Thanks, Ebert

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A few years ago, I felt it important to stand up for video games. It was a time when I had to make an important decision in my life. I had to choose whether or not I wanted to write, and whether or not I wanted to write about video games. It was a time to put my foot down and make a future career choice, to begin my training.

This spark came from the comments of Roger Ebert, a name I’d heard throughout my lifetime. A film reviewer, he was the easiest example I gave to those who couldn’t grasp why anyone would write about games, of all things. My parents, my teachers, and my friends, all heard his name to describe what I thought I might do.

When Ebert said video games are not art, I felt compelled to prove him wrong. I furiously wrote a rebuttal, which I doubt he read, and posted it on the internet, where it still sits today. Today, I’m embarrassed by it, but then, I was strengthened by it. I’d proved to myself, video games mattered to me. They were what I would spend my life with. I suppose the article was actually addressed to myself, rather than Ebert.

And although I’m embarrassed by my lousy writing, my weak arguments, I am still proud of myself for making that choice. For having the courage to stand up to someone with years of experience, to write about a thing that I loved, and to discover what I was truly passionate about.

I also found a mantra I follow to this day. Write with courage. Write like you’re proving someone wrong. Write strong. In those few hours, I slammed out incredible, declarative sentences. I’d built a foundation for every word; they could stand a tsunami. I’d published a stone tablet.

That’s what Ebert made me do. He encouraged me to write with power, and to believe he was no different than I. To not be afraid. Sure, I made mistakes, but they slip under the message I wanted to convey. I wrote like I had something to say.

Thanks, Ebert.

(1992 - 2013)

Analysis: Ridiculous Fishing’s three-step gameplay loop

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1. The Descent

The player casts her or her line and the first step of Ridiculous Fishing’s three-step gameplay loop begins. As the line descends, the player dodges left and right to avoid fish and other sea creatures. Once a fish or creature touches the hook, the line begins to ascend to the surface.

The chainsaw allows the player to descend faster, and to destroy fish or creatures that would have otherwise been hooked, collecting money (or losing it if it’s a jellyfish) as they are killed. The player can upgrade the chainsaw’s duration and speed. The chainsaw has two uses. As a brute force method of descending without the danger of hooking a fish, until it runs out, or as a last-second save before a fish or creature touches the hook, used sporadically throughout the descent. Some fish and creatures are immune to the chainsaw and will cause the line to bounce off of them, therefore, they must be avoided.

The player can gain two second chances by purchasing the toaster and the hairdryer. Both act like extra lives and are used up when a fish or creature hits the hook, prolonging the descent. Eventually, the player can purchase an ability that kills all fish and creatures on the screen when each of the chances are used. This lets the player hit a fish or creature on purpose for a burst of cash.

The earlier parts of the descent can be skipped with an item that starts the player deeper in the ocean. This speeds up the process for faster money accumulation.

2. The Ascent

The slowest stage of Ridiculous Fishing’s gameplay loop, the ascent is like coin-collecting in a Mario game. Here, the player’s goal is to collect as many fish and creatures for the next stage. The only skill required is to dodge jellyfish that detract money when killed, although, it’s nearly impossible for the player to finish the loop with less money than he or she began with. Along the ascent, fish and creatures are swimming in different speeds and directions, forcing the player to maneuver back and forth to collect them. If the player has gas left, he or she can use it to slow the ascent and either dodge jellyfish, collect faster or difficult-to-hit fish and creatures, or slow down the ascent after collecting a fish that speeds it up.

3. The Finale

Once the line breaks the surface, the fish and creatures are shot up into the air. How far they’re shot up can be increased with items. The player has an arsenal of firearms to shoot each fish and creatures to gain money. The trick is to juggle the fish and creatures and keep them from falling back into the water. The camera will stop ascending into the air to follow the lowest fish or creature (not jellyfish).

The available guns vary from machine guns to rocket launchers. Ultimately, machine guns are the most effective because they are the closest to a 1-to-1 with the player’s tapping, provided he or she can tap fast. Some guns have larger delays between shots, some kill fish and creatures in one, precise shot, and others unleash a barrage of bullets as the player drags a finger, or two if dual-wielded.

