Some Followup

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These are some of the best videos I’ve seen on the Anita Sarkeesian publicity stunt that happened a few months ago.

Also worth checking out this YouTuber’s videos on Mass Effect 3, Jennifer Hepler, and other videogame related subjects.

Mass Effect vs. Lord of the Rings

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Just read a pretty interesting article which piles on the bandwagon pointing out why Mass Effect 3’s ending sucks, comparing Mass Effect to Lord of the Rings.

While I agree mostly with the overall thrust of his argument, the author of this article goes a little far in praise of Mass Effect:

The simple fact of the matter is that Mass Effect is a story, and it’s a very good story — in my opinion, it’s one of the best stories I’ve ever experienced. People can hem and haw about what constitutes a story — about whether a game can really be a story if people can play it — as though a story is only a story if it’s spoken or written or projected up on a movie screen. That’s like saying a person is only a person if they walk or ride a horse or drive a car… because we all know the vehicle in which the subject is conveyed changes that subject’s inherent nature.

Some people say it’s not a real story because the player’s choices can alter it. I think they’re full of crap, and I say the proof of its power as a story is right there in the story-pudding — it affects me as a story does — and that’s all the criteria met. Walks like duck, quacks like duck, therefore duck.

But the problem (if you’re BioWare) is that human beings understand stories; we know how they’re supposed to work, thanks to thousands of years of cultural training. Mass Effect (until that conclusion) is a nigh-perfect example of how a story is done correctly, thanks in part to the medium, which allows (if you’ll permit me the slaughter of a few sacred cows) a level of of immersion and connection beyond what a book or movie or any other storytelling medium up to this point in our cultural history can match, because of the fact that you can actively take part in that story from the inside. Heresy? Fine, brand me a heretic; that’s how I see it.

Our author here seems to have pretty low expectations for writing in general. Mass Effect is a mediocre story and always has been. But it cost a lot of money to make and has good overall production values.

Circling the Bioware Wagons

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I thought this letter from “Dr. Ray Muzyka” was pretty interesting. Quoting it here in its entirety because I have a feeling it may disappear forever.

Continue Reading »

Mass Effect 3 Ending

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It’s pretty obvious that Mass Effect 3’s ending couldn’t have lived up to the expectations of some of the series’ fans. However, what Mass Effect fans got was an ending that did far less than fail to live up to their expectations: It failed to be logical, provide emotional closure, or even be consistent with itself.
One really has to wonder what happened at Bioware that led to this mess being released. I don’t think I have seen a single person who expressed more than a hesitant acceptance of the ending. When the best even the most rabid fanboys has to say is, “Well, I can kind of see how it might work,” you have probably erred horrendously.

Responding to Borderlands Ravings

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Linking off of a rather insightful article about how the Borderlands team interpreted feedback from playtesters, I just read a long 10,000 word essay praising Borderlands.

I was hoping this essay would be insightful. It maintained my interest for the most part, but I’m not sure it really qualified as insightful.

The gist of it is that Borderlands is an amazing game because it has addictive qualities. Yes, people enjoy finding good loot. Is that surprising? No not really, Diablo and Diablo 2 proved that pretty well. Does Gearbox have any magic formula, or even any deep understanding? I find that a dubious assertion at best.

The author tries to assert there are certain key components to why Borderlands’ looting is so addictive. Notably, glitches in the General Knoxx Vault and the Crawmerax boss. That might be the case, with the caveat that these might be key components only for him. I don’t see any particular merit in the Knoxx glitch or the Crawmerax glitch. I used the Knoxx glitch once, when shown in Coop play, then lost interest in it. Sure, finding a rare item might be nice, but if the entire game is so uninteresting that the only thing I want to do is run around and pick up guns? Sorry, I’ll pass.

In any case, the author seems to really lavish the praise on Borderlands but personally I found myself falling asleep playing it. The game itself was a snoozefest, with slow movement, relatively uninteresting enemies, poor vehicle handling, same-y guns, and a bad story. The only saving grace of Borderlands, in my experience, was the cooperative play. But even with that, I found myself and the friends I was playing with dozing off during the game.

