axe to grind

GTAV is definitely bringing out the worst hypocrisy out of journalism. Here’s an example:

For a game defined by its attitude to freedom and openness, it gives you very little liberty to escape its structure. You can go for a drive, or play tennis or do yoga, but you’re delaying the inevitable.

Well respected Leigh Alexander, who writes for her public the stuff that her public demands. It’s well written, but the arguments are terribly weak. That quote isn’t a superficial extrapolation, but the actual point around which the whole thing pivots. And it’s deeply hypocritical.

Too much axe to grind.

I guess she should go play some Final Fantasy instead. Really, why isn’t she writing this article about Final Fantasy? I guess because that’s not where the axe to grind is.

Or even Skyrim.

Or even every game out there since the beginning of times up to now.

Pac-man. Why I can’t break out of the labyrinth, or go convincing the ghosts that we all can live happily?

Or maybe next she’s going to complain that she watched a movie and couldn’t get a character do what she wanted when she yelled at the screen?

The tragedy of Grand Theft Auto V is that they didn’t call her to write it. She seems to resent this a lot.

it gives you very little liberty to escape its structure

Game Design 101: structure is the game. A game without a structure is not a game.

Methinks the HRose doth protest too much. She can’t critique X because she’s not also critiquing Y, Z & the rest of the alphabet?

As for her specific criticisms, at least her point about emergent gameplay having evolved not at all and the storytelling having become increasingly directed over the last few generations of the series, I don’t really see how you can disagree with.

… I’m burnt out on games like GTA & Skyrim exactly because the Half Life portions other games do better and the sandbox stuff they do exactly like, if not worse, than they did 10 years ago.

Yes but that’s the excuse. That’s why the article is so hypocritical. That’s a valid complaint that applies to the whole game genre.

But it’s not a case she’s writing this about GTA, after having mocked GTA before, and grafting that article onto the whole controversy about misogyny. That’s her angle. Right now GTA is the evil dude that everyone is pointing at. And she’s complaining that GTA tells a story she doesn’t like, while it prevents her to have the story she wants.

In the comments someone wrote:
“the problem is a lack of female creators making alternatives.”

And that’s right. That’s why people like Christine Love should be treasured (the same people who are super fast loving and retweeting everything Leigh Alexander writes just because it sides with their faction). She actually makes alternatives, instead of complaining about what GTA is not. And no one goes complaining to Christine Love there’s no dude in her games.

Leigh’s argument is completely non-specific to GTA, but she exploits it to drive her point. This is hypocritical. She’s simply seeing what she wanted to see before opening the box. If the real point is to prove sandboxes aren’t as good as they could be, then this article is a very poor one because it’s so rabid and specific about a single game.

I’m not saying it’s easy, or that there aren’t legitimate complaints about the state of the industry, but you can’t redirect this specifically to a single game that does its own thing. GTA could have done all those things. They are all missed opportunities. But it’s not up to us to make those choices or catch those opportunities.

In this discussion GTA just represents jealousy (we want our own GTA) or expediency (everyone talks about it, so let’s raise a stink).

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Why we videogaming (on GTAV controversy)

My point of view on the controversy, least everything get drown in hypocrisy.

I use a forum comment directed at me to explain myself.

Are you actually complaining about people’s suggestions that maybe GTA could have made one of its 3 main characters a woman? And/or included some interesting female NPC characters? I mean these aren’t crazy demands.

I’m of the opinion that “it could”. The problem is when “could” is turned into “should”. Or “has to”.

I don’t go to telling a writer the story he “should” or “has to” write. But I can choose the stories that interest me. In art, there is no “should” and there are no rules one imposes on someone else because of some self-assigned moral superiority. There’s only the subjective point of view of the author and the specific story he decides to tell. Equality is needed, as a political stance, in the real world, not in a personal work of art or a fictional story. Moral laws forced on fiction are what brought to Orwell’s 1984 world, some people establishing what’s good for everyone else. Deciding in your place what is appropriate and what is not. No one should have that power on culture.

Misogyny is a problem in the real world and we should strive to change it. But changing the world by trying to manipulate and control culture is once again Orwell’s world, regardless of the worthy goal. It’s an intolerable way to achieve a good thing, and it means losing that legitimacy. It’s a cultural crime to fix another. So, the problem in Orwell’s world wasn’t because the bad guys had the power, but the simple fact that this power was in someone’s hands. No one should have that power, no one can claim that throne.

