Sep 5, 2013

[Consumption vs Naturalism in Animal Crossing]

via Gamasutra
"Animal Crossing deploys a procedural rhetoric about the repetition of mundane work as a consequence of contemporary material property ideals. When my (then) five-year-old began playing the game seriously, he quickly recognized the dilemma he faced. On the one hand, he wanted to spend the money he had earned from collecting fruit and bugs on new furniture, carpets, and shirts. On the other hand, he wanted to pay off his house so he could get a bigger one like mine. Then, once he did amass enough savings to pay off his mortgage, the local shopkeeper and real estate tycoon Tom Nook offered to expand his house. While it is possible to refrain from upgrading, Nook, an unassuming raccoon, continues to offer renovations as frequently as the player visits his store. My son began to realize the trap he was in: the more material possessions he took on, the more space he needed, and the more debt he had to take on to provide that space. And the additional space just fueled more material acquisitions, continuing the cycle."
  One thing that I have never seen anyone else notice or remark on about Animal Crossing, is the fact that all the housing items in the game are represented by a leaf icon whenever dropped  on the ground outside a building. The significance of that may be lost on most Westerners who aren't familiar with the Japanese mythology that surrounds the animal that Tom Nook is -- which is to say he's actually a tanuki, and not a raccoon.

  Tanuki are known for casting enchantments on things like leaves to make them look like treasure, and tricking stupid humans with it. When the tanuki magic wears off, the objects are revealed to actually be worthless. In other words, signs may be pointing to Tom Nook's entire business being more of a scam than Crazy Redd's black market. =P

  The fact that this tanuki trickery seems to be alluded to in Animal Crossing is very interesting, and even more so in the context of the above article, in my opinion.

Aug 12, 2013

[Some RPGMaker Game Recommendations]

  Here's an interesting post at Border House about the culture of preemptive judgment surrounding RPGMaker games (and other 'accessible' dev toolsets), with a list of examples of the quality results that are possible from it.

  I personally think being able to affordably build smaller games is a great way for developers to perfect new ideas and try innovative concepts on a smaller scale, particularly when compared to the stifling risk-aversion you'll see from AAA side of things. I think with the rise of the indie scene in recent years, there may be less stigma surrounding these kinds of games than there was in the past.

 The only RPGMaker game I've played is Embric of Wulfhammer's Castle, which I thought was rather good, so any recommendations as to other gems out there is appreciated, as well. :)

Jul 15, 2013

[Are There Just Fewer Stories to Tell?]

  I've been musing over the recent wave of posts from some of the more established MMO bloggers decrying the death of the 'MMO blog', but after reading various bloggers' takes on the issue and watching this (rather brilliant) presentation on the culture of narrative and player/content dialogue in games, I think I understand a large part of the issue (and it's the culmination of something I started feeling dissatisfied about years ago back when the only MMORPG I had ever played was WoW).

  It's not that the MMORPG genre in particular is dying per se (the term 'MMO' has expanded to include so many variations of games precisely because it's grown so much). I think part of it is that nowadays there are fewer stories you can tell within it. Why blog about your experience doing heavily scripted/cut scene'd content that will be experienced in the exact same way by everyone else who's ever done it (or watched a Let's Play)? That doesn't lead to interesting or compelling player stories. Aside from navel-gazing and pontificating on one's personal taste in gameplay or following the latest dev studio drama, perhaps the recent field of MMORPGs just doesn't lend itself to much in the way of compelling personal material of the sort that inspires people to want to write much about it.

  This is not an issue unique to MMORPGs. Modern games have been struggling with this issue of how to engage players and bring more meaningful experiences for years now. So far, the idea has been to 'AAA' up the game and make it as cinematic as possible (apeing movies) and completely overlooking that the procedural aspect of 'worldy' MMORPGs is what makes them so compelling to people in the first place. The result is a heavily homogenized experience that may be fun enough for the individual, but without those unique, unpredictable flashes that make recounting the experience to others interesting.

  It's only natural that as most games have moved toward a painstakingly streamlined, heavily-guided game experience, that bloggers would find less incentive to talk about it. Generic gameplay info and reviews are better presented via YouTube videos and fan forums. Individual dialogues on a specific game or essays about one's adventures in it are harder to present in a unique or interesting way. The fact seems to be that there are now thousands of perfectly adequate MMOGs out there lately, but few that are worth regularly blogging about.

Related Reading:  
The Blogs Reflect the Genre
Retro Servers and the Light at the End of the Tunnel
I Don't Care What You're Doing In Your MMO

Feb 21, 2013

[The Corruption of AAA and What it Means for 'Games as Art']

A harsh excoriation on the decadence of the videogame industry (and why it means 'games as an artform' and respect for the medium is actually undermined by it), via Medium Difficulty. 

