Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Braid is Out!
Download it on your Xbox 360

In case you hadn’t heard, Braid is available for purchasing on your Xbox 360. I can’t recommend this game enough. I have yet to play the release version, but if it’s anything like what I played a few months ago it is probably my pick for game of the year.

Though I am something of a puzzle nut, I think anyone can find a lot of enjoyment in Braid. Give it a try.

I’ll post a formal review after I’ve played through the release version. 😉

posted by CommanderHate at 9:33 am  

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Fat Princess Vs Feminists!

Just when you thought games were going to be safe from persecution for a while (see Resident Evil 5 and racism), along comes another game to start up a gender war. This one is slightly different though. For those not in the know, Fat Princess is a game where two sides war over a captured Princess. One side is attempting to bring her back home, while the other side fights off the others and brings the Princess cake to keep her fat enough that it will slow down the other team.

Yes, one of the objectives of the game is to feed a princess cake to make her so fat that the other team cannot move her easily.

It’s absolutely brilliant and I personally can’t wait to play it after the PS3 drops in price so I can finally have a blu-ray player and perhaps also play this game. Yet, a lot of people (particularly women) are not so enthusiastic about this particular game. It seems to be the idea that feeding a princess cake and making her fat, while simultaneously having her be the victim instead of an active participant in her own escape are offensive to those with a feminist mindset. Being something of a feminist myself, I can see where they’re coming from. However, anyone offended by this game is reacting on a personal bias and is not rationally thinking this through.

What? “But it’s a Fat Princess, and it depicts women as helpless creatures who will eat cake until they reach epic proportions without so much a struggle,” they’ll say. Error! The game does not depict women as a whole as such, it depicts a single woman, and whats more, it depicts a princess in that light; a member of the aristocracy. These are important distinctions to make because clearly the message of the game is not that women are fat lazy pigs. It’s one particular character within this setting within this world.

Saying that Fat Princess is degrading to women is like saying that the mother in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape is degrading to all women. This is a single character, not a representation of ALL WOMEN. No one cares about you enough to put a representation of you in a game and build an entire game dynamic around your female fatness just to mock you, trust me on this. I hated someone enough to mock them in Warcraft III, and it took a LOT of anger for me to do that (luckily it was subtle enough to escape anyone’s immediate attention).

If you are truly offended by this Fat Princess, you need to lighten up, just like the people who think that Resident Evil 5 is about racism towards black people. Depicting a character, scene or setting in a game is not enough for me to consider it racism or gender bias. Were they to put a sign on the fat princess that said something like: “I represent all fat women, because fat women are funny and gross, and too helpless and obese to do anything effective in this situation” then sure, I’d jump right on board.

That is not the case though. In fact, it’s something of a period piece. It’s a medieval setting where there are no women in the army, and traditionally, princess’ were trained to be helpless creatures. As an added comedic effect, they also happen to be feeding her cake to keep her unusually rotund and to hinder the enemy from moving her out of the fortress they’re attempting to protect. This is a comedic interpretation of a medieval situation, not unlike a Monty Python skit, and I for one find it fucking hilarious!

If you don’t see the humor, then perhaps you’ve missed the point…

Geeze, how did I end up defending Sony?

posted by CommanderHate at 4:09 pm  

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

“What is a Game Designer?”
From Kohyunu

This is a two-parter, but the longer part is defining what a game designer is. The second part involves Bill Roper and Blizzard, but we’ll get to that in a bit.

First off, I must admit that each company defines a game designer a little bit differently. Some companies think of them purely in the level design sense, while others consider them the creative thinker of the entirety of the game. As such there are really three titles for game designers that everyone abides by. I’ll start with what most people consider the lowest on the totem pole and move to the top.

Level Designers – Level designers are the designers that are the closest to the end result of a game. They create the documentation that tells you what specific gameplay elements will take place in an area of the game. Then they craft the initial blockout of the physical space the gameplay will take place in. Then they script in the actual gameplay. Sometimes they handle some of the cinematics and it is often their responsibility to make the game “fun.” The amount of trust that a company has in its level designers can greatly impact whether the end result of a game will be fun. If the level designers feel micromanaged or that they can’t get what they need for their levels, the end product will often suck, no matter how good any previous stage of development might have been. This is why it’s critical to give level designers all the tools necessary to make a complete game.

At some companies, level designers have near complete control over the level they are crafting. For instance at Blizzard and Oddworld, the level designers could do pretty much anything they wanted as long as they hit the major story points that were handed down from the creative director. Having that sort of creative freedom will typically result in a very fun end game experience for the player, see Warcraft III or Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath for examples. If the Level Designers are micromanaged or if bosses come in and nitpick gameplay elements that they don’t understand or attempt to force gameplay into the game that doesn’t make sense for it, what you end up with is The Da Vinci Code or The Golden Compass style games (i.e. crap).

