Space Ramblings

Category Archives: Games

GTA5. It’s Big, But Is It Fun?

We can all agree that when it comes to making huge open gameworlds no one beats Rockstar. And I’m a fan of the sandbox, but like Bethesda’s Oblivion, Fallout 3 and Skyrim, the open world is impressive, but the gameplay is terrible.

The GTA 5 trailer reeks of huge open worldism but also of the same rigidly structured missions as GTA 4 and the same forced interactions with game characters that are playing your friends and family. And those are not good things.

It would be better if Rockstar had taken some inspiration from games like Saints Row 3 or Driver San Fransisco which put player experience first and were and still are really fun to play.

San Andreas was Rockstar’s most open 3D GTA game. It was a world where you could actually have fun. Since then other franchises have focused on fun gameplay in an open world, while Rockstar has tried making its games into movies and commenting on politics.

GTA 5’s version of LA will be neat, no doubt, but once the novelty of the open world and its goofy characters wears off, you’re going to be stuck in cars that are no fun to drive and missions that are no fun to play while Rockstar’s Scottish developers beat you over the head with what they think is insightful commentary on the American Dream.

Wing Commander + Privateer = Star Citizen

Obviously there’s a dose of Heinlein in this too. I won’t quibble over details, just show the trailer. Anyone who has played the first two Wing Commander games will recognize elements from them in the trailer.

Kickstarter and its cousins have certainly helped bring back some classic games. And that’s good.

And now the quibbling. How exactly is the MMO + single player aspect going to work. Is the MMO the Privateer part while Squadron 42 is the Wing Commander part?

And Chris Roberts doesn’t have the best track record. Not when Wing Commander 2 was the last good Wing Commander game, followed by FMV abortions starring Mark Hamill, followed by Starlancer and Freelancer, both of which were poor copies of Wing Commander and Privateer. But on the other hand the engine looks shiny and the idea seems promising.

So let’s dream. Let’s dream big.

Gorn Porn: The Star Trek Game Trailer Debuts

The objective: Make a game as content free as the movie. A proper triumph of style over substance, of things exploding over space exploration and then add echo noises.

The question everyone must be asking is where are the lens flares? Lens flare technology in games was developed long ago. Star Trek the game has plenty of bloom, but needs more lens flares to hide just how low res its textures are. Just take a look at this gorgeous screenshot from 2005.

star trek game sucks

Namco Bandai’s JJ Abrams’ Star Trek has focused its graphical focus on the important things. Like making sure that Spock looks exactly like Zachary Quinto and not that other guy. Whatever his name is. And once they did that they didn’t have any more time or resources left so they just imported a few terrain maps from Half Life or Morrowind.

For a nostalgia kick, here’s Star Trek 25th Anniversary’s trial sequence.

“I’m James T. Kirk. I’m more worthy than you’ll ever be. And I have girlfriends on fifty planets who will vouch for that.”

And it even has better graphics than Co-Op Quinto shooter.

Girlfriend Mode

So somebody at Gearbox, a company which made a game where you anally rape players with bullets, called a mode in Borderlands 2 designed to bring in inexperienced players into a game with you, the girlfriend mode. Cue panic, hysteria, outrage and outraged hysterical white knights setting things on fire while female devs explain how language like this shuts them out of the industry. The pearl clutching over this makes so-called game sites suddenly sound as crazy and alarmist as Jack Thompson out on a moral panic.

girl gamer

Now that everyone is properly outraged… what percentage of multiplayer First Person Shooter players are female? And I don’t mean corporate stunts like the frag dolls. I’m sure they exist. I’m also sure they’re not the majority or the target audience for a Gearbox game. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. Borderlands players are not the target audience for The Sims Online. Neither of them are the target audience for a stats heavy flight simulator.

Did it become sexist to not pretend that female gamers are as likely to sit down with a round of Halo as any teenage boy. That’s not what sexist means. Sexist means assuming that because fewer women will play Halo that they’re incapable of it or that playing Halo is an absolute value that makes men superior to women. Do we have to also start pretending that men are as likely to read Twilight?

The outraged will rely on statistics like the ESA’s gaming roundup which says that gamers are 58 percent male and 42 percent female. But the ESA is an industry trade group and runs things like this because it makes gaming seem more mainstream. But the ESA defines games as playing Farmville. Those same statistics show that 47 percent of their idea of “online gamers”  play puzzle and board games online. Only 33 percent play actual multiplayer games.

There’s this study, which like most studies you can take issue with.

Reiss said this research also suggests that males have neural circuitry that makes them more liable than women to feel rewarded by a computer game with a territorial component and then more motivated to continue game-playing behavior. Based on this, he said, it makes sense that males are more prone to getting hooked on video games than females.

“Most of the computer games that are really popular with males are territory- and aggression-type games,” he pointed out.

But it’s just telling us what we already know. Games where the goal is to shoot a hundred people in ten minutes are more likely to appeal to men than to women.  The few FPS gender demographics that I have seen lean heavily male.