So it’s not that I’m against the idea of including women, or women protagonists into GTA. But that’s not MY choice. Nor I’m entitled to tell Rockstar (or anyone else working on his own thing) what is appropriate or not appropriate to show in a game.

That’s the main point for me: with movies we accept all kinds of themes and perspectives, while with games it’s automatic that certain themes shouldn’t be touched and are no-go zone (the torture thing). Why? Because we naturally assume games are only for kids.

It is instead absolutely legitimate to make a general observation and to complain about the game genre at large, and ask for a better representation of both genders. What is not legitimate is to bring that demand down on a specific game. Nor is legitimate to make a political pressure as it happens right now in some journalistic articles filled with shallow snark and claiming moral superiority. That’s just a way to exploit people’s feelings and rouse hostility, wrongly redirecting a legitimate demand.

I don’t go tell Thomas Pynchon which characters he should put in the next book, or that if he wants to tell “x” story then he also HAS TO include “y” story. I’m not entitled to do that, I do not want to do that.

I should mention that in my life I’ve played a few minutes of San Andreas and a few minutes of GTA4 (and maybe a couple of hours of the old 2D GTA). So I’m not writing this to defend “my territory”.

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Games are for kids

Evidence that games are for kids and that you can’t even SUGGEST a slightly more complex or ambitious idea. That speaks volumes of the immaturity of the medium. You can’t even IMAGINE about going NEAR certain themes. People will freak out.

Hence, the immaturity of the medium is demonstrated by filters: you can’t show that, you can’t mention that. No go zone. No. No.

People freak out, people go hysterical: immature. All triggered by a theme that is acceptable in movies, but not acceptable in games, because games are for kids. To be played by kids. Adults can’t have games, as long they aren’t ALSO for kids.

So a game will always have narrow boundaries compared to “mature” mediums that can instead embrace every theme (and it is interesting this is happening to me at the same time the GTA controversy builds up).

Yes, but the purpose of my thread wasn’t to give a “cool concept for some game”. In fact all the gameplay side is something I already discussed years ago and that I didn’t think was worth bringing up again.

That thread only offered a story side, that is then mixed with gameplay. It’s an abstract story concept, a fun idea. I brought it up because I’m reading frequently that “games have to be their own medium” and telling stories that are only possible exclusively as games. Since that idea has, from my perspective, no hope of being realized, I thought it was interesting for someone else to read about it and have fun reading it. It’s fully complete. It’s a concept that maybe other people can use or spin their own way. It’s a post-modern interpretation of a genre.

So it was meant to be enjoyed as just a story: the transformation of a player perspective.

I’m sorry the way it was phrased at the very last line brought it to awful misinterpretation, since those accuses are really completely alien to the idea itself, but fine. I understand that not everyone has the same cultural background I have. There are strong cyberpunk influences there that come from Tsukamoto movies. For example the “iron rod” into mouth/head thing comes from this.

This body/machine is a cyberpunk theme, I used it because it means something in that story of a man becoming a ship, man and machine, man and computer. The reference about rape isn’t sexually metaphoric in the way it refers to normal sexuality in real life, it’s just a theme under the body/machine category. And entirely alien to sexism. It doesn’t “connect” man to woman, or man to man, or woman to woman. It connects *man to machine*. This story is about game as a medium, and so the interaction between the fictional and non-fictional level, the mind and the body, soul and hardware, flesh and metal. Cartesian dualism, mind/body dichotomy, Godel paradox, Homunculus problem. Cyberpunk isn’t sexist even if it deal with bodies or violence against a body, or fusion between body/machine. And fine, I understand if some themes are TABU here even if they are used in a more nuanced way and far away from how one usually sees sexism in games. I thought it was an “adult” forum and that it was possible to talk conscientiously about these things without people freaking out.

Tetsuo, again, uses sexuality, but not as its end. It’s simply a cyberpunk theme of the man/machine category. And sexuality is not always sexism, nor metaphorical of sex as an act. The cyberpunk theme of “fusion with a machine” is symbolized as a sexual act.

The symbol is “sex”, the meaning and theme is “fusion with a machine”. I used it the same way in that last line. There was no “subconsciously sexual” meaning beside the interaction between consciousness and information, or free will versus deterministic system. Or player and artificial intelligence. That was dialogue between player and AI. Literally AI speaking to you.

