How would Tim write a Super Mario novel? Who is the David Mamet of video games? Why are gamers so inarticulate? What was the crunchiest game of 2010? You asked our opinionated columnist video game questions. He answered, in depth.
Last month, I asked you to ask me questions via Twitter. This month, because originality is overrated, I did it again. One guy asked literally thirty-four questions. Unfortunately, due to the finite nature of time I had to write all this, I could only answer a few.
I sure had some fun doing all this typing. I hope y'all have almost as much fun doing some reading.
I might do this again next month, or I might not. That all depends on several factors, including how awesome your questions are! Consider this right here an open invitation to ask me whatever about videogames: tweet at me at twitter.com/number108.
In Japan, at New Year's, they sell "Fukubukuro" at stores. "Fukubukuro" means "Lucky Bag". They're just stapled-shut shopping bags full of random junk that didn't sell during the year. To use a popular game-review phrase, I suppose you could call them "mixed bags".
Consider the following (and the rest of this column) a Fukubukuro — a mixed bag of questions and answers, some serious, some not-so-serious, some both serious and not serious at the same time:
Now let's'a go, toward many questions and answers.
I've heard that Bandai considers "Neon Genesis Evangelion" a "fifty-year property". They have slot machines and pachinko machines based on "Neon Genesis Evangelion". They have a monthly magazine based on strategies for winning at the "Neon Genesis Evangelion" pachinko game (for fuck's sake). It's also said that Bandai has, locked up in a vault somewhere, a one-hundred-year marketing plan for Gundam. I'd love to read that. It's probably like the world's lamest science-fiction. I worked for enough resting-on-their-laurels Japanese corporations to know that the slightest technological advancement causes toupees to burrow holes in boardroom ceilings, and the boss to scream, "Quickly, to the vault! We must rewrite the Sacred File!" I'm pretty sure the One-Hundred-Year Gundam plan spectacularly fails to predict Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube.
What I'm getting at is, Square-Enix is not just an entertainment provider: they are a Japanese corporation. If officially Square-Enix-produced Cloud-on-Sephiroth pornography is coming, it's planned for at least 2035. Cloud and Sephiroth making out is something we're probably not going to see until 2030. I'm afraid that all you're going to get in the new Dissidia is Cloud and Sephiroth's swords clashing, and their gritted-teeth faces hovering behind their respective blades, their respective lips eleven inches from the other's. In the inevitable Final Fantasy VII remake, the lips will be ten inches apart. That gap is going to close at glacier speed as Final Fantasy VII fans marry other Final Fantasy VII fans until everyone on earth has grandnephews or great-grandchildren who will make Cloud and Sephiroth action figures embrace not thirty microseconds after seeing them for the first time.
I actually don't get frustrated when playing games. You might think, "Here's a guy who regularly considers screaming while playing the guitar; he must often get angry about a lot of stuff". With hardcore noise music, screaming is the fun. With videogames, not screaming is the fun. Maybe I'm weird, though one of my favorite feelings in gaming is losing at a videogame for what seems to be a fair reason (example: another Street Fighter III Third Strike player is better than me). In those cases, it's a learning experience. If I'm playing a game where losing doesn't feel like a learning experience, I usually walk away and do something else. Usually, that's not such a difficult thing to do. Sometimes, when a game is otherwise something I'm interested in, if it's needlessly unfair to a point of being not fun to continue playing, it's a little heartbreaking to turn it off.
Sometimes, the unfairness and frustration itself is fascinating to a point of my literally being overjoyed to continue playing the game, thinking of writing a delicious, hateful game review.
Now, if we're talking about other people I've seen be frustrated playing games: well, I saw my brother shatter a couple NES controllers over The Fucking Birds in Ninja Gaiden. There was this one time when me and my brother's friends played an NBA Jam Tournament Edition tournament. I won the finals — not making this up — 327 to 9 (we had fouls off and power-ups and hot-spots on: I'd score a lot of nine-pointers, and he'd scored only one) . At the end of the game, my brother's friend unceremoniously fist-gripped the controller in one hand and brought it down onto the hardwood floor in an axe motion. It split open like a cartoon cigarette butt. I wondered why he hadn't destroyed the controller much earlier in the game. Maybe he thought he was going to make up the deficit in the closing seconds with a 319-point hot-spot, appeared like magic, like a Golden Snitch in some fucking "Harry Potter" Quidditch-style deus ex machina bullshit. Then, when he was done, he claimed that he'd lost because the controller had been a regular Super Nintendo controller and not the turbo-blest Ascii Pad I was using. "He was using turbo. I know he was fucking using turbo." I was not using turbo! Turbo doesn't do shit in NBA Jam. Duh. This guy went on to become a lawyer, with a house and a wife and a kid and a dog, so maybe he was right. Maybe I had been using turbo.
That's a pretty good question. The cop-out answer is that shooters are just types of action games — a type which involves pointing and firing a gun. The deeper answer is that a real shooting game is a thing which is built from the ground up for long-range combat. Long range combat becomes the whole soul of the thing, defining the level design.
An easy example would be to examine turn-based strategy games. Final Fantasy Tactics is an action game in slow-motion. The battle maps are sixteen-by-sixteen squares, usually with limited height topography on which to position archers. The highest points in Final Fantasy Tactics maps are often accessible to all units from more than one point of entry. Final Fantasy Tactics is about surrounding and engulfing.
Now look at a game like Wild Arms Crossfire for the PSP (an excellent, underrated game). The stages are shot-gun-shaped; the highest points are typically walls which cannot be scaled. The surest way to kill an enemy is to hit him with a ranged weapon when he is in a position to be killed and you are in a position to kill him. Wild Arms Crossfire is about positioning and taking advantage. It's a shooting game in slow-motion.
Some games which feature heroes with guns are not shooting games; some games which feature heroes without guns . . . well, they aren't shooting games, though there's no reason they couldn't be.
I'd really enjoy talking about this particular point, right here, in the comments, so let's talk about it.
I'm going to hold out hope that David Mamet will, someday, make a videogame. For now, as an exercise in wishful thinking, I'm going to say there is no David Mamet of videogames until David mamet himself makes a videogame.
