Wednesday, 15 August 2012

On "Days of Nothing"

Every day this week I've read something via Twitter that's made me want to rush home and (angrily) write something. Monday, Girlfriend mode: a topic so toxic and over-discussed that I realised after a paragraph I could say nothing original or useful or that would make me feel in any way good. Yesterday, rape culture in gaming and something I'm quite proud of. Today, Robert Florence's problematic Days of Nothing article. This isn't going to be a particularly considered, reasoned or well written piece - some other time hopefully - I'm tired and annoyed and I just want to get this shit out of my head and into words so I can stop thinking about it.

I actually kind of agree with the central point: don't only take action when something goes wrong. Make positive decisions all the time and call out sexism (or whatever you disagree with) wherever you see it, rather than just on the "headline" days. I fit somewhere into the "3. Gamers" category and I like to think I'm generally doing what is described (hence yesterday, hence not buying games with objectionable content or marketing - sorry Borderlands 2 I was quite looking forward to you. A slip up it may have been, but given uncle Duke I really can't give you the benefit of the doubt).

But AAAARG this giant, stupid fallacy that there's some special sexism unique to gaming. This insane idea that we've somehow created a toxic environment out pure excess testosterone in an otherwise tolerant world, which we need to band together as gamers and be "embarrassed" and "ashamed" of. Why do we need to not only subscribe to the counter-productive "outsider" notion that we're part of some specially problematic (and for that matter distinct, discrete and homogeneous) sub culture, but actively encourage this attitude? For fucks sake.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

On "Rape": An Open Letter to My Gaming Friends

Hi Guys

I must say I've been enjoying our Monday night co-op sessions - long may they continue - a great deal, but something has been bothering me for a few weeks and I'm writing this in an attempt to help you understand why. I'll try to keep this brief, but I'd rather my point be appreciated and fully taken on board than simply acknowledged and grudgingly complied with, as you're all open minded, intelligent people capable of getting this. I also want to make it clear that I don't speak from some saintly moral high ground - this is a social norm that I'm trying to overcome as well.

What I'm talking about is the casual and unthinking use of the word "rape", mainly in the setting of multiplayer video games, and anywhere else that it occurs as well. My intent here is not to police or censor, but to ask you to take an honest look - as I have been doing - at whether you're the sort of person who is comfortable with the casual use of the term, used with malicious intent (which I know it never is) or not.

Wednesday, 1 August 2012

On "The Old MMO Problem"

Over on bit-Gamer, Joe Martin writes about "The Old MMO Problem":

Now, there are a lot of reasons why The Old Republic specifically has struggled since release and there'll doubtlessly be a lot of other critics pointing out the holes in EA's online strategy, the issues with Bioware's design and so on. Personally though, I don't think the issues we should be concerned with are exclusive to The Old Republic. I look at the other big MMOs which have faced the same transition - Age of Conan, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek Online - and wonder if there isn't a wider problem with MMO design.

There's actually a lot in the article that I take issue with: for a start the equating of going free to play with failure, and the equating of the failure of subscriptions to a problem with traditional MMO design. I would also question the statement that SW:TOR would be "unable to run on subscriptions after less than a year" - I think it would, but it will make more money as a free to play title - but perhaps Joe has more information than I do there. Finally, I don't fully agree that traditional MMO design makes for games that "are not entertainment; they are traps." I'm actually quite a fan of traditionally designed MMOs done well, largely for reasons I've detailed here, although I do agree that the traditional MMO structure can often be prone to cynical, uninteresting design and the manipulation of players.

But these are debates I'd like to have with Joe over a friendly pint rather than on the impersonal internet. The point is that I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment that the WoW model of MMO design - good or bad - is a vastly overused and played out game structure and that the "Massively Multiplayer" genre is safe and samey to an extent that would make Call of Duty blush. What's frustrating about this, as Joe points out, is that these games seem to tap so little of the potential for social interaction that a persistent multiplayer environment offers. As we reach the point where traditional MMOs are, if not in decline, at least reaching some kind of maximum sustainable population of both players and titles, it's perhaps time to think about why this is and what else can be done with the concept. While I'm always deeply cautious about theoretical, nebulous "games should be this" and "games must do that" arguments, I'm talking about something with a decent number of more or less successful and more or less relevant precedents that could not only provide a new lease of life for the MMO experiment, but also lead to some of the most profound and amazing gaming experiences available.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

On Diablo 3 and Grind

There's a lot wrong with Diablo 3. For reasons that should be obvious, but seem to be invisible to Activision/Blizzard and many other publishers, always-online restrictions are terrible for games and gaming, and have had a genuine negative impact on a huge number of Diablo 3 players due to lag or the complete inability to play. The plot seems to take considerable effort to be non-sensical, overwrought drivel when it could and should be a simpler, more focused affair that enhances the world and atmosphere. The real money auction house appears to be a cynical cash-in, unwanted by most (and took an embarrassingly long time to go live, despite being used as justification for the always-online requirements). As many have noted, the early balance is poor, with the initial stages of the game far too easy: Act 1 on normal is far, far too long for such a trivially easy slice of game, and not until a second run through the story on Nightmare - some 10-15 hours in - does the challenge reach about the right level. And did I mention that being essentially an MMO technology-wise, there no support for mods?