So again I understand if that’s immediately a no-go zone for some people, but you can’t blame me just because I thought people would be more reasonable and less hysterical about this. Nor I accept being accused of sexism or even worse things.

And what happened here (beside hiding it behind the policy of “no ideas here”) is just the demonstration that games are still a terribly immature genre because of perceived boundaries of what you can or cannot put in a game. Games are for kids, least you try for something more complex.

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Blizzard and Microsoft look-alike

No more Auction House in Diablo 3.

Much like Microsoft’s backpedaling on the Xbox One, Blizzard backpedals on idiotic Diablo game design choices.

it became increasingly clear that despite the benefits of the AH system and the fact that many players around the world use it, it ultimately undermines Diablo’s core game play: kill monsters to get cool loot.

Diablo 3 was released in May 2012, and was long in development before then.

It took them a while to reach the same conclusion immediately evident to everyone else.

Game design at its worst.

I’m amused by how gullible gamers are. I’m reading on forums that Blizzard is doing this out of “good will”.

Nope. This move is because they want to sell the expansion next year.

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Cometh: He comes (AAA Postmodern gameconcept that will never exist)

I was listening to a TotalBiscuit video, specifically where he claimed that games should attempt to use their own medium in specific ways, telling stories only possible in that medium. And I remembered that I had a cool game concept that did just that: it’s a particular story, strictly woven with the gameplay, that just wouldn’t work in another medium. You can’t turn it into a movie, or a book, or comics, or a TV series or whatever else. It’s a game story, and it only works as a game story.

P.S. About accuses of sexism (because of the controversial and easily misunderstood last line), I answered here.

I think it’s a great concept. The gameplay side of it I had already explained in the past. But I kept “secret” how that gameplay tied back into the story, which is the aspect that elevates this concept to something unique and insanely ambitious and daring. Since I’m not doing anything with this idea and since I’ve sat on it long enough, I thought about just throwing it in public domain. Use it any way you want.

The basic idea is about a space sim. It brings together a number of influences because that’s how I roll: take ideas from disparate mediums.

Not exactly a “space sim”. The basic concept is that instead of fighting against an handful of enemy AI ships, you fight instead against WAVES of enemies. Hundreds of enemy ships. Combat behavior of enemy ships is less based on autonomous AI and more on elaborate “choreography”. The idea is to have a visceral simulation that is instead inspired to “Space Invaders”. Or even think about Homeworld. Only that now you are alone versus hundreds of waves of enemies.

To balance the difficulty, obviously, gameplay doesn’t rely on balance between what your ship can do and what enemy ships can do. You are almost invulnerable, can take many hits. You are extremely overpowered compared to them. But this doesn’t remove the feeling of fighting against impossible odds. Battles should look desperate. You look out of your cockpit window and see the space SWARMING with enemies, all coming at you (influence here: Gunbuster).

Some of this concept I actually talked about in the past, but the part I kept “secret” was how the fictional layer (the story) plugs into that. That’s the thing I wanted to explain here, but I’ll get to it at the end. The basic fictional frame of the game is the one of the “exodus”. Think of the first part of Macross/Robotech (or Battlestar Galactica). You fly on a massive mothership on a long journey toward salvation after your world has been destroyed, but waves of enemy keeps coming at you. When they do, you get into your ship and try to save the day, and defend the mothership.

Here the other core idea: the Comet (without the ‘h’). It’s the player’s ship. The inspiration is Jules Verne’s Nautilus, and the concept I wanted to bring to space sims: you don’t simply shoot at enemy ships, but YOU RAM INTO THEM. Punch holes into them. The thing I wanted to achieve is to have a VISCERAL sim. Nuts and bolts. Not technology (this implausibility will return in the story). The most important part is to model the pilot’s model into the 3D cockpit. The arms need to be visible, continuously moving, pressing switches. It’s essential that there’s this visceral, tangible physicality. The ship must look as if “analog”, not digital sophistication. I want a Gothic cockpit. Plates of metal bolted into place, almost a steampunk look, steam coming out of vents. I want handles and straps that the pilot grasps when in Comet/ramming mode. Handmade cockpit as if pounded iron bent roughly into shape. Not sleek metal. Cockpit very tight, claustrophobic (inspiration: Tetsuo: The Iron Man).