Hair is overrated, as are all foods other than egg whites, organic peanut butter, and shredded cabbage. I know of which games you speak — games like Mass Effect and Cho Aniki. I could patronize you with an explanation of how 3D graphics are difficult to make (open MSPaint right now; is it open? if so, draw me a character from Final Fantasy XIII — you have five minutes! . . . difficult, isn't it?); hair is the most difficult thing to make. I know this from experience, because my hair is amazing, and I have often been paid upward of $50 an hour to simply sit on a throne in front of a group of 3D modelers trying to grasp the idea of hair. I bought a lot of shoes with that money!
Hair flows; it shines, it ripples, it flips, it flops. Growing it long and then stroking it can suffice as an outlet of affection should your parents forbid you from owning a pet. To put it bluntly, video-games have enough trouble implementing cameras that don't get hung up on the tiniest fucking object, driving the player insane. Video-games have enough trouble being fun enough to make me want to play for five minutes, much less five seconds. Video-games have enough trouble thinking of words like "Boost-chaining" to put onto the back of the box, like that means something. A true-to-life simulation of the physics and companionship real, beautiful, flowing hair provides would be an undertaking requiring an entire room full of PhDs. Have you ever seen a phone booth full of PhDs? That's an expensive phone booth. You fill a whole room with PhDs, and you're going to probably not even going to have enough money to eat lunch more than twice a week. Then you'd have to give up on calling your game "Mass Effect 3" and instead call it "Hair: The Videogame". Not just because you'd be spending so much money and time on the hair simulation — because, if you spent enough money on the hair simulation, the true bounty of pleasure that is beautiful hair would become readily apparent to even the most adamant opposition, and no one would ever want to do anything else.
That's the romantic explanation. The real explanation, I'm afraid, is that hair is useless. Games like Mass Effect, Mass Effect 2, and Mass Effect 3 portray a world of the future. In this future, interstellar space travel is a possibility. What they're saying is, when humankind figures out how to get from Mars to Jupiter in four seconds, suddenly things like fashion and hair don't matter anymore.
Back in the early days of "Star Trek: The Next Generation", Patrick Stewart was asked why his character, Captain Jean-Luc Picard of the USS Enterprise, is bald. Surely, the question-asker added, by the twenty-third century we'd have figured out the whole hair-loss thing. Picard — I mean, Stewart — answered that by the twenty-third century, no one would care. That's how it is with Mass Effect, and the developers of that game are lucky, because hey! The ideal, open-minded, hairless future just so happens to be easier to portray with modern computer graphics! They dodged a bus-sized bullet with that one.
What you can do is start coping now. In the future, when Burger King is illegal and the Catholic Church issues a decree boycotting McDonalds the way the ancient Jewish banned pork, when the US Government outlaws Coca-Cola the way they outlawed Four Loko, everyone is going to find their body fat percentage dropping into the single digits. Then Hershey's will unveil chocolate bars that use synthetic chocolate instead of the realer stuff — because that stuff is getting mad expensive — and to compensate for the flavor differential they'll be sugar-free and packed with protein.
Seriously, have you noticed how hard it is to just buy a normal beverage in an American pharmacy? By 2015, it's going to be energy drink or nothing. When I last lived in America — well, most people were fat. Now, after a decade in Japan, I'm back in America for the time being, and — well, there still be lots of fatties, though you can also buy a meal-replacement bar with thirty grams of protein at literally any gas station. That's pretty cool!
You may think you like hair — the touch, the feel, the smell of it — though maybe that's just a childish attachment issue. Have you ever been intimate with a bald woman? I have. It was fantastic. If you have a girlfriend (you do, if I recall correctly), convince her to shave her head just once. Promise her "it'll grow back" even though it might, actually, not. Guys in the NBA play basketball every day because they get tens of millions of dollars. Why do all those people in their thirties play it recreationally, then? No one's paying them! In fact, they're paying for gym memberships. The secret is that there's something more, something universally tactilely appealing about the palm of your hand against a good rubbery sphere. The lovers of the future are all going to know it. Get on this elevator on the ground floor.
Bonus: have you ever noticed how the only hair choices for custom character creation in games like Oblivion or Fallout are these disgusting, bizarre, hideous things? That's because they want you to be a man and go bald.
I think we don't have any animal mascots lately because bald space marines are better. Maybe Sonic Team can recapture the glory of Sonic The Hedgehog by making a game about a hairless chihuahua.
I think the obsession with furries comes from a place deep in the brain which is afraid of losing hair. Did you know that one of the most commonly recurring dreams among adult humans in the twenty-first century (source: conversations with friends spanning fifteen years) involves teeth falling out? Another frequently recurring dream is that one where you're naked in public. A common variant of The Naked Dream is The Naked Dream Where No One Notices You're Naked. Furryism likely evolves from the latter type of naked dream: no one notices the dreamer is naked, so he compensates in his real life by wearing as many articles of clothing as possible, to see if anyone notices. Sooner or later, it's animal suits.
Well, at least I'd like to think the furry disease comes from these deep, human dreams, though it's probably born of bullshit like wanting the ending from Sonic The Hedgehog for Xbox 360 to be a thing which happens in real life.
I'm sure your friends' spouses are fantastic people. Having said that, I'm pretty sure their names can't refill your life meter to maximum the way a good roast chicken can.
Why do married men look at other women just as much as — if not more than — single men do?
The short, snippy, answer is that games take too long to play. If you play a game, you don't have too much time to do much of anything else. The best games, like Team Fortress 2, are these delightful, shockingly-well-marketed little personality-crammed contests of wit, skill, brute force, and friendly rivalry among a rich, encouraging community (if you ignore the racists and psychopaths and play with people you like). You can play Team Fortress 2 forever, you can play it over and over again, and you can play it over and over again forever. Listening to my little brother talk on the phone to his Team Fortress 2 buddy is not unlike listening to two noise-rock aficionados discuss The Jesus Lizard in 1994. In short, gaming is its own valid subculture. Unfortunately, as anyone who's ever spent some time in Indiana can tell you, two people talking about music aren't always talking about The Jesus Lizard: they're not even always talking about Nirvana. Sometimes, they're talking about Hannah Montana.
