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Monthly Archives: June 2012

The game space is a controversial place to be right now. A perfect storm of people exploring sexism in games, gamers being misogynist fuckhats, and clueless developers talking excitedly about how they’re going to treat their female leads in new and excruciatingly terrible ways have all come together and now the treatment of women in games is a big topic that’s getting tons of discussion. Which is swell, even if much of that discussion is shrill and irritating right now, because in the long term that will probably lead to better games with more strong female leads, which is something I approve of for reasons that aren’t entirely non-prurient.

Much of this storm has centered around the new Tomb Raider game, creatively titled… Tomb Raider. I’m not even going to get much into the meat of this controversy, because I’m actually going to be talking about how the entire stupid thing has emerged from sloppy decision-making. But, just so you’re all caught up, here is the story thus far: Basically, a developer of the new Tomb Raider game is interviewed and glibly, naively, idiotically babbles about how Lara Croft is a character who players want to protect and how she will be threatened with rape and how this will ultimately show how she came to be the rich globe-trotting thrill-seeker we all know and are vaguely apathetic about. So, in short, it is the dreaded gritty reboot.

Yes, the developers’ interpretation of ‘gritty’ seems to be unusually literal in this instance

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I am super tired today, so rather than a new essay I’m going to be sharing with you the work I’ve done so far on a project for this site. This is the start of a glossary of gaming terms for a new and more enlightened age. Any time you stumble across a piece of gaming jargon you’re not familiar with, you will be able to refer back to here to be edified. Even if you think you’re familiar with all of these terms, I’d recommend checking this out just to be sure you have it right.

These are the first 30 words of The Devil’s Gaming Glossary. More will be forthcoming in future updates.

               

Adventure: A genre of game wherein clicking on game characters results in a lengthy dialogue sequence rather than the abrupt demise of the character in question.

Balance: When done well, the reason why you’re winning. When done poorly, the reason why you’re losing.

Camper: A player who, against all rules of sportsmanship and good taste, refuses to let himself be shot

Casual Player: A player who spends questionable amounts of time playing suspiciously colorful games

Cheese: A derogatory term for any effective tactic

Classic: A game once enjoyed before developing any standards of quality

Competitive: A game type which replaces the AI with an unreliable substitute

DRM: A method of ensuring people don’t play a game; the opposite of advertising

F2P: A marketing model wherein a player may either spend more time playing the game they are willing to pay less for or less time playing the game they’re willing to pay more for

Game: Hobby, with added potential for failure

Genre: A broad category of game, chiefly describing similarities in box art and cinematics

Griefer: A player adept at finding entertainment in even the dullest of multi-player games

Grinding: A deprecated game mechanic, forcing the player to spend a great deal of time playing the game rather than enjoying the accompanying cinematics.

Gun: The primary method of interacting with a game’s world

Hacker: An exceptionally skilled player, not of ones accquaintance, in a competitive setting

Hardcore: Adjective used to describe a game simplified to be more accessible to an audience with special needs; the audience thus targeted

Immersive: Describes a game with mechanics so unoriginal the player grasps them intuitively and a world so unremarkable that the player has no difficulty believing it real

Innovative: Commercial failure

MMO: A single-player or small-scale cooperative game with other players available to talk to, thankfully spread across a large enough area that one can avoid interacting with them in any way possible

Mod: A project undertaken due to enthusiasm for a game predicated entirely upon the ways in which it is unsatisfactory

Noob: Any player not of ones accquaintance in a competitive setting

NPC: A speaking signpost that can be murdered

Realistic: Poorly balanced

Retro: A game made with a budget of less than a million dollars

Roguelike: A game that hates the player and just wants to be left alone

RPG: A genre wherein the player issues edicts to a band of 1-5 sociopaths as they practice meticulously robbing and murdering every living creature they encounter

Spam: The shot which killed you

Story: Series of cinematics used to recontextualize cold-blooded murder as heroism

Turtling: The tactic, in competitive games, of hoping one’s opponent will realize how boring the game has become before oneself does

Violence: A popular alternative to writing dialogue

I’m not going to claim that the concept of self-expression in games is a new one. There’s always some new game coming out boasting its level of customization which allows players to express their personalities in new and exciting ways (via mohawks, badass tats, and/or tutus), or there’s Role-Playing games which let you express yourself through the choices you make in the game-narrative (via killing and/or talking to a dude). I’d like to talk about a different kind of expression: expression through gameplay.

Pictured: Character customization, narrative expression

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“And maybe we’ll get lucky and we’ll both live again, well I don’t know, I don’t know, I don’t know, don’t think so.”

I am sitting in front of my computer trying to write an article. I am confident that if I fail to write a compelling essay, I can try again. I can try again and again, as many times as I need to. Maybe I will miss my self-imposed deadline, but I can try again.