Both the pilot and the ship need be alive. The pilot makes breathing sounds, speaks to himself aloud. Yells at enemies, cheers, screams for pain. He can also makes gestures toward enemies when something blows up just right and so on. It needs having this kind of autonomous life and personality while the player still handles the controls (this is also part of the story).

The ship is also alive. It creaks, wails, screams (Evangelion is an inspiration here, or even the way cars and bikes sometimes have some crazy humanlike wails). It’s all about non-technological sounds. Out of an industrial album. Saw-like, grinding sounds, gears. When the sound is human-like it needs to oscillate between hallucinated desperation and rage. That’s the ship personality. A thing from hell. Some kind of monster alive you’re piloting. Something scary. Also: idea of pilot within a uterus (Evangelion again).

In Comet mode the ship masses up power, starts spinning on its axis, then it builds momentum and goes straight in a line at excessive speed (while screaming) until it stops on its own. Everything in its path blows up. If the thing has a lot more mass, the ship BOUNCES. Metal against metal sounds. It needs be visceral, with the pilot being hit strongly in the cockpit on impact (inspiration: Tarantino’s Grindhouse). It must feel violent.

Story mode: something like System Shock 1 configurable difficulty. You select which parts you want enabled or disabled. For example for story it can go from 0 to 3. 0 = no story at all, you simply go from one combat to another. Just action. 1 = some passive exposition between each fight, giving context to the battles. 2 = full story mode. All the story is enabled, but still in passive mode. 3 = it actually extends the game to the full version. The idea I had here is to switch genres. Off-ship it would be like a Visual Novel (or Persona). Lots, lots of dialogue. RPG mode where you can recruit some NPCs that will then be employed as wingmen. The idea is to build real character the player cares for. Flash out the setting to the point of almost making an independent game outside of the space sim. But still exactly taken as a Visual Novel, with a similar style.

And here the big deal between the gameplay and story integration I was speaking about. At the beginning of the game the context is built so that the player questions the plausibility of it. Why are these enemies attacking us? What’s their purpose? Alien enemies never talk through the whole game. Their purpose is hidden. They just attack in waves and try to build new strategies and weapons. Here’s the other idea: the player’s ship has a mechanical arm (idea taken from Squaresoft’s shooter Einhander). When you blow up new enemies you can use the mechanical arm to grab these weapons left on the field. You can use them on the fly, or you can bring them back to the mothership for further research. Eventually all the player’s arsenal is about appropriated alien weapons. The game is like a journey, and toward the end the idea is to make the player’s ship look more and more like a monstrous alien ship. You transform. A Kafka metamorphosis where you become an alien.

Here’s the deal: before the very last world-destroying epic battle a cutscene is shown. For the first time you see the alien point of view. These aliens worship a sort of God of War. All their iconography is about him. He dominates everything in their culture. This God of War is you. Alien mythology essentially says that these aliens are caught in a kind of time loop. At the end of every cycle the God of War comes down crushing down on them, annihilating their world. Then it loops and they find themselves again at the start, waiting for the new apocalypse and the little time they have left to live. They know nothing else than death and the threat of death. For them there’s no other reality than this vengeful god that eventually kills them all, so their only purpose in “life” is to try to find a way to escape the loop. To awake from the nightmare. To try to kill the god they always try to fight when the god is weak, like at the beginning of the game. But at the beginning the loop was just reset, and so they also have not enough strength. This creates the paradox that has the aliens themselves creating the God of War (you). It’s them attacking the player that makes the player defend himself, and eventually come to crush them. It’s them giving him their technology to make the player powerful. The aliens are basically stuck in a loop because of their own actions. Condemned to repeat them. A self-fulfilled prophecy.

Cometh: He comes. Death comes swirling down. The pilot as a mass murderer straight from hell. Totally irrational madman whose face is obscured by an hellish helm(et), screaming in a incomprehensible language. Knight of Apocalypse bringing the holocaust. God of War.

Do you notice anything? It’s game-logic. Like a player restarting a game, those enemies condemned to relive the same experience, make the same errors, suffer again and again, getting killed over and over. It’s exactly the way the game would look IF IT WERE REAL, seen from the inside. And that’s reserved for the final scene, after this last battle is successful and the player annihilates once again the alien threat. Some kind of hallucinatory scene out of 2001: A Space Odissey.

