for ya’ll to try: Glean. It’s a relatively new mineral-mining-and-stuff game, based loosely on the original gem, “Motherload,” from XgenStudios. This one has more variety, more pretty graphics, more challenges, and more plot. I like it! I know you will too.

Alrighty! See you next time. It’s good to be back.
~Another Gamer

It’s MineCraft Monday!

While it is Monday, and I’m playing MineCraft, I hardly think that’s cause to institute a blog holiday. The fact of the matter is, there’s a new patch coming up, and it looks like it’s going to suck me in even worse than before. Which, all things considered, is quite bad. So, you might not hear from me for a while. Truth be told, you might not hear from me for a while because I’ll be in rural Florida, soaking up “rays,” and by “rays” I mean 90% humidity, triple-digit temperatures, with a side of hurricanes. C’est la vie.

So, back to MineCraft! New patch. It’s coming soon. If you play MC, this is very relevant and awesome, and if not… why the heck would you click on a blog with the word “MineCraft” in it? Maybe this is your first time hearing about it, and you’re asking yourself naively, “Should I buy this game?” Well, since you have obviously crawled out from underneath a rock, yes! The good news is, you’ll be spending most of your time under rocks anyway, so this will be a great fit for you.

As excited as I am about the new patch, there are a couple of other MineCraft related things that bear mentioning. First of all, I have begun work on my large project. I say “large,” but really it’s just a 64×64 square of dirt that I’ve leveled off and am setting up into four sectors, each with its own seasonal theme. Here’s a delightful picture of my work on “Winter.” I need more snow, it’s a little scarce ’round these parts, and white wool doesn’t seem to do the trick.

And it’s blank counterpart lies to the right.

Those octagonal thingies you see are going to be massive pillars and arches at some point. Just accumulating the raw resources to create them is a monumental task of its own. Whew. Who knew you could break a sweat playing video games (besides people who have CoD marathons)? Anyway, that’s what’s up on that project.

The other thing I discovered recently that’s worth mentioning is an intense survival mod for the game. Usually I’m not up for MC mods because they’re very PVP-geared, and I honestly have never liked PVP in pretty much any game I’ve played yet. But this one is called SkyBlock. Check out the video here:

You start out with nothing except for a small amount of dirt, a tree, a block of ice and a bucket of lava. Then, you attempt to create a workable empire by infinitely generating… wood, cobblestone (from the lava and ice), and slowly unlocking all the other things available in MineCraft, from food, to protection, to comfort. A large set of challenges awaits you, and they’re really tough to complete. You’re on an island. In the sky. With NOTHING. Completing anything except suicide is a thumbs-up in my book. The list of tasks one must complete is available here, as well as the download for the actual map. Enjoy!

 

Well, that’s all for “MineCraft Monday.” God, what a stupid name. Who comes up with this stuff?

 

~Another Gamer

This isn’t the blog you’re looking for.

That was a Star Wars reference but I’m not sure it was readily apparent. I’ve had a really busy week (playing tuba for a conducting workshop [and you thought I was just a gamer]), and I utterly lack the time spent gaming and the time spent writing to actually put out a blog I’d be proud to publish. So, you get some random thoughts about gaming from yours truly:

The Papa’s Somethingeria games are really too long. I’ve never beaten one.

I beat Sword & Sworcery. I think I may like that ending less than the one for Mass Effect 3, and that’s saying something.

If you haven’t already, watch “Indie Game: The Movie.” It’s totally awesome.

As a corollary to the two above statements: Jim Guthrie is a god.

I am considering building something large in MineCraft. I am certainly open to suggestions, as this will take a large amount of planning.

For your entertainment and enjoyment, a game: Snakes on a Cartesian Plane. For the unmathematical, a Cartesian Plane is a 2-dimensional surface, like the grid on which graphs are made. True story.

That’s all! I’ve got a couple topics that I’ll have this week to ruminate on, write, and edit to a manageable level of sanity, so look forward to Friday. And as for the MineCraft thing, I’m serious! Please comment and suggest ideas! I like having something to work off of. Until then!

~Another Gamer

P.S. Check out my SoundCloud. I’ve been given permission to upload some of the tracks I made for the video game in development. There are only a couple up now, but more will come soon. You’ll enjoy them, I promise!

I’m an idiot. And so are you!

There’s an old proverb: “No matter how much you learn, SOMEONE will think you are an idiot.” I’m just kidding, I made that proverb up just in this very moment, but I’m hoping that if I become famous and have adoring fangirls, there will be a hi-def black-and-white picture of my handsome face with this text in Papyrus font displayed next to it in a meaningful manner. But, quote-worthy epiphanies aside, it’s true! You can be the most well-read person in the galaxy, knowing Chaucer to Shakespeare to Stephanie Meyer to the entirety of Wikipedia’s series on parasitic fungi, but then someone asks you, “Hey, man, did you see that hilarious ‘Annoying Facebook Girl’ meme? Lol, LMS!” And you have no idea what they’re talking about. And then they say, “Oh, sorry, next time I’m over we’ll have to visit that ROCK YOU WERE BORN UNDER. ARTARD.” (These events are based on a possibly [partially] true story that does not involve a sports team overcoming adversity to win a championship or whatever).

If they ever make an inspirational movie about a team of video gamers, it will be in Korean.

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Indie Gaming, Sandboxes, and More!

What the heck is “Indie Gaming”? Is it like… regular gaming, only acoustic, with lyrics that don’t rhyme, and can only be played while smoking and wearing a beret? No, wait, that’s something else entirely. “Indie Gaming” is a phenomenon that (in the grand cosmic scale of video game history) has begun only recently. Ironically, in an effort to better define what “Indie Gaming” is (okay, I’m not using the quotes around it anymore)… I looked it up on Wikipedia, only to find that it says that there’s no widely accepted definition. Thanks for nothing, you digital know-it-all. But basically, indie stands for independent, and game stands for… well, you know. So these games are independently created and generally rely on online electronic distribution to spread their amazingness. Now I know what you’re thinking: indie games that can only be distributed electronically? These are the games that only hipsters play, right? No one’s heard of them, and that’s the way they like it. Well have you heard of… say… Minecraft?

Hooray, Minecraft! I use blocks to make blocks that mine other blocks!

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