Review Scores in Gaming

Written on November 16, 2011 – 12:48 pm by Ding

In quiet moments over the last few weeks where I have been reading through parts of the gaming press, my brow has become furrowed over the furore concerning complaints about the review score system.

 As a brief background to anyone who has missed the mess, Eurogamer gave Uncharted 3 an 8/10 score and were internet-crucified by a series of commenters claiming that Eurogamer were attention seeking, trying to get extra hits, and generally saying that they were wrong and irresponsible to give it any less than a 9/10.  Incidentally, most of these often incredibly harsh and unrepeatable-before-the-watershed comments will have come from people who hadn’t played the game yet.

 

That doesn’t make a huge amount of sense to me, but then I could chalk that up to the fact that I barely understand the desire to leave comments in general. I do however think it’s fair to say however that it’s insane and sadly not existing in a vacuum.  The issue has been discussed and dissected in other places, most recently by Jim Sterling at the Escapist and by Checkpoint on PATV a while back, both worth a look if you are equally perplexed about the issue.

Game journalists complaining about game journalism is actually becoming a bit of a cliché now and is nothing new.  The complaining about review scores has been bubbling away for ages.  One of the main issues is the conflict of interest that can arise in the course of the symbiotic relationship between PR and journalist with the PRs under no obligation to send review copies of games and journalists needing copies of games in order to review them and maintain a readership. I’m sure most establishments could afford to arrange a game-buying budget to circumvent this but regardless, it can make it a little awkward when it comes to reviewing an absolute stinker.

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An Introduction To Video Games – Pilot Episode

Written on October 13, 2011 – 9:40 am by Ding

A while ago, I wrote about how I couldn’t understand why more people didn’t try to make their own television shows.  I then couldn’t work out why I hadn’t tried to make one before.

As a result of these musings, I bring you my pilot episode of ‘An Introduction To Video Games’.

Making this, whilst fun, has taught me why more people don’t try it.  It’s much harder than it looks and takes ages to put together.  I do suspect that if I make another one, it will be produced much quicker!

Legitimate Critic

Written on September 8, 2011 – 12:58 pm by Ding

I have a problem whenever I review things.  There is an inner monologue that I seem to maintain that repeats the phrase “Who am I to say this?” over and over again driving me into a guilt spiral if I’ve been asked to review something that I deem to be not-very-good.

As far as I am concerned, the best critics have a deeper understanding of whatever it is they are critiquing.  As my field at the moment is predominantly games, I have a wide range of peers to look to for inspiration or despair.   As an example of a good critic, Yahtzee from Zero Punctuation is someone I appreciate not because of his oft hilarious turn of phrase but because I always feel he has a grounding of knowing what he’s talking about.  He can be pedantically critical, but that’s the best way to help a medium improve and it is always very clear just how much he loves the games he reviews.  Most importantly for me, his understanding has come from his contribution to the Indie games field and he has self published several titles and following his blog will reveal that he often works on several more that never see the light of day due to a mix of inertia, lack of time, or a realisation that the idea was better on paper.

Other reviewers also tend to read better in my opinion when they have game design experience.  The Rock Paper Shotgun reviews are always solid because they are also written by people who not only have a passion for games, but also have some experience with designing games or mods.  Likewise the Bit-Tech reviews (and yes I am a little biased here) are generally good because the guys that write them have dabbled in game design as well.  In this day and age, if you are interested enough in games to write about them, it would be crazy if you hadn’t dabbled in a little hobby-coding at some point, even if it’s playing around with a level editor or something.

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Game Addiction and Compulsion

Written on August 26, 2011 – 12:54 pm by Ding

The guys behind my favourite web show, Extra Credits, have recently done a two part episode on the issue of game addiction, the second part of which is a wildly different format to their usual set up due to the fact that it’s a subject that’s close to home for show writer James Portnow, and consisted of a very heartfelt retelling of his own personal experiences with game addiction/compulsion.

They make the point that games aren’t addictive in the medical sense as they don’t create a chemical dependency, but that they can be remarkably compelling and grown adults can turn away from real life to sink themselves into a virtual one.

They also make the very valid point that if you have fallen into this sort of lifestyle, you are not alone.

I know there are a couple of people who read this blog who politely (and often quite rightly) complain whenever I write something a little bit more personal than usual, so for you guys, this post might be one to skip.

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A Game’s Worst Enemy

Written on August 25, 2011 – 10:32 am by Ding

Any careful development or thoughtful planning on the part of anyone making games can be undone in one fell swoop from every game’s worst possible enemy.  Their nemesis.  Their one stumbling block on the way to greatness.

The player.

Any player has a unique ability to completely and utterly destroy any game.  There are several ways they can do this with some of the most popular methods being to play another game along the lines of making sure everyone else isn’t having fun, but the one that can scupper just about anything, online or offline, is where the player is given free reign to exercise their creativity.

Playing Space Marine at the preview event I went along to the other day (and look, here is my write up over at Bit-Tech), I started thinking about how the developers must dread players when we started playing the multiplayer part of the game.  Space Marine comes with the option to customize your power armoured super soldier down to the colours of individual parts of armour.  The intention here is that you can create unique designs or anything you might have painted if you happen to have been a fan of the miniatures.  The reality in most cases is however wildly different.

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What a Game Can Be

Written on August 23, 2011 – 10:00 am by Ding

After playing through Stanley Parable which I mentioned yesterday and having a bit more of a think about Swordquest, I started to reflect on what a game can be.