Back to Girlfriend Mode. The name can be read as a stereotype that women are worse gamers and need a crutch. But then it would be Girl Mode. It’s Girlfriend Mode because it lets players who wouldn’t normally play a male skewed game do a couples thing. Is it offensive? At least one romantic comedy told women how to get their boyfriends to come with them as part of their marketing. That was their Boyfriend Mode.

Sexism isn’t going to go away if we construct a magical universe where men and women like the same exact things and shout at everyone who says otherwise. It’s going to go away if we’re honest about boundaries and feelings. Pretending that there aren’t gender differences in style and gameplay doesn’t serve anyone.

Wasteland 2, the Closest Thing to Fallout We’re Going to Get

This is Wasteland

This is Wasteland 2

wasteland 2 screenshot

The full range of filters hasn’t been applied yet, but it’s looking like the way Fallout New Vegas might have looked if it had been done in proper Fallout style.

Shut Up About FemShep Already

At some point in the last few years it became fashionable for a small group of idiots to act like playing the female version of a generic character was like taking part in a civil rights movement. That somehow playing the female version of Shepard was a bold and important step and that EA and Bioware were suppressing their FemShep civil rights movement by not emphasizing the female Shepard as much as the male Shepard.


Pictured. The Shepard that FemSheppers don’t care about

Richard Cobbett is one of the worst examples of this, going on incessantly about FemShep in an article calling the generic female version of a generic character the greatest SciFi heroine ever. In RPS posts he acts as if namechecking FemShep is some sort of statement. It’s only a statement of idiocy.

Fact. Both Shepards are generic hero characters with minimal development. Playing FemShep is no bigger than playing a female character in Skyrim.

Fact. Playing a female character is not a statement, it’s a choice. It doesn’t change how games depict women. It does not make you a better person. It does not mean that you are a woman by proxy and can natter on about being the victim of EA’s sexism against FemShep. Doing that is so stupid that the language doesn’t have the words to accommodate a proper description of it.

Fact. FemShep is no more overlooked than BlackShep. EA not using FemShep on cover art is not sexist, just as not using BlackShep on cover art is not racist. It’s just a choice. Few of the FemShep fanatics though dwell on BlackShep or any of the issues that come out of that. I don’t know why that is, but maybe it’s not hip to be a white male who talks a lot about playing BlackShep the way it is to be a white male who talks a lot about playing FemShep.

Fact. FemShep does not substitute for the lack of female characters in games, but most games don’t have characters of any gender with depth. It’s a function of gameplay. When characters have no character, it doesn’t matter how you tweak their skin color, gender or features. They’re just a projection of you. Playing a character of a difference gender or race does not mean that you are experiencing what life is like for them or that you can turn your game experience into outraged rants about your virtual suffering.

Please stop. Just stop.

Blizzard and Bioware are Going Zynga

Let’s stop pretending that Diablo 3 is anything but the Zynga model applied to a popular game series done by the people who now do diablo 3Torchlight. It’s a click to grind and then click to buy loot so you don’t have to grind as much.

Is this the new model now?

The concept is simple. Grab an IP, wrap it around a click grind game, put the game online, or try and sell it to people, then offer them a way to buy things to grind less. Then profit.

Think about what the movie industry has been doing. Grabbing IP’s and then turning them around into 100-150 million dollar movies that are all basically the same. Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t.

That’s also the new MMO model. Take an IP, turn into an MMO, if like Blizzard you have the balls to try and make people pay 60 bucks for your version of Zynga, go for it. Or just grab a Star Wars IP like Bioware did and make your own WOW clone. Or take Ultima and turn it into Ultima Forever, a free to play online game from Bioware that’s bound to rape a lot of people’s childhoods.

Not that Activision or EA care. They have a backlog of IP’s that they have no intention of turning into actual games. Wing Commander got turned into a cheap arcade game. If they can figure out a way to turn it into a free-to-play MMO they will.



Mass Effect 3’s Three Endings

Now was that so hard?

mass effect 3 endings

mass effect 3 endings

There’s nothing all that great in the extended Mass Effect 3 endings. Lots of sad solemn music, mildly tinkered graphics and material that suggests the Bioware people are coming as close as they dare to mocking their audience. But all that stuff aside the three endings are… endings.

When you tell a story, it’s supposed to come with an ending. If you want to sell a game based on players being able to control the outcome, then your endings should be different, rather than exactly the same.

The three/four Mass Effect 3 endings actually clarify what happened and what effect your choices had. Even if you don’t think the effect is important, the “what the hell happened” part is.

The Destroy ending is straightforward. You destroy stuff. The end. Also Shephard might actually be alive in this version.

The Control ending looks a lot like the Synthesis ending, except Shephard is immortal and everyone in the universe isn’t a Borg. Also the Reapers make great construction equipment.

The Synthesis ending is everyone becoming a Borg. But it’s sort of neat in its own way.

The fourth ending is kind of interesting in its own way and dramatically the strongest. It also explains everything that came before.