Level Designers are the heartbeat of a game. A game lives or dies by the polish and attention they give to the levels. If a level designer is concerned with the level of fun of the game, you had best listen, or you are pretty much guaranteeing the release of a turd in a box (though level designers also have a tendency to be a little too close to the product, unless of course you’ve beaten them with poor decisions to the point where they do not give a fuck anymore).

Game Designers – Believe it or not, the game designers are actually a semi-new thing in the game industry. Most designers were typically level designers or the lead designer up until a few years ago when lead designers either became less competent or the scope of games became too large for one designer to handle every aspect of the background design. What do game designers do?

They handle game balance, the design of gameplay systems and the fine-tuning of control schemes, including the documentation of all such features. Usually their job is to stay on top of things that the lead designer is too busy to handle. That is to say, at a good game company, they handle the aspects of design that the lead is too busy to undertake. At a bad game company, they deal with everything because the lead designer is likely incompetent.

Being a game designer can either be a lot of fun or a hellish nightmare vortex from which there is no escape.
This primarily has to do with the lead designer’s competence. The more competent they are, the easier and more obvious the game designer’s job becomes. The less competent the lead designer, the more difficult and hard to define the game designer’s job becomes. The reason being that a game designer without direction will often make attempts to design all of the needed gameplay systems for the game, which the bad lead designer will then see as an attempt to usurp power from them. Power struggles over core gameplay systems always end badly, and good work will be thrown out by the lead designer in an attempt to show everyone “who’s in charge.”

Within the game designer arena, there are typically a few specializations that different game companies will hire depending upon the needs of their game.

Balance DesignerThese guys deal with balancing aspects of the game. For instance in World of Warcraft, a balance designer might take all the base weapon damages for the warrior class and make sure they progress at an appropriate rate compared to paladin weapon damages.

Writer DesignerThese folks are associated with writing for video games. Some companies do not hire them at all and rely on level designers or lead designers to handle the job on the side. Other companies hire a bunch of writer designers to handle the majority of the content for the game (Bioware for instance is HUGE on hiring writer designer types).

Scripter Designer or Technical Designer – Scripting is a limited form of programming that allows designers to create gameplay experiences without getting specially made code. Scripters typically have some background in programming though if the company is making their game properly, the level designers can handle almost all aspects of scripting. It is my opinion that any game company that has more than one Scripter Designer (or more appropriately, Technical Designer) is doing it wrong and will fail. Level designers should be able to script all aspects of their level.

Other Specific Job Designer – Many game companies make specialized design positions for their particular game niches. In an MMORPG game, you might see them hire a Spawner Designer who handles the placement of creatures within the world, or an Item Designer who only deals with creating items. As MMORPGs become more and more common, you’ll see a lot of these more specific design areas open up.

Senior Designer – Senior can be appended to any design title in order to recognize someone as being particularly veteran at their job. Being a senior designer sometimesleads to the most coveted design position, the lead designer.

Lead Designer – This is usually where the initial direction and feel of the game comes from. In combination with a good artist and programmer, this is the third leg of the footstool that keeps a game fun and moving forward. That is to say, if you have a good lead designer, the game is probably going to come together nicely. The lead designer is often responsible for the initial direction of the game, the story, the gameplay, and the feel of the world. The lead designer is almost always responsible for keeping their game designers and level designers busy and more importantly, happy. A lead designer will also document the core features of a game and typically present the game idea as a whole to the rest of the company.

You can typically tell whether a game is going to be good or not simply by talking to the lead designer. If they seem to have a good design sense and really interesting ideas about what the game is going to be, the whole game is probably going to come together quite well. If they can’t make up their mind about any of the features or they don’t seem to have a solid foundation of what is good versus bad design, you are proper fucked.

A good lead designer will delegate to hungry designers areas that the lead is weak in. Most designers that make it to the lead position are well rounded and know their weak points. So where they are weak, they let others cover for them. A bad lead designer will not recognize their own areas of weakness and will try to cover every aspect themselves out of fear of being shown up. Proper delegation is key to being a good lead.

What is a Game Designer?
A game designer is an individual that deals with creating, documenting, and implementing the ideas for making a fun game.

As such, there’s a little bit of design in every field. Programmers and artists can come up with game ideas just as much as a pure game designer. However, it’s the game designer’s responsibility to make those ideas fun. If the game isn’t fun, the designer will be the one who is blamed, and rightfully so. They are responsible for all the little tweaks and polish that goes into making the game perfect.