The author asserts that only a certain elite cadre were playing the real game and privy to its addictive glory. Well, we bought all the DLC and played the game up to the level cap. I suppose it’s true, once we finished the main storyline and all of the DLC content, we stopped. There’s really no point in spending hundreds of hours opening up chests or glitching bosses in a videogame that is otherwise uninteresting. Lets hope Borderlands 2 moves away from the raw grinding treadmill.

Cognitive Tools: Apex Fallacy

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Recently I came across a bit of an interesting observation — And it really struck home for me in terms of pithily summing up one of many fatal critiques of Feminist pseudo-scholarship.

[Feminist] critique started when some women systematically looked up at the top of society and saw men everywhere: most world rulers, presidents, prime ministers, most members of Congress and parliaments, most CEOs of major corporations, and so forth — these are mostly men. Seeing all this, the feminists thought, wow, men dominate everything, so society is set up to favor men. It must be great to be a man. The mistake in that way of thinking is to look only at the top. If one were to look downward to the bottom of society instead, one finds mostly men there too.

This is a quote by Dr. Helen Smith. What she’s describing is a phenomenon known as the Apex Fallacy. It’s a wonderful shorthand for understanding that even at the fundamental level, Feminist critiques are blind to a wealth of contradictory evidence. Unfortunately, I’ve never seen anyone articulate the idea of the Apex Fallacy until now. Maybe in another ten years the idea will have caught on well enough that people making Apex Fallacy mistakes will be pointed out on it.

Sexism? Or Just Not PC?

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So Shamus just posted over at his site discussing a video that showcases a so-called reality show called Game Boss, presumably about some group of game-developer rejects. For reference, here’s the video.

Now the brunt of the reaction to the video seems to be about the second proposal showcased, which seems to be making an ineffectual, tongue-in-cheek jab at feminism. The backstory of the game proposal being that by 2021 the European Union is taken over by feminists and their main villain is an angry, childless woman in menopause.

This, of course, is being used to demonstrate that these guys are SEXIST and MISOGYNIST!

But are they really? Lets put this proposal into context. The previous contestants proposed a boss fight that involved launching the plague-ridden corpses of dead princesses at the player, and then later following up with the idea that the player would have to dodge a literal stream of excrement. This isn’t exactly highbrow stuff the other guys are producing, all of them are rolling around in the gutters. So the idea of making a game that is also social commentary seems fine to me. It may be inept social commentary, but then I don’t expect games, game designers, game journalism, or reality TV to produce good social commentary.

Being that I’m not the type of person to fly off the handle at some socially awkward guys presenting a poor satire, I decided to do a little research.

Where did this video montage come from? It turns out the Game Boss show aired sometime in early-mid 2011. Very old news in our 24/7 hype-and-outrage driven media culture.
It was posted to YouTube by a user named OffalAl. This guy also posted a second montage clip containing many of the same video clips although slightly different. In the comments to that video, he posted a link to the website Gamers are Embarassing.

If you take a look at the Gamers are Embarassing site you’ll notice that it essentially takes offense to the entire idea that people play and enjoy videogames. I’ll be the first to admit that “gamer culture” is a ghetto that I’m eager to step away from. But the guy thinks that this unabashedly cute video is somehow deeply embarrassing. He’s also quite persistent in trying to argue that gamer culture is “rape culture” or somehow celebrates rape. Also included in the typical topics are:

  • can’t deal with gender
  • can’t deal with homosexuality
  • can’t deal with race
  • can’t deal with relationships
  • can’t deal with women

That’s right, If you enjoy videogames, you’re a racist, homophobic misogynist virgin. You obviously don’t have the “correct” views if you’re a gamer. If you have a sense of humor and are able to see the fun in a character like Duke Nukem, you’re a sexist rape-promoting bigot. As far as I’m concerned, while gamers might be somewhat embarrassing, they’re certainly more intelligent and better company than somewhat deranged leftist blog authors with an axe to grind. The only cringe-worthy thing I found is that games journalism continues to cater to the increasing unhinged views of people like the Gamers are Embarassing blog author.