The orbital ray is the most complicated weapon. When the player holds his or her finger down, a circle grows underneath it. Anything inside the circle will be shot. The player can move the circle around the screen. Once the player lets go, the orbital ray will fire. The circle can be released at any point, and therefore the player must choose between creating a larger circle, at the cost of being slower, or a smaller circle, which is much faster.

All the weapons are rendered moot as soon as the player purchases the bazooka. The bazooka is 1-to-1 with the players taps and its rockets kill clusters of enemies. It’s almost guaranteed to never miss a fish or creature.

The finale’s progression is so fast, this stage of the loop is essentially a release from the tension of the earlier ones.

—-

Ridiculous Fishing is available on the iOS App Store for $2.99.

Image credit: Wired

On Dark Souls’ Lore

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One of the many brilliant things about FromSoftware’s Dark Souls is its ability to please different types of players. For those who seek punishing, third-person, action games, Dark Souls offers that. For the friends who want to play together in co-op, Dark Souls offers that. And for those looking for a strong player-versus-player experience, Dark Souls offers that too. But Dark Souls doesn’t only reward a mastery of its combat mechanics, it rewards players who sink into its rich lore. And it’s still doing it today, two years after it was released.

It would be an understatement to describe it as simply as an attention to detail, because Dark Souls’ in-game reflection of its lore is fascinating. Almost everyone the player encounters in the game is there for a reason. Some are good, some are bad, but most of them tried to do something and failed, and what’s left is a broken husk of their former selves.

Most players don’t recognize the significance of the lore the first time through. Anor Londo is the most blatant hint that something bigger is going on. Without the knowledge of its history, Anor Londo is just a beautiful, vacant, golden city. On the second playthrough, provided the player has paid enough attention to the item descriptions and dialogue, or has bookmarked the wiki, it tells the story of how a god once lived. The scale of the buildings and the towing knights that still guard them represent his power, the stone statues depict members of his family, and inside a specific, painted picture hides his greatest fears.  The identity of one of his sons, who he stripped of his powers and disowned, is still debated in the community today.

Other tales of a sorceress mother who tried to artificially sustain a prosperous age of humanity and failed, creating the first demons and warping her children into molten monsters, and of a revered knight who sacrificed himself to stop a darkness from spreading, whose companion wolf can be found protecting his grave in the game, provide a backstory for the otherwise faceless demons the player fights in the game.

Like its enemy encounters and mechanics, Dark Souls’ lore is just as deep. As more people piece together fragments of the story that the game provides in item descriptions, character design, and environments, more interpretations and discoveries arise. Ongoing discussions in forums, YouTube videos, and Reddit threads continue to analyze what went down before the player entered the game.

Once one uncovers the lore, the role of the player in Dark Souls feels insignificant. The player is more like an archaeologist, less like a hero. Sometimes the player’s actions inadvertently harm characters who are trying to survive in the remnants of the once-great kingdom of Lordran. And in the end, the player only delays the inevitable doom of Lordran and its inhabitants.

Dark Souls contrasts modern games’ three-act, hero’s journey structure with a story that’s dark and draining. It’s full of detail and vagaries that leave it open to speculation and discussion, whereas many others are cut and dry. Thankfully, the PC version, combined with a trainer to modify the game, lowers the obstacle created by the game’s difficult combat for players to see the lore and its subtle integration into the gameplay. No matter how you tackle it, though, Dark Souls returns the amount of attention the player gives it in spades.

Tomb Raider: The Lost Revelation

dzelli:

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Lara Croft was once seen as an icon, a fine example of strong female characters in gaming. As time’s gone on however, she’s fallen out of favour with the public and her fans.

Often reviled for her large breasts within the gaming community, are we judging Lara solely based on the very stigmas she ventured to escape in her debut instalment?

Read More

Daniella Zelli’s external definition of Lara Croft is an angle I’ve never seen taken before.

SimCity tests Polygon’s dynamic review score

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Gaming website Polygon published its review of Maxis’ city-building game SimCity Monday, March 4, a day before it released to the public. The game was scored a 9.5 out of 10, on a 20-point review scale. At the bottom of the review, where it provides a link to its review policy, Polygon included a forum post written by reviews editor Arthur Gies where he details the context of the review.

According to the post, publisher Electronic Arts offered Polygon’s reviewer, features editor Russ Pitts, to fly out to its studio in Redwood Shores, California to participate in a review event from Feb. 28 through March 1. Review events are often met with unease in the games press, because the situations are controlled, and not representative of the readers’ experience playing the game, the men and women who use the review as purchasing advice. Polygon declined EA’s invite due to time constraints and notified its readers that the SimCity review would not be available prior to its release, via Twitter.