Listening to two people talk about World of Warcraft is like listening to homeless people talk about the stock market. Sometimes listening to two people talk about World of Warcraft is like listening to middle-schoolers talk about politics. Other times, listening to two people talk about World of Warcraft is like listening to clowns reading the Yellow Pages. In other words, listening to people talk about World of Warcraft is more or less universally soul-crushing. And it's not just World of Warcraft: it's possible to sound like a jerk when talking about anything.
In short, the reason "Gamers" are often so unaware of culture not related to gaming is that games include everything: they are sports you play with your fingers, they have stories, they include music, and they sometimes look like art. The best videogames are cultural Swiss Army Knives. The most popular games have high price tags, so in order to recoup their enormous budgets they have to usually have to be focus-tested trash that appeals to as many people as possible. Game development conglomerates occasionally employ marketing wizards and actual psychologists to maximize the addictiveness of the product: as the hooked user remains addicted over time, eventually he comes to regard the focus-tested schlock bullshit as high art. Marketers call this "In The Zone". When a user who is In The Zone finds himself confronted with Actual High Art, he rejects it, his brain instantly turning into a catalog of the differences (to the afflicted, different = inferior) between Actual High Art and the focus-tested lumpy trash ballwater devious psychologists and terrorist-manipulated supercomputers inflicted upon his brain like a virus (while the subject is sleeping at home, ejected from a basketball pump inserted through the top of the head (if viewed under a microscope, these viruses are shaped like Philips head screws)).
Meanwhile, I've heard people who love great, old games talking about great, old games and sounding like a bunch of high-class coolpeople despite also wielding fetishistic knowledge regarding niche entertainment. These so-called chipsters are by no means mainstream nor plentiful; they are, however, pretty neat, and are fun people to hang out with. People with fetishistic knowledge of excellent classic videogames can function in — the mathematicians in the audience might agree — as fluently and self-satisfyingly a capacity as connoisseurs of any other awesome thing. Sometimes, and delightfully, you run into a game-connoisseur who is also familiar with other awesome things, and that's nice, too.
The best way to summarize it might be to say that sometimes even art gallery owners find themselves under arrest for shoplifting lip balm at Target. Certain mouth-breathing jagoffs give gaming a bad name the same way that certain tea-sipping beautiful people give cinema a good name. Games are in the middle of their (final?) growth spurt. For now, equilibrium is yours if (1) you want it (2) you squint hard enough (3) you decide to just chill out / be cool / do whatever you can to keep your temperature a little lower than normal.
Hi Brandon "Editor In Chief Of Game Developer Magazine" Sheffield! For the uninitiated, Brandon is talking about our our website, insertcredit.com. It was a fun website. For Brandon, it was a means to exercise his journalistic skills, eventually landing him a job as the editor-in-chief of a nice magazine (which has an article by none other than myself, about the history of the Quick-Time Event, in its latest issue). For me, it was a means to write stupid essays about games and make weird people mad.
I guess that answers the next question, as well: I hammer these articles out because they're fun. I write them one sentence at a time, between doing five or six other things. If I tab over to the document where I'm writing an article and I don't immediately think of something fun to write, I tab away and do something else. This goes on for a month, during which something huge has piled up.
As for why my articles are "polarizing" — I do this as both a hobby and as a means to brainstorm things that eventually find their way into my work. I have a tremendous amount of fun performing the brain-exercise of writing. Some people don't enjoy reading my writing, and some do; I write these things for the people who do enjoy reading them.
The main character of a Japanese Role-Playing Game is most often the "second" hero to attempt a particular daring question because the oldest games of this genre were viewed from an abstract top-down angle: had they been three-dimensional, the game designers could have used visible landmarks; however, as the games are viewed from a more fairy-tale friendly abstract two-dimensional viewpoint, the landmarks must be narrative and literal. In 3D, our landmark could be a lighthouse on the horizon. In 2D, it has to be a story of our big brother, who left to fight the Legendary Evil two years ago today, on his sixteenth birthday. He's two years older than us.
(By the way, Brandon: what particular game were you thinking of when you asked this question? The first game to come to mind when I saw your question was Crusader of Centy. Have you ever played that one?)
Is that a vague and flaky ("vlaygy") enough answer? I sure hope so! I'm going to type some more about this subject now, because my fingers need the exercise:
You're often the "second" person to embark on an adventure because the game needs some narrative reason to be teaching you how to play itself. The "second" hero is obviously not as prepared as the first hero must have been. The People had pinned most of their hope on the first guy they trained and sent off. They didn't consider a backup plan. Now we've got Some Kid. The player is encouraged to a point of being nearly destined to win the game. In a story about destiny, destiny can never be a coincidence. You really can't have a coincidence in fiction, though that's a completely different conversation.
So the Second Hero — the player character — is some kid who is not a seasoned adventuring expert. He needs to learn the ropes. The game, however, is not evil. The game doesn't want to kill the player literally — only figuratively, and only sometimes. It turns out that this second hero is talented at adventuring, and has good fortune when he attacks a monster. Maybe this allows an outlet for the fact that the player has played a game before, and simultaneously shows that choosing the word "Fight" in a menu causes the player to fight equals the hero being a legendary warrior in the making (from the player's perspective, that's as easy to understand as solving a long-division problem would be for a genius mathematician; how about an RPG where you can open a menu at any time and choose "Do Something Great"?).
The deepest truth is that the original Dragon Quest's structure was a scheme to thwart the idea of game rental. The player has to walk in circles for hours outside the first town to save enough money to buy a sword because the game designers couldn't think of any other way to make the player feel as though he "owns" the experience. Anything else and the quest wouldn't feel "epic". In short, the player is the "second" hero, following the "first" hero, because the game needs a manufactured reason for the player character to need to level up, leveling up being the game's abstract representation of "growing" and "maturation".