There are some who argue that game designers are unnecessary and that programmers and artists are all you need to make a game. To a certain extent, I agree. However, if you want a fun game, you need to have a good game designer or the end product is going to be lackluster in quite a few areas. See the original Dungeon Siege as an example, or any of the early Ready at Dawn games. They’re not bad, but they just lack that certain fun factor that makes a game great.

Incompetent designers can also cause a game to lose its fun factor. The Golden Compass is the best example of this, as the gameplay and game systems in that game just seem hacked together by a simpering moron or a retarded monkey.

The point being, good ideas can come from anywhere, and it is a game designers job to recognize the good ideas and make them a reality. Coming up with ideas is definitely part of the job, but designers have to recognize when their own ideas are bad or if there is a better idea that comes to the table. It can be rough to kill your own idea (or kill your own baby as we sometimes say) but it is probably the most critical design skill you can have. If you can’t recognize good or bad gameplay from the initial idea, you fail at design.

Anyways, I did mention this was a two parter, so let’s get on to the next part of the question.

What was Bill Roper like, and was/is he a good designer/producer?

Bill Roper is a great person. He’s amicable, easy to get along with, pretty much a laugh riot. I remember seeing him at the Renaissance Fair singing lusty songs about wenches and ale and that sort of epitomizes how I see him as an individual. He’s a really cool guy on a personal level.

As a producer, he did a good job of keeping things moving. I don’t think anyone had a bad thing to say about Bill as a producer. However, Bill didn’t want to be a producer, he wanted to be a designer and that’s when things started to go wrong. Not because Bill was bad at design, but because of who he had to deal with in order to work in design.

Bill Roper had as much to do with the design of Diablo and Starcraft as any valued member of the Blizzard team did. Though he was often the face of Blizzard and the perception was that he did a lot for Blizzard games (he did the voice of the Footsoldier in Warcraft II), any single level designer contributed as much or more to those games. That’s just how it is at Blizzard. It’s a largely collaborative effort with a couple of people who usurp credit for others work either because they want it to be that way, or because they happen to be likable and in the spotlight so it ends up being perceived that way. Bill was definitely the latter.

So then Bill went to Blizzard North to work on design for the next Diablo game. The only issue was, he didn’t want to do another Diablo and neither did the rest of Blizzard North. With that in mind they showed us something they called Starblo, a product named to fail. It was basically a science fiction Diablo with all the same perspectives of Diablo II. No one was impressed. It was about then that I realized Bill had a bit of a rebellious streak in him.

I believe it was only 3-6 months after seeing Starblo that we heard about a big score of scary changes that might come down from Vivendi Games onto Blizzard. The scare revolved around how much control Blizzard would have over distribution and such, and ultimately it ended up being a big fuss over nothing. However, it was Bill Roper and the gang at Blizzard North that demanded that Blizzard North have more say over how Vivendi Games was to be run. To back up their defiance, they offered letters of resignation if their demands were not met.

Their letters of resignation were accepted and thus Blizzard North began to fall apart quite rapidly. With all of the primary leadership gone, the few who were left scrambled to piece together something to show that they weren’t a hollow shell. Their efforts produced a PVP oriented version of Diablo 2 that was not very impressive. I believe it was a year or so later that Blizzard told everyone at Blizzard North that they could move to Irvine (where Blizzard is located) and reapply for their old jobs, and that they might just get rehired. In other words, they were all fired.

Meanwhile, Bill Roper and crew formed Flagship studios and quickly strip mined the remnants of Blizzard North to assemble a team (which also contributed to the ultimate firing of everyone left at Blizzard North). They already had a new game in mind and Hellgate London quickly began to take shape. What the contributions of the individuals were at Flagship, I cannot say. I did not work there, but I imagine (given Bill’s past desire to move into design) that Bill contributed a lot.

Now, making a new studio and funding a game are not easy tasks. Not by a long shot. To make it sustainable they needed a lot more funding then their own pockets and eventually it was Hanbitsoft that came along and decided to sustain them until Hellgate London could come out. Now, again, knowing nothing of the details, this is entirely speculation, but…

Without the code base from their past games to fall back on, they now had to craft a new 3D engine, an entire massively multiplayer networking system, and almost every tool that they would have to create the game with from scratch. This is no easy task… In fact, most game companies take crappy small jobs like porting Tetris to the N64 in order to work on that sort of infrastructure on the side for several years. Flagship was having none of that and went full bore on trying to create it all at the same time.

Sadly, when a publisher is involved (like Hanbitsoft), there’s a time table you need to be concerned with. One that they would ultimately meet, but at a tremendous cost. You see without an infrastructure already established they were having to develop the tools to make the game at the same time as they would have to generate content. What you usually get is a lot of content you either have to throw away or redo.

