Gamer Hate

Belligerently lacking in remorse.

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  

Monday, June 9, 2008

I’ll Invent a New Way Of Doing It!
Why Japan is Screwed or Designer n00b Mistake #2

Every new designer comes into the industry thinking they’re going to reinvent a genre or a methodology of design. In Japan they take this to an extreme and have almost no communication between their game development teams, even if they’re at the same company. The idea is that this gives you a fresh look at making a game and your end product will be entirely new and totally different from everything in the market.

Unfortunately, what that really means is that even if there is a tried and true method for doing something, you have to reinvent that methodology from scratch. This problem is particularly severe in Japan where even technologies are not shared. So every time they make a game (even if it’s the same team working on a sequel) they start from scratch. Is it any wonder that Japan seems to be behind the U.S. in technology for games?

From a purist design standpoint, I can see where the Japanese game developers are coming from. In fact, I once thought that way too. If you start over from scratch every time you create a game mechanic, you might come up with something wonderful and new. Sadly, 90% of the time you’ll come up with something someone else has already done and when you do that, you’re behind the curve and you’ve wasted all that effort.

You see, what most industries have learned (and the game industry is learning/partially knows) is that if there is a tried and true method for doing something, rather than wasting your development time and money trying to reinvent it, you should copy the best components of that thing and subtly improve on it. The old design adage of taking the wheel and making it square is something we should all keep in mind when doing this. It’s very easy to take something simplistic and make it overly complicated to the point where it does the opposite of what it was supposed to do (and that is typically to make your job easier). For the most part, many simple design mechanics can be taken wholesale from other games and adapted to fit your particular game with little changed.

As an example, let’s look at money in MMORPGs. Most MMORPGs have a simple monetary system of 3 to 5 types of coin with each coin having a base 10 divisible value compared to the other coins. So in World of Warcraft I believe it’s 100 copper makes a silver, and 100 silver makes 1 gold. Thus 10,000 copper = 1 gold. Not that it matters in WoW since they automatically convert your money to the highest denomination possible. WoW did a good job of simplifying this system to its core component and honestly, unless you’re making a game that has a need for more types of coins or a slightly more complicated monetary system (perhaps you’re doing a MMORPG that revolves around economic fluctuations??) then I see no reason to change much.

100 copper and 100 silver is enough granularity at the early levels to keep the players motivated and at the end game there aren’t many items that will go for over 5000 gold on the auction house. Though there is something to be said for introducing a new coin type in a future expansion as gold becomes increasingly worth less. Perhaps a Mithril coin that is equal to 100 gold would help keep things in order… However, it’s not totally necessary since money has no encumbrance in the game, but there is a programmatical limit to the amount of gold a character can carry, thus a higher value coin isn’t a bad idea at all for WoW.

The point is that whatever game design system you’re looking to make, there’s probably 100 examples of it being done already. Some are good, some are bad, but you can learn something from every single example. That is why it is absolutely critical for game designers to play games. If you play games you will see how other games execute their design systems and you’ll learn a lot of what to do and a lot more of what not to do (as its easier to be annoyed by a system and point out its flaws than to notice that it doesn’t bother you in the slightest and is therefore a nearly flawless system).

Improving on and modifying already established game design systems is a critical component of a game designer’s arsenal of tools. You might have a lot of great ideas, but if you can’t recognize the great ideas that are already out there, you’re going to lose a lot of time trying to recreate them from scratch. Almost all areas of thought and creation advance by building on the foundations of the past. Deciding to throw those foundations away is a critical error that most “creative” types make repeatedly and are largely responsible for the wide number of games that come out with seemingly idiotic mistakes in them.

Consider for a moment the film industry. They have a long established set of guidelines for how to use the camera properly. One example is the 180 degree rule of the camera. Once you have established two speakers in a scene, you are never supposed to move more than 180 degrees around them as it can disorient the audience and confuse which character is on which side of the conversation. If you have a 3D program and can try it out, I recommend trying it out as you’ll see just how disorienting it can be. However, as an established rule in film, you’ll almost never see this rule being broken in movies (without an extremely good reason). There are many rules like it, and as such, the film medium has a foundation with which even an amateur movie maker can cobble together a cinematic piece that does not confuse the audience. Of course, a lot of amateurs ignore the rules (thinking they are above them) and it shows.

Game design has a similar set of rules but they haven’t been solidified enough yet that everyone agrees on what they are or the specifics and merits of each particular rule. However, there are plenty of games out there to study and extrapolate design techniques from. As a game designer, it is your duty to play them and understand what techniques they used and why. Once you understand that, you’ll know when to borrow outright, when to improve on what they have, and most importantly, when it’s actually time to create something from scratch.

posted by CommanderHate at 3:57 pm  

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Historic Presidency?
Voting, Politics and You

I’ve only discussed politics a little since I started this blog, but politics are a very important issue to me. Primarily because they determine the outcome of our economy, how much the government will be watching over our shoulder, and what our future will hold. Most recently I’ve been watching the primaries very carefully.