If the player began the game with the best weapons, able to kill slimes in a single hit and march right through all the dungeons, killing all the bosses in a few rounds, conquering the final boss on his first try, how would that be fun? Well, I can think of a few ways that could be fun: first, the story would have to be enthralling. Second, the level design would have to be fantastic. There you go: if you can make a game with an enthralling story and fantastic level design, you probably don't need the
The simpler truth is that stories about persons not entirely acquainted with the thing they've been asked to do resonate more deeply with mainstream audiences than stories about experts walking in and mopping the floor with their talent. Stories about experts more often than not show the expert with some handicap — like, in "Rain Man", he could count cards and win at blackjack, though he was also kind of a flake. If I recall correctly (I probably do), the first episode of the long-running television series "ER" was about a doctor's first day in the emergency room, learning the ropes: he was smart enough to have gotten through medical school. Now he has to learn other things — like how the hospital administration works, and how it feels to have a real patient die right there on the table in front of you. The New Doctor is talented enough at something difficult to be interesting, though not experienced enough at life to be boring. The viewers' fascination depends on the gauntlet of the story. The balance between a character who is "interesting enough" and "not-boring enough" is delicate — though not as delicate as the art of crafting a fascinating story — and maybe the surest way to write a character out of thin air who fits the hero role is to employ the "Rookie Trait".
This brings us to the question of whether a mission-control character like Alex Jacobson from Deus Ex is the best way to lead a player on a moral path. I paired this question with the question about RPG protagonists because I feel like the answer is hidden in there somewhere. Japanese RPG developers say often, and loudly, that Japanese RPGs are games for teenagers and children. In a way, they're educational. They have great educational power: look at how some of them have taught many modern now-adults to dress up as Cloud or Sephiroth at anime conventions. Maybe we could make some RPGs that teach more interesting or valuable things — and no, I don't mean The Bible. That would be cool, though: could you imagine a JRPG that makes Moses or Jesus as awesome and/or cosplayable as Squall Leonhart and Sazh With The Baby Chocobo In His Hair?
What I'm getting at is, why would you want to guide the player's moral "choices"? You're implying — as many game designers sometimes do (accidentally?), in fact — that one moral choice is more "correct" than the other. Games with moral choices are actually more about "good" and "evil", not "right" and "wrong". We infer that "good" is "right" and that "right" is "correct".
Meanwhile, many old Japanese RPGs are about killing The Demon Lord and Saving The World. In a Dragon Quest game, the Demon Lord is an absolute evil. We don't question what makes him evil, because he's only ever shown doing things so evil as killing the hero's parents. If JRPGs are about education, maybe they're educating us to think demons who kill our parents should also die, too. That's not an awful thing for kids to learn. It's odd to have to think about, of course. Imagine showing Dragon Quest to an alien — or a dog who had suddenly been given adult human intelligence. "I'm fighting these monsters." He's going to ask why you're fighting the monsters. As long as you're not pressing buttons, the monsters aren't attacking: it's turn-based, and it's your turn. Is this human-intelligent dog going to understand justice? How do you explain evil to an elephant-sized peaceful alien bacteria shaped like a snowflake?
The other cop-out answer is to say that maybe A Perfect, Just, Free, Sparkling-Clean Real World Outside The Game is the "perfect" way to guide a player's moral choices inside a game. Well, that would mean the game would have to let you be a jerk, performing jerky actions: maybe you'd be able to kill pedestrians. In this case, maybe that'd inspire a player to be a jerk in the real world. Everything in the universe is either a chicken or an egg. Until we find a way to make it all one or the other (probably eggs (eggs can't peck one another)), nobody's going to be happy with anything.
If I were placed in a seat and told to direct and design a triple-A game from scratch, "no moral choices" would probably be my first big choice. When you work morals and choices and the ability to do right or wrong into your game, you spread the design too thin. I'd rather make a game about characters with . . . character. We're not telling them what to do so much as we're controlling them while they do it. So, for the record, I like a strong narrative element in my games, whether it's spoken in cut-scenes or implied entirely by the background graphics or whatever. Playing the game is ideally an exercise in expressing yourself by moving a character inside a thing with a story.
This is the closest anyone got to asking me what my favorite game of the year is. I'll first say that, yes, I agree with your sentiment: yes, all of these games are generally more of the same shit, only it's more confusing than ever to know you're getting "more shit" instead of "some shit", because one of the games industry's top marketing geniuses must have figured that if you stop putting numbers in the titles and instead give games a subtitle your game looks more original.
Now I'm going to take this opportunity to write a micro-blurb review of maybe every new game I played in 2010.
Assassin's Creed Brotherhood: Wow, a sequel so better-than-decent that I guess I don't mind it's the second one released in as many years.
Call of Duty: Black Ops: "Blops" is the best acronym-nickname of the decade; if you think this game is better than Modern Warfare 2, congratulations: the marketing machine has gotten you so hard that you no longer have a sense of taste — do not be afraid! Rejoice, for you can now tolerate bullshit.
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX: if you don't hate me, you'll buy this game; it has trains of ghosts in it.
Super Meat Boy: if you don't think this is the best game of the year, maybe you've been wrong about something else at some point in your life.
NBA 2K11: probably the best sports game ever (or, probably the best sports game ever until NBA 2K12).
Kirby's Epic Yarn: about as fun as repeatedly parallel parking between two cars spaced sixteen car lengths apart.
Red Dead Redemption: in all niceness and sincerity, it's a huge crushing shame that any games worse than this exist; definitely the triple-A game of the year. Weird little side comment: if Final Fantasy XV isn't at least this good, modern-day Japanese role-playing games are officially irrelevant.
Donkey Kong Country Returns: It's like playing a Super Nintendo, only when you shake the controller, it actually does something!
Castlevania: Lords of Shadow: this game would be great if fun game design were as easy to purchase as high-end computer graphics.
Gran Turismo 5: call me when they release the patch that makes the Fucking Menus the least bit tolerable. I'll be the guy over there playing Forza.
Fallout: New Vegas: I'll be optimistic and presume the faces are still ugly and the dialogue is still lifeless because they were concentrating on making the game a little bit more fun (which it almost is).
Dance Central: this game made me sweat way more than Dance Dance Revolution ever did; shame about it not having any friction and kind of not feeling like I'm doing anything.