This game represents or demonstrates a lot of worrying or just plain disappointing patterns currently afflicting mainstream publisher funded gaming, to the point that, had I not be lucky enough to get my copy free, I probably would have given it a miss. I certainly wont be buying any Activision or Blizzard titles in future on principal - although few of them interest me anyway.

On top of all of this, the actual act of playing the game itself can only really be described as grind: grind to level up and gain new abilities, and grind to find better loot to equip your character with. These grinds even have sub grinds: the grind to collect gold, the grind to level up your blacksmith and jewelcrafters (and the grind to level up jewels with your jewelcrafter), the grind for crafting materials, the grind to equip your NPC companions. In all instances you make slow but steady and inexorable progress up a hierarchy of ever more powerful steps or levels via a repeated, standard activity: bashing monsters and collecting loot. Grind, grind, grindy grind.

Oh, yes, and I've spent well over 100 hours with Diablo 3 and adore it. You see, the thing is, while the criticisms in my first paragraph still stand and still bother me greatly, the fact is that I actually quite like grind.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

On Stuff 06/06/2012

After a busy - in a good way - last couple of weeks and weekends, this bank holiday weekend was semi-planned as down time in which to do creative and/or productive activities, before spending a few days living like an animal and listening to music that would make most people's ears bleed - more on which below. In the event I've gone out more than I had expected, and more importantly played a lot of Diablo 3 when I haven't been out, so my guitar and word processor have received less attention than I'd have wanted. Compulsive Hack and Slash games - an apt name for the genre that both pre-dates and trumps ARPG, by the way - and a lack of discipline are a terrible combination. So here I am on the last day before I head to Download Festival, remorsefully knocking out posts I'd hoped to already have written. I'm not sure I have any point to make other than acknowledgement of my own failure, so there it is.

On Metal

I love metal. It's an endlessly ridiculous pantomime that by many metrics I take very seriously indeed. It's a vastly stupid genre of music that I often love for its technicality and intelligence. It's as idiotic and ugly as it is clever and beautiful.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

On Stuff 13/05/2012

The Crushing and Inevitable Weight of Reality Bearing Grimly Down, For Real This Time

Previously I wrote that, with caveats, my blog posting output hadn't been too shabby compared with my stated aims, but March and April have been less than stellar months on that front, yielding a single, solitary post each. In March I was away for a little while, and generally had a busy time of it, while April has been a less than stellar month on pretty much all fronts, something that I don't plan to talk about here except to say that I should have a bit more time for blog output in the future and I haven't lost my job. Go figurise.

What's annoying is that I have had ideas, but lacked the time or energy to write about them, and alleviating that situation was, I think, my biggest motivation for starting this blog. Here's hoping that in the coming weeks worthwhile pieces can be moulded out of my festering, deeply suspect idea-putty, or at least that I try to do so and decide for good that some of it smells a bit off and probably needs to go in the bin.

On Neverwinter Nights, Part 2

Part 1 Here

We're assembled. Despite busy schedules and copious distractions, Harry, Tim and I have managed the not inconsiderable feat of all being online at the same time. A probable trio of classes have been decided upon (Fighter, Sorcerer, Cleric), builds examined, stats pored over, arcane D&D nonsense chuckled at.

Zhaine: I need to prologue

The norm is to zip through the tutorial/prologue section of the game solo, which boosts you to level three, before joining up for the main campaign.

I boot up the game. And it happens: I crash.

Zhaine: Er. . .
Zhaine: I don't want to alarm anyone

Sunday, 6 May 2012

On Bulletstorm and Modern Scripted Shooters

It's good to test and challenge one's own viewpoints, because sometimes you'll discover a fatal flaw in the received wisdom, underlying assumptions or logical reasoning that you were relying on for your malformed, small opinion. And sometimes you'll discover that you were right all along, of course, and ask quite why the bloody hell you just spend half a weekend playing a shooter you knew you wouldn't like.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

On Neverwinter Nights

"Fuck it", I type.

"Fuck it, lets do it"

It's something of a relief to type the words, as I've suspected for a few minutes that it's more than I can do to say no. I truly can't resist, not with Harry on the other end of a Steam chat, whispering sweet words about late nights and prestige classes, prison districts and charisma casters.

Excited words flow back.

"Fuck it, this time let's do it properly, let's complete the fucking game"