Let me put this in perspective for you. Diablo 2 from start to finish took about 3 years. Hellgate London from start to finish was done in about 2 years. Is it any wonder it was plagued by a horde of problems? Not to me. I imagine, were it given another 2 years of development (with 1 year being entirely devoted to tools and infrastructure) it would have been a far superior product (and let’s keep in mind it still got a 71 on Metacritic, no easy feat).

So whatever Bill Roper’s contribution to the game, do I think that it’s somehow his fault that Hellgate London has not lived up to its expectations? Not in the slightest. I’d be willing to bet he put his heart and soul into that game, but without the proper time for those efforts to be allowed to flourish, there was little hope that Hellgate could be the blockbuster it might have been. How much of Hellgate’s lackluster appearance is Bill’s fault? No more than any member of the team that contributed to the game.

Games are the effort of many people working together. No one individual can be said to matter more than another. Without a tools programmer, a level designer’s job becomes extremely difficult. Without a good artist, a brilliant game idea may never work out. In the case of Hellgate London, Bill Roper just happens to be the most charismatic and well known person on the team. You can’t blame him for Hellgate’s problems just because he makes the most public appearances.

As to his design skills, I honestly don’t know. =)

posted by CommanderHate at 1:21 am  

Monday, July 14, 2008

“Why do game save systems suck?”
From Alex

Alex has taken issue with a perceived trend of poor save systems in modern games. Particularly he points out that Mass Effect had a miserable save system. However, I disagree with that assessment. Mass Effect actually has what every game should have. Both an auto-save system and a user enabled save system.

There are really only a few types of save systems. So let’s briefly (as much as I can be brief) discuss each one so we’re all clear on what they are. Oh, and as to what I mean by a save system, it’s a system that saves the state of your game, so that when you return to it, you can continue playing from where you left off.

Lives – Or No Real Save System

Classic games have no save system. If you go back and play the original Super Mario Brothers or most arcade classics, you instead have lives. Lives allow you to restart at the level you died in without having to start the whole game over. However, if you restart the system, the power goes out or you lose all your lives, you have to start the game from the very beginning. As I recall from my youth, that usually coincided with a great resounding “FUUUUUUUUCK” along with the sound of a controller being hucked across the room and slamming into a wall. No save systems = true frustration.

On the flip side though, you truly had to master a game back in those days. You couldn’t fat finger your way through every encounter because if you died anywhere within a level you would have to do that level over again (often a dozen times in a row if you really sucked). This forced you to memorize patterns and improve your reflexes. Of course, the real reason they did this was to make you feed more quarters into a machine. The home console made it necessary to find a less stressful way for the player to get through a game they just paid 20-40 bucks for.

Secret Code Saves

When Metroid came out for the Nintendo, they had something I had never seen before. A way to start the game with all your hard-earned gear, even after you’ve died or turned the system off. Whenever you would die, it would give you a code. When you entered the code you got to start the game in the same area that you died in with all the goodies you’d already collected. Of course, if you wrote down the 24 alpha-numeric password wrong, you were totally screwed. Definitely not a perfect system, especially when there was already a better save methodology out there.

Limited User Saves

When RPGs became all the rage, they shifted to a limited user save functionality. That is, the user can choose to save the game in one of a X slots as long as they’re either on a save point area (like the globes in FFVII) or if they’re on the overland map (like in early Final Fantasy games). Of course, this system relied on the user remembering to save the game. So the potential was there (and this happened to me on more than one occasion) to play for many many hours, never save, then die and lose all your progress. Literally hours of gameplay could be lost. Many gamers wouldn’t even bother trying again after that. Luckily that was in my youth or else Phantasy Star II, Final Fantasy 3 (u.s. release) and several others might have gone unplayed.

Checkpoints or Automagic Saves

As games became more complex and developers realized that losing progress was no fun and that relying on the user to save the game at important points was probably not going to happen (primarily because a user can’t predict a ridiculously hard gameplay moment coming up), they decided to start saving the game for the player. Traditionally this is known as checkpoints, because as you reach a certain point in the game where the developer thinks things might get hairy or after you’ve achieved a milestone point within the game, the game will automatically save so you don’t have to worry about it. This system really worked well whenever it came into existence, though it did rely heavily on the developer understanding what would be frustrating for a player.

Quite honestly, it’s hard to think of when checkpoints came into being exactly, because I can’t imagine how frustrating a game that doesn’t use them would be. Any game worth its salt should have some sort of Checkpoint system in it.