Enslaved: Odyssey to the West: The main character looks like someone put Bruce Willis into a microwave oven.
Deathspank: Hey! I had fun, and I don't remember how or why.
Costume Quest: The videogame equivalent of a Taco Bell in the middle of the desert; first you're like "Fuck Yeah!" and four hours later you're like, "I kinda wish there was a Chipotle around here, too".
Super Scribblenauts: solving these action-packed puzzles is about as fun as reading the Yellow Pages on a bullet train!
Fable III: Offering delicious new opportunities to highlight and then select the dialogue option that allows you to pretend to be a jerk to a person who isn't real; also, you're a king now.
Sonic Colors: No one took that theoretical physicist seriously when he said the next time a halfway-decent game starring Sonic The Hedgehog was released, no one would care; Sega, make with the next awful Sonic game already! Give him a magic bazooka this time.
Mass Effect 2: Yay! Is it an RPG with great shooting? Or a shooting game with a deep RPG story? Who the hell cares! It's a nice game. It's not a masterpiece and nearly every element can be improved voraciously, though for now, behold: a game with all the pieces in kind of the right places. This and Red Dead Redemption are the future of interactive entertainment.
Alan Wake: raise your hand if you've ever gone to a five-star restaurant and had the waiter throw up on you (purely by accident).
NBA Jam: Terrific, loving tribute to a classic. Unfortunately, I am no longer in high school, and my mother is no longer obligated to ask her friends' sons to hang out with me.
Sonic The Hedgehog 4: Episode 1: It costs twenty dollars and it's labeled as "Episode 1", making this either a Sonic The Hedgehog game that will cost $40, or a Sonic The Hedgehog game that will cost you twenty dollars every couple of months for the rest of your natural life. Also happens to be awful.
Kinectimals: I'm touching a tiger! I can't feel its fur; it can feel my hands! Maybe my brain is broken.
Disney Epic Mickey: I half expected to unlock Donkey Kong, Diddy Kong, and all their pals from Donkey Kong 64.
Final Fantasy: The Four Heroes of Light: Such a nice little game; probably the best game soundtrack since Chrono Cross.
Star Wars: The Force Unleashed II: Hey guys, if you ask me, maybe you should call the next one "Star Wars: It's Okay, We Put The Force Back".
Wii Party: Better than Wii Sports! Mario Party without the Mario. I almost wish I had friends who weren't too cool to touch a Wiimote.
James Bond 007: Blood Stone: I thought I'd be able to tolerate even the most boring shooting game if it involved Daniel Craig's James Bond. If I told you whether or not I was wrong, it'd be a spoiler.
Nail'd: This title is awful, and tells you nothing about the game. They'd do better to call it "Awesome: The Game".
Apache: Air Assault: Emergency situations: 1. Your house is on fire; 2. You have just released a game about a helicopter which is not also the Best Game Ever.
Ni no kuni: It's a Japanese game with a huge box which is necessary to contain the huge book which is necessary to play the game. If you ask me, the huge book idea is hilarious piracy protection, and also kind of weird to try to use with a Nintendo DS while riding a train. I hope the PS3 version also comes with a book. The game is just bland enough for me to love in a shiny-eyed kind of way.
Vanquish: Oh yay! Anime: The Movie: The Videogame.
Super Mario Galaxy 2: Yoshi sucks! I wish Mario didn't move with all the frictive personality of a mouse cursor. That said, some great level design. Better than the original: less bullshit.
Starcraft II: Wings of Liberty: First, don't ever call anything "Wings of Liberty". Second, this game is so fantastically, perfectly designed that I like it so much I actually kind of don't like it. You know how sometimes too many people liking something you like makes you not like it? Well, it's like that, only with just myself.
God of War III: Fantastic cupcakes and macaroni and cheese at the launch party! All the cranberry juice I could drink. The girl carrying a pomegranate on a plate while walking on stilts was pretty cool. I played the game for an hour, and it sure had a lot of graphics. Gave up because: if I wanted to see muscly bald dudes with chain-blades on their arms screaming at harpies and ogrebastards under black thundery clouds, I'd just lie down and close my eyes.
Halo: Reach: Oh hey, it's more Halo! More Halo is definitely better than, say, more of anything else.
Limbo: Oh man, this game looks awesome . . . for the first half-hour. Then there's the second half-hour, which almost doesn't exist.
Castlevania HD: I feel like I designed this game myself. The wonderfulness and the awfulness are in perfect, near-holy balance. Buy a third-party Xbox pad with a decent D-pad, or you're Doing It Wrong.
Sid Meier's Civilization V: It's a great game: I had fun for a bit, then I was like, "The next time I'm in the mood for Civilization, I will play this". I haven't yet been in the mood for Civilization again. That doesn't make the game any less great.
Heavy Rain: Nope! Games with complicated plots not centered solely on violence probably don't have to be this boring. If you want more constructive criticism from me, it's going to cost you a couple million dollars.
Cave Story Wii: If you haven't played this game by now, you're wrong!
Bioshock 2: You know how people always say sequels are never as good as the originals? They're actually always talking about Bioshock 2. However, they're wrong! It's not worse than Bioshock. It's just different and weird. I still don't like it, though only for personal reasons.
Dead Rising 2: What we have here is zombies used as an excuse to make a compelling action game. You don't need excuses to make compelling action games. Hey guys: let's put zombies back on the shelf already.
Pokemon Black and White: If you're five years old and haven't played a videogame before, or if you've never played a Pokemon game before, this one is a must.
Yakuza 4: I bet you if Sega saw a magazine which was four dollars and contained a coupon for "Five Dollars Off Development Of Any Video Game", they would buy that magazine just for that coupon.
I was still living in Japan when Bayonetta was released last year, so I can't include it in my picks for game of the year.
I didn't include it in my picks for game of the year last year, either.
I was still living in Japan when Sin and Punishment 2 was released last year, as well — on the same day as Bayonetta, even.
Both Bayonetta and Sin and Punishment 2 were released in the US and the rest of the world in 2010. Sin and Punishment 2 is the better game, if I had to pick just one — and also if I didn't have to pick either of them.