The more I learn about computer games (and indeed board games) as a medium, the harder it is to accurately define what a game actually is.  Even the notion that a game requires a specific win condition is starting to get increasingly hazy.

Many games now no longer resemble anything remotely game like and are often more accurately described as digital interactive experiences that in many respects are introspective explorations of the self rather than anything else.  In a similar way that comics in larger and longer formats tend to be called graphic novels, I can see that video games in some cases are going to lose the game part of their description in the future.

I foresee that playing a game pretty soon will often feel less and less like an actual game.  We already see this in the sense that high scores haven’t been a core aspect of games for a very long time.  Many games of course still have them, but many more don’t and even when they are present, they are rarely a driving force for playing, mainly being included because it just feels like they should be there.  Outside of online multiplayer, games are now story driven as opposed to skill driven.

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Monday Morning Fuel: The Stanley Parable

Written on August 22, 2011 – 11:06 am by Ding

Making a habit of coming in late to any party, last week I was clued into The Stanley Parable, a fan made mod for Half Life 2.

Playing this has the potential to redefine what you think of as a game, and its very existence as an entry to the medium makes actual definition of what a game is increasingly difficult.  It’s an exploration into the nature of free will, of fate, of futility, and of the way we are conditioned to respond in certain situations.  At least, that’s what I got out of it.  It’s also grimly rather funny.

There were also moments where I identified that the narrator was starting to sound a lot like I do after GMing for Dungeons and Dragons with a particularly inventive group of players.

The mod can be obtained here.  It is possible to play on Mac and PC through Steam and you require the Source SDK Base 2007 (If you have Half Life 2, you’ll have this).  Further instructions can be found on its download page.

In their words, the game is best if you don’t know anything about it before you play it, so actually, sorry for telling you something about it, but my original post of just a link and a name didn’t seem like enough.

Steam and Digital Distribution

Written on August 17, 2011 – 12:50 pm by Ding

Last week in talking about constant internet connection requirements, I mentioned Steam, a digital distribution service from Valve, one of the most respected, beloved and successful studios.

Steam is a service where you can buy digital copies of games and manage them under a single utility. You can download your purchases to any other machine you own with Steam installed, it will update and patch your games automatically, it will resolve several troubleshooting issues for you, and you can even maintain a friends list making it very easy to jump into multiplayer games with people you know.

The service also requires an internet connection to function properly, and is a form of digital rights management and not only restricts but prohibits the resale of games that you’ve purchased.

I initially was never a fan of Steam because I didn’t like my games all being tied into a single service and didn’t like being held hostage to an intermittent internet connection, but more recently I have come to accept the service. It gets my seal of approval just because it provides enough extra value to justify what it takes away from me. It did this by offering me older titles that I can no longer get working on my modern machine fully patched and running fine, by offering me newer titles for prices that are less than a pint and by introducing me to the world of crashing other friend’s multiplayer games and all of us as a result grabbing impromptu unplanned entertainment.

However, Steam is not without its drawbacks and in my view can only operate in a vacuum. There are several other companies that are trying to do the same thing and this could make for an awkward gaming landscape in the years to come.

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The Death of the Arcade

Written on August 15, 2011 – 12:59 pm by Ding

The gaming press often rolls out the odd nostalgic piece about arcades and how they were the prototype for gaming as a social activity and introduced hundreds and thousands of people to the hobby.  I often read these with a certain amount of awe as the gaming landscape they describe might as well be from Mars for all the sense it makes to me as I’ve never had an arcade experience in this way.

An arcade is a large, normally noisy, room full of game cabinets that eat your money in exchange for a goes on any particular game.  In my experience spanning the 90s to today, the games situated within tend to be punishingly difficult side scrolling beat-em-ups or shoot-em-ups, fighting games along the lines of Street Fighter, racing games often complete with a steering wheel, pedals and gear stick, or shooting games with their own gun peripherals.  In the early days of video gaming and technically before my time, things like Pac man or Donkey Kong started off in cabinet sized machines and the arcade was in actual fact where you had to go to do your gaming before the advent of home consoles.  Until relatively recently, the actual computing power of an arcade machine was vastly superior to anything you were likely to have at home.  The early console versions of arcade games in the 80s were often mere shadows of their technically superior cabinet dwelling cousins.

I recently watched something by the highly articulate and ever insightful Bob Chipman about the death of the arcade and unusually, nothing really resonated in the episode for me because I have no fond memories of arcades.  This is partly because I suspect they were never quite such a massive thing in the UK, partly because I’ve lived in a very rural area for most of my life, and partly because whenever I was confronted with an arcade machine, they tended to be far too expensive.  I vaguely remember being confronted with the occasional arcade machine in pubs when I was growing up and being fascinated by the flashing lights and how exciting they looked, but even at a young age being knocked back by how much money you had to continually feed into the things.

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Quick Comment: Games for Good

Written on August 12, 2011 – 10:16 am by Ding

To add another footnote to the “games are actually quite good for you” argument, read the last part of this news post from Penny Arcade headed “Dad Stuff”.

I am fully aware that Minecraft is a fairly unique game and equally aware that if I had it at a younger age, there would probably be a lot less Lego in my attic, but this is a beautiful example of how children can benefit from playing games.

Penny Arcade are probably the most incredible example of a force for good in gaming culture and from the content of a lot of their comics, I doubt many people saw it coming.  They truly are amazing people and whenever I hear someone criticise a webcomic of “just trying to be like Penny Arcade” I fail to see the criticism.  If the world was more like Penny Arcade, it would quite frankly be a better world.