Unlimited User Saves or Save Anywhere

This is my personal favorite save system. You can save anywhere in the game at any time you like for any reason what-so-ever. This has been (in the past) a primarily PC only save system due to the practically limitless space of a PC hard drive. However, with the recent consoles having hard drives themselves, this has become a lot more common in games. Bioshock, Portal and many other games have unlimited save functionality. In the past this type of system has been used, but you were limited in space so you often had to save over an old save in order to keep your progress. Not bad, but not as good as completely unlimited saves.

Modern Day Saving Systems

So let’s take a look at Mass Effect’s save system. They have 2 systems working here, a checkpoint save system and a user save anywhere system. That’s pretty damn good in my book, but it seems that people got frustrated with the game. Let’s take a look at one user’s complaint to see what’s going on.

"Almost at the end of Ilos and I reload the save I've been using,
unfortunately it spawns the Mako underneath the damn level, hanging
from one wheel that's stuck in the geometry. 
well, I'll just go back to an autosave. Surely there must be one
somewhere, like at the hologram. What's that? The only autosave was all
the way at the freaking beginning when I first land on the planet? 

You could've at least put an autosave midway through. Did that not occur to anyone while playtesting this?"
-Confidence Man Sunday, 02 December 2007 10:50PM

So what happened to this poor guy? Well, he was the unfortunate victim of a bug. A bug whereby one of his saves had the vehicle he needed for the level spawn under the world. This is a bug within the code that we will never be able to figure out on our own, but for the sake of our argument about save systems sucking, let’s say that it has something to do with the save code.

Yeah, that sucks, a bug got through to the end product. It happens though, and there’s little that can be done. The fault here has little to do with the design of the save system however. The game has unlimited saving potential whenever the user wants, AND it has checkpoints whenever you land on a planet. While it’s not perfect, it’s not bad. What was bad was some errant line of code that screwed up what the save system wanted to do. That’s unfortunate, but no matter how much Quality Assurance you put a game through, you’ll never find every bug. It’s simply impossible. Particularly in a save anywhere system. You can never predict what fucked up shit the end user is going to do.

So what is the perfect save system? Does it even exist? Mass Effect actually isn’t far off, if it weren’t for a related bug I’m sure there wouldn’t have been as much anger as there was surrounding its save feature. However, Mass Effect was not perfect, they needed more checkpoints or something like that. What save system is better?

Automagic Saves Before a Death Point

If you have not played Portal, you are remiss in your duties as a gamer. Portal has so many extremely good things going for it, that to not play it from beginning to end is a travesty. One of its most amazing and helpful features are its automagic saves. I can’t quite figure out how they’ve done it, but no matter where I die in the game, I am restarted no less than 10 seconds from where I ganked myself or blew a jump. It’s quite amazing because the frustration that a loss of progress would have caused is almost entirely gone in that game. There was only one or two segments where I had to repeat more than 30 seconds of gameplay in order to beat the section I was having trouble with, and it’s almost entirely because of their automagic saves.

But if you wanted to save midjump, they had another ingenious system overlayed on top of that.


So far I’ve only seen this in FPS games and their ilk, but Half Life is the first one I noticed it in. You can save your exact point in the game with the push of a single button. Then if you want to reload it, you push another button. You can save right in the middle of a fall without panicking as you try to navigate menus or removing yourself from the gameplay. There’s a slight hiccup as it saves, but as this system is perfected, I bet that will go away.

Other Ideas

However, my favorite game’s save feature is not a save feature at all. Braid‘s time travelling mechanic obsoleted the need for saving anywhere within a level. If you screw up and die, you rewind time. It’s so elegant I nearly wept when I first experienced it. True this won’t work for all games, in fact it probably won’t work for any game except Braid and possibly its sequels (assuming there are any), but it’s exactly the type of thinking that can save games from having to use the same tired save systems again and again.

I think that Portal is pretty much the closest thing to the pinnacle of save systems we’ll ever see for games. It can only be improved a tiny bit more before there’s nothing left to do with it except copy it exactly for every game thereafter. It will take a whole new line of thinking to obsolete saves entirely and create a new way of experiencing a game. Braid during its actual gameplay is a good example of this in action (perhaps the only example).