In general, I didn't like Bayonetta. I didn't like the character. I think the character is a fundamentally, spiritually ugly person, and the dialogue of the game sounded like it had been written by a nine-year-old with a screwdriver stabbed into his knee, a gun to his head, a box of purple crayons, and a stack of three hundred blank sheets of paper on a table in front of him. Like, seriously, if your fourth-grade teacher told you you had to write a "short story" for your next homework assignment, and you wrote anything that included any two or three lines of dialogue from Bayonetta, your teacher would take the paper from you the next day in class, look it over, take it out of the room, and come back holding it daintily by two corners. Weighing down the center of the paper would be a great two-pound pile of fresh, hot turd. She'd put it on top of your desk and walk away. You'd raise your hand. She'd spin around: "For the last time, what?" she would ask. "Does this mean I get an ‘A'?" you'd ask. And she'd ask, "No. No, that is most certainly not what it means."
You might tell me I can skip the cut-scenes and ignore the story. Sure, I guess I can! Then I'm just performing fantastic videogame-console-controller exercises in a vacuum populous with characters whose appearances I don't understand without context (and therefore fear or dislike). The first half of the word "videogames" implies that they're something we look at; the second half of the word "videogames" (arguably) implies that they're something we enjoy. I can't enjoy the game if it's not something I enjoy looking at.
For example: in God Hand, at key moments of a battle, you have to press an Action Button to enter a lockup. Now you pound the Action Button to hammer the enemy over and over again with your blood-covered fists of psycho. In Bayonetta, you reach a similar moment where you have to press a button to jam yourself into a lockup situation, except now, instead of continuing to press the punch button to punch the fuck out of the enemy, a . . . guillotine or iron maiden materializes out of the enemy, snicking down or shut, either decapitating the enemy or impaling him with spikes of kill you. If I'd skipped all the story segments, I wouldn't know why or how my angel-killing demon-witch with prehensile hair is able to make medieval torture devices materialize around her enemies (though only when they're in states of extreme vulnerability). What I'm saying is, free of context, this is fucking stupid. With context, it's fucking stupider. How many things can you say that about, in all honesty?
God Hand didn't sell so well. Bayonetta sold fantastically. I'm sure the developers decided Bayonetta's success where God Hand failed is due to the fact that you can make a guillotine materialize around your fallen enemy with the touch of a button, and people like stuff like that. No, you dumb jerks: it's because you spent more than Five Fucking Dollars on the graphics this time. And also because your character has breasts longer than a real woman's thighs.
That said, the game is tight design-wise. It's got some fantastic friction. It's got A Lot Of Graphics, and they move and flow like an orchestra (of the absurd). I just wish someone would make a game with friction as nice which also didn't have a story nine out of ten nuclear physicists could verify as "Fucking Retarded" (that tenth nuclear physicist probably also doesn't mind eating at Arby's). God of War has a sophisticated-enough story which is at least told with some dignity and conscience. Why can't anyone involved with anything Devil May Cry do anything similar? Are they afraid that the first attempt at a serious narrative would be universally bemoaned for even its most microscopic failings? By making the story "intentionally awful", you're shielding yourself from criticism. I know a lot about criticism-shielding through intentional awfulness, believe you me: I do it all the time with my writing and my music. However, I don't spend tens of millions of dollars on this shit I do. It made me a little sad to see Bayonetta get a perfect score from Famitsu, because though I couldn't give half a shit or even a third of a shit about Famitsu, I know a lot of Japanese games industry professionals who give six to eight whole shits about Famitsu: I'm the minority, I'm a speck in an ocean. They say the Japanese games industry is dead or dying, and man, I don't know or care: I just say that Bayonetta is "Not Good Enough", and people seem to have universally declared that it "Is Good Enough". People are going to read this and tell me I'm being a jerk or a jackass or a fuckwit or a fucksnipe or a jacksnake or a fuckrabbit or a jerkass or a jack, and that I hate fun, that I have soul cancer, or whatever, and I don't care. When someone makes a game that's as good as Bayonetta — play-wise, it's light-years beyond anything in the God of War series — and they work in a narrative that actually sounds and feels like something (Note to self: must invent poetic reason for hero to be killing Literally Thousands Of Dudes), the CIA and KGB are going to knock on their door and present them a License To Print Money. I mean, really, let's face it: every time I have ever criticized something about games and then been told I was being a jerkoff or a jackheimer or a cockmaestro, someone then goes and makes a game without the thing I hated in some other game, or with more of the thing I said I liked in the other game, so all you doubters are wrong, and I am a genius. Re: Bayonetta, someone is going to email me, or comment, accusing me of wanting to have my cake and eat it, too. Well, am I, really, actually, a Fucking Psycho for wanting to eat my cake? Am I supposed to just stare at my cake? Take my word for it — if you tweet at the Dalai Lama asking him if it's possible to have your cake and eat it too, I bet you'll get a snippy reply about how, if you don't eat it, it might not actually be a cake. Just like a tree falling in the woods with no one around to hear it might not only not be making it sound — it might not even be a tree.
Yes! That just happened! I just blew your mind, right there.
If you don't eat it, it might not actually be a cake. That's what I think about Bayonetta, and games like Bayonetta.
Mutsuhiko Izumi is clearly the Antonio Bazzini of videogames. When having romantic evenings, I like to put on a playlist called "The Hell Yes Moment". This playlist starts with the entire chronological collection of Django Reinhardt, spices things up with a little early Ryuichi Sakamoto, and then sinks into two hours of sunn o)))'s single-note bass drones, and then emerges on the other end with "Sewww-er Surf-in'!" When I want the night to go a little more quickly, I start with Django Reinhardt's rendition of "Sweet Georgia Brown", then Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance", then move quickly into Bazzini's "Dance of the Goblins", then "Sewer Surfin'", then "Sewer Surfin'", then "Sewer Surfin'", then "Alleycat Blues". By the time "Alleycat Blues" has started, usually the police have shown up .
Also, if you find your marriage failing, try putting this one on the next time you and your lady have an evening alone:
Making an excellent freeware indie game all by yourself, from scratch, is hands-down the best way to get into the game industry.