“What followed were extended conversations with EA PR about what we would need in order to properly review SimCity,” Gies wrote, “and to EA’s credit, they were willing to work with us to make new arrangements to play the game for the review.”

SimCity represents a growing trend in video games that complicates the review process. It requires an online connection to play. “Russ played from his computer at home, on development servers used to test the game prior to launch, and as such I must strongly reiterate that our current assessment of the game is provisional on those grounds.”

When Polygon launched last October, it introduced what it calls “The Bump,” a dynamic score for its reviews. It’s review policy states that it sees games as “platforms,” “not only because so many games have a regular schedule of downloadable content built into their business model, but because at their most basic level, games are often very different even a month after their release,” and that it will update the review score if a game “changes in a substantive way.”

“The original review score will never vanish or go away, but our readers will be able to better understand where our opinions as a site reside over time for games we review.”

Polygon issued an update to SimCity on Tuesday in response to the widespread problem with EA’s servers that caused frequent errors preventing both players and reviewer Pitts from consistently playing the game. The game’s score dropped from a 9.5, to an 8.

The update reads:

As many worried, today’s launch of SimCity has brought a number of server woes and instability with it. Some players are unable to connect to EA’s servers to download the game. Others are unable to sign into SimCity’s always-online service to start a game. Others are suffering from disconnections while in-game, which often results in lost progress and bizarre glitches. Our own reviewer, Russ Pitts, has suffered disconnected sessions this afternoon that resulted in lost progress, corrupted avenue placement, and twin monster attacks.


After speaking with Russ and Polygon Managing Editor Justin McElroy, we are in agreement that the current state of SimCity merits an update to the game’s score on Polygon, per our reviews policy. While not every player is experiencing these problems, members of our staff, other members of the press, and an anecdotally large portion of our readership are having moderate to severe difficulty playing the game. This likely-temporary scenario nonetheless affects our recommendation of SimCity, and we advise caution for the time being before diving headfirst into the game. - Arthur Gies, Polygon Reviews Editor


Many questioned Polygon’s decision to update the score. The problem being the strength of the number below the review’s text. If the number can be updated at Polygon’s discretion, a reader might be confused when they see the list of updates below the review several months from now, or worse, lose confidence in the site’s reviews.

As games like SimCity begin to release digitally the same day they’re made available on store shelves and as publishers continue to rival Steam with their own online storefronts, the barrier to buy a game lowers, adding weight onto the review. And titles with an always-online requirement, like massively multiplayer games, could begin to see content patches that drastically change the game, rendering the static review, in some cases, false.

Polygon chose to try and find a middle ground between assessing a game critically and technically. SimCity will be an important test case to show if their decision was the right one.

Non-disclosure agreements hurt games reporting

Image credit: The Penny-Arcade Report (from a related post you should read!)

The press can’t tell you that Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flags is the next title in Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed franchise because they’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement with the publisher to keep quiet. They did not, however, sign a contract to avoid thoroughly reporting on the images and information that leaked out on Tuesday.

First, MCV Tweeted last Tuesday that it was invited to an Assassin’s Creed event.

Then, Kotaku got the ball rolling. Slyly titled, “Assassin’s Creed IV Is All About Pirates, According To This Poster,” the post presents an image of what looks like a promotional poster for an “Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag,” provided by an anonymous tipster. The tipster says the poster will appear on store walls Monday, March 4. Kotaku cites the last Ubisoft earnings call when CEO Yves Guillemot said another Assassin’s Creed game will launch in the company’s fiscal 2014, and the Reddit post where a user caught a glimpse of a powerpoint presentation that read the game will launch holiday 2013.

Examiner, an outlet who recently made an egregious mistake in its reporting on this very topic, posted a screenshot of what it believes to be of the game, along with more information, this time with no source. It’s difficult to believe a site that couldn’t perform a simple Google search about an image from a comic book, but by then, it was becoming obvious the smoke was coming from somewhere. According to the post, Ubisoft Montreal’s Darby McDevitt is lead scriptwriter on Assassin’s Creed 4, the new protagonist is named Edward Kenway, the game is set in the Caribbean, and while it’s running on an Xbox 360 now, it will appear on the PlayStation 4 and the next Xbox as well (note: I later found that McDevitt’s LinkedIn profile lists an unannounced game under his role as lead scriptwriter for Ubisoft Montreal). That’s quite a bit of information with no source. Something’s going on here.