It needs be epiphany. A voice talking. A light. It tells the pilot/player that he has no consciousness, that his will has been manipulated and his life has all been a lie. The pilot will rebel against this thought. He’ll try to affirm his will, his reality. I think therefore I am. I feel. I am alive, here. I love and hate. But eventually it will be shown it’s not himself behind those controls. It works this way: the insubstantial voice tells the pilot to “make a choice”, like steer the ship left. To make this choice, then tell it aloud. The pilot will say what he choose. But IT’S THEN THE PLAYER TO HANDLE THE CONTROLS.

Obviously here the game goes on till it forces the player to actually break the pilot’s will. Ah, so delicious. It just will happen eventually. The player may decide to close the damn game, but that’s the META level I’m playing with: do you want to finish the game or REFUSE THE TRUTH?

So eventually the pilots says he’ll go left, but the player handling the controls will turn instead right… And the pilot will finally realize that he’s not in control. When this barrier breaks, everything is over. The pilot will start to scream, bang his head against the cockpit. The insubstantial voice will continue to speak, telling the “truth”. You are not a pilot, you are just a machine. You’ve been used, your life is a lie, your reality is a lie. You are the God of War.

Then there’s a transition. The insubstantial light continues to speak but it starts to modulate and morph into the pilot’s voice. So now the insubstantial voice is the pilot’s voice. The ship’s cockpit reappears, but there’s no pilot. But the player still can control the ship. WITH NO PILOT. HOW CAN A SHIP MOVE WITHOUT A PILOT?

Because you are the pilot. The voice (old pilot) speaks to you, the player. It says it now understands EVERYTHING. He was not a pilot. He WAS THE SHIP. He has always been the ship’s soul. The ship’s wails and screams were his own wails and screams. The ship’s desperation and hate were his own desperation and hate. This was the only true reality. The truth. He was only a ghost, a ghost trapped in a machine. Were those wingmen and NPCs through the game’s actual plot truly alive? Did they exist?

It’s up to you/the player (the voice says). Those people and stories exist in memory. They are true as long you want them true. As long they are remembered they will exist, they will make a difference. Their life and purpose rest in the player himself. Do you want to remember? Do you want to keep them alive?

I am the ship.

(the face of the pilot, reduced to a screaming mouth, is superimposed and then morphed into the iron device that was used through the game to enable the “Comet mode” and make the ship ram other ships. It’s like an head, the ship as a metaphor, a thing alive. The Comet mode was activated by stabbing the “forehead” of this device with some iron rod, which would initiate the anguished scream of the ship)

I am the ship.

Use me, abuse me, because through you I live.


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Rome II: Total Bullshit

“Total War: Rome 2” was a game on my radar, but I was still quite skeptical because it was too awesome on the paper. Added to the fact that Creative Assembly completely lost all my trust when they promised one last big patch for Medieval 2. Sorry, I remember. This patch would have required the expansion tho, which caused a number of complaints from the user base since we were all asking improvements to the original campaign, not affected by new content. It’s not exactly a great policy to ask money for an expansion only because you’re interested about fixes for the original game. In the end the expansion was released but the promised patch never came out, expansion or not. They were already busy on the next game.

Now that Rome 2 is released it’s getting quite a negative backlash pretty much everywhere where I’m looking. People I’m following on Twitter and forums. Bad design choices, many technical problems, very bad performance and especially the tactical AI being very bad (which is is Total War signature, the bad AI that ruins potentially AWESOME games).

It’s not going well, but it could at least improve if CA acknowledged openly what is going on, and showed concrete signs of willingly to fix this mess aggressively. But their reply makes me even angrier at the Total Rhetoric they use and that they expect everyone swallows.

At Creative Assembly we are very pleased with the response to ROME II, with hundreds of thousands of players enjoying the game so far;

as with all large PC releases, the variety of hardware and general system specifications can cause issues for some people and we are urgently working to help get them the right experience.

Nope, not acknowledging any actual criticism.

As announced last month, we are also planning to tweak the balancing, AI routines and other features now that we’re getting real-time metric feedback from thousands of players.

See? They can only see AI problems now. The AI was always awesome in their tests and the engine ran silky smooth.

From my point of view, this lack of respect is worse than whatever problem the game may have.

I’ll keep my money.

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