See the above answer.
You may say, "That's easier said than done". To that, I answer: "Duh". Most things are easier said than done. That's where we get the for-granted-taken phrase "All talk and no [whatever]".
Working in the games industry — or any creative industry — is about getting together with people and doing things. You can go to school and study computer graphics or writing or sound production or any of numerous skills that are constantly in demand at game developers everywhere, and any one of those things is valuable, though not as valuable as all of those things plus the ability to get along with people. If you went to college — not assuming you did or didn't (or are or aren't going) (college is barely necessary) — someone probably told you "These are the best years of your life", and someone else probably told you that "education isn't even half of the college experience", or some sentimental equivalent. Those two bits of advice are hopelessly interrelated!
Making an amazing indie game might be as "easy" as finding people you like and enjoying spending time with them. You get together and you brainstorm ideas; you throw things at the wall until they stick. Before you know it, you've made a little something from scratch. Maybe you can turn your endeavor into a huge corporation someday, or maybe you can use it as a resume to get a big job somewhere. One thing I know for sure about every game developer in the world is that someone there likes videogames enough to be able to appreciate awesome ones. If you make something you like and believe in and you show it to someone and they don't like it, fuck those jerks! Show it to someone else; if they like it and respect you enough to want to hire you based on a piece of genuine creative self-expression, then you've just stepped into what might be a dream job.
Game development involves easily twelve hours a day of menial tasks and mundane bullshit. Ninety percent of the job is convincing people to do this mundane bullshit with you. Major corporations accomplish this by offering them money and dental insurance. You can accomplish this by being Just Crazy Enough. If it's something you believe in, even the mundane bullshit is fascinating and rewarding — just ask any metal guitarist who spent his entire childhood in his parents' basement running scales up and down the neck of his guitar. He didn't get laid once in high school, probably, and he didn't care, and now he gets laid all the god damn time.
If you're already studying some facet of game development, try turning your field of study into your hobby, and try turning your hobby into a job ("jobby"). Study games in school; make games for fun. Game-making is a skill that happens to be relatively fun to polish. As such, you're in luck: the possibility exists that the fun-to-polish skill you possess might become a job which is fun. People who say you're not supposed to enjoy your job are probably jealous of people who do enjoy their jobs.
This is about the lamest advice you can give someone about anything, though there it is: if you want to do something, do it now. If you want to start exercising and get in shape, if you wait until tomorrow to start doing it, maybe you don't actually want to do it!
Then there's the weird feeling of inferiority you might get if you've never made a game before. You see all those games in stores and out there on the internet? They don't make themselves! Well, in a few years, with advances in technology, they probably will.
One other question I get a lot of is the one about how I ended up working with game developers. I'll tell you: I ended up working with game developers by being a jerk and getting lucky that a whole bunch of influential game developers are Just Crazy Enough to read this graphomania nonsense I write and then email me asking if I want to help them design a videogame.
This is the kind of thing I think about a lot: it could be a combination of blogging and videogaming. It'd be a Facebook game. You have a "producer" that assembles all kinds of meta-data from your Facebook friends: posts they liked this week, things they Twitter-tweeted about. You'd have to assemble the data — maybe it'd be like a Diablo II or Resident Evil 4 inventory, where you're Tetrissing pieces onto a grid — into a program schedule. Then you'd have to "perform" it once a day. It'd be about expression. Maybe you could choose a book you like, and you'd get points if people clicked on "I'm interested in this". Facebook already has a "Like" button for movies, books, music, and your friends' photos or status updates. Maybe you could make a game about recommending things — or people — to people, and there's an in-game "interested" button. A "Maybe I Like This" button, which sets up a "pre-like". Then, if people eventually go on to actually, officially "like" the thing that your recommendation made them "pre-like", you would get some huge kind of point bonus. People would abuse the hell out of this system by conspiring with their friends, though maybe you could make something out of that basic idea of "pre-liking".
Maybe this isn't exactly "Oprah" the game — maybe it's more of a generic huge-scale road map for turning a "blog" into a game. Let's face it: blogs are pretty much games already.
If nothing else, I'm sure Facebook executives would love "pre-liking" — anything that gets kids clicking on the "like" button more, defining themselves and their profiles by their choices of favorite films and music. The more they define themselves by what they like, the more deliciously valuable that marketing data becomes.
Absolutely. Films can be sticky — note the use of jump cuts in "Do The Right Thing". That's a sticky-frictive crunch-thick film, right there.
One of these days, I'll have to sit down and think (maybe with my hands on a keyboard) about film cinematography and editing techniques that might be valuable for game designers / directors / cut scene directors to understand. Because games have C-movie-level cut scene direction, by and large.
Of course music has friction. Take the band Friction, for example:
Dinosaur Jr has always been one of my favorite bands, as well — maybe because of the extensive use of super-sticky fuzz pedals. This be some frictive shit:
It's about more than friction, however: I'm generally a highly critical person. I can criticize the grass off a football field or the pain off a barn — I could tell you sixty things off the top of my head that you could do to make the Catholic mass less creepy and more inviting for newcomers without also doing anything that would mortify the long-faithful. When asked if I have any pets, the discussion often spirals toward how I think cats, while fluffy and yay enough, would be a lot better pet-experiences if you couldn't see into their ears, because the insides of their ears look pretty creepy. I'll be the first to admit that this intense criticism of anything and everything has taken its toll on my life — for the better. I eat only great chunky tofu with perfect fine-ground sea salt, et cetera. My living rooms and bedrooms tend to be post-maid hotel-room clean and dust-free, and with feng shui befitting the bridge of the Starship Enterprise.
Most often, my friction-sensitivity manifests itself in complaints about household objects. For example just three days ago, after literally spending thirty-one years on the planet earth without this happening, I cut the bottom of my nose on a Coca-Cola (Cherry Zero) can tab. This has not discouraged me from drinking Coca-Cola (Cherry Zero): all it's done is encourage me to drink from the can with my middle and index fingers pushing the tab down.