Then, IGN published this report on Kotaku’s poster leak. It repeats everything the Kotaku post had, except for one thing: “The poster, illustrated by Todd McFarlane, also clearly showcases a new assassin in a pirate-themed era.” The lack of a source as to where it learned McFarlane did the poster is one thing, but it never mentions McFarlane has been involved with Assassin’s Creed before. His toy company McFarlane Toys, helped create a series of Assassin’s Creed 3 figurines. It’s IGN’s job to report information readers should know. Oops?

As the news broke, I stumbled upon a Polish website (translated with Google Translate) that said the press embargo for Assassin’s Creed 4: Black Flag lifts Monday, March 4, the same date Kotaku’s tipster mentioned. If true, it would line up well with MCV’s earlier Tweet. Hmm.

It wasn’t clear until more than a few members of the press complained about embargoes, and vaguely commented on the leaked information on Twitter. Most of them can’t say anything until March 4. NDAs suck, but a lot of the time they are the only way to see a game early. I can’t fault the outlets for that. But what I can fault them is for writing vague reporting on the subject, doing their readers a disservice.

This is a perfect case for why embargoes hurt reporting. I don’t know if reporters are afraid of breaching the contract, or simply lazy, but I’d like to think many of them are better at their job than what today’s Assassin’s Creed posts show.

I’ve never watched a company die

I’ve never watched a company die. I’ve read about it in a Game Informer, or an EGM, but I’ve never witnessed the buildup to a video game company’s death.

Now I report on the games industry. I don’t get paid to do it, but I act with as much professionalism as possible when covering a story. I write about stuff that I’ve seen time and time again. Release dates, cancellations, delays, and rarely, if I can help it, meta drama. I like to think I’m starting to garner some insight into how these things go down.

But when the time came to sit down and wait for news from THQ’s auction, I had no idea what I was in for. You wake up in the morning, make a pot of coffee, and wait. Twitter is a good moment-to-moment gauge of what various folks involved with games are thinking, and on that morning, it couldn’t be quieter. We were all waiting for something to find its way onto the internet, and confirm to us that THQ would be no more. It was as if nothing else happened that day.

Eventually something did leak out, via Twitter, of course. NeoGAF jumped on it, some blogs jumped on it. And suddenly, the bustle was back. My Twitter feed sped up and maintained a constant speed. The great F5ing began.

Which franchise goes where? Which developer goes where? What happens to that franchise? Will that company ruin that series of games I love? Does anyone lose their jobs?

It’s a bunch of information that’s difficult to parse as it trickles out from different sources. It was more information than I’ve handled before, and my post on SideQuesting shows it. I could have done better, much better in fact. And it’s something I’m going to work on.

Breaking news is tough. It calls for clarity in the eye of a storm of information. Information that is subject to change at any moment. It’s easy enough when it’s a new trailer, or a new game announcement, but it requires a great amount of skill to accurately report on one of the biggest stories in this generation of games.

I was bummed when I realized THQ was gone, but I was even more bummed to see a good developer shuttered because of it. Reading this letter from a Vigil employee was heartbreaking.

“… so maybe you can imagine what it feels like when you read the list of who bought what only to discover your name is not on the list. Why? Did we do something wrong? Were we not good enough? Were we not worth ‘anything?’ Imagine that.”

That particular quote did me in. At the time it was a little shocking, because hearing about each developer’s acquisition was slightly reassuring, and just when it seemed like almost everything would be alright (or as much as it could be), the news of Vigil came out.

Vigil’s fate reminded me how much I care about video games. It’s not rare for people to lose jobs because of something out of their control, but when it affects people I deeply respect, I remember why I do what I do, and why I try so hard.

I learned a lot while watching a company die. I learned how terribly quiet it gets before it goes down. I learned how difficult reporting on it can be. I learned how to see the good in it, and the bad. And I learned what it really feels like for your company to die.