(Can I?)

In the film Groundhog Day, a bitter weatherman (played by the always excellent Bill Murray) ends up trapped for a 24-hour eternity in a small town, reliving the same day over and over, until he eventually ‘gets it right,’ somehow. He improves himself, he learns to care about the people around him and he works to make their lives better. Something changes, the Groundhog Day prison erodes, and he continues to live a new life as a better person. I was surprised to hear that the term Groundhog Day now explicitly describes the idea of a situation that repeats itself over and over indefinitely, particularly in countries where the holiday is not celebrated (just as well, it is a pretty lousy holiday.)

I tried to crop out as much of Andie Macdowell as I could

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The Challenge

Challenge in competitive games is a tricky beast. While it’s largely the case that the challenge of your experience is determined by the skill of the players you’re competing against, the game design itself contributes to the challenge you experience as well, and not just by being obtuse and clunky. The neatest way to express this is through the concept of the skill curve.

Fundamentally, a skill curve represents how the player’s skill changes in relation to something else, such as hour of the day, background music volume, Cheeto consumption, or, most practically for our purposes, hours invested in playing the game. This is a related but distinct concept from that of a difficulty curve, which is only useful for describing single-player experiences due to the uncontrollable factors inherent to difficulty in a competitive setting (ie: other guys).

A stunningly accurate graphical representation of sucking at video games

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Game Over.

Two words that strike terror into the heart of every gamer. Except they really don’t, any more, because that concept has fallen by the wayside long ago. It seems that nowadays games don’t end when a player fails, they just stall. If you jiggle your key in the ignition they’ll start back up and you’ll be merrily on your way, presumably to save the world from… something.

There are exceptions, of course. In particular the ‘roguelike’, a complicated single-player RPG where dying once will force you to create a new character, has seen a recent resurgence: Both in traditional form (now using ascii graphics out of preference rather than necessity), and in new formats which bridge the gap between roguelikes and classic arcade games, which had similar harsh consequences softened by a smaller time investment.

It’s curious that two of the strongest recent examples of both consequence-free and consequence-heavy failure have come from the same designer, Edmund McMillen. In Super Meat Boy, the levels are savagely difficult obstacle courses wherein a single momentary twitch (or lack thereof) can lead to an instantaneous and bloody demise. However, dying merely sends you back to the beginning of the level, and those levels are usually quite short– the longest of them being about two or three minutes in length. It’s remarkably easy to get lost in the hypnotic skill game of trying to time each button press perfectly, and each time progressing a few pixels further into a murderous labyrinth.

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It’s Saturday and I’m still alive. I’ve managed to do a thousand word essay a day for four days in a row now, sufficient to make this site meaty enough that a first-time reader will have something to sink their teeth into (though hopefully they will still come away wanting more). However, I do not think I’m capable of keeping up this pace indefinitely, at least without treating this as my full-time job. Fortunately I’d never really planned to, so I don’t feel that I’m letting myself down here by saying, now, that I’m going to be transitioning into a two-essays-a-week schedule

New essays are scheduled to be posted to the site on Tuesdays and Fridays. That should hopefully give me plenty of time on Monday and Thursday to bang out a first draft, polish it up, send it to a few friends and family I trust for feedback, and hopefully have enough time remaining to edit it into a state of readability before posting it up for your perusal the next day. That is, assuming I behave responsibly and don’t just put it off until the last minute and bang it out as quickly as possible. We shall see.

I’m looking into some other solutions as well

However, just because I don’t intend to post essays daily doesn’t mean the site will be dead on off days. I have a lot of ideas for potential extra content to add. If anyone would like to see me review a game or interview a person, feel free to comment or email me at problem.machine@gmail.com and I will do my best to accommodate the request, although my financial means and contact list are meager at best. Also, if you have any other ideas for content you’d like to see here, by all means contact me and tell me what you’d like to see. The audience is half of what defines a piece of art.

Additionally, I would like to start posting pieces of music and concept art at some point, as well as possibly small game prototypes or code experiments. I’m really not sure what kind of schedule I can stick to as far as these things go, but I’d like to institute a release schedule for them at some point. I may experiment with releasing, say, one piece of music and one drawing a week at some point in the future. Regarding programming, though, there’s not much point in me releasing anything unless I have a specific idea to work on, so I’m not sure to what extent I can schedule that at all.

Finally, I would eventually like to transition this into doubling as game-dev-blog for a project I’ve been working on intermittently for some time. I’m still trying to decide what I want to tell the world about this project, but my hope is that by opening up the development process to my friends here that I can inspire myself to stick to the project more regularly and get others as excited about it as I am.

This will be an adventure. Let us proceed. To the future!