Yesterday, I was having an interesting conversation with Matt Edwards, a graduate student of interaction design at Indiana University (my alma mater). We were at Mancino's Pizza & Grinders in Bloomington, Indiana (we were only there because Mother Bear's Pizza was closed), talking about napkin dispensers and universal principles of usability, like any two normal human beings are wont to do. I was saying how, when I left America for Japan the first time, napkin dispensers were universally these ugly metal table-top things that you have to dig your thumb and forefinger into in order to get a napkin out. You near-always end up ripping a fat wad of one or two dozen out of there. Napkin overuse has always been something of an epidemic in the United States: it's something you see your mom doing from an early age. She buys you a hamburger, and knowing that children are disaster-factories, she makes sure your napkin pile is at least as high as your hamburger. Really, though, what disaster ever warranted so many napkins? The only disaster I can think of that would require so many napkins is the one where you'll be dead soon, so forget about cleaning up and enjoy that weird euphoria that comes with blood loss.
Now we have Amazon Kindles and iPads; print might not be dead, though it might certainly be dying. We're saving paper all over the place. Maybe the modern American napkin dispenser was designed with this in mind, or maybe it was something else.
For those of you in other countries, the Modern American Napkin Dispenser is a wall-mounted downward-diagonal plastic thing. The next napkin peeks out, shooting upward, from a little slit in the bottom of the device. You grab it and pull; it comes out with a cute little thippy friction. It's a perfect blend of coming right the hell out and resisting you a tiny little playful bit.
What is the purpose of a napkin dispenser? We mused about it a bit. A "perfectly usable" method of presenting napkins would be to leave them in a stack on the top of the table. However, maybe they wouldn't stay in the stack. You'd have to make the stack short enough to not fall over. Doing so, you'd stand an enormous chance of having customers use the entire stack in the duration of their meal. Whether they did that or not, you'd have to go from table-to-table to replenish the stack frequently.
What the Old Napkin Dispensers do is keep napkins perfectly lined up in a straight (horizontal) stack, forsaking ease of use and attractiveness to accomplish the goal of order. There is a hideous, band-aid-off-of-brain kind of friction. It's a thumbtack-in-your-windpipe kind of friction. It's not a good friction. You go in there with your fingers thinking of revenge, and you just yank and pull; you hear a little sharp-aluminum-on-wadded paper sound, and the metal innards rip off corners of paper as you yank out way more napkins than you need, maybe just to spite the thing. It's ugly and weird and sad.
The new napkin dispenser is easy to use; they're most often located centrally in any restaurant or fast-food joint requiring them. It's so easy to thip napkins out of it that you might find yourself doing it spontaneously. You might straight-blast that thing, snatching out a hundred napkins, like a real tree-hating jerk.
(warning: excellent choices in sportswear in linked video)
Matt pointed out — as with the stack of napkins of table idea — that as any one machine approaches perfect usability, it does so at the expense of fun or challenge. Make something perfectly usable, and it becomes boring.
We see that concept at work literally everywhere. A good example would be to explain why the iPhone is more popular than, say, a personal computer running Linux: the iPhone is both usable and fun.
I'm sure that, as you imbue usability with friction, you enter a situation where you now have to balance fun and usability. In my weird little mental bubble, something is only usable if I want to use it. I only want to use things that have a little bit of friction and fun. Therefore, I believe that, as something approaches optimum usability, it becomes fun. Here we have a different kind of uncanny valley: as you make a machine usable, its fun factor skyrockets (the modern straight blast napkin dispenser). Then, when a machine's usability reaches a state of perfection (stack of napkins on a table), its fun factor plummets int an uncanny valley of boredom from which there is, unfortunately, no escape. Well, maybe there is an escape, though it would require magic: psychic-operated teleportation devices to beam napkins into our hands when we think of needing them, or little nano machines on our faces to dispose of ketchup stains in the corners of our mouths. You could probably also thought-control those nano-machines to make you look exactly like Robert DeNiro every time a police car approaches within five hundred feet, though maybe I'm getting ahead of myself.
In short, a "perfectly usable" videogame is no fun at all. If Super Mario Bros. were perfectly "usable", you would walk right from start to finish in a world free of obstacles, monsters, or any other reason to jump. That sure would suck a whole lot! Matt and I seem to be in agreement that any good software interface requires some kind of "friction", whether it's about saving princesses or moving files from one folder to another. I'm not saying that it should be as challenging as Tetris to install an application: just that it should feel and look like something cute and fun. Then again, do you really want moving files to be so fun in your computer operating system that people are tempted to sit around moving files back and forth all day? You probably don't, in the same way that you don't want people to stand there and, giggling like a heliumed gorilla, straight-blast paper-grabbing at your napkin dispenser until it's empty and they're breathing heavily and sweating all over your floor. In short, the new napkin dispensers are too fun; they are so too fun they are dangerous to restaurant productivity.
Keita Takahashi was once asked what he'd be doing if he weren't designing videogames. He said he'd probably be designing playgrounds; he got quoted out of context a lot, to the point where he's now actually designing a playground. I'm going to say, right here, that if I weren't designing videogames, I'd probably be designing napkin dispensers.
Mario's neck was killing him. Try as he might, he couldn't look up. Before him, a mushroom with feet approached.
These memories of plumbing beneath Brooklyn might as well be a postmodern amnesia, thought Mario: this world before my eyes is a thing so unlike my life of moments prior that either's existence as an illusion is the face of a coin reentering the earth's atmosphere. A mushroom with feet approached. Far away, turtles were screaming. Behind him, the world had erased itself, a white wall from the bottoms of his shoes to higher than the eye could see.
"It'sa me!" Mario rides his feet like a vehicle, toward the infinitely retreating horizon of a blue-skied universe full of mushrooms and disasters.
"Mario! I need-a you to jump!" Luigi screamed. "Come on!" For the first moment in his life, Mario did not remember the day coach Salvatore cut him from the basketball team. "All you've got is grace, kid; grace ain't nothing without some mad hops." Good-bye, high school! Mario thought. He was alive in a new century in a new universe. His feet and his body were weightless a moment. Again, he remembered the ground. "That's-a my big brother over here! Now let's-a go — this princess ain't gonna rescue herself!"