Why I’ll Never Buy Battlefield 3

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A couple years back I bought Battlefield: Bad Company 2 when it went on sale. I’m generally not interested in big name military shooters, as they are pretty boring games where the emphasis is on whoever-shoots-first-wins style gameplay and their storylines are hackneyed Tom Clancy & Michael Bay ripoffs. But despite the shallow gameplay, it’s occasionally nice to hop in for a little bit and play around. My favorite antic in Bad Company 2 is to use the M136 guided rocket launcher as a sniping weapon. This is a rocket launcher much like the rocket launcher in Half Life 2, where the rockets can be guided mid-flight, and is also intended as primarily a means to take out flying opponents like Helicopters. This is pretty fun to headshot people with, as it’s not intended for use on infantry at all, and the reactions are priceless.

When I heard Battlefield 3 was coming out, I saw the trailers and was interested. If anything it looks like it’d be great fun to play around and troll people in, much like Bad Company 2. As you can probably tell from the title of this post, though, it wasn’t meant to be.

Electronic Arts, in their infinite wisdom, decided that Battlefield 3 would not be on Steam but rather on EA’s own proprietary digital distribution system, EA Origin. EA seems to have a record of shooting themselves in the foot when it comes to DRM on games. Mirror’s Edge, BioShock 2, Battlefield 3. I’ve got 20+ games on Steam, do I really need or want to start getting games on another competing “gaming service”? No. I’ve already got GalCiv 2, which ended up in patch limbo when Stardock decided all updates to GalCiv 2 should be delivered through Impulse, then sold off their Impulse service to GameStop. Furthermore, buying into EA Origin just encourages all the other major publishers to start up their own “gaming services” where they can continue to charge retail-box prices without the inconvenience of producing physical product, manuals, or even the expectation that players own their games rather than rent them.

So, no thanks again.

Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition

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For those who hadn’t heard, D&D 5th edition is in development. My reaction is at once unsurprised, but interested. Dungeons and Dragons players tend to be a bit cynical, and so when 3rd (or 3.5) edition was killed off in favor of 4th edition, many players predicted that it wouldn’t be long until Hasbro / Wizards of the Coast killed 4th edition to force players into purchasing another set of books.

I’m not sure if they were right, but it sure looks like it.

It’s a shame, because I liked 4th edition a lot. I personally thought it was a pretty well designed system that resolved a lot of my problems with 3rd edition. Of course, I also liked 3rd edition a lot, and thought that it was a good improvement over 2nd edition (granted, my recollection of 2nd edition is very fuzzy). Both 4th and 3rd edition had their problems, although I would argue that a lot of my perceived problems with these editions simply arise due to the constant production of power-creep enhancements and the ability of the internet to disseminate it all.

I’m currently running a 4th edition campaign, and I’m often surprised at what my player characters can do. Why? Because my players subscribe to the online D&D service that provides all the latest munchkin book goodness for player characters in a handy web application. I am willing to work with players to let them do what they want with their characters and the campaign (it’s a collaboration after all, not my own little lordship) but it’s somewhat annoying to find that players are airily grabbing this and that to min-max their damage and to-hit bonuses. I’m pretty convinced that the sheer volume of crunch leads to the swift decline of the game system as a whole. When the game is mastering the system, then mastery of the system is the end of the game.

In any case, there isn’t much information about 5th Edition out there yet, but Mike Mearls’ letter introducing it seems to indicate that 5th edition will have a modular design whereby players will be able to decide for themselves what they want to use. The goal seems ambitious but also infeasible. There’s a lot of different ideas out there on how D&D should work, developed over the last 30+ years. In that time frame D&D has gone from the archetype to the grand-daddy to the computer-game-simulator. I don’t think it’s possible to bring everyone in under one tent, at least not without essentially publishing a bunch of different rulebooks.

Myself, I’m skeptical of their goals but I’m hoping it goes in an interesting direction. My hopes are especially high that this edition of D&D will focus on delivering a good product that will really embrace new technologies (like phones and tablets) that are becoming ubiquitous and could totally replace reference books for most players.

If I’m feeling ambitious I’ll elaborate a little more later on what I’d like to see in a 5th edition, as a “Best of all Worlds” approach.