   Really sums up how I've been feeling lately (particularly on the issue of lack of accountability). Between the above article and John Teti's takedown of the PS4 reveal, there's not much else I can add to the generally-unimpressed feelings I've been getting from a lot of industry news lately. Though it was reassuring reading these pieces with feelings so similar to mine and realizing that it's not just me becoming an insufferable gaming hipster (though that could be part of it too, I suppose). =P

  Regardless, the problems of budget bloat, overhype, creative stagnation, technology-fetishism and fear of straying too far out of the box are all things that have plagued most post-WoW MMORPGs as well, so I feel this topic is worth bringing up in a context beyond just console games.

Related Reading:
What's Wrong With the AAA MMO Industry?
The Folly of David Cage
Dev warns Against Economically Unviable Next Gen

Jan 30, 2013

[Stop With the Pointless CGI Trailers, Already]

I am seriously tired of cinematic MMORPG trailers. Sick of them. The recent trailer for The Elder Scrolls Online just summed up all my annoyances with these things:

  Sure, they look really cool, and can thrill the imagination. But they have ZERO bearing on the actual game, and they show nothing of significance about the gameplay (you know, the bit that actually matters?). The more slick and impressive one is the more I think "How much money was wasted on making this rather than being invested in something useful for the game?" Rather than getting me interested, these things are starting to actually turn me off. They seem to be more of an advertisement of how much a game studio's priorities are in the wrong place; how they want flashy imagery to excite people's interest rather than the merits of the game speaking for itself.

  And in the case of TESO, especially, when so little of what we've heard about it is anything significantly concrete about the actual game. When your potential playerbase is already skeptical and more interested in finding out whether or not your game is yet another amalgam of tired MMO cliches in a new skin, showing off a fancy 6 minute cutscene trailer illustrating cool stuff that nobody ingame can actually do, most likely, is not a good idea in my opinion. What does this stuff have to do with what people will actually be able to experience? This looks like it'd be a cool movie but tells me jack about whether its an interesting game.

  Overall, though, MMO studios need to stop with the gimmicky PR garbage and focus on the quality of their product, not the volume of their hype. Because as excitable as many MMO players can be, I think we've reached a critical level of jaded low tolerance for the same old crap in a different box. No amount of fanciful CGI shenanigans is going to save your game if it can't actually deliver. I swear the priorities of AAA MMO studios nowadays are really backwards.

Jan 28, 2013

[The Folly of CRPGs in the West and Japan]

  Via the Insomnia blog: an interesting article dissecting the chronic design failures of the CRPG genre, and why the result is that people have a hard time pinning down just what exactly a 'RPG' even is anymore.

  As someone whose first experiences with 'RPG's were of the Japanese variety (on the SNES) their criticisms of the genre are hard to hear but I have to admit they make a lot of sense (particularly in explaining why as a genre JRPGs have have been in decline for years now).

Related Reading:

Jan 11, 2013

[Let the New Ones In!]

 via The Mary Sue:
"Gamers are so quick to lash out against those who don’t understand our hobby. We go non-linear when people claim that games aren’t art, or that games cause real-world violence, or that we all need to grow up and stop wasting our time. In a general sense, I don’t see any major difference between the art critic who says games don’t belong in museums, the family friend who immediately brought up Sandy Hook after I mentioned that I write about games, or the parents convinced that their kids won’t learn anything useful from digital play. We roll our eyes and complain about how such people just don’t get it, but that’s exactly it — they don’t get it, and so often, we fall short when trying to explain. When we make arguments about the cultural importance of games, are we making an effort to reach out to those who have no experience with the medium? Or are we just talking to each other? When we sneer at casual games or easy mode, are we remembering that all of us needed to start somewhere, too?"
   A great anecdote about reaching a non-gamer through gaming, and asking if the rest of us really have the patience and desire to connect with 'outsiders' and 'newbies' in order to share our love of games.

Related Reading:
Learning the Language

Jan 9, 2013

[When Fandom Turns Toxic]

  The lead writer for the Dragon Age series on why they avoid the forums for their own game:

"I imagine that can happen to any online community. Eventually the polite, reasonable folks stop feeling like it’s a group of people they want to hang around. So they leave, and those who remain start to see only those who agree with them— and, because that’s all they see, they think that’s all there is. Everyone feels as they do, according to them. Once the tipping point is passed, you’re left with the extremes… those who hate, and those who dislike the haters enough to endure the toxic atmosphere to try and combat them. Each clash between those groups drives more of the others away."

  It's been years since I've played WoW, but so far as I know their boards are also still highly toxic environments. The community was famous for being awful even before WoW.
I know that even ArenaNet didn't want to host an official forum out of similar concerns that it would be too difficult to keep it from becoming an echo chamber of negativity and hostility. What is it about gaming communities that allow us to treat such awful communities where people dump inordinate amounts of vitriol on the devs and each other as normal and par for the course? It's been said that only a tiny percentage of a game's playerbase ever sets foot in a game's official forum (or any forum), so at least we can believe that it's just a minority responsible for the majority of this problem, but it still doesn't remove the bad taste.

Related Reading:
Taming the Forum Tiger