It sucks, man.

tombraider:

I seriously just teared up looking at this. Perfection. 
twinpistols:


“You can do it, Lara. After all, you’re a Croft.”
“I don’t think I’m that kind of Croft.”
“Sure you are, you just don’t know it yet.”

tombraider:

I seriously just teared up looking at this. Perfection. 

twinpistols:

“You can do it, Lara. After all, you’re a Croft.”

“I don’t think I’m that kind of Croft.”

“Sure you are, you just don’t know it yet.”

The Sunday Three 3-4-12

I started the week off reading this excellent piece by Eurogamer’s Simon Parkin about his meeting with the father of Final Fantasy Hironobu Sakaguchi. Parkin’s writing style consistently makes me jealous of his talent. Read it, it’s a fun one.

By the end of the conversation, this treasure trove of anecdotes and facts feels almost untouched. Worse, when prompted by the Nintendo rep to bring things to a close with a final question I ask Sakaguchi (50) what he hopes to achieve with his remaining 15-odd years of working life. He pauses a dull pause.

Leigh Alexander returns to her youth and examines the reaction to Chrono Cross. Fans of the original Chrono Trigger largely met the sequel with disgust, Alexander provides her rebuttal.

While Chrono Trigger dealt with the pleasurable brain puzzle of imagining how the world can change with the passage of time, Chrono Cross explores the identity of the individual: What would your world look like if you were the only variable that changed? What would it be like without you in it, what would your house look like if you had died when you were young? Or if you’d never been born at all? If you wore someone else’s face, the face of your enemy?

Play a game with no visuals, and you’ll understand the struggle many blind players have to deal with. Jason Johnson takes a look at audio games and how modern games are becoming more accessible.

Gunfire patters behind me, so I go in that direction. Before I get there, I run into a zombie, who greets me with the typical zombie moan. I turn until the moaning is balanced equally between the left and right cups of my headphones. Then, I shoot into the darkness.


The Sunday Three 2-26-12

The Sunday Three is a collection of stories that I curate out of a pile of articles from around the internet I read every Sunday morning.

Eurogamer’s Damien McFarren travels through the rise and fall of Sega with the help of Scot Bayless, a former Senior Producer at Sega of America. He details the company’s missteps and blind confidence in the Mega-CD and the 32X.

'There's an old bit of racing wisdom, “What's behind me doesn't matter.” At least at an institutional level, Sega seemed to be living the exact opposite. Strategically, we always seemed to be focusing on what the other guy was doing instead of inventing the future as we saw it.'

Have you played The Love Letter yet? It’s playable in your browser, and it won’t take you more than 15 minutes to complete. Martyn Zachary analyzes its school setting and how it plays on the emotions inherent to that time period in everyone’s lives.

In addition, The Love Letter is also a little marvel of economy in design: Not only does it very convincingly, effortlessly and fluidly tie in a) setting, b) narrative exposition and c) gameplay to each other, it also manages to use them, co-operatively, in conveying to (and thus actually reproducing in) the player emotions such as pressure, hurry, constraint, annoyance and relief.

I’ve stayed quiet on the player entitlement and hate stories sprouting up everywhere after BioWare’s Jennifer Hepler fell victim to a storm of internet bullying. It’s depressing that a community could be so vile. If you would allow me to cheat a bit and provide you with two stories that I think put an end to this in two different, important point of views.

Susan Arendt gets blunt about it with a blog post titled, "By All Means, Please Continue."

And if the sole substance of your commentary is that you wouldn’t fuck me, or that I’m fat/ugly/old (see also that bit about not fucking me), that I should be raped to death (anally seems to be the preference), or that the only reason I’m currently employed is because I fucked someone, then I know immediately that you are either a troll or a fool and I needn’t waste any time paying attention to you. It would really, really help me thin the herd if those of you incapable of verbally grappling with a woman without resorting to referencing her physicality would just keep on going that route. No, really, I’m serious. It’d be a real time saver.

Split Screen just fastens the bow.

Is it good enough to say ‘let morons be morons’? Is it something we should have to ignore, or can we change their attitudes for the better? As someone who has been bullied and insulted online, and has bulled and insulted myself, I don’t think it is acceptable. We can’t just let morons be morons. No one pointed out to me what an idiot I was being online; I had to come to the realisation myself, but not before I’d said a lot of unpleasant things and probably upset a fair few people.

If you want more things to read, I’ve started using Pinterest as another venue to dump what I enjoyed reading throughout the week.