So, why do game save systems suck? Because they’re preventing game designers from thinking in new directions. They’re too easy to just copy and paste into your game. We need to start thinking in a new way if we really want to advance game design as a whole instead of just improving on what’s already there. As far as saving systems go, we’ve got it down. Let’s try something else. =)

posted by CommanderHate at 5:42 pm  

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Braid is Now on XBLA for Developers

As I’ve mentioned previously, Braid is a side scrolling puzzle game reminiscent of Super Mario Bros that I really enjoyed playing an early version of. I can only imagine that after several months of polish, it’s an even better experience. If you are a game developer with a 360 dev kit, you can grab it off XBLA right now. I can assume this means it will be available to the public fairly soon…

posted by CommanderHate at 10:51 am  

Friday, June 27, 2008

Can the News Get Anything Right?
CNN, FOX, MSNBC, and now Gamespot

It wasn’t until I saw Gamespot do a report on a game that I had worked on that I realized just how idiotic the news people really are. Do they know anything about what they’re reporting on, or do they just reach into a blackhole and spew bullshit every time they want to sound like an expert on the subject. What the game industry news reporters have shown me is that they’re extremely bad at faking their knowledge as they’ll say something like “I think” or “Something like” or “I believe” before they start their completely incorrect “fact.”

What scares me is that I know the reporters on CNN and other big news channels are MUCH better at pretending they know what they’re talking about. They can lie without it seeming like they are. All in the name of seeming like they’re informed on the topic at hand.

Isn’t that the point of being a news reporter though? Aren’t you SUPPOSED to be informed about the topic you are discussing? Isn’t it necessary to study the topic and learn about it before you start blabbing on national or local television all about something that may be important information for people to know?

Yes, yes you are supposed to do that. That’s why a reporter is called a reporter. They report the information that they have gathered about a topic. Yet these days I’m beginning to suspect that most reporters don’t do any research before they start droning on about something. Fox news in particular seems to be more about vomiting out their vitriolic opinions on anything and everything without so much as doing a single bit of research. Of course, all of this is particularly true for broadcast news. A medium that up until the last few years, the video game industry has largely avoided.

Yes, now there are on-line broadcast shows like On The Spot at Gamespot, and though G4tv and others beat them to the punch, Gamespot Live seems to suffer from a particularly bad case of uninformed reporters. Particularly irritating is that despite their geeky looks, they seem to have very little understanding of the finer points of gaming, or at least when they open their mouths it appears that way. What’s worse is that they have the person playing the game as they attempt to discuss its finer points, which inevitably ends in that mind numbingly idiotic kind of speech reminiscent of trying to discuss Greek literature with someone getting a blowjob.

Yet despite them actually playing the game as we watch, they still get the majority of information about the game completely wrong. That’s because doing that would require research above and beyond what they’ve done which is simply to play the game for an hour. They don’t know how many levels there are, or boss encounters, or how amazing the story is. They haven’t really done their research at all.

How difficult would it be to get in contact with a member of the development team to get that information straight from the source? Not hard at all… Yet, the broadcast medium reporters don’t do it. Game developers LOVE free press, they would be falling all over themselves to get these people as much information as they wanted on their games. I think it’s time the video game industry’s satellites started getting their shit together. I want our industry to be the one that shows the others how things should be done.

So I’m calling you out game reviewers! Do your damn research before you open your damn mouths. If you don’t know how many levels there are in a game, say you don’t know, but for the love of all that is Unholy, do your damn research so you know the basics!

If you don’t know the following, you shouldn’t be speaking as an authority on any game:

  • The genre and premise of the game.
  • How this game is different from others in its genre (bullet points of features).
  • The average amount of playtime hours.
  • The basic storyline of the whole game.
  • Difficulty settings (if any).
  • Whether it has multiplayer.
  • The platforms the game is on.
  • The release date or expectation thereof (directly from the developer if possible).

Note that specific games may require you to have more information or be familiar with certain aspects of the product itself that are unique. For instance, if you were to talk about Spore, I expect you to have spent more than an hour with the Spore creature creator. =P

You see, one of the things that has always bothered me about real world network news reporters, is that they do not experience the stuff they are talking about. Most of them don’t have the slightest clue about any of the crap they are speaking (aside from embedded and undercover reporters who I have the utmost respect for). As video game reporters, you have the unique opportunity to immerse yourself into the core of every story you do. You can almost become an expert on every topic you are going to discuss on your show simply by spending several hours of your time playing the products that you are going to be talking about. In addition, developers LOVE free press so all you need to do is some elementary research to get a phone number and you can know ANYTHING that people might want to know about the game you will be discussing.

Don’t fucking blow this by being lazy assholes. Do your damn homework like a grownup…

posted by CommanderHate at 5:33 pm  

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Racist Games
They’re Pretty Damn Rare

I think this is really telling of the difference between the gamer generation and the rest of the world. We as gamers don’t really see race. When we play Crackdown or GTA3, does it matter if we’re the black character? No, he looks cool. We don’t see race, we see a cool character that we want to play as. When we played Resident Evil 4, did we see Spaniards? No, we saw people infected with a deadly virus that could not be reversed and they were trying to kill us.

Is Resident Evil 5 any different? No, because we as gamers don’t see race. We see beyond that, because to us, it’s irrelevant. There are some clichés in games, but I think that games, far more than movies and tv shows has done the most to break races out of their stereotypes and point to a racially irrelevant future.

Games like Mass Effect do an amazing job of teaching us about racial hatred without explicitly saying it. For instance, the Krogans are a warrior race that is on the verge of extinction, but you learn of their extremely violent history. In fact, the majority of the other races seems to fear the Krogan’s and appreciate the fact that they’re on the verge of extinction. By the end of the story you realize that they’re not inherently evil and that the unleashing of a deadly virus that made their birth rate rapidly decline (in effect a biological warfare induced genocide) was absolutely wrong (assuming you even got the Krogan guy in your party). There are many racial themes in Mass Effect and many of them could be applied to real world racial situations. The overarching theme of the game is racial solidarity against a greater evil (unless you decide to be a racist douchebag, but you will feel like a racist douchebag if you go that route, unless you’re a sociopath in which case you’ve got problems far beyond the meager offerings of video games).

The point being, that in games, there are people who are typically bad guys, and those bad guys are often killed by the hero. When gamers play these games, they don’t really care what race the good guy or the bad guy is, they just want to kill the bad guy. Are we teaching kids something when the bad guy is always a particular race? Yeah, we probably would be. Fortunately we tend to vary up the race of the bad guy because to gamers, it’s really irrelevant unless it’s important to the story.

So what happens if you disallow the bad guys from being of a particular race? Well, you’re going to see the same race in the bad guy role, being shot, in every single game. What race will it be? Well, I bet dimes to dollars that it’s going to be white guys, because hating whitey is still the “in thing.” What will that teach people? To hate white people… Self-loathing is already a common problem in the white community, but I’m not even going to speak to that (right now) because it’s irrelevant to the main issue.

To gamers, race in a game is irrelevant as long as you don’t make a big issue of it. If you make people think that there’s something relevant about the zombies in RE5 being all black (despite no one giving a shit that the zombies in RE4 were all Spanish, guess they were close enough to white that it didn’t matter), then people are going to read INTO that and think that the game is being racist. As soon as you say that, people playing it see it in a new light and think, maybe there is something to it. So then race becomes an issue for the game even though it was never intended to be.

You see, the moment you start saying: “They’re being racist” is the same moment that you segregate one race from another. That’s right, all you dumbasses who are saying that things are racially motivated are the ones who are allowing racism to continue. If you want race to be a non-issue, only bring it up when there’s actually a problem. One game where the setting happens to be in Africa is not a problem. Resident Evil 5 is set in an African nation… OF COURSE THE ZOMBIES ARE GOING TO BE AFRICAN! It’s the same as RE4 where they were all Spanish… Cause it was set in SPAIN!

This isn’t rocket science people. Making race an issue when it isn’t an issue makes you the person segregating one race from another, which means that YOU ARE THE RACIST!

The End.

posted by CommanderHate at 11:21 am  

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pen and Paper?
When Game Designers Fail at Design

When I was growing up I used to play a lot of Pen and Paper RPGs. Shadowrun, Gurps, TMNT, Robotech, and of course, the ever present and always awesome, Dungeons & Dragons. I think that’s when my love of game design started because I would continually add on (crap) to the preset worlds, races and character classes of the game. Had I a mind for it, I probably could have published the hundreds of pages of backstory and history I made for fun. Of course, I was 12 years old so it was probably garbage, but it’s the thought that counts.

So when I finally got into the game industry, I was very excited to be able to do what I enjoyed most for a living. Creating worlds, writing stories and making game mechanics that were fun. Well, I started in Quality Assurance, so that was almost 2 years off, but the thought of it was constant in my mind. Then I learned that video game design and the purely written design I remembered from my youth were two entirely different beasts.

To become a video game designer you must learn a little bit about three separate disciplines. The first is what I had always wanted to do and that was fundamental Game Design. Game Design is typically the written portion of design. You’ll be writing out game mechanics in document form and sending them off to programmers later on. Writing storyline and characters is often included in this part, as the artists often need descriptive starting points in order to know what direction to take the artistic style of the game. The Game Design phase is often the first big push when creating a game. 90% of the documentation for the game is created in the first 1-6 months of a project and after that, the Game Design stuff is usually relegated to problem solving or fixing things that sounded good during documentation but actually ended up being miserable for actual gameplay.

What’s interesting to me is that Dungeons & Dragons pretty much consists entirely of the Game Design phase. After you’ve written out all the mechanics and play-tested them, you’re pretty much done. The only part that differs from video game design is that the polish phase begins here and all of the mechanics are thoroughly tested until it’s all deemed good.