It might have been better and simpler if there had been only two endings all along. The synthesis or the refusal. Become one with the machine or the cycle continues.

After Dragon Age II’s non-endings, it was nice to see players hold Bioware accountable over Mass Effect 3. With developers pulling Spec Ops: The Line type crap that gives players false choices and a miserable experience just to act out whatever the writers came up with, this is a reminder that the story has to serve the needs of the player first.

The Cynical Bullshit of Spec Ops: The Line and Funny Games

Spec Ops: The Line reminds me of Michael Haneke’s Funny Games. Besides the German connection, Spec Ops: The Line and Funny Spec Ops: The LineGames both pretend that they’re making you complicit in the sociopathic behavior that their creators put up on the screen, whether it’s the movie screen for Funny Games or the TV or desktop screen for Spec Ops: The Line.

I wouldn’t be too surprised if Funny Games was an influence on the making of Spec Ops: The Line. Probably more of an influence than the shameless Joseph Conrad/Apocalypse Now cribbing. The Naomi Watts remake of Funny Games was a blip on the American radar, but the original Funny Games was a much bigger movie in Germany.

Yager Studios is German and they take the Funny Games premise further. Instead of just forcing you to sit through a movie, whose antics somehow make you complicit so that the viewer is the real villain, they force the player into engaging in sociopathic actions to indict him as a sociopath.

A Youtube comment summed it up perfectly

Game: Shoot those civilians!
Player: Do I have to?
Player: Ugh fine, whatever keeps this trainwreck of a game going
Game: You’re an asshole, look what you did, killing civilians! You’re a horrible person.
Player: Wait what?

This is cynical bullshit, whether it’s coming from Michael Haneke or Yager GMBH. When Funny Games came out, I wrote that…

Funny Games is basically Last House on the Left with the exploitation wrapped up in a spurious condemnation of the audience. The torture and murder of the family in Funny Games serves no real purpose except for an overprivileged filmmaker to film snuff and then decry the audience’s desire for it.

Spec Ops: The Line is the same thing all over again. Do some sociopathic things. Get a sarcastic lecture from the developers who Spec Ops The Linecreated the mousetrap for doing it. Watch them pretend that the whole thing is really an exploration of the military mindset and following orders.

And there’s one more thing that Funny Games and Spec Ops:The Line have in common. They both suck. Funny Games was weak as a movie within its genre. Players have pointed out how poor the gameplay is in Spec Ops: The Line. Spec Ops: The Line and Funny Games don’t work within their genre, only as manipulative critiques of it. They’re failures as everything but commentary.

Unlike a movie, a game can create true options. But Spec Ops: The Line, like Dragon Age II, only offers the illusion of choice. Whatever happens, you’re still a mentally ill monster. Your only options are to do the Fight Club “Shoot your alter ego in the head” thing or go completely insane. And then either go home or fight it out by becoming the new Konrad. Those aren’t options, they’re the developers showing off how clever they think they are.

For a game to have true moral choice, the player has to be able to make those choices. Spec Ops: The Line, like Funny Games, doesn’t allow any meaningful choices that would alter what happens in Dubai. And so it has no credibility when assigning responsibility to the player for choices that didn’t exist.

The only real way to win at Spec Ops: The Line or Funny Games is not to participate. And that means not buying the product.

Why is Curt Schilling being blamed for 38 Studios and not Jennifer MacLean ?

Sure Curt Schilling is famous. A big part of the selling point of 38 Studios was “Famous Baseball Pitcher” is into MMO’s. But Curt

Jennifer MacLean

Not a former star pitcher

Schilling was not the CEO of 38 Studios. That was Jennifer MacLean who went on maternity leave and never came back. But Jennifer MacLean is much less famous than Curt Schilling and there’s not much of a story there.

Curt Schilling messes up company is a story. Jennifer MacLean messes up company is not a story. But maybe it should be.

MacLean did have some legit experience with Microprose in the 90’s. After that she managed game development… at AOL and Comcast. Not exactly the best possible qualifications for spearheading an MMO project. Her background was casual gaming which is very different from an MMO. There’s a lot of interviews where she talks about what a geek she was, she mentions that she played MMO’s, but that’s a long way from knowing how to run a company that takes them through the gate.

The problem here is that 38 Studios was being run by a CEO with no current experience with getting modern AAA games out the door. With a BA in international relations from Johns Hopkins University and an MBA with a concentration in international business from the Columbia Business School, Jennifer MacLean probably knows her business stuff, but there’s no indication she knew how to run a company where games are the main product, not a casual gaming sideline on a portal for an ISP.

And does anyone remember AOL or Comcast for its games?

If you don’t know much about gaming or the industry, Jennifer MacLean’s resume looked impressive. She was in charge of game development at two major ISP’s. Some magazine named her one of the 20 or 100 or 200 most important women in gaming. Sold.

38 Studios did have plenty of executives with game development experience, but to ask the obvious question, shouldn’t its CEO have been one of them?

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