I initially supported Ron Paul for his anti-government stance. This is what Republicans were originally supposed to be about. Less government, more freedom. Now it would seem Republicans are about Jesus and wiping out foreign countries and making certain the rich people stay richer and the poor people get ass fucked until they bleed out. Libertarians are what Republicans used to be (a long long time ago in a galaxy far far away), which is probably why I identify with that party the most (less government, yay). However, Ron Paul was ultimately rejected as a candidate by the populace at large and the Republicans now have John McCain at their helm.

As a side note, I find it incredibly amusing that Barack Obama is the prominent figure on both the democratic and republican web pages. It almost doesn’t matter who the Republican candidate is… In addition, the Republican website is entirely about showing the democratic nominee in as negative a light as possible, while the democratic one is about showing the democratic nominee in a positive light. I find it incredibly lame that a political party would go entirely for a smear campaign instead of telling us what they would do right… That makes me wonder what their real agenda is. =P

In 2004 I was pro-Howard Dean because he was the only candidate who wasn’t owned by a lobbyist group or ten. Dean’s money came from web donations from normal people and his policies made a lot of sense. Take care of the people, stop corporations from having the upper hand on everyone and get the government to have some damn fiscal responsibility (Bush had already put us billions into the hole, which sucked after Clinton had gotten us so close to being out of the hole). Yet people laughed at Howard Dean as a candidate, and instead of looking at his policies, the vast majority of people mocked his (over)excitement during a political rally and made him look like a clown. I always seem to be backing the people who are the least corrupt by politics, and they always seem to get laughed out of the political race. I guess, in a really sad way, that makes sense.

However, 2008 has shaped up to be the most promising election to date. We had a woman and an african american as the potential democratic nominees. Barack Obama has won the primary now and is the first ever african american candidate running from a major political party (the only other one I know of was Frederick Douglas in 1872, a former slave, who ran for VP with Victoria Woodhull running for President under the Equal Rights Party, she was the first female to run for the presidency). Have we come a long way?

That remains to be seen, as a lot of the voting in the democratic primaries seemed to be split along racial lines. I like to think that both black and white voters are just voting for the candidate they think is best based on their political stances, but that’s a little too far on the side of optimism for my taste. At the very least I hope that people agree with all his economic and political talking points if they are voting for him, rather than because his skin is closer to the same shade as theirs.

That being said, I am voting for him and my skin is about as white as it gets without becoming translucent. There are a number of reasons for this, the primary ones being that I have researched the issues and I agree the most with Obama’s policies. The secondary reason is that he seems the least corrupted by his political dealings. He also got a lot of his money from web donations as opposed to lobbyists and corporations. I don’t like the idea that our president can be bought (like our last one clearly was).

Anyways, this is a historic event in our country. We’re finally at a point where both a woman and an african american were taken seriously as presidential candidates. I expect record numbers of voters to come out for the presidential election given that a precedent has already been set for shaking up our political system. Who knows, maybe in 8 more years we’ll be ready for a whole new political party to take the limelight (Libertarians or the Green party perhaps).

Either way, the onus is now on you to make a decision based on what’s best for you and the country. If you haven’t realized it by now, the Republican party has steadily become a corrupt entity hell bent on twisting the United States towards feeding their corporate greed. Capitalism is all well and good, but the government of the United States should not be directly feeding corporate entities at the expense of the health and welfare of its own citizens (particularly entities that are owned or tied to people IN THE FRIGGIN GOVERNMENT).

So I want you to answer this question aloud (if you can) right now. Just say the first thing that comes to mind. Who are you voting for in the coming election?

Did you answer that yet? It’s important your answer is spontaneous…

Okay…

So if you said the following: “I am voting Republican,” or “I am voting Democrat,” or “I am voting insert_political_party,” you have made the biggest error you can possibly make when it comes to making an informed decision in a voting process. The error is that you are voting for a party instead of a candidate. The presidency is one person, their political party is almost irrelevant, that person will be helping make decisions for the U.S. of A. Not the political party they happen to belong to.

It’s also very telling if someone says they’re voting for a political party instead of an actual candidate, because that means that either they haven’t researched the candidates (and thus their opinion is uninformed) or they intend to vote for their political party REGARDLESS of who the candidate of that party is. This is the worst thing you could ever do, because you are basically casting your vote for someone you don’t even like just because you believe that you are of a certain political party. This is worrisome to me so I have a little homework assignment for you.

I want you to take a good hard look at what you actually believe and make sure that the reasons you believe those things are because you honestly think that way. You would be amazed how many people can’t reason through their own beliefs.

As an example: If you believe abortion is wrong because your parents said it was wrong or because your political party says it is wrong, you have not really thought about abortion. If you believe it is wrong because abortion is murdering something that will eventually become a human being, you’re probably actually thinking about it in real terms. I personally believe in abortion because a baby is technically a parasite within a woman’s body and should have no rights of its own until it is able to survive without using her body to do it. If I were a woman I might feel differently, but as a man I have no idea what the whole baby growing inside you thing feels like so if they want to get it out of them, let ’em. Their body, their right, etc. And yeah yeah yeah, I wouldn’t care if my parents aborted me, I wouldn’t be alive to give a shit about that. For all I know, my not being born could have brought about a renaissance of humanity, but I think I’m giving myself far too much credit.
I digress…

The point is this. To make an informed decision, you must be informed. To pick a proper candidate you must stop looking at race, pin wearing, political party, etc, and actually learn what the candidates intend to do when they are president. When you find a candidate that you agree with, VOTE FOR THEM! If you choose a candidate for any other reason, you are making a mockery of the reason we have a voting system in the first place. To pick the people we honestly believe should be running our country.

So do your research, I’ll see you at the voting booths.

posted by CommanderHate at 5:47 pm  

Monday, June 2, 2008

We Trust You but You’re Doing It Wrong!
The Publisher’s Gambit

It’s a sad and sorry fact that the vast majority of game companies don’t control their own cash flow. In order to make a game they need money, and the people with money are the publishers. The publisher is who these game companies attempt to pitch their games to in order to convince them to give them money so they can fully make and sell the game. The publisher is the one the game companies sell themselves to when they’ve run out of funds. The publisher is the first to reap the rewards of a game’s sales. The publisher is God to the game developer…

But this isn’t the benevolent all knowing all seeing God that the Christ-pushers would have us believe in. No, this is a spiteful backstabbing evil God that wants only to reap and rape the benefits of a game developer’s hard work. You will find the majority of them unwilling to try something new and bold, and you will find they are quick to point you towards making a game that has already been made. Gears of War just came out? Make a Gears of War killer. People like Call of Duty 4, make a 1st person war simulation. World of Warcraft is popular, make a MMORPG.

That’s right, if you see a trend in video games and silently curse to yourself, “Why the fuck are they making another one of THOSE?!” then you now know who to blame. The publisher controls the money and the publisher wants a sure bet. If 1st person military shooters are popular, you can bet your ass that they’re going to push anyone pitching a game to them in that direction (even if they’ve already got 3 in development). They’re also more likely to fund a 1st person military shooter so most game companies will be pitching that to them anyways. In fact, the only way you’re likely to see a game that isn’t just like everything else on the market, is if they’ve either funded their own “creative” game development team, or someone with a lot of money decides to fund one themselves.

The sad truth is, a publisher is a group of people. A group of people with a lot of money and weighty decisions to make about how that money is best put to use. Since this group of people has to agree on what they’re going to bet their money on, do you think they’re going to try something off the wall that none of them can agree on, or would they put it on something that is similar to an already successful game or franchise? Sadly, the answer is obvious.

But let’s say you happen to get your amazing game pitch through and the publisher has decided to fund it. No matter what the publisher says to you about letting you do the game to your own specifications, there will come a point in time (usually around a critical milestone or towards the end of the development cycle) where they will bring in a certifiable imbecile who will crap all over your game and try to make it more like something that’s successful and already on the market. Yes, even when they say they trust you, they really do not. The only company in the entire history of the game industry where I’ve seen publishers give their honest and full fledged trust to a game developer was Blizzard Entertainment. So you can see that the bar is… pretty high.

What you can expect once development is in full swing, is a constant uphill battle as the publisher tries to push you towards the mainstream and what’s known to be successful and you try to make something unique and new that people have never seen before. What you will end up with at the end of the day, is something that attempts to be like something successful already on the market, but fails because it was not initially designed with that in mind. All thanks to the wonderful publisher who will now never trust you with another dollar again because you’ve fucked over a “sure thing.”

It’s a sad and sorry state of affairs, but there is some hope in the independent market. You see, they don’t have nit-picky publishers like the larger game companies do. They are pretty much their own boss as far as I can tell, and they call all the shots at the end of the day. There’s a certain beauty to that, but also a danger. When you make a game with just one creative vision, the cohesiveness is bound to be amazing, but whether or not that reaches out to the larger populace is a crap-shoot. In fact, it’s quite likely to only appeal to a very small minority. Without commercial success the end result is a failure and no future development on those independent games. Japan seems to be going through this phase right now, and their current solution is to give their franchises to American game developers in the hopes that they will make their games more mainstream.

More on that later…

posted by CommanderHate at 2:12 am  

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