Sadly, most video games could probably use a good layer of polish at the Game Design phase. What usually ends up happening is that due to time constraints or due to stupidity on the part of the design team, they decide that they need to see things running in game before they can determine whether or not the mechanics will work. While this might be true if they were doing cutting edge pie in the sky things that have never been seen before, 9 times out of 10 they’re doing the same fucking thing that not only every other company in the damn world has done before, they’ve already done it too, and the real reason they don’t do any testing of the game mechanics before committing to getting it into the game is because they don’t have a clue what they’re doing. They’ve never done pen and paper design. They can’t envision things from paper to what it would feel like playing in the final game.

Of course, the truth is, those people aren’t really designers. They’re monkeys wearing hats that have “DEZINER” scribbled on them in crooked crayon. If they had any design sense at all, they’d know what a tried and true feature would feel like in the end game, and more importantly, they’d be able to document the design of it in such a way that the programmer’s flawless implementation of it would feel perfect in the game on the first try. Alright, that last bit is slight exaggeration, but it’s not too far off.

A designer has to know what something is going to feel like when it’s put into play before actually seeing it in the game. Tweaking the gameplay later is a whole other beast, but if you can’t tell whether a feature you’re designing is going to feel good by playing it out in your head, you need to reconsider your career as a designer.

posted by CommanderHate at 1:18 am  

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

MMOGs and the Douche Bags Who Play Them

When I jump into a MMOG and want to have some fun, there are basically two types of people that I will run into. Cool people who want to have fun, and complete douche bags whose only purpose in life is to make other people’s play experiences as miserable as humanly possible. Sadly the latter out numbers the former by about 1000 to 1.Perhaps it’s the disconnect of having a machine do all the interaction with the other person for you. Text and even voice communication don’t seem to be enough to stop one human being from being a complete ass to another (although voice communication does seem to lessen it). It probably relates to Penny-Arcade’s Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory, which I personally believe should be elevated to a Law (despite it occasionally proving false). Yet there’s more to it than just that.

You see, anonymity plus the disconnect of an interface between you and the other human beings involved also allows for people to be themselves without fear of reprisal. Though some people do play for the community aspects of these games, those are few and far between. Instead, what I think you run into quite often is people being how they would normally be in society if there weren’t any rules or socialization stigma. It might not help that most of these games encourage you to shoot someone in the face, but if these people had real guns and knew that they could shoot someone in the face without reprisal, wouldn’t they?

I honestly believe they would, and this has nothing to do with video games encouraging those behaviors. I think video games alert us to our true base natures. I myself have done some less than kind things in MMOGs (MMORPGS in particular, like WoW) but typically I have my own rules for when to stop being a douche bag. For instance, when someone is more than 10 levels below me, I don’t find it very sporting to hunt them… Unless they’ve been ganking people 10 levels below themselves, in which case I do it out of a sense of justice. Though thinking on it now, am I not just imitating the same behavior I looked at so despicably before? Wouldn’t the mere threat of my presence have been enough to get them to go away?

However, those sorts of cases are within the rules of the games played. It’s when an exploit is found that the real douchebaggery comes out. People using head shot scripts and other debauchery in a COD4 or Counterstrike game, or in the very easily hacked Diablo 1, warriors with 999,999 hit points launching 999,999 damage fireballs. Diablo is a great example of how, when it’s easy to hack the game, people will take it to the extreme, and then torture others using that new found power. Once it was done to a person, that person would seek out those hacks so they could then wreak havok on someone else who didn’t have them. I remember blasting someone repeatedly until they left the game in Diablo. Whenever they’d die, I’d pick up their ear. I had mules filled with player ears, and I would actively try to find them in games. When I did, I would jump into the town and drop their ears all over the place to mock them. Hate breeds hate…

But interactivity is the new gold standard in games. Everyone is working towards adding multiplayer components, and while the shrill cry of a 12 year old kid telling me he just kicked my ass in Gears of War is about as appealing as eating sand, I think I can tolerate one for the other because when I turn the tables and rub it in with an “In your face, little bitch,” I know they’re probably scarred for life whereas I can just shrug it off.

I’m such a douche bag…

posted by CommanderHate at 6:35 pm  

Friday, March 7, 2008

I Just Completed Braid

The end level is fucking ingenious. Well done, Mr.Blow. Damn well done. For that gem, you’ll have my money when Braid goes up for sale.

Gah, I’m gonna be late for work. Damn you, Jonathan Blow… Damn you… 😉

Since this page seems to get a ridiculous amount of traffic (even now), I thought I would link to my first impressions and formal review on Braid so that my cussing about how good Braid is isn’t the only thing people see. =P

posted by CommanderHate